The traveller will look in vain, as he now passes the malt-kiln, for a squalid hovel, half stone half mud, with weather-beaten straw covering, perforated somewhat pro­fusely with holes, which did the work by turns of ventilat­ing the building and letting in the rain—the window and door considerably ajee, and both glass and timber some­ thing the worse for wear—a wooden chimney-top well bound up with twisted straw or rapes, and issuing from it in fine waving curls, the clear, blue smoke of the real Glenmarky peat-a rickety three-legged form leaning against the wall, with perhaps the end of a spinning-wheel projecting beyond the door-cheek—and a plump round-cheeked, cherry-faced woman sitting beside it with busy hand and foot presiding over the “birring of the wheel.” Yet fifty years ago, if he had travelled there, he would not only have seen it, but would have had a stout heart if he resisted the temptation to enter and make himself as well acquainted with the inside as we have attempted to make him with the out, for it was no less celebrated a place than Meg Dallachie’s—cele­brated for the richness of the body and flavour of its ale, the strength and genuine peat aroma of its whisky, and for the hilarity of the meetings that were held within it. Nor, indeed, were Meg’s personal qualifications less numerous or perfect than those of her viands. She was the best spinner of lint in the parish—a professional and indeed an accomplished mid-wife—and foremost in the north for her skill and ingenuity in cheating the excise­ man—and superadded to these had a power which h best friends would have thought her better without, a which was commonly believed to be seated in the corners of her sharp grey eyes, that kept the whole neighbourhood in terror lest Meg should be crossed and tempted to exercise it. -Meg was therefore petted and pleased by all, and we are not aware of her evil eye being exerted but on one occasion, and that was when sorely provoked. It seems that she was a sub-tenant of Mr John Stewart of Oldcastle, and the decent man be­ginning to feel himself scandalised with the meetings nightly held at Meg’s howff, and having, moreover, much difficulty in keeping his own servants from it, he fell upon the expedient of putting such a rent upon Meg’s cottage as he thought would be impossible for her to pay; and that, terrified with the amount the merry house­ wife would throw it up at once. Meg, however, was not go easy to be ejected—she heard the farmer’s terms, and at once assented to them without a word. But the farmer in the simplicity of his nature could not think how such a sum was to be raised for him, and with ill-concealed astonishment, he exclaimed— but how in the world can ye expect to be able to pay it, Meggie? ” Fat’s that to you,” replied Meg, and added, ominously, “Fat way was the tribute money paid? Ye’ll maybe nae live till it fa’s due; and true to the dark hint unfolded, Stewart died before rent time came round. The number of tales of Meg and her customers, and of her tricks and plans to cheat the gaugers, would fill a volume, but let one suffice.

While the minds of the inhabitants were still disturbed with fears of a descent of the Caithness men, and the sentry-boxes regularly manned night after night at eventide, a party of exciseman, who had get the scent of something in their way in the wind, resolved upon a bold scheme to clear the ground of the sturdy smugglers, whose sinewy arms frequently gave them rather better proof of their vigour than their loyalty or respect for law and authority. Accordingly, they set to work, and collected a number of whin bushes, &c., and piled them up in such a manner that when kindled, they would appear to be a farm steading on fire; and, having ignited them, hurried off in an opposite direction. The smoke and flame soon attracted the sentinels’ attention, and each giving the appointed signal, the terriblest commotion at once took place, and the most convincing proof given of the courage and activity of even a newly-formed company of volun­teers—pitchforks, scythes, clubs, hatchets, and black-smith’s hammers, rusty guns, and still rustier swords, were at once laid hold of by brawny hands, and every house and hamlet sending forth its quota, the howe was in a few minutes alive with bold and resolute men, march­ing with the hearts and hopes of heroes, to fight for their hearths and darlings against a savage and implacable enemy. Thomson, who acted as captain of this motley armed brigade, having marshalled them and given a few words of exhortation, set out at their head in quick marching order for the supposed quarters of the enemy. Among those who ranged themselves under the banner of Mr Thomson, were a number of persona who had been on their way to Hardhaugh, with a quantity of whisky, where it seems it was customary for the buyers of the illicit bred to take delivery. They had reached Meg’s when the signal was given, and forgetting every other danger but that of invasion, they left nine ankers in her possession. Fortunately, amid the commotion and hurry of arming, the keen eye of Meg detected a white flag floating on the heights of Parkbeg, and, understanding the signal, she set to work at once to protect the whisky that was left under her charge. The cellar in which she usually secreted such commodities was too valuable to run the risk of detection, and too difficult of access for Meg and her hopeful assistant, or servant, to expect to get such a quantity deposited in it before the excisemen would arrive. So setting her wits to work, she soon fixed upon the course she was to pursue. Taking out the bottom from her bed, the ankers were placed beneath, the bed laid over them, and Meg herself pretending the pangs of labour, was soon stretched upon it. The servant, too, was suddenly transformed from a buxom bare-headed and bare-legged quean to an aged matron, with muslin cowl, neatly bound with black ribbon upon her head, to­gether with all the other distinguishing badges of the professional “howdies” of the period. Matters being thus arranged, in a short time a number of excisemen entered, who having traced the whisky to Meg’s, had a strong suspicion that it might be concealed there, and accordingly began a search. Meg’s counterfeit pains

became more excruciating, and common decency de­manded that even excisemen should at all events search the other parts of the house before intruding upon her retreat at such a moment. But they had not prosecuted their enquiries far, when the clatter of the deceived and enraged militiamen returning startled them in their search, and suggested the propriety of flight; and, at the same time, so effectually cured Meg of her travail, that she got up in time to anoint the retreating gaugers with the highly-flavoured contents of the maister-pot. No sooner were they out than Meg gave the order for a chase, and their fleet limbs stood them good service, till they had cleared the Glacks of the Balloch, when the pur­suers desisted and returned to their homes; and Meg’s “howff” was not the less frequented that night, because she had adroitly managed to cheat the excisemen.

Taking the road to the left after crossing the bridge, we now approach the Castle of Balvenie—one of the oldest relics of power in the kingdom. Indeed, so old is it that no one can say when it did not exist, and its importance sufficiently proved by the anxiety of the most powerful barons in the most troublous times to obtain possession of it. It has been built at different times, and represents the architecture of different ages— the older portion of it being traditionally accounted a stronghold of the Picts, and the last addition that was made to it the work of the Duke of Athole, half brother of James the Second of Scotland. Cordiner says “there are strong proofs of the existence of a place of consider­able strength here about the beginning of the eleventh century, which, being an era prior to the building of Windsor Castle, and nearly co-eval with the Tower of London, we are not to be surprised that our accounts of it then are indistinct, and the annals of military transac­tions of that period dubious.” We know, however, that when the Wolf of Badenoch had his chief residence at Lochindorb, and amused himself with such pastimes as chasing the deer, alarming a town, or firing a cathe­dral, Balvenie was his occasional residence;—that it was held for a time by the Cummings until the days of Robert the Bruce, when that powerful family fell into disgrace, and it then passed to the still more potent Lords of Douglas, in whose hands it remained until the memo­rable rebellion of James, ninth Earl of Douglas, in 1455, when, along with the other estates of the family, it was confiscated and given to James, Earl of Athol. Whether Balvenie sustained any of the sieges that the many strongholds of its turbulant lords were called upon to bear, we cannot now say, but it may be taken for granted that the inhabitants of the lordship of Balvenie in those wrathful times mixed in most of the turmoils of the day, and buckled their armour for or against the red cross of St Andrew, as the star of the Douglas was depressed or in the ascendent. In 1423 we find James Douglas of Balvenie selected to the high dignity of being one of the commissioners appointed to repair to the English court to negotiate for the liberation of the imprisoned King. The most interesting portion, however, of the history of the castle is its connection with the fortunes and mis­fortunes of Margaret Douglas the fairest woman of her time, whose extraordinary beauty before she had more than reached the verge of womanhood, had earned her the title of “The fair maid of Galloway.” It was this young lady’s brothers, the Earl of Douglas, and his brother David, who were treacherously inveigled into Edinburgh Castle and barbarously murdered by Chan­cellor Crichton; and on their deaths she succeeded to the estates of Galloway, Ormont, and Balvenie. Like many more, the wealth to which she succeeded was the cause to her of unmitigated sorrow and misfortune, for immediately on the death of her brothers, James, Earl of Abercorn, surnamed the Gross, succeeding to the titles of the deceased Earl, his son William—an ambitious and grasping youth—began with a skill and ingenuity that afterwards astonished both his friends and his foes, to lay the foundations of that stupendous and over- grown power which as Earl of Douglas he wielded. His cousin, the Earl of Douglas, killed by Crich­ton, was also Duke of Touraine, and it being a male feif, lapsed, on the death of the brothers, to the French Crown. To this ambitious and far-seeing youth, the loss of this dukedom to the family was a severe misfortune; and, that the family estates might not suffer farther dismemberment, according to Tytler, “his first object was to marry his cousin (the fair maid of Galloway,) and thus once more unite, in his own person, the whole power of the house of Douglas, and thus, by means of this overwhelming power, to obtain the supreme management of the estate as governor of the kingdom, and to act over again the history of the usurpation of Albany and the captivity of James the First. It must not be forgotten,” the historian con­tinues, “that the heiress of Galloway and Balvenie was descended by the father’s side from the eldest sister of James the First, and by the mother’s side from David, Earl of Strathearn, eldest son of Robert the Second, by his second marriage. It is not, therefore, impossible that in the event of the death of James II., some vague idea of asserting a claim to the crown may have sug­gested itself to the imagination of this ambitious baron.” A connection promising such advantages and prompting such ambitious thoughts, was to be fought for at all hazards, but unfortunately there were obstacles in the way.

Not that the heiress declined the match, or had her affections otherwise engaged; for that fair creature, if she had the will, seems never to have had the power of disposing of her hand, and was from girlhood but the beautiful plaything of her kinsmen’s ambition, an treated as if she had been like themselves—wholly destitute of heart or affection. The first and greatest difficulty to the marriage of this scheming Earl with his beautiful cousin was his own Countess—for he was already married—and though neither his heart nor his conscience interposed any scruples about the break­ing of the holiest and most sacred union, there were family and ecclesiastical difficulties which required time and the most consummate scheming to be got rid of. At length ”he received, through the influence of the Livingstons, the reward to which he had ardently looked, and a divorce was obtained from his first Countess, and a dispensation arrived from Home, permitting the mar­riage between himself and his cousin, and, although still a girl who had not completed her 12th year, the “fair maid of Galloway’’ was united to the Earl, and the im­mense estates which had fallen asunder upon the execu­tion of William, were once more concentrated in the person of the Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom.” But the girlish Countess, though wife to one of the ablest and most powerful Earls who had ever borne her name, was but a lovely bird in a gilded cage, alternately treated with cruelty and neglect by her selfish and unfeeling lord. This first step of his ambition gained, the carrying out of his second was prosecuted with the same ardour, and bade fair in a very short time to be crowned with the same success. He strengthened his party with numerous family connections, till by blood or marriage he was allied to more than half the most powerful lords of the kingdom. Having no issue by his Countess, he gave her estates with the titles belonging to them to his brothers—

Ormond to the Earl of Ormond, and Balvenie to John, who was afterwards created Lord Balvenie in 1446; and these, residing at the strongholds belonging to each drew around them a warlike following, ready at the beck of their leaders to go wherever and do whatever they listed. At length, when his plans were almost matured—when a confederacy offensive and de­fensive had been entered into between him and the numerous barons whom relation or interest drew around him, and when he was no doubt to endeavour to make his youthful and ill-treated Countess another stepping-stone to lift him to the highest authority—the dagger of the King—with sorrow be it told—put an end to his am­bitious schemes, and freed his Countess from the galling tyranny she had endured. Yet with the evil fortune that attended the heiress of Balvenie, she was again doomed to be forced into a still more unnatural alliance, in which her heart had no share, and with a man even more cruel and tyrannical than her deceased lord. This was James, brother to her former husband. It was in vain that the persecuted beauty pleaded against this unna­tural alliance, her tears and entreaties were disregarded by her cousin, and a dispensation arriving from the Pope, allowing the marriage, she was forced into compliance, and once more became the wife of a man for whom she had no affection, and whose connection with her, though sanctioned by the church, her conscience condemned. But the same ambitious schemes that filled the mind of his murdered brother, continued to be followed by him, and soon drove him to rebellion and eventually into exile, when the whole lands of the Douglasses, Balvenie in­cluded, were forfeited to the crown. His still youthful countess availing herself of his disgrace and absence, went to the King, and after detailing the miseries of her marriage with her first lord, and the cruelties she had endured since her irreligious union with her second, flung herself upon the kindness and protection of the monarch. James, touched with her beauty and sufferings, welcomed her with the utmost courtesy and kindness, and immediately provided her with a third husband, in the person of his own uterine brother, Sir John Stewart, son of the Black Knight of Lorn, and who was shortly after made Earl of Athole. Along with the husband was also given the forfeited estate of Balvenie, and though her third husband like the two first, was not of her own seeking (and history sayeth not how her second marriage was annulled), yet it must be interesting to our fair read­ers to know that the last was by far the happiest one; and there is reason to believe that when her husband had finished the large addition to the castle that the sorely tried lady soon learned in the quiet retirement and witching beauty of Balvenie, to forget the trials and tur­bulent scenes into which in early life she had been cast. She had no family by either the first or second marriage, but two daughters crowned the third union, and they are said to have been the pride and solace of their mother as long as she lived. They were not however doomed to share the same misfortunes on account of their posses­sions; for after their mother’s death, Athole again mar­ried, and had a son, to whom the castle and lands of Balvenie descended.