Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer

I did not so much as look about me till I was on the crest of the hill. Then for a single moment I stood looking back into the clear grey bath of night behind me, where the lass I loved was keeping her watch in the lonely sheepfold.

Yet I was pleased with myself too. For though my dismissal had been so swift and unexpected, I felt that I had not done by any means badly for myself.

At least I could call Alexander-Jonita my friend. And there was never a lad upon all the hills of heather that could do so much.


(The Narrative of Quintin MacClellan resumed.)

It was a day of high summer when the anger of mine enemies drew finally to a head, and that within mine own land of Balmaghie. The Presbytery were in the habit of meeting at a place a little way from the centre of the parish, called Cullenoch or, as one would say in English, The Woodlands.

In twos or threes they came, riding side by side on their ponies, or appearing singly out of some pass among the hills. So, as I say, the Presbytery assembled at Cullenoch, and the master of it, Andrew Cameron of Kirkcudbright, was there, with his orders from wily Carstaires, the pope of the restored Kirk of Scotland.

To this day I can see his aspect as he rose up among the brethren with a great roll in his hand solemn, portentous, full of suave, easy words and empty, sonorous utterances.

Fathers and brethren, he said, looking on us with a comprehending pity for our feebleness of capacity, there hath come that from Her Most Noble and Christian Majesty the Queen Anna, which it behooves us to treat with all the respect due to one who is at once the Anointed of God, and also as the fountain of all authority, in some sense also the Head of the Church!

As he finished he laid upon the table a great parchment, and tapped it impressively with his finger.

It is, if I may be permitted the words, the message of Gods vicegerent upon earth; whom His own finger has especially designed to rule over us. And I am well assured that no one among the brethren of the Presbytery will be so ill-advised as not at once to sign this declaration of our submission and dutiful obedience to our Liege lady in all things.

This he uttered soundingly, with much more to the same purpose, standing up all the time, and glowering about him on the look-out for contradiction.

Then, though I was the youngest member of the Presbytery, save one, I felt that for the ancient liberty of the Kirk and for the sake of the blood shed on the moors, I could not permit so great a scandal as this to pass. I rose in my place, whilst Cameron looked steadily upon me, endeavouring to browbeat me into silence.

Somewhat thus I spoke:

The most learned and reverend brother brings us a paper to sign a paper which we have neither seen nor yet heard read. It comes (he tells us) from the Churchs head, from Gods vicegerent.

It is to be received with hushed breath and bowed knee. The Head of the Church! says Mr. Cameron ah, brethren, the men who have so lately entered into rest through warring stress, sealed with their blood the testimony that the Kirk of God has no head upon earth. The Kirk of Scotland is the Kirk of Jesus Christ, the alone King and Head of the Church. The Kirk of Scotland is more noble, high and honourable in herself than any human government. She alone is Gods vicegerent. She alone has power within her own borders to rule her own affairs. The Kirk has many faults, but at least she will surely never permit herself to be ruled again by Privy Councils and self-seeking state-craft. Is she not the Bride, the Lambs wife? And for me, and for any that may adhere to me, we will sign no test nor declaration which shall put our free necks beneath the yoke of any temporal power, nor yet for fear of this or that Queens Majesty deny the Name that is above every name.

Whilst these words were put into my heart and spoken by my voice, I seemed, as it were, taken possession of. A voice prompted me what I was to speak. I heard the sound of rushing wings, and though I was but lately a herd-lad on the hills of sheep I knew that the time had come, which on the day of the Killing on the Bennan Top I had seen afar off.

Whilst I was speaking, Cameron stood impatiently bending the tips of his politic fingers upon the document on the table. A dark frown had been gathering on his brow.

This is treason, black treason! It is blank defiance of the Queens authority! he cried; I will not listen to such words. It is the voice of a man who would raise the standard of rebellion, and disturb the peace of all the parishes of our Kirk, recently and adequately settled according to the laws of the land.

But I had yet a word to say.

I am neither rebel nor heretic, said I; I am, it is true, the youngest and the least among you. But even I am old enough to have seen men shot like running deer for the liberties of the Kirk of God. I have heard the whistle of the deadly bullet flying at the command of kings and queens called in their day Heads of the Church. I have seen the martyr fall, and his blood redden the ooze of the moss hag. We have heard much of tests and papers to sign, of allegiances to other divine vicegerents upon earth, even to such Lords anointeds as James and Charles, the father and the uncle of her in whose name the Privy Council of Scotland now demands this most abject submission. But for myself I will sign no such undertaking, give countenance to no bond which might the second time deliver us who have fought for our ancient liberties with weapons in our hands, bound hand and foot to the powers temporal yea, that we might wrest the powers of the spiritual arm from the Son of God and deliver them to the daughter of James Stuart.

And who are you, cried Cameron, thus to teach and instruct men who were ministers when you were but a bairn, to reprove those who have wrought in sun and shine, and in gloom and darkness alike, to make the Kirk of Scotland what she is this day?

There was a noise of some approval among the Presbytery. I knew, however, that I had small sympathy among those present, men fearful of losing their pleasant livings and fat stipends. Nevertheless, very humbly I made answer. It is not Quintin MacClellan, but the word he speaks that cannot be gainsaid. There is also an old saying that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God expects the perfection of praise.

Fool! cried Cameron, ye would endanger and cast down the fair fabric of this Kirk of Scotland, ignorantly pulling down what wiser and better men have laboriously built up. Ye are but a child throwing stones at windows and ready to run when the glass splinters. You stand alone among us, sir alone in Scotland!

I stand no more alone, I replied, than your brother Richard Cameron did at Ayrsmoss when he rode into the broil and tumult of battle for the honour of the Covenant. The Banner of Christs cause that was trampled in the peat-brew of the moss of Ayr, is a worthier standard than the rag of submission which lies upon the table under your hand.

Cameron was silent. He liked not the memory of his great brother. I went on, for the mans pliable pitifulness angered me.

Think you that Richard Cameron would have signed words like these? Aye, I think he would. But it would have been with his sword, cutting the vile bond into fragments, giving them to the winds, and strewing them upon the waters.

Then the Presbytery would hear no more, but by instant vote and voice they put me forth. Yet ere I went from their midst, I cried, If there be any that think more of the freedom of Gods Kirk in this land of Scotland than of their stipends and glebes, let them come forth with me.

And two there were who rose and followed Reid of Carsphairn, a man zealous and far-seeing, and one other, a young minister lately come within the bounds.

So the door was shut upon us, and they that hated us were left to concert their measures without let or hindrance.

And for a moment we three clasped hands without the door.

Let us stand by each other and the word of truth, I said, and the truth shall never make us ashamed.


Now throughout all the parish, aye, and throughout all Galloway there arose infinite noise and bruit of this thing. Specially was there the buzz of anger in the hill parishes, where the men who had lain in the moss-hags and fought for the ancient liberties dwelt thickest in Carsphairn, in the Glenkens, and in mine own Balmaghie.

As I went over the hill from farm-town to farm-town the herds would cry down Well done! from among the sheep. Old men who had seen the high days of the Kirk before the fatal home-coming of King Charles; rough, buirdly men who had done their share of hiding and fighting in the troubles; young men who, like myself, had heard in their cradles but the murmur of the fray, came to shake my hand and bid me strengthen my knees and stick to my testimony.

For, said a venerable elder, one Anthony Lennox of the Duchrae, who had been a famous man in the sufferings, this is the very truth for which we bled. We asked for the kernel, and lo! they have given us the dry and barren husk. We fought for Christs Crown and Covenant, and they have sent us a banner with the device Queen Annes Crown and the Test!

But I think that the women were even more warmly on our side, for the canker of persecution had eaten deeper into their hearts, that had only waited and mourned while their men folk were out suffering and fighting.

Be ye none feared, laddie, said Millicent Hannay, an ancient dame who had stood the thumbikins thrice in the gaol of Kirkcudbright; the most part of the ministers may stick like burrs to their manses and glebes, their tiends and tithings. But if so be, ye are thrust forth into the wilderness, ye will find manna there aye, and water from the rock and a pillar of fire going before to lead you out again.

But nowhere was I more warmly welcomed than in the good house of Drumglass. The herd lads and ploughmen were gathered at the house-end when I came up the loaning, and even as I passed one of them came forward with his blue bonnet in his hand.

Fear not, sir, he said, with a kind of bold, self-respecting diffidence common among our Galloway hinds. I speak for all our lads with hearts and hands. We will fight for you. Keep the word of your testimony, and we will sustain you and stand behind you. If we will unfurl the blue banner again, we will plant right deep the staff.

And from the little group of stalwart men at the barn-end there came a low murmur of corroboration, We will uphold you!

Strange as it is to-day to think on these things when most men are so lukewarm for principle. But in those days the embers of the fires of persecution were yet warm and glowing, and men knew not when they might again be blown up and fresh fuel added thereto.

Come awa, cried Nathan Gemmell heartily, from where he sat on the outer bench of moss-oak by the door-cheek, worn smooth by generations of sitters, come awa, minister, and tell us the news. Faith, it makes me young-like again to hear there is still a man that thinks on the Covenants and the blue banner wi the denty white cross. And though they forget the auld flag noo, I hae seen it gang stacherin doon the streets o the toon o Edinburg wi a the folk cryin Up wi the Kirk an doon wi the King! till there wasna a sodjer-body dare show his face, nor a Kings man to be found between the Castle and the Holyrood House. Hech-how-aye! auld Drumglass has seen that.

And eke he saw the lads that were pitten doon on the green Pentland slopes in the saxty-sax start frae the Clachan o Saint John wi hopes that were high, sharpening their bits o swords and scythes to withstand the guns o Dalzyell. And but few o them ever wan back. But what o that? Its a brave thrang there wad be about heavens gates that day the souls o the righteous thranging and pressing to win through, the rejoicing of a multitude that had washed their robes and made them white in the blood o the Lamb.

Ow, aye, ye wonder at me, that am a carnal man, speakin that gate. But it is juist because I am a man wha has been a sore sinner, that I wear thae things sae near my heart. My time is at hand. Soon, soon will auld Drumglass, wastrel loon that he is, be thrown oot like a useless root ower the wa and carried feet foremost from out his chamber door. But if its the Lords will (he rose to his feet and shook his oaken staff) if its the Lords will, auld Drumglass wad like to draw the blade frae the scabbard yince mair, and find the wecht o the steel in his hand while yet his auld numb fingers can meet aboot the basket hilt.

Oh, I ken, I ken; ye think the weapons of our warfare are not to be swords and staves, minister truth will fight for us, ye say.

I daresay ye are right. But gin the hoodie-craws o the Presbytery come wi swords and staves to put ye forth from your parish and your kindly down-sitting, ye will be none the worse of the parcel o braw lads ye saw at the barn-end, every man o them wi a basket-hilted blade in his richt hand and a willing Galloway heart thump-thumpin high wi itching desire to be at the red coaties o the malignants.

Then we went in, and there by the fireside, looking very wistfully out of her meek eyes at me, stood the young lass, Jean Gemmell. She came forward holding out her hand, saying no word, but the tears still wet on her lashes why, I know not. And she listened as her father asked of the doings at the Presbytery, and looked eager and anxious while I was answering. Presently Auld Drumglass went forth on some errand about the work of the ploughlads, and the lass and I were left alone together in the wide kitchen.

And they will indeed put you forth out of house and home? she asked, looking at me with sweet, reluctant eyes, the eyes of a mourning dove. She stood by the angle of the hearth where the broad ingle-seat begins. I sat on her fathers chair where he had placed me and looked over at her. A comely lass she was, with her pale cheeks and a blush on them that went and came responsive to the beating of her heart.

I had not answered, being busy with looking at her and thinking how I wished Mistress Mary Gordon had been as gentle and biddable as this lass. So she asked again, They will not put you forth from your kirk and parish, will they?

Nay, that I know not, I said, smiling; doubtless they will try.

Oh, I could not listen to another minister after

She stopped and sighed.

It was in my mind to rebuke her, and to bid her remember that the Word of God is not confined to any one vessel of clay, but just then she put her hand to her side, and went withal so pale that I could not find it in my heart to speak harshly to the young lass.

Then I told her, being stirred within me by her emotion, of the two who had stood by me in the Presbytery, and how little hope I had that they would manfully see it out to the end.

Tis a fight that I must fight alone, I said.

For I knew well that it would come to that, and that so soon as the affair went past mere empty words those two who had stood at my shoulder would fall behind or be content to bide snugly at home.

Not alone! said the young lass, quickly, and moved a step towards me with her hand held out. Then, with a deep and burning blush, her maiden modesty checked her, and she stood red like a July rose in the clear morning.

She swayed as if she would have fallen, and, leaping up quickly, I caught her in my arms ere she had time to fall.

Her eyes were closed. The blood had ebbed from her face and left her pale to the very lips. I stood with her light weight in my arms, thrilling strangely, for, God be my judge, never woman had lain there before.

Presently she gave a long snatching breath and opened her eyes. I saw the tears gather in them as her head lay still and lax in the hollow of my arm. The drops did not fall, but rather gathered slowly like wells that are fed from beneath.

You will not go away? she said, and at last lifted her lashes, with a little pearl shining wet on each, like a swallow that has dipped her wings in a pool.

Then, because I could not help it, I did that which I had never done to any woman born of woman: I stooped and kissed the wet sweet eyes. And then, ere I knew it, with a little cry of frightened joy, the girls arms were about me. She lifted up her face, and kissed me again and again and yet again.

When I came to myself I was conscious of another presence in the kitchen. I looked up quickly, and there before me, standing with an ash switch swaying in her hand, was Alexander-Jonita. I had not supposed that she could have looked so stern.

Well? she said, as if waiting for my explanation.

I love your sister, I replied; for indeed, though I had not thought thus of the matter before, there seemed nothing else to be said.

But the face of Alexander-Jonita did not relax. She stood gazing at her sister, whose head rested quiet and content on my shoulder.

Jean, she said at last, knowing that which you know, why have you done this?

The girl lifted her head, and looked at Jonita with a kind of glad defiance.

Sister, she said, you do not understand love. How should you know what one would do for love?

You love my sister Jean? Jonita began again, turning to me with a sharpness in her words like the pricking of a needles point.

Yes! I answered, but perhaps a little uncertainly.

Did you know as much when you came into the kitchen?

No, said I.

For indeed I knew not what to answer, never having been thus tangled up with womens affairs in my life before.

I thought not, said Jonita, curtly. Then to Jean, How did this come about? she said.

Jean lifted her head, her face being lily-pale and her body swaying a little to me.

I thought he would go away and that I should never see him again! she replied, a little pitifully, with the quavering thrill of unshed tears in her voice.

And you did this knowing what you know! said Jonita again, sternly.

I saw him first, said Jean, a little obstinately, looking down the while.

Her sister flushed crimson.

Oh, lassie, she cried, ye will drive me mad with your whims and foolish speeches; what matters who saw him first? Ye ken well that ye are not fit to be

She is fit to be my wife, I said, for I thought that this had gone far enough; she is fit to be my wife, and my wife she shall surely be if she will have me!

With a little joyful cry Jean Gemmells arms went about my neck, and her wet face was hidden in my breast. It lay there quiet a moment; then she lifted it and looked with a proud, still defiance at her sister.

Alexander-Jonita lifted up her hands in hopeless protest.

She seemed about to say more, but all suddenly she changed her mind.

So be it, she said. After all, tis none of my business!

And with that she turned and went out through the door of the kitchen.


(Comment and Addition by Hob MacClellan.)

I met my lass Jonita that night by the sheep-fold on the hill. It was not yet sundown, but the spaces of the heavens had slowly grown large and vague. The wind also had gradually died away to a breathing stillness. The scent of the bog-myrtle was in our nostrils, as if the plant itself leaned against our faces.

I had been waiting a long time ere I heard her come, lissomly springing from tuft to tuft of grass and whistling that bonny dance tune, The Broom o the Cowdenknowes. But even before I looked up I caught the trouble in her tones. She whistled more shrilly than usual, and the liquid fluting of her notes, mellow mostly like those of the blackbird, had now an angry ring.

What is the matter, Alexander-Jonita? I cried, eer I had so much as set eyes on her.

The whistling ceased at my question. She came near, and leaning her elbows on the dyke, she regarded me sternly.

Then you know something about it? she said, looking at me between the eyes, her own narrowed till they glinted wintry and keen as the gimlet-tool wherewith the joiner bores his holes.

Has your father married the dairymaid, or Meg the pony cast a shoe? I asked of her, with a lightness I did not feel.

Tut, she cried, tis the matter of your brother, as well you know.

What of my brother?

Why, our silly Jean has made eyes at him, and let the salt water fall on the breast of his black ministers coat. And now the calf declares that he loves her!

I stood up in sharp surprise.

He no more loves her than than

Than you love me, said Alexander-Jonita; I know drive on!

I did not notice her evil-conditioned jibe.

Why, Jonita, he has all his life been in love with the Lady Mary the Bull of Earlstouns daughter.

Alexander-Jonita nodded pensively.

Even so I thought, she said, but, as I guess, Mary Gordon has sent him about his business, and so he has been taken with our poor Jeans puling pussydom. God forgive me that I should say so much of a dying woman.

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