THE SANDS OF WIGTOWN
The morning of the eleventh of May came as calm and sweet as the night had been, which had proved so disastrously clear for us. I slept little, as men may guess, thinking on the poor lassies; and sometimes also on the torture in the prison, and the death on the scaffold. For I knew that though there might be delay, there could be no such thing as pardon for one that had carried the standard at Sanquhar, charged the storming fray of Ayrsmoss, and sole of all in Cameron's muster had gotten clear away.
From early morning I could hear on the street the gathering of the folk from the country-side far and near. And then the soldiers came clattering by to their stations, laughing as they went like people going to look upon a show.
‘There are but two of them to be 'pitten doon,' after all,’ I heard one of the soldiers say. ‘Gilbert Wilson has paid a hundred pound to get off his bit lassie Agnes.’
And that was the first intimation I had that only the elder woman, Margaret Lauchlison, whom I had seen in the Thieves' Hole with her head on her hands, and our own sweet Margaret were to be drowned within the flood-mark of the Blednoch.
Black, black day! Would that I could blot it out of my memory. Yet that men in after times may see what weak maids and ailing women bore with constancy in the dark years, I set down that day's doings as I saw them—but briefly, neither altering nor suppressing, because of this matter I cannot bear to write at large. It was but half an hour before the binding of the women that Lag sent for me—in order that I might see the thing which was done, and, as he said, carry the word to Sandy and the rest of the saints at Edinburgh.
And this, as I told him, with all constancy I should be very fond to do.
Now the Blednoch is a slow stream, which ordinarily flows in the deep ditch of its channel, wimpling and twining through the sands of the bay of Wigtown. The banks are but steep slopes of mud, on which if one slips he goes to the bottom with a slide. Up this deep channel the sea comes twice every day, damming back the sluggish stream and brimming the banks at full tide. When Lag's men took me down to the water edge, I saw the two women already tied to stakes set in the ooze of the Blednoch bank. At the sight my heart swelled within me at once sick and hot. Margaret Lauchlison was tethered deepest down, her stake set firm in the bottom and the post rising as high as her head.
Nigh half way up the steep bank stood our little Margaret, loosely reeved to a sunken stob, her hands clasped before her. She still wore the gown that I remember seeing upon her when she dwelt with us among the hills. But even in this pass she was cheerful, and lifting her eyes with a smile she bade me be so likewise, because that for her there was no fear and but a short pain. Also she called me very sweetly ‘William,’ and asked me to commend her to Maisie Lennox—a thing which more than all went to my heart. For it told me by the way she said it, that Maisie and she had talked together of loves and likings, as is all maidens' wont. The women were not tightly tied to the posts, but attached to them with a running rove of rope, by which they could be pulled close to the stakes, or else, at the will of the murderers, drawn up again to the bank, as one might draw a pitcher from a well.
Already was the salt tide water beginning to flow upwards along the Blednoch channel, bearing swirls of foam upon its breast.
Margaret Lauchlison, being an aged woman of eighty years, said no word as the tide rose above her breast, where lowest in the river bed she stood waiting. Her head hung down, and it was not till the water reached her lips that she began to struggle, nor did I see her make so much as a movement. Yet she was determined to die as she had lived, an honest, peaceable, Christian woman of a good confession—not learned, save in the scholarship of God, but therein of high attainment and great experience. And all honour be to her, for even as she determined, so she died.
Then, when some of the soldiers were for fleeching with her to take the Test, Lag cried out (for he ever loved his devil's-broth served hot):
‘Bide ye there! 'Tis needless to speak to the old besom! Let her go quick to hell!’
But Provost Coltran, sober enough this morning, and with other things to think of than the crows, come to the bank edge. And standing where his feet were nearly on a level with our little Margaret's head, he said to her:
‘What see ye down there, Margaret Wilson? What think ye? Can you with constancy suffer the choking of the salt water when it comes to your turn?’
Now, though Coltran was a rude man, and pang full of oaths, he spoke not so unfeelingly. But to him Margaret replied, in a sweet voice that wafted up like the singing of a psalm, from the sweltering pit of pain:
‘I see naught but Christ struggling there in the water in the person of one of His saints!’
Then the Provost came nearer still, and bending down like an elder that gives counsel, said to her, ‘Margaret, ye are young and ken no better. We will give you your life gin ye pray for the King. Will ye say aloud 'God save the King'?’
‘I desire the salvation of all men,’ Margaret said. ‘May God save him an He will!’
Coltran rose with a flush of triumph in his eye. He was none so bad a man, only dazed with drink and bad company.
‘She has said it!’ he cried, and from far and near the people took up the cry ‘She has said it, she has said it!’ And some were glad and some shook their heads for what they counted the dishonour of the submission.
Now, Blednoch sands under Wigtown town were a sight to behold that day. They were black with folk, all in scattering, changing groups. There were many clouds of folk on the sands when the lassies were ‘pitten doon,’ and in every little company there was one praying. Through them patrolled the soldiers in fours, breaking up each little band of worshippers, which dissolved only to come together again as soon as they had passed.
Then the town officer, a cruel and ill-liked man, who never did well afterwards all his days, took his long-hafted halbert, and, standing on the verge of the bank, he set the end of it to Margaret Lauchlison's neck.
‘Bide ye doon there and clep wi' the partans, Margaret, my woman!’ he said, holding her head under water till it hung loose and the life went from it.
The elder woman thus having finished her course with joy, they unrove the nether rope and drew little Margaret up to the bank, exhorting her to cry aloud ‘God save the King!’ and also to pray for him, that she might get her liberty.
For they began to be in fear, knowing that this drowning of women would make a greater stir in the world than much shooting of men.
‘Lord, give him repentance, forgiveness, and, salvation!’ she said fervently and willingly.
But Lag cried out in his great hoarse voice, ‘Out upon the wretch! We want not such oaths nor prayers. Winram, get the Test through her teeth—or down with her again.’
But she steadfastly refused the wicked Test, the oath of sin. As indeed we that loved Scotland and the good way of religion had all learned to do.
‘I cannot forswear my faith. I am one of Christ's children. Let me go to Him!’ she said, being willing to depart, which she held to be far better.
‘Back with her into the water!’ cried Lag. ‘The sooner she will win to hell! 'Tis too good for a rebel like her!’
But Coltran said, ‘Ye are fair to see, Margaret, lass. Think weel, hinny! Hae ye nane that ye love?’
But she answered him not a word, being like one other before her, like a lamb led to the slaughter.
So they tied her again to the stake, where the water was deeper now and lappered on her breast, swirling yellow and foul in oily bubbles.
Her great head coverture of hair—which, had I been her lad, I should have delighted to touch and stroke—now broke from the maiden's snood, and fell into the water. There it floated, making a fair golden shining in the grimy tide, like the halo which is about the sun when he rises. Also her face was as the face of an angel, being turned upward to God.
Then they began to drive the folk from the sands for fear of what they might see—the beauty of the dying maid, and go mad with anger at the sight.
Whereupon, being in extremity, she lifted her voice to sing, calm as though it had been an ordinary Sabbath morning, and she leading the worship at Glen Vernock, as indeed she did very well.
It was the twenty-fifth Psalm she sang, as followeth. And when she that was a pure maid sang of her sins, it went to my heart, thinking on my own greater need.
‘My sins and faults of youth Do Thou, O Lord, forget; After Thy mercies think on me, And for Thy goodness great.’
It was a sweet voice and carried far. But lest it should move the hearts of the people, Lag garred beat the drum. And as the drums began to roll, I saw the first salt wave touch the bonny maiden lips which no man had kissed in the way of love.
Then the guards plucked me by the arm roughly and dragged me away. The drums waxed still louder. But as we went farther away, the voice of the maiden praising God out of the floods of great waters, broke through them, rising clearer, besieging the throne of God and breaking down the hearts of men. I saw the tears hopping down many a rude soldier's cheek.
Nevertheless, they swore incessantly, cursing Lag and Winram back and forth, threatening to shoot them for devils thus to kill young maids and weakly women.
But once again in the pauses of the drums the words of Margaret's song came clear. Forget them shall I never, till I too be on my death-bed, and can remember nothing but ‘The Lord's my Shepherd,’ which every Scot minds on his dying day. These were the words she sang:
‘Turn unto me Thy face, And to me mercy show; Because that I am desolate, And am brought very low.
‘O do Thou keep my soul, Do Thou deliver me; And let me never be ashamed, Because I trust in Thee.’
After the last line there was a break and a silence, and no more—and no more! But after the silence had endured a space, there arose a wailing that went from the hill of Wigtown to the farthest shore of the Cree—the wailing of a whole country-side for a young lass done to death in the flower of her youth, in the untouched grace and favour of her virginity.
THE BREAKING OF THE THIEVES' HOLE
So on the morrow, early in the morning, we fared on into the hills; and when we came to Tonskeen in the wilds, we found my mother and Kate there. They were both well in health and glad to greet us, though my mother was doleful because of the news of Sandy's taking, which had just been brought to her. Yet all of us did our best endeavours to be cheerful, as was the custom in Galloway at that time, when there was hardly a family that had not some cause of mourning and sorrow. Though I do think that there was not one so deep in the mire as our unfortunate house of Earlstoun.
At Tonskeen also we found Thomas Wilson, brother of our sweet little Margaret. He brought us sad news of her. She had been separated from Maisie and her father after the capture, and taken to Wigtown instead of accompanying them toward Edinburgh.
The lad told us that his sister was now confined in the Thieves' Hole at Wigtown. He told us of her sham trial, and, spite of our sore hearts, he almost made us laugh with his account of the indictment which Winram and Coltran—in their cups, as I presume—had laid against her. Along with our Margaret had been tried her little sister of thirteen named Agnes. Both these young things had been most barbarously treated by the noble judges of Wigtown—Sheriff Davie Graham, Lag, Strachan, and Winram. Worst of all was Davie Graham, for having his hands upon the fines, he desired above all to amerce Gilbert Wilson, the tenant of Glen Vernock in the parish of Peninghame. Gilbert was a man well to do, keeping a good stock both of nolt and sheep upon a large ground, and so the more apt to be fined. He was a quiet, thewless, pleasantly conforming man, that was willing to let his hearing of the curates keep his head. But he could not help his children, as alas! who can? For years he was harassed with having to go to Wigtown every court day. He was near eaten out of house and home with having soldiers constantly quartered upon him. And all because his children had chosen to endure hardship cheerfully for the good cause, and to serve under the blue banner that has the cross upon it—at least so far as young bairns may. So from a child Margaret Wilson had companied with those that spoke and loved the truth. She had spent much of her time, ever since she was a lassie of ten, with my sober Maisie Lennox at the Duchrae. And afterwards, when she grew to be of age when lassies think of the lads, Margaret, for the sake of her faith and for naught else, lived on the wild mountains, in the bogs and caves of the hillsides.
To me Margaret Wilson ever seemed the stillest of quiet maids; but, as our Maisie used to say, she was terribly set in her opinions when once she had taken her stand. Now at eighteen she was grown to a tall maid, with a great blowing mass of lint white hair that shone like gold with the sun on it. Well might she have been spared to be some man's delight, had she not been (as she said when the lads speered her) trysted to another lot. The first party of soldiers to whom she was delivered, pitying her youth, let her go to her own home from the crossing of the water at Cree. But by misadventure she travelled on to the town of Wigtown—where with the little lass Agnes in her hand, she was resting in a friend's house, when drunken Winram, ever keen of scent for an ill-conditioned deed, got track of her being in the town. He sent soldiers to take her on the spot, together with her sister of thirteen years, and bade thrust them into the Thieves' Hole that was in the Tolbooth of Wigtown, where they put only the most notorious malefactors.
All this and more Thomas Wilson told us—how that his sisters and an aged woman were confined there and guarded by most brutal soldiers—yea, had already been doomed to be drowned within the tide mark in a very short space of time—though the day of their death as yet he knew not.
Whereat our brave Maisie Lennox was eager to go down to Wigtown and try for a rescue, if we could raise those that would help us. But we could not suffer her to go, though most ready to adventure ourselves. The good folk of Tonskeen were very willing to let my mother and the maids abide with them; for since the taking of Anton Lennox no soldiers had been seen in the district. And the slaying of wicked Mardrochat had feared the ill-set informing people greatly, so that for a long season there was no more of that.
It seemed strange, yet so it was, that Maisie Lennox, who had seen her father pass, as it were, to his death without a tear, wept constantly for her friend and gossip, Margaret of Glen Vernock.
‘They cannot condemn Margaret. They will not condemn little Margaret!’ she said over and over, as women use.
‘Ay, but condemned her they have!’ said her brother Thomas, ‘for they libel it against her and Agnes that they were guilty of rebellion at Bothwell Brig and Ayrsmoss.’
‘'Tis plainly impossible,’ I said; ‘the judges cannot mean aught to their hurt. Why, at Bothwell, Margaret was but twelve, and little Agnes a paidling bairn of seven years. And as for Ayrsmoss, the poor bairns were never within twenty miles of the place in their lives.’
But Thomas Wilson, a quiet, plainfaced lad, only mistrustfully shook his head.
‘It is even true,’ he said, ‘they mean to make them suffer if they can. But we will hae a thraw at it, to see if we canna break through the Thieves' Hole and draw the lassies forth.’
So it was set for the following night, that we should make the attempt to break the Thieves' Hole. The morrow, when it came, proved to be a clear day and fine overhead, which augured not well for our attempt. We would rather have had the blackest and wildest night for our venture. But we had little time, and so we set off to travel by the road the weary miles to Wigtown. We hid all the afternoon in a wood at Machermore, and laid our plans. It was about eleven of the clock that we went down into Wigtown, with the breaking tools which Thomas had gotten from his father's farm, as we passed down through Peninghame.
At the door of the little hostelry in the town we heard a great rioting and crying, which was, as we understood, the soldiers of Winram and some of Strachan's officers drinking late with the Wigtown lawyers, as was their custom. A big, important-looking man went by us, swaying a little unsteadily. He made a great work with his elbows as he went, working them backward and forward at his sides as though he was oaring a boat. This, Thomas Wilson whispered, was Provost Coltran, going home to his town house, after he and David Graham had had their nightcap together. Very evidently the Provost was carrying his full load. For in the midst of the ill-kept square of Wigtown, where certain tall trees grow, he paused and looked upward among the leaves to where the crows were chattering late among their younglings.
‘Crawin' and splartin' deils,’ he said, shaking one fist up at them, and holding to a tree with the other. ‘I'll hae ye brocht afore the Toon Cooncil and fined—aye, an' a' your goods and gear shall be escheat to the Crown. Blood me gin I dinna, or my name is no Provost Cowtran! David Graham will be glad to hear o' this!’
So saying, he staggered away homeward, there to underlie the ill tongue of his wife for coming home in such a condition—albeit not much worse than was usual with him.
About the Tolbooth it was very quiet, and all was still also in Lag's lodging, whose windows looked down upon it. We got close to the window of the Hole, and crouched to wait for the deepest darkening behind some low ill-smelling sheds, in which pigs were grunting and snoring.
But even at this time of year it is very light at night, and especially in such a place as Wigtown—which sits not among the hills, but as it were on a knowe under a wide arch of sky, making it little and lonely under all that vastness.
Thomas Wilson was to gather a few trusty lads (for there were still such about the place), who should attempt to burn down the door of the Hole. While Wat and I with our crowbars or gellecks, our mallets and chisels, were to try our best with the window. What galled us most was the light in the west, which remained strangely lucid and even, as though the sky itself were shining clear in the midst of the night—a thing which I had never seen in my own hill lands, but often upon the flats of Wigtown.
Our hearts were beating, I warrant, when we stole out to make our attempt. This we did at eleven by the town clock, and there was no better or more kindly darkness to be looked for. It was silent in the Square of Wigtown, save for the crows that Provost Coltran had shaken his fist at. As we stole to the window, which indeed was no more than a hole wide enough, the bars being removed, to allow a man's body to pass through, we heard the praying of the prisoners within. It was the voice of our little Margaret Wilson. When last I heard that voice, it was in sweet and womanly converse with Maisie Lennox, concerning the light matters of which women love to speak, but are immediately silent about when a man comes by—aye, even if that man be their nearest. For this is the nature of woman.
At the first rasp of the chisel, there was silence within, for the prisoners knew well that only friends would try to enter in that way. We could hear the lads piling faggots at the outer door, as had been done once before with great success, when the bars were burnt through within half an hour. But, since the fire would assuredly bring the soldiers, it was put off till we had made our attempt upon the window.
Wat was stronger than I when it came to the forcing aside of the bars, and he it was that set his strength to mine, and with the long iron impelled out of its binding mortar the great central bar. Then after we had broken the lesser one above and below with much less stress, the window lay open. It seemed a practical enough breach. It came my time to mount and enter to see if I could help the women out, an enterprise which needed much caution.
Wat had scaled the roof to see if there was aught there that might be advantageous. I was up and scrambling with my toes against the rough wall, half of my body within, when I heard a scuffle and a sudden cry of warning from the other side of the tower. I heard Wat leap down with a shout, and I would have followed, but I received a mighty push which sent me headlong through the prison window into the Thieves' Hole. Here I sat, very astonished and dazed, with my head having taken the wall, till the door was opened and a figure, booted and spurred, cloaked also from head to heel, came in, and with a lantern bearer behind him, stood looking at us. The two young lassies, Margaret and Agnes, sat in a corner clasping one another's hands, and a very old woman sat near me with her head clasped in her hands. She never looked up so long as I saw her, and seemed to have quite lost both interest and hope.
I knew that the big man with the cloak was the Laird of Lag, for once with my father I had seen him on the street at Kirkcudbright, when he spoke us fairly enough—the matter one of cattle and crops belike.
‘Whom have we here,’ he said, ‘coming so late by the window to see the lassies? Young Whiggie, this is not proper wark; but who may you be?’
I sat and said nothing.
‘Stell him up,’ he said, ‘and let us see what like this breaker of maidens' chambers may be.’
But I stood up of my own accord, with my hand on the prison wall.
Then he appeared to recognise me, for he said sourly:
‘Ye'll be an Earlstoun Gordon, nae doot—ye favour the breed—though there's mair of the lawyer Hope nor the fechtin' Gordon aboot you. I hadna thocht ye had as muckle spunk.’
Then he ordered two soldiers to stand guard over the hole on the outside, and, setting a double guard on the Tolbooth, he cried, ‘Have young Gordon forth to my quarters.’ Which when they did, he entertained himself for several hours telling me how he would send me with the utmost care to Edinburgh, and of the newly imported tortures that would be inflicted on Sandy and myself. He said that Sandy was to be tortured and that he had seen the precept from London with the order.
‘So ye'll juist be in time to try on the new 'boot.' There's a fine braw new-fangled pattern wi' spikes, and I hear that the new thumbikins are excellently persuasive. Faith, they hae widened many a Whig's thrapple already, and made it braw and wide in the swallow!’
Then, adding all the time cup to cup, he fell to cursing me and all our house, not letting even my mother alone, till I said to him:
‘John Graham had not treated a prisoner so. Nor you, Robert Grierson, if you thought that my kinsman Kenmure was at hand to strike his sword through your body—as once he came near doing in the street of Kirkcudbright in the matter of bell of Whiteside!’
Now this (as I knew) was a saying which angered him exceedingly, and he was for having out a file of soldiers and shooting me there and then. But luckily Winram came in to say that the other assailants of the Tolbooth had gotten cleanly off, and that a soldier was invalided with a sword-thrust through and through his shoulder, in which very clearly I recognised Wat's handicraft.
THE DEATH OF MARDROCHAT
Now we knew that this affair would of a surety cause a great disturbance, and that the neighbourhood would be searched as a herd searches a hill for sheep. So with all haste we came back to Galloway, and though we could not return to the cave on the Star Hill, we continued due west that we might see how my mother and Kate McGhie were bestowed all this time, at the little house of Tonskeen in the howe of the hills.
Maisie was wondrous quiet. She had hardly uttered a word ever since we watched her father out of sight, sitting erect like a warrior upon his horse. It was indeed not a time for complaints. Women had to take sorrows as they came, as I was reminded of in an old letter which Jean of the Shirmers, my kind entertainer of the Garpel, had once written to Jean Hamilton upon Sandy's first taking. How I came by it I forget, if, indeed, I ever clearly knew. But at all events here it is: ‘You are not the first’ (so the letter ran) ‘that hath had dear and tender husbands prisoners for Christ. Yea, blessed be God, not the first of the many hundreds that have lost them as to the world in Scotland in our day. Suppose that should happen which you cannot tell. Suppose that it should come even to that, we pray you, Jean Hamilton, tell us in whose hands the keys of the prison are. We rather desire to believe in your free resignation of all that was yours, especially of all that you love greatly. Will you dare to seek it back from Him now, as if He could not guide and keep and manage, what you have committed to Him? Far be from you this, or the like of this. Bless God that you have had a husband, if it were only to propine Him with.’
Was there ever such consolation sent in any nation to the wife of a man condemned to torture and to death? Yet this and no other is the nature of our Scots Barnabas when he goes a-comforting. Like the three that came to Job of old, they ever tell you that you must take all the ill that comes to you thankfully, and at the back of it expect yet more and worse.
This is indeed more than enough about Jean Hamilton's letter. But it appeared to me so like our nation and our Cameronian folk, that I put it away in my case of despatches.
I did not trouble Maisie as we went with questions, knowing full well that when she felt the need of speech, she would come and tell me of her own accord. Till then, I was content to be silent, though I yearned to know the truth of the taking of the cave and all her adventure.
It was about the gloaming of the third day of our retreat, and we had come to the little house of the Nether Crae, where we were to bide. Maisie Lennox was within doors, and, as usual, we men folk hid behind the mow. The Nether Crae is a pleasant spot, but it looks down on the Duchrae. And from the door one can see the green fields and broomy knowes where Maisie and I had played so long. But now the soldiers had turned the steading out, the barn and byre were burned, and the stock driven away.
So, unable to bear the desolation, Maisie and I sat out on the fair green playing-croft that looks up to the hillside, and gazed sadly away from one another, saying nothing. It began to be dark. I waited for her.
Suddenly she laid her head on my shoulder and began to sob very bitterly.
‘My faither! O my faither!’ she said, labouring with her breath.
I said not a word, but only gently clapped and stroked her hand and arm. For indeed I knew not what to say and the hand was near me.
‘He saved me—he took me,’ she cried. ‘Then he gied himsel' for another.’
I thought she meant for the soldier laddie, but still I said nothing, soothing her only.
It was coming now. I saw that she wanted to tell me all. So I said nothing.
‘It was in the gloaming, as it is now,’ she began, ‘and my sweet lass, Margaret Wilson and I, had gone ower by to Tonskeen for some victual that the kind guidwife hid every day in a hollow of the turf-dyke for us. And as we came over the hilltop we heard the baying of hounds. But we thought that it would be but the herd's dogs at a collie-shangie, tearing at one another. So we came down the hill, stepping lightly as we could with our load, when of a sudden there leapt on us three evil men. Two of them took hold of me by the arms, and one gripped at Margaret.
'Now take us to your faither, my bonny woman, or it will be the waur for ye!' said the greatest in stature, a black-a-vised, ill-natured rascal.
But I was so astonished that I knew not what to say. The three were manifestly no soldiers—that I could see at once—but just the scourings of the Dumfries stables, that had taken to the informer's trade.
Then when we came near, we saw that a great number of the crew had dogs, and were drawing the rocks for my father, as though they had been drawing a badger. And my heart leapt with anger to know that he was their quarry.’
But the mouth of the cave was too high among the rocks for even a dog to get into at that time.
Indeed, there is something about it, whether the smell of the occupancy of man or not, that makes dogs not keen to enter it even now.
And this was the matter of Maisie's tale. I give it simply as she told it to me without ‘he-saids’ or ‘she-saids.’
She was sitting close by my side the while, now stilling her sobs that she might tell it exactly, and anon weeping freely upon my shoulder that her heart might have ease.
When they had brought us by force to the face of rock and copse where, as you know, the cave is,’ Maisie went on, ‘they asked us again and again to take them to the Whigs' hiding-place. When we refused they uttered the most horrid threatenings, swearing what things should befall us. But they were not able at all to shake us, though we were but two maids and at their cruel will. And of themselves they were not able to find the mouth of the cave in that mile of tangled gairy face.
‘So the cruellest and fiercest of all, the stark, black-a-vised man whom they called Mardrochat, the same that stopped us by the ford when first we fled from Balmaghie…’
‘O cursed Mardrochat,’ I cried, striking my hands together, ‘wait till I come to a settlement with you!’
‘Nay,’ said Maisie, solemnly, ‘all is settled and paid already with Mardrochat. So they threatened till they were weary, and the night was coming on. Then Mardrochat turned about to his gallows thieves:
'Must we go back empty-handed? Let me try my way with the lassies,' he cried. 'They shall be complaisant to tell where the old fox lies, or else suffer that which shall serve us as well.'
With that he came near and put his hand upon me in the way to hurt me. Notwithstanding, with all the might that was in me, I strove to keep from crying out, lest my father should hear, which was what they counted on. But as God is my witness, I could not. Then, the fear being upon me and the pain of a woman, I cried out in my agony, as I had never before done in this world.
‘O thrice accursed Mardrochat, die not till I meet thee,’ I cried again, beating and bruising my naked hand upon a rock in the impotence of hate.
Maisie went quietly and evenly on with her tale, without heeding my anger.
But when I cried the third time in my extremity, even like a lion out of the thicket came my father forth, springing upon them suddenly with his bright sword in the gloaming. Never was there such striking since the world began. He struck and struck, panting and resting not, roaring in fierce anger, till they fairly fled from before the face of him. And the first he struck was Mardrochat—he that then held me, and the blood spurted over me. Thus it was,’ she went on calmly, as though she had been telling of the kye coming home at e'en, ‘my father clave him to the teeth, and he fell forward on that which had been his face. Then plucking his sword to him again, my father swung it hither and thither like lightning, and pursued them over the moor as a flock of sheep is hunted on the hill. And he smote and slew them as he ran. My father, Anthony Lennox, did all that alone. But, alas! in the valley, though we knew it not, there was a troop of horse encamped about a fire, the same whom he of the Long Gun halted and took us from in the midst of Enterkin. Now my father, running and smiting blindly, tripped over a halter and fell headlong in the heart of them. Thus they took Anton Lennox, who had never been taken before. They took us two maids also; but the dragoons being officered by gentlemen, there was no more ill-usage. Now though he had killed the informers and spies, the soldiers liked my father none the less for that, despising those who were employed on such service. Rather they gave my father honour and not dishonour, as one that was mighty at their own trade. And to me the babe-faced officer was both kind and courteous.’
After this she was silent quite a while, sitting by me on the mossy seat by the old playing-green of the Nether Crae, and looking up as one that dreams, to the heather on the hillside.
‘Is it not a noble thing,’ she said musingly, ‘to have a father that will render up his life for you as if it were a little thing?’
Now I thought within myself that he need not have given it also for a peony-faced officer boy. But I uttered not the word aloud, lest I should be shamed.
THE FIGHT IN THE GUT OF THE ENTERKIN
All the next two days we were gathering for the rescue of Maisie and her father, finding, as we went eastward, men whose hearts were hot within them because of the oppression. But we found not place nor opportunity till the third day. It was the night of the second day that I stole down to the little village of Carron Bridge, which stands by the brink of a dashing, clean-running stream, where the troops were encamped. There I managed to get speech of Maisie Lennox. I clambered down one bank and up the other. And because the houses stood over the brawling of the stream, the soldiers on guard heard me not. I went from window to window till, by the good hap of love (and the blessing of God), I found the window of the room within which Maisie Lennox was confined.
I cried to her through the dark, low and much afraid. ‘Maisie May!’ I called as in old days at the Duchrae, when I used to carry her on my back, and she in sportiveness used to run and hide from me.
She was not asleep, for I heard her say plainly, like one speaking from a bed:
‘It is a dream—a sweet dream!’ But nevertheless I knew that she sat up and listened.
‘Maisie May!’ I said again at the window, very softly.
I heard her move, and in a moment she came to the lattice, and put her hand on the sill.
‘Oh, William!’ she said, ‘is it indeed you and not a dream?’
‘It is even William Gordon!’ I said, sorry that I could not do more than touch her fingers through the thick bars of the guard-house.
‘You must go away at once,’ she said; ‘there are three soldiers sleeping no further off than the door.’
‘We will rescue you tomorrow, Maisie,’ I said.
‘And get yoursel's killed!’ she said. ‘Do not try it, for my sake.’
‘Well, for your father's!’ I said.
And at that she said nothing.
Then she told me that the young officer in command was a lad from one of the good families of the North, and that he treated them civilly. But that, having lost a prisoner on a former occasion, he might happen to lose his life if he let slip so noble a taking; which made him careful of his prisoners with a great carefulness. As well it might; for the Privy Council was not to be trifled with in those days.
There were nine of the prisoners altogether, including the minister of a Nithside conventicle that had been scattered that day. More I could not get from her. For, one of the soldiers stirring without, she prayed me so piteously to be gone, that I set off crawling down among the stones, though I was eager to hear how they had been taken at Cove Macaterick. But that I had to put off to another diet of hearing, as they say in the kirk.
On the morrow we came upon the man that was of all men the best fitted to give us aid in the matter of rescue. This was James Harkness of Locharben, ‘James of the Long Gun,’ as he was called. He had been a soldier, and was said to be the finest marksman in Scotland. Often had the King's party tried to win him back again to the troop, but James kept to the hills with his noted long gun ever at his back. For many years he had as companion his brother Thomas, called ‘Tam o' the Lang Hosen.’ But he had been killed in battle, so that often like a widowed Jack heron, James Harkness stood at gaze on some hilltop, leaning on his gun, and this was mostly his place at conventicles or meetings of the Societies.
Being an old soldier, it fell to him now to choose the place of the rescue and to command us in the manner of it. It was in the deep and narrow defile of the Enterkin that he posted us—a most wild and fearsome place, where the hills draw very close together. One of the places is called Stey Gail, and is so high that the sheep grazing on it are like flies but half way up, as my plain-spoken friend Mr. Daniel de Foe well remarked when he passed that way. On the other side there rises still higher, and almost as steep, the top of the Thirlstane Hill. There is one place at which the water runs down the cleft of the hills, and the place is perpendicular like a wall. It is so steep a place, as Mr. Foe saw it, that if a sheep die it lies not still, but falls from slope to slope, till it ends in the Enterkin Water.
The path passes midways on the steepest and most terrifying slope. Here, on the brow high above, we laid our ambush, and piled great stones to roll on the enemy if need were.
It was a dark, gloomy day, with black clouds driven by the wind, and scuffs of grey showers scudding among the hilltops.
Presently lying couched amid the heather we saw the dragoons come marching loosely two and two, with their reins slack on their horses' necks. At the entering in of the gorge we observed them fall to single file, owing to the narrowing of the path. We could see the minister riding first of the prisoners in his black clothes. Then after a soldier came Anton Lennox, sitting staid and sober on his horse, with a countryman to lead the beast, and to watch that, by reason of his wounds and weakness, he did not fall off.
Then followed Maisie, riding daintily and sedately as ever. Then came five or six other prisoners. Each man of these was held by a rope round his neck, which a trooper had attached to the pommel of his saddle. And at this he took an occasional tug, according to his desire, as other men might take a refreshment.
So these poor lads were being haled along to their fate in Edinburgh. And for a certain long moment, at least, I thought with more complacence on the stark spy behind the dyke, to whose treachery they owed their fate. But the next minute I was ashamed of my thought.
As I looked over I saw the whole party strung out along the steep and dangerous face of the precipice. Then while they were thus painfully toiling with their horses through the dangers of the way, James of the Long Gun rose to his height out of the bent, and sent his powerful voice down, as it had been out of the clouds. For as I said, it was misty and gloomy that day—as indeed it is seldom otherwise there, and to see the place well you must see it in gloom and in no other way.
‘Halt, ye sons of Belial!’ cried James of the Long Gun.
I could hardly help smiling, for he said it solemnly, as though it had been his idea of a civil salutation or the enunciation of an incontestable fact.
The young apple-faced officer answered, holding up his hand to stay the cavalcade behind him, and hearing some one call from the misty hill, but not catching the word.
‘Who may you be, and what do you want?’
Then at the upward wave of James of the Long Gun's hand, twelve of us stood up with our pieces at the point. This startled young Apple-Face (yet I would not call him that, for he was not uncivil to Maisie). For he thought of the Council's word to him, for he well knew that it would be kept, and that his life would stand for the prisoners'. So when he saw twelve armed men rise from the steep side of the Nether Pot, and more looking over the brow of the Crawstane Snout, he was shaken very greatly in his nerves, being young and naturally much in fear of his neck.
Then another officer, whom we afterwards knew as Sergeant Kelt (he has wrongly been called Captain, but no matter), took up the word and bade us to stand, for rebel loons.
But it was Long Gun that cried out to him:
‘Stand yourself, Kelt. It is you that must do the standing, lest we send you to your own place at the bottom of the ravine, and with a dozen shot in you. Will you deliver your prisoners?’
‘No, sir,’ cried Kelt, ‘that we will not, though we were to be damned!’
It was a soldier's answer, and I think none of us thought the worse of him for the expression he had at the close.
For indeed it was a hard case for all of them.
At which, quick as the echo of his oath, there rose one from the heather at our back and fired a musket at him. It was Black MacMichael.
‘Damned ye shall be, and that quick! Tak' that,’ he cried, ‘an' learn no' to swear!’
And he fired his pistol also at the soldier.
Sergeant Kelt threw up his arms, shot through the head. His horse also fell from rock to rock, and among a great whammel of stones, reached the bottom of the defile as soon as its master.
Then every man of the twelve of us had our pieces to our eyes, and each had picked his quarry, when the young officer held up his hand and desired a parley.
Indeed, the whole command was in great jeopardy, and so strung out like onions on a cord, that no man could either fight well himself or yet draw in to support his party. We had them completely at our mercy, there in the Gut of the Enterkin.
At this moment their fore-goer cried back to them, from the knoll whence he had gone to scout, that there appeared another band of armed countrymen on the top of the hill to their front. They were, indeed, but some merchant travellers who, seeing the military stopping the way, stood modestly aside to let them pass. But they did us as much good as they had been a battalion of the Seven Thousand.
At this the officer was even more afraid, though I think like a good soldier lad, more for his command than even for his own credit and life.
‘Stand!’ he cried. ‘A parley! What would ye have?’
So James of the Long Gun called out to him:
‘We would have our minister.’
For so they thought of ministers in those days. But I would have cried for certain others before him, being, as it were, a man prepared and ready to go. However, I tell it as James Harkness said it.
‘Ye shall have your minister,’ said the officer.
‘And the lass,’ cried I, striking in, for which James did not thank me.
‘And the lass,’ the officer repeated, moving a little at hearing a new voice.
‘And her father and the other prisoners,’ I added.
The officer hung a little on his words.
‘Do you want them all? Must ye have them?’
‘Aye, all—or we will take the lives of every one of you!’
‘Then,’ said the officer, ‘my life is forfeit to the Council. Another shall surrender the prisoners and not I.’
And with that he pulled a pistol from his holster and snapped it at his own head. Nevertheless it went not off, the lock being out of order, belike, or the poor lad's hand unsteady.
He was reaching down with his other hand to pull another pistol from the opposite holster, but ere he could draw it, the voice of the Covenanter, Anton Lennox, spoke, gravely and nobly, so as to be heard by all of us.
‘Young man, face not in your own blood an angry God! Leap not thus quick to hell! Abide—and I, Anton Lennox, vow that I will not see you wronged. I am but an old and a dying man. My wounds can hardly let me live. What is my life any more? It is even at your service. I will go with you to the Council!’
And at the word he looked up to the dark heaven, the sunshine wafting after the shower caught his head, and lo! there was a kind of glory about it, as of one that sees mysteries unveiled.
Then we cried out to him to come with us, but he denied. And Maisie, his daughter, fleeched and besought him, but he would not even for her tears.
‘Go thou, my lassie,’ he said, ‘for I am spent. When I set my sword to the hilt in the breast of Mardrochat, of a surety I also gat my dead stroke. Now I am no better than a dead man myself; and perhaps if I give my life for the life of this heathen man, the Lord will not see the blood of the slain on my hands.’
It happens not often while men are yet in the struggle, that they seem to live to the height of their profession. But as Anton Lennox made his renunciation he was lifted, as it were, to the seventh heaven, and we common men gazed silently at him, expecting to see him vanish out of our sight.
Then he gave the orders as one with authority among the soldiers, even the officer not taking the words from his mouth.
‘Loose the minister and let him step up the hill!’
And they did it. And so with the other prisoners till it came to his daughter, Maisie Lennox.
Then Anton, being sore wounded, bent painfully from his horse, and laid his hands on her shoulders.
‘My lassie,’ he said, ‘daughter of the Covenant and of mine old age, do not weep or cry for me. Yea, though I dwell now by the waters of Ulais, whose name is sorrow, and drink of the springs of a Marah that cannot be made sweet, I am the Lord's man. He hath chosen me. My Master gave Himself for a thief. I, a sinner above most men, am willing to give myself for this persecutor that he may have time to repent.’
And Maisie bent herself pitifully upon his hand, but she gave forth no voice or tear, and her little hands were still bound before her.
‘Daughter of the Covenant,’ her father said again, ‘thou dost well. Kiss me once, ere, with all my garments red I come up from Bozrah, going to the sacrifice as a bridegroom goeth to his chamber. If it please the Lord, in the Grassmarket, which is red already with the blood of the saints, I shall witness a good confession and win worthily off the stage. It has been my constant prayer for years.’
So without further word the troop filed away. And Anton Lennox, Covenanter and brave man, sat his horse like a general that enters a conquered city, not so much as looking behind him to where, by the side of the path, Maisie Lennox stood, bareheaded, her hands yet bound, for none had remembered to loose them. No tear was upon her pale face, and as each rude soldier man came by her, he saluted as reverently as though she had been King Charles Stuart himself. And we, that were twelve men, stood at gaze on the hill above, silent and afraid. There was no word in our mouth and no prayer in our heart. We stood as though the place had been the Place of a Skull—the place wherein there is a garden, and in the garden a new tomb.
THE GALLOWAY FLAIL
When Wat and I found the cave empty, immediately we began to search the hill for traces of the lost ones. For some time we searched in vain. But a little to the right of the entrance of the cave the whole was made plain to us. Here we found the bent and heather trampled, and abundant stains of recent blood, as though one had been slain there and the body carried away. Also I found a silken snood and the colour of it was blue. It was not the hue, for that is worn by most of the maids of Scotland; but when I took it to me, I knew as certainly as though I had seen it there, that it had bound about the hair of Maisie Lennox. Though when Wat asked of me (who, being a lover might have known better) how I knew it for hers, I could not find words to tell him. But it is true that all the same, know it I did.
So we followed down the trail, finding now a shred of cleading and again the broken bits of a tobacco pipe such as soldiers use, small and black, till in our search we had rounded the hill that looks into the valley of the Cooran. Here at the crossing of the burn, where it was smallest, we found Anton Lennox's broad blue bonnet.
It was enough. Soon we were scouring the hilltops as fast as our legs could move under us. We travelled southward, keeping ever a keen watch, and twice during the day we caught sight of troops of dragoons, moving slowly over the heather and picking their way among the hags, quartering the land for the sport of man-catching as they went. Once they raised, as it had been a poor maukin, a young lad that ran from them. And we could see the soldiers running their horses and firing off white pluffs of powder. It was a long time ere the musket-cracks came to us, which must have sounded so near and terrible to the poor fugitive. But they hit him not, and for that time at least he wan off scot free. So presently we saw them come back, jeered at by their comrades, like dogs that have missed the quarry and slink home with their tails between their legs.
But neither one of our poor captives was among them. So we held fast and snell to the eastward, passing along the skirts of the Millyea, and keeping to the heights above the track which runs from the Glenkens to the Water of Cree. It was near to the infall of the road from Loch Dee that we first gat sight of those we sought. It was not a large company which had them in charge, and they marched not at all orderly. So that we judged it to be either one of the Annandale levies of the Johnstone, or Lag's Dumfries troop of renegades.
But as we came nearer, we marked quite clearly that they had two prisoners, tall men, one with some white thing about his head, and in the rear they had six or seven other men, mostly on foot. Coming nearer we could also see a figure as of a young maid upon a horse. Then I knew that the dear lass I had watched and warded so long, was surely at the mercy of the rudest of the enemy.
We were thus scouring along the moor, keeping a wary eye upon the troop and their poor prisoners, when Wat's foot took the edge of a moss-hag where the ground was soft. As it pressed the soil downward, we heard a sudden cry, a wild, black-a-vised man sprang up with a drawn sword in his hand, and pulling out a pistol ran at us. We were so taken aback at the assault that we could scarcely put ourselves upon the defence. But ere the man came near, he saw that we were dressed like men of the hills. He stopped and looked at us, his weapons being still pointed our way.
‘Ye are of the people!’ he said sternly.
‘Ay,’ said we, for I think Clavers himself had owned as much, being taken unawares and unable to get at his weapons.
‘I thought I saw ye at the General Meeting,’ he said.
‘We were there,’ we replied; ‘we are two of the Glenkens Gordons.’
‘And I am that unworthy outcast James MacMichael.’
Then we knew that this was he who, for the murder of the curate of Carsphairn (a mightily foolish and ill-set man), was expelled and excommunicated by the United Societies.
‘I will come with you for company,’ he said, taking his bonnet out of the moss-bank into which Wat's foot had pressed it.
Now we wanted not his company. But because we knew not (save in the matter of Peter Pearson) what the manner of the man was, the time went past in which we could have told him that his room was more to us than his company. So, most ungraciously, we permitted him to come. Soon, however, we saw that he knew far more of heather-craft than we. Our skill in the hill-lore was to his but as the bairn's to that of the regent of a college.
‘The band that we see yonder is but the off-scourings of half a dozen troops,’ said he, ‘and chance riders that Cannon of Mardrochat has gathered. The ill loon himself is not with them. He will be lying watching about some dyke bank. Ah, would that I could get my musket on him.’
So we hasted along the way, keeping to the hills in order to reach the Clachan of St. John's town before the soldiers. We went cautiously, Black MacMichael leading, often running with his head as low as a dog, and showing us the advantage of every cover as he went.
Nor had we gone far when we had proof, if we wanted such, of the desperate character of the man in whose company by inadvertence we found ourselves. We were passing through a little cleuch on the Holm of Ken and making down to the water side. Already we could see the stream glancing like silver for clearness beneath us. All of an instant, we saw Black MacMichael fall prostrate among the rocks at the side of the cleuch. He lay motionless for a moment or two. Then, without warning, he let his piece off with a bang that waked all the birds in that silent place, and went to our hearts also with a stound like pain. For though Wat and I had both done men to death, it had been in battle, or face to face, when blade crosses blade and eye meets eye, and our foes had at least an equal chance with us. We had not been used to clapping at a dyke back and taking sighting shots at our foes.
As soon as Black MacMichael had fired, he lifted up his hand, cried ‘Victory,’ and ran forward eagerly, as one that fires at a mark at a wappenschaw may run to see if he has hit the target. Yet Wat and I went not down nor took part with him, but we held our way with sore hearts for the wickedness of this man.
Presently he came out and set after us. He cried ‘Hoy’ many times for us to wait for him, but we tarried not. So he took to running and, being a powerful man and clever with his feet, he soon overtook us.
‘What is the push?’ he cried, panting. ‘I hit the skulker that watched for us from behind a rock. I keeled him over like a dog-fox on the hillside. See what he had upon him!’ And he took from off his shoulder a very remarkable piece of ordnance which I shall presently describe.
‘We want neither art nor part in your bloody deeds, James MacMichael,’ I answered him. ‘Take yourself away, till the Lord Himself shall judge you!’
He stood still as one astonished.
‘Gosh,’ he said, ‘siccan a fash aboot killing an informer. I wad kill them a' like toads, for my son John that they hanged upon the dule tree of Lag. I would slay them root and branch—all the Griers of the wicked name. O that it had been Mardrochat himself. Then indeed it had been a fortunate shot. But he shall not escape the Black MacMichael!’
The murderer, for indeed I could not hold him less, clapped his hand upon his breast and looked up to heaven in a way that made me think him crazed.
‘See here what I hae gotten aff him?’ he cried again, like a child pleased with a toy.
It was the instrument known as the Galloway flail. It had a five-foot handle of stout ash, worn smooth like an axe haft with handling. Then the ‘soople,’ or part of the flail that strikes the corn on the threshing floor, was made of three lengths of iron, jointed together with links of iron chain, so that in striking all this metal part would curl round an enemy and crush his bones like those of a chicken.
‘Stand off,’ I said, as he came nearer with the Galloway flail in his hand; ‘we want not to company with you, neither to share in your iniquity.’
‘I daresay no,’ he said, frowning on us; ‘but ye will hae enough o' your ain. But I'll e'en follow on for a' that. Ye may be braw an' glad o' the MacMichael yet, considering the errand ye are on.’
Nor had we gone far when his words proved true enough.
We went down the cleuch, and were just coming out upon the wider strath, when a party of Lag's men, for whom no doubt the dead spy had been gathering information, beset us. There were only half a dozen of them, but had MacMichael not been at hand with his terrible weapon, it had certainly gone hard with us, if indeed we had not been slain or captured. With a shout they set themselves at us with sword and pistol; but since only one of them was mounted, the odds were not so great as at first they seemed. Wat was ready with his blade as ever, and he had not made three passes before he had his sword through his man's shoulder. But it was otherwise with me. A hulking fellow sprang on me with a roar like a wild beast, and I gave myself up for lost. Yet I engaged him as I best could, giving ground a little, yet ever keeping the upper hand of him. But as we fought, what was our astonishment to see MacMichael, whose company we had rejected, whirl his iron flail above his head and attack the mounted man, whose sword cracked as though it had been made of pottery, and flew into a hundred fragments, jingling to the ground like broken glass. The next stroke fell ere the man on horseback could draw a pistol. And we could hear in the midst of our warding and striking the bones crack as the iron links of the flail settled about his body. The next moment the man on horseback pitched heavily forward and fell to the ground. MacMichael turned with a yell of victory, and rushed upon the others. One stroke only he got as he passed at the dark, savage-like man who was pressing me—a stroke which snapped his sword arm like a pipe staple, so that he fell writhing.
‘Stripe your sword through him! I'll run and do another!’ cried the Black MacMichael.
But the others did not stand to be done (small blame to them), and soon all three were running what they could over the level holms of the Ken. One caught the riderless horse, running alongside till he could get a chance to spring upon the back of it, and so galloped back to the garrison at the Clachan of St. John.
MacMichael sat down, panting as with honest endeavour. He wiped his brow with calm deliberation.
‘An' troth,’ he said, ‘I think ye warna the waur o' Black MacMichael an' Rob Grier's Gallowa' flail.’
Yet there was not even thankfulness in our hearts, for we found ourselves mixed yet more deeply in the fray. Not that this broil sat on us like that other business of the dead spy behind the heather bush. For these men fell in fair fighting, which is the hap of any man. But we saw clearly that we should also be blamed as art and part in the killing of the spy, and the thought was bitter gall to our hearts.
THE FIGHT AT THE CALDONS
Now that which follows is the telling of Toskrie Tam, who is now a gardener at Afton, but who, in the old days, being bitten by the worldly delight of soldiering, had ridden with Clavers and Lag in the tumultuous times. Tam is a long loose-jointed loon, for ever crying about rheumatism, but a truthteller (as indeed John Graham taught him to be), and one that his wife has in subjection. There is the root of the old man in Tam yet. For though he is an elder now, oftentimes I have come on him round a corner, using most uncovenanted language to his underlings. But he is a good gardener, and there is no service in being over gleg in the hearing with such. Besides, his wife clours him soundly enough when there is need.
Somewhat after the following manner Tam told his tale, a trifle unwillingly at first, but warming with the recollection as he proceeded.
‘Aweel, Sir William, gin ye insist. No that I like to be speakin' aboot thae days; but as ye inform me that it is a' to be written doon, I'll tell ye it word for word. Weel, after the Conventiclers had outfaced us at the Shalloch-on-Minnoch, Clavers and Douglas rode south to the Minnoch Brig that looks to Loch Trool.
'There's a dour pack o' Whigs up that glen,' says Clavers. 'Think ye we will take a turn and steer them?'
'They will just be hiving hame frae the conventicle. We shall catch them as they run,' Douglas made answer.
So without a word more, slack rein and go-as-you-please, we rode up Glen Trool. It was a bonny nicht and at a' times a bonny place, but the track was ill to keep, and we rode loose and scattering. Douglas was fair foaming with the affront of the Shalloch, and vowed, as he had often vowed before, that he would never more spare hilt or hair of the accursed breed.
At the Caldons, a bit farmhouse set on a rig among trees at the foot of Loch Trool, Gib Macaterick and I were riding on ahead down by the water side by the loch, when suddenly, without warning, we came on a little cloud of men all on their knees praying behind a dyke back. They were so busy with the supplications that they did not notice us. And we that looked for promotion over the head of the business, covered them with our muskets and called to them to surrender for traitors and rebels. But in a trice they were over the dyke and at us like wild-cats, gripping our horses and tumbling us off. They got Gib down, but I that was suppler, managed to jook among the young oak-trees and run what I was fit back to the troop.
Douglas was in command, for Clavers had ridden on. He was a wild man when I told him that the rebels had taken Gib Macaterick.
'Curse you and him both!' Douglas cried. 'Do I command a set of porridge-stuffed, baggy knaves that fall off their horses whenever they see a Whig tyke skartin' for fleas? I'll tan Gib's hide for him and yours too, my man, when we come to the post. Ye shall ride the timber horse with a bit musket at your heels to learn ye how siccarly to sit your beast.'
Whereat he cried to wheel, and we went twos about down the Caldons road. The farm sits four square on a knowe-tap, compact with office-houses and mailings. There are the little three-cornered wickets in the walls. As we came to the foot of the brae we found Gib Macaterick stelled up against the dyke, with his hands bound and a paper in his teeth—a printed copy of the Covenant. He was quite safe and sound. But when we loosed him, he could do nothing but curse and splutter.
'Thou foul-mouthed Whig,' cried Douglas, 'hast thou also been taking the Covenant? Have him out and shoot him!'
But Gib rose and made an end of the Covenant, by setting his foot upon it and crushing it into the sod. Then we moved forward, carelessly, thinking that the enemy would never stand against a troop, but that they would at once scatter to the hill which rises steep and black at the gavel end of the house.
However, when we came within sight of the steading, half a dozen muskets cracked, and one of our company cried out with the pain of being hit. Indeed, the second volley tumbled more than one trooper from his saddle, and caused their horses to break ranks and run back, jingling accoutrements.
So Colonel Douglas dismounted half his men, and sent the better part of a troop, under the Cornet of the same name, round to the high side of the farm to take the Conventiclers in flank. Which with all success they did, and came down at the charge upon the steadings, capturing half a dozen, mostly young lads, that were there with muskets in their hands. But there was one that threw himself into the lake and swam under water for it. And though our soldiers shot off a power of powder after him, we could get no satisfaction that he had been hit. We heard, however, that he was a Carsphairn man and that the name of him was Roger Dunn.
So Douglas ordered a dismounted file to lead the young lads out into a dell a quarter of a mile from the house, where the noise of the shootings would not annoy him at his refreshment. So the Cornet took them out, well-pleased. For it was a job that suited him better than fighting, and there, in a little green hollow, he speedily laid the six featly in a row.
'So perish all his Majesty's rebels!' said Colonel Douglas as he rode past, bung full of brandy and good mutton ham.
'That's as bonny a kill o' Whigs as we hae gotten for mony a day. Rothes will be pleased with this day's work!' said the Cornet.
It was growing dark by the time that we drew up from the loch and it was ill getting a guide. No one of us had ever been in the country, and there is no wilder in all the south, as I have cause to know. But we had not got to any conclusion, when one came running with the news that he saw a light. So we spurred on as briskly as we dared, not knowing but that we might again hear the whistle of musket balls about our ears.
It was the little farm of Esconquhan, and only old Sandy Gillespie and his wife were at home—the lads no doubt being at the conventicle, or it may be among those who had fought with us in the yard of the Caldons, and now lay quiet enough down in the copsewood at the loch foot.
Sandy Gillespie of Esconquhan was a shrewd old fox enough, and answered all Douglas's questions with great apparent readiness.
'Hae you a Bible?' asked the Colonel.
'Aye,' said Sandy, 'but it's gye and stoury. Reek it doon, guid wife! I misdoot I dinna read it as often as I should—aiblins like yoursel', Colonel.'
Very biddably, the wife reached it down out of the little black hole over the mantelshelf, and the Colonel laughed.
'It is indeed brave and dusty. Man, I see you are no' a right Whig. I doubt that bit book disna get hard wark!'
Douglas's refreshment had made him more easy to deal with.
'Nevertheless,' he continued, 'fettle on your blue bonnet and put us on the road to Bongill, at the loch-head. For there is a great Whigamore there of the name of Macmillan and he will no' get aff so easy. I warrant his Bible is well-thumbed!'
'I canna rin wi' ye on siccan a nicht, and deed the road's no' canny. But you red-coats fear neither God nor deil!' said Sandy Gillespie readily.
'Out on you, gangrel. Gin ye canna rin ye shall ride. Pu' the auld wretch up ahint ye,' said Douglas, ready to be angry as soon as he was crossed, like all men in liquor.
And so we went over the hillside very carefully—such a road as beast was never set to gang on before.
'Keep doon the swearin' as muckle ye can,' ordered Sergeant Murphy. 'Lord, Lord, but this is heart-breaking!'
Sandy Gillespie, canny man, tried to dissuade him from going to Bongill that night. Which only made Douglas the more determined, thinking there was something or some-body that he might light on there, and so get great credit to himself.
'Gin the road be as dour, crooked, and coarse as the Cameronian's road to heaven, I'll gang that road this night!' said Lag, who was pleased with the death of the six Whigs at the Caldons—though, as it might be, vexed that he had not been at the shooting himself.
We were no more than clear of the loch-side path, when Douglas bade old Sandy tune his pipes to help the men along the easier road with a song.
'A Whig's sang or a King's-man's sang?' asked the auld tod blythely.
'Hoot, a Cavalier's song—what need hae we to tak' the Book here!' cried Douglas loudly.
'More need than inclination!' said Claverhouse scornfully, who was now riding beside them.
Sandy Gillespie, who was an exceedingly far-seeing old worthy, pretended that he was loth to sing, whereat Douglas ordered him with an oath to sing upon peril of his life.
So the old man struck up in a high piping voice, but none so ill in tune: 'Our thistles flourished fresh and fair,And bonny bloomed our roses,But Whigs cam' like a frost in June,And withered a' oor posies.'
As he went on the old man's voice grew louder, and in a little, half the command was cantily shouting the song, which indeed goes very well to march to.
'And there's Bongill,' cried Sandy, suddenly stopping and dropping off his horse, 'an' guid e'en to ye!'
And with that the old fellow slid off among the brush-wood and copse, and we saw no more of him—which perhaps was as well for him.
When we went into the little house of Bongill, we found an open door both back and front. Peats were blazing on the hearth. Great dishes of porridge sat on a table. Chairs and stools were overturned, and Bibles and Testaments lay everywhere.
'Curse the old dog. He has sung them a' to the hill,' cried Douglas. 'Have him out and shoot him.'
But Sandy was not to be seen. Only from the hillside, a voice—the same that had sung, 'Awa, Whigs, awa,' gave us 'Bonny Davie Leslie'; and then cried in mockery three times 'Good-night!'
So the night being pit mirk and the hill unknown, we took up our abode at Bongill till the morning. Sitting in the hole of the peat stack we found a strange object, a crazy natural, shapeless and ill-looking.
‘But some of the men who had seen his mother, knew him for the idiot son of Corp-licht Kate, the Informer, of the Shiel of the Star. Douglas questioned him, for sometimes these naturals have much shrewd wit.
'How came ye to be here?'
'Weel, ye see the way o't is this…'
'Make a short story of it, if ye dinna want a bit o' lead through ye.'
'A blaw of tobacco wad fit Gash Gibbie better—grand man in the reid coatie!' said the natural, with a show of cunning. 'I cam' to the Bongill i' the gloamin', an' faith the mistress would hae gien me a bed, but there was a horse in it already!'
So being able to make nothing of him, Douglas let him go back to his dry peat coom.
The next morning was bright and bonny as the others had been, for the autumn of this year was most favourable to our purpose—by the blessing o' the deil as Lag used to say in his cups, so that the track along the side of Curleywee to Loch Dee was dry as a bone. When we came to the ford of the Cooran, we saw a party coming down to meet us with prisoners riding in the midst. There was an old man with his feet tied together under the horse's belly. He swayed from side to side so that two troopers had to help him, one either side, to keep his seat. This they did, roughly enough. The other prisoner was a young lass with a still, sweet face, but with something commanding about it also—saving your presence, sir. She was indeed a picture and my heart was wae for her when some one cried out:
'Mardrochat has done it to richts this time. He has gotten the auld tod o' the Duchrae, Anton Lennox, and his bonny dochter at the same catch. That will be no less than a hundred reward, sterling money!'
Whereat Douglas cursed and said that a hundred was too much for any renegade dog such as Cannon of Mardrochat to handle, and that he could assuredly dock him of the half of it.
So that day we marched to New Galloway, and the next to Minnyhive on the road by the Enterkin to Edinburgh.’
This is the end of the Toskrie Tam's story as he told it to me in the garden house of Afton.
THE OUTFACING OF CLAVERS
It was indeed a wonderful sight and made our hearts beat high only to look at it. Upon the Session Stone twelve men stood with heads bared to the fierce heat of the sun. All of them were grey-headed men, saving two only, a lad of a pale and girlish face with dark sweet eyes, and towering above him, the flecked raven locks of Sir Robert Hamilton. These twelve were the commissioners of districts, all ordained elders. At one side was a little table brought from the house of the Shalloch, and a man sat at it busily writing. By a curious sword cut across his cheek, I knew him for Michael Shields, presently the clerk, and afterwards the historian of the United Societies.
Behind upon the hillside was drawn up a guard of two hundred horse. And the tossing bits and jingling accoutrements made a pleasant sound to me that loved such things, which were mostly the portion of our enemies. The wide amphitheatre opposite to the Session Stone was occupied chiefly by the women and older men, who, as I have said, sat upon plaids spread upon the bank. Behind these again, and extending far up the gently sloping side of the Shalloch Hill, was a noble sight, that made me gasp for gladness. Company behind company were ranked the men whom Robert Hamilton had called the Seven Thousand. There were officers on their flanks, on whose drawn swords the sun glittered; and though there was no uniformity of dress, there was in every bonnet the blue favour of the Covenant. Their formation was so steady and their numbers so large that the whole hillside seemed covered with their regiments. Looking back over the years, I think we might have risked a Dunkeld before the time with such an ordered host.
I heard one speaking in the French language at my elbow and looked about me. Whereupon I spied two men who had been walking to and fro among the companies.
‘But all this will do little good for a time,’ said one of the speakers. ‘We must keep them out of the field till we are ready. They need one to draw them into the bond of obedience. They are able to fight singly, but together they cannot fight.’
‘No matter,’ said the other, ‘they will stand us in good stead one day when the Prince sails over. The Seven Thousand shall be our mainstay in that day, not in Scotland only, but in Britain.’
By this I guessed that these two were officers of the Prince of Orange sent over to see if the times were yet ripe.
Meanwhile the meeting proceeded to its end amid the voice of prayer and the solemn throb of psalmody. It was a great and gracious thing to hear the swell of praise that went up from that hillside, from the men who had worshipped only in the way of silence and in private, because they dared no other, for many weary months.
It was about the third hour of the afternoon, and we had not begun to wax weary, when, away on the hillside, we heard the sound of cheering. We looked about us to see what might be the cause. There came one riding slowly down upon a much tired horse between the ranks of the companies—a great tall man in a foreign coat and hat, whom at the first glint my mother knew for Sandy my brother.
As he came nearer the roar of greeting swelled and lifted. I declare I was proud of him. Even Robert Hamilton had gotten no such greeting. I had not thought that our Sandy was so well-kenned a man. And I forgave him for flouting me.
‘Mother,’ I said, ‘that is our Sandy they are cheering!’
‘Think ye I kenned not that! Whaur has he come frae?’ she said. ‘I wonder if Jean Hamilton kens.’
It was like my mother to think first of others; but in a little she said,
‘I trust I am not overproud, that my bairn is so honoured.’
And indeed it made us all proud that Sandy was thus greatly thought of. So in a little he also took his place on the Session Stone, and made another young head among the grey beards. Soon he was called upon to speak, and in his sounding voice he began to tell of his message from the kirks of Holland, and to commend patience and faithfulness. They say that every man that stood to arms among the Seven Thousand heard him that day. Aye, and that even the watchers upon the tops caught many blessed words and expressions, which the light winds blew them in wafts. Saving Richard Cameron's alone, there was no such voice as Sandy's heard in Scotland during all his time.
Then Robert Hamilton rose and spoke, counselling that since there were so many present, they should once more and immediately fall to arms.
But one of the most venerable men there present, rose.
‘Robin, ye are but one of the Council of Twelve, and ye know that our decision is to wait the man and the hour. It beseems you, then, either to speak within the order of the Society or to be silent.’
Last of all the young man rose, he of the pale countenance and the clustering hair.
‘It is young Mr. James Renwick, who is going abroad to study and be ordained at Groningen in the Low Countries,’ said one near to me. And indeed he was mightily changed so that I had scarce known him.
The lad's voice was sweet and thrilling, persuasive beyond belief. In especial, coming after the mighty roaring of the Bull of Earlstoun (so they called Sandy) and the rasping shriek of Robin Hamilton, it had a great effect upon me. There came a sough from the people as his words ran over them, like a soothing and fanning wind blowing winningly among the trees of the wood.
So the day passed and the gladness of the people increased, till some of us felt that it was like the golden gates of heaven just to be there. For the passion of a multitude of folk with one heart's desire, thrilling to the one word and the one hope, had taken hold on us. The like was never seen upon the wild mountains of the south.
Then, as though to recall us to earth, from the green meads of the Minnoch side there came one running to pass the word that the enemy was in sight. Two companies of Strachan's Dragoons, with all Claverhouse's levies, were riding from Straiton as fast as their horses could carry them. Whereat, without haste and with due solemnity, the great and desirable General Meeting of the United Societies held on the wilds of Shalloch-on-Minnoch was brought to an end.
The women and aged men were placed behind the companies, and such as could reach home without passing the troopers' line of march were set upon their way. But when once we found ourselves without the lines of the companies, which stretched across from the black downthrow of rocks upon Craigfacie to the Rig of the Shalloch Hill, my mother would go no farther.
‘Na,’ she said, ‘gang your ways back doon. This is the place for Kate and for an auld wife like me. But it shall never be said that William Gordon's wife grudged both her sons to the work of the Lord!’
So Wat and I went our ways down to where Sandy stood as chosen leader of the army of the Seven Thousand. He paid, indeed, but little attention to us, giving us no more than a nod, yet instantly setting us upon errands for him.
‘Will ye fight?’ said I, when I got a quiet moment of him.
‘Alas!’ he said, ‘there is no such good luck. Had I not the direct message of the Prince to abide and wait, I would even now strike a blow. As it is, we must just stand to our arms. I would to God it were otherwise!’
The companies of mounted soldiers rapidly approached, to the number of perhaps three hundred. But I think they were daunted, when from a knoll below the house of the Shalloch they first saw our great and imposing army. They say there were over two thousand under arms that day.
‘The Seven Thousand will surely stay John Graham this day,’ said one at my elbow.
But Claverhouse was not a man easily feared.
Leaving his men, he rode forward alone, having but a trumpeter someway behind him. He held a white hand-kerchief in his hand, and waved it as he rode towards us upon his war-horse. I saw the trumpeter lad look about him more than once, as if he wished himself well out of it. But Colonel Graham rode straight at the centre of our array as if it had been his own. Sandy went out to meet him.
‘Will ye surrender and lay down your arms to the King's troops?’ cried Clavers as he came near. Since then I have never denied the man courage, for all his cruelty.
There came a gust of laughter from the nearer companies of our array when they heard his words. But Sandy checked the noise with his hand.
‘Surrender!’ he said. ‘It is you, John Graham, that may talk of surrender this day. We are no rebels. We but stand to our arms in defence of our covenant rights.’
‘Keep that Whig garbage for the prayer-meeting, Earlstoun!’ said Claverhouse. ‘I at least know you too well, Sandy Gordon. Do you mind the long wood of Dairsie by the Eden Water?’
What he meant I cannot tell, but I think his words daunted Sandy for a moment. For in his old unsanctified days they had been fast comrades, being of an age, and student lads together at Saint Andrews, where both were equally keen of the play upon the green; though ever since Sandy married Jean Hamilton he had turned him to new courses.
So having obtained no satisfaction, Claverhouse rode slowly back to the Dragoons. Then without a word, save the shout of command, he led them forward over the moor toward us.
‘Sain my soul and body,’ said Wat, ‘is the Heather Cat going to charge an army in position?’ And indeed, it looked like it.
But as he came toward us, from the front rank where Sandy stood with a broadsword bare in his hand, and his horse brisk as though it had just been led from its stall, came my brother's voice.
‘If ye set a horse's hoof over that burn, ye shall receive our fire. Men, make ready!’
Right up to the burn bank rode Clavers and his troop, and there halted. For a long minute he looked at us very contemptuously. Then he snapped his fingers at us.
‘That for ye!’ he cried. ‘Ye stand the day. Ye shall be scattered the morn. I ken ye brawly. Among a' your testimonies there is not one which any three of ye could read over and not fall out about. This day ye are on the brae-face. The morn ye'll be at the dyke back, with an ounce or two of his Majesty's excellent lead in ye. God save the King!’
And with that he waved his hand, cried to his men, and rode off like the steeve and dour persecutor that he was.
In the late evening we took my mother and Kate back again over the hill. My mother was very weary—so weary that at the house of Tonskeen we left her with the decent man and wife that abode there, with Kate to bear her company. She was not used to the life on the hills, and so for that time could flee no further. It was just grey day when we took the short way down the face of the gairy, that lifts its brow over the desolate moor of Macaterick. Being unencumbered with women folk, Wat and I now came down the nearest way, that which leads by the strange rocky hollow, steep on every side, which is named the Maiden's Bed. So, fleet of foot, we fled westwards.
As we looked, the sun began to rise over the Range of Kells and the tide of light flowed in upon us, gladdening our hearts. Wat was not so brisk as I, for he had left Kate behind; and though young men in times of danger have perforce to think of their skins first and of their maids after, yet it makes not the foot move so light when it must step out away from the beloved.
But all the same, it was a bright morning when we clambered down the steep side of the hill that looks toward Macaterick. The feathery face of the rock above the levels of Macaterick, and the burn that flows from it by links and shallows into Loch Doon, glanced bright with the morning sun upon them. And there at last was the cave-mouth hidden under the boskage of the leaves.
I ran on before Wat, outstripping him, albeit that for ordinary he was more supple than I—so great was my desire to see Maisie Lennox, and assure myself that all had gone well with her father. I had not a thought but that she would be sitting safely within, with the cave garnished with fresh leaves like a bower, and her father watching her at her knitting through his bushy eyebrows.
Smiling, I lifted the curtain of birch leaves. Great God of Heaven! The cave was wholly empty, as I slid down into it. Maisie and her father had vanished!
I stood as one desperately amazed. There was no life or thought or soul left in me. I stood as one stands at the threshold of his home, before whom a gulf suddenly yawns fathomless.
A DESIRABLE GENERAL MEETING
The next morning dawned colder and more chilly. The catch of the autumn of the year was in the air, and it nipped shrewdly till the sun looked over the hills in the east. This was to be the great day of the Societies' general meeting, which had been summoned in the wilds of Shalloch-on-Minnoch. Though the morn had dawned caller, with a white rime of frost lying on the grass and for a little space making grey the leaves of the trees, the day of the great conventicle was one of great and lowering heat. My mother was set to go—and Kate McGhie also. Wat must needs therefore accompany them, and I had a letter from Groningen which I behoved to read. With Anton Lennox, stout of heart even in his sickness, abode my lass, Maisie Lennox—of whom (though I looked to be back on the morrow) I took leave with reluctance and with a heavy and sinking heart.
For us who were used to making a herd's track across the hills, it was not a long step over the moors from Macaterick to the foot of the Craigfacie of Shalloch, where the General Meeting of the Societies was to take place. But it was a harder matter for my mother.
She needed help over every little brink of a peat brow, and as we passed Tonskeen, where there is a herd's house in the wild, far from man and very quiet with God, I ran to get her a staff, which the shepherd's good wife gladly gave. For there was little that would be refused to a wanderer in these parts, when on his way to the Societies' Meeting.
Soon we left the strange, unsmiling face of Loch Macaterick behind, and took our way towards the rocky clint, up which we had to climb. We went by the rocks that are called the Rig of Carclach, where there is a pass less steep than in other places, up to the long wild moor of the Shalloch-on-Minnoch. It was a weary job getting my mother up the steep face of the gairy, for she had so many nick-nacks to carry, and so many observes to make.
But when we got to the broad plain top of the Shalloch Hill it was easier to go forward, though at first the ground was boggy, so that we took off our stockings and walked on the driest part. We left the burn of Knocklach on our left—playing at keek-bogle among the heather and bent—now standing stagnant in pools, now rindling clear over slaty stones, and again disappearing altogether underground like a hunted Covenanter.
As soon as we came over the brow of the hill, we could see the folk gathering. It was wonderful to watch them. Groups of little black dots moved across the green meadows in which the farmsteading of the Shalloch-on-Minnoch was set—a cheery little house, well thatched, and with a pew of blue smoke blowing from its chimney, telling of warm hearts within. Over the short brown heather of the tops the groups of wanderers came, even as we were doing ourselves—past the lonely copse at the Rowantree, by the hillside track from Straiton, up the little runlet banks where the heather was blushing purple, they wended their ways, all setting towards one place in the hollow. There already was gathered a black cloud of folk under the rickle of stones that runs slidingly down from the steep brow of Craigfacie.
As we drew nearer we could see the notable Session Stone, a broad flat stone overhanging the little pourie burn that tinkles and lingers among the slaty rocks, now shining bone-white in the glare of the autumn sun. I never saw a fairer place, for the heights about are good for sheep, and all the other hills distant and withdrawn. It has not, indeed, the eye-taking glorious beauty of the glen of Trool, but nevertheless it looked a very Sabbath land of benediction and peace that day of the great Societies' Meeting.
Upon the Session Stone the elders were already greeting one another, mostly white-headed men with dinted and furrowed faces, bowed and broken by long sojourning among the moss-hags and the caves.
When we came to the place we found the folk gathering for prayer, before the conference of the chosen delegates of the societies. The women sat on plaids that had been folded for comfort. Opposite the Session Stone was a wide heathery amphitheatre, where, as on tiers of seats, rows of men and women could sit and listen to the preachers. The burnie's voice filled up the breaks in the speech, as it ran small and black with the drought, under the hollow of the bank. For, as is usual upon our moors, the rain and storm of the night had not reached this side of the hill.
I sat down on a lichened stone and looked at the grave, well-armed men who gathered fast about the Session Stone, and on the delegates' side of the water. It was a fitting place for such a gathering, for only from the lonely brown hills above could the little cup of Conventicle be seen, nestling in the lap of the hill. And on all the moor tops that looked every way, couching torpid and drowsed in the hot sun, were to be seen the sentinels—pacing the heather like watchmen going round and telling the towers of Zion, the sun flashing on their pikes and musket barrels as they turned sharply, like men well-disciplined.
The only opening was to the south-west, but even there nothing but the distant hills of Colmonell looked in, blue and serene. Down in the hollow there was a glint of melancholy Loch Moan, lying all abroad among its green wet heather and stretches of yellow bent.
What struck me as most surprising in this assembly was the entire absence of anything like concealment. From every quarter, up from the green meadows of the Minnoch Valley, over the scaurs of the Straiton hills, down past the craigs of Craigfacie, over from the deep howe of Carsphairn, streams of men came walking and riding. The sun glinted on their war-gear. Had there been a trooper within miles, upon any of the circle of the hills, the dimples of light could not have been missed. For they caught the sun and flecked the heather—as when one looks upon a sparkling sea, with the sun rising over it and each wave carrying its own glint of light with it upon its moving crest.
As I looked, the heart within me became glad with a full-grown joy. So long had we of the Religion hidden like foxes and run like hares, that we had forgotten that there were so many in the like case, only needing drawing together to be the one power in the land. But the time, though at hand, was not yet.
I asked of a dark long-haired man who stood near us, what was the meaning of such a gathering. He looked at me with a kind of pity, and I saw the enthusiasm flash from his eye.
‘The Seven Thousand!’ he said; ‘ken ye not the Seven Thousand upon the hills of Scotland, that never bowed the knee to Baal?’
‘Pardon me, friend,’ said I, ‘long hiding on the mountains has made me ignorant. But who are the Seven Thousand?’
‘Have ye indeed hidden on the mountains and ken not that? Did ye never hear of them that wait for the time appointed?’
I told him no.
‘Then,’ said he, ‘who may you be that kens so little?’
I said that I was William Gordon, younger son of the persecuted house of the Gordons of Earlstoun.
‘O, the Bull's brother!’ said he, shortly, and turned him about to go away. But Spitfire Wat was at his side, and, taking the dark man by the elbow, presently halted him and span him round so that he faced us.
‘And who are you that speaks so lightly of my cousin of Earlstoun?’ he asked.
I think Wat had forgotten that he was not now among his Cavalier blades—who, to do them justice, are ready to put every pot-house quarrel to the arbitrament of the sword, which is after all a better way than disputation and the strife of tongues.
The dark man smiled. ‘Ye are hot, young sir,’ he said bitterly. ‘These manners better befit the guard-room of Rob Grier of Lag than a gathering of the Seven Thousand. But since ye ask my name, I am poor unworthy Robin Hamilton, on whom the Lord hath set His hand.’
Then we knew that this dark-browed man was Sir Robert Hamilton, who with my brother Sandy had been the Societies' Commissioner to the Low Counties, and who was here at Shalloch-on-Minnoch to defend his action. He was also brother of Jean Hamilton, Sandy's wife, and of a yet more sombre piety.
Then, though I knew well that he had been the rock on which the Covenant ship split at Bothwell, and a stone of stumbling in our counsels ever since, yet, because he looked so weary and broken with toils, travels, and watchings, my heart could not choose but go out to him.
As he looked and said nothing, a more kindly light came into his eye as he gazed at Wat. ‘Ye will be Black Bess of Lochinvar's son—a tacked-on Covenant man. But I doubt not a kindly lad, for all ye are so brisk with your tongue and ready with your blade. I have seen the day when it would have done me a pleasure to step out with you, in days that were full of the pride of the flesh. I do not blame you. To fight first and ask wherefore after, is the Gordon all over. But do not forget that this day, here on the wild side of the Shalloch-on-Minnoch, there are well-nigh a thousand gentlemen of as good blood as your own. Homespun cloth and herds' plaidies cover many a man of ancient name this day, that never thought to find himself in arms against the King, even for the truth's sake.’
Robert Hamilton spoke with such an air of dignity and sadness, that Wat lifted his hand to his blue bonnet in token that he was pacified. And with a kindly nod the stranger turned among the throng that now filled all the spacious place of meeting.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.