Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 29

And, to my breast, a bodkin in her hand

Were worth a thousand daggers.


The cavalcade which left the Castle of Tillietudlem, halted for a few minutes at the small town of Bothwell, after passing the outposts of the insurgents, to take some slight refreshments which their attendants had provided, and which were really necessary to persons who had suffered considerably by want of proper nourishment. They then pressed forward upon the road towards Edinburgh, amid the lights of dawn which were now rising on the horizon. It might have been expected, during the course of the journey, that Lord Evandale would have been frequently by the side of Miss Edith Bellenden. Yet, after his first salutations had been exchanged, and every precaution solicitously adopted which could serve for her accommodation, he rode in the van of the party with Major Bellenden, and seemed to abandon the charge of immediate attendance upon his lovely niece to one of the insurgent cavaliers, whose dark military cloak, with the large flapped hat and feather, which drooped over his face, concealed at once his figure and his features. They rode side by side in silence for more than two miles, when the stranger addressed Miss Bellenden in a tremulous and suppressed voice.

“Miss Bellenden,” he said, “must have friends wherever she is known; even among those whose conduct she now disapproves. Is there any thing that such can do to show their respect for her, and their regret for her sufferings?”

“Let them learn for their own sakes,” replied Edith, “to venerate the laws, and to spare innocent blood. Let them return to their allegiance, and I can forgive them all that I have suffered, were it ten times more.”

“You think it impossible, then,” rejoined the cavalier, “for any one to serve in our ranks, having the weal of his country sincerely at heart, and conceiving himself in the discharge of a patriotic duty?”

“It might be imprudent, while so absolutely in your power,” replied Miss Bellenden, “to answer that question.”

“Not in the present instance, I plight you the word of a soldier,” replied the horseman.

“I have been taught candour from my birth,” said Edith; “and, if I am to speak at all, I must utter my real sentiments. God only can judge the heart — men must estimate intentions by actions. Treason, murder by the sword and by gibbet, the oppression of a private family such as ours, who were only in arms for the defence of the established government, and of our own property, are actions which must needs sully all that have accession to them, by whatever specious terms they may be gilded over.”

“The guilt of civil war,” rejoined the horseman —“the miseries which it brings in its train, lie at the door of those who provoked it by illegal oppression, rather than of such as are driven to arms in order to assert their natural rights as freemen.”

“That is assuming the question,” replied Edith, “which ought to be proved. Each party contends that they are right in point of principle, and therefore the guilt must lie with them who first drew the sword; as, in an affray, law holds those to be the criminals who are the first to have recourse to violence.”

“Alas!” said the horseman, “were our vindication to rest there, how easy would it be to show that we have suffered with a patience which almost seemed beyond the power of humanity, ere we were driven by oppression into open resistance! — But I perceive,” he continued, sighing deeply, “that it is vain to plead before Miss Bellenden a cause which she has already prejudged, perhaps as much from her dislike of the persons as of the principles of those engaged in it.”

“Pardon me,” answered Edith; “I have stated with freedom my opinion of the principles of the insurgents; of their persons I know nothing — excepting in one solitary instance.”

“And that instance,” said the horseman, “has influenced your opinion of the whole body?”

“Far from it,” said Edith; “he is — at least I once thought him — one in whose scale few were fit to be weighed — he is — or he seemed — one of early talent, high faith, pure morality, and warm affections. Can I approve of a rebellion which has made such a man, formed to ornament, to enlighten, and to defend his country, the companion of gloomy and ignorant fanatics, or canting hypocrites — the leader of brutal clowns — the brother-inarms to banditti and highway murderers? — Should you meet such an one in your camp, tell him that Edith Bellenden has wept more over his fallen character, blighted prospects, and dishonoured name, than over the distresses of her own house — and that she has better endured that famine which has wasted her cheek and dimmed her eye, than the pang of heart which attended the reflection by and through whom these calamities were inflicted.”

As she thus spoke, she turned upon her companion a countenance, whose faded cheek attested the reality of her sufferings, even while it glowed with the temporary animation which accompanied her language. The horseman was not insensible to the appeal; he raised his hand to his brow with the sudden motion of one who feels a pang shoot along his brain, passed it hastily over his face, and then pulled the shadowing hat still deeper on his forehead. The movement, and the feelings which it excited, did not escape Edith, nor did she remark them without emotion.

“And yet,” she said, “should the person of whom I speak seem to you too deeply affected by the hard opinion of — of — an early friend, say to him, that sincere repentance is next to innocence; — that, though fallen from a height not easily recovered, and the author of much mischief, because gilded by his example, he may still atone in some measure for the evil he has done.”

“And in what manner?” asked the cavalier, in the same suppressed, and almost choked voice.

“By lending his efforts to restore the blessings of peace to his distracted countrymen, and to induce the deluded rebels to lay down their arms. By saving their blood, he may atone for that which has been already spilt; — and he that shall be most active in accomplishing this great end, will best deserve the thanks of this age, and an honoured remembrance in the next.”

“And in such a peace,” said her companion, with a firm voice, “Miss Bellenden would not wish, I think, that the interests of the people were sacrificed unreservedly to those of the crown?”

“I am but a girl,” was the young lady’s reply; “and I scarce can speak on the subject without presumption. But, since I have gone so far, I will fairly add, I would wish to see a peace which should give rest to all parties, and secure the subjects from military rapine, which I detest as much as I do the means now adopted to resist it.”

“Miss Bellenden,” answered Henry Morton, raising his face, and speaking in his natural tone, “the person who has lost such a highly-valued place in your esteem, has yet too much spirit to plead his cause as a criminal; and, conscious that he can no longer claim a friend’s interest in your bosom, he would be silent under your hard censure, were it not that he can refer to the honoured testimony of Lord Evandale, that his earnest wishes and most active exertions are, even now, directed to the accomplishment of such a peace as the most loyal cannot censure.”

He bowed with dignity to Miss Bellenden, who, though her language intimated that she well knew to whom she had been speaking, probably had not expected that he would justify himself with so much animation. She returned his salute, confused and in silence. Morton then rode forward to the head of the party.

“Henry Morton!” exclaimed Major Bellenden, surprised at the sudden apparition.

“The same,” answered Morton; “who is sorry that he labours under the harsh construction of Major Bellenden and his family. He commits to my Lord Evandale,” he continued, turning towards the young nobleman, and bowing to him, “the charge of undeceiving his friends, both regarding the particulars of his conduct and the purity of his motives. Farewell, Major Bellenden — All happiness attend you and yours — May we meet again in happier and better times!”

“Believe me,” said Lord Evandale, “your confidence, Mr Morton, is not misplaced; I will endeavour to repay the great services I have received from you by doing my best to place your character on its proper footing with Major Bellenden, and all whose esteem you value.”

“I expected no less from your generosity, my lord,” said Morton.

He then called his followers, and rode off along the heath in the direction of Hamilton, their feathers waving and their steel caps glancing in the beams of the rising sun. Cuddie Headrigg alone remained an instant behind his companions to take an affectionate farewell of Jenny Dennison, who had contrived, during this short morning’s ride, to re-establish her influence over his susceptible bosom. A straggling tree or two obscured, rather than concealed, their tete-a-tete, as they halted their horses to bid adieu.

“Fare ye weel, Jenny,” said Cuddie, with a loud exertion of his lungs, intended perhaps to be a sigh, but rather resembling the intonation of a groan — “Ye’ll think o’ puir Cuddie sometimes — an honest lad that lo’es ye, Jenny; ye’ll think o’ him now and then?”

“Whiles — at brose-time,” answered the malicious damsel, unable either to suppress the repartee, or the arch smile which attended it.

Whiles — at Brose-Time
Whiles — at brose-time

Cuddie took his revenge as rustic lovers are wont, and as Jenny probably expected — caught his mistress round the neck, kissed her cheeks and lips heartily, and then turned his horse and trotted after his master.

“Deil’s in the fallow,” said Jenny, wiping her lips and adjusting her head-dress, “he has twice the spunk o’ Tam Halliday, after a’. — Coming, my leddy, coming — Lord have a care o’ us, I trust the auld leddy didna see us!”

“Jenny,” said Lady Margaret, as the damsel came up, “was not that young man who commanded the party the same that was captain of the popinjay, and who was afterwards prisoner at Tillietudlem on the morning Claverhouse came there?”

Jenny, happy that the query had no reference to her own little matters, looked at her young mistress, to discover, if possible, whether it was her cue to speak truth or not. Not being able to catch any hint to guide her, she followed her instinct as a lady’s maid, and lied.

“I dinna believe it was him, my leddy,” said Jenny, as confidently as if she had been saying her catechism; “he was a little black man, that.”

“You must have been blind, Jenny,” said the Major: “Henry Morton is tall and fair, and that youth is the very man.”

“I had ither thing ado than be looking at him,” said Jenny, tossing her head; “he may be as fair as a farthing candle, for me.”

“Is it not,” said Lady Margaret, “a blessed escape which we have made, out of the hands of so desperate and bloodthirsty a fanatic?”

“You are deceived, madam,” said Lord Evandale; “Mr Morton merits such a title from no one, but least from us. That I am now alive, and that you are now on your safe retreat to your friends, instead of being prisoners to a real fanatical homicide, is solely and entirely owing to the prompt, active, and energetic humanity of this young gentleman.”

He then went into a particular narrative of the events with which the reader is acquainted, dwelling upon the merits of Morton, and expatiating on the risk at which he had rendered them these important services, as if he had been a brother instead of a rival.

“I were worse than ungrateful,” he said, “were I silent on the merits of the man who has twice saved my life.”

“I would willingly think well of Henry Morton, my lord,” replied Major Bellenden; “and I own he has behaved handsomely to your lordship and to us; but I cannot have the same allowances which it pleases your lordship to entertain for his present courses.”

“You are to consider,” replied Lord Evandale, “that he has been partly forced upon them by necessity; and I must add, that his principles, though differing in some degree from my own, are such as ought to command respect. Claverhouse, whose knowledge of men is not to be disputed, spoke justly of him as to his extraordinary qualities, but with prejudice, and harshly, concerning his principles and motives.”

“You have not been long in learning all his extraordinary qualities, my lord,” answered Major Bellenden. “I, who have known him from boyhood, could, before this affair, have said much of his good principles and good-nature; but as to his high talents”—

“They were probably hidden, Major,” replied the generous Lord Evandale, “even from himself, until circumstances called them forth; and, if I have detected them, it was only because our intercourse and conversation turned on momentous and important subjects. He is now labouring to bring this rebellion to an end, and the terms he has proposed are so moderate, that they shall not want my hearty recommendation.”

“And have you hopes,” said Lady Margaret, “to accomplish a scheme so comprehensive?”

“I should have, madam, were every whig as moderate as Morton, and every loyalist as disinterested as Major Bellenden. But such is the fanaticism and violent irritation of both parties, that I fear nothing will end this civil war save the edge of the sword.”

It may be readily supposed, that Edith listened with the deepest interest to this conversation. While she regretted that she had expressed herself harshly and hastily to her lover, she felt a conscious and proud satisfaction that his character was, even in the judgment of his noble-minded rival, such as her own affection had once spoke it.

“Civil feuds and domestic prejudices,” she said, “may render it necessary for me to tear his remembrance from my heart; but it is not small relief to know assuredly, that it is worthy of the place it has so long retained there.”

While Edith was thus retracting her unjust resentment, her lover arrived at the camp of the insurgents, near Hamilton, which he found in considerable confusion. Certain advices had arrived that the royal army, having been recruited from England by a large detachment of the King’s Guards, were about to take the field. Fame magnified their numbers and their high state of equipment and discipline, and spread abroad other circumstances, which dismayed the courage of the insurgents. What favour they might have expected from Monmouth, was likely to be intercepted by the influence of those associated with him in command. His lieutenant-general was the celebrated General Thomas Dalzell, who, having practised the art of war in the then barbarous country of Russia, was as much feared for his cruelty and indifference to human life and human sufferings, as respected for his steady loyalty and undaunted valour. This man was second in command to Monmouth, and the horse were commanded by Claverhouse, burning with desire to revenge the death of his nephew, and his defeat at Drumclog. To these accounts was added the most formidable and terrific description of the train of artillery and the cavalry force with which the royal army took the field. 27

Large bodies, composed of the Highland clans, having in language, religion, and manners, no connexion with the insurgents, had been summoned to join the royal army under their various chieftains; and these Amorites, or Philistines, as the insurgents termed them, came like eagles to the slaughter. In fact, every person who could ride or run at the King’s command, was summoned to arms, apparently with the purpose of forfeiting and fining such men of property whom their principles might deter from joining the royal standard, though prudence prevented them from joining that of the insurgent Presbyterians. In short, everyrumour tended to increase the apprehension among the insurgents, that the King’s vengeance had only been delayed in order that it might fall more certain and more heavy.

Morton endeavoured to fortify the minds of the common people by pointing out the probable exaggeration of these reports, and by reminding them of the strength of their own situation, with an unfordable river in front, only passable by a long and narrow bridge. He called to their remembrance their victory over Claverhouse when their numbers were few, and then much worse disciplined and appointed for battle than now; showed them that the ground on which they lay afforded, by its undulation, and the thickets which intersected it, considerable protection against artillery, and even against cavalry, if stoutly defended; and that their safety, in fact, depended on their own spirit and resolution.

But while Morton thus endeavoured to keep up the courage of the army at large, he availed himself of those discouraging rumours to endeavour to impress on the minds of the leaders the necessity of proposing to the government moderate terms of accommodation, while they were still formidable as commanding an unbroken and numerous army. He pointed out to them, that, in the present humour of their followers, it could hardly be expected that they would engage, with advantage, the well-appointed and regular force of the Duke of Monmouth; and that if they chanced, as was most likely, to be defeated and dispersed, the insurrection in which they had engaged, so far from being useful to the country, would be rendered the apology for oppressing it more severely.

Pressed by these arguments, and feeling it equally dangerous to remain together, or to dismiss their forces, most of the leaders readily agreed, that if such terms could be obtained as had been transmitted to the Duke of Monmouth by the hands of Lord Evandale, the purpose for which they had taken up arms would be, in a great measure, accomplished. They then entered into similar resolutions, and agreed to guarantee the petition and remonstrance which had been drawn up by Morton. On the contrary, there were still several leaders, and those men whose influence with the people exceeded that of persons of more apparent consequence, who regarded every proposal of treaty which did not proceed on the basis of the Solemn League and Covenant of 1640, as utterly null and void, impious, and unchristian. These men diffused their feelings among the multitude, who had little foresight, and nothing to lose, and persuaded many that the timid counsellors who recommended peace upon terms short of the dethronement of the royal family, and the declared independence of the church with respect to the state, were cowardly labourers, who were about to withdraw their hands from the plough, and despicable trimmers, who sought only a specious pretext for deserting their brethren in arms. These contradictory opinions were fiercely argued in each tent of the insurgent army, or rather in the huts or cabins which served in the place of tents. Violence in language often led to open quarrels and blows, and the divisions into which the army of sufferers was rent served as too plain a presage of their future fate.

27 Royal Army at Bothwell Bridge. A Cameronian muse was awakened from slumber on this doleful occasion, and gave the following account of the muster of the royal forces, in poetry nearly as melancholy as the subject:—

They marched east through Lithgow-town
For to enlarge their forces;
And sent for all the north-country
To come, both foot and horses.

Montrose did come and Athole both,
And with them many more;
And all the Highland Amorites
That had been there before.

The Lowdien Mallisha — Lothian Militia they
Came with their coats of blew;
Five hundred men from London came,
Claid in a reddish hue.

When they were assembled one and all,
A full brigade were they;
Like to a pack of hellish hounds,
Roreing after their prey.

When they were all provided well,
In armour and amonition,
Then thither wester did they come,
Most cruel of intention.

The royalists celebrated their victory in stanzas of equal merit. Specimens of both may be found in the curious collection of Fugitive Scottish Poetry, principally of the Seventeenth Century, printed for the Messrs Laing, Edinburgh.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00