Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter III

A Conference and the Consequence

Major Melville had detained Mr. Morton during his examination of Waverley, both because he thought he might derive assistance from his practical good sense and approved loyalty, and also because it was agreeable to have a witness of unimpeached candour and veracity to proceedings which touched the honour and safety of a young Englishman of high rank and family, and the expectant heir of a large fortune. Every step he knew would be rigorously canvassed, and it was his business to place the justice and integrity of his own conduct beyond the limits of question.

When Waverley retired, the laird and clergyman of Cairnvreckan sat down in silence to their evening meal. While the servants were in attendance neither chose to say anything on the circumstances which occupied their minds, and neither felt it easy to speak upon any other. The youth and apparent frankness of Waverley stood in strong contrast to the shades of suspicion which darkened around him, and he had a sort of naivete and openness of demeanour that seemed to belong to one unhackneyed in the ways of intrigue, and which pleaded highly in his favour.

Each mused over the particulars of the examination, and each viewed it through the medium of his own feelings. Both were men of ready and acute talent, and both were equally competent to combine various parts of evidence, and to deduce from them the necessary conclusions. But the wide difference of their habits and education often occasioned a great discrepancy in their respective deductions from admitted premises.

Major Melville had been versed in camps and cities; he was vigilant by profession and cautious from experience, had met with much evil in the world, and therefore, though himself an upright magistrate and an honourable man, his opinions of others were always strict, and sometimes unjustly severe. Mr. Morton, on the contrary, had passed from the literary pursuits of a college, where he was beloved by his companions and respected by his teachers, to the ease and simplicity of his present charge, where his opportunities of witnessing evil were few, and never dwelt upon but in order to encourage repentance and amendment; and where the love and respect of his parishioners repaid his affectionate zeal in their behalf by endeavouring to disguise from him what they knew would give him the most acute pain, namely, their own occasional transgressions of the duties which it was the business of his life to recommend. Thus it was a common saying in the neighbourhood (though both were popular characters), that the laird knew only the ill in the parish and the minister only the good.

A love of letters, though kept in subordination to his clerical studies and duties, also distinguished the pastor of Cairnvreckan, and had tinged his mind in earlier days with a slight feeling of romance, which no after incidents of real life had entirely dissipated. The early loss of an amiable young woman whom he had married for love, and who was quickly followed to the grave by an only child, had also served, even after the lapse of many years, to soften a disposition naturally mild and contemplative. His feelings on the present occasion were therefore likely to differ from those of the severe disciplinarian, strict magistrate, and distrustful man of the world.

When the servants had withdrawn, the silence of both parties continued, until Major Melville, filling his glass and pushing the bottle to Mr. Morton, commenced —

‘A distressing affair this, Mr. Morton. I fear this youngster has brought himself within the compass of a halter.’

‘God forbid!’ answered the clergyman.

‘Marry, and amen,’ said the temporal magistrate; ‘but I think even your merciful logic will hardly deny the conclusion.’

‘Surely, Major,’ answered the clergyman, ‘I should hope it might be averted, for aught we have heard tonight?’

‘Indeed!’ replied Melville. ‘But, my good parson, you are one of those who would communicate to every criminal the benefit of clergy.’

‘Unquestionably I would. Mercy and long-suffering are the grounds of the doctrine I am called to teach.’

‘True, religiously speaking; but mercy to a criminal may be gross injustice to the community. I don’t speak of this young fellow in particular, who I heartily wish may be able to clear himself, for I like both his modesty and his spirit. But I fear he has rushed upon his fate.’

‘And why? Hundreds of misguided gentlemen are now in arms against the government, many, doubtless, upon principles which education and early prejudice have gilded with the names of patriotism and heroism; Justice, when she selects her victims from such a multitude (for surely all will not be destroyed), must regard the moral motive. He whom ambition or hope of personal advantage has led to disturb the peace of a well-ordered government, let him fall a victim to the laws; but surely youth, misled by the wild visions of chivalry and imaginary loyalty, may plead for pardon.’

‘If visionary chivalry and imaginary loyalty come within the predicament of high treason,’ replied the magistrate, ‘I know no court in Christendom, my dear Mr. Morton, where they can sue out their Habeas Corpus.’

‘But I cannot see that this youth’s guilt is at all established to my satisfaction,’ said the clergyman.

‘Because your good-nature blinds your good sense,’ replied Major Melville. ‘Observe now: This young man, descended of a family of hereditary Jacobites, his uncle the leader of the Tory interest in the county of — — his father a disobliged and discontented courtier, his tutor a nonjuror and the author of two treasonable volumes — this youth, I say, enters into Gardiner’s dragoons, bringing with him a body of young fellows from his uncle’s estate, who have not stickled at avowing in their way the High-Church principles they learned at Waverley-Honour, in their disputes with their comrades. To these young men Waverley is unusually attentive; they are supplied with money beyond a soldier’s wants and inconsistent with his discipline; and are under the management of a favourite sergeant, through whom they hold an unusually close communication with their captain, and affect to consider themselves as independent of the other officers, and superior to their comrades.’

‘All this, my dear Major, is the natural consequence of their attachment to their young landlord, and of their finding themselves in a regiment levied chiefly in the north of Ireland and the west of Scotland, and of course among comrades disposed to quarrel with them, both as Englishmen and as members of the Church of England.’

‘Well said, parson!’ replied the magistrate. ‘I would some of your synod heard you. But let me go on. This young man obtains leave of absence, goes to Tully-Veolan — the principles of the Baron of Bradwardine are pretty well known, not to mention that this lad’s uncle brought him off in the year fifteen; he engages there in a brawl, in which he is said to have disgraced the commission he bore; Colonel Gardiner writes to him, first mildly, then more sharply — I think you will not doubt his having done so, since he says so; the mess invite him to explain the quarrel in which he is said to have been involved; he neither replies to his commander nor his comrades. In the meanwhile his soldiers become mutinous and disorderly, and at length, when the rumour of this unhappy rebellion becomes general, his favourite Sergeant Houghton and another fellow are detected in correspondence with a French emissary, accredited, as he says, by Captain Waverley, who urges him, according to the men’s confession, to desert with the troop and join their captain, who was with Prince Charles. In the meanwhile this trusty captain is, by his own admission, residing at Glennaquoich with the most active, subtle, and desperate Jacobite in Scotland; he goes with him at least as far as their famous hunting rendezvous, and I fear a little farther. Meanwhile two other summonses are sent him; one warning him of the disturbances in his troop, another peremptorily ordering him to repair to the regiment, which, indeed, common sense might have dictated, when he observed rebellion thickening all round him. He returns an absolute refusal, and throws up his commission.’

‘He had been already deprived of it,’ said Mr. Morton.

‘But he regrets,’ replied Melville, ‘that the measure had anticipated his resignation. His baggage is seized at his quarters and at Tully-Veolan, and is found to contain a stock of pestilent Jacobitical pamphlets, enough to poison a whole country, besides the unprinted lucubrations of his worthy friend and tutor Mr. Pembroke.’

‘He says he never read them,’ answered the minister.

‘In an ordinary case I should believe him,’ replied the magistrate, ‘for they are as stupid and pedantic in composition as mischievous in their tenets. But can you suppose anything but value for the principles they maintain would induce a young man of his age to lug such trash about with him? Then, when news arrive of the approach of the rebels, he sets out in a sort of disguise, refusing to tell his name; and, if yon old fanatic tell truth, attended by a very suspicious character, and mounted on a horse known to have belonged to Glennaquoich, and bearing on his person letters from his family expressing high rancour against the house of Brunswick, and a copy of verses in praise of one Wogan, who abjured the service of the Parliament to join the Highland insurgents, when in arms to restore the house of Stuart, with a body of English cavalry — the very counterpart of his own plot — and summed up with a “Go thou and do likewise” from that loyal subject, and most safe and peaceable character, Fergus Mac-Ivor of Glennaquoich, Vich Ian Vohr, and so forth. And, lastly,’ continued Major Melville, warming in the detail of his arguments, ‘where do we find this second edition of Cavalier Wogan? Why, truly, in the very track most proper for execution of his design, and pistolling the first of the king’s subjects who ventures to question his intentions.’

Mr. Morton prudently abstained from argument, which he perceived would only harden the magistrate in his opinion, and merely asked how he intended to dispose of the prisoner?

‘It is a question of some difficulty, considering the state of the country,’ said Major Melville.

‘Could you not detain him (being such a gentleman-like young man) here in your own house, out of harm’s way, till this storm blow over?’

‘My good friend,’ said Major Melville, ‘neither your house nor mine will be long out of harm’s way, even were it legal to confine him here. I have just learned that the commander-in-chief, who marched into the Highlands to seek out and disperse the insurgents, has declined giving them battle at Coryarrick, and marched on northward with all the disposable force of government to Inverness, John-o’-Groat’s House, or the devil, for what I know, leaving the road to the Low Country open and undefended to the Highland army.’

‘Good God!’ said the clergyman. ‘Is the man a coward, a traitor, or an idiot?’

‘None of the three, I believe,’ answered Melville. ‘Sir John has the commonplace courage of a common soldier, is honest enough, does what he is commanded, and understands what is told him, but is as fit to act for himself in circumstances of importance as I, my dear parson, to occupy your pulpit.’

This important public intelligence naturally diverted the discourse from Waverley for some time; at length, however, the subject was resumed.

‘I believe,’ said Major Melville, ‘that I must give this young man in charge to some of the detached parties of armed volunteers who were lately sent out to overawe the disaffected districts. They are now recalled towards Stirling, and a small body comes this way to-morrow or next day, commanded by the westland man — what’s his name? You saw him, and said he was the very model of one of Cromwell’s military saints.’

‘Gilfillan, the Cameronian,’ answered Mr. Morton. ‘I wish the young gentleman may be safe with him. Strange things are done in the heat and hurry of minds in so agitating a crisis, and I fear Gilfillan is of a sect which has suffered persecution without learning mercy.’

‘He has only to lodge Mr. Waverley in Stirling Castle,’ said the Major; ‘I will give strict injunctions to treat him well. I really cannot devise any better mode for securing him, and I fancy you would hardly advise me to encounter the responsibility of setting him at liberty.’

‘But you will have no objection to my seeing him tomorrow in private?’ said the minister.

‘None, certainly; your loyalty and character are my warrant. But with what view do you make the request?’

‘Simply,’ replied Mr. Morton, ‘to make the experiment whether he may not be brought to communicate to me some circumstances which may hereafter be useful to alleviate, if not to exculpate, his conduct.’

The friends now parted and retired to rest, each filled with the most anxious reflections on the state of the country.

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