Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Witch Wood > Chapter 14 The Counterblast
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
Chapter 14 The Counterblast
He dreamed that night that he was being spied upon, and next day — with no more meetings with Katrine before him to fire his fancy — his cold reason justified the fear. The conviction was presently confirmed by a discovery of Isobel’s. Mark Kerr’s cast clothes had been hidden at first in the gloom of the rafters in David’s camceiled bedroom, but the coming of Leslie’s troops compelled her to change this place of disposal to the stable, where, in the space between the wall and the thatch, she bestowed them, wrapped stoutly in sacking. She kept an eye on the bundle, and one morning it had disappeared. More, it had clearly been stolen and hurriedly opened, for the sacking and a tarry rope which bound it were found among the nettles beyond the kirkyard wall. Compromising goods indeed to come forth of a minister’s house!

That same day Isobel returned from a visit to her cousin with a queer tale.

“Something’s gotten out, sir. The wives in the kirkton are clatterin’ like daws. ‘What’s this they tell me, gossip,’ says one, ‘about Babylonish garments found in the manse?’ ‘Faith, I kenna,’ says I. ‘They’re nane o’ my findin’, but wi’ roarin’ sodgers quartered in ilka chamber ye’ll no surprise me if some unco gear were left behind.’ ‘But it’s nae honest gear o’ Davie Leslie’s lads,’ she says, ‘but the laced coats and plumit hats o’ the malignants. And there’s a report that ithers hae sleepit in the manse this past se’nnight than our ain Covenant sodgers.’ ‘Wha tell’t ye that, my wumman,’ I says, ‘was a black leear, and a thief forbye. I’d like brawly to ken wha has been snowkin’ round our doors and carryin’ awa’ leein’ tales and maybe some o’ our plenishin’. Tell me the names, and, man or wumman, I’ll hae my fingers at their lugs.’ It was Jean of the Chasehope-fit that spoke to me, and she got mair frae me than she expeckit. There wasna ane o’ her auld misdaein’s I didna fling in her teeth.”

The name of the woman disquieted David, and he asked what she had answered.

“Her! She took my flytin’ wi’ downcast een, and that angered me sae that I had muckle ado to keep my hands frae her face. Syne she says, quietlike, ‘Ye needna get in a steer, Isobel Veitch. If Mr. Sempill’s an honest man, he’ll get his chance to redd up the “fama”.’ “Fama”, says she, whatever yon may mean — there’s a reek o’ Chasehope about the word. And she went on wi’ her saft een and her mim mou’. —‘There’s waur nor that, Isobel wumman,’ she says. ‘Our minister, that’s sae fierce against warlocks, has been walkin’ a queer gait. There’s them that hae seen him in the Wud, and wha do you think he met wi’ there? It’s no a name that I daur speak, but folk hae brunt for less than sic a randyvoo.’ Ye may fancy, sir, what a stound I got, but I just spoke the kimmer civil, and speired for mair. She wasna laith to tell. ‘There’s them,’ says she, ‘that saw the green gown o’ the Queen of Elfhame, and the mune shinin’ through her hair, and saw her gie a kiss to the minister.’ Ye never kissed the leddy, sir?”

“God forbid,” cried David, startled as if at an impiety.

“I thocht ye werena just as far forrit as that. . . . Weel, that’s the tale they’ve gotten, and may it stick in their thrapples! I’m no feared for their blethers about fairies, but we’ll need some stench lees to get the sodger’s claes blawn over. I wish I kenned wha was the thief. I’ll threip that they were left by Leslie’s folk and that ye kenned nocht about them.”

“Por me,” said David, “I shall tell the plain truth, save in the mentioning of names. I command you, Isobel, to do likewise. The man is by now out of danger, and a falsehood, which may be pardoned if it is to save another, is black sin if used by a coward to save himself.”

Isobel looked at him uneasily. “There will be an awfu’ speak in the parish, sir. Bethink ye, is it wise to gie sic a handle to them that wad bring ye doun? . . . But I see your mind is made up, and nae words o’ mine will turn ye. We maun hope that the question will never be speired, and I daur ony man or wumman in the place to get sae far wi’ ME as the speirin’.”

During David’s absence in Edinburgh Mr. Fordyce, by the command of the Presbytery, had preached in the afternoon in the Woodilee kirk — to but scanty audiences, for the news of Montrose’s advance had inclined the people to keep inside their doors. On the first Sabbath after his return, when there were still troops in the place, the pulpit had been occupied by one of Leslie’s chaplains, a stalwart member of the Church militant, who hailed from the Mearns, and whose speech was consequently understood with difficulty in the Border parish. But on the next, when Mark Kerr had gone from his refuge in the Wood, David changed his mind, and himself filled the pulpit. At the news a great congregation assembled, for in that joyous day of delivery it was believed that the sins of the parish would be left on one side, and that the service, as in the other kirks in the land, would be one of thanksgiving and exultation. To the surprise of most of his hearers — and to the satisfaction of the suspicious — there was no word of the recent crowning mercies, save a perfunctory mention in the opening prayer.

David, as befitted one who had just buried his father, discoursed on death. He was in a mood which puzzled himself, for gentleness seemed to have come upon him and driven out his jealous wrath. He had seen the righteous die, the man who had begot him, the last near kin he possessed, and memories of childhood and something of the wistfulness of the child had flooded in on his soul. He had seen, too, the downfall of human pride, the descent of greatness to dust, and yet in that dust a more compelling greatness. Above all, his love for Katrine had mellowed and lit the world for him; it had revealed depths of joy and beauty which he had never known, but the beauty and joy were solemn things, and of a terrible fragility. He felt anew the dependence of all things upon God, and the need of walking humbly in His sight. So he preached not like an Old Testament prophet, confident in his cause and eager to gather the spoil, but as one who saw from a high mountain the littleness of life against the vast background of eternity. He spoke of the futility of mortal hopes, the fallibility of man, the certainty of death. In a passion of tenderness he pled for charity and holiness as the only candles to light the short dark day of life — candles which, lit by a heavenly hand, would some day wax into the bright everlasting day of the New Jerusalem.

There were those among his hearers who were moved by his words, but to most they were meaningless, and to many they were an offence. Peter Pennecuik was darkly critical. “The man is unsound as a peat,” he declared. “Whaur’s the iron o’ doctrine and the fire o’ judgment in sic a bairnly screed? There’s an ill sough there, sirs — he’s ower fond o’ warks and the rags o’ our ain righteousness. Worthy Mr. Proudfoot will be garrin’ the stour fly the day denouncin’ the Laodiceans that wad be lukewarm in cuttin’ off the horns o’ the wicked. Is there ony such godly zeal in our man? Whaur’s the denunciation o’ the sins o’ Montrose and his covenant~breakers? It seems that he’s mair convinced o’ his ain sins.”

“He has maybe cause,” Chasehope observed dryly.

It had been David’s intention to visit the manse of Kirk Aller and obtain the answer of the Presbytery’s moderator to the charges he had formulated. This was a duty which could not be shirked, since he had put his hand to it, but at the moment the fire of battle had died in him, and he had no zest in the task. He found himself longing to take Isobel’s view and believe that his senses had played him false, that the events of the Beltane and Lammas nights were no more than illusions. So he had delayed journeying to Kirk Aller, hoping that his mood would change, and that that which was now a cold duty would revive as a burning mission. . . . Suddenly a post brought him a summons from Mr. Muirhead to wait upon him without delay.

He rode down the riverside in a day of October glooms and shadows. Sometimes a wall of haze would drop from the hills so that the water ran wan as in the ballads, and the withering fern and blanching heath had the tints of December. Then a light wind would furl the shrouded sky into fantastic towers and battlements, through long corridors of which the blue heavens would shine like April at an infinite distance, and the bald mountain-tops, lit by sun-gleams, would be revealed. When he rode over the crook-backed bridge of Aller, past the burgh gallows, he saw that the doomster had been busy at his work. Three ragged scarecrows hung in chains, the flesh already gone from their limbs, and a covey of obscene birds rose at his approach. Stragglers of Montrose, he guessed, and he wondered how many gallows-hills in Scotland showed the same grim harvest. The thought, and the fantastic October weather, deepened the gloom which all morning had been growing on him.

He found a new man in the minister’s chair. The victory of his cause seemed to have expanded Mr. Muirhead’s person, so that he loomed across the oaken table like a judge in his robes. Pride pursed his lips, and authority sat on his forehead. Gone were the airs of tolerant good-humour, the assumption of meekness, the homeliness which had a greeting and a joke for all. This man sat in the seats of the mighty and shared in the burden of government, and his brow was heavy with the weight of it. He met David with a cold, inquisitorial eye, and greeted him with a formal civility.

“I sent for you, Mr. Sempill,” he said, “anent the charge which you have set out in these papers, and on which you have already conferred with me. There has been no meeting of Presbytery, owing to the disturbances in public affairs, but I have shown the papers to certain of my brethren and obtained their mind on them. I have likewise had the privilege of the counsel of the godly laird of Wariston, who, as you no doubt ken, is learned alike in the law of God and the law of man. I have therefore taken it upon myself to convey to you our decision, whilk you may take to be the decision of the courts of the Kirk, and that decision is that there is no substance in your case. You are upset on the relevancy, sir. There is nothing here,” and he tapped the papers, “which would warrant me in occupying the time of folk who have many greater matters in hand.”

“I did not ask for a judgment, but for an inquiry, and that I must continue to demand.”

“Ay, but you must first show a prima facie case, and that you have failed to do. You have brought grievous charges against one noted servant of God, and sundry women, of whom it can at least be said that they bear a good repute. Your evidence — well, what is your evidence? You say that you yourself have seen this and heard that, but you are a tainted witness — a matter to which I shall presently revert. . . . You have the man Andrew Shillinglaw in Reiverslaw, who, in the bit of precognition with which you have furnished me, tells a daft tale of dressing himself up like a mountebank, visiting the wood of Melanudrigill, and sharing in certain unlawful doings. I ask you, sir, what credence can be given to such evidence? Imprimis, he was himself engaged in wrongdoing, and so is justly suspect. Item, he is a notorious wine-bibber, and when the maut is in, the wits are out. Whatna condition was he in to observe justly in the mirk of the night in the Black Wood, where by his own account he was capering like a puddock a............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved