Inconsistencies in language and dialect found in the original book have been retained. Minor punctuation errors have been changed without notice. Printer errors have been changed and are listed at the end.
Their constancy in torture and in death— These on Tradition's tongue still live, these shall On History's honest page be pictured bright To latest times.
"Annals of the Parish," "Sir Andrew Wylie," "The Entail," Etc.
EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION, BY
Sir GEORGE DOUGLAS, Bart.
London GREENING & CO., LTD. 20 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road 1899
A NEGLECTED MASTERPIECE
There have, of course, been many men of genius who have united with great laxity and waywardness in their lives a high and perfect respect for their art; but instances of the directly contrary practice are much rarer, and among these there is probably none more prominent than that of the author of Ringan Gilhaize. Gifted by nature with a faculty which was at once brilliant, powerful and genial, he led an industrious life, the upright and generally exemplary character of which has never for a moment been called in question. But, in the sphere of his art, it is as undeniable as unaccountable that he cared little or nothing to do his best. The haps or whims of the moment seem, indeed, to have governed his production with an influence as of stars malign or fortunate. Furthermore, we know that the profession of authorship—that most distinguished of all professions, as, speaking in sober sadness without arrogance, we cannot but be bold to call it—that profession from which he was himself so well equipt to derive honour—was held by him in low esteem. So that, speaking of the time of his residence in Upper Canada, he thinks no shame to observe that he did then consider himself qualified to do something more useful than "stringing blethers into rhyme," or "writing 'clishmaclavers' in a closet." And again says he, "to tell the truth, I have sometimes felt a little shamefaced in thinking myself so much an author, in consequence of the estimation in which I view the profession of book-making in general. A mere literary man—an author by profession—stands low in my opinion." Such remarks as these from a man of commanding literary talent are the reverse of pleasant reading. But let us deal with the speaker, as we would ourselves be dealt by—mercifully, and regard these petulant utterances as a mere expression of bitterness or perversity in one much tried and sorely disappointed. Even so, the fact remains that the sum of Galt's immense and varied production exhibits inequalities of execution for which only carelessness or contempt in the worker for his task can adequately account. We shall presently have occasion to speak of him in his relation to the great contemporary writer to whose life and work his own work and life present so many interesting points of similarity and diversity; but we may here note that, in the glaringly disparate character of his output, the author of The Provost is in absolute contrast to the author of The Antiquary. For, if Scott's work viewed as a whole be rarely of the very finest literary quality, its evenness within its own limits is on the other hand very striking indeed. For, of his twenty-seven novels, there are perhaps but three which fall perceptibly below the general level of excellence; whilst probably any one of at least as many as six or eight might by a quorum of competent judges be selected as the best of all. And hence, where in the case of other authors we are called on to read this masterpiece or those specimens, and, having done so, are held to have acquitted ourselves, in the case of Scott we cannot feel that we have done our duty till we have read through the Waverley Novels. How entirely different is it with Galt—where we find The Omen occupying one shelf with The Radical, The Annals of the Parish catalogued with Lawrie Todd, and The Spaewife side by side with The Covenanters! And obviously it is in this inequality in its author's work—in the magnitude, that is, of the rubbish-heap in which he chose to secrete his jewels—that the explanation of the neglect, if not rather oblivion, into which the work last-named has fallen can alone be sought and found. For, once in the threescore years of his busy life, Galt did his best, consistently and on a large scale, with the pen; and that once was in the novel of Ringan Gilhaize, or the Covenanters. What is more—however lamentably he may appear in general to lack the faculty of self-criticism—he knew when he had done his best, and among all his books this one remained his favourite. But a man has to pay for artistic as he has for moral delinquencies, and it would seem that the penalty of many a careless tome has been exacted in the obscuration of one of the finest and truest of historical romances in our language. A word or two as to the genesis and character of the book which we have ventured thus to describe may not be out of place as preface to our endeavour to obtain for it a second hearing.
It was in the year 1822 or 1823 that Galt, aged then about forty-three, and having already seen much of life in various countries and capacities, settled at Esk Grove, Musselburgh, to apply himself to writing historical fiction. He was for the moment elated—carried away, perhaps, for his temper was enthusiastic even to a fault—by the recent and deserved success of his novels of Scottish manners, Sir Andrew Wylie and The Entail; and the soaring idea appears to have entered his head of deliberately attempting to rival Scott in the very field which "the Wizard" had made peculiarly his own. From the point of view of prudence, though not from that of art or of sport, this enterprise was a mistake. For an author, serving as he does the public, shows no more than common sense if he endeavour to study, in the proper degree, the idiosyncrasies of that employer on whose favour his reputation, nay, perhaps the payment of his butcher's bill, depends. And it has long been observed that when the public has once made up its mind that one man is supreme in his own line, it has generally little attention to spare for those who seek to have it reconsider its decision. (This, by the way, was amply illustrated in the sequel of the very case now under discussion.) But the names of Galt and Prudence do not naturally go together: indeed, the two were never well or for any length of time acquainted. At Esk Grove, either in earnest, or, as seems more likely, in banter of the architectural incongruities of Abbotsford, Galt announced his intention of building a "veritable fortress," exactly in the fashion of the oldest times of rude warfare. En attendant, he worked hard with his pen, the first fruits of his industry appearing in the novel which is here reprinted after some six-and-seventy years.
What of the merits of this first attempt in a line that was new to him? In the first place, he had at least been guided in his choice of subject by an unerring historical instinct. For, surpassingly rich as is Scottish history in the elements both of picturesque and romantic incident and of wild and fascinating character, it is none the less a fact that there is but one period during which that history rises to the dignity of a really wide and permanent interest. And that period is of course the century, or century and a half, of the national struggle for religious liberty. It is not necessary to remind the reader that upon that struggle, and on those who maintained it, much has been written as well in the terms of undiscriminating eulogy as in those of uncomprehending condemnation. Nor is it more to the purpose to add that the truth lies neither entirely on one side nor the other. For—as in the earlier struggle for political independence, and, indeed, more or less in all other great national movements—the motives of most of those who took part were mixed, and varied with the individual. Thus it is undeniable that in the breast of many a reforming Scottish laird of the sixteenth century, mistrust of Rome was a subordinate feeling to the covetousness excited by the sight of extensive and well-cultivated Church lands; whilst, again, there are, on the other hand, probably few persons now in existence who would be prepared to justify the intolerance embodied even by the martyr Guthrie in his celebrated Remonstrance—to say nothing of that which made the mere hearing of the mass, under certain circumstances, a capital offence. These things are, however, more or less accidental, and supply no criterion by which the true character of the reforming movement may be tested; for during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the very nature of tolerance, if understood by one here and there, was beyond the comprehension of the masses of the people. And yet we believe that, notwithstanding the intolerant and implacable spirit too often manifested by the Covenanters, no candid reader will read this book to the end without acknowledging (what is, indeed, the truth) that the soul of the Covenanting movement was a great and noble one. And that soul we here find personified in the younger Gilhaize—a type, if there be one in literature, of the Covenanter of the best kind.
For, whatever may have been the temper of his associates in the aggregate, the hero of the book holds the scales between the rival parties with admirable evenness—and this notwithstanding the strong bias of his temper and upbringing. Indeed, until the time when he has become, not metaphorically, but literally maddened by the wrongs and outrages to which he has been subjected, the book, in so far as it constitutes an expression of his personal sentiments, is a perfect homily on fairness. And how much such fairness has to do with the winning and retaining of sympathy, perhaps only a modern reader is qualified to say. Gifted with the saving graces of humour and of fellow-feeling, the supposed annalist of our chronicle is no less prepared to make allowance for the faults of the other side than to acknowledge the shortcomings of his own. In fact he is the pattern of a spirit at once upright, humble, and self-respecting, whose ruling passion is an earnest piety, and who asks no more of those set over him than freedom to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. And for this little boon, so harshly and unjustly withheld, we see him called upon to sacrifice home, kindred and estate, to know his wife and daughters given over to death and worse than death, and finally to surrender his liberty and his last remaining child. Unless pity and terror in a master's hand have lost their power, surely this spectacle is a moving one! Nor must we forget that, even in the culminating scene of the tragedy—where Ringan makes his bold and inspired oration at the meeting of the Cameronian leaders with Renwick in a dell near Lasswade—the hero, for all his wrongs, remains unembittered, and retains unimpaired the gentleness and the manliness which are his characteristics. That there were such men as this among the Covenanters, or that they constituted the salt which gave its savour to the movement, we are forbidden to doubt. But, saving in the pages which follow, we know not where to seek for the ideal presentment of one such. This is what we mean by saying, as we have said above, that Galt has in this romance laid bare the soul of the Covenanting movement. And this, we may add, is what Scott in Old Mortality most signally failed to do. For in that novel—in place of Galt's subtle and penetrating analysis of the motives which animated the Covenanters nobly to dare and nobly to endure—we find the author content himself with using the characteristics and the disturbances of the time for the mere purpose of providing incident and adventure, and a strong local colour for his puppets—in a word, for the most ordinary and conventional purposes of the romantic novelist. Nor is this the only instance of such psychological obtuseness in his work. That, in spite of this initial and damning defect, he does succeed in producing a fine novel, is but one more proof of the amazing fecundity of his genius. None the less does the fact remain that it is a novel, so to speak, without a soul—that, so far from being of the essence of the Covenant, the Burleys, Mucklewraths, Mauses and Macbrairs are but so many of its accidents, and that thus the main issues of the historical drama are not involved in the romance. In other words, it is as though the tragedy of Hamlet had been performed with great skill and eclat, only without the appearance of the Prince of Denmark upon the stage. And thus, if the historical novel is to play a part of any dignity in our literature, we may safely predict that it is upon the stock here supplied by Galt, rather than upon that supplied by Scott in Old Mortality, that it will have to be grafted.
Having now assigned to our author the credit due to him for his choice and general treatment of a fine subject, it remains to touch briefly upon the technical skill which he has brought to bear upon the handling of its details. By resorting, then, to an ingenious and yet perfectly natural and legitimate device, he has contrived to extend his "household memorial" (for it is thus that he describes the story) so as to make it embrace the entire period of the religious struggle—from its inception under the regency of Marie of Lorraine to its close, or practical close, under the rule of the enlightened and tolerant William of Orange,—a period in all of full one hundred and thirty years. For the narrative, opening with the martyrdom of Walter Mill at St Andrews in 1558, is continued to the death of Claverhouse at Killiecrankie in 1689. And by this means the varying phases of the struggle are traced almost step by step, through the preachings of John Knox and the early image-breaking outrages, to the comparative lull of the reign of James the First of England, and thence again from the renewed exasperating of opposition by the shifty and infatuated Martyr King to the climax of the "Killing Time" under the younger of his sons. Few incidents of really primary or representative importance are omitted, and the skill shown by the Author in stringing the pearls of history upon the thread of his narrative is not the least of the merits he displays. But, as should be in a novel, the historical never overweights the human or fictitious interest, but is always properly subordinated to it.
We have spoken elsewhere of Galt the novelist as being "in advance of his time"—a facile phrase which it is expedient to use with due reserve and after due consideration. But the fact that the author with whose work we are instinctively impelled to compare the novel of Ringan Gilhaize is the great chief of the French "Naturalistic" School would appear, at least so far, to support that characterisation. It is, of course, undeniable that, at the outset, there confront us several striking points of contrast or divergence between the two authors. For example, of that triste amour du laid, which, with its concomitants, was for so long, and perhaps is even yet, regarded by the general public as Zola's one prominent characteristic—of this, Galt has absolutely nothing, his preoccupation being uniformly with beauty in one form or another, whether of matter or of spirit. With him, a gloom which, did we not fear to be less than just to Galt we might denominate Byronic, fills perhaps the place of Zola's pessimism. Next, of that misbegotten passion for the painter's brush which has vitiated so much of modern French writing, and of which Zola in inferior works has even more than his due share, the novel of Ringan Gilhaize shows equally no trace. On the contrary, its brief descriptive passages, of which it is noticeable how many are nocturnal or crepuscular, or paint effects of mist or rain-cloud—these might serve as models, at once in their breadth of execution, their aptness and their pregnancy, or quality of moral suggestiveness, of what descriptions in literature should be. How different from those laboured outlines, laboriously filled in, of such a piece of writing as La Curee!
So much, then, for the divergence of the two authors; and now as to their relationship. It is, perhaps, in their power of putting their sense of a multitude before the reader, of exhibiting the passions by which that multitude is animated, and of tracing the phases and fluctuations of that passion, that the Frenchman or Italian and the Scot come first and most strikingly together. Witness in this book the scene of the advance of the congregations to the trial of the Ministers, or that of the return of the Reformer, Knox, to Scotland. This of itself, however, is not much; nor should we have felt justified in drawing special attention to it, but for the fact that it seems to us to be an outward and visible sign of what is a vital, perhaps the vital characteristic of either writer—or, at least, that of Galt in this book, and of Zola in his masterwork. It is associated, then, as we read it, with a desire to rise in art above the limitation of the merely individual, and the springs of this desire we take to lie in that noble and abounding pity which is the dominant passion of either author, or of either book. In either case it is an "objective" or artistic pity, called into being by the spectacle of human suffering as specific as it is intolerable to contemplate. Only that with Galt it is felt for a particular historical group of men, with Zola for a particular section of his contemporaries. And from this characteristic there naturally results a gain of the quality of artistic grandeur in the books. For it is less the fortunes of the individual colliers than the Rights of Labour and their chances of recognition which form the true theme of Germinal; whilst in Ringan Gilhaize we are called to gaze upon nothing less than the grandiose spectacle of a nation in death-grips with a race of mansworn sovereigns. Hence, in either case, the individual characters, measured by the greatness of the issues at stake, sink into comparative insignificance. But this very insignificance serves to illustrate a fundamental truth. For, to quote the words of a great modern thinker, "This is the law which governs humanity: an immense prodigality in regard to the mere individual, a contemptuous heaping together of the unit of human life." He continues, "I can picture to myself the artificer letting great quantities of his material go to waste—undisturbed, indeed, although three parts of it fall useless to the ground. For it is the fate of the vast majority of the human race to serve as a mere floor-cloth on which Destiny may celebrate her revel, or, rather, to contribute towards the making up of one of those numerous persons who were known to the classical drama as the Chorus." Impressively to exhibit this truth in art is of itself to accomplish much; but in the infinite pathos of the individual lot there is a converse side to every great drama too, and to this neither of our writers is insensible. Hence it is that, against the shadowy curtain or background formed by the crowded and suffering masses of humanity, are relieved and detached such tragic silhouettes as those of Ringan and of La Maheude. In the nature of the long-drawn unrelenting ordeal to which each of these is subjected they are identical; for both of them are rich only in human affection, and of this both live to see themselves entirely denuded. Gilhaize, who is raised above the struggle for mere daily bread, is animated by a spiritual and intellectual passion which would have been altogether beyond the comprehension of the miner's wife of Montsou; but that he is on that account the nobler or more interesting figure of the two, we do not take upon us to say. Neither, of course, must we be understood to insist unduly on the few points of resemblance in two books which, after all, are in so many respects radically unlike.
There is a lighter side to Galt's book, too, and this is seen principally, ere the stress of the action has become intense, in the adventures of the astute Michael Gilhaize. At this point in his narrative it is probably with Stevenson that Galt suggests comparison, nor is it any disparagement to the delightful author of Kidnapped and Catriona to say that the best of his work is to the best of Galt's as a clever boy's to that of a clever man. For whilst Galt presents incident with all, or nearly all, the charm of Stevenson, he is master, besides, of an adult psychology to which the other, in his short life, never attained.
SPRINGWOOD PARK, August 1899.
[Footnote 1: Scots expletives, signifying different varieties of nonsense.]
[Footnote 2: Dismissed in the Dictionary of National Biography, sub voce Galt, as one of "three forgotten novels."]
[Footnote 3: In "The Blackwood Group": Famous Scots' Series; Essay on Galt.]
[Footnote 4: Ernest Renan in L'Avenir de la Science.]
It is a thing past all contesting, that, in the Reformation, there was a spirit of far greater carnality among the champions of the cause than among those who in later times so courageously, under the Lord, upheld the unspotted banners of the Covenant. This I speak of from the remembrance of many aged persons, who either themselves bore a part in that war with the worshippers of the Beast and his Image, or who had heard their fathers tell of the heart and mind wherewith it was carried on, and could thence, with the helps of their own knowledge, discern the spiritual and hallowed difference. But, as I intend mainly to bear witness to those passages of the late bloody persecution in which I was myself both a soldier and a sufferer, it will not become me to brag of our motives and intents, as higher and holier than those of the great elder Worthies of "the Congregation." At the same time it is needful that I should rehearse as much of what happened in the troubles of the Reformation as, in its effects and influences, worked upon the issues of my own life. For my father's father was out in the raids of that tempestuous season, and it was by him, and from the stories he was wont to tell of what the Government did when drunken with the sorceries of the gorgeous Roman harlot, and rampaging with the wrath of Moloch and of Belial, it trampled on the hearts and thought to devour the souls of the subjects that I first was taught to feel, know and understand the divine right of resistance.
He was come of a stock of bein burghers in Lithgow; but his father having a profitable traffic in saddle-irons and bridle-rings among the gallants of the court, and being moreover a man who took little heed of the truths of religion, he continued with his wife in the delusions of the papistical idolatry till the last, by which my grandfather's young soul was put in great jeopardy. For the monks of that time were eager to get into their clutches such men-children as appeared to be gifted with any peculiar gift, in order to rear them for stoops and posts to sustain their Babylon, in the tower and structure whereof many rents and cracks were daily kithing.
The Dominican friars, who had a rich howf in the town, seeing that my grandfather was a shrewd and sharp child, of a comely complexion, and possessing a studious observance, were fain to wile him into their power; but he was happily preserved from all their snares and devices in a manner that shows how wonderfully the Lord worketh out the purposes of His will, by ways and means of which no man can fathom the depth of the mysteries.
Besides his traffic in the polished garniture of horse-gear, my grandfather's father was also a ferrier, and enjoyed a far-spread repute for his skill in the maladies of horses; by which, and as he dwelt near the palace-yett, on the south side of the street, fornent the grand fountain-well, his smiddy was the common haunt of the serving-men belonging to the nobles frequenting the court, and as often as any newcomers to the palace were observed in the town, some of the monks and friars belonging to the different convents were sure to come to the smiddy to converse with their grooms and to hear the news, which were all of the controversies raging between the priesthood and the people.
My grandfather was then a little boy, but he thirsted to hear their conversations, and many a time, as he was wont to tell, has his very heart been raspet to the quick by the cruel comments in which those cormorants of idolatry indulged themselves with respect to the brave spirit of the reformers; and he rejoiced when any retainers of the protestant lords quarrelled with them, and dealt back to them as hard names as the odious epithets with which the hot-fed friars reviled the pious challengers of the papal iniquities. Thus it was, in the green years of his childhood, that the same sanctified spirit was poured out upon him, which roused so many of the true and faithful to resist and repel the attempt to quench the relighted lamps of the Gospel, preparing his young courage to engage in those great first trials and strong tasks of the Lord.
The tidings and the bickerings to which he was a hearkener in the smiddy, he was in the practice of relating to his companions, by which it came to pass that, it might in a manner be said, all the boys in the town were leagued in spirit with the reformers, and the consequences were not long of ripening.
In those days there was a popish saint, one St Michael, that was held in wonderful love and adoration by all the ranks and hierarchies of the ecclesiastical locust then in Lithgow; indeed, for that matter, they ascribed to him power and dominion over the whole town, lauding and worshipping him as their special god and protector. And upon a certain day of the year they were wont to make a great pageant and revel in honour of this supposed saint, and to come forth from their cloisters with banners, and with censers burning incense, shouting and singing paternosters in praise of this their Dagon, walking in procession from kirk to kirk, as if they were celebrating the triumph of some mighty conqueror.
This annual abomination happening to take place shortly after the martyrdom of that true saint and gospel preacher Mr George Wishart, and while kirk and quire were resounding, to the great indignation of all Christians, with lamentations for the well-earned death of the cruel Cardinal Beaton, his ravenous persecutor, the monks and friars received but little homage as they passed along triumphing, though the streets were, as usual, filled with the multitude to see their fine show. They suffered, however, no molestation nor contempt till they were passing the Earl of Angus' house, on the outside stair of which my grandfather, with some two or three score of other innocent children, was standing; and even there they might, perhaps, have been suffered to go by scaithless, but for an accident that befel the bearer of a banner, on which was depicted a blasphemous type of the Holy Ghost in the shape and lineaments of a cushy-doo.
It chanced that the bearer of this blazon of iniquity was a particular fat monk, of an arrogant nature, with the crimson complexion of surfeit and constipation, who for many causes and reasons was held in greater aversion than all the rest, especially by the boys, that never lost an opportunity of making him a scoff and a scorn; and it so fell out, as he was coming proudly along, turning his Babylonish banner to pleasure the women at the windows, to whom he kept nodding and winking as he passed, that his foot slipped and down he fell as it were with a gludder, at which all the thoughtless innocents on the Earl of Angus' stair set up a loud shout of triumphant laughter, and from less to more began to hoot and yell at the whole pageant, and to pelt some of the performers with unsavoury missiles.
This, by those inordinate ministers of oppression, was deemed a horrible sacrilege, and the parents of all the poor children were obligated to give them up to punishment, of which none suffered more than did my grandfather, who was not only persecuted with stripes till his loins were black and blue, but cast into a dungeon in the Blackfriars' den, where for three days and three nights he was allowed no sustenance but gnawed crusts and foul water. The stripes and terrors of the oppressor are, however, the seeds which Providence sows in its mercy to grow into the means that shall work his own overthrow.
The persecutions which from that day the monks waged, in their conclaves of sloth and sosherie, against the children of the town, denouncing them to their parents as worms of the great serpent and heirs of perdition, only served to make their young spirits burn fiercer. As their joints hardened and their sinews were knit, their hearts grew manful, and yearned, as my grandfather said, with the zealous longings of a righteous revenge, to sweep them away from the land as with a whirlwind.
After enduring for several years great affliction in his father's house from his mother, a termagant woman, who was entirely under the dominion of her confessor, my grandfather entered into a paction with two other young lads to quit their homes for ever, and to enter the service of some of those pious noblemen who were then active in procuring adherents to the protestant cause, as set forth in the first covenant. Accordingly, one morning in the spring of 1558, they bade adieu to their fathers' doors, and set forward on foot towards Edinburgh.
"We had light hearts," said my grandfather, "for our trust was in Heaven; we had girded ourselves for a holy enterprise, and the confidence of our souls broke forth into songs of battle, the melodious breathings of that unison of spirit which is alone known to the soldiers of the great Captain of Salvation."
About noon they arrived at the Cross of Edinburgh, where they found a crowd assembled round the Luckenbooths, waiting for the breaking up of the States, which were then deliberating anent the proposal from the French king that the Prince Dolphin, his son, should marry our young queen, the fair and faulty Mary, whose doleful captivity and woful end scarcely expiated the sins and sorrows that she caused to her ill-used and poor misgoverned native realm of Scotland.
While they were standing in this crowd, my grandfather happened to see one Icener Cunningham, a servant in the household of the Earl of Glencairn, and having some acquaintance of the man before at Lithgow, he went towards him, and after some common talk, told on what errand he and his two companions had come to Edinburgh. It was in consequence agreed between them that this Icener should speak to his master concerning them, the which he did as soon as my Lord came out from the Parliament; and the Earl was so well pleased with the looks of the three young men that he retained them for his service on the spot, and they were conducted by Icener Cunningham home to his Lordship's lodgings in St Mary's Wynd.
Thus was my grandfather enlisted into the cause of the Lords of the Congregation, and in the service of that great champion of the Reformation, the renowned, valiant and pious Earl of Glencairn, he saw many of those things, the recital of which kindled my young mind to flame up with no less ardour than his against the cruel attempt that was made, in our own day and generation, to load the neck of Scotland with the grievous chains of prelatic tyranny.
The Earl of Glencairn, having much to do with the other Lords of the Congregation, did not come to his lodging till late in the afternoon, when, as soon as he had passed into his privy chamber, he sent for his three new men, and entered into some conversation with them concerning what the people at Lithgow said and thought of the Queen-dowager's government, and the proceedings at that time afoot on behalf of the reformed religion. But my grandfather jealoused that in this he was less swayed by the expectation of gathering knowledge from them, than by a wish to inspect their discretion and capacities; for, after conversing with them for the space of half an hour or thereby, he dismissed them courteously from his presence, without intimating that he had any special service for them to perform.
One evening as the Earl sat alone at supper, he ordered my grandfather to be brought again before him, and desired him to be cup-bearer for that night. In this situation, as my grandfather stood holding the chalice and flagon at his left elbow, the Earl, as was his wonted custom with such of the household as he from time to time so honoured, entered into familiar conversation with him; and when the servitude and homages of the supper were over, and the servants were removing the plate and trenchers, he signified, by a look and a whisper, that he wished him to linger in the room till after they were gone.
"Gilhaize," said he, when the serving-men had retired, and they were by themselves, "I am well content with your prudence, and therefore, before you are known to belong to my train, I would send you on a confidential errand, for which you must be ready to set forth this very night."
My grandfather made no reply in words to this mark of trust, but bowed his head in token of his obedience to the commands of the Earl.
"I need not tell you," resumed his master, "that among the friends of the reformed cause there are some for policy and many for gain, and that our adversaries, knowing this, leave no device or stratagem untried to sow sedition among the Lords and Leaders of the Congregation. This very day the Earl of Argyle has received a mealy-mouthed letter from that dissolute papist, the Archbishop of St Andrews, entreating him, with many sweet words, concerning the ancient friendship subsisting between their families, to banish from his protection that good and pious proselyte, Douglas, his chaplain, evidently presuming, from the easy temper of the aged Earl, that he may be wrought into compliance. But Argyle is an honest man, and is this night to return, by the Archbishop's messenger and kinsman, Sir David Hamilton, a fitting and proper reply. It is not, however, to be thought that this attempt to tamper with Argyle is the sole trial which the treacherous priest is at this time making to breed distrust and dissension among us, though as yet we have heard of none other. Now, Gilhaize, what I wish you to do, and I think you can do it well, is to throw yourself in Sir David's way, and, by hook or crook, get with him to St Andrews, and there try by all expedient means to gain a knowledge of what the Archbishop is at this time plotting—for plotting we are assured from this symptom he is—and it is needful to the cause of Christ that his wiles should be circumvented."
In saying these words the Earl rose, and, taking a key from his belt, opened a coffer that stood in the corner of the room, and took out two pieces of gold, which he delivered to my grandfather, to bear the expenses of his journey.
"I give you, Gilhaize," said he, "no farther instructions; for, unless I am mistaken in my man, you lack no better guide than your own discernment. So God be with you, and His blessing prosper the undertaking."
My grandfather was much moved at being so trusted, and doubted in his own breast if he was qualified for the duty which his master had thus put upon him. Nevertheless he took heart from the Earl's confidence, and, without saying anything either to his two companions or to Icener Cunningham, he immediately, on parting from his master, left the house, leaving his absence to be accounted for to the servants according to his lord's pleasure.
Having been several times on errands of his father in Edinburgh before, he was not ill-acquainted with the town, and the moon being up, he had no difficulty in finding his way to Habby Bridle's, a noted stabler's at the foot of Leith Wynd, nigh the mouth of the North Loch, where gallants and other travellers of gentle condition commonly put up their horses. There he thought it was likely Sir David Hamilton had stabled his steed, and he divined that, by going thither, he would learn whether that knight had set forward to Fife, or when he was expected so to do; the which movement, he always said, was nothing short of an instinct from Heaven; for just on entering the stabler's yard, a groom came shouting to the hostler to get Sir David Hamilton's horses saddled outright, as his master was coming.
Thus, without the exposure of any inquiry, he gained the tidings that he wanted, and with what speed he could put into his heels, he went forward to the pier of Leith, where he found a bark, with many passengers on board, ready to set sail for Kirkcaldy, waiting only for the arrival of Sir David, to whom, as the Archbishop's kinsman, the boatmen were fain to pretend a great outward respect; but many a bitter ban, my grandfather said, they gave him for taigling them so long, while wind and tide both served—all which was proof and evidence how much the hearts of the common people were then alienated from the papistical churchmen.
Sir David having arrived, and his horses being taken aboard, the bark set sail, and about daybreak next morning she came to anchor at Kirkcaldy. During the voyage, my grandfather, who was of a mild and comely aspect, observed that the knight was more affable towards him than to the lave of the passengers, the most part of whom were coopers going to Dundee to prepare for the summer fishing. Among them was one Patrick Girdwood, the deacon of the craft, a most comical character, so vogie of his honours and dignities in the town council that he could not get the knight told often enough what a load aboon the burden he had in keeping a' things douce and in right regulation amang the bailies. But Sir David, fashed at his clatter, and to be quit of him, came across the vessel and began to talk to my grandfather, although, by his apparel, he was no meet companion for one of a knight's degree.
It happened that Sir David was pleased with his conversation, which was not to be wondered at, for in his old age, when I knew him, he was a man of a most enticing mildness of manner, and withal so discreet in his sentences that he could not be heard without begetting respect for his observance and judgment. So out of the vanity of that vogie tod of the town council was a mean thus made by Providence to further the ends and objects of the Reformation in so far as my grandfather was concerned; for the knight took a liking to him, and being told, as it was expedient to give a reason for his journey to St Andrews, that he was going thither to work as a ferrier, Sir David promised him not only his own countenance, but to commend him to the Archbishop.
There was at that time in Kirkcaldy one Tobit Balmutto, a horse-setter, of whom my grandfather had some knowledge by report. This Tobit being much resorted to by the courtiers going to and coming from Falkland, and well known to their serving-men, who were wont to speak of him in the smiddy at Lithgow as a zealous reformer—chiefly, as the prodigals among them used to jeer and say, because the priests and friars in their journeyings atween St Andrews and Edinburgh took the use of his beasts without paying for them, giving him only their feckless benisons instead of white money.
To this man my grandfather resolved to apply for a horse, and such a one, if possible, as would be able to carry him as fast as Sir David Hamilton's. Accordingly, on getting to the land, he inquired for Tobit Balmutto, and several of his striplings and hostlers being on the shore, having, on seeing the bark arrive, come down to look out for travellers that might want horses, he was conducted by one of them to their employer, whom he found an elderly man of the corpulent order, sitting in an elbow-chair by the fireside, toasting an oaten bannock on a pair of tormentors, with a blue puddock-stool bonnet on his head, and his grey hose undrawn up, whereby his hairy legs were bare, showing a power and girth such as my grandfather had seen few like before, testifying to what had been the deadly strength of their possessor in his younger years. He was thought to have been an off-gett of the Boswells of Balmutto.
When he had made known his want to Tobit, and that he was in a manner obligated to be at St Andrews as soon as Sir David Hamilton, the horse-setter withdrew the bannock from before the ribs, and seeing it somewhat scowthert and blackent on the one cheek, he took it off the tormentors and scraped it with them, and blew away the brown burning before he made any response; then he turned round to my grandfather, and looking at him with the tail of his eye from aneath his broad bonnet, said,—
"Then ye're no in the service of his Grace, my Lord the Archbishop? And yet, frien', I think na ye're just a peer to Sir Davie, that you need to ettle at coping with his braw mare, Skelp-the-dub, whilk I selt to him mysel'; but the de'il a bawbee hae I yet han'let o' the price; howsever, that's neither here nor there, a day of reckoning will come at last."
My grandfather assured Tobit Balmutto it was indeed very true he was not in the service of the Archbishop, and that he would not have been so instant about getting to St Andrews with the knight had he not a dread and fear that Sir David was the bearer of something that might be sore news to the flock o' Christ, and he was fain to be there as soon as him to speak in time of what he jealoused, that any of those in the town who stood within the reverence of the Archbishop's aversion, on account of their religion, might get an inkling and provide for themselves.
"If that's your errand," said the horse-setter, "ye s'all hae the swiftest foot in my aught to help you on, and I redde you no to spare the spur, for I'm troubled to think ye may be owre late—Satan, or they lie upon him, has been heating his cauldrons yonder for a brewing, and the Archbishop's thrang providing the malt. Nae farther gane than yesterday, auld worthy Mr Mill of Lunan, being discovered hidden in a kiln at Dysart, was ta'en, they say, in a cart, like a malefactor, by twa uncircumcised loons, servitors to his Grace, and it's thought it will go hard wi' him on account of his great godliness; so mak what haste ye dow, and the Lord put mettle in the beast that bears you."
With that Tobit Balmutto ordered the lad who brought my grandfather to the house to saddle a horse that he called Spunkie; and in a trice he was mounted and on the road after Sir David, whom he overtook notwithstanding the spirit of his mare, Skelp-the-dub, before he had cleared the town of Pathhead, and they travelled onward at a brisk trot together, the knight waxing more and more pleased with his companion, in so much that by the time they had reached Cupar, where they stopped to corn, he lamented that a young man of his parts should think of following the slavery of a ferrier's life, when he might rise to trusts and fortune in the house of some of the great men of the time, kindly offering to procure for him, on their arrival at St Andrews, the favour and patronage of his kinsman, the Archbishop.
It was the afternoon when my grandfather and Sir David Hamilton came in sight of St Andrews, and the day being loun and bright, the sky clear, and the sea calm, he told me that when he saw the many lofty spires and towers and glittering pinnacles of the town rising before him, he verily thought he was approaching the city of Jerusalem, so grand and glorious was the apparition which they made in the sunshine, and he approached the barricaded gate with a strange movement of awe and wonder rushing through the depths of his spirit.
They, however, entered not into the city at that time, but, passing along the wall leftward, came to a road which led to the gate of the castle where the Archbishop then dwelt; and as they were approaching towards it, Sir David pointed out the window where Cardinal Beaton sat in the pomp of his scarlet and fine linen to witness the heretic Wishart, as the knight called that holy man, burnt for his sins and abominations.
My grandfather, on hearing this, drew his bridle in, and falling behind Sir David, raised his cap in reverence and in sorrow at the thought of passing over the ground that had been so hallowed by martyrdom, but he said nothing, for he knew that his thoughts were full of offence to those who were wrapt in the errors and delusions of popery like Sir David Hamilton; and, moreover, he had thanked the Lord thrice in the course of their journey for the favour which it had pleased Him he should find in the sight of the kinsman of so great an adversary to the truth as was the Archbishop of St Andrews, whose treasons and treacheries against the Church of Christ he was then travelling to discover and waylay.
On reaching the castle-yett they alighted; my grandfather, springing lightly from the saddle, took hold of Sir David's mare by the bridle-rings, while the knight went forward, and whispered something concerning his Grace to a stalwart, hard-favoured, grey-haired man-at-arms, that stood warder of the port, leaning on his sword, the blade of whilk could not be shorter than an ell. What answer he got was brief, the ancient warrior pointing at the same time with his right hand towards a certain part of the city, and giving a Belial smile of significance; whereupon Sir David turned round without going into the court of the castle, and bidding my grandfather give the man the beasts and follow, which he did, they walked together under the town wall towards the east till they came to a narrow sallyport in the rampart, wherewith the priory and cathedral had of old been fenced about with turrets and bastions of great strength against the lawless kerns of the Highlands, and especially the ships of the English, who have in all ages been of a nature gleg and glad to mulct and molest the sea-harbour towns of Scotland.
On coming to the sallyport, Sir David chapped with his whip twice, and from within a wicket was opened in the doors, ribbed with iron stainchers on the outside, and a man with the sound of corpulency in his voice looked through and inquired what they wanted. Seeing, however, who it was that had knocked, he forthwith drew the bar and allowed them to enter, which was into a pleasant policy adorned with jonquils and jelly-flowers, and all manner of blooming and odoriferous plants, most voluptuous to the smell and ravishing to behold, the scents and fragrancies whereof smote my grandfather for a time, as he said, with the very anguish of delight. But, on looking behind to see who had given them admittance, he was astounded when, instead of an armed and mailed soldier, as he had thought the drumly-voiced sentinel there placed was, he saw a large, elderly monk, sitting on a bench with a broken pasty smoking on a platter beside him, and a Rotterdam greybeard jug standing by, no doubt plenished with cordial drink.
Sir David held no parlance with the feeding friar, but going straight up the walk to the door of a lodging, to the which this was the parterre and garden, he laid his hand on the sneck, and opening it, bade my grandfather come in.
They then went along the trance towards an open room, and on entering it they met a fair damsel in the garb of a handmaid, to whom the knight spoke in familiarity, and kittling her under the chin, made her giggle in a wanton manner. By her he was informed that the Archbishop was in the inner chamber at dinner with her mistress, upon which he desired my grandfather to sit down, while he went ben to his Grace.
The room where my grandfather took his seat was parted from the inner chamber, in which the Archbishop and his lemane were at their festivities, by an arras partition, so that he could hear all that passed within, and the first words his Grace said on his kinsman going ben was,—
"Aweel, Davie, and what says that auld doddard Argyle, will he send me the apostate to mak a benfire?"
"He has sent your Grace a letter," replied Sir David, "wherein he told me he had expounded the reasons and causes of his protecting Douglas, hoping your Grace will approve the same."
"Approve heresy and reprobacy!" exclaimed the Archbishop; "but gi'e me the letter, and sit ye down, Davie. Mistress Kilspinnie, my dauty, fill him a cup of wine, the malvesie, to put smeddam in his marrow; he'll no be the waur o't, after his gallanting at Enbro. Stay! what's this? the auld man's been at school since him and me hae swappit paper. My word, Argyle, thou's got a tongue in thy pen neb! but this was ne'er indited by him; the cloven foot of the heretical Carmelite is manifest in every line. Honour and conscience truly!—braw words for a Hielant schore, that bigs his bield wi' other folks' gear!"
"Be composed, your sweet Grace, and dinna be so fashed," cried a silver-tongued madam, the which my grandfather afterwards found, as I shall have to rehearse, was his concubine, the Mrs Kilspinnie. "What does he say?"
"Say? Why, that Douglas preaches against idolatry, and he remits to my conscience forsooth, gif that be heresy—and he preaches against adulteries and fornications too—was ever sic varlet terms written in ony nobleman's letter afore this apostate's time—and he refers that to my conscience likewise."
"A faggot to his tail would be ower gude for him," cried Mrs Kilspinnie.
"He preaches against hypocrisy," said his Grace, "the which he also refers to my conscience—conscience again! Hae, Davie, tak thir clishmaclavers to Andrew Oliphant. It'll be spunk to his zeal. We maun strike our adversaries wi' terror, and if we canna wile them back to the fold, we'll e'en set the dogs on them. Kind Mistress Kilspinnie, help me frae the stoup o' sherries, for I canna but say that this scalded heart I hae gotten frae that auld shavling-gabbit Hielander has raised my corruption, and I stand in need, my lambie, o' a' your winsome comforting."
At which words Sir David came forth the chamber with the letter in his hand; but seeing my grandfather, whom it would seem he had forgotten, he went suddenly back and said to his Grace,—
"Please you, my Lord, I hae brought with me a young man of a good capacity and a ripe understanding that I would commend to your Grace's service. He is here in the outer room waiting your Grace's pleasure."
"Davie Hamilton," replied the Archbishop, "ye sometimes lack discretion. What for did ye bring a stranger into this house—knowing, as ye ought to do, that I ne'er come hither but when I'm o' a sickly frame, in need o' solace and repose? Howsever, since the lad's there, bid him come ben."
Upon this, Sir David came out and beckoned my grandfather to go in; and when he went forward, he saw none in that inner chamber but his Grace and the Mrs Kilspinnie, with whom he was sitting on a bedside before a well-garnished table, whereon was divers silver flagons, canisters of comfits, and goblets of the crystal of Venetia.
He looked sharp at my grandfather, perusing him from head to foot, who put on for the occasion a face of modesty and reverence, but he was none daunted, for all his eyes were awake, and he took such a cognition of his Grace as he never afterwards forgot. Indeed, I have often heard him say that he saw more of the man in the brief space of that interview than of others in many intromissions, and he used to depict him to me as a hale, black-avised carl, of an o'ersea look, with a long dark beard inclining to grey; his abundant hair, flowing down from his cowl, was also clouded and streaked with the kithings of the cranreuch of age. There was, however, a youthy and luscious twinkling in his eyes, that showed how little the passage of three-and-fifty winters had cooled the rampant sensuality of his nature. His right leg, which was naked, though on the foot was a slipper of Spanish leather, he laid o'er Mistress Kilspinnie's knees as he threw himself back against the pillar of the bed, the better to observe and converse with my grandfather; and she, like another Delilah, began to prattle it with her fingers, casting at the same time glances, unseen by her papistical paramour, towards my grandfather, who, as I have said, was a comely and well-favoured young man.
After some few questions as to his name and parentage, the prelate said he would give him his livery, being then anxious, on account of the signs of the times, to fortify his household with stout and valiant youngsters; and bidding him draw near and to kneel down, he laid his hand on his head and mumbled a benedicite; the which, my grandfather said, was as the smell of rottenness to his spirit, the lascivious hirkos, then wantoning so openly with his adulterous concubine, for no better was Mistress Kilspinnie, her husband, a creditable man, being then living, and one of the bailies of Crail. Nor is it to be debated that the scene was such as ought not to have been seen in a Christian land; but in those days the blasphemous progeny of the Roman harlot were bold with the audacious sinfulness of their parent, and set little store by the fear of God or the contempt of man. It was a sore trial and a struggle in the bosom of my grandfather that day to think of making a show of homage and service towards the mitred Belial and high priest of the abominations wherewith the realm was polluted, and when he rose from under his paw he shuddered, and felt as if he had received the foul erls of perdition from the Evil One. Many a bitter tear he long after shed in secret for the hypocrisy of that hour, the guilt of which was never sweetened to his conscience, even by the thought that he maybe thereby helped to further the great redemption of his native land in the blessed cleansing of the Reformation.
Sir David Hamilton conducted my grandfather back through the garden and the sallyport to the castle, where he made him acquainted with his Grace's seneschal, by whom he was hospitably entertained when the knight had left them together, receiving from him a cup of hippocras and a plentiful repast, the like of which, for the savouriness of the viands, was seldom seen out of the howfs of the monks.
The seneschal was called by name Leonard Meldrum, and was a most douce and composed character, well stricken in years, and though engrained with the errors of papistry, as was natural for one bred and cherished in the house of the speaking horn of the Beast, for such the high priest of St Andrews was well likened to, he was nevertheless a man of a humane heart and great tenderness of conscience.
The while my grandfather was sitting with him at the board, he lamented that the Church, so he denominated the papal abomination, was so far gone with the spirit of punishment and of cruelty as rather to shock men's minds into schism and rebellion than to allure them back into worship and reverence, and to a repentance of their heresies—a strain of discourse which my grandfather so little expected to hear within the gates and precincts of the guilty castle of St Andrews that it made him for a time distrust the sincerity of the old man, and he was very guarded in what he himself answered thereto. Leonard Meldrum was, however, honest in his way, and rehearsed many things which had been done within his own knowledge against the reformers that, as he said, human nature could not abide, nor the just and merciful Heavens well pardon.
Thus, from less to more, my grandfather and he fell into frank communion, and he gave him such an account of the bloody Cardinal Beaton as was most awful to hear, saying that his then present master, with all his faults and prodigalities, was a saint of purity compared to that rampagious cardinal, the which to hear, my grandfather thinking of what he had seen in the lodging of Madam Kilspinnie, was seized with such a horror thereat that he could partake no more of the repast before him, and he was likewise moved into a great awe and wonder of spirit that the Lord should thus, in the very chief sanctuary of papistry in all Scotland, be alienating the affections of the servants from their master, preparing the way, as it were, for an utter desertion and desolation to ensue.
They afterwards talked of the latter end of that great martyr, Mr George Wishart, and the seneschal informed him of several things concerning the same that were most edifying, though sorrowful to hear.
"He was," said he, "placed under my care, and methinks I shall ever see him before me, so meek, so holy, and so goodly was his aspect. He was of tall stature, black haired, long bearded, of a graceful carriage, elegant, courteous, and ready to teach. In his apparel he was most comely, and in his diet of an abstemious temperance. On the morning of his execution, when I gave him notice that he was not to be allowed to have the sacrament, he smiled with a holiness of resignation that almost melted me to weep. I then invited him to partake of my breakfast, which he accepted with cheerfulness, saying,—
"'I will do it very willingly, and so much the rather, because I perceive you to be a good Christian, and a man fearing God.'
"I then ordered in the breakfast, and he said,—
"'I beseech you, for the love you bear to our Saviour, to be silent a little while, till I have made a short exhortation, and blessed this bread we are to eat.'
"He then spoke about the space of half an hour of our Saviour's death and passion, exhorting me, and those who were present with me, to mutual love and holiness of life; and giving thanks, brake the bread, distributing a part to those about him; then taking a cup, he bade us remember that Christ's blood was shed to wash away our sins, and, tasting it himself, he handed it to me, and I likewise partook of it: then he concluded with another prayer, at the end of which he said, 'I will neither drink nor eat any more in this world,' and he forthwith entered into an inner chamber where his bed was, leaving us filled with admiration and sorrow, and our eyes flowing with tears."
To this the seneschal added, "I fear, I fear, we are soon to have another scene of the same sort, for to-morrow the Bishops of Murray, and Brechin, and Caithness, with other dignitaries, are summoned to the cathedral to sit in judgment on the aged priest of Lunan, that was brought hither from Dysart yestereen, and from the head the newfangled heresies are making, there's little doubt that the poor auld man will be made an example. Woes me! far better would it be an they would make an example of the like of the Earls of Argyle and Glencairn, by whom the reprobates are so encouraged."
"And is this Mill," inquired my grandfather with diffidence, for his heart was so stung with what he heard, that he could scarcely feign the necessary hypocrisy which the peril he stood in required—"Is this Mill in the castle?"
"Sorry am I to say it," replied the seneschal, "and under my keeping; but I darena show him the pity that I would fain do to his grey hairs and aged limbs. Some of the monks of the priory are with him just now, trying to get him to recant his errors, with the promise of a bein provision for the remainder of his days in the abbey of Dunfermline, the whilk I hope our blessed Lady will put it into his heart to accept."
"I trust," said my grandfather in the core of his bosom, "that the Lord will fortify him to resist the temptation."
This, however, the seneschal heard not, for it was ejaculated inwardly, and he subjoined,—
"When the monks go away, I will take you in to see him, for truly he is a sight far more moving to compassion than displeasure, whatsoever his sins and heresies may be."
In this manner, for the space of more than an hour, did my grandfather hold converse and communion with Leonard Meldrum, in whom, he was often heard to say, there was more of the leaven of a sanctified nature than in the disposition of many zealous and professing Christians.
When the two shavlings that had been afflicting Master Mill with the offer of the wages of Satan were departed from the castle, the seneschal rose, and bidding my grandfather to come after him, they went out of the room, and traversing a narrow dark passage with many windings, came to the foot of a turnpike stair which led up into the sea-tower, so called because it stood farthermost of all the castle in the sea, and in the chamber thereof they found Master Mill alone, sitting at the window, with his ancient and shrivelled lean hand resting on the sole and supporting his chin, as he looked through the iron stainchers abroad on the ocean that was sleeping in a blessed tranquillity around, all glowing and golden with the shimmer of the setting sun.
"How fares it with you?" said the seneschal with a kindly accent; whereupon the old man, who had not heard them enter, being tranced in his own holy meditations, turned round, and my grandfather said he felt himself, when he beheld his countenance, so smitten with awe and admiration, that he could not for some time advance a step.
"Come in, Master Meldrum, and sit ye down by me!" said the godly man. "Draw near unto me, for I am a thought hard of hearing. The Lord has of late, by steeking the doors and windows of my earthly tabernacle, been admonishing me that the gloaming is come, and the hour of rest cannot be far off."
His voice, said my grandfather, was as the sound of a mournful melody, but his countenance was brightened with a solemn joyfulness. He was of a pale and spiritual complexion; his eyes beamed, as it were, with a living light, and often glanced thoughts of heavenly imaginings, even as he sat in silence. He was then fourscore and two years old; but his appearance was more aged, for his life had been full of suffering and poverty; and his venerable hands and skinny arms were heart-melting evidences of his ineffectual power to struggle much longer in the warfare of this world. In sooth, he was a chosen wheat-ear, ripened and ready for the garnels of salvation.
"I have brought, Master Mill," said the seneschal, "a discreet youth to see you, not out of a vain curiosity, for he sorrows with an exceeding grief that such an aged person should be brought into a state of so great jeopardy; but I hope, Master Mill, it will go well with you yet, and that ye'll repent and accept the boon that I hae heard was to be proffered."
To these words the aged saint made no reply for the space of about a minute; at the end of which he raised his hands, and casting his eyes heavenward, exclaimed,—
"I thank Thee, O Lord, for the days of sore trial, and want, and hunger, and thirst, and destitution which Thou hast been pleased to bestow upon me, for by them have I, even now as I stand on the threshold of life, been enabled, through Thy merciful heartenings, to set at nought the temptations wherewith I have been tempted."
And, turning to the seneschal, he added mildly, "But I am bound to you, Master Meldrum, in great obligations, for I know that in the hope you have now expressed there is the spirit of much charitableness, albeit you discern not the deadly malady that the sin of compliance would bring to my poor soul. No, sir, it would na be worth my while now, for world's gain, to read a recantation. And, blessed be God, it's no in my power to yield, so deeply are the truths of His laws engraven upon the tablet of my heart."
They then fell into more general discourse, and while they were speaking, a halberdier came into the room with a paper, whereby the prisoner was summoned to appear in the cathedral next day by ten o'clock, to answer divers matters of heresy and schism laid to his charge; and the man having delivered the summons, said to the seneschal that he was ordered by Sir Andrew Oliphant to bid him refrain from visiting the prisoner, and to retire to his own lodging.
The seneschal to this command said nothing, but rose, and my grandfather likewise rose. Fain would he have knelt down to beg the blessing of the martyr, but the worthy Master Meldrum signified to him with a look to come at once away; and when they were returned back into his chamber where the repast had been served, he told him that there was a danger of falling under the evil thoughts of Oliphant, were he to be seen evidencing anything like respect towards prisoners accused of the sin of heresy.
The next day was like a cried fair in St. Andrews. All the country from ayont Cupar, and many reformed and godly persons even from Dundee and Perth, were gathered into the city to hear the trial of Master Walter Mill. The streets were filled with horses and men with whips in their hands and spurs at their heels, and there was a great going to and fro among the multitude; but, saving in its numbers, the congregation of the people was in no other complexion either like a fair or a tryst. Every visage was darkened with doure thoughts; none spoke cheerfully aloud; but there was whispering and muttering, and ever and anon the auld men were seen wagging their heads in sorrow, while the young cried often "Shame! shame!" and with vehement gestures clave the air with their right hands, grasping their whips and staffs with the vigour of indignation.
At last the big bell of the cathedral began to jow, at the doleful sound of which there was, for the space of two or three minutes, a silence and pause in the multitude as if they had been struck with panic and consternation, for till then there was a hope among them that the persecutors would relent; but the din of the bell was as the signal of death and despair, and the people were soon awakened from their astonishment by the cry that "the bishops are coming," whereat there was a great rush towards the gates of the church, which was presently filled, leaving only a passage up the middle aisle.
In the quire a table was spread with a purple velvet cloth, and at the upper end, before the high place of the mass, was a stool of state for the Archbishop; on each side stood chairs for the Bishops of Murray, Brechin and Caithness and his other suffragans, summoned to sit in judgment with him.
My grandfather, armed and wearing the Archbishop's livery, was with those that guarded the way for the cruel prelates, and by the pressure of the throng in convoying them into their place, he was driven within the screen of the quire, and saw and heard all that passed.
When they had taken their seats, Master Mill was brought before them from the prior's chamber, whither he had been secretly conducted early in the morning, to the end that his great age might not be seen of the people to work on their compassion. But, notwithstanding the forethought of this device, when he came in, his white hair and his saintly look and his feeble, tottering steps softened every heart. Even the very legate of Antichrist, the Archbishop himself, my grandfather said, was evidently moved, and for a season looked at the poor infirm old man as he would have spared him, and a murmur of universal commiseration ran through the church.
On being taken to the bottom of the table and placed fornent the Archbishop, Master Mill knelt down and prayed for support in a voice so firm and clear and eloquent that all present were surprised, for it rung to the farthest corner of that great edifice, and smote the hearts of his oppressors as with the dread of a menacing oracle.
Sir Andrew Oliphant, who acted as clerk and chancellor on the occasion, began to fret as he heard him thus strengthened of the Lord, and cried peevishly,—
"Sir Walter Mill, get up and answer, for you keep my lords here too long."
He, however, heeded not this command, but continued undisturbed till he had finished his devotion, when he rose and said,—
"I am bound to obey God more than man, and I serve a mightier Lord than yours. You call me Sir Walter, but I am only Walter. Too long was I one of the Pope's knights; but now say what you have to say."
Oliphant was somewhat cowed by this bold reply, and he bowed down, and turning over his papers, read a portion of one of them to himself, and then raising his head, said,—
"What thinkest thou of priests' marriage?"
The old man looked bravely towards the bishops, and answered with an intrepid voice,—
"I esteem marriage a blessed bond, ordained by God, approved by Christ, and made free to all sorts of men; but you abhor it, and in the meantime take other men's wives and daughters; you vow chastity, and keep it not."
My grandfather at these words looked unawares towards the Archbishop, thinking of what he had seen in the lodging of Mistress Kilspinnie, and their eyes chancing to meet, his Grace turned his head suddenly away as if he had been rebuked.
Divers other questions were then put by Oliphant touching the sacraments, the idolatry of the mass, and transubstantiation, with other points concerning bishops and pilgrimages, and the worshipping of God in unconsecrated places, to all which Master Mill answered in so brave a manner, contrary to the papists, that even Oliphant himself often looked reproved and confounded. At last the choler of that sharp weapon of persecution began to rise, and he said to him sternly,—
"If you will not recant I will pronounce sentence against you."
"I know," replied Master Mill, with an apostolic constancy and fortitude, "I know that I must die once, and therefore, as Christ said to Judas, What thou doest do quickly. You shall know that I will not recant the truth, for I am corn and not chaff. I will neither be blown away by the wind nor burst with the flail, but will abide both."
At these brave words a sough of admiration sounded through the church, but, instead of deterring the prelates from proceeding with their wicked purpose, it only served to harden their hearts and to rouse their anger, for when they had conferred a few minutes apart, Oliphant was ordered to condemn him to the fire, and to deliver him over to the temporal magistrates to see execution done.
No sooner was the sentence known, than a cry like a howl of wrath rose from all the people, and the provost of the town, who was present with the bailies, hastily quitted the church and fled, abhorring the task, and fearful it would be put upon him to see it done, he being also bailie of the Archbishop's regalities.
When the sentence was pronounced, the session of the court was adjourned, and the bishops, as they were guarded back to the castle, heard many a malison from the multitude who were ravenous against them.
The aged martyr being led back to the prior's chamber, was, under cloud of night, taken to the castle; but my grandfather saw no more of him, nor of Master Meldrum, the seneschal; for there was a great fear among the bishops' men that the multitude would rise and attempt a rescue; and my grandfather, not being inclined to go so far with his disguise as to fight against that cause, took occasion, in the dusk of the evening, to slip out of the castle, and to hide himself in the town, being resolved, after what he had witnessed, no longer to abide, even as a spy, in a service which his soul loathed.
All the night long there was a great commotion in the streets, and lights in many houses, and a sound of lamentation mingled with rage. The noise was as if some dreadful work was going on. There was no shouting, nor any sound of men united together, but a deep and hoarse murmur rose at times from the people, like the sound of the bandless waves of the sea when they are driven by the strong impulses of the tempest. The spirit of the times was indeed upon them, and it was manifest to my grandfather that there wanted that night but the voice of a captain to bid them hurl their wrath and vengeance against the towers and strongholds of the oppressors.
At the dawn of day the garrison of the castle came forth, and, on the spot where the martyrdom of Mr George Wishart had been accomplished, a stake was driven into the ground, and faggots and barrels of tar were placed around it, piled up almost as high as a man; in the middle, next to the stake, a place was left for the sufferer.
But when all things were prepared, no rope could be had—no one in all the town would give or sell a cord to help that sacrifice of iniquity, nor would any of the magistrates come forth to see the execution done, so it was thought for a time that the hungry cruelty of the persecutors would be disappointed of its banquet. One Somerville, however, who was officer of the Archbishop's guard, bethought himself, in this extremity, of the ropes wherewith his master's pavilion was fastened, and he went and took the same; and then his men brought forth the aged martyr, at the sight of whom the multitude set up a dreadful imprecation, the roar and growling groan of which was as if a thousand furious tigresses had been robbed of their young. Many of Somerville's halberdiers looked cowed, and their faces were aghast with terror; and some cried, compassionately, as they saw the blessed old man brought, with his hands tied behind him, to the stake, "Recant, recant!"
The monks and friars of the different monasteries, who were all there assembled around, took up the word, and bitterly taunting him, cried likewise, "Recant, recant and save thyself!" He, however, replied to them with an awful austerity,—
"I marvel at your rage, ye hypocrites, who do so cruelly pursue the servants of God. As for me, I am now fourscore and two years old, and by course of nature cannot live long; but hundreds shall rise out of my ashes who shall scatter you, ye persecutors of God's people."
Sir Andrew Oliphant, who was that day the busiest high priest of the horrible sacrifice, at these words pushed him forward into the midst of the faggots and fuel around the stake. But, nothing moved by this remorseless indignity, the martyr looked for a moment at the pile with a countenance full of cheerful resignation, and then requested permission to say a few words to the people.
"You have spoken too much," cried Oliphant, "and the bishops are exceedingly displeased with what you have said."
But the multitude exclaimed, "Let him be heard! let him speak what he pleases! Speak, and heed not Oliphant." At which he looked towards them and said,—
"Dear friends, the cause why I suffer this day is not for any crime laid to my charge, though I acknowledge myself a miserable sinner, but only for the defence of the truths of Jesus Christ, as set forth in the Old and New Testaments."
He then began to pray, and while his eyes were shut, two of Somerville's men threw a cord with a running loop round his body, and bound him to the stake. The fire was then kindled, and at the sight of the smoke the multitude uttered a shriek of anguish, and many ran away, unable to bear any longer the sight of that woful tragedy. Among others, my grandfather also ran, nor halted till he was come to a place under the rocks on the south side of the town, where he could see nothing before him but the lonely desert of the calm and soundless ocean.
Many a time did my grandfather, in his old age, when all things he spoke were but remembrances, try to tell what passed in his bosom while he was sitting alone, under those cliffy rocks, gazing on the silent and innocent sea, thinking of that dreadful work, more hideous than the horrors of winds and waves, with which blinded men, in the lusts of their idolatry, were then blackening the ethereal face of heaven; but he was ever unable to proceed for the struggles of his spirit and the gushing of his tears. Verily it was an awful thing to see that patriarchal man overcome by the recollections of his youth; and the manner in which he spoke of the papistical cruelties was as the pouring of the energy of a new life into the very soul, instigating thoughts and resolutions of an implacable enmity against those ruthless adversaries to the hopes and redemption of the world, insomuch that, while yet a child, I was often worked upon by what he said, and felt my young heart so kindled with the live coals of his godly enthusiasm, that he himself has stopped in the eloquence of his discourse, wondering at my fervour. Then he would lay his hand upon my head, and say, the Lord had not gifted me with such zeal without having a task in store for my riper years. His words of prophecy, as shall hereafter appear, have greatly and wonderfully come to pass. But it is meet that for a season I should rehearse what ensued to him, for his story is full of solemnities and strange accidents.
Having rested some time on the sea-shore, he rose and walked along the toilsome shingle, scarcely noting which way he went—his thoughts being busy with the martyrdom he had witnessed, flushing one moment with a glorious indignation, and fainting the next with despondent reflections on his own friendless state. For he looked upon himself as adrift on the tides of the world, believing that his patron, the Earl of Glencairn, would to a surety condemn his lack of fortitude in not enduring the servitude of the Archbishop, after having been in so miraculous a manner accepted into it, even as if Providence had made him a special instrument to achieve the discoveries which the Lords of the Congregation had then so much at heart. And while he was walking along in this fluctuating mood, he came suddenly upon a man who was sitting, as he had so shortly before been himself, sad and solitary, gazing on the sea. The stranger, on hearing him approach, rose hastily, and was moving quickly away; but my grandfather called to him to stop and not to be afraid, for he would harm no one.
"I thought," said the melancholy man, "that all his Grace's retainers were at the execution of the heretic."
There was something in the way in which he uttered the latter clause of the sentence that seemed to my grandfather as if he would have made use of better and fitter words, and therefore, to encourage him into confidence, he replied,—
"I belong not to his Grace."
"How is it, then, that you wear his livery, and that I saw you, with Sir David Hamilton, enter the garden of that misguided woman?"
He could proceed no farther, for his heart swelled, and his utterance was for a while stifled, he being no other than the misfortunate Bailie of Crail, whose light wife had sunk into the depravity of the Archbishop's lemane. She had been beguiled away from him and her five babies, their children, by the temptations of a Dominican, who, by habit and repute, was pandarus to his Grace, and the poor man had come to try if it was possible to wile her back.
My grandfather was melted with sorrow to see his great affection for the unworthy concubine, calling to mind the scene of her harlotry and wanton glances, and he reasoned with him on the great folly of vexing his spirit for a woman so far lost to all shame and given over to iniquity. But still the good man of Crail would not be persuaded, but used many earnest entreaties that my grandfather would assist him to see his wife, in order that he might remonstrate with her on the eternal perils in which she had placed her precious soul.
My grandfather, though much moved by the importunity of that weak, honest man, nevertheless withstood his entreaties, telling him that he was minded to depart forthwith from St Andrews, and make the best of his way back to Edinburgh, and so could embark in no undertaking whatever.
Discoursing on that subject in this manner, they strayed into the fields, and being wrapt up in their conversation, they heeded not which way they went, till, turning suddenly round the corner of an orchard, they saw the castle full before them, about half a mile off, and a dim white vapour mounting at times from the spot, still surrounded by many spectators, where the fires of martyrdom had burnt so fiercely. Shuddering and filled with dread, my grandfather turned away, and seeing several countrymen passing, he inquired if all was over.
"Yes," said they, "and the soldiers are slockening the ashes; but a' the waters of the ocean-sea will never quench in Scotland the flame that was kindled yonder this day."
The which words they said with a proud look, thinking my grandfather, by his arms and gabardine, belonged to the Archbishop's household; but the words were as manna to his religious soul, and he gave inward praise and thanks that the selfsame tragical means which had been devised to terrify the reformers was thus, through the mysterious wisdom of Providence, made more emboldening than courageous wine to fortify their hearts for the great work that was before them.
Nothing, however, farther passed; but, changing the course of their walk, my grandfather and the sorrowful Master Kilspinnie—for so the poor man of Crail was called—went back, and, entering the bow at the Shoegate, passed on towards a vintner's that dwelt opposite to the convent of the Blackfriars; for the day was by this time far advanced, and they both felt themselves in need of some refreshment.
While they were sitting together in the vintner's apartment, a stripling came several times into the room, and looked hard at my grandfather, and then went away without speaking. This was divers times repeated, and at last it was so remarkable that even Master Kilspinnie took notice of him, observing, that he seemed as if he had something very particular to communicate, if an opportunity served, offering at the same time to withdraw, to leave the room clear for the youth to tell his errand.
My grandfather's curiosity was, by this strange and new adventure to him, so awakened, that he thought what his companion proposed a discreet thing; so the honest Bailie of Crail withdrew himself, and, going into the street, left my grandfather alone.
No sooner was he gone out of the house than the stripling, who had been sorning about the door, again came in, and, coming close up to my grandfather's ear, said, with a significance not to be misconstrued, that if he would follow him he would take him to free quarters, where he would be more kindly entertained.
My grandfather, though naturally of a quiet temperament, was nevertheless a bold and brave youth, and there was something in the mystery of this message—for such he rightly deemed it—that made him fain to see the end thereof. So he called in the vintner's wife and paid her the lawin', telling her to say to the friend who had been with him, when he came back, that he would soon return.
The vintner's wife was a buxom and jolly dame, and before taking up the money, she gave a pawkie look at the stripling, and as my grandfather and he were going out at the door, she hit the gilly a bilf on the back, saying it was a ne'er-do-weel trade he had ta'en up, and that he wasna blate to wile awa' her customers, crying after him, "I redde ye warn your madam that gin she sends you here again, I'll maybe let his Grace ken that her cauldron needs clouting." However, the graceless gilly but laughed at the vintner's wife, winking as he patted the side of his nose with his fore-finger, which testified that he held her vows of vengeance in very little reverence; and then he went on, my grandfather following.
They walked up the street till they came to the priory yett, when, turning down a wynd to the left, he led my grandfather along between two dykes, till they were come to a house that stood by itself within a fair garden. But instead of going to the door in an honest manner, he bade him stop, and going forward he whistled shrilly, and then flung three stones against a butt, that was standing at the corner of the house on a gauntrees to kep rain water from the spouting image of a stone puddock that vomited what was gathered from the roof in the rones, and soon after an upper casement was opened, and a damsel looked forth; she however said nothing to the stripling, but she made certain signs which he understood, and then she drew in her head, shutting the casement softly, and he came back to my grandfather, to whom he said it was not commodious at that time for him to be received into the house, but if he would come back in the dark, at eight o'clock, all things would be ready for his reception.
To this suggestion my grandfather made no scruple to assent, but promised to be there; and he bargained with the lad to come for him, giving him at the same time three placks for a largess. He then returned to the vintner's, where he found the Crail man sitting waiting for him; and the vintner's wife, when she saw him so soon back, jeered him, and would fain have been jocose, which he often after thought a woful immorality, considering the dreadful martyrdom of a godly man that had been done that day in the town; but at the time he was not so over strait-laced as to take offence at what she said; indeed, as he used to say, sins were not so heinous in those papistical days as they afterwards became, when men lost faith in penance, and found out the perils of purchased pardons.
My grandfather having, as I have told, a compassion for the silly affection wherewith the honest man of Crail still regarded his wanton wife, told him the circumstantials of his adventure with the stripling; without, however, letting wot he had discovered that the invitation was from her; the which was the case, for the damsel who looked out at the window was no other than the giglet he had seen in her lodging when he went thither with Sir David Hamilton, and he proposed to the disconsolate husband that he should be his friend in the adventure; meaning thereby to convince the unhappy man, by the evidence of his own eyes and ears, that her concubinage with the Antichrist was a blessed riddance to him and his family.
At first Master Kilspinnie had no zest for any such frolic, for so it seemed to him, and he began to think my grandfather's horror at the martyrdom of the aged saint but a long-fac't hypocrisy; nevertheless he was wrought upon to consent; and they sat plotting and contriving in what manner they should act their several parts, my grandfather pretending great fear and apprehension at the thoughts of himself, a stranger, going alone into the traps of a house where there were sic forerunners of shame and signs of danger. At last he proposed that they should go together and spy about the precincts of the place, and try to discover if there was no other entrance or outgate to the house than the way by which the stripling conducted him, though well he remembered the sallyport, where the fat friar kept watch, eating the pasty.
Accordingly they went forth from the vintner's, and my grandfather, as if he knew not the way, led his companion round between the priory and the sea, till they came near the aforesaid sallyport, when, mounting upon a stone, he affected to discover that the house of the madam stood in the garden within, and that the sallyport could be no less than a back yett thereto.
While they were speaking concerning the same, my grandfather observed the wicket open in the gate, and guessing therefrom that it was one spying to forewarn somebody within who wanted to come out unremarked, he made a sign to his companion, and they both threw themselves flat on the ground, and hirsled down the rocks to conceal themselves. Presently the gate was opened, and then out came the fat friar, and looked east and west, holding the door in his hand; and anon out came his Grace the Antichrist, hirpling with a staff in his hand, for he was lame with that monkish malady called the gout. The friar then drew the yett to, and walked on towards the castle, with his Grace leaning on his arm. In the meantime the poor man of Crail was grinding the teeth of his rage at the sight of the cause of his sorrow, and my grandfather had a sore struggle to keep him down, and prevent him from running wud and furious at the two sacerdotal reprobates, for no lightlier could they be called.
Thus, without any disclosure on my grandfather's part, did Master Kilspinnie come to jealouse that the lemane who had trysted him was no other than his own faithless wife, and he smote his forehead and wept bitterly, to think how she was become so dreadless in sin. But he vowed to put her to shame; so it was covenanted between them, that in the dusk of the evening the afflicted husband should post himself near to where they then stood, and that when my grandfather was admitted by the other entrance to the house, he should devise some reason for walking forth into the garden, and while there admit Master Kilspinnie.
Accordingly, betimes my grandfather was ready, and the stripling, as had been bargained, came for him to the vintner's, and conducted him to the house, where, after giving the signals before enumerated, the damsel came to the door and gave him admittance, leading him straight to the inner chamber before described, where her mistress was sitting in a languishing posture, with the table spread for a banquet.
She embraced my grandfather with many fond protestations, and filled him a cup of hot malvesie, while her handmaid brought in divers savoury dishes; but he, though a valiant young man, was not at his ease, and he thought of the poor husband and the five babies that the adultress had left for the foul love of the papist high-priest, and it was a chaste spell and a restraining grace. Still he partook a little of the rich repast which had been prepared, and feigned so long a false pleasance, that he almost became pleased in reality. The dame, however, was herself at times fearful, and seemed to listen if there was any knocking at the door, telling my grandfather that his Grace was to be back after he had supped at the castle. "I thought," said she, "to have had you here when he was at the burning of the heretic, but my gilly could not find you among the troopers till it was owre late; for when he brought you my Lord had come to solace himself after the execution. But I was so nettled to be so baulked, that I acted myself into an anger till I got him away, not, however, without a threat of being troubled with him again at night."
Scarcely had madam said this, when my grandfather started up and feigned to be in great terror, begging her to let him hide himself in the garden till his Grace was come and gone. To this, with all her blandishments, the guilty woman made many obstacles, but he was fortified of the Lord with the thoughts of her injured children, and would not be entreated, but insisted on scogging himself in the garden till the Archbishop was sent away, the hour of his coming being then near at hand. Seeing him thus peremptory, Madam Kilspinnie was obligated to conform; so he was permitted to go into the garden, and no sooner was he there than he went to the sallyport and admitted her husband; and well it was that he had been so steadfast in his purpose, for scarcely were they moved from the yett into a honeysuckle bower hard by when they heard it again open, and in came his Grace with his corpulent pandarus, who took his seat on the bench before spoken of, to watch, while his master went into the house.
The good Bailie of Crail breathed thickly, and he took my grandfather by the hand, his whole frame trembling with a passion of grief and rage. In the lapse of some four or five minutes, the giglet damsel came out of the house, and by the glimpse of a light from a window as she passed they saw she had a tankard of smoking drink in her hand, with which she went to the friar; and my grandfather and his companion, taking advantage of this, slipped out of their hiding-place and stole softly into the house and reached the outer chamber that was parted from madam's banquet bower by the arras partition. There they stopped to listen, and heard her complaining in a most dolorous manner of great heart-sickness, ever and anon begging the deluded prelate Hamilton to taste the feast she had prepared for him, in the hope of being able to share it with him and the caresses of his sweet love, to which his Grace as often replied, with great condolence and sympathy, how very grieved he was to find her in that sad and sore estate, with many other fond cajoleries, most odious to my grandfather to hear from a man so far advanced in years, and who, by reason of the reverence of his office, ought to have had his tongue schooled to terms of piety and temperance.