Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





But for the nonce let that fly stick to the wall; at any rate, sure it is that the Professor loon had taken me for Quintin.

Now it will greatly help those who read this chronicle to remember what Quintin did on this occasion. I would not have cared a doit if he had said, in the plain hearing of the class, that it was his brother Hob the Lothian packman who had felled the Red Grant.

But would the lad betray his brother? No! He rather hung his head, and said no more than that he heard the Red Grant was not seriously hurt. For as he said afterwards, I did not know what such a tribe of angry, dirked Highlandmen might have done to you, Hob, if they had so much as guessed it was no collegers fist which had taken Donald an inch beneath the ear.

Then, said the Regent to Quintin, my warrior of Wild Whigdom, you may set to the learning of thirty psalms by heart in the original Hebrew. And after you have said them without the book I will consider of your letters of certification from this class.

To which task my brother owes that familiarity with the Psalms of David which has often served him to such noble purpose both when, like Boanerges, he thundered in the open fields to the listening peoples, and when at closer range he spoke with his enemies in the gate. For thirty would not suit this hungrisome Quintin of ours. He must needs learn the whole hundred and fifty (is it not?) by rote before he went back to the Regent.

Which thirty psalms are ye prepared to recite? queried the Professor under the bush of his eyebrows.

Any thirty! answered brave Quintin, unabashed, yet noways uplifted.

Now the rest of my brothers college life may be told in a word. I know that he had written many chapters upon his struggles and heart-questionings as to duty and guidance at that time. But whether he destroyed them himself, or whether they exist in some undiscovered repository, certain it is that the next portion of his autobiography which has come into my hands deals with the time of his settlement in the parish of Balmaghie, where he was to endure so many strange things.

It is enough to say that year after year Quintin and I returned to the college with the fall of the leaf, I with my pack upon my back, ever gaining ready hospitality because of the songs and merry tales in my wallet. When we journeyed to and fro Quintin abode mostly at the road-ends and loaning-foots while I went up to chaffer with the good-wives in the hallans and ben-rooms of the farmhouses. Then, in the same manner as at first, we fought our way through the dull, iron-grey months of winter in Auld Reekie. Each spring, as the willow buds furred and yellowed, saw us returning to the hill-farm again with our books and packs. And all the while I kept Quintin cheerful company, looking to his clothes and mending at his stockings and body-gear as he sat over his books. Mainly it was a happy time, for I knew that the lad would do us credit.

And as my mother said many and many a time, Our Quintin has wealth o lear and wealth o grace, but he hasna as muckle common-sense as wad seriously blind a midge.

So partly because my mother put me through a searching catechism on my return, and also because I greatly loved the lad, I watched him night and day, laid his clothes out, dried his rig-and-fur hose, greased his shoon of home-tanned leather to keep out the searching snow-brew of the Edinburgh streets. For, save when the frost grips it, sharp and snell, tis a terrible place to live in, that town of Edinburgh in the winter season.

Here begins again the narrative of Quintin mybrother

CHAPTER XII
THE LASS IN THE KIRKYARD

I had been well-nigh a year about the great house of Girthon as family chaplain to the laird, when there came a call to accept the ministry of the Gospel among the people of Balmaghie. It was a parish greatly to my mind. It lies, as all know, in the heart of Galloway, between the slow, placid sylvan stretches of the Ken and the rapid, turbulent mill-race of the Black Water of Dee.

From a worldly point of view the parish was most desirable. For though the income in money and grain was not great, nevertheless the whole amount was equal to the income of most of the smaller lairds in the neighbourhood.

Yet for all these things, I trust that those in future times who may read this my life record will acquit me of the sin of self-seeking.

I mind well the first time that I preached in the parish which was to be mine own. I had walked with naught but my Bible in my pocket over the long, lone hill-road from Girthon to Balmaghie. I had with me no provender to comfort my stomach by the way, or to speed my feet over the miles of black heather moors and green morass.

For the housekeeper, to whom (for reasons into which I need not enter) everything in the lairds house of Girthon was committed, was a fair-faced, hard-natured, ill-hearted woman, who liked not the coming of a chaplain into the house as she said, stirring up the servants to gad about to preachings, and taking up their time with family worship and the like foolishness.

So she went out of her way to ensure that the chaplains would stay only until they could obtain quittance of so bare and thankless a service.

When I arrived at the kirk of Balmaghie, having come all the long journey from Girthon on foot and fasting, I sat me down on a flat stone in the kirkyard, near by where the martyrs lie snug and bieldy at the gable-end.

So exhausted was I that I know not what I should have done but for a young lass, comely and well put on, who gave me the farle of oatcake she had brought with her for her morning.

You are the young minister who is to preach to us this day? she said, going over to the edge of the little wood which at that time bounded the kirkyard.

I answered her that I was and that I had walked all the way from the great house of Girthon that morning whereat she held up her hands in utter astonishment.

It is just not possible, she cried.

And after pitying me a long time with her eyes, and urging me to eat her piece up quickly, she featly stooped down to the water and washed her feet and ankles, before drawing upon them a pair of white hosen, fair and thin, and fastening her shoes with the buckles of silver after a pretty fashion which was just coming in.

It was yet a full hour and a half before the beginning of the morning diet of worship, for I had risen betimes and travelled steadily. Now the kirk of Balmaghie stands in a lonely place, and even the adjoining little clachan of folk averts itself some distance from it.

Then being hungry I sat and munched at the lasss piece, till, with thinking on my sermon and looking at her by the waterside, I had well-nigh eaten it every snatch. So when I awoke from my reverie, as from a deep sleep, I sat with a little bit of bread, the size of my thumb, in my hand, staring at it as if I had seen a fairlie.77
I. e., a marvel.


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And what was worse, the lass seeing me thus speechless, and with my jaws yet working on the last of the crust, went off into peal after peal of laughter.

What for do ye look at me like that, young lad? she said, when she had sufficiently commanded herself.

I I have eaten all your midday piece, whiles I was thinking upon my sermon, I said.

More befitting is it that you should think upon your sermon than of things lighter and less worthy, said she, without looking up at me. I was pleased with her solid answer and felt abashed.

But you will go wanting, I began.

She gartered one shapely stocking of silk ere she answered me, holding the riband that was to cincture the other in her mouth, as appears to be the curious fashion of women.

What matter, she said, presently, as she stroked down her kirtle over her knee modestly, with an air that took me mightily, it was so full of distance and respect. I come not far, but only from the farm town of Drumglass down there on the meadows edge. Ye are welcome to the bit piece; I am as glad to see ye eat it as of a sunny morn in haytime. You have come far, and a brave days wark we are expecting from you this Sabbath day.

Then, as was my duty, I rebuked her for looking to man for that which could alone come from the Master and Maker of man.

She listened very demurely, with her eyes upon the silver buckles of her shoon, which she had admiringly placed side by side on the grass, when she set herself down on the low boundary wall of the kirkyard.

I ken I am too young and light and foolish to be fit company even for a young minister, she said, and there was a blush upon her cheek which vexed me, though it was bonny enough to look upon.

Nay, answered I quickly; there you mistake me. I meant no such thing, bonnie lass. We are all both fond and foolish, minister and maid. (Well might I say it, for God forgive me! at that very moment my mind ran more on how the lass looked and on the way she had of tapping the grass with her foot than on the solemn work of the day.)

No, no, she interrupted, hastily; I am but a silly lass, poor and ignorant, and you do well to fault me.

Now this put me in a painful predicament, for I still held in my hand the solitary scraplet left of the young lasss piece, and I must needs, like a dull, splenetic fool, go on fretting her for a harmless word.

She turned away her head a little; nevertheless, I was not so ill-learned in the ways of maids but that I could see she was crying.

What is your name, sweet maid? I asked, for my heart was wae that I had grieved her.

She did not answer me till she had a little recovered herself.

Jean Gemmell, she said, at last, and my father is the tenant of Drumglass up by there. He is an elder, and will be here by kirk-time. The session is holding a meeting at the Manse.

I had pulled a Bible from my pocket and was thinking of my sermon by this time.

Jean Gemmell rose and stood a moment picking at a flower by the wall.

My father will be on your side, she said, slowly.

But, cried I, in some astonishment, your father has not yet heard me preach.

No more have I, she made answer, smiling on me with her eyes, but, nevertheless, my father will be on your side.

And she moved away, looking still very kindly upon me.

I cannot tell whether or no I was helped by this rencounter in my conduct of the worship that day in the parish kirk of Balmaghie. At any rate, I went down and walked in the meadows by the side of Dee Water till the folk gathered and the little cracked bell began to clank and jow from the kirk on the hill.

CHAPTER XIII
MY LADY OF PRIDE

Within the kirk of Balmaghie there spread from gable to gable a dim sea of faces, men standing in corners, men holding by windows, men peering in at the low doorway, while the women cowered upon folded plaids, or sat closely wedged together upon little creepie stools. So great a multitude had assembled that day that the bairns who had no voice in the ministerial call were in danger of being put without to run wild among the gravestones. But this I forbade, though I doubt not many of the youthful vagabondage would have preferred such an exodus to the hot and crowded kirk that day of high summer.

I was well through my discourse, and entering upon my last head, when I heard a stir at the door. I paused somewhat markedly lest there should be some unseemly disturbance. But I saw only a great burly red-bearded gentleman with his hair a little touched with grey. The men about the porch made room for him with mighty deference.

Clinging to his arm was a young girl, with a face lily-pale, dark eyes and wealth of hair. And instead of the bare head and modest snood of the country maid, or the mutch of the douce matron, there was upon the ladys head a brave new-fashioned hat with a white feather.

I knew them in a moment Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun and his daughter Mary.

I cannot tell if my voice trembled, or whether I showed any signs of the abounding agitation of my spirit. But certain it is that for a space, which to me seemed ages, the course of my thought went from me. I spoke words idle and empty, and it was only by the strongest effort of will that I recalled myself to the solemn matters in hand. That this should have happened in my trial sermon vexed me sore. For at that time I knew not that these disturbances, so great-seeming to the speaker, are little, if at all, observed by his hearers, who are ever willing to lay the blame upon their own lack of comprehension rather than upon their instructors want of clearness.

But the moment after, with a strong uprising of my spirit, I won above the turmoil of my intellects, and ended with a great outgoing of my heart, charging those before me to lay aside the evils of their life and enter upon the better way with zeal and assured confidence.

And seeing that the people were much moved by my appeal I judged wise to let them go with what fire of God they had gotten yet burning in their hearts. I closed therefore quickly, and so dismissed the congregation.

Then, when I came down to go from the kirk, the people were already dispersing. The great red-bearded man came forward and put his hand on my shoulder.

Young sir, he said, it is true that ye have left the hill-folk, and with your feet have walked in devious ways. Notwithstanding, if what we have heard to-day be your message, we shall yet have you on your knees before the Eldership of the Societies. For the heart of the man who can thus speak is with us of the wilderness, and not among the flesh-pots of an Erastian Egypt.

At which I shook my head, not seeing how true his words were to prove, nor yet how soon the Kirk of Scotland was to bow the head, which hitherto had only bent to her heavenly Lord, to the sceptre of clay and the rule of a feckless earthly monarch.

But though I looked wistfully at Mary Gordon, and would have gone forward to help her upon her horse where it stood tethered at the kirk-liggate, she passed me by as though she had not seen me, which surely was not well done of her. Instead she beckoned a young man from the crowd in the kirkyard, who came forward with his hat in his hand and convoyed her to her horse with a privileged and courtly air. Then the three rode off together, Alexander Gordon turning about in his saddle and crying back to me in his loud, hearty manner, Haste ye and come over to the Earlstoun, and we will yet show you the way across the Red Sea out of the Land of Bondage.

And I was left standing there sadly enough, yet for my life I cannot tell why I should have been sad. For the folk came thronging about me, shaking me by the hand, and saying that now they had found their minister and would choose me in spite of laird or prince or presbytery. For it seems that already some of my sayings had given offence in high quarters.

Yet it was as if I heard not these good folk, for (God forgive me) even at that solemn moment my thoughts were circling about that proud young lass, who had not deigned me a look even in the hour of triumph, but had ridden so proudly away with the man who was doubtless her lover.

Thus I stood awhile dumbly at gaze, without finding a word to say to any. And the folk, thinking that the spirit of the spoken Word was yet upon me, drew off a little.

Then there came a voice in mine ear, low and persuasive, that awoke me from my dream.

This is my father, who would bid ye welcome, and that kindly, to his house of Drumglass.

It was the young maid whose piece I had eaten in the morning.

The feeling in my heart that I had been shamed and slighted by Mary Gordon made Mistress Jean Gemmells word sweet and agreeable to me. I turned me about and found myself clasping the hands of a rugged old man with a broad and honest face, who took snuff freely with one hand, while he shook mine with the other.

Im prood to see ye, young sir, he said, prood to see ye! My dochter Jean here, a feat and bonny bit lass, has telled me that I am to gie ye my guid word. And my guid word ye shall hae. And mony o the elders and kirk-members owes siller to auld Drummie; aye, aye, and they shall do as I say or I shall ken the reason

But, sir, I said hastily, I desire no undue influence to be used. Let my summons, if it come, be the call of a people of one mind concerning the fitting man to have the oversight of them in the things of the spirit.

Of one mind! exclaimed the old man, taking snuff more freely than ever. Ye are dootless a maist learned and college-bred young lad, with rowth o lear and lashins o grace, but ye dinna ken this pairish o Balmaghie if ye think that ye can ever hae the folk o wan mind. Laddie, the things no possible. Theres as mony minds in Balmaghie as theres folk in it. And a mair unruly, camsteery pairish theres no between Kirkmaiden and the wild Hieland border. But auld Drummie can guide them ow, aye, auld Drummie can work them. He can turn them that owes him siller round his finger, and they can leaven the congregation hear ye that, young man!

If the people of this parish desire me for their minister, they will send me the call, answered I, pointedly. For these things, as I have ever believed, are in a Higher Hand.

Doubtless, doubtless, quoth auld Drummie; but the Balmaghie folk are none of the waur o a bit spur in their flank like a reesty88
Restive.


[]
powny that winna gang. They mind a minutes jag frae the law mair nor the hale grace o God for a month, and mind ye that! Gin ye come amang us, lad, Ill learn ye a trick or twa aboot the folk o Balmaghie that ye will be the wiser o. Mind, I hae been here a my life, and an elder o the kirk for thirty year!

I am much indebted, sir, for your good intentions, but

Nae buts, cried auld Drummie. I hae my dochter Jeans word that ye are a braw callan and deserve the pairish, and the pairish ye shall hae.

I am much indebted to your daughter, I made answer. She succoured me with bread to eat this morning, when in the kirkyard I was ready to faint with hunger. Without her kindness I know not how I would have come through the fatigues of this days exercises.

Ow, aye, said the old man; thats just like my dochter Jean. And a douce ceevil lassock she is. But ye should see my ither dochter afore ye craw sae croose aboot Jean.

You have another daughter? I said, politely.

Aye, he cried, with enthusiasm. Man, where hae ye comed frae that ye haena heard o Alexander-Jonita, the lass wha can tame a wild stallion that horse-dealers winna tackle, and ride it stride-leg like a man. Theres no a maiden in a the country can hand a cannle to Alexander-Jonita, the dochter o Nathan Gemmell of Drumglass, in the pairish o Balmaghie.

CHAPTER XIV
THE TALE OF MESS HAIRRY

So the service being ended for the day, I walked quietly over to Drumglass with Jean and her father. There I found a house well furnished, oxen and kine knee-deep in water, meadows, pastures, crofts of oats and bear in the hollows about the door, and over all such an air of bien and hospitable comfort that the place beckoned me to abide there.

Nathan Gemmell went beside me, regaling me with tales of the ancient days spoken in the broad and honourable sounding speech of the province.

Hear ye, laddie, he said, gin ye come to the pairish o Balmaghie ye will need the legs o a racer horse, and the airms o Brawny Kim, the smith o Carlinwark. Never a chiel has been fit to be the minister o Balmaghie since Auld Mess Hairry died!

He was a man losh me, but he was a man!

I tell ye, sir, this pairish needs its releegion tightly threshed into it wi a flail. Sax change-houses doon there hae I kenned oot o seven cot-houses at the Kirk-clachan o Shandkfoot, and a swearin, drinkin set in ilka yin o them.

And siccan reamin swatrochs of Hollands an French brandy, lad! Every man toomin his glass and cryin for mair, tossing it ower their thrapples hand ower fist, as hard as the sweatin landlords could open the barrels. And the ill words and the fechtin Lord, callant, ye never heard the like! They tell me that ye come frae the Kells. A puir feckless lot they are in the Kells! Nae spirit in their drink. Nae power or variety in their oaths and cursings!

But Balmaghie! That was a pairish in the old time, till Mess Hairry came in the days after John Knox. He had been a Papish priest some-gate till he had turned his cassock alang wi dour black Jock o the Hie Kirk o Edinburgh. But Mess Hairry they aye caaed him, for a that. And there were some that said he hadna turned that very far, but was a Papish as great as ever under the black Geneva gown!

For he wad whiles gie them swatches o the auld ill-tongued Laitin, till the folk kenned na whether they werena bein made back again into limbs o Rome, and their leave never so much as speered.

But Pope or reform, mass or sacrament, the pairish cared no a bursten chanter. Doon at the clachans the stark Hollands flowed like the water in a running spate, and the holy day o the Sabbath was their head time for the evil wark that is, till Mess Hairry cam, and oh, but he was the maisterfu man, as my auld grandfaither used to say. What did he? man, I will tell ye. And let it be a lesson to ye, young man, gin ye come to the pairish o Balmaghie. The folk here like a tairgin maisterfu man. Hark ye to that! They canna bide chiels that only peep and mutter. The lads atween the waters o Dee and Ken tak a man maistly at his ain valuation, and if a minister thinks na muckle o himself haith, they will een jaloose that he kens best, and no think muckle o him either!





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