Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XL

A darker departure is near,

The death drum is muffled, and sable the bier

— CAMPBELL

After a sleepless night, the first dawn of morning found Waverley on the esplanade in front of the old Gothic gate of Carlisle Castle. But he paced it long in every direction before the hour when, according to the rules of the garrison, the gates were opened and the draw-bridge lowered. He produced his order to the sergeant of the guard and was admitted.

The place of Fergus’s confinement was a gloomy and vaulted apartment in the central part of the Castle; a huge old tower, supposed to be of great antiquity, and surrounded by outworks, seemingly of Henry VIII’s time, or somewhat later. The grating of the large old-fashioned bars and bolts, withdrawn for the purpose of admitting Edward, was answered by the clash of chains, as the unfortunate Chieftain, strongly and heavily fettered, shuffled along the stone floor of his prison to fling himself into his friend’s arms.

‘My dear Edward,’ he said, in a firm and even cheerful voice,‘this is truly kind. I heard of your approaching happiness with the highest pleasure. And how does Rose? and how is our old whimsical friend the Baron? Well, I trust, since I see you at freedom. And how will you settle precedence between the three ermines passant and the bear and boot-jack?’

‘How, O how, my dear Fergus, can you talk of such things at such a moment!’

‘Why, we have entered Carlisle with happier auspices, to be sure; on the 16th of November last, for example, when we marched in side by side, and hoisted the white flag on these ancient towers. But I am no boy, to sit down and weep because the luck has gone against me. I knew the stake which I risked; we played the game boldly and the forfeit shall be paid manfully. And now, since my time is short, let me come to the questions that interest me most — the Prince? has he escaped the bloodhounds?’

‘He has, and is in safety.’

‘Praised be God for that! Tell me the particulars of his escape.’

Waverley communicated that remarkable history, so far as it had then transpired, to which Fergus listened with deep interest. He then asked after several other friends; and made many minute inquiries concerning the fate of his own clansmen. They had suffered less than other tribes who had been engaged in the affair; for, having in a great measure dispersed and returned home after the captivity of their Chieftain, according to the universal custom of the Highlanders, they were not in arms when the insurrection was finally suppressed, and consequently were treated with less rigour. This Fergus heard with great satisfaction.

‘You are rich,’ he said, ‘Waverley, and you are generous. When you hear of these poor Mac-Ivors being distressed about their miserable possessions by some harsh overseer or agent of government, remember you have worn their tartan and are an adopted son of their race, The Baron, who knows our manners and lives near our country, will apprise you of the time and means to be their protector. Will you promise this to the last Vich Ian Vohr?’

Edward, as may well be believed, pledged his word; which he afterwards so amply redeemed that his memory still lives in these glens by the name of the Friend of the Sons of Ivor.

‘Would to God,’ continued the Chieftain, ‘I could bequeath to you my rights to the love and obedience of this primitive and brave race; or at least, as I have striven to do, persuade poor Evan to accept of his life upon their terms, and be to you what he has been to me, the kindest, the bravest, the most devoted — ’

The tears which his own fate could not draw forth fell fast for that of his foster-brother.

‘But,’ said he, drying them,‘that cannot be. You cannot be to them Vich Ian Vohr; and these three magic words,’ said he, half smiling, ‘are the only Open Sesame to their feelings and sympathies, and poor Evan must attend his foster-brother in death, as he has done through his whole life.’

‘And I am sure,’ said Maccombich, raising himself from the floor, on which, for fear of interrupting their conversation, he had lain so still that, in the obscurity of the apartment, Edward was not aware of his presence — ‘I am sure Evan never desired or deserved a better end than just to die with his Chieftain.’

‘And now,’ said Fergus, ‘while we are upon the subject of clanship — what think you now of the prediction of the Bodach Glas?’ Then, before Edward could answer, ‘I saw him again last night: he stood in the slip of moonshine which fell from that high and narrow window towards my bed. “Why should I fear him?” I thought; “to-morrow, long ere this time, I shall be as immaterial as he.” “False spirit,” I said, “art thou come to close thy walks on earth and to enjoy thy triumph in the fall of the last descendant of thine enemy?” The spectre seemed to beckon and to smile as he faded from my sight. What do you think of it? I asked the same question of the priest, who is a good and sensible man; he admitted that the church allowed that such apparitions were possible, but urged me not to permit my mind to dwell upon it, as imagination plays us such strange tricks. What do you think of it?’

‘Much as your confessor,’ said Waverley, willing to avoid dispute upon such a point at such a moment. A tap at the door now announced that good man, and Edward retired while he administered to both prisoners the last rites of religion, in the mode which the Church of Rome prescribes.

In about an hour he was re-admitted; soon after, a file of soldiers entered with a blacksmith, who struck the fetters from the legs of the prisoners.

‘You see the compliment they pay to our Highland strength and courage; we have lain chained here like wild beasts, till our legs are cramped into palsy, and when they free us they send six soldiers with loaded muskets to prevent our taking the castle by storm!’

Edward afterwards learned that these severe precautions had been taken in consequence of a desperate attempt of the prisoners to escape, in which they had very nearly succeeded.

Shortly afterwards the drums of the garrison beat to arms. ‘This is the last turn-out,’ said Fergus, ‘that I shall hear and obey. And now, my dear, dear Edward, ere we part let us speak of Flora — a subject which awakes the tenderest feeling that yet thrills within me’

‘We part not here!’ said Waverley.

‘O yes, we do; you must come no farther. Not that I fear what is to follow for myself,’ he said proudly. ‘Nature has her tortures as well as art, and how happy should we think the man who escapes from the throes of a mortal and painful disorder in the space of a short half hour? And this matter, spin it out as they will, cannot last longer. But what a dying man can suffer firmly may kill a living friend to look upon. This same law of high treason,’ he continued, with astonishing firmness and composure, ‘is one of the blessings, Edward, with which your free country has accommodated poor old Scotland; her own jurisprudence, as I have heard, was much milder. But I suppose one day or other — when there are no longer any wild Highlanders to benefit by its tender mercies — they will blot it from their records as levelling them with a nation of cannibals. The mummery, too, of exposing the senseless head — they have not the wit to grace mine with a paper coronet; there would be some satire in that, Edward. I hope they will set it on the Scotch gate though, that I may look, even after death, to the blue hills of my own country, which I love so dearly. The Baron would have added,

Moritur, et moriens dukes reminiscitur Argos.’

A bustle, and the sound of wheels and horses’ feet, was now heard in the court-yard of the Castle. ‘As I have told you why you must not follow me, and these sounds admonish me that my time flies fast, tell me how you found poor Flora.’

Waverley, with a voice interrupted by suffocating sensations, gave some account of the state of her mind.

‘Poor Flora!’ answered the Chief, ‘she could have borne her own sentence of death, but not mine. You, Waverley, will soon know the happiness of mutual affection in the married state — long, long may Rose and you enjoy it! — but you can never know the purity of feeling which combines two orphans like Flora and me, left alone as it were in the world, and being all in all to each other from our very infancy. But her strong sense of duty and predominant feeling of loyalty will give new nerve to her mind after the immediate and acute sensation of this parting has passed away. She will then think of Fergus as of the heroes of our race, upon whose deeds she loved to dwell.’

‘Shall she not see you then?’ asked Waverley. ‘She seemed to expect it.’

‘A necessary deceit will spare her the last dreadful parting. I could not part with her without tears, and I cannot bear that these men should think they have power to extort them. She was made to believe she would see me at a later hour, and this letter, which my confessor will deliver, will apprise her that all is over.’

An officer now appeared and intimated that the High Sheriff and his attendants waited before the gate of the Castle to claim the bodies of Fergus Mac-Ivor and Evan Maccombich. ‘I come,’ said Fergus. Accordingly, supporting Edward by the arm and followed by Evan Dhu and the priest, he moved down the stairs of the tower, the soldiers bringing up the rear. The court was occupied by a squadron of dragoons and a battalion of infantry, drawn up in hollow square. Within their ranks was the sledge or hurdle on which the prisoners were to be drawn to the place of execution, about a mile distant from Carlisle. It was painted black, and drawn by a white horse. At one end of the vehicle sat the executioner, a horrid-looking fellow, as beseemed his trade, with the broad axe in his hand; at the other end, next the horse, was an empty seat for two persons. Through the deep and dark Gothic archway that opened on the drawbridge were seen on horseback the High Sheriff and his attendants, whom the etiquette betwixt the civil and military powers did not permit to come farther. ‘This is well GOT UP for a closing scene,’ said Fergus, smiling disdainfully as he gazed around upon the apparatus of terror. Evan Dhu exclaimed with some eagerness, after looking at the dragoons,’ These are the very chields that galloped off at Gladsmuir, before we could kill a dozen o’ them. They look bold enough now, however.’ The priest entreated him to be silent.

The sledge now approached, and Fergus, turning round, embraced Waverley, kissed him on each side of the face, and stepped nimbly into his place. Evan sat down by his side. The priest was to follow in a carriage belonging to his patron, the Catholic gentleman at whose house Flora resided. As Fergus waved his hand to Edward the ranks closed around the sledge, and the whole procession began to move forward. There was a momentary stop at the gateway, while the governor of the Castle and the High Sheriff went through a short ceremony, the military officer there delivering over the persons of the criminals to the civil power. ‘God save King George!’ said the High Sheriff. When the formality concluded, Fergus stood erect in the sledge, and, with a firm and steady voice, replied,’ God save King JAMES!’ These were the last words which Waverley heard him speak.

The procession resumed its march, and the sledge vanished from beneath the portal, under which it had stopped for an instant. The dead march was then heard, and its melancholy sounds were mingled with those of a muffled peal tolled from the neighbouring cathedral. The sound of military music died away as the procession moved on; the sullen clang of the bells was soon heard to sound alone.

The last of the soldiers had now disappeared from under the vaulted archway through which they had been filing for several minutes; the court-yard was now totally empty, but Waverley still stood there as if stupefied, his eyes fixed upon the dark pass where he had so lately seen the last glimpse of his friend. At length a female servant of the governor’s, struck with compassion, at the stupefied misery which his countenance expressed, asked him if he would not walk into her master’s house and sit down? She was obliged to repeat her question twice ere he comprehended her, but at length it recalled him to himself. Declining the courtesy by a hasty gesture, he pulled his hat over his eyes, and, leaving the Castle, walked as swiftly as he could through the empty streets till he regained his inn, then rushed into an apartment and bolted the door.

In about an hour and a half, which seemed an age of unutterable suspense, the sound of the drums and fifes performing a lively air, and the confused murmur of the crowd which now filled the streets, so lately deserted, apprised him that all was finished, and that the military and populace were returning from the dreadful scene. I will not attempt to describe his sensations.

In the evening the priest made him a visit, and informed him that he did so by directions of his deceased friend, to assure him that Fergus Mac-Ivor had died as he lived, and remembered his friendship to the last. He added, he had also seen Flora, whose state of mind seemed more composed since all was over. With her and sister Theresa the priest proposed next day to leave Carlisle for the nearest seaport from which they could embark for France. Waverley forced on this good man a ring of some value and a sum of money to be employed (as he thought might gratify Flora) in the services of the Catholic church for the memory of his friend. ‘Fun-garque inani munere,’ he repeated, as the ecclesiastic retired. ‘Yet why not class these acts of remembrance with other honours, with which affection in all sects pursues the memory of the dead?’

The next morning ere daylight he took leave of the town of Carlisle, promising to himself never again to enter its walls. He dared hardly look back towards the Gothic battlements of the fortified gate under which he passed, for the place is surrounded with an old wall. ‘They’re no there,’ said Alick Polwarth, who guessed the cause of the dubious look which Waverley cast backward, and who, with the vulgar appetite for the horrible, was master of each detail of the butchery — ‘the heads are ower the Scotch yate, as they ca’ it. It’s a great pity of Evan Dhu, who was a very weel-meaning, good-natured man, to be a Hielandman; and indeed so was the Laird o’ Glennaquoich too, for that matter, when he wasna in ane o’ his tirrivies.’

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