Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 17

But see! through the fast-flashing lightnings of war,

What steed to the desert flies frantic and far?


During the severe skirmish of which we have given the details, Morton, together with Cuddie and his mother, and the Reverend Gabriel Kettledrummle, remained on the brow of the hill, near to the small cairn, or barrow, beside which Claverhouse had held his preliminary council of war, so that they had a commanding view of the action which took place in the bottom. They were guarded by Corporal Inglis and four soldiers, who, as may readily be supposed, were much more intent on watching the fluctuating fortunes of the battle, than in attending to what passed among their prisoners.

“If you lads stand to their tackle,” said Cuddie, “we’ll hae some chance o’ getting our necks out o’ the brecham again; but I misdoubt them — they hae little skeel o’ arms.”

“Much is not necessary, Cuddie,” answered Morton; “they have a strong position, and weapons in their hands, and are more than three times the number of their assailants. If they cannot fight for their freedom now, they and theirs deserve to lose it for ever.”

“O, sirs,” exclaimed Mause, “here’s a goodly spectacle indeed! My spirit is like that of the blessed Elihu, it burns within me — my bowels are as wine which lacketh vent — they are ready to burst like new bottles. O, that He may look after His ain people in this day of judgment and deliverance! — And now, what ailest thou, precious Mr Gabriel Kettledrummle? I say, what ailest thou, that wert a Nazarite purer than snow, whiter than milk, more ruddy than sulphur,” (meaning, perhaps, sapphires,)—“I say, what ails thee now, that thou art blacker than a coal, that thy beauty is departed, and thy loveliness withered like a dry potsherd? Surely it is time to be up and be doing, to cry loudly and to spare not, and to wrestle for the puir lads that are yonder testifying with their ain blude and that of their enemies.”

This expostulation implied a reproach on Mr Kettledrummle, who, though an absolute Boanerges, or son of thunder, in the pulpit, when the enemy were afar, and indeed sufficiently contumacious, as we have seen, when in their power, had been struck dumb by the firing, shouts, and shrieks, which now arose from the valley, and — as many an honest man might have been, in a situation where he could neither fight nor fly — was too much dismayed to take so favourable an opportunity to preach the terrors of presbytery, as the courageous Mause had expected at his hand, or even to pray for the successful event of the battle. His presence of mind was not, however, entirely lost, any more than his jealous respect for his reputation as a pure and powerful preacher of the word.

“Hold your peace, woman!” he said, “and do not perturb my inward meditations and the wrestlings wherewith I wrestle. — But of a verity the shooting of the foemen doth begin to increase! peradventure, some pellet may attain unto us even here. Lo! I will ensconce me behind the cairn, as behind a strong wall of defence.”

“He’s but a coward body after a’,” said Cuddie, who was himself by no means deficient in that sort of courage which consists in insensibility to danger; “he’s but a daidling coward body. He’ll never fill Rumbleberry’s bonnet. — Odd! Rumbleberry fought and flyted like a fleeing dragon. It was a great pity, puir man, he couldna cheat the woodie. But they say he gaed singing and rejoicing till’t, just as I wad gang to a bicker o’ brose, supposing me hungry, as I stand a gude chance to be. — Eh, sirs! yon’s an awfu’ sight, and yet ane canna keep their een aff frae it!”

Accordingly, strong curiosity on the part of Morton and Cuddie, together with the heated enthusiasm of old Mause, detained them on the spot from which they could best hear and see the issue of the action, leaving to Kettledrummle to occupy alone his place of security. The vicissitudes of combat, which we have already described, were witnessed by our spectators from the top of the eminence, but without their being able positively to determine to what they tended. That the presbyterians defended themselves stoutly was evident from the heavy smoke, which, illumined by frequent flashes of fire, now eddied along the valley, and hid the contending parties in its sulphureous shade. On the other hand, the continued firing from the nearer side of the morass indicated that the enemy persevered in their attack, that the affair was fiercely disputed, and that every thing was to be apprehended from a continued contest in which undisciplined rustics had to repel the assaults of regular troops, so completely officered and armed.

At length horses, whose caparisons showed that they belonged to the Life-Guards, began to fly masterless out of the confusion. Dismounted soldiers next appeared, forsaking the conflict, and straggling over the side of the hill, in order to escape from the scene of action. As the numbers of these fugitives increased, the fate of the day seemed no longer doubtful. A large body was then seen emerging from the smoke, forming irregularly on the hill-side, and with difficulty kept stationary by their officers, until Evandale’s corps also appeared in full retreat. The result of the conflict was then apparent, and the joy of the prisoners was corresponding to their approaching deliverance.

“They hae dune the job for anes,” said Cuddie, “an they ne’er do’t again.”

“They flee! — they flee!” exclaimed Mause, in ecstasy. “O, the truculent tyrants! they are riding now as they never rode before. O, the false Egyptians — the proud Assyrians — the Philistines — the Moabites — the Edomites — the Ishmaelites! — The Lord has brought sharp swords upon them, to make them food for the fowls of heaven and the beasts of the field. See how the clouds roll, and the fire flashes ahint them, and goes forth before the chosen of the Covenant, e’en like the pillar o’ cloud and the pillar o’ flame that led the people of Israel out o’ the land of Egypt! This is indeed a day of deliverance to the righteous, a day of pouring out of wrath to the persecutors and the ungodly!”

“Lord save us, mither,” said Cuddie, “haud the clavering tongue o’ ye, and lie down ahint the cairn, like Kettledrummle, honest man! The whigamore bullets ken unco little discretion, and will just as sune knock out the harns o’ a psalm-singing auld wife as a swearing dragoon.”

“Fear naething for me, Cuddie,” said the old dame, transported to ecstasy by the success of her party; “fear naething for me! I will stand, like Deborah, on the tap o’ the cairn, and tak up my sang o’ reproach against these men of Harosheth of the Gentiles, whose horse-hoofs are broken by their prancing.”

The enthusiastic old woman would, in fact, have accomplished her purpose, of mounting on the cairn, and becoming, as she said, a sign and a banner to the people, had not Cuddie, with more filial tenderness than respect, detained her by such force as his shackled arms would permit him to exert.

“Eh, sirs!” he said, having accomplished this task, “look out yonder, Milnwood; saw ye ever mortal fight like the deevil Claver’se? — Yonder he’s been thrice doun amang them, and thrice cam free aff. — But I think we’ll soon be free oursells, Milnwood. Inglis and his troopers look ower their shouthers very aften, as if they liked the road ahint them better than the road afore.”

Cuddie was not mistaken; for, when the main tide of fugitives passed at a little distance from the spot where they were stationed, the corporal and his party fired their carabines at random upon the advancing insurgents, and, abandoning all charge of their prisoners, joined the retreat of their comrades. Morton and the old woman, whose hands were at liberty, lost no time in undoing the bonds of Cuddie and of the clergyman, both of whom had been secured by a cord tied round their arms above the elbows. By the time this was accomplished, the rear-guard of the dragoons, which still preserved some order, passed beneath the hillock or rising ground which was surmounted by the cairn already repeatedly mentioned. They exhibited all the hurry and confusion incident to a forced retreat, but still continued in a body. Claverhouse led the van, his naked sword deeply dyed with blood, as were his face and clothes. His horse was all covered with gore, and now reeled with weakness. Lord Evandale, in not much better plight, brought up the rear, still exhorting the soldiers to keep together and fear nothing. Several of the men were wounded, and one or two dropped from their horses as they surmounted the hill.

Mause’s zeal broke forth once more at this spectacle, while she stood on the heath with her head uncovered, and her grey hairs streaming in the wind, no bad representation of a superannuated bacchante, or Thessalian witch in the agonies of incantation. She soon discovered Claverhouse at the head of the fugitive party, and exclaimed with bitter irony, “Tarry, tarry, ye wha were aye sae blithe to be at the meetings of the saints, and wad ride every muir in Scotland to find a conventicle! Wilt thou not tarry, now thou hast found ane? Wilt thou not stay for one word mair? Wilt thou na bide the afternoon preaching? — Wae betide ye!” she said, suddenly changing her tone, “and cut the houghs of the creature whase fleetness ye trust in! — Sheugh — sheugh! — awa wi’ye, that hae spilled sae muckle blude, and now wad save your ain — awa wi’ye for a railing Rabshakeh, a cursing Shimei, a bloodthirsty Doeg! — The swords drawn now that winna be lang o’ o’ertaking ye, ride as fast as ye will.”

Claverhouse, it may be easily supposed, was too busy to attend to her reproaches, but hastened over the hill, anxious to get the remnant of his men out of gun-shot, in hopes of again collecting the fugitives round his standard. But as the rear of his followers rode over the ridge, a shot struck Lord Evandale’s horse, which instantly sunk down dead beneath him. Two of the whig horsemen, who were the foremost in the pursuit, hastened up with the purpose of killing him, for hitherto there had been no quarter given. Morton, on the other hand, rushed forward to save his life, if possible, in order at once to indulge his natural generosity, and to requite the obligation which Lord Evandale had conferred on him that morning, and under which circumstances had made him wince so acutely. Just as he had assisted Evandale, who was much wounded, to extricate himself from his dying horse, and to gain his feet, the two horsemen came up, and one of them exclaiming, “Have at the red-coated tyrant!” made a blow at the young nobleman, which Morton parried with difficulty, exclaiming to the rider, who was no other than Burley himself, “Give quarter to this gentleman, for my sake — for the sake,” he added, observing that Burley did not immediately recognise him, “of Henry Morton, who so lately sheltered you.”

“Henry Morton?” replied Burley, wiping his bloody brow with his bloodier hand; “did I not say that the son of Silas Morton would come forth out of the land of bondage, nor be long an indweller in the tents of Ham? Thou art a brand snatched out of the burning — But for this booted apostle of prelacy, he shall die the death! — We must smite them hip and thigh, even from the rising to the going down of the sun. It is our commission to slay them like Amalek, and utterly destroy all they have, and spare neither man nor woman, infant nor suckling; therefore, hinder me not,” he continued, endeavouring again to cut down Lord Evandale, “for this work must not be wrought negligently.”

“You must not, and you shall not, slay him, more especially while incapable of defence,” said Morton, planting himself before Lord Evandale so as to intercept any blow that should be aimed at him; “I owed my life to him this morning — my life, which was endangered solely by my having sheltered you; and to shed his blood when he can offer no effectual resistance, were not only a cruelty abhorrent to God and man, but detestable ingratitude both to him and to me.”

Burley paused. —“Thou art yet,” he said, “in the court of the Gentiles, and I compassionate thy human blindness and frailty. Strong meat is not fit for babes, nor the mighty and grinding dispensation under which I draw my sword, for those whose hearts are yet dwelling in huts of clay, whose footsteps are tangled in the mesh of mortal sympathies, and who clothe themselves in the righteousness that is as filthy rags. But to gain a soul to the truth is better than to send one to Tophet; therefore I give quarter to this youth, providing the grant is confirmed by the general council of God’s army, whom he hath this day blessed with so signal a deliverance. — Thou art unarmed — Abide my return here. I must yet pursue these sinners, the Amalekites, and destroy them till they be utterly consumed from the face of the land, even from Havilah unto Shur.”

So saying, he set spurs to his horse, and continued to pursue the chase.

“Cuddie,” said Morton, “for God’s sake catch a horse as quickly as you can. I will not trust Lord Evandale’s life with these obdurate men. — You are wounded, my lord. — Are you able to continue your retreat?” he continued, addressing himself to his prisoner, who, half-stunned by the fall, was but beginning to recover himself.

“I think so,” replied Lord Evandale. “But is it possible? — Do I owe my life to Mr Morton?”

“My interference would have been the same from common humanity,” replied Morton; “to your lordship it was a sacred debt of gratitude.”

Cuddie at this instant returned with a horse.

“God-sake, munt — munt, and ride like a fleeing hawk, my lord,” said the good-natured fellow, “for ne’er be in me, if they arena killing every ane o’ the wounded and prisoners!”

Lord Evandale mounted the horse, while Cuddie officiously held the stirrup.

“Stand off, good fellow, thy courtesy may cost thy life. — Mr Morton,” he continued, addressing Henry, “this makes us more than even — rely on it, I will never forget your generosity — Farewell.”

He turned his horse, and rode swiftly away in the direction which seemed least exposed to pursuit.

Lord Evandale had just rode off, when several of the insurgents, who were in the front of the pursuit, came up, denouncing vengeance on Henry Morton and Cuddie for having aided the escape of a Philistine, as they called the young nobleman.

“What wad ye hae had us to do?” cried Cuddie. “Had we aught to stop a man wi’ that had twa pistols and a sword? Sudna ye hae come faster up yoursells, instead of flyting at huz?”

This excuse would hardly have passed current; but Kettledrummle, who now awoke from his trance of terror, and was known to, and reverenced by, most of the wanderers, together with Mause, who possessed their appropriate language as well as the preacher himself, proved active and effectual intercessors.

“Touch them not, harm them not,” exclaimed Kettledrummle, in his very best double-bass tones; “this is the son of the famous Silas Morton, by whom the Lord wrought great things in this land at the breaking forth of the reformation from prelacy, when there was a plentiful pouring forth of the Word and a renewing of the Covenant; a hero and champion of those blessed days, when there was power and efficacy, and convincing and converting of sinners, and heart-exercises, and fellowships of saints, and a plentiful flowing forth of the spices of the garden of Eden.”

“And this is my son Cuddie,” exclaimed Mause, in her turn, “the son of his father, Judden Headrigg, wha was a douce honest man, and of me, Mause Middlemas, an unworthy professor and follower of the pure gospel, and ane o’ your ain folk. Is it not written, ‘Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites?’ Numbers, fourth and aughteenth — O! sirs! dinna be standing here prattling wi’ honest folk, when ye suld be following forth your victory with which Providence has blessed ye.”

This party having passed on, they were immediately beset by another, to whom it was necessary to give the same explanation. Kettledrummle, whose fear was much dissipated since the firing had ceased, again took upon him to be intercessor, and grown bold, as he felt his good word necessary for the protection of his late fellow-captives, he laid claim to no small share of the merit of the victory, appealing to Morton and Cuddie, whether the tide of battle had not turned while he prayed on the Mount of Jehovah-Nissi, like Moses, that Israel might prevail over Amalek; but granting them, at the same time, the credit of holding up his hands when they waxed heavy, as those of the prophet were supported by Aaron and Hur. It seems probable that Kettledrummle allotted this part in the success to his companions in adversity, lest they should be tempted to disclose his carnal self-seeking and falling away, in regarding too closely his own personal safety. These strong testimonies in favour of the liberated captives quickly flew abroad, with many exaggerations, among the victorious army. The reports on the subject were various; but it was universally agreed, that young Morton of Milnwood, the son of the stout soldier of the Covenant, Silas Morton, together with the precious Gabriel Kettledrummle, and a singular devout Christian woman, whom many thought as good as himself at extracting a doctrine or an use, whether of terror or consolation, had arrived to support the good old cause, with a reinforcement of a hundred well-armed men from the Middle Ward. 24

24 Skirmish at Drumclog. This affair, the only one in which Claverhouse was defeated, or the insurgent Cameronians successful, was fought pretty much in the manner mentioned in the text. The Royalists lost about thirty or forty men. The commander of the Presbyterian, or rather Convenanting party, was Mr Robert Hamilton, of the honourable House of Preston, brother of Sir William Hamilton, to whose title and estate he afterwards succeeded; but, according to his biographer, Howie of Lochgoin, he never took possession of either, as he could not do so without acknowledging the right of King William (an uncovenanted monarch) to the crown. Hamilton had been bred by Bishop Burnet, while the latter lived at Glasgow; his brother, Sir Thomas, having married a sister of that historian. “He was then,” says the Bishop, “a lively, hopeful young man; but getting into that company, and into their notions, he became a crack-brained enthusiast.”

Several well-meaning persons have been much scandalized at the manner in which the victors are said to have conducted themselves towards the prisoners at Drumclog. But the principle of these poor fanatics, (I mean the high-flying, or Cameronian party,) was to obtain not merely toleration for their church, but the same supremacy which Presbytery had acquired in Scotland after the treaty of Rippon, betwixt Charles I. and his Scottish subjects, in 1640.

The fact is, that they conceived themselves a chosen people, sent forth to extirpate the heathen, like the Jews of old, and under a similar charge to show no quarter.

The historian of the Insurrection of Bothwell makes the following explicit avowal of the principles on which their General acted:—

“Mr Hamilton discovered a great deal of bravery and valour, both in the conflict with, and pursuit of, the enemy; but when he and some other were pursuing the enemy, others flew too greedily upon the spoil, small as it was, instead of pursuing the victory; and some, without Mr Hamilton’s knowledge, and directly contrary to his express command, gave five of those bloody enemies quarter, and then let them go; this greatly grieved Mr Hamilton when he saw some of Babel’s brats spared, after that the Lord had delivered them into their hands, that they might dash them against the stones. Psalm cxxxvii., 9. In his own account of this, he reckons the sparing of these enemies, and letting them go, to be among their first steppings aside, for which he feared that the Lord would not honour them to do much more for him; and says, that he was neither for taking favours from, nor giving favours to, the Lord’s enemies.” See A true and impartial Account of the persecuted Presbyterians in Scotland, their being in arms, and defeat at Bothwell Brigg, in 1679, by William Wilson, late Schoolmaster in the parish of Douglas. The reader who would authenticate the quotation, must not consult any other edition than that of 1697; for somehow or other the publisher of the last edition has omitted this remarkable part of the narrative.

Sir Robert Hamilton himself felt neither remorse nor shame for having put to death one of the prisoners after the battle with his own hand, which appears to have been a charge against him, by some whose fanaticism was less exalted than his own.

“As for that accusation they bring against me of killing that poor man (as they call him) at Drumclog, I may easily guess that my accusers can be no other but some of the house of Saul or Shimei, or some such risen again to espouse that poor gentleman (Saul) his quarrel against honest Samuel, for his offering to kill that poor man Agag, after the king’s giving him quarter. But I, being to command that day, gave out the word that no quarter should be given; and returning from pursuing Claverhouse, one or two of these fellows were standing in the midst of a company of our friends, and some were debating for quarter, others against it. None could blame me to decide the controversy, and I bless the Lord for it to this day. There were five more that without my knowledge got quarter, who were brought to me after we were a mile from the place as having got quarter, which I reckoned among the first steppings aside; and seeing that spirit amongst us at that time, I then told it to some that were with me, (to my best remembrance, it was honest old John Nisbet,) that I feared the Lord would not honour us to do much more for him. I shall only say this — I desire to bless his holy name, that since ever he helped me to set my face to his work, I never had, nor would take, a favour from enemies, either on right or left hand, and desired to give as few.”

The preceding passage is extracted from a long vindication of his own conduct, sent by Sir Robert Hamilton, 7th December, 1685, addressed to the anti-Popish, anti-Prelatic, anti-Erastian, anti-sectarian true Presbyterian remnant of the Church of Scotland; and the substance is to be found in the work or collection, called, “Faithful Contendings Displayed, collected and transcribed by John Howie.”

As the skirmish of Drumclog has been of late the subject of some enquiry, the reader may be curious to see Claverhouse’s own account of the affair, in a letter to the Earl of Linlithgow, written immediately after the action. This gazette, as it may be called, occurs in the volume called Dundee’s Letters, printed by Mr Smythe of Methven, as a contribution to the Bannatyne Club. The original is in the library of the Duke of Buckingham. Claverhouse, it may be observed, spells like a chambermaid.


“Glaskow, Jun. the 1, 1679.

“My Lord — Upon Saturday’s night, when my Lord Rosse came into this place, I marched out, and because of the insolency that had been done tue nights before at Ruglen, I went thither and inquyred for the names. So soon as I got them, I sent our partys to sease on them, and found not only three of those rogues, but also ane intercomend minister called King. We had them at Strevan about six in the morning yesterday, and resolving to convey them to this, I thought that we might make a little tour to see if we could fall upon a conventicle; which we did, little to our advantage; for when we came in sight of them, we found them drawn up in batell, upon a most adventageous ground, to which there was no coming but through mosses and lakes. They wer not preaching, and had got away all there women and shildring. They consisted of four battaillons of foot, and all well armed with fusils and pitchforks, and three squadrons of horse. We sent both partys to skirmish, they of foot and we of dragoons; they run for it, and sent down a battaillon of foot against them; we sent threescore of dragoons, who made them run again shamfully; but in end they percaiving that we had the better of them in skirmish, they resolved a generall engadgment, and imediately advanced with there foot, the horse folowing; they came throght the lotche; the greatest body of all made up against my troupe; we keeped our fyre till they wer within ten pace of us: they recaived our fyr, and advanced to shok; the first they gave us broght down the Coronet Mr Crafford and Captain Bleith, besides that with a pitchfork they made such an openeing in my rone horse’s belly, that his guts hung out half an elle, and yet he caryed me af an myl; which so discoraged our men, that they sustained not the shok, but fell into disorder. There horse took the occasion of this, and purseued us so hotly that we had no tym to rayly. I saved the standarts, but lost on the place about aight or ten men, besides wounded; but he dragoons lost many mor. They ar not com esily af on the other side, for I sawe severall of them fall befor we cam to the shok. I mad the best retraite the confusion of our people would suffer, and I am now laying with my Lord Rosse. The toun of Streven drew up as we was making our retrait, and thoght of a pass to cut us off, but we took courage and fell to them, made them run, leaving a dousain on the place. What these rogues will dou yet I know not, but the contry was flocking to them from all hands. This may be counted the begining of the rebellion, in my opinion.

“I am, my lord,

“Your lordship’s most humble servant,

“J. Grahame.

“My lord, I am so wearied, and so sleapy, that I have wryton this very confusedly.”


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