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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Covenanter
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From ‘Old Mortality’

  “My native land, good-night!”
LORD BYRON.    

THE PRIVY COUNCIL of Scotland, in whom the practice, since the union of the crowns, vested great judicial powers, as well as the general superintendence of the executive department, was met in the ancient, dark, Gothic room adjoining to the house of Parliament in Edinburgh, when General Grahame entered and took his place amongst the members at the council table.  1
  “You have brought us a leash of game to-day, general,” said a nobleman of high place amongst them. “Here is a craven to confess, a cock of the game to stand at bay—and what shall I call the third, general?”  2
  “Without further metaphor, I will entreat your Grace to call him a person in whom I am specially interested,” replied Claverhouse.  3
  “And a Whig into the bargain?” said the nobleman, lolling out a tongue which was at all times too big for his mouth, and accommodating his coarse features to a sneer, to which they seemed to be familiar.  4
  “Yes, please your Grace, a Whig; as your Grace was in 1641,” replied Claverhouse, with his usual appearance of imperturbable civility.  5
  “He has you there, I think, my lord duke,” said one of the Privy Councilors.  6
  “Ay, ay,” returned the duke, laughing: “there’s no speaking to him since Drumclog. But come, bring in the prisoners; and do you, Mr. Clerk, read the record.”  7
  The clerk read forth a bond, in which General Grahame of Claverhouse and Lord Evandale entered themselves securities that Henry Morton, younger of Milnwood, should go abroad and remain in foreign parts until his Majesty’s pleasure was further known, in respect of the said Henry Morton’s accession to the late rebellion; and that under penalty of life and limb to the said Henry Morton, and of ten thousand marks to each of his securities.  8
  “Do you accept of the King’s mercy upon these terms, Mr. Morton?” said the Duke of Lauderdale, who presided in the council.  9
  “I have no other choice, my lord,” replied Morton.  10
  “Then subscribe your name in the record.”  11
  Morton did so without reply; conscious that in the circumstances of his case, it was impossible for him to have escaped more easily. Macbriar, who was at the same instant brought to the foot of the council table, bound upon a chair,—for his weakness prevented him from standing,—beheld Morton in the act of what he accounted apostasy.  12
  “He hath summed his defection by owning the carnal power of the tyrant!” he exclaimed with a deep groan. “A fallen star!—a fallen star!”  13
  “Hold your peace, sir,” said the duke, “and keep your ain breath to cool your ain porridge: ye’ll find them scalding hot, I promise you. Call in the other fellow, who has some common-sense. One sheep will leap the ditch when another goes first.”  14
  Cuddie was introduced unbound, but under the guard of two halberdiers, and placed beside Macbriar at the foot of the table. The poor fellow cast a piteous look around him, in which were mingled awe for the great men in whose presence he stood, and compassion for his fellow-sufferers, with no small fear of the personal consequences which impended over himself. He made his clownish obeisances with a double portion of reverence, and then awaited the opening of the awful scene.  15
  “Were you at the battle of Bothwell Brigg?” was the first question which was thundered in his ears.  16
  Cuddie meditated a denial, but had sense enough upon reflection to discover that the truth would be too strong for him; so he replied with true Caledonian indirectness of response, “I’ll no say but it may be possible that I might hae been there.”  17
  “Answer directly, you knave—yes or no? You know you were there.”  18
  “It is no for me to contradict your Lordship’s Grace’s Honor,” said Cuddie.  19
  “Once more, sir, were you there—yes or no?” said the duke impatiently.  20
  “Dear stir,” again replied Cuddie, “how can ane mind preceesely where they hae been a’ the days o’ their life?”  21
  “Speak out, you scoundrel,” said General Dalzell, “or I’ll dash your teeth out with my dudgeon-haft! Do you think we can stand here all day to be turning and dodging with you like greyhounds after a hare?”  22
  “Aweel, then,” said Cuddie, “since naething else will please ye, write down that I canna deny but I was there.”  23
  “Well, sir,” said the duke, “and do you think that the rising upon that occasion was rebellion or not?”  24
  “I’m no just free to gie my opinion, stir,” said the cautious captive, “on what might cost my neck; but I doubt it will be very little better.”  25
  “Better than what?”  26
  “Just then rebellion, as your Honor ca’s it,” replied Cuddie.  27
  “Well, sir, that’s speaking to the purpose,” replied his Grace. “And are you content to accept of the King’s pardon for your guilt as a rebel, and to keep the Church, and pray for the King?”  28
  “Blithely, stir,” answered the unscrupulous Cuddie; “and drink his health into the bargain when the ale’s gude.”  29
  “Egad!” said the duke, “this is a hearty cock. What brought you into such a scrape, mine honest friend?”  30
  “Just ill example, stir,” replied the prisoner, “and a daft auld jade of a mither, wi’ reference to your Grace’s Honor.”  31
  “Why, God ’a’ mercy, my friend,” replied the duke, “take care of bad advice another time: I think you are not likely to commit treason on your own score. Make out his free pardon, and bring forward the rogue in the chair.”  32
  Macbriar was then moved forward to the post of examination.  33
  “Were you at the battle of Bothwell Bridge?” was in like manner demanded of him.  34
  “I was,” answered the prisoner, in a bold and resolute tone.  35
  “Were you armed?”  36
  “I was not: I went in my calling as a preacher of God’s word, to encourage them that drew the sword in his cause.”  37
  “In other words, to aid and abet the rebels?” said the duke.  38
  “Thou hast spoken it,” replied the prisoner.  39
  “Well then,” continued the interrogator, “let us know if you saw John Balfour of Burley among the party?—I presume you know him?”  40
  “I bless God that I do know him,” replied Macbriar: “he is a zealous and a sincere Christian.”  41
  “And when and where did you last see this pious personage?” was the query which immediately followed.  42
  “I am here to answer for myself,” said Macbriar in the same dauntless manner, “and not to endanger others.”  43
  “We shall know,” said Dalzell, “how to make you find your tongue.”  44
  “If you can make him fancy himself in a conventicle,” answered Lauderdale, “he will find it without you. Come, laddie, speak while the play is good: you’re too young to bear the burden will be laid on you else.”  45
  “I defy you,” retorted Macbriar. “This has not been the first of my imprisonments or of my sufferings; and young as I may be, I have lived long enough to know how to die when I am called upon.”  46
  “Ay, but there are some things which must go before an easy death, if you continue obstinate,” said Lauderdale; and rung a small silver bell which was placed before him on the table.  47
  A dark crimson curtain, which covered a sort of niche or Gothic recess in the wall, rose at the signal, and displayed the public executioner,—a tall, grim, and hideous man, having an oaken table before him, on which lay thumb-screws, and an iron case called the Scottish boot, used in those tyrannical days to torture accused persons. Morton, who was unprepared for this ghastly apparition, started when the curtain arose; but Macbriar’s nerves were more firm. He gazed upon the horrible apparatus with much composure; and if a touch of nature called the blood from his cheek for a second, resolution sent it back to his brow with greater energy.  48
  “Do you know who that man is?” said Lauderdale in a low, stern voice, almost sinking into a whisper.  49
  “He is, I suppose,” replied Macbriar, “the infamous executioner of your bloodthirsty commands upon the persons of God’s people. He and you are equally beneath my regard; and I bless God, I no more fear what he can inflict than what you can command. Flesh and blood may shrink under the sufferings you can doom me to, and poor frail nature may shed tears or send forth cries; but I trust my soul is anchored firmly on the Rock of Ages.”  50
  “Do your duty,” said the duke to the executioner.  51
  The fellow advanced, and asked, with a harsh and discordant voice, upon which of the prisoner’s limbs he should first employ his engine.  52
  “Let him choose for himself,” said the duke: “I should like to oblige him in anything that is reasonable.”  53
  “Since you leave it to me,” said the prisoner, stretching forth his right leg, “take the best: I willingly bestow it in the cause for which I suffer.”  54
  The executioner, with the help of his assistants, inclosed the leg and knee within the tight iron boot or case; and then, placing a wedge of the same metal between the knee and the edge of the machine, took a mallet in his hand, and stood waiting for further orders. A well-dressed man, by profession a surgeon, placed himself by the other side of the prisoner’s chair, bared the prisoner’s arm, and applied his thumb to the pulse, in order to regulate the torture according to the strength of the patient. When these preparations were made, the president of the council repeated with the same stern voice the question, “When and where did you last see John Balfour of Burley?”  55
  The prisoner, instead of replying to him, turned his eyes to heaven as if imploring Divine strength, and muttered a few words, of which the last were distinctly audible: “Thou hast said thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power!”  56
  The Duke of Lauderdale glanced his eye around the council as if to collect their suffrages; and judging from their mute signs, gave on his part a nod to the executioner, whose mallet instantly descended on the wedge, and forcing it between the knee and the iron boot, occasioned the most exquisite pain, as was evident from the flush which instantly took place on the brow and on the cheeks of the sufferer. The fellow then again raised his weapon, and stood prepared to give a second blow.  57
  “Will you yet say,” repeated the Duke of Lauderdale, “where and when you last parted from Balfour of Burley?”  58
  “You have my answer,” said the sufferer resolutely; and the second blow fell. The third and fourth succeeded; but at the fifth, when a larger wedge had been introduced, the prisoner set up a scream of agony.  59
  Morton, whose blood boiled within him at witnessing such cruelty, could bear no longer; and although unarmed and himself in great danger, was springing forward, when Claverhouse, who observed his emotion, withheld him by force, laying one hand on his arm and the other on his mouth, while he whispered, “For God’s sake, think where you are!”  60
  This movement, fortunately for him, was observed by no other of the councilors, whose attention was engaged with the dreadful scene before them.  61
  “He is gone,” said the surgeon; “he has fainted, my lords, and human nature can endure no more.”  62
  “Release him,” said the duke; and added, turning to Dalzell, “he will make an old proverb good, for he’ll scarce ride to-day, though he has had his boots on. I suppose we must finish with him?”  63
  “Ay, dispatch his sentence, and have done with him: we have plenty of drudgery behind.”  64
  Strong waters and essences were busily employed to recall the senses of the unfortunate captive: and when his first faint gasps intimated a return of sensation, the duke pronounced sentence of death upon him, as a traitor taken in the act of open rebellion, and adjudged him to be carried from the bar to the common place of execution, and there hanged by the neck; his head and hands to be stricken off after death, and disposed of according to the pleasure of the Council, and all and sundry his movable goods and gear escheat and inbrought to his Majesty’s use.  65
  “Doomster,” he continued, “repeat the sentence to the prisoner.”  66
  The office of doomster was in those days, and till a much later period, held by the executioner in commendam with his ordinary functions. The duty consisted in reciting to the unhappy criminal the sentence of the law as pronounced by the judge, which acquired an additional and horrid emphasis from the recollection that the hateful personage by whom it was uttered was to be the agent of the cruelties he announced. Macbriar had scarce understood the purport of the words as first pronounced by the lord president of the Council: but he was sufficiently recovered to listen and to reply to the sentence when uttered by the harsh and odious voice of the ruffian who was to execute it; and at the last awful words, “And this I pronounce for doom,” he answered boldly:—  67
  “My lords, I thank you for the only favor I looked for, or would accept, at your hands; namely, that you have sent the crushed and maimed carcass, which has this day sustained your cruelty, to this hasty end. It were indeed little to me whether I perish on the gallows or in the prison-house; but if death, following close on what I have this day suffered, had found me in my cell of darkness and bondage, many might have lost the sight how a Christian man can suffer in the good cause. For the rest, I forgive you, my lords, for what you have appointed and I have sustained. And why should I not? Ye send me to a happy exchange,—to the company of angels and the spirits of the just, for that of frail dust and ashes. Ye send me from darkness into day—from mortality to immortality—and in a word, from earth to heaven! If the thanks, therefore, and pardon of a dying man can do you good, take them at my hand, and may your last moments be as happy as mine!”  68
  As he spoke thus, with a countenance radiant with joy and triumph, he was withdrawn by those who had brought him into the apartment, and executed within half an hour, dying with the same enthusiastic firmness which his whole life had evinced.  69
 
 
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