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THE UNEARTHLY WITNESS.
BY THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD,
SIR,-With regard to the story which has reached you of the late consternation caused at Castle Gower, by the return of William Tibbers from the grave, and the events following on that phenomenon, I am without doubt enabled to write you at great length. And if a man is allowed to take the evidence of his own senses, I am entitled to vouch for the truth
of a part of my narrative.
You knew Mr. William Tibbers, at least I remember of your having met with him. He was a man of that specious cast, of that calm reasoning demeanor, that he had great influence with all the gentlemen of the county, and could have carried any public measure almost that he pleased among them, so purely disinterested did all his motives and arguments appear. He employed by them all, as a factor, a valuator, a land-letter, and an umpire in all debates. And then such general satisfaction he gave in all cases. O, there was no man like old Willie Tibbers! He was quite a public benefit to the country, and a credit to the class to which he belonged.
So far, so well. This was the opinion of the gentlemen concerning him, at least of all, save one or two, and their shakes of the head, and hems and haws, were quite drowned in the general buzz of approbation. But the sentiments of the common people relating to him differed widely from those of their superiors. They detested him; accounting him a hollow-hearted deceitful person; an extortioner, and one who stuck at no means, provided he could attain his own selfish purposes. They even accused him of some of the worst and most flagrant of crimes heard of among men ; and I have heard them say they could prove them. This may, however, have originated in the violence of their prejudices; but there is one
thing I know, and there is no worse mark of a man-he was abhorred by his servants, and I do not think one of them would ever have staid a second season with him for double wages. Such was the man, of whose fate you are pleased to inquire, and of whose singular destinies I am now to give you an account.
When the good Sir John died, Mr. Tibbers was chosen by the relatives as acting trustee or factor, on the estate of which he got his will, for the young baronet was abroad in the army; and the rest of the trustees, knowing the late Sir John's embarrassments, cared not to trouble their heads much about it. And, in short, after an altercation of six or seven years, between the young laird and the old factor, the estate was declared bankrupt, and sold, and William Tibbers became the purchaser of the best part of it. The common people of our district made a terrible outcry about this; but the thing was not so extraordinary after all. It is rather a common occurrence for the factor to become the laird, and I know six or seven very prominent instances of it as having occurred in my own remembrance.
But the young baronet was neiHe ther to be holden nor bound. came home in a great rage to expose the factor and get him hanged, and reverse all the sales of his father's property. As a prelude to this bold undertaking, he summoned a meeting of the friends and trustees of the family, before whom compeared the calm and specious William Tibbers. But the fury, the extravagance, and the utter defiance contained in the young soldier's accusations, had no weight when laid in the balance against the calm and strong reasoning of Tibbers, who concluded every statement by regretting, with tears, that
the case was so, but he made it plain to them that it could not be otherwise. The friends only smiled at the indignation of the young baronet; but acquitted, on every charge, their respected friend, Mr. Tibbers. This decision drove the young soldier beyond all bounds. He threatened his ruinator with the High Court of Justiciary, of which Tibbers highly approved. He threatened him with every sort of vengeance which it is possible for one to inflict on another; and, finally, with a flogging every day when they met, until he should render him up his just rights.
This last threat the soldier was not long in putting in execution, for no sooner had they left the court, than he began and gave him a good lashing with his hunting-whip, cursing him most potently all the while. Tibbers replied to all with a grin of despite, and these words, "O, how sweetly you shall repent of this!" He flogged him afterwards at the market of our county town, and another time at church, or at least on the way from it; on both of which times Tibbers resisted unto blood, which was fine diversion for the soldier, and made him double his stripes.
The country gentlemen deprecated these outrages in unmeasured terms, and said it was a shame to see an old man maltreated in that manner, and that this young bully ought to be legally restrained, for it did not behove that he should be suffered to come among them and take the law into his own hand, Some of them ventured to expostulate with him, but he only sneered at them, and answered, that nobody knew how he had been used but himself, and that the old villain had not got one third of what he intended for him as yet; but he hoped he would live to see him hanged, that
would be some comfort.
The common people viewed the matter quite in a different light. They were grieved at the violence of the young baronet, who, for his
father's sake, was their darling; but it was for his own safety alone that they feared, for they were sure that Tibbers was studying some secret and consummate vengeance upon him. He never in his life, they said, bore a grudge at any one whom he did not ruin; and yet the deed never appeared to proceed from him, and never had he got such cause of offence as from the young baronet. Their predictions were too soon fulfilled, though, in all probability, not in the way Tibbers premeditated. At this time an event happened, which seems to have changed the vantage ground of the parties in a very particular manner.
Here there is a great hole in the ballad, as the old singers were wont to say. My narrative must grow confused, because the real events are not known to me, nor, as far as I can gather, to mortal man. that was certainly known, is as follows:
The soldier, who had been watching his opportunity, nay, straining every nerve to discover something that would show the man in his true colors, now gained his purpose. He discovered him in some deadly crime, with full proof of its commission; of this there is no doubt. But what that crime was, or whether committed at that time or on a former day, I declare I know not. Reports were various and contradictory. It was said, and believed, that the young baronet got his cue from a man who had once been a servant with Tibbers, and that he followed it out with such persistency, as to watch his enemy night and day till he made the discovery he wanted. I have examined this man oftener than once, and though he admits that "he has a sayan guid guess" what the offence was with which the captain charged Tibbers, he will not so much as give a hint concerning it; but, on the contrary, always try to mislead from one thing to another. This then is the first great blank in the
narrative, for I dare not even mention some of the reports that were current among the common people. But one day, as Tibbers was standing among his harvest workers, the young baronet and Mr. Alexander M'Gill, a friend of his, and a relation of my own, came briskly up to him on foot. He, suspecting some new outrage, drew close to his work-people, and thus addressed his determined persecutor, You had better refrain from any of your mad pranks to-day, spark; else, depend on it, I have those about me, will chastise you." "I don't regard these a pin," returned he; "but I am come today with a different intention, namely, to make you a full and final recompense for all the favors you have so liberally bestowed upon my late father and me.”
"I have never done aught either to you or your father which the laws of my country will not support me in," said he; "and while I have the law on my side, I defy you, and will yet revisit all your outrages upon your head seven-fold."
"O, it is a noble thing, the law of our country," exclaimed the soldier; "it is that which protects the innocent against the fangs of the oppressor, and bestows the due awards of justice on the villain and the wretch. And now to that blessed and infallible establishment I cheerfully resign you, old fellow. I have you on the hip now, and may honor blast my name if I do not follow up my advantage till I see you strapped like a worrying colley!" The young baronet then with a face of the most inveterate exultation, stepped forward, and in an under voice informed Mr. Tibbers of something, appealing to M'Gill as a witness. The old fellow drew himself up with a shiver that shook his whole frame; his countenance changed into the blue and pallid hue of death, his jaws fell down, and his whole frame became rigid, and there he stood gazing on his accusers as if in the phrenzy of de
spair, until the malignant turned on his heel,, and desired his humbled enemy to go to dinner with what stomach he had.
This scene was witnessed by twenty people, although none of them heard the accusation. Tibbers spoke not a word; his spirit shrunk within him like that of a man going to execution. He drew his cloak closer about him, and hasted home to his house, in which were none but his two daughters. When there, he threw himself upon the bed, and exclaimed, "O, girls, I am ruined, I am ruined! I am gone! gone! gone! I am ruined and undone forever, and you are ruined and undone forever! We must fly from our country this night, this very night, or hide our faces where they can never be seen again! O death, death! I dare not cross your dark threshold of my own accord! And yet I would hide me in the depths of the grave."
In this way he continued raving on till towards the evening, and, as the girls declared afterwards, would tell them nothing, save that they were all three undone. At night he sent express for his attorney, who had conducted all his legal business, knew his parents, and was suspected to be even a greater villain than himself. The two consulted together the whole night, counted over a great deal of money, and early the next morning set off for the county town. The young baronet and Mr. M'Gill followed some hours after, as Tibbers well knew they would, to deliver him up into the hands of justice. But he was beforehand with them for that day, for when they arrived none of the functionaries were to be found, and nothing could be done.
Tibbers must now have been put to his last shift; for it was perceived, that when the two gentlemen went up to the sheriff's house, that Tibbers was watching them; and as they returned disappointed, he immediately made up to them and desired to speak with them. At first,
they looked at him with disdain, mixed with abhorrence, as men look upon a reptile; but on hearing what he said, they retired with him into an angle of the church which stands in the middle of the main street, where all the three stood debating for nearly an hour. There were hundreds of eyes saw this; for it was market-day, and all their motions were well-remembered afterwards. They were manifestly entering into some agreement, for it was noted that the fiery and impatient soldier, after turning several times on his heel, as if to go away, at length held out his hand to Tibbers, which the latter, after a good deal of hesitation, struck, as people do on concluding a bargain. They went through the same motion a second and a third time, and then it appeared that the agreement was settled, for all the three went away together towards the river which runs not above.two bowshots from the spot where they were standing. They were seen to go all three into a boat by some people who were at that instant crossing the ferry to the market. The boat had a sail, and was managed by two seamen whom none of the party knew, and she immediately bore down the river before the wind.
I have been the more minute in these particulars, because they are the only ones known on which positive conjectures could be grounded. It was judged probable by those who witnessed the transaction, that, in order to get quit of the young man's insolence and upbraidings, Tibbers might have prof fered him a good part of his father's estate again, in order to enjoy the rest in tranquillity. But then these people knew nothing of the hideous discovery made, and which it is quite manifest could not then, nor ever after, have been revealed. But what strengthened the people's conjecture most, was this. The sheriff was known to be that day down at the village on the quay, five miles below the town, taking evi
dence on some disputed goods, and the greyhounds and terriers of the law along with him; and it was thought that, in order to strike the iron while it was hot, the parties had gone down forthwith to have their agreement ratified.
They did not, however, call either on the sheriff or any of the writers, nor has the young baronet or his friend ever been more heard of, either alive or dead, unto this day. Their horses remained at the hotel, which created some alarm; but no person could perceive any danger to which the young gentleman could have been exposed. At what time Tibbers returned to his own house, was not known; but it was nearly a week before he was discovered there, and then so frightfully altered was he in his appearance, that scarcely any person could have recognised him for the same man. He had, moreover, a number of wounds upon him. Strong suspicions were raised against him. The common people were clamorous beyond measure; and the consequence was, that he was seized and examined, but nothing could be made out against him to warrant his commitment. In his declaration, he stated, that he had bribed the young man with almost every farthing he himself was worth, to go once more abroad, and not return to Scotland again during his (Mr. Tibbers's) life, and that he had gone accordingly. He stated farther, that he had gone and seen him aboard before paying him the money, and that Alexander M'Gill was with him when he left him; whether he went abroad with him he could not tell; but they had plenty of money to carry them both to any part of the known world.
There was a plausibility in this statement, as there was in every statement that Tibbers made. Still it was far from being satisfactory to the friends of the young gentleman. He could neither tell the name of the ship nor the name of the captain with whom they sailed, but pre
tended that they made choice of the vessel themselves; and he took no heed to either the ship or the master. A reward was offered for the discovery of the two boatmen. They were never discovered; and with this vague statement and suspicious detail of circumstances, people were obliged to rest satisfied for the present, presuming, that in the common course of events, the darkest shades in which they were involved would be brought to light.
They never have as yet been disclosed by any of those common concatenations of circumstances which so often add infallibly to the truth. But the hand of the Almighty, whose eye never either slumbers or sleeps, was manifestly extended to punish William Tibbers, though for what crime or crimes I dare not infer. The man became a terror to himself and to all who beheld him; and certainly, if he was not haunted, as the people said, by a ghost, or some vengeful spirit, he was haunted by an evil conscience, whose persecutions were even more horrible to endure. There were two men hired to watch with him every night, and his cries during that season were often dreadful to hear. These men did sometimes speak of sayings that tended to criminate him, more ways than one; but the words of a person in that state of excitement, or rather derangement, no man can Jay hold of. By day he was composed, and walked about by himself, and sometimes made a point of attending to his secular concerns. But wherever he showed his face, all were struck with dumb amazement, an indefinable feeling of terror which words cannot describe. It was as if a cold tremor had seized on the vitals, and frozen up the genial currents of their souls. He was a Magur-missabub; an alien in the walks of humanity, from whom the spirits of the living revolted, and the spirits of the dead attached themselves.
But one day it so happened that this man of horrors was missing,
and could no where be found; nor could any one be found who had seen him, save a crazy old woman, named Bessy Rieves, and of her account the keepers could make nothing.
"Did you see aught of our master going this way, Bessy?"
"Aye, aye! the dead tells nae tales, or there wad be plenty o' news o' Willie Tibbers, the day. There wad be a sister an' a daughter, a baronet and a young gentleman, an' a poor harmless gardener-lad into the bargain; a huddled out o' sight to hide the crimes o' ane! Aye, aye, the grave's a good silencer for telltales, an' a deposit for secrets that winna keep; but a voice may come frae the grave, an' a lesson frae the depths of the sea to teach the sinner his errors. I saw Willie Tibbers; an' I saw a' thae waitin' on him. He's in braw company the day! But he had better be in the lions' den or on the mountains of the leopard. Aye, he had better hae been in the claws o' the teegar than in yon bonny company. The pains o' the body are naething, but it is an awfu' thing to hae the soul sawn asunder} Ye may gang up the hill an' down the hill, ower the hill an' roun' the hill, but ye'll never find the poor castaway that gate. Gang ye to M'Arrow's grave the night, and note the exact spot that the moon rises at; and when ye gang there ye will either find Willie Tibbers or ane unco like him."
The men took no notice of this raving, but continued the search; and all the domestics and retainers of the family were soon scattered over the country, and sought till the next night, but found nothing. That night the words of daft Bessy came to be discussed, and some of those present judged it worth while to take a note of the place, which they did. But M'Arrow's grave being on the top of the little hill behind the manse that bears his name, the rising of the moon was so distant that they said Mr. Tibbers could