Such, then, was the widow
Macrae and her sons, and such were the circumstances in which they stood
at the period of the story. Availing themselves of every honest means that
came within their reach of adding to their income, John and Roderick were
in the habit, like many others of their country people, of repairing to
the low country every autumn to work for hire in cutting down the harvest,
which being much earlier in the latter districts than in the Highlands,
they could very easily accomplish, and be yet home in sufficient time to
gather in their own little crops. These journeys the brothers performed
together, and on foot; rather avoiding than seeking the society of others
bound on a similar mission, as they preferred being alone. The season
having come round for their setting out on their annual expedition, Isabel
saw her sons a short distance on their way. This was not usual with her;
but she felt in the present instance a reluctance to part with them, for
which she could not account. Before leaving them, she insisted on their
joining her in a prayer, although she did not say what induced her to make
the proposal; and they accordingly retired to a lone spot, and there
offered up an address to the Deity. On rising from her knees—
"Now, go, my sons," she
said, "and God be with you! Be as kind to each other as you have always
been. Be as upright and inoffensive in your conduct, and your paths will
be pleasant, and your days long upon the earth." She then embraced them
alternately; expressed a hope that they would return to their home and to
her, in peace and safety; prayed again to God to bless them; and bade them
go their ways. The young men were not a little surprised at their mother’s
unusual conduct on this occasion; but, as she did not explain herself,
they forebore making any remarks on the subject. She had always, indeed,
parted from them with reluctance, and with many expressions of tenderness
and regret; but, in this instance, her conduct was marked with a solemnity
and anxiety which was not usual to her. At the close of the third day from
their leaving home, the brothers found themselves, after a fatiguing
journey of upwards of thirty miles, on the banks of a beautiful stream.
The former was covered with wood; and directly opposite, on the other side
of the river, stood the ruins of an ancient castle. Exhausted with
fatigue, and tempted by the singular beauty of the spot--by the coolness
of the shade, and the refreshing sound of the breaking waters—the
brothers laid themselves down on the grass, when one of them immediately
fell into a profound sleep. It was Roderick. The other observing his
brother’s face exposed as he slept, to a ray of the sun, that found its
way through an opening in the foliage above, took a handkerchief from his
pocket and laid it gently on his face. Having performed this slight and
expressive act of kindness and affection, he also fell asleep; and, for
fully an hour afterwards, neither of them stirred. At the end of this
period, however Roderick awoke, and rousing his brother— "John," he said,
"I have had a curious dream."
"What was it, Roderick?"
inquired his brother, with a smile.
"I dreamt, John," said the
former, "that I was in yon old castle," pointing to the ruined structure
on the other side of the stream, "and that I found there one entire
apartment, untouched by time, and just as it had been left by those who
inhabited it. In the centre of the floor of this chamber I discovered a
large flag stone, and while wondering what purpose it could be for, an old
man entered and told me that it covered a great treasure, and that if I
would raise it, I should become possessed of it all."
John looked grave at this
recital; for he partook largely of the superstition of the times, and of
the country of his birth. "It is a curious dream, Roderick," he said; "I
have been told of such dreams before, and have heard of them being
realized. When our grandfather was drowned in the water of Inver, his body
could nowhere be found, although the spot where he fell into the river was
known, and every exertion made to recover it. Several nights after the
accident, when they had given up the search in despair, our grandmother
dreamt that her husband came to her, and told her that, if they looked for
him at a certain part of the stream, which he minutely described, they
would find him with one of his feet locked fast between two stones; which
was the reason, he said, of his not having been carried any length by the
current—as those who searched for him had calculated. The spot thus
mysteriously pointed out, was examined next day, and the body found
exactly in the circumstances described."
"I have heard something of
that story," said Roderick; "but what has it to do with my dream, John."
"Don’t you perceive,
brother?" replied the latter. "We’ll go and see if we can find any
apartment resembling that you dreamt of. Who knows but your vision may be
realized. Was its situation pointed out to you Roderick?"
"It was," said the latter,
half jocularly and half seriously. "The chamber was on the west side of
"Let us seek it," rejoined
his brother, starting to his feet.
"With all my heart,"
replied Roderick; and he also arose.
They proceeded to the old
castle; but whether they found what they sought or not, belongs to another
part of our tale. In the meantime, we return to the cottage of Isabel
Macrae, in Glen Spean.
It was at the close of a
sultry day, in the beginning of September, and about a week after her sons
had left her for the low country, that Isabel, as she sat knitting a
stocking at the door, saw a man approaching the house. It was now dusk;
and, at the distance he was yet from her, she could not make out who he
was; but, as he approached nearer, her heart began to beat, for the figure
resembled that of her son, Roderick—but it could not be. He came yet
nearer. It was —it was Roderick—and no other.
exclaimed Isabel, to herself in great alarm —"what does this mean?
Roderick back already, and without his brother. "O God! O God!" ejaculated
the terrified woman, "some fatal accident has happened to my boy. My fears
were but too well founded!"
She flew to meet her son,
who was now close at hand, to question him regarding his brother; but that
son was a changed man—ay, a changed man within the space of one short
week. His face, before glowing with the ruddy hue of health, was now pale
and haggard. His eye, before beaming with gentleness and kindness, was now
wild and unsettled. His manner was sullen—nay, even fierce; and he
returned not his mother’s greeting, for, notwithstanding her alarm and
anxiety, she had hailed his return with her usual marks and expressions of
affection—but doggedly walked on towards the house. His mother inquired
where was his brother? He answered nearly in the words of Cain; and,
without vouch-safing any further explanation, passed into the cottage, out
of which no inducement could again make him stir. When he entered, he took
a seat by the fire; and there, wrapt in gloomy abstraction, he sat for
several days and nights, taking no food, and never retiring to rest.
During all this time, too, he never opened his lips, excepting to return
brief and surly answers to the importunities of his distracted parent
regarding his brother. From these, however, the former at length ceased;
finding she could not elicit from him any of the information she desired.
It was a strange and unaccountable change. Roderick, who used to be so
cheerful, so active, so kind, so gentle, was all at once become morose,
indolent, and repulsive in his manner. He seemed to care for nothing, and
to have lost all interest in the affairs of his mother’s household. For
hours together, he sat gazing on the fire in dark and moody silence; till
at length, however, the appalling monotony of this scene was broken in
One day, about a week after
Roderick’s return, his mother hastened in great alarm, to her son, to
inform him that she saw three men, strangers, approaching the house,
adding—"Who on earth can they be, Roderick, and what can they be wanting?"
"They want me," said
Roderick, fiercely. "They are come for me, and I am glad of it."
"For you, my son, my
life!" exclaimed his mother in great agitation, and bursting into tears.
"Oh, what can they want with you, Roderick? I am sure you have harmed no
one—you are incapable of it. Tell me, then, in God’s name, my son, since
you seem to know, what it is they want with you."
"You will know all too
soon, mother," replied Roderick, suddenly, and now, for the first time
since his return, resuming the mild manner and tone which was natural to
him—"You will know all to soon," he said, throwing his arms around his
mother’s neck in a paroxysm of grief and despair. "O unhappy woman," he
exclaimed, "why did you bring such a wretch, such a monster as I am, to
"What do these dreadful
words mean, my child?" said his mother. "O Roderick, have pity on the
mother that bore you, that nursed you, that watched over your infant
years, and tell me at once the worst I have to learn. Where, again I ask
you, in the name of God, is your brother John?" And without waiting for
his reply, "O God, O God," she exclaimed, in wild distraction, "I fear
what I dare not name, what I dare not think of; but it cannot, cannot be.
Tell me, my son, where is John?"
At this instant the men who
had been seen approaching the house entered, when, without giving them
time to announce their errand, Roderick stepped up to them, and said, with
the utmost coolness and collectedness of manner, "I am the man you
"You are," replied the
foremost of the strangers; "and once you have said so, I need not tell you
our business, I suppose. You will go along with us."
"I’m ready," replied
Roderick, firmly. And all that afterwards passed was conducted in silence,
excepting on the part of the unhappy mother of the prisoner, (for such now
was Roderick Macrae,) whose shrieks and cries—as she at one time vainly
implored both her son and the strangers to tell her the meaning of what
she saw, (a piece of information which both withheld from motives of
compassion,) at another besought the latter not to take her son from
her—might have been heard at a long distance. At length, however, the
dreadful scene was brought to a close. The miserable woman fainted; when
the officers of justice—for such were the visitors—taking advantage of her
insensibility, hurried away the prisoner, who had indeed himself pointed
out the opportunity which her condition presented; leaving her in charge
of two female relatives who had chanced to come in at the moment. Ere
leaving the house, Roderick stooped down and imprinted a fervent kiss on
the pallid lips of his unfortunate parent, burst into tears, then rushed
out of the house followed by the officers. Two months after this, Roderiek
Macrae stood at the bar of the High Court of Justiciary, charged with the
horrible crime of fratricide—with having murdered his brother, John Macrae,
in the old Castle of Droonan.
The first evidence called
on his trial was a labouring man, who deponed, that, having been at work
in an adjoining field, he had seen the prisoner at the bar and another man
enter the building on the day libelled: That, in about an hour afterwards,
he saw the prisoner suddenly rush out of the castle, and run away at his
utmost speed: That the other did not again appear at all: That on the same
day, he and another person found a dead body in one of the apartments of
the building, apparently that of a murdered man, as there was a deep wound
on his left side, as if inflicted by a sharp instrument; and that they
also found such a knife, as is called in the Highlands a skien dhu,
lying at a little distance from the corpse: That the apartment where the
body was discovered was one he had never been in before, as, although he
had lived for twenty years in the immediate vicinity of the castle, and
had been in it a thousand times, he had never known that such a chamber
existed. This witness also deponed, that there was a large flag-stone in
the centre of the apartment where the body was found, and that it seemed
to have been recently raised from its bed on the floor. They also found,
he said, on the occasion spoken of, a coarse earthen pot filled with gold
and silver coin, standing beside the deceased. This pot was produced in
court, and identified by the witness.
The next evidence called
was a boy about fourteen years of age. The deposition of this witness was
conclusive; and in establishing, as he did, the guilt of the prisoner,
presented one of the most startling views of both the weakness and
wickedness of human nature, of the fatal power of its evil passions under
the influence of momentary impulses, that is, perhaps, upon record. The
testimony of the boy was to the following effect:— On the day on which the
murder was perpetrated, he was climbing about the ruins of the Castle of
Droonan, in search of bird’s nests, and was, at the moment the prisoner
and his brother entered it, in such a situation as gave him, from the
dilapidated state of the building, a full view of the apartment in which
the crime was committed, without exposing himself to discovery. Curiosity
to know what the men were going to do, induced him to remain quietly where
he was, to watch their proceedings, when, on the former entering the
apartment, they immediately began to raise the flagstone, alluded to by
the preceding witness. The operation seemed to be a difficult one, and
took them a considerable time; but was at length successful. On the
stone’s being raised, the companion of the prisoner made a sudden plunge
with his hand into a hole which it had covered, and took out an
earthenware pot, filled with coin;. when, all at once, the two men
appeared to quarrel, seemingly about the contents of the pot, and the
prisoner struck the other on the side; but the witness could not say that
it was a knife. He, however, had no doubt that it was the blow he struck
that killed the deceased; for he instantly fell, uttering a loud shriek or
cry, and never again moved. On his falling, the prisoner rushed out of the
apartment, seemingly in great terror, and he saw nothing more of him.
Such, in substance, was the evidence of the boy in this dreadful case, and
it carried conviction of the prisoner’s guilt to the minds of all who