THE FIGHT AT THE CALDONS
Now that which follows is the telling of Toskrie Tam, who is now a gardener at Afton, but who, in the old days, being bitten by the worldly delight of soldiering, had ridden with Clavers and Lag in the tumultuous times. Tam is a long loose-jointed loon, for ever crying about rheumatism, but a truthteller (as indeed John Graham taught him to be), and one that his wife has in subjection. There is the root of the old man in Tam yet. For though he is an elder now, oftentimes I have come on him round a corner, using most uncovenanted language to his underlings. But he is a good gardener, and there is no service in being over gleg in the hearing with such. Besides, his wife clours him soundly enough when there is need.
Somewhat after the following manner Tam told his tale, a trifle unwillingly at first, but warming with the recollection as he proceeded.
‘Aweel, Sir William, gin ye insist. No that I like to be speakin' aboot thae days; but as ye inform me that it is a' to be written doon, I'll tell ye it word for word. Weel, after the Conventiclers had outfaced us at the Shalloch-on-Minnoch, Clavers and Douglas rode south to the Minnoch Brig that looks to Loch Trool.
'There's a dour pack o' Whigs up that glen,' says Clavers. 'Think ye we will take a turn and steer them?'
'They will just be hiving hame frae the conventicle. We shall catch them as they run,' Douglas made answer.
So without a word more, slack rein and go-as-you-please, we rode up Glen Trool. It was a bonny nicht and at a' times a bonny place, but the track was ill to keep, and we rode loose and scattering. Douglas was fair foaming with the affront of the Shalloch, and vowed, as he had often vowed before, that he would never more spare hilt or hair of the accursed breed.
At the Caldons, a bit farmhouse set on a rig among trees at the foot of Loch Trool, Gib Macaterick and I were riding on ahead down by the water side by the loch, when suddenly, without warning, we came on a little cloud of men all on their knees praying behind a dyke back. They were so busy with the supplications that they did not notice us. And we that looked for promotion over the head of the business, covered them with our muskets and called to them to surrender for traitors and rebels. But in a trice they were over the dyke and at us like wild-cats, gripping our horses and tumbling us off. They got Gib down, but I that was suppler, managed to jook among the young oak-trees and run what I was fit back to the troop.
Douglas was in command, for Clavers had ridden on. He was a wild man when I told him that the rebels had taken Gib Macaterick.
'Curse you and him both!' Douglas cried. 'Do I command a set of porridge-stuffed, baggy knaves that fall off their horses whenever they see a Whig tyke skartin' for fleas? I'll tan Gib's hide for him and yours too, my man, when we come to the post. Ye shall ride the timber horse with a bit musket at your heels to learn ye how siccarly to sit your beast.'
Whereat he cried to wheel, and we went twos about down the Caldons road. The farm sits four square on a knowe-tap, compact with office-houses and mailings. There are the little three-cornered wickets in the walls. As we came to the foot of the brae we found Gib Macaterick stelled up against the dyke, with his hands bound and a paper in his teeth—a printed copy of the Covenant. He was quite safe and sound. But when we loosed him, he could do nothing but curse and splutter.
'Thou foul-mouthed Whig,' cried Douglas, 'hast thou also been taking the Covenant? Have him out and shoot him!'
But Gib rose and made an end of the Covenant, by setting his foot upon it and crushing it into the sod. Then we moved forward, carelessly, thinking that the enemy would never stand against a troop, but that they would at once scatter to the hill which rises steep and black at the gavel end of the house.
However, when we came within sight of the steading, half a dozen muskets cracked, and one of our company cried out with the pain of being hit. Indeed, the second volley tumbled more than one trooper from his saddle, and caused their horses to break ranks and run back, jingling accoutrements.
So Colonel Douglas dismounted half his men, and sent the better part of a troop, under the Cornet of the same name, round to the high side of the farm to take the Conventiclers in flank. Which with all success they did, and came down at the charge upon the steadings, capturing half a dozen, mostly young lads, that were there with muskets in their hands. But there was one that threw himself into the lake and swam under water for it. And though our soldiers shot off a power of powder after him, we could get no satisfaction that he had been hit. We heard, however, that he was a Carsphairn man and that the name of him was Roger Dunn.
So Douglas ordered a dismounted file to lead the young lads out into a dell a quarter of a mile from the house, where the noise of the shootings would not annoy him at his refreshment. So the Cornet took them out, well-pleased. For it was a job that suited him better than fighting, and there, in a little green hollow, he speedily laid the six featly in a row.
'So perish all his Majesty's rebels!' said Colonel Douglas as he rode past, bung full of brandy and good mutton ham.
'That's as bonny a kill o' Whigs as we hae gotten for mony a day. Rothes will be pleased with this day's work!' said the Cornet.
It was growing dark by the time that we drew up from the loch and it was ill getting a guide. No one of us had ever been in the country, and there is no wilder in all the south, as I have cause to know. But we had not got to any conclusion, when one came running with the news that he saw a light. So we spurred on as briskly as we dared, not knowing but that we might again hear the whistle of musket balls about our ears.
It was the little farm of Esconquhan, and only old Sandy Gillespie and his wife were at home—the lads no doubt being at the conventicle, or it may be among those who had fought with us in the yard of the Caldons, and now lay quiet enough down in the copsewood at the loch foot.
Sandy Gillespie of Esconquhan was a shrewd old fox enough, and answered all Douglas's questions with great apparent readiness.
'Hae you a Bible?' asked the Colonel.
'Aye,' said Sandy, 'but it's gye and stoury. Reek it doon, guid wife! I misdoot I dinna read it as often as I should—aiblins like yoursel', Colonel.'
Very biddably, the wife reached it down out of the little black hole over the mantelshelf, and the Colonel laughed.
'It is indeed brave and dusty. Man, I see you are no' a right Whig. I doubt that bit book disna get hard wark!'
Douglas's refreshment had made him more easy to deal with.
'Nevertheless,' he continued, 'fettle on your blue bonnet and put us on the road to Bongill, at the loch-head. For there is a great Whigamore there of the name of Macmillan and he will no' get aff so easy. I warrant his Bible is well-thumbed!'
'I canna rin wi' ye on siccan a nicht, and deed the road's no' canny. But you red-coats fear neither God nor deil!' said Sandy Gillespie readily.
'Out on you, gangrel. Gin ye canna rin ye shall ride. Pu' the auld wretch up ahint ye,' said Douglas, ready to be angry as soon as he was crossed, like all men in liquor.
And so we went over the hillside very carefully—such a road as beast was never set to gang on before.
'Keep doon the swearin' as muckle ye can,' ordered Sergeant Murphy. 'Lord, Lord, but this is heart-breaking!'
Sandy Gillespie, canny man, tried to dissuade him from going to Bongill that night. Which only made Douglas the more determined, thinking there was something or some-body that he might light on there, and so get great credit to himself.
'Gin the road be as dour, crooked, and coarse as the Cameronian's road to heaven, I'll gang that road this night!' said Lag, who was pleased with the death of the six Whigs at the Caldons—though, as it might be, vexed that he had not been at the shooting himself.
We were no more than clear of the loch-side path, when Douglas bade old Sandy tune his pipes to help the men along the easier road with a song.
'A Whig's sang or a King's-man's sang?' asked the auld tod blythely.
'Hoot, a Cavalier's song—what need hae we to tak' the Book here!' cried Douglas loudly.
'More need than inclination!' said Claverhouse scornfully, who was now riding beside them.
Sandy Gillespie, who was an exceedingly far-seeing old worthy, pretended that he was loth to sing, whereat Douglas ordered him with an oath to sing upon peril of his life.
So the old man struck up in a high piping voice, but none so ill in tune: 'Our thistles flourished fresh and fair,And bonny bloomed our roses,But Whigs cam' like a frost in June,And withered a' oor posies.'
As he went on the old man's voice grew louder, and in a little, half the command was cantily shouting the song, which indeed goes very well to march to.
'And there's Bongill,' cried Sandy, suddenly stopping and dropping off his horse, 'an' guid e'en to ye!'
And with that the old fellow slid off among the brush-wood and copse, and we saw no more of him—which perhaps was as well for him.
When we went into the little house of Bongill, we found an open door both back and front. Peats were blazing on the hearth. Great dishes of porridge sat on a table. Chairs and stools were overturned, and Bibles and Testaments lay everywhere.
'Curse the old dog. He has sung them a' to the hill,' cried Douglas. 'Have him out and shoot him.'
But Sandy was not to be seen. Only from the hillside, a voice—the same that had sung, 'Awa, Whigs, awa,' gave us 'Bonny Davie Leslie'; and then cried in mockery three times 'Good-night!'
So the night being pit mirk and the hill unknown, we took up our abode at Bongill till the morning. Sitting in the hole of the peat stack we found a strange object, a crazy natural, shapeless and ill-looking.
‘But some of the men who had seen his mother, knew him for the idiot son of Corp-licht Kate, the Informer, of the Shiel of the Star. Douglas questioned him, for sometimes these naturals have much shrewd wit.
'How came ye to be here?'
'Weel, ye see the way o't is this…'
'Make a short story of it, if ye dinna want a bit o' lead through ye.'
'A blaw of tobacco wad fit Gash Gibbie better—grand man in the reid coatie!' said the natural, with a show of cunning. 'I cam' to the Bongill i' the gloamin', an' faith the mistress would hae gien me a bed, but there was a horse in it already!'
So being able to make nothing of him, Douglas let him go back to his dry peat coom.
The next morning was bright and bonny as the others had been, for the autumn of this year was most favourable to our purpose—by the blessing o' the deil as Lag used to say in his cups, so that the track along the side of Curleywee to Loch Dee was dry as a bone. When we came to the ford of the Cooran, we saw a party coming down to meet us with prisoners riding in the midst. There was an old man with his feet tied together under the horse's belly. He swayed from side to side so that two troopers had to help him, one either side, to keep his seat. This they did, roughly enough. The other prisoner was a young lass with a still, sweet face, but with something commanding about it also—saving your presence, sir. She was indeed a picture and my heart was wae for her when some one cried out:
'Mardrochat has done it to richts this time. He has gotten the auld tod o' the Duchrae, Anton Lennox, and his bonny dochter at the same catch. That will be no less than a hundred reward, sterling money!'
Whereat Douglas cursed and said that a hundred was too much for any renegade dog such as Cannon of Mardrochat to handle, and that he could assuredly dock him of the half of it.
So that day we marched to New Galloway, and the next to Minnyhive on the road by the Enterkin to Edinburgh.’
This is the end of the Toskrie Tam's story as he told it to me in the garden house of Afton.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.