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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 4. The Persecution of the M'Michaels

The miseries of war are not confined to the battlefield and the actual return of the killed and wounded. There is an atmosphere of woe and intense suffering, which hangs dense and heavy over the whole theatre of war—the devastation and horrors of a wide marching enemy, advancing like the simoom of the desert, and converting into a howling wilderness the peopled and rejoicing district. Life is extinguished by terror and deprivation as well as by the sword; and with this difference, too, that the former process is so much the more severe that it is protracted and defenceless. Civil war is, in this respect in particular, the most revolting of all. The animosities and resentments of opposing parties are greatly exasperated by proximity of situation and community of country; and the revenge of the stronger directed upon the weaker party is uniformly marked by many atrocities. Of this character was, unhappily, the latter period of the domination of Charles II., together with the whole four years of the Papistical infatuation of the second James. Men, women, and children were not only shot, drowned, and spiked; but thousands, who escaped this extreme fate, were so worn out by watchings, and cold, and hunger, and mental anxieties, as to fall under the power of diseases from which they never recovered.

An instance illustrative of these remarks occurred, according to invariable tradition, (partly oral, and partly written,) in the Pass of Dalveen, one of the wildest and most sublime localities in Dumfriesshire. In the days of which we speak, there were no mail coaches, nor did the public road from Edinburgh to Dumfries pass, as now, through that most fearfully sublime ravine; all then was seclusion and solitude in that mountain retirement, where the winds met and mingled from many a converging glen; and the eagle and the raven divided the supremacy above. The site of the shepherd’s shieling is indeed still ascertainable, by the depth of verdure which marks the departed walls; and the traveller may see it by the burn side, almost half way down the pass.

The family which, during the latter period of the eight-and-twenty years’ persecution, occupied this humble dwelling, was named M’Michael. There were two brothers of that name: Daniel, who was a bachelor, and Gilbert, who was married, and the father of a son, now a lad of ten or twelve, and two daughters, still younger. The mother of these children was a M’Caig, a name immortalised in the annals of persecution. The two brothers, Gilbert and Daniel, had rendered themselves peculiarly obnoxious to the spite and revenge of the curate of Durrisdeer, by their refusing to attend ordinances; and their obtaining baptism, and even, as times and occasions offered, the sealing ordinance of the Supper, from the hands of worthy Mr Welsh. Besides all this, when hard pursued one day in the pass, Daniel and Gilbert had defended themselves against a whole troop of Douglas’ dragoons, by occupying the rocky summits of the Lowther Hills, and precipitating loose and rebounding rocks on the pursuers beneath. It was on this occasion that "Red Rob," of persecuting notoriety, had his shoulder-blade dislocated; and that Lieutenant James Douglas himself, in his extreme eagerness to scale the steep, had two of his front teeth dislodged.

Winter 1686 was peculiarly severe, and the proximity of Drumlanrig Castle, the residence of the Queensberry Douglases, rendered it exceedingly unsafe for the two obnoxious brothers, in particular, to visit their home, unless it were by snatches, and at the dead hour of night. The natural consequence of all this was, that both brothers lost their health, and that Gilbert, in particular, who was constitutionally infirm, contracted, or rather exasperated, a bad cough, which threatened serious consequences. It is quite true that a warm bed and the comforts of home might have done much for the complaint; but Gilbert’s ordinary bed-room was the damp extremity of a hollow in a rock, without fire, and with his plaid alone as a nightly couch and covering. It was on a cold and drifty day in the month of January, that Gilbert, in the presence of his family, and under hourly apprehension of a visit from the barbarous Douglas, called his family around him, and leaning upon the bosom of his beloved wife, addressed them in words to the following effect:—

"My dearest wife, my dear children, and my beloved Daniel, stand round me, for I am dying." Thereupon, there was much weeping, and the poor woman had to be carried out of the room, nearly insensible. This pause was employed by Gilbert in secret prayer and ejaculation—

"Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!—Lord, comfort the widow and the fatherless!—Lord, give strength for trial, and faith for dying like a Christian!"

When the poor widow had been so far recovered as to be able to return to the bedside, the dying man proceeded, with frequent pauses and much weakness thus:--

"I hope I may say, though at an infinite distance, with the apostle Paul, I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith—the faith of my Saviour, of His holy apostles, and of our Covenanted Kirk. I have kept it in bad report, as well as in good—in the day of her extreme suffering, as well as when godly Mr Brown was minister of Durrisdeer. They have driven me from my humble but happy home, and from my wife and children, to the mountain and the cave; but I have ever said—

"‘I to the hills will lift mine eyes,
From whence doth come mine aid,
My safety cometh from the Lord.’

And I have ever found it so. I have been shot at, pursued, hunted like a wild beast, and exposed to disease, and pain, and extreme weakness—whilst I was, unless at intervals, denied the voice that soothes, the truth that cheers, and the looks of sympathy that mitigate in the extremest suffering; and I am now, if it shall please God to withhold for a little the foot of the merciless and the ungodly—I am now about to close my testimony by sealing it with my latest breath."

This exertion was too much for his exhausted strength; and it seemed to all that life had fled; when, after a few short and heavy respirations, he again proceeded—"Lord, give me strength for this last, this parting effort in this our covenanted cause!—Now, my dearly beloved, I leave you; for I hear my Master’s call; and the Spirit and the bride say, Come! I leave you with this last, this dying advice: Let nothing deprive you of your crown, hold fast your integrity; for He whom you serve will come quickly, and terrible will His coming be to all His enemies."

"Enemies, indeed!" vociferated Lieutenant Douglas, who had unperceived entered the apartment—"those enemies, friend Gibby, are nearer, I trow, than ye wot, and ready, with leave of this good company here, to take special care that his Majesty’s enemies shall be suitably provided for. Come, budge, old Benty, and you too of the lion’s den. Come—my lambs, here, will be more difficult to manage than the lions of your Jewish namesake. Come, Mr Dan— up, and be going; for the day breaketh apace, and it will be pleasant pastime just to give us a stave of the death psalm under the old thorn, on the brae face yonder. Red Rob’s shoulder, here, has sworn a solemn league and covenant against you; and, as to my two front teeth, they are complete nonconformists to Whigs and Whiggery, through all generations. Amen!"

In vain was all this profane barbarity poured on the ears of the dead man: Old Gilbert had breathed his last at the very first perception of Douglas’ presence—his God had in mercy withdrawn him from his last and most severe trial.

"Look there, look there, look there!" were the first articulate accents which crossed the lips of the distracted widow—"look, ye sons o’ Belial—ye men o’ bluid—on the pale an’ lifeless victim o’ yer horrid persecution. Ay, aff wi’ him!"—(for Douglas had now approached the bed, as if to ascertain that no deception had been practised upon him)—"aff wi’ him, to the croft, or to the maiden, or to the thorn-tree; shoot him, head him, hang him—ah!—ha!—ha!—ha!"—(Hysterically screaming)—"He has escaped ye a’. Yer bullets canna pierce him; yer flames canna scorch him; yer malice canna reach him, yonder." (Pointing at the same time upwards.) "There, even there, whar ye an’ yer band shall never enter, the wicked cease from troubling, an’ the weary—ay, thank God!—the weary are at rest. Rest, here, indeed, they had none; but there they shall rest, when ye shall lie tormented!"

"Come, come, Mother Testimony, give us no more of your blarney. Let us only over the shank yonder, and, you and your whelps there may yelp and howl till the day of judgment, if you please. But, as for you, friend Dan," (speaking ironically, and imitating the Covenanting language and manner,) "does the Spirit move thee to budge?— has the Lord dealt bountifully with thee?—and will He save thee from six troubles, yea from seven?’ Come, come, friend," taking him rudely by the arm, and pulling him, with, the assistance of Red Rob, towards the door. "‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come;’ there is a maiden longing for thy embrace—yea, a maiden whose lovers have been many, and whose embrace is somewhat close. But she, having taken up her residence in the guid town, of Edinburgh, is afar off; but, lest thou shouldst feel disappointment, my lambs here have become somewhat frisky of late, and they will be most happy to give thee a little matrimonial music, to the tune of ‘Make ready, present, fire!’"

Daniel M’Michael had been long accustomed to view death as a messenger of peace. His days—now manifestly numbered—had been sorely troubled. His faith, in his Saviour was with him, not a fluctuating, but a flxed principle; like Stephen, he might ascend to see heaven opened—and his soul was long absent in fervent prayer. He prayed for a persecuted kirk, for a persecuted remnant, for his friends and for his enemies, even those whose hands were raised against his life.

"The guid Lord," said he, "forgive ye, for ye know not what ye do! The thief on the cross was forgiven; David the murderer was forgiven; and e’en Judas himself may have obtained mercy. Oh, ye puir, infatuated, godless band! it is not for myself that I pray—it is for you; for when the day of wrath arrives, where will ye flee to? To the hills?— they will be cast into the sea. To the rocks?—they will have melted with fervent heat. To the linns and the glens?—but where will ye find them, in that great and notable day of the Lord?"--

Daniel was proceeding thus, when Red Rob struck him over the head with the handle of his sword.

"Down to the earth with thee and thy everlasting jaw! We want none of thy prayers and petitionings. We are King Charles’ men, and our God is our captain, our reward our pay, our heaven is our mess-room, and our eternity an hour’s kissing of a bonny lass."

Here the commander interfered, and the poor victim was raised, though scarcely able to stand on his legs, from the stun of the blow.

"And now," said Douglas, "for the last time, wilt thou conform and preserve thy life, or die?"

The poor man groaned, and fell on his knees. The band was removed to a distance; and, in a few seconds, the smoke rose white and whirling from the hill-side. The work of death was done.

There is a small clump of old thorns which faces the high road from Dumfries to Edinburgh, as it enters the Pass of Dalveen from the south. At the lower extremity of this woodland patch, there is a gray rock or stone, covered with a thick coating of moss. It was whilst resting against this stone that Daniel M’Michael was shot, about half an hour posterior to the cruelties which have been narrated.

A stone, with a suitable inscription, has been placed over the mangled remains of this good man, in the churchyard of Durrisdeer, whilst a marble and gilt monument, of the most elegant and tasteful character, occupies the whole of the aisle or nave of the church. The latter monument perpetuates the memory and the virtues of the noble family of Douglas; whilst the former rude and now mutilated flag-stone mentions an act of atrocity perpetrated by a cadet of the family. In that day when the secrets of families and individuals shall be made known, it shall be manifested whose memory and virtues best deserve to be perpetuated.

The eldest daughter of Mrs Janet M’Michael, or M’Caig, was married, after the Revolution, to the second son (John) of Thomas Harkness of Mitchelslacks, from whom, in a lineal descent, the author of these scraps derives his birth. Is it to be wondered at, then, that we feel, through every drop of blood and ramification of nerves, a devotedness to the great cause of constitutional freedom and rational reform? But we hope the cause of political liberty may never be mixed up with the concerns of that Church which our ancestors founded on the dead bodies of martyrs, and cemented with their blood. We may return to this subject again, for we have yet many recollections to record.

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