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Waverly
Chapter XVIII - The Conflict

by Sir Walter Scott

When Fergus Mac-Ivor and his friend had slept for a few hours, they were awakened and summoned to attend the Prince. The distant village clock was heard to toll three as they hastened to the place where he lay. He was already surrounded by his principal officers and the chiefs of clans. A bundle of pease-straw, which had been lately his couch, now served for his seat. Just as Fergus reached the circle, the consultation had broken up. 'Courage, my brave friends!' said the Chevalier, 'and each one put himself instantly at the head of his command; a faithful friend [Footnote: See Note 32.] has offered to guide us by a practicable, though narrow and circuitous, route, which, sweeping to our right, traverses the broken ground and morass, and enables us to gain the firm and open plain upon which the enemy are lying. This difficulty surmounted, Heaven and your good swords must do the rest.'

The proposal spread unanimous joy, and each leader hastened to get his men into order with as little noise as possible. The army, moving by its right from off the ground on which they had rested, soon entered the path through the morass, conducting their march with astonishing silence and great rapidity. The mist had not risen to the higher grounds, so that for some time they had the advantage of star-light. But this was lost as the stars faded before approaching day, and the head of the marching column, continuing its descent, plunged as it were into the heavy ocean of fog, which rolled its white waves over the whole plain, and over the sea by which it was bounded. Some difficulties were now to be encountered, inseparable from darkness, a narrow, broken, and marshy path, and the necessity of preserving union in the march. These, however, were less inconvenient to Highlanders, from their habits of life, than they would have been to any other troops, and they continued a steady and swift movement.

As the clan of Ivor approached the firm ground, following the track of those who preceded them, the challenge of a patrol was heard through the mist, though they could not see the dragoon by whom it was made—'Who goes there?'

'Hush!' cried Fergus, 'hush! let none answer, as he values his life; press forward'; and they continued their march with silence and rapidity.

The patrol fired his carabine upon the body, and the report was instantly followed by the clang of his horse's feet as he galloped off. 'Hylax in limine latrat,' said the Baron of Bradwardine, who heard the shot; 'that loon will give the alarm.'

The clan of Fergus had now gained the firm plain, which had lately borne a large crop of corn. But the harvest was gathered in, and the expanse was unbroken by tree, bush, or interruption of any kind. The rest of the army were following fast, when they heard the drums of the enemy beat the general. Surprise, however, had made no part of their plan, so they were not disconcerted by this intimation that the foe was upon his guard and prepared to receive them. It only hastened their dispositions for the combat, which were very simple.

The Highland army, which now occupied the eastern end of the wide plain, or stubble field, so often referred to, was drawn up in two lines, extending from the morass towards the sea. The first was destined to charge the enemy, the second to act as a reserve. The few horse, whom the Prince headed in person, remained between the two lines. The adventurer had intimated a resolution to charge in person at the head of his first line; but his purpose was deprecated by all around him, and he was with difficulty induced to abandon it.

Both lines were now moving forward, the first prepared for instant combat. The clans of which it was composed formed each a sort of separate phalanx, narrow in front, and in depth ten, twelve, or fifteen files, according to the strength of the following. The best-armed and best-born, for the words were synonymous, were placed in front of each of these irregular subdivisions. The others in the rear shouldered forward the front, and by their pressure added both physical impulse and additional ardour and confidence to those who were first to encounter the danger.

'Down with your plaid, Waverley,' cried Fergus, throwing off his own; 'we'll win silks for our tartans before the sun is above the sea.'

The clansmen on every side stript their plaids, prepared their arms, and there was an awful pause of about three minutes, during which the men, pulling off their bonnets, raised their faces to heaven and uttered a short prayer; then pulled their bonnets over their brows and began to move forward, at first slowly. Waverley felt his heart at that moment throb as it would have burst from his bosom. It was not fear, it was not ardour: it was a compound of both, a new and deeply energetic impulse that with its first emotion chilled and astounded, then fevered and maddened his mind. The sounds around him combined to exalt his enthusiasm; the pipes played, and the clans rushed forward, each in its own dark column. As they advanced they mended their pace, and the muttering sounds of the men to each other began to swell into a wild cry.

At this moment the sun, which was now risen above the horizon, dispelled the mist. The vapours rose like a curtain, and showed the two armies in the act of closing. The line of the regulars was formed directly fronting the attack of the Highlanders; it glittered with the appointments of a complete army, and was flanked by cavalry and artillery. But the sight impressed no terror on the assailants.

'Forward, sons of Ivor,' cried their Chief, 'or the Camerons will draw the first blood!' They rushed on with a tremendous yell.

The rest is well known. The horse, who were commanded to charge the advancing Highlanders in the flank, received an irregular fire from their fusees as they ran on and, seized with a disgraceful panic, wavered, halted, disbanded, and galloped from the field. The artillery men, deserted by the cavalry, fled after discharging their pieces, and the Highlanders, who dropped their guns when fired and drew their broadswords, rushed with headlong fury against the infantry.

It was at this moment of confusion and terror that Waverley remarked an English officer, apparently of high rank, standing, alone and unsupported, by a fieldpiece, which, after the flight of the men by whom it was wrought, he had himself levelled and discharged against the clan of Mac-Ivor, the nearest group of Highlanders within his aim. Struck with his tall, martial figure, and eager to save him from inevitable destruction, Waverley outstripped for an instant even the speediest of the warriors, and, reaching the spot first, called to him to surrender. The officer replied by a thrust with his sword, which Waverley received in his target, and in turning it aside the Englishman's weapon broke. At the same time the battle-axe of Dugald Mahony was in the act of descending upon the officer's head. Waverley intercepted and prevented the blow, and the officer, perceiving further resistance unavailing, and struck with Edward's generous anxiety for his safety, resigned the fragment of his sword, and was committed by Waverley to Dugald, with strict charge to use him well, and not to pillage his person, promising him, at the same time, full indemnification for the spoil.

On Edward's right the battle for a few minutes raged fierce and thick. The English infantry, trained in the wars in Flanders, stood their ground with great courage. But their extended files were pierced and broken in many places by the close masses of the clans; and in the personal struggle which ensued the nature of the Highlanders' weapons, and their extraordinary fierceness and activity, gave them a decided superiority over those who had been accustomed to trust much to their array and discipline, and felt that the one was broken and the other useless. Waverley, as he cast his eyes towards this scene of smoke and slaughter, observed Colonel Gardiner, deserted by his own soldiers in spite of all his attempts to rally them, yet spurring his horse through the field to take the command of a small body of infantry, who, with their backs arranged against the wall of his own park (for his house was close by the field of battle), continued a desperate and unavailing resistance. Waverley could perceive that he had already received many wounds, his clothes and saddle being marked with blood. To save this good and brave man became the instant object of his most anxious exertions. But he could only witness his fall. Ere Edward could make his way among the Highlanders, who, furious and eager for spoil, now thronged upon each other, he saw his former commander brought from his horse by the blow of a scythe, and beheld him receive, while on the ground, more wounds than would have let out twenty lives. When Waverley came up, however, perception had not entirely fled. The dying warrior seemed to recognize Edward, for he fixed his eye upon him with an upbraiding, yet sorrowful, look, and appeared to struggle, for utterance. But he felt that death was dealing closely with him, and resigning his purpose, and folding his hands as if in devotion, he gave up his soul to his Creator. The look with which he regarded Waverley in his dying moments did not strike him so deeply at that crisis of hurry and confusion as when it recurred to his imagination at the distance of some time. [Footnote: See Note 33.]

Loud shouts of triumph now echoed over the whole field. The battle was fought and won, and the whole baggage, artillery, and military stores of the regular army remained in possession of the victors. Never was a victory more complete. Scarce any escaped from the battle, excepting the cavalry, who had left it at the very onset, and even these were broken into different parties and scattered all over the country. So far as our tale is concerned, we have only to relate the fate of Balmawhapple, who, mounted on a horse as headstrong and stiff-necked as his rider, pursued the flight of the dragoons above four miles from the field of battle, when some dozen of the fugitives took heart of grace, turned round, and cleaving his skull with their broadswords, satisfied the world that the unfortunate gentleman had actually brains, the end of his life thus giving proof of a fact greatly doubted during its progress. His death was lamented by few. Most of those who knew him agreed in the pithy observation of Ensign Maccombich, that there 'was mair tint (lost) at Sheriff-Muir.' His friend, Lieutenant Jinker, bent his eloquence only to exculpate his favourite mare from any share in contributing to the catastrophe. 'He had tauld the laird a thousand times,' he said,'that it was a burning shame to put a martingale upon the puir thing, when he would needs ride her wi' a curb of half a yard lang; and that he could na but bring himsell (not to say her) to some mischief, by flinging her down, or otherwise; whereas, if he had had a wee bit rinnin ring on the snaffle, she wad ha' rein'd as cannily as a cadger's pownie.'

Such was the elegy of the Laird of Balmawhapple. [Footnote: See Note 34.]
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