Read CHAPTER FOUR - THE HUNTING AND HARRYING DISPLAYED of Hunted and Harried , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

Being ignorant, as we have said, of the cruel murder of old Mitchell, Ramblin’ Peter’s report had not seriously alarmed Black.  He concluded that the worst the troopers would do would be to rob the poor old couple of what money they found in their possession, oblige them to take the Oath of Supremacy, drink the health of King and bishops, and otherwise insult and plunder them.  Knowing the Mitchells intimately, he had no fear that their opposition would invite severity.  Being very fond of them, however, he resolved, at the risk of his life, to prevent as far as possible the threatened indignity and plunder.

“They’re a douce auld pair,” he remarked to Will Wallace as they strode down the hillside together, “quiet an’ peaceable, wi’ naething to speak o’ in the way of opeenions ­somethin’ like mysel’ ­an’ willin’ to let-be for let-be.  But since the country has been ower-run by thae Hielanders an’ sodgers, they’ve had little peace, and the auld man has gie’n them a heap o’ trouble, for he’s as deaf as a post.  Peter says the pairty o’ dragoons is a sma’ ane, so I expect the sight o’ us’ll scare them away an’ prevent fechtin’.”

“It may be so,” said Wallace, “and of course I shall not fail you in this attempt to protect your old friends; but, to tell you the truth, I don’t quite like this readiness on the part of you Covenanters to defy the laws, however bad they may be, and to attack the King’s troops.  The Bible, which you so often quote, inculcates longsuffering and patience.”

Hm! there speaks yer ignorance,” returned the farmer with a dash of cynicism in his tone.  “Hoo mony years, think ye, are folk to submit to tyranny an’ wrang an’ fierce oppression for nae sin whatever against the laws o’ God or the land?  Are twunty, thretty, or forty years no’ enough to warrant oor claim to lang-sufferin’?  Does submission to law-brekin’ on the pairt o’ Government, an’ lang-continued, high-handed oppression frae King, courtier, an’ prelate, accompanied wi’ barefaced plunder and murder ­does that no’ justifiee oor claim to patience?  To a’ this the Covenanters hae submitted for mony weary years withoot rebellion, except maybe in the metter o’ the Pentlands, when a wheen o’ us were driven to desperation.  But I understand your feelin’s, lad, for I’m a man o’ peace by natur’, an’ would gladly submit to injustice to keep things quiet ­if possable; but some things are no’ possable, an’ the Bible itsel’ says we’re to live peaceably wi’ a’ men only `as much as in us lies.’”

The ex-trooper was silent.  Although ignorant of the full extent of maddening persecution to which not merely the Covenanters but the people of Scotland generally had been subjected, his own limited experience told him that there was much truth in what his companion said; still, like all loyal-hearted men, he shrank from the position of antagonism to Government.

“I agree with you,” he said, after a few minutes’ thought, “but I have been born, I suppose, with a profound respect for law and legally constituted authority.”

“Div ye think, lad,” returned Black, impressively, “that naebody’s been born wi’ a high respec’ for law but yersel’?  I suppose ye admit that the King is bound to respec’ the law as weel as the people?”

“Of course I do.  I am no advocate of despotism.”

“Weel then,” continued the farmer with energy, “in the year saxteen forty-ane, an’ at ither times, kings an’ parliaments hae stamped the Covenants o’ Scotland as bein’ pairt o’ the law o’ this land ­whereby freedom o’ conscience an’ Presbyterian worship are secured to us a’.  An’ here comes Chairles the Second an’ breks the law by sendin’ that scoondrel the Duke o’ Lauderdale here wi’ full poors to dae what he likes ­an’ Middleton, a man wi’ nae heart an’ less conscience, that was raised up frae naething to be a noble, nae less!  My word, nobles are easy made, but they’re no’ sae easy unmade!  An’ this Lauderdale maks a cooncil wi’ Airchbishop Sherp ­a traiter and a turncoat ­an’ a wheen mair like himsel’, and they send sodgers oot ower the land to eat us up an’ cram Prelacy doon oor throats, an’ curates into oor poo’pits whether we wull or no’.  An’ that though Chairles himsel’ signed the Covenant at the time he was crooned!  Ca’ ye that law or legally constituted authority?”

Although deeply excited by this brief recital of his country’s wrongs, Black maintained the quiet expression of feature and tone of voice that were habitual to him.  Further converse on the subject was interrupted by their arrival at the farm, where they found all right save that Jean and Aggie were in a state of tearful anxiety about their poor neighbours.

While the farmer was seeing to the security of his house and its arrangements, preparatory to continuing the march to the Mitchells’ cottage, the rest of the party stood about the front door conversing.  Will Wallace was contemplating Jean Black with no little admiration, as she moved about the house.  There was something peculiarly attractive about Jean.  A winsome air and native grace, with refinement of manner unusual in one of her station, would have stamped her with a powerful species of beauty even if she had not possessed in addition a modest look and fair young face.

The ex-trooper was questioning, in a dreamy way, whether he had ever before seen such a pretty and agreeable specimen of girlhood, when he experienced a shock of surprise on observing that Jean had gone to a neighbouring spring for water and was making something very like a signal to him to follow her.

The surprise was mingled with an uncomfortable feeling of regret, for the action seemed inconsistent with the maiden’s natural modesty.

“Forgie me, sir,” she said, “for being so bold, but oh! sir, if ye knew how anxious I am about Uncle Black, ye would understand ­he is wanted so much, an’ there’s them in the hidy-hole that would fare ill if he was taken to prison just now.  If ­ye ­would ­”

“Well, Jean,” said Will, sympathising with the struggle it evidently cost the girl to speak to him ­“don’t hesitate to confide in me.  What would you have me do?”

“Only to keep him back frae the sodgers if ye can.  He’s such an awfu’ man to fecht when he’s roosed, that he’s sure to kill some o’ them if he’s no’ killed himsel’.  An’ it’ll be ruin to us a’ an’ to the Mitchells too, if ­”

She was interrupted at this point by Black himself calling her name.

“Trust me,” said Wallace earnestly, “I understand what you wish, and will do my best to prevent evil.”

A grateful look was all the maiden’s reply as she hurried away.

Our hero’s perplexity as to how this promise was to be fulfilled was, however, needless, for on reaching the Mitchells’ hut it was found that the troopers had already left the place; but the state of things they had left behind them was enough to stir deeply the pity and the indignation of the party.

Everything in confusion ­broken furniture, meal and grain scattered on the floor, open chests and cupboards ­told that the legalised brigands had done their worst.  Poor Mrs. Mitchell had objected to nothing that they said or did or proposed to her.  She feebly drank the health of King and prelates when bidden to do so, and swore whatever test-oaths they chose to apply to her till they required her to admit that the King was lord over the kirk and the conscience.  Then her spirit fired, and with a firm voice she declared that no king but Christ should rule over her kirk or conscience ­to which she boldly added that she had attended conventicles, and would do so again!

Having obtained all they wanted, the dragoons went away, leaving the old woman among the ruins of her home, for they probably did not consider it worth while carrying off a prisoner who would in all likelihood have died on the road to prison.

In the midst of all the noise and confusion it had struck the old woman as strange that they never once asked about her husband.  After they had gone, however, the arrival of two neighbours bearing his dead body revealed the terrible reason.  She uttered no cry when they laid his corpse on the floor, but sat gazing in horror as if turned to stone.  Thus Black and his friends found her.

She could not be roused to speak, and looked, after a few minutes, like one who had not realised the truth.

In this state she was conveyed to Black’s cottage and handed over to Jean, whom every one seemed intuitively to regard as her natural comforter.  The poor child led her into her own room, sat down beside her on the bed, laid the aged head on her sympathetic bosom and sobbed as if her heart was breaking.  But no response came from the old woman, save that once or twice she looked up feebly and said, “Jean, dear, what ails ye?”

In the Council Chamber at Edinburgh, Lauderdale, learning on one occasion that many persons both high and low had refused to take the bond already referred to, which might well have been styled the bond of slavery, bared his arm in fury, and, smiting the table with his fist, swore with a terrific oath that he would “force them to take the bond.”

What we have described is a specimen of the manner in which the force was sometimes applied.  The heartless despot and his clerical coadjutors had still to learn that tyranny has not yet forged the weapon that can separate man from his God.

“What think ye noo?” asked Andrew Black, turning to Wallace with a quiet but stern look, after old Mrs. Mitchell had been carried in, “what think ye noo, lad, o’ us Covenanters an’ oor lack o’ lang-sufferin’ an’ oor defyin’ the laws?  Aren’t these laws we ought to defy, but havena properly defied yet, laws illegally made by a perjured King and an upstart Cooncil?”

“Mr. Black,” said the ex-trooper, seizing his companion’s hand with an iron grip, “from this day forward I am with you ­heart and soul.”

Little did Wallace think, when he came to this decision, that he had still stronger reason for his course of action than he was aware of at the moment.

It was night when Mrs. Mitchell was brought into the farm-house, and preparations were being made for a hasty meal, when Ramblin’ Peter came in with the news that a number of people in the Lanarkshire district had been intercommuned and driven from their homes ­amongst others David Spence, Will Wallace’s uncle, with whom his mother had taken up her abode.

The distracted looks of poor Wallace on hearing this showed the powerful effect the news had upon him.

“Keep yersel’ quiet, noo,” said Black in an encouraging tone, as he took the youth’s arm and led him out of the house.  “These are no’ times to let our hearts rin awa wi’ oor heids.  Yer mither must be looked after; but i’ the meantime let me tell ye that yer uncle Daavid is a douce, cliver felly, an’ fears naething i’ this warld.  If he did, he wadna be amang the intercommuned.  Be sure he’s no’ the man to leave his sister Maggie in trouble.  Of course ye’ll be wantin’ to be aff to look after her.”

“Of course ­instantly,” said Wallace.

“Na.  Ye’ll hae yer supper first ­an’ a guid ain ­for ye’ll need it.  Have patience, noo, an’ listen to me, for I’ll do the very best I can for ye in this strait ­an’ it’s no muckle ye can do for yersel’ withoot help.”

There was something so decided yet kindly and reassuring in the farmer’s tone and manner that Wallace felt relieved in spite of his anxieties, and submitted to his guidance in all things.  Black then explained that he had a friend in Lanark who owed him money on lambs sold to him the previous year; that he meant to send his man Quentin Dick first to collect that money, and then proceed to Edinburgh, for the purpose of making further arrangements there about cattle.

“Noo,” continued Black, “I’ve gotten a mither as weel as you, an’ she lives in the Can’lemaker Raw, close to the Greyfriars’ Kirkyaird ­where they signed the Covenants, ye ken.  Weel, I wad advise you to gang to Lanark wi’ Quentin, an’ when ye find yer mither tak’ her to Edinbro’ an’ let her live wi’ my mither i’ the meantime, till we see what the Lord has in store for this puir persecuted remnant.  I’m sorry to pairt wi’ ye, lad, sae unexpectedly, but in thae times, when folk are called on to pairt wi’ their heids unexpectedly, we mauna compleen.”

“I’ll take your advice gladly,” said Wallace.  “When will Quentin Dick be ready to start?”

“In less than an hour.  The moon’ll be up soon after that.  It’s o’ nae use startin’ on sae dark a nicht till she’s up, for ye’ll hae to cross some nasty grund.  Noo, lad, though I’m no a minister, my advice to ye is, to gang doon into the hidy-hole an’ pray aboot this matter.  Niver mind the folk ye find there.  They’re used to prayin’.  It’s my opeenion that if there was less preachin’ an’ mair prayin’, we’d be a’ the better for ‘t.  It’s a thrawn warld we live in, but we’re bound to mak’ the best o’t.”

Although not much in the habit of engaging in prayer ­save at the formal periods of morning and evening ­our ex-trooper was just then in the mood to take his friend’s advice.  He retired to the place of refuge under Black’s house, where he found several people who had evidently been at the communion on Skeoch Hill.  These were engaged in earnest conversation, and took little notice of him as he entered.  The place was very dimly lighted.  One end of the low vaulted chamber was involved in obscurity.  Thither the youth went and knelt down.  From infancy his mother had taught him “to say his prayers,” and had sought to induce him to pray.  It is probable that the first time he really did so was in that secret chamber where, in much anxiety of soul, he prayed for herself.

After a hasty but hearty supper, he and Quentin Dick set out on their night journey.  They carried nothing with them except two wallets, filled, as Wallace could not help thinking, with a needlessly large amount of provisions.  Of course they were unarmed, for they travelled in the capacity of peaceful drovers, with plaids on their shoulders, and the usual staves in their hands.

“One would think we were going to travel for a month in some wilderness, to judge from the weight of our haversacks,” observed Wallace, after trudging along for some time in silence.

“Maybe we’ll be länger than a month,” returned Quentin, “ann the wulderness hereaway is warse than the wulderness that Moses led his folk through.  They had manna there.  Mony o’ us hae naething here.”

Quentin Dick spoke with cynicism in his tone, for he was a stern straightforward man, on whom injustice told with tremendous power, and who had not yet been taught by adversity to bow his head to man and restrain his indignation.

Before Wallace had time to make any rejoinder, something like the appearance of a group of horsemen in front arrested them.  They were still so far distant as to render their tramp inaudible.  Indeed they could not have been seen at all in so dark a night but for the fact that in passing over the crest of a hill they were for a moment or two dimly defined against the sky.

“Dragoons ­fowr o’ them,” muttered Quentin.  “We’ll step aside here an’ let them gang by.”

Clambering up the somewhat rugged side of the road, the two men concealed themselves among the bushes, intending to wait till the troopers should pass.

“What can they be doing in this direction, I wonder?” whispered Wallace.

“My freend,” answered Quentin, “dinna whisper when ye’re hidin’.  Of a’ the sounds for attractin’ attention an’ revealin’ secrets a whisper is the warst.  Speak low, if ye maun speak, but sometimes it’s wiser no to speak ava’.  Dootless the sodgers’ll be giein’ Andrew Black a ca’, but he kens brawly hoo to tak’ care o’ himsel’.”

When the horseman approached it was seen that they were driving before them a boy, or lad, on foot.  Evidently they were compelling him to act as their guide.

“It’s Ramblin’ Peter they’ve gotten haud o’, as sure as I’m a leevin’ man,” said the shepherd with a low chuckle; “I’d ken him amang a thoosand by the way he rins.”

“Shall we not rescue him?” exclaimed Wallace, starting up.

“Wheesht! keep still, man.  Nae fear o’ Peter.  He’ll lead them in amang the bogs o’ some peat-moss or ither, gie them the slip there, an’ leave them to find their way oot.”

Just as the troop trotted past an incident occurred which disconcerted the hiders not a little.  A dog which the soldiers had with them scented them, stopped, and after snuffing about for a few seconds, began to bark furiously.  The troop halted at once and challenged.

“Tak’ nae notice,” remarked Quentin in a low voice, which went no farther than his comrade’s ear.

A bright flash and sharp report followed the challenge, and a ball whistled through the thicket.

“Ay, fire away,” soliloquised Quentin.  “Ye seldom hit when ye can see.  It’s no’ likely ye’ll dae muckle better i’ the dark.”

The dog, however, having discovered the track of the hidden men, rushed up the bank towards them.  The shepherd picked up a stone, and, waiting till the animal was near enough, flung it with such a true aim that the dog went howling back to the road.  On this a volley from the carbines of the troopers cut up the bushes all around them.

“That’ll dae noo.  Come awa’, Wull,” said the shepherd, rising and proceeding farther into the thicket by a scarce visible footpath.  “The horses canna follow us here unless they hae the legs an’ airms o’ puggies.  As for the men, they’d have to cut a track to let their big boots pass.  We may tak’ it easy, for they’re uncommon slow at loadin’.”

In a few minutes the two friends were beyond all danger.  Returning then to the road about a mile farther on, they continued to journey until they had left the scene of the great communion far behind them, and when day dawned they retired to a dense thicket in a hollow by the banks of a little burn, and there rested till near sunset, when the journey was resumed.  That night they experienced considerable delay owing to the intense darkness.  Towards dawn the day following Quentin Dick led his companion into a wild, thickly-wooded place which seemed formed by nature as a place of refuge for a hunted creature ­whether man or beast.

Entering the mouth of what seemed to be a cavern, he bade his companion wait.  Presently a sound, as of the cry of some wild bird, was heard.  It was answered by a similar cry in the far distance.  Soon after the shepherd returned, and, taking his companion by the hand, led him into the cave which, a few paces from its mouth, was profoundly dark.  Almost immediately a glimmering light appeared.  A few steps farther, and Wallace found himself in the midst of an extraordinary scene.

The cavern at its inner extremity was an apartment of considerable size, and the faint light of a few lanterns showed that the place was clouded by smoke from a low fire of wood that burned at the upper end.  Here, standing, seated, and reclining, were assembled all sorts and conditions of men ­some in the prime and vigour of life; some bowed with the weight of years; others, both young and old, gaunt and haggard from the influence of disease and suffering, and many giving evidence by their aspect that their days on earth were numbered.  Some, by the stern contraction of brow and lip, seemed to suggest that submission was the last thought that would enter their minds, but not a few of the party wore that look of patient endurance which is due to the influence of the Spirit of God ­not to mere human strength of mind and will.  All seemed to be famishing for want of food, while ragged clothes, shaggy beards, hollow cheeks, and unkempt locks told eloquently of the long years of bodily and mental suffering which had been endured under ruthless persecution.