Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer





The soft hand was fully in mine now. I was not conscious of having taken it, but nevertheless it lay trembling a little and yet nestling contentedly in my palm. And because I was tired and the day had been a labour and a burden to me, I was comforted that thus Jeans hand abode in mine.

I pressed it and said, perhaps more gently than I ought, Little one, I am glad you were there. But the work is a great one for so young and unworthy as I. It presses hard upon me!

But you have good friends, said Jean, friends that that think of you always and wish you well.

We had fallen a little way behind, and I could hear Alexander-Jonita in her high clear voice telling her father how she had found a sick sheep on the Duchrae Craigs and carried it all the way home on her back.

What, cried her father, ower the heather and the moss-hags?

Aye, she answered, as if the thing were nothing, and what is more the poor beast is like to live and thrive.

CHAPTER XVII
THE BONNY LASS OF EARLSTOUN

So I was settled in my parish, which was a good one as times went. The manse had recently been put in order. It was a pleasant stone house which sat in the bieldy hollow beneath the Kirk Knowe of Balmaghie. Snug and sheltered it lay, an encampment of great beeches sheltering it from the blasts, and the green-bosomed hills looking down upon it with kindly tolerant silence.

The broad Dee Water floated silently by, murmuring a little after the rains; mostly silent however the water lapping against the reeds and fretting the low cavernous banks when the wind blew hard, but on the whole slipping past with a certain large peace and attentive stateliness.

My brother Hob abode with me in the manse of Balmaghie to be my man. It was great good fortune thus to keep him; and in the coming troublous days I ken not what I should have done without his good counsel and strongly willing right hand. My father and mother came over to see me on the old pony from Ardarroch, my mother riding on a pillion behind my father, and both of them ready on the sign of the least brae to get off and walk most of the way, with the bridle over my fathers arm, while my mother discoursed of the terrible thing it was to have two of your sons so far from home, strangers, as it were, in a strange land.

It had not seemed so terrible to her when we went to Edinburgh, both because she had never been to the city herself, and never intended to go. On these occasions Hob and I had passed out of sight along the green road to Balmaclellan on the way to Minnyhive, and there was an end of us till the spring, save for the little presents which came by the carrier, and the letters I had to write every fortnight.

But this parish of Balmaghie! It was a far cry and a coarse road, said my mother, and she was sure that we both took our lives in our hands each time that we went across its uncanny pastures.

Nevertheless, once there, she did not halt nor slacken till she had taken in hand the furniture and plenishing of the manse, and brought some kind of order out of the piled and tortured confusion, which had been the best that Hob and I could attain.

Keep us, laddies! she cried, after the first hopeless look at our handiwork.

I canna think on either o ye takin a wife. Yet Im feared that a wife ye maun get atween ye. For I canna thole to let ye gang on this wild gate, wi the ministers meal o meat to ready, and only gomeril Hob to do it.

Then yell let Anna come to bide with us for a while, if ye are so vexed for us, I said, to try her.

Na, indeed, I canna do that. Anna is needed at hame where she is. Theres your faither now hes grown that bairnly he thinks there can be nae guid grass in the meadow that Annas foot treads not on. The hens wouldna lay, the kye wouldna let doon their milk withoot Anna. Ardarroch stands on the braeface because tis anchored doon wi Anna. Saw ye ever sic a fyke made aboot a lass?

Quintin has! said Hob with intention, for which I did not thank him.

What! cried my mother, instantly taking fire, hae some o the impudent queans o Balmaghie been settin their caps at him already?

There ye are, mither, said Hob, ye speak bravely aboot Quintin gettin married. But as soon as we speak aboot ony lass plaff, ye gang up like a waft o tow thrown in the fire.

I wad like to see the besom that wad make up to my Quintin! said my mother, her indignation beginning to simmer down.

Then come over to the Drum he was beginning.

Hob, said I, sternly, that is enough.

And when I spoke to him thus Hob was amenable enough.

Aweel, mither! continued Hob in an injured tone, ye speak aboot mairrying. Quintin there, ye say, is to get mairried. But how can he get mairried withoot a lass that is fond o him? It juist canna be done, at least no in the parish o Balmaghie.

It was my intent to accompany my father and mother back to Ardarroch in name of an escort, but, in truth, chiefly that I might accept the invitation of the laird of Earlstoun and once more see Mary Gordon, the lass whose image I had carried so long on my heart.

For, strange as it may appear, when she went forth from the kirk that day she left a look behind her which went straight to my heart. It was like a dart thrown at random which sticks and is lost, yet inly rankles and will not let itself be forgotten.

I tried to shut the desire of seeing her again out of my heart. But do what I could this was not to be. It would rise, coming between me and the very paper on which I wrote my sermon, before I began to learn to mandate. When the sun looked over the water in the morning and shone on the globed pearls of dew in the hollow palms of the broad dockleaves on the gracious clover blooms, and on the bending heads of the spiked grasses, I rejoiced to think that he shone also on Earlstoun and the sunny head of a fairer and more graceful flower.

God forgive a sinful man! At these times I ought to have been thinking of something else. But when a man carries such an earthly passion in his heart, all the panoply of heavenly love is impotent to restrain thoughts that fly swift as the light from hilltop to hilltop at the sun-rising.

So I went home for a day or two to Ardarroch, where with a kind of gratitude I stripped my coat and fell to the building of dykes about the home park, and the mending of mangers and corn-chests with hammer and nail, till my mother remonstrated. Quintin, are ye not ashamed, you with a parish of hungry souls to be knockin at hinges and liftin muckle stanes on the hillsides o Ardarroch?

But Anna kept close to me all these days, understanding my mood. We had always loved one another, she and I. I had used to say that it was Anna who ought to have been the minister; for her eyes were full of a fair and gracious light, the gentle outshining of a true spirit within. And as for me, after I had been with her awhile, in that silence of sympathy, I was a better and a stronger man at least, one less unfit for holy office.

Right gladly would I have taken Anna back with me to the manse of Balmaghie, but I knew well that she would not go.

Quintin, she was wont to say, our faither and mither are not so young as they once were. My faither forgets things whiles, and the herd lads are not to trust to. David there is for ever on the trot to this farm-town and that other to the clachan o St. John, to the New Town of Galloway, or to Balmaclellan tis all one to him. He cannot bide at home after the horses are out of the collar and the chain drops from the swingle-tree into the furrow.

But some day ye will find a lad for yourself, Anna, and then you will also be leaving Ardarroch and the auld folk behind ye.

My sister smiled a quiet smile and her eyes were far away.

Maybe maybe, she said, temperately, but that day is not yet.

Has never a lad come wooin ye, Anna? Was there not Johnny of Ironmacanny, Peter Tait frae the Bogue, or

Aye, said Anna, they cam and they gaed away to ither lasses that were readier to loe them. For I never saw a lad yet that I could like as well as my great silly brother who should be thinking more concerning his sermon-making than about putting daft thoughts into the heads of maidens.

After this there was silence between us for a while. We had been sitting in the barn with both doors open. The wide arch to the front, opening out into the quadrangle of the courtyard, let in a cool drawing sough of air, and the smaller door at the back let it out again, and gave us at the same time a sweet eye-blink into the orchard, where the apples were hanging mellow and pleasant on the branches, and the leaves hardly yet loosening themselves for their fall. The light sifted through the leaves from the westering sun, dappling the grass and wavering upon the hard-beaten earthen floor of the barn.

I am going over by to Earlstoun! I said to Anna, without looking up.

Anna and I spoke but half our talks out loud. We had been such close comrades all our lives that we understood much without needing to clothe our thoughts in words.

Apparently Anna did not hear what I said, so I repeated it.

Dinna, was all she answered.

And wherefore should I not? I persisted, argumentatively. The laird most kindly invited me, indeed laid it on me like an obligation that I should come.

Ye are going over to Earlstoun to see the laird?

Why, yes, I said; that is, he has a desire to see me. He is the greatest of all the Covenant men, and we have much in common to speak about.

To-morrow he will be riding by to the market at Kirkcudbright, where he has business. Ye can ride with him to the cross roads of Clachan Pluck and talk all that your heart desires of Kirk and State.

Anna, said I, seriously, I tell you again I am going to the house of Earlstoun to-morrow.

In a moment she dropped her pretence of banter.

Quintin, ye will only make your heart the sorer, laddie.

And wherefore? said I.

See the sparkle on the water out there, she said, pointing to the bosom of Loch Ken far below us, seen through the open door of the barn; its bonny. But can ye gather it in your hand, or wear it in your bosom? Dear and delightsome is this good smell of apples and of orchard freshness, but can ye fold these and carry them with you to the bare manse of Balmaghie for comfort to your heart? No more can ye take the haughtiness of the great mans daughter, the glance of proud eyes, the heart of one accustomed to obedience, and bring them into subjection to a poor mans necessities.

Love can do all, said I, sententiously.

Aye, she said, where love is, it can indeed work all things. But I bid ye remember that love dwells not yet in Mary Gordons breast for any man. Hers is not a heart to bend. For rank or fame she may give herself, but not for love.

Nevertheless, said I, I will go to the house of Earlstoun to-morrow at ten o the clock.

Anna rose and laid her hand on mine.

I kenned it, she said, and little would I think of you, brother of mine, if ye had taen my excellent advice.

CHAPTER XVIII
ONE WAY OF LOVE

It was the prime of the morning when I set out for Earlstoun. My mother called after me to mind my manners, as if I had still been but a herdboy summoned into the presence of the great. My father asked me when I would be back. Only Anna said nothing, but her eyes were sad. Well she knew that I went to give myself an aching heart.

Now the Ken is a pleasant water, and the road up the Glenkens a fine road to travel. But I went it that morning heavily rather, indeed, like one who goes to the burying of a friend than like a lover setting out to see his mistress.

I turned me down through the woods to Earlstoun. There were signs of the still recent return of the family. Here on the gate of the lodge was the effaced escutcheon of Colonel Theophilus Oglethorpe, which Alexander Gordon had not yet had time to replace with the ancient arms of his family. For indeed it was to Colonel William, Sandy Gordons brother, he who had led us to Edinburgh in the Convention year, that the recovery of the family estates was due.

I had not expected any especially kind welcome. The laird of Earlstoun had been a mighty Covenanter, and now wore his prisonments and sufferings somewhat ostentatiously, like so many orders of merit. He would think little of one who was a minister of the uncovenanted Kirk, and who, though holding the freedom of that Kirk as his hearts belief, yet, nevertheless, demeaned him to take the pay of the State. To be faithful and devoted in service were not enough for Alexander Gordon. To please him one must do altogether as he had done, think entirely as he thought.

Yet I was to be more kindly received than I anticipated.

It was in the midst of the road where the wood, turning sharp along the waterside, a narrow path twines and twists through sparkling birches and trembling alders. The pools slept black beneath as I looked down upon them from some craggy pinnacle to which the grey hill lichen clung. The salmon poised themselves motionless, save for a waving fin, below the fish-leaps, ready for their rush upstream when the floods should come down brown with peat water from Cairnsmore and the range of Kells.

All at once, as I stood dreaming, I heard a gay voice lilting at a song. I wavered a moment in act to flee, my heart almost standing still to listen.

For I knew among a thousand the voice of Mary Gordon. But I had no time to conceal myself. A gleam of white and lilac through the bushes, a bright reflection as of sunshine on the pool then the whole day brightened and she stood before me.

The song instantly stilled itself on her lips.

We stood face to face. It seemed to me that she paled a little. But perhaps it was only that I, who desired so greatly to see any evidence of emotion, saw part of that which I desired.

The next moment she came forward with her hand frankly outstretched.

I bid you welcome to Earlstoun, she said. Alas! that my father should this day be from home. He is gone to Kirkcudbright. But my mother and I will show you hospitality till he return. My father hears a great word of you, he tells us. The country tongue speaks well of your labours.

Now it seemed to me that in thus speaking she smiled to herself, and that put me from answering. I could do naught but be stiffly silent.

I thank you, Mistress Mary, for your kind courtesy! was all that I found within me to say. For I felt that she must despise me for a country lout of no manners and ungentle birth. So at least I thought at the time.

We passed without speech through the scattering shadows of the birches, and I saw that her hair (on which she wore no covering) had changed from its ancient yellow as of ripened corn into a sunny brown. Yet as I looked furtively, here and there the gentle crispen wavelets seemed to be touched and flecked with threads of its ancient sheen, a thing which filled me strangely with a desire to caress with my hand its desirable beauty so carnal and wicked are the thoughts of the heart of man.

But when I saw her so lightsome and dainty, so full of delight and the admirable joy of living, a sullen sort of anger came over me that I should chance to love one who could in no wise love me again, nor yet render me the return which I so greatly desired.

You have travelled all the long way from the Manse of Balmaghie? she said, suddenly falling back to my side where the path was wider, as if she, too, felt the pause of constraint.

Nay, I answered, I have been at Ardarroch with my father and mother for two days. And to-morrow I must return to the people among whom I labour.

She stole a quick glance at me from beneath her long dark lashes. There was infinite teasing mischief in the flashing of her eyes.

You have an empty manse by the waterside of Dee. Ye will doubtless be looking for some douce country lass to fill it.

The words were kindly enough spoken, yet in the very frankness of the speech I recognised the distance she was putting between us. But I had not been trained in the school of quick retorts nor of the light debate of maidens. For all that I had a will of mine own, and would not permit that any woman born of woman should play cats-cradle with Quintin MacClellan.

Lady, said I, there is, indeed, an empty manse down yonder by the Dee, and I am looking for one to fill it. But I will have none who cannot love me for myself, and also who will not love the work to which I have set my hand.

She held up her hand in quick merriment.

Do not be afraid, she cried, gaily. I was not thinking of making you an offer!

And then she laughed so mirthsome a peal that all against my will I was forced to join her.

And this mended matters wonderfully. For after that, though I had my own troubles with her and my heart-breaks as all shall hear, yet never was she again the haughty maiden of the first sermon and the midsummer kirk door.

They tell me that once ye brought me all the way from the Bennan-top to the tower of Lochinvar, where our Auntie Jean was biding?

I found no claims to your good-will on that, said I, mindful of the day of my first way going to Edinburgh; but I would fain have you think well of me now.

Ye are still over great a Whig. Mind that I stand for the White Rose, she said, stamping her foot merrily.

Tis a matter ye ken nothing about, said I, roughly. Maidens had better let the affairs of State alone. Methinks the White Rose has brought little good to you and yours.

I tell you what, Sir Minister, she cried, mocking me, there are two great tubs in the pool below the falls. Do you get into one and I will take the other. I will fly the white pennon and you the blue. Then let us each take a staff and tilt at one another. If you upset me, pon honour, I will turn Whig, but if you are ducked in the pond, you must wear henceforth the colours of the true King. Tis an equal bargain. You agree?

But before I could reply we were near by the gate of Earlstoun, and there came out a lady wrapped in a shawl, and this though the day was hot and the autumnal air had never an edge upon it.

Mother, cried Mary Gordon, running eagerly to meet her. The lady in the plaid seemed not to hear, but turned aside by the path which led along the water to the north.

The girl ran after her and caught her mother by the arm.

Here is Mr. MacClellan, the minister from Balmaghie, come to see my father, said she. Bide, mother, and make him welcome.

The lady stopped stiffly till I had come immediately in front of her.

You are a minister of the Established and Uncovenanted Kirk? she asked me, eyeing me sternly enough.

I told her that I had been ordained a week before.

Then you have indeed broken your faith with the Persecuted Remnant, as they tell me? she went on, keeping her eyes blankly upon my face.

Nay, said I; I have the old ways still at heart and will stand till death by the faith delivered to the martyrs.

What do ye, then, clad in the rags of the State?

Whereat I told the Lady of Earlstoun how that I was with all my heart resolved to fight the Kirks battle for her ancient liberties and for the power to rule within her own borders. But that if those in authority gave us not the hearing and liberty we desired, I, for one, would shake off the dust of the unworthy Kirk of Scotland from my feet as, indeed, I was well resolved to do.

But Mary Gordon broke in on my eager explanation.

Mother, mother, she cried, come your ways in and entertain the guest. Let your questionings keep till our father comes from Kirkcudbright. Assuredly they will have a stormy fortnight of it then. Let the lad now break bread and cheese.

The lady sighed and clasped her hands.

I suppose, she said, it must even be so; for men are carnal and their bodies must be fed. Alas, there are but few who care for the health of their souls! As for me, I was about to retire to the wood that I might for the hundred three score and ninth time renew my covenanting engagements.

You must break them very often, mother, that they are ever needing mending, said her daughter, not so unkindly as the words look when written down, but rather carelessly, like one who has been oftentimes over the same ground and knows the landmarks by heart.

Mary, Mary, answered her mother, I fear there is no serious or spiritual interest in you. Your father spoils and humours you. And so you have grown up not like that godly lad Alexander Gordon the younger, who when he was but three years of his age had read the Bible through nineteen times, and could rattle off the books of the Old and New Testaments whiles I was counting ten.

Aye, mother, replied the lass, and in addition could make faces behind your back all the time he was doing it!

But the lady appeared not to hear her daughter. She continued to clasp her hands convulsively before her, and to repeat over and over again the words, Eh, the blessed laddie the blessed, blessed laddie!

How long we might have stood thus in the glaring sun I know not; but, without waiting for her mother to take the lead or to go in of her own accord, Mary Gordon wheeled her round by the arm and led her unresisting towards the courtyard gate. She accompanied her daughter with the same weary unconcern and passionless preoccupation she had shown from the first, twisting and pulling the fringes of the shawl between her fingers, while her thin lips moved, either in covenant-making or in the murmured praises of her favourite child.





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