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Repentance Tower

Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories


Late one spring evening not long after the disaster of Solway Moss, Sir

Robert Maxwell was walking to and fro within the Tower of Lochmaben--a

heavy frown upon his brow--cogitating his reply to a letter from my Lord

Arran--now governor of Scotland under the regency of the widowed Queen,

Mary of Lorraine.

Amongst other matters touched upon Arran made mention of his purpose

find the right suitor for the hand of Agnes Herries--daughter and

heiress of the Lord Herries of Hoddam Castle. A hint was delicately

conveyed that possibly Maxwell himself might be eligible--if he gave up

his 'assurance with England.'

Now Sir Robert's late father--the Lord Maxwell--had been made prisoner

at Solway Moss, but had been set free on 'taking assurance' with England

and giving twelve hostages of his own name to the opposite warden--Lord

Wharton at Carlisle.

In addition there was a suggestive allusion to the Scots Wardenry of

the Western march, which was vacant at the moment.

The offer was most tempting, but--there were the twelve Maxwell

hostages, his cousins, in Wharton's hands.

Sir Robert grew wroth as he read and re-read the letter. 'Is thy

servant a dog that he should do this thing?' he questioned angrily, as

he sat down to indite a peremptory refusal.

He found his task very difficult, for he had little skill in writing.

Shortly, he determined to send over to Dumfries first thing in the

morning for the notary public to come and write the letter for him, and

be a witness to his signature.

This he did, but the messenger brought word back that the notary was ill

with the spotted fever and could not come.

Sir Robert's anger increased, for the temptation beckoned insistently.

He had already had thoughts of the fair and well-dowered Agnes, but he

knew 'twas hopeless unless he was reconciled to Arran.

He determined to ride out and rid himself of black care by a gallop.

Mounting, he let the horse choose his ain gait, and shortly found

himself in the airt of Hoddam, whence he rode up to the grassy fells

above Solway. Then he let his horse out on a gallop, and away he sped

like a curlew--sweeping over the short grass, and drinking in the breeze

like wine.

Maxwell rode till his horse was white with sweat, and the rubies in his

nostrils red as fire.

Then he turned and came back at a slow trot to the point of starting.

Pausing here, Maxwell gazed down on the one hand to the rich fields and

well-timbered lands of Hoddam; on the other hand across Solway to where

below the deep-piled, purple masses of Helvellyn and Skiddaw lay 'merry

Carlisle'--the abode of my Lord Wharton.

Maxwell shook his fist across Solway, as though in defiance. Then he

turned about and rode slowly home.


As soon as he was back again at Lochmaben he dispatched a special

messenger to Arran in Edinburgh with the brief assurance that he himself

would follow on the morrow and explain in person the difficulty of

accepting the Governor's proposals.

On the evening of the day that Sir Robert Maxwell arrived in Edinburgh a

ball was held in Holyrood--the first ball since Solway Moss had

overwhelmed Scotland with gloom. The Queen-Dowager was to be present,

and Arran insisted on Maxwell's attendance, though against his will. A

gay and brilliant assembly filled the great galleries of Holyrood that


After a minuet had been paced to the gentle music of the lute and

clavichord, a schottische succeeded to the martial skirl of the pipes.

For this dance Arran had craftily arranged that Maxwell should have as

partner the fair Agnes Herries, and as he watched them his brow relaxed

its tension. His policy was to strengthen and consolidate Scotland, and

to this end he would break Maxwell's assurance with England. 'The lust

of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,' he muttered

to himself as he watched the couple dancing with animation, 'are gey

guid baits.' As the company departed in the early dawn Arran took the

opportunity of walking back with Maxwell to his lodging. 'Ye partnered

ilk ither fine,' said the Governor; 'time and step suited ye bonny.

Weel,' he added slowly, 'ye hae to decide. Wull ye tak her?' Maxwell

hesitated a moment, then impulsively, 'I will. Here's my hand on 't.'

'Dune!' cried the Governor triumphantly. Then he added by way of an

evasion from any difficulty with Wharton. 'I'm thinking ye micht

emulate Douglas in his raid on the eastern march:

"And he has burn'd the dales of Tyne,

And part of Bambroughshire;

And three good towers on Reidswire fells,

He left them all on fire."

That is, if ye hae any fash wi' Wharton,' said Arran in conclusion.

'Juist pit the fear o' auld Scotland intil him, for I'll uphaud ye.'

No sooner had Maxwell returned home than he found a menacing letter from

Wharton, who had evidently heard of the reconciliation. Maxwell's dark

face glowed hotly as he made a vow to terrify Wharton into inaction. He

would instantly give him a 'handsel' of harrying to stay his proud

stomach. So he caused warn the waters far and wide. Nith he summoned,

and Annan, and then with his whole 'name' rode through the debatable

land, and crossing the Eden by the ford above Rockliff proceeded to

harry and burn through the English march. He drave his foray throughout

the day; horses and nowt, sheep, goats, and swine he collected, and made

the 'red cock crow' on many a peel and bastlehouse.

Then as evening drew on and his messengers announced the approach of

Wharton's men-at-arms he withdrew with his spoil, repulsed with

slaughter his opponent's forces, and safely guarded his spoil, till all

the 'gear' was across the Eden water.

Then Maxwell himself and his bailiff--Sandie Irvine--rode down to Solway

where his lugger was awaiting by his orders the chance of their return

by water.

Maxwell himself was 'forefaughten,' his horse was foundered; he sank

gratefully into the stern of the boat, and Sandie took the tiller.


The lugger shot ahead for Scotland, the swift wind upon her beam.

Suddenly its strength increased, and a storm swept down upon Solway.

Clouds gathered above, and on the incoming 'bore' Maxwell saw with

dismay the 'white horses of Solway' shaking their manes.

Darkness lowered about them; then a jagged flash of lightning rent the

murky air, and Sandie as he wrestled with the tiller saw a face white as

foam and 'unco ghash' beside him.

'Hae ye onything on your conscience, Laird?' cried Sandie in his ear,

'ony bit adultery or murder? If ye hae, mak a vow instantly to St.

Nicholas, or we're lost.'

Maxwell made no reply, but groaned as he looked wildly through the


Twelve forms--well kent to him--did he not see them pointing their

accusing fingers against him? There was Ian--there Alastair, next

Hamilton--he could look no further. God in Heaven! Wharton had hung his


Maxwell sank backwards, his hands to his eyes.

'Mak the vow, Laird,' yelled Sandie again in his ear, desperately.

'I'll mak a vow to Saint Nicholas,' murmured the other brokenly, 'to

build a tower to his honour, and put a light into it nightly for all

poor sailors on Solway.'

Heartened by this, Sandie thrust all his strength upon the tiller and

kept the lugger straight 'twixt Scylla and Charybdis.

But 'the white horses' were now upon them, their streaming manes

enveloping the gunwale, and Maxwell gave himself up for lost. The lugger

shivered, then grated violently. 'What's yon?' he cried in terror.

'Yon's the first stone o' Repentance Tower,'[1] cried Sandie

triumphantly, as he drave the lugger high upon the beach.

[Footnote 1: Tradition commonly holds that the builder of the tower had

thrown his captives overboard to lighten the boat, when returning from a

raid into England; but if the writer remembers aright, Dr. Nielson in

one of his erudite articles, seemed able to prove that Sir Robert

Maxwell--who married the Herries heiress and became Lord Herries--was

the builder. In this case the above tale gives the truer version of the

tower's origin.]