We had been warned when we retired to rest that it was most likely we should be wakened early in the morning by people coming down the stairs, and advised to take no notice of them, as no one would interfere with us or our belongings. We were not surprised, therefore, when we were aroused early by heavy footsteps immediately over our heads, which we supposed were those of the landlord as he came down the stairs. We had slept soundly, and, since there was little chance of any further slumber, we decided to get up and look round, the village before breakfast. We had to use the parlour as a dressing-room, and not knowing who might be coming down the stairs next, we dressed ourselves as quickly as possible.
We found that the village was called Lilliesleaf, which we thought a pretty name, though we were informed it had been spelt in twenty-seven different ways, while the stream we came to in the night was known by the incongruous name of Ale Water. The lodge we had gone back to for information as to the means of crossing was the East Gate guarding one of the entrances to Riddell, a very ancient place where Sir Walter Scott had recorded the unearthing of two graves of special interest, one containing an earthen pot filled with ashes and arms, and bearing the legible date of 729, and the other dated 936, filled with the bones of a man of gigantic size.
A local historian wrote of the Ale Water that "it is one thing to see it on a summer day when it can be crossed by the stepping-stones, and another when heavy rains have fallen in the autumn - then it is a strong, deep current and carries branches and even trees on its surface, the ford at Riddell East Gate being impassable, and it is only then that we can appreciate the scene." It seemed a strange coincidence that we should be travelling on the same track but in the opposite direction as that pursued by William Deloraine, and that we should have crossed the Ale Water about a fortnight later in the year, as Sir Walter described him in his "Lay" as riding along the wooded path when "green hazels o'er his basnet nod," which indicated the month of September.
Unchallenged, thence pass'd Deloraine,
To ancient Riddell's fair domain,
Where Aill, from mountain freed,
Down from the lakes did raving come;
Each wave was crested with tawny foam,
Like the mane of a chestnut steed.
In vain! no torrent, deep or broad.
Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road.
At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddlebow;
Above the foaming tide, I ween,
Scarce half the charger's neck was seen;
For he was barded from counter to tail,
And the rider was armed complete in mail;
Never heavier man and horse
Stemm'd a midnight torrent's force.
The warrior's very plume, I say
Was daggled by the dashing spray;
Yet, through good heart, and Our Ladye's grace,
At length he gain'd the landing place.
What would have become of ourselves if we had attempted to cross the treacherous stream in the dark of the previous night we did not know, but we were sure we should have risked our lives had we made the attempt.
We were only able to explore the churchyard at Lilliesleaf, as the church was not open at that early hour in the morning. We copied a curious inscription from one of the old stones there:
Near this stone we lifeless lie
No more the things of earth to spy,
But we shall leave this dusty bed
When Christ appears to judge the dead.
For He shall come in glory great
And in the air shall have His seat
And call all men before His throne.
Rewarding all as they have done.
We were served with a prodigious breakfast at the inn to match, as we supposed, the big appetites prevailing in the North, and then we resumed our walk towards Hawick, meeting on our way the children coming to the school at Lilliesleaf, some indeed quite a long way from their destination. In about four miles we reached Hassendean and the River Teviot, for we were now in Teviot Dale, along which we were to walk, following the river nearly to its source in the hills above. The old kirk of Hassendean had been dismantled in 1693, but its burial-ground continued to be used until 1795, when an ice-flood swept away all vestiges both of the old kirk and the churchyard. It was of this disaster that Leyden, the poet and orientalist, who was born in 1775 at the pretty village of Denholm close by, wrote the following lines:
By fancy wrapt, where tombs are crusted
I seem by moon-illumined graves to stray,
Where now a mouldering pile is faintly seen -
The old deserted church of Hassendean,
Where slept my fathers in their natal clay
Till Teviot waters rolled their bones away.
Leyden was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott, whom he helped to gather materials for his "Border Minstrelsie," and was referred to in his novel of St. Ronan's Well as "a lamp too early quenched." In 1811 he went to India with Lord Minto, who was at that time Governor-General, as his interpreter, for Leyden was a great linguist. He died of fever caused by looking through some old infected manuscripts at Batavia on the coast of Java. Sir Walter had written a long letter to him which was returned owing to his death. He also referred to him in his Lord of the Isles:
His bright and brief career is o'er,
And mute his tuneful strains;
Quench'd is his lamp of varied lore,
That loved the light of song to pour;
A distant and a deadly shore
Has Leyden's cold remains.
The Minto estate adjoined Hassenden, and the country around it was very beautiful, embracing the Minto Hills or Crags, Minto House, and a castle rejoicing, as we thought, in the queer name of "Fatlips."
The walk to the top of Minto Crags was very pleasant, but in olden times no stranger dared venture there, as the Outlaw Brownhills was in possession, and had hewn himself out of the rock an almost inaccessible platform on one of the crags still known as "Brownhills' Bed" from which he could see all the roads below. Woe betide the unsuspecting traveller who happened to fall into his hands!
But we must not forget Deloraine, for after receiving instructions from the "Ladye of Branksome" -
Soon in the saddle sate he fast,
And soon the steep descent he past,
Soon cross'd the sounding barbican.
And soon the Teviot side he won.
Eastward the wooded path he rode.
Green hazels o'er his basnet nod;
He passed the Peel of Goldieland,
And crossed old Borthwick's roaring strand;
Dimly he view'd the Moat-hill's mound.
Where Druid shades still flitted round;
In Hawick twinkled many a light;
Behind him soon they set in night;
And soon he spurr'd his courser keen
Beneath the tower of Hazeldean.
The clattering hoofs the watchmen mark; -
"Stand, ho! thou courier of the dark." -
"For Branksome, ho!" the knight rejoin'd.
And left the friendly tower behind.
He turn'd him now from Tiviotside,
And, guided by the tinkling rill,
Northward the dark ascent did ride.
And gained the moor at Horsliehill;
Broad on the left before him lay,
For many a mile, the Roman Way.
A moment now he slacked his speed,
A moment breathed his panting steed;
Drew saddle-girth and corslet-band,
And loosen'd in the sheath his brand.
On Minto-crags the moonbeams glint,
Where Barnhills hew'd his bed of flint;
Who flung his outlaw'd limbs to rest,
Where falcons hang their giddy nest
Mid cliffs, from whence his eagle eye
For many a league his prey could spy;
Cliffs, doubling, on their echoes borne,
The terrors of the robber's horn!
We passed through a cultivated country on the verge of the moors, where we saw some good farms, one farmer telling us he had 900 acres of arable land with some moorland in addition. He was superintending the gathering of a good crop of fine potatoes, which he told us were "Protestant Rocks." He was highly amused when one of us suggested to the other that they might just have suited a country parson we knew in England who would not have the best variety of potatoes, called "Radicals," planted in his garden because he did not like the name. He was further amused when we innocently asked him the best way to reach Hawick, pronouncing the name in two syllables which sounded like Hay-wick, while the local pronunciation was "Hoike." However, we soon reached that town and had a twelve-o'clock lunch at one of the inns, where we heard something of the principal annual event of the town, the "Common Riding," the occasion on which the officials rode round the boundaries.
There was an artificial mound in the town called the "Mote-Hill," formerly used by the Druids. It was to the top of this hill the cornet and his followers ascended at sunrise on the day of the festival, after which they adjourned to a platform specially erected in the town, to sing the Common Riding Song. We could not obtain a copy of this, but we were fortunate in obtaining one for the next town we were to visit - Langholm - which proved to be the last on our walk through Scotland. From what we could learn, the ceremony at Hawick seemed very like the walking of the parish boundaries in England, a custom which was there slowly becoming obsolete. We could only remember attending one of these ceremonies, and that was in Cheshire. The people of the adjoining parish walked their boundaries on the same day, so we were bound to meet them at some point en route, and a free fight, fanned by calling at sundry public-houses, was generally the result. The greatest danger-zone lay where a stream formed the boundary between the two parishes, at a point traversed by a culvert or small tunnel through a lofty embankment supporting a canal which crossed a small valley.
This boundary was, of course, common to both parishes, and representatives of each were expected to pass through it to maintain their rights, so that it became a matter of some anxiety as to which of the boundary walkers would reach it first, or whether that would be the point where both parties would meet. We remembered coming to a full stop when we reached one entrance to the small tunnel, while the scouts ascended the embankment to see if the enemy were in sight on the other side; but as they reported favourably, we decided that two of our party should walk through the culvert, while the others went round by the roads to the other end. There was a fair amount of water passing through at that time, so they were very wet on emerging from the opposite end, and it was impossible for the men to walk upright, the contracted position in which they were compelled to walk making the passage very difficult. What would have happened if the opposition had come up while our boundary walkers were in the tunnel we could only surmise.
Hawick is in Roxburghshire and was joined on to Wilton at a house called the Salt Hall, or the "Saut Ha'," as it is pronounced in Scotch, where a tragedy took place in the year 1758. The tenant of the Hall at that time was a man named Rea, whose wife had committed suicide by cutting her throat. In those days it was the custom to bury suicides at the dead of night where the laird's lands met, usually a very lonely corner, and a stake was driven through the body of the corpse; but from some cause or other the authorities allowed "Jenny Saut Ha'," as she was commonly called, to be buried in the churchyard. This was considered by many people to be an outrage, and the body was disinterred at night, and the coffin placed against the Saut Ha' door, where Rea was confronted with it next morning. There was a sharp contest between the Church authorities and the public, and the body was once more interred in the churchyard, but only to fall on Rea when he opened his door the next morning. The authorities were then compelled to yield to the popular clamour, and the corpse found a temporary resting-place in a remote corner of Wilton Common; but the minister ultimately triumphed, and Jenny was again buried in the churchyard, there to rest for all time in peace.
We had now joined the old coach road from London to Edinburgh, a stone on the bridge informing us that that city was fifty miles distant. We turned towards London, and as we were leaving the town we asked three men, who had evidently tramped a long distance, what sort of a road it was to Langholm, our next stage. They informed us that it was twenty-three miles to that town, that the road was a good one, but we should not be able to get a drink the whole way, for "there wasn't a single public-house on the road."
Presently, however, we reached a turnpike gate across our road, and as there was some fruit exhibited for sale in the window of the toll-house we went inside, and found the mistress working at her spinning-wheel, making a kind of worsted out of which she made stockings. We bought as much fruit from her as the limited space in our bags allowed, and had a chat with her about the stocking trade, which was the staple industry of Hawick. She told us there were about 800 people employed in that business, and that they went out on strike on the Monday previous, but with an advance in their wages had gone in again that morning.
The stockings were now made by machines, but were formerly all made by hand. The inventor of the first machine was a young man who had fallen deeply in love with a young woman, who, like most others living thereabouts at that time, got her living by making stockings. When he proposed to her, she would not have him, because she knew another young man she liked better. He then told her if she would not marry him he would make a machine that would make stockings and throw her out of work and ruin them all. But the girl decided to remain true to the young man she loved best, and was presently married to him.
The disappointed lover then set to work, and, after much thought and labour, succeeded in making a stocking machine; and although it created a great stir in Hawick, where all three were well known, it did not throw any one out of work, but was so improved upon with the result that more stockings were made and sold at Hawick than ever before!
We thanked the old lady for her story, and, bidding her good-bye, went on our way. Presently we came to the ruins of a castle standing near the road which a clergyman informed us was Goldielands Tower, mentioned with Harden by Sir Walter Scott in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel." He told us that a little farther on our way we should also see Branxholm, another place referred to by Scott. Although we were on the look out for Branxholm, we passed without recognising it, as it resembled a large family mansion more than the old tower we had expected it to be.
It was astonishing what a number of miles we walked in Scotland without finding anything of any value on the roads. A gentleman told us he once found a threepenny bit on the road near a village where he happened to be staying at the inn. When his find became known in the village, it created quite a sensation amongst the inhabitants, owing to the "siller" having fallen into the hands of a "Saxon," and he gravely added to the information that one-half of the people went in mourning and that it was even mentioned in the kirk as the "awfu'" waste that had occurred in the parish!
We were not so lucky as to find a silver coin, but had the good fortune to find something of more importance in the shape of a love-letter which some one had lost on the road, and which supplied us with food for thought and words for expression, quite cheering us up as we marched along our lonely road. As Kate and John now belong to a past generation, we consider ourselves absolved from any breach of confidence and give a facsimile of the letter. The envelope was not addressed, so possibly John might have intended sending it by messenger, or Kate might have received it and lost it on the road, which would perhaps be the more likely thing to happen. We wondered whether the meeting ever came off.
Shortly after passing Branxholm, and near the point where the Allan Water joined the River Teviot, we turned to visit what we had been informed was in the time of King Charles I a hiding place for the people known as Covenanters. These were Scottish Presbyterians, who in 1638, to resist that king's encroachments on their religious liberty, formed a "Solemn League," followed in 1643 by an international Solemn League and Covenant "between England and Scotland to secure both civil and religious liberty." These early Covenanters were subjected to great persecution, consequently their meetings were held in the most lonely places - on the moors, in the glens, and on the wild mountain sides. We climbed up through a wood and found the meeting-place in the ruins of a tower - commonly said to have been built by the Romans, though we doubted it - the remains of which consisted of an archway a few yard longs and a few yards square, surrounded by three trenches. It occupied a very strong position, and standing upon it we could see a hill a short distance away on the top of which was a heap of stones marking the spot where a bon-fire was lit and a flag reared when Queen Victoria drove along the road below, a few years before our visit.
In former times in this part of Scotland there seemed to have been a bard, poet, or minstrel in every village, and they appeared to have been numerous enough to settle their differences, and sometimes themselves, by fighting for supremacy, for it was at Bradhaugh near here that a deadly combat took place in 1627 between William Henderson, known as "Rattling Roaring Willie," and Robert Rule, another Border minstrel, in which, according to an old ballad, Willie slew his opponent, for -
Rob Roole, he handled rude.
And Willie left Newmill's banks
Red-wat wi' Robin's blude.
At Teviothead our road parted company with the River Teviot, which forked away to the right, its source being only about six miles farther up the hills from that point. In the churchyard at Teviothead, Henry Scott Riddell, the author of Scotland Yet, had only recently been buried. Near here also was Caerlanrig, where the murder of Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, a very powerful chief who levied blackmail along the Border from Esk to Tyne, or practically the whole length of Hadrian's Wall, took place in 1530. Johnnie was a notorious freebooter and Border raider, no one daring to go his way for fear of Johnnie or his followers. But of him more anon.
The distance from Caerlanrig, where Armstrong was executed, to Gilnockie Tower, where he resided, was about seventeen miles, and we had to follow, though in the opposite direction and a better surfaced road, the same lonely and romantic track that he traversed on that occasion. It formed a pass between the hills, and for the first seven miles the elevations in feet above sea-level on each side of the road were:
To our right: - 1193. 1286. 1687. 1950. 1714. 1317. 1446.
To our left: - 1156. 1595. 1620. 1761. 1741. 1242. 1209.
The distance between the summits as the crow flies was only about a mile, while the road maintained an altitude above the sea of from five to eight hundred feet, so that we had a most lonely walk of about thirteen miles before we reached Langholm. The road was a good one, and we were in no danger of missing our way, hemmed in as it was on either side by the hills, which, although treeless, were covered with grass apparently right away to their tops, a novelty to us after the bare and rocky hills we had passed elsewhere. We quite enjoyed our walk, and as we watched the daylight gradually fade away before the approaching shadows of the night, we realised that we were passing through the wildest solitudes. We did not meet one human being until we reached Langholm, and the only habitation we noted before reaching a small village just outside that town was the "Halfway House" between Hawick and Langholm, known in stage-coach days as the "Mosspaul Inn." It was a large house near the entrance to a small glen, but apparently now closed, for we could not see a solitary light nor hear the sound of a human voice.
How different it must have appeared when the stage-coaches were passing up and down that valley, now deserted, for even the railway, which supplanted them, had passed it by on the other side! In imagination we could hear the sound of the horn, echoing in the mountains, heralding the approach of the stage-coach, with its great lamp in front, and could see a light in almost every window in the hotel. We could picture mine host and his wife standing at the open door ready to receive their visitors, expectant guests assembled behind them in the hall and expectant servants both indoors and out; then staying for the night, refreshing ourselves with the good things provided for supper, and afterwards relating our adventures to a friendly and appreciative audience, finally sinking our weary limbs in the good old-fashioned feather-beds!
But these visions passed away almost as quickly as they appeared, so we left the dark and dreary mansion whose glory had departed, and marched on our way, expecting to find at Langholm that which we so badly needed - food and rest.
The old inn at Mosspaul, where the stage-coaches stopped to change horses, was built at the junction of the counties of Dumfries and Roxburgh, and was very extensive with accommodation for many horses, but fell to ruin after the stage-coaches ceased running. Many notable visitors had patronised it, among others Dorothy Wordsworth, who visited it with her brother the poet in September 1803, and described it in the following graphic terms:
The scene, with this single dwelling, was melancholy and wild, but not dreary, though there was no tree nor shrub: the small streamlet glittered, the hills were populous with sheep, but the gentle bending of the valley, and the correspondent softness in the forms of the hills were of themselves enough to delight the eye.
A good story is told of one of the Armstrongs and the inn:
Once when Lord Kames went for the first time on the Circuit as Advocate-depute, Armstrong of Sorbie inquired of Lord Minto in a whisper "What long black, dour-looking Chiel" that was that they had broc'ht with them?
"That," said his lordship, "is a man come to hang a' the Armstrongs."
"Then," was the dry retort, "it's time the Elliots were ridin'."[Footnote: Elliot was the family name of Lord Minto.]
The effusions of one of the local poets whose district we had passed through had raised our expectations in the following lines:
There's a wee toon on the Borders
That my heart sair langs to see,
Where in youthful days I wander'd,
Knowing every bank and brae;
O'er the hills and through the valleys,
Thro' the woodlands wild and free,
Thro' the narrow straits and loanings,
There my heart sair langs to be.
There was also an old saying, "Out of the world and into Langholm," which seemed very applicable to ourselves, for after a walk of thirty-two and a half miles through a lonely and hilly country, without a solitary house of call for twenty-three, our hungry and weary condition may be imagined when we entered Langholm just on the stroke of eleven o'clock at night.
We went to the Temperance Hotel, but were informed they were full. We called at the other four inns with the same result. Next we appealed to the solitary police officer, who told us curtly that the inns closed at eleven and the lodgings at ten, and marched away without another word. The disappointment and feeling of agony at having to walk farther cannot be described, but there was no help for it, so we shook the dust, or mud, off our feet and turned dejectedly along the Carlisle road.
Just at the end of the town we met a gentleman wearing a top-hat and a frock-coat, so we appealed to him. The hour was too late to find us lodgings, but he said, if we wished to do so, we could shelter in his distillery, which we should come to a little farther on our way. His men would all be in bed, but there was one door that was unlocked and we should find some of the rooms very warm. We thanked him for his kindness and found the door, as he had described, opening into a dark room. We had never been in a distillery before, so we were naturally rather nervous, and as we could not see a yard before us, we lighted one of our candles. We were about to go in search of one of the warmer rooms when the thought occurred to us that our light might attract the attention of some outsider, and in the absence of any written authority from the owner might cause us temporary trouble, while to explore the distillery without a light was out of the question, for we might fall through some trap-door or into a vat, besides which, we could hear a great rush of water in the rear of the premises, so we decided to stay where we were.
The book we had obtained at Hawick contained the following description of the Langholm "Common Riding," which was held each year on July 17th when the people gathered together to feast on barley bannock and red herring, of course washed down with plenteous supplies of the indispensable whisky. The Riding began with the following proclamation in the marketplace, given by a man standing upright on horseback, in the presence of thousands of people:
Gentlemen, - The first thing that I am going to acquaint you with are the names of the Portioners' Grounds of Langholm: -
Now, Gentlemen, we're gan' frae the
An' first of a' the Kil Green we gang roun',
It is an ancient place where Clay is got,
And it belangs to us by Right and Lot,
And then frae here the Lang-Wood we gang throu'
Where every ane may breckons out an' pu',
An' last of a' oor Marches they be clear,
An' when unto the Castle Craigs we come,
I'll cry the Langholm Fair and then we'll beat the drum.
Now, Gentlemen. What you have heard this day concerning going round our Marches, it is expected that every one who has occasion for Peats, Breckons, Flacks, Stanes, or Clay, will go out in defence of their Property, and they shall hear the Proclamation of the Langholm Fair upon the Castle Craigs.
Now, Gentlemen, we have gane roun our
So now I think it's right we had oor fill
Of guid strang punch - 'twould make us a' to sing.
Because this day we have dune a guid thing;
For gangin' roun' oor hill we think nae shame,
Because frae it oor peats and flacks come hame;
So now I will conclude and say nae mair.
An' if ye're pleased I'll cry the Langholm Fair.
Hoys, yes! that's ae time! Hoys, yes! that's twae times!!
Hoys, yes! that's the third and the last time!!!
This is to Give Notice,
That there is a muckle Fair to be hadden in the muckle Toun o' the Langholm, on the 15th day of July, auld style, upon his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch's Merk Land, for the space of eight days and upwards; and a' land-loupers, and dub-scoupers, and gae-by-the-gate-swingers, that come here to breed hurdums or durdums, huliments or buliments, haggle-ments or braggle-ments, or to molest this public Fair, they shall be ta'en by order of the Bailie and Toun Council, and their lugs be nailed to the Tron wi' a twal-penny nail, and they shall sit doun on their bare knees and pray seven times for the King, and thrice for the Mickle Laird o' Ralton, and pay a groat to me, Jemmy Ferguson, Bailie o' the aforesaid Manor, and I'll awa' hame and ha'e a bannock and a saut herrin'.
HUZZA! HUZZAH!! HUZZAH!!!
The monument on the top of Whita Hill was erected in memory of one of the famous four Knights of Langholm, the sons of Malcolm of Burn Foot, whose Christian names were James, Pulteney, John, and Charles, all of whom became distinguished men. Sir James was made a K.C.B, and a Colonel in the Royal Marines. He served on board the Canopus at the Battle of San Domingo, taking a prominent part in the American War of 1812. He died at Milnholm, near Langholm, at the age of eighty-two. Pulteney Malcolm rose to the rank of Admiral and served under Lord Nelson, but as his ship was refitting at Gibraltar he missed taking part in the Battle of Trafalgar, though he arrived just in time to capture the Spanish 120-gun ship El Kago. He became intimately acquainted with Napoleon Bonaparte, as he had the command of the British worships that guarded him during his captivity at St. Helena. Sir John Malcolm was a distinguished Indian statesman, and it was to him that the monument on Whita Hill had been erected. The monument, which was visible for many miles, was 100 feet high, and the hill itself 1,162 feet above sea-level. Sir Charles Malcolm, the youngest of the four brothers, after seeing much active service, rose to be Vice-Admiral of the Fleet.
If the great fair-day had been on when we reached Langholm we should not have been surprised at being unable to find lodgings, but as it was we could only attribute our failure to arriving at that town so late in the evening, nearly an hour after the authorised closing time of the inns. We found we could not stay very long in the distillery without a fire, for a sharp frost had now developed, and we began to feel the effect of the lower temperature; we therefore decided, after a short rest, to continue our walk on the Carlisle road. Turning over the bridge that crossed the rapidly running stream of the River Esk - the cause of the rush of water we heard in the distillery - we followed the river on its downward course for some miles. It was a splendid starlight, frosty night, but, as we were very tired and hungry, we could only proceed slowly - in fact scarcely quickly enough to maintain our circulation. Being also very sleepy, we had to do something desperate to keep ourselves awake, so we amused ourselves by knocking with our heavy oaken sticks at the doors or window-shutters of the houses we passed on our way. It was a mild revenge we took for the town's inhospitality, and we pictured to ourselves how the story of two highwaymen being about the roads during the midnight hours would be circulated along the countryside during the following day, but we could not get any one to come beyond the keyhole of the door or the panes of the shuttered windows. We were, however, becoming quite desperate, as we were now nearly famished, and, when we came to a small shop, the sounds from our sticks on the door quickly aroused the mistress, who asked us what we wanted. My brother entered into his usual explanation that we were pedestrian tourists on a walking expedition, and offered her a substantial sum for some bread or something to eat; but it was of no use, as the only answer we got was, "I ha' not a bit till th' baker coomes ith' morn'."
This reply, and the tone of voice in which it was spoken, for the woman "snaffled," was too much for us, and, tired as we were, we both roared with laughter; absurd though it may seem, it was astonishing how this little incident cheered us on our way.
It was a lovely country through which we were travelling, and our road, as well as the river alongside, was in many places overhung by the foliage of the fine trees, through which the brilliant lustre of the stars appeared overhead; in fact we heard afterwards that this length of road was said to include the finest landscapes along the whole of the stage-coach road between London and Edinburgh. The bridge by which we recrossed the river had been partially built with stones from the ruins of Gilnockie Tower, once the stronghold of the famous freebooter Johnnie Armstrong, of whom we had heard higher up the country.
Sir Walter Scott tells us that King James V resolved to take very serious measures against the Border Warriors, and under pretence of coming to hunt the deer in those desolate regions he assembled an army, and suddenly appeared at the Castle of Piers Cockburn of Henderland, near where we had been further north. He ordered that baron to be seized and executed in spite of the fact that he was preparing a great feast of welcome. Adam Scott of Tushielaw, known as the King of the Border, met with the same fate, but an event of greater importance was the fate of John Armstrong. This free-booting chief had risen to such consequence, that the whole neighbouring district of England paid him "black-mail," a sort of regular tribute in consideration of which he forbore to plunder them. He had a high idea of his own importance, and seems to have been unconscious of having merited any severe usage at the king's hands.
On the contrary, he went to meet his sovereign at Carlingrigg Chapel, richly dressed, and having twenty-four gentlemen, his constant retinue, as well attired as himself. The king, incensed to see a freebooter so gentlemanly equipped, commanded him instantly to be led to execution, saying, "What wants this knave save a crown to be as magnificent as a king?" John Armstrong made great offers for his life, offering to maintain himself, with forty men, to serve the king at a moment's notice, at his own expense, engaging never to hurt or injure any Scottish subject, as indeed had never been his practice, and undertaking that there was not a man in England, of whatever degree, duke, earl, lord, or baron, but he would engage, within a short time, to present him to the king, dead or alive. But when the king would listen to none of his oilers, the robber chief said very proudly, "I am but a fool to ask grace at a graceless face; but had I guessed you would have used me thus, I would have kept the Border-side in spite of the King of England and you, both, for I well know that the King Henry would give the weight of my best horse in gold to know that I am sentenced to die this day."
John Armstrong was led to execution, with all his men, and hanged without mercy. The people of the inland countries were glad to get rid of him; but on the Borders he was both missed and mourned, as a brave warrior, and a stout man-of-arms against England.
But to return to Gilnockie Bridge! After crossing it we struggled on for another mile or two, and when about six miles from Langholm we reached another bridge where our road again crossed the river. Here we stopped in mute despair, leaning against the battlements, and listening to the water in the river as it rushed under the bridge. We must have been half asleep, when we were suddenly aroused by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching in the distance. Whoever could it be? I suggested one of the Border freebooters; but my brother, who could laugh when everybody else cried, said it sounded more like a free-clogger. We listened again, and sure enough it was the clattering of a heavy pair of clogs on the partly frozen surface of the road. We could not be mistaken, for we were too well accustomed to the sound of clogs in Lancashire; but who could be the wearer!
We had not long to wait before a man appeared, as much surprised to see us as we were to see him. We told him of our long walk the day before, how we had been disappointed in not getting lodgings, and asked him how far we were away from an inn. He told us we were quite near one, but it was no use going there, as "they wouldn't get up for the Queen of England." He further told us he was going to the two o'clock "shift" at the colliery. "Colliery!" my brother ejaculated; "but surely there isn't a coal-pit in a pretty place like this?" He assured us that there was, and, seeing we were both shivering with cold, kindly invited us to go with him and he would put us near to a good fire that was burning there. "How far is it?" we asked anxiously. "Oh, only about half a mile," said the collier. So we went with him, and walked what seemed to be the longest half-mile we ever walked in all our lives, as we followed him along a fearfully rough road, partly on the tramlines of the Canonbie Collieries belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, where two or three hundred men were employed.
We each handed him a silver coin as he landed us in front of a large open fire which was blazing furiously near the mouth of the pit, and, bidding us "good morning," he placed a lighted lamp in front of his cap and disappeared down the shaft to the regions below. He was rather late owing to his having slackened his pace to our own, which was naturally slower than his, since walking along colliery sidings at night was difficult for strangers. We had taken of our boots to warm and ease our feet, when a man emerged from the darkness and asked us to put them on again, saying we should be more comfortable in the engine-house. If we stayed there we should be sure to catch a cold, as a result of being roasted on one side and frozen on the other. He kindly volunteered to accompany us there, so we thankfully accepted his invitation. We had some difficulty in following him owing to the darkness and obstructions in the way, but we reached the engine-room in safety, round the inside of which was a wooden seat, or bench, and acting upon his instructions we lay down on this to sleep, with a promise that he would waken us when he went off duty at six o'clock in the morning. We found it more comfortable here than on the windy pit bank, for there was an even and sleepy temperature. We were soon embosomed in the arms of nature's great refresher, notwithstanding the occasional working of the winding engines, sleeping as soundly on those wooden benches as ever we did on the best feather-bed we patronised on our journey.
(Distance walked thirty-nine miles.)
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