Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XV

The March

The conflicting passions and exhausted feelings of Waverley had resigned him to late but sound repose. He was dreaming of Glennaquoich, and had transferred to the halls of lan nan Chaistel the festal train which so lately graced those of Holyrood. The pibroch too was distinctly heard; and this at least was no delusion, for the ‘proud step of the chief piper’ of the ‘chlain MacIvor’ was perambulating the court before the door of his Chieftain’s quarters, and as Mrs. Flockhart, apparently no friend to his minstrelsy, was pleased to observe, ‘garring the very stane-and-lime wa’s dingle wi’ his screeching.’ Of course it soon became too powerful for Waverley’s dream, with which it had at first rather harmonised.

The sound of Callum’s brogues in his apartment (for Mac-Ivor had again assigned Waverley to his care) was the next note of parting. ‘Winna yer honour bang up? Vich lan Vohr and ta Prince are awa to the lang green glen ahint the clachan, tat they ca’ the King’s Park,82 and mony ane’s on his ain shanks the day that will be carried on ither folk’s ere night.’

Waverley sprung up, and, with Callum’s assistance and instructions, adjusted his tartans in proper costume. Callum told him also,’ tat his leather dorlach wi’ the lock on her was come frae Doune, and she was awa again in the wain wi’ Vich Ian Vohr’s walise.’

By this periphrasis Waverley readily apprehended his portmanteau was intended. He thought upon the mysterious packet of the maid of the cavern, which seemed always to escape him when within his very grasp. But this was no time for indulgence of curiosity; and having declined Mrs. Flockhart’s compliment of a MORNING, i.e. a matutinal dram, being probably the only man in the Chevalier’s army by whom such a courtesy would have been rejected, he made his adieus and departed with Callum.

‘Callum,’ said he, as they proceeded down a dirty close to gain the southern skirts of the Canongate, ‘what shall I do for a horse?’

‘Ta deil ane ye maun think o’,’ said Callum. ‘Vich Ian Vohr’s marching on foot at the head o’ his kin (not to say ta Prince, wha does the like), wi’ his target on his shoulder; and ye maun e’en be neighbour-like.’

‘And so I will, Callum, give me my target; so, there we are fixed. How does it look?’

‘Like the bra’ Highlander tat’s painted on the board afore the mickle change-house they ca’ Luckie Middlemass’s,’ answered Callum; meaning, I must observe, a high compliment, for in his opinion Luckie Middlemass’s sign was an exquisite specimen of art. Waverley, however, not feeling the full force of this polite simile, asked him no further questions.

Upon extricating themselves from the mean and dirty suburbs of the metropolis, and emerging into the open air, Waverley felt a renewal of both health and spirits, and turned his recollection with firmness upon the events of the preceding evening, and with hope and resolution towards those of the approaching day.

When he had surmounted a small craggy eminence called St. Leonard’s Hill, the King’s Park, or the hollow between the mountain of Arthur’s Seat and the rising grounds on which the southern part of Edinburgh is now built, lay beneath him, and displayed a singular and animating prospect. It was occupied by the army of the Highlanders, now in the act of preparing for their march. Waverley had already seen something of the kind at the hunting-match which he attended with Fergus MacIvor; but this was on a scale of much greater magnitude, and incomparably deeper interest. The rocks, which formed the background of the scene, and the very sky itself, rang with the clang of the bagpipers, summoning forth, each with his appropriate pibroch, his chieftain and clan. The mountaineers, rousing themselves from their couch under the canopy of heaven with the hum and bustle of a confused and irregular multitude, like bees alarmed and arming in their hives, seemed to possess all the pliability of movement fitted to execute military manoeuvres. Their motions appeared spontaneous and confused, but the result was order and regularity; so that a general must have praised the conclusion, though a martinet might have ridiculed the method by which it was attained.

The sort of complicated medley created by the hasty arrangements of the various clans under their respective banners, for the purpose of getting into the order of march, was in itself a gay and lively spectacle. They had no tents to striket having generally, and by choice, slept upon the open field, although the autumn was now waning and the nights began to be frosty. For a little space, while they were getting into order, there was exhibited a changing, fluctuating, and confused appearance of waving tartans and floating plumes, and of banners displaying the proud gathering word of Clanronald, Ganion Coheriga (Gainsay who dares), Loch-Sloy, the watchword of the MacFarlanes; Forth, fortune, and fill the fetters, the motto of the Marquis of Tullibardine; Bydand, that of Lord Lewis Gordon, and the appropriate signal words and emblems of many other chieftains and clans.

At length the mixed and wavering multitude arranged themselves into a narrow and dusky column of great length, stretching through the whole extent of the valley. In the front of the column the standard of the Chevalier was displayed, bearing a red cross upon a white ground, with the motto Tandem Triumphans. The few cavalry, being chiefly Lowland gentry, with their domestic servants and retainers, formed the advanced guard of the army; and their standards, of which they had rather too many in respect of their numbers, were seen waving upon the extreme verge of the horizon. Many horsemen of this body, among whom Waverley accidentally remarked Balmawhapple and his lieutenant, Jinker (which last, however, had been reduced, with several others, by the advice of the Baron of Bradwardine, to the situation of what he called reformed officers, or reformadoes), added to the liveliness, though by no means to the regularity, of the scene, by galloping their horses as fast forward as the press would permit, to join their proper station in the van. The fascinations of the Circes of the High Street, and the potations of strength with which they had been drenched over night, had probably detained these heroes within the walls of Edinburgh somewhat later than was consistent with their morning duty. Of such loiterers, the prudent took the longer and circuitous, but more open, route to attain their place in the march, by keeping at some distance from the infantry, and making their way through the inclosures to the right, at the expense of leaping over or pulling down the drystone fences. The irregular appearance and vanishing of these small parties of horsemen, as well as the confusion occasioned by those who endeavoured, though generally without effect, to press to the front through the crowd of Highlanders, maugre their curses, oaths, and opposition, added to the picturesque wildness what it took from the military regularity of the scene.

While Waverley gazed upon this remarkable spectacle, rendered yet more impressive by the occasional discharge of cannon-shot from the Castle at the Highland guards as they were withdrawn from its vicinity to join their main body, Callum, with his usual freedom of interference, reminded him that Vich lan Vohr’s folk were nearly at the head of the column of march which was still distant, and that ‘they would gang very fast after the cannon fired.’ Thus admonished, Waverley walked briskly forward, yet often casting a glance upon the darksome clouds of warriors who were collected before and beneath him. A nearer view, indeed, rather diminished the effect impressed on the mind by the more distant appearance of the army. The leading men of each clan were well armed with broad-sword, target, and fusee, to which all added the dirk, and most the steel pistol. But these consisted of gentlemen, that is, relations of the chief, however distant, and who had an immediate title to his countenance and protection. Finer and hardier men could not have been selected out of any army in Christendom; while the free and independent habits which each possessed, and which each was yet so well taught to subject to the command of his chief, and the peculiar mode of discipline adopted in Highland warfare, rendered them equally formidable by their individual courage and high spirit, and from their rational conviction of the necessity of acting in unison, and of giving their national mode of attack the fullest opportunity of success.

But, in a lower rank to these, there were found individuals of an inferior description, the common peasantry of the Highland country, who, although they did not allow themselves to be so called, and claimed often, with apparent truth, to be of more ancient descent than the masters whom they served, bore, nevertheless, the livery of extreme penury, being indifferently accoutred, and worse armed, half naked, stinted in growth, and miserable in aspect. Each important clan had some of those Helots attached to them: thus, the MacCouls, though tracing their descent from Comhal, the father of Finn or Fingal, were a sort of Gibeonites, or hereditary servants to the Stewarts of Appin; the Macbeths, descended from the unhappy monarch of that name, were subjects to the Morays and clan Donnochy, or Robertsons of Athole; and many other examples might be given, were it not for the risk of hurting any pride of clanship which may yet be left, and thereby drawing a Highland tempest into the shop of my publisher. Now these same Helots, though forced into the field by the arbitrary authority of the chieftains under whom they hewed wood and drew water, were in general very sparingly fed, ill dressed, and worse armed. The latter circumstance was indeed owing chiefly to the general disarming act, which had been carried into effect ostensibly through the whole Highlands, although most of the chieftains contrived to elude its influence by retaining the weapons of their own immediate clansmen, and delivering up those of less value, which they collected from these inferior satellites. It followed, as a matter of course, that, as we have already hinted, many of these poor fellows were brought to the field in a very wretched condition.

From this it happened that, in bodies, the van of which were admirably well armed in their own fashion, the rear resembled actual banditti. Here was a pole-axe, there a sword without a scabbard; here a gun without a lock, there a scythe set straight upon a pole; and some had only their dirks, and bludgeons or stakes pulled out of hedges. The grim, uncombed, and wild appearance of these men, most of whom gazed with all the admiration of ignorance upon the most ordinary productions of domestic art, created surprise in the Lowlands, but it also created terror. So little was the condition of the Highlands known at that late period that the character and appearance of their population, while thus sallying forth as military adventurers, conveyed to the South-Country Lowlanders as much surprise as if an invasion of African Negroes or Esquimaux Indians had issued forth from the northern mountains of their own native country. It cannot therefore be wondered if Waverley, who had hitherto judged of the Highlanders generally from the samples which the policy of Fergus had from time to time exhibited, should have felt damped and astonished at the daring attempt of a body not then exceeding four thousand men, and of whom not above half the number, at the utmost, were armed, to change the fate and alter the dynasty of the British kingdoms.

As he moved along the column, which still remained stationary, an iron gun, the only piece of artillery possessed by the army which meditated so important a revolution, was fired as the signal of march. The Chevalier had expressed a wish to leave this useless piece of ordnance behind him; but, to his surprise, the Highland chiefs interposed to solicit that it might accompany their march, pleading the prejudices of their followers, who, little accustomed to artillery, attached a degree of absurd importance to this field-piece, and expected it would contribute essentially to a victory which they could only owe to their own muskets and broadswords. Two or three French artillerymen were therefore appointed to the management of this military engine, which was drawn along by a string of Highland ponies, and was, after all, only used for the purpose of firing signals.83

No sooner was its voice heard upon the present occasion than the whole line was in motion. A wild cry of joy from the advancing batallions rent the air, and was then lost in the shrill clangour of the bagpipes, as the sound of these, in their turn, was partially drowned by the heavy tread of so many men put at once into motion. The banners glittered and shook as they moved forward, and the horse hastened to occupy their station as the advanced guard, and to push on reconnoitring parties to ascertain and report the motions of the enemy. They vanished from Waverley’s eye as they wheeled round the base of Arthur’s Seat, under the remarkable ridge of basaltic rocks which fronts the little lake of Duddingston.

The infantry followed in the same direction, regulating their pace by another body which occupied a road more to the southward. It cost Edward some exertion of activity to attain the place which Fergus’s followers occupied in the line of march.

82 The main body of the Highland army encamped, or rather bivouacked, in that part of the King’s Park which lies towards the village of Duddingston.

83 This circumstance, which is historical, as well as the description that precedes it, will remind the reader of the war of La Vendee, in which the royalists, consisting chiefly of insurgent peasantry, attached a prodigious and even superstitious interest to the possession of a piece of brass ordnance, which they called Marie Jeanne.

The Highlanders of an early period were afraid of cannon, with the noise and effect of which they were totally unacquainted. It was by means of three or four small pieces of artillery that the Earls of Huntly and Errol, in James VI’s time, gained a great victory at Glenlivat, over a numerous Highland army, commanded by the Earl of Argyle. At the battle of the Bridge of Dee, General Middleton obtained by his artillery a similar success, the Highlanders not being able to stand the discharge of Musket’s Mother, which was the name they bestowed on great guns. In an old ballad on the battle of the Bridge of Dee these verses occur:—

The Highlandmen are pretty men

For handling sword and shield,

But yet they are but simple men

To stand a stricken field.

The Highlandmen are pretty men

For target and claymore,

But yet they are but naked men

To face the cannon’s roar.

For the cannons roar on a summer night

Like thunder in the air;

Was never man in Highland garb

Would face the cannon fair

But the Highlanders of 1745 had got far beyond the simplicity of their forefathers, and showed throughout the whole war how little they dreaded artillery, although the common people still attached some consequence to the possession of the field-piece which led to this disquisition.

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