THE LAST CHARGE AT AYRSMOSS
The morning of the twenty-second of July dawned solemnly clear. It promised to be a day of slumberous heat, for the haze lay long in the hollows, hesitating to disappear, and there was the brooding of thunder in the air. We that were of Cameron's little company found ourselves in a wild place on the moors. Most of our Galloway men had betaken themselves home, and they that had come out of Lanarkshire and Ayr were the greater part of the scanty company. The name of the place where we sojourned was Ayrsmoss. We had lain sleepless and anxious all night, with watchers posted about among the moss-hags. Richard Cameron spoke often to us, and told us that the matter had at last come to the narrow and bitter pass.
‘It is the day of the Lord's anger,’ he said, ‘and it is expedient that some men should die for the people!’
We told him that we were ready, and that from the beginning we had counted on nothing else. But within me I felt desperately ill-prepared: yet, for the sake of the banner I carried, I tholed and said nothing.
It was about ten of the day, and because we heard not from our folk who had been posted to give warning, we sent out other two to find them. Then having taken a meal of meat for the better sustaining of our bodies, we lay down to sleep for an hour on a pleasant green place, which is all surrounded by morasses, for we had gotten no rest the night before.
Now I think we were all fey at this time, for we laid us down on the edge of the moss in a place that is open to all. And this when we might have withdrawn ourselves deep into the bog, and so darned ourselves among the ‘quakking quas’—dangerous and impassable flowes, so that no dragoons in the world could have come at us. But this we did not, for the word and doom were written. It was our enemies' day. As Cameron said that morning as we passed the house of William Mitchell in Meadowhead, and when they brought him out a basin and water to wash his hands, also a towel wherewith to dry them:
‘This is their last washing. My head and hands are now cleansed for the offering!’
So we laid us down among a great swirling of whaups and crying of peesweeps. For the season of their nesting was hardly over, and all the moorland was astir with their plaintive notes.
After a long time I awoke, dreaming that Maisie Lennox stood by my bedside and took my hand, saying, ‘The kye are in the corn!’ I sat up, and, lo, there within half a mile, and beating the moor in search of us, were two companies of dragoons, of the number of about one hundred and twenty, as near as at a glance I could reckon. My heart gave a stound, and I said to myself, ‘This is surely thy death-day, William Gordon!’ And the word sounded strangely in my heart, for I had begun to think my life worth living in these latter days, and was none so keen upon the dying as were some others of our company.
But on the instant I awakened Cameron and his brother Michael, and also David Hackstoun of Rathillet, that was a soldier most stern, but yet a just man according to his lights. And they sat up and saw the soldiers sweeping the moor. But, as I say, we were all fey. For even then it was within our power to have escaped the violence of the men of war. Very easily could we have left our horses, and betaken us into the deepest parts of the bottomless shaking bogs, where no man could have followed us. But the thought came not to us at the time. For God had so ordered it, that Scotland was best to be served that day by the death of many of His servants.
There were in our company twenty-three that had horses and forty that had none. But we were all armed in some sort of fashion.
Now, this Richard Cameron had in him both the heart of a fighter and the fearlessness of a man assured of his interest. He cried out to inquire of us if we were firmly set in our minds to fight, and with one voice we answered him, ‘Ay!’ We were of one heart and one mind. Our company and converse had been sweet in the darkness, and now we were set to die together in the noonday, gladly as men that have made them ready for the entering in of the bride-chamber.
So in that sullen morning, with the birds crying and the mist drawing down into thunder-clouds, we rose to make our last stand. I had given up all thought of escape, and was putting in hard steeks at the praying. For the sins that were on my soul were many, and I had too recently taken to that way of thinking to have the comfort and assurance of my elders.
Now, the soldiers that came against us were the finest companies of Airly's and Strachan's dragoons—gallant lads all—newly brought to that country-side and not yet inured to the cruel riding and shooting, as other companies were. I have not a word to say against the way they fought, though as their duty was, they came against us with haste and fury. Our quarrel was not with them, but with their master.
They rode gallantly enough this way and that through the morasses, and came on bravely. Bruce of Earlshall was over them, but John Crichton was their best fighter. A stark and cruel man he was, that would have hunted us all down if he could. He fought that day with his blade swinging all the time, damning and cursing between every blow. But, for all that, he was sick and sorry ere he left this field. For if ever man did, he met his match when he crossed swords with the Lion of the Covenant. It was Rathillet who chose the place of strength for us to make our stand, and as it seemed and mostly proved, to take our deaths upon. There was little time for the Word and the Prayer. But, as was our custom, we sang a cheerful psalm, and lifted up our bonnets while Cameron prayed:
‘Lord, spare the green, and take the ripe!’ That was the whole matter of his supplication. ‘We may never be in better case to die. I see the gates of heaven cast wide open to receive us.’
And I noted that all the time of our singing, David Hackstoun of Rathillet was looking to the priming of his pistols, and drawing the edge of his sword-blade along the back of his hand, as one that tries a razor ere he sets it to his chin. Then the companies of the enemy halted on the edge of the moss where the ground was yet firm. They seemed not disinclined for a parley.
‘Do you own the King's authority?’ cried one among them. It was Bruce of Earlshall, a buirdly chiel and one not greatly cruel; but rather like Monmouth, anxious to let the poor remnant have its due.
‘Ay!’ cried Cameron, ‘we own the King's authority.’
‘Wherefore, then, stand ye there in arms against his forces?’ came the answer back. ‘Yield, and ye shall have quarter and fair conduct to Edinburgh!’
The man spake none so evilly for a persecutor, and in my heart I liked him.
‘I thank you, Captain Bruce, for your fair speech,’ said Cameron, ‘but I wot well you mean fair passage to the Grassmarket. The King we own is not King Charles Stuart, and it liketh us to go to our King's court through the crash of battle, rather than through the hank of the hangman's twine.’
‘This preacher is no man of straw—fight he will,’ I heard them say one to the other, for they were near to us, even at the foot of the opposite knoll.
Then our horsemen, of whom I was one, closed in order without further word, and our foot drew out over the moss in readiness to fire. David Hackstoun was with us on the left, and Captain Fowler on the right. But Richard Cameron was always a little ahead of us all, with his brother Michael with him on one side, and I, riding my Galloway nag, close upon his right flank—which was an honourable post for one so young as I, and served withal to keep my spirits up.
Just before he gave the word to charge, he cried out to us, pointing to the enemy with his sword:
‘Yonder is the way to the good soldier's crown!’
The day had been clouding over, the heat growing almost intolerable. It was now about two in the afternoon. It was easy to see, had we had the eyes to observe it, that a thunderstorm was brewing, and even as Richard Cameron stretched out his sword over his horse's head, and cried on to us to charge in the name of the Lord, the first levin-bolt shot down, glittering into the moor like a forked silver arrow. And over our head the whole firmament raired and crashed.
‘The Captain of our Salvation calls for us!’ cried Cameron. ‘Who follows after, when the Son of God rides forth to war!’
So with that we lowered our sword-points and drave at them. I think I must have ridden with my eyes shut, down that little green knowe with the short grass underfoot. I know that, even as we rode, the thunder began to roar about us, girding us in a continuous ring of lightning-flashes.
Yet, at the time, I seemed to ride through a world of empty silence, even when I struck the red broil of battle. I could see Cameron crying out and waving his sword before us as our horses gathered way, but I remember no more till the shock came and we found ourselves threshing headlong among them. I fired my pistols right and left, and set them in my belt again, though the habit was to throw them away. I had my sword dangling by a lingel or tag at my right wrist, for I had learned from Wat Gordon how to fight it upon horseback when it came to the charge. The first man that I came against was a great dragoon on a grey horse. He shouted an oath of contempt, seeing me so slender and puny. Yet, for all his bulk, I had him on the wrong side, so that he could not use his sword-arm with advantage. And as I passed on my stout little nag, I got my sword well home under his armpit and tumbled him off into the mire.
The stoutness of our charge took the enemy entirely by surprise. Indeed, afterwards they gave us all the testimony of being brave, resolute men; and, like soldiers and gentlemen as they were, they used them that were taken very civilly. I could see Cameron before me smiting and slaying, slaying and smiting, rising in his stirrup at every blow and calling on his men. It was a wild, fierce time, all too short—a happy turmoil of blows wherein I drank for the first time the heady delight of battle. All over the wild moss of Ayr that great day the swords flickered like lightning-flashes, and the lightnings darted like sword-blades. Oh, how many quiet times would I not give for such another glorious wager of battle!
Overhead all the universe roared as we fought, and I had no thought save of the need to keep my point up—thrusting, parrying, and striking as God gave me ability.
Right in the midst of the press there came two at me from opposite sides; and I saw very well that, if I got no help, there was no more of life for me. ‘Richard!’ I cried, and the shout must have gone to our leader's ear, though I myself could not hear it, so great was the clangour and the din.
Cameron had been smiting with the strength of ten immediately on my front. In a moment more he cleared his point, pierced his man, and turned. The man on my left swerved his horse out of his way, for Cameron came with a surge. But the other, whom I took to be Crichton, met him fair, blade to blade. The first clash of the swords was mighty. These two lowering black men met and knew each other, soon as they looked one another in the eyes.
But I could see that Cameron was ever the stronger and swifter, though Crichton had somewhat the more skill. Crichton tried to pass him a little, that he might get arm-play for his famous back-strokes, wherewith he was renowned to have cut off a man's head at a blow; but Cameron measured his guard and the blow whistled harmless past his ear. Then came the return. The preacher's sword streaked it out straight and level, and for a moment seemed to stand full mid-blade in the dragoon's side.
The next moment we too found ourselves outside their first line. We had broken our way through, and the enemy were in confusion behind us. I saw many single combats going forward, and in especial a most noble fight between David Hackstoun of Rathillet and one of his own acquaintances, by name David Ramsay, a gentleman of his country. As they fought I could hear Hackstoun, whom nothing could daunt or disturb, asking Ramsay all the news of the country-side, and how such a one did, what wife had gotten another child and whether it were a lad or a lass. Which is a thing I should never have believed if any man had told me. And when I set it down here I expect not to be believed of any, save by those who have been in the thick of a civil war themselves. But all that knew David Hackstoun of Rathillet will believe that this thing is true of him.
So he fought, clashing swords and talking at his ease, without change of countenance, till he was stricken down with three coming on him at once from behind.
Then, seeing our horsemen scattered, Cameron cried them to him, and we galloped towards their second line that came riding unbroken towards us. Now it was our misfortune that the dragoons were stark fellows and had seen service, so that they gave not back as others might have done, seeing us come on so determinedly. Rather they reserved their powder till we were almost at the sword's length. Then they fired, and I saw our men falling over in twos and threes. But Richard Cameron still rode steadily with Michael and myself behind him. His horse had once been white, but now was mostly dripping red—a fearsome sight to see. I heard afterwards from old soldiers that had been in the fights of the ancient days, that no such terrifying figure had they ever seen in the wars, since Noll led on the Ironsides at Marston Moor.
But Cameron's case was far more desperate than had ever been that of Oliver.
‘Smite! Smite!’ he cried, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’
Over all the field there was only the whinnying of swords as they whistled through the air, and at the edges of the fray the dropping rattle of the musketry. As we touched their second line we seemed to ride in upon a breast-high wave of flame, which might have been Earlshall's flashing muskets or God's own level lightnings. I rode as best I could behind Cameron, striking when I had opportunity and warding as I had need. But, though I was here in the forefront of the battle, I was in the safest place. For Richard Cameron ploughed a lane through their company, sending them to right and left before him as the foam is ploughed by a swift vessel.
But our desperate riders were now wearing few. I looked behind us, and only two seemed to be in the saddle—James Gray of Chryston and Michael Cameron, who had both promised to ding the stoor that day out of his Majesty's red-clouts. I could see Chryston striking, and grunting as he struck, exactly like a man hagging hard wood with a blunt axe.
So I found myself out at the side of the fight. But, just when I thought myself clear, there came a blow on my steel cap that nearly dang me out of the saddle, and I drew out further again. Cameron also had won clear; but, seeing his brother Michael hard beset, he turned rein and drave in among the smother again, raging like the lion he was. How his horse kept his feet on the moss I know not, for Cameron seemed constantly to be standing up in his stirrups, leaning forward to give his blade more play. So he rode into the midst of them, till he was brought to a stand in what seemed a ring of foes. Even there I could see his arm rise and fall, as steadily as a man that flails corn in a barn. And wherever he struck was a gap, for there a man went down. But more and more of them gathered about, threshing at him with their swords, some on horse and some on foot, like boys killing wasps at the taking of a byke.
Then when Richard Cameron saw that he could do no more, and that all the men were down that had followed him, his brother Michael also dying at his feet, he swept his sword every way about him to clear a space for a moment. Then he swung the brand over his head high in the air, casting it from him into the sky, till it seemed to enter into the dark cloud where the thunder brooded and the smoke of powder hung.
‘God of battles, receive my sinful soul!’ he cried.
And with that he joined his hands like a man that dives for swimming; and, unwounded, unhurt, yet fighting to the last, Richard Cameron sprang upon a hundred sword-points. Thus died the bravest man in broad Scotland, whom men called, and called well, the Lion of the Covenant.
And, even as he passed, the heavens opened, and the whole firmament seemed but one lightning-flash, so that all stood aghast at the marvellous brightness. Which occasioned the saying that God sent a chariot of fire with horses of whiteness to bring home to Him the soul of Richard Cameron. Whereof some men bear testimony that they saw; but indeed I saw nothing but a wondrous lightning-flash over the whole heaven. Then, a moment after, the thunder crashed like the breaking up of the world, and there was an end.
THE SANQUHAR DECLARATION
I think it was during the week I lay thus in the barn at the Duchrae, often with Richard Cameron or his young brother Michael at my back in the quiet of the corn mow, that first I got within me the true spirit of the Covenant. Then it was that I heard all the troubles and the sins of Scotland redd up and made plain; for in the night watches Cameron and his brother had great communings together. Richard was all for being done with the authority of the King, and making but one cast for it. Michael thought that the time was not ripe nor the men ready.
Now these two youths were they who chiefly set Scotland in a lowe at this time, when Lauderdale had so nearly trampled out the red cinders of the fire of Presbytery. It was strange to think, that he who should blow them again into a flame had once been a Prelatist, and that from the wicked shire of Fife. When one cast it up to him, Richard Cameron said:
‘Ay, it humbles us all to remember the pit from which we were digged!’
Then one night in the barn we gave in very solemnly our adhesions to the disowning of Charles Stuart and his brother James—all save my cousin Wat, who said:
‘I canna bide to cast off the blood of Bruce. I had rather kiss the Red Maiden.’
And with that, early in the morning he left us, which was a surprising grief to me, for he and I had been brothers in peril during many months. Whither he went I knew not then, but it shall be related in its proper place and all that befel him in his lonely wanderings, after he parted from me.
‘We must not do this thing lightly or gladly,’ said Richard Cameron to us that abode with him in the barn. ‘We have laid our accounts with the worst that the Government may do to us. We count not our lives dear. We see plainly that naught is to be gained save by defiance, any more. The Indulgence is but a dish of sowens with a muzzle thereafter, to make us for ever dumb dogs that will not bark. Who shall hinder or blame, if we choose to lay down our lives in the high places of the field, that the old faith be not forgotten, neither the old Covenant engagements to our Lord Christ for ever abrogated?’
Yet I think there was not one of us that was not heart-sorry to break with the House of Stuart. For after all we were of Scotland, and we or our fathers had stood for the Scots House and the Scots King against Cromwell and the supplanters. At any rate, let it not be said of us that we did this thing lightly; but rather with heavy hearts, because the King had been so far left to himself as to forswear and abandon the solemn engagements which he had undertaken.
So it came to pass in the mid days of the year, that one afternoon we rode away through the lonely hills by Minnyhive, and turned north up the fair valley of the water of Nith. Here and there we gathered one to whom the word had been passed, finding them waiting for us at some green loaning foot or at the mouth of some glen. Little we said when a friend joined us; for our work was sad and solemn, and to be done once and for all. We rode as it were under the shadow of the scaffold. Yet I think we thought not so much of ourselves, as of the women folk that abode at home. I know that I was wae for my mother, who was now like to lose her two sons as she had aforetime lost her husband, and sometimes also I thought of the lass Maisie Lennox, and what she would do wanting her father.
But this I put from me, for after all Covenanting was man's business. And as Richard Cameron said: ‘They that are trysted to the Bridegroom's work, must taigle themselves with no other marriage engagements!’
At the Menick foot, where that long stey pass begins, there met us ten men of the Upper Ward, all douce and stalwart men, armed and horsed as well as any of our men out of Galloway. I was the youngest of them all there, and indeed the only one that was not a mighty man of his arms. There had been indeed some talk of leaving me at the Duchrae to keep the place—which I knew to be but an excuse. But one James Gray of Chryston, a laird's son and a strong man, cried out, ‘Let the lad come, for his brother Sandy's sake!’
A saying which nettled me, and I replied instantly:
‘Let any man stand out against me with the pistol and small sword, and I will show him cause why I should come for mine own!’
At this Cameron rebuked me:
‘Ah, William, I see well that thou hast the old Adam in thee yet. But was there ever a Gordon that would not go ram-stam at the boar, whatever his religion?’
Then I, who knew that I had spoken as a carnal man, was somewhat shamed. Yet was I glad also that no man took my challenge, for indeed I had small skill of the sword. And with the shearing sword especially, my blows were as rat-tail licks to the dead strikes of Richard Cameron or even those of my brother Sandy. But nevertheless only to say the thing, did me good like medicine.
So into the town of Sanquhar we rode two and two, very slow and quiet, for Cameron had forbidden us to ride with a tight rein and the horses champing, as indeed I longed to do for pride and the lust of the eye.
‘For thus,’ said he, ‘do the King's troopers, when they enter a town, to take the eyes of the unthinking. But contrariwise, we are come to do a deed in Scotland that shall not be forgotten while Nith water runs, and to tie a band which shall not be broken through. We ourselves shall fall and that speedily—that know we well—but, nevertheless, that which we do this day shall one day bring the tyrant's downfall!’
And so indeed it proved to be.
Sanquhar is ever a still place, as though there were no other day there but the Sabbath only. Also the inhabitants are douce and grave, and so remain to this day—buying and selling, eating and drinking, as though they were alone on God's universe. But that day as we came riding up the street, there was a head at every window and I heard the wives cry:
‘The hill-folk have risen and come riding into Sanquhar!’
And this pleased me in the heart, though I know well I should have had my mind set on other matters.
At the cross we formed up, setting our horses ten on either side and Richard Cameron in the midst, he alone dismounted and standing on the steps of the cross. We sat still and quiet, all being bareheaded. For show I had plucked my brand out of its scabbard. But Cameron sternly bade me put it back again, and gave me his horse to hold instead. Which thing grieved and shamed me at the time sadly enough, though now I am both proud and glad of it.
‘The time for drawn steel is yet to come, William. Be sure that thou art then as ready as now,’ he said.
We sang our psalm of Covenant-keeping, and the hills gave it back to us, as though the angels were echoing the singing of it softly in heaven. After that, Cameron stood up very straight, and on his face, which was as the face of a lion, there was a great tenderness, albeit of the sterner sort.
The townsfolk stood about, but not too near, being careful and cautious lest they should be called in question for compliance with the deed, and the strange work done by us that day; for the King's scoop-net gathered wide. Also the innocent were often called to judgment, especially if they had something to lose in goods or gear, as was the case with many of the well-doing burghers of Sanquhar.
‘This day,’ cried Cameron, loudly and solemnly, after he had prayed, ‘do we come to this town of Sanquhar to cast off our allegiance to Charles Stuart and his brother James. Not hastily, neither to make ourselves to be spoken about, but with solemnity as men that enter well-knowing into the ante-chamber of death. An we desired our own lives, we should receive Tests and Indulgences thankfully; and go sit in our kennels, like douce tykes that are ready to run at the platter and whistle.
‘But for all that, we are loyal men and no rebels, though today we cast off Charles Stuart—ay, and will do our best to make an end of his rule, so that he shall no more reign over this realm. This we shall do, not by private assassination, which we abhor and abominate; but by the levying of open war. We declare ourselves loyal to any covenanted king—ay, and had Charles Stuart kept his engagements, plighted and sworn, there is no man here that would not right gladly have laid down his life for him.’
‘All ye that stand by, hear this word of Richard Cameron! There are those behind me, who heard with their ears the oath that the King sware at Perth, when before the Solemn Convocation he spake these words: 'I Charles, King of Great Britain and Ireland, do assure and declare by my solemn oath in the presence of Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, my allowance and approbation of the National Covenant and of the Solemn League and Covenant above written, and faithfully oblige myself to prosecute the ends thereof in my station and calling.'’
‘The King,’ cried Cameron, ‘who sware these oaths hath cast us off. We have not cast off the King! There is one waiting in the Low Countries whence I came, and looking towards the hills of Scotland, to see if there be any faithful. Shall the fortress be utterly broken down with none to build her up? Are there no watchmen to tell the towers thereof—none to cry from rampart to rampart, 'What of the night?' Ay, there be here in Sanquhar town this day at the least twenty men that have not bowed the knee to Baal. This day we come to lay down our lives, as happily as children that have spent their play-day in the fields, and being tired, would lay them down to sleep. But ere we go, because the time cannot be long, we come to give the banner of the Lord once more to the winds—the banner of that other Kingdom in Scotland that is Christ's. Behold!’
And with that he lifted up the banner-staff which he held in his hand, and there floated out upon the equal-blowing wind the blue banner of Christ's Covenant. And as the golden scroll of it took the air, there came that into the hearts of most of us, which filled them to the overflow. The tears ran down and fell upon our horses' necks. ‘For Christ's Crown and Covenant,’ ran the legend. Then we gathered ourselves closer about the battle-flag, for which we had come out to die. As one man we drew our swords, nor did Cameron now gainsay us—and lifting them high up, till the sun glinted bonnily upon them, we sang our solemn banding song. I never felt my heart so high or heaven so near, not even at the great field-preaching by the water of Dee, when I sat by the side of Maisie Lennox. Even thus we sang,
‘God is our refuge and our strength, In straits a present aid; Therefore, although the earth remove, We will not be afraid.’
Then we rode out of Sanquhar town, for once gallantly enough, having solemnly set ourselves to face the King in open field—we that were but twenty men against three kingdoms. Well we knew that we should be put down, but we knew also that so long as there were a score of men in Scotland, to do as we had done that day, the cause and the flag would never be wholly put down.
So the douce burghers of Sanquhar watched us ride away, our swords gleaming naked because we had appealed to the sword, and were prepared to perish by the sword, as the word is. Also our blue banner of the Covenant waved bravely over our heads, in token of our dependence on Jehovah, the God of battles.
And as we rode was it not I, William Gordon of Earlstoun, who carried the banner-staff, for Richard Cameron had given it into my hands. So I had not lived in vain, and Sandy would never again bid me sew bairn-clouts, and bide at home among the women. I wished my father had been alive to see me.
BIRSAY THE COBBLER
So many of the wanderers abode at the Duchrae that Maisie Lennox was much cumbered with serving; yet in her quiet sedate way she would often take a word with me in the bygoing, as if to let me feel that I was not lonely or forgotten. And it cheered me much to find that I was not despised, because I was (as yet) no great fighting man of many inches or noble make like my brother Sandy. Also I loved women's converse, having been much with my mother—indeed never long away from her side, till my vain adventuring forth to Edinburgh in the matter of the sequestering of the estate.
As for Earlstoun, we heard it was to be forfaulted very soon, and given to Robert Grier of Lag, who was a very grab-all among them. Indeed no one was better than another, for even Claverhouse got Freuch, ‘in consideration,’ it was quaintly said, ‘of his good service and sufferings.’ His brother David likewise got another estate in the Shire, and Rothes and Lauderdale were as ‘free coups’ for the wealth of the fined and persecuted gentry. Whenever there was a man well-to-do and of good repute, these men thought it no shame to strive to take him in a snare, or to get him caught harbouring on his estate some intercommuned persons. They rubbed hands and nudged one another in Council when they heard of a rising in arms. They even cried out and shook hands for joy, because it gave them colour for more exactions, and also for keeping an army in the field, whose providing and accoutring was also very profitable for them.
But at the Duchrae we abode fairly secure. At night we withdrew to the barn, where behind the corn-mow a very safe and quaint hiding-place had been devised. In the barn-wall, as in most of the barns in that country-side, there were no windows of any size—in fact nothing save a number of three-cornered wickets. These were far too small to admit the body of a man; but by some exercise of ingenious contrivance in keeping with the spirit of an evil time, the bottom stone of one of these wickets had been so constructed that it turned outwards upon a hinge, which so enlarged the opening that one man at a time had no difficulty in passing through. This right cunning trap-door was in the gable-end of the barn, and conducted the fugitive behind the corn-mow in which the harvest sheaves were piled to the ceiling. Here we lay many a time while the troopers raged about the house itself, stabbing every suspected crevice of the corn and hay with their blades, but leaving us quite safe behind the great pleasant-smelling mass of the mow.
Yet for all it was a not unquiet time with us, and I do not deny that I had much pleasant fellowship with Maisie Lennox.
But I have now to tell what befel at the Duchrae one Sabbath evening, when the pursuit had waxed dull after Bothwell, and before the Sanquhar affair had kindled a new flame.
At that time in Galloway, all the tailors, shoemakers, and artificers, did their work by going from house to house according as the several families had need of them. Now there was one man, who sat near us at the conventicle, whose actions that day it was impossible to mistake. When the troopers were jingling past beneath us, he flung himself on the ground, and thrust his plaid into his mouth, to prevent his crying out for fear. So pitiful did he look that, when all was past, my cousin Wat went over and asked of him:
‘What craven manner of hill-man art thou?’
For indeed the men of the broad bonnet were neither cowards nor nidderlings. But this fellow was shaking with fear like the aspen in an unequal wind.
‘I am but poor Birsay the cobbler,’ the man answered, ‘an it please your honour, I like not to come so near thae ill loons of soldiers.’
‘What sent you to the conventicle, then, when you fear the red-coats so greatly?’ asked my cousin.
The little man glanced up at my cousin with a humoursome gleam in his eyes. He was all bent together with crouching over his lap-stone, and as he walked he threw himself into all kinds of ridiculous postures.
‘Weel,’ he said, ‘ye see it's no easy kennin' what may happen. I hae seen a conventicle scale in a hurry, and leave as mony as ten guid plaids on the grund—forbye Bibles and neckerchiefs.’
‘But surely,’ I said to the cobbler, ‘you would not steal what the poor honest folk leave behind them in their haste?’
The word seemed to startle him greatly.
‘Na, na; Birsay steals nane, stealin's no canny!’ he cried. ‘Them that steals hings in a tow—an' forbye, burns in muckle hell—bleezin' up in fuffin lowes juist as the beardie auld man Sandy Peden said.’
And the cobbler illustrated the nature of the conflagration with his hand.
‘Na, na,’ he cried, in the strange yammering speech of the creature, ‘there's nae stealin' in gatherin' thegether what ither folks hae strawed, surely. That's i' the guid Buik itsel'. An' then after the bizz is bye, and the sough calmed doon, Birsay can gang frae auld wife to auld wife, and say to ilka yin, 'Ye wadna loss ocht lately, did ye, guid wife?' 'Aye,' says she. 'I lost my Bible, my plaid, or my kercher at the field preachin'!' 'Ay, woman, did ye?' says I. 'They're terrible loons the sodgers for grippin' and haudin'. Noo I mak' shoon for a sergeant that has mony a dizzen o' thae things.'
‘Wi' that the auld wife begins to cock her lugs. 'Maybes he has my Bible!' 'I wadna wunner,' says I. 'O man, Birsay,' she says, 'I hae aye been a freen' o' yours, ye micht e'en see gin he has it, an' seek it aff him? There's the texts an' heads an' particulars o' mony sermons o' guid Maister Welsh and precious Maister Guthrie in the hinner end o' the Buik!'
'So,' says I, aff-hand like, 'supposin' noo, just supposin' that Sergeant Mulfeather has gotten your bit buik, an' that for freendship to me he was wullin' to pairt wi't, what wad the bit buik be worth to ye. Ye see it's treason to hae sic a thing, and rank conspiracy to thig and barter to get it back—but what wull freends no do to obleege yin anither?’
‘Ay, man Birsay,’ I said, to encourage him, for I saw that the little man loved to talk. ‘An' what wull the auld body do then?’
‘Faith, she'll gie me siller to tak' to Sergeant Mulfeather and get back her bit buikie. An' that's just what Birsay wull do wi' richt guid wull,’ he concluded cantily.
‘And hae ye ony mair to tell me, Birsay?’ I asked him. For his talk cheered the long and doleful day, and as for belief, there was no reason why one should believe more than seemed good of Birsay's conversation.
‘Ay, there's yan thing mair that Birsay has to say to ye. You an' that braw lad wi' the e'en like a lassie's are no richt Whigs, I'm jaloosin'. Ye'll aiblins be o' the same way o' thinkin' as mysel'!’
At this I pretended to be much disconcerted, and said: ‘Wheest, wheest, Birsay! Be canny wi' your tongue! Mind whaur ye are. What mean you?’
‘Trust Birsay,’ he returned cunningly, cocking his frowsy head like a year-old sparrow. ‘Gin the King, honest man, never comes to mair harm than you an' me wusses him, he'll come gey weel oot o' some o' the ploys that they blame him for.’
‘How kenned ye, Birsay,’ I said, to humour him, ‘that we werna Whigs?’
‘O, I kenned brawly by the fashion o' your shoon. Thae shoon were never made for Whigs, but for honest King's folk. Na, na, they dinna gree well wi' the moss-broo ava—thae sort wi' the narrow nebs and single soles. Only decent, sweering, regairdless folk, that wuss the King weel, tryst shoon like them!’
It was clear that Birsay thought us as great traitors and spies in the camp as he was himself. So he opened his heart to us. It was not a flattering distinction, but as the confidence of the little man might be an element in our own safety and that of our friends on some future occasion, I felt that we would assuredly not undeceive him.
But we had to pay for the distinction, for from that moment he favoured us with a prodigious deal of his conversation, which, to tell the truth, savoured but seldom of wit and often of rank sculduddery.
Birsay had no sense of his personal dishonour, and would tell the most alarming story to his own discredit, without wincing in the least. He held it proof of his superior caution that he had always managed to keep his skin safe, and so there was no more to be said.
‘Ay, ay,’ said Birsay, ‘these are no canny times to be amang the wild hill-folk. Yin wad need to be weel payed for it a'. There's the twa black MacMichaels—they wad think nae mair o' splatterin' your harns again the dyke than o' killing a whutterick. Deil a hair! An' then, on the ither hand, there's ill-contrived turncoats like Westerha' that wad aye be pluff-pluffin' poother and shot at puir men as if they were muir-fowl. An' he's no parteecler eneuch ava wha he catches, an' never will listen to a word.
‘Then, waur than a', there's the awesome nichts whan the ghaists and warlocks are aboot. I canna bide the nicht ava. God's daylicht is guid eneuch for Birsay, an' as lang as the sun shines, there's nae fear o' deil or witch-wife gettin' haud o' the puir cobbler chiel! But when the gloamin' cuddles doon intil the lap o' the nicht, and the corp-cannles lowe i' the bogs, an' ye hear the deils lauchin' and chunnerin' to themselves in a' the busses at the road-sides, I declare every stound o' manhood flees awa' clean oot o' Birsay's heart, an' he wad like to dee but for thocht o' the After come. An' deed, in the mirk-eerie midnicht, whether he's fearder to dee or to leeve, puir Birsay disna ken!’
‘But, Birsay,’ I said, ‘ill-doers are aye ill-dreaders. Gin ye were to drap a' this thievery an' clash-carryin' wark, ye wadna be feared o' man or deil!’
‘Weel do I ken,’ Birsay said, ‘that siccan ploys are no for the like o' me; but man, ye see, like ither folk, I'm terrible fond o' the siller. An' there's nocht so comfortin', when a' thae things are yammerin' to get haud o' ye, as the thocht that ye hae a weel-filled stockin'-fit whaur nane but yersel' can get haud o't!’
And the creature writhed himself in glee and slapped his thigh.
‘Yae stockin' fu', man,’ he said, ‘an' tied wi' a string, an' the ither begun, an' as far up as the instep. O man, it's blythe to think on!
‘But heard ye o' the whummel I gat aff this verra Duchrae kitchen laft?’ said Birsay. He often came over in the gloaming on a news-gathering expedition. For it was a pleasure to give him news of a kind; and my cousin, who had not a great many occupations since Kate McGhie had gone back to the great House of Balmaghie, took a special delight in making up stories of so ridiculous a nature that Birsay, retailing them at headquarters, would without doubt soon find his credit gone.
‘The way o't was this,’ Birsay continued. ‘As I telled ye, I gan frae hoose to hoose in the exercise o' my trade, for there's no sic a suitor i' the countryside as Birsay, though he says it himsel', an' no siccan water-ticht shoon as his ever gaed on the fit o' man. Weel, it was ae nicht last winter, i' the short days, Birsay was to begin wark at the Duchrae at sax by the clock on Monday morn. An' whan it comes to coontin' hours wi' Auld Anton Lennox o' the Duchrae, ye maun begin or the clock has dune the strikin'. Faith an' a' the Lennoxes are the same, they'll haud the nose o' ye to the grund-stane—an' the weemen o' them are every hair as bad as the men. There's auld Lucky Lennox o' Lennox Plunton—what said ye?—aweel, I'll gang on wi' my story gin ye like, but what's a' the steer so sudden, the nicht's afore us?
‘As I was sayin', I had to start at Auld Anton's on the Monday mornin', gey an' early. So I thocht I wad do my travellin' in time o' day, an' get to the Duchrae afore the gloamin'. An' in that way I wad get the better o' the bogles, the deils o' the bogs, the black horse o' the Hollan Lane, an' a' sic uncanny cattle.
‘But I minded that the auld tod, Anton Lennox, was a terrible man for examinin' in the Carritches, an' aye speer-speerin' at ye what is the Reason Annexed to some perfectly unreasonable command—an' that kind o' talk disna suit Birsay ava. So what did I do but started ower in the afternoon, an' gat there juist aboot the time when the kye are milkit, an' a' the folk eyther at the byre or in the stable.
‘So I watched my chance frae the end o' the hoose, an' when no a leevin' soul was to be seen, I slippit up the stairs, speelin' on the rungs o' the ladder wi' my stockin' soles as quiet as pussy.
‘Then whan I got to the middle o' the laft, whaur the big hole o' the lum is, wi' the reek hingin' thick afore it gangs oot at the riggin' o' the hoose, I keekit doon. An' there at the table, wi' his elbows on the wood, sat Auld Anton takin' his lesson oot o' the big Bible—like the bauld auld Whig that he is, his whinger in a leather tashe swingin' ahint him. It's a queerie thing that for a' sae often as I hae telled the curate aboot him, he has never steered him. There maun be something no very thorough aboot the curate, an' he none so great a hero wi' the pint stoup either, man!
‘Aweel, as the forenicht slippit on, an' the lassies cam' in frae the byre, an' the lads frae the stable, it was just as I expected. They drew up their stools aboot the hearth, got oot their Bibles an' warmed their taes. Lord preserve me, to see them sittin' sae croose an' canty ower Effectual Callin' an' Reason Annexed, as gin they had been crackin' an' singin' in a change-hoose! They're a queer fowk thae Whigs. It wad hae scunnered a soo! An' twa-three neebours cam' in by to get the benefit o' the exerceeses! Faith! if Clavers had chanced to come by the road, he wad hae landed a right bonny flaucht o' them, for there wasna yin o' the rive but had grippit sword at either o' the twa risin's. For a' the auld carles had been at Pentland an' a' the young plants o' grace had been at Bothwell—ay, an' Auld Anton an' twa-three mair warriors had been at them baith. An' gin there had been a third he wad hae been there too, for he's a grim auld carle, baith gash an' steeve, wi' his Bible an' his brass-muntit pistols an' his Effectual Callin'!
‘Then bywhiles, atween the spells o' the questions, some o' the young yins fell a-talkin', for even Auld Anton canna haud the tongues o' the young birkies. An' amang ither things what did the loons do but start to lay their ill-scrapit tongues on me, an' begood to misca' puir Birsay for a' that was ill!’
‘'Listeners hear nae guid o' themselves,' is an auld-farrant say, Birsay,’ I said.
‘Aweel,’ the suitor went on, ‘that's as may be. At ony rate, it was 'Birsay this' an' 'Birsay that,' till every porridge-fed speldron an' ill-gabbit mim-moo'ed hizzie had a lick at puir Birsay.
But at the lang an' last the auld man catched them at it, an' he was juist the man to let them hear aboot it on the deafest side o' their heids. He was aye a don at reprovin', was Auld Anton. No mony o' the preachers could haud a can'le to him on the job.
‘Is it no a gey queer thing,’ said Birsay, breaking off his story, ‘that when we set to an' curse a' an' sundry, they ca' it profane sweerin', and misca' us for awesome sinners; but when they lay their tongues to their enemies an' curse them, it's ca'ed a Testimony an' printed in a buik?’
The thing did indeed strike me as strange, but I desired to keep Birsay to his story, so I only said:
‘But, Birsay, what did the auld man say to them when he heard them misca'in' you?’
‘Oh, he e'en telled them that it wad fit them better to look to their ain life an' conversation. An' that it wad be tellin' them yae day, gin they had made as guid a job o' their life wark as Birsay made o' his bits o' shoon—a maist sensible an' just observe! Faith, the auld tog is nane sae ill an auld carle, though siccan a dour an' maisterfu' Whig. He kens guid leather wark when he sees it!
‘So when they were a' sittin' gey an' shame-faced under this reproof—whang! Doon on the hearthstane fell my suitor's elshin—the cankersome thing had slippit oot o' my pooch an' drappit ower the edge o' the hole in the laft aboon the fireplace.
'Preserve us,' I thought to mysel', 'it's a' by wi' Birsay noo. They'll be up the stair swarmin' like a bee's byke.' But when I keeked it ower, they were a' sittin' gapin' at the elshin that had stottit on to the floor. An' what wi' me steerin' an' lookin' ower the edge, clash fell my braid knife, that I cut the leather wi', oot o' my pooch! It fell on the clean stane, an' then lap to the side, nearly on to the knees o' a great fat gussie o' a loon they ca' Jock Wabster. An' Jock was in siccan a hurry to get oot o' the road o' the thing—for he thocht it wasna canny—that he owerbalanced himsel', and, certes! ower he gaed amang the lassies, stool an' a', wi' an awesome clatter. An' a' the lassies cried oot wi' fricht an' gruppit the lad they likit best—for there's a deal o' human nature even amang the Whigs, that the Covenants canna fettle, nor yet Effectual Callin' keep in bounds, and nae doot there's Reason Annexed for that too!
My sang, but whan Auld Anton got him straucht on his chair again, whatna tongue-threshin' did he no gie the lassies, an' indeed a' the lave o' them. He caa'ed them for a' thing that was bad, an' telled them what kin' o' black ill consciences they bood hae, to be feared o' a wee bit thing that was but wood an' airn. But when they showed him the knife whaur it lay glintin' on the hearth (for nae man o' them daured to touch it), Anton was a wee bit staggered himsel', an' said it was a sign sent to reprove them for speakin' aboot puir Birsay on a Sabbath nicht. 'It was a deil's portent,' he said, 'an' nae mortal man ever forged that steel, an' gin onybody touched it he wadna wunner but it wad burn him to the bane, comin' direc' frae sic a place as it had dootless loupit frae.'
This tickled me so terribly that I creepit a wee nearer to see the auld tod's face, as he laid it aff to them aboot the deil's elshin an' his leather knife—that had baith been bocht frae Rab Tamson, the hardware man in the Vennel o' Dumfries, an' wasna payed for yet! When what d'ye think happened?
Na, ye couldna guess—weel, I creepit maybe a hair ower near the edge. The auld rotten board gied way wi' me, an' doon Birsay fell amang the peats on the hearthstane, landin' on my hinderlands wi' a brange that nearly brocht the hoose doon. I gaed yae skelloch as I fell, but, gracious me,’ said Birsay, waving his hands, ‘that was as naething to the scraich that the fowk aboot the fire gied. They scattered like a flock o' wild deuks when a chairge o' shot splairges amang them. They thocht the ill auld boy was comed into the midst o' them, an' wi' yae consent they made for the door. Jock Wabster took the hill baa-haain' like a calf as he ran, and even bauld Auld Anton stood by the door cheek wi' his sword point atween him an' the deil whummelt on his hearthstane!
But I didna bide lang amang the reed peats, as ye may guess. I was scramblin' oot, whan the auld man gruppit me by the cuff o' the neck, an', maybes because he had been a kennin' frichtit himsel', he gied puir Birsay an awesome warm pair o' lugs. He near dang me stupit. Gin I had gane to the laft to escape Effectual Callin', he didna scruple to gie me Effectual Daudin', an' that without ony speerin' or as muckle's a single reason annexed!’
‘And what,’ I said, ‘came o' Jock Wabster?’
'Deed as for Jock,’ said Birsay, ‘thereupon he got great experience o' religion and gaed to join John Gib and his company on the Flowe o' the Deer-Slunk, where Maister Lennox vanquished them. But he didna catch Jock, for Jock said gin he had beat the deil flat-fit in a race, he wasna feared for any Lennox o' the squad. But Jock was aye ower great wi' the weemen folk, an' sae John Gib's notions just suited him.’
Here Birsay made an end of his story, for Anton Lennox himself came in, and of him Birsay stood in great and wholesome awe.
PEDEN THE PROPHET
(Being the concluding of the conventicle by the Dee Water.)
Yet the chariot of fire came not, for the time was not yet, though the grinding of its wheels was even then to be heard at the door. But the Lord had yet a great day's darg to do in Scotland with Richard Cameron.
Then after silence had endured for a time, another minister rose up to speak to us. At sight of him a murmur went about, and wonder and joy sat on every face. He was an old man, tall and gaunt. His hair, lyart and long, fell upon his shoulders. His beard descended upon his breast.
‘Peden the Prophet!’ was the whisper that went about. And all bent eagerly forward to look at the famous wanderer, whom all held to have gifts of utterance and prophecy beyond those of mortal. He it was that had been a thousand times hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, a hundred times taken in the net, yet had ever escaped. He it was for the love of whom men had laid down their lives like water, only that Alexander Peden might go scatheless and speak his Master's will.
Bowed he was and broken; yet when he spoke his natural strength was in no wise abated, and at his first word the fear of the Lord came upon us. I looked at Lochinvar, who in his time had ridden so hard on his track. He sat open-mouthed, and there was a daze of awe in his look.
Alexander Peden had hardly spoken a sentence to us when the spirit of prophecy brake upon him, and he cried out for Scotland as was his wont in those days. His voice rose and rang—not like a war-trumpet as did Cameron's, but rather like the wild wind that goes about the house and about the house, and cries fearful words in at the chinks and crevices.
‘A bloody sword, a bloody sword for thee, O puir Scotland! Many a mile shall they travel in thee and see naught but waste places, nor so much as a house reeking pleasantly on the brae. Many a conventicle has been wared on thee, my Scotland. And Welsh and Semple, Cameron and Cargill have cried to thee. But ere long they shall all be put to silence and God shall preach to thee only with the bloody sword. Have ye never witnessed for the cause and Covenants? Or have ye been dumb dogs that would not bark? If that be so, as sayeth godly Mr. Guthrie of Fenwick, God will make the tongues that owned Him not to fry and flutter upon the hot coals of hell. He will gar them blatter and bleeze upon the burning coals of hell!
‘Speak, sirs, or He will gar these tongues that He hath put into your mouths to popple and play in the pow-pot of hell!’
As he said these words his eyes shone upon us like to burn us through, and his action was most terrifying as he took his great oaken staff and shook it over us. And we fairly trembled beneath him like silly bairns taken in a wrong.
But he went on his way as one that cries for vengeance over an open grave in which a slain man lies.
‘Ye think that there hath been bloodshed in Scotland, and so there hath—dear and precious—but I tell you that that which hath been, is but as the dropping of the morning cloud ere the sun rises in his strength, to the mid-noon thunder plump that is yet to come.
‘Not since the black day of Bothwell have I slept in a bed! I have been Nazarite for the vow that was upon me. Have any of you that are here seen me in New Luce? Not even Ritchie here could have overcrowed me then, for strength and stature. I stood as a young tree by the river of waters. Look upon me now—so crooked by the caves and the moss-hags that I could not go upright to the scaffold. The sword handle is fit for your hands, and the Lord of Battles give you long arms when you measure swords with Charles Stuart. But old Sandy is good for nothing now but the praying. He can only bide in his hole like a toothless tyke, lame and blind; and girn his gums at the robbers that spoil his master's house.
‘'Crook-back, crab-heart,' sayeth the proverb,’ Peden cried, ‘but I think not so, for my heart is warm this day toward you that sit here, for but few of you shall win through the day of wrath that is to come in Scotland.’
He turned towards the place where we sat together, the maids, my cousin and I. A great fear in my heart chilled me like ice. Was he to denounce us as traitors? But he only said slowly these words in a soft and moving voice, as one that hath the tears close behind.
‘And there are some of you, young maids and weak, here present, that shall make a name in Scotland, a name that shall never die!’
With that he made an end and sat down.
Then came one, white-face and panting from the hill on the east.
‘The riders are upon us—flee quickly!’ he cried.
Then, indeed, there was great confusion and deray. Some rose up in act to flee. But Anton Lennox, who had the heart of a soldier in him and the wit of a general, commanded the men to stand to their arms, putting the women behind them. And through the confusion I could see stern-faced men moving to the front with guns and swords in their hands. These, as I learned, were the disciplined members of the Praying Societies, whom Cameron and afterwards Renwick, drew together into one military bond of defence and fellowship.
For me I stood where I was, the maids only being with me; and I felt that, come what might, it was my duty to protect them. Kate McGhie clasped her hands and stood as one that is gripped with fear, yet can master it. But Maisie Lennox, who was nearest to me, looked over to where her father stood at the corner of his company. Then, because she was distressed for him and knew not what she did, she drew a half-knitted stocking out of the pocket that swung beneath her kirtle, calmly set the stitches in order, and went on knitting as is the Galloway custom among the hill-folk when they wait for anything.
There was a great silence—a stillness in which one heard his neighbour breathing. Through it the voice of Peden rose.
‘Lord,’ he prayed, ‘it is Thine enemies' day. Hour and power are allowed to them. They may not be idle. But hast Thou no other work for them to do in their master's service? Send them after those to whom Thou hast given strength to flee, for our strength's gone, and there are many weak women among us this day. Twine them about the hill, O Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over puir Sandy and thir puir things, and save us this one time.’
So saying he went to the top of a little hill near by, from which there is a wide prospect. It is called Mount Pleasant. From thence he looked all round and waved his hands three times. And in a minute there befel a wonderful thing. For even as his hands beckoned, from behind the ridges of the Duchrae and Drumglass, arose the level tops of a great sea of mist. It came upon the land suddenly as the ‘haar’ that in the autumn drives up the eastern valleys from the sea. Like a river that rises behind a dam, it rose, till of a sudden it overflowed and came towards us over the moorland, moving with a sound like running water very far away.
Then Peden the Prophet came hastening back to us.
‘Move not one of you out of your places!’ he cried, ‘for the Lord is about to send upon us His pillar of cloud.’ Then the mist came, and made by little and little a very thick darkness, and Peden said:
‘Lads, the bitterest of the blast is over. We shall no more be troubled with them this day.’ And through the darkness I felt a hand placed in mine—whose I could not tell, but I hoped plainly that it might be Maisie Lennox's hand, for, as I have said, she was my gossip and my friend. At least I heard no more the click of the knitting-needles.
The mist came yet thicker, and through it there shone, now and then, the flickering leme of pale lightning, that flashed about us all. Then quite suddenly we heard strangely near us the jangling of the accoutrements of the troopers and the sound of voices.
‘Curse the Whig's mist, it has come on again! We canna steer for it!’ cried a voice so near that the hillmen stood closer in their ranks, and my own heart leaped till I heard it beat irregularly within me.
We marked the sharp clip clip as the shod horses struck the stones with their feet. Now and then a man would clatter over his steed's head as the poor beast bogged or stumbled.
Looking over between the hazel trees, I could faintly discern the steel caps of the troopers through the gloom, as they wound in single file between us and the water side. It was but a scouting party, for in a moment we heard the trumpet blow from the main body, which had kept the road that winds down to the old ford, over the Black Water on the way from Kirkcudbright to New Galloway and Kenmuir.
In a little the sounds came fainter on our ears, and the swing and trample of the hoofs grew so far away that we could not hear them any more.
But the great cloud of people stood for long time still, no man daring to move. It struck me as strange that in that concourse of shepherds not so much as a dog barked. In a moment I saw the reason. Each herd was sitting on the grass with his dog's head in his lap, wrapped in his plaid. Then came the scattering of the great meeting. Such were the chances of our life at that dark time, when brother might part from brother and meet no more. And when a father might go out to look the lambs, and be found by his daughter fallen on his face on the heather by the sheep ree, with that on his breast that was not bonny to see when they turned him over. As for me I went home with Maisie Lennox and her friend the young lass of Glen Vernock, as was indeed my plain duty. We walked side by side in silence, for we had great thoughts within us of Cameron and Peden, and of the Blue Banner of the Covenant that was not yet wholly put down.
THE GREAT CONVENTICLE BY THE DEE WATER
A Note to the Reader.
I am warned that there are many folk who care not to hear what things were truly said and done at a conventicle of the hill-folk. I have told the tale so that such may omit the reading of these two chapters. Nevertheless, if they will take a friend's word, it might be for their advantage to read the whole.
On our way to the conventicle we came to the place that is called the Moat of the Duchrae Bank, and found much people already gathered there. It is a very lonely place on the edge of a beautiful and still water, called the Lane of Grenoch. In the midst of the water, and immediately opposite to the moat, there is an island, called the Hollan Isle, full of coverts and hiding-places among hazel bushes, which grow there in thick matted copses. Beyond that again there are only the moors and the mountains for thirty miles. The country all about is lairy and boggy, impossible for horses to ride; while over to the eastward a little, the main road passes to Kells and Carsphairn, but out of sight behind the shoulder of the hill.
There was a preaching-tent erected on a little eminence in the middle of the round bare top of the moat. The people sat all about, and those who arrived late clustered on the farther bank, across the ditch.
I observed that every man came fully armed. For the oppressions of Lauderdale in Scotland, and especially the severities of John Graham and Robert Grier in Galloway, were bearing their own proper fruit. The three maids sat together, and Wat Gordon and I sat down near them—I as close to Maisie Lennox as I dared, because, for old acquaintance' sake, my liking was chiefly towards her. Also, I perceived that Kate McGhie was more interested to talk to me of my cousin than to hear concerning myself, a thing I never could abide in talking to a woman.
But Maisie kept her head bent, and her face hidden by the fold of her shawl. For she had, even at that time, what I so sadly lacked, a living interest in religion.
From where I sat I could see the watchers on the craigs above the Hollan Isle, and those also over on the hill by the Folds. So many were they, that I felt that not a muir-fowl would cry, nor a crow carry a stick to its nest, without a true man taking note of it. I heard afterwards, that over by the Fords of Crae they had come on a certain informer lying couched in the heather to watch what should happen. Him they chased for three miles over the heather by Slogarie, clodding him with divots of peat and sod, yet not so as to do the ill-set rascal overmuch harm. But a sound clouring does such-like good.
Then there arose the pleasant sound of singing. For Mr Cameron had gone up into the preaching-tent and given out the psalm. We all stood up to sing, and as I noted my cousin standing apart, looking uncertainly about, I went over to him and brought him to my side, where one gave us a book to look upon together. As they sang, I watched to see the sentinel on the craigs turn him about to listen to us, and noted the light glance on his sword, and on the barrel of the musket on which he leaned. For these little tricks of observation were ever much to me, though the true Whig folk minded them not a hair, but stuck to their singing, as indeed it was their duty to do.
But even to me, the sound of the psalm was unspeakably solemn and touching out there in the open fields. It seemed, as we sang of the God who was our refuge and our strength, that as we looked on Grenoch, we were indeed in a defenced city, in a prophesied place of broad rivers and streams, wherein should go no galley with oars, neither should gallant ship pass thereby.
I had never before felt so near God, nor had so sweet an income of gladness upon my spirit; though I had often wondered what it all meant when I heard my father and mother speak together. There seemed, indeed, a gale of the Spirit upon the meeting, and I think that from that moment I understood more of the mind of them that suffered for their faith; which, indeed, I think a man cannot do, till he himself is ready to undergo his share of the suffering.
But when Richard Cameron began to speak, I easily forgat everything else. He had a dominating voice, the voice of a strong man crying in the wilderness. ‘We are here in a kenned place,’ he said, ‘and there be many witnesses about us. Today the bitter is taken out of our cup, if it be only for a moment. Yea, and a sweet cup we have of it now. We who have been much on the wild mountains, know what it is to be made glad by Thy works—the works of the Lord's hands. When we look up to the moon or stars, lo! the hand of the Lord is in them, and we are glad. See ye the corn-rigs up ayont us there, on the Duchrae Hill—the hand of God is in the sweet springing of them, when the sun shines upon them after rain. And it is He who sendeth forth every pile of the grass that springs so sweetly in the meadows by the water side.’
I own it was very pleasant to me to listen to him, for I had not thought there was such tenderness in the man. He went on:
‘We are hirsled over moss and moor, over crags and rocks, and headlong after us the devil drives. Be not crabbit with us, O Lord! It is true we have gotten many calls, and have not answered. We in the West and South have been like David, cockered and pampered overmuch. Not even the wild Highlands have sitten through so many calls as we have done here in Galloway and the South.
‘For I bear testimony that it is not easy to bring folk to Christ. I, that am a man weak as other men, bear testimony that it is not easy—not easy even to come to Him for oneself!’
And here I saw the people begin to yearn towards the preacher, and in the grey light I saw the tears running silently down his cheeks. And it seemed as if both the minister and also the most part of the people fell into a rapture of calm weeping, which, strangely enough, forced Mr. Cameron often to break off short. Folks' hearts were easily touched in those days of peril.
‘Are there none such here?’ he asked. And I confess my heart went out to him and all my sins stood black and threatening before me as I listened. I vow that at the time I feared his words far more than ever I did Lag and his riders—this being my first living experience of religion, and the day from which I and many another ground our hope.
Then ere he sufficiently commanded himself to speak again, I took a glance at the maid Maisie Lennox beside me, and the look on her face was that on the face of a martyr who has come through the torture and won the victory. But the little lass that was called Margaret of Glen Vernock clung to her hand and wept as she listened. As for Kate McGhie, she only looked away over the water of the Hollan Isle to the blue barn rigging of the Orchar Hill and seemed neither to see nor to hear anything. Or at least, I was not the man to whom was given the art to see what were her inner thoughts.
Richard Cameron went on.
‘Are there any here that find a difficulty to close with Christ? But before we speak to that, I think we shall pray a short word.’
So all the people stood up on the hillside and the sough of their uprising was like the wind among the cedar trees. And even as he prayed for the Spirit to come on these poor folk, that were soon to be scattered again over the moors and hags as sheep that wanted a shepherd, the Wind of the Lord (for so I think it was) came breathing upon us. The grey of the clouds broke up, and for an hour the sun shone through so kindly and warm that many let their plaids fall to the ground. But the mists still clung about the mountain tops of the Bennan and Cairn Edward.
Then after he had prayed not long but fervently, he went on again to speak to us of the love and sufferings of Christ, for the sake of whose cause and kingdom we were that day in this wild place. Much he pleaded with us to make sure of our interest, and not think that because we were here in some danger at a field preaching, therefore all was well. O but he was faithful with us that day, and there were many who felt that the gate of heaven was very near to them at the great conventicle by the Water of Dee.
And even after many years, I that have been weak and niddering, and that have taken so many sins on my soul, since I sat there on the bank by Maisie Lennox, and trembled under Mr. Cameron's words, give God thank and service that I was present to hear the Lion of the Covenant roar that day upon the mountains of Scotland.
Yet when he spoke thus to us at this part of his pleading, it was most like the voice of a tender nursing mother that would wile her wayward bairns home. But when he had done with offering to us the cross, and commending Him that erewhile hung thereon, I saw him pause and look about him. He was silent for a space, his eyes gleamed with an inner fire, and the wind that had arisen drave among his black locks. I could see, as it had been, the storm gather to break.
‘There ayont us are the Bennan and Cairn Edward, and the Muckle Craig o' Dee—look over at them—I take them to witness this day that I have preached to you the whole counsel of God. There be some great professors among you this day who have no living grace—of whom I only name Black MacMichael and Muckle John, for their sins are open and patent, going before them into judgment. There are also some here that will betray our plans to the enemy, and carry their report of this meeting to the Malignants. To them I say: 'Carry this word to your masters, the word of a wiser than I, ‘Ye may blaw your bag-pipes till you burst, we will not bow down and worship your glaiks—no, not though ye gar every heid here weigh its tail, and the wind whistle through our bones as we hang on the gallows-tree.’’
Here he held up his hand and there was a great silence.
‘Hush! I hear the sound of a great host—I see the gate of heaven beset. The throng of them that are to be saved through suffering, are about it. And One like unto the Son of Man stands there to welcome them. What though they set your heads, as they shall mine, high on the Netherbow Port; or cast your body on the Gallows' dunghill as they will Sandy's here? Know ye that there waiteth for you at the door One with face more marred than that of any man—One with His garments red coming up from Bozrah, One that hath trodden the winepress alone. And He shall say, as He sees you come through the swellings of Jordan, 'These are they that have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, for the redeemed of the Lord shall also enter in!’
So he made an end, and all the people were astonished at him, because they looked even then for the chariot which it had been foretold should come and snatch him out of mortal sight.
THE HOME OF MY LOVE
Anthony Lennox presently took me by the hand, and led me over to where in the Duchrae kitchen the dark young man sat, whose noble head and carriage I had remarked.
‘Mr. Cameron,’ he said gravely, and with respect, ‘this is the son of a brave man and princely contender with his Master—William Gordon of Earlstoun, lately gone from us.’
And for the first time I gave my hand to Richard Cameron, whom men called the Lion of the Covenant—a great hill-preacher, who, strangely enough, like some others of the prominent disaffected to the Government, had been bred of the party of Prelacy.
As I looked upon him I saw that he was girt with a sword, and that he had a habit of gripping the hilt when he spoke, as though at the pinch he had yet another argument which all might understand. And being a soldier's son I own that I liked him the better for it. Then I remembered what (it was reported) he had said on the Holms of Kirkmahoe when he preached there.
‘I am no reed to be shaken with the wind, as Charles Stuart shall one day know.’
And it was here that I got my first waft of the new tongue which these hill-folk spake among themselves. I heard of ‘singular Christians,’ and concerning the evils of paying the ‘cess’ or King's tax—things of which I had never heard in my father's house, the necessity not having arisen before Bothwell to discuss these questions.
When all the men were gathered into the wide house-place, some sitting, some standing, the grave-faced woman knocked with her knuckles gently on a door which opened into an inner room. Instantly Maisie Lennox and other two maids came out bearing refreshments, which they handed round to all that were in the house. The carriage of one of these three surprised me much, and I observed that my cousin Wat did not take his eyes from her.
‘Who may these maids be?’ he whispered in my ear.
‘Nay, but I ken not them all,’ I answered. ‘Bide, and we shall hear.’ For, indeed, I knew only one of them, but her very well.
And when they came to us in our turn, Maisie Lennox nodded to me as to a friend of familiar discourse, to whom nothing needs to be explained. And she that was the tallest of the maids handed Wat the well-curled oaten cake on a trencher. Then he rose and bowed courteously to her, whereat there was first a silence and then a wonder among the men in the house, for the manner of the reverence was strange to the stiff backs of the hill-folk. But Anthony Lennox stilled them, telling of the introduction he had gotten concerning Walter, and that both our fathers had made a good end for the faith, so that we were presently considered wholly free of the meeting.
We heard that there was to be a field conventicle nearby, at which Mr. Cameron was to preach. This was the reason of so great a gathering, many having come out of Ayrshire, and even as far as Lesmahagow in the Upper Ward of Lanark, where there are many very zealous for the truth.
Then they fell again to the talking, while I noted how the maids comported themselves. The eldest of them and the tallest, was a lass of mettle, with dark, bent brows. She held her head high, and seemed, by her attiring and dignity, accustomed to other places than this moorland farm-town. Yet here she was, handing victual like a servitor, before a field-preaching. And this I was soon to learn was a common thing in Galloway, where nearly the whole of the gentry, and still more of their wives and daughters, were on the side of the Covenant. It was no uncommon thing for a King's man, when he was disturbing a conventicle— ‘skailing a bees' byke’ as it was called—to come on his own wife's or, it might be, his daughter's palfrey, tethered in waiting to the root of some birk-tree.
‘Keep your black-tail coats closer in by!’ said Duke Rothes once to his lady, who notoriously harboured outed preachers, ‘or I shall have to do some of them a hurt! Ca' your messans to your foot, else I'll hae to kennel them for ye!’
There was however no such safe hiding as in some of the great houses of the strict persecutors.
So in a little while, the most part of the company going out, this tall, dark-browed maid was made known to us by Matthew of the Dub, as Mistress Kate McGhie, daughter of the Laird of Balmaghie, within which parish we were.
Then Maisie Lennox beckoned to the third maid, and she came forward with shyness and grace. She was younger than the other two, and seemed to be a well-grown lass of thirteen or fourteen.
‘This,’ said Maisie Lennox, ‘is my cousin Margaret of Glen Vernock.’
The maid whom she so named blushed, and spoke to us in the broader accent of the Shire, yet pleasantly and frankly as one well reared.
Presently there came to us the taller maid—she who was called Kate, the Laird's daughter.
She held out her hand to me.
‘Ah, Will of Earlstoun, I have heard of you!’
I answered that I hoped it was for good.
‘It was from Maisie there that I heard it,’ she said, which indeed told me nothing. But Kate McGhie shook her head at us, which tempted me to think her a flighty maid. However, I remembered her words often afterwards when I was in hiding.
Thereupon I presented my cousin Wat to her, and they bowed to one another with a very courtly grace. I declare it was pretty to see them, and also most strange in a house where the hill-folk were gathered together. But for the sake of my father and brother we were never so much as questioned.
Presently there was one came to the door, and cried that the preaching was called and about to begin. So we took our bonnets and the maids their shawls about them, and set forth. It was a grey, unkindly day, and the clouds hung upon the heights. There are many woods of pine and oak about the Duchrae; and we went through one of them to an ancient moat-hill or place of defence on a hillside, with a ditch about it of three or four yards wideness, which overlooked the narrow pack road by the water's edge.
As we went Kate McGhie walked by my side, and we talked together. She told me that she came against her parents' will, though not without her father's knowledge; and that it was her great love for Maisie Lennox, who was her friend and gossip, which had first drawn her to a belief in the faith of the hill-folk.
‘But there is one thing,’ said she, ‘that I cannot hold with them in. I am no rebel, and I care not to disown the authority of the King!’
‘Yet you look not like a sufferer in silence!’ I said, smiling at her. ‘Are you a maid of the Quaker folk?’
At which she was fain to laugh and deny it.
‘But,’ I said, ‘if you are a King's woman, you will surely find yourself in a strange company today. Yet there is one here of the same mind as yourself.’
Then she entreated me to tell her who that might be.
‘Oh, not I,’ I replied, ‘I have had enough of Charles Stuart. I could eat with ease all I like of him, or his brother either! It is my cousin of Lochinvar, who has been lately put to the horn and outlawed.’
At the name she seemed much surprised.
‘It were well not to name him here,’ she said, ‘for the chief men know of his past companying with Claverhouse and other malignants, and they might distrust his honesty and yours.’
We had other pleasant talk by the way, and she told me of all her house, of her uncle that was at Kirkcudbright with Captain Winram and the garrison there, and of her father that had forbidden her to go to the field-meetings.
‘Which is perhaps why I am here!’ she said, glancing at me with her bold black eyes.
As I went I could hear behind us the soft words and low speech of Maisie Lennox, who came with my cousin Wat and Margaret of Glen Vernock. What was the matter of their speech I could not discover, though I own I was eager to learn. But they seemed to agree well together, which seemed strange to me, for I was a much older acquaintance than he.
Now, especially when in the wilder places, we came to walk all four together, it seemed a very pleasant thing to me to go thus to the worship of God in company. And I began from that hour to think kindlier of the field-folks' way of hearing a preacher in the open country. This, as I well know, says but little for me; yet I will be plain and conceal nothing of the way by which I was led from being a careless and formal home-keeper, to cast in my lot with the remnant who abode in the fields and were persecuted.
THE SWEET SINGERS OF THE DEER-SLUNK
Now my father had drilled it into me that Anton Lennox, called the Covenanter, was a good and sound-hearted man, even as he was doubtless a manifest and notable Christian. But the tale concerning him that most impressed me and touched my spirit nearest, was the tale of how he served Muckle John Gib and his crew, after godly Mr. Cargill had delivered them over to Satan.
It was Sandy, my brother, that was the eye-witness of the affair. He was ever of the extreme opinion—as my mother used often to say, ‘Our Sandy was either in the moon or the midden’—but in my judgment oftenest in the latter.
Yet I will never deny that he has had a great deal of experience, though I would rather want than have some of it. Now at this time, Sandy, perhaps by means of his wife, Jean Hamilton (who, like her brother Robert, was just inordinate for preachings and prophesyings), was much inclined to kick over the traces, and betake himself to the wilder extremes that were much handled by our enemies for the purpose of bringing discredit on the good name of the Covenants.
There was one great hulking sailor of Borrowstounness that was specially afflicted with these visions and maunderings. Nothing but his own crazy will in all things could satisfy him. He withdrew himself into the waste with two or three men and a great company of feeble-minded women, and there renounced all authority and issued proclamations of the wildest and maddest kinds.
The godly and devout Mr. Donald Cargill (as he was called, for his real name was Duncan) was much exercised about the matter. And finding himself in the neighbourhood to which these people had betaken themselves, he spared no pains, but with much and sore foot-travel he found them out, and entered into conference with them. But John Gib, who could be upon occasion a most faceable and plausible person, persuaded him to abide with them for a night. Which accordingly he did, but having wrestled with them in prayer and communing half the night, and making nothing of them, presently he rose and went out into the fields most unhappy. So after long wandering he came homeward, having failed in his mission. Then it was that he told the matter to old Anton Lennox, who had come from Galloway to attend the great Society's Meeting at Howmuir. With him at the time was my brother Sandy, and here it is that Sandy's story was used to commence.
And of all Sandy's stories it was the one I liked best, because there was the least chance of his having anything about himself to tell.
‘I mind the day’—so he began— ‘a fine heartsome harvest day in mid-September. We had our crop in early that year, and Anton, my father and I, had gotten awa' betimes to the Societies' meeting at Lesmahagow. It was in the earliest days of them—for ye maun mind that I am one o' the few surviving original members. We were a' sitting at our duty, when in there came into the farm kitchen where we abode, Mr. Donald Cargill himself. He was leaning upon his staff, and his head was hanging down. We desisted from our worship and looked at him steadfastly, for we saw that the hand of the Lord had been upon him and that for grief. So we waited for the delivery of his testimony.
‘'My heart is heavy,' he said at long and last, 'for the people of the wilderness are delivered over to the gainsayer, and that by reason of John Gib, called Muckle John, sailor in Borrowstounness, and presently leading the silly folks astray.' Then he told them how he had wrestled with the Gibbites mightily in the Spirit, and had been overthrown. Whereat he was notified that the hearts of all those that hated the Way would be lifted up.
‘He also brought a copy of the foolish sheet called the 'Proclamation of the Sweet Singers,' which was much handed about among all the persecutors at this time, and made to bring terrible discredit on the sober and God-fearing folk of the South and West, who had nothing whatever to do with the matter.
‘'Let me see it,' said Anton Lennox, holding out his hand for it.
‘Mr. Cargill gave it to him, saying sadly, 'The Spirit will not always strive with them!'
‘'Na,' said Auld Anton, 'but I'll e'en strive wi' them mysel'! Reek me doon Clickie!'
‘He spoke of his great herd's stave that had a shank of a yard and a half long and was as thick as my wrist.
‘Come you, Sandy,' he cried over his shoulder as he strode out, 'and ye will get your bellyful of Sweet Singing this day!'
‘Now I did not want to move for the exercise was exceeding pleasant. But my father also bade me go with Auld Anton, and as you know, it was not easy to say nay to my father.
‘It was over a moor that we took our way—silent because all the wild birds had by with their nesting, and where Mr. Cargill had left the company of John Gib was in a very desert place where two counties met. But Auld Anton went stegging over the hills, till I was fair driven out of my breath. And ever as he went he drove his staff deeper and dourer into the sod.
‘It was a long season before we arrived at the place, but at last we came to the top of a little brow-face, and stood looking at the strange company gathered beneath us.
‘There was a kind of moss-hag of dry peat, wide and deep, yet level along the bottom. Down upon the black coom was a large company of women all standing close together and joining their hands. A little way apart on a mound of peat in the midst, stood a great hulk of a fellow, with a gown upon him, like a woman's smock, of white linen felled with purple at the edges. But whenever it blew aside with the wind, one saw underneath the sailor's jerkin of rough cloth with the bare tanned skin of the neck showing through.
‘Certes, Master Anton,' said I, 'but yon is a braw chiel, him wi' the broad hat and the white cock ontill the bob o't!'
‘And indeed a brave, braw, blythesome-like man he was, for all the trashery of his attire. He kept good order among the men and women that companied with him in the Deer-Slunk. There were thirty of them—twenty-six being women—many of them very respectable of family, that had been led away from their duty by the dangerous, persuading tongue of John Gib. But Auld Anton looked very grim as he stood a moment on the knowe-top and watched them, and he took a shorter grip of the cudgel he carried in his hand. It was of black crabtree, knotted and grievous.
‘John Gib!' cried Anton Lennox from the hilltop suddenly in a loud voice.
‘The great sea slug of a man in the white petticoat turned slowly round, and looked at us standing on the parched brae-face with no friendly eye.
'Begone—ye are the children of the devil—begone to your father!' he cried back.
'Belike—John Gib—belike, but bide a wee—I am coming down to have a word or two with you as to that!' replied Auld Anton, and his look had a smile in it, that was sour as the crab-apples which his cudgel would have borne had it bidden in the hedge-root.
'I have come,' he said slowly and tartly, 'that I might converse seriously with you, John Gib, and that concerning the way that you have treated Mr. Donald Cargill, an honoured servant of the Lord!'
'Poof!' cried John Gib, standing up to look at us, while the women drew themselves together angrily to whisper, 'speak not to us of ministers. We deny them every one. We have had more comfort to our souls since we had done with ministers and elders, with week-days and fast-days, and Bibles and Sabbaths, and came our ways out here by ourselves to the deeps of the Deer-Slunk!'
'Nay,' said Old Anton, 'ministers indeed are not all they might be. But without them, ye have proved yourself but a blind guide leading the blind, John Gib! Ye shall not long continue sound in the faith or straight in the way if ye want faithful guides! But chiefly for the fashion in which ye have used Mr. Cargill, am I come to wrestle with you,' cried Anton.
'He is but an hireling,' shouted Muckle John Gib, making his white gown flutter.
'Yea, Yea, and Amen!' cried the women that were at his back. But Davie Jamie, Walter Ker, and John Young, the other three men who were with him, looked very greatly ashamed and turned away their faces—as indeed they had great need.
'Stand up like men! David Jamie, Walter Ker, and John Young!' cried Anton to them, 'Do ye bide to take part with these silly women and this hulker from the bilboes, or will ye return with me to good doctrine and wholesome correction?'
‘But the three men answered not a word, looking like men surprised in a shameful thing and without their needful garments.
'Cargill me no Cargills!' said John Gib; 'he is a traitor, a led captain and an hireling. He deserted the poor and went to another land. He came hither to us, yet neither preached to us nor prayed with us.'
‘John Young looked about him as John Gib said this, as though he would have contradicted him had he dared. But he was silent again and looked at the ground.
'Nay,' said Auld Anton, 'that is a lie, John Gib; for I know that he offered to preach to you, standing with his Bible open between his hands as is his ordinary. But ye wanted him to promise to confine his preaching to you—which when he would not consent to do, ye were for thrusting him out. And he came home, wet and weary, with the cold easterly wet fog all night upon the muir, very melancholy, and with great grief for you all upon his spirit!'
Then at this John Gib became suddenly very furious and drew a pistol upon us. This made Anton Lennox laugh.
'I shall come down and wrestle with your pistols in a wee, John Gib. But I have a word to say to you all first.'
‘He stood awhile and looked at them with contempt as if they were the meanest wretches under heaven, as indeed they were.
'You, John Gib, that lay claim to being a wizard, I have little to say to you. Ye have drawn away these silly folk with your blasphemous devices. Your name is legion, for there are many devils within you. You are the herd of swine after the devils had entered into them. Hath your master given you any word to speak before I come down to you?'
'Ay,' said John Gib, leaping up in the air and clapping his hands together as if he would again begin the dance, which, accompanied by a horrid yowling like that of a beaten dog, they called Sweet Singing.
'Ay, that I have! Out upon you, Anton Lennox, that set up for a man of God and a reprover of others. I alone am pure, and God dwells in me. I lift up my testimony against all the months of the year, for their names are heathen. I alone testify against January and February; against Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday; against Martinmas and holidays, against Lammas-day, Whitsun-day, Candle-mas, Beltan, stone crosses, saints' images, Kelton Hill Fair and Stonykirk Sacrament. Against Yule and Christmas, old wife's fables, Palm Sunday, Carlin Sunday, Pasch, Hallow, and Hogmanay; against the cracking of nits and the singing of sangs; again all romances and story-buiks; against Handsel Monday, kirks, kirkyairds and ministers, and specially against cock-ups in the front o' the Sabbath bonnets o' ministers' wives; against registers, lawyers and all lawbooks.’
He cried out this rigmarole at the top of his voice, speaking trippingly by rote as one that says his lesson in school and has learned it often and well. He rolled his eyes as he recited, and all the women clapped their hands and made a kind of moaning howl like a dog when it bays the moon.
'Yea, Yea, and Amen!' they cried after him, like children singing in chorus.
'Peace, devil's brats all!' cried Anton Lennox, like a tower above them.
‘And they hushed at his word, for he stood over them all, like one greater than man, till even Muckle John Gib seemed puny beside the old man.
'David Jamie, hearken to me, you that has your hand on your bit shable. Better put up your feckless iron spit. It will do you no good. You are a good scholar lost, and a decent minister spoiled. I wonder at you—a lad of some lear—companying with this hairy-throated, tarry-fisted deceiver.'
This David Jamie was a young limber lad, who looked paler and more delicate than the others. What brought him into the company of mad men and misguided women, it is perhaps better only guessing.
He looked sufficiently ashamed now at all events.
'Walter Ker and John Young, hearken ye to me; I have more hope of you. You are but thoughtless, ignorant, land-ward men, and the Lord may be pleased to reclaim you from this dangerous and horrible delusion.'
Anton Lennox looked about him. There was a fire smouldering at no great distance from him. Something black and square lay upon it. He took three great strides to the place. Lifting the dark smouldering object up from off the fire, he cried aloud in horror, and began rubbing with his hands. It was a fine large-print Bible, with more than half of it burned away. There were also several little ones upon the fire underneath. I never saw a man's anger fire up more quickly. For me, I was both amazed and afraid at the awful and unthinkable blasphemy.
'John Gib,' cried Anton Lennox, 'stand up before the Lord, and answer—who has done this?'
'I, that am the head of the Sweet Singers, and the Lord's anointed!' said he. 'I have done it!'
'Then, by the Lord's great name, I will make you sing right sweetly for this!' cried Anton, taking a vow.
Then one of the women took up the parable.
'We heard a voice in the Frost Moss,' she said, 'and a light shone about us there; and John Gib bade us burn our Bibles, for that the Psalms in Metre, the chapter headings, and the Table of Contents were but human inventions.'
'And I did it out of despite against God!' cried John Gib.
Then Anton Lennox said not a word more, but cast away his plaid, spat upon his cudgel-palm, and called over his shoulder to me:
'Come, Sandy, and help me to wrestle in the Spirit with these Sweet Singers.'
As he ran down the brae, David Jamie, the student youth, came at him with a little spit-stick of a sword, and cried that if he came nearer he would run him through.
'The Lord forgie ye for leein', callant,' cried Anton, catching the poor thin blade on his great oak cudgel, for Anton was a great player with the single-sticks, and as a lad had been the cock of the country-side. The steel, being spindle-thin, shivered into twenty pieces, and the poor lad stood gaping at the sword-hilt left in his hand, which had grown suddenly light.
'Bide you there and wrestle with him, Sandy!' Auld Anton cried again over his shoulder.
So I took my knee and tripped David up. And so sat up upon him very comfortable, till his nose was pressed into the moss, and all his members sprawled and waggled beneath me like a puddock under a stone.
Then Auld Anton made straight for John Gib himself, who stood back among his circle of women, conspicuous in his white sark and with a pistol in his hand. When he saw Auld Anton coming so fiercely at him across the peat-hags, he shot off his pistol, and turned to run. But his women caught hold of him by the flying white robe, thinking that he was about to soar upward out of their sight.
'Let me be,' he cried, with a great sailor oath; and tearing away from them, he left half the linen cloth in their hands, and betook him to his heels.
Anton Lennox went after him hot foot, and there they had it, like coursing dogs, upon the level moor. It was noble sport. I laughed till David Jamie was nearly choked in the moss with me rocking to and fro upon him. Anton Lennox was twice the age of John Gib, but Muckle John being a sailor man, accustomed only to the short deck, and also having his running gear out of order by his manner of life, did exceedingly pant and blow. Yet for a time he managed to keep ahead of his pursuer. But there was no ultimate city of refuge for him.
Anton Lennox followed after him a little stiffly, with a grim determined countenance; and as he ran I saw him shorten his cudgel of crabtree in his hand. Presently he came up with the muckle man of Borrowstounness. The great stick whistled through the air, soughing like a willow-wand. Once, twice, thrice—it rose and fell.
And the sound that ensued was like the beating of a sack of meal.
'I'll learn you to burn the Bible!' cried Anton, as he still followed. His arm rose and fell steadily while John Gib continued to run as if the dogs were after him. The great hulk cried out with the intolerable pain of the blows.
'I'll mak' ye Sweet Singers a', by my faith! I'll score ilka point o' your paper screed on your back, my man—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Pasch, Beltan, and Yule!'
At the Yule stroke John Gib fell into a moss-hole. We could not easily see what followed then. But the grievous cudgel steadfastly rose and fell like the flail of a man that threshes corn in a barn, and a howling and roaring that was aught but sweet singing came to us over the moor.
Presently Anton returned, striding back to where I sat upon David Jamie his back.
'Rise!' he said. And that was all he said.
But he took his foot and turned the bit clerk over, pulling him out of the moss with a cloop like the cork being drawn out of a brisk bottle of small ale.
'David, lad, do ye renounce John Gib and all his ways?'
The limber-limbed student looked doubtful, but the sight of the cudgel and the distant sound of the sweet singing of Muckle John decided him.
'Ay,' he said. 'I am content to renounce them and him.'
'See ye and stick to it then!' said Anton, and went after Walter Ker and John Young, who stood together as though they had gotten a dead stroke.
'Ye saw visions, did ye?' he said. 'See ye if this be a vision?'
And he gave them certain dour strokes on their bodies, for they were strong carles and could bide the like—not like the poor feckless loon of a colleger.
'Did ye see a light shining in the moss late yestreen?' he asked them.
'It was but glow-worms!' said Walter Ker.
'It was, aiblins, Wull-o'-the-Wisp?' said John Young.
'Ay, that's mair like the thing, noo!' said Auld Anton, with something like a smile on his face.
So saying he drove all the women (save two or three that had scattered over the moss) before him, till we came to the place of the ordinary Societies' Meeting at Howmuir, from which we set out.
Here were assembled sundry of the husbands of the women—for the black shame of it was, that the most part of them were wives and mothers of families, of an age when the faults of youth were no longer either temptation or excuse.
To them he delivered up the women; each to her own husband, with certain advice.
'I have wrestled with the men,' he said, 'and overcome them. Wrestle ye with the women, that are your own according to the flesh. And if ye think that my oaken stave is too sore, discharge your duty with a birch rod, of the thickness of your little finger—for it is the law of the realm of Scotland that every husband is allowed to give his wife reasonable correction therewith. But gin ye need my staff or gin your wives prefer it, it is e'en at your service.'
So saying, he threw his plaid over his shoulder, and made for the door.
'Learn them a' the sweet singin',' he said. 'John Gib was grand at it. He sang like a mavis oot by there, on the moor at the Deer-Slunk.'‘
This was the matter of Sandy's cheerful tale about John Gib and Auld Anton Lennox.
And this cured Sandy of some part of his extremes, though to my thinking at times, he had been none the worse of Auld Anton at his elbow to give him a lesson or two in sweet singing. I might not in that case have had to buy all over again the bonny house of Earlstoun, and so had more to spend upon Afton, which is now mine own desirable residence.
AULD ANTON OF THE DUCHRAE
It was a wintry-like morning in the later spring when at last we got out of hiding in the house of Gordonstoun. During our stay there I had often gone to see my mother just over the hill at Earlstoun, to give her what comfort I could, and in especial to advise about Sandy, who was then on his travels in the Low Countries. That morning Matthew of the Dub came with us, and we took our legs to it, despising horses in our new quality of hill-folk. The wind blew bitter and snell from the east. And May—the bleakest of spring months, that ought to be the bonniest—was doing her worst to strengthen the cold, in proportion as she lengthened her unkindly days.
Matthew told us not whither we were going, and as for me, I had no thought or suspicion. Yet the tear was in my eye as we saw the bonny woods of Earlstoun lying behind us, with the grey head of the old tower setting its chin over the tree-tops and looking wistfully after us.
But we marched south along the Ken, by New Galloway, and the seat of my Lord Kenmuir, where there was now a garrison with Clavers himself in hold. We saw the loch far beneath us, for we had to keep high on the side of Bennan. It ruffled its breast as a dove's feathers are blown awry by a sudden gusty wind. It was a cheerless day, and the gloom on our faces was of the deepest. For we were in the weird case of suffering for conscience' sake, and with no great raft either of conscience or of religion to comfort us.
Not that our case was uncommon. For all were not saints who hated tyranny.
‘Wat,’ I said, arguing the matter, ‘the thing gangs in the husk o' a hazel. I wear a particular make of glove chevron. It likes me well, but I am not deadly set on it. Comes the Baron-bailie or my Lord Provost, and saith he: 'Ye shall not henceforth wear that glove of thine, but one of my colour and of the fashion official!' Then says I to the Baron-bailie, 'To the Ill Thief wi' you and your pattern gauntlet!' And I take him naturally across the cheek with it, and out with my whinger——’
‘Even so,’ said my cousin, who saw not whither I was leading him, ‘let no man drive you as to the fashion of your gloves. Out with your whinger, and see what might be the colour of his blood!’
‘And what else are the Covenant men doing?’ cried I, quick to take advantage. ‘We were none so fond o' the Kirk that I ken of—we that are of the lairds o' Galloway, when we could please ourselves when and where we would go. Was there one of us, say maybe your father and mine, that had not been sessioned time and again? Many an ill word did we speak o' the Kirk, and many a glint did we cast at the sandglass in the pulpit as the precentor gied her another turn. But after a' the Kirk was oor ain mither, and what for should the King misca' or upturn her? Gin she whummelt us, and peyed us soondly till we clawed where we werena yeuky, wha's business was that but oor ain? But comes King Charlie, and says he, 'Pit awa' your old mither, that's overly sore on you, an' tak' this braw easy step-minnie, that will never steer ye a hair or gar ye claw your hinderlands!' What wad ye say, Wat? What say ye, Wat? Wad ye gie your mither up for the King's word?’
‘No,’ said Wat, sullenly, for now he saw where he was being taken, and liked it little, ‘I wadna.’
I thought I had him, and so, logically, I had. But he was nothing but a dour, donnert soldier, and valued good logic not a docken.
‘Hear me,’ he said, after a moment's silence; ‘this is my way of it. I am no preacher, and but poor at the practice. But I learned, no matter where, to be true to the King—and, mind you, even now I stand by Charles Stuart, though at the horn I be. Even now I have no quarrel with him, though for the dirty sake of the Duke of Wellwood, he has one with me.’
‘That's as may be,’ I returned; ‘but mind where you are going. Ye will be eating the bread of them that think differently, and surely ye'll hae the sense and the mense to keep a calm sough, an' your tongue far ben within your teeth.’
We were passing the ford of the Black Water as I was speaking, and soon we came to the steading of the Little Duchrae in the light of the morning. It was a long, low house, well thatched, like all the houses in the neighbourhood. And it was sending up a heartsome pew of reek into the air, that told of the stir of breakfast. The tangle of the wood grew right up to the windows of the back, and immediately behind the house there was a little morass with great willow trees growing and many hiding-places about it—as well I knew, for there Maisie Lennox and I had often played the day by the length.
Now ‘Auld Anton’ of the Duchrae was a kenned man all over the countryside. The name of Anthony Lennox of Duchrae was often on my father's lips, and not seldom he would ride off to the south in the high days of Presbytery, to have fellowship with him whenever he was low in the spirit, and also before our stated seasons of communion. Thither also I had often ridden in later years on other errands, as has already been said.
Never had I been able to understand, by what extraordinary favour Anthony Lennox had not only been able to escape so far himself, but could afford a house of refuge to others in even more perilous plight. Upon the cause of this immunity there is no need at present to condescend, but certain it is that the house of the Duchrae had been favoured above most, owing to an influence at that time hidden from me. For Auld Anton was never the man to hide his thoughts or to set a curb upon his actions.
With a light hand Matthew of the Dub knocked at the door, which was carefully and immediately opened. A woman of a watchful and rather severe countenance presented herself there—a serving woman, but evidently one accustomed to privilege and equality, as was common in Galloway at that day.
‘Matthew Welsh,’ she said, ‘what brings you so far from hame so early in the morning?’
‘I come wi' thae twa callants—young Gordon o' Earlstoun, and a young man that is near kin to him. It may be better to gie the particulars the go-by till I see you more privately. Is the good man about the doors?’
For answer the woman went to the window at the back and cried thrice. Instantly we saw a little cloud of men disengage themselves irregularly from the bushes and come towards the door. Then began a curious scene. The woman ran to various hiding-places under the eaves, behind dressers, in aumries and presses, and set a large number of bowls of porridge on the deal table. Soon the house was filled with the stir of men and the voices of folk in earnest conversation.
Among them all I was chiefly aware of one young man of very striking appearance, whose dark hair flowed back from a broad brow, white as a lady's, and who looked like one born to command. On the faces of many of the men who entered and overflowed the little kitchen of the Duchrae, was the hunted look of them that oftentimes glance this way and that for a path of escape. But on the face of this man was only a free soldierly indifference to danger, as of one who had passed through many perils and come forth scatheless.
Last of all the Master of the House entered with the familiarity of the well-accustomed. He was alert and active, a man of great height, yet holding himself like a soldier. Three counties knew him by his long grey beard and bushy eyebrows for Anthony Lennox, one of the most famous leaders of the original United Societies. To me he was but Maisie Lennox's father, and indeed he had never wared many words on a boy such as I seemed to him.
But now he came and took us both by the hand in token of welcome, and to me in especial he was full of warm feeling.
‘You are welcome, young sir,’ he said. ‘Many an hour at the dyke-back have we had, your father and I, praying for our bairns and for poor Scotland. Alack that I left him on the way to Bothwell last year and rode forward to tulzie wi' Robin Hamilton—and now he lies in his quiet resting grave, an' Auld Anton is still here fighting away among the contenders.’
With Walter also he shook hands, and gave him the welcome that one true man gives to another. Lochinvar sat silent and watchful in the strange scene. For me I seemed to be in a familiar place, for Earlstoun was on every tongue. And it was not for a little that I came to know that they meant my brother Sandy, who was a great man among them—greater than ever my father had been, though he had ‘sealed his testimony with his blood,’ as their phrase ran.
I thought it best not to give my cousin's name, excusing myself in the meantime by vouching that his father had suffered to the death, even as mine had done, for the cause and honour of Scotland's Covenant.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.