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The Murder Of Colonel Stewart Of Hartrigge
by [?]

Since a time long prior to the Raid of the Redeswire–when on Caterfell the rallying cry, “Jethart’s here,” fell like sweetest music on the ears of a sore-pressed little band of armed Scots, fighting for their lives, and giving back sullenly before superior English strength–the worst enemies of Jedburgh have never been able to taunt her with apathy, or with want of strenuousness. In the fighting of days long gone by, in questions social or political of more modern times, lack of zeal has not been one of her characteristics; nor, perhaps, in past times have her inhabitants, or those resident in the district, been conspicuous for tolerance of the religious or political convictions of neighbours who might chance not to see eye to eye with them in such matters.

The first half of the eighteenth century was a time more fully charged than most with questions which, on the Border as elsewhere, goaded men to fury. There was, for example, the Union; there had been, prior to that, the unhappy Darien Scheme, which ruined half Scotland and raised hatred of England to white heat; there was, later, the advent of George the First and his “Hanoverian Rats,” to the final ousting of the rightful King over the water; there was the Rising of 1715, and, finally, there was the gallant attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie to regain his father’s crown in 1745. Thus they had, indeed, a superfluity of subjects over which men might legitimately quarrel. And when it is remembered that gentlemen in those days universally carried swords, and as a rule possessed some knowledge of how to use them, and that the man who did not habitually drink too much at dinner was a veritable rara avis–a poor creature, unworthy to be deemed wholly a man–the wonder will be, not that so many, but rather that so few, fatal quarrels took place.

Whatever in other respects might be their failings–and these were, indeed, many and grave–Scottish inns in those days were noted for the goodness of their claret. As a consequence of our ancient alliance and direct trade with France, that wine was not only good, but was plentiful and cheap–cheap enough, indeed, to become almost the national drink–and vast quantities were daily consumed; though there were not wanting those who, protesting that claret was “shilpit” and “cauld on the stomach,” called loudly for brandy, and with copious draughts of that spirit corrected the acidity of the less potent wine.

Possibly the very depth of the drinking in those days guarded many a life from sacrifice; the hand is not steady, nor the foot sure, when the brain is muddled by fumes of wine, and it was perhaps more often chance than design that guided the sword’s point in some of these combats. Still, even so, Death too often claimed his toll from such chance strokes.

A duel between opponents equally armed was fair enough, provided that the skill and sobriety were not unequally divided, and that one of the fighters did not chance to be unduly handicapped by age. If a man wore a sword, he knew that he might be called upon to use it–even the most peace-loving of men might not then, without loss of honour, always succeed in avoiding a brawl; the blame was his own if he had neglected to make himself proficient in the use of his weapon. At that period the tongue of the libeller was not tied by fear of the law; for the man insulted or libelled there existed no means of redress other than that of shedding, or trying to shed, his insulter’s blood. It was a rough and ready mode of obtaining justice; and if it had its manifest disadvantages, it was at least not wholly unsuited to the rough and ready times.

But cases, unhappily, were not unknown in which one or other of the tipsy combatants–in his sober moments possibly an honourable and kindly-natured man–thrust suddenly and without warning, giving his opponent small time to draw, or even, perhaps, to rise from his chair, a course of action which, even under the easy moral code of those days, was accounted as murder.