PEDEN THE PROPHET
(Being the concluding of the conventicle by the Dee Water.)
Yet the chariot of fire came not, for the time was not yet, though the grinding of its wheels was even then to be heard at the door. But the Lord had yet a great day's darg to do in Scotland with Richard Cameron.
Then after silence had endured for a time, another minister rose up to speak to us. At sight of him a murmur went about, and wonder and joy sat on every face. He was an old man, tall and gaunt. His hair, lyart and long, fell upon his shoulders. His beard descended upon his breast.
‘Peden the Prophet!’ was the whisper that went about. And all bent eagerly forward to look at the famous wanderer, whom all held to have gifts of utterance and prophecy beyond those of mortal. He it was that had been a thousand times hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, a hundred times taken in the net, yet had ever escaped. He it was for the love of whom men had laid down their lives like water, only that Alexander Peden might go scatheless and speak his Master's will.
Bowed he was and broken; yet when he spoke his natural strength was in no wise abated, and at his first word the fear of the Lord came upon us. I looked at Lochinvar, who in his time had ridden so hard on his track. He sat open-mouthed, and there was a daze of awe in his look.
Alexander Peden had hardly spoken a sentence to us when the spirit of prophecy brake upon him, and he cried out for Scotland as was his wont in those days. His voice rose and rang—not like a war-trumpet as did Cameron's, but rather like the wild wind that goes about the house and about the house, and cries fearful words in at the chinks and crevices.
‘A bloody sword, a bloody sword for thee, O puir Scotland! Many a mile shall they travel in thee and see naught but waste places, nor so much as a house reeking pleasantly on the brae. Many a conventicle has been wared on thee, my Scotland. And Welsh and Semple, Cameron and Cargill have cried to thee. But ere long they shall all be put to silence and God shall preach to thee only with the bloody sword. Have ye never witnessed for the cause and Covenants? Or have ye been dumb dogs that would not bark? If that be so, as sayeth godly Mr. Guthrie of Fenwick, God will make the tongues that owned Him not to fry and flutter upon the hot coals of hell. He will gar them blatter and bleeze upon the burning coals of hell!
‘Speak, sirs, or He will gar these tongues that He hath put into your mouths to popple and play in the pow-pot of hell!’
As he said these words his eyes shone upon us like to burn us through, and his action was most terrifying as he took his great oaken staff and shook it over us. And we fairly trembled beneath him like silly bairns taken in a wrong.
But he went on his way as one that cries for vengeance over an open grave in which a slain man lies.
‘Ye think that there hath been bloodshed in Scotland, and so there hath—dear and precious—but I tell you that that which hath been, is but as the dropping of the morning cloud ere the sun rises in his strength, to the mid-noon thunder plump that is yet to come.
‘Not since the black day of Bothwell have I slept in a bed! I have been Nazarite for the vow that was upon me. Have any of you that are here seen me in New Luce? Not even Ritchie here could have overcrowed me then, for strength and stature. I stood as a young tree by the river of waters. Look upon me now—so crooked by the caves and the moss-hags that I could not go upright to the scaffold. The sword handle is fit for your hands, and the Lord of Battles give you long arms when you measure swords with Charles Stuart. But old Sandy is good for nothing now but the praying. He can only bide in his hole like a toothless tyke, lame and blind; and girn his gums at the robbers that spoil his master's house.
‘'Crook-back, crab-heart,' sayeth the proverb,’ Peden cried, ‘but I think not so, for my heart is warm this day toward you that sit here, for but few of you shall win through the day of wrath that is to come in Scotland.’
He turned towards the place where we sat together, the maids, my cousin and I. A great fear in my heart chilled me like ice. Was he to denounce us as traitors? But he only said slowly these words in a soft and moving voice, as one that hath the tears close behind.
‘And there are some of you, young maids and weak, here present, that shall make a name in Scotland, a name that shall never die!’
With that he made an end and sat down.
Then came one, white-face and panting from the hill on the east.
‘The riders are upon us—flee quickly!’ he cried.
Then, indeed, there was great confusion and deray. Some rose up in act to flee. But Anton Lennox, who had the heart of a soldier in him and the wit of a general, commanded the men to stand to their arms, putting the women behind them. And through the confusion I could see stern-faced men moving to the front with guns and swords in their hands. These, as I learned, were the disciplined members of the Praying Societies, whom Cameron and afterwards Renwick, drew together into one military bond of defence and fellowship.
For me I stood where I was, the maids only being with me; and I felt that, come what might, it was my duty to protect them. Kate McGhie clasped her hands and stood as one that is gripped with fear, yet can master it. But Maisie Lennox, who was nearest to me, looked over to where her father stood at the corner of his company. Then, because she was distressed for him and knew not what she did, she drew a half-knitted stocking out of the pocket that swung beneath her kirtle, calmly set the stitches in order, and went on knitting as is the Galloway custom among the hill-folk when they wait for anything.
There was a great silence—a stillness in which one heard his neighbour breathing. Through it the voice of Peden rose.
‘Lord,’ he prayed, ‘it is Thine enemies' day. Hour and power are allowed to them. They may not be idle. But hast Thou no other work for them to do in their master's service? Send them after those to whom Thou hast given strength to flee, for our strength's gone, and there are many weak women among us this day. Twine them about the hill, O Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over puir Sandy and thir puir things, and save us this one time.’
So saying he went to the top of a little hill near by, from which there is a wide prospect. It is called Mount Pleasant. From thence he looked all round and waved his hands three times. And in a minute there befel a wonderful thing. For even as his hands beckoned, from behind the ridges of the Duchrae and Drumglass, arose the level tops of a great sea of mist. It came upon the land suddenly as the ‘haar’ that in the autumn drives up the eastern valleys from the sea. Like a river that rises behind a dam, it rose, till of a sudden it overflowed and came towards us over the moorland, moving with a sound like running water very far away.
Then Peden the Prophet came hastening back to us.
‘Move not one of you out of your places!’ he cried, ‘for the Lord is about to send upon us His pillar of cloud.’ Then the mist came, and made by little and little a very thick darkness, and Peden said:
‘Lads, the bitterest of the blast is over. We shall no more be troubled with them this day.’ And through the darkness I felt a hand placed in mine—whose I could not tell, but I hoped plainly that it might be Maisie Lennox's hand, for, as I have said, she was my gossip and my friend. At least I heard no more the click of the knitting-needles.
The mist came yet thicker, and through it there shone, now and then, the flickering leme of pale lightning, that flashed about us all. Then quite suddenly we heard strangely near us the jangling of the accoutrements of the troopers and the sound of voices.
‘Curse the Whig's mist, it has come on again! We canna steer for it!’ cried a voice so near that the hillmen stood closer in their ranks, and my own heart leaped till I heard it beat irregularly within me.
We marked the sharp clip clip as the shod horses struck the stones with their feet. Now and then a man would clatter over his steed's head as the poor beast bogged or stumbled.
Looking over between the hazel trees, I could faintly discern the steel caps of the troopers through the gloom, as they wound in single file between us and the water side. It was but a scouting party, for in a moment we heard the trumpet blow from the main body, which had kept the road that winds down to the old ford, over the Black Water on the way from Kirkcudbright to New Galloway and Kenmuir.
In a little the sounds came fainter on our ears, and the swing and trample of the hoofs grew so far away that we could not hear them any more.
But the great cloud of people stood for long time still, no man daring to move. It struck me as strange that in that concourse of shepherds not so much as a dog barked. In a moment I saw the reason. Each herd was sitting on the grass with his dog's head in his lap, wrapped in his plaid. Then came the scattering of the great meeting. Such were the chances of our life at that dark time, when brother might part from brother and meet no more. And when a father might go out to look the lambs, and be found by his daughter fallen on his face on the heather by the sheep ree, with that on his breast that was not bonny to see when they turned him over. As for me I went home with Maisie Lennox and her friend the young lass of Glen Vernock, as was indeed my plain duty. We walked side by side in silence, for we had great thoughts within us of Cameron and Peden, and of the Blue Banner of the Covenant that was not yet wholly put down.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.