Judge Durie and Christie's Will


Occupying the tower of Gilnockie (Hollows), once the base of the murdered Johnny Armstrong, was his great, great grandson, Christie’s Will. The time was in the days of Charles I, long after the union of England and Scotland, and a time when reiving was no longer an accepted profession. No longer were there raids in force: reiving being pursued only by a few diehards reluctant to give up the way of life of their forefathers.

These solitary reivers lived in the past and were dismayed and offended by the strong line the authorities were taking against their practice of illegal transferring ownership of cattle.  The punishment of hanging was threatened which, they thought, really was downgrading an honourable profession. 

Will was such a person, vigorously supported by his good wife, Margaret Elliot. 

Will was what is known as a loveable rascal. He was very experienced at the illegal movement of cattle, and, although profitable, was not rewarding enough for the risk of possible penalties. But he had another string to his bow: that of noble stealing. 

A wealthy person had obvious value, and Will made use of that simple fact. To deprive, only temporarily, a member of an affluent family of a little of his freedom usually resulted in an alarmed response from his relatives who were glad, nay anxious, to pay handsomely for his safe return.  It was a good business, and, while the penalty for stealing a cow was death, the penalty for stealing a lord was much less. This lawful assessment of the comparative worth of each impressed Will, and he regarded the lawmakers responsible with much respect for the accuracy of their judgement. 

Margaret, Will’s wife, a strong character, supported Will’s activities to the extent of making his life very uncomfortable if, in her opinion, he defaulted. Take her housekeeping, for example. She liked an ample larder but to have to fill her own cooking pot with homegrown meat she regarded as an extravagant waste, and yet another example of Will’s laziness. 

Will would eventually respond and a wandering cow would find its way to the Hollows. Could he help it if local cattle regarded the Hollows as a sanctuary? And his wife did not complain. Thus Will indulged the occasional conveyance of the odd cow or sheep. And then, one day he was caught. 

Languishing in Jedburgh jail, Will considered his position. The injustice was obvious, but that did not make the execution of the penalty less likely. They would hang him, of that he had no doubt, but he did have a few assets which might avoid an abrupt ending to his activities. He was widely liked and much admired for his acquired skills. And he had a glib tongue. All these gifts Will mobilized. 

Margaret’s conscience troubled her. She felt in some way responsible for Will’s dilemma and worried at the prospect of the termination of a supply of fresh meat. Also, she was very fond of Will, even with his faults. 

Making a bold decision, she dressed in her best and made her way to Traquair house, the home of the Lord Warden the only one, she felt, who could help poor Will. 

Having as glib a tongue as Will, and more, she outwitted the servants and gained access to the presence of the great Lord himself. 

“Good Lord Warden,” she said,” you may not be aware that my good husband, Christie’s Will, is incarcerated in the jail at Jedburgh for the simple offence of stealing a tether for which he is going to be hanged? 

“I know,” said the Lord Traquair, “that Christie’s Will is imprisoned at Jedburgh, but I did not know that he had been threatened with death for such a trifle. How is this so?” 

“That was his only crime, My Lord,” said Margaret, “just for the theft of a tether, he’s going to die.” 

“But surely not,“ said the Warden, “hanging is not the lawful penalty for the stealing of a tether. What more is he guilty of?” 

“Only the tether, my Lord Warden,” said Margaret, “ but I do acknowledge that there might have been a kye on the end of it.” 

Concealing his amusement and looking stern, the Warden said, “But this really is serious and I do not know how I can help. The law must take its course.” 

But then, a flash of inspiration crossed the Warden’s mind, and to Margaret’s great relief he said, “But even so, I shall do whatever I can and maybe I can conceive a plan which will return your Will safely to you. Now go, I have much thinking to do.” 

Much relieved, Margaret made her way home and anxiously awaited events. 

Will was not the only one with a problem. So had the Warden, and a solution to both their problems was taking shape in his mind. 

Lord Traquair was involved in a lawsuit in which he was the defendant. If he lost, he would certainly lose his estates. All he would have left was a title, and precious little else. And the way events were shaping up it looked as if he would lose as the voting for and against him was evenly balanced. All that was required was the casting of the decisive vote and that vote was the prerogative of the presiding judge and that judge was Judge Durie. 

The Lord Durie had made it known that he was minded to favour the contestant and Traquair feared the worst. His plight, he decided, really was dire, very. Firm action needed to be taken or he would soon find himself to be a pauper peer. 

Away went Traquair to Jedburgh and was taken to cell of the brooding Will. Startled by the sudden presence of so important a visitor Will quickly recovered his composure and bade the Lord Warden to sit and make himself at home. 

He and the Warden talked long and earnestly in hushed tones. 

Two days later Will was released and was free to make his way home. His delighted wife was overcome with relief and quizzed Will for the reasons for his sudden release. Will told her a little but not all.  

Quickly rounding up two of his trusted friends and with a spare horse, the three men made their way cautiously by unfrequented paths to the city of Edinburgh. It was a long ride but they had little time to rest. Having been briefed by Traquair, Will soon found the judge’s home and there he kept watch, waiting for the judge to emerge. Apparently, it was the judge’s habit to take a long walk most nights, on the nearby common. 

It was on the second night when the judge emerged, and engrossed in his thoughts, his head bent low, Durie took the evening air. The night was dark but not too dark and Durie followed his familiar route. 

Then quite suddenly all went black as he was enveloped in a black hood, his arms quickly secured behind his back and he was slung onto the back of a horse. Not a word had been spoken and the judge had no idea who his captors were. Away they rode, out of Edinburgh city and away into the night. 

The ride was long and the Judge, unused to such violent exercise, was very relieved when at length the party stopped and he was carefully carried from the horse and deposited on an earthen floor. His hands were untied and the hood removed, but before he could distinguish his companion, a door was slammed shut and he was alone. 

Durie did not know how long he remained there. Food and drink was pushed under the door. There was no way of telling night from day and any thought of escape never crossed his mind.  He feared that he was in the hands of demons, perhaps the Devil himself and you don’t provoke the Devil. 

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, the judge’s sudden disappearance caused a great stir. All kinds of reasons were suggested. An extensive search was made but nothing was found. Perhaps he had fallen into the river and been swept into the sea. Many thought he had been spirited away by the fairies, but all agreed that it was unlikely that anyone would see him again. 

Eventually, a new presiding judge was appointed, and Traquair having used all his wiles and influence was relieved when eventually a judge, favourable to Traquair was appointed. The deciding vote was cast and the long burden of worry fell from him. 

Will was informed and put into effect the final part of the plan. 

The Judge was taken back to the exact spot where he had been accosted. Will alone freed the judge in the dark and quickly and quietly joined his friends, and was back home early next morning. 

Lord Durie, looked about him in bewilderment, his mind confused with baffling events. Had it been a dream? A nightmare? But the ground under his feet was very real and the path was familiar. He turned and made his way home. 

His family and friends overcame their initial shock and realised he was not a ghost and it was indeed the judge, shocked, dishevelled, but he it was. 

Many explanations were sought and given but no satisfactory conclusion was reached. The only possible solution was that the judge had been spirited away by forces unknown. He was indeed fortunate that they had allowed him to return. And the judge thought so too. 

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