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ART. II.—A JACOBITE FAMILY.
Did you ever, when journeying along a road at night, look in curiously at some cottage window, and, like a happier Enoch Arden, watch unseen the bright life within, and all the naïve ongoings of the household ?
Such a glimpse of the inner life of a Jacobite family in the latter half of last century we have had the privilege of enjoying, and we wish we could tell our readers half as vividly what it has told to us. We shall try.
On the river Don, in Aberdeenshire-best known to the world by its Auld Brig, which Lord Byron, photography, and its own exceeding beauty have made famous—is the house of Stoneywood, four miles from the sea. It was for many generations the property of the Lords Frazer of Muchals, now Castle Frazer, one of the noblest of the many noble castles in that region, where some now nameless architect has left so many memorials of the stately life of their strong-brained masters, and of his own quite singular genius for design.
Stoneywood was purchased near the close of the sixteenth century, from the Lord Frazer of that time, by John Moir of Ellon, who had sold his own estate, as tradition tells, in the following way :- Bailie Gordon, a wealthy Edinburgh merchant, made a bargain with the Laird of Ellon, when in his cups, to sell his estate at a price greatly under its value. The country folk, who lamented the passing away of the old family, and resented the trick of the bailie, relieved themselves by pronouncing their heaviest malediction, and prophesying some near and terrible judgment. Strangely enough, the curse, in the post hoc sense, was not causeless. A short time after the purchase an awful calamity befell Mr. Gordon's family.
Its story has been told by a master pen, that which gave us Matthew Wald and Adam Blair, and the murderer M Kean. We give it for the benefit of the young generation, which, we fear, is neglecting the great writers of the past in the wild relish and exuberance of the too copious present. It will be an evil day when the world only reads what was written yesterday, and will be forgotten to-morrow.
Gabriel was a preacher or licentiate of the Kirk, employed as domestic tutor in a gentleman's family in Edinburgh, where he had for pupils two fine boys of eight or ten years of age. The tutor entertained, it seems, some partiality for the Abigail of the children's mother, and it so happened, that one of his pupils observed him kiss the girl one day in passing through an anteroom, where she was sitting. The little fellow carried this interesting piece of intelligence to his brother, and both of them mentioned it by way of a good joke to their mother the same evening. Whether the lady had dropped some hint of what she had heard to her maid, or whether she had done so to the preacher himself, I have not learned; but so it was, that he found he had been discovered, and by what means also. The idea of having been detected in such a trivial trespass was enough to poison for ever the spirit of this juvenile Presbyterian-his whole soul became filled with the blackest demons of rage, and he resolved to sacrifice to his indignation the instruments of what he conceived to be so deadly a disgrace. It was Sunday, and after going to church as usual with his pupils, he led them out to walk in the country—for the ground on which the New Town of Edinburgh now stands, was then considered as the country by the people of Edinburgh. After passing calmly, to all appearance, through several of the green fields, which have now become streets and squares, he came to a place more lonely than the rest, and there drawing a large clasp-knife from his pocket, he at once stabbed the elder of his pupils to the heart. The younger boy gazed on him for a moment, and then fled with shrieks of terror; but the murderer pursued with the bloody knife in his hand, and slew him also as soon as he was overtaken. The whole of this shocking scene was observed distinctly from the Old Town, by innumerable crowds of people, who were near enough to see every motion of the murderer, and hear the cries of the infants, although the deep ravine between them and the place of blood, was far more than sufficient to prevent any possibility of rescue. The tutor sat down upon the spot, immediately after having concluded his butchery, as if in a stupor of despair and madness, and was only roused to his recollection by the touch of the hands that seized him.
It so happened that the magistrates of the city were assembled together in their council-room, waiting till it should be time for them to walk to church in procession (as is their custom), when the crowd drew near with their captive. The horror of the multitude was communicated to them, along with their intelligence, and they ordered the wretch to be brought at once into their presence. It is an old law in Scotland, that when a murderer is caught in the very act of guilt (or, as they call it, red-hand), he may be immediately executed, without any formality or delay. Never surely could a more fitting occasion be found for carrying this old law into effect, Gabriel was hanged within an hour after the deed was done, the red knife being suspended from his neck, and the blood of the innocents scarcely dry upon his fingers.'
The boys were the sons of the new Laird of Ellon. It adds something to the dreadfulness of the story that it was the woman who urged the wretched youth to the deed. We remember well this Gabriel's Road, the lane leading up past
· Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk, vol. ii.
* Ambrose's,' the scene of the famous Noctes. It is now covered by the new Register Office buildings.
But to return to the ex-Laird of Ellon. Mr. Moir, having lost one estate, forthwith set about acquiring another, and purchased Muchalls, its Lord having got into difficulties. The lady of the Castle, loath, we doubt not, to leave her 'bonnie house,' persuaded Mr. Moir to take instead, the properties of Stoneywood, Watterton, Clinterty, and Greenburn, on Don side, which were afterwards conjoined under the name of the barony of Stoneywood. The grateful Lady of Frazer sent along with the title-deeds a five-guinea gold piece--a talisman which was religiously preserved for many generations.
The family of Stoneywood seem from the earliest record down to their close, to have been devotedly attached to the house of Stuart. In the old house there long hung a portrait of Bishop Juxon, who attended Charles I. on the scaffold, and through this prelate must have come a still more precious relic, long preserved in the family, and which is now before us, the Bible which the doomed King put into the hands of the Bishop on the scaffold, with the word “Remember,' having beforehand taken off his cloak and presented it and the insignia of the Garter to the same faithful minister and friend ; this is one of our glimpses. We have the sacred and royal book before us now,—a quarto, printed in 1637, bound in blue velvet, and richly embroidered and embossed with gold and silver lace. There is the crown and the Prince of Wales' feathers, showing it had belonged to Charles II. when prince. He must have given it to his hapless father, as the C. P. is changed into C. R. Though faded it looks princely still.
One of its blank leaves, on which was written Charles Stuart ano. dom. 1648,' was, along with the gold piece, pilfered as follows :
Miss Moir, who was rather of an unaccommodating temper, remained alone at Stoneywood for a year longer, and in fact until the sale had been completed, and it became necessary to quit. The retired and solitary life she led during this last period was taken advantage of by a woman in her service, of the name of Margaret Grant, to commit various thefts, with the assistance of a paramour, who happened unfortunately to be a blacksmith. By his means they got the charterchest opened, and abstracted thence the prophetic gold piece, gifted by Lady Fraser two hundred years before, and also Bishop Juxon's valuable legacy of King Charles's Bible, presented to him on the scaffold. The gold piece was readily made available, and was, of course, never recovered, but the Bible proved to be a more difficult treasure to deal with, it being generally known in the county to be an heirloom of the Stoneywood family, and accordingly, when she offered
it for sale in Aberdeen, she became aware that she was about to be detected. She took the precaution to abscond, and suspecting that mischief might come of so sacrilegious a theft, she came by night to Stoneywood, and deposited the Bible at the foot of a large chestnut tree which overshaded the entrance of the front court of the house, where it was found next morning. However, it did not return altogether unscathed by its excursion, for a bookseller in Aberdeen, to whom it had been offered for sale, had the cunning, or rather the rascality, to abstract the blank leaf on which the royal martyr's autograph was inscribed, which he managed to paste upon another old Bible, so dexterously as not to be easily discovered, and actually profited by his fraud, in disposing of his counterfeit Bible to the Earl of Fife for a large sum of money, and in whose library it now figures as King Charles's Bible, while the original still remains in the possession of the representative of the family to whom it descended by inheritance, and in its appearance bears ample testimony to its authenticity.'
To go back to Stoneywood. The Laird is now there; his eldest son, James, has married Jane, eldest daughter of Erskine of Pittoderie, and the young bride has got from her mother a green silk purse with a thousand merks in it, and the injunction never to borrow from the purse except in some great extremity, and never to forget to put in from time to time what she could spare, however small, ending with the wish, ‘May its sides never meet. The daughter was worthy of the mother, and became a 'fendy wife,' as appears by the following picturesque anecdote. Young Moir was going to the neighbouring village of Greenburn to the fair to buy cattle; the green purse was in requisition, and his wife, then nursing her first child, went with him. While he was making his market, she remained outside, and observing a tidy young woman sitting by the roadside, suckling her child, she made up to her and sat down by her side. Waiting, she soon got as hungry for her own baby as doubtless it was for her, so proposed to comfort herself by taking the woman's child. This was done, the young mother considering it a great honour to have a leddy's milk for her baby. Mrs. Moir, not wishing to be disturbed or recognised, had the woman's cloak thrown over her head, she setting off into the fair to see what her husband was about. She was hardly gone, when a man came suddenly behind Mrs. Moir, and hastily lifting up the corner of the plaid, threw something into her lap, saying, "Tak' tent o’ that !' and was off before Mrs. Moir could see his face. In her lap was the green purse, with all its gear untouched !
Embarrassed with her extempore nursling and cloak, she could not go to her husband, but the young woman returning, she went at once in search ; and found him concluding a bargain for some cows. He asked her to wait outside the tent till he settled with the dealer; in they went; presently a cry of consternation; in goes the purse-bearer, counts out the money, tables it, and taking her amazed 'man' by the arm, commanded him to go home.
What a pleasant little tale Boccaccio, or Chaucer, or our own Dunbar would have made of this!
From it you may divine much of the character of this siccar wife. Ever afterwards when the Stoneywood couple left home they confided the purse to their body servant, John Gunn; for in those days no gentleman travelled without his purse of gold; and although we have a shrewd guess that this same John was in the secret of the theft and the recovery of the purse on the fair day, he was as incorruptible ever afterwards as is Mr. Gladstone with our larger purse.
This John Gunn was one of those now extinct functionaries who, like the piper, were the lifelong servants of the house, claiming often some kindred with the chief, and with entire fidelity and indeed abject submission, mingling a familiarity, many amusing instances of which are given in Dean Ramsay's book, and by Miss Stirling Graham. John, though poor, had come of gentle blood, the Gunns of Ross-shire ; he went into the army, from which, his Highland pride being wounded by some affront, he deserted, and joined a band of roving gipsies called Cairds. His great strength and courage soon made John captain of his band, which for years levied black-mail over the county of Aberdeen.
John got tired of his gipsy life, and entered Stoneywood's service, retaining, however, his secret headship of the Cairds,
1 We all remember Sir Walter's song ; doubtless, like 'ta faliant Fhairshon,' our John Gunn was a superior person,' but there must have been much of the same fierce, perilous stuff in him, and the same fine incoherence in his transactions :• Donald Caird can lilt and sing, Donald Caird can drink a gill, Blithely dance the Highland Hing; Fast as hostler-wife can fill; Drink till the gudeman be blind, Ilka ane that sells gude liquor, Fleech till the gudewife he kind; Kens how Donald bends a bicker : Hoop a leglan, clout a pan,
When he's fou he stout and saucy, Or crack a pow wi' ony man ; Keeps the cantle o' the causey ; Tell the news in brugh and glen, Highland chief and Lawlaod laird Donald Caird 's come again.
Maun gie way to Donald Caird. Donald Caird can wire a maukin, Steek the awmrie, lock the kist, Kens the wiles o' dun-deer staukin; Else some gear will sune be mist; Leisters kipper, makes a shift Donald Caird finds orra things To shoot a muir-fowl i' the drift: Where Allan Gregor fand the tings: Water-bailiffs, rangers, keepers, Dunts o' kebbuck, taits o' woo, He can wauk when they are sleepers; Whiles a hen and whiles a soo ; Not for bountith, or reward, Webs or duds frae hedge or yardDaur they mell wi' Donald Caird. 'Ware the wuddie, Donald Caird!'