OVER THE MUIR AMANG THE HEATHER
When I came to myself my cousin Walter Gordon was standing over me. He was dressed in countryman's apparel, and seemed most like a chapman, with a small pack of goods upon his back for sale in the farm-towns and cottars' houses. It was grey day.
‘Where is the beast?’ I asked, for I was greatly bewildered by my swound.
‘What beast? There is no beast,’ he replied, thinking that I dreamed.
Then I told him of what I had seen; but as I might have expected he took little heed, thinking that I did but dream in that uncouth place. And in the grey light he went forward with a fair white cloth in his hand wherewith to wrap his father's head for the burial. But when he came to the corner of the vault, lo! there was naught there, even as I had said. And saving that the earth seemed newly stirred, no trace of the horror I had seen, which staggered him no little. Yet me it did not surprise, for I knew what I had seen.
But in a little he said, ‘That is all folly, William—you and your beasts. Ye buried it yourself in your sleep. How many times have ye walked the ramparts of Earlstoun in your sark!’
This indeed seemed likely, but I still maintain that I saw the mowdiewort.
Nevertheless, when we came to consider the matter, it was in sooth no time to think of freits or portents. It was no question of our fathers' heads. Our own were in danger whether the Duke of Wellwood lived or died; and we behoved to look limber if we were to save them at all. It is a strange feeling that comes and stays about the roots of the neck, when one first realises that the headsman may have to do therewith or many weeks pass by. And it is a feeling that I have taken to bed with me for years at a time.
Wat Gordon had warned my men as well as his own. So at the outside of the town toward the back of the Boroughmuir, Hugh Kerr met us with the beasts. Here we took horse and rode, having happily seen nothing of the city guard. It was judged best that my cousin and I should ride alone. This we wished, because we knew not whom to trust in the strange case in which we found ourselves. Besides we could the better talk over our chances during the long night marches in the wilderness, and in our weary hidings among the heather in the daytime.
So we steadily rode southward toward Galloway, our own country, for there alone could we look for some ease from the long arm of the Privy Council. Not that Galloway was safe. The dragoons paraded up and down it from end to end, and searched every nook and crevice for intercommuned fugitives. But Galloway is a wide, wild place where the raw edges of creation have not been rubbed down. And on one hillside in the Dungeon of Buchan, there are as many lurking places as Robert Grier of Lag has sins on his soul—which is saying no light thing, the Lord knows.
Once, as we went stealthily by night, we came upon a company of muirland men who kept their conventicle in the hollows of the hills, and when they heard us coming they scattered and ran like hares. I cried out to them that we were of their own folk. Yet they answered not but only ran all the faster, for we might have been informers, and it was a common custom of such-like to claim to be of the hill-people. Even dragoons did so, and had been received among them to the hurt of many.
Our own converse was the strangest thing. Often a kind of wicked perverse delight came over me, and I took speech to mock and stir up my cousin of Lochinvar, who was moody and distraught, which was very far from his wont.
‘Cousin Wat,’ I said to him, ‘'tis a strange sight to see your mother's son so soon of the strict opinions. To be converted at the instance of her Grace of Wellwood is no common thing. Wat, I tell thee, thou shalt lead the psalm-singing at a conventicle yet!’
Whereat he would break out on me, calling me ‘crop-ear’ and other names. But at this word play I had, I think, as much the mastery as he at the play of sword-blades.
‘Rather it is you shall be the 'crop-head'—of the same sort as his late Majesty!’ I said. For it is a strange thing that so soon as men are at peril of their lives, if they be together, they will begin to jest about it—young men at least.
To get out of the country was now our aim. It pleased Wat not at all to have himself numbered among the hill-folk and be charged with religion. For me I had often a sore heart and a bad conscience, that I had made so little of all my home opportunities. My misspent Sabbaths stuck in my throat, although I had no stomach for running and hiding with the intercommuned. Perhaps, if I had loved my brother Sandy better, it had not been so hard a matter. But that, God forgive me, I never did, though I knew that he was a good Covenant man and true to his principles. Yet there is no mistake but that he gave us all a distaste at his way of thinking.
So we wandered by night and hid by day till we reached the hills of our own south country.
At last we came to the white house of Gordonstoun, which stands on the hill above the clachan of Saint John. It was a lodge of my cousin's, and the keeper of it was a true man, Matthew of the Dub by name. From him we learned that there were soldiers both at Lochinvar and Earlstoun. Moreover, the news had come that very day, with the riding post from Edinburgh, of the wounding of the Duke of Wellwood, and how both of us were put to the horn and declared outlaw.
I do not think that this affected us much, for almost every man in Galloway, even those that trooped with Graham and Lag, half a dozen in all, had been time and again at the horn. One might be at the horn—that is, outlawed, for forgetting to pay a cess or tax, or for a private little tulzie that concerned nobody, or for getting one's lum on fire almost. It was told that once Lauderdale himself was put to the horn in the matter of a reckoning he had been slack in paying, for Seekin' Johnnie was ever better at drawing in than paying out.
But to think of my mother being harassed with a garrison, and to know that rough blades clattered in and out of our bien house of Earlstoun, pleased me not at all. Yet it was far out of my hap to help it. And I comforted me with the thought, that it had been as bad as it could be with us, even before our affray with the Wellwood.
So there was nothing for it, but to turn out our horses to grass at Gordonstoun and take to the hills like the rest. Matthew of the Dub gave us to understand that he could put us into a safe hold if we would trust ourselves to him.
‘But it is among the hill-folk o' Balmaghie!’ he said, looking doubtfully at his laird.
‘Ah, Gordieston,’ said Lochinvar, making a wry face, and speaking reproachfully, ‘needs must when the devil drives! But what for did you sign all the papers and take all the oaths against intercommuning, and yet all the time be having to do with rebels?’ For Matthew was a cunning man, and had taken all the King's oaths as they came along, holding the parritch and feather beds of Gordieston on the Hill worth any form of words whatsoever—which indeed could be swallowed down like an apothecary's bolus, and no more ado about it.
‘'Deed, your honour,’ said Matthew of the Dub, slyly, ‘it's a wersh breakfast to streek your neck in a tow, an' I hae sma' stammach for the Whig's ride to the Grassmarket. But a man canna juist turn informer an' gie the gang-by to a' his auld acquaintances. Wha in Gallowa' wants to ride an' mell wi' Clavers an' the lads on the Grey Horses, save siccan loons as red-wud Lag, roaring Baldoun, and Lidderdale, the Hullion o' the Isle?’
‘I would have you remember, Matthew,’ said my cousin, speaking in Scots, ‘that I rode wi' them no lang syne mysel'.’
‘Ou, ay, I ken,’ said independent Matthew, dourly, ‘there was my leddy to thank for that. The women fowk are a' great gomerils when they meddle wi' the affairs o' the State. But a' the Glen jaloosed that ye wad come oot richt, like the daddy o' ye, when ye tired o' leading-strings, an' gang to the horn like an honest man, e'en as ye hae dune the day.’
THE GREY MOWDIEWORT
But by this time I was shaking like a leaf for fear, together with the thought of what I had done in the taking of life, and the sending of my fellow-creatures to their account. Also the tears came hopping down my cheek, which is ever the effect that fighting has on me. Yet in spite of this weakness Wat shook me again by the hand, and said only:
‘You are a man!’
Notwithstanding, I was not cheered, but continued to greet like a bairn, only quietly, though I was grateful for his words, and took them not ill.
Then Walter Gordon went forward to the dead men, and turned them over, looking at each but saying no word. Lastly he went to the little stout man whom I had shot in the shoulder. As he looked in his face, from which the mask had fallen aside, he started so greatly that he almost leaped bodily in the air.
‘William, William,’ he cried, ‘by the King's head, we must run for it. This is not a 'horning' but a hanging job. 'Tis the Duke of Wellwood himself.’
Greatly startled at the name of the great Privy Councillor and favourite of the King, I went and looked. The man's face had fallen clear of the velvet mask with which it had been hidden, and looked livid and grey against the snow in the moon's uncertain light. But it was indeed the Duke, for I had often seen him going to the Parliament in his state and dignity, but there in the snow he looked inconceivably mean, dirty and small.
‘It's a' by wi' the estate noo, Walter,’ I said. ‘You and me maun tak' the heather like the lave.’
So saying, I snatched up the head wrapped in the plaid, which I had almost forgotten, and called him to come on. For we were on the outskirts of the waste ground called the King's hunting parks, and could get directly away without passing a house. But Walter was determined to return and see his mother, lest otherwise the horror of the news might take her unawares. Walter was ever his mother's boy, and I think his undutiful conduct that night now went hard with him, seeing how the affair had turned out.
I argued with him that it was the maddest ploy thus to go back. His lodgings would certainly be searched as soon as the Duke was found, and the two who had escaped should return to assist the watch. But I could not overcome his determination. He had another plan to set against mine.
‘There is a vault hereabout that I used to hide in as a boy. Silly folks say that it is haunted. But indeed there be few that know of it. You can bide there and wait till I come.’
So we went thither, and found the place commodious enough indeed, but damp and unkindly. It was situate by the chapel wall, but of late years it has been much filled up with rubbish since the pulling down of the Chapel Royal by the mob in the riots of the Revolution year.
Yet even at that time it was not a place I had any stomach for. I had liefer have been going decently to my bed in my lodgings in the West Bow—as indeed at that moment I should, but for that daft heathercat of a cousin of mine, with whose gallantries, for my sins, I thus found myself saddled.
So he went off upon his errand, leaving me alone; and I hardly looked to see him again, for I made sure that the guard would arrest him or ever he had gone a hundred yards. It was little that I could do in that sorrowful place. But I unwrapped the poor head I had brought with me, and put it with reverence in the farthest corner of the dismal den. Then I retired to an angle to wait, wrapping my plaid about me for warmth; for the night had fallen colder, as it ever does after the ceasing of a storm. I had time and to spare then for thinking upon my folly, and how I had damaged the cause that I had so nearly gained by my unlucky interference in Walter's vanities. It came to me that now of a certainty both Earlstoun and Lochinvar must pass wholly away from the Gordons, and we become attainted and landless like the red Gregors. And indeed Kenmuir's case was not much better.
So I wore the weary night away, black dismal thoughts eating like canker worms at my heart. How I repented and prayed, no man knows. For that is the young man's repentance—after he has eaten the sour fruit, to pray that he may not have the stomach-ache.
Yet being Galloway born, I had also in me the fear of the unseen, which folks call superstition. And it irked me more than all other fears to have to bide all the night (and I knew not how much longer) in that horrible vault.
It seems little enough to some, only to abide all night in a place where there is nothing but quiet bones of dead men. But, I warrant you, it is the burgher folk, who have never lain anywhere but bien and cosy in their own beds at home that are the boldest in saying this.
So the night sped slowly in that horrid tomb. I watched the white moonbeams spray over the floor and fade out, as the clouds swept clear or covered the moon's face. I listened to every sough of the wind, with a fear lest the clanking halberts of the watch should be in it. The sound of a man walking far away made me hear in fantasy the grounding of their axe-shafts as they surrounded my place of concealment. It is bad enough to have one's conscience against one, but when conscience is reinforced by a well-grounded fear of the hangman's rope, then the case grows uncouth indeed.
Yet in spite of all I think I slept a little. For once I waked and saw the moon, red and near the setting, shining through a great round hole in the end of the vault, and that so brightly that I seemed to see motes dancing in its light as in a hay-loft in the summer season. But that was not the worst of it. In my dream my eyes followed the direction of the broad beam, and lo! they fell directly on the poor blackened head of him that had once been John Gordon of Lochinvar. The suns and rains had not dealt kindly with him, and now the face looked like nothing earthly, as I saw it in the moonlight of the ugsome vault. I could have screamed aloud, for there seemed to be a frown on the brow and a writhed grin on the mouth that boded me irksome evils to come.
Now half a dozen times I have resolved to leave out of my tale, that which I then saw happen in my dream of the night. For what I am about to relate may not meet with belief in these times, when the power of Satan is mercifully restrained; and when he can no longer cast his glamourie over whom he will, but only over those who, like witch-wives and others, yield themselves up to him as his willing subjects.
But I shall tell plainly what, in the moonlight, seemed to me to befall in my dream-sleep. It appeared then to me that I was staring at the blackened head, with something rising and falling in my throat like water in a sobbing well, when the ground slowly stirred in the corner where the head lay, and even as I looked, a beast came forth—a grey beast with four legs, but blind of eye like a grey mowdiewort, which took the head between its forepaws and rocked it to and fro as a mother rocks a fretful bairn, sorrowing over it and pitying it. It was a prodigy to see the eyes looking forth from the bone-sockets of the head. Then the beast left it again lying by its lone and went and digged in the corner. As the moonlight swept across, broad and slow, through the loud beating of my heart, I heard the grey mowdiewort dig the hole deeper and yet deeper. Now the thing that made me fullest of terror was not the digging of the beast, but the manner of its throwing out the earth, which was not behind it as a dog does, but in front, out of the pit, as a sexton that digs a grave.
Then, ere the moonbeams quite left it and began to climb the wall, I seemed to see the beast roll the black Thing to the edge and cover it up, drawing the earth over it silently. After that, in my fantasy, it seemed to look at me. I heard the quick patter of its feet, and with a cry of fear I started up to flee, lest the beast should come towards me—and with that I knew no more.
THE BICKER IN THE SNOW
Then, seeing Walter Gordon both agitated and uncertain which way to turn, I took out of his shaking hands the poor mishandled head, wrapping it in my plaid, and so led the way down the Canongate towards the kirkyard of the Chapel of Holyroodhouse, where it seemed to me most safe to bury the Thing that had fallen in such marvellous fashion at our feet that night.
The place I knew well enough. I had often meditated there upon the poor estate of our house. It was half ruinous, and I looked to meet with no man within the precincts on such a night. But short, deceiving, and ostrich-blind are all our hopes, for by going that way I brought us into the greatest danger we could possibly have been in.
For, as we came by the side port of Holyroodhouse, and took the left wynd which leads to the kirkyard, it seemed that I heard the sound of footsteps coming after me. It was still a night of snow, but the blast of flakes was wearing thinner and the wind less gusty. The moon was wading among great white-edged wreaths as though the snows had been driven right up to heaven and were clogging the skies.
It was I who led, for my cousin, Wat Gordon, being stopped dead in his heart's desire, like a dog quivering for the leap that suddenly gets his death-wound, now went forward as one blind, and staggered even in the plain places. Also, it was well that I must guide him, for thus I was kept from thinking of the horrid burden I carried.
We were at the angle of the wall, and going slowly down among the cumbering heaps of rubbish by the dyke-side, when I certainly heard, through the soughing of the wind, and the soft swirl of the snow-flakes, the quick trampling of footsteps behind us. It seemed to me that they came from the direction of the Queen's Bathhouse, by which, as I now minded, my Lord Wellwood had built his new house.
I turned in my tracks, and saw half a dozen of fellows running towards us with their swords drawn; and one who seemed short of stature and ill at the running, following after them. Then I pulled quickly at Walter's sleeve, and said:
‘Get you to a good posture of defence, or we are both dead men. See behind you!’
At this he turned and looked, and the sight seemed wonderfully to steady him. He seemed to come to himself with a kind of joy. I heard him sigh as one that casts off a heavy back-burden. For blows were ever mightily refreshing to Wat Gordon's spirits, even as water of Cologne is to a mim-mouthed, spoiled beauty of the court.
As for me, I had no joy in blows, and little skill in them, so that my delight was small. Indeed, I felt the lump rise in my throat, and my mouth dried with fear. So that I could hardly keep the tears from running, being heartily sorry for myself because I should never see bonny Earlstoun and my mother again, or anyone else in the pleasant south country—and all on a business that I had no concern with, being only some night-hawk trokings of Wat Gordon's.
But even as he glanced about him, Lochinvar saw where we could best engage them; for in such things he had the captain's eye, swift and inevitable. It was at the angle of the wall, in which is a wide archway that leads into the enclosure of the Palace. The snow had drifted round this arch a great sweep of rounded wreaths, and glistened smoothly white in the moonbeams, but the paved gateway itself was blown clear. Wat thrust me behind him, and, throwing down his cloak, cleared his sword arm with a long sobbing intake of breath, which, having a certain great content in it, was curious to hear.
I stood behind him in the dark of the archway, and there I first laid down my ghastly burden in the corner, wrapping it in my cloak. I made my pistols ready, and also loosened in my belt a broad Italian dagger, shaped like a leaf, wherewith I meant to stick and thrust if any should attempt to run in while I was standing on guard. Between me and the light I could see Walter Gordon, armed in the German fashion, with his rapier in one hand and his dagger in the other. Suddenly, through the hush of waiting, came running footsteps; and men's figures darkened the moonlight on the snow before the arch.
‘Clash!’ went the rapiers, and I could catch the glitter of the fire as it flew from their first onset. Walter poised himself on his feet with a quick alternate balancing movement, keeping his head low between his shoulders, and his rapier point far out. He was in the dark, and those about the mouth of the arch could not well see at what they were striking, whereas he had them clear against the grey of the moonlit sky.
Steel had not stricken on steel three times when, swift as the flash of the lightning when it shines from east to west, I saw Wat's long rapier dart out, and a man fell forward towards him, clinking on the stones with the jingle of concealed armour. Yet, armour or no, our Wat's rapier had found its way within. Wat spurned the fellow with his foot, lest in falling he should grip to pull him down, which was a common trick of the time, and indeed sometimes resorted to without a wound. But the dark wet stain his body left on the cobble-stones as it turned, told us that he was sped surely enough.
In a moment the others had come up, and the whole archway seemed full of the flicker of flashing swords. Wat's long arm wavered here and there, keeping them all at bay. I could have cried the slogan for pride in him. This was the incomparable sworder indeed, and John Varlet, that misbegotten rogue, had not taught him in vain.
‘Let off!’ he cried to me, never taking his eyes from his foes. ‘Ease me a little to the right. They are over heavy for my iron on that hand.’
So with that, even as I was bidden, and because there was nothing else I could do, I struck with my broad Italian dagger at a surly visage that came cornerwise between me and the sky, and tumbled a tall fellow out of an angle of the gateway on the top of the first, kicking like a rabbit. The rest were a little dashed by the fall of these two. Still there were four of them, and one great loon determinedly set his head down, and wrapping his cloak on his arm, he rushed at my cousin, almost overbearing him for the moment. He broke within Wat's guard, and the swords of the rogue's companions had been in his heart, but just then Lochinvar gave them another taste of his quality. Lightly leaping to the side just out of the measure of the varlet's thrust, and reaching sideways, he struck the man heavily on the shoulder with the dagger in his left hand, panting with the force of the blow, so that he fell down like the dead. At the same moment Wat leaned far forward, engaging all the points of the other swords with his rapier.
They gave back at the quick unexpected attack, and the points of their swords rose, as it seemed, for no more than a second. But in that pulse-beat Wat's rapier shot out straight and low, and yet another clapped his hand upon his body and cried an oath, ere he too fell forward upon his dead companions. At this the little man, who had stood all the while in the background, took heart of grace and came forward, and I could see the hilt of the steel-pistol in his hand. He crouched low upon his hams, trying to get a sighting shot at us. But I had him clear in the moonbeam, like a pullet on a dyke; and just when I saw his forefinger twitch on the hammer-pull, I dropped him with a bullet fair in the shoulder, which effectually spoilt his aim, and tumbled him beside the others.
Then the remaining two threw down their tools and ran, whatever they were fit, in the direction of the town.
Whereat Walter Gordon with much philosophy straiked his sword on the lapel of one of the dead men's coats, bent its point to the pavement to try its soundness, and returned it to its velvet sheath. Then he solemnly turned and took me by the hand.
‘You are a man, Cousin William,’ he said.
THE THING THAT FELL FROM TRAITOR'S GATE
The Lady Lochinvar stood a moment still by the fire, listening, her hand raised as if to command silence. Then she ran to the door like a young lass, with a light foot and her hand on her heart. The steps came fainter up the stair, and in another moment we heard the clang of the outer door.
My lady turned to me.
‘Have you your pistols by you?’ she whispered in a hoarse and angry voice, clutching me by the lapels of my coat. ‘Go, man! Go, follow him! He rushes to his death. And he is all that I have. Go and save him!’
She that had fleeched with her son, like a dove succouring its young, laid harshly her commands upon me.
‘I am no fighter, aunt,’ I said. ‘What protection can I be to Walter Gordon, the best sworder in Edinburgh town this night from Holyrood to the Castle?’
My lady looked about her as one that sees a stealthy enemy approach. Her hand trembled as she laid it on my arm.
‘What avails good swordsmanship, when one comes behind and one before, as in my dream I saw them do upon my Walter, out of the house of my Lord Wellwood. They came upon him and left him lying on the snow.—Ah, go, dear cousin William!’ she said, breaking into a sharp cry of entreaty lest I should fail her. ‘It is you that can save him. But let him not see you follow, or it will make him more bitter against me. For if you cannot play with the sword, you can shoot with the pistol; so I have heard, and they tell me that no one can shoot so truly as thou. They would not let thee shoot at Kirkcudbright for the Siller Gun though thou art a burgess, because it were no fair game. Is it not true?’
And so she stroked and cuitled me with flattery till I declare I purred like our Gib cat. I had begun there and then to tell her of my prowess, but that she interrupted me.
‘He goes toward the High Street. Hasten up the South Wynd, and you will overtake him yet ere he comes out upon the open road.’
She thrust two pistols into my belt, which I laid aside again, having mine own more carefully primed with me, to the firing of which my hand was more accustomed—and that to a marksman is more than half the battle.
When I reached the street the wildness of the night justified my prophecy. The snow was falling athwart the town in broad wet flakes, driving flat against the face with a splash, before a gusty westerly wind that roared among the tall lums of the steep-gabled houses—a most uncomfortable night to run the risk of getting a dirk in one's ribs.
I saw my cousin before me, linking on carelessly through the snow with his cloak about his ears and his black-scabbard rapier swinging at his heels.
But I had to slink behind backs like a Holyrood dyvour—a bankrupt going to the Sanctuary, jooking and cowering craftily in the lee-side shadow of the houses. For though so wild a night, it was not very dark. There was a moon up there somewhere among the smother, though she could not get so much as her nose through the wrack of banked snow-cloud which was driving up from the west. Yet Wat could have seen me very black on the narrow strip of snow, had he ever once thought of looking over his shoulder.
But Wat the Wullcat of Lochinvar was not the one to look behind him when he strode on to keep tryst. I minded his bitter reckless words to his mother, ‘Heaven and hell shall not make me break my tryst tonight!’ Now Heaven was shut out by the storm and the tall close-built houses, and Walter Gordon had an excellent chance of standing a bout with the other place.
No doubt my Lady Wellwood bided at the window and looked out for him to come to her through the snow. And I that had for common no thought of lass or lady, cannot say that I was without my own envying that the love of woman was not for me. Or so at least I thought at that time, even as I shielded my eyes under my bonnet and drave through the snow with the pistols loose in my belt. But Wat of Lochinvar walked defiantly through the black storm with a saucy swing in his carriage, light and careless, which I vouch drew my heart to him as if I had been a young girl. I had given ten years of my life if just so I could have taken the eyes of women.
As clear as if I had listened to the words, I could hear him saying over within himself the last sentence he had used in the controversy with his mother— ‘Heaven and hell shall not cause me to break my tryst tonight!’
Alack! poor lad, little understood he the resources of either. For he had yet to pass beneath Traitor's' Gate.
For once the narrow High Street of Edinburgh was clean and white—sheeted down in the clinging snow that would neither melt nor freeze, but only clung to every joint, jut, stoop, and step of the house-fronts, and clogged in lumps on the crockets of the roof. The wind wrestled and roared in great gusts overhead in the black, uncertain, tumultuous night. Then a calm would come, sudden as a curtain-drop in the play-house, and in the hush you could hear the snow sliddering down off the high-pitched roofs of tile. The light of the moon also came in varying wafts and flickers, as the wind blew the clouds alternately thicker and thinner across her face.
Now I felt both traitor and spy as I tracked my cousin down the brae. Hardly a soul was to be seen, for none loves comfort more than an Edinburgh burgher. And none understands his own weather better. The snow had swept ill-doer and well-doer off the street, cleaner than ever did the city guard—who, by the way, were no doubt warming their frozen toes by the cheerful fireside in some convenient house-of-call.
So meditating, for a moment I had almost forgotten whither we were going.
Before us, ere I was aware, loomed up the battlements and turrets of the Netherbow. 'Twas with a sudden stound of the heart, that I remembered what it was that ten months and more ago had been set up there. But I am sure that, sharp-set on his love matter, like a beast that hunts nose-down on a hot trail, Wat Gordon had no memory for the decorations of the Netherbow. For he whistled as he went, and stuck his hand deeper into the breast of his coat. The moon came out as I looked, and for a moment, dark and grisly against the upper brightness, I saw that row of traitors' heads which the city folk regarded no more in their coming and going, than the stone gargoyles set in the roof-niches of St. Giles.
But as soon as Wat went under the blackness of the arch, there came so fierce a gust that it fairly lifted me off my feet and dashed me against the wall. Overhead yelled all the mocking fiends of hell, riding slack-rein to a new perdition. The snow swirled tormented, and wrapped us both in its grey smother. Hands seemed to pull at me out of the darkness, lifted me up, and flung me down again on my face in the smoor of the snow. A great access of fear fell on me. As the gust overpassed, I rose, choked and gasping. Overhead I could hear the mighty blast go roaring and howling away among the crags and rocks of Arthur's Seat.
Then I arose, shook the snow from my dress, glanced at the barrels and cocks of my pistols to see that they were not stopped with snow, and stepped out of the angle of the Bow to look after my cousin. To my utter astonishment, he was standing within four feet of me. He held some dark thing in his hand, and stared open-mouthed at it, as one demented. Without remembering that I had come out at my lady's bidding to follow Wat Gordon secretly, I stepped up to him till I could look over his shoulder.
‘Walter!’ I said, putting my hand on his arm.
But he never minded me in the least, nor yet appeared surprised to find me there. Only a black and bitter horror sat brooding on his soul.
He continued to gaze, fascinated, at the dark thing in his hand.
‘God—God—God!’ he sobbed, the horror taking him short in the throat. ‘Will, do you see THIS?’
Such abject terror never have I heard before nor since in the utterance of any living man.
‘Do you see This?’ he said. ‘See what fell at my feet as I came through the arch of the Bow upon mine errand! The wind brought it down.’
Above the moon pushed her way upwards, fighting hard, breasting the cloud wrack like a labouring ship.
Her beams fell on the dark Thing in Wat Gordon's hand.
‘Great God!’ he shouted again, his eyes starting from their sockets, ‘IT IS MINE OWN FATHER'S HEAD!’
And above us the fitful, flying winds nichered and laughed like mocking fiends.
It was true. I that write, saw it plain. I held it in this very hand. It was the head of Sir John of Lochinvar, against whom, in the last fray, his own son had donned the war-gear. Grizzled, black, the snow cleaving ghastly about the empty eye-holes, the thin beard still straggling snow-clogged upon the chin—it was his own father's head that had fallen at Walter Gordon's feet, and which he now held in his hand.
Then I remembered, with a shudder of apprehension, his own words so lately spoken—‘Heaven and hell shall not cause me to break my tryst tonight.’
Walter Gordon stood rooted there, dazed and dumb-foundered, with the Thing in his hand. His fine lace ruffles touched it as the wind blew them.
I plucked at him.
‘Come,’ I said, ‘haste you! Let us bury it in the Holyrood ere the moon goes down.’
Thus he who boasted himself free of heaven and hell, had his tryst broken by the Thing that fell from the ghastly gate on which the traitors' heads are set in a row. And that Thing was the head of the father that begat him.
WULLCAT WAT DARES HEAVEN AND HELL
It was about the end of February, when the days are beginning to creep out quickly from their shortest, that my aunt, the Lady Lochinvar, came to town. I, that asked only meat and house-room, companied not much with the braver folk who sought the society of my cousin of Lochinvar. Wat glanced here and there in some new bravery every day, and I saw him but seldom. However, my lady aunt came to see me when she had been but three days in town. For she was punctilious about the claims of blood and kinship, which, indeed, women mostly think much more of than do men.
‘A good morning, cousin,’ said she, ‘and how speeds the suit?’
Then I told her somewhat of the law's delays and how I had an excellent lawyer, albeit choleric and stormy in demeanour,—one of mine own name, Mr. William Gordon, though his pleas were drawn by James Stewart, presently in hiding. What Gordon said went down well with my Lords of the Council meeting in Holyrood, for he was a great swearer and damned freely in his speech. But Hugh Wallace, that was the King's cash-keeper, claimed the fine because that my father was a heritor—conform to the Acts of Parliament made against these delinquencies and conventicles in 1670 and 1672, appointing the fines of heritors being transgressors to come into the treasury. But Sir George Mackenzie said, ‘If this plea be not James Stewart's drawing I have no skill of law. Tell me, Gordon, gin ye drew this yoursel' or is James Stewart in Scotland?’
Then my lady of Lochinvar asked of me when I thought my matters might be brought to an end.
‘That I know not,’ said I; ‘it seems slow enough.’
‘All law is slow, save that which my man and your father got,’ said she.
I was astonished that she should mention her man, with that courage and countenance, and the story not six months old; indeed, his very head sticking on the Netherbow, not a mile from us as we talked. But she saw some part of this in my face, and quickly began to say on.
‘You Gordons never think you die honest unless you die in arms against the King. But ye stand well together, though your hand is against every other man. And that is why I, that am but a tacked-on Gordon, come to help you if so be I can; though I and my boy stand for the King, and you and your rebel brother Sandy for the Covenants. Weary fa' them—that took my man from me—for he was a good man to me, though we agreed but ill together concerning kings and politics.’
‘Speak for my brother Sandy,’ I said, ‘I am no strong sufferer, and so shall get me, I fear me, no golden garments.’
Thus I spoke in my ignorance, for the witty lown warm air of Edinburgh in spiritual things had for the time being infected me with opinions like those of the Laodicians.
Now this was a favourite overword of my mother's, that suffering was the Christian's golden garment. But to my aunt, to whom religion was mostly family tradition (or so I thought), I might as well have spoken of fried fish.
‘But concerning Walter,’ she went on, as one that comes to a real subject after beating about the bush, ‘tell me of him. You have been here with him in this city the best part of three months.’
Now indeed I saw plainly enough what it was that had procured me the honour of a visit so early from my lady of Lochinvar.
‘In this city I have indeed been, my aunt,’ I replied, ‘but not with Walter. For I am not Lord of Lochinvar, but only the poor suitor of the King's mercy. And I spent not that which I have not, nor yet can I afford further to burden the estate which may never be mine.’
She waved her hand as at a Whig scruple, which good King's folk made light of.
‘But what of Walter—you have seen—is it well with the lad?’
She spoke eagerly and laid her hand on my arm.
But after all the business was not mine, and besides, a Gordon—Covenant or no Covenant—is no tale-piet, as my lady might well have known.
‘Wat Gordon,’ said I, ‘is the gayest and brightest young spark in town, like a Damascus blade for mettle, and there are none that love not his coming, and grieve not at his going.’
‘Ay—ladies, that I ken,’ said my aunt. ‘What of my Lady Wellwood?’
Now I had a very clear opinion of my Lady Wellwood, though I knew her not; for indeed she would not have waved the back of her lily hand to me in the street. But she was a handsome woman, and I admired her greatly for the fairness of her countenance as she went by. Besides, the business of Wat and my Lady Wellwood was none of mine.
‘My lady is in truth a fine woman,’ I said calmly, looking up as if I were saying what must please my visitor.
The Lady Lochinvar struck one hand on the other hastily and rose.
‘Attend me home,’ she said; ‘I see after all that you are a man, and so must defend all men and admire all women.’
‘The last, for your ladyship's sake, I do,’ I made answer. For in those days we were taught to be courteous to the elder ladies, and to make them becoming compliments, which is in danger of being a forgotten art in these pettifogging times.
‘What takes you to the Covenant side?’ asked Lady Lochinvar, ‘Certes, the Falkland dominie had not made that speech.’
‘The same that took your husband, Lady Lochinvar,’ I returned, somewhat nettled. For she spake as if the many honest folk in Scotland were but dirt beneath the feet of the few. But that was ever the way of her kind.
‘Kenned ye ever a Gordon that would be driven with whips of scorpions, or one that could not be drawn with the light of ladies' eyes?’
She sighed, and gathered up her skirts.
‘Ay, the last all too readily,’ she said, thinking, I doubt not, of Walter Gordon and my lady of Wellwood.
It was dusking when we stepped out. My aunt took my arm and desired that we should walk home, though already I had called a chair for her. So we went up the narrow, dirty street and came slowly to her lodgings. Walter met us on the stair of the turnpike. He was shining in silk and velvet as was recently his constant wont. Lace ruffles were at his wrists. He had a gold chain about his neck, and a jewelled rapier flashed and swung in a gold-broidered velvet sheath at his side.
He seemed no little dashed by our coming in together. I quickly understood that he had thought his mother safely out of the way, and wondered how I should keep the peace between them. For by the tremble of her hand on my arm I felt that the storm was nigh the breaking.
Yet for all that he stopped and kissed her dutifully, standing on the step with his hat in his hand, to let her pass within. The flickering light of the cruisie lamp in the stairhead fell on him, and I thought he had the noblest figure of a youth that ever my eyes had rested upon.
But his mother would not let him go.
‘Attend me to my chamber, Walter,’ she said. ‘I have that concerning which I would speak with you.’
So we went upward, turning and twisting up the long stairs, till we came to the door where my lady lodged. She tirled fretfully at the pin, the servant-maid opened, and we went within. The window stood wide to give a draft to the fire of wood that burned on the firegrate. I went over to close it, and, as I did so, a broad flake of snow swirled down, and lay melting on my wrist. It told me that it was to be a wild night—the last snowstorm of the year, belike.
My lady came back from her own bed-chamber in a moment. She had merely laid aside her plaid, waiting not to change her gown lest her son should be gone.
Walter Gordon stood discontentedly enough at the side of the firegrate, touching the glowing embers with his French shoe, careless of how he burnt it.
‘Walter,’ said my aunt, ‘will you not pleasure us with your company tonight?’
‘I cannot, my lady,’ said Lochinvar, without looking up; ‘I have made an engagement elsewhere.’
He spoke baldly and harshly, as one that puts a restraint on himself.
His mother looked at him with her eyes like coals from which the leaping flame has just died out. For a moment she said nothing, but the soul within her flamed out of the windows of her house of clay, fiery and passionate. It had come to the close and deadly pinch with her, and it was on the dice's throw whether she would lose or keep her son.
‘Walter Gordon,’ she said at last, ‘has your mother journeyed thus far to so little purpose, that now she is here, you will not do her the honour to spend a single night in her company? Since when has she become so distasteful to you?’
‘Mother,’ said Wat, moved in spite of himself, ‘you do not yourself justice when you speak so. I would spend many nights with you, for all my love and service are yours; but tonight I cannot fail to go whither I have promised without being man-sworn and tryst-breaker. And you have taught me that the Gordons are neither.’
‘Wat,’ she said, hearing but not heeding his words, ‘bide you by me tonight. There be sweet maids a many that will give their lives for you. You are too young for such questing and companionry. Go not to my Lady Wellwood tonight. O do not, my son! 'Tis your mother that makes herself a beggar to you!’
At the name of my Lady Wellwood Walter Gordon started from his place as though he had been stung and glanced over at me with a sudden and fiery anger.
‘If my cousin…’
But I kept my eyes clear upon him, as full of fire mayhap as his own. And even in that moment I saw the thought pass out of his mind in the uncertain firelight.
‘Your cousin has told me nothing, though I deny not that I asked him,’ said my lady curtly. ‘Young men hang together, like adder's eggs. But Wat, dear Wat, will you not put off your gay apparelling and take a night at the cartes with us at home. See, the fire is bright and the lamp ready. It will be a wild night without presently!’
‘Tomorrow, mother, tomorrow at e'en shall be the night of my waiting upon you. Tonight, believe me, I cannot—though, because you ask me, with all my heart I would that I could.’
Then his mother rose up from her seat by the fire, and went up to him. She laid her hand on his arm and looked into his eyes.
‘O Walter, my boy, go not forth tonight’—(here I declare to God the proud woman knelt to her own son)— ‘See, I have put off my pride, and I pray you not to go for my sake—for your mother's sake, that never denied you anything. There is evil boding in the air.’
She shuddered and, in rising, threw an arm over his shoulder, as though she had been his sweetheart and were fleeching with him.
For a moment I saw Wat Gordon waver. Then he took her hand gently and drew it down from his shoulder.
‘Mother, for you I would do all, save set a stain upon my honour. But this thing I cannot, for I have plighted my word deep and fast, and go I must tonight.’
‘Tell me,’ said my aunt, ‘is it a matter of treason to the King?’
Her eyes were eager, expectant. And for very pity of her I hoped that Walter could give her satisfaction on the point. But it was not as I thought, for who can track a woman's heart?
‘God forbid,’ said Wat Gordon heartily, as one that is most mightily relieved.
But his mother fell back and her hands dropped to her side.
‘Then,’ she said, ‘it is my Lady Wellwood!—I had rather a thousand times it had been treason and rebellion—aye, though it had set your head on high beside your father's.’
‘Lady Wellwood or another!’ cried Wat, ‘nor heaven nor hell shall gar me break my tryst this nicht!’
And without another word Walter Gordon went down the stairs as one that runs defiantly to death, daring both God and man—and, alas! the mother also that bore him.
WE RIDE TO EDINBURGH
When my cousin Lochinvar heard what had been done in the matter of the lad, Andrew Herries, his anger burned fiercely within him. He sought Westerhall on the instant.
‘Foul Annandale thief!’ he cried, ‘come out and try the length of thy sword on the heather. Down with thee and see if thou canst stand up to a man, thou great stirk. 'Tis easy putting thy wolf's spite on helpless bairns, but this sword-arm shall tickle thy midriff to an unkenned tune.’
But Colonel Graham would not let them fight.
‘Aroint thee,’ he said to Lochinvar, ‘for a young ruffler and spit-fire. Well may they call thee Wullcat. But you shall not decimate my troop, or I must put you in irons, for all those bright eyes which the ladies love.’
Lochinvar turned to him.
‘Colonel Graham, did you yourself not say, 'I am guiltless of this poor man's life!' So, at least, I have been informed.’
Claverhouse nodded grimly. It was not a weakness he often showed.
‘Then why not let me have it out with this bairn-slayer? I had e'en garred the guard o' my sword dirl again his ribs.’
In another the boast had seemed like presumption, but so noble a sworder was Wat Gordon that he but stated a truth. And all that were present knew it for such.
‘Westerhall will be the more grateful to me, in that case,’ said Clavers, ‘but hark ye, Lochinvar! there must be no more of this. Ye would reduce the number of his Majesty's forces effective in one way. The Reverend Richard Cameron (with whom Providence send me a good and swift meeting) in another. But in the end it comes to the same thing. Now I opine, it will fit you well to hie to Edinburgh with despatches. And I prithee take your noble and peaceful cousin of Earlstoun with thee. Gin thou canst exchange him there for his brother Sandy, I shall be the more glad to see thee back.’
So in a little Wat Gordon and I (Hugh Kerr and John Scarlet being with us) were riding with Claverhouse's despatches to the Privy Council.
Northward we travelled through infinite rough and unkindly places, vexed ever with a bitter wind in our faces. As we passed many of the little cot houses on the opposite hillsides, we would see a head look suddenly out upon us. Then the door fell open, and with a rush like wild things breaking from their dens, a father and a son, or such-like, would take the heather. And once, even, we saw the black coat of a preacher. But with never a halt we went on our way, sharp-set to reach Edinburgh.
As we went, Wat Gordon spoke to me of the great ones of the town, and especially of the Duchess of Wellwood, with whom, as it appeared, he was high in favour. But whether honestly or no, I had no means of judging. It was passing strange for me, who indeed was too young for such love, even had I been fitted by nature for it—to hear Wat speak of the gallantry of the great ladies of the Court, and of the amorous doings at Whitehall. For I had been strictly brought up—a thing which to this day I do not regret, for it gives even ill-doing a better relish. But in these times when there are many new-fangled notions about the upbringing of children and the manner of teaching them, I ever declare I do not know any better way than that which my father used. Its heads and particulars were three—the Shorter Catechism for the soul, good oatmeal porridge for the inward man—and for the outward, some twigs of the bonny birk, properly applied and that upon the appointed place.
So that to hear of the gay French doings at the Court, which by Wat's telling were greatly copied in Edinburgh, was to me like beholding the jigging and coupling of puggy monkeys in a cage to make sport for the vulgar.
‘The Lord keep me from the like of that!’ I cried, when he had told me of a ploy that my Lady Castlemaine and my pretty Mistress Stuart had carried through together—the point of which was that these two quipsome dames were wedded, like man and wife, and eke bedded before the Court.
And at this Wat Gordon, who had not much humour at the most of times, turned on me with a quizzical look on his face, saying, ‘I think you are in no great danger, Cousin William.’
Which I took not ill, for at that time I cared not a jot about the appearance of my body, nor for any lady's favour in the land.
When we reached Edinburgh, I went immediately to decent lodgings in the West Bow, to which I had been directed by my mother; but Walter, saying that the West Bow was no fit lodging for a gentleman, went on to settle himself in one of the fashionable closes off the Lawnmarket.
As soon as we were by ourselves, my man, Hugh Kerr, came to me, and began to ask if I knew anything of John Scarlet, the serving man that accompanied my cousin.
I replied that I knew nothing of him, save that my cousin had past all endurance cried him up to me as a mighty sworder.
‘Weel,’ said Hugh Kerr, ‘it may be, but it's my opeenion that he is a most mighty leer, an' a great scoundrel forbye.’
I asked him why, and at the first go-off he would give me no better answer than that he opined that his name was not John Scarlet but John Varlet, as better denoting a gentleman of his kidney.
But when I pressed him, he told me that this serving man had told him that he had committed at least half-a-dozen murders—which he called slaughters and justified, that he had been at nigh half a hundred killings in the fields, yet that he could pray like Mr. Kid himself at a Societies' Meeting, and be a leader among the hill-folk when it seemed good to him.
‘An' the awesome thing o't a' is that the ill deil declared that he had half-a-dizzen wives, and that he could mainteen the richts o' that too. So I reasoned with him, but faith! the scoundrel had the assurance to turn my flank wi' Abraham and the patriarchs. He said that he wadna cast up Solomon to me, for he wasna just prepared to uphaud the lengths that Solomon gaed to i' the maitter o' wives.’
But I told Hugh to give his mind no concern about the sayings or doings of Master John Scarlet or Varlet, for that it was all most likely lies; and if not, neither he nor I was the man's master, to whom alone he stood or fell.
But for all that I could see that Hughie was much dashed by his encounter with my cousin's follower, for Hughie accounted himself a great hand at the Scripture. We heard afterwards that John Scarlet had been a sometime follower of Muckle John Gib, and that it was in his company that he learned notions, which is a thing exceedingly likely. But this was before Anton Lennox of the Duchrae took John in hand and sorted him to rights, that day in the moss of the Deer-Slunk between Lowthian and Lanark.
Then with my cousin's interest to back me, and especially that which he made with the Duchess of Wellwood, I wore out the winter of the year 1679 in petitions and embassies, praying that the estates should not be taken from us, and biding all the time in my lodging in the West Bow. I had James Stewart, then in hiding, to make out my pleas, and right ably he drew them. It was a strong point in our favour that my father had not been killed at Bothwell, but only when advancing in the direction of the combatants. And besides, I myself had bidden at home, and not ridden out with the others. As for Sandy, he had not the chance of a lamb in the wolf's maw, having been on the field itself with a troop; so I stood for my own claim, meaning with all my very heart to do right by my elder brother when the time came—though, indeed, I had but small reason to love him for his treatment of me. Yet for all that, I shall never say but what he was a stupid, honest lown enough.
Mayhap if he had been other than my brother, I had loved him better; but he tortured me as thoughtlessly when I was a weakly lad as if I had been a paddock or a fly, till the instinct of dislike infected my blood. And after that there could be no hope of liking, hardly of tolerance. This is the reason of most of the feuds among brothers the world over. For it is the fact, though there are few fathers that suspect it, that many elder brothers make the lives of the youngers a burden too heavy to be borne—which thing, together with marrying of wives, in after years certainly works bitterness.
More than anything, it struck me as strange that my cousin Lochinvar could make merry in the very city—where but a few months before his father had been executed and done to death. But Hughie Kerr told me one evening, when we were going over Glenkens things, how Wat's father had used him—keeping him at the strap's end. For Wat was ever his mother's boy, who constantly took his part as he needed it, and made a great cavalier and King's man of him. This his father tried to prevent and drive out of him with blows, till the lad fairly hated him and his Covenants. And so it was as it was. For true religion comes not by violence, but chiefly, I think, from being brought up with good men, reverencing their ways and words.
THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS
With that, like a loch broken loose, Johnstone's tail of Annandale thieves rushed within the house and dang all things here and there at their liking. Some came forth carrying good house gear, some table furniture, and some the plenishing of bed and wardrobe. They turned all that they could not carry into the midst of the floor to burn at their leisure. They drove away the cattle from off the brae-face. They gathered the widow's poor head of sheep off the hill. And all the time Isobel Herries stood trembling for her lads and holding the chief's horse. As the men passed, one after another, they flung words at her that will not bear writing down. And I was glad that the little maid who stood by with her brother in her hand, understood not their import.
When all was done, Westerhall set to work and pulled down the whole house, for the rigging and walls were but of baked clay and crumbled before them. Yet the poor woman wailed for them bitterly, as they had been a palace.
‘The bonny bit, O the bonny bit!’ she cried. ‘Where I had sic a sweet bairn-time. I was that happy wi' a' my tottlin' weans aboot my hand. But I kenned it couldna last—it was ower sweet to last.’
So they turned her out to the bare hillside with the bairns in her hand. It did not, to my thinking, make the case any better that her brother was a rebel. But in those days it was treason to succour the living or honour the dead—ay, even if they had lain in your bed and stirred in your side. It was forbidden on pain of death to give them so much as a bed or a meal of meat. For such was the decree of just and pious Charles, King at Whitehall, who alone had the right to say in what fashion the poor ignorant folk of Scotland should worship the God of their fathers.
We had not ridden far after leaving the house a heap of ruins, before we met Claverhouse and his troop, riding slow, with a prisoner in the midst of them.
‘What luck!’ cried he; ‘good sport in your ain coverts, Westerha'?’
He had a delicately insolent contempt for the Johnstone that set well on him, though as I knew well he could be as cold and bloody as any of them when the humour drove him. Yet mostly he killed like a gentleman after all, and not like a border horse thief—save only in the case of honest John Brown of Priesthill.
But Westerhall had caught sight of Clavers's prisoner. He rode up to him and struck him a buffet in the face, though the lad's hands were tied before him. He was a youth of eighteen, as near as one might guess, a boy of a pleasant and ruddy countenance, such as one may chance to see on any brae-face in Scotland where there are sheep feeding, with a staff in his hand and a dog at his heels.
‘My Whiggie, I have you now,’ he cried. ‘I'll e'en learn you to row dead rebels in your plaidie, and harbour hill preachers on my land. Could I get at your brothers, I declare I wadna leave a Herries birkie on the lands o' Westerha'. Have him down, men,’ he cried, ‘and shoot him here.’
But Clavers interposed.
‘No,’ he said, ‘he is now my prisoner. Ride ye on to Westerha'; and there, Johnstone, I shall give ye a present of him to make a kirk or a mill of. It'll be you that will have to pay the harbourage cess for this day's work at ony gate!’
So to Westerhall Johnstone rode, very gloomy and ill at ease—for the black dog was sitting heavy on him at the thought of the fine anent harbourers of rebels being found on his land. Again and again he broke out on the poor youth Andrew Herries, threatening what he would do with him when he got him to Westerhall. But the youth never so much as answered back, only cast down his head and looked on the moss before him. Yet he walked carefully and without stumbling as one that takes heed to his going.
Now at a bonny spot where there is much green grass, it so happened that we halted. You will find the place readily if ever you pass that way. It is just on that tongue of land where the Rig Burn meets the Esk Water and close by the house of Westerhall. There, where the Great Hill of Stennies Water pushes down a spur to the water side, was our halting place. Here, as soon as we alighted down, Westerhall passed sentence on Andrew Herries, saying that he had due authority from the Council as King's Justicer for the parts about the Esk and Annan.
Claverhouse was noways keen for the lad's shooting, and strove to put him off. Yet he was not over-earnest in the matter, for (as he often said) to John Graham a dead Whig was always greatly better than a living.
But for all that, he waved his hand and cried aloud:‘The blood of this poor man, Westerha', be upon you. I am free from it.’
Nevertheless, since Westerhall had given the sentence and for example's sake it could not be departed from, Claverhouse ordered a Highland gentleman, the captain of a free company that was traversing the country with him, to shoot the lad and get it over. But Donald Dhu cocked his bonnet till the eagle's feather in it stood erect, and in high dudgeon drew off his clansmen.
‘Hursel cam' frae the Heelants to fecht men, and no to be pluff-pluffin' poother at poor lads that are no lang frae the mither's milk.’
This was the statement of Donald Dhu, and I that had no love for Highlandmen, nor any cause to love them, remembering the hand they made of my father's house of Earlstoun, could have cheered him where I stood. But I remembered the errand I was on, and for my mother's sake forbore.
‘What!’ cried Westerhall, glowering at him and riding up close, as if to strike him, ‘would you disobey the General's orders!’
‘Donald Dhu has no General but his King,’ cried the bold Highlandman. ‘Call up your row-footed messans, and bid them do your nain dirty work.’
Then Claverhouse, who of all things loved not to be outfaced, ordered him peremptorily to obey.
‘Indeed, John Graham, hursel will fecht ye first—you and a' your troop.’
Then seeing that Clavers was about to raise his hand in command, as though to take him unawares--
‘Claymores!’ suddenly cried Donald Dhu, and behind him fifty Highland brands flashed in air as the wild clansmen threw back their plaids to clear the sword-arm.
‘This I shall report to the Privy Council,’ said Clavers very gravely, turning on him a black and angry countenance.
But the brave Highlander was noways affected.
‘Hooch!’ he said, giving his fingers a snap, ‘a fig for your Preevies—Donald Dhu wull hae small notion o' Preevy Cooncils on Ben Muick. Gin Preevies come to veesit Donald Dhu on Spey side, it's just hursel that wull be the prood man to see the Preevies—aye, or you yersel' either, John Graham!’
Thus much Donald Dhu, and he was a good man and died linking down the brae with his men true, behind John Graham at Killiecrankie in the fulness of time—which was better work than, as he said, ‘pluff-pluffin' poother at puir lawlan tykes.’
But when Westerhall saw that the Highland birses were up, and that he would in no wise obey orders, he ordered some of his own scoundrels to do the thing. For his black heart was set on the shooting of the lad.
Then I could endure no longer, but ran forward as if to save him, crying out to them that he was innocent, and but a lad at any rate, which mightily angered Westerhall.
‘Stell up the yae rebel whelp beside the other!’ he said; and I believe that had we been alone with the Annandale men, they would have done it.
But Clavers said: ‘Let be! Take away young Earlstoun to the knowe-tap!’
So they led me off, fairly girning with anger and impotence. For once I longed for Sandy's brute strength to charge at them like a bull with the head down.
‘Lochinvar!’ I cried, as they forced me away. ‘To me, Lochinvar!’
But, alas! my cousin was off on some of his own ploys, and came not till too late. As you shall hear.
Then when the men were in rank to fire, Westerhall bid Andrew Herries draw down his blue bonnet over his eyes. But he was a lad of most undaunted courage, and though he had come so meekly to the slaughter, now he spoke out boldly enough.
‘I wad raither dee,’ he said, ‘in the face o' a' men and the plain licht o' God. I hae dune nocht to make me shamed afore my death-bringers. Though, being but young, I hae but little testimony to gie, an' nae great experience o' religion to speak aboot. The end has come ower quick on me for that!’
Then they asked him, as was their custom, if he had aught to say before sentence should take effect upon him.
‘Nocht in particular,’ he said, ‘but there's a book here (and he pulled a little Bible out of his breast) that you an' me will be judged by. I wish I had read mair earnestly in it an' profited better by it. But at ony rate I aye carried it to read at the herdin', and my time has been cut short.’
‘Make haste,’ they said, ‘we haena time to taigle wi' ye.’
‘And I hae as little desire to taigle you,’ he said, ‘but I am glad that I didna grudge the puir Westland man my best plaid for his last covering, though there be none to do as muckle for me.’
The fire rang out. The blue wreaths of smoke rose level, and there on the green sward, with his face to the sky, and his Bible yet in his hand, lay the widow's son, Andrew Herries, very still.
‘So perish all the King's rebels,’ cried Westerhall loudly, as it were, to give the black deed a colour of law.
But John Graham said never a word, only lifted his hat and then rode away with a countenance like the granite stone of the mountain.
THE GRAVE IN THE WILDERNESS
But on the morrow I, who desired to see the ways of the Compellers, learned a lesson that ended my scholarship days with them. James Johnstone seemed somewhat moved by the matter of the bairns, but by the morning light he had again hardened his heart, like Pharaoh, more bitterly than before. For he was now on his own land, and because his thought was that the King would hold him answerable for the behaviour and repute of his people, he became more than ordinarily severe. This he did, being a runnagate from the wholesome ways of the Covenant; and, therefore, the more bitter against all who remained of that way.
He drove into the yards of the farm-towns, raging like a tiger of the Indies, now calling on the names of the goodman of the house, and now upon other suspected persons. And if they did not run out to him at the first cry, he would strike them on the face with the basket hilt of his shable till the blood gushed out. It was a sick and sorry thing to see, and I think his Majesty's troopers were ashamed; all saving the Johnstone's own following, who laughed as at rare sport.
But I come now to tell what I saw with my own eyes of the famous matter of Andrew Herries, which was the cause of my cousin of Lochinvar leaving their company and riding with me and Hugh Kerr all the way to Edinburgh. As, indeed, you shall presently hear. And the manner of its happening was as follows. We were riding full slowly along the edge of a boggy loch in the parish of Hutton, and, as usual, quartering the ground for Whig refugees, of whom it was suspected that there were many lurking in the neighbourhood. We had obtained no success in our sport, and Westerhall was a wild man. He ran about crying ‘Blood and wounds!’ which was a favourite oath of his, and telling what he would do to those who dared to rebel, and harbour preachers and preachers' brats on his estate. For we had heard that the lass who had bearded us on the brae-face by the school, with her little brother Alec in her hand, was the daughter of Roger Allison, a great preacher of the hill-folk who had come to them over from Holland, to draw them together into some of their ancient unity and power.
Westerhall, then, knew not as yet in whose house she was dwelling, but only that she had been received by one of his people. But this, if it should come to Claverhouse's ears, was enough to cause him to set a fine upon the Johnstone—so strict as against landlords were the laws concerning intercommuning with rebels or rebels' children on their estates. This was indeed the cause of so many of the lairds, who at first were all on the side of the Covenant, turning out Malignants and persecutors. And more so in the shire of Dumfries than in Galloway, where the muirs are broader, the King's arm not so long, and men more desperately dour to drive.
All of a sudden, as we went along the edge of a morass, we came upon something that stayed us. It was, as I say, in Hutton parish, a very pleasant place, where there is the crying of many muir-fowl, and the tinkle of running water everywhere. All at once a questing dragoon held up his arm, and cried aloud. It was the signal that he had found something worthy of note. We all rode thither—I, for one, praying that it might not be a poor wanderer, too wearied to run from before the face of the troopers' wide-spreading advance.
However, it was but a newly-made grave in the wilderness, hastily dug, and most pitifully covered with green fresh-cut turves, in order to give it the look of the surrounding morass. It had very evidently been made during the darkness of the night, and it might have passed without notice then. But now, in the broad equal glare of the noon-tide, it lay confessed for what it was—a poor wandering hill-man's grave in the wild.
‘Who made this?’ cried Westerhall. ‘Burn me on the deil's brander, but I'll find him out!’
‘Hoot,’ said Clavers, who was not sharp set that day, perhaps having had enough of Westerhall's dealing with the bairns yesterday, ‘come away, Johnstone; 'tis but another of your Eskdale saints. Ye have no lack of them on your properties, as the King will no doubt remember. What signifies a Whig Johnstone the less? There's more behind every dyke, and then their chief is aye here, able and willing to pay for them!’
This taunt, uttered by the insolent scorning mouth of Claverhouse, made Westerhall neither to hold nor bind. Indeed the fear of mulet and fine rode him like the hag of dreams.
‘Truth of God!’ cried he; for he was a wild and blasphemous man, very reckless in his words; ‘do so to me, and more also, if I rack not their limbs, that gied the clouts to wrap him in. I'se burn the bed he lay in, bring doon the rafter and roof-tree that sheltered him—aye, though it were the bonny hoose o' St. Johnstone itsel', an' lay the harbourer of the dead Whig cauld i' the clay, gin it were the mither that bore me! Deil reestle me gin I keep not this vow.’
Now, the most of the men there were upon occasion bonny swearers, not taking lessons in the art from any man; but to the Johnstone they were as children. For, being a runnagate Covenanter, and not accustomed in his youth to swear, he had been at some pains to learn the habit with care, thinking it a necessary accomplishment and ornament to such as did the King's business, especially to a captain of horse. Which, indeed, it hath ever been held, but in moderation and with discretion. Westerhall had neither, being the man he was.
‘Fetch the Whig dog up!’ he commanded.
The men hesitated, for it was a job not at all to their stomachs, as well it might not be that hot day, with the sun fierce upon them overhead.
‘Tut, man,’ said Clavers, ‘let him lie. What more can ye do but smell him? Is he not where you and I would gladly see all his clan? Let the ill-favoured Whig be, I say!’
‘I shall find out who sheltered him on my land. Howk him up!’ cried Westerhall, more than ever set in his mad cruelty at Colonel Graham's words. So to the light of the merciless day they opened out the loose and shallow grave, and came on one wrapped in a new plaid, with winding sheets of pure linen underneath. These were all stained and soaked with the black brew of the moss, for the man had been buried, as was usual at the time, hastily and without a coffin. But the sleuthhound instinct of the Johnstone held good. ‘Annandale for the hunt, Nithsdale for the market, and Gallowa' for the fecht!’ is ever a true proverb.
‘Let me see wha's aucht the sheet?’ he said.
So with that, Westerhall unwound the corner and held it up to the light.
‘Isobel Allison!’ he exclaimed, holding the fine linen up to the light, and reading the name inwoven, as was then the custom when a bride did her providing. ‘The widow Herries, the verra woman—ain dam's sister to the Whig preacher—sant amang the hill-folk. Weel ken I the kind o' her. To the hill, lads, and we will burn the randy oot, even as I said. I'll learn the Hutton folk to play wi' the beard o' St. Johnstone.’
‘Foul Annandale thief!’ said I, but stilly to myself, for who was I to stand against all of them? Yet I could see that, save and except the chief's own ragged tail, there were none of the soldiers that thought this kind of work becoming.
Ere he mounted, Westerhall took the poor, pitiful body, and with his foot despitefully tumbled it into a moss-hole.
‘I'll show them what it is to streek dead Whigs like honest men, and row them dainty in seventeen hunder linen on my land!’ cried Westerhall.
And indeed it seemed a strange and marvellous Providence to me, that young Isobel Allison, when she wove in that name with many hopes and prayers, the blood of her body flushing her cheek with a maiden's shy expectation, should have been weaving in the ruin of her house and the breaking of her heart.
Now the cot of the widow Herries was a bonny place. So I believe, but of its beauty I will not speak. For I never was back that way again—and what is more, I never mean to be.
We came to the gavel end of the house. Westerhall struck it with his sword.
‘We'll sune hae this doon!’ he said to us that followed. Then louder he cried, ‘Mistress, are ye within?’ as the custom of the country is.
A decent woman with a white widow's cap on her head was scraping out a dish of hen's meat as we rode to the door. When she saw us on our horses about the close, the wooden bowl fell from her hands and played clash on the floor.
‘Aye, my bonny woman,’ quoth Westerhall, ‘this comes o' keeping Whigs aboot your farm-toon. Whatna Whig rebel was it ye harboured? Oot wi't, Bell Allison! Was it the brither o' ye, that cursed spawn o' the low country? Doon on your knees an' tell me, else it is your last hour on the earth.’
The poor woman fell on her knees and clasped her hands.
‘O Westerha'!’ she stammered, ‘I'll no lee till ye. It was but a puir Westland man that we kenned not the name o'. We fand him i' the fields, and for very God's pity brocht him hame to our door and laid him on the bed. He never spak' 'yea' or 'nay' to us all the time he abode in our hoose-place, and so passed without a word late yestreen.’
‘Lying Whig!’ cried Westerhall, ‘who was it that found him? Whatna yin o' your rebel sons—chasing up hill and doon dale after your blackguard brither, was it that brocht him hame?’
‘I kenna wha it was that brocht him. It was a wee bit lass that fand him when she was playin' i' the moss wi' her brither.’
‘I ken your wee bit lasses,’ said Westerhall; ‘she's a bonny sprig o' that braw plant o' grace, Roger Allison, wha's heid shall yet look blythe on the West Port o' Edinburgh, wi' yin o' his cantin' thief's hands on ilka side o't.’
The poor woman said no word, but out from the chamber door came our little lass of yesterday and stood beside her.
‘Wha's plaidie is this?’ again quoth Westerhall, holding up the plaid in which the dead man had been wrapped, like an accusation in his hand; ‘to the hill, boys, and lay hand on this honest woman's honest sons. King Charles wull hae something to say to them, I'm thinkin'.’
With that he leapt from his horse, throwing the reins to the widow.
‘Hae, haud my horse,’ he said, ‘an' gin ye stir an inch, ye'll get an ounce o' lead in you, ye auld shakin' limb o' Sawtan.’
THROUGH DEATH'S DARK VALE
Now this Eskdale was the Johnstone's own country, and one in which I was noways at home—a country of wide green holms and deep blind ‘hopes’ or hollows among the mountains, where the cloud shadows bide and linger, and whence they come out again to scud swiftly over the hips of the hills. I had been trained to be pleasant and prudent in my conversation, and there was little to take me out of myself in the company I had perforce to keep. Yet I dared not withdraw myself from their train, lest the jealousy of our band, which was latent among the more scurril of them, should break out. So I rode mostly silent, but with a pleased countenance which belied my heart.
Indeed, had it not been for the good liking which everywhere pursued my cousin Lochinvar, I cannot tell what might have come out of the dislike for us ‘Glenkens Whiggies,’ which was their mildest word for us. Yet my man Hugh never said a word, for he was a prudent lad and slow of speech; while I, being no man of war, also looked well to my words, and let a wary tongue keep my head. As for John Meiklewood, honest man, he took suddenly one morning what he termed a ‘sair income in his wame,’ and leave being scantily asked, he hied him home to his wife and weans at the Mains of Earlstoun.
Now this was the manner of our march. Claverhouse sent his horse scouring up on the tops of the hills and along the higher grounds, while his foot quartered the lower districts, bringing all such as were in any way suspicious to the kirkyards to be examined. Old and young, men and women alike, were taken; and often—chiefly, it is true, behind Claverhouse's back—the soldiers were most cruel at the business, making my blood boil, till I thought that I must fly out and strike some of them. I wondered not any longer that my father had taken to the hill, sick to death of the black terror which Charles's men caused daily to fall upon all around them, wherever in Scotland men cared enough about their religion to suffer for it.
How my cousin Lochinvar stood it I cannot tell. Indeed I think that but for the teaching of his mother, and the presence of John Scarlet, who at this time was a great King's man and of much influence with Wat Gordon, he had been as much incensed as I.
One morning in especial I mind well. It was a Tuesday, and our company was under the command of this Johnstone of Westerha', who of all the clan, being a turncoat, was the cruellest and the worst. For the man was in his own country, and among his own kenned faces, his holders and cottiers—so that the slaughter of them was as easy as killing chickens reared by hand.
And even Claverhouse rather suffered, and shut his eyes to it, than took part in the hard driving.
‘Draw your reins here,’ the Johnstone would say, as we came to the loaning foot of some little white lime-washed house with a reeking lum. ‘There are some Bible folk here that wad be none the worse o' a bit ca'!’
So he rode up to the poor muirland housie sitting by itself all alone among the red heather. Mostly the folk had marked us come, and often there was no one to be seen, but, as it might be, a bairn or two playing about the green.
Then he would have these poor bits of things gathered up and begin to fear them, or contrariwise to offer them fair things if only they would tell where their parents were, and who were used to come about the house.
There is a place, Shieldhill by name, that sits blithely on the brae-face at the entering in of Annandale. The country thereabouts is not very wild, and there are many cotter houses set about the holms and dotted among the knowes. Westerha' enclosed the whole with a ring of his men, and came upon them as he thought unawares, for he said the place was like a conventicle, and rife with psalm-singers. But he was a wild man when he found the men and women all fled, and only the bairns, as before, feared mostly out of their lives, sitting cowering together by the ingle, or hiding about the byres.
‘I'll fear them waur,’ said Westerha', as he came to the third house and found as before only two-three weans, ‘or my name is no James Johnstone.’
So what did this ill-set Johnstone do, but gather them all up into a knot by a great thorn-tree that grows on the slope. This Tuesday morn was clear and sunny—not bright, but with a kind of diffused light, warm and without shadows, as if the whole arch of the lift were but one sun, yet not so bright as the sun we mostly have.
There were some thirty bairns by the tree, mostly of Westerha's own name, save those that were Jardines, Grahams, and Charterises, for those are the common names of that countryside. The children stood together, huddled in a cloud, too frightened to speak or even to cry aloud. And one thing I noticed, that the lassie bairns were stiller and grat not so much as the boys—all save one, who was a laddie of about ten years. He stood with his hands behind his back, and his face was very white; but he threw back his head and looked the dragoons and Annandale's wild riders fair in the face as one that has conquered fear.
Then Westerha' rode forward almost to the midst of the cloud of bairns, ‘gollering’ and roaring at the bit things to frighten them, as was his custom with such. They were mostly from six to ten years of their age; and when I saw them thus with their feared white faces, I wished that I had been six foot of my inches, and with twenty good men of the Glen at my back. But I minded that I was but a boy— ‘stay-at-home John,’ as Sandy called me—and worth nothing with my hands. So I could only fret and be silent. I looked for my cousin Lochinvar, but he was riding at the Graham's bridle rein, and that day I saw nothing of him. But I wondered how this matter of the bairns liked him.
So Westerha' rode nearer to them, shouting like a shepherd crying down the wind tempestuously, when his dogs are working sourly.
‘Hark ye,’ he cried, ‘ill bairns that ye are, ye are all to dee, and that quickly, unless ye answer me what I shall ask of you.’
Then I saw something that I had never seen but among the sheep, and it was a most pitiful and heart-wringing thing to see, though now in the telling it seems no great matter. There is a time of the year when it is fitting that the lambs should be separated from the ewes; and it ever touches me nearly to see the flock of poor lammies when first the dogs come near to them to begin the work, and wear them in the direction in which they are to depart. All their little lives the lambs had run to their mothers at the first hint of danger. Now they have no mothers to flee to, and you can see them huddle and pack in a frightened solid bunch, quivering with apprehension, all with their sweet little winsome faces turned one way. Then as the dogs run nearer to start them, there comes from them a little low broken-hearted bleating, as if terror were driving the cry out of them against their wills. Thus it is with the lambs on the hill, and so also it was with the bairns that clung together in a cluster on the brae-face.
A party of soldiers was now drawn out before them, and the young things were bid look into the black muzzles of the muskets. They were indeed loaded only with powder, but the children were not to know that.
‘Now,’ cried Westerha', ‘tell me who comes to your houses at night, and who goes away early in the morning!’
The children crept closer to one another, but none of them answered. Whereupon Westerha' indicated one with his finger—the lad who stood up so straightly and held his head back.
‘You, young Cock-of-the-heather, what might be your black Whig's name?’
‘Juist the same as your honour's—James Johnstone!’ replied the boy, in no way abashed.
Methought there ran a titter of laughter among the soldiers, for Westerha' was noways so well liked among the soldiers as Claverhouse or even roaring Grier of Lag.
‘And what is your father's name?’ continued Westerha', bending just one black look upon the lad.
‘James Johnstone!’ yet again replied the boy.
Back in the ranks someone laughed.
Westerhall flung an oath over his shoulder.
‘Who was the man who laughed? I shall teach you to laugh at the Johnstone in his own country!’
‘It was Jeems Johnstone of Wanphray that laughed, your honour,’ replied the calm voice of a troop-sergeant.
Then Westerha' set himself without another word to the work of examination, which suited him well.
‘You will not answer, young rebels,’ he cried, ‘ken you what they get that will not speak when the King bids them?’
‘Are you the King?’ said the lad of ten who had called himself James Johnstone.
At this Westerhall waxed perfectly furious, with a pale and shaking fury that I liked not to see. But indeed the whole was so distasteful to me that sometimes I could but turn my head away.
‘Now, ill bairns,’ said Westerha', ‘and you, my young rebel-namesake, hearken ye. The King's command is not to be made light of. And I tell you plainly that as you will not answer, I am resolved that you shall all be shot dead on the spot!’
With that he sent men to set them out in rows, and make them kneel down with kerchiefs over their eyes.
Now when the soldiers came near to the huddled cluster of bairns, that same little heart-broken bleating which I have heard the lambs make, broke again from them. It made my heart bleed and the nerves tingle in my palms. And this was King Charles Stuart making war! It had not been his father's way.
But the soldiers, though some few were smiling a little as at an excellent play, were mostly black ashamed. Nevertheless they took the bairns and made them kneel, for that was the order, and without mutiny they could not better it.
‘Sodger-man, wull ye let me tak' my wee brither by the hand and dee that way? I think he wad thole it better!’ said a little maid of eight, looking up.
And the soldier let go a great oath and looked at Westerha' as though he could have slain him.
‘Bonny wark,’ he cried, ‘deil burn me gin I listed for this!’
But the little lass had already taken her brother by the hand.
‘Bend doon bonny, Alec my man, doon on your knees!’ said she.
The boy glanced up at her. He had long yellow hair like Jean Hamilton's little Alec.
‘Wull it be sair?’ he asked. ‘Think ye, Maggie? I houp it'll no be awfu' sair!’
‘Na, Alec,’ his sister made answer, ‘it'll no be either lang or sair.’
But the boy of ten, whose name was James Johnstone, neither bent nor knelt.
‘I hae dune nae wrang. I'll juist dee this way,’ he said; and he stood up like one that straightens himself at drill.
Then Westerha' bid fire over the bairns' heads, which was cruel, cruel work, and only some of the soldiers did it. But even the few pieces that went off made a great noise in that lonely place. At the sound of the muskets some of the bairns fell forward on their faces as if they had been really shot. Some leapt in the air, but the most part knelt quietly and composedly.
The little boy Alec, whose sister had his hand clasped in hers, made as if he would rise.
‘Bide ye doon, Alec,’ she said, very quietly, ‘it's no oor turn yet!’
At this the heart within me gave way, and I roared out in my helpless pain a perfect ‘gowl’ of anger and grief.
‘Bonny Whigs ye are,’ cried Westerha', ‘to dee withoot even a prayer. Put up a prayer this minute, for ye shall all dee, every one of you.’
And the boy James Johnstone made answer to him:
‘Sir, we cannot pray, for we be too young to pray.’
‘You are not too young to rebel, nor yet to die for it!’ was the brute-beast's answer.
Then with that the little girl held up a hand as if she were answering a dominie in a class.
‘An’ it please ye, sir,’ she said, ‘me an' Alec canna pray, but we can sing 'The Lord's my Shepherd,' gin that wull do! My mither learned it us afore she gaed awa'.’
And before anyone could stop her, she stood up like one that leads the singing in a kirk. ‘Stan' up, Alec, my wee mannie,’ she said.
Then all the bairns stood up. I declare it minded me of Bethlehem and the night when Herod's troopers rode down to look for Mary's bonny Bairn.
Then from the lips of the babes and sucklings arose the quavering strains: ‘The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want. He makes me down to lie In pastures green; He leadeth me The quiet waters by.’
As they sang I gripped out my pistols and began to sort and prime them, hardly knowing what I did. For I was resolved to make a break for it, and, at the least, to blow a hole in James Johnstone of Westerha' that would mar him for life before I suffered any more of it.
But as they sang I saw trooper after trooper turn away his head, for, being Scots bairns, they had all learned that psalm. The ranks shook. Man after man fell out, and I saw the tears happing down their cheeks. But it was Douglas of Morton, that stark persecutor, who first broke down.
‘Curse it, Westerha',’ he cried, ‘I canna thole this langer. I'll war nae mair wi' bairns for a' the earldom i' the North.’
And at last even Westerha' turned his bridle rein, and rode away from off the bonny holms of Shieldhill, for the victory was to the bairns. I wonder what his thoughts were, for he too had learned that psalm at the knees of his mother. And as the troopers rode loosely up hill and down brae, broken and ashamed, the sound of these bairns' singing followed after them, and soughing across the fells came the words:
‘Yea, though I walk in Death's dark vale, Yet will I fear none ill: For Thou art with me; and Thy rod And staff me comfort still.’
Then Westerha' swore a great oath and put the spurs in his horse to get clear of the sweet singing.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.