Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER XV: A Mission.

The next morning early Ronald proceeded to take an inventory of the arms and ammunition left behind by the troops when they had marched to join Sir John Cope at Stirling. Having done this he saw that they were all packed up in readiness to be sent off the next day under the escort, who were also to convey the money which the city was required to pay. For the provost and council, knowing that it was useless to resist the order, and perhaps anxious in the present doubtful state of affairs to stand well with Prince Charles, had arranged that the money should be forthcoming of the following morning. After his work was over Ronald again spent the evening at Andrew Anderson’s.

The next morning he returned to Edinburgh with the arms and escort. It was late when he arrived; but as he knew that Lord George Murray would be at work in his tent, he repaired there at once.

“We have brought back the money and arms, Lord George. I have handed over the arms and ammunition at the magazine tent, and those in charge of the money have gone into the town with a part of the escort to give it over to the treasurer.”

“How many arms did you get?”

“Two hundred and twenty-three muskets and eighty pistols, fourteen kegs of gunpowder, and well nigh a ton of lead.”

“That is more than I had expected. And now, Leslie, I have an important mission for you. The prince this morning asked me whom I could recommend, as a sure and careful person likely to do the business well, to go down into Lancashire to visit the leading Jacobites there, and urge them to take up arms. I said that I knew of none who would be more likely to succeed than yourself. Your residence of two years in France has rubbed off any Scotch dialect you may have had, and at any rate you could pass for a northern Englishman. In the next place, your youth would enable you to pass unsuspected where an older man might be questioned. The prince agreed at once, and took shame to himself that he had not before given promotion to one who was his companion on his voyage to Scotland, the more so as he had made Johnstone a captain. Your claims are far greater than his, and moreover you have served as an officer in the French army.

But, in truth, the fault is in some degree your own, for you spend all your time in carrying out your duties, and do not show yourself at any of the levees or festivities. And you know, with princes, as with other people, out of sight is out of mind. However, the prince at once took steps to repair the omission, and has signed your commission as captain.

Here it is. You will understand, of course, that it is for past services, and that you are perfectly free to decline this mission to the south if you would rather not undertake it. It is unquestionably a dangerous one.”

“I will undertake it readily, sir,” Ronald said, “and I thank you sincerely for bringing my name before the prince, and the prince himself for his kindness in granting me his commission, which so far I have done but little to win. I shall be able, I trust, to carry out this mission to his satisfaction; and although I am ignorant of the country I shall have the advantage of taking with me my brave follower, Malcolm Anderson, who for years was in the habit of going with droves of cattle down into Lancashire, and will not only know the country but have acquaintances there, and being known as a drover would pass without suspicion of his being engaged with politics.”

“That will do well,” Lord George said. “I will get the list of persons on whom you should call prepared tomorrow. You had best go to Sir Thomas Sheridan and Francis Strickland, who came over with you, and get them to present you to Secretary Murray and recommend you to him. If he hears that your mission is of my recommendation he will do all he can to set the prince against you. Everything that I do is wrong in his eyes, and I do believe that he would ruin the cause in order to injure me, did he see no other way to accomplish that end. Therefore, if he mentions my name, as he is like to do, knowing that you have been my aide de camp, be sure that you say nought in my favour, or it will ruin you with him. You will, of course, attend the prince’s levee tomorrow, and had best make preparation to start at nightfall.”

The next day, accordingly, Ronald called upon Sir Thomas Sheridan and Strickland, and telling them that the prince had determined to send him on a mission into Lancashire, asked them to present him to Secretary Murray, from whom he would receive orders for his guidance and instruction as to the persons whom he was to visit. The two gentlemen proceeded with him to the house in which Secretary Murray had taken up his abode, and introduced him, with much warmth, as a fellow passenger on board the Doutelle.

“You have been serving since as Lord Murray’s aide de camp?”

“Yes, sir, the prince recommended me to him at Perth, and I have since had the honour to carry his orders.”

“Captain Leslie, for so the prince has granted him a commission,” Sir Thomas said, “has served two years in the French army, and was present at Dettingen and Fontenoy. He mentioned to me on the voyage that he had the honour of being presented by Marshal Saxe to the King of France, and that he received his commission from the marshal, to whom he had acted as aide de camp at Fontenoy.”

“You have begun well, indeed, young sir,” Murray said, “to have received at your age, for I judge that you are not yet twenty, commissions in the French army and ours.”

Ronald bowed.

“He has another claim upon all you Scottish gentlemen,” Sir Thomas said,

“for Colonel Macdonald told us, when he introduced him to us at Nantes, that it was through his interference and aid alone that he escaped safely from Glasgow, and that all his papers, with the names of the king’s friends in Scotland, did not fall into George’s hands. He was taken prisoner for his share in that affair, but escaped from the ship in the Thames, and succeeded in crossing to France. So you see, young as he is, he has rendered good service to the cause.”

The expression of the secretary’s face, which had before been cold and distant, changed at once. He had been aware that Ronald had been chosen for this business on the recommendation of Lord George Murray, and his jealousy of that nobleman had at once set him against Ronald, of whose antecedents he was entirely ignorant; but what he now heard entirely altered the case, and disposed him most favourably towards him, especially as his own name would have been one of the most prominent in the list, he having been in constant communication with Colonel Macdonald during the stay of the latter in Scotland.

“I had no idea it was to you that we are all so indebted,” he said warmly. “I heard from Colonel Macdonald, after his return from France, that he owed his escape entirely to the quickness and bravery of a young gentleman of whose name he was ignorant, but who, he feared, would suffer for his interference on his behalf, and prayed me and all other loyal gentlemen of Scotland to befriend you should they ever discover your name, for that we assuredly owed it to you that we escaped imprisonment, if not worse. I am truly glad to meet you and thank you in person. And so you are going on this mission?”

“I have undertaken to do my best, sir. Fortunately I have a faithful follower who fought beside my father in ’15, followed him to France and fought by his side in the Scottish Dragoons for fifteen years, and who has since been my best friend. He worked for years, when I was a child, as a drover of cattle from the Highlands into England. He knows Cumberland and Lancashire well, and would be known at every wayside inn.

He will accompany me, and I shall pass as his nephew, therefore no suspicion will be likely to light upon me.”

“And you set out tonight?”

“Yes, sir, if my orders and letters are ready.”

“There will not be many letters,” the secretary said. “It would not do for you to have documents upon you which might betray you and our friends there should you be arrested. I will give you a list of the gentlemen on whom you have to call, which you had best learn by heart and destroy before you cross the frontier. You shall have one paper only, and that written so small that it can be carried in a quill. This you can show to one after the other. If you find you are in danger of arrest you can destroy or swallow it. I will give them to you at the prince’s levee this afternoon, and will send to your tent a purse of gold for your expenses.”

“I shall need but little for that, sir,” Ronald said smiling.

“For your expenses, no,” the secretary said; “but one never can say what money may be required for. You may have to buy fresh horses, you may want it to bribe someone to conceal you. Money is always useful, my young friend. By the way, what family of Leslies do you belong to? I heard that one of your name had accompanied the prince, but no more.”

“My father was Leslie of Glenlyon.”

“Indeed!” the secretary exclaimed. “Of course, I know the name well. The lands were confiscated; but we shall soon set that right, and I will see that they are added to when the time comes to reward the king’s friends and punish his foes.”

Ronald now took his leave and returned to Malcolm, who was making preparation for the enterprise. He had already purchased two suits of clothes, such as would be worn by Lowland drovers, and was in high spirits, being more elated than was Ronald himself at the latter’s promotion. In the course of the day he bought two rough ponies, as being more suitable for the position they were to assume than the horses with which they had been furnished at Perth. Ronald attended the levee, and thanked the prince for the favour which he bestowed upon him.

“You are a young gentleman after my own heart,” Prince Charles said, “and I promised myself on shipboard that we should be great friends; but I have been so busy since I landed, and you have been so occupied in my service, that I have seen but little of you. On your return I hope that I shall be able to have you near my person. I am half jealous of you, for while you are younger than I am you have seen good service and taken part in great battles, but hitherto I have led a life almost of idleness.”

Ronald bowed deeply at the prince’s gracious speech. On his return to his tent he found a messenger from the secretary with a purse which, on counting its contents, they found to amount to a hundred guineas.

They started immediately, and travelled twenty miles before stopping for the night at a small wayside inn.

“This seems like old times to me,” Malcolm said as, after eating supper, they sat by a turf fire, “except that on my way down I had the herd to look after. There is no fear of our being questioned or suspected till we reach the border, for there is not an English soldier between the Forth and the Tweed; nor is it likely that we shall meet with any difficulty whatever till we get to Carlisle. Cope’s forces, or what remain of them, are at Newcastle, and it will be there that the English will gather, and the western road is likely to be open until, at any rate, Prince Charles moves south. George’s troops have plenty to think about without interfering with the Lowlands drovers. At the same time, after we have once crossed the Tweed, we may as well leave the high road. I know every bypath over the fells.”

On the third day after starting they crossed the border and were among the hills of Cumberland. They found that among the villages great apprehension existed. The tales of the rapine and destruction wrought in the old times by the Scottish forays had been handed down from father to son, and nothing less than the destruction of their homes and the loss of their flocks and herds was looked for. Malcolm was welcomed warmly at the little village inn where they put up for the night.

“Why, it’s well nigh three years since I saw you last,” the host said,

“and before that it was seldom two months without our seeing you. What have you been doing with yourself?”

“I have been gathering the herds in the Highlands,” Malcolm said, “while others have driven them down for sale; but at present my occupation is gone. The Highlanders are swarming like angry bees whose hive has been disturbed, and even if we could collect a herd it would not be safe to drive it south; it would be seized and despatched to Edinburgh for the use of the clans there.”

“Is it true that there are fifty thousand of them, and that they have sworn to kill every English man, woman, and child?”

“No, they are not so strong as that,” Malcolm said. “From what I hear I should say they were not more than half; and I do not think there is any occasion for peaceful people to be afraid, for they say that the prince has treated all the prisoners who fell into his hands in the kindest manner, and that he said that the English are his father’s subjects as well as the Scots, and that he will see that harm is done to no man.”

“I am right glad to hear it,” the innkeeper said. “I don’t know that I am much afraid myself; but my wife and daughter are in a terrible fright, and wanted me to quit the house and go south till it is all over.”

“There is no occasion for that, man,” Malcolm said; “you will have no reason for fear were the whole of the clans to march through your village, unless you took it into your head to stand at the door and shout, `God bless King George.'”

“I care not a fig about King George or King James,” the man said. “It’s nought to me who is king at London, and as far as I know that’s the way with all here. Let them fight it out together, and leave us hard working folks to ourselves.”

“I don’t suppose either James or George would care for that,” Malcolm said laughing; “but from what I have heard of Prince Charles I should say that there is nothing in the world that he would like better than to stand with broadsword or dagger against the Duke of Cumberland, and so settle the dispute.”

“That would be the most sensible thing to my mind,” the innkeeper said;

“but what brings you here, Anderson, since you have no herd with you?”

“I am just getting out of it all,” Malcolm said. “I have had my share of hard knocks, and want no more of them. I don’t want to quarrel with Highlanders or Lowlanders, and as trade is at a standstill at present, and there’s nothing for me to do in the Highlands, I thought I would come south till it was all over. There is money to collect and things to look after, and I have to notify to our regular customers that the herds will come down again as soon as the tempest is over; and between ourselves,”

he said in a lower voice, “I wanted to get my nephew out of harm’s way.

He has a hankering to join the prince’s army, and I don’t want to let him get his brains knocked out in a quarrel which isn’t his, so I have brought him along with me.”

“He is a good looking young fellow, I can see, and a strong one. I don’t wonder that he wanted to mount the white cockade; lads are always wanting to run their heads into danger. You have had your share of it, as you say; still you are wise to keep the lad out of it. I don’t hold with soldiering, or fighting in quarrels that don’t concern you.

Malcolm and Ronald travelled through Cumberland and Westmoreland, calling upon many of the gentlemen to whom the latter had been charged to deliver Prince Charles’s messages. They could not, however, flatter themselves that their mission was a success, for from few of those on whom they called did they receive assurances that they were prepared to take action; all the gentlemen professed affection for the Stuarts, but deprecated a descent into England unless the prince were accompanied by a strong body of French troops.

The rising of ’15 had been disastrous for the Jacobites of the North of England, and though all declared that they were ready again to take up arms and risk all for the cause of the Stuarts, if the prince was at the head of a force which rendered success probable, they were unanimously of opinion that it would be nothing short of madness to rise until at any rate the prince had marched into England at the head of a strong army.

The principal personage upon whom they called was Mr. Ratcliff, a brother of the Earl of Derwentwater, who had been executed after the rising of ’15. That gentleman assured them that he himself was ready to join the prince as soon as he came south, but that he wished the prince to know that in his opinion no large number of English would join.

“The memory of ’15 is still too fresh,” he said; “while the Stuarts have been absent so long that, although there are great numbers who would prefer them to the Hanoverians, I do not believe that men have the cause sufficiently at heart to risk life and property for it. Many will give their good wishes, but few will draw their swords. That is what I wish you to say to Prince Charles. Among gentlemen like myself the feeling of respect and loyalty to his father’s house is as strong as ever, and we shall join him, however desperate, in our opinion, the chances of success may be; but he will see that the common people will stand aloof, and leave the battle to be fought out by the clansmen on our side and George’s troops on the other.”

Some weeks were passed in traversing the country to and fro, for the desired interviews were often only obtained after considerable loss of time. They could not ride up as two Highland drovers to a gentleman’s house, and had to wait their chances of meeting those they wished to see on the high road, or of sending notes requesting an interview, couched in such terms that while they would be understood by those to whom they were addressed they would compromise no one if they fell into other hands.

There was indeed the greatest necessity for caution, for the authorities in all the towns and villages had received orders from the government to be on the lookout for emissaries from the north, and they were frequently exposed to sharp examination and questioning. Indeed it was only Malcolm’s familiarity with the country, and the fact that he had so many acquaintances ready to testify that he was, as he said, a Scotch drover, in the habit for many years of journeying down from the north with cattle, that enabled them to escape arrest.

After much thought they had decided upon a place of concealment for the quill containing Ronald’s credentials, which would, they thought, defy the strictest scrutiny. A hole had been bored from the back into the heel of Ronald’s boot deep enough to contain the quill, and after this was inserted in the hiding place the hole was filled up with cobbler’s wax, so that it would need a close examination indeed to discover its existence. Thus, although they were several times closely searched, no document of a suspicious nature was found upon them.

Their money was the greatest trouble, as the mere fact of so large a sum being carried by two drovers would in itself have given rise to suspicions, although had they been on their return towards Scotland the possession of such an amount would have been easily explained as the proceeds of the sale of the cattle they had brought down. They had therefore left the greater part of it with a butcher in Carlisle, with whom Malcolm had often had dealings, retaining only ten pounds for their necessary expenses.

The day after they reached Manchester four constables came to the little inn where they were stopping and told them that they were to accompany them before the magistrates.

“I should like to know what offence we are charged with,” Malcolm said angrily. “Things have come to a pretty pass, indeed, when quiet drovers are to be hauled before magistrates without rhyme or reason.”

“You will hear the charge quickly enough when you are before their worships,” the constable said; “but that is no affair of mine — my orders are simply to take you there.”

“Well, of course we must go,” Malcolm said grumblingly; “but here we have been well nigh twenty years travelling to and fro between England and Scotland, as my host here can testify, without such a thing happening before. I suppose somebody has been robbed on the highway, and so you sharp sighted gentlemen clap hands on the first people you come across.”

Three magistrates were sitting when Ronald and Malcolm were brought into the courthouse. They were first asked the usual questions as to their names and business, and then one of the magistrates said:

“Your story is a very plausible one; but it happens that I have here before me the reports, sent in from a score of different places, for in times like these it is needful to know what kinds of persons are travelling through the country, and two men answering to your description are reported to have visited almost every one of these places. It is stated in nearly every report that you are drovers ordinarily engaged in bringing down herds of Highland cattle, and it is added that in every case this account was verified by persons who have previously known you.

All this would seem natural enough, but you seem to have journeyed hither and thither without any fixed object. Sometimes you have stopped for two days at little villages, where you could have had no business, and, in short, you seem for upwards of a month to have been engaged in wandering to and fro in such a way as is wholly incompatible with the affairs upon which you say you were engaged.”

“But you will observe, sir,” Malcolm said quietly, “that I have not said I am engaged upon any affairs whatever. I am not come to England on business, but solely to escape from the troubles which have put a stop to my trade in the Highlands, and as for fifteen years I was engaged in journeying backwards and forwards, and had many friends and acquaintances, I came down partly, as I have said, to avoid being mixed up in the trouble, partly to call upon old acquaintances, and partly to introduce to them my nephew, who is new to the work, and will shortly be engaged in bringing down cattle here. I thought the present was a good opportunity to show him all the roads and halting places in order that he might the better carry out the business.”

“Your story has been well got up,” one of the magistrates said, “though I doubt whether there be a single word of truth in it. However, you will be at present searched, and detained until we get to the bottom of the matter. This is not a time when men can travel to and fro through the country without exciting a suspicion that they are engaged upon other than lawful business. At present I tell you that in our eyes your conduct appears to be extremely suspicious.”

The prisoners were then taken to a cell and searched with the utmost rigour. Their clothes were examined with scrupulous care, many of the seams being cut open and the linings slit, to see if any documents were concealed there. Their shoes were also carefully examined; but the mud had dried over the opening where the quill was concealed, and the officials failed to discover it. Even their sticks were carefully examined to see if they contained any hollow place; but at last, convinced that had they been the bearers of any documents these must have been discovered, the officials permitted them to resume their clothes, and then paying no heed to the angry complaints of Malcolm at the state to which the garments had been reduced, they left the prisoners to themselves.

“Be careful what you say,” Malcolm whispered to Ronald. “Many of these places have cracks or peepholes, so that the prisoners can be watched and their conversation overheard.”

Having said this Malcolm indulged in a long and violent tirade on the hardship of peaceful men being arrested and maltreated in this way, and at the gross stupidity of magistrates in taking an honest drover known to half the countryside for a Jacobite spy. Ronald replied in similar strains, and any listeners there might have been would certainly have gained nothing from the conversation they overheard.

“I should not be surprised,” Malcolm said in low tones when night had come and all was quiet, “if some of our friends outside try to help us.

The news will speedily spread that two men of the appearance of drovers have been taken on suspicion of being emissaries from Scotland, and it will cause no little uneasiness among all those on whom we have called.

They cannot tell whether any papers have been found upon us, nor what we may reveal to save ourselves, so they will have a strong interest in getting us free if possible.”

“If we do get free, Malcolm, the sooner we return to Scotland the better.

We have seen almost all those whom we are charged to call upon, and we are certainly in a position to assure the prince that he need hope for no rising in his favour here before he comes, and that it is very doubtful that any numbers will join him if he marches south.”

The next morning they were removed from the cell in which they had been placed to the city jail, and on the following day were again brought before the magistrates.

“You say that you have been calling on people who know you,” one of the magistrates began; “and as I told you the other day we know that you have been wandering about the country in a strange way, I now requite that you shall tell us the names of all the persons with whom you have had communication.”

The question was addressed to Malcolm as the oldest of the prisoners.

Ronald looked round the court, which was crowded with people, and thought that in several places he could detect an expression of anxiety rather than curiosity.

“It will be a long story,” Malcolm said in a drawling voice, “and I would not say for sure but that I may forget one or two, seeing that I have spoken with so many. We came across the hills, and the first person we spoke to was Master Fenwick, who keeps the Collie Dog at Appleswade. I don’t know whether your worship knows the village. I greeted him as usual, and asked him how the wife and children had been faring since I saw him last. He said they were doing brawly, save that the eldest boy had twisted his ankle sorely among the fells.”

“We don’t want to hear all this nonsense,” the magistrate said angrily.

“We want a list of persons, not what you said to them.”

“It will be a hard task,” Malcolm said simply; “but I will do the best I can, your worship, and I can do no more. Let me think, there was Joseph Repton and Nat Somner — at least I think it was Nat, but I won’t be sure to his Christian name — and John Dykes, and a chap they called Pitman, but I don’t know his right name.”

“Who were all these people?” the magistrate asked.

“Joe Repton, he is a wheelwright by trade, and Nat Somner he keeps the village shop. I think the others are both labouring men. Anyhow they were all sitting at the tap of the Collie Dog when I went in.”

“But what have we to do with these fellows?” the magistrate exclaimed angrily.

“I don’t know no more than a child,” Malcolm said; “but your worship ordered me to tell you just the names of the persons I met, and I am doing so to the best of my ability.”

“Take care, prisoner,” the magistrate said sternly; “you are trifling with the court. You know what I want you to tell me. You have been to these villages,” and he read out some fifteen names. “What did you go there for, and whom did you see?”

“That is just what I was trying to tell your worship in regular order, but directly I begin you stop me. I have been going through this district for fifteen years, and I am known in pretty well every village in Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancashire. Having been away for three years, and my trade being stopped by the war, as your worship well knows, I have been going round having a crack with the people I know. Such as were butchers I promised some fine animals next time I came south; such as were innkeepers I stayed a night with and talked of old times. If your worship will have patience with me I can tell you all the names and what I said to each of them, and what they said to me, and all about it.”

“I don’t want to know about these things. I am asking you whether you have not been calling on some of the gentry.”

“Indeed, now,” Malcolm said with an air of astonishment, “and this is the first time that I have heard a word about the gentry since I came into the court. Well, let me think now, I did meet Squire Ringwood, and he stopped his horse and said to me: ‘Is that you, Malcolm Anderson, you rascal;’ and I said, ‘It’s me, sure enough, squire;’ and he said, ‘You rascal, that last score of beasts I bought of you –‘”

“Silence!” shouted the magistrate as a titter ran through the court. “All this fooling will do you no good, I can tell you. We believe that you are a traitor to the king and an emissary of the Pretender. If you make a clean breast of it, and tell me the names of those with whom you have been having dealings, there may be a hope of mercy for you; but if not, we shall get at the truth other ways, and then your meanness of condition will not save you from punishment.”

“Your worship must do as you like,” Malcolm said doggedly. “I have done my best to answer your questions, and you jump down my throat as soon as I open my mouth. What should a man of my condition have to do with kings or pretenders? They have ruined my trade between them, and I care not whether King George or King James get the best of it, so that they do but make an end of it as soon as possible, and let me bring down my herds again. There’s half a dozen butchers in the town who know me, and can speak for me. I have sold thousands of beasts to Master Tregold; but if this is the treatment an honest man meets with I ain’t likely to sell them any more, for as soon as I am let free and get the money the constables have taken from me I am off to Glasgow and if I ever come south of the border again, may I be hung and quartered.”

Finding that nothing was to be made out of the prisoners, the magistrate ordered them to be taken back to jail.

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