THE LADY OF HESSILHEAD OUTRAGED,
GABRIEL MONTGOMERIE OF THIRDPART SLAIN
THE Castle of Hessilhead is in the parish of Beith. A square, ivy-mantled ruin is the old keep. Like its neighbouring strongholds, and like castles and fortalices all over Ayrshire, its glories have departed. Time has dealt hardly with it. Only imagination can now restore it to its former glories and breathe into it the breath of life. The little birds twitter and sing in the ivy which has grown up to mantle the decaying strength ; and at night, in the hour between the gloaming and the mirk, when the light of day is dying out of the western sky, and ere yet the pall of Nox has, been unfolded to cover the whole vault, the owl hoots music to his mate in the tall trees adjacent. Gone all sights and sounds of human life, the clash of the warriorís arms, the tread of light feet in music and the revel rout of the retainers banqueting after the fray, the soft whispering voices of the lovers who left their earthly loves behind three or four centuries ago the prattle of the children whose innocent lives shed a brighter light on the stern, rough points of the feudal story.
It was to this castle, to Hessilhead, that there came in 1576 Gabriel Montgomerie, a brother of the Laird of Scotstoun. Gabriel resided at Thirdpart, a house not far distant, and Montgomerie of Hessilhead being a relative of his, he was frequently in the habit of riding across from the one house to the other. Both were scions of the house of Eglinton ; but notwithstanding their kinship, and their apparent friendliness, there was in the breast of the Laird of Scotstoun at least, and in those of his two brothers, a feeling of jealousy against the Laird of Hessilhead. How it originated cannot be said. It certainly existed ; and when in those days jealousy was a mainspring of the feelings, it only required a very slight stimulus to develop it from the passive into the active.
Gabriel Montgomerie was accompanied by his servant, Robert Kent, a rude, boisterous fellow with an utter disregard of any proprieties that were outside those he considered due to the master whom he served. He knew that Gabriel was jealous of Hessilhead ; and he had frequently shown that he fully shared in his master's antipathies. A strong, ready-handed man, he was as willing to give offence as he was to take it; and having hitherto escaped anything in the way of retaliation, he had grown so bold in his impertinence that he did not scruple, in her own presence, to make observations of a slighting character, upon the Lady of Hessilhead. Lady Hessilhead, who was of the Sempill family, naturally resented the affront.
"How dare you speak in my presence at all, unless you are spoken to?" she said, "and how dare you, in this house, make free with what does not concern you? Iíll teach you to behave yourself."
Kent darted a quick look at his master, Gabriel Montgomerie, and caught a glance of encouragement in his face. "I am not your ladyship's servant," he replied, "and you have nothing to do with me. So I'll say what I like until my master bids me hold my tongue."
"Do you hear that, Gabriel Montgomerie?" retorted Lady Hessilhead, her eyes indignantly flashing and the colour mounting in her face. "Do you hear that? Is that the way you allow your servant to address a lady of rank in her own house? "
"He has said nothing, amiss, Lady Hessilhead, so far as I have heard," said Gabriel, dourly.
"Nothing amiss !" was her ladyship's response. " Nothing amiss! Oh that my husband were here! He would not permit me to be thus insulted. But get you gone, both of you. Like master, like man-it's an old saying, and a true one."
"It would be all one to us, Lady Hessilhead," replied Gabriel, " were your husband here. We are not saying or doing anything which we are not prepared to repeat and to justify in his presence."
"We shall see to that by and bye," Lady Hessilhead replied proudly, and curbing her temper with an effort. "Meantime, you will be good enough to leave the house."
" We shall, with pleasure," remarked Gabriel, with a mocking ring in his voice.
"With pleasure," echoed Kent, aping his master's politeness and bowing low, as he spoke.
The tones and the gestures of the servant stung Lady Hessilhead to the quick. She was naturally impetuous, and darting forward, she struck Kent with her open hand on the cheek so smartly that her own blood-mantled countenance was speedily reflected in that of the chastened servitor.
The suddenness of the cuff, and the impetuosity with which it was given, for a moment staggered the angry receiver of Lady Hessilhead's bounty. But only for a moment. With an oath he sprang towards her, and would undoubtedly have felled her to the ground, had not Gabriel Montgomerie interposed. The interposition gave the lady a moment's breathing space and time for reflection; and as the result of these she darted from the room, slamming the, door behind her, and leaving two exceptionally angry men to curse alternately, and together, the termination of the interview. They exhausted themselves in vituperation, and, as there was no alternative, rode off to Thirdpart.
At Thirdpart Gabriel found his brother John and poured the tale of his woes into his, sympathetic ear. John was as incensed as Gabriel.
"This is how it seems to me," he said, "Kent is our servant, and therefore we are bound to protect him. When he is attacked, it is not really he who is attacked, for nobody would think of attacking Kent for his own sake. Therefore, it is you who are attacked. Lady Hessilhead and her husband are one. He will defend her for anything she may do, and therefore, if we cannot have revenge upon Lady Hessilhead, we must have it upon her husband. That is sound reasoning, isn't it ? "
"Quite, quite sound! And, therefore, the sooner we set about it the better. What do you propose? "
John took time to think. It was one of John's ideas that he could, and did, think ; so he rubbed his chin, as he was in the habit of doing, and tried to formulate a plan of some kind or other. The one thing was to ensure as speedy retaliation as possible, and to the accomplishment of this John bent his mental energies. The result of his thinking was that late that night Gabriel and Kent remounted their horses, well armed, and rode once more towards Hessilhead Castle.
It was dark, but well they knew every foot of the way. Their intention was to attempt immediate entrance; but when they reached the castle the gates were shut; so they had perforce to resort to the house of a friend in the immediate neighbourhood, where they lay until the first streaks of the morning's coming proclaimed the hour for further action.
Daylight found them concealed close by the doorway. They had no well devised plan of action. Entrance to the house was first to be gained; and after that they were to do the best they could. Beneath the walls they lay fretting and fuming, nursing their wrath to keep it warm, until the gate was unbarred and the inner door stood wide open. The servants at Hessilhead had no anticipation that anything unusual was about to take place, and therefore no steps were taken to prevent the two conspirators from carrying out their purpose.
As soon as opportunity offered, Gabriel emerged from his seclusion, and, followed by his servant, entered the castle. The morning was still young, but the inmates were nearly all astir; and Lady Hessilhead herself had begun her household duties for the day. It was she they were primarily in search of; after her, her husband; and, as luck would have it, they had not to search long. Going from one room to another, opening the doors as they went and scanning the rooms for the object of their quest, Gabriel and Kent at last found Lady Hessilhead. Closing the door behind them, Gabriel accosted her.
"If you scream, Lady Hessilhead, or make the slightest noise, I'll shoot you dead where you stand."
Lady Hessilhead was taken aback and did not know what to do. The muzzle of a heavy pistol pointed straight at her did not help to restore her to instant equanimity. Still, she retained sufficient dignity to draw herself up to her full height and to demand the reason of the visit.
"You know well enough, madam," replied Gabriel, " you know well enough the reason of the visit. Your memory is not so defective as to have permitted you to forget what transpired yesterday."
"No sir," she responded, "it is not. I am only sorry I demeaned myself lifting my hand to that man there" and she pointed to Kent" but, save that, I have no regret for what occurred. And so far as that goes, he was not treated worse than he deserved."
"You lie, Madam, you lie," angrily retorted Kent.
"I do not lie," she replied. " But what are you doing here"
"What do you want? Were you not ordered out of this yesterday, and in such a way as would have prevented any man with any sense of honour whatever from returning to Hessilhead? "
"I have no time to waste words," was Gabriel's response.
"We have come here to give you an opportunity to make your peace with us. You must either apologize, Madam or," and Gabriel handled his pistol meaningly and with an indication which could not fail to be interpreted.
" Or you will shoot me! Is that so ? " asked Lady Hessilhead, drawing back.
Gabriel nodded his head.
" Then you have your answer. I will not apologize, having done no wrong; and you are cowards, both of you, thus to come threateningly upon an unprotected lady in her own house. But do not think you can escape. The sound of that pistol would be your death warrant."
"Aye, but it would first be yours," was Gabriel's retort, "and the death warrant, too, of anybody who came to your aid. See, we are armed to the teeth."
Lady Hessilhead's situation was desperate; but, a woman of courage, and ignoring the threatening muzzle of the weapon, she stepped forward, with the intention of passing between Montgomerie and Kent, and effecting her exit from the room. Gabriel dropped the pistol, and seized hold of her as she tried to pass, and Kent, following his example, caught her by the arm, and ordered her to remain where she was. A second time, in her anger, she struck him on the face. Kent retaliated with a savage blow on her breast, and, as she reeled, Gabriel completed the work by knocking, her down.
Lady Hessilhead's screams echoed through the house and alarmed the inmates, and soon from all parts of the castle there was a sound of hurrying feet. Their anger excited to fury's point, the assailants kicked the prostrate lady several times on the stomach and on other parts of her person; and then, realizing their own danger, and knowing that the household was unmistakably alarmed, they rushed from the room brandishing their pistols and threatening to shoot anybody who dared to lay a finger on them. Had the Laird appeared on the scene, they would unquestionably have shot him. Such was their intention. But he had been fast asleep until awakened by his wife's cries, and ere he could secure his arms and come to her aid, her assailants had made good their escape. The servants would fain have arrested their progress, but they had no means of doing so.
When they reached the outer gate, Gabriel took the key from the lock, slammed the gate behind them, and locked the inmates in. As they rode off, the Laird of Hessilhead, half-dressed, rushed towards the exit, pistol in hand, vowing vengeance and imprecations upon their heads; but they stayed not upon the order of their going, and the Laird had the mortification of seeing them disappear in the direction of Thirdpart. And what made matters worse, and excited the Laird the more, was that they coolly appropriated a black horse which was feeding in the vicinity of the castle, and led it away with them.
The first care of the household was naturally Lady Hessilhead. Her injuries were severe, and for a little occasioned considerable anxiety; but when she was put to bed, and poultices and bandages applied where these were required, the Laird lost no time in prosecuting vengeance. His good black horse, that he was wont to ride, was gone, but he had others remaining in the stables, and, mounted on one of these, he set out alone to overtake and punish the transgressors. He traced them as far as Thirdpart, and, finding his horse there, he naturally enough concluded that the horse-thieves and the assailants of his wife were at hand.
Nor was he disappointed. Ere yet the Laird had fixed his gaze upon those whom he sought, Gabriel and his brother John had seen him coming. He was all alone, unattended one man against two. What better luck could have befallen than this? Gabriel and Kent would have killed the Laird in his own house of Hessilhead, had he only ventured to put in appearance during their presence in the castle; and now here he was at their very door, ready for the sacrifice. True, he had come to slay ; but why, even if he had, should he not be slain? Thus reasoning, Gabriel and his brother did not keep him long in waiting. He had hardly let fall the ponderous knocker ere they rushed forth upon him, pistol in one hand, sword in the other. No challenge was given, no invitation was needed to fall to. With right good will they attacked him, and he, with will as hearty, discharged his pistol at them and then rushed to the fray.
The Laird's courage was not despicable, but his discretion was hardly equal to his valour, else he would not have risked such an issue single-handed. Gabriel Montgomerie was an expert swordsman, and John was not less ready, and had a powerful physique and a strong arm in addition. Nevertheless, the Laird cut and slashed away like a brave man so long as he was able to compete with the odds, and until Gabriel succeeded in inflicting a severe flesh wound on his right shoulder. His sword dropped from his grasp, he reeled, and John completed the combat by striking him over the head and bringing him insensible to the ground. The blood poured from his wounds freely, and, satisfying themselves that never more would the Laird of Hessilhead ride forth on vengeance bound, his assailants withdrew into the house and left him weltering in his gore, Their retreat was stimulated by observing that there was, a small company of the neighbours collecting, and by the fear that these might take the part of the wounded man.
But, dangerously wounded as he was, Hessilhead did not breathe his last just yet. He was conveyed, rolled up in a plaid, to his own house, where careful nursing, added to an iron constitution and an indomitable will, speedily restored him to strength. And when he arose from his sick bed, it was with a determination to have justice done upon John and Gabriel Montgomerie, and upon Kent, and to pay them back in their own rough coin.
The quarrel, which now threatened to extend to a regular feud, had originated with the insolence of Kent, and it was this feature of it that most annoyed and enraged Hessilhead. He sent word to Montgomerie of Scotstoun, the elder brother of Gabriel, that if Kent were only handed over to him, that he might himself do justice upon him, he would not prosecute the struggle further. Scotstoun and Gabriel talked the matter over, though, seeing that each had made up his mind beforehand to refuse compliance with the demand, they might as well have saved themselves the trouble. The result of their consultation was that they resolved to refuse to give Kent up at all hazards, and this they communicated to the Laird of Hessilhead. The latter kept their messenger waiting until he had perused the message, and then bid him tell his master and his brothers John and Walter that he held them responsible for whatever might further betide, and that Gabriel's blood would be on his own head if he were slain.
But Gabriel only held the more stoutly to his resolve, and put his house of Thirdpart into a condition of defence.
A few days thereafter Gabriel Montgomerie left Thirdpart to ride as far as Scotstoun. He anticipated no danger, and was jogging easily along the way. A watcher, unobserved by him, saw him as be took. his way to his destination, and, returning to Hessilhead, told the Laird that circumstances were favourable for the launching of his first bolt upon the worst offender of the three brothers. The Laird acted at once on his information. He summoned three of his followers, named respectively Bruntshiells, Gifien, and Reid, and gave them instructions how to proceed. They armed themselves with hagbuts, and proceeded by quiet lanes and a devious route to a thicket not far from Thirdpart, through which Gabriel must pass on his return home. Here they watched until the afternoon was well spent and the shades of evening were beginning to gather.
Ere the sky had darkened they saw Gabriel come riding leisurely along. He was unsuspicious of danger, and therefore rode into the ambush, all unconscious of the fate in store for him. The three shots rang out simultaneously, and all was over. In each case, the aim was true, and there was no need for the avengers to waste time in satisfying themselves that they had not discharged their hagbuts in vain. Gabriel never moved. Hit in the head and in the heart, his death was instantaneous, and he lay with face upturned to the evening air in a pool of blood. Assured that they had faithfully discharged their duty, the trio wended their way back to Hessilhead by the same circuitous paths which they had chosen in reaching the fatal thicket, and with high elation communicated to the laird the success of their mission.
"So much for Gabriel Montgomerie," he said, "it would have been better for him had he handed Kent over to me and to justice."
" Yes," was Lady Hessilhead's comment, " insult is wiped out in blood, and the balance of revenge is on our side of the beam. And yet I cannot pity the fate of Gabriel, for I cannot forget the double insult which he offered to me."
"Never mind the insult," replied the laird, " Gabriel will insult neither you nor any other body any more. But it becomes us to be careful. His brothers, John and Walter, will have a reckoning for this transaction."
" They will never know who did the deed," responded Lady Hessilhead.
"Do not be too sure of that," said the laird. "Besides, they will not want to satisfy themselves. They will take it for granted that Gabriel was killed at our instigation, and they will act on it, too, so we must be careful."
And the laird and the lady were careful. If they went abroad at all, it was in company with an armed band of servants, sufficiently numerous to cope with any body of men that Scotstoun and his brother Walter were able to put in the field. Even when they rode within their own grounds, or visited the neighbouring gentry, their bodyguard was in attendance. It was well for them that it was, for the brothers maintained ceaseless watch, and only waited an opportunity to avenge their brother's death.
Their watchings and their strategies of no avail, the Montgomeries resolved on a bolder course. Collecting as many followers as they could, they descended upon Hessilhead in the month of September, between two and three months from the date, of the first overt act in the unhappy sequence, with the object of killing the laird. Kent was with them. The whole force was fully armed. In the language of the criminal record, they went with pistols, swords, bucklers, steel bonnets, and other weapons and armour. First they ransacked the house of Nether Hessilhead in the expectation of finding the laird there; but, disappointed in their quest, they marched on in the direction of the castle. On their way thither they espied James Paterson, the laird's servant. His presence furnished Scotstoun with a suggestion, upon which he acted. His followers he secreted in a neighbouring plantation, and, only taking with him his brother Walter and the offending, servant Kent, against whom the laird's wrath was specially kindled, he raised a loud shout, and pursued the unsuspicious domestic. But if Paterson was unsuspicious of danger at a distance, he realized it fully when it was close at hand ; and, seeing the three armed men coming to meet him, he made haste to escape, and ran as fast as he could in the direction of the castle.
This was what the Montgomeries desired. With cries of vengeance and of threatening, they followed him up. Nothing would have been easier than for them to have overtaken him and killed him as they listed, but that was not their intent. The more nearly he approached Hessilhead, the more they gained on him; and when he reached a point within fifty or sixty yards of the gate, they were within a few paces of him. Their expectation was that the laird, seeing his servant bestead, would at once come forth to his aid.
But the laird was not to be entrapped by any such device. He remained within the gate, and encouraged Paterson in his flight seeing a chance for his life, the latter redoubled his exertions, and, to the intense chagrin of the Montgomerics, he reached the gate and entered in safety ; and they had the mortification of seeing the heavy barrier closed in their faces, and of hearing the shouts of exultation which greeted their defeat. These stung Scotstoun and his brother to the quick. They shook their clenched fists at the Laird of Hessilhead, who, with a satisfied smile, was witness to their discomfiture. Nor did he forbear the exercise of his gratification.
"Methinks," he called out, addressing Scotstoun, " you have journeyed thus far for nothing."
" There are some men very bold," retorted Scotstoun, "when they are behind a fortification. Come out into the open, if you can."
"Why should I come out? " replied the laird. " Do you expect a sane man to come forth to meet three desperadoes like you, armed to the teeth and ready to murder.?"
"You were not so scrupulous" was Scotstonís answer, "when you sent your men to slay my brother Gabriel in the thicket."
"Gabriel had himself to thank," replied the laird. "This quarrel has been none of my seeking. And harkee, my friends, if you are ready to bring It to a close, you can do so even now. Give up to me that plundering, murderous, scoundrel Kent, who stands by you, and I give you my solemn word of honour that the dispute is at an end so far as I am concerned. Do you think that it becomes men in whose veins runs the same red blood, to pursue one another like this, and to hunt one another to their destruction ? "
"Give up Kent! Why should we give up Kent? That you may hang him in cold blood from the walls of your castle? No, sir, we will not give him up; nor will we sacrifice our revenge for the death of Gabriel until we have had satisfaction. So come out now and defend yourself." And Scotstoun waved his sword over his head.
"No, sir, I will not come out. You will have to come in, if you can, if you want to obtain your revenge. And if you will neither give up the fight nor enter Hessilhead Castle at the point of the sword, then you had better be gone. For I give you fair warning that you are in danger. You have come here armed to do murder, and, by the heavens above us, if you are not away and out of sight within two minutes, I shall have you shot where you stand. Paterson," continued the laird, addressing his servant, "get the walls manned with the hagbutters."
Paterson went to obey the order and within a minute a dozen men had taken up their position
" Now, I warn you for the last time, Scotstoun," resumed the laird. "I warn you to beware how you tempt me. There is justification enough for shooting you all three dead in your tracks; and if I bid you go, it is that the country's justice may befall you. Are you going ?
" We cannot do otherwise," gloomily responded Scotstoun; but you shall hear from us again."
And so saying, Scotstoun and his associates departed.
While the rivals were thus engaged, after the manner of the times, in settling their dispute with high hand, they were equally busy in setting the machinery of the law in motion against one another; and the first result of the attempt to have punishment meted out by the criminal authorities was the citing to the bar of the Court of Justiciary, of Montgomerie of Scotstoun, his brother Walter, and Robert Kent. The brothers were charged with assault and oppression, and, in addition, Kent was libelled as having stolen the black horse of the, Laird of Hessilhead. All tendered a plea of not guilty.
The case against Kent was first gone into. The jury was largely composed of gentlemen who must have been on terms of intimacy with the Montgomeries, both of Hessilhead and of Scotstoun; and its composition warranted the prosecutors in believing that they would not fail to obtain a verdict, at least against the obnoxious servant. The defence put forward was specious. It was that Kent and Gabriel Montgomerie were not the aggressors in the outrage at Hessilhead, but the injured parties, and that Kent appropriated the horse for the purpose of effecting his escape from the vengeance of the laird, and to secure immunity from instant pursuit. To this the counsel for the prosecution objected that it was notorious that Kent had admitted having stolen the horse, and he protested for wilful error if the jury should acquit him. Notwithstanding the protestation, however, Kent was discharged from the bar, and the case against the Montgomeries was continued. The Crown authorities, satisfied that the jury had wilfully and intentionally ignored a very palpable case against Kent, brought the fifteen gentlemen composing that body to trial. Delay was craved by the prosecution, but objected to by the jurors, and the result of a long legal wrangle was that the jurors were discharged on their finding security to appear again should they be called on to do so. They never were cited anew, and no new trial was urged in the case of Kent. John Montgomerie of Scotstoun and his brother Walter claimed to be tried at the Justiciary Court, to be held in Renfrew, and, their claim being sustained, they were suffered to depart. A similar technicality was interposed in the case of those charged with the shooting of Gabriel, and they, too, escaped the consequence of their misdeeds. On all hands there was a general withdrawal from prosecution, and the dispute, judicially and socially, was at in end.
Source:- HISTORICAL TALES AND LEGENDS OF AYRSHIRE BY WILLIAM ROBERTSON - LONDON: HAMILTON, ADAMS, & CO - GLASGOW: THOMAS D. MORISON 1889
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