THE TESTING OF THE TYKE
At the head of the high natural wood which fringes about all the mansion house of Balmaghie, we held down to the right through the copses, till we came to the green policies that ring in the great house of McGhies. As we went linking down this green pleasaunce, there met us one who came towards us with his hands behind his back, stooping a little from the shoulders down. He had on him a rich dress of dark stuff a good deal worn, being that of a fashion one or two removes from the present. But this rather, as it seemed, from habit and preference than from need—like one that deigns not to go too fine.
‘Where away, Heather Jock?’ he cried as we made to go by, and turned toward us.
‘Whom have we here?’ he asked, so soon as he saw me.
‘A cousin o' mine from the hill country, laird,’ said Wat, with the gruff courtesy of the gardener.
‘Hoot, hoot—another! This will never do. Has he taken the Test?’ said the laird.
‘I doubt he cannot read it even,’ said Wat, standing sheepishly before him.
‘That is all the better,’ said the tall grey man, shaking his head gently and a little reproachfully. ‘It is easier gotten over that way.’
‘Have not you read it, sir?’ asked Wat, glancing up at him curiously as he stood and swung his cane.
‘Faith no,’ he answered quickly; ‘for if I had read it, Heather Jock, I might never have taken it. I could not run the risks.’
‘My friend will e'en take the Test the way that the Heriot's hospital dog took it,’ said Wat, again smiling, ‘with a little butter and liberty to spit it out.’
‘How now, Heather Jock, thou art a great fellow! Where didst thou get all the stories of the city? The whaups do not tell them about the Glenkens.’
‘Why, an it please your honour, I was half a year in the town with the Lady Gordon, and gat the chapman's fly sheets that were hawked about the causeways,’ answered Wat readily enough, making him an awkward bow.
‘Tell me the story, rascal,’ said the tall man, whom I now knew for Roger McGhie of Balmaghie. ‘I love a story, so that it be not too often told.’
Now I wondered to hear Wat Gordon of Lochinvar take the word ‘rascal’ so meekly, standing there on the road. It was, indeed, very far from being his wont.
However, he began obediently enough to tell the story which Roger McGhie asked of him.
For a Kate of the Black Eyebrows in the plot makes many a mighty difference to the delicateness of a man's stomach.
‘The story was only a bairn's ploy that I heard tell of, when I was in town with my lady,’ he said, ‘nothing worth your honour's attention, yet will I tell it from the printed sheet which for a bodle I bought.’
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ said the other.
‘Well then, laird, there was in the hospital of George Heriot, late jeweller to the King, a wheen loon scholar lads who had an ill-will at a mastiff tyke, that lived in a barrel in the yard and keeped the outermost gate. They suspected this dog of treason against the person of his Majesty, and especially of treasonable opinions as to the succession of the Duke of York. And, indeed, they had some ground for their suspicion, for the mastiff growled one day at the King's High Commissioner when he passed that way, and even bit a piece out of the calf of one of the Duke of York's servitors that wore his Highness' livery, at the time when his Grace was an indweller in Holyrood House.’
The eye of the tall grave man changed. A look of humorous severity came into it.
‘Be cautious how you speak of dignities!’ he said to Wat.
‘Well,’ said Wat, ‘at any rate, this evil-minded tyke held an office of trust, patently within the meaning of the act, and these loon lads of Heriot's ordained him duly to take the Test, or be turned out of his place of dignity and profit.
‘So they formed a Summary Court, and the tyke was called and interrogated in due form. The silly cur answered all their questions with silence, which was held as a sign of a guilty conscience. And this would have been registered as a direct refusal, but that one of the loons, taking it upon him to be the tyke's advocate, argued that silence commonly gave consent, and that the Test had not been presented to his client in the form most plausible and agreeable to his tender stomach.
‘The debate lasted long, but at last it was agreed that a printed copy of the Test should be made into as little bulk as possible, smoothed with butter, tallow, or whatever should be most tempting to his doggish appetite. This being done, Tyke readily took it, and made a shift by rowing it up and down his mouth, to separate what was pleasant to his palate. When all seemed over and the dog appearingly well tested, the loons saw somewhat, as it were one piece after another, drop from the side of his mouth. Whereupon it was argued, as in the case of my Lord Argyle, that this was much worse than a refusal, because it was a separating of that which was pleasant from what was irksome. And that this therefore, rightly interpreted, was no less than High Treason.
‘But the tyke's advocate urged that his enemies had had the rowing up of the paper, and very likely they had put some crooked pin or other foreign object, unpleasant to a honest tyke's palate, within. So he asked for a fair trial before his peers for his client.
‘Then the Court being constitute and the assize set, there fell out a great debate concerning this tyke dog. Some said that his chaming and chirking of the paper was very ill-done of him, that he was over malapert and took too much upon him. For his office being a lowly one, it was no business of his to do other than bolt the Test at once.
‘But his advocate urged that he had done his best, and that if one part of the oath fell to hindering the other and fighting in his hass, it was not his fault, but the fault of them that framed such-like. Also, that if it had not hindered itself in going down, he would have taken it gladly and willingly, as he had taken down many other untoothsome morsels before, to the certain knowledge of the Court—such as dead cats, old hosen and shoes, and a bit of the leg of one of the masters in the hospital, who was known to be exceedingly unsavoury in his person.
‘But all this did not save the poor tyke, for his action in mauling and beslavering his Majesty's printing and paper was held to be, at least, Interpretive Treason. And so he was ordered to close prison till such a time as the Court should call him forth to be hanged like a dog. Which was pronounced for doom.’
Roger McGhie laughed at the tale's end with a gentle, inward laughter, and tapped Wat with his cane.
‘Thou art indeed a merry wag, and speak over well for a gardener,’ he said; ‘but I know not if John Graham would not put a charge of lead into thee, if he heard thy way of talking. But go thy ways. Tell me quickly what befel the poor tyke.’
‘None so evil was his fate,’ said Wat, ‘for in the midst of the great debate that the surprising verdict raised, the tyke drew on a fox's skin, laid hold of the tail of another tyke, and so passed unobserved out of the prison. At which many were glad. For, said they, he was a good tyke that would not sup kail with the Pope nor yet the deil, and so had no need of his long spoon. And others said that it were a pity to hang so logical a tyke, for that he was surely no Aberdeen man, ever ready to cant and recant again.’
Roger McGhie laughed aloud and knocked his cane on the ground, for right well he understood the meaning of all these things, being versed in parties and politics, which I never was.
‘It is mighty merry wit,’ he said, ‘and these colleginers are blythesome blades. I wonder what John Graham will say to this. But go to the bothies of the bachelor foresters, and get that which may comfort the inner parts of your cousin from the hills—who, from the hang of his head, seems not so ready of tongue as thou.’
For, indeed, I had been most discreetly silent.
So the tall, grey-headed gentleman went away from us, tapping gently with his fine cane on the ground, and often stopping to look curiously at some knot on a tree or some chance puddock or grasshopper on the roadside.
Then Wat told me that because of his quaint wit and great loyalty, Roger McGhie of Balmaghie was in high favour with the ruling party, and that none on his estates were ever molested. Also that Claverhouse frequented the house greatly, often riding from Dumfries for a single night only to have the pleasure of his society. He never quartered his men near by the house of Balmaghie, but rode over alone or with but one attendant in the forenights—perhaps to get away from roystering Lidderdale of the Isle, red roaring Baldoon, drinking Winram, and the rest of the boon companions.
‘The laird of Claverhouse will come hither,’ said Wat, ‘with a proud set face, stern and dark as Lucifer's, in the evening. And in the morning ride away with so fresh a countenance and so pleasing an expression that one might think him a spirit unfallen. For, as he says, Roger McGhie does his heart good like medicine.’
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.