Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wilson's Border Tales
Archy Armstrong

For thirty years, Sandy Armstrong of the Cleughfoot had been one of the most daring and successful freebooters of his clan. His name was a sound of terror on the Borders, and was alike disagreeable to Scotch and English ears; for like Esau, Sandy’s hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him. His clan had been long broken and without a leader, and the Armstrongs were regarded as outlaws by both nations. Cleughfoot, in which Sandy resided, was a small square building of prodigious strength; around it was a court-yard, or rather an enclosure for cattle, surrounded by a massy wall, in which was an iron gate strong as the wall itself. The door of the dwelling was also of iron, and the windows, which were scarce larger than loop-holes, were barred. It was generally known by the name of "Lang Sandy’s Keep," and was situated on the side of the Tarras, about ten miles from Langholm. Around it was a desolate morass, the passes of which were known only to Sandy and his few followers, and beyond the morass was a decaying but almost impenetrable forest. Sandy, like his forefathers, knew no law, save

"The good old law—the simple plan—
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

He had had seven sons, and of these five had fallen while following him in the foray, the sixth had been devoured by a bloodhound, and he had but one, Archy, his youngest, left, to whom he could bequeath his stronghold, a fleet steed, and his sword. Land he had none, and he knew not its value; he found it more profitable to levy black-mail, to the right and to the left, on Englishman and on Scot; and he laughed at the authority of Elizabeth and of James, and defied the power of the Wardens of their Marches. "Bess may be Queen o’ England," said he, "and book-learned Jamie, King o’ braid Scotland, but Sandy Armstrong is lord o’ the wilds o’ Tarras."

On the death of Elizabeth, Sandy and his handful of retainers had been out in the raid to Penrith; in that desperate attempt, some of them had fallen, and others had been seized and executed at Carlisle. But Sandy had escaped, driving his booty through the wilds before him to Cleughfoot. On one side of the court-yard stood a score of oxen and six fleet steeds, and on the other was provender for them for many days. On the flat roof of Cleughfoot Keep sat Sandy Armstrong; before him was a wooden stoup filled with aqua vitae, and in his hand he held a small quegh, neatly hooped round, and formed of wood of various colours. It had a short handle for the finger and thumb, was about two inches in diameter, and three quarters of an inch in depth, and out of this vessel Sandy, ever and anon, quaffed his strong potations, while his son, Archy, a boy of twelve years old, stood by his side, receiving from his parent a Borderer’s education. But, leaving the freebooter and his son on the turret of their fastness, we shall also, for a few moments, leave Dumfriesshire, and, carrying back our narrative for some weeks, introduce the reader to the ancient town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

On Wednesday, the 8th of April, 1603, every soul in the good town of Berwick was up by daybreak; wife and maiden flaunted in their newest gowns with ample fardingals, and the sweating mechanic looked as spruce in his well brushed "jack," as a courtly cavalier. By sunrise the cannon thundered from the ramparts. Before noon, the Marshal, Sir John Carey, at the head of the garrison, composed of horse and foot, marched out of the town towards Lamberton, firing feu-d’-joies as they went, while the cannon still pealed and the people shouted. The thunder of the artillery became more frequent, the bells rang merrily, the volleys of the garrison became louder and more loud, as though they again approached, and "He comes! he comes!" shouted the crowd. " Hurra! hurra!—the King! the King!" The garrison again entered the town, they filed to the right and left, lining the street. In front of Marygate stood William Selby, the gentleman porter, with the keys of the town. The voice of the artillery, the muskets, and the multitude, again mingled together. James of Scotland and of England stood before the gate—Selby bent upon his knee, he placed the keys of the town in the hands of the monarch, who instantly returned them, saying, "Rise, Sir William Selby, an, saul o’ me, man, but ye should take it as nae sma’ honour to be the first knight made by James, by the grace of God, an’ the love o’ our gracious cousin, King o’ England an’ Scotland likewise." His Majesty, followed by the multitude, proceeded down Marygate, through the files of the garrison, to the market-place, where the worshipful Hugh Gregson, the mayor, his brother aldermen, the bailiffs, and others of the principal burgesses, waited to receive him. The Mayor knelt and presented him with a purse of gold and the corporation’s charter. "Ye are a leal and considerate gentleman," said the king, handing the purse to one of his attendants, " worthy friends are ye a’; and now take back your charter, an’ ye sall find in us a gracious and affectionate sovereign, ready to maintain the liberty and privileges it confers upon our trusty subjects o’ ourtown o’ Berwick." Mr Christopher Parkinson, the Recorder, then delivered a set and solemn speech, after which the king proceeded to the church, where the Rev. Toby Mathews, Bishop of Durham, preached a sermon suited to royal ears. On the following day the demonstrations of rejoicing were equally loud, and his Majesty visited the garrison and fortifications; and as he walked upon the ramparts surrounded by lords from Scotland and from England, and while the people shouted, and the artillery belched forth fire, smoke, and thunder, the monarch, in order to give an unquestionable demonstration of his courage in the presence of his new subjects, boldly advanced to the side of one of the cannon, and took the match from the hands of the soldier who was about to fire it. Once—twice—thrice, the monarch stretched forth his hand to the touch-hole, but touched it not. It was evident the royal hand trembled—the royal eyes were closed—yea, the royal cheeks became pale. At length the quivering match touched the powder, back bounded the thundering cannon, and back sprang the terrified monarch, knocking one of his attendants down—dropping the match upon the ground, and thrusting his fingers in his ears—stammering out, as plainly as his throbbing heart would permit, that "he feared their drum was split in twa!" Scarce had his Majesty recovered from this demonstration of his bravery, when a messenger arrived with the intelligence that the Armstrongs and other clans had committed grievous depredations on the Borders, and had even carried their works of spoliation and plunder as far as Penrith.

"Borders, man!" quoth the king, "our kingdom hath nae borders but the sea. It is our royal pleasure that the word borders sall never mair be used; wat ye not that what were the extremities or borders o’ the twa kingdoms, are but the middle o’ our kingdom, an’ in future it is our will an’ decree that ye ca’ them nae langer the borders, but the middle counties. An’ now, Sir William Selby, as we were graciously pleased yesterday by our ain hand, to confer on ye the high honour o’ knighthood, tak ye twa hundred and fifty horsemen, and gae ye up our middle counties, commanding every true man in our name, capable o’ bearing arms, to join ye in crushing and in punishing sic thieves and rievers; hang ilka Armstrong and Johnstone amang them that resists our royal will, an’ make the iron yetts o’ their towers be converted into ploughshares. Away, sir, an’ do your wark surely an’ right quickly."

On the following day, Sir William Selby set out upon his mision; and before he had proceeded far he found himself the head of a thousand horsemen. They burned and destroyed the strongholds of the Borderers as they went, and the more desperate amongst them who fell into their hands were sent in fetters to Carlisle.

It was early in May, and the young leaves, bursting into beauty and being, were spreading their summer livery over Tarras forest, and the breeze wafted their grateful fragrance over the morass; even on the morass itself, a thousand simple flowers, like fragments of beauty scattered in handfuls amidst the wide-spread desolation, peeped forth; and over the sharp cry of the wheeling lapwing rang the summer hymn of the joyful lark, when, as we have before said, Sandy Armstrong sat on the turret of Cleughfoot with his son by his side.

"Archy," said the freebooter, "this warld is turning upside down, an’ honest men hae nae chance in’t. We hear o’ naething noo but law! law! law!—but the fient a grain o’ justice is to be met wi’ on the Borders. A man canna take a bit beast or twa in an honest way, or make a bonfire o’ an enemy’s haystack, but there’s naethin’ for’t but Carlisle and a hempen cravat. But mind, callant, ye ha’e the bluid o’ the Armstrongs in your veins, and their hands never earned bread by ony instrument but the sword, and it winna be the son of Sandy o’ Cleughfoot that will disgrace his kith and kin by trudging at a ploughtail, or learning some beggarly handicraft. Swear to me, Archy, that ye will live by the sword like your faithers afore ye—swear to your faither, callant, an’ fear neither Jamie Stuart, his twa kingdoms, nor his horsemen—they’ll ha’e stout hearts that cross Tarras Moss, and there will be few sheep in Liddesdale before the pot at Cleughfoot need nae skimming."

"I will live like my faither before me.—king o’ Tarras-side," said the youth.

"That shall ye, Archy," rejoined the freebooter; "an’ though the Scotts an’ the Elliotts may, like fause loons, make obiesance to the king, and get braid lands for bending their knees, what cares Sandy Armstrong for their lands, their man-rents, or their sheep-skins, scrawled owre by a silk-fingered monk—his twa-handed blade and his Jeddart-staff shall be a better title to an Armstrong than an acre o’ parchment."

The boy caught the spirit of his sire, and flourished his Jedburgh-staff, or battle-axe, in his hand. The father raised the quegh to his lips—"Here’s to ye, Archy," he cried, "ye’ll be cooper o’ Fogo!"

He crossed his arms upon his breast—he sat thoughtful for a few minutes, and again added—"Archy—but my heart fills to look on ye--ye are a brave bairn, but this is nae langer the brave man’s country. Courage is persecuted, and knaves only are encouraged, than can scribble like the monks o’ Melrose. Ye had sax brithers, Archy—sax lads whase marrows warna to be found on a’ the lang Borders—wi’ them at my back an’ I could hae ridden north an’ south, an’ made the name of Sandy Armstrong be feared, but they are gane--they’re a’ gane, and there’s nane left but you to protect and defend your poor mother when I am gane too; and now they would hunt me like a deer if they durst, ‘or they are butchering guid and true men for our bit raid to Penrith, as though the life o’ an Armstrong were o’ less value than an English nowt. If ye live to be a man, Archy, and to see your poor auld mother’s head laid in the mould, take my sword and leave this poor, pitifu’, king-ridden, and book-ruined country; an’ dinna ye disgrace your faither by makin’ bickers like the coopers o’ Nicholwood, or pinglin wi’ an elshin like the souters o’ Selkirk."

The sluth-dog which lay at their feet, started up, snuffed the air, growled and lashed its tail. "Ha! Tiger! what is’t Tiger?" cried Sandy, addressing the dog, and springing to his feet.

"Troopers! troopers, faither!" cried Archy, "an’ they are comin’ frae ilka side of the forest!"

"Get ready the dags, Archy," said the freebooter; "it’s twa lang spears’ length to the bottom of Tarras moss, an’ they’ll be light men and lighter horses that find na a grave in’t—get ready the dags, and cauld lead shall welcome the first man that mentions King Jamie’s name before the walls o’ Cleughfoot."

The boy ran and brought his father’s pistols—his mother accompanied him to the turret. She gazed earnestly on the threatening bands of horsemen as they approached, for a few seconds, then taking her husband’s hand—"Sandy," said she, "I hae lang looked for this; but others that are wives the now shall gang widows to bed the night as well as Elspeth Armstrong!"

"Fear naething, Elspeth, my doo," replied the riever; "there will be blood in the way if they attack the lion in’ his den. But there’s a lang and tangled moss atween them an’ Cleughfoot. We hae seen an enemy nearer an’ be glad to turn back again."

"They will reach us, faither," cried Archy; "do ye no’ see they hae muffled men before them."

"Muffled men! then, bairn, your faither’s betrayed!" exclaimed the freebooter, "an’ there’s naething but revenge and death left for Sandy Armstrong!"

He stalked rapidly around the turret—he examined his pistols, the edge of his sword, his Jedburgh-staff, and his spear. Elspeth placed a steel cap on his head, and, from beneath it, his dark hair, mingled with grey, fell upon his brow. He stood with his ponderous spear in one hand, and a pistol in the other, and the declining sun cast his shadow across the moss, to the very horses’ feet of his invaders. Still the horsemen, who amounted to several hundred, drew nearer and nearer on every side, and impenetrable as the morass was to strangers, yet, by devious windings, as a hound tracks its prey, the muffled men led them on, till they had arrived within pistol shot of Cleughfoot.

"What want ye, friends?" shouted the outlaw—"think ye that a poor man like Sandy Armstrong can gi’e upputtin’ and provender for five hundred horse?"

"We come," replied an officer, advancing in front of the company, "by the authority o’ our gracious prince, James, king o’ England and Scotland, and in the name o’ his commissioner, Sir William Selby, to punish and hand over to justice Border thieves and outlaws, o’ whom we are weel assured that you, Sandy Armstrong, o’ the Cleughfoot, are habit and repute, amangst the chief."

"Ye lie! ye lie!" returned the outlaw; ye dyvors in scarlet an’ cockades, ye lie’ I hae lived thir fifty years by my ain hand, an’ the man was never born that dared say Sandy Armstrong laid finger on the widow’s cow or the puir man’s mare, or that he scrimpt the orphan’s meal. But I hae been a protector o’ the poor and helpless, an’ a defender o’ the cowan-hearted, for a sma’ but honest blackmail, that other men, wi’ no half the strength o’ Sandy Armstrong, wadna ta’en up at their foot."

"Do ye surrender in peace, ye boastin’ rebel?" replied the herald, "or shall we burn your den about your ears?"

"I ken it is death ony way ye take it," rejoined the outlaw—"ye would shew me an’ mine the mercy that was shewn to my kinsman, John o’ Gilnokie, and I shall surrender as an Armstrong surrenders—when the breath is out."

Fire flashed from a narrow crevice which resembled a cross in the turrets—the report of a pistol was heard, and the horse of the herald bounded, and fell beneath him.

"That wasna done like an Armstrong, Archy," said the freebooter, "ye hae shot the horse an’ it might hae been the rider—the man was but doing his duty, an’ it was unfair and cowardly to fire on him till the affray began."

"I shall mind again faither," said Archy "but I thought wi’ sic odds against us, that every advantage was fair."

While these events transpired, Elspeth was busied placing powder and balls upon the roof of the turret, she brought up also a carbine, and putting it in her husband’s hands, said—"Tak ye that, Sandy, to aim at their leaders, and gie Archy an’ me the dags."

The horsemen encompassed the wall; Sandy, his wife, and his son, knelt upon the turret, keeping up, through the crevices, a hurried but deadly fire on their besiegers. It was evident the assailants intended to blow up the wall. The freebooter beheld the train laid, and the match applied. Already his last bullet was discharged. "Let us fire the straw among the cattle!" cried Little Archy. "Weel thought, my bairn!" exclaimed the reiver. The boy rushed down into the house, and in an instant returned with a flaming pine torch in his hand. He dropped it amongst the cattle. He dashed a handful of powder on the spot, and in a moment half of the court-yard burst into a flame. At the same instant a part of the court-wall trembled—exploded—fell. The horned cattle and the horses were rushing wildly to and fro through the fire. The invaders burst through the gap. Elspeth tore a pearl drop from her ears, and, thrusting it in the pistol, discharged it at the head of the first man who approached the house. It was evident they intended to blowup the house as they had done the wall. Sandy had now no weapon that he could render effective but his spear, and he said—"They shall taste the prick o’ the hedgehog before I die." He thrust it down furiously upon them, and several of them fell at his threshold, but the deadly instrument was grasped by a number of the besiegers, and wrenched from his hands. The sun had already set, darkness was gathering over the morass, and still the fire burned, and the cattle rushed amongst the armed men in the court-yard.

"Elspeth," said the freebooter, "it is not your life they seek, and they canna hae the heart to harm our bairn. Gie me my Jeddart-staff in my hand—an’ fareweel to ye, Elspeth—fareweel!—an eternal fareweel! Archy, fareweel, my gallant bairn!—never disgrace your faither!—but ye winna—ye winna—an’ if I am murdered, mind ye revenge me, Archy! Now we maun unbar the door, an’ I maun cut my way through them or perish."

Thus spoke the Borderer, and, with his battle-axe in his hand, he embraced his wife and his son, and wept, "Now, Archy," said he, "slip an’ open the door—saftly!—saftly!—an’ let me rush out."

Archy silently drew back the massy bars; in a moment the iron door stood ajar, and Sandy Armstrong, battle-axe in hand, burst into the court-yard, and into the midst of his besiegers. There was not a man amongst them that had not heard of the "terrible Jeddart-staff o’ Sandy Armstrong." He cleaved them down before him—his very voice augmented their confusion—they shrank back at his approach; and while some fled from the enfuriated cattle, others fled from the arm of the freebooter. In a few seconds he reached the gap in the court-wall—he rushed upon the moss;—darkness had begun, and a thick vapour was rising from the morass. "Follow me who dare!" shouted Sandy Armstrong.

Archy withdrew into a niche in the passage, as his father rushed out;—and as the besiegers speedily burst into the house, amongst them was one of the muffled men, bearing a torch in his hand. Revenge fired the young Borderer, and, with his Jedburgh-staff, he made a dash at the hand of the traitor. The torch fell upon the floor, and with it three of the fingers that grasped it. The besiegers were instantly enveloped in gloom, and Archy, escaping from the niche from whence he had struck the blow, said unto himself— "Ive gien ye a mark to find out wha ye are, neighbour."

The besiegers took possession of Cleughfoot, and the chief men of the party remained in it during the night, while a portion of their followers occupied the court-yard, and others, with their horses, remained on the morass. Archy and his mother were turned from their dwelling, and placed under a guard upon the moss, where they remained throughout the night; and, in the morning, Cleughfoot was blown up before them. They were conveyed as prisoners to Sir William Selby, who had fixed his quarters near Langholm.

"Whom do ye bring me here?" inquired the new-made knight; "a wife and a bairn!—Hae ye been catching sparrows and let the eagle escape?—Whar hae ye the head and the hand o’ the outlaw?"

"Troth, Sir Knight," replied an officer, "and his head is where it shouldna be—on his ain shouthers. At the darkenin’ he escaped upon the moss; three troopers, guided by a muffler and a sluth-dog pursued him; an’, as we crossed the bog this mornin’, we found ane o’ the troopers sunk to the middle in’t, an’ his horse below him; and far’er on were the dead bodies o’ the other twa, the sluth-dog, and the muffled man. I am sorry, therefore, to inform ye, Sir Knight, that Sandy Armstrong has escaped, but we has made a bonfire o’ his keep, an’ brought ye his wife and his son—wha are Armstrongs, soul and body o’ them—to do wi’ them as ye may judge proper."

"Tuts, man," replied Sir William, "wad ye hae us to disgrace our royal commission by hangin’ an auld wife an’ a bairn? Gae awa ye limmer, ye—gae awa wi’ your brat," he added, addressing Elspeth, "an’ learn to live like honest folk; or, if ye fa’ in my way again, ye shall dance by the crook frae a woodie."

"Where can I gang?" said she, sorrowfully, as she withdrew. "O Archy! we hae neither house nor hauld—friend nor kindred!—an’ wha will shelter the wife and bairn o’ poor persecuted Sandy Armstrong!"

"Dinna fret, mother," said Archy; "though they hae burned Cleughfoot, the stanes are still left, an’ I can soon big a bit place to stop in; nor while there’s a hare in Tarras wood, on a sheep on the Leadhills, shall ye ever want, mother."

They returned in sorrow to the heap of ruins that had been their habitation; and Elspeth, in the bitterness of her spirit, sat down upon the stones and wept. But after she had wept long, and the sound of her lamentation had howled across the desert, she arose, and assisted her son in constructing a hut from the ruins, in which they might lay their heads. In two days it was completed, but, on the third day, the disconsolate wife of the freebooter sank on her bed of rushes, and the sickness of death was in her heart.

"Oh, speak to me, mother!" cried Archy; "what—what can I do for ye?"

"Naethin’, my bairn!—naethin’!" groaned the dying woman—"the sun’s fa’in’ dark on the een o’ Elspeth Armstrong; but, oh, may the saunts o’ heaven protect my poor Archy!"

She tried to repeat the only prayer she had ever learned—for religion was as little understood in the house of a freebooter as the eighth commandment. Poor Archy wrung his hands, and sobbed aloud.

"Dinna die, mother-oh! dinna die!" he exclaimed, "or what will become o’ your Archy!" He rushed from the hut, and with a broken vessel which he had found among the ruins, he brought water from the rivulet. He applied it to her lips—he bathed her brow—"O mother! mother, dinna die!" he cried again, "and I will get you bread too!" He again hurried from the hut, and bounded across the moss with the fleetness of a young deer. It was four long miles to the nearest habitation, and in it dwelt Ringan Scott, a dependant of the Buccleuchs. There had never been friendship between his family and that of Sandy Armstrong, but, in the agony of Archy’s feelings, he stopped not to think of that nor of aught but his dying mother. He rushed into the house. "Gie me bread!" he exclaimed wildly, "for the love o’ heaven gie me bread, for my mother is perishin’!"

"Let her perish!—an’ may ye a’ perish!" said a young man, the son of Ringan, who stood by the fire with his right hand in a sling, ye’s get nae bread here."

"I maun!—I shall!" cried Archy, vehemently. Half of a coarse cake lay upon the table, he snatched it up, and rushed out of the house. They pursued him for a time, but affection and despair gave wings to his speed. Breathless, he reached the wretched hut, and, on entering, he cried—"Mother, here is bread! I have gotten’t! I have gotten’t!" But his mother answered him not. "Speak, mother? O mother, speak!—here is bread now—eat it and ye’ll be better!" he cried, but his mother was still silent. He took her hand in his—"Are ye sleepin’, mother?" he added—"here is bread?" He shook her gently, but she stirred not. He placed his hand upon her face, it was cold as the rude walls of the hut, and her extended arms were stiff and motionless. He raised them and they fell heavily and lifeless. "Mother!—mother!" screamed Archy; but his mother was dead! He rushed from the hut wildly, tearing his hair—he flung himself upon the ground—he called upon his father, and the glens of Tarras echoed the cry; but no father was near to answer. He flew back to the hut. He knelt by his mother’s corpse—he rubbed her face and her bosom—he placed his lips to hers, and again he invoked her to speak. Night drew on, and, as darkness fell over the ghastly features of the corpse, he fled with terror from the hut, and wandered weeping throughout the night upon the moss. At sunrise he returned, and again sat down and wept by the dead body of his mother. He became familiar with death and his terror died away. Two nights more passed on, and the boy sat in the desolate hut in the wilderness, watching and mourning over the lifeless body of his mother. On the fourth day he took a fragment of the iron gate, and began to dig her grave. He raised the dead body in his arms, and weeping, screaming, as he went, he bore it to the tomb he had prepared for it. He gently placed it in the cold earth, and covered it with the moss and the green sod. All the day long he toiled in rolling and carrying stones from the ruins of his father’s house, to erect a cairn over his mother’s grave. When his task was done, he wrung his hands and exclaimed, "Now, poor Archy Armstrong hasna a friend in the wide world!" While he yet stood mourning over the new-made grave, a party of horsemen, who were still in quest of his father, rode up and accosted him. His tragic tale was soon told, and, in the bitterness of his heart, he accused them as being the murderers of his father and his mother. Amongst them was one of the chief men of the Elliot clan, who held lands in the neighbourhood. He felt compassion for Archy, and he admired his spirit; and, desiring him to follow him, he promised to provide for him. Archy reluctantly obeyed, and he was employed to watch the sheep of his protector on the hills.

Eighteen years passed away. Archy was now thirty years of age; he had learned to read, and even to write, like the monks that were in Melrose. He was the principal herdsman of his early benefactor, and was as much beloved as his father had been feared. But at times the spirit of the freebooter would burst forth; and he had not forgiven the persecutors, or, as he called them, the murderers of his parents. Amongst these was one called "Fingerless Dick," the son of Ringan Scott, of whom we have spoken. Archy had long known that he was one of the muffled men who had conducted Selby’s horsemen to his father’s house, and that he was the same from whose hand he dashed the torch with his battle-axe. Now, there was to be a football fray in Liddesdale, and the Borderers thronged to it from many miles. Archy was there, and there also was his enemy—"Fingerless Dick." They quarrelled—they closed—both came to the ground, but Scott was undermost. He drew his knife—he stabbed his antagonist in the side--he was repeating the thrust, when Archy wrenched the weapon from his hand, and, in the fury of the moment, plunged it in his breast. At first the wound was believed to be mortal, and an attempt was made to seize Archy, but clutching an oaken cudgel from the hands of one who stood near him—"Lay hands on me wha dare!" he cried, as he brandished it in the air, and fled at his utmost speed.

Archy knew that though his enemy might recover, the Scotts would let loose the tender mercies of the law upon his head, and instead of returning to the house of his master, he sought safety in concealment.

On the third day after the fray in Liddesdale, he entered Dumfries. He was weary and wayworn, for he had fled from hill to hill, and from glen to glen, fearing pursuit. He inquired for a lodging, and was shewn to a small house near the foot of a street leading to the river, and which we believe is now called the Back Vennel; and in which he was told "the pig folk and other travellers put up for the night." There was a motley group in the house, beggars and chapmen, and amongst the former was an old man of uncommon stature; and his hair, as white as snow, descended down upon his shoulders. His beard was of equal whiteness, and fell upon his breast. An old grey cloak covered his person, which was fastened round his body with a piece of rope instead of a girdle. He appeared as one who had been in foreign wars, and he wore a shade or patch over his left eye. He spoke but little, but he gazed often wistfully on the countenance of Archy, and more than once a tear found its way down his weather-beaten cheeks. In the morning when Archy rose to depart, "Whither gang ye, young man ?" inquired the old beggar, earnestly—"are ye for the north or for the south?"

"Wherefore spier ye, auld man?" replied Archy.

"I hae a cause, an’ ane that winna harm ye," said the stranger, "if ye will thole an auld man’s company for a little way."

Archy agreed that he should accompany him, and they took the road towards Annan together. It was a calm and glorious morning; the Solway flashed in the sunlight like a silver lake, and not a cloud rested on the brow of the majestic Criffel. For the space of three miles they proceeded in silence, but the man sighed oft and heavily, as though his spirit was troubled. "Let us rest here for a few minutes," said he, as he sat down on a green knoll by the way-side, and gazing steadfastly in Archy’s face—"Young man," he added, "your face brings owre my heart the memories o’ thirty years—and, oh! persecuted as the name is—answer me truly if your name be Armstrong?"

"It is!" replied Archy, "and perish the son o’ Sandy Armstrong when he disowns it!"

"An’ your faither—your mother," continued the old man, hesitating as he spoke—"do they—does she live?"

In a few words Archy told of his father’s persecution—of his being hunted from the country like a wild beast—of the destruction of the home of his childhood—of his mother’s death, and of her burial by his own hands in the wilderness.

"Oh! my poor Elspeth!" cried the aged beggar; "Archy! my son! my son! I am your faither! Sandy Armstrong, the outlaw!"

"My faither!" exclaimed Archy, pressing the beggar to his breast. When they had wept together, "Let us gae nae farer south," said the old man, but let us return to Tarras moss, that when the hand o’ death comes, ye may lay me down in peace by the side of my Elspeth."

With a sorrowful heart Archy told his father that he was flying from the law and the vengeance of the Scotts. "Gie them gowd as a peace-offering," said the old man, and he pulled from beneath his coarse cloak a leathern purse filled with gold, and placed it in the hands of his son. For nearly twenty years Sandy had served in foreign wars, and obtained honours and rewards; and on visiting his native land, he had assumed the beggar’s garb for safety. They returned to Tarras-side together, and a few yellow coins quashed the prosecution of "Fingerless Dick." Archy married the daughter of his former employer, and became a sheep-farmer; and at the age of fourscore years and ten, the old freebooter closed his eyes in peace in the house of his son, and in the midst of his grandchildren, and was buried, according to his own request, by the side of Elspeth in the wilderness.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus