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The Kidnapping Of Lord Durie
by [?]

“It is commonly reported that some party, in a considerable action before the Session, finding that Lord Durie could not be persuaded to think his plea good, fell upon a stratagem to prevent the influence and weight which his lordship might have to his prejudice, by causing some strong masked men to kidnap him, in the Links of Leith, at his diversion on a Saturday afternoon, and transport him to some blind and obscure room in the country, where he was detained captive, without the benefit of daylight, a matter of three months (though otherwise civilly and well entertained); during which time his lady and children went in mourning for him as dead. But after the cause aforesaid was decided, the Lord Durie was carried back by incognitos, and dropt in the same place where he had been taken up.” (Forbes’s Journal of the Session, Edinburgh, 1714.)

With the early part of the seventeenth century, moss-trooping in the Border country had not yet come to an end. Its glory, no doubt, and its glamour, had begun to fade before even the sixteenth century was far spent, and where were now to be found heroes such as the far-famed Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie? Yet, as a few stout-hearted leaves, defiant of autumn’s fury, will cling to the uttermost branches of a forest tree, so, in spite of King or Court, there were even now some reckless souls, scornful of new-fangled modern ways and more than content to follow in the footsteps of their grandsires, who still held fast to precept and practice of what seemed to them “the good old days.” It is true their reiving partook now somewhat more of the nature of horse-stealing pure and simple. No longer were fierce raids over the English Border permissible; not now could they, practically with impunity, “drive” the cattle of those with whom they were at feud, and live on the stolen beeves of England till such time as the larder again grew bare. The times were sadly degenerate; Border men all too quickly were becoming soft and effeminate.

Yet in Eskdale there was one patriot, at least, who boasted himself that as his fathers had been, so was he. Willie Armstrong of Gilnockie was that man–“Christie’s Will,” he was commonly called, a great-grandson of the famous Johnnie, and not unworthy of his descent. Had he lived when Johnnie flourished, there might indeed have been two Armstrongs equally famous. As it was, Willie spent his days at constant feud with the law, and even the strong walls of Gilnockie were not for him always a secure shelter. Once it befell that the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, the Earl of Traquair, visiting Jedburgh, there found Willie lying in the “tolbooth.”

“Now, what’s broucht ye to this, Gilnockie?” the Earl inquired.

“Oh, nocht but having twa bit tethers in my hand, my lord,” said Willie. But: “Weel, I wadna say but there micht mebbes hae been twa cowt at the tae end o’ the tethers,” he admitted, on being pressed by the Earl.

Now, it happened that Willie was well known to Lord Traquair–had, in fact, more than once been of considerable service to his lordship; and it was no failing of the Earl to desert a friend in trouble, if help might be given quietly and judiciously. So it came about that the prison gates swung back for Christie’s Will, the halter no longer threatened his neck, and Lord Traquair acquired a follower who to repay his debt of gratitude would stick at nothing.

Some little time later it chanced that a great lawsuit fell to be decided in the Court of Session. In this lawsuit Lord Traquair was deeply concerned. A verdict in his favour was of vital importance to him, but he very well knew that the opinion of the presiding judge was likely to be unfavourable to his claim, and that should Lord Durie preside, the case in that event would almost certainly go against him. Could that judge, however, by any means be quietly spirited away from Edinburgh before the date fixed for the trial, with almost equal certainty he might count on a favourable verdict. In this predicament Lord Traquair turned his thoughts to Christie’s Will; if anyone could aid him it must be the bold Borderer.