The Standard Bearerñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
It was, as I remember it, a gurly night in late September, the wind coming in gusts and swirling flaws from every quarter, very evidently blowing up for a storm.
Hob had come in silently and set him down by the fire. He was peeling a willow wand for his basket-weaving and looking into the embers. I could hear Martha Little, our sharp-tongued servant lass, clattering among her pots and pans in the kitchen. As for me I was among my books, deep in Greek, which to my shame I had been somewhat neglecting of late.
Suddenly there came a loud knocking at the outer door.
I looked at my plaid hung up to dry, and bethought me who might be ill and in want of my ministrations upon such a threatening night.
I could hear Martha go to the door, and the low murmur of voices without.
Then the door of the chamber opened and I saw the faces and forms of half-a-dozen men in the passage.
“It has come at last,” thought I, for I expected that it might be the Sheriff and his men come to expel me from the kindly shelter of the manse. And though I should have submitted, I knew well that there would be bloodshed on the morrow among my poor folk.
But it turned out far otherwise.
The first who entered into the house-place was a tall, thin, darkish man, with a white pallor of face and rigid fallen-in temples. His eyes were fiery as burning coals, deep set under his bushy eyebrows. Following him came Sir Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun and in the lee of his mighty form three or four others – douce, grave, hodden-grey men every one of them, earnest of eye and quiet of carriage.
Hob went out, unobserved as was his modest wont, and I motioned them with courtesy and observance to such seats as my little study afforded.
As usual there were stools everywhere, with books upon them, and I observed with what careful scrupulosity the men laid these upon the table before sitting down. A Hebrew Bible lay open on the desk, and one after another stooped over it with an eager look of reverence.
I waited for them to speak.
It was the tall dark man who first broke silence.
“Reverend sir,” he said, “what my name is, it skills me not to tell. Enough that I am a man that has suffered much from the strivings of fleshly thorns, from the persecutions of ungodly man. But now I am charged with a mission and a message.
“You have been cast out of the Kirk for adherence to the ancient way. Yet you have upheld in weakness and the frailty of mortal man the banner of the older Covenant. You are not ignorant that there are still societies and general meetings of the Suffering Remnant of men who have never declined, as you yourself have done, from the plain way of conscience and righteousness.
“Yet the man doth not live who doeth good and sinneth not. So because we desire a minister, we would offer you the strong sustaining hand. Though you be not able at once to unite with us, nor for the present to take upon you our strait and heavy testimony, yet because you have been faithful to your lights we will stand by you and see that no man hinder or molest you.”
And the others, beginning with Sir Alexander Gordon, said likewise, “We will support you!”
Then I knew that these men were the leaders and elders among the Hill Folk, and the ancient reverence to which I was born took hold on me.
For I had been brought up among them as a lad, and my mother had spoken to me constantly of their great piety and abounding steadfastness in the day of trouble. These were they who had never tangled themselves with any entrapping engagements. They alone were no seceders, for they had never entered any State Church.
With a great price had I obtained this freedom, but these men were free-born.
“I thank you, sirs,” I answered, bowing my head. “I have indeed sought to keep the Way, but I have erred so greatly in the past that I cannot hope to guide my path aright for the future. But one thing I shall at least seek after, and that is the glory of the great King, and the honour and independence of the Kirk of God in Scotland, Covenanted and Suffering!”
The dark stern-faced man spoke again.
“You are not yet one of us. You have yet a far road to travel. But I, that am old, see a vision. And one day you, Quintin MacClellan, shall serve tables among us of the Covenant. I shall not see it with the eyes of flesh. For even now my days are numbered, and the tale of them is brief. Farewell! Be not afraid. The Seven Thousand will stand behind you. No evil shall befall you here or otherwhere. The Seven Thousand have sworn it – they have sworn it on the Holy Book, in the place of Martyrs and in the House of Tears!”
And with that the six men went out through the door and were lost in the darkness of the night. And the wind from the waste swept in and the lowe of the candle flickered eerily as if they had been visitants from another world.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
It was not long after this that I found myself, almost against my will, skirting the side of the long Loch of Ken, on the road to the Great House of Earlstoun.
The lady of the Castle met me by the outer gate. When I came near her she lifted up her hands like a prophetess.
“Three times have ye been warned! The Lord will not deal always gently with you. It is ill to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds!”
“Mistress Gordon,” said I, “wherein have I now offended?” For indeed there was no saying what cantrip she had taken into her head.
“How was it then,” she said, “that the talk went through the countryside that ye were married to that lassie Jean Gemmell on her dying bed?”
“It is true,” said I, “but wherein was the sin?”
“Oh,” said she, “the sin was not in the marrying (though that was doubtless a silly caper and the lass so near Dead’s door), but in being married by a minister of the Kirk Established and uncovenanted.”
“But what else could I have done?” I hasted to make answer; “there are none other in all Scotland. For the Hill Folk have never had an ordained minister, since they took down James Renwick’s body from the gallows tree, and wrapped him gently in swaddling clothes for his burial.”
“It is even true,” she said, “but I would have gone unmarried till my dying day before I would have let an Erastian servant of Belial couple me. But I forgat – ’tis not long since you yourself escaped from that fold!”
So there she stood so long on the step of the door and argued concerning the points of faith and doctrine without ever asking me in, that at last I grew weary, and begged that she would permit me to sit and refresh me on the step of the well-house, which was close at hand, even under the arch of the gateway.
“Aye, surely, ye may that!” she made me answer, and again took up her parable without further offer of hospitality.
And even thus they found us, when Mary Gordon and her father returned from the hill, walking hand in hand as was their wont.
“Wi’ Janet, woman!” cried hearty Alexander, “what ails you at the minister that ye have set him down there by the waters o’ Babylon like a pelican in the wilderness? Could ye no hae asked the laddie ben and gied him bite and sup? Come, lad,” cried he, reaching me a hand, “step up wi’ me – there’s brandy in the cupboard as auld as yoursel’!”
But as for me I had thought of nothing but the look in Mary Gordon’s eyes.
“Brandy!” cried Jean Hamilton. “Alexander, think shame – you that are an elder and have likewise been privileged to be a sufferer for the cause of truth, to be speaking about French brandy at this hour o’ the day. Do ye not see that I have been refreshing the soul of this poor, weak, downcast brother with appropriate meditations from my own spiritual diary and covenantings?”
She took again a little closely-written book from her swinging side-pocket.
“Let me see, we were, I think, at the third section, and the – ”
“Lord help us – I’m awa!” cried Sandy Gordon suddenly, and vanished up the turnpike stair. Mary Gordon held out her hand to me in silence, permitted her eyes to rest a moment on mine in calm and friendly fashion, all without anger or embarrassment, and then softly withdrawing her hand she followed her father up the stairs.
I was again left alone with the Lady of Earlstoun.
“‘Tis a terrible cross that I must bear,” said that lugubrious professor, shaking her head, “in that my man hath not the inborn grace of my brother – ah – that proven testifier, that most savoury professor, Sir Robert Hamilton. For our Sandy is a man that cannot stand prosperity and the quiet of the bieldy bush. In time of peace he becomes like a rusty horologe. He needs affliction and the evil day, that his wheels may be taken to pieces, oiled with the oil of mourning, washed with tears of bitterness, and then set up anew. Then for a while he goes on not that ill.”
“Your husband has come through great trials!” I said. For indeed I scarce knew what to say to such a woman.
“Sandy – O aye!” cried his wife. “But what are his trials to the ills which I have endured with none to pity? Have not I suffered his carnal doings well-nigh thirty years and held my peace? Have I not wandered by the burn-side and mourned for his sin? And now, worse than all, my children seek after their father’s ways.”
“Janet Hamilton,” cried a great voice from a window of the tower, “is there no dinner to be gotten this day in the house of Earlstoun?”
The lady lifted up her hands in holy horror.
“Dinner, dinner – is this a time to be thinking aboot eating and drinking, when the land is full of ravening and wickedness, and when iniquity sits unashamed in high places?”
“Never ye heed fash your thumb about the high places, Janet my woman,” cried her husband from the window, out of which his burly, jovial head protruded. “E’en come your ways in, my denty, and turn the weelgaun mill-happer o’ your tongue on yon lazy, guid-for-nae-thing besoms in the kitchen. Then the high places will never steer ye, and ye will hae a stronger stomach to wrestle wi’ the rest o’ the sins o’ the times!”
“Sandy, Sandy, ye were ever by nature a mocker! I fear ye have been looking upon the strong drink!”
“Faith, lass,” replied her husband, with the utmost good humour, “I was e’en looking for it – but the plague o’ muckle o’t there is to be seen.”
The Lady of Earlstoun arose forthwith and went into the tall tower, from the lower stories of which her voice, raised in flyting and contumelious discourse, could be distinctly heard.
“Ungrateful madams,” so she addressed her subordinates, “get about your business! Hear ye not that the Laird is quarrelling for his dinner, which ought to have been served half-an-hour ago by the clock!
“Nay, tell me not that I keeped you so long at the taking of the Book that there was no time left for the kirning of the butter. Never ought is lost by the service of the Lord.”
Thus I sat on the well kerb, listening to the poor wenches getting, as the saw hath it, their kail through the reek. But at that moment I observed Sandy Gordon’s head look through the open window. He beckoned me to him with his finger in a cunning manner. I went up the stairs with intent to find the room where he was, but by a curious mischance I alighted instead on the long oaken chamber where I had been entertained of yore by Mistress Mary.
I found her there again, busy with the ordering of the table, setting out platters and silver of price, the like of which I had never seen, save as it might be in the house of the Laird of Girthon.
“Come your ways in, sir,” she said, briskly, “and help me with my work.”
This I had been very glad to do, but that I knew her father was waiting for me above.
“Right willingly,” said I, “but Earlstoun himself desires my presence aloft in his chamber.”
She gave her shoulders a dainty little shrug in the foreign manner she had learned from her cousin Kate of Lochinvar.
“I think,” she said, “that the job at which ye would find my father can be managed without your assistance.”
So in the great chamber I abode very gratefully. And with the best will in the world I set myself to the fetching and carrying of dishes, the spreading of table-cloths fine as the driven snow. And all the time my heart beat fast within me. For I had never before been so near this maid of the great folk, nor so much as touched the robe that rustled about her, sweet and dainty.
And I do not deny (surely I may write it here) that the doing of these things afforded me many thrills of heart, the like of which I have not experienced ofttimes even on other and higher occasions.
And as I helped the Lady Mary, or pretended to help her rather, she continued to converse sweetly and comfortably to me. But all as it had been my sister Anna speaking – a thousand miles from any thought of love. Her eyes beneath the long dark lashes remained cool and quiet.
“I am glad,” she said, “that ye have played the man, and withstood your enemies even to the last extremity.”
“I could do no other,” I made answer.
“There are very many who could very well have ‘done other’ without stressing themselves,” she said.
And I well knew that she meant Mr. Boyd, who was the neighbouring minister and a recreant from the Societies.
Then she looked very carefully to the ordering of certain wild flowers, which like a bairn she had been out gathering, and had now set forth in sundry flat dishes in the table-midst, in a fashion I had never seen before. More than once she spilled a little of the water upon the cloth, and cried out upon herself for her stupidity in the doing of it, discovering ever fresh delights in the delicate grace of her movements, the swinging of her dress, and in especial a pretty quick way she had of jerking back her head to see if she had gotten the colour and ordering of the flowers to her mind.
This I minded for long after, and even now it comes so fresh before me that I can see her at it now.
“I heard of the young lass of Drumglass and her love for you,” she said presently, very softly, and without looking at me, fingering at the flowers in the shallow basins and pulling them this way and that.
I did not answer, but stood looking at her with my head hanging down, and a mighty weight about my heart.
“You must have loved her greatly?” she said, still more softly.
“I married her,” said I, curtly. But in a moment was ashamed of the answer. Yet what more could I say with truth? But I had the grace to add, “Almost I was heartbroken for her death.”
“She was happy when she died, they said,” she went on, tentatively.
“She died with her hand in mine,” I answered, steadily, “and when she could not speak any longer she still pressed it.”
“Ah! that is the true love which can make even death sweet,” she said. “I should like to plant Lads’ Love and None-so-pretty upon her grave.”
Yet all the while I desired to tell her of my love for herself, and how the other was not even a heat of the blood, but only for the comforting of a dying girl.
Nevertheless I could not at that time. For it seemed a dishonourable word to speak of one who was so lately dead, and, in name and for an hour at least, had been my wife.
Then all too soon we heard the noise of Sandy her father upon the garret stair, trampling down with his great boots as if he would bring the whole wood-work of the building with him bodily.
Mary Gordon heard it, too, for she came hastily about to the end of the table where I had stood transfixed all the time she was speaking of Jean Gemmell.
She set a dish on the cloth, and as she brought her hand back she laid it on mine quickly, and, looking up with such a warm light of gracious wisdom and approval in her eyes that my heart was like water within me, she said: “Quintin, you are a truer man than I thought. I love your silences better than your speeches.”
And at her words my heart gave a great bound within me, for I thought that at last she understood. Then she passed away, and became even more cold and distant than before, not even bidding me farewell when I took my departure. But as I went down the loaning with her father she looked out of the turret window, and waved the hand that had lain for an instant upon mine.
THE FALL OF EARLSTOUN
It was toward the mellow end of August that there came a sough of things terrible wafted down the fair glen of the Kens, a sough which neither lost in volume nor in bitterness when it turned into the wider strath of the Dee.
It arrived in time at the Manse of Balmaghie, as all things are sure to turn manseward ere a day pass in the land of Galloway.
One evening in the quiet space between the end of hay and the first sickle-sweep of harvest, Hob came in with more than his ordinary solemn staidness.
But he said nothing till we were over with the taking of the Book and ready to go to bed. Then as he was winding the watch I had brought him from Edinburgh he glanced up once at me.
“When ye were last at Earlstoun,” he said, “heard ye any news?”
I thought he meant at first that Mary was to be married, and it may be that my face showed too clearly the anxiety of the heart.
“About Sandy himself?” he hastened to add.
“About Alexander Gordon?” cried I in astonishment. “What ill news would I hear about Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun?”
He nodded, finished the winding of his horologe, held it gravely to his ear to assure himself that it was going, and then nodded again. For that was Hob’s way.
“Well,” he said, “the Presbytery have had him complained of to them for drunkenness and worse. And they will excommunicate him with the greatest excommunication if he decline their authority.”
“But Earlstoun is not of their communion,” I cried, much astonished, the matter being none of the Presbytery’s business; “he is of the Hill-folk, an elder and mainstay among them for thirty years.”
“The Presbytery have made it their business because he is a well-wisher of yours,” said Hob. “Besides, the report of it has already gone abroad throughout the land, and they say that the matter will be brought before the next general meeting of the societies.”
“And in the meantime?” I began.
“In the meantime,” said Hob, “those of the Hill-folk who form the Committee of the Seven Thousand have suspended him from his eldership!”
Hob paused, as he ever did when he had more to tell, and was considering how to begin.
“Go on, Hob,” cried I – testily enough, I fear.
“They say that his old seizure has come again upon him. He sits in an upper room like a beast, and will be approached by none. And some declare that, like King David, he feigns madness, others that he has been driven mad by the sin and the shame.”
Now this was sore and grievous tidings to me, not only because of Mary Gordon, but for the sake of the cause.
For Alexander Gordon had been during a generation the most noted Covenanter of the stalwart sort in Scotland. He had suffered almost unto death without wavering in the old ill times of Charles and James. He had languished long in prison, both in the Castle of Edinburgh and that of Blackness. He had come to the first frosting of the hair with a name clear and untainted. And now when he stood at the head of the Covenanting remnant it was like the downfall of a god that he should so decline from his place and pride.
Then the other part of the news that the Presbytery, as the representatives and custodians of morals, were to lay upon him the Greater Excommunication was also a thing hard and bitter. For if they did so it inferred the penalties of being shut off from communion with man in the market-place and with God in the closet. The man who spoke to the excommunicated partook of the crime. And though the power of the Presbytery to loose and to bind had somewhat declined of late, yet, nevertheless, the terror of the major anathema still pressed heavily upon the people.
Hob went soberly up to his bedroom. The boards creaked as he threw himself down, and I could hear him fall quiet in a minute. But sleep would not come to my eyelids. At last I arose from my naked bed and took my way down to the water-side by which I had walked oftentimes in dark days and darker nights.
Then as I was able I put before Him who is never absent the case of Alexander Gordon. And I wrestled long as to what I should do. Sometimes I thought of him as my friend, and again I knew that it was chiefly for the sake of Mary Gordon that I was thus greatly troubled.
But with the dawning of the morning came some rest and a growing clearness of purpose – such as always comes to the soul of man when, out of the indefinite turmoil of perplexity, something to be done swims up from the gulf and stands clear before the inward eye.
I would go to Earlstoun and have speech with Alexander Gordon. The Presbytery had condemned him unheard. His own folk of the Societies – at least, some of the elders of them – had been ready to believe an evil report and had suspended him from his office. He needed a minister’s dealing, or at least a friend’s advice. I was both, and there was all the more reason because I was neither of the Kirk that had condemned nor of the communion which was ready to believe an ill report of its noblest and highest.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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