THE MAID ON THE WHITE HORSE
Then slowly a rim about my neck grew icy cold till it ached with the pain—as when, on a hot day, one holds one's wrists over-long in a running stream. Nevertheless, my southland pride and the grace of God kept me from vulgarly showing my fear.
Yet even the Earl, who came of a family that ought by this time to have grown accustomed to losing their heads, was shaken somewhat by the sight of the Maiden. And, indeed, such present and visible death will daunton the most resolute courage. Therefore he caused bind the napkin upon his face, ere he approached nearer, and so was led upon the scaffold first. I went next, schooling myself to go firmly and saying only, ‘It will soon be over! It will soon be over!’ Then I would fall to my twenty-third Psalm again, and specially to the verse about ‘death's dark vale,’ which did indeed strengthen me so that I feared none ill, or at least not so very much. But at such times one goes on, winning through unshamed, more by the mechanical action of one's body and the instinct of silence, than by the actual thing which men call courage.
But when at last we stood upon the scaffold, and looked about us at the great concourse of people, all silent and all waiting to see us die, more than everything else I wished that they had thought to put a rail about the edge. For the platform being so high, and the time so early in morning, I walked a little as though my legs had been the legs of another and not mine own. But in time this also passed off.
Then they read Cantyre's warrant, and asked him if he had aught to say. He had a long paper prepared, which, standing between his two friends, who held him by either arm, he gave to the Dean. And very courteously he bade us who were to die with him farewell, and also those that were with him. He was a most gallant gentleman, though a Highlandman. They made us stand with our backs to the Maiden, and rolled the drums, while they set him in his place. But for all that I heard louder than thunder the horrible crunch as of one that shaws frosty cabbages with a blunt knife. Methought I had fainted away, when I heard the answering splash, and the loud universal ‘Ah!’ which swept across the multitudes of people.
Yet as they turned me about, because my time had come, I saw quite clearly beneath me the populace fighting fiercely one with another beneath the scaffold, for the blood that drippled through the boards, dipping their kerchiefs and other linen fabrics in it for keepsakes. Also I perceived the collapsed body, most like a sack that falls sideways; and the tall masked headsman holding up the poor dripping head. For the napkin had fallen away from the staring eyne, and I shuddered at the rasping echo of his words.
‘This is the head of a traitor!’ he cried, as the custom is.
Again the people cried, ‘Ah!’—They cried it through their clenched teeth. But it was more like a wild beast's growl than a human cry.
Then I was bidden speak if I had aught to say before I died.
So I took off my hat, and though for a moment I stood without strength, suddenly my voice was given back to me, and that with such surprising power that I never knew that I had so great an utterance.
‘I die (so they recorded my words) in the faith my father taught me, and for which my father died; neither for King nor bishop will I change it. Neither for love nor lands will I recreant or swear falsely. I am a Gordon of Earlstoun. I die for the freedom of this land. God do so to me and more also, if ever I gave my back to a foe, or my shoulder to a friend all the days of my life! That is all my testimony. God have mercy on my sinful soul, for Christ's sake. Amen!’
‘Lord, that is no Whig word!’ cried one from the crowd—a soldier, as I think.
‘Tis a pity he is a rebel,’ said another. I heard them as though they had spoken of another, and not of myself. And all the time I had been speaking, I was watching the headsman wiping his broad sliding blade with a fragment of fine old linen, daintily as one may caress a sweetheart or other beloved possession.
Then the Dean began the praying, for because I had played with him upon the Links of Leith at our diversion, I could not reject his ministrations. And also, as I said, he was a pleasant, well-spoken man. But he had hardly said many words, or indeed gotten fairly into the matter of his prayer—which being an Episcopalian, it took him a long time to do—when his voice seemed to be drowned in the surging murmur which rose from the people far down the spaces of the Grassmarket. The sound we heard was as that of a mighty multitude crying aloud; but whether for joy or hate, I could not tell. The Dean went on praying with his book open. But none, I think, minded him, or indeed could have heard him if they had. For every eye in all that mighty throng was turned to the distance, whence came the cheering of the myriad throats.
The soldiers looked one to the other, and the officers drew together and conferred. They thought, doubtless, that it was the messenger of death with the other warrant of execution, that for Anton Lennox. Yet they marvelled why in that case the people shouted.
The commander bade the drums beat, for the voices of those about the scaffold-foot began to take up the shouting, and he feared a tumult. So the kettle drums brayed out their angry waspish whirr, and the great basses boomed dull and hollow over all.
But in spite of all, the crying of the whole people waxed louder and louder, and the rejoicing came nearer and nearer, so that they could in no wise drown it with all their instruments of music.
Then, in the narrow Gut of the West Port I saw a white horse and a rider upon it, driving fiercely through the black press of the throng. And ever the people tossed their bonnets in the air, flecking the red sunrise with them. And the crowd fell back before the rider as the foam surges from the prow of a swift boat on Solway tide.
And lo! among the shouting throng I looked and saw, and knew. It was my own lass that rode and came to save me, even while the headsman was wiping the crimson from the bloody shearing knife to make it ready for me. In either hand she waved a parchment of pardon, and the people shouted: ‘A pardon! a pardon! God save the King!’
Without rein she rode, and the people opened a lane for her weary horse. Very pale was her face, the sweetest that ever the sun shone on. Very weary were the lids of her eyes, that were the truest and the bravest which ever God gave to woman. But when they were lifted up to look at me on the scaffold of death, I saw that through the anxiety, which drew dark rings about them, they were joyful with a great joy!
And this is what my Maisie Lennox did for me.
The conclusion of the author to the reader
But our perils were not yet wholly over. We were in fear that at any hour the messenger might arrive, having gotten another horse, even in that lonely place where Maisie left him. But having pardons in the King's hand, our foes themselves were eager to be rid of us. They knew that Roger McGhie had been busy on our behalfs, so that the Council showed no surprise that he had prevailed, knowing how great he was with John Graham, and also with the Duke of York. But they ordered us all, Maisie Lennox, her father, and I, forth of the kingdom upon the instant. So within an hour we went, right well content, along with the officers on board a ship at Leith, that waited with anchor weighed and sails backed in the Roads for the Council's permit to proceed. Which being obtained by the same boat that brought us, they drew away with us on board upon the instant. And it was as well, for, as our friends afterwards advised us, the plundered messenger came in during the night; and with the earliest break of morn there was a swift vessel on our track. But by that time we were well-nigh half over, with a good ship and a following wind. So that there was no vessel in Scotland that could catch us.
In due time we landed at Rotterdam with great joy and rejoicing. Now, there remains many a story that I might tell concerning our life there—how I took service in the Scots regiments of the Prince, how poor we were and how happy. Indeed, if I be spared and keep my wits, I may write it one day. For, to my thinking, it is a good tale, and infinitely more mirthful than this of the killing time, which presently it has been my lot to tell, though Sandy had no part in it, seeing that he abode until the coming of the Prince in the stony castle of Blackness, yet not greatly ill-done to, being tended there by his wife.
Also in it there should be commemorated how my mother came to us, and concerning Wat and Kate, and all that sped between them. Also, for a greater theme, how we went back and helped Renwick and Cleland to raise again the Seven Thousand, and how we stood in the breach when the Stuarts were swept away. Especially I would joy to tell of the glorious Leaguer of Dunkeld. That were a tale to attempt, indeed, with Maisie Lennox at that tale's ending, even as she has been the beginning and middle and end of this. Only by that time she was no more Maisie Lennox.
Concluded in my study at Afton, December 2, 1702.
THE RED MAIDEN
The great day which we had been expecting dawned, and lo! it was even as any other day. The air was shrewdly cold when I awoke very early in the morning, just as I had awaked from sleep every morning since I can remember. It was my custom to begin to say the little prayer which my mother had taught me before I was fairly awake. This I did when I was but a boy, for the economising of time; and I continued the practice when I put away most other childish things. I declare solemnly that I was past the middle of the prayer, before the thought came to me that this was the morn of the day on which I was to die. Even then, by God's extreme mercy, fear did not take me utterly by the throat.
I had dreamed of the day often, and shivered to think of that awaking. But now that it was here, it seemed to me like any morn in the years, when I used to awake in the little sunlit tourelle at Earlstoun to the noise of the singing of birds, and turn my thoughts upon riding to the Duchrae by the Grenoch side to see Maisie Lennox—little Maisie May, whom now I should see no more.
So by the strengthening mercy of God I was enabled to finish my mother's prayer with some composure. And also to remember her and Maisie, commending them both to the gracious care of One who is able to keep.
Then came the Chancellor's Commissioner to tell us that by the high favour of his master, we were to be headed in the early morn. And that, too, in the company of the great Earl of Cantyre, who, after lying long in prison, was that day, for rebellion in the Highlands and the Isles, condemned to lose his head. No higher favour could be granted, though it seemed not so much to me as doubtless to some, that I should lay my head beside an Earl's on the block of the Maiden, instead of setting my neck in a rope at the hands of the common executioner in the Grassmarket.
But there is no doubt that all Scotland, and especially all the clan Gordon, would think differently of the matter—ay, even my mother. And to Wat such a death would seem almost like an accolade.
They read me my warrant in my death dungeon by the light of a dim rushlight. But that of Anton Lennox they read not, for a reason that has already appeared, though they told us not of it at the time. Yet because the messenger was expected to arrive every moment with it, Anton, who shared my favour of execution, was to accompany us to the scaffold.
When they ushered us forth it was yet starlight, but the day was coming over the Forth. And the hum and confused noise of rustling and speech told us of the presence of a great multitude of people about us. They had indeed come from far, even from the wild Highlands, for such a heading had not been known for years. Our keepers gave us a good room, and an excellent breakfast was ready for us in a house contiguous to the scaffold. When we came in, the Earl was at the head of the table, and the gentlemen of his name about him, Anton and I standing apart by ourselves. Then the Dean of Edinburgh, Mr. Annand, came and asked us to be seated. Anton would not, but went to the window and stood commending himself to the God in whose presence he was so soon to appear. However, since it seemed to be expected of a gentleman to command his spirit before death, for the honour of his party and cause, I sat me down with the others, and ate more heartily than I could have expected, though the viands tasted strange, dry, and savourless. They gave us also wine to wash them down withal, which went not amiss.
When they saw that it was growing lighter, they put out the candles, and we were brought down the stairs. When I came to the outside and heard the murmur of the crowd, suddenly and strangely I seemed to be breathing, not sweet morning air, but water chilled with ice. And I had to breathe many breaths for one. There seemed no sustenance in them.
Now Cantyre, being a very great man, was allowed his chief friends to be with him. Eight of them attended him in full mourning to the scaffold, chiefly Montgomeries of Skelmorly and Campbells of Skepnish and Dunstaffnage—all noble and well-set men. And Anton Lennox and I were permitted to walk with him without any disgrace, but with our hats on our heads and in our own best attire, which the Chancellor had allowed to be provided for us. At least so it was with me. For Anton Lennox would have none of these gauds, but was in an ordinary blue bonnet and hodden grey. But for me, though I was to die for the faith, I saw no reason why I should not die like a gentleman.
As we went by the way, the people hushed themselves as we came, and many of them sank on their knees to give us a parting prayer to speed us on our far journey. The Dean and other Divinity men of the ruling party approached, to give us what ghostly counsel they could. But, as I expected, Anton would have none of the Dean or indeed of any other of them. But I was not averse to speak with him, at least as far as the natural agitation of my spirits would permit.
As for prayers, I leant on none of them, except my mother's, which I had repeated that morning. But I kept saying over and over to myself the Scots version of the twenty-third Psalm, ‘The Lord's my Shepherd,’ and from it gat wondrous comfort.
The Dean asked me if I had my ‘testimony’ ready written. I told him that testimonies were not for me.
‘What,’ he said, ‘do you not hold the covenants?’
‘I held a sword for them so long as I could. Now, when I cannot, I can at least hold my tongue!’
Even with the scaffold looming out down the vennel, it pleased me to say this to him, for such is the vanity of Galloway, and especially of a Galloway Gordon. Besides, I had once played with the Dean at golf upon Leith Links, and he had beaten me foully. Not twice would he outface me, even though it were my death day.
Mr. Annand was a very pleasant-spoken man, and I think a little grateful that I should speak complacently to him. For he was abashed that Cantyre would have nothing to say to him—no, nor for that matter, Anton Lennox either.
He asked me what affair had brought me there, which vexed me, for I had supposed the whole city ringing with my braving of the Council, and the Chancellor's shaking hands with me.
‘I have done God's will,’ I made him answer, ‘at least as I saw it, in fighting against Charles Stuart, for his usage of my country and my house. Were I to escape, I should but do the same thing again. It is his day, and Charles Stuart has me on the edge of the iron. But not so long ago it was his father's turn, and so, in due time, it may be his.’
‘God forbid!’ said the Dean piously, thinking no doubt, poor man, that if the King went that way, certain others might also.
‘God send him as honourable a death. 'Twere better than lolling with madams on Whitehall couches, that he should honourably step forth from the window of the banqueting hall as his father did!’ I made him answer.
‘You are a strange Whig, Mr. William Gordon,’ he said; ‘do you even give that testimony to them from the scaffold. It will be a change from their general tenor.’
I said, ‘You mistake me. I believe as much and as well as any of them, and I am about to die for it, but testimonies are not in my way. Besides, somewhere my mother is praying for me.’
‘I would the King could have spared you,’ he said. ‘There is need of some like you in this town of Edinburgh.’
‘When I was in Edinburgh,’ I replied, ‘I had not the spirit of a pooked hen, but holding the banner at Sanquhar hath wondrously brisked me.’
All this while I could see the lips of Anton Lennox moving. And I knew right well that if I had little to say at the last bitter pinch, he would deliver his soul for the two of us—ay, and for the Earl, too, if he were permitted.
It was just at this moment that we came in sight of the Maiden, which was set high on a platform of black wood. There was much scaffolding, and also a tall ladder leading thereto. But what took and held my eye, was the evil leaden glitter of the broad knife, which would presently shear away my life.
ROBBERY ON THE KING'S HIGHWAY
Now that which follows concerns not myself, but Maisie Lennox and others that were at this time forth of the Tolbooth. Yet, because the story properly comes in here, I pray the reader to suffer it gladly, for without it I cannot came to my tale's ending, as I must speedily do. How I came to know it, is no matter now, but shall without doubt afterwards appear.
While Anton Lennox and I lay in the Tolbooth, those that loved us were not idle. Wat moved Kate and Kate moved Roger McGhie of Balmaghie. So that he set off to London to see the King, in order to get remission for me, and if need be to pay my fine, because there was nothing he would not do to pleasure his daughter. But though his intercession did good in delaying the warrant, yet my owning of the raising the flag at Sanquhar was too much for the King, and in due course my warrant sped; of which the bruit came north with a servant of Balmaghie's who rode like the wings of the wind. But indeed I was not greatly disappointed, for since my declaration to the Privy Council, I never expected any other end.
As soon, however, as the news came to the house of Balmaghie, Maisie Lennox betook herself to the woodside to think. There she stayed for the better part of an hour, pacing up and down more like an aged man than a young maiden. Then, as my informant tells me, she came in again with a face wonderfully assured.
‘Give me a horse and suit of lad's clothes,’ she said to her who kept the drapery closets and wardrobes at the house of Balmaghie.
‘Preserve us, lass, for what wad ye hae lad's claes?’ said the ancient housekeeper. But without waiting to reply, Maisie Lennox went and got them.
‘The lassie's gane wud! There's nae reason in her,’ she cried out in amazement.
But indeed it was a time when men and women were not inclined to stand upon reasons. For each being supposed to have his neck deep in the tow, he had no doubt his own good logic for whatever he proposed.
So Mistress Crombie, housekeeper to the Laird of Balmaghie, without further question, fitted Maisie Lennox with a suit of lad's clothes, which (having taken off and again suitably attired herself) she strapped in a roll on her saddle bow and covered with a plaid. Then, dressed like a maid that goes to her first place and rides a borrowed horse, she took her way eastward. Now at that time, so important were the proclamations and Privy Council matters, that every week there rode a post who carried naught but reprieves and sentences.
It had been the custom of late, ever since the numerous affrays near the border of Berwick, that this messenger of life and death should ride by Carlisle and Moffat to Edinburgh.
Now this young maid, contrary to the wont of women folk, had all her life said little and done much. So when Maisie Lennox came to the side of the Little Queensberry Hill, having ridden all the way sedately, as a sober maiden ought, she went aside into a thicket and changed her woman's appearance to that of a smart birkie who rides to college. It was about the time when the regents call up such to the beginning of their classes. So it was a most feasible-like thing, and indeed there were a good many upon the roads. But Maisie Lennox kept out of their company, for these wandering students are ever inclined to be goatish, and full of impish pranks, whether as I saw them at Groningen or in Edinburgh town.
So she (that was for the time being he) came riding into the town of Moffat, just when the London state messenger was expected. There my lass entered the hostelry of the White Hart, which was kept by a decent woman named Catherine Cranstoun. As a ruffling young gallant, she strode in, with her chest well out and one hand on the hilt of the rapier, which she held modishly thrust forward. But Maisie, when she found herself within, was a little daunted to see a great pair of pistols, a sword, and other furniture of a King's rider lie upon the table. While from within a little chamber, the door of which stood ajar, she heard the sound as of one who sleeps, and snores sonorously in his sleep.
‘A good day to ye, Mistress Cranstoun,’ said Maisie boldly, and most like a clerkish student. ‘Will ye get me a drink of good caller water?’
‘That,’ said the good wife shrewishly, turning her eyes scorningly across her nose, ‘is not good asking at a change-house. I warrant we do not live and pay our winter's oats by sellin' caller water to student birkies!’
‘So, good madam,’ said our Maisie again; ‘but if you will get me a drink from your famous medicinal spring—a good fresh quart—most gladly I will pay for it—aye, as if it had been claret wine of the best bin in your cellar.’
At hearing of which the landlady pricked up her ears.
‘I will e'en gae bring it mysel',’ she said in a changed voice, for such orders came not every day. ‘It is for a wager,’ she thought. ‘The loons are ever after some daft ploy.’
As she went to the door she had a thought.
‘Mind ye,’ she said, ‘meddle not wi' the pistols, for they belong to one on the King's service.’
So she set out to bring the water in a wooden cogie with a handle.
As soon as she was fairly gone, Maisie stole on tiptoe to the door of the room whence the snoring proceeded. She peeped circumspectly within, and there on a rough bed with the neck of his buff riding-coat thrown open, lay the King's rider, a great clean shaven fellow with a cropped head, and ear-rings in his ears. The edge of the mail bag peeped from under the pillow, and the ribbons of seals showed beneath the flaps.
Maisie laid her hand on her heart to still its painful beating. Clearly there was no chance of drawing the bag from under the rider's head, for his hand was twisted firmly in the strap. It was with mighty grief in her heart that Maisie Lennox stepped back. But at sight of the pistols on the table, a thought and a hope sprang up together within her. She hasted to take them up and draw the charges, leaving only a sprinkling of powder in the pan of each.
And as she rode off, she bore with her the landlady's benediction, for the good wife had never been so paid for caller spring water before.
It was at the entrance to the wild place known as the Devil's Beef Tub, near the last wood on the upward way over the hills, that Maisie waited for the King's rider. There were, no doubt, many thoughts in her heart, but she did not dwell upon them—save it might be upon this one, that if the rider discovered that the charges had been drawn, it would certainly go ill with her and worse with those whom she had come out to save.
What wonder then if her maid's heart flew faster even than Gay Garland had done when he fled before the gypsy clan.
At last, after long waiting, she heard far off the clatter of a horse's feet on the road, and her courage returned to her. As the King's messenger came trotting easily down an incline, she rode as quietly out of a byway into the road and let him range alongside.
With a polite toss of the reins, as was then the modish fashion, she bade him good day.
‘Ye are a bonny birkie. Hae ye ony sisters?’ said the man in the Lothian tongue.
Maisie answered him no—an only bairn and riding to the college at Edinburgh.
‘Ye'll be a braw student no doubt.’
She told him so-so.
‘I'se warrant ye!’ said he, for he was jovial by nature, and warmed with Mistress Cranstoun's wine.
So they rode on in friendly enough talk till they were nearing the wood, when Maisie, knowing that the time had come, wheeled about and bade him ‘Stand!’ At the same time she pointed a pistol at his head.
‘Deliver me your mails,’ she said, ‘or I shall take your life!’
The man laughed as at a pleasant jest.
‘Gae wa' wi' ye, birkie. Nane o' your college tricks wi' me, or ye may aiblins come to a mishap. I am no' a man to tak' offence, but this somewhat passes merrymaking!’
But when Maisie pulled the other pistol and levelled it also at his head, the rider hesitated no longer, but pulled out his own and took aim at her heart.
‘Your blood be on your own head, then! I never missed yet!’ he cried, and pulled the trigger.
But the powder only flashed in the pan. With an oath he pulled the other and did likewise with it, but quite as fruitlessly.
Then he leaped down and tried to grip Maisie's horse by the bridle, for he was a stark carle and no coward.
But her horse obeyed the guiding hand. With a swing to the left she swept out of his reach, so as to catch the bridle of the horse which carried the mails and which, fresh from the stable, was inclined to crop the herbage. Then she rode away leaving the man standing amazed and speechless in the middle of the road. He started to run after his assailant, but Maisie sent a bullet back, which halted him. For by chance it struck a stone among the red dust at his feet, and went through between his legs buzzing like a bumblebee. And this is indeed a thing which would have halted most folk.
It was with a fearful heart that Maisie Lennox, in the deepest shades of the wood, ripped open the bags. Almost the first paper she came upon was her father's death warrant. With trembling hand she turned over the papers to find mine also. But there were only Privy Council letters and documents in cypher. Over and over she turned them, her heart, I doubt not, hammering loudly. But there was not another warrant anywhere. It must have been sent forward by another hand. It might even be in Edinburgh already, she thought. Almost she had returned the letters to the bag and left them at the tree foot, when she noted a little bulge in the thickness of the leather near the clasp. In a moment she had her knife within, and there, enclosed in a cypher letter to the President of the Council, was a free pardon, signed and sealed, wanting only the name inserted. Without doubt it was intended for some of the private friends of Duke Queensberry. But at sight of it Maisie's heart gave a still greater stound, and without a moment for consideration she galloped off towards Edinburgh, upon the fresh horse of his Majesty's post rider. When she came to the first woods over the crown of the dreary hill road, she put off the lad's apparel and dressed again as the quiet maid upon her travels, whom none would suspect of bold robbery of his Majesty's despatches upon his own highway.
Then as she took the road to Edinburgh, consider what a turmoil and battle there was in her heart. She says that she saw not the road all the way for thinking, and I doubt it not. ‘My father or my lad——’ she argued with herself. ‘Which name shall I put in? It may not serve them long, but it will save them at least this day from death.’
And in the clatter of her horse's feet she found no answer to her question.
Then she told over to herself all that her father had done for her since she remembered—the afternoons when it was the Sabbath on the pleasant green bank at the Duchrae loaning end, the words of wise counsel spoken there, the struggle at the cave when the cruel Mardrochat was sent to his account. She did not forget one. Other things also she owns that she thought of. ‘Whatever may happen to me, I must—I shall save my father!’ she concluded.
She was on a lonely place on the moors, with deep moss-hags and holes in the turf where men had cut peat. These were now filled with black water. She stopped, took out the warrant for her father's execution, tore it into a thousand pieces, and sunk it carefully in the deep hag. The white horse of the King's rider meanwhile stood patiently by till she mounted again—I warrant as swiftly as she used to do in the old days at the Duchrae.
But the tearing of the warrant would only delay and not prevent her father's death. She saw that clearly. There came to her the thought of the free pardon. To inscribe a name in the blank space meant a release from prison and the chance of escape. She resolved to write it when she came to the next change-house.
But as she rode she fell to the thinking, and the question that surged to and fro in her heart, like the tide in a sea-cave, was—which name would be found written on that pardon when she rode to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh to deliver it into the hands of the Captain of the Guard.
As she thought she urged her horse the faster, so that the sooner she might come to the change-house and settle the question.
‘He is my father,’ she said over and over, dwelling on all that her father had been to her. ‘I cannot—I will not think of others before him. It is my father's name I will write in the pardon—I must, yes I must!’
And the name of another did she not mention at all, as I have been informed. At last she came to the door of the change-house, and, throwing her reins over the tieing post at the gate, she went in boldly.
‘Bring me an inkhorn and a goose-quill!’ she cried to the dame of the inn, forgetting that she had donned her maid's clothes again, and speaking in the hectoring voice of the birkie student. She threw a silver coin on the table with a princely air that suited but indifferently with the sober fashion of her maiden's dress. And among the mutchkins on the ribbed and rimmed deal table, she squared herself to write in the name upon her free pardon.
She set her pen to the parchment bravely. Then she stopped, took a long breath and held it, as though it were the dying breath of one well-beloved which she had in her keeping. With sudden access of resolve she began a bold initial. She changed it. Then she wrote again hastily with a set face, but holding her hand over the writing, as though to shield the words from sight. Which being done, she looked at what she had written with a blanched and terror-stricken countenance.
No sooner was the ink dry, than bending again to the paper, she began eagerly to scrape at it with her finger-nail, as though she would even yet change her thought.
But as she rubbed the parchment, which was very fine and soft, part of it curled up at the edge into a tiny roll like a shaving of bark when one cuts a white birch. Instantly Maisie discerned that there were two parchments instead of one.
With a light and cunning hand she separated them carefully. They had been secretly attached so as to look like one. Casting her eyes rapidly over the second parchment, her heart leaped within her to find that it was another pardon, the duplicate of the first, and, like it, duly signed and sealed. It was a moment's work to write in the other name upon this great discovery. Then throwing, in her joy, a gold piece upon the table beside the shilling, she mounted at the stance, and rode away in the direction of the capital.
‘My word!’ said the good wife of the change-house, gazing after her, ‘but that madam doesna want confidence. I doot she will be after no good!’
‘She doesna want siller,’ quoth her husband, gathering up the money, ‘and that's a deal more to the point in a change-house!’
But Maisie Lennox has never told to any—not even to me, who have some right to know her secrets—that name which she first wrote when she had to choose between her father's life and her lover's.
She only says, ‘Let every maid answer in her own heart which name she would have written, being in my place, that day in the change-house!’
And even so may I leave it to all the maidens that may read my history to let their hearts answer which. For they also will not tell.
UNDER SENTENCE OF DEATH
So waiting the arrival and the day of my doom, I continued to abide in the Tolbooth. Anton Lennox, also waiting, as he said, his bridegroom day of marriage and coronation, was with me. In the night alone we had some peace and quiet. For they had turned in upon us, to our horror, that wind-filled fool, John Gib—whom for his follies, Anton Lennox had lundered with a stick upon the Flowe of the Deer-Slunk.
With him was Davie Jamie the scholar, now grown well nigh as mad as himself. Sometimes the jailors played with them, and said, ‘John, this is your Sunday's meal of meat!’
Whereupon, so filled with moon-madness were they, that they would refuse good victual, because it had been given them upon a day with a heathen name. Or, again, the more ill-set of the prisoners made their game of them—for they were not all of them that suffered for their faith, who were with us in the Canongate Tolbooth. But many city apprentices also that had been in brawls or had broken their indentures. And, truth to tell, we were somewhat glad of the regardless birkies. For when we were dull of heart they made sport with us, and we were numerous enough to keep them from interfering with our worship.
So these wild loons would say:
‘Prophesy to us, John Gib, for we know that thou hast the devil ever at thine elbow. Let us see thy face shining, as it did at the Spout of Auchentalloch, when ye danced naked and burned the Bible.’
And whether it was with our expectant looking for it, or whether the man really had some devilry about him, certain it is that in the gloom of the corner, where in his quiet spells he abode, there seemed to be ofttimes a horrible face near to his own, and a little bluish light thrown upon his hair and eyes. This was seen by most in the dungeon, though, for my own part, I confess I could see nothing.
Then he would be taken with accesses of howling, like to a moonstruck dog or a rutting hart on the mountains of heather. And sometimes, when the fear of Anton Lennox was upon him, he would try to stop his roaring, thrusting his own napkin into his mouth. But for all that the devil within him would drive out the napkin and some most fearsome yells behind it, as a pellet is driven from a boy's tow gun.
This he did mostly during worship—which was held thrice a day in the Tolbooth, and helped to pass the time. At such seasons he became fairly possessed, and was neither to hold nor bind. So that for common they had to bring Anton Lennox to him with a quarter-staff, with which he threatened him. And at sight of old Anton, Gib, though a big strong man, would run behind the door and crouch there on his hunkers, howling grievously like a dog.
He was ordered into leg-irons, but his ravings pleased the Duke of York so much (because that he wanted to tar us all with the same stick) that he had them taken off. Also he bade give him and David Jamie as much paper and ink as ever they wanted, and to send him copies of all that they wrote, for his entertainment. But in time of worship after this, Anton Lennox ordered four of the strongest and biggest men to sit upon John Gib, streeked out on the floor, as men sit together upon a bench in the kirk at sermon-hearing. And we were glad when we fell on this plan, for it discouraged the devil more than anything, so that he acknowledged the power of the gospel and quit his roaring.
Yet I think all this rough play kept up our hearts, and stayed us from thinking all the time upon that day of our bitter, final testifying, which was coming so soon. To make an end now of Muckle John Gib, I heard that he was sent by ship to the colonies, and that in America he gained much honour among the heathen for his converse with the devil. Nor did the godly men that are there, ever discover Anton Lennox's weighty method of exorcism—than which I ween there is none better, for even the devil needs breath as well as another.
But for all this, there was never an hour that chimed, but I would wake and remember that at the sound of a trumpet the port might any moment be opened and I be summoned forth to meet my doom. And Anton Lennox dealt with me there in the Cannongate Tolbooth for my soul's peace, and that very faithfully. For there were not wanting among the prisoners those that made no scruple to call me a sword-and-buckler Covenanter, because I would not follow them in all their protests and remonstrances. But Anton Lennox warred with them with the weapons of speech for the both of us, and told them how that I had already witnessed a good confession and that before many witnesses. He said also that there would not be wanting One, when I had overpassed my next stage, to make confession of William Gordon before the angels of heaven. Which saying made them to cavil no more.
THE MADNESS OF THE BULL OF EARLSTOUN
How they carried me to Edinburgh I cannot stop to tell, though the manner of it was grievous enough. But in my heart all the way there remained the fear that while I was laid up in Edinburgh, Robert Grierson, the wild beast of Galloway, might come and take my mother and Maisie. And do so with them even as he had done with Margaret Lauchlison and our little Margaret of Glen Vernock. And this vexed me more than torments.
In Edinburgh they cast me into an inner den of the prison, where in the irons there were ten men already. Then when my name was made known, through the darkness and the fearsome stench of the place, where no fresh air had come for years, what was my joy to hear the voice of Anton Lennox bidding me be of good cheer—for that our Lord was a strong Lord, and would see me win with credit from off the stage of life.
At this I took heart of grace at the kenned voice and face, and we fell to discoursing about Maisie Lennox and how she did. He told me that to the honour of the King's service the soldiers had treated him kindly, and had given him the repute of being a man honourable above most. Nevertheless, the warrant for his execution was daily expected from London. He told me also that my brother Sandy was in Blackness Castle, but that it was reported again that he was soon to be examined by torture. Indeed there was a talk among the guard that I was to share this with him, which made them the more careful of me, as one whom the Council had an eye upon.
But it was not long before this matter was brought to a probation. About three of the clock on the following day, there came officers to the Tolbooth Port and cried my name, to which I answered with a quaking heart—not for death, but for torture. So they took me out and delivered me to the guard, who haled me by back ways and closes to a little door let into the side of a great hulk of grey wall.
Along stone passages very many, all dripping with damp like a cellar, they dragged me, till beside three doors hung with red cloth they stopped. Then instead of swearing and jesting as they had done before, the officers talked in whispers.
Presently a door swung open very silently to admit me, and I set my feet upon a soft carpet. Then, also without noise, the door swung to again. I found myself alone in a cage, barriered like the cage of a wild beast. It was at one end of a vast room with black oaken ceiling, carven and panelled. Before me there was a strong breastwork of oak, and an iron bar across, chin high. Beside me and on either hand were ranged strange-looking engines, some of which I knew to be the ‘boots’ for the torture of the legs, and the pilniewinks for the bruising of the thumbs. Also there stood at each side of the platform a man habited in black and white and with a black mask over his face. These men stood with their arms folded, and looked across the narrow space at one another as though they had been carven statues.
The rest of the great room was occupied by a table, and at the table there sat a dignified company. Then I understood that I stood in the presence of the Privy Council of Scotland, which for twenty-five years had bent the land to the King's will. At the head sat cruel Queensberry, with a face louring with hate and guile—or so it seemed, seen through bars of oak and underneath gauds of iron.
Still more black and forbidding was the face of the ‘Bluidy Advocate,’ Sir George Mackenzie, who sat at the table-foot, and wrote incessantly in his books. I knew none other there, save the fox face of Tarbet, called the Timeserver.
When I was brought in, they were talking over some slight matter concerning a laird who had been complaining that certain ill-set persons were carrying away sea tangle from his foreshore. And I was not pleased that they should have other thoughts in their minds, when I was before them in peril of my life.
At last Sir George Mackenzie turned him about and said, ‘Officer, whom have we here?’
The officer of the court made answer very shortly and formally, ‘William Gordon, son of umquhile William Gordon of Earlstoun in Galloway, and brother of the aforementioned Alexander Gordon, condemned traitor from the prison of Blackness, presently to be examined.’
‘Ah!’ said Mackenzie, picking up his pen again, ‘the Glenkens messan! We'll wait for the muckle hound and take both the lowsy tykes thegether!’
But Queensberry, as was his custom at Council, ran counter to the advocate in his desire, and commanded presently to interrogate me.
The Duke asked me first if I had been at the wounding of the Duke Wellwood.
I answered him plainly that I had. But that it was a fair fight, and that the Duke and his men had made the first onslaught.
‘You have proof of that at your hand, no doubt,’ said he, and passed on as though that had been a thing of little import—as indeed, in the light of my succeeding admissions, it was.
‘You were at Sanquhar town on the day of the Declaration?’ he said, looking sharply at me, no doubt expecting a denial or equivocation.
Now it seemed to me that I must most certainly die, so I cared not if I did it with some credit. For the whiner got even less mercy from these men, than he that defied and outfaced them.
‘I was at Sanquhar, and with this hand I raised the Banner of Blue!’ I said.
‘Note that, advocate,’ said Tarbet, smiling foxily. ‘The King hath a special interest in all that took his name in vain at Sanquhar.’
Mackenzie glanced with a black, side-cocking look of interest at the hand I held up, as if to say, ‘I shall know that again when I see it on the Netherbow!’
‘You were at Ayrsmoss, and won clear?’ was the next interrogatory.
‘I was one of two that broke through both lines of the troops when we came to the charge!’ I said, with perhaps more of the braggart than I care now to think on.
Then all the Council looked up, and there was a sudden stir of interest.
‘Blood of St. Crispin!’ said Queensberry, ‘but ye do not look like it. Yet I suppose it must be so.’
‘It is so,’ said Sir George the Advocate shortly, flicking a parchment with the feather of his quill pen. He had the record before him.
‘Is there anything more that ye were in? Being as good as headed already, a little more will not matter. It will be to your credit when the saints come to put up your tomb, and scribe your testimony on it.’
‘I am no saint,’ said I, ‘though I love not Charles Stuart. Neither, saving your honourable presences, do I love the way that this realm is guided. But if it please you to ken, I have been in all that has chanced since Bothwell. I was at Enterkin the day we reft the prisoners from you. I was in the ranks of the Seven Thousand when, at the Conventicle at Shalloch-on-Minnoch, the hillmen made Clavers and Strachan draw off. I was taken at the Tolbooth of Wigtown trying to deliver a prisoner, whom ye had reprieved. And had there been anything else done, I should have been in it.’
The Council leaned back in their chairs almost to a man, and smilingly looked at one another. The President spoke after a moment of silence.
‘Ye are a brisk lad and ill to content, but your sheet is gallantly filled. So that I think ye deserve heading instead of hanging, which is certainly a great remission. I shall e'en take the liberty of shaking hands with you and wishing you a speedy passage and a sharp axe. Officer, the prisoner is in your care till his warrant comes from London.’
And to my astonishment Queensbury turned round and very ceremoniously held out his hand to me, which I took through the bars.
‘I shall never again deny that Gordon blood is very good blood,’ he said.
Then they brought in Sandy, looming up like a tower between the warders. He had a strange, dazed look about him, and his hair had grown till he peered out of the hassock, like to an owl out of an ivy bush, as the proverb says.
They asked a few questions of him, to which he gave but mumbled replies. If he saw me he never showed it. But I knew him of old, and a sly tod was Sandy.
Then Sir George Mackenzie rose, and turning to him, read the King's mandate, which declared that, in spite of his underlying sentence of death, he was to be tortured, to make him declare the truth in the matter of Fergusson the plotter, and the treason anent the King's life.
Then, the black wrath of his long prisonment suddenly boiling over, Sandy took hold on the great iron bar before him and bent his strength to it—which, when he was roused, was like the strength of Samson. With one rive he tore it from its fastenings, roaring all the while with that terrible voice of his, which used to set the cattle wild with fear when they heard it, and which even affrighted men grown and bearded. The two men in masks sprang upon him, but he seized them one in each hand and cuffed and buffeted them against the wall, till I thought he had splattered their brains on the stones. Indeed, I looked to see. But though there was blood enough, there were no brains to speak of.
Then very hastily some of the Council rose to their feet to call the guard, but the door had been locked during the meeting, and none for a moment could open it. It was fearsome to see Sandy. His form seemed to tower to the ceiling. A yellow foam, like spume of the sea, dropped from his lips. He roared at the Council with open mouth, and twirled the bar over his head. With one leap he sprang over the barrier, and at this all the councillors drew their gowns about them and rushed pell-mell for the door, with Sandy thundering at their heels with his iron bar. It was all wonderfully fine to see. For Sandy, with more sense than might have been expected of him, being so raised, lundered them about the broadest of their gowns with the bar, till the building was filled with the cries of the mighty Privy Council of Scotland. I declare I laughed heartily, though under sentence of death, and felt that well as I thought I had borne myself, Sandy the Bull had done a thousand times better.
Then from several doors the soldiery came rushing in, and in short space Sandy, after levelling a file with his gaud of iron, was overpowered by numbers. Nevertheless, he continued to struggle till they twined him helpless in coils of rope. In spite of all, it furnished work for the best part of a company to take him to the Castle, whither, ‘for a change of air,’ and to relieve his madness he was remanded, by order of the Council when next they met. But there was no more heard of examining Sandy by torture.
And it was a tale in the city for many a day how Sandy Gordon cleared the chamber of the Privy Council. So not for the first time in my life I was proud of my brother, and would have given all the sense I had, which is no little, for the thews and bones to have done likewise.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.