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Chapter 17 Woodilee and Calidon
The pricker disappeared from the parish in the night. The dead woman was buried decently in the kirkyard, and her male kin attended the funeral as if there had never been a word against her fair fame. There was indeed a certain revulsion of feeling among plain people in Woodilee. Bessie had been liked; she was regretted and pitied; the downfall of the pricker seemed to invalidate her confession. But there was a party — Chasehope was the leader — who held that solemn things had been trifled with and that the minister had gone far to bring God’s curse on the parish. He had laid his hand to his sword like a malignant, and had made light of an awful confession before the pricker had been discredited. Bessie might have been innocent of witchcraft, but in his plea for her he had shown a discreditable leniency towards the sin. Women might be old and frail, but if they were leagued with Satan it was enough to put them beyond the pale of Christian sympathy. The minister was patently rebellious and self-willed, a scorner of the yoke of Kirk and Word.

But the night’s events caused a notable increase in one reputation. The new tenant of Crossbasket had shown himself an ill man to counter. He had the interests of the parish at heart and had given wise advice, and he had confounded the pricker with a terrible ease. Clearly a man with power; nor was there reason to think that the power was not given him from on high. A hard man to gainsay, as even Chasehope had found. His friendliness had made him popular, and folk were slipping into neighbourly ways with him. Soon he would have been “Mark” to most, and “Glee’d Mark” behind his back. But from that night formality and decorum invested him; he was “Crossbasket” even to the children, and the humbler doffed their bonnets when he drew near.

He came to David one evening when the candle was lit in the study.

“What arts were yon,” the minister asked, “that turned the pricker from a man into a jelly?”

Mark had sat himself in a deep armchair covered with black leather, which had been David’s father’s and had come to the manse from the Pleasance after the roup. He had crossed his legs and let his head lie back while he puffed his tobacco-pipe. He laughed as he answered:

“A simple divertisement, but good enough for such a caddis-worm. A pinch of Greek powder in the lantern, and for the rest a device I learned among the tinklers in Hungary when some of us gentleman~cavaliers had to take to the hills and forests for a season. But the body was easy game. The sight of my een was enough to melt his wits. . . . Chasehope’s another kind of lad — there’s metal there, though it’s maybe of the Devil’s forging. . . . But for the moment we’ve fairly houghed his shelty.”

“You saw how distraught he was,” Mark continued, “ay, and others beside him, when you offered to carry the wife to the manse. The reason wasna ill to seek. When she was being tortured to confession, Chasehope was beside her and mastered her with his een. . . . She was one of the coven, you tell me. But once in your hands he was feared she would tell things of more moment than the blethers they wrung out of her. . . . She didna speak? Ay, I thought she was ower far gone. It was maybe as well that the puir thing died, for after the handling she got there was small bodily comfort left for her.”

“By her death her tormentors are guilty in God’s sight of murder,” said David.

“No doubt. And maybe also in the sight of the Law. That’s why I say we have houghed Chasehope’s mare for him. He canna ride off on a pretended zeal for witch-hunts, for this one has notably miscarried. This pricker business is looked askance at by those that ken best, and it’s certain it has no countenance frae the Justiciar. They’ve killed the wife with it, and their pricker will not show face again in this countryside. What becomes, think you, of the braw commission of the Privy Council that Chasehope had the procuring of? The thing is begowked before it is begun. The ministers of Kirk Aller and Bold, and yon knock-kneed haverel, the laird of Killiequhair, will e’en hae to content themselves at home, and Chasehope, in place of hiding his sins behind his zeal for burning witches, is left with his repute a wee thing touched, like a bad egg. There’s folk in the parish beginning to speir questions that never speired them before.”

“I am convinced that the woman Bessie Todd was a human sacrifice, decided on by the coven, and maybe accepted of her free-will. I have heard that every now and then they must pay such a teind to Hell. . . . She was weak in the mind, remember.”

“I had the same notion myself. No, I wasna there when the pricker was busy, but them that were tell me that he put the feck of the words intil her mouth. That would consort with what I’ve heard of the black business elsewhere. She was doomed to die, as surely as if she had stood in the doomster’s cart. . . . But I have found out another thing. Our neighbour Chasehope is a King–Deil.”

“What in Heaven’s name is that?”

“You may well speir. He is the priest of the coven, but he is more, for he is a kind of Deil on his own account. That is why you saw them in the Wood bowing before him and nozzling him like dogs. There’s been King–Deils before this in Scotland. Francie Stuart was one — him that was Earl of Bothwell in the days of James the Saxt, and he had a braw coven down by Dunbar and the Bass.”

“And the man an elder of the Kirk!” David exclaimed. “The words of Scripture are never off his lips, and more than once he has reproved me for sin.”

“That’s the lad. There’s a holy pleasure to be gotten out of hypocrisy. And yet — and yet! I’ll wager that Chasehope has no doubt but that he is a redeemed soul, and will get an abundant entrance at the hinder end. That Kirk of yours has so cunningly twisted religion that a man can grow fat in his own sins and yet spend his time denouncing the faults of others, for he is elected into grace, as they call it, and has got some kind of a title to Heaven. I’m a plain body that canna see how God and the Devil can be served at the one time, but there’s many a chiel makes a trade of it. They’ve gotten one creel that holds their treasure in Heaven, and one full of the lusts of the flesh, and though they ettle to coup the latter before the day of death, they are confident that it winna canker what’s in the other creel. It’s queer doctrine, and maybe I havena riddled it out right, for I’m loth to believe that an honest man could uphold it, though I’ve heard it often propounded with an unction that made my flesh creep.”

“You speak not of the Christian doctrine of election, but of its perversion,” said David solemnly.

“Weel, it’s the perversion that has gotten the upper hand these days. The Kirk has made the yett of grace ower wide for sinful men, and all ither yetts ower narrow. It has banned innocence and so made a calling of hypocrisy, for human nature is human nature, and if you tell a man that ilka honest pleasure is a sin in God’s sight, he finds a way to get the pleasure and yet keep the name for godliness. And mind you, the pleasures he enjoys with a doubtful conscience will no long be honest. There will be a drop of black ink in the spring water that makes it drumly, and ere he kens he’ll be seeking a stronger brew. The upshot will be that folk who sit under you in the kirk will dance in the Wood on the auld heathen holy-days, and the man whose word gangs furthest with the Presbytery will be hugging lusts to his bosom that would make a common foot-sentinel spew. For they’ve all their sure title, as they call it — they’re all elected into grace, so what for should they fash themselves?”

Mark’s face was smiling, but his voice had a note in it which was not humour.

“You laugh,” David cried, “but I’m nearer weeping.”

“I laugh, but it’s to prevent me cursing.” The other’s jaw had set and there was a smouldering fire in his eyes. “I tell you the Cities of the Plain were less an offence to Almighty God than this demented twist of John Calvin that blasts and rots a man’s heart. For if it makes here and there a saint, it is like a dung-heap to hatch out sinners.”

David was suspended from officiating in the kirk, but he was still a placed minister, and there was no embargo upon his utterances elsewhere. So while every alternate Sabbath Mr. Fordyce came over from Cauldshaw to occupy the pulpit, and in defiance of the Presbytery ate his dinner at the manse, on the others David preached in the kirk-yard. Twenty years later these sermons in the open air were remembered, when Mr. Fordyce, then far advanced in age, was driven from Cauldshaw to hold preachings in the Deer Syke. . . .

There was a novelty in the practice which brought many the first day; and on later Sabbaths the audience increased, for David had never delivered such discourses in the Woodilee pulpit. One famous sermon was on the peril of trifling with salvation. A soul was not saved by an easy miracle, but must mount hardly and painfully to eternal life; to accept grace lightly was to cast scorn upon the atonement of the Cross. But doctrine figured little, nor were there any of the forecasts of hell and judgment which were the common proof of an earnest minister. “He is a guid dowg,” Richie Smail was reported to have said: “he wad wyse folk gently to Christ.” Something of the joy in his own heart revealed itself in a peculiar tenderness; often there were wet eyes among his hearers, and the children, squatted on the grass or on the flat gravestones, forbore to whisper and fidget, and listened with a grave attention. His elders did not attend; indeed, with the exception of Peter Pennecuik, they forbore even to grace the orthodox ministrations of Mr. Fordyce. Chasehope and his friends walked the five moorland miles to Bold to sup on the strong fare of Mr. Ebenezer till such time — early in the New Year, it was believed — as the Presbytery pronounced final judgment on their minister.

Woodilee had split into two factions. There was the party of the Session, who held David to be a malignant, or at best a Laodicean, one who gave a doubtful sound of doctrine, a rebel, a despiser of authority, a preacher of a cold morality. To this side belonged many of undoubted piety, who had been shocked by his defiance and gave ready ear to whispered scandal. Of David’s party were respected professors like Richie Smail and Rab Prentice, several godly women, a decent hind or two, and a tail which was neither godly nor respected. Among his supporters were some whom he suspected of dealings with the Wood, and in general he had with him all that was least esteemed in the parish. To have Reiverslaw — who was again drinking hard — as his prophet, and Daft Gibbie as his fugleman, did not enhance the credit of his cause. Between the Jews and the Samaritans there were no dealings. Isobel, now a hot partisan, had quarrelled on this score with her nearest and dearest, and, encountering Jean of Chasehope-foot in the clachan, and being goaded by her tongue, fell on her tooth and nail and chased her into Peter Pennecuik’s kailyard. Amos Ritchie, too, had declared his colours, and woe be to the man who, in his presence, spoke ill of the minister. He was no longer employed by the farmers around the kirkton, so the smithy fire was mostly unlit, while the smith did odd jobs at Reiverslaw and Calidon. Only the new tenant of Crossbasket mixed amicably with all. On the road he had the same greeting for Chasehope as for the minister, and he would drink a stoup at Lucky Weir’s with Amos or Mirehope, Reiverslaw or the miller, in all good-fellowship. But this popularity rested more perhaps on fear than on affection. Dark whisperings began to spread. “What ken we o’ Crossbasket?” said one. “Nae doot he’s frae Teviotside, but whaur was he afore that? He never learned that glower on Jed Water.” “He’s a pawky carle,” said another, “and ye canna get far ben wi’ him. There’s mair in his heid than the Word ever learned him. I wadna wonder some fine day to see him gang off in a fuff and a lowe. Ye say he has the speech o’ a guid Christian? Weel-a-weel, a soo may whistle, though it has an ill mouth for it.”

By late November winter should have closed in upon the glen with an iron hand. The first frosts should have stripped the trees, and the first snows lain at the dyke-back. But that year it seemed as if the seasons had gone widdershins. November was bright and calm, and the harvest, delayed by October rains, was soon gathered. Oats and bear, flax and rye — the little crops were housed within a week, and since the snows tarried, it was the middle of December before the cattle were in the byres and yards, and the sheep brought down to the infields. The countryside presented a strange spectacle. Heather lingered in bloom, and the leaves were on the ashes and hazels till long after Hallowmass. When they did fall there were no frosts to crumble them, and they lay in great drifts in the woods and by the roadside, and children dived and scrambled among them. There were swallows still in the thatch in November, and Amos Ritchie, when he went out to the moss to intercept the travelling skeins of wild geese, found that the curlews and plovers had not yet flitted to the seashore and that there were no wildfowl to be seen in all the blue heavens. Morning after morning the sun rose clear as in June, the nights were mild and starlit, herbs which should have been snug below the earth sprouted prematurely, the hedgehog and the badger had forgotten to go to sleep, and only the short hours of light showed that it was midwinter. Reiverslaw, always a scorner of precedents, kept his sheep on the hills, where the pasture was as rich as in summer-time.

But the old and the wise frowned and shook their heads. One said it was such a year as ‘71, of which his grandsire had told, when winter did not begin till February, and did not end till June. Another recalled “saxteen fifteen, named the Lown Year, when there was nae frost, and a blight o’ worms and cawterpillars and hairy objects fell on the land.” And every wife in the parish, when at Christmas the grass was still rank and high, and hips and haws still hung on the bushes, quoted dolefully the saw that “a green Yule makes a fat kirkyard.”

But if there was a presage of calamity in it for the thoughtful, it was weather of a rare beauty for those who had the heart to enjoy it. There was no sickness in the parish and as yet no hunger, so David’s pastoral duties were light. He was on the uplands most of the day, and now his feet took him away from the Hill of Deer and the north ridge of Rood and across the glen to the hills between Calidon and Aller, for there he could meet Katrine with no fear of interfering parishioners. The garrison had been withdrawn from Calidon, since Nicholas was known to be out of the country and Mistress Saintserf was regarded as well affected, but David did not go there. So long as the short afternoons were crystal under a canopy of blue, and the sun set behind Herstane Craig in gold and crimson, the place for lovers was............
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