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Book of Scottish Story
Basil Rolland - Chapter 3


See how he clears the points o’ faith.- Burns
Hamlet: Hold you the watch to-night?
Horatio: We do, my lord. - Shakespeare

Day was dawning as our travellers reached the camp of the Covenanters. They rested for some time to partake of victuals, which their journey rendered necessary. Isaac Rolland then judged it proper to present his son to Montrose, and accordingly conducted him to Dunottar, where the general then was.
They were admitted to his presence.

"I expected you sooner, Rolland," said Montrose. "What intelligence have you gathered?”

"The enemy are preparing to take the field with a numerous and well-appointed force, and I have gathered, from a sure source, that it is their intention to attack our forces as soon as some needful supplies are received from the north.”

"How do the citizens stand affected? "

"Almost to a man they have joined Aboyne. They have fortified the city and the bridge, and are determined to hold out to the last. "

"The ungrateful truce-breaking slaves!" said Montrose. . "But vengeance is at hand. Who is this young man whom thou. hast brought with thee?”

"My son," said Isaac, "whom grace hath inclined to take part with us.”

"A youth of gallant bearing ! Young man, thy father’s faithfulness is a warrant for thine. Let thy fidelity equal thy reputed spirit, and thou shalt not lack the encouragement due to thy deserts. You may both retire to rest, and I will apprise you of the duties required of you.”

They saluted the general, and retired.

A foraging party returned with a report that Aboyne was already on his march. This was found to be incorrect by some scouts who had been dispatched that evening to gather what information they could about the enemy’s motions. They brought the intelligence, however, that Aboyne’s equipments were completed, and that it was the popular belief that he would march immediately to meet the Covenanters. Preparations were accordingly made for immediate marching. Numerous foraging parties scoured the adjacent country for provisions, and horses for transporting the baggage and ammunition. According to the custom of the Congregation, when about to engage in warfare, the next day was appointed for a general fast throughout the host.

There perhaps never was assembled any body for the purposes of religious worship that exhibited such an appearance of romantic sublimity as the Covenanters did on such occasions. At the present time they were assembled under the blue canopy of heaven, in a hollow valley betwixt two mountains, the summits of which were planted with sentinels, to give notice to the main body of any interruption. Upon the declivity of one of the mountains was erected a wooden pulpit, before which was assembled the army, to the number of about 2000 men. A dead stillness prevailed among them, while the preacher, a man richly endowed with that nervous and fiery eloquence which was the most effectual with men in their situation, explained to them a passage from the fifteenth chapter of Second Samuel :—"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not ; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." This passage he applied to the condition of the Covenanters. He described the sufferings and grievances of the persecuted kirk, and showed that the Almighty did not disregard these, but, in His own time, would avenge the blood of His saints. He told them that God was now calling on all who were on His side to fight for the good of the land, and that His soul could have no pleasure in those who drew back from the approaching contest. "And now," said he, while the fire flashed from his eyes, as with prophetic ardour, which was answered by a corresponding enthusiasm in his hearers; "and now the men of Babylon have set up an image of gold, even a molten image, and they say, ‘ Fall down and worship the image that we have set up ;’ and they have fenced themselves with trenched cities, and they have encompassed themselves with spears, and a multitude of horsemen and slingers, and archers, and they say unto this help from Egypt, ‘ This shall be for a deliverance unto us.’ But fear not ye the multitude of their strong ones, neither be dismayed at the neighing of their horses; for the Lord of hosts is on our side, and His right hand shall work valiantly for us. He breaketh the iron weapon, and burneth the chariot in the hre. He laugheth at the bow of steel and the rattling of the quiver. Walled cities are no defence against His hand, nor the place of strength, when His thunder muttereth in the sky. Wherefore, gird up your loins to tight the battles of the Lord. Smite the Amalekites from Dan even unto Beersheba. Destroy the lines of their tents, and their choice young men, that the reproach may be removed from the camp of Israel. Turn not aside from the sacrifice like the faint-hearted Saul, but smite them till they be utterly consumed, and their name become a hissing, and an abomination, and a by-word upon the earth. 'Think on your children, and your children’s children, from age to age, who shall hold your name in everlasting remembrance, and look to the reward of Him who sitteth between the cherubim, who hath said, that whosoever layeth down his life for My sake shall find it.

" The days are now come when the father shall deliver up the son to death, and the son the father; when the brother shall be divided against the sister, and the sister against the mother. But the days of Zion’s peace shall also come, when all the princes of the earth shall bow down before her, and call her the fairest among women. (Canticles, sixth and first.) The house of the Lord shall be established on the tops of the mountains. The New ]erusalem shall appear as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelations, twenty-first and second.) The tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor sighing, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things shall have passed away. Go forth, then, to the battle. Quit yourselves like men. Be strong. Look to those ancient worthles who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the alien. Fear not their multitude nor their fury, for he that is with you is greater than your enemies. Think on the persecuted state of Zion, and may the God of battles be for a buckler and a defence unto you!"

A hum of approbation ran along the lines of the Covenanters at the conclusion of this discourse, while the preacher called upon them to join with him in praising the Almighty. The part chosen was that eloquent passage of the eightieth psalm, where the Israelites are spoken of under the similitude of a vine.

As the last note of this hymn ascended in solemn strains to the lofty heaven, several of the scouts made their appearance, with jaded horses, bringing the news that Aboyne was already on his march, and approaching rapidly to Stonehaven. Orders were immediately given to the army of the Covenanters to set out on their journey. These were promptly obeyed, and, in a few hours, the armies met at Megray Hill. This was announced to the Covenanters by their advanced guard being driven back by the royalists. It was not, however, Aboyne’s intention to hazard a general engagement, as his soldiers were wearied by the march. But Montrose, dispatching a strong band of infantry, supported by a detachment of cavalry, broke upon them suddenly both in flank and rear, involved them in the greatest confusion, and forced them to seek Aberdeen by a rapid flight, after leaving a considerable number dead on the field. Montrose pursued them, with the greatest possible dispatch, to Aberdeen, where they made a stand. The Bridge of Dee was fortified in a very strong manner, and protected by four field-pieces and a strong guard of the citizens. Montrose made several attempts at forcing it, but was vigorously repulsed by the defenders, who poured in a shower of missiles with effect on the assailants, while they themselves were so sheltered by their breastworks that they received little injury. Montrose was obliged, therefore, to draw off his forces, and, as it was evening, gave up the thought of any farther attack. Having found a convenient place, he pitched his camp about a mile from the bridge, and stationed his sentinels on the little eminences in its neighbourhood, while those of Aboyne were planted on both sides of the river for a considerable distance above and below the bridge. Both armies, fatigued with the exertions of the day, availed themselves of the repose offered by their situation, and in a short time the busy hum of both, camps was changed into stillness.

Our hero had accompanied the army during the march, with that wonder and admiration which youthful minds feel in such spirit-stirring scenes. The strictness of the military duty. the contempt of danger, the degree of subordination and regularity that prevailed (for the abilities of Montrose prevented that ruinous confusion which the camp of the Covenanters too often exhibited), and the promptness and patience with which the necessary commands were executed made an impression on the mind of Basil strongly in favour of his military life. The general, at the commencement of the march, ordered him to be near his person. and by means, as the Covenanters would have said, of a "soul-searching” conversation, contrived to get a clear view of his character and worth. The opinion that he made up was in favour of Basil, and he scrupled not to give him more direct assurances of his favour than he had hitherto done. The honours that had been paid him by this distinguished statesman and general gave rise to a new train of ideas in his mind; and, as the army was preparing for the night’s repose, he was charging the enemy at the head of his own troops, succouring the distressed damsel, and hurling unheard-of destruction on his foes. But the mightiest conquerors have often found themselves conquered when they least expected it; and, as the valiant Don Quixote felt his very soul withering when thinking on the absence of his Dulcinea, so our hero regarded the short time that he had been separated from his Mary to be an age. An ugly river and a hostile army lay between him and his love. If Leander swam across the Hellespont, surely he might cross the Dee, and trust the rest to his prudence and good fortune.

His father was engaged with the general; so out he wandered, and, by his correct local knowledge, succeeded in passing the various sentinels, and getting to the banks of the river, a little below the rocks called the Craig-lug, where he had the fortune to find a small fishing-boat (for, so far back as the year 1290, Aberdeen is celebrated in history for its salmon-fishings). He easily rowed himself across the river, and, fastening the boat on the northern bank, stole along the water’s edge, and entered that part of the town which, as fronting the harbour, was not walled. He directed his course to the Broadgate, and, as there were still several stragglers in the street, ensconced himself behind a projecting shop till all should be quiet.

When he left the camp, the night was calm and serene. The breeze that floated by was unable to curl the surface of the river, and the moonbeams were dancing in silvery circles on the placid waters as they gurgled by. But this was not of long continuance. The atmosphere became quickly loaded with clouds, the moon was obscured, the rain fell in torrents, and the sullen howling of the east wind, with the hollow muttering of the thunder, indicated one of those storms which not unfrequently disturb the beauty of summer. Basil wrapped his cloak the closer around hin1, and hastened to the provost’s house. All in it was dark and still. He knocked; but no one returned an answer. Astonished at this, he endeavoured to open the door, but it resisted his efforts. Being acquainted with all the intricacies of the provost’s domicile, he gained admission by a window, but found the house deserted of its inhabitants and stripped of its furniture. Mary Leslie’s apartment was then the object of his search. It was also desolate. Her lute, her books, and her landscapes were all removed. In groping through the room, his hand fell on a small picture, which the next flash of lightning discovered to be her miniature. He pressed it to his lips and hid it in his bosom, regarding it, as the holy man did the prophetic mantle, as the last unexpected memorial of a lost friend. It would be vain to attempt to describe his amazement at these appearances. He trembled for his friends, when he knew the deeds of violence that were daily practised in these perilous times. He determined to arouse the neighbourhood--to search for, pursue, and destroy in one breath, all who had been any way concerned in this outrage. Reason, however, came to his aid, and he saw the utter uselessness of his attempting such a thing, except by the assistance that he could obtain from the Covenanters. He therefore turned sorrowfully to retrace his steps, which, from the darkness of the night and the violence of the storm, was not an easy matter. Having rowed himself across the river by the little boat, he was making a circuit to reach the camp, when he saw a light at a small distance from the landing-place. It proceeded from a hut that was built at the foot of the rock for the accommodation of the fishermen. Curious to know who were in it at this untimely hour, he pressed forward, and listened to the following dialogue :—

"Ay! an’ will ye tell me that the possession of Joash, the Abiezrite, wasna in Ophrah? But it’s just like a` your fouk ; ye ken naething about the Scriptures, but daze yourselves wi’ that ill-mumbled mass, the prayer-beuk. But your yill’s very gude, and far better than what we have."

"I doubtna, my lad,” said another voice; "your fouk are sae stocked, I daresay Montrose is gaun to mak you a’ Nazarenes, for he gies you neither wine nor strong drink.”

"
Dinna speak lightly o' the Scriptures, Sawnie Hackit; ye’re just a blaspheming Shemei, or a time-serving Balaam.”

"Hout," said Hackit, "gie’s nane o` your foul-mou’d misca’ings. I wunner what the deil garred you turn a
Covenanter, Tammas Granehard, for ye usedna to be that fond o’ covenants, unless it was ane for a fou pint stoup at Jamie Jinks’ hostelry.”

"
Iwasna aye i’ the right way, Sandie, muckle to my shame; but better late mend than never do weel; an’ I`m thinking it would be better for you if ye would come wi’ us, for your fouk can never stand ours, and, instead o’ getting share o’ the spuilzie, ye’ll maybe get but a weel-clawed crown. "

"I doubtna but ye’re very right, Tammas ; but what would come o’ my ten achisons ilka day, forby the jibble o’ drink, an’ my place at Provost Leslie’s ?"

"I’m doubtin’ your place there’ill no’ be worth muckle, if we tak the town. The provost isna a man to be passed over, wha can sae weel afford to pay for’s idolatry.”

"Did ye ever hear, ” said Hackit, "o him ever losing ony thing when the whigs had the town one day and the royalists the next?”

Weel, Sandie," said the other, "I canna just charge my memory wi’ ony thing o’ the kind; and gif it wasna, it was that God-fearing man, Samuel Fairtext, that saved him."

"Ay," said Hackit; "and, when the royalists were here, it was the jolly old cavalier that saved Fairtext. Troth, it’s the only wiselike partnership that I ken o’ at present; for, if they had been baith whigs or baith royalists, they would have been ruined out o’ house and ha' ere this time. But, ye see, when the royalists were in the town, Fairtext kept himself quiet, and they wadna meddle wi’ him on Provost Leslie’s account. And now a’ the gudes are removed, an’ put under Fairtext’s care; sae that the Covenanters wudna tak the value of a shoe-tie frae him, for he can pray and grane as weel as ony o’ them. The provost and his dochter have left their ain house, and are to dwell wi’ Fairtext till the danger be ower."

By the latter part of this conversation, Basil felt as if the imaginary weight of sorrow were removed from his bosom ; but, instead of it, his arms were pinioned on a sudden, by a strong physical force, so firmly, that he was unable to move himself round to discover the occasion of this unceremonious embrace.

"Come here, ye dotterels!” said a strong voice; "ye sit there, gabbin’ an’ drinkin’ awa, nae caring wha may be hearing you. An’ you, my birkie, will better be as quiet’s you can, or, deil tak rne,—an’ I’m no used to swear, —but I’ll scour my durk atween the ribs o’ ye.”

A couple of men now came out of the hut and assisted in dragging Basil into it. As soon as they had forced him in, the person who had first seized him quitted his hold, exclaiming, " Eh, sirs! is that you?” Hackit also let him go, and Basil was able to look around him. There was neither chair nor table in the booth, but turf seats around the walls, plentifully littered with straw. A candle, fixed in the neck of an empty bottle, illuminated the place, and revealed a goodly quantity of bottles, with two or three horn drinking-cups on the floor, by which it appeared that the party had been engaged in a debauch.

Thomas Granehard still kept his hold, and, in a stern voice, demanded what he was?

"What the deil’s your business wi’ that ?” said Hackit. " I ken him, an' that’s eneuch.”

"But I am strong in spirit," muttered the Covenanter.

"The toom bottles testify that, to a certainty, Tammas,” said the other.

"But, never mind; get anither stoup, Geordie, an’ sit down, Master Basil.”

"Blithely," said Geordie; "and troth, Master Rolland, I didna ken it was you, or I wudna hae handled you sae roughly. But sit down, for its a coarse night.”

"I may not,” said Basil. "I must to the camp. But why do I find you here? ”

"Ou,” said Hackit, "ye see Geordie and me belangs to Aboyne, for the provost sent a’ his servants to him. We’re upon the watch the night, ye mann ken. But wha, i’ the name of the seventy disciples, could stand there-out in a night like this? Sae we made up to the Covenanters’ warders, and met in wi’ Tammas there, an auld acquaintance ; and we thought it best to come here and keep ourselves warm wi’ sic liquor as we could get, and let the camps watch themselves?

"Do you know that you all expose yourselves to death for this frolic ?"

"There gang twa words to that bargain. We’ve done a’ that could be reasonably expected,—we watched till the storm came."

"Well, you are not accountable to me; I must depart."

"Weel, a gude evening to you. But stop !—now that I mind—ye maun gie me the pass-word."

“The pass-word !” said Basil, in a tone of surprise.

"Ay, the pass-word! Ye see, Sergeant Clinker says to me, ‘ Now, Saunders, if ony ane comes to you that canna say BALGOWNIE, ye’re to keep him and bring him to me.’ Sae, for as weel’s I like you, Master Basil, ye canna pass without it.”

"BALGOWNIE, then," said Basil laughing.

Hackit turned on his heel, saying it was "vera satisfactory,” when Granehard remembered that he had got a similar injunction; wherefore, making shift to steady himself a little by leaning on his arquebuss, he delivered himself thus :—

"Beloved brethren,—I mean young man,—I, even I, have also received a commandment from ancient Snuffgrace, saying, ‘Thou shalt abstain from wine and strong drink ; and whosoever cometh unto thee that cannot give the pass, TIGLATHPELESER, thou shalt by no means allow him to escape, otherwise thou shalt be hanged on a tree, as was the bloody Haman, the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite.” Wherefore now, repeat unto me the word—the light of the moon is darkened—another cup, Sandie—woe to the Man of Sin—a fearsome barking—dumb dogs—Malachi"— And he sank down in a state of complete and helpless intoxication.

Basil earnestly advised Hackit and his companions to return immediately to their posts, and retraced his steps to the camp, as the reader may judge, not excessively gratified with the issue of the night’s adventure.


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