Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XVIII

The Conflict

When Fergus Mac-Ivor and his friend had slept for a few hours, they were awakened and summoned to attend the Prince. The distant village clock was heard to toll three as they hastened to the place where he lay. He was already surrounded by his principal officers and the chiefs of clans. A bundle of pease-straw, which had been lately his couch, now served for his seat. Just as Fergus reached the circle, the consultation had broken up. ‘Courage, my brave friends!’ said the Chevalier, ‘and each one put himself instantly at the head of his command; a faithful friend 85 has offered to guide us by a practicable, though narrow and circuitous, route, which, sweeping to our right, traverses the broken ground and morass, and enables us to gain the firm and open plain upon which the enemy are lying. This difficulty surmounted, Heaven and your good swords must do the rest.’

The proposal spread unanimous joy, and each leader hastened to get his men into order with as little noise as possible. The army, moving by its right from off the ground on which they had rested, soon entered the path through the morass, conducting their march with astonishing silence and great rapidity. The mist had not risen to the higher grounds, so that for some time they had the advantage of star-light. But this was lost as the stars faded before approaching day, and the head of the marching column, continuing its descent, plunged as it were into the heavy ocean of fog, which rolled its white waves over the whole plain, and over the sea by which it was bounded. Some difficulties were now to be encountered, inseparable from darkness, a narrow, broken, and marshy path, and the necessity of preserving union in the march. These, however, were less inconvenient to Highlanders, from their habits of life, than they would have been to any other troops, and they continued a steady and swift movement.

As the clan of Ivor approached the firm ground, following the track of those who preceded them, the challenge of a patrol was heard through the mist, though they could not see the dragoon by whom it was made — ‘Who goes there?’

‘Hush!’ cried Fergus, ‘hush! let none answer, as he values his life; press forward’; and they continued their march with silence and rapidity.

The patrol fired his carabine upon the body, and the report was instantly followed by the clang of his horse’s feet as he galloped off. ‘Hylax in limine latrat,’ said the Baron of Bradwardine, who heard the shot;‘that loon will give the alarm.’

The clan of Fergus had now gained the firm plain, which had lately borne a large crop of corn. But the harvest was gathered in, and the expanse was unbroken by tree, bush, or interruption of any kind. The rest of the army were following fast, when they heard the drums of the enemy beat the general. Surprise, however, had made no part of their plan, so they were not disconcerted by this intimation that the foe was upon his guard and prepared to receive them. It only hastened their dispositions for the combat, which were very simple.

The Highland army, which now occupied the eastern end of the wide plain, or stubble field, so often referred to, was drawn up in two lines, extending from the morass towards the sea. The first was destined to charge the enemy, the second to act as a reserve. The few horse, whom the Prince headed in person, remained between the two lines. The adventurer had intimated a resolution to charge in person at the head of his first line; but his purpose was deprecated by all around him, and he was with difficulty induced to abandon it.

Both lines were now moving forward, the first prepared for instant combat. The clans of which it was composed formed each a sort of separate phalanx, narrow in front, and in depth ten, twelve, or fifteen files, according to the strength of the following. The best-armed and best-born, for the words were synonymous, were placed in front of each of these irregular subdivisions. The others in the rear shouldered forward the front, and by their pressure added both physical impulse and additional ardour and confidence to those who were first to encounter the danger.

‘Down with your plaid, Waverley,’ cried Fergus, throwing off his own; ‘we’ll win silks for our tartans before the sun is above the sea.’

The clansmen on every side stript their plaids, prepared their arms, and there was an awful pause of about three minutes, during which the men, pulling off their bonnets, raised their faces to heaven and uttered a short prayer; then pulled their bonnets over their brows and began to move forward, at first slowly. Waverley felt his heart at that moment throb as it would have burst from his bosom. It was not fear, it was not ardour: it was a compound of both, a new and deeply energetic impulse that with its first emotion chilled and astounded, then fevered and maddened his mind. The sounds around him combined to exalt his enthusiasm; the pipes played, and the clans rushed forward, each in its own dark column. As they advanced they mended their pace, and the muttering sounds of the men to each other began to swell into a wild cry.

At this moment the sun, which was now risen above the horizon, dispelled the mist. The vapours rose like a curtain, and showed the two armies in the act of closing. The line of the regulars was formed directly fronting the attack of the Highlanders; it glittered with the appointments of a complete army, and was flanked by cavalry and artillery. But the sight impressed no terror on the assailants.

‘Forward, sons of Ivor,’ cried their Chief, ‘or the Camerons will draw the first blood!’ They rushed on with a tremendous yell.

The rest is well known. The horse, who were commanded to charge the advancing Highlanders in the flank, received an irregular fire from their fusees as they ran on and, seized with a disgraceful panic, wavered, halted, disbanded, and galloped from the field. The artillery men, deserted by the cavalry, fled after discharging their pieces, and the Highlanders, who dropped their guns when fired and drew their broadswords, rushed with headlong fury against the infantry.

It was at this moment of confusion and terror that Waverley remarked an English officer, apparently of high rank, standing, alone and unsupported, by a fieldpiece, which, after the flight of the men by whom it was wrought, he had himself levelled and discharged against the clan of Mac-Ivor, the nearest group of Highlanders within his aim. Struck with his tall, martial figure, and eager to save him from inevitable destruction, Waverley outstripped for an instant even the speediest of the warriors, and, reaching the spot first, called to him to surrender. The officer replied by a thrust with his sword, which Waverley received in his target, and in turning it aside the Englishman’s weapon broke. At the same time the battle-axe of Dugald Mahony was in the act of descending upon the officer’s head. Waverley intercepted and prevented the blow, and the officer, perceiving further resistance unavailing, and struck with Edward’s generous anxiety for his safety, resigned the fragment of his sword, and was committed by Waverley to Dugald, with strict charge to use him well, and not to pillage his person, promising him, at the same time, full indemnification for the spoil.

On Edward’s right the battle for a few minutes raged fierce and thick. The English infantry, trained in the wars in Flanders, stood their ground with great courage. But their extended files were pierced and broken in many places by the close masses of the clans; and in the personal struggle which ensued the nature of the Highlanders’ weapons, and their extraordinary fierceness and activity, gave them a decided superiority over those who had been accustomed to trust much to their array and discipline, and felt that the one was broken and the other useless. Waverley, as he cast his eyes towards this scene of smoke and slaughter, observed Colonel Gardiner, deserted by his own soldiers in spite of all his attempts to rally them, yet spurring his horse through the field to take the command of a small body of infantry, who, with their backs arranged against the wall of his own park (for his house was close by the field of battle), continued a desperate and unavailing resistance. Waverley could perceive that he had already received many wounds, his clothes and saddle being marked with blood. To save this good and brave man became the instant object of his most anxious exertions. But he could only witness his fall. Ere Edward could make his way among the Highlanders, who, furious and eager for spoil, now thronged upon each other, he saw his former commander brought from his horse by the blow of a scythe, and beheld him receive, while on the ground, more wounds than would have let out twenty lives. When Waverley came up, however, perception had not entirely fled. The dying warrior seemed to recognize Edward, for he fixed his eye upon him with an upbraiding, yet sorrowful, look, and appeared to struggle, for utterance. But he felt that death was dealing closely with him, and resigning his purpose, and folding his hands as if in devotion, he gave up his soul to his Creator. The look with which he regarded Waverley in his dying moments did not strike him so deeply at that crisis of hurry and confusion as when it recurred to his imagination at the distance of some time.86

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Colonel Gardiner — Original Etching by H. Macbeth Raeburn

Loud shouts of triumph now echoed over the whole field. The battle was fought and won, and the whole baggage, artillery, and military stores of the regular army remained in possession of the victors. Never was a victory more complete. Scarce any escaped from the battle, excepting the cavalry, who had left it at the very onset, and even these were broken into different parties and scattered all over the country. So far as our tale is concerned, we have only to relate the fate of Balmawhapple, who, mounted on a horse as headstrong and stiff-necked as his rider, pursued the flight of the dragoons above four miles from the field of battle, when some dozen of the fugitives took heart of grace, turned round, and cleaving his skull with their broadswords, satisfied the world that the unfortunate gentleman had actually brains, the end of his life thus giving proof of a fact greatly doubted during its progress. His death was lamented by few. Most of those who knew him agreed in the pithy observation of Ensign Maccombich, that there ‘was mair tint (lost) at Sheriff-Muir.’ His friend, Lieutenant Jinker, bent his eloquence only to exculpate his favourite mare from any share in contributing to the catastrophe. ‘He had tauld the laird a thousand times,’ he said,‘that it was a burning shame to put a martingale upon the puir thing, when he would needs ride her wi’ a curb of half a yard lang; and that he could na but bring himsell (not to say her) to some mischief, by flinging her down, or otherwise; whereas, if he had had a wee bit rinnin ring on the snaffle, she wad ha’ rein’d as cannily as a cadger’s pownie.’

Such was the elegy of the Laird of Balmawhapple.87

85 The faithful friend who pointed out the pass by which the Highlanders moved from Tranent to Seaton was Robert Anderson, junior, of Whitburgh, a gentleman of property in East Lothian. He had been interrogated by the Lord George Murray concerning the possibility of crossing the uncouth and marshy piece of ground which divided the armies, and which he described as impracticable. When dismissed, he recollected that there was a circuitous path leading eastward through the marsh into the plain, by which the Highlanders might turn the flank of Sir John Cope’s position without being exposed to the enemy’s fire. Having mentioned his opinion to Mr. Hepburn of Keith, who instantly saw its importance, he was encouraged by that gentleman to awake Lord George Murray and communicate the idea to him. Lord George received the information with grateful thanks, and instantly awakened Prince Charles, who was sleeping in the field with a bunch of pease under his head. The Adventurer received with alacrity the news that there was a possibility of bringing an excellently provided army to a decisive battle with his own irregular forces. His joy on the occasion was not very consistent with the charge of cowardice brought against him by Chevalier Johnstone, a discontented follower, whose Memoirs possess at least as much of a romantic as a historical character. Even by the account of the Chevalier himself, the Prince was at the head of the second line of the Highland army during the battle, of which he says, ‘It was gained with such rapidity that in the second line, where I was still by the side of the Prince, we saw no other enemy than those who were lying on the ground killed and wounded, though we were not more than fifty paces behind our first line, running always as fast as we could to overtake them.’

This passage in the Chevalier’s Memoirs places the Prince within fifty paces of the heat of the battle, a position which would never have been the choice of one unwilling to take a share of its dangers. Indeed, unless the chiefs had complied with the young Adventurer’s proposal to lead the van in person, it does not appear that he could have been deeper in the action.

86 The death of this good Christian and gallant man is thus given by his affectionate biographer, Doctor Doddridge, from the evidence of eye-witnesses:—

‘He continued all night under arms, wrapped up in his cloak, and generally sheltered under a rick of barley which happened to be in the field. About three in the morning he called his domestic servants to him, of which there were four in waiting. He dismissed three of them with most affectionate Christian advice, and such solemn charges relating to the performance of their duty, and the care of their souls, as seemed plainly to intimate that he apprehended it was at least very probable he was taking his last farewell of them. There is great reason to believe that he spent the little remainder of the time, which could not be much above an hour, in those devout exercises of soul which had been so long habitual to him, and to which so many circumstances did then concur to call him. The army was alarmed by break of day by the noise of the rebels’ approach, and the attack was made before sunrise, yet when it was light enough to discern what passed. As soon as the enemy came within gun-shot they made a furious fire; and it is said that the dragoons which constituted the left wing immediately fled. The Colonel at the beginning of the onset, which in the whole lasted but a few minutes, received a wound by a bullet in his left breast, which made him give a sudden spring in his saddle; upon which his servant, who led the horse, would have persuaded him to retreat, but he said it was only a wound in the flesh, and fought on, though he presently after received a shot in his right thigh. In the mean time, it was discerned that some of the enemy fell by him, and particularly one man who had made him a treacherous visit but a few days before, with great professions of zeal for the present establishment.

‘Events of this kind pass in less time than the description of them can be written, or than it can be read. The Colonel was for a few moments supported by his men, and particularly by that worthy person Lieutenant-Colonel Whitney, who was shot through the arm here, and a few months after fell nobly at the battle of Falkirk, and by Lieutenant West, a man of distinguished bravery, as also by about fifteen dragoons, who stood by him to the last. But after a faint fire, the regiment in general was seized with a panic; and though their Colonel and some other gallant officers did what they could to rally them once or twice, they at last took a precipitate flight. And just in the moment when Colonel Gardiner seemed to be making a pause to deliberate what duty required him to do in such circumstances, an accident happened, which must, I think, in the judgment of every worthy and generous man, be allowed a sufficient apology for exposing his life to so great hazard, when his regiment had left him. He saw a party of the foot, who were then bravely fighting near him, and whom he was ordered to support, had no officer to head them; upon which he said eagerly, in the hearing of the person from whom I had this account, “These brave fellows will be cut to pieces for want of a commander,” or words to that effect; which while he was speaking he rode up to them and cried out, “Fire on, my lads, and fear nothing.” But just as the words were out of his mouth, a Highlander advanced towards him with a scythe fastened to a long pole, with which he gave him so dreadful a wound on his right arm, that his sword dropped out of his hand; and at the same time several others coming about him while he was thus dreadfully entangled with that cruel weapon, he was dragged off from his horse. The moment he fell, another Highlander, who, if the king’s evidence at Carlisle may be credited (as I know not why they should not, though the unhappy creature died denying it), was one Mac-Naught, who was executed about a year after, gave him a stroke either with a broadsword or a Lochaber-axe (for my informant could not exactly distinguish) on the hinder part of his head, which was the mortal blow. All that his faithful attendant saw farther at this time was that, as his hat was fallen off, he took it in his left hand and waved it as a signal to him to retreat, and added, what were the last words he ever heard him speak, “Take care of yourself”; upon which the servant retired.’ — Some Remarkable Passages in the Life of Colonel James Gardiner. By P. Doddridge, D.D. London, 1747, P.187.

I may remark on this extract, that it confirms the account given in the text of the resistance offered by some of the English infantry. Surprised by a force of a peculiar and unusual description, their opposition could not be long or formidable, especially as they were deserted by the cavalry, and those who undertook to manage the artillery. But, although the affair was soon decided, I have always understood that many of the infantry showed an inclination to do their duty.

87 It is scarcely necessary to say that the character of this brutal young Laird is entirely imaginary. A gentleman, however, who resembled Balmawhapple in the article of courage only, fell at Preston in the manner described. A Perthshire gentleman of high honour and respectability, one of the handful of cavalry who followed the fortunes of Charles Edward, pursued the fugitive dragoons almost alone till near Saint Clement’s Wells, where the efforts of some of the officers had prevailed on a few of them to make a momentary stand. Perceiving at this moment that they were pursued by only one man and a couple of servants, they turned upon him and cut him down with their swords. I remember when a child, sitting on his grave, where the grass long grew rank and green, distinguishing it from the rest of the field. A female of the family then residing at Saint Clement’s Wells used to tell me the tragedy, of which she had been an eye-witness, and showed me in evidence one of the silver clasps of the unfortunate gentleman’s waistcoat.

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