Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





At ony rate, the drinking gaed on, as I was tellin ye, till yae day it cam to a head. There had been a new cargo brought into the Briggus it was afore the days o the ill-set customs duties foul fa them and the officers that wad keep a man frae brewin his decent wormfu, or at least gar him tak the bother o doin it in the peat-stack or on some gairy-face instead o openly on his kitchen floor.

But be that as it may, it was when Mess Hairry was at his fencing prayer in the kirk on a Sabbath, as it micht be on this day o June. He was just leatherin aff the words that fast the folk couldna tell whether he is giein them guid Scots or ill-contrived Laitin, when Mess Hairry stops and cocks his lug doon the kirk like a collie that hears a strange fit in the loanin.

The folk listens, too, and then they heard the ower word o a gye coarse sang from the clachan doon by, and the Muckle Miller o Barnboard, Black Coskery, leadin it wi a voice like the thunder on Knockcannon.


The deil cam up to oor loan en
Smoored wi the reck o his black den,

There was nae mair sermon that day. Mess Hairry gied them but ae word. I wasna there, for I wasna born; but the granddaddy o me was then a limber loon, and followed after to see what wad befa. The sermon will be applied in the clachan this day in the name o God and the blessed saints, cried Mess Hairry.

So the auld priest claught to him a great oak clickie stick he had brocht frae some enchanted wood, and doon the kirk road he linkit wi strides that were near sax foot frae tae to heel. Lord, but he swankit it that day.

And ever as he gaed the nearer, louder and louder raise Barnboards chorus, The deil he cam to our loan en till ye could hear the verra window-frames dirl.

But Mess Hairry he strode like the angel o destruction to the door o the first hoose. The bar was pushed, for it was sermon time, and they had that muckle respect. But the noise within was fearsome. Mess Hairry set the broad sole o his foot to the hasp, and, man, he drave her in as if she had been paper. It was a low door as a Galloway doors are. The minister dooked doon his heid, and in he gaed. Nane expected ever to see him come oot in life again, and a the folk were thinking on the disgrace that the pairish wad come under for killin the man that had been set over them in the things o the Lord. For bravely they kenned that Black Coskery wad never listen to a word o advice, but, bein drunk as Dauvids soo, wad strike wi sword, or shoot wi pistol as soon as drink another gill.

There was an awesome pause after Mess Hairry gaed ben.

The folk they stood aboot the doors and they held up their hands in peety. Puir man, they said; they are killin him the noo. Theres Black Coskery yellin at the rest to keep him doon and finish him where he lies. Puir man, puir man! What a death to dee, murdered in a change-hoose on the Lords Day o Rest, when he micht hae been by Thirdly in his sermon and clearin the points o doctrine wi neither tinker nor miller fashin him! This comes o meddlin wi the cursed drink.

Wilder and ever wilder grew the din.

It was like baith Keltonhill Fair and Tongland Sacrament on a wet day. They had shut the doors when the priest gaed in to keep him close and do for him on the spot.

My grand-daddy telled me that there was some gaed awa for the bier-trams and the mort-claiths to carry the corpse to the manse to be ready for his coffining!

If they gang on like that there will no be enough left o him to hand thegither till they row him in his shroud! Hear till the wild renegades!

And ever the thresh, thresh o terrible blows was heard, yells o pain an mortal fear.

Mercy! Mercy! For the Lords dear sake, hae mercy!

The door burst frae its hinges and fell blaff on the road!

They are bringin him oot noo. Puir man, but he will be an awesome sicht!

There cam a pour o men folk frae tween the lintels, some bareheaded, wi the red bluid rinnin frae aboot their brows, some wi the coats fair torn frae their backs every man o them wild wi fear.

They hae murdered him! Black Coskery has murdered him, cried the folk withoot. And the ither lads are feared o the judgment for the bluid o the man o God.

But it wasna that indeed, far frae that. For on the back o the men skailin, there cam oot o the cot-hoose wha but Mess Hairry, and he had Black Coskery by the feet trailin him heid doon oot o the door. He flang him in the ditch like a wat dish-clout. Syne he gied his lang black coat a bit hitch aboot his loins wi a cord, like a butcher that has mair calves to kill. Then he makes for the next change-hoose. But they had gotten the warnin. They never waited to argue, but were oot o the window, carrying wi them sash and a so they say.

And so even thus it was wi the lave. The grace o God was triumphant in the Kirk Clachan o Bamaghie that day.

They took up a that was mortal o Black Coskery to the Barnboard on the bier they had gotten ready for the minister. He got better, but he was never the same man again; for whenever he let his voice be heard, or got decently fechtin drunk, some callant wad be sure to get ahint a tree and cry, Rin, Coskery, heres Mess Hairry. He couldna bide that, but cowered like a weel-lickit messan tyke.

When they gaed into the first change-hoose, they say that the floor was a sicht to see. A thing driven to kindlin wood; for Mess Hairry had never waited to gie a word o advice, but had keeled ower Black Coskery wi ae stroke o his oak clickie on the haffets. Then, faith, he took the fechtin miller by the feet and swung him aboot his head as if he had been a flail.

Never was there sic fechtin seen in the Stewartry. The men fell ower like nine-pins, and were richt glad to crawl to the door. But for a judgment on them it was close steekit, for they had shut it to be sure o Mess Hairry.

They were far ower sure o him, and they say that if the hinges had no given way it micht hae been the waur for some o them.

And that was the way that Mess Hairry preached the Gospel in Bamaghie. Ow, its him that had the pooer at least, thats what my granddaddy telled me.

Ow, aye Bamaghie needs a maisterfu man. But well never see the like o Mess Hairry rest his soul. He was indeed a miracle o grace.

CHAPTER XV
ALEXANDER-JONITA

We had been steadily approaching the farm-steading of Drumglass, where it sits pleasantly under the hill looking down over the water-meadows, the while Nathan Gemmell told me his grandfathers tale showing how a man ought to rule the parish of Balmaghie.

We had gotten almost to the door of the farm when we saw a horse and rider top the heathery fell to the left, and sweep down upon us at a tearing gallop.

The old man, hearing the clatter of stones, turned quickly.

Alexander-Jonita! he exclaimed, shaking his head with fond blame towards the daring rider, I declare that lassie will break neck-bone some o thae days. And that will be seen!

With dark hair flying in the wind, eyes gleaming like stars, short kirtle driven back from her knees by the rush of the horses stride, came a girl of eighteen or twenty on the back of a haltered but saddle-free mare.

Whether, as her father had boasted, the girl was riding astride, or whether she sat in the new-fangled way of the city ladies, I cannot venture to decide. For with a sharp turn of the hempen bridle she reined her beast within a few yards of us, and so had leaped nimbly to the ground before the startled senses could take in all the picture.

Lassie, cried the elder, with a not intolerant reproof in his tones, where hae ye been that the kirk and the service of God saw ye not this day?

The girl came fearlessly forward, looking me directly in the eyes. The reins were yet in her hand.

Father, she said, gently enough, but without looking at him, I had the marches to ride, the aval sheep to turn, the bitten ewes to dress with tar, the oxen to keep in bound, the horses to water; besides which, Jean wanted my stockings and Sunday gear to be braw the day at the kirk. So I had een to bide at hame!

Thing shame o yoursel, Alexander-Jonita! cried her father, ye are your mithers dochter. Ye tak not after the douce ways o your faither. Spite o a excuses, ye should hae been at the kirk.

Is this the young minister lad? said Alexander-Jonita, looking at me more with the assured direct gaze of a man than with the customary bashfulness of a maid. Singularly fearless and forthlooking was her every glance.

Even so, said her father, the lad has spoken weel this day!

She looked me through and through, till I felt the manhood in me stir to vexation, not with shyness alone, but for very shame to be thus outfaced and made into a bairn.

She spoke again, still, however, keeping her eyes on me.

I am no kirk-goer no, nor yet great kirk-lover. But I ken a man when I see him, said the strange maid, holding out her hand frankly. And, curiously enough, I took it with an odd sense of gratitude and comradeship.

The kirk, said I, is not indeed all that it might be, but the kirk and conventicle alike are the gathering places of those that love the good way. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

Even so, minister! she said, with some sudden access of gravity, and this day I have been preaching the Gospel to the sheep and the oxen, the kye and the horse-beasts within the bounds of my parish, while ye spake your good word to human creatures that were maybe somewhat less grateful.

The folk to whom I spake had immortal souls, said I, a little indignant to be thus bearded by a lassie.

And how, she retorted, turning on me quick as a fire-flash, ken ye that the beasts have none, or that their spirit goeth downward into the earth? Have they not bodies also and gratitude? There was a sore distressed sheep this morning at Tornorrach that looked at me first with eyes that spake a prayer. But after I had cleansed and dressed the hurt, it breathed a benediction, sweet as any said in the Kirk of Balmaghie this day!

Nevertheless it was for men and women, perishing in sin, that Christ died! I persisted, not willing to be silenced.

How ken ye that? she said; did not the same Lord make the sheep on the hills and the kye in the byres? Will He that watches the sparrow fall think it wrong to lift a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath? The Pharisees are surely not all dead to this day!

Een let her alane, ye will be as wise, said her father; she has three words to every one that are given to men o sense. But she is withal a good lass and true of speech. Alexander-Jonita, stable your beast and come ben to wait on the minister in the ben room.99
Ben room i.e., the inner or guest chamber.


[]

The girl moved away, leading her steed, and her father and I went on to the house of Drumglass.

When we entered the table was not yet set, and there were no preparations for a meal. Nathan Gemmell looked about him with a certain severe darkening expression, which told of a temper not yet altogether brought into obedience to the spirit.

Jean Jean Gemmell! he cried, come hither, lass! He went and knocked loudly at the chamber door, which opened at one side of the kitchen.

Wherefore have ye not set the table for the meal of meat? he asked, frowning upon the maiden whom I had first seen. She stood with meek and smiling face looking at us from the lintel. Her face was shining and her hair very becomingly attired, though (as I observed) in a different fashion from what it had been in the morning by the kirk-gate when she gave me her piece to stay my hunger.

I have been praying upon my knees for a blessing upon the work of this day in the kirk, said Jean Gemmell, looking modestly down, and I waited for Alexander-Jonita to help me to lay the table.

Were ye not vainly adoring your frail tabernacle? It seems more likely! said her father, somewhat cruelly as I thought.

Then she looked once across at me, and her eyes filled with tears, so that I was vividly sorry for the maid. But she turned away from her fathers reproof without a word.

We can well afford to wait. There is no haste, I said, to ease her hurt if so I could; this good kind maiden gave me all she had this morning in the kirk-yard, or I know not how I should have sped at the preaching work this day!

Jean Gemmell paused half-way across the floor, as her father was employed looking out of the little window to catch a glimpse of Alexander-Jonita. She lifted her eyes again to mine with a look of sweet and tender gratitude and understanding which more than thanked me for the words I had spoken.

At that moment in came Alexander-Jonita with a free swing like some stripling gallant of high degree. I own that even at that time I liked to see her walk. She, at least, was no proud dame like well, like one whose eyes abode with me, and the thought of whose averted gaze (God pardon me!) lay heavy about my heart when I ought to have been thinking of other and higher things.

Alexander-Jonita waited for no bidding, but after a glance which took in at once the empty board and Jeans smooth dress and well-ordered hair, she hasted to spread a white cloth on the table, a coverture bleached and fine as it had been laundered for a princes repast. Then to cupboard and aumrie she went, bringing down and setting in order oaten bread, sour-milk scones of honest crispness, dried ham-of-mutton which she sliced very thin before serving the rarest dainty of Galloway, and enough to make a hungry mans mouth water only to think upon.

Then came in Jean Gemmell, who made shift to help daintily as she found occasion. But, listening over-closely to the converse of her father and myself, it chanced that she let fall a platter, which breaking, set her sister in a quick high mood. So that she ordered the lass to go and sit down while folk with hands did the work.

Now this somewhat vexed me, for I could see by the modest, covert way the girl glanced up at me as she set herself obediently down in the low window seat that her heart was full to the overflowing. Also something in the wild girls tone mettled me.

So I said to Jean across the kitchen, Be of good cheer, maiden. There was one at Bethany who waited not, but yet chose the better part.

Aye, cried Alexander-Jonita as she turned from the cupboard with a plate of butter, say ye so? I ever kenned that you young ministers thought excellent things of yourselves, but I dreamed not that ye went as far as that.

Whereat I blushed hotly, to think that I had unwittingly compared myself to One who sat with Martha and Mary in the house. And after that I was dumb before the sharp-tongued lass all the time of eating. But under the table Jean Gemmell put her hand a moment on mine, seeing me fallen silent and downcast.

CHAPTER XVI
THE CORBIES AT THE FEAST

Now when after all the call came for me to be placed minister of the parish, and I was placed there with the solemn laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, I thought in my folly as every young minister does, that the strivings of my life had come to an end. Whereas, had I known it, they were but beginning. For the soil was being fattened for the crop of troubles I was to harvest into a bitter garner ere many years had come and gone.

Strait and onerous were the charges the reverend brethren laid upon me. I had been of the Hill-folk in my youth. So more than once I was reminded. It might be that I was not yet purged of that evil taint. Earnestness in labour, sanctity of life, would not avail alone. I must keep me in subjection to the powers that be. I must purge myself of partial counsel and preach the Gospel in moderation with various other charges which I pass over in silence.

Yet all the while I had the conceit within me that I knew better than these men could tell me what I had come to Balmaghie to perform. I minded me every day of the Bennan top and of the men that had been slain on the heather specially on the poor lad in the brown coat. And I was noways inclined to be over-lenient with those who had wrought the damage, nor yet with those who had stood by with their hands in their pockets and whistled while the deed was being done.

After the ordination, as was the custom, there was a great dinner spread in a long tent set up by the Kirk Clachan of Shankfoot.

Here the Presbytery, the elders and such of the leading men of the parish as were free of scandal (few enough there were of these!) were entertained at the expense of the session.

One there was among the brethren who had watched me keenly all the day Cameron, the minister of Kirkcudbright, an unctuously smiling man, but with a sidelong and dubious eye that could not meet yours. He had the repute of great learning, and was, besides, of highest consideration among the members, because he was reckoned to be the blood brother of the famous Richard Cameron, who died at Ayrsmoss in the year of 1680, and whether that were so or no, at least he did not deny it.

As for me, I talked mostly to a little wizened, hump-shouldered man, with a hassock of black hair which came down over his forehead, and great eyes that looked out on either side of a sharp hawks nose. A peeping, peering, birdlike man I found him to be one Telfair of Rerrick, the great authority in the South Country on ghosts and all manifestations of the devil.

Methinks the spirit of evil is once more abroad, I heard Telfair say in a shrill falsetto to his next neighbour as they sat at meat. Rerrick hath seen nothing like it since the famous affair of the Ringcroft visitation, so fully recounted in my little pamphlet which, as you are aware, has run through several editions, not alone in Scotland, but also among the wise and learned folk of London. The late King even ordered a copy for himself, and was pleased to say that he had never read anything like it in all his life before; and by the grace of God he never would again. Was not that a compliment from so great a prince?

A compliment indeed, cried Cameron of Kirkcudbright, nodding his head ironically, yet watching me all the time as I talked with Nathan Gemmell of Drumglass; but what is this new portent?

Tis but the matter of a bairn-child near the village of Orraland, which, as all the world knows, is the heart of my parish. A bairn, the son of very respectable folk, looking out upon the moon, had a vision of a man in red apparel cutting the moon in two with a sword of flame, whereat the child screamed and ran in to its mother to tell the marvel. And as soon as they came to me, I said: There is that to be done to-day which shall cut the Kirk of God in twain within the bounds of this Presbytery.

Truly a marvellous child, and of insight justly prophetic! said Cameron, again nodding as he went about the ordering of his dinner and calling the waiting folk to be quick and set clean platters before the hungry Presbyters.

Now, said Telfair, looking straight at me, there hath nothing happened this week in the Presbytery save the ordaining of this young man. Think ye that through him there will come this breaking asunder of the Kirk?

Cameron smiled sardonically.

How can ye suppose it for a moment? Mr. MacClellan is a youth of remarkable promise and rumour. We have, indeed, yet to learn whether there be aught behind this sound and show of religion and respect for the authority of the Kirk.

All this time Drumglass was pouring forth without stint his joy at my settlement among them.

Be never feared for the face o man, young sir, he cried. Be bold to declare what ye think and believe, and gif ye ken what ye want and earnestly pursue it, tak auld Drumglass word for it, there are few things that ye may not attain in this world.

At long and last the day came to an end. The ministers of the Presbytery one by one took horse or ferry and so departed. I alone returned with Nathan Gemmell over to the house of Drumglass. For I was deadly wearied, and the voice of Nathan uplifted by the way to tell of old things was like the pleasant lappering of water on the sides of a boat in which one rocks and dreams. Indeed, I was scarce conscious of a word he said, till in the gloom of the trees and the creamy evening light, we met the two lasses, Jean and Alexander-Jonita walking arm in arm.

As we came within the shadow, they two divided the one from the other, the wild lass going to her fathers side, Jean being left to come to mine.

I saw you not at the ordination, Alexander-Jonita! said her father.

No, she answered sharply, it was a brave day for the nowt to stray broadcast over the fell, and there was never a man, woman, or bairn about the house. Well might I remain to keep the evil-doers from the doors.

I felt a soft hand touch mine as if by accident, and a low voice whispered close to my ear.

But I was there. I watched it all, and when I saw you were kneeling before them all with the hands of the ministers upon your head, I had almost swooned away!





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18