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Stories of the Border Marches by  John Lang

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IN THE DAYS OF THE '15

[82] CLOSE on two hundred years back from the present time there stood far up the South Tyne, beyond Haltwhistle, on the road—then little better than a bridle-track—running over the Cumberland border by Brampton, an inn which in those days was a house of no little importance in that wild and remote country.

If its old walls could speak, what, for instance, might they not have told of Jacobite plottings? Beneath its roof was held many a meeting of the supporters of the King "over the water," James the Eighth; and here, riding up from Dilston, not seldom came the unfortunate Earl of Derwentwater, to take part in the Jacobite deliberations. The young lord and the horse he usually rode were figures familiar and welcome to the country folk around, and at the inn they were as well known as was the landlord himself. It was not long after a secret meeting held here in the earlier half of the year 1715 that the warrants were issued which led to Derwentwater's flight from Dilston, and precipitated the Rising that within a few months rolled so many gallant heads in the dust of the scaffold.

It might perhaps have been better for Lord [83] Derwentwater had he been less beloved in Northumberland, and had his devoted admirers been unable to send him notice of the coming of the warrant for his arrest. He might not then have had opportunity to commit himself so deeply; and there might have been a romantic and pathetic figure the less in the doleful history of that unhappy period. As it was, he had time to get clear away, and was able to lie securely hid, partly in farmhouses, partly near Shaftoe Crags, till the news reached him that Forster had raised the standard of rebellion. On 6th October 1715, at the head of a little company of gentlemen and armed servants, he joined Forster at Greenrig.

A poor affair at the best, this muster in Northumberland; and though the county was seething with excitement, and a few notable men went out with the Earl, his personal following did not exceed seventy in all. Then followed the march which ended so disastrously in pitiful surrender at Preston that fatal November day. However gallant personally, Forster was an incapable soldier, no leader of men, and General Wills had but to spread wide his net to sweep in the bulk of the insurgents—Forster, Derwentwater, Kenmure, Nithsdale, Carwath, Wintoun, and men less exalted in rank by the score and the hundred. The bag was a heavy one, that day of disaster to the Stuart cause; and alas, for many of those who filled it! Alas, too, for the wives and the mothers who sat at home, waiting! Not to [84] everyone was given the opportunity to dare all for husband or son; to few came such chance as was seized by the Countess of Nithsdale, who so contrived that her husband escaped from the Tower disguised in woman's clothing. It was boldly schemed, and success followed her attempt. Others could but pray to God and petition the King. She not only prayed, but acted. Would that there might have been one so to act for Derwentwater! More happy had it been, perhaps, for his Countess had she never uttered the taunt that ended his hesitation to join in the Rebellion: "It is not fitting that the Earl of Derwentwater should continue to hide his head in hovels from the light of day, when the gentry are up in arms for their lawful sovereign." They say that her spirit mourns yet within the tower of Dilston.

Away up the valley of the Tyne, amongst the wild Northumberland hills, news went with lagging gait, those leisurely days of the eighteenth century; even news of battle or of disaster did not speed as it is the wont of ill news to do: "For evil news rides fast, while good news baits." Tidings, in those good old days, but trickled through from ear to ear, slowly, as water filters through sand. Little news, therefore, of Lord Derwentwater, or of the Rising, was heard in or around Haltwhistle after the insurgent force left Brampton; no man knew for a certainty what fortune, good or bad, had waited on the fortunes of his friends.

[85] Night was closing down on the desolate Border hills on a drear November evening of 1715. Throughout a melancholy day, clinging mist had blurred the outline of even the nearest hills; distance was blotted out. Thin rain fell chillingly and persistently, drip, dripping with monotonous plash from the old inn's thatched eaves; a light wind sobbed fitfully around the building, moaning at every chink and cranny of the ill-fitting window-frames. "A dismal night for any who must travel," thought the stableman of the inn, as he looked east and then west along the darkening road. No moving thing broke the monotony of the depressing outlook, and the groom turned to his work of bedding down for the night the few animals that happened to be in his charge. They were not many; most of those that so frequently of late had stood here were away with their owners, following the fortunes of the Earl of Derwentwater; business was dull at the inn. Well, let the weather be what it liked, at least the groom's work was over for the night, and he might go sit by the cheerful peat fire in the kitchen, and drink a health to the King—the rightful King, God bless him; and it was little harm, thought he, if he drank another to the Earl—whom might the Saints protect.

Even as he turned to go, in the dusk at the door, framed, as it were, in a picture, there appeared a horseman leading a tired horse, the reins loose over his arm. Though seen only in that half light, the [86] outline of man and beast were familiar to the stableman. Both seemed far spent; the horse held low its head, and sweat stood caked and thick on neck and heaving flanks, and dripped off inside down by the hocks.

"Ye've ridden hard, sir," said the groom, bustling forward to take the horse.

The stranger said no word, but himself led the tired animal into an empty stall. Yet, as the groom remembered later, of the other horses in the stable, not one raised its head, or whinnied, or took any notice whatever as the new-comer entered.

The stableman turned to lift his lantern, and when, an instant later, he again faced about, he stared to find himself alone; the strange horseman was nowhere to be seen. And the horse in the stall? Him the groom knew well; there was no possibility of mistake; it was the well-known grey on which Lord Derwentwater had ridden away to cast in his lot with Forster.

"Mistress! Mistress!" he cried, hurrying into the house, "has his lordship come in? He's led his grey gelding into the stable the noo, and niver a word wad he say to me or he gaed oot. An' I'm feared a's no weel wi' him; he was lookin' sair fashed, an' kind o' white like."

"His lordship i' the inn? Guide us!" cried the landlady, snatching up a tallow dip and hurrying into the unlit guest-room.

[87] "Ye hae gotten back, my lord? And is a' weel wi' your lordship? And—e-eh! what ails—?" she gasped, as a tall figure, seated in the great oak chair by the smouldering fire, turned on her a face wan and drawn, disfigured by bloody streaks across the cheek. Slowly, like a man in pain, or one wearied to the extreme of exhaustion, the seated figure rose, stood for a moment gazing at her, and then, ere the landlady could collect her scattered wits, it had vanished. Vanished, too, was the grey horse that the groom had seen brought into the stable; and, what was more, the bedding in the stall where the animal had stood was entirely undisturbed, and showed no trace of any beast having been there.

It was long that night ere anybody slept within the walls of the old inn, and broken was their sleep. None doubted but that the Earl was killed, or if not killed, at least soon to die; and the news of Preston, when it came, was to those faithful friends no news, only confirmation of their fears. None, after that, dared hope; they knew that he must die. And the 24th of February 1716 saw a countryside plunged in grief, for that day fell on the scaffold the head of one whom everybody loved, who was every man's friend, who never turned empty away those who went to him seeking help.

Blood-red were the northern lights that flashed and shimmered so wildly in the heavens that night, red as the blood that had soaked into the sawdust of [88] a scaffold; never before in the memory of living man had aurora gleamed with hue so startling. But the sorrow in the hearts of his people passed not away like the fading of the northern lights. His memory lives still in Northumberland; still, when they see the gleam and flicker of the aurora, folk there call it "Lord Derwentwater's Light"; and even yet it is a tradition that dwellers by the stream which flows past Dilston were wont to tell how, on that fatal day, its waters ran red like blood.

When "a' was done that man could do, and a' was done in vain," there remained but to convey his headless body, if it might be, to the spot where his forebears lie at rest.

"Albeit that here in London Town,

It is my fate to die,

O, carry me to Northumberland,

In my fathers' grave to lie."

The Earl's body had been buried at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and of those who went to recover it and to bring it home, there was one famous in Northumberland story, Frank Stokoe of Chesterwood. A remarkable man was Stokoe, of enormous personal strength and of great height—in stature a veritable child of Anak—a man without fear, brave to recklessness, a good friend and a terrible enemy. Added to all this, he was an extraordinarily expert swordsman. He was a man, too, of much influence and [89] acknowledged authority in the county—a useful man to have on the side of the King—one to whom the people listened, and to whom often an appeal for help was made in ticklish affairs.

There was, for instance, that affair of the feud between Lowes of Willimoteswick Castle and Leehall of Leehall, which kept a great part of Tynedale in hot water for so many years. Leehall appears to have been physically the better man; at any rate, on more than one occasion Lowes seems to have escaped from the clutches of his enemy solely by the superior speed of the horse he rode, or possibly he was a light, and his enemy a heavy, weight, which would make all the difference in a rousing gallop across deep ground or heathery hill. In any case, as a general rule, Lowes was more often the hunted than the hunter. Yet, to the followers of Lowes—there must always be two sides to a story—it was he, and not Leehall, who was the finer man, for, of an encounter between the pair near Bellingham, when Lowes' horse was killed by a sword-thrust directed at the rider's thigh, the old ballad says:

"Oh, had Leehall but been a man

As he was never ne-an,

He wad have stabbed the rider

And letten the horse alean."

But perhaps the animosity here shown to Leehall comes more from one who was a lover of horses—as [90] who in Northumberland is not?—than from a partisan of Lowes. However, the feud ran on, year in, year out, as is the custom of such things, and no doubt it might have been bequeathed from father to son, like a property under entail, had it not been for the intervention of Frank Stokoe. Lowes and Leehall, it seems, had met by chance near Sewing Shields, with the usual result. Only, upon this occasion, the former was possibly not on the back of an animal the superior in speed and stamina of the horse on which Leehall was mounted. At least, Lowes was captured.

But, having got him, his enemy did not proceed to cut him into gobbets, or even to "wipe the floor" with him. Something lingering and long was more to his taste; he would make Lowes "eat dirt." With every mark, therefore, of ignominy and contempt, he dragged his fallen foe home to Leehall, and there chained him near to the kitchen fire-place, leaving just such length of chain loose as would enable the prisoner to sit with the servants at meals. The position can scarcely have been altogether a pleasing one to the servants, to say nothing of the prisoner. Doubtless the former, or some of them, may have found a certain joy in baiting, and in further humiliating, a helpless man, their master's beaten enemy. Yet that pleasure, one would think, could scarcely atone for the constant presence among them of an uninvited guest—a guest, too, who had not much [91] choice in the matter of personal cleanliness. However, trifles of that nature did not greatly embarrass folk in days innocent of sanitary science. As for Lowes, it must have been difficult so to act consistent with the maintenance of any shred of dignity, or of conciliatory cheerfulness. If, for example, the cook should happen of a morning to have got out of bed "wrong foot first," how often must the attentions of that domestic have taken the form of a pot or a pan, or other domestic utensil, flung at his head. Here, no soft answer would be likely to turn away wrath. On the spur of the moment, when a pot, or an iron spit, has caught one on elbow or shins, it might not be altogether easy to think promptly of the repartee likely to be the most conciliating. And he could not "make himself scarce." The situation was embarrassing.

Now, the law, in those breezy times, took small cognisance of such little freaks as this; the law, indeed, was pretty powerless up among those wild hills. It wanted some force stronger, or, at all events, some force less magnificently deliberate, than that of the law.

Frank Stokoe was that force. To him went the friends of Lowes; and next morning saw the peel tower of Leehall besieged. Frank demanded the surrender of Lowes, uninjured. Leehall retorted that he might take him—if he could. But Leehall had reckoned without his retainers; they dared not fight [92] against Frank Stokoe. So they said. But was it not, in reality, a sort of incipient Strike? Did they, perhaps, being wearied of the somewhat tame sport of baiting him, think the opportunity a fitting one to get rid of their uninvited guest for good and all? In any case, before an hour had passed, Leehall found it convenient to hand Lowes over to Stokoe, who safely deposited him by his own fireside at Willimoteswick, and the feud was pursued no further.

Whether or not Leehall was content to have thus played second fiddle, one does not know. Perhaps it was his men who, a year or two later, paid a nocturnal visit to Stokoe's peel tower. Frank was roused from sleep one winter night by his daughter, who told her father that some one was attempting to force the outer door. Stokoe stole quietly downstairs, to find that some one outside was busy with the point of a knife trying gently to prise back the great oaken bolt which barred his door. A very little more, a few minutes longer of work, and the beam would have been slid back, the door would have been quietly opened, and the throats of all the occupants of the house might have been cut. Whispering to his daughter to stand behind the door, and softly to push back the bolt each time the attempt was made to prise it open, Frank snatched down, and loaded with slugs, his old musket. Then very quietly he let himself down through the trap-door into the cow-house, which in all, or nearly all, old peel [93] towers formed the lower story of the building. Cautiously unclosing the door of the cow-house, which opened on the outer air close to the flight of stone steps leading up to the main door of the tower, he stepped out. There, plainly to be seen at top of the stair, were several men, busily employed in trying to gain an entrance.

"Ye bluidy scoundrels," roared Stokoe, "I'll knock a hole in some o' ye that the stars will shine through."

And with that he let drive at the nearest, the charge, at so close a range, literally "knocking a hole" in him. Like a startled covey of partridges the remaining robbers fled, not only without attempting reprisals, but without even waiting to use the steps as an aid to escape; they simply flew through the air to mother earth and made tracks towards safety, anywhere, out of the reach of Frank Stokoe's vengeance; which perhaps was the wisest thing they could have done, for Stokoe was the kind of man who in a case such as this would willingly have knocked a hole in each one of them. In those days people were not very squeamish, and Stokoe seems to have gone quietly back to bed without greatly troubling himself about the slain robber; but the man's friends must have stolen back during the night, for in a copse near by, in a shallow grave hastily scooped out of the frozen earth, the dead body was found next day.

[94] It is almost needless to say that Frank Stokoe was of those who would be certain to concern themselves in an enterprise such as the Rising of 1715. His sympathies were entirely with the Stuart, and against the Hanoverian King. Moreover, though he owned his peel tower and the land surrounding it, he was yet, as regards other land, a tenant of the Earl of Derwentwater, as well as being a devoted admirer of that nobleman. Naturally, therefore, when the Earl took the field, Stokoe followed him; and had all been of his frame of mind, there had been no ignominious surrender at Preston. Whilst fighting was to be done, no man fought so hard, or with such thorough enjoyment, as Stokoe. "Surrender" was a part of the great game that he did not understand; he was not of the stuff that deals in "regrettable incidents." At Preston that day, when all was done, there stood King George's men on either side, as well as in his front; in his rear a high stone wall, even to a man less heavily handicapped than he by weight, an obstacle almost insurmountable. But his horse was good—Stokoe's horses had  to be good—and it knew its master. Never hitherto had the pair refused any jump, and they were not like to begin now. With a rush and a scramble, and the clatter of four good feet against the stone coping, they were over; over and away, galloping hard for the North Countrie, the free wind whistling past their ears as they sped, Stokoe throwing up his arm and giving a [95] mocking cheer as each ineffective volley of musketry from the troops spluttered behind him; and the great roan horse snatched at his bit, and snorted with excitement.

Yes, that part of it was worth living for, and the blood danced in the veins of horse and man while the chase lasted. But what of it when once more the hills of Northumberland were regained, when the great moors that lay grim and frowning under the dark November skies were again beneath his horse's feet? It was a different matter then, for the hue and cry was out, and the earths all stopped against this gallant fox. Chesterwood was closed to him, no friend dared openly give him shelter.

"He had fled, had got clear away to France," was the story they gave out. But Frank Stokoe all the time lay snug and safe in hiding, not so very far from his own peel tower. And he was one of those who, disguised—perhaps in his case not very effectually—ventured to London, intent on bringing back the body of their chief, that it might lie at rest in the grave where sleep the fathers of that noble race.

There, in London, Frank narrowly escaped being taken. As it chanced, at that time an Italian bravo was earning for himself an unsavoury notoriety by going about boastfully challenging all England to stand up before him to prove who was the better man. He would mark his man, pick a quarrel with him, and the result was always the same. The [96] Italian's trick of fence was deadly, his wrist a wrist of steel. None yet had been able to stand long before him; not one had got inside his guard.

As he walked once near Leicester Field in the dusk of an evening, Stokoe's great figure caught the eye of this little Italian, in whose mind suddenly arose the irresistible longing to bring this huge bulk toppling to earth. That would be something not unworth boasting about—that he, a sort of eighteenth-century David, should slay this modern Goliath.

No one had ever been able to complain that it was difficult to pick a quarrel with Frank Stokoe. Not that he was quarrelsome—far otherwise; but never was he known to shrink from any combat that was pressed on him, and on this occasion the venomous little foreigner found him most ready to oblige. It wanted but a slight jostle, an Italian oath hissed out, a few words in broken English to the effect that big men were proverbially clumsy, and that bigness and courage were not always to be found united. Stokoe knew very well who his assailant was, knew his reputation, and the slender chance the ordinary swordsman might expect to have against this foreigner's devilish skill, but his weapon was unsheathed almost before the Italian had ceased to curse. Cautiously keeping a check on his habitual impetuosity, calling to his aid every ounce of the skill he possessed, and content meanwhile if he could evade the vicious thrusts of his enemy, Stokoe for a [97] time kept the fiery little man well at bay. Irritated at length by the giant's coolness, and by finding him, perhaps, not quite so easy a conquest as he had anticipated, unable to draw him on to expose himself by attacking, the Italian for a moment lost patience. None other in England had given him so much trouble. It was time this farce ended; he would spit the giant now. Once, twice, thrice—it was with the utmost difficulty that Stokoe saved himself from being run through the body, and once the sword of his enemy went through his clothes, grazing his ribs, and sending a warm stream trickling down his side. Then, suddenly, again the Italian lunged. This time it surely had been all over with Stokoe. But the foot of the hectoring little foreigner slipped, or he stumbled owing to some slight inequality of the ground. For a single instant the man was overbalanced and off his guard, and before he could recover, Frank Stokoe's sword passed through his body, sending out of this world one who whilst in it had wrought much evil.

"Well done, Stokoe! Old Northumberland for ever!" cried a voice from amongst the considerable crowd of spectators who had run up before the fight had been in progress many seconds. "Well done, Stokoe!"

Here was danger greater even than that from which he had but now escaped. He was recognised! And for him to be recognised in London probably [98] meant instant arrest, and an almost certain end on the gallows. He was too deeply involved in the late Rebellion; King George's Government would show him as little mercy as they had showed to his chief.

Stokoe glanced round uneasily as he wiped his sword, but it was not possible to say which in the group of spectators was the man who had given that compromising cry; it might be one of several who, to Stokoe's extreme discomposure, seemed to look at him rather intently. Time to be out of this, thought he; the farther he was from London the more freely he would breathe just at present, and the less chance was there of that breathing being permanently stopped. Policemen had not been invented in those days, and there was not much chance of his being arrested for duelling, for what was then called "the watch" was singularly inefficient, and seldom to be found when wanted. Nevertheless, it was now no easy matter for Stokoe to shake off the little "tail" of admirers who insisted on following him; it was not every day that they had the chance of seeing a man killed in fair fight, and they were loth to lose sight of the man who had done it—a hero in their eyes. However, by dint of plunging down one narrow street and up some other unsavoury alley, and repeating the manúuvre at intervals, blinding his trail as far as possible, he at length shook off the last persevering remnant of his admirers, and, with- [99] out being tracked or shadowed, gained the shelter of the house where he lodged. A few days saw him and his friends safely out of London, bearing with them the body of the Earl of Derwentwater, which was later buried at Dilston.

Frank Stokoe's position was an unfortunate one from now on. He was a proscribed man; his property had been seized, and those now in possession threatened if he put in an appearance, or made any attempt to regain the property, that they would give him up to Government. Times consequently became hard for poor Stokoe; his affairs went from bad to worse, and though his name was included in the general pardon which Government issued some time later, he never got back his land nor any of his possessions. Part of the land passed with the Derwentwater Estate to Greenwich Hospital, part, including the peel tower, where he and his ancestors had lived for generations, remained in the clutches of those who had seized it. Old age came upon Frank and found him poverty-stricken; want came, "as an armed man," and found him too weak to resist. The spirit was there, but no longer the strength that should have helped the spirit. He sank and died, leaving behind him no shred of worldly gear.

Another noted Northumbrian who was "out" in the '15 was him whom men then called "Mad Jack Hall" of Otterburn. Not that he was in any sense [100] mad, or even of weak intellect—far from it; the name merely arose from the fiery energy of the man, and from the reckless courage with which he would face any danger or any odds. As a man, he was extremely popular, and no one could have been more beloved by his dependents. His fine estate he managed himself, and managed well, though before he went "out" misfortunes fell on him which no management could have averted. They were misfortunes so crushing, and following so immediately on each other's heels, that amongst the simple country folk they were looked on, and spoken of, with awe, as manifestly judgments from Heaven for some fancied sin they supposed him to have committed. He might, people said, have prevented, but did not prevent, a duel which took place in the streets of Newcastle, in which a very popular young man was killed. It was "murder," and no fair fight, folk said; and, whatever the rights of the case, at least the successful duellist was afterwards hanged for the murder. Hall's failure to interfere seems to have strained his popularity for a time. In such circumstances people are prone to assume that an all-wise Providence, necessarily seeing eye to eye with them, inflicts some special punishment on the person who has sinned some special sin, or who has, at all events, done (or not done) something which, in the popular judgment, he should not have done (or done, as the case may be). Misfortune or accident comes to some [101] one who has roused popular clamour. "I told you so," cries the public; "a judgment!"

In this instance, the sin of not interfering to prevent a duel—or a murder, as popular opinion called it—was punished, firstly, by Hall's house at Otterburn being burned to the ground, together with all his farm buildings and great part of his farm stock; and, secondly, this grievous loss was followed in the time of harvest by a devastating flood in the Rede, which swept away from the rich, low-lying haughs every particle of the fat crops which already had been cut, and were now merely waiting to be carried home.

By such drastic means having apparently been purged of his sin, Mr. Hall seems to have regained his normal popularity, and an incident which presently occurred raised it to an even greater height than before. As far back at least as the time of Cromwell it had been customary to send offenders against the law, political prisoners and the like who were not judged quite worthy of the gallows or the block, to what in Charles the Second's day were called His Majesty's Plantations—our colonies, that is, in America or the West Indies. Not only were "incorrigible rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars" thus dealt with, but those also who attended illegal prayer-meetings found themselves in the same box if they happened to have been previously convicted of this heinous offence; and the moss-troopers of [102] Northumberland and Cumberland were treated in similar fashion when taken—deported from their own heathery hills and grey, weeping skies, to the hot swamps and savannahs of Jamaica or Virginia. In the beginning, those sentenced were merely compelled, under penalty of what Weir of Hermiston called being "weel haangit," to remove themselves to the Plantations. Later, a custom sprang up under which criminals of all sorts were delivered over by the authorities to the tender mercies of contractors, who engaged to land them in the West Indies or America, it being one of the conditions of the contract that the services of the prisoner were the property of the contractor for a given number of years. On landing, these wretched prisoners were put up to auction and sold to the highest bidder—in other words, they were slaves. Many men made large sums of money in this inhuman trade, trafficking in the lives of their fellow-countrymen. The thing at last reached such a pitch that practically no able-bodied man was safe from the danger of being kidnapped, sold to some dealer, and shipped off to slavery in the Plantations. That was the fate of many a young man who mysteriously disappeared from the ken of his friends in those seventeenth- and eighteenth-century days. Once shipped to the Plantations, the chance was small of a man ever returning to his native land. Fever, brought on by exposure to the hot sun and heavy rain of a tropical [103] or semi-tropical climate, took care of that; in the West Indies, at least, they died like flies. Not many had the luck, or the constitution, of one Henry Morgan, who, kidnapped in Bristol when a boy and sold as a slave in Barbadoes, lived to be one of the most famous—or rather notorious—buccaneers of all time, and died a knight, Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and commander of our forces in that island.

It was "Mad Jack Hall's" fortune to save from this fate of being kidnapped and sent to rot in fever-laden swamps of the West Indies a young Northumbrian at that time in his service. It was the time of year when Stagshaw Bank Fair was held, and Mr. Hall, meaning to attend the fair, had instructed this young man to join him there at a certain hour, and himself had ridden over to Corbridge, there to pass the night. In the morning, when Jack Hall reached the fair at the appointed hour, he was astonished to find his servant, very dejected in appearance, being led away in charge of a man on horseback. Hall questioned the lad, who brightened up vastly at sight of his master, but could give no explanation as to the cause of this interference. All he knew was that as he stood waiting for Mr. Hall, this man had ridden up, claimed him as a prisoner, and was now marching him off. Hall looked at the mounted man, and recognised him as one of a family named Widdrington, who claimed to be invested by the Government of Queen Anne with authority to arrest from time [104] to time sundry persons who, so far as the general public knew, were guilty of no crime, but who nevertheless were in the end sent to the dreaded Plantations. These Widdringtons were greatly feared throughout the countryside, but as they had always selected their victims from amongst people who had few friends, and who were little likely to have the means of making any great outcry, no person of influence had yet been moved to take the matter up, or to make troublesome inquiries.

Hall, however, was not the man to let his servant be taken without protest, even if this Widdrington really had the authority he claimed to possess. But to all Hall's remonstrances Widdrington merely replied haughtily that he was accountable to no one, save only to her most gracious Majesty the Queen; that he was there in the execution of his duty, and that anyone interfering with him did so at his own peril. The situation was awkward. On the one hand, if this man really was acting within his rights and in the execution of his duty, then Hall himself was likely to get into serious trouble; on the other, he was not going to see a young man, his own servant, a man, so far as he knew, innocent of all offence against the law, marched off in this way, if by any means he might be saved. As mere remonstrances appeared to be of no avail, Hall hotly pressed his horse close up to Widdrington's, completely barring his way, and demanded that, if he [105] were really acting within the law, he should show his authority.

"This  is my authority," cried Widdrington, drawing his sword.

"We'll soon prove whether that's strong enough," replied Hall, jumping from his horse and also drawing his weapon. There was, as it chanced, close to the lane in which the two had been wrangling, a bit of nice level ground covered with short, crisp turf, and to this Hall quickly made his way, followed by Widdrington and by a crowd of people who had run up from the fair, attracted by the quarrel. A very few minutes sufficed to prove that Widdrington's "authority" was not  strong enough. He fought well enough for a time, it is true, and his opponent had need of all the skill he could command, but within five minutes Hall had caught Widdrington's point in the big basket hilt of his sword, and with a sudden jerk had sent the weapon flying, leaving the disarmed man entirely at his mercy. That was enough to satisfy Hall, who was too much of a man to push his advantage further. But it by no means satisfied the surrounding crowd of country people. By them these Widdringtons had long been feared and detested, and only the belief in the minds of those simple country folk that, in some mysterious way beyond their ken, the law was on the side of their oppressors, had on more than one occasion prevented an outbreak [106] of popular fury. Here, now, was one of the hated brood, proven to be in the wrong, and with no authority to arrest beyond that bestowed by bluster and brute force. The air grew thick with groans and savage threats, and a clod flung by a boy gave the mob a lead. In an instant sticks and stones began to fly. Widdrington was unable to reach his sword or to get to his horse; there was nothing for it but to take to his heels, pursued by a crowd thirsting for his blood. That was the last of the oppression of the Widdringtons; their horrible traffic in human beings was ended, and none of them ever again dared show their faces in that part of the country.

As for Hall, henceforward an angel of light could not have been more highly regarded, and his fate, a very few years later, brought grief on the county almost as universal as that felt for the Earl of Derwentwater himself.

Hall was at Preston with Derwentwater, but he did not, like Frank Stokoe, ride for it when Forster surrendered. One would almost have expected a man of his fiery, reckless disposition to have made a dash for it, and to fight his way through or fall in the attempt. Perhaps he considered it a point of honour to stick by his friends, and share their fate, whatever it might be. Anyhow, he surrendered with the rest, and with the rest was condemned to death. Time after time he was reprieved, owing to [107] the exertions of friends who happened to be high in favour with the Hanoverian King's Government, but time after time he was recommitted, and finally Tyburn saw the last of poor "Mad Jack Hall." They hanged him on the 13th of July 1716.


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