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as he dismounted to make more minute search, he stumbled over fragments of furniture which had been thrown out of the cottages, and the broken wood and thatch which had been pulled down by his orders. At that moment the prophecy, or anathema, of Meg Merrilies fell heavy on bis mind. “You have stripped the thatch from seven cottages, see that the roof-tree of your own house stand the surer!”
“Restore,” he cried, “restore my bairn! bring me back my son, and all shall be forgot and forgiven!” As he uttered these words in a sort of frenzy, his eye caught a glimmering of light in one of the dismantled cottages - it was that in which Meg Merrilies formerly resided. The light, which seemed to proceed from fire, glimmered not only through the window, but also through the rafters of the hut where the roofing had been torn off.
He flew to the place; the entrance was bolted; despair gave the miserable father the strength of ten men; he rushed against the door with such violence, that it gave way before the momentum of his weight and force. The cottage was empty, but bore marks of recent habitation; there was fire on the hearth, a kettle, and some preparation for food. As he eagerly gazed around for something that might confirm his hope that his child yet lived, although in the power of those strange people, a man entered the hut.
It was his old gardener. “O Sir!" said the old man, “such a night at this I trusted never to live to see!. ye maun come to the Place directly!”
“Is my boy found? is he alive? have ye found Harry Ber. tram? Andrew, have ye found Harry Bertram?”.
“No, Sir; but”
“Then he is kidnapped! I am sure of it, Andrew! as sure as that I tread upon earth! She has stolen him - and I will never stir from this place till I have tidings of my bairn!”
“0, but ye maun come hame, Sir! ye maun come hame! We have sent for the Sheriff, and we 'll set a watch here a' night, in case the gipsies return; but you -ye maun come hame, Sir, for my leddy's in the dead-thraw.
Bertram turned a stupified and unmeaning eye on the messenger who uttered this calamitous news; and, repeating the words, “in the dead-thraw!” as if he could not comprehend their meaning, suffered the old man to drag him towards his horse. During the ride home, he only said, “Wife and bairn, baith — mother and son, baith - Sair, sair to abide!”
It is needless to dwell upon the new scene of agony which awaited him. The news of Kennedy's fate had been eagerly and incautiously communicated at Ellangowan, with the gratuitous addition, that, doubtless, "he had drawn the young Laird over the craig with him, though the tide had swept away the child's body he was light, puir thing, and would flee farther into the surf.”
Mrs. Bertram heard the tidings; she was far advanced in her pregnancy; she fell into the pains of premature labour, and, ere Ellangowan had recovered his agitated faculties, so as to comprehend the full distress of his situation, he was the father of a female infant, and a widower.
Henry IV. Part First. The Sheriff-depute of the county arrived at Ellangowan next morning at day-break. To this provincial magistrate the law of Scotland assigns judicial powers of considerable extent, and the task of inquiring into all crimes committed within his jurisdiction, the apprehension and commitment of suspected persons, and so forth.
The gentleman who held the office in the shire of - at the time of this catastrophe, was well born and well educated; and, though somewhat pedantic and professional in bis habits, he
* The Scottish Sheriff discharges, on such occasions as that now mentioned, pretty much the same duty as a Coroner.
enjoyed general respect as an active and intelligent magistrate. His first employment was to examine all witnesses whose evidence could throw light upon this mysterious event, and make up the written report, procès verbal, or precognition, as it is technically called, which the practice of Scotland has substituted for a coroner's inquest. Under the Sheriff's minute and skilful inquiry, many circumstances appeared, which seemed incompatible with the original opinion, that Kennedy had accidentally fallen from the cliffs. We shall briefly detail some of these.
The body had been deposited in a neighbouring fisher-hut, but without altering the condition in which it was found. This was the first object of the Sheriff's examination. Though fearfully crushed and mangled by the fall from such a height, the corpse was found to exhibit a deep cut in the head, which, in the opinion of a skilful surgeon, must have been inflicted by a broadsword, or cutlass. The experience of this gentleman discovered other suspicious indications. The face was much blackened, the eyes distorted, and the veins of the neck swelled. A coloured handkerchief, which the unfortunate man had worn round his neck, did not present the usual appearance, but was much loosened, and the knot displaced and dragged extremely tight: the folds were also compressed, as if it had been used as a means of grappling the deceased, and dragging him perhaps to the precipice.
On the other hand, poor Kennedy's purse was found untouched; and, what seemed yet more extraordinary, the pistols which he usually carried when about to encounter any hazardous adventure, were found in his pockets loaded. This appeared particularly strange, for he was known and dreaded by the contraband traders as a man equally fearless and dexterous in the use of his weapons, of which he had given many signal proofs. The Sheriff inquired, whether Kennedy was not in the practice of carrying any other arms? Most of Mr. Bertram's servants recollected that he generally had a couteau de chasse, or short hanger, but none such was found upon the dead body; nor could those who had seer him on the morning of the fatal day, take it upon them to assert whether he then carried that weapon or not.
The corpse afforded no other indicia respecting the fate of Kennedy; for, though the clothes were much displaced, and the limbs dreadfully fractured, the one seemed the probable, the other the certain, consequences of such a fall. The hands of the deceased were clenched fast, and full of turf and earth; but this also seemed equivocal.
The magistrate then proceeded to the place where the corpse was first discovered, and made those who had found it give, upon the spot, a particular and detailed account of the manner in which it was lying. A large fragment of the rock appeared to have accompanied, or followed, the fall of the victim from the cliff above. It was of so solid and compact a substance, that it had fallen without any great diminution by splintering, so that the Sheriff was enabled, first, to estimate the weight by measurement, and then to calculate, from the appearance of the fragment, what portion of it had been bedded into the cliff from which it had descended. This was easily detected, by the raw appearance of the stone where it had not been exposed to the atmosphere. They then ascended the cliff, and surveyed the place from whence the stony fragment had fallen. It seemed plain, from the appearance of the bed, that the mere weight of one man standing upon the projecting part of the fragment, supposing it in its original situation, could not have destroyed its balance, and precipitated it, with himself, from the cliff. At the same time, it appeared to have lain so loose, that the use of a lever, or the combined strength of three or four men, might easily have hurled it from its position. The short turf about the brink of the precipice was much trampled, as if stamped by the heels of men in a mortal struggle, or in the act of some violent exertion. Traces of the same kind, less visibly marked, guided the sagacious investigator to the verge of the copsewood, which, in that place, crept high up the bank towards the top of the precipice.
With patience and perseverance, they traced these marks into the thickest part of the copse, a route which no person would have voluntarily adopted, unless for the purpose of concealment. Here they found plain vestiges of violence and struggling, from space to space. Small boughs were torn down, as if grasped by some
resisting wretch who was dragged forcibly along; the ground, where in the least degree soft or marshy, showed the print of many feet; there were vestiges also, which might be those of human blood. At any rate, it was certain that several persons must have forced their passage among the oaks, hazels, and underwood, with which they were mingled; and in some places appeared traces, as if a sack full of grain, a dead body, or something of that heavy and solid description, had been dragged along the ground. In one part of the thicket there was a small swamp, the clay of which was whitish, being probably mixed with marl. The back of Kennedy's coat appeared besmeared with stains of the same colour.
At length, about a quarter of a mile from the brink of the fatal precipice, the traces conducted them to a small open space of ground, very much trampled, and plainly stained with blood, although withered leaves had been strewed upon the spot, and other means hastily taken to efface the marks, which seemed obviously to have been derived from a desperate affray. On one side of this patch of open ground, was found the sufferer's naked hanger, which seemed to have been thrown into the thicket; on the other, the belt and sheath, which appeared to have been hidden with more leisurely care and precaution.
The magistrate caused the foot-prints which marked this spot to be carefully measured and examined. Some corresponded to the foot of the unhappy victim; some were larger, some less; indicating, that at least four or five men had been busy around him. Above all, here, and here only, were observed the vestiges of a child's foot; and as it could be seen nowhere else, and the hard horse-track which traversed the wood of Warroch was contiguous to the spot, it was natural to think that the boy might have escaped in that direction during the confusion. But as he was never heard of, the Sheriff, who made a careful entry of all these memoranda, did not suppress his opinion, that the deceased had met with foul play, and that the murderers, whoever they were, had possessed themselves of the person of the child Harry Bertram.
Every exertion was now made to discover the criminals. SusGuy Alannering.