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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Robert Keith and Anderson had fallen out


[143] The females of this tribe also rode to the fairs at Moffat and Biggar, on horses, with side-saddles and bridles, the ladies themselves being very gaily dressed. The males wore scarlet cloaks, reaching to their knees, and resembling exactly the Spanish fashion of the present day.

Besides the large hordes that traversed the south of Scotland, parties of twos and threes also passed through the country, apparently not at all connected, nor in communication, at the time, with the large bands. When a single Gipsy and his wife, or other female, were observed to take up their quarters by themselves, it was supposed they had either fallen out with their clan, or had the officers of the law in pursuit of them. Sometimes the chiefs would enquire of the country people, if such and such a one of their tribe had passed by, this or that day, lately. Under any circumstances, the presence of a female does not excite so much suspicion as a single male. In following their profession, as tinkers, the Gipsies seldom, or never, travel without a female in their company, and, I believe, they sometimes hire them to accompany them, to hawk their wares through the country. The tinker keeps himself snug in an out-house, at his work, while the female vends his articles of sale, and forages for him, in the adjoining country.

One of these straggling Gipsies, of the name of William Keith, was apprehended in an old smearing-house,

on a farm occupied by my grandfather, in Tweed-dale. William had been concerned, with his brother Robert, in the murder of one of their clan, of the name of Charles Anderson, at a small public-house among the Lammermoor hills, called Lourie's Den. Robert Keith and Anderson had fallen out, and had followed each other for some time, for the purpose of fighting out their quarrel. They at last met at Lourie's Den, when a terrible combat ensued. The two antagonists were brothers-in-law; Anderson being married to Keith's sister. Anderson proved an over-match for Keith; and William Keith, to save his brother, laid hold of Anderson; but Mage Greig, Robert's wife, handed her husband a knife, and called on him to despatch him, while unable to defend himself. Robert repeatedly struck with the knife, but it rebounded from the ribs of the unhappy man, without much effect. Impatient at the delay, Mage called out to him, "strike laigh, strike laigh in;" and, following her directions, he stabbed Anderson to the heart. The only remark made by any of the gang was this exclamation from one of them: "Gude faith, Rob, ye have done for him noo!" But William Keith was astonished when he found that Anderson was stabbed in his arms, as his interference was only to save the life of his brother from the overwhelming strength of Anderson. Robert Keith instantly fled, but was immediately pursued by people armed with pitchforks and muskets. He was apprehended in a braken-bush, in which he had concealed himself, and was executed at Jedburgh, on the 24th November, 1772.

Sir Walter Scott, and the Ettrick Shepherd, slightly notice this murder at Lourie's Den, in their communications to Blackwood's Magazine. One of the individuals who assisted at the apprehension of Keith was the father of Sir Walter Scott. The following notice of this bloody scene appeared in one of the periodical publications at the time it occurred: "By a letter from Lauder, we are informed of the following murder: On Wednesday se'night, three men, with a boy, supposed to be tinkers, put up at a little public-house near Soutra. From the after conduct of two of the men, it would appear that a difference had subsisted between them, before they came into the house, for they had drunk but very little when the quarrel was renewed with great vehemence, and, in the dispute, one of the fellows drew a knife, and stabbed the other in the body no less than seven different times, of which wounds he soon after expired. The gang then immediately made off; but upon the country-people being alarmed, the murderer himself and one of the women were apprehended."[144]


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