CHAPTER FORTY FIVE
THE OUTFACING OF CLAVERS
It was indeed a wonderful sight and made our hearts beat high only to look at it. Upon the Session Stone twelve men stood with heads bared to the fierce heat of the sun. All of them were grey-headed men, saving two only, a lad of a pale and girlish face with dark sweet eyes, and towering above him, the flecked raven locks of Sir Robert Hamilton. These twelve were the commissioners of districts, all ordained elders. At one side was a little table brought from the house of the Shalloch, and a man sat at it busily writing. By a curious sword cut across his cheek, I knew him for Michael Shields, presently the clerk, and afterwards the historian of the United Societies.
Behind upon the hillside was drawn up a guard of two hundred horse. And the tossing bits and jingling accoutrements made a pleasant sound to me that loved such things, which were mostly the portion of our enemies. The wide amphitheatre opposite to the Session Stone was occupied chiefly by the women and older men, who, as I have said, sat upon plaids spread upon the bank. Behind these again, and extending far up the gently sloping side of the Shalloch Hill, was a noble sight, that made me gasp for gladness. Company behind company were ranked the men whom Robert Hamilton had called the Seven Thousand. There were officers on their flanks, on whose drawn swords the sun glittered; and though there was no uniformity of dress, there was in every bonnet the blue favour of the Covenant. Their formation was so steady and their numbers so large that the whole hillside seemed covered with their regiments. Looking back over the years, I think we might have risked a Dunkeld before the time with such an ordered host.
I heard one speaking in the French language at my elbow and looked about me. Whereupon I spied two men who had been walking to and fro among the companies.
‘But all this will do little good for a time,’ said one of the speakers. ‘We must keep them out of the field till we are ready. They need one to draw them into the bond of obedience. They are able to fight singly, but together they cannot fight.’
‘No matter,’ said the other, ‘they will stand us in good stead one day when the Prince sails over. The Seven Thousand shall be our mainstay in that day, not in Scotland only, but in Britain.’
By this I guessed that these two were officers of the Prince of Orange sent over to see if the times were yet ripe.
Meanwhile the meeting proceeded to its end amid the voice of prayer and the solemn throb of psalmody. It was a great and gracious thing to hear the swell of praise that went up from that hillside, from the men who had worshipped only in the way of silence and in private, because they dared no other, for many weary months.
It was about the third hour of the afternoon, and we had not begun to wax weary, when, away on the hillside, we heard the sound of cheering. We looked about us to see what might be the cause. There came one riding slowly down upon a much tired horse between the ranks of the companies—a great tall man in a foreign coat and hat, whom at the first glint my mother knew for Sandy my brother.
As he came nearer the roar of greeting swelled and lifted. I declare I was proud of him. Even Robert Hamilton had gotten no such greeting. I had not thought that our Sandy was so well-kenned a man. And I forgave him for flouting me.
‘Mother,’ I said, ‘that is our Sandy they are cheering!’
‘Think ye I kenned not that! Whaur has he come frae?’ she said. ‘I wonder if Jean Hamilton kens.’
It was like my mother to think first of others; but in a little she said,
‘I trust I am not overproud, that my bairn is so honoured.’
And indeed it made us all proud that Sandy was thus greatly thought of. So in a little he also took his place on the Session Stone, and made another young head among the grey beards. Soon he was called upon to speak, and in his sounding voice he began to tell of his message from the kirks of Holland, and to commend patience and faithfulness. They say that every man that stood to arms among the Seven Thousand heard him that day. Aye, and that even the watchers upon the tops caught many blessed words and expressions, which the light winds blew them in wafts. Saving Richard Cameron's alone, there was no such voice as Sandy's heard in Scotland during all his time.
Then Robert Hamilton rose and spoke, counselling that since there were so many present, they should once more and immediately fall to arms.
But one of the most venerable men there present, rose.
‘Robin, ye are but one of the Council of Twelve, and ye know that our decision is to wait the man and the hour. It beseems you, then, either to speak within the order of the Society or to be silent.’
Last of all the young man rose, he of the pale countenance and the clustering hair.
‘It is young Mr. James Renwick, who is going abroad to study and be ordained at Groningen in the Low Countries,’ said one near to me. And indeed he was mightily changed so that I had scarce known him.
The lad's voice was sweet and thrilling, persuasive beyond belief. In especial, coming after the mighty roaring of the Bull of Earlstoun (so they called Sandy) and the rasping shriek of Robin Hamilton, it had a great effect upon me. There came a sough from the people as his words ran over them, like a soothing and fanning wind blowing winningly among the trees of the wood.
So the day passed and the gladness of the people increased, till some of us felt that it was like the golden gates of heaven just to be there. For the passion of a multitude of folk with one heart's desire, thrilling to the one word and the one hope, had taken hold on us. The like was never seen upon the wild mountains of the south.
Then, as though to recall us to earth, from the green meads of the Minnoch side there came one running to pass the word that the enemy was in sight. Two companies of Strachan's Dragoons, with all Claverhouse's levies, were riding from Straiton as fast as their horses could carry them. Whereat, without haste and with due solemnity, the great and desirable General Meeting of the United Societies held on the wilds of Shalloch-on-Minnoch was brought to an end.
The women and aged men were placed behind the companies, and such as could reach home without passing the troopers' line of march were set upon their way. But when once we found ourselves without the lines of the companies, which stretched across from the black downthrow of rocks upon Craigfacie to the Rig of the Shalloch Hill, my mother would go no farther.
‘Na,’ she said, ‘gang your ways back doon. This is the place for Kate and for an auld wife like me. But it shall never be said that William Gordon's wife grudged both her sons to the work of the Lord!’
So Wat and I went our ways down to where Sandy stood as chosen leader of the army of the Seven Thousand. He paid, indeed, but little attention to us, giving us no more than a nod, yet instantly setting us upon errands for him.
‘Will ye fight?’ said I, when I got a quiet moment of him.
‘Alas!’ he said, ‘there is no such good luck. Had I not the direct message of the Prince to abide and wait, I would even now strike a blow. As it is, we must just stand to our arms. I would to God it were otherwise!’
The companies of mounted soldiers rapidly approached, to the number of perhaps three hundred. But I think they were daunted, when from a knoll below the house of the Shalloch they first saw our great and imposing army. They say there were over two thousand under arms that day.
‘The Seven Thousand will surely stay John Graham this day,’ said one at my elbow.
But Claverhouse was not a man easily feared.
Leaving his men, he rode forward alone, having but a trumpeter someway behind him. He held a white hand-kerchief in his hand, and waved it as he rode towards us upon his war-horse. I saw the trumpeter lad look about him more than once, as if he wished himself well out of it. But Colonel Graham rode straight at the centre of our array as if it had been his own. Sandy went out to meet him.
‘Will ye surrender and lay down your arms to the King's troops?’ cried Clavers as he came near. Since then I have never denied the man courage, for all his cruelty.
There came a gust of laughter from the nearer companies of our array when they heard his words. But Sandy checked the noise with his hand.
‘Surrender!’ he said. ‘It is you, John Graham, that may talk of surrender this day. We are no rebels. We but stand to our arms in defence of our covenant rights.’
‘Keep that Whig garbage for the prayer-meeting, Earlstoun!’ said Claverhouse. ‘I at least know you too well, Sandy Gordon. Do you mind the long wood of Dairsie by the Eden Water?’
What he meant I cannot tell, but I think his words daunted Sandy for a moment. For in his old unsanctified days they had been fast comrades, being of an age, and student lads together at Saint Andrews, where both were equally keen of the play upon the green; though ever since Sandy married Jean Hamilton he had turned him to new courses.
So having obtained no satisfaction, Claverhouse rode slowly back to the Dragoons. Then without a word, save the shout of command, he led them forward over the moor toward us.
‘Sain my soul and body,’ said Wat, ‘is the Heather Cat going to charge an army in position?’ And indeed, it looked like it.
But as he came toward us, from the front rank where Sandy stood with a broadsword bare in his hand, and his horse brisk as though it had just been led from its stall, came my brother's voice.
‘If ye set a horse's hoof over that burn, ye shall receive our fire. Men, make ready!’
Right up to the burn bank rode Clavers and his troop, and there halted. For a long minute he looked at us very contemptuously. Then he snapped his fingers at us.
‘That for ye!’ he cried. ‘Ye stand the day. Ye shall be scattered the morn. I ken ye brawly. Among a' your testimonies there is not one which any three of ye could read over and not fall out about. This day ye are on the brae-face. The morn ye'll be at the dyke back, with an ounce or two of his Majesty's excellent lead in ye. God save the King!’
And with that he waved his hand, cried to his men, and rode off like the steeve and dour persecutor that he was.
In the late evening we took my mother and Kate back again over the hill. My mother was very weary—so weary that at the house of Tonskeen we left her with the decent man and wife that abode there, with Kate to bear her company. She was not used to the life on the hills, and so for that time could flee no further. It was just grey day when we took the short way down the face of the gairy, that lifts its brow over the desolate moor of Macaterick. Being unencumbered with women folk, Wat and I now came down the nearest way, that which leads by the strange rocky hollow, steep on every side, which is named the Maiden's Bed. So, fleet of foot, we fled westwards.
As we looked, the sun began to rise over the Range of Kells and the tide of light flowed in upon us, gladdening our hearts. Wat was not so brisk as I, for he had left Kate behind; and though young men in times of danger have perforce to think of their skins first and of their maids after, yet it makes not the foot move so light when it must step out away from the beloved.
But all the same, it was a bright morning when we clambered down the steep side of the hill that looks toward Macaterick. The feathery face of the rock above the levels of Macaterick, and the burn that flows from it by links and shallows into Loch Doon, glanced bright with the morning sun upon them. And there at last was the cave-mouth hidden under the boskage of the leaves.
I ran on before Wat, outstripping him, albeit that for ordinary he was more supple than I—so great was my desire to see Maisie Lennox, and assure myself that all had gone well with her father. I had not a thought but that she would be sitting safely within, with the cave garnished with fresh leaves like a bower, and her father watching her at her knitting through his bushy eyebrows.
Smiling, I lifted the curtain of birch leaves. Great God of Heaven! The cave was wholly empty, as I slid down into it. Maisie and her father had vanished!
I stood as one desperately amazed. There was no life or thought or soul left in me. I stood as one stands at the threshold of his home, before whom a gulf suddenly yawns fathomless.
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men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.