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Book of Scottish Story
The Covenanters - Chapter 1

A Traditional Tale of Lanarkshire

Chapter I

During the persecutions in Scotland, consequent upon the fruitless attempt to root out Presbyterianism and establish Episcopacy by force, there lived one Allan Hamilton, a farmer, at the foot of the Lowther mountains in Lanarkshire. His house was situated in a remote valley, which, though of small extent, was beautiful and romantic, being embosomed on all sides by hills covered to their summits with rich verdure. Around the house was a considerable piece of arable ground, and behind it a well-stocked orchard and garden. A few tall trees grew in front, waving their ample foliage over the roof, while at each side of the door was a little plot planted with honeysuckle, wallflower, and various odoriferous shrubs. The owner of this neat mansion was a fortunate man ; for the world had hitherto gone well with him, and if he had lost his wife—an affliction which sixteen years had mellowed over-he was blessed with an affectionate and virtuous daughter. He had two male and as many female servants to assist him in his farming operations ; and so well had his industry been rewarded, that he might be considered as one of the most prosperous husbandmen in that part of the country.

Mary Hamilton, his only child, was, at the time we speak of, nineteen years of age. She was an extremely handsome girl, and, though living in so remote a quarter, the whole district of the Lowthers rung with the fame of her beauty. But this was the least of her qualifications, for her mind was even fairer than her person; and on her pure spirit the impress of virtue and affection was stamped in legible characters.

Allan, though a religious man, was not an enthusiast; and, from certain prudent considerations, had forborne to show any of that ardent zeal for the faith which distinguished many of his countrymen. He approved secretly in his heart of the measures adopted by the Covenanters, and inwardly prayed for their success ; but these matters he kept to his own mind, reading his Bible with his daughter at home, and not exposing himself or her to the machinations of the persecuting party.

It was on an August evening that he and his daughter were seated together in their little parlour. He had performed all his daily labours, and had permitted his servants to go to some rural meeting several miles off. Being thus left undisturbed, he enjoyed with her that quiet rest so grateful after a day spent in toil. The day had been remarkably beautiful; but towards nightfall, the heavens were overcast with dark clouds, and the sun had that sultry glare which is so often the forerunner of a tempest. When this luminary disappeared beneath the mountains, he left a red and glowing twilight behind him; and over the firmament a tissue of crimson clouds was extended, mingled here and there with black vapours. The atmosphere was hot, sickening, and oppressive, and seemed to teem with some approaching convulsion.

"We shall have a storm to-night," Allan remarked to his daughter. "I wish that I had not let the servants out; they will be overtaken in it to a certainty as they cross the moors.”

"There is no fear of them, father,” replied Mary; "they know the road well; at any rate, the tempest will be over before they think of stirring from where they are."

Allan did not make any answer, but continued looking through the window opposite to which he was placed. He could see from it the mountain of Lowther, the highest in Lanarkshire; its huge shoulders and top were distinctly visible, standing forth in grand relief from the red clouds above and behind it. The last rays of the sun, bursting from the rim of the horizon, still lingered upon the hill, and, casting over its western side a broad and luminous glare, gave to it the appearance of a burnished pyramid towering from the earth. This gorgeous vision, however, did not continue long. In a few minutes the mountain lost its ruddy tint, and the sky around it became obscurer. Shortly afterwards a huge sable cloud was observed hovering over its summit. "Look, Mary," cried Allan to his daughter, "did you ever see anything grander than this? Look at yon black cloud that hangs over Lowther." Mary did so, and saw the same thing as was remarked by her father. The cloud came down slowly and. majestically, enveloped the summit of the mountain, and descended for some way upon its sides. At last, when it had fairly settled, confirming, as it were, its dismal empire, a flash of fire was seen suddenly to issue from the midst of it. It revealed, for an instant, the summit of Lowther; then vanishing with meteor-like rapidity, left everything in the former state of gloom. Mary clung with alarm to her father. " Hush, my dear," said Allan, pressing her closely to him, " and you will hear the thunder.” He had scarcely pronounced the word when a clap was heard, so loud that the summit of the mountain appeared to be rent in twain. The terrific sound continued some time, for the neighbouring hills caught it up and re-echoed it to each other, till it died away in the distance. A succession of flashes and peals from different quarters succeeded, and, in a short time, a deluge of rain poured down with the utmost violence.

The two inmates did not hear this noise without alarm. The rain beat loudly upon the windows, while, every now and then, fearful peals of thunder burst overhead. Without, no object was visible: darkness alone prevailed, varied at intervals with fierce glares of lightning. Thereafter gusts of wind began to sweep with tumult through the glen; and the stream which flowed past the house was evidently swollen, from the increased noise of its current rushing impetuously on.

The tempest continued to rage with unabated violence, when a knock was heard at the door. Allan opened it, expecting to find his domestics ; but to his astonishment and dismay he beheld the Rev. Thomas Hervey, one of the most famous preachers of the Covenant.

He was a venerable old man, and seemed overcome with fatigue and want, for he was pale and drooping, while his thin garments were drenched with rain. Now, though Allan Hamilton would yield to no man in benevolence, he never, on any occasion, felt so disposed, as at present, to outrage his own feelings, and cast aside the godlike virtue of charity. Mr Hervey, like many other good men, was proscribed by the ruling powers; and persecution then ran so high, that to grant him a night’s lodging amounted to a capital crime. Many persons had already been shot for affording this slight charity to the outlawed Covenanters : Allan himself had been an unwilling witness of this dreadful fact. It was not, therefore, with his usual alacrity that he welcomed in the way-worn stranger. On the contrary, he held the door half-shut, and in a tone of embarrassment asked him what he wanted.

"I see, Mr Hamilton," said the minister, calmly, "that you do not wish I should cross your threshold. You ask me what I want. Is that Christian? What can any one want in a night like this, but lodgment and protection? If you grant it to me, I shall pray for you and yours; if you refuse it, I can only shake the dust off my feet and depart, albeit it be to death."

"Mr Hervey,” said Allan, "you know your situation, and you know mine. I would be loth to treat the meanest thing that breathes as I have now treated you; but you are an outlawed man, and a lodging for one night under my roof is as much as my life is worth. Was it not last month I saw one of my nearest neighbours cruelly slain for doing a less thing,—even for giving a morsel of bread to one of your brethren? Mr Hervey, I repeat it, and with sorrow, that you know my situation, and that for the sake of my poor daughter and myself I have no alternative.”

"Yes, I know your situation,” answered the preacher, drawing himself up indignantly. "You are one of those faint-hearted believers who, for the sake of ease and temporal gain, have deserted that glorious cause for which your fathers have struggled. You are one of those who can stand by coolly and see others fight the good fight ; and when they have overcome, you will doubtless enjoy the blessed fruits of their combating. You held back in the time of need : you have abetted prelacy and persecution, in so far as you have not set your shoulder to the wheel of the Covenant. Now, when a humble forwarder of that holy cause craves from you an hour of shelter, you stand with your door well-nigh closed, and refuse him admittance. I leave God to judge of your iniquity, and I quit your inhospitable and unchristian mansion.”

He was moving off when Mary Hamilton, who had listened with a beating ; heart to this colloquy, rushed forward and caught him by the arm. Her beautiful eyes were wet with tears, and she looked at her parent with an expression in which entreaty and upbraiding were mingled together. " You will not turn out this poor old man, father? Indeed you will not. You were only jesting. Come in, Mr Hervey; my father did did not mean what he said;”—and she led him in by the hand, pushing gently back Allan, who still stood by the door. "Now, Mr Hervey, sit down there and dry yourself; and, father, shut the door.”

"Thank you, my fair maiden,” said the minister. "The Lord, for this good deed, will aid you in your distresses. You have shown that the old may be taught by the young; and I pray that this lesson of charity, which you have given to your father, may not turn out to your scaith or his."

Allan said nothing; he felt that the part he had acted was hardly a generous one, although perhaps justified by the stern necessity of the times. His heart was naturally benevolent, and in the consciousness of self-reproach every dread of danger was obliterated.

The first attention of him and Mary was directed to their guest. His garments having been thoroughly dried, food was placed before him, of which he partook, after returning thanks to God in a lengthened grace, for so disposing towards him the hearts of His creatures. When he had finished the repast, he raised his face slightly towards heaven, closed his eyes, and clasping his hands together, fervently implored the blessings of Providence on the father of that mansion and his child. When he had done this, he took a small Bible from his pocket, and read some of the most affecting passages of the Old Testament, descanting upon them as he went along: how God fed Elijah in the wilderness; how he conducted the Israelites through their forty years of sojourn; how Daniel, by faith, remained unhurt in the lion’s den ; and how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, walked through the fiery furnace, and not even their garments were touched by the flames. Allan and Mary listened with the most intense interest to the old man, whose voice became stronger, whose form seemed to dilate, and whose eyes were lit up with a sort of prophetic rapture, as he threw his spirit into those mysteries of Holy Writ.

After having concluded this part of his devotions, and before retiring to rest, he proposed that evening prayer should be offered up. Each accordingly knelt down, and he commenced in a strain of ardent and impassioned language. He deplored the afflicted state of God’s kirk; prayed that the hearts of those who still clung to it might be confirmed and made steadfast ; that confidence might be given to the wavering ; that those who from fear or worldly considerations had held off from the good cause, might be taught to see the error of their ways; and that all backsliders might be reclaimed, and become goodly members of the broken and distressed Covenant. "O Lord!” continued he, "Thou who hast watched over us in all time- who from Thy throne in the highest heaven hast vouchsafed to hearken to the prayer of Thy servants, Thou will not now abandon us in our need. We have worshipped Thee from the depths of the valley, and the rocks and hills of the desert have heard our voices calling upon Thy name. ‘Where is your temple, ye outcast remnant?’ cry the scorners. We answer, O Lord, that we have no temple, but such as Thou hast created; and yet from that tabernacle of the wilderness hast thou heard us, though storms walked around. We have trod the valley of the shadow of death, and yet Thou hast been a light in our path; we have been chased like wild beasts through the land, yet Thy spirit hath not deserted us ; armed men have encompassed us on all sides, threatening to destroy, yet our hearts have not failed; neither has the prison nor the torture had power to make us abjure Thy most holy laws."

During the whole of his supplication, which he had poured forth with singular enthusiasm, the storm continued without, and distant peals of thunder were occasionally heard. This convulsion of the elements did not, however, distract his thoughts; on the contrary, it rendered them more ardent; and in apostrophising the tempest he frequently rose to a pitch of wild sublimity. Mary listened with deep awe. Her feelings, constitutionally warm and religious, were aroused, and she sobbed with emotion. Allan Hamilton, though not by nature a man of imagination, was also strongly affected; he breathed hard, and occasionally a half-suppressed groan came from his breast. He could not help feeling deep remorse for the lukewarmness he had shown to the great cause then at stake.

The night, though fearfully tempestuous, did not prevent slumber from falling on the eyes of all. Each slept soundly, and the old minister, perhaps, more so than any. Many months had elapsed since he had stretched himself on such a couch as that which Mary Hamilton had prepared for him; for he was a dweller in the desert, and had often lain upon the heath, with no other shelter than his plaid afforded. His slumbers, therefore, were delicious; but they were not long, for no sooner had the morning light begun to peep through the window of his chamber than he was up and at his devotions. Allan, though an early riser, was still in bed, and not a little astonished when he heard his door open, and saw the old man walk softly up to his side.

"Hush! Allan Hamilton, do not awaken the dear maiden, your daughter, in the next room. I have come to thank you and to bid you farewell. The morning sun is up, and I may not tarry longer here, consistent with my own safety or yours. There are spies through all the country; but peradventure I have escaped their observation. I am going a few miles off near the Clyde, to meet sundry of my flock who are to assemble there. May God bless you, and send better times to this afflicted land!"

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