Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





It was little past the dawning when, being still sleepless, I set my hat on my head, and, taking staff in hand, set off up the wet meadow-edges to walk to Earlstoun. I heard the black-cap sing sweetly down among the gall-bushes of the meadow. A blackbird turned up some notes of his morning song, but drowsily, and without the young ardour of spring and the rathe summer time. Suddenly the east brightened and rent. The day strode over the land.

I journeyed on, the sun beating hotly upon me. It was very evidently to be a day of fervent heat. Soon I had to take off my coat, and as I carried it country fashion over my shoulder the harvesters gave me good-day from the cornfields of the pleasant strath of the ken, and over the hated park-dykes which the landlords were beginning to build.

Mostly when I walked abroad I observed nothing, but to-day I saw everything with strange clearness, as one sometimes does in a vision or when stricken with fever.

I noted how the red willow-herb grew among the river stones and set fire to little pebbly islands. The lilies, yellow and white, basked and winked belated on the still and glowing water. The cattle, both nolt and kye, stood knee-deep in the shallows to me the sweetest and most summersome of all rural sights.

As I drew near to New Galloway a score of laddies squattered like ducks and squabbled like shrill scolding blackbirds in and out of the water, or darted naked through the copsewood at the lochs head, playing hide-and-seek about the tree-trunks.

And through all pulsed the thought, What shall I say to my friend? Shall I be faithful in questioning, faithful in chastening and rebuke? Shall I take part with Mary Gordons father, and for her sake stand and fall with him? Or are my message and my Master more to me than any earthly love? I feared the human was indeed mightier in my heart of hearts. Nevertheless something seemed to arise within me greater than myself.

CHAPTER XXXII
LOVE OR DUTY

I passed by the little Clachan of St. Johns Town of Dalry, leaving it stretching away up the braeface on my right hand. A little way beyond the kirk I struck into the fringing woods of Earlstoun which, like an army of train-bands in Lincoln green, beset the grey tower.

I was on the walk along which I had once before come with her. The water alternately gloomed and sparkled beneath. The fish sulked and waved lazy tails, anchored in the water-swirls below the falls, their heads steady to the stream as the needle to the pole.

The green of summer was yet untouched by autumn frosts, save for a russet hair or two on the outmost plumes of the birks that wept above the stream.

Suddenly something gay glanced through the wavering sunsprays of the woodland and the green scatter of the shadows. A white summer gown, a dainty hat white-plumed, but beneath the bright feather a bowed head, a girl with tears in her eyes and lo! Mary Gordon standing alone and in sorrow by the water-pools of the Deuch.

I had never learned to do such things, and even now I cannot tell what it was that came over me.

For without a moments hesitation I kneeled on one knee, and taking her hand, I kissed it with infinite love and respect.

She turned quickly from me, dashing the tears from her face with her hand.

Quintin! she cried I think before she thought.

Mary! I said, for the first time in my life saying the word to my ladys face.

She held her hand with the palm pressed against my breast, pushing me from her that she might examine my face.

Why are you here? she asked anxiously, you have heard what they say of my father?

I have heard, and I come to know? I said quietly.

She clasped her hands in front of her breast and then let them fall loosely down in a sort of slack despair.

I will tell you, she said, it is partly true. But the worst is not true!

She was silent for a while, as if she were mastering herself to speak.

Then she burst out suddenly, But what right have you or any other to demand such things of me? Is not my father Sir Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, and who has name or fame like him in all Scotland? They that accuse him are but jealous of him even you would be glad like the others to see him humiliated brought low!

You do me wrong, said I, yet more quietly; you know it. Mary, I came because I have no friends on earth like you and Alexander Gordon. And the thing troubled me.

I know I know, she said, distractedly. I think it hath well-nigh driven me mad, as it hath my poor father.

She put her hand to her forehead and pressed it, as if it had been full of a great throbbing pain.

I wished I could have held it for her.

Then we moved side by side a little along the path, both being silent. My thoughts were with hers. I saw her pain; I felt her pride, her reluctance to speak.

Presently we came to a retired place where there was an alcove cut out of the cliff, re-entrant, filled with all coolness and the stir of leaves.

Hither, as if moved by one instinct, we repaired. Mary sat her down upon the stone seat. I stood before her.

There was a long waiting without a word spoken, so that a magpie came and flicked his tail on a branch near by without seeing us. Then cocking his eye downward, he fled with loud screams of anger and protestation.

I will tell you all! she said, suddenly.

But all the same it seemed as if she could not find it in her heart to begin.

You know my father root and branch you know him, she said, at last; or else I could not tell you. He is a man. He has so great a repute, so full a record of bravery, that none dares to point the finger. Through all Scotland and the Low Countries it is sufficient for my father to say I am Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun!

But as I need not tell you, a very strong man is a very weak man. And so they trapped him, William Boyd, who called himself his friend, being the traitor. For my father had known him in Holland and aided him with money and providing when he studied as one of the lads of the Hill-folk at the University of Groningen.

Now this a man like William Boyd could not forgive neither repay. But in silence he hated and bode his time. For, though I am but young, I see that nothing breeds hate and malice more readily than a helping hand extended to a bad man.

So devising evil to my father in secret, he met him at the Clachan of Saint John as he came home from the market at Kirkcudbright, where he had been dining with Kenmure and my Lord Maxwell. Quintin, you know how it is with my father when he comes home from market he is kind, he is generous. The world is not large enough to hold his heart. Wine may be in, but wit is not out.

So Alexander Gordon being in this mood, Boyd and two or three of his creatures met him in the highway.

My father had oftentimes thwarted and opposed Boyd. But now his stomach was warm and generous within him. So he cried to them, A fair good een to ye, gentlemen.

Whereat they glanced cunningly at one another, hearing the thick stammer in my fathers voice.

And good een to you, Earlstoun! they answered, taking off their hats to him.

The courtesy touched my father. It seemed that they wished to be friends, and nothing touches a big careless gentleman like Alexander Gordon more than the thought that others desire to make up a quarrel and he will not.

So with that he cried, Let us bury bygones and be friends.

Agreed, answered Boyd, waving his hand jovially; let us go to the change-house and toast the reconciliation in a tass of brandy,

This he said knowing that my father was on his way from market.

For this, said I, not thinking of my place and dignity, will I reckon with William Boyd.

Mary Gordon went on without noticing my interruption.

So though my father told them that he could not go, that his wife waited for him by the croft entrance and that his daughter was coming down the water-side to meet him, yet upon their crying out that he must not be hen-pecked in the matter of the drowning of an ancient enmity, my father consented to go with them.

Mary Gordon looked before her a long time without speaking, as though little liking to tell what followed. They knew, she said, that he was to preside that night at a meeting of the eldership and commissioners of the Hill-folk. So they brought him as in the change-house they had made him to the meeting.

There was a long silence.

And this was all? I asked. For the accusation which had come to me had been far graver than this.

As I live and must die, that is all. The other things which they testify that he did that night are but the blackness and foulness of their own hearts.

I will go speak with him, I said, moving as to pass on.

Mary Gordon had been seated upon a wall which jutted out over the water. She leaped to her feet in an instant and caught me by the wrist, looking with an eager and passionate regard into my eyes.

You must not you shall not! she cried. My father is not to be spoken to. He is not himself. He has sworn that he will answer no man, speak to no man, have dealings with no man, till the shame be staunched and his innocency made to appear.

But I will bring him to himself, I said, I will reason with him, and that most tenderly.

Nay, she said, taking me eagerly by the breast of my coat, I tell you he will not listen to a word.

It is my duty, I answered.

Wherefore? she cried, sharply. You are not his minister.

No, said I, but I am more. I am both his friend and yours.

Do you mean to reprove him? she asked.

It is my duty in part, said I, for the thought of mine office had come upon me, and I feared that for this girls sake I might even be ready ignominiously to demit and decline my plain duty.

For that wherein he has given the unrighteous cause to speak reproachfully, I will reprove him, I said. For the rest, I will aid, support, and succour him in all that one man may do to another. By confession of his fault, such as it has been, he may yet keep the Cause from being spoken against.

Ah, you do not know my father, to speak thus of him, Mary Gordon cried, clasping her hands. When he is in his fury he cares for neither man nor beast. He might do you a hurt, even to the touching of your life. Ah, do not go to him. (Here she clasped her hands, and looked at me with such sweet, petitionary graciousness that my heart became as wax within me.) Let him come to himself. What are reproof and hard words, besides the shame that comes when such a man as my father sits face to face with the sins of his own heart?

Almost I had given way, but the thought of the dread excommunication, and the danger which his children must also incur, compelled me.

Hear me, Mary, I said, I must speak to him. For all our sakes yours as well I must go instantly to Alexander Gordon.

She waved her hand impatiently.

Do not go, she said. Can you not trust me? I thought you you once told me that you loved me. And if you had loved me, I do not know, I might

She paused. A wild hope warm, tender, gloriously insurgent, rose-coloured welled up triumphantly in my heart. My blood hummed in my ears.

She would love me; she would give herself to me. I cannot offend her. This alone is my happiness. This only is life. What matters all else?

And I was about to give way. If I had so much as looked in her face, or met her eyes, I must have fallen from my intent.

But I called to mind the path by which I had been led, the oath that had been laid upon me to speak faithfully. The lonely way of a man a sinful man trying to do the right gripped me like a vice, and compelled me against my will.

Mary, I said, solemnly, I love you more than life more, perchance, than I love God. But I cannot lay aside, nor yet shut out the doing of my duty.

She thrust her hand out suddenly, passionately, from her, as if casting me out of her sight for ever. She set her kerchief to her eyes.

You have chosen! she cried. Go, then!

Mary, I said, turning to follow her.

All suddenly she turned upon me and stamped her foot.

I dare you to speak with me! she cried, her eyes flashing with anger. I thought you were a man, and you are no better than a machine. You love! You know not the A B C of it. You have never passed the hornbook. I doubt not that you broke that poor lassies heart down there in the farm by the water-side. She loved a stone and she died. Now you tell me that you love me, and the first thing I ask of you you refuse, though it is for my own father, and I entreat you with tears!

Mary, I began to say quietly, you do me great wrong. Let me tell you

But she turned away down the path. I followed after, and at the parting of the ways to house and stable she turned on me again like a lioness. Oh, go, I tell you! Go! she cried. Do your precious duty. But from this day forth never, never dare to utter word to Mary Gordon again!

CHAPTER XXXIII
THE DEMONIAC IN THE GARRET

As all may understand, it was with bowed head and crushed heart that I bent my steps towards the grey tower, sitting so stilly among the leafage of the wood above the water.

Duty is doubtless noble, and virtue its own reward. But when there is a lass in the case why, it is somewhat harder to go against her will than to counter all the law and the prophets.

I went up the bank towards the tower of Earlstoun, and as I came near methought there was a strange and impressive silence over everything like a Sabbath-day that was yet no common or canny Sabbath.

At the angle of the outer wall one Hugh Halliday, an old servant of the Gordons, came running toward me.

Minister, minister, he cried, ye mauna come here. The maister has gotten the possession by evil spirits. He swears that if ever a minister come near him he will brain him, and he has taken his sword and pistols up into the garret under the roof, and he cries out constantly that if any man stirs him, he shall surely die the death.

But, I answered, he will not kill me, who have had no hand in the matter me who have also been persecuted by the Presbytery and by them deposed.

Ah, laddie, said the old man, shaking his palsied hand warningly at me, ye little ken the laird, if ye think that when the power o evil comes ower him, he bides to think. He lets drive richt and left, and a that remains to be done is but to sinder the dead frae the leevin, or to gather up the fragments that remain in baskets and corn-bags and sic-like.

For instance, in the auld persecutin days there was Gleg Toshie, the carrier, that was counted a great man o his hands, and at the Carlins Cairn Sandy the laird I mean cam on Toshie spyin on him, or so he thocht. And oor Maister near ended him when he laid hand on him.

Haud aff, cried Peter Pearson the curate, Wad ye kill the man, Earlstoun?

I would kill him and eat him too! cries the laird, as he gied him aye the ither drive wi his neive. O hes far frae canny when hes raised.

Nevertheless I will see him, said I; I have a message to deliver.

Then I hope and trust ye hae made your peace wi your Maker, for ye will come doon frae that laft a dead stiff corp and that yell leeve to see.

By the gate the Lady of Earlstoun was walking to and fro, wringing her hands and praying aloud.

Wrath, wrath, and dismay hath fallen on this house! she cried. The five vials are poured out. And there yet remains the sixth vial. O Sandy, my ain man, that it should come to this! That ye should tak the roofs like a pelican in the desert and six charges o pooder in yon flask, forbye swords and pistols. And then the swearin nae minced oaths, but as braid as the back o Cairnsmuir. Waes me for Sandy, the man o my choice! A carnal man was Sandy a the days o him, a man no to be ruled nor yet spoken to, but rather like a lion to be withstood face to face. But then a little while and his spirit would come to him like the spirit of a little child.

We could hear as we walked and communed a growling somewhere far above like the baffled raging of a caged wild beast.

It is the spirit of the demoniac that is come to rend him, she said. Hear to him, there he is; he is hard at it, cursing the Presbytery and a ministers. He is sorest upon them that he has liked best, as, indeed, the possessed ever are. He says that he knows not why he is restrained from braining me me that have been his wife these many sorrowful years. But thus far he hath been kept from doing any great injury. Even the servant man that brought the message from his master, William Boyd, summoning Alexander to appear before the Presbytery, he cast by main force into the well, and if the man had not caught at the rope, and so gone more slowly to the bottom, he would surely have been dashed to pieces.

But how long has he been thus? I said. For as we listened, quaking, the noise waxed and grew louder. Then anon it would diminish almost like the howling or whimpering of a beaten dog, most horrid and uncanny to hear.

Ever since yesterday at the hour when he gat the summons from the Presbytery, said the lady of Earlstoun.

And have none been near him since that time?

Only Mary, she said; she took up to him a bowl of broth. For he never lifted his hand to her in his life. He bade her begone quickly, because he was no fit company for human kind any more. She asked him very gently to come to his own chamber and lie down in peace. But he cried out that the ministers were coming, and that she must not stand in the way. For he was about to shoot them all dead, like the black hoodie-craws that pyke the young lambs een!

And a bonny bit lamb ye are, faither, said Mary, trying to jest with him to divert his mind; a bonny lamb, indeed, with that great muckle heather besom of a beard,

But instead of laughing, as was his wont, he cursed her for an impudent wench, and told her to begone, that she was no daughter of his.

Has he been oftentimes taken with this seizure? I asked.

It has come to him once or twice since he was threatened with torture before the lords of the Privy Council, and brake out upon them all as has often been told but never before like this.

I will go to him, I said, and adjure him to return to himself. And I will exorcise the demon, if power be granted me of the Lord.

I pray you do not! she cried, catching me and looking at me even more earnestly than her daughter had done, though, perhaps, somewhat less movingly. Let not your blood also be upon this doomed house of Earlstoun.

CHAPTER XXXIV
THE CURSING OF THE PRESBYTERY

As gently as I could I withdrew from her grasp, and with a pocket Bible in my hand (that little one in red leather of the Kings printers which I always carried about with me), I climbed the stair.

The word I had come so far to speak should not remain unspoken through my weakness, neither must I allow truth to be brought to shame because of the fears of the messenger.

So I mounted the turret stairs slowly, the great voice sounding out more and more clearly as I advanced. It came in soughs and bursts, alternating with lown intervals filled with indistinct mutterings. Then again a great volley of cursing would shake the house, and in the afterclap of silence I could hear the waesome yammer of my ladys supplication beneath me outside the tower.

But within, save for the raging of the stormy voice, there was an uncanny silence. The dust lay thick where it had been left untouched for days by any hand of domestic. I glanced within the great oaken chamber where formerly I had spoken to Mary Gordon. It was void and empty. A broken glass of carven Venetian workmanship and various colours lay in fragments by the window. A stone jar with the great bung of Spanish cork stood on the floor. There was a crimson sop of spilled wine on the table of white scoured wood. The table-cloth of rich Spanish stuff wrought with arabesques had been tossed into the corner. A window was broken, and there were stains on the jagged edges, as if some one had thrust his hand through the glass to his own hurt.

Nothing moved in the room, but in the thwart sunbeams the motes danced, and the unstable shadows of the trees without flecked the floor.

All the more because of this unwholesome quiet in the great house of Earlstoun, it was very dismaying to listen to the roll and thunder of the voice up there, speaking on and on to itself in the regions above.

But I had come at much cost to do my duty, and this I could not depart from. So I began to mount the last stairs, which were of wood, and exceedingly narrow and precipitous.

Then for the first time I could hear clearly the words of the possessed:

Cast into deepest hell, Lord, if any power is left in Thee, the whole Presbytery of Kirkcudbright! Set thy dogs upon them, O Satan, Prince of Evil, for they have worked ill-will and mischief upon earth. Specially and particularly gie Andrew Cameron his paiks! Rub the fiery brimstone flame onto his bones, like salt into a new-killed swine. Scowder him with irons heated white hot. Tear his inward parts with twice-barbed fishing hooks. Gie William Boyd his bellyful of curses. Turn him as often on thy roasting-spit as he has turned his coat on the earth. Frighten wee Telfair wi the uncanniest o a thy deils imps. And as for the rest of them may they burn back and front, ingate and outgate, hide, hair, and harrigals, till there is nocht left o them but a wee pluff o ash, that I could hold like snuff between my fingers and thumb and blaw away like the white head o the dandelion.





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