And then he appeared to forget my very existence. He fell into a sort of trance, with his eyes fixed on vacancy. There was a dead hush in the place, nothing but the crackle of the fire and the steady drip of the rain. I endured it as well as I might, for though my legs were sorely cramped, I did not dare to move an inch.
After nigh half an hour he seemed to awake. “Peace be with you,” he said to his followers. “It is the hour for sleep and prayer. I, John Gib, will wrestle all night for your sake, as Jacob strove with the angel.” With that he entered the tent.
No one spoke to me, but the ragged company sought each their sleeping-place. A woman with a kindly face jogged me on the elbow, and from the neuk of her plaid gave me a bit of oatcake and a piece of roasted moorfowl. This made my supper, with a long drink from a neighbouring burn. None hindered my movements, so, liking little the smell of wet, uncleanly garments which clung around the fire, I made my bed in a heather bush in the lee of a boulder, and from utter weariness fell presently asleep.
Of A high-handed lady.
The storm died away in the night, and I awoke to a clear, rain-washed world and the chill of an autumn morn. I was as stiff and sore as if I had been whipped, my clothes were sodden and heavy, and not till I had washed my face and hands in the burn and stretched my legs up the hill-side did I feel restored to something of my ordinary briskness.
The encampment looked weird indeed as seen in the cruel light of day. The women were cooking oatmeal on iron girdles, but the fire burned smokily, and the cake I got was no better than dough. They were a disjaskit lot, with tousled hair and pinched faces, in which shone hungry eyes. Most were barefoot, and all but two—three were ancient beldames who should have been at home in the chimney corner. I noticed one decent-looking young woman, who had the air of a farm servant; and two were well-fed country wives who had probably left a brood of children to mourn them. The men were little better. One had the sallow look of a weaver, another was a hind with a big, foolish face, and there was a slip of a lad who might once have been a student of divinity. But each had a daftness in the eye and something weak and unwholesome in the visage, so that they were an offence to the fresh, gusty moorland.
All but Muckle John himself. He came out of his tent and prayed till the hill-sides echoed. It was a tangle of bedlamite ravings, with long screeds from the Scriptures intermixed like currants in a bag-pudding. But there was power in the creature, in the strange lift of his voice, in his grim jowl, and in the fire of his sombre eyes. The others I pitied, but him I hated and feared. On him and his kind were to be blamed all the madness of the land, which had sent my father overseas and desolated our dwelling. So long as crazy prophets preached brimstone and fire, so long would rough-shod soldiers and cunning lawyers profit by their folly; and often I prayed in those days that the two evils might devour each other.