When Agnes Kilspinnie and her brother saw their father and brother and sisters at the door, they quitted their mother and joined them, as if instructed by an instinct, while she slowly approached.
Elspa Ruet, who had hitherto maintained a serene and resigned composure of countenance, was so moved at this sad spectacle, that my grandfather, seeing her distress, stepped out and caught her in his arms, and supported her from falling, she was so faint with anguish of heart.
In the same moment, with a look that struck awe and consternation into every one around, Marion stepped on towards her husband and children, and gazed at them, and was dropping on her knees when the bailie caught her in his arms as if he would have carried her into the house. But he faltered in his purpose; and, casting his eyes on the five weans whom she had so deserted, he unloosed his embrace, and, gathering them before him, went in and shut the door.
The multitude uttered a fearful sough; Elspa Ruet, roused by it, rushed from my grandfather towards her sister, and stooping, tried to raise her up. Poor Marion, still kneeling, looked around to the people, who stood all as still as mourners at an interment, and her dark ringlets falling loose, made her pale face appear of an unearthly fairness. She seemed as if she would have said something to her sister, who had clasped her by the hand, but litherly swinging backwards, she laid her head down on her husband's threshold and gave a heavy sigh, and died.
The burial of Marion Ruet was decently attended by Bailie Kilspinnie and all his family; and though he did not carry the head himself, he yet ordered their eldest son to do so, because, whatever her faults had been, she was still the youth's mother. And my grandfather, with his wife, having spent some time after with their friends at Crail, returned homeward by themselves, passing over to Edinburgh, that they might taste once more of the elixir of salvation as dispensed by John Knox, who had been for some time in a complaining way, and it was by many thought that the end of his preaching was drawing nigh.
It happened that the dreadful tidings of the murder of the protestants in France, by the command of "the accursed king," reached Edinburgh in the night before my grandfather and wife returned thither; and he used to speak of the consternation that they found reigning in the city when they arrived there, as a thing very awful to think of. Every shop was shut, and every window closed; for it was the usage in those days, when death was in a house, to close all the windows, so that the appearance of the town was as if, for the obduracy of their idolatrous sovereign, the destroying angel had slain all the first-born, and that a dead body was then lying in every family.
There was also a terrifying solemnity in the streets; for, though they were as if all the people had come forth in panic and sad wonderment, many were clothed in black, and there was a funereal stillness—a dismal sense of calamity that hushed the voices of men, and friends meeting one another, lifted their hands, and shuddering, passed by without speaking. My grandfather saw but one, between Leith Wynd and the door of the house in the Lawnmarket, where he proposed to lodge, that wore a smile, and it was not of pleasure, but of avarice counting its gains.
The man was one Hans Berghen, an armourer that had feathered his nest in the raids of the war with the Queen Regent. He was a Norman by birth, and had learnt the tempering of steel in Germany. In his youth he had been in the Imperator's service, and had likewise worked in the arsenal of Venetia. Some said he was perfected in his trade by the infidel at Constantinopolis; but, however this might be, no man of that time was more famous among roisters and moss-troopers, for the edge and metal of his weapons, than that same blasphemous incomer, who thought of nothing but the greed of gain, whether by dule to protestant or papist; so that the sight of his hard-favoured visage, blithened with satisfaction, was to my grandfather, who knew him well by repute, as an omen of portentous aspect.
For two days the city continued in that dismal state, and on the third, which was Sabbath, the churches were so filled that my grandmother, being then in a tender condition, did not venture to enter the High Kirk, where the Reformer was waited for by many thirsty and languishing souls from an early hour in the morning, who desired to hear what he would say concerning the dark deeds that had been done in France. She therefore returned to the Lawnmarket; but my grandfather worked his way into the heart of the crowd, where he had not long been when a murmur announced that Master Knox was coming, and soon after he entered the kirk.
He had now the appearance of great age and weakness, and he walked with slow and tottering steps, wearing a virl of fur round his neck, and a staff in one hand; godlie Richie Ballanden, his man, holding him up by the oxter. And when he came to the foot of the pulpit, Richie, by the help of another servant that followed with the Book, lifted him up the steps into it, where he was seemingly so exhausted that he was obligated to rest for the space of several minutes. No man who had never seen him before could have thought that one so frail would have had ability to have given out even the psalm; but when he began the spirit descended upon him, and he was so kindled that at last his voice became as awful as the thunders of wrath, and his arm was strengthened as with the strength of a champion's. The kirk dirled to the foundations; the hearts of his hearers shook, till the earth of their sins was shaken clean from them; and he appeared in the wirlwind of inspiration, as if his spirit was mounting, like the prophet Elijah, in a fiery chariot immediately to the gates of heaven.
His discourse was of the children of Bethlehem slain by Herod, and he spoke of the dreadful sound of a bell and a trumpet heard suddenly in the midnight hour, when all were fast bound and lying defenceless in the fetters of sleep. He described the dreadful knocking at the doors—the bursting in of men with drawn swords—how babies were harled by the arms from their mothers' beds and bosoms, and dashed to death upon the marble floors. He told of parents that stood in the porches of their houses and made themselves the doors that the slayers were obliged to hew in pieces before they could enter in. He pictured the women flying along the street, in the nakedness of the bedchamber, with their infants in their arms, and how the ruffians of the accursed king, knowing their prey by their cries, ran after them, caught the mother by the hair and the bairn by the throat, and, in one act, flung the innocent to the stones and trampled out its life. Then he paused, and said, in a soft and thankful voice, that in the horrors of Bethlehem there was still much mercy; for the idolatrous dread of Herod prompted him to slay but young children, whose blameless lives were to their weeping parents an assurance of their acceptance into heaven.
"What then," he cried, "are we to think of that night, and of that king, and of that people, among whom, by whom, and with whom, the commissioned murderer twisted his grip in the fugitive old man's grey hairs, to draw back his head that the knife might the surer reach his heart? With what eyes, being already blinded with weeping, shall we turn to that city where the withered hands of the grandmother were deemed as weapons of war by the strong and black-a-vised slaughterer, whose sword was owre vehemently used for a' the feckless remnant of life it had to cut! But deaths like these were brief and blessed compared to other things—which, Heaven be praised, I have not the power to describe, and which, among this protestant congregation, I trust there is not one able to imagine, or who, trying to conceive, descries but in the dark and misty vision the pains of mangled mothers; babes, untimely and unquickened, cast on the dung-hills and into the troughs of swine; of black-iron hooks fastened into the mouths, and driven through the cheeks of brave men, whose arms are tied with cords behind, as they are dragged into the rivers to drown, by those who durst not in fair battle endure the lightning of their eyes. O, Herod!—Herod of Judea—thy name is hereafter bright, for in thy bloody business thou wast thyself nowhere to be seen. In the vouts and abysses of thy unstained palace, thou hidst thyself from the eye of history, and perhaps humanely sat covering thine ears with thy hands to shut out the sound of the wail and woe around thee. But this Herod—let me not call him by so humane a name. No: let all the trumpets of justice sound his own to everlasting infamy—Charles the Ninth of France! And let his ambassador that is here aye yet, yet to this time audaciously in this Christian land, let him tell his master that sentence has been pronounced against him in Scotland; that the Divine vengeance will never depart from him or his house until repentance has ensued, and atonement been made in their own race; that his name will remain a blot—a blot of blood, a stain never to be effaced—a thing to be pronounced with a curse by all posterity; and that none proceeding from his loins shall ever enjoy his kingdom in peace."
The preacher, on saying these prophetic words, paused, and, with his eyes fixed upwards, he stood some time silent, and then, clasping his hands together, exclaimed with fear and trembling upon him, "Lord, Lord, thy will be done?"
Many thought that he had then received some great apocalypse; for it was observed of all men that he was never after like the man he had once been, but highly and holily elevated above earthly cares and considerations, saving those only of his ministry, and which he hastened to close. He was as one that no longer had trust, portion, or interest in this temporal world, which in less than two months after he bade farewell, and was translated to a better. Yes, to a better; for assuredly, if there is aught in this life that may be regarded as the symbols of infeftment to the inheritance of Heaven, the labours and ministration of John Knox were testimonies that he had verily received the yird and stane of an heritage on High.
Shortly after my grandfather had returned with his wife to their quiet dwelling at Quharist on the Garnock side, he began, in the course of the winter following, to suffer an occasional pang in that part of his body which was damaged by the fall he got in rugging down the Virgin Mary out of her niche in the idolatrous abbeykirk of Kilwinning, and the anguish of his suffering grew to such an head by Candlemas that he was obligated to send for his old acquaintance, Dominick Callender, who had, after his marriage with the regenerate nun, settled as a doctor of physic in the godly town of Irvine. But for many a day all the skill and medicamenting of Doctor Callender did him little good, till Nature had, of her own accord, worked out the root of the evil in the shape of a sklinter of bone. Still, though the wound then closed, it never was a sound part, and he continued in consequence a lamiter for life. Yet were his days greatly prolonged beyond the common lot of man; for he lived till he was ninety-one years, seven months, and four days old, and his end at last was but a pleasant translation from the bodily to the spiritual life.
For some days before the close he was calm and cheerful, rehearsing to the neighbours that came to speer for him, many things like those of which I have spoken herein. Towards the evening a serene drowsiness fell upon him, like the snow that falleth in silence, and froze all his temporal faculties in so gentle a manner, that it could not be said he knew what it was to die; being, as it were, carried in the downy arms of sleep to the portal door of Death, where all the pains and terrors that guard the same were hushed, and stood mute around, as he was softly received in.
No doubt there was something of a providential design in the singular prolongation of such a pious and a blameless life; for through it the possessor became a blessed mean of sowing, in the hearts of his children and neighbours, the seeds of those sacred principles, which afterwards made them stand firm in their religious integrity when they were so grievously tried. For myself I was too young, being scant of eight years when he departed, to know the worth of those precious things which he had treasured in the garnel of his spirit for seed-corn unto the Lord; and therefore, though I often heard him speak of the riddling wherewith that mighty husbandman of the Reformation, John Knox, riddled the truths of the gospel from the errors of papistry, I am bound to say that his own exceeding venerable appearance, and the visions of past events, which the eloquence of his traditions called up to my young fancy, worked deeper and more thoroughly into my nature than the reasons and motives which guided and governed many of his other disciples. But, before proceeding with my own story, it is meet that I should still tell the courteous reader some few things wherein my father bore a part—a man of very austere character, and of a most godly, though, as some said, rather of a stubbornly affection for the forms of worship which had been established by John Knox and the pious worthies of his times; he was withal a single-minded Christian, albeit more ready for a raid than subtle in argument. He had, like all who knew the old people his parents, a by-common reverence for them; and spoke of the patriarchs with whom of old the Lord was wont to hold communion, as more favoured of Him than David or Solomon, or any other princes or kings.
When he was very young, not passing, as I have heard him often tell, more than six or seven years of age, he was taken, along with his brethren, by my grandfather, to see the signing at Irvine of the Covenant, with which, in the lowering time of the Spanish armada, King James, the son of Mary, together with all the Reformed, bound themselves in solemn compact to uphold the protestant religion. Afterwards, when he saw the country rise in arms, and heard of the ward and watch, and the beacons ready on the hills, his imagination was kindled with some dreadful conceit of the armada, and he thought it could be nothing less than some awful and horrible creature sent from the shores of perdition to devour the whole land. The image he had thus framed in his fears haunted him continually; and night after night he could not sleep for thinking of its talons of brass, and wings of thunder, and nostrils flaming fire, and the iron teeth with which it was to grind and gnash the bodies and bones of all protestants, in so much that his parents were concerned for the health of his mind, and wist not what to do to appease the terrors of his visions.
At last, however, the great Judith of the protestant cause, Queen Elizabeth of England, being enabled to drive a nail into the head of that Holofernes of the idolaters, and many of the host of ships having been plunged, by the right arm of the tempest, into the depths of the seas, and scattered by the breath of the storm, like froth over the ocean, it happened that, one morning about the end of July, a cry arose that a huge galley of the armada was driven on the rocks at Pencorse; and all the shire of Ayr hastened to the spot to behold and witness her shipwreck and overthrow. Among others my grandfather, with his three eldest sons, went, leaving my father at home; but his horrors grew to such a passion of fear that his mother, the calm and pious Elspa Ruet, resolved to take him thither likewise, and to give him the evidence of his eyes, that the dreadful armada was but a navy of vessels like the ship which was cast upon the shore. By this prudent thought of her, when he arrived at the spot his apprehensions were soothed; but his mind had ever after a strange habitude of forming wild and wonderful images of every danger, whereof the scope and nature was not very clearly discerned, and which continued with him till the end of his days.
Soon after the death of my grandfather, he had occasion to go into Edinburgh anent some matter of legacy that had fallen to us through the decease of an uncle of my mother, a bonnet-maker in the Canongate; and, on his arrival there, he found men's minds in a sore fever concerning the rash councils wherewith King Charles the First, then reigning, was mindit to interfere with the pure worship of God, and to enact a part in the kirk of Scotland little short of the papistical domination of the Roman Antichrist. To all men this was startling tidings; but to my father it was an enormity that fired his blood and spirit with the fierceness of a furnace. And it happened that he lodged with a friend of ours, one Janet Geddes, a most pious woman, who had suffered great molestation in her worldly substance, from certain endeavours for the restorations of the horns of the mitre, and the prelatic buskings with which that meddling and fantastical bodie, King James the Sixth, would fain have buskit and disguised the sober simplicity of gospel ordinances.
No two persons could be more heartily in unison upon any point of controversy than was my worthy father and Janet Geddes, concerning the enormities that would of a necessity ensue from the papistical pretensions and unrighteous usurpation of King Charles; and they sat crooning and lamenting together all the Saturday afternoon and night about the woes of idolatry that were darkening again over Scotland.
No doubt there was both reason and piety in their fears; but in the method of their sorrow, from what I have known of my father's earnest and simple character, I redde there might be some lack of the decorum of wisdom. But be this as it may, they heated the zeal of one another to a pitch of great fervour, and next morning, the Sabbath, they went together to the high Kirk of St Giles to see what the power of an infatuated government would dare to do.
The kirk was filled to its uttermost bunkers; my father, however, got for Janet Geddes, she being an aged woman, a stool near the skirts of the pulpit; but nothing happened to cause any disturbance till the godly Mr Patrick Henderson had made an end of the morning prayer, when he said, with tears in his eyes, with reference to the liturgy, which was then to be promulgated, "Adieu, good people, for I think this is the last time of my saying prayers in this kirk;" and the congregation being much moved thereat, many wept.
No sooner had Mr Henderson retired, than Master Ramsay, that horn of the Beast, which was called the Dean of Edinburgh, appeared in the pulpit in the pomp of his abominations, and began to read the liturgy. At the first words of which Janet Geddes was so transported with indignation that, starting from her stool, she made it fly whirring at his head, as she cried, "Villain, dost thou say the mass at my lug?" Then such an uproar began as had not been witnessed since the destruction of the idols; the women screaming, and clapping their hands in terrification as if the legions of the Evil One had been let loose upon them; and the men crying aloud, "Antichrist! Antichrist! down wi' the Pope!" and all exhortation to quiet them was drowned in the din.
Such was the beginning of those troubles in the church and state so wantonly provoked by the weak and wicked policy of the first King Charles, and which in the end brought himself to an ignominious death; and such the cause of that Solemn League and Covenant, to which, in my green years, my father, soon after his return home, took me to be a party, and to which I have been enabled to adhere, with unerring constancy, till the glorious purpose of it has all been fulfilled and accomplished.
When my father returned home, my mother and all the family were grieved to see his sad and altered looks. We gathered around him, and she thought he had failed to get the legacy, and comforted him by saying they had hitherto fenn't without it, and so might they still do.
To her tender condolements he however made no answer; but, taking a leathern bag, with the money in it, out of his bosom, he flung it on the table, saying, "What care I for this world's trash, when the ark of the Lord is taken from Israel?" which to hear daunted the hearts of all present. And then he told us, after some time, what was doing on the part of the King to bring in the worship of the Beast again, rehearsing, with many circumstances, the consternation and sorrow and rage and lamentations that he had witnessed in Edinburgh.
I, who was the ninth of his ten children, and then not passing nine years old, was thrilled with an unspeakable fear; and all the dreadful things, which I had heard my grandfather tell of the tribulations of his time, came upon my spirit like visions of the visible scene, and I began to weep with an exceeding sorrow, in so much that my father was amazed, and caressed me, and thanked Heaven that one so young in his house felt as a protestant child should feel in an epoch of such calamity.
It was then late in the afternoon, towards the gloaming, and having partaken of some refreshment, my father took the big Bible from the press-head, and, after a prayer uttered in great heaviness of spirit, he read a portion of the Revelations, concerning the vials and the woes, expounding the same like a preacher; and we were all filled with anxieties and terrors; some of the younger members trembled with the thought that the last day was surely at hand.
Next morning a sough and rumour of that solemn venting of Christian indignation which had been manifested at Edinburgh, having reached our country-side, and the neighbours hearing of my father's return, many of them came at night to our house to hear the news; and it was a meeting that none present thereat could ever after forget:—well do I mind everything as if it had happened but yestreen. I was sitting on a laigh stool at the fireside, between the chumley-lug and the gown-tail of old Nanse Snoddie, my mother's aunty, a godly woman, that in her eild we took care of; and as young and old came in, the salutation was in silence, as of guests coming to a burial.
The first was Ebenezer Muir, an aged man, whose grandson stood many a blast in the persecution of the latter days, both with the Blackcuffs and the bloody dragoons of the remorseless Graham of Claver. He was bent with the burden of time, and leaning on his staff, and his long white hair hung down from aneath his broad blue bonnet. He was one whom my grandfather held in great respect for the sincerity of his principles and the discretion of his judgment, and among all his neighbours, and nowhere more than in our house, was he considered a most patriarchal character.
"Come awa, Ebenezer," said my father, "I'm blithe and I'm sorrowful to see you. This night we may be spar't to speak in peace of the things that pertain unto salvation; but the day and the hour is not far off, when the flock of Christ shall be scattered and driven from the pastures of their Divine Master."
To these words of affliction Ebenezer Muir made no response, but went straight to the fireside, facing Nanse Snoddie, and sat down without speaking; and my father, then observing John Fullarton of Dykedivots coming in, stretched out his hand, and took hold of his, and drew him to sit down by his side.
They had been in a manner brothers from their youth upward. An uncle of John Fullarton's, by whom he was brought up, had been owner, and he himself had heired, and was then possessor of, the mailing of Dykedivot, beside ours. He was the father of four brave sons, the youngest of whom, a stripling of some thirteen or fourteen years, was at his back: the other three came in afterwards. He was, moreover, a man of a stout and courageous nature, though of a much-enduring temper.
"I hope," said he to my father—"I hope, Sawners, a' this straemash and hobbleshow that fell out last Sabbath in Embro' has been seen wi' the glamoured een o' fear, and that the King and government canna be sae far left to themsels as to meddle wi' the ordinances of the Lord."
"I doot, I doot, it's owre true, John," replied my father in a very mournful manner; and while they were thus speaking, Nahum Chapelrig came ben. He was a young man, and his father being precentor and schoolmaster of the parish, he had more lair than commonly falls to the lot of country folk; over and aboon this, he was of a spirity disposition, and both eydent and eager in whatsoever he undertook, so that for his years he was greatly looked up to amang all his acquaintance, notwithstanding a small spicin of conceit that he was in with himself.
On seeing him coming in, worthy Ebenezer Muir made a sign for him to draw near and sit by him; and when he went forward, and drew in a stool, the old man took hold of him by the hand, and said, "Ye're weel come, Nahum;" and my father added, "Ay, Nahum Chapelrig, it's fast coming to pass, as ye hae been aye saying it would; the King has na restit wi' putting the prelates upon us."
"What's te prelates, Robin Fullarton?" said auld Nanse Snoddie, turning round to John's son, who was standing behind his father.
"They're the red dragons o' unrighteousness," replied the sincere laddie with great vehemence.
"Gude guide us!" cried Nanse with the voice of terror; "and has the King daur't to send sic accursed things to devour God's people?"
But my mother, who was sitting behind me, touched her on the shoulder, bidding her be quiet; for the poor woman, being then doited, when left to the freedom of her own will, was apt to expatiate without ceasing on whatsoever she happened to discourse anent; and Nahum Chapelrig said to my father,—
"'Deed, Sawners Gilhaize, we could look for nae better; prelacy is but the prelude o' papistry; but the papistry o' this prelude is a perilous papistry indeed; for its roots of rankness are in the midden-head of Arminianism, which, in a sense, is a greater Antichrist than Antichrist himself, even where he sits on his throne of thraldom in the Roman vaticano. But, nevertheless, I trust and hope, that though the virgin bride of protestantism be for a season thrown on her back, she shall not be overcome, but will so strive and warsle aneath the foul grips of that rampant Arminian, the English high-priest Laud, that he shall himself be cast into the mire, or choket wi' the stoure of his own bakiefu's of abominations, wherewith he would overwhelm and bury the Evangil. Yea, even though the shield of his mighty men is made red, and his valiant men are in scarlet, he shall recount his worthies, but they shall stumble in their walk."
While Nahum was thus holding forth, the house filled even to the trance-door with the neighbours, old and young; and several from time to time spoke bitterly against the deadly sin and aggression which the King was committing in the rape that the reading of the liturgy was upon the consciences of his people. At last Ebenezer Muir, taking off his bonnet, and rising, laid it down on his seat behind him, and then resting with both his hands on his staff, looked up, and every one was hushed. Truly it was an affecting sight to behold that very aged, time-bent and venerable man so standing in the midst of all his dismayed and pious neighbours,—his grey hairs flowing from his haffets,—and the light of our lowly hearth shining upon his bald head and reverent countenance.
"Friens," said he, "I hae lived lang in the world; and in this house I hae often partaken the sweet repast of the conversations of that sanctified character, Michael Gilhaize, whom we a' revered as a parent, not more for his ain worth than for the great things to which he was a witness in the trials and troubles of the Reformation; and it seems to me, frae a' the experience I hae gatherit, that when ance kings and governments hae taken a step, let it be ne'er sae rash, there's a something in the nature of rule and power that winna let them confess a fau't, though they may afterwards be constrained to renounce the evil of their ways. It was therefore wi' a sore heart that I heard this day the doleful tidings frae Embro', and moreover, that I hae listened to the outbreathings this night of the heaviness wherewith the news hae oppressed you a'. Sure am I, that frae the provocation given to the people of Scotland by the King's miscounselled majesty, nothing but tears and woes can ensue; for by the manner in which they hae already rebutted the aggression, he will in return be stirred to aggrieve them still farther. I'm now an auld man, and may be removed before the woes come to pass; but it requires not the e'e of prophecy to spae bloodshed and suffering, and many afflictions in your fortunes. Nevertheless, friens, be of good cheer, for the Lord will prosper his own cause. Neither king, nor priest, nor any human authority has the right to interfere between you and your God; and allegiance ends where persecution begins. Never, therefore, in the trials awaiting you, forget that the right to resist in matters of conscience is the foundation-stone of religious liberty; O see, therefore, that you guard it weel!"
The voice and manner of the aged speaker melted every heart. Many of the women sobbed aloud, and the children were moved, as I was myself, and as I have often heard them in their manhood tell, as if the spirit of faith and fortitude had entered into the very bones and marrow of their bodies; nor ever afterwards have I heard psalm sung with such melodious energy of holiness as that pious congregation of simple country folk sung the hundred and fortieth psalm before departing for their lowly dwellings on that solemn evening.
It was on the Wednesday that my father came home from Edinburgh. On Friday the farmer lads and their fathers continued coming over to our house to hear the news, and all their discourse was concerning the manifest foretaste of papistry which was in the praying of the prayers, that an obdurate prince and an alien Arminian prelate were attempting to thrust into their mouths, and every one spoke of renewing the Solemn League and Covenant, which, in the times of the Reformation and the dangers of the Spanish Armada, had achieved such great things for THE TRUTH AND THE WORD.
On Saturday, Mr Sundrum, our minister, called for my father about twelve o'clock. He had heard the news, and also that my father had come back. I was doing something on the green, I forget now what it was, when I saw him coming towards the door, and I ran into the house to tell my father, who immediately came out to meet him.
Little passed in my hearing between them, for, after a short inquiry concerning how my father had fared in the journey, the minister took hold of him by the arm, and they walked together into the fields, where, when they were at some distance from the house, Mr Sundrum stopped, and began to discourse in a very earnest and lively manner, frequently touching the palm of his left hand with the fingers of his right, as he spoke to my father, and sometimes lifting both his hands as one in amaze, ejaculating to the heavens.
While they were thus reasoning together, worthy Ebenezer Muir came towards the house, but, observing where they were, he turned off and joined them, and they continued all three in vehement deliberation, in so much that I was drawn by the thirst of curiosity to slip so near towards them that I could hear what passed; and my young heart was pierced at the severe terms in which the minister was condemning the ringleaders of the riot, as he called the adversaries of popedom in Edinburgh, and in a manner rebuking my honest father as a sower of sedition.
My father, however, said stiffly, for he was not a man to controvert with a minister, that in all temporal things he was a true and leil subject, and in what pertained to the King as king, he would stand as stoutly up for as any man in the three kingdoms; but against a usurpation of the Lord's rights, his hand, his heart, and his father's sword, that had been used in the Reformation, were all alike ready.
Old Ebenezer Muir tried to pacify him, and reasoned in great gentleness with both, expressing his concern that a presbyterian minister could think that the attempt to bring in prelacy, and the reading of court-contrived prayers, was not a meddling with things sacred and rights natural, which neither prince nor potentate had authority to do. But Mr Sundrum was one of those that longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and the fat things of a lordly hierarchy; and the pacific remonstrances of the pious old man made him wax more and more wroth at what he hatefully pronounced their rebellious inclinations; at which bitter words both my father and Ebenezer Muir turned from him, and went together to the house with sadness in their faces, leaving him to return the way he had come alone—a thing which filled me with consternation, he having ever before been treated and reverenced as a pastor ought always to be.
What comment my father and the old man made on his conduct when they were by themselves I know not; but on the Sabbath morning the kirk was filled to overflowing, and my father took me with him by the hand, and we sat together on the same form with Ebenezer Muir, whom we found in the church before us.
When Mr Sundrum mounted into the pulpit, and read the psalm and said the prayer, there was nothing particular; but when he prepared to preach, there was a rustle of expectation among all present, for the text he chose was from Romans, chapter xiii. and verses 1 and 2; from which he made an endeavour to demonstrate, as I heard afterwards, for I was then too young to discern the matter of it myself, the duty and advantages of passive obedience—and, growing warm with his ungospel rhetoric, he began to rail and to daud the pulpit in condemnation of the spirit which had kithed in Edinburgh.
Ebenezer Muir and my father tholed with him for some time; but at last he so far forgot his place and office, that they both rose and moved towards the door. Many others did the same, and presently the whole congregation, with the exception of a very few, also began to move, so that the kirk skayled; and from that day, so long as Mr Sundrum continued in the parish, he was as a leper and an excommunicant.
Meanwhile the alarm was spreading far and wide, and a blessed thing it was for the shire of Ayr, though it caused its soil to be soakened with the blood of martyrs, that few of the ministers were like the time-serving Mr Sundrum, but trusty and valiant defenders of the green pastures whereon they had delighted, like kind shepherds, to lead their confiding flocks, and to cherish the young lambs thereof with the tender embraces of a holy ministry. Among the rest, that godly and great saint, Mr Swinton of Garnock, our neighbour parish, stood courageously forward in the gap of the broken fence of the vineyard, announcing, after a most weighty discourse, on the same day on which Mr Sundrum preached the erroneous doctrine of passive obedience, that next Sabbath he would administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, not knowing how long it might be in the power of his people to partake of it. Every body around accordingly prepared to be present on that occasion, and there was a wonderful congregation. All the adjacent parishes in succession did the same thing Sabbath after Sabbath, and never was there seen, in the memory of living man, such a zealous devotion and strictness of life as then reigned throughout the whole West Country.
At last the news came, that it was resolved among the great and faithful at Edinburgh to renew the Solemn League and Covenant; and the ministers of our neighbourhood having conferred together concerning the same, it was agreed among them, that the people should be invited to come forward on a day set apart for the purpose, and that as the kirk of Irvine was the biggest in the vicinage, the signatures both for the country and that town should be received there. Mr Dickson, the minister, than whom no man of his day was more brave in the Lord's cause, accordingly made the needful preparation, and appointed the time.
In the meanwhile the young men began to gird themselves for war. The swords that had rested for many a day were drawn from their idle places; and the women worked together, that their brothers and their sons might be ready for the field; but at their work, instead of the ancient lilts, they sung psalms and godly ballads. However, as I mean not to enter upon the particulars of that awakening epoch, but only to show forth the pure and the holy earnestness with which the minds of men were then actuated, I shall here refer the courteous reader to the annals and chronicles of the time,—albeit the truth in them has suffered from the alloy of a base servility.
The sixteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord 1638, was appointed for the renewal at Irvine of the Solemn League and Covenant. On the night before, my five elder brothers, who were learning trades at Glasgow and Kilmarnock, came home that they might go up with their father to the house of God, in order to set down their names together; me and my four sisters, the rest of his ten children, were still biding with our mother and him at the mailing.
From my grandfather's time there had been a by-common respect among the neighbours for our family on his account; and that morning my brother Jacob, who happened to be the first that went, at break of day, to the door, was surprised to see many of the cotters and neighbouring farmer lads already assembled on the lone, waiting to walk with us to the town, as a token of their reverence for the principles and the memory of that departed worthy; and they were all belted and armed with swords like men ready for battle.
Seeing such a concourse of the neighbours, instead of making exercise in the house, my father, as the morning was bright and lown, bade me carry the Bible and a stool to the dykeside, that our friends might have room to join us in worship,—which I did accordingly, placing the stool under the ash-tree, at the corner of the stack-yard, and by all those who were present on that occasion the spot was ever afterwards regarded as a hallowed place. Truly there was a scene and a sight there not likely to be soon forgotten; for the awful cause that had brought together that meeting was a thing which no man who had a part therein could ever in all his days forget.
My father chose the seventy-sixth psalm, and when it was sung, he opened the Scriptures in Second Kings, and read aloud, with a strong voice, the twenty-third chapter, and every one likened Josiah to the old King, and Jehoahaz to his son Charles, by whose disregard of the Covenant the spirit of the land was then in such tribulation; and at the conclusion, instead of kneeling to pray, as he was wont, my father stood up, and, as if all temporal things were then of no account, he only supplicated that the work they had in hand for that day might be approved and sanctified.
The worship being over, the family returned into the house, and having partaken of a repast of bread and milk, my father put on his father's sword, and my brothers, who had brought weapons of their own home with them, also belted themselves for the road. I was owre young to be yet trysted for war, so my father led me out by the hand, and walking forward, followed by my brothers, the neighbours, two and two, fell into the rear, and the women, in their plaids, came mournful and in tears at some short distance behind.
As we were thus proceeding towards the main road, we heard the sound of a drum and fife, and saw over the hedge of the lane that leads to the clachan, a white banner waving aloft with the words, "SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT" painted thereon; at the sight of which my father was much disturbed, saying,—"This is some silly device of Nahum Chapelrig, that, if we allow to proceed, may bring scoff and scorn upon the cause as we enter the town;" and with that, dropping my hand, he ran forward and stopped their vain bravery; for it was, as he had supposed, the work of Nahum, who was marching, like a man of war, at the head of his band. However, on my father's remonstrance, he consented to send away his sounding instruments and idle banner, and to walk composedly along with us.
As we reached the town-end port, we fell in with a vast number of other persons, from different parts of the country, going to sign the Covenant, and, on a cart, worthy Ebenezer Muir and three other aged men like himself, who, being all of our parish, it was agreed that they should alight and walk to the kirk at the head of those who had come with my father. While this was putting in order, other men and lads belonging to the parish came and joined us, so that, to the number of more than a hundred, we went up the town together.
When we arrived at the Tolbooth, we were obligated, with others, to halt for some time, by reason of the great crowd at the Kirkgatefoot waiting to see if the magistrates, who were then sitting in council, would come forth and go to the kirk; and the different crafts and burgesses, with their deacons, were standing at the Cross in order to follow them, if they determined, in their public capacity, to sign the Covenant, according to the pious example which had been set to all in authority by the magistrates and town-council of Edinburgh three days before. We had not, however, occasion to be long detained; for it was resolved, with a unanimous heart, that the provost should sign in the name of the town, and that the bailies and councillors should, in their own names, sign each for himself; so they came out, with the town-officers bearing their battle-axes before them, and the crafts, according to their privilege, followed them to the kirk.
The men of our parish went next; but on reaching the kirk-yard yett, it was manifest that, large as the ancient fabric was, it would not be able to receive a moite of the persons assembled. Godly Mr David Dickson, the minister, had, however, provided for this; and on one of the old tombs, on the south side of the kirk, he had ordered a table and chair to be placed, where that effectual preacher, Mr Livingstone, delivered a great sermon,—around him the multitude from the country parishes were congregated; but my father being well acquainted with Deacon Auld of the wrights, was invited by him to come into his seat in the kirk, where he carried me in with him, and we heard Mr Dickson himself.
Of the strain and substance of his discourse I remember nothing, save only the earnestness of his manner; but well do I remember the awful sough and silence that was in the kirk when, at the conclusion of the sermon, he prepared to read the words of the Covenant.
"Now," said he, when he had come to the end, and was rolling it up, "as no man knoweth how long, after this day, he may be allowed to partake of the sacrament of the Supper, the elders will bring forward the elements; and it is hoped that sisters in Christ will not come to communion till the brethren are served, who, as they take their seats at the Lord's table, are invited to sign their names to this solemn charter of the religious rights and liberties of God's people in Scotland."
He then came down from the pulpit with the parchment in his hand, and going to the head of the sacramental table, he opened it again, and laid it down over the elements of the bread and wine which the elders had just placed there; and a minister, whose name I do not well recollect, sitting at his right hand, holding an inkstand, presented him with a pen, which, when he had taken, he prayed in silence for the space of a minute, and then, bending forward, he signed his name; having done so, he raised himself erect and said, with a loud voice, holding up his right hand, "Before God and these witnesses, in truth and holiness, I have sworn to keep this Covenant." At that moment a solemn sound rose from all the congregation, and every one stood up to see the men, as they sat at the table, put down their names.
From the day on which the Covenant was signed, though I was owre young to remember the change myself, I have heard it often said that a great alteration took place in the morals and manners of the Covenanters. The Sabbath was observed by them with far more than the solemnity of times past; and there was a strictness of walk and conversation among them, which showed how much in sincerity they were indeed regenerated Christians. The company of persons inclined to the prelatic sect was eschewed as contagious, and all light pastimes and gayety of heart were suppressed, both on account of their tendency to sinfulness, and because of the danger with which the Truth and the Word were threatened by the Arminian Antichrist of the King's government.
But the more immediate effect of the renewal of the Solemn League and Covenant was the preparation for defence and resistance, which the deceitful policy of that false monarch, King Charles the First, taught every one to know would be required. The men began to practise firing at butts and targets, and to provide themselves with arms and munitions of war; while, in order to maintain a life void of offence in all temporal concerns, they were by ordinare obedient and submissive to those in authority over them, whether holding jurisdiction from the King, or in virtue of baronies and feudalities.
In this there was great wisdom; for it left the sin of the provocation still on the heads of the King and his evil counsellors, in so much that even, when the General Assembly, holden at Glasgow, vindicated the independence and freedom of Christ's kingdom, by continuing to sit in despite of the dissolution pronounced by King Charles' commissioner, the Marquis Hamilton, and likewise by decreeing the abolition of prelacy as an abomination, there was no political blame wherewith the people, in their capacity of subjects to their earthly prince, could be wyted or brought by law to punishment.
In the meantime, the King, who was as fey as he was false, mustered his forces, and his rampant high-priest, Laud, was, with all the voices of his prelatic emissaries, inflaming the honest people of England to wage war against our religious freedom. The papistical Queen of Charles was no less busy with the priesthood of her crafty sect, and aids and powers, both of men and money, were raised wherever they could be had, in order to reinstall the discarded episcopacy of Scotland.
The Covenanters, however, were none daunted, for they had a great ally in the Lord of Hosts; and, with Him for their captain, they neither sought nor wished for any alien assistance, though they sent letters to their brethren in foreign parts, exhorting them to unite in the Covenant, and to join them for the battle. General Lesley, in Gustavus Adolphus' army, was invited by his kinsman, the Lord Rothes, to come home, that, if need arose, he might take the temporal command of the Covenanters.
The King having at last, according to an ancient practice of the English monarchs, when war in old times was proclaimed against the Scots, summoned his nobles to attend him with their powers at York, the Covenanters girded their loins, and the whole country rung with the din of the gathering of an host for the field.
One Captain Bannerman, who had been with Lesley in the armies of Gustavus, was sent from Edinburgh to train the men in our part; and our house being central for the musters of the three adjacent parishes, he staid a night in the week with us at Quharist for the space of better than two months, and his military discourse greatly instructed our neighbours in the arts and stratagems of war.
He was an elderly man, of a sedate character, and had gone abroad with an uncle from Montrose when he was quite a youth. In his day he had seen many strange cities, and places of wonderful strength to withstand the force of sieges. But, though bred a soldier, and his home in the camp, he had been himself but seldom in the field of battle. In appearance he was tall and lofty, and very erect and formal; a man of few words, but they were well chosen; and he was patient and pains-taking; of a contented aspect, somewhat hard-favoured, and seldom given to smile. To little children he was, however, bland and courteous; taking a pleasure in setting those that were of my age in battle array, for he had no pastime, being altogether an instructive soldier; or, as William, my third brother, used to say, who was a free out-spoken lad, Captain Bannerman was a real dominie o' war.
Besides him, in our country-side, there was another officer, by name Hepburn, who had also been bred with the great Gustavus, sent to train the Covenanters in Irvine; but he was of a more mettlesome humour, and lacked the needful douceness that became those who were banding themselves for a holy cause; so that when any of his disciples were not just so list and brisk as they might have been, which was sometimes the case, especially among the weavers, he thought no shame, even on the Golf-fields, before all the folks and onlookers, to curse and swear at them as if he had been himself one of the King's cavaliers, and they no better than ne'erdoweels receiving the wages of sin against the Covenant. In sooth to say, he was a young man of a disorderly nature, and about seven months after he left the town twa misfortunate creatures gave him the wyte of their bairns.
Yet, for all the regardlessness of his ways and moral conduct, he was much beloved by the men he had the training of; and, on the night before he left the town, lies were told of a most respectit and pious officer of the town's power, if he did not find the causey owre wide when he was going home, after partaking of Captain Hepburn's pay-way supper. But how that may have been is little of my business at present to investigate; for I have only spoken of Hepburn, to notify what happened in consequence of a brag he had with Bannerman, anent the skill of their respective disciples, the which grew to such a controversy between them, that nothing less would satisfy Hepburn than to try the skill of the Irvine men against ours, and the two neighbouring parishes of Garnock and Stoneyholm. Accordingly a day was fixt for that purpose, and the Craiglands-croft was the place appointed for this probation of soldiership.
On the morning of the appointed day the country folk assembled far and near, and Nahum Chapelrig, at the head of the lads of his clachan, was the first on the field. The sight to my young eyes was as the greatest show of pageantry that could be imagined; for Nahum had, from the time of the covenanting, been gathering arms and armour from all quarters, and had thereby not only obtained a glittering breastplate for himself, but three other coats of mail for the like number of his fellows; and when they were coming over the croft, with their fife and drum, and the banner of the Covenant waving aloft in the air, every one ran to behold such splendour and pomp of war; many of the women, that were witnesses among the multitude, wept at such an apparition of battles dazzling our peaceful fields.
My father, with my five brothers, headed the Covenanters of our parish. There was no garnish among that band. They came along with austere looks and douce steps, and their belts were of tanned leather. The hilts of many of their swords were rusty, for they had been the weapons of their forefathers in the raids of the Reformation. As my father led them to their station on the right flank of Nahum Chapelrig's array, the crowd of onlookers fell back, and stood in silence as they passed by.
Scarcely had they halted, when there was a rushing among the onlookers, and presently the townsmen, with Hepburn on horseback, were seen coming over the brow of the Gowan-brae. They were scant the strength of the country folk by more than a score; but there was a band of sailor boys with them that made the number greater; so that, when they were all drawn up together forenent the countrymen, they were more than man for man.
It is not to be suppressed nor denied, that, in the first show of the day, Hepburn got far more credit and honour than old sedate Bannerman; for his lads were lighter in the heel, glegger in the eye, and brisker in the manoeuvres of war: moreover, they were all far more similar in their garb and appearance, which gave them a seeming compactness that the countrymen had nothing like. But when the sham contest began, it was not long till Bannerman's disciples showed the proofs of their master's better skill to such a mark, that Hepburn grew hot, and so kindled his men by reproaches, that there was like to have been fighting in true earnest; for the blood of the country folk was also rising. Their eyes grew fierce, and they muttered through their teeth.
Old Ebenezer Muir, who was among the multitude, observing that their blood was heating, stepped forward, and lifting up his hand, cried, "Sirs, stop;" and both sides instanter made a pause. "This maunna be," said he. "It may be sport to those who are by trade soldiers to try the mettle o' their men, but ye're a covenanted people, obligated by a grievous tyranny to quit your spades and your looms only for a season; therefore be counselled, and rush not to battle till need be, which may the Lord yet prevent."
Hepburn uttered an angry ban, and would have turned the old man away by the shoulder; but the combatants saw they were in the peril of a quarrel, and many of them cried aloud, "He's in the right, and we're playing the fool for the diversion o' our adversaries." So the townsmen and the country folk shook hands; but instead of renewing the contest, Captain Bannerman proposed that they should all go through their discipline together, it being manifest that there were little odds in their skill, and none in their courage. The which prudent admonition pacified all parties, and the remainder of the day was spent in cordiality and brotherly love. Towards the conclusion of the exercises, worthy Mr Swinton came on the field; and when the business of the day was over, he stepped forward, and the trained men being formed around him, the onlookers standing on the outside, he exhorted them in prayer, and implored a blessing on their covenanted union, which had the effect of restoring all their hearts to a religious frame and a solemnity befitting the spirituality of their cause.
One night, about a month after the ploy whereof I have spoken in the foregoing chapter, just as my father had finished the worship, and the family were composing themselves round the fireside for supper, we were startled by the sound of a galloping horse coming to the door; and before any one had time to open it, there was a dreadful knocking with the heft of the rider's whip. It was Nahum Chapelrig, who being that day at Kilmarnock, had heard, as he was leaving the town, the cry get up there that the Aggressor was coming from York with all the English power, and he had flown far and wide on his way home publishing the dismal tidings.
My father, in a sober manner, bade him alight and partake of our supper, questioning him sedately anent what he had heard; but Nahum was raised, and could give no satisfaction in his answers; he, however, leapt from his horse, and drawing the bridle through the ring at the door-cheek, came ben to the fire where we had all so shortly before been harmoniously sitting. His eyes were wide and wild; his hair, with the heat he was in, was as if it had been pomated; his cheeks were white, his lips red, and he panted with haste and panic.
"They're coming," he cried, "in thousands o' thousands; never sic a force has crossed the Border since the day o' Flodden Field. We'll a' either be put to the sword, man, woman, and child, or sent in slavery to the plantations."
"No," replied my father, "things are no just come to that pass; we have our swords yet, and hearts and hands to use them."
The consternation, however, of Nahum Chapelrig that night was far ayont all counsel; so, after trying to soothe and reason him into a more temperate frame, my father was obligated to tell him, that since the battle was coming so near our gates, it behoved the Covenanters to be in readiness for the field, advising Nahum to go home, and be over with him betimes in the morning.
While they were thus speaking, James Newbigging also came to the door with a rumour of the same substance, which his wife had brought from Eglinton Castle, where she had been with certain cocks and hens, a servitude of the Eglintons on their mailing; so that there was no longer any dubiety about the news, though matters were not in such a desperate condition as Nahum Chapelrig had terrified himself with the thought of. Nevertheless, the tidings were very dreadful; and it was a judgment-like thing to hear that an anointed king was so far left to himself as to be coming with wrath, and banners, and trampling war-horses, to destroy his subjects for the sincerity of their religious allegiance to that Almighty Monarch, who has but permitted the princes of the earth to be set up as idols by the hands of men.
James Newbigging, as well as Nahum, having come ben to the fireside, my father called for the Books again, and gave out the eight first verses of the forty-fourth psalm, which we all sung with hearts in holy unison and zealous voices.
When James Newbigging and Nahum Chapelrig were gone away home, my father sat for some time exhorting us, who were his youngest children, to be kind to one another, to cherish our mother, and no to let auld doited aunty want, if it was the Lord's will that he should never come back from the battle. The which to hear caused much sorrow and lamentation, especially from my mother, who, however, said nothing, but took hold of his hand and watered it with her tears. After this he walked out into the fields, where he remained some time alone; and during his absence, me and the three who were next to me, were sent to our beds; but, young as we then were, we were old enough to know the danger that hung over us, and we lay long awake, wondering and woful with fear.
About two hours after midnight the house was again startled by another knocking, and on my father inquiring who was at the door, he was answered by my brother Jacob, who had come with Michael and Robin from Glasgow to Kilmarnock, on hearing the news, and had thence brought William and Alexander with them to go with their father to the war. For they had returned to their respective trades after the day of the covenanting, and had only been out at Hepburn's raid, as the ploy with the Irvine men was called in jocularity, in order that the neighbours, who venerated their grandfather, might see them together as Covenanters.
The arrival of her sons, and the purpose they had come upon, awakened afresh the grief of our mother; but my father entreated us all to be quiet, and to compose ourselves to rest, that we might be the abler on the morn to prepare for what might then ensue. Yet, though there was no sound in the house, save only our mother's moaning, few closed their eyes, and long before the sun every one was up and stirring, and my father and my five brothers were armed and belted for the march.
Scarcely were they ready, when different neighbours in the like trim came to go with them; presently also Nahum Chapelrig, with his banner, and fife, and drum, at the head of some ten or twelve lads of his clachan, came over; and on this occasion no obstacle was made to that bravery which was thought so uncomely on the day of the covenanting.
While the armed men were thus gathering before our door, with the intent of setting forward to Glasgow, as the men of the West had been some time before trysted to do, by orders from General Lesley, on the first alarm, that godly man and minister of righteousness, the Reverend Mr Swinton, made his appearance with his staff in his hand, and a satchel on his back, in which he carried the Bible.
"I am come, my friens," said he, "to go with you. Where the ensigns of Christ's Covenant are displayed, it is meet that the very lowest of his vassals should be there;" and having exhorted the weeping women around to be of good cheer, he prayed for them and for their little children, whom the Aggressor was, perhaps, soon to make fatherless. Nahum Chapelrig then exalted his banner, and the drum and fife beginning to play, the venerable man stepped forward, and heading the array with his staff in his hand, they departed amidst the shouts of the boys, and the loud sorrow of many a wife and mother.
I followed them, with my companions, till they reached the high road, where, at the turn that led them to Glasgow, a great concourse of other women and children belonging to the neighbouring parishes were assembled, having there parted from their friends. They were all mourning and weeping, and mingling their lamentations with bitter predictions against the King and his evil counsellors; but seeing Mr Swinton, they became more composed, and he having made a sign to the drum and fife to cease, he stopped, and earnestly entreated them to return home and employ themselves in the concerns of their families, which, the heads being for a season removed, stood the more in need of all their kindness and care.
This halt in the march of their friends brought the onlookers, who were assembled round our house, running to see what was the cause; and, among others, it gave time to the aged Ebenezer Muir to come up, whom Mr Swinton no sooner saw than he called on him by name, and bade him comfort the women, and invite them away from the high road, where their presence could only increase the natural grief that every covenanted Christian, in passing to join the army, could not but suffer, on seeing so many left defenceless by the unprovoked anger of the Aggressor. He then bade the drum again beat, and, the march being resumed, the band of our parish soon went out of sight.
While our men continued in view Ebenezer Muir said nothing; but as soon as they had disappeared behind the brow of the Gowan-brae, he spoke to the multitude in a gentle and paternal manner, and bade them come with him into the neighbouring field, and join him in prayer; after which he hoped they would see the wisdom of returning to their homes. They accordingly followed him, and he having given out the twenty-third psalm, all present joined him, till the lonely fields and silent woods echoed to the melody of their pious song.
As we were thus standing around the old man in worship and unison of spirit, the Irvine men came along the road; and seeing us, they hushed their drums as they passed by, and bowed down their banners in reverence and solemnity. Such was the outset of the worthies of the renewed Covenant, in their war with the first Charles.
After my father and brothers, with our neighbours that went with them, had returned from the bloodless raid of Dunse Law, as the first expedition was called, a solemn thanksgiving was held in all the country-side; but the minds of men were none pacified by the treaty concluded with the King at Berwick. For it was manifest to the world, that coming in his ire, and with all the might of his power, to punish the Covenanters as rebels, he would never have consented to treat with them on anything like equal terms, had he not been daunted by their strength and numbers; so that the spirit awakened by his Ahab-like domination continued as alive and as distrustful of his word and pactions as ever.
After the rumours of his plain juggling about the verbals of the stipulated conditions, and his arbitrary prorogation of the parliament at Edinburgh, a thing which the best and bravest of the Scottish monarchs had never before dared to do without the consent of the States then assembled, the thud and murmur of warlike preparation was renewed both on anvil and in hall. And when it was known that the King, fey and distempered with his own weak conceits and the instigations of cruel counsellors, had, as soon as he heard that the Covenanters were disbanded, renewed his purposes of punishment and oppression, a gurl of rage, like the first brush of the tempest on the waves, passed over the whole extent of Scotland, and those that had been in arms fiercely girded themselves again for battle.
As the King's powers came again towards the borders, the Covenanters, for the second time, mustered under Lesley at Dunse; but far different was this new departure of our men from the solemnity of their first expedition. Their spirits were now harsh and angry, and their drums sounded hoarsely on the breeze. Godly Mr Swinton, as he headed them again, struck the ground with his staff, and, instead of praying, said, "It is the Lord's pleasure, and he will make the Aggressor fin' the weight of the arm of flesh. Honest folk are no ever to be thus obligated to leave their fields and families by the provocations of a prerogative that has so little regard for the people. In the name and strength of God, let us march."
With six-and-twenty thousand horse and foot Lesley crossed the Tweed, and in the first onset the King's army was scattered like chaff before the wind. When the news of the victory arrived among us, every one was filled with awe and holy wonder; for it happened on the very day which was held as a universal fast throughout the land; on that day, likewise, even in the time of worship, the castle of Dumbarton was won, and the covenanted Earl of Haddington repelled a wasteful irruption from the garrison of Berwick.
Such disasters smote the King with consternation; for the immediate fruit of the victory was the conquest of Newcastle, Tynemouth, Shields and Durham.
Baffled and mortified, humbled but not penitent, the rash and vindictive monarch, in a whirlwind of mutiny and desertion, was obligated to retreat to York, where he was constrained, by the few sound and sober-minded that yet hovered around him, to try the effect of another negotiation with his insulted and indignant subjects. But as all the things which thence ensued are mingled with the acts of perfidy and aggression by which, under the disastrous influence of the fortunes of his doomed and guilty race, he drew down the vengeance of his English subjects, it would lead me far from this household memorial to enter more at large on circumstances so notour, though they have been strangely palliated by the supple spirit of latter times, especially by the sordid courtliness of the crafty Clarendon. I shall therefore skip the main passages of public affairs, and hasten forward to the time when I became myself enlisted on the side of our national liberties, briefly, however, noticing, as I proceed, that after the peace which was concluded at Ripon my father and my five brothers came home. None of them received any hurt in battle; but in the course of the winter the old man was visited with a great income of pains and aches, in so much that, for the remainder of his days, he was little able to endure fatigue or hardship of any kind; my second brother, Robin, was therefore called from his trade in Glasgow to look after the mailing, for I was still owre young to be of any effectual service; Alexander continued a bonnet-maker at Kilmarnock; but Michael, William and Jacob, joined and fought with the forces that won the mournful triumph of Marston Moor, where fifty thousand subjects of the same King and laws contended with one another, and where the Lord, by showing himself on the side of the people, gave a dreadful admonition to the government to recant and conciliate while there was yet time.
Meanwhile the worthy Mr Swinton, having observed in me a curiosity towards books of history and piety, had taken great pains to instruct me in the rights and truths of religion, and to make it manifest alike to the ears and eyes of my understanding, that no human authority could, or ought to, dictate in matters of faith, because it could not discern the secrets of the breast, neither know what was acceptable to Heaven in conduct or in worship. He likewise expounded to me in what manner the Covenant was not a temporal but a spiritual league, trenching in no respect upon the natural and contributed authority of the kingly office. But, owing to the infirm state of my father's health, neither my brother Robin nor I could be spared from the farm, in any of the different raids that germinated out of the King's controversy with the English parliament; so that in the whigamore expedition, as it was profanely nicknamed, from our shire, with the covenanted Earls of Cassilis and Eglinton, we had no personality, though our hearts went with those that were therein.
When, however, the hideous tidings came of the condemnation and execution of the King, there was a stop in the current of men's minds, and as the waters of Jordan, when the ark was carried in, rushed back to their fountain-head, every true Scot on that occasion felt in his heart the ancient affections of his nature returning with a compassionate horror. Yet even in this they were true to the Covenant; for it was not to be hidden that the English parliament, in doing what it did in that tragical event, was guided by a speculative spirit of political innovation and change, different and distinct, both in principle and object, from the cause which made our Scottish Covenanters have recourse to arms. In truth, the act of bringing kings to public condign punishment was no such new thing in the chronicles of Scotland, as that brave historian, George Buchanan, plainly shows, to have filled us with such amazement and affright, had the offences of King Charles been proven as clearly personal, as the crimes for which the ancient tyrants of his pedigree suffered the death;—but his offences were shared with his counsellors, whose duty it was to have bridled his arbitrary pretensions. He was in consequence mourned as a victim, and his son, the second Charles, at once proclaimed and acknowledged King of Scotland. How he deported himself in that capacity, and what gratitude he and his brother showed the land for its faith and loyalty in the wreck and desperation of their royal fortunes, with a firm and a fearless pen I now purpose to show. But as the tale of their persecutions is ravelled with the sorrows and the sufferings of my friends and neighbours, and the darker tissue of my own woes, it is needful, before proceeding therein, that I should entreat the indulgence of the courteous reader to allow a few short passages of my private life now to be here recorded.
Some time before the news of King Charles' execution reached us in the West, the day had been set for my marriage with Sarah Lochrig; but the fear and consternation which the tidings bred in all minds, many dreading that the event would be followed by a total breaking up of the union and frame of society, made us consent to defer our happiness till we saw what was ordained to come to pass.
When, however, it was seen and felt that the dreadful beheading of an anointed monarch as a malefactor, had scarcely more effect upon the tides of the time than the death of a sparrow,—and that men were called as usual to their daily tasks and toils,—and that all things moved onward in their accustomed courses,—and that laws and jurisdictions, and all the wonted pacts and processes of community between man and man, suffered neither molestation nor hindrance, godly Mr Swinton bestowed his blessing on our marriage, and our friends their joyous countenance at the wedding feast.
My lot was then full of felicity, and I had no wish to wander beyond the green valley where we established our peaceful dwelling. It was in a lown holm of the Garnock, on the lands of Quharist, a portion of which my father gave me in tack; and Sarah's father likewise bestowed on us seven rigs, and a cow's grass of his own mailing, for her tocher, as the beginning of a plenishment to our young fortunes. Still, like all the neighbours, I was deeply concerned about what was going on in the far-off world of conflicts and negotiations; and this was not out of an idle thirst of curiosity, but from an interest mingled with sorrows and affections; for, after the campaign in England, my three brothers, Michael, William and Alexander, never domiciled themselves at any civil calling. Having caught the roving spirit of camps, they remained in the skirts of the array which the covenanted Lords at Edinburgh continued to maintain; and here, poor lads! I may digress a little, to record the brief memorials of their several unhappy fates.
When King Charles the Second, after accepting and being sworn to abide by the Covenant, was brought home, and the crown of his ancient progenitors placed upon his head at Scoone, by the hands of the Marquis of Argyle, in the presence of the great and the godly Covenanters, my brothers went in the army that he took with him into England. Michael was slain at the battle of Worcester, by the side of Sir John Shaw of Greenock, who carried that day the royal banner. Alexander was wounded in the same fight, and left upon the field, where he was found next morning by the charitable inhabitants of the city, and carried to the house of a loyal gentlewoman, one Mrs Deerhurst, that treated him with much tenderness; but after languishing in agony, as she herself wrote to my father, he departed this life on the third day.
Of William I have sometimes wished that I had never heard more; for after the adversity of that day, it would seem he forgot the Covenant and his father's house. Ritchie Minigaff, an old servant of the Lord Eglinton's, when the Earl his master was Cromwell's prisoner in the Tower of London, saw him there among the guard, and some years after the Restoration he met him again among the King's yeomen at Westminster, about the time of the beginning of the persecution. But Willy then begged Ritchie, with the tear in his eye, no to tell his father; nor was ever the old man's heart pierced with the anguish which the thought of such backsliding would have caused, though he often wondered to us at home, with the anxiety of a parent's wonder, what could have become of blithe light-hearted Willy. No doubt he died in the servitude of the faithless tyrant; but the storm that fell among us, soon after Ritchie had told me of his unfortunate condition, left us neither time nor opportunity to inquire about any distant friend. But to return to my own story.
From my marriage till the persecution began, I took no part in the agitations of the times. It is true, after the discovery of Charles Stuart's perfidious policy, so like his father's, in corresponding with the Marquis of Montrose for the subjection of Scotland by the tyranny of the sword, at the very time he was covenanting with the commissioners sent from the Lords at Edinburgh with the offer of the throne of his ancestors, that with my father and my brother Robin, together with many of our neighbours, I did sign the Remonstrance against making a prince of such a treacherous and unprincipled nature king. But in that we only delivered reasons and opinions on a matter of temporal expediency; for it was an instrument that neither contained nor implied obligation to arm; indeed our deportment bore testimony to this explanation of the spirit in which it was conceived and understood. For when the prince had received the crown and accepted the Covenant, we submitted ourselves as good subjects. Fearing God, we were content to honour in all rights and prerogatives, not contrary to Scripture, him whom, by His grace in the mysteries of His wisdom, He had, for our manifold sins as a nation and a people, been pleased to ordain and set over us for king. And verily no better test of our sincerity could be, than the distrust with which our whole country-side was respected by Oliver Cromwell, when he thought it necessary to build that stronghold at Ayr, by which his Englishers were enabled to hold the men of Carrick, Kyle and Cunningham in awe,—a race that, from the days of Sir William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce, have ever been found honest in principle, brave in affection, and dauntless and doure in battle. But it is not necessary to say more on this head; for full of griefs and grudges as were the hearts of all true Scots, with the thought of their country in southern thraldom, while Cromwell's Englishers held the upper hand amongst us, the season of their dominion was to me and my house as a lown and pleasant spring. All around me was bud, and blossom, and juvenility, and gladness, and hope. My lot was as the lot of the blessed man. I ate of the labour of my hands, I was happy, and it was well with me; my wife, as the fruitful vine that spreads its clusters on the wall, made my lowly dwelling more beautiful to the eye of the heart than the golden palaces of crowned kings, and our pretty bairns were like olive plants round about my table;—but they are all gone. The flood and the flame have passed over them;—yet be still, my heart; a little while endure in silence; for I have not taken up the avenging pen of history, and dipped it in the blood of martyrs, to record only my own particular woes and wrongs.
It has been seen, by what I have told concerning the part my grandfather had in the great work of the Reformation, that the heads of the house of Argyle were among the foremost and the firmest friends of the resuscitated Evangil. The aged Earl of that time was in the very front of the controversy as one of the Lords of the Congregation; and though his son, the Lord of Lorn, hovered for a season, like other young men of his degree, in the purlieus and precincts of the Lady Regent's court, yet when her papistical counsels broke the paction with the protestants at Perth, I have rehearsed how he, being then possessed of the inheritance of his father's dignities, did, with the bravery becoming his blood and station, remonstrate with her Highness against such impolitic craft and perfidy, and, along with the Lord James Stuart, utterly eschew her presence and method of government.
After the return of Queen Mary from France, and while she manifested a respect for the rights of her covenanted people, that worthy Earl was among her best friends; and even after the dismal doings that led to her captivity in Lochleven Castle, and thence to the battle of Langside, he still acted the part of a true nobleman to a sovereign so fickle and so faithless. Whether he rued on the field that he had done so, or was smitten with an infirmity that prevented him from fighting against his old friend and covenanted brother, the good Regent Murray, belongs not to this history to inquire; but certain it is, that in him the protestant principles of his honourable house suffered no dilapidation; and in the person of his grandson, the first marquis of the name, they were stoutly asserted and maintained.
When the first Charles, and Laud, that ravenous Arminian Antichrist, attempted to subvert and abrogate the presbyterian gospel worship, not only did the Marquis stand forth in the van of the Covenanters to stay the religious oppression then meditated against his native land, but laboured with all becoming earnestness to avert the pestilence of civil war. In that doubtless Argyle offended the false counsellors about the King; but when the English parliament, with a lawless arrogance, struck off the head of the miscounselled and bigoted monarch, faithful to his covenants and the loyalty of his race, the Marquis was amongst the foremost of the Scottish nobles to proclaim the Prince of Wales king. With his own hands he placed on Charles the Second's head the ancient diadem of Scotland. Surely it might therefore have been then supposed that all previous offence against the royal family was forgotten and forgiven; yea, when it is considered that General Monk himself, the boldest in the cause of Cromwell's usurpation, was rewarded with a dukedom in England for doing no more for the King there than Argyle had done for him before in greater peril here, it could not have entered into the imagination of Christian men, that Argyle, for only submitting like a private subject to the same usurped authority when it had become supreme, would, after the Restoration, be brought to the block. But it was so; and though the machinations of political enemies converted that submission into treasons to excuse their own crime, yet there was not an honest man in all the realm that did not see in the doom of Argyle a dismal omen of the cloud and storm which so soon after burst upon our religious liberties.
Passing, however, by all those afflictions which took the colour of political animosities, I hasten to speak of the proceedings which, from the hour of the Restoration, were hatched for the revival of the prelatic oppression. The tyranny of the Stuarts is indeed of so fell a nature that, having once tasted of blood in any cause, it will return again and again, however so often baffled, till it has either devoured its prey, or been itself mastered; and so it showed in this instance. For, regardless of those troubles which the attempt of the first Charles to exercise an authority in spiritual things beyond the rights of all earthly sovereignty caused to the realm and to himself, the second no sooner felt the sceptre in his grip than he returned to the same enormities; and he found a fit instrument in James Sharp, who, in contempt of the wrath of God, sold himself to Antichrist for the prelacy of St Andrews.
But it was not among the ambitious and mercenary members of the clergy that the evidences of a backsliding generation were alone to be seen; many of the people, nobles and magistrates were infected with the sin of the same reprobation; and in verity, it might have been said of the realm that the restoration of King Charles the Second was hailed as an advent ordained to make men forget all vows, sobriety and solemnities. It is, however, something to be said in commendation of the constancy of mind and principle of our West Country folk that the immorality of that drunken loyalty was less outrageous and offensive to God and man among them, and that although we did submit and were commanded to commemorate the anniversary of the King's restoration, it was nevertheless done with humiliation and anxiety of spirit. But a vain thing it would be of me to attempt to tell the heartburning with which we heard of the manner that the Covenant, and of all things which had been hallowed and honourable to religious Scotland, were treated in the town of Lithgow on that occasion, although all of my grandfather's stock knew that from of old it was a seat and sink of sycophancy, alien to holiness, and prone to lick the dust aneath the feet of whomsoever ministered to the corruption abiding there.
Had the general inebriation of the kingdom been confined only to such mockers as the papistical progeny of the unregenerate town of Lithgow, we might perhaps have only grieved at the wantonness of the world; but they were soon followed by more palpable enormities. Middleton, the King's commissioner, coming on a progress to Glasgow, held a council of state there, at which was present the apostate Fairfoul, who had been shortly before nominated Archbishop of that city; and at his wicked incitement, Middleton, in a fit of actual intoxication from strong drink, let loose the bloodhounds of persecution by that memorable act of council which bears the date of the 1st of October, 1662,—an anniversary that ought ever to be held as a solemn fast in Scotland, if such things might be, for by it all the ministers that had received Gospel ordination from and after the year forty-nine, and who still refused to bend the knee to Baal, were banished, with their families, from their kirks and manses.
But to understand in what way that wicked act, and the blood-causing proclamation which ensued, came to take effect, it is needful, before proceeding to the recital, to bid the courteous reader remember the preaching of the doctrine of passive obedience by our time-serving pastor, Mr Sundrum, and how the kirk was deserted on that occasion; because, after his death, which happened in the forty-nine, godly Mr Swinton became our chosen pastor, and being placed and inducted according to the apostolic ordination of Presbytery, fell, of course, like many of his Gospel brethren, under the ban of the aforesaid proclamation, of which some imperfect sough and rumour reached us on the Friday after it was framed.
At first the particulars were not known, for it was described as the muttering of unclean spirits against the purity of the Truth; but the tidings startled us like the growl of some unknown and dreadful thing, and I dreamt that night of my grandfather, with his white hair and the comely venerableness of his great age, appearing pale and sorrowful in a field before me, and pointing with a hand of streaming light to horsemen, and chariots, and armies with banners, warring together on the distant hills.
Saturday was then the market-day at Irvine; and though I had but little business there, I yet went in with my brother Robin, chiefly to hear the talk of the town. In this I but partook of the common sympathy of the whole country-side; for, on entering the town-end port, we found the concourse of people there assembled little short of the crowd at Marymas Fair, and all eager to learn what the council held at Glasgow had done; but no one could tell. Only it was known that the Earl of Eglinton, who had been present at the council, was returned home to the castle, and that he had sent for the provost that morning on very urgent business.
While we were thus all speaking and marvelling one with another, a cry got up that a band of soldiers was coming into the town from Ayr, the report of which, for the space of several minutes, struck every one with awe and apprehension. And scarcely had the sough of this passed over us, when it was told that the provost had privately returned from Eglinton Castle by the Gallows-knowes to the backsides, and that he had sent for the minister and the bailies, with others of the council, to meet him in the clerk's chamber.
No one wist what the meaning of such movements and mysteries could be; but all boded danger to the fold and flock, none doubting that the wolves of episcopalian covetousness were hungering and thirsting for the blood of the covenanted lambs. Nor were we long left to our guesses; for, soon after the magistrates and the minister had met, a copy of the proclamation of the council held at Glasgow was put upon the Tolbooth door, by which it was manifested to every eye that the fences of the vineyard were indeed broken down, and that the boar was let in and wrathfully trampling down and laying waste.
The proclamation was as a stunning blow on the forehead of the Covenanters, and for the next two Sabbaths Mr Swinton was plainly in prayer a weighed down and sorrowful-hearted man, but he said nothing in his discourses that particularly affected the marrow of that sore and solemn business. On the Friday night, however, before the last Lord's day of that black October, he sent for my brother, who was one of his elders, and told him that he had received a mandatory for conformity to the proclamation, and to acknowledge the prelatic reprobation that the King's government had introduced into the church; but that it was his intention, strengthened of the Lord, to adhere to his vows and covenants, even to the uttermost, and not to quit his flock, happen what would.
"The beild of the kirk and the manse," said he, "being temporalities, are aneath the power and regulation of the earthly monarch; but in the things that pertain to the allegiance I owe to the King of Kings, I will act, with His heartening, the part of a true and loyal vassal."
This determination being known throughout the parish, and the first of November being the last day allowed for conforming, on the Sabbath preceding we had a throng kirk and a solemneezed congregation. According to their wonted custom, the men, before the hour of worship, assembled in the kirk-yard, and there was much murmuring and marvelling among us, that nobody in all the land would stand forth to renew the Covenant, as was done in the year thirty-eight; and we looked around and beheld the green graves of many friends that had died since the great day of the covenanting, and we were ashamed of ourselves and of our time, and mourned for the loss of the brave spirits which, in the darkness of His mysterious wisdom, the Lord had taken away.
The weather, for the season, was bright and dry; and the withered leaf still hung here and there on the tree, so that old and young, the infirm and the tender, could come abroad; and many that had been bed-rid were supported along by their relations to hear the word of Truth, for the last time, preached in the house of God.
Mr Swinton came, followed by his wife and family. He was, by this time, a man well stricken in years, but Mrs Swinton was of a younger generation; and they had seven children,—Martha, the eldest, a fine lassie, was not passing fourteen years of age. As they came slowly up the kirk-stile, we all remarked that the godly man never lifted his eyes from the ground, but came along perusing, as it were, the very earth for consolation.
The private door which, at that epoch, led to the minister's seat and the pulpit, was near to where the bell-rope hung on the outer wall, and as the family went towards it, one of the elders stepped from the plate at the main door to open it. But after Mrs Swinton and the children were gone in, the minister, who always stopped till they had done so, instead of then following, paused and looked up with a compassionate aspect, and laying his hand on the shoulder of old Willy Shackle, who was ringing the bell, he said,—
"Stop, my auld frien,—they that in this parish need a bell this day to call them to the service of their Maker winna come on the summons o' yours."
He then walked in; and the old man, greatly affected, mounted the stool, and tied up the rope to the ring in the wall in his usual manner, that it might be out of the reach of the school weans. "But," said he, as he came down, "I needna fash; for after this day little care I wha rings the bell; since it's to be consecrat to the wantonings o' prelacy, I wis the tongue were out o' its mouth and its head cracket, rather than that I should live to see't in the service of Baal and the hoor o' Babylon."