Of my life at Lindean for the next three days I have no clear remembrance. The weather was dry and languid, as often follows a spell of rain, and the long hills which huddled around the house looked near and imminent. The place was so still that if one shouted it seemed almost a profanation. ’Twas so Sabbath-like that I almost came to dislike it. Indeed, I doubt I should have found it irksome had there not been a brawling stream in the glen, which kept up a continuous dashing and chattering. It seemed the one link between me and that far-away world in which not long agone I had been a dweller.
The life, too, was as regular as in the king’s court. Sharp at six I was awakened, and ere seven we were assembled for breakfast. Then to prayers, and then to the occupations of the day. The minister would be at his books or down among his people on some errand of mercy. The church had been long closed, for the Privy Council, seeing that Master Lambert was opposed to them, had commanded him to be silent; and yet, mark you, so well was he loved in the place that they durst set no successor in his stead. They tried it once and a second time, but the unhappy man was so taken with fear of the people that he shook the dust of Lindean off his feet, and departed in search of a more hospitable dwelling. But the minister’s mouth was shut, save when covertly, and with the greatest peril to himself, he would preach at a meeting of the hill-folk in the recesses of the surrounding uplands.
The library I found no bad one — I who in my day have been considered to have something of a taste in books. To be sure there was much wearisome stuff, the work of old divines, and huge commentaries on the Scriptures, written in Latin and plentifully interspersed with Greek and Hebrew. But there was good store of the Classics, both prose and poetry, — Horace, who has ever been my favorite, and Homer, who, to my thinking, is the finest of the ancients. Here, too, I found a Plato, and I swear I read more of him in the manse than I have done since I went through him with M. Clerselier, when we were students together in Paris.
The acquaintance which I had formed with Master Semple speedily ripened into a fast friendship. I found it in my heart to like this great serious man — a bumpkin if you will, but a man of courage and kindliness. We were wont to take long walks, always in some lonely part of the country, and we grew more intimate in our conversation than I should ever have dreamed of. He would call me John, and this much I suffered him, to save my name from the barbarity of his pronunciation; while in turn I fell to calling him Henry, as if we had been born and bred together. I found that he loved to hear of my own land and my past life, which, now that I think of it, must have had no little interest to one dwelling in such solitudes. From him I heard of his father, of his brief term at the College of Edinburgh, which he left when the strife in the country grew high, and of his sorrow and anger at the sufferings of those who withstood the mandate of the king. Though I am of the true faith, I think it no shame that my sympathy was all with these rebels, for had I not seen something of their misery myself? But above all, he would speak of la belle Anne as one gentleman will tell another of his love, when he found that I was a willing listener. I could scarce have imagined such warmth of passion to exist in the man as he showed at the very mention of her name.
“Oh!” he would cry out, “I would die for her; I would gang to the world’s end to pleasure her! I whiles think that I break the first commandment every day of my life, for I canna keep her a moment out of my thoughts, and I fear she’s more to me than any earthly thing should be. I think of her at nicht. I see her name in every page of the Book. I thought I was bad when I was over at Clachlands, and had to ride five miles to see her; but now I’m tenfold worse when I’m biding aside her. God grant it be not counted to me for sin!”
“Amen to that,” said I. ’Tis a fine thing to see the love of a maid; but I hold ’tis a finer to witness the passion of a strong man.
Yet, withal, there was something sinister about the house and its folk which to me was the fly in the ointment. They were kindness and charity incarnate, but they were cold and gloomy to boot, lacking any grace or sprightliness in their lives. I find it hard to write this, for their goodness to me was beyond recompense; yet I must set it down, since in some measure it has to do with my story. The old man would look at me at times and sigh, nor did I think it otherwise than fitting, till I found from his words that the sighs were on account of my own spiritual darkness. I have no quarrel with any man for wishing to convert me, but to sigh at one’s approach seems a doleful way of setting about it. Then he would break out from his wonted quietness at times to rail at his foes, calling down the wrath of Heaven to blight them. Such a fit was always followed by a painful exhaustion, which left him as weak as a child, and shivering like a leaf. I bitterly cursed the state of a country which could ruin the peace of mind of a man so sweet-tempered by nature, and make him the sport of needless rage. ’Twas pitiful to see him creep off to his devotions after any such outbreak, penitent and ashamed. Even to his daughter he was often cruelly sharp, and would call her to account for the merest trifle.
As for Master Henry, what shall I say of him? I grew to love him like my own brother, yet I no more understood him than the Sultan of Turkey. He had strange fits of gloom, begotten, I must suppose, of the harsh country and his many anxieties, in which he was more surly than a bear, speaking little, and that mainly from the Scriptures. I have one case in my memory, when, had I not been in a sense his guest, I had scarce refrained from quarreling. ’Twas in the afternoon of the second day, when we returned weary from one of our long wanderings. Anne tripped forth into the autumn sunlight singing a catch, a simple glee of the village folk.
“Peace, Anne,” says Master Henry savagely; “it little becomes you to be singing in these days, unless it be a godly psalm. Keep your songs for better times.”
“What ails you?” I ventured to say. “You praised her this very morning for singing the self-same verses.”
“And peace, you,” he says roughly, as he entered the house; “if the lass hearkened to your accursed creed, I should have stronger words for her.”
My breath was fairly taken from me at this incredible rudeness. I had my hand on my sword, and had I been in my own land we should soon have settled it. As it was, I shut my lips firmly and choked down my choler.
Yet I cannot leave with this ill word of the man. That very night he talked with me so pleasingly, and with so friendly a purport, that I conceived he must have been scarce himself when he so insulted me. Indeed, I discerned two natures in the man — one, hard, saturnine, fanatically religious; the other, genial and kindly, like that of any other gentleman of family. The former I attributed to the accident of his fortune; the second I held to be the truer, and in my thoughts of him still think of it as the only one.
But I must pass to the events which befell on the even of the third day, and wrought so momentous a change in the life at Lindean. ’Twas just at the lighting of the lamp, when Anne and the minister and myself sat talking in the little sitting room, that Master Henry entered with a look of great concern on his face, and beckoned the elder man out.
“Andrew Gibb is here,” said he.
“And what may Andrew Gibb be wanting?” asked the old man, glancing up sharply.
“He brings nae guid news, I fear, but he’ll tell them to none but you; so hasten out, sir, to the back, for he’s come far, and he’s ill at the waiting.”
The twain were gone for some time, and in their absence I could hear high voices in the back end of the house, conversing as on some matter of deep import. Anne fetched the lamp from the kitchen and trimmed it with elaborate care, lighting it and setting it in its place. Then, at last, the minister returned alone.
I was shocked at the sight of him as he re-entered the room. His face was ashen pale and tightly drawn about the lips. He crept to a chair and leaned his head on the table, speaking no word. Then he burst out of a sudden into a storm of pleading.
“O Lord God,” he cried, “thou hast aye been good to us, thou has kept us weel, and bielded us frae the wolves who have sought to devour us. Oh, dinna leave us now. It’s no’ for mysel’ or Henry that I care. We’re men, and can warstle through ills; but oh, what am I to dae wi’ the bit helpless lassie? It’s awfu’ to have to gang oot among hills and bogs to bide, but it’s ten times waur when ye dinna ken what’s gaun to come to your bairn. Hear me, O Lord, and grant me my request. I’ve no’ been a’ that I micht have been, but oh, if I ha’e tried to serve thee at a’, dinna let this danger overwhelm us!”
He had scarcely finished, and was still sitting with bowed head, when Master Henry also entered the room. His eyes were filled with an austere frenzy, such as I had learned to look for.
“Ay, sir,” said he, “’tis a time for us a’ to be on our knees. But ha’e courage, and dinna let us spoil the guid cause by our weak mortal complaining. Is’t no’ better to be hunkering in a moss-hole and communing with the Lord than waxing fat like Jeshurun in carnal corruption? Call on God’s name, but no’ wi’ sighing, but wi’ exaltation, for He hath bidden us to a mighty heritage.”
“Ye speak brave and true, Henry, and I’m wi’ your every word. But tell me what’s to become o’ my bairn? What will Anne dae? I once thought there was something atween you — —” He stopped abruptly and searched the face of the young man.
At his words Master Semple had started as under a lash. “Oh, my God,” he cried, “I had forgotten! Anne, Anne, my dearie, we canna leave ye, and you to be my wife. This is a sore trial of faith, sir, and I misdoubt I canna stand it. To leave ye to the tender mercies o’ a’ the hell-hounds o’ dragoons — oh, I canna dae’t!”
He clapped his hand to his forehead and walked about the room like a man distraught.
And now I put in my word. “What ails you, Henry? Tell me, for I am sore grieved to see you in such perplexity.”
“Ails me?” he repeated. “Aye, I will tell ye what ails me”; and he drew his chair before me. “Andrew Gibb’s come ower frae the Ruthen wi’ shure news that a warrant’s oot against us baith, for being at the preaching on Callowa’ Muir. ’Twas an enemy did it, and now the soldiers are coming at ony moment to lay hands on us and take us off to Embro’. Then there’ll be but a short lease of life for us; and unless we take to the hills this very nicht we may be ower late in the morning. I’m wae to tak’ sae auld a man as Master Lambert to wet mosses, but there’s nothing else to be dune. But what’s to become o’ Anne? Whae’s to see to her, when the dragoons come riding and cursing about the toon? Oh, it’s a terrible time, John. Pray to God, if ye never prayed before, to let it pass.”
Mademoiselle had meantime spoken never a word, but had risen and gone to her father’s chair and put her arms around his neck. Her presence seemed to cheer the old man, for he ceased mourning and looked up, while she sat, still as a statue, with her grave, lovely face against his. But Master Semple’s grief was pitiful to witness. He rocked himself to and fro in his chair, with his arms folded and a set, white face. Every now and then he would break into a cry like a stricken animal. The elder man was the first to counsel patience.
“Stop, Henry,” says he; “it’s ill-befitting Christian folk to set sic an example. We’ve a’ got our troubles, and if ours are heavier than some, it’s no’ for us to complain. Think o’ the many years o’ grace we’ve had. There’s nae doubt the Lord will look after the bairn, for he’s a guid Shepherd for the feckless.”
But now of a sudden a thought seemed to strike Henry, and he was on his feet in a twinkling and by my side.
“John,” he almost screamed in my ear, “John, I’m going to ask ye for the greatest service that ever man asked. Ye’ll no’ say me nay?”
“Let me hear it,” said I.
“Will you bide wi’ the lass? You’re a man o’ birth, and I’ll swear to it, a man o’ honor. I can trust you as I would trust my ain brither. Oh, man, dinna deny me! It’s the last hope I ha’e, for if ye refuse, we maun e’en gang to the hills and leave the puir thing alane. Oh, ye canna say me nae! Tell me that ye’ll do my asking.”
I was so thunderstruck at the request that I scarce could think for some minutes. Consider, was it not a strange thing to be asked to stay alone in a wild moorland house with another man’s betrothed, for Heaven knew how many weary days? My life and prospects were none so cheerful for me to despise anything, nor so varied that I might pick and choose; but yet ’twas dreary, if no worse, to look forward to any length of time in this desolate place. I was grateful for the house as a shelter by the way, yet I hoped to push on and get rid, as soon as might be, of this accursed land.
But was I not bound by all the ties of gratitude to grant my host’s request? They had found me fainting at their door, they had taken me in, and treated me to their best; I was bound in common honor to do something to requite their kindness. And let me add, though not often a man subject to any feelings of compassion, whatever natural bent I had this way having been spoiled in the wars, I nevertheless could not refrain from pitying the distress of that strong man before me. I felt tenderly toward him, more so than I had felt to anyone for many a day.
All these thoughts raced through my head in the short time while Master Henry stood before me. The look in his eyes, the pained face of the old man, and the sight of Anne, so fair and helpless, fixed my determination.
“I am bound to you in gratitude,” said I, “and I would seek to repay you. I will bide in the house, if so you will, and be the maid’s protector. God grant I may be faithful to my trust, and may he send a speedy end to your exile?”
So ’twas all finished in a few minutes, and I was fairly embarked upon the queerest enterprise of my life. For myself I sat dazed and meditative; as for the minister and Master Semple, one-half of the burden seemed to be lifted from their minds. I was amazed at the trusting natures of these men, who had habited all their days with honest folk till they conceived all to be as worthy as themselves. I felt, I will own, a certain shrinking from the responsibility of the task; but the Rubicon had been crossed and there was no retreat.
* * * * *
Of the rest of that night how shall I tell? There was such a bustling and pother as I had never seen in any house since the day that my brother Denis left Rohaine for the Dutch wars. There was a running and scurrying about, a packing of food, a seeking of clothes, for the fugitives must be off before the first light. Anne went about with a pale, tearful face; and ’twas a matter of no surprise, for to see a father, a man frail and fallen in years, going out to the chill moorlands in the early autumn till no man knew when, is a grievous thing for a young maid. Her lover was scarce in so dire a case, for he was young and strong, and well used to the life of the hills. For him there was hope; for the old man but a shadow. My heart grew as bitter as gall at the thought of the villains who brought it about.
How shall I tell of the morning, when the faint light was flushing the limits of the sky, and the first call of a heath-bird broke the silence! ’Twas sad to see these twain with their bundles (the younger carrying the elder’s share) creep through the heather toward the hills. They affected a cheerful resolution, assumed to comfort Anne’s fears and sorrow; but I could mark beneath it a settled despair. The old man prayed at the threshold, and clasped his daughter many times, kissing her and giving her his blessing. The younger, shaken with great sobs, bade a still more tender farewell, and then started off abruptly to hide his grief. Anne and I, from the door, watched their figures disappear over the crest of the ridge, and then went in, sober and full of angry counsels.
* * * * *
The soldiers came about an hour before mid-day — a band from Clachlands, disorderly ruffians, commanded by a mealy-faced captain. They were a scurrilous set, their faces bloated with debauchery and their clothes in no very decent order. As one might have expected, they were mightily incensed at finding their bird flown, and fell to cursing each other with great good-will. They poked their low-bred faces into every nook in the house and outbuildings; and when at length they had satisfied themselves that there was no hope from that quarter, they had all the folk of the dwelling out on the green and questioned them one by one. The two serving-lasses were stanch, and stoutly denied all knowledge of their master’s whereabouts — which was indeed no more than the truth. One of the two, Jean Crichope by name, when threatened with ill-treatment if she did not speak, replied valiantly that she would twist the neck of the first scoundrelly soldier who dared to lay finger on her. This I doubt not she could have performed, for she was a very daughter of Anak.
As for Anne and myself, we answered according to our agreement. They were very curious to know my errand there and my name and birth; and when I bade them keep their scurvy tongues from defiling a gentleman’s house, they were none so well pleased. I am not a vain man, and I do not set down the thing I am going to relate as at all redounding to my credit; I merely tell it as an incident in my tale.
The captain at last grew angry. He saw that the law was powerless to touch us, and that nought remained for him but to ride to the hills in pursuit of the fugitives. This he seemed to look upon as a hardship, being a man to all appearance more fond of the bottle and pasty than a hill gallop. At any rate he grew wroth, and addressed to Anne a speech so full of gross rudeness that I felt it my duty to interfere.
“Look you here, sir,” said I, “I am here, in the first place, to see that no scoundrel maltreats this lady. I would ask you, therefore, to be more civil in your talk or to get down and meet me in fair fight. These gentlemen,” and I made a mocking bow to his company, “will, I am assured, see an honest encounter.”
The man flushed under his coarse skin. His reputation was at stake. There was no other course open but to take up my challenge.
“You, you bastard Frenchman,” he cried, “would you dare to insult a captain of the king’s dragoons? I’ faith, I will teach you better manners;” and he came at me with his sword in a great heat. The soldiers crowded round like children to see a cock-fight.
In an instant we crossed swords and fell to; I with the sun in my eyes and on the lower ground. The combat was not of long duration. In a trice I found that he was a mere child in my hands, a barbarian who used his sword like a quarter-staff, not even putting strength into his thrusts.
“Enough!” I cried; “this is mere fooling;” and with a movement which any babe in arms might have checked, twirled his blade from his hands and sent it spinning over the grass. “Follow your sword, and learn two things before you come back — civility to maids and the rudiments of sword-play. Bah! Begone with you!”
Some one of his men laughed, and I think they were secretly glad at their tyrant’s discomfiture. No more need be said. He picked up his weapon and rode away, vowing vengeance upon me and swearing at every trooper behind him. I cared not a straw for him, for despite his bravado I knew that the fear of death was in his cowardly heart, and that we should be troubled no more by his visitations.