The Shoes Reversed: Fugitive brings an end to the gunfight

Wilson's Tales is a record of our region's history, legends and people, first serialised in the Berwick Advertiser in the 1830s and reprinted for over a century. The Wilson's Tales Project is re-telling them for a modern audience.

Friday, 25th January 2019, 3:27 pm
The Shoes Reversed. Illustration by Sheila Vickers.

PREVIOUSLY: Sir James Johnstone is hunting down suspected Covenanter Gilbert Watson, who he suspects is hiding in the home of Elliot, Laird of Whithaugh.

Johnstone had left the Laird’s brother, poor, confused Archie, tied to a tree. Having freed himself, he arrived to witness Johnstone’s assault on the house.

Archie rushed at the assailants wielding a pitchfork he’d found. He lodged it in the flanks of a trooper’s horse, then stood in a daze, unsure what to do. The soldier pulled out his pistol and shot the lad through the head. Archie died in an instant.

This moved old Whithaugh onto the offensive, discharging a fowling-piece at the captain of the band. The ball grazed Johnston’s bridle hand, drawing blood and a brutal response.

He ordered the stackyard and outhouses to be set ablaze, threatening that if the traitor were not given up, the house would be next. The tied cattle were roaring at the stake, while hens ran screeching from the flaming stackyard.

Whithaugh burst from the house, surrounded by his resolute supporters armed with guns, knives and pitchforks.

Gilbert sprang out of hiding in the haystack. Throwing himself between the combatants, he called for an armistice and offered to surrender. The beautiful Helen Elliot also rushed between them, falling to her knees, praying that her father might be spared.

This altered matters considerably. Johnstone ordered a retreat and Gilbert was hoisted onto a dragoon’s saddle. Johnstone bestowed some extravagant, but unwelcome praises on fair Helen, and the hunting party took their leave.

About half a mile from Castleton, they paused at a pub and sent for the curate. A bandy-legged man with a sinister squint, he had been imported from Aberdeen. He was one of Johnstone’s most trusted informers, and his church was deserted, apart from a few farmers who attended occasionally to avoid suspicion.

The curate brought rumours of a Covenanters’ gathering at Deadwater, a large peat bog on the Border. The opportunity was irresistible and Johnstone’s troop made haste.

They left Gilbert locked in a small, thatched byre, guarded by a dragoon. His friends tried to divert the soldier, but without success.

As the night began to darken, snow whitened the ground. Gilbert prepared to rest alongside a cow and her calf: he said his prayers, sang the 121st Psalm, and heard a voice whispering from above.

NEXT WEEK: A cunning plan!

Retold by Andrea Williams, adapted by Joe Lang and illustrated by Sheila Vickers. Read the full story in Volume 5 of the Wilson’s Tales Revival Edition, £8.50, from Berwick booksellers or at