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Wilson's Border Tales
A Scrap of the Rebellion

A person of the name of Andrew Forbes, who lived in the town of Perth, was very zealous in the cause of the Pretender, and had been so successful in obtaining recruits for Lord Perth, that he was elevated to the rank of sergeant in the regiment raised by that nobleman. Forbes was by trade a common shoemaker; but, as he himself used often to say, he was either blessed or cursed with a spirit above his calling; for his restlessness and ambition prevented him from taking the advice of the old Latin poet, and adhering to his last—while his poverty, and want of education and friends, allowed no possibility of escaping from the humble condition in which he was placed.

The affair of the Rebellion was to him a special of godsend, as it was one of those disruptive movements of the spirit of strife and ambition which often reverse the fortunes of men, and turn society upside down—reducing rich men to beggary, and raising the poor, from their humble seats to the high places of the great. To a man that could not be lower than he was, and who wished to be higher, it presented an opportunity of bettering his fortune, and affording food for his ambition, which was not to be overlooked by such a person as Andrew Forbes, who entered into the project with alacrity and high hope, and soon made himself conspicuous.

When, to join Lord Perth’s regiment, he left his house—a small tenement he had got from his father, and said to have been used at one time as a kind of subsidiary prison—he locked it up, and carried the key with him. It was said he fought with great spirit and courage at all the engagements in which his regiment took a part; and, at Culloden, so signalized himself, that a price was set on his bead, and diligent search made for him throughout the country. It was pretty certain that he had evaded, at least for a considerable time, all the efforts of his pursuers; but a report was circulated, and believed, that he had been overtaken and slain in the Pass of Glencoe; and it was at least certain that a sum of money was paid by the authorities at Perth for the head of a man that passed for that of Andrew Forbes.

The little house he used to occupy was not thought worth the trouble of confiscation, or, at least, it was never looked after by the officers of the Crown; and a sister of the name of Agnes, the widow of a person called John Crighton, who lived in the Bridge-end, took up her residence in it, along with four children. She never made up any title to the little house, as her advisers told her that, if she made any movement on the ground of right or title, the law authorities might interfere and deprive her of it altogether. She occupied the domicile in this way for ten years, by which time her children had grown up. The neighbours were in the habit of visiting her, and often, at night, over the fire, they used to talk of the rebellion, and of the unfortunate fate of Andrew Forbes, the original proprietor, whose head had been purchased by the Provost of Perth for a sum of money, and whose body had been left to be eaten by the carrion crows of Glencoe—all very stirring incidents, and capable of forming the material of interesting conversations during the dark nights of winter, when old women were the narrators and young persons the auditors.

On one occasion, two or three of the neighbours were occupied in this manner, smoking their pipes by the fire, and contributing, alternately, their little graphic details of the bygone times of commotion and disaster, while the young listeners sat with open mouths, greedily devouring the wondrous legends, made a thousand times more wonderful by the inventive fancies of the narrators, and the solemn effects of a dark night, an apartment filled with smoke, and the sallow faces of the old women, with their long, sharp chins, chiming their eldritch responses to the teller of the legend. The death of the unfortunate Andrew Forbes, and the fortunes of his head, which, it was said, was denied Christian burial, formed the most prominent and awful subject of the conversation. The minuteness of the graphic details descended to every circumstance connected with the affair. One of the old women said that she herself saw Andrew’s head taken out of the bag in which it had been brought from Glencoe. One eye, she said, (munching her toothless chops,) was open, and the other shut, and the long black hair, which he used, in that very room, to comb carefully every morning, was bound round the stump of the neck, to stop the blood, or rather to keep the hands of the authorities, who were to examine it, from being soiled! Another old woman said that she had been called as a witness to speak to its being actually the head of Andrew Forbes, and that she knew it principally from a large mole which he had under his left eye, and which he used to reckon a spot of beauty.

The sister of Andrew said that she was from home when the authorities asked her to examine the head, and that the moment she returned, she hastened to George Begbie, the principal town-officer at that time, to ask him to let her see the remnants of her brother. The officer told her she was too late, as, though he could very easily show her the head, she could not recognise a single feature of the face; but she insisted upon seeing it, and was led to one of the black houses adjoining the court-room, where she saw, lying in a heap no fewer than fifty men’s heads, all labelled with the names of the owners. The man, directed by the written name, took up the head she wanted to see; and, before she was aware of what she was doing, she had received into her hands the grim relic. One of the eyes (as the other speaker said) was staring open; its look was directed towards her, she became frightened, threw it down among the heap of heads, and flew out of the house. As these recitals were going forward, the old women kept smoking their pipes, and the young listeners, bound to their seats with terror, were afraid to turn themselves round, for fear of encountering Andrew Forbes.

Meanwhile the oldest son of the widow, less attentive to the recitals than the others, was amusing himself with a species of mock latch which was attached to the wall, and the use of which had often formed a subject of speculation to him, when, having given it a turn in a certain direction, the iron door of a press burst open, with a clang which roused the party at the fire and suspended their tragic tales. What were the pictures to romantic story-telling to what they now beheld! In a small recess, stood, upright, Andrew Forbes himself, dressed in the very same garb in which he had fought at Culloden; his claymore along-side of him, all his accoutrements complete and entire as they were on the day when he escaped from the field, and on his shoulders that identical head about which the old women had been conversing! We cannot attempt to describe the feelings of the party when this dreadful apparition met their eyes.

The mystery was soon cleared up. The recess had, in former times, been used as a hold for criminals of a deep die and was closed by a powerful spring which no one from the inside could act upon so as to open the door. Andrew Forbes had returned secretly to his house, and had taken refuge in the fatal hole; the spring had done its duty fatally, and the efforts of the prisoner having failed to liberate him, and no one having entered a house which was supposed to have been deserted, he had died of hunger. His body stood upright in consequence of the narrowness of the recess, which would not admit of its being doubled or extended. We believe this house, with the hole, was lately to be seen in the town of Perth.

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