Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





A dying woman! cried I, there is nothing the matter with Jean.

Alexander-Jonita shook her head.

Jean is not long for this world, she said, I bid you remember. Saw you ever the red leap through the white like yon, save when the life burns fast to the ashes and the pulse beats ever more light and weak?

And how long hath this thing been afoot?

Since the day of your brothers first preaching, when to save her shoon Jean must needs go barefoot and wash her feet in the burn that slips down by the kirkyard wall.

That was the day Quintin first spoke with her, when she gave him her nooning piece of bread to stay his hunger.

Aye, said Alexander-Jonita; better had he gone hungry all sermon-time than eaten of our Jeans piece.

For shame, Alexander-Jonita! I cried, and a double shame to speak thus of a lassie that is, by your own tale, dying on her feet and your sister forbye. I believe that ye are but jealous!

She flamed up in sudden anger. If she had had a knife or a pistol in her hand, I believe she would have killed me.

Get out of our ewe-buchts before I twist your impudent neck, Hob MacClellan! she cried. I care not a docken for any man alive least of all for you and your brother. Yet I thought, from what I heard of his doings at the Presbytery, that he was more of a man than any of you. But now I see that he is feckless and feeble like the rest.

Ah, Jonita, you snooded folk tame us all. From David the King to Hob MacClellan there is no man so wise but a woman may tie him in knots about her little finger.

I thought better of your brother! she said more mildly, her anger dying away as suddenly as it had risen, and I think she sighed.

But not better of me! I said.

She looked at me with contempt, but yet a contempt mightily pleasant.

Good een to ye, Hob, she cried. I was not so far left to myself as to think about you at all!

And with that she took her light plaid over her arm with a saucyish swirl, and whistling on her dogs, she swung down the hill, carrying, if you please, her shoulders squared and her head in the air like a young conceited birkie going to see his sweetheart.

And then, when the thing became public, what a din there was in the parish of Balmaghie! Only those who know the position of a young minister and the interest in his doings can imagine. It was somewhat thus that the good wives wagged their tongues.

To marry Jean Gemmell! Aye, juist poor Jean, the shilpit, pewlin brat that never did a hands turn in her life, indoor or oot! Fegs, a bonny wife she will mak to him. Apothecaries drugs and red claret wine she maun hae to leeve on. A bonnie penny it will cost him, gin ever she wins to the threshold o his manse!

But shes no there yet, kimmer! Na certes no! I mind o her mither weel. Jean was her name, too, juist sich anither cloyt a feckless, white-faced bury-me-decent, withoot as muckle spirit as wad gar her turn a sow oot o the kail-yard.

And a the kin o her were like her no yin to better anither. There was her uncle Jacob Ahanny a the Risk; he keepit in wi the Government in the auld Persecution, and when Clavers cam to the door and asked him what religion he was o, he said that the estate had changed hands lately, and that he hadna had time to speer at the new laird. And at that Clavers laughed and laughed, and it wasna often that Jockie Graham did the like. Fegs no, kimmers! But he clappit Jacob on the shooder. Puir craitur, quo he; ye are no the stuff that rebels are made o. Na, theres nocht o Richie Cameron aboot you.

Aye, faith, do ye tell me, and Jean is to mairry the minister, and him sae bauld and croose before the Presbytery. What deils cantrip can hae taen him?

Hoot, Mary McKeand, I wonder to hear ye. Do ye no ken that the baulder and greater a man the easier a woman can get round him?

Aweel, even sae I hae heard. I wish oor Jock was a great man, then; I could maybe, keep him awa frae the change-hoose in the clachan. But the minister, he had far better hae taen yon wild sister

Her? Ise warrant she wadna look at him. She doesna even gang to Balmaghie Kirk to hear him preach.

Mary McKeand, hae ye come to your age withoot kennin, that the woman that wad refuse the minister o a parish when he speers her, hasna been born?

Aweel, maybe no! But kimmer harken to me, theres mony an egg laid in the nest that never leeved to craw in the morn. Him and her are no married yet. Hoot na, woman!

And so without further eavesdropping I took my way out of the clachan of Pluckamin, and left the good wives to arrange my brothers future. I had not yet spoken to him on the subject, but I resolved to do so that very night.

It was already well upon the grey selvage of the dark when I strode up the manse-loaning, intent to have the matter out with my brother forthwith. It was not often that I took it on me to question him; for after all I was but a landward lout by comparison with him. I understood little of the high aims and purposes that inspired him, being at best but a plain country lad with my wits a little sharpened by the giff-gaff of the pedlars trade. But when it came to the push I think that Quintin had some respect for my opinion all the more that I so seldom troubled him with it.

I found my brother in the little gable-room where he studied, with the window open that he might hear the sough of the soft-flowing river beneath, and perhaps also that the drowsy hum of the bees and the sweet-sour smell of the hives might drift in to him upon the balmy air of night.

The minister had a great black-lettered book propped up before him, which from its upright thick and thin letters (like pea-sticks dibbled in the ground) I knew to be Hebrew. But I do not think he read in it, nor gathered much lear for his Sabbaths sermon.

He looked up as I came in.

Quintin, said I, directly, lest by waiting I should lose courage, are you to marry Jean Gemmell?

He kept his eyes straight upon me, as indeed he did ever with whomsoever he spake.

Aye, Hob, he said, quietly; have ye any word to say against that?

I do not know that I have, I answered, but what will Mary Gordon say?

I could see him wince like one that is touched on an unhealed wound.

But he recovered himself at once, and said calmly, She will say nothing, feel nothing, care nothing.

I am none so sure of that, said I, looking as straightly at him as ever he did at me.

He started up, one hand on the table, his long hair thrown back with a certain jerk he had when he was touched, which made him look like a roused lion that stands at bay. By what right do ye speak thus, Hob MacClellan?

By the right of that which I know, said I; but a man who will pull up the seed which he has just planted, and cast it away because he finds not ripened ears, deserves to starve all his life on sprouted and musty corn.

Riddle me no riddles, said my brother, knocking on the table with his palm till the great Hebrew book slid from its prop and fell heavily to the floor; this is too terrible a venture. Speak plainly and tell me all you mean.

Well, said I, the matter is not all mine to tell. But you are well aware that Hob MacClellan can hold his peace, and is no gossip-monger. I tell you that when you went from Earlstoun the last time the Lady Mary went to the battlement tower to watch you go, and came down with her kerchief wringing with her tears.

It is a thing impossible, mad, incredible! said he, putting his elbow on the table and his hand to his eyes as if he had been looking into the glare of an overpowering sun. Yet there was hardly enough light in the little room for us to see one another by. After a long silence Quintin turned to me and said, Tell me how ye came to ken this.

That, said I, bluntly, is not a matter that can concern you. But know it I do, or I should not have troubled you with the matter.

At this he gave a wild kind of throat cry that I never heard before. It was the driven, throttled cry of a mans agony, once heard, never forgotten. Would that Mary Gordon had hearkened to it! It is the one thing no woman can stand. It either melts or terrifies her. But with another man it is different.

Ah, you have troubled me you have troubled me sore! he cried. And with no more than that he left me abruptly and went out into the night. I looked through the window and saw him marching up and down by the kirk, on a strip of greensward for which he had ever a liking. It was pitiful to watch him. He walked fast like one that would have run away from melancholy thoughts, turning ever when he came opposite the low tomb-stone of the two martyr Hallidays. He was bareheaded, and I feared the chilling night dews. So I lifted down his ministers hat from the deers horn by the hallan door and took it out to him.

At first he did not see me, being enwrapped in his own meditations, and it was only when a couple of blackbirds flew scolding out of the lilac bushes that he heard my foot and turned.

Man Hob, he said, speaking just the plain country speech he used to do at Ardarroch, before ever he went to the college of Edinburgh, its an awfu thing that a man should care mair for the guid word of a lass than about the grace o God and the Covenanted Kirk of Scotland!

CHAPTER XXIII
AT BAY

(The Narrative of Quintin MacClellan is resumed.)

Dark was the day, darker the night. The matters which had sundered me from the Presbytery mended not nor, indeed, was it possible to mend them, seeing that they and I served different gods, followed other purposes.

It was bleak December when the brethren of the Presbytery arrived to make an end of me and my work in the parish of Balmaghie. They came with their minds made up. They alone were my accusers. They were also my sole judges. As for me, I was as set and determined as they were. I refused their jurisdiction. I utterly contemned their authority. To me they were but mites in the cheese, pottle-bellied batteners on the heritage and patrimony of the Kirk of Scotland. Siller and acres spelled all their desires, chalders and tiends contained all the rounded tale of their ambitions.

But for all that, now that I am older, I can scarce blame them at least, not so sorely as once I did.

For to them I was the youngest of them all, the least in years and learning, the smallest in influence save, perhaps, among the Remnant who still thought about the things of the Kirk and her spiritual independence.

I was to the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright but the troubler of Israel, the disturber of a quiet Zion. Save for poor Quintin MacClellan, the watchman might have gone from tower to tower along ramparts covered and defended, and his challenge of What of the night? have received its fitting answer from this point and that about the city, The morning cometh! All is well!

Yet because of the Lad in the Brown Coat with his dead face sunk in the Bennan flowe I could not consent to putting the Kirk of Scotland, once free and independent, under the control, real or nominal, the authority, overt or latent, of any monarch in Christendom.

More than to my fathers, more than to my elders it seemed to me that the old ways were the true ways, and that kings and governments had never meddled with religion save to lay waste the vineyard and mar the bridal portion of the Kirk of God.

But all men know the cause of the struggle and what were the issues. I will choose to tell rather the tale of a mans shame and sorrow his, indeed, who had taken the Banner of the Covenant into unworthy hands, yet time after time had let it fall in the dust. Nevertheless, at the hinder end, I lived to see it set again in a strong base of unhewn stone, fixed as the foundations of the earth. Nor shall the golden scroll of it ever be defaced nor the covenant of the King of kings be broken.

So on the day of trial, from all the parishes of the Presbytery east and west, gathered the men who had constituted themselves my judges nay, the men who were already my condemnators. For Cameron had my sentence in his pocket before ever one of the brethren set a foot over his doorstep, or threw a leg across the back of his ambling sheltie.

I had judged it best to be quiet and staid in demeanour, and had gone about to quiet and persuade the folk of Balmaghie, who were eager to hold back the hunters from their prey.

The Presbytery had sent to bid me preach before them, even as the soldiers of the guard had bidden Christ prophesy unto them, that they might have occasion to smite Him the oftener on the mouth. So when I came before them they posed me with interrogatories, threatened me with penalties, and finally set me to conduct service before them, that they might either condemn me if I refused, alleging contumacy; or, on the other hand, if I did as they bade me, they would easily find occasion to condemn the words of my mouth.

Then I saw that though there was no way to escape their malice, yet there was a way to serve the cause.

So I went up into the pulpit after the folk had been assembled, and addressed myself to them just as if it had been an ordinary Sabbath day and the company met only for the worship of God.

For I minded the word which my good Regent, Dr. Campbell, had spoken to me in Edinburgh ere I was licensed to preach, or thought that one day I myself should be the carcase about which the ravens should gather.

When ye preach, said Professor Campbell, be sure that ye heed not the five wise men!

So I minded that word, and seeing the folk gathered together, I cast my heavy burden from me, and called them earnestly to the worship of Him who is above all courts and assemblies.

Then in came Cameron, the leader of their faction, jowled with determination and rosy-gilled with good cheer and the claret wine of St. Marys Isle. With him was Boyd, also a renegade from the Society Hill Folk. For with their scanty funds the men of the moss-hags had sent these two as students to Holland to gather lear that they might thereafter be their ministers. But now, when they had gotten them comfortable down-sittings in plenteous parishes, they turned with the bitter zest of the turncoat to the hunting of one who adhered to their own ancient way.

But though I could have reproached them with this and with much else, I judged that because they were met in the Kirk of God no tumult should be made, at least till they had shown the length and breadth and depth of their malice.

Then, when at the last I stood single and alone at their bar and was ready to answer their questions, they could bring nothing against me, save that I had refused their jurisdiction. Their suborned witnesses failed them. For there was none in all the parish who wished me ill, and certainly none that dared testify a word in the midst of the angry people that day in the Kirk of Balmaghie.

Have ye naught to allege against my life and conduct? I asked of them at last. Ye have set false witnesses to follow me from place to place and wrest my words. Ye have spied here and there in the houses of my people. Ye have tried to entrap my elders. Is there no least thing that ye can allege? For three years I have come and gone in and out among this folk of Balmaghie. I have companioned with you. I have sat in your meetings. I have not been silent. Ye have watched me with the eyes of the greedy gled. Ye have harkened and waited and sharpened claws for me as a cat does at a mouse-hole

Will ye submit and sign the submission here and now? interrupted Cameron, who liked not the threatening murmur of approbation which began to run like wild-fire among the folk.

There is One, answered I, the words being as it had been given to me, whose praise is perfected out of the mouths of babes. It is true that among you I am like a young child without power or wisdom. Ye are great and learned, old in years and full of reverence. But this one thing a young man can do. He can stand by the truth ye have deserted, and lift again the banner staff ye have cast in the mire. As great Rutherford hath said, Christ may ride upon a windle straw and not stumble.

Then I turned about to the people, when the Presbytery would have restrained me from further speech.

Ye folk of this parish, I said, what think ye of this matter? Shall your minister be thrust out from among you? Shall he bow the head and bend the knee? Must he let principle and truth go by the board and whistle down the wind? I think ye know him better. Aye, truly, this parish and people would have a bonny bird of him, a brave minister, indeed if he submitted before being cleared of that whereof, all unjustly, his enemies have accused him, setting him up in the presence of his people like a felon in the dock of judgment!

Then indeed there was confusion among the black-coated ravens who had come to gloat over the feast. I had insulted (so they cried) their honourable and reverend court. I had refused a too lenient and condescending accommodation. Thus they prated, as if long words would balance the beam of an unjust cause.

But at that moment there came a stir among the folk. I saw the elders of the congregation appear at the door of the kirk. And as they marched up the aisle, behind them thronged all the men of the parish, in still, stern, and compact mass.

Then a ruling elder read the protest of the common people. It was simple and clear. The parish was wholly with me, and not with mine enemies. Almost every man within the bounds had signed the paper whereon was written the peoples protest. The Presbytery might depose the minister, but the people would uphold him. Every man in Balmaghie knew well that their pastor suffered because he had steadfastly preferred truth to compromise, honour to pelf, conscience to stipend. That the Presbytery themselves had sworn to uphold that which now they condemned.

Are ye who present this paper ordained elders of the Kirk? asked Cameron of the leaders, glowering angrily at them.

We are, responded Nathan Gemmell, stoutly.

And ye dare to bring a railing accusation against the ministers of your Presbytery?

We are free men ruling elders every one. You, on your part, are but teaching elders, and, save for the usurpation of the State, ye are noways in authority over us, was the answer.

And who are they for whom ye profess to speak? continued Cameron, looking frowningly upon Drumglass and his fellows.

They are here to speak for themselves! cried Nathan Gemmell, and as he waved his hand, the kirk was filled from end to end with stalwart men, who stood up rank behind rank, all very grave and quiet.

I saw the ministers cower together. This was not at all what they had bargained for.

We are plainly to be deforced and overawed, said Cameron. Let us disperse to-day and meet to-morrow in the Kirk of Crossmichael over the water.

And lo! it was done even as their leader said. They summoned me to stand at their bar on the morrow in the Kirk of Crossmichael, that I might receive my doom.

But quietly, as before, I told them that I refused their court, that I would in no wise submit to their sentence, but would abide among my people both to-morrow and all the to-morrows, to do the duty which had been laid upon me, in spite of anathema, deposition, excommunication. For, said I, I have a warrant that is higher than yours. So far as I may, in a mans weakness and sin, I will be faithful to that mandate, to my conscience, and to my God.

CHAPTER XXIV
MARY GORDONS LAST WORD

The next day was the 30th of December, a day of bitter frost, so that the Dee froze over, and the way which had been broken for the boats to ferry the Presbytery across from the dangerous bounds of Balmaghie was again filled with floating ice.

The Kirk of Crossmichael sits, like that of Balmaghie, on a little green hill above Dee Water. One House of Prayer fronts the other, and the white kirkyard stones greet each other across the river, telling the one story of earth to earth. And every Sabbath day across the sluggish stream two songs of praise go up to heaven in united aspiration towards one Eternal father.

But this 30th of December there was for Quintin MacClellan small community of lofty fellowship across the water in Crossmichael. It was to me of all days the day bitterest and blackest. I have indeed good cause to remember it.

Right well was I advised that, so far as the ministers of the Presbytery were concerned, there was no hope of any outcome favourable to me. They had only been scared from their prey for a moment by the stern threatening of the folk of the parish. The Peoples Paper in particular had frightened them like a sentence of death. But now they were free to make an end.

My brother Hob was keen to head a band pledged to keep them out of Crossmichael Kirk also. But I forbade him to cross the water.

Keep your own kirk and your own parish bounds if ye like, but meddle not with those of your neighbours! I told him. Besides ye would only drive them to another place, where yet more bitterly they would finish their appointed work!





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18