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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 7. Bonny Mary Gibson

The summer of 168— was wet and ungenial; the little grain which Scotland at that time produced had never ripened, and men and women would shear all day, and carry home the greater part of the thin and scanty upland crop on their backs. The winter was issued in by strange and marvellous reports—men fighting in the air—showers of Highland bonnets—and eclipses of no ordinary occurrence. In fact, the northern lights, which for centuries had disappeared, had again returned, and were viewed by a superstitious people with much dread and amazement. The end of the world was anticipated and confidently predicted, and the soul of man sank within him under the pressure of an awakened conscience. Besides, political events were sufficiently distressing: the battle of Bothwell Brig had been fought and lost by the friends of Presbytery and religious freedom; and strong parties, under the command of demons, denominated Grierson, Johnstone, Douglas, and Clavers, scoured the west country, and Dumfriesshire in particular, making sad and fearful havoc amongst God’s covenanted flock. It appeared to many, and to Walter Gibson of Auchincairn in particular, that, what betwixt the pestilence induced by want and bad provisions, and the devastations brought on the earth by the hand of man, life was not only precarious, but a burden. Men rose, went about their wonted employment, and retired again to rest, without a smile, and often without exchanging a word. Young men and young women were seen constantly perusing the Bible, and taking farewell of each other with the feeling that they were never to meet again. The cattle were driven into the farther’s stores from the outfields, and there bled every three weeks. The blood thus obtained was mixed, and boiled with green kail from the yard, and this, with a mere sprinkling of meal, was all the subsistence which could be afforded to master and servant, to guest and beggar. A capacious pot, filled with this supply, stood from morn to night in the farmer’s kitchen, with a large horn spoon stuck into the centre of it; and every one who entered helped himself to a heaped spoonful, and retired, making way for a successor. If the summer had been ungenial, the winter was unusually severe. Snow and frost had set in, long before Christmas, with awful severity. The sheep were starving, and dying by scores on the hills; and the farmer, with his servant band, were employed all day in digging out the half and wholly dead from the snow wreaths. The strength of man failed him; and the very dogs deserted their masters, and lived wild on the hills, feeding on the dead and dying. It was indeed an awful time, and a judgment-like season, unparalleled (unless perhaps by the year ‘40 of the last century) in the annals of Scotland. Five hundred human beings are said to have perished of hunger merely, within the limited district of Dumfriesshire, besides many hundreds whom the plague (for such it was deemed and called) cut off.

It was on a cold frosty night, with intervals of drifting and falling snow, that a strange apparition made its way into the kitchen of Auchincairn, in the hill district of the parish of Closeburn. It was naked, emaciated, and extremely feeble, and rolled itself into the langsettle with extreme difficulty "In the name of God!" said Mrs Gibson, "who and what art thou?" But the apparition only stretched out its hand, and, pointing to its mouth, signified that it was dumb. Food, such as has been described, was immediately administered; and a glass of French brandy seemed to revive the skeleton greatly. Walter Gibson, and his wife Janet Harkuess, were not the persons to deny shelter on such a night and to such an object. Warm blankets and a great peat-fire were resorted to; and the next morning saw the stranger much recovered. But he was manifestly deaf and dumb, and could only converse by signs; his features, now that they could be clearly marked, were regular, and a superior air marked his movements. He was apparently young; but he refused to make known, by means of writing, his previous history. There he was, and there he seemed disposed to remain; and it was not possible to eject by force a being at once so dependent and so interesting. As he gained strength, he would walk out with an old musket, which hung suspended from the roofing of the kitchen, and return with valuable and acceptable provisions—hares, miresnipes, woodcocks, partridges, and even crows, were welcome visitors in the kitchen of Auchincairn. Without the aid of a dog, and with ammunition which nobody knew how he procured, he contrived to contribute largely to the alleviation of the winter’s sufferings. The family, consisting of one daughter about eighteen years of age, a son about twenty-two, and four or five male and female servants, were deeply impressed with the notion that he possessed some unearthly powers, and was actually sent by heaven for the purpose of preserving them alive during the asperities and deprivations of the famine and the storm. The winter gradually and slowly passed away, and it was succeeded by a spring, and a summer, and a harvest of unusual beauty and productiveness. The stranger was a wanderer in the fields, and in the linns and in the dark places of the mountains; and it was observed that he had read all the little library of Auchincairn—consisting of Knox’s "History," "The Holy War," "The Pilgrim’s Progress," and a volume of sermons—again and again. He had clearly been well educated, and, as his frame resumed a healthy aspect, he looked every inch a gentleman. Mary Gibson was a kind-hearted, bonny lassie. There were no pretensions to ladyhood about her; but her sweet face beamed with benevolence, and her warm heart beat with goodness and affection. She had, all along, been most kind and attentive to the poor dumb gentleman, (as she called him,) for it early struck her that the stranger had been born such. But, all at once, the stranger disappeared; and, though search was made in all his haunts, not a trace of him could be found. It was feared that, in some of his reveries, he had stumbled over the Whiteside Linn; but his body was not to be found. Newspapers, in these days, there were none, at least in Dumfriesshire; and, in a month or two, the family of Auchincairn seemed to have made up their mind to regard their mysterious visiter in the light of a benevolent messenger of God—in short, of an angel. Into this opinion, however, Mary, it was observed, did not fully enter. But she said little, and sang much, and seemed but little affected by the stranger’s departure.

It was in the month of November of this destructive season, that, one morning, long ere daylight, the closs of Auchincairn was filled with dragoons. There were fearful oaths, and plunging of swords into bed-covers and wool-sacks, in quest of some one after whom they were searching. At length, Walter Gibson and his son were roused from their beds, and placed, half-naked, in the presence of Grierson of Lag, to be interrogated respecting a stranger whom they had sheltered for months past, and whom Grierson described as an enemy to the King and his Government. Of this, both son and father declared, and truly, their ignorance; but they were disbelieved, and immediately marched off, under a guard, to Lag Castle, to Dumfries, and ultimately to Edinburgh, there to await a mock trial, for harbouring a traitor. In vain was all remonstrance on the part of the wife and daughter. Resistance was impossible, and tears were regarded as a subject of merriment.

"Ay, pipe away there," said the infamous Lag," and scream and howl your belly-fulls; but it will be long ere such music will reach the ear, or soften the heart, of my Lord Lauderdale. There is a maiden in Edinburgh, my gentle wood-dove," familiarly grasping Mary Gibson’s chin, and squeezing it even to agony—"there is a maiden in Edinurgh, more loving, by far, than thou canst be; and to this lady of the sharp tongue and heavy hand shall thy dainty brother soon be wedded. As to the old cock, a new pair of boots and a touch of the thumbikins will probably awaken his recollections, and clear his judgment. But march, my lads!—we are wasting time." And the cavalcade rode off, having eaten and drunk all eatables and drinkables in the dwelling.

Mrs Gibson was a person of mild and submissive manners; but there was a strength in her character, which rose with the occasion. She immediately dried up her tears, spoke kindly, and in words of comforting, to her daughter; and, taking her plaid about her shoulders, retired to the barn, where she had long been in the habit of offering up her supplication and thanksgiving to the God of her fathers. When she came forth, after some hours of private communion with herself; she seemed cheered and resolved, and addressed herself to the arrangement of family matters, as if nothing particular had happened. In a few days, information was conveyed to her, that her husband and son had been marched off to Edinburgh, there to await their trial, for the state offence of harbouring a rebel, but really to gratify the resentment of the parish curate, who had taken mortal offence at their nonconformity. Helen Gibson had already resolved in what manner she was to act; and, leaving her daughter to superintend domestic affairs, she set out, like her successor Jeanie Deans, on foot, and unprotected, to Edinburgh, there to visit her husband and son in their confinement, and intercede, should opportunity occur, with the superior and ruling powers, for their life and freedom. As she wandered up the wild path which conducts to Leadhills, it began to snow; and it was with infinite difficulty that she reached the highest town in Scotland, then an insignificant village. Fever was the consequence of this exertion; but, after a few days’ rest, she recovered, and, though still feeble, pursued her way. At Biggar, news reached her that four individuals had, a few days before, been executed at the Gallowlee; and she retired to rest with an alarmed and a dispirited mind. The snow having thawed, she pursued her way under the Pentlands next day, and had advanced as far as Brighouse, at the foot of these hills, when, overcome by fatigue, she was compelled to seek for shelter under the excavation of a rock, upon the banks of a mountain torrent, which works its way, through rook and over precipice, at this place. Being engaged in prayer, she did not observe, for some time, a figure which stood behind her; but what was her surprise, when, on looking around, she recognised at once the well-known countenance of the poor dumb lad! He was now no longer dumb, but immediately informed her that he lived in the neighbourhood; and entreated his former mistress to accompany him home to his habitation. Surprise and astonishment had their play in her bosom—but comfort and something like confidence succeeded; for Mrs Gibson could not help seeing the finger of her God in this matter.

She was conveyed by her guide, now a well-dressed and well-spoken gentleman, to his abode at Pentland Tower—a strongly-built edifice, well fitted for defence, and indicating the antiquity of the family by which it had been possessed. The place was to her a palace, and she looked with amazement on the looking-glasses and pictures which it contained; but, what was of more moment and interest than all other considerations, she learned that King James had fled, and King William had given "Liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison doors to those who were bound." Nay, more, her mysterious landlord informed her that, having himself just obtained his pardon, he had only returned from skulking about, from place to place, to his paternal inheritance, a few days ago, and that, having heard of her family’s misfortunes, occasioned in some measure, by himself; he had immediately repaired to Edinburgh, had seen her husband and son, who were actually at that moment in another chamber of the same house, on their return home to Auchincairn. His renoontre with her had undoubtedly been providential, as he had not the slightest idea that she could possibly be in his neighbourhood.

The interview which followed, upon all its interestiug and fond recognisances, I shall leave to the reader’s imagination —only noticing the kindness of the young Laird of Pentland Tower, in consequence of which the father and son were compelled to delay their return to Auchincairn for a few days, in the course of which a chaise one evening drove up to the door, from which alighted, dressed in her newest attire, and in all the pride of beauty and of a gentle nature. Mary Gibson.

The sequel can be easily anticipated. To all but Mary, the poor persecuted stranger had been dumb; but to her he had formerly confided the secret of his birth, and his subsequent history; and in places "whar warld sa na," they had again and again sworn truth and fealty to each other. But having learned that a search was going on in his neighbourhood, the young Laird of Pentland Tower had assumed a new disguise, and betaken himself to another locality, from which he was drawn by the blessed change of Government already alluded to, as well as by his wish to dignify and adorn, with the name and the honour of wife, "a bonny, virtuous, kind-hearted lassie," who long continued to share and add to his happiness, and to secure the inheritance of Pentland Tower, with its domains, to the name of "Lindsay."

Among the claimants who, a few years ago, contended for the honours of the lordship of Lindsay, I observed a lineal descendant of BONNY MARY GIBSON.

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