THE CLASH OF WORDS
A doubtful dawn had grown into a chosen day when I saddled in Earlstoun courtyard, to ride past the house of our kinswoman at Lochinvar on a sad and heavy errand. Sandy has betaken himself to his great oak on the border of the policies, where with his skill in forest craft he had built himself a platform among the solidest masses of the leaves. There he abode during the day, with a watch set on the Tod Hill and another on the White Hill above the wood of Barskeoch. Only at the even, when all things were quiet, would he venture to slip down and mix with us about the fire. But he swung himself swiftly back again to his tree by a rope, if any of the dragoons were to be heard of in the neighbourhood.
During all this time it comes back to me how much we grew to depend on Maisie Lennox. From being but ‘Anton Lennox's dochter’ she came to be ‘Meysie, lass’ to my mother, and indeed almost a daughter to her. Once, going to the chamber-door at night to cry ben some message to my mother, I was startled and afraid to hear the sound of sobbing within—as of one crying like a young lass or a bairn, exceedingly painful to hear. I thought that it had been Maisie speaking of her sorrow, and my mother comforting her. But when I listened, though indeed that was not my custom, I perceived that it was my mother who grat and refused to be comforted.
‘O my William!’ she cried, moaning like a child that would sob itself to sleep, ‘I ken, O I ken, I shall never see him mair. He's lyin' cauld and still at the dyke back that yince my airms keepit fast. O thae weary Covenants, thae weary, weary Covenants!’
‘Hush thee, my dawtie, say not so!’ I heard the voice of my cousin Maisie—I could not help but hear it, ‘The Lord calls us to do little for Him oursels, for we are feckless women, an' what can we do? But He bids us gie Him our men-folk, the desire o' our hearts. Brithers hae I gie'n, twa and three, and my last is my father that lies noo amang the moss-hags, as ye ken!’
But again I heard my mother's voice breaking through in a querulous anger.
‘What ken ye, lassie? Brithers and faither, guids and gear, they arena muckle to loose. Ye never lost the man for wha's sake ye left faither an' mither, only just to follow him through the warl'!’
And in the darkness I could hear my mother wail, and Maisie the young lass hushing and clapping her. So, shamed and shaken at heart, I stole away a-tiptoe lest any should hear me, for it was like a crime to listen to what I had heard. But I am forgetting to tell of our riding away.
It was a morning so buoyant that we seemed verily up-borne by the flood of sunlight, like the small birds that glided and sang in our Earlstoun woods. Yet I had small time to think of the beauty of the summer tide, when our father lay unburied at a dyke back, and someone must ride and lay him reverently in the earth.
Sandy could not go—that was plain. He was now head of the house and name. Besides the pursuit was hot upon him. So at my mother's word, I took a pair of decent serving men and wended my way over the hill. And as I went my heart was sore for my mother, who stood at the door to see us go. She had supplied with her own hands all the decent wrappings wherewith to bury my father. Sandy further judged it not prudent to attempt to bring him home. He had gotten a staw of the red soldiers, he said, and wished for that time to see no more of them.
But I that had seen none of them, was hot upon bringing my father to the door to lie among his kin.
‘The driving is like to be brisk enough without that!’ said Sandy.
And my mother never said a word, for now Sandy was the laird, and the head of the house. She even offered to give up the keys to Jean Hamilton, my brother's wife. But for all her peevishness Jean Hamilton knew her place, and put aside her hand kindly.
‘No, mother,’ she said. ‘These be yours so long as it pleases God to keep you in the House of Earlstoun.’
For which I shall ever owe Jean Hamilton a good word and kindly thought.
The names of the two men that went with me were Hugh Kerr and John Meiklewood. They were both decent men with families of their own, and had been excused from following my father and brother on that account.
Now as we went up the hill a sound followed us that made us turn and listen. It was a sweet and charming noise of singing. There, at the door of Earlstoun were my mother and her maidens, gathered to bid us farewell upon our sad journey. It made a solemn melody on the caller morning air, for it was the sound of the burying psalm, and they sang it sweetly. So up the Deuch Water we rode, the little birds making a choir about us, and young tailless thrushes of the year's nesting pulling at reluctant worms on the short dewy knowes. All this I saw and more. For the Lord that made me weak of arm, at least, did not stint me as to glegness of eye.
When we came to where the burn wimples down from Garryhorn, we found a picket of the King's dragoons drawn across the road, who challenged us and made us to stand. Their commander was one Cornet Inglis, a rough and roystering blade. They were in hold at Garryhorn, a hill farm-town belonging to Grier of Lag, whence they could command all the headend of the Kells.
‘Where away so briskly?’ the Cornet cried, as we came riding up the road. ‘Where away, Whigs, without the leave of the King and Peter Inglis?’
I told him civilly that I rode to Carsphairn to do my needs.
‘And what need may you have in Carsphairn, that you cannot fit in Saint John's Clachan of Dalry as well, and a deal nearer to your hand?’
I told him that I went to bury my father.
‘Ay,’ he said, cocking his head quickly aslant like a questing cat that listens at a mouse-hole; ‘and of what quick complaint do fathers die under every green tree on the road to Bothwell? Who might the father of you be, if ye happen to be so wise as to ken?’
‘My father's name was Gordon,’ I said, with much quietness of manner—for, circumstanced as I was, I could none other.
Cornet Inglis laughed a loud vacant laugh when I told him my father's name, which indeed was no name to laugh at when he that owned it was alive. Neither Peter Inglis not yet his uncle had laughed in the face of William Gordon of Earlstoun—ay, though they had been riding forth with a troop behind them.
‘Gordon,’ quoth he, ‘Gordon—a man canna spit in the Glenkens without sploiting on a Gordon—and every Jack o' them a cantin' rebel!’
‘You lie, Peter Inglis—lie in your throat!’ cried a voice from the hillside, quick as an echo. Inglis, who had been hectoring it hand on hip, turned at the word. His black brows drew together and his hand fell slowly till it rested on his sword-hilt. He who spoke so boldly was a lad of twenty, straight as a lance shaft is straight, who rode slowly down from the Garryhorn to join us on the main road where the picket was posted.
It was my cousin and kinsman, Wat Gordon of Lochinvar—a spark of mettle, who in the hour of choosing paths had stood for the King and the mother of him (who was a Douglas of Morton) against the sterner way of his father and forebears.
The Wildcat of Lochinvar they called him, and the name fitted him like his laced coat.
For Wullcat Wat of Lochinvar was the gayest, brightest, most reckless blade in the world. And even in days before his father's capture and execution, he had divided the house with him. He had rallied half the retainers, and ridden to Morton Castle to back his uncle there when the King's interest was at its slackest, and when it looked as if the days of little Davie Crookback were coming back again. At Wat Gordon's back there rode always his man-at-arms, John Scarlet, who had been a soldier in France and also in Brandenburg—and who was said to be the greatest master of fence and cunning man of weapons in all broad Scotland. But it was rumoured that now John Scarlet had so instructed his young master that with any weapon, save perhaps the small sword the young cock could craw crouser than the old upon the same middenstead.
‘I said you lied, Peter Inglis,’ cried Wullcat Wat, turning back the lace ruffle of his silken cuff, for he was as gay and glancing in his apparel as a crested jay-piet. ‘Are ye deaf as well as man-sworn?’
Inglis stood a moment silent; then he understood who his enemy was. For indeed it was no Maypole dance to quarrel with Wat of Lochinvar with John Scarlet swaggering behind him.
‘Did you not hear? I said you lied, man—lied in your throat. Have you aught to say to it, or shall I tell it to Clavers at the table tonight that ye have within you no throat and no man's heart, but only the gullet of a guzzling trencherman?’
‘I said that the Gordons of the Glenkens were traitors. 'Tis a kenned thing,’ answered Inglis, at last mustering up his resolution, ‘but I have no quarrel with you, Wat Gordon, for I know your favour up at Garryhorn—and its cause.’
‘Cause——’ said Wullcat Wat, bending a little forward in his saddle and striping one long gauntlet glove lightly through the palm of the other hand, ‘cause—what knows Peter Inglis of causes? This youth is my cousin of Earlstoun. I answer for him with my life. Let him pass. That is enough of cause for an Inglis to know, when he chances to meet men of an honester name.’
‘He is a rebel and a traitor!’ cried Inglis, ‘and I shall hold him till I get better authority than yours for letting him go. Hear ye that, Wat of Lochinvar!’