Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XV

A Creagh, and its Consequences

When Edward had been a guest at Tully-Veolan nearly six weeks, he descried, one morning, as he took his usual walk before the breakfast hour, signs of uncommon perturbation in the family. Four bare-legged dairy-maids, with each an empty milk-pail in her hand, ran about with frantic gestures, and uttering loud exclamations of surprise, grief, and resentment. From their appearance, a pagan might have conceived them a detachment of the celebrated Belides, just come from their baling penance. As nothing was to be got from this distracted chorus, excepting ‘Lord guide us!’ and ‘Eh sirs!’ ejaculations which threw no light upon the cause of their dismay, Waverley repaired to the fore-court, as it was called, where he beheld Bailie Macwheeble cantering his white pony down the avenue with all the speed it could muster. He had arrived, it would seem, upon a hasty summons, and was followed by half a score of peasants from the village who had no great difficulty in keeping pace with him.

The Bailie, greatly too busy and too important to enter into explanations with Edward, summoned forth Mr. Saunderson, who appeared with a countenance in which dismay was mingled with solemnity, and they immediately entered into close conference. Davie Gellatley was also seen in the group, idle as Diogenes at Sinope while his countrymen were preparing for a siege. His spirits always rose with anything, good or bad, which occasioned tumult, and he continued frisking, hopping, dancing, and singing the burden of an old ballad —

‘Our gear’s a’ gane,’

until, happening to pass too near the Bailie, he received an admonitory hint from his horse-whip, which converted his songs into lamentation.

Passing from thence towards the garden, Waverley beheld the Baron in person, measuring and re-measuring, with swift and tremendous strides, the length of the terrace; his countenance clouded with offended pride and indignation, and the whole of his demeanour such as seemed to indicate, that any inquiry concerning the cause of his discomposure would give pain at least, if not offence. Waverley therefore glided into the house, without addressing him, and took his way to the breakfast-parlour, where he found his young friend Rose, who, though she neither exhibited the resentment of her father, the turbid importance of Bailie Macwheeble, nor the despair of the handmaidens, seemed vexed and thoughtful. A single word explained the mystery. ‘Your breakfast will be a disturbed one, Captain Waverley. A party of Caterans have come down upon us last night, and have driven off all our milch cows.’

‘A party of Caterans?’

‘Yes; robbers from the neighbouring Highlands. We used to be quite free from them while we paid blackmail to Fergus Mac-Ivor Vich Ian Vohr; but my father thought it unworthy of his rank and birth to pay it any longer, and so this disaster has happened. It is not the value of the cattle, Captain Waverley, that vexes me; but my father is so much hurt at the affront, and is so bold and hot, that I fear he will try to recover them by the strong hand; and if he is not hurt himself, he will hurt some of these wild people, and then there will be no peace between them and us perhaps for our life-time; and we cannot defend ourselves as in old times, for the government have taken all our arms; and my dear father is so rash — O what will become of us!’ — Here poor Rose lost heart altogether, and burst into a flood of tears.

The Baron entered at this moment, and rebuked her with more asperity than Waverley had ever heard him use to any one. ‘Was it not a shame,’ he said, ‘that she should exhibit herself before any gentleman in such a light, as if she shed tears for a drove of horned nolt and milch kine, like the daughter of a Cheshire yeoman! — Captain Waverley, I must request your favourable construction of her grief, which may, or ought to proceed, solely from seeing her father’s estate exposed to spulzie and depredation from common thieves and sorners, while we are not allowed to keep half a score of muskets, whether for defence or rescue.’

Bailie Macwheeble entered immediately afterwards, and by his report of arms and ammunition confirmed this statement, informing the Baron, in a melancholy voice, that though the people would certainly obey his honour’s orders, yet there was no chance of their following the gear to ony guid purpose, in respect there were only his honour’s body servants who had swords and pistols, and the depredators were twelve Highlanders, completely armed after the manner of their country. Having delivered this doleful annunciation, he assumed a posture of silent dejection, shaking his head slowly with the motion of a pendulum when it is ceasing to vibrate, and then remained stationary, his body stooping at a more acute angle than usual, and the latter part of his person projecting in proportion.

The Baron, meanwhile, paced the room in silent indignation, and at length fixing his eye upon an old portrait, whose person was clad in armour, and whose features glared grimly out of a huge bush of hair, part of which descended from his head to his shoulders, and part from his chin and upper-lip to his breast-plate, — ‘That gentleman, Captain Waverley, my grandsire,’ he said, ‘with two hundred horse, — whom he levied within his own bounds, discomfited and put to the rout more than five hundred of these Highland reivers, who have been ever lapis offensionis et petra scandali, a stumbling-block and a rock of offence, to the Lowland vicinage — he discomfited them, I say, when they had the temerity to descend to harry this country, in the time of the civil dissensions, in the year of grace sixteen hundred forty and two. And now, sir, I, his grandson, am thus used at such unworthy hands.’

Here there was an awful pause; after which all the company, as is usual in cases of difficulty, began to give separate and inconsistent counsel. Alexander ab Alexandro proposed they should send some one to compound with the Caterans, who would readily, he said, give up their prey for a dollar a head. The Bailie opined that this transaction would amount to theft-boot, or composition of felony; and he recommended that some canny hand should be sent up to the glens to make the best bargain he could, as it were for himself, so that the Laird might not be seen in such a transaction. Edward proposed to send off to the nearest garrison for a party of soldiers and a magistrate’s warrant; and Rose, as far as she dared, endeavoured to insinuate the course of paying the arrears of tribute money to Fergus Mac-Ivor Vich Ian Vohr, who, they all knew, could easily procure restoration of the cattle, if he were properly propitiated.

None of these proposals met the Baron’s approbation. The idea of composition, direct or implied, was absolutely ignominious; that of Waverley only showed that he did not understand the state of the country, and of the political parties which divided it; and, standing matters as they did with Fergus Mac-Ivor Vich Ian Vohr, the Baron would make no concession to him, were it, he said, ‘to procure restitution in integrum of every stirk and stot that the chief, his forefathers, and his clan, had stolen since the days of Malcolm Canmore.’

In fact his voice was still for war, and he proposed to send expresses to Balmawhapple, Killancureit, Tulliellum, and other lairds, who were exposed to similar depredations, inviting them to join in the pursuit; ‘and then, sir, shall these nebulones nequissimi, as Leslaeus calls them, be brought to the fate of their predecessor Cacus,

“Elisos oculos, et siccum sanguine guttur.”’

The Bailie, who by no means relished these warlike counsels, here pulled forth an immense watch, of the colour, and nearly of the size, of a pewter warming-pan, and observed it was now past noon, and that the Caterans had been seen in the pass of Ballybrough soon after sunrise; so that, before the allied forces could assemble, they and their prey would be far beyond the reach of the most active pursuit, and sheltered in those pathless deserts, where it was neither advisable to follow, nor indeed possible to trace them.

This proposition was undeniable. The council therefore broke up without coming to any conclusion, as has occurred to councils of more importance; only it was determined that the Bailie should send his own three milkcows down to the mains for the use of the Baron’s family, and brew small ale, as a substitute for milk, in his own. To this arrangement, which was suggested by Saunderson, the Bailie readily assented, both from habitual deference to the family, and an internal consciousness that his courtesy would, in some mode or other, be repaid tenfold.

The Baron having also retired to give some necessary directions, Waverley seized the opportunity to ask, whether this Fergus, with the unpronounceable name, was the chief thief-taker of the district?

‘Thief-taker!’ answered Rose, laughing; ‘he is a gentleman of great honour and consequence, the chieftain of an independent branch of a powerful Highland clan, and is much respected, both for his own power and that of his kith, kin, and allies.’

‘And what has he to do with the thieves, then? Is he a magistrate, or in the commission of the peace?’ asked Waverley.

‘The commission of war rather, if there be such a thing,’ said Rose; ‘for he is a very unquiet neighbour to his unfriends, and keeps a greater following on foot than many that have thrice his estate. As to his connection with the thieves, that I cannot well explain; but the boldest of them will never steal a hoof from any one that pays black-mail to Vich lan Vohr.’

‘And what is black-mail?’

‘A sort of protection-money that Low-Country gentlemen and heritors, lying near the Highlands, pay to some Highland chief, that he may neither do them harm himself, nor suffer it to be done to them by others; and then if your cattle are stolen, you have only to send him word, and he will recover them; or it may be, he will drive away cows from some distant place, where he has a quarrel, and give them to you to make up your loss.’37

‘And is this sort of Highland Jonathan Wild admitted into society, and called a gentleman?’

‘So much so,’ said Rose, ‘that the quarrel between my father and Fergus Mac-Ivor began at a county meeting, where he wanted to take precedence of all the Lowland gentlemen then present, only my father would not suffer it. And then he upbraided my father that he was under his banner, and paid him tribute; and my father was in a towering passion, for Bailie Macwheeble, who manages such things his own way, had contrived to keep this black-mail a secret from him, and passed it in his account for cess-money. And they would have fought; but Fergus Mac-Ivor said, very gallantly, he would never raise his hand against a grey head that was so much respected as my father’s. — O I wish, I wish they had continued friends!’

‘And did you ever see this Mr. Mac-Ivor, if that be his name, Miss Bradwardine?’

‘No, that is not his name; and he would consider MASTER as a sort of affront, only that you are an Englishman, and know no better. But the Lowlanders call him, like other gentlemen, by the name of his estate, Glennaquoich; and the Highlanders call him Vich Ian Vohr, that is, the son of John the Great; and we upon the braes here call him by both names indifferently.’

‘I am afraid I shall never bring my English tongue to call him by either one or other.’

‘But he is a very polite, handsome man,’ continued Rose; ‘and his sister Flora is one of the most beautiful and accomplished young ladies in this country; she was bred in a convent in France, and was a great friend of mine before this unhappy dispute. Dear Captain Waverley, try your influence with my father to make matters up. I am sure this is but the beginning of our troubles; for Tully-Veolan has never been a safe or quiet residence when we have been at feud with the Highlanders. When I was a girl about ten, there was a skirmish fought between a party of twenty of them and my father and his servants behind the mains; and the bullets broke several panes in the north windows, they were so near. Three of the Highlanders were killed, and they brought them in wrapped in their plaids, and laid them on the stone floor of the hall; and next morning, their wives and daughters came, clapping their hands, and crying the coronach, and shrieking, and carried away the dead bodies, with the pipes playing before them. I could not sleep for six weeks without starting and thinking I heard these terrible cries, and saw the bodies lying on the steps, all stiff and swathed up in their bloody tartans. But since that time there came a party from the garrison at Stirling, with a warrant from the Lord Justice Clerk, or some such great man, and took away all our arms; and now, how are we to protect ourselves if they come down in any strength?’

Waverley could not help starting at a story which bore so much resemblance to one of his own day-dreams. Here was a girl scarce seventeen, the gentlest of her sex, both in temper and appearance, who had witnessed with her own eyes such a scene as he had used to conjure up in his imagination, as only occurring in ancient times, and spoke of it coolly, as one very likely to recur. He felt at once the impulse of curiosity, and that slight sense of danger which only serves to heighten its interest. He might have said with Malvolio, ‘“I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me!” I am actually in the land of military and romantic adventures, and it only remains to be seen what will be my own share in them.’

The whole circumstances now detailed concerning the state of the country seemed equally novel and extraordinary. He had indeed often heard of Highland thieves, but had no idea of the systematic mode in which their depredations were conducted; and that the practice was connived at, and even encouraged, by many of the Highland chieftains, who not only found the creaghs, or forays, useful for the purpose of training individuals of their clan to the practice of arms, but also of maintaining a wholesome terror among their Lowland neighbours, and levying, as we have seen, a tribute from them, under colour of protection-money.

Bailie Macwheeble, who soon afterwards entered, expatiated still more at length upon the same topic. This honest gentleman’s conversation was so formed upon his professional practice, that Davie Gellatley once said his discourse was like a ‘charge of horning.’ He assured our hero, that ‘from the maist ancient times of record, the lawless thieves, limmers, and broken men of the Highlands, had been in fellowship together by reason of their surnames, for the committing of divers thefts, reifs, and herships upon the honest men of the Low Country, when they not only intromitted with their whole goods and gear, corn, cattle, horse, nolt, sheep, outsight and insight plenishing, at their wicked pleasure, but moreover made prisoners, ransomed them, or concussed them into giving borrows (pledges) to enter into captivity again; — all which was directly prohibited in divers parts of the Statute Book, both by the act one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven, and various others; the whilk statutes, with all that had followed and might follow thereupon, were shamefully broken and vilipended by the said sorners, limmers, and broken men, associated into fellowships, for the aforesaid purposes of theft, stouthreef, fire-raising, murther, raptus mulierum, or forcible abduction of women, and such like as aforesaid.’

It seemed like a dream to Waverley that these deeds of violence should be familiar to men’s minds, and currently talked of as falling within the common order of things, and happening daily in the immediate vicinity, without his having crossed the seas, and while he was yet in the otherwise well-ordered island of Great Britain.

37 Mac-Donald of Barrisdale, one of the very last Highland gentlemen who carried on the plundering system to any great extent, was a scholar and a well-bred gentleman. He engraved on his broad- swords the well-known lines —

Hae tibi erunt artes pacisque imponere morem,

Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos.

Indeed, the levying of black-mail was, before 1745, practised by several chiefs of very high rank, who, in doing so, contended that they were lending the laws the assistance of their arms and swords, and affording a protection which could not be obtained from the magistracy in the disturbed state of the country. The author has seen a Memoir of Mac-Pherson of Cluny, chief of that ancient clan, from which it appears that he levied protection-money to a very large amount, which was willingly paid even by some of his most powerful neighbours. A gentleman of this clan, hearing a clergyman hold forth to his congregation on the crime of theft, interrupted the preacher to assure him, he might leave the enforcement of such doctrines to Cluny Mac-Pherson, whose broadsword would put a stop to theft sooner than all the sermons of all the ministers of the synod.

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