THE HOME OF MY LOVE
Anthony Lennox presently took me by the hand, and led me over to where in the Duchrae kitchen the dark young man sat, whose noble head and carriage I had remarked.
‘Mr. Cameron,’ he said gravely, and with respect, ‘this is the son of a brave man and princely contender with his Master—William Gordon of Earlstoun, lately gone from us.’
And for the first time I gave my hand to Richard Cameron, whom men called the Lion of the Covenant—a great hill-preacher, who, strangely enough, like some others of the prominent disaffected to the Government, had been bred of the party of Prelacy.
As I looked upon him I saw that he was girt with a sword, and that he had a habit of gripping the hilt when he spoke, as though at the pinch he had yet another argument which all might understand. And being a soldier's son I own that I liked him the better for it. Then I remembered what (it was reported) he had said on the Holms of Kirkmahoe when he preached there.
‘I am no reed to be shaken with the wind, as Charles Stuart shall one day know.’
And it was here that I got my first waft of the new tongue which these hill-folk spake among themselves. I heard of ‘singular Christians,’ and concerning the evils of paying the ‘cess’ or King's tax—things of which I had never heard in my father's house, the necessity not having arisen before Bothwell to discuss these questions.
When all the men were gathered into the wide house-place, some sitting, some standing, the grave-faced woman knocked with her knuckles gently on a door which opened into an inner room. Instantly Maisie Lennox and other two maids came out bearing refreshments, which they handed round to all that were in the house. The carriage of one of these three surprised me much, and I observed that my cousin Wat did not take his eyes from her.
‘Who may these maids be?’ he whispered in my ear.
‘Nay, but I ken not them all,’ I answered. ‘Bide, and we shall hear.’ For, indeed, I knew only one of them, but her very well.
And when they came to us in our turn, Maisie Lennox nodded to me as to a friend of familiar discourse, to whom nothing needs to be explained. And she that was the tallest of the maids handed Wat the well-curled oaten cake on a trencher. Then he rose and bowed courteously to her, whereat there was first a silence and then a wonder among the men in the house, for the manner of the reverence was strange to the stiff backs of the hill-folk. But Anthony Lennox stilled them, telling of the introduction he had gotten concerning Walter, and that both our fathers had made a good end for the faith, so that we were presently considered wholly free of the meeting.
We heard that there was to be a field conventicle nearby, at which Mr. Cameron was to preach. This was the reason of so great a gathering, many having come out of Ayrshire, and even as far as Lesmahagow in the Upper Ward of Lanark, where there are many very zealous for the truth.
Then they fell again to the talking, while I noted how the maids comported themselves. The eldest of them and the tallest, was a lass of mettle, with dark, bent brows. She held her head high, and seemed, by her attiring and dignity, accustomed to other places than this moorland farm-town. Yet here she was, handing victual like a servitor, before a field-preaching. And this I was soon to learn was a common thing in Galloway, where nearly the whole of the gentry, and still more of their wives and daughters, were on the side of the Covenant. It was no uncommon thing for a King's man, when he was disturbing a conventicle— ‘skailing a bees' byke’ as it was called—to come on his own wife's or, it might be, his daughter's palfrey, tethered in waiting to the root of some birk-tree.
‘Keep your black-tail coats closer in by!’ said Duke Rothes once to his lady, who notoriously harboured outed preachers, ‘or I shall have to do some of them a hurt! Ca' your messans to your foot, else I'll hae to kennel them for ye!’
There was however no such safe hiding as in some of the great houses of the strict persecutors.
So in a little while, the most part of the company going out, this tall, dark-browed maid was made known to us by Matthew of the Dub, as Mistress Kate McGhie, daughter of the Laird of Balmaghie, within which parish we were.
Then Maisie Lennox beckoned to the third maid, and she came forward with shyness and grace. She was younger than the other two, and seemed to be a well-grown lass of thirteen or fourteen.
‘This,’ said Maisie Lennox, ‘is my cousin Margaret of Glen Vernock.’
The maid whom she so named blushed, and spoke to us in the broader accent of the Shire, yet pleasantly and frankly as one well reared.
Presently there came to us the taller maid—she who was called Kate, the Laird's daughter.
She held out her hand to me.
‘Ah, Will of Earlstoun, I have heard of you!’
I answered that I hoped it was for good.
‘It was from Maisie there that I heard it,’ she said, which indeed told me nothing. But Kate McGhie shook her head at us, which tempted me to think her a flighty maid. However, I remembered her words often afterwards when I was in hiding.
Thereupon I presented my cousin Wat to her, and they bowed to one another with a very courtly grace. I declare it was pretty to see them, and also most strange in a house where the hill-folk were gathered together. But for the sake of my father and brother we were never so much as questioned.
Presently there was one came to the door, and cried that the preaching was called and about to begin. So we took our bonnets and the maids their shawls about them, and set forth. It was a grey, unkindly day, and the clouds hung upon the heights. There are many woods of pine and oak about the Duchrae; and we went through one of them to an ancient moat-hill or place of defence on a hillside, with a ditch about it of three or four yards wideness, which overlooked the narrow pack road by the water's edge.
As we went Kate McGhie walked by my side, and we talked together. She told me that she came against her parents' will, though not without her father's knowledge; and that it was her great love for Maisie Lennox, who was her friend and gossip, which had first drawn her to a belief in the faith of the hill-folk.
‘But there is one thing,’ said she, ‘that I cannot hold with them in. I am no rebel, and I care not to disown the authority of the King!’
‘Yet you look not like a sufferer in silence!’ I said, smiling at her. ‘Are you a maid of the Quaker folk?’
At which she was fain to laugh and deny it.
‘But,’ I said, ‘if you are a King's woman, you will surely find yourself in a strange company today. Yet there is one here of the same mind as yourself.’
Then she entreated me to tell her who that might be.
‘Oh, not I,’ I replied, ‘I have had enough of Charles Stuart. I could eat with ease all I like of him, or his brother either! It is my cousin of Lochinvar, who has been lately put to the horn and outlawed.’
At the name she seemed much surprised.
‘It were well not to name him here,’ she said, ‘for the chief men know of his past companying with Claverhouse and other malignants, and they might distrust his honesty and yours.’
We had other pleasant talk by the way, and she told me of all her house, of her uncle that was at Kirkcudbright with Captain Winram and the garrison there, and of her father that had forbidden her to go to the field-meetings.
‘Which is perhaps why I am here!’ she said, glancing at me with her bold black eyes.
As I went I could hear behind us the soft words and low speech of Maisie Lennox, who came with my cousin Wat and Margaret of Glen Vernock. What was the matter of their speech I could not discover, though I own I was eager to learn. But they seemed to agree well together, which seemed strange to me, for I was a much older acquaintance than he.
Now, especially when in the wilder places, we came to walk all four together, it seemed a very pleasant thing to me to go thus to the worship of God in company. And I began from that hour to think kindlier of the field-folks' way of hearing a preacher in the open country. This, as I well know, says but little for me; yet I will be plain and conceal nothing of the way by which I was led from being a careless and formal home-keeper, to cast in my lot with the remnant who abode in the fields and were persecuted.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.