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- Bonnie Prince Charlie - 6/56 -
"Open in the king's name," was the reply; "we have a warrant to arrest one who is concealed here."
"There is no one concealed here," Ronald replied, "and I doubt that you are, as you say, officers of the peace; but if so, pass your warrant through the grill, and if it be signed and in due form I will open to you."
"I will show my warrant when need be," the voice answered. "Once more, open the door or we will break it in."
"Do it at your peril," Ronald replied. "How can I tell you are not thieves who seek to ransack the house, and that your warrant is a pretence? I warn you that the first who enters I will run him through the body."
The reply was a shower of blows on the door, and a similar attack was begun by a party behind the house. The door was strong, and after a minute or two the hammering ceased, and then there was a creaking, straining noise, and Ronald knew they were applying a crowbar to force it open. He retreated to a landing halfway up the stairs, placed a lamp behind him so that it would show its light full on the faces of those ascending the stairs, and waited. A minute later there was a crash; the lock had yielded, but the bar still held the door in its place. Then the blows redoubled, mingled with the crashing of wood; then there was the sound of a heavy fall, and a body of men burst in.
There was a rush at the stairs, but the foremost halted at the sight of Ronald with his drawn sword.
"Keep back," he shouted, "or beware! The watch will be here in a few minutes, and then you will all be laid by the heels."
"Fools! We are the watch," one of the men exclaimed, and, dashing up the stairs, aimed a blow at Ronald. He guarded it and ran the man through the shoulder. He dropped his sword and fell back with a curse.
At this moment the woman ran down stairs from above and nodded to Ronald to signify that the fugitive had escaped.
"You see I hold to my word," Ronald said in a loud voice. "If ye be the watch, which I doubt, show me the warrant, or if ye have one in authority with you let him proclaim himself."
"Here is the warrant, and here am I, James M'Whirtle, a magistrate of this city."
"Why did you not say so before?" Ronald exclaimed, lowering his sword. "If it be truly the worshipful Mr. M'Whirtle let him show himself, for surely I know him well, having seen him often in the house of my guardian, Bailie Anderson."
Mr. M'Whirtle, who had been keeping well in the rear, now came forward.
"It is himself." Ronald said. "Why did you not say you were here at once, Mr. M'Whirtle, instead of setting your men to break down the door, as if they were Highland caterans on a foray?"
"We bade you open in the king's name," the magistrate said, "and you withstood us, and it will be hanging matter for you, for you have aided the king's enemies."
"The king's enemies!" Ronald said in a tone of surprise. "How can there be any enemies of the king here, seeing there are only myself and the good woman up stairs? You will find no others."
"Search the house," the magistrate said furiously, "and take this malapert lad into custody on the charge of assisting the king's enemies, of impeding the course of justice, of withstanding by force of arms the issue of a lawful writ, and with grievously wounding one of the city watch."
"It is a grievous list, worshipful sir; but mark you, as soon as you showed your warrant and declared yourself I gave way to you. I only resisted so long as it seemed to me you were evildoers breaking into a peaceful house."
Two of the watch remained as guard over Ronald; one of the others searched the house from top to bottom. No signs of the fugitive were discovered.
"He must be here somewhere," the magistrate said, "since he was seen to enter, and the house has been closely watched ever since. See, there are a pile of ashes on the hearth as if papers had been recently burned. Sound the floors and the walls."
The investigation was particularly sharp in the attic, for a board was here found to be loose, and there were signs of its being recently wrenched out of its place, but as the room below was unceiled this discovery led to nothing. At last the magistrate was convinced that the fugitive was not concealed in the house, and, after placing his seals on the doors of all the rooms and leaving four men in charge, he left the place, Ronald, under the charge of four men, accompanying him.
On the arrival at the city Tolbooth Ronald was thrust into a cell and there left until morning. He was then brought before Mr. M'Whirtle and two other of the city magistrates. Andrew Anderson was in attendance, having been notified the night before of what had befallen Ronald. The bailie and his wife had at first been unable to credit the news, and were convinced that some mistake had been made. Andrew had tried to obtain his release on his promise to bring him up in the morning, but Mr. M'Whirtle and his colleagues, who had been hastily summoned together, would not hear of it.
"It's a case of treason, man. Treason against his gracious majesty; aiding and abetting one of the king's enemies, to say nought of brawling and assaulting the city watch."
The woman found in the house had also been brought up, but no precise charge was made against her. The court was crowded, for Andrew, in his wrath at being unable to obtain Ronald's release, had not been backward in publishing his grievance, and many of his neighbours were present to hear this strange charge against Ronald Leslie.
The wounded constable and another first gave their evidence.
"I myself can confirm what has been said," Mr. M'Whirtle remarked, "seeing that I was present with the watch to see the arrest of a person against whom a warrant had been issued."
"Who is that person?" Ronald asked. "Seeing that I am charged with aiding and abetting his escape it seems to me that I have a right to know who he is."
The magistrates looked astounded at the effrontery of the question, but after a moment's consultation together Mr. M'Whirtle said that in the interest of justice it was unadvisable at the present moment to state the name of the person concerned.
"What have you to say, prisoner, to the charge made against you? In consideration of our good friend Bailie Anderson, known to be a worthy citizen and loyal subject of his majesty, we would be glad to hear what you have to say anent this charge."
"I have nothing to say," Ronald replied quietly. "Being in the house when it was attacked, with as much noise as if a band of Border ruffians were at the gate, I stood on the defence. I demanded to see what warrant they had for forcing an entry, and as they would show me none, I did my best to protect the house; but the moment Mr. M'Whirtle proclaimed who he was I lowered my sword and gave them passage."
There was a smile in the court at the boy's coolness.
"But how came ye there, young sir? How came ye to be in the house at all, if ye were there for a good motive?"
"That I decline to say," Ronald answered. "It seems to me that any one may be in a house by the consent of its owners, without having to give his reasons therefor."
"It will be the worse for you if you defy the court. I ask you again how came you there?"
"I have no objection to tell you how I came there," Ronald said. "I was walking on the old wall, which, as you know, runs close by the house, when I saw an ill looking loon hiding himself as if watching the house, looking behind I saw another ruffianly looking man there." Two gasps of indignation were heard from the porch at the back of the court. "Thinking that there was mischief on hand I leapt from the wall to the dormer window to warn the people of the house that there were ill doers who had designs upon the place, and then remained to see what came of it. That is the simple fact."
There was an exclamation of incredulity from the magistrates.
"If you doubt me," Ronald said, "you can send a man to the wall. I felt my feet loosen a tile and it slid down into the gutter."
One of the magistrates gave an order, and two of the watch left the court.
"And who did you find in the house?"
"I found this good woman, and sorely frightened she was when I told her what kind of folk were lurking outside."
"And was there anyone else there?"
"There was a man there," Ronald said quietly, "and he seemed alarmed too."
"What became of him?"
"I cannot say for certain," Ronald replied; "but if you ask my opinion I should say, that having no stomach for meeting people outside, he just went out the way I came in, especially as I heard the worshipful magistrate say that a board in the attic had been lifted."
The magistrates looked at each other in astonishment; the mode of escape had not occurred to any, and the disappearance of the fugitive was now explained.
"I never heard such a tale," one of the magistrates said after a pause. "It passes belief that a lad, belonging to the family of a worthy and respectable citizen, a bailie of the city and one who stands well with his fellow townsmen, should take a desperate leap from the wall through a window of a house where a traitor was in hiding, warn him that the house
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