“I can’t believe I did this!” Renwick mumbled to himself as he pulled the collar of his coat up on the back of his neck, trying to shield himself from the relentless January wind. As he turned his horse, Hurricane, onto Princes Street, the recently-remodeled McIvor Inn came into view. A simple but beautiful structure, the hotel and restaurant was four stories high, built from local yellow stone with four rows of windows, all tall and rectangular with classic arches at the tops and lead-grated diamond panes of translucent glass. Renwick was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and so although the lights flickering through the thick glass had made the inn a very welcome sight, the doubt invading his mind seemed relentless as he stepped up under the large arched doorway.
“How can any good come from this? Treason, Treason!”—the word seemed to dig at his conscience like a leather punch on rawhide. At the same time, resolve settled his mind when he remembered the egregious crimes of Charles Stuart.
He took a long, deep breath as he entered the dining room and sat at a table by himself. The room was furnished with elaborately carved dark oaken tables and high-back chairs, but the colors were muted—white linens and pea-green draperies. Even this basic décor, though, was a most-welcome contrast to the spartan conditions Renwick had endured over the past few days of travel. His friend Michael Mure would be there soon to dine with him, so he ordered two loaves of bread, haggis, neaps and taties.
It was January 15, 1682, barely six months since Cargill’s execution, and Renwick thought back on all that had taken place in that short time. Renwick had decided to stay in Edinburgh indefinitely and had joined the United Societies of Covenanters, who currently were openly opposing King Charles II’s Cess Tax, money used to pay troops to attack the Covenanters. More dangerous, Renwick had signed the Declaration of Lanark, openly renouncing the authority of King Charles, certainly an act of open treason. All bridges burnt, there was no turning back now. The name of James Renwick would eventually be connected with the Lanark Declaration, and the Crown would put a price on his head.
Renwick’s thoughts were interrupted as his food was delivered by a young Scottish lass in her late teens, wearing a simple but attractive muslin dress.
“Thank you, Effie, but would you please keep part of this warm until my friend Michael arrives?” questioned Renwick.
“Certainly, Mr. Renwick. That’s no problem,” replied Effie as she looked directly into his eyes, smiled and then blushed, red blotches suddenly appearing on her neck. He knew that Effie McIvor was encouraging his attention; he had known her for years, with her trim figure, dark auburn hair, olive complexion and dark brown eyes. Though she was overly excitable and a little loud, she was sincere, honest, and enthusiastically attentive to Renwick. What’s more, her father, Callum McIvor, owned the McIvor Inn, and they were a highly respected Edinburgh family.
Renwick had dined with her and her family on three occasions since July, each with Effie seated by him as they enjoyed lively and friendly conversation. One of the occasions was the evening when Dr. Clifford, a local Edinburgh official, announced that he would nominate Renwick to be a burgess in Lanark. When that announcement was made, Effie grabbed Renwick’s hand under the table in congratulations and would not release it for several moments. Both the softness of her hand and the admiration that she directed at him that evening still lingered warm and vivid in his memory.
In his memory, too, was a brief encounter with Effie which gave his conscience a pang of guilt. After Renwick had breakfasted at McIvor’s several weeks back, Effie had invited him to the deserted kitchen to see a large vat of haggis being prepared for the evening’s patrons. After an explanation of the recipe and a few moments of small talk, Effie grabbed Renwick’s hand and stepped back a few steps into a hidden corner, inviting a kiss, an event implying commitment which Renwick knew he couldn’t offer.
His attraction overpowered his resolve, though, and Renwick passionately embraced Effie McIvor. The thrilling softness of her kiss and the feel of Effie’s figure against his body was more startling that Renwick had imagined, and he knew he had to flee, which he did. He and Effie did not discuss the event when he saw her a few days later, but Effie was cheerful, obviously hoping that a serious courtship might still ensue. How to resolve his indiscretion with Effie was still a blur in Renwick’s mind.
But he could never think of joining the McIvor family. Although they were sympathetic to the grievances of the Covenanters, the McIvors, knowing that their inn would be at risk otherwise, were quite happy to attend an Indulged Presbyterian kirk, one officially licensed by the king and paying tithe to the king’s bishop and submitting to their supervision—something Renwick could never do.
In the McIvor Inn Renwick began eating his supper by himself. He wondered when Michael Mure would arrive, and he tried to think of his future and what prospects might be ahead for his young life now that he had been involved in such bold and dangerous actions against the king. His mind went back to the ride home from the Covenanters meeting in Lanark on the thirteenth and fourteenth of January, how doubt and fear had relentlessly assailed him, trying to prevent him from pursuing his calling to fight for the religious freedom of Scotland.
Renwick remembered how the trip home from Lanark had begun hopeful enough. He had headed south briefly and then northeast, staying in the shadows of the Pentland Hills. He was in no hurry to get back to Edinburgh, so he decided to take a couple of extra days and try to enjoy some winter salmon fishing.
He had ridden Hurricane hard that first day, so shortly after he had set up camp, he took extra time rubbing him down, patting him with his left hand as he brushed him slowly with his right, telling him over and over, “Good boy, Hurricane. You’re a good ole loyal boy. Do you know that?” as if the beast could understand.
Renwick loved this horse, partly because he saw Hurricane as a connection to his family. He smiled as he remembered that day in May of 1681, barely eight months ago, when his mother had surprised him with Hurricane. Before James’ father died, he had given his wife money to buy their son a horse on the day he finished his studies at the University of Edinburgh. Renwick would never forget the thrill at seeing his mother hand him the reigns to this beautiful young gelding—half Arabian, eggshell white with swirls of gray. The name Hurricane came to him immediately, and from that moment Renwick considered the animal among his most precious possessions.
Renwick also remembered with pleasure his successful fishing adventure that first night of camping. With his line and float, he caught a plump speckled salmon on his third cast in the North Esk River. When he pulled in the fish hand over hand, he delighted both at seeing the size and power of the creature and at hearing the splashing and churning it offered in resistance.
As a pallet of blended red, orange, and purple arched in the western sky, Renwick made a sizeable campfire, dressed the fish, doused it with oat meal, and began frying it in pork fat, using the fat and extra flour to add a thick oat cake to the sizzling pan. Then eating his fish and cake slowly, Renwick took a long, deep breath as he studied the artistry of the sunset through a break in the Pentland Hills, running his eyes down the valley to the row of birch, poplar, and oak trees on the other side of the river, and then futilely trying to hear just one spot in the river which was part of the gentle bubbling serenade of the moving water. He looked back up at the row of trees and noticed that not a leaf was moving in the dead-still air.
After he had been satisfied with a tasty supper on that first night, he sat back and tried to read by the light of the fire. As Renwick remained still, though, the cold January air was numbing his hands and face, and specks of snow were falling straight down and spotting the pages of his book. He took out his precious pocket watch and saw that it was almost ten o’clock, so he wrapped up in his bed roll of burlap and wool blankets and tried to sleep.
When he closed his eyes, he could see his father presenting him the pocket watch on Renwick’s sixteenth birthday. It was a family heirloom, and Renwick knew at that time that his father would not live long. So he saw the offer of the watch as a gesture suggesting his father’s departure, and it shocked him.
“Father, I…I cannot,” Renwick had protested, feeling both a deep dread of his father’s death and a thrill at the thought of owning the watch at the same time. “This belonged to Grandpa Fergus. It’s special to our family. I cannot accept it,” Renwick had proclaimed on that birthday five years ago.
“Take the watch, James,” his father had commanded with his insistent tone as he wrapped the boy’s fingers around the finely crafted time piece.
All of these memories prompted in Renwick a sudden desire to look closely at the watch once again. Renwick threw back the woolen blankets, moved toward the flickering campfire, stirred the coals a bit, and looked closely at the watch.
At the end of the fourteen-inch fine gold chain Renwick saw the attachment ring and winding knob. He looked closely at the engraved border leaf on the front with his grandfather’s initials in the middle—“FIR”—in beautiful cursive lettering. He pushed the winding knob, and the watch sprang open, revealing an intricately-detailed, cream-colored face encircled by Roman numerals, with a second-hand inset no bigger than a large pea at the bottom.
As he closed the watch, he envisioned his father once again, remembering how he always closed the watch carefully with both thumbs. Suddenly he felt a twinge of panic as he again realized that his father had been dead for two years and could never again support and encourage him as he was so generous to do.
As Renwick put the watch back in his pocket, a sudden cold loneliness chilled him deep inside as he felt a profound spirit of discouragement attack his mind.
“I’m not strong enough to help my country in this struggle against English tyranny. I can’t do it. I don’t have that kind of talent.
“You’re a fool, James Renwick!” The Covenanters? Is this why you got an education at The University of Edinburgh? You fool, Renwick! You’re now a Burgess in Lanark. You could advance to the town council, become a magistrate, maybe even ascend to parliament and have a fine country home with position and means! Now you’ll have nothing, Renwick. You’ll be a pauper, esteemed by no one except like-minded simple people with no intellect and no real talent!
“You’re a traitor, a fugitive!” the doubt continued. “You will never be a leader of the Covenanters. You’re not good enough! You’re not smart enough; you can’t teach or preach that well! You’ll fail as a leader of these people!”
Renwick suddenly imagined a stout and fierce Royal dragoon confronting him, and a shudder suddenly coursed through his body. “Will I run? Or just surrender?” he questioned. His hands were noticeably slow with his basket hilt sword, and his aim was embarrassingly inaccurate with his pistol. Fear, doubt, and panic all gripped Renwick that night, and his body shuddered as he realized what he would face since he’d taken this path of rebellion.
One doubt in particular gnawed at the back of his mind. How could he keep from mistaking his own quarrels for God’s? How could he know for certain that he was fighting for God’s will and not merely for his own sense of justice and patriotism?
He emptied his mind. He prayed for peace, for quiet, for stillness, and when that peace finally came, Renwick got a powerful sense that his life was no longer his. It was only loaned to him, and he must be willing to give everything in the cause of Scotland’s freedom from the tyranny of Charles II. At that moment, Renwick huddled in his thick bed roll, peering into the red and orange flames of his campfire, looking for the courage to face the battle set before him.
Renwick’s spiritual reveries were abruptly interrupted by Mure’s approaching the table. He was smiling broadly.
“James, old boy, welcome back to Edinburgh! I can’t tell you how good it is to see you,” Mure proclaimed. He was trying to remain inaudible to the rest of the patrons but was pumping Renwick’s hand so aggressively that Renwick was sure they were becoming a spectacle.
“Michael, it’s good to see you, too, my enthusiastic friend,” Renwick said warmly but a little curiously as they sat down at the table. Mure was wearing his best black coat and his shirt was freshly laundered and pressed, rather formal for a Thursday evening.
Renwick motioned for Effie to bring Mure’s food, and then questioned him.
“What’s up with the dressy look and the silly, wry smile, Michael?”
“Absolutely nothing, James. I just wanted to look proper to welcome my good friend back from days of difficult travel. That’s all,” Mure said academically but with a wry smile.
“Don’t hand me that. You’re hiding something, Michael.”
“Me? Hiding something? Trust me as God above, I am as I appear, your dear friend.”
Mure’s smile was so wide it looked as if it hurt.
“You know that I know that you’re hiding something. You’ve decided on new plans for your future? You’ve fallen in love with Cecelia McGregor as you promised you would never do?”
Both young men were now laughing, Mure cheerfully, Renwick a bit awkwardly.
“Well, James,” Mure began as their laughter subsided, “you took your time getting back from Lanark.” Mure paused, knowing that he was irritating Renwick by holding back on some important news. “Guess who’s in Edinburgh, my dear James? Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston.”
Renwick was a bit startled. The Hamiltons were a long-established and prosperous Scottish family, active the last few years in supporting the Covenanter movement. Renwick had heard much about both the Hamilton family and Sir Robert, but had never met any of them.
“Sir Robert Hamilton? What is his business in Edinburgh?” asked Renwick.
“It seems, my dear James that early this morning he and some of the other Covenanter leaders had an important meeting.”
Renwick could feel his face flush as he tried to imagine what this was all about. Suddenly he remembered hearing of an assignment given by Covenanter leaders to Sir Robert late last year. He wasn’t certain, but he thought he now knew what Mure knew, and he struggled to keep from looking both stunned and joyful. Instead, with knit brow and narrow eyes, he stared at Mure in feigned irritation, just as Effie McIvor came to the table but without a tray of food.
“This way, James,” Mure announced abruptly as he got up from the table and began following Effie. Walking behind Mure and Effie, Renwick guessed that Effie would look back at him, which she did. He smiled and then looked away, forcing himself not to study her beauty. She was not the girl for him, but he knew that he had a weakness for her.
Renwick now knew where they were going, the same private dining room where he had dined on several occasions with the McIvors and other friends.
Effie showed them to the room and then walked away as Mure opened the door and invited Renwick to enter before him. As Renwick entered, he was startled to see the familiar faces of five young men prominent in the Covenanter movement, as well as one distinguished gentleman standing behind the group.
There was a chorus of greetings and a flurry of handshakes as Renwick said hello to Mark Smith, John Flint, William Hardy, Ian Boyd, and John Nisbet.
The most distinguished-looking of the gentlemen then stepped forward, and Michael Mure introduced him as “Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston.” Sir Robert was well into middle age, above average height, with dark brown medium-length hair, graying at the temples, a neatly-trimmed beard, large handsome blue eyes, broad brow and even features. After greetings and brief conversations, Sir Robert offered an attractive, engaging smile as he addressed the group.
“Gentlemen, two months ago at a meeting of the General Societies in Edinburgh, I was assigned the task of selecting suitable men to go abroad to study, the goal being, of course, ordination in Christian ministry to the persecuted church of Scotland, the Covenanters. The preparations we have made at the University of Groningen in Holland allow only four appointments at this time, but we have been unable to narrow our nominations to fewer than you six. So we’ll let God decide.”
Sir Robert proceeded with the lottery. Six pieces of paper of equal size and quality were placed in a bonnet, but only four pieces had a currency amount written on them.
The piece that Renwick pulled out of the bonnet had “100 Pounds Scots” written on it, the amount of the support to be given to him for the next six months. Renwick’s mind erupted with both eager anticipation and anxiety as he embraced Mure, who congratulated Renwick and then pushed him back at arm’s length and looked in his face.
Renwick shook his finger at Mure in mock lecture. “I knew you had a secret the moment you walked up to my table.”
Amazement slowly overshadowed disbelief as Renwick struggled to comprehend the reality of the news just given to him. He would go to Holland. He would study for ordination as a Covenanter minister at the University of Groningen, preparing himself to lead his people against the tyranny of the usurper Charles II.
Unknown to Sir Robert, Renwick, and all present, however, was the fact the Charles II’s agents were already in Edinburgh, gathering intelligence about this meeting—its purpose and its people—and reporting it all to their king.