Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter VII

A Horse-Quarter in Scotland

The next morning, amid varied feelings, the chief of which was a predominant, anxious, and even solemn impression, that he was now in a great measure abandoned to his own guidance and direction, Edward Waverley departed from the Hall amid the blessings and tears of all the old domestics and the inhabitants of the village, mingled with some sly petitions for sergeantcies and corporalships, and so forth, on the part of those who professed that ‘they never thoft to ha’ seen Jacob, and Giles, and Jonathan go off for soldiers, save to attend his honour, as in duty bound.’ Edward, as in duty bound, extricated himself from the supplicants with the pledge of fewer promises than might have been expected from a young man so little accustomed to the world. After a short visit to London, he proceeded on horseback, then the general mode of travelling, to Edinburgh, and from thence to Dundee, a seaport on the eastern coast of Angus-shire, where his regiment was then quartered.

He now entered upon a new world, where, for a time, all was beautiful because all was new. Colonel Gardiner, the commanding officer of the regiment, was himself a study for a romantic, and at the same time an inquisitive youth. In person he was tall, handsome, and active, though somewhat advanced in life. In his early years he had been what is called, by manner of palliative, a very gay young man, and strange stories were circulated about his sudden conversion from doubt, if not infidelity, to a serious and even enthusiastic turn of mind. It was whispered that a supernatural communication, of a nature obvious even to the exterior senses, had produced this wonderful change; and though some mentioned the proselyte as an enthusiast, none hinted at his being a hypocrite. This singular and mystical circumstance gave Colonel Gardiner a peculiar and solemn interest in the eyes of the young soldier.22 It may be easily imagined that the officers, of a regiment commanded by so respectable a person composed a society more sedate and orderly than a military mess always exhibits; and that Waverley escaped some temptations to which he might otherwise have been exposed.

Meanwhile his military education proceeded. Already a good horseman, he was now initiated into the arts of the manege, which, when carried to perfection, almost realise the fable of the Centaur, the guidance of the horse appearing to proceed from the rider’s mere volition, rather than from the use of any external and apparent signal of motion. He received also instructions in his field duty; but I must own, that when his first ardour was past, his progress fell short in the latter particular of what he wished and expected. The duty of an officer, the most imposing of all others to the inexperienced mind, because accompanied with so much outward pomp and circumstance, is in its essence a very dry and abstract task, depending chiefly upon arithmetical combinations, requiring much attention, and a cool and reasoning head to bring them into action. Our hero was liable to fits of absence, in which his blunders excited some mirth, and called down some reproof. This circumstance impressed him with a painful sense of inferiority in those qualities which appeared most to deserve and obtain regard in his new profession. He asked himself in vain, why his eye could not judge of distance or space so well as those of his companions; why his head was not always successful in disentangling the various partial movements necessary to execute a particular evolution; and why his memory, so alert upon most occasions, did not correctly retain technical phrases and minute points of etiquette or field discipline. Waverley was naturally modest, and therefore did not fall into the egregious mistake of supposing such minuter rules of military duty beneath his notice, or conceiting himself to be born a general, because he made an indifferent subaltern. The truth was, that the vague and unsatisfactory course of reading which he had pursued, working upon a temper naturally retired and abstracted, had given him that wavering and unsettled habit of mind which is most averse to study and riveted attention. Time, in the mean while, hung heavy on his hands. The gentry of the neighbourhood were disaffected, and showed little hospitality to the military guests; and the people of the town, chiefly engaged in mercantile pursuits, were not such as Waverley chose to associate with. The arrival of summer, and a curiosity to know something more of Scotland than he could see in a ride from his quarters, determined him to request leave of absence for a few weeks. He resolved first to visit his uncle’s ancient friend and correspondent, with the purpose of extending or shortening the time of his residence according to circumstances. He travelled of course on horse-back, and with a single attendant, and passed his first night at a miserable inn, where the landlady had neither shoes nor stockings, and the landlord, who called himself a gentleman, was disposed to be rude to his guest, because he had not bespoke the pleasure of his society to supper.23 The next day, traversing an open and uninclosed country, Edward gradually approached the Highlands of Perthshire, which at first had appeared a blue outline in the horizon, but now swelled into huge gigantic masses, which frowned defiance over the more level country that lay beneath them. Near the bottom of this stupendous barrier, but still in the Lowland country, dwelt Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine of Bradwardine; and, if grey-haired eld can be in aught believed, there had dwelt his ancestors, with all their heritage, since the days of the gracious King Duncan.

22 I have now given in the text the full name of this gallant and excellent man, and proceed to copy the account of his remarkable conversion, as related by Doctor Doddridge.

‘This memorable event,’ says the pious writer, ‘happened towards the middle of July 1719. The major had spent the evening (and, if I mistake not, it was the Sabbath) in some gay company, and had an unhappy assignation with a married woman, whom he was to attend exactly at twelve. The company broke up about eleven, and, not judging it convenient to anticipate the time appointed, he went into his chamber to kill the tedious hour, perhaps with some amusing book, or some other way. But it very accidentally happened that he took up a religious book, which his good mother or aunt had, without his knowledge, slipped into his portmanteau. It was called, if I remember the title exactly, The Christian Soldier, or Heaven taken by Storm, and it was written by Mr. Thomas Watson. Guessing by the title of it that he would find some phrases of his own profession spiritualised in a manner which he thought might afford him some diversion, he resolved to dip into it, but he took no serious notice of anything it had in it; and yet, while this book was in his hand, an impression was made upon his mind (perhaps God only knows how) which drew after it a train of the most important and happy consequences. He thought he saw an unusual blaze of light fall upon the book which he was reading, which he at first imagined might happen by some accident in the candle, but, lifting up his eyes, he apprehended to his extreme amazement that there was before him, as it were suspended in the air, a visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, surrounded on all sides with a glory; and was impressed as if a voice, or something equivalent to a voice, had come to him, to this effect (for he was not confident as to the words), “Oh, sinner! did I suffer this for thee, and are these thy returns?” Struck with so amazing a phenomenon as this, there remained hardly any life in him, so that he sunk down in the arm-chair in which he sat, and continued, he knew not how long, insensible.’

‘With regard to this vision,’ says the ingenious Dr. Hibbert, ‘the appearance of our Saviour on the cross, and the awful words repeated, can be considered in no other light than as so many recollected images of the mind, which probably had their origin in the language of some urgent appeal to repentance that the colonel might have casually read or heard delivered. From what cause, however, such ideas were rendered as vivid as actual impressions, we have no information to be depended upon. This vision was certainly attended with one of the most important of consequences connected with the Christian dispensation — the conversion of a sinner. And hence no single narrative has, perhaps, done more to confirm the superstitious opinion that apparitions of this awful kind cannot arise without a divine fiat.’ Doctor Hibbert adds in a note — ‘A short time before the vision, Colonel Gardiner had received a severe fall from his horse. Did the brain receive some slight degree of injury from the accident, so as to predispose him to this spiritual illusion?’ — Hibbert’s Philosophy of Apparitions, Edinburgh, 1824, p. 190.

23 The courtesy of an invitation to partake a traveller’s meal, or at least that of being invited to share whatever liquor the guest called for, was expected by certain old landlords in Scotland even in the youth of the author. In requital mine host was always furnished with the news of the country, and was probably a little of a humorist to boot. The devolution of the whole actual business and drudgery of the inn upon the poor gudewife was very common among the Scottish Bonifaces. There was in ancient times, in the city of Edinburgh, a gentleman of good family who condescended, in order to gain a livelihood, to become the nominal keeper of a coffee-house, one of the first places of the kind which had been opened in the Scottish metropolis. As usual, it was entirely managed by the careful and industrious Mrs. B—; while her husband amused himself with field sports, without troubling his head about the matter. Once upon a time, the premises having taken fire, the husband was met walking up the High Street loaded with his guns and fishing-rods, and replied calmly to someone who inquired after his wife, ‘that the poor woman was trying to save a parcel of crockery and some trumpery books’; the last being those which served her to conduct the business of the house.

There were many elderly gentlemen in the author’s younger days who still held it part of the amusement of a journey ‘to parley with mine host,’ who often resembled, in his quaint humour, mine Host of the Garter in the Merry Wives of Windsor; or Blague of the George in the Merry Devil of Edmonton. Sometimes the landlady took her share of entertaining the company. In either case the omitting to pay them due attention gave displeasure, and perhaps brought down a smart jest, as on the following occasion:

A jolly dame who, not ‘Sixty Years Since,’ kept the principal caravansary at Greenlaw, in Berwickshire, had the honour to receive under her roof a very worthy clergyman, with three sons of the same profession, each having a cure of souls; be it said in passing, none of the reverend party were reckoned powerful in the pulpit. After dinner was over, the worthy senior, in the pride of his heart, asked Mrs. Buchan whether she ever had had such a party in her house before. ‘Here sit I,’ he said, ‘a placed minister of the Kirk of Scotland, and here sit my three sons, each a placed minister of the same kirk. Confess, Luckie Buchan, you never had such a party in your house before.’ The question was not premised by any invitation to sit down and take a glass of wine or the like, so Mrs. B. answered drily, ‘Indeed, sir, I cannot just say that ever I had such a party in my house before, except once in the forty-five, when I had a Highland piper here, with his three sons, all Highland pipers; and deil a spring they could play amang them.’

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