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Hunted and Harried

Hunted and Harried

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


On a brilliant summer morning in the last quarter of the seventeenth century a small troop of horsemen crossed the ford of the river Cairn, in Dumfriesshire, not far from the spot where stands the little church of Irongray, and, gaining the road on the western bank of the stream, wended their way tow...
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  On a brilliant summer morning in the last quarter of the seventeenthcentury a small troop of horsemen crossed the ford of the river Cairn,in Dumfriesshire, not far from the spot where stands the little churchof Irongray, and, gaining the road on the western bank of the stream,wended their way towards the moors and uplands which lie in theneighbourhood of Skeoch Hill.

  The dragoons, for such they were, trotted rapidly along the road thatled into the solitudes of the hills, with all the careless dash of menwhose interests are centred chiefly on the excitements of the passinghour, yet with the unflagging perseverance of those who have a fixedpurpose in view--their somewhat worn aspect and the mud with which theywere bespattered, from jack-boot to iron headpiece, telling of a longride over rugged ground.

  The officer in command of the party rode a little in advance. Closebehind him followed two troopers, one of whom was a burly middle-agedman with a stern, swarthy countenance; the other a youth whose tallframe was scarcely, if at all, less powerful than that of hiscomrade-in-arms, though much more elegant in form, while his youthfuland ruddy, yet masculine, countenance suggested that he must at thattime have been but a novice in the art of war.

  This youth alone, of all the party, had a somewhat careworn and sadexpression on his brow. It could hardly have been the result offatigue, for there was more of ease and vigour in his carriage than inthat of any of his companions.

  "We should be near the river by this time, Glendinning," said the leaderof the party, reining in and addressing the swarthy trooper.

  "Ay, sir, the Cluden rins jist ayont the turn o' the road there,"replied the man. "Ye'll hear the roar o' the fa' in a meenit or twa."

  Even as he spoke the dull growl of a cataract was heard, and, a fewminutes later, the party came upon the ford of the river.

  It was situated not many yards below the picturesque waterfall, which isnow spanned by the Routen Bridge, but which, at that time, wasunbridged--at all events, if a bridge had previously existed, it hadfallen in or been carried away--and the wild gorge was impassable.

  The sound of the fall alone told of its vicinity, for a dense mass offoliage hid it completely from the troopers' view until they hadsurmounted the steep bank on the other side of the stream.

  "Are you well acquainted with this man Black?" asked the leader of theparty as they emerged from the thick belt of trees and shrubs by whichthe Cluden was shaded, and continued their journey on the more openground beyond.

  "I ken him weel, sir," answered the trooper. "Andrew Black was an auldfreend o' mine, an' a big, stoot, angry man he is--kindly disposed, naedoot, when ye let him alane, but a perfe't deevil incarnate when he'sroosed. He did me an ill turn ance that I've no paid him off for_yet_."

  "I suppose, then," said the officer, "that your guiding us so willinglyto his cottage is in part payment of this unsettled debt?"

  "Maybe it is," replied the trooper grimly.

  "They say," continued the other, "that there is some mystery about theman; that somehow nobody can catch him. Like an eel he has slippedthrough our fellows' fingers and disappeared more than once, when theythought they had him quite safe. It is said that on one occasion hemanaged even to give the slip to Claverhouse himself, which, you know,is not easy."

  "That may be, sir, but he'll no slip through my fingers gin I ance git agrup o' his thrapple," said the swarthy man, with a revengeful look.

  "We must get a grip of him somehow," returned the officer, "for it issaid that he is a sly helper of the rebels--though it is as difficult toconvict as to catch him; and as this gathering, of which our spies havebrought information, is to be in the neighbourhood of his house, he issure to be mixed up with it."

  "Nae doot o' that, sir, an' so we may manage to kill twa birds wi' aestane. But I'm in a diffeeculty noo, sir, for ye ken I'm no acquaintwi' this country nae farer than the Cluden ford, an' here we hae come toa fork i' the road."

  The party halted as he spoke, while the perplexed guide stroked hisrather long nose and looked seriously at the two roads, or bridle-paths,into which their road had resolved itself, and each of which led intovery divergent parts of the heathclad hills.

  This guide, Glendinning, had become acquainted with Black at a time whenthe latter resided in Lanarkshire, and, as he had just said, wasunacquainted with the region through which they now travelled beyond theriver Cluden. After a short conference the officer in command decidedto divide the party and explore both paths.

  "You will take one man, Glendinning, and proceed along the path to theright," he said; "I will try the left. If you discover anything like ahouse or cot within a mile or two you will at once send your comradeback to let me know, while you take up your quarters in the cottage andawait my coming. Choose whom you will for your companion."

  "I choose Will Wallace, then," said Glendinning, with a nod to the youngtrooper whom we have already introduced.

  The youth did not seem at all flattered by the selection, but of courseobeyed orders with military promptitude, and followed his comrade forsome time in silence, though with a clouded brow.

  "It seems to me," said the swarthy trooper, as they drew rein andproceeded up a steep ascent at a walk, "that ye're no' sae pleased as yemight be wi' the wark we hae on hand."

  "Pleased!" exclaimed the youth, whose tone and speech seemed to indicatehim an Englishman, "how can I be pleased when all I have been called onto do since I enlisted has been to aid and abet in robbery, cruelty, andmurder? I honour loyalty and detest rebellion as much as any man in thetroop, but if I had known what I now know I would never have joinedyou."

  Glendinning gazed at his companion in amazement. Having been absent ondetached service when Will Wallace had joined--about three weekspreviously--he was ignorant both as to his character and his recentexperiences. He had chosen him on the present occasion simply onaccount of his youth and magnificent physique.

  "I doot I've made a mistake in choosin' _you_," said Glendinning withsome asperity, after a few moments, "but it's ower late noo torectifee't. What ails ye, lad? What hae ye seen?"

  "I have seen what I did not believe possible," answered the other withsuppressed feeling. "I have seen a little boy tortured with thethumbscrews, pricked with bayonets, and otherwise inhumanly treatedbecause he would not, or could not, tell where his father was. I haveseen a man hung up to a beam by his thumbs because he would not give upmoney which perhaps he did not possess. I have seen a woman tortured byhaving lighted matches put between her fingers because she would not, orcould not, tell where a conventicle was being held. I did not, indeed,see the last deed actually done, else would I have cut down the cowardwho did it. The poor thing had fainted and the torture was over when Icame upon them. Only two days ago I was ordered out with a party whopillaged the house of a farmer because he refused to take an oath ofallegiance, which seems to have been purposely so worded as to makethose who take it virtually bondslaves to the King, and which makes himmaster of the lives, properties, and consciences of his subjects--andall this done in the King's name and by the King's troops!"

  "An' what pairt did _you_ tak' in these doin's?" asked Glendinning withsome curiosity.

  "I did my best to restrain my comrades, and when they were burning thehayricks, throwing the meal on the dunghill, and wrecking the propertyof the farmer, I cut the cords with which they had bound the poor fellowto his chair and let him go free."

  "Did onybody see you do that?"

  "I believe not; though I should not have cared if they had. I'mthoroughly disgusted with the service. I know little or nothing of theprinciples of these rebels--these fanatics, as you call them--buttyranny or injustice I cannot stand, whether practised by a king or abeggar, and I am resolved to have nothing more to do with such fiendishwork."

  "Young man," said the swarthy comrade in a voice of considerablesolemnity, "ye hae obviously mista'en your callin'. If you werena newto thae pairts, ye would ken that the things ye objec' to are quitecommon. Punishin' an' harryin' the rebels and fanatics--_Covenanters_,they ca' theirsels--has been gaun on for years ower a' the land. In myopeenion it's weel deserved, an' naething that ye can do or say wullprevent it, though what ye do an' say is no' unlikely to cut short yerain career by means o' a rope roond yer thrapple. But losh! man, Iwonder ye haena heard about thae matters afore now."

  "My having spent the last few years of my life in an out-of-the-way partof Ireland may account for that," said Wallace. "My father's recentdeath obliged my mother to give up her farm and return to her nativetown of Lanark, where she now lives with a brother. Poverty and theurgency of a cousin have induced me, unfortunately, to take service withthe dragoons."

  "After what ye've said, hoo am I to coont on yer helpin' me e'noo?"asked Glendinning.

  "As long as I wear the King's uniform you may count on my obeying ordersunless I am commanded to break the plainest laws of God," answered theyoung man. "As our present business is only to discover the cottage ofAndrew Black, there seems likely to be no difficulty between us justnow."

  "H'm! I'm no' sure o' that; but if ye'll tak' my advice, lad, ye'llhaud yer tongue aboot thae matters. If Clavers heard the half o' whatye've said to me, he'd send ye into the next warl' withoot gieing yetime to say yer prayers. Freedom of speech is no permitted at thepresent time in Scotland--unless it be the right kind of speech, and--"

  He stopped, for at that moment two young girls suddenly appeared at abend of the road in front of them. They gazed for a moment at thesoldiers in evident surprise, and then turned as if to fly, butGlendinning put spurs to his horse and was beside them in a moment.Leaping to the ground, he seized the girls roughly by their arms as theyclung together in alarm. One of the two was a dark-eyed little child.The other was fair, unusually pretty, and apparently about fifteen orsixteen years of age.

  The trooper proceeded to question them sharply.

  "Be gentle," said Will Wallace sternly, as he rode up, and, alsodismounting, stood beside them. "No fear of their running away now."

  The swarthy trooper pretended not to hear, but nevertheless relaxed hisgrip and merely rested his hand upon the fair girl's shoulder as he saidto the other--

  "Now, my wee doo, ye canna be far frae hame, I's be sworn. What's yername?"

  "Aggie Wilson," answered the child at once.

  "And yours?"

  "Jean Black," replied the blonde timidly.

  "Oho! an' yer faither's name is Andrew, an' his hoose is close by, I'llbe bound, so ye'll be guid eneuch to show us the way till't. But first,my bonny lass, ye'll gie me a--"

  Slipping his arm round the waist of the terrified blonde, the trooperrudely attempted to terminate his sentence in a practical manner; butbefore his lips could touch her face he received a blow from his comradethat sent him staggering against a neighbouring tree.

  Blazing with astonishment and wrath, Glendinning drew his sword andsprang at his companion, who, already full of indignation at the memoryof what he had been so recently compelled to witness, could ill brookthe indignity thus offered to the defenceless girl. His weapon flashedfrom its sheath on the instant, and for a few moments the two men cutand thrust at each other with savage ferocity. Wallace, however, wastoo young and unused to mortal strife to contemplate with indifferencethe possibility of shedding the blood of a comrade. Quickly recoveringhimself, he stood entirely on the defensive, which his vigorous activityenabled him easily to do. Burning under the insult he had received,Glendinning felt no such compunctions. He pushed his adversaryfiercely, and made a lunge at last which not only passed the swordthrough the left sleeve of the youth's coat, but slightly wounded hisarm. Roused to uncontrollable anger by this, Will Wallace fetched hisopponent a blow so powerful that it beat down his guard, rang like ahammer on his iron headpiece, and fairly hurled the man into the ditchat the roadside.

  Somewhat alarmed at this sudden result, the youth hastily pulled himout, and, kneeling beside him, anxiously examined his head. Much to hisrelief he found that there was no wound at all, and that the man wasonly stunned. After the examination, Wallace observed that the girlshad taken advantage of the fray to make their escape.

  Indignation and anger having by that time evaporated, and his judgmenthaving become cool, Wallace began gradually to appreciate his trueposition, and to feel exceedingly uncomfortable. He had recklesslyexpressed opinions and confessed to actions which would of themselvesensure his being disgraced and cast into prison, if not worse; he hadalmost killed one of his own comrades, and had helped two girls toescape who could probably have assisted in the accomplishment of theduty on which they had been despatched. His case, he suddenlyperceived, was hopeless, and he felt that he was a lost man.

  Will Wallace was quick of thought and prompt in action. Carefullydisposing the limbs of his fallen comrade, and resting his headcomfortably on a grassy bank, he cast a hurried glance around him.

  On his left hand and behind him lay the rich belt of woodland thatmarked the courses of the rivers Cluden and Cairn. In front stretchedthe moors and hills of the ancient district of Galloway, at that timegiven over to the tender mercies of Graham of Claverhouse. Beside himstood the two patient troop-horses, gazing quietly at the prostrate man,as if in mild surprise at his unusual stillness.

  Beyond this he could not see with the physical eye; but with the mentalorb he saw a dark vista of ruined character, blighted hopes, and dismalprospects. The vision sufficed to fix his decision. Quietly, like awarrior's wraith, he sheathed his sword and betook himself to the covertof the peat-morass and the heather hill.

  He was not the first good man and true who had sought the same shelter.

  At the time of which we write Scotland had for many years been in awoeful plight--with tyranny draining her life-blood, cupidity graspingher wealth, hypocrisy and bigotry misconstruing her motives andfalsifying her character. Charles the Second filled the throne.Unprincipled men, alike in Church and State, made use of their positionand power to gain their own ends and enslave the people. The King,determined to root out Presbytery from Scotland, as less subservient tohis despotic aims, and forcibly to impose Prelacy on her as astepping-stone to Popery, had no difficulty in finding ecclesiasticaland courtly bravos to carry out his designs; and for a long series ofdismal years persecution stalked red-handed through the land.

  Happily for the well-being of future generations, our covenantingforefathers stood their ground with Christian heroism, for both civiland religious liberty were involved in the struggle. Their so-calledfanaticism consisted in a refusal to give up the worship of God afterthe manner dictated by conscience and practised by their forefathers; indeclining to attend the ministry of the ignorant, and too often vicious,curates forced upon them; and in refusing to take the oath of allegiancejust referred to by Will Wallace.

  Conventicles, as they were called--or the gathering together ofChristians in houses and barns, or on the hillsides, to worship God--were illegally pronounced illegal by the King and Council; anddisobedience to the tyrannous law was punished with imprisonment,torture, confiscation of property, and death. To enforce thesepenalties the greater part of Scotland--especially the south and west--was overrun by troops, and treated as if it were a conquered country.The people--holding that in some matters it is incumbent to "obey Godrather than man," and that they were bound "not to forsake theassembling of themselves together"--resolved to set the intolerable lawat defiance, and went armed to the hill-meetings.

  They took up arms at first, however, chiefly, if not solely, to protectthemselves from a licentious soldiery, who went about devastating theland, not scrupling to rob and insult helpless women and children, andto shed innocent blood. Our Scottish forefathers, believing--in commonwith the lower animals and lowest savages--that it was a duty to defendtheir females and little ones, naturally availed themselves of the bestmeans of doing so.

  About this time a meeting, or conventicle, of considerable importancewas appointed to be held among the secluded hills in the neighbourhoodof Irongray; and Andrew Black, the farmer, was chosen to select theparticular spot, and make the preliminary arrangements.

  Now this man Black is not easily described, for his was a curiouslycompound character. To a heart saturated with the milk of humankindness was united a will more inflexible, if possible, than that of aMexican mule; a frame of Herculean mould, and a spirit in which profoundgravity and reverence waged incessant warfare with a keen appreciationof the ludicrous. Peacefully inclined in disposition, with a tendencyto believe well of all men, and somewhat free and easy in the formationof his opinions, he was very unwilling to resist authority; but the loveof truth and justice was stronger within him than the love of peace.

  In company with his shepherd, Quentin Dick--a man of nearly his own sizeand build--Andrew Black proceeded to a secluded hollow in Skeoch Hill togather and place in order the masses of rock which were to form theseats of the communicants at the contemplated religious gathering--whichseats remain to this day in the position they occupied at that time, andare familiarly known in the district as "the Communion stones ofIrongray."