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Lay Morals by Robert Louis Stevenson

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my God, to myself, and to Haddo: in His strength, I will perform

Then he straitly discharged Francie to repeat the tale, and bade
him in the future to avert his very eyes from the doings of the
curate. 'You must go to his place of idolatry; look upon him
there!' says he, 'but nowhere else. Avert your eyes, close your
ears, pass him by like a three days' corp. He is like that
damnable monster Basiliscus, which defiles--yea, poisons!--by the
sight.'--All which was hardly claratory to the boy's mind.

Presently Montroymont came home, and called up the stairs to
Francie. Traquair was a good shot and swordsman: and it was his
pleasure to walk with his son over the braes of the moorfowl, or to
teach him arms in the back court, when they made a mighty comely
pair, the child being so lean, and light, and active, and the laird
himself a man of a manly, pretty stature, his hair (the periwig
being laid aside) showing already white with many anxieties, and
his face of an even, flaccid red. But this day Francie's heart was
not in the fencing.

'Sir,' says he, suddenly lowering his point, 'will ye tell me a
thing if I was to ask it?'

'Ask away,' says the father.

'Well, it's this,' said Francie: 'Why do you and me comply if it's
so wicked?'

'Ay, ye have the cant of it too!' cries Montroymont. 'But I'll
tell ye for all that. It's to try and see if we can keep the
rigging on this house, Francie. If she had her way, we would be
beggar-folk, and hold our hands out by the wayside. When ye hear
her--when ye hear folk,' he corrected himself briskly, 'call me a
coward, and one that betrayed the Lord, and I kenna what else, just
mind it was to keep a bed to ye to sleep in and a bite for ye to
eat.--On guard!' he cried, and the lesson proceeded again till they
were called to supper.

'There's another thing yet,' said Francie, stopping his father.
'There's another thing that I am not sure that I am very caring
for. She--she sends me errands.'

'Obey her, then, as is your bounden duty,' said Traquair.

'Ay, but wait till I tell ye,' says the boy. 'If I was to see you
I was to hide.'

Montroymont sighed. 'Well, and that's good of her too,' said he.
'The less that I ken of thir doings the better for me; and the best
thing you can do is just to obey her, and see and be a good son to
her, the same as ye are to me, Francie.'

At the tenderness of this expression the heart of Francie swelled
within his bosom, and his remorse was poured out. 'Faither!' he
cried, 'I said "deil" to-day; many's the time I said it, and
DAMNABLE too, and HELLITSH. I ken they're all right; they're
beeblical. But I didna say them beeblically; I said them for sweir
words--that's the truth of it.'

'Hout, ye silly bairn!' said the father, 'dinna do it nae mair, and
come in by to your supper.' And he took the boy, and drew him
close to him a moment, as they went through the door, with
something very fond and secret, like a caress between a pair of

The next day M'Brair was abroad in the afternoon, and had a long
advising with Janet on the braes where she herded cattle. What
passed was never wholly known; but the lass wept bitterly, and fell
on her knees to him among the whins. The same night, as soon as it
was dark, he took the road again for Balweary. In the Kirkton,
where the dragoons quartered, he saw many lights, and heard the
noise of a ranting song and people laughing grossly, which was
highly offensive to his mind. He gave it the wider berth, keeping
among fields; and came down at last by the water-side, where the
manse stands solitary between the river and the road. He tapped at
the back door, and the old woman called upon him to come in, and
guided him through the house to the study, as they still called it,
though there was little enough study there in Haddo's days, and
more song-books than theology.

'Here's yin to speak wi' ye, Mr. Haddie!' cries the old wife.

And M'Brair, opening the door and entering, found the little,
round, red man seated in one chair and his feet upon another. A
clear fire and a tallow dip lighted him barely. He was taking
tobacco in a pipe, and smiling to himself; and a brandy-bottle and
glass, and his fiddle and bow, were beside him on the table.

'Hech, Patey M'Briar, is this you?' said he, a trifle tipsily.
'Step in by, man, and have a drop brandy: for the stomach's sake!
Even the deil can quote Scripture--eh, Patey?'

'I will neither eat nor drink with you,' replied M'Brair. 'I am
come upon my Master's errand: woe be upon me if I should anyways
mince the same. Hall Haddo, I summon you to quit this kirk which
you encumber.'

'Muckle obleeged!' says Haddo, winking.

'You and me have been to kirk and market together,' pursued
M'Brair; 'we have had blessed seasons in the kirk, we have sat in
the same teaching-rooms and read in the same book; and I know you
still retain for me some carnal kindness. It would be my shame if
I denied it; I live here at your mercy and by your favour, and
glory to acknowledge it. You have pity on my wretched body, which
is but grass, and must soon be trodden under: but O, Haddo! how
much greater is the yearning with which I yearn after and pity your
immortal soul! Come now, let us reason together! I drop all
points of controversy, weighty though these be; I take your defaced
and damnified kirk on your own terms; and I ask you, Are you a
worthy minister? The communion season approaches; how can you
pronounce thir solemn words, "The elders will now bring forrit the
elements," and not quail? A parishioner may be summoned to-night;
you may have to rise from your miserable orgies; and I ask you,
Haddo, what does your conscience tell you? Are you fit? Are you
fit to smooth the pillow of a parting Christian? And if the
summons should be for yourself, how then?'

Haddo was startled out of all composure and the better part of his
temper. 'What's this of it?' he cried. 'I'm no waur than my
neebours. I never set up to be speeritual; I never did. I'm a
plain, canty creature; godliness is cheerfulness, says I; give me
my fiddle and a dram, and I wouldna hairm a flee.'

'And I repeat my question,' said M'Brair: 'Are you fit--fit for
this great charge? fit to carry and save souls?'

'Fit? Blethers! As fit's yoursel',' cried Haddo.

'Are you so great a self-deceiver?' said M'Brair. 'Wretched man,
trampler upon God's covenants, crucifier of your Lord afresh. I
will ding you to the earth with one word: How about the young
woman, Janet M'Clour?'

'Weel, what about her? what do I ken?' cries Haddo. 'M'Brair, ye
daft auld wife, I tell ye as true's truth, I never meddled her. It
was just daffing, I tell ye: daffing, and nae mair: a piece of
fun, like! I'm no denying but what I'm fond of fun, sma' blame to
me! But for onything sarious--hout, man, it might come to a
deposeetion! I'll sweir it to ye. Where's a Bible, till you hear
me sweir?'

'There is nae Bible in your study,' said M'Brair severely.

And Haddo, after a few distracted turns, was constrained to accept
the fact.

'Weel, and suppose there isna?' he cried, stamping. 'What mair can
ye say of us, but just that I'm fond of my joke, and so's she? I
declare to God, by what I ken, she might be the Virgin Mary--if she
would just keep clear of the dragoons. But me! na, deil haet o'

'She is penitent at least,' says M'Brair.

'Do you mean to actually up and tell me to my face that she accused
me?' cried the curate.

'I canna just say that,' replied M'Brair. 'But I rebuked her in
the name of God, and she repented before me on her bended knees.'

'Weel, I daursay she's been ower far wi' the dragoons,' said Haddo.
'I never denied that. I ken naething by it.'

'Man, you but show your nakedness the more plainly,' said M'Brair.
'Poor, blind, besotted creature--and I see you stoytering on the
brink of dissolution: your light out, and your hours numbered.
Awake, man!' he shouted with a formidable voice, 'awake, or it be
ower late.'

'Be damned if I stand this!' exclaimed Haddo, casting his tobacco-
pipe violently on the table, where it was smashed in pieces. 'Out
of my house with ye, or I'll call for the dragoons.'

'The speerit of the Lord is upon me,' said M'Brair with solemn
ecstasy. 'I sist you to compear before the Great White Throne, and
I warn you the summons shall be bloody and sudden.'

And at this, with more agility than could have been expected, he
got clear of the room and slammed the door behind him in the face
of the pursuing curate. The next Lord's day the curate was ill,
and the kirk closed, but for all his ill words, Mr. M'Brair abode
unmolested in the house of Montroymont.


This was a bit of a steep broken hill that overlooked upon the west
a moorish valley, full of ink-black pools. These presently drained
into a burn that made off, with little noise and no celerity of
pace, about the corner of the hill. On the far side the ground
swelled into a bare heath, black with junipers, and spotted with
the presence of the standing stones for which the place was famous.
They were many in that part, shapeless, white with lichen--you
would have said with age: and had made their abode there for
untold centuries, since first the heathens shouted for their
installation. The ancients had hallowed them to some ill religion,
and their neighbourhood had long been avoided by the prudent before
the fall of day; but of late, on the upspringing of new
requirements, these lonely stones on the moor had again become a
place of assembly. A watchful picket on the Hill-end commanded all
the northern and eastern approaches; and such was the disposition
of the ground, that by certain cunningly posted sentries the west
also could be made secure against surprise: there was no place in
the country where a conventicle could meet with more quiet of mind
or a more certain retreat open, in the case of interference from
the dragoons. The minister spoke from a knowe close to the edge of
the ring, and poured out the words God gave him on the very
threshold of the devils of yore. When they pitched a tent (which
was often in wet weather, upon a communion occasion) it was rigged
over the huge isolated pillar that had the name of Anes-Errand,
none knew why. And the congregation sat partly clustered on the
slope below, and partly among the idolatrous monoliths and on the
turfy soil of the Ring itself. In truth the situation was well
qualified to give a zest to Christian doctrines, had there been any
wanted. But these congregations assembled under conditions at once
so formidable and romantic as made a zealot of the most cold. They
were the last of the faithful; God, who had averted His face from
all other countries of the world, still leaned from heaven to
observe, with swelling sympathy, the doings of His moorland
remnant; Christ was by them with His eternal wounds, with dropping
tears; the Holy Ghost (never perfectly realised nor firmly adopted
by Protestant imaginations) was dimly supposed to be in the heart
of each and on the lips of the minister. And over against them was
the army of the hierarchies, from the men Charles and James Stuart,
on to King Lewie and the Emperor; and the scarlet Pope, and the
muckle black devil himself, peering out the red mouth of hell in an
ecstasy of hate and hope. 'One pull more!' he seemed to cry; 'one
pull more, and it's done. There's only Clydesdale and the
Stewartry, and the three Bailiaries of Ayr, left for God.' And
with such an august assistance of powers and principalities looking
on at the last conflict of good and evil, it was scarce possible to
spare a thought to those old, infirm, debile, ab agendo devils
whose holy place they were now violating.

There might have been three hundred to four hundred present. At
least there were three hundred horses tethered for the most part in
the ring; though some of the hearers on the outskirts of the crowd
stood with their bridles in their hand, ready to mount at the first
signal. The circle of faces was strangely characteristic; long,
serious, strongly marked, the tackle standing out in the lean brown
cheeks, the mouth set and the eyes shining with a fierce
enthusiasm; the shepherd, the labouring man, and the rarer laird,
stood there in their broad blue bonnets or laced hats, and
presenting an essential identity of type. From time to time a
long-drawn groan of adhesion rose in this audience, and was
propagated like a wave to the outskirts, and died away among the
keepers of the horses. It had a name; it was called 'a holy

A squall came up; a great volley of flying mist went out before it
and whelmed the scene; the wind stormed with a sudden fierceness
that carried away the minister's voice and twitched his tails and
made him stagger, and turned the congregation for a moment into a
mere pother of blowing plaid-ends and prancing horses; and the rain
followed and was dashed straight into their faces. Men and women
panted aloud in the shock of that violent shower-bath; the teeth
were bared along all the line in an involuntary grimace; plaids,
mantles, and riding-coats were proved vain, and the worshippers
felt the water stream on their naked flesh. The minister,
reinforcing his great and shrill voice, continued to contend
against and triumph over the rising of the squall and the dashing
of the rain.

'In that day ye may go thirty mile and not hear a crawing cock,' he
said; 'and fifty mile and not get a light to your pipe; and an
hundred mile and not see a smoking house. For there'll be naething
in all Scotland but deid men's banes and blackness, and the living
anger of the Lord. O, where to find a bield--O sirs, where to find
a bield from the wind of the Lord's anger? Do ye call THIS a wind?
Bethankit! Sirs, this is but a temporary dispensation; this is but
a puff of wind, this is but a spit of rain and by with it. Already
there's a blue bow in the west, and the sun will take the crown of
the causeway again, and your things'll be dried upon ye, and your
flesh will be warm upon your bones. But O, sirs, sirs! for the day
of the Lord's anger!'

His rhetoric was set forth with an ear-piercing elocution, and a
voice that sometimes crashed like cannon. Such as it was, it was
the gift of all hill-preachers, to a singular degree of likeness or
identity. Their images scarce ranged beyond the red horizon of the
moor and the rainy hill-top, the shepherd and his sheep, a fowling-
piece, a spade, a pipe, a dunghill, a crowing cock, the shining and
the withdrawal of the sun. An occasional pathos of simple
humanity, and frequent patches of big Biblical words, relieved the
homely tissue. It was a poetry apart; bleak, austere, but genuine,
and redolent of the soil.

A little before the coming of the squall there was a different
scene enacting at the outposts. For the most part, the sentinels
were faithful to their important duty; the Hill-end of Drumlowe was
known to be a safe meeting-place; and the out-pickets on this
particular day had been somewhat lax from the beginning, and grew
laxer during the inordinate length of the discourse. Francie lay
there in his appointed hiding-hole, looking abroad between two
whin-bushes. His view was across the course of the burn, then over
a piece of plain moorland, to a gap between two hills; nothing
moved but grouse, and some cattle who slowly traversed his field of
view, heading northward: he heard the psalms, and sang words of
his own to the savage and melancholy music; for he had his own
design in hand, and terror and cowardice prevailed in his bosom
alternately, like the hot and the cold fit of an ague. Courage was
uppermost during the singing, which he accompanied through all its
length with this impromptu strain:

'And I will ding Jock Crozer down
No later than the day.'

Presently the voice of the preacher came to him in wafts, at the
wind's will, as by the opening and shutting of a door; wild spasms
of screaming, as of some undiscerned gigantic hill-bird stirred
with inordinate passion, succeeded to intervals of silence; and
Francie heard them with a critical ear. 'Ay,' he thought at last,
'he'll do; he has the bit in his mou' fairly.'

He had observed that his friend, or rather his enemy, Jock Crozer,
had been established at a very critical part of the line of
outposts; namely, where the burn issues by an abrupt gorge from the
semicircle of high moors. If anything was calculated to nerve him
to battle it was this. The post was important; next to the Hill-
end itself, it might be called the key to the position; and it was
where the cover was bad, and in which it was most natural to place
a child. It should have been Heathercat's; why had it been given
to Crozer? An exquisite fear of what should be the answer passed
through his marrow every time he faced the question. Was it
possible that Crozer could have boasted? that there were rumours
abroad to his--Heathercat's--discredit? that his honour was
publicly sullied? All the world went dark about him at the
thought; he sank without a struggle into the midnight pool of
despair; and every time he so sank, he brought back with him--not
drowned heroism indeed, but half-drowned courage by the locks. His
heart beat very slowly as he deserted his station, and began to
crawl towards that of Crozer. Something pulled him back, and it
was not the sense of duty, but a remembrance of Crozer's build and
hateful readiness of fist. Duty, as he conceived it, pointed him
forward on the rueful path that he was travelling. Duty bade him
redeem his name if he were able, at the risk of broken bones; and
his bones and every tooth in his head ached by anticipation. An
awful subsidiary fear whispered him that if he were hurt, he should
disgrace himself by weeping. He consoled himself, boy-like, with
the consideration that he was not yet committed; he could easily
steal over unseen to Crozer's post, and he had a continuous private
idea that he would very probably steal back again. His course took
him so near the minister that he could hear some of his words:
'What news, minister, of Claver'se? He's going round like a
roaring rampaging lion. . . .


{1} From the Sydney Presbyterian, October 26, 1889.

{2a} Theater of Mortality, p. 10; Edin. 1713.

{2b} History of My Own Times, beginning 1660, by Bishop Gilbert
Burnet, p. 158.

{2c} Wodrow's Church History, Book II. chap. i. sect. I.

{2d} Crookshank's Church History, 1751, second ed. p. 202.

{2e} Burnet, p. 348.

{3a} Fuller's Historie of the Holy Warre, fourth ed. 1651.

{3b} Wodrow, vol. ii. p. 17.

{3c} Sir J. Turner's Memoirs, pp. 148-50.

{4a} A Cloud of Witnesses, p. 376.

{4b} Wodrow, pp. 19, 20.

{4c} A Hind Let Loose, p. 123.

{4d} Turner, p. 163.

{4e} Turner, p. 198.

{4f} Ibid. p. 167.

{4g} Wodrow, p. 29.

{4h} Turner, Wodrow, and Church History by James Kirkton, an outed
minister of the period.

{5a} Kirkton, p. 244.

{5b} Kirkton.

{5c} Turner.

{5d} Kirkton.

{5e} Kirkton.

{6a} Cloud of Witnesses, p. 389; Edin. 1765.

{6b} Kirkton, p. 247.

{6c} Ibid. p. 254.

{6d} Ibid. p. 247.

{6e} Ibid. pp. 247, 248.

{6f} Kirkton, p. 248.

{6g} Kirkton, p. 249.

{6h} Naphtali, p. 205; Glasgow, 1721.

{6i} Wodrow, p. 59.

{6j} Kirkton, p. 246.

{6k} Defoe's History of the Church of Scotland.

{7} 'This paper was written in collaboration with James Waiter
Ferrier, and if reprinted this is to be stated, though his
principal collaboration was to lie back in an easy-chair and
laugh.'--[R.L.S., Oct. 25, 1894.]

{8} See a short essay of De Quincey's.

{9a} Religio Medici, Part ii.

{9b} Duchess of Malfi.

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