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Book of Scottish Story
The Widow's Prediction


A TALE OF THE SIEGE OF NAMUR.

On the morning of the 30th August 1695, just as the sun began to tinge the dark and blood-stained battlements of Namur, a detachment of Mackay's Scottish regiment made their rounds, relieving the last night-sentinels, and placing those of the morning. As soon as the party returned to their quarters, and relaxed from the formalities of military discipline, their leader, a tall, muscular man, of about middle age, with a keen eye and manly features, though swarthy and embrowned with toil, and wearing an expression but little akin to the gentle or the amiable, moved to an angle of the bastion, and, leaning on his spontoon, fixed an anxious gaze on the rising sun. While he remained in this position, he was approached by another officer, who. slapping him roughly on the shoulder, accosted him in these words—

"What, Monteith! are you in a musing mood? Pray, let me have the benefit of your morning meditations."

"Sir!" said Monteith, turning hastily round. "Oh! 'tis you, Keppel. What think you of this morning?"

"Why, that it will be a glorious day for some; and for you and me, I hope, among others. Do you know that the Elector of Bavaria purposes a general assault to-day?"

"I might guess as much, from the preparations going on. Well, would it were to-morrow!"

"Sure you are not afraid, Monteith?"

"Afraid! It is not worth while to quarrel at present; but methinks you, Keppei, might have spared that word. There are not many men who might utter it and live."

"Nay, I meant no offence; yet permit me to say, that your words and manner are strangely at variance with your usual bearing on a battle-morn."

"Perhaps so," replied Monteith; "and, but that your English prejudices will refuse assent, it might be accounted for. That sun will rise to-morrow with equal power and splendour, gilding this earth's murky vapours, but I shall not behold his glory."

"Now, do tell me some soothful narrative of a second-sighted seer," said Keppel. "I promise to do my best to believe it. At any rate, I will not laugh outright, I assure you."

"I fear not that. It is no matter to excite mirth and, in truth, I feel at present strangely inclined to be communicative. Besides, I have a request to make; and I may as well do something to induce you to grant it."

"That I readily will, if in my power," replied Keppel. "So, proceed with your story, if you please."

"Listen attentively, then—and be at once my first and my last confidant.

"Shortly after the battle of Both-well Bridge, I joined the troop commanded by Irvine of Bonshaw; and gloriously did we scour the country, hunting the rebel Covenanters, and acting our pleasure upon man, woman, and child, person and property. I was then but young, and, for a time, rather witnessed than acted in the wild and exciting commission which we so amply discharged. But use is all in all. Ere half-a-dozen years had sped their round, I was one of the prettiest men in the troop at everything. It was in the autumn of 1684, as I loo well remember, that we were engaged in beating up the haunts of the Covenanters on the skirts of Galloway and Ayrshire. A deep mist, which covered the moors thick as a shroud—friendly at times to the Whigs, but, in the present instance, their foe—concealed our approach, till we were close upon a numerous conventicle. We hailed, and bade them stand; but, trusting to their mosses and glens, they scattered and fled. We pursued in various directions, pressing hard upon the fugitives. In spite of several morasses which I had to skirt, and difficult glens to thread, being well mounted, I gained rapidly on a young mountaineer, who, finding escape by flight impossible, bent his course to a house at a short distance, as hoping for shelter there, like a hare to her form. I shouted to him to stand; he ran on. Again I hailed him; but he heeded not; when, dreading to lose all trace of him, should he gain the house, I fired. The bullet took effect. He fell, and his heart's blood gushed on his father's threshold. Just at that instant an aged woman, alarmed by the gallop of my horse, and the report of the pistol, rushed to the door, and stumbling, fell upon the body of her dying son. She raised his drooping head upon her knee, kissed his bloody brow, and screamed aloud, 'Oh, God of the widow and the fatherless, have mercy on met!' One ghastly convulsive shudder shook all her nerves, and the next moment they were calm as the steel of my sword; then raising her pale and shrivelled countenance, every feature of which was fixed in the calm, unearthly earnestness of utter despair, or perfect resignation, she addressed me, every word falling distinct and piercing on my ear like dropping musketry.

'"And hast thou this day made me a widowed, childless mother? Hast thou shed the precious blood of this young servant of Jehovah? And canst thou hope that thy lot will be one of unmingled happiness? Go, red-handed persecutori, Follow thine evil way! But hear one message of truth from a feeble and unworthy tongue. Remorse, like a bloodhound, shall dog thy steps; and the serpent of an evil conscience shall coil around thy heart. From this hour thou shalt never know peace. Thou shall seek death, and long to meet it as a friend; but it shall flee thee. And when thou shall begin to love life, and dread death, then shall thine enemy come upon thee; and thou shalt not escape. Hence to thy bloody comrades, thou second Cain! Thou accursed and banished from the face of Heaven and of mercy!—

"'Foul hag!' I exclaimed, it would take little to make me send thee to join thy psalm-singing offspring!'

""'Well do I know that thou wouldst if thou wert permitted!' replied she. 'But go thy way, and bethink thee how thou wilt answer to thy Creator for this morning's work!'

And, ceasing to regard me, she stooped her head over the dead body of her son. I could endure no more, but wheeled around, and galloped off to join my companions.

"From that hour, I felt myself a doomed and miserable man. In vain did I attempt to banish from my mind the deed I had done, and the words I had heard. In the midst of mirth and revelry, the dying groan of the youth, and the words of doom spoken by his mother, rung for ever in my ears, converting the festal board to a scene of carnage and horror, till the very wine-cup seemed to foam over with hot bubbling gore. Once I tried—laugh, if you will—I tried to pray; but the clotted locks of the dying man, and the earnest gaze of the soul-stricken mother, came betwixt me and Heaven,—my lip faltered—my breath stopped—my very soul stood still, for I knew that my victims were in Paradise, and how could I think of happiness—/, their murderer —in one common home with them? Despair took possession of my whole being. I rushed voluntarily to the centre of every deadly peril, in hopes to find an end to my misery. Yourself can bear me witness that I have ever been the first to meet, the last to retire from, danger. Often, when I heard the battle-signal given, and when I passed the trench, or stormed the breach, in front of my troop, it was less to gain applause and promotion than to provoke the encounter of death. 'Twas all in vain. I was doomed not to die, while I longed fur death. And now—"

"Well, by your own account, you run no manner of risk, and at the same time are proceeding on a rapid career of military success," said Keppel; "and. for my life, I cannot see why that should affect you, supposing it all perfectly true."

"Because you have not yet heard the whole. But listen a few minutes longer. During last winter, our division, as you know, was quartered in Brussels, and was very kindly entertained by the wealthy and good-natured Flemings. Utterly tired of the heartless dissipation of life in a camp, I endeavoured to make myself agreeable to my landlord, that I might obtain a more intimate admission into his family circle. To this I was the more incited, that I expected some pleasure in the society of his daughter. In all I succeeded to my wish. I became quite a favourite with the old man, and procured ready access to the company of his child. But I was sufficiently piqued to find, that in spite of all my gallantry, I could not learn whether I had made any impression upon the heart of the laughing Fanchon, What peace and playful toying could not accomplish, war and sorrow did. We were called out of winter quarters, to commence what was anticipated to be a bloody campaign. I obtained an interview to take a long and doubtful farewell. In my arms the weeping girl owned her love, and pledged her hand, should I survive to return once more to Brussels. Keppel, I am a doomed man ; and my doom is about to be accomplished ! Formerly I wished to die; but death fled me. Now I wish to live; and death will come upon me I I know I shall never more see Brussels, nor my lovely little Fleming. Wilt thou carry her my last farewell; and tell her to forget a man who was unworthy of her love—whose destiny drove him to love, and be beloved, that he might experience the worst of human wretchedness? You'll do this for me, Keppel?"

"If I myself survive, I will. But this is some delusion—some strong dream. I trust it will not unnerve your arm in the moment of the storm."

"No! I may die—must die; but it shall be in front of my troop, or in the middle of the breach. Yet how I long to escape this doom ! I have won enough of glory; I despise pillage and wealth; but I feel my very heartstrings shrink from the now terrible idea of final dissolution. Oh! that the fatal hour were past, or that I had still my former eagerness to die! Keppel, if I dared, I would to-day own myself a coward."

"Come with me," said Keppel, "to my quarters. The night air has made you aguish. The cold fit will yield to a cup of as generous Rhine wine as ever was drunk on the banks of the Sambre." Monteith consented, and the two moved off to partake of the stimulating and substantial comforts of a soldier's breakfast in the Netherlands.

It was between one and two in the afternoon. An unusual stillness reigned in the lines of the besiegers. The garrison remained equally silent, as watching in deep suspense on what point the storm portended by this terrible calm would burst. A single piece of artillery was discharged. Instantly a body of grenadiers rushed from the entrenchments, struggled over masses of ruins, and mounted the breach. The shock was dreadful. Man strove with man, and blow succeeded to blow, with fierce and breathless energy. The English reached the summit, but were almost immediately beaten back, leaving numbers of their bravest grovelling among the blackened fragments. Their leader. Lord Cults, had himself received a dangerous wound in the head ; but disregarding it, he selected two hundred men from Mackay's regiment, and putting them under the command of Lieutenants Cockle and Monteith. sent them to restore the fortunes of the assault. Their charge was irresistible. Led on by Monteith, who displayed a wild and frantic desperation, rather than bravery, they broke through all impediments, drove the French from the covered way, seized on one of the batteries, and turned the cannon against the enemy. To enable them to maintain this advantage, they were reinforced by parlies from other divisions. Keppel, advancing in one of those parties, discovered the mangled form of his friend Monteith, lying on heaps of the enemy on the very summit of the captured battery. He attempted to raise the seemingly lifeless body. Monteith opened his eyes,—"Save me !" he cried; "save me! I will not die! I dare not—I must not die!"

It were to horrid to specify the ghastly nature of the mortal wounds which had torn and disfigured his frame. To live was impossible. Yet Keppel strove to render him some assistance, were it but to soothe his parting spirit. Again he opened his glazing eyes.—"I will resist thee to the last!" he cried, in a raving delirium. "I killed him but in the discharge of my duty. What worse was I than others? Poor consolation now! The doom— the doom! I cannot—dare not—must not—will not die!" And while the vain words were gurgling in his throat, his head sunk back on the body of a slaughtered foe, and his unwilling spirit forsook his shattered body.— Edinburgh Literary Journal.


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