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Chapter 22

THE SIEGE OF THRUMS


The man in the moon is a native of Thrums, who was put up there for
hacking sticks on the Sabbath, and as he sails over the Den his interest
in the bit placey is still sufficient to make him bend forward and cry
"Boo!" at the lovers. When they jump apart you can see the aged
reprobate grinning. Once out of sight of the den, he cares not a boddle
how the moon travels, but the masterful crittur enrages him if she is in
a hurry here, just as he is cleverly making out whose children's
children are courting now. "Slow, there!" he cries to the moon, but she
answers placidly that they have the rest of the world to view to-night.
"The rest of the world be danged!" roars the man, and he cranes his neck
for a last glimpse of the Cuttle Well, until he nearly falls out of the
moon.

Never had the man such a trying time as during the year now before him.
It was the year when so many scientific magnates sat up half the night
in their shirts, spying at him through telescopes. But every effort to
discover why he was in such a fidget failed, because the spy-glasses
were never levelled at the Thrums den. Through the whole of the
incidents now to tell, you may conceive the man (on whom sympathy would
be wasted) dagoning horribly, because he was always carried past the den
before he could make head or tail of the change that had come over it.

The spot chosen by the ill-fated Stuart and his gallant remnant for
their last desperate enterprise was eminently fitted for their purpose.
Being round the corner from Thrums, it was commanded by no fortified
place save the farm of Nether Drumgley, and on a recent goustie night
nearly all the trees had been blown down, making a hundred hiding-places
for bold climbers, and transforming the Den into a scene of wild and
mournful grandeur. In no bay more suitable than the flooded field called
the Silent Pool could the hunted prince have cast anchor, for the Pool
is not only sheltered from observation, but so little troubled by gales
that it had only one drawback: at some seasons of the year it was not
there. This, however, did not vex Stroke, as it is cannier to call him,
for he burned his boats on the night he landed (and a dagont, tedious
job it was too), and pointed out to his followers that the drouth which
kept him in must also keep the enemy out. Part of the way to the lair
they usually traversed in the burn, because water leaves no trace, and
though they carried turnip lanterns and were armed to the teeth, this
was often a perilous journey owing to the lovers close at hand on the
pink path, from which the trees had been cleared, for lads and lasses
must walk whate'er betide. Ronny-On's Jean and Peter Scrymgeour, little
Lisbeth Doak and long Sam'l from Pyotdykes were pairing that year, and
never knew how near they were to being dirked by Corp of Corp, who,
lurking in the burn till there were no tibbits in his toes, muttered
fiercely, "Cheep one single cheep, and it will be thy hinmost,
methinks!" under the impression that Methinks was a Jacobite oath.

For this voluntary service, Stroke clapped Corp of Corp on the shoulder
with a naked sword, and said, "Rise, Sir Joseph!" which made Corp more
confused than ever, for he was already Corp of Corp, Him of Muckle
Kenny, Red McNeil, Andrew Ferrara, and the Master of Inverquharity
(Stroke's names), as well as Stab-in-the-Dark, Grind-them-to-Mullins,
and Warty Joe (his own), and which he was at any particular moment he
never knew, till Stroke told him, and even then he forgot and had to be
put in irons.

The other frequenters of the lair on Saturday nights (when alone the
rebellion was active) were the proud Lady Grizel and Widow Elspeth. It
had been thought best to make Elspeth a widow, because she was so
religious.

The lair was on the right bank of the burn, near the waterfall, and you
climbed to it by ropes, unless you preferred an easier way. It is now a
dripping hollow, down which water dribbles from beneath a sluice, but at
that time it was hidden on all sides by trees and the huge clods of
sward they had torn from the earth as they fell. Two of these clods were
the only walls of the lair, which had at times a ceiling not unlike
Aaron Latta's bed coverlets, and the chief furniture was two barrels,
marked "Usquebach" and "Powder." When the darkness of Stroke's fortunes
sat like a pall upon his brow, as happened sometimes, he sought to drive
it away by playing cards on one of these barrels with Sir Joseph, but
the approach of the Widow made him pocket them quickly with a warning
sign to his trusty knight, who did not understand, and asked what had
become of them, whereupon Elspeth cried, in horror:

"Cards! Oh, Tommy, you promised--"

But Stroke rode her down with, "Cards! Wha has been playing cards? You,
Muckle Kenny, and you, Sir Joseph, after I forbade it! Hie, there,
Inverquharity, all of you, seize those men."

Then Corp blinked, came to his senses and marched himself off to the
prison on the lonely promontory called the Queen's Bower, saying
ferociously, "Jouk, Sir Joseph, and I'll blaw you into posterity."

It is sable night when Stroke and Sir Joseph reach a point in the Den
whence the glimmering lights of the town are distinctly visible. Neither
speaks. Presently the distant eight-o'clock bell rings, and then Sir
Joseph looks anxiously at his warts, for this is the signal to begin,
and as usual he has forgotten the words.

"Go on," says someone in a whisper. It cannot be Stroke, for his head
is brooding on his breast. This mysterious voice haunted all the doings
in the Den, and had better be confined in brackets.

("Go on.")

"Methinks," says Sir Joseph, "methinks the borers--"


("Burghers.")

"Methinks the burghers now cease from their labors."

"Ay," replied Stroke, "'tis so, would that they ceased from them
forever!"

"Methinks the time is at hand."

"Ha!" exclaims Stroke, looking at his lieutenant curiously, "what makest
thou say so? For three weeks these fortifications have defied my cannon,
there is scarce a breach yet in the walls of yonder town."

"Methinks thou wilt find a way."

"It may be so, my good Sir Joseph, it may be so, and yet, even when I am
most hopeful of success, my schemes go a gley."

"Methinks thy dark--"

("Dinna say Methinks so often.")

("Tommy, I maun. If I dinna get that to start me off, I go through
other.")

("Go on.")

"Methinks thy dark spirit lies on thee to-night."

"Ay, 'tis too true. But canst thou blame me if I grow sad? The town
still in the enemy's hands, and so much brave blood already spilt in
vain. Knowest thou that the brave Kinnordy fell last night? My noble
Kinnordy!"

Here Stroke covers his face with his hands, weeping silently, and--and
there is an awkward pause.

("Go on--'Still have me.'")

("So it is.") "Weep not, my royal scone--"

("Scion.")

"Weep not, my royal scion, havest thou not still me?"

"Well said, Sir Joseph," cries Stroke, dashing the sign of weakness from
his face. "I still have many brave fellows, and with their help I shall
be master of this proud town."

"And then ghost we to fair Edinburgh?"

"Ay, 'tis so, but, Sir Joseph, thinkest thou these burghers love the
Stuart not?"

"'_Nay,_ methinks they are true to thee, but their starch
commander--(give me my time, this is a lang ane,) but their arch
commander is thy bitterest foe. Vile spoon that he is! (It's no spoon,
it's spawn.)"

"Thou meanest the craven Cathro?"

"Methinks ay. (I like thae short anes.)"

"'Tis well!" says Stroke, sternly. "That man hath ever slipped between
me and my right. His time will come."

"He floppeth thee--he flouteth thee from the battlements."

"Ha, 'tis well!"

("You've said that already.")

("I say it twice.")

("That's what aye puts me wrang.) Ghost thou to meet the proud Lady
Grizel to-night?"

"Ay."

"Ghost thou alone?"

"Ay."

("What easy anes you have!) I fear it is not chancey for thee to go."

"I must dree my dreed."

"These women is kittle cattle."

"The Stuart hath ever a soft side for them. Ah, my trusty
foster-brother, knowest thou not what it is to love?"

"Alas, I too have had my fling. (Does Grizel kiss your hand yet?)"

"(No, she winna, the limmer.) Sir Joseph, I go to her."

"Methinks she is a haughty onion. I prithee go not to-night."

"I have given my word."

"Thy word is a band."

"Adieu, my friend."

"Methinks thou ghost to thy damn. (Did we no promise Elspeth there
should be no swearing?)"

The raft Vick Lan Vohr is dragged to the shore, and Stroke steps on
board, a proud solitary figure. "Farewell!" he cries hoarsely, as he
seizes the oar.

"Farewell, my leech," answers Corp, and then helps him to disembark.
Their hands chance to meet, and Stroke's is so hot that Corp quails.

"Tommy," he says, with a shudder, "do you--you dinna think it's a' true,
do you?" But the ill-fated prince only gives him a warning look and
plunges into the mazes of the forest. For a long time silence reigns
over the Den. Lights glint fitfully, a human voice imitates the
plaintive cry of the peewit, cautious whistling follows, comes next the
clash of arms, and the scream of one in the death-throes, and again
silence falls. Stroke emerges near the Reekie Broth Pot, wiping his
sword and muttering, "Faugh! it drippeth!" At the same moment the air is
filled with music of more than mortal--well, the air is filled with
music. It seems to come from but a few yards away, and pressing his hand
to his throbbing brow the Chevalier presses forward till, pushing aside
the branches of a fallen fir, he comes suddenly upon a scene of such
romantic beauty that he stands rooted to the ground. Before him, softly
lit by a half-moon (the man in it perspiring with curiosity), is a
miniature dell, behind which rise threatening rocks, overgrown here and
there by grass, heath, and bracken, while in the centre of the dell is a
bubbling spring called the Cuttle Well, whose water, as it overflows a
natural basin, soaks into the surrounding ground and so finds a way into
the picturesque stream below. But it is not the loveliness of the spot
which fascinates the prince; rather is it the exquisite creature who
sits by the bubbling spring, a reed from a hand-loom in her hands, from
which she strikes mournful sounds, the while she raises her voice in
song. A pink scarf and a blue ribbon are crossed upon her breast, her
dark tresses kiss her lovely neck, and as she sits on the only dry
stone, her face raised as if in wrapt communion with the heavens, and
her feet tucked beneath her to avoid the mud, she seems not a human
being, but the very spirit of the place and hour. The royal wanderer
remains spellbound, while she strikes her lyre and sings (with but one
trivial alteration) the song of MacMurrough:--

Awake on your hills, on your islands awake,
Brave sons of the mountains, the frith and the lake!
'Tis the bugle--but not for the chase is the call;
'Tis the pibroch's shrill summons--but not to the hall.

'Tis the summons of heroes for conquest or death,
When the banners are blazing on mountain and heath;
They call to the dirk, the claymore and the targe,
To the march and the muster, the line and the charge.

Be the brand of each Chieftain like Stroke's in his ire!
May the blood through his veins flow like currents of fire!
Burst the base foreign yoke as your sires did of yore,
Or die like your sires, and endure it no more.

As the fair singer concluded, Stroke, who had been deeply moved, heaved
a great sigh, and immediately, as if in echo of it, came a sigh from the
opposite side of the dell. In a second of time three people had learned
that a certain lady had two lovers. She starts to her feet, still
carefully avoiding the puddles, but it is not she who speaks.

("Did you hear me?")

("Ay.")

("You're ready?")

("Ca' awa'.")

Stroke dashes to the girl's side, just in time to pluck her from the
arms of a masked man. The villain raises his mask and reveals the face
of--it looks like Corp, but the disguise is thrown away on Stroke.

"Ha, Cathro," he exclaims joyfully, "so at last we meet on equal terms!"

"Back, Stroke, and let me pass."

"Nay, we fight for the wench."

"So be it. The prideful onion is his who wins her."

"Have at thee, caitiff!"

A terrible conflict ensues. Cathro draws first blood. 'Tis but a
scratch. Ha! well thrust, Stroke. In vain Cathro girns his teeth. Inch
by inch he is driven back, he slips, he recovers, he pants, he is
apparently about to fling himself down the steep bank and so find safety
in flight, but he comes on again.

("What are you doing? You run now.")

("I ken, but I'm sweer!")

("Off you go.")

Even as Stroke is about to press home, the cowardly foe flings himself
down the steep bank and rolls out of sight. He will give no more trouble
to-night; and the victor turns to the Lady Grizel, who had been
repinning the silk scarf across her breast, while the issue of the
combat was still in doubt.

("Now, then, Grizel, you kiss my hand.")

("I tell you I won't.")

("Well, then, go on your knees to me.")

("You needn't think it.")

("Dagon you! Then ca' awa' standing.")

"My liege, thou hast saved me from the wretch Cathro."

"May I always be near to defend thee in time of danger, my pretty
chick."

("Tommy, you promised not to call me by those silly names.")

("They slip out, I tell you. That was aye the way wi' the Stuarts.")

("Well, you must say 'Lady Grizel.') Good, my prince, how can I thank
thee?"

"By being my wife. (Not a word of this to Elspeth.)"

"Nay, I summoned thee here to tell thee that can never be. The Grizels
of Grizel are of ancient lineage, but they mate not with monarchs. My
sire, the nunnery gates will soon close on me forever."

"Then at least say thou lovest me."

"Alas, I love thee not."

("What haver is this? I telled you to say 'Charles, would that I loved
thee less.'")

("And I told you I would not.")

("Well, then, where are we now?")

("We miss out all that about my wearing your portrait next my heart, and
put in the rich apparel bit, the same as last week.")

("Oh! Then I go on?) Bethink thee, fair jade--"

("Lady.")

"Bethink thee, fair lady, Stuart is not so poor but that, if thou come
with him to his lowly lair, he can deck thee with rich apparel and
ribbons rare."

"I spurn thy gifts, unhappy man, but if there are holes in--"

("Miss that common bit out. I canna thole it.")

("I like it.) If there are holes in the garments of thy loyal followers,
I will come and mend them, and have a needle and thread in my pocket.
(Tommy, there is another button off your shirt! Have you got the
button?")

"(It's down my breeks.) So be it, proud girl, come!"

It was Grizel who made masks out of tin rags, picked up where tinkers
had passed the night, and musical instruments out of broken reeds that
smelled of caddis and Jacobite head-gear out of weaver's night-caps; and
she kept the lair so clean and tidy as to raise a fear that intruders
might mistake its character. Elspeth had to mind the pot, which Aaron
Latta never missed, and Corp was supposed to light the fire by striking
sparks from his knife, a trick which Tommy considered so easy that he
refused to show how it was done. Many strange sauces were boiled in that
pot, a sort of potato-turnip pudding often coming out even when not
expected, but there was an occasional rabbit that had been bowled over
by Corp's unerring hand, and once Tommy shot a--a haunch of venison,
having first, with Corp's help, howked it out of Ronny-On's swine, then
suspended head downward, and open like a book at the page of contents,
steaming, dripping, a tub beneath, boys with bladders in the distance.
When they had supped they gathered round the fire, Grizel knitting a
shawl for they knew whom, but the name was never mentioned, and Tommy
told the story of his life at the French court, and how he fought in the
'45 and afterward hid in caves, and so did he shudder, as he described
the cold of his bracken beds, and so glowed his face, for it was all
real to him, that Grizel let the wool drop on her knee, and Corp
whispered to Elspeth, "Dinna be fleid for him; I'se uphaud he found a
wy." Those quiet evenings were not the least pleasant spent in the Den.

But sometimes they were interrupted by a fierce endeavor to carry the
lair, when boys from Cathro's climbed to it up each other's backs, the
rope, of course, having been pulled into safety at the first sound, and
then that end of the Den rang with shouts, and deeds of valor on both
sides were as common as pine needles, and once Tommy and Corp were only
saved from captors who had them down, by Grizel rushing into the midst
of things with two flaring torches, and another time bold Birkie, most
daring of the storming party, was seized with two others and made to
walk the plank. The plank had been part of a gate, and was suspended
over the bank of the Silent Pool, so that, as you approached the farther
end, down you went. It was not a Jacobite method, but Tommy feared that
rows of bodies, hanging from the trees still standing in the Den, might
attract attention.

James M. Barrie