THE FIELD OF BOTHWELL BRIG
‘Gentlemen,’ cried a stern, calm voice, ‘gentlemen, is it thus that ye amuse yourselves when ye are upon the King's service?’
I turned about, and lo! it was the voice of John Graham of Claverhouse, high-pitched to the carrying note of command—of the man whom all the South and West knew then as the great persecutor, and all the North afterwards as the great captain who stood for his master when all the others forsook him and fled. I admit that my heart beat suddenly feeble before him, and as for my lads who were with me, I think they gave themselves up for dead men. Though slender and not tall, Clavers nevertheless looked noble upon the black horse which had carried him at a gallop down the burnside from Garryhorn. His eyes were full of fire, his bearing of gallantry. Yet methought there was something relentless about the man—something that friend might one day feel the bite of as well as foe. For this was the man who, at his master's word, was now driving Scotland before him as sheep are driven into buchts on the hillside. But Scotland did not easily take to praying according to Act of Parliament, and I minded the witty old gentlewoman's word to Claverhouse himself, ‘Knox didna win his will without clavers, an' aiblins Clavers winna get his withoot knocks.’ It was a witty saying and a true, and many a day I lay in the moss-hags and wished that I had said it.
Yet I think we of the Ancient Province never felt so keenly the bitterness of his oppression, though mostly it was without bowels of mercy, as we did the riding and driving of Robert Grier of Lag, of Douglas of Morton, of Queensberry and Drumlanrig, that were of ourselves—familiar at our tables, and oft times near kinsmen as well.
What John Graham did in the way of cess and exaction, and even of shooting and taking, was in some measure what we had taken our count and reckoning with. But that men who knew our outgoings and incomings, our strengths and fastnesses, who had companied with us at kirk and market, should harry us like thieves, made our hearts wondrously hot and angry within us. For years I never prayed without making it a petition that I might get a fair chance at Robert Grier—if it were the Lord's will. And indeed it is not yet too late.
But it was Claverhouse that had come across us now.
‘You would kill more King's men!’ he cried to Wat Gordon; ‘you that have come hither to do your best to undo the treason of your forebears. My lad, that is the way to get your head set on the Netherbow beside your father's. Are there no man-sworn Whigs in the West that true men must fall to hacking one another?’
He turned upon Inglis as fiercely:
‘Cornet, are you upon duty? By what right do you fall to brawling with an ally of the country? Have we overly many of them in this accursed land, where there are more elephants and crocodiles in Whig-ridden Galloway than true men on whom the King may rely?’
But Inglis said never a word, being pale from the draining of his wound. I looked for him to denounce me as a rebel and a spy; but he was wholly silent, for the man after all was a man.
‘How began ye this brawling?’ quoth Claverhouse, looking from one to the other of them, minding me no more than I had been a tripping hedge-sparrow.
‘We had a difference, and cast up our fathers to one another,’ at last said Inglis, half sullenly.
‘It were best to let fathers a-be when you ride on his Majesty's outpost duty, Cornet Inglis. But you are wounded. Fall out and have your hurt examined.’
‘It is a flea-bite,’ quoth Peter Inglis, stoutly.
‘A man this!’ thought I. For I loved courage.
Yet nevertheless, he dismounted, and John Scarlet helped him off with his coat upon the short heather of the brae-face.
‘And whom may we have here?’ cried Claverhouse, as Inglis went stumblingly to the hillside upon the arm of John Scarlet. He turned his fine dark eyes full upon me as he spoke, and I thought that I had never seen any man look so handsome. Yet, for all that, fear of the great enemy of our house and cause sat cold in my vitals. Though I deny not that his surpassing beauty of person took my eye as though I had been a woman—the more perhaps because I had little enough of my own.
But my kinsman Wat Gordon was no whit dismayed. He dusted his silken doublet front, swept his white-feathered hat in the air in reverence, and introduced me to the formidable captain as one that has good standing and knows it well:
‘My cousin, William Gordon, younger son of the House of Earlstoun!’
‘Ah,’ said Claverhouse, smiling upon me not so ill-pleased, ‘I have heard of him—the home stayer, the nest-egg. He that rode not to Bothwell with 'the Earl’ and 'the Bull.' Whither rides he now thus early?’
‘He rides, Colonel Graham, to bury his father.’
I thought my cousin was too bold thus to blurt out my mission, to the chief of them that had killed him whom I went to seek, but he was wiser than I in this matter.
Claverhouse smiled, and looked from the one to the other of us.
‘You Gordons have your own troubles to get your fathers buried,’ he said. ‘I suppose you will claim that this cub also is a good King's man?’
‘He is well affected, colonel,’ said Lochinvar gaily; ‘and there are none too many likeminded with him in these parts!’
‘Even the affectation does him monstrous credit,’ quoth Clavers, clapping Walter on the shoulder; ‘it is much for a Gordon in this country to affect such a virtue as loyalty. I wonder,’ he went on, apparently to himself, ‘if it would be possible to transplant you Gordons, that are such arrant rebels here and so loyal in the North. It were well for the land if this could be done. In the North a few dozen Whigs would do small harm; here ten score King's men melled and married would settle the land and keep the King's peace.’
Then he looked at my cousin with a certain uncommon gracious affection that sat well on him—all the more that he showed such a thing but rarely.
‘Well, Wat, for your sake let young Earlstoun go bury his father in peace, an’ it likes him. The more Whigs buried the better pleased will John Graham be. If he will only bury his brother also when he is about it, he will rid the earth of a very pestilent fellow!’
‘There is no great harm in Sandy,’ returned Lochinvar briskly and easily. From his whole demeanour I saw that he was in good estimation with Colonel Graham, and was accustomed to talk familiarly with him.
Perhaps the reason was that Claverhouse found himself much alone in Galloway. When he ordered a muster of the lairds and the well affected, only Grier of Lag and Fergusson of Craigdarroch came in, and even they brought but few at their back. Then again these rough-riding, hard drinkers of Nithside had little in common with John Graham. But Lochinvar was well trained by his mother, and had been some time about the court. It was, doubtless, a relief to the high-bred soldier to speak to him after the foul oaths and scurril jests of the country cavaliers.
‘Why,’ said Claverhouse, ‘as you say, there is no great harm in Sandy; but yet Sandy hath a stout arm and can lay well about him when it comes to the dunts. Sandy's arm is stronger than Sandy's wit.’
All this time I had not spoken, for so with a look my cousin Lochinvar had warned me to let him speak for me; but now I broke the silence.
‘I am obliged to you, Colonel Graham,’ I said, ‘for your permission to go and bury my dead.’
‘Ay,’ said Claverhouse, with a certain courteous disdain that was natural to him, but which he dropped when he spoke to the young Lochinvar, ‘ay, you are no doubt greatly obliged to me; but your father, though a rebel, fought us fairly and deserves clean burial. A Whig is aye best buried at any rate,’ he continued, gathering up his reins as one that prepares to ride away.
‘Lochinvar,’ he cried, in his voice of command, ‘take Cornet Inglis's post and duty, since you have disabled him. But mark me well, let there be no more tullying and brawling, or I shall send you all to bridewell. Hark you, young Wullcat of Lochinvar, I cannot have my officers cut up when they should be hunting Whigs—and’ (looking at me) ‘preparing them for burial.’
I think he saw the hatred in my eyes, when he spoke thus of my father lying stiff at a dyke back, for he lifted his hat to me quaintly as he went.
‘A good journey to you, and a fair return, young Castle Keeper!’ he said with a scorning of his haughty lip.
Yet I think that he had been greater and worthier had he denied himself that word to a lad on my errand.
Of our further progress what need that I tell? Hour after hour I heard the horses' feet ring on the road dully, as though I had been deep underground myself, and they trampling over me with a rush. It irked me that it was a fine day and that my men, Hugh Kerr and John Meiklewood, would not cease to speak with me. But all things wear round, and in time we came to the place, where one had told Sandy as he fled that he had seen William Gordon of Earlstoun lie stark and still.
There indeed we found my father lying where he had fallen in the angle of a great wall, a mile or two south of the field of Bothwell. He had no fewer than six wounds from musket balls upon him. As I looked I could see the story of his end written plain for the dullest to read. He had been beset by a party of dragoons in the angle of a great seven-foot march dyke in which there was no break. They summoned him to surrender. He refused, as I knew he would; and, as his manner was, he had risked all upon a single-handed charge.
As we heard afterwards, he had come at the troopers with such fury that he killed three and wounded another, besides slaying the horse that lay beside him, before, with a storm of bullets, they stopped him in his charge. Thus died, not unworthily, even while I was bringing in the kye in the evening at Earlstoun, William Gordon, a father of whom, in life and death, no son need be ashamed.
And where we found him, there we buried him, wrapping him just as he was, in the shrouds my mother had sent for her well-beloved. Hugh Kerr was for taking his sword out of his hand to keep at home as an heirloom. But I thought no. For his hand was stiffened upon it where the blood had run down his wrist. And besides, it had been his friend while he lived and when he died, and it was hard to part him with that which had been to him as the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. So we buried his sword and him together, laying the little red Bible, stained and spotted with his blood, open upon his breast. Then we happed him up, and I, who could at that time fight but little, put up a short prayer over him—though not, of course, like a minister, or one bred to the trade. And I thought as I rode away that it was better to leave him the sword, than that Sandy should get it to prate about at his general meetings. Even as it was he could not let him be, but in the after days of quiet he must have him up to coffin him, and bury in the kirkyard of Glassford. Yet to do Sandy justice, he had the grace to leave him the sword in his hand.
Now my father had not fallen on the battlefield itself, but rather when hastening thither, for indeed he never saw the bridge, nor had hand in the guiding of the host, whose blood Robert Hamilton poured out as one that pours good wine upon the ground.
Yet because we were so near, we risked the matter and rode over to see the narrow passage of the Bridge where they had fought it so stoutly all day long. Here and there lay dead men yet unburied; but the countrymen were gradually putting the poor bodies in the earth. Some of them lay singly, but more in little clusters where they set their backs desperately to one another, and had it out with their pursuers that they might die fighting and not running. Still the pursuit had not been unmerciful, for there were few that had fallen beyond the long avenues of the Palace oaks.
But when we came to the banks of the river, and looked down upon the bridge-head we saw the very grass dyed red, where the men had been shot down. And on the brae-sides where Hamilton had drawn them up when he called them from the bridge-end, they had fallen in swathes like barley. But it was not a heartsome sight, and we turned our rein and rode away, weary and sad within.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.