CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT
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.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.