The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3 (June 1, 1936)
The rumours of the Royalist defeat came to Malcolm Lenzie as he sat in the library at Glenmayne Priory, an old stone building which lay in a hollow on the road to Kirkconnel. Lenzie, who was a man of some substance, had fallen heir to the Priory some years previously and had planned to end his days among its cloisters and panelled rooms. Peace and comfort had played no small part in these plans, for his life had been full of travel and warlike occasions, but so hard do the habits of a lifetime die, and so certain are the seeds of hard living to come to fruition, that his manner at times was more that of a caged bear than of a retired gentleman who professed to find his greatest adventure in the culture of roses by the terraced walks of the Priory garden.
The black mood, then, in which he found himself this May morning, was occasioned by his inability to take part in the stirring events, the news of which was fanning the countryside. Mary Stuart, for so long little more than a memory, had escaped from Loch Leven Castle, and riding across the half of Scotland had come to Hamilton Palace where many of the Loyalist families had gathered round her.
Malcolm's own son—sixteen-yearold Robin Lenzie—had the day before gone off with twenty men; a prideful figure, clanking his scabbard as he mounted the black gelding. Old Malcolm would fain have gone with him but for the cursed rheumatic pains— a legacy from the Low Country wars —which as he was wont to say, “twisted the strings of his back as though the Di'el himself would play upon a harp,” and left him no choice but to wander painfully through the silent rooms, and brood upon the tartan kilt which young Robin had cast aside for the panoply of war.
Raising his eyes he spied beyond the open window old Angus, whose duty it was to gather up dead leaves and trim the grass plots, presuming to thrust his ugly pendulous nose into the heart of one of the choicest of the early rose blooms.
“How now you old puddock,” cried Lenzie, “do you suppose that if the Good Lord had intended roses for your delight He would not have made them in the form of a trumpet—the better to fit your inelegant neb?”
“Na, Lenzie,” the old fellow answered complacently, “I'm no but on my way to tell ye news o’ the battle.”
“Battle? You bring me news of a battle and stop to play with posies on the way? I should have you trussed!”
“An’ ye did t'would be no more than what's come to Hamilton, skewered upon the pikes o’ the Kirkaldy's men —so they say.”
Lenzie leaped from his chair and immediately clapped hand to his back with a cry of anguish.
“Aye,” old Angus admonished him, “there may be wars but they're no for the likes o’ you and me.”
Lenzie hirpled across to the window.
“Who says that Kirkaldy bested Hamilton?” he demanded grimly.
“Man, the coutryside is full o’ runaways, one dinned at the gate and telt me that the Queen herself was headed this way. Forbye there's five others with her, and a score of green jackets not a bowshot behind them. There'll be a grand burnin’ I'm thinkin', an they catch them.”
“They'll never whiles I draw breath,” cried Lenzie. “Open the gates by the stable yard—quick now, and get you into the road and should they come before I get there, cry as loud as your pipes will let ye, that this is Glenmayne, and we will stand siege against twenty times twenty o’ Kirkaldie's rabble if need be.”
In the distance, as he finished speaking, came the drum of galloping hoofs and Lenzie, a hand clasped to the small of his back, hastened from the house. He joined old Angus at the gates, which swung wide as the Queen and her party came into view over the rise. Waving his arms and making every sign he knew for them to stop, he ran into the roadway.
Herries drew sword and would have cut him down as they swept by, but Livingstone, who knew the laird by sight, cried to him to stay his hand and the lathered horses were reined in on their haunches.
“We cannot halt here,” barked Herries, “Murray's men are just beyond the brow.”
“Aye,” Lenzie answered him, “and ye canna escape them if I don't ride with ye—for there be inhospitable country ahead. Madam,” he bent his head stiffly to the Queen, “your cap and cloak I pray you, and then inside where the womenfolk will care for you.” He waved a hand toward the little group, Mistress Lenzie, her daughters and several wenches who had gathered within the gates.
“You others,” he said, “gather round lest the odure that blows in your train sees me transform myself into a Royal fugitive.”
From Glenmayne Priory the road page 38 page 39 went undulating without a bend for several miles across the lowlands. To the right, however, across a stone bridge, a cart track used by fern cutters ran upward through a narrow glen thickly grown with young larches.
Fern-cutters’ tracks, though they may wander for miles among the hills come always to a dead end upon some lonely heath, so it was with a shout of joy that the Regent's men saw the flying cavalcade wheel into this turning beyond the bridge; but they shouted firm in the belief that the figure, close shrouded in a purple cloak, spurring a little ahead of the others, was the Queen.
Old Lenzie led the chase shrewdly. The going was heavier now and the strain beginning to tell upon the sadly blown horses. As they toiled up the glen and gained the shelter of the trees, he divulged his plan.
“Beyond this wood,” said he, “the track winds up the glen in plain view for nearly a mile, but just above it and at the wood's edge is a cavern, the mouth of which is screened by a mantle of fern and gorse. Let us ride there as swiftly as we may and hide in the cavern, and thus when the Regent's men find the road empty ahead, with no cover on the bare sides of the glen, they will think for sure that we are hidden in the wood. So may we at least gain time to breathe our horses, if we do not so confuse them as to give up the chase.”
And so it was. The last of the Queen's followers had barely squeezed through the rock opening to the cavern, for it would admit but one horse at a time and that only after a hard scramble up the hillside—that the green clad horsemen emerged from the wood. They halted blinking in the sunlight, evidently puzzled by the empty road ahead; and then as Lenzie had prophesied, returned to the wood and by their shouts and trampling amongst the undergrowth gave evidence of their search for the fugitives there.
The better part of an hour passed, and then emerging once more, they set off less confidently at a jog up the track, passing so close below the mouth of the cavern that the men concealed there kept close hold upon their horses lest the clink of a bit ring or a lifted hoof should betray them.
“A merry ride to ye, gentlemen,” chuckled Lenzie as the last one turned out of sight up the glen. “An ye follow it far enough, that road will take you to the Indies. And now my lords,” he turned to his companions, “lest these knaves grow tired too soon of parleying with the hares and sparrow-hawks, let us return with all speed to the road. You will ride south to Michael's Cross where you shall find a good Catholic MacDonald to bait your horses and hide you until I bring the Queen by quaking moss and hill path to you, from Glenmayne.”
Then bidding them God-speed at the cross roads Malcolm Lenzie turned the jennet stallion's head north once more to Glenmayne.
Though his venture was not yet at an end, he experienced as he rode alone, a feeling of despondency. The excitement of the chase had driven the chills from his back, but his heart was faint. Perhaps, after all, at the wrong side of sixty it was better to turn the pages of a book and watch the bright sparks fly up from the hearth. Somewhat wearily he turned beneath the arch into the courtyard at Glenmayne and there halted with cold fear at his heart at sight of the mired and drooping black gelding on which Robin had ridden off so blithely the day before.
From the contemplation of this object he was roused by a gentle bantering voice which addressed him from the steps of the house.
“Does the Queen ride without her courtiers?” it said. Lenzie turned and gazed a moment at a slim youth with red-gold hair rudely shorn, and dressed, yes, surely he was dressed in Robin's doublet and homespun breeches over which were drawn thigh boots, then he swept the plumed cap from his head.
“Your pardon, Madam,” he said, dismounting swiftly, “I left a Queen in the care of my womenfolk-I return to find-”
“Still a queen, but one more suitably clad for an arduous journey. Tell me, Lenzie, how goes it with our friends?”
“They are by now come near to Michael's Cross, where they will be safe for a time from pursuit. As soon as fresh horses are saddled. Madam, I will take you to them.”
He pressed a hand to his heart and reeled a moment with a black mist before his eyes.
“Nay,” cried the Queen, “but you are hurt.”
“Not I, but old bones, it seems, are less willing than old heads to make staunch followers.”
“Lenzie, your son has returned unhurt from Langside. May he not take me to Michael's Cross?”
“Robin? Unhurt?” Old Lenzie's eye lit with pride and joy. “Why, then, there's a lad who will guide you better and more swiftly than I, his bones are young, and his heart—”
Lenzie raised his eyes and remained staring a moment in uncomprehending silence. The Queen stood with her hand extended and in the soft palm of it reposed a pair of earrings. Two fire opals set in whorls of beaten gold.
“Lenzie,” she said, “the owls and the little mice that run in the fields are more favoured than a Queen without a kingdom, aye, and less dangerous creatures to defend.” She paused and threw back her head, “But we shall return to Scotland with power and wealth, and I pray you until that time keep these trinkets which fell from my ears as they clipped my hair; not as a reward for what you have done, but as a token of my gratitude and a promise that I shall not forget.”
(to be continued.)page 40