Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories
SCENE I. TEMPTATION
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
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.
SCENE II. THE RAID
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
Maxwell himself was 'forefaughten,' his horse was foundered; he sank
gratefully into the stern of the boat, and Sandie took the tiller.
SCENE III. THE STORM ON SOLWAY
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,' 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