Before proceeding to detail the occurrences of that memorable night in which my wife and children were driven from their dwelling, it seems necessary to guard against any misconception that might arise from my rather incredible statement, that the factor (whose name I omit for obvious reasons) was both pursuer and judge.
The pretended debt had been paid, for which payment I hold a receipt, but the person represented it as still due, and the factor advanced the amount, issued the summons, &c., and proceeded in court in the manner I described in my last. But to proceed with my narrative.
The only means left my wife seemed to be the choice of perishing with her children where she was, or of making some perilous attempt to reach distant human habitations where she might hope for shelter. Being a woman of some resolution, she determined on the latter course. Buckling up her children, including the one she had hitherto held at her breast, in the best manner she could, she left them in charge of the eldest (now a soldier in the 78th regiment), giving them such victuals as she could collect, and prepared to take the road for Caithness, fifteen miles off, in such a night and by such a road as might have appalled a stout heart of the other sex! And for a long while she had the cries of her children, whom she had slender hopes of seeing again alive, sounding in her ears. This was too much! No wonder she has never been the same person since. She had not proceeded many miles when she met with a good Samaritan, and acquaintance, of the name of Donald McDonald, who disregarding the danger he incurred, opened his door to her, refreshed and consoled her, and (still under the cover of night) accompanied her to the dwelling of William Innes, Esq., of Sandside, Caithness, and through his influence, that gentleman took her under his protection, and gave her permission to occupy an empty house of his at Armidale (a sheep farm he held of the Sutherland family), only a few miles from the dwelling she had been turned out of the day before. On arriving there she was obliged to take some rest for her exhausted frame, notwithstanding the horrible suspense she was in as to the fate of her children.
At this time I was working in Wick, and on that night had laboured under such great uneasiness and apprehension of something wrong at home that I could get no rest, and at last determined to set out and see how it fared with my family, and late in the evening overtook my wife and her benevolent conductor proceeding from Sandside. After a brief recital of the events of the previous night, she implored me to leave her and seek the children, of whose fate she was ignorant. At that moment I was in a fit mood for a deed that would have served as a future warning to Highland tyrants, but the situation of my imploring wife, who suspected my intention, and the hope of saving my children, stayed my hand, and delayed the execution of justice on the miscreants, till they shall have appeared at a higher tribunal.
I made the best of my way to the place near our dwelling where the children were left, and to my agreeable surprise, found them alive; the eldest boy in pursuance of his mother’s instructions, had made great exertions, and succeeded in obtaining for them temporary shelter. He took the infant on his back, and the other two took hold of him by the kilt, and in this way they travelled in darkness, through rough and smooth, bog and mire, till they arrived at a grand-aunt’s house, when, finding the door open they bolted in, and the boy advancing to his astonished aunt, laid his infant burden in her lap, without saying a word, and proceeding to unbuckle the other two, he placed them before the fire without waiting for invitation. The goodman here rose, and said he must leave the house and seek a lodging for himself, as he could not think of turning the children out, and yet dreaded the ruin threatened to any that would harbour or shelter them, and he had no doubt his house would be watched to see if he should transgress against the order. His wife, a pious woman, upbraided him with cowardice, and declared that if there was a legion of devils watching her she would not put out the children or leave the house either. So they got leave to remain till I found them next day, but the man impelled by his fears, did go and obtain a lodging two miles off. I now brought the children to their mother, and set about collecting my little furniture and other effects which had been damaged by exposure to the weather, and some of it lost or destroyed. I brought what I thought worth the trouble, to Armidale, and having thus secured them and seen the family under shelter, I began to cast about to see how they were to live, and here I found troubles and difficulties besetting us on every side.
I had no fear of being able by my work to maintain the family in common necessaries, if we could get them for money, but one important necessary, fuel, we could scarce at all obtain, as nobody would venture to sell or give us peats (the only fuel used, for fear of the factors; but at last it was contrived that they would allow us to take them by stealth, and under cover of night!
My employment obliging me to be often from home, this laborious task fell to the lot of my poor wife. The winter came on with more than its usual severity, and often amidst blinding, suffocating drifts, and tempests unknown in the lowlands, had this poor, tenderly brought up woman to toil through snow, wind, and rain, for miles, with a burden of peats on her back! Instances, however, were not few of the kind assistance of neighbours endeavouring by various ways to mitigate her hard lot, though, of course, all by stealth lest they should incur the vengeance of the factors.
During the winter and following spring, every means was used to induce Mr. Innes to withdraw his protection and turn us out of the house; so that I at last determined to take steps for removing myself and family for ever from those scenes of persecution and misery. With this view, in the latter end of spring I went to Edinburgh, and found employment, intending when I had saved as much as would cover the expenses, to bring the family away. As soon as it was known that I was away, our enemies recommenced their work. Mr. —, a gentleman, who fattened on the spoils of the poor in Sutherland, and who is now pursuing the same course on the estates of Sir John Sinclair in Caithness; this manager and factor bounced into my house one day quite unexpectedly, and began abusing my wife, and threatened her if she did not instantly remove, he would take steps that would astonish her, the nature of which she would not know till they fell upon her, adding that he knew Donald McLeod was now in Edinburgh, and could not assist her in making resistance. The poor woman, knowing she had no mercy to expect, and fearing even for her life, removed with her family and little effects to my mother’s house which stood near the parish church, and was received kindly by her. There she hoped to find shelter and repose for a short time, till I should come and take her and the family away, and this being the week of the sacrament, she was anxious to partake of that ordinance in the house where her forefathers had worshipped, before she bade it farewell for ever. But on the Thursday previous to that solemn occasion, the factor again terrified her by his appearance, and alarmed my mother to such an extent that my poor family had again to turn out in the night, and had they not a more powerful friend, they would have been forced to spend that night in the open air. Next day she bade adieu to her native country and friends, leaving the sacrament to be received by her oppressors, from the hands of one no better than themselves, and after two days of incredible toil she arrived with the family at Thurso, a distance of nearly forty miles!
These protracted sufferings and alarms have made fatal inroads on the health of this once strong and healthy woman – one of the best of wives – so that instead of the cheerful and active helpmate she was formerly, she is now, except at short intervals, a burden to herself, with little or no hopes of recovery. She has been under medical treatment for years, and has used a great quantity of medicine with little effect; the injuries she received in body and mind, were too deep for even her good spirits and excellent constitution to overcome, and she remains a living monument of Highland oppression.