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Book of Scottish Story
Glenmannow, the Strong Herdsman

By William Bennet

Duke James of Queensberry, like others of our nobility and gentry, resided during a part of the year in London ; and on one of his visits to the metropolis, he and a party of friends happened to have a match at discus, or, as it is more commonly called, " putting the stone. ” Several adepts happened to be of the party, who boasted much of their superior strength and adroitness, and after making one of their best throws, offered to stake a large sum that not one of their companions knew of or, could find a person to match it.

"The throw is certainly a good one," said the Duke of Queensberry; " yet I think it were easy to find many champions of sufficient muscle to show us a much better. I myself have a homely unpractised herdsman in Scotland, on whose head I will stake the sum you mention, that he shall throw the quoit fully two yards over the best of you.”

"Done! produce your man!" was the reply of all ; and the duke accordingly lost no time in dispatching a letter to one of his servants at Drumlanrig, ordering him to set out immediately on its receipt for Glenmannow, and to come with honest John M’Call to London without delay.

The duke’s letter with Glenmannow was not less absolute than the order of an emperor. He wondered, but never thought of demurring; and without any further preparation than clothing himself in his Sunday’s suit, and giving Mally his wife a few charges about looking to the hill in his absence, he assumed his large staff, and departed with the servant for " Lunnun.”

On his arrival, the duke informed him of the purpose for which he had been sent, and desired that on the day, and at the hour appointed, he should make his appearance along with one of his servants, who knew perfectly the back streets and by-lanes of London, and who, after he should have decided the bet, would conduct him immediately in safety from the ground, as it was not improbable that his appearance and performance might attract a crowd and lead to unpleasant consequences. When the day arrived, the party assembled and proceeded to the ground, where, to the duke’s surprise, though not to his terror, his crafty opponents chose a spot directly in front of a high wall, and at such a distance that the best of their party should pitch the quoit exactly to the foot of it; so that their antagonist, to make good the duke’s boast of "two yards over them," should be obliged to exceed them those two yards in height, instead of straight forward distance. This implied such an effort as amounted in their minds to a physical impossibility; and as the duke, from having neglected to specify the particular nature of the ground, could not legally object to this advantage, they looked upon the victory as already their own.

The quoit chosen was a large ball of lead, and already had the champion of the party tossed it to the wall, and demanded of the duke to produce the man appointed to take it up. His grace’s servant, who fully comprehended the instructions given to him, entered at this crisis with the ‘buirdly’ and, to them, uncouth Glenmannow. His appearance attracted no small notice, and even merriment; but the imperturbable object of it regarded the whole scene with the indifference peculiar to his character; and, with his mind fixed only upon the great end for which he was there, requested to be shown the quoit, and the spots from which and to where it had been thrown. This demand was soon complied with, and while he assumed his station, with the quoit in his hand, the duke whispered in his ear the deception which had been practised, and urged him to exert his whole force in order to render it unavailing.

"Will you throw off your coat? It will give you more freedom," said his Grace in conclusion.

"My coat! Na, na; nae coats aff wi’ me for this silly affair," replied he. "I thocht it had been some terrible
throw or ither that thae chaps had made, when I was ca’ed for a’ the way to Lunnun to see to gang ayont them ; but if this be a’, I wadna hae meaned ye to hae done’t yoursel.” Then poising the ball for a little in his hand, and viewing it with an air of contempt, "There I " said he, tossing it carelessly from him into the air, " he that likes may gang and fetch it back. ”

The ball, as if shot from the mouth of a cannon, flew on in a straight line completely over the wall, and alighted on the roof of a house at some distance beyond it. Its weight and velocity forced it through the tiles, and with a crash which immediately caused the house to be evacuated by its inmates, it penetrated also the garret floor, and rolled upon that of the next storey. An instantaneous hubbub ensued,—the party staring at each other in silence, and the crowd swearing it was the devil! but the servant knew his duty, and in a twinkling Glenmannow was no longer amongst them.

His Grace, after paying for the damage done to the house, conducted the whole party to his residence, there to discharge their forfeit, and to gaze upon the prodigy by whom they were vanquished. Glenmannow was well rewarded for his trouble and loss of time in journeying to London; and, over and above the immediate bounty of his Grace, he returned to his honest Mally with a discharge for one year’s rent of the farm in his pocket.

One summer, during his Grace’s residence at Drumlanrig, his friend the Duke of Buccleuch, who was at that time colonel of a regiment of fencibles, happened to be passing between Dumfries and Sanquhar with a company of his grenadiers ; and having made Thornhill a station for the night, he went and billeted himself upon his Grace of Queensberry, by whom he was received with a hearty welcome. The two friends deeming one night’s intercourse too short, and Buccleuch’s marching orders not being peremptory in regard to time, it was agreed between them that they should spend the two succeeding days together, and that the soldiers, during that period, should be distributed among the tenantry around the castle.

Buccleuch, though a personal stranger to Glenmannow, was no stranger to his fame; and it was contrived between them, that a few of the grenadiers should be dispatched to beat up his quarters, and endeavour to force themselves upon him as his guests. Six of the stoutest were accordingly selected for this purpose, and after being told the character of the person to whom they were sent, and the joke which was intended to follow it, they received a formal billet, and set out for their destination. Their orders were to enter the house in a seemingly rough manner to find fault with everything, to quarrel with Glenmannow, and endeavour, if possible, to overpower and bind him; but not on any account to injure either his person or effects in even the slightest degree. The soldiers, their commander knew, were arch fellows, and would acquit themselves in the true spirit of their instructions.

In those days few roads, excepting footpaths—and those frequently too indistinctly marked to be traced by a stranger—existed in the interior parts of the country. The soldiers, therefore, experienced no small difiiculty in marshalling their way around the slope of the huge Cairnkinnow, in evading bogs and brakes, leaping burns and march dykes, and in traversing all the heights and hollows which lay between them and their secluded bourne. But the toils of their journey were more than compensated by the pleasures of it, for the pilgrim must possess little of either fancy or feeling, who could wander without delight amid the wild scenery of that mountainous district. When the top of Glenquhargen is reached, and the bottom of the Glen of Scaur is beheld far, far beneath your feet; when the little river, which gives to the glen its name, is seen, descending from the hills, like an infant commencing the journey of life, into the long level holm which spreads its bosom to receive it; when, after descending, the eyes are cast around on its amphitheatre of Alpine hills, arrayed in “the brightness of green,” and on the clouds that slumber, or the mists that curl along their summits ; and when the head is thrown backward to contemplate the rocky peak of Glenquhargen, with the hawk, the gled, and the raven whirling, screaming, and croaking around it, that individual were dull and despicable indeed whose spirit would not fly forth and mingle, and identify itself, as it were, with the grand and the beautiful around him.

In a truly picturesque situation, on the side of one of the most northern of those hills, the soldiers beheld the house of Glenmannow. It was a low, thatch-roofed building, with a peat-stack leaning against one gable, and what might well be denominated a hut, which served for barn, byre, and stable, attached to the other; while a short way farther up the hill stood a round bucht, in which, upon occasion, the sturdy tenant was in the habit of penning his flock. A more modern structure has now been reared in the immediate vicinity of Glenmannow’s domicile; yet in the beginning of the present century some vestiges of the ancient one were still remaining.

It was nearly noon when the party arrived in the "door-step ;"yet at that late hour they found Mally busied in making a quantity of milk porridge for her own and her husband’s breakfast, who had not yet returned from his morning visit to the hill. The appearance of soldiers in so sequestered a spot was to her a matter of scarcely less surprise than was that of the Spaniards to the simple Indians, on their first landing upon the shores of the New World. Soldiers, too, are generally objects of terror in such places, where their names are associated in the minds of the peasantry only with ideas of oppression and of slaughter; and at the period referred to, this feeling was in much greater force than at present. Poor Mally endeavoured as much as possible to conceal her fears and embarrassment, and with all the politeness she was mistress of, desired the party to be seated. Her artifice, however, was far from equalling their penetration: they soon remarked her timorous side-glances and hesitating manner, as she walked backward and forward through the house; and they therefore resolved to divert themselves a little by working upon her prejudices.

"That bayonet of mine,” said one of the fellows, "will never be as clear again, I am afraid. The blood of that old herd, whom we did away with as we came, sticks confoundedly to it."

Mally was at this moment dishing the porridge in two ‘goans’, one for herself and another for John, and on hearing this horrible annunciation, she made a dead pause, and letting go the foot of the pot, suffered it to fall to its perpendicular with a bang which forced the cleps out of her hand, and precipitated the whole, with a large quantity of undished-porridge, to the floor.

"If we do any more such tricks to-day,” continued another wag, "I shall wipe mine well before the blood dries upon it, and then it will not rust as yours has done. ”

Mally, regardless of the porridge she had spilt, now stepped with cautious, but quick and trembling steps to the door. Before she had reached the threshold—

"Come,” cried the soldier who had thus spoken, "let us taste this food which the mistress has been preparing. Good woman, return and give us spoons. No flinching! We won’t harm you, unless you provoke us to it. Why do you hesitate? Are you unwilling to part with your victuals? By my faith ! the walk we have had this morning has given us such appetites, that if you are not active, we shall have a slice off yourself !"

"O mercy!” cried Mally, staring wildly, "hae patience a wee, an I’se gie ye ocht that’s in the house; but dinna meddle wi’ that goanfu’ o’ porridge, I beseech ye. They’re our John’s; and if he comes frae the hill, and finds them suppet, he’ll brain some o' ye, as sure as I’m livin’.”

She then made for the cupboard, and began to draw from thence bread, butter, and cheese ; but the rogues, on hearing that John was so partial to his porridge, deemed this opportunity of arousing his ire too favourable to be lost, and they therefore insisted on being accommodated with spoons in order to " scart the coggie.” Mally was obliged reluctantly to hand each a spoon from the wicker-creel which hung in the corner, and the six fellows were just in the act of devouring the contents of the ‘goan’, when honest Glenmannow made his appearance.

"What’s a’ this?” were his first words, on entering and perceiving such a bevy of red-coats.

"Why, honest man, we have got a billet upon you," said one of them.

"A billet ! Wha frae?”

"From the Duke of Queensberry, with whom our colonel, the Duke of Buccleuch, is stopping at present. We are just arrived ; it was a deuced long walk; we were very hungry, and are just making free with your breakfast, until something better be prepared for us. ”

"Ye’re makin’ mair free than welcome, I doubt, my lads. I hae nae objection, since our juke has sent ye, to gie ye a nicht’s quarters, an’ to let ye live on the best we can afford; but I think ye micht hae haen mair mense than to fa’ on my parritch that way, like a wheen collies. ’

"Like what? Hold your peace, sir,” thundered the whole at once. "We are upon the king’s service, and have a right to what we please, wherever we are billeted.”

"For a' sakes, John, let them alane!" cried Mally, who saw the tempest that was gathering on her husband’s brow. " We hae plenty o’ meal in the house, and canna be mickle the waur o’ what they’ll tak for ae day an’ nicht. Ye’se get something else to your breakfast directly.” Then she went close to his side, and whispered into his ear the fearful conversation she had heard. Glenmannow, though he never knew what it was to fear, was of a disposition too quiet and mild not to be easily pacified, and the soldiers saw with regret his looks beginning to brighten under the influence of Mally’s eloquence.

"Egad! there’s a fine calf before the window," cried one of them, whom a new thought had opportunely struck ; “ Tom, go out and put a ball through it. "We shall have a fine roast of veal, if this old lady knows how to manage it.”

"Ye’ll hae a fine roast deevil!” roared Glenrnannow, now provoked beyond sufferance; "I’ll gie ye"—

"Down, down with him !” cried the whole party at once, springing up, and endeavouring to surround him. But in this they resembled a posse of mastiffs attacking some lordly bull, which the enraged animal shakes from his sides and tramples in the dust. In one instant Glenmannow’s plaid was flung from him upon the bed; his staff also, which was too long for use at such close quarters, was relinquished, and seizing by the collar and thigh the first of the fellows who attacked him, he used him against the others, both as a weapon and shield, with such fury and effect, that they were all glad to provide for their safety by an instant retreat. Fortunately for them, the door chanced to be open, so that they reached the bent with comparatively little injury. But the poor fellow who was trussed in Glenmannow’s grasp, and dashed against this and the other of them with such violence, had his body beaten almost to a mummy, and kept howling and calling for mercy in a most lamentable manner. By Glenmannow, however, he was totally unheard, until, on rushing to the door, his eye chanced to fall upon one of his own cars placed on end, and leaning against the side of the house. Tossing the soldier from him upon the grass, he immediately seized this rude vehicle, and, wrenching from it a limb, cast the huge weapon upon his shoulder, and bounded off in pursuit of his enemies.

By this time the soldiers had gained a hundred yards in advance, and were stretching away like greyhounds toward the summit of Glenquhargen. They were all nimble-footed, and the panic with which they were now actually seized gave wings to their speed, and rendered a matter of no regard the rocks and other impediments over which they were flying. Their pursuer was not more speedy, but much longer winded, and the rage which then impelled him was not less potent than their terror. He possessed a fund of physical ability which was almost inexhaustible, and he had sworn not to drop the pursuit till he had "smashed the hale set,” so that from the length of the race the poor wights had but a small chance of safety. At length the top of Glenquhargen, then Cairnkinnow, and next Gowkthorn, were reached, without any loss or advantage to either party. From the latter of these places, the ground declines nearly the whole way to Drumlanrig, and the soldiers, with the start in their favour, flew on with a glimmering of hope that now they could scarcely be overtaken. Their hope was realised, but not with out such overstraining as had nearly proved equally fatal with the vengeance from which they fled. Leaning forward almost to the ground, and staggering like drunkards from excess of fatigue, they at last reached the western staircase which leads into the court of the castle. Behind them Glenmannow rushed on also with abated speed, but with indignation as hot as ever. He still bore upon his shoulder the ponderous car limb; his face was literally bathed in perspiration; and the wild expression of his eyes, and the foam which was beginning to appear at each corner of his mouth, rendered him a true personification of Giant Madness broken from his chains.

The two dukes, who had been informed of their approach by some servants who observed them descending the opposite heights, were waiting to receive them within the balustrade which runs along that side of the castle; but on marking the fury of Glenmannow, Duke James deemed it prudent to retire with the exhausted soldiers until the storm should be passed; for while his tenant remained in that mood of mind, he dared not, absolute as was his authority, to come into his presence. His brother of Buccleuch was therefore left to bear the first brunt of the salutation, who, on Glenmannow’s approach, called out, "What is the matter? What is to do?” Glenmannow, without regarding this interrogatory further than by darting upon him a wild and fierce look, sprang up stairs, and rushed past him into the court of the castle.

But here his progress was stopped ; for among the several doors which lead from thence to every part of the castle, he knew not by which his enemies had entered. One, however, was known to him, and along that passage he rapidly hastened, until he at length arrived in the kitchen. There he was equally at fault, and there his pursuit was ended ; for the smiles of the sonsy cook, and the fondlements of the various servants who thronged around him, succeeded in restoring his mind to a degree of calmness and repose. The cook eased his shoulder of the car limb, with the intention of repaying herself for the trouble by using it as fuel ; others divested him of his bonnet; and all, with many words, prevailed upon him at last to assume a chair. After a moment’s silence, in which he seemed to be lost in reflection, "Ay, ay," said he, "I see through a’ this noo. It has been a trick o’ the juke’s makin’ up. ” Then, with a serious air, he added, " But it was dangerous though; for if I had gotten a hand o’ thae chaps, wha kens what I might hae done!”

The duke, on being informed of this change wrought upon his tenant, and having learnt from the soldiers the way in which he had been deprived of his breakfast, ordered him a plentiful refreshment, and afterwards sent for him into the presence of himself and of Buccleuch. The breach between them was speedily healed; and Glenmannow, nothing poorer for his race, returned shortly afterwards with a servant on horseback, who was dispatched to convey to headquarters the poor grenadier who had been so roughly handled in the affray.

Mally, with a humanity and forgiveness which the soldier had little right to expect, had succeeded in removing him from the spot where he was cast down, into the house, and having there laid him upon a bed, tended him with such kindness and care, that, by the time of Glenmannow’s return, he was so far recovered as to be able to get upon the horse sent to remove him. Glenmannow, after Mally had wrapped round him a pair of blankets, bore him out in his arms, and placed him behind the servant, who in this manner conducted him in safety to Drumlanrig.

This is the last exploit of a remarkable kind which I have been able to glean respecting Glenmannow. He lived to a pretty long age, yet his life was abridged within its natural period by imprudently taxing his great strength beyond its actual capability. A high dyke was in the course of being built, from the heights on the left of the Nith into the channel of the river, about four miles above Drumlanrig, on the way to Sanquhar, and in order to resist the force of the current, the largest stones that could be moved were built into the dyke at its termination. One in particular, which lay near the place, was deemed excellently fitted for that purpose, but its weight rendered it unmanageable. Glenmannow undertook to lift it into its place, and in reality did so; but in the effort he injured his breast and spine, and brought on a lingering disorder, of which he died in less than a twelvemonth afterwards, in the year 1705. I am not aware of his having left any descendants to perpetuate and spread his name; one thing at least is certain, that in the present day none such are to be found in that district which was the principal scene of his exploits, and where still is cherished to such a degree his singular yet honest renown. —Traits of Scottish Life, and Pictures of Scenes and Character.

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