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Book of Scottish Story
Ezra Peden


“I sat and watched while all men slept, and lo!
Between the green earth and the deep green sea
I saw bright spirits pass, pure as the touch
Of May’s first finger on the eastern hill.
Behind them followed fast a little cloud ;
And from the cloud an evil spirit came--
A damned shape—one who in the dark pit
Held sovereign sway; and power to him was given
To chase the blessed spirits from the earth,
And rule it for a season.
Soon he shed
His hellish slough, and many a subtle wile ;
Was his to seem a heavenly spirit to man.
First he a hermit, sore subdued in flesh,
O'er a cold cruse of water and a crust,
Poured out meek prayers abundant.
Then he changed
Into a maid when she first dreams of man,
And from beneath two silken eyelids sent
The sidelong light of two such wondrous eyes,
That all the saints grew sinners. He subdued
Those wanton smiles, and grew a reverend dame,
With wintry ringlets, and grave lips, which dropt
Proverbial honey in her grandson’s ear.
Then a professor of God’s Word he seemed,
And o’er a multitude of upturned eyes
Showered blessed dews, and made the pitchy path
Down which howl damned spirits, seem the bright
Thrice-hallowed way to heaven. Yet grimly through
The glorious veil of those seducing shapes
Frowned out the fearful spirit.”

Chapter One

The religious legend which supplies my story with the motto, affords me no further assistance in arranging and interpreting the various traditional remembrances of the colloquies between one of the chiefs of the ancient Presbyterian Kirk and one of the inferior spirits of darkness. It is seldom that tradition requires any illustration; its voice is clear, and its language simple. It seeks to conceal nothing ; what it can explain it explains, and scorns, in the homely accuracy of its protracted details, all mystery and reservation. But in the present story, there is much which the popular spirit of research would dread to have revealed;—a something too mystical and hallowed to be sought into by a devout people. Often as I have listened to it, I never heard it repeated without mutual awe in the teller and the auditor. The most intrepid peasant becomes graver and graver as he proceeds, stops before the natural termination of the story, and hesitates to pry into the supernatural darkness of the tradition. It would be unwise, therefore, to seek to expound or embellish the legend,—it shall be told as it was told to me; I am but as a humble priest responding from the traditionary oracles, and the words of other years pass without change from between my lips.

Ezra Peden was one of the shepherds of the early Presbyterian flock, and distinguished himself as an austere and enthusiastic pastor; fearless in his ministration, delighting in wholesome discipline, and guiding in the way of grace the peer as well as the peasant. He grappled boldly with the infirmities and sins of the times; he spared not the rod in the way of his ministry; and if in the time of peril he laid his hand on the sword, in the time of peace his delight was to place it on the horns of the altar. He spared no vice, he compounded with no sin, and he discussed men’s claims to immortal happiness with a freedom which made them tremble. Amid the fervour of his eloquence, he aspired, like some of his fellow-professors of that period, to the prophetic mantle. Plain and simple in his own apparel, he counted the mitred glory and exterior magnificence of the hierarchy a sin and an abomination, and preferred preaching on a wild hill, or in a lonesome glen, to the most splendid edifice.

Wherever he sojourned, dance and song fled ;—the former he accounted a devoting of limbs which God made to the worship of Satan; the latter he believed to be a sinful meting out of wanton words to a heathen measure. Satan, he said, leaped and danced, and warbled and sung, when he came to woo to perdition the giddy sons and daughters of men. He dictated the colour and the cut of men’s clothes—it was seemly for those who sought salvation to seek it in a sober suit; and the ladies of his parish were obliged to humble their finery, and soberdown their pride, before his sarcastic sermons on female paintings, and plumings, and perfumings, and the unloveliness of love-locks. He sought to make a modest and sedate grace abound among women; courtship was schooled and sermoned into church controversy, and love into mystical professions ; the common civilities between the sexes were doled out with a suspicious hand and a jealous charity, and the primrose path through the groves of dalliance to the sober vale of marriage was planted with thorns and sown with briars.

He had other endowments not uncommon among the primitive teachers of the Word. In his day, the empire of the prince of darkness was more manifest among men than now, and his ministry was distinguished, like the reign of King Saul, by the persecution of witches, and elves, and evil spirits. He made himself the terror of all those who dealt in divinations, or consulted the stars, or sought to avert witchcraft by sinful spell and charm, instead of overcoming it by sorrowings and spiritual watchings. The midnight times of planetary power he held as the prime moments of Satan’s glory on earth, and he punished Hallowmas revellers as chief priests in the infernal rites. He consigned to church censure and the chastening of rods a wrinkled dame who sold a full sea and a fair wind to mariners, and who insulted the apostles, and made a mystical appeal to the twelve signs of heaven in setting a brood goose with a dozen eggs. His wrath, too, was observed to turn against all those who compounded with witches, and people who carried evil influence in their eyes -- this was giving tribute to the fiend, and bribing the bottomless pit.

He rebuked the venerable dame, during three successive Sundays, for placing a cream bowl and new-baked cake in the paths of the nocturnal elves who, she imagined, had plotted to steal her grandson from the mother’s bosom He turned loose many Scripture threatenings against those diminutive and capricious beings, the fairies, and sought to preach them from the land. He prayed on every green hill, and held communings in every green valley. He wandered forth at night, as a spiritual champion, to give battle to the enemies of the light. The fairies resigned the contest with a foe equipped from such an armoury, and came no more among the sons and daughters of men. The sound of their minstrelsy ceased on the hill; their equestrian processions were seen no more sweeping past at midnight beneath the beam of the half-filled moon; and only a solitary and sullen elf or two remained to lament the loss of their immemorial haunts. With the spirits of evil men and the lesser angels of darkness he waged a fierce and dubious war; he evoked an ancient ghost from a ruined tower, which it had shared for generations with the owl; and he laid/or tranquillized a fierce and troubled spirit which had haunted the abode of a miser in a neighbouring churchyard, and seemed to gibber and mumble over his bones. All these places were purified by prayer, and hallowed by the blessing of the gifted pastor Ezra Peden.

The place of his ministry seemed fitted by nature, and largely endowed by history, for the reception and entertainment of all singular and personified beliefs. Part was maritime, and part mountainous, uniting the aerial creeds of the shepherds with the stern and more imposing beliefs of the husband-man, and the wild and characteristic superstitious of the sailors. It often happened, when he had marched against and vanquished a sin or a superstition of native growth, he was summoned to wage war with a new foe; to contend with a legion of errors, and a strange race of spirits from the haunted coasts of Norway or Sweden. All around him on every side were records of the mouldering influence of the enemies of faith and charity. On the hill where the heathen Odin had appeared to his worshippers in the circle of granite, the pillars of his Runic temple promised to be immortal; but the god was gone, and his worship was extinct. The sword, the spear, and the banner, had found sanctuary from fields of blood on several lofty promontories; but shattered towers and dismantled castles told that for a time hatred, oppression, and revenge had ceased to triumph over religion. Persecution was now past and gone, a demon exorcised by the sword had hallowed three wild hills and sanctified two little green valleys with the blood of martyrs. Their gravestones, bedded among heather or long grass, cried up to heaven against their oppressors in verses which could not surely fail to elude the punishment awarded by the Kirk against poesy. Storms, and quicksands, and unskilful mariners, or, as common belief said, the evil spirits of the deep, had given to the dangerous coast the wrecks of three stately vessels; and there they made their mansions, and raised whirlwinds, and spread quicksands, and made sandbanks, with a wicked diligence, which neither prayer nor preaching could abate. The forms under which these restless spirits performed their pranks have unfortunately been left undefined by a curious and poetical peasantry.

It happened one winter during the fifteenth year of the ministry of Ezra Peden, and in the year of grace 1705, that he sat by his fire pondering deep among the treasures of the ancient Presbyterian worthies, and listening occasionally to the chafing of the coming tide against cliff and bank, and the fitful sweep of heavy gusts of wind over the roof of his manor. During the day he had seemed more thoughtful than usual; he had consulted Scripture with an anxious care, and fortified his own interpretation of the sacred text by the wisdom of some of the chiefs and masters of the calling. A Bible, too, bound in black oak, and clasped with silver, from the page of which sin had received many a rebuke, and the abominations of witchcraft and sorcery had, been cleansed from the land, was brought from its velvet sanctuary and placed beside him. Thus armed and prepared, he sat like a watcher of old , on the towers of Judah like one who girds up his loins and makes bare his right arm for some fierce and dubious contest.

All this stir and preparation passed not unnoticed of an old man, his predecessor’s coeval, and prime minister of the household ; a person thin, religious, and faithful, whose gifts in prayer were reckoned by some old people nearly equal to those of the anointed pastor. To such a distinction Josiah never thought of aspiring; he contented himself with swelling the psalm into something like melody on Sunday; visiting the sick as a forerunner of his master’s approach, and pouring forth prayers and graces at burials and banquetings, as long and dreary as a hill sermon. He looked on the minister as something superior to man; a being possessed by a divine spirit; and he shook his head with all its silver hairs, and uttered a gentle groan or two, during some of the more rapt and glowing passages of Ezra’s sermons.

This faithful personage stood at the door of his master’s chamber, unwilling to go in, and yet loath to depart. "Josiah, thou art called, Josiah," said Ezra, in a grave tone, "so come hither; the soul of an evil man, a worker of iniquity, is about to depart; one who drank the blood of saints, and made himself fat with the inheritance of the righteous. It hath been revealed to me that his body is sorely troubled; but I say unto you, he will not go from the body without the strong compulsion of prayer, and therefore am I summoned to war with the enemy; so I shall arm me to the task."

Josiah was tardy in speech, and before he could reply, the clatter of a horse’s hoofs was heard at the gate : the rider leapt down, and, splashed with mire and sprinkled with sleet, he stood in an instant before the minister.

"Ah, sir," said the unceremonious messenger, "haste ! snatch up the looms of redemption, and bide not the muttering of prayer, else auld Mahoun will have his friend Bonshaw to his cauldron, body and soul, if he hasna him half-way hame already. Godsake, sir, start and fly, for he cannot shoot over another hour! He talks of perdition, and speaks about a broad road and a great fire, and friends who have travelled the way before him. He’s no his lane, however,—that’s one comfort; for I left him conversing with an old cronie, whom no one saw but himself —one whose bones are ripe and rotten ; and mickle they talked of a place called Tophet,—a hot enough region, if one can credit them; but I aye doubt the accounts of such travellers,—they are like the spies of the land of promise ”——

"Silence thine irreverent tongue, and think of thy latter end with fear and trembling,” said Ezra, in a stern voice. "Mount thy horse, and follow me to the evil man, thy master; brief is the time, and black is the account, and stern and inexorable will the summoning angel be.”

And leaping on their horses, they passed from the manse, and sought out the bank of a little busy stream, which, augmented by a fall of sleet, lifted up a voice amid its rocky and desolate glen equal to the clamour of a mightier brook. The glen or dell was rough with sharp and projecting crags, which, hanging forward at times from opposite sides, seemed to shut out all further way; while from between their dark gray masses the rivulet leapt out in many divided streams. The brook again gathered together its waters, and subsided into several clear deep pools, on which the moon, escaping for a moment from the edge of a cloud of snow, threw a cold and wavering gleam. Along the sweeps of the stream a rough way, shaped more by nature than by the hand of man, winded among the rocks ; and along this path proceeded Ezra, pondering on the vicissitudes of human life.

At length he came where the glen expanded, and the sides became steep and woody; amid a grove of decaying trees, the mansion of Bonshaw rose, square and gray. Its walls of rough granite were high and massive ; the roof, ascending steep and sharp, carried a covering of red sandstone flags ; around the whole the rivulet poured its scanty waters in a deep moat, while a low-browed door, guarded by loopholes, gave it the character of a place of refuge and defence. Though decayed and war-worn now, it had, in former times, been a fair and courtly spot. A sylvan nook or arbour, scooped out of the everlasting rock, was wreathed about with honeysuckle; a little pool, with a margin studded with the earliest primroses, lay at its entrance ; and a garden, redeemed by the labour of man from the sterile upland, had its summer roses and its beds of lilies, all bearing token of some gentle and departed inhabitant.

As he approached the house, a candle glimmered in a small square window, and threw a line or two of straggling light along the path. At the foot of the decayed porch he observed the figure of a man kneeling, and presently he heard a voice chanting what sounded like a psalm or a lyke-wake hymn. Ezra alighted and approached,—the form seemed insensible of his presence, but stretched his hands towards the tower; and while the feathery snow descended on his gray hair, he poured his song forth in a slow and melancholy manner.

"I protest," said the messenger, "here kneels old William Cameron, the Covenanter. Hearken, he pours out some odd old-world malison against Bonshaw. I have heard that the laird hunted him long and sore in his youth, slew his sons, burned his house, threw his two bonny daughters desolate,--that was nae gentle deed, however,--and broke the old mother’s heart with downright sorrow. Sae I canna much blame the dour auld carle for remembering it even now, though the candles of Bonshaw are burning in the socket, and his light will soon be extinguished for ever. Let us hearken to his psalm or his song ; it is no every night we have minstrelsy at Bonshaw gate, I can tell ye that."

The following are the verses, which have been preserved under the title of "Ane godly exultation of William Cameron, a chosen vessel, over Bonshaw, the persecutor.” I have adopted a plainer, but a less descriptive title—

THE DOWNFALL OF DALZELL.

I.
The wind is cold, the snow falls fast,
The night is dark and late,
As I lift aloud my voice and cry
By the oppressor’s gate.
There is a voice in every hill.
A tongue in every stone;
The greenwood sings a song of joy.
Since thou art dead and gone;
A poet's voice is in each mouth,
And songs of triumph swell,
Glad songs, that tell the gladsome earth
The downfall of Dalzell.

II.
As I raised up my voice to sing,
I heard the green earth say,
Sweet am I now to beast and bird,
Since thou art passed away:
I hear no more the battle shout.
The martyrs' dying moans:
My cottages and cities sing
From their foundation-stones .
The carbine and the culverin’s mute,--
The death-shot and the yell
Are turned into a hymn of joy,
For thy downfall, Dalzell

III.
I’ve trod thy banner in the dust,
And caused the raven call
From thy bride-chamber to the owl
Hatched on thy castle wall;
I’ve made thy minstrels’ music dumb,
And silent now to fame
Art thou, save when the orphan casts
His curses on thy name.
Now thou may’st say to good men’s prayers
A long and last farewell :
There's hope for every sin save thine,-
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

IV.
The grim pit opes for thee her gates,
Where punished spirits wail,
And ghastly Death throws wide his door,
And hails thee with a Hail.
Deep from the grave there comes a voice,
A voice with hollow tones,
Such as a spirit's tongue would have
That spoke through hollow bones :—
"Arise, ye martyred men, and shout
From earth to howling hell;
He comes, the persecutor comes!
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"

V.
O'er an old battle-field there rushed
A wind, and with a moan
The severed limbs all rustling rose,
Even fellow bone to bone.
"Lo ! there he goes," I heard them cry,
"Like babe in swathing band,
Who shook the temples of the Lord,
And passed them 'neath his brand.
Cursed be the spot where he was born,
There let the adders dwell,
And from his father’s hearthstone hiss:
All hail to thee, Dalzell!"

VI.
I saw thee growing like a tree,-
Thy green head touched the sky,-
But birds far from thy branches built,
The wild deer passed thee by;
No golden dew dropt on thy bough,
Glad summer scorned to grace
Thee with her flowers, nor shepherds wooed
Beside thy dwelling place;
The axe has come and hewed thee down,
Nor left one shoot to tell
Where all thy stately glory grew:
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

VII.
An ancient man stands by thy gate,
His head like thine is gray;
Gray with the woes of many years,
Years fourscore and a day.
Five brave and stately sons were his ;
Two daughters, sweet and rare;
An old dame, dearer than them all,
And lands both broad and fair ;—
Two broke their hearts when two were slain,
And three in battle fell,-
An old man’s curse shall cling to thee,—
Adieu, adieu, Dalzell!

VIII.
And yet I sigh to think of thee,
A warrior tried and true
As ever spurred a steed, when thick
The splintering lances flew.
I saw thee in thy stirrups stand,
And hew thy foes down fast,
When Grierson fled, and Maxwell failed,
And Gordon stood aghast;
And Graeme, saved by thy sword, raged fierce
As one redeemed from hell.
I came to curse thee,—and I weep :
So go in peace, Dalzell!

When this wild and unusual hymn concluded, the Cameronian arose and departed, and Ezra and his conductor entered the chamber of the dying man.

He found him stretched on a couch of state, more like a warrior cut in marble than a breathing being. He had still a stern and martial look, and his tall and stalwart frame retained something of that ancient exterior beauty for which his youth was renowned. His helmet, spoiled by time of its plumage, was placed on his head; a rusty corslet was on his bosom; in his arms, like a bride, lay his broad and famous sword; and as he looked at it, the battles of his youth passed in array before him. Armour and arms hung grouped along the walls, and banners, covered with many a quaint and devotional device, waved in their places as the domestic closed the door on Ezra and the dying warrior in the chamber of presence.

The devout man stood and regarded his ancient parishioner with a meek and sorrowful look; but nothing visible or present employed Bonshaw’s reflections or moved his spirit—his thoughts had wandered back to earlier years, and to scenes of peril and blood. He imagined himself at the head of his horsemen in the hottest period of the persecution, chasing the people from rock to rock, and from glen to cavern. His imagination had presented to his eye the destruction of the children of William Cameron. He addressed their mother in a tone of ironical supplication,--

"Woman, where is thy devout husband, and thy five holy sons? Are they busied in interminable prayers or everlasting sermons? Whisper it in my ear, woman,--thou hast made that reservation doubtless in thy promise of concealment. Come, else I will wrench the truth out of thee with these gentle catechists, the thumbscrew and the bootikin. Serving the Lord, sayest thou, woman? Why, that is rebelling against the king. Come, come, a better answer, else I shall make thee a bride for a saint on a bloody bed of heather.

Here he paused and waved his hand like a warrior at the head of armed men, and thus he continued,--"Come, uncock thy carbine, and harm not the woman till she hear the good tidings. Sister saint, how many bairns have ye? I bless God, saith she, five—Reuben, Simon, Levi, Praisegod, and Patrick. A bonny generation, woman. Here, soldier, remove the bandages from the faces of those two young men before ye shoot them. There stands Patrick, and that other is Simon ;—dost thou see the youngest of thy affections? The other three are in Sarah’s bosom—thyself shall go to Abraham’s The woman looks as if she doubted me ;—here, toss to her those three heads—often have they lain in her lap, and mickle have they prayed in their time. Out, thou simpleton! canst thou not endure the sight of the heads of thine own fair-haired sons, the smell of powder, and the flash of a couple of carbines?”

The re-acting of that ancient tragedy seemed to exhaust for a little while the old persecutor. He next imagined himself receiving the secret instructions of the Council.

"What, what, my lord, must all this pleasant work fall to me? A reeking house and a crowing cock shall be scarce things in Nithsdale. Weepings and Wailings shall be rife—the grief of mothers, and the moaning of fatherless babes. There shall be smoking ruins and roofless kirks, and prayers uttered in secret, and sermons preached at a venture and a hazard on the high and solitary places. Where is General Turner?—Gone where the wine is good?—And where is Grierson?—Has he begun to talk of repentance?—Gordon thinks of the unquenchable fire which the martyred Cameronian raved about; and gentle Graeme vows he will cut no more throats unless they wear laced cravats. Awell, my lords; I am the kings servant, and not Christ’s, and shall boune me to the task."

His fancy flew over a large extent of time, and what he uttered now may be supposed to be addressed to some invisible monitor ; he seemed not aware of the presence of the minister.

"Auld, say you, and gray-headed, and the one foot in the grave; it is time to repent, and spice and perfume over my rottenness, and prepare for heaven? I’ll tell ye, but ye must not speak on’t—I tried to pray late yestreen—I knelt down, and I held up my hands to heaven-and what think ye I beheld? a widow woman and her five fair sons standing between me and the Most High, and calling out, ‘ Woe, woe, on Bonshaw.’ I threw myself with my face to the earth, and what got I between my hands? A gravestone which covered five martyrs, and cried out against me for blood which I had wantonly shed. I heard voices from the dust whispering around me; and the angel which watched of old over the glory of my house hid his face with his hands, and I beheld the evil spirits arise with power to punish me for a season. I’ll tell ye what I will do--among the children of those I have slain shall my inheritance be divided; so sit down, holy sir, and sit down, most learned man, and hearken to my bequest. To the children of three men slain on Irongray Moor--to the children of two slain on Closeburn-hill—to—no, no, no, all that crowd, that multitude, cannot be the descendants of those whom I doomed to perish by the rope, and the pistol, and the sword. Away, I say, ye congregation of zealots and psalm-singers !—disperse, I say, else I shall trample ye down beneath my horse’s hoofs ! Peace, thou white-headed stirrer of sedition, else I shall cleave thee to the collar !—wilt thou preach still? "

Here the departing persecutor uttered a wild imprecation, clenched his teeth, leaped to his feet, waved his sword, and stood for several moments, his eyes flashing from them a fierce light, and his whole strength gathered into a blow which he aimed at his imaginary adversary. But he stiffened as he stood—a brief shudder passed over his frame, and he was dead before he fell on the floor, and made the hall re-echo.

The minister raised him in his arms —a smile of military joy still dilated his stern face—and his hand grasped the sword hilt so firmly that it required some strength to wrench it from his hold. Sore, sore the good pastor lamented that he had no death-bed communings with the departed chief, and he expressed this so frequently, that the peasantry said, on the day of his burial, that it would bring back his spirit to earth and vex mankind, and that Ezra would find him particularly untractable and bold. Of these whisperings he took little heed, but he became somewhat more grave and austere than usual.

End of Chapter One


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