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Chapter 8 The Second Blast
On the following Sabbath the minister’s text was, “When the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” This time there was no faltering in the application. The congregation, men and women, were arraigned at the bar as sinners by deed or by connivance, and he had an audience hushed not in the ordinary Sabbath decorum, but in a fearful apprehension. Every moment he seemed to be about to name the sinner, and if he did not single out persons he made it blindingly clear that it was not for lack of knowledge. Never had he preached with greater freedom, never had passion so trembled in each sentence. Words seemed to be given him, stinging, unforgettable words that must flay the souls of the guilty. “Blinded self-deceivers,” he cried, “you think you can tamper with devilry and yet keep your interest in Christ. You are set up with covenants, public and private, but I tell you that your covenant is with Death and Hell. The man who believes he is elected into salvation, and thinks that thereby he has liberty to transgress and that his transgressions will be forgiven him, has sinned against the Holy Ghost — that sin for which there is no forgiveness.” He declared that till there was a general confession and repentance there would be no Communion in the parish of Woodilee, for those who sat down at the Lord’s Table would be eating and drinking damnation to themselves. . . . But at the end he broke down. With tears in his eyes and a sob in his voice he besought a people whom he loved to abase themselves before the Mercy Seat. “You poor folk,” he cried, “with your little dark day of life, with your few years of toil and cold and hunger before the grave, what have you if you have not Christ?” He was moved with an ecstasy of pity, and told them, like the Apostle, that if he could but save their souls, he was willing that his own should be cast away.

Not the oldest remembered such a sermon in the kirk of Woodilee, and the fame of it was soon to go abroad in the countryside. The place emptied in a strange silence, as if the congregation went on tiptoe, and men and women did not look at each other till they were outside the kirkyard gates. The elders did not await the minister in the session-house, and as David walked the hundred yards to the manse he saw what looked like the back of Peter Pennecuik, crouching behind a turf dyke to avoid a meeting.

These were days of loneliness and misery for the minister of Woodilee. He saw himself solitary among enemies, for even those whom he thought his friends had failed him. It was clear that Amos Ritchie had conspired with Isobel to imprison him in his study on the eve of the second Beltane, and though their motive was doubtless affection it but emphasized the hopelessness of his task. He had to bring conviction of sin into a parish where even the innocent were ready to cumber his arm. These honest creatures feared for him — what? Anger would choke him at the thought of such contempt for his sacred mission, and then awe would take its place, awe at the immensity of the evil with which he fought. “Principalities and powers,” Amos had said — yes, the Powers of the Air and the Principalities of Darkness. He had no doubt that the Devil and his myrmidons were present in the Wood in bodily form, mingling with the worshippers, and that the tongues which he had heard were in very truth mutterings of the lost. There were times when ordinary human fear loosened his knees, and he longed to flee from the parish as from a place accursed. But his courage would return, and his faith, for he knew that the armies of Heaven were on his side, and wrath would cast out fear, wrath and horror at the seducers of his flock. Nevertheless in these days his nerves were frayed, he lay awake of nights listening anxiously for noises without, and he would awake suddenly in the sweat of a nameless terror.

But his chief burden was that he did not know how to shape his course. The pulpit rang with his denunciations, but there was no response; no stricken Nicodemus came to him by night. On the roads and at the house-doors people avoided his eyes. There were no more stones from Daft Gibbie — indeed Gibbie had resumed his fawning friendliness — but none waited to speak a word with him. Isobel had recovered her cheerfulness, and sought to atone for past misconduct by an assiduous attention to his comforts, but Amos Ritchie shunned him. And the children, too, who had been his chief allies. Perhaps their parents had warned them, for a group would scatter when he came near, and once when, coming up behind him, he laid a kindly hand on a boy’s head, the child burst into tears and fled. What was the ‘fama’ of the minister which had been put about in Woodilee?

The worst of it was that he could contrive no plan of campaign. Evidence which was overwhelming to his own mind would not convince the Presbytery or the Sheriff. He could not bring a reasoned charge against any man or woman in the parish. As the days passed he began to sort out his flock in his mind as the guilty and the abettors. Some were innocent enough, save for the sin of apathy; but others he could believe to have shared in the midnight debauches — heavy-browed, sensual youths, women with shifty eyes, girls high-coloured and over-blown, whose sidelong glances seemed to hint at secrets, old wives, too, whose wild laughter he heard at cottage doors. But of one, his first certainty was giving way to doubt. Ephraim Caird’s white face had got a wholesome tan from the summer sun, and he alone in the parish seemed to seek out the minister. He gave him a cheerful greeting when they met, spoke wisely of parish matters, had a word of humble commendation for the Sabbath discourses. “It’s gaun to be a braw year for the aits,” he said, “gin the weather hauds, and the lambs are the best I’ve yet seen on Chasehope hill. Let us hope, sir, that the guid seed ye’ve sown will come to as bountiful a hairst.” The words were so simply spoken that they seemed no hypocrisy.

A plan of campaign! On that David could get no clearness, and the anxiety was with him at bed and board. He shrank from confessing himself to his brother-ministers, for what could they do to help him? Kirk Aller would pooh-pooh the whole thing, since Woodilee had been so forward in signing the Covenant. Bold would no doubt believe, but his remedy would be only a stiffer draught of doctrine. Even Mr. Fordyce at Cauldshaw seemed a broken reed, for Mr. Fordyce was an ailing saint, and this task was for the church militant. No, he must fight his battles alone, and trust to God to send him allies. He wanted men of violence, who would fight not with words but with deeds, Israelitish prophets who with their own hands cut down groves and uprooted altars and hewed Agag in pieces. And where would he find them in a countryside where the good were timid as sheep and their pastors like loud voices in a fog?

June was a month of hot suns and clear skies, when the hills were bone-dry and the deepest flowe-moss could be safely passed. It was weather for the high tops, and one afternoon David, walking off his restlessness on the Rood uplands, stumbled unexpectedly on a friend. For at the head of the glen where the drove-road crosses from Clyde to Aller, he fell in with the farmer of Reiverslaw leading his horse up a steep patch of screes.

This man, Andrew Shillinglaw, was something of a mystery both to parish and minister. He was a long lean fellow of some forty years, black-haired, black-bearded, whose sullen face was redeemed by a humorous mouth, so that the impression was of a genial ferocity. He was reputed the most skilful farmer in the place, and some held him a rival in worldly wealth to the miller, but beyond the fact that he had in Reiverslaw the best of the hill farms, there was no clue to his prosperity. He had the only good riding~horse in Woodilee, and was a notable figure on the roads, for he travelled the country like a packman. For weeks on end he would be away from home, and he was heard of in Galloway and the west and as far south as the Border, so that speculation about his doings became a favourite pastime among his neighbours. He neither sold nor bought in the parish, and he kept his own counsel, but his profession was clear enough had there been eyes to see. For he was dealer and middleman as well as farmer, and in a day when stock and produce scarcely moved beyond parish bounds, he sold and bought in outlying markets. In a district of home-keepers he was the sole traveller.

Few liked him, for there was always an undertone of satire in his speech. But all feared him, for his temper was on a hair-trigger. Drink made him quarrelsome, and the spence at Lucky Weir’s had seen some ugly business, since with him blow followed fast on word. Three years before he had buried his wife, there were no children, and he lived at Reiverslaw with an aged cousin for housekeeper, who was half blind and wholly deaf. His attendance at the kirk was far from exemplary; in winter there were the drifts and the full bogs to detain him, and in summer he was as often as not on his travels. The Session, who did not love him, had talked of citing him to appear before them, but in the end they seemed to shrink from belling so formidable a cat.

At the head of the little pass, which in that country is called a “slack,” he halted and let David approach him.

“A guid day to ye, sir,” he cried. “We’ll let Bess get her wind, for it’s a lang gait frae Crawfordjohn. I rade ower yestereen to see the sma’ Cumberland sheep that the Lowther herds are trying on yon hills. I hae nae great broo o’ them. They’ll maybe dae on yon green braes where the bite is short, but they’re nae use for a heather country. . . . Sit ye doun, sir. What brings ye sae far ower the tops? Ye werena ettlin’ to gie me a ca’ in at Reiverslaw?”

David gladly stretched himself on the bent beside him. The man seemed willing to talk, and of late he had had little speech with his fellows.

“I came here for the caller air,” he said, “and to drive ill humours from body and mind. There are whiles when I cannot draw breath in Woodilee.”

“Ay,” said the man. “Ay! Just so.” He pursed his lips and looked at the minister under half-shut eyes.

“Were you born in this parish?” David asked.

“Na, na. Far frae that. I’m but an incomer, though I’ve had the tack o’ Reiverslaw for a dizzen years. My father, honest man, was frae the Glenkens, and my mither cam’ frae the Cairn side. I was born at a bit they ca’ Dunscore, but I was a stirrin’ lad in my young days and I’ve traivelled the feck o’ the Lawlands, frae the Forth to the Solway. But now I’ve got my hinderlands doun in Woodilee, and it’s like I’ll lay my banes here.”

The man spoke in a different voice from the people of the place, and to David he seemed as one detached from the countryside, sharing neither its interests nor affections. As he looked at him, sprawling in the heather bush with one foot on his horse’s bridle, he had a sense of something assured and resolute and not unfriendly.

“Ye’re an incomer like mysel’, sir,” Reiverslaw said after a pause. “What think ye o’ Woodilee?”

“I think that the Devil has chosen this miserable parish for his own.”

“Ay. . . . Well, I wadna say ye were wrang. I jaloused [guessed] frae your last discourse that ye were perplexed wi’ the Enemy. And they tell me that ye’ve stirred up an unco byke against ye.”

“Are you one of them?” David asked.

“No me. If there’s fechtin’ to be done, I’m on your side. I aye likit a bauld man, and it’s a question, sir, if ye ken yoursel’ how bauld ye are when ye offer to drive the Deil frae Woodilee.”

David had got to his feet, for these were the first words of sympathy he had had.

“Andrew Shillinglaw, I command you to tell me if you have kept yourself clean from this mystery of evil which scourges the parish.”

The man still sprawled on the ground, and the face he turned to the minister was twisted in a grim humour.

“Ay. I’ll swear ony aith ye like. I’ll no deny my backslidin’s, and, as ye may ken, my walk and conversation’s no to boast o’. But as sure as God made me, I wad burn off my richt hand in the fire afore I wad file mysel’ wi’ the Babylonish abominations o............
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