THE BLACK HORSE COMES TO BALMAGHIE
As Wat and I went towards the great house in the early gloaming, we became aware of a single horseman riding toward us and gaining on us from behind. At the first sound of the trampling of his horse, Wat dived at once over the turf dyke and vanished.
‘Bide you!’ he said. ‘He'll no ken you!’
A slender-like figure in a grey cavalry cloak and a plain hat without a feather, came, slowly riding alongside of me, in an attitude of the deepest thought.
I knew at a glance that it was John Graham of Claverhouse, whom all the land of the South knew as ‘the Persecutor.’
‘Are you one of Balmaghie's servants?’ he asked.
I took off my bonnet, showing as I did so my shaven poll, and answered him that I was.
No other word he uttered, though he eyed me pretty closely and uncomfortably, as if he had a shrewd thought that he had seen me before elsewhere. But the shaven head and the absence of hair on my face were a complete disguise.
For, indeed, though Maisie Lennox made little of it, the fact was that I had at the time quite a strong crop of hair upon both my chin and upper lip.
Claverhouse waved me behind him with the graceful and haughty gesture, which they say he constantly used even to the Secretary in Council, when he was hot with him in the matter of the house and lands of Dudhope.
Meekly enough I trudged behind the great commander of horse, and looked with much curiosity and some awe both upon him and on his famous steed ‘Boscobel,’ which was supposed by the more ignorant of the peasantry to be the foul fiend in his proper person.
So in this manner we came to the house. The lights were just beginning to shine, for Alisoun Begbie, the maid of the table, was just arranging the candles. At the doorway the master of the house met his guest, having been drawn from his library by the feet of the charger clattering upon the pavement of the yard.
‘Ah, John,’ he said, ‘this is right gracious of you, in the midst of your fighting and riding, to journey over to cheer an old hulk like me!’
And he reached him a hand to the saddle, which Claverhouse took without a word. But I saw a look of liking, which was almost tender, in the war-captain's eyes as I passed round by the further door into the kitchen.
Here I was roughly handled by the cook—who, of course, had not been informed of my personality, and who exercised upon me both the length of her tongue and the very considerable agility thereof.
But Alisoun Begbie, who was, as I say, principal waiting-maid, rescued me and in pity took me under her protection; though with no suspicion of my quality, but only from a maidish and natural liking for a young and unmarried man. She offered very kindly to show me all my duties, and, indeed, I had been in a sorry pass that night without her help.
So when it came to the hour of supper, it was with some show of grace that I was enabled to wait at table, and take my part in the management of the dishes thereupon. Alisoun kept me mostly in the back of her serving pantry, and gave me only the dishes which were easy to be served, looking kindly on me with her eyes all the while and shyly touching my hand when occasion served, which I thought it not politic to refuse. For all this I was mightily thankful, because I had very small desire to draw upon me the cold blue eyes of John Graham—to whom, in spite of my crop head and serving-man's attire, there might arrive a memory of the side of green Garryhorn and the interrupted fight which Wat of Lochinvar, my cousin, had fought for my sake with Cornet Peter Inglis.
The two gentlemen sat and supped their kail, in which a pullet had been boiled, with quite remarkable relish. But it was not till the wine had been uncorked and set at their elbows, that they began to have much converse.
Then they sat and gossiped together very pleasantly, like men that are easing their hearts and loosening their belts over trencher and stoup, after a hard day's darg.
It was John Graham who spoke first.
‘Have you heard,’ he said, ‘the excellent new jest concerning Anne Keith, what she did with these vaguing blasties up at Methven, when the laird was absent in London?’
‘Nay,’ replied Roger McGhie, ‘that have I not. I am not in the way at Balmaghie to hear other misdeeds than those of John Graham and his horse Boscobel, that is now filling his kyte in my stable, as his master is eke doing in hall.’
‘Well,’ said Claverhouse, ‘we shall have to give Anne the justiciar power and send her lord to the spence and the store chamber. She should have the jack and the riding breeks, and he the keys of the small ale casks. So it were better for his Majesty's service.’
‘But I thought him a good loyal man,’ said Roger McGhie.
‘One that goes as easy as an old shoe—like yourself, Roger. Not so my lady. Heard ye what our Anne did? The conventiclers came to set up a preaching in a tent on the laird's ground, and they told it to Anne. Whereupon she rose, donned her lord's buff coat and slung his basket hilt at her pretty side. And so to the woodside rode she. There were with her none but Methven's young brother, a lad like a fathom of pump water. Yet with Anne Keith to captain him, he e'en drew sword and bent pistol like a brave one. I had not thought that there was so much good stuff in David.’
Roger McGhie sipped at his wine and nodded, drawing up one eyebrow and down the other, as his habit was when he was amused—which indeed was not seldom, for he was merry within him much more often than he told any.
‘Then who but Anne was the pretty fighter,’ Clavers went on lightly, ‘with a horseman's piece on her left arm, and a drawn tuck in her right hand? Also was she not the fine general? For she kept the enemy's forces sindry, marching her servants to and fro, all armed to the teeth—to and fro all day between them, and threatening the tent in which was the preacher to the rabble. She cried to them that if they did not leave the parish of Methven speedily, it would be a bloody day for them. And that if they did not come to the kirk decently and hear the curate, she would ware her life upon teaching them how to worship God properly, for that they were an ignorant, wicked pack! A pirlicue which pleased them but little, so that some rode off that they might not be known, and some dourly remained, but were impotent for evil.
‘I never knew that Anne Keith was such a spirity lass. I would all such lasses were as sound in the faith as she.’
This was the word of Roger McGhie, uttered like a meditation. I felt sure he thought of his daughter Kate.
‘Then,’ continued John Graham, ‘after that, Anne took her warlike folk to the kirk. And lo! the poor curate was so wandered and feared, that he could make no suitable discourse that day, but only stood and bleated like a calf, till the Lady Anne said to him, 'Sir, if you can neither fight nor preach, ye had better go back to the Hielands and herd kye, for by the Lord, I, Anne Keith, can fight and preach too!'‘
‘As they do say the Laird of Methven right well knoweth,’ said Roger McGhie, in the very dry and covert way in which he said many things.
‘Ah!’ said Clavers, and smiled a little as if he also had his own thoughts. But he went on.
‘So on the very next day Anne held a court in the hall, and all the old canting wives of the parish were there. She set the Test to all their throats, and caused them to forswear conventicling at the peril of their lives—all but one old beldame that would in no wise give way, or be answerable for her children, who were well kenned and notour rebels.
‘Then Anne took from the hag her apron, that was a fine braw one with pockets, and said to her, 'This I shall retain till you have paid your son's fines. If ye cannot keep your other brats out of the dirt, at least I shall keep this one clean for you.'‘
‘Ha, very well said, Anne!’ cried Roger McGhie, clapping the table. For ‘brat’ is but the Scots word for apron, and such a brisk conceity saying was like that very spirited lady, Anne Keith.
‘But with yourself, how goes it?’ asked the Laird of Balmaghie.
Claverhouse turned a silver spoon over and over, and looked at the polish upon it thoughtfully.
‘Ill, ill, I fear. I ride night and day through all the country of Galloway, and it is like so much pudding in mud. That which you clear out before you, closes up behind. And at headquarters there is the Duke Hamilton, who desires no better than to load me to the chancellor. I have many enemies.’
‘But surely also many friends,’ said Balmaghie.
‘Not many so true as thou art, Roger,’ said Claverhouse, stretching out a white hand across the table, which his friend took for a moment.
‘And I am plagued on the one side by the Council to make the folk keep to the kirk, and on the other sore vexed with weary-winded preachers like Andrew Symson over on Creeside, who this very day writes me to say that ever since muckle Davie Dunbar of Baldoon hath broken his neck, he gets no congregation at all. And be sure the poor wretch wishes me to gather him one.’
He threw a bit of paper across the table to Balmaghie.
‘Read ye that,’ he said. ‘It is about swearing Baldoon.’
The laird looked at it all over and then began to smile.
‘This is indeed like Andrew Symson, doddering fool body that he is—aye scribing verses, and sic-like verse. Heaven forfend us!’
And he began to read.
UPON BALDOON. ‘He was no schismatick. He ne'er withdrew Himself from the house of God. He with a few,Some two or three, came constantly to pray. For such as had withdrawn themselves away. Nor did he come by fits. Foul day or fair, I being in the kirk, was sure to see him there. Had he withdrawn, 'tis like, these two or three being thus discouraged, had deserted me: So that my muse 'gainst Priscian avers, He, he alone, was my parishioners!’
‘Aye,’ said Balmaghie, ‘I warrant the puir hill-folk werna muckle the better o' Baldoon's supplications.’
Then Claverhouse, receiving back the paper, looked up with great alertness.
‘But I have chanced in that very country to fall on a nest of the fanatics.’
He looked cautiously about, and I had no more than time to step back into the little pantry where Alisoun Begbie was already washing the dishes. She put her arm about me to keep me within, and before she let me go, she kissed me. Which I suffered without great concern—for, being a lass from Borgue, she was not uncomely, though, like all these shore lassies, a little forritsome.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.