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Braemar Highlands
Part the Fourth - Chapter V


Disarming of the People—Contests with the Soldiers—The last Rebel in Scotland, etc.

SOME of the new measures introduced were very obnoxious to the Braemarians. One of them thus writes : ‘ Not only would the soldiers put down the ’45 men, but they had orders to deprive the Highlanders of their arms; their immemorial right to hunt and fish; ay, and even of the liberty to wear their ancient costume. These tyrannical measures the men of the Braes of Mar resisted most stoutly.’ That they really did so, will be made sufficiently manifest by relating the traditions yet extant regarding the returned malcontents.

The surviving leaders of the rebellion seem to have given little trouble. With the plebeians it was different. Blellack, for instance, practising a piece of ‘Scotch policy,’ rented a farm from Lord Aboyne, who, being on the Government side, protected him from the redcoats; and by having his letters addressed to ‘Charles Gordon, farmer at Gellan,’ the Government could not discover that they were for the laird of Blellack.

After his return from Culloden he took refuge at his farm ; while his henchman M‘Connach by some means got to be keeper of the canteen in the Government castle of Corgarff.

Balmoral, after his wound at Falkirk, retired with his lady to his estate of Auchlossan, where he remained in hiding to his death; or, as others have it, in the Abbey in Edinburgh.

Invercauld was no less accommodating to his relatives than Aboyne had been to Gordon of Blellack. More so, indeed, as he went the length of harbouring some of the returned rebels in his own house: one of them at least—Farquaharson, laird of Broughdearg.

This Fear na Bruach, i.e. Man of the Braes, as he was commonly termed, the laird of Broughdearg, was one of Prince Charles’s surgeons. The legend giving some account of his history, and how he acquired his professional qualifications, beats all the others for extravagance :—

Fear na Bruach was sent by his parents to Italy to study medicine. When he returned home, father and mother were both dead, and his affairs entrusted to a tutor. After his return, the famous Cagliostro, the celebrated physician under whom the young laird had completed his studies, informed his pupil by letter, that he could see from Italy a white serpent going daily at noon to drink from a well at the bottom of Coire Chronie, or the Dubh Choire—the Corrie of Echoes, or the Black Corrie. He instructed Fear na Brnach also to catch this serpent, by laying out for it a repast of fresh cream, and having caught it, to bring it forthwith to Italy.

The laird followed the physician’s directions, caught the white serpent, and sailed away. After his arrival he was ordered by Cagliostro to boil it in a caldron ; but, on pain of death, not to touch the contents, or let them boil over. With care and dread Fear na Bruach stirred round the seething decoction; but despite all his endeavours, the liquid came up, hissing and spurting even to the brim. The temptation to taste was now too strong for Fear na Bruach, and quick as thought he dipped in his finger, raised it to his mouth, then fled amain.

Pursuit followed. It seems to have been unsuccessful, as bloodhounds were brought into requisition; and in the despair which seized him, when he heard their bay loud and close upon his track, he leaped forward, and struck in his fall the side of a huge tree. To his amazement it burst open, and he fell breathless into a great hollow within the trunk. With great presence of mind he rose and re-adjusted the door which had admitted him, then lay concealed there for twenty-four hours. Finally he slipt on board a ship, which was just ready to sail from a harbour near by, and returned home again.

‘The tasting he had permitted himself of the decoction rendered him omniscient in medicine, so that no disease could baffle his skill, neither could he ever fail in effecting a cure. Some will wonder that he and his generation are not still in the land of the living; .but old age is no malady. Death then is but the falling of ripened fruit.

After the wars, in which such a skilled physician must have been of the greatest value, and while he harboured at Invercauld, Fear na Bruach often spoke of another well in Craig Choinnich, the waters of which would render physicians unnecessary, by having virtue to cure all diseases. This well also had a serpent, for in the night-time he could see it, he said, from the dining-room windows of Invercauld, on the face of the hill near the well below a bush of rushes, lying on a flat stone ; but neither he nor any one else has found it.’

Extravagant as this legend is, in former years its authenticity, by some at least, was undoubted. In proof of this, I may state that about sixty years ago, an elderly woman living in Braemarprevailed on a young girl of fifteen, who is still living, to accompany her to Craig Choinnich in search of the treasure.

The search was continued until they came upon a well quite answering the description; for beside it were the rushes, flat stone, etc. In consequence of a dream, the woman expected, in addition to the serpent, to find a wallet full of gold below the slab.

So the two, having found the place, also succeeded in raising the stone, when the digging for the gold. commenced in right earnest. For hours and hours they dug, until the girl, quite exhausted, struck work; but the woman, strong in the faith of the gold, dug on. At length she also had to give in ; and, said the girl, now an old woman, to me lately, ‘I dinna ken what shewas, but I was glad enough to get home.’ So vividly are the place and incidents of the day stereotyped in the tablets of her memory, and so graphically does she relate them, that her grandchildren, oftener than any other, ask her to tell them the story of the Wallet of Gold.

Of the rest of the leading men, Farquharson of Monaltrie, or the Baron Ban, was in prison; Patrick Fleming of Auchintoul was in concealment near Culloden; Charles Farquharson of Cluny, and some others, were in the hiding-place on the Craig. So of course none of them made any resistance to the new measures introduced. As before stated, it was not so with the plebeian portion of the people. The Ephiteach in particular, his cousin, and several others, gave an immense deal of trouble to the soldiers. Racy accounts of their doings are still given by the old people.

So very obnoxious had the two Donalds rendered themselves to the soldiers in the castle, that many schemes had been resorted to for their capture. One sergeant in particular distinguished himself by his vexatious pursuit. The Ephiteach s mother, who was a widow, lived in Auchindryne; and this sergeant often broke in upon the lone woman, hoping, of course, to catch her son, and on such occasions would boast of what he would do to him if he could only get him alone.

One day the widow, instructed by her son, informed the sergeant that in a certain part of Coire-nam-muc (a hollow in the side of Morrone) he would meet the Ephiteach, provided he went alone, and without fire-arms. The sergeant at once threw down his gun, and set off.

The Ephiteach, who had been perched on the top of his mother’s box-bed, quickly descended from his hiding-place, and was in time to keep the soldier from waiting. Both drew their swords in silence, and fell too with all their might The Ephiteach was the victor. He first disarmed the sergeant, then brought him to the ground with a blow from the pommel of his sword ; and before he had recovered his senses, had his hands tightly bound behind his back.

'Now, sergeant, suppose you had me as I have you, what would you do?’

'I would kill you.’

‘Well, as you have been so honest, I will spare your life; but you shall remember the Ephiteach to the longest day of it.’

Then he undid the sergeant’s clothes, fastened them in a bundle, and hung them round his neck; and having cut a number of birch twigs, greatly accelerated the sergeant’s return to the castle by their aid. He never after shone in attempts at capturing Dubh an-t-Ephiteach.

The soldiers had orders to prevent the Highlanders from fishing as they did formerly. This was a great grievance ; and they persisted in doing it, despite all the vigilance of the soldiers. One evening the Ephiteach and his cousin were fishing by torchlight at a deep place in the river, near where the Established Church now stands. The soldiers had observed them, and came stealthily down and fired upon them, as one was holding the torch and the other using his spear. So narrowly did the Ephiteach escape, that a ball struck the pole of his spear as he was in the act of using it, and snapt it in two between his hands. The Donalds were obliged to run; and they did so, vowing that that shot would be a dear one to the soldiers.

Next evening they fixed a torch on a pole, and stuck it into the ground by the side of the river, near the place where they were the previous evening. When the soldiers came down to catch the supposed poachers, they found nothing but a pole ; but, by the light of the torch on it, the two Donalds saw to take aim. They fired, and two of the soldiers fell—one dead, and the other severely wounded. Another version of this story is, that the Ephiteach had several guns, and fired them quickly one after another, and that a number of the soldiers fell; and that the rest, believing there was a large party of the rebels, fled in disorder. The first version I was assured was the true one ; but whichever way, the place was called, by way of remembrance, the ‘Putan Sassenich.’

One night, when the Ephiteach paid a stolen visit to his mother, he found her in great distress : her only cow had been taken away by the soldiers. No doubt they had left money equal in value for the cow, but that did not make up her loss. The soldiers took what they wanted from the people, but in return always gave what they considered its value in money. As they who have but one cow generally take good care of it, have plenty of food, etc., so the soldiers, thinking the widow’s cow would be especially good, helped themselves to it; and of course the Ephiteach was greatly exasperated.

A short time after, he learned that Captain Millar, or 1 Muckle Millar,’ one of the officers, intended to convey his wife to the south through Glenshee ; so he hurried away to wait them on the Cairnwell. And as Captain Millar, mounted on horseback, with his wife behind him, was passing along, in a moment the Ephiteach, with levelled gun, started up before them.

‘Swords, and fair play!’ cried Millar.

‘Such play' replied the Ephiteach, as you order your men to give me and my countrymen ; and that is, Shoot them down, bayonet them, shoot them down!’ He fired. The captain was only wounded ; so he reloaded, and shot him dead. The grave of Captain Millar is still pointed out on passing the Caimwell.

M'Kenzie then seized the bridle-reins, and mounting into the vacant place, conducted the lady on to the Spittal of Glenshee; then set off on foot for Glen-Lui, and remained there in hiding until the soldiers found out his whereabouts. He narrowly escaped being taken, as they came upon him at midnight; but they were disappointed. He fled to the Dee, cleared the Linn at a leap, and retreated into the wilds of Upper Glen Ey.

Both he and his cousin were at length taken, and brought in shackles to Invercauld. As the head officer happened to be in Aberdeen, they could not be shot until his return ; so they were safely lodged in the ‘donjon ’ until his return.

Invercauld was in no ways fond of seeing his countrymen treated in this manner, though he might have been excused for bearing the Ephiteach a grudge on account of the affair at Corrie Bhui. So, after having made his arrangements, he caused the two prisoners in the donjon to be warned that, in the evening and throughout the night, there would be revelry, feasting, dancing, and drinking, to celebrate the king’s accession.    .

‘They did keep it up in style; and Invercauld, who then, like other lairds, had a still of his own, made the waters of life abound. The sentinels carried on the waltz as well, and all was maudlin mirth and madness. When matters were come to this pass, the two prisoners split the donjon door and came out. On hearing the noise, the commandant’s secretary—who, suspicious of treason, had avoided joining in the debauch—rushed down stairs and seized a gun from one of the sentinels, who, prostrate on the floor, was singing with all his might :

“George is a merry boy,
Long may he reign,” etc.    .

But as he made a charge down the corridor at the handcuffed heroes to drive them back to their prison, Invercauld’s butler tripped him (by mistake of course). The two jumped over him, and away to the hills, or rather to the blacksmith at Auchmdryne, who soon made them both free.

‘As they were receiving the congratulations of their friends, a messenger in hot haste from Invercauld arrived to say that the secretary had taken horse, and was gone to Aberdeen for his commandant; and that Invercauld was afraid a serious charge might be made out against him.

“Let us go after him, MacRobaidh; we’ll surely catch him before he reaches Aberdeen.”

‘“Before he reaches Aboyne, you mean/' replied he, striding away with a gun, brought by one of his friends, and a dirk, of which he had taken the loan.

‘“Messenger,” said the Ephiteach, “tell Invercauld, if he see a bonfire on the top of Craig Clnny on the coming night, he may be sure we have stopped the secretary.” Then helping himself to a sword, he strode away after his cousin. Away they ran through Philagie and Aberairdar, Crathie and Micras, and on reaching the foot of Gairn they saw the secretary just entering the Pass. . . .

MacRobaidh Mhoire and the Ephiteach could hear the clatter of the horse’s hoofs as they rushed out of the pass and bore forward on Tullich. When they left Tullich behind, the secretary, looking back from Tomnakiest, saw in the grey light of the morning the two Highlanders hurrying after him. He knew the sight boded him little good, so he hurried forward at the utmost speed to Culblean.’

When the two Donalds came down the height behind Camus O' May, the secretary was only a gunshot ahead. Down went Robaidh Mhoire on his knee, levelled his gun, and fired. The horse rolled on the road; but the rider, disengaging himself from it, started on foot. Alas ! the race must be short now. The Ephiteach was at last blown, but the terrible MacRobaidh Mhoire flies forward like the wind. In a few minutes he is on his victim.

‘Spare a defenceless man!’ cried the Ephiteach from behind. The other heard, but heeded not, for he hewed the secretary down with one blow. When reproached by M‘Kenzie, he only replied, ‘ Dead men tell no tales!’ That evening, according to promise, the two lit a fire on Craig Cluny, which considerably eased the anxiety of Invercauld.

‘When the commander returned, the soldiers could give but a very confused account of the escape of the prisoners. Invercauld could not make the matter a whit plainer. The death of the secretary was, naturally enough, laid to the hatred the country people entertained for the soldiers. Still the officer had his suspicions, and from quartering on Invercauld, went to the castle, now repaired and fitted up to receive them. But he made frequent visits in force on the laird, besides keeping him often little better than a prisoner within the castle.

‘The Ephiteach, on hearing of these annoying proceedings, began to consider how he could restore the laird to favour. At last the opportunity presented itself. While Invercauld was undergoing one of the customary detentions in the castle, the officers from Abergeldie, Corgarff, Dubrach, and Glenshee were invited to a feast there. At table the laird was known to sit always at the same seat, behind which a window opened, looking towards Invercandlic. Before the festal day, he was warned by Donald Dubh that he must, as if accidentally, get himself replaced there by one of the guests from the other garrison, or let the place be empty.

‘The laird doubtless managed the matter well, and waited also somewhat impatiently for what was to happen. While at dinner, the company were startled by a loud report, and crash came a bullet through the window where Invercauld used to sit. The bullet, after carrying away part of a waiter’s thumb, lodged itself in the opposite wall.

‘The whole party ran to the windows. A tall dark form stood on the opposite side of the river, who waved his gun triumphantly, and called loud enough for them to hear:

"That’s for the traitor Saxon laird of Invercauld, from me, Donald Dubh the Egyptian.” Then he turned up the way of Glen Candlic. Donald’s generous purpose was fully accomplished. Seeing how narrowly the laird had escaped death at Donald’s hands, it could not longer be supposed that he had connived at his escape. He was again received into favour with the Saxons, and remained from that time in good repute. The Ephiteach was never again taken, but died peaceably at a good old age.’

There were many other characters who were equally obstreperous with the cousins, and of course numerous legends exist regarding them. But what has been given will sufficiently illustrate the spirit of the people, and the difficulties the soldiers had to encounter in the enforcement of their order; so it is needless to multiply them. A much more pleasing theme will be found in still later changes.

The last relic of the rebellion passed away in the person of Peter Grant, who lived to the extreme age of no, and died in Braemar, nth February 1824. For some years before his death, this solitary rebel received fifty pounds annually from Government, yet he never made his submission; nor could any one induce him to drink the king’s health, though many for amusement and otherwise tried to do so. Though thus liberally supported, he was proof against their kindness, as much as of their harsher measures. Nothing would subdue him : he died, as he had lived, a rebel.

He had been an extremely handsome man. Some of the old people still retain a vivid recollection of his beautiful appearance even in extreme old age. His hands, in particular, I have often heard commented on for their whiteness, symmetry, and freedom from wrinkles,—a peculiarity of his face also.

‘Oh, but he was a bonnie man, as ever I saw,’ said an old friend from whom I have culled many of the foregoing legends; and when I was a youngster, I used to sit and hear him tell stories till my hair would have been almost standing on end; and when I grew up a bit, mony a time I treated him to a glass, just to set his tongue a-going. He was fu’ o’ stories; and oh, I liked weel to hear them.’ Not a few of Peter Grants stories are found in the foregoing pages.


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