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Deeside Tales
Chapter XXV


FOR more than a year before his death, those acquainted with Sandy had marked symptoms of failing vitality. Although the black curly hair was still unmixed and the piercing eye undimmed, the once erect frame began to stoop, and the step was less light and springy than it had been. He was aware of all this himself; and probably knew more than he cared to disclose. He now spoke more frequently of his death than he was wont, and seemed to look upon it as an event by no means likely to be distant

“I hope,” he was often heard to say, “that when my time to die comes, it may take place among the bonnie blooming heather, with the glorious sun pouring down his rays of heat and light upon my perishing body.”

That wish was granted him. On the morning of the 23rd of August, 1843, passing through Ballater, he met the late Dr. Sheriffs, who, observing something about Sandy’s appearance he did not like and on being permitted to examine him as to the state of his health, strongly dissuaded him from going to the moors that day. The warning was unheeded; he must follow that bent of mind which he could never resist, and which made him appear to the poetical onlooker, to be the genius of his native mountains.

Next morning he was discovered on the hills of Glenbucket, lying on his back, with his faithful companion, the little brown pointer, seated on his breast, keeping watch over him. At first knowing his habits, the party who discovered him believed him to be asleep; but it was the sleep that knows no waking. Passing the same place about an hour afterwards and finding the supposed sleeper still in the same position, their apprehensions were aroused, and it was resolved to make an investigation.

It has often been observed of dogs that have been attached to man, that they have a perception of death in their masters as a change that requires them to undertake duties they had never before practised. Had Sandy been concealing himself from the keepers or even asleep, his dog, as it had long been trained to do, would have crouched closely by his side to avoid being observed; but now it took its stand openly upon his breast, and when a stranger approached, instead of concealing itself, the faithful creature attacked savagely, and it was not without a strenuous resistance that it allowed the remains of its master to be conveyed to the nearest human dwelling.

Thus passed away the last poacher of the olden type, under conditions befitting the life he led. Without justifying that life, it is only simple truth to say that in his own eyes it was no violation of the laws of God; and in the eyes of those best capable of judging, it was more the result of a peculiarly romantic and chivalrous turn of mind than of any low or lawless disposition. Whatever be the opinion entertained by some on this matter, no one who knew him intimately—and he had a wider circle of acquaintance than any native of the north of Scotland of his day—will deny to his memory the testimony that he was imbued with the highest sentiments of honour and religion, while his actions were characterized by the strictest integrity of purpose, and the loftiest generosity.

He was interred by his sisters in the family burying ground in the churchyard of Glenmuick, where his grave is marked by an undressed headstone, on which are cut in rude characters the initials of some of his forefathers, with the date “1715 ” attached to one of them.

Having for some time previous to his death had a presentiment that it might occur without much warning, he had told his sisters that he wished his dog to be given to Mr. Mactier of Durris, as a mark of his esteem for that gentleman. That wish was given effect to; but Sandy’s dog was found to have modes of working that unfitted it for co-operating with others of its kind; and it was accordingly seldom required to perform any service, but passed the rest of its days at Durris House in indolent luxury.

A life so romantic could scarcely pass away without evoking some poetic tears; and many an elegy was poured on Sandy’s grave from the poet’s comer of the northern press. Of other tributes to his memory the following, with which we close the memoir of this remarkable man, was written by the late Rev. Robert Scott, minister of Glen-bucket, the parish in which his body was discovered, as above stated. It was published at the time in the Aberdeen newspapers, and afterwards, at the solicitation of the friends of the deceased, printed separately for private distribution among them—

“Brave Sandy, art thou dead?” says a rustic bard, in an elegaic production transmitted to us, on the death of Alexander Davidson, the famed poacher of Braemar; and so say we—for more than once have we heard of the character and exploits of this mountaineer, and while we deprecated his occupation, felt a respect for the man. Sandy Davidson was no ordinary poacher. The deteriorating influence of his trade, that in general leads, step by step, to the utter demoralization of those who pursue it, had no such effect upon him. The simplicity and integrity of his character remained unchanged amid all the vicissitudes of his lawless—though we be loath to use the word—and strangely-chequered life. He was one among a thousand—a perfect specimen of the mountaineer. Sandy scorned the habiliments of the Sassanach; and when clad in the “garb of old Gaul,” with his dog and his gun, with a step as elastic as ever rose from the springy heather, and an eye whose dark glance long years could not dim, he might have been taken, while emerging from among die mists of a September morning, for the very genius of his native hills.

There was a romance about Sandy’s character and his way of life that rendered him a dangerous example. He was gifted in an eminent degree with those qualities that insure popular favour—fearless, generous, and kind-hearted.

“His foot was foremost in the dance,
His laugh the loudest rang;
Nae e'e could match his mirthful glance,
None sung so sweet a sang.”

Nor is this random quotation misapplied. Sandy had “borne the bell ” over hundreds at competitions in the “ fantastic art ” at Edinburgh, and in all parts of the country; and although in the “ vale of years,” and scarcely so lithe in limb as in his early days, an invitation was found on him at his death from the Earl of March, to attend and take part in some merry-doings at Gordon Castle the other day.

His feats in eluding the keepers were innumerable. While closely chased, he has more than once plunged into a moss pit, and lain there with his face alone above water, till the baffled pursuers gave up the search. If caught, however, he yielded without resistance. He knew the penalty that his pursuits incurred; and, although an adept in the various sciences of defence, he was never known to raise his hand against those who attempted to apprehend him, even when the odds were in his favour. Indeed, on his last coming within the reach of the law, which was a few months ago, he not only quietly accompanied his captor from Dufftown to Elgin, but treated him at every public-house in the way. Sandy was a perfect child of Nature—as complete a Hawk-eye of the old country as the times would admit of. He had no home, and he wished for none—no place of residence but the broad face of the Highlands. His gun might have one day been heard ringing among the hills of Perthshire, and on another among the wilds of Lochaber; now, among the moors of Braemar and the fastnesses that bound the “infant rills of Highland Dee”—then, beneath the black shadow of Cairngorm, at the rocky sources of the Avon and the Don; to-day in Strathspey, and to-morrow far to the north-west, among the hills of Moray and Inverness. Everywhere Sandy was well known, and, wherever he was known, there was an open door and a Highland welcome awaiting him. Little he cared, however, for such accommodation.

Armed by Nature against the power of inclement skies, the shelter of a bush or rock on the hillside was at all seasons sufficient. There, with his faithful dog to watch over his slumbers, he slept soundly the live-long night; and thus he was found, on the 24th August, 1843, by a party of sportsmen, a corpse cold and stiff, on the moors of Glencaimey. Many a quondam visitor to Ballater, who had heard of Sandy and seen him, will, we believe, breathe a sigh of regret to the memory of the bold poacher when they hear that he is no more. His way of life made him often amenable to the game-laws; but, although a poacher, he had little in common with that class. He was the Robin Hood of the freebooters of the forest and moorland. Poaching to him was not the effect of idle habits. It was part of the vocation of a simple but wild and untameable spirit, that scorned all restraint on the natural liberty of man. He was decently interred by his two sisters at Ballater.


 


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