Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 7

From seventeen years till now, almost fourscore,

Here lived I, but now live here no more.

At seventeen years many their fortunes seek,

But at fourscore it is too late a week.

As You Like it.

We must conduct our readers to the Tower of Tillietudlem, to which Lady Margaret Bellenden had returned, in romantic phrase, malecontent and full of heaviness, at the unexpected, and, as she deemed it, indelible affront, which had been brought upon her dignity by the public miscarriage of Goose Gibbie. That unfortunate man-at-arms was forthwith commanded to drive his feathered charge to the most remote parts of the common moor, and on no account to awaken the grief or resentment of his lady, by appearing in her presence while the sense of the affront was yet recent.

The next proceeding of Lady Margaret was to hold a solemn court of justice, to which Harrison and the butler were admitted, partly on the footing of witnesses, partly as assessors, to enquire into the recusancy of Cuddie Headrigg the ploughman, and the abetment which he had received from his mother — these being regarded as the original causes of the disaster which had befallen the chivalry of Tillietudlem. The charge being fully made out and substantiated, Lady Margaret resolved to reprimand the culprits in person, and, if she found them impenitent, to extend the censure into a sentence of expulsion from the barony. Miss Bellenden alone ventured to say any thing in behalf of the accused, but her countenance did not profit them as it might have done on any other occasion. For so soon as Edith had heard it ascertained that the unfortunate cavalier had not suffered in his person, his disaster had affected her with an irresistible disposition to laugh, which, in spite of Lady Margaret’s indignation, or rather irritated, as usual, by restraint, had broke out repeatedly on her return homeward, until her grandmother, in no shape imposed upon by the several fictitious causes which the young lady assigned for her ill-timed risibility, upbraided her in very bitter terms with being insensible to the honour of her family. Miss Bellenden’s intercession, therefore, had, on this occasion, little or no chance to be listened to.

As if to evince the rigour of her disposition, Lady Margaret, on this solemn occasion, exchanged the ivory-headed cane with which she commonly walked, for an immense gold-headed staff which had belonged to her father, the deceased Earl of Torwood, and which, like a sort of mace of office, she only made use of on occasions of special solemnity. Supported by this awful baton of command, Lady Margaret Bellenden entered the cottage of the delinquents.

There was an air of consciousness about old Mause, as she rose from her wicker chair in the chimney-nook, not with the cordial alertness of visage which used, on other occasions, to express the honour she felt in the visit of her lady, but with a certain solemnity and embarrassment, like an accused party on his first appearance in presence of his judge, before whom he is, nevertheless, determined to assert his innocence. Her arms were folded, her mouth primmed into an expression of respect, mingled with obstinacy, her whole mind apparently bent up to the solemn interview. With her best curtsey to the ground, and a mute motion of reverence, Mause pointed to the chair, which, on former occasions, Lady Margaret (for the good lady was somewhat of a gossip) had deigned to occupy for half an hour sometimes at a time, hearing the news of the county and of the borough. But at present her mistress was far too indignant for such condescension. She rejected the mute invitation with a haughty wave of her hand, and drawing herself up as she spoke, she uttered the following interrogatory in a tone calculated to overwhelm the culprit.

“Is it true, Mause, as I am informed by Harrison, Gudyill, and others of my people, that you hae taen it upon you, contrary to the faith you owe to God and the king, and to me, your natural lady and mistress, to keep back your son frae the wappen-schaw, held by the order of the sheriff, and to return his armour and abulyiements at a moment when it was impossible to find a suitable delegate in his stead, whereby the barony of Tullietudlem, baith in the person of its mistress and indwellers, has incurred sic a disgrace and dishonour as hasna befa’en the family since the days of Malcolm Canmore?”

Mause’s habitual respect for her mistress was extreme; she hesitated, and one or two short coughs expressed the difficulty she had in defending herself.

“I am sure — my leddy — hem, hem! — I am sure I am sorry — very sorry that ony cause of displeasure should hae occurred — but my son’s illness”— “Dinna tell me of your son’s illness, Mause! Had he been sincerely unweel, ye would hae been at the Tower by daylight to get something that wad do him gude; there are few ailments that I havena medical recipes for, and that ye ken fu’ weel.”

“O ay, my leddy! I am sure ye hae wrought wonderful cures; the last thing ye sent Cuddie, when he had the batts, e’en wrought like a charm.”

“Why, then, woman, did ye not apply to me, if there was only real need? — but there was none, ye fause-hearted vassal that ye are!”

“Your leddyship never ca’d me sic a word as that before. Ohon! that I suld live to be ca’d sae,” she continued, bursting into tears, “and me a born servant o’ the house o’ Tillietudlem! I am sure they belie baith Cuddie and me sair, if they said he wadna fight ower the boots in blude for your leddyship and Miss Edith, and the auld Tower — ay suld he, and I would rather see him buried beneath it, than he suld gie way — but thir ridings and wappenschawings, my leddy, I hae nae broo o’ them ava. I can find nae warrant for them whatsoever.”

“Nae warrant for them?” cried the high-born dame. “Do ye na ken, woman, that ye are bound to be liege vassals in all hunting, hosting, watching, and warding, when lawfully summoned thereto in my name? Your service is not gratuitous. I trow ye hae land for it. — Ye’re kindly tenants; hae a cot-house, a kale-yard, and a cow’s grass on the common. — Few hae been brought farther ben, and ye grudge your son suld gie me a day’s service in the field?”

“Na, my leddy — na, my leddy, it’s no that,” exclaimed Mause, greatly embarrassed, “but ane canna serve twa maisters; and, if the truth maun e’en come out, there’s Ane abune whase commands I maun obey before your leddyship’s. I am sure I would put neither king’s nor kaisar’s, nor ony earthly creature’s, afore them.”

“How mean ye by that, ye auld fule woman? — D’ye think that I order ony thing against conscience?”

“I dinna pretend to say that, my leddy, in regard o’ your leddyship’s conscience, which has been brought up, as it were, wi’ prelatic principles; but ilka ane maun walk by the light o’ their ain; and mine,” said Mause, waxing bolder as the conference became animated, “tells me that I suld leave a’— cot, kale-yard, and cow’s grass — and suffer a’, rather than that I or mine should put on harness in an unlawfu’ cause,”

“Unlawfu’!” exclaimed her mistress; “the cause to which you are called by your lawful leddy and mistress — by the command of the king — by the writ of the privy council — by the order of the lordlieutenant — by the warrant of the sheriff?”

“Ay, my leddy, nae doubt; but no to displeasure your leddyship, ye’ll mind that there was ance a king in Scripture they ca’d Nebuchadnezzar, and he set up a golden image in the plain o’ Dura, as it might be in the haugh yonder by the water-side, where the array were warned to meet yesterday; and the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the judges themsells, forby the treasurers, the counsellors, and the sheriffs, were warned to the dedication thereof, and commanded to fall down and worship at the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music.”

“And what o’ a’ this, ye fule wife? Or what had Nebuchadnezzar to do with the wappen-schaw of the Upper Ward of Clydesdale?”

“Only just thus far, my leddy,” continued Mause, firmly, “that prelacy is like the great golden image in the plain of Dura, and that as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were borne out in refusing to bow down and worship, so neither shall Cuddy Headrigg, your leddyship’s poor pleughman, at least wi’ his auld mither’s consent, make murgeons or Jenny-flections, as they ca’ them, in the house of the prelates and curates, nor gird him wi’ armour to fight in their cause, either at the sound of kettle-drums, organs, bagpipes, or ony other kind of music whatever.”

Lady Margaret Bellenden heard this exposition of Scripture with the greatest possible indignation, as well as surprise.

“I see which way the wind blaws,” she exclaimed, after a pause of astonishment; “the evil spirit of the year sixteen hundred and forty-twa is at wark again as merrily as ever, and ilka auld wife in the chimley-neuck will be for knapping doctrine wi’ doctors o’ divinity and the godly fathers o’ the church.”

“If your leddyship means the bishops and curates, I’m sure they hae been but stepfathers to the Kirk o’ Scotland. And, since your leddyship is pleased to speak o’ parting wi’ us, I am free to tell you a piece o’ my mind in another article. Your leddyship and the steward hae been pleased to propose that my son Cuddie suld work in the barn wi’ a new-fangled machine 9 for dighting the corn frae the chaff, thus impiously thwarting the will of Divine Providence, by raising wind for your leddyship’s ain particular use by human art, instead of soliciting it by prayer, or waiting patiently for whatever dispensation of wind Providence was pleased to send upon the sheeling-hill. Now, my leddy”—“The woman would drive ony reasonable being daft!” said Lady Margaret; then resuming her tone of authority and indifference, she concluded, “Weel, Mause, I’ll just end where I sud hae begun — ye’re ower learned and ower godly for me to dispute wi’; sae I have just this to say — either Cuddie must attend musters when he’s lawfully warned by the ground officer, or the sooner he and you flit and quit my bounds the better; there’s nae scarcity o’ auld wives or ploughmen; but, if there were, I had rather that the rigs of Tillietudlem bare naething but windle-straes and sandy lavrocks 10 than that they were ploughed by rebels to the king.”

“Aweel, my leddy,” said Mause, “I was born here, and thought to die where my father died; and your leddyship has been a kind mistress, I’ll ne’er deny that, and I’se ne’er cease to pray for you, and for Miss Edith, and that ye may be brought to see the error of your ways. But still”—“The error of my ways!” interrupted Lady Margaret, much incensed —“The error of my ways, ye uncivil woman?”

“Ou, ay, my leddy, we are blinded that live in this valley of tears and darkness, and hae a’ ower mony errors, grit folks as weel as sma’— but, as I said, my puir bennison will rest wi’ you and yours wherever I am. I will be wae to hear o’ your affliction, and blithe to hear o’ your prosperity, temporal and spiritual. But I canna prefer the commands of an earthly mistress to those of a heavenly master, and sae I am e’en ready to suffer for righteousness’ sake.”

“It is very well,” said Lady Margaret, turning her back in great displeasure; “ye ken my will, Mause, in the matter. I’ll hae nae whiggery in the barony of Tillietudlem — the next thing wad be to set up a conventicle in my very withdrawing room.”

Having said this, she departed, with an air of great dignity; and Mause, giving way to feelings which she had suppressed during the interview — for she, like her mistress, had her own feeling of pride — now lifted up her voice and wept aloud.

Cuddie, whose malady, real or pretended, still detained him in bed, lay perdu during all this conference, snugly ensconced within his boarded bedstead, and terrified to death lest Lady Margaret, whom he held in hereditary reverence, should have detected his presence, and bestowed on him personally some of those bitter reproaches with which she loaded his mother. But as soon as he thought her ladyship fairly out of hearing, he bounced up in his nest.

“The foul fa’ ye, that I suld say sae,” he cried out to his mother, “for a lang-tongued clavering wife, as my father, honest man, aye ca’d ye! Couldna ye let the leddy alane wi’ your whiggery? And I was e’en as great a gomeral to let ye persuade me to lie up here amang the blankets like a hurcheon, instead o’ gaun to the wappen-schaw like other folk. Odd, but I put a trick on ye, for I was out at the window-bole when your auld back was turned, and awa down by to hae a baff at the popinjay, and I shot within twa on’t. I cheated the leddy for your clavers, but I wasna gaun to cheat my joe. But she may marry whae she likes now, for I’m clean dung ower. This is a waur dirdum than we got frae Mr Gudyill when ye garr’d me refuse to eat the plum-porridge on Yule-eve, as if it were ony matter to God or man whether a pleughman had suppit on minched pies or sour sowens.”

“O, whisht, my bairn, whisht,” replied Mause; “thou kensna about thae things — It was forbidden meat, things dedicated to set days and holidays, which are inhibited to the use of protestant Christians.”

“And now,” continued her son, “ye hae brought the leddy hersell on our hands! — An I could but hae gotten some decent claes in, I wad hae spanged out o’ bed, and tauld her I wad ride where she liked, night or day, an she wad but leave us the free house and the yaird, that grew the best early kale in the haill country, and the cow’s grass.”

“O wow! my winsome bairn, Cuddie,” continued the old dame, “murmur not at the dispensation; never grudge suffering in the gude cause.”

“But what ken I if the cause is gude or no, mither,” rejoined Cuddie, “for a’ ye bleeze out sae muckle doctrine about it? It’s clean beyond my comprehension a’thegither. I see nae sae muckle difference atween the twa ways o’t as a’ the folk pretend. It’s very true the curates read aye the same words ower again; and if they be right words, what for no? A gude tale’s no the waur o’ being twice tauld, I trow; and a body has aye the better chance to understand it. Every body’s no sae gleg at the uptake as ye are yoursell, mither.”

“O, my dear Cuddie, this is the sairest distress of a’,” said the anxious mother —“O, how aften have I shown ye the difference between a pure evangelical doctrine, and ane that’s corrupt wi’ human inventions? O, my bairn, if no for your ain saul’s sake, yet for my grey hairs”—“Weel, mither,” said Cuddie, interrupting her, “what need ye mak sae muckle din about it? I hae aye dune whate’er ye bade me, and gaed to kirk whare’er ye likit on the Sundays, and fended weel for ye in the ilka days besides. And that’s what vexes me mair than a’ the rest, when I think how I am to fend for ye now in thae brickle times. I am no clear if I can pleugh ony place but the Mains and Mucklewhame, at least I never tried ony other grund, and it wadna come natural to me. And nae neighbouring heritors will daur to take us, after being turned aff thae bounds for non-enormity.”

“Non-conformity, hinnie,” sighed Mause, “is the name that thae warldly men gie us.”

“Weel, aweel — we’ll hae to gang to a far country, maybe twall or fifteen miles aff. I could be a dragoon, nae doubt, for I can ride and play wi’ the broadsword a bit, but ye wad be roaring about your blessing and your grey hairs.” (Here Mause’s exclamations became extreme.) “Weel, weel, I but spoke o’t; besides, ye’re ower auld to be sitting cocked up on a baggage-waggon wi’ Eppie Dumblane, the corporal’s wife. Sae what’s to come o’ us I canna weel see — I doubt I’ll hae to tak the hills wi’ the wild whigs, as they ca’ them, and then it will be my lo to be shot down like a mawkin at some dikeside, or to be sent to heaven wi’ a Saint Johnstone’s tippit about my hause.”

“O, my bonnie Cuddie,” said the zealous Mause, “forbear sic carnal, self-seeking language, whilk is just a misdoubting o’ Providence — I have not seen the son of the righteous begging his bread, sae says the text; and your father was a douce honest man, though somewhat warldly in his dealings, and cumbered about earthly things, e’en like yoursell, my jo!”

“Aweel,” said Cuddie, after a little consideration, “I see but ae gate for’t, and that’s a cauld coal to blaw at, mither. Howsomever, mither, ye hae some guess o’ a wee bit kindness that’s atween Miss Edith and young Mr Henry Morton, that suld be ca’d young Milnwood, and that I hae whiles carried a bit book, or maybe a bit letter, quietly atween them, and made believe never to ken wha it cam frae, though I kend brawly. There’s whiles convenience in a body looking a wee stupid — and I have aften seen them walking at e’en on the little path by Dinglewood-burn; but naebody ever kend a word about it frae Cuddie; I ken I’m gay thick in the head, but I’m as honest as our auld fore-hand ox, puir fallow, that I’ll ne’er work ony mair — I hope they’ll be as kind to him that come ahint me as I hae been. — But, as I was saying, we’ll awa down to Milnwood and tell Mr Harry our distress They want a pleughman, and the grund’s no unlike our ain — I am sure Mr Harry will stand my part, for he’s a kind-hearted gentleman. — I’ll get but little penny-fee, for his uncle, auld Nippie Milnwood, has as close a grip as the deil himsell. But we’l, aye win a bit bread, and a drap kale, and a fire-side and theeking ower our heads, and that’s a’ we’ll want for a season. — Sae get up, mither, and sort your things to gang away; for since sae it is that gang we maun, I wad like ill to wait till Mr Harrison and auld Gudyill cam to pu’ us out by the lug and the horn.”

9 Probably something similar to the barn-fanners now used for winnowing corn, which were not, however, used in their present shape until about 1730. They were objected to by the more rigid sectaries on their first introduction, upon such reasoning as that of honest Mause in the text.

10 Bent-grass and sand-larks.


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