Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 35


And when he came to broken briggs,
He slacked his bow and swam;
And when he came to grass growing,
Set down his feet and ran.
GIL MORRICE.

We return to Halbert Glendinning, who, as our readers may remember,
took the high road to Edinburgh. His intercourse with the preacher,
Henry Warden, from whom he received a letter at the moment of his
deliverance, had been so brief, that he had not even learned the name
of the nobleman to whose care he was recommended. Something like a
name had been spoken indeed, but he had only comprehended that he was
to meet the chief advancing towards the south, at the head of a party
of horse. When day dawned on his journey he was in the same
uncertainty. A better scholar would have been informed by the address
of the letter, but Halbert had not so far profited by Father Eustace's
lessons as to be able to decipher it. His mother-wit taught him that
he must not, in such uncertain times, be too hasty in asking
information of any one; and when, after a long day's journey, night
surprised him near a little village, he began to be dubious and
anxious concerning the issue of his journey.

In a poor country, hospitality is generally exercised freely, and
Halbert, when he requested a night's quarters, did nothing either
degrading or extraordinary. The old woman, to whom he made this
request, granted it the more readily, that she thought she saw some
resemblance between Halbert and her son Saunders, who had been killed
in one of the frays so common in the time. It is true, Saunders was a
short square-made fellow, with red hair and a freckled face, and
somewhat bandy-legged, whereas the stranger was of a brown complexion,
tall, and remarkably well-made. Nevertheless, the widow was clear that
there existed a general resemblance betwixt her guest and Saunders,
and kindly pressed him to share of her evening cheer. A pedlar, a man
of about forty years old, was also her guest, who talked with great
feeling of the misery of pursuing such a profession as his in the time
of war and tumult.

"We think much of knights and soldiers," said he; "but the
pedder-coffe who travels the land has need of more courage than them
all. I am sure he maun face mair risk, God help him. Here have I come
this length, trusting the godly Earl of Murray would be on his march
to the Borders, for he was to have guestened with the Baron of Avenel;
and instead of that comes news that he has gone westlandways about
some tuilzie in Ayrshire. And what to do I wot not; for if I go to
the south without a safeguard, the next bonny rider I meet might ease
me of sack and pack, and maybe of my life to boot; and then, if I try
to strike across the moors, I may be as ill off before I can join
myself to that good Lord's company."

No one was quicker at catching a hint than Halbert Glendinning. He
said he himself had a desire to go westward. The pedlar looked at him
with a very doubtful air, when the old dame, who perhaps thought her
young guest resembled the umquhile Saunders, not only in his looks,
but in a certain pretty turn to sleight-of-hand, which the defunct was
supposed to have possessed, tipped him the wink, and assured the
pedlar he need have no doubt that her young cousin was a true man.

"Cousin!" said the pedlar, "I thought you said this youth had been a
stranger."

"Ill hearing makes ill rehearsing," said the landlady; "he is a
stranger to me by eye-sight, but that does not make him a stranger to
me by blood, more especially seeing his likeness to my son Saunders,
poor bairn."

The pedlar's scruples and jealousies being thus removed, or at least
silenced, the travellers agreed that they would proceed in company
together the next morning by daybreak, the pedlar acting as a guide to
Glendinning, and the youth as a guard to the pedlar, until they should
fall in with Murray's detachment of horse. It would appear that the
lady never doubted what was to be the event of this compact, for,
taking Glendinning aside, she charged him, "to be moderate with the
puir body, but at all events, not to forget to take a piece of black
say, to make the auld wife a new rokelay." Halbert laughed and took
his leave.

It did not a little appal the pedlar, when, in the midst of a black
heath, the young man told him the nature of the commission with which
their hostess had charged him. He took heart, however, upon seeing the
open, frank, and friendly demeanor of the youth, and vented his
exclamations on the ungrateful old traitress. "I gave her," he said,
"yesterday-e'en nae farther gane, a yard of that very black say, to
make her a couvre-chef; but I see it is ill done to teach the cat the
way to the kirn."

Thus set at ease on the intentions of his companion (for in those
happy days the worst was always to be expected from a stranger), the
pedlar acted as Halbert's guide over moss and moor, over hill and many
a dale, in such a direction as might best lead them towards the route
of Murray's party. At length they arrived upon the side of an
eminence, which commanded a distant prospect over a tract of savage
and desolate moorland, marshy and waste--an alternate change of
shingly hill and level morass, only varied by blue stagnant pools of
water. A road scarcely marked winded like a serpent through the
wilderness, and the pedlar, pointing to it, said--"The road from
Edinburgh to Glasgow. Here we must wait, and if Murray and his train
be not already passed by, we shall soon see trace of them, unless some
new purpose shall have altered their resolution; for in these blessed
days no man, were he the nearest the throne, as the Earl of Murray may
be, knows when he lays his head on his pillow at night where it is to
lie upon the following even."

They paused accordingly and sat down, the pedlar cautiously using for
a seat the box which contained his treasures, and not concealing from
his companion that he wore under his cloak a pistolet hanging at his
belt in case of need. He was courteous, however, and offered Halbert a
share of the provisions which he carried about him for refreshment.
They were of the coarsest kind--oat-bread baked in cakes, oatmeal
slaked with cold water, an onion or two, and a morsel of smoked ham
completed the feast. But such as it was, no Scotsman of the time, had
his rank been much higher than that of Glendinning, would have refused
to share in it, especially as the pedlar produced, with a mysterious
air, a tup's horn, which he carried slung from his shoulders, and
which, when its contents were examined, produced to each party a
clam-shell-full of excellent usquebaugh--a liquor strange to Halbert,
for the strong waters known in the south of Scotland came from France,
and in fact such were but rarely used. The pedlar recommended it as
excellent, said he had procured it in his last visit to the braes of
Doune, where he had securely traded under the safe-conduct of the
Laird of Buchanan. He also set an example to Halbert, by devoutly
emptying the cup "to the speedy downfall of Anti-Christ."

Their conviviality was scarce ended, ere a rising dust was seen on the
road of which they commanded the prospect, and half a score of
horsemen were dimly descried advancing at considerable speed, their
casques glancing, and the points of their spears twinkling as they
caught a glimpse of the sun.

"These," said the pedlar, "must be the out-scourers of Murray's party;
let us lie down in the peat-hag, and keep ourselves out of sight."

"And why so?" said Halbert; "let us rather go down and make a signal
to them."

"God forbid!" replied the pedlar; "do you ken so ill the customs of
our Scottish nation? That plump of spears that are spurring on so fast
are doubtless commanded by some wild kinsman of Morton, or some such
daring fear-nothing as neither regards God nor man. It is their
business, if they meet with any enemies, to pick quarrels and clear
the way of them; and the chief knows nothing of what happens, coming
up with his more discreet and moderate friends, it may be a full mile
in the rear. Were we to go near these lads of the laird's belt, your
letter would do you little good, and my pack would do me muckle black
ill; they would tirl every steek of claithes from our back, fling us
into a moss-hag with a stone at our heels, naked as the hour that
brought us into this cumbered and sinful world, and neither Murray nor
any other man ever the wiser. But if he did come to ken of it, what
might he help it?--it would be accounted a mere mistake, and there
were all the moan made. O credit me, youth, that when men draw cold
steel on each other in their native country, they neither can nor may
dwell deeply on the offences of those whose swords are useful to
them."

They suffered, therefore, the vanguard, as it might be termed, of the
Earl of Murray's host to pass forward; and it was not long until a
denser cloud of dust began to arise to the northward.

"Now," said the pedlar, "let us hurry down the hill; for to tell the
truth," said he, dragging Halbert along earnestly, "a Scottish noble's
march is like a serpent--the head is furnished with fangs, and the
tail hath its sting; the only harmless point of access is the main
body."

"I will hasten as fast as you," said the youth; "but tell me why the
rearward of such an army should be as dangerous as the van?"

"Because, as the vanguard consists of their picked wild desperates,
resolute for mischief, such as neither fear God nor regard their
fellow-creatures, but understand themselves bound to hurry from the
road whatever is displeasing to themselves, so the rear-guard consists
of misproud serving-men, who, being in charge of the baggage, take
care to amend by their exactions upon travelling-merchants and others,
their own thefts on their master's property. You will hear the
advanced _enfans perdus_, as the French call them, and so they
are indeed, namely, children of the fall, singing unclean and fulsome
ballads of sin and harlotrie. And then will come on the middle-ward,
when you will hear the canticles and psalms sung by the reforming
nobles, and the gentry, and honest and pious clergy, by whom they are
accompanied. And last of all, you will find in the rear a legend of
godless lackies, palfreniers, and horse-boys, talking of nothing but
dicing, drinking, and drabbing."

As the pedlar spoke, they had reached the side of the high-road, and
Murray's main body was in sight, consisting of about three hundred
horse, marching with great regularity, and in a closely compacted
body. Some of the troopers wore the liveries of their masters, but
this was not common. Most of them were dressed in such colours as
chance dictated. But the majority, being clad in blue cloth, and the
whole armed with cuirass and back-plate, with sleeves of mail,
gauntlets, and poldroons, and either mailed hose or strong jack-boots,
they had something of a uniform appearance.

Many of the leaders were clad in complete armour, and all in a certain
half-military dress, which no man of quality in those disturbed times
ever felt himself sufficiently safe to abandon.

The foremost of this party immediately rode up to the pedlar and to
Halbert Glendinning, and demanded of them who they were. The pedlar
told his story, the young Glendinning exhibited his letter, which a
gentleman carried to Murray. In an instant after, the word "Halt!" was
given through the squadron, and at once the onward heavy tramp, which
seemed the most distinctive attribute of the body, ceased, and was
heard no more. The command was announced that the troop should halt
here for an hour to refresh themselves and their horses. The pedlar
was assured of safe protection, and accommodated with the use of a
baggage horse. But at the same time he was ordered into the rear; a
command which he reluctantly obeyed, and not without wringing
pathetically the hand of Halbert as he separated from him.

The young heir of Glendearg was in the meanwhile conducted to a plot
of ground more raised, and therefore drier than the rest of the moor.
Here a carpet was flung on the ground by way of table-cloth, and
around it sat the leaders of the party, partaking of an entertainment
as coarse, with relation to their rank, as that which Glendinning had
so lately shared. Murray himself rose as he came forward, and
advanced a step to meet him.

This celebrated person had in his appearance, as well as in his mind,
much of the admirable qualities of James V. his father. Had not the
stain of illegitimacy rested upon his birth, he would have filled the
Scottish throne with as much honour as any of the Stewart race. But
History, while she acknowledges his high talents, and much that was
princely, nay, royal, in his conduct, cannot forget that ambition led
him farther than honour or loyalty warranted. Brave amongst the
bravest, fair in presence and in favour, skilful to manage the most
intricate affairs, to attach to himself those who were doubtful, to
stun and overwhelm, by the suddenness and intrepidity of his
enterprises, those who were resolute in resistance, he attained, and
as to personal merit certainly deserved, the highest place in the
kingdom. But he abused, under the influence of strong temptation, the
opportunities which his sister Mary's misfortunes and imprudence threw
in his way; he supplanted his sovereign and benefactress in her power,
and his history affords us one of those mixed characters, in which
principle was so often sacrificed to policy, that we must condemn the
statesman while we pity and regret the individual. Many events in his
life gave likelihood to the charge that he himself aimed at the crown;
and it is too true, that he countenanced the fatal expedient of
establishing an English, that is a foreign and a hostile interest, in
the councils of Scotland. But his death may be received as an
atonement for his offences, and may serve to show how much more safe
is the person of a real patriot, than that of the mere head of a
faction, who is accounted answerable for the offences of his meanest
attendants.

When Murray approached, the young rustic was naturally abashed at the
dignity of his presence. The commanding form and the countenance to
which high and important thoughts were familiar, the features which
bore the resemblance of Scotland's long line of kings, were well
calculated to impress awe and reverence. His dress had little to
distinguish him from the high-born nobles and barons by whom he was
attended. A buff-coat, richly embroidered with silken lace, supplied
the place of armour; and a massive gold chain, with its medal, hung
round his neck. His black velvet bonnet was decorated with a string of
large and fair pearls, and with a small tufted feather; a long heavy
sword was girt to his side, as the familiar companion of his hand. He
wore gilded spurs on his boots, and these completed his equipment.

"This letter," he said, "is from the godly preacher of the word, Henry
Warden, young man? is it not so?" Halbert answered in the affirmative.
"And he writes to us, it would seem, in some strait, and refers us to
you for the circumstances. Let us know, I pray you, how things stand
with him."

In some perturbation Halbert Glendinning gave an account of the
circumstances which had accompanied the preacher's imprisonment. When
he came to the discussion of the _handfasting_ engagement, he was
struck with the ominous and displeased expression of Murray's brows,
and, contrary to all prudential and politic rule, seeing something was
wrong, yet not well aware what that something was, had almost stopped
short in his narrative.

"What ails the fool?" said the Earl, drawing his dark-red eyebrows
together, while the same dusky glow kindled on his brow--"Hast thou not
learned to tell a true tale without stammering?"

"So please you," answered Halbert, with considerable address, "I have
never before spoken in such a presence."

"He seems a modest youth," said Murray, turning to his next attendant,
"and yet one who in a good cause will neither fear friend nor
foe.--Speak on, friend, and speak freely."

Halbert then gave an account of the quarrel betwixt Julian Avenel and
the preacher, which the Earl, biting his lip the while, compelled
himself to listen to as a thing of indifference. At first he appeared
even to take the part of the Baron.

"Henry Warden," he said, "is too hot in his zeal. The law both of God
and man maketh allowance for certain alliances, though not strictly
formal, and the issue of such may succeed."

This general declaration he expressed, accompanying it with a glance
around upon the few followers who were present at this interview. The
most of them answered--"There is no contravening that;" but one or two
looked on the ground, and were silent. Murray then turned again to
Glendinning, commanding him to say what next chanced, and not to omit
any particular. When he mentioned the manner in which Julian had cast
from him his concubine, Murray drew a deep breath, set his teeth hard,
and laid his hand on the hilt of his dagger. Casting his eyes once
more around the circle, which was now augmented by one or two of the
reformed preachers, he seemed to devour his rage in silence, and again
commanded Halbert to proceed. When he came to describe how Warden had
been dragged to a dungeon, the Earl seemed to have found the point at
which he might give vent to his own resentment, secure of the sympathy
and approbation of all who were present. "Judge you," he said, looking
to those around him, "judge you, my peers, and noble gentlemen of
Scotland, betwixt me and this Julian Avenel--he hath broken his own
word, and hath violated my safe-conduct--and judge you also, my
reverend brethren, he hath put his hand forth upon a preacher of the
gospel, and perchance may sell his blood to the worshippers of
Anti-Christ!"

"Let him die the death of a traitor," said the secular chiefs, "and
let his tongue be struck through with the hangman's fiery iron to
avenge his perjury!"

"Let him go down to his place with Baal's priests," said the preachers,
"and be his ashes cast into Tophet!"

Murray heard them with the smile of expected revenge; yet it is
probable that the brutal treatment of the female, whose circumstances
somewhat resembled those of the Earl's own mother, had its share in
the grim smile which curled his sun-burnt cheek and its haughty lip.
To Halbert Glendinning, when his narrative was finished, he spoke with
great kindness.

"He is a bold and gallant youth," said he to those around, "and formed
of the stuff which becomes a bustling time. There are periods when men's
spirits shine bravely through them. I will know something more of him."

He questioned him more particularly concerning the Baron of Avenel's
probable forces--the strength of his castle--the dispositions of his
next heir, and this brought necessarily forward the sad history of his
brother's daughter, Mary Avenel, which was told with an embarrassment
that did not escape Murray.

"Ha! Julian Avenel," he said, "and do you provoke my resentment, when
you have so much more reason to deprecate my justice! I knew Walter
Avenel, a true Scotsman and a good soldier. Our sister, the Queen,
must right his daughter; and were her land restored, she would be a
fitting bride to some brave man who may better merit our favour than
the traitor Julian."--Then looking at Halbert, he said, "Art thou of
gentle blood, young man?"

Halbert, with a faltering and uncertain voice, began to speak of his
distant pretensions to claim a descent from the ancient Glendonwynes
of Galloway, when Murray interrupted him with a smile.

"Nay--nay--leave pedigrees to bards and heralds. In our days, each,
man is the son of his own deeds. The glorious light of reformation
hath shone alike on prince and peasant; and peasant as well as prince
may be illustrated by fighting in its defence. It is a stirring world,
where all may advance themselves who have stout hearts and strong
arms. Tell me frankly why thou hast left thy father's house."

Halbert Glendinning made a frank confession of his duel with Piercie
Shafton, and mentioned his supposed death.

"By my hand," said Murray, "thou art a bold sparrow-hawk, to match
thee so early with such a kite as Piercie Shafton. Queen Elizabeth
would give her glove filled with gold crowns to know that meddling
coxcomb to be under the sod.--Would she not, Morton?"

"Ay, by my word, and esteem her glove a better gift than the crowns,"
replied Morton, "which few Border lads like this fellow will esteem
just valuation."

"But what shall we do with this young homicide?" said Murray; "what
will our preachers say?"

"Tell them of Moses and of Benaiah," said Morton; "it is but the smiting
of an Egyptian when all is said out."

"Let it be so," said Murray, laughing; "but we will bury the tale, as
the prophet did the body, in the sand. I will take care of this
swankie.--Be near to us, Glendinning, since that is thy name. We
retain thee as a squire of our household. The master of our horse will
see thee fully equipped and armed."

During the expedition which he was now engaged in, Murray found
several opportunities of putting Glendinning's courage and presence of
mind to the test, and he began to rise so rapidly in his esteem, that
those who knew the Earl considered the youth's fortune as certain. One
step only was wanting to raise him to a still higher degree of
confidence and favour--it was the abjuration of the Popish religion.
The ministers who attended upon Murray and formed his chief support
amongst the people, found an easy convert in Halbert Glendinning, who,
from his earliest days, had never felt much devotion towards the
Catholic faith, and who listened eagerly to more reasonable views of
religion. By thus adopting the faith of his master, he rose higher in
his favour, and was constantly about his person during his prolonged
stay in the west of Scotland, which the intractability of those whom
the Earl had to deal with, protracted from day to day, and week to
week.

Sir Walter Scott