Chapter III. – A Night Ride to Dunbar.

[Black Agnes Contents]

   At the period of our story, and for hundreds of years afterwards, the forms of locomotion in Scotland were alike primitive and few. Travellers to Dunbar at that time had not the “Flying Scotsman” of to-day to birl them along at the rate of sixty miles an hour, the fast mail coaches of fifty years since were yet in the far future, and even the waggons of last century were out of the question, for roads were then an expensive luxury, entirely absent except in the neighbourhood of large cities, or near the seats of nobles of the highest rank. The poor man had to drive his own pair, and the well-to-do were compelled to perform their journeys on horseback, the ladies seated on pillions behind the gentlemen who had them in charge. 

   In this rude and primitive fashion the young people who had plighted their troth in the Castle Chapel were to travel the twenty odd miles which lay between Wedderburn and Dunbar. And what a journey that was then. Anyone who knows what Scottish agriculture is, or what it has been, is aware that no finer or more productive farming country is to be found in Britain than the rich district which lies between Wedderburn, in the parish of Duns, and Dunbar, in the fertile county of Haddington. The parishes of Duns, Buncle, Coldingham, Cockburnspath, and Innerwick are noted for their advanced and successful agriculture. You will see little waste land on that route now-a-days, but when the son of Robert Bruce sat on the Scottish throne there was far more moor, and wood, and natural grass than cultivated ground. Round the villages and castles there might be some slight attempt at rude tillage, but out in the country away from human habitations the land was still in a state of nature, for this was the wild Border region where, if cattle strayed far from their folds, rude herdsmen were apt to drive them away to distant pastures, and men lived in such constant terror of their lives that they had little time to prosecute the peaceable and profitable pursuits of a gentler age. So it was for most part of the way through almost trackless forests, and treacherous bogs, and wild moorland that Adam Home and Robert Hepburn rode with their brides on that All Saints’ morning from Wedderburn to Dunbar. 

   It was nearly one o’clock in the morning when the travellers set out on their long and perilous ride – perilous on account of the pitch darkness, the rough paths, and the chance that some of the marauding English prickers attached to Salisbury’s army might meet and capture the small and comparatively defenceless wedding party. 

   However, all went well for the greater part of the journey. The young men thoroughly knew the line of country to follow which would bring them soonest to their destination, and, with care, were enabled to avoid the many pitfalls in the way. They had passed in safety, though with some difficulty, over the hilly road leading to Grant’s House, then with more confidence and greater speed through the low-lying lands of Cockburnspath and Innerwick, and about six in the morning they were silently, yet swiftly, galloping across the East Links of Dunbar. 

   At six o’clock in a November morning the darkness is as dense as at midnight, and, relying on its friendly disguise, Hepburn and Home trusted that they might be fortunate enough to evade the scouts and sentinels of the English besieging army, and so, after running the gauntlet of their watchful foes, reach uninjured their journey’s end. 

   But this was not to be. They were not permitted to enter the town unnoticed. A sentinel challenged the party as they rode through the East Port, and, as their only answer was to lash and spur their jaded steeds, the English soldier sent a cloth yard shaft after the fugitives, which struck the horse of Hepburn, and brought it, with its unfortunate riders, to the ground, when they were instantly made prisoners by the guard, which had turned out at the call of the vigilant sentinel. 

   Meanwhile Home and his bride galloped at full speed through the still sleeping town, and, without mishap, reached the gates of the Castle. Luckily for the horseman, he had received the password from Hepburn, and, on correctly responding to the challenge of the warder, the massive gate was thrown open, the drawbridge lowered, and the portcullis raised to admit the young Clansman of Wedderburn within the noted stronghold of the proud Lords of Dunbar.

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