Salute to Adventurers HTML version
2. Of A High-Handed Lady
The storm died away in the night, and I awoke to a clear, rain-washed world and the
chill of an autumn morn. I was as stiff and sore as if I had been whipped, my clothes
were sodden and heavy, and not till I had washed my face and hands in the burn and
stretched my legs up the hill-side did I feel restored to something of my ordinary
The encampment looked weird indeed as seen in the cruel light of day. The women
were cooking oatmeal on iron girdles, but the fire burned smokily, and the cake I got
was no better than dough. They were a disjaskit lot, with tousled hair and pinched faces,
in which shone hungry eyes. Most were barefoot, and all but two--three were ancient
beldames who should have been at home in the chimney corner. I noticed one decent-
looking young woman, who had the air of a farm servant; and two were well-fed country
wives who had probably left a brood of children to mourn them. The men were little
better. One had the sallow look of a weaver, another was a hind with a big, foolish face,
and there was a slip of a lad who might once have been a student of divinity. But each
had a daftness in the eye and something weak and unwholesome in the visage, so that
they were an offence to the fresh, gusty moorland.
All but Muckle John himself. He came out of his tent and prayed till the hill-sides
echoed. It was a tangle of bedlamite ravings, with long screeds from the Scriptures
intermixed like currants in a bag-pudding. But there was power in the creature, in the
strange lift of his voice, in his grim jowl, and in the fire of his sombre eyes. The others I
pitied, but him I hated and feared. On him and his kind were to be blamed all the
madness of the land, which had sent my father overseas and desolated our dwelling. So
long as crazy prophets preached brimstone and fire, so long would rough-shod soldiers
and cunning lawyers profit by their folly; and often I prayed in those days that the two
evils might devour each other.
It was time that I was cutting loose from this ill-omened company and continuing my
road Edinburgh-wards. We were lying in a wide trough of the Pentland Hills, which I well
remembered. The folk of the plains called it the Cauldstaneslap, and it made an easy
path for sheep and cattle between the Lothians and Tweeddale. The camp had been
snugly chosen, for, except by the gleam of a fire in the dark, it was invisible from any
distance. Muckle John was so filled with his vapourings that I could readily slip off down
the burn and join the southern highway at the village of Linton.
I was on the verge of going when I saw that which pulled me up. A rider was coming
over the moor. The horse leaped the burn lightly, and before I could gather my wits was
in the midst of the camp, where Muckle John was vociferating to heaven.
My heart gave a great bound, for I saw it was the girl who had sung to me in the rain.
She rode a fine sorrel, with the easy seat of a skilled horsewoman. She was trimly clad