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Scottish Stories from the Treasure Chest
Janet Smith and Nannie Nivison

HOW the words seem to carry us far, far away to the “land of the mountain and the flood" with its wild mountain fastnesses, its heather-clad moors, its desolate yet grand old hills, its clear blue lochs, its splashing mountain streams, its bewildering mists, and its picturesque landscapes! How beautiful it looked on that still lovely day in early autumn! The Frith of Cree was unusually quiet and calm, and reflected back from its bosom the clear blue sky above it. On the land the bountiful harvest gave gladness and rejoicing to both masters and servants, while on the sea a peaceful serenity prevailed. A few ships floated down the frith with a scarcely perceptible motion, with sails set, looking like some net-work tracery in a fairy picture. On the shores of the frith stood a little cottage, consisting of merely “a but and a ben.” It was humble and very small, but inhabited by those who had learned that a man’s riches consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth, “but rather in that true contentment of spirit which, while having nothing, yet possesseth all things.”

Janet Smith and Nannie Nivison were grandmother and granddaughter. They had once passed among the rich of the land, but their adherence to the faith had brought them sorrow, persecution, and distress. Janet was now upward of eighty years of age—feeble, nearly blind, and bent. She was entirely dependent upon Nannie, who was just in the bloom of her teens, young and healthy, and never seemed weary of waiting upon her aged grandmother, who had filled a mother’s place to her when she was left fatherless and motherless by their cruel persecutors. These two were the sole inmates of this little cottage on the shores of the Frith of Cree.

As we said, it was a fine autumnal evening, and, attracted by the beauty of the scene, Nannie sat in the door-way gazing out upon the clear expanse of waters. Door and window were both open, so that Janet too could enjoy the look-out. A fishing smack had just gone by, hailing them in cheery tones, and another was seen in the distance making its way up. But Nannie’s thoughts were not on the mariners then, nor on the scene before her, nor on the loveliness of the evening. She was thinking of a beloved brother, who was then, as she believed and hoped, far away. Thomas Nivison was following in the steps of his father as an adherent to the Covenant. That father had been coolly shot for his refusal to attend at the parish church, and conform to an episcopalian mode of worship, and his son Thomas could not forget his murdered blood. On arriving at man’s estate, he openly avowed himself a Covenanter, and declared his determination to abide by the Presbyterian faith. For this declaration he was outlawed, and a price set upon his head. Knowing that it was certain death to remain in his Galloway home, he went forth, none knew whither, hiding in dens and caves of the earth by day and traveling by night. Nannie and her grandmother supposed he had gone to America. A rumor to that effect had reached their ears, and gladly they heard it, believing that there, at least, he could worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. It may seem strange to many of us in the present day to read this, but not more than two centuries ago, torture, confiscation of property, imprisonment and death were resorted to, to force an episcopal church upon the people. The descendants of the Covenanters, those who signed the “solemn league and Covenant,” to this day tell, by country firesides and ingle-stanes, the tales of persecution and cruelty handed down by their forefathers.


“What were ye thinking of, Nannie, my bairn?" said old Janet, as she noticed a look of anxiety and fear creep over the girl’s face. “Was Tammas in yer mind then?”

“Indeed he was, grandmother,” replied Nannie. “I wonder if he is safe, or where he is? Mr. Gordon assured me he had sailed for America.” “Well, Nannie, child, an’ if he has gone over the water, what need ye to fear for him? Sure he will be better far there than ever he will be at home. Here they will hunt him like a partridge upon the mountains, not daring to set his foot inside his ain house. There he will be a free man, and none will dare molest him because he does not choose to listen to a surpliced priest. Better let him go there than be shot like a dog in Scotland. I do wish the good Lord had seen fit to take me, that ye might agone wi9 him, my precious bairn.”

“Say not so, dear grandmother,” said Nannie.

“And when I come to think it over, I feel glad that he is gone. I can not bear the thought of his being shot by those brutal dragoons. I heard to-day that Douglass and his band are at Wigton, lying in wait for all suspected persons.”

“May God help all the poor creatures that fall into his hands,” said Janet. “I am glad we are living in this secluded spot. Surely no soldiers would deem it worth while to persecute two helpless women like us.”

“And yet they did old Elspeth Wallace; they took away her cow, and tied lighted matches between her fingers.”

“I know,” replied Janet, with a groan. “May the Lord preserve us from falling into such hands. When he shall come to make inquisition for blood, surely he will not forget the cry of his humble murdered ones.”

Quietly the two retired to rest, little dreaming of any intrusion. Nannie offered her simple petition, with which were blended remembrances of her exiled brother, and then tried to compose her mind to rest. About midnight, however, she became aware of a stealthy, subdued tapping at the cottage door. Half frightened, she called out, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Nannie; it’s Tammas.”

“Oh Tammas!” she gasped, and in another moment she admitted him. Old Janet became aware, by the stir, that something unusual had occurred, and eagerly inquired the cause. By this time Nannie had struck a light, and by its aid Thomas revealed himself to his grandmother.

“The good Lord help us,” was the old woman’s exclamation. “Do ye ken the awful risk ye are running, Tammas, in coming here?”

“Yes, grandmother, I do; but home is home, all the world over, and I could not rest without seeing you both once more.”

“But,” interrupted Nannie, “we thought you were gone to America. We hoped you had arrived there by this time.”

“I did hope to have been there by this time,” replied the fugitive, “but the vessel in which I sailed was wrecked off the Isle of Arran, and there I have been ever since, helping the fishermen, and getting a day’s employment where I could.”

“How did you come home?” inquired Nannie.

“I got on board a fishing smack bound for Creetown, and got in there this morning. I hid myself in the binns all day, and since dark came on to you.”

“Are you sure no one saw you?” said Nannie, fearfully. Her apprehensions of danger were lively, and the more so because constantly fed by news of the doings of the soldiery.

“Well, I can not be sure,” replied Thomas, “for just as I was in hiding, a smuggler—I know he was—stumbled over me; and when I taxed him with his doings he threatened to inform on me for a Covenanter. If he does, I am done for. Where is Clavers and the rest of them ?”

“I canna say where Clavers is,” replied Janet, “but Douglass is at Wigton with his troop. If that man fulfilled his threat, they could be here before the morning.”

At this Thomas Nivison started up. Poor hunted fugitive! how constantly present to his mind were capture and death! So would it be to yours and mine were we driven to hide in the mountains, there to baffle, for months and years, pursuers who were bent upon taking dear life. “Can they?” he said. “Then I’m a lost man; for as sure as I am here that fellow has told them by this time. He threatened that he would. Had I known they were so near as Wigton I would not have come home for the world.” Down he sat again, and the three poor creatures looked at each other as if mentally considering the best course of action. Nothing but flight, instant flight, appeared available.

“Oh Tammas!” groaned the old woman, “the Philistines killed your father without law and mercy, and they willna scruple to do the same wi’ the son.”

“Not they,” said Thomas, “and glad of the chance to get me. They will never forget the wound I gave Rory Ferguson at that time. I suppose they will follow me up till they finish me. Look at me/’ and he drew himself up. “I am destitute of money, clothes, and food. I can not dare to travel by day, but am obliged to spend it crouching in heather, or covered with damp moss, and that alone is bringing me to a speedy grave. Well, then, if I live through that, I am liable any day to be a mark for six or eight bullets. Is it not enough to make any man desperate? And were it not for the good cause in which I suffer, I could not hold on.”

“Aye, it is, it is,” sobbed Nannie, who, however, had the presence of mind to pack up, amid her tears, nearly all the food she had in the house for her brother to take with him.

“And now I must be going,” said the young man. “I thought I could have staid here tonight, and perhaps for a few days, but I dare not expose you to the soldiers’ wrath. It is bad enough for me, but would be ten times worse for you. Good-by.” With these words, he wrung the hands of his two relatives, and taking up the little bundle of eatables, stepped out into the dark, still night. Nannie and Janet, after talking awhile of Thomas, who, until now, they had believed safe in that land of freedom, America, again tried to compose themselves to rest.

Morning broke, fine and gray. Almost with the first dawn of light Nannie was up and astir. Just as she was going to the spring, which ran by the side of the cottage, she was startled by observing a company of soldiers galloping toward the little pathway leading to their door. The foremost one accosted her: “Where’s Thomas Nivison? Do you know any thing of the rascal’s whereabouts?”

“My brother, sir?”

“Yes, your brother, if it be so. I heard he had a sister somewhere in these parts, and I have received information that he is lurking about here. Now, if this is the case, he will have to be unearthed, for we’11 pull down every sod in the old cabin yonder but what we’ll find him out.”

“I hope you will never find him,” replied Nannie, steadily. “I can not tell you where he is.”

“But you can tell us if he has been here lately,” said the officer. “Did he not come home last night?”

“I can not tell you that. I dare not inform upon my own brother.”

“Oh, I see. There is a little nest of Covenanters snugly packed in a quiet corner. We ’11 see if we can’t burn out the secret, though. Once more, will you inform me of your brother’s whereabouts?”

“I can not, sir.”

“Will you tell me when you last saw him? “That I can not do,” she replied, firmly, all alive to the dreadful doom which probably awaited her.

“Very well. See to her, a couple of you, there,” he said, as he strode on and passed into the cottage. By the time he reached it, old Janet was curiously peering forth to see who her visitors were. The sound of voices in the garden path had aroused her, and hastily dressing herself, she was just groping her way toward the door when Douglass met her.

“Good-morning, Mother Cantaway,” he said, with a sneer. “Look here; I want that precious scoundrel of yours, Thomas Nivison. I have the warrant for his apprehension; and if I catch him it’s little mercy that he’ll get, I’ll promise him. Is n’t he your grandson?”

“He is my grandson,” replied the old woman, feebly and fearfully. “His father was my own eldest son.”

“And he was one of your whining, canting Covenanters,” brutally remarked the officer. “I remember him well.”

“And so will God remember those who murdered him,” said Janet. “Dinna think because he seems to be quiet, he forgets.”

Douglass burst out with an oath, “That won’t go down with me, old woman. I received trustworthy information, last night, that this grandson of yours was seen loitering around here, and of course he would come in. Now, what time was he here?”

“I canna satisfy you on that point.”

“But you shall; and if you won’t by fair means you shall by foul. Tell me at once, which way did he take? what time did he leave? If you tell me that, you and your granddaughter shall be left unmolested; but if not”— and the silence supplied his meaning.

“As truly as God is in heaven,” said the old woman, slowly and solemnly, “I canna tell ye. What! do ye no ken that it would be against nature for me to inform agin my ain flesh and bluid ? I canna tell ye.”

“You mean to say that you can tell me, but won’t,” Douglass vociferated. “Is not that it?”

“What I ken about Tammas Nivison I canna tell ye or any body else,” replied Janet.

“Very well, then, take the consequences,”and he strode away to his soldiers. Again he tried to extract the facts relating to Thomas’ recent visit from the trembling girl, but in vain. Neither persuasion nor threats availed with her. Douglass’ rage was unconquerable. He seemed ready to use any means to attain his end. After conferring with a subordinate officer for a few moments, he issued orders for two stakes to be driven into the frith, at unequal distances from the shore. The tide being out, the soldiers experienced but little difficulty in obeying this command. He watched them perform it, then turned again to Janet, who had remained all this time inside the cottage door, asking as often as she dared for Nannie. The poor girl witnessed these preparations with wonder and terror. “Now, old woman,” he said, “I have had a couple of stakes driven down into the sand yonder. I shall just tie you to one and that girl outside to the other, unless you tell me all you know of Thomas Nivison. If you are tied there you will sure-4 ly be drowned as the tide advances. Choose quickly.”

“I can die, but I canna tell" she replied firmly.

“Then die" he said, as he turned on his heel. In ten minutes more the poor old creature was secured to a post. It was placed so far out that she could feel the first flow of the tide. Even then it had commenced coming in. Now it was Nannie’s turn. Weeping and beseeching, she saw her grandmother fastened to the stake, but she would not give way. She would not inform upon her brother. No, she would sooner die. 80 she had to die. She was led out to the nearest stake, and securely fastened to it. Douglass anticipated that the sight of her grandmother’s death would have terrified her into a confession, but the sequel proved how little he understood a woman’s love or a woman’s faith. Weak though she was in physical strength, compared with either of those brawny troopers, she was yet far beyond them in moral courage and Christian confidence. She knew “in whom she had believed.” The tide was now foiling in; ever and anon a dragoon would ride out to the old woman to question her, but she was firm. Beside, she felt that she was going to her Savior, to the mansions he had prepared for her. Earth had no attraction now. Presently her head sank upon her bosom. Janet Smith gave up the ghost, literally chilled to death.

Nannie watched her grandmother die, and then calmly waited her own fate. By and by the waters rose, higher, higher, higher—still they come, until they reached her chest. Douglass himself rode out to her. His questioning was, however, in vain. She said she could die, but she could not inform. With an oath he left her. Presently the waters reached her chin. They played and rippled round her mouth. It would not be long now. One of the dragoons, less brutalized than the others, rode out to her, vainly hoping to save her life. Although he could get nothing definite from her lips, he called oat to his commander, “Oh, sir, she has said it now.”

"Said what? Has she told where her brother is?”

“No, no,” repeated the drowning girl; “no, no, never, nev—” and the waves closed her eyes in death. A few minutes’ struggling, a few bubbles on the surface, and Nannie Nivison was no more of earth. You may say, readers, “could these things be?” and almost question the veracity of the story. You need not. Scottish history attests the truth of the circumstance, and the annals of the Covenanters preserve the honored names of Janet Smith and Nannie Nivison to this day. The poor fugitive Thomas, for whose sake his sister and grandmother sacrificed their lives, after many hair-breadth escapes from the hands of his enemies, succeeded in reaching America, where, for several years, he lived ere he learned the sad tidings of his grandmother’s and sister’s dreadful death. Oh how much greater love should we show to our Savior! how much greater zeal in his service, who hath placed us in these peaceful times, where we can sit under our own vine and fig-tree, none daring to molest or make us afraid!

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