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Salute to Adventurers

1. The Sweet-Singers
When I was a child in short-coats a spaewife came to the town-end, and for a silver
groat paid by my mother she riddled my fate. It came to little, being no more than that I
should miss love and fortune in the sunlight and find them in the rain. The woman was a
haggard, black-faced gipsy, and when my mother asked for more she turned on her
heel and spoke gibberish; for which she was presently driven out of the place by Tarn
Roberton, the baillie, and the village dogs. But the thing stuck in my memory, and
together with the fact that I was a Thursday's bairn, and so, according to the old rhyme,
"had far to go," convinced me long ere I had come to man's estate that wanderings and
surprises would be my portion.
It is in the rain that this tale begins. I was just turned of eighteen, and in the back-end of
a dripping September set out from our moorland house of Auchencairn to complete my
course at Edinburgh College. The year was 1685, an ill year for our countryside; for the
folk were at odds with the King's Government, about religion, and the land was full of
covenants and repressions. Small wonder that I was backward with my colleging, and at
an age when most lads are buckled to a calling was still attending the prelections of the
Edinburgh masters. My father had blown hot and cold in politics, for he was fiery and
unstable by nature, and swift to judge a cause by its latest professor. He had cast out
with the Hamilton gentry, and, having broken the head of a dragoon in the change-
house of Lesmahagow, had his little estate mulcted in fines. All of which, together with
some natural curiosity and a family love of fighting, sent him to the ill-fated field of
Bothwell Brig, from which he was lucky to escape with a bullet in the shoulder.
Thereupon he had been put to the horn, and was now lying hid in a den in the mosses
of Douglas Water. It was a sore business for my mother, who had the task of warding
off prying eyes from our ragged household and keeping the fugitive in life. She was a
Tweedside woman, as strong and staunch as an oak, and with a heart in her like Robert
Bruce. And she was cheerful, too, in the worst days, and would go about the place with
a bright eye and an old song on her lips. But the thing was beyond a woman's bearing;
so I had perforce to forsake my colleging and take a hand with our family vexations. The
life made me hard and watchful, trusting no man, and brusque and stiff towards the
world. And yet all the while youth was working in me like yeast, so that a spring day or a
west wind would make me forget my troubles and thirst to be about a kindlier business
than skulking in a moorland dwelling.
My mother besought me to leave her. "What," she would say, "has young blood to do
with this bickering of kirks and old wives' lamentations? You have to learn and see and
do, Andrew. And it's time you were beginning." But I would not listen to her, till by the
mercy of God we got my father safely forth of Scotland, and heard that he was dwelling
snugly at Leyden in as great patience as his nature allowed. Thereupon I bethought me
of my neglected colleging, and, leaving my books and plenishing to come by the Lanark
carrier, set out on foot for Edinburgh.
 
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