THE TESTING OF THE TYKE
At the head of the high natural wood which fringes about all the mansion house of Balmaghie, we held down to the right through the copses, till we came to the green policies that ring in the great house of McGhies. As we went linking down this green pleasaunce, there met us one who came towards us with his hands behind his back, stooping a little from the shoulders down. He had on him a rich dress of dark stuff a good deal worn, being that of a fashion one or two removes from the present. But this rather, as it seemed, from habit and preference than from need—like one that deigns not to go too fine.
‘Where away, Heather Jock?’ he cried as we made to go by, and turned toward us.
‘Whom have we here?’ he asked, so soon as he saw me.
‘A cousin o' mine from the hill country, laird,’ said Wat, with the gruff courtesy of the gardener.
‘Hoot, hoot—another! This will never do. Has he taken the Test?’ said the laird.
‘I doubt he cannot read it even,’ said Wat, standing sheepishly before him.
‘That is all the better,’ said the tall grey man, shaking his head gently and a little reproachfully. ‘It is easier gotten over that way.’
‘Have not you read it, sir?’ asked Wat, glancing up at him curiously as he stood and swung his cane.
‘Faith no,’ he answered quickly; ‘for if I had read it, Heather Jock, I might never have taken it. I could not run the risks.’
‘My friend will e'en take the Test the way that the Heriot's hospital dog took it,’ said Wat, again smiling, ‘with a little butter and liberty to spit it out.’
‘How now, Heather Jock, thou art a great fellow! Where didst thou get all the stories of the city? The whaups do not tell them about the Glenkens.’
‘Why, an it please your honour, I was half a year in the town with the Lady Gordon, and gat the chapman's fly sheets that were hawked about the causeways,’ answered Wat readily enough, making him an awkward bow.
‘Tell me the story, rascal,’ said the tall man, whom I now knew for Roger McGhie of Balmaghie. ‘I love a story, so that it be not too often told.’
Now I wondered to hear Wat Gordon of Lochinvar take the word ‘rascal’ so meekly, standing there on the road. It was, indeed, very far from being his wont.
However, he began obediently enough to tell the story which Roger McGhie asked of him.
For a Kate of the Black Eyebrows in the plot makes many a mighty difference to the delicateness of a man's stomach.
‘The story was only a bairn's ploy that I heard tell of, when I was in town with my lady,’ he said, ‘nothing worth your honour's attention, yet will I tell it from the printed sheet which for a bodle I bought.’
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ said the other.
‘Well then, laird, there was in the hospital of George Heriot, late jeweller to the King, a wheen loon scholar lads who had an ill-will at a mastiff tyke, that lived in a barrel in the yard and keeped the outermost gate. They suspected this dog of treason against the person of his Majesty, and especially of treasonable opinions as to the succession of the Duke of York. And, indeed, they had some ground for their suspicion, for the mastiff growled one day at the King's High Commissioner when he passed that way, and even bit a piece out of the calf of one of the Duke of York's servitors that wore his Highness' livery, at the time when his Grace was an indweller in Holyrood House.’
The eye of the tall grave man changed. A look of humorous severity came into it.
‘Be cautious how you speak of dignities!’ he said to Wat.
‘Well,’ said Wat, ‘at any rate, this evil-minded tyke held an office of trust, patently within the meaning of the act, and these loon lads of Heriot's ordained him duly to take the Test, or be turned out of his place of dignity and profit.
‘So they formed a Summary Court, and the tyke was called and interrogated in due form. The silly cur answered all their questions with silence, which was held as a sign of a guilty conscience. And this would have been registered as a direct refusal, but that one of the loons, taking it upon him to be the tyke's advocate, argued that silence commonly gave consent, and that the Test had not been presented to his client in the form most plausible and agreeable to his tender stomach.
‘The debate lasted long, but at last it was agreed that a printed copy of the Test should be made into as little bulk as possible, smoothed with butter, tallow, or whatever should be most tempting to his doggish appetite. This being done, Tyke readily took it, and made a shift by rowing it up and down his mouth, to separate what was pleasant to his palate. When all seemed over and the dog appearingly well tested, the loons saw somewhat, as it were one piece after another, drop from the side of his mouth. Whereupon it was argued, as in the case of my Lord Argyle, that this was much worse than a refusal, because it was a separating of that which was pleasant from what was irksome. And that this therefore, rightly interpreted, was no less than High Treason.
‘But the tyke's advocate urged that his enemies had had the rowing up of the paper, and very likely they had put some crooked pin or other foreign object, unpleasant to a honest tyke's palate, within. So he asked for a fair trial before his peers for his client.
‘Then the Court being constitute and the assize set, there fell out a great debate concerning this tyke dog. Some said that his chaming and chirking of the paper was very ill-done of him, that he was over malapert and took too much upon him. For his office being a lowly one, it was no business of his to do other than bolt the Test at once.
‘But his advocate urged that he had done his best, and that if one part of the oath fell to hindering the other and fighting in his hass, it was not his fault, but the fault of them that framed such-like. Also, that if it had not hindered itself in going down, he would have taken it gladly and willingly, as he had taken down many other untoothsome morsels before, to the certain knowledge of the Court—such as dead cats, old hosen and shoes, and a bit of the leg of one of the masters in the hospital, who was known to be exceedingly unsavoury in his person.
‘But all this did not save the poor tyke, for his action in mauling and beslavering his Majesty's printing and paper was held to be, at least, Interpretive Treason. And so he was ordered to close prison till such a time as the Court should call him forth to be hanged like a dog. Which was pronounced for doom.’
Roger McGhie laughed at the tale's end with a gentle, inward laughter, and tapped Wat with his cane.
‘Thou art indeed a merry wag, and speak over well for a gardener,’ he said; ‘but I know not if John Graham would not put a charge of lead into thee, if he heard thy way of talking. But go thy ways. Tell me quickly what befel the poor tyke.’
‘None so evil was his fate,’ said Wat, ‘for in the midst of the great debate that the surprising verdict raised, the tyke drew on a fox's skin, laid hold of the tail of another tyke, and so passed unobserved out of the prison. At which many were glad. For, said they, he was a good tyke that would not sup kail with the Pope nor yet the deil, and so had no need of his long spoon. And others said that it were a pity to hang so logical a tyke, for that he was surely no Aberdeen man, ever ready to cant and recant again.’
Roger McGhie laughed aloud and knocked his cane on the ground, for right well he understood the meaning of all these things, being versed in parties and politics, which I never was.
‘It is mighty merry wit,’ he said, ‘and these colleginers are blythesome blades. I wonder what John Graham will say to this. But go to the bothies of the bachelor foresters, and get that which may comfort the inner parts of your cousin from the hills—who, from the hang of his head, seems not so ready of tongue as thou.’
For, indeed, I had been most discreetly silent.
So the tall, grey-headed gentleman went away from us, tapping gently with his fine cane on the ground, and often stopping to look curiously at some knot on a tree or some chance puddock or grasshopper on the roadside.
Then Wat told me that because of his quaint wit and great loyalty, Roger McGhie of Balmaghie was in high favour with the ruling party, and that none on his estates were ever molested. Also that Claverhouse frequented the house greatly, often riding from Dumfries for a single night only to have the pleasure of his society. He never quartered his men near by the house of Balmaghie, but rode over alone or with but one attendant in the forenights—perhaps to get away from roystering Lidderdale of the Isle, red roaring Baldoon, drinking Winram, and the rest of the boon companions.
‘The laird of Claverhouse will come hither,’ said Wat, ‘with a proud set face, stern and dark as Lucifer's, in the evening. And in the morning ride away with so fresh a countenance and so pleasing an expression that one might think him a spirit unfallen. For, as he says, Roger McGhie does his heart good like medicine.’
THE GARDENER OF BALMAGHIE
I was wakened one morning by Jean coming to the side of my bed. She was fully dressed, as if to receive company, and her tall and straight figure looked imposing enough.
‘Rise!’ she said. ‘Rise! there's a chiel here, that wants ye to gang wi' him.’
‘A chiel, Jean Gordon?’ said I, in a sleepy kind of surprise. ‘What ken ye aboot him?’
‘Oh, I ken he's a honest lad,’ she said, ‘an' he brings ye a message frae the gardener o' Balmaghie that ye are to accompany him there for greater safety.’
‘A likely story!’ returned I, for I was none too well pleased to be wakened up out of my sleep at that time in the morning to see a regiment of Balmaghie gardeners. ‘There is great safety in the neighbourhood of the eagle's nest!’
‘There is so,’ said Jean Gordon, dryly—’for sparrows. 'Tis the safest place in the world for the like of them to build, for the eagle will not touch them, an' the lesser gleds dare not come near.’
Nor do I think that this saying pleased me over well, because I thought that a Gordon of Earlstoun, of whatever rank, was a city set on a hill that could not be hid.
Then Jean Gordon, the hermit of the Garpel glen, bade me an adieu, giving me an old-fashioned salutation as well, which savoured little of having forgotten all that she had lightlied to me.
‘Tak' tent to yoursel',’ she said. ‘Ye are a good lad and none so feckless as ye look. There's stuff and fushion in ye, an' ye micht even tak' the e'e o' woman—gin ye wad pad your legs.’
And with this she went in, leaving me in a quandary whether to throw a stone at her, or run back and take her round the neck.
I found the gardener of Balmaghie standing with his back towards me. He walked on a little before me without speaking, as though wishing me to follow him. He was, to the back view, dressed but ordinarily, yet with some of the neatness of a proper gentleman's servant.
And this was a great deal in a country where for common the men wear little that is handsome, save and except the Sabbath cloak—which if it do not, like charity, cover a multitude of sins, of a truth hides a multitude of old duddy clothes.
At the foot of the burn, where by the bridge it runs over some black and rugged rocks, the gardener stopped and turned round. I declare I never gat a greater or more pleasant surprise in my life, save as it may be, once—of what I have yet to tell.
‘Wat, dear Wat!’ I cried, and ran to him. We clasped one another's hands, and then we stood a little off, gazing each at the other. I had not known that I was so fond of him. But nothing draws the heart like coming through trials together. At least, so it is with men. 'Twixt women and men so many things draw the heart, that it is well-nigh impossible to separate one thing from the other.
‘How came Jean Gordon to say that you were the gardener at Balmaghie?’ I asked of him, when I was a little satisfied with looking at him.
‘Why, because I am the gardener at Balmaghie—second gardener!’ answered Wat, smiling in a sly way that he had when he meant to provoke and mystify me. Yet a way that I liked not ill, for he never used it save when he had within him a light and merry heart.
But I knew by this time how to counter his stroke, which was to hold one's peace, as if one cared nothing about the matter. For in this Wat was just like a woman, or a fencer, whom it provokes more to measure a thrust and avoid, than a hundred times to parry and return.
But for all I could not keep the anxiety out of my eyes as we walked along.
‘You do not want to hear,’ said he, provoking me; for because of Maisie Lennox and my mother, he knew that he had the better of me.
‘But I do, though!’ That was all I could say.
For indeed the matter was a mystery to me, as well it might be. Wat Gordon of Lochinvar, sometime favourite of her Grace the Duchess of Wellwood, now gardener to a latitudinarian and cavalier Galloway laird, that had been a ferlie even on a day of miracles.
Wat continued to smile and smile.
‘Well, I will tell you,’ he said. Yet for a while did not, but only walked on smiling.
At last he pursed his mouth and began to whistle. It was a bar or two of the air ‘Kate Kennedy is my darling.’
Now at that time I own that I was not bright in the uptake about such things. For I had not till lately concerned me much with love and women's favours, but it came across me all in an instant.
‘Oh!’ I said.
‘Ah!’ said Wat.
And we looked at one another and nodded—Wat defiantly.
‘Kate of the black eyebrows!’ I said musingly. ‘They are joined over her brow,’ I went on, ‘and her ear comes straight down to her neck without any rounded lobe. They are two well-considered signs!’
Wat Gordon stopped suddenly, and cried out at me.
‘See here, William Gordon, what mean you by that? What if her eyebrows meet under her chin and her ears hang down like band strings? What is that to you?’
‘Happily nothing!’ said I—for I was patiently paying him out, as it is ever easy to do with a spit-fire like young Lochinvar.
‘Speak plain, Will,’ he cried, ‘or by the Lord I will immediately run you through!’
‘With a spade,’ said I, mocking. ‘Mind, Wat, you are a laird's second gardener now.’
But when I perceived that he was really angry, I hastened to appease him.
‘Joined eyebrows and lobeless ear have been held by learned folk to prefigure some temper, Wat!’ I said.
His brow cleared on an instant.
‘Pshaw!’ he exclaimed, ‘I like a lass with a sparkle. No mim missie for Wat Gordon of Lochinvar, but a lass that keeps you in doubt till the last moment, whether your best wooing will speed you to a kiss or a bodkin-prick—that's the maid for me!’
‘For me, I would e'en take the kiss,’ I said— ‘take it plain!’
‘Tush, slow-coach!’ he said, ‘your Earlstoun blood always did run like so much moss water!’
Now I had borne the burden of the day on the moss of Ayr, and felt that I need not take his scornful word.
‘I have been where other than women's bodkins flashed—aye, ten against a hundred, and this was the only brand that wan through,’ I said, putting my hand on my side. ‘There was small time for kisses then! Ye may kiss your lass gin ye like, about the woods of Balmaghie. As for me, I prefer to ride upon Cameron's flank, on a day when the garments are rolled in blood.’
This I said dourly, for my gall was working hot within me. So far from our first friendship had the clack of foolish tongues brought us. 'Deed, we were but silly boys that needed skelping, but I far the worst, for my head was by nature cooler and I knew better all the while.
‘And so perhaps would I have preferred it,’ answered he gently.
‘Aye,’ said he again, ‘I think it is somewhat late in the day for Wat Gordon of Lochinvar, to have to prove his courage upon his cousin William of Earlstoun. So then, take it from me that but for my oath sworn to the King, it had been more pleasure to ride with you in the charge at Ayrsmoss, than to be bridegroom to any maid soever in the world!’
And at the name of the King, he lifted his worn old countryman's bonnet as nobly and loyally as though it had been the plumed hat, whose feather had been so proudly set that night when he defied heaven and hell to keep him from his tryst beyond the Netherbow.
At the word I stretched out my hand to him.
‘Forgive me, Wat,’ I said, and would have taken his arm, but he moved it a little away for a moment.
‘Pray remember,’ he said grandly, ‘that though I am a jerkined man and handle the mattock in another man's kail yaird,—aye, though I be put to the horn and condemned unheard as a traitor, I am true King's man. Vive le Roi!’
‘Well,’ replied I, ‘so be it, and much good may it do you. At any rate, there is no need to make such a work about it. After all, gin ye be at the horn, it's Guid's truth that ye gied Duke Wellwood's lads some most unmerciful jags aneath the ribs!’
While thus we snarled and fought between ourselves, the very strife of our tongues made the legs go faster, and we drew southward between the two lochs, Ken and Grenoch, crossing over the Black Water and leaving the Duchrae behind. And this made me very wae, to mind the days that we had there, with that brave company which should meet no more on the earth together.
PLAIN WORDS UPON MEN
‘Heighty-teighty,’ said Jean Gordon, of the Shirmers, coming in to me with a breakfast piece one morning as soon as she heard that I was awake. ‘The silly folks keep on bletherin' that I cam' awa' here to dee for love. Weel, I hae leeved forty year in Jean's cot o' the Garpel and I'm no dead yet. I wat no! I cam' here to be oot o' the men's road. Noo, there's my sister ower by at Barscobe. She was muckle the better o' a man, was she no? Never sure whether he wad come hame sober and weel conditioned frae kirk or market. In the fear o' her life every time that she heard the soond o' his voice roarin' in the yaird, to ken what was crossin' him, and in what fettle the wee barn-door Almichty wad be pleased to come ben-the-hoose in! Wadna the like o' that be a bonny exchange for the peace and quaitness o' the Garpel side?’
And the old lady shook the white trimmings of her cap, which was daintily and fairly goffered at the edges. ‘Na, na,’ she said, ‘yince bitten, twice shy. I hae had eneuch o' men—nesty, saucy, ill-favoured characters. Wi' half a nose on ye, ye can tell as easy gin yin o' them be in the hoose, as gin he hed been a tod!’
‘And am I not a man, Aunty Jean?’ I asked, for indeed she had been very kind to me.
‘Hoot, a laddie like you is no a man. Nae beard like bristles, nae luntin' stinkin' pipes an' a skin like my lady's—that's no a man. By my silk hose and shoe strings, gin I get as muckle as the wind o' a man body atween me and the Bogue road, I steek baith the inner and the outer doors to keep awa' the waff o' the brock. Foul fa' them every yin!’
This made me laugh, indeed; but after all it did not please me greatly to hear that I was taken for less than a man.
‘Now there's Sandy,’ she went on, for she ever loved to talk, ‘he's a great senseless sturdy o' a craitur. Yet he could get a' the wives he wants, by just coming doon like a tod aff the hill, and takin' yin below his oxter. An' the puir bit bleatin' hizzie wad think she likit it. Lord! some folk tak' a man as they tak' a farm, by the acre. But no me—no me. Na! Gin I was thinkin' o' men, the bonny ticht lad is the lad for me; the lad wi' the cockade set in his bonnet an' a leg weel shapit; neither bowed out frae the knees like haystack props, nor yet bent in like a cooper ridin' on the riggin' o' a barrel.’
‘But what for did ye no tak' yin then?’ I said, speaking through the door of the spence as she moved about the house, ordering the porridge-making and keeping an eye on the hen's meat as well.
It eased my heavy thought, to hear the heartsome clip of her tongue—for all the world like a tailor's shears, brisker when it comes to the selvage. So when Jean Gordon got in sight of the end of her sentence, she snipped out her words with a glibness beyond any Gordon that ever I heard of. For the Gordons are, according to proverb, slow people with their tongues, save as they say by two and two at the canny hour of e'en.
But never slow at morn or mirk was our Aunt Jean of Wa's by the Garpel burn.
‘It's a strange thing,’ she said, looking through the hall door at me, ‘that you an' me can crack like twa wives that hae gotten their men out o' the hearin'. My lad, I fear ye will creep into women's hearts because ye make them vexed for ye. Ye hae sic innocent ways. Oh, I doot na but it's the guile o' ye; but it was ever sae.
‘Mony a mewlin', peuterin' body has great success wi' the weemen folk. They think it's a peety that he should be so innocent, an' they tak' haud o' the craitur, juist to keep off the ither designin' weeman. Oh, I'm far frae denyin' that we are a pack o' silly craiturs. A'thing that wears willy-coats; no yin muckle to better anither!’
‘But aboot yoursel', Aunty Jean?’ I ventured, in order to stir her to reckless speech, which was like fox-hunting to me.
‘Wha? Me? Certes, no! I gat the stoor oot o' my e'en braw an' early. I took the cure-all betimes, as the lairds tak' their mornin' o' French brandy. When Tam Lindsay gaed aff wi' his fleein' flagarie o' a muckle-tochered Crawford lass, I vowed that I wad hae dune wi' men. An' so I had!
‘Whenever a loon cam' here in his best breeks, and a hingin' look in the e'e o' the craitur that meant courtin', faith, I juist set the dowgs on the scullion. I keepit a fearsome tyke on purpose, wi' a jaw ontill him like Jonah's whale. Aye, aye, mony's the braw lad that has gane doon that brae, wi' Auld Noll ruggin' an' reevin' at the hinderlands o' him—bonny it was to see!’
‘Did ye think, as ye watched them gang, that it was your Lindsay, Aunty Jean?’ I asked; for, indeed, her well-going talk eased my heart in the midst of so many troubles. For I declare that during these thirty years in Scotland, and especially in the Glenkens, folk had almost forgotten the way to laugh.
‘Na, na, callant,’ so she would say to me in return, ‘I ne'er blamed him sair ava'. Tam Lindsay was never sair fashed wi' sense a' the days o' his life—at least no to hurt him, ony mair nor yersel', as yin micht say. It was the Crawford woman and her weel-feathered nest that led him awa', like a bit silly cuddie wi' a carrot afore his nose. But I'll never deny the randy that she was clever; for she took the craitur's size at the first look, as neat as if she had been measurin' him for a suit o' claes. But she did what I never did, or my name had been Jean Lindsay this day. The Lord in His mercy be thankit continually that it is as it is, and that I hae nae auld dotard, grumphin' an' snortin' at the chimley lug. She cuitled Tam Lindsay an' flairdied him an' spak' him fair, till the poor fathom o' pump water thocht himsel' the brawest lad in braid Scotland. Faith, I wadna sae bemean mysel' to get the king oot o' Whitehall—wha they tell me is no that ill to get, gin yin had the chance—and in muckle the same way as Tam Lindsay. Oh, what a set o' blind, brainless, handless, guid-for-naethings are men!’
‘It was with that ye began, Aunty Jean,’ I said.
‘Aye, an' I shall end wi' it too,’ she answered. ‘I'm no theology learned, but it looks terribly like as if the rib story were gye near the truth. For the poorest o' weemen can mak' a great muckle oot o' a very little, an' the best o' men are sadly troubled wi' a sair want. I misdoot that Aydam maun hae missed mair nor the rib when he waukened.’
My pleasant time in the cottage by the Garpel came all too soon to an end. It is, indeed, a rare and heartsome place to bide in on a summer's day. There is the sound of the birds singing, the plash of the water into the pool beneath the Holy Linn, where the ministers held the great baptizing of bairns, when the bonny burn water dropped of its own accord on their brows as their fathers held them up. There are the leaves rubbing against one another with a pleasant soughing noise. These kept my heart stirring and content as long as I abode in the Glen of the Garpel.
There is in particular one little hill with a flat top, from which one may spy both up and down the Glen, yet be hidden under the leaves. Here I often frequented to go, though Sandy warned me that this would be my death. Yet I liked it best of all places in the daytime, and lay there prone on my belly for many hours together, very content, chewing sorrel, clacking my heels together, and letting on that I was meditating. But, indeed, I never could look at water slipping away beneath me, without letting it bear my thoughts with it and leave me to the dreaming. And the Garpel is an especially pleasant burn to watch thus running from you. I have had the same feelings in church when the sermon ran rippleless and even over my head.
The only thing that annoyed me was that on the Sabbath days the Garpel became a great place for lovers to convene. And above all, at one angle behind Jean Gordon's cot, there is a bower planted with wild flowers—pleasant and retired doubtless, for them that are equipped with a lass. But as for me, I pleased myself by thinking that one day I should shape to bring Maisie Lennox there to see my hiding-place, for, as a little maid, she ever loved woods that rustle and waters that flow softly. So chiefly on the Sabbath I kept close in my covert with a book; but whether from motives of safety or envy, it misliketh me to tell.
Then on the other side he brushed through a little wood of oak and hazel. I felt the twigs rough in my face. Climbing a steep brae, Sandy set me down at the end of a house with some bits of offices about it, and a pleasant homely smell of cows and pasturage. Saving these, there were none of the other signs of a farm-town, but rather a brisk cleanliness and well-ordered neatness.
Sandy went to the door and knocked, and in a little while one answered at the southmost of the windows. Then a whispered word was given and taken. The door was opened and we went into the dark house. A sweet-faced old lady who stood in the narrow passage, gowned even at that time of night with some precision, took me by the arm. She held a candle aloft in her hand.
‘Come awa', laddie,’ she said. ‘Ye shallna try the unkindly dasses o' the Linn yet awhile, nor yet lie in 'Duncan's Pantry,' which has small store of victual in it. But ye shall bide this nicht wi' Jean Gordon o' the Shirmers, that has still some spunk in her yet, though folk say that she died o' love thirty years syne. Hoot, silly clavers, Jean Gordon could hae gotten a man ony time, had she been wantin' yin.’
We were indeed at Jean Gordon's famous cot by the side of the bonny Garpel burn. And it was not long till she had me cosy in bed, and Sandy, to whom all weathers and lodgings were alike, away to his hiding in the Cleuch beneath, where some of his society men were that night holding a meeting for prayer.
The cottage sat bonnily on the brink of a glen, and almost from my very window began the steep and precipitous descent. So that if the alarm were suddenly given, there was at least a chance of flinging myself out of the window and dropping into the tangled sides of the Linn of Garpel. The thought of the comfort in Jean's cot made me the more willing to take the risk. For I knew well that if I had to venture the damps and chills of the glen without any shelter after my illness, it would fare but poorly with me. So all that night I lay and listened to the murmur of the water beneath, dashing about the great upstanding rocks in the channel.
But other sound there was none, and to this sweet sequestered spot came none to seek us.
Here in the fastnesses of the Garpel, Sandy and I abode many days. And though the glen was searched, and patrol parties more than once came our way, not one of them approached near the fastness of thickets where in the daytime we were hidden. And each night, in all safety, I betook me to the cottage of Jean Gordon.
Jean's story had been a sad one, but she made little of it now, though it was well known to all the countryside.
‘The Lord has taken away the stang of pain out of my life,’ she said. ‘I was but a lass when I came to the Garpel thinking my heart broken. Yince I loved a braw lad, bonny to look upon—and he loved me, or I was the more deceived. Lindsay was his name. Doubtless ye have heard the common tale. He slighted my love and left me without a word. Waes me, but the very lift turned black when I heard it, and I cried out on the liars that said the like. But belief came slowly to me. The loch is very near to the Shirmers where I dwelt, and the tower window looks down into the black deeps from among the ivy bushes on the wall. My thoughts ofttimes turned on the short and easy road to peace. But praise be to His marvellous name, I saw another way. So I biggit me this bit house on the bonny birk-grown sides o' the Garpel, and e'en came my ways to bide here.
‘'Ye'll sune get a man, for ye're bonny! Never fash your thumb for Lindsay!' said my kin.’
‘'I'll get nae man,' I threepit to them. 'What one slighted shall never be given to another.' So forty year have I bidden here, and heard little but the mavis sing and the cushie complain. Think weel o' yoursel', Willie, lad, for ye are the first man body that has ever bidden the nicht within Jean's Wa's. Sandy, great as he thinks himsel', can tak' the Linn side for it. He is weather-seasoned like the red tod o' the hills; but ye are shilpit and silly, boy William, so ye had best bide wi' auld Jean when ye can. There's few in Gallowa' daur meddle wi' puir Jean, for she is kin to John Graham o' Claverhouse himsel', and even the erne's cousin is no a canny bird to meddle wi'.’
So again I had fallen on my feet, as has mostly been my fortune with women. Though, alas, that I should have to confess it, chiefly because of my weakness, and with the elder sort of them.
Here after a day or two, there came to Jean Gordon, my hostess of the night season, a letter from Sandy's wife, Jean Hamilton, with sad news of them at Earlstoun. It was intended for my brother, but according to the custom of these days, it was not so addressed, for the transmission of such letters was too dangerous at that time.
‘Dear Mistress’ (so it ran), ‘your letter did yield great satisfaction to me, and now I have good words to tell you. The Lord is doing great things for me. Colvin and Clavers (Cornel) have put us out of all that we have, so that we know not where to go.
‘I am for the present in a cot house. Oh, blessed cottage! As soon as my enemies began to roar against me, so quickly came my kind Lord to me and did take my part. He made the enemies to favour me, and He gave me kindly welcome to this cottage.
‘Well may I say that His yoke is easy and His burden light.
‘Dear Mistress Jean, praise God on my behalf, and cause all that love Him to praise Him on my behalf. I fear that I miscarry under His kind hand.
‘Colvin is reigning here like a prince, getting 'his honour' at every word. But he hath not been rude to me. He gave me leave to take out all that I had. What matters suffering after all! But, oh! the sad fallings away of some! I cannot give a full account of them.
‘I have nothing to write on but a stone by the waterside, and know not how soon the enemy may be upon me. I entreat you to send me your advice what to do. The enemy said to me that I should not get to stay in Galloway gif I went not to their kirk.
‘They said I should not even stay in Scotland, for they would pursue me to the far end of it, but I should be forced to go to their church. The persecution is great. There are many families that are going to leave their houses and go out of the land. Gif you have not sent my former letter, let it not now go, but send this as quickly as you can. I fear our friends will be much concerned. I have written that Alexander may not venture to come home. I entreat that you will write that to him and close mine within yours. I have not backed his. Send me all your news. Remember me to all friends. I desire to be reminded to them.
‘I rest, in haste, your loving friend and servant,
Now, I declare that this letter made me think better than ever before of Sandy's wife, for I am not gifted with appropriate and religious reflections in the writing of letters myself. But very greatly do I admire the accomplishment. Jean was in time of peace greatly closed up within herself; but in time of extrusion and suffering, her narrow heart expanded. Notwithstanding the strange writing-desk of stone by the water side, the letter was well written, but the great number of words which had been blurred and corrected as to their spelling, revealed the turmoil and anxiety of the writer. I have kept it before me as I write this history, so that I might give it exactly.
Thus we learned that Sandy's side of the house was safe; but what of our mother and Maisie Lennox?
‘Jean says nothing,’ said Sandy, when I told him. ‘Good news is no news!’
And truly this is an easy thing for him to say, who has heard news about his own. Jean Gordon sent over to her sister's son at Barscobe for word, but could hear nothing save that the Earlstoun ladies had been put out of their house without insult or injury, and had gone away no man knew whither. So with this in the meantime we were obliged to rest as content as we might.
THE BULL OF EARLSTOUN'S HOMECOMING
It was about this time that Sandy came home. It may seem from some parts of this history that we agreed not over well together. But after all it was as brothers may disagree among themselves; though they are banded stoutly enough against all the world beside. I think it made us love one another more that recently we had been mostly separate; and so when Sandy came home this time and took up his old lodging in the tree, it was certainly much heartsomer at the Earlstoun. For among other things our mother mostly went to carry him his meals of meat, taking with her Jean Hamilton, Sandy's wife, thus leaving only Maisie Lennox to bring me my portion to the well-house.
But often in the gloaming Sandy himself came climbing up by the ivy on the outside of the well-tower, letting his great body down through the narrow broken lattice in the tiles. And in that narrow chamber we cheered one another with talk. This I liked well enough, so long as he spoke of Groningen and the Low Countries. But not so well when he began to deafen me with his bickerings about the United Societies—how there was one, Patrick Laing, a man of fierce and determined nature, that could not company with other than himself; how Mr. Linning wrestled with the other malcontents, and especially how he himself was of so great honour and consideration among them, that they had put off even so grave a matter as a General Meeting that he might have time to come from Edinburgh to attend it. And in what manner, at the peril of his life, he did it.
One night, while he was in the midst of his recital, the mighty voice of him sounding out upon the night brought the sentry from his corner—who listened, but could not understand whence came the sounds. Presently the soldier called his comrade, and the pair of them stole to the door of the well-house, where I had lain so long in safety. Sandy was in the heat of his discourse, and I sitting against the chamber wall in my knee-breeches, and with a plaid about me, listening at my ease. For long immunity had made us both careless.
‘At Darmead, that well-kenned place, we had it,’ Sandy was saying, his long limbs extended half-way across the floor as he lay on the bare boards, and told his story; ‘it was a day of glorious witnessing and contesting. No two of us thought the same thing. Each had his own say-away and his own reasons, and never a minister to override us. Indeed, since Ritchie lay down at length on Ayrsmoss to rest him, there is no minister that could. But I hear of a young man, Renwick, that is now with Mr. Brackel of Leeuwarden, that will scare some of the ill-conditioned when he comes across the water——’
Even as he spoke thus, and blattered with the broad of his hand on his knee, the trap-door in the floor slowly lifted up. And through the aperture came the head of a soldier—even that of the sentry of the night, with whose footfalls I had grown so familiar, that I minded them no more than the ticking of the watch in your pocket or the beating of your heart in the daytime.
The man seemed even more surprised than we, and for a long moment he abode still, looking at Sandy reclining on the floor. And Sandy looked back at him with his jaw dropped and his mouth open. I could have laughed at another time, for they were both great red men with beards of that colour, and their faces were very near one another, like those of the yokels that grin at each other emulously out of the horse collars on the turbulent day of the Clachan Fair—which is on the eve of St. John, in the time of midsummer.
Then suddenly Sandy snatched an unlighted lantern, and brought it down on the soldier's head, which went through the trap-door like Jack-out-of-the-box being shut down again.
‘Tak' the skylight for it, William,’ Sandy cried. ‘I'll e'en gang doon an' see what this loon wants!’
So snatching a sword that lay upon the boards by his side, Sandy went down the trap after his man. I heard him fall mightily upon the two soldiers to whom had been committed the keeping of the house that night. In that narrow place he gripped them both with the first claucht of his great arms, and dadded their heads together, exhorting them all the time to repent and think on their evil ways.
‘Wad ye, then, vermin,’ he cried as one and another tried to get at him with their weapons round the narrow edge of the well-curb; and I heard one after another of their tools clatter down the masonry of the well, and plump into the water at the bottom. The men were in their heavy marching gear, being ready at all times for the coming of Clavers, who was a great man for discipline, and very particular that the soldiers should always be properly equipped whenever it might please him to arrive. And because he loved night marches and sudden surprises, the men took great pains with their accoutrement.
‘Can I help ye, Sandy?’ I cried down through the hole.
‘Bide ye whaur ye are, man. I can manage the hullions fine! Wad ye, then? Stan' up there back to back, or I'll gie ye anither daud on the kerb that may leave some o' your harns stickin' to it. Noo, I'll put the rape roon ye, an' ease ye doon to a braw and caller spot!’
I looked down the trap and saw Sandy roving the spare coil of well-rope round and round his two prisoners. He had their hands close to their sides, and whenever one of them opened his mouth, Sandy gave his head a knock with his open hand that drave him silent again, clapping his teeth together like castanets from Spain.
As soon as he had this completed to his satisfaction, he lifted the bucket from the hook, and began to lower the men down the shaft, slinging them to the rope by the belly-bands of His Majesty's regimental breeches.
The men cried out to ask if he meant to drown them.
‘Na, na, droon nane,’ said Sandy. ‘There's but three feet o' water in the well. Ye'll be fine and caller doon there a' nicht, but gin ye as muckle as gie a cry afore the morrow's sunrise—weel, ye hae heard o' Sandy Gordon o' the Earlstoun!’
And this, indeed, feared the men greatly, for he was celebrated for his strength and daring all athwart the country; and especially among soldiers and common people, who, as is well known, are never done talking about feats of strength.
This being completed, he brought me down from my loft and took me into the house to bid the women folk farewell. They cried out with terror when he told them what he had done as a noble jest, and how he had bound the soldiers and put them in the well-bottom. But my mother said sadly, ‘It is the beginning of the end! O Sandy, why could you not have been content with scaring them?’
‘It was our lives or theirs, mither,’ said Sandy. ‘Had they gotten room to put steel into me, your first-born son wad hae been at the well-bottom, wi' his heid doon an' his mooth open, and your second dangling in a hempen collar in the Grass Market. The eggs are all in one basket now, mither!’
‘Haste ye away!’ cried she, ‘lest the soldiers break lowse and come and find ye here!’
‘They hae somewhat better sense than to break lowse this nicht,’ said Sandy, grimly smiling. ‘I'm gaun nane to tak' the heather withoot my supper.’
So he sat him down on the settle like a man at ease and well content.
‘Jean, fetch the plates,’ he said to his wife; ‘it's graund to be hungry an' ken o' meat!’
Maisie Lennox stood quietly by; but I could see that she liked not the turn of affairs, nor the reckless way that Sandy had of driving all things before him.
‘Haste ye, young lass,’ he said to her, and at the word she went quietly to help Jean Hamilton.
‘Whither gang ye?’ our mother said to us, as we made us ready to flee. ‘Mind and be canny wi' that laddie, Sandy, for he has been ill and needs care and tendance to this day.’
And it pleased me to see that Maisie Lennox looked pale and anxious when she came near me. But no word spoke she.
‘Na, mither. I'll no tell ye whaur we gang, for ye micht be put to the question, and now ye can say ye dinna ken wi' a guid conscience.’
I got a word with Maisie at the stair foot as she went up to bring some plaid or kerchief down, which our mother insisted I should take with me.
‘Maisie,’ I said, ‘ye'll no forget me, will ye?’
But she would give me no great present satisfaction.
‘There are so many gay things in my life to gar me forget a friend!’ was all she said; but she looked down and pulled at her apron.
‘Nay, but tell me, my lassie, will ye think every day o' the lad ye nursed in the well-house chamber?’
‘Your mother is crying on me,’ she said; ‘let me go, William’ (though indeed I was not touching her).
I was turning away disappointed with no word more, but very suddenly she snatched my hand which had fallen to my side, pressed it a moment to her breast, and then fled upstairs like a young roe.
So, laden with wrappings, Sandy and I took our way over the moor, making our path through our own oakwood, which is the largest in Galloway, and out by Blawquhairn and Gordiestoun upon the moor of Bogue—a wet and marshy place, save in the height of the dry season. Sandy was for going towards a hold that he had near the lonely, wind-swept loch of Knockman, which lies near the top of a hill of heather and bent. But as we came to the breast of the Windy Brae, I felt my weakness, and a cold sweat began to drip from me.
‘Sandy,’ I said to my brother, taking him by the hand lest he should go too fast for me, ‘I fear I shall be but a trouble to you. Leave me, I pray you, at Gordiestoun to take my chance, and hie you to the heather. It'll maybe no be a hanging matter wi' me at ony gate.’
‘Hear till him,’ said Sandy, ‘leave him! I'll leave the laddie nane. The man doesna breathe that Sanquhar and Ayrsmoss are no eneuch to draw the thrapple o', were it my Lord Chancellor himsel'!’
He bent and took me on his back. ‘There na, is that comfortable?’ he said; and away he strode with me as though he had been a giant.
‘Man, ye need mony a bow o' meal to your ribs,’ he cried, making light of the load. ‘Ye are no heavier than a lamb in the poke-neuk o' a plaid.’
I think he was sorry for stirring me from the well-chamber, and the thought of his kindness made me like him better than I had manned to do for some time.
And indeed my weight seemed no more to him, than that of a motherless suckling to a shepherd on the hill, when he steps homeward at the close of the day. It is a great thing to be strong. If only Sandy had possessed the knack of gentleness with it, he would have been a great man. As it was, he was only the Bull of Earlstoun.
We kept in our flight over the benty fell towards Milnmark, but holding more down to the right towards the Garpel burn where there are many dens and fastnesses, and where the Covenant folk had often companied together.
I was afraid to think what should come to my sickness, when the cold shelves of the rock by the Dass of the Holy Linn would be my bed, instead of the comfortable blankets of the well-house. And, truth to tell, I was not thanking my brother for his heedlessness in compelling the exchange, when I felt him stumble down the steep bank of the Garpel and stride across, the water dashing about his legs as he waded through—taking, as was his wont, no thought of an easy way or of keeping of himself dry, but just going on ram-stam till he had won clear.
The well-house was indeed a strait place, but my mother had gotten one of our retainers to put therein a little truckle bedstead and bedding, so that I was none so evilly bestowed. This man, whom she had perforce to trust, was not one of our ancients, but only a stranger that had recently come into the country and taken service with us. He had been a soldier and had even served in His Majesty's Guards. But, being a Covenanter at heart, he had left the service at the peril of his life and come again to the north. His name was Patrick Laing, and he came of decent folk over about Nithsdale. He was in high favour with the garrison because of his feats of strength; but he had to keep carefully out of the sight of Tam Dalzyell, Grier of Lag, and the old officers who remembered him in the days when he had been a sergeant with the King's colours. Also he was the only man that could keep steeks with John Scarlet at the sword play, and I longed rarely to see him try a bout with Wat of Lochinvar himself.
Often at night I had converse with him, when the soldiers were not returned and it was safe for him to come to see me. Here I lay long prostrate with the low fever or ague that had taken me after Ayrsmoss. But because I was in my own country and within cry of my mother and Maisie Lennox, I minded my imprisonment not so much as one might think.
My mother came not often, for she was closely watched in her incomings and outgoings. But every eventide Maisie Lennox brought me what she could lay hands upon for my support.
As I grew whole we had much merriment, when she told me of the straits she was often in to get slipping away, without betraying the object of her solicitude.
The two eldest of my brother Sandy's bairns were a boy of seven and a girl of eight, and in a house where the soldiers took the most and the best, there was sometimes but scant fare for the younger folk.
Now none of the serving folk or even of the family knew that I was in the neighbourhood, saving only my mother, Maisie of the Duchrae, and Patrick Laing. To tell more people was to risk a discovery, which meant not less than a stretched tow rope for my neck, and that speedily.
Of all Sandy's bairns little Jock was the merriest and the worst, and of him Maisie had many stories to tell me, making merry when she brought me my piece in the twilight.
‘You are getting me a terrible name for a great eater,’ she said. ‘It was but this day at dinner time that Jock cried out, 'Whatna daft-like chuckie hen! It's gotten twa wings but only ae leg!' For I had hidden the other on my lap for you. That caused much merriment, for we all laughed to think of a chuckie hopping and standing upon but one leg. Yet because Cornet Graham was there, we had all to laugh somewhat carefully, and pass the matter off with a jest.’
‘On another occasion,’ said Maisie, ‘when half a dozen eggs could not be found, little Jock cried out, 'The ae-legged chuckie wull be clockin' them!' And this caused more merriment.’
Such tales as these Maisie Lennox told me in the quiet of the gloaming, when I abode still in the well-house chamber, and only the drip, drip of the water at the bottom came to us. It was strange and pleasant for me to lie there and hear her kind low voice telling me humoursome tales of what had befallen during the day.
Jean Hamilton, Sandy's wife, came but once to see me, and gave me much religious advice. She was ever a great woman for experiences, being by nature one of those who insist that all shall be exactly of her pattern, a thing which I saw no hope of—nor yet greatly desired.
‘My life is all sin,’ she would say, ‘if it were but to peel the bark off a kail castock and eat, I sin in the doing of it!’
‘That would show a great want of sense, at any gate, gin ye could get better meat to eat!’ I replied, for the woman's yatter, yatter easily vexed me, being still weak. Also, I wished greatly for her to be gone, and for Maisie or my mother to come to me.
And again I remember that she said (for she was a good woman, but of the troublesome kind that ofttimes do more ill than good—at least when one is tired and cannot escape them), ‘William, I fear you never have had the grip o' the fundamentals that Sandy hath. Take care that you suffer not with the saints, and yet come to your end as a man of wrath!’
Now this I thought to be an ill-timed saying, considering that I had ridden at Ayrsmoss while Sandy was braw and snug in the Lowlands of Holland, disputing in Master Brackel's chamber at Leeuwarden with Rob Hamilton, her brother, concerning declarations and protests.
‘As for me,’ she went on, liking methinks the sound of her own voice, ‘that is, for my corps, I care not gin it were cast up to the heaven, and keppit upon iron graips, so that my soul had peace!’
‘I think that I would even be content to lie at the bottom of this well if I might have peace!’ said I, for the spirit within me was jangled and easily set on edge with her corncrake crying.
‘William, William,’ she said, ‘I fear greatly you are yet in the bond of iniquity! I do but waste my time with you!’
Saying which, she let herself down on the well-edge, lifted her pails and was gone.
In a little came Maisie Lennox with other two buckets. The sentinel, if he thought at all, must have set us down for wondrous clean folk about Earlstoun during these days; but all passed off easily and no notice taken.
Then when Maisie came, it was a joy to greet her, for she was as a friend—yes, as David to Jonathan—exceeding pleasant to me. As I have often said, I am not a man to take the eyes of women, and never looked to be loved by woman other than my mother. But for all that, I liked to think about love, and to picture what manner of man he should be to whom Maisie Lennox would let all her heart go out.
Every night she came in briskly, laughing at having to pull herself up into the well-chamber, and ever with some new story of cheer to tell me.
‘Ken ye what little Jock said this day?’ she asked ere her head was well above the trap-door.
I told her that I knew not, but was eager to hear, for that I ever counted Jock the best bairn in all the coupe.
‘It was at dinner,’ she said, taking a dish from under her apron, ‘and I minded that when you were with us at the Duchrae, you kept a continual crying for burn-trout. These being served for a first course, I watched for a time when the servants were taken up at the chamber-end with their serving, and when the bairns were busy with their noses at their plates.
‘Then, when none observed, I whipped the most part of the dainty platterful of fish underneath my apron and sat very still and innocent, picking at the bones on my plate.
‘Soon little Jock looked up. 'O mither, mither!' he cried, 'wull ye please to look at Aunty Maisie, she has eaten the hale kane o' trootses, banes, plate an' a', while we were suppin' our broth.'
‘At this there was great wonderment, and all the children came about, expecting to see me come to some hurt by so mighty a meal.
‘'Tell me,' cried Jock, being ever the foremost, 'how far doon the platter has gotten. Are ye sure it is not sticking somewhere by the road?'
‘All the time I sat with the half score of burn-trout on my lap covered by my apron, and it was only by pretending I had burned myself, that I got them at last safe out of the room.’
With such tales she pleased me, winning my heart all the while, causing me to forget my weakness, and to think the nights not long when I lay awake listening to the piets and hoolets crying about me in the ancient woods of Earlstoun.
THE WELL-HOUSE OF EARLSTOUN
So as soon as the soldier was snugly housed with the servant lass, the two women came to me, where I sat at the back of the door of the well-house. Chiefly I wanted to hear what had brought Maisie of the Duchrae so far from home as the house of Earlstoun. It seemed to betoken some ill befallen my good friends by the Grenoch water side. But my mother stooped down and put her arms about me. She declared that she would have me taken up to the west garret under the rigging, where, she said, none of the soldiers had ever been. But there I would in no wise go, for well I knew that so soon as she had me there, and a dozen soldiers between me and a dash for liberty, she would forthwith never rest until she had me out again.
Then the next idea was that I should go to the wattled platform on the oak, to which Sandy resorted; but I had fallen into a violent horror of shaking and hot flushes alternating with deadly cold, so that to bide night and day in the sole covert of a tree looked like my death.
At last Maisie Lennox, who had a fine discernment for places of concealment in the old days when we two used to play at ‘Bogle-about-the-Stacks’ at the Duchrae, cast an eye up at the roof of the well-house.
‘I declare, I think there is a chamber up there,’ she said, and stood a moment considering.
‘Give me an ease up!’ she said quietly to my mother. She did everything quietly.
‘How can there be such a place and I not know it?’ said my mother. ‘Have I not been about the tower these thirty years?’
But Maisie thought otherwise of the matter, and without more ado she set her little feet in the nicks of the stones, which were rough-set like the inside of a chimney.
Then putting her palm flat above her, she pushed an iron-ringed trap-door open, lifted herself level with it, and so disappeared from our view. We could hear her groping above us, and sometimes little stones and lime pellets fell tinkling into the well. So we remained beneath waiting for her report, and I hoped that it might not be long, for I felt that soon I must lay me down and die, so terrible was the tightness about my head.
‘There is a chamber here,’ she cried at last. ‘It is low in the rigging and part of the roof is broken towards the trees, but the ivy hides it and the hole cannot be seen from the house.’
‘The very place! Well done, young lass!’ said my mother—much pleased, even though she had not found it herself. For she was a remarkable woman.
Maisie looked over the edge.
‘Give me your hand?’ she said.
Now there is this curious thing about this lass ever since she was in short coats, that she not only knew her own mind in every emergency, but also compelled the minds of every one else. At that moment it seemed as natural that I should obey her, and also for my mother to assist her, as if she had been a queen commanding obedience. Yet she hardly ever spoke above her breath, and always rather as though she were venturing a suggestion. This is not what any one can ever learn. It is a natural gift. Now there is my brother Sandy. He has a commanding way with him certainly. He gets himself obeyed. But at what an expenditure of breath. You can hear him at the Mains of Barskeoch telling the lass to put on the porridge pot. And he cannot get his feet wet and be needing a change of stockings, without the Ardoch folk over the hill hearing all about it.
But I am telling of the well-house.
‘Give me your hand,’ said the lass Maisie down from the trap-door. It is a strange thing that I never dreamed of disobeying. So I put out my hand, and in a trice I was up beside her.
My mother followed us and we looked about. It was a little room and had long been given over to the birds. I marvelled much that in our adventurous youth, Sandy and I had never lighted upon it. But I knew the reason to be that we had a wholesome dread of the well, having been told a story about a little boy who tumbled into it in the act of disobedience and so was drowned. We heard also what had become of him afterwards, which discouraged us from the forbidden task of exploration.
I think no one had been in the place since the joiners left it, for the shavings yet lay in the corner, among all that the birds and the wild bees had brought to it since.
My mother stayed beside me while Maisie went to bring me a hot drink, for the shuddering grew upon me, and I began to have fierce pains in my back and legs. My mother told me how that the main guard of the soldiers had been a week away over in the direction of Minnyhive, all but a sergeant's file that were left to keep the castle. Today all these men, except the sentry, were down drinking at the change-house in the clachan, and not till about midnight would they come roaring home.
She also told me (which I much yearned to know), that the Duchrae had at last been turned out, and that old Anton had betaken himself to the hills. Maisie, his daughter, had come to the neighbourhood with Margaret Wilson of Glen Vernock, the bright little lass from the Shireside whom I had first seen during my sojourn in Balmaghie. Margaret Wilson had friends over at the farm of Bogue on the Garpelside. Very kind to the hill-folk they were, though in good enough repute with the Government up till this present time. From there Maisie Lennox had come up to Earlstoun, to tell my mother all that she knew of myself and my cousin Wat. Then, because the two women loved to talk the one to the other, at Earlstoun she abode ever since, and there I found her.
So in the well-house I remained day by day in safety all through my sickness.
The chamber over the well was a fine place for prayer and meditation. At first I thought that each turn of the sentry would surely bring him up the trap-door with sword and musket pointed at me, and I had little comfort in my lodging. But gradually, by my falling to the praying and by the action of time and use, I minded the comings and goings of the soldiers no more than those of the doves that came in to see me at the broken part of the roof, and went out again with a wild flutter of their wings, leaving a little woolly feather or two floating behind them.
And often as I lay I minded me how I had heard Mr. Peden say at the Conventicle that ‘the prayers of the saints are like to a fire which at first gives off only smoke and heat, but or all be done breaketh out into a clear light and comfortable flame.’
These were times of great peace for us, when the soldiers and the young lairds that rode with them for the horsemanship part of it, went off on their excursions, and came not back till late at eventide, with many of the Glenkens wives' chuckies swinging head down at their saddle bows.
THE WATER OF THE WELL OF BETHLEHEM THAT IS BESIDE THE GATE
With that a kind of madness came over me and took possession of my mind and body. I cannot account for or excuse it, save that the sun had stricken me unawares and moidered my head.
I remember saying over and over to myself these words, which I had often heard my father read as he took the Book, ‘O that one would give me to drink of the water of the Well of Bethlehem that is beside the Gate.’ So I rose out of the lair where I was, took off my shoes and stockings, and went down to the river-side. Ken Water is very low at that season, and looking over I could see the fish lying in the black pools with their noses up stream, waiting for a spate to run into the shallows of the burns. I declare that had my mind not been set on the well-house, I should have stripped there and then for a plunge after them. But in a trice I had crossed the river, wading to my middle in the clear warm pool. I think it was surely the only time that man ever waded Ken to get a drink of spring water.
When I reached the farther side—the nearer to my mother—I lay for a long time on the bank overcome with the water and the sun. Now I was plainly to be seen from the house, and had the sentinel so much as looked my way, I could not have escaped his notice. But no one came near me or stirred me in any way. Then at last, after a long time, I roused myself, and betook me through the thick woods which lie on the side towards the Clachan of St. John. The wood here is composed of great oaks—the finest, as all allow, in Galloway—of which that wherein my brother Sandy was afterwards often concealed, is but one. Underneath was a thick growth of hazel and birch. The whole makes cover of the densest, through which no trooper could ride, and no seeing eye pierce.
So I was here upon well-kenned ground. Every tree-stem I knew by touch of hand, and in my youth I had creeped into every hidie hole that would hold a squirrel. Times without number had Sandy and I played at hide-and-seek in the woods. And there, at the back of one of the great trees, was where we had fought because he had called me ‘puny crowl.’ Whereat I bit him in the thumb till it bled grievously, to teach him not to call names, and also (more generally) for the health of his soul.
Now lying here in the Earlstoun wood, all this came back to me, and it seemed that Sandy and I were again playing at hiding. Nearly had I cried out the seeking signal; aye, and would have done it, too, but for the little rattle of arms when the sentry turned sharp at the corner of the house, with a click of his heels and a jingle of his spurs. The house of Earlstoun stands very near the water edge, with nothing about it save the green hawthorn-studded croft on the one hand, and the thick wood on the other.
I lay a long while watching the house to see if I could discover any one at the windows. But not even a lounging soldier could I discern anywhere, except the single clinking loon who kept the guard. Once Jean Hamilton, Sandy's wife, came to the window; and once her little daughter, Alison, shook a tablecloth over the sash—a sight which cheered me greatly, for by it I knew that there was still folk could eat a meal of meat within the towers of Earlstoun.
But more and more the desire for the sweet well water of the gateway tower, came to me as I lay parched with thirst, and more than the former yearning for home things. It seemed that no wine of sunny France, no golden juice of Zeres could ever be one-half so sweet as the water of that Earlstoun well, ‘that is beside the Gate.’
Aye, and I declare I would have grappled with the sentry for it, save that I had the remnants of some sense left about me, which told me that so I should not only bring destruction upon myself, but on others that were even more dear to me.
Presently I heard the voice of a serving lass calling from within the courtyard, and at the sound the sentry listened and waited. He looked furtively this way and that round the corners. He stood a moment in the shade of the archways and wiped his brow. Then he leaned his musket against the wall and went within. I thought to myself, ‘It is now or never, for he is gone to the kitchen for a bite-and-sup, and will be out again in a moment, lest his captain should return and find him gone from his post.’
So with that I made a rush swiftly round the corner, and entered the well-house. For a moment only, as I ran fleet-foot, was I bathed in the hot sunshine, then drenched again in the damp, cool darkness of the tower. Within there is an iron handle and chain, which are used to wrap up the great dipper over the windlass. There is also a little dipper which one may let down by a rope, when only a drink or a little household water is needed, and there is no servitor at hand to turn the crank. This last I let down, and in a moment after I was draining icy nectar from the cup, for which I had risked so much. Yet all I could do when I got it, was only to sip a little, and let the rest run back again into the well. While like the refrain of a weary song, over and over the words ran in his mind, ‘O that one would give me—of the water of the Well of Bethlehem—that is beside the Gate.’
Then, like a far-away voice calling one out of a dream, I heard the sound of the sentry returning to his post. Quite clearly I discerned him lifting his musket, shifting it from one side to the other, and so resuming his equal tramp. I heard everything, indeed, with a kind of acuteness beyond the natural. Yet all the while I was strangely without sense of danger. I thought how excellent a jest it would be, to shout out suddenly when the soldier came near, to see him jump; and but for the remembrance of my mother, I protest I had done it.
So there I lay on the margin of the well, just as at the first I had flung myself down, without so much as troubling thoroughly to shut the door. I am sure that from the corner where the sentry turned, he might have seen my boot-heel every time, had he but troubled to peep round the door. But he had been so often within the well-house during his time on guard, that he never once glanced my way. Also he was evidently elevated by what he had gotten within the house from the serving maid, whatever that might have been.
It was strange to hear his step alternately faint and loud as he came and went. He paced from the well-house to the great gate, and from thence to the corner of the tower. Back again he came, to-and-fro like the pendulum of a clock. Once he took the butt of his musket and gave the door, within which I lay, a sharp fling to. Luckily it opened from without, so that the hasp caught as it came and I was shut within.
So there I lay without power to move all that day, and no one came near me till late in the gloaming. For it was the custom at the Earlstoun to draw the water for the day in the early morning, and that for the night uses when the horses were suppered at bed-time. Sometimes my head seemed to swell to so great a size, that it filled the well-house and was pressed against the roof. Anon, to my thinking, it grew wizzened and small, waxing and waning as I sickened and the shoots of pain ran round my brows.
At last I heard feet patter slowly down the turret stair and out at the door. Through the courtyard I heard them come towards me, and of a sudden something sang in my heart, though I could have given no great reason therefor.
Softly the door of the well-house opened, and one came in, giving a little cry at so nearly stumbling over me. But no power had I to move or speak, even though it had been Clavers himself who entered. My visitor gently and lightly shut to the door, and knelt at my head.
‘William!’ said a voice, and I seemed in my phantasy to be running about among the flowers as a child again.
I opened my eyes, and lo! it was Maisie of the Duchrae—she that had been so kind to me. And the wonder of seeing her in my own house of Earlstoun, where the garrison was abiding, was a better incitement to renewed vigour than a double tasse of the brandy of France.
But there was no time for speech, so pulling me farther within, she bent and whispered:
‘William, I will go and bring your mother. The soldiers may not be long away!’
So she rose to go out with her pail full of the water, for which she had come.
Yet ere she went, she laid her hand upon my brow, and murmured very low, lest the sentry should hear,
‘My poor lad!’
Only that; but it was a thing which was mightily sweet to me.
Nor was she long gone before she returned with my mother. They had called the sentry in to his evening meal, and supplied him with something to drink. For they had had the garrison long enough with them to learn that all soldiers are great trenchermen, and can right nobly ‘claw a bicker’ and ‘toom a stoup’ with any man.
HIDING WITH THE HEATHER-CAT
As for me, when I had seen this, thinking it to be enough, I put spurs to my little Galloway, and we were soon at speed over the moss-hags. My beast was well acquainted with moss running, for it had not carried me so often over the moor to Lochinvar for nothing. I heard tempestuous crying, as of men that pursued, and, strangely and suddenly, behind me the roar of battle sank into silence. Once I glanced back and saw many footmen running and horsemen rising and falling in their saddles. But, all being lost, I left the field of Ayrsmoss behind me as fast as I might, and set my horse's head over the roughest and boggiest country, keeping toward Dalmellington, for the wilderness was now to be my home. For the time I had had enough of rebellion under arms. I was not unfaithful to the cause, nor did I regret what I had done. But I judged that, for some time to come, it were better for me not to see company, for I had no pleasure in it.
Now, in further telling my tale I must put together all the incidents of my fleeing to the heather—for that being a thing at the time very frequently resorted to, it became at last a word in Scotland that ‘to take to the heather was to be in the way of getting grace.’
Now, when I sped away to the south-east from Ayrsmoss, the folk I loved were all killed, and I had no hope or hold of any present resistance to the King. But my Galloway sheltie, being nimble on its feet, took me bravely over the moss-hags, carrying me lightly and willingly as if I had been hare-coursing on the green holms of the Ken.
As I fled I kept glancing behind me and seeing the soldiers in red clothes and flashing arms still pursuing after. I saw also our foot (that had stood off when we charged, and only fired as they saw need) scattering through the moss, and the enemy riding about the borders wherever their horses could go, firing at them. Yet I think that not many of them were hurt in the pursuit, for the moss at that place was very boss, and full of bottomless bogs, like that from which Patrick Laing drew the redoubtable persecutor Captain Crichton. This incident, indeed, bred in the breasts of the dragoons a wholesome fear of the soft boggish places, which made greatly in many instances for the preservation of the wanderers, and in especial favoured me in my present enterprise.
In a little after, two of the four dragoons that followed me, seeing another man running like to burst through the moss, turned aside and spurred their horses after him, leaving but two to follow me.
Yet after this I was harder put to it than ever, for the sun was exceedingly hot above and the moss as difficult beneath. But I kept to it, thinking that, after all, by comparison I was in none such an evil case. For, though my head ached with the steel cap upon it and my horse sweated, yet it must have been much more doleful for the heavy beasts and completely accoutred dragoons toiling in the rear. So over the broken places of the moor I went faster than they, though on the level turf they would doubtless soon have ridden me down. But then, after all, they were but riding to kill one Whig the more, while I to save my neck—which made a mighty difference in the earnestness of our intents on that day of swithering heat.
Many a time it came to me to cast myself from my beast and run to the side, trusting to find a moss-hag where I might lie hidden up to my neck among the water with my head among the rushes. I saw many good and safe places indeed, but I remembered that my sheltie would be an advertisement to the pursuers, so I held on my way. Besides, Donald had been a good friend to me, and was the only one of our company that had ever been on the bonny holms of Earlstoun. So that I was kindly affectioned to the beast, and kept him to his work though the country was very moorish and the sun hot on my head.
Once I was very nearly taken. For as I went, not knowing the way, I came to a morass where in the midst there was a secure place, as it seemed to me. I put Donald at it, and when I reached the knoll—lo, it was only some nine or ten yards square—the bottomless swelter of shaking bogs girding it in on the further side. Donald went to the girth at the first stride on the other side, so that there was nothing for it but to dismount and pull him out.
Then up came the dragoons, riding heavily and cursing the sun and me. They rode round skirting the moss; for, seeing the evil case I was in, they dared not come nearer for fear of the same or worse. They kept, therefore, wide about me, crying, ‘Come out, dog, and be shot!’
Which, being but poor encouragement, I was in no wise eager to obey their summons.
But by holding on to the heather of the moss—by the kind providence of God, it was very long and tough—I managed to get Donald out of his peril. He was a biddable enough beast, and, being a little deaf, he knew not fear. For reesting and terror among horses are mostly but over-sharpness in hearing, and an imagination that they were better without. But Donald had no good hearing and no bad forebodings. So when I pulled him among the long heather, and put his head down, he lay like a scent-dog, cowered along by the side of the moss-hags. Then the pair by the edge of the morass began to shoot at me, for the distance was within reach of a pistol-ball. The first bullet that came clipped so close to my left ear that it took away a lock of my hair, which, contrary to my custom, had now grown longish.
All this time they ceased not for a moment to cry, ‘Come out, dog, and be shot!’ They were ill-mannered rampaging lowns with little sense, and I desired no comings and goings with them. So in no long time I tired of this, and also of lying still to be shot at. I bethought me that I might show them a better of it, and afford some sport. So very carefully I charged both my pistols, and the next time they came near, riding the bog-edge to fire at me, I took careful aim and shot at the first of them. The ball went through the calf of his leg, which caused him to light off the far-side of his horse with a great roar.
‘You have killed me,’ he cried over to me complainingly, as if he had been a good friend come to pay me a visit, to whom I had done a treachery. Then he cursed me very resentfully, because forsooth (as he said) he was about to be made a sergeant in the company, and, what with lying up with his wounded leg, some other (whom he mentioned) would get the post by favour of the captain.
‘See what you have done!’ said he, holding up his leg.
But I took aim with the other pistol and sent a ball singing over his head, very close.
‘Trip it, my bonny lad,’ I cried, ‘or there will be a hole of the same size in your thick head—which will be as good as a cornet's commission to you in the place to which it will send you!’
Then I charged my pistols again and ordered them away. The trooper's companion made bold to leave his horse and come towards me crawling upon the moss. But I turned my pistols so straightly upon him, that he was convinced that I must be a marksman by trade and so desisted from the attempt.
All this made me proud past reasoning, and I mounted in their sight, and made a work of fastening my accoutrements and tightening Donald's girths.
‘So good-day to you!’ I cried to them, ‘and give my compliments to your captain and tell him from me that he hath a couple of varlets in his company very careful of their skins in this world—which is, maybe, as well—seeing that in the next they are secure of getting them well paid.’
Now this was but the word of a silly boy, and I was sorry for taunting the men before ever I rode away. But I set it down as it happened, that all may come in its due place, nothing in this history being either altered or extenuated.
So all that night I fled and the next day also, till I came into my own country of the Glenkens, where near to Carsphairn I left Donald with a decent man that would keep him safe for my mother's sake. For the little beast was tired and done, having come so far and been ridden so hard. Yet when I left him out in the grass-park, there was not so much as the mark of a spur upon him, so willingly had he come over all the leagues of heather-lands.
While life lasts shall I not forget Donald.
My father used often to tell us what Maxwell of Monreith said when he lit off his grey horse at the stable-door and turned him out after riding him home from Rullion Green: ‘Thou hast done thy day's work, Pentland. There is a park for thee to fill thy belly in for the rest of thy days. No leg shall ever cross thy back again!’
So when I came to my own in the better days, I made it my care that Donald was not forgotten; and all his labour in the future, till death laid him low, was no more than a gentle exercise to keep him from over-eating himself on the meadow-lands of Afton.
After the great day of dule, when Cameron was put down at Ayrsmoss and I escaped in the manner I have told of, I made my way by the little ferry-port of Cree, which is a sweet and still little town, to Maryport, on the other side of the Solway, and thence in another ship for the Low Countries.
When we came within sight of the land we found that it was dismally grey, wearisome looking, and flat. The ship-men called it the Hook of Holland. But this was not thought right for the port of our destination, so we put to sea again, where we were too much tossed about for the comfort of my stomach. Indeed, every one on board of the ship felt the inconvenience; and two exceedingly pious women informed me that it interfered with their religious duties. It was upon a Thursday night, at six o'clock, that we arrived at an outlandish place called, as I think, Zurichsee, where we met with much inhumanity and uncourteousness. Indeed, unless a Scots merchant, accustomed to adventuring to the Low Countries, had been of our company, it might have gone hardly with us, for the barbarous folk had some custom of ill-treating strangers who arrive upon a day of carnival. They entered our bark and began to ill-treat us even with blows and by taking from us what of money we had. But mercifully they were restrained before I had put my sword into them, which, in their own country and engaged in ungodliness, it had been no little folly to do.
Then also it grieved us very sore that we had five soldiers who had come from Scotland with us—the very scum of the land. They called themselves Captain Somerville's band; but if, indeed, they were any soldiers of his Majesty's, then God help their captain in his command, for such a pack of unwashed ruffians it never was my hap to see.
Specially did these men disquiet us upon the Sabbath-day. So dreadful were their oaths and curses that we feared the boat would sink because of their iniquities. They carried themselves so exceeding wickedly—but more, as I think, that we, who desired not their company, might take note of them. For at least three of them were but sullen, loutish boys, yet the others led them on, and praised them when they imitated their blasphemies and sculduddery.
At last about eight o'clock in the evening we came to Rotterdam, where we quartered with a good merchant, Mr. Donaldson, and in the morning we went to a Mr. Hay's, where from that good man (whom may God preserve) we met with inexpressible kindness.
Thence we went to Groningen, where many of the Covenant already were. To be brief—that part of my life for the present not coming into the history—I spent four years there, the most of it with a young man named James Renwick, a good student, and one very full of great intents which were to make Scotland strong against the House of Stuart. He came from Minnyhive, a village on the borders of Galloway and Dumfries, and was a very decent lad—though apt, before he learned modesty on the moors, to take too much upon him. We were finally summoned home by a letter from the United Societies, for they had made me a covenanted member of standing because of Ayrsmoss, and the carrying of the banner at Sanquhar.
While at Groningen I got a great deal of civility because of Sandy, my brother, whose name took me everywhere. But I think that, in time, I also won some love and liking on my own account. And while I was away, I got many letters from Maisie Lennox, chiefly in the name of my mother, who was not good at writing; for her father, though a lord of session, would not have his daughters taught overly much, lest it made them vain and neglectful of those things which are a woman's work, and ought to be her pleasure so long as the world lasts.
But though I went to the University, I could not bring myself to think that I had any call to the ministry. I went, therefore, for the name of it, to the study of the law, but read instead many and divers books. For the study of the law is in itself so dreary, that all other literature is but entertainment by comparison. So that, one book being easy to substitute for another, I got through a vast deal of excellent literature while I studied law at the University of Groningen. So did also, even as I, all the students of law whom I knew in Holland and elsewhere, for that is their custom.
But when at last I was called home, I received a letter from the United Societies, written in their name, from a place called Panbreck, where their meeting was held. First it told me of the sadness that was on Scotland, for the many headings, hangings, hidings, chasings, outcastings, and weary wanderings. Then the letter called me, as the branch of a worthy family, to come over and take my part, which, indeed, I was somewhat loath to do. But with the letter there came a line from Maisie Lennox, which said that they were in sore trouble at the Earlstoun, sometimes altogether dispossessed, and again for a time permitted to abide in safety. Yet for my mother's sake she asked me to think of returning, for she thought that for me the shower was surely slacked and the on-ding overpast. So I took my way to ship-board with some desire to set my foot again on the heather, and see the hills of Kells run blue against the lift of heaven, from the links of the Ken to the headend of Carsphairn.
It was the high time of the killing when I came again to Scotland, and landed at Newcastle. I made for Galloway on foot by the tops of the Cheviots and the Border hills. Nor did I bide more than a night anywhere, and that only in herds' huts. Till I saw, from the moors above Lochinkit, the round top of the Millyea, which some ill-set people call an ugly mountain, but which is to me the fairest hill that the sun shines on. So at least it appeared, now returning from the Lowlands of Holland, where one can make the highest hill with a spade in an afternoon. Ay, for I knew that it looked on Earlstoun, where my mother was—whom I greatly desired to see, as was most natural.
Yet it was not right that I should recklessly go near Earlstoun to bring trouble on my mother without knowing how the land lay. So I came down the west side of the water of Ken, by the doachs, or roaring linn, where the salmon sulk and leap. And I looked at the house from afar till my heart filled, thinking that I should never more dwell there, nor look any more from my mother's window in the quiet hour of even, when the maids were out milking the kye. Even as I looked I could see the glint of scarlet cloth, and the sun sparkling on shining arms, as the sentry paced from the wall-gate to the corner of the wall and back again. Once I saw him go within the well-house for a drink, and a great access of desire took me in my stomach. I remembered the coolness that was there. For the day was exceedingly hot, and I weary and weak with travel.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.