Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 20

With careless gesture, mind unmoved,

On rade he north the plain,

His seem in thrang of fiercest strife,

When winner aye the same.

Hardyknute.

Colonel Grahame of Claverhouse met the family, assembled in the hall of the Tower, with the same serenity and the same courtesy which had graced his manners in the morning. He had even had the composure to rectify in part the derangement of his dress, to wash the signs of battle from his face and hands, and did not appear more disordered in his exterior than if returned from a morning ride.

“I am grieved, Colonel Grahame,” said the reverend old lady, the tears trickling down her face, “deeply grieved.”

“And I am grieved, my dear Lady Margaret,” replied Claverhouse, “that this misfortune may render your remaining at Tillietudlem dangerous for you, especially considering your recent hospitality to the King’s troops, and your well-known loyalty. And I came here chiefly to request Miss Bellenden and you to accept my escort (if you will not scorn that of a poor runaway) to Glasgow, from whence I will see you safely sent either to Edinburgh or to Dunbarton Castle, as you shall think best.”

“I am much obliged to you, Colonel Grahame,” replied Lady Margaret; “but my brother, Major Bellenden, has taken on him the responsibility of holding out this house against the rebels; and, please God, they shall never drive Margaret Bellenden from her ain hearth-stane while there’s a brave man that says he can defend it.”

“And will Major Bellenden undertake this?” said Claverhouse hastily, a joyful light glancing from his dark eye as he turned it on the veteran — “Yet why should I question it? it is of a piece with the rest of his life. — But have you the means, Major?”

“All, but men and provisions, with which we are ill supplied,” answered the Major.

“As for men,” said Claverhouse, “I will leave you a dozen or twenty fellows who will make good a breach against the devil. It will be of the utmost service, if you can defend the place but a week, and by that time you must surely be relieved.”

“I will make it good for that space, Colonel,” replied the Major, “with twenty-five good men and store of ammunition, if we should gnaw the soles of our shoes for hunger; but I trust we shall get in provisions from the country.”

“And, Colonel Grahame, if I might presume a request,” said Lady Margaret, “I would entreat that Sergeant Francis Stewart might command the auxiliaries whom you are so good as to add to the garrison of our people; it may serve to legitimate his promotion, and I have a prejudice in favour of his noble birth.”

“The sergeant’s wars are ended, madam,” said Grahame, in an unaltered tone, “and he now needs no promotion that an earthly master can give.”

“Pardon me,” said Major Bellenden, taking Claverhouse by the arm, and turning him away from the ladies, “but I am anxious for my friends; I fear you have other and more important loss. I observe another officer carries your nephew’s standard.”

“You are right, Major Bellenden,” answered Claverhouse firmly; “my nephew is no more. He has died in his duty, as became him.”

“Great God!” exclaimed the Major, “how unhappy! — the handsome, gallant, high-spirited youth!”

“He was indeed all you say,” answered Claverhouse; “poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye, and my destined heir; but he died in his duty, and I— I— Major Bellenden”—(he wrung the Major’s hand hard as he spoke)—“I live to avenge him.”

“Colonel Grahame,” said the affectionate veteran, his eyes filling with tears, “I am glad to see you bear this misfortune with such fortitude.”

“I am not a selfish man,” replied Claverhouse, “though the world will tell you otherwise; I am not selfish either in my hopes or fears, my joys or sorrows. I have not been severe for myself, or grasping for myself, or ambitious for myself. The service of my master and the good of the country are what I have tried to aim at. I may, perhaps, have driven severity into cruelty, but I acted for the best; and now I will not yield to my own feelings a deeper sympathy than I have given to those of others.”

“I am astonished at your fortitude under all the unpleasant circumstances of this affair,” pursued the Major.

“Yes,” replied Claverhouse, “my enemies in the council will lay this misfortune to my charge — I despise their accusations. They will calumniate me to my sovereign — I can repel their charge. The public enemy will exult in my flight — I shall find a time to show them that they exult too early. This youth that has fallen stood betwixt a grasping kinsman and my inheritance, for you know that my marriage-bed is barren; yet, peace be with him! the country can better spare him than your friend Lord Evandale, who, after behaving very gallantly, has, I fear, also fallen.”

“What a fatal day!” ejaculated the Major. “I heard a report of this, but it was again contradicted; it was added, that the poor young nobleman’s impetuosity had occasioned the loss of this unhappy field.”

“Not so, Major,” said Grahame; “let the living officers bear the blame, if there be any; and let the laurels flourish untarnished on the grave of the fallen. I do not, however, speak of Lord Evandale’s death as certain; but killed, or prisoner, I fear he must be. Yet he was extricated from the tumult the last time we spoke together. We were then on the point of leaving the field with a rear-guard of scarce twenty men; the rest of the regiment were almost dispersed.”

“They have rallied again soon,” said the Major, looking from the window on the dragoons, who were feeding their horses and refreshing themselves beside the brook.

“Yes,” answered Claverhouse, “my blackguards had little temptation either to desert, or to straggle farther than they were driven by their first panic. There is small friendship and scant courtesy between them and the boors of this country; every village they pass is likely to rise on them, and so the scoundrels are driven back to their colours by a wholesome terror of spits, pike-staves, hay-forks, and broomsticks. — But now let us talk about your plans and wants, and the means of corresponding with you. To tell you the truth, I doubt being able to make a long stand at Glasgow, even when I have joined my Lord Ross; for this transient and accidental success of the fanatics will raise the devil through all the western counties.”

They then discussed Major Bellenden’s means of defence, and settled a plan of correspondence, in case a general insurrection took place, as was to be expected. Claverhouse renewed his offer to escort the ladies to a place of safety; but, all things considered, Major Bellenden thought they would be in equal safety at Tillietudlem.

The Colonel then took a polite leave of Lady Margaret and Miss Bellenden, assuring them, that, though he was reluctantly obliged to leave them for the present in dangerous circumstances, yet his earliest means should be turned to the redemption of his character as a good knight and true, and that they might speedily rely on hearing from or seeing him.

Full of doubt and apprehension, Lady Margaret was little able to reply to a speech so much in unison with her usual expressions and feelings, but contented herself with bidding Claverhouse farewell, and thanking him for the succours which he had promised to leave them. Edith longed to enquire the fate of Henry Morton, but could find no pretext for doing so, and could only hope that it had made a subject of some part of the long private communication which her uncle had held with Claverhouse. On this subject, however, she was disappointed; for the old cavalier was so deeply immersed in the duties of his own office, that he had scarce said a single word to Claverhouse, excepting upon military matters, and most probably would have been equally forgetful, had the fate of his own son, instead of his friend’s, lain in the balance.

Claverhouse now descended the bank on which the castle is founded, in order to put his troops again in motion, and Major Bellenden accompanied him to receive the detachment who were to be left in the tower.

“I shall leave Inglis with you,” said Claverhouse, “for, as I am situated, I cannot spare an officer of rank; it is all we can do, by our joint efforts, to keep the men together. But should any of our missing officers make their appearance, I authorize you to detain them; for my fellows can with difficulty be subjected to any other authority.”

His troops being now drawn up, he picked out sixteen men by name, and committed them to the command of Corporal Inglis, whom he promoted to the rank of sergeant on the spot.

“And hark ye, gentlemen,” was his concluding harangue, “I leave you to defend the house of a lady, and under the command of her brother, Major Bellenden, a faithful servant to the king. You are to behave bravely, soberly, regularly, and obediently, and each of you shall be handsomely rewarded on my return to relieve the garrison. In case of mutiny, cowardice, neglect of duty, or the slightest excess in the family, the provost-marshal and cord — you know I keep my word for good and evil.”

He touched his hat as he bade them farewell, and shook hands cordially with Major Bellenden.

“Adieu,” he said, “my stout-hearted old friend! Good luck be with you, and better times to us both.”

The horsemen whom he commanded had been once more reduced to tolerable order by the exertions of Major Allan; and, though shorn of their splendour, and with their gilding all besmirched, made a much more regular and military appearance on leaving, for the second time, the tower of Tillietudlem, than when they returned to it after their rout.

Major Bellenden, now left to his own resources sent out several videttes, both to obtain supplies of provisions, and especially of meal, and to get knowledge of the motions of the enemy. All the news he could collect on the second subject tended to prove that the insurgents meant to remain on the field of battle for that night. But they, also, had abroad their detachments and advanced guards to collect supplies, and great was the doubt and distress of those who received contrary orders, in the name of the King and in that of the Kirk; the one commanding them to send provisions to victual the Castle of Tillietudlem, and the other enjoining them to forward supplies to the camp of the godly professors of true religion, now in arms for the cause of covenanted reformation, presently pitched at Drumclog, nigh to Loudon-hill. Each summons closed with a denunciation of fire and sword if it was neglected; for neither party could confide so far in the loyalty or zeal of those whom they addressed, as to hope they would part with their property upon other terms. So that the poor people knew not what hand to turn themselves to; and, to say truth, there were some who turned themselves to more than one.

“Thir kittle times will drive the wisest o’ us daft,” said Niel Blane, the prudent host of the Howff; “but I’se aye keep a calm sough. — Jenny, what meal is in the girnel?”

“Four bows o’ aitmeal, twa bows o’ bear, and twa bows o’ pease,” was Jenny’s reply.

“Aweel, hinny,” continued Niel Blane, sighing deeply, “let Bauldy drive the pease and bear meal to the camp at Drumclog — he’s a whig, and was the auld gudewife’s pleughman — the mashlum bannocks will suit their muirland stamachs weel. He maun say it’s the last unce o’ meal in the house, or, if he scruples to tell a lie, (as it’s no likely he will when it’s for the gude o’ the house,) he may wait till Duncan Glen, the auld drucken trooper, drives up the aitmeal to Tillietudlem, wi’ my dutifu’ service to my Leddy and the Major, and I haena as muckle left as will mak my parritch; and if Duncan manage right, I’ll gie him a tass o’ whisky shall mak the blue low come out at his mouth.”

“And what are we to eat oursells then, father,” asked Jenny, “when we hae sent awa the haill meal in the ark and the girnel?”

“We maun gar wheat-flour serve us for a blink,” said Niel, in a tone of resignation; “it’s no that ill food, though far frae being sae hearty or kindly to a Scotchman’s stamach as the curney aitmeal is; the Englishers live amaist upon’t; but, to be sure, the pock-puddings ken nae better.”

While the prudent and peaceful endeavoured, like Niel Blane, to make fair weather with both parties, those who had more public (or party) spirit began to take arms on all sides. The royalists in the country were not numerous, but were respectable from their fortune and influence, being chiefly landed proprietors of ancient descent, who, with their brothers, cousins, and dependents to the ninth generation, as well as their domestic servants, formed a sort of militia, capable of defending their own peel-houses against detached bodies of the insurgents, of resisting their demand of supplies, and intercepting those which were sent to the presbyterian camp by others. The news that the Tower of Tillietudlem was to be defended against the insurgents, afforded great courage and support to these feudal volunteers, who considered it as a stronghold to which they might retreat, in case it should become impossible for them to maintain the desultory war they were now about to wage.

On the other hand, the towns, the villages, the farm-houses, the properties of small heritors, sent forth numerous recruits to the presbyterian interest. These men had been the principal sufferers during the oppression of the time. Their minds were fretted, soured, and driven to desperation, by the various exactions and cruelties to which they had been subjected; and, although by no means united among themselves, either concerning the purpose of this formidable insurrection, or the means by which that purpose was to be obtained, most of them considered it as a door opened by Providence to obtain the liberty of conscience of which they had been long deprived, and to shake themselves free of a tyranny, directed both against body and soul. Numbers of these men, therefore, took up arms; and, in the phrase of their time and party, prepared to cast in their lot with the victors of Loudon-hill.

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