THE CURATE OF DALRY
When I returned to Earlstoun I found the house in sad disorder. Maisie Lennox I found not, for she had ridden to the Duchrae to meet her father and to keep the house, which had had some unwonted immunity lately because of the friendship of the McGhies of Balmaghie. For old Roger McGhie was a King's man and in good favour, though he never went far from home. But only patrolled his properties, lundering such Whigs as came his way with a great staff, but tenderly withal and mostly for show. His daughter Kate, going the way of most women folk, was the bitterest Whig and most determined hearer of the field-preachers in the parish. Concerning which her father full well knew, but could neither alter nor mend, even as Duke Rothes himself could not change his lady's liking. Yet for Kate McGhie's sake the hunt waxed easier in all the headend of Balmaghie. And during this lown blink, old Anton came home from the hills to take the comforts of the bien and comfortable house of the Duchrae, for it promised to be a bitter and unkindly season. So the Earlstoun looked a little bare without Maisie Lennox, and I was glad that I was to be but a short time in it.
For another thing, the soldiers had been before me, and by order of the Council had turned the whole gear and plenishing over to find my brother Alexander—which indeed seeing what he had done at Bothwell, we can hardly wonder at. Even the intervention of our well-affected cousin of Lochinvar could not prevent this. The horses were driven away, the cattle lifted to be provender for the King's forces in the parish of Carsphairn and elsewhere. And it would go hard with us—if indeed we should even be permitted to keep the place that had been ours for generations.
My mother was strongly advised that, as I had not been mixed with the outbreaks, it was just scant possible that I might make something of an appeal to the Privy Council for the continuing of the properties, and the substituting of a fine. I was therefore to ride to Edinburgh with what attendance I could muster, and with Wat Gordon of Lochinvar to lead me as a bairn by the hand.
But it was with a sad heart and without much pleasure, save in having my father's silver mounted pistols (for I counted myself no mean marksman), that John Meiklewood, Hughie and I rode off from the arched door of the Earlstoun. My mother stood on the step and waved me off with no tear in her eye; and even poor Jean Hamilton, from the window whence she could see the great oak where my brother, her husband, was in hiding, caused a kerchief to show white against the grey wall of Earlstoun. I think the poor feckless bit thing had a sort of kindness for me. But when there was hardly the thickness of an eggshell between her man and death, it was perhaps small wonder that she cherished some jealousy of me, riding whither I listed over the wide, pleasant moors where the bumble bees droned and the stooping wild birds cried all the livelong day.
At St. John's Clachan of Dalry we were to meet with Wildcat Wat, who was waiting to ride forth with us to Edinburgh upon his own ploys. We dismounted at the inn where John Barbour, honest man, had put out the sign of his profession. It was a low, well-thatched change-house, sitting with its end to the road in the upper part of the village, with good offices and accommodation for man and horse about it—the same hostel indeed in which the matter of Rullion Green took its beginning. Wat came down the street with his rapier swinging at his side, his feathered Cavalier hat on his head, and he walked with a grace that became him well. I liked the lad, and sometimes it almost seemed to me that I might be his father, though indeed our years were pretty equal. For being lame and not a fighter, neither craving ladies' favours, I was the older man, for the years of them that suffer score the lines deeper on a man's brow—and on his heart also.
When Wat Gordon mounted into the saddle with an easy spring his horse bent back its head and curveted, biting at his foot. So that I rejoiced to see the brave lad sitting like a dart, holding his reins as I hold my pen, and resting his other hand easily on his thigh. John Scarlet, his man-at-arms, mounted and rode behind him; and when I saw them up, methought there was not a pair that could match them in Scotland. Yet I knew that with the pistolets at paces ten or twenty, I was the master of both. And perhaps it was this little scrap of consolation that made me feel so entirely glad to see my cousin look so bright and bonny. Indeed had I been his lass—or one of them, for if all tales be true he had routh of such—I could not have loved better to see him shine in the company of men like the young god Apollo among the immortals, as the heathens feign.
At the far end of the village there came one out of a white house and saluted us. I knew him well, though I had never before seen him so near. It was Peter McCaskill, the curate of the parish. But, as we of the strict Covenant did not hear even the Indulged ministers, it was not likely that we would see much of the curate. Nevertheless I had heard many tales of his sayings and his humours, for our curate was not as most others—dull and truculent knaves many of them, according to my thinking—the scourings of the North. Peter was, on the other hand, a most humoursome varlet and excellent company on a wet day. Sandy and he used often to take a bottle together when they foregathered at John's in the Clachan; but even the Bull of Earlstoun could not keep steeks or count mutchkins with Peter McCaskill, the curate of Dalry.
On this occasion he stopped and greeted us. He had on him a black coat of formal enough cut, turned green with age and exposure to the weather. I warrant it had never been brushed since he had put it on his back, and there seemed good evidence upon it that he had slept in it for a month at least.
‘Whaur gang ye screeving to, young sirs, so brave?’ he cried. ‘Be canny on the puir Whiggies. Draw your stick across their hurdies when ye come on them, an' tell them to come to the Clachan o' Dalry, where they will hear a better sermon than ever they gat on the muirs, or my name's no Peter McCaskill.’
‘How now, Curate,’ began my cousin, reining in his black and sitting at ease, ‘are you going to take to the hill and put Peden's nose out of joint?’
‘Faith, an' it's my mither's ain son that could fettle that,’ said the curate. ‘I'm wae for the puir Whiggies, that winna hear honest doctrine an' flee to the hills and hags—nesty, uncanny, cauldrife places that the very muir-fowl winna clock on. Ken ye what I was tellin' them the ither day? Na, ye'll no hae heard—it's little desire ye hae for either kirk or Covenant, up aboot the Garryhorn wi' red-wud Lag and headstrong John Graham. Ye need as muckle to come and hear Mess John pray as the blackest Whig o' them a'!’
‘Indeed, we do not trouble you much, Curate,’ laughed my cousin; ‘but here is my cousin Will of Earlstoun,’ he said, waving his hand to me, ‘and he is nearly as good as a parson himself, and can pray by screeds.’
Which was hardly a just thing to say, for though I could pray and read my Bible too when I listed, I did not trouble him or any other with the matter. Cain, indeed, had something to say for himself—for it is a hard thing to be made one's brother's keeper. There are many ways that may take me to the devil. But, I thank God, officiousness in other men's matters shall not be one of them.
‘He prays, does he?’ quoth McCaskill, turning his shaggy eyebrows on me. ‘Aweel, I'll pray him ony day for a glass o' John's best. Peter McCaskill needs neither read sermon nor service-book. He leaves sic-like at hame, and the service ye get at his kirk is as guid and godly as gin auld Sandy himsel' were stelled up in a preaching tent an' thretty wizzened plaided wives makkin' a whine in the heather aneath!’
‘How do you and the other Peter up the way draw together?’ asked my cousin.
The curate snapped his fingers.
‘Peter Pearson o' Carsphairn—puir craitur, he's juist fair daft wi' his ridin' an' his schemin'. He will hear a pluff o' pouther gang blaff at his oxter some fine day, that he'll be the waur o'! An' sae I hae telled him mony's the time. But Margate McCaskill's son is neither a Whig hunter nor yet as this daft Peter Pearson. He bides at hame an' minds his glebe. But for a' that I canna control the silly fowk. I was fearin' them the ither day,’ he went on. ‘I gied it oot plain frae the pulpit that gin they didna come as far as the kirkyaird at ony rate, I wad tak' no more lees on my conscience for their sakes. I hae plenty o' my ain to gar me fry. 'But,' says I, 'I'll report ye as attendin' the kirk, gin ye walk frae yae door o' the kirk to the ither withoot rinnin'. Nae man can say fairer nor that.’
‘An' what said ye next, Curate?’ asked my cousin, for his talk amused us much, and indeed there were few merry things in these sad days.
‘Ow,’ said Peter McCaskill, ‘I juist e'en said to them, 'Black be your fa'. Ye are a' off to the hills thegither. Hardly a tyke or messan but's awa' to Peden to get her whaulpies named at the Holy Linn! But I declare to ye a', what will happen in this parish. Sorra gin I dinna inform on ye, an' then ye'll be a' eyther shot or hangit before Yule!' That's what I said to them!’
Wat Gordon laughed, and I was fain to follow suit, for it was a common complaint that the curate of Dalry was half a Whig himself. And, indeed, had he not been ever ready to drink a dozen of Clavers's officers under the table, and clout the head of the starkest carle in his troop, it might have gone ill with him more than once.
‘But I hae a bit sma' request to make of ye, Walter Gordon o' Lochinvar an' Gordiestoun,’ said the curate.
‘Haste ye,’ said Wat, ‘for ye hae taigled us overly long already.’
‘An' it's this,’ said the curate, ‘I hae to ride to Edinburgh toon, there to tell mair lees than I am likely to be sained o' till I am a bishop an' can lee wi' a leecence. But it's the Privy Council's wull, an' sae I maun e'en lee. That tearin' blackguard, Bob Grier, has written to them that I am better affected to the Whigs than to the troopers of Garryhorn, and I am behoved to gang and answer for it.’
‘Haste ye, then, and ride with us,’ cried Walter, whose horse had stood long enough. ‘We ride toward the Nith with Colonel Graham, and after that to Edinburgh.’
So in a little the curate was riding stoutly by our side. We were to travel by Dumfries and Lockerbie into Eskdale, whither Claverhouse had preceded us, obeying an urgent call from his acquaintance, Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, who was still more eager to do the King's will than he—though, to begin with, he had been a Covenant man, and that of some mark too. But the fear of fines, and the bad example of his neighbours ever before his eyes, had brought out the hidden cruelty of the man. So now he rode at Claverhouse's bridle-rein, and the pair of them held black counsel on the state of the country. But the mood of Claverhouse was, at worst, only that of military severity, without heart of ruth or bowels of mercy indeed; but that of Westerhall was rather of roystering and jubilant brutality, both of action and intent.
So we rode and we better rode till we came to Eskdale, where we found Westerhall in his own country. Now I could see by the behaviour of the soldiers as we went, that some of them had small good will to the kind of life they led, for many of them were of the country-side and, as it seemed, were compelled to drive and harry their own kith and kin. This they covered with a mighty affectation of ease, crying oaths and curses hither and thither tempestuously behind their leaders—save only when John Graham rode near by, a thing which more than anything made them hold their peace, lest for discipline's sake he should bid them be silent, with a look that would chill their marrows.
THE FIELD OF BOTHWELL BRIG
‘Gentlemen,’ cried a stern, calm voice, ‘gentlemen, is it thus that ye amuse yourselves when ye are upon the King's service?’
I turned about, and lo! it was the voice of John Graham of Claverhouse, high-pitched to the carrying note of command—of the man whom all the South and West knew then as the great persecutor, and all the North afterwards as the great captain who stood for his master when all the others forsook him and fled. I admit that my heart beat suddenly feeble before him, and as for my lads who were with me, I think they gave themselves up for dead men. Though slender and not tall, Clavers nevertheless looked noble upon the black horse which had carried him at a gallop down the burnside from Garryhorn. His eyes were full of fire, his bearing of gallantry. Yet methought there was something relentless about the man—something that friend might one day feel the bite of as well as foe. For this was the man who, at his master's word, was now driving Scotland before him as sheep are driven into buchts on the hillside. But Scotland did not easily take to praying according to Act of Parliament, and I minded the witty old gentlewoman's word to Claverhouse himself, ‘Knox didna win his will without clavers, an' aiblins Clavers winna get his withoot knocks.’ It was a witty saying and a true, and many a day I lay in the moss-hags and wished that I had said it.
Yet I think we of the Ancient Province never felt so keenly the bitterness of his oppression, though mostly it was without bowels of mercy, as we did the riding and driving of Robert Grier of Lag, of Douglas of Morton, of Queensberry and Drumlanrig, that were of ourselves—familiar at our tables, and oft times near kinsmen as well.
What John Graham did in the way of cess and exaction, and even of shooting and taking, was in some measure what we had taken our count and reckoning with. But that men who knew our outgoings and incomings, our strengths and fastnesses, who had companied with us at kirk and market, should harry us like thieves, made our hearts wondrously hot and angry within us. For years I never prayed without making it a petition that I might get a fair chance at Robert Grier—if it were the Lord's will. And indeed it is not yet too late.
But it was Claverhouse that had come across us now.
‘You would kill more King's men!’ he cried to Wat Gordon; ‘you that have come hither to do your best to undo the treason of your forebears. My lad, that is the way to get your head set on the Netherbow beside your father's. Are there no man-sworn Whigs in the West that true men must fall to hacking one another?’
He turned upon Inglis as fiercely:
‘Cornet, are you upon duty? By what right do you fall to brawling with an ally of the country? Have we overly many of them in this accursed land, where there are more elephants and crocodiles in Whig-ridden Galloway than true men on whom the King may rely?’
But Inglis said never a word, being pale from the draining of his wound. I looked for him to denounce me as a rebel and a spy; but he was wholly silent, for the man after all was a man.
‘How began ye this brawling?’ quoth Claverhouse, looking from one to the other of them, minding me no more than I had been a tripping hedge-sparrow.
‘We had a difference, and cast up our fathers to one another,’ at last said Inglis, half sullenly.
‘It were best to let fathers a-be when you ride on his Majesty's outpost duty, Cornet Inglis. But you are wounded. Fall out and have your hurt examined.’
‘It is a flea-bite,’ quoth Peter Inglis, stoutly.
‘A man this!’ thought I. For I loved courage.
Yet nevertheless, he dismounted, and John Scarlet helped him off with his coat upon the short heather of the brae-face.
‘And whom may we have here?’ cried Claverhouse, as Inglis went stumblingly to the hillside upon the arm of John Scarlet. He turned his fine dark eyes full upon me as he spoke, and I thought that I had never seen any man look so handsome. Yet, for all that, fear of the great enemy of our house and cause sat cold in my vitals. Though I deny not that his surpassing beauty of person took my eye as though I had been a woman—the more perhaps because I had little enough of my own.
But my kinsman Wat Gordon was no whit dismayed. He dusted his silken doublet front, swept his white-feathered hat in the air in reverence, and introduced me to the formidable captain as one that has good standing and knows it well:
‘My cousin, William Gordon, younger son of the House of Earlstoun!’
‘Ah,’ said Claverhouse, smiling upon me not so ill-pleased, ‘I have heard of him—the home stayer, the nest-egg. He that rode not to Bothwell with 'the Earl’ and 'the Bull.' Whither rides he now thus early?’
‘He rides, Colonel Graham, to bury his father.’
I thought my cousin was too bold thus to blurt out my mission, to the chief of them that had killed him whom I went to seek, but he was wiser than I in this matter.
Claverhouse smiled, and looked from the one to the other of us.
‘You Gordons have your own troubles to get your fathers buried,’ he said. ‘I suppose you will claim that this cub also is a good King's man?’
‘He is well affected, colonel,’ said Lochinvar gaily; ‘and there are none too many likeminded with him in these parts!’
‘Even the affectation does him monstrous credit,’ quoth Clavers, clapping Walter on the shoulder; ‘it is much for a Gordon in this country to affect such a virtue as loyalty. I wonder,’ he went on, apparently to himself, ‘if it would be possible to transplant you Gordons, that are such arrant rebels here and so loyal in the North. It were well for the land if this could be done. In the North a few dozen Whigs would do small harm; here ten score King's men melled and married would settle the land and keep the King's peace.’
Then he looked at my cousin with a certain uncommon gracious affection that sat well on him—all the more that he showed such a thing but rarely.
‘Well, Wat, for your sake let young Earlstoun go bury his father in peace, an’ it likes him. The more Whigs buried the better pleased will John Graham be. If he will only bury his brother also when he is about it, he will rid the earth of a very pestilent fellow!’
‘There is no great harm in Sandy,’ returned Lochinvar briskly and easily. From his whole demeanour I saw that he was in good estimation with Colonel Graham, and was accustomed to talk familiarly with him.
Perhaps the reason was that Claverhouse found himself much alone in Galloway. When he ordered a muster of the lairds and the well affected, only Grier of Lag and Fergusson of Craigdarroch came in, and even they brought but few at their back. Then again these rough-riding, hard drinkers of Nithside had little in common with John Graham. But Lochinvar was well trained by his mother, and had been some time about the court. It was, doubtless, a relief to the high-bred soldier to speak to him after the foul oaths and scurril jests of the country cavaliers.
‘Why,’ said Claverhouse, ‘as you say, there is no great harm in Sandy; but yet Sandy hath a stout arm and can lay well about him when it comes to the dunts. Sandy's arm is stronger than Sandy's wit.’
All this time I had not spoken, for so with a look my cousin Lochinvar had warned me to let him speak for me; but now I broke the silence.
‘I am obliged to you, Colonel Graham,’ I said, ‘for your permission to go and bury my dead.’
‘Ay,’ said Claverhouse, with a certain courteous disdain that was natural to him, but which he dropped when he spoke to the young Lochinvar, ‘ay, you are no doubt greatly obliged to me; but your father, though a rebel, fought us fairly and deserves clean burial. A Whig is aye best buried at any rate,’ he continued, gathering up his reins as one that prepares to ride away.
‘Lochinvar,’ he cried, in his voice of command, ‘take Cornet Inglis's post and duty, since you have disabled him. But mark me well, let there be no more tullying and brawling, or I shall send you all to bridewell. Hark you, young Wullcat of Lochinvar, I cannot have my officers cut up when they should be hunting Whigs—and’ (looking at me) ‘preparing them for burial.’
I think he saw the hatred in my eyes, when he spoke thus of my father lying stiff at a dyke back, for he lifted his hat to me quaintly as he went.
‘A good journey to you, and a fair return, young Castle Keeper!’ he said with a scorning of his haughty lip.
Yet I think that he had been greater and worthier had he denied himself that word to a lad on my errand.
Of our further progress what need that I tell? Hour after hour I heard the horses' feet ring on the road dully, as though I had been deep underground myself, and they trampling over me with a rush. It irked me that it was a fine day and that my men, Hugh Kerr and John Meiklewood, would not cease to speak with me. But all things wear round, and in time we came to the place, where one had told Sandy as he fled that he had seen William Gordon of Earlstoun lie stark and still.
There indeed we found my father lying where he had fallen in the angle of a great wall, a mile or two south of the field of Bothwell. He had no fewer than six wounds from musket balls upon him. As I looked I could see the story of his end written plain for the dullest to read. He had been beset by a party of dragoons in the angle of a great seven-foot march dyke in which there was no break. They summoned him to surrender. He refused, as I knew he would; and, as his manner was, he had risked all upon a single-handed charge.
As we heard afterwards, he had come at the troopers with such fury that he killed three and wounded another, besides slaying the horse that lay beside him, before, with a storm of bullets, they stopped him in his charge. Thus died, not unworthily, even while I was bringing in the kye in the evening at Earlstoun, William Gordon, a father of whom, in life and death, no son need be ashamed.
And where we found him, there we buried him, wrapping him just as he was, in the shrouds my mother had sent for her well-beloved. Hugh Kerr was for taking his sword out of his hand to keep at home as an heirloom. But I thought no. For his hand was stiffened upon it where the blood had run down his wrist. And besides, it had been his friend while he lived and when he died, and it was hard to part him with that which had been to him as the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. So we buried his sword and him together, laying the little red Bible, stained and spotted with his blood, open upon his breast. Then we happed him up, and I, who could at that time fight but little, put up a short prayer over him—though not, of course, like a minister, or one bred to the trade. And I thought as I rode away that it was better to leave him the sword, than that Sandy should get it to prate about at his general meetings. Even as it was he could not let him be, but in the after days of quiet he must have him up to coffin him, and bury in the kirkyard of Glassford. Yet to do Sandy justice, he had the grace to leave him the sword in his hand.
Now my father had not fallen on the battlefield itself, but rather when hastening thither, for indeed he never saw the bridge, nor had hand in the guiding of the host, whose blood Robert Hamilton poured out as one that pours good wine upon the ground.
Yet because we were so near, we risked the matter and rode over to see the narrow passage of the Bridge where they had fought it so stoutly all day long. Here and there lay dead men yet unburied; but the countrymen were gradually putting the poor bodies in the earth. Some of them lay singly, but more in little clusters where they set their backs desperately to one another, and had it out with their pursuers that they might die fighting and not running. Still the pursuit had not been unmerciful, for there were few that had fallen beyond the long avenues of the Palace oaks.
But when we came to the banks of the river, and looked down upon the bridge-head we saw the very grass dyed red, where the men had been shot down. And on the brae-sides where Hamilton had drawn them up when he called them from the bridge-end, they had fallen in swathes like barley. But it was not a heartsome sight, and we turned our rein and rode away, weary and sad within.
THE CLASH OF SWORDS
The two sat fronting one another on their horses. Inglis was the older and more firmly set man. But Wat of Lochinvar was slender and lithe as a bow that has not been often bent and quivers to the straight. It was a curious sight to see them passaging with little airs and graces, like fighting cocks matched in a pit.
The soldiers stood indifferently around. A pair of dragoons patrolled, turning and crossing as if on parade, within earshot of the quarrel of their officers. It was the first time I had ever seen what discipline meant. And in a moment I learned why they had broken us at Bothwell and Rullion Green. For I have heard my brother Sandy say that at any time in the Covenanting host, had three drawn together and spoken like men that are hot in questioning, the whole army would have run from their posts to hear and to take part in the controversy. But all the while these dragoons kept their noses pointing in the straight of their necks, and fronted and wheeled like machines. It was, in fact, none of their business if their officers cut each others' throats. But they knew that one John Graham would assuredly make it his business if they omitted their military service.
‘Cornet Inglis,’ said Lochinvar, doffing lightly his feathered hat that had the King's colours in it, ‘hearken ye well. This is my cousin Will of Earlstoun, who took no part with his kin in the late rebellion, as I took no part with mine, but instead abode at home in peace. I require you to let him go upon his errand. I myself will be answerable for him to Colonel Graham of Claverhouse. After that we can arrange our little matter as to favour and its causes.’
There was a keen leaping light in my cousin Wat's blue eyes, the light that I afterwards grew to know as the delight of battle. He was waxing coldly angry. For me I grow dourly silent as I become angered. My brother Sandy grows red and hot, but Wullcat Wat was of those more dangerous men to whom deadly anger, when it comes, at once quickens the pulses and stills the nerves.
‘Think not I am afraid of a traitor's son, or of any of the name of Lochinvar,’ quoth Inglis, who was indeed no coward when once he had taken up a quarrel; ‘after all, ye are all no better than a bow-o'-meal-Gordon!’
It was the gage of battle. After that there was no more to be said. To call a man of our name ‘a-bow-o'-meal-Gordon’ is equal to saying that he has no right to the name he bears. For it is said that a certain Lochinvar, wanting retainers to ride at his back, offered a snug holding and so many bolls of meal yearly to any lusty youth who would marry on his land, take his name, and set himself like a worthy sworder to breed well-boned loons to carry in their turns the leathern jack.
At the taunt, swift as flame Wat of Lochinvar rode nearer to his enemy on his quick-turning well-mouthed horse, and drawing the leather gauntlet through his fingers till the fingers were striped narrow like whip lashes, he struck Inglis with it upon the cheek.
‘My father's head,’ he cried, ‘may be on the Netherbow. He had his way of thinking and died for it. I have mine and may die for it in my time. But in the meantime Lochinvar's son is not to be flouted by the son of a man who cried with all parties and hunted with none.’
Two swords flashed into the air together, the relieved scabbards jingling back against the horses' sides. The basket hilt of that of Cornet Inglis had the cavalry tassel swinging to it, while the crossbar and simple Italian guard of Wat Gordon's lighter weapon seemed as if it must instantly be beaten down by the starker weapon of the dragoon. But as they wheeled their horses on guard with a touch of the bridle hand, I saw John Scarlet, Wat's master of fence, flash a look at his scholar's guard-sword. Wat used an old-fashioned shearing-sword, an ancient blade which, with various hilt devices, many a Gordon of Lochinvar had carried when he ruffled it in court and hall. I caught John Scarlet's look of satisfaction, and judged that he anticipated no danger to one whom he had trained, from a fighter at haphazard like Cornet Peter Inglis. But yet the dragoon was no tyro, for he had proved himself in many a hard-stricken fray.
So without a word they fell to it. And, by my faith, it made a strange picture on the grassy track which wound itself through these wilds, to see the glossy black of Wat Gordon's charger front the heavier weight of the King's man's grey.
At the first crossing of the swords, the style of the two men was made evident. That of Inglis was the simpler. He fought most like a practical soldier, with the single purpose of making his adversary feel the edge of his weapon; while Wat, lighter and lither, had all the parade and pomp of the schools.
Lochinvar depended on a low tierce guard with a sloping point, and reined his horse near, that his enemy might be prevented from closing with him on his left, or side of disadvantage. The dragoon used the simpler hanging guard and pressed upon his adversary with plain dour weight of steel.
At the first clash of the iron the horses heaved their heads, and down from the hillside above there came a faint crying as of shepherds to their flocks. But the combatants were too intent to take notice. John Scarlet reined his horse at the side, his head a little low set between his shoulders, and his eyes following every thrust and parry with a glance like a rapier.
For the first five minutes Inglis tried all his powers of battering upon Wat Gordon's lighter guard, his heavy cavalry sword beating and disengaging with the fellest intent. He fought with a still and lip-biting fury. He struck to kill, hammering with strong threshing blows; Wat, more like a duellist of the schools—rather, as it seemed, to show his mastery of the weapon. But nevertheless the thin supple blade of the young laird followed every beat and lunge of the heavier iron with speed and certainty. Each moment it seemed as if Wat must certainly be cut down. But his black obeyed the rein at the moment of danger, and his sword twisted round that of his adversary as an adder winds itself about a stick.
More and more angry grew the dragoon, and a grim smile sat intent and watchful on the face of John Scarlet. But he spoke never a word, and the red sentries paced placidly to and fro along the burnside of Garryhorn. More and more wildly Cornet Inglis struck, urging his horse forward to force Lochinvar's black down the hill. But featly and gracefully the lad wheeled and turned, keeping ever his hand in tierce and his blade across his body, slipping and parrying with the utmost calm and ease.
‘Click, click!’ came the noise of the clashing sword-blades, flickering so swiftly that the eye could not follow them. In time Lochinvar found out his opponent's disadvantage, which was in the slower movement of his horse, but to this Inglis responded like a man. He kept his beast turning about within his own length, so that come where he would Wat had no advantage. Yet gradually and surely the dragoon was being tired out. From attacking he fell to guarding, and at last even his parry grew lifeless and feeble. Wat, on the other hand, kept his enemy's blade constantly engaged. He struck with certainty and parried with a light hammering movement that was pretty to watch, even to one who had no skill of the weapon.
At last, wearied with continual check, Inglis leaned too far over his horse's head in a fierce thrust. The beast slipped with the sudden weight, and the dragoon's steel cap went nearly to his charger's neck.
In a moment, seeing his disadvantage, Inglis attempted to recover; but Wat's lighter weapon slid under his guard as he threw his sword hand involuntarily up. It pierced his shoulder, and a darker red followed the steel upon his horseman's coat, as Wat withdrew his blade to be ready for the return. But of this there was no need, for Inglis instantly dropped his hand to his side and another sword suddenly struck up that of Wat Gordon, as the dragoon's heavy weapon clattered upon the stones.
THE CLASH OF WORDS
A doubtful dawn had grown into a chosen day when I saddled in Earlstoun courtyard, to ride past the house of our kinswoman at Lochinvar on a sad and heavy errand. Sandy has betaken himself to his great oak on the border of the policies, where with his skill in forest craft he had built himself a platform among the solidest masses of the leaves. There he abode during the day, with a watch set on the Tod Hill and another on the White Hill above the wood of Barskeoch. Only at the even, when all things were quiet, would he venture to slip down and mix with us about the fire. But he swung himself swiftly back again to his tree by a rope, if any of the dragoons were to be heard of in the neighbourhood.
During all this time it comes back to me how much we grew to depend on Maisie Lennox. From being but ‘Anton Lennox's dochter’ she came to be ‘Meysie, lass’ to my mother, and indeed almost a daughter to her. Once, going to the chamber-door at night to cry ben some message to my mother, I was startled and afraid to hear the sound of sobbing within—as of one crying like a young lass or a bairn, exceedingly painful to hear. I thought that it had been Maisie speaking of her sorrow, and my mother comforting her. But when I listened, though indeed that was not my custom, I perceived that it was my mother who grat and refused to be comforted.
‘O my William!’ she cried, moaning like a child that would sob itself to sleep, ‘I ken, O I ken, I shall never see him mair. He's lyin' cauld and still at the dyke back that yince my airms keepit fast. O thae weary Covenants, thae weary, weary Covenants!’
‘Hush thee, my dawtie, say not so!’ I heard the voice of my cousin Maisie—I could not help but hear it, ‘The Lord calls us to do little for Him oursels, for we are feckless women, an' what can we do? But He bids us gie Him our men-folk, the desire o' our hearts. Brithers hae I gie'n, twa and three, and my last is my father that lies noo amang the moss-hags, as ye ken!’
But again I heard my mother's voice breaking through in a querulous anger.
‘What ken ye, lassie? Brithers and faither, guids and gear, they arena muckle to loose. Ye never lost the man for wha's sake ye left faither an' mither, only just to follow him through the warl'!’
And in the darkness I could hear my mother wail, and Maisie the young lass hushing and clapping her. So, shamed and shaken at heart, I stole away a-tiptoe lest any should hear me, for it was like a crime to listen to what I had heard. But I am forgetting to tell of our riding away.
It was a morning so buoyant that we seemed verily up-borne by the flood of sunlight, like the small birds that glided and sang in our Earlstoun woods. Yet I had small time to think of the beauty of the summer tide, when our father lay unburied at a dyke back, and someone must ride and lay him reverently in the earth.
Sandy could not go—that was plain. He was now head of the house and name. Besides the pursuit was hot upon him. So at my mother's word, I took a pair of decent serving men and wended my way over the hill. And as I went my heart was sore for my mother, who stood at the door to see us go. She had supplied with her own hands all the decent wrappings wherewith to bury my father. Sandy further judged it not prudent to attempt to bring him home. He had gotten a staw of the red soldiers, he said, and wished for that time to see no more of them.
But I that had seen none of them, was hot upon bringing my father to the door to lie among his kin.
‘The driving is like to be brisk enough without that!’ said Sandy.
And my mother never said a word, for now Sandy was the laird, and the head of the house. She even offered to give up the keys to Jean Hamilton, my brother's wife. But for all her peevishness Jean Hamilton knew her place, and put aside her hand kindly.
‘No, mother,’ she said. ‘These be yours so long as it pleases God to keep you in the House of Earlstoun.’
For which I shall ever owe Jean Hamilton a good word and kindly thought.
The names of the two men that went with me were Hugh Kerr and John Meiklewood. They were both decent men with families of their own, and had been excused from following my father and brother on that account.
Now as we went up the hill a sound followed us that made us turn and listen. It was a sweet and charming noise of singing. There, at the door of Earlstoun were my mother and her maidens, gathered to bid us farewell upon our sad journey. It made a solemn melody on the caller morning air, for it was the sound of the burying psalm, and they sang it sweetly. So up the Deuch Water we rode, the little birds making a choir about us, and young tailless thrushes of the year's nesting pulling at reluctant worms on the short dewy knowes. All this I saw and more. For the Lord that made me weak of arm, at least, did not stint me as to glegness of eye.
When we came to where the burn wimples down from Garryhorn, we found a picket of the King's dragoons drawn across the road, who challenged us and made us to stand. Their commander was one Cornet Inglis, a rough and roystering blade. They were in hold at Garryhorn, a hill farm-town belonging to Grier of Lag, whence they could command all the headend of the Kells.
‘Where away so briskly?’ the Cornet cried, as we came riding up the road. ‘Where away, Whigs, without the leave of the King and Peter Inglis?’
I told him civilly that I rode to Carsphairn to do my needs.
‘And what need may you have in Carsphairn, that you cannot fit in Saint John's Clachan of Dalry as well, and a deal nearer to your hand?’
I told him that I went to bury my father.
‘Ay,’ he said, cocking his head quickly aslant like a questing cat that listens at a mouse-hole; ‘and of what quick complaint do fathers die under every green tree on the road to Bothwell? Who might the father of you be, if ye happen to be so wise as to ken?’
‘My father's name was Gordon,’ I said, with much quietness of manner—for, circumstanced as I was, I could none other.
Cornet Inglis laughed a loud vacant laugh when I told him my father's name, which indeed was no name to laugh at when he that owned it was alive. Neither Peter Inglis not yet his uncle had laughed in the face of William Gordon of Earlstoun—ay, though they had been riding forth with a troop behind them.
‘Gordon,’ quoth he, ‘Gordon—a man canna spit in the Glenkens without sploiting on a Gordon—and every Jack o' them a cantin' rebel!’
‘You lie, Peter Inglis—lie in your throat!’ cried a voice from the hillside, quick as an echo. Inglis, who had been hectoring it hand on hip, turned at the word. His black brows drew together and his hand fell slowly till it rested on his sword-hilt. He who spoke so boldly was a lad of twenty, straight as a lance shaft is straight, who rode slowly down from the Garryhorn to join us on the main road where the picket was posted.
It was my cousin and kinsman, Wat Gordon of Lochinvar—a spark of mettle, who in the hour of choosing paths had stood for the King and the mother of him (who was a Douglas of Morton) against the sterner way of his father and forebears.
The Wildcat of Lochinvar they called him, and the name fitted him like his laced coat.
For Wullcat Wat of Lochinvar was the gayest, brightest, most reckless blade in the world. And even in days before his father's capture and execution, he had divided the house with him. He had rallied half the retainers, and ridden to Morton Castle to back his uncle there when the King's interest was at its slackest, and when it looked as if the days of little Davie Crookback were coming back again. At Wat Gordon's back there rode always his man-at-arms, John Scarlet, who had been a soldier in France and also in Brandenburg—and who was said to be the greatest master of fence and cunning man of weapons in all broad Scotland. But it was rumoured that now John Scarlet had so instructed his young master that with any weapon, save perhaps the small sword the young cock could craw crouser than the old upon the same middenstead.
‘I said you lied, Peter Inglis,’ cried Wullcat Wat, turning back the lace ruffle of his silken cuff, for he was as gay and glancing in his apparel as a crested jay-piet. ‘Are ye deaf as well as man-sworn?’
Inglis stood a moment silent; then he understood who his enemy was. For indeed it was no Maypole dance to quarrel with Wat of Lochinvar with John Scarlet swaggering behind him.
‘Did you not hear? I said you lied, man—lied in your throat. Have you aught to say to it, or shall I tell it to Clavers at the table tonight that ye have within you no throat and no man's heart, but only the gullet of a guzzling trencherman?’
‘I said that the Gordons of the Glenkens were traitors. 'Tis a kenned thing,’ answered Inglis, at last mustering up his resolution, ‘but I have no quarrel with you, Wat Gordon, for I know your favour up at Garryhorn—and its cause.’
‘Cause——’ said Wullcat Wat, bending a little forward in his saddle and striping one long gauntlet glove lightly through the palm of the other hand, ‘cause—what knows Peter Inglis of causes? This youth is my cousin of Earlstoun. I answer for him with my life. Let him pass. That is enough of cause for an Inglis to know, when he chances to meet men of an honester name.’
‘He is a rebel and a traitor!’ cried Inglis, ‘and I shall hold him till I get better authority than yours for letting him go. Hear ye that, Wat of Lochinvar!’
SANDY GORDON COMES OVER THE HILL ALL ALONE
The House of Earlstoun sits bonny above the water side, and there are few fairer waters in this land than the Ken water. Also it looks its bonniest in the early morning when the dew is on all sides, and a stillness like the peace of God lies on the place. I do not expect the Kingdom of Heaven very much to surpass Earlstoun on a Sabbath morning in June when the bees are in the roses. And, indeed, I shall be well content with that.
But there was no peace in Earlstoun that morning—no, nor for many a morning to come. I was at the door watching for their coming, before ever a grouse cock stirred among the short brown heather on the side of Ardoch Hill. I told my mother over and over that without doubt Sandy was bringing father home.
‘Gay Garland was aye a reesty beast!’ I said. ‘Doubtless he started when my faither had his foot in the stirrup, and has come hame by himsel'!’
But I said nothing about the finger in the holster.
‘Anither beast micht,’ said my mother, looking wistfully from the little window on the stair, from which she did not stir, ‘but never Gay Garland!’
And right well I knew she spake the truth. Gay Garland had carried my father over long to reest with him at the hinderend.
‘Can ye no see them?’ cried my mother again, from the room where ordinarily she sat.
Even Jean Hamilton, who had been but three years a wife, was not as restless that fair morning of midsummer as my mother, for she had her babe at her breast. In which she was the happier, because when he cried, at least she had something to think about.
Three weeks before, in the midst of the sunny days of that noble June, my father, William Gordon of Airds and Earlstoun, and my elder brother Alexander had ridden away to fight against King Charles. It took a long arm in those days to strive with the Stuarts. And as I saw them ride over the brae with thirty Glenkens blue bonnets at their tail, I knew that I was looking upon the beginning of the ruin of our house. Yet I went and hid my face and raged, because I was not permitted to ride along with them, nor to carry the Banner of Blue which my mother the Lady of Earlstoun, and Jean Hamilton, Sandy's wife, had broidered for them—with words that stirred the heart lettered fair upon it in threads of gold, and an Andrew's cross of white laid on the bonny blue of its folds.
My mother would have added an open Bible on the division beneath, but my father forbade.
‘A sword, gin ye like, but no Bible!’ he said.
So they rode away, and I, that was called William Gordon for my father, clenched hands and wept because that I was not counted worthy to ride with them. But I was never strong, ever since Maisie Lennox and I rode home from the Tinklers' Loup; and my mother said always that she had more trouble at the rearing of me than with all her cleckin'. By which she meant, as one might say, her brood of chickens.
To me my father cried out as he rode out of the yard:
‘Abide, William, and look to your mother—and see that the beasts get their fodder, for you are the master of Earlstoun till I return.’
‘An' ye can help Jean to sew her bairn-clouts!’ cried my brother Sandy, whom we called the Bull, in that great voice of his which could cry from Ardoch to Lochinvar over leagues of heather.
And I, who heard him with the water standing in my eyes because they were going out in their war-gear while I had to bide at home,—could have clouted him with a stone as he sat his horse, smiling and shaving the back of his hand with his Andrea Ferrara to try its edge.
O well ken I that he was a great fighter and Covenant man, and did ten times greater things than I, an ill-grown crowl, can ever lay my name to. But nevertheless, such was the hatred I felt at the time towards him, being my brother and thus flouting me.
But with us, as I have said, there abode our cousin Maisie Lennox from the Duchrae, grown now into a douce and sonsy lass, with hair that was like spun gold when the sun shone upon it. For the rest, her face rather wanted colour, not having in it—by reason of her anxiety for her father, and it may be also by the nature of her complexion—so much of red as the faces of Jean Hamilton and other of our country lasses. But because she was my comrade, I saw naught awanting, nor thought of red or pale, since she was indeed Maisie Lennox and my friend and gossip of these many years.
Also in some sort she had become a companion for my mother, for she had a sedate and dependable way with her, solate and wise beyond her years.
‘She is not like a flichty young body aboot a hoose,’ said my mother.
But in this I differed, yet said nothing. For no one could have been to me what young Maisie of the Duchrae was.
After Sandy and my father had ridden away, and I that was left to keep the house, went about with a hanging head because I had not ridden also, Maisie Lennox grew more than ordinarily kind. Never had a feckless lad like me, such a friend as Maisie of the Duchrae. It was far beyond that love which the maids chatter about, and run out to the stackyard in the gloaming to find—oft to their sorrow, poor silly hempies.
Yet Maisie May and I greeted in the morning without observance, but rather as brothers whom night has not parted. In the day we spoke but seldom, save to ask what might be needful, as the day's darg and duty drifted us together. But at even, standing silent, we watched the light fade from the hills of the west and gather behind those of the east. And I knew that without speech her heart was trying to comfort mine, because I had not been judged worthy to ride for the Covenants with her father and mine, and in especial because Sandy had openly flouted me before her. This was very precious to me and kept up my manhood in mine own eyes—a service far above rubies.
Thus they rode away and left the house of the Earlstoun as empty and unfriendly as a barn in hay harvest. From that day forward we spent as much time looking out over the moor from the house, as we did at our appointed tasks. I have already told of the happenings of the night of the twenty-second of June, and of my mother's strange behaviour—which, indeed, was very far from her wont. For she seldom showed her heart to my father, but rather faulted him and kept him at a stick's end, especially when he came heedlessly into her clean-swept rooms with his great moss-splashed riding-boots.
Of this time I have one thing more to tell. It was between the hours of ten and eleven of the day following this strange night, that my mother, having set all her house maidens to their tasks with her ordinary care and discretion, took down the bake-board and hung the girdle above a clear red fire of peat. Sometimes she did this herself, especially when my father was from home. For she was a master baker, and my father often vowed that he would have her made the deacon of the trade in Dumfries, where he had a house. He was indeed mortally fond of her girdle-cakes, and had wheaten flour ground fine at a distant mill for the purpose of making them.
‘Mary Hope,’ he used to say to her in his daffing way, ‘your scones are better than your father's law. I wonder wha learned ye to bake aboot Craigieha'—tho', I grant, mony's the puir man the faither o' ye has keepit braw and het on a girdle, while he stirred him aboot wi' his tongue.’
This he said because my mother was a daughter of my Lord Hope of Craigiehall, who had been President of the Court of Session in his time, and a very notable greatman in the State.
So, as I say, this day she set to the baking early, and it went to my heart when I saw she was making the wheaten cakes raised with sour buttermilk that were my father's favourites.
She had not been at it long before in came Jock o' the Garpel, hot-foot from the hill.
‘Maister Alexander!’ he cried, panting and broken-winded with haste, ‘Maister Alexander is comin' ower the Brae!’
There was silence in the wide kitchen for a moment, only the sound of my mother's roller being heard, ‘dunt-dunting’ on the dough.
‘Is he by his lane?’ asked my mother without raising her head from the bake-board.
‘Ay,’ said Jock o' the Garpel, ‘a' by his lane. No a man rides ahint him.’
And again there was silence in the wide house of Earlstoun.
My mother went to the girdle to turn the wheaten cakes that were my father's favourites, and as she bent over the fire, there was a sound as if rain-drops were falling and birsling upon the hot girdle. But it was only the water running down my mother's cheeks for the love of her youth, because now her last hope was fairly gone.
Then in the middle of her turning she drew the girdle off the fire, not hastily, but with care and composedness.
‘I'll bake nae mair,’ she cried, ‘Sandy has come ower the hill his lane!’
And I caught my mother in my arms.
GAY GARLAND COMES HOME SADDLE EMPTY
The night of the twenty-second of June, 1679, shall never be forgotten among us while Earlstoun House stands. It was the eve of the day whereon befell the weary leaguer of Bothwell when the enemy beset the Brig, and the good Blue Banner gat fyled and reddened with other dye-stuff than the brown moss-water. I mind it well, for I had grown to be man-muckle since the day on the Tinklers' Loup. After a day of heat there fell a night like pitch. A soughing wind went round the house and round the house, whispering and groping, like a forlorn ghost trying to find his way within.
If there was a shut eye in the great House of Earlstoun that night, it was neither mine nor my mother's. We lay and thought of them that were over the hill, striving for the Other King and the good cause. And our thoughts were prayers, though there was none to ‘take the Book’ in Earlstoun that night, for I was never gifted that way. So we bedded without sound of singing or voice of prayer, though I think Jean Hamilton had done it for the asking.
I lay in my naked bed and listened all the night with unshut eye. I could hear in my mother's room the boards creak as she rose every quarter hour and looked out into the rayless dark. Maisie Lennox of the Duchrae, old Anton's daughter, now a well grown lass, lay with her. And Sandy's young wife, Jean Hamilton, with her sucking bairn, was in the little angled chamber that opens off the turret stair near by.
It befell at the back of one, or mayhap betwixt that and two, that there came a sound at the nether door that affrighted us all.
‘Rise, William! Haste ye,’ cried my mother with great eagerness in her voice, coming to my door in the dark. ‘Your father is at the nether door, new lichted doon from off Gay Garland. Rise an' let him in!’
And as I sat up on my elbow and hearkened, I heard as clearly as now I hear the clock strike, the knocking of my father's riding-boots on the step of the outer door. For it was ever his wont, when he came that way, to knap his toes on the edge of the step, that the room floorings might not be defiled with the black peat soil which is commonest about the Earlstoun. I have heard my father tell it a thousand times in his pleasantry, how it was when my mother was a bride but newly come home and notionate, that she learned him these tricks. For otherwise his ways were not dainty, but rather careless—and it might be, even rough.
So, as I listened, I heard very clear outside the house the knocking of my father's feet, and the little hoast he always gave before he tirled at the pin to be let in, when he rode home late from Kirkcudbright. Hearing which we were greatly rejoiced, and I hasted to draw on my knee-breeks, crying ‘Bide a wee, faither, an' briskly I'll be wi' ye to let ye in!’
For I was a little lame, halting on one foot ever since the affair of Tinkler Marshall, though I think not to any noticeable extent.
My mother at the door of her chamber cried, ‘Haste ye, William, or I must run mysel'!’
For my father had made her promise that she would not go out of her chamber to meet him at the return, being easily touched in her breast with the night air.
So I hasted and ran down as I was, with my points all untied, and set wide open the door.
‘Faither!’ I cried as I undid the bolt and pushed the leaves of the door abroad, ‘Faither, ye are welcome hame!’ And I could hear my mother listening above, for his foot over the threshold. Yet he came not within, which was a wonder to me. So I went out upon the step of the nether door, but my father was not there. Only the same strange chill wind went round the house, soughing and moaning blindly as before, and a smoor of white fog blew like muirburn past the door.
Then my hair rose upon my head and the skin of my brow pricked, because I knew that strange portents were abroad that night.
‘What for does your faither no come ben the hoose to me?’ cried my mother impatiently from the stairhead. I could hear her clasping and unclasping her hands, for my ears are quick at taking sounds.
‘I think he must be gone to the stable with Gay Garland, to stall him beside Philiphaugh,’ I answered, for so my father's old white horse was named, because in his young days my father had been at that place on the day when Montrose and his Highlandmen got their settling. This is what I said to my mother, but indeed my thought was far other.
I lifted a loaded pistol that lay ever in the aumrie by the door-cheek and went off in the direction of the stable. The door was shut, but I undid the pin and went within. My father was not there. The horses were moving restlessly and lifting their feet uneasily as they do on ice or other kittle footing. Then of a truth I knew there was something more than canny abroad about Earlstoun that night, and that we should hear ill news or the morning. And when a bundle of reins slipped from the shelf and fell on my shoulder like a man's hand clapping on me unaware, I cried out like a frighted fowl and dropped almost to the ground. Yet though I am delicate and not overly well grown in my body, I do not count myself a coward; even though my brother Sandy's courage be not mine. ‘Blind-eye, hard-head’ was ever his sort, but I love to take my danger open-eyed and standing up—and as little of it as possible.
As I went back—which I did instantly, leaving the stable door swinging open—I heard my mother's voice again. She was calling aloud and the sound of her voice was yearning and full like that of a young woman.
‘William!’ she called, and again ‘William!’
Now though that is my name I knew full well that it was not to me, her son, that she called. For that is the voice a woman only uses to him who has been her man, and with her has drunk of the fountain of the joy of youth. Once on a time I shot an eagle on the Millyea, and his mate came and called him even thus, with a voice that was as soft as that of a cushie dove crooning in the tall trees in the early summer, till I could have wept for sorrow at my deed.
Then as I went in, I came upon my mother a step or two from the open door, groping with her arms wide in the darkness.
‘Oh,’ she cried, ‘William, my William, the Lord be thankit!’ and she clasped me to her heart.
But in a moment she flung me from her.
‘Oh! it's you,’ she said bitterly, and went within without another word, her harshness jangling on my heart.
Yet I understood, for my mother was always greatly set on my father. And once when in jest we teased her to try her, telling her the story of the pious Æneas, and asking her to prophesy to us which one of us she would lift, if so it was that the house of Earlstoun were in a lowe.
‘Faith,’ said my mother, ‘I wad tak' your faither on my back, gin a' the lave o' ye had to bide and burn!’
So it was ever with my mother. She was my father's sweetheart to her latest hour.
But when I went in I found her sitting, sheet-white and trembling on the settle.
‘What's ta'en ye, mither?’ I said to her, putting a shawl about her.
‘O my man, my bonny man,’ she said, ‘there's nane to steek your e'en the nicht! An' Mary Gordon maun lie her leesome lane for evermair!’
‘Hoot, mither,’ I said, ‘speak not so. My faither will come his ways hame i' the mornin' nae doot, wi' a' the lads o' the Kenside clatterin' ahint him. Sandy is wi' him, ye ken.’
‘Na,’ she said calmly enough, but as one who has other informations, ‘Sandy is no wi' him. Sandy gaed through the battle wi' his heid doon and his sword rinnin' reed. I see them a' broken—a' the pride o' the West, an' the dragoons are riding here an' there amang them, an' haggin' them doon. But your faither I canna see—I canna see my man——’
‘Mither,’ I said, mostly, I think, for something to say, ‘Mind the Guid Cause!’
She flung her hands abroad with a fine gesture as of scorn. ‘What cause is guid that twines a woman frae her ain man—an' we had been the gither three-an'-thirty year!’
In a little I got her to lie down, but the most simple may understand how much more sleep there was in Earlstoun that night. Yet though we listened with all our ears, we heard no other sound than just that blind and unkindly wind reestling and soughing about the house, groping at the doors and trying the lattices. Not a footstep went across the courtyard, not the cry of a bird came over the moors, till behind the barren ridges of the east the morning broke.
Then when in the grey and growing light I went down and again opened the door, lo! there with his nose against the latchet hasp was Gay Garland, my father's war-horse. He stood and trembled in every limb. He was covered with the lair of the moss-hags, wherein he had sunk to the girths. But on his saddle leather, towards the left side, there was a broad splash of blood which had run down to the stirrup iron; and in the holster on that side, where the great pistol ought to have been, a thing yet more fearsome—a man's bloody forefinger, taken off above the second joint with a clean drawing cut.
My mother came down the turret stair, fully dressed, and with her company gown upon her. Yet when she saw Gay Garland standing there at the door with his head between his knees, she did not seem to be astonished or afraid, as she had been during the night. She came near to him and laid a hand on his neck.
‘Puir beast,’ she said, ‘ye have had sore travel. Take him to the stable for water and corn, and bid Jock o' the Garpel rise.’
The dark shades of the night were flown away, and my mother now spoke quietly and firmly as was her wont. Much in times bygone had we spoken about sufferings in the House of Earlstoun, and, lo! now they were come home to our own door.
GAY GARLAND CARRIES DOUBLE
So after that we played yet another game, hiding together in the hags and crawling from bent bush to rush clump with mighty caution and discernment, making believe that the troopers sought us both. For this was the favourite bairns' play everywhere in the West and South.
Once when we came near to the house Gay Garland followed us, having been turned out on the Duchrae home park. He ran to me, as he ever did, for farings, and I fed him with crumblings out of my jacket pocket—‘moolings’ Maisie Lennox called them—which he ate out of my hand, a pretty thing to see in so noble a beast. Then he followed us about in our hidings, begging and sorning upon us for more. This made him not a little troublesome, till we would gladly have sent him back. But Gay Garland was a beast not easily turned.
After a while we came to the little wood of Mount Pleasant, where I saw some red rags fluttering on a bush. I was for going aside to see what they might be, but Maisie Lennox cried at me to turn back.
‘There are people hereabouts that are not very chancy. My father saw the Marshalls go by this morning!’
Often and often I had heard of the tribe before, and they had a singular name for their ill-done deeds. Indeed the whole land was so overrun with beggars of the Strong Hand, and the times so unsettled, that nothing could be done to put a stop to their spoilings. For the King and his men were too busy riding down poor folk that carried Bibles and went to field-preachings, to pay attention to such as merely invaded homesteads and lifted gear.
As we set breast to the brae and came to the top of the little hill, I stumbled over something white and soft lying behind a heather bush. It was a sheep—dead, and with much of it rent and carried away. The ground about was all a-lapper with blood.
‘A worrying dog has done this!’ I said.
But Maisie Lennox came up, and as she caught sight of the carcase her face fell. She shook her head mighty seriously.
‘Two-footed dogs,’ she said. ‘See here!’ She lifted a piece of paper on which a bloody knife had been wiped. And she showed me, very wisely, how the best parts had been cut away by some one that had skill in dismemberment.
‘'Tis Jock Marshall's band,’ she said; ‘an ill lot, but they shall not get off with this!’
And she went forward eagerly, keeping on the broad trail through the grass. We had not gone a hundred yards when we came upon another sheep in like case, and then by the ford of the Black Water we found yet another. I asked Maisie Lennox if we should not go home and lodge information.
‘They'll get ower far away,’ was all she said.
‘But you are not feared of them?’ I asked, marvelling at the lassie. For even our Sandy that counted himself so bold, and could lift a bullock slung in a sheet with his teeth, would have thought twice before following up Jock Marshall and his band for the sake of an orra sheep or two.
But Maisie Lennox only turned to me in a curious way, in which there seemed mingled something of contempt.
‘Feared!’ she said. ‘What for should I be feared? The sheep are my faither's; but gang you back gin ye be feared.’
So for very shame I answered that I was feared none—which was a great lie, for I had given a hundred pounds (Scots) to have been able to turn back with some credit. But we went along the broad trail boldly enough, and Gay Garland trotted loose-foot after us, sometimes stopping to crop the herbs by the way, and anon coming dancing to find us. At which I was glad, for it was at least some company besides the lassie.
Soon we came to a link of the path by the water side, at a place that is called the Tinklers' Loup, where these sorners and limmers were mostly wont to congregate. There was blue smoke rising behind the knowe, and Maisie Lennox took a straight path over the heather toward it. I wondered to see the lass. She seemed indeed not to know fear.
‘They are my faither's ain sheep,’ she said, as though that were sufficient explanation.
So to the top we came, and looked down. There was a whole camp beneath us. Dirty low reeky tans were set here and there amid a swarm of bairns and dogs. The children were running naked as they were born, and the dogs turning themselves into hoops to bite their tails. About a couple of fires with pots a-swing over them, bubbling and steaming, little clouds of wild-looking folk were gathered. Some had bones in their hands which they thrust into the fire for a minute and then took out again to gnaw at the burned portion. Tattered women looked within the pots. Once a man threw a knife at a boy, which struck him on the side. The boy cried out and the blood ran down, but none took any heed to his complaint or of the circumstance.
For a moment Maisie Lennox stood still and looked at me. Then she went a step or two forward, and her face was white and angered. I saw she was about to speak to them, yet for my life I could not keep her from it.
‘Sheep stealers!’ she cried; ‘vagabonds, ye shall hang for this! Not for naught shall ye harry an honest man's sheep. I ken you, Jock Marshall and all your crew. The Shirra shall hear of this before the morrow's morn!’
The encampment stood still at gaze looking up at us, fixed like a show painted on a screen, while one might slowly count a score. Then Babel brake loose.
With a wild rush, man, woman, child, and dog poured towards us. Of mere instinct I came up abreast of Maisie Lennox. Behind me came Gay Garland, and snuffed over my shoulder, scenting with some suspicion the tinklers' garrons feeding in the hollow below.
We stood so still on the knowe-top that, I think, we must have feared them a little. We were by a gap in the bushes, and the ill-doers, seeing no more of us thought, no doubt, that there must be more behind, or two bairns had never been so bold. I think, too, that the very want of arms daunted them, for they drew back and seemed to consult together as though uncertain what to do.
Then a great scant-bearded unkempt man with long swinging arms, whom I took to be Jock Marshall, the chief tinkler and captain of their gang, pointed to them to scatter round the little knoll, no doubt with the purpose of making observations and cutting us off.
‘Who may you be?’ he cried, looking up at us.
‘Right well you know,’ Maisie said, very loud and clear, speaking out like a minister in the tent at a field-preaching; ‘I am Anton Lennox of the Duchrae's daughter, whose sheep ye have boiling in your pots—and that after being well served with meal at the door, and louting low for thankfulness. And this is your thanks, ye robbers-behind-backs, gallow's thieves of Kelton Hill.’
On my part I thought it was not good judgment so to anger the wild crew. But Maisie was not to be spoken to at such a time; so perforce I held my tongue.
‘But ye shall all streek a tow for this,’ she said; ‘this day's wark shall be heard tell o' yet!’
By this time the word had been passed round the hill to Jock the tinkler that there were but two of us, and we unarmed. At which the loon became at once very bold.
‘Have at them! Blood their throats! Bring the basin!’ he cried. And the words were no vain things, for that was their well-accustomed way of killing—to let their victim's blood run into a basin, so that there might be no tell-tale stains upon the grass.
So from all sides they came speeling and clambering up the hill, loons yelling, dogs barking, till I thought my latest hour was come, and wished I had learned my Catechism better—especially the proofs. Gay Garland stood by with a raised look upon him, lifting his feet a little, as though going daintily over a bridge whose strength he was not sure of, and drawing all the while the wind upward through his nostrils.
Then though Maisie had been very bold, I can lay claim on this occasion to having been the wiser, for I caught her by the arm, taking Gay Garland's mane firmly with the other hand the while, lest he should startle and flee.
‘Up with you,’ I cried, bending to take her foot in my hand, and she went up like a bird.
In a moment I was beside her, riding bare-back, with Maisie clasping my waist, as indeed we had often ridden before—though never so perilously, nor yet with such a currish retinue yowling at our tail.
I wore no weapon upon me—no, not so much as a bodkin. But stuck in my leather belt I had the two crooked sticks, which I had blackened with soot for pistols at our play of Troopers and Wanderers. I put my heels into Gay Garland's sides, and he started down-hill, making the turf fly from his hoofs as he gathered way and began to feel his legs under him.
The gang scattered and rounded to close us in, but when Gay Garland came to his stride, few there were who could overtake him. Only Jock Marshall himself was in time to meet us face to face, a great knife in either hand. And I think he might have done us an injury too, had it not been for the nature of the ground where we met.
It was just at the spring of a little hill and the good horse was gathering himself for the upstretch. I held the two curved sticks at the tinkler's head, as though they had been pistols, at which I think he was a little daunted. Jock Marshall stopped in his rush, uncertain whether to leap aside; and in that very moment, Gay Garland spread his fore-feet for the spring, throwing up his head as if to clear the way. One of his iron-shod heels took the tinkler chief fair on the chest, and the breast-bone gave inwards with a crunch like the breaking of many farles of cake-bread. He fell down on the moss like one dead, and Gay Garland went over the moor with the whole tribe of whooping savages after him, spurning their fallen chief with his hoof as he passed.
Well it was for us that the noble horse carried us with such ease and that his feet were so sure. For a stumble in a rabbit hole and our throats were as good as slit.
But by the blessing of Providence and also by my good guiding of Gay Garland's mane, we passed the ford of the Black Water without hurt. Then was I very croose at the manner of our coming off, and minded not that the hardest blaff of downcome is ever gotten at the doorstep.
We were passing by the path that goes linking along the water side, and talking to one another very cantily, when without warning a musket barked from the woodside, and as it were a red-hot gaud of iron ran into my thigh behind my knee. The world swayed round me and the green trees ran withershins about. I had fallen among the horse's feet, but that Maisie Lennox caught me, meeting Gay Garland's swerve with the grip of her knee—for she ever rode across and acrop like a King's horseman, till it was time for her to ride side-saddle and grow mim and prudent.
Haply just by the turn we met my father and old Anthony Lennox coming running at the sound of the shot. But as for me I never saw or heard them, for they ran past, hot to find the man who had fired at me. While as for me I came up the loaning of the Duchrae upon Gay Garland, with my head leaning back upon the young lassie's shoulder and the red blood staining her white skirt.
And this was the beginning of my lameness and sometime lack of vigour—the beginning also of my life friendship with Maisie Lennox, who was to me from that day as my brother and my comrade, though she had been but a bairn's playmate aforetime.
MY GOSSIP, MAISIE MAY
It was upon the fair green braes that look over the Black Water of Dee near by where it meets the clear Ken, that Maisie May and I played many a morning at Wanderers and King's men. I mind it as it were yesterday, for the dales and holms were pranked out with white hawthorn and broad gowans, and by our woodland hiding-places little frail wildflowers grew, nodding at us as we lay and held our breath.
Now Maisie Lennox (for that was her proper given name) was my cousin, and had been gossip of mine ever since we came to the age of five years; Sandy, my elder brother, making nothing of me because I was so much younger and he ever hot upon his own desires. Neither, if the truth must be told, did I wear great love upon him at any time. When we fell out, as we did often, he would pursue after me and beat me; but mostly I clodded him with pebble stones, whereat I had the advantage, being ever straight of eye and sure of aim. Whereas Sandy was gleyed and threw stones like a girl, for all the stoutness of his arm.
But that is not to say like Maisie Lennox, who was Anthony Lennox's daughter, and could throw stones with any one. She lived at the Lesser Duchrae above the Black Water. As for me I lived at Earlstoun on the hillside above the Ken, which is a far step from the Duchrae. But our fathers were of the one way of thinking, and being cousins by some former alliance and friends of an ancient kindliness, it so happened, as I say, that Maisie Lennox and I played much together. Also my mother had great tenderness of heart for the bit lass that had no mother, and a father as often on the moors with the wildfowl, as at home with his one little maid.
For the times were very evil. How evil and contrary they were, we that had been born since 1660 and knew nothing else, could but dimly understand. For though fear and unrest abode in our homes as constant indwellers, with the fear of the troopers and plunderers, yet because it had always been so, it seemed not very hard to us. Indeed we bairns of these years played at Covenanting, as it had been the game of ‘Scots and English’ on the hillside, even from the time when we first began to run alone.
Well do I mind that day when I pleaded and fleeched on my father to take me before him on Gay Garland, as he rode to the Duchrae. It was a brisk May day with an air vigorous as a draught of wine, yet cool, clear, and sweet as spring water is—a pearl of a day, such as hardly seems to come in these sullen later years.
So I cried out upon my father to take me. And as his manner was, he told me to inquire of my mother. But I desired rather that he should ask for me himself. So I lingered about the doors till he should ride forth upon his great black horse, that he might catch me up beside him on the cantle and cry in at the door, ‘Mother, I am taking William,’ as was his kindly wont. Never a man so brave and true and simple as my father.
While I bided there, Alexander my brother seeing me wait, called me to come with him to the hill. But because my heart was set to ride to the Duchrae with my father, I had no desire to go to the rabbit hunting. So when he saw that I would not company with him, he mocked me and called me ‘Lassie-boy!’ Whereupon I smote him incontinent with a round pebble between the shoulder-blades, and he pursued me to the hallan door within which was my mother, looking to the maids and the ordering of the house.
From thence I mocked him, but under my breath, for fear that for ill-doing my mother would not permit me to go to the Duchrae.
‘Stable-boy!’ I called him, for he loved to be ever among the lowns of the wisp and currying comb, and as my mother said, grew like them even in manners. ‘Faugh, keep wide from me, mixen-varlet!’
These were no more than our well-accustomed greetings.
‘Wait till I catch you, little snipe, down by the water side!’ Sandy cried, shaking his fist at me from the barn-end.
‘And that will be a good day for your skin,’ answered I, ‘for I shall make you wash your face thoroughly—ay, even behind your ears.’
For Sandy, even when in after days he went a-courting, was noways partial to having many comings and goings with a basin of cold water.
So he departed unsatisfied, because that in words I had the better of him.
Then came my father, and as I expected, stooping from the saddle he swung me up before him, supposing that I had already advised my mother. But indeed I had not said so, and happily he asked me nothing.
‘A good day and an easy mind, sweetheart,’ he cried up the stairs to my mother, ‘I ride to the Duchrae for Conference. William goes with me for company.’
And my mother came down the steps to see us ride off. For my father and she were like lad and lass after their years together, though not so as to make a show before strangers.
‘Watch warily for the dragoons as you come to the narrows of the Loch,’ she said, ‘and bide not at Kenmuir. For if there be mounted muskets in all the neighbourhood, it is at the Kenmuir that they will be found.’
And she watched us out of sight with her hand to her brows, before turning inward to the maids—a bonny woman in these years, fair as a blowing rose, was my mother. Or at least, so the picture rises before me as I write.
Thus my father, William Gordon of Earlstoun, rode away through these sweet holms and winding paths south toward the Duchrae. Nowhere is the world to my thinking so gracious as between the green woodlands of Earlstoun and the grey Duchrae Craigs. For the pools of the water of Ken slept, now black, now silver, beneath us. They were deep set about with the feathers of the birches, and had the green firs standing bravely like men-at-arms on every rocky knoll. Then the strath opened out and we saw Ken flow silver-clear between the greenest and floweriest banks in the world. The Black Craig of Dee gloomed on our right side as we rode, sulky with last year's heather. And the great Kells range sank behind us, ridge behind ridge of hills whose very names make a storm of music—Millyea, Milldown, Millfire, Corscrine, and the haunted fastnesses of the Meaull of Garryhorn in the head end of Carsphairn. Not that my father saw any of this, for he minded only his riding and his prayers; but even then I was ever taken up with what I had better have let alone. However, I may be held excused if the memory rises unbidden now, before the dimmer eye of one that takes a cast back into his youth, telling the tale as best he may, choosing here and there like a dorty child, only that which liketh him best.
In a little we clattered through the well-thatched roofs of New Galloway and set Gay Garland's head to the southward along the water side, where the levels of the Loch are wont to open out upon you blue and broad and bonny. All that go that way know the place. Gay Garland was the name of my father's black horse that many a time and oft had carried him in safety, and was loved like another child by my mother and all of us. I have heard it said that in the Praying Society of which he was a grave and consistent member, my father was once called in question because he gave so light a name to his beast.
‘Ye have wives of your own,’ was all the answer he made them, ‘I suppose they have no freits and fancies, but such as you are ready to be answerable for this day.’
When my mother heard of this she said, ‘Ay, William, thy excuse was but old and lame, even that of our first father Adam—'The woman thou gavest me she called my horse Gay Garland.’
I suppose that today Ken flashes as clear and the heather blooms as bonny on the Bennan side. But not for me, for I have laid away so many that I loved in the howe of the Glen since then, and seen so many places of this Scotland red with a crimson the bell heather never made. Ay me for the times that were, and for all that is come and gone, whereof it shall be mine to tell!
But we came at long and last to the Duchrae, which is a sweet bit house, sitting on a south-looking brae-face, though not a laird's castle like the tower of Earlstoun. Maisie Lennox met us at the loaning foot, whereat I begged that my father would put me down so that I might run barefoot with her. And I think my father was in nowise unwilling, for a twelve-year-old callant on the saddle before one is no comfort, though Gay Garland bore me like a feather.
So Maisie Lennox and I fell eagerly a-talking together after our first shy chill of silence, having many things to say. But as soon as ever we reached the Craigs we fell to our fantasy. It was an old game with us, like the sand houses we used to build in bairns' play. We drew lots, long stalk and short stalk, which of us should be the Wanderer. Maisie Lennox won the lot—as she always did, for I had no good fortune at the drawing of cuts. So she went to hide in some bosky bouroch or moss-hag, while I bode still among the hazels at the woodside, accoutring myself as a trooper with sword and pistol of tree.
Then I rode forth crying loud commands and sending my soldiers to seek out all the hidie-holes by the water sides, and under all the tussocks of heather on the benty brows of the black mosses.
Soon Maisie Lennox began to cry after the manner of the hunted hill-folk—peeping like the nestlings of the muir-birds, craiking like the bird of the corn, laughing like the jack-snipe—and all with so clear a note and such brisk assurance that I declare she had imposed upon Tom Dalyell himself.
After seeking long in vain, I spied the fugitive hiding behind a peat-casting on the edge of the moss, and immediately cried on the men to shoot. So those that were men-at-arms of my command pursued after and cracked muskets, as the Wanderers jooked and fled before us. Yet cumbered with cavalry as I was on the soft bog land, the light-foot enemy easily escaped me.
Then when I saw well that catch her I could not, I sat me down on a heather bush and cried out to her that it was a silly game to play, and that we should begin something else. So she stopped and came back slowly over the heather. What I liked at all times about Maisie Lennox was that she never taunted back, but only took her own way when she wanted it—and she mostly did—silently and as if there were no other way in the world. For in all things she had an excellent humour of silence, which, though I knew it not then, is rarer and worthier than diamonds. Also she knew, what it seems to me that a woman but rarely knows, when it is worth while making a stand to gain her will.
MEN OF THE MOSS HAGS
BEING A HISTORY OF ADVENTURE TAKEN FROM THE PAPERS OF WILLIAM GORDON OF EARLSTOUN IN GALLOWAY AND TOLD OVER AGAIN BY S. R. CROCKETT
Poet, Romancer, Scholar, and Friend of the goodly fellowship of the White Rose. I, born of the Hill-Folk dedicate this attempt at a true history of some who fought bravely beneath the Banner of Blue.
I desire to express grateful thanks to my researchers, Mr. James Nicholson of Kirkcudbright, who examined on my behalf all the local records bearing upon the period and upon the persons treated of in this book; and to the Reverend John Anderson of the Edinburgh University Library, who brought to light from among the Earlstoun Papers and from the long-lost records of the United Societies, many of the materials which I have used in the writing of this story.
I owe also much gratitude to the Library Committee of the University of Edinburgh, for permission to use the letters which are printed in the text, and for their larger permission to publish at some future time, for purposes more strictly historical, a selection from both the sets of manuscripts named above.
Most of all, I am indebted to my friend, Mr. John McMillan of Glenhead in Galloway, who has not only given me in this, as in former works, the benefit of his unrivalled local knowledge, but has travelled with me many a weary foot over those moors and moss-hags, where the wanderers of another time had their abiding places. Let him accept this word of thanks. He is not likely to forget our stay together in the wilds of Cove Macaterick. Nor I our journey home.
S. R. CROCKETT.
Penicuik, Aug. 5, 1895.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.