James Harkness, was one of the leaders of the Covenanters of Scotland…
…in the reign of Charles the Second. Once while he was riding from his persecutors with a party of his friends among the wild mountains and solitary glens of Nithsdale, when they were surprised by a party of dragoons, who hastily surrounded them and took them prisoners.
It was in vain to resist; they were in the firm grasp of the powerful foe, from which they could not extricate themselves. The commander of the party who apprehended them was a man of a cruel disposition, and he used them with great harshness. It appears that prisoners were frequently treated in a very barbarous manner by the soldiers who conveyed them to their place of destination. When they arrived in Edinburgh, to which place they were conveyed to be tried, they were put into a place of confinement, from which, before they were brought to trial, they succeeded in making their escape. They then proceeded homewards with all the secrecy and dispatch they could, and passing the village of Biggar, where the leader of the party who conducted them to Edinburgh happened at the time to be resident, they resolved to visit him. Their design in waiting on him was to put in execution a project which they had devised, for the purpose not of injuring, but of frightening one who had caused them so much trouble and inconvenience.
As they approached his house the commander observed them, and at once knew them to be the prisoners who were recently under his charge. He could not understand how they had possibly got free, and dreading mischief from them, he hid himself. At the door they asked civilly for the captain, and said they wished to see him on particular business. His wife, who had been apprised of the character of her visitors, said he was not at home.
Harkness began to fear lest their intention should be defeated, when a little boy standing near said, “I will show where my father is,” and forthwith conducted them to the place of his concealment. They instantly dragged him out, as the soldiers used to do the Covenanters from their hiding-places, and appeared as if they were going to take his life. They imitated in all respects the manner in which the dragoons shot the wanderers in the field.
Having furnished themselves with a musket, probably from his own armory, they caused him to kneel down while they tied a napkin over his eyes, and ordered him to prepare for immediate death. The poor man, in the utmost trepidation, was obliged to submit. He bent on his knees, and, being blindfolded, he expected every moment that the fatal shot would be fired into his body.
Harkness, after an ominous silence of a few seconds –a brief space, doubtless of intense anxiety and agony to the helpless captain –fired, but fired aloft into the air. The shot went whizzing over the head of the horror-stricken man, who, though stunned with the loud and startling report,sustained no injury. Having thus, by way of chastisement, succeeded in making him feel something of what the poor Covenanters felt when their ruthless foes shot them without trial or ceremony in the fields, they took the bandage from his eyes, and raised him almost powerless with terror to his feet.
The circumstance made a deep impression on his mind; he saw he was fully in the power of the men who had thus captured him, and that, not withstanding, they had done him no harm. Surprise and gladness took the place of the fear of death and of the anguish of despair in the grateful man’s bosom. He confessed that the sparing of his life was owing to their Christian clemency, and to the merciful character of their religious principles.
He was deeply affected by a sense of the favor shown him, at a time when he had nothing before him but a prospect of immediate death, and determined to change his life. He became a new man.
Written by William Addison