But just then there came another sound. From the four quarters of the moor there closed in upon us horsemen. They came silently and were about us before I had a hint of their presence. It was a troop of dragoons in the king’s buff and scarlet, and they rode us down as if we had been hares in a field. The next I knew of it I was sprawling on the ground with a dizzy head, and horses trampling around me, I had a glimpse of Muckle John with a pistol at his nose, and the sorrel curveting and plunging in a panic. Then I bethought myself of saving my bones, and crawled out of the mellay behind the sheepfold.
Presently I realized that this was the salvation I had been seeking. Gib was being pinioned, and two of the riders were speaking with the girl. The women hung together like hens in a storm, while the dragoons laid about them with the flat of their swords. There was one poor creature came running my way, and after her followed on foot a long fellow, who made clutches at her hair. He caught her with ease, and proceeded to bind her hands with great brutality.
“Ye beldame,” he said, with many oaths, “I’ll pare your talons for ye.”
Now I, who a minute before had been in danger from this very crew, was smitten with a sudden compunction. Except for Muckle John, they were so pitifully feeble, a pack of humble, elderly folk, worn out with fasting and marching and ill weather. I had been sickened by their crazy devotions, but I was more sickened by this man’s barbarity. It was the woman, too, who had given me food the night before.
So I stepped out, and bade the man release her.
He was a huge, sunburned ruffian, and for answer aimed a clour at my head. “Take that, my mannie,” he said. “I’ll learn ye to follow the petticoats.”
His scorn put me into a fury, in which anger at his brutishness and the presence of the girl on the sorrel moved my pride to a piece of naked folly. I flew at his throat, and since I had stood on a little eminence, the force of my assault toppled him over. My victory lasted scarcely a minute. He flung me from him like a feather, then picked me up and laid on to me with the flat of his sword.
“Ye thrawn jackanapes,” he cried, as he beat me. “Ye’ll pay dear for playing your pranks wi’ John Donald.”
I was a child in his mighty grasp, besides having no breath left in me to resist. He tied my hands and legs, haled me to his horse, and flung me sack-like over the crupper. There was no more shamefaced lad in the world than me at that moment, for coming out of the din I heard a girl’s light laughter.
The Canongate tolbooth.