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By Peden's Cleuch






The Border hounds had gone right away up Redewater after an old dog fox
they had picked up on the rocks beside the Doure; twice had he circled
the Doure, then setting his mask westwards had crossed the Rede, and,
turning right-handed, made straight for Carter Fell.

My mare had gone splendidly for the first hour, but by the time we
passed the cairn on the Carter she had lost a shoe, and in addition had
sustained a bad 'over-reach,' so I was fain to pull up and dismount,
while I watched the Master and whip, and one other intrepid horseman,
struggling gamely on towards Carlin's Tooth on the Scottish side of the
Border after the tail of the vanished hounds.

I determined to descend to the grass-grown Hawick road which leads into
the Jedburgh-Newcastle road half a mile from the ancient Border boundary
line. The early morning that particular April day had been lovely;
curlews newly returned had luted their love-song overhead; golden
plovers had piped upon the bents; there was a scent of heather-burning
in the snell air, but suddenly the weather had changed, and with an idle
motion snowflakes now drifted down the wind. Cheviot was fast
disappearing behind a white shroud; the triple Eildons showed like
breaking billows; Ruberslaw alone was black against the sky.

I stayed a minute or two more to give my mare a mouthful of water at the
springs of Jed, but whereas I had intended an inch she insisted upon an
ell.

As I tried to drag her head out of the little pool of water, a
stranger--evidently an old shepherd--accompanied by a frail old collie
bitch came up beside me.

'Hae ye had guid huntin'?' he inquired, 'Hae ye killed the fox? They're
mischievous beasts at the best, but worst o' a' at this season--aye
seekin' for the puir lambs.'

I said I thought the fox had got right away, and would probably save his
brush by taking refuge in some stronghold by Carlin's Tooth.

'Ay,' he replied absently, then added, 'D' ye ken the name o' this
cleuch?'

'No,' I replied; 'I come from the wrong side of the Border,' finally
succeeding, as I spoke, in drawing my mare's head out of the water.

''Tis Peden's Cleuch,'[1] he said with animation; ''tis the place where
blessed Master Peden was preachin' when the bloody "Clavers" was huntin'
him like a fox on the fells; ay, and would hae worrited him wi' his
hounds had na the Lord sent down His mist and wrapped him awa frae the
hunters.'

He paused a moment, then continued slowly:

'They still hunt for him--"Clavers" and Grierson o' Lag; 'tis the weird
they hae to dree till the Day o' Doom for their wickedness i' pursuin'
the Saints o' God.'

'Have you ever seen them?' I asked lightly.

'Ay, I hae,' came the unexpected response, 'whiles i' the "oncome" or
"haar," or by the moonlicht.

'D' ye no ken the bit ballant?

"Soondless they ride--for aye i' search o' their boon--
They ha' died, but God's feud is for aye unstaunched,
And aye they mun ride by the licht o' the moon."'

'No,' I replied, astonished, 'but how--supposing you have seen
them--could you know them to be "Clavers" and Grierson o' Lag?'

'Not only hae I seen them, but I aince heard them talking,' my companion
replied quietly as before.

'When was that?' I asked, still more astonished, as I looked more keenly
at the speaker.

He was a man of middle stature, dressed in rough shepherd's costume,
with a plaid about his shoulders; he had a gentle aspect, with tremulous
mouth, and a far-away look in his eyes of speedwell blue.

'I'll tell ye,' he replied simply. 'Blessed Master Peden had been here
i' the "killing times," ye ken, preachin' till the puir hill folk, an'
baptizin' their bairns--he baptized a forebear o' my ain--and it would
likely be the annivairsary o' the day when he escaped frae the hans o'
the hunters through the "haar," when I chanced to come by here an' saw a
bit tent pit up, an' heard folk carousin' within.

'I creepit up, an' I keeked within the openin' o't, an' there I saw twa
hunters sittin' at board--eatin', and whiles drinkin' the blood-red
wine--ane o' them was the bonniest man e'er I saw i' my life, but he had
the sorrowfullest eyes e'er set i' a man's face. There was ne'er a bit
colour to his cheeks save where a trickle o' claret had stained the
corner o' his lip.

'His comrade was juist the opposite till him; foul he was, an'
discoloured wi' lust an' liquor--mair like a haggis nor a human face
ava.

'There was a wumman beside him--dootless his whure, that had ridden oot
frae Jedburgh to be wi' him--nestlin' in at his side like a ewe till her
ram i' the autumn; not that he was takin' muckle thocht o' her,
though--an' then he cries oot loud:

'"'Tis a moonlicht nicht, my Lord Claverhouse," he cries; "we'll hunt
oor quarry ower muir an' fell, an' aiblins hae mair luck than we had i'
the day; we'll run the auld brock to ground before dawn, I'll hand ye a
handfu' o' Jacobuses."

'"I'll hand ye," replied Claverhouse, wi' a smile on his bonny, sad
face,

"Ye'll tak the high road an' I'll tak the low road,
An' I'll be in North Tyne afore ye.

"So up an' tak wing, my grey-lag goose," he says, "an' wing your way
straight to the North Tyne water."

'"Then here's a last toast," cries Lag, holdin' up his bicker fu' o'
wine.

'Noo, what think ye was his toast?' my companion broke off to inquire of
me with eye agleam.

I shook my head, and laid hold of my saddle to remount, for the eerie
communication, the loneliness of the spot, and the isolation of the
drifting snowflakes had all combined to give me a 'scunner.'

'It was their ain damnation,' my companion whispered in my ear; 'he was
proposin' the murder o' the Saints o' God--juist the "sin against the
Holy Ghaist"--that was his fearsome health.'

I had climbed into my saddle, and at that moment an unseen plover wailed
through the mist.

'Hark!' cried my companion, lifting a finger.

'Hark to his soul i' torment!'

My mare took fright, and made a great spring forward; I let her go, for
I was 'gliffed' myself, and right glad was I to reach the road made by
human hands that led homeward, for I feared if I stayed on that I too
might meet the wraiths of Claverhouse and Lag hunting the moorlands for
blessed Master Peden.

[Footnote 1: Peden, the Covenanter, was undoubtedly on the Border in the
'killing times,' and is said to have escaped from the hunters when
preaching on Peden Pike by intervention of a mist, but as in old maps
this rounded hill west of Otterburn is spelt Paden, the derivation seems
doubtful. Peden's Cleuch on the north side of Carter seems undoubtedly
to have been his refuge.]





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Previous: In The Blackfriars Wynd



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