WE RIDE TO EDINBURGH
When my cousin Lochinvar heard what had been done in the matter of the lad, Andrew Herries, his anger burned fiercely within him. He sought Westerhall on the instant.
‘Foul Annandale thief!’ he cried, ‘come out and try the length of thy sword on the heather. Down with thee and see if thou canst stand up to a man, thou great stirk. 'Tis easy putting thy wolf's spite on helpless bairns, but this sword-arm shall tickle thy midriff to an unkenned tune.’
But Colonel Graham would not let them fight.
‘Aroint thee,’ he said to Lochinvar, ‘for a young ruffler and spit-fire. Well may they call thee Wullcat. But you shall not decimate my troop, or I must put you in irons, for all those bright eyes which the ladies love.’
Lochinvar turned to him.
‘Colonel Graham, did you yourself not say, 'I am guiltless of this poor man's life!' So, at least, I have been informed.’
Claverhouse nodded grimly. It was not a weakness he often showed.
‘Then why not let me have it out with this bairn-slayer? I had e'en garred the guard o' my sword dirl again his ribs.’
In another the boast had seemed like presumption, but so noble a sworder was Wat Gordon that he but stated a truth. And all that were present knew it for such.
‘Westerhall will be the more grateful to me, in that case,’ said Clavers, ‘but hark ye, Lochinvar! there must be no more of this. Ye would reduce the number of his Majesty's forces effective in one way. The Reverend Richard Cameron (with whom Providence send me a good and swift meeting) in another. But in the end it comes to the same thing. Now I opine, it will fit you well to hie to Edinburgh with despatches. And I prithee take your noble and peaceful cousin of Earlstoun with thee. Gin thou canst exchange him there for his brother Sandy, I shall be the more glad to see thee back.’
So in a little Wat Gordon and I (Hugh Kerr and John Scarlet being with us) were riding with Claverhouse's despatches to the Privy Council.
Northward we travelled through infinite rough and unkindly places, vexed ever with a bitter wind in our faces. As we passed many of the little cot houses on the opposite hillsides, we would see a head look suddenly out upon us. Then the door fell open, and with a rush like wild things breaking from their dens, a father and a son, or such-like, would take the heather. And once, even, we saw the black coat of a preacher. But with never a halt we went on our way, sharp-set to reach Edinburgh.
As we went, Wat Gordon spoke to me of the great ones of the town, and especially of the Duchess of Wellwood, with whom, as it appeared, he was high in favour. But whether honestly or no, I had no means of judging. It was passing strange for me, who indeed was too young for such love, even had I been fitted by nature for it—to hear Wat speak of the gallantry of the great ladies of the Court, and of the amorous doings at Whitehall. For I had been strictly brought up—a thing which to this day I do not regret, for it gives even ill-doing a better relish. But in these times when there are many new-fangled notions about the upbringing of children and the manner of teaching them, I ever declare I do not know any better way than that which my father used. Its heads and particulars were three—the Shorter Catechism for the soul, good oatmeal porridge for the inward man—and for the outward, some twigs of the bonny birk, properly applied and that upon the appointed place.
So that to hear of the gay French doings at the Court, which by Wat's telling were greatly copied in Edinburgh, was to me like beholding the jigging and coupling of puggy monkeys in a cage to make sport for the vulgar.
‘The Lord keep me from the like of that!’ I cried, when he had told me of a ploy that my Lady Castlemaine and my pretty Mistress Stuart had carried through together—the point of which was that these two quipsome dames were wedded, like man and wife, and eke bedded before the Court.
And at this Wat Gordon, who had not much humour at the most of times, turned on me with a quizzical look on his face, saying, ‘I think you are in no great danger, Cousin William.’
Which I took not ill, for at that time I cared not a jot about the appearance of my body, nor for any lady's favour in the land.
When we reached Edinburgh, I went immediately to decent lodgings in the West Bow, to which I had been directed by my mother; but Walter, saying that the West Bow was no fit lodging for a gentleman, went on to settle himself in one of the fashionable closes off the Lawnmarket.
As soon as we were by ourselves, my man, Hugh Kerr, came to me, and began to ask if I knew anything of John Scarlet, the serving man that accompanied my cousin.
I replied that I knew nothing of him, save that my cousin had past all endurance cried him up to me as a mighty sworder.
‘Weel,’ said Hugh Kerr, ‘it may be, but it's my opeenion that he is a most mighty leer, an' a great scoundrel forbye.’
I asked him why, and at the first go-off he would give me no better answer than that he opined that his name was not John Scarlet but John Varlet, as better denoting a gentleman of his kidney.
But when I pressed him, he told me that this serving man had told him that he had committed at least half-a-dozen murders—which he called slaughters and justified, that he had been at nigh half a hundred killings in the fields, yet that he could pray like Mr. Kid himself at a Societies' Meeting, and be a leader among the hill-folk when it seemed good to him.
‘An' the awesome thing o't a' is that the ill deil declared that he had half-a-dizzen wives, and that he could mainteen the richts o' that too. So I reasoned with him, but faith! the scoundrel had the assurance to turn my flank wi' Abraham and the patriarchs. He said that he wadna cast up Solomon to me, for he wasna just prepared to uphaud the lengths that Solomon gaed to i' the maitter o' wives.’
But I told Hugh to give his mind no concern about the sayings or doings of Master John Scarlet or Varlet, for that it was all most likely lies; and if not, neither he nor I was the man's master, to whom alone he stood or fell.
But for all that I could see that Hughie was much dashed by his encounter with my cousin's follower, for Hughie accounted himself a great hand at the Scripture. We heard afterwards that John Scarlet had been a sometime follower of Muckle John Gib, and that it was in his company that he learned notions, which is a thing exceedingly likely. But this was before Anton Lennox of the Duchrae took John in hand and sorted him to rights, that day in the moss of the Deer-Slunk between Lowthian and Lanark.
Then with my cousin's interest to back me, and especially that which he made with the Duchess of Wellwood, I wore out the winter of the year 1679 in petitions and embassies, praying that the estates should not be taken from us, and biding all the time in my lodging in the West Bow. I had James Stewart, then in hiding, to make out my pleas, and right ably he drew them. It was a strong point in our favour that my father had not been killed at Bothwell, but only when advancing in the direction of the combatants. And besides, I myself had bidden at home, and not ridden out with the others. As for Sandy, he had not the chance of a lamb in the wolf's maw, having been on the field itself with a troop; so I stood for my own claim, meaning with all my very heart to do right by my elder brother when the time came—though, indeed, I had but small reason to love him for his treatment of me. Yet for all that, I shall never say but what he was a stupid, honest lown enough.
Mayhap if he had been other than my brother, I had loved him better; but he tortured me as thoughtlessly when I was a weakly lad as if I had been a paddock or a fly, till the instinct of dislike infected my blood. And after that there could be no hope of liking, hardly of tolerance. This is the reason of most of the feuds among brothers the world over. For it is the fact, though there are few fathers that suspect it, that many elder brothers make the lives of the youngers a burden too heavy to be borne—which thing, together with marrying of wives, in after years certainly works bitterness.
More than anything, it struck me as strange that my cousin Lochinvar could make merry in the very city—where but a few months before his father had been executed and done to death. But Hughie Kerr told me one evening, when we were going over Glenkens things, how Wat's father had used him—keeping him at the strap's end. For Wat was ever his mother's boy, who constantly took his part as he needed it, and made a great cavalier and King's man of him. This his father tried to prevent and drive out of him with blows, till the lad fairly hated him and his Covenants. And so it was as it was. For true religion comes not by violence, but chiefly, I think, from being brought up with good men, reverencing their ways and words.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.