Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 28

Gie ower your house, lady, he said —

Gie ower your house to me.

Edom of Gordon.

Morton had finished the revisal and the making out of a fair copy of the paper on which he and Poundtext had agreed to rest as a full statement of the grievances of their party, and the conditions on which the greater part of the insurgents would be contented to lay down their arms; and he was about to betake himself to repose, when there was a knocking at the door of his apartment.

“Enter,” said Morton; and the round bullethead of Cuddie Headrigg was thrust into the room. “Come in,” said Morton, “and tell me what you want. Is there any alarm?”

“Na, stir; but I hae brought ane to speak wi’ you.”

“Who is that, Cuddie?” enquired Morton.

“Ane o’ your auld acquaintance,” said Cuddie; and, opening the door more fully, he half led, half dragged in a woman, whose face was muffled in her plaid. —“Come, come, ye needna be sae bashfu’ before auld acquaintance, Jenny,” said Cuddie, pulling down the veil, and discovering to his master the well-remembered countenance of Jenny Dennison. “Tell his honour, now — there’s a braw lass — tell him what ye were wanting to say to Lord Evandale, mistress.”

“What was I wanting to say,” answered Jenny, “to his honour himsell the other morning, when I visited him in captivity, ye muckle hash? — D’ye think that folk dinna want to see their friends in adversity, ye dour crowdy-eater?”

This reply was made with Jenny’s usual volubility; but her voice quivered, her cheek was thin and pale, the tears stood in her eyes, her hand trembled, her manner was fluttered, and her whole presence bore marks of recent suffering and privation, as well as nervous and hysterical agitation.

“What is the matter, Jenny?” said Morton, kindly. “You know how much I owe you in many respects, and can hardly make a request that I will not grant, if in my power.”

“Many thanks, Milnwood,” said the weeping damsel; “but ye were aye a kind gentleman, though folk say ye hae become sair changed now.”

“What do they say of me?” answered Morton.

“A’ body says,” replied Jenny, “that you and the whigs hae made a vow to ding King Charles aff the throne, and that neither he, nor his posteriors from generation to generation, shall sit upon it ony mair; and John Gudyill threeps ye’re to gie a’ the church organs to the pipers, and burn the Book o’ Common-prayer by the hands of the common hangman, in revenge of the Covenant that was burnt when the king cam hame.”

“My friends at Tillietudlem judge too hastily and too ill of me,” answered Morton. “I wish to have free exercise of my own religion, without insulting any other; and as to your family, I only desire an opportunity to show them I have the same friendship and kindness as ever.”

“Bless your kind heart for saying sae,” said Jenny, bursting into a flood of tears; “and they never needed kindness or friendship mair, for they are famished for lack o’ food.”

“Good God!” replied Morton, “I have heard of scarcity, but not of famine! It is possible? — Have the ladies and the Major”—

“They hae suffered like the lave o’ us,” replied Jenny; “for they shared every bit and sup wi’ the whole folk in the Castle — I’m sure my poor een see fifty colours wi’ faintness, and my head’s sae dizzy wi’ the mirligoes that I canna stand my lane.”

The thinness of the poor girl’s cheek, and the sharpness of her features, bore witness to the truth of what she said. Morton was greatly shocked.

“Sit down,” he said, “for God’s sake!” forcing her into the only chair the apartment afforded, while he himself strode up and down the room in horror and impatience. “I knew not of this,” he exclaimed in broken ejaculations — “I could not know of it. — Cold-blooded, iron-hearted fanatic — deceitful villain! — Cuddie, fetch refreshments — food — wine, if possible — whatever you can find.”

“Whisky is gude eneugh for her,” muttered Cuddie; “ane wadna hae thought that gude meal was sae scant amang them, when the quean threw sae muckle gude kail-brose scalding het about my lugs.”

Faint and miserable as Jenny seemed to be, she could not hear the allusion to her exploit during the storm of the Castle, without bursting into a laugh which weakness soon converted into a hysterical giggle. Confounded at her state, and reflecting with horror on the distress which must have been in the Castle, Morton repeated his commands to Headrigg in a peremptory manner; and when he had departed, endeavoured to soothe his visitor.

“You come, I suppose, by the orders of your mistress, to visit Lord Evandale? — Tell me what she desires; her orders shall be my law.”

Jenny appeared to reflect a moment, and then said, “Your honour is sae auld a friend, I must needs trust to you, and tell the truth.”

“Be assured, Jenny,” said Morton, observing that she hesitated, “that you will best serve your mistress by dealing sincerely with me.”

“Weel, then, ye maun ken we’re starving, as I said before, and have been mair days than ane; and the Major has sworn that he expects relief daily, and that he will not gie ower the house to the enemy till we have eaten up his auld boots — and they are unco thick in the soles, as ye may weel mind, forby being teugh in the upper-leather. The dragoons, again, they think they will be forced to gie up at last, and they canna bide hunger weel, after the life they led at free quarters for this while bypast; and since Lord Evandale’s taen, there’s nae guiding them; and Inglis says he’ll gie up the garrison to the whigs, and the Major and the leddies into the bargain, if they will but let the troopers gang free themsells.”

“Scoundrels!” said Morton; “why do they not make terms for all in the Castle?”

“They are fear’d for denial o’ quarter to themsells, having dune sae muckle mischief through the country; and Burley has hanged ane or twa o’ them already — sae they want to draw their ain necks out o’ the collar at hazard o’ honest folk’s.”

“And you were sent,” continued Morton, “to carry to Lord Evandale the unpleasant news of the men’s mutiny?”

“Just e’en sae,” said Jenny; “Tam Halliday took the rue, and tauld me a’ about it, and gat me out o’ the Castle to tell Lord Evandale, if possibly I could win at him.”

“But how can he help you?” said Morton; “he is a prisoner.”

“Well-a-day, ay,” answered the afflicted damsel; “but maybe he could mak fair terms for us — or, maybe, he could gie us some good advice — or, maybe, he might send his orders to the dragoons to be civil — or”—

“Or, maybe,” said Morton, “you were to try if it were possible to set him at liberty?”

“If it were sae,” answered Jenny with spirit, “it wadna be the first time I hae done my best to serve a friend in captivity.”

“True, Jenny,” replied Morton, “I were most ungrateful to forget it. But here comes Cuddie with refreshments — I will go and do your errand to Lord Evandale, while you take some food and wine.”

“It willna be amiss ye should ken,” said Cuddie to his master, “that this Jenny — this Mrs Dennison, was trying to cuittle favour wi’ Tam Rand, the miller’s man, to win into Lord Evandale’s room without ony body kennin’. She wasna thinking, the gipsy, that I was at her elbow.”

“And an unco fright ye gae me when ye cam ahint and took a grip o’ me,” said Jenny, giving him a sly twitch with her finger and her thumb —“if ye hadna been an auld acquaintance, ye daft gomeril”—

Cuddie, somewhat relenting, grinned a smile on his artful mistress, while Morton wrapped himself up in his cloak, took his sword under his arm, and went straight to the place of the young nobleman’s confinement. He asked the sentinels if any thing extraordinary had occurred.

“Nothing worth notice,” they said, “excepting the lass that Cuddie took up, and two couriers that Captain Balfour had dispatched, one to the Reverend Ephraim Macbriar, another to Kettledrummle,” both of whom were beating the drum ecclesiastic in different towns between the position of Burley and the head-quarters of the main army near Hamilton.

“The purpose, I presume,” said Morton, with an affectation of indifference, “was to call them hither.”

“So I understand,” answered the sentinel, who had spoke with the messengers.

He is summoning a triumphant majority of the council, thought Morton to himself, for the purpose of sanctioning whatever action of atrocity he may determine upon, and thwarting opposition by authority. I must be speedy, or I shall lose my opportunity.

When he entered the place of Lord Evandale’s confinement, he found him ironed, and reclining on a flock bed in the wretched garret of a miserable cottage. He was either in a slumber, or in deep meditation, when Morton entered, and turned on him, when aroused, a countenance so much reduced by loss of blood, want of sleep, and scarcity of food, that no one could have recognised in it the gallant soldier who had behaved with so much spirit at the skirmish of Loudon-hill. He displayed some surprise at the sudden entrance of Morton.

“I am sorry to see you thus, my lord,” said that youthful leader.

“I have heard you are an admirer of poetry,” answered the prisoner; “in that case, Mr Morton, you may remember these lines —

‘Stone walls do not a prison make,

Or iron bars a cage;

A free and quiet mind can take

These for a hermitage.’

But, were my imprisonment less endurable, I am given to expect tomorrow a total enfranchisement.”

“By death?” said Morton.

“Surely,” answered Lord Evandale; “I have no other prospect. Your comrade, Burley, has already dipped his hand in the blood of men whose meanness of rank and obscurity of extraction might have saved them. I cannot boast such a shield from his vengeance, and I expect to meet its extremity.”

“But Major Bellenden,” said Morton, “may surrender, in order to preserve your life.”

“Never, while there is one man to defend the battlement, and that man has one crust to eat. I know his gallant resolution, and grieved should I be if he changed it for my sake.”

Morton hastened to acquaint him with the mutiny among the dragoons, and their resolution to surrender the Castle, and put the ladies of the family, as well as the Major, into the hands of the enemy. Lord Evandale seemed at first surprised, and something incredulous, but immediately afterwards deeply affected.

“What is to be done?” he said —“How is this misfortune to be averted?”

“Hear me, my lord,” said Morton. “I believe you may not be unwilling to bear the olive branch between our master the King, and that part of his subjects which is now in arms, not from choice, but necessity.”

“You construe me but justly,” said Lord Evandale; “but to what does this tend?”

“Permit me, my lord”— continued Morton. “I will set you at liberty upon parole; nay, you may return to the Castle, and shall have a safe conduct for the ladies, the Major, and all who leave it, on condition of its instant surrender. In contributing to bring this about you will only submit to circumstances; for, with a mutiny in the garrison, and without provisions, it will be found impossible to defend the place twenty-four hours longer. Those, therefore, who refuse to accompany your lordship, must take their fate. You and your followers shall have a free pass to Edinburgh, or where-ever the Duke of Monmouth may be. In return for your liberty, we hope that you will recommend to the notice of his Grace, as Lieutenant-General of Scotland, this humble petition and remonstrance, containing the grievances which have occasioned this insurrection, a redress of which being granted, I will answer with my head, that the great body of the insurgents will lay down their arms.”

Lord Evandale read over the paper with attention.

“Mr Morton,” he said, “in my simple judgment, I see little objection that can be made to the measure here recommended; nay, farther, I believe, in many respects, they may meet the private sentiments of the Duke of Monmouth: and yet, to deal frankly with you, I have no hopes of their being granted, unless, in the first place, you were to lay down your arms.”

“The doing so,” answered Morton, “would be virtually conceding that we had no right to take them up; and that, for one, I will never agree to.”

“Perhaps it is hardly to be expected you should,” said Lord Evandale; “and yet on that point I am certain the negotiations will be wrecked. I am willing, however, having frankly told you my opinion, to do all in my power to bring about a reconciliation.”

“It is all we can wish or expect,” replied Morton; “the issue is in God’s hands, who disposes the hearts of princes. — You accept, then, the safe conduct?”

“Certainly,” answered Lord Evandale; “and if I do not enlarge upon the obligation incurred by your having saved my life a second time, believe that I do not feel it the less.”

“And the garrison of Tillietudlem?” said Morton.

“Shall be withdrawn as you propose,” answered the young nobleman. “I am sensible the Major will be unable to bring the mutineers to reason; and I tremble to think of the consequences, should the ladies and the brave old man be delivered up to this bloodthirsty ruffian, Burley.”

“You are in that case free,” said Morton. “Prepare to mount on horseback; a few men whom I can trust shall attend you till you are in safety from our parties.”

Leaving Lord Evandale in great surprise and joy at this unexpected deliverance, Morton hastened to get a few chosen men under arms and on horseback, each rider holding the rein of a spare horse. Jenny, who, while she partook of her refreshment, had contrived to make up her breach with Cuddie, rode on the left hand of that valiant cavalier. The tramp of their horses was soon heard under the window of Lord Evandale’s prison. Two men, whom he did not know, entered the apartment, disencumbered him of his fetters, and, conducting him down stairs, mounted him in the centre of the detachment. They set out at a round trot towards Tillietudlem.

The moonlight was giving way to the dawn when they approached that ancient fortress, and its dark massive tower had just received the first pale colouring of the morning. The party halted at the Tower barrier, not venturing to approach nearer for fear of the fire of the place. Lord Evandale alone rode up to the gate, followed at a distance by Jenny Dennison. As they approached the gate, there was heard to arise in the court-yard a tumult, which accorded ill with the quiet serenity of a summer dawn. Cries and oaths were heard, a pistol-shot or two were discharged, and every thing announced that the mutiny had broken out. At this crisis Lord Evandale arrived at the gate where Halliday was sentinel. On hearing Lord Evandale’s voice, he instantly and gladly admitted him, and that nobleman arrived among the mutinous troopers like a man dropped from the clouds. They were in the act of putting their design into execution, of seizing the place into their own hands, and were about to disarm and overpower Major Bellenden and Harrison, and others of the Castle, who were offering the best resistance in their power.

The appearance of Lord Evandale changed the scene. He seized Inglis by the collar, and, upbraiding him with his villainy, ordered two of his comrades to seize and bind him, assuring the others, that their only chance of impunity consisted in instant submission. He then ordered the men into their ranks. They obeyed. He commanded them to ground their arms. They hesitated; but the instinct of discipline, joined to their persuasion that the authority of their officer, so boldly exerted, must be supported by some forces without the gate, induced them to submit.

“Take away those arms,” said Lord Evandale to the people of the Castle; “they shall not be restored until these men know better the use for which they are intrusted with them. — And now,” he continued, addressing the mutineers, “begone! — Make the best use of your time, and of a truce of three hours, which the enemy are contented to allow you. Take the road to Edinburgh, and meet me at the House-of-Muir. I need not bid you beware of committing violence by the way; you will not, in your present condition, provoke resentment for your own sakes. Let your punctuality show that you mean to atone for this morning’s business.”

The disarmed soldiers shrunk in silence from the presence of their officer, and, leaving the Castle, took the road to the place of rendezvous, making such haste as was inspired by the fear of meeting with some detached party of the insurgents, whom their present defenceless condition, and their former violence, might inspire with thoughts of revenge. Inglis, whom Evandale destined for punishment, remained in custody. Halliday was praised for his conduct, and assured of succeeding to the rank of the culprit. These arrangements being hastily made, Lord Evandale accosted the Major, before whose eyes the scene had seemed to pass like the change of a dream.

“My dear Major, we must give up the place.”

“Is it even so?” said Major Bellenden. “I was in hopes you had brought reinforcements and supplies.”

“Not a man — not a pound of meal,” answered Lord Evandale.

“Yet I am blithe to see you,” returned the honest Major; “we were informed yesterday that these psalm-singing rascals had a plot on your life, and I had mustered the scoundrelly dragoons ten minutes ago in order to beat up Burley’s quarters and get you out of limbo, when the dog Inglis, instead of obeying me, broke out into open mutiny. — But what is to be done now?”

“I have, myself, no choice,” said Lord Evandale; “I am a prisoner, released on parole, and bound for Edinburgh. You and the ladies must take the same route. I have, by the favour of a friend, a safe conduct and horses for you and your retinue — for God’s sake make haste — you cannot propose to hold out with seven or eight men, and without provisions — Enough has been done for honour, and enough to render the defence of the highest consequence to government. More were needless, as well as desperate. The English troops are arrived at Edinburgh, and will speedily move upon Hamilton. The possession of Tillietudlem by the rebels will be but temporary.”

“If you think so, my lord,” said the veteran, with a reluctant sigh — “I know you only advise what is honourable — if, then, you really think the case inevitable, I must submit; for the mutiny of these scoundrels would render it impossible to man the walls. — Gudyill, let the women call up their mistresses, and all be ready to march — But if I could believe that my remaining in these old walls, till I was starved to a mummy, could do the King’s cause the least service, old Miles Bellenden would not leave them while there was a spark of life in his body!”

The ladies, already alarmed by the mutiny, now heard the determination of the Major, in which they readily acquiesced, though not without some groans and sighs on the part of Lady Margaret, which referred, as usual, to the dejeune; of his Most Sacred Majesty in the halls which were now to be abandoned to rebels. Hasty preparations were made for evacuating the Castle; and long ere the dawn was distinct enough for discovering objects with precision, the ladies, with Major Bellenden, Harrison, Gudyill, and the other domestics, were mounted on the led horses, and others which had been provided in the neighbourhood, and proceeded towards the north, still escorted by four of the insurgent horsemen. The rest of the party who had accompanied Lord Evandale from the hamlet, took possession of the deserted Castle, carefully forbearing all outrage or acts of plunder. And when the sun arose, the scarlet and blue colours of the Scottish Covenant floated from the Keep of Tillietudlem.

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