THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS
With that, like a loch broken loose, Johnstone's tail of Annandale thieves rushed within the house and dang all things here and there at their liking. Some came forth carrying good house gear, some table furniture, and some the plenishing of bed and wardrobe. They turned all that they could not carry into the midst of the floor to burn at their leisure. They drove away the cattle from off the brae-face. They gathered the widow's poor head of sheep off the hill. And all the time Isobel Herries stood trembling for her lads and holding the chief's horse. As the men passed, one after another, they flung words at her that will not bear writing down. And I was glad that the little maid who stood by with her brother in her hand, understood not their import.
When all was done, Westerhall set to work and pulled down the whole house, for the rigging and walls were but of baked clay and crumbled before them. Yet the poor woman wailed for them bitterly, as they had been a palace.
‘The bonny bit, O the bonny bit!’ she cried. ‘Where I had sic a sweet bairn-time. I was that happy wi' a' my tottlin' weans aboot my hand. But I kenned it couldna last—it was ower sweet to last.’
So they turned her out to the bare hillside with the bairns in her hand. It did not, to my thinking, make the case any better that her brother was a rebel. But in those days it was treason to succour the living or honour the dead—ay, even if they had lain in your bed and stirred in your side. It was forbidden on pain of death to give them so much as a bed or a meal of meat. For such was the decree of just and pious Charles, King at Whitehall, who alone had the right to say in what fashion the poor ignorant folk of Scotland should worship the God of their fathers.
We had not ridden far after leaving the house a heap of ruins, before we met Claverhouse and his troop, riding slow, with a prisoner in the midst of them.
‘What luck!’ cried he; ‘good sport in your ain coverts, Westerha'?’
He had a delicately insolent contempt for the Johnstone that set well on him, though as I knew well he could be as cold and bloody as any of them when the humour drove him. Yet mostly he killed like a gentleman after all, and not like a border horse thief—save only in the case of honest John Brown of Priesthill.
But Westerhall had caught sight of Clavers's prisoner. He rode up to him and struck him a buffet in the face, though the lad's hands were tied before him. He was a youth of eighteen, as near as one might guess, a boy of a pleasant and ruddy countenance, such as one may chance to see on any brae-face in Scotland where there are sheep feeding, with a staff in his hand and a dog at his heels.
‘My Whiggie, I have you now,’ he cried. ‘I'll e'en learn you to row dead rebels in your plaidie, and harbour hill preachers on my land. Could I get at your brothers, I declare I wadna leave a Herries birkie on the lands o' Westerha'. Have him down, men,’ he cried, ‘and shoot him here.’
But Clavers interposed.
‘No,’ he said, ‘he is now my prisoner. Ride ye on to Westerha'; and there, Johnstone, I shall give ye a present of him to make a kirk or a mill of. It'll be you that will have to pay the harbourage cess for this day's work at ony gate!’
So to Westerhall Johnstone rode, very gloomy and ill at ease—for the black dog was sitting heavy on him at the thought of the fine anent harbourers of rebels being found on his land. Again and again he broke out on the poor youth Andrew Herries, threatening what he would do with him when he got him to Westerhall. But the youth never so much as answered back, only cast down his head and looked on the moss before him. Yet he walked carefully and without stumbling as one that takes heed to his going.
Now at a bonny spot where there is much green grass, it so happened that we halted. You will find the place readily if ever you pass that way. It is just on that tongue of land where the Rig Burn meets the Esk Water and close by the house of Westerhall. There, where the Great Hill of Stennies Water pushes down a spur to the water side, was our halting place. Here, as soon as we alighted down, Westerhall passed sentence on Andrew Herries, saying that he had due authority from the Council as King's Justicer for the parts about the Esk and Annan.
Claverhouse was noways keen for the lad's shooting, and strove to put him off. Yet he was not over-earnest in the matter, for (as he often said) to John Graham a dead Whig was always greatly better than a living.
But for all that, he waved his hand and cried aloud:‘The blood of this poor man, Westerha', be upon you. I am free from it.’
Nevertheless, since Westerhall had given the sentence and for example's sake it could not be departed from, Claverhouse ordered a Highland gentleman, the captain of a free company that was traversing the country with him, to shoot the lad and get it over. But Donald Dhu cocked his bonnet till the eagle's feather in it stood erect, and in high dudgeon drew off his clansmen.
‘Hursel cam' frae the Heelants to fecht men, and no to be pluff-pluffin' poother at poor lads that are no lang frae the mither's milk.’
This was the statement of Donald Dhu, and I that had no love for Highlandmen, nor any cause to love them, remembering the hand they made of my father's house of Earlstoun, could have cheered him where I stood. But I remembered the errand I was on, and for my mother's sake forbore.
‘What!’ cried Westerhall, glowering at him and riding up close, as if to strike him, ‘would you disobey the General's orders!’
‘Donald Dhu has no General but his King,’ cried the bold Highlandman. ‘Call up your row-footed messans, and bid them do your nain dirty work.’
Then Claverhouse, who of all things loved not to be outfaced, ordered him peremptorily to obey.
‘Indeed, John Graham, hursel will fecht ye first—you and a' your troop.’
Then seeing that Clavers was about to raise his hand in command, as though to take him unawares--
‘Claymores!’ suddenly cried Donald Dhu, and behind him fifty Highland brands flashed in air as the wild clansmen threw back their plaids to clear the sword-arm.
‘This I shall report to the Privy Council,’ said Clavers very gravely, turning on him a black and angry countenance.
But the brave Highlander was noways affected.
‘Hooch!’ he said, giving his fingers a snap, ‘a fig for your Preevies—Donald Dhu wull hae small notion o' Preevy Cooncils on Ben Muick. Gin Preevies come to veesit Donald Dhu on Spey side, it's just hursel that wull be the prood man to see the Preevies—aye, or you yersel' either, John Graham!’
Thus much Donald Dhu, and he was a good man and died linking down the brae with his men true, behind John Graham at Killiecrankie in the fulness of time—which was better work than, as he said, ‘pluff-pluffin' poother at puir lawlan tykes.’
But when Westerhall saw that the Highland birses were up, and that he would in no wise obey orders, he ordered some of his own scoundrels to do the thing. For his black heart was set on the shooting of the lad.
Then I could endure no longer, but ran forward as if to save him, crying out to them that he was innocent, and but a lad at any rate, which mightily angered Westerhall.
‘Stell up the yae rebel whelp beside the other!’ he said; and I believe that had we been alone with the Annandale men, they would have done it.
But Clavers said: ‘Let be! Take away young Earlstoun to the knowe-tap!’
So they led me off, fairly girning with anger and impotence. For once I longed for Sandy's brute strength to charge at them like a bull with the head down.
‘Lochinvar!’ I cried, as they forced me away. ‘To me, Lochinvar!’
But, alas! my cousin was off on some of his own ploys, and came not till too late. As you shall hear.
Then when the men were in rank to fire, Westerhall bid Andrew Herries draw down his blue bonnet over his eyes. But he was a lad of most undaunted courage, and though he had come so meekly to the slaughter, now he spoke out boldly enough.
‘I wad raither dee,’ he said, ‘in the face o' a' men and the plain licht o' God. I hae dune nocht to make me shamed afore my death-bringers. Though, being but young, I hae but little testimony to gie, an' nae great experience o' religion to speak aboot. The end has come ower quick on me for that!’
Then they asked him, as was their custom, if he had aught to say before sentence should take effect upon him.
‘Nocht in particular,’ he said, ‘but there's a book here (and he pulled a little Bible out of his breast) that you an' me will be judged by. I wish I had read mair earnestly in it an' profited better by it. But at ony rate I aye carried it to read at the herdin', and my time has been cut short.’
‘Make haste,’ they said, ‘we haena time to taigle wi' ye.’
‘And I hae as little desire to taigle you,’ he said, ‘but I am glad that I didna grudge the puir Westland man my best plaid for his last covering, though there be none to do as muckle for me.’
The fire rang out. The blue wreaths of smoke rose level, and there on the green sward, with his face to the sky, and his Bible yet in his hand, lay the widow's son, Andrew Herries, very still.
‘So perish all the King's rebels,’ cried Westerhall loudly, as it were, to give the black deed a colour of law.
But John Graham said never a word, only lifted his hat and then rode away with a countenance like the granite stone of the mountain.
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men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.