Murder at Billy Castle

This is from Highways & Byways in the Borders:

In his “Scottish Rivers”, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder sites of Billy Castle as the scene of a grisly tale connected with the Homes. He tells how, to the best of his reckoning about a century prior to the date he wrote, an old lady of that family resided here in a somewhat friendless condition, but with a considerable household of servants,chief of whom was a butler who had been in her service for many years and in whose integrity she had entire confidence. This old lady it seems, was in the habit of personal collecting rents from her tenants, and as here were then no country banks in which to deposit the money it was her custom to count it in the presence of the butler, prior to locking the guineas away in a strong cupboard in her bedroom. The door of this room was secured by an ingenious arrangement, whereby a heavy brass bolt, or cylinder, was allowed to fall by  its own weight into an opening made exactly to fit it. to an eye in the head of the cylinder was attached a cord which worked through a pulley fastened to the ceiling and thence by a series of running blocks passed to the bedside. Thus the old lady, without troubling to get out of bed, could bolt or unbolt her door at will, and so long as the cylinder was down, no one could possibly enter the room. Now the buyer and for years witnessed this counting and stowing away the end monies, and temptation had never yet assailed him. He might indeed lame himself on his honesty… But alas!there came a night when the guineas chinked too seductively, and the devil whispered int eh butler’s ear. Perhaps some small financial embarrassment was troubling the man. Anyhow, it came to his ind that if he could quietly fill up the hole into which the bolt of his mistress’s bedroom door dropped, he might help himself to as much money as he needed….”A midnight…he stole into his mistress’s chamber cut her throat from ear to ear, broke open her cabinet, and possessed himself of her money; and although he might have walked down stairs and out at the door without exciting suspicion, he opened the window and let himself down nearly 2 stories high, broke his leg, and lay thus among the shrubbery till morning wit ever attempting to crawl away. He was seized, tried, condemned and executed.”

It is grisly enough, but hardly so grisly as the real story of what happened. The scene of the order, however, was not Billy Castle – which had been dismantled and in ruins for 200 years – but Linthill House, a fine old mansion standing on a “Brae” overhanging Eye-water, 5 or 6 miles from Billy. Lint hill is now inhabited by families of work-pope, but it is still in good preservation and at date of the story (1752) must have been a very fine specimen of the old Scottish chateau.

The old lady’s room was entered as Sir Thomas describes, but the butler did not immediately cut her throat. She was awakened by eh sound of he stealthy rifling of he cupboard, or strong iron-bound box, in which her valuables were kept, and with that pluck which is characteristic of the old-time Scottish lady, she jumped up to grapple with the robber. thence cut her throat ad leaving her for dead on the bed, proceeded with his rifling. A slight noise however, disturbed him, and looking round a terrifying sight met his gaze; the woman whom he believed to be dead was on her feet, blindly groping her bloody way along the wall to the bell. Before she could seize her and complete his work she had puled the rope with all the strength left other and had alarmed the other servants. Thus the murderer had no opportunity to lave by way of the stairs. He jumped from the window – no great feat for an active man with his wits bout him. But the butler was flurried; perhaps also, he was stout, as is not uncommon for pampered servants. In any case, he missed his footing, came down badly, and broke his leg. He did not however, lie where he fell, inert and helpless. With painful effort the man dragged himself to a field near by, where, among the sweet-scened flooring beans, he lay concealed for several days. On the 4th day, as he lay groaning beside a tiny spring of water which still flows near the middle of he field, he chanced to be seen by some children, who gave information. The wretched man was taken, tried, and executed – the last instance in Scotland of a criminal being hung in chains. The blood of a murdered person, they say, refuses to be washed clean from any wood work into which it may have soaked – witness that ghastly dark patch that disfigures a floor in Holyrood. Here at Linthill at least there is no doubt of the fact that those marks remain; in spite of very visible attempts to remove the stains fro the woodwork by planing them out, the prints of the for lady’s bloody hands still cling to the oak wainscoting of the gloomy old room where the deed was committed. About the house and grounds here hangs now an air of dejection and decay, though Eye ripples cheerily just beyond the garden foot and the surrounding landscape is bright with peasant woods and smiling fields.

Surely if ever ghost walked, it should be here at Linthill…But it is not mistress or man that haunts that house. It is of other things they tell who have been there; of an upper chamber to which nightly comes the shuffling tramp of men baring from a vehicle which is here to drive up to the house door, a heavy weight, which they deposit on the floor. More shuffling, a room for quietly closed, the sound of repeating steps then silence. “Hout!” say the womenfolk of those who now inhabit  part of the old house, “it’ll be nothing.” But they look behind them with a glance not too assured, and he voice that says it is “naething” is not over-steady in tone.

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