Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter II

An Examination

Major Melville of Cairnvreckan, an elderly gentleman, who had spent his youth in the military service, received Mr. Morton with great kindness, and our hero with civility, which the equivocal circumstances wherein Edward was placed rendered constrained and distant.

The nature of the smith’s hurt was inquired into, and, as the actual injury was likely to prove trifling, and the circumstances in which it was received rendered the infliction on Edward’s part a natural act of self-defence, the Major conceived he might dismiss that matter on Waverley’s depositing in his hands a small sum for the benefit of the wounded person.

‘I could wish, sir,’ continued the Major, ‘that my duty terminated here; but it is necessary that we should have some further inquiry into the cause of your journey through the country at this unfortunate and distracted time.’

Mr. Ebenezer Cruickshanks now stood forth, and communicated to the magistrate all he knew or suspected from the reserve of Waverley and the evasions of Callum Beg. The horse upon which Edward rode, he said, he knew to belong to Vich Ian Vohr, though he dared not tax Edward’s former attendant with the fact, lest he should have his house and stables burnt over his head some night by that godless gang, the Mac-Ivors. He concluded by exaggerating his own services to kirk and state, as having been the means, under God (as he modestly qualified the assertion), of attaching this suspicious and formidable delinquent. He intimated hopes of future reward, and of instant reimbursement for loss of time, and even of character, by travelling on the state business on the fast-day.

To this Major Melville answered, with great composure, that so far from claiming any merit in this affair, Mr. Cruickshanks ought to deprecate the imposition of a very heavy fine for neglecting to lodge, in terms of the recent proclamation, an account with the nearest magistrate of any stranger who came to his inn; that, as Mr. Cruickshanks boasted so much of religion and loyalty, he should not impute this conduct to disaffection, but only suppose that his zeal for kirk and state had been lulled asleep by the opportunity of charging a stranger with double horse-hire; that, however, feeling himself incompetent to decide singly upon the conduct of a person of such importance, he should reserve it for consideration of the next quarter-sessions. Now our history for the present saith no more of him of the Candlestick, who wended dolorous and malcontent back to his own dwelling.

Major Melville then commanded the villagers to return to their homes, excepting two, who officiated as constables, and whom he directed to wait below. The apartment was thus cleared of every person but Mr. Morton, whom the Major invited to remain; a sort of factor, who acted as clerk; and Waverley himself. There ensued a painful and embarrassed pause, till Major Melville, looking upon Waverley with much compassion, and often consulting a paper or memorandum which he held in his hand, requested to know his name.

‘Edward Waverley.’

‘I thought so; late of the — dragoons, and nephew of Sir Everard Waverley of Waverley-Honour?’

‘The same.’

‘Young gentleman, I am extremely sorry that this painful duty has fallen to my lot.’

‘Duty, Major Melville, renders apologies superfluous.’

‘True, sir; permit me, therefore, to ask you how your time has been disposed of since you obtained leave of absence from your regiment, several weeks ago, until the present moment?’

‘My reply,’ said Waverley, ‘to so general a question must be guided by the nature of the charge which renders it necessary. I request to know what that charge is, and upon what authority I am forcibly detained to reply to it?’

‘The charge, Mr. Waverley, I grieve to say, is of a very high nature, and affects your character both as a soldier and a subject. In the former capacity you are charged with spreading mutiny and rebellion among the men you commanded, and setting them the example of desertion, by prolonging your own absence from the regiment, contrary to the express orders of your commanding officer. The civil crime of which you stand accused is that of high treason and levying war against the king, the highest delinquency of which a subject can be guilty.’

‘And by what authority am I detained to reply to such heinous calumnies?’

‘By one which you must not dispute, nor I disobey.’

He handed to Waverley a warrant from the Supreme Criminal Court of Scotland, in full form, for apprehending and securing the person of Edward Waverley, Esq., suspected of treasonable practices and other high crimes and misdemeanours.

The astonishment which Waverley expressed at this communication was imputed by Major Melville to conscious guilt, while Mr. Morton was rather disposed to construe it into the surprise of innocence unjustly suspected. There was something true in both conjectures; for although Edward’s mind acquitted him of the crime with which he was charged, yet a hasty review of his own conduct convinced him he might have great difficulty in establishing his innocence to the satisfaction of others.

‘It is a very painful part of this painful business,’ said Major Melville, after a pause, ‘that, under so grave a charge, I must necessarily request to see such papers as you have on your person.’

‘You shall, sir, without reserve,’ said Edward, throwing his pocket-book and memorandums upon the table; ‘there is but one with which I could wish you would dispense.’

‘I am afraid, Mr. Waverley, I can indulge you with no reservation,’

‘You shall see it then, sir; and as it can be of no service, I beg it may be returned.’

He took from his bosom the lines he had that morning received, and presented them with the envelope. The Major perused them in silence, and directed his clerk to make a copy of them. He then wrapped the copy in the envelope, and placing it on the table before him, returned the original to Waverley, with an air of melancholy gravity.

After indulging the prisoner, for such our hero must now be considered, with what he thought a reasonable time for reflection, Major Melville resumed his examination, premising that, as Mr. Waverley seemed to object to general questions, his interrogatories should be as specific as his information permitted. He then proceeded in his investigation, dictating, as he went on, the import of the questions and answers to the amanuensis, by whom it was written down.

‘Did Mr. Waverley know one Humphry Houghton, a non-commissioned officer in Gardiner’s dragoons?’

‘Certainly; he was sergeant of my troop, and son of a tenant of my uncle.’

‘Exactly — and had a considerable share of your confidence, and an influence among his comrades?’

‘I had never occasion to repose confidence in a person of his description,’ answered Waverley. ‘I favoured Sergeant Houghton as a clever, active young fellow, and I believe his fellow-soldiers respected him accordingly.’

‘But you used through this man,’ answered Major Melville, ‘to communicate with such of your troop as were recruited upon Waverley-Honour?’

‘Certainly; the poor fellows, finding themselves in a regiment chiefly composed of Scotch or Irish, looked up to me in any of their little distresses, and naturally made their countryman and sergeant their spokesman on such occasions.’

‘Sergeant Houghton’s influence,’ continued the Major, ‘extended, then, particularly over those soldiers who followed you to the regiment from

your uncle’s estate?’

‘Surely; but what is that to the present purpose?’

‘To that I am just coming, and I beseech your candid reply. Have you, since leaving the regiment, held any correspondence, direct or indirect, with this Sergeant Houghton?’

‘I! — I hold correspondence with a man of his rank and situation! How, or for what purpose?’

‘That you are to explain. But did you not, for example, send to him for some books?’

‘You remind me of a trifling commission,’ said Waverley, ‘which I gave Sergeant Houghton, because my servant could not read. I do recollect I bade him, by letter, select some books, of which I sent him a list, and send them to me at Tully-Veolan.’

‘And of what description were those books?’

‘They related almost entirely to elegant literature; they were designed for a lady’s perusal.’

‘Were there not, Mr. Waverley, treasonable tracts and pamphlets among them?’

‘There were some political treatises, into which I hardly looked. They had been sent to me by the officiousness of a kind friend, whose heart is more to be esteemed than his prudence or political sagacity; they seemed to be dull compositions.’

‘That friend,’ continued the persevering inquirer, ‘was a Mr. Pembroke, a nonjuring clergyman, the author of two treasonable works, of which the manuscripts were found among your baggage?’

‘But of which, I give you my honour as a gentleman,’ replied Waverley, ‘I never read six pages.’

‘I am not your judge, Mr. Waverley; your examination will be transmitted elsewhere. And now to proceed. Do you know a person that passes by the name of Wily Will, or Will Ruthven?’

‘I never heard of such a name till this moment.’

‘Did you never through such a person, or any other person, communicate with Sergeant Humphry Houghton, instigating him to desert, with as many of his comrades as he could seduce to join him, and unite with the Highlanders and other rebels now in arms under the command of the Young Pretender?’

‘I assure you I am not only entirely guiltless of the plot you have laid to my charge, but I detest it from the very bottom of my soul, nor would I be guilty of such treachery to gain a throne, either for myself or any other man alive.’

‘Yet when I consider this envelope in the handwriting of one of those misguided gentlemen who are now in arms against their country, and the verses which it enclosed, I cannot but find some analogy between the enterprise I have mentioned and the exploit of Wogan, which the writer seems to expect you should imitate.’

Waverley was struck with the coincidence, but denied that the wishes or expectations of the letter-writer were to be regarded as proofs of a charge otherwise chimerical.

‘But, if I am rightly informed, your time was spent, during your absence from the regiment, between the house of this Highland Chieftain and that of Mr. Bradwardine of Bradwardine, also in arms for this unfortunate cause?’

‘I do not mean to disguise it; but I do deny, most resolutely, being privy to any of their designs against the government.’

‘You do not, however, I presume, intend to deny that you attended your host Glennaquoich to a rendezvous, where, under a pretence of a general hunting match, most of the accomplices of his treason were assembled to concert measures for taking arms?’

‘I acknowledge having been at such a meeting,’ said Waverley; ‘but I neither heard nor saw anything which could give it the character you affix to it.’

‘From thence you proceeded,’ continued the magistrate, ‘with Glennaquoich and a part of his clan to join the army of the Young Pretender, and returned, after having paid your homage to him, to discipline and arm the remainder, and unite them to his bands on their way southward?’

‘I never went with Glennaquoich on such an errand. I never so much as heard that the person whom you mention was in the country.’

He then detailed the history of his misfortune at the hunting match, and added, that on his return he found himself suddenly deprived of his commission, and did not deny that he then, for the first time, observed symptoms which indicated a disposition in the Highlanders to take arms; but added that, having no inclination to join their cause, and no longer any reason for remaining in Scotland, he was now on his return to his native country, to which he had been summoned by those who had a right to direct his motions, as Major Melville would perceive from the letters on the table.

Major Melville accordingly perused the letters of Richard Waverley, of Sir Everard, and of Aunt Rachel; but the inferences he drew from them were different from what Waverley expected. They held the language of discontent with government, threw out no obscure hints of revenge, and that of poor Aunt Rachel, which plainly asserted the justice of the Stuart cause, was held to contain the open avowal of what the others only ventured to insinuate.

‘Permit me another question, Mr. Waverley,’ said Major Melville. ‘Did you not receive repeated letters from your commanding officer, warning you and commanding you to return to your post, and acquainting you with the use made of your name to spread discontent among your soldiers?’

‘I never did, Major Melville. One letter, indeed, I received from him, containing a civil intimation of his wish that I would employ my leave of absence otherwise than in constant residence at Bradwardine, as to which, I own, I thought he was not called on to interfere; and, finally, I received, on the same day on which I observed myself superseded in the “Gazette,” a second letter from Colonel Gardiner, commanding me to join the regiment, an order which, owing to my absence, already mentioned and accounted for, I received too late to be obeyed. If there were any intermediate letters, and certainly from the Colonel’s high character I think it probable that there were, they have never reached me.’

‘I have omitted, Mr. Waverley,’ continued Major Melville, ‘to inquire after a matter of less consequence, but which has nevertheless been publicly talked of to your disadvantage. It is said that a treasonable toast having been proposed in your hearing and presence, you, holding his Majesty’s commission, suffered the task of resenting it to devolve upon another gentleman of the company. This, sir, cannot be charged against you in a court of justice; but if, as I am informed, the officers of your regiment requested an explanation of such a rumour, as a gentleman and soldier I cannot but be surprised that you did not afford it to them.’

This was too much. Beset and pressed on every hand by accusations, in which gross falsehoods were blended with such circumstances of truth as could not fail to procure them credit, — alone, unfriended, and in a strange land, Waverley almost gave up his life and honour for lost, and, leaning his head upon his hand, resolutely refused to answer any further questions, since the fair and candid statement he had already made had only served to furnish arms against him.

Without expressing either surprise or displeasure at the change in Waverley’s manner, Major Melville proceeded composedly to put several other queries to him.

‘What does it avail me to answer you?’ said Edward sullenly. ‘You appear convinced of my guilt, and wrest every reply I have made to support your own preconceived opinion. Enjoy your supposed triumph, then, and torment me no further. If I am capable of the cowardice and treachery your charge burdens me with, I am not worthy to be believed in any reply I can make to you. If I am not deserving of your suspicion — and God and my own conscience bear evidence with me that it is so — then I do not see why I should, by my candour, lend my accusers arms against my innocence. There is no reason I should answer a word more, and I am determined to abide by this resolution.’

And again he resumed his posture of sullen and determined silence.

‘Allow me,’ said the magistrate, ‘to remind you of one reason that may suggest the propriety of a candid and open confession. The inexperience of youth, Mr. Waverley, lays it open to the plans of the more designing and artful; and one of your friends at least — I mean Mac-Ivor of Glennaquoich — ranks high in the latter class, as, from your apparent ingenuousness, youth, and unacquaintance with the manners of the Highlands, I should be disposed to place you among the former. In such a case, a false step or error like yours, which I shall be happy to consider as involuntary, may be atoned for, and I would willingly act as intercessor. But, as you must necessarily be acquainted with the strength of the individuals in this country who have assumed arms, with their means and with their plans, I must expect you will merit this mediation on my part by a frank and candid avowal of all that has come to your knowledge upon these heads; in which case, I think I can venture to promise that a very short personal restraint will be the only ill consequence that can arise from your accession to these unhappy intrigues.’

Waverley listened with great composure until the end of this exhortation, when, springing from his seat with an energy he had not yet displayed, he replied, ‘Major Melville, since that is your name, I have hitherto answered your questions with candour, or declined them with temper, because their import concerned myself alone; but, as you presume to esteem me mean enough to commence informer against others, who received me, whatever may be their public misconduct, as a guest and friend, I declare to you that I consider your questions as an insult infinitely more offensive than your calumnious suspicions; and that, since my hard fortune permits me no other mode of resenting them than by verbal defiance, you should sooner have my heart out of my bosom than a single syllable of information on subjects which I could only become acquainted with in the full confidence of unsuspecting hospitality.’

Mr. Morton and the Major looked at each other; and the former, who, in the course of the examination, had been repeatedly troubled with a sorry rheum, had recourse to his snuff-box and his handkerchief.

‘Mr. Waverley,’ said the Major, ‘my present situation prohibits me alike from giving or receiving offence, and I will not protract a discussion which approaches to either. I am afraid I must sign a warrant for detaining you in custody, but this house shall for the present be your prison. I fear I cannot persuade you to accept a share of our supper? — (Edward shook his head) — but I will order refreshments in your apartment.’

Our hero bowed and withdrew, under guard of the officers of justice, to a small but handsome room, where, declining all offers of food or wine, he flung himself on the bed, and, stupified by the harassing events and mental fatigue of this miserable day, he sunk into a deep and heavy slumber. This was more than he himself could have expected; but it is mentioned of the North-American Indians, when at the stake of torture, that on the least intermission of agony they will sleep until the fire is applied to awaken them.

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