So saying he made his young master dismount, and carried away all his horseman's gear and his arms, which he hid in a heap of field-manure behind the house. Then he took Earlstoun to his own house, and put upon him a long dress of his wife's. Hardly had he been clean-shaven and arrayed in a clean white cap, when the troopers came clattering into the town. They had heard that he and some others of the prominent rebels had passed that way; and they went from door to door, knocking and asking, "Saw ye anything of Sandy Gordon of Earlstoun?"
So going from house to house they came to the door of the ancient Gordon retainer, and Earlstoun had hardly time to run to the corner and begin to rock the cradle with his foot before the soldiers came to ask the same question there. But they passed on without suspicion, only saying one to the other as they went out, "My certes, Billy, but yon was a sturdy hizzie!"
After that there was nothing but the heather and the mountain cave for Alexander Gordon for many a day. He had wealth of adventures, travelling by night, hiding and sleeping by day. Sometimes he would venture to the house of one who sympathized with the Covenanters, only to find that the troopers were already in possession. Sometimes, in utter weariness, he slept so long that when he awoke he would find a party searching for him quite close at hand; then there was nothing for it but to lie close like a hare in a covert till the danger passed by.
Once when he came to his own house of Earlstoun he was only an hour or two there before the soldiers arrived to search for him.
His wife had hardly time to stow him in a secret recess behind the ceiling of a room over the kitchen, in which place he abode several days, having his meals passed to him from above, and breathing through a crevice in the wall.
After this misadventure he was sometimes in Galloway and sometimes in Holland for three or four years. He might even have remained in the Low Countries, but his services were so necessary to his party in Scotland that he was repeatedly summoned to come over into Galloway and the west to take up the work of organizing resistance to the government.
During most of the time the tower of Earlstoun was a barracks of the soldiers, and it was only by watching his opportunity that Alexander Gordon could come home to see his wife, and put his hand upon his bairns' heads as they lay a-row in their cots. Yet come he sometimes did, especially when the soldiers of the garrison were away on duty in the more distant parts of Galloway. Then the wanderer would steal indoors in the gloaming, soft-footed, like a thief, into his own house, and sit talking with his wife and an old retainer or two who were fit to be trusted with the secret. Yet while he sat there, one was ever on the watch, and at the slightest signs of king's men in the neighborhood Alexander Gordon rushed out and ran to the great oak tree, which you may see to this day standing in sadly diminished glory in front of the great house of Earlstoun.
Now it stands alone, all the trees of the forest having been cut away from around it during the subsequent poverty which fell upon the family. A rope ladder lay snugly concealed among the ivy that clad the trunk of the tree. Up this Alexander Gordon climbed. When he arrived at the top he pulled the ladder after him, and found himself upon an ingeniously constructed platform built with a shelter over it from the rain, high among the branchy tops of the great oak. His faithful wife, Jean Hamilton, could make signals to him out of one of the top windows of Earlstoun whether it was safe for him to approach the house, or whether he had better remain hidden among the leaves. If you go now to look for the tree, it is indeed plain and easy to be seen. But though now so shorn and lonely, there is no doubt that two hundred years ago it stood undistinguished among a thousand others that thronged the woodland about the tower of Earlstoun.
Often, in order to give Alexander Gordon a false sense of security, the garrison would be withdrawn for a week or two, and then in the middle of some mirky night or early in the morning twilight the house would be surrounded and the whole place ransacked in search of its absent master.
On one occasion, the man who came running along the narrow river path from Dalry had hardly time to arouse Gordon before the dragoons were heard clattering down through the wood from the high-road.
There was no time to gain the great oak in safety, where he had so often hid in time of need. All Alexander Gordon could do was to put on the rough jerkin of a laboring man, and set to cleaving firewood in the courtyard with the scolding assistance of a maid-servant.
When the troopers entered to search for the master of the house, they heard the maid vehemently "flyting" the great hulking lout for his awkwardness, and threatening to "draw a stick across his back" if he did not work to a better tune.
The commander ordered him to drop his axe, and to point out the different rooms and hiding-places about the castle. Alexander Gordon did so with an air of indifference, as if hunting Whigs were much the same to him as cleaving firewood. He did his duty with a stupid unconcern which successfully imposed on the soldiers; and as soon as they allowed him to go, he fell to his wood-chopping with the same stolidity and rustic boorishness that had marked his conduct.
Some of the officers came up to him and questioned him as to his master's hiding-place in the woods. But as to this he gave them no satisfaction.
"My master," he said, "has no hiding-place that I know of. I always find him here when I have occasion to seek for him, and that is all I care about. But I am sure that if he thought you were seeking him he would immediately show you, for that is ever his custom."
This was one of the answers with a double meaning that were so much in the fashion of the time and so characteristic of the people.
On leaving, the commander of the troop said, "Ye are a stupid kindly nowt, man. See that ye get no harm in such a rebel service."
Sometimes, however, searching waxed so hot and close that Gordon had to withdraw himself altogether out of Galloway and seek quieter parts of the country. On one occasion he was speeding up the Water of ae when he found himself so weary that he was compelled to lie down under a bush of heather and rest before proceeding on his journey. It so chanced that a noted king's man, Dalyell of Glenae, was riding homeward over the moor. His horse started back in astonishment, having nearly stumbled over the body of a sleeping man. It was Alexander Gordon. Hearing the horse's feet, he leaped up, and Dalyell called upon him to surrender. But that was no word to say to a Gordon of Earlstoun. Gordon instantly drew his sword, and, though unmounted, his lightness of foot on the heather and moss more than counterbalanced the advantages of the horseman, and the king's man found himself matched at all points; for the Laird of Earlstoun was in his day a famous swordsman.
Soon the Covenanter's sword seemed to wrap itself about Dalyell's blade and sent it twirling high in the air. In a little while he found himself lying on the heather at the mercy of the man whom he had attacked. He asked for his life, and Alexander Gordon granted it to him, making him promise by his honor as a gentleman that whenever he had the fortune to approach a conventicle (church meeting) he would retire, if he saw a white flag elevated in a particular manner upon a flagstaff. This seemed but a little condition to weigh against a man's life, and Dalyell agreed.
Now, the cavalier was an exceedingly honorable man and valued his spoken word. So on the occasion of a great conventicle at Mitchelslacks, in the parish of Closeburn, he permitted a great field meeting to disperse, drawing off his party in another direction, because the signal streaming from a staff told him the man who had spared his life was among the company of worshippers.
After this, the white signal was frequently used in the neighborhood over which Dalyell's jurisdiction extended, and to the great credit of the cavalier it is recorded that on no single occasion did he violate his plighted word, though he is said to have remarked bitterly that the Whig with whom he fought must have been the devil, "forever going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it."
But Alexander Gordon was too great a man in the affairs of the Praying Societies to escape altogether. He continually went and came from Holland, and some of the letters that he wrote from that country are still in existence. At last, in 1683, having received many letters and valuable papers for delivery to people in refuge in Holland, he went secretly to Newcastle, and agreed with the master of a ship for his voyage to the Low Countries. But just as the vessel was setting out from the mouth of the Tyne, it was accidentally stopped. Some watchers for fugitives came on board, and Earlstoun and his companion were challenged. Earlstoun, fearing the taking of his papers, threw the box that contained them overboard; but it floated, and was taken along with himself.
Then began a long series of misfortunes for Alexander Gordon. He was five times tried, twice threatened with torture--which he escaped, in the judgment hall itself, by such an exhibition of his great strength as terrified his judges. He simulated madness, foamed at the mouth, and finally tore up the benches in order to attack the judges with the fragments. He was sent first to the castle of Edinburgh and afterward to the Bass (an island), "for a change of air," as the record quaintly says. Finally, he was despatched to Blackness Castle, where he remained close in hold till the revolution.
Not till June 5, 1689, were his prison doors thrown open, but even then Alexander Gordon would not go till he had obtained signed documents from the governor and officials of his prison to the effect that he had never altered any of his opinions in order to gain privilege or release.
Alexander Gordon returned to Earlstoun, and lived there quietly far into the next century, taking his share in local and county business with Grierson of Lag and others who had hunted him for years-which is a strange thing to think on, but one also very characteristic of those times.
On account of his great strength and the power of his voice, he was called "the Bull of Earlstoun," and it is said that when he was rebuking his servants the bellowing of the Bull could plainly be heard in Dalry, which is two miles away across hill and stream.
THE ADVENTURE OF GRIZEL COCHRANE
By Arthur Quiller-Couch
At Edinburgh, almost under the shadow of the spire of St. Giles's, in the pavement between that old cathedral church and the County Hall, the passer-by will mark the figure of a heart let into the causeway, and know that he is standing on the "Heart of Midlothian,"
[Footnote: The title of one of Sir Walter Scott's romances.] the site of the old Tolbooth. That gloomy pile vanished in the autumn of 1817; as Mr. Stevenson says, "the walls are now down in the dust; there is no more _squalor carceris_ for merry debtors, no more cage for the old acknowledged prison-breaker; but the sun and the wind play freely over the foundations of the gaol;" this place, "old in story and name-father to a noble book." The author of that same "noble book" possessed himself of some memorials of the keep he had rendered so famous, securing the stones of the gateway, and the door with its ponderous fastenings to decorate the entrance of his kitchen-court at Abbotsford. And this is all that is left.
But in the summer and autumn of 1685 the Tolbooth held prisoners enough, notwithstanding the many gloomy processions that were from time to time walking to the axe and halter in the Grassmarket; and in a narrow cell, late one August evening, two persons were sitting of whom this story shall treat. These two were Sir John Cochrane, of Ochiltree, and his daughter Grizel--here on the saddest of errands, to visit her father in prison and help in his preparations for death.
For Sir John, a stout Whig, had been one of the leaders of Argyle's insurrection; had been beaten with his troops by Lord Ross at Muirdykes; had disbanded his handful of men, and fled for hiding to the house of his uncle, Mr. Gavin Cochrane, of Craigmuir; had been informed against by his uncle's wife, seized, taken to Edinburgh; had been paraded, bound and bareheaded, through the streets by the common executioner; and then on the 3d of July flung into the Tolbooth to await his trial for high treason. And now the trial, too, was over, and Sir John was condemned to die.
As he now sat, with bowed head, on the bench of his cell, it was not the stroke of death that terrified him--for Sir John was a brave man--but the parting with his children, who would through his rashness be left both orphaned and penniless (for the crown would seize his goods), and chiefly the parting with his daughter, who had been his one comfort in the dark days of waiting for the king's warrant of execution to arrive.
Between his apprehension and his trial no friend or kinsman had been allowed to visit him; but now that his death was assured, greater license had been granted. But, anxious to deprive his enemies of a chance to accuse his sons, he had sent them his earnest entreaties and commands that they should abstain from using this permission until the night before his execution. They had obeyed; but obedience of this sort did not satisfy the conscience of his daughter Grizel.
On the very night of his condemnation he heard the key turn in his door; thinking it could only be the gaoler, he scarcely lifted his eyes. But the next moment a pair of soft arms were flung round his neck, and his daughter was weeping on his breast. From that day she had continued to visit him; and now as she sat beside him, staring at the light already fading in the narrow pane, both father and daughter knew that it was almost the last time.
Presently she spoke--
"And this message--tell me truly, have you any hope from it?"
It was an appeal made by Sir John's father, the Earl of Dundonald, to Father Peters, the king's confessor, who often dictated to him, as was well known, on matters of state. But in the short time left, would there be time to press this appeal, and exert that influence in London which alone could stay the death-warrant?
"There is no hope in that quarter," said Sir John.
Grizel knew that he spoke only what was her own conviction, and her despair.
"Argyle is dead these three days," pursued her father, "and with him men of less consequence than I. Are they likely to spare me--a head of the rising? Would they spare any man now, in the heat of their revenge?"
"Father," said Grizel suddenly, "could you spare me from your side for a few days?"
Sir John looked up. He knew by her manner that she had formed some plan in her mind; he knew, too, from her heart, that nothing but chance of winning his safety could take her from him now, of all times.
"My child," he said, "you are going to attempt something."
She nodded, with a brighter face than she had worn for many days.
"And what you would attempt," he went on, "is an impossibility."
"Nothing is impossible to a true heart," she said.
"And who will help you?"
"No one." She was standing before him now, and in the twilight he could see her eyes lit up with hope, her figure upright, and as if full of a man's strength.
"My girl, you will run into danger--into blame. They will not spare you, and--do you know the characters of those men whom you would have to sue?"