After all the congregation had taken their seats, Mr Swinton rose and moved towards the front of the pulpit, and the silence in the church was as the silence at the martyrdom of some holy martyr. He then opened THE BOOK, and having given out the ninety-fourth psalm, we sang it with weeping souls; and during the prayer that followed there was much sobbing and lamentations, and an universal sorrow. His discourse was from the fifth chapter of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, verse first, and first clause of the verse; and with the tongue of a prophet, and the voice of an apostle, he foretold, as things already written in the chronicles of the kingdom, many of those sufferings which afterwards came to pass. It was a sermon that settled into the bottom of the hearts of all that heard it, and prepared us for the woes of the vial that was then pouring out.
At the close of the discourse, when the precentor rose to read the remembering prayer, old Ebenezer Muir, then upwards of fourscore and thirteen, who had been brought into the church on a barrow by two of his grandsons, and was, for reason of his deafness, in the bench with the elders, gave him a paper, which, after rehearsing the names of those in distress and sickness, he read, and it was "The persecuted kirk of SCOTLAND."
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem! let my right hand forget her cunning," cried Mr Swinton at the words, with an inspiration that made every heart dirl; and surely never was such a prayer heard as that with which he followed up the divine words.
Then we sang the hundred and fortieth psalm, at the conclusion of which the minister came again to the front of the pulpit, and with a calm voice, attuned to by ordinare solemnity, he pronounced the blessing; then, suddenly turning himself, he looked down to his family and said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." And he covered his face with his hands, and sat down and wept.
Never shall I forget the sound which rose at that sight; it was not a cry of woe, neither was it the howl of despair, nor the sob of sorrow, nor the gurl of wrath, nor the moan of anguish, but a deep and dreadful rustling of hearts and spirits, as if the angel of desolation, in passing by, had shaken all his wings.
The kirk then began to skail; and when the minister and his family came out into the kirk-yard, all the heads of families present, moved by some sacred instinct from on high, followed them with one accord to the manse, like friends at a burial, where we told them, that whatever the Lord was pleased to allow to ourselves, a portion would be set apart for His servant. I was the spokesman on that occasion, and verily do I think that, as I said the words, a glorious light shone around me, and that I felt a fanning of the inward life, as if the young cherubims were present among us, and fluttering their wings with an exceeding great joy at the piety of our kind intents.
So passed that memorable Sabbath in our parish; and here I may relate, that we had the satisfaction and comfort to know, in a little time thereafter, that the same Christian faithfulness with which Mr Swinton adhered to his gospel-trusts and character, was maintained on that day by more than three hundred other ministers, to the perpetual renown of our national worth and covenanted cause. And therefore, though it was an era of much sorrow and of many tears, it was thus, through the mysterious ways of Providence, converted into a ground of confidence in our religion, in so much that it may be truly said, out of the ruins and the overthrow of the first presbyterian church the Lord built up among us a stronghold and sanctuary for his truth and law.
Nothing particular happened till the second week of November, when a citation came from Irvine, commanding the attendance of Mr Swinton, on a suffragan of Fairfoul's, under the penalties of the proclamation. In the meantime we had been preparing for the event; and my father having been some time no more, and my brother with his family in a house of their own, it was settled between him and me, that I should take our mother into mine, in order that the beild of Quharist might be given up to the minister and his houseless little ones; which all our neighbours much commended; and there was no slackness on their part in making a provision to supply the want of his impounded stipend.
As all had foreseen, Mr Swinton, for not appearing to the citation, was pronounced a non-conformist; and the same night, after dusk, a party of the soldiers, that were marched from Ayr into Irvine on the day of the proclamation, came to drive him out of the manse.
There was surely in this a needless and exasperating severity, for the light of day might have served as well; but the men were not to blame, and the officer who came with them, having himself been tried in the battles of the Covenant, and being of a humane spirit, was as meek and compassionate in his tyrannical duty as could reasonably be hoped for. He allowed Mrs Swinton to take away her clothes, and the babies, that were asleep in their beds, time to be awakened and dressed, nor did he object to their old ploughman, Robin Harrow, taking sundry articles of provision for their next morning's repast; so that, compared with the lewd riots and rampageous insolence of the troopers in other places, we had great reason to be thankful for the tenderness with which our minister and his small family of seven children were treated on that memorable night.
It was about eight o'clock when Martha, the eldest daughter, came flying to me like a demented creature, crying the persecutors were come, with naked swords and dreadful faces; and she wept and wrung her hands, thinking they were then murdering her parents and brothers and sisters. I did, however, all that was in my power to pacify her, saying our lots were not yet laid in blood, and, leaving her to the consolatory counsellings of my wife, I put on my bonnet and hastened over to the manse.
The night was troubled and gusty. The moon was in her first quarter, and wading dim and low through the clouds on the Arran hills. Afar off, the bars of Ayr, in their roaring, boded a storm, and the stars were rushing through a swift and showery south-west carry. The wind, as it hissed over the stubble, sounded like the whisperings of desolation; and I was thrice startled in my walk by passing shapes and shadows, whereof I could not discern the form.
At a short distance from the manse door I met the godly sufferer and his destitute family, with his second youngest child in his arms. Mrs Swinton had their baby at her bosom, and the other four poor, terrified, helpless creatures were hirpling at their sides, holding them by the skirts, and often looking round in terror, dreading the persecutors, by whom they were in that dismal and inclement night so cast upon the mercy of the elements. But He that tempers the wind to the shorn lamb was their protector.
"You see, Ringan Gilhaize," said the minister, "how it fares with them in this world whose principles are at variance with the pretensions of man. But we are mercifully dealt by—a rougher manner and a harder heart, in the agent of persecution that has driven us from house and home, I had laid my account for; therefore, even in this dispensation, I can see the gentle hand of a gracious Master, and I bow the head of thankfulness."
While we were thus speaking and walking towards Quharist, several of the neighbours, who had likewise heard the alarm of what had thus come to pass, joined us on the way; and I felt within myself that it was a proud thing to be able to give refuge and asylum to an aged gospel minister and his family in such a time and on such a night.
We had not been long in the house when a great concourse of his friends and people gathered around, and among others Nahum Chapelrig, who had been some time his father's successor in the school. But all present were molested and angry with him, for he came in battle array, with the sword and gun that he had carried in the raids of the civil war, and was bragging of valorous things then needful to be done.
"Nahum Chapelrig," said the Worthy to him with severity, "this is no conduct for the occasion. It would hae been a black day for Scotland had her children covenanted themselves for temporal things. No, Nahum; if the prelatic reprobation now attempted on the kirk gang nae farther than outing her ministers from their kirks and manses, it maun be tholet; so look to it, that ye give not the adversary cause to reproach us with longing for the flesh-pots of Egypt when we are free to taste of the heavenly manna. I redde ye, therefore, Nahum Chapelrig, before these witnesses, to unbuckle that belt of war, and lay down thae weapons of offence. The time of the shield and banner may come owre soon upon us. Let us not provoke the smiter, lest he draw his sword against us, and have law and reason on his side. Therefore, I say unto thee, Peter, put up thy sword."
The zealous dominie, being thus timeously rebuked, unharnessed himself, and the minister having returned thanks for the softness with which the oppression was let down upon him, and for the pious affection of his people, we returned home to our respective dwellings.
But though by this Christian submission the power of cruelty was at that time rendered innocent towards all those who did as Mr Swinton had done, we were, nevertheless, not allowed to remain long unvisited by another swirl of the rising storm. Before the year was out, Fairfoul, the Glasgow Antichrist, sent upon us one of the getts that prelacy was then so fast adopting for her sons and heirs. A lang, thin, bare lad he was, that had gotten some spoonful or two of pagan philosophy at college, but never a solid meal of learning, nor, were we to judge by his greedy gaping, even a satisfactory meal of victuals. His name was Andrew Dornock; and, poor fellow, being eschewed among us on account of his spiritual leprosy, he drew up with divers loose characters, that were nae overly nice of their company.
This made us dislike him more and more, in so much that, like others of his nature and calling, he made sore and secret complaints of his parishioners to his mitred master; representing, for aught I ken to the contrary, that, instead of believing the Gospel according to Charles Stuart, we preferred that of certain four persons, called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, of whom, it may be doubted, if he, poor man, knew more than the names. But be that as it may, to a surety he did grievously yell and cry, because we preferred listening to the Gospel melody of Mr Swinton under a tree to his feckless havers in the kirk; as if it was nae a more glorious thing to worship God in the freedom and presence of universal Nature, beneath the canopy of all the heavens, than to bow the head in the fetters of episcopal bondage below the stoury rafters of an auld bigging, such as our kirk was, a perfect howf of cloks and spiders. Indeed, for that matter, it was said that the only sensible thing Andrew Dornock ever uttered from the pulpit was, when he first rose to speak therein, and which was caused by a spider, that just at the moment lowered itself down into his mouth: "O Lord," cried the curate, "we're puzhened wi' speeders!"
It might have been thought, considering the poor hand which the prelatic curates made of it in their endeavours to preach, that they would have set themselves down content with the stipend, and allowed the flocks to follow their own shepherds in peace; but their hearts were filled with the bitterness of envy at the sight of the multitudes that went forth to gather the manna in the fields, and their malice was exasperated to a wonderful pitch of wickedness by the derision and contempt with which they found themselves regarded. No one among them all, however, felt this envy and malice more stirring within him, than did the arch-apostate James Sharp; for the faithfulness of so many ministers was a terror and a reproach to his conscience and apostacy, and made him labour with an exceeding zeal and animosity to extirpate so many evidences of his own religious guilt. Accordingly, by his malignant counsellings, edicts and decrees came out against our tabernacle in the wilderness, and under the opprobrious name of conventicles, our holy meetings were made prohibited offences, and our ministers subjected to pains and penalties, as sowers of sedition.
It is a marvellous thing to think of the madness with which the minds of those in authority at that time were kindled; first, to create causes of wrong to the consciences of the people, and afterwards to enact laws for the natural fruit of that frantic policy. The wanton imposition of the prelatic oppression begat our field preachings, and the attempts to disperse us by the sword brought on resistance. But it belongs not to me and my story to treat of the folly of a race and government, upon whom a curse was so manifestly pronounced; I shall therefore return from this generality to those particulars wherein I was myself a witness or a sufferer.
During the greater part of the year after the banishment of Mr Swinton from the manse and kirk, we met with little molestation; but from time to time rumours came over us like the first breathings of the cold blasts in autumn, that forerun the storms of winter. All thoughts of innocent pastimes and pleasures passed away, like the yellow leaves that fall from the melancholy trees; and there was a heaviness in the tread, and a solemnity in the looks of every one, that showed how widely the shadows of coming woes were darkening the minds of men.
But though the Court of Commission, which the apostate James Sharp procured to be established for the cognisance of those who refused to acknowledge the prelatic usurpation, was, in its proceedings, guided by as little truth or principle as the Spanish inquisition, the violence and tyranny of its awards fell less on those of my degree than on the gentry; and it was not till the drunkard Turner was appointed general of the West Country that our personal sufferings began.
The curates furnished him with lists of recusants; and power having been given unto him to torment men for many days, he was as remorseless as James Sharp's own Court in the fines which he levied, and in eating the people up, by sending his men to live upon them at free quarters, till the fines were paid.
In our neighbourhood we were for some time gently dealt with; for the colonel who, at Ayr, had the command under Turner, was of a humane spirit, and for a season, though the rumour of the oppressions in Dumfries-shire and Galloway, where the drunkard himself reigned and ruled, dismayed and troubled us beyond utterance, we were still permitted to taste of the Gospel pastures with our own faithful shepherd.
But this was a blessing too great in those days to be of a continuance to any flock. The mild and considerate gentleman, who had softened the rigour of the prelatic rage, was removed from his command, and in his place came certain cruel officers, who, like the serpents that were sent among the children of Israel in the desert, defiled our dwellings, and afflicted many of us even unto death. The change was the more bitterly felt, because it was sudden, and came upon us in an unexpected manner, of which I will here set down some of the circumstantials.
According to the usage among us, from the time when Mr Swinton was thrust from the ministry, the parish had assembled, on the third Lord's Day of May, in the year 1665, under the big sycamore-tree at Zachariah Smylie's gable, and which has ever since been reverenced by the name of the Poopit Tree. A cart served him for the place of lecture and exhortation; and Zachariah Smylie's daughter, Rebecca Armour, a godly widow, who resided with him, had, as her custom was in fine weather, ordered and arranged all the stools and chairs in the house, with the milk and washing-boynes upside down, around the cart as seats for the aged. When the day was wet or bleak, the worship was held in the barn; but on this occasion the morning was lown and the lift clear, and the natural quietude of the Sabbath reigned over all the fields. We had sung a portion of the psalm, and the harmonious sound of voices and spirits in unison was spreading into the tranquil air, as the pleasant fragrancy of flowers diffuses itself around, and the tune, to which we sung the divine inspiration, was the sweet and solemn melody of the Martyrs.
Scarcely, however, had we proceeded through the second verse, when Mr Swinton, who was sitting on a stool in the cart, with his back to the house, started up and said, "Christians, dinna be disheartened, but I think I see yonder the glimmerin' of spears coming atween the hedges."
At these words we all rose alarmed, and, on looking round, saw some eight or ten soldiers, in the path leading from the high road, coming towards us. The children and several of the women moved to run away, but Mr Swinton rebuked their timerarious fear, and said,—
"O! ye of little faith, wherefore are ye thus dismayed? Let us put our trust in Him, who is mightier than all the armies of all the kings of all the earth. We are here doing homage to Him, and He will protect His true vassals and faithful people. In His name, therefore, Christians, I charge you to continue His praises in the psalm; for in His strength I will, to the end of my intent, this day fulfil the word and the admonition; yea, even in the very flouting of the adversary's banner."
The vehemence of Elijah was in his voice; we resumed our former postures; and he himself leading on the psalm, we began to sing anew in a louder strain, for we were fortified and encouraged by his holy intrepidity. No one moved as it were an eyelid; the very children were steadfast; and all looked towards the man of God as he sat in his humble seat, serene, and more awful than ever was Solomon on the royal throne of the golden lions, arrayed in all his glory.
The rough soldiers were struck for a time with amazement at the religious bravery with which the worshipping was continued, and they halted as they drew near, and whispered together, and some of them spoke as if the fear of the Lord had fallen upon them. During the whole time that we continued singing, they stood as if they durst not venture to disturb us; but when the psalm was finished, their sergeant, a lewd roister, swore at them, and called on them to do their duty.
The men then advanced, but with one accord we threw ourselves in between them and the cart, and cried to Mr Swinton to make his escape; he, however, rose calmly from his seat and said,—
"Soldiers, shed no blood; let us finish our prayer,—the worst of men after condemnation are suffered to pray,—ye will, therefore, not surely refuse harmless Christians the boon that is aloo't to malefactors? At the conclusion I will go peaceably with you, for we are not rebels; we yield all bodily obedience to the powers that be, but the upright mind will not bend to any earthly ordinance. Our bodies are subject to the King's authority, and to you as his servants, if ye demand them, we are ready to deliver them up."
But the sergeant told him harshly to make haste and come down from the cart. Two of the men then went into the house, and brought out the churn and bread and cheese, and with much ribaldry began to eat and drink, and to speak profane jests to the young women. But my brother interposed, and advised all the women and children to return to their homes. In the meantime, Zachariah Smylie had gone to the stable and saddled his horse, and Rebecca Armour had made a small providing of provisions for Mr Swinton to take with him to the Tolbooth of Irvine; for thither the soldiers were intending to carry him that night, in order that he might be sent to Glasgow next day with other sufferers. When, however, the horse was brought out, and the godly man was preparing to mount the sergeant took him by the sleeve, and pulled him back, saying, "The horse is for me."
Verily at this insult I thought my heart would have leapt out; and every one present gurled and growled; but the soldiers laughed at seeing the sergeant on horseback. Mr Swinton, however, calmly advised us to make no obstacle: "Good," said he, "will come of this, and though for a season we are ordained to tribulation, and to toil through the slough of despond, yet a firm footing and a fair and green path lies in a peaceful land beyond."
The soldiers then took him away, the blasphemous sergeant riding, like a Merry Andrew, on Zachariah Smylie's horse before them, and almost the whole congregation following with mournful and heavy hearts.
The testimony of the regard and respect which we showed to Mr Swinton in following him to the prison-door, was wickedly reported against us as a tumult and a riot, wearing the aspect of rebellion; and accordingly, on the second day after he was sent from Irvine to Glasgow, a gang of Turner's worst troopers came to live at heck and manger among us. None suffered more from those ruthless men than did my brother's house and mine; for our name was honoured among the true and faithful, and we had committed the unpardonable sin against the prelacy of harbouring our minister and his destitute family, when they were driven from their home in a wild and wintry night.
We were both together, with old Zachariah Smylie, fined each in a heavy sum.
Thinking that by paying the money down we should rid ourselves and our neighbours of the presence and burden of the devouring soldiery, our friends, to enable us, made a gathering among them, and brought us the means, for we had not a sufficiency of our own. But this, instead of mitigating the oppression, became a reason with the officer set over us to persecute us still more; for he pretended to see in that neighbourliness the evidences of a treasonous combination; so that he not only took the money, but made a pretext of the readiness with which it was paid to double his severity. Sixteen domineering camp reprobates were quartered on four honest families, and five of them were on mine.
What an example their conduct and conversation was at my sober hearth I need not attempt to describe. For some days they rampaged as if we had been barbarians, and the best in the house was not good enough for their ravenous wastrie;—but I was resolved to keep a uniform and steady abstinence from all cause of offence. So seeing they were passing from insolence into a strain of familiarity towards my wife and her two servant-lasses, we gave up the house and made our abode in the barn.
This silent rebuke for some time was not without a wholesome effect; and in the end they were so far tamed into civility by our blameless and peaceful demeanour that I could discern more than one of them beginning to be touched with the humanity of respect for our unmerited punishment. But their officer, Lieutenant Swaby, an Englisher by birth, and a sinner by education, was of an incorrigible depravity of heart. He happened to cast his eye on Martha Swinton, the minister's eldest daughter, then but in her sixteenth year, and notwithstanding the sore affliction that she was in, with her mother, on account of her godly father's uncertain fate, he spared no stratagem to lure her to his wicked will. She was, however, strengthened against his arts and machinations; but her fortitude, instead of repressing the rigour of his persecutions, only made him more audacious, in so much that she was terrified to trust herself unguarded out of the house,—and the ire of every man and woman was rising against the sensual Swaby, who was so destitute of grace and human charity. But out of this a mean was raised, that in the end made him fain to be removed from among us.
For all the immoral bravery of the rampant soldiery, and especially of their libertine commander, they had not been long among us till it was discerned that they were as much under the common fears and superstitions as the most credulous of our simple country folk, in so much that what with our family devotions and the tales of witches and warlocks with which every one, as if by concert, delighted to awe them, they were loth to stir out of their quarters after the gloaming. Swaby, however, though less under those influences than his men, nevertheless partook largely of them, and would not at the King's commands, it was thought, have crossed the kirk-stile at midnight.
But though he was thus infirm with the dread of evil spirits, he was not daunted thereby from ill purposes; and having one day fallen in with old Mysie Gilmour on the road, a pawkie carlin of a jocose nature, he entered into a blethering discourse with her anent divers things, and from less to more, propounded to honest Mysie that she should lend a cast of her skill to bring about a secret meeting between him and the bonny, defenceless Martha Swinton.
Mysie Gilmour was a Christian woman, and her soul was troubled with the proposal to herself, and for the peril with which she saw her minister's daughter environed. But she put on the mask of a light hypocrisy, and said she would maybe do something if he fee'd her well, making a tryst with him for the day following; purposing in the meanwhile, instead of furthering his wicked ends, to devise, with the counselling of some of her acquaintances, in what manner she could take revenge upon the profligate prodigal for having thought so little of her principle, merely because she was a lanerly widow bent with age and poortith.
Among others that she conferred with was one Robin Finnie, a lad who, when a callan, had been drummer to the host that Nahum Chapelrig led in the times of the civil war to the raid of Dunse-hill. He was sib to herself, had a spice of her pawkrie, and was moreover, though not without a leavening of religion, a fellow fain at any time for a spree; besides which he had, from the campaigns of his youth, brought home a heart-hatred and a derisive opinion of the cavaliers, taking all seasons and occasions to give vent to the same, and he never called Swaby by any other name than the cavalier.
Between Mysie and Robin, with some of his companions, a paction was made that she should keep her tryst with Swaby, and settle on a time and place for him to come to the delusion of expecting to find Martha Swinton; Robin covenanting that between him and his friends the cavalier should meet with a lemane worthy of his love. Accordingly, at the time appointed, when she met Swaby on the road where they had foregathered the day before, she trysted him to come to her house on Hallowe'en, which happened to be then at hand, and to be sure no to bring his sword, or any weapon that might breed mischief.
After parting from him, the cavalier going one way and the carlin the other, Robin Finnie threw himself in his way, and going up to him with a seeming respectfulness, said,—
"Ye were speaking, sir, to yon auld wife; I hope ye hae gi'en her nae offence?"
The look with which Robin looked at Swaby, as he said this, dismayed the gallant cavalier, who cried, gazing back at Mysie, who was hirpling homeward—"The devil! is she one of that sort?"
"I'll no say what she is, nor what others say o' her," replied Robin with solemnity; "but ye'll no fare the waur that ye stand weel in her liking."
Swaby halted, and again looked towards the old woman, who was then nearly out of sight. Robin at the same time moved onward.
"Friend!" cried the cavalier, "stop. I must have some talk with you about the old—"
"Whisht!" exclaimed Robin, "she's deevilish gleg o' the hearing. I would na for twenty merks she jealoused that I had telt you to take tent o' her cantrips."
"Do you mean to say that she's a witch?" said Swaby in a low and apprehensive voice.
"I would na say sic a thing o' her for the world," replied Robin very seriously; "I would ne'er expek to hae a prosperous hour in this world were I to ca' honest Mysie Gilmour onything sae uncanny. She's a pious wife, sir,—deed is she. Me ca' her a witch! She would deserve to be hang'd if she was a witch,—an' it could be proven upon her."
But these assurances gave no heartening to the gallant cavalier; on the contrary, he looked like one that was perplexed, and said, "Devil take her, I wish I had had nothing to do with her."
"Do," cried Robin; "sir, she's an auld withered hag, would spean a foal. Surely she did na sae beglamour your senses as to appear like a winsome young lass? But I hae heard o' sic morphosings. I'll no say, howsever, that honest Mysie ever tried her art sae far;—and what I hae heard tell of was done in the cruelty of jealously. But it's no possible, captain, that ye were making up to auld Mysie. For the love o' peace, an ye were sae deluded, say nothing about it; for either the parish will say that ye hae an unco taste, or that Mysie has cast her cantrips o'er your judgment,—the whilk would either make you a laughing-stock, or, gin ye could prove that she kithed afore you like a blooming damsel, bring her to the wuddy. So I redde ye, captain, to let this story gang nae farther. But mind what I hae been saying, keep weel wi' her, as ye respek yoursel."
In saying these words Robin turned hastily into the wynd that led to the clachan, laughing in his sleeve, leaving the brave cavalier in a sore state o' dread and wonderment.
It seems that shortly after Robin Finnie had departed from the gallant cavalier, a lad, called Sandy Macgill, who was colleagued with him in the plot, came towards the captain with looks cast to the earth, and so full of thought, that he seemingly noticed nothing. Going forward in this locked-up state of the outward sense, he came close upon Swaby, when, affecting to be startled out of his meditations, he stopped suddenly short, and looked in the lieutenant's broad face, with all the alarm he could put into his own features, till he saw he was frightened out of his judgment, when he said,—
"Gude be about us, sir, ye hae gotten scaith; the blighting blink o' an ill e'e has lighted upon you.—O, sir; O, sir! tak tent o' yoursel!"
Sandy had prepared a deal more to say, but finding himself overcome with an inward inclination to risibility at the sight of Swaby's terrification, he was obligated to flee as fast as he could from the spot; the which wild-like action of his no doubt dismayed the cavalier fully as meikle as all he had said.
But it's the nature of man to desire to do whatever he is forbidden. Notwithstanding all their mystical admonitions, Swaby still persevered in his evil intents, and accordingly he was seen lurking, without his sword, about the heel of the evening, on Hallowe'en, near the skirts of the clachan where Mysie Gilmour lived. And, as it had been conspired among her friends, Mungo Affleck, her gude-brother, a man weel stricken in years, but of a youthy mind, and a perfect pen-gun at a crack, came across the cavalier in his path, and Swaby having before some slight acquaintance with his garb and canny observes, hovered for a little in discourse with Mungo.
"I counsel you, sir," said the pawkie auld carl as they were separating, "no to gang far afield this night, for this is a night that there is na the like o' in a' the year round. It's Hallowe'en, sir, so be counselled by me, and seek your hame betimes; for mony a ane has met with things on Hallowe'en that they never after forgot."
Considering the exploit on which the cavalier was then bowne, it's no to be thought that this was very heartening music; but for all that, he said blithely, as Mungo told me himself, "Nae, not so fast, governor, tell us what you mean by Hallowe'en!"
"Hallowe'en!" cried Mungo Affleck, with a sound o' serious sincerity. "Do ye no ken Hallowe'en? but I need na say that. Ye'll excuse me, captain, what can you Englishers, that are brought up in the darkness o' human ordinances in Gospel things, and who live in the thraldom of episcopalian ignorance, ken o' Hallowe'en, or o' any other solemn day set apart for an occasion?—O, sir, Hallowe'en among us is a dreadful night! Witches and warlocks, and a' lang-nebbit things, hae a power and a dominion unspeakable on Hallowe'en. The de'il at other times gi'es, it's said, his agents a mutchkin o' mischief, but on this night it's thought they hae a chappin; and one thing most demonstrable is;—but, sir, the sun's down—the blessed light o' day is ayont the hill, and it's no safe to be subjek to the whisking o' the mildew frae the tails o' the benweed ponies that are saddled for yon awfu' carnavaulings, where Cluty plays on the pipes! so I wis you, sir, gude night and weel hame.—O, sir, an ye could be persuaded!—Tak an auld man's advice, and rather read a chapter of THE BOOK, an it should even be the unedyfying tenth of Nehemiah, than be seen at the gloaming in this gait, about the dyke-sides, like a wolf yearning for some tender lamb of a defenceless fold."
Mungo having thus delivered himself, went away, leaving Swaby as it were in a swither; for, on looking back, the old man saw him standing half turned round as if he was minded to go home. The power of the sin was, however, strong upon him, and shortly after the dusk had closed in, when the angels had lighted their candles at their windows in the sky, to watch over the world in the hours of sleep, Swaby, with stealthy steps, came to Mysie Gilmour's door, and softly tirling at the pin was admitted; for all within was ready for his reception.
Robin Finnie and Sandy Macgill having carried thither Zachariah Smylie's black ram, a condumacious and outstropolous beast, which they had laid in Mysie's bed, and keepit frae baaing with a gude fothering of kail-blades and a cloute soaken in milk.
Mysie, on opening the door, said to the gallant cavalier,—
"Just step in, ye'll fin' a' ready," and she blew out her crusie which she had in her hand, and letting the captain grope in by himself, hirpled as fast as she could to one of the neighbours; for, although she had covenanted with him to come without his sword, she was terrified with the fear of some dreadful upshot.
As soon as he was in, Robin Finnie and Sandy Macgill went and hearkened at the window, where they heard the gay gallant stumbling in the floor, churming sweet and amorous words as he went groping his way towards the bed where the auld toop was breathing thickly, mumbling and crunching the kail-blades in a state of as great sensual delight and satisfaction as any beast could well be. But no sooner had the cavalier placed his hand on the horned head of the creature than he uttered a yell of despair; in the same moment the toop, in little less fright, jumpit out of the bed against him and knocked him down over a stool with a lounder. Verily Providence might be said, with reverence, to have had a hand in the mirth of his punishment; for the ram recovering its senses before the cavalier, and being in dread of danger, returned to the charge, and began to butt him as if it would have been his death. The cries that ensued are not to be told; all the neighbours came running to the door, to see what was the matter, some with lighted sticks in their hands, and some with burning coals in the tongs. Robin Finnie and Sandy Macgill were like to die of laughing; but fearing the wrathful ram might dunt out the bowels or the brains, if he had any, of the poor young cavalier, they opened the door, and so delivered him from its horns. He was, however, by this time, almost in a state of distraction, believing the beast was the real Evil One; so that he no sooner felt himself free and saw the lights, than he flew to his quarters as if he had been pursued by a legion.
Some of his own soldiers that were lying in the clachan, and who had come out with the rest of the folk, saw through the stratagem, and, forgetting all reverence for their afflicted commander, laughed louder and longer than any body. In short, the story was o'er the whole parish next day, and the very weans, wherever the cavalier appeared, used to cry ba at him, by which his very life was made a shame and a burden to him, insomuch that he applied for leave to give up his commission, and returned home to his kindred in the south of England, and we never heard tell of him after.
But although in the exploit of Mysie Gilmour, and Robin Finnie with his confederates, we had a tasting of mirth and merriment, to the effect of lessening the dread and fear in which our simple country folk held his Majesty's ungracious fine-levers, the cavalier captains and soldiers, still there was a gradual ingrowth of the weight of the oppression, wherewith we were laden more as bondsmen and slaves than as subjects; and, in the meantime, the spirit of that patriarch, my apostolic grandfather, was gathering to heart and energy within the silent recesses of my afflicted bosom.
I heard the murmuring, deep and sad, of my neighbours, at the insult and the contumely which they were obligated to endure from the irresponsible licentiousness of military domination,—but I said nothing; I was driven, with my pious wife and our simple babies, from my own hearth by the lewd conversation of the commissioned freebooters, and obligated to make our home in an outhouse, that we might not be molested in our prayers by their wicked ribaldry,—but I said nothing; I saw my honest neighbours plundered—their sons insulted—and their daughters put to shame,—but I said nothing; I was a witness when our godly minister, after having been driven with his wife and family out to the mercy of the winter's wind, was seized in the very time while he was worshipping the Maker of us all, and taken like a malefactor to prison,—but I said nothing; and I was told the story of the machinations against his innocent virgin daughter, when she was left defenceless among us,—and still I said nothing. Like the icy winter, tyranny had so encrusted my soul that my taciturnity seemed as hard, impenetrable, cold and cruel as the frozen river's surface, but the stream of my feelings ran stronger and fiercer beneath; and the time soon came when, in proportion to the still apathy that made my brother and my friends to wonder how I so quietly bore the events of so much, my inward struggles burst through all outward passive forms, and, like the hurling and the drifting ice, found no effectual obstacle to its irresistible and natural destination.
Mrs Swinton, the worthy lady of that saint, our pastor, on hearing what had been plotted against the chaste innocence of her fair and blooming child, came to me, and with tears, in a sense the tears of a widow, very earnestly entreated of me that I would take the gentle Martha to her cousin, the Laird of Garlins, in Dumfries-shire, she having heard that some intromissions, arising out of pacts and covenants between my wife's cousin and the Laird of Barscob, obligated me to go thither. This was on the Monday after the battering that the cavalier got from Zachariah Smylie's black ram; and I, reasonably thinking that there was judgment in the request, and that I might serve, by my compliance, the helpless residue, and the objects of a persecuted Christian's affections, I consented to take the damsel with me as far as Garlins, in Galloway; the which I did.
When I had left Martha Swinton with her friends, who, being persons of pedigree and opulence, were better able to guard her, I went to the end of my own journey; and here, from what ensued, it is needful I should relate that, in this undertaking, I left my own house under the care of my brother, and that I was armed with my grandfather's sword.
It happened that, on Tuesday the 13th November 1666, as I was returning homeward from Barscob, I fell in with three godly countrymen, about a mile south of the village of Dalry, in Galloway, and we entered into a holy and most salutary conversation anent the sufferings and the fortitude of God's people in that time of trouble. Discoursing with great sobriety on that melancholious theme, we met a gang of Turner's blackcuffs, driving before them, like beasts to the slaughter, several miserable persons to thrash out the corn, that it might be sold, of one of my companions, who, being himself a persecuted man, and unable to pay the fine forfeited by his piety, had some days before been forced to flee his house.
On seeing the soldiers and their prey coming towards us, the poor man would have run away; but we exhorted him not to be afraid, for he might pass unnoticed, and so he did; for, although those whom the military rabiators were driving to thrash his corn knew him well, they were enabled to bear up, and were so endowed with the strength of martyrdom, that each of them, only by a look, signified that they were in the spirit of fellowship with him.
After they had gone by, his heart, however, was so afflicted that so many worthy persons should be so harmed for his sake, that he turned back, and, in despite of all our entreaties, went to them, while we went forward to Dalry, where we entered a small public, and, having ordered some refreshment, for we were all weary, we sat meditating on what could be the upshot of such tyranny.
While we were so sitting, a cry got up that our companion was seized by the soldiers, and that they were tormenting him on a red-hot gridiron for not having paid his fine.
My blood boiled at the news. I rose, and those who were with me followed, and we ran to the house—his own house—where the poor man was. I beseeched two of the soldiers who were at the door to desist from their cruelty; but while I was speaking, other two that were within came raging out, like curs from a kennel, and flew at me; and one of them dared to strike me with his nieve in the mouth. My grandfather's sword flew out at the blow, and the insulter lay wounded and bleeding at my feet. My companions in the same moment rushed on the other soldiers, dashed their teeth down their throats, and, twisting their firelocks from their hands, set the prisoner free.
In this there was rashness, but there was also redemption and glory. We could not stop at what we had done;—we called on those who had been brought to thrash the corn to join with us, and they joined;—we hastened to the next farm;—the spirit of indignation was there before us, and master and man, and father and son, there likewise found that the hilts of their fathers' covenanted swords fitted their avenging grasps. We had now fired the dry stubble of the land—the flame spread—we advanced, and grew stronger and stronger. The hills, as it were, clapped their hands, and the valleys shouted of freedom. From all sides men and horse came exulting towards us; the gentleman and the hind knew no distinction. The cry was, "Down with tyranny—we are and we will make free!" The fields rejoiced with the multitude of our feet as we advanced towards Dumfries, where Turner lay. His blackcuffs flung down their arms and implored our mercy. We entered Dumfries, and the Oppressor was our prisoner.
Hitherto the rising at Dalry had been as a passion and a spreading fire. The strength of the soldiers was consumed before us, and their arms became our weapons; but when we had gained possession of Dumfries, and had set a ward over the house where we had seized Turner, I saw that we had waded owre far into the river to think of returning, and that to go on was safer than to come back. It was indeed manifest that we had been triumphant rather by our haste than by the achievements of victorious battle; and it could be hidden from no man's thought that the power and the vengeance both of the government and the prelacy would soon be set in array against us. I therefore bethought myself, in that peril of our lives and cause, of two things which seemed most needful; first, Not to falter in our enterprise until we had proved the utmost of the Lord's pleasure in our behalf; and second, To use the means under Him which, in all human undertakings, are required to bring whatsoever is ordained to pass.
Whether in these things I did well or wisely, I leave to the adjudication of the courteous reader; but I can lay my hand upon my heart, and say aloud, yea, even to the holy skies, "I thought not of myself nor of mine, but only of the religious rights of my sorely-oppressed countrymen."
From the moment in which I received the blow of the soldier, up till the hour when Turner was taken, I had been the head and leader of the people. My sword was never out of my grip, and I marched as it were in a path of light, so wonderful was the immediate instinct with which I was directed to the accomplishment of that adventure, the success of which overwhelmed the fierce and cruel Antichrists at Edinburgh with unspeakable consternation and panic. But I lacked that knowledge of the art of war by which men are banded into companies and ruled, however manifold their diversities, to one end and effect, so that our numbers, having by this time increased to a great multitude, I felt myself utterly unable to govern them. We were as a sea of billows, that move onward all in one way, obedient to the impulse and deep fetchings of the tempestuous breath of the awakened winds of heaven, but which often break into foam, and waste their force in a roar of ineffectual rage.
Seeing this, and dreading the consequences thereof, I conferred with some of those whom I had observed the most discreet and considerate in the course of the raid, and we came to a resolve to constitute and appoint Captain Learmont our chief commander, he having earned an experience of the art and stratagems of war under the renowned Lesley. Had we abided by that determination, some have thought our expedition might have come to a happier issue; but no human helps and means could change what was evidently ordained otherwise. It happened, however, that Colonel Wallace, another officer of some repute, also joined us, and his name made him bright and resplendent to our enthusiasm. While we were deliberating whom to choose for our leader, Colonel Wallace was in the same breath, for his name's sake, proposed, and was united in the command with Learmont. This was a deadly error, and ought in all time coming to be a warning and an admonition to people and nations in their straits and difficulties, never to be guided, in the weighty shocks and controversies of disordered fortunes, by any prejudice or affection so unsubstantial as the echo of an honoured name. For this Wallace, though a man of questionless bravery, and a gentleman of good account among all who knew him, had not received any gift from Nature of that spirit of masterdom without which there can be no command; so that he was no sooner appointed to lead us on, with Learmont as his second, than his mind fell into a strange confusion, and he heightened disorder into anarchy by ordering over much. We could not, however, undo the evil, without violating the discipline that we were all conscious our forces so grievously lacked; but, from the very moment that I saw in what manner he took upon him the command, I augured of nothing but disaster.
Learmont was a collected and an urbane character, and did much to temper and turn aside the thriftless ordinances of his superior. He, seeing how much our prosperity was dependent on the speed with which we could reach Edinburgh, hastened forward everything with such alacrity that we were ready on the morrow by mid-day to set out from Dumfries. But the element of discord was now in our cause, and I was reproached by many for having abdicated my natural right to the command. It was in vain that I tried to redeem the fault by taking part with Learmont, under the determination, when the black hour of defeat or dismay should come upon us, to take my stand with him, and, regardless of Wallace, to consider him as the chief and champion of our covenanted liberties. But why do I dwell on these intents? Let me hasten to describe the upshot of our enterprise.
As soon as we had formed, in the manner herein related, something like a head and council for ourselves, we considered, before leaving Dumfries, what ought to be done with General Turner, and ordered him to be brought before us; for those who had suffered from his fell orders and licentious soldiery were clamorous for his blood. But when the man was brought in, he was so manifestly mastered by his wine, as his vice often made him, that we thought it would be as it were to ask a man mad, or possessed, to account for his actions, as at that time to put the frantic drunkard on his defence; so we heeded not his obstreperous menaces, but ordered him to be put into bed, and his papers to be searched for and laid before us.
In this moderation there was wisdom; for, by dealing so gently by one who had proved himself so ruthless an agent of the prelatic aggressions, we bespoke the good opinion even of many among our adversaries; and in the end it likewise proved a measure of justice as well as of mercy. For, on examining his papers, it appeared, that pitiless as his domineering had been, it was far short of the universal cruelty of his instructions from the apostate James Sharp, and those in the council with him, who had delivered themselves over as instruments to the arbitrary prerogatives and tyrannous pretensions of the court. We therefore resolved to proceed no farther against him, but to keep him as an hostage in our hands. Many, however, among the commonalty complained of our lenity; for they had endured in their persons, their gear and their families, great severities; and they grudged that he was not obligated to taste the bitterness of the cup of which he had forced them to drink so deeply.
In the meantime all the country became alive with the news of our exploit. The Covenanters of the shire of Ayr, headed by several of their ejected ministers, whom they had cherished in the solitary dens and hidings in the moors and hills, to which they had been forced to flee from the proclamation against the field-preachings, advanced to meet us on our march. Verily it was a sight that made the heart of man dinle at once with gladness and sorrow to behold, as the day dawned on our course, in crossing the wide and lonely wilderness of Cumnock-moor, those religious brethren coming towards us, moving in silence over the heath, like the shadows of the slowly-sailing clouds of the summer sky.
As we were toiling through the deep heather on the eastern skirts of the Mearns-moor, a mist hovered all the morning over the pad of Neilston, covering like a snowy fleece the sides of the hills down almost to the course of our route, in such a manner that we could see nothing on the left beyond it. We were then within less than fourteen miles of Glasgow, where General Dalziel lay with the King's forces, keeping in thraldom the godly of that pious city and its neighbourhood. Captain Learmont, well aware, from the eager character of the man, that he would be fain to intercept us, and fearful of being drawn into jeopardy by the mist, persuaded Wallace to halt us some time.
As November was far advanced, it was thought by the country folk that the mist would clear away about noon. We accordingly made a pause, and sat down on the ground; for many were weary, having over-fatigued themselves in their zeal to come up with the main body, and we all stood in need of rest.
Scarcely, however, had we cast ourselves in a desultory manner on the heather, when some one heard the thud of a distant drum in the mist, and gave the alarm; at which we all again suddenly started to our feet, and listening, were not long left in doubt of the sound. Orders were accordingly given to place ourselves in array for battle; and while we were obeying the command in the best manner our little skill allowed, the beating of the drum came louder and nearer, intermingled with the shrill war-note of the spirity fife.
Every one naturally thought of the King's forces; and the Reverend Mr. Semple, seeing that we were in some measure prepared to meet them, stepped out in front with all his worthy brethren in the camp, and having solemneezed us for worship, gave out a psalm.
By the time we had sung the first three verses the drum and fife sounded so near, that I could discern they played the tune of "John, come kiss me now," which left me in no doubt that the soldiers in the mist were my own friends and neighbours; for it was the same tune which was played when the men of our parish went to the raid of Dunse-hill, and which, in memorial of that era, had been preserved as a sacred melody amongst us.
Being thus convinced, I stepped out from my place to the ministers, and said, "They are friends that are coming." The worship was in consequence for a short space suspended, and I presently after saw my brother at the head of our neighbours coming out of the cloud; whereupon I went forward to meet him, and we shook hands sorrowfully.
"This is an unco thing, Ringan," were his first words; "but it's the Lord's will, and HE is able to work out a great salvation."
I made no answer; but inquiring for my family, of whom it was a cheering consolation to hear as blithe an account as could reasonably be hoped for, I walked with him to our captains, and made him known to them as my brother.
Saving the innocent alarm of the drum in the mist, our march to Lanerk was without hinderance or molestation; and when we arrived there, it was agreed and set forth, on the exhortation of the ministers who were with us, that the Solemn League and Covenant should be publicly renewed; and, to the end that no one might misreport the spirituality of our zeal and intents, a Protestation was likewise published, wherein we declared our adherence and allegiance to the King undiminished in all temporalities; that we had been driven to seek redress by the sword for oppressions so grievous, that they could be no longer endured; and that all we asked and sought for was the re-establishment of the presbyterian liberty of worship, and the restoration of our godly pastors to their Gospel rights and privileges.
The morrow after was appointed for the covenanting, and to be held as a day of fasting and humiliation for our own sins, which had provoked the Lord to bring us into such state of peril and suffering; and it was a sacred consolation, as Mr Semple showed in his discourse on the occasion, that, in all our long and painful travels from Dumfries, we had been guided from the commission of any offence, even towards those whose hearts were not with us, and had been brought so far on our way as blameless as a peaceable congregation going in the lown of a Sabbath morning to worship their Maker in the house of prayer.
But neither the sobriety of our demeanour, nor the honest protestation of our cause, had any effect on the obdurate heart of the apostate James Sharp, who happened, by reason of the Lord Rothes going to London, to be then in the chief chair of the privy-council at Edinburgh. He knew the deserts of his own guilt, and he hated us, even unto death, for the woes he had made us suffer. The sough, therefore, of our approach was to the consternation of his conscience as the sound of the wheels of an avenging God, groaning heavily in their coming with the weight of the engines of wrath and doom. Some said that he sat in the midst of the counsellors like a demented man; and others, that he was seen flying to and fro, wringing his hands, and weeping, and wailing, and gnashing his teeth. But though all power of forethought and policy was taken from him, there were others of the council who, being less guilty, were more governed, and they took measures to defend the capital against us. They commanded the gates to be fenced with cannon, and working on the terrors of the inhabitants with fearful falsehoods of crimes that were never committed, thereby caused them to band themselves for the protection of their lives and property, while they interdicted them from all egress, in so much that many who were friendly to us were frustrated in their desire to come with the aid of their helps and means.
The tidings of the preparations for the security of Edinburgh, with the unhappy divisions and continual controversies in our councils, between the captains and the ministers, anent the methods of conducting the raid, had, even before we left Lanerk, bred much sedition among us, and an ominous dubiety of success. Nevertheless, our numbers continued to increase, and we went forward in such a commendable order of battle, that, had the Lord been pleased with our undertaking, there was no reason to think the human means insufficient for the end. But in the mysteries of the depths of His wisdom He had judged, and for the great purposes of His providence He saw that it was meet we should yet suffer. Accordingly, even while we were issuing forth from the port of the town, the face of the heavens became overcast, and a swift carry and a rising wind were solemn intimations to my troubled spirit that the heartening of His countenance went no farther with us at that time.
Nor indeed could less than a miracle in our behalf have availed; for the year was old in November, the corn was stacked, the leaf fallen, and Nature, in outcast nakedness, sat, like the widows of the martyrs, forlorn on the hills: her head was bound with the cloud, and she mourned over the desolation that had sent sadness and silence into all her pleasant places.
As we advanced the skies lowered, and the blast raved in the leafless boughs; sometimes a passing shower, as it travelled in the storm, trailed its watery skirts over our disheartened host, quenching the zeal of many,—and ever and anon the angry riddlings of the cruel hail still more and more exasperated our discontent. I observed that the men began to turn their backs to the wind, and to look wistfully behind, and to mutter and murmur to one another. But still we all advanced, gradually, however, falling into separate bands and companies, like the ice of the river's stream breaking asunder in a thaw.
In the afternoon the fits of the wind became less vehement; the clouds were gathered more compactly together, and the hail had ceased, but the rain was lavished without measure. The roads became sloughs,—our feet were drawn heavily out of the clay,—the burns and brooks raged from bank to brae,—and the horses swithered at the fords, in so much, that towards the gloaming, when we were come to Bathgate, several of our broken legions were seen far behind; and when we halted for the night, scarcely more than half the number with whom we had that morning left Lanerk could be mustered, and few of those who had fallen behind came up. But still Captain Learmont thought, that as soon as the men had taken some repose after that toilsome march, we should advance outright to Edinburgh. Wallace, however, objected, and that night was spent between them and the ministers in thriftless debate; moreover, our hardships were increased; for, by the prohibition of the privy-council against the egress of the inhabitants of the city, we were, as I have said, disappointed of the provisions and succour we had trusted to receive from them, and there was no hope in our camp, but only bitterness of spirit and the breathings of despair.
Seeing, what no man could hide from his reason, our cause abandoned of the Lord, I retired from the main body of the host, and sat alone on a rock, musing with a sore heart on all that had come so rashly to pass. It was then the last hour of the gloaming, and every thing around was dismayed and dishevelled. The storm had abated, and the rain was over, but the darkness of the night was closing fast in, and we were environed with perils. A cloud, like the blackness of a mort-cloth, hung over our camp; the stars withheld their light, and the windows of the castle shone with the candles of our enemies, who, safe in their stronghold, were fresh in strength and ready for battle.
I thought of my home, of the partner of my anxieties and cares, of the children of our love, and of the dangers of their defencelessness, and I marvelled with a weeping spirit at the manner in which I had been snatched up, and brought, as it were in a whirlwind, to be an actor in a scene of such inevitable woe. Sometimes, in the passion of that grief, I was tempted to rise, and moved to seek my way back to the nest of my affections. But as often as the thought came over my heart, with its soft and fond enticements, some rustle in the camp of the weary men who had borne in the march all that I had borne, and many of them in the cause far more, yea, even to the martyrdom of dear friends, I bowed my head and prayed for constancy of purpose and fortitude of mind, if the arm of flesh was ordained to be the means of rescuing the Gospel, and delivering poor Scotland from prelatic tyranny, and the thraldom of an anti-Christian usurpation in the kingly power.
While I was thus sitting in this sad and solitary state, none doubting that before another night our covenanted army would be, as the hail that smote so sorely on our march, seen no more, and only known to have been by the track of its course on the fields over which we had passed, a light broke in upon the darkness of my soul, and amidst high and holy experiences of consolation, mingled with awe and solemn wonder, I beheld as it were a bright and shining hand draw aside the curtain of time, and disclose the blessings of truth and liberty that were ordained to rise from the fate of the oppressors, who, in the pride and panoply of arbitrary power, had so thrown down the temple of God, and laid waste His vineyard.
I saw that from our hasty enterprise they would be drawn to commit still more grievous aggressions, and thereby incur some fearful forfeiture of the honours and predominancy of which they had for so many years shown themselves so unworthy; and I had a foretaste in that hour of the fulfilment of my grandfather's prophecy concerning the tasks that were in store for myself in the deliverance of my native land. So that, although I rose from the rock whereon I was sitting, in the clear conviction that our array would be scattered like chaff before the wind, I yet had a blessed persuasion that the event would prove in the end a link in the chain, or a cog in the wheel, of the hidden enginery with which Providence works good out of evil.
In the course of the night, shortly after the third watch had been set, some of those who had tarried by the way came to the camp with the tidings that Dalziel and all the royal forces in Glasgow were coming upon us. This, though foreseen, caused a great panic, and a council of war, consisting, as usual, of ministers and officers, was held, to determine what should be done; but it was likewise, as usual, only a fruitless controversy. I, however, on this occasion, feeling myself sustained in spirit by the assurances I had received in my meditations on the rock, ventured to speak my mind freely; which was to the effect that, taking our dejected condition, the desertion of our friends, and our disappointments from the city, into consideration, we could do no better thing than evade the swords of our adversaries by disbanding ourselves, that each might be free to seek safety for himself.
Many were inclined to this counsel; and I doubt not it would have been followed; but, while conferring together, an officer came from the privy-council to propose a cessation of arms till our demands could be considered. It was manifest that this was a wily stratagem to keep us in the snare till Dalziel had time to come up, and I did all in my power to make the council see it in the same light; but there was a blindness of mind among us, and the greater number thought it augured a speedy redress of the wrongs for which we had come to seek reparation. Nor did their obstinacy in this relax till next morning, when, instead of anything like their improbable hopes, came a proclamation ordering us to disperse, and containing neither promise of indemnity nor of pardon. But then it was too late. Dalziel was in sight. His army was coming like a stream along the foot of the Pentland-hills,—we saw his banners and the glittering of his arms, and the sound of his musicants came swelling on the breeze.
It was plain that his purpose was to drive us in towards the town; but had we dispersed we might even then have frustrated his intent. There happened, however, besides Learmont and Wallace, to be several officers among us who had stubborn notions of military honour; and they would not permit so unsoldier-like a flight. There were also divers heated and fanatical spirits, whom, because our undertaking had been for religious ends, nothing could persuade that Providence would not interfere in some signal manner for their deliverance, yea, even to the overthrow of the enemy; and Mr Whamle, a minister, one of these, getting upon the top of the rock where I had sat the night before, began to preach of the mighty things that the Lord did for the children of Israel in the valley of Ajalon, where He not only threw down great stones from the heavens, but enabled Joshua to command the sun and moon to stand still,—which to any composed mind was melancholious to hear.
In sequence to these divisions and contrarieties which enchanted us to the spot, Dalziel, considering that we were minded to give him battle, brought on his force; and it is but due to the renown of the valour of those present to record that, notwithstanding a fearful odds, our men, having the vantage ground, so stoutly maintained their station that we repulsed him thrice.
But the victory, as I have said, was not ordained for us. In the afternoon Dalziel was reinforced by several score of mounted gentlemen from the adjacent counties, and with their horse, about sunset, our phalanx was shattered, our ranks broken,—and then we began to quit the field. The number of our slain, and of those who fell into the hands of the enemy, did not in the whole exceed two hundred men. The dead might have been greater, but for the compassion of the gentlemen, who had respect to the cause which had provoked us to arms, and who, instead of doing as Dalziel's men did, without remorse or pity, cried to the fugitives to flee, and spared many in consideration of the common wrongs.
When I saw that our host was dashed into pieces, and the fragments scattered over the fields, I fled with the flying, and gained, with about some thirty other fugitives, the brow of a steep part of the Pentland-hills, where the mounted gentlemen, even had they been inclined, could not easily follow us. There, while we halted to rest a little, we heard a shout now and then rise startling from the field of battle below; but night coming on, all was soon silent, and we sat, in the holiness of our mountain-refuge, in silent rumination till the moon, rolling slowly from behind Arthur's Seat, looked from her window in the clouds, as if to admonish us to flee farther from the scene of danger.
The Reverend Mr Witherspoon being among us, was the first to feel the gracious admonition, and, rising from the ground, he said,—
"Friends, we must not tarry here, the hunters are forth, and we are the prey they pursue. They will track us long, and the hounds are not of a nature to lose scent, especially when they have tasted, as they have done this day, the rich blood of the faithful and the true. Therefore let us depart; but where, O where shall we find a home to receive us?—Where a place of rest for our weary limbs, or a safe stone for a pillow to our aching heads? But why do I doubt? Blameless as we are, even before man, of all offence, save that of seeking leave to worship God according to our conscience, it cannot be that we shall be left without succour. No, my friends! though our bed be the damp grass and our coverlet the cloudy sky, our food the haws of the hedge, and our drink the drumly burn, we have made for our hearts the down-beds of religious faith, and have found a banquet for our spirits in the ambrosial truths of the Gospel—luxuries that neither a James Sharp nor a Charles Stuart can ever enjoy, nor all the rents and revenues, fines and forfeitures, which princes may exact and prelates yearn to partake of, can buy."
He then offered up a thanksgiving that we had been spared from the sword in the battle; after which we shook hands in silence together, and each pursued his own way.
Mr Witherspoon lingered by my side as we descended the hill, and I discerned that he was inclined to be my companion; so we continued together, stretching towards the north-west, in order to fall into the Lithgow road, being mindet to pass along the skirts of Stirlingshire, thence into Lennox, in the hope of reaching Argyle's country by the way of the ferry of Balloch. But we had owre soon a cruel cause to change the course of our flight.
In coming down towards the Amond-water, we saw a man running before us in the glimpse of the moonshine, and it was natural to conclude, from his gestures and the solitude of the place, that no one could be so far-a-field at such a time, but some poor fellow-fugitive from Rullion-green where the battle was fought; so we called to him to stop, and to fear no ill, for we were friends. Still, however he fled on, and heeded not our entreaty, which made us both marvel and resolve to overtake him. We thought it was not safe to follow long an unknown person who was so evidently afraid, and flying, as we supposed, to his home. Accordingly we hastened our speed, and I, being the nimblest reached him at a place where he was stopped by a cleft in the rocks on the river's woody brink.
"Why do you fly so fast from us?" said I; "we're frae the Pentland-hills too."
At these words he looked wildly round, and his face was as ghastly as a ghost's in the moonlight; but, distorted as he was by his fears, I discovered in him my neighbour, Nahum Chapelrig, and I spoke to him by name.
"O, Ringan Gilhaize!" said he, and he took hold of me with his right hand, while he raised his left and shook it in a fearful and frantic manner, "I am a dead man, my hours are numbered, and the sand-glass of my days is amaist a' run out. I had been saved from the sword, spared from the spear, and, flying from the field, I went to a farm-house yonder; I sought admission and shelter for a forlorn Christian man; but the edicts of the persecutors are more obeyed here than the laws of God. The farmer opened his casement, and speering if I had been at the raid of the Covenanters, which, for the sake of truth and the glory of God, I couldna deny, he shot me dead on the spot; for his bullet gaed in my breast, and is fast in my—"
He could say no more; for in that juncture he gave as it were a gurgle in the throat, and swirling round, fell down a bleeding corpse on the ground where he stood, before Mr Witherspoon had time to come up.
We both looked at poor guiltless Nahum as he lay on the grass, and, after some sorrowful communion, we lifted the body, and carrying it down aneath the bank of the river, laid stones and turfs upon it by the moonlight, that the unclean birds might not be able to molest his martyred remains. We then consulted together; and having communed concerning the manner of Nahum's death, we resolved not to trust ourselves in the power of strangers in those parts of the country, where the submission to the prelatic enormity had been followed with such woful evidence of depravity of heart. So, instead of continuing our journey to the northward, we changed our course, and, for the remainder of the night, sought our way due west, by the skirts of the moors and other untrodden ways.
At break of day we found ourselves on a lonely brae-side, sorely weary, hungry and faint in spirit; a few whin-bushes were on the bank, and the birds in them were beginning to chirp,—we sat down and wist not what to do.
Mr Witherspoon prayed inwardly for support and resignation of heart in the trials he was ordained to undergo; but doure thoughts began to gather in my bosom. I yearned for my family,—I mourned to know what had become of my brother in the battle,—and I grudged and marvelled wherefore it was that the royal and the great had so little respect for the religious honesty of harmless country folk.
It was now the nine-and-twentieth day of November, but the weather for the season was open and mild, and the morning rose around us in the glory of her light and beauty. As the gay and goodly sun looked over the eastern hills, we cast our eyes on all sides, and beheld the scattered villages and the rising smoke of the farms, but saw not a dwelling we could venture to approach, nor a roof that our fears, and the woful end of poor Nahum Chapelrig, did not teach us to think covered a foe.
While we were sitting communing on these things, we discovered, at a little distance on the left, an aged woman hirpling aslant the route we intended to take. She had a porringer in the one hand, and a small kit tied in a cloute in the other, by which we discerned that she was probably some laborous man's wife conveying his breakfast to him in the field.
We both rose, and going towards her, Mr Witherspoon said, "For the love of God have compassion on two famishing Christians."
The old woman stopped, and, looking round, gazed at us for a space of time, with a countenance of compassionate reverence.
"Hech, sirs!" she then said; "and has it come to this, that a minister of the Gospel is obligated to beg an almous frae Janet Armstrong?" And she set down the porringer on the ground, and began to untie the cloute in which she carried the kit, saying, "Little did I think that sic an homage was in store for me, or that the merciful Heavens would e'er requite my sufferings, in this world, wi' the honour of placing it in my power to help a persecuted servant of the living God. Mr Witherspoon, I ken you weel; meikle sweet counselling I hae gotten frae you when ye preached for our minister at Camrachle in the time of the great covenanting. I was then as a lanerly widow, for my gudeman was at the raid of Dunse-hill, and my heart was often sorrowful and sinking wi' a sinful misdooting of Providence, for I had twa wee bairns and but a toom garnel."
She then opened the kit, which contained a providing of victual that she was carrying, as we had thought, to her husband, a quarrier in a neighbouring quarry; and bidding us partake, she said,—
"This will be a blithe morning to John Armstrong, to think that out of our basket and store we hae had, for ance in our day, the blessing of gi'eing a pick to ane o' God's greatest corbies; and he'll no fin' his day's dark ae hue the dreigher for wanting his breakfast on account of sic a cause."
So we sat down, and began to partake of the repast with a greedy appetite, and the worthy woman continued to talk.
"Aye," said she, "the country-side has been in a consternation ever since Dalziel left Glasgow;—we a' jealoused that the Lanerk Covenanters would na be able to withstand his power and the King's forces; for it was said ye had na a right captain of war among you a'.—But, Mr Witherspoon, ye could ne'er be ane of the ministers that were said to meddle with the battering-rams o' battle.—No; weel I wat that yours is a holier wisdom—ye would be for peace;—blessed are the peacemakers."
Seeing the honest woman thus inclined to prattle of things too high for her to understand, Mr Witherspoon's hunger being somewhat abated, he calmly interposed, and turned the discourse into kind inquiries concerning the state of her poor soul and her straitened worldly circumstances; and he was well content to find that she had a pleasant vista of the truths of salvation, and a confidence in the unceasing care of Providence.
"The same gracious hand that feeds the ravens," said she, "will ne'er let twa auld folk want, that it has been at the trouble to provide for so long. It's true we had a better prospek in our younger days; but our auld son was slain at the battle of Worcester, when he gaed in to help to put the English crown on the head of that false Charlie Stuart, who has broken his oath and the Covenant; and my twa winsome lassies diet in their teens, before they were come to years o' discretion. But 'few and evil are the days of man that is born of a woman,' as I hae heard you preach, Mr Witherspoon, which is a blessed truth and consolation to those who have not in this world any continued city."
We then inquired what was the religious frame of the people in that part of the country, in order that we might know how to comport ourselves; but she gave us little heartening.
"The strength and wealth o' the gentry," said she "is just sooket awa wi' ae fine after anither, and it's no in the power of nature that they can meikle langer stand out against the prelacy."
"I hope," replied Mr Witherspoon, "that there's no symptom of a laxity of principle among them?"
"I doot, I doot, Mr Witherspoon," said Janet Armstrong, "we canna hae a great dependence either on principle or doctrine when folk are driven demented wi' oppression. Many that were ance godly among us can thole no more, and they begin to fash and turn awa' at the sight of their persecuted friends."
Mr Witherspoon sighed with a heavy heart on hearing this, and mournfully shook his head. We then thanked Janet for her hospitable kindness, and rising, were moving to go away.
"I hope, Mr Witherspoon," said she, "that we're no to part in sic a knotless manner. Bide here till I gang for John Armstrong and the other twa men that howk wi' him in the quarry. They're bearing plants o' the vineyard—tarry, I pray you, and water them wi' the water of the Word."
And so saying, she hastened down the track she was going, and we continued on the spot to wait her return.
"Ringan," said Mr Witherspoon to me, "I fear there's owre meikle truth in what she says concerning the state of religion, not only here, but among all the commonality of the land. The poor beast that's overladen may be stubborn, and refuse for a time to draw; but the whip will at last prevail, until, worn out and weary, it meekly lies down to die. In like manner, the stoutness of the covenanted heart will be overcome."
Just as he was uttering these words, a whiz in a whin-bush near to where we were standing, and the sound of a gun, startled us, and on looking round we saw five men, and one of the black-cuffs with his firelock still at his shoulder, looking towards us from behind a dyke that ran along the bottom of the brae. There was no time for consultation. We fled, cowering behind the whin-bushes till we got round a turn in the hill, which, protecting us from any immediate shot, enabled us to run in freedom till we reached a hazel-wood, which having entered, we halted to take breath.
"We must not trust ourselves long here, Mr Witherspoon," said I. "Let us go forward, for assuredly the blood-hounds will follow us in."
Accordingly we went on. But it is not to be told what we suffered in passing through that wood; for the boughs and branches scourged us in the face, and the ground beneath our feet was marshy and deep, and grievously overspread with brambles that tore away our very flesh.
After enduring several hours of unspeakable suffering beneath those wild and unfrequented trees, we came to a little glen, down which a burn ran, and having stopped to consult, we resolved to go up rather than down the stream, in order that we might not be seen by the pursuers whom we supposed would naturally keep the hill. But by this time our strength was in a manner utterly gone with fatigue, in so much that Mr Witherspoon said it would be as well to fall into the hands of the enemy as to die in the wood. I however encouraged him to be of good cheer; and it so happened, in that very moment of despair, that I observed a little cavern nook aneath a rock that overhung the burn, and thither I proposed we should wade and rest ourselves in the cave, trusting that Providence would be pleased to guide our persecutors into some other path. So we passed the water, and laid ourselves down under the shelter of the rock, where we soon after fell asleep.
We were graciously protected for the space of four hours, which we lay asleep under the rock. Mr Witherspoon was the first who awoke, and he sat watching beside me for some time, in great anxiety of spirit, as he afterwards told me; for the day was far spent, and the weather, as is often the custom in our climate, in the wane of the year, when the morning rises bright, had become coarse and drumly, threatening a rough night.
At last I awoke, and according to what we had previously counselled together, we went up the course of the burn, and so got out of that afflicting wood, and came to an open and wide moorland, over which we held our journeying westward, guided by the sun, that with a sickly eye was then cowering through the mist to his chamber ayont the hill.
But though all around us was a pathless scene of brown heather, here and there patched with the deceitful green of some perilous well-e'e; though the skies were sullen, and the bleak wind gusty, and every now and then a straggling flake of snow, strewed in our way from the invisible hand of the cloud, was a token of a coming drift, still a joyous encouragement was shed into our bosoms, and we saw in the wildness of the waste, and the omens of the storm, the blessed means with which Providence, in that forlorn epoch, was manifestly deterring the pursuer and the persecutor from tracking our defenceless flight. So we journeyed onward, discoursing of many dear and tender cares, often looking round, and listening when startled by the wind whispering to the heath and the waving fern, till the shadows of evening began to fall, and the dangers of the night season to darken around us.
When the snow hung on the heather like its own bells, we wished, but we feared to seek a place of shelter. Fain would we have gone back to the home for the fugitive, which we had found under the rock, but we knew not how to turn ourselves; for the lights of the moon and stars were deeply concealed in the dark folds of the wintry mantle with which the heavens were wrapt up. Our hearts then grew weary, and more than once I felt as if I was very willing to die.
Still we struggled on; and when it had been dark about an hour, we came to the skirts of a field, where the strips of the stubble through the snow showed us that some house or clachan could not be far off. We then consulted together, and resolved rather to make our place of rest in the lea of a stack, or an outhouse, than to apply to the dwelling; for the thought of the untimely end of harmless Nahum Chapelrig lay like clay on our hearts, and we could not but sorrow that, among the other woes of the vial of the prelatic dispensation, the hearts of the people of Scotland should be so turned against one another.
Accordingly going down the rigs, with as little interchange of discourse as could well be, we descried, by the schimmer of the snow, and a ghastly streak of moonlight that passed over the fields, a farm steading, with several trees and stacks around it, and thither we softly directed our steps. Greatly, however, were we surprised and touched with distress, when, as we drew near, we saw that there was no light in the house, nor the sign of fire within, nor inhabitant about the place.
On reaching the door we found it open, and on entering in, everything seemed as if it had been suddenly abandoned; but by the help of a pistol, which I had taken in the raid from one of Turner's disarmed troopers, and putting our trust in the protection we had so far enjoyed, I struck a light and kindled the fire, over which there was still hanging, on the swee, a kail-pot, wherein the family at the time of their flight had been preparing their dinner; and we judged by this token, and by the visible desertion, that we were in the house of some of God's people who had been suddenly scattered. Accordingly we scrupled not to help ourselves from the aumrie, knowing how readily they would pardon the freedom of need in a Gospel minister, and a covenanted brother dejected with want and much suffering.