The Standard Bearerñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He came to an end for lack of breath, and I could hear him stir restlessly, thinking, perhaps, that he had omitted some of the Presbytery who were needful of a yet fuller and more decorated cursing.
I called up to him.
“Alexander Gordon, I have come to speak with you.”
“Who are you that dares giff-gaff with Alexander Gordon this day?”
“I am Quintin MacClellan, minister of the Gospel in Balmaghie, a friend to Alexander Gordon and all his house.”
“Get you gone, Quintin MacClellan, while ye may. I have no desire for fellowship with you. You are also of the crew of hell – the black corbies that cry ‘Glonk! Glonk!’ over the carcase of puir perishing Scotland.”
“Hearken, Alexander Gordon,” said I, from the ladder’s foot, “I have been your friend. I have sat at your table. A word is given me to speak to you, and speak it I will.”
“And I also have a gun here that has a message rammed down its thrapple. I warn ye clear and fair, if ye trouble me at all with any of your clavers, ye shall get that message frae the black jaws of Bell-mouthed Mirren.”
And as I looked up the wooden ladder which led into the dim garret above me, I saw peeping through the angle of the square trap-door above me the wicked snout of the musket – while behind, narrowed to a slit, glinted, through a red mist of beard and hair, the eye of Sandy Gordon.
“Ye may shoot me if ye will, Alexander,” said I; “I am a man unarmed, defenceless, and so stand fully within your danger. But listen first to that which I have to say.
“You are a great man, laird of Earlstoun. Ye have come through much and seen many peoples and heard many tongues. Ye have been harried by the Malignants, prisoned by the King’s men, and now the Presbytery have taken a turn at you, even as they did at me, and for the same reason.
“You were ever my friend, Earlstoun, and William Boyd mine enemy. Therefore he was glad to take up a lying report against you that are my comrade; for such is his nature. Can the sow help her foulness, the crow his colour? Forbye, ye have given some room to the enemy to speak reproachfully. You, an elder of the Hill-folk, have collogued in the place of drinking with the enemies of our cause. They laid a snare for your feet, and like a simple fool ye fell therein. So much I know. But the darker sin that they witness against you – what say ye to that?”
“It is false as the lies that are spewed up from the vent of Hell!” cried the voice from the trap-door above, now hoarse and trembling. I had touched him to the quick.
“Who are they that witness this thing against you?”
He was silent for a little, and then he burst out upon me afresh.
“Who are you that have entered into mine own house of Earlstoun to threat and catechise me? Is Alexander Gordon a bairn to be harried by bairns that were kicking in swaddling clouts and buttock-hippens when he was at the head of the Seven Thousand? And who may you be? A deposed minister, a college jackdaw whom the other daws have warned from off the steeple.
I will not kill you, Quintin MacClellan, but I bid you instantly evade and depart, for the spirit has bidden me fire a shot at the place where ye stand!”
“Ye may fire your piece and slay your friend on the threshold of your house, an’ it please you, laird of Earlstoun,” cried I, “but ye shall never say that he was a man unfaithful, a man afraid of the face of men!”
“Stand from under, I say!”
Nevertheless I did not move, for there had grown up a stubbornness within me as there had done when the Presbytery set themselves to vex me.
Then there befell what seemed to be a mighty clap of thunder. A blast of windy heat spat in my face; something tore at the roots of my hair; fire singed my brow, and the reek of sulphur rose stifling in my nostrils.
The demon-possessed had fired upon me. For a moment I knew not whether I was stricken or no, for there grew a pain hot as fire at my head. But I stood where I was till in a little the smoke began to lazily clear through the trap-door into the garret.
I put my hand to my head and felt that my brow was wet and gluey. Then I thought that I was surely sped, for I knew that men stricken in the brain by musket shot ofttimes for a moment scarce feel their wound. I understood not till later the reason of my escape, which was that the balls of Earlstoun’s fusil had no time to spread, but passed as one through my thick hair, snatching at it and tearing the scalp as they passed.
LIKE THE SPIRIT OF A LITTLE CHILD
The smoke of the gun curled slowly and reluctantly out of the narrow windows, and through the garret opening I heard a hurried rush of feet beneath me on the stairs, light and quick – a woman’s footsteps when she is young. My head span round, and had it not been for Mary Gordon, whose arm caught and steadied me, I should doubtless have fallen from top to bottom.
“Quintin, Quintin,” she cried, passionately, “are you hurt? Oh, my father has slain him. Wherefore did I let him go?”
I held by the wall and steadied myself on her shoulder, scarce knowing what I did.
Suddenly she cried aloud, a little frightened cry, and, drawing her kerchief from her bosom, she reached up and wiped my brow, down which red drops were trickling.
“You are hurt! You are sort hurt!” she cried. “And it is all my fault!”
Then I said, “Nay, Mary, I am not hurt. It was but a faintish turn that came and passed.”
“Oh, come away,” she cried; “he will surely slay you if you bide here, and your blood will be upon my hands.”
“Nay, Mary,” I answered; “the demon, and not your father, did this thing, and such can do nothing without permission. I will yet meet and expel the devil in the name of the Lord!”
She put her netted fingers about my arm to draw me away; nevertheless, even then, I withstood her.
“Alexander Gordon,” I cried aloud, “the evil spirit hath done its worst. He will now depart from you. I am coming up the ladder.”
I drew my arm free and mounted. As my head rose through the trap-door I own that my heart quaked, but there had come with the danger and the excitement a sort of angry exaltation which, more than aught else, carried me onward. Also I knew within me that if, as I judged, God had other work yet for me to do in Scotland, He would clothe me in secret armour of proof against all assault.
Also the eyes of Mary Gordon were upon me. I had passed my word to her; I could not go back.
As I looked about the garret between the cobwebs, the strings of onions, and the bunches of dried herbs, I could see Sandy Gordon crouching at the far end, all drawn together like a tailor sitting cross-legged on his bench. He had his musket between his knees, and his great sword was cocked threateningly over his shoulder.
“What, Corbie! Are ye there again?” cried he, fleeringly. “Then ye are neither dead nor feared.”
“No,” said I; “the devil that possesses you has been restrained from doing me serious hurt. I will call on the Lord to expel what He hath already rendered powerless.”
“Man, Quintin,” he cried, “ye should have fetched Telfair and the Presbytery with you. Ye are not fit for the job by yourself. Mind you, this is no hotchin’ wee de’il, sitting cross-legged on the hearth in the gloaming like Andrew Mackie’s in Ringcroft. It takes the black Father of Spirits himself, ripe from hell, to grip the Bull of Earlstoun, and set him to roaring like this in the blank middle of the day.”
“But,” said I, “there is One stronger than any devil or devilkin – your father’s and your mother’s God! You are but a great bairn, Sandy. Do ye mind where ye first learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm?”
At my words the great mountain of a man threw his head back and dropped his sword.
“Aye, I mind,” he said, sullenly.
“Where was it?” said I.
“It was at my mother’s knee in the turret chamber that looks to the woods, if ye want to ken.”
“What did your mother when ye had ended the lesson?”
“What is that to you, Quintin MacClellan?” he thundered, fiercely. “I tell you, torment me not!”
He snarled this out at me suddenly like the roar of a beast in a cage, thrusting forth his head at me and showing his teeth in the midst of his red beard.
“What did your mother when ye had learned your psalm?”
“She put her hands upon my head.”
“And then what did she?”
“Do ye mind the words of that prayer?”
“I mind them.”
“Then say them.”
“I will not!” he shouted loud and fierce, clattering his gun on the floor and leaping to his feet. His sword was in his hand, and he pointed it threateningly at me.
“You will not say your mother’s prayer,” I answered; “then I will say it for you.”
“No, you shall not, Quintin MacClellan,” he growled. “If it comes to that, I will say it myself. What ken you about my mother’s prayer?”
“I have a mother of mine own, and not once nor twice she hath said a prayer for me.”
The point of the sword dropped. He stood silent.
“Her hands were on your head,” I suggested, “you had finished your prayers. It was in the turret chamber that looks to the north.”
“I ken – I ken!” he cried, turning his head this way and that like a beast tied and tormented.
But in his eyes there grew a far-away look. The convulsive fingers loosened on the sword-hilt. The blade fell unheeded to the ground and lay beside the empty musket.
“O Lord!” he gasped, hardly above his breath, “from all the dangers of this night keep my laddie. From powers of evil guard him with thy good angels. The Lord Christ be his yoke-bearer. Deliver him from sin and from himself. When I am under green kirkyard sward, be Thou to him both father and mother. O God, Father in Heaven, bless the lad!”
It was his mother’s prayer.
And as the words came softer Alexander Gordon fell on his knees, and moaned aloud in the dim smoky garret.
Then, judging that my work was done, I, too, kneeled on my knees, and for the space of an hour or thereby the wind of the summer blew through the chamber, the shadows crawled up the walls, and Alexander Gordon moved not nor spoke.
Then I arose, took him by the hand, and bade him follow me. We went down both of us together. And in the room below we found Mary, who had sat listening with her head on her hand.
“Here is your father,” I said; “take him to his chamber, and when he is ready bring him again into the great room.”
So very obediently he went with her as a little child might.
Presently she brought him in again, clean washed and with the black look gone from his brow.
I bade her set him by the window. She looked at me to see if she should leave us alone. But I desired her to stay.
Then very gently I set the right way before him.
“Alexander,” said I, “ye have done that which has worked great scandal. Ye shall confess that publicly. Ye are innocent of the greater iniquity laid to your charge. Ye shall clear yourself of that by a solemn oath taken both in the presence of God and before men.”
“That I cannot,” said he, speaking for the first time; “the Presbytery have refused me the privilege.”
“There is a door open for you,” I said, “in a place where the Presbytery and your enemies have no power. It may not be long mine to offer you. But for one day it shall be yours, and after the service on Sabbath in the Kirk of Balmaghie ye shall stand up and clear yourself by oath of the greater sin – after having made confession of the more venial fault.”
“I will do it!” he said, and put his hand in mine.
So I left him sitting there with his daughter, with the knowledge that my soul had power over his. And in the eventide, greatly comforted, I took my way homewards, knowing that he would not fail me.
THE STONE OF STUMBLING
But whilst I had been going about my work the enemies had not been idle. They had deposed me from the ministry. They could not depose me from the hearts of a willing and loyal people. They had invoked the secular arm, and that had been turned back.
Now, by hasty process, they had also appointed one, McKie, to succeed me – a young man that had been a helper to one of them, harmless enough, indeed, in himself, a good and quiet lad. Him, for the sake of the stipend, they had persuaded to be their cat’s-paw.
But the folk of Balmaghie were clear against giving him any foothold, so that he made little more of it than he had done at first.
But it chanced that on the day on which I had gone to Earlstoun to speak with Alexander Gordon, the more active of the Presbytery had gathered together many of the wild and riotous out of their parishes, and had sent them to take possession of the manse and glebe of Balmaghie.
Hob, my brother, was over by at the house of Drumglass, helping them with the last of their meadow hay, being a lad ever kind and helpful to all, saying little but doing much.
So that the house, being left defenceless in fancied security, the young lad McKie and his party had been in and about the manse for a full hour before any brought word of their approach.
McKie, acting doubtless under the advice of those that were more cunning than he, had intruded into the kitchen, extinguished the fire on the hearth and relighted it in his own name.
Also the folk who were with him, men from other parishes, wholly ignorant of the matter, had brought a pair of ploughs with them. To these they now harnessed horses and would have set to the ploughing up of the glebe, which was of ancient pasture, the grass clean and old, a paradise of verdure, smooth as a well-mown lawn.
But by this time the noise and report of the invasion had spread abroad, and from farm-towns far and near swarmed down the angry folk of Balmaghie, like bees from a byke upon a company of harrying boys.
The mowers took their scythes over their shoulders and set off all coatless and bonnetless from the water-meadows. The herds left their sheep to stray masterless upon the hill, and came with nothing but their crooks in their hands. The farmers hastily ran in for Brown Bess and a horn of powder. So that ere the first furrow was turned from end to end the glebe was black with people, swarming like an angry hive whose defences have been stormed.
So the invaders could not stand, either in numbers or anger, against the honest folk who had sworn to keep sacred the home of the man of their choice.
Even as I came to the entering in of the Kirk loaning, I saw the ending of the fray. The invaders were fleeing down the water-side; the poor lad McKie, who in his anger had stricken a woman to the ground and stamped upon her, had a wound in his hand made by a reaping-hook. The ploughs had been thrown into the Dee, and the folk of Balmaghie were pursuing and beating stray fugitives, like school laddies threshing at a wasps’ nest.
Then I, who had striven so lately with the powers of evil in high places, was stricken to the heart at this unseemly riot, and resolved within me that there should be a quick end to this.
Who was I that I should thus be a troubler of Israel, and make the hot anger rise in these quiet hearts? Could I stand against all Scotland? Nay, could I alone be in the right and all the others in the wrong? There was surely work for me to do outside the bounds of one small parish – at least, in all broad Scotland, a few godly folk of the ancient way to whom I could minister.
So I resolved then and there, that after the Sabbath service at which I had bidden Earlstoun to purge himself by oath and public confession, I would no longer remain in Balmaghie to stir up wrath, but depart over Jordan with no more than my pilgrim-staff in my hand.
So, when at last the people had vanquished the last invader and come back to the kirk, I called them together and spoke quietly to them.
“This thing,” said I, “becomes a scandal and a shaming. This is surely not the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. True, not we, but those who have come against us, began the fray. But when men stumble over a stone in the path, it is time that the stone be removed.
“Now I, Quintin MacClellan, your minister, am the stone of stumbling – I, and none other, the rock of offence. I will therefore remove myself. I will cease to trouble Israel.”
“No, no,” they cried; “surely after this they will leave us alone. They will never return. Bide with us, for you are our minister, and we your faithful and willing folk.”
And this saying of theirs, in which all joined, moved me much; nevertheless I was fixed in my heart, and could make no more of it than that I must depart.
Which, when they heard, they were grieved at very sorely, and appointed certain of them, men of weight and sincerity, to combat my resolution.
But it was not to be, for I made up my mind.
I saw that there might be an open door elsewhere, and though I would not abandon my work in Balmaghie, yet neither would I any more confine my ministrations. I would go out to the Hill-folk, who before had called me, and if they accepted of me, well! And if not – why, there were heathen folk enough in Scotland with none to minister to them; and it would be strange if He who sent out his disciples two by two, bidding them take neither purse nor script, would not find bread and water for a poor wandering teacher throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
FARE YOU WELL!
The fateful Sabbath came – a day of infinite stillness, so that from beside the tombs of the martyr Hallidays in the kirkyard of Balmaghie you could hear the sheep bleating on the hills of Crossmichael a mile away, the sound breaking mellow and thin upon the ear over the still and azure river.
To me it was like the calm of the New Jerusalem. And, indeed, no place that ever I have seen can be so blessedly quiet as the bonnie kirk-knowe of Balmaghie, mirrored on a windless day in the encircling stillness of the Water of Dee.
The folk gathered early, clouds upon clouds of them, so that I think every man, woman, and child in the parish must have save the children that could not walk, and the aged who dwelt too far away to be carried.
Alexander Gordon sat at my right hand, immediately beneath the pulpit.
There seemed an extraordinary graciousness in the singing that day, a special fervour in the upward swell of the voices, a more excellent, sober sweetness in the Sabbath air. And of that I must not think, for I was to leave all this – to leave for ever the vale of blessing wherein I had hoped to spend my days.
Yes, I would adventure forth alone rather than that a loyal folk should suffer any more because of me. But first, so far as in me lay, I would set right the matter of Alexander Gordon and his trouble.
It was the forty-sixth Psalm that they were singing, and as they sang the people tell that herds on the hill stood still to listen to the chorus of that mighty singing, and, without knowing why, the water stood in their eyes that day. There seemed to be something by-ordinarily moving in all that was done. Thuswise it went:
God is our refuge and our strength,
In straits a present aid,
Therefore although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid.
And as she sang I saw Mary Gordon looking past me with the glory of the New Song in her eyes. And I knew that her heart, too, was touched.
By the pillar in the arched nook at the door stood Hob my brother, and by him Alexander-Jonita. They looked sedately down upon one psalm-book. And in that day I was glad to think that one man was happy.
Poor lad! That which it was laid upon me to do came as a sad surprise to him. Out of the window, as I stood up to the sermon, I could see the river slowly take its way. It glinted back more blue and sparkling than ever I had seen it, and my heart gave a great stound that never more was I to abide by the side of that quiet water, and in the sheltered nook where I had known such strange providences. Once I had thought it would be gladsome for me to leave it, but now, when the time came, I thought so no more.
Even the little glimpses I had of that fair landscape through the narrow kirk windows brought back a thousand memories. Yonder, by the thorn, I had seen a weak one made nobler than I by the mighty power of love.
Down there beside the dark still waters I had watched the lights glimmer in the Kirk of Crossmichael, where sat my foes, angry-eager to make an end. But the psalm again seized my heart and held it.
A river is, whose streams do glad
The city of our God,
The Holy Place wherein the Lord
Most High hath His abode.
And in a moment the Dee Water and its memories of malice were blotted out. The ripples played instead over the River that flows from about the Throne of God. I saw all the warrings of earth, the heart-burnings, the strifes, the little days and evil nights washed away in a broad flood of grace and mercy.
I was ready to go I knew not whither. It might be that there was a work greater and more enduring for me to do, my pilgrim staff in my hand, among the flowe-mosses and peaty wildernesses of the South-west than here in the well-sheltered strath of Dee.
Now, at all events, I must face the blast, the bluster and the bite of it. But though I was to look no more on these well-kenned, kindly faces as their minister, I knew that their hearts would hold by me, and their lips breathe a prayer for me each day at eventide.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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