Samuel Crockett.

The Standard Bearer

The room to which we were brought was a large one with panels of oak carven at the cornices into quaint and formal ornaments.

Mary went to the stairhead and cried down as to one in the kitchen: Thomas Allen! Thomas Allen!

A thin, querulous voice arose from the depths: Sic a fash! Whas come stravagin at this time o day? He will be wantin victual dootless. I never saw the like

Thomas Allen! Haste ye fast, Thomas!

Comin, mem, comin! Whats your fret? Theres naebody in the deid-thraws,1010
The death grips.

is there?

As the last words were uttered, an old serving-man, in a blue side-coat of thirty years before, with threadbare lace falling low at the neck and hands in a forgotten fashion, appeared at the doorway. His bald and shining head had still a few lyart locks clinging like white fringes about the sides. These, however, were not allowed to grow downward in the natural manner, but were trained as gardeners train fruit trees against walls that look to the south. They climbed directly upward so that the head of Thomas Allen was criss-crossed in both directions by streaks of hair, interlaced like the fingers of ones hands netted together. But owing to the natural haste with which Thomas did his work, these were never all seen in place at one time. Invariably they had fallen to one side or the other, and being stiffened with candle grease or other greyish unguent, they stood out at all angles like goose quills from a scriveners inkpot.

During the perfunctory repast which was finally brought forward and placed on the table by the reluctant Thomas, Mistress Mary sat directly opposite to me with her chin resting on her fingers and her elbows on the table. Her mother, at the upper end of the chamber, occupied herself in looking out of the window, occasionally clasping her hands in the urgency of her supplications or giving vent to a pitiful moan which indicated her sense of the hopeless iniquity of mankind.

Then with more kindliness than she had ever yet shown me, Mary Gordon asked of my people of Balmaghie, whether the call had been unanimous, who abode with me in the manse, and many other questions, to all of which I answered as well as I could. For the truth is, that the nearness of so admirable a maid and the directness of her gaze wrought in me a kind of desperation, so that it was all I could do to keep from telling her then that I had come to the house of Earlstoun to ask her to be my wife.

Not that I had the wildest hope of a favourable answer, but simply from inexperience at the business of making love to a young lass I blundered blindly on. Plain ram-stam Hob could have bested me fairly at that.

For he had not talked so long to the good-wives of the Lothians without getting a well-hung tongue in the head of him.

I looked sideways at the Lady of Earlstoun. She was mumbling at her devotions, or perhaps meditating other and more personal covenantings. Mary Gordon and I were in a manner alone.

Mistress Mary, I said, suddenly leaning towards her, my desperation getting the better of my natural prudence, I know that I speak wholly without hope. But I came to-day to tell you that I love you. I am but a cotters lad, but I have loved you ever since I ferried you, a little maid, past the muskets of the troopers.

I looked straight enough at her now. I could see the colour rise a little in her cheek, while a strange expression of wonder and pride, with something that was neither, overspread her face. Up to this point I might have been warned, but I was not to be holden now.

Before I had no right, nor, indeed, any opportunity to tell you this. But now, as minister of a parish, I have an income that will compare not unfavourably with that of most of the smaller gentry of the county.

The girl nodded, with a swift hardening of the nostril.

It will doubtless be a fine income, she said, with a touch of scorn. Did I understand you to offer me your manse and income?

I offer you that which neither dishonours an honest girl to hear or yet an honest man to speak. I am offering you my best service, the faith and devotion of a man who truly loves you.

I thank you, sir, she said, lifting up her head and letting her eyes dwell on me with some of their former haughtiness; I am honoured indeed. Your position, your manse, your glebe! How many acres did you say it was? Your income, good as that of a laird. And you come offering all these to Mary Gordon? Sir, I bid you carry your business transactions to the county market-place. Mary Gordon is not to be bought and sold. When she loves, she will give herself for love and love alone. Aye, were it to a poke-laden houseless cadger by the roadside, or a ploughman staggering between the furrows!

And with that she rose and walked swiftly to the door. I could hear her foot die away through the courtyard; and going blankly to the window, I watched her slim figure glance between the clumps of trees, now in the light, now in the shadow, and anon lost in the yellowing depths of the forest.

Nor, though I watched all through the long hot afternoon, did she return till she came home riding upon her fathers horse, with Sandy Gordon himself walking bareheaded beside his daughter, as if he had been escorting a queen on her coronation day.


(Comment and Addition by Hob MacClellan.)

Lord! Lord! Was there ever a more bungled affair a more humiliating confession. Our poor Quintin great as he was at the preaching, an apostle indeed, none in broad Scotland to come within miles of him in the pulpit with a lass was simply fair useless. I must een tell in a word how mine own wooing sped, that I may prove there was some airt and spunk left among the MacClellans.

For by Quintins own showing the girl had no loop-hole left, being wooed as if she had been so many sacks of corn. She was fairly tied up to refuse so hopeless and fushionless a suitor.

But of all this there was no suspicion at the time, neither in the parish of Balmaghie, or yet even among ourselves at Ardarroch. For though nothing gets wind so quickly in a parish as the news that the minister is seekin that is, going from home courting, yet such was my brothers repute for piety within the bounds of the Presbytery, such the reverence in which he was held, that the popular voice considered him altogether trysted to no maiden, but to the ancient and honourable Kirk of Scotland as she had been in the high days of her pride and purity.

Na, they would say, our minister will never taingle himsel wi marriage engagements while there is a battle to be fought for the Auld Banner o Blue. So whereas another might not so much as look over the wall, my brother might have stolen all the horses before their eyes.

And I think it was this great popular repute of him which first set his fellow-ministers against him, far more than any so-called defections and differences either ecclesiastical or political.

I have seen him at a sacrament at Dalry hold the listening thousands so that they swayed this way and that like barley shaken by the winds. Never beheld I the like the multitude of the folk all bending their faces to one point careless young lads from distant farms, light-headed limmers of lasses, bairns that had been skipping about the kirk-yard and playing I spy among the tombstones while other ministers were preaching all now fixed and spellbound when my brother rose to speak, and his full bell-like voice sounded out from the preaching-tent over their heads.

I think that if at any time he had held up his hand and called them to follow him to battle, every man would have gone forth as unquestionably as did Camerons folk on that fatal day of the Moss of Ayr.

But I who sat there, with eyes sharpened and made jealous by exceeding love for my brother, could see clearly the looks of dark suspicion, the sneers that dwelt on sanctimonious lips, the frowns of envy and ill-will as Quintin stood up, and the folk poured anxiously inward towards the preaching-tent to hear him. I noted also the yet deeper anger of those who succeeded him, when multitudes rose and forsook the meeting because there was to be no more of the young minister o Balmaghie that day.

Now though it was rather on the point of politics and of the standing of the kirk, her right to rule herself without interference of the State, her ancient independence and submission to Christ the only head of the church, that Quintin was finally persecuted and called in question, yet, as all men know in Galloway, it was really on account of the popular acclaim, the bruit of great talents and godliness which he held among all men, beyond any that ever came into the countryside, and of his quietness and persistence also in holding his own and keeping a straight unvarying course amid all threatenings and defections, which brought the final wrath upon him and constituted the true head and front of his offending.

Aye, and men saw that the storm was brewing over him long before it burst.

For several of the Galloway ministers had deliberately left the folk of the mountains for the sake of a comfortable down-sitting in bein and sheltered parishes. Some of them even owed their learning at the Dutch Universities to the poor purses of these covenanting societies.

And so when papers came down from the Privy Council or from the men who, like Carstairs, posed as little gods and popes infallible, the Presbytery men greedily signed them, swallowing titles, oaths and obligations with shut eye and indiscriminate appetite lest unhappily they would be obliged to consult their consciences.

Such men as constituted the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright had but one motto a clear and useful one indeed at such a time, Those in power can do no wrong!

So three years went uneasily by, and meantime the parish of Balmaghie had grown to know and love our Quintin. There was hardly a rascal drover, a common villain pig-dealer who was not ready to crack a skull at an ill word said of him even in jest. Men who in time past had sneered at religion, and had never any good report of ministers, dull clods with ideals tethered to the midden and the byre, waked up at sight of him, and would travel miles to hear him preach.

And thus three happy unstirred years went by. I abode in the manse with Quintin, and every morning when I arose at break of day to take the cattle afield, or to set the plough in the glebe, I would see that his window-blind was withdrawn, his candle alight if it were winter, and that he had already set him down with his book. Or sometimes when the summer evening darkened to dusk I would meet him wandering, his hands clasped behind his back, and his whole soul steeped in meditation by the whispering rushes of the waterside.

Yet what a simpleton in worldly things he was; and, mayhap, that was what made me love him the more.

For about this time there began a stir and a bruit of the matter of little Jean Gemmell, a soft-voiced, die-away lass that I would not have troubled my head about for a moment. She had, truth to tell, set herself to catch our foolish Quintin, whose heart was in good sooth fully given to another. And how she did it, let himself tell. But I, that thought nothing of a lass without spirit, would often warn him to beware. But he minded me not, smiling and giving the subject the go-by in a certain sober and serious way he had which somehow silenced me against my will.

But in between my brothers ill-starred wooing of the bonny lass of Earlstoun, and Jean Gemmells meek-eyed courtship of him, I also had been doing somewhat on mine own account.

At the house of Drumglass there abode one who to my mind was worth all the haughty damsels of great houses and all the sleek and kittenish eyes-makers in broad Scotland.

When first I saw Alexander-Jonita come over the hill, riding a Galloway sheltie barebacked, her dark hair streaming in the wind, and the pony speeding over the heather like the black charger of Clavers on the side of Cairn Edward, I knew that there was no hope for my heart. I had indeed fancied myself in love before. So much was expected of a lad in our parts. But Alexander-Jonita was a quest worth some enterprising to obtain.

The neighbours, at least the rigidly righteous of them, were inclined to look somewhat askance upon a lass that went so little to the Kirk, and companioned more with the dumb things of the field than with her own kith and kin. But Quintin would ask such whether their own vineyard was so well kept, their own duty so faultlessly done, that they could afford to keep a stone ready to cast at Alexander-Jonita.

I remember the first time that ever I spoke to her words beyond the common greetings and salutations of lad and lass.

It was a clear night in early June. I had been over at Ardarroch seeing my mother, and now having passed high up the Black Water of Dee, I was making my way across the rugged fells and dark heathery fastnesses to the manse of Balmaghie.

The mist was rising about the waterside. It lingered in pools and drifts in every meadowy hollow, but the purpling hilltops were clear and bare in the long soft June twilight.

Suddenly a gun went off, as it seemed in my very ear. I sprang a foot into the air, for who on honourable business would discharge a musket in that wild place at such a time.

But ere I had time to think, above me on the ridge a figure stood black against the sky a girls shape it was, slim, tall, erect. She carried something in one hand which trailed on the heather, and a musket was under her arm, muzzle down.

I had not yet recovered my breath when a voice came to me.

Ah, Hob MacClellan, the ill deil tak your courting-jaunts this nicht! For had ye bidden at hame I would have gotten baith o the red foxes that have been killing our weakly lambs. As it is, I gat but this.

And she held up a great dog fox by the brush before throwing the body into a convenient moss-hole.

It was Alexander-Jonita, the lass whom our college-bred Quintin had once called the Diana of Balmaghie. I care not what he called her. Without question she was the finest lass in the countryside. And that I will maintain to this day.

Are you going home, Jonita? cried I, for the direction in which she was proceeding led directly away from the house of Drumglass.

No, she answered carelessly, I am biding all night in the upper buchts. The foxes have been very troublesome of late, and I am thinning them with the gun. I have the feck of the lambs penned up there.

And who is with you to help you? I asked her in astonishment.

Only the dogs, she made answer, shifting the gun from one shoulder to the other.

But, lassie, I cried, ye surely do not sleep out on the hills all your lone like this?

And what for no? she answered sharply. What sweeter bed than a truss of heather? What safer than with two rough tykes of dogs and a good gun at ones elbow, with the clear airs blowing over and the sheep lying snugly about the folds?

But when it rains, I went on, still doubtfully.

Come and see, she laughed; we are near the upper buchts now!

Great stone walls of rough hill boulders, uncut and unquarried, rose before me. I saw a couple of rough collies sit guardian one at either side of the little lintelled gate that led within. The warm smell of gathered sheep, ever kindly and welcome to a hill man, saluted my nostrils as I came near. A lamb bleated, and in the quiet I could hear it run pattering to nose its mother.

Alexander-Jonita led me about the great bucht to a niche formed by a kind of cairn built into the side of a wall of natural rock. Here a sort of rude shelter had been made with posts driven into the crevices of the rock and roughly covered with turves of heather round the sides of a ten-foot enclosure. The floor was of bare dry rock, but along one side there was arranged a couch of heather tops recently pulled, very soft and elastic. At first I could not see all this quite clearly in the increasing darkness, but after a little, bit by bit the plan of the shelter dawned upon me, as my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light.

When it rains, she said, going back to my question, I set a post in the middle for a tent pole, spread my plaid over it and fasten it down at the sides with stones.

Jonita, said I, does your sister never come up hither with you?

Who our Jean! she cried, astonished, faith, no! Jean takes better with the inside of a box-bed and the warmth of the peat-grieshoch1111
Red ashes.

on the hearth! And, indeed, the lass is not over-strong. But as for me, more than the cheeping of the house-mice, I love the chunnering of the wild fowl in their nests and the bleat of the sheep. These are honey and sweetness to me.

But, Jonita, I went on, surely no girl is strong enough to take shower and wind-buffet night and day on the wild moors like this. Why, you make me ashamed, me that am born and bred to the trade.

And what am I? she asked sharply, I am over twenty, and yet nothing but an ignorant lass and careless of seeming otherwise. I am not even like my sister Jean that can look and nod as if she understood everything your brother is talking about, knowing all the while naught of the matter. But, at least, I ken the ways of the hills. Feel that!

She thrust her arm suddenly out to me.

I clasped it in my hands, sitting meantime on a great stone in the angle, while she stood beside me with the dogs on either side of her. It was a smooth, well-rounded arm, cool and delicate of skin, that she gave into my fingers. Her loose sleeve fell back, and if I had dared to follow my desire, I should have set my lips to it, so delightful did the touch of it seem to me. But I refrained me, and presently underneath the satin skin I felt the muscles rise nobly, tense yet easy, clean of curve and spare flesh, moulded alike for strength and suppleness.

I would not like to pull at the swingle-tree with you, my lass, said I, and if it came to a Keltonhill collieshangie I would rather have you on my side than against me.

And I think she was more pleased at that than if I had told her she was to be a great heiress.

As I waited there on the rough stones of the sheepfold, and looked at the slight figure sitting frankly and easily beside me, thinking, as I knew, no more of the things of love than if she had been a neighbour lad of the hills, a kind of jealous anger came over me.

Jonita, said I, had ye never a sweetheart?

A what? cried Jonita in a tone of as much surprise as if I had asked her if she had ever possessed an elephant.

A lad that loved you as other maids are loved.

I have heard silly boys speak nonsense, she said, but I am no byre-lass to be touselled in corners by every night-raker that would come visiting at the Drumglass.

Jonita, I went on, hath none ever helped you with your sheep on the hill, run when you wanted him, stopped when you told him, come like a collie to your foot when he was called?

None, I tell you, has ever sat where you are sitting, Hob MacClellan! And hear ye this, had I thought you a silly cuif like the rest, it would have been the short day of December and the long again before I had asked you to view my bower under the rock.

I was only asking, Jonita, said I; ye ken that ye are the bonniest lass in ten parishes, and to me it seemed a strange thing that ye shouldna hae a lad.

Bah, said she, lads are like the pebbles in the brook. They are run smooth with many experiences, courting here and flattering there. What care I whether or no this one or that comes chapping at my door? There are plenty more in the brook. Besides, are there not the hills and the winds and the clear stars over all, better and more enduring than a thousand sweethearts?

But, said I, the day will come, Jonita, when you may be glad of the friends voice, the kindly eye, the helping hand, the arm beneath the head

I did not say that I desired to have no friends, she said, as it seemed in the darkness, a little shyly.

Will you let me be your friend? I said, impulsively, taking her hand.

I do not know, said Alexander-Jonita; I will tell you in the morning. It is over-dark to-night to see your eyes.

Can you not believe? said I. Have you ever heard that I thus offered friendship to any other maid in all the parish?

You might have offered it to twenty and they taken it every one for aught I care. But Alexander-Jonita Gemmell accepts no mans friendship till she has tried him as a fighter tries a sword.

Then try me, Jonita! I cried, eagerly.

I will, said she, promptly; rise this instant from the place where ye sit, look not upon me, touch me not, say neither good een nor yet good-day, but take the straight road and the ready to the manse of Balmaghie.

The words were scarce out of her mouth when with a leap so quick that the collies had not even time to rise, I was over the dyke and striding across the moss and whinstone-crag towards the house by the waterside, where my brothers light had long been burning over his books.

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