Thus Scotland became a land of dread; the most restless man within her borders hardly dare travel beyond his byre. The law was powerless against this indomitable scourge, and the reward of a thousand marks would have been offered in vain, had not Gilderoy's cruelty estranged his mistress. This traitress--Peg Cunningham was her name--less for avarice than in revenge for many insults and infidelities, at last betrayed her master. Having decoyed him to her house, she admitted fifty armed men, and thus imagined a full atonement for her unnumbered wrongs. But Gilderoy was triumphant to the last. Instantly suspecting the treachery of his mistress, he burst into her bed-chamber, and, that she might not enjoy the price of blood, ripped her up with a hanger. Then he turned defiant upon the army arrayed against him, and killed eight men before the others captured him.
Disarmed after a desperate struggle, he was loaded with chains and carried to Edinburgh, where he was starved for three days, and then hanged without the formality of a trial on a gibbet, thirty feet high, set up in the Grassmarket. Even then Scotland's vengeance was unsatisfied. The body, cut down from its first gibbet, was hung in chains forty feet above Leith Walk, where it creaked and gibbered as a warning to evildoers for half a century, until at last the inhabitants of that respectable quarter petitioned that Gilderoy's bones should cease to rattle, and that they should enjoy the peace impossible for his jingling skeleton.
Gilderoy was no drawing-room scoundrel, no villain of schoolgirl romance. He felt remorse as little as he felt fear, and there was no crime from whose commission he shrank. Before his death he confessed to thirty-seven murders, and bragged that he had long since lost count of his robberies and rapes. Something must be abated for boastfulness. But after all deduction there remains a tale of crime that is unsurpassed. His most admirably artistic quality is his complete consistence. He was a ruffian finished and rotund; he made no concession, he betrayed no weakness. Though he never preached a sermon against the human race, he practised a brutality which might have proceeded from a gospel of hate. He spared neither friends nor relatives, and he murdered his own mother with as light a heart as he sent a strange widow of Aberdeen to her death. His skill is undoubted, and he proved by the discipline of his band that he was not without some talent of generalship. But he owed much of his success to his physical strength, and to the temperament, which never knew the scandal of hesitancy or dread.
A born marauder, he devoted his life to his trade; and, despite his travels in France and Spain, he enjoyed few intervals of merriment. Even the humour, which proved his redemption, was as dour and grim as Scotland can furnish at her grimmes: and dourest. Here is a specimen will serve as well as another: three of Gilderoy's gang had been hanged according to the sentence of a certain Lord of Session, and the Chieftain, for his own vengeance and the intimidation of justice, resolved upon an exemplary punishment. He waylaid the Lord of Session, emptied his pockets, killed his horses, broke his coach in pieces, and having bound his lackeys, drowned them in a pond. This was but the prelude of revenge, for presently (and here is the touch of humour) he made the Lord of Session ride at dead of night to the gallows, whereon the three malefactors were hanging. One arm of the crossbeams was still untenanted. `By my soul, mon,' cried Gilderoy to the Lord of Session, `as this gibbet is built to break people's craigs, and is not uniform without another, I must e'en hang you upon the vacant beam.' And straightway the Lord of Session swung in the moonlight, and Gilderoy had cracked his black and solemn joke.
This sense of fun is the single trait which relieves the colossal turpitude of Gilderoy. And, though even his turpitude was melodramatic in its lack of balance, it is a unity of character which is the foundation of his greatness. He was no fumbler, led away from his purpose by the first diversion; his ambition was clear before him, and he never fell below it. He defied Scotland for fifteen years, was hanged so high that he passed into a proverb, and though his handsome, sinister face might have made women his slaves, he was never betrayed by passion (or by virtue) to an amiability.
THE `Green Pig' stood in the solitude of the North Road. Its simple front, its neatly balanced windows, curtained with white, gave it an air of comfort and tranquillity. The smoke which curled from its hospitable chimney spoke of warmth and good fare.
To pass it was to spurn the last chance of a bottle for many a weary mile, and the prudent traveller would always rest an hour by its ample fireside, or gossip with its fantastic hostess. Now, the hostess of the little inn was Ellen Roach, friend and accomplice of Sixteen-String Jack, once the most famous woman in England, and still after a weary stretch at Botany Bay the strangest of companions, the most buxom of spinsters. Her beauty was elusive even in her triumphant youth, and middle-age had neither softened her traits nor refined her expression. Her auburn hair, once the glory of Covent Garden, was fading to a withered grey; she was never tall enough to endure an encroaching stoutness with equanimity; her dumpy figure made you marvel at her past success; and hardship had furrowed her candid brow into wrinkles. But when she opened her lips she became instantly animated. With a glass before her on the table, she would prattle frankly and engagingly of the past. Strange cities had she seen; she had faced the dangers of an adventurous life with calmness and good temper. And yet Botany Bay, with its attendant horrors, was already fading from her memory. In imagination she was still with her incomparable hero, and it was her solace, after fifteen years, to sing the praise and echo the perfections of Sixteen-String Jack.
`How well I remember,' she would murmur, as though unconscious of her audience, `the unhappy day when Jack Rann was first arrested.