Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter VI

A Volunteer Sixty Years Since

On hearing the unwelcome sound of the drum, Major Melville hastily opened a sashed door and stepped out upon a sort of terrace which divided his house from the highroad from which the martial music proceeded. Waverley and his new friend followed him, though probably he would have dispensed with their attendance. They soon recognised in solemn march, first, the performer upon the drum; secondly, a large flag of four compartments, on which were inscribed the words, COVENANT, KIRK, KING, KINGDOMS. The person who was honoured with this charge was followed by the commander of the party, a thin, dark, rigid-looking man, about sixty years old. The spiritual pride, which in mine host of the Candlestick mantled in a sort of supercilious hypocrisy, was in this man’s face elevated and yet darkened by genuine and undoubting fanaticism. It was impossible to behold him without imagination placing him in some strange crisis, where religious zeal was the ruling principle. A martyr at the stake, a soldier in the field, a lonely and banished wanderer consoled by the intensity and supposed purity of his faith under every earthly privation, perhaps a persecuting inquisitor, as terrific in power as unyielding in adversity; any of these seemed congenial characters to this personage. With these high traits of energy, there was something in the affected precision and solemnity of his deportment and discourse that bordered upon the ludicrous; so that, according to the mood of the spectator’s mind and the light under which Mr. Gilfillan presented himself, one might have feared, admired, or laughed at him. His dress was that of a West-Country peasant, of better materials indeed than that of the lower rank, but in no respect affecting either the mode of the age or of the Scottish gentry at any period. His arms were a broadsword and pistols, which, from the antiquity of their appearance, might have seen the rout of Pentland or Bothwell Brigg.

As he came up a few steps to meet Major Melville, and touched solemnly, but slightly, his huge and over-brimmed blue bonnet, in answer to the Major, who had courteously raised a small triangular gold-laced hat, Waverley was irresistibly impressed with the idea that he beheld a leader of the Roundheads of yore in conference with one of Marlborough’s captains.

The group of about thirty armed men who followed this gifted commander was of a motley description. They were in ordinary Lowland dresses, of different colours, which, contrasted with the arms they bore, gave them an irregular and mobbish appearance; so much is the eye accustomed to connect uniformity of dress with the military character. In front were a few who apparently partook of their leader’s enthusiasm, men obviously to be feared in a combat, where their natural courage was exalted by religious zeal. Others puffed and strutted, filled with the importance of carrying arms and all the novelty of their situation, while the rest, apparently fatigued with their march, dragged their limbs listlessly along, or straggled from their companions to procure such refreshments as the neighbouring cottages and alehouses afforded. Six grenadiers of Ligonier’s, thought the Major to himself, as his mind reverted to his own military experience, would have sent all these fellows to the right about.

Greeting, however, Mr. Gilfillan civilly, he requested to know if he had received the letter he had sent to him upon his march, and could undertake the charge of the state prisoner whom he there mentioned as far as Stirling Castle. ‘Yea,’ was the concise reply of the Cameronian leader, in a voice which seemed to issue from the very penetralia of his person.

‘But your escort, Mr. Gilfillan, is not so strong as I expected,’ said Major Melville.

‘Some of the people,’ replied Gilfillan, ‘hungered and were athirst by the way, and tarried until their poor souls were refreshed with the word.’

‘I am sorry, sir,’ replied the Major, ‘you did not trust to your refreshing your men at Cairnvreckan; whatever my house contains is at the command of persons employed in the service.’

‘It was not of creature-comforts I spake,’ answered the Covenanter, regarding Major Melville with something like a smile of contempt; ‘howbeit, I thank you; but the people remained waiting upon the precious Mr. Jabesh Rentowel for the out-pouring of the afternoon exhortation.’

‘And have you, sir,’ said the Major, ‘when the rebels are about to spread themselves through this country, actually left a great part of your command at a fieldpreaching?’

Gilfillan again smiled scornfully as he made this indirect answer — ‘Even thus are the children of this world wiser in their generation than the children of light!’

‘However, sir,’ said the Major, ‘as you are to take charge of this gentleman to Stirling, and deliver him, with these papers, into the hands of Governor Blakeney, I beseech you to observe some rules of military discipline upon your march. For example, I would advise you to keep your men more closely together, and that each in his march should cover his file-leader, instead of straggling like geese upon a common; and, for fear of surprise, I further recommend to you to form a small advance-party of your best men, with a single vidette in front of the whole march, so that when you approach a village or a wood’ — (here the Major interrupted himself) — ‘But as I don’t observe you listen to me, Mr. Gilfillan, I suppose I need not give myself the trouble to say more upon the subject. You are a better judge, unquestionably, than I am of the measures to be pursued; but one thing I would have you well aware of, that you are to treat this gentleman, your prisoner, with no rigour nor incivility, and are to subject him to no other restraint than is necessary for his security.’

‘I have looked into my commission,’ said Mr. Gilfillan,’ subscribed by a worthy and professing nobleman, William, Earl of Glencairn; nor do I find it therein set down that I am to receive any charges or commands anent my doings from Major William Melville of Cairnvreckan.’

Major Melville reddened even to the well-powdered ears which appeared beneath his neat military sidecurls, the more so as he observed Mr. Morton smile at the same moment. ‘Mr. Gilfillan,’ he answered, with some asperity, ‘I beg ten thousand pardons for interfering with a person of your importance. I thought, however, that as you have been bred a grazier, if I mistake not, there might be occasion to remind you of the difference between Highlanders and Highland cattle; and if you should happen to meet with any gentleman who has seen service, and is disposed to speak upon the subject, I should still imagine that listening to him would do you no sort of harm. But I have done, and have only once more to recommend this gentleman to your civility as well as to your custody. Mr. Waverley, I am truly sorry we should part in this way; but I trust, when you are again in this country, I may have an opportunity to render Cairnvreckan more agreeable than circumstances have permitted on this occasion.’

So saying, he shook our hero by the hand. Morton also took an affectionate farewell, and Waverley, having mounted his horse, with a musketeer leading it by the bridle and a file upon each side to prevent his escape, set forward upon the march with Gilfillan and his party. Through the little village they were accompanied with the shouts of the children, who cried out, ‘Eh! see to the Southland gentleman that’s gaun to be hanged for shooting lang John Mucklewrath, the smith!

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