Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 23

Got with much ease — now merrily to horse.

Henry IV. Part I.

With the first peep of day Henry awoke, and found the faithful Cuddie standing beside him with a portmanteau in his hand.

“I hae been just putting your honour’s things in readiness again ye were waking,” said Cuddie, “as is my duty, seeing ye hae been sae gude as to tak me into your service.”

“I take you into my service, Cuddie?” said Morton, “you must be dreaming.”

“Na, na, stir,” answered Cuddie; “didna I say when I was tied on the horse yonder, that if ever ye gat loose I would be your servant, and ye didna say no? and if that isna hiring, I kenna what is. Ye gae me nae arles, indeed, but ye had gien me eneugh before at Milnwood.”

“Well, Cuddie, if you insist on taking the chance of my unprosperous fortunes”—

“Ou ay, I’se warrant us a’ prosper weel eneugh,” answered Cuddie, cheeringly, “an anes my auld mither was weel putten up. I hae begun the campaigning trade at an end that is easy eneugh to learn.”

“Pillaging, I suppose?” said Morton, “for how else could you come by that portmanteau?”

“I wotna if it’s pillaging, or how ye ca’t,” said Cuddie, “but it comes natural to a body, and it’s a profitable trade. Our folk had tirled the dead dragoons as bare as bawbees before we were loose amaist. — But when I saw the Whigs a’ weel yokit by the lugs to Kettledrummle and the other chield, I set off at the lang trot on my ain errand and your honour’s. Sae I took up the syke a wee bit, away to the right, where I saw the marks o’mony a horsefoot, and sure eneugh I cam to a place where there had been some clean leatherin’, and a’ the puir chields were lying there buskit wi’ their claes just as they had put them on that morning — naebody had found out that pose o’ carcages — and wha suld be in the midst thereof (as my mither says) but our auld acquaintance, Sergeant Bothwell?”

“Ay, has that man fallen?” said Morton.

“Troth has he,” answered Cuddie; “and his een were open and his brow bent, and his teeth clenched thegither, like the jaws of a trap for foumarts when the spring’s doun — I was amaist feared to look at him; however, I thought to hae turn about wi’ him, and sae I e’en riped his pouches, as he had dune mony an honester man’s; and here’s your ain siller again (or your uncle’s, which is the same) that he got at Milnwood that unlucky night that made us a’ sodgers thegither.”

“There can be no harm, Cuddie,” said Morton, “in making use of this money, since we know how he came by it; but you must divide with me.”

“Bide a wee, bide a wee,” said Cuddie. “Weel, and there’s a bit ring he had hinging in a black ribbon doun on his breast. I am thinking it has been a love-token, puir fallow — there’s naebody sae rough but they hae aye a kind heart to the lasses — and there’s a book wi’a wheen papers, and I got twa or three odd things, that I’ll keep to mysell, forby.”

“Upon my word, you have made a very successful foray for a beginner,” said his new master.

“Haena I e’en now?” said Cuddie, with great exultation. “I tauld ye I wasna that dooms stupid, if it cam to lifting things. — And forby, I hae gotten twa gude horse. A feckless loon of a Straven weaver, that has left his loom and his bein house to sit skirling on a cauld hill-side, had catched twa dragoon naigs, and he could neither gar them hup nor wind, sae he took a gowd noble for them baith — I suld hae tried him wi’ half the siller, but it’s an unco ill place to get change in-Ye’ll find the siller’s missing out o’ Bothwell’s purse.”

“You have made a most excellent and useful purchase, Cuddie; but what is that portmanteau?”

“The pockmantle?” answered Cuddie, “it was Lord Evandale’s yesterday, and it’s yours the day. I fand it ahint the bush o’ broom yonder — ilka dog has its day — Ye ken what the auld sang says,

‘Take turn about, mither, quo’ Tam o’ the Linn.’

“And, speaking o’ that, I maun gang and see about my mither, puir auld body, if your honour hasna ony immediate commands.”

“But, Cuddie,” said Morton, “I really cannot take these things from you without some recompense.”

“Hout fie, stir,” answered Cuddie, “ye suld aye be taking — for recompense, ye may think about that some other time — I hae seen gay weel to mysell wi’ some things that fit me better. What could I do wi’ Lord Evandale’s braw claes? Sergeant Bothwell’s will serve me weel eneugh.”

Not being able to prevail on the self-constituted and disinterested follower to accept of any thing for himself out of these warlike spoils, Morton resolved to take the first opportunity of returning Lord Evandale’s property, supposing him yet to be alive; and, in the meanwhile, did not hesitate to avail himself of Cuddie’s prize, so far as to appropriate some changes of linen and other triffling articles amongst those of more value which the portmanteau contained.

He then hastily looked over the papers which were found in Bothwell’s pocket-book. These were of a miscellaneous description. The roll of his troop, with the names of those absent on furlough, memorandums of tavern-bills, and lists of delinquents who might be made subjects of fine and persecution, first presented themselves, along with a copy of a warrant from the Privy Council to arrest certain persons of distinction therein named. In another pocket of the book were one or two commissions which Bothwell had held at different times, and certificates of his services abroad, in which his courage and military talents were highly praised. But the most remarkable paper was an accurate account of his genealogy, with reference to many documents for establishment of its authenticity; subjoined was a list of the ample possessions of the forfeited Earls of Bothwell, and a particular account of the proportions in which King James VI. had bestowed them on the courtiers and nobility by whose descendants they were at present actually possessed; beneath this list was written, in red letters, in the hand of the deceased, Haud Immemor, F. S. E. B. the initials probably intimating Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell. To these documents, which strongly painted the character and feelings of their deceased proprietor, were added some which showed him in a light greatly different from that in which we have hitherto presented him to the reader.

In a secret pocket of the book, which Morton did not discover without some trouble, were one or two letters, written in a beautiful female hand. They were dated about twenty years back, bore no address, and were subscribed only by initials. Without having time to peruse them accurately, Morton perceived that they contained the elegant yet fond expressions of female affection directed towards an object whose jealousy they endeavoured to soothe, and of whose hasty, suspicious, and impatient temper, the writer seemed gently to complain. The ink of these manuscripts had faded by time, and, notwithstanding the great care which had obviously been taken for their preservation, they were in one or two places chafed so as to be illegible.

“It matters not,” these words were written on the envelope of that which had suffered most, “I have them by heart.”

With these letters was a lock of hair wrapped in a copy of verses, written obviously with a feeling, which atoned, in Morton’s opinion, for the roughness of the poetry, and the conceits with which it abounded, according to the taste of the period:

Thy hue, dear pledge, is pure and bright, As in that well-remember’d night, When first thy mystic braid was wove, And first my Agnes whisper’d love. Since then, how often hast thou press’d The torrid zone of this wild breast, Whose wrath and hate have sworn to dwell With the first sin which peopled hell; A breast whose blood’s a troubled ocean, Each throb the earthquake’s wild commotion! — O, if such clime thou canst endure, Yet keep thy hue unstain’d and pure, What conquest o’er each erring thought Of that fierce realm had Agnes wrought! I had not wander’d wild and wide, With such an angel for my guide; Nor heaven nor earth could then reprove me, If she had lived, and lived to love me. Not then this world’s wild joys had been To me one savage hunting-scene, My sole delight the headlong race, And frantic hurry of the chase, To start, pursue, and bring to bay, Rush in, drag down, and rend my prey, Then from the carcass turn away; Mine ireful mood had sweetness tamed, And soothed each wound which pride inflamed; — Yes, God and man might now approve me, If thou hadst lived, and lived to love me!

As he finished reading these lines, Morton could not forbear reflecting with compassion on the fate of this singular and most unhappy being, who, it appeared, while in the lowest state of degradation, and almost of contempt, had his recollections continually fixed on the high station to which his birth seemed to entitle him; and, while plunged in gross licentiousness, was in secret looking back with bitter remorse to the period of his youth, during which he had nourished a virtuous, though unfortunate attachment.

“Alas! what are we,” said Morton, “that our best and most praiseworthy feelings can be thus debased and depraved — that honourable pride can sink into haughty and desperate indifference for general opinion, and the sorrow of blighted affection inhabit the same bosom which license, revenge, and rapine, have chosen for their citadel? But it is the same throughout; the liberal principles of one man sink into cold and unfeeling indifference, the religious zeal of another hurries him into frantic and savage enthusiasm. Our resolutions, our passions, are like the waves of the sea, and, without the aid of Him who formed the human breast, we cannot say to its tides, ‘Thus far shall ye come, and no farther.”’

While he thus moralized, he raised his eyes, and observed that Burley stood before him.

“Already awake?” said that leader —“It is well, and shows zeal to tread the path before you. — What papers are these?” he continued.

Morton gave him some brief account of Cuddie’s successful marauding party, and handed him the pocket-book of Bothwell, with its contents. The Cameronian leader looked with some attention on such of the papers as related to military affairs, or public business; but when he came to the verses, he threw them from him with contempt.

“I little thought,” he said, “when, by the blessing of God, I passed my sword three times through the body of that arch tool of cruelty and persecution, that a character so desperate and so dangerous could have stooped to an art as trifling as it is profane. But I see that Satan can blend the most different qualities in his well-beloved and chosen agents, and that the same hand which can wield a club or a slaughter-weapon against the godly in the valley of destruction, can touch a tinkling lute, or a gittern, to soothe the ears of the dancing daughters of perdition in their Vanity Fair.”

“Your ideas of duty, then,” said Morton, “exclude love of the fine arts, which have been supposed in general to purify and to elevate the mind?”

“To me, young man,” answered Burley, “and to those who think as I do, the pleasures of this world, under whatever name disguised, are vanity, as its grandeur and power are a snare. We have but one object on earth, and that is to build up the temple of the Lord.”

“I have heard my father observe,” replied Morton, “that many who assumed power in the name of Heaven, were as severe in its exercise, and as unwilling to part with it, as if they had been solely moved by the motives of worldly ambition — But of this another time. Have you succeeded in obtaining a committee of the council to be nominated?”

“I have,” answered Burley. “The number is limited to six, of which you are one, and I come to call you to their deliberations.”

Morton accompanied him to a sequestered grassplot, where their colleagues awaited them. In this delegation of authority, the two principal factions which divided the tumultuary army had each taken care to send three of their own number. On the part of the Cameronians, were Burley, Macbriar, and Kettledrummle; and on that of the moderate party, Poundtext, Henry Morton, and a small proprietor, called the Laird of Langcale. Thus the two parties were equally balanced by their representatives in the committee of management, although it seemed likely that those of the most violent opinions were, as is usual in such cases, to possess and exert the greater degree of energy. Their debate, however, was conducted more like men of this world than could have been expected from their conduct on the preceding evening. After maturely considering their means and situation, and the probable increase of their numbers, they agreed that they would keep their position for that day, in order to refresh their men, and give time to reinforcements to join them, and that, on the next morning, they would direct their march towards Tillietudlem, and summon that stronghold, as they expressed it, of malignancy. If it was not surrendered to their summons, they resolved to try the effect of a brisk assault; and, should that miscarry, it was settled that they should leave a part of their number to blockade the place, and reduce it, if possible, by famine, while their main body should march forward to drive Claverhouse and Lord Ross from the town of Glasgow. Such was the determination of the council of management; and thus Morton’s first enterprise in active life was likely to be the attack of a castle belonging to the parent of his mistress, and defended by her relative, Major Bellenden, to whom he personally owed many obligations! He felt fully the embarrassment of his situation, yet consoled himself with the reflection, that his newly-acquired power in the insurgent army would give him, at all events, the means of extending to the inmates of Tillietudlem a protection which no other circumstance could have afforded them; and he was not without hope that he might be able to mediate such an accommodation betwixt them and the presbyterian army, as should secure them a safe neutrality during the war which was about to ensue.

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