THE DEATH OF MARDROCHAT
Now we knew that this affair would of a surety cause a great disturbance, and that the neighbourhood would be searched as a herd searches a hill for sheep. So with all haste we came back to Galloway, and though we could not return to the cave on the Star Hill, we continued due west that we might see how my mother and Kate McGhie were bestowed all this time, at the little house of Tonskeen in the howe of the hills.
Maisie was wondrous quiet. She had hardly uttered a word ever since we watched her father out of sight, sitting erect like a warrior upon his horse. It was indeed not a time for complaints. Women had to take sorrows as they came, as I was reminded of in an old letter which Jean of the Shirmers, my kind entertainer of the Garpel, had once written to Jean Hamilton upon Sandy's first taking. How I came by it I forget, if, indeed, I ever clearly knew. But at all events here it is: ‘You are not the first’ (so the letter ran) ‘that hath had dear and tender husbands prisoners for Christ. Yea, blessed be God, not the first of the many hundreds that have lost them as to the world in Scotland in our day. Suppose that should happen which you cannot tell. Suppose that it should come even to that, we pray you, Jean Hamilton, tell us in whose hands the keys of the prison are. We rather desire to believe in your free resignation of all that was yours, especially of all that you love greatly. Will you dare to seek it back from Him now, as if He could not guide and keep and manage, what you have committed to Him? Far be from you this, or the like of this. Bless God that you have had a husband, if it were only to propine Him with.’
Was there ever such consolation sent in any nation to the wife of a man condemned to torture and to death? Yet this and no other is the nature of our Scots Barnabas when he goes a-comforting. Like the three that came to Job of old, they ever tell you that you must take all the ill that comes to you thankfully, and at the back of it expect yet more and worse.
This is indeed more than enough about Jean Hamilton's letter. But it appeared to me so like our nation and our Cameronian folk, that I put it away in my case of despatches.
I did not trouble Maisie as we went with questions, knowing full well that when she felt the need of speech, she would come and tell me of her own accord. Till then, I was content to be silent, though I yearned to know the truth of the taking of the cave and all her adventure.
It was about the gloaming of the third day of our retreat, and we had come to the little house of the Nether Crae, where we were to bide. Maisie Lennox was within doors, and, as usual, we men folk hid behind the mow. The Nether Crae is a pleasant spot, but it looks down on the Duchrae. And from the door one can see the green fields and broomy knowes where Maisie and I had played so long. But now the soldiers had turned the steading out, the barn and byre were burned, and the stock driven away.
So, unable to bear the desolation, Maisie and I sat out on the fair green playing-croft that looks up to the hillside, and gazed sadly away from one another, saying nothing. It began to be dark. I waited for her.
Suddenly she laid her head on my shoulder and began to sob very bitterly.
‘My faither! O my faither!’ she said, labouring with her breath.
I said not a word, but only gently clapped and stroked her hand and arm. For indeed I knew not what to say and the hand was near me.
‘He saved me—he took me,’ she cried. ‘Then he gied himsel' for another.’
I thought she meant for the soldier laddie, but still I said nothing, soothing her only.
It was coming now. I saw that she wanted to tell me all. So I said nothing.
‘It was in the gloaming, as it is now,’ she began, ‘and my sweet lass, Margaret Wilson and I, had gone ower by to Tonskeen for some victual that the kind guidwife hid every day in a hollow of the turf-dyke for us. And as we came over the hilltop we heard the baying of hounds. But we thought that it would be but the herd's dogs at a collie-shangie, tearing at one another. So we came down the hill, stepping lightly as we could with our load, when of a sudden there leapt on us three evil men. Two of them took hold of me by the arms, and one gripped at Margaret.
'Now take us to your faither, my bonny woman, or it will be the waur for ye!' said the greatest in stature, a black-a-vised, ill-natured rascal.
But I was so astonished that I knew not what to say. The three were manifestly no soldiers—that I could see at once—but just the scourings of the Dumfries stables, that had taken to the informer's trade.
Then when we came near, we saw that a great number of the crew had dogs, and were drawing the rocks for my father, as though they had been drawing a badger. And my heart leapt with anger to know that he was their quarry.’
But the mouth of the cave was too high among the rocks for even a dog to get into at that time.
Indeed, there is something about it, whether the smell of the occupancy of man or not, that makes dogs not keen to enter it even now.
And this was the matter of Maisie's tale. I give it simply as she told it to me without ‘he-saids’ or ‘she-saids.’
She was sitting close by my side the while, now stilling her sobs that she might tell it exactly, and anon weeping freely upon my shoulder that her heart might have ease.
When they had brought us by force to the face of rock and copse where, as you know, the cave is,’ Maisie went on, ‘they asked us again and again to take them to the Whigs' hiding-place. When we refused they uttered the most horrid threatenings, swearing what things should befall us. But they were not able at all to shake us, though we were but two maids and at their cruel will. And of themselves they were not able to find the mouth of the cave in that mile of tangled gairy face.
‘So the cruellest and fiercest of all, the stark, black-a-vised man whom they called Mardrochat, the same that stopped us by the ford when first we fled from Balmaghie…’
‘O cursed Mardrochat,’ I cried, striking my hands together, ‘wait till I come to a settlement with you!’
‘Nay,’ said Maisie, solemnly, ‘all is settled and paid already with Mardrochat. So they threatened till they were weary, and the night was coming on. Then Mardrochat turned about to his gallows thieves:
'Must we go back empty-handed? Let me try my way with the lassies,' he cried. 'They shall be complaisant to tell where the old fox lies, or else suffer that which shall serve us as well.'
With that he came near and put his hand upon me in the way to hurt me. Notwithstanding, with all the might that was in me, I strove to keep from crying out, lest my father should hear, which was what they counted on. But as God is my witness, I could not. Then, the fear being upon me and the pain of a woman, I cried out in my agony, as I had never before done in this world.
‘O thrice accursed Mardrochat, die not till I meet thee,’ I cried again, beating and bruising my naked hand upon a rock in the impotence of hate.
Maisie went quietly and evenly on with her tale, without heeding my anger.
But when I cried the third time in my extremity, even like a lion out of the thicket came my father forth, springing upon them suddenly with his bright sword in the gloaming. Never was there such striking since the world began. He struck and struck, panting and resting not, roaring in fierce anger, till they fairly fled from before the face of him. And the first he struck was Mardrochat—he that then held me, and the blood spurted over me. Thus it was,’ she went on calmly, as though she had been telling of the kye coming home at e'en, ‘my father clave him to the teeth, and he fell forward on that which had been his face. Then plucking his sword to him again, my father swung it hither and thither like lightning, and pursued them over the moor as a flock of sheep is hunted on the hill. And he smote and slew them as he ran. My father, Anthony Lennox, did all that alone. But, alas! in the valley, though we knew it not, there was a troop of horse encamped about a fire, the same whom he of the Long Gun halted and took us from in the midst of Enterkin. Now my father, running and smiting blindly, tripped over a halter and fell headlong in the heart of them. Thus they took Anton Lennox, who had never been taken before. They took us two maids also; but the dragoons being officered by gentlemen, there was no more ill-usage. Now though he had killed the informers and spies, the soldiers liked my father none the less for that, despising those who were employed on such service. Rather they gave my father honour and not dishonour, as one that was mighty at their own trade. And to me the babe-faced officer was both kind and courteous.’
After this she was silent quite a while, sitting by me on the mossy seat by the old playing-green of the Nether Crae, and looking up as one that dreams, to the heather on the hillside.
‘Is it not a noble thing,’ she said musingly, ‘to have a father that will render up his life for you as if it were a little thing?’
Now I thought within myself that he need not have given it also for a peony-faced officer boy. But I uttered not the word aloud, lest I should be shamed.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.