First appearance: Hogg’s Instructor, Volume 6 (1851), as "The Robber’s Skaith."
Reprinted in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, March 1851.
Short short short story (3 pages).
"Daring men of this description were found in every part of the kingdom, frequenting the dark woods, the thick hedges, and the ruinous buildings by the wayside; and, what is remarkable, these desperadoes were conventionally held in high repute, and were deemed heroes."When a riever meets a riever comin' through the Clyde . . .
WILLIE BAILIE was a household name about a hundred years ago, in the upper parts of Clydesdale. Men, women, and children had heard of Willie, and the greater proportion had seen him. Few, in his time, could excel Willie in dexterity in his profession, which consisted of abstracting money from people's pockets, and in other predatory feats. He frequented the fairs all round the district, and no man's purse was safe if Willie happened to be in the market.But then one day . . .
The high estimation in which he was held as an adept in his profession, induced a Scottish nobleman to lay a high bet, with an Englishman of some rank, that Willie would actually rob and fairly despoil a certain noted riever on the southern side of the border, who was considered one of the most daring and dexterous that frequented the highways in those dubious times, and one whose exploits the gentleman was in the habit of extolling. The Scottish nobleman conferred with Willie, and informed him of the project—a circumstance which mightily pleased our hero, and into which he entered with all enthusiasm. The interest which Willie took in the matter was to the nobleman a guarantee of ultimate success; and, having given all the marks of the robber, and directed him to the particular place on the road where he was sure to meet with him, he left it to Willie himself to arrange the subsequent mode of procedure.. . . and arrange it he does:
He got an old, frail-looking pony, partially lame, and with long, shaggy hair. He filled a bag of considerable dimensions with a great quantity of old buttons, and useless pieces of jingling metal. He next arrayed himself in beggarly habili-ments, with clouted shoes, tattered under-garments, a cloak mended in a hun-dred places, and a soiled, broad-brimmed bonnet on his head. The money-bag he tied firmly behind the saddle; he placed a pair of pistols under his coat, and a short dagger close by his side. Thus accoutred he wended his way slowly toward the border, both he and the animal apparently in the last stage of help-lessness and decrepitude. The bag behind was carefully covered by the cloak, that spread its duddy folds over the hinder parts of the poor lean beast that carried him. Sitting in a crouching posture on the saddle, with a long beard and an assumed palsified shaking of the hand, nobody would have conceived for a moment that Willie was a man in the prime of life, of a well-built, athletic frame, with more power in his arm than three ordinary men, and of an intrepid and adventurous spirit, that feared nothing, but dared every thing. In this plight, our worthy went dodging over the border, and entered the neighboring kingdom . . .The stage being thus set, it's left to Willie to act out the part—if his adversary, a well-armed highwayman, doesn't kill him first . . .
- Wikipedia has an article (HERE) about the true historical situation that prevailed at the time our story takes place.
The bottom line: "The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful."
— Lysander Spooner