Salute to Adventurers
3. The Canongate Tolbooth
"Never daunton youth" was, I remember, a saying of my grandmother's; but it was the
most dauntoned youth in Scotland that now jogged over the moor to the Edinburgh
highroad. I had a swimming head, and a hard crupper to grate my ribs at every
movement, and my captor would shift me about with as little gentleness as if I had been
a bag of oats for his horse's feed. But it was the ignominy of the business that kept me
on the brink of tears. First, I was believed to be one of the maniac company of the
Sweet-Singers, whom my soul abhorred; item, I had been worsted by a trooper with
shameful ease, so that my manhood cried out against me. Lastly, I had cut the sorriest
figure in the eyes of that proud girl. For a moment I had been bold, and fancied myself
her saviour, but all I had got by it was her mocking laughter.
They took us down from the hill to the highroad a little north of Linton village, where I
was dumped on the ground, my legs untied, and my hands strapped to a stirrup leather.
The women were given a country cart to ride in, and the men, including Muckle John,
had to run each by a trooper's leg. The girl on the sorrel had gone, and so had the maid
Janet, for I could not see her among the dishevelled wretches in the cart. The thought of
that girl filled me with bitter animosity. She must have known that I was none of Gib's
company, for had I not risked my life at the muzzle of his pistol? I had taken her part as
bravely as I knew how, but she had left me to be dragged to Edinburgh without a word.
Women had never come much my way, but I had a boy's distrust of the sex; and as I
plodded along the highroad, with every now and then a cuff from a trooper's fist to cheer
me, I had hard thoughts of their heartlessness.
We were a pitiful company as, in the bright autumn sun, we came in by the village of
Liberton, to where the reek of Edinburgh rose straight into the windless weather. The
women in the cart kept up a continual lamenting, and Muckle John, who walked
between two dragoons with his hands tied to the saddle of each, so that he looked like a
crucified malefactor, polluted the air with hideous profanities. He cursed everything in
nature and beyond it, and no amount of clouts on the head would stem the torrent.
Sometimes he would fall to howling like a wolf, and folk ran to their cottage doors to see
the portent. Groups of children followed us from every wayside clachan, so that we gave
great entertainment to the dwellers in Lothian that day. The thing infuriated the
dragoons, for it made them a laughing-stock, and the sins of Gib were visited upon the
more silent prisoners. We were hurried along at a cruel pace, so that I had often to run
to avoid the dragging at my wrists, and behind us bumped the cart full of wailful women.
I was sick from fatigue and lack of food, and the South Port of Edinburgh was a
welcome sight to me. Welcome, and yet shameful, for I feared at any moment to see the
face of a companion in the jeering crowd that lined the causeway. I thought miserably of
my pleasant lodgings in the Bow, where my landlady, Mistress Macvittie, would be
looking at the boxes the Lanark carrier had brought, and be wondering what had
become of their master. I saw no light for myself in the business. My father's ill-repute
with the Government would tell heavily in my disfavour, and it was beyond doubt that I