Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 24

There came a knight from the field of slain,

His steed was drench’d in blood and rain.

Finlay.

We must now return to the fortress of Tillietudlem and its inhabitants. The morning, being the first after the battle of Loudon-hill, had dawned upon its battlements, and the defenders had already resumed the labours by which they proposed to render the place tenable, when the watchman, who was placed in a high turret, called the Warder’s Tower, gave the signal that a horseman was approaching. As he came nearer, his dress indicated an officer of the Life-Guards; and the slowness of his horse’s pace, as well as the manner in which the rider stooped on the saddle-bow, plainly showed that he was sick or wounded. The wicket was instantly opened to receive him, and Lord Evandale rode into the court-yard, so reduced by loss of blood, that he was unable to dismount without assistance. As he entered the hall, leaning upon a servant, the ladies shrieked with surprise and terror; for, pale as death, stained with blood, his regimentals soiled and torn, and his hair matted and disordered, he resembled rather a spectre than a human being. But their next exclamation was that of joy at his escape.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Lady Margaret, “that you are here, and have escaped the hands of the bloodthirsty murderers who have cut off so many of the king’s loyal servants!”

“Thank God!” added Edith, “that you are here and in safety! We have dreaded the worst. But you are wounded, and I fear we have little the means of assisting you.”

“My wounds are only sword-cuts,” answered the young nobleman, as he reposed himself on a seat; “the pain is not worth mentioning, and I should not even feel exhausted but for the loss of blood. But it was not my purpose to bring my weakness to add to your danger and distress, but to relieve them, if possible. What can I do for you? — Permit me,” he added, addressing Lady Margaret —“permit me to think and act as your son, my dear madam — as your brother, Edith!”

He pronounced the last part of the sentence with some emphasis, as if he feared that the apprehension of his pretensions as a suitor might render his proffered services unacceptable to Miss Bellenden. She was not insensible to his delicacy, but there was no time for exchange of sentiments.

“We are preparing for our defence,” said the old lady with great dignity; “my brother has taken charge of our garrison, and, by the grace of God, we will give the rebels such a reception as they deserve.”

“How gladly,” said Evandale, “would I share in the defence of the Castle! But in my present state, I should be but a burden to you, nay, something worse; for, the knowledge that an officer of the Life-Guards was in the Castle would be sufficient to make these rogues more desperately earnest to possess themselves of it. If they find it defended only by the family, they may possibly march on to Glasgow rather than hazard an assault.”

“And can you think so meanly of us, my lord,” said Edith, with the generous burst of feeling which woman so often evinces, and which becomes her so well, her voice faltering through eagerness, and her brow colouring with the noble warmth which dictated her language —“Can you think so meanly of your friends, as that they would permit such considerations to interfere with their sheltering and protecting you at a moment when you are unable to defend yourself, and when the whole country is filled with the enemy? Is there a cottage in Scotland whose owners would permit a valued friend to leave it in such circumstances? And can you think we will allow you to go from a castle which we hold to be strong enough for our own defence?”

“Lord Evandale need never think of it,” said Lady Margaret. “I will dress his wounds myself; it is all an old wife is fit for in war time; but to quit the Castle of Tillietudlem when the sword of the enemy is drawn to slay him — the meanest trooper that ever wore the king’s coat on his back should not do so, much less my young Lord Evandale. — Ours is not a house that ought to brook such dishonour. The tower of Tillietudlem has been too much distinguished by the visit of his most sacred”—

Here she was interrupted by the entrance of the Major.

“We have taken a prisoner, my dear uncle,” said Edith —“a wounded prisoner, and he wants to escape from us. You must help us to keep him by force.”

“Lord Evandale!” exclaimed the veteran. “I am as much pleased as when I got my first commission. Claverhouse reported you were killed, or missing at least.”

“I should have been slain, but for a friend of yours,” said Lord Evandale, speaking with some emotion, and bending his eyes on the ground, as if he wished to avoid seeing the impression that what he was about to say would make upon Miss Bellenden. “I was unhorsed and defenceless, and the sword raised to dispatch me, when young Mr Morton, the prisoner for whom you interested yourself yesterday morning, interposed in the most generous manner, preserved my life, and furnished me with the means of escaping.”

As he ended the sentence, a painful curiosity overcame his first resolution; he raised his eyes to Edith’s face, and imagined he could read in the glow of her cheek and the sparkle of her eye, joy at hearing of her lover’s safety and freedom, and triumph at his not having been left last in the race of generosity. Such, indeed, were her feelings; but they were also mingled with admiration of the ready frankness with which Lord Evandale had hastened to bear witness to the merit of a favoured rival, and to acknowledge an obligation which, in all probability, he would rather have owed to any other individual in the world.

Major Bellenden, who would never have observed the emotions of either party, even had they been much more markedly expressed, contented himself with saying, “Since Henry Morton has influence with these rascals, I am glad he has so exerted it; but I hope he will get clear of them as soon as he can. Indeed, I cannot doubt it. I know his principles, and that he detests their cant and hypocrisy. I have heard him laugh a thousand times at the pedantry of that old presbyterian scoundrel, Poundtext, who, after enjoying the indulgence of the government for so many years, has now, upon the very first ruffle, shown himself in his own proper colours, and set off, with three parts of his cropeared congregation, to join the host of the fanatics. — But how did you escape after leaving the field, my lord?”

“I rode for my life, as a recreant knight must,” answered Lord Evandale, smiling. “I took the route where I thought I had least chance of meeting with any of the enemy, and I found shelter for several hours — you will hardly guess where.”

“At Castle Bracklan, perhaps,” said Lady Margaret, “or in the house of some other loyal gentleman?”

“No, madam. I was repulsed, under one mean pretext or another, from more than one house of that description, for fear of the enemy following my traces; but I found refuge in the cottage of a poor widow, whose husband had been shot within these three months by a party of our corps, and whose two sons are at this very moment with the insurgents.”

“Indeed?” said Lady Margaret Bellenden; “and was a fanatic woman capable of such generosity? — but she disapproved, I suppose, of the tenets of her family?”

“Far from it, madam,” continued the young nobleman; “she was in principle a rigid recusant, but she saw my danger and distress, considered me as a fellow-creature, and forgot that I was a cavalier and a soldier. She bound my wounds, and permitted me to rest upon her bed, concealed me from a party of the insurgents who were seeking for stragglers, supplied me with food, and did not suffer me to leave my place of refuge until she had learned that I had every chance of getting to this tower without danger.”

“It was nobly done,” said Miss Bellenden; “and I trust you will have an opportunity of rewarding her generosity.”

“I am running up an arrear of obligation on all sides, Miss Bellenden, during these unfortunate occurrences,” replied Lord Evandale; “but when I can attain the means of showing my gratitude, the will shall not be wanting.”

All now joined in pressing Lord Evandale to relinquish his intention of leaving the Castle; but the argument of Major Bellenden proved the most effectual.

“Your presence in the Castle will be most useful, if not absolutely necessary, my lord, in order to maintain, by your authority, proper discipline among the fellows whom Claverhouse has left in garrison here, and who do not prove to be of the most orderly description of inmates; and, indeed, we have the Colonel’s authority, for that very purpose, to detain any officer of his regiment who might pass this way.”

“That,” said Lord Evandale, “is an unanswerable argument, since it shows me that my residence here may be useful, even in my present disabled state.”

“For your wounds, my lord,” said the Major, “if my sister, Lady Bellenden, will undertake to give battle to any feverish symptom, if such should appear, I will answer that my old campaigner, Gideon Pike, shall dress a flesh-wound with any of the incorporation of Barber-Surgeons. He had enough of practice in Montrose’s time, for we had few regularly-bred army chirurgeons, as you may well suppose. — You agree to stay with us, then?”

“My reasons for leaving the Castle,” said Lord Evandale, glancing a look towards Edith, “though they evidently seemed weighty, must needs give way to those which infer the power of serving you. May I presume, Major, to enquire into the means and plan of defence which you have prepared? or can I attend you to examine the works?”

It did not escape Miss Bellenden, that Lord Evandale seemed much exhausted both in body and mind. “I think, sir,” she said, addressing the Major, “that since Lord Evandale condescends to become an officer of our garrison, you should begin by rendering him amenable to your authority, and ordering him to his apartment, that he may take some refreshment ere he enters on military discussions.”

“Edith is right,” said the old lady; “you must go instantly to bed, my lord, and take some febrifuge, which I will prepare with my own hand; and my lady-inwaiting, Mistress Martha Weddell, shall make some friar’s chicken, or something very light. I would not advise wine. — John Gudyill, let the housekeeper make ready the chamber of dais. Lord Evandale must lie down instantly. Pike will take off the dressings, and examine the state of the wounds.”

“These are melancholy preparations, madam,” said Lord Evandale, as he returned thanks to Lady Margaret, and was about to leave the hall — “but I must submit to your ladyship’s directions; and I trust that your skill will soon make me a more able defender of your castle than I am at present. You must render my body serviceable as soon as you can, for you have no use for my head while you have Major Bellenden.”

With these words he left the apartment.

“An excellent young man, and a modest,” said the Major.

“None of that conceit,” said Lady Margaret, “that often makes young folk suppose they know better how their complaints should be treated than people that have had experience.”

“And so generous and handsome a young nobleman,” said Jenny Dennison, who had entered during the latter part of this conversation, and was now left alone with her mistress in the hall, the Major returning to his military cares, and Lady Margaret to her medical preparations.

Edith only answered these encomiums with a sigh; but, although silent, she felt and knew better than any one how much they were merited by the person on whom they were bestowed. Jenny, however, failed not to follow up her blow.

“After a’, it’s true that my lady says — there’s nae trusting a presbyterian; they are a’ faithless man-sworn louns. Whae wad hae thought that young Milnwood and Cuddie Headrigg wad hae taen on wi’ thae rebel blackguards?”

“What do you mean by such improbable nonsense, Jenny?” said her young mistress, very much displeased.

“I ken it’s no pleasing for you to hear, madam,” answered Jenny hardily; “and it’s as little pleasant for me to tell; but as gude ye suld ken a’ about it sune as syne, for the haill Castle’s ringing wi’t.”

“Ringing with what, Jenny? Have you a mind to drive me mad?” answered Edith, impatiently.

“Just that Henry Morton of Milnwood is out wi’ the rebels, and ane o’ their chief leaders.”

“It is a falsehood!” said Edith —“a most base calumny! and you are very bold to dare to repeat it to me. Henry Morton is incapable of such treachery to his king and country — such cruelty to me — to — to all the innocent and defenceless victims, I mean, who must suffer in a civil war — I tell you he is utterly incapable of it, in every sense.”

“Dear! dear! Miss Edith,” replied Jenny, still constant to her text, “they maun be better acquainted wi’ young men than I am, or ever wish to be, that can tell preceesely what they’re capable or no capable o’. But there has been Trooper Tam, and another chield, out in bonnets and grey plaids, like countrymen, to recon — reconnoitre — I think John Gudyill ca’d it; and they hae been amang the rebels, and brought back word that they had seen young Milnwood mounted on ane o’ the dragoon horses that was taen at Loudon-hill, armed wi’ swords and pistols, like wha but him, and hand and glove wi’ the foremost o’ them, and dreeling and commanding the men; and Cuddie at the heels o’ him, in ane o’ Sergeant Bothwell’s laced waistcoats, and a cockit hat with a bab o’ blue ribbands at it for the auld cause o’ the Covenant, (but Cuddie aye liked a blue ribband,) and a ruffled sark, like ony lord o’ the land — it sets the like o’ him, indeed!”

“Jenny,” said her young mistress hastily, “it is impossible these men’s report can be true; my uncle has heard nothing of it at this instant.”

“Because Tam Halliday,” answered the handmaiden, “came in just five minutes after Lord Evandale; and when he heard his lordship was in the Castle, he swore (the profane loon!) he would be d — d ere he would make the report, as he ca’d it, of his news to Major Bellenden, since there was an officer of his ain regiment in the garrison. Sae he wad have said naething till Lord Evandale wakened the next morning; only he tauld me about it,” (here Jenny looked a little down,) “just to vex me about Cuddie.”

“Poh, you silly girl,” said Edith, assuming some courage, “it is all a trick of that fellow to teaze you.”

“Na, madam, it canna be that, for John Gudyill took the other dragoon (he’s an auld hard-favoured man, I wotna his name) into the cellar, and gae him a tass o’ brandy to get the news out o’ him, and he said just the same as Tam Halliday, word for word; and Mr Gudyill was in sic a rage, that he tauld it a’ ower again to us, and says the haill rebellion is owing to the nonsense o’ my Leddy and the Major, and Lord Evandale, that begged off young Milnwood and Cuddie yesterday morning, for that, if they had suffered, the country wad hae been quiet — and troth I am muckle o’ that opinion mysell.”

This last commentary Jenny added to her tale, in resentment of her mistress’s extreme and obstinate incredulity. She was instantly alarmed, however, by the effect which her news produced upon her young lady, an effect rendered doubly violent by the High-church principles and prejudices in which Miss Bellenden had been educated. Her complexion became as pale as a corpse, her respiration so difficult that it was on the point of altogether failing her, and her limbs so incapable of supporting her, that she sunk, rather than sat, down upon one of the seats in the hall, and seemed on the eve of fainting. Jenny tried cold water, burnt feathers, cutting of laces, and all other remedies usual in hysterical cases, but without any immediate effect.

“God forgie me! what hae I done?” said the repentant fille-de-chambre. “I wish my tongue had been cuttit out! — Wha wad hae thought o’ her taking on that way, and a’ for a young lad? — O, Miss Edith — dear Miss Edith, haud your heart up about it, it’s maybe no true for a’ that I hae said — O, I wish my mouth had been blistered! A’ body tells me my tongue will do me a mischief some day. What if my Leddy comes? or the Major? — and she’s sitting in the throne, too, that naebody has sate in since that weary morning the King was here! — O, what will I do! O, what will become o’ us!”

While Jenny Dennison thus lamented herself and her mistress, Edith slowly returned from the paroxysm into which she had been thrown by this unexpected intelligence.

“If he had been unfortunate,” she said, “I never would have deserted him. I never did so, even when there was danger and disgrace in pleading his cause. If he had died, I would have mourned him — if he had been unfaithful, I would have forgiven him; but a rebel to his King — a traitor to his country — the associate and colleague of cut-throats and common stabbers — the persecutor of all that is noble — the professed and blasphemous enemy of all that is sacred — I will tear him from my heart, if my life-blood should ebb in the effort!”

She wiped her eyes, and rose hastily from the great chair, (or throne, as Lady Margaret used to call it,) while the terrified damsel hastened to shake up the cushion, and efface the appearance of any one having occupied that sacred seat; although King Charles himself, considering the youth and beauty as well as the affliction of the momentary usurper of his hallowed chair, would probably have thought very little of the profanation. She then hastened officiously to press her support on Edith, as she paced the hall apparently in deep meditation.

“Tak my arm, madam; better just tak my arm; sorrow maun hae its vent, and doubtless”—

“No, Jenny,” said Edith, with firmness; “you have seen my weakness, and you shall see my strength.”

“But ye leaned on me the other morning. Miss Edith, when ye were sae sair grieved.”

“Misplaced and erring affection may require support, Jenny — duty can support itself; yet I will do nothing rashly. I will be aware of the reasons of his conduct — and then — cast him off for ever,” was the firm and determined answer of her young lady.

Overawed by a manner of which she could neither conceive the motive, nor estimate the merit, Jenny muttered between her teeth, “Odd, when the first flight’s ower, Miss Edith taks it as easy as I do, and muckle easier, and I’m sure I ne’er cared half sae muckle about Cuddie Headrigg as she did about young Milnwood. Forby that, it’s maybe as weel to hae a friend on baith sides; for, if the whigs suld come to tak the Castle, as it’s like they may, when there’s sae little victual, and the dragoons wasting what’s o’t, ou, in that case, Milnwood and Cuddie wad hae the upper hand, and their freendship wad be worth siller — I was thinking sae this morning or I heard the news.”

With this consolatory reflection the damsel went about her usual occupations, leaving her mistress to school her mind as she best might, for eradicating the sentiments which she had hitherto entertained towards Henry Morton.

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