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Old Mortality
by Walter Scott
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes


Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a law-clerk and judge, Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire, one of the leading figures of Scottish Toryism and of the Highland Society. Scott was the first English-language author to achieve international fame, largely with novels of a romantic past.

Abridged: JH

For more works by Walter Scott, see The Index

Old Mortality

I. - Tillietudlem Castle

"Most readers," says the manuscript of Mr. Pattieson, "must have witnessed with delight the joyous burst which attends the dismissing of the village school. The buoyant spirit of childhood may then be seen to explode, as it were, in shout and song and frolic; but there is one individual who partakes of the relief, whose feelings are not so obvious, or so apt to receive sympathy - the teacher himself."

The reader may form some conception of the relief which a solitary walk, on a fine summer evening, affords to the head which has ached, and the nerves which have been shattered for so many hours in plying the irksome task of public instruction.

To me these evening strolls have been the happiest hours of an unhappy life; and it was in one of them that I met, for the first time, the religious itinerant known in various parts of Scotland by the title of "Old Mortality." He was busily engaged in deepening with his chisel the letters of the inscription upon the monument of the slaughtered Presbyterians - those champions of the Covenant whose deeds and sufferings were his favourite theme.

For nearly thirty years this pious enthusiast visited annually the graves of those who suffered for the cause during the reigns of the last two Stuarts, most numerous in the districts of Ayr, Galloway, and Dumfries. To talk of their exploits was the delight, as to repair their monuments was the business of his life.

My readers will understand that in embodying into one narrative many of the anecdotes I derived from Old Mortality, I have endeavoured to correct and verify them from the most authentic sources of tradition afforded by the representatives of either party. Peace to their memory!

"Implacable resentment was their crime, And grievous has the expiation been."

Under the reign of the last Stuarts, frequent musters of the people, both for military exercise and for sports and pastimes, were appointed by authority, and the Sheriff of Lanark was holding the wappen-schaw of a wild district, on the day our narrative commences, May 5, 1679.

The lord-lieutenant of the country alone, who was of ducal rank, pretended to the magnificence of a wheel-carriage, but near it might be seen the erect form of Lady Margaret Bellenden on her sober palfrey, and her granddaughter; the fair-haired Edith appeared beside her aged relative like Spring, close to Winter.

Many civilities passed between her ladyship and the representatives of sundry ancient royal families, and not a young man of rank passed by them in the course of the muster, but carried himself more erect in the saddle and displayed his horsemanship to the best advantage in the eyes of Miss Edith Bellenden.

When the military evolutions were over, a loud shout announced that the competitors were about to step forth for the shooting of the popinjay-the figure of a bird suspended to a pole. When a slender young man, dressed with great simplicity, yet with an air of elegance, his dark-green cloak thrown back over his shoulder, approached the station with his fusee in his hand, there was a murmur among the spectators.

"Ewhow, sirs, to see his father's son at the like o' thae fearless follies!" said some of the more rigid, but the generality were content to wish success to the son of a deceased Presbyterian leader. Their wishes were gratified. The green adventurer made the first palpable hit of the day, and two only of those who followed succeeded - the first, a young man of low rank, who kept his face muffled in a grey cloak; and the second, a gallant young cavalier, remarkably handsome, who had been in close attendance on Lady Margaret and Miss Bellenden.

But the applause, even of those whose wishes had favoured Lord Evandale, were at the third trial transferred to his triumphant rival, who was led by four of the duke's friends to his presence, passing in front of Lady Margaret and her granddaughter. The captain of the popinjay (as the victor was called) and Miss Bellenden coloured like crimson, as the latter returned the low inclination he made, even to the saddlebow, in passing her.

"Do you know that young person?" said Lady Margaret.

"I - I - have seen him, madam, at my uncle's, and - and - elsewhere, occasionally," stammered Edith.

"I hear them say around me," said Lady Margaret, "that the young spark is the nephew of old Milnwood."

"The son of the late Colonel Morton of Milnwood, who commanded a regiment of horse with great courage at Dunbar and Inverkeithing," said a gentleman beside Lady Margaret.

"Ay, and before that, who fought for the Covenanters, both at Marston Moor and Philipshaugh," said Lady Margaret, sighing. "His son ought to dispense with intruding himself into the company of those to whom his name must bring unpleasing recollections."

"You forget, my dear lady, he comes here to discharge suit and service in name for his uncle. He is an old miser, and although probably against the grain, sends the young gentleman to save pecuniary pains and penalties. The youngster is, I suppose, happy enough to escape for the day from the dullness of the old home at Milnwood."

The company now dispersed, excepting such as, having tried their dexterity at the popinjay, were, by ancient custom, obliged to partake of a grace-cup with their captain, who, though he spared the cup himself, took care it should go round with due celerity among the rest.

On leaving the alehouse, a stranger observed to Morton that he was riding towards Milnwood, and asked for the advantage of his company.

"Certainly," said Morton, though there was a gloomy and relentless severity in the man's manner from which he recoiled, and they rode off together.

They had not long left, when Cornet Grahame, a kinsman of Claverhouse, entered with the news that the Archbishop of St. Andrews had been murdered by a body of the rebel Whigs.

He read their descriptions, and it was clear that the stern stranger who had just left with Henry Morton, was Balfour of Burley, the actual commander of the band of assassins, though Morton himself knew nothing of Burley's terrible deed.

"Horse, horse, and pursue, my lads!" exclaimed Cornet Grahame. "The murdering dog's head is worth its weight in gold."

II. - Henry Morton's Escape

The dragoons soon arrived at Milnwood, and carried off Henry Morton prisoner for having given a night's shelter to Balfour of Burley, an old military comrade of his father's. Morton acknowledged he had done this, but refused to give any other information. Hitherto he had meddled with no party in the state. They decided to bring him before Colonel Grahame of Claverhouse, who was expected next day at the Castle of Tillietudlem, the residence of Lady Margaret Bellenden.

Although Henry Morton had prevailed upon the sergeant to let him be muffled up in one of the soldier's cloaks, Miss Edith Bellenden found it impossible to withdraw her eyes from him, and her waiting maid soon discovered his identity, and found means for the lovers (for such they were) to meet in secret in the room where the prisoner was confined.

"You are lost, you are lost, if you are to plead your cause with Claverhouse!" sighed Edith. "The primate was his intimate friend and early patron. 'No excuse, no subterfuge,' he wrote to my grandmother, 'shall save either those connected with the deed, or such as have given them countenance and shelter.'"

They were interrupted by the guard, and Morton, assuming a firmness he was far from feeling, whispered, "Farewell, Edith; leave me to my fate; it cannot be beyond endurance, since you are interested in it. Good night, good night! Do not remain here till you are discovered."

"Everyone has his taste, to be sure," said the sentinel; "but, d - - me if I would vex so sweet a girl for all the Whigs that ever swore a covenant!"

After breakfast next day, Major Bellenden, Edith's grand-uncle, to whom she had written, approached Claverhouse, to plead for the life of the son of his old friend, but she heard the reply.

"It cannot be, Major Bellenden; lenity in his case is altogether beyond the bounds of my commission. And here comes Evandale with news, as I think. What tidings do you bring us, Evandale?" addressing the young lord, who now entered in complete uniform but with dress disordered, and boots bespattered.

"Unpleasant news, sir," was the reply. "A large body of Whigs are in arms among the hills, and have broken out into actual rebellion."

Claverhouse immediately bid them sound to horse, saying, "There are rogues enough in the country to make the rebels five times their strength, if they are not checked at once."

"Many," said Evandale, "are flocking to them already, and they expect a strong body of the indulged Presbyterians, headed by young Milnwood, the son of the famous old Roundhead, Colonel Silas Morton."

"It's a lie!" said the major hastily, and begged that Henry Morton might at once be heard himself. Evandale drew near to Miss Bellenden, and addressed her in a manner, expressing a feeling much deeper and more agitating than was conveyed in his phrases.

"I will but dispose of this young fellow," said Claverhouse, "and then Lord Evandale - I am sorry to interrupt your conversation - but then we must mount. Why do you not bring up your prisoner? And hark ye, let two files load their carbines."

Edith broke through the restraint that had hitherto kept her silent, and entreated Lord Evandale to use his interest with his colonel, becoming bolder and more urgent as the soldiers entered with the prisoner, whom they had just informed that Lady Margaret's niece was interceding for his life with Lord Evandale, to whom she was about to be married.

The unfortunate prisoner heard enough, as he passed behind Edith's seat, of the broken expressions which passed between her and Lord Evandale, to confirm all that the soldiers had told him.

That moment made a singular and instantaneous change in his character. Desperate himself, he determined to support the rights of his country, insulted in his person. So he declined to answer any questions, and assured Claverhouse that there were yet Scotsmen who could assert the liberties of Scotland.

"Make you peace then, with Heaven, in five minutes space. Bothwell, lead him down to the courtyard, and draw up your party!"

A silence of horror fell on all but the speaker at these words. Edith sprang up, but her strength gave way, and she would have fallen had she not been caught by her attendant.

Evandale at once addressed Claverhouse, and calling him aside reminded him of services rendered by his family in an affair of the privy council.

"Certainly, my dear Evandale," answered Claverhouse; "I am not a man who forgets such debts. How can I evince my gratitude?"

"I will hold the debt cancelled," said Lord Evandale, "if you will spare this young man's life."

"Evandale," replied Claverhouse in great surprise, "you are mad - absolutely mad. You see him? He is tottering on the verge between time and eternity; yet his is the only cheek unblanched, the only heart that keeps its usual time. Look at him well. If that man should ever come to head an army of rebels, you will have much to answer for."

He then said aloud, "Young man, your life is for the present safe, owing to the interference of your friends." So Morton was hurried down to the courtyard, where three other prisoners remained under an escort of dragoons; soon they were all pressing forward to overtake the main body, as it was supposed they would come in sight of the enemy in less than two hours. It was obvious, when they did so that there were old soldiers with the rebels from the choice of the ground, and the order of battle in which they waited the assault. Cornet Grahame was sent with a flag of truce to offer a free pardon to all but the murderers of the archbishop if they would disperse themselves. On his persisting in addressing the people themselves in spite of the warning of their spokesman, Balfour of Burley, whom he recognised. "Then the Lord grant grace to thy soul - amen!" said Burley, and fired, and Cornet Grahame dropped from his horse, mortally wounded.

"What have you done?" said one of Balfour's brother officers.

"My duty," said Balfour firmly. "Is it not written 'Thou shalt be zealous even to slaying?' Let those who dare now venture to talk of truce or pardon!"

Claverhouse saw his nephew fall; with a glance of indescribable emotion he looked at Evandale. "I will avenge him, or die," exclaimed Evandale, and rode furiously down the hill, followed by his own troop, and that of the deceased cornet, each striving to be first in revenge. They soon fell into confusion in the broken ground. In vain Claverhouse shouted, "Halt! halt! This rashness will undo us." The enemy set upon them with the utmost fury, crying, "Woe, woe to the uncircumcised Philistines! Down with the Dagon and all his adherents!" Though the young nobleman fought like a lion, he was forced to retreat, and soon Claverhouse was compelled to follow his troops in their flight; as he passed Henry Morton and the other prisoners just released from their bonds, Evandale's horse was shot, and Morton rushed forward just in time to prevent his being killed by Balfour himself in hot pursuit.

III. - The Presbyterian Insurgents

John Balfour of Burley, a man of some fortune and good family, a soldier from his youth upwards, aspired to place himself at the head of the Presbyterian forces then in arms against the English government. On this account he was particularly anxious to secure the accession of young Henry Morton to the cause of the insurgents, for the memory of Morton's father was esteemed among the Presbyterians, and few persons of decent quality had so far joined the rising.

Morton, on his side, was willing to join in any insurrection which promised freedom to the country though he abhorred the murder of Sharpe, and the tenets of the wilder set of Cameronians, by whom the seeds of disunion were already thickly sown in the ill-fated party.

At the nomination of the council of the Presbyterian army Morton was sent with the main body to march against Glasgow, while Burley, with a chosen body of five hundred men, remained behind to blockade the castle of Tillietudlem. A command to surrender had been scorned with indignation by Major Bellenden and Lord Evandale.

A few weeks later a pause in the hostilities enabled Morton, anxious for the fate of Tillietudlem, to return to Burley's camp, where he learnt that Evandale had been taken prisoner, and was to be hanged at daybreak unless the castle surrendered.

Burley sullenly yielded his prisoner into Morton's hands, and Evandale, released on parole by the man whose life he had previously saved, undertook to set out for Edinburgh, with a list of the grievances of the insurgents. A mutiny within the castle drove Major Bellenden to evacuate Tillietudlem; the ladies acquiesced in the decision, and when the scarlet and blue colours of the Scottish Covenant floated from the keep of Tillietudlem, the cavalcade led by the major was on the road towards Edinburgh.

Lord Evandale's good word saved Morton a second time when Claverhouse routed the Presbyterian army at Bothwell Bridge. Morton was taken prisoner, but his life was spared, and at Leith he was put on board a vessel bound for Rotterdam with letters of recommendation to the Prince of Orange.

IV. - Henry Morton Returns in Time

By the prudent tolerance of King William Scotland narrowly escaped the horrors of a protracted civil war. The triumphant Whigs re-established Presbytery as the national religion, and only the extreme sect of Cameronians on the one side, and the Highlanders, who were for the deposed Stuart king, on the other, disturbed the peace of the land. Balfour of Burley refused to sheathe his sword, and Evandale followed his old commander Claverhouse (now Viscount Dundee) in joining the rebel Jacobites. Major Bellenden was dead.

No news had ever come of Henry Morton, and it was believed with good reason he was lost when the vessel in which he sailed went down with crew and passengers. But Morton was already back in Scotland, in the service of King William.

In the belief of her Morton's death, Edith Bellenden had become betrothed to Lord Evandale, though she postponed marriage, and her prayers went out to him that he would refrain from joining Claverhouse, when he came to bid her farewell.

"Oh, my lord, remain!" said Edith. "Do not rush on death and ruin! Remain to be our prop and stay, and hope everything from time."

"It is too late, Edith," answered Lord Evandale. "I know you cannot love me, that your heart is dead or absent. But were it otherwise, the die is now cast."

As he spoke thus an old servant rushed in to say a party of horse headed by one Basil Olifant, a rascal who was anxious to take Evandale for the sake of reward, had beset the outlets of the house.

"Oh, hide yourself, my lord!" cried Edith, in an agony of terror.

"I will not, by Heaven!" answered Lord Evandale. "What right has the villain to assail me or stop my passage? I will make my way, were he backed by a regiment. And now, farewell, Edith!"

He clasped her in his arms, and kissed her tenderly; then rushed out and mounted his horse, and with his servants rode composedly down the avenue.

As soon as Lord Evandale appeared, Olifant's party spread themselves a little, as if preparing to enclose him. Their leader stood fast, supported by three men, two of whom were dragoons, the third in dress and appearance a countryman, all well-armed. Whoever had before seen the strong figure, stern features, and resolved manner of the third attendant could have no difficulty in recognising Balfour of Burley.

"Follow me," said Lord Evandale to his servants, "and if we are forcibly opposed, do as I do."

He advanced at a hand gallop; Olifant called out, "Shoot the traitor!" and four carbines were fired upon the unfortunate nobleman. He reeled in the saddle, and fell from his horse mortally wounded. His servants fired and Basil Olifant and a dragoon were stretched lifeless on the ground.

Burley, whose blood was up, exclaimed, "Down with the Midianites!" and advanced, sword in hand. At this instant the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard, and a party of horse appeared on the fatal field. They were foreign dragoons led by a Dutch commander, accompanied by Morton and a civil magistrate.

Only the belief that Evandale was to marry Edith had kept Morton hitherto from revealing his return.

A hasty call to surrender, in the name of God and King William, was obeyed by all except Burley, who turned his horse and attempted to escape. Pursued by soldiers he made for the river, but was shot in the middle of the stream, and felt himself dangerously wounded. He returned towards the bank he had left, waving his hand as if in token of surrender. The troopers ceased firing, and as he approached a dragoon laid hands on him. Burley, in requital, grasped his throat, and both came headlong into the river, and were swept down the stream. They were twice seen to rise, the trooper trying to swim, and Burley clinging to him in a manner that showed his desire that both should perish. Their corpses were taken out about a quarter of a mile down the river.

While the soul of this stern enthusiast flitted to its account, that of the brave and generous Lord Evandale was also released. Morton had flung himself from his horse, to render his dying friend all the aid in his power. Evandale knew him, for he pressed his hand, and intimated by signs his wish to be conveyed to the house. This was done with all the care possible, and the clamorous grief of the lamenting household was far exceeded in intensity by the silent agony of Edith. Unconscious even of the presence of Morton, she was not aware that fate, who was removing one faithful lover, had restored another as if from the grave, until Lord Evandale taking their hands in his, united them together, raised his face as if to pray for a blessing on them, and sunk back and expired in the next moment.

* * * * *

The marriage of Morton and Miss Bellenden was delayed for several months on account of Lord Evandale's death. Lady Margaret was prevailed on to countenance Morton, who now stood high in the reputation of the world, and Edith was her only hope, and she wished to see her happy. So Lady Margaret put her prejudice aside, for Morton's being an old Covenanter stuck sorely with her for some time, and consoled herself with the recollection that his most sacred majesty Charles the Second had once observed to her that marriage went by destiny.

* * * * *

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