Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 12

Their breakfast so warm to be sure they did eat,

A custom in travellers mighty discreet.

Prior.

The breakfast of Lady Margaret Bellenden no more resembled a modern dejune, than the great stone-hall at Tillietudlem could brook comparison with a modern drawing-room. No tea, no coffee, no variety of rolls, but solid and substantial viands — the priestly ham, the knightly sirloin, the noble baron of beef, the princely venison pasty; while silver flagons, saved with difficulty from the claws of the Covenanters, now mantled, some with ale, some with mead, and some with generous wine of various qualities and descriptions. The appetites of the guests were in correspondence to the magnificence and solidity of the preparation — no piddling — no boy’s-play, but that steady and persevering exercise of the jaws which is best learned by early morning hours, and by occasional hard commons.

Lady Margaret beheld with delight the cates which she had provided descending with such alacrity into the persons of her honoured guests, and had little occasion to exercise, with respect to any of the company saving Claverhouse himself, the compulsory urgency of pressing to eat, to which, as to the peine forte et dure, the ladies of that period were in the custom of subjecting their guests.

But the leader himself, more anxious to pay courtesy to Miss Bellenden, next whom he was placed, than to gratify his appetite, appeared somewhat negligent of the good cheer set before him. Edith heard, without reply, many courtly speeches addressed to her, in a tone of voice of that happy modulation which could alike melt in the low tones of interesting conversation, and rise amid the din of battle, “loud as a trumpet with a silver sound.” The sense that she was in the presence of the dreadful chief upon whose fiat the fate of Henry Morton must depend — the recollection of the terror and awe which were attached to the very name of the commander, deprived her for some time, not only of the courage to answer, but even of the power of looking upon him. But when, emboldened by the soothing tones of his voice, she lifted her eyes to frame some reply, the person on whom she looked bore, in his appearance at least, none of the terrible attributes in which her apprehensions had arrayed him.

Grahame of Claverhouse was in the prime of life, rather low of stature, and slightly, though elegantly, formed; his gesture, language, and manners, were those of one whose life had been spent among the noble and the gay. His features exhibited even feminine regularity. An oval face, a straight and well-formed nose, dark hazel eyes, a complexion just sufficiently tinged with brown to save it from the charge of effeminacy, a short upper lip, curved upward like that of a Grecian statue, and slightly shaded by small mustachios of light brown, joined to a profusion of long curled locks of the same colour, which fell down on each side of his face, contributed to form such a countenance as limners love to paint and ladies to look upon.

The severity of his character, as well as the higher attributes of undaunted and enterprising valour which even his enemies were compelled to admit, lay concealed under an exterior which seemed adapted to the court or the saloon rather than to the field. The same gentleness and gaiety of expression which reigned in his features seemed to inspire his actions and gestures; and, on the whole, he was generally esteemed, at first sight, rather qualified to be the votary of pleasure than of ambition. But under this soft exterior was hidden a spirit unbounded in daring and in aspiring, yet cautious and prudent as that of Machiavel himself. Profound in politics, and embued, of course, with that disregard for individual rights which its intrigues usually generate, this leader was cool and collected in danger, fierce and ardent in pursuing success, careless of facing death himself, and ruthless in inflicting it upon others. Such are the characters formed in times of civil discord, when the highest qualities, perverted by party spirit, and inflamed by habitual opposition, are too often combined with vices and excesses which deprive them at once of their merit and of their lustre.

In endeavouring to reply to the polite trifles with which Claverhouse accosted her, Edith showed so much confusion, that her grandmother thought it necessary to come to her relief.

“Edith Bellenden,” said the old lady, “has, from my retired mode of living, seen so little of those of her own sphere, that truly she can hardly frame her speech to suitable answers. A soldier is so rare a sight with us, Colonel Grahame, that unless it be my young Lord Evandale, we have hardly had an opportunity of receiving a gentleman in uniform. And, now I talk of that excellent young nobleman, may I enquire if I was not to have had the honour of seeing him this morning with the regiment?”

“Lord Evandale, madam, was on his march with us,” answered the leader, “but I was obliged to detach him with a small party to disperse a conventicle of those troublesome scoundrels, who have had the impudence to assemble within five miles of my head-quarters.”

“Indeed!” said the old lady; “that is a height of presumption to which I would have thought no rebellious fanatics would have ventured to aspire. But these are strange times! There is an evil spirit in the land, Colonel Grahame, that excites the vassals of persons of rank to rebel against the very house that holds and feeds them. There was one of my able-bodied men the other day who plainly refused to attend the wappen-schaw at my bidding. Is there no law for such recusancy, Colonel Grahame?”

“I think I could find one,” said Claverhouse, with great composure, “if your ladyship will inform me of the name and residence of the culprit.”

“His name,” said Lady Margaret, “is Cuthbert Headrigg; I can say nothing of his domicile, for ye may weel believe, Colonel Grahame, he did not dwell long in Tillietudlem, but was speedily expelled for his contumacy. I wish the lad no severe bodily injury; but incarceration, or even a few stripes, would be a good example in this neighbourhood. His mother, under whose influence I doubt he acted, is an ancient domestic of this family, which makes me incline to mercy; although,” continued the old lady, looking towards the pictures of her husband and her sons, with which the wall was hung, and heaving, at the same time, a deep sigh, “I, Colonel Grahame, have in my ain person but little right to compassionate that stubborn and rebellious generation. They have made me a childless widow, and, but for the protection of our sacred sovereign and his gallant soldiers, they would soon deprive me of lands and goods, of hearth and altar. Seven of my tenants, whose joint rent-mail may mount to wellnigh a hundred merks, have already refused to pay either cess or rent, and had the assurance to tell my steward that they would acknowledge neither king nor landlord but who should have taken the Covenant.”

“I will take a course with them — that is, with your ladyship’s permission,” answered Claverhouse; “it would ill become me to neglect the support of lawful authority when it is lodged in such worthy hands as those of Lady Margaret Bellenden. But I must needs say this country grows worse and worse daily, and reduces me to the necessity of taking measures with the recusants that are much more consonant with my duty than with my inclinations. And, speaking of this, I must not forget that I have to thank your ladyship for the hospitality you have been pleased to extend to a party of mine who have brought in a prisoner, charged with having resetted 20 the murdering villain, Balfour of Burley.”

“The house of Tillietudlem,” answered the lady, “hath ever been open to the servants of his majesty, and I hope that the stones of it will no longer rest on each other when it surceases to be as much at their command as at ours. And this reminds me, Colonel Grahame, that the gentleman who commands the party can hardly be said to be in his proper place in the army, considering whose blood flows in his veins; and if I might flatter myself that any thing would be granted to my request, I would presume to entreat that he might be promoted on some favourable opportunity.”

“Your ladyship means Sergeant Francis Stewart, whom we call Bothwell?” said Claverhouse, smiling. “The truth is, he is a little too rough in the country, and has not been uniformly so amenable to discipline as the rules of the service require. But to instruct me how to oblige Lady Margaret Bellenden, is to lay down the law to me. — Bothwell,” he continued, addressing the sergeant, who just then appeared at the door, “go kiss Lady Margaret Bellenden’s hand, who interests herself in your promotion, and you shall have a commission the first vacancy.”

Bothwell went through the salutation in the manner prescribed, but not without evident marks of haughty reluctance, and, when he had done so, said aloud, “To kiss a lady’s hand can never disgrace a gentleman; but I would not kiss a man’s, save the king’s, to be made a general.”

“You hear him,” said Claverhouse, smiling, “there’s the rock he splits upon; he cannot forget his pedigree.”

“I know, my noble colonel,” said Bothwell, in the same tone, “that you will not forget your promise; and then, perhaps, you may permit Cornet Stewart to have some recollection of his grandfather, though the Sergeant must forget him.”

“Enough of this, sir,” said Claverhouse, in the tone of command which was familiar to him; “and let me know what you came to report to me just now.”

“My Lord Evandale and his party have halted on the high-road with some prisoners,” said Bothwell.

“My Lord Evandale?” said Lady Margaret. “Surely, Colonel Grahame, you will permit him to honour me with his society, and to take his poor disjune here, especially considering, that even his most sacred Majesty did not pass the Tower of Tillietudlem without halting to partake of some refreshment.”

As this was the third time in the course of the conversation that Lady Margaret had adverted to this distinguished event, Colonel Grahame, as speedily as politeness would permit, took advantage of the first pause to interrupt the farther progress of the narrative, by saying, “We are already too numerous a party of guests; but as I know what Lord Evandale will suffer (looking towards Edith) if deprived of the pleasure which we enjoy, I will run the risk of overburdening your ladyship’s hospitality. — Bothwell, let Lord Evandale know that Lady Margaret Bellenden requests the honour of his company.”

“And let Harrison take care,” added Lady Margaret, “that the people and their horses are suitably seen to.”

Edith’s heart sprung to her lips during this conversation; for it instantly occurred to her, that, through her influence over Lord Evandale, she might find some means of releasing Morton from his present state of danger, in case her uncle’s intercession with Claverhouse should prove ineffectual. At any other time she would have been much averse to exert this influence; for, however inexperienced in the world, her native delicacy taught her the advantage which a beautiful young woman gives to a young man when she permits him to lay her under an obligation. And she would have been the farther disinclined to request any favour of Lord Evandale, because the voice of the gossips in Clydesdale had, for reasons hereafter to be made known, assigned him to her as a suitor, and because she could not disguise from herself that very little encouragement was necessary to realize conjectures which had hitherto no foundation. This was the more to be dreaded, that, in the case of Lord Evandale’s making a formal declaration, he had every chance of being supported by the influence of Lady Margaret and her other friends, and that she would have nothing to oppose to their solicitations and authority, except a predilection, to avow which she knew would be equally dangerous and unavailing. She determined, therefore, to wait the issue of her uncle’s intercession, and, should it fail, which she conjectured she should soon learn, either from the looks or language of the open-hearted veteran, she would then, as a last effort, make use in Morton’s favour of her interest with Lord Evandale. Her mind did not long remain in suspense on the subject of her uncle’s application.

Major Bellenden, who had done the honours of the table, laughing and chatting with the military guests who were at that end of the board, was now, by the conclusion of the repast, at liberty to leave his station, and accordingly took an opportunity to approach Claverhouse, requesting from his niece, at the same time, the honour of a particular introduction. As his name and character were well known, the two military men met with expressions of mutual regard; and Edith, with a beating heart, saw her aged relative withdraw from the company, together with his new acquaintance, into a recess formed by one of the arched windows of the hall. She watched their conference with eyes almost dazzled by the eagerness of suspense, and, with observation rendered more acute by the internal agony of her mind, could guess, from the pantomimic gestures which accompanied the conversation, the progress and fate of the intercession in behalf of Henry Morton.

The first expression of the countenance of Claverhouse betokened that open and willing courtesy, which, ere it requires to know the nature of the favour asked, seems to say, how happy the party will be to confer an obligation on the suppliant. But as the conversation proceeded, the brow of that officer became darker and more severe, and his features, though still retaining the expression of the most perfect politeness, assumed, at least to Edith’s terrified imagination, a harsh and inexorable character. His lip was now compressed as if with impatience; now curled slightly upward, as if in civil contempt of the arguments urged by Major Bellenden. The language of her uncle, as far as expressed in his manner, appeared to be that of earnest intercession, urged with all the affectionate simplicity of his character, as well as with the weight which his age and reputation entitled him to use. But it seemed to have little impression upon Colonel Grahame, who soon changed his posture, as if about to cut short the Major’s importunity, and to break up their conference with a courtly expression of regret, calculated to accompany a positive refusal of the request solicited. This movement brought them so near Edith, that she could distinctly hear Claverhouse say, “It cannot be, Major Bellenden; lenity, in his case, is altogether beyond the bounds of my commission, though in any thing else I am heartily desirous to oblige you. — And here comes Evandale with news, as I think. — What tidings do you bring us, Evandale?” he continued, addressing the young lord, who now entered in complete uniform, but with his dress disordered, and his boots spattered, as if by riding hard.

Claverhouse
Claverhouse

“Unpleasant news, sir,” was his reply. “A large body of whigs are in arms among the hills, and have broken out into actual rebellion. They have publicly burnt the Act of Supremacy, that which established episcopacy, that for observing the martyrdom of Charles I., and some others, and have declared their intention to remain together in arms for furthering the covenanted work of reformation.”

This unexpected intelligence struck a sudden and painful surprise into the minds of all who heard it, excepting Claverhouse.

“Unpleasant news call you them?” replied Colonel Grahame, his dark eyes flashing fire, “they are the best I have heard these six months. Now that the scoundrels are drawn into a body, we will make short work with them. When the adder crawls into daylight,” he added, striking the heel of his boot upon the floor, as if in the act of crushing a noxious reptile, “I can trample him to death; he is only safe when he remains lurking in his den or morass. — Where are these knaves?” he continued, addressing Lord Evandale.

“About ten miles off among the mountains, at a place called Loudon-hill,” was the young nobleman’s reply. “I dispersed the conventicle against which you sent me, and made prisoner an old trumpeter of rebellion — an intercommuned minister, that is to say — who was in the act of exhorting his hearers to rise and be doing in the good cause, as well as one or two of his hearers who seemed to be particularly insolent; and from some country people and scouts I learned what I now tell you.”

“What may be their strength?” asked his commander.

“Probably a thousand men, but accounts differ widely.”

“Then,” said Claverhouse, “it is time for us to be up and be doing also — Bothwell, bid them sound to horse.”

Bothwell, who, like the war-horse of scripture, snuffed the battle afar off, hastened to give orders to six negroes, in white dresses richly laced, and having massive silver collars and armlets. These sable functionaries acted as trumpeters, and speedily made the castle and the woods around it ring with their summons.

“Must you then leave us?” said Lady Margaret, her heart sinking under recollection of former unhappy times; “had ye not better send to learn the force of the rebels? — O, how many a fair face hae I heard these fearfu’ sounds call away frae the Tower of Tillietudlem, that my auld een were ne’er to see return to it!”

“It is impossible for me to stop,” said Claverhouse; “there are rogues enough in this country to make the rebels five times their strength, if they are not checked at once.”

“Many,” said Evandale, “are flocking to them already, and they give out that they expect a strong body of the indulged presbyterians, headed by young Milnwood, as they call him, the son of the famous old roundhead, Colonel Silas Morton.”

This speech produced a very different effect upon the hearers. Edith almost sunk from her seat with terror, while Claverhouse darted a glance of sarcastic triumph at Major Bellenden, which seemed to imply —“You see what are the principles of the young man you are pleading for.”

“It’s a lie — it’s a d — d lie of these rascally fanatics,” said the Major hastily. “I will answer for Henry Morton as I would for my own son. He is a lad of as good church-principles as any gentleman in the Life-Guards. I mean no offence to any one. He has gone to church service with me fifty times, and I never heard him miss one of the responses in my life. Edith Bellenden can bear witness to it as well as I. He always read on the same Prayer-book with her, and could look out the lessons as well as the curate himself. Call him up; let him be heard for himself.”

“There can be no harm in that,” said Claverhouse, “whether he be innocent or guilty. — Major Allan,” he said, turning to the officer next in command, “take a guide, and lead the regiment forward to Loudon-hill by the best and shortest road. Move steadily, and do not let the men blow the horses; Lord Evandale and I will overtake you in a quarter of an hour. Leave Bothwell with a party to bring up the prisoners.”

Allan bowed, and left the apartment, with all the officers, excepting Claverhouse and the young nobleman. In a few minutes the sound of the military music and the clashing of hoofs announced that the horsemen were leaving the castle. The sounds were presently heard only at intervals, and soon died away entirely.

While Claverhouse endeavoured to soothe the terrors of Lady Margaret, and to reconcile the veteran Major to his opinion of Morton, Evandale, getting the better of that conscious shyness which renders an ingenuous youth diffident in approaching the object of his affections, drew near to Miss Bellenden, and accosted her in a tone of mingled respect and interest.

“We are to leave you,” he said, taking her hand, which he pressed with much emotion —“to leave you for a scene which is not without its dangers. Farewell, dear Miss Bellenden; — let me say for the first, and perhaps the last time, dear Edith! We part in circumstances so singular as may excuse some solemnity in bidding farewell to one, whom I have known so long, and whom I— respect so highly.”

The manner differing from the words, seemed to express a feeling much deeper and more agitating than was conveyed in the phrase he made use of. It was not in woman to be utterly insensible to his modest and deep-felt expression of tenderness. Although borne down by the misfortunes and imminent danger of the man she loved, Edith was touched by the hopeless and reverential passion of the gallant youth, who now took leave of her to rush into dangers of no ordinary description.

“I hope — I sincerely trust,” she said, “there is no danger. I hope there is no occasion for this solemn ceremonial — that these hasty insurgents will be dispersed rather by fear than force, and that Lord Evandale will speedily return to be what he must always be, the dear and valued friend of all in this castle.”

“Of all,” he repeated, with a melancholy emphasis upon the word. “But be it so — whatever is near you is dear and valued to me, and I value their approbation accordingly. Of our success I am not sanguine. Our numbers are so few, that I dare not hope for so speedy, so bloodless, or so safe an end of this unhappy disturbance. These men are enthusiastic, resolute, and desperate, and have leaders not altogether unskilled in military matters. I cannot help thinking that the impetuosity of our Colonel is hurrying us against them rather prematurely. But there are few that have less reason to shun danger than I have.”

Edith had now the opportunity she wished to bespeak the young nobleman’s intercession and protection for Henry Morton, and it seemed the only remaining channel of interest by which he could be rescued from impending destruction. Yet she felt at that moment as if, in doing so, she was abusing the partiality and confidence of the lover, whose heart was as open before her, as if his tongue had made an express declaration. Could she with honour engage Lord Evandale in the service of a rival? or could she with prudence make him any request, or lay herself under any obligation to him, without affording ground for hopes which she could never realize? But the moment was too urgent for hesitation, or even for those explanations with which her request might otherwise have been qualified.

“I will but dispose of this young fellow,” said Claverhouse, from the other side of the hall, “and then, Lord Evandale — I am sorry to interrupt again your conversation — but then we must mount. — Bothwell, why do not you bring up the prisoner? and, hark ye, let two files load their carabines.”

In these words, Edith conceived she heard the death-warrant of her lover. She instantly broke through the restraint which had hitherto kept her silent.

“My Lord Evandale,” she said, “this young gentleman is a particular friend of my uncle’s — your interest must be great with your colonel — let me request your intercession in his favour — it will confer on my uncle a lasting obligation.”

“You overrate my interest, Miss Bellenden,” said Lord Evandale; “I have been often unsuccessful in such applications, when I have made them on the mere score of humanity.”

“Yet try once again for my uncle’s sake.”

“And why not for your own?” said Lord Evandale. “Will you not allow me to think I am obliging you personally in this matter? — Are you so diffident of an old friend that you will not allow him even the satisfaction of thinking that he is gratifying your wishes?”

“Surely — surely,” replied Edith; “you will oblige me infinitely — I am interested in the young gentleman on my uncle’s account — Lose no time, for God’s sake!”

She became bolder and more urgent in her entreaties, for she heard the steps of the soldiers who were entering with their prisoner.

“By heaven! then,” said Evandale, “he shall not die, if I should die in his place! — But will not you,” he said, resuming the hand, which in the hurry of her spirits she had not courage to withdraw, “will not you grant me one suit, in return for my zeal in your service?”

“Any thing you can ask, my Lord Evandale, that sisterly affection can give.”

“And is this all,” he continued, “all you can grant to my affection living, or my memory when dead?”

“Do not speak thus, my lord,” said Edith, “you distress me, and do injustice to yourself. There is no friend I esteem more highly, or to whom I would more readily grant every mark of regard — providing — But”— A deep sigh made her turn her head suddenly, ere she had well uttered the last word; and, as she hesitated how to frame the exception with which she meant to close the sentence, she became instantly aware she had been overheard by Morton, who, heavily ironed and guarded by soldiers, was now passing behind her in order to be presented to Claverhouse. As their eyes met each other, the sad and reproachful expression of Morton’s glance seemed to imply that he had partially heard, and altogether misinterpreted, the conversation which had just passed. There wanted but this to complete Edith’s distress and confusion. Her blood, which rushed to her brow, made a sudden revulsion to her heart, and left her as pale as death. This change did not escape the attention of Evandale, whose quick glance easily discovered that there was between the prisoner and the object of his own attachment, some singular and uncommon connexion. He resigned the hand of Miss Bellenden, again surveyed the prisoner with more attention, again looked at Edith, and plainly observed the confusion which she could no longer conceal.

“This,” he said, after a moment’s gloomy silence, “is, I believe, the young gentleman who gained the prize at the shooting match.”

“I am not sure,” hesitated Edith —“yet — I rather think not,” scarce knowing what she replied.

“It is he,” said Evandale, decidedly; “I know him well. A victor,” he continued, somewhat haughtily, “ought to have interested a fair spectator more deeply.”

He then turned from Edith, and advancing towards the table at which Claverhouse now placed himself, stood at a little distance, resting on his sheathed broadsword, a silent, but not an unconcerned, spectator of that which passed.

20 Resetted, i.e. received or harboured.

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