Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 35

The charge is prepared, the lawyers are met,

The judges all ranged — a terrible show!

Beggar’s Opera.

So deep was the slumber which succeeded the agitation and embarrassment of the preceding day, that Morton hardly knew where he was when it was broken by the tramp of horses, the hoarse voice of men, and the wild sound of the trumpets blowing the reveille. The sergeant-major immediately afterwards came to summon him, which he did in a very respectful manner, saying the General (for Claverhouse now held that rank) hoped for the pleasure of his company upon the road. In some situations an intimation is a command, and Morton considered that the present occasion was one of these. He waited upon Claverhouse as speedily as he could, found his own horse saddled for his use, and Cuddie in attendance. Both were deprived of their fire-arms, though they seemed, otherwise, rather to make part of the troop than of the prisoners; and Morton was permitted to retain his sword, the wearing which was, in those days, the distinguishing mark of a gentleman. Claverhouse seemed also to take pleasure in riding beside him, in conversing with him, and in confounding his ideas when he attempted to appreciate his real character. The gentleness and urbanity of that officer’s general manners, the high and chivalrous sentiments of military devotion which he occasionally expressed, his deep and accurate insight into the human bosom, demanded at once the approbation and the wonder of those who conversed with him; while, on the other hand, his cold indifference to military violence and cruelty seemed altogether inconsistent with the social, and even admirable qualities which he displayed. Morton could not help, in his heart, contrasting him with Balfour of Burley; and so deeply did the idea impress him, that he dropped a hint of it as they rode together at some distance from the troop.

“You are right,” said Claverhouse, with a smile; “you are very right — we are both fanatics; but there is some distinction between the fanaticism of honour and that of dark and sullen superstition.”

“Yet you both shed blood without mercy or remorse,” said Morton, who could not suppress his feelings.

“Surely,” said Claverhouse, with the same composure; “but of what kind? — There is a difference, I trust, between the blood of learned and reverend prelates and scholars, of gallant soldiers and noble gentlemen, and the red puddle that stagnates in the veins of psalm-singing mechanics, crackbrained demagogues, and sullen boors; — some distinction, in short, between spilling a flask of generous wine, and dashing down a can full of base muddy ale?”

“Your distinction is too nice for my comprehension,” replied Morton. “God gives every spark of life — that of the peasant as well as of the prince; and those who destroy his work recklessly or causelessly, must answer in either case. What right, for example, have I to General Grahame’s protection now, more than when I first met him?”

“And narrowly escaped the consequences, you would say?” answered Claverhouse —“why, I will answer you frankly. Then I thought I had to do with the son of an old roundheaded rebel, and the nephew of a sordid presbyterian laird; now I know your points better, and there is that about you which I respect in an enemy as much as I like in a friend. I have learned a good deal concerning you since our first meeting, and I trust that you have found that my construction of the information has not been unfavourable to you.”

“But yet,” said Morton —

“But yet,” interrupted Grahame, taking up the word, “you would say you were the same when I first met you that you are now? True; but then, how could I know that? though, by the by, even my reluctance to suspend your execution may show you how high your abilities stood in my estimation.”

“Do you expect, General,” said Morton, “that I ought to be particularly grateful for such a mark of your esteem?”

“Poh! poh! you are critical,” returned Claverhouse. “I tell you I thought you a different sort of person. Did you ever read Froissart?”

“No,” was Morton’s answer.

“I have half a mind,” said Claverhouse, “to contrive you should have six months’ imprisonment in order to procure you that pleasure. His chapters inspire me with more enthusiasm than even poetry itself. And the noble canon, with what true chivalrous feeling he confines his beautiful expressions of sorrow to the death of the gallant and high-bred knight, of whom it was a pity to see the fall, such was his loyalty to his king, pure faith to his religion, hardihood towards his enemy, and fidelity to his lady-love! — Ah, benedicite! how he will mourn over the fall of such a pearl of knighthood, be it on the side he happens to favour, or on the other. But, truly, for sweeping from the face of the earth some few hundreds of villain churls, who are born but to plough it, the high-born and inquisitive historian has marvellous little sympathy — as little, or less, perhaps, than John Grahame of Claverhouse.”

“There is one ploughman in your possession, General, for whom,” said Morton, “in despite of the contempt in which you hold a profession which some philosophers have considered as useful as that of a soldier, I would humbly request your favour.”

“You mean,” said Claverhouse, looking at a memorandum book, “one Hatherick — Hedderick — or — or — Headrigg. Ay, Cuthbert, or Cuddie Headrigg — here I have him. O, never fear him, if he will be but tractable. The ladies of Tillietudlem made interest with me on his account some time ago. He is to marry their waiting-maid, I think. He will be allowed to slip off easy, unless his obstinacy spoils his good fortune.”

“He has no ambition to be a martyr, I believe,” said Morton.

“’Tis the better for him,” said Claverhouse. “But, besides, although the fellow had more to answer for, I should stand his friend, for the sake of the blundering gallantry which threw him into the midst of our ranks last night, when seeking assistance for you. I never desert any man who trusts me with such implicit confidence. But, to deal sincerely with you, he has been long in our eye. — Here, Halliday; bring me up the black book.”

The sergeant, having committed to his commander this ominous record of the disaffected, which was arranged in alphabetical order, Claverhouse, turning over the leaves as he rode on, began to read names as they occurred.

“Gumblegumption, a minister, aged 50, indulged, close, sly, and so forth — Pooh! pooh! — He — He — I have him here — Heathercat; outlawed — a preacher — a zealous Cameronian — keeps a conventicle among the Campsie hills — Tush! — O, here is Headrigg — Cuthbert; his mother a bitter puritan — himself a simple fellow — like to be forward in action, but of no genius for plots — more for the hand than the head, and might be drawn to the right side, but for his attachment to”—(Here Claverhouse looked at Morton, and then shut the book and changed his tone.) “Faithful and true are words never thrown away upon me, Mr Morton. You may depend on the young man’s safety.”

“Does it not revolt a mind like yours,” said Morton, “to follow a system which is to be supported by such minute enquiries after obscure individuals?”

“You do not suppose we take the trouble?” said the General, haughtily. “The curates, for their own sakes, willingly collect all these materials for their own regulation in each parish; they know best the black sheep of the flock. I have had your picture for three years.”

“Indeed?” replied Morton. “Will you favour me by imparting it?”

“Willingly,” said Claverhouse; “it can signify little, for you cannot avenge yourself on the curate, as you will probably leave Scotland for some time.”

This was spoken in an indifferent tone. Morton felt an involuntary shudder at hearing words which implied a banishment from his native land; but ere he answered, Claverhouse proceeded to read, “Henry Morton, son of Silas Morton, Colonel of horse for the Scottish Parliament, nephew and apparent heir of Morton of Milnwood — imperfectly educated, but with spirit beyond his years — excellent at all exercises — indifferent to forms of religion, but seems to incline to the presbyterian — has high-flown and dangerous notions about liberty of thought and speech, and hovers between a latitudinarian and an enthusiast. Much admired and followed by the youth of his own age — modest, quiet, and unassuming in manner, but in his heart peculiarly bold and intractable. He is — Here follow three red crosses, Mr Morton, which signify triply dangerous. You see how important a person you are. — But what does this fellow want?”

A horseman rode up as he spoke, and gave a letter. Claverhouse glanced it over, laughed scornfully, bade him tell his master to send his prisoners to Edinburgh, for there was no answer; and, as the man turned back, said contemptuously to Morton —“Here is an ally of yours deserted from you, or rather, I should say, an ally of your good friend Burley — Hear how he sets forth —‘Dear Sir,’ (I wonder when we were such intimates,) ‘may it please your Excellency to accept my humble congratulations on the victory’— hum — hum —‘blessed his Majesty’s army. I pray you to understand I have my people under arms to take and intercept all fugitives, and have already several prisoners,’ and so forth. Subscribed Basil Olifant — You know the fellow by name, I suppose?”

“A relative of Lady Margaret Bellenden,” replied Morton, “is he not?”

“Ay,” replied Grahame, “and heir-male of her father’s family, though a distant one, and moreover a suitor to the fair Edith, though discarded as an unworthy one; but, above all, a devoted admirer of the estate of Tillietudlem, and all thereunto belonging.”

“He takes an ill mode of recommending himself,” said Morton, suppressing his feelings, “to the family at Tillietudlem, by corresponding with our unhappy party.”

“O, this precious Basil will turn cat in pan with any man!” replied Claverhouse. “He was displeased with the government, because they would not overturn in his favour a settlement of the late Earl of Torwood, by which his lordship gave his own estate to his own daughter; he was displeased with Lady Margaret, because she avowed no desire for his alliance, and with the pretty Edith, because she did not like his tall ungainly person. So he held a close correspondence with Burley, and raised his followers with the purpose of helping him, providing always he needed no help, that is, if you had beat us yesterday. And now the rascal pretends he was all the while proposing the King’s service, and, for aught I know, the council will receive his pretext for current coin, for he knows how to make friends among them — and a dozen scores of poor vagabond fanatics will be shot, or hanged, while this cunning scoundrel lies hid under the double cloak of loyalty, well-lined with the fox-fur of hypocrisy.”

With conversation on this and other matters they beguiled the way, Claverhouse all the while speaking with great frankness to Morton, and treating him rather as a friend and companion than as a prisoner; so that, however uncertain of his fate, the hours he passed in the company of this remarkable man were so much lightened by the varied play of his imagination, and the depth of his knowledge of human nature, that since the period of his becoming a prisoner of war, which relieved him at once from the cares of his doubtful and dangerous station among the insurgents, and from the consequences of their suspicious resentment, his hours flowed on less anxiously than at any time since his having commenced actor in public life. He was now, with respect to his fortune, like a rider who has flung his reins on the horse’s neck, and, while he abandoned himself to circumstances, was at least relieved from the task of attempting to direct them. In this mood he journeyed on, the number of his companions being continually augmented by detached parties of horse who came in from every quarter of the country, bringing with them, for the most part, the unfortunate persons who had fallen into their power. At length they approached Edinburgh.

“Our council,” said Claverhouse, “being resolved, I suppose, to testify by their present exultation the extent of their former terror, have decreed a kind of triumphal entry to us victors and our captives; but as I do not quite approve the taste of it, I am willing to avoid my own part in the show, and, at the same time, to save you from yours.”

So saying, he gave up the command of the forces to Allan, (now a Lieutenant-colonel,) and, turning his horse into a by-lane, rode into the city privately, accompanied by Morton and two or three servants. When Claverhouse arrived at the quarters which he usually occupied in the Canongate, he assigned to his prisoner a small apartment, with an intimation, that his parole confined him to it for the present.

After about a quarter of an hour spent in solitary musing on the strange vicissitudes of his late life, the attention of Morton was summoned to the window by a great noise in the street beneath. Trumpets, drums, and kettle-drums, contended in noise with the shouts of a numerous rabble, and apprised him that the royal cavalry were passing in the triumphal attitude which Claverhouse had mentioned. The magistrates of the city, attended by their guard of halberds, had met the victors with their welcome at the gate of the city, and now preceded them as a part of the procession. The next object was two heads borne upon pikes; and before each bloody head were carried the hands of the dismembered sufferers, which were, by the brutal mockery of those who bore them, often approached towards each other as if in the attitude of exhortation or prayer. These bloody trophies belonged to two preachers who had fallen at Bothwell Bridge. After them came a cart led by the executioner’s assistant, in which were placed Macbriar, and other two prisoners, who seemed of the same profession. They were bareheaded, and strongly bound, yet looked around them with an air rather of triumph than dismay, and appeared in no respect moved either by the fate of their companions, of which the bloody evidences were carried before them, or by dread of their own approaching execution, which these preliminaries so plainly indicated.

Behind these prisoners, thus held up to public infamy and derision, came a body of horse, brandishing their broadswords, and filling the wide street with acclamations, which were answered by the tumultuous outcries and shouts of the rabble, who, in every considerable town, are too happy in being permitted to huzza for any thing whatever which calls them together. In the rear of these troopers came the main body of the prisoners, at the head of whom were some of their leaders, who were treated with every circumstance of inventive mockery and insult. Several were placed on horseback with their faces to the animal’s tail; others were chained to long bars of iron, which they were obliged to support in their hands, like the galleyslaves in Spain when travelling to the port where they are to be put on shipboard. The heads of others who had fallen were borne in triumph before the survivors, some on pikes and halberds, some in sacks, bearing the names of the slaughtered persons labelled on the outside. Such were the objects who headed the ghastly procession, who seemed as effectually doomed to death as if they wore the sanbenitos of the condemned heretics in an auto-da-fe. 34

Behind them came on the nameless crowd to the number of several hundreds, some retaining under their misfortunes a sense of confidence in the cause for which they suffered captivity, and were about to give a still more bloody testimony; others seemed pale, dispirited, dejected, questioning in their own minds their prudence in espousing a cause which Providence seemed to have disowned, and looking about for some avenue through which they might escape from the consequences of their rashness. Others there were who seemed incapable of forming an opinion on the subject, or of entertaining either hope, confidence, or fear, but who, foaming with thirst and fatigue, stumbled along like over-driven oxen, lost to every thing but their present sense of wretchedness, and without having any distinct idea whether they were led to the shambles or to the pasture. These unfortunate men were guarded on each hand by troopers, and behind them came the main body of the cavalry, whose military music resounded back from the high houses on each side of the street, and mingled with their own songs of jubilee and triumph, and the wild shouts of the rabble.

Morton felt himself heart-sick while he gazed on the dismal spectacle, and recognised in the bloody heads, and still more miserable and agonized features of the living sufferers, faces which had been familiar to him during the brief insurrection. He sunk down in a chair in a bewildered and stupified state, from which he was awakened by the voice of Cuddie.

“Lord forgie us, sir!” said the poor fellow, his teeth chattering like a pair of nut-crackers, his hair erect like boar’s bristles, and his face as pale as that of a corpse —“Lord forgie us, sir! we maun instantly gang before the Council! — O Lord, what made them send for a puir bodie like me, sae mony braw lords and gentles! — and there’s my mither come on the lang tramp frae Glasgow to see to gar me testify, as she ca’s it, that is to say, confess and be hanged; but deil tak me if they mak sic a guse o’ Cuddie, if I can do better. But here’s Claverhouse himsell — the Lord preserve and forgie us, I say anes mair!”

“You must immediately attend the Council Mr Morton,” said Claverhouse, who entered while Cuddie spoke, “and your servant must go with you. You need be under no apprehension for the consequences to yourself personally. But I warn you that you will see something that will give you much pain, and from which I would willingly have saved you, if I had possessed the power. My carriage waits us — shall we go?”

It will be readily supposed that Morton did not venture to dispute this invitation, however unpleasant. He rose and accompanied Claverhouse.

“I must apprise you,” said the latter, as he led the way down stairs, “that you will get off cheap; and so will your servant, provided he can keep his tongue quiet.”

Cuddie caught these last words to his exceeding joy.

“Deil a fear o’ me,” said he, “an my mither disna pit her finger in the pie.”

At that moment his shoulder was seized by old Mause, who had contrived to thrust herself forward into the lobby of the apartment.

“O, hinny, hinny!” said she to Cuddie, hanging upon his neck, “glad and proud, and sorry and humbled am I, a’in ane and the same instant, to see my bairn ganging to testify for the truth gloriously with his mouth in council, as he did with his weapon in the field!”

“Whisht, whisht, mither!” cried Cuddie impatiently. “Odd, ye daft wife, is this a time to speak o’ thae things? I tell ye I’ll testify naething either ae gate or another. I hae spoken to Mr Poundtext, and I’ll tak the declaration, or whate’er they ca’it, and we’re a’ to win free off if we do that — he’s gotten life for himsell and a’ his folk, and that’s a minister for my siller; I like nane o’ your sermons that end in a psalm at the Grassmarket.” 35

“O, Cuddie, man, laith wad I be they suld hurt ye,” said old Mause, divided grievously between the safety of her son’s soul and that of his body; “but mind, my bonny bairn, ye hae battled for the faith, and dinna let the dread o’ losing creature-comforts withdraw ye frae the gude fight.”

“Hout tout, mither,” replied Cuddie, “I hae fought e’en ower muckle already, and, to speak plain, I’m wearied o’the trade. I hae swaggered wi’ a’ thae arms, and muskets, and pistols, buffcoats, and bandoliers, lang eneugh, and I like the pleughpaidle a hantle better. I ken naething suld gar a man fight, (that’s to say, when he’s no angry,) by and out-taken the dread o’being hanged or killed if he turns back.”

“But, my dear Cuddie,” continued the persevering Mause, “your bridal garment — Oh, hinny, dinna sully the marriage garment!”

“Awa, awa, mither,” replied. Cuddie; “dinna ye see the folks waiting for me? — Never fear me — I ken how to turn this far better than ye do — for ye’re bleezing awa about marriage, and the job is how we are to win by hanging.”

So saying, he extricated himself out of his mother’s embraces, and requested the soldiers who took him in charge to conduct him to the place of examination without delay. He had been already preceded by Claverhouse and Morton.

34 David Hackston of Rathillet, who was wounded and made prisoner in the skirmish of Air’s-Moss, in which the celebrated Cameron fell, was, on entering Edinburgh, “by order of the Council, received by the Magistrates at the Watergate, and set on a horse’s bare back with his face to the tail, and the other three laid on a goad of iron, and carried up the street, Mr Cameron’s head being on a halberd before them.”

35 Then the place of public execution.


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