Now I knew into what rabble I had strayed. It was the company who called themselves the Sweet-Singers, led by one Muckle John Gib, once a mariner of Borrowstoneness-on-Forth. He had long been a thorn in the side of the preachers, holding certain strange heresies that discomforted even the wildest of the hill-folk. They had clapped him into prison; but the man, being three parts mad had been let go, and ever since had been making strife in the westland parts of Clydesdale. I had heard much of him, and never any good. It was his way to draw after him a throng of demented women, so that the poor, draggle-tailed creatures forgot husband and bairns and followed him among the mosses. There were deeds of violence and blood to his name, and the look of him was enough to spoil a man’s sleep. He was about six and a half feet high, with a long, lean head and staring cheek bones. His brows grew like bushes, and beneath glowed his evil and sunken eyes. I remember that he had monstrous long arms, which hung almost to his knees, and a great hairy breast which showed through a rent in his seaman’s jerkin. In that strange place, with the dripping spell of night about me, and the fire casting weird lights and shadows, he seemed like some devil of the hills awakened by magic from his ancient grave.
But I saw it was time for me to be speaking up.
“I am neither gangrel, nor spy, nor Amalekite, nor yet am I Zebedee Linklater. My name is Andrew Garvald, and I have to-day left my home to make my way to Edinburgh College. I tried a short road in the mist, and here I am.”
“Nay, but what seek ye?” cried Muckle John. “The Lord has led ye to our company by His own good way. What seek ye? I say again, and yea, a third time.”
“I go to finish my colleging,” I said.
He laughed a harsh, croaking laugh. “Little ye ken, young man. We travel to watch the surprising judgment which is about to overtake the wicked city of Edinburgh. An angel hath revealed it to me in a dream. Fire and brimstone will descend upon it as on Sodom and Gomorrah, and it will be consumed and wither away, with its cruel Ahabs and its painted Jezebels, its subtle Doegs and its lying Balaams, its priests and its judges, and its proud men of blood, its Bible-idolaters and its false prophets, its purple and damask, its gold and its fine linen, and it shall be as Tyre and Sidon, so that none shall know the site thereof. But we who follow the Lord and have cleansed His word from human abominations, shall leap as he-goats upon the mountains, and enter upon the heritage of the righteous from Beth-peor even unto the crossings of Jordan.”
In reply to this rigmarole I asked for food, since my head was beginning to swim from my long fast. This, to my terror, put him into a great rage.
“Ye are carnally minded, like the rest of them. Ye will get no fleshly provender here; but if ye be not besotted in your sins ye shall drink of the Water of Life that floweth freely and eat of the honey and manna of forgiveness.”