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One evening in the month of March, 1688, a party of thirty soldiers mustered rapidly and silently under the arches of the White Horse Hostel, an old and well-known inn on the north side of the Canongate of Edinburgh. The night was dark and cold, and a high wind swept in gusts down the narrow way between the picturesque houses of that venerable street and the steep side of the bare and rocky Calton-hill.
Gathering in cautious silence, the soldiers scarcely permitted the butts of their heavy matchlocks to touch the pavement: in a loud whisper the officer gave the order to march, and they moved off with the same air of quietness and rapidity which characterized their muster, and showed that a very secret or important duty was about to be executed.
In those days the ranks were drawn up three deep, and such was the mode until a later period; so, by simply facing a body of men to the right or left, they found themselves three abreast without confusion or delay.
"Fenton," said the officer to a young man who carried a pike beside him, "keep rearward. You are wont to have the eye of a hawk; and if any impertinent citizen appears to watch us, lay thy truncheon across his pate."
This injunction was unnecessary; for those belated citizens who saw them, hurried past, glad to escape unquestioned. In those days, when every corporal of horse or foot, was vested with more judicial powers than the Lord Justice General, the night march of a band of soldiers was studiously to be avoided. Aware that some "deed of persecution" was about to be acted, the occasional wayfarers hurried on, or turned altogether aside, when forewarned that soldiers appeared, by the measured tread of feet, by the gleam of a gun-barrel, or cone of a helmet glinting in the rays of light that shot from half-closed windows into the palpable darkness.
These soldiers belonged to the regiment of George Earl of Dunbarton, the oldest in the Scottish army, and a body of such antiquity, that they were jocularly known in France as Pontius Pilate's Guards. With red coats, they wore morions of black unpolished iron; breast-plates of the same metal, crossed by buff belts which sustained their swords, fixing-daggers and collars of bandoleers, as the twelve little wooden cases, each containing a charge of powder, were named. Their breeches and stockings were of bright scarlet, and each had a long musket sloped on his shoulder, with its lighted match gleaming like a glowworm in the dark. The officer was distinguished by a plume that waved from a tube on his gilded helmet, which, like his gorget, was of polished steel, while to denote his rank he carried a half-pike, in addition to his rapier and dagger, and wore a black corslet richly engraved and studded with nails of gold, conform to the Royal Order of 1686. He was a handsome fellow, tall, and well set up, with a heavy dark mustache, and a face like each of his soldiers, well bronzed by the sun of France and Tangiers.