Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 14

My hounds may a’ rin masterless,

My hawks may fly frae tree to tree,

My lord may grip my vassal lands,

For there again maun I never be!

Old Ballad.

We left Morton, along with three companions in captivity, travelling in the custody of a small body of soldiers, who formed the rear-guard of the column under the command of Claverhouse, and were immediately under the charge of Sergeant Bothwell. Their route lay towards the hills in which the insurgent presbyterians were reported to be in arms. They had not prosecuted their march a quarter of a mile ere Claverhouse and Evandale galloped past them, followed by their orderly-men, in order to take their proper places in the column which preceded them. No sooner were they past than Bothwell halted the body which he commanded, and disencumbered Morton of his irons.

“King’s blood must keep word,” said the dragoon. “I promised you should be civilly treated as far as rested with me. — Here, Corporal Inglis, let this gentleman ride alongside of the other young fellow who is prisoner; and you may permit them to converse together at their pleasure, under their breath, but take care they are guarded by two files with loaded carabines. If they attempt an escape, blow their brains out. — You cannot call that using you uncivilly,” he continued, addressing himself to Morton, “it’s the rules of war, you know. — And, Inglis, couple up the parson and the old woman, they are fittest company for each other, d — n me; a single file may guard them well enough. If they speak a word of cant or fanatical nonsense, let them have a strapping with a shoulder-belt. There’s some hope of choking a silenced parson; if he is not allowed to hold forth, his own treason will burst him.”

Having made this arrangement, Bothwell placed himself at the head of the party, and Inglis, with six dragoons, brought up the rear. The whole then set forward at a trot, with the purpose of overtaking the main body of the regiment.

Morton, overwhelmed with a complication of feelings, was totally indifferent to the various arrangements made for his secure custody, and even to the relief afforded him by his release from the fetters. He experienced that blank and waste of the heart which follows the hurricane of passion, and, no longer supported by the pride and conscious rectitude which dictated his answers to Claverhouse, he surveyed with deep dejection the glades through which he travelled, each turning of which had something to remind him of past happiness and disappointed love. The eminence which they now ascended was that from which he used first and last to behold the ancient tower when approaching or retiring from it; and, it is needless to add, that there he was wont to pause, and gaze with a lover’s delight on the battlements, which, rising at a distance out of the lofty wood, indicated the dwelling of her, whom he either hoped soon to meet or had recently parted from. Instinctively he turned his head back to take a last look of a scene formerly so dear to him, and no less instinctively he heaved a deep sigh. It was echoed by a loud groan from his companion in misfortune, whose eyes, moved, perchance, by similar reflections, had taken the same direction. This indication of sympathy, on the part of the captive, was uttered in a tone more coarse than sentimental; it was, however, the expression of a grieved spirit, and so far corresponded with the sigh of Morton. In turning their heads their eyes met, and Morton recognised the stolid countenance of Cuddie Headrigg, bearing a rueful expression, in which sorrow for his own lot was mixed with sympathy for the situation of his companion.

“Hegh, sirs!” was the expression of the ci-devant ploughman of the mains of Tillietudlem; “it’s an unco thing that decent folk should be harled through the country this gate, as if they were a warld’s wonder.”

“I am sorry to see you here, Cuddie,” said Morton, who, even in his own distress, did not lose feeling for that of others.

“And sae am I, Mr Henry,” answered Cuddie, “baith for mysell and you; but neither of our sorrows will do muckle gude that I can see. To be sure, for me,” continued the captive agriculturist, relieving his heart by talking, though he well knew it was to little purpose — “to be sure, for my part, I hae nae right to be here ava’, for I never did nor said a word against either king or curate; but my mither, puir body, couldna haud the auld tongue o’ her, and we maun baith pay for’t, it’s like.”

“Your mother is their prisoner likewise?” said Morton, hardly knowing what he said.

“In troth is she, riding ahint ye there like a bride, wi’ that auld carle o’ a minister that they ca’ Gabriel Kettledrummle — Deil that he had been in the inside of a drum or a kettle either, for my share o’ him! Ye see, we were nae sooner chased out o’ the doors o’ Milnwood, and your uncle and the housekeeper banging them to and barring them ahint us, as if we had had the plague on our bodies, that I says to my mother, What are we to do neist? for every hole and bore in the country will be steekit against us, now that ye hae affronted my auld leddy, and gar’t the troopers tak up young Milnwood. Sae she says to me, Binna cast doun, but gird yoursell up to the great task o’ the day, and gie your testimony like a man upon the mount o’ the Covenant.”

“And so I suppose you went to a conventicle?” said Morton.

“Ye sall hear,” continued Cuddie. —“Aweel, I kendna muckle better what to do, sae I e’en gaed wi’ her to an auld daft carline like hersell, and we got some water-broo and bannocks; and mony a weary grace they said, and mony a psalm they sang, or they wad let me win to, for I was amaist famished wi’ vexation. Aweel, they had me up in the grey o’ the morning, and I behoved to whig awa wi’ them, reason or nane, to a great gathering o’ their folk at the Miry-sikes; and there this chield, Gabriel Kettledrummle, was blasting awa to them on the hill-side, about lifting up their testimony, nae doubt, and ganging down to the battle of Roman Gilead, or some sic place. Eh, Mr Henry! but the carle gae them a screed o’ doctrine! Ye might hae heard him a mile down the wind — He routed like a cow in a fremd loaning. — Weel, thinks I, there’s nae place in this country they ca’ Roman Gilead — it will be some gate in the west muirlands; and or we win there I’ll see to slip awa wi’ this mither o’ mine, for I winna rin my neck into a tether for ony Kettledrummle in the country side — Aweel,” continued Cuddie, relieving himself by detailing his misfortunes, without being scrupulous concerning the degree of attention which his companion bestowed on his narrative, “just as I was wearying for the tail of the preaching, cam word that the dragoons were upon us. — Some ran, and some cried, Stand! and some cried, Down wi’ the Philistines! — I was at my mither to get her awa sting and ling or the red-coats cam up, but I might as weel hae tried to drive our auld fore-a-hand ox without the goad — deil a step wad she budge. — Weel, after a’, the cleugh we were in was strait, and the mist cam thick, and there was good hope the dragoons wad hae missed us if we could hae held our tongues; but, as if auld Kettledrummle himsell hadna made din eneugh to waken the very dead, they behoved a’ to skirl up a psalm that ye wad hae heard as far as Lanrick! — Aweel, to mak a lang tale short, up cam my young Lord Evandale, skelping as fast as his horse could trot, and twenty red-coats at his back. Twa or three chields wad needs fight, wi’ the pistol and the whinger in the tae hand, and the Bible in the tother, and they got their crouns weel cloured; but there wasna muckle skaith dune, for Evandale aye cried to scatter us, but to spare life.”

“And did you not resist?” said Morton, who probably felt, that, at that moment, he himself would have encountered Lord Evandale on much slighter grounds.

“Na, truly,” answered Cuddie, “I keepit aye before the auld woman, and cried for mercy to life and limb; but twa o’ the red-coats cam up, and ane o’ them was gaun to strike my mither wi’ the side o’ his broadsword — So I got up my kebbie at them, and said I wad gie them as gude. Weel, they turned on me, and clinked at me wi’ their swords, and I garr’d my hand keep my head as weel as I could till Lord Evandale came up, and then I cried out I was a servant at Tillietudlem — ye ken yoursell he was aye judged to hae a look after the young leddy — and he bade me fling down my kent, and sae me and my mither yielded oursells prisoners. I’m thinking we wad hae been letten slip awa, but Kettledrummle was taen near us — for Andrew Wilson’s naig that he was riding on had been a dragooner lang syne, and the sairer Kettledrummle spurred to win awa, the readier the dour beast ran to the dragoons when he saw them draw up. — Aweel, when my mother and him forgathered, they set till the sodgers, and I think they gae them their kale through the reek! Bastards o’ the hure o’ Babylon was the best words in their wame. Sae then the kiln was in a bleeze again, and they brought us a’ three on wi’ them to mak us an example, as they ca’t.”

“It is most infamous and intolerable oppression!” said Morton, half speaking to himself; “here is a poor peaceable fellow, whose only motive for joining the conventicle was a sense of filial piety, and he is chained up like a thief or murderer, and likely to die the death of one, but without the privilege of a formal trial, which our laws indulge to the worst malefactor! Even to witness such tyranny, and still more to suffer under it, is enough to make the blood of the tamest slave boil within him.”

“To be sure,” said Cuddie, hearing, and partly understanding, what had broken from Morton in resentment of his injuries, “it is no right to speak evil o’ dignities — my auld leddy aye said that, as nae doubt she had a gude right to do, being in a place o’ dignity hersell; and troth I listened to her very patiently, for she aye ordered a dram, or a sowp kale, or something to us, after she had gien us a hearing on our duties. But deil a dram, or kale, or ony thing else — no sae muckle as a cup o’ cauld water — do thae lords at Edinburgh gie us; and yet they are heading and hanging amang us, and trailing us after thae blackguard troopers, and taking our goods and gear as if we were outlaws. I canna say I tak it kind at their hands.”

“It would be very strange if you did,” answered Morton, with suppressed emotion.

“And what I like warst o’ a’,” continued poor Cuddie, “is thae ranting red-coats coming amang the lasses, and taking awa our joes. I had a sair heart o’ my ain when I passed the Mains down at Tillietudlem this morning about parritch-time, and saw the reek comin’ out at my ain lum-head, and kend there was some ither body than my auld mither sitting by the ingle-side. But I think my heart was e’en sairer, when I saw that hellicat trooper, Tam Halliday, kissing Jenny Dennison afore my face. I wonder women can hae the impudence to do sic things; but they are a’ for the red-coats. Whiles I hae thought o’ being a trooper mysell, when I thought naething else wad gae down wi’ Jenny — and yet I’ll no blame her ower muckle neither, for maybe it was a’ for my sake that she loot Tam touzle her tap-knots that gate.”

“For your sake?” said Morton, unable to refrain from taking some interest in a story which seemed to bear a singular coincidence with his own.

“E’en sae, Milnwood,” replied Cuddie; “for the puir quean gat leave to come near me wi’ speaking the loun fair, (d — n him, that I suld say sae!) and sae she bade me God speed, and she wanted to stap siller into my hand; — I’se warrant it was the tae half o’ her fee and bountith, for she wared the ither half on pinners and pearlings to gang to see us shoot yon day at the popinjay.”

“And did you take it, Cuddie?” said Morton.

“Troth did I no, Milnwood; I was sic a fule as to fling it back to her — my heart was ower grit to be behadden to her, when I had seen that loon slavering and kissing at her. But I was a great fule for my pains; it wad hae dune my mither and me some gude, and she’ll ware’t a’ on duds and nonsense.”

There was here a deep and long pause. Cuddie was probably engaged in regretting the rejection of his mistress’s bounty, and Henry Morton in considering from what motives, or upon what conditions, Miss Bellenden had succeeded in procuring the interference of Lord Evandale in his favour.

Was it not possible, suggested his awakening hopes, that he had construed her influence over Lord Evandale hastily and unjustly? Ought he to censure her severely, if, submitting to dissimulation for his sake, she had permitted the young nobleman to entertain hopes which she had no intention to realize? Or what if she had appealed to the generosity which Lord Evandale was supposed to possess, and had engaged his honour to protect the person of a favoured rival?

Still, however, the words which he had overheard recurred ever and anon to his remembrance, with a pang which resembled the sting of an adder.

“Nothing that she could refuse him! — was it possible to make a more unlimited declaration of predilection? The language of affection has not, within the limits of maidenly delicacy, a stronger expression. She is lost to me wholly, and for ever; and nothing remains for me now, but vengeance for my own wrongs, and for those which are hourly inflicted on my country.”

Apparently, Cuddie, though with less refinement, was following out a similar train of ideas; for he suddenly asked Morton in a low whisper —“Wad there be ony ill in getting out o’ thae chields’ hands an ane could compass it?”

“None in the world,” said Morton; “and if an opportunity occurs of doing so, depend on it I for one will not let it slip.”

“I’m blythe to hear ye say sae,” answered Cuddie. “I’m but a puir silly fallow, but I canna think there wad be muckle ill in breaking out by strength o’ hand, if ye could mak it ony thing feasible. I am the lad that will ne’er fear to lay on, if it were come to that; but our auld leddy wad hae ca’d that a resisting o’ the king’s authority.”

“I will resist any authority on earth,” said Morton, “that invades tyrannically my chartered rights as a freeman; and I am determined I will not be unjustly dragged to a jail, or perhaps a gibbet, if I can possibly make my escape from these men either by address or force.”

“Weel, that’s just my mind too, aye supposing we hae a feasible opportunity o’ breaking loose. But then ye speak o’ a charter; now these are things that only belang to the like o’ you that are a gentleman, and it mightna bear me through that am but a husbandman.”

“The charter that I speak of,” said Morton, “is common to the meanest Scotchman. It is that freedom from stripes and bondage which was claimed, as you may read in Scripture, by the Apostle Paul himself, and which every man who is free-born is called upon to defend, for his own sake and that of his countrymen.”

“Hegh, sirs!” replied Cuddie, “it wad hae been lang or my Leddy Margaret, or my mither either, wad hae fund out sic a wiselike doctrine in the Bible! The tane was aye graning about giving tribute to Caesar, and the tither is as daft wi’ her whiggery. I hae been clean spoilt, just wi’ listening to twa blethering auld wives; but if I could get a gentleman that wad let me tak on to be his servant, I am confident I wad be a clean contrary creature; and I hope your honour will think on what I am saying, if ye were ance fairly delivered out o’ this house of bondage, and just take me to be your ain wally-de-shamble.”

“My valet, Cuddie?” answered Morton; “alas! that would be sorry preferment, even if we were at liberty.”

“I ken what ye’re thinking — that because I am landward-bred, I wad be bringing ye to disgrace afore folk; but ye maun ken I’m gay gleg at the uptak; there was never ony thing dune wi’ hand but I learned gay readily, ‘septing reading, writing, and ciphering; but there’s no the like o’ me at the fit-ba’, and I can play wi’ the broadsword as weel as Corporal Inglis there. I hae broken his head or now, for as massy as he’s riding ahint us. — And then ye’ll no be gaun to stay in this country?”— said he, stopping and interrupting himself.

“Probably not,” replied Morton.

“Weel, I carena a boddle. Ye see I wad get my mither bestowed wi’ her auld graning tittie, auntie Meg, in the Gallowgate o’ Glasgow, and then I trust they wad neither burn her for a witch, or let her fail for fau’t o’ fude, or hang her up for an auld whig wife; for the provost, they say, is very regardfu’ o’ sic puir bodies. And then you and me wad gang and pouss our fortunes, like the folk i’ the daft auld tales about Jock the Giant-killer and Valentine and Orson; and we wad come back to merry Scotland, as the sang says, and I wad tak to the stilts again, and turn sic furs on the bonny rigs o’ Milnwood holms, that it wad be worth a pint but to look at them.”

“I fear,” said Morton, “there is very little chance, my good friend Cuddie, of our getting back to our old occupation.”

“Hout, stir — hout, stir,” replied Cuddie, “it’s aye gude to keep up a hardy heart — as broken a ship’s come to land. — But what’s that I hear? never stir, if my auld mither isna at the preaching again! I ken the sough o’ her texts, that sound just like the wind blawing through the spence; and there’s Kettledrummle setting to wark, too — Lordsake, if the sodgers anes get angry, they’ll murder them baith, and us for company!”

Their farther conversation was in fact interrupted by a blatant noise which rose behind them, in which the voice of the preacher emitted, in unison with that of the old woman, tones like the grumble of a bassoon combined with the screaking of a cracked fiddle. At first, the aged pair of sufferers had been contented to condole with each other in smothered expressions of complaint and indignation; but the sense of their injuries became more pungently aggravated as they communicated with each other, and they became at length unable to suppress their ire.

“Woe, woe, and a threefold woe unto you, ye bloody and violent persecutors!” exclaimed the Reverend Gabriel Kettledrummle —“Woe, and threefold woe unto you, even to the breaking of seals, the blowing of trumpets, and the pouring forth of vials!”

“Ay — ay — a black cast to a’ their ill-fa’ur’d faces, and the outside o’ the loof to them at the last day!” echoed the shrill counter-tenor of Mause, falling in like the second part of a catch.

“I tell you,” continued the divine, “that your rankings and your ridings — your neighings and your prancings — your bloody, barbarous, and inhuman cruelties — your benumbing, deadening, and debauching the conscience of poor creatures by oaths, soul-damning and self-contradictory, have arisen from earth to Heaven like a foul and hideous outcry of perjury for hastening the wrath to come — hugh! hugh! hugh!”

“And I say,” cried Mause, in the same tune, and nearly at the same time, “that wi’ this auld breath o’ mine, and it’s sair taen down wi’ the asthmatics and this rough trot”—

“Deil gin they would gallop,” said Cuddie, “wad it but gar her haud her tongue!”

“— Wi’ this auld and brief breath,” continued Mause, “will I testify against the backslidings, defections, defalcations, and declinings of the land — against the grievances and the causes of wrath!”

“Peace, I pr’ythee — Peace, good woman,” said the preacher, who had just recovered from a violent fit of coughing, and found his own anathema borne down by Mause’s better wind; “peace, and take not the word out of the mouth of a servant of the altar. — I say, I uplift my voice and tell you, that before the play is played out — ay, before this very sun gaes down, ye sall learn that neither a desperate Judas, like your prelate Sharpe that’s gane to his place; nor a sanctuary-breaking Holofernes, like bloody-minded Claverhouse; nor an ambitious Diotrephes, like the lad Evandale; nor a covetous and warld-following Demas, like him they ca’ Sergeant Bothwell, that makes every wife’s plack and her meal-ark his ain; neither your carabines, nor your pistols, nor your broadswords, nor your horses, nor your saddles, bridles, surcingles, nose-bags, nor martingales, shall resist the arrows that are whetted and the bow that is bent against you!”

“That shall they never, I trow,” echoed Mause; “castaways are they ilk ane o’ them — besoms of destruction, fit only to be flung into the fire when they have sweepit the filth out o’ the Temple — whips of small cords, knotted for the chastisement of those wha like their warldly gudes and gear better than the Cross or the Covenant, but when that wark’s done, only meet to mak latchets to the deil’s brogues.”

“Fiend hae me,” said Cuddie, addressing himself to Morton, “if I dinna think our mither preaches as weel as the minister! — But it’s a sair pity o’ his hoast, for it aye comes on just when he’s at the best o’t, and that lang routing he made air this morning, is sair again him too — Deil an I care if he wad roar her dumb, and then he wad hae’t a’ to answer for himsell — It’s lucky the road’s rough, and the troopers are no taking muckle tent to what they say, wi’ the rattling o’ the horse’s feet; but an we were anes on saft grund, we’ll hear news o’ a’ this.”

Cuddie’s conjecture were but too true. The words of the prisoners had not been much attended to while drowned by the clang of horses’ hoofs on a rough and stony road; but they now entered upon the moorlands, where the testimony of the two zealous captives lacked this saving accompaniment. And, accordingly, no sooner had their steeds begun to tread heath and green sward, and Gabriel Kettledrummle had again raised his voice with, “Also I uplift my voice like that of a pelican in the wilderness”—

“And I mine,” had issued from Mause, “like a sparrow on the house-tops”—

When “Hollo, ho!” cried the corporal from the rear; “rein up your tongues, the devil blister them, or I’ll clap a martingale on them.”

“I will not peace at the commands of the profane,” said Gabriel.

“Nor I neither,” said Mause, “for the bidding of no earthly potsherd, though it be painted as red as a brick from the Tower of Babel, and ca’ itsell a corporal.”

“Halliday,” cried the corporal, “hast got never a gag about thee, man? — We must stop their mouths before they talk us all dead.”

Ere any answer could be made, or any measure taken in consequence of the corporal’s motion, a dragoon galloped towards Sergeant Bothwell, who was considerably a-head of the party he commanded. On hearing the orders which he brought, Bothwell instantly rode back to the head of his party, ordered them to close their files, to mend their pace, and to move with silence and precaution, as they would soon be in presence of the enemy.

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