CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
Then on the other side he brushed through a little wood of oak and hazel. I felt the twigs rough in my face. Climbing a steep brae, Sandy set me down at the end of a house with some bits of offices about it, and a pleasant homely smell of cows and pasturage. Saving these, there were none of the other signs of a farm-town, but rather a brisk cleanliness and well-ordered neatness.
Sandy went to the door and knocked, and in a little while one answered at the southmost of the windows. Then a whispered word was given and taken. The door was opened and we went into the dark house. A sweet-faced old lady who stood in the narrow passage, gowned even at that time of night with some precision, took me by the arm. She held a candle aloft in her hand.
‘Come awa', laddie,’ she said. ‘Ye shallna try the unkindly dasses o' the Linn yet awhile, nor yet lie in 'Duncan's Pantry,' which has small store of victual in it. But ye shall bide this nicht wi' Jean Gordon o' the Shirmers, that has still some spunk in her yet, though folk say that she died o' love thirty years syne. Hoot, silly clavers, Jean Gordon could hae gotten a man ony time, had she been wantin' yin.’
We were indeed at Jean Gordon's famous cot by the side of the bonny Garpel burn. And it was not long till she had me cosy in bed, and Sandy, to whom all weathers and lodgings were alike, away to his hiding in the Cleuch beneath, where some of his society men were that night holding a meeting for prayer.
The cottage sat bonnily on the brink of a glen, and almost from my very window began the steep and precipitous descent. So that if the alarm were suddenly given, there was at least a chance of flinging myself out of the window and dropping into the tangled sides of the Linn of Garpel. The thought of the comfort in Jean's cot made me the more willing to take the risk. For I knew well that if I had to venture the damps and chills of the glen without any shelter after my illness, it would fare but poorly with me. So all that night I lay and listened to the murmur of the water beneath, dashing about the great upstanding rocks in the channel.
But other sound there was none, and to this sweet sequestered spot came none to seek us.
Here in the fastnesses of the Garpel, Sandy and I abode many days. And though the glen was searched, and patrol parties more than once came our way, not one of them approached near the fastness of thickets where in the daytime we were hidden. And each night, in all safety, I betook me to the cottage of Jean Gordon.
Jean's story had been a sad one, but she made little of it now, though it was well known to all the countryside.
‘The Lord has taken away the stang of pain out of my life,’ she said. ‘I was but a lass when I came to the Garpel thinking my heart broken. Yince I loved a braw lad, bonny to look upon—and he loved me, or I was the more deceived. Lindsay was his name. Doubtless ye have heard the common tale. He slighted my love and left me without a word. Waes me, but the very lift turned black when I heard it, and I cried out on the liars that said the like. But belief came slowly to me. The loch is very near to the Shirmers where I dwelt, and the tower window looks down into the black deeps from among the ivy bushes on the wall. My thoughts ofttimes turned on the short and easy road to peace. But praise be to His marvellous name, I saw another way. So I biggit me this bit house on the bonny birk-grown sides o' the Garpel, and e'en came my ways to bide here.
‘'Ye'll sune get a man, for ye're bonny! Never fash your thumb for Lindsay!' said my kin.’
‘'I'll get nae man,' I threepit to them. 'What one slighted shall never be given to another.' So forty year have I bidden here, and heard little but the mavis sing and the cushie complain. Think weel o' yoursel', Willie, lad, for ye are the first man body that has ever bidden the nicht within Jean's Wa's. Sandy, great as he thinks himsel', can tak' the Linn side for it. He is weather-seasoned like the red tod o' the hills; but ye are shilpit and silly, boy William, so ye had best bide wi' auld Jean when ye can. There's few in Gallowa' daur meddle wi' puir Jean, for she is kin to John Graham o' Claverhouse himsel', and even the erne's cousin is no a canny bird to meddle wi'.’
So again I had fallen on my feet, as has mostly been my fortune with women. Though, alas, that I should have to confess it, chiefly because of my weakness, and with the elder sort of them.
Here after a day or two, there came to Jean Gordon, my hostess of the night season, a letter from Sandy's wife, Jean Hamilton, with sad news of them at Earlstoun. It was intended for my brother, but according to the custom of these days, it was not so addressed, for the transmission of such letters was too dangerous at that time.
‘Dear Mistress’ (so it ran), ‘your letter did yield great satisfaction to me, and now I have good words to tell you. The Lord is doing great things for me. Colvin and Clavers (Cornel) have put us out of all that we have, so that we know not where to go.
‘I am for the present in a cot house. Oh, blessed cottage! As soon as my enemies began to roar against me, so quickly came my kind Lord to me and did take my part. He made the enemies to favour me, and He gave me kindly welcome to this cottage.
‘Well may I say that His yoke is easy and His burden light.
‘Dear Mistress Jean, praise God on my behalf, and cause all that love Him to praise Him on my behalf. I fear that I miscarry under His kind hand.
‘Colvin is reigning here like a prince, getting 'his honour' at every word. But he hath not been rude to me. He gave me leave to take out all that I had. What matters suffering after all! But, oh! the sad fallings away of some! I cannot give a full account of them.
‘I have nothing to write on but a stone by the waterside, and know not how soon the enemy may be upon me. I entreat you to send me your advice what to do. The enemy said to me that I should not get to stay in Galloway gif I went not to their kirk.
‘They said I should not even stay in Scotland, for they would pursue me to the far end of it, but I should be forced to go to their church. The persecution is great. There are many families that are going to leave their houses and go out of the land. Gif you have not sent my former letter, let it not now go, but send this as quickly as you can. I fear our friends will be much concerned. I have written that Alexander may not venture to come home. I entreat that you will write that to him and close mine within yours. I have not backed his. Send me all your news. Remember me to all friends. I desire to be reminded to them.
‘I rest, in haste, your loving friend and servant,
Now, I declare that this letter made me think better than ever before of Sandy's wife, for I am not gifted with appropriate and religious reflections in the writing of letters myself. But very greatly do I admire the accomplishment. Jean was in time of peace greatly closed up within herself; but in time of extrusion and suffering, her narrow heart expanded. Notwithstanding the strange writing-desk of stone by the water side, the letter was well written, but the great number of words which had been blurred and corrected as to their spelling, revealed the turmoil and anxiety of the writer. I have kept it before me as I write this history, so that I might give it exactly.
Thus we learned that Sandy's side of the house was safe; but what of our mother and Maisie Lennox?
‘Jean says nothing,’ said Sandy, when I told him. ‘Good news is no news!’
And truly this is an easy thing for him to say, who has heard news about his own. Jean Gordon sent over to her sister's son at Barscobe for word, but could hear nothing save that the Earlstoun ladies had been put out of their house without insult or injury, and had gone away no man knew whither. So with this in the meantime we were obliged to rest as content as we might.
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men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.