Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 26

The King hath drawn

The special head of all the land together.

Henry IV. Part II.

The leaders of the presbyterian army had a serious consultation upon the evening of the day in which they had made the attack on Tillietudlem. They could not but observe that their followers were disheartened by the loss which they had sustained, and which, as usual in such cases, had fallen upon the bravest and most forward. It was to be feared, that if they were suffered to exhaust their zeal and efforts in an object so secondary as the capture of this petty fort, their numbers would melt away by degrees, and they would lose all the advantages arising out of the present unprepared state of the government. Moved by these arguments, it was agreed that the main body of the army should march against Glasgow, and dislodge the soldiers who were lying in that town. The council nominated Henry Morton, with others, to this last service, and appointed Burley to the command of a chosen body of five hundred men, who were to remain behind, for the purpose of blockading the Tower of Tillietudlem. Morton testified the greatest repugnance to this arrangement.

“He had the strongest personal motives,” he said, “for desiring to remain near Tillietudlem; and if the management of the siege were committed to him, he had little doubt but that he would bring it to such an accommodation, as, without being rigorous to the besieged, would fully answer the purpose of the besiegers.”

Burley readily guessed the cause of his young colleague’s reluctance to move with the army; for, interested as he was in appreciating the characters with whom he had to deal, he had contrived, through the simplicity of Cuddie, and the enthusiasm of old Mause, to get much information concerning Morton’s relations with the family of Tillietudlem. He therefore took the advantage of Poundtext’s arising to speak to business, as he said, for some short space of time, (which Burley rightly interpreted to mean an hour at the very least), and seized that moment to withdraw Morton from the hearing of their colleagues, and to hold the following argument with him:

“Thou art unwise, Henry Morton, to desire to sacrifice this holy cause to thy friendship for an uncircumcised Philistine, or thy lust for a Moabitish woman.”

“I neither understand your meaning, Mr Balfour, nor relish your allusions,” replied Morton, indignantly; “and I know no reason you have to bring so gross a charge, or to use such uncivil language.”

“Confess, however, the truth,” said Balfour, “and own that there are those within yon dark Tower, over whom thou wouldst rather be watching like a mother over her little ones, than thou wouldst bear the banner of the Church of Scotland over the necks of her enemies.”

“If you mean, that I would willingly terminate this war without any bloody victory, and that I am more anxious to do this than to acquire any personal fame or power, you may be,” replied Morton, “perfectly right.”

“And not wholly wrong,” answered Burley, “in deeming that thou wouldst not exclude from so general a pacification thy friends in the garrison of Tillietudlem.”

“Certainly,” replied Morton; “I am too much obliged to Major Bellenden not to wish to be of service to him, as far as the interest of the cause I have espoused will permit. I never made a secret of my regard for him.”

“I am aware of that,” said Burley; “but, if thou hadst concealed it, I should, nevertheless, have found out thy riddle. Now, hearken to my words. This Miles Bellenden hath means to subsist his garrison for a month.”

“This is not the case,” answered Morton; “we know his stores are hardly equal to a week’s consumption.”

“Ay, but,” continued Burley, “I have since had proof, of the strongest nature, that such a report was spread in the garrison by that wily and grey-headed malignant, partly to prevail on the soldiers to submit to a diminution of their daily food, partly to detain us before the walls of his fortress until the sword should be whetted to smite and destroy us.”

“And why was not the evidence of this laid before the council of war?” said Morton.

“To what purpose?” said Balfour. “Why need we undeceive Kettledrummle, Macbriar, Poundtext, and Langcale, upon such a point? Thyself must own, that whatever is told to them escapes to the host out of the mouth of the preachers at their next holding-forth. They are already discouraged by the thoughts of lying before the fort a week. What would be the consequence were they ordered to prepare for the leaguer of a month?”

“But why conceal it, then, from me? or why tell it me now? and, above all, what proofs have you got of the fact?” continued Morton.

“There are many proofs,” replied Burley; and he put into his hands a number of requisitions sent forth by Major Bellenden, with receipts on the back to various proprietors, for cattle, corn, meal, to such an amount, that the sum total seemed to exclude the possibility of the garrison being soon distressed for provisions. But Burley did not inform Morton of a fact which he himself knew full well, namely, that most of these provisions never reached the garrison, owing to the rapacity of the dragoons sent to collect them, who readily sold to one man what they took from another, and abused the Major’s press for stores, pretty much as Sir John Falstaff did that of the King for men.

“And now,” continued Balfour, observing that he had made the desired impression, “I have only to say, that I concealed this from thee no longer than it was concealed from myself, for I have only received these papers this morning; and I tell it unto thee now, that thou mayest go on thy way rejoicing, and work the great work willingly at Glasgow, being assured that no evil can befall thy friends in the malignant party, since their fort is abundantly victualled, and I possess not numbers sufficient to do more against them than to prevent their sallying forth.”

“And why,” continued Morton, who felt an inexpressible reluctance to acquiesce in Balfour’s reasoning —“why not permit me to remain in the command of this smaller party, and march forward yourself to Glasgow? It is the more honourable charge.”

“And therefore, young man,” answered Burley, “have I laboured that it should be committed to the son of Silas Morton. I am waxing old, and this grey head has had enough of honour where it could be gathered by danger. I speak not of the frothy bubble which men call earthly fame, but the honour belonging to him that doth not the work negligently. But thy career is yet to run. Thou hast to vindicate the high trust which has been bestowed on thee through my assurance that it was dearly well-merited. At Loudon-hill thou wert a captive, and at the last assault it was thy part to fight under cover, whilst I led the more open and dangerous attack; and, shouldst thou now remain before these walls when there is active service elsewhere, trust me, that men will say, that the son of Silas Morton hath fallen away from the paths of his father.”

Stung by this last observation, to which, as a gentleman and soldier, he could offer no suitable reply, Morton hastily acquiesced in the proposed arrangement. Yet he was unable to divest himself of certain feelings of distrust which he involuntarily attached to the quarter from which he received this information.

“Mr Balfour,” he said, “let us distinctly understand each other. You have thought it worth your while to bestow particular attention upon my private affairs and personal attachments; be so good as to understand, that I am as constant to them as to my political principles. It is possible, that, during my absence, you may possess the power of soothing or of wounding those feelings. Be assured, that whatever may be the consequences to the issue of our present adventure, my eternal gratitude, or my persevering resentment, will attend the line of conduct you may adopt on such an occasion; and, however young and inexperienced I am, I have no doubt of finding friends to assist me in expressing my sentiments in either case.”

“If there be a threat implied in that denunciation,” replied Burley, coldly and haughtily, “it had better have been spared. I know how to value the regard of my friends, and despise, from my soul, the threats of my enemies. But I will not take occasion of offence. Whatever happens here in your absence shall be managed with as much deference to your wishes, as the duty I owe to a higher power can possibly permit.”

With this qualified promise Morton was obliged to rest satisfied.

“Our defeat will relieve the garrison,” said he, internally, “ere they can be reduced to surrender at discretion; and, in case of victory, I already see, from the numbers of the moderate party, that I shall have a voice as powerful as Burley’s in determining the use which shall be made of it.”

He therefore followed Balfour to the council, where they found Kettledrummle adding to his lastly a few words of practical application. When these were expended, Morton testified his willingness to accompany the main body of the army, which was destined to drive the regular troops from Glasgow. His companions in command were named, and the whole received a strengthening exhortation from the preachers who were present. Next morning, at break of day, the insurgent army broke up from their encampment, and marched towards Glasgow.

It is not our intention to detail at length incidents which may be found in the history of the period. It is sufficient to say, that Claverhouse and Lord Ross, learning the superior force which was directed against them, intrenched, or rather barricadoed themselves, in the centre of the city, where the town-house and old jail were situated, with the determination to stand the assault of the insurgents rather than to abandon the capital of the west of Scotland. The presbyterians made their attack in two bodies, one of which penetrated into the city in the line of the College and Cathedral Church, while the other marched up the Gallowgate, or principal access from the south-east. Both divisions were led by men of resolution, and behaved with great spirit. But the advantages of military skill and situation were too great for their undisciplined valour.

Ross and Claverhouse had carefully disposed parties of their soldiers in houses, at the heads of the streets, and in the entrances of closes, as they are called, or lanes, besides those who were intrenched behind breast-works which reached across the streets. The assailants found their ranks thinned by a fire from invisible opponents, which they had no means of returning with effect. It was in vain that Morton and other leaders exposed their persons with the utmost gallantry, and endeavoured to bring their antagonists to a close action; their followers shrunk from them in every direction. And yet, though Henry Morton was one of the very last to retire, and exerted himself in bringing up the rear, maintaining order in the retreat, and checking every attempt which the enemy made to improve the advantage they had gained by the repulse, he had still the mortification to hear many of those in his ranks muttering to each other, that “this came of trusting to latitudinarian boys; and that, had honest, faithful Burley led the attack, as he did that of the barricades of Tillietudlem, the issue would have been as different as might be.”

It was with burning resentment that Morton heard these reflections thrown out by the very men who had soonest exhibited signs of discouragement. The unjust reproach, however, had the effect of firing his emulation, and making him sensible that, engaged as he was in a perilous cause, it was absolutely necessary that he should conquer or die.

“I have no retreat,” he said to himself. “All shall allow — even Major Bellenden — even Edith — that in courage, at least, the rebel Morton was not inferior to his father.”

The condition of the army after the repulse was so undisciplined, and in such disorganization, that the leaders thought it prudent to draw off some miles from the city to gain time for reducing them once more into such order as they were capable of adopting. Recruits, in the meanwhile, came fast in, more moved by the extreme hardships of their own condition, and encouraged by the advantage obtained at Loudon-hill, than deterred by the last unfortunate enterprise. Many of these attached themselves particularly to Morton’s division. He had, however, the mortification to see that his unpopularity among the more intolerant part of the Covenanters increased rapidly. The prudence beyond his years, which he exhibited in improving the discipline and arrangement of his followers, they termed a trusting in the arm of flesh, and his avowed tolerance for those of religious sentiments and observances different from his own, obtained him, most unjustly, the nickname of Gallio, who cared for none of those things. What was worse than these misconceptions, the mob of the insurgents, always loudest in applause of those who push political or religious opinions to extremity, and disgusted with such as endeavour to reduce them to the yoke of discipline, preferred avowedly the more zealous leaders, in whose ranks enthusiasm in the cause supplied the want of good order and military subjection, to the restraints which Morton endeavoured to bring them under. In short, while bearing the principal burden of command, (for his colleagues willingly relinquished in his favour every thing that was troublesome and obnoxious in the office of general,) Morton found himself without that authority, which alone could render his regulations effectual. 25

Yet, notwithstanding these obstacles, he had, during the course of a few days, laboured so hard to introduce some degree of discipline into the army, that he thought he might hazard a second attack upon Glasgow with every prospect of success.

It cannot be doubted that Morton’s anxiety to measure himself with Colonel Grahame of Claverhouse, at whose hands he had sustained such injury, had its share in giving motive to his uncommon exertions. But Claverhouse disappointed his hopes; for, satisfied with having the advantage in repulsing the first attack upon Glasgow, he determined that he would not, with the handful of troops under his command, await a second assault from the insurgents, with more numerous and better disciplined forces than had supported their first enterprise. He therefore evacuated the place, and marched at the head of his troops towards Edinburgh. The insurgents of course entered Glasgow without resistance, and without Morton having the opportunity, which he so deeply coveted, of again encountering Claverhouse personally. But, although he had not an opportunity of wiping away the disgrace which had befallen his division of the army of the Covenant, the retreat of Claverhouse, and the possession of Glasgow, tended greatly to animate the insurgent army, and to increase its numbers. The necessity of appointing new officers, of organizing new regiments and squadrons, of making them acquainted with at least the most necessary points of military discipline, were labours, which, by universal consent, seemed to be devolved upon Henry Morton, and which he the more readily undertook, because his father had made him acquainted with the theory of the military art, and because he plainly saw, that, unless he took this ungracious but absolutely necessary labour, it was vain to expect any other to engage in it.

In the meanwhile, fortune appeared to favour the enterprise of the insurgents more than the most sanguine durst have expected. The Privy Council of Scotland, astonished at the extent of resistance which their arbitrary measures had provoked, seemed stupified with terror, and incapable of taking active steps to subdue the resentment which these measures had excited. There were but very few troops in Scotland, and these they drew towards Edinburgh, as if to form an army for protection of the metropolis. The feudal array of the crown vassals in the various counties, was ordered to take the field, and render to the King the military service due for their fiefs. But the summons was very slackly obeyed. The quarrel was not generally popular among the gentry; and even those who were not unwilling themselves to have taken arms, were deterred by the repugnance of their wives, mothers, and sisters, to their engaging in such a cause.

Meanwhile, the inadequacy of the Scottish government to provide for their own defence, or to put down a rebellion of which the commencement seemed so trifling, excited at the English court doubts at once of their capacity, and of the prudence of the severities they had exerted against the oppressed presbyterians. It was, therefore, resolved to nominate to the command of the army of Scotland, the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth, who had by marriage a great interest, large estate, and a numerous following, as it was called, in the southern parts of that kingdom. The military skill which he had displayed on different occasions abroad, was supposed more than adequate to subdue the insurgents in the field; while it was expected that his mild temper, and the favourable disposition which he showed to presbyterians in general, might soften men’s minds, and tend to reconcile them to the government. The Duke was, therefore, invested with a commission, containing high powers for settling the distracted affairs of Scotland, and dispatched from London with strong succours to take the principal military command in that country.

25 These feuds, which tore to pieces the little army of insurgents, turned merely on the point whether the king’s interest or royal authority was to be owned or not, and whether the party in arms were to be contented with a free exercise of their own religion, or insist upon the re-establishment of Presbytery in its supreme authority, and with full power to predominate over all other forms of worship. The few country gentlemen who joined the insurrection, with the most sensible part of the clergy, thought it best to limit their demands to what it might be possible to attain. But the party who urged these moderate views were termed by the more zealous bigots, the Erastian party, men, namely, who were willing to place the church under the influence of the civil government, and therefore they accounted them, “a snare upon Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor.” See the Life of Sir Robert Hamilton in the Scottish Worthies, and his account of the Battle of Both-well-bridge, passim.

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