Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





THE FOREWORD

A book iron-grey and chill is this that I have written, the tale of times when the passions of men were still working like a yeasty sea after the storms of the Great Killing. If these pages should chance to be read when the leaves are greening, they may taste somewhat unseasonably in the mouth. For in these days the things of the spirit had lost their old authority without gaining a new graciousness, and save for one man the ancient war-cry of God and the Kirk had become degraded to The Kirk and God.

This is the story of the one man whose weak and uncertain hand held aloft the Banner of Blue that I have striven to tell his failures mostly, his loves and hates, his few bright days and his many dark nights. Yet withal I have found green vales of rest between wherein the swallow swept and the cuckoo called to her mate the cry of love and spring.

Who would know further and better of the certainty of these things must procure and read A Cameronian Apostle, by my excellent friend, the Reverend H. M. B. Reid, presently minister of the parish wherein these things were done, in whose faithful and sympathetic narrative they will find many things better told than I can tell them. The book may be had of the Messrs. Gardiner, of Paisley, in Scotland.

Yet even in this imperfect narrative of strange events there may be heard the beating of a mans heart, weak or strong, now arrogant, and now abased, not according to the fear of man or even of the glory of God, but more according to the kindness which dwelt in womans eyes.

For there is but one thing stronger in the world than the love of woman. And that is not of this world.

CHAPTER I
THE YEAR TERRIBLE

This is what I, Quintin MacClellan, saw on the grassy summit of the Bennan a thing which, being seen and overpast in an hour, changed all my life, and so in time by the grace of God and the chafe of circumstances made me for good or evil the man I am.

I was a herd laddie at the time, like David, keeping my fathers flocks and kicking up my heels among the collie tykes, with many another shepherd-boy in the wide moorish parishes of Minnigaff, Dalry and the Kells.

Now my father (and his father before him) had been all his life indweller in the hill farm of Ardarroch which sits on the purple braeface above the loch of Ken, with a little circumambient yard enclosed by cattle-offices and a dozen red-stemmed fir trees, in which the winds and the birds sing after their kind, winter and summer.

A sweet and grateful spot do I now remember that Ardarroch to be, and in these later days when I have tried so mickle of bliss and teen, and wearied my life out in so many wanderings and strivings, my heart still goes out kindly to the well-beloved place of my bairn-play.

It was the high summer of the fatal year 1685, when I saw the sight which put an end to my childhood. Well do I mind it that year, for amongst others, my father had to go for a while into hiding not that he was any over-strenuous Covenant man, but solely because he had never in his life refused bite and sup to any neighbour hard pressed, nor yet to any decent chiel who might scarcely be able to give an account of the quarrel he had with the Tyrants laws.

So, during his absence, my brothers and I had the work of the farm to attend to.

No dawn of day sifting from the east through the greenery of the great sloughing beeches and firs about the door ever found any of the three of us in our beds. For me, I was up and away to the hills where sometimes in the full lambing time I would spend all night on the heathery fells or among the lirks and hidden dells of the mountain fastnesses.

And oh, but it was pleasant work and I liked it well! The breathing airs; the wide, starry arch I looked up into, when night had drawn her night-cap low down over the girdling blue-black hills; the moon glinting on the breast of Loch Ken; the moor-birds, whaup and snipe, plover and wild duck cheeping and chummering in their nests, while the wood-doves moan rose plaintive from every copse and covert it was a fit birthplace for a young lads soul. Though indeed at that time none was farther from guessing it than Quintin MacClellan. For as I went hither and thither I pondered on nothing except the fine hunger the hills gave me, and the glorious draughts of whey and buttermilk my mother would serve out to me on my return, calling me meantime the greatest and silliest of her calves, besides tweaking my ears at the milk-house door if she could catch me ere I set my bare legs twinkling down the loaning.

For the time being I say nothing more of my father, douce John of Ardarroch, as all the parish called him, save that he was a moderate man and no high-flier as he would have described himself yet out of whom his wife (and my good mother) had, by the constant dropping of argument, made a Covenant man, and even a fairly consistent follower of the Hill Folk. Neither will I bide to speak of my brothers Hob and David, for their names and characters will have occasion to appear as I write down my own strange history. Nor yet can I pause to tell of the sweetness and grace of my sister Anna, whose brown eyes held a charm which even my boyish and brotherly insensibility acknowledged and delighted in, being my elder by half-a-dozen years, and growing up amongst us rough louts of the heather like a white rose in the stocky corner of an herb-garden.

For I must tell of myself and what befell me on the Bennan top the twenty-first day of June high Midsummer Day of the Year Terrible, and of all that it brought to me.

I had heard, indeed, often enough of chasings, of prisonments, of men and women sent away over-seas to the cruel plantations, of the boot and the thumbscrew, of the blood of slain men reddening the heather behind dyke-backs. There was indeed little talk of anything else throughout all the land of the South and West. But it so chanced that our House of Ardarroch, being set high up on the side of Bennan, and with no prominent Covenanters near by to be a mark for the fury of the persecutor, we MacClellans had thus far escaped unquestioned and scathless.

Once, indeed, Lidderdale of the Isle, with twenty men, had made us a visitation and inquired somewhat curiously of us, and specially of my mother, whom we had entertained on such a night and whom on such another. After this occasion it was judged expedient that my father should keep wide of his own house for a while, lest the strict laws against intercommuning11
Intercommuning i.e., entertaining, assisting, or sheltering any who were counted unfriendly to the Government, or had been reported by the curates for not attending church. Even the smallest converse with proscribed persons was thought deserving of the pains of death.


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should lay him by the heels in the gaol of Kirkcudbright.

But to the young and healthy so long at least as there is clothing for the back, good filling for the hungry belly, and no startling and personal evil befal tales of ill, unseen and unproven, fall on the ear like the clatter of ancient head-shaking beldames croaking to each other by unswept ingle-nooks. At least, so it was with me.

But to my tale of Midsummer Day of the Terrible Year.

I had been out, since earliest morn, over the rough rigs of heather looking tentily to my sheep, for I had been hefting (as the business is called in our Galloway land) a double score of lambs which had just been brought from a neighbouring lowland farm to summer upon our scanty upland pastures. Now it is the nature of sheep to return if they can to their mother-hill, or, at least, to stray further and further seeking some well-known landmark. So, till such new-comers grow satisfied and heft (or attach) themselves to the soil, they must be watched carefully both night and day.

I was at this time thirteen years of my age, well nourished and light of foot as a mountain goat. Indeed, there was not a goat in the herd that I could not run down and grip by the neck. And when Hob, my elder brother, would take after me because of some mischief I had wrought, I warrant he had a long chase and a sore sweat before he caught me, if I got but ten yards start and the heather free before me.

This day I had a couple of fine muckle scones in my pocket, which my mother had given me, besides one I had purloined for myself when she was not looking, but which my sister Anna had seen me take and silently shaken her head. That, however, I minded not a fly. Also I snatched up a little square book from the window-sill, hoping that in it I might find some entertainment to while away the hours in the bield of some granite stone or behind some bush of heather. But I found it to be the collect of Mr. Samuel Rutherford, his letters from Aberdeen and Anwoth, and at first I counted the reading of it dull enough work. But afterwards, because of the names of kenned places in our Galloway and also the fine well-smacking Scottish words in it, I liked it none so ill.

Ashie and Gray, my dogs, sat on either side of me. Brother and sister they were, of one year and litter, yet diverse as any human brother and sister Ashie being gay and frisky, ever full of freits and caperings; his sister Gray, on the other hand, sober as a hill-preaching when Clavers is out on the heather looking for it.

As for Ashie, he nipped himself in the flank and pursued after his own tail as if he had taken some ill-will at it. But old-maidish Gray sat erect, cocking her short ears and keeping a sharp eye on the hefting lambs, which went aimlessly straying and cropping below, seeking in vain for holms as kindly and pastures as succulent as those of the valley-crofts from which my father had driven them a day or two before.

For myself, in the intervals of my reading, I had been singing a merry stave, one you may be sure that I did not let my mother or my sister Anna hear. I had learnt it from wild David, who had brought the broad sheet back with him from Keltonhill Fair. Thus I had been carolling, gay as the laverock which I watched flirting and pulsing upwards out of the dun bents of the fell. But after a while the small print of my book and, perhaps, also the high instructiveness of the matter inclined me towards sleep.

The bleating of the sundered lambs desirous of lost motherly udders fell more soothingly and plaintively upon my ear. It seemed to bring dreams pleasant and delightful with it. I heard the note sink and change to that heavenly murmuring that comes with drowsiness, or which, mayhap, is but the sound of the porter opening the Poppy Gates of sleep and which may break yet more delightfully on our ears when the gates that open for us are the gates of death.

I suppose that all the afternoon the whaups had piped and willywhaaed, the snipes bleated and whinnied overhead, and that the peewits had complained to each other of the question boy-beast below them, which ran on two legs and waved other two so foolishly in the air. But I did not hear them. My ears were dulled. The moorland sounds melted deliciously into the very sough and murmur of reposefulness. I was already well on my way to Drowsieland. I heard my mother sing me a lullaby somewhere among the tranced fields. Suddenly the cradle-song ceased. Through shut eyelids I grew conscious of a disturbing influence. Though my face nestled deep down in the crook of my arm I knew that Ashie and Gray had all suddenly sat up.

Ouf-f! quoth Ashie protestingly, deep in his stomach so that the sound would carry no further than his masters ear.

Gur-r-r! growled Gray, his sister, yet more softly, the black wicks of her mouth pulled away from her wicked shining eye-teeth.

Thinking that the sheep were straying and that it might be as well by a timely shout to save myself miles and miles of hot chase over the heather, I sat up, ungraciously discontented to be thus aroused, and yet more unreasonably angry with the dogs whose watchfulness had recalled me to the realities of life. As I raised my head, the sounds of the hills broke on my ear suddenly loud indeed almost insolently insistant. The suppressed far-away hush of Dreamland scattered itself like a broken glass before the brisk clamour of the broad wind-stirred day.

I glanced at the flock beneath me. They were feeding and straying quietly enough rather widely perhaps, but nothing to make a fret about.

Restless tykes! I muttered irritably, striking right and left at the dogs with my staff. Deil take you, silly beasts that ye are!

Ouf-f! said Ashie, warningly as before, but from a safer distance, his nose pointing directly away from the hefting lambs. Gray said nothing, but uncovered her shining teeth a little further and cocked her ears more directly towards the summit of the Bennan behind me.

I looked about me high and low, but still I could see no cause for alarm.

Daft brutes! Silly beasts! I cried again more crossly than ever. And with that I was about to consign myself to sleep again, or at least to seek the pleasant paths of the day-dreamland from which I had been so abruptly recalled.

But the dogs with bristling hair, cocked ears and proudly-plumaged tails were already ten yards up the slope towards the top of the fell, sniffing belligerently as though they scented an intrusive stranger dog at the entering in of the sacred enclosure of the farmyard of Ardarroch.

I was reaching for my stick to deal it liberally between them when a waft of warm summer wind brought to my ear the sound of the distant crying of men. Then came the clear, imperative Crack! Crack! of musket shots first two, and then half-a-dozen close together, sharp and distinct as an eager schoolboy snapping his finger and thumb to call the attention of the master to whom he has been forbidden to speak.

Then, again, on the back of this arrived silence, issuing presently in a great disturbed clamour of peewit flocks on the table-lands above me, clouds of them stooping and swooping, screaming and scolding at some unlicensed and unprincipled intruders by me unseen.

I knew well what it meant in a moment. The man-hunt was afoot. The folk of God were once more being pursued like the partridge upon the mountain. It might be that the blood of my own father was even now making another crimson blossom of martyr blood upon the moors of Scotland.

Down, down, Ashie! I cried, but under my breath. Come in to my foot, Gray! And, knowing by the voice that I was much in earnest, very obediently the dogs slung behind with, however, many little protesting gurrs and chest rumblings of muffled rage.

It must be Lag himself from the Garry-horn, I thought; he will be at his old work of pursuing the wanderers with bloodhound and troop-horse.

Then, with the craft which had perhaps been born in me and which had certainly been fostered by the years of watching and hiding, of open hatred and secret suspicion, I crept cautiously up the side of the fell, taking advantage of every tummock of heather and boss of tall bent grass. Ashie and Gray crawled after me, stiff with intent hate, but every whit as flatly prone and as infinitely cautious as their master.

For they, too, had been born in the Days of Fear, and the spirit of the game had entered into them ere ever they emerged from the blindness of puppydom.

As we ascended, nearer and nearer sounded the turmoil. I heard, as it were, the sound of mens voices encouraging each other, as the huntsmen do on the hillsides when they drive the red fox from his lair. Then came the baying of dogs and the clattering of irregular musketry.

Till now the collies and I had been sheltered by the grey clints and lichened rocks of the Bennan, but now we had to come out into the open. The last thirty yards of ascent were bare and shelterless, the short, mossy scalp of turf upon them being clean shaven as if cut with a razor.

My heart beat fast, I can tell you who read this tale so comfortably by the ingle-nook. I held it down with my hand as I crept upwards. Ashie and Gray followed like four-footed guardian angels behind, now dragging themselves painfully yard by yard upon their bellies, now lying motionless as stone statues, their moist jowls pressed to the ground and their dilated nostrils snuffing the air for the intelligence which only my duller eyes could bring me.

Yet I knew the risks of the attempt. For as soon as I had left the shelter of the boulders and scattered clumps of heather and bent, I was plain to the sight as a fly crawling over the shell of an egg.

Nevertheless, with a quick rush I reached the top and set my head over.

CHAPTER II
THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS

The broad, flat table-top of the Bennan summit spread out before me like an exercise ground for troops or a racecourse for horses.

Yet not all barren or desolate, for here and there among the grey granite peeped forth the bloom of the young heather, making a livelier purple amid the burnt brown of the short grass, which in its turn was diversified by the vivid emerald green circling the quacking-quaas or bottomless moss-holes of the bogs beneath.

Now this is what I saw, lying on my face, with no more than my chin set over the edge two men in tattered, peat-stained clothing running for their lives towards the edge of the little plateau farthest from me.

Between me and them twenty or thirty dragoons were urging their horses forward in pursuit, weaving this way and that among the soft lairy places, and as many more whose steeds had stuck fast in the moss were coursing the fugitives on foot as though the poor men had been beasts of the field.

Every now and then one of the pursuers would stop, set his musket to his shoulder and blaze away with a loud report and a drift of white smoke, shouting joyously as at a rare jest whether he hit or missed. And I thought that the poor lads would make good their escape with such sorry marksmen. But even whilst I was putting up a prayer for them as I lay panting upon the manifest edge, a chance shot struck the smaller and more slender of the wanderers. He stumbled, poor wretch, and fell forward upon his face. Then, mastering himself, and recognising his grievous case and how much of mercy he had to look for if his enemies came up with him, his strong spirit for an instant conquered his bodily hurt.

He rose immediately, set his hands one over the other upon his side, doubtless to stay the welling gap the bullet had riven there, and ran yet more determinedly after his companion. But close to the further verge his power went from him. His companion halted and would have come back to aid him, or more likely to die with him. But the wounded man threw out his hand in vehement protest.

Run, Sandy, he cried, so loudly and eagerly that I could easily hear him through all the shouting and pother. It will do no good. I am sped. Save yourself God have mercy tell Margaret !

But what he would have told Margaret I know not, for even then he spread out his arms and fell forward on his face in the spongy moss.

At this his companion turned sharply and ran on by himself, finally disappearing among the granite boulders amid a brisk crackling of the soldiers pieces.

But their marksmanship was poor, for though they were near to him, what with the breathless race and the unevenness of the ground, not a shot took effect. Nor showed he any sign of scathe when last I saw him, leaping nimbly from clump to clump of bent, where the green slimy moss wet with the peat-brew keeps all soft as a quicksand, so that neither hoof of a charger nor heavy military boot dare venture upon it, though the bare accustomed foot of one bred to the hills may carry him across easily enough. So the fugitive, a tall, burly man, cumbered with little besides a doublet and short hose, disappeared out of my sight, and the plain was bare save for the disappointed dragoons in their red coats and the poor man left fallen on his face in the morass.

I could never see him move hand or foot after he fell; and, indeed, it was not long that he had the chance. For even as I continued to gaze fascinated at the scene of blood which so suddenly had broken in upon the pastoral peace of our Kells hills, I saw a tall, dark soldier, one evidently of some authority among them, stride up to the fallen man. He strove to turn him over with his foot, but the moss clung, and he could not. So without a moments hesitation he took a musket from the nearest dragoon, glanced coolly at the priming of the touch, set the butt to his shoulder, and with the muzzle within a foot shot the full charge into the back of the prostrate man.

At this I could command myself no longer. The pursuit and the shooting at the fugitives, even the killing when at least they had a chance for their lives, seemed nothing to this stony-hearted butchery. I gat me up on my feet, and in a boyish frenzy shouted curses upon the murderer.

God shall send thee to hell for this, wicked man, black murderer that thou art! I cried, shaking my clenched hand, like the angry impotent child I was.

The soldiers who were searching here and there, as it were, for more victims among the coverts turned their heads my way and gazed, hearing the voice but seeing no man. Others who stood upon the verge, taking shots as fast as they could load at the man who had escaped, also turned. I yelled at them that they were to show themselves brave soldiers, and shoot me also. The tall, dark buirdly man in the red coat who had fired into the wounded man cried to them to take a shot at the damned young Whig. But I think the men were all too much surprised at my bold words to do it, for none moved, so that the speaker was obliged to snatch a pistol from his own belt, and let fly at me himself.





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