A CAVALIER'S WOOING
John Graham assured himself that none of the servants were in the room, and then he said:
‘I have sure informations from one Birsay Smith, a cobbler, by which I have my hand as good as upon the throat of that arch-fanatic, Anthony Lennox of the Duchrae, and also upon Sandy Gordon of Earlstoun, his younger brother William, Maclellan of Barscobe, and some others. It will be a great taking, for there is a long price on every head of them.’
‘Think you, John,’ said Balmaghie, shrewdly, ‘that you will add Earlstoun and Barscobe to your new lands of Freuch?’
‘Nay,’ said Clavers, ‘that is past hoping. They will give them to their English colonels, Oglethorpe and the like. Aye, even though, at my own request, I had the promise from the Council of the estates of any that I should find cause of forfeiture against, a thing which is only my due. But as by this time you may know, a plain soldier hath small chance among the wiles of the courtiers.’
‘I question, John, if thou hadst all Galloway and Nidsdale to boot, thou wouldst be happy, even with the fairest maid therein, for one short week. Thou wouldst be longing to have Boscobel out, saddled and bridled, and be off to the Whig-hunting with a 'Ho-Tally-Ho!' For that is thy way, John!’
Claverhouse laughed a little stern laugh like a man that is forced to laugh at himself, yet is somedeal proud of what he hears.
‘It is true,’ he said. ‘There is no hunting like this hunting of men, which the King's service sees in these days. It makes it worth living to keep the crown of the moorland with one's company of dragoons, like a man hefting lambs on a sheep farm; and know that no den, no knowe, no moss, no hill has been left unsearched for the King's rebels.’
‘And how speeds the wooing, John?’ I heard Balmaghie say after a little pause, and the opening of another bottle.
For I thought it no shame to listen, since the lives of all that were dear to me, as well as my own, were in this man's power. And, besides, I knew very well that Kate McGhie had put me in this place, that I might gain good intelligence of the intentions of the great captain of the man-hunters.
Clavers sat awhile silent. He looked long and scrupulously at his fine white hand and fingered the lace ruffle upon his sleeve.
‘It was of that mainly that I came to speak to you, Roger. Truth to tell, it does not prosper to my mind.’
‘Hath the fair Jean proved unkind?’ said Roger McGhie, looking over at Claverhouse, with a quiet smile in his eye.
John Graham leaned back in his chair with a quick amused look and threw back his clustering love locks.
‘No,’ he said; ‘there is, I think, little fear of that.’
‘What then is the difficulty—her mother?’
‘Aye,’ said Claverhouse, ‘that is more like it. Yet though the Lady Dundonald drills me and flytes me and preaches at me, I care not so much. For like the hardships of life, that will come to an end. Nevertheless, I own that at times I am tempted to take the lady at my saddle-bow, and ride out from Paisley to return no more.’
‘You will not do that, John!’ said Balmaghie quietly, with a certain light of irony in his eye.
Claverhouse looked up quickly.
‘How so, Balmaghie?’ he said, and I saw through my little slant wicket the pride grow in his eye.
‘The forty thousand marks, John.’
Claverhouse struck his hand on the table.
‘Thank you——’ he said coldly, and then for a moment was silent.
‘There is no man that dare say that to me but yourself, Roger McGhie,’ he added.
‘No,’ said the Laird of Balmaghie, sipping at his canary, ‘and that is why you rode over to see me tonight, John—a silly old man in a dull house, instead of guzzling at Kirkcudbright with Winram and the burgesses and bailies thereof. You are a four-square, truth-telling man, and yet hear little of it, save at the house of Balmaghie.’
Claverhouse still said nothing, but stared at the table, from which the cloth had been removed.
The elder man reached over and put his hand on the sleeve of the younger.
‘Why, John,’ he said softly, ‘pluck up heart and do nothing hastily—as I know thou wilt not. Forty thousand marks is not to be despised. It will help thee mightily with Freuch and Dudhope. It is worth having thy ears soundly boxed once or twice for a persecutor, by a covenanting mother-in-law.’
‘But that is not the worst of it, Roger,’ said Claverhouse, who had gotten over his pique; ‘my enemies lay it against me to York and the King, that I frequent a suspected and disloyal house. They will put me down as they put down Aberdeen——’
At this moment I felt a hand upon my arm. It was that of Kate McGhie. She drew me out of the closet where Alisoun had bestowed me, intending, as she intimated, to come cosily in beside me when she had washed the dishes. But Kate took me by the hand, and together we passed out into the cool night. Wat met us by the outer gate. He was standing in the shadow. There was then no time for me to tell Kate what I had heard Claverhouse reveal to the laird of his intentions regarding Anton Lennox and my brother Sandy. To which there was added a further great uncertainty, lest Birsay had been able to add to his other informations an account of my mother's hiding-place and our own disguises. Nay, even though he had not already done so, there was no saying how soon this might come about.
However, as we stood conferring a moment together, there was one came running hastily from the house to the stables, carrying a lantern. Then in a little, out of the stable door came clattering the war-horse of the commander of dragoons.
William McCutcheon, the serving-man and chief groom of the stables, led Boscobel with a certain awe, as if he might actually be leading the Accuser of the Brethren, haltered and accoutred.
He had not been at the door a minute, when Claverhouse come out and went down the steps, drawing on his riding gauntlets as he came. Roger McGhie walked behind him carrying burning candles in a great silver triple candlestick. He held the light aloft in his hand while the cavalier mounted with a free, easy swing into the saddle; and, gathering the reins in his hand, turned to bid his host adieu. ‘Be a wee canny with the next Whig ye catch, for the sake of your ain bonny Whiggie, Jean Cochrane!’ cried Roger McGhie of Balmaghie, holding the cresset high above his head.
‘Deil a fear!’ laughed Clavers, gaily waving his hand. ‘Tis not in the power of love or any other folly to alter my loyalty.’
‘Pshaw!’ said the laird; ‘then, John, be assured ye ken nothing about the matter.’
But Claverhouse was already clattering across the cobble stones of the yard. We drew back into the deep shadow of the bushes and he passed us, a noble figure of a man sitting slenderly erect on his black horse Boscobel, and so riding out into the night, like a prince of darkness going forth to war.
That night, down in the little holding of Waterside, upon the broad meadows of the Dee, we held a council. My mother was for setting out forthwith to look after her son Sandy.
But I gently dissuaded her, telling her that Sandy was far better left to his own resources, than with her safety also to provide for.
‘I daresay,’ said she, a little shortly; ‘but have you thought how I am like to sleep when you are all away—when in every foot that comes by the door, I hear the messenger who comes to tell me of my sons streeked stiff in their winding sheets?’
But, after all, we managed to persuade her to bide on at the Boatcroft, where little Margaret of Glen Vernock was to stay with her for company. As for the rest of us, we had information brought us by sure hands, of the hiding-places of Anton Lennox and the rest of the wanderers.
The maids were set upon accompanying us—Maisie Lennox to see her father, and Kate McGhie because Maisie Lennox was going. But after a long controversy we also prevailed on them to abide at home and wait for our return. Yet it came to me afterwards that I saw a look pass between them, such as I had seen before, when it is in the heart of the women folk to play some trick upon the duller wits of mankind. It is as though they said, ‘After all, what gulls these men be!’
So that night I slept with Wat in the gardener's hut, and early in the morning we went down to the great house to bid the maids good-bye. But there we found only Alisoun Begbie. The nest was empty and the birds flown. Only Roger McGhie was walking up and down the beech avenue of the old house, deep in thought. He had his hands behind his back, and sometimes the corners of his mouth seemed to smile through his gloom with a curious pleasantry. Wat and I kept well out of his sight, and I could not help wondering how much, after all, he understood of our ongoings. More than any of us thought at that time, I warrant, for it was the man's humour to know much and say little.
Alisoun Begbie, who seemed not unwilling that we should stop and converse with her, told us that after Clavers had departed, Mistress Kate had gone in to her father to tell him that she was going away for a space of days.
‘Mind, ye are not to rise before your ordinary in the morning, father,’ she said; ‘I shall be gone by the dawn.’
‘Very well, Kate,’ he replied, continuing to draw off his coat and prepare for bed; ‘I shall sell the Boreland to pay the fine.’
This was all he said; and having kissed his daughter good-night, calmly and pleasantly as was his wont, he set a silken skull-cap on his crown and fell asleep. Truly a remarkable man was Roger McGhie of Balmaghie.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.