CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
THE GREAT CONVENTICLE BY THE DEE WATER
A Note to the Reader.
I am warned that there are many folk who care not to hear what things were truly said and done at a conventicle of the hill-folk. I have told the tale so that such may omit the reading of these two chapters. Nevertheless, if they will take a friend's word, it might be for their advantage to read the whole.
On our way to the conventicle we came to the place that is called the Moat of the Duchrae Bank, and found much people already gathered there. It is a very lonely place on the edge of a beautiful and still water, called the Lane of Grenoch. In the midst of the water, and immediately opposite to the moat, there is an island, called the Hollan Isle, full of coverts and hiding-places among hazel bushes, which grow there in thick matted copses. Beyond that again there are only the moors and the mountains for thirty miles. The country all about is lairy and boggy, impossible for horses to ride; while over to the eastward a little, the main road passes to Kells and Carsphairn, but out of sight behind the shoulder of the hill.
There was a preaching-tent erected on a little eminence in the middle of the round bare top of the moat. The people sat all about, and those who arrived late clustered on the farther bank, across the ditch.
I observed that every man came fully armed. For the oppressions of Lauderdale in Scotland, and especially the severities of John Graham and Robert Grier in Galloway, were bearing their own proper fruit. The three maids sat together, and Wat Gordon and I sat down near them—I as close to Maisie Lennox as I dared, because, for old acquaintance' sake, my liking was chiefly towards her. Also, I perceived that Kate McGhie was more interested to talk to me of my cousin than to hear concerning myself, a thing I never could abide in talking to a woman.
But Maisie kept her head bent, and her face hidden by the fold of her shawl. For she had, even at that time, what I so sadly lacked, a living interest in religion.
From where I sat I could see the watchers on the craigs above the Hollan Isle, and those also over on the hill by the Folds. So many were they, that I felt that not a muir-fowl would cry, nor a crow carry a stick to its nest, without a true man taking note of it. I heard afterwards, that over by the Fords of Crae they had come on a certain informer lying couched in the heather to watch what should happen. Him they chased for three miles over the heather by Slogarie, clodding him with divots of peat and sod, yet not so as to do the ill-set rascal overmuch harm. But a sound clouring does such-like good.
Then there arose the pleasant sound of singing. For Mr Cameron had gone up into the preaching-tent and given out the psalm. We all stood up to sing, and as I noted my cousin standing apart, looking uncertainly about, I went over to him and brought him to my side, where one gave us a book to look upon together. As they sang, I watched to see the sentinel on the craigs turn him about to listen to us, and noted the light glance on his sword, and on the barrel of the musket on which he leaned. For these little tricks of observation were ever much to me, though the true Whig folk minded them not a hair, but stuck to their singing, as indeed it was their duty to do.
But even to me, the sound of the psalm was unspeakably solemn and touching out there in the open fields. It seemed, as we sang of the God who was our refuge and our strength, that as we looked on Grenoch, we were indeed in a defenced city, in a prophesied place of broad rivers and streams, wherein should go no galley with oars, neither should gallant ship pass thereby.
I had never before felt so near God, nor had so sweet an income of gladness upon my spirit; though I had often wondered what it all meant when I heard my father and mother speak together. There seemed, indeed, a gale of the Spirit upon the meeting, and I think that from that moment I understood more of the mind of them that suffered for their faith; which, indeed, I think a man cannot do, till he himself is ready to undergo his share of the suffering.
But when Richard Cameron began to speak, I easily forgat everything else. He had a dominating voice, the voice of a strong man crying in the wilderness. ‘We are here in a kenned place,’ he said, ‘and there be many witnesses about us. Today the bitter is taken out of our cup, if it be only for a moment. Yea, and a sweet cup we have of it now. We who have been much on the wild mountains, know what it is to be made glad by Thy works—the works of the Lord's hands. When we look up to the moon or stars, lo! the hand of the Lord is in them, and we are glad. See ye the corn-rigs up ayont us there, on the Duchrae Hill—the hand of God is in the sweet springing of them, when the sun shines upon them after rain. And it is He who sendeth forth every pile of the grass that springs so sweetly in the meadows by the water side.’
I own it was very pleasant to me to listen to him, for I had not thought there was such tenderness in the man. He went on:
‘We are hirsled over moss and moor, over crags and rocks, and headlong after us the devil drives. Be not crabbit with us, O Lord! It is true we have gotten many calls, and have not answered. We in the West and South have been like David, cockered and pampered overmuch. Not even the wild Highlands have sitten through so many calls as we have done here in Galloway and the South.
‘For I bear testimony that it is not easy to bring folk to Christ. I, that am a man weak as other men, bear testimony that it is not easy—not easy even to come to Him for oneself!’
And here I saw the people begin to yearn towards the preacher, and in the grey light I saw the tears running silently down his cheeks. And it seemed as if both the minister and also the most part of the people fell into a rapture of calm weeping, which, strangely enough, forced Mr. Cameron often to break off short. Folks' hearts were easily touched in those days of peril.
‘Are there none such here?’ he asked. And I confess my heart went out to him and all my sins stood black and threatening before me as I listened. I vow that at the time I feared his words far more than ever I did Lag and his riders—this being my first living experience of religion, and the day from which I and many another ground our hope.
Then ere he sufficiently commanded himself to speak again, I took a glance at the maid Maisie Lennox beside me, and the look on her face was that on the face of a martyr who has come through the torture and won the victory. But the little lass that was called Margaret of Glen Vernock clung to her hand and wept as she listened. As for Kate McGhie, she only looked away over the water of the Hollan Isle to the blue barn rigging of the Orchar Hill and seemed neither to see nor to hear anything. Or at least, I was not the man to whom was given the art to see what were her inner thoughts.
Richard Cameron went on.
‘Are there any here that find a difficulty to close with Christ? But before we speak to that, I think we shall pray a short word.’
So all the people stood up on the hillside and the sough of their uprising was like the wind among the cedar trees. And even as he prayed for the Spirit to come on these poor folk, that were soon to be scattered again over the moors and hags as sheep that wanted a shepherd, the Wind of the Lord (for so I think it was) came breathing upon us. The grey of the clouds broke up, and for an hour the sun shone through so kindly and warm that many let their plaids fall to the ground. But the mists still clung about the mountain tops of the Bennan and Cairn Edward.
Then after he had prayed not long but fervently, he went on again to speak to us of the love and sufferings of Christ, for the sake of whose cause and kingdom we were that day in this wild place. Much he pleaded with us to make sure of our interest, and not think that because we were here in some danger at a field preaching, therefore all was well. O but he was faithful with us that day, and there were many who felt that the gate of heaven was very near to them at the great conventicle by the Water of Dee.
And even after many years, I that have been weak and niddering, and that have taken so many sins on my soul, since I sat there on the bank by Maisie Lennox, and trembled under Mr. Cameron's words, give God thank and service that I was present to hear the Lion of the Covenant roar that day upon the mountains of Scotland.
Yet when he spoke thus to us at this part of his pleading, it was most like the voice of a tender nursing mother that would wile her wayward bairns home. But when he had done with offering to us the cross, and commending Him that erewhile hung thereon, I saw him pause and look about him. He was silent for a space, his eyes gleamed with an inner fire, and the wind that had arisen drave among his black locks. I could see, as it had been, the storm gather to break.
‘There ayont us are the Bennan and Cairn Edward, and the Muckle Craig o' Dee—look over at them—I take them to witness this day that I have preached to you the whole counsel of God. There be some great professors among you this day who have no living grace—of whom I only name Black MacMichael and Muckle John, for their sins are open and patent, going before them into judgment. There are also some here that will betray our plans to the enemy, and carry their report of this meeting to the Malignants. To them I say: 'Carry this word to your masters, the word of a wiser than I, ‘Ye may blaw your bag-pipes till you burst, we will not bow down and worship your glaiks—no, not though ye gar every heid here weigh its tail, and the wind whistle through our bones as we hang on the gallows-tree.’’
Here he held up his hand and there was a great silence.
‘Hush! I hear the sound of a great host—I see the gate of heaven beset. The throng of them that are to be saved through suffering, are about it. And One like unto the Son of Man stands there to welcome them. What though they set your heads, as they shall mine, high on the Netherbow Port; or cast your body on the Gallows' dunghill as they will Sandy's here? Know ye that there waiteth for you at the door One with face more marred than that of any man—One with His garments red coming up from Bozrah, One that hath trodden the winepress alone. And He shall say, as He sees you come through the swellings of Jordan, 'These are they that have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, for the redeemed of the Lord shall also enter in!’
So he made an end, and all the people were astonished at him, because they looked even then for the chariot which it had been foretold should come and snatch him out of mortal sight.
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men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.