Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





Now, though I hold to it that there never was a man in the world like our Quintin, at least, never since Richard Cameron was put down in red-running blood on the Moss of Ayr, yet I am free to admit that Quintin often saw things without that saving salt of humour which would have given him so much easier a tramp through the whins and thickets of life.

But this could not be. Quintin had by nature mother-wit enough, but he ever took things too hardly, and let them press upon his spirit when he had better have been on the ice at the channel-stanes than on his knees in his closet. At least that is my thought of it.

For some men see the upper side of human affairs, and some the under. But few there be who see both sides of things. And if any of the doctrines for which our Quintin fought seemed to me as the thin wind-clouds streaked like mares tails high in the lift, the heartsome mirth and country gif-gaf,22
Gif-gaf, i.e., give and take, the interchange of pleasantry, parry of wit, the cut-and-thrust encounter of tongues, innocent enough but often rough.


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which ofttimes made my heart cheerier, appeared to him but as the crackling of thorns under a pot.

And so when it shall be that this wondrous narrative of my brother Quintins life (for it is both wondrous and true) is finally set forth for the edification of men and women, I recommend whoever has the perusal of it to read over also my few chapters of observes, that he may understand the true inwardness of the narrative and, as it were, the ingates as well as the outgates of it.

Now, for instance, there is this matter of the killing of the man upon the hill. Quintin hath written all his story, yet never said in three words that the man was not Muckle Sandy Gordon, the father of the little lass. He was, in fact, the son of one Edgar of Milnthird, and reported a clever lad at his trade, which was that of a saddler in Dumfries. He had in his time great fights with the devil, who beset him roaring like a lion in the caves of Crichope and other wild glens. But this John Edgar would always vanquish him till he put on the red coat of Rob Grier of Lag, that noted persecutor. And so the poor lad got a settling shot through the back even as Quintin has written.

And, again, when Quintin says that it was the memory of that day which set him marching to Edinburgh with me at his elbow, to hold Clavers and his troop of Lairds and Highlandmen in order well, in my opinion we both marched to Edinburgh because my father bade us. And at that time even Quintin did not disobey his father, though I will say that, having the soft side of my mother, he got more of his own way even from a bairn than is good for any one.

CHAPTER V
I CONSTRUCT A RAFT

[The Narrative is again from the MS.
of Quintin MacClellan.]

It was growing dusk when Mary Gordon and I came to the edge of the lake. Now, Loch Ken, though a narrow and winding piece of water, and more the extension of the river than, as it were, a lake of set intent, has yet many broad, still stretches and unexpected inlets, where it is a paradise for children to play. And these I knew like the way to our well at Ardarroch.

As Anna had foretold, we found upon the white sands neither the Lady of Earlstoun, nor yet the boat in which Mary and she had come from the head of the loch. We saw, however, the rut which the prow of the boat had made in taking the pebbles, and the large stone to which it had been fastened was there. The shingle also was displaced, and all about were deeply marked footprints like those made by men who bear a heavy burden.

Then, when I had sat down on a boulder by the waters edge, I drew the little maid to my knee, and told her that I must take her home to find her mother. And also that because the Earlstoun was a long way off, she must let me carry her sometimes when she grew weary.

Is that what Anna would wish? she asked, for from the first she had called my sister nothing else.

I told her that it was, and immediately she put her hand in mine, yet not willingly nor yet trustingly as she had done to Anna, but rather with an air of protest and like one who does an irksome but necessary duty.

At the point of the loch at which we had arrived the trees crept down the hillside quite to the edge of the water, so that for the first quarter of a mile Mary Gordon and I proceeded northwards without ever needing to show ourselves out in the open.

Then there comes the narrow pass between the steepest crags of the Bennan and the waters edge. We had been moving cautiously through the trees, and were indeed just about to emerge from the brushwood, when a rotten stick cracked beneath my foot. Instantly a soldiers challenge rang sharply out in front of us.

Halt! Who goes there?

Though little better than bairns Mary Gordon and I cowered with the instinctive craft born of years of persecution and concealment. Again the man cried, Show yourselves there, or I fire!

But as we lay still as death behind the tree he did not think it necessary to enter the wood where, indeed, for all he knew a score of armed and desperate Whigs might have been in hiding.

Then we could hear his neighbours hail him from the next post and ask what the matter was.

I heard a noise in the wood, he returned, gruffly enough.

A wandering pig or a goat from the hill! cried his comrade higher up, cheerily. There are many of them about. But the man in front of us was sullen and did not reply.

Sulky dog! cried the man who had spoken as it were, in order to close the conversation pleasantly.

The sound of his voice caused me to stop and reflect.

The hail of the second soldier had come distinctly from the rocks of the Bennan, therefore their commander had established a cordon of sentries in order to prevent the escape of some noted fugitive. What chance was there for a couple of children to pass the guarded line? By myself I might, indeed, have managed. I could well enough have rushed across the line when the sentry was at the extreme point of his beat, and risked a bullet as I plunged into the next belt of woodland; but, cumbered with the care of a maiden of tender years, this was impossible.

The night had drawn down into a cool, pleasant darkness. Softly Mary Gordon and I withdrew, taking care that no more rotten sticks should snap beneath our feet. For I knew that in the present state of the sentrys temper we would certainly not escape so easily.

Presently, at the southern verge of the straggling copse of hazel, and therefore close to the edge of the lake, we came upon a couple of sheepfolds. One of these belonged to our own farm of Ardarroch, and the other to our kindly neighbour, John Fullerton of the Bennan.

I am tired take me home. You promised to take me home!

The little maids voice was full of pitifulness and tears as she found herself going further and further from the house of Earlstoun.

We cannot pass that way the soldier men would shoot us, I answered her with truth.

Then take me to my Auntie Jean, she persisted, catching at my hand pettishly, and then throwing it from her, and my mother will come for me in the morning.

But where does your Auntie Jean live?

How can I tell it is such a long way? she answered. It is in a house in the middle of a loch!

Now this could only mean in the old tower of Lochinvar. But that was a yet longer and more difficult road than to the Earlstoun, and the line of sentries up the Bennan side barred our progress as completely as ever.

Nevertheless there was something attractive in the little maids idea. For that ancient strength, alone among all the neighbouring houses, sheltered no band of troopers. Kenmure, Earlstoun, Gordonston, and even our own little farm town of Ardarroch were all manned and watched, but the half-ruinous block-house of Lochinvar set in the midst of its moorland loch had been left untenanted. Its owner, Walter Gordon, the famous swordsman, was in exile abroad, so they said, and the place, save for a room or two, totally disrupted and broken down.

There was, therefore, no safer refuge for little Mary, if indeed her aunt dwelt there and we could find our way. Suddenly, as we looked about, an idea came to me, and, what is not so common, the means of carrying it out.

The sheepfolds (or buchts) in which we were hiding were walled in with rough stones from the hill, piled so as to form dry dykes, high and strong, and the entrances were defended by heavy wooden gates swung upon posts driven deep into the ground. The gates lifted away easily from their hinges. Two or three of these would make a secure enough raft if I could only fasten them together. And even as I set about to find ways and means, I was conscious of a change. A strange elation took me at the heart, and ran through my veins like unaccustomed wine.

I was no longer the careless herd laddie. I had entered life. I knew the penalty of failure. The man in the brown coat lying prone on his face up there above me on the crest of the Bennan quite clearly and sufficiently pointed that moral.

So, with the little girl close behind me, I searched both sets of buchts from end to end. I found three gates which could be easily detached from their posts. These I dismounted one after another.

How, then, was I to get them to the waters edge, for they were far too heavy for my puny strength? I could only break a limb from a tree and draw them down to the loch shore on that, even as I had often helped my father to bring home his faggots of firewood from the hill upon a carr, or trail-cart of brushwood.

So we set off for the wood to break our branch. It was not long before I had one of beech lying upon the ground, with all its wealth of rustling leaves upon it. But the snap I made in breaking it off from the tree would certainly have betrayed us, had I not been cautious to keep a sufficient breadth of wood between us and our surly sentry.

Trailing this behind us we came again to the ewe-buchts.

It was now no difficult job to transport the raft of gates down to the water. I gave Mary Gordon a branch to tug at, which made her happier than anything I had done since Anna committed her to my care, for she pleased herself with thinking that she did the whole work.

I was almost on the point of using a hay-rope to bind them together as the best I could do, when I remembered that in the corner of our own buchts my father kept some well-tarred hempen cord, which I had seen him place there only the day before he had been compelled to go into hiding. If it chanced not to be removed, without doubt it would prove the very thing.

I found it where he had laid it, in the little shelf-press rudely constructed in the wall of four blocks of stone split into faces. There was little enough of it when I rove it out, but I thought I could make shift with it. It was, at any rate, far better than miles of hay-rope.

With this I tied the bars closely together by the corners and cross-bars, and presently had built up a very commodious raft indeed, though one more than a trifle heavy. It was some time before I hit upon a plan of launching my top-heavy craft. With the loose stob of a gatepost I managed to lever the crank construction to the edge of a sloping bank down which she slid so quickly that I had to set my heels into the grass and hold back with all my might.

But a moment after, without a splash more than a wild duck might make, the raft floated high above the water. With the end of the rope in my hand I climbed on board, but soon found that with my weight the top liggate of my craft was within an inch of the water. Clearly, then, it could not keep both of us dry.

But this troubled me little. I had not lived all my life on the shores of a loch to be afraid of swimming behind a raft on a midsummer night. For among other ploys Hob and I would often play at a sort of tilting or tournament, sitting astride of logs and trying to knock each other off into the water in the warm summer shallows.

So I placed the little girl upon the raft, cautioning her that as she hoped to see her mother again, she must in no circumstances make the least noise nor yet move from the centre of the raft where I had placed her. Soon she had begun to take an interest in the adventure, and had forgotten her weariness. She did not, however, again speak of her mother, but said that she was ready to go for a sail with me if I was quite sure that on the other side she should see her aunt. And this, speaking somewhat hastily, I promised without condition.

CHAPTER VI
ACROSS THE MOONLIGHT

For just then I became aware of a quickly growing light behind the eastern hills. It was the moon rising. I had not thought of this, and for a moment I was disconcerted. I knew that she would doubtless throw a sharp light upon the water, and that from the shore the raft would be as easily seen black against the broad and shining silver streak as if the time had been midday instead of midnight.

Then I remembered the branch which I had brought with me from the wood. I thrust the butt of it through the bars of the gates, and so disposed the leaves that from the shore they made at once a perfect shelter and a secure hiding-place for Mary, who sat there in state upon the raft, proud of going such an adventurous voyage, and perhaps also not a little elated to be up so late.

Being already stripped to the shirt and small clothes, I took off the former also, and dropped silently into the water behind the raft. I found the water warm, for the hot sun of June had beat upon it all the long day. A chill wind had sprung up within the last hour, and the wavelets broke on my back and upon the raft at my chin with a little jabble of sound. But it blew upon the leaves of the branch which acted as a sail and sent us so quickly northward that I had to swim sideways in order to keep in the right line of our voyaging.

The moon rose as we left the shallows of the shore. She looked coldly and blankly at us over the black Parton moors on the other side. But all the same she did us a mighty ill turn. For I knew that in her light the raft would be apparent to every one on the bank where the soldiers lay.

I dived instantly and came up on the side furthest from the land. There I held the raft so that the branch would keep its thickest cover towards the sentry.

I could see him now, pacing to and fro in the moonlight across the grey turf and strip of white sand. He was plain to be seen against the shining beach, and his helmet sometimes flashed momentarily against the dark line of the woods behind. So that I knew how plainly he in his turn must be able to see us, as we crossed the broad silver stream of moonlight upon the water.

A camp fire glowed sullenly red among the trees, from which I gathered that the commander of the soldiers was very much in earnest indeed, in his resolve to catch his man. For it was but seldom that any of the red soldiers would consent to lie out at night, preferring instead to quarter themselves upon the people, to harry their houses and gear, insult their women folk, and requiring to be called your Honour at every other word.

Meanwhile, the wind was doing its work, if not swiftly, at least with deliberate and unhalting steadiness. Mary sat like a statue under the green bough, and smiled at the dancing ripples. She looked very beautiful to see, aye, and winsome too, with my shirt-collar turned up about her ears and the empty sleeves hanging down on either side.

But I had small time to observe such like, for soon we were crossing the bright water in front of the soldier.

He had paced down to the waters edge and now stood looking out towards us, leaning upon his musket. I could see the tails of his military coat blow back in the chill wind from the hills. He hugged himself as if he had been a-cold. Yet he stood looking so long that I feared he might suspect something. But after all it was only that he was a contemplative man, and that the object on the water was as good as anything else to fix his eyes upon. At any rate, all he did see was a floating branch being driven northward with the wind.

Presently, to my immense relief, he shouldered his piece and tramped away up towards the woods.

I drew a long breath, and swimming on my back I pushed the raft across the lake with my head.

Yet it seemed an age before we took ground on the further side, and I could carry the brave little maid ashore. She dropped almost instantly asleep on my shoulder.

Have you given Matt his supper? was her last speech. I thought Matt must be some pet dog of hers. In time, however, I found that he was a certain green caterpillar which she kept in a wooden box and fed upon cabbage leaves.

After this there came a long and weary tramp with many rests, and the infinite weariness of carrying the sleeping maid. She grew heavier and heavier every moment as I stumbled over the rough moor, so that my back was well nigh broken before I came to the verge of the little lake with the tower of Lochinvar in the midst of it.

Here, in the dawning light, I laid her down under a bush of bog-myrtle, and swimming to the castle hand over hand I clamoured at the door.

For a time none answered, and I got a sharp, chilling fear in my stomach that I had brought the maid to a house uninhabited, but at long and last a window shot up and a voice hailed me.

Who knocks so early at the door of Lochinvar?

Who are you that speers? I returned, giving question for question in the Scots manner.

A kindly mellow voice laughed.

Surely only an honest country lad would have answered thus, said the voice; but since the times are evil, tell me whos bairn ye may be?

So with that, somewhat reassured, I told very briefly for what cause I had come.

The window shut down again, and in a few minutes I heard a foot within coming slowly along a stone passage. Bolts withdrew, and the door was opened, creaking and squealing upon unaccustomed hinges.

A pleasant-faced old lady, wrapped about in a travelling cloak of blue frieze, stood there. She had a white nightcap on her head, frilled and goffered much more elaborately than my mothers at Ardarroch.

Ye have brought Sandy Gordons daughter to me. Her faither and her mother are taken, ye tell me. God help them! she exclaimed.

So I told her that I knew not as to her fathers taking with any certainty, for he might have been slain for aught I knew. I told her also the terrible thing I had been witness to on the top of Bennan, and the word of the lad in brown when he cried for Margaret. She set her hand to her heart.

Poor lads, she said, and again, poor misguided lads!

I thought in my heart that that was a strange way to speak of the martyrs, but it was not for a boy like me to make any objection.

The woman undid the boat which swung by a chain at the northern side of the castle secure within a little breakwater of hewn stone. We rowed across to the lochs edge, and there, in the first ruddy glow of the rising sun, with colour on her lips and her lashes lying long and dark upon her cheek, was the little Mistress Mary, safe under her bush of bog-myrtle, looking lovely as a fairy, aye, or the queen of the fairies herself.

Then I know not what cantrip took me, for at most times, both then and after, I was an awkward Scots boy, as rough and landward as Ashie or Gray, my questing collies. But certain it is that I stooped and kissed her on the cheek as she lay, and when I lifted her would have given her to her aunt.

But she stirred a little as I took her in my arms, and with a little petulant whimper she nestled her head deeper into my neck. My heart stirred strangely within me at the touch of the light curls on her forehead.

She opened her eyes of sleepy blue. Has Matt had his breakfast? she said. And instantly fell to the sleeping again.

We laid her all comfortably in the stern of the boat. Her aunt stepped in and took the oars. She did not invite me to follow.

Good morrow, lad, she said, not unkindly, get you home speedily. I will see to the child. You have done well by Sandys bairn. Come and see her and me in happier times. I promise you neither she nor I will ever forget it.

And I watched these two as the boat went from me, leaving three long wakes upon the water, one oily and broad where the keel stirred the peaty water, and two smaller on either side winking with bubbles where the oars had dipped.

And there in the stern I could just see the edge of the blue hood of frieze, wherein lay the golden head of Mary Gordon.

She was but a bairn. What did a grown laddie care for bairns? Yet was my heart heavy within me.

And that was the last I saw of Mary Gordon for many and many a year.





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