Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 37

Whom does time gallop withal?

As You Like It.

It is fortunate for tale-tellers that they are not tied down like theatrical writers to the unities of time and place, but may conduct their personages to Athens and Thebes at their pleasure, and bring them back at their convenience. Time, to use Rosalind’s simile, has hitherto paced with the hero of our tale; for betwixt Morton’s first appearance as a competitor for the popinjay and his final departure for Holland hardly two months elapsed. Years, however, glided away ere we find it possible to resume the thread of our narrative, and Time must be held to have galloped over the interval. Craving, therefore, the privilege of my cast, I entreat the reader’s attention to the continuation of the narrative, as it starts from a new era, being the year immediately subsequent to the British Revolution.

Scotland had just begun to repose from the convulsion occasioned by a change of dynasty, and, through the prudent tolerance of King William, had narrowly escaped the horrors of a protracted civil war. Agriculture began to revive, and men, whose minds had been disturbed by the violent political concussions, and the general change of government in Church and State, had begun to recover their ordinary temper, and to give the usual attention to their own private affairs, in lieu of discussing those of the public. The Highlanders alone resisted the newly established order of things, and were in arms in a considerable body under the Viscount of Dundee, whom our readers have hitherto known by the name of Grahame of Claverhouse. But the usual state of the Highlands was so unruly that their being more or less disturbed was not supposed greatly to affect the general tranquillity of the country, so long as their disorders were confined within their own frontiers. In the Lowlands, the Jacobites, now the undermost party, had ceased to expect any immediate advantage by open resistance, and were, in their turn, driven to hold private meetings, and form associations for mutual defence, which the government termed treason, while they cried out persecution.

The triumphant Whigs, while they re-established Presbytery as the national religion, and assigned to the General Assemblies of the Kirk their natural influence, were very far from going the lengths which the Cameronians and more extravagant portion of the nonconformists under Charles and James loudly demanded. They would listen to no proposal for re-establishing the Solemn League and Covenant; and those who had expected to find in King William a zealous Covenanted Monarch, were grievously disappointed when he intimated, with the phlegm peculiar to his country, his intention to tolerate all forms of religion which were consistent with the safety of the State. The principles of indulgence thus espoused and gloried in by the Government gave great offence to the more violent party, who condemned them as diametrically contrary to Scripture — for which narrow-spirited doctrine they cited various texts, all, as it may well be supposed, detached from their context, and most of them derived from the charges given to the Jews in the Old Testament dispensation to extirpate idolaters out of the Promised Land. They also murmured highly against the influence assumed by secular persons in exercising the rights of patronage, which they termed a rape upon the chastity of the Church. They censured and condemned as Erastian many of the measures by which Government after the Revolution showed an inclination to interfere with the management of the Church, and they positively refused to take the oath of allegiance to King William and Queen Mary until they should, on their part, have sworn to the Solemn League — and Covenant, the Magna Charta, as they termed it, of the Presbyterian Church.

This party, therefore, remained grumbling and dissatisfied, and made repeated declarations against defections and causes of wrath, which, had they been prosecuted as in the two former reigns, would have led to the same consequence of open rebellion. But as the murmurers were allowed to hold their meetings uninterrupted, and to testify as much as they pleased against Socinianism, Erastianism, and all the compliances and defections of the time, their zeal, unfanned by persecution, died gradually away, their numbers became diminished, and they sunk into the scattered remnant of serious, scrupulous, and harmless enthusiasts, of whom Old Mortality, whose legends have afforded the groundwork of my tale, may be taken as no bad representative. But in the years which immediately succeeded the Revolution, the Cameronians continued a sect strong in numbers and vehement in their political opinions, whom Government wished to discourage, while they prudently temporised with them. These men formed one violent party in the State; and the Episcopalian and Jacobite interest, notwithstanding their ancient and national animosity, yet repeatedly endeavoured to intrigue among them, and avail themselves of their discontents, to obtain their assistance in recalling the Stewart family. The Revolutionary Government in the mean while, was supported by the great bulk of the Lowland interest, who were chiefly disposed to a moderate Presbytery, and formed in a great measure the party who in the former oppressive reigns were stigmatized by the Cameronians for having exercised that form of worship under the declaration of Indulgence issued by Charles II. Such was the state of parties in Scotland immediately subsequent to the Revolution.

It was on a delightful summer evening that a stranger, well mounted, and having the appearance of a military man of rank, rode down a winding descent which terminated in view of the romantic ruins of Bothwell Castle and the river Clyde, which winds so beautifully between rocks and woods to sweep around the towers formerly built by Aymer de Valence. Bothwell Bridge was at a little distance, and also in sight. The opposite field, once the scene of slaughter and conflict, now lay as placid and quiet as the surface of a summer lake. The trees and bushes, which grew around in romantic variety of shade, were hardly seen to stir under the influence of the evening breeze. The very murmur of the river seemed to soften itself into unison with the stillness of the scene around.

The path through which the traveller descended was occasionally shaded by detached trees of great size, and elsewhere by the hedges and boughs of flourishing orchards, now laden with summer fruits.

The nearest object of consequence was a farmhouse, or, it might be, the abode of a small proprietor, situated on the side of a sunny bank which was covered by apple and pear trees. At the foot of the path which led up to this modest mansion was a small cottage, pretty much in the situation of a porter’s lodge, though obviously not designed for such a purpose. The hut seemed comfortable, and more neatly arranged than is usual in Scotland. It had its little garden, where some fruit-trees and bushes were mingled with kitchen herbs; a cow and six sheep fed in a paddock hard by; the cock strutted and crowed, and summoned his family around him before the door; a heap of brushwood and turf, neatly made up, indicated that the winter fuel was provided; and the thin blue smoke which ascended from the straw-bound chimney, and winded slowly out from among the green trees, showed that the evening meal was in the act of being made ready. To complete the little scene of rural peace and comfort, a girl of about five years old was fetching water in a pitcher from a beautiful fountain of the purest transparency, which bubbled up at the root of a decayed old oak-tree about twenty yards from the end of the cottage.

The stranger reined up his horse and called to the little nymph, desiring to know the way to Fairy Knowe. The child set down her water-pitcher, hardly understanding what was said to her, put her fair flaxen hair apart on her brows, and opened her round blue eyes with the wondering “What’s your wull?” which is usually a peasant’s first answer, if it can be called one, to all questions whatever.

“I wish to know the way to Fairy Knowe.”

“Mammie, mammie,” exclaimed the little rustic, running towards the door of the hut, “come out and speak to the gentleman.”

Her mother appeared — a handsome young country-woman, to whose features, originally sly and espiegle in expression, matrimony had given that decent matronly air which peculiarly marks the peasant’s wife of Scotland. She had an infant in one arm, and with the other she smoothed down her apron, to which hung a chubby child of two years old. The elder girl, whom the traveller had first seen, fell back behind her mother as soon as she appeared, and kept that station, occasionally peeping out to look at the stranger.

“What was your pleasure, sir?” said the woman, with an air of respectful breeding not quite common in her rank of life, but without anything resembling forwardness.

The stranger looked at her with great earnestness for a moment, and then replied, “I am seeking a place called Fairy Knowe, and a man called Cuthbert Headrigg. You can probably direct me to him?”

“It’s my gudeman, sir,” said the young woman, with a smile of welcome. “Will you alight, sir, and come into our puir dwelling? — Cuddie, Cuddie,”— a white-headed rogue of four years appeared at the door of the hut —“rin awa, my bonny man, and tell your father a gentleman wants him. Or, stay — Jenny, ye’ll hae mair sense: rin ye awa and tell him; he’s down at the Four-acres Park. — Winna ye light down and bide a blink, sir? Or would ye take a mouthfu’ o’ bread and cheese, or a drink o’ ale, till our gudeman comes. It’s gude ale, though I shouldna say sae that brews it; but ploughmanlads work hard, and maun hae something to keep their hearts abune by ordinar, sae I aye pit a gude gowpin o’ maut to the browst.”

As the stranger declined her courteous offers, Cuddie, the reader’s old acquaintance, made his appearance in person. His countenance still presented the same mixture of apparent dulness with occasional sparkles, which indicated the craft so often found in the clouted shoe. He looked on the rider as on one whom he never had before seen, and, like his daughter and wife, opened the conversation with the regular query, “What’s your wull wi’ me, sir?”

“I have a curiosity to ask some questions about this country,” said the traveller, “and I was directed to you as an intelligent man who can answer them.”

“Nae doubt, sir,” said Cuddie, after a moment’s hesitation. “But I would first like to ken what sort of questions they are. I hae had sae mony questions speered at me in my day, and in sic queer ways, that if ye kend a’, ye wadna wonder at my jalousing a’ thing about them. My mother gar ‘d me learn the Single Carritch, whilk was a great vex; then I behoved to learn about my godfathers and godmothers to please the auld leddy; and whiles I jumbled them thegether and pleased nane o’ them; and when I cam to man’s yestate, cam another kind o’ questioning in fashion that I liked waur than Effectual Calling; and the ‘did promise and vow’ of the tape were yokit to the end o’ the tother. Sae ye see, sir, I aye like to hear questions asked befor I answer them.”

“You have nothing to apprehend from mine, my good friend; they only relate to the state of the country.”

“Country?” replied Cuddie; “ou, the country’s weel eneugh, an it werena that dour deevil, Claver’se (they ca’ him Dundee now), that’s stirring about yet in the Highlands, they say, wi’ a’ the Donalds and Duncans and Dugalds, that ever wore bottomless breeks, driving about wi’ him, to set things asteer again, now we hae gotten them a’ reasonably weel settled. But Mackay will pit him down, there’s little doubt o’ that; he’ll gie him his fairing, I’ll be caution for it.”

“What makes you so positive of that, my friend?” asked the horseman.

“I heard it wi’ my ain lugs,” answered Cuddie, foretauld to him by a man that had been three hours stane dead, and came back to this earth again just to tell him his mind. It was at a place they ca’ Drumshinnel.”

“Indeed?” said the stranger. “I can hardly believe you, my friend.”

“Ye might ask my mither, then, if she were in life,” said Cuddie; “it was her explained it a’ to me, for I thought the man had only been wounded. At ony rate, he spake of the casting out of the Stewarts by their very names, and the vengeance that was brewing for Claver’se and his dragoons. They ca’d the man Habakkuk Mucklewrath; his brain was a wee ajee, but he was a braw preacher for a’ that.”

“You seem,” said the stranger, “to live in a rich and peaceful country.”

“It’s no to compleen o’, sir, an we get the crap weel in,” quoth Cuddie; “but if ye had seen the blude rinnin’ as fast on the tap o’ that brigg yonder as ever the water ran below it, ye wadna hae thought it sae bonnie a spectacle.”

“You mean the battle some years since? I was waiting upon Monmouth that morning, my good friend, and did see some part of the action,” said the stranger.

“Then ye saw a bonny stour,” said Cuddie, “that sail serve me for fighting a’ the days o’ my life. I judged ye wad be a trooper, by your red scarlet lace-coat and your looped hat.”

“And which side were you upon, my friend?” continued the inquisitive stranger.

“Aha, lad?” retorted Cuddie, with a knowing look, or what he designed for such — “there ‘s nae use in telling that, unless I kend wha was asking me.”

“I commend your prudence, but it is unnecessary; I know you acted on that occasion as servant to Henry Morton.”

“Ay!” said Cuddie, in surprise, “how came ye by that secret? No that I need care a bodee about it, for the sun’s on our side o’ the hedge now. I wish my master were living to get a blink o’t”

“And what became of him?” said the rider.

“He was lost in the vessel gaun to that weary Holland — clean lost; and a’ body perished, and my poor master amang them. Neither man nor mouse was ever heard o’ mair.” Then Cuddie uttered a groan.

“You had some regard for him, then?” continued the stranger.

“How could I help it? His face was made of a fiddle, as they say, for a’ body that looked on him liked him. And a braw soldier he was. Oh, an ye had but seen him down at the brigg there, fleeing about like a fleeing dragon to gar folk fight that had unto little will till ‘t! There was he and that sour Whigamore they ca’d Burley: if twa men could hae won a field, we wadna hae gotten our skins paid that day.”

“You mention Burley: do you know if he yet lives?”

“I kenna muckle about him. Folk say he was abroad, and our sufferers wad hold no communion wi’ him, because o’ his having murdered the archbishop. Sae he cam hame ten times dourer than ever, and broke aff wi’ mony o’ the Presbyterians; and at this last coming of the Prince of Orange he could get nae countenance nor command for fear of his deevilish temper, and he hasna been heard of since; only some folk say that pride and anger hae driven him clean wud.”

“And — and,” said the traveller, after considerable hesitation — “do you know anything of Lord Evan dale?”

“Div I ken onything o’ Lord Evandale? Div I no? Is not my young leddy up by yonder at the house, that’s as gude as married to him?”

“And are they not married, then?” said the rider, hastily.

“No, only what they ca’ betrothed — me and my wife were witnesses. It’s no mony months bypast; it was a lang courtship — few folk kend the reason by Jenny and mysell. But will ye no light down? I downa bide to see ye sitting up there, and the clouds are casting up thick in the west ower Glasgow-ward, and maist skeily folk think that bodes rain.”

In fact, a deep black cloud had already surmounted the setting sun; a few large drops of rain fell, and the murmurs of distant thunder were heard.

“The deil’s in this man,” said Cuddie to himself; “I wish he would either light aff or ride on, that he may quarter himsell in Hamilton or the shower begin.”

But the rider sate motionless on his horse for two or three moments after his last question, like one exhausted by some uncommon effort. At length, recovering himself as if with a sudden and painful effort, he asked Cuddie “if Lady Margaret Bellenden still lived.”

“She does,” replied Cuddie, “but in a very sma’ way. They hae been a sad changed family since thae rough times began; they hae suffered eneugh first and last — and to lose the auld Tower and a’ the bonny barony and the holms that I hae pleughed sae often, and the Mains, and my kale-yard, that I suld hae gotten back again, and a’ for naething, as ‘a body may say, but just the want o’ some bits of sheep-skin that were lost in the confusion of the taking of Tillietudlem.”

“I have heard something of this,” said the stranger, deepening his voice and averting his head. “I have some interest in the family, and would willingly help them if I could. Can you give me a bed in your house to-night, my friend?”

“It’s but a corner of a place, sir,” said Cuddie, “but we’se try, rather than ye suld ride on in the rain and thunner; for, to be free wi’ ye, sir, I think ye seem no that ower weel.”

“I am liable to a dizziness,” said the stranger, but it will soon wear off.”

“I ken we can gie ye a decent supper, sir,” said Cuddie; “and we’ll see about a bed as weel as we can. We wad be laith a stranger suld lack what we have, though we are jimply provided for in beds rather; for Jenny has sae mony bairns (God bless them and her) that troth I maun speak to Lord Evandale to gie us a bit eik, or outshot o’ some sort, to the onstead.”

“I shall be easily accommodated,” said the stranger, as he entered the house.

“And ye may rely on your naig being weel sorted,” said Cuddie; “I ken weel what belangs to suppering a horse, and this is a very gude ane.” Cuddie took the horse to the little cow-house, and called to his wife to attend in the mean while to the stranger’s accommodation. The officer entered, and threw himself on a settle at some distance from the fire, and carefully turning his back to the little lattice window. Jenny, or Mrs. Headrigg, if the reader pleases, requested him to lay aside the cloak, belt, and flapped hat which he wore upon his journey, but he excused himself under pretence of feeling cold, and, to divert the time till Cuddie’s return, he entered into some chat with the children, carefully avoiding, during the interval, the inquisitive glances of his landlady.


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