AULD ANTON OF THE DUCHRAE
It was a wintry-like morning in the later spring when at last we got out of hiding in the house of Gordonstoun. During our stay there I had often gone to see my mother just over the hill at Earlstoun, to give her what comfort I could, and in especial to advise about Sandy, who was then on his travels in the Low Countries. That morning Matthew of the Dub came with us, and we took our legs to it, despising horses in our new quality of hill-folk. The wind blew bitter and snell from the east. And May—the bleakest of spring months, that ought to be the bonniest—was doing her worst to strengthen the cold, in proportion as she lengthened her unkindly days.
Matthew told us not whither we were going, and as for me, I had no thought or suspicion. Yet the tear was in my eye as we saw the bonny woods of Earlstoun lying behind us, with the grey head of the old tower setting its chin over the tree-tops and looking wistfully after us.
But we marched south along the Ken, by New Galloway, and the seat of my Lord Kenmuir, where there was now a garrison with Clavers himself in hold. We saw the loch far beneath us, for we had to keep high on the side of Bennan. It ruffled its breast as a dove's feathers are blown awry by a sudden gusty wind. It was a cheerless day, and the gloom on our faces was of the deepest. For we were in the weird case of suffering for conscience' sake, and with no great raft either of conscience or of religion to comfort us.
Not that our case was uncommon. For all were not saints who hated tyranny.
‘Wat,’ I said, arguing the matter, ‘the thing gangs in the husk o' a hazel. I wear a particular make of glove chevron. It likes me well, but I am not deadly set on it. Comes the Baron-bailie or my Lord Provost, and saith he: 'Ye shall not henceforth wear that glove of thine, but one of my colour and of the fashion official!' Then says I to the Baron-bailie, 'To the Ill Thief wi' you and your pattern gauntlet!' And I take him naturally across the cheek with it, and out with my whinger——’
‘Even so,’ said my cousin, who saw not whither I was leading him, ‘let no man drive you as to the fashion of your gloves. Out with your whinger, and see what might be the colour of his blood!’
‘And what else are the Covenant men doing?’ cried I, quick to take advantage. ‘We were none so fond o' the Kirk that I ken of—we that are of the lairds o' Galloway, when we could please ourselves when and where we would go. Was there one of us, say maybe your father and mine, that had not been sessioned time and again? Many an ill word did we speak o' the Kirk, and many a glint did we cast at the sandglass in the pulpit as the precentor gied her another turn. But after a' the Kirk was oor ain mither, and what for should the King misca' or upturn her? Gin she whummelt us, and peyed us soondly till we clawed where we werena yeuky, wha's business was that but oor ain? But comes King Charlie, and says he, 'Pit awa' your old mither, that's overly sore on you, an' tak' this braw easy step-minnie, that will never steer ye a hair or gar ye claw your hinderlands!' What wad ye say, Wat? What say ye, Wat? Wad ye gie your mither up for the King's word?’
‘No,’ said Wat, sullenly, for now he saw where he was being taken, and liked it little, ‘I wadna.’
I thought I had him, and so, logically, I had. But he was nothing but a dour, donnert soldier, and valued good logic not a docken.
‘Hear me,’ he said, after a moment's silence; ‘this is my way of it. I am no preacher, and but poor at the practice. But I learned, no matter where, to be true to the King—and, mind you, even now I stand by Charles Stuart, though at the horn I be. Even now I have no quarrel with him, though for the dirty sake of the Duke of Wellwood, he has one with me.’
‘That's as may be,’ I returned; ‘but mind where you are going. Ye will be eating the bread of them that think differently, and surely ye'll hae the sense and the mense to keep a calm sough, an' your tongue far ben within your teeth.’
We were passing the ford of the Black Water as I was speaking, and soon we came to the steading of the Little Duchrae in the light of the morning. It was a long, low house, well thatched, like all the houses in the neighbourhood. And it was sending up a heartsome pew of reek into the air, that told of the stir of breakfast. The tangle of the wood grew right up to the windows of the back, and immediately behind the house there was a little morass with great willow trees growing and many hiding-places about it—as well I knew, for there Maisie Lennox and I had often played the day by the length.
Now ‘Auld Anton’ of the Duchrae was a kenned man all over the countryside. The name of Anthony Lennox of Duchrae was often on my father's lips, and not seldom he would ride off to the south in the high days of Presbytery, to have fellowship with him whenever he was low in the spirit, and also before our stated seasons of communion. Thither also I had often ridden in later years on other errands, as has already been said.
Never had I been able to understand, by what extraordinary favour Anthony Lennox had not only been able to escape so far himself, but could afford a house of refuge to others in even more perilous plight. Upon the cause of this immunity there is no need at present to condescend, but certain it is that the house of the Duchrae had been favoured above most, owing to an influence at that time hidden from me. For Auld Anton was never the man to hide his thoughts or to set a curb upon his actions.
With a light hand Matthew of the Dub knocked at the door, which was carefully and immediately opened. A woman of a watchful and rather severe countenance presented herself there—a serving woman, but evidently one accustomed to privilege and equality, as was common in Galloway at that day.
‘Matthew Welsh,’ she said, ‘what brings you so far from hame so early in the morning?’
‘I come wi' thae twa callants—young Gordon o' Earlstoun, and a young man that is near kin to him. It may be better to gie the particulars the go-by till I see you more privately. Is the good man about the doors?’
For answer the woman went to the window at the back and cried thrice. Instantly we saw a little cloud of men disengage themselves irregularly from the bushes and come towards the door. Then began a curious scene. The woman ran to various hiding-places under the eaves, behind dressers, in aumries and presses, and set a large number of bowls of porridge on the deal table. Soon the house was filled with the stir of men and the voices of folk in earnest conversation.
Among them all I was chiefly aware of one young man of very striking appearance, whose dark hair flowed back from a broad brow, white as a lady's, and who looked like one born to command. On the faces of many of the men who entered and overflowed the little kitchen of the Duchrae, was the hunted look of them that oftentimes glance this way and that for a path of escape. But on the face of this man was only a free soldierly indifference to danger, as of one who had passed through many perils and come forth scatheless.
Last of all the Master of the House entered with the familiarity of the well-accustomed. He was alert and active, a man of great height, yet holding himself like a soldier. Three counties knew him by his long grey beard and bushy eyebrows for Anthony Lennox, one of the most famous leaders of the original United Societies. To me he was but Maisie Lennox's father, and indeed he had never wared many words on a boy such as I seemed to him.
But now he came and took us both by the hand in token of welcome, and to me in especial he was full of warm feeling.
‘You are welcome, young sir,’ he said. ‘Many an hour at the dyke-back have we had, your father and I, praying for our bairns and for poor Scotland. Alack that I left him on the way to Bothwell last year and rode forward to tulzie wi' Robin Hamilton—and now he lies in his quiet resting grave, an' Auld Anton is still here fighting away among the contenders.’
With Walter also he shook hands, and gave him the welcome that one true man gives to another. Lochinvar sat silent and watchful in the strange scene. For me I seemed to be in a familiar place, for Earlstoun was on every tongue. And it was not for a little that I came to know that they meant my brother Sandy, who was a great man among them—greater than ever my father had been, though he had ‘sealed his testimony with his blood,’ as their phrase ran.
I thought it best not to give my cousin's name, excusing myself in the meantime by vouching that his father had suffered to the death, even as mine had done, for the cause and honour of Scotland's Covenant.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.