Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XX

The English Prisoner

The first occupation of Waverley, after he departed from the Chieftain, was to go in quest of the officer whose life he had saved. He was guarded, along with his companions in misfortune, who were very numerous, in a gentleman’s house near the field of battle.

On entering the room where they stood crowded together, Waverley easily recognised the object of his visit, not only by the peculiar dignity of his appearance, but by the appendage of Dugald Mahony, with his battleaxe, who had stuck to him from the moment of his captivity as if he had been skewered to his side. This close attendance was perhaps for the purpose of securing his promised reward from Edward, but it also operated to save the English gentleman from being plundered in the scene of general confusion; for Dugald sagaciously argued that the amount of the salvage which he might be allowed would be regulated by the state of the prisoner when he should deliver him over to Waverley. He hastened to assure Waverley, therefore, with more words than he usually employed, that he had ‘keepit ta sidier roy haill, and that he wasna a plack the waur since the fery moment when his honour forbad her to gie him a bit clamhewit wi’ her Lochaber-axe.’

Waverley assured Dugald of a liberal recompense, and, approaching the English officer, expressed his anxiety to do anything which might contribute to his convenience under his present unpleasant circumstances.

‘I am not so inexperienced a soldier, sir,’ answered the Englishman, ‘as to complain of the fortune of war. I am only grieved to see those scenes acted in our own island which I have often witnessed elsewhere with comparative indifference.’

‘Another such day as this,’ said Waverley, ‘and I trust the cause of your regrets will be removed, and all will again return to peace and order.’

The officer smiled and shook his head. ‘I must not forget my situation so far as to attempt a formal confutation of that opinion; but, notwithstanding your success and the valour which achieved it, you have undertaken a task to which your strength appears wholly inadequate.’

At this moment Fergus pushed into the press.

‘Come, Edward, come along; the Prince has gone to Pinkie House for the night; and we must follow, or lose the whole ceremony of the caligae. Your friend, the Baron, has been guilty of a great piece of cruelty; he has insisted upon dragging Bailie Macwheeble out to the field of battle. Now, you must know, the Bailie’s greatest horror is an armed Highlander or a loaded gun; and there he stands, listening to the Baron’s instructions concerning the protest, ducking his head like a sea-gull at the report of every gun and pistol that our idle boys are firing upon the fields, and undergoing, by way of penance, at every symptom of flinching a severe rebuke from his patron, who would not admit the discharge of a whole battery of cannon, within point-blank distance, as an apology for neglecting a discourse in which the honour of his family is interested.’

‘But how has Mr. Bradwardine got him to venture so far?’ said Edward.

‘Why, he had come as far as Musselburgh, I fancy, in hopes of making some of our wills; and the peremptory commands of the Baron dragged him forward to Preston after the battle was over. He complains of one or two of our ragamuffins having put him in peril of his life by presenting their pieces at him; but as they limited his ransom to an English penny, I don’t think we need trouble the provost-marshal upon that subject. So come along, Waverley.’

‘Waverley!’ said the English officer, with great emotion;’ the nephew of Sir Everard Waverley, of —— shire?’

‘The same, sir,’ replied our hero, somewhat surprised at the tone in which he was addressed.

‘I am at once happy and grieved,’ said the prisoner, ‘to have met with you.’

‘I am ignorant, sir,’ answered Waverley, ‘how I have deserved so much interest.’

‘Did your uncle never mention a friend called Talbot?’

‘I have heard him talk with great regard of such a person,’ replied Edward; ‘a colonel, I believe, in the army, and the husband of Lady Emily Blandeville; but I thought Colonel Talbot had been abroad.’

‘I am just returned,’ answered the officer; ‘and being in Scotland, thought it my duty to act where my services promised to be useful. Yes, Mr. Waverley, I am that Colonel Talbot, the husband of the lady you have named; and I am proud to acknowledge that I owe alike my professional rank and my domestic happiness to your generous and noble-minded relative. Good God! that I should find his nephew in such a dress, and engaged in such a cause!’

‘Sir,’ said Fergus, haughtily, ‘the dress and cause are those of men of birth and honour.’

‘My situation forbids me to dispute your assertion,’ said Colonel Talbot; ‘otherwise it were no difficult matter to show that neither courage nor pride of lineage can gild a bad cause. But, with Mr. Waverley’s permission and yours, sir, if yours also must be asked, I would willingly speak a few words with him on affairs connected with his own family.’

‘Mr. Waverley, sir, regulates his own motions. You will follow me, I suppose, to Pinkie,’ said Fergus, turning to Edward, ‘when you have finished your discourse with this new acquaintance?’ So saying, the Chief of Glennaquoich adjusted his plaid with rather more than his usual air of haughty assumption and left the apartment.

The interest of Waverley readily procured for Colonel Talbot the freedom of adjourning to a large garden belonging to his place of confinement. They walked a few paces in silence, Colonel Talbot apparently studying how to open what he had to say; at length he addressed Edward.

‘Mr. Waverley, you have this day saved my life; and yet I would to God that I had lost it, ere I had found you wearing the uniform and cockade of these men.’

‘I forgive your reproach, Colonel Talbot; it is well meant, and your education and prejudices render it natural. But there is nothing extraordinary in finding a man whose honour has been publicly and unjustly assailed in the situation which promised most fair to afford him satisfaction on his calumniators.’

‘I should rather say, in the situation most likely to confirm the reports which they have circulated,’ said Colonel Talbot, ‘by following the very line of conduct ascribed to you. Are you aware, Mr. Waverley, of the infinite distress, and even danger, which your present conduct has occasioned to your nearest relatives?’

‘Danger!’

‘Yes, sir, danger. When I left England your uncle and father had been obliged to find bail to answer a charge of treason, to which they were only admitted by the exertion of the most powerful interest. I came down to Scotland with the sole purpose of rescuing you from the gulf into which you have precipitated yourself; nor can I estimate the consequences to your family of your having openly joined the rebellion, since the very suspicion of your intention was so perilous to them. Most deeply do I regret that I did not meet you before this last and fatal error.’

‘I am really ignorant,’ said Waverley, in a tone of reserve, ‘why Colonel Talbot should have taken so much trouble on my account.’

‘Mr. Waverley,’ answered Talbot, ‘I am dull at apprehending irony; and therefore I shall answer your words according to their plain meaning. I am indebted to your uncle for benefits greater than those which a son owes to a father. I acknowledge to him the duty of a son; and as I know there is no manner in which I can requite his kindness so well as by serving you, I will serve you, if possible, whether you will permit me or no. The personal obligation which you have this day laid me under (although, in common estimation, as great as one human being can bestow on another) adds nothing to my zeal on your behalf; nor can that zeal be abated by any coolness with which you may please to receive it.’

‘Your intentions may be kind, sir,’ said Waverley, drily; ‘but your language is harsh, or at least peremptory.’

‘On my return to England,’ continued Colonel Talbot, ‘after long absence, I found your uncle, Sir Everard Waverley, in the custody of a king’s messenger, in consequence of the suspicion brought upon him by your conduct. He is my oldest friend — how often shall I repeat it? — my best benefactor! he sacrificed his own views of happiness to mine; he never uttered a word, he never harboured a thought, that benevolence itself might not have thought or spoken. I found this man in confinement, rendered harsher to him by his habits of life, his natural dignity of feeling, and — forgive me, Mr. Waverley — by the cause through which this calamity had come upon him. I cannot disguise from you my feelings upon this occasion; they were most painfully unfavorable to you. Having by my family interest, which you probably know is not inconsiderable, succeeded in obtaining Sir Everard’s release, I set out for Scotland. I saw Colonel Gardiner, a man whose fate alone is sufficient to render this insurrection for ever execrable. In the course of conversation with him I found that, from late circumstances, from a reexamination of the persons engaged in the mutiny, and from his original good opinion of your character, he was much softened towards you; and I doubted not that, if I could be so fortunate as to discover you, all might yet be well. But this unnatural rebellion has ruined all. I have, for the first time in a long and active military life, seen Britons disgrace themselves by a panic flight, and that before a foe without either arms or discipline. And now I find the heir of my dearest friend — the son, I may say, of his’ affections — sharing a triumph for which he ought the first to have blushed. Why should I lament Gardiner? his lot was happy compared to mine!’

There was so much dignity in Colonel Talbot’s manner, such a mixture of military pride and manly sorrow, and the news of Sir Everard’s imprisonment was told in so deep a tone of feeling, that Edward stood mortified, abashed, and distressed in presence of the prisoner who owed to him his life not many hours before. He was not sorry when Fergus interrupted their conference a second time.

‘His Royal Highness commands Mr. Waverley’s attendance.’ Colonel Talbot threw upon Edward a reproachful glance, which did not escape the quick eye of the Highland Chief. ‘His immediate attendance,’ he repeated, with considerable emphasis. Waverley turned again towards the Colonel.

‘We shall meet again,’ he said; ‘in the meanwhile, every possible accommodation — ’

‘I desire none,’ said the Colonel; ‘let me fare like the meanest of those brave men who, on this day of calamity, have preferred wounds and captivity to flight; I would almost exchange places with one of those who have fallen to know that my words have made a suitable impression on your mind.’

‘Let Colonel Talbot be carefully secured,’ said Fergus to the Highland officer who commanded the guard over the prisoners; ‘it is the Prince’s particular command; he is a prisoner of the utmost importance.’

‘But let him want no accommodation suitable to his rank,’ said Waverley. ‘Consistent always with secure custody,’ reiterated Fergus. The officer signified his acquiescence in both commands, and Edward followed Fergus to the garden-gate, where Callum Beg, with three saddle-horses, awaited them. Turning his head, he saw Colonel Talbot reconducted to his place of confinement by a file of Highlanders; he lingered on the threshold of the door and made a signal with his hand towards Waverley, as if enforcing the language he had held towards him.

‘Horses,’ said Fergus, as he mounted, ‘are now as plenty as blackberries; every man may have them for the catching. Come, let Callum adjust your stirrups and let us to Pinkie House88 as fast as these ci-devant dragoon-horses choose to carry us.’

88 Charles Edward took up his quarters after the battle at Pinkie House, adjoining to Musselburgh.

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