THE origin of this week’s tale comes from a moment during my wedding reception on Saturday at Cockenzie House.

The volunteers and staff of the house made it a perfect day, and may I suggest that if you haven’t already been to this remarkable community-owned historic house then you should make time to do so.

Maybe I shouldn’t really admit it, but as photos were being taken of me and my wife in the house’s stunningly beautiful gardens, my mind drifted momentarily to the task of writing this week’s tale.

In my defence, it was honestly only a brief moment, for I worried how I would be able to fit in the time to write the story and also do all the other things that needed doing. But then, as I watched kilted guests wandering through the gardens, it reminded me of the role this mansion played in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

During the Battle of Prestonpans, kilted Red Coats guarded Cockenzie House and its grounds, but bloodshed was avoided by negotiation, and the Jacobites took over the house, and in the process took possession of Cope’s supplies and carriage. I’m not sure how many of the kilted wedding guests knew they were casting history’s shadow over the grounds.

Then a wee wry smile came to my face. Nobody noticed because we were all smiling on that lovely day. But this wee smile of mine was because in that moment I had suddenly been given an idea for the tale I would tell.

It is of a man who, in September 1745, may have stood on the exact spot I was standing, but in very different circumstances. And I must say that the moment the idea came to me I thought no more about the tale that day, and just enjoyed the party!

And so to the tale; we begin not in Cockenzie House, but the outskirts of Haddington in the spring of 1746.

It was a dreich and cold spring, and the atmosphere of the country was made more so by the recent and bloody end of the Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden. In this bitter aftermath of civil war, atrocities and repression were taking place daily. Fear stalked the land, as well as betrayal and recriminations. But it was also a time of great bravery and compassion.

The Highlands, of course, were most greatly affected, but even here in what was then Haddingtonshire people had to be careful. Jacobites were being hanged and transported. It was a time to display loyalty to the King!

In this atmosphere, a stranger arrived in Haddington. He was clearly not from this area, and he arrived alone and at night. He was the guest of an old widow by the name of Galetly, who lived on the outskirts of the town. His arrival was secretive and his presence in the town was initially unnoticed, except by the widow and her maid.

He rarely ventured out of the house and dined privately with widow Galetly. He had no visitors and seemed very unsocial.

But all this secrecy just stimulated the curiosity of the maid. Her name was Grizzel Crombie. She had known and worked for widow Galetly for many years, yet when she enquired about the guest she was given evasive answers. This just made her more curious.

Then one day, Grizzel accidentally on purpose overheard the widow talking to the man. She stood frozen to the spot, terrified the floorboards would creak and give away her presence as she eavesdropped on a whispered conversation between the widow and the stranger.

She was now in no doubt. The man was a Jacobite fugitive! Grizzel couldn’t contain herself. This was more than just common day gossip!

She had to tell someone! And that someone was a friend and fellow maid from a nearby house.

When her friend arrived for their daily tipple and gossip, Grizzel could hardly contain herself.

“Sit doon, sit doon,” she said as she ushered her friend in and closed the door, peering left and right before she closed it, as if checking there was no one around.

“Whit’s wrang wi ye, Grizzel, ye’re like a dug wha’s stepped oan taps o’ thistles?” asked her friend.

Grizzel was almost breathless with the excitement of telling her friend the secret.

“I heard my lady talkin aboot yon stranger. He’s a doonricht Jacobite!” she said.

Her friend was shocked, but then intrigued.

“I heard her say he’d bin the richt haund man of the Prince himself!” she continued.

The news electrified their usually dull exchanges of local gossip. Here was something really exciting to talk about, even potentially dangerous.

“Puir man,” said her friend, “they are hunted in the hills likes foxes.” Hiding a fugitive Grizzel’s mood changed, and she looked around her once more. She was clearly worried about the implications of being involved, even involuntarily, in hiding a Jacobite fugitive.

“”Wheesht, hen,” she said lowering her head, “the stanes o’ the wa’ hae lugs, I ken that masel!” The two women sat in silence for a moment, looking at each other. They were both now involved in this secret. They were no experts in the law but even they knew that keeping this secret would make them guilty of sedition. Then Grizzel suddenly realised that by sharing her secret she now had no control over keeping it!

“He’s a fugitive nae doot,” said Grizzel. Then in a serious mood she lent over and firmly put her hand on her friend’s knee: “But listen, it’s no fir the likes o’ us tae be meddling wi things in which we hae nae concern. Mak sure ye dinnae say ony uncanny words!” “Dinne fash,” replied her friend, “I’ll nae tell a saul, no even ma husband.” Then with unbelievably bad timing, Grizzel spotted her uncle walking up the path for one of his regular visits.

Grizzel’s uncle was the Provost, as well as a Justice of the Peace. He was a man of some status and responsibility and had asked Grizzel about the origins and identity of the stranger, which she then could truthfully say she knew nothing about.

“Hud yer wheesht,” said Grizzel to her friend as she opened the door.

“Guid morning ladies,” he said as he ushered himself in and sat in the comfy armchair just vacated by his nervous niece.

“What’s brocht ye oot yer ain hoose oan sic an awfu day, uncle?” Grizzel asked. “I wish ye’re nae muckle the waur o’ it, and that nae thing is wrang in the toon?” Her uncle took the drink and wee nibbles his nervous niece gave him and she continued: “Dae ye hae ony news aboot the stranger, ye ken, widow Galetly’s lodger?” It was a clever move. Grizzel reckoned that if she asked first it might prevent him asking the same question to her and so avoid any awkward avoidance of the secret now hanging in the air like a bad smell.

The two women looked at each other sheepishly, and the hands of Grizzel’s friend were now visibly shaking. But the Provost’s answer surprised both women.

“Weel,” he said, wiping away the bannock crumbs from his mouth, “yon stranger wis a Jacobite scoundrel...” Before he could continue the two women feigned shock and horror, almost giving themselves away by their over acting!

“Keep yerselves at ease ladies,” he continued, “fir whatever the stranger may have been at Prestonpans or Culloden, he is leil man on true here, as I can testify masel.” “Whit dae ye mean?” asked his niece, somewhat relieved she now didn’t have to keep a dangerous secret from her uncle.

He continued: “Within the last few hours I have administered the oath of allegiance to oor ain guid King George. He faced it wi bad grace, not like a guid and loyal Protestant subject, and I hae nae doubt that it wis fir him a necessity tae save himelf frae further trouble, but since nae charge has been brocht agin him, we can say he is noo a settled man within the law, despite whit he once wis.” “And dae ye ken the identity of him?” asked Grizzel “Weel soon all will be kent fir he’s buying land here tae bide wi his wife and daughters,” said her uncle. “His two sons were killed at Culloden, and he cannae gang back tae the Hielands, fir his hame is laid waste and confiscated.” “Is he a Highland chief?” asked his increasingly fascinated niece.

Provost Crombie puffed up his chest, feeling important that he now had all the knowledge his niece was desperate to know.

“Weel a’ I can say is that Mr Cameron was a hieland man o’ some status,” he said with a smile, like a child who knows a naughty secret.

The two women looked at each other and then exploded in simultaneous excitement.

“The Great Cameron of Locheil! The chief o’ the Camerons here in Hadddington! I have served him supper and had no idea!” said Grizzel, excitedly.

She stood up and walked to the window and continued talking as if to herself: “But tae leave the hills and bide here, in the shadow of the Lammermuirs which will remind him daily o’ the bonny hills o’ his hame, which he has lost fir the sake o’ a lost Prince.” “Dinnae gang awa wi yersel,” said her uncle as he interrupted his niece’s over-romantic response, “fir sure Widow Galetly’s Hieland lodger is a man o’ wealth and status frae the Cameron Clan, who supported the Pretender, but he isnae the chief.” But this just solicited a flood of further questions and, suddenly feeling himself under interrogation, and wanting to be careful about how much information he gave away, he made his farewell.

“But uncle, please, who is this man?” pleaded his niece, genuinely desperate to know what famous Jacobite she had been serving supper to.

“He will soon be biding nae mair than a few miles frae Haddington Toon, by the bank o’ the Tyne,” replied the Provost, teasingly, “ye will discover soon enough.” And with that, the Provost left.

The man was indeed a well-known Jacobite, and he spent the rest of his life living in a mansion close to the banks of the Tyne. What backroom deal was done to make this possible? Was clemency bought and for how much? We will never know.

The stranger, once a powerful member of a clan chief’s family, lived quietly for the next 30 years with his wife until his death on October 4, 1775.

On this day, the Tyne burst its banks in a violent mood. The flood put an end to Donald Cameron’s life.

Who exactly was he and what had been his role in the rebellion, and how did the Tyne so dramatically end his story?

Oops, I’ve just realised I’ve run out of space! Maybe I will have time on my honeymoon to tell you!