OVER THE MUIR AMANG THE HEATHER
When I came to myself my cousin Walter Gordon was standing over me. He was dressed in countryman's apparel, and seemed most like a chapman, with a small pack of goods upon his back for sale in the farm-towns and cottars' houses. It was grey day.
‘Where is the beast?’ I asked, for I was greatly bewildered by my swound.
‘What beast? There is no beast,’ he replied, thinking that I dreamed.
Then I told him of what I had seen; but as I might have expected he took little heed, thinking that I did but dream in that uncouth place. And in the grey light he went forward with a fair white cloth in his hand wherewith to wrap his father's head for the burial. But when he came to the corner of the vault, lo! there was naught there, even as I had said. And saving that the earth seemed newly stirred, no trace of the horror I had seen, which staggered him no little. Yet me it did not surprise, for I knew what I had seen.
But in a little he said, ‘That is all folly, William—you and your beasts. Ye buried it yourself in your sleep. How many times have ye walked the ramparts of Earlstoun in your sark!’
This indeed seemed likely, but I still maintain that I saw the mowdiewort.
Nevertheless, when we came to consider the matter, it was in sooth no time to think of freits or portents. It was no question of our fathers' heads. Our own were in danger whether the Duke of Wellwood lived or died; and we behoved to look limber if we were to save them at all. It is a strange feeling that comes and stays about the roots of the neck, when one first realises that the headsman may have to do therewith or many weeks pass by. And it is a feeling that I have taken to bed with me for years at a time.
Wat Gordon had warned my men as well as his own. So at the outside of the town toward the back of the Boroughmuir, Hugh Kerr met us with the beasts. Here we took horse and rode, having happily seen nothing of the city guard. It was judged best that my cousin and I should ride alone. This we wished, because we knew not whom to trust in the strange case in which we found ourselves. Besides we could the better talk over our chances during the long night marches in the wilderness, and in our weary hidings among the heather in the daytime.
So we steadily rode southward toward Galloway, our own country, for there alone could we look for some ease from the long arm of the Privy Council. Not that Galloway was safe. The dragoons paraded up and down it from end to end, and searched every nook and crevice for intercommuned fugitives. But Galloway is a wide, wild place where the raw edges of creation have not been rubbed down. And on one hillside in the Dungeon of Buchan, there are as many lurking places as Robert Grier of Lag has sins on his soul—which is saying no light thing, the Lord knows.
Once, as we went stealthily by night, we came upon a company of muirland men who kept their conventicle in the hollows of the hills, and when they heard us coming they scattered and ran like hares. I cried out to them that we were of their own folk. Yet they answered not but only ran all the faster, for we might have been informers, and it was a common custom of such-like to claim to be of the hill-people. Even dragoons did so, and had been received among them to the hurt of many.
Our own converse was the strangest thing. Often a kind of wicked perverse delight came over me, and I took speech to mock and stir up my cousin of Lochinvar, who was moody and distraught, which was very far from his wont.
‘Cousin Wat,’ I said to him, ‘'tis a strange sight to see your mother's son so soon of the strict opinions. To be converted at the instance of her Grace of Wellwood is no common thing. Wat, I tell thee, thou shalt lead the psalm-singing at a conventicle yet!’
Whereat he would break out on me, calling me ‘crop-ear’ and other names. But at this word play I had, I think, as much the mastery as he at the play of sword-blades.
‘Rather it is you shall be the 'crop-head'—of the same sort as his late Majesty!’ I said. For it is a strange thing that so soon as men are at peril of their lives, if they be together, they will begin to jest about it—young men at least.
To get out of the country was now our aim. It pleased Wat not at all to have himself numbered among the hill-folk and be charged with religion. For me I had often a sore heart and a bad conscience, that I had made so little of all my home opportunities. My misspent Sabbaths stuck in my throat, although I had no stomach for running and hiding with the intercommuned. Perhaps, if I had loved my brother Sandy better, it had not been so hard a matter. But that, God forgive me, I never did, though I knew that he was a good Covenant man and true to his principles. Yet there is no mistake but that he gave us all a distaste at his way of thinking.
So we wandered by night and hid by day till we reached the hills of our own south country.
At last we came to the white house of Gordonstoun, which stands on the hill above the clachan of Saint John. It was a lodge of my cousin's, and the keeper of it was a true man, Matthew of the Dub by name. From him we learned that there were soldiers both at Lochinvar and Earlstoun. Moreover, the news had come that very day, with the riding post from Edinburgh, of the wounding of the Duke of Wellwood, and how both of us were put to the horn and declared outlaw.
I do not think that this affected us much, for almost every man in Galloway, even those that trooped with Graham and Lag, half a dozen in all, had been time and again at the horn. One might be at the horn—that is, outlawed, for forgetting to pay a cess or tax, or for a private little tulzie that concerned nobody, or for getting one's lum on fire almost. It was told that once Lauderdale himself was put to the horn in the matter of a reckoning he had been slack in paying, for Seekin' Johnnie was ever better at drawing in than paying out.
But to think of my mother being harassed with a garrison, and to know that rough blades clattered in and out of our bien house of Earlstoun, pleased me not at all. Yet it was far out of my hap to help it. And I comforted me with the thought, that it had been as bad as it could be with us, even before our affray with the Wellwood.
So there was nothing for it, but to turn out our horses to grass at Gordonstoun and take to the hills like the rest. Matthew of the Dub gave us to understand that he could put us into a safe hold if we would trust ourselves to him.
‘But it is among the hill-folk o' Balmaghie!’ he said, looking doubtfully at his laird.
‘Ah, Gordieston,’ said Lochinvar, making a wry face, and speaking reproachfully, ‘needs must when the devil drives! But what for did you sign all the papers and take all the oaths against intercommuning, and yet all the time be having to do with rebels?’ For Matthew was a cunning man, and had taken all the King's oaths as they came along, holding the parritch and feather beds of Gordieston on the Hill worth any form of words whatsoever—which indeed could be swallowed down like an apothecary's bolus, and no more ado about it.
‘'Deed, your honour,’ said Matthew of the Dub, slyly, ‘it's a wersh breakfast to streek your neck in a tow, an' I hae sma' stammach for the Whig's ride to the Grassmarket. But a man canna juist turn informer an' gie the gang-by to a' his auld acquaintances. Wha in Gallowa' wants to ride an' mell wi' Clavers an' the lads on the Grey Horses, save siccan loons as red-wud Lag, roaring Baldoun, and Lidderdale, the Hullion o' the Isle?’
‘I would have you remember, Matthew,’ said my cousin, speaking in Scots, ‘that I rode wi' them no lang syne mysel'.’
‘Ou, ay, I ken,’ said independent Matthew, dourly, ‘there was my leddy to thank for that. The women fowk are a' great gomerils when they meddle wi' the affairs o' the State. But a' the Glen jaloosed that ye wad come oot richt, like the daddy o' ye, when ye tired o' leading-strings, an' gang to the horn like an honest man, e'en as ye hae dune the day.’
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.