Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer


The years which took me, Quintin MacClellan, from the boyishness of thirteen to eighteen and manhood were eventful ones for Scotland. The second Charles had died just when the blast was strongest, and for a while it looked as if his brother would be the worst of the two. But because he wished well to the Papists, and could not ease them without also somewhat benefiting us of the Covenant, the bitterness of the shower slacked and we had some peace.

But, as for me, it mattered not greatly. My heart within me was determined that which it should do. Come storm or peaceful years, come life or death, I was determined to stand in the forefront and hold up again the banner which had been dabbled in the blood of Richard Cameron at Ayrsmoss, and trailed in the dust of victory by the haughty and the cruel.

That very year I went to my father, and I asked of him a wage to be spent in buying me books for my learning.

You want to be a minister? said my father, looking, as he well might, no little astonished. Have you gotten the grace of God in your heart?

Nay, father, I answered him, that I know not. But nevertheless I have a desire to know and to learn

But another voice cut into the matter and gravity of our discourse.

Bless the lad, and so you shall, Quintin! cried my mother from the door.

I heard my father sigh as though he would have said, The fat is in the fire now! Yet he refrained him and said nothing, standing as was his custom with his hands deep in the long side flaps of his waistcoat. Then he showed how hard it was to become a minister, and ever my mother countered his objections, telling how such-an-ones son had gone forward and been successful.

And they had none such a comfortable down-sitting nor yet any such blessing in flocks and herds as you, goodman! she would say.

Nor yet a mother so set and determined in her own way! cried my father a little sharply.

Nay, now, John, she made answer; I did but mention those other lads, because not one of them is to be compared with our Quintin!

My father laughed a little.

Well, he said, at all events there is time enough. The lad is but fourteen, and muckle much good water will run under the brigs ere it be time to send him to the college. But I will speak to Gilbert Semple, the Edinburgh carrier, to ask his cousin, the goodly minister, what books are best fitted for a lad who desires to seek learning and college breeding. And in the meantime the laddie has aye his Bible. I mind what good Master Rutherford said when he was in Anwoth: If so be ye want manners een read the Bible. For the Bible is no ill-bred book. It will take you unashamed through an earthly court as well as through the courts of the Master of Assemblies, through the Star Chamber as well as through the chamber of the stars.

And though at the time I understood not well then what my father meant, yet I read in my Bible as I had opportunity, keeping it with one or two other books in the poke-nook of my plaid whenever I went to the hills.

After a while Gilbert Semple, the carrier, brought me from Edinburgh certain other volumes some of Latin and Greek grammar, with one or two in the mathematics which were a sore puzzle and heartbreak to me, till there came among us one of the Hill Folk, a well-learned man, who, being in hiding in a Whigs hole on the side of Cairn Edward, was glad for the passing of the time to teach me to thread the stony desolation of verbs irregular and the quags of the rules of syntax.

Nevertheless, at this time, I fear there was in me no very rooted or living desire for the ministry. I longed, it is true, for a wider and more ample career than the sheep-herding on the hills of Kells could afford. And in this my mother supported me. Hob and David also, though they desired not the like for themselves, yet took some credit in a brother who had it in him to struggle through the narrow and thorn-beset wicket gate of learning.

Many a time did our great, stupid, kindly, butter-hearted Hob come to me, as I lay prone kicking my heels to some dyke-back with my Latin grammar under my nose, and stand looking over with a kind of awe on his honest face.

Read us a bit, he would say.

Whereat very gladly I would screed him off half a page of the rules of the syntax in the Latin tongue, according to the Dutch pronunciation which the preacher lad of the Cairn Edward cave had taught me.33
This was really the sweet and gentle youth James Renwick, though I knew not his name, till I saw them hang him in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh in the first year of my college-going.


And as I rolled the weighty and sounding words glibly off, Hob would listen with an air of infinite satisfaction, like one that rolls a sweet morsel under his tongue.

Read that leaf again! Its a grand-soundin ane that! Like And the Lord said unto Moses in the Book of Exodus. Certes, what it is to have learning!

Then very gravely I would read to the foot of the page and stop.

Hob would stand a moment to digest his meal of the Humanities.

Lie ye there, laddie, he would say; gather what lear ye can out of your books. I will look to the hill sheep for you this day!

I shall never forget his delight when, after great wrestlings, I taught him the proper cases of Penna, a pen, which in time he attained so great a mastery over that even in his sleep he could be heard muttering, Penna, a pen; pennae, of a pen. And our David, slinking sulkily in at a wolf-lope from his night-raking among the Glenkens lasses, would sometimes bid him to be silent in no kindly tones, at which the burly Hob, who could have broken slender David over his knee, would only grunt and turn him over, recommencing monotonously under his breath, Penna, a pen!

My father smiled at all this but covertly, not believing, I think, that there was any outgate for me into the ministry. And with the state of things in Scotland, indeed, I myself saw none. Nevertheless, I had it in me to try. And if Mr. Linning, Mr. Boyd, Mr. Shields, Mr. Renwick and others had gotten their learning in Holland, why should not I?

In return for Penna, a pen (pennae, of a pen, et cetera), Hob taught me the use of arms, the shooting to the dot of an i with a gun and a pistol, the broad sword and the small sword, having no mercy on me at all, but abusing me like a sheep-stealer if I failed or grew slack at the practice.

For, he said, if ever you are to be a right minister in Scotland, it is as like that ye will need to lead a charge with Richard Cameron, as that ye will spend all your time in the making of sermons and delivering them.

So he taught me also single-stick till I was black and blue all over. He would keep on so long belabouring me that I could only stop him with some verbal quib, which as soon as it pierced his thick skull would make him laugh so long and so loudly that the lesson stopped of itself. Yet for all that he had in after time the mighty assurance to say that it was I who had no true appreciation of humour.

One day, when he had basted me most unmercifully, I said to him, I also would ask you one thing, Hob, and if you tell me without sleeping on it, I will give you the silver buckle of my belt.

Say on, said he, casting an eager eye at the waist-leather which Jean Gordon had sent me.

Wherein have I the advantage over the leopard? I asked him.

He thought it over most profoundly.

I give it up, he said at last. I do not know.

Why, said I, as if it had been the simplest thing, because when I play back-sword with you I can change my spots and Scripture declares that the leopard cannot.

This he understood not at the time, but the next Sabbath morning it came upon him in the time of worship in the kitchen, and in the midst of the solemnity he laughed aloud, whereat my father, much incensed, asked him what ailed him and if his wits had suddenly taken leave of him.

It was our Quintin, dithered Hob, tremulously trying to command his midriff; he told me that when I played back-sword with him he could change his spots and that the leopard could not.

When said he that? asked my father, with cold suspicion, for I had been sitting demure as a gib cat at his own elbow.

Last Monday in the gloaming, when we were playing at back-sword in the barn, said Hob.

Thou great fool, cried my father, go to the hill breakfastless, and come not in till ye have learned to behave yourself in the time of worship.

To which Hob responded nothing, but rose and went obediently, smothering his belated laughter in his broad bonnet of blue.

He was waiting for me after by the sheep-buchts, when I went out with a bicker of porridge under my coat.

I am sore vexed to have made our father angry, he said, but the answer came upon me suddenly, and in truth it was a proper jest for, of course, a leopard could not play back-sword.


Men who know the strange history of the later life of me, Quintin MacClellan, may wonder that the present narrative discovers so little concerning my changes of opinion and stresses of spiritual conflict. But of these things I have written in extension elsewhere, and those who desire more than a personal narrative know well where to find the recital of my difficulties, covenantings, and combatings for the cause.

For myself, the memory of the day on the Bennan top was more than enough, and made me a high Covenant man for life. So that when I heard how King James was fled and his son-in-law, William of Orange, landed I could not contain myself, but bade Hob and David to come with me and light a beacon-fire on the top of the Millyea, that fair and shapely mountain. This after severe labour we did, and they say that the light was seen over a dozen parishes.

Then there came word to the Glenkens that there was to be a Convention in Edinburgh of men chosen out of every shire and county, called and presided over by Duke Hamilton. But it was the bruit of the countryside that this parliament would turn out even as the others, and be ground under the heel of the old kingsmen and malignants.44
I.e., those who by the Covenanters were supposed to have malignantly pursued and opposed their cause in the council or in the field.


So about this time there came to see my father two men grave and grey, their beards blanched with dripping hill-caves and with sleeping out in the snell winds and biting frosts of many a winter, without better shelter than some cold moss-hag or the bieldy side of a snow wreath.

There is to be a great rising of the Seven Thousand. The whole West is marching to Edinburgh! cried in at the door the elder of the two one Steel, a noted Covenanter from Lesmahago.

But the other, when his dark cloak blew back, showed a man of slender figure, but with a face of calm resolve and indomitable courage the proven face of a soldier. He was in a fair uniform that, as I afterwards found, of one of the Prince of Oranges Scots-Dutch regiments.

This, said Steel to my father, is Colonel William Gordon, brother of Earlstoun, who is come directly from the Prince of Orange to represent his cause in his own country of the West.

In a moment a spark lighted in my heart, blazed up and leaped to my tongue.

What, I cried, William Gordon who carried the banner at Sanquhar and fought shoulder to shoulder with Cameron at Ayrsmoss.

For it was my mothers favourite tale.

The slender man with the calm soldier-like face smiled quietly and made me a little bow, the like of which for grace I had never seen in our land. It had so much of foreign habitude in it, mixed with a simple and personal kindliness native to the man.

Ah, he said, I am ten years older since then I fear me not ten years wiser.

His voice sounded clear and pleasant, yet it was indubitably the voice of a man to be obeyed.

How many sons and limber house-carles can you spare, Ardarroch, said he, watching my fathers face, to march with me to keep the Convention out of the clutches of my Lord Dundee?

Of the devils hound, Clavers, mean ye? corrected my father suddenly, the fierce, rooted light of hatred gleaming keen and sharp, like the blade of a dagger which is drawn just an inch from its sheath and then returned. There are three of us on the farm, besides the boy Quintin, my youngest son. And every one of them shall ride to Edinburgh with you on their own horses.

Four shall ride, father, said I, stepping forward. I am the youngest, but let me also strike a blow. I am as fit of my body as either Hob or David there, and have a better desire and goodwill than either of them.

But, lad, said my father, not ill pleased, there are your mother and sister to look after. Bide you here and take care of the house.

There needs none to take care of the house while ye leave us here with a musket or two and plenty of powder and lead, cried my mother. Anna and I shall be safer, aye, and the fuller of gladness that ye are all in Edinburgh doing the Lords work. Ride ye, therefore, all the four of you!

Yes, added Anna, with the sweet stillness of her eye on the ground, let Quintin go, father. None would harm us in all the countryside.

Indeed, I think so, growled my father, having John MacClellan to reckon with on our return.

Whereat for very thankfulness I took the two womens hands, and Colonel Gordon said, Aye, Ardarroch, give the lad his will. In time past I had my share of biding by the house while my elders rode to battle, and I love the boys eagerness. He has in him the stuff of good soldiers.

And for these words I could have kissed the feet of Colonel William Gordon. The muster was appointed to be at Earlstoun on the morrow, and immediately there befell at Ardarroch a great polishing of accoutrement and grinding of swords, for during the late troubles the arms had been searched for over and over again. So it befel that they were hidden in the thatch of outhouse roofs, wrapped in cloths and carried to distant sandhills to be buried, or laid away in the damp caves of the linns.

Yet by the time all was brought in we were armed none so ill. My father had first choice, and then we three lads drew lots for the other weapons. To me came the longest straw, and I took the musket and a broad-bladed dagger, because I knew that our madcap David had set his heart on the basket-hilted sword to swing by his side, and I saw Hobs eyes fixed on the pair of excellent horse-pistols which my father had bought when the effects of Patrick Verner (called the Traitor) were sold in Dumfries.

At Earlstoun, then, we assembled, but not immediately at the great house for that was presently under repair after its occupation by troops in the troubles but at a farmhouse near by, where at the time were abiding Mistress Alexander Gordon and her children, waiting for the final release of her husband from Blackness Castle.

When it came to the point of our setting out, there came word from Colonel Gordon that no more than two of us were to go to Edinburgh on horseback, owing to the scarcity of forage in the city and the difficulty of stabling horses.

Let us again draw lots! said my father.

But we told him that there was no question of that, for that he and David must ride while Hob and I would march afoot.

And if I cannot keep up with the best that our David can ride on Kittle Kate, I will drown myself in the first six-inch duck-pond upon the road to Edinburgh! cried Hob MacClellan.

So we went down the green loaning of Ardarroch with the womens tears yet wet upon our cheeks, and a great opening of larger hopes dominating the little hollow qualms of parting in our hearts. Wider horizons beckoned us on. Intents and resolves, new and strange, thrilled us. I for one felt for the first time altogether a man, and I said within my heart as I looked at the musket which my father carried for me across his saddle-bow in order that I might run light, Gladly will I die for the sake of the lad whom I saw murdered on the Bennan top!


And when we arrived, lo! before the little white farm there was a great muster. My Lord Kenmure himself rode over to review us. For the Committee of Estates drawn together by the Duke Hamilton had named him as responsible for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

But that which was of greater interest to me than any commission or enrollment was the appearing of two women upon the doorstep of the cottage the Lady of Earlstoun and her daughter Mary.

Now it is to be remembered that Alexander Gordons wife was a sister of Sir Robert Hamilton, the commander at Bothwell Brig a man whose ungovernable temper, and genius for setting one man at variance with his fellow, had lost us Bothwell Brig and the life of many a brave lad of the hills. And Marys mother, Jean Hamilton, was like her brother in that somewhat pretentious piety which is of all things the most souring and embittering.

So that even my father said good, honest man, that would speak ill of none all the days of his life: If I had a wife like yon woman, I declare I would een turn Malignant and shoot her without warrant of law or benefit of clergy.

Jean Gordon came down off the doorstep and stood in front of us four MacClellans, looking out upon us with her keen, black eyes, and seeming as it had been, ready to peck at us with her long nose, which was hooked like a parrots in the middle.

Have any of you paid the Kings cess,55
I. e., the taxes for the support of the military establishments.

or had any dealings with the malignants? she said, speaking to us as to children taken in a fault.

Not save along the barrel of a musket, my lady of Earlstoun! quoth my father, drily.

The stern-visaged woman smiled at the ready answer.

Een stick to that, goodman of Ardarroch it is the safest commerce with such ill-favoured cattle! she said.

And with that she stepped further on to interrogate some newcomers who had arrived after us in the yard of the farm.

But indeed I minded her nothing. For there was a sweeter and fairer thing to see standing by the cheek of the door even young Mary Gordon, the very maid I had once carried so far in my arms, now grown a great lass and a tall, albeit still slender as a year-old wand of willow by the waters edges. Her hair, which had been lint white when I brought her down the side of Bennan after the shooting of the poor lad, was now darkening into a golden brown, with thick streaks of a warmer hue, ruddy as copper, running through it.

This girl leaned against the doorstep, her shapely head inclined a little sideways, and her profile clear and cold as the graving on a seal ring, turned away from me.

For my life I could not take my eyes off her.

I, even I, Quintin MacClellan, have carried that girl in my arms and thought nothing of it! I said the words over and over to myself, and somehow they were exceedingly pleasing to me.

I had ever sneered at love and love-making before, but (I own it) after seeing that fair young lass stand by the low entering in of the farmhouse door, I scoffed no more.

Yet she seemed all unconscious that I or any other was near her. But it came to me with power I could not resist, that I should make myself known to her. And though I expected nothing of remembrance, grace, or favour, yet such is the force of compelling love, the love that comes at the first sight (and I believe in no other kind) that I put all my pride under my feet, and went forward humbly to speak with her, holding my bonnet of blue in my hand.

For as yet we of the Earlstoun levies had fallen into no sort of order, neither had we been drilled according to the rules of war, but stood about in scattering groups, waiting for the end of the conference between my Lord of Kenmure and Colonel William Gordon.

As I approached, awkwardly enough, the maid turned her eyes upon me with some surprise, and the light of them shone cold as winter moonlight glinting upon new-fallen snow.

I made my best and most dutiful obedience, even as my mother had showed me, for she was gentle of kin and breeding, far beyond my father.

Mistress Mary, I said, scarce daring to raise my eyes to hers, but keeping them fixed upon the point of my own rough brogans. You have without doubt forgotten me. Yet have I never for an hour forgotten you.

I knew all the while that her eyes were burning auger holes into me. But I could not raise my awkward coltish face to hers. She stood a little more erect, waiting for me to speak again. I could see so much without looking. Whereat, after many trials, I mustered up courage to go on.

Mind you not the lad who brought you down from the Bennan top so long ago, and took you under cloud of night to the tower of Lochinvar on the raft beneath the shelter of beech leaves?

I knew there was a kindly interest growing now in her eyes. But, dolt that I was, I could not meet them a whit the more readily because of that.

I scarcely remember aught of it, she said, yet I have been told a hundred times the tale of your bringing me home to my aunt at Lochinvar. It is somewhat belated, but I thank you, sir, for your courtesy.

Nay, said I, tis all I have to be thankful for in my poor life, that I took you safely past the cruel persecutors.

She gave me a quick, strange look.

Yet now do I not see you ready to ride and persecute in your turn?

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