Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 11

At last comes the troop, by the word of command

Drawn up in our court, where the Captain cries,

Stand!

Swift

Major Bellenden’s ancient valet, Gideon Pike as he adjusted his master’s clothes by his bedside, preparatory to the worthy veteran’s toilet, acquainted him, as an apology for disturbing him an hour earlier than his usual time of rising, that there was an express from Tillietudlem.

“From Tillietudlem?” said the old gentleman, rising hastily in his bed, and sitting bolt upright — “Open the shutters, Pike — I hope my sister-inlaw is well — furl up the bed-curtain. — What have we all here?” (glancing at Edith’s note.) “The gout? why, she knows I have not had a fit since Candlemas. — The wappen-schaw? I told her a month since I was not to be there. — Paduasoy and hanging sleeves? why, hang the gipsy herself! — Grand Cyrus and Philipdastus? — Philip Devil! — is the wench gone crazy all at once? was it worth while to send an express and wake me at five in the morning for all this trash? — But what says her postscriptum? — Mercy on us!” he exclaimed on perusing it — “Pike, saddle old Kilsythe instantly, and another horse for yourself.”

“I hope nae ill news frae the Tower, sir?” said Pike, astonished at his master’s sudden emotion.

“Yes — no — yes — that is, I must meet Claverhouse there on some express business; so boot and saddle, Pike, as fast as you can. — O, Lord! what times are these! — the poor lad — my old cronie’s son! — and the silly wench sticks it into her postscriptum, as she calls it, at the tail of all this trumpery about old gowns and new romances!”

In a few minutes the good old officer was fully equipped; and having mounted upon his arm-gaunt charger as soberly as Mark Antony himself could have done, he paced forth his way to the Tower of Tillietudlem.

On the road he formed the prudent resolution to say nothing to the old lady (whose dislike to presbyterians of all kinds he knew to be inveterate) of the quality and rank of the prisoner detained within her walls, but to try his own influence with Claverhouse to obtain Morton’s liberation.

“Being so loyal as he is, he must do something for so old a cavalier as I am,” said the veteran to himself; “and if he is so good a soldier as the world speaks of, why, he will be glad to serve an old soldier’s son. I never knew a real soldier that was not a frank-hearted, honest fellow; and I think the execution of the laws (though it’s a pity they find it necessary to make them so severe) may be a thousand times better intrusted with them than with peddling lawyers and thick-skulled country gentlemen.”

Such were the ruminations of Major Miles Bellenden, which were terminated by John Gudyill (not more than half-drunk) taking hold of his bridle, and assisting him to dismount in the roughpaved court of Tillietudlem.

“Why, John,” said the veteran, “what devil of a discipline is this you have been keeping? You have been reading Geneva print this morning already.”

“I have been reading the Litany,” said John, shaking his head with a look of drunken gravity, and having only caught one word of the Major’s address to him; “life is short, sir; we are flowers of the field, sir — hiccup — and lilies of the valley.”

“Flowers and lilies? Why, man, such carles as thou and I can hardly be called better than old hemlocks, decayed nettles, or withered rag-weed; but I suppose you think that we are still worth watering.”

“I am an old soldier, sir, I thank Heaven — hiccup”—

“An old skinker, you mean, John. But come, never mind, show me the way to your mistress, old lad.”

John Gudyill led the way to the stone hall, where Lady Margaret was fidgeting about, superintending, arranging, and re-forming the preparations made for the reception of the celebrated Claverhouse, whom one party honoured and extolled as a hero, and another execrated as a bloodthirsty oppressor.

“Did I not tell you,” said Lady Margaret to her principal female attendant —“did I not tell you, Mysie, that it was my especial pleasure on this occasion to have every thing in the precise order wherein it was upon that famous morning when his most sacred majesty partook of his disjune at Tillietudlem?”

“Doubtless, such were your leddyship’s commands, and to the best of my remembrance”— was Mysie answering, when her ladyship broke in with, “Then wherefore is the venison pasty placed on the left side of the throne, and the stoup of claret upon the right, when ye may right weel remember, Mysie, that his most sacred majesty with his ain hand shifted the pasty to the same side with the flagon, and said they were too good friends to be parted?”

“I mind that weel, madam,” said Mysie; “and if I had forgot, I have heard your leddyship often speak about that grand morning sin’ syne; but I thought every thing was to be placed just as it was when his majesty, God bless him, came into this room, looking mair like an angel than a man, if he hadna been sae black-a-vised.”

“Then ye thought nonsense, Mysie; for in whatever way his most sacred majesty ordered the position of the trenchers and flagons, that, as weel as his royal pleasure in greater matters, should be a law to his subjects, and shall ever be to those of the house of Tillietudlem.”

“Weel, madam,” said Mysie, making the alterations required, “it’s easy mending the error; but if every thing is just to be as his majesty left it, there should be an unco hole in the venison pasty.”

At this moment the door opened.

“Who is that, John Gudyill?” exclaimed the old lady. “I can speak to no one just now. — Is it you, my dear brother?” she continued, in some surprise, as the Major entered; “this is a right early visit.”

“Not more early than welcome, I hope,” replied Major Bellenden, as he saluted the widow of his deceased brother; “but I heard by a note which Edith sent to Charnwood about some of her equipage and books, that you were to have Claver’se here this morning, so I thought, like an old firelock as I am, that I should like to have a chat with this rising soldier. I caused Pike saddle Kilsythe, and here we both are.”

“And most kindly welcome you are,” said the old lady; “it is just what I should have prayed you to do, if I had thought there was time. You see I am busy in preparation. All is to be in the same order as when”—“The king breakfasted at Tillietudlem,” said the Major, who, like all Lady Margaret’s friends, dreaded the commencement of that narrative, and was desirous to cut it short — “I remember it well; you know I was waiting on his majesty.”

“You were, brother,” said Lady Margaret; “and perhaps you can help me to remember the order of the entertainment.”

“Nay, good sooth,” said the Major, “the damnable dinner that Noll gave us at Worcester a few days afterwards drove all your good cheer out of my memory. — But how’s this? — you have even the great Turkey-leather elbow-chair, with the tapestry cushions, placed in state.”

“The throne, brother, if you please,” said Lady Margaret, gravely.

“Well, the throne be it, then,” continued the Major. “Is that to be Claver’se’s post in the attack upon the pasty?”

“No, brother,” said the lady; “as these cushions have been once honoured by accommodating the person of our most sacred Monarch, they shall never, please Heaven, during my life-time, be pressed by any less dignified weight.”

“You should not then,” said the old soldier, “put them in the way of an honest old cavalier, who has ridden ten miles before breakfast; for, to confess the truth, they look very inviting. But where is Edith?”

“On the battlements of the warder’s turret,” answered the old lady, “looking out for the approach of our guests.”

“Why, I’ll go there too; and so should you, Lady Margaret, as soon as you have your line of battle properly formed in the hall here. It’s a pretty thing, I can tell you, to see a regiment of horse upon the march.”

Thus speaking, he offered his arm with an air of old-fashioned gallantry, which Lady Margaret accepted with such a courtesy of acknowledgment as ladies were wont to make in Holyroodhouse before the year 1642, which, for one while, drove both courtesies and courts out of fashion.

Upon the bartizan of the turret, to which they ascended by many a winding passage and uncouth staircase, they found Edith, not in the attitude of a young lady who watches with fluttering curiosity the approach of a smart regiment of dragoons, but pale, downcast, and evincing, by her countenance, that sleep had not, during the preceding night, been the companion of her pillow. The good old veteran was hurt at her appearance, which, in the hurry of preparation, her grandmother had omitted to notice.

“What is come over you, you silly girl?” he said; “why, you look like an officer’s wife when she opens the News-letter after an action, and expects to find her husband among the killed and wounded. But I know the reason — you will persist in reading these nonsensical romances, day and night, and whimpering for distresses that never existed. Why, how the devil can you believe that Artamines, or what d’ye call him, fought singlehanded with a whole battalion? One to three is as great odds as ever fought and won, and I never knew any body that cared to take that, except old Corporal Raddlebanes. But these d — d books put all pretty men’s actions out of countenance. I daresay you would think very little of Raddlebanes, if he were alongside of Artamines. — I would have the fellows that write such nonsense brought to the picquet for leasing-making.” 16

Lady Margaret, herself somewhat attached to the perusal of romances, took up the cudgels. “Monsieur Scuderi,” she said, “is a soldier, brother; and, as I have heard, a complete one, and so is the Sieur d’Urfe.”

“More shame for them; they should have known better what they were writing about. For my part, I have not read a book these twenty years except my Bible, The Whole Duty of Man, and, of late days, Turner’s Pallas Armata, or Treatise on the Ordering of the Pike Exercise, and I don’t like his discipline much neither. 17

He wants to draw up the cavalry in front of a stand of pikes, instead of being upon the wings. Sure am I, if we had done so at Kilsythe, instead of having our handful of horse on the flanks, the first discharge would have sent them back among our Highlanders. — But I hear the kettle-drums.”

All heads were now bent from the battlements of the turret, which commanded a distant prospect down the vale of the river. The Tower of Tillietudlem stood, or perhaps yet stands, upon the angle of a very precipitous bank, formed by the junction of a considerable brook with the Clyde. 18.

There was a narrow bridge of one steep arch, across the brook near its mouth, over which, and along the foot of the high and broken bank, winded the public road; and the fortalice, thus commanding both bridge and pass, had been, in times of war, a post of considerable importance, the possession of which was necessary to secure the communication of the upper and wilder districts of the country with those beneath, where the valley expands, and is more capable of cultivation. The view downwards is of a grand woodland character; but the level ground and gentle slopes near the river form cultivated fields of an irregular shape, interspersed with hedgerow-trees and copses, the enclosures seeming to have been individually cleared out of the forest which surrounds them, and which occupies, in unbroken masses, the steeper declivities and more distant banks. The stream, in colour a clear and sparkling brown, like the hue of the Cairngorm pebbles, rushes through this romantic region in bold sweeps and curves, partly visible and partly concealed by the trees which clothe its banks. With a providence unknown in other parts of Scotland, the peasants have, in most places, planted orchards around their cottages, and the general blossom of the appletrees at this season of the year gave all the lower part of the view the appearance of a flower-garden.

Looking up the river, the character of the scene was varied considerably for the worse. A hilly, waste, and uncultivated country approached close to the banks; the trees were few, and limited to the neighbourhood of the stream, and the rude moors swelled at a little distance into shapeless and heavy hills, which were again surmounted in their turn by a range of lofty mountains, dimly seen on the horizon. Thus the tower commanded two prospects, the one richly cultivated and highly adorned, the other exhibiting the monotonous and dreary character of a wild and inhospitable moorland.

The eyes of the spectators on the present occasion were attracted to the downward view, not alone by its superior beauty, but because the distant sounds of military music began to be heard from the public high-road which winded up the vale, and announced the approach of the expected body of cavalry. Their glimmering ranks were shortly afterwards seen in the distance, appearing and disappearing as the trees and the windings of the road permitted them to be visible, and distinguished chiefly by the flashes of light which their arms occasionally reflected against the sun. The train was long and imposing, for there were about two hundred and fifty horse upon the march, and the glancing of the swords and waving of their banners, joined to the clang of their trumpets and kettle-drums, had at once a lively and awful effect upon the imagination. As they advanced still nearer and nearer, they could distinctly see the files of those chosen troops following each other in long succession, completely equipped and superbly mounted.

“It’s a sight that makes me thirty years younger,” said the old cavalier; “and yet I do not much like the service that these poor fellows are to be engaged in. Although I had my share of the civil war, I cannot say I had ever so much real pleasure in that sort of service as when I was employed on the Continent, and we were hacking at fellows with foreign faces and outlandish dialect. It’s a hard thing to hear a hamely Scotch tongue cry quarter, and be obliged to cut him down just the same as if he called out misricorde. — So, there they come through the Netherwood haugh; upon my word, fine-looking fellows, and capitally mounted. — He that is gallopping from the rear of the column must be Claver’se himself; — ay, he gets into the front as they cross the bridge, and now they will be with us in less than five minutes.”

Edith on the Battlements
Edith on the Battlements

At the bridge beneath the tower the cavalry divided, and the greater part, moving up the left bank of the brook and crossing at a ford a little above, took the road of the Grange, as it was called, a large set of farm-offices belonging to the Tower, where Lady Margaret had ordered preparation to be made for their reception and suitable entertainment. The officers alone, with their colours and an escort to guard them, were seen to take the steep road up to the gate of the Tower, appearing by intervals as they gained the ascent, and again hidden by projections of the bank and of the huge old trees with which it is covered. When they emerged from this narrow path, they found themselves in front of the old Tower, the gates of which were hospitably open for their reception. Lady Margaret, with Edith and her brother-inlaw, having hastily descended from their post of observation, appeared to meet and to welcome their guests, with a retinue of domestics in as good order as the orgies of the preceding evening permitted. The gallant young cornet (a relation as well as namesake of Claverhouse, with whom the reader has been already made acquainted) lowered the standard amid the fanfare of the trumpets, in homage to the rank of Lady Margaret and the charms of her grand-daughter, and the old walls echoed to the flourish of the instruments, and the stamp and neigh of the chargers. 19

Claverhouse himself alighted from a black horse, the most beautiful perhaps in Scotland. He had not a single white hair upon his whole body, a circumstance which, joined to his spirit and fleetness, and to his being so frequently employed in pursuit of the presbyterian recusants, caused an opinion to prevail among them, that the steed had been presented to his rider by the great Enemy of Mankind, in order to assist him in persecuting the fugitive wanderers. When Claverhouse had paid his respects to the ladies with military politeness, had apologized for the trouble to which he was putting Lady Margaret’s family, and had received the corresponding assurances that she could not think any thing an inconvenience which brought within the walls of Tillietudlem so distinguished a soldier, and so loyal a servant of his sacred majesty; when, in short, all forms of hospitable and polite ritual had been duly complied with, the Colonel requested permission to receive the report of Bothwell, who was now in attendance, and with whom he spoke apart for a few minutes. Major Bellenden took that opportunity to say to his niece, without the hearing of her grandmother, “What a trifling foolish girl you are, Edith, to send me by express a letter crammed with nonsense about books and gowns, and to slide the only thing I cared a marvedie about into the postscript!”

“I did not know,” said Edith, hesitating very much, “whether it would be quite — quite proper for me to”—“I know what you would say — whether it would be right to take any interest in a presbyterian. But I knew this lad’s father well. He was a brave soldier; and, if he was once wrong, he was once right too. I must commend your caution, Edith, for having said nothing of this young gentleman’s affair to your grandmother — you may rely on it I shall not — I will take an opportunity to speak to Claver’se. Come, my love, they are going to breakfast. Let us follow them.”

16 Romances of the Seventeenth Century. As few, in the present age, are acquainted with the ponderous folios to which the age of Louis XIV. gave rise, we need only say, that they combine the dulness of the metaphysical courtship with all the improbabilities of the ancient Romance of Chivalry. Their character will be most easily learned from Boileau’s Dramatic Satire, or Mrs Lennox’s Female Quixote.

17 Sir James Turner. Sir James Turner was a soldier of fortune, bred in the civil wars. He was intrusted with a commission to levy the fines imposed by the Privy Council for non-conformity, in the district of Dumfries and Galloway. In this capacity he vexed the country so much by his exactions, that the people rose and made him prisoner, and then proceeded in arms towards Mid-Lothian, where they were defeated at Pentland Hills, in 1666. Besides his treatise on the Military Art, Sir James Turner wrote several other works; the most curious of which is his Memoirs of his own Life and Times, which has just been printed, under the charge of the Bannatyne Club.

18 The Castle of Tillietudlem is imaginary; but the ruins of Craignethan Castle, situated on the Nethan, about three miles from its junction with the Clyde, have something of the character of the description in the text

19 John Grahame of Claverhouse. This remarkable person united the seemingly inconsistent qualities of courage and cruelty, a disinterested and devoted loyalty to his prince, with a disregard of the rights of his fellow-subjects. He was the unscrupulous agent of the Scottish Privy Council in executing the merciless severities of the government in Scotland during the reigns of Charles II. and James II.; but he redeemed his character by the zeal with which he asserted the cause of the latter monarch after the Revolution, the military skill with which he supported it at the battle of Killiecrankie, and by his own death in the arms of victory.

It is said by tradition, that he was very desirous to see, and be introduced to, a certain Lady Elphinstoun, who had reached the advanced age of one hundred years and upwards. The noble matron, being a stanch whig, was rather unwilling to receive Claver’se, (as he was called from his title,) but at length consented. After the usual compliments, the officer observed to the lady, that having lived so much beyond the usual term of humanity, she must in her time have seen many strange changes. “Hout na, sir,” said Lady Elphinstoun, “the world is just to end with me as it began. When I was entering life, there was ane Knox deaving us a’ wi’ his clavers, and now I am ganging out, there is ane Claver’se deaving us a’ wi’ his knocks.”

Clavers signifying, in common parlance, idle chat, the double pun does credit to the ingenuity of a lady of a hundred years old.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29