Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XVI

An Incident Gives Rise to Unavailing Reflections

When Waverley reached that part of the column which was filled by the clan of Mac-Ivor, they halted, formed, and received him with a triumphant flourish upon the bagpipes and a loud shout of the men, most of whom knew him personally, and were delighted to see him in the dress of their country and of their sept. ‘You shout,’ said a Highlander of a neighbouring clan to Evan Dhu, ‘as if the Chieftain were just come to your head.’

‘Mar e Bran is e a brathair, If it be not Bran, it is Bran’s brother,’ was the proverbial reply of Maccombich.84

‘O, then, it is the handsome Sassenach duinhe-wassel that is to be married to Lady Flora?’

‘That may be, or it may not be; and it is neither your matter nor mine, Gregor.’

Fergus advanced to embrace the volunteer, and afford him a warm and hearty welcome; but he thought it necessary to apologize for the diminished numbers of his battalion (which did not exceed three hundred men) by observing he had sent a good many out upon parties.

The real fact, however, was, that the defection of Donald Bean Lean had deprived him of at least thirty hardy fellows, whose services he had fully reckoned upon, and that many of his occasional adherents had been recalled by their several chiefs to the standards to which they most properly owed their allegiance. The rival chief of the great northern branch, also, of his own clan had mustered his people, although he had not yet declared either for the government or for the Chevalier, and by his intrigues had in some degree diminished the force with which Fergus took the field. To make amends for these disappointments, it was universally admitted that the followers of Vich Ian Vohr, in point of appearance, equipment, arms, and dexterity in using them, equalled the most choice troops which followed the standard of Charles Edward. Old Ballenkeiroch acted as his major; and, with the other officers who had known Waverley when at Glennaquoich, gave our hero a cordial reception, as the sharer of their future dangers and expected honours.

The route pursued by the Highland army, after leaving the village of Duddingston, was for some time the common post-road betwixt Edinburgh and Haddington, until they crossed the Esk at Musselburgh, when, instead of keeping the low grounds towards the sea, they turned more inland, and occupied the brow of the eminence called Carberry Hill, a place already distinguished in Scottish history as the spot where the lovely Mary surrendered herself to her insurgent subjects. This direction was chosen because the Chevalier had received notice that the army of the government, arriving by sea from Aberdeen, had landed at Dunbar, and quartered the night before to the west of Haddington, with the intention of falling down towards the sea-side, and approaching Edinburgh by the lower coast-road. By keeping the height, which overhung that road in many places, it was hoped the Highlanders might find an opportunity of attacking them to advantage. The army therefore halted upon the ridge of Carberry Hill, both to refresh the soldiers and as a central situation from which their march could be directed to any point that the motions of the enemy might render most advisable. While they remained in this position a messenger arrived in haste to desire Mac-Ivor to come to the Prince, adding that their advanced post had had a skirmish with some of the enemy’s cavalry, and that the Baron of Bradwardine had sent in a few prisoners.

Waverley walked forward out of the line to satisfy his curiosity, and soon observed five or six of the troopers who, covered with dust, had galloped in to announce that the enemy were in full march westward along the coast. Passing still a little farther on, he was struck with a groan which issued from a hovel. He approached the spot, and heard a voice, in the provincial English of his native county, which endeavoured, though frequently interrupted by pain, to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. The voice of distress always found a ready answer in our hero’s bosom. He entered the hovel, which seemed to be intended for what is called, in the pastoral counties of Scotland, a smearing-house; and in its obscurity Edward could only at first discern a sort of red bundle; for those who had stripped the wounded man of his arms and part of his clothes had left him the dragoon-cloak in which he was enveloped.

‘For the love of God,’ said the wounded man, as he heard Waverley’s step, ‘give me a single drop of water!’

‘You shall have it,’ answered Waverley, at the same time raising him in his arms, bearing him to the door of the hut, and giving him some drink from his flask.

‘I should know that voice,’ said the man; but looking on Waverley’s dress with a bewildered look — ‘no, this is not the young squire!’

This was the common phrase by which Edward was distinguished on the estate of Waverley-Honour, and the sound now thrilled to his heart with the thousand recollections which the well-known accents of his native country had already contributed to awaken. ‘Houghton!’ he said, gazing on the ghastly features which death was fast disfiguring, ‘can this be you?’

‘I never thought to hear an English voice again,’ said the wounded man;‘they left me to live or die here as I could, when they found I would say nothing about the strength of the regiment. But, O squire! how could you stay from us so long, and let us be tempted by that fiend of the pit, Rufinn? we should have followed you through flood and fire, to be sure.’

‘Rufin! I assure you, Houghton, you have been vilely imposed upon.’

‘I often thought so,’ said Houghton,‘though they showed us your very seal; and so Tims was shot and I was reduced to the ranks.’

‘Do not exhaust your strength in speaking,’ said Edward; ‘I will get you a surgeon presently.’

He saw Mac-Ivor approaching, who was now returning from headquarters, where he had attended a council of war, and hastened to meet him. ‘Brave news!‘shouted the Chief; ‘we shall be at it in less than two hours. The Prince has put himself at the head of the advance, and, as he drew his sword, called out, “My friends, I have thrown away the scabbard.” Come, Waverley, we move instantly.’

‘A moment — a moment; this poor prisoner is dying; where shall I find a surgeon?’

‘Why, where should you? We have none, you know, but two or three French fellows, who, I believe, are little better than garqons apothecaires.’

‘But the man will bleed to death.’

‘Poor fellow!’ said Fergus, in a momentary fit of compassion; then instantly added, ‘But it will be a thousand men’s fate before night; so come along.’

‘I cannot; I tell you he is a son of a tenant of my uncle’s.’

‘O, if he’s a follower of yours he must be looked to; I’ll send Callum to you; but diaoul! ceade millia mottigheart,’ continued the impatient Chieftain, ‘what made an old soldier like Bradwardine send dying men here to cumber us?’

Callum came with his usual alertness; and, indeed, Waverley rather gained than lost in the opinion of the Highlanders by his anxiety about the wounded man. They would not have understood the general philanthropy which rendered it almost impossible for Waverley to have passed any person in such distress; but, as apprehending that the sufferer was one of his following they unanimously allowed that Waverley’s conduct was that of a kind and considerate chieftain, who merited the attachment of his people. In about a quarter of an hour poor Humphrey breathed his last, praying his young master, when he returned to Waverley-Honour, to be kind to old Job Houghton and his dame, and conjuring him not to fight with these wild petticoat-men against old England.

When his last breath was drawn, Waverley, who had beheld with sincere sorrow, and no slight tinge of remorse, the final agonies of mortality, now witnessed for the first time, commanded Callum to remove the body into the hut. This the young Highlander performed, not without examining the pockets of the defunct, which, however, he remarked had been pretty well spunged. He took the cloak, however, and proceeding with the provident caution of a spaniel hiding a bone, concealed it among some furze and carefully marked the spot, observing that, if he chanced to return that way, it would be an excellent rokelay for his auld mother Elspat.

It was by a considerable exertion that they regained their place in the marching column, which was now moving rapidly forward to occupy the high grounds above the village of Tranent, between which and the sea lay the purposed march of the opposite army.

This melancholy interview with his late sergeant forced many unavailing and painful reflections upon Waverley’s mind. It was clear from the confession of the man that Colonel Gardiner’s proceedings had been strictly warranted, and even rendered indispensable, by the steps taken in Edward’s name to induce the soldiers of his troop to mutiny. The circumstance of the seal he now, for the first time, recollected, and that he had lost it in the cavern of the robber, Bean Lean. That the artful villain had secured it, and used it as the means of carrying on an intrigue in the regiment for his own purposes, was sufficiently evident; and Edward had now little doubt that in the packet placed in his portmanteau by his daughter he should find farther light upon his proceedings. In the meanwhile the repeated expostulation of Houghton — ‘Ah, squire, why did you leave us?’ rung like a knell in his ears.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have indeed acted towards you with thoughtless cruelty. I brought you from your paternal fields, and the protection of a generous and kind landlord, and when I had subjected you to all the rigour of military discipline, I shunned to bear my own share of the burden, and wandered from the duties I had undertaken, leaving alike those whom it was my business to protect, and my own reputation, to suffer under the artifices of villainy. O, indolence and indecision of mind, if not in yourselves vices — to how much exquisite misery and mischief do you frequently prepare the way!’

84 Bran, the well-known dog of Fingal. is often the theme of Highland proverb as well as song.

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