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my body into a sack, carried it out in the dark, and threw it into the loch. It was a deed of attrocity and guilt, but he will live to repent it, and it has proved a deed of mercy to me. I am well and happy; and all that we believed of a Saviour, and a future state of existence, is true.”
On receiving this extraordinary information, and precisely at this part of the dialogue, the widow fainted; and on recovering from her swoon, she found that her friend was gone; but, conscious of having been in her perfect senses, and remembering every thing that had passed between them, she was convinced that she had seen and conversed with her deceased friend's ghost, or some good benevolent spirit in her likeness,
Accordingly, the next morning she went to a magistrate, and informed him of the circumstances; but he only laughed her to scorn, and entreated her, for her own sake, never again to mention the matter, else people would account her mad. She offered to make oath before witness, to the truth of every particular: but this only increased the chagrin of the man in office, and the worthy widow was dismissed with many bitter reproaches. She next went to the minister, and informed him of what she had seen and heard. He answered her kindly, and with caution; but ultimately strove only to reason her from her belief; assuring her that it was the effect of a distempered imagination, and occasioned by reflecting too deeply on the unfortunate end of her beloved friend; and his reasoning being too powerful for her to answer, she was obliged to give up the point.
She failed not, however, to publish the matter among her neighbours, relating the circumstances in that firm serious manner in which a person always stands to the truth, thereby making an impression on the minds of every one who heard her. The story was of a nature to take, among such a society as that of which the main bulk of the population of Lochmaben and its vicinity consists. It few like wild-fire. The people blamed their magistrates and ministers; and on the third day after the appearance of the deceased, they rose in a body, and with two ministers, two magistrates and two surgeons at their head, they marched away to the Crane-Moor, and lifted the corpse for inspection.
To the astonishment of all present, it appeared on the very first examination, that the deceased had been felled by a stroke on the back part of the head, which had broken her skull, and occasioned instant death. Little cognizance had been taken of the affair at her death; but, at any rate, her long hair was folded so carefully over the wound, and bound with a snood so close to her head, that without a minute investigation, the fracture could not have been discovered. Farther still, in confirmation of the words of the apparition, on the surgeon's opening the head, it appeared plainly from the semicircular form of the fracture, that it had actually been inflicted by one side of the bottom of a bottle; and there being hundreds of respectable witnesses to all these things, the body was forthwith carried to the church-yard, and interred there; the smith was seized, and conveyed to jail; and the inhabitants of Annandale were left to wonder in the utmost astonishment.
The smith was tried at the ensuing circuit court of Dumfries, where the widow was examined as a principal witness. She told her story before the judges with firmness, and swore to every circumstance communicated to her by the ghost; and even when cross-examined by the prisoner's counsel, she was not found to prevaricate in the least. The jury appeared to be staggered, and could not refuse their assent to the truth of this relation. The counsel, however, obviated this proof, on account of its being related at second hand, and not by an eyewitness of the transaction. He therefore refused to admit it against his client, unless the ghost appeared personally, and made a verbal accusation; and, being a gentleman of a sarcastic turn, he was but too successful in turning this part of the evidence into ridicule, thereby quite, or in a great measure, undoing the effect that it had made on the minds of the jury.
A material witness being still wanting, the smith was remanded back to prison until the autumnal circuit,at which time his trial was concluded. The witness above mentioned having then been found, he stated to the court, That as he chanced to pass the prisoner's door, between one and two in the morning of that day on which the deceased was found in the loch, he heard a noise as of one forcing his way out: and wondering who it could be that was in the house at that hour, he had the curiosity to conceal himself in an adjoining door, until he saw who come out: That the night being very dark, he was obliged to cour down almost close to the earth, in order that he might have the object between him and the sky; and, while sitting in that posture, he saw a man come out of the smith's house, with something in a sack upon his back: That he followed the figure for some time, and intended to have followed farther; but he was seized with an indescribable terror, and went away home; and that, on the morning, when he heard of the dead body being found in the loch, he entertained not a doubt of the smith having murdered his wife, and then conveyed her in a sack to the loch.
On being asked, if he could aver upon oath, that it was the prisoner whom he saw come out of the house bearing the burdenHe said he could not, because the burden which he carried caused the person to stoop, and prevented him from seeing his figure distinctly; but, that it was him, he had no doubt remaining on his mind. On being asked why he had not divulged this sooner and more publicly; he said, that he was afraid the business in which he was engaged that night might have been inquired into, which it was of great consequence to him at that time to keep secret; and, therefore, he was not only obliged to conceal what he had seen, but to escape for a season out of the way, for fear of being examined.
The crime of the prisoner appeared now to be obvious; at least the presumption was strong against him. Nevertheless, the judge, in summing up the evidence, considered the proof as defective; expatiated at considerable length on the extraordinary story related by the widow, which it could not be denied had been the occasion of bringing the whole to light, and had been most wonderfully exemplified by corresponding facts; and said he considered himself bound to account for it in a natural way, for the satisfaction of his own mind and the minds of the jury, and could account for it in no other way, than by supposing that the witness had discovered the fracture before the body of her friend had been consigned to the grave; and that, on considering leisurely and seriously the various circumstances connected with the fatal catastrophe, she had become convinced of the prisoner's guilt, and had either fancied, or, more probably, dreamed the story, on which she had dwelt so long, that she believed it as a fact.
After all, the jury, by a small majority, returned a verdict of not proven; and, after a severe reprehension and suitable exhortation, the smith was dismissed from the bar. I forgot to mention in its proper place, that one of the principal things in his favour was, that of his abandoned inamorata having made oath that he was in her apartment all that night, and never left it.
He was now acquitted in the eye of the law, but not in the eyes of his countrymen; for all those who knew the circumstances, believed him guilty of the murder of his wife. On the very night of his acquittal, he repaired at a late hour to the abode of his beloved Egyptian; but he was suspected, and his motions watched with all due care. Accordingly next morning, at break of day, a large mob, who had assembled with all quietness, broke into the house, and dragged both the parties from the same den; and, after making them ride the stang through all the principal streets of the town, threw them into the loch, and gave them a complete ducking, suffering
them barely to escape with life. At the same time, on their dismissal, they were informed, that if they continued in the same course of life, the experiment would be very frequently repeated. Shortly after that, the two offending delinquents made a moonlight Aitting, and escaped into Cumberland. My informant had not heard more of them, but she assured me they would make a bad end.
ADAM BELL, Tuis tale, which may be depended on as in every part true, is singular, for the circumstance of its being insolvable either from the facts that have been discovered relating to it, or by reason: for though events sometimes occur among mankind, which at the time seem inexplicable, yet there being always some individuals acquainted with the primary cause of those events, they seldom fail of being brought to light before all the actors in them, or their confidants, are removed from this state of existence. But the causes which produced the events here related, have never been accounted for in this world; even conjecture is left to wander in a labyrinth, unable to get hold of the thread that leads to the catastrophe.
Mr. Bell was a gentleman of Annandale, in Dumfriesshire, in the south of Scotland, the proprietor of a considerable estate in that district, part of which he occupied himself. He lost his father when he was an infant, and his mother dying when he was about twenty years of age, left him the sole proprietor of the estate, besides a large sum of money at interest, for which he was indebted, in a great measure to his mother's parsimony during his minority. His person was tall, comely, and athletic, and his whole delight was in warlike and violent exercises. He was the best horseman and marksman in the country, and valued himself particularly upon his skill in the broad sword exercise. Of this he often boasted aloud, and regretted that there was not one in the country whose prowess was in some degree equal to his own.