A CAVALIER PURITAN
The farm town of Craig Ronald drowsed in the quiet of noon. In the open court the sunshine triumphed, and only the purple-grey marsh mallows along the side of the house under the windows gave any sign of life. In them the bees had begun to hum at earliest dawn, an hour and a half before the sun looked over the crest of Ben Gairn. They were humming busily still. In all the chambers of the house there was the same reposeful stillness. Through them Winsome Charteris moved with free, light step. She glanced in to see that her grandfather and grandmother were wanting for nothing in their cool and wide sitting-room, where the brown mahogany-cased eight- day clock kept up an unequal ticking, like a man walking upon two wooden legs of which one is shorter than the other.
It said something for Winsome Charteris and her high-hearted courage, that what she was accustomed to see in that sitting-room had no effect upon her spirits. It was a pleasant room enough, with two windows looking to the south—little round-budded, pale-petalled monthly roses nodding and peeping within the opened window-frames. Sweet it was with a great peace, every chair covered with old sprigged chintz, flowers of the wood and heather from the hill set in china vases about it. The room where the old folk dwelt at Craig Ronald was fresh within as is the dew on sweetbrier. Fresh, too, was the apparel of her grandmother, the flush of youth yet on her delicate cheek, though the Psalmist's limit had long been passed for her.
As Winsome looked within,
‘Are ye not sleeping, grandmother?’ she said.
The old lady looked up with a resentful air.
‘Sleepin'! The lassie's gane gyte! [out of her senses]. What for wad I be sleepin' in the afternune? An' me wi' the care o' yer gran'faither—sic a handling, him nae better nor a bairn, an' you a bit feckless hempie wi' yer hair fleeing like the tail o' a twa- year-auld cowt! [colt]. Sleepin' indeed! Na, sleepin's nane for me!’
The young girl came up and put her arms about her grandmother.
‘That's rale unceevil o' ye, noo, Granny Whitemutch!’ she said, speaking in the coaxing tones to which the Scots' language lends itself so easily, ‘an' it's just because I hae been sae lang at the blanket-washin', seein' till that hizzy Meg. An' ken ye what I saw!-ane o' the black dragoons in full retreat, grannie; but he left his camp equipage ahint him, as the sergeant said when—Ye ken the story, grannie. Ye maun hae been terrible bonny in thae days!’
‘'Deed I'm nane sae unbonny yet, for a' yer helicat flichtmafleathers, sprigget goons, an' laylac bonnets,’ said the old lady, shaking her head till the white silk top-knots trembled. ‘No, nor I'm nane sae auld nayther. The gudeman in the corner there, he's auld and dune gin'ye like, but no me—no me! Gin he warna spared to me, I could even get a man yet,’ continued the lively old lady, ‘an' whaur wad ye be then, my lass, I wad like to ken?’
‘Perhaps I could get one too, grannie,’ she said. And she shook her head with an air of triumph. Winsome kissed her grandmother gently on the brow.
‘Nane o' yer Englishy tricks an' trokin's,’ said she, settling the white muslin band which she wore across her brow wrinkleless and straight, where it had been disarrayed by the onslaught of her impulsive granddaughter.
‘Aye,’ she went on, stretching out a hand which would have done credit to a great dame, so white and slender was it in spite of the hollows which ran into a triangle at the wrist, and the pale- blue veins which the slight wrinkles have thrown into relief.
‘An' I mind the time when three o' his Majesty's officers—nane o' yer militia wi' horses that rin awa' wi' them ilka time they gang oot till exerceese, but rale sodgers wi' sabre-tashies to their heels and spurs like pitawtie dreels. Aye, sirs, but that was before I married an elder in the Kirk o' the Marrow. I wasna twenty-three when I had dune wi' the gawds an' vanities o' this wicked world.’
‘I saw a minister lad the day—a stranger,’ said Winsome, very quietly.
‘Sirce me,’ returned her grandmother briskly; ‘kenned I e'er the like o' ye, Winifred Chayrteris, for licht-heedit-ness an' lack o' a' common sense! Saw a minister an' ne'er thocht, belike, o' sayin' cheep ony mair nor if he had been a wutterick [weasel]. An' what like was he, na? Was he young, or auld—or no sae verra auld, like mysel'? Did he look like an Establisher by the consequence o' the body, or—’
‘But, grannie dear, how is it possible that I should ken, when all that I saw of him was but his coat-tails? It was him that was running away.’
‘My certes,’ said grannie, ‘but the times are changed since my day! When I was as young as ye are the day it wasna sodger or minister ayther that wad hae run frae the sicht o' me. But a minister, and a fine, young-looking man, I think ye said,’ continued Mistress Walter Skirving anxiously.
‘Indeed, grandmother, I said nothing—’ began Winsome.
‘Haud yer tongue, Deil's i' the lassie, he'll be comin' here. Maybes he's comin' up the loan this verra meenit. Get me my best kep [cap], the French yin o' Flanders lawn trimmed wi' Valenceenes lace that Captain Wildfeather, of his Majesty's—But na, I'll no think o' thae times, I canna bear to think o' them wi' ony complaisance ava. But bring me my kep—haste ye fast, lassie!’
Obediently Winsome went to her grandmother's bedroom and drew from under the bed the ‘mutch’ box lined with pale green paper, patterned with faded pink roses. She did not smile when she drew it out. She was accustomed to her grandmother's ways. She too often felt the cavalier looking out from under her Puritan teaching; for the wild strain of the Gordon blood held true to its kind, and Winsome's grandmother had been a Gordon at Lochenkit, whose father had ridden with Kenmure in the great rebellion.
When she brought the white goffered mutch with its plaits and puckers, granny tried it on in various ways, Winsome meanwhile holding a small mirror before her.
‘As I was sayin', I renounced thinkin' aboot the vanities o' youth langsyne. Aye, it'll be forty years sin'—for ye maun mind that I was marriet whan but a lassie. Aye me, it's forty-five years since Ailie Gordon, as I was then, wed wi' Walter Skirving o' Craig Ronald (noo o' his ain chammer neuk, puir man, for he'll never leave it mair),’ added she with a brisk kind of acknowledgment towards the chair of the semi-paralytic in the corner.
There silent and unregarding Walter Skirving sat—a man still splendid in frame and build, erect in his chair, a shawl over his knees even in this day of fervent heat, looking out dumbly on the drowsing, humming world of broad, shadowless noonshine, and often also on the equable silences of the night.
‘No that I regret it the day, when he is but the name o' the man he yince was. For fifty years since there was nae lad like Walter Skirving cam into Dumfries High Street frae Stewartry or frae Shire. No a fit in buckled shune sae licht as his, his weel-shapit leg covered wi' the bonny 'rig-an'-fur' stockin' that I knitted mysel' frae the cast on o' the ower-fauld to the bonny white forefit that sets aff the blue sae weel. Walter Skirving could button his knee-breeks withoot bendin' his back—that nane could do but the king's son himsel'; an' sic a dancer as he was afore guid an' godly Maister Cauldsowans took hand o' him at the tent, wi' preachin' a sermon on booin' the knee to Baal. Aye, aye, its a' awa'—an' its mony the year I thocht on it, let alane thocht on wantin' back thae days o' vanity an' the pride o' sinfu' youth!’
‘Tell me about the officer men, granny,’ said Winsome.
‘'Deed wull I no. It wad be mair tellin' ye gin ye were learnin' yer Caritches’ [Westminster Catechism].
‘But, grandmammy dear, I thought that you said that the officer men ran away from you—’
‘Hear till her! Rin frae me? Certes, ye're no blate. They cam' frae far an' near to get a word wi' me. Na, there was nae rinnin' frae a bonny lass in thae days. Weel, there was three o' them; an' they cam' ower the hill to see the lasses, graund in their reed breeks slashed wi' yellow. An' what for no, they war his Majesty's troopers; an' though nae doot they had been on the wrang side o' the dyke, they were braw chiels for a' that!’
‘An' they cam' to see you, granny?’ asked Winsome, who approved of the subject.
‘What else—but they got an unco begunk. Ye see, my faither had bocht an awfu' thrawn young bull at the Dumfries fair, an' he had been gaun gilravagin' aboot; an' whaur should the contrary beast betak' himsel' to but into the Roman camp on Craig Ronald bank, where the big ditch used to be? There we heard him routin' for three days till the cotmen fand him i' the hinderend, an' poo'ed him oot wi' cart-rapes. But when he got oot—certes, but he was a wild beast! He got at Jock Hinderlands afore he could climb up a tree; an', fegs, he gaed up a tree withoot clim'in', I'se warrant, an' there he hung, hanket by the waistband o' his breeks, baa-haain' for his minnie to come and lift him doon, an' him as muckle a clampersome hobbledehoy as ever ye saw!
‘Then what did Carlaverock Jock do but set his heid to a yett and ding it in flinders; fair fire-wood he made o't; an' sae, rampagin' into the meadow across whilk,’ continued the old lady, with a rising delight in her eye, ‘the three cavalry men were comin' to see me, wi' the spurs on them jangling clear. Reed breeks did na suit Jock's taste at the best o' times, and he had no been brocht up to countenance yellow facin's. So the three braw King George's sodgers that had dune sic graund things at Waterloo took the quickest road through the meadow. Captain St. Clair, he trippit on his sword, an' was understood to cry oot that he had never eaten beef in his life. Ensign Withershins threw his shako ower his shoother and jumpit intil the water, whaur he expressed his opinion o' Carlaverock Jock stan'in' up to his neck in Luckie Mowatt's pool—the words I dinna juist call to mind at this present time, which, indeed, is maybe as weel; but it was Lieutenant Lichtbody, o' his Majesty's Heavy Dragoons, that cam' aff at the waurst. He made for the stane dyke, the sven-fite march dyke that rins up the hill, ye ken. Weel, he made as if he wad mak' ower it, but Boreland'a big Heelant bull had heard the routin' o' his friend Carlaverock Jock, an' was there wi' his horns spread like a man keppin' yowes]. Aye, my certes!’ here the old lady paused, overcome by the humour of her recollections, laughing in her glee a delightfully catching and mellow laugh, in which Winsome joined.
‘Sae there was my braw beau, Lieutenant Lichtbody, sittin' on his hunkers on the dyke tap girnin' at Carlaverock Jock an' the Boreland Hielantman on baith sides o' him, an' tryin' tae hit them ower the nose wi' the scabbard o' his sword, for the whinger itsel' had drappit oot in what ye micht ca' the forced retreat. It was bonny, bonny to see; an' whan the three cam' up the loanin' the neist day, 'Sirs,' I said, 'I'm thinkin' ye had better be gaun. I saw Carlaverock Jock the noo, fair tearin' up the greensward. It wudna be bonny gin his Majesty's officers had twice to mak' sae rapid a march to the rear—an' you, Lieutenant Lichtbody, canna hae a'thegither gotten the better o' yer lang sederunt on the tap o' the hill dyke. It's a bonny view that ye had. It was a peety that ye had forgotten yer perspective glasses.'
‘And wad ye believe it, lassie, the threesome turned on the braid o'their fit an' marched doon the road withoot as muckle as Fair- guid-e'en or Fair-guid-day!’
‘And what said ye, grannie dear?’ said Winsome, who sat on a low seat looking up at her granny.
‘O lassie, I juist set my braid hat ower my lug wi' the bonny white cockade intil't an' gied them 'The Wee, Wee German Lairdie' as they gaed doon the road, an' syne on the back o't:
‘'Awa,Whigs,awa'! Ye're but a pack——'’
But the great plaid-swathed figure of Winsome's grandfather turned at the words of the long-forgotten song as though waking from a deep sleep. A slumberous fire gleamed momentarily in his eye.
‘Woman,’ he said, ‘hold your peace; let not these words be heard in the house of Walter Skirving!’
Having thus delivered himself, the fire faded out of his eyes dead as black ashes; he turned to the window, and lost himself again in meditation, looking with steady eyes across the ocean of sunshine which flooded the valley beneath.
His wife gave him no answer. She seemed scarce to have heard the interruption. But Winsome went across and pulled the heavy plaid gently off her grandfather's shoulder. Then she stood quietly by him with one hand upon his head and with the other she gently stroked his brow. A milder light grew in his dull eye, and he put up his hand uncertainly as if to take hers.
‘But what for should I be takin' delicht in speakin' o' thae auld unsanctified regardless days,’ said her grandmother, ‘that 'tis mony a year since I hae ta'en ony pleesure in thinkin' on? Gae wa', ye hempie that ye are!’ she cried, turning with a sudden and uncalled-for sparkle of temper on her granddaughter; ‘There's nae time an' little inclination in this hoose for yer flichty conversation. I wonder muckle that yer thouchts are sae set on the vanities o' young men. And such are all that delight in them.’ She went on somewhat irrelevantly, ‘Did not godly Maister Cauldsowans redd up the doom o' such—'all desirable young men riding upon horses—'
‘An' I'll gae redd up the dairy, an' kirn the butter, grannie!’ said Winsome Charteris, breaking in on the flow of her grandmother's reproaches.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.