Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 27

I am bound to Bothwell-hill,

Where I maun either do or die.

Old Ballad.

The Battle of Bothwell Bridge
The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

There was now a pause in the military movements on both sides. The government seemed contented to prevent the rebels advancing towards the capital, while the insurgents were intent upon augmenting and strengthening their forces. For this purpose, they established a sort of encampment in the park belonging to the ducal residence at Hamilton, a centrical situation for receiving their recruits, and where they were secured from any sudden attack, by having the Clyde, a deep and rapid river, in front of their position, which is only passable by a long and narrow bridge, near the castle and village of Bothwell.

Morton remained here for about a fortnight after the attack on Glasgow, actively engaged in his military duties. He had received more than one communication from Burley, but they only stated, in general, that the Castle of Tillietudlem continued to hold out. Impatient of suspense upon this most interesting subject, he at length intimated to his colleagues in command his desire, or rather his intention — for he saw no reason why he should not assume a license which was taken by every one else in this disorderly army — to go to Milnwood for a day or two to arrange some private affairs of consequence. The proposal was by no means approved of; for the military council of the insurgents were sufficiently sensible of the value of his services to fear to lose them, and felt somewhat conscious of their own inability to supply his place. They could not, however, pretend to dictate to him laws more rigid than they submitted to themselves, and he was suffered to depart on his journey without any direct objection being stated. The Reverend Mr Poundtext took the same opportunity to pay a visit to his own residence in the neighbourhood of Milnwood, and favoured Morton with his company on the journey. As the country was chiefly friendly to their cause, and in possession of their detached parties, excepting here and there the stronghold of some old cavaliering Baron, they travelled without any other attendant than the faithful Cuddie.

It was near sunset when they reached Milnwood, where Poundtext bid adieu to his companions, and travelled forward alone to his own manse, which was situated half a mile’s march beyond Tillietudlem. When Morton was left alone to his own reflections, with what a complication of feelings did he review the woods, banks, and fields, that had been familiar to him! His character, as well as his habits, thoughts, and occupations, had been entirely changed within the space of little more than a fortnight, and twenty days seemed to have done upon him the work of as many years. A mild, romantic, gentle-tempered youth, bred up in dependence, and stooping patiently to the control of a sordid and tyrannical relation, had suddenly, by the rod of oppression and the spur of injured feeling, been compelled to stand forth a leader of armed men, was earnestly engaged in affairs of a public nature, had friends to animate and enemies to contend with, and felt his individual fate bound up in that of a national insurrection and revolution. It seemed as if he had at once experienced a transition from the romantic dreams of youth to the labours and cares of active manhood. All that had formerly interested him was obliterated from his memory, excepting only his attachment to Edith; and even his love seemed to have assumed a character more manly and disinterested, as it had become mingled and contrasted with other duties and feelings. As he revolved the particulars of this sudden change, the circumstances in which it originated, and the possible consequences of his present career, the thrill of natural anxiety which passed along his mind was immediately banished by a glow of generous and high-spirited confidence.

“I shall fall young,” he said, “if fall I must, my motives misconstrued, and my actions condemned, by those whose approbation is dearest to me. But the sword of liberty and patriotism is in my hand, and I will neither fall meanly nor unavenged. They may expose my body, and gibbet my limbs; but other days will come, when the sentence of infamy will recoil against those who may pronounce it. And that Heaven, whose name is so often profaned during this unnatural war, will bear witness to the purity of the motives by which I have been guided.”

Upon approaching Milnwood, Henry’s knock upon the gate no longer intimated the conscious timidity of a stripling who has been out of bounds, but the confidence of a man in full possession of his own rights, and master of his own actions — bold, free, and decided. The door was cautiously opened by his old acquaintance, Mrs Alison Wilson, who started back when she saw the steel cap and nodding plume of the martial visitor.

“Where is my uncle, Alison?” said Morton, smiling at her alarm.

“Lordsake, Mr Harry! is this you?” returned the old lady. “In troth, ye garr’d my heart loup to my very mouth — But it canna be your ainsell, for ye look taller and mair manly-like than ye used to do.”

“It is, however, my own self,” said Henry, sighing and smiling at the same time; “I believe this dress may make me look taller, and these times, Ailie, make men out of boys.”

“Sad times indeed!” echoed the old woman; “and O that you suld be endangered wi’them! but wha can help it? — ye were ill eneugh guided, and, as I tell your uncle, if ye tread on a worm it will turn.”

“You were always my advocate, Ailie,” said he, and the housekeeper no longer resented the familiar epithet, “and would let no one blame me but yourself, I am aware of that — Where is my uncle?”

“In Edinburgh,” replied Alison; “the honest man thought it was best to gang and sit by the chimley when the reek rase — a vex’d man he’s been and a feared — but ye ken the Laird as weel as I do.”

“I hope he has suffered nothing in health?” said Henry.

“Naething to speak of,” answered the housekeeper, “nor in gudes neither — we fended as weel as we could; and, though the troopers of Tillietudlem took the red cow and auld Hackie, (ye’ll mind them weel;) yet they sauld us a gude bargain o’ four they were driving to the Castle.”

“Sold you a bargain?” said Morton; “how do you mean?”

“Ou, they cam out to gather marts for the garrison,” answered the housekeeper; “but they just fell to their auld trade, and rade through the country couping and selling a’ that they gat, like sae mony west-country drovers. My certie, Major Bellenden was laird o’ the least share o’ what they lifted, though it was taen in his name.”

“Then,” said Morton, hastily, “the garrison must be straitened for provisions?”

“Stressed eneugh,” replied Ailie —“there’s little doubt o’ that.”

A light instantly glanced on Morton’s mind.

“Burley must have deceived me — craft as well as cruelty is permitted by his creed.” Such was his inward thought; he said aloud, “I cannot stay, Mrs Wilson, I must go forward directly.”

“But, oh! bide to eat a mouthfu’,” entreated the affectionate housekeeper, “and I’ll mak it ready for you as I used to do afore thae sad days,” “It is impossible,” answered Morton. —“Cuddie, get our horses ready.”

“They’re just eating their corn,” answered the attendant.

“Cuddie!” exclaimed Ailie; “what garr’d ye bring that ill-faur’d, unlucky loon alang wi’ ye? — It was him and his randie mother began a’ the mischief in this house.”

“Tut, tut,” replied Cuddie, “ye should forget and forgie, mistress. Mither’s in Glasgow wi’ her tittie, and sall plague ye nae mair; and I’m the Captain’s wallie now, and I keep him tighter in thack and rape than ever ye did; — saw ye him ever sae weel put on as he is now?”

“In troth and that’s true,” said the old housekeeper, looking with great complacency at her young master, whose mien she thought much improved by his dress. “I’m sure ye ne’er had a laced cravat like that when ye were at Milnwood; that’s nane o’ my sewing.”

“Na, na, mistress,” replied Cuddie, “that’s a cast o’ my hand — that’s ane o’ Lord Evandale’s braws.”

“Lord Evandale?” answered the old lady, “that’s him that the whigs are gaun to hang the morn, as I hear say.”

“The whigs about to hang Lord Evandale?” said Morton, in the greatest surprise.

“Ay, troth are they,” said the housekeeper. “Yesterday night he made a sally, as they ca’t, (my mother’s name was Sally — I wonder they gie Christian folk’s names to sic unchristian doings,)— but he made an outbreak to get provisions, and his men were driven back and he was taen, ‘an’ the whig Captain Balfour garr’d set up a gallows, and swore, (or said upon his conscience, for they winna swear,) that if the garrison was not gien ower the morn by daybreak, he would hing up the young lord, poor thing, as high as Haman. — These are sair times! — but folk canna help them — sae do ye sit down and tak bread and cheese until better meat’s made ready. Ye suldna hae kend a word about it, an I had thought it was to spoil your dinner, hinny.”

“Fed, or unfed,” exclaimed Morton, “saddle the horses instantly, Cuddie. We must not rest until we get before the Castle.”

And, resisting all Ailie’s entreaties, they instantly resumed their journey.

Morton failed not to halt at the dwelling of Poundtext, and summon him to attend him to the camp. That honest divine had just resumed for an instant his pacific habits, and was perusing an ancient theological treatise, with a pipe in his mouth, and a small jug of ale beside him, to assist his digestion of the argument. It was with bitter ill-will that he relinquished these comforts (which he called his studies) in order to recommence a hard ride upon a high-trotting horse. However, when he knew the matter in hand, he gave up, with a deep groan, the prospect of spending a quiet evening in his own little parlour; for he entirely agreed with Morton, that whatever interest Burley might have in rendering the breach between the presbyterians and the government irreconcilable, by putting the young nobleman to death, it was by no means that of the moderate party to permit such an act of atrocity. And it is but doing justice to Mr Poundtext to add, that, like most of his own persuasion, he was decidedly adverse to any such acts of unnecessary violence; besides, that his own present feelings induced him to listen with much complacence to the probability held out by Morton, of Lord Evandale’s becoming a mediator for the establishment of peace upon fair and moderate terms. With this similarity of views, they hastened their journey, and arrived about eleven o’clock at night at a small hamlet adjacent to the Castle at Tillietudlem, where Burley had established his head-quarters.

They were challenged by the sentinel, who made his melancholy walk at the entrance of the hamlet, and admitted upon declaring their names and authority in the army. Another soldier kept watch before a house, which they conjectured to be the place of Lord Evandale’s confinement, for a gibbet of such great height as to be visible from the battlements of the Castle, was erected before it, in melancholy confirmation of the truth of Mrs Wilson’s report. 26 Morton instantly demanded to speak with Burley, and was directed to his quarters. They found him reading the Scriptures, with his arms lying beside him, as if ready for any sudden alarm. He started upon the entrance of his colleagues in office.

“What has brought ye hither?” said Burley, hastily. “Is there bad news from the army?”

“No,” replied Morton; “but we understand that there are measures adopted here in which the safety of the army is deeply concerned — Lord Evandale is your prisoner?”

“The Lord,” replied Burley, “hath delivered him into our hands.”

“And you will avail yourself of that advantage, granted you by Heaven, to dishonour our cause in the eyes of all the world, by putting a prisoner to an ignominious death?”

“If the house of Tillietudlem be not surrendered by daybreak,” replied Burley, “God do so to me and more also, if he shall not die that death to which his leader and patron, John Grahame of Claverhouse, hath put so many of God’s saints.”

“We are in arms,” replied Morton, “to put down such cruelties, and not to imitate them, far less to avenge upon the innocent the acts of the guilty. By what law can you justify the atrocity you would commit?”

“If thou art ignorant of it,” replied Burley, “thy companion is well aware of the law which gave the men of Jericho to the sword of Joshua, the son of Nun.”

“But we,” answered the divine, “live under a better dispensation, which instructeth us to return good for evil, and to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us.”

“That is to say,” said Burley, “that thou wilt join thy grey hairs to his green youth to controvert me in this matter?”

“We are,” rejoined Poundtext, “two of those to whom, jointly with thyself, authority is delegated over this host, and we will not permit thee to hurt a hair of the prisoner’s head. It may please God to make him a means of healing these unhappy breaches in our Israel.”

“I judged it would come to this,” answered Burley, “when such as thou wert called into the council of the elders.”

“Such as I?” answered Poundtext — “And who am I, that you should name me with such scorn? — Have I not kept the flock of this sheep-fold from the wolves for thirty years? Ay, even while thou, John Balfour, wert fighting in the ranks of uncircumcision, a Philistine of hardened brow and bloody hand — Who am I, say’st thou?”

“I will tell thee what thou art, since thou wouldst so fain know,” said Burley. “Thou art one of those, who would reap where thou hast not sowed, and divide the spoil while others fight the battle — thou art one of those that follow the gospel for the loaves and for the fishes — that love their own manse better than the Church of God, and that would rather draw their stipends under prelatists or heathens, than be a partaker with those noble spirits who have cast all behind them for the sake of the Covenant.”

“And I will tell thee, John Balfour,” returned Poundtext, deservedly incensed, “I will tell thee what thou art. Thou art one of those, for whose bloody and merciless disposition a reproach is flung upon the whole church of this suffering kingdom, and for whose violence and blood-guiltiness, it is to be feared, this fair attempt to recover our civil and religious rights will never be honoured by Providence with the desired success.”

“Gentlemen,” said Morton, “cease this irritating and unavailing recrimination; and do you, Mr Balfour, inform us, whether it is your purpose to oppose the liberation of Lord Evandale, which appears to us a profitable measure in the present position of our affairs?”

“You are here,” answered Burley, “as two voices against one; but you will not refuse to tarry until the united council shall decide upon this matter?”

“This,” said Morton, “we would not decline, if we could trust the hands in whom we are to leave the prisoner. — But you know well,” he added, looking sternly at Burley, “that you have already deceived me in this matter.”

“Go to,” said Burley, disdainfully — “thou art an idle inconsiderate boy, who, for the black eyebrows of a silly girl, would barter thy own faith and honour, and the cause of God and of thy country.”

“Mr Balfour,” said Morton, laying his hand on his sword, “this language requires satisfaction.”

“And thou shalt have it, stripling, when and where thou darest,” said Burley; “I plight thee my good word on it.”

Poundtext, in his turn, interfered to remind them of the madness of quarrelling, and effected with difficulty a sort of sullen reconciliation.

“Concerning the prisoner,” said Burley, “deal with him as ye think fit. I wash my hands free from all consequences. He is my prisoner, made by my sword and spear, while you, Mr Morton, were playing the adjutant at drills and parades, and you, Mr Poundtext, were warping the Scriptures into Erastianism. Take him unto you, nevertheless, and dispose of him as ye think meet. — Dingwall,” he continued, calling a sort of aid-de-camp, who slept in the next apartment, “let the guard posted on the malignant Evandale give up their post to those whom Captain Morton shall appoint to relieve them. — The prisoner,” he said, again addressing Poundtext and Morton, “is now at your disposal, gentlemen. But remember, that for all these things there will one day come a term of heavy accounting.”

So saying, he turned abruptly into an inner apartment, without bidding them good evening. His two visitors, after a moment’s consideration, agreed it would be prudent to ensure the prisoner’s personal safety, by placing over him an additional guard, chosen from their own parishioners. A band of them happened to be stationed in the hamlet, having been attached, for the time, to Burley’s command, in order that the men might be gratified by remaining as long as possible near to their own homes. They were, in general, smart, active young fellows, and were usually called by their companions, the Marksmen of Milnwood. By Morton’s desire, four of these lads readily undertook the task of sentinels, and he left with them Headrigg, on whose fidelity he could depend, with instructions to call him, if any thing remarkable happened.

This arrangement being made, Morton and his colleague took possession, for the night, of such quarters as the over-crowded and miserable hamlet could afford them. They did not, however, separate for repose till they had drawn up a memorial of the grievances of the moderate presbyterians, which was summed up with a request of free toleration for their religion in future, and that they should be permitted to attend gospel ordinances as dispensed by their own clergymen, without oppression or molestation. Their petition proceeded to require that a free parliament should be called for settling the affairs of church and state, and for redressing the injuries sustained by the subject; and that all those who either now were, or had been, in arms, for obtaining these ends, should be indemnified. Morton could not but strongly hope that these terms, which comprehended all that was wanted, or wished for, by the moderate party among the insurgents, might, when thus cleared of the violence of fanaticism, find advocates even among the royalists, as claiming only the ordinary rights of Scottish freemen.

He had the more confidence of a favourable reception, that the Duke of Monmouth, to whom Charles had intrusted the charge of subduing this rebellion, was a man of gentle, moderate, and accessible disposition, well known to be favourable to the presbyterians, and invested by the king with full powers to take measures for quieting the disturbances in Scotland. It seemed to Morton, that all that was necessary for influencing him in their favour was to find a fit and sufficiently respectable channel of communication, and such seemed to be opened through the medium of Lord Evandale. He resolved, therefore, to visit the prisoner early in the morning, in order to sound his dispositions to undertake the task of mediator; but an accident happened which led him to anticipate his purpose.

26 The Cameronians had suffered persecution, but it was without learning mercy. We are informed by Captain Crichton, that they had set up in their camp a huge gibbet, or gallows, having many hooks upon it, with a coil of new ropes lying beside it, for the execution of such royalists as they might make prisoners. Guild, in his Bellum Bothuellianum, describes this machine particularly.

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