Old Mortality, Volume 2. eBook: Page1
Walter Scott (2004)
Produced by David Widger, with assistance from an etext produced byDavid Moynihan
By Walter Scott
And look how many Grecian tents do stand Hollow upon this plain--so many hollow factions. Troilus and Cressida.
In a hollow of the hill, about a quarter of a mile from the field ofbattle, was a shepherd's hut; a miserable cottage, which, as the onlyenclosed spot within a moderate distance, the leaders of the presbyterianarmy had chosen for their council-house. Towards this spot Burley guidedMorton, who was surprised, as he approached it, at the multifariousconfusion of sounds which issued from its precincts. The calm and anxiousgravity which it might be supposed would have presided in councils heldon such important subjects, and at a period so critical, seemed to havegiven place to discord wild, and loud uproar, which fell on the ear oftheir new ally as an evil augury of their future measures. As theyapproached the door, they found it open indeed, but choked up with thebodies and heads of countrymen, who, though no members of the council,felt no scruple in intruding themselves upon deliberations in which theywere so deeply interested. By expostulation, by threats, and even by somedegree of violence, Burley, the sternness of whose character maintained asort of superiority over these disorderly forces, compelled the intrudersto retire, and, introducing Morton into the cottage, secured the doorbehind them against impertinent curiosity. At a less agitating moment,the young man might have been entertained with the singular scene ofwhich he now found himself an auditor and a spectator.
The precincts of the gloomy and ruinous hut were enlightened partly bysome furze which blazed on the hearth, the smoke whereof, having no legalvent, eddied around, and formed over the heads of the assembled council aclouded canopy, as opake as their metaphysical theology, through which,like stars through mist, were dimly seen to twinkle a few blinkingcandles, or rather rushes dipped in tallow, the property of the poorowner of the cottage, which were stuck to the walls by patches of wetclay. This broken and dusky light showed many a countenance elated withspiritual pride, or rendered dark by fierce enthusiasm; and some whoseanxious, wandering, and uncertain looks, showed they felt themselvesrashly embarked in a cause which they had neither courage nor conduct tobring to a good issue, yet knew not how to abandon, for very shame. Theywere, indeed, a doubtful and disunited body. The most active of theirnumber were those concerned with Burley in the death of the Primate, fouror five of whom had found their way to Loudon-hill, together with othermen of the same relentless and uncompromising zeal, who had, in variousways, given desperate and unpardonable offence to the government.
With them were mingled their preachers, men who had spurned at theindulgence offered by government, and preferred assembling their flocksin the wilderness, to worshipping in temples built by human hands, iftheir doing the latter should be construed to admit any right on the partof their rulers to interfere with the supremacy of the Kirk. The otherclass of counsellors were such gentlemen of small fortune, andsubstantial farmers, as a sense of intolerable oppression had induced totake arms and join the insurgents. These also had their clergymen withthem, and such divines, having many of them taken advantage of theindulgence, were prepared to resist the measures of their more violentbrethren, who proposed a declaration in which they should give testimonyagainst the warrants and instructions for indulgence as sinful andunlawful acts. This delicate question had been passed over in silence inthe first draught of the manifestos which they intended to publish, ofthe reasons of their gathering in arms; but it had been stirred anewduring Balfour's absence, and, to his great vexation, he now found thatboth parties had opened upon it in full cry, Macbriar, Kettledrummle, andother teachers of the wanderers, being at the very spring-tide ofpolemical discussion with Peter Poundtext, the indulged pastor ofMilnwood's parish, who, it seems, had e'en girded himself with abroadsword, but, ere he was called upon to fight for the good cause ofpresbytery in the field, was manfully defending his own dogmata in thecouncil. It was the din of this conflict, maintained chiefly betweenPoundtext and Kettledrummle, together with the clamour of theiradherents, which had saluted Morton's ears upon approaching the cottage.Indeed, as both the divines were men well gifted with words and lungs,and each fierce, ardent, and intolerant in defence of his own doctrine,prompt in the recollection of texts wherewith they battered each otherwithout mercy, and deeply impressed with the importance of the subject ofdiscussion, the noise of the debate betwixt them fell little short ofthat which might have attended an actual bodily conflict.
Burley, scandalized at the disunion implied in this virulent strife oftongues, interposed between the disputants, and, by some general remarkson the unseasonableness of discord, a soothing address to the vanity ofeach party, and the exertion of the authority which his services in thatday's victory entitled him to assume, at length succeeded in prevailingupon them to adjourn farther discussion of the controversy. But althoughKettledrummle and Poundtext were thus for the time silenced, theycontinued to eye each other like two dogs, who, having been separated bythe authority of their masters while fighting, have retreated, eachbeneath the chair of his owner, still watching each other's motions, andindicating, by occasional growls, by the erected bristles of the back andears, and by the red glance of the eye, that their discord is unappeased,and that they only wait the first opportunity afforded by any generalmovement or commotion in the company, to fly once more at each other'sthroats.
Balfour took advantage of the momentary pause to present to the councilMr Henry Morton of Milnwood, as one touched with a sense of the evils ofthe times, and willing to peril goods and life in the precious cause forwhich his father, the renowned Silas Morton, had given in his time asoul-stirring testimony. Morton was instantly received with the righthand of fellowship by his ancient pastor, Poundtext, and by those amongthe insurgents who supported the more moderate principles. The othersmuttered something about Erastianism, and reminded each other inwhispers, that Silas Morton, once a stout and worthy servant of theCovenant, had been a backslider in the day when the resolutioners had ledthe way in owning the authority of Charles Stewart, thereby making a gapwhereat the present tyrant was afterwards brought in, to the oppressionboth of Kirk and country. They added, however, that, on this great day ofcalling, they would not refuse society with any who should put hand tothe plough; and so Morton was installed in his office of leader andcounsellor, if not with the full approbation of his colleagues, at leastwithout any formal or avowed dissent. They proceeded, on Burley's motion,to divide among themselves the command of the men who had assembled, andwhose numbers were daily increasing. In this partition, the insurgents ofPoundtext's parish and congregation were naturally placed under thecommand of Morton; an arrangement mutually agreeable to both parties, ashe was recommended to their confidence, as well by his personal qualitiesas his having been born among them.
When this task was accomplished, it became necessary to determine whatuse was to be made of their victory. Morton's heart throbbed high when heheard the Tower of Tillietudlem named as one of the most importantpositions to be seized upon. It commanded, as we have often noticed, thepass between the more wild and the more fertile country, and mustfurnish, it was plausibly urged, a stronghold and place of rendezvous tothe cavaliers and malignants of the district, supposing the insurgentswere to march onward and leave it uninvested. This measure wasparticularly urged as necessary by Poundtext and those of his immediatefollowers, whose habitations and families might be exposed to greatseverities, if this strong place were permitted to remain in possessionof the royalis
"I opine," said Poundtext,--for, like the other divines of the period, hehad no hesitation in offering his advice upon military matters of whichhe was profoundly ignorant,--"I opine, that we should take in and razethat stronghold of the woman Lady Margaret Bellenden, even though weshould build a fort and raise a mount against it; for the race is arebellious and a bloody race, and their hand has been heavy on thechildren of the Covenant, both in the former and the latter times. Theirhook hath been in our noses, and their bridle betwixt our jaws."
"What are their means and men of defence?" said Burley. "The place isstrong; but I cannot conceive that two women can make it good against ahost."
"There is also," said Poundtext, "Harrison the steward, and John Gudyill,even the lady's chief butler, who boasteth himself a man of war from hisyouth upward, and who spread the banner against the good cause with thatman of Belial, James Grahame of Montrose."
"Pshaw!" returned Burley, scornfully, "a butler!"
"Also, there is that ancient malignant," replied Poundtext, "MilesBellenden of Charnwood, whose hands have been dipped in the blood of thesaints."
"If that," said Burley, "be Miles Bellenden, the brother of Sir Arthur,he is one whose sword will not turn back from battle; but he must now bestricken in years."
"There was word in the country as I rode along," said another of thecouncil, "that so soon as they heard of the victory which has been givento us, they caused shut the gates of the tower, and called in men, andcollected ammunition. They were ever a fierce and a malignant house."
"We will not, with my consent," said Burley, "engage in a siege which mayconsume time. We must rush forward, and follow our advantage by occupyingGlasgow; for I do not fear that the troops we have this day beaten, evenwith the assistance of my Lord Ross's regiment, will judge it safe toawait our coming."
"Howbeit," said Poundtext, "we may display a banner before the Tower, andblow a trumpet, and summon them to come forth. It may be that they willgive over the place into our mercy, though they be a rebellious people.And we will summon the women to come forth of their stronghold, that is,Lady Margaret Bellenden and her grand-daughter, and Jenny Dennison, whichis a girl of an ensnaring eye, and the other maids, and we will give thema safe conduct, and send them in peace to the city, even to the town ofEdinburgh. But John Gudyill, and Hugh Harrison, and Miles Bellenden, wewill restrain with fetters of iron, even as they, in times bypast, havedone to the martyred saints."
"Who talks of safe conduct and of peace?" said a shrill, broken, andoverstrained voice, from the crowd.
"Peace, brother Habakkuk," said Macbriar, in a soothing tone, to thespeaker.
"I will not hold my peace," reiterated the strange and unnatural voice;"is this a time to speak of peace, when the earth quakes, and themountains are rent, and the rivers are changed into blood, and thetwo-edged sword is drawn from the sheath to drink gore as if it werewater, and devour flesh as the fire devours dry stubble?"
While he spoke thus, the orator struggled forward to the inner part ofthe circle, and presented to Morton's wondering eyes a figure worthy ofsuch a voice and such language. The rags of a dress which had once beenblack, added to the tattered fragments of a shepherd's plaid, composed acovering scarce fit for the purposes of decency, much less for those ofwarmth or comfort. A long beard, as white as snow, hung down on hisbreast, and mingled with bushy, uncombed, grizzled hair, which hung inelf-locks around his wild and staring visage. The features seemed to beextenuated by penury and famine, until they hardly retained the likenessof a human aspect. The eyes, grey, wild, and wandering, evidentlybetokened a bewildered imagination. He held in his hand a rusty sword,clotted with blood, as were his long lean hands, which were garnished atthe extremity with nails like eagle's claws.
"In the name of Heaven! who is he?" said Morton, in a whisper toPoundtext, surprised, shocked, and even startled, at this ghastlyapparition, which looked more like the resurrection of some cannibalpriest, or druid red from his human sacrifice, than like an earthlymortal.
"It is Habakkuk Mucklewrath," answered Poundtext, in the same tone, "whomthe enemy have long detained in captivity in forts and castles, until hisunderstanding hath departed from him, and, as I fear, an evil demon hathpossessed him. Nevertheless, our violent brethren will have it, that hespeaketh of the spirit, and that they fructify by his pouring forth."
Here he was interrupted by Mucklewrath, who cried in a voice that madethe very beams of the roof quiver--"Who talks of peace and safe conduct?who speaks of mercy to the bloody house of the malignants? I say take theinfants and dash them against the stones; take the daughters and themothers of the house and hurl them from the battlements of their trust,that the dogs may fatten on their blood as they did on that of Jezabel,the spouse of Ahab, and that their carcasses may be dung to the face ofthe field even in the portion of their fathers!"
"He speaks right," said more than one sullen voice from behind; "we willbe honoured with little service in the great cause, if we already makefair weather with Heaven's enemies."
"This is utter abomination and daring impiety," said Morton, unable tocontain his indignation.
"What blessing can you expect in a cause, in which you listen to themingled ravings of madness and atrocity?"
"Hush, young man!" said Kettledrummle, "and reserve thy censure for thatfor which thou canst render a reason. It is not for thee to judge intowhat vessels the spirit may be poured."
"We judge of the tree by the fruit," said Poundtext, "and allow not thatto be of divine inspiration that contradicts the divine laws."
"You forget, brother Poundtext," said Macbriar, "that these are thelatter days, when signs and wonders shall be multiplied."
Poundtext stood forward to reply; but, ere he could articulate a word,the insane preacher broke in with a scream that drowned all competition.
"Who talks of signs and wonders? Am not I Habakkuk Mucklewrath, whosename is changed to Magor-Missabib, because I am made a terror unto myselfand unto all that are around me?--I heard it--When did I hear it?--Was itnot in the Tower of the Bass, that overhangeth the wide wild sea?--And ithowled in the winds, and it roared in the billows, and it screamed, andit whistled, and it clanged, with the screams and the clang and thewhistle of the sea-birds, as they floated, and flew, and dropped, anddived, on the bosom of the waters. I saw it--Where did I see it?--Was itnot from the high peaks of Dunbarton, when I looked westward upon thefertile land, and northward on the wild Highland hills; when the cloudsgathered and the tempest came, and the lightnings of heaven flashed insheets as wide as the banners of an host?--What did I see?--Dead corpsesand wounded horses, the rushing together of battle, and garments rolledin blood.--What heard I?--The voice that cried, Slay, slay--smite--slayutterly--let not your eye have pity! slay utterly, old and young, themaiden, the child, and the woman whose head is grey--Defile the house andfill the courts with the slain!"
"We receive the command," exclaimed more than one of the company. "Sixdays he hath not spoken nor broken bread, and now his tongue isunloosed:--We receive the command; as he hath said, so will we do."
Astonished, disgusted, and horror-struck, at what he had seen and heard,Morton turned away from the circle and left the cottage. He was followedby Burley, who had his eye on his motions.
"Whither are you going?" said the latter, taking him by the arm.
"Any where,--I care not whither; but here I will abide no longer."
"Art thou so soon weary, young man?" answered Burley. "Thy hand is butnow put to the plough, and wouldst thou already abandon it? Is this thyadherence to the cause of thy father?"
"No cause," replied Morton, indignantly--"no cause can prosper, soconducted. One party declares for the ravings of a bloodthirsty madman;another leader is an old scholastic pedant; a third"--he stopped, and hiscompanion continued the sentence--"Is a desperate homicide, thou wouldstsay, like John Balfour of Burley?--I can bear thy misconstruction withoutresentment. Thou dost not consider, that it is not men of sober andself-seeking min
"But their affairs," replied Morton, "were wisely conducted, and theviolence of their zeal expended itself in their exhortations and sermons,without bringing divisions into their counsels, or cruelty into theirconduct. I have often heard my father say so, and protest, that hewondered at nothing so much as the contrast between the extravagance oftheir religious tenets, and the wisdom and moderation with which theyconducted their civil and military affairs. But our councils seem all onewild chaos of confusion."
"Thou must have patience, Henry Morton," answered Balfour; "thou must notleave the cause of thy religion and country either for one wild word, orone extravagant action. Hear me. I have already persuaded the wiser ofour friends, that the counsellors are too numerous, and that we cannotexpect that the Midianites shall, by so large a number, be delivered intoour hands. They have hearkened to my voice, and our assemblies will beshortly reduced within such a number as can consult and act together; andin them thou shalt have a free voice, as well as in ordering our affairsof war, and protecting those to whom mercy should be shown--Art thou nowsatisfied?"
"It will give me pleasure, doubtless," answered Morton, "to be the meansof softening the horrors of civil war; and I will not leave the post Ihave taken, unless I see measures adopted at which my conscience revolts.But to no bloody executions after quarter asked, or slaughter withouttrial, will I lend countenance or sanction; and you may depend on myopposing them, with both heart and hand, as constantly and resolutely, ifattempted by our own followers, as when they are the work of the enemy."
Balfour waved his hand impatiently.
"Thou wilt find," he said, "that the stubborn and hard-hearted generationwith whom we deal, must be chastised with scorpions ere their hearts behumbled, and ere they accept the punishment of their iniquity. The wordis gone forth against them, 'I will bring a sword upon you that shallavenge the quarrel of my Covenant.' But what is done shall be donegravely, and with discretion, like that of the worthy James Melvin, whoexecuted judgment on the tyrant and oppressor, Cardinal Beaton."
"I own to you," replied Morton, "that I feel still more abhorrent atcold-blooded and premeditated cruelty, than at that which is practised inthe heat of zeal and resentment."
"Thou art yet but a youth," replied Balfour, "and hast not learned howlight in the balance are a few drops of blood in comparison to the weightand importance of this great national testimony. But be not afraid;thyself shall vote and judge in these matters; it may be we shall seelittle cause to strive together anent them."
With this concession Morton was compelled to be satisfied for thepresent; and Burley left him, advising him to lie down and get some rest,as the host would probably move in the morning.
"And you," answered Morton, "do not you go to rest also?"
"No," said Burley; "my eyes must not yet know slumber. This is no work tobe done lightly; I have yet to perfect the choosing of the committee ofleaders, and I will call you by times in the morning to be present attheir consultation."
He turned away, and left Morton to his repose.
The place in which he found himself was not ill adapted for the purpose,being a sheltered nook, beneath a large rock, well protected from theprevailing wind. A quantity of moss with which the ground was overspread,made a couch soft enough for one who had suffered so much hardship andanxiety. Morton wrapped himself in the horse-man's cloak which he hadstill retained, stretched himself on the ground, and had not longindulged in melancholy reflections on the state of the country, and uponhis own condition, ere he was relieved from them by deep and soundslumber.
The rest of the army slept on the ground, dispersed in groups, whichchose their beds on the fields as they could best find shelter andconvenience. A few of the principal leaders held wakeful conference withBurley on the state of their affairs, and some watchmen were appointedwho kept themselves on the alert by chanting psalms, or listening to theexercises of the more gifted of their number.