Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 34

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!

To all the sensual world proclaim,

One crowded hour of glorious life

Is worth an age without a name.

Anonymous.

When the desperate affray had ceased, Claverhouse commanded his soldiers to remove the dead bodies, to refresh themselves and their horses, and prepare for passing the night at the farm-house, and for marching early in the ensuing morning. He then turned his attention to Morton, and there was politeness, and even kindness, in the manner in which he addressed him.

“You would have saved yourself risk from both sides, Mr Morton, if you had honoured my counsel yesterday morning with some attention; but I respect your motives. You are a prisoner-of-war at the disposal of the king and council, but you shall be treated with no incivility; and I will be satisfied with your parole that you will not attempt an escape.”

When Morton had passed his word to that effect, Claverhouse bowed civilly, and, turning away from him, called for his sergeant-major.

“How many prisoners, Halliday, and how many killed?”

“Three killed in the house, sir, two cut down in the court, and one in the garden — six in all; four prisoners.”

“Armed or unarmed?” said Claverhouse.

“Three of them armed to the teeth,” answered Halliday; “one without arms — he seems to be a preacher.”

“Ay — the trumpeter to the long-ear’d rout, I suppose,” replied Claverhouse, glancing slightly round upon his victims, “I will talk with him tomorrow. Take the other three down to the yard, draw out two files, and fire upon them; and, d’ye hear, make a memorandum in the orderly book of three rebels taken in arms and shot, with the date and name of the place — Drumshinnel, I think, they call it. — Look after the preacher till tomorrow; as he was not armed, he must undergo a short examination. Or better, perhaps, take him before the Privy Council; I think they should relieve me of a share of this disgusting drudgery. — Let Mr Morton be civilly used, and see that the men look well after their horses; and let my groom wash Wild-blood’s shoulder with some vinegar, the saddle has touched him a little.”

All these various orders — for life and death, the securing of his prisoners, and the washing his charger’s shoulder — were given in the same unmoved and equable voice, of which no accent or tone intimated that the speaker considered one direction as of more importance than another.

The Cameronians, so lately about to be the willing agents of a bloody execution, were now themselves to undergo it. They seemed prepared alike for either extremity, nor did any of them show the least sign of fear, when ordered to leave the room for the purpose of meeting instant death. Their severe enthusiasm sustained them in that dreadful moment, and they departed with a firm look and in silence, excepting that one of them, as he left the apartment, looked Claverhouse full in the face, and pronounced, with a stern and steady voice — “Mischief shall haunt the violent man!” to which Grahame only answered by a smile of contempt.

They had no sooner left the room than Claverhouse applied himself to some food, which one or two of his party had hastily provided, and invited Morton to follow his example, observing, it had been a busy day for them both. Morton declined eating; for the sudden change of circumstances — the transition from the verge of the grave to a prospect of life, had occasioned a dizzy revulsion in his whole system. But the same confused sensation was accompanied by a burning thirst, and he expressed his wish to drink.

“I will pledge you, with all my heart,” said Claverhouse; “for here is a black jack full of ale, and good it must be, if there be good in the country, for the whigs never miss to find it out. — My service to you, Mr Morton,” he said, filling one horn of ale for himself, and handing another to his prisoner.

Morton raised it to his head, and was just about to drink, when the discharge of carabines beneath the window, followed by a deep and hollow groan, repeated twice or thrice, and more faint at each interval, announced the fate of the three men who had just left them. Morton shuddered, and set down the untasted cup.

“You are but young in these matters, Mr Morton,” said Claverhouse, after he had very composedly finished his draught; “and I do not think the worse of you as a young soldier for appearing to feel them acutely. But habit, duty, and necessity, reconcile men to every thing.”

“I trust,” said Morton, “they will never reconcile me to such scenes as these.”

“You would hardly believe,” said Claverhouse in reply, “that, in the beginning of my military career, I had as much aversion to seeing blood spilt as ever man felt; it seemed to me to be wrung from my own heart; and yet, if you trust one of those whig fellows, he will tell you I drink a warm cup of it every morning before I breakfast. 33 But in truth, Mr Morton, why should we care so much for death, light upon us or around us whenever it may? Men die daily — not a bell tolls the hour but it is the death-note of some one or other; and why hesitate to shorten the span of others, or take over-anxious care to prolong our own? It is all a lottery — when the hour of midnight came, you were to die — it has struck, you are alive and safe, and the lot has fallen on those fellows who were to murder you. It is not the expiring pang that is worth thinking of in an event that must happen one day, and may befall us on any given moment — it is the memory which the soldier leaves behind him, like the long train of light that follows the sunken sun — that is all which is worth caring for, which distinguishes the death of the brave or the ignoble. When I think of death, Mr Morton, as a thing worth thinking of, it is in the hope of pressing one day some well-fought and hard-won field of battle, and dying with the shout of victory in my ear — that would be worth dying for, and more, it would be worth having lived for!”

At the moment when Grahame delivered these sentiments, his eye glancing with the martial enthusiasm which formed such a prominent feature in his character, a gory figure, which seemed to rise out of the floor of the apartment, stood upright before him, and presented the wild person and hideous features of the maniac so often mentioned. His face, where it was not covered with blood-streaks, was ghastly pale, for the hand of death was on him. He bent upon Claverhouse eyes, in which the grey light of insanity still twinkled, though just about to flit for ever, and exclaimed, with his usual wildness of ejaculation, “Wilt thou trust in thy bow and in thy spear, in thy steed and in thy banner? And shall not God visit thee for innocent blood? — Wilt thou glory in thy wisdom, and in thy courage, and in thy might? And shall not the Lord judge thee? — Behold the princes, for whom thou hast sold thy soul to the destroyer, shall be removed from their place, and banished to other lands, and their names shall be a desolation, and an astonishment, and a hissing, and a curse. And thou, who hast partaken of the wine-cup of fury, and hast been drunken and mad because thereof, the wish of thy heart shall be granted to thy loss, and the hope of thine own pride shall destroy thee. I summon thee, John Grahame, to appear before the tribunal of God, to answer for this innocent blood, and the seas besides which thou hast shed.”

He drew his right hand across his bleeding face, and held it up to heaven as he uttered these words, which he spoke very loud, and then added more faintly, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge the blood of thy saints!”

As he uttered the last word, he fell backwards without an attempt to save himself, and was a dead man ere his head touched the floor.

Morton was much shocked at this extraordinary scene, and the prophecy of the dying man, which tallied so strangely with the wish which Claverhouse had just expressed; and he often thought of it afterwards when that wish seemed to be accomplished. Two of the dragoons who were in the apartment, hardened as they were, and accustomed to such scenes, showed great consternation at the sudden apparition, the event, and the words which preceded it. Claverhouse alone was unmoved. At the first instant of Mucklewrath’s appearance, he had put his hand to his pistol, but on seeing the situation of the wounded wretch, he immediately withdrew it, and listened with great composure to his dying exclamation.

When he dropped, Claverhouse asked, in an unconcerned tone of voice —“How came the fellow here? — Speak, you staring fool!” he added, addressing the nearest dragoon, “unless you would have me think you such a poltroon as to fear a dying man.”

The dragoon crossed himself, and replied with a faltering voice — “That the dead fellow had escaped their notice when they removed the other bodies, as he chanced to have fallen where a cloak or two had been flung aside, and covered him.”

“Take him away now, then, you gaping idiot, and see that he does not bite you, to put an old proverb to shame. — This is a new incident, Mr. Morton, that dead men should rise and push us from our stools. I must see that my blackguards grind their swords sharper; they used not to do their work so slovenly. — But we have had a busy day; they are tired, and their blades blunted with their bloody work; and I suppose you, Mr Morton, as well as I, are well disposed for a few hours’ repose.”

So saying, he yawned, and taking a candle which a soldier had placed ready, saluted Morton courteously, and walked to the apartment which had been prepared for him.

Morton was also accommodated, for the evening, with a separate room. Being left alone, his first occupation was the returning thanks to Heaven for redeeming him from danger, even through the instrumentality of those who seemed his most dangerous enemies; he also prayed sincerely for the Divine assistance in guiding his course through times which held out so many dangers and so many errors. And having thus poured out his spirit in prayer before the Great Being who gave it, he betook himself to the repose which he so much required.

33 The author is uncertain whether this was ever said of Claverhouse. But it was currently reported of Sir Robert Grierson of Lagg, another of the persecutors, that a cup of wine placed in his hand turned to clotted blood.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/mortality/chapter34.html

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