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Title: John Splendid: The Tale of a Poor Gentleman, and the Little Wars of Lorn
Author: Munro, Neil
Language: English
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The Tale of a Poor Gentleman, and the Little Wars of Lorn

By Neil Munro

William Blackwood And Sons

Edinburgh And London


[Illustration: frontispiece]

[Illustration: titlepage]

CONTENTS: (Note: Chapter XII notation
                 skipped in the print copy.)




































To read this tale, dear Hugh, without any association of its incidents
with the old respectable chronicles of the Historians is what I should
wish you could always do. That is the happy manner with Romance; that is
the enviable aptness of the child. But when (by the favour of God) you
grow older and more reflective, seeking perhaps for more in these pages
than they meant to give, you may wonder that the streets, the lanes, the
tenements herein set forth so much resemble those we know to-day, though
less than two hundred years ago the bracken waved upon their promontory.
You may wonder, too, that the Silver Mines of Coillebhraid, discovered
in the time of your greatgrandfather, should have so strangely
been anticipated in the age of Gillesbeg Gruamach. Let not those
chronological divergences perturb you; they were in the manuscript
(which you will be good enough to assume) of Elrigmore, and I would not
alter them. Nor do I diminish by a single hour Elrigmore’s estimate
that two days were taken on the Miraculous Journey to Inverlochy,
though numerous histories have made it less. In that, as in a few other
details, Elrigmore’s account is borne out by one you know to whom The
Little Wars of Lorn and Lochaber are yet, as it were, an impulse of
yesterday, and the name of Athole is utterly detestable.

I give you this book, dear Hugh, not for History, though a true tale--a
sad old tale--is behind it, but for a picture of times and manners, of a
country that is dear to us in every rock and valley, of a people we know
whose blood is ours. And that you may grow in wisdom as in years, and
gain the riches of affection, and escape the giants of life as Connal
did the giants of Erin O, in our winter tale, is my fervent prayer.

N. M.

September 1898.



Many a time, in college or in camp, I had planned the style of my
home-coming. Master Webster, in the Humanities, droning away like a
Boreraig bagpipe, would be sending my mind back to Shira Glen, its braes
and corries and singing waters, and Ben Bhuidhe over all, and with my
chin on a hand I would ponder on how I should go home again when this
weary scholarship was over. I had always a ready fancy and some of the
natural vanity of youth, so I could see myself landing off the lugger at
the quay of Inneraora town, three inches more of a man than when I
left with a firkin of herring and a few bolls of meal for my winter’s
provand; thicker too at the chest, and with a jacket of London green
cloth with brass buttons. Would the fishermen about the quay-head
not lean over the gun’les of their skiffs and say, “There goes young
Elrigmore from Colleging, well-knit in troth, and a pretty lad”? I could
hear (all in my daydream in yon place of dingy benches) the old women
about the well at the town Cross say, “Oh _laochain!_ thou art come back
from the Galldach, and Glascow College; what a thousand curious things
thou must know, and what wisdom thou must have, but never a change on
thine affability to the old and to the poor!” But it was not till I had
run away from Glascow College, and shut the boards for good and all, as
I thought, on my humane letters and history, and gone with cousin Gavin
to the German wars in Mackay’s Corps of true Highlanders, that I added a
manlier thought to my thinking of the day when I should come home to
my native place. I’ve seen me in the camp at night, dog-wearied after
stoury marching on their cursed foreign roads, keeping my eyes open and
the sleep at an arm’s-length, that I might think of Shira Glen. Whatever
they may say of me or mine, they can never deny but I had the right fond
heart for my own countryside, and I have fought men for speaking of its
pride and poverty--their ignorance, their folly!--for what did they ken
of the Highland spirit? I would be lying in the lap of the night, and
my Ferrara sword rolled in my plaid as a pillow for my head, fancying
myself--all those long wars over, march, siege, and sack--riding on a
good horse down the pass of Aora and through the arches into the old
town. Then, it was not the fishermen or the old women I thought of,
but the girls, and the winking stars above me were their eyes, glinting
merrily and kindly on a stout young gentleman soldier with jack and
morion, sword at haunch, spur at heel, and a name for bravado never a
home-biding laird in our parish had, burgh or landward. I would sit on
my horse so, the chest well out, the back curved, the knees straight,
one gauntlet off to let my white hand wave a salute when needed, and
none of all the pretty ones would be able to say Elrigmore thought
another one the sweetest Oh! I tell you we learnt many arts in the
Lowland wars, more than they teach Master of Art in the old biggin’ in
the Hie Street of Glascow.

One day, at a place called Nordlingen near the Mid Franken, binding
a wound Gavin got in the sword-arm, I said, “What’s your wish at this
moment, cousin?”

He looked at me with a melting eye, and the flush hove to his face.

“‘Fore God, Colin,” said he, “I would give my twelve months’ wage to
stand below the lintel of my mother’s door and hear her say ‘Darling

“If you had your wish, Gavin, when and how would you go into Inneraora
town after those weary years away?”

“Man, I’ve made that up long syne,” said he, and the tear was at his
cheek. “Let me go into it cannily at night-fall from the Cromalt end,
when the boys and girls were dancing on the green to the pipes at the
end of a harvest-day. Them in a reel, with none of the abulziements of
war about me, but a plain civil lad like the rest, I would join in the
strathspey and kiss two or three of the girls ere ever they jaloused a
stranger was among them.”

Poor Gavin, good Gavin! he came home no way at all to his mother and his
mountains; but here was I, with some of his wish for my fortune, riding
cannily into Inneraora town in the dark.

It is wonderful how travel, even in a marching company of cavaliers of
fortune, gives scope to the mind. When I set foot, twelve years before
this night I speak of, on the gabert that carried me down to Dunbarton
on my way to the Humanities classes, I could have sworn I was leaving
a burgh most large and wonderful. The town houses of old Stonefield,
Craignish, Craignure, Asknish, and the other cadets of Clan Campbell,
had such a strong and genteel look; the windows, all but a very few,
had glass in every lozen, every shutter had a hole to let in the morning
light, and each door had its little ford of stones running across the
gutter that sped down the street, smelling fishily a bit, on its way to
the shore. For me, in those days, each close that pierced the tall lands
was as wide and high as a mountain _eas_, the street itself seemed broad
and substantial, crowded with people worth kenning for their graces and
the many things they knew.

I came home now on this night of nights with Munchen and Augsburg, and
the fine cities of all the France, in my mind, and I tell you I could
think shame of this mean rickle of stones I had thought a town, were it
not for the good hearts and kind I knew were under every roof. The
broad street crowded with people, did I say? A little lane rather; and
Elrigmore, with schooling and the wisdom of travel, felt he could see
into the heart’s core of the cunningest merchant in the place.

But anyway, here I was, riding into town from the Cromalt end on a night
in autumn. It was after ten by my Paris watch when I got the length of
the Creags, and I knew that there was nothing but a sleeping town before
me, for our folks were always early bedders when the fishing season was
on. The night hung thick with stars, but there was no moon; a stiff wind
from the east prinked at my right ear and cooled my horse’s skin, as he
slowed down after a canter of a mile or two on this side of Pennymore.
Out on the loch I could see the lights of a few herring-boats lift and
fall at the end of their trail of nets.

“Too few of you there for the town to be busy and cheerful,” said I to
myself; “no doubt the bulk of the boats are down at Otter, damming the
fish in the narrow gut, and keeping them from searching up to our own
good townsmen.”

I pressed my brute to a trot, and turned round into the nether part of
the town. It was what I expected--the place was dark, black out. The
people were sleeping; the salt air of Loch Finne went sighing through
the place in a way that made me dowie for old days. We went over the
causeway-stones with a clatter that might have wakened the dead, but no
one put a head out, and I thought of the notion of a cheery home-coming
poor Gavin had--my dear cousin, stroked out and cold under foreign clods
at Velshiem, two leagues below the field of Worms of Hessen, on the
banks of the Rhine, in Low Germanie.

It is a curious business this riding into a town in the dark waste of
night; curious even in a strange town when all are the same for you that
sleep behind those shutters and those doors, but doubly curious when you
know that behind the dark fronts are folk lying that you know well, that
have been thinking, and drinking, and thriving when you were far
away. As I went clattering slowly by, I would say at one house front,
“Yonder’s my old comrade, Tearlach, who taught me my one tune on the
pipe-chanter; is his beard grown yet, I wonder?” At another, “There
is the garret window of the schoolmaster’s daughter--does she sing so
sweetly nowadays in the old kirk?”

In the dead middle of the street I pulled my horse up, just to study the
full quietness of the hour. Leaning over, I put a hand on his nostrils
and whispered in his ear for a silence, as we do abroad in ambuscade.
Town Innera-ora slept sound, sure enough! All to hear was the spilling
of the river at the cascade under the bridge and the plopping of the
waves against the wall we call the ramparts, that keeps the sea from
thrashing on the Tolbooth. And then over all I could hear a most strange
moaning sound, such as we boys used to make with a piece of lath nicked
at the edges and swung hurriedly round the head by a string. It was made
by the wind, I knew, for it came loudest in the gusty bits of the night
and from the east, and when there was a lull I could hear it soften away
and end for a second or two with a dunt, as if some heavy, soft thing
struck against wood.

Whatever it was, the burghers of Inneraora paid no heed, but slept,
stark and sound, behind their steeked shutters.

The solemnity of the place that I knew so much better in a natural
lively mood annoyed me, and I played there and then a prank more
becoming a boy in his first kilt than a gentleman of education and
travel and some repute for sobriety. I noticed I was opposite the house
of a poor old woman they called Black Kate, whose door was ever the
target in my young days for every lad that could brag of a boot-toe,
and I saw that the shutter, hanging ajee on one hinge, was thrown open
against the harled wall of the house. In my doublet-pocket there were
some carabeen bullets, and taking one out, I let bang at the old woman’s
little lozens. There was a splinter of glass, and I waited to see if
any one should come out to find who had done the damage. My trick was
in vain; no one came. Old Kate, as I found next day, was dead since
Martinmas, and her house was empty.

Still the moaning sound came from the town-head, and I went slowly
riding in its direction. It grew clearer and yet uncannier as I sped on,
and mixed with the sough of it I could hear at last the clink of chains.

“What in God’s name have I here?” said I to myself, turning round Islay
Campbell’s corner, and yonder was my answer!

The town gibbets were throng indeed! Two corpses swung in the wind, like
net bows on a drying-pole, going from side to side, making the woeful
sough and clink of chains, and the dunt I had heard when the wind

I grued more at the sound of the soughing than at the sight of the
hanged fellows, for I’ve seen the Fell Sergeant in too many ugly
fashions to be much put about at a hanging match. But it was such a poor
home-coming! It told me as plain as could be, what I had heard rumours
of in the low country, riding round from the port of Leith, that the
land was uneasy, and that pit and gallows were bye-ordinar busy at the
gates of our castle. When I left for my last session at Glascow College,
the countryside was quiet as a village green, never a raider nor a
reiver in the land, and so poor the Doomster’s trade (Black George) that
he took to the shoeing of horses.

“There must be something wicked in the times, and cheatery rampant
indeed,” I thought, “when the common gibbet of Inneraora has a
drunkard’s convoy on either hand to prop it up.”

But it was no time for meditation. Through the rags of plaiding on the
chains went the wind again so eerily that I bound to be off, and I put
my horse to it, bye the town-head and up the two miles to Glen Shira. I
was sore and galled sitting on the saddle; my weariness hung at the back
of my legs and shoulders like an ague, and there was never a man in this
world came home to his native place so eager for taking supper and sleep
as young Elrigmore.

What I expected at my father’s door I am not going to set down here. I
went from it a fool, with not one grace about me but the love of my good
mother, and the punishment I had for my hot and foolish cantrip was many
a wae night on foreign fields, vexed to the core for the sore heart I
had left at home.

My mind, for all my weariness, was full of many things, and shame above
all, as I made for my father’s house. The horse had never seen Glen
Shira, but it smelt the comfort of the stable and whinnied cheerfully
as I pulled up at the gate. There was but one window to the gable-end of
Elrigmore, and it was something of a surprise to me to find a light in
it, for our people were not overly rich in these days, and candle or
cruisie was wont to be doused at bedtime. More was my surprise when,
leading my horse round to the front, feeling my way in the dark by
memory, I found the oak door open and my father, dressed, standing in
the light of it.

A young _sgalag_ came running to the reins, and handing them to him, I
stepped into the light of the door, my bonnet in my hand.

“Step in, sir, caird or gentleman,” said my father--looking more bent at
the shoulder than twelve years before.

I went under the door-lintel, and stood a little abashed before him.

“Colin! Colin!” he cried in the Gaelic “Did I not ken it was you?” and
he put his two hands on my shoulders.

“It is Colin sure enough, father dear,” I said, slipping readily enough
into the mother tongue they did their best to get out of me at Glascow
College. “Is he welcome in this door?” and the weariness weighed me down
at the hip and bowed my very legs.

He gripped me tight at the elbows, and looked me hungrily in the face.

“If you had a murdered man’s head in your oxter, Colin,” said he, “you
were still my son. Colin, Colin! come ben and put off your boots!”

“Mother------” I said, but he broke in on my question.

“Come in, lad, and sit down. You are back from the brave wars you never
went to with my will, and you’ll find stirring times here at your own
parish. It’s the way of the Sennachies’ stories.”

“How is that, sir?”

“They tell, you know, that people wander far on the going foot for
adventure, and adventure is in the first turning of their native lane.”

I was putting my boots off before a fire of hissing logs that filled the
big room with a fir-wood smell right homely and comforting to my heart,
and my father was doing what I should have known was my mother’s office
if weariness had not left me in a sort of stupor--he was laying on the
board a stout and soldierly supper and a tankard of the red Bordeaux
wine the French traffickers bring to Loch Finne to trade for cured
herring. He would come up now and then where I sat fumbling sleepily at
my belt, and put a hand on my head, a curious unmanly sort of thing I
never knew my father do before, and I felt put-about at this petting,
which would have been more like my sister if ever I had had the luck to
have one.

“You are tired, Colin, my boy?” he said.

“A bit, father, a bit,” I answered; “rough roads you know. I was landed
at break of day at Skipness and--Is mother------?”

“Sit in, _laochain!_ Did you meet many folks on the road?”

“No, sir; as pestilent barren a journey as ever I trotted on, and the
people seemingly on the hill, for their crops are unco late in the

“Ay, ay, lad, so they are,” said my father, pulling back his shoulders a
bit--a fairly straight wiry old man, with a name for good swordsmanship
in his younger days.

I was busy at a cold partridge, and hard at it, when I thought again how
curious it was that my father should be a-foot in the house at such time
of night and no one else about, he so early a bedder for ordinary and
never the last to sneck the outer door.

“Did you expect any one, father,” I asked, “that you should be waiting
up with the collation, and the outer door unsnecked?”

“There was never an outer door snecked since you left, Colin,” said he,
turning awkwardly away and looking hard into the loof of his hand like
a wife spaeing fortunes--for sheer want, I could see, of some engagement
for his eyes. “I could never get away with the notion that some way like
this at night would ye come back to Elngmore.”

“Mother would miss me?”

“She did, Colin, she did; I’m not denying.”

“She’ll be bedded long syne, no doubt, father?”

My father looked at me and gulped at the throat.

“Bedded indeed, poor Colin,” said he, “this very day in the clods of

And that was my melancholy home-coming to my father’s house of Elngmore,
in the parish of Glcnaora, in the shire of Argile.


Every land, every glen or town, I make no doubt, has its own peculiar
air or atmosphere that one familiar with the same may never puzzle about
in his mind, but finds come over him with a waft at odd moments like the
scent of bog-myrtle and tansy in an old clothes-press. Our own air in
Glen Shira had ever been very genial and encouraging to me. Even when
a young lad, coming back from the low country or the scaling of school,
the cool fresh breezes of the morning and the riper airs of the late
afternoon went to my head like a mild white wine; very heartsome too,
rousing the laggard spirit that perhaps made me, before, over-apt to sit
and dream of the doing of grand things instead of putting out a hand to
do them. In Glascow the one thing that I had to grumble most about next
to the dreary hours of schooling was the clammy air of street and close;
in Germanie it was worse, a moist weakening windiness full of foreign
smells, and I’ve seen me that I could gaily march a handful of leagues
to get a sniff of the salt sea. Not that I was one who craved for wrack
and bilge at my nose all the time. What I think best is a stance inland
from the salt water, where the mountain air, brushing over gall and
heather, takes the sting from the sea air, and the two blended give
a notion of the fine variousness of life. We had a herdsman once in
Elrigmore, who could tell five miles up the glen when the tide was out
on Loch Firme. I was never so keen-scented as that, but when I awakened
next day in a camceiled room in Elrigmore, and put my head out at the
window to look around, I smelt the heather for a second like an escapade
in a dream.

Down to Ealan Eagal I went for a plunge in the linn in the old style,
and the airs of Shira Glen hung about me like friends and lovers, so
well acquaint and jovial.

Shira Glen, Shira Glen! if I was bard I’d have songs to sing to it, and
all I know is one sculduddry verse on a widow that dwelt in Maam! There,
at the foot of my father’s house, were the winding river, and north and
south the brown hills, split asunder by God’s goodness, to give a
sample of His bounty. Maam, Elrigmore and Elrigbeg, Kilblaan and Ben
Bhuidhe--their steep sides hung with cattle, and below crowded the
reeking homes of tacksman and cottar; the bums poured hurriedly to the
flat beneath their borders of hazel and ash; to the south, the fresh
water we call Dubh Loch, flapping with ducks and fringed with shelisters
or water-flags and bulrush, and farther off the Cowal hills; to
the north, the wood of Drimlee and the wild pass the red Macgregors
sometimes took for a back-road to our cattle-folds in cloud of night
and darkness. Down on it all shone the polished and hearty sun, birds
chinned on every tree, though it was late in the year; blackcock whirred
across the alders, and sturdy heifers bellowed tunefully, knee-deep at
the ford.

“Far have I wandered,” thought I to myself, “warring other folk’s wars
for the humour of it and small wages, but here’s the one place I’ve seen
yet that was worth hacking good steel for in earnest!”

But still my heart was sore for mother, and sore, too, for the tale of
changed times in Campbell country my father told me over a breakfast of
braddan, fresh caught in a creel from the Gearron river, oaten bannock,
and cream.

After breakfast I got me into my kilt for town. There are many costumes
going about the world, but, with allowance for every one, I make bold
to think our own tartan duds the gallantest of them all. The kilt was my
wear when first I went to Glascow College, and many a St Mungo keelie,
no better than myself at classes or at English language, made fun of
my brown knees, sometimes not to the advantage of his headpiece when
it came to argument and neifs on the Fleshers’ Haugh. Pulling on my old
_breacan_ this morning in Elrigmore was like donning a fairy garb, and
getting back ten years of youth. We have a way of belting on the kilt
in real Argile I have seen nowhere else. Ordinarily, our lads take the
whole web of tartan cloth, of twenty ells or more, and coil it once
round their middle, there belting it, and bring the free end up on the
shoulder to pin with a brooch--not a bad fashion for display and
long marches and for sleeping out on the hill with, but somewhat
discommodious for warm weather. It was our plan sometimes to make what
we called a philabeg, or little kilt, maybe eight yards long, gathered
in at the haunch and hung in many pleats behind, the plain brat part in
front decked off with a leather sporran, tagged with thong points tied
in knots, and with no plaid on the shoulder. I’ve never seen a more
jaunty and suitable garb for campaigning, better by far for short sharp
tulzies with an enemy than the philamore or the big kilt our people
sometimes throw off them in a skirmish, and fight (the coarsest of them)
in their gartered hose and scrugged bonnets.

With my kilt and the memory of old times about me, I went walking down
to Inneraora in the middle of the day. I was prepared for change from
the complaints of my father, but never for half the change I found in
the burgh town of MacCailein Mor. In my twelve foreign years the place
was swamped by incomers, black unwelcome Covenanters from the shires of
Air and Lanrick--Brices, Yuilles, Rodgers, and Richies--all brought up
here by Gillesbeg Gruamach, Marquis of Argile, to teach his clans the
arts of peace and merchandise. Half the folk I met between the arches
and the Big Barns were strangers that seemingly never had tartan on
their hurdies, but settled down with a firm foot in the place, I could
see by the bold look of them as I passed on the plain-stanes of the
street A queer town this on the edge of Loch Finne, and far in the
Highlands! There were shops with Lowland stuffs in them, and over the
doors signboards telling of the most curious trades for a Campbell
burgh--horologers, cordiners, baxters, and such like mechanicks that I
felt sure poor Donald had small call for. They might be incomers, but
they were thirled to Gillesbeg all the same, as I found later on.

It was the court day, and his lordship was sitting in judgment on two
Strathlachlan fellows, who had been brawling at the Cross the week
before and came to knives, more in a frolic than in hot blood, with some
of the town lads. With two or three old friends I went into the Tolbooth
to see the play--for play it was, I must confess, in town Inneraora,
when justice was due to a man whose name by ill-luck was not Campbell,
or whose bonnet-badge was not the myrtle stem.

The Tolbooth hall was, and is to this day, a spacious high-ceiled room,
well lighted from the bay-side. It was crowded soon after we got
in, with Cowalside fishermen and townpeople all the one way or the
other--for or against the poor lads in bilboes, who sat, simple-looking
enough, between the town officers, a pair of old _bodachs_ in long
scarlet coats and carrying _tuaghs_, Lochaber axes, or halberds that
never smelt blood since they came from the smith.

It was the first time ever I saw Gillesbeg Gruamach sitting on the
bench, and I was startled at the look of the man. I’ve seen some sour
dogs in my day--few worse than Ruthven’s rittmasters whom we met in
Swabia--but I never saw a man who, at the first vizzy, had the dour
sour countenance of Archibald, Marquis of Argile and Lord of Lochow.
Gruamach, or grim-faced, our good Gaels called him in a bye-name, and
well he owned it, for over necklace or gorget I’ve seldom seen a sterner
jowl or a more sinister eye. And yet, to be fair and honest, this was
but the notion one got at a first glint; in a while I thought little
was amiss with his looks as he leaned on the table and cracked in a
humoursome laughing way with the paneled jury.

He might have been a plain cottar on Glen Aora side rather than King of
the Highlands for all the airs he assumed, and when he saw me, better
put-on in costume than my neighbours in court, he seemingly asked my
name in a whisper from the clerk beside him, and finding who I was,
cried out in St Andrew’s English--

“What! Young Elrigmore back to the Glens! I give you welcome, sir, to
Baile Inneraora!”

I but bowed, and in a fashion saluted, saying nothing in answer, for
the whole company glowered at me, all except the home-bred ones who had
better manners.

The two MacLachlans denied in the Gaelic the charge the sheriff clerk
read to them in a long farrago of English with more foreign words to it
than ever I learned the sense of in College.

His lordship paid small heed to the witnesses who came forward to
swear to the unruliness of the Strathlachlan men, and the jury talked
heedlessly with one another in a fashion scandalous to see. The man who
had been stabbed--it was but a jag at the shoulder, where the dirk had
gone through from front to back with only some lose of blood--was averse
from being hard on the panels. He was a jocular fellow with the right
heart for a duello, and in his nipped burgh Gaelic he made light of the
disturbance and his injury.

“Nothing but a bit play, my jurymen--MacCailein--my lordship--a bit
play. If the poor lad didn’t happen to have his dirk out and I to run on
it, nobody was a bodle the worse.”

“But the law”--started the clerk to say.

“No case for law at all,” said the man. “It’s an honest brawl
among friends, and I could settle the account with them at the next
market-day, when my shoulder’s mended.”

“Better if you would settle my account for your last pair of brogues,
Alasdair M’Iver,” said a black-avised juryman.

“What’s your trade?” asked the Marquis of the witness.

“I’m at the Coillebhraid silver-mines,” said he. “We had a little
too much drink, or these MacLachlan gentlemen and I had never come to

The Marquis gloomed at the speaker and brought down his fist with a bang
on the table before him.

“Damn those silver-mines!” said he; “they breed more trouble in this
town of mine than I’m willing to thole. If they put a penny in my purse
it might not be so irksome, but they plague me sleeping and waking, and
I’m not a plack the richer. If it were not to give my poor cousin, John
Splendid, a chance of a living and occupation for his wits, I would
drown them out with the water of Cromalt Burn.”

The witness gave a little laugh, and ducking his head oddly like one
taking liberties with a master, said, “We’re a drouthy set, my lord,
at the mines, and I wouldn’t be saying but what we might drink them dry
again of a morning, if we had been into town the night before.”

His lordship cut short his sour smile at the man’s fancy, and bade the
officers on with the case.

“You have heard the proof,” he said to the jury when it came to his turn
to charge them. “Are they guilty, or not? If the question was put to me
I should say the Laird of MacLachlan, arrant Papist! should keep his men
at home to Mass on the other side of the loch instead of loosing them
on honest, or middling honest, Campbells, for the strict virtue of these
Coillebhraid miners is what I am not going to guarantee.”

Of course the fellows were found guilty--one of stabbing, the other of
art and part--for MacLachlan was no friend of MacCailein Mor, and as
little friend to the merchant burghers of Inneraora, for he had the poor
taste to buy his shop provand from the Lamont towns of Low Cowal.

“A more unfriendly man to the Laird of MacLachlan might be for hanging
you on the gibbet at the town-head,” said his lordship to the prisoners,
spraying ink-sand idly on the clean page of a statute-book as he
spoke; “but our three trees upbye are leased just now to other
tenants,--Badenoch hawks a trifle worse than yourselves, and more

The men looked stupidly about them, knowing not one word of his
lordship’s English, and he was always a man who disdained to converse
much in Erse. He looked a little cruelly at them and went on.

“Perhaps clipping your lugs might be the bonniest way of showing you
what we think of such on-goings in honest Inneraora; or getting the
Doomster to bastinado you up and down the street But we’ll try what a
fortnight in the Tolbooth may do to amend your visiting manners. Take
them away, officers.”

“_Abair moran taing_--say ‘many thanks’ to his lordship,” whispered
one of the red-coat halberdiers in the ear of the bigger of the two
prisoners. I could hear the command distinctly where I sat, well back in
the court, and so no doubt could Gillesbeg Gruamach, but he was used to
such obsequious foolishness and he made no dissent or comment.

“_Taing! taing!_” said one spokesman of the two MacLachlans in his
hurried Cowal Gaelic, and his neighbour, echoing him word for word in
the comic fashion they have in these parts; “_Taing! taing!_ I never
louted to the horseman that rode over me yet, and I would be ill-advised
to start with the Gruamach one!”

The man’s face flushed up as he spoke. It’s a thing I’ve noticed about
our own poor Gaelic men: speaking before them in English or Scots, their
hollow look and aloofness would give one the notion that they lacked
sense and sparkle; take the muddiest-looking among them and challenge
him in his own tongue, and you’ll find his face fill with wit and

I was preparing to leave the court-room, having many people to call on
in Inneraora, and had turned with my two friends to the door, when a
fellow brushed in past us--a Highlander, I could see, but in trews--and
he made to go forward into the body of the court, as if to speak to
his lordship, now leaning forward in a cheerful conversation with
the Provost of the burgh, a sonsy gentleman in a peruke and figured

“Who is he, this bold fellow?” I asked one of my friends, pausing with
a foot on the door-step, a little surprised at the want of reverence to
MacCailein in the man’s bearing.

“Iain Aluinn--John Splendid,” said my friend. We were talking in the
Gaelic, and he made a jocular remark there is no English for. Then he
added, “A poor cousin of the Marquis, a M’Iver Campbell (_on the wrong
side_), with little schooling, but some wit and gentlemanly parts. He
has gone through two fortunes in black cattle, fought some fighting
here and there, and now he manages the silver-mines so adroitly that
Gillesbeg Gruamach is ever on the brink of getting a big fortune, but
never done launching out a little one instead to keep the place going. A
decent soul the Splendid! throughither a bit, and better at promise than
performance, but at the core as good as gold, and a fellow you would
never weary of though you tramped with him in a thousand glens. We call
him Splendid, not for his looks but for his style.”

The object of my friend’s description was speaking into the ear of
MacCailein Mor by this time, and the Marquis’s face showed his tale was
interesting, to say the least of it.

We waited no more, but went out into the street I was barely two closes
off from the Tolbooth when a messenger came running after me, sent by
the Marquis, who asked if I would oblige greatly by waiting till he
made up on me. I went back, and met his lordship with his kinsman and
mine-manager coming out of the court-room together into the lobby that
divided the place from the street.

“Oh, Elrigmore!” said the Marquis, in an offhand jovial and equal
way; “I thought you would like to meet my cousin here--M’Iver of the
Barbreck; something of a soldier like yourself, who has seen service in
Lowland wars.”

“In the Scots Brigade, sir?” I asked M’lver, eyeing him with greater
interest than ever. He was my senior by about a dozen years seemingly, a
neat, well-built fellow, clean-shaven, a little over the middle height,
carrying a rattan in his hand, though he had a small sword tucked under
the skirt of his coat.

“With Lumsden’s regiment,” he said. “His lordship here has been telling
me you have just come home from the field.”

“But last night. I took the liberty while Inneraora was snoring. You
were before my day in foreign service, and yet I thought I knew by
repute every Campbell that ever fought for the hard-won dollars of
Gustavus even before my day. There were not so many of them from the
West Country.”

“I trailed a pike privately,” laughed M’lver, “and for the honour of
Clan Diarmaid I took the name Munro. My cousin here cares to have none
of his immediate relatives make a living by steel at any rank less than
a cornal’s, or a major’s at the very lowest Frankfort, and Landsberg,
and the stark field of Leipzig were the last I saw of foreign battles,
and the God’s truth is they were my bellyful. I like a bit splore, but
give it to me in our old style, with the tartan instead of buff, and the
target for breastplate and taslets. I came home sick of wars.”

“Our friend does himself injustice, my dear Elrigmore,” said Argile,
smiling; “he came home against his will, I have no doubt, and I know he
brought back with him a musketoon bullet in the hip, that couped him by
the heels down in Glassary for six months.”

“The result,” M’Iver hurried to exclaim, but putting out his breast with
a touch of vanity, “of a private _rencontre_, an affair of my own with
a Reay gentleman, and not to be laid to my credit as part of the war’s
scaith at all.”

“You conducted your duello in odd style under Lums-den, surely,” said I,
“if you fought with powder and ball instead of steel, which is more of
a Highlander’s weapon to my way of thinking. All our affairs in the Reay
battalion were with claymore--sometimes with targe, sometimes wanting.”

“This was a particular business of our own,” laughed John Splendid (as I
may go on to call M’lver, for it was the name he got oftenest behind
and before in Argile). “It was less a trial of valour than a wager about
which had the better skill with the musket. If I got the bullet in my
groin, I at least showed the Mackay gentleman in question that an Argile
man could handle arquebus as well as _arme blanche_ as we said in the
France. I felled my man at one hundred and thirty paces, with six to
count from a ritt-master’s signal. Blow, present, God sain Mackay’s
soul! But I’m not given to braggadocio.”

“Not a bit, cousin,” said the Marquis, looking quizzingly at me.

“I could not make such good play with the gun against a fort gable at so
many feet,” said I.

“You could, sir, you could,” said John Splendid in an easy, offhand,
flattering way, that gave me at the start of our acquaintance the whole
key to his character. “I’ve little doubt you could allow me half-a-dozen
paces and come closer on the centre of the target.”

By this time we were walking down the street, the Marquis betwixt the
pair of us commoners, and I to the left side. Lowlanders and Highlanders
quickly got out of the way before us and gave us the crown of the
causeway. The main part of them the Marquis never let his eye light on;
he kept his nose cocked in the air in the way I’ve since found peculiar
to his family. It was odd to me that had in wanderings got to look on
all honest men as equal (except Camp-Master Generals and Pike Colonels),
to see some of his lordship’s poor clansmen cringing before him. Here
indeed was the leaven of your low-country scum, for in all the broad
Highlands wandering before and since I never saw the like! “Blood of my
blood, brother of my name!” says our good Gaelic old-word: it made no
insolents in camp or castle, yet it kept the poorest clansmen’s head
up before the highest chief. But there was, even in Baile Inneraora,
sinking in the servile ways of the incomer, something too of honest
worship in the deportment of the people. It was sure enough in the
manner of an old woman with a face peat-tanned to crinkled leather who
ran out of the Vennel or lane, and, bending to the Marquis his lace
wrist-bands, kissed them as I’ve seen Papists do the holy duds in Notre
Dame and Bruges Kirk.

This display before me, something of a stranger, a little displeased
Gillesbeg Gruamach. “Tut, tut!” he cried in Gaelic to the _cailltach_,
“thou art a foolish old woman!”

“God keep thee, MacCailein!” said she; “thy daddy put his hand on my
head like a son when he came back from his banishment in Spain, and I
keened over thy mother dear when she died. The hair of Peggy Bheg’s head
is thy door-mat, and her son’s blood is thy will for a foot-bath.”

“Savage old harridan!” cried the Marquis, jerking away; but I could see
he was not now unpleased altogether that a man new from the wide world
and its ways should behold how much he was thought of by his people.

He put his hands in a friendly way on the shoulders of us on either hand
of him, and brought us up a bit round turn, facing him at a stand-still
opposite the door of the English kirk. To this day I mind well the
rumour of the sea that came round the corner.

“I have a very particular business with both you gentlemen,” he said.
“My friend here, M’Iver, has come hot-foot to tell me of a rumour that
a body of Irish banditry under Alasdair MacDonald, the MacColkitto as
we call him, has landed somewhere about Kinlochaline or Knoydart This
portends damnably, if I, an elder ordained of this kirk, may say so.
We have enough to do with the Athole gentry and others nearer home. It
means that I must on with plate and falchion again, and out on the weary
road for war I have little stomach for, to tell the truth.”

“You’re able for the best of them, MacCailein,” cried John Splendid, in
a hot admiration. “For a scholar you have as good judgment on the field
and as gallant a seat on the saddle as any man ever I saw in haberschone
and morion. With your schooling I could go round the world conquering.”

“Ah! flatterer, flatterer! Ye have all the guile of the tongue our
enemies give Clan Campbell credit for, and that I wish I had a little
more of. Still and on, it’s no time for fair words. Look! Elrigmore.
You’ll have heard of our kittle state in this shire for the past ten
years, and not only in this shire but all over the West Highlands. I
give you my word I’m no sooner with the belt off me and my chair pulled
in to my desk and papers than its some one beating a point of war or a
piper blowing the warning under my window. To look at my history for the
past few years any one might think I was Dol’ Gorm himself, fight and
plot, plot and fight! How can I help it--thrust into this hornets’ nest
from the age of sixteen, when my father (_beannachd leis!_) took me out
warring against the islesmen, and I only in the humour for playing at
shinty or fishing like the boys on the moor-lochs behind the town. I
would sooner be a cottar in Auchnagoul down there, with porridge for my
every meal, than constable, chastiser, what not, or whatever I am, of
all these vexed Highlands. Give me my book in my closet, or at worst let
me do my country’s work in a courtier’s way with brains, and I would ask
no more.”

“Except Badenoch and Nether Lochaber--fat land, fine land, MacCailein!”
 said John Splendid, laughing cunningly.

“You’re an ass, John,” he said; “picking up the countryside’s gossip. I
have no love for the Athole and Great Glen folks as ye ken; but I could
long syne have got letters of fire and sword that made Badenoch and
Nether Lochaber mine if I had the notion. Don’t interrupt me with your
nonsense, cousin; I’m telling Elrigmore here, for he’s young and has
skill of civilised war, that there may, in very few weeks, be need of
every arm in the parish or shire to baulk Colkitto. The MacDonald and
other malignants have been robbing high and low from Lochow to Loch
Finne this while back; I have hanged them a score a month at the
town-head there, but that’s dealing with small affairs, and I’m sore
mistaken if we have not cruel times to come.”

“Well, sir,” I said, “what can I do?”

The Marquis bit his moustachio and ran a spur on the ground for a little
without answering, as one in a quandary, and then he said, “You’re no
vassal of mine, Baron” (as if he were half sorry for it), “but all you
Glen Shira folk are well disposed to me and mine, and have good cause,
though that Macnachtan fellow’s a Papisher. What I had in my mind was
that I might count on you taking a company of our fencible men, as John
here is going to do, and going over-bye to Lorn with me to cut off those
Irish blackguards of Alasdair MacDonald’s from joining Montrose.”

For some minutes I stood turning the thing over in my mind, being
by nature slow to take on any scheme of high emprise without some
scrupulous balancing of chances. Half-way up the closes, in the dusk,
and in their rooms, well back from the windows, or far up the street,
all aloof from his Majesty MacCailein Mor, the good curious people
of Inneraora watched us. They could little guess the pregnancy of our
affairs. For me, I thought how wearily I had looked for some rest from
wars, at home in Glen Shira after my years of foreign service. Now that
I was here, and my mother no more, my old father needed me on hill and
field, and Argile’s quarrel was not my quarrel until Argile’s enemies
were at the foot of Ben Bhuidhe or coming all boden in fier of war
up the pass of Shira Glen. I liked adventure, and a captaincy was a
captaincy, but----

“Is it boot and saddle at once, my lord?” I asked.

“It must be that or nothing. When a viper’s head is coming out of
a hole, crunch it incontinent, or the tail may be more than you can

“Then, my lord,” said I, “I must cry off. On this jaunt at least. It
would be my greatest pleasure to go with you and my friend M’lver,
not to mention all the good fellows I’m bound to know in rank in
your regiment, but for my duty to my father and one or two other
considerations that need not be named. But--if this be any use--I give
my word that should MacDonald or any other force come this side the
passes at Accurach Hill, or anywhere east Lochow, my time and steel are

MacCailein Mor looked a bit annoyed, and led us at a fast pace up to
the gate of the castle that stood, high towered and embrasured for heavy
pieces, stark and steeve above town Inneraora. A most curious, dour,
and moody man, with a mind roving from key to key. Every now and then
he would stop and think a little without a word, then on, and run his
fingers through his hair or fumble nervously at his leathern buttons,
paying small heed to the Splendid and I, who convoyed him, so we got
into a crack about the foreign field of war.

“Quite right, Elrigmore, quite right!” at last cried the Marquis,
pulling up short, and looked me plump in the eyes. “Bide at hame while
bide ye may. I would never go on this affair myself if by God’s grace I
was not Marquis of Argile and son of a house with many bitter foes. But,
hark ye! a black day looms for these our home-lands if ever Montrose
and those Irish dogs get through our passes. For twenty thousand pounds
Saxon I would not have the bars off the two roads of Accurach! And I
thank you, Elrigmore, that at the worst I can count on your service at
home. We may need good men here on Loch Finneside as well as farther
afield, overrun as we are by the blackguardism of the North and the
Papist clans around us. Come in, friends, and have your meridian. I have
a flagon of French brown brandy you never tasted the equal of in any
town you sacked in all Low Germanie.”


John Splendid looked at me from the corner of an eye as we came out
again and daundered slowly down the town.

“A queer one yon!” said he, as it were feeling his way with a
rapier-point at my mind about his Marquis.

“Do you tell me?” I muttered, giving him parry of low quarte like a good
swordsman, and he came to the recover with a laugh.

“Foil, Elrigmore!” he cried. “But we’re soldiers and lads of the world,
and you need hardly be so canny. You see MacCailein’s points as well as
I do. His one weakness is the old one--books, books,--the curse of the
Highlands and every man of spirit, say I. He has the stuff in him by
nature, for none can deny Clan Diarmaid courage and knightliness; but
for four generations court, closet, and college have been taking the
heart out of our chiefs. Had our lordship in-bye been sent a fostering
in the old style, brought up to the chase and the sword and manly
comportment, he would not have that wan cheek this day, and that
swithering about what he must be at next!”

“You forget that I have had the same ill-training,” I said (in no bad
humour, for I followed his mind). “I had a touch of Glascow College

“Yes, yes,” he answered quickly; “you had that, but by all accounts it
did you no harm. You learned little of what they teach there.”

This annoyed me, I confess, and John Splendid was gleg enough to see it

“I mean,” he added, “you caught no fever for paper and ink, though you
may have learned many a quirk I was the better of myself. I could never
even write my name; and I’ve kept compt of wages at the mines with a
pickle chuckie-stones.”

“That’s a pity,” says I, drily.

“Oh, never a bit,” says he, gaily, or at any rate with a way as if to
carry it off vauntingly. “I can do many things as well as most, and a
few others colleges never learned me. I know many winter tales, from
‘Minochag and Morag’ to ‘The Shifty Lad’; I can make passable poetry by
word of mouth; I can speak the English and the French, and I have seen
enough of courtiers to know that half their canons are to please and
witch the eye of women in a way that I could undertake to do by my looks
alone and some good-humour. Show me a beast on hill or in glen I have
not the history of; and if dancing, singing, the sword, the gun, the
pipes--ah, not the pipes,--it’s my one envy in the world to play the
bagpipes with some show of art and delicacy, and I cannot. Queer is
that, indeed, and I so keen on them! I would tramp right gaily a night
and a day on end to hear a scholar fingering ‘The Glen is Mine.’”

There was a witless vanity about my friend that sat on him almost like
a virtue. He made parade of his crafts less, I could see, because he
thought much of them, than because he wanted to keep himself on an
equality with me. In the same way, as I hinted before, he never, in all
the time of our wanderings after, did a thing well before me but he bode
to keep up my self-respect by maintaining that I could do better, or at
least as good.

“Books, I say,” he went on, as we clinked heels on the causeway-stones,
and between my little bit cracks with old friends in the by-going,--
“books, I say, have spoiled Mac-Cailein’s stomach. Ken ye what he told me
once? That a man might readily show more valour in a conclusion come
to in the privacy of his bed-closet than in a victory won on the field.
That’s what they teach by way of manly doctrine down there in the
new English church, under the pastorage of Maister Alexander Gordon,
chaplain to his lordship and minister to his lordship’s people! It must
be the old Cavalier in me, but somehow (in your lug) I have no broo of
those Covenanting cattle from the low country--though Gordon’s a good
soul, there’s no denying.”

“Are you Catholic?” I said, in a surprise.

“What are you yourself?” he asked, and then he flushed, for he saw
a little smile in my face at the transparency of his endeavour to be
always on the pleasing side.

“To tell the truth,” he said, “I’m depending on salvation by reason of a
fairly good heart, and an eagerness to wrong no man, gentle or semple. I
love my fellows, one and all, not offhand as the Catechism enjoins, but
heartily, and I never saw the fellow, carl or king, who, if ordinary
honest and cheerful, I could not lie heads and thraws with at a
camp-fire. In matters of strict ritual, now,--ha--urn!”

“Out with it, man!” I cried, laughing.

“I’m like Parson Kilmalieu upbye. You’ve heard of him--easy-going soul,
and God sain him! When it came to the bit, he turned the holy-water font
of Kilcatrine blue-stone upside-down, scooped a hole in the bottom,
and used the new hollow for Protestant baptism. ‘There’s such a throng
about heaven’s gate,’ said he, ‘that it’s only a mercy to open two;’
and he was a good and humour-some Protestant-Papist till the day he went
under the flagstones of his chapel upbye.”

Now here was not a philosophy to my mind. I fought in the German wars
less for the kreutzers than for a belief (never much studied out,
but fervent) that Protestantism was the one good faith, and that
her ladyship of Babylon, that’s ever on the ran-don, cannot
have her downfall one day too soon. You dare not be playing
corners-change-corners with religion as you can with the sword of what
the ill-bred have called a mercenary (when you come to ponder on’t, the
swords of patriot or paid man are both for selfish ends unsheathed); and
if I set down here word for word what John Splendid said, it must not be
thought to be in homologation on my part of such latitudinarianism.

I let him run on in this key till we came to the change-house of a
widow--one Fraser--and as she curtsied at the door, and asked if the
braw gentlemen would favour her poor parlour, we went in and tossed a
quaich or two of aqua, to which end she set before us a little brown
bottle and two most cunningly contrived and carven cups made of the
Coillebhraid silver.

The houses in Inneraora were, and are, built all very much alike, on
a plan I thought somewhat cosy and genteel, ere ever I went abroad and
learned better. I do not even now deny the cosiness of them, but of
the genteelity it were well to say little. They were tall lands or
tenements, three storeys high, with through-going closes, or what the
English might nominate passages, running from front to back, and leading
at their midst to stairs, whereby the occupants got to their domiciles
in the flats above. Curved stairs they were, of the same blue-stone the
castle is built of, and on their landings at each storey they branched
right and left to give access to the single apartments or rooms and
kitchens of the residenters. Throng tenements they are these, even yet,
giving, as I write, clever children to the world. His Grace nowadays
might be granting the poor people a little more room to grow in, some
soil for their kail, and a better prospect from their windows than the
whitewashed wall of the opposite land; but in the matter of air there
was and is no complaint The sea in stormy days came bellowing to the
very doors, salt and stinging, tremendous blue and cold. Staying in town
of a night, I used to lie awake in my relative’s, listening to the
spit of the waves on the window-panes and the grumble of the tide, that
rocked the land I lay in till I could well fancy it was a ship. Through
the closes the wind ever stalked like something fierce and blooded,
rattling the iron snecks with an angry finger, breathing beastily at
the hinge, and running back a bit once in a while to leap all the harder
against groaning lintel and post.

The change-house of the widow was on the ground-flat, a but and ben, the
ceilings arched with stone--a strange device in masonry you’ll seldom
find elsewhere, Highland or Lowland. But she had a garret-room up two
stairs where properly she abode, the close flat being reserved for trade
of vending _uisgebeatha_ and ale. I describe all this old place so fully
because it bears on a little affair that happened therein on that day
John Splendid and I went in to clink glasses.

The widow had seen that neither of us was very keen on her aqua, which,
as it happened, was raw new stuff brewed over at Karnes, Lochow, and she
asked would we prefer some of her brandy.

“After his lordship’s it might be something of a down-come,” said John
Splendid, half to me and half to the woman.

She caught his meaning, though he spoke in the English; and in our own
tongue, laughing toothlessly, she said--

“The same stilling, Barbreck, the same stilling I make no doubt
MacCailein gets his brown brandy by my brother’s cart from French
Foreland; it’s a rough road, and sometimes a bottle or two spills on
the way. I’ve a flagon up in a cupboard in my little garret, and I’ll go
fetch it.”

She was over-old a woman to climb three steep stairs for the sake of
two young men’s drought, and I (having always some regard for the frail)
took the key from her hand and went, as was common enough with her
younger customers, seeking my own liquor up the stair.

In those windy flights in the fishing season there is often the close
smell of herring-scale, of bow tar and the bark-tan of the fishing nets;
but this stair I climbed for the wherewithal was unusually sweet-odoured
and clean, because on the first floor was the house of Provost Brown--a
Campbell and a Gael, but burdened by accident with a Lowland-sounding
cognomen. He had the whole flat to himself--half-a-dozen snug apartments
with windows facing the street or the sea as he wanted. I was just at
the head of the first flight when out of a door came a girl, and I clean
forgot all about the widow’s flask of French brandy.

Little more than twelve years syne the Provost’s daughter had been a
child at the grammar-school, whose one annoyance in life was that the
dominie called her Betsy instead of Betty, her real own name: here she
was, in the flat of her father’s house in Inneraora town, a full-grown
woman, who gave me check in my stride and set my face flaming. I took
in her whole appearance at one glance--a way we have in foreign armies.
Between my toe on the last step of the stair and the landing I read
the picture: a well-bred woman, from her carriage, the neatness of her
apparel, the composure of her pause to let me bye in the narrow passage
to the next stair; not very tall (I have ever had a preference for
such as come no higher than neck and oxter); very dark brown hair, eyes
sparkling, a face rather pale than ruddy, soft skinned, full of a keen

In this matter of a woman’s eyes--if I may quit the thread of my
history--I am a trifle fastidious, and I make bold to say that
the finest eyes in the world are those of the Highland girls of
Argile--burgh or landward--the best bred and gentlest of them, I mean:
There is in them a full and melting friendliness, a mixture to my
sometimes notion of poetry and of calm--a memory, as I’ve thought
before, of the deep misty glens and their sights and secrets. I have
seen more of the warm heart and merriment in a simple Loch Finne girl’s
eyes than in all the faces of all the grand dames ever I looked on,
Lowland or foreign.

What pleased me first and foremost about this girl Betty, daughter
of Provost Brown, were her eyes, then, that showed, even in yon dusky
passage, a humoursome interest in young Elrigmore in a kilt coming
up-stairs swinging on a finger the key of Lucky Fraser’s garret. She
hung back doubtfully, though she knew me (I could see) for her old
school-fellow and sometime boy-lover, but I saw something of a welcome
in the blush at her face, and I gave her no time to chill to me.

“Betty lass, ‘tis you,” said I, putting out a hand and shaking her
soft fingers. “What think you of my ceremony in calling at the earliest
chance to pay my devoirs to the Provost of this burgh and his daughter?”

I put the key behind my back to give colour a little to my words; but
my lady saw it and jumped at my real errand on the stair, with that
quickness ever accompanying eyes of the kind I have mentioned.

“Ceremony here, devoir there!” said she, smiling, “there was surely no
need for a key to our door, Elrigmore---”

“Colin, Mistress Brown, plain Colin, if you please.”

“Colin, if you will, though it seems daftlike to be so free with a
soldier of twelve years’ fortune. You were for the widow’s garret Does
some one wait on you below?”

“John Splendid.”

“My mother’s in-bye. She will be pleased to see you back again if you
and your friend call. After you’ve paid the lawing,” she added, smiling
like a rogue.

“That will we,” said I; but I hung on the stair-head, and she leaned on
the inner sill of the stair window.

We got into a discourse upon old days, that brought a glow to my heart
the brandy I forgot had never brought to my head. We talked of school,
and the gay days in wood and field, of our childish wanderings on the
shore, making sand-keps and stone houses, herding the crabs of God--so
little that bairns dare not be killing them, of venturings to sea many
ells out in the fishermen’s coracles, of journeys into the brave deep
woods that lie far and wide round Inneraora, seeking the branch for the
Beltane fire; of nutting in the hazels of the glens, and feasts upon
the berry on the brae. Later, the harvest-home and the dance in green or
barn when I was at almost my man’s height, with the pluck to put a bare
lip to its apprenticeship on a woman’s cheek; the songs at _ceilidh_
fires, the telling of _sgeulachdan_ and fairy tales up on the mountain

“Let me see,” said I; “when I went abroad, were not you and one of the
Glenaora Campbells chief?”

I said it as if the recollection had but sprung to me, while the truth
is I had thought on it often in camp and field, with a regret that the
girl should throw herself off on so poor a partner.

She laughed merrily with her whole soul in the business, and her face
without art or pretence--a fashion most wholesome to behold.

“He married some one nearer him in years long syne,” said she. “You
forget I was but a bairn when we romped in the hay-dash.” And we
buckled to the crack again, I more keen on it than ever. She was a most
marvellous fine girl, and I thought her (well I mind me now) like the
blue harebell that nods upon our heather hills.

We might, for all I dreamt of the widow’s brandy, have been conversing
on the stair-head yet, and my story had a different conclusion, had
not a step sounded on the stair, and up banged John Splendid, his
sword-scabbard clinking against the wall of the stair with the haste of

“Set a cavalier at the side of an anker of brandy,” he cried, “an----”

Then he saw he was in company. He took off his bonnet with a sweep I’ll
warrant he never learned anywhere out of France, and plunged into the
thick of our discourse with a query.

“At your service, Mistress Brown,” said he. “Half my errand to town
to-day was to find if young MacLach-lan, your relative, is to be at the
market here to-morrow. If so----”

“He is,” said Betty.

“Will he be intending to put up here all night, then?”

“He comes to supper at least,” said she, “and his biding overnight is
yet to be settled.”

John Splendid toyed with the switch in his hand in seeming abstraction,
and yet as who was pondering on how to put an unwelcome message in
plausible language.

“Do you know,” said he at last to the girl, in a low voice, for fear his
words should reach the ears of her mother in-bye, “I would as well see
MacLachlan out of town the morn’s night. There’s a waft of cold airs
about this place not particularly wholesome for any of his clan or name.
So much I would hardly care to say to himself; but he might take it
from you, madam, that the other side of the loch is the safest place for
sound sleep for some time to come.”

“Is it the MacNicolls you’re thinking of?” asked the girl.

“That same, my dear.”

“You ken,” he went on, turning fuller round to me, to tell a story he
guessed a new-comer was unlikely to know the ins and outs of--“you ken
that one of the MacLachlans, a cousin-german of old Lachie the chief,
came over in a boat to Braleckan a few weeks syne on an old feud, and
put a bullet into a Mac Nicoll, a peaceable lad who was at work in a
field. Gay times, gay times, aren’t they? From behind a dyke wall too--a
far from gentlemanly escapade even in a MacLa---- Pardon, mistress;
I forgot your relationship, but this was surely a very low dog of his
kind. Now from that day to this the murtherer is to find; there are some
to say old Lachie could put his hand on him at an hour’s notice if he
had the notion. But his lordship, Justiciar-General, upbye, has sent his
provost-marshal with letters of arrest to the place in vain. Now here’s
my story. The MacNicolls of Elrig have joined cause with their cousins
and namesakes of Braleckan; there’s a wheen of both to be in the town
at the market to-morrow, and if young Mac-Lachlan bides in this house of
yours overnight, Mistress Betty Brown, you’ll maybe have broken delf and
worse ere the day daw.”

Mistress Brown took it very coolly; and as for me, I was thinking of a
tiny brown mole-spot she used to have low on the white of her neck when
I put daisy-links on her on the summers we played on the green, and
wondering if it was still to the fore and hid below her collar. In by
the window came the saucy breeze and kissed her on a curl that danced
above her ear.

“I hope there will be no lawlessness here,” said she: “whether he goes
or bides, surely the burghers of Inner-aora will not quietly see their
Provost’s domicile invaded by brawlers.”

“Exactly so,” said John Splendid, drily. “Nothing may come of it, but
you might mention the affair to MacLachlan if you have the chance. For
me to tell him would be to put him in the humour for staying--dour fool
that he is--out of pure bravado and defiance. To tell the truth, I would
bide myself in such a case. ‘Thole feud’ is my motto. My granddad writ
it on his sword-blade in clear round print letters I’ve often marvelled
at the skill of. If it’s your will, Elrigmore, we may be doing without
the brandy, and give the house-dame a call now.”

We went in and paid our duties to the goodwife--a silver-haired dame
with a look of Betty in every smile.


Writing all this old ancient history down, I find it hard to riddle out
in my mind the things that have really direct and pregnant bearing on
the matter in hand. I am tempted to say a word or two anent my Lord
Marquis’s visit to my father, and his vain trial to get me enlisted
into his corps for Lorn. Something seems due, also, to be said about the
kindness I found from all the old folks of Inneraora, ever proud to
see a lad of their own of some repute come back among them; and of my
father’s grieving about his wae widowerhood: but these things must stand
by while I narrate how there arose a wild night in town Inneraora, with
the Highlandmen from the glens into it with dirk and sword and steel
Doune pistols, the flambeaux flaring against the tall lands, and the
Lowland burghers of the place standing up for peace and tranquil sleep.

The market-day came on the morning after the day John Splendid and I
foregathered with my Lord Archibald. It was a smaller market than usual,
by reason of the troublous times; but a few black and red cattle came
from the landward part of the parish and Knapdale side, while Lochow
and Bredalbane sent hoof nor horn. There was never a blacker sign of
the time’s unrest But men came from many parts of the shire, with
their chieftains or lairds, and there they went clamping about this
Lowland-looking town like foreigners. I counted ten tartans in as many
minutes between the cross and the kirk, most of them friendly with
MacCailein Mor, but a few, like that of MacLachlan of that ilk, at
variance, and the wearers with ugly whingers or claymores at their
belts. Than those MacLachlans one never saw a more barbarous-looking
set. There were a dozen of them in the tail or retinue of old Lachie’s
son--a henchman, piper, piper’s valet, _gille-mor_, _gille_ wet-sole, or
running footman, and such others as the more vain of our Highland gentry
at the time ever insisted on travelling about with, all stout junky men
of middle size, bearded to the brows, wearing flat blue bonnets with a
pervenke plant for badge on the sides of them, on their feet deerskin
brogues with the hair out, the rest of their costume all belted tartan,
and with arms clattering about them. With that proud pretence which is
common in our people when in strange unfamiliar occasions--and I would
be the last to dispraise it--they went about by no means braggardly but
with the aspect of men who had better streets and more shops to show
at home; surprised at nothing in their alert moments, but now and again
forgetting their dignity and looking into little shop-windows with the
wonder of bairns and great gabbling together, till MacLachlan fluted on
his whistle, and they came, like good hounds, to heel.

All day the town hummed with Gaelic and the round bellowing of cattle.
It was clear warm weather, never a breath of wind to stir the gilding
trees behind the burgh. At ebb-tide the sea-beach whitened and smoked
in the sun, and the hot air quivered over the stones and the crisping
wrack. In such a season the bustling town in the heart of the stem
Highlands seemed a fever spot. Children came boldly up to us for
fairings or gifts, and they strayed--the scamps!--behind the droves and
thumped manfully on the buttocks of the cattle. A constant stream of men
passed in and out at the change-house closes and about the Fisherland
tenements, where seafarers and drovers together sang the maddest
love-ditties in the voices of roaring bulls; beating the while with
their feet on the floor in our foolish Gaelic fashion, or, as one could
see through open windows, rugging and riving at the corners of a plaid
spread between them,--a trick, I daresay, picked up from women, who at
the waulking or washing of woollen cloth new spun, pull out the fabric
to tunes suited to such occasions.

I spent most of the day with John Splendid and one Tearlach Fraser, on
old comrade, and as luck, good or ill, would have it, the small hours of
morning were on me before I thought of going home. By dusk the bulk of
the strangers left the town by the highroads, among them the MacNicolls,
who had only by the cunning of several friends (Splendid as busy as any)
been kept from coming to blows with the MacLachlan tail. Earlier in the
day, by a galley or wherry, the MacLachlans also had left, but not the
young laird, who put up for the night at the house of Provost Brown.

The three of us I have mentioned sat at last playing cartes in the
ferry-house, where a good glass could be had and more tidiness than most
of the hostelries in the place could boast of. By the stroke of midnight
we were the only customers left in the house, and when, an hour after, I
made the move to set out for Glen Shira, John Splendid yoked on me as if
my sobriety were a crime.

“Wait, man, wait, and I’ll give you a convoy up the way,” he would say,
never thinking of the road he had himself to go down to Coillebhraid.

And aye it grew late and the night more still. There would be a foot
going by at first at short intervals, sometimes a staggering one and a
voice growling to itself in Gaelic; and anon the wayfarers were no more,
the world outside in a black and solemn silence. The man who kept the
ferry-house was often enough in the custom of staying up all night to
meet belated boats from Kilcatrine; we were gentrice and good customers,
so he composed himself in a lug chair and dovered in a little room
opening off ours, while we sat fingering the book. Our voices as we
called the cartes seemed now and then to me like a discourtesy to the
peace and order of the night.

“I must go,” said I a second time.

“Another one game,” cried John Splendid. He had been winning every bout,
but with a reluctance that shone honestly on his face, and I knew it was
to give Tearlach and me a chance to better our reputation that he would
have us hang on.

“You have hard luck indeed,” he would say. Or, “You played that trick as
few could do it” Or, “Am not I in the key to-night? there’s less craft
than luck here.” And he played even slovenly once or twice, flushing,
we could read, lest we should see the stratagem. At these times, by the
curious way of chance, he won more surely than ever.

“I must be going,” I said again. And this time I put the cartes bye,
firmly determined that my usual easy and pliant mood in fair company
would be my own enemy no more.

“Another chappin of ale,” said he. “Tearlach, get Elrigmore to bide
another bit. Tuts, the night’s but young, the chap of two and a fine
clear clean air with a wind behind you for Shira Glen.”

“Wheest!” said Tearlach of a sudden, and he put up a hand.

There was a skliffing of feet on the road outside--many feet and wary,
with men’s voices in a whisper caught at the teeth--a sound at that hour
full of menace. Only a moment and then all was by.

“There’s something strange here!” said John Splendid, “let’s out and
see.” He put round his rapier more on the groin, and gave a jerk at the
narrow belt creasing his fair-day crimson vest For me I had only the
dirk to speak of, for the _sgian dubh_ at my leg was a silver toy, and
Tearlach, being a burgh man, had no arm at all. He lay hold on an
oaken shinty stick that hung on the wall, property of the ferry-house
landlord’s son.

Out we went in the direction of the footsteps, round Gillemor’s corner
and the jail, past the Fencibles’ arm-room and into the main street of
the town, that held no light in door or window. There would have been
moon, but a black wrack of clouds filled the heavens. From the kirk
corner we could hear a hushed tumult down at the Provost’s close-mouth.

“Pikes and pistols!” cried Splendid. “Is it not as I said? yonder’s your
MacNicolls for you.”

In a flash I thought of Mistress Betty with her hair down, roused by the
marauding crew, and I ran hurriedly down the street shouting the burgh’s
slogan, “Slochd!”

“Damn the man’s hurry!” said John Splendid, trotting at my heels, and
with Tearlach too he gave lungs to the shout.

“Slochd!” I cried, and “Slochd!” they cried, and the whole town clanged
like a bell. Windows opened here and there, and out popped heads, and

“Murder and thieves!” we cried stoutly again.

“Is’t the Athole dogs?” asked some one in bad English from a window, but
we did not bide to tell him.

“Slochd! slochd! club and steel!” more nimble burghers cried, jumping
out at closes in our rear, and following with neither hose nor brogue,
but the kilt thrown at one toss on the haunch and some weapon in hand.
And the whole wide street was stark awake.

The MacNicolls must have numbered fully threescore. They had only made
a pretence (we learned again) of leaving the town, and had hung on the
riverside till they fancied their attempt at seizing Maclachlan was
secure from the interference of the townfolk. They were packed in a mass
in the close and on the stair, and the foremost were solemnly battering
at the night door at the top of the first flight of stairs, crying,
“_Fuil airson fuil!_--blood for blood, out with young Lachie!”

We fell to on the rearmost with a will, first of all with the bare fist,
for half of this midnight army were my own neighbours in Glen Shira,
peaceable men in ordinary affairs, kirk-goers, law-abiders, though
maybe a little common in the quality, and between them and the mustering
burghers there was no feud. For a while we fought it dourly in the
darkness with the fingers at the throat or the fist in the face, or
wrestled warmly on the plain-stones, or laid out, such as had staves,
with good vigour on the bonneted heads. Into the close we could
not--soon I saw it--push our way, for the enemy filled it--a dense mass
of tartan--stinking with peat and oozing with the day’s debauchery.

“We’ll have him out, if it’s in bits,” they said, and aye upon the
stair-head banged the door.

“No remedy in this way for the folks besieged,” thought I, and stepping
aside I began to wonder how best to aid our friends by strategy rather
than force of arms. All at once I had mind that at the back of the land
facing the shore an outhouse with a thatched roof ran at a high pitch
well up against the kitchen window, and I stepped through a close
farther up and set, at this outhouse, to the climbing, leaving my
friends fighting out in the darkness in a town tumultuous. To get up
over the eaves of the outhouse was no easy task, and I would have failed
without a doubt had not the stratagem of John Splendid come to his aid
a little later than my own and sent him after me. He helped me first on
the roof, and I had him soon beside me. The window lay unguarded (all
the inmates of the house being at the front), and we stepped in and
found ourselves soon in a household vastly calm considering the rabble
dunting on its doors.

“A pot of scalding water and a servant wench at that back-window we came
in by would be a good sneck against all that think of coming after us,”
 said John Splendid, stepping into the passage where we had met Mistress
Betty the day before--now with the stair-head door stoutly barred and
barricaded up with heavy chests and napery-aumries.

“God! I’m glad to see you, sir!” cried the Provost, “and you,
Elrigmore!” He came forward in a trepidation which was shared by few of
the people about him.

Young MacLachlan stood up against the wall facing the barricaded door, a
lad little over twenty, with a steel-grey quarrelsome eye, and there was
more bravado than music in a pipe-tune he was humming in a low key to
himself. A little beyond, at the door of the best room, half in and half
out, stood the goodwife Brown and her daughter. A long-legged lad, of
about thirteen, with a brog or awl was teasing out the end of a flambeau
in preparation to light it for some purpose not to be guessed at, and a
servant lass, pock-marked, with one eye on the pot and the other up the
lum, as we say of a glee or cast, made a storm of lamentation, crying in

“My grief! my grief! what’s to come of poor Peggy?” (Peggy being
herself.) “Nothing for it but the wood and cave and the ravishing of the
Ben Bhuidhe wolves.”

Mistress Betty laughed at her notion, a sign of humour and courage in
her (considering the plight) that fairly took me.

“I daresay, Peggy, they’ll let us be,” she said, coming forward to shake
Splendid and me by the hand. “To keep me in braws and you in ashets to
break would be more than the poor creatures would face, I’m thinking.
You are late in the town, Elrigmore.”

“Colin,” I corrected her, and she bit the inside of her nether lip in a
style that means temper.

“It’s no time for dalliance, I think. I thought you had been up the
glen long syne, but we are glad to have your service in this trouble,
Master--Colin” (with a little laugh and a flush at the cheek), “also
Barbreck. Do you think they mean seriously ill by MacLachlan?”

“Ill enough, I have little doubt,” briskly replied Splendid. “A corps
of MacNicolls, arrant knaves from all airts, worse than the Macaulays
or the Gregarach themselves, do not come banging at the burgh door of
Inner-aora at this uncanny hour for a child’s play. Sir” (he went on,
to MacLachlan), “I mind you said last market-day at Kilmichael, with no
truth to back it, that you could run, shoot, or sing any Campbell ever
put on hose; let a Campbell show you the way out of a bees’-bike. Take
the back-window for it, and out the way we came in. I’ll warrant there’s
not a wise enough (let alone a sober enough) man among all the idiots
battering there who’ll think of watching for your retreat.”

MacLachlan, a most extraordinarily vain and pompous little fellow, put
his bonnet suddenly on his head, scragged it down vauntingly on one
side over the right eye, and stared at John Splendid with a good deal of
choler or hurt vanity.

“Sir,” said he, “this was our affair till you put a finger into it. You
might know me well enough to understand that none of our breed ever took
a back-door if a front offered.”

“Whilk it does not in this case,” said John Splendid, seemingly in a
mood to humour the man. “But I’ll allow there’s the right spirit in the
objection--to begin with in a young lad. When I was your age I had the
same good Highland notion that the hardest way to face the foe was
the handsomest ‘Pallas Armata’ * (is’t that you call the book of arms,
Elrigmore?) tells different; but ‘Pallas Armata’ (or whatever it is) is
for old men with cold blood.”

     * It could hardly be ‘Pallas Armata.’ The narrator
     anticipates Sir James Turner’s ingenious treatise by several
     years.--N. M.

Of a sudden MacLachlan made dart at the chests and pulled them back
from the door with a most surprising vigour of arm before any one could
prevent him. The Provost vainly tried to make him desist; John Splendid
said in English, “Wha will to Cupar maun to Cupar,” and in a jiffy the
last of the barricade was down, but the door was still on two wooden
bars slipping into stout staples. Betty in a low whisper asked me to
save the poor fellow from his own hot temper.

At the minute I grudged him the lady’s consideration--too warm, I
thought, even in a far-out relative, but a look at her face showed she
was only in the alarm of a woman at the thought of any one’s danger.

I caught MacLachlan by the sleeve of his shirt--he had on but that and a
kilt and vest--and jerked him back from his fool’s employment; but I was
a shave late. He ran back both wooden bars before I let him.

With a roar and a display of teeth and steel the MacNicolls came into
the lobby from the crowded stair, and we were driven to the far parlour
end. In the forefront of them was Nicol Beg MacNicoll, the nearest
kinsman of the murdered Braleckan lad. He had a targe on his left arm--a
round buckler of _darach_ or oakwood covered with dun cow-hide, hair
out, and studded in a pleasing pattern with iron bosses--a prong several
inches long in the middle of it Like every other scamp in the pack, he
had dirk out. _Beg_ or little he was in the countryside’s bye-name, but
in truth he was a fellow of six feet, as hairy as a brock and in the
same straight bristly fashion. He put out his arms at full reach to keep
back his clansmen, who were stretching necks at poor MacLachlan like
weasels, him with his nostrils swelling and his teeth biting his bad

“Wait a bit, lads,” said Nicol Beg; “perhaps we may get our friend
here to come peaceably with us. I’m sorry” (he went on, addressing the
Provost) “to put an honest house to rabble at any time, and the Provost
of Inneraora specially, for I’m sure there’s kin’s blood by my mother’s
side between us; but there was no other way to get MacLachlan once his
tail was gone.”

“You’ll rue this, MacNicoll,” fumed the Provost--as red as a bubblyjock
at the face--mopping with a napkin at his neck in a sweat of annoyance;
“you’ll rue it, rue it, rue it!” and he went into a coil of lawyer’s
threats against the invaders, talking of brander-irons and gallows,
hame-sucken and housebreaking.

We were a daft-like lot in that long lobby in a wan candle-light. Over
me came that wonderment that falls on one upon stormy occasions (I mind
it at the sally of Lecheim), when the whirl of life seems to come to a
sudden stop, all’s but wooden dummies and a scene empty of atmosphere,
and between your hand on the basket-hilt and the drawing of the sword
is a lifetime. We could hear at the close-mouth and far up and down the
street the shouting of the burghers, and knew that at the stair-foot
they were trying to pull out the bottom-most of the marauders like tods
from a hole. For a second or two nobody said a word to Nicol MacNicoll’s
remark, for he put the issue so cool (like an invitation to saunter
along the road) that all at once it seemed a matter between him and
MacLachlan alone. I stood between the housebreakers and the women-folk
beside me--John Splendid looking wonderfully ugly for a man fairly clean
fashioned at the face by nature. We left the issue to MacLachlan, and I
must say he came up to the demands of the moment with gentlemanliness,
minding he was in another’s house than his own.

“What is it ye want?” he asked MacNicoll, burring out his Gaelic _r’s_
with punctilio.

“We want you in room of a murderer your father owes us,” said MacNicoll.

“You would slaughter me, then?” said MacLachlan, amazingly undisturbed,
but bringing again to the front, by a motion of the haunch accidental to
look at, the sword he leaned on.

“_Fuil airson fuil!_” cried the rabble on the stairs, and it seemed
ghastly like an answer to the young laird’s question; but Nicol Beg
demanded peace, and assured MacLachlan he was only sought for a hostage.

“We but want your red-handed friend Dark Neil,” said he; “your father
kens his lair, and the hour he puts him in our hands for justice, you’ll
have freedom.”

“Do you warrant me free of scaith?” asked the young laird.

“I’ll warrant not a hair of your head’s touched,” answered Nicol Beg--no
very sound warranty, I thought, from a man who, as he gave it, had to
put his weight back on the eager crew that pushed at his shoulders,
ready to spring like weasels at the throat of the gentleman in the red

He was young, MacLachlan, as I said; for him this was a delicate
situation, and we about him were in no less a quandary than himself. If
he defied the Glen Shira men, he brought bloodshed on a peaceable house,
and ran the same risk of bodily harm that lay in the alternative of his
going with them that wanted him.

Round he turned and looked for guidance--broken just a little at the
pride, you could see by the lower lip. The Provost was the first to meet
him eye for eye.

“I have no opinion, Lachie,” said the old man, snuffing rappee with the
butt of an egg-spoon and spilling the brown dust in sheer nervousness
over the night-shirt bulging above the band of his breeks. “I’m wae to
see your father’s son in such a corner, and all my comfort is that
every tenant in Elrig and Braleckan pays at the Tolbooth or gallows of
Inneraora town for this night’s frolic.”

“A great consolation to think of!” said John Splendid.

The goodwife, a nervous body at her best, sobbed away with her
pock-marked hussy in the parlour, but Betty was to the fore in a passion
of vexation. To her the lad made next his appeal.

“Should I go?” he asked, and I thought he said it more like one who
almost craved to stay. I never saw a woman in such a coil. She looked
at the dark Mac-Nicolls, and syne she looked at the fair-haired young
fellow, and her eyes were swimming, her bosom heaving under her screen
of Campbell tartan, her fingers twisting at the pleated hair that fell
in sheeny cables to her waist.

“If I were a man I would stay, and yet--if you stay---- Oh, poor
Lachlan! I’m no judge,” she cried; “my cousin, my dear cousin!” and over
brimmed her tears.

All this took less time to happen than it tikes to tell with pen and
ink, and though there may seem in reading it to be too much palaver on
this stair-head, it was but a minute or two, after the bar was off the
door, that John Splendid took me by the coat-lapel and back a bit to
whisper in my ear--

“If he goes quietly or goes gaffed like a grilse, it’s all one on the
street. Out-bye the place is hotching with the town-people. Do you think
the MacNicolls could take a prisoner bye the Cross?”

“It’ll be cracked crowns on the causeway,” said I.

“Cracked crowns any way you take it,” said he, “and better on the
causeway than on Madame Brown’s parlour floor. It’s a gentleman’s
policy, I would think, to have the squabble in the open air, and save
the women the likely sight of bloody gashes.”

“What do you think, Elrigmore?” Betty cried to me the next moment, and I
said it were better the gentleman should go. The reason seemed to flash
on her there and then, and she backed my counsel; but the lad was not
the shrewdest I’ve seen, even for a Cowal man, and he seemed vexed that
she should seek to get rid of him, glancing at me with a scornful eye as
if I were to blame.

“Just so,” he said, a little bitterly; “the advice is well meant,” and
on went his jacket that had hung on a peg behind him, and his bonnet
played scrug on his forehead. A wiry young scamp, spirited too! He was
putting his sword into its scabbard, but MacNicoll stopped him, and he
went without it.

Now it was not the first time “Slochd a Chubair!” was cried as slogan in
Baile Inneraora in the memory of the youngest lad out that early morning
with a cudgel. The burgh settled to its Lowlandishness with something of
a grudge. For long the landward clans looked upon the incomers to it as
foreign and unfriendly. More than once in fierce or drunken escapades
they came into the place in their _mogans_ at night, quiet as ghosts,
mischievous as the winds, and set fire to wooden booths, or shot in
wantonness at any mischancy unkilted citizen late returning from the
change-house. The tartan was at those times the only passport to their
good favour; to them the black cloth knee-breeches were red rags to a
bull, and ill luck to the lad who wore the same anywhere outside the
Crooked Dyke that marks the town and policies of his lordship! If he
fared no worse, he came home with his coat-skirts scantily filling an
office unusual. Many a time “Slochd!” rang through the night on the
Athole winter when I dosed far off on the fields of Low Germanie,
or sweated in sallies from leaguered towns. And experience made the
burghers mighty tactical on such occasions. Old Leslie or ‘Pallas
Armata’ itself conferred no better notion of strategic sally than the
simple one they used when the MacNicolls came down the stair with their
prisoner; for they had dispersed themselves in little companies up the
closes on either side the street, and past the close the invaders bound
to go.

They might have known, the MacNicolls, that mischief was forward in that
black silence, but they were, like all Glen men, unacquaint with the
quirks of urban war. For them the fight in earnest was only fair that
was fought on the heather and the brae; and that was always my shame
of my countrymen, that a half company of hagbutiers, with wall cover
to depend on, could worst the most chivalrous clan that ever carried
triumph at a rush.

For the middle of the street the invaders made at once, half ready for
attack from before or behind, but ill prepared to meet it from all airts
as attack came. They were not ten yards on their way when Splendid and
I, emerging behind them, found them pricked in the rear by one company,
brought up short by another in front at Stonefield’s land, and harassed
on the flanks by the lads from the closes. They were caught in a ring.

Lowland and Highland, they roared lustily as they came to blows, and the
street boiled like a pot of herring: in the heart of the commotion young
MacLachlan tossed hither and yond--a stick in a linn. A half-score
more of MacNicolls might have made all the difference in the end of
the story, for they struck desperately, better men by far as weight
and agility went than the burgh half-breds, but (to their credit) so
unwilling to shed blood, that they used the flat of the claymore instead
of the edge and fired their pistols in the air.

The long-legged lad flung up a window and lit the street with the flare
of the flambeau he had been teasing out so earnestly, and dunt, dunt
went the oaken rungs on the bonnets of Glen Shira, till Glen Shira smelt
defeat and fell slowly back.

In all this horoyally I took but an onlooker’s part MacLachlan’s quarrel
was not mine, the burgh was none of my blood, and the Glen Shira men
were my father’s friends and neighbours. Splendid, too, candidly kept
out of the turmoil when he saw that young MacLachlan was safely free
of his warders, and that what had been a cause militant was now only a
Highland diversion.

“Let them play away at it,” he said; “I’m not keen to have wounds in a
burgher’s brawl in my own town when there’s promise of braver sport over
the hills among other tartans.”

Up the town drifted the little battle, no dead left as luck had it, but
many a gout of blood. The white gables clanged back the cries, in
claps like summer thunder, the crows in the beech-trees complained in
a rasping roupy chorus, and the house-doors banged at the back of men,
who, weary or wounded, sought home to bed. And Splendid and I were on
the point of parting, secure that the young laird of MacLachlan was at
liberty, when that gentleman himself came scouring along, hard pressed
by a couple of MacNicolls ready with brands out to cut him down. He was
without steel or stick, stumbling on the causeway-stones in a stupor of
weariness, his mouth gasping and his coat torn wellnigh off the back of
him. He was never in his twenty years of life nearer death than then,
and he knew it; but when he found John Splendid and me before him he
stopped and turned to face the pair that followed him--a fool’s vanity
to show fright had not put the heels to his hurry! We ran out beside
him, and the MacNicolls refused the _rencontre_, left their quarry,
and fled again to the town-head, where their friends were in a dusk the
long-legged lad’s flambeau failed to mitigate.

“I’ll never deny after this that you can outrun me!” said John Splendid,
putting up his small sword.

“I would have given them their kail through the reek in a double dose if
I had only a simple knife,” said the lad angrily, looking up the street,
where the fighting was now over. Then he whipped into Brown’s close and
up the stair, leaving us at the gable of Craignure’s house.

John Splendid, ganting sleepily, pointed at the fellow’s disappearing
skirts. “Do you see yon?” said he, and he broke into a line of a Gaelic
air that told his meaning.

“Lovers?” I asked.

“What do you think yourself?” said he.

“She is mighty put about at his hazard,” I confessed, reflecting on her

“Cousins, ye ken, cousins!” said Splendid, and he put a finger in my
side, laughing meaningly.

I got home when the day stirred among the mists over Strone.


Of course Clan MacNicoll was brought to book for this frolic on
Inneraora fair-day, banned by Kirk, and soundly beaten by the Doomster
in name of law. To read some books I’ve read, one would think our Gaels
in the time I speak of, and even now, were pagan and savage. We are not,
I admit it, fashioned on the prim style of London dandies and Italian
fops; we are--the poorest of us--coarse a little at the hide, too quick,
perhaps, to slash out with knife or hatchet, and over-ready to carry
the most innocent argument the dire length of a thrust with the sword.
That’s the blood; it’s the common understanding among ourselves. But we
were never such thieves and marauders, caterans bloody and unashamed, as
the Galloway kerns and the Northmen, and in all my time we had plenty to
do to fend our straths against reivers and cattle-drovers from the bad
clans round about us. We lift no cattle in all Campbell country. When
I was a lad some of the old-fashioned tenants in Glenaora once or twice
went over to Glen Nant and Rannoch and borrowed a few beasts; but the
Earl (as he was then) gave them warning for it that any vassal of his
found guilty of such practice again should hang at the town-head as
readily as he would hang a Cowal man for theftuously awaytaking a board
of kipper salmon. My father (peace with him!) never could see the logic
of it “It’s no theft,” he would urge, “but war on the parish scale: it
needs coolness of the head, some valour, and great genius to take fifty
or maybe a hundred head of bestial hot-hoof over hill and moor. I would
never blame a man for lifting a mart of black cattle any more than for
killing a deer: are not both the natural animals of these mountains,
prey lawful to the first lad who can tether or paunch them?”

“Not in the fold, father!” I mind of remonstrating once.

“In the fold too,” he said. “Who respects Bredal-bane’s fenced deer? Not
the most Christian elders in Glenurchy: they say grace over venison that
crossed a high dyke in the dead of night tail first, or game birds that
tumbled out of their dream on the bough into the reek of a brimstone
fire. A man might as well claim the fish of the sea and the switch of
the wood, and refuse the rest of the world a herring or a block of wood,
as put black cattle in a fank and complain because he had to keep watch
on them!”

It was odd law, but I must admit my father made the practice run with
the precept, for more than once he refused to take back cattle lifted by
the Macgregors from us, because they had got over his march-stone.

But so far from permitting this latitude in the parish of Inneraora,
Kirk and State frowned it down, and sins far less heinous. The session
was bitterly keen on Sabbath-breakers, and to start on a Saturday night
a kiln-drying of oats that would claim a peat or two on Sabbath, was
accounted immorality of the most gross kind.

Much of this strict form, it is to be owned, was imported by the Lowland
burghers, and set up by the Lowland session of the English kirk, of
which his lordship was an elder, and the Highlanders took to it badly
for many a day. They were aye, for a time, driving their cattle through
the town on the Lord’s day or stravaiging about the roads and woods, or
drinking and listening to pipers piping in the change-houses at time of
sermon, fond, as all our people are by nature, of the hearty open air,
and the smell of woods, and lusty sounds like the swing of the seas and
pipers playing old tunes. Out would come elders and deacons to scour the
streets and change-houses for them, driving them, as if with scourges,
into worship. Gaelic sermon (or Irish sermon, as the Scots called
it) was but every second Sabbath, and on the blank days the landward
Highlanders found in town bound to go to English sermon whether they
knew the language or not, a form which it would be difficult nowadays to
defend. And it was, in a way, laughable to see the big Gaels driven to
chapel like boys by the smug light burghers they could have crushed
with a hand. But time told; there was sown in the landward mind by the
blessing of God (and some fear of the Marquis, no doubt) a respect
for Christian ordinance, and by the time I write of there were no more
devout churchgoers and respecters of the law ecclesiastic than the
umquhile pagan small-clans of Loch Firme and the Glens.

It is true that Nicol Beg threatened the church-officer with his dirk
when he came to cite him before the session a few days after the splore
in Inneraora, but he stood his trial like a good Christian all the same,
he and half a score of his clan, as many as the church court could get
the names of. I was a witness against them, much against my will, with
John Splendid, the Provost, and other townsfolk.

Some other defaulters were dealt with before the Mac-Nicolls, a few
throughither women and lads from the back-lanes of the burghs, on the
old tale, a shoreside man for houghing a quey, and a girl Mac Vicar,
who had been for a season on a visit to some Catholic relatives in the
Isles, and was charged with malignancy and profanity.

Poor lass! I was wae for her. She stood bravely beside her father, whose
face was as begrutten as hers was serene, and those who put her through
her catechism found to my mind but a good heart and tolerance where they
sought treachery and rank heresy. They convicted her notwithstanding.

“You have stood your trials badly, Jean MacVicar,” said Master Gordon.
“A backslider and malignant proven! You may fancy your open profession
of piety, your honesty and charity, make dykes to the narrow way. A fond
delusion, woman! There are, sorrow on it! many lax people of your kind
in Scotland this day, hangers-on at the petticoat tails of the whore of
Babylon, sitting like you, as honest worshippers at the tables of the
Lord, eating Christian elements that but for His mercy choked them at
the thrapple. You are a wicked woman!”

“She’s a good daughter,” broke in the father through his tears; but his
Gaelic never stopped the minister.

“An ignorant besom.”

“She’s leech-wife to half Kenmore,” protested the old man.

“And this court censures you, ordains you to make public confession at
both English and Gaelic kirks before the congregations, thereafter to be
excommunicate and banished furth and from this parish of Inneraora and

The girl never winced.

Her father cried again. “She can’t leave me,” said he, and he looked to
the Marquis, who all the time sat on the hard deal forms, like a plain
man. “Your lordship kens she is motherless and my only kin; that’s she
true and honest.”

The Marquis said yea nor nay, but had a minute’s talk with the
clergyman, as I thought at the time, to make him modify his ruling. But
Master Gordon enforced the finding of the session.

“Go she must,” said he; “we cannot have our young people poisoned at the

“Then she’ll bide with me,” said the father, angrily.

“You dare not, as a Christian professor, keep an excommunicate in your
house,” said Gordon; “but taking to consideration that excommunication
precludes not any company of natural relations, we ordain you never to
keep her in your house in this parish any more; but if you have a mind
to do so with her, to follow her wherever she goes.”

And that sorry small family went out at the door, in tears.

Some curious trials followed, and the making of quaint bylaws; for now
that his lordship, ever a restraining influence on his clans, was bound
for new wars elsewhere, a firmer hand was wanted on the people he left
behind, and Master Gordon pressed for stricter canons. Notification was
made discharging the people of the burgh from holding lyke-wakes in
the smaller houses, from unnecessary travel on the Sabbath, from public
flyting and abusing, and from harbouring ne’er-do-weels from other
parishes; and seeing it had become a practice of the women attending
kirk to keep their plaids upon their heads and faces in time of sermon
as occasion of sleeping, as also that they who slept could not be
distinguished from those who slept not, that they might be wakened, it
was ordained that such be not allowed hereafter, under pain of taking
the plaids from them.

With these enactments too came evidence of the Kirk’s paternity.
It settled the salary (200 pounds Scots) of a new master for the
grammar-school, agreed to pay the fees of divers poor scholars,
instructed the administering of the funds in the poor’s-box, fixed a
levy on the town for the following week to help the poorer wives who
would be left by their fencible husbands, and paid ten marks to an
elderly widow woman who desired, like a good Gael, to have her burial
clothes ready, but had not the wherewithal for linen.

“We are,” said Master Gordon, sharpening a pen in a pause ere the
MacNicolls came forward, “the fathers and guardians of this parish
people high and low. Too long has Loch Finne side been ruled childishly.
I have no complaint about its civil rule--his lordship here might well
be trusted to that; but its religion was a thing of rags. They tell me
old Campbell in the Gaelic end of the church (peace with him!) used
to come to the pulpit with a broadsword belted below his Geneva gown.
Savagery, savagery, rank and stinking! I’ll say it to his face in
another world, and a poor evangel and ensample truly for the quarrelsome
landward folk of this parish, that even now, in the more unctuous times
of God’s grace, doff steel weapons so reluctantly. I found a man with a
dirk at his hip sitting before the Lord’s table last Lammas!”

“Please God,” said the Marquis, “the world shall come to its sight
some day. My people are of an unruly race, I ken, good at the heart,
hospitable, valorous, even with some Latin chivalry; but, my sorrow!
they are sorely unamenable to policies of order and peace.”

“Deil the hair vexed am I,” said John Splendid in my ear; “I have a
wonderful love for nature that’s raw and human, and this session-made
morality is but a gloss. They’ll be taking the tartan off us next maybe!
Some day the old dog at the heart of the Highlands will bark for all
his sleek coat Man! I hate the very look of those Lowland cattle sitting
here making kirk laws for their emperors, and their bad-bred Scots
speech jars on my ear like an ill-tuned bagpipe.”

Master Gordon possibly guessed what was the topic of Splendid’s
confidence,--in truth, few but knew my hero’s mind on these matters;
and I have little doubt it was for John’s edification he went on to
sermonise, still at the shaping of his pen.

“Your lordship will have the civil chastisement of these MacNicolls
after this session is bye with them. We can but deal with their
spiritual error. Nicol Beg and his relatives are on our kirk rolls as
members or adherents, and all we can do is to fence the communion-table
against them for a period, and bring them to the stool of repentance.
Some here may think a night of squabbling and broken heads in a Highland
burgh too trifling an affair for the interference of the kirk or the
court of law: I am under no such delusion. There is a valour better than
the valour of the beast unreasoning. Your lordship has seen it at its
proper place in your younger wars; young Elrigmore, I am sure, has seen
it on the Continent, where men live quiet burgh lives while left alone,
and yet comport themselves chivalrously and gallantly on the stricken
fields when their country or a cause calls for them so to do. In the
heart of man is hell smouldering, always ready to leap out in flames of
sharpened steel; it’s a poor philosophy that puffs folly in at the ear
to stir the ember, saying, ‘Hiss, catch him, dog!’ I’m for keeping hell
(even in a wild High-landman’s heart) for its own business of punishing
the wicked.”

“Amen to yon!” cried MacCailein, beating his hand on a book-board, and
Master Gordon took a snuff like a man whose doctrine is laid out plain
for the world and who dare dispute it. In came the beadle with the
MacNicolls, very much cowed, different men truly from the brave
gentlemen who cried blood for blood on Provost Brown’s stair.

They had little to deny, and our evidence was but a word ere the session
passed sentence of suspension from the kirk tables, as Gordon had said,
and a sheriffs officer came to hale them to the Tolbooth for their trial
on behalf of the civil law.

With their appearance there my tale has nothing to do; the Doomster, as
I have said, had the handling of them with birch. What I have described
of this kirk-session’s cognisance of those rough fellows’ ill behaviour
is designed ingeniously to convey a notion of its strict ceremony and
its wide dominion,--to show that even in the heart of Arraghael we were
not beasts in that year when the red flash of the sword came on us and
the persecution of the torch. The MacNicoll’s Night in the Hie Street of
MacCailein Mot’s town was an adventure uncommon enough to be spoken of
for years after, and otherwise (except for the little feuds between the
Glens-men and the burghers without tartan), our country-side was as safe
as the heart of France--safer even. You might leave your purse on the
open road anywhere within the Crooked Dyke with uncounted gold in it and
be no penny the poorer at the week’s end; there was never lock or bar on
any door in any of the two glens--locks, indeed, were a contrivance the
Lowlanders brought for the first time to the town; and the gardens lay
open to all who had appetite for kail or berry. There was no man who sat
down to dinner (aye in the landward part I speak of; it differed in the
town) without first going to the door to look along the high road to
see if wayfarers were there to share the meal with him and his family.
“There he goes,” was the saying about any one who passed the door at
any time without coming in to take a spoon--“there he goes; I’ll warrant
he’s a miser at home to be so much of a churl abroad” The very gipsy
claimed the cleanest bed in a Glenman’s house whenever he came that way,
and his gossip paid handsomely for his shelter.

It was a fine fat land this of ours, mile upon mile thick with herds,
rolling in the grassy season like the seas, growing such lush crops as
the remoter Highlands never dreamt of. Not a foot of good soil but had
its ploughing, or at least gave food to some useful animal, and yet so
rocky the hills between us and lower Lochow, so tremendous steep and
inaccessible the peaks and corries north of Ben Bhuidhe, that they were
relegated to the chase. There had the stag his lodging and the huntsman
a home almost perpetual. It was cosy, indeed, to see at evening the
peat-smoke from well-governed and comfortable hearths lingering on the
quiet air, to go where you would and find bairns toddling on the braes
or singing women bent to the peat-creel and the reaping-hook.

In that autumn I think nature gave us her biggest cup brimmingly, and my
father, as he watched his servants binding corn head high, said he
had never seen the like before. In the hazel-woods the nuts bent the
branches, so thick were they, so succulent; the hip and the haw, the
blaeberry and the rowan, swelled grossly in a constant sun; the orchards
of the richer folks were in a revelry of fruit Somehow the winter
grudged, as it were, to come. For ordinary, October sees the trees that
beard Dun-chuach and hang for miles on the side of Creag Dubh searing
and falling below the frost; this season the cold stayed aloof long, and
friendly winds roved from the west and south. The forests gleamed in a
golden fire that only cooled to darkness when the firs, my proud tall
friends, held up their tasselled heads in unquenching green. Birds
swarmed in the heather, and the sides of the bare hills moved constantly
with deer. Never a stream in all real Argile but boiled with fish; you
came down to Eas-a-chleidh on the Aora with a creel and dipped it into
the linn to bring out salmon rolling with fat.

All this I dwell on for a sensible purpose, though it may seem to be
but an old fellow’s boasting and a childish vanity about my own
calf-country. ‘Tis the picture I would paint--a land laughing and
content, well governed by Gillesbeg, though Gruamach he might be by name
and by nature. Fourpence a-day was a labourer’s wage, but what need had
one of even fourpence, with his hut free and the food piling richly at
his very door?


On the 27th of July in this same year 1644 we saw his lordship and his
clan march from Inneraora to the dreary north. By all accounts (brought
in to the Marquis by foot-runners from the frontier of Lorn), the
Irishry of Colkitto numbered no more than 1200, badly armed with old
matchlocks and hampered by two or three dozen camp-women bearing the
bairns of this dirty regiment at their breasts. Add to this as many
Highlanders under Montrose and his cousin Para Dubh of Inchbrackie, and
there was but a force of 3500 men for the good government of Argile to
face. But what were they? If the Irish were poorly set up in weapons the
Gaels were worse. On the spring before, Gillesbeg had harried Athole,
and was cunning enough to leave its armouries as bare as the fields he
burned, so now its clans had but home-made claymores, bows, and arrows,
Lochaber _tuaghs_ and cudgels, with no heavy pieces. The cavalry of this
unholy gang was but three garrons, string and bone. Worse than their
ill-arming, as any soldier of experience will allow, were the jealousies
between the two bodies of the scratched-up army. Did ever one see a Gael
that nestled to an Irishman? Here’s one who will swear it impossible,
though it is said the blood is the same in both races, and we nowadays
read the same Gaelic Bible. Colkitto MacDonald was Gael by birth
and young breeding, but Erinach by career, and repugnant to the most
malignant of the west clans before they got to learn, as they did
later, his quality as a leader. He bore down on Athole, he and his towsy
rabble, hoping to get the clans there to join him greedily for the sake
of the old feud against MacCailein Mor, but the Stewarts would have
nothing to say to him, and blows were not far off when Montrose and his
cousin Black Pate came on the scene with his king’s licence.

To meet this array now playing havoc on the edge of Campbell country,
rumour said two armies were moving from the north and east: if Argile
knew of them he kept his own counsel on the point, but he gave colour
to the tale by moving from Inneraora with no more than 2000 foot and a
troop of horse. These regimentals had mustered three days previously,
camping on the usual camping-ground at the Maltland, where I spent
the last day and night with them. They were, for the main part, the
Campbells of the shire: of them alone the chief could muster 5000
half-merkland men at a first levy, all capable swordsmen, well drilled
and disciplined _soldadoes_, who had, in addition to the usual schooling
in arms of every Gael, been taught many of the niceties of new-fashioned
war, countermarch, wheeling, and pike-drill. To hear the orders,
“Pouldron to pouldron; keep your files; and middlemen come forth!” was
like an echo from my old days in Germanie. These manoeuvres they were
instructed in by hired veterans of the Munro and Mackay battalions who
fought with Adolphus. Four or five companies of Lowland soldiers from
Dunbarton and Stirling eked out the strength; much was expected from the
latter, for they were, unlike our clansmen, never off the parade-ground,
and were in receipt of pay for their militant service; but as events
proved, they were MacCailein’s poor reed.

I spent, as I have said, a day and a night in the camp between Aora
river and the deep wood of Tarradubh. The plain hummed with our little
army, where now are but the nettle and the ivied tower, and the yellow
bee booming through the solitude; morning and night the shrill of the
_piob-mhor_ rang cheerily to the ear of Dun-chuach; the sharp call of
the chieftains and sergeants, the tramp of the brogued feet in their
simple evolutions, the clatter of arms, the contention and the laughing,
the song, the reprimand, the challenge, the jest,--all these were
pleasant to me.

One morning I got up from a bed of gall or bog-myrtle I shared with John
Splendid after a late game of chess, and fared out on a little eminence
looking over the scene. Not a soldier stirred in his plaid; the army was
drugged by the heavy fir-winds from the forest behind. The light of the
morning flowed up wider and whiter from the Cowal hills, the birds woke
to a rain of twittering prayer among the bushes ere ever a man stirred
more than from side to side to change his dream. It was the most
melancholy hour I ever experienced, and I have seen fields in the wan
morning before many a throng and bloody day. I felt “fey,” as we say at
home--a premonition that here was no conquering force, a sorrow for the
glens raped of their manhood, and hearths to be desolate. By-and-by the
camp moved into life, Dun-barton’s drums beat the reveille, the pipers
arose, doffed their bonnets to the sun, and played a rouse; my gloom
passed like a mist from the mountains.

They went north by the Aora passes into the country of Bredalbane, and
my story need not follow them beyond.

Inneraora burghers went back to their commercial affairs, and I went
to Glen Shira to spend calm days on the river and the hill. My father
seemed to age perceptibly, reflecting on his companion gone, and he
clung to me like the _crotal_ to the stone. Then it was (I think) that
some of the sobriety of life first came to me, a more often cogitation
and balancing of affairs. I began to see some of the tanglement of
nature, and appreciate the solemn mystery of our travel across this
vexed and care-warped world. Before, I was full of the wine of youth,
giving doubt of nothing a lodgment in my mind, acting ever on the
impulse, sucking the lemon, seeds and all, and finding it unco sappy and
piquant to the palate. To be face to face day after day with this old
man’s grief, burdened with his most apparent double love, conscious that
I was his singular bond to the world he would otherwise be keen to be
leaving, set me to chasten my dalliance with fate. Still and on, our
affection and its working on my prentice mind is nothing to dwell on
publicly. I’ve seen bearded men kiss each other in the France, a most
scandalous exhibition surely, one at any rate that I never gazed on
without some natural Highland shame, and I would as soon kiss my father
at high noon on the open street as dwell with paper and ink upon my
feeling to him.

We settled down to a few quiet weeks after the troops had gone. Rumours
came of skirmishes at Tippermuir and elsewhere. I am aware that the
fabulous Wishart makes out that our lads were defeated by Montrose at
every turning, claiming even Dundee, Crief, Strathbogie, Methven Wood,
Philiphaugh, Inverness, and Dunbeath. Let any one coldly calculate the
old rogue’s narrative, and it will honestly appear that the winner was
more often Argile, though his lordship never followed up his advantage
with slaughter and massacre as did his foes at Aberdeen. All these
doings we heard of but vaguely, for few came back except an odd lad
wounded and cut off in the wilds of Athole from the main body.

Constant sentinels watched the land from the fort of Dunchuach, that
dominates every pass into our country, and outer guards took day and
night about on the remoter alleys of Aora and Shira Glens. South, east,
and west, we had friendly frontiers; only to the north were menace
and danger, and from the north came our scaith--the savage north and

These considerations seemed, on the surface, little to affect Inneraora
and its adjacent parts. We slept soundly at night, knowing the warders
were alert; the women with absent husbands tempered their anxiety with
the philosophy that comes to a race ever bound to defend its own doors.

The common folks had _ceilidhs_ at night--gossip parties in each other’s
houses, and in our own hall the herds and shepherds often convocat to
change stories, the tales of the Fingalians, Ossian and the Firme. The
burgh was a great place for suppers too, and never _ceilidh_ nor supper
went I to but the daughter of Provost Brown was there before me. She
took a dislike to me, I guessed at last, perhaps thinking I appeared too
often; and I was never fully convinced of this till I met her once with
some companions walking in the garden of the castle, that always stood
open for the world.

I was passing up the Dame’s Pad, as it was called, a little turfed road,
overhung by walnut trees brought by the old Earl from England. I had on
a Lowland costume with a velvet coat and buckled shoes, and one or
two vanities a young fellow would naturally be set up about, and the
consciousness of my trim clothing put me in a very complacent mood as I
stopped and spoke with the damsels.

They were pretty girls all, and I remember particularly that Betty had a
spray of bog-myrtle and heather fastened at a brooch at her neck.

She was the only one who received me coldly, seemed indeed impatient to
be off, leaving the conversation to her friends while she toyed with a
few late flowers on the bushes beside her.

“You should never put heather and gall together,” I said to her,

“Indeed!” she said, flushing. “Here’s one who wears what she chooses,
regardless of custom or freit.”

“But you know,” I said, “the badge of the Campbell goes badly with that
of so bitter a foe as the MacDonald. You might as well add the oak-stalk
of Montrose, and make the emblem tell the story of those troubles.”

It was meant in good-humour, but for some reason it seemed to sting her
to the quick. I could see it in the flash of her eyes and the renewed
flush at her temples.

There was a little mischievous girl in the company, who giggled and
said, “Betty’s in a bad key to-day; her sweetheart has vexed her

It was a trivial remark, but I went off with it in my mind.

A strange interest in the moods of this old school-friend had begun to
stir me. Meeting her on my daily walks to town by the back way through
the new avenue, I found her seemingly anxious to avoid me, and difficult
to warm to any interest but in the most remote and abstract affairs.
Herself she would never speak of, her plans, cares, ambitions,
preferences, or aversions; she seemed dour set on aloofness. And though
she appeared to listen to my modestly phrased exploits with attention
and respect, and some trepidation at the dangerous portions, she had
notably more interest in my talk of others. Ours was the only big
house in the glen she never came calling to, though her father was an
attentive visitor and supped his curds-and-cream of a Saturday with
friendly gusto, apologising for her finding something to amuse and
detain her at Roderick’s over the way, or the widow’s at Gearran Bridge.

I would go out on these occasions and walk in the open air with a heart

And now it was I came to conclude, after all, that much as a man may
learn of many women studied indifferently, there is something magical
about his personal regard for one, that sets up a barrier of mystery
between them. So long as I in former years went on the gay assumption
that every girl’s character was on the surface, and I made no effort
to probe deeper, I was the confidant, the friend, of many a fine woman.
They all smiled at my douce sobriety, but in the end they preferred it
to the gaudy recklessness of more handsome men.

But here was the conclusion of my complacent belief in my knowledge of
the sex. The oftener I met her the worse my friendship progressed. She
became a problem behind a pretty mask, and I would sit down, as it were,
dumb before it and guess at the real woman within. Her step on the road
as we would come to an unexpected meeting, her handling of a flower I
might give her in a courtesy, her most indifferent word as we met or
parted, became a precious clue I must ponder on for hours. And the more
I weighed these things, the more confused thereafter I became in her
presence. “If I were in love with the girl,” I had to say to myself at
last, “I could not be more engrossed on her mind.”

The hill itself, with days of eager hunting after the red-deer, brought
not enough distraction, and to stand by the mountain tarns and fish the
dark trout was to hold a lonely carnival with discontent.

It happened sometimes that on the street of Inneraora I would meet Betty
convoying her cousin young Mac-Lachlan to his wherry (he now took care
to leave for home betimes), or with his sister going about the shops. It
would be but a bow in the bye-going, she passing on with equanimity and
I with a maddening sense of awkwardness, that was not much bettered
by the tattle of the plainstanes, where merchant lads and others made
audible comment on the cousinly ardour of young Lachie.

On Sundays, perhaps worst of all, I found my mind’s torment. Our kirk
to-day is a building of substantiality and even grace; then it was
a somewhat squalid place of worship, in whose rafters the pigeon
trespassed and the swallow built her home. We sat in torturous
high-backed benches so narrow that our knees rasped the boards before
us, and sleep in Master Gordon’s most dreary discourse was impossible.
Each good family in the neighbourhood had its own pew, and Elrigmore’s,
as it is to this day, lay well in the rear among the shadows of the
loft, while the Provost’s was a little to the left and at right angles,
so that its occupants and ours were in a manner face to face.

Gordon would be into many deeps of doctrine no doubt while I was in the
deeper depths of speculation upon my lady’s mind. I think I found no
great edification from the worship of those days--shame to tell it!--for
the psalms we chanted had inevitably some relevance to an earthly
affection, and my eyes were for ever roaming from the book or from the
preacher’s sombre face.

They might rove far and long, but the end of each journey round that
dull interior was ever in the Provost’s pew, and, as if by some hint of
the spirit, though Betty might be gazing steadfastly where she ought,
I knew that she knew I was looking on her. It needed but my glance to
bring a flush to her averted face. Was it the flush of annoyance or
of the conscious heart? I asked myself, and remembering her coldness
elsewhere, I was fain to think my interest was considered an
impertinence. And there I would be in a cold perspiration of sorry


The Highlanders of Lochaber, as the old saying goes, “pay their
daughters’ tochers by the light of the Michaelmas moon.” Then it was
that they were wont to come over our seven hills and seven waters to
help themselves to our cattle when the same were at their fattest and
best It would be a skurry of bare knees down pass and brae, a ring of
the robbers round the herd sheltering on the bieldy side of the hill or
in the hollows among the ripe grass, a brisk change of shot and blow if
alarm rose, and then hie! over the moor by Macfarlane’s lantern.

This Michaelmas my father put up a _buaile-mhart_, a square fold of
wattle and whinstone, into which the herdsmen drove the lowing beasts
at the mouth of every evening, and took turn about in watching them
throughout the clear season. It was perhaps hardly needed, for indeed
the men of Lochaber and Glenfalloch and the other dishonest regions
around us were too busy dipping their hands in the dirty work of
Montrose and his Irish major-general to have any time for their usual
autumn’s recreation. But a _buaile-mhart_ when shifted from time to time
in a field is a profitable device in agriculture, and custom had made
the existence of it almost a necessity to the sound slumber of our
glens. There was a pleasant habit, too, of neighbours gathering at night
about a fire within one of the spaces of the fold and telling tales
and singing songs. Our whole West Country is full of the most wonderful
stories one might seek in vain for among the world of books and
scholars--of giants and dwarfs, fairies, wizards, water-horse, and
sea-maiden. The most unlikely looking peasant that ever put his foot to
a _caschrom_, the most uncouth hunter that ever paunched a deer, would
tell of such histories in the most scrupulous language and with cunning
regard for figure of speech. I know that nowadays, among people of
esteemed cultivation in the low country and elsewhere, such a
diversion might be thought a waste of time, such narratives a sign of
superstition. Of that I am not so certain. The practice, if it did
no more, gave wings to our most sombre hours, and put a point on the
imagination. As for the superstition of the tales of _ceilidh_ and
_buaile-mhart_ I have little to say. Perhaps the dullest among us
scarce credited the giant and dwarf; but the Little Folks are yet on our
topmost hills.

A doctor laughed at me once for an experience of my own at the Piper’s
Knowe, on which any man, with a couchant ear close to the grass, may
hear fairy tunes piped in the under-world.

“A trick of the senses,” said he.

“But I can bring you scores who have heard it!” said I.

“So they said of every miracle since time began,” said he; “it but
proves the widespread folly and credulity of human nature.”

I protested I could bring him to the very spot or whistle him the very
tunes; but he was busy, and wondered so sedate a man as myself could
cherish so strange a delusion.

Our fold on Elrigmore was in the centre of a flat meadowland that lies
above Dhu Loch, where the river winds among rush and willow-tree, a
constant whisperer of love and the distant hills and the salt inevitable
sea. There we would be lying under moon and star, and beside us the
cattle deeply breathing all night long. To the simple tale of old, to
the humble song, these circumstances gave a weight and dignity they may
have wanted elsewhere. Never a teller of tale, or a singer of song so
artless in that hour and mood of nature, but he hung us breathless on
his every accent: we were lone inhabitants of a little space in a
magic glen, and the great world outside the flicker of our fire hummed
untenanted and empty through the jealous night.

It happened on a night of nights--as the saying goes--that thus we
were gathered in the rushy flat of Elrigmore and our hearts easy as to
reivers--for was not MacCailein scourging them over the north?--when
a hint came to us of a strange end to these Lorn wars, and of the last
days of the Lord of Argile. A night with a sky almost pallid, freckled
with sparkling stars; a great moon with an aureole round it, rolling in
the east, and the scent of fern and heather thick upon the air.

We had heard many stories, we had joined in a song or two, we had set
proverb and guess and witty saying round and round, and it was the
young morning when through the long grass to the fold came a band of
strangers. We were their equal in numbers, whatever their mission might
be, and we waited calmly where we were, to watch.

The bulk of them stood back from the pin-fold wall, and three of them
came forward and put arms upon the topmost divots, so that they could
look in and see the watchers gathered round the fire.

“Co tha’n sud’s an uchd air a bhuaile?” (“Who is there leaning on the
fold?”) asked one of our men, with a long bow at stretch in his hands.

He got no answer from any of the three strangers, who looked ghastly
eerie in their silence on the wall.

“Mar freagar sibh mise bithidh m’inthaidh aig an fhear as gile
broilleach agaibh” (“My arrow’s for the whitest breast, if ye make no
answer “), said my man, and there was no answer.

The string twanged, the arrow sped, and the stranger with the white
breast fell--shot through her kerchief. For she was a woman of the clan
they name Macaulay, children of the mist, a luckless dame that, when we
rushed out to face her company, they left dying on the field.

They were the robber widows of the clan, a gang then unknown to us, but
namely now through the west for their depredations when the absence of
their men in battles threw them upon their own resource.

And she was the oldest of her company, a half-witted creature we grieved
at slaying, but reptile in her malice, for as she lay passing, with the
blood oozing to her breast, she reviled us with curses that overran each
other in their hurry from her foul lips.

“Dogs! dogs!--heaven’s worst ill on ye, dogs!” she cried, a waeful
spectacle, and she spat on us as we carried her beside the fire to try
and staunch her wound. She had a fierce knife at her waist and would
have used it had she the chance, but we removed it from her reach, and
she poured a fresher, fuller stream of malediction.

Her voice at last broke and failed to a thin piping whisper, and it was
then--with the sweat on her brow--she gave the hint I speak of, the hint
of the war’s end and the end of MacCailein Mor.

“Wry-mouths, wry-mouths!” said she; “I see the heather above the myrtle
on Lhinne-side, and MacCailein’s head on a post.”

That was all.

It is a story you will find in no books, and yet a story that has been
told sometime or other by every fireside of the shire--not before the
prophecy was fulfilled but after, when we were loosed from our bonded
word. For there and then we took oath on steel to tell no one of the
woman’s saying till the fulness of time should justify or disgrace the

Though I took oath on this melancholy business like the rest, there was
one occasion, but a day or two after, that I almost broke my pledged
word, and that to the lady who disturbed my Sunday worship and gave me
so much reflection on the hunting-road. Her father, as I have said, came
up often on a Saturday and supped his curds-and-cream and grew cheery
over a Dutch bottle with my father, and one day, as luck had it, Betty
honoured our poor doorstep. She came so far, perhaps, because our men
and women were at work on the field I mention, whose second crop of
grass they were airing for the winter byres--a custom brought to the
glen from foreign parts, and with much to recommend it.

I had such a trepidation at her presence that I had almost fled on some
poor excuse to the hill; but the Provost, who perhaps had made sundry
calls in the bye-going at houses farther down the glen, and was in a
mellow humour, jerked a finger over his shoulder towards the girl as she
stood hesitating in the hall after a few words with my father and me,
and said, “I’ve brought you a good harvester here, Colin, and she’ll
give you a day’s darg for a kiss.”

I stammered a stupid comment that the wage would be well earned on so
warm a day, and could have choked, the next moment, at my rusticity.

Mistress Betty coloured and bit her lip.

“Look at the hussy!” said her father again, laughing with heaving
shoulders. “‘Where shall we go to-day on our rounds?’ said I; ‘Where but
to Elrigmore,’ said she; ‘I have not seen Colin for an age!’ Yet I’ll
warrant you thought the cunning jade shy of a gentleman soldier! Ah,
those kirtles, those kirtles! I’ll give you a word of wisdom, sir, you
never learned in Glascow Hie Street nor in the army.”

I looked helplessly after the girl, who had fled, incontinent, to the
women at work in the field.

“Well, sir,” I said, “I shall be pleased to hear it. If it has any
pertinence to the harvesting of a second crop it would be welcome.”

My father sighed. He never entered very heartily into diversion
nowadays--small wonder!--so the Provost laughed on with his counsel.

“You know very well it has nothing to do with harvesting nor harrowing,”
 he cried; “I said kirtles, didn’t I! And you needn’t be so coy about the
matter; surely to God you never learned modesty at your trade of sacking
towns. Many a wench----”

“About this counsel,” I put in; “I have no trick or tale of wenchcraft
beyond the most innocent. And beside, sir, I think we were just talking
of a lady who is your daughter.”

Even in his glass he was the gentleman, for he saw the suggestion at

“Of course, of course, Colin,” he said hurriedly, coughing in a
confusion. “Never mind an old fool’s havering.” Then said he again,
“There’s a boy at many an old man’s heart. I saw you standing there and
my daughter was yonder, and it just came over me like the verse of a
song that I was like you when I courted her mother. My sorrow! it looks
but yesterday, and yet here’s an old done man! Folks have been born and
married (some of them) and died since syne, and I’ve been going through
life with my eyes shut to my own antiquity. It came on me like a flash
three minutes ago, that this gross oldster, sitting of a Saturday
sipping the good _aqua_ of Elrigmore, with a pendulous waistcoat and a
wrinkled hand, is not the lad whose youth and courtship you put me in
mind of.”

“Stretch your hand, Provost, and fill your glass,” said my father. He
was not merry in his later years, but he had a hospitable heart.

The two of them sat dumb a space, heedless of the bottle or me, and at
last, to mar their manifest sad reflections, I brought the Provost back
to the topic of his counsel.

“You had a word of advice,” I said, very softly. There was a small tinge
of pleasure in my guess that what he had to say might have reference to
his daughter.

“Man! I forget now,” he said, rousing himself. “What were we on?”

“Harvesting,” said father.

“No, sir; kirtles,” said I.

“Kirtles--so it was,” said the Provost. “My wife at Betty’s age, when
I first sought her company, was my daughter’s very model, in face and

“She was a handsome woman, Provost,” said my father. “I can well believe
it,” said I. “She is that to-day,” cried the Provost, pursing his lips
and lifting up his chin in a challenge. “And I learned one thing at the
courting of her which is the gist of my word of wisdom to you, Colin.
Keep it in mind till you need it. It’s this: There’s one thing a woman
will put up with blandly in every man but the one man she has a notion
of, and that’s the absence of conceit about himself or her.” In the
field by the river, the harvesters sat at a mid-day meal, contentedly
eating their bannock and cheese. They were young folks all, at the age
when toil and plain living but give a zest to the errant pleasures of
life, so they filled their hour of leisure with gallivanting among the
mown and gathered grass. And oh! _mo chridhe_, but that was long ago!
Let no one, remembering the charm of an autumn field in his youth, test
its cheerfulness when he has got up in years. For he will find it lying
under a sun less genial than then; he will fret at some influence lost;
the hedges tall and beautiful will have turned to stunted boundaries
upon his fancy; he will ache at the heart at the memory of those old
careless crops and reapers when he sits, a poor man or wealthy, among
the stubble of grass and youth.

As I lay on the shady side of an alder bank watching our folk at their
gambols, I found a serenity that again set me at my ease with the
Provost’s daughter. I gathered even the calmness to invite her to sit
beside me, and she made no demur.

“You are short of reapers, I think, by the look of them,” she said; “I
miss some of the men who were here last year.”

They were gone with MacCailein, I explained, as paid volunteers.

“Oh! those wars!” she cried sadly. “I wish they were ended. Here are
the fields, good crops, food and happiness for all, why must men be

“Ask your Highland heart,” said I. “We are children of strife.”

“In my heart,” she replied, “there’s but love for all. I toss sleepless,
at night, thinking of the people we know--the good, kind, gallant; merry
lads we know--waging savage battle for something I never had the wit to
discover the meaning of.”

“The Almighty’s order--we have been at it from the birth of time.”

“So old a world might have learned,” she said, “to break that order when
they break so many others. Is his lordship likely to be back soon?”

“I wish he might be,” said I, with a dubious accent, thinking of the
heather above the myrtle and MacCailein’s head on a post “Did you hear
of the Macaulay beldame shot by Roderick?”

“Yes,” she said; “an ugly business! What has that to do with
MacCailein’s home-coming?”

“Very little indeed,” I answered, recalling our bond; “but she cursed
his lordship and his army with a zeal that was alarming, even to an old
soldier of Sweden.”

“God ward all evil!” cried Betty in a passion of earnestness. “You’ll be
glad to see your friend M’Iver back, I make no doubt.”

“Oh! he’s an old hand at war, madam; he’ll come safe out of this by his
luck and skill, if he left the army behind him.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said she, smiling.

“What!” I cried in raillery; “would you be grateful for so poor a
balance left of a noble army?”

And she reddened and smiled again, and a servant cried us in to the

In spite of the Macaulay prophecy, MacCailein and his men came home in
the fulness of time. They came with the first snowstorm of winter,
the clan in companies down Glenaora and his lordship roundabout by the
Lowlands, where he had a mission to the Estates. The war, for the time,
was over, a truce of a kind was patched up, and there was a cheerful
prospect--too briefly ours--that the country would settle anon to peace.


Hard on the heels of the snow came a frost that put shackles on the very
wind. It fell black and sudden on the country, turning the mud floors
of the poorer dwellings into iron that rang below the heel, though the
peat-fires burned by day and night, and Loch Finne, lying flat as a
girdle from shore to shore, crisped and curdled into ice on the surface
in the space of an afternoon. A sun almost genial to look at, but with
no warmth at the heart of him, rode among the white hills that looked
doubly massive with their gullies and cornes, for ordinary black or
green, lost in the general hue, and at mid-day bands of little white
birds would move over the country from the north, flapping weakly to a
warmer clime. They might stay a little, some of them, deceived by the
hanging peat-smoke into the notion that somewhere here were warmth and
comfort; but the cold searched them to the core, and such as did not die
on the roadside took up their dismal voyaging anew.

The very deer came down from the glens--_cabarfeidh_ stags, hinds, and
prancing roes. At night we could hear them bellowing and snorting as
they went up and down the street in herds from Ben Bhrec or the barren
sides of the Black Mount and Dalness in the land of Bredalbane, seeking
the shore and the travellers’ illusion--the content that’s always to
come. In those hours, too, the owls seemed to surrender the fir-woods
and come to the junipers about the back-doors, for they keened in the
darkness, even on, woeful warders of the night, telling the constant

Twas in these bitter nights, shivering under blanket and plaid, I
thought ruefully of foreign parts, of the frequented towns I had seen
elsewhere, the cleanly paven streets, swept of snow, the sea-coal fires,
and the lanterns swinging over the crowded causeways, signs of friendly
interest and companionship. Here were we, poor peasants, in a waste of
frost and hills, cut off from the merry folks sitting by fire and flame
at ease! Even our gossiping, our _ceilidh_ in each other’s houses, was
stopped; except in the castle itself no more the song and story, the
pipe and trump.

In the morning when one ventured abroad he found the deer-slot dimpling
all the snow on the street, and down at the shore, unafeared of man,
would be solitary hinds, widows and rovers from their clans, sniffing
eagerly over to the Cowal hills. Poor beasts! poor beasts! I’ve seen
them in their madness take to the ice for it when it was little thicker
than a groat, thinking to reach the oak-woods of Ardchyline. For a time
the bay at the river mouth was full of long-tailed ducks, that at
a whistle almost came to your hand, and there too came flocks of
wild-swan, flying in wedges, trumpeting as they flew. Fierce otters
quarrelled over their eels at the mouth of the Black Burn that flows
underneath the town and out below the Tolbooth to the shore, or made the
gloaming melancholy with their doleful whistle. A roebuck in his winter
jacket of mouse-brown fur died one night at my relative’s door, and a
sea-eagle gorged himself so upon the carcass that at morning he could
not flap a wing, and fell a ready victim to a knock from my staff.

The passes to the town were head-high with drifted snow, our warders at
the heads of Aora and Shira could not themselves make out the road, and
the notion of added surety this gave us against Antrim’s Irishmen was
the only compensation for the ferocity of nature.

In three days the salt loch, in that still and ardent air, froze like
a fishpond, whereupon the oddest spectacle ever my country-side saw
was his that cared to rise at morning to see it. Stags and hinds in
tremendous herds, black cattle, too, from the hills, trotted boldly over
the ice to the other side of the loch, that in the clarity of the air
seemed but a mile off. Behind them went skulking foxes, pole-cats,
badgers, cowering hares, and bead-eyed weasels. They seemed to have
a premonition that Famine was stalking behind them, and they fled our
luckless woods and fields like rats from a sinking ship.

To Master Gordon I said one morning as we watched a company of dun
heifers mid-way on the loch, “This is an ill omen or I’m sore mistaken.”

He was not a man given to superstitions, but he could not gainsay me.
“There’s neither hip nor haw left in our woods,” he said; “birds
I’ve never known absent here in the most eager winters are gone, and
wild-eyed strangers, their like never seen here before, tamely pick
crumbs at my very door. Signs! signs! It beats me sometimes to know how
the brute scents the circumstance to come, but--whats the Word?--‘Not
a sparrow shall fall.’”

We fed well on the wild meat driven to our fireside, and to it there
never seemed any end, for new flocks took up the tale of the old ones,
and a constant procession of fur and feather moved across our white
prospect. Even the wolf--from Benderloch no doubt--came baying at night
at the empty gibbets at the town-head, that spoke of the law’s suspense.

Only in Castle Inneraora was there anything to be called gaiety.
MacCailein fumed at first at the storm that kept his letters from him
and spoiled the laburnums and elms he was coaxing to spring about his
garden; but soon he settled down to his books and papers, ever his
solace in such homely hours as the policy and travel of his life
permitted. And if the burgh was dull and dark, night after night there
was merriment over the drawbrig of the castle. It would be on the 10th
or the 15th of the month that I first sampled it I went up with a party
from the town and neighbourhood, with their wives and daughters, finding
an atmosphere wondrous different from that of the cooped and anxious
tenements down below. Big logs roared behind the fire-dogs, long candles
and plenty lit the hall, and pipe and harp went merrily. Her ladyship
had much of the French manner--a dainty dame with long thin face and
bottle shoulders, attired always in Saxon fashion, and indulgent in
what I then thought a wholesome levity, that made up for the Gruamach
husband. And she thought him, honestly, the handsomest and noblest
in the world, though she rallied him for his overmuch sobriety of
deportment. To me she was very gracious, for she had liked my mother,
and I think she planned to put me in the way of the Provost’s daughter
as often as she could.

When his lordship was in his study, our daffing was in Gaelic, for her
ladyship, though a Morton, and only learning the language, loved to have
it spoken about her. Her pleasure was to play the harp--a clarsach of
great beauty, with Iona carving on it--to the singing of her daughter
Jean, who knew all the songs of the mountains and sang them like the
bird. The town girls, too, sang, Betty a little shyly, but as daintily
as her neighbours, and we danced a reel or two to the playing of Paruig
Dall, the blind piper. Venison and wine were on the board, and whiter
bread than the town baxters afforded. It all comes back on me now--that
lofty hall, the skins of seal and otter and of stag upon the floor, the
flaring candles and the glint of glass and silver, the banners swinging
upon the walls over devices of pike, gun, and claymore--the same to be
used so soon!

The castle, unlike its successor, sat adjacent to the river-side, its
front to the hill of Dunchuach on the north, and its back a stone-cast
from the mercat cross and the throng street of the town. Between it and
the river was the small garden consecrate to her ladyship’s flowers, a
patch of level soil, cut in dice by paths whose tiny pebbles and broken
shells crunched beneath the foot at any other season than now when the
snow covered all.

John Splendid, who was of our party, in a lull of the entertainment was
looking out at the prospect from a window at the gable end of the
hall, for the moon sailed high above Strone, and the outside world was
beautiful in a cold and eerie fashion. Of a sudden he faced round and
beckoned to me with a hardly noticeable toss of the head.

I went over and stood beside him. He was bending a little to get the top
of Dunchuach in the field of his vision, and there was a puzzled look on
his face.

“Do you see any light up yonder?” he asked, and I followed his query
with a keen scrutiny of the summit, where the fort should be lying in
darkness and peace.

There was a twinkle of light that would have shown fuller if the
moonlight were less.

“I see a spark,” I said, wondering a little at his interest in so small
an affair.

“That’s a pity,” said he, in a rueful key. “I was hoping it might be a
private vision of my own, and yet I might have known my dream last night
of a white rat meant something. If that’s flame there’s more to follow.
There should be no lowe on this side of the fort after nightfall, unless
the warders on the other side have news from the hills behind Dunchuach.
In this matter of fire at night Dunchuach echoes Ben Bhuidhe or Ben
Bhrec, and these two in their turn carry on the light of our friends
farther ben in Bredalbane and Cruachan. It’s not a state secret to tell
you we were half feared some of our Antrim gentry might give us a call;
but the Worst Curse on the pigs who come guesting in such weather!”

He was glowering almost feverishly at the hill-top, and I turned round
to see that the busy room had no share in our apprehension. The only
eyes I found looking in our direction were those of Betty, who finding
herself observed, came over, blushing a little, and looked out into the

“You were hiding the moonlight from me,” she said with a smile, a remark
which struck me as curious, for she could not, from where she sat, see
out at the window.

“I never saw one who needed it less,” said Splendid, and still he looked
intently at the mount. “You carry your own with you.”

Having no need to bend, she saw the top of Dun-chuach whenever she got
close to the window, and by this time the light on it looked like a
planet, wan in the moonlight, but unusually large and angry.

“I never saw star so bright,” said the girl, in a natural enough error.

“A challenge to your eyes, madam,” retorted Splendid again, in a
raillery wonderful considering his anxiety, and he whispered in my
ear--“or to us to war.”

As he spoke, the report of a big gun boomed through the frosty air from
Dunchuach to the plain, and the beacon flashed up, tall, flaunting, and

John Splendid turned into the hall and raised his voice a little, to say
with no evidence of disturbance--

“There’s something amiss up the glens, your ladyship.”

The harp her ladyship strummed idly on at the moment had stopped on a
ludicrous and unfinished note, the hum of conversation ended abruptly.
Up to the window the company crowded, and they could see the balefire
blazing hotly against the cool light of the moon and the widely
sprinkled stars. Behind them in a little came Argile, one arm only
thrust hurriedly in a velvet jacket, his hair in a disorder, the pallor
of study on his cheek. He very gently pressed to the front, and looked
out with a lowering brow at the signal.

“Ay, ay!” he said in the English, after a pause that kept the room more
intent on his face than on the balefire. “My old luck bides with me.
I thought the weather guaranteed me a season’s rest, but here’s the
claymore again! Alasdair, Craignish, Sir Donald, I wish you gentlemen
would set the summons about with as little delay as need be. We have
no time for any display of militant science, but as these beacons carry
their tale fast we may easily be at the head of Glen Aora before the
enemy is down Glenurchy.”

Sir Donald, who was the eldest of the officers his lordship addressed,
promised a muster of five hundred men in three hours’ time. “I can have
a _crois-tara_,” he said, “at the very head of Glen Shira in an hour.”

“You may save yourself the trouble,” said John Splendid; “Glen Shira’s
awake by this time, for the watchers have been in the hut on Ben Bhuidhe
since ever we came back from Lorn, and they are in league with other
watchers at the Gearron town, who will have the alarm miles up the Glen
by now if I make no mistake about the breed.”

By this time a servant came in to say Sithean Sluaidhe hill on Cowal was
ablaze, and likewise the hill of Ardno above the Ardkinglas lands.

“The alarm will be over Argile in two hours,” said his lordship. “We’re
grand at the beginnings of things,” and as he spoke he was pouring, with
a steady hand, a glass of wine for a woman in the tremors. “I wish to
God we were better at the endings,” he added, bitterly. “If these Athole
and Antrim caterans have the secret of our passes, we may be rats in a
trap before the morn’s morning.”

The hall emptied quickly, a commotion of folks departing rose in the
courtyard, and candle and torch moved about. Horses put over the bridge
at a gallop, striking sparks from the cobble-stones, swords jingled on
stirrups. In the town, a piper’s tune hurriedly lifted, and numerous
lights danced to the windows of the burghers. John Splendid, the
Marquis, and I were the only ones left in the hall, and the Marquis
turned to me with a smile--

“You see your pledge calls for redemption sooner than you expected,
Elrigmore. The enemy’s not far from Ben Bhuidhe now, and your sword is
mine by the contract.”

“Your lordship can count on me to the last ditch,” I cried; and indeed I
might well be ready, for was not the menace of war as muckle against my
own hearth as against his?

“Our plan,” he went on, “as agreed upon at a council after my return
from the north, was to hold all above Inneraora in simple defence while
lowland troops took the invader behind. Montrose or the Mac Donalds
can’t get through our passes.”

“I’m not cock-sure of that, MacCailein,” said Splendid. “We’re here in
the bottom of an ashet; there’s more than one deserter from your tartan
on the outside of it, and once they get on the rim they have, by all
rules strategic, the upper hand of us in some degree. I never had much
faith (if I dare make so free) in the surety of our retreat here. It’s
an old notion of our grandads that we could bar the passes.”

“So we can, sir, so we can!” said the Marquis, nervously picking at his
buttons with his long white fingers, the nails vexatiously polished and

“Against horse and artillery, I allow, surely not against Gaelic foot.
This is not a wee foray of broken men, but an attack by an army of
numbers. The science of war--what little I learned of it in the Low
Countries with gentlemen esteemed my betters--convinces me that if a big
enough horde fall on from the rim of our ashet, as I call it, they might
sweep us into the loch like rattons.”

I doubt MacCailein Mor heard little of this uncheery criticism, for he
was looking in a seeming blank abstraction out of the end window at the
town lights increasing in number as the minutes passed. His own piper in
the close behind the buttery had tuned up and into the gathering--

“Bha mi air banais ‘am bail’ Inneraora. Banais bu mhiosa bha riamh air
an t-saoghal!”

I felt the tune stir me to the core, and M’Iver, I could see by the
twitch of his face, kindled to the old call.

“Curse them!” cried MacCailein; “Curse them!” he cried in the Gaelic,
and he shook a white fist foolishly at the north; “I’m wanting but peace
and my books. I keep my ambition in leash, and still and on they must be
snapping like curs at Argile. God’s name! and I’ll crush them like ants
on the ant-heap.”

From the door at the end of the room, as he stormed, a little bairn
toddled in, wearing a night-shirt, a curly gold-haired boy with his
cheeks like the apple for hue, the sleep he had risen from still heavy
on his eyes. Seemingly the commotion had brought him from his bed, and
up he now ran, and his little arms went round his father’s knees. On
my word I’ve seldom seen a man more vastly moved than was Archibald,
Marquis of Argile. He swallowed his spittle as if it were wool, and took
the child to his arms awkwardly, like one who has none of the handling
of his own till they are grown up, and I could see the tear at the cheek
he laid against the youth’s ruddy hair.

“Wild men coming!” said the child, not much put about after all.

“They shan’t touch my little Illeasbuig,” whispered his lordship,
kissing him on the mouth. Then he lifted his head and looked hard at
John Splendid. “I think,” he said, “if I went post-haste to Edinburgh,
I could be of some service in advising the nature and route of the
harassing on the rear of Montrose. Or do you think--do you think----?”

He ended in a hesitancy, flushing a little at the brow, his lips
weakening at the corner.

John Splendid, at my side, gave me with his knee the least nudge on the
leg next him.

“Did your lordship think of going to Edinburgh at once?” he asked, with
an odd tone in his voice, and keeping his eyes very fixedly on a window.

“If it was judicious, the sooner the better,” said the Marquis, nuzzling
his face in the soft warmth of the child’s neck.

Splendid looked helpless for a bit, and then took up the policy that
I learned later to expect from him in every similar case. He seemed to
read (in truth it was easy enough!) what was in his master’s mind, and
he said, almost with gaiety--

“The best thing you could do, my lord. Beyond your personal
encouragement (and a Chiefs aye a consoling influence on the field, I’ll
never deny), there’s little you could do here that cannot, with your
pardon, be fairly well done by Sir Donald and myself, and Elrigmore
here, who have made what you might call a trade of tulzie and brulzie.”

MacCailein Mor looked uneasy for all this open assurance. He set the
child down with an awkward kiss, to be taken away by a servant lass who
had come after him.

“Would it not look a little odd!” he said, eyeing us keenly.

“Your lordship might be sending a trusty message to Edinburgh,” I said;
and John Splendid with a “Pshaw!” walked to the window, saying what he
had to say with his back to the candle-light.

“There’s not a man out there but would botch the whole business if you
sent him,” he said; “it must be his lordship or nobody. And what’s to
hinder her ladyship and the children going too? Snugger they’d be by far
in Stirling Lodge than here, I’ll warrant. If I were not an old runt
of a bachelor, it would be my first thought to give my women and bairns

MacCailein flew at the notion. “Just so, just so,” he cried, and of a
sudden he skipped out of the room.

John Splendid turned, pushed the door to after the nobleman, and in a
soft voice broke into the most terrible torrent of bad language ever I
heard (and I’ve known cavaliers of fortune free that way). He called his
Marquis everything but a man.

“Then why in the name of God do you urge him on to a course that a fool
could read the poltroonery of? I never gave MacCailein Mor credit for
being a coward before,” said I.

“Coward!” cried Splendid. “It’s no cowardice but selfishness--the
disease, more or less, of us all. Do you think yon gentleman a coward?
Then you do not know the man. I saw him once, empty-handed, in the
forest, face the white stag and beat it off a hunter it was goring to
death, and they say he never blenched when the bonnet was shot off his
head at Drimtyne, but jested with a ‘Close on’t: a nail-breadth more,
and Colin was heir to an earlhood!’”

“I’m sorry to think the worst of an Argile and a Campbell, but surely
his place is here now.”

“It is, I admit; and I egged him to follow his inclination because I’m
a fool in one thing, as you’ll discover anon, because ifs easier and
pleasanter to convince a man to do what he wants to do than to convince
him the way he would avoid is the only right one.”

“It’s not an altogether nice quirk of the character,” I said, drily. It
gave me something of a stroke to find so weak a bit in a man of so many
notable parts.

He spunked up like tinder.

“Do you call me a liar?” he said, with a face as white as a clout, his
nostrils stretching in his rage.

“Liar!” said I, “not I. It would be an ill time to do it with our common
enemy at the door. A lie (as I take it in my own Highland fashion) is
the untruth told for cowardice or to get a mean advantage of another:
your way with MacCailein was but a foolish way (also Highland, I’ve
noticed) of saving yourself the trouble of spurring up your manhood to
put him in the right.”

“You do me less than half justice,” said Splendid, the blood coming back
to his face, and him smiling again; “I allow I’m no preacher. If a
man must to hell, he must, his own gait. The only way I can get into
argument with him about the business is to fly in a fury. If I let my
temper up I would call MacCailein coward to his teeth, though I know
it’s not his character. But I’ve been in a temper with my cousin before
now, and I ken the stuff he’s made of: he gets as cold as steel the
hotter I get, and with the poorest of causes he could then put me in a
black confusion----”

“But you----”

“Stop, stop! let me finish my tale. Do you know, I put a fair face on
the black business to save the man his own self-respect. He’ll know
himself his going looks bad without my telling him, and I would at least
leave him the notion that we were blind to his weakness. After all
it’s not much of a weakness--the wish to save a wife and children from
danger. Another bookish disease, I admit: their over-much study has
deadened the man to a sense of the becoming, and in an affair demanding
courage he acts like a woman, thinking of his household when he should
be thinking of his clan. My only consolation is that after all (except
for the look of the thing) his leaving us matters little.”

I thought different on that point, and I proved right. If it takes short
time to send a fiery cross about, it takes shorter yet to send a naughty
rumour, and the story that MacCailein Mor and his folks were off in a
hurry to the Lowlands was round the greater part of Argile before the
clansmen mustered at Inneraora. They never mustered at all, indeed, for
the chieftains of the small companies that came from Glen Finne and down
the country no sooner heard that the Marquis was off than they took the
road back, and so Montrose and Colkitto MacDonald found a poltroon and
deserted countryside waiting them.


Eight hours after the beacon kindled on Dunchuach, the enemy was feeling
at the heart of Argile.

It came out years after, that one Angus Macalain, a Glencoe man, a
branded robber off a respectable Water-of-Duglas family, had guided the
main body of the invaders through the mountains of the Urchy and into
our territory. They came on in three bands, Alasdair Mac-Donald and
the Captain of Clanranald (as they called John MacDonald, the beast--a
scurvy knave!), separating at Accurach at the forking of the two glens,
and entering both, Montrose himself coming on the rear as a support As
if to favour the people of the Glens, a thaw came that day with rain and
mist that cloaked them largely from view as they ran for the hills to
shelter in the sheiling bothies. The ice, as I rode up the water-side,
home to Glen Shira to gather some men and dispose my father safely, was
breaking on the surface of the loch and roaring up on the shore in the
incoming tide. It came piling in layers in the bays--a most wonderful
spectacle! I could not hear my horse’s hooves for the cracking and
crushing and cannonade of it as it flowed in on a south wind to the
front of the Gearran, giving the long curve of the land an appearance
new and terrible, filled as it was far over high-water mark with
monstrous blocks, answering with groans and cries to every push of the

I found the glen wrapped in mist, the Gearran hamlet empty of people,
Maam, Kilblaan, Stuchgoy, and Ben Bhuidhe presenting every aspect of
desolation. A weeping rain was making sodden all about my father’s house
when I galloped to the door, to find him and the _sgalag_ the only ones

The old man was bitter on the business.

“Little I thought,” said he, “to see the day when Glen Shira would turn
tail on an enemy.”

“Where are they?” I asked, speaking of our absent followers; but indeed
I might have saved the question, for I knew before he told me they were
up in the conies between the mounts, and in the caves of Glen Finne.

He was sitting at a fire that was down to its grey ash, a mournful
figure my heart was vexed to see. Now and then he would look about him,
at the memorials of my mother, her chair and her Irish Bible (the first
in the parish), and a posy of withered flowers that lay on a bowl on a
shelf where she had placed them, new cut and fresh, the day she took
to her deathbed. Her wheel, too, stood in the corner, with the thread
snapped short in the heck--a hint, I many times thought, at the sundered
interests of life.

“I suppose we must be going with the rest,” I ventured; “there’s small
sense in biding here to be butchered.”

He fell in a rain of tears, fearing nor death nor hardship, I knew, but
wae at the abandonment of his home. I had difficulty in getting him to
consent to come with me, but at last I gave the prospect of safety in
the town and the company of friends there so attractive a hue that he
consented So we hid a few things under a _bruach_ or overhanging brae
beside the burn behind the house, and having shut all the doors--a
comical precaution against an army, it struck me at the time--we rode
down to Inneraora, to the town house of our relative Craignure.

It was a most piteous community, crowded in every lane and pend with
men, women, and children dreadful of the worst All day the people had
been trooping in from the landward parts, flying before the rumour of
the Athole advance down Cladich. For a time there was the hope that
the invaders would but follow the old Athole custom and plunder as they
went, sparing unarmed men and women, but this hope we surrendered when a
lad came from Camus with a tale of two old men, who were weavers there,
and a woman, nailed into their huts and burned to death.

Had Inneraora been a walled town, impregnable, say, as a simple Swabian
village with a few sconces and redoubts, and a few pieces of cannon, we
old soldiers would have counselled the holding of it against all comers;
but it was innocently open to the world, its back windows looking into
the fields, its through-going wynds and closes leading frankly to the

A high and sounding wind had risen from the south, the sea got in a
tumult, the ice-blocks ran like sheep before it to the Gearran bay and
the loch-head. I thought afterwards it must be God’s providence that
opened up for us so suddenly a way of flight from this lamentable trap,
by the open water now free from shore to shore in front of the town.
Generalling the community as if he was a marshal of brigade, John
Splendid showed me the first of his manly quality in his preparation
for the removal of the women and children. He bade the men run out
the fishing smacks, the wherries and skiffs, at the Cadger’s Quay, and
moving about that frantic people, he disposed them in their several
places on the crafts that were to carry them over the three-mile ferry
to Cowal. A man born to enterprise and guidance, certes! I never saw his
equal. He had the happy word for all, the magic hint of hope, a sober
merriment when needed, sometimes a little raillery and laughing,
sometimes (with the old) a farewell in the ear. Even the better
gentry, Sir Donald and the rest, took a second place in the management,
beholding in this poor gentleman the human heart that at a pinch is
better than authority in a gold-braided coat.

By noon we had every bairn and woman (but for one woman I’ll mention) on
their way from the shore, poor dears! tossing on the turbulent sea, the
women weeping bitterly for the husbands and sons they left, for of men
there went with them but the oldsters, able to guide a boat, but poorly
equipped for battling with Irish banditty. And my father was among
them, in the kind hands of his _sgaiag_ and kinswomen, but in a vague
indifference of grief.

A curious accident, that in the grace of God made the greatest
difference on my after-life, left among them that found no place in the
boats the daughter of Provost Brown. She had made every preparation to
go with her father and mother, and had her foot on the beam of the boat,
when an old woman set up a cry for an oe that had been forgot in the
confusion, and was now, likely, crying in the solitude of the back
lands. It was the love-bairn of a dead mother, brought up in the kindly
Highland fashion, free of every gimel and kail-pot. Away skirted Betty
up the causeway of the Cadger’s Quay, and in among the lanes for the
little one, and (I learned again) she found it playing well content
among puddled snow, chattering to itself in the loneliness of yon
war-menaced town. And she had but snatched it up to seek safety with her
in the boats when the full tide of Colkitto’s robbers came pelting in
under the Arches. They cut her off from all access to the boats by that
way, so she turned and made for the other end of the town, hoping to
hail in her father’s skiff when he had put far enough off shore to see
round the point and into the second bay.

We had but time to shout her apparent project to her father, when we
found ourselves fighting hand-to-hand against the Irish gentry in trews.
This was no market-day brawl, but a stark assault-at-arms. All in
the sound of a high wind, broken now and then with a rain blattering
even-down, and soaking through tartan and _clo-dubh_ we at it for dear
life. Of us Clan Campbell people, gentrice and commoners, and so many of
the Lowland mechanics of the place as were left behind, there would
be something less than two hundred, for the men who had come up the
loch-side to the summon of the beacons returned the way they came when
they found MacCailein gone, and hurried to the saving of wife and bairn.
We were all well armed with fusil and sword, and in that we had some
advantage of the caterans bearing down on us; for they had, for the
main part, but rusty matchlocks, pikes, billhooks--even bows and arrows,
antique enough contrivance for a time of civilised war! But they had
hunger and hate for their backers, good guidance in their own savage
fashion from MacDonald, and we were fighting on a half heart, a body
never trained together, and stupid to the word of command.

From the first, John took the head of our poor defence. He was
_duine-uasail_ enough, and he had, notoriously, the skill that earned
him the honour, even over myself (in some degree), and certainly over
Sir Donald.

The town-head fronted the upper bay, and between it and the grinding
ice on the shore lay a broad tract of what might be called esplanade,
presenting ample space for our encounter.

“Gentlemen,” cried John, picking off a man with the first shot from a
silver-butted _dag_ he pulled out of his waist-belt at the onset, “and
with your leave, Sir Donald (trusting you to put pluck in these Low
Country shopkeepers), it’s Inneraora or Ifrinn for us this time. Give
them cold steel, and never an inch of arm-room for their bills!”

Forgotten were the boats, behind lay all our loves and fortunes--was
ever Highland heart but swelled on such a time? Sturdy black and hairy
scamps the Irish--never German boor so inelegant--but venomous in their
courage! Score upon score of them ran in on us through the Arches. Our
lads had but one shot from the muskets, then into them with the dirk and

“Montrose! Montrose!” cried the enemy, even when the blood glucked at
the thrapple, and they twisted to the pain of the knife.

“A papist dog!” cried Splendid, hard at it on my right, for once a
zealous Protestant, and he was whisking around him his broadsword like a
hazel wand, facing half-a-dozen Lochaber-axes. “Cruachan, Cruachan!” he
sang. And we cried the old slogan but once, for time pressed and wind
was dear.

Sitting cosy in taverns with friends long after, listening to men
singing in the cheery way of taverns the ditty that the Leckan bard made
upon this little spulzie, I could weep and laugh in turns at minding of
yon winter’s day. In the hot stress of it I felt but the ardour that’s
in all who wear tartan--less a hatred of the men I thrust and slashed
at with Sir Claymore than a zest in the busy traffic, and something of
a pride (God help me!) in the pretty way my blade dirled on the ham-pans
of the rascals. There was one trick of the sword I had learned off an
old sergeant of pikes in Macka’s Scots, in a leisure afternoon in camp,
that I knew was alien to every man who used the targe in home battles,
and it served me like a Mull wife’s charm. They might be sturdy, the
dogs, valorous too, for there’s no denying the truth, and they were
gleg, gleg with the target in fending, but, man, I found them mighty
simple to the feint and lunge of Alasdair Mor!

Listening, as I say, to a song in a tavern, I’m sad for the stout
fellows of our tartan who fell that day, and still I could laugh gaily
at the amaze of the ragged corps who found gentlemen before them. They
pricked at us, for all their natural ferocity, with something like
apology for marring our fine clothes; and when the end came, and we were
driven back, they left the gentlemen of our band to retreat by the pends
to the beech-wood, and gave their attention to the main body of our
common townsmen.

We had edged, Splendid and Sir Donald and I, into a bit of green behind
the church, and we held a council of war on our next move.

Three weary men, the rain smirring on our sweating, faces, there we
were! I noticed that a trickle of blood was running down my wrist, and I
felt at the same time a beat at the shoulder that gave the explanation,
and had mind that a fellow in the Athole corps had fired a pistolet
point-blank at me, missing me, as I had thought, by the thickness of my

“You’ve got a cut,” said Sir Donald. “You have a face like the clay.”

“A bit of the skin off,” said I, unwilling to vex good company.

“We must take to Eas-a-chosain for it,” said Splendid, his eyes flashing
wild upon the scene, the gristle of his red neck throbbing.

Smoke was among the haze of the rain; from the thatch of the town-head
houses the wind brought on us the smell of burning heather and brake and

“Here’s the lamentable end of town Inneraora!” said John, in a doleful

And we ran, the three of us, up the Fisherland burn side to the wood of
Creag Dubh.


We made good speed up the burn-side, through the fields, and into the
finest forest that was (or is to this day, perhaps) in all the wide
Highlands. I speak of Creag Dubh, great land of majestic trees, home
of the red-deer, rich with glades carpeted with the juiciest grass, and
endowed with a cave or two where we knew we were safe of a sanctuary if
it came to the worst, and the Athole men ran at our heels. It welcomed
us from the rumour of battle with a most salving peace. Under the high
fir and oak we walked in a still and scented air, aisles lay about and
deep recesses, the wind sang in the tops and in the vistas of the trees,
so that it minded one of Catholic kirks frequented otherwhere. We sped
up by the quarries and through Eas-a-chosain (that little glen so full
of fondest memorials for all that have loved and wandered), and found
our first resting-place in a cunning little hold on an eminence looking
down on the road that ran from the town to Coillebhraid mines. Below us
the hillside dipped three or four hundred feet in a sharp slant bushed
over with young _darach_ wood; behind us hung a tremendous rock that few
standing upon would think had a hollow heart Here was our refuge, and
the dry and stoury alleys of the fir-wood we had traversed gave no clue
of our track to them that might hunt us.

We made a fire whose smoke curled out at the back of the cave into a
linn at the bottom of a fall the Cromalt burn has here, and had there
been any to see the reek they would have thought it but the finer spray
of the thawed water rising among the melting ice-lances. We made, too,
couches of fir-branches--the springiest and most wholesome of beds in
lieu of heather or gall, and laid down our weariness as a soldier would
relinquish his knapsack, after John Splendid had bandaged my wounded

In the cave of Eas-a-chosain we lay for more days than I kept count
of, I immovable, fevered with my wound, Sir Donald my nurse, and John
Splendid my provider. They kept keen scrutiny on the road below, where
sometimes they could see the invaders passing in bands in their search
for scattered townships or crofts.

On the second night John ventured into the edge of the town to see how
fared Inneraora and to seek provand. He found the place like a fiery
cross,--burned to char at the ends, and only the mid of it--the solid
Tolbooth and the gentle houses--left to hint its ancient pregnancy. A
corps of Irish had it in charge while their comrades scoured the rest of
the country, and in the dusk John had an easy task to find brandy in the
cellars of Craig-nure (the invaders never thought of seeking a cellar
for anything more warming than peats), a boll of meal in handfuls here
and there among the meal-girnels of the commoner houses that lay open to
the night, smelling of stale hearth-fires, and harried.

To get fresh meat was a matter even easier, though our guns we dare
not be using, for there were blue hares to snare, and they who have not
taken fingers to a roasted haunch of badger harried out of his hiding
with a club have fine feeding yet to try. The good Gaelic soldier will
eat, sweetly, crowdy made in his brogue--how much better off were we
with the stout and well-fired oaten cakes that this Highland gentleman
made on the flagstone in front of our cave-fire!

Never had a wounded warrior a more rapid healing than I. “_Ruigidh an
ro-ghiullach air an ro-ghalar_”--good nursing will overcome the worst
disease, as our antique proverb says, and I had the best of nursing and
but a baggage-master’s wound after all. By the second week I was hale
and hearty. We were not uncomfortable in our forest sanctuary; we were
well warmed by the perfumed roots of the candle-fir; John Splendid’s
foraging was richer than we had on many a campaign, and a pack of cartes
lent some solace to the heaviest of our hours. To our imprisonment
we brought even a touch of scholarship. Sir Donald was a student of
Edinburgh College--a Master of Arts--learned in the moral philosophies,
and he and I discoursed most gravely of many things that had small
harmony with our situation in that savage foe-haunted countryside.

To these, our learned discourses, John Splendid would listen with
an impatient tolerance, finding in the most shrewd saying of the old
scholars we dealt with but a paraphrase of some Gaelic proverb or the
roundabout expression of his own views on life and mankind.

“Tuts! tuts!” he would cry, “I think the dissensions of you two are but
one more proof of the folly of book-learning. Your minds are not your
own, but the patches of other people’s bookish duds. A keen eye, a
custom of puzzling everything to its cause, a trick of balancing the
different motives of the human heart, get John M’Iver as close on the
bone when it comes to the bit. Every one of the scholars you are talking
of had but my own chance (maybe less, for who sees more than a Cavalier
of fortune?) of witnessing the real true facts of life. Did they live
to-day poor and hardy, biting short at an oaten bannock to make it go
the farther, to-morrow gorging on fat venison and red rich wine? Did
they parley with cunning lawyers, cajole the boor, act the valorous on
a misgiving heart, guess at the thought of man or woman oftener than
we do? Did ever you find two of them agree on the finer points of their
science? Never the bit!”

We forgave him his heresies for the sake of their wit, that I but poorly
chronicle, and he sang us wonderful Gaelic songs that had all of that
same wisdom he bragged of--no worse, I’ll allow, than the wisdom of
print; not all love-songs, laments, or such naughty ballads as you will
hear to-day, but the poetry of the more cunning bards. Our cavern, in
its inner recesses, filled with the low rich chiming of his voice; his
face, and hands, and whole body took part in the music. In those hours
his character borrowed just that touch of sincerity it was in want of
at ordinary times, for he was one of those who need trial and trouble to
bring out their better parts.

We might have been happy, we might have been content, living thus in
our cave the old hunter’s life; walking out at early mornings in the
adjacent parts of the wood for the wherewithal to breakfast; rounding
in the day with longer journeys in the moonlight, when the shadows were
crowded with the sounds of night bird and beast;--we might have been
happy, I say, but for thinking of our country’s tribulation. Where were
our friends and neighbours? Who were yet among the living? How fared
our kin abroad in Cowal or fled farther south to the Rock of Dunbarton?
These restless thoughts came oftener to me than to my companions, and
many an hour I spent in woeful pondering in the alleys of the wood.

At last it seemed the Irish who held the town were in a sure way to
discover our hiding if we remained any longer there. Their provender was
running low, though they had driven hundreds of head of cattle before
them down the Glens; the weather hardened to frost again, and they were
pushing deeper into the wood to seek for bestial. It was full of animals
we dare not shoot, but which they found easy to the bullet; red-deer
with horns--even at three years old--stunted to knobs by a constant life
in the shade and sequestration of the trees they threaded their lives
through, or dun-bellied fallow-deer unable to face the blasts of the
exposed hills, light-coloured yeld hinds and hornless “heaviers” (or
winterers) the size of oxen. A flock or two of wild goat, even, lingered
on the upper slopes towards Ben Bhrec, and they were down now browsing
in the ditches beside the Marriage Tree.

We could see little companies of the enemy come closer and closer on
our retreat each day--attracted up the side of the hill from the road by
birds and beast that found cover under the young oaks.

“We’ll have to be moving before long,” said Sir Donald, ruefully looking
at them one day--so close at hand that we unwittingly had our fingers
round the dirk-hilts.

He had said the true word.

It was the very next day that an Irishman, bending under a bush to lift
a hedgehog that lay sleeping its winter sleep tightly rolled up in grass
and bracken, caught sight of the narrow entrance to our cave. Our eyes
were on him at the time, and when he came closer we fell back into
the rear of our dark retreat, thinking he might not push his inquiry

For once John Splendid’s cunning forsook him in the most ludicrous way.
“I could have stabbed him where he stood,” he said afterwards, “for
I was in the shadow at his elbow;” but he forgot that the fire whose
embers glowed red within the cave would betray its occupation quite as
well as the sight of its occupants, and that we were discovered only
struck him when the man, after but one glance in, went bounding down the
hill to seek for aid in harrying this nest of ours.

It was “Bundle and Go” on the bagpipes. We hurried to the top of the
hill and along the ridge just inside the edge of the pines in the
direction of the Aora, apprehensive that at every step we should fall
upon bands of the enemy, and if we did not come upon themselves, we came
upon numerous enough signs of their employment. Little farms lay in the
heart of the forest of Creag Dubh,--or rather more on the upper edge
of it,--their fields scalloped into the wood, their hills a part of the
mountains that divide Loch Finne from Lochow. To-day their roof-trees
lay humbled on the hearth, the gable-walls stood black and eerie, with
the wind piping between the stones, the cabars or joists held charred
arms to heaven, like poor martyrs seeking mercy. Nothing in or about
these once happy homesteads, and the pertinents and pendicles near them,
had been spared by the robbers.

But we had no time for weeping over such things as we sped on our way
along the hillside for Dunchuach, the fort we knew impregnable and sure
to have safety for us if we could get through the cordon that was bound
to be round it.

It was a dull damp afternoon, an interlude in the frost, chilly and raw
in the air, the forest filled with the odours of decaying leaves and
moss. The greater part of our way lay below beechwood neither thick nor
massive, giving no protection from the rain to the soil below it, so
that we walked noisily and uncomfortably in a mash of rotten vegetation.
We were the length of the Cherry Park, moving warily, before our first
check came. Here, if possible, it were better we should leave the wood
and cut across the mouth of the Glen to Dunchuach on the other side. But
there was no cover to speak of in that case. The river Aora, plopping
and crying on its hurried way down, had to be crossed, if at all, by a
wooden bridge, cut at the parapets in the most humorous and useless way
in embrasures, every embrasure flanked by port-holes for musketry--a
laughable pretence about an edifice in itself no stronger against powder
than a child’s toy.

On the very lowest edges of the wood, in the shade of a thick plump
of beech, strewed generously about the foot by old bushes of whin
and bramble, we lay at last studying the open country before us,
and wondering how we should win across it to the friendly shelter of
Dunchuach. Smoke was rising from every chimney in the castle, which,
with its moat and guns, and its secret underground passage to the
seashore, was safe against surprises or attacks through all this
disastrous Antrim occupation. But an entrance to the castle was
beyond us; there was nothing for it but Dunchuach, and it cheered us
wonderfully too, that from the fort there floated a little stream of
domestic reek, white-blue against the leaden grey of the unsettled sky.

“Here we are, dears, and yonder would we be,” said John, digging
herb-roots with his knife and chewing them in an abstraction of hunger,
for we had been disturbed at a meal just begun to.

I could see a man here and there between us and the lime-kiln we must
pass on our way up Dunchuach. I confessed myself in as black a quandary
as ever man experienced. As for Sir Donald--good old soul!--he was now,
as always, unable to come to any conclusion except such as John Splendid
helped him to.

We lay, as I say, in the plump, each of us under his bush, and the whole
of us overhung a foot or two by a brow of land bound together by the
spreading beech-roots. To any one standing on the _bruach_ we were
invisible, but a step or two would bring him round to the foot of our
retreat and disclose the three of us.

The hours passed, with us ensconced there--every hour the length of a
day to our impatience and hunger; but still the way before was barred,
for the coming and going of people in the valley was unceasing. We had
talked at first eagerly in whispers, but at last grew tired of such
unnatural discourse, and began to sleep in snatches for sheer lack of
anything eke to do. It seemed we were prisoned there till nightfall
at least, if the Athole man who found our cave did not track us to our

I lay on the right of my two friends, a little more awake, perhaps, than
they, and so I was the first to perceive a little shaking of the soil,
and knew that some one was coming down upon our hiding. We lay tense,
our breathing caught at the chest, imposing on ourselves a stillness
that swelled the noises of nature round about us--the wind, the river,
the distant call of the crows--to a most clamorous and appalling degree.

We could hear our visitor breathing as he moved about cautiously on the
stunted grass above us, and so certain seemed discovery that we had our
little black knives lying naked along our wrists.

The suspense parched me at the throat till I thought the rasping of
my tongue on the roof of my palate seemed like the scraping of a
heath-brush in a wooden churn. Unseen we were, we knew, but it was
patent that the man above us would be round in front of us at any
moment, and there we were to his plain eyesight! He was within three
yards of a steel death, even had he been Fin MacCoul; but the bank he
was standing on--or lying on, as we learned again--crumbled at the edge
and threw him among us in a different fashion from that we had looked

My fingers were on his throat before I saw that we had for our visitor
none other than young MacLachlan.

He had his _sgian dubh_ almost at my stomach before our mutual
recognition saved the situation.

“You’re a great stranger,” said John Splendid, with a fine pretence at
more coolness than he felt, “and yet I thought Cowal side would be more
to your fancy than real Argile in this vexatious time.”

“I wish to God I was on Cowal side now!” said the lad, ruefully. “At
this minute I wouldn’t give a finger-length of the Loch Eck road for the
whole of this rich strath.”

“I don’t suppose you were forced over here,” I commented.

“As well here in one way as another,” he said “I suppose you are unaware
that Montrose and MacDonald have overrun the whole country. They have
sacked and burned the greater part of Cowal; they have gone down as far
as Knapdale. I could have been in safety with my own people (and the
bulk of your Inneraora people too) by going to Bute or Dunbarton, but I
could hardly do that with my kinsfolk still hereabouts in difficulties.”

“Where, where?” I cried; “and who do you mean?”

He coughed, in a sort of confusion, I could see, and said he spoke of
the Provost and his family.

“But the Provost’s gone, man!” said I, “and his family too.”

“My cousin Betty is not gone among them,” said he; “she’s either in
the castle yonder--and I hope to God she is--or a prisoner to the
MacDonalds, or----”

“The Worst Curse on their tribe!” cried John Splendid, in a fervour.

Betty, it seemed, from a narrative that gave me a stound of anguish, had
never managed to join her father in the boats going over to Cowal the
day the MacDonalds attacked the town. Terror had seemingly sent her,
carrying the child, away behind the town; for though her father and
others had put ashore again at the south bay, they could not see her,
and she was still unfound when the triumph of the invader made flight
needful again.

“Her father would have bided too,” said MacLachlan, “but that he had
reason to believe she found the safety of the castle. Lying off the quay
when the light was on, some of the people in the other boats saw a woman
with a burden run up the riverside to the back of the castle garden, and
there was still time to get over the draw-brig then.”

MacLachlan himself had come round by the head of the loch, and by going
through the Barrabhreac wood and over the shoulder of Duntorval, had
taken Inneraora on the rear flank. He had lived several days in a bothy
above the Beannan on High Balantyre, and, like ourselves, depended on
his foraging upon the night and the luck of the woods.

We lay among the whins and bramble undisturbed till the dusk came on.
The rain had stopped, a few stars sedately decked the sky. Bursts of
laughing, the cries of comrades, bits of song, came on the air from the
town where the Irish caroused. At last between us and Dun-chuach there
seemed to be nothing to prevent us venturing on if the bridge was clear.

“If not,” said Sir Donald, “here’s a doomed old man, for I know no

“There’s Edinburgh for you, and a gentleman’s education!” said John
Splendid, with a dry laugh; and he added, “But I daresay I could do the
swimming for the both of us, Sir Donald I have carried my accoutrements
dry over a German river ere now, and I think I could convey you safe
over yon bit burn even if it were not so shallow above the bridge as I
expect it is after these long frosts.”

“I would sooner force the bridge if ten men held it,” said MacLachlan.
“I have a Highland hatred of the running stream, and small notion to
sleep a night in wet tartan.”

John looked at the young fellow with a struggle for tolerance. “Well,
well,” he said; “we have all a touch of the fop in our youth.”

“True enough, you’re not so young as you were once,” put in MacLachlan,
with a sly laugh.

“I’m twenty at the heart,” cried John,--“at the heart, man,--and do my
looks make me more than twice that age? I can sing you, or run you, or
dance you. What I thought was that at your age I was dandified too about
my clothing. I’ll give you the benefit of believing that it’s not the
small discomfort of a journey in wet tartan you vex yourself over.
Have we not--we old campaigners of Lumsden’s--soaked our plaids in the
running rivers of Low Germanie, and rolled them round us at night to
make our hides the warmer, our sleep the snugger? Oh, the old days! Oh,
the stout days! God’s name, but I ken one man who wearies of these tame
and comfortable times!”

“Whether or not,” said Sir Donald, anxious to be on, “I wish the top of
Dunchuach was under our brogues.”

“_Allons, mes amis_, then,” said John, and out we set.

Out we went, and we sped swiftly down to the bridge, feeling a sense of
safety in the dark and the sound of the water that mourned in a hollow
way under the wooden cabars. There was no sentinel, and we crossed dry
and safely. On the other side, the fields, broken here and there by
dry-stone dykes, a ditch or two, and one long thicket of shrubs, rose
in a gentle ascent to the lime-kiln. We knew every foot of the way as
‘twere in our own pockets, and had small difficulty in pushing on in the
dark. The night, beyond the kiln and its foreign trees, was loud with
the call of white-horned owls, sounding so human sometimes that it sent
the heart vaulting and brought us to pause in a flurried cluster on the
path that we followed closely as it twisted up the hill.

However, we were in luck’s way for once. Never a creature challenged our
progress until we landed at the north wall of the fort, and crouching in
the rotten brake, cried, “Gate, oh!” to the occupants.

A stir got up within; a torch flared on the wall, and a voice asked our
tartan and business.

“Is that you, Para Mor?” cried John Splendid. “It’s a time for short
ceremony. Here are three or four of your closest friends terribly keen
to see the inside of a wall.”

“Barbreck, is’t?” cried Para Mor, holding the flambeau over his head
that he might look down on us.

“Who’s that with the red tartan?” he asked, speaking of MacLachlan,
whose garments shone garish in the light beside our dull Campbell
country war-cloth.

“Condemn your parley, Para Mor,” cried Sir Donald; “it’s young
MacLachlan,--open your doors!”

And the gate in a little swung on its hinges to pass us in.


This mount of Dunchuach, on which we now found ourselves ensconced,
rises in a cone shape to a height of about eight hundred feet, its
bottom being but a matter of a quarter-mile from the castle door. It is
wooded to the very nose, almost, except for the precipitous _sgornach_
or scaur, that, seen from a distance, looks like a red wound on the face
of it The fort, a square tower of extraordinarily stout masonry, with an
eminent roof, had a sconce with escarpment round it, placed on the very
edge of the summit. Immediately behind Dunchuach is Duntorvil, its twin
peak, that, at less distance than a shout will carry, lifts a hundred
feet higher on the north. The two hills make, indeed, but one, in a
manner of talking, except for this hundred feet of a hollow worn by a
burn lost midway in long sour grasses. It had always been a surprise to
me that Argile’s grandfather, when he set the fort on the hill, chose
the lower of the two eminences, contrary to all good guidance of war.
But if he had not full domination on Dunchuach, he had, at any rate,
a fine prospect I think, in all my time, I have never witnessed a more
pleasing scene than ever presents itself in clear weather from the brow
of this peak. Loch Finne--less, as the whim of the fancy might have it,
a loch than a noble river--runs south in a placid band; the Cowal hills
rise high on the left, bare but of heather and gall; in front is the
heart of Argile, green with the forest of Creag Dubh, where the stag
bays in the gloaming. For miles behind the town and castle lies a plain,
flat and rich, growing the most lush crops. The town itself, that one
could almost throw a stone down on, looks like a child’s toy. And away
to the north and west are the abundant hills, rising higher and higher,
sprinkled here and there with spots of moor loch.

The fort this night was held by a hundred men of the body called the
Marquis his Halberdiers, a corps of antique heroes whose weapon for
ordinary was a long axe, a pretty instrument on a parade of state, but
small use, even at close quarters, with an enemy. They had skill of
artillery, however, and few of them but had a Highlander’s training in
the use of the broadsword. Besides two culverins mounted on the less
precipitous side of the hill--which was the way we came--they had
smaller firearms in galore on the sconce, and many kegs of powder
disposed in a recess or magazine at the base of the tower. To the east
of the tower itself, and within the wall of the fort (where now is but
an old haw-tree), was a governor’s house perched on the sheer lip of the
hill, so that, looking out at its window, one could spit farther than a
musket-ball would carry on the level.

We were no sooner in than MacLachlan was scenting round and into this
little house. He came out crestfallen, and went over to the group
of halberdiers, who were noisily telling their story to myself and

“Are no people here but men?” he asked Para Mor, who was sergeant of the
company, and to all appearance in charge of the place.

He caught me looking at him in some wonder, and felt bound, seemingly,
to explain himself.

“I had half the hope,” said he, “that my cousin had come here; but
she’ll be in the castle after all, as her father thought.”

John Splendid gave me the pucker of an eye and a line of irony about
the edge of his lips, that set my blood boiling. I was a foolish and
ungoverned creature in those days of no-grace. I cried in my English,
“One would think you had a goodman’s interest in this bit girl.”

MacLachlan leered at me with a most devilish light in his black eyes,
and said, “Well, well, I might have even more. Marriage, they say,
makes the sweetest woman wersh. But I hope you’ll not grudge me, my dear
Elrigmore, some anxiety about my own relatives.”

The fellow was right enough (that was the worst of it), for a cousin’s
a cousin in the friendly North; but I found myself for the second time
since I came home grudging him the kinship to the Provost of Inneraora’s

That little tirravee passed, and we were soon heartily employed on a
supper that had to do duty for two meals. We took it at a rough table
in the tower, lighted by a flambeau that sent sparks flying like pigeons
into the sombre height of the building which tapered high overhead as
a lime-kiln upside down. From this retreat we could see the proof of
knavery in the villages below. Far down on Knapdale, and back in the
recesses of Lochow, were burning homes, to judge from the blotched sky.

Dunchuach had never yet been attacked, but that was an experience
expected at any hour, and its holders were ready for it They had
disposed their guns round the wall in such a way as to command the whole
gut between the hills, and consequently the path up from the glens. The
town side of the fort wall, and the east side, being on the sheer face
(almost) of the rock, called for no artillery.

It was on the morning of the second day there that our defence was put
to the test by a regiment of combined Irish and Athole men. The day was
misty, with the frost in a hesitancy, a raw gowsty air sweeping over the
hills. Para Mor, standing on the little north bastion or ravelin, as his
post of sergeant always demanded, had been crooning a ditty and carving
a scroll with his hunting-knife on a crook he would maybe use when he
got back to the tack where his home was in ashes and his cattle were far
to seek, when he heard a crackle of bushes at the edge of the wood that
almost reached the hill-top, but falls short for lack of shelter from
the sinister wind. In a second a couple of scouts in dirty red and green
tartans, with fealdags or pleatless kilts on them instead of the better
class philabeg, crept cannily out into the open, unsuspicious that their
position could be seen from the fort.

Para Mor stopped his song, projected his firelock over the wall as he
ducked his body behind it--all but an eye and shoulder--and, with a
hairy cheek against the stock, took aim at the foremost The crack of the
musket sounded odd and moist in the mist, failing away in a dismal slam
that carried but a short distance, yet it was enough to rouse Dunchuach.

We took the wall as we stood,--myself, I remember me, in my kilt, with
no jacket, and my shirt-sleeves rolled up to the shoulder; for I had
been putting the stone, a pleasant Highland pastime, with John Splendid,
who was similarly disaccoutred.

“All the better for business,” said he, though the raw wind, as we lined
the wall, cut like sharp steel.

Para Mor’s unfortunate gentleman was the only living person to see
when we looked into the gut, and he was too little that way to say much
about. Para had fired for the head, but struck lower, so that the scout
writhed to his end with a red-hot coal among his last morning’s viands.

Long after, it would come back to me, the oddity of that spectacle
in the hollow--a man in a red fealdag, with his hide-covered buckler
grotesquely flailing the grass, he, in the Gaelic custom, making a great
moan about his end, and a pair of bickering rooks cawing away heartily
as if it was no more than a sheep in the throes of braxy.

After a little the moan of the MacDonald stopped, the crows slanted down
to the loch-side, stillness came over the place. We talked in whispers,
sped about the walls on the tiptoes of our brogues, and peered
wonderingly down to the edge of the wood. Long we waited and wearily,
and by-and-by who came out high on the shoulder of Duntorvil but a band
of the enemy, marching in good order for the summit of that paramount

“I hope to God they have no large pieces with them yonder,” said John;
“for they’ll have a coign there to give us trouble if once they get
mother of muskets in train.”

But, fortunately for us, no artillery ever came to Duntorvil.

Fully two hundred of the enemy massed on the hill, commanded by a squat
officer in breeks and wearing a peruke _Anglicè_, that went oddly with
his tartan plaid. He was the master of Clanranald, we learned anon, a
cunning person, whose aim was to avail himself of the impetuousness
of the kilts he had in his corps. Gaels on the attack, as he knew, are
omnipotent as God’s thunderbolts: give them a running start at a foe,
with no waiting, and they might carry the gates of hell against the
Worst One and all his clan; on a standing defence where coolness and
discipline are wanted they have less splendid virtues. Clanranald was
well aware that to take his regiment all into the hollow where his
scout was stiffening was not only to expose them to the fire of the fort
without giving them any chance of quick reply, but to begin the siege
off anything but the bounding shoe-sole the Highlander has the natural
genius for. What he devised was to try musketry at long range (and to
shorten my tale, that failed), then charge from his summit, over the
rushy gut, and up the side of Dunchuach, disconcerting our aim and
bringing his men in on their courageous heat.

We ran back our pieces through the gorge of the bastions, wheeled them
in on the terre-plein back from the wall, and cocked them higher on
their trunnions to get them in train for the opposite peak.

“Boom!” went the first gun, and a bit of brown earth spat up to the left
of the enemy, low by a dozen paces.

A silly patter of poor musketry made answer, but their bullets might as
well have been aimed at snipe for all the difference it made to us: they
came short or spattered against our wall. We could hear the shouts of
the foe, and saw their confusion as our third gun sent its message into
the very heart of them.

Then they charged Dunchuach.

Our artillery lost its value, and we met them with fusil and caliver.

They came on in a sort of echelon of four companies, close ordered, and
not as a more skilly commander would make them, and the leading company
took the right. The rushy grass met them with a swish as they bounded
over it like roebucks, so fast that our few score of muskets made no
impression on them until they were climbing up the steep brae that led
to our walls.

Over a man in a minority, waiting, no matter how well ensconced, the
onslaught of numbers carried on the wings of hate, there comes a strange
feeling--I’ll never deny it--a sort of qualm at the pit of the stomach,
a notion to cry parley or turn a tail disgraceful. I felt it but for a
second, and then I took to my old practice of making a personal foe of
one particular man in front of me. This time I chose a lieutenant or
sergeant of the MacDonalds (by his tartan), a tall lean rascal, clean
shaved, in trews and a tight-fitting _cota gearr_ or short coat, with an
otter-skin cap on his head, the otter-tail still attached and dangling
behind like a Lowlander’s queue. He was striding along zealfully,
brandishing his sword, and disdaining even to take off his back the
bull-hide targe, though all his neighbours kept theirs in front of them
on the left arm.

“You have wrecked honest homes!” I argued with him in my mind. “You
put the torch to the widow’s thatch, you have driven the cattle from
Elrigmore, and what of a girl with dark eyes like the sloe? Fancy man,
man of my fancy! Oh! here’s the end of your journey!”

Our assailants, after their usual custom, dropped their pieces, such as
had them, when they had fired the first shot, and risked all on the push
of the target and the slash of the broad brand, confident even that our
six or seven feet of escarpment would never stay their onset any time to
speak of. An abattis or a fosse would have made this step futile; but as
things were, it was not altogether impossible that they might surmount
our low wall. Our advantage was that the terre-plein on which we stood
was three or four feet higher than they were at the outer side of the
wall, apart from the fact that they were poised precariously on a steep
brae. We leaned calmly over the wall and spat at them with pistols now
and then as they ran up the hill, with Clanranald and some captains
crying them on at the flank or middle. In the plain they left a piper
who had naturally not enough wind to keep his instrument going and face
the hill at the same time. He strode up and down in the deadliest part
of the valley where a well-sent musket ball would never lose him, and
played a tune they call “The Galley of the Waves,” a Stewart rant with
a hint of the zest of the sea in it Nobody thought of firing at him,
though his work was an encouragement to our foes, and anon the hill-tops
rang with a duel of pibrochs between him and a lad of our garrison, who
got round on the top of the wall near the governor’s house and strutted
high shouldered up and down, blasting at the good braggart air of “Baile

Those snorting, wailing, warring pipes mingled oddly with the shout of
the fighting men, who had ways of battle new to me in practice though
they were in a sense my own countrymen. Gaelic slogans and maledictions
they shouted, and when one of them fell in the mob, his immediate
comrades never failed to stop short in their charge and coolly rob him
of a silver button from his coat, or a weapon if it seemed worth while.

In a little they were soon clamouring against our wall. We laughed and
prodded them off with the long-handed axes to get free play with the
fusils, and one after another of them fell off, wounded or dead.

“This is the greatest folly ever I saw,” said Sir Donald, wiping his
brow with a bloody hand.

“I wish I was sure there was no trick in it,” said John. He was looking
around him and taking a tug at his belt, that braced him by a couple of
holes. Then he spat, for luck, on a ball he dropped into his fusil, said
a Glassary charm on it as he rammed home the charge and brought the butt
to his cheek, aiming at a white-faced Irisher with a leathern waistcoat,
who fell backward into a dub of mud and stirred no more.

“Four!” said John; “I could scarcely do better with my own French fusil
Main Og.”

The enemy drew off at a command of their captain, and into the edge of
the wood that came up on the left near our summit. We lost our interest
in them for a time, watching a man running up the little valley from the
right, above Kilmalieu. He came on waving his arms wildly and pointing
ahead; but though he was plain to our view, he was out of sight of the
enemy on the left.

A long black coat hampered his movements, and he looked gawky enough,
stumbling through the rushes.

“If I didn’t think the inside of Castle Inneraora was too snug to quit
for a deadly hillside,” said John, “I could believe yon was our friend
the English minister.”

“The English minister sure enough!” said half-a-dozen beside us.

“Here’s ill-luck for us then!” cried John, with irony. “He’ll preach us
to death: the fellow’s deadlier than the Clanranald ban ditty.”

Some one ran to the post beside the governor’s house, and let the
gentleman in when he reached it. He was panting like a winded hound, the
sweat standing in beads on his shaven jowl, and for a minute or two
he could say nothing, only pointing at the back of our fort in the
direction of the town.

“A parish visit, is it, sir?” asked John, still in his irony.

The minister sat him down on a log of wood and clutched his side, still
pointing eagerly to the south of our fort No one could understand him,
but at last he found a choked and roupy voice.

“A band behind there,” he said; “your--front--attack is--but--a--feint”

As he spoke, half-a-dozen men in a north-country tartan got on the top
of our low rear wall that we thought impregnable on the lip of the hill,
and came on us with a most ferocious uproar. “Badenoch!” they cried in
a fashion to rend the hills, and the signal (for such it was more than
slogan) brought on our other side the Clanranald gentry.

What followed in that hearthstone fight so hot and brisk took so short
a space of time, and happened in so confused and terrible a moment,
that all but my personal feeling escapes me. My every sense stirred
with something horrible--the numb sound of a musket-butt on a head,
the squeal of men wounded at the vitals, and the deeper roar of hate;
a smell of blood as I felt it when a boy holding the candle at night to
our shepherds slaughtering sheep in the barn at home; before the eyes a
red blur cleared at intervals when I rubbed the stinging sweat from my

Half a hundred of those back-gait assailants were over our low wall with
their axe-hooks and ladders before we could charge and prime, engaging
us hand to hand in the cobbled square of our fort, at the tower foot.
The harassment on this new side gave the first band of the enemy the
chance to surmount our front wall, and they were not slow to take it.

Luckily our halberdiers stood firm in a mass that faced both ways,
and as luckily, we had in Master John M’Iver a general of strategy and

“Stand fast, Campbell Halberdiers!” he cried. “It’s bloody death,
whether we take it like cravens or Gaelic gentlemen!” He laid about him
with a good purpose, and whether they tried us in front or rear, the
scamps found the levelled pikes and the ready swords. Some dropped
beside, but more dropped before us, for the tod in a hole will face
twenty times what he will flee from in the open wood, but never a man
of all our striving company fought sturdier than our minister, with a
weapon snatched from an Athole man he had levelled at a first blow from
an oaken rung.

“The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” he would cry; “for all the
kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together
against us.” A slim elder man he was, ordinarily with a wan sharp face;
now it was flushed and hoved in anger, and he hissed his texts through
his teeth as he faced the dogs. Some of youth’s schooling was there, a
Lowland youth’s training with the broadsword, for he handled it like no
novice, and even M’Iver gave him “Bravo, _suas e!_”

That we held our ground was no great virtue--we could scarcely do less;
but we did more, for soon we had our enemy driven back on the walls.
They fought with a frenzy that made them ill to beat, but when a couple
of scores of our lads lined the upper wall again and kept back the leak
from that airt by the command of John Splendid, it left us the chance of
sweeping our unwelcome tenants back again on the lower wall. They stayed
stubbornly, but we had weight against them and the advantage of the
little brae, and by-and-by we pinned them, like foumarts, against the
stones. Most of them put back against the wall, and fought, even with
the pike at their vitals, slashing empty air with sword or dirk; some
got on the wall again and threw themselves over the other side, risking
the chance of an uglier death on the rocks below.

In less than an hour after the shot of Para Mor (himself a stricken
corpse now) rang over Dunchuach, our piper, with a gash on his face, was
playing some vaunting air on the walls again, and the fort was free of
the enemy, of whom the bulk had fallen back into the wood, and seemingly
set out for Inneraora.

Then we gathered and stroked our dead--twenty-and-three; we put our
wounded in the governor’s house, and gave them the rough leech-craft of
the fighting field; the dead of the assailants we threw over the rock,
and among them was a clean-shaven man in trews and a tight-fitting _cota
gearr_, who left two halves of an otter-skin cap behind him.

“I wish to God!” cried John Splendid, “that I had a drink of Altanaluinn
at this minute, or the well of Beal-loch-an-uarain.”

It was my own first thought, or something very like it, when the
fighting was over, for a most cruel thirst crisped my palate, and, as
ill luck had it, there was not a cup of water in the fort.

“I could be doing with a drop myself,” said the English minister. “I’ll
take a stoup and go down to the well yonder and fetch it.”

He spoke of the spout in the gut, a clean little well of hill-water
that, winter or summer, kept full to the lip and accessible.

We had gathered into the tower itself (all but a few sentinels), glad
for a time to escape the sight of yon shambles of friend and foe that
the battle had left us. The air had softened of a sudden from its
piercing cold to a mildness balmy by comparison; the sky had leadened
over with a menacing vapour, and over the water--in the great glen
between Ben Ime and Ardno--a mist hurried to us like driving smoke. A
few flakes of snow fell, lingering in the air as feathers from a nest in

“Here’s a friend of Argile back again,” said an old halberdier,
staunching a savage cut on his knee, and mumbling his words because he
was chewing as he spoke an herb that’s the poultice for every wound.

“Frost and snow might have been Argile’s friend when that proverb was
made,” said John Splendid, “but here are changed times; our last snow
did not keep Colkitto on the safe side of Cladich. Still, if this be
snow in earnest,” he added with a cheerier tone, “it may rid us of these
vermin, who’ll find provand iller to get every extra day they bide.
Where are you going, Master Gordon?”

“To the well,” said the minister, simply, stopping at the port, with
a wooden stoup in his hand. “Some of our friends must be burning for a
mouthful, poor dears; the wounded flesh is drouthy.”

John turned himself round on a keg he sat on, and gave a French shrug he
had picked up among foreign cavaliers.

“Put it down, sir,” he said; “there’s a wheen less precious lives in
this hold than a curate’s, and for the turn you did us in coming up to
alarm us of the rear attack, if for nothing else, I would be sorry to
see you come to any skaith. Do you not know that between us and the
well there might be death half-a-dozen times? The wood, I’ll warrant, is
hotching still with those disappointed warriors of Clanranald, who would
have no more reverence for your life than for your Geneva bands.”

“There’s no surer cure for the disease of death in a hind than for the
same murrain in a minister of the Gospel--or a landed gentleman,” said
Gordon, touched in his tone a little by the austerity of his speeches as
we heard them at the kirk-session.

John showed some confusion in his face, and the minister had his feet on
the steps before he could answer him.

“Stop, stop!” he cried. “Might I have the honour of serving the Kirk for
once? I’ll get the water from the well, minister, if you’ll go in again
and see how these poor devils of ours are thriving. I was but joking
when I hinted at the risk; our Athole gentry are, like enough, far off
by this time.”

“I liked you better when you were selfish and told the truth, than now
that you’re valiant (in a small degree) and excuse it with a lie,” quo’
the minister, and off he set.

He was beyond the wall, and stepping down the brae before we could be
out at the door to look after him.

“Damn his nipped tongue!” fumed John. “But man! there’s a lovable quirk
in his character too. I’ll give twenty pounds (Scots) to his kirk-plate
at the first chance if he wins out of this fool’s escapade of his
without injury.”

There was no doubt the minister’s task had many hazards in it, for he
carried stave nor steel as he jogged on with the stoup, over the frank
open brae-side, down to the well. Looking at him going down into the
left of the gut as unafeared as he had come up on the right of it, I
put myself in his place, and felt the skin of my back pimp-ling at the
instinct of lurking enemies.

But Gordon got safely to the well, through the snow, now falling in a
heavy shower, dipped out a stoupful, and turned about to come home. A
few yards off his path back, to the right and closer to the wood, lay
the only man of all the bodies lying in the valley who seemed to have
any life left in him. This fellow lay on his side, and was waving his
hands feverishly when the minister went up to him, and--as we saw in a
dim way through the snow--gave him a drink of the water from the lip of
the stoup.

“Sassenach fool!” said young MacLachlan, parched with thirst, gathering
in with a scooped hand the snow as it fell on the wall, and gluttonously
sucking it.

“There are many kinds of folly, man,” said I; “and I would think twice
before I would grudge a cleric’s right to give a mouthful of water to a
dying man, even if he was a Mac Donald on his way to the Pit.”

“Tuts, tuts! Elrigmore,” cried John, “let the young cock crow; he means
no more than that it’s hard to be hungry and see your brother feed a
foeman. Indeed I could be wishing myself that his reverence was the Good
Samaritan on a more fitting occasion.”

We were bandying words now, and not so closely watching our friend in
the hollow, and it was Sir Donald, standing to a side a little, who
called our attention anew, with a cry of alarm.

“Look, lads, look!” he cried, “God help Gordon!”

We looked through the snow--a grey veil--and saw two or three men fall
on the minister.

John Splendid but stopped a second to say, “It may be a feint to draw
us off the fort; bide where ye are,” and then he leaped over the wall,
armed with a claymore picked from the haunch of a halberdier beside him.
I was over at his heels, and the pair of us scoured down the brae.

There was some hazard in the enterprise; I’m ashamed to this day to tell
I thought that, at every foot of the way as we ran on. Never before
nor since have I felt a wood so sinister, so ghastly, so inspired by
dreadful airs, and when it was full on our flank, I kept my head half
turned to give an eye to where I was going and an eye to what might come
out on my rear. People tell you fear takes wings at a stern climax, that
a hot passion fills the brain with blood and the danger blurs to the
eye. It’s a theory that works but poorly on a forlorn-hope, with a
certainty that the enemy are outnumbering you on the rear. With man and
ghost, I have always felt the same: give me my back to the wall, and
I could pluck up valour enough for the occasion, but there’s a spot
between the shoulders that would be coward flesh in Hector himself.
That, I’m thinking, is what keeps some armies from turning tail to heavy

Perhaps the terror behind (John swore anon he never thought on’t till
he learned I had, and then he said he felt it worse than I) gave our
approach all the more impetuousness, for we were down in the gut before
the MacDonald loiterers (as they proved) were aware of our coming. We
must have looked unco numerous and stalwart in the driving snow, for the
scamps dashed off into the wood as might children caught in a mischief.
We let them go, and bent over our friend, lying with a very gashly look
by the body of the MacDonald, a man well up in years, now in the last
throes, a bullet-wound in his neck and the blood frothing at his mouth.

“Art hurt, sir?” asked John, bending on a knee, but the minister gave no

We turned him round and found no wound but a bruise on the head, that
showed he had been attacked with a cudgel by some camp-followers of the
enemy, who had neither swords, nor reverence for a priest who was giving
a brotherly sup to one of their own tartan. In that driving snow we
rubbed him into life again, cruelly pallid, but with no broken bit about

“Where’s my stoup?” were his first words; “my poor lads upbye must be
wearying for water.” He looked pleased to see the same beside him where
he had set it down, with its water untouched, and then he cast a wae
glance on the dead man beside him.

“Poor wretch, poor wretch!” said he.

We took the stoup and our minister up to the summit, and had got him
but safely set there when he let out what gave me the route again from
Dunchuach, and led to divers circumstances that had otherwise never come
into this story if story there was, which I doubt there had never been.
Often I’ve thought me since how pregnant was that Christian act of
Gordon in giving water to a foe. Had I gone, or had John gone, for the
stoup of water, none of us, in all likelihood, had stirred a foot to
relieve yon enemy’s drouth; but he found a godly man, though an austere
one too on occasion, and paid for the cup of water with a hint in broken
English that was worth all the gold in the world to me. Gordon told us
the man’s dying confidence whenever he had come to himself a little more
in the warmth of the fort fire.

“There’s a woman and child,” said he, “in the wood of Strongara.”


When the English minister, in his odd lalland Scots, had told us this
tale of the dying MacDonald, I found for the first time my feeling to
the daughter of the Provost of Inneraora, Before this the thought of her
was but a pleasant engagement for the mind at leisure moments; now it
flashed on my heart with a stound that yon black eyes were to me the
dearest jewels in the world, that lacking her presence these glens and
mountains were very cold and empty. I think I gave a gasp that let John
Splendid into my secret there and then; but at least I left him no doubt
about what I would be at.

“What’s the nearer way to Strongara?” I asked; “alongside the river, or
through Tombreck?”

He but peered at me oddly a second under his brows--a trifle wistfully,
though I might naturally think his mood would be quizzical, then he
sobered in a moment That’s what I loved about the man; a fool would have
laughed at the bravado of my notion, a man of thinner sentiment would
have marred the moment by pointing out difficulties.

“So that’s the airt the wind’s in!” he said, and then he added, “I think
I could show you, not the shortest, but the safest road.”

“I need no guidance,” I cried in a hurry, “only----”

“Only a friend who knows every wood in the country-side, and has your
interest at heart, Colin,” he said, softly, putting a hand on my elbow
and gripping it in a homely way. It was the first time he gave me my
Christian name since I made his acquaintance.

His company was not to be denied.

We made up some bear-meal bannocks, and a collop of boiled venison in
a knapsack that I carried on my back, borrowed plaids from some of the
common soldiery, and set out for Strongara at the mouth of the night,
with the snow still driving over the land.

MacLachlan was for with us, but John turned on him with a great deal
of determination, and dared him to give extra risk to our enterprise by
adding another man to the chance of the enemy seeing us.

The lad met the objection ungraciously, and John took to his flattery.

“The fact is, MacLachlan,” said he, taking him aside with a hand on his
lapel, and a show of great confidence--“the fact is, we can’t be leaving
this place in charge of a lot of old _bodachs_--Sir Donald the least
able of them all,--and if there’s another attack the guidance of the
defence will depend on you. You may relish that or you may not; perhaps
after all you would be safer with us----”

MacLachlan put up his chest an inch or two, unconscious that he did it,
and whistled a stave of music to give evidence of his indifférence. Then
he knitted his brows to cogitate, as it were, and--

“Very well!” said he. “If you come on my coz, you’ll bring her back
here, or to the castle, I suppose?”

“I had no thought of running away with the lass, I’ll take my oath,”
 cried John, sticking his tongue in the cheek nearest me.

“I wish I could fathom yon fellow’s mind,” I said to my comrade, as we
stepped out through the snow and into the wooded brae-side, keeping a
wary eye about for spies of the enemy, whose footprints we came on here
and there, but so faint in the fresh snowfall that it was certain they
were now in the valley.

“Do you find it difficult?” asked John. “I thought a man of schooling,
with Latin at his tongue’s-end, would see to the deepest heart of

“He’s crafty.”

“So’s the polecat till the fox meets him. Tuts, man, you have a singular
jealousy of the creature.”

“Since the first day I saw him.”

John laughed.

“That was in the Provost’s,” quo’ he, and he hummed a song I caught the
meaning of but slightly.

“Wrong, wrong!” said I, striding under the trees as we slanted to the
right for Tombreck. “His manner is provoking.”

“I’ve seen him polish it pretty well for the ladies.”

“His temper’s always on the boil.”

“Spirit, man; spirit! I like a fellow of warmth now and then.”

“He took it most ungraciously when we put him out of the Provost’s house
on the night of the squabble in the town.”

“It was an awkward position he was in. I’d have been a bit black-browed
about it myself,” said John. “Man! it’s easy to pick holes in the
character of an unfriend, and you and MacLachlan are not friendly, for
one thing that’s not his fault any more than yours.”

“You’re talking of the girl,” I said, sharply, and not much caring to
show him how hot my face burned at having to mention her.

“That same,” said he; “I’ll warrant that if it wasn’t for the girl (the
old tale! the old tale!), you had thought the young sprig not a bad
gentleman after all.”

“Oh, damn his soul!” I blurted out “What is he that he should pester his
betters with his attentions?”

“A cousin, I think, a simple cousin-german they tell me,” said John,
drily; “and in a matter of betters, now--eh?”

My friend coughed on the edge of his plaid, and I could swear he was
laughing at me. I said nothing for a while, and with my skin burning,
led the way at a hunter’s pace. But John was not done with the subject.

“I’m a bit beyond the age of it myself,” he said; “but that’s no reason
why I shouldn’t have eyes in my head. I know how much put about you are
to have this young fellow gallivanting round the lady.”

“Jealous, you mean,” I cried.

“I didn’t think of putting it that way.”

“No; it’s too straightforward a way for you,--ever the roundabout way
for you. I wish to God you would sometimes let your Campbell tongue come
out of the kink, and say what you mean.”

With a most astonishing steady voice for a man as livid as the snow on
the hair of his brogues, and with his hand on the hilt of his dirk, John

“Stop a bit.”

I faced him in a most unrighteous humour, ready to quarrel with my

“For a man I’m doing a favour to, Elrigmore,” he said, “you seem to have
a poor notion of politeness. I’m willing to make some allowance for a
lover’s tirravee about a woman who never made tryst with him; but I’ll
allow no man to call down the credit of my clan and name.”

A pair of gowks, were we not, in that darkening wood, quarrelling on
an issue as flimsy as a spider’s web, but who will say it was not human
nature? I daresay we might have come to hotter words and bloody blows
there and then, but for one of the trifles that ever come in the way to
change--not fate, for that’s changeless, but the semblance of it.

“My mother herself was a Campbell of an older family than yours,” I
started to say, to show I had some knowledge of the breed, and at the
same time a notion of fairness to the clan.

This was fresh heather on the fire.

“Older!” he cried; “she was a MacVicar as far as ever I heard; it was
the name she took to kirk with her when she married your father.”

“So,” said I; “but----”

“And though I allow her grandfather Dpl-a-mhonadh [Donald-of-the-Hills]
was a Campbell, it was in a roundabout way; he was but the son of one of
the Craignish gentry.”

“You yourself----”

“Sir!” said he in a new tone, as cold as steel and as sharp, misjudging
my intention.

“You yourself are no more than a M’Iver.”

“And what of that?” he cried, cooling down a bit “The M’ivers of Asknish
are in the direct line from Duncan, Lord of Lochow. We had Pennymore,
Stron-shira, and Glenaora as cadets of Clan Campbell when your Craignish
cross-breeds were under the salt.”

“Only by the third cousin,” said I; “my father has told me over and over
again that Duncan’s son had no heir.”

And so we went into all this perplexity of Highland pedigree like old
wives at a waulking, forgetting utterly that what we began to quarrel
about was the more serious charge of lying. M’lver was most frantic
about the business, and I think I was cool, for I was never a person
that cared a bodle about my history bye the second generation. They
might be lairds or they might be lackeys for all the differ it made to
me. Not that there were any lackeys among them. My grandfather was the
grandson of Tormaid Mor, who held the whole east side of Lochow from
Ford to Sonachan, and we have at home the four-posted bed that Tormaid
slept on when the heads of the house of Argile were lying on white-hay
or chaff.

At last John broke into a laugh.

“Aren’t you the _amadan_ to be biting the tongue between your teeth?” he

“What is it?” I asked, constrained to laugh too.

“You talk about the crook in our Campbell tongue in one breath,” said
he, “and in the next you would make yourself a Campbell more sib to
the chief than I am myself. Don’t you think we might put off our
little affairs of family history till we find a lady and a child in

“No more of it, then,” said I. “Our difference began on my fool’s notion
that because I had something of what you would call a liking for this
girl, no one else should let an eye light on her.”

By now we were in a wide glade in the Tombreck wood. On our left we
could see lying among the grey snow the house of Tombreck, with no light
nor lowe (as the saying goes); and though we knew better than to expect
there might be living people in it, we sped down to see the place.

“There’s one chance in a million she might have ventured here,” I said.

A most melancholy dwelling! Dwelling indeed no more but for the
hoodie-crow, and for the fawn of the hill that years after I saw
treading over the grass-grown lintel of its door. To-night the place was
full of empty airs and ghosts of sounds inexplicable, wailing among the
cabars that jutted black and scarred mid-way from wall to wall The byre
was in a huddle of damp thatch, and strewn (as God’s my judge) by the
bones of the cattle the enemy had refused to drive before them in the
sauciness of their glut A desolate garden slept about the place,
with bush and tree--once tended by a family of girls, left orphan and
desolate for evermore.

We went about on tiptoes as it might be in a house of the dead, and
peeped in at the windows at where had been chambers lit by the cheerful
cruisie or dancing with peat-fire flame--only the dark was there,
horrible with the odours of char, or the black joist against the
dun sky. And then we went to the front door (for Tombreck was a
gentle-house), and found it still on the hinges, but hanging half back
to give view to the gloomy interior. It was a spectacle to chill the
heart, a house burned in hatred, the hearth of many songs and the
chambers of love, merrymaking, death, and the children’s feet, robbed of
every interest but its ghosts and the memories of them they came to.

“It were useless to look here; she is not here,” I said in a whisper to
my comrade.

He stood with his bonnet in his hand, dumb for a space, then speaking
with a choked utterance.

“Our homes, our homes, Colin!” he cried. “Have I not had the happy
nights in those same walls, those harmless hospitable halls, those dead

And he looked broadcast over the country-side.

“The curse of Conan and the black stones on the hands that wrought this
work!” he said. “Poison to their wells; may the brutes die far afield!”

The man was in a tumult of grief and passion, the tears, I knew by his
voice, welling to his eyes. And indeed I was not happy myself, had not
been happy indeed, by this black home, even if the girl I loved was
waiting me at the turn of the road.

“Let us be going,” I said at last.

“She might be here; she might be in the little plantation!” he said (and
still in the melancholy and quiet of the place we talked in whispers).

“Could you not give a call, a signal?” he asked; and I had mind of the
call I had once taught her, the doleful pipe of the curlew.

I gave it with hesitancy to the listening night. It came back an echo
from the hills, but brought no other answer.

A wild bird roosting somewhere in the ruined house flapped out by the
door and over us. I am not a believer in the ghostly--at least to the
extent of some of our people; yet I was alarmed, till my reason came to
me and the badinage of the professors at college, who had twitted me on
my fears of the mischancy. But M’Iver clutched me by the shoulder in a
frenzy of terror. I could hear his teeth chittering as if he had come
out of the sea.

“Name of God!” he cried, “what was yon?”

“But a night-hag,” said I.

He was ashamed of his weakness; but the night, as he said, had too many
holes in it for his fancy.

And so we went on again across the hill-face in the sombre gloaming. It
was odd that the last time I had walked on this hillside had been for
a glimpse of that same girl we sought to-night. Years ago, when I was a
lad, she had on a summer been sewing with a kinswoman in Car-lunnan, the
mill croft beside a linn of the river, where the salmon plout in a most
wonderful profusion, and I had gone at morning to the hill to watch her
pass up and down in the garden of the mill, or feed the pigeons at the
round doo-cot, content (or wellnigh content) to see her and fancy the
wind in her tresses, the song at her lip. In these mornings the animals
of the hill and the wood and I were friendly; they guessed somehow,
perhaps, no harm was in my heart: the young roes came up unafraid,
almost to my presence, and the birds fluttered like comrades about me,
and the little animals that flourish in the wild dallied boldly in my
path. It was a soft and tranquil atmosphere, it was a world (I think
now) very happy and unperplexed. And at evening, after a hurried meal,
I was off over the hills to this brae anew, to watch her who gave me
an unrest of the spirit, unappeasable but precious. I think, though
the mornings were sweet, ‘twas the eve that was sweeter still. All the
valley would be lying soundless and sedate, the hills of Salachary
and the forest of Creag Dubh purpling in the setting sun, a rich gold
tipping Dunchuach like a thimble. Then the eastern woods filled with
dark caverns of shade, wherein the tall trunks of the statelier firs
stood grey as ghosts. What was it, in that precious time, gave me, in
the very heart of my happiness, a foretaste of the melancholy of coming
years? My heart would swell, the tune upon my lip would cease, my eyes
would blur foolishly, looking on that prospect most magic and fine.
Rarely, in that happy age, did I venture to come down and meet the
girl, but--so contrary is the nature of man!--the day was happier when I
worshipped afar, though I went home fuming at my own lack of spirit.

To-day, my grief! how different the tale! That bygone time loomed upon
me like a wave borne down on a mariner on a frail raft, the passion of
the past ground me inwardly in a numb pain.

We stumbled through the snow, and my comrade--good heart!--said never a
word to mar my meditation. On our right the hill of Meall Ruadh rose up
like a storm-cloud ere the blackest of the night fell; we walked on the
edges of the plantations, surmising our way by the aid of the grey snow
around us.

It was not till we were in the very heart of Strongara wood that I came
to my reason and thought what folly was this to seek the wanderer in
such a place in dead of night. To walk that ancient wood, on the coarse
and broken ground, among fallen timber, bog, bush, water-pass, and
hillock, would have tried a sturdy forester by broad day; it was, to us
weary travellers, after a day of sturt, a madness to seek through it at
night for a woman and child whose particular concealment we had no means
of guessing.

M’lver, natheless, let me flounder through that perplexity for a time,
fearful, I suppose, to hurt my feelings by showing me how little I knew
of it, and finally he hinted at three cairns he was acquaint with, each
elevated somewhat over the general run of the country, and if not the
harbourage a refugee would make for, at least the most suitable coign to
overlook the Strongara wood.

“Lead me anywhere, for God’s sake!” said I; “I’m as helpless as a mowdie
on the sea-beach.”

He knew the wood as ‘twere his own garden, for he had hunted it many
times with his cousiri, and so he led me briskly, by a kind of natural
path, to the first cairn. Neither there nor at the second did I get
answer to my whistle.

“We’ll go up on the third,” said John, “and bide there till morning;
scouring a wood in this fashion is like hunting otters in the deep sea.”

We reached the third cairn when the hour was long past midnight I piped
again in vain, and having ate part of our coilop, we set us down to wait
the dawn. The air, for mid-winter, was almost congenial; the snow
fell no longer; the north part of the sky was wondrous clear and even
jubilant with star.


I woke with a shiver at the hour before dawn, that strange hour when the
bird turns on the bough to change his dream, when the wild-cat puts out
his tongue to taste the air and curls more warmly into his own fur,
when the leaf of the willows gives a tremor in the most airless morning.
M’Iver breathed heavily beside me, rolled in his plaid to the very
nose, but the dumb cry of the day in travail called him, too, out of the
chamber of sleep, and he turned on his back with a snatch of a soldier’s
drill on his lips, but without opening his eyes.

We were on the edge of a glade of the wood, at the watershed of a small
burn that tinkled among its ice along the ridge from Tombreck, dividing
close beside us, half of it going to Shira Glen and half to Aora. The
tall trees stood over us like sentinels, coated with snow in every
bough; a cool crisp air fanned me, with a hint in it, somehow, of a
smouldering wood-fire. And I heard close at hand the call of an owl, as
like the whimper of a child as ever howlet’s vesper mocked. Then to my
other side, my plaid closer about me, and to my dreaming anew.

It was the same whimper waked me a second time, too prolonged to be an
owl’s complaint, and I sat upright to listen. It was now the break of
day. A faint grey light brooded among the tree-tops.

“John! John!” I said in my companion’s ear, shaking his shoulder.

He stood to his feet in a blink, wide awake, fumbling at his sword-belt
as a man at hurried wakings on foreign shores.

“What is it?” he asked, in a whisper.

I had no need to answer him, for anew the child’s cry rose in the
wood--sharp, petulant, hungry. It came from a thick clump of undergrowth
to the left of our night’s lodging, not sixty yards away, and in the
half-light of the morning had something of the eerie about it.

John Splendid crossed himself ere he had mind of his present creed, and
“God sain us!” he whispered; “have we here banshee or warlock!”

“I’ll warrant we have no more than what we seek,” said I, with a joyous
heart, putting my tartan about me more orderly, and running a hand
through my hair.

“I’ve heard of unco uncanny things assume a wean’s cry in a wood,” said
he, very dubious in his aspect.

I laughed at him, and “Come away, ‘_ille_,” I said; “here’s the
Provost’s daughter.” And I was hurrying in the direction of the cry.

M’Iver put a hand on my shoulder.

“Canny, man, canny; would ye enter a lady’s chamber (even the glade of
the wood) without tirling at the pin?”

We stopped, and I softly sounded my curlew-call--once, twice, thrice.

The echo of the third time had not ceased on the hill when out stepped
Betty. She looked miraculous tall and thin in the haze of the dawn,
with the aspiring firs behind her, pallid at the face, wearied in her
carriage, and torn at her kirtle by whin or thorn. The child clung at
her coats, a ruddy brat, with astonishment stilling its whimper.

For a little the girl half misdoubted us, for the wood behind us and
the still sombre west left us in a shadow, and there was a tremor in her
voice as she challenged in English--

“Is that you, Elrigmore?”

I went forward at a bound, in a stupid rapture that made her shrink in
alarm; but M’Iver lingered in the rear, with more discretion than my
relations to the girl gave occasion for.

“Friends! oh, am not I glad to see yoa?” she said simply, her wan face
lighting up. Then she sat down on a hillock and wept in her hands. I
gave her awkward comfort, my wits for once failing me, my mind in a
confusion, my hands, to my own sense, seeming large, coarse, and in the
way. Yet to have a finger on her shoulder was a thrill to the heart, to
venture a hand on her hair was a passionate indulgence.

The bairn joined in her tears till M’Iver took it in his arms. He had a
way with little ones that had much of magic in it, and soon this one was
nestling to his breast with its sobs sinking, an arm round his neck.

More at the pair of them than at me did Betty look with interest when
her tears were concluded.

“Amn’t I like myself this morning?” asked John, jocularly, dandling the
bairn in his arms.

Betty turned away without a reply, and when the child was put down and
ran to her, she scarcely glanced on it, but took it by the hand and made
to go before us, through the underwood she had come from.

“Here’s my home, gentlemen,” she said, “like the castle of Colin Dubh,
with the highest ceiling in the world and the stars for candles.”

We might have passed it a score of times in broad daylight and never
guessed its secret. It was the beildy side of the hill. Two fir-trees
had fallen at some time in the common fashion of wind-blown pines,
with their roots clean out of the earth, and raised up, so that coming
together at two edges they made two sides of a triangle. To add to its
efficiency as a hiding-place, some young firs grew at the open third
side of the triangle.

In this confined little space (secure enough from any hurried search)
there was still a _greasach_ as we call it, the ember of a fire that the
girl had kindled with a spark from a flint the night before, to warm the
child, and she had kept it at the lowest extremity short of letting
it die out altogether, lest it should reveal her whereabouts to any
searchers in the wood.

We told her our story and she told us hers. She had fled on the morning
of the attack, in the direction of the castle, but found her way cut off
by a wing of the enemy, a number of whom chased her as she ran with the
child up the river-side to the Cairnbaan, where she eluded her pursuers
among his lordship’s shrubberies, and discovered a road to the wood. For
a week she found shelter and food in a cow-herd’s abandoned bothy among
the alders of Tarra-dubh; then hunger sent her travelling again, and she
reached Leacainn Mhor, where she shared the cotter’s house with a widow
woman who went out to the burn with a kail-pot and returned no more, for
the tardy bullet found her. The murderers were ransacking the house
when Betty and the child were escaping through the byre. This place of
concealment in Strongara she sought by the advice of a Glencoe man well
up in years, who came on her suddenly, and, touched by her predicament,
told her he and his friends had so well beaten that place, it was likely
to escape further search.

“And so I am here with my charge,” said the girl, affecting a gaiety
it were hard for her to feel “I could be almost happy and content, if
I were assured my father and mother were safe, and the rest of my

“There’s but one of them in all the countryside,” I said. “Young
MacLachlan, and he’s on Dunchuach.”

To my critical scanning her cheek gave no flag.

“Oh, my cousin!” she said. “I am pleased that he is safe, though I would
sooner hear he was in Cowal than in Campbell country.”

“He’s honoured in your interest, madam,” I could not refrain from
saying, my attempt at raillery I fear a rather forlorn one.

She flushed at this, but said never a word, only biting her nether lip
and fondling the child.

I think we put together a cautious little fire and cooked some oats from
my _dorlach_, though the ecstasy of the meeting with the girl left me
no great recollection of all that happened. But in a quiet part of the
afternoon we sat snugly in our triangle of fir roots and discoursed of
trifles that had no reasonable relation to our precarious state. Betty
had almost an easy heart, the child slept on my comrade’s plaid, and I
was content to be in her company and hear the little turns and accents
of her voice, and watch the light come and go in her face, and the smile
hover, a little wae, on her lips at some pleasant tale of Mover’s.

“How came you round about these parts?” she asked--for our brief
account of our doings held no explanation of our presence in the wood of

“Ask himself here,” said John, cocking a thumb over his shoulder at me;
“I have the poorest of scents on the track of a woman.”

Betty turned to me with less interest in the question than she had shown
when she addressed it first to my friend.

I told her what the Glencoe man had told the parson, and she sighed.
“Poor man!” said she, “(blessing with him!) it was he that sent me here
to Strongara, and gave me tinder and flint.”

“We could better have spared any of his friends, then,” said I. “But you
would expect some of us to come in search of you?”

“I did,” she said in a hesitancy, and crimsoning in a way that tingled
me to the heart with the thought that she meant no other than myself.
She gave a caressing touch to the head of the sleeping child, and
turned to M’Iver, who lay on his side with his head propped on an elbow,
looking out on the hill-face.

“Do you know the bairn?” she asked.

“No,” he said, with a careless look where it lay as peaceful as in a
cradle rocked by a mother’s foot.

“It’s the oe of Peggie Mhor,” she said.

“So,” said he; “poor dear!” and he turned and looked out again at the

We were, in spite of our dead Glencoe man’s assurance, in as wicked
a piece of country as well might be. No snow had fallen since we left
Tombreck, and from that dolorous ruin almost to our present retreat was
the patent track of our march.

“I’m here, and I’m making a fair show at an easy mind,” said M’I ver;
“but I’ve been in cheerier circumstances ere now.”

“So have I, for that part of it,” said Betty with spirit, half
humorously, half in an obvious punctilio.

“Mistress,” said he, sitting up gravely, “I beg your pardon. Do you
wonder if I’m not in a mood for saying dainty things? Our state’s
precarious (it’s needless to delude ourselves otherwise), and our friend
Sandy and his bloody gang may be at a javelin’s throw from us as we sit
here. I wish--”

He saw the girl’s face betray her natural alarm, and amended his words
almost too quickly for the sake of the illusion.

“Tuts, tuts!” he cried. “I forgot the wood was searched before, and
here I’m putting a dismal black face on a drab business. We might be a
thousand times worse. I might be a clay-cold corp with my last week’s
wage unspent in my sporran, as it happens to be, and here I’m to
the fore with four or five MacDonalds to my credit If I’ve lost my
mercantile office as mine-manager (curse your trades and callings!) my
sword is left me; you have equal fortune, Elrigmore; and you, Mistress
Brown, have them you love spared to you.”

Again the girl blushed most fiercely. “Thank God! Thank God!” she cried
in a stifled ecstasy, “and O! but I’m grateful.” And anew she fondled
the little bye-blow as it lay with its sunny hair on the soldier’s

John glanced at her from the corners of his eyes with a new expression,
and asked her if she was fond of bairns.

“Need you ask that of a woman?” she said. “But for the company of this
one on my wanderings, my heart had failed me a hundred times a-day. It
was seeing him so helpless that gave me my courage: the dark at night in
the bothy and the cot and the moaning wind of this lone spot had sent me
crazy if I had not this little one’s hand in mine, and his breath in my
hair as we lay together.”

“To me,” said John, “they’re like flowers, and that’s the long and the
short of it.”

“You’re like most men, I suppose,” said Betty, archly; “fond of them in
the abstract, and with small patience for the individuals of them. This
one now--you would not take half the trouble with him I found a delight
in. But the nursing of bairns--even their own--is not a soldier’s

“No, perhaps not,” said M’Iver, surveying her gravely; “and yet I’ve
seen a soldier, a rough hired cavalier, take a wonderful degree of
trouble about a duddy little bairn of the enemy in the enemy’s country.
He was struck--as he told me after--by the look of it sitting in a scene
of carnage, orphaned without the sense of it, and he carried it before
him on the saddle for a many leagues’ march till he found a peaceful
wayside cottage, where he gave it in the charge of as honest a woman, to
all appearance, as these parts could boast He might even--for all I know
to the contrary--have fairly bought her attention for it by a season’s
paying of the kreutzers, and I know it cost him a duel with a fool who
mocked the sentiment of the deed.”

“I hope so brave and good a man was none the worse for his duel in a
cause so noble,” said the girl, softly.

“Neither greatly brave nor middling good,” said John, laughing, “at
least to my way of thinking, and I know him well. But he was no poorer
but by the kreutzers for his advocacy of an orphan bairn.”

“I think I know the man,” said I, innocently, “and his name would be

“And John or George,” said the girl, “I could love him for his story.”

M’Iver lifted a tress of the sleeping child’s hair and toyed with it
between his fingers.

“My dear, my dear!” said he; “it’s a foolish thing to judge a man’s
character by a trifle like yon: he’s a poor creature who has not his
fine impulse now and then; and the man I speak of, as like as not, was
dirling a wanton flagon (or maybe waur) ere nightfall, or slaying with
cruelty and zest the bairn’s uncles in the next walled town he came to.
At another mood he would perhaps balance this lock of hair against a
company of burghers but fighting for their own fire-end.”

“The hair is not unlike your own,” said Betty, comparing with quick eyes
the curl he held and the curls that escaped from under the edge of his
flat blue bonnet.

“May every hair of his be a candle to light him safely through a mirk
and dangerous world,” said he, and he began to whittle assiduously at a
stick, with a little black oxter-knife he lugged from his coat.

“Amen!” said the girl, bravely; “but he were better with the guidance
of a good father, and that there seems small likelihood of his
enjoying--poor thing!”

A constraint fell on us; it may have been there before, but only now I
felt it myself. I changed the conversation, thinking that perhaps
the child’s case was too delicate a subject, but unhappily made
the plundering of our glens my dolorous text, and gloom fell like a
mort-cloth on our little company. If my friend was easily uplifted, made
buoyantly cheerful by the least accident of life, he was as prone to a
hellish melancholy when fate lay low. For the rest of the afternoon he
was ever staving with a gloomy brow about the neighbourhood, keeping an
eye, as he said, to the possible chance of the enemy.

Left thus for long spaces in the company of Betty and the child, that
daffed and croodled about her, and even became warmly friendly with me
for the sake of my Paris watch and my glittering waistcoat buttons, I
made many gallant attempts to get on my old easy footing. That was the
wonder of it: when my interest in her was at the lukewarm, I could face
her repartee with as good as she gave; now that I loved her (to say the
word and be done with it), my words must be picked and chosen and
my tongue must stammer in a contemptible awkwardness. Nor was she,
apparently, quite at her ease, for when our talk came at any point too
close on her own person, she was at great pains adroitly to change it to
other directions.

I never, in all my life, saw a child so muckle made use of. It seemed,
by the most wonderful of chances, to be ever needing soothing or
scolding or kissing or running after in the snow, when I had a word to
say upon the human affections, or a compliment to pay upon some grace of
its most assiduous nurse.

“I’m afraid,” said Betty at last, “you learned some courtiers’
flatteries and coquetries in your travels. You should have taken the
lesson like your friend and fellow-cavalier M’Iver, and got the trick of
keeping a calm heart.”

“M’Iver!” I cried. “He’s an old hand at the business.”

She put her lips to the child’s neck and kissed it tumultuously.

“Not--not at the trade of lovier?” she asked after a while, carelessly
keeping up the crack.

“Oh no!” I said, laughing. “He’s a most religious man.”

“I would hardly say so much,” she answered, coldly; “for there have
been tales--some idle, some otherwise--about him, but I think his friend
should be last to hint at any scandal.”

Good heavens! here was a surprise for one who had no more notion of
traducing his friend than of miscalling the Shorter Catechism. The
charge stuck in my gizzard. I fumed and sweat, speechless at the
injustice of it, while the girl held herself more aloof than ever, busy
preparing for our evening meal.

But I had no time to put myself right in her estimate of me before
M’Iver came back from his airing with an alarming story.

“It’s time we were taking our feet from here,” he cried, running up
to us. “I’ve been up on Meall Ruadh there, and I see the whole
countryside’s in a confusion. Pipers are blowing away down the glen and
guns are firing; if it’s not a muster of the enemy preparatory to their
quitting the country, it’s a call to a more particular search in the
hills and woods. Anyway we must be bundling.”

He hurriedly stamped out the fire, that smoked a faint blue reek which
might have advertised our whereabouts, and Betty clutched the child to
her arms, her face again taking the hue of hunt and fear she wore when
we first set eyes on her in the morning.

“Where is safety?” she asked, hopelessly. “Is there a sheep-fank or
a sheiling-bothy in Argile that is not at the mercy of those

“If it wasn’t for the snow on the ground,” said M’Iver, “I could find a
score of safe enough hidings between here and the Beannan.” “Heavens!”
 he added, “when I think on it, the Beannan itself is the place for us;
it’s the one safe spot we can reach by going through the woods without
leaving any trace, if we keep under the trees and in the bed of the

We took the bairn in turns, M’Iver and I, and the four of us set out for
the opposite side of Glenaora for the _eas_ or gully called the Beannan,
that lay out of any route likely to be followed by the enemy, whether
their object was a retreat or a hunting. But we were never to reach this
place of refuge, as it happened; for M’Iver, leading down the burn by
a yard or two, had put his foot on the path running through the pass
beside the three bridges, when he pulled back, blanching more in chagrin
than apprehension.

“Here they are,” he said “We’re too late; there’s a band of them on the
march up this way.”

At our back was the burned ruin of a house that had belonged to a
shepherd who was the first to flee to the town when the invaders came.
Its byre was almost intact, and we ran to it up the burn as fast as we
could, and concealed ourselves in the dark interior. Birds came chirping
under the eaves of thatch and by the vent-holes, and made so much
bickering to find us in their sanctuary that we feared the bye-passers,
who were within a whisper of our hiding, would be surely attracted Band
after band of the enemy passed, laden in the most extraordinary degree
with the spoil of war. They had only a rough sort of discipline in their
retirement: the captains or chieftains marched together, leaving the
companies to straggle as they might, for was not the country deserted
by every living body but themselves? In van of them they drove several
hundreds of black and red cattle, and with the aid of some rough ponies,
that pulled such sledges (called _carns_) as are used for the hauling
home of peat on hilly land, they were conveying huge quantities of
household plenishing and the merchandise of the burgh town.

Now we had more opportunity of seeing those coarse savage forces than
on any occasion since they came to Argile, for the whole of them had
mustered at Inneraora after scouring the shire, and were on their march
out of the country to the north, fatter men and better put-on than when
they came. Among them were numerous tartans, either as kilt, trews, or
plaid; the bonnet was universal, except that some of the officers wore
steel helms, with a feather tip in them, and a clan badge of heather or
whin or moss, and the dry oak-stalk whimsy of Montrose. They had
come bare-footed and bare-buttocked (many of the privates of them) to
Campbell country; now, as I say, they were very snod, the scurviest of
the knaves set up with his hosen and brogues. Sturdy and black, or lank
and white-haired like the old sea-rovers, were they, with few among them
that ever felt the razor edge, so that the hair coated them to the very
eyeholes, and they looked like wolves. The pipers, of whom there were
three, were blasting lustily at Clanranald’s march when they came up
the lower part of the Glen, according to M’Iver, who had heard them from
Meall Ruadh; but now the music was stopped, and all were intent upon
driving the cattle or watching their stolen gear’, for doubtless among
such thieves there was not as much honour as would prevent one from
picking his neighbour’s sporran.

We lay buried to the head in bracken that filled one side of the byre,
and keeked through the plenteous holes in the dry-stone wall at the
passing army. Long gaps were between the several clans, and the Irish
came last It seemed--they moved so slowly on account of the cattle--that
the end of the cavalcade was never to come; but at length came the
baggage and the staff of Montrose himself. Then I got my first look
of the man whose name stinks in the boar’s snout to this day. A fellow
about thirty-three years of age, of mid height, hair of a very dark red,
hanging in a thick fell on the shoulders of the tartan jacket (for he
wore no armour), with a keen scrutinising eye, and his beard trimmed in
the foreign vein. He sat his horse with considerable ease and grace,
and was surrounded by half-a-dozen of the chiefs who had come under his
banner. The most notable-looking of these was Alasdair MacDonald, the
Major-General, an uncouth dog, but a better general, as I learned later,
than ever God or practice made James Grahame of Montrose; with John of
Moidart, the Captain of Clanranald, Donald Glas MacRanald of Keppoch,
the laird of Glencoe, Stewart of Appin, and one of the Knoydart house,
all of whilk we distinguished by their tartans and badges.

In the mien of these savage chiefs there was great elation that Montrose
had little share in, to all appearance. He rode moodily, and when fair
opposite our place of concealment he stopped his horse as if to quit the
sell, but more likely to get, for a little, out of the immediate company
of his lawless troops. None of those home-returning Gaels paid heed
to his pause, for they were more Alasdair Macdonald’s men than his;
Mac-Donald brought them to the lair of the boar, MacDonald glutted their
Highland thirst for Campbell blood, Mac-Donald had compelled this raid
in spite of the protests of the nobleman who held the King’s Commission
and seal.

For some minutes his lordship stood alone on the pathway. The house
where we lay was but one, and the meanest, among a numerous cluster of
such drear memorials of a black business, and it was easy to believe
this generalissimo had some gloomy thoughts as he gazed on the work he
had lent consent to. He looked at the ruins and he looked up the pass at
his barbarians, and shrugged his shoulders with a contempt there was no

“I could bring him down like a capercailzie,” said M’Iver, coolly,
running his eye along his pistol and cocking it through his keek-hole.

“For God’s sake don’t shoot!” I said, and he laughed quietly.

“Is there anything in my general deportment, Colin, that makes ye think
me an assassin or an idiot? I never wantonly shot an unsuspecting enemy,
and I’m little likely to shoot Montrose and have a woman and bairn
suffer the worst for a stupid moment of glory.”

As ill luck would have it, the bairn, that had been playing peacefully
in the dusk, at this critical minute let up a cry Montrose plainly

“We’re lost, we’re lost,” said Betty, trembling till the crisp dry
bracken rustled about her, and she was for instant flight.

“If we’re lost, there’s a marquis will go travelling with us,” said
M’Iver, covering his lordship’s heart with his pistol.

Had Montrose given the slightest sign that he intended to call back his
men to tread out this last flicker of life in Aora Glen he would never
have died on the gibbet at the Grassmarket of Dunedin, Years after,
when Grahame met his doom (with much more courtliness and dignity than
I could have given him credit for), M’Iver would speak of his narrow
escape at the end of the raiding.

“I had his life in the crook of my finger,” he would say; “had I acted
on my first thought, Clan Campbell would never have lost Inverlochy; but
_bha e air an dàn_,--what will be will be,--and Grahame’s fate was not
in the crook of my finger, though so I might think it Aren’t we the
fools to fancy sometimes our human wills decide the course of fate, and
the conclusions of circumstances? From the beginning of time, my Lord
Marquis of Montrose was meant for the scaffold.”

Montrose, when he heard the child’s cry, only looked to either hand to
see that none of his friends heard it, and finding there was no one
near him, took off his Highland bonnet, lightly, to the house where he
jaloused there was a woman with the wean, and passed slowly on his way.

“It’s so honest an act,” said John, pulling in his pistol, “that I would
be a knave to advantage myself of the occasion.”

A generous act enough. I daresay there were few in the following of
James Grahame would have borne such a humane part at the end of a bloody
business, and I never heard our people cry down the name of Montrose
(bitter foe to me and mine) but I minded to his credit that he had a
compassionate ear for a child’s cry in the ruined hut of Aora Glen.

Montrose gave no hint to his staff of what he had heard, for when he
joined them, he nor they turned round to look behind. Before us now,
free and open, lay the way to Inneraora. We got down before the dusk
fell, and were the first of its returning inhabitants to behold what
a scandal of charred houses and robbed chests the Athole and Antrim
caterans had left us.

In the grey light the place lay tenantless and melancholy, the snow of
the silent street and lane trodden to a slush, the evening star peeping
between the black roof-timbers, the windows lozenless, the doors burned
out or hanging off their hinges. Before the better houses were piles of
goods and gear turned out on the causeway. They had been turned about by
pike-handles and trodden upon with contemptuous heels, and the pick of
the plenishing was gone. Though upon the rear of the kirk there were two
great mounds, that showed us where friend and foe had been burled, that
solemn memorial was not so poignant to the heart at the poor relics of
the homes gutted and sacked. The Provost’s tenement, of all the lesser
houses in the burgh, was the only one that stood in its outer entirety,
its arched ceils proof against the malevolent fire. Yet its windows
gaped black and empty. The tide was in close on the breast-wall behind,
and the sound of it came up and moaned in the close like the sough of a
sea-shell held against the ear.

We stood in the close, the three of us (the bairn clinging in wonder to
the girl’s gown), with never a word for a space, and that sough of the
sea was almost a coronach.


In a few hours, as it were, the news that the enemy had left the country
was put about the shire, and people returned to pick up the loose ends
of the threads of family and affairs. Next day my lord the Marquis came
round Lochlong and Glencroe in a huge chariot with four wheels, the
first we had ever seen in these parts, a manner of travel incumbent upon
him because of a raxed shoulder he had met with at Dunbarton. He came
back to a poor reception: the vestiges of his country’s most bitter
extremity were on every hand, and, what was bound to be embarrassing to
any nobleman of spirit, there was that in the looks and comportment of
his clansmen that must have given MacCailein some unpleasant thought.

Behind his lordship came eleven hundred Lowland levies that had been
with Baillie in England, and to command them came his cousin, Sir Duncan
Campbell of Auchinbreac, luckily new over from Ireland, and in the
spirit for campaigning. A fiery cross was sent round the clan, that in
better times should easily have mustered five thousand of the prettiest
lads ever trod heather, but it brought only a remnant of a thousand, and
the very best that would have been welcome under the galley flag
were too far afield for the summons to reach them in time. But every
well-affected branch of Clan Campbell sent its gentlemen to officer our

A parley of war held in the castle determined on immediate pursuit
of Montrose to Lochaber, keeping within easy distance, but without
attacking till he was checked in front by troops that had gone up to
flank him by way of Stirling. I was at the council, but had little to do
with its decision, though the word of M’Iver and myself (as was due to
cavaliers of experience) was invited with respect.

We were to march in two days; and as I had neither house nor ha’ to
shelter me, seeing the old place up the glen was even more of a ruin
than in Donald Gorm’s troubles, when the very roof-tree was thrown
in Dhuloch, I shared quarters with M’Iver in the castle, where every
available corner was occupied by his lordship’s guests.

When these other guests were bedded, and the house in all our wing of
it was still, my comrade and I sat down to a tasse of brandy in our
chamber, almost blythe, as you would say, at the prospect of coming to
blows with our country’s spoilers. We were in the midst of a most genial
crack when came a faint rap at the door, and in steps the goodman, as
solemn as a thunder-cloud, in spite of the wan smile he fixed upon his
countenance. He bore his arm out of his sleeve in a sling, and his hair
was un-trim, and for once a most fastidious nobleman was anything but

“I cry pardon, gentlemen!” he said in Gaelic, “for breaking in on my
guests’ privacy; but I’m in no humour for sleeping, and I thought you
might have a spare glass for a friend.”

“It’s your welcome, Argile,” said I, putting a wand chair to the front
for him. He sat himself down in it with a sigh of utter weariness, and
nervously poking the logs on the fire with a purring-iron, looked sadly
about the chamber.

It was his wife’s tiring-room, or closet, or something of that nature,
fitted up hastily for our accommodation, and there were signs of a
woman’s dainty hand and occupation about it The floor was carpeted, the
wall was hung with arras; a varnish ‘scrutoire, some sweet-wood boxes,
two little statues of marble, two raised silver candlesticks with
snuffers conform, broidery-work unfinished, and my lord’s picture, in
a little gilded frame hanging over a dressing-table, were among its
womanly plenishing.

“Well, coz,” said his lordship, breaking an awkward silence, “we have an
enormous and dastardly deed here to avenge.”

“We have that!” said M’Iver. “It’s a consolation that we are in the mood
and in the position to set about paying the debt. Before the glad news
came of your return, I was half afraid that our quarry would be too far
gone ere we set loose the dogs on him. Luckily he can be little farther
than Glenurchy now. Elrigmore and I had the honour to see the visitors
make their departure. They carried so much stolen gear, and drove so big
a prize of cattle, that I would not give them more than a twenty miles’
march to the day.”

“Will they hang together, do you think?” asked his lordship, fingering a
crystal bottle for essence that lay on the ‘scrutoire.

“I misdoubt it,” said M’Iver. “You know the stuff, MacCailein? He may
have his Irish still; but I’ll wager the MacDonalds, the Stewarts, and
all the rest of that reiving crowd are off to their holds, like the
banditty they are, with their booty. A company of pikes on the rear of
him, as like as not, would settle his business.”

The Marquis, besides his dishevelment, was looking very lean and pale. I
am wrong if I had not before me a man who had not slept a sound night’s
sleep in his naked bed since the point of war beat under his castle

“Your arm, my lord “--I said in a pause of his conversation with Mlver,
“is it a fashious injury? You look off your ordinary.”

“I do,” he said. “I daresay I do, and I wish to God it was only this
raxed arm that was the worst of my ailment.”

His face burned up red in the candle-light, his nostrils swelled, and
he rose in his chair. A small table was between us. He put his uninjured
hand on it to steady himself, and leaned over to me to make his words
more weighty for my ear.

“Do you know,” he added, “I’m Archibald, Marquis of Argile, and under
the cope and canopy of heaven this January night there’s not a creature
of God’s making more down in the heart and degraded than I? If the
humblest servant in my house pointed a scornful finger at me and cried
‘Coward,’ I would bow my head. Ay, ay! it’s good of you, sir, to shake
a dissenting head; but I’m a chief discredited. I know it, man. I see
it in the faces about me. I saw it at Rosneath, when my very gardener
fumbled, and refused to touch his bonnet when I left. I saw it to-night
at my own table, when the company talked of what they should do, and
what my men should do, and said never a word of what was to be expected
of MacCailein Mor.”

“I think, my lord,” I cried “that you’re exaggerating a very small

“Small affair!” he said (and he wetted his lips with his tongue before
the words came). “Small affair! Hell’s flame! is there anything smaller
than the self-esteem of a man who by some infernal quirk of his nature
turns his back on his most manifest duty--leaves the blood of his
blood and the skin of his skin to perish for want of his guidance and
encouragement, and wakens at morning to find it no black nightmare but
the horrible fact? Answer me that, Elrigmore!”

“Tut, tut,” said M’Iver, pouring his cousin a glass; “you’re in the
vapours, and need a good night’s sleep. There’s no one in Argile dare
question your spirit, whatever they may think of your policy.”

Argile relapsed into his chair, and looked with a pitiful eye at his

“My good Iain,” he said, “do you ken the old Lochow wife’s story of the
two daws? ‘Thou didst well,’ said the one, ‘though thy wings _are_ cut;
thou didst well to do as I told thee.’ I’m not blaming you; you are a
brave man of your own hands, and a middling honest man too, as honesty
goes among mercenaries; but your tongue’s plausible, plausible, and you
are the devil’s counsellor to any other man who slackens his will by so
much as a finger-length.”

M’Iver took on a set stern jaw, and looked his chief very dourly in the

“My Lord of Argile,” he said, “you’re my cousin-ger-man, and you’re in a
despondent key, and small blame to you with your lands smoking about
you from Cruachan to Kilmartin; but if you were King Tearlach himself,
I would take no insult from you. Do you charge me with any of your

“I charge you with nothing, John,” said Argile, wearily. “I’m only
saying that at a time of stress, when there’s a conflict in a man’s mind
between ease and exertion, you’re not the best of consciences. Are we
two going to quarrel about a phrase while our clansmen’s blood is crying
from the sod? Sit down, sir; sit down, if it please you,” he said more
sternly, the scowl that gave him the _gruamach_ reputation coming on his
face; “sit down, if it please you, and instead of ruffling up like the
bubbly-jock over words, tell me, if you can, how to save a reputation
from the gutter. If it was not that I know I have your love, do you
think I should be laying my heart bare here and now? You have known me
some time now, M’Iver--did you ever find me without some reserve in my
most intimate speech? Did you ever hear me say two words that I had not
a third in the background to bring forward if the policy of the moment
called for it?”

M’Iver laughed slyly, and hesitated to make any answer.

“It’s a simple question,” said the Marquis; “am I to think it needs too
straightforward an answer for John Splendid to give it?”

“I’m as frank as my neighbours,” said M’Iver.

“Well, sir, do not check the current of my candour by any picking and
choosing of words. I ask if you have ever found me with the babbling and
unbridled tongue of a fool in my mouth, giving my bottom-most thought to
the wind and the street?”

“You were no Gael if you did, my lord. That’s the sin of the shallow
wit. I aye kept a bit thought of my own in the corner of my vest.”

MacCailein sighed, and the stem of the beaker he was fingering broke in
his nervous fingers. He threw the fragments with an impatient cry into
the fireplace.

“It’s the only weakness of our religion (God pardon the sin of hinting
at any want in that same!) that we have no chance of laying the heart
bare to mortal man. Many a time I could wish for the salving influence
of the confessional, even without the absolution to follow.”

“I think,” said John Splendid, “it would be a strange day when
MacCailein Mor, Marquis of Argile, would ask or need shriving from
anything or any one. There was never a priest or vicar in the shire you
couldn’t twist the head off!”

The Marquis turned to me with a vexed toss of his shoulder. “It’s a
hopeless task to look for a pagan’s backbone,” said he. “Come, I’ll
confess. I dare not hint at my truant thought to Auchinbreac or before
any of these fiery officers of mine, who fear perhaps more than they
love me. At the black tale of my weakness they would make no allowance
for my courage as the same was shown before.”

“Your courage, sir,” said I, “has been proved; it is the inheritance of
your race. But I dare not strain my conscience, my lord, much as I
love and honour your house, to say I could comprehend or concur in the
extraordinary retirement you made from these parts when our need for
your presence was the sorest.”

“I thank you for that, Elrigmore,” said his lordship, cordially. “You
say no more now than you showed by your face (and perhaps said too)
on the night the beacon flamed on Dunchuach. To show that I value your
frankness--that my kinsman here seems to fancy a flaw ol character--I’ll
be explicit on the cause of my curious behaviour in this crisis. When
I was a boy I was brought up loyally to our savage Highland tradition,
that feuds were to carry on, and enemies to confound, and that no logic
under heaven should keep the claymore in its sheath while an old grudge
was to wipe out in blood or a wrong to right.”

“A most sensible and laudable doctrine!” cried M’Iver. “With that and
no more of a principle in life--except paying your way among friends--a
good man of his hands could make a very snug and reputable progress
through the world.”

“Some men might,” said Argile, calmly; “I do not know whether to envy
or pity their kind. But they are not my kind. I think I bore myself
not ungracefully in the Cabinet, in the field too, so long as I took my
father’s logic without question. But I have read, I have pondered----”

“Just so,” whispered M’Iver, not a bit abashed that a sneer was in his
interjection and his master could behold it.

“--And I have my doubts about the righteousness of much of our warfare,
either before my day or now. I have brought the matter to my closet I
have prayed----”

“Pshaw!” exclaimed M’Iver, but at once he asked pardon.

“--I am a man come--or wellnigh come--to the conclusion that his life
was never designed by the Creator to be spent in the turmoil of faction
and field. There is, I allow, a kind of man whom strife sets off, a
middling good man in his way, perhaps, with a call to the sword whose
justice he has never questioned. I have studied the philosophies; I have
reflected on life--this unfathomable problem--and ‘fore God I begin to
doubt my very right to wear a breastplate against the poignard of fate.
Dubiety plays on me like a flute.”

To all this I listened soberly, at the time comprehending that this was
a gentleman suffering from the disease of being unable to make up his
mind. I would have let him go on in that key while he pleasured it, for
it’s a vein there’s no remedy for at the time being; but M’Iver was not
of such tolerant stuff as I. He sat with an amazed face till his passion
simmered over into a torrent of words.

“MacCailein!” said he, “I’ll never call you coward, but I’ll call you
mad, book mad, closet mad! Was this strong fabric your house of Argile
(John M’Iver the humblest of its members) built up on doubt and whim and
shillyshally hither and yond? Was’t that made notable the name of your
ancestor Cailein Mor na Sringe, now in the clods of Kilchrenan, or
Cailein Iongataich who cooled his iron hide in Linne-na-luraich; or your
father himself (peace with him!), who did so gallantly at Glenlivet?”

“----And taught me a little of the trade of slaughter at the Western
Isles thirty years ago come Candlemas,” said the Marquis. “How a man
ages! Then--then I had a heart like the bird of spring.”

“He could have taught you worse! I’m your cousin, and I’ll say it
to your beard, sir! Your glens and howes are ruined, your cattle are
houghed and herried, your clan’s name is a bye-word this wae day in
all Albainn, and you sit there like a chemist weighing the wind on your

“You see no farther than your nose, John,” said the Marquis, petulantly,
the candle-light turning his eyes blood-red.

“Thank God for that same!” said Mlver, “if it gives me the wit to keep
an enemy from striking the same. If the nose was Argile’s, it might be
twisted off his face while he debated upon his right to guard it.”

“You’re in some ways a lucky man,” said the Marquis, still in the most
sad and tolerant humour. “Did you never have a second’s doubt about the
right of your side in battle?”

“Here’s to the doubt, sir!” said M’Iver. “I’m like yourself and every
other man in a quandary of that kind, that thinking on it rarely brought
me a better answer to the guess than I got from my instinct to start

Argile put his fingers through his hair, clearing the temples, and
shutting wearied eyes on a perplexing world.

“I have a good deal of sympathy with John’s philosophy,” I said,
modestly. “I hold with my father that the sword is as much God’s scheme
as the cassock. What are we in this expedition about to start but the
instruments of Heaven’s vengeance on murtherers and unbelievers?”

“I could scarcely put it more to the point myself,” cried M’Iver. “A
soldier’s singular and essential duty is to do the task set him with
such art and accomplishment as he can--in approach, siege, trench, or

“Ay, ay! here we are into our dialectics again,” said his lordship,
laughing, with no particular surrender in his merriment. “You gentlemen
make no allowance for the likelihood that James Grahame, too, may be
swearing himself Heaven’s chosen weapon. ‘Who gave Jacob to the spoil
and Israel to the robbers--did not I, the Lord?’ Oh, it’s a confusing

“Even so, MacCailein; I’m a plain man,” said M’Iver, “though of a good
family, brought up roughly among men, with more regard to my strength
and skill of arm than to book-learning; but I think I can say that here
and in this crisis I am a man more fit, express, and appropriate than
yourself. In the common passions of life, in hate, in love, it is the
simple and confident act that quicker achieves its purpose than the
cunning ingenuity. A man in a swither is a man half absent, as poor a
fighter as he is indifferent a lover; the enemy and the girl will escape
him ere he has throttled the doubt at his heart There’s one test to my
mind for all the enterprises of man--are they well contrived and carried
to a good conclusion? There may be some unco quirks to be performed, and
some sore hearts to confer at the doing of them, but Heaven itself, for
all its puissance, must shorten the pigeon’s wing that the gled of the
wood may have food to live on.”

“Upon my word, M’Iver,” said Argile, “you beat me at my own trade of
debate, and--have you ever heard of a fellow Machiavelli?”

“I kent a man of that name in a corps we forgathered with at Mentz--a
‘provient schriever,’ as they called him. A rogue, with a hand in the
sporran of every soldier he helped pay wage to.”

“This was a different person; but no matter. Let us back to the
beginning of our argument--why did you favour my leaving for Dunbarton
when Montrose came down the Glen?”

The blood swept to M’Iver’s face, and his eye quailed.

“I favoured no such impolitic act,” said he, slowly. “I saw you were
bent on going, and I but backed you up, to leave you some rags of
illusion to cover your naked sin.”

“I thought no less,” said Argile, sadly, “and yet, do you know, Iain,
you did me a bad turn yonder. You made mention of my family’s safety,
and it was the last straw that broke the back of my resolution. One word
of honest duty from you at that time had kept me in Inner-aora though
Abijah’s array and Jeroboam’s horse and foot were coming down the

For a little M’Iver gave no answer, but sat in a chair of torture.

“I am sorry for it,” he said at last, in a voice that was scarce his
own; “I’m in an agony for it now; and your horse was not round Strone
before I could have bit out the tongue that flattered your folly.”

MacCailein smiled with a solemn pity that sat oddly on the sinister face
that was a mask to a complex and pliable soul.

“I have no doubt,” said he, “and that’s why I said you were a devil’s
counsellor. Man, cousin! have we not played together as boys on the
shore, and looked at each other on many a night across a candid bowl? I
know you like the open book; you and your kind are the weak, strong men
of our Highland race. The soft tongue and the dour heart; the good man
at most things but at your word!”


The essence of all human melancholy is in the sentiment of farewells.
There are people roving about the world, to-day here, to-morrow afar,
who cheat fate and avoid the most poignant wrench of this common
experience by letting no root of their affection strike into a home or
a heart Self-contained, aloof, unloved, and unloving, they make their
campaign through life in movable tents that they strike as gaily as they
pitch, and, beholding them thus evade the one touch of sorrow that is
most inevitable and bitter to every sensitive soul, I have sometimes
felt an envy of their fortune. To me the world was almost mirthful if
its good-byes came less frequent. Cold and heat, the contumely of the
slanderer, the insult of the tyrant, the agues and fevers of the flesh,
the upheavals of personal fortune, were events a robust man might face
with calm valiancy if he could be spared the cheering influence of the
homely scene or the unchanged presence of his familiars and friends. I
have sat in companies and put on an affected mirth, and laughed and sung
with the most buoyant of all around, and yet ever and anon I chilled at
the intruding notion of life’s brevity.

Thus my leaving town Inneraora--its frozen hearths, its smokeless vents,
its desecrated doorways, and the few of my friends who were back to
it--was a stupendous grief. My father and my kinspeople were safe--we
had heard of them by the returners from Lennox; but a girl with dark
tresses gave me a closer passion for my native burgh than ever I felt
for the same before. If love of his lady had been Argile’s reason for
retreat (thought I), there was no great mystery in his act.

What enhanced my trouble was that Clan MacLachlan--as Catholics always
safe to a degree from the meddling of the invaders--had re-established
themselves some weeks before in their own territory down the loch, and
that young Lachlan, as his father’s proxy, was already manifesting a
guardian’s interest in his cousin. The fact came to my knowledge in a
way rather odd, but characteristic of John Splendid’s anxiety to save
his friends the faintest breeze of ill-tidings.

We were up early betimes in the morning of our departure for Lorn,
though our march was fixed for the afternoon, as we had to await the
arrival of some officers from Ceanntyre; and John and I, preparing our
accoutrements, began to talk of the business that lay heaviest at my
heart--the leaving of the girl we had found in Strongara wood.

“The oddest thing that ever happened to me,” he said, after a while,
“is that in the matter of this child she mothers so finely she should
be under the delusion that I have the closest of all interests in its
paternity. Did you catch her meaning when she spoke of its antecedents
as we sat, the four of us, behind the fir-roots?”

“No, I can’t say that I did,” said I, wonderingly.

“You’re not very gleg at some things, Elrigmore,” he said, smiling.
“Your Latin gave you no clue, did it, to the fact that she thought John
M’Iver a vagabond of the deepest dye?”

“If she thought that,” I cried, “she baffles me; for a hint I let drop
in a mere careless badinage of your gallanting reputation made her
perilously near angry.”

John with pursed lips stroked his chin, musing on my words. I was afraid
for a little he resented my indiscretion, but resentment was apparently
not in his mind, for his speech found no fault with me.

“Man, Colin,” he said, “you could scarcely have played a more cunning
card if you had had myself to advise you. But no matter about that.”

“If she thinks so badly of you, then,” I said, “why not clear yourself
from her suspicions, that I am willing to swear (less because of your
general character than because of your conduct since she and you and the
child met) are without foundation?”

“I could scarcely meet her womanly innuendo with a coarse and abrupt
denial,” said he. “There are some shreds of common decency left in me

“And you prefer to let her think the worst?”

He looked at me with a heightened colour, and he laughed shortly.

“You’ll be no loser by that, perhaps,” he said; and before I could
answer he added, “Pardon a foolish speech, Colin; I learned the trick of
fanfaron among foreign gentry who claimed a _conquête d’amour_ for every
woman who dropped an eye to their bold scrutiny. Do not give me any
share of your jealousy for Lachlan MacLachlan of that ilk--I’m not
deserving the honour. And that reminds me----”

He checked himself abruptly.

“Come, come,” said I, “finish your story; what about MacLachlan and the

“The lady’s out of the tale this time,” he said, shortly. “I met him
stravaiging the vacant street last night; that was all.”

“Then I can guess his mission without another word from you,” I cried,
after a little dumfounderment. “He would be on the track of his cousin.”

“Not at all,” said John, with a bland front; “he told me he was looking
for a boatman to ferry him over the loch.”

This story was so plainly fabricated to ease my apprehension that down I
went, incontinent, and sought the right tale in the burgh.

Indeed it was not difficult to learn the true particulars, for the place
rang all the worse for its comparative emptiness with the scandal of
M’Iver’s encounter with Mac-Lachlan, whom, it appeared, he had found
laying a gallant’s siege to the upper window of Askaig’s house, whose
almost unharmed condition had made it a convenient temporary shelter for
such as had returned to the town. In the chamber behind the window that
Mac-Lachlan threw his peebles at, were his cousin and the child, as
M’Iver speedily learned, and he trounced him from the neighbourhood with

“What set you on the man?” I asked John when I came back after learning

“What do you think?” said he.

“You could have done no more if you had an eye on the girl yourself,” I
said, “and that, you assure me, is out of the question.”

“The reason was very simple,” he answered. “I have a sort of elder man’s
mischievous pleasure in spoiling a young buck’s ploy, and--and--there
might be an extra interest in my entertainment in remembering that you
had some jealous regard for the lady.”

All I had that was precious to take with me when we left Inneraora to
follow the track of Montrose was the friendly wave of Mistress Betty’s
hand as we marched out below the Arches on our way to the North.

Argile and Auchinbreac rode at our head--his lordship on a black
horse called Lepanto, a spirited beast that had been trained to active
exercises and field-practice; Auchinbreac on a smaller animal, but of
great spirit and beauty. M’Iver and I walked, as did all the officers.
We had for every one of our corps twelve shot apiece, and in the rear a
sufficiency of centners of powder, with ball and match. But we depended
more on the prick of pike and the slash of sword than on our culverins.
Our Lowland levies looked fairly well disciplined and smart, but there
was apparent among them no great gusto about our expedition, and we
had more hope of our vengeance at the hands of our uncouth but eager
clansmen who panted to be at the necks of their spoilers and old

M’Iver confided to me more than once his own doubts about the mettle of
the companies from Dumbarton.

“I could do well with them on a foreign strand,” he said, “fighting for
the bawbees against half-hearted soldiery like themselves, but I have my
doubts about their valour or their stomach for this broil with a kind
of enemy who’s like to surprise them terribly when the time comes. This
affair’s decision must depend, I’m afraid, for the most part on our own
lads, and I wish there were more of them.”

We went up the Glen at a good pace, an east wind behind us, and the road
made a little easier for us since the snow had been trodden by the folks
we were after. To-day you will find Aora Glen smiling--happy with crop
and herd on either hand and houses at every turn of the road, with
children playing below the mountain-ash that stands before each door.
You cannot go a step but human life’s in sight Our march was in a
desolate valley--the winds with the cold odour (one might almost think)
of ruin and death.

Beyond Lecknamban, where the time by the shadow on Tom-an-Uarader was
three hours of the afternoon, a crazy old _cailleach_, spared by some
miracle from starvation and doom, ran out before us wringing her hands,
and crying a sort of coronach for a family of sons of whom not one had
been spared to her. A gaunt, dark woman, with a frenzied eye, her cheeks
collapsed, her neck and temples like crinkled parchment, her clothes
dropping off her in strips, and her bare feet bleeding in the snow.

Argile scoffed at the superstition, as he called it, and the Lowland
levies looked on it as a jocular game, when we took a few drops of her
blood from her forehead for luck--a piece of chirurgy that was perhaps
favourable to her fever, and one that, knowing the ancient custom, and
respecting it, she made no fraca about.

She followed us in the snow to the ruins of Camus, pouring out her
curses upon Athole and the men who had made her home desolate and her
widowhood worse than the grave, and calling on us a thousand blessings.

Lochow--a white, vast meadow, still bound in frost--we found was able to
bear our army and save us the toilsome bend round Stronmealchan. We put
out on its surface fearlessly. The horses pranced between the isles; our
cannon trundled on over the deeps; our feet made a muffled thunder, and
that was the only sound in all the void. For Cruachan had looked down on
the devastation of the enemy. And at the falling of the night we camped
at the foot of Glen Noe.

It was a night of exceeding clearness, with a moon almost at the full,
sailing between us and the south. A certain jollity was shed by it upon
our tired brigade, though all but the leaders (who slept in a tent)
were resting in the snow on the banks of the river, with not even a
saugh-tree to give the illusion of a shelter. There was but one fire in
the bivouac, for there was no fuel at hand, and we had to depend upon a
small stock of peats that came with us in the stores-sledge.

Deer came to the hill and belled mournfully, while we ate a frugal meal
of oat-bannock and wort. The Low-landers--raw lads--became boisterous;
our Gaels, stern with remembrance and eagerness for the coming business,
thawed to their geniality, and soon the laugh and song went round our
camp. Argile himself for a time joined in our diversion. He came out of
his tent and lay in his plaid among his more immediate followers, and
gave his quota to the story or the guess. In the deportment of his
lordship now there was none of the vexatious hesitancy that helped him
to a part so poor as he played in his frowning tower at home among the
soothing and softening effects of his family’s domestic affairs. He was
true Diarmaid the bold, with a calm eye and steadfast, a worthy general
for us his children, who sat round in the light of the cheerful fire.
So sat his forebears and ours on the close of many a weary march, on the
eve of many a perilous enterprise. That cold pride that cocked his
head so high on the causeway-stones of Inneraora relinquished to a mien
generous, even affectionate, and he brought out, as only affection may,
the best that was of accomplishment and grace in his officers around.

“Craignure,” he would say, “I remember your story of the young King of
Easaidh Ruadh; might we have it anew?” Or, “Donald, is the Glassary song
of the Target in your mind? It haunts me like a charm.”

And the stories came free, and in the owercome of the songs the dark of
Glen Noe joined most lustily.

Songs will be failing from the memory in the ranging of the years, the
passions that rose to them of old burned low in the ash, so that many
of the sweetest ditties I heard on that night in Glen Noe have long syne
left me for ever--all but one that yet I hum to the children at my knee.
It was one of John Splendid’s; the words and air were his as well as the
performance of them, and though the English is a poor language wherein
to render any fine Gaelic sentiment, I cannot forbear to give something
of its semblance here. He called it in the Gaelic “The Sergeant of
Pikes,” and a few of its verses as I mind them might be Scotticed so--

     When I sat in the service o’ foreign commanders,
        Selling a sword for a beggar man’s fee,
     Learning the trade o’ the warrior who wanders,
        To mak’ ilka stranger a sworn enemie;
     There was ae thought that nerved roe, and brawly it served me.
        With pith to the claymore wherever I won,--
     ‘Twas the auld sodger’s story, that, gallows or glory,
        The Hielan’s, the Hielan’s were crying me on!

     I tossed upon swinging seas, splashed to my kilted knees,
        Ocean or ditch, it was ever the same;
     In leaguer or sally, tattoo or revally,
        The message on every pibroch that came,
      Was “Cruachan, Cruachan, O son remember us,
        Think o’ your fathers and never be slack!”
      Blade and buckler together, though far off the heather,
        The Hielan’s, the Hielan’s were all at my back!

     The ram to the gate-way, the torch to the tower,
        We rifled the kist, and the cattle we maimed;
     Our dirks stabbed at guess through the leaves o’ the bower,
        And crimes we committed that needna be named:
     Moonlight or dawning grey, Lammas or Lady-day,
        Donald maun dabble his plaid in the gore;
     He maun hough and maun harry, or should he miscarry,
        The Hielan’s, the Hielan’s will own him no more!

     And still, O strange Providence! mirk is your mystery,
        Whatever the country that chartered our steel
     Because o’ the valiant repute o’ our history,
        The love o’ our ain land we maistly did feel;
     Many a misty glen, many a sheiling pen,
        Rose to our vision when slogans rang high;
     And this was the solace bright came to our starkest fight,
        A’ for the Hielan’s, the Hielan’s we die!

     A Sergeant o’ Pikes, I have pushed and have parried O
        (My heart still at tether in bonny Glenshee);
     Weary the marches made, sad the towns harried O,
        But in fancy the heather was aye at my knee:
     The hill-berry mellowing, stag o’ ten bellowing,
        The song o’ the fold and the tale by the hearth,
     Bairns at the crying and auld folks a-dying,
        The Hielan’s sent wi’ me to fight round the earth!

     O the Hielan’s, the Hielan’s, praise God for His favour,
        That ane sae unworthy should heir sic estate,
     That gi’ed me the zest o the sword, and the savour
        That lies in the loving as well as the hate.
     Auld age may subdue me, a grim death be due me,
        For even a Sergeant o’ Pikes maun depart,
     But I’ll never complain o’t, whatever the pain o’t,
        The Hielan’s, the Hielan’s were aye at my heart!

We closed in our night’s diversion with the exercise of prayer, wherein
two clerics led our devotion, one Master Mungo Law, a Lowlander, and the
other his lordship’s chaplain--Master Alexander Gordon, who had come on
this expedition with some fire of war in his face, and never so much as
a stiletto at his waist.

They prayed a trifle long and drearily the pair of them, and both in
the English that most of our clansmen but indifferently understood. They
prayed as prayed David, that the counsel of Ahithophel might be turned
to foolishness; and “Lo,” they said, “be strong and courageous; fear
not, neither be afraid of the King of Ashur, neither for all the
multitude that is with him; for there be more with us than with him,”
 and John Splendid turned to me at this with a dry laugh.

“Colin, my dear,” said he, “thus the hawk upon the mountain-side, and
the death of the winged eagle to work up a valour for! ‘There be more
with us than with him.’ I never heard it so bluntly put before. But
perhaps Heaven will forgive us the sin of our caution, seeing that half
our superior number are but Lowland levies.”

And all night long deer belled to deer on the braes of Glen Noe.


We might well be at our prayers. Appin paid dearly for its merriment in
the land of Cailein Mor, and the MacDonalds were mulct most generously
for our every hoof and horn. For when we crossed Loch Etive there came
behind us from the ruined glens of Lower Lorn hordes of shepherds,
hunters, small men of small families, who left their famished dens and
holes, hunger sharping them at the nose, the dead bracken of concealment
in their hair, to join in the vengeance on the cause of their distress.
Without chieftains or authority, they came in savage bands, affronting
the sea with their shouts as they swam or ferried; they made up with the
wildest of our troops, and ho, ro! for the plaids far and wide on the
errands of Hell. In that clear, cold, white weather--the weather of
the badger’s dream, as our proverb calls it--we brought these glens
unfriendly, death in the black draught and the red wine of fire. A
madness of hate seized on us; we glutted our appetites to the very
gorge. I must give Argile the credit of giving no licence to
our on-goings. He rode after us with his Lowlanders, protesting,
threatening, cajoling in vain. Many a remonstrance, too, made Gordon,
many an opening fire he stamped out in cot and bam. But the black smoke
of the granary belching against the white hills, or the kyloe, houghed
and maimed, roaring in its agony, or the fugitive brought bloody on his
knees among the rocks--God’s mercy!

Do you know why those unco spectacles were sometimes almost sweet to me,
though I was more often a looker-on than a sharer in their horror? It
was because I never saw a barn blaze in Appin or Glencoe but I minded on
our own black barns in Shira Glen; nor a beast slashed at the sinew with
a wanton knife, but I thought of Moira, the dappled one that was the
pride of my mother’s byre, made into hasty collops for a Stewart meal.
Through this remoter Lorn I went, less conscious of cruelty than when I
plied fire and sword with legitimate men of war, for ever in my mind
was the picture of real Argile, scorched to the vitals with the invading
flame, and a burgh town I cherished reft of its people, and a girl with
a child at her neck flying and sobbing among the hills.

Montrose and MacColkitto were far before us, marching up the Great Glen.
They had with them the pick of the clans, so we lived, as it were, at
free quarters, and made up for weeks of short fare by a time of high

Over Etive and through the Benderloch, and through Appin and even up
to Glencoe, by some strange spasm of physique--for she was frail and
famished--the barefooted old _cailleach_ of Carnus came after us, a bird
of battle, croaking in a horrible merriment over our operations. The
Dark Dame we called her. She would dance round the butchery of the
fold, chanting her venomous Gaelic exultation in uncouth rhymes that
she strung together as easily as most old people of her kind can do
such things in times of passion or trance. She must have lived like a
vulture, for no share would she have in our pots, though sometimes she
added a relish to them by fetching dainties from houses by the way,
whose larders in our masculine ignorance we had overlooked.

“I would give thee the choicest of the world,” she would say. “What is
too good for my heroes, O heroes of the myrtle-badge?”

“Sit down and pick,” John Splendid bade her once, putting a roysterer’s
playful arm round her waist, and drawing her to the fire where a dinner

Up she threw her claws, and her teeth were at his neck with a weasel’s
instinct But she drew back at a gleam of reason.

“Oh, darling, darling,” she cried, patting him with her foul hands,
“did I not fancy for the moment thou wert of the spoilers of my home and
honour--thou, the fleet foot, the avenger, the gentleman with an account
to pay--on thee this mother’s blessing, for thee this widow’s prayers!”

M’Iver was more put about at her friendliness than at her ferocity, as
he shook his plaiding to order and fell back from her worship.

“I’ve seldom seen a more wicked cat,” said he; “go home, grandam,
and leave us to our business. If they find you in Lochaber they will
gralloch you like a Yule hind.”

She leered, witch-like, at him, clutched suddenly at his sword-hilt, and
kissed it with a frenzy of words, then sped off, singing madly as she

We left the Dark Dame on Levenside as we ferried over to Lochaber,
and the last we saw of her, she stood knee-deep in the water, calling,
calling, calling, through the grey dun morning, a curse on Clan Donald
and a blessing on Argile.

His lordship sat at the helm of a barge, his face pallid and drawn with
cold, and he sighed heavily as the beldame’s cries came after us.

“There’s little of God’s grace in such an omen,” said he, in English,
looking at the dim figure on the shore, and addressing Gordon.

“It could happen nowhere else,” said the cleric, “but in such a
ferocious land. I confess it, my lord--I confess it with the bitter
shame of surrender, that I behold generations of superstition and
savagery still to beat down ere your people are so amenable to the
Gospel as the folks of the Lowland shires. To them such a shrieking
harridan would be an object of pity and stern measure; they would
call her mad as an etter-cap, and keep her in bounds: here she is made
something of a prophetess------”

“How?” asked Argile, shortly, and he was looking wistfully at the hills
we were leaving--the hills that lay between him and his books.

“There’s not a Highlander in your corps but has bowed his head to her
blessing; there’s not one but looks upon her curse of the MacDonalds as
so much of a gain in this enterprise.”

“Oh,” said his lordship, “you are a little extravagant We have our
foolish ways, Gordon, but we are not altogether heathen; and do you
think that after all there might not be something in the portents of a
witch like yon in her exaltation?”

“No more than’s in the howling of the wind in the chimney,” said Gordon,

“Perhaps not,” said Argile, after a little, “perhaps not; but even the
piping of the vent has something of prophecy in it, though the wind
bloweth where it listeth. I have only a scholar’s interest in these
things, I give you my word, and----”

He laughed with a little restraint before he went on.

“Do you know, John,” he called out to M’Iver--“do you know what our
_cailleach_ friend says of our jaunt? She put a head in at my tent last
night, and ‘Listen, MacCailein,’ said she, ‘and keep on high roads,’
said she, ‘and Inverlochy’s a perilous place,’ said she, ‘and I’d be wae
to see the heather above the gall.’”

John Splendid’s back was to him as he sat at the prow of a boat coming
close on our stern, but I saw the skin of his neck flame. He never
turned: he made no answer for a moment, and when he spoke it was with a
laughing allusion in English to the folly of portents.

This was so odd an attitude for a man usually superstitious to take up,
that I engaged him on the point whenever we landed.

“You seem to have no great respect for the Dark Dame’s wizardy,” said I.

He took me aside from some of the clansmen who could overhear.

“Never let these lads think that you either lightly Dame Dubh or make
overmuch of her talk about the heather and gall, for they prize her
blessing, strangely enough, and they might lay too great stress on its
failure. You catch me?”

I nodded to keep him going, and turned the thing over in my mind.

“What do you think of the prophecy yourself?” he asked; “is it not

In a flash it came to my mind that I had half-hinted to him at what the
Macaulay woman had said in the fold of Elrigmore.

“I think,” said I, “the less the brooding on these things the better.”

If we had our own misgivings about the end of this jaunt, our companions
had none. They plunged with hearts almost jocular into the woods on
Lochaber’s edge, in a bright sunshine that glinted on the boss of the
target and on the hilt of the knife or sword, and we came by the middle
of the day to the plain on which lay the castle of Inverlochy--a staunch
quadrangular edifice with round towers at the angles, and surrounded by
a moat that smelled anything but freshly. And there we lay for a base,
and thence we sent out round Keppoch and Locheil some dashing companies
that carried on the work we began in Athole.

Auchinbreac’s notion, for he was more than my lord the guide of this
enterprise, was to rest a day or two in the castle and then follow on
the heels of Montrose, who, going up Loch Ness-side, as we knew he was,
would find himself checked in front by Seaforth, and so hemmed between
two fires.

It was about three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon when Argile sent for
M’Iver and myself to suggest a reconnoitring excursion up the Great Glen
by the side of the lochs, to see how far the enemy might have reached
before us.

“I’m sorry to lose your company, gentlemen,” said he, “even for a day;
but this is a delicate embassy, and I can fancy no one better able to
carry it through successfully than the two gentlemen who have done more
delicate and dangerous work in the ranks of the honourable Scots

“I can say for myself,” said John, “that there’s not a man in Keppoch
could guess my nativity or my politics if I had on another tartan than
that of the Diarmaid.”

“Ah! you have the tongue, no doubt of it,” said Argile, smiling; “and if
a change of colour would make your task less hazardous, why not effect
it? I’m sure we could accommodate you with some neutral fabric for kilt
and plaid.”

“For the humour of the thing,” said John, “I would like to try it; but
I have no notion of getting hanged for a spy. James Grahame of Montrose
has enough knowledge of the polite arts of war to know the difference
between a spy in his camp in a false uniform and a scout taking all the
risks of the road by wearing his own colours. In the one case he would
hang us offhand, in the other there’s a hair’s-breadth of chance that he
might keep us as hostages.”

“But in any tartan, cousin, you’re not going to let yourself be caught,”
 said Argile. “We have too much need for you here. Indeed, if I thought
you were not certain to get through all right, I would send cheaper men
in your place.”

John laughed.

“There’s no more cure,” said he, “for death in a common herd than for
the same murrain in an ensign of foot.”

“A scholar’s sentiment!” cried Argile. “Are you taking to the

“It’s the sentiment, or something like it, of your chaplain, Master
Gordon,” said John; “he reproved me with it on Dunchuach. But to do
myself justice, I was never one who would run another into any danger I
was unwilling to face myself.”

The Marquis said no more, so we set about preparing for the journey.

“Well, Elrigmore, here we are running the loupegarthe with MacDonalds
on the one side of us and Camerons on the other,” said my comrade, as we
set out at the mouth of the evening, after parting from a number of the
clan who went up to the right at Spean to do some harrying in Glen Roy.

No gavilliger or provost-marshal ever gave a more hazardous gauntlet
to run, thought I, and I said as much; but my musings brought only a
good-humoured banter from my friend.

All night we walked on a deserted rocky roadway under moon and star.
By the side of Loch Lochy there was not a light to be seen; even the
solitary dwellings we crept bye in the early part of our journey were
without smoke at the chimney or glimmer at the chink. And on that
loch-side, towards the head of it, there were many groups of mean little
hovels, black with smoke and rain, with ragged sloven thatch, the midden
at the very door and the cattle routing within, but no light, no sign of
human occupation.

It was the dawning of the day, a fine day as it proved and propitious to
its close, that we ventured to enter one such hut or bothy at the foot
of another loch that lay before us. Auchinbreac’s last order to us had
been to turn wherever we had indication of the enemy’s whereabouts, and
to turn in any case by morning. Before we could go back, however, we
must have some sleep and food, so we went into this hut to rest us. It
stood alone in a hollow by a burn at the foot of a very high hill,
and was tenanted by a buxom, well-featured woman with a herd of duddy
children. There was no man about the place; we had the delicacy not to
ask the reason, and she had the caution not to offer any. As we rapped
at her door we put our arms well out of sight below our neutral plaids,
but I daresay our trade was plain enough to the woman when she came out
and gave us the Gael’s welcome somewhat grudgingly, with an eye on our
apparel to look for the tartan.

“Housewife,” said John M’Iver, blandly, “we’re a bit off our way here
by no fault of our own, and we have been on the hillside all night,

“Come in,” she said, shortly, still scrutinising us very closely, till
I felt myself flushing wildly. She gave us the only two stools in her
dwelling, and broke the peats that smouldered on the middle of her
floor. The chamber--a mean and contracted interior--was lit mainly
from the door and the smoke-vent, that gave a narrow glimpse of heaven
through the black _cabar_ and thatch. Round about the woman gathered her
children, clinging at her gown, and their eyes stared large and round in
the gloom at the two of us who came so appallingly into their nest.

We sat for a little with our plaids about us, revelling in the solace of
the hearty fire that sent wafts of odorous reek round the dwelling;
and to our dry rations the woman added whey, that we drank from birch

“I am sorry I have no milk just now,” she said. “I had a cow till the
day before yesterday; now she’s a cow no more, but pith in Colkitto’s

“They lifted her?” asked John.

“I would not say they lifted her,” said the woman, readily, “for who
would be more welcome to my all than the gentlemen of Keppoch and
Seumais Grahame of Montrose?” And again she looked narrowly at our
close-drawn plaids.

I stood up, pulled out my plaid-pin, and let the folds off my shoulder,
and stood revealed to her in a Diarmaid tartan.

“You see we make no pretence at being other than what we are,” I said,
softly; “are we welcome to your whey and to your fire-end?”

She showed no sign of astonishment or alarm, and she answered with
great deliberation, choosing her Gaelic, and uttering it with an air to
impress us.

“I dare grudge no one at my door,” said she, “the warmth of a peat and
what refreshment my poor dwelling can give; but I’ve seen more welcome
guests than the spoilers of Appin and Glencoe. I knew you for Campbells
when you knocked.”

“Well, mistress,” said M’Iver, briskly, “you might know us for
Campbells, and might think the worse of us for that same fact (which we
cannot help), but it is to be hoped you will know us for gentlemen too.
If you rue the letting of us in, we can just go out again. But we are
weary and cold and sleepy, for we have been on foot since yesterday, and
an hour among bracken or white hay would be welcome.”

“And when you were sleeping,” said the woman; “what if I went out and
fetched in some men of a clan who would be glad to mar your slumber?”

John studied her face for a moment It was a sonsy and simple face, and
her eyes were not unkindly.

“Well,” he said, “you might have some excuse for a deed so unhospitable,
and a deed so different from the spirit of the Highlands as I know them.
Your clan would be little the better for the deaths of two gentlemen
whose fighting has been in other lands than this, and a wife with a
child at her breast would miss me, and a girl with her wedding-gown at
the making would miss my friend here. These are wild times, good
wife, wild and cruel times, and a widow more or less is scarcely worth
troubling over. I think we’ll just risk you calling in your men, for,
God knows, I’m wearied enough to sleep on the verge of the Pit itself.”

The woman manifestly surrendered her last scruple at his deliverance.
She prepared to lay out a rough bedding of the bleached bog-grass our
people gather in the dry days of spring.

“You may rest you a while, then,” said she. “I have a husband with
Keppoch, and he might be needing a bed among strangers himself.”

“We are much in your reverence, housewife,” said John, nudging me so
that I felt ashamed of his double-dealing. “That’s a bonny bairn,” he
continued, lifting one of the children in his arms; “the rogue has your
own good looks in every lineament.”

“Aye, aye,” said the woman, drily, spreading her blankets; “I would need
no sight of tartan to guess your clan, master. Your flattery goes wrong
this time, for by ill-luck you have the only bairn that does not belong
to me of all the brood.”

“Now that I look closer,” he laughed, “I see a difference; but I’ll take
back no jot of my compliment to yourself.”

“I was caught yonder,” said he to me a little later in a whisper in
English, as we lay down in our corner. “A man of my ordinary acuteness
should have seen that the brat was the only unspoiled member of all the

We slept, it might be a couple of hours, and wakened together at the
sound of a man’s voice speaking with the woman outside the door. Up we
sat, and John damned the woman for her treachery.

“Wait a bit,” I said. “I would charge her with no treachery till I had
good proofs for it I’m mistaken if your lie about your wife and weans
has not left her a more honest spirit towards us.”

The man outside was talking in a shrill, high voice, and the woman in a
softer voice was making excuses for not asking him to go in. One of her
little ones was ill of a fever, she said, and sleeping, and her house,
too, was in confusion, and could she hand him out something to eat?

“A poor place Badenoch nowadays!” said the man, petulantly. “I’ve seen
the day a bard would be free of the best and an honour to have by any
one’s fire. But out with the bannocks and I’ll be going. I must be at
Kilcumin with as much speed as my legs will lend me.”

He got his bannocks and he went, and we lay back a while on our bedding
and pretended to have heard none of the incident It was a pleasant
feature of the good woman’s character that she said never a word of her
tactics in our interest.

“So you did not bring in your gentlemen?” said John, as we were
preparing to go. “I was half afraid some one might find his way
unbidden, and then it was all bye with two poor soldiers of fortune.”

“John MacDonald the bard, John Lorn, as we call him, went bye a while
ago,” she answered simply, “on his way to the clan at Kilcumin.”

“I have never seen the bard yet that did not demand his bardic right to
kail-pot and spoon at every passing door.”

“This one was in a hurry,” said the woman, reddening a little in

“Just so,” said M’Iver, fumbling in his hand some coin he had taken from
his sporran; “have you heard of the gold touch for fever? A child has
been brought from the edge of the grave by the virtue of a dollar rubbed
on its brow. I think I heard you say some neighbour’s child was ill? I’m
no physician, but if my coin could--what?”

The woman flushed deeper than ever, an angered pride this time in her

“There’s no child ill that I know of,” said she; “if there was, we have
gold of our own.”

She bustled about the house and put past her blankets, and out with a
spinning-wheel and into a whirr of it, with a hummed song of the country
at her lips--all in a mild temper, or to keep her confusion from showing
itself undignified.

“Come away,” I said to my comrade in English; “you’ll make her bitterly
angry if you persist in your purpose.”

He paid no heed to me, but addressed the woman again with a most
ingenious story, apparently contrived, with his usual wit, as he went on
with it.

“Your pardon, goodwife,” said he, “but I see you are too sharp for my
small deceit I daresay I might have guessed there was no child ill; but
for reasons of my own I’m anxious to leave a little money with you till
I come back this road again. We trusted you with our lives for a couple
of hours there, and surely, thinks I, we can trust you with a couple of
yellow pieces.”

The woman stopped her wheel and resumed her good-humour. “I thought,”
 said she,--“I thought you meant payment for----”

“You’re a bit hard on my manners, goodwife,” said John. “Of course I
have been a soldier, and might have done the trick of paying forage
with a sergeant’s blunt-ness, but I think I know a Gaelic woman’s spirit

“But are you likely to be passing here again at any time?” cried the
woman, doubt again darkening her face, and by this time she had the
money in her hand. “I thought you were going back by the Glen?”

“That was our notion,” said my comrade, marvellously ready, “but to tell
the truth we are curious to see this Keppoch bard, whose songs we know
very well in real Argile, and we take a bit of the road to Kilcumin
after him.”

The weakness of this tale was not apparent to the woman, who I daresay
had no practice of such trickery as my friend was the master of, and she
put the money carefully in a napkin and in a recess beneath one of the
roof-joists. Our thanks she took carelessly, no doubt, because we were

I was starting on the way to Inverlochy when M’Iver protested we must
certainly go a bit of the way to Kilcumin.

“I’m far from sure,” said he, “that that very particular bit of
MacDonald woman is quite confident of the truth of my story. At any
rate, she’s no woman if she’s not turning it over in her mind by now,
and she’ll be out to look the road we take before very long or I’m

We turned up the Kilcumin road, which soon led us out of sight of the
hut, and, as my friend said, a glance behind us showed us the woman in
our rear, looking after us.

“Well, there’s no turning so long as she’s there,” said I. “I wish your
generosity had shown itself in a manner more convenient for us. There’s
another example of the error of your polite and truthless tongue! When
you knew the woman was not wanting the money, you should have put it in
your sporran again, and----”

“Man, Elrigmore,” he cried, “you have surely studied me poorly if you
would think me the man to insult the woman--and show my own stupidity at
the same time--by exposing my strategy when a bit fancy tale and a short
daunder on a pleasant morning would save the feelings of both the lady
and myself.”

“You go through life on a zigzag,” I protested, “aiming for some goal
that another would cut straight across for, making deviations of an
hour to save you a second’s unpleasantness. I wish I could show you the
diplomacy of straightforwardness: the honest word, though hard to say
sometimes, is a man’s duty as much as the honest deed of hand.”

“Am I not as honest of my word as any in a matter of honour? I but gloze
sometimes for the sake of the affection I have for all God’s creatures.”

I was losing patience of his attitude and speaking perhaps with
bitterness, for here were his foolish ideas of punctilio bringing us a
mile or two off our road and into a part of the country where we were
more certain of being observed by enemies than in the way behind us.

“You jink from ambuscade to ambuscade of phrase like a fox,” I cried.

“Call it like a good soldier, and I’ll never quarrel with your
compliment,” he said, good-humouredly. “I had the second excuse for the
woman in my mind before the first one missed fire.”

“Worse and worse!”

“Not a bit of it: it is but applying a rule of fortification to a
peaceful palaver. Have bastion and ravelin as sure as may be, but safer
still the sally-port of retreat.”

I stood on the road and looked at him, smiling very smug and
self-complacent before me, and though I loved the man I felt bound to
prick a hole in his conceit.

But at that moment a dead branch snapped in a little plantation that lay
by the way, and we turned quickly to see come to us a tall lean man in
MacDonald clothing.


He was a lantern-jawed, sallow-faced, high-browed fellow in his prime,
with the merest hint of a hirple or halt in his walk, very shabby in his
dress, wearing no sporran, but with a dagger bobbing about at his groin.
I have never seen a man with surprise more sharply stamped on his visage
than was betrayed by this one when he got close upon us and found two of
a clan so unlikely to have stray members out for a careless airing on a
forenoon in Badenoch.

“You’re taking your walk?” he said, with a bantering tone, after a
moment’s pause.

“You couldn’t have guessed better,” said John. “We are taking all we’re
likely to get in so barren a country.”

The stranger chuckled sourly as the three of us stood in a group
surveying each other. “My name,” said he, in his odd north Gaelic, and
throwing out his narrow chest, “is John MacDonad I’m Keppoch’s bard, and
I’ve no doubt you have heard many of my songs. I’m namely in the world
for the best songs wit ever strung together. Are you for war? I can stir
you with a stave to set your sinews straining. Are you for the music of
the wood? The thrush itself would be jealous of my note. Are you for the
ditty of the lover? Here’s the songster to break hearts. Since the start
of time there have been ‘prentices at my trade: I have challenged North
and East, South and the isle-flecked sea, and they cry me back their

M’Iver put a toe on one of mine, and said he, “Amn’t I the unlucky man,
for I never heard of you?”

“Tut, tut,” cried the bard in a fret, “perhaps you think so much in
Argile of your hedge-chanters that you give the lark of the air no ear.”

“We have so many poets between Knapdale and Cruachan,” said John, “that
the business is fallen out of repute, and men brag when they can make an
honest living at prose.”

“Honest living,” said the bard, “would be the last thing I would expect
Clan Campbell to brag of.”

He was still in an annoyance at the set-back to his vanity, shuffling
his feet restlessly on the ground, and ill at ease about the mouth,
that I’ve noticed is the first feature to show a wound to the conceit.

“Come, come,” he went on, “will you dare tell me that the sheiling
singers on Loch Finneside have never heard my ‘Harp of the Trees’? If
there’s a finer song of its kind in all Albainn I’ve yet to learn it.”

“If I heard it,” said John, “I’ve forgotten it.”

“Name of God!” cried the bard in amaze, “you couldn’t; it goes so”--and
he hummed the tune that every one in Argile and the west had been
singing some years before.

We pretended to listen with eagerness to recall a single strain of
it, and affected to find no familiar note. He tried others of his
budget--some rare and beautiful songs, I must frankly own: some we knew
by fragments; some we had sung in the wood of Creag Dubh--but to each
and all John Splendid raised a vacant face and denied acquaintance.

“No doubt,” said he, “they are esteemed in the glens of Keppoch, but
Argile is fairly happy without them. Do you do anything else for a
living but string rhymes?”

The bard was in a sweat of vexation. “I’ve wandered far,” said he, “and
you beat all I met in a multitude of people. Do you think the stringing
of rhymes so easy that a man should be digging and toiling in the field
and the wood between his _duans_?”

“I think,” said Splendid (and it was the only time a note of earnestness
was in his utterance)--“I think his songs would be all the better for
some such manly interregnum. You sing of battles: have you felt the
blood rush behind the eyes and the void of courageous alarm at the
pit of the stomach? You hum of grief: have you known the horror of a
desolate home? Love,--sir, you are young, young------”

“Thanks be with you,” said the bard; “your last word gives me the clue
to my answer to your first I have neither fought nor sorrowed in the
actual fact; but I have loved, not a maid (perhaps), nor in errant
freaks of the mind, but a something unnameable and remote, with
a bounteous overflowing of the spirit. And that way I learned the
splendour of war as I sat by the fire; and the widows of my fancy wring
my heart with a sorrow as deep as the ruined homes your clan have made
in my country could confer.”

I’m afraid I but half comprehended his meaning, but the rapture of his
eye infected me like a glisk of the sun. He was a plain, gawky, nervous
man, very freckled at the hands, and as poor a leg in the kilt as well
could be. He was fronting us with the unspoken superiority of the fowl
on its own midden, but he had a most heart-some and invigorating glow.

“John Lorn, John Lom!” I cried, “I heard a soldier sing your songs in
the ship Archangel of Leith that took us to Elsinore.”

He turned with a grateful eye from M’Iver to me, and I felt that I had
one friend now in Badenoch.

“Do you tell me?” he asked, a very child in his pleasure, that John
Splendid told me after he had not the heart to mar. “Which one did they
sing--‘The Harp of the Trees’ or ‘Macrannul Og’s Lament’? I am sure it
would be the Lament: it is touched with the sorrow of the starless
night on a rain-drummed, wailing sea. Or perhaps they knew--the gentle
hearts--my ‘Farewell to the Fisher.’ I made it with yon tremor of joy,
and it is telling of the far isles beyond Uist and Barra, and the Seven
Hunters, and the white sands of Colomkill.”

M’Iver sat down on the wayside and whittled a stick with a pretence at
patience I knew he could scarcely feel, for we were fools to be dallying
thus on the way in broad morning when we should be harking back to our
friends as secretly as the fox.

“Were you on the ocean?” he asked the bard, whose rapture was not

“Never,” said he, “but I know Linnhe and Loch Eil and the fringe of

“Mere dubs,” said M’Iver, pleasantly--“mere dubs or ditches. Now I,
Barbreck, have been upon the deeps, tossed for days at hazard without a
headland to the view. I may have made verse on the experience,--I’ll not
say yea or nay to that,--but I never gave a lochan credit for washing
the bulged sides of the world.”

“You hadn’t fancy for it, my good fellow,” said the bard, angry again.
“I forgot to say that I saw Loch Finne too, and the Galley of Lorn
taking MacCailein off from his castle. I’m making a song on that now.”

“Touched!” thinks I, for it was a rapier-point at my comrade’s very
marrow. He reddened at once, pulled down his brows, and scanned the bard
of Keppoch, who showed his knowledge of his advantage.

“If I were you,” said John in a little, “I would not put the finish on
that ditty till I learned the end of the transaction. Perhaps MacCailein
(and God bless my chief!) is closer on Lochiel and Lochaber to-day than
you give him credit for.”

“Say nothing about that,” said I warningly in English to my friend,
never knowing (what I learned on a later occasion) that John Lorn had
the language as well as myself.

“When MacCailein comes here,” said the bard, “he’ll get a Badenoch

“And that is the thief’s welcome, the shirt off his very back,” cried

“Off his back very likely,” said the bard; “it’s the back we see
oftenest of the bonny gentleman.”

M’Iver grew livid to the very lip, and sprang to his feet, dutching
with great menace the black knife he had been whittling with. Not a bit
abashed, the bard pulled out his dirk, and there was like to be a pretty
to-do when I put between them.

The issue of the quarrel that thus I retarded was postponed altogether
by a circumstance that changed the whole course of our adventure in this
wild country,--severed us at a sharp wrench from the Campbell regiments,
and gave us the chance--very unwelcome it was--of beholding the manner
of war followed by Alasdair MacDonald’s savage tribes. It happened in a
flash, without warning. No blow had been struck by the two gentlemen
at variance, when we were all three thrown to the ground, and the bound
prisoners of a squad of Macgregors who had got out of the thicket and
round us unobserved in the heat of the argument.

They treated us all alike--the bard as curt as the Campbells, in spite
of his tartan,--and without exchanging any words with us marched us
before them on a journey of several hours to Kilcumin.

Long or ever we reached Kilcumin we were manifestly in the neighbourhood
of Montrose’s force. His pickets held the road; the hillsides moved with
his scouts. On a plain called Leiter-nan-lub the battalion lay camped, a
mere fragment of the force that brought ruin to Argile: Athol men under
the Tutor of Struan, Stewarts of Appin, Maclans of Glencoe, a few of the
more sedate men of Glengarry, Keppoch, and Maclean, as well as a handful
of the Gregaraich who had captured us. It was the nightfall when we were
turned into the presence of Sir Alasdair, who was sitting under a few
ells of canvas playing cartes with some chieftains by the light of a
fir-root fire.

“Whom have we here?” said he, never stopping for more than a glimpse of

“Two Campbells and a man who says he’s bard of Keppoch,” he was told.

“A spy in an honest tartan, no doubt,” said Sir Alas-dair; “but well put
it to the test with Keppoch himself: tell him to come over and throw an
eye on the fellow.”

Keppoch was sent for, and came across from a fire at another part of the
field, a hiccough at his throat and a blear look in his eye as one that
has been overly brisk with the bottle, but still and on the gentleman
and in a very good humour.

“Here’s my bard sure enough!” he cried. “John, John, what do you seek in
Kilcumin, and in Campbell company too?”

“The company is none of my seeking,” said John Lorn, very short and
blunt “And we’re like to have a good deal more of the same clan’s
company than we want before long, for Argile and his clan to three times
your number are at Inverlochy. I have tramped a weary day to tell you
the tale, and I get but a spy’s reception.”

The tale went round the camp in the time a man would whistle an air. Up
came Montrose on the instant, and he was the first to give us a
civil look. But for him we had no doubt got a short quittance from
MacColkitto, who was for the tow gravatte on the spot Instead we
were put on parole when his lordship learned we had been Cavaliers of
fortune. The moon rose with every sign of storm, the mountains lay about
white to their foundations, and ardent winds belched from the glens, but
by mountain and glen Mac Donald determined to get round on the flank of


The month of January, as our old Gaelic notion has it, borrows three
days from July for a bribe of three young lambs. Those three days we
call Faoilteaeh, and often they are very genial and cheerful days, with
a sun that in warmth is a sample of the mellow season at hand. But this
year, as my history has shown, we had no sign of a good _Faoilteach_,
and on the morning of the last day of January, when Alasdair MacDonald’s
army set over the hills, it was wild, tempestuous weather. A wind rose
in the dawning and increased in vehemence as the day aged, and with it
came a storm of snow--the small bitter sifting snow that, encountered
on the hill, stings like the ant and drifts in monstrous and impassable
wreaths. Round about us yawned the glens, to me nameless, mysterious,
choked to the throat with snow-mist that flapped and shook like grey
rags. The fields were bleak and empty; the few houses that lay in
the melancholy plain were on no particularly friendly terms with
this convocation of Erse-men and wild kerns: they shut their doors
steadfastly on our doings, and gave us not even the compliment of
looking on at our strange manoeuvres. There was but one exception, in a
staunch and massive dwelling,--a manifest baron keep or stout domicile
of that nature, just on the border of the Meld in which the camp was
pitched: it was apparently in the charge of two old spinster sisters
whose men-folk were afield somewhere else, for they had shuttered
the windows, barricaded the gates, and ever and anon would they show
blanched faces as the tumult of our preparation disturbed them, and they
came to the door and cunningly pulled it open a little and looked out
on this warlike array. If a soldier made a step in their direction they
fled inside with terror, and their cries rang in the interior.

Those two spinsters--very white, very thin clad for a morn so rigorous,
and with a trepidation writ on every feature--were all that saw us off
on our march to the south-east They came out and stood hand in hand on
the door-stoop, and I have little doubt the honest bodies thanked the
God of Israel that the spoilers were departed furth their neighbourhood.

The country we now plunged into, as may be guessed, was a _terra
incognita_ to me. Beyond that it was Bade-noch and an unhealthy clime
for all that wear the Campbell tartan, I could guess no more. It
was after these little wars were over I discovered the names of the
localities--the glens, mounts, passes, streams, and drove-roads--over
which we passed in a march that Gustavus never faced the like of.

With good judgment enough our captors put a small advance-guard ahead,
a score of Airlie’s troopers, swanky blaspheming persons, whose horses
pranced very gaily up Glen Tarf, guided by John Lom. M’Iver and I
walked together with the main body, quite free and unfettered, sometimes
talking with affability to our captors. The Irish were in good humour;
they cracked jokes with us in their peculiar Gaelic that at first is
ill for a decent Gael of Albion to follow, if uttered rapidly, but soon
becomes as familiar as the less foreign language of the Athole men,
whose tongue we Argiles find some strange conceits in. If the Irish
were affable, the men of our own side of the ocean were most singularly
morose--small wonder, perhaps, for we have little reason to love each
other. Sour dogs! they gloomed at us under their bonnets and swore in
their beards. I have no doubt but for their gentry there had been dirks
in us before we reached Corryarick.

It was with the repartee of the Irish and the scowls of the Gaels
we went up the rough valley of the Tarf, where the wind moaned most
drearily and drove the thin fine snow like a smoke of burning heather.
But when we got to the pass of Corryarick our trials began, and then
such spirit did M’Iver put in the struggle with the task before us,
such snatches of song, sharp saying and old story,--such commradary as
it might be named,--that we were on good terms with all. For your man
of family the Gael has ever some regard. M’Iver (not to speak of myself)
was so manifestly the _duine-uasail_ that the coarsest of the company
fell into a polite tone, helped to their manners to some degree no doubt
by the example of Montrose and Airlie, who at the earliest moments of
our progress walked beside us and discoursed on letters and hunting, and
soldiering in the foreign wars.

The pass of Corryarick met us with a girning face and white fangs. On
Tarf-side there was a rough bridle-path that the wind swept the snow
from, and our progress was fairly easy. Here the drifts lay waist high,
the horses plunged to the belly-bands, the footmen pushed through in
a sweat. It was like some Hyperborean hell, and we the doomed wretches
sentenced to our eternity of toil. We had to climb up the shoulder of
the hill, now among tremendous rocks, now through water unfrozen, now
upon wind-swept ice, but the snow--the snow--the heartless snow was our
constant companion. It stood in walls before, it lay in ramparts round
us, it wearied the eye to a most numbing pain. Unlucky were they who
wore trews, for the same clung damply to knee and haunch and froze,
while the stinging sleet might flay the naked limb till the blood rose
among the felt of the kilted, but the suppleness of the joints was

It was long beyond noon when we reached the head of the pass, and
saw before us the dip of the valley of the Spey. We were lost in a
wilderness of mountain-peaks; the bens started about us on every
hand like the horrors of a nightmare, every ben with its death-sheet,
menacing us, poor insects, crawling in our pain across the landscape.

I thought we had earned a halt and a bite of meat by this forenoon of
labour; and Montrose himself, who had walked the pass on foot like his
fellows, seemed anxious to rest, but Sir Alasdair pushed us on like a
fate relentless.

“On, on,” he cried, waving his long arms to the prospect before; “here’s
but the start of our journey; far is the way before; strike fast, strike
hot! Would ye eat a meal with appetite while the Diarmaids wait in the

M’iver, who was plodding beside MacDonald when he said these words, gave
a laugh. “Take your time, Sir Sandy,” said he; “you’ll need a bowl or
two of brose ere you come to grips with MacCailein.”

“Well never come to grips with MacCailein,” said MacDonald, taking the
badinage in good part, “so long as he has a back-gate to go out at or a
barge to sail off in.”

“I could correct you on that point in a little affair of arms as between
gentlemen--if the time and place were more suitable,” said M’Iver,

“Let your chief defend himself, friend,” said MacDonald. “Man, I’ll
wager we never see the colour of his face when it comes to close

“I wouldn’t wonder,” I ventured. “He is in no great trim for fighting,
for his arm is----”

Sir Alasdair gave a gesture of contempt and cried, “Faugh! we’ve heard
of the raxed arm: he took care when he was making his tale that he never
made it a raxed leg.”

Montrose edged up at this, with a red face and a somewhat annoyed
expression. He put his gloved hand lightly on MacDonald’s shoulder and
chided him for debate with a prisoner of war.

“Let our friends be, Alasdair,” he said, quietly. “They are, in a way,
our guests: they would perhaps be more welcome if their tartan was a
different hue, but in any case we must not be insulting them. Doubtless
they have their own ideas of his lordship of Argile----”

“I never ask to serve a nobler or a more generous chief,” said M’Iver,

“I would expect no other sentiment from a gentleman of Argile’s clan.
He has ever done honestly enough by his own people. But have we not had
enough of this? We are wasting our wind that should be more precious,
considering the toils before us.”

We found the descent of Corryarick even more ill than its climbing.
The wind from the east had driven the snow into the mouth of it like a
wedge. The horses, stepping ahead, more than once slipped into drifts
that rose to their necks. Then they became wild with terror, dashed
with frantic hooves into deeper trouble, or ran back, quivering in every
sinew and snorting with affright till the troopers behove to dismount
and lead them. When we in the van reached the foot of the come we looked
back on a spectacle that fills me with new wonder to this day when I
think of it,--a stream of black specks in the distance dropping, as
it were, down the sheer face of white; nearer, the broken bands of
different clansmen winding noiselessly and painfully among the drifts,
their kilts pinned between their thighs, their plaids crossed on their
chests--all their weapons a weariness to them.

In the afternoon the snow ceased to fall, but the dusk came on early
notwithstanding, for the sky was blotted over with driving clouds.

At the head of Glen Roy the MacDonalds, who had lost their bauchles of
brogues in the pass, started to a trot, and as the necessity was we had
to take up the pace too. Long lank hounds, they took the road like deer,
their limbs purple with the cold, their faces pinched to the aspect of
the wolf, their targets and muskets clattering about them. “There are
Campbells to slay, and suppers to eat,” the Major-General had said.
It would have given his most spiritless followers the pith to run till
morning across a strand of rock and pebble. They knew no tiring, they
seemingly felt no pain in their torn and bleeding feet, but put mile
after mile below them.

But the Campbells were not in Glen Roy. They had been there and
skirmished for a day among their old foes and had gone back to
Lochyside, little thinking the fires they left in the Cameron barns at
morning would light the enemy on ere night The roofs still smouldered,
and a granary here and there on the sides of the valley sent up its
flames,--at once a spur to the spirit of the MacDonalds and a light to
their vengeance.

We halted for the night in Glen Spean, with Ben Chlin-aig looming high
to the south, and the river gulping in ice beside our camp. Around was
plenty of wood: we built fires and ate as poor a meal as the Highlands
ever granted in a bad year, though it was the first break in our fast
for the day. Gentle and simple, all fared alike--a whang of barley
bannock, a stirabout of oat-and-water, without salt, a quaich of spirits
from some kegs the troopers carried, that ran done before the half of
the corps had been served. Sentinels were posted, and we slept till the
morning pipe with sweet weariness in our bones.

Our second day was a repetition of the first. We left without even a
breakfast whenever the pipers set up the Cameron rant, “Sons of the
dogs, O come and get flesh!” The Campbells had spoiled the bridge with
a charge of powder, so we had to ford the river among the ice-lumps,
MacDonald showing the way with his kilt-tail about his waist A hunter
from a hamlet at the glen foot gladly left the smoking ruin of his
home and guided us on a drove-road into the wilds of Lochaber,
among mountains more stupendous than those we had left behind. These
relentless peaks were clad with blinding snow. The same choking drifts
that met us in Corryarick filled the passes between Stob Choire and
Easan Mor and Stob Ban, that cherish the snow in their crannies in the
depths of midsummer. Hunger was eating at our hearts when we got to Glen
Nevis, but the glen was empty of people, and the second night fell ere
we broke fast.

I have hungered many times on weary marches, but yon was the most cruel
hunger of my life. And though the pain of the starving could be dulled a
little by draughts of water from the wayside springs, what there was no
remede for was the weakness that turned the flesh in every part of me
to a nerveless pulp. I went down Nevis Glen a man in a delirium. My head
swam with vapours, so that the hillside seemed to dance round and before
me. If I had fallen in the snow I should assuredly have lain there and
died, and the thought of how simple and sweet it would be to stretch out
my heavy limbs and sleep the sleep for ever, more than once robbed me of
my will. Some of the Stewarts and Camerons, late recruits to the army,
and as yet not inured to its toils, fell on the wayside halfway down the
glen. Mac Donald was for leaving them--“We have no need for weaklings,”
 he said, cruelly, fuming at the delay; but their lairds gave him a sharp
answer, and said they would bide bye them till they had recovered. Thus
a third of our force fell behind us in the march, and I would have been
behind too, but for M’Iver’s encouragement. His songs were long done;
his stories chilled on his lip. The hunger had him at the heart, but he
had a lion’s will and a lion’s vigour.

“For the love of God!” he said to me, “do not let them think we are so
much of the Covenanter that we cannot keep up! For a Scots Cavalier you
are giving in over early.”

“Campaigning with Mackay was never like this,” I pleaded, wearily; “give
me the open road and an enemy before me, and I would tramp gaily to
the world’s end. Here’s but a choked ravine the very deer abhor in such
weather, and before us but a battle we must not share in.”

He said never a word for a few moments, but trudged on. My low-heeled
shoon were less fitted for the excursion than his close-thonged brogues
that clung to the feet like a dry glove, and I walked lamely. Ever and
anon he would look askance at me, and I was annoyed that he should think
me a poorer mountaineer than those unwearied knaves who hurried us. I
must have shown my feeling in my face, for in a little he let-on to fall
lame too, and made the most grievous complaint of ache and weariness.
His pretence deceived me but for a little. He was only at his old quirk
of keeping me in good repaie with myself, but he played the part with
skill, letting us both fall behind the general company a little, so that
the Mac Donalds might not witness the indignity of it.

Glen Nevis, as I saw it that night in the light of the moon, is what
comes to me now in my dreams. I smell the odour of the sweat-drenched,
uncleanly deeding of those savage clans about us; I see the hills lift
on either hand with splintered peaks that prick among the stars--gorge
and ravine and the wide ascending passes filled ever with the sound of
the river, and the coarse, narrow drove-road leads into despair. That
night the moon rode at the full about a vacant sky. There was not even a
vapour on the hills; the wind had failed in the afternoon.

At the foot of the hill Cam Dearg (or the Red Mount), that is one of
three gallant mountains that keep company for Nevis Ben the biggest of
all, the path we followed made a twist to the left into a gully from
which a blast of the morning’s wind had cleaned out the snow as by a
giant’s spade.

So much the worse for us, for now the path lay strewn with boulders
that the dragoons took long to thread through, and the bare feet of the
private soldiers bled redly anew. Some lean high fir-trees threw this
part into a shadow, and so it happened that as I felt my way wearily on,
I fell over a stone. The fall lost me the last of my senses: I but heard
some of the Stewarts curse me for an encumbrance as they stumbled over
me and passed on, heedless of my fate, and saw, as in a dwam, one of
them who had abraded his knees by his stumble over my body, turn round
with a drawn knife that glinted in a shred of moonlight.

I came to, with M’Iver bent over me, and none of our captors at hand.

“I had rather this than a thousand rix-dollars,” said he, as I sat up
and leaned on my arm.

“Have they left us?” I asked, with no particular interest in the answer.
It could work little difference whatever it might be. “I thought I saw
one of them turn on me with a knife.”

“You did,” said M’Iver. “He broke his part of the parole, and is
lying on the other side of you, I think with a hole in his breast.
An ugly and a treacherous scamp! It’s lucky for us that Montrose or
MacColkitto never saw the transaction between this clay and John M’Iver,
or their clemency had hardly been so great ‘You can bide and see to
your friend,’ was James Grahame’s last words, and that’s the reason I’m

M’Iver lifted me to my feet, and we stood a little to think what we
should do. My own mind had no idea save the one that we were bound
to keep in touch with the company whose prisoners we were, but M’Iver
hinted at an alternative scarce so honest--namely, a desertion and a
detour to the left that would maybe lead us to the Campbell army before
active hostilities began.

“You would surely not break parole?” said I, surprised, for he was
usually as honourable in such matters as any Highlander I ever met.

“Bah!” he cried, pretending contempt at hesitation, though I could
perceive by his voice he was somewhat ashamed of the policy he proposed.
“Who quitted the contract first? Was it not that Stewart gentleman on
your other side who broke it in a most dastardly way by aiming at your

“I’m thankful for the life you saved, John,” said I, “little worth
though it seems at this time, but Montrose is not to be held responsible
for the sudden impulse of a private. We made our pact as between
gentleman and gentleman--let us be going.”

“Oh, very well!” said he, shortly. “Let us be going. After all, we are
in a trap anyway we look at all; for half the Stewarts and Gainerons are
behind in the wood there, and our flank retreat among these hills might
be a tempting of Providence. But are you thinking of this Athole corp
and what his kin will be doing to his slayers?”

“I’ll risk it,” I said, shortly. “We may be out of their hands one way
or the other before they miss him.”

On a sudden there rose away before us towards the mouth of the glen the
sound of a bagpipe. It came on the tranquil air with no break in its
uproar, and after a preparatory tuning it broke into an air called
“Cogadh no Sith”--an ancient braggart pibroch made by one Macruimen of
the Isle of Skye,--a tune that was commonly used by the Campbells as a
night-retreat or tattoo.

My heart filled with the strain. It gave me not only the simple illusion
that I saw again the regimentals of my native country--many a friend and
comrade among them in the shelter of the Castle of Inverlochy--but it
roused in me a spirit very antique, very religious and moving too, as
the music of his own land must in every honest Gael.

“_Cruachan_ for ever!” I said lightly to M’Iver, though my heart was

He was as much touched by that homely lilt as myself. “The old days, the
old styles!” said he. “God! how that pibroch stings me to the core!” And
as the tune came more clearly in the second part, or _Crunluadh_ as we
call it, and the player maybe came round a bend of the road, my comrade
stopped in his pace and added with what in another I might have thought
a sob--“I’ve trudged the world; I have learned many bravadoes, so that
my heart never stirred much to the mere trick of an instrument but one,
and the _piob mhor_ conquers me. What is it, Colin, that’s in us, rich
and poor, yon rude cane-reeds speak so human and friendly to?”

“Tis the Gaelic,” I said, cheered myself by the air. “Never a roar of
the drone or a sob of the chanter but’s in the Gaelic tongue.”

“Maybe,” said he, “maybe: I’ve heard the scholars like yourself say the
sheepskin and the drones were Roman--that or Spanish, it’s all one to
me. I heard them at Boitzenburg when we gave the butt of the gun to
Tilly’s _soldadoes_, they played us into Holstein, and when the ditch
of Stralsund was choked with the tartan of Mackay, and our lads were
falling like corn before the hook, a Reay piper stood valiantly in front
and played a salute. Then and now it’s the pipes, my darling!”

“I would as lief have them in a gayer strain. My fondest memories are of
reels I’ve danced to their playing,” I said, and by now we were walking
down the glen.

“And of one reel you danced,” said he, quizzingly, “not more than two
months gone in a town that was called Inneraora?”

“Two months!” I cried,--“two months! I could have sworn offhand we have
been wandering in Lorn and Badenoch for as many years!”

Such spirit did my native pipes, played by a clansman, put in me that my
weariness much abated, and we made great progress down the glen, so that
before the tune had ceased we were on the back of Montrose’s men as they
crept on quietly in the night.

The piper stopped suddenly enough when some shots rang out,--an exchange
of compliments between our pickets ahead and some wandering scouts of

And yonder below us, Loch Linnhe and Locheil glanced in the moonlight,
and the strong towers of Inverlochy sat like a scowl on the fringe of
the wave!


When we came up with the main body of MacDonald’s army, the country, as
I say, was shining in the light of the moon, with only a camp-fire down
in the field beside the castle to show in all the white world a sign of
human life. We had got the Campbells in the rear, but they never knew
it A few of their scouts came out across the fields and challenged our
pickets; there was an exchange of musketry, but, as we found again,
we were thought to be some of the Lochaber hunters unworthy of serious

For the second time in so many days we tasted food, a handful of meal to
the quaich of water--no more and no less; and James Grahame, Marquis of
Montrose, supped his brose like the rest of us, with the knife from his
belt doing the office of a horn-spoon.

Some hours after us came up the Camerons, who had fallen behind, but
fresher and more eager for fighting than our own company, for they had
fallen on a herd of roe on the slope of Sgur an Iolair, and had supped
savagely on the warm raw flesh.

“You might have brought us a gigot off your take,” Sir Alasdair said to
the leader of them, Dol Ruadh. He was a short-tempered man of no great
manners, and he only grunted his response.

“They may well call you Camerons of the soft mouth,” said Alasdair,
angrily, “that would treat your comrades so.”

“You left us to carry our own men,” said the chief, shortly; “we left
you to find your own deer.”

We were perhaps the only ones who slept at the mouth of Glen Nevis that
woeful night, and we slept because, as my comrade said, “What cannot be
mended may be well slept on; it’s an ease to the heart.” And the counsel
was so wise and our weariness so acute, that we lay on the bare ground
till we were roused to the call of a trumpet.

It was St Bridget’s Day, and Sunday morning. A myriad bens around
gave mists, as smoke from a censer, to the day. The Athole pipers
high-breastedly strutted with a vain port up and down their lines and
played incessantly. Alasdair laid out the clans with amazing skill,
as M’Iver and I were bound to confess to ourselves,--the horse (with
Montrose himself on his charger) in the centre, the men of Clanranald,
Keppoch, Locheil, Glengarry, and Maclean, and the Stewarts of Appin
behind. MacDonald and O’Kyan led the Irish on the wings.

In the plain we could see Argile’s forces in a somewhat similar order,
with the tartan as it should be in the midst of the bataille and the
Lowland levies on the flanks. Over the centre waved the black galley of
Lorne on a gold standard.

I expressed some doubt about the steadfastness of the Lowlanders, and
M’Iver was in sad agreement with me.

“I said it in Glenaora when we left,” said he, “and I say it again.
They would be fairly good stuff against foreign troops; but they have no
suspicion of the character of Gaelic war. I’m sore feared they’ll prove
a poor reed to lean on. Why, in heaven’s name, does Mac-Cailein take
the risk of a battle in such an awkward corner? An old soldier like
Auchinbreac should advise him to follow the Kilcumin road and join
forces with Seaforth, who must be far down Glen Albyn by now.”

As we were standing apart thus, up to us came Ian Lorn, shaking the
brogue-money he got from Grahame in his dirty loof. He was very bitter.

“I never earned an honester penny,” he said, looking up almost
insolently in our faces, so that it was a temptation to give him a clout
on the cunning jowl.

“So Judas thought too, I daresay, when he fingered his filthy shekels,”
 said I. “I thought no man from Keppoch would be skulking aside here when
his pipers blew the onset.”

“Och!” said M’Iver, “what need ye be talking? Bardery and bravery don’t
very often go together.”

Ian Lorn scowled blackly at the taunt, but was equal to answer it.

“If the need arise,” said he, “you’ll see whether the bard is brave or
not There are plenty to fight; there’s but one to make the song of the
fight, and that’s John MacDonald, with your honours’ leave.”

We would, like enough, have been pestered with the scamp’s presence and
garrulity a good deal longer; but Montrose came up at that moment and
took us aside with a friendly enough beckon of his head.

“Gentlemen,” he said in English, “as cavaliers you can guess fairly well
already the issue of what’s to happen below there, and as Cavaliers who,
clansmen or no clansmen of the Campbell chief, have done well for old
Scotland’s name abroad, I think you deserve a little more consideration
at our hands at this juncture than common prisoners of war can lay claim
to. If you care you can quit here as soon as the onset begins, abiding
of course by your compact to use no arms against my friends. You have no
objection?” he added, turning about on his horse and crying to Alasdair.

The Major-General came up and looked at us. “I suppose they may go,”
 said he,--“though, to tell my mind on the matter, I could devise a
simpler way of getting rid of them. We have other methods in Erin O, but
as your lordship has taken the fancy, they may go, I daresay. Only they
must not join their clan or take arms with them until this battle is
over. They must be on the Loch Linnhe road before we call the onset.”

Montrose flushed at the ill-breeding of his officer, and waved us away
to the left on the road that led to Argile by Loch Linnhe side, and took
us clear of the coming encounter.

We were neither of us slow to take advantage of the opportunity, but
set off at a sharp walk at the moment that O’Kyan on the right flank was
slowly moving in the direction of Argile’s line.

John broke his sharp walk so quickly into a canter that I wondered what
he meant I ran close at his heels, but I forbore to ask, and we had
put a good lump of moorland between us and the MacDonalds before he

“You perhaps wondered what my hurry was,” he said, with the sweat
standing in beads on his face, though the air was full of frost. “It
wasn’t for exercise, as you might guess at anyrate. The fact is, we were
within five minutes of getting a wheen Stewart dirks in our doublets,
and if there was no brulzie on foot we were even yet as good as lost on
Brae Lochaber.”

“How does that happen?” I asked. “They seemed to let us away generously
enough and with no great ill-will.”

“Just so! But when Montrose gave us the _congé_, I happened to turn an
eye up Glen Nevis and I saw some tardy Stewarts (by their tartan) come
running down the road. These were the lads Dol Ruadh left behind last
night, and they could scarcely miss in daylight the corpse we left by
the road, and their clansmen missed in the mirk. That was my notion at
the first glance I got of them, and when we ran they ran too, and what
do you make of that?”

“What we should make of it,” I said in alarm, “is as good a pace into
Lorn as we can: they may be on the heels of us now,”--for we were in
a little dip of the ground from which the force we had just parted so
gladly were not to be seen.

On that point M’Iver speedily assured me.

“No, no!” he said. “If Seumas Grahame himself were stretched out
yonder instead of a Glenart cearnoch of no great importance to any one,
Alasdair MacDonald would be scarcely zealous fool enough to spoil his
battle order to prosecute a private feud. Look at that,” he proceeded,
turning round on a little knowe he ran lightly up on and I after him--
“Look at that! the battle’s begun.”

We stood on that knowe of Brae Lochaber, and I saw from thence a
spectacle whose like, by the grace of God, I have never seen before nor
since in its agony for any eye that was friendly to Diarmaid Clan. I
need not here set down the sorry end of that day at Inverlochy. It has
been written many times, though I harbour no book on my shelves that
tells the story. We saw MacDonald’s charge; we saw the wings of Argile’s
army--the rotten Lowland levies--break off and skurry along the shore;
we saw the lads of the Diarmaid tartan hewn down on the edge of the tide
till its waves ran red; but we were as helpless as the rush that waved
at our feet. Between us and our friends lay the enemy and our parole--I
daresay our parole was forgotten in that terrible hour.

John M’Iver laid him down on the _tulaich_ and clawed with his nails the
stunted grass that in wind-blown patches came through the snow. None
of my words made any difference on his anguish. I was piping to the
surrender of sorrow, nigh mad myself.

The horses of Ogilvie--who himself fell in the brulzie--chased the
Lowlanders along the side of Loch Linnhe, and so few of the flying had
the tartan that we had no great interest in them, till we saw six men
with their plaid-ing cast run unobserved up the plain, wade waist-deep
through the Nevis, and come somewhat in our direction. We went down to
join them, and ran hard and fast and came on them at a place called the
Rhu at the water of Kiachnish.


At last there was but one horseman in chase of the six men who were
fleeing without a look behind them--a frenzied blackavised trooper on
a short-legged garron he rode most clumsily, with arms that swung like
wings from the shoulders, his boots keeping time to the canter with
grotesque knockings against the gaunt and sweating flanks of his
starven animal. He rode with a shout, and he rode with a fool’s want of
calculation, for he had left all support behind him and might readily
enough have been cut off by any judicious enemy in the rear. Before we
could hurry down to join the fugitives they observed for themselves that
the pursuit had declined to this solitary person, so up they drew (all
but one of them), with dirks or sgians out to give him his welcome. And
yet the dragoon put no check on his horse. The beast, in a terror at the
din of the battle, was indifferent to the rein of its master, whom it
bore with thudding hooves to a front that must certainly have appalled
him. He was a person of some pluck, or perhaps the drunkenness of terror
lent him the illusion of valour; at least, when he found a bloody end
inevitable he made the best of the occasion. Into the heaving sides of
the brute he drove desperate spurs, anew he shouted a scurrilous name
at Clan Campbell, then fired his pistol as he fell upon the enemy.
The _dag_ failed of its purpose, but the breast of the horse struck an
elderly man on the brow and threw him on his back, so that one of the
hind-hooves of the animal crushed in his skull like a hazel-nut.

Who of that fierce company brought the trooper to his end we never knew,
but when M’Iver and I got down to the level he was dead as knives could
make him, and his horse, more mad than ever, was disappearing over a
mossy moor with a sky-blue lochan in the midst of it.

Of the five Campbells three were gentlemen--Forbes the baron-bailie
of Ardkinglas, Neil Campbell in Sonachan, Lochowside, and the third no
other than Master Gordon the minister, who was the most woebegone and
crestfallen of them all. The other two were small tacksmen from the
neighbourhood of Inneraora--one Callum Mac-Iain vie Ruarie vie Allan
(who had a little want, as we say of a character, or natural, and was
ever moist with tears), and a Rob Campbell in Auchnatra, whose real name
was Stewart, but who had been in some trouble at one time in a matter
of a neighbour’s sheep on the braes of Appin, had discreetly fled that
country, and brought up a family under a borrowed name in a country that
kept him in order.

We were, without doubt, in a most desperate extremity, If we had escaped
the immediate peril of the pursuing troopers of MacDonald, we had a
longer, wearier hazard before us. Any one who knows the countryside I am
writing of, or takes a glance at my relative Neill Bane’s diagram or map
of the same, will see that we were now in the very heart of a territory
hotching (as the rough phrase goes) with clans inimical to the house
of Argile. Between us and the comparative safety of Bredalbane lay
Stewarts, MacDonalds, Macgregors, and other families less known in
history, who hated the name of MacCailein more than they feared the
wrath of God. The sight of our tartan in any one of their glens would
rouse hell in every heart about us.

Also our numbers and the vexed state of the times were against us. We
could hardly pass for peaceable drovers at such a season of the year;
we were going the wrong airt for another thing, and the fact that not
we alone but many more of Argile’s forces in retreat were fleeing home
would be widely advertised around the valleys in a very few hours after
the battle had been fought For the news of war--good or ill--passes
among the glens with a magic speed. It runs faster than the fiery cross
itself--so fast and inexplicable on any natural law, that more than
once I have been ready to believe it a witches’ premonition more than a
message carried on young men’s feet.

“But all that,” said Sonachan, a pawky, sturdy little gentleman with
a round ruddy face and a great store of genealogy that he must be
ever displaying--“But all that makes it more incumbent on us to hang
together. It may easily be a week before we get into Glenurchy; we must
travel by night and hide by day, and besides the heartening influence of
company there are sentinels to consider and the provision of our food.”

Ardkinglas, on the other hand, was a fushionless, stupid kind of man:
he was for an immediate dispersion of us all, holding that only in
individuals or in pairs was it possible for us to penetrate in safety to
real Argile.

“I’m altogether with Sonachan,” said M’Iver, “and I could mention half
a hundred soldierly reasons for the policy; but it’s enough for me that
here are seven of us, no more and no less, and with seven there should
be all the luck that’s going.”

He caught the minister’s eyes on him at this, and met them with a look
of annoyance.

“Oh yes, I know, Master Gordon, you gentlemen of the lawn bands have
no friendliness to our old Highland notions. Seven or six, it’s all the
same to you, I suppose, except in a question of merks to the stipend.”

“You’re a clever man enough, M’Iver----”

“Barbreck,” corrected my friend, punctiliously.

“Barbreck let it be then. But you are generally so sensitive to other
folk’s thoughts of you that your skin tingles to an insult no one dreamt
of paying. I make no doubt a great many of your Gaelic beliefs are sheer
paganism or Popery or relics of the same, but the charm of seven has a
Scriptural warrant that as minister of the Gospel I have some respect
for, even when twisted into a portent for a band of broken men in the
extremity of danger.”

We had to leave the dead body of our friend, killed by the horse, on the
hillside. He was a Knapdale man, a poor creature, who was as well done,
perhaps, with a world that had no great happiness left for him, for his
home had been put to the torch and his wife outraged and murdered. At as
much speed as we could command, we threaded to the south, not along the
valleys but in the braes, suffering anew the rigour of the frost and the
snow. By midday we reached the shore of Loch Leven, and it seemed as
if now our flight was hopelessly barred, for the ferry that could be
compelled to take the army of Mac-Cailein over the brackish water at
Lettermore was scarce likely to undertake the conveying back of seven
fugitives of the clan that had come so high-handedly through their
neighbourhood four days ago. On this side there was not a boat in sight;
indeed there was not a vestige on any side of human tenancy. Glencoe had
taken with him every man who could carry a pike, not to our disadvantage
perhaps, for it left the less danger of any strong attack.

On the side of the loch, when we emerged from the hills, there was a
cluster of whin-bushes spread out upon a machar of land that in a less
rigorous season of the year, by the feel of the shoe-sole, must be
velvet-piled with salty grass. It lay in the clear, grey forenoon like
a garden of fairydom to the view--the whin-bushes at a distant glance
floating on billows of snow, touched at their lee by a cheering green,
hung to the windward with the silver of the snow, and some of them even
prinked off with the gold flower that gives rise to the proverb about
kissing being out of fashion when the whin wants bloom. To come on this
silent, peaceful, magic territory, fresh out of the turmoil of a battle,
was to be in a region haunted, in the borderland of morning dreams,
where care is a vague and far-off memory, and the elements study our
desires. The lake spread out before us without a ripple, its selvedge at
the shore repeating the picture on the brae. I looked on it with a mind
peculiarly calm, rejoicing in its aspect Oh, love and the coming years,
thought I, let them be here or somewhere like it--not among the savage
of the hills, fighting, plotting, contriving; not among snow-swept
mounts and crying and wailing brooks, but by the sedate and tranquil
sea in calm weather. As we walked, my friends with furtive looks to this
side and yon, down to the shore, I kept my face to the hills of real
Argile, and my heart was full of love. I got that glimpse that comes to
most of us (had we the wit to comprehend it) of the future of my life.
I beheld in a wave of the emotion the picture of my coming years,
going down from day to day very unadventurous and calm, spent in some
peaceful valley by a lake, sitting at no rich-laden board but at bien
and happy viands with some neighbour heart A little bird of hope fluted
within me, so that I knew that if every clan in this countryside was
arraigned against me, I had the breastplate of fate on my breast “I
shall not die in this unfriendly country,” I promised myself. “There
may be terror, and there may be gloom, but I shall watch my children’s
children play upon the braes of Shira Glen.”

“You are very joco,” said John to me as I broke into a little laugh
of content with myself.

“It’s the first time you ever charged me with jocosity, John,” I said
“I’m just kind of happy thinking.”

“Yon spectacle behind us is not humorous to my notion,” said he,
“whatever it may be to yours. And perhaps the laugh may be on the other
side of your face before the night comes. We are here in a spider’s

“I cry pardon for my lightness, John,” I answered; “I’ll have time
enough to sorrow over the clan of Argile. But if you had the Sight of
your future, and it lay in other and happier scenes than these, would
you not feel something of a gaiety?”

He looked at me with an envy in every feature, from me to his
companions, from them to the country round about us, and then to himself
as to a stranger whose career was revealed in every rag of his clothing.

“So,” said he; “you are the lucky man to be of the breed of the elect
of heaven, to get what you want for the mere desire of it, and perhaps
without deserve. Here am I at my prime and over it, and no glisk of the
future before me. I must be ever stumbling on, a carouser of life in a
mirk and sodden lane.”

“You cannot know my meaning,” I cried.

“I know it fine,” said he. “You get what you want because you are the
bairn of content. And I’m but the child of hurry (it’s the true word),
and I must be seeking and I must be trying to the bitter end.”

He kicked, as he walked, at the knolls of snow in his way, and lashed at
the bushes with a hazel wand he had lifted from a tree.

“Not all I want, perhaps,” said I; “for do you know that fleeing thus
from the disgrace of my countrymen, I could surrender every sorrow and
every desire to one notion about--about--about----”

“A girl of the middle height,” said he, “and her name is----”

“Do not give it an utterance,” I cried. “I would be sorry to breathe
her name in such a degradation. Degradation indeed, and yet if I had the
certainty that I was a not altogether hopeless suitor yonder, I would
feel a conqueror greater than Hector or Gilian-of-the-Axe.”

“Ay, ay,” said John. “I would not wonder. And I’ll swear that a man
of your fate may have her if he wants her. I’ll give ye my notion of
wooing; it’s that with the woman free and the man with some style and
boldness, he may have whoever he will.”

“I would be sorry to think it,” said I; “for that might apply to suitors
at home in Inneraora as well as me.”

M’Iver laughed at the sally, and “Well, well,” said he, “we are not
going to be debating the chance of love on Leven-side, with days and
nights of slinking in the heather and the fern between us and our home.”

Though this conversation of ours may seem singularly calm and out of all
harmony with our circumstances, it is so only on paper, for in fact it
took but a minute or two of our time as we walked down among those whins
that inspired me with the peaceful premonition of the coming years. We
were walking, the seven of us, not in a compact group, but scattered,
and at the whins when we rested we sat in ones and twos behind the
bushes, with eyes cast anxiously along the shore for sign of any craft
that might take us over.

What might seem odd to any one who does not know the shrinking mood of
men broken with a touch of disgrace in their breaking, was that for long
we studiously said nothing of the horrors we had left behind us. Five
men fleeing from a disastrous field and two new out of the clutches of
a conquering foe, we were dumb or discoursed of affairs very far removed
from the reflection that we were a clan at extremities.

But we could keep up this silence of shame no longer than our running:
when we sat among the whins on Leven-side, and took a breath and
scrutinised along the coast, for sign of food or ferry, we must be
talking of what we had left behind.

Gordon told the story with a pained, constrained, and halting utterance:
of the surprise of Auchinbrcac when he heard the point of war from Nevis
Glen, and could not believe that Montrose was so near at hand; of the
waver ing Lowland wings, the slaughter of the Campbell gentlemen.

“We were in a trap,” said he, drawing with a stick on the smooth snow a
diagram of the situation. “We were between brae and water. I am no man
of war, and my heart swelled at the spectacle of the barons cut down
like nettles. And by the most foolish of tactics, surely, a good many of
our forces were on the other side of the loch.”

“That was not Auchinbreac’s doing, I’ll warrant,” said M’Iver; “he
would never have counselled a division so fatal.”

“Perhaps not,” said the cleric, drily; “but what if a general has only a
sort of savage army at his call? The gentry of your clan----”

“What about MacCailein?” I asked, wondering that there was no word of
the chief.

“Go on with your story,” said M’Iver, sharply, to the cleric.

“The gentry of your clan,” said Gordon, paying no heed to my query,
“were easy enough to guide; but yon undisciplined kerns from the hills
had no more regard for martial law than for the holy commandments. God
help them! They went their own gait, away from the main body, plundering
and robbing.”

“I would not just altogether call it plundering, nor yet robbing,” said
John, a show of annoyance on his face.

“And I don’t think myself,” said Sonachan, removing, as he spoke, from
our side, and going to join the three others, who sat apart from us a
few yards, “that it’s a gentleman’s way of speaking of the doings of
other gentlemen of the same name and tartan as ourselves.”

“Ay, ay,” said the minister, looking from one to the other of us, his
shaven jowl with lines of a most annoying pity on it--“Ay, ay,” said
he, “it would be pleasing you better, no doubt, to hint at no vice or
folly in your army; that’s the Highlands for you! I’m no Highlander,
thank God, or at least with the savage long out of me; for I’m of an
honest and orderly Lowland stock, and my trade’s the Gospel and the
truth, and the truth you’ll get from Alexander Gordon, Master of the
Arts, if you had your black joctilegs at his neck for it!”

He rose up, pursing his face, panting at the nostril, very crouse and
defiant in every way.

“Oh, you may just sit you down,” said McIver, sharply, to him. “You
can surely give us truth without stamping it down our throats with your
boots, that are not, I’ve noticed, of the smallest size.”

“I know you, sir, from boot to bonnet,” said Gordon.

“You’re well off in your acquaintance,” said M’Iver, jocularly. “I wish
I kent so good a man.”

“From boot to bonnet,” said Gordon, in no whit abashed by the irony.
“Man, do you know,” he went on, “there’s a time comes to me now when
by the grace of God I can see to one’s innermost as through a lozen. I
shudder, sometimes, at the gift. For there’s the fair face, and there’s
the smug and smiling lip, and there’s the flattery at the tongue,
and below that masked front is Beelzebub himself, meaning well
sometimes--perhaps always--but by his fall a traitor first and last.”

“God!” cried M’Iver, with a very ugly face, “that sounds awkwardly like
a roundabout way of giving me a bad character.”

“I said, sir,” answered Gordon, “that poor Beelzebub does not sometimes
ken his own trade. I have no doubt that in your heart you are touched to
the finest by love of your fellows.”

“And that’s the truth--when they are not clerics,” cried John.

“Touched to the finest, and set in a glow too, by a manly and unselfish
act, and eager to go through this world on pleasant footings with
yourself and all else.”

“Come, come,” I cried; “I know my friend well, Master Gordon. We are not
all that we might be; but I’m grateful for the luck that brought me so
good a friend as John M’Iver.”

“I never cried down his credit,” said the minister, simply.

“Your age gives you full liberty,” said John. “I would never lift a

“The lifting of your hand,” said the cleric with a flashing eye, “is the
last issue I would take thought of. I can hold my own. You are a fair
and shining vessel (of a kind), but Beelzebub’s at your heart. They tell
me that people like you; this gentleman of Elrigmore claims you for his
comrade. Well, well, so let it be! It but shows anew the charm of the
glittering exterior: they like you for your weaknesses and not for your
strength. Do you know anything of what they call duty?”

“I have starved to the bone in Laaland without complaint, stood six
weeks on watch in Stralsund’s Franken gate, eating my meals at my post,
and John M’Iver never turned skirts on an enemy.”

“Very good, sir, very good,” said the minister; “but duty is most ill to
do when it is to be done in love and not in hate.”

“Damn all schooling!” cried John. “You’re off in the depths of it again,
and I cannot be after you. Duty is duty in love or hate, is it not?”

“It would take two or three sessions of St Andrews to show you that it
makes a great differ whether it is done in love or hate. You do your
duty by your enemy well enough, no doubt,--a barbarian of the blackest
will do no less,--but it takes the better man to do his duty sternly by
those he loves and by himself above all Argile----”

“Yes,” cried I, “what about Argile?”

The minister paid no heed to my question.

“Argile,” said he, “has been far too long flattered by you and your
like, M’Iver.”

“Barbreck,” put in my comrade.

“Barbreck be it then. A man in his position thus never learns the truth.
He sees around him but plausible faces and the truth at a cowardly
compromise. That’s the sorrow of your Highlands; it will be the black
curse of your chiefs in the day to come. As for me, I’m for duty first
and last--even if it demands me to put a rope at my brother’s neck or my
hand in the fire.”

“Maybe you are, maybe you are,” said John, “and it’s very fine of
you; and I’m not denying but I can fancy some admirable quality in the
character. But if I’m no great hand at the duty, I can swear to the

“It’s a word I hate to hear men using,” said I.

The minister relaxed to a smile at John’s amiability, and John smiled on

“It’s a woman’s word, I daresay, Colin,” said he; “but there’s no
man, I’ll swear, turning it over more often in his mind than yourself.”

Where we lay, the Pap of Glencoe--Sgor-na-ciche, as they call it in
the Gaelic--loomed across Loch Leven in wisps of wind-blown grey.
Long-beaked birds came to the sand and piped a sharp and anxious note,
or chattered like children. The sea-banks floated on the water, rising
and dipping to every wave; it might well be a dream we were in on the
borderland of sleep at morning.

“What about Argile?” I asked again.

The minister said never a word. John Splendid rose to his feet, shook
the last of his annoyance from him, and cast an ardent glance to those
remote hills of Lorn.

“God’s grandeur!” said he, turning to the Gaelic it was proper to
use but sparingly before a Saxon. “Behold the unfriendliness of those
terrible mountains and ravines! I am Gaelic to the core, but give me
in this mood of mine the flat south soil and the dip of the sky round a
bannock of country. Oh, I wish I were where Aora runs! I wish I saw the
highway of Loch Firme that leads down the slope of the sea where the
towns pack close together and fires are warm!” He went on and sang a
song of the low country, its multitude of cattle, its friendly hearths,
its frequented walks of lovers in the dusk and in the spring.

Sonachan and Ardkinglas and the tacksmen came over to listen, and the
man with the want began to weep with a child’s surrender.

“And what about Argile?” said I, when the humming ceased.

“You are very keen on that bit, lad,” said the baron-bailie, smiling
spitefully with thin hard lips that revealed his teeth gleaming white
and square against the dusk of his face. “You are very keen on that bit;
you might be waiting for the rest of the minister’s story.”

“Oh,” I said, “I did not think there was any more of the minister’s tale
to come. I crave his pardon.”

“I think, too, I have not much more of a story to tell,” said the
minister, stiffly.

“And I think,” said M’Iver, in a sudden hurry to be off, “that we might
be moving from here. The head of the loch is the only way for us if we
are to be off this unwholesome countryside by the mouth of the night.”

It is likely we would have taken him at his word, and have risen and
gone on his way to the east, where the narrowing of the loch showed that
it was close on its conclusion; but the Stewart took from his knapsack
some viands that gave a frantic edge to our appetite and compelled us to
stay and eat.

The day was drawing to its close, the sun, falling behind us, was
pillowed on clouds of a rich crimson. For the first time, we noticed the
signs of the relaxation of the austere season in the return of bird and
beast to their familiar haunts. As the sun dipped the birds came out
to the brae-side to catch his last ray, as they ever love to do. Whaups
rose off the sand, and, following the gleam upon the braes, ascended
from slope to slope, and the plover followed too, dipping his feet
in the golden tide receding. On little fir-patches mounted numerous
blackcock of sheeny feather, and the owls began to hoot in the wood


We had eaten to the last crumb, and were ready to be going, when again I
asked Gordon what had come over Argile.

“I’ll tell you that,” said he, bitterly; but as he began, some wildfowl
rose in a startled flight to our right and whirred across the sky.

“There’s some one coming,” said M’Iver; “let us keep close together.”

From where the wildfowl rose, the Dame Dubh, as we called the old woman
of Carnus, came in our direction, half-running, half-walking through the
snow. She spied us while she was yet a great way off, stopped a second
as one struck with an arrow, then continued her progress more eagerly
than ever, with high-piped cries and taunts at us.

“O cowards!” she cried; “do not face Argile, or the glens you belong
to. Cowards, cowards, Lowland women, Glencoe’s full of laughter at your

“Royal’s my race, I’ll not be laughed at!” cried Stewart.

“They cannot know of it already in Glencoe!” said M’Iver, appalled.

“Know it!” said the crone, drawing nearer and with still more frenzy;
“Glencoe has songs on it already. The stench from Invcrlochy’s in
the air; it’s a mock in Benderloch and Ardgour, it’s a nightmare in
Glenurchy, and the women are keening on the slopes of Cladich. Cowards,
cowards, little men, cowards! all the curses of Conan on you and the
black rocks; die from home, and Hell itself reject you!”

We stood in front of her in a group, slack at the arms and shoulders,
bent a little at the head, affronted for the first time with the full
shame of our disaster. All my bright portents of the future seemed,
as they flashed again before me, muddy in the hue, an unfaithful man’s
remembrance of his sins when they come before him at the bedside of
his wife; the evasions of my friends revealed themselves what they were
indeed, the shutting of the eyes against shame.

The woman’s meaning. Master Gordon could only guess at, and he faced her

“You are far off your road,” he said to her mildly, but she paid him no

“You have a bad tongue, mother,” said M’Iver.

She turned and spat on his vest, and on him anew she poured her

“_You_, indeed, the gentleman with an account to pay, the hero, the
avenger! I wish my teeth had found your neck at the head of Aora Glen.”
 She stood in the half-night, foaming over with hate and evil words, her
taunts stinging like asps.

“Take off the tartan, ladies!” she screamed; “off with men’s apparel and
on with the short-gown.”

Her cries rang so over the land that she was a danger bruiting our
presence to the whole neighbourhood, and it was in a common panic we ran
with one accord from her in the direction of the loch-head. The man with
the want took up the rear, whimpering as he ran, feeling again, it might
be, a child fleeing from maternal chastisement: the rest of us went
silently, all but Stewart, who was a cocky little man with a large
bonnet pulled down on the back of his head like a morion, to hide the
absence of ears that had been cut off by the law for some of his
Appin adventures. He was a person who never saw in most of a day’s
transactions aught but the humour of them, and as we ran from this
shrieking beldame of Camus, he was choking with laughter at the ploy.

“Royal’s my race,” said he at the first ease to our running--“Royal’s
my race, and I never thought to run twice in one day from an enemy. Stop
your greeting, Callum, and not be vexing our friends the gentlemen.”

“What a fury!” said Master Gordon. “And that’s the lady of omens! What
about her blessing now?”

“Ay, and what about her prophecies?” asked M’Iver, sharply. “She was not
so far wrong, I’m thinking, about the risks of Inverlochy; the heather’s
above the gall indeed.”

“But at any rate,” said I, “MacCailein’s head is not on a pike.”

“You must be always on the old key,” cried M’Iver, angrily. “Oh man,
man, but you’re sore in want of tact” His face was throbbing and hoved.
“Here’s half-a-dozen men,” said he, “with plenty to occupy their wits
with what’s to be done and what’s to happen them before they win home,
and all your talk is on a most vexatious trifle. Have you found me, a
cousin of the Marquis, anxious to query our friends here about the ins
and outs of the engagement? It’s enough for me that the heather’s above
the gall. I saw this dreary morning the sorrow of my life, and I’m in no
hurry to add to it by the value of a single tear.”

Sonachan was quite as bitter. “I don’t think,” said he, “that it matters
very much to you, sir, what Argile may have done or may not have done;
you should be glad of your luck (if luck it was and no design), that
kept you clear of the trouble altogether.” And again he plunged ahead of
us with Ardkinglas, to avoid my retort to an impertinence that, coming
from a younger man, would have more seriously angered me.

The minister by now had recovered his wind, and was in another of his
sermon moods, with this ruffling at Mac-Cailein’s name as his text.

“I think I can comprehend,” said he, “all this unwillingness to talk
about my lord of Argile’s part in the disaster of to-day. No Gael though
I am, I’m loath myself to talk about a bad black business, but that’s
because I love my master--for master he is in scholarship, in gifts,
in every attribute and intention of the Christian soldier. It is for a
different reason, I’m afraid, that our friend Barbreck shuffles.”

“Barbreck never shuffles,” said John, stiffly. “If he did in this
matter, it would be for as true an affection for his chief as any
lalland cleric ever felt for his patron.”

“And yet, sir, you shuffle for another reason too. You do not want to
give your ridiculous Highland pride the shock of hearing that your chief
left in a galley before the battle he lost had well begun.”

A curious cry came from M’Iver’s lips. He lifted his face, lined with
sudden shadows, to the stars that now were lighting to the east, and I
heard his teeth grind.

“So that’s the bitter end of it!” said I to myself, stunned by this
pitiful conclusion. My mind groped back on the events of the whole
waeful winter. I saw Argile again at peace among his own people; I heard
anew his clerkly but wavering sentiment on the trade of the sword; I sat
by him in the mouth of Glen Noe, and the song and the guess went round
the fire. But the picture that came to me first and stayed with me
last was Argile standing in his chamber in the castle of Inneraora, the
pallor of the study on his face, and his little Archie, with his gold
hair and the night-gown, running out and clasping him about the knees.

We struggled through the night, weary men, hungry men. Loch Leven-head
may be bonny by day, but at night it is far from friendly to the
unaccustomed wanderer. Swampy meadows frozen to the hard bone, and
uncountable burns, and weary ascents, and alarming dips, lie there at
the foot of the great forest of Mamore. And to us, poor fugitives, even
these were less cruel than the thickets at the very head where the
river brawled into the loch with a sullen surrender of its mountain

About seven or eight o’clock we got safely over a ford and into the
hilly country that lies tumbled to the north of Glencoe. Before us lay
the choice of two routes, either of them leading in the direction of
Glenurchy, but both of them hemmed in by the most inevitable risks,
especially as but one of all our party was familiar (and that one but
middling well) with the countryside. “The choice of a cross-road at
night in a foreign land is Tall John’s pick of the farmer’s daughters,”
 as our homely proverb has it; you never know what you have till the
morn’s morning. And our picking was bad indeed, for instead of taking
what we learned again was a drove-road through to Tynree, we stood more
to the right and plunged into what after all turned out to be nothing
better than a corrie among the hills. It brought us up a most steep
hillside, and landed us two hours’ walk later far too much in the heart
and midst of Glencoe to be for our comfort. From the hillside we emerged
upon, the valley lay revealed, a great hack among the mountains.


Of the seven of us, Stewart was the only one with a notion of the lie of
the country. He had bought cattle in the glen, and he had borrowed (as
we may be putting it) in the same place, and a man with the gifts of
observation and memory, who has had to guess his way at night among
foreign clans and hills with a drove of unwilling and mourning cattle
before him, has many a feature of the neighbourhood stamped upon his
mind. Stewart’s idea was that to-night we might cross Glencoe, dive
into one of the passes that run between the mountains called the Big and
Little Herdsman, or between the Little Herd and Ben Fhada, into the foot
of the forest of Dalness, then by the corries through the Black Mount of
Bredalbane to Glen-urchy. Once on the Brig of Urchy, we were as safe, in
a manner, as on the shores of Loch Finne. On Neill Bane’s map this looks
a very simple journey, that a vigorous mountaineer could accomplish
without fatigue in a couple of days if he knew the drove-roads; but it
was a wicked season for such an enterprise, and if the Dame Dubh’s tale
was right (as well enough it might be, for the news of Argile’s fall
would be round the world in a rumour of wind), every clan among these
valleys and hills would be on the hunting-road to cut down broken men
seeking their way back to the country of MacCailein Mor. Above all was
it a hard task for men who had been starving on a half-meal drammock for
two or three days. I myself felt the hunger gnawing at my inside like
a restless red-hot conscience. My muscles were like iron, and with a
footman’s feeding, I could have walked to Inneraora without more than
two or three hours’ sleep at a time; but my weakness for food was so
great that the prospect before me was appalling.

It appalled, indeed, the whole of us. Fancy us on barren hills, unable
to venture into the hamlets or townships where we had brought torch and
pike a few days before; unable to borrow or to buy, hazarding no step of
the foot without a look first to this side and then to yon, lest enemies
should be up against us. Is it a wonder that very soon we had the
slouch of the gangrel and the cunning aspect of the thief? But there’s
something in gentle blood that always comes out on such an occasion. The
baron-bailie and Neil Campbell, and even the minister, made no ado about
their hunger, though they were suffering keenly from it; only the two
tacksmen kept up a ceaseless grumbling.

M’Iver kept a hunter’s ear and eye alert at every step of our progress.
He had a hope that the white hares, whose footprints sometimes showed
among the snow, might run, as I have seen them do at night, within reach
of a cudgel; he kept a constant search for badger-hamlets, for he would
have dug from his sleep that gluttonous fat-haunched rascal who gorges
himself in his own yellow moon-time of harvest. But hare nor badger fell
in our way.

The moon was up, but a veil of grey cloud overspread the heavens and
a frosty haze obscured the country. A clear cold hint at an odour of
spring was already in the air, perhaps the first rumour the bush gets
that the sap must rise. Out of the haze now and then, as we descended
to the valley, there would come the peculiar cry of the red-deer, or the
flaff of a wing, or the bleat of a goat It was maddening to be in the
neighbourhood of the meal that roe, or bird, or goat would offer, and
yet be unable to reach it.

Thus we were stumbling on, very weary, very hungry, the man with the
want in a constant wail, and Sonachan lamenting for suppers he had been
saucy over in days of rowth and plenty, when a light oozed out of the
grey-dark ahead of us, in the last place in the world one would look for
any such sign of humanity.

We stopped on the moment, and John Splendid went ahead to see what lay
in the way. He was gone but a little when he came back with a hearty
accent to tell us that luck for once was ours.

“There’s a house yonder,” said he, talking English for the benefit of
the cleric; “it has a roaring fire and every sign of comfort, and it’s
my belief there’s no one at home within but a woman and a few bairns.
The odd thing is that as I get a look of the woman between the door-post
and the wall, she sits with her back to the cruisie-light, patching
clothes and crooning away at a dirge that’s broken by her tears. If it
had been last week, and our little adventures in Glencoe had brought us
so far up this side of the glen, I might have thought she had suffered
something at our hands. But we were never near this tack-house before,
so the housewife’s sorrow, whatever it is, can scarcely be at our door.
Anyway,” he went on, “here are seven cold men, and weary men and hungry
men too (and that’s the worst of it), and I’m going to have supper and a
seat, if it’s the last in the world.”

“I hope there’s going to be no robbery about the affair,” said the
minister, in an apparent dread of rough theft and maybe worse.

M’Iver’s voice had a sneer in every word of it when he answered in a
very affected tongue of English he was used to assume when he wished to
be at his best before a Saxon.

“Is it the logic of your school,” he asked, “that what’s the right
conduct of war when we are in regiments is robbery when we are but seven
broken men? I’m trying to mind that you found fault with us for
helping ourselves in this same Glencoe last week, and refused to eat
Corrycrick’s beef in Appin, and I cannot just recall the circumstance.
Are we not, think ye, just as much at war with Glencoe now as then? And
have seven starving men not an even better right, before God, to forage
for themselves than has an army?”

“There’s a difference,” said the minister, stiffly. “We were then
legitimate troops of war, fighting for the Solemn League and Covenant
under a noble lord with Letters. It was the Almighty’s cause, and----”

“Was it indeed?” said John Splendid. “And was Himself on the other side
of Loch Leven when His tulzie was on?”

“Scoffer!” cried Gordon, and M’Iver said no more, but led us through the
dark to the house whose light so cheerfully smiled before us.

The house, when we came to it, proved a trig little edifice of far
greater comfort than most of the common houses of the Highlands--not
a dry-stone bigging but a rubble tenement, very snugly thacked and
windowed, and having a piece of kail-plot at its rear. It was perched
well up on the brae, and its light at evening must have gleamed like a
friendly star far up the glen, that needs every touch of brightness to
mitigate its gloom. As we crept close up to it in the snow, we could
hear the crooning John Splendid had told us of, a most doleful sound in
a land of darkness and strangers.

“Give a rap, and when she answers the door we can tell our needs
peaceably,” said the minister.

“I’m not caring about rapping, and I’m not caring about entering at all
now,” said M’I ver, turning about with some uneasiness. “I wish we had
fallen on a more cheery dwelling, even if it were to be coerced with
club and pistol. A prickle’s at my skin that tells me here is dool, and
I can smell mort-cloth.”

Sonachan gave a grunt, and thumped loudly on the fir boards. A silence
that was like a swound fell on the instant, and the light within went
out at a puff. For a moment it seemed as if our notion of occupancy and
light and lament had been a delusion, for now the grave itself was no
more desolate and still.

“I think we might be going,” said I in a whisper, my heart thud-thudding
at my vest, my mind sharing some of John Splendid’s apprehension that we
were intruders on some profound grief. And yet my hunger was a furious
thing that belched red-hot at my stomach.

“Royal’s my race!” said Stewart “I’ll be kept tirling at no door-pin in
the Highlands,--let us drive in the bar.”

“What does he say?” asked the cleric, and I gave him the English of it.

“You’ll drive no doors in here,” said he firmly to Stewart “We can but
give another knock and see what comes of it Knock you, M’Iver.”


“Barbreck be it then.”

“I would sooner go to the glen foot, and risk all,” said John.

Sonachan grunted again; out he drew his dirk, and he rapped with the
hilt of it loud and long at the door. A crying of children rose within,
and, behold, I was a child again! I was a child again in Shira Glen,
alone in a little chamber with a window uncurtained and unshuttered,
yawning red-mouthed to the outer night My back was almost ever to
the window, whose panes reflected a peat-fire and a face as long as a
fiddle, and eyes that shone like coal; and though I looked little at the
window yawning to the wood, I felt that it never wanted some curious spy
outside, some one girning or smiling in at me and my book. I must look
round, or I must put a hand on my shoulder to make sure no other hand
was there,--then the Terror that drives the black blood from the heart
through all the being, and a boy unbuckling his kilt with fevered
fingers and leaping with frantic sobs to bed! One night when the black
blood of the Terror still coursed through me, though I was dovering over
to sleep, there came a knocking at the door, a knock commanding, a knock
never explained. It brought me to my knees with a horror that almost
choked me at the throat, a cold dew in the very palms of the hands. I
dare not ask who rapped for fear I should have an answer that comes some
day or other to every child of my race,--an answer no one told me of, an
answer that then I guessed.

All this flashed through my mind when the children’s crying rose in the
dark interior--that cry of children old and young as they go through the
mysteries of life and the alley-ways of death.

The woman soothed her children audibly, then called out, asking what we

“I’m a man from Appin,” cried out Stewart with great promptness and
cunning, “and I have a friend or two with me. I was looking for the
house of Kilinchean, where a cousin of mine--a fine spinner and knitter,
but thrawn in the temper--is married on the tenant, and we lost our way.
We’re cold and we’re tired, and we’re hungry, and----”

“Step in,” said the woman, lifting back the door. “You are many miles
from Kilinchean, and I know Appin Mary very well.”

But three of us entered, Stewart, M’Iver, and myself, the others on a
sudden inspiration preferring not to alarm the woman by betraying the
number of us, and concealing themselves in the byre that leaned against
the gable of the dwelling.

“God save all here!” said M’Iver as we stepped in, and the woman lit the
cruisie by sticking its nose in the peat-embers. “I’m afraid we come on
you at a bad time.”

She turned with the cruisie in her hands and seemed to look over his
head at vacancy, with large and melting eyes in a comely face.

“You come,” said she, “like grief, just when we are not expecting it,
and in the dead of night But you are welcome at my door.”

We sat down on stools at her invitation, bathed in the yellow light of
cruisie and peat. The reek of the fire rose in a faint breath among the
pot-chains, and lingered among the rafters, loath, as it were, to emerge
in the cold night In a cowering group beneath the blankets of a bed in
a corner were four children, the bed-clothes hurriedly clutched up to
their chins, their eyes staring out on the intruders. The woman put out
some food before us, coarse enough in quality but plenty of it, and was
searching in a press for platters when she turned to ask how many of us
there were. We looked at each other a little ashamed, for it seemed as
if she had guessed of our divided company and the four men in the byre.
It is likely she would have been told the truth, but her next words set
us on a different notion.

“You’ll notice,” said she, still lifting her eyes to a point over our
heads, “that I have not my sight.”

“God! that’s a pity,” said M’Iver in genuine distress, with just that
accent of fondling in it that a Highlander in his own tongue can use
like a salve for distress.

“I am not complaining of it,” said the woman; “there are worse hardships
in this world.”

“Mistress,” said John, “there are. I think I would willingly have been
bl---- dim in the sight this morning if it could have happened.”

“Ay, ay!” said the woman in a sad abstraction, standing with plates in
her hand listening (I could swear) for a footstep that would never come

We sat and warmed ourselves and ate heartily, the heat of that homely
dwelling--the first we had sat in for days--an indulgence so rare and
precious that it seemed a thing we could never again tear ourselves away
from to encounter the unkindness of those Lorn mounts anew. The children
watched us with an alarm and curiosity no way abated, beholding in us
perhaps (for one at least was at an age to discern the difference our
tartan and general aspect presented from those of Glencoe) that we
were strangers from a great distance, maybe enemies, at least with some
rigour of warfare about our visage and attire.

The mother, finding her way with the readiness of long familiarity about
the house, got ease for her grief, whatever it was, in the duties thus
suddenly thrust upon her: she spoke but seldom, and she never asked--in
that she was true Gael--any more particulars about ourselves than
Stewart had volunteered. And when we had been served with our simple
viands, she sat composedly before us with her hands in her lap, and her
eyes turned on us with an appearance of sedate scrutiny no whit the less
perplexing because we knew her orbs were but fair clean window-panes
shuttered and hasped within.

“You will excuse my dull welcome,” she said, with a wan smile, speaking
a very pleasant accent of North Country Gaelic, that turned upon the
palate like a sweet “A week or two ago you would have found a very
cheerful house, not a widow’s sorrow, and, if my eyes were useless, my
man (_beannachd leis!_) had a lover’s eyes, and these were the eyes for
himself and me.”

“Was he at Inverlochy?” I asked softly; “was he out with Montrose?”

“He died a week come Thursday,” said the woman. “They’re telling me of
wars--weary on them and God’s pity on the widow women they make, and
the mothers they must leave lonely--but such a thing is sorrow that the
world, from France to the Isles, might be in flames and I would still
be thinking on my man that’s yonder in the cold clods of the yard....
Stretch your hands; it’s your welcome, gentlemen.”

“I have one or two other friends out-bye there in the byre,” put in
Stewart, who found the vigilance of the youths in the bed gave no
opportunity for smuggling provand to the others of our party.

The woman’s face flamed up a little and took on the least of a look of
alarm that Stewart--who was very cunning and quick in some matters--set
about removing at once with some of those convenient lies that he seemed
never out of the want of.

“Some of our lads,” said he, with a duck of apology at M’Iver and myself
for taking liberties with the reputation of our friends. “They’re very
well where they are among the bracken, if they had but the bite and sup,
and if it’s your will I could take them that.”

“Could they not be coming in and sitting by the fire?” asked the woman,
set at rest by Stewart’s story; but he told her he would never think
of filling her room with a rabble of plain men, and in a little he was
taking out the viands for our friends in the byre.

The woman sat anew upon her stool and her hands on her lap, listening
with a sense so long at double exercise that now she could not readily
relax the strain on it M’Iver was in a great fidget to be off. I could
see it in every movement of him. He was a man who ever disliked to have
his feelings vexed by contact with the everlasting sorrows of life, and
this intercourse with new widowhood was sore against his mind. As for
me, I took, in a way of speaking, the woman to my heart She stood to me
for all the griefs I had known in life, and was yet the representative,
the figure of love--revealing an element of nature, a human passion so
different from those tumults and hatreds we had been encountering. I had
been thinking as I marched among the wilds of Lochaber and Badenoch
that vengeance and victory and dominion by the strong hand were the
main spurs to action, and now, on a sudden, I found that affection was
stronger than them all.

“Are you keeping the place on?” I asked the widow, “or do you go back to
your folks, for I notice from your tongue that you are of the North?”

“I’m of the Grants,” she said; “but my heart’s in Glencoe, and I’ll
never leave it I am not grieving at the future, I am but minding on the
past, and I have my bairns.... More milk for the lads outside; stretch
your hands.... Oh yes, I have my bairns.”

“Long may they prosper, mistress,” said M’Iver, drumming with a horn
spoon on his knee, and winking and smiling very friendly to the little
fellows in a row in the bed, who, all but the oldest, thawed to this
humour of the stranger. “It must be a task getting a throng like yon
bedded at evening. Some day they’ll be off your hand, and it’ll be no
more the lullaby of Crodh Chailein, but them driving at the beasts for

“Are you married?” asked the woman.

“No,” said John, with a low laugh, “not yet. I never had the fortune to
fill the right woman’s eye. I’ve waited at the ferry for some one who’ll
take a man over without the ferry fee, for I’m a poor gentleman though
I’m of a good family, and had plenty, and the ones with the tocher won’t
have me, and the tocherless girls I dare not betray.”

“You ken the old word,” said the woman; “the man who waits long at the
ferry will get over some day.”

Stewart put down a cogie and loosened a button of his vest, and with an
air of great joviality, that was marred curiously by the odd look his
absence of lugs conferred, he winked cunningly at us and slapped the
woman in a rough friendship on the shoulder.

“Are you thinking yourself----” he began, and what he would finish with
may be easily guessed. But M’Iver fixed him with an eye that pricked
like a rapier.

“Sit ye down, Stewart,” said he; “your race is royal, as ye must be aye
telling us, but there’s surely many a droll bye-blow in the breed.”

“Are you not all from Appin?” asked the woman, with a new interest,
taking a corner of M’Iver’s plaiding in her hand and running a few
checks through fine delicate fingers of a lady. Her face dyed crimson;
she drew back her stool a little, and cried out--

“That’s not off a Stewart web--it was never waulked in Appin. Whom have
I here?”

John Splendid bent to her very kindly and laid a hand on hers.

“I’ll tell you the God’s truth, mother,” said he; “we’re broken men: we
have one Stewart of a kind with us, but we belong to parts far off from
here, and all we want is to get to them as speedily as may be. I’ll put
you in mind (but troth I’m sure it’s not needed) of two obligations that
lie on every Gaelic household. One of them is to give the shelter of the
night and the supper of the night to the murderer himself, even if the
corpse on the heather was your son; and the other is to ask no question
off your guest till he has drunk the _deoch-an-doruis_.”

“I’m grudging you nothing,” said the woman; “but a blind widow is
entitled to the truth and frankness.”

M’Iver soothed her with great skill, and brought her back to her bairns.

“Ay,” said he, “some day they’ll be off your hands, and you the lady
with sons and servants.”

“Had you a wife and bairns of your own,” said the woman, “you might
learn some day that a parent’s happiest time is when her children are
young. They’re all there, and they’re all mine when they’re under the
blanket; but when they grow up and scatter, the nightfall never brings
them all in, and one pair of blankets will not cover the cares of them.
I do not know that,” she went on, “from what I have seen in my own
house; but my mother told me, and she had plenty of chance to learn the
truth of it, with sons who died among strangers, and sons who bruised
her by their lives more than they could by their deaths.”

“You have some very ruddy and handsome boys there,” said M’Iver. And aye
he would be winking and smiling at the young rogues in the corner.

“I think they are,” said the woman. “I never saw but the eldest, and he
was then at the breast, the dear, his father’s image.”

“Then the father of him must have been a well-fared and pretty man,”
 said John, very promptly, not a bit abashed by the homeliness of the
youth, who was the plainest of the nock, with a freckled skin, a low
hang-dog brow, and a nose like the point of a dirk.

“He was that,” said the woman, fondly--“the finest man in the parish.
He had a little lameness, but----”

“I have a bit of a halt myself,” said M’I ver, with his usual folly;
“and I’m sure I’m none the worse for it.”

The oldest boy sat up in bed and gloomed at us very sullenly. He could
scarcely be expected to understand the conceits of M’Iver’s tale about
his lameness, that any one with eyes could behold had no existence.

“But I never think of my man,” the woman went on, “but as I saw him
first before he met with his lameness. Eyes are a kind of doubtful
blessing too in some ways. Mine have forgotten all the ugly things
they knew, and in my recollection are but many bonny things: my man was
always as young to me as when he came courting in a new blue bonnet and
a short coat; my children will be changing to every one but to me.”

Stewart, with his own appetite satisfied, was acting lackey to the
gentlemen in the byre--fetching out cogies of milk and whangs of
bear-meal bannock, and the most crisp piquant white cheese ever I put
tooth to. He was a man without a conscience, and so long as his own ends
and the ends of his friends were served, he would never scruple to empty
the woman’s girnel or toom her last basin, and leave her no morsel of
food or drink at the long-run. But M’Iver and I put an end to that, and
so won, as we thought, to the confidence of the elder lad in the bed,
who had glunched low-browed among his franker brethren.

We slept for some hours, the seven of us, among the bracken of the byre,
wearied out and unable to go farther that night, even if the very dogs
were at our heels. We slept sound, I’m sure, all but M’Iver, whom,
waking twice in the chill of the night, I found sitting up and listening
like any sentinel.

“What are you watching for there?” I asked him on the second time.

“Nothing at all, Colin, nothing at all. I was aye a poor sleeper at
the best, and that snore of Rob Stewart is the very trump of the next

It was in the dawn again he confessed to his real apprehension,--only to
my private ear, for he wished no more to alarm the others by day than to
mar my courtship of slumber by night.

“The fact is,” said he, “I’m not very sure about our young gentleman
yonder in the bed. He’s far too sharp in the eye and black in the
temper, and too much of Clan Donallachd generally, to be trusted with
the lives and liberties of seven gentlemen of a tartan he must know
unfriendly to Glencoe. I wish I saw his legs that I might guess the
length of him, or had had the wit to ask his mother, his age, for either
would be a clue to his chance of carrying the tale against us down the
valley there. He seemed tremendous sharp and wicked lying yonder looking
at us, and I was in a sweat all night for fear he would be out and tell
on us. But so far he’s under the same roof as ourselves.”

Sonachan and the baron-bailie quarrelled away about some point of
pedigree as they sat, a towsy, unkempt pair, in a dusty corner of the
byre, with beards of a most scraggy nature grown upon their chins.
Their uncouthness gave a scruple of foppishness to M’I ver, and sent him
seeking a razor in the widow’s house. He found the late husband’s, and
shaved himself trimly, while Stewart played lackey again to the rest of
us, taking out a breakfast the housewife was in the humour to force on
us. He had completed his scraping, and was cracking away very freely
with the woman, who was baking some bannocks on the stone, with sleeves
rolled up from arms that were rounded and white. They talked of the
husband (the one topic of new widowhood), a man, it appeared, of a
thousand parts, a favourite with all, and yet, as she said, “When it
came to the black end they left me to dress him for the grave, and a
stranger had to bury him.”

M’Iver, looking fresh and spruce after his cleansing, though his eyes
were small for want of sleep, aroused at once to an interest in the
cause of this unneighbourliness.

The woman stopped her occupation with a sudden start and flared crimson.

“I thought you knew,” said she, stammering, turning a rolling-pin in her
hand--“I thought you knew; and then how could you?... I maybe should
have mentioned it,... but,... but could I turn you from my door in the
night-time and hunger?”

M’Iver whistled softly to himself, and looked at me where I stood in the

“Tuts,” said he, at last turning with a smile to the woman, as if she
could see him; “what does a bit difference with Lowland law make after
all? I’ll tell you this, mistress, between us,--I have a name myself
for private foray, and it’s perhaps not the first time I have earned
the justification of the kind gallows of Crief by small diversions among
cattle at night It’s the least deserving that get the tow gravatte.”

(Oh you liar! I thought.)

The woman’s face looked puzzled. She thought a little, and said, “I
think you must be taking me up wrong; my man was never at the trade of
reiving, and----”

“I would never hint that he was, goodwife,” cried John, quickly,
puzzled-looking himself. “I said I had a name for the thing; but they
were no friends of mine who gave me the credit, and I never stole stot
or quey in all my life.”

(I have my doubts, thinks I.)

“My man died of the plague,” said the woman, blurting out her news, as
if eager to get over an awkward business.

I have never seen such a sudden change in a person’s aspect as came
over John Splendid in every feature. The vain trim man of a minute ago,
stroking his chin and showing a white hand (for the entertainment of the
woman he must always be forgetting was without her sight), balancing
and posturing on well-curved legs, and jauntily pinning his plaid on his
shoulder, in a flash lost backbone. He stepped a pace back, as if some
one had struck him a blow, his jaw fell, and his face grew ashen.

Then his eyes went darting about the chamber, and his nostrils sniffed
as if disease was a presence to be seen and scented, a thing tangible in
the air, maybe to be warded off by a sharp man’s instruction in combat
of arms.

“God of grace!” he cried, crossing himself most vigorously for a person
of the Protestant religion, and muttering what I have no doubt was some
charm of his native glen for the prevention of fevers. He shut his mouth
thereafter very quickly on every phrase he uttered, breathing through
his nose; at the same time he kept himself, in every part but the
shoe-soles he tiptoed on, from touching anything. I could swear the open
air of the most unfriendly glen in Christendom was a possession to be
envious of for John M’Iver of Barbreck.

Stewart heard the woman’s news that came to him as he was carrying in
from the byre the vessels from which he had been serving his companions.
He was in a stew more extraordinary than John Splendid; he blanched even
to the scars of his half-head, as we say, spat vehemently out of his
mouth a piece of bread he was chewing, turned round about in a flash,
and into the byre past me as I stood (not altogether alarmed, but yet a
little disturbed and uneasy) in the doorway. He emptied his clothing and
knapsack of every scrap of food he had purloined, making a goodly heap
upon the floor,--the very oaten flour he dusted off his finger-tips,
with which he had handled cake that a little ago he was risking
his soul’s salvation to secure. And--except the minister--the other
occupants of the byre were in an equal terror.

For in this matter of smittal plagues we Highlanders are the most arrant
cowards. A man whose life we would save on the field, or the rock-face,
or the sea, at the risk of our own lives or the more abominable peril
of wound and agony, will die in a ditch of the Spotted Death or a fever
before the most valiant of us would put out a hand to cover him again
with his blanket He will get no woman to sound his coronach, even if
he were Lord of the Isles. I am not making defence or admitting blame,
though I have walked in Hamburg when the pitch-barrels blazed in the
street, fuming the putrid wind; but there is in the Gaelic character a
dread of disfiguration more than of sudden and painful death. What we
fear is the black mystery of such disorders: they come on cunning winds
unheralded, in fair weather or bad, day or night, to the rich and to
the poor, to the strong as to the weak. You may be robust to-day in a
smiling country and to-morrow in a twist of agony, coal-black, writhing
on the couch, every fine interest in life blotted out by a yellow film
upon the eyes. A vital gash with a claymore confers a bloodier but a
more comely and natural end. Thus the Gael abhors the very roads that
lead to a plague-struck dwelling. If plagues do not kill, they will
mar--yes, even against the three charms of Island! and that, too, makes
heavier their terror, for a man mutilated even by so little as the loss
of a hand is an object of pity to every hale member of his clan. He may
have won his infirmity in a noble hour, but they will pity him, and pity
to the proud is worse than the glove in the face.

Instantly there was a great to-do in getting away from this most
unfortunate dwelling. The lads in the byre shook tartan and out to the
fresh air, and rejoiced in the wind with deep-drawn gulping breaths,
as if they might wash the smallest dust of disease from their bodily
systems. So at last only M’Iver and I were left standing at the door.

“Well,” said John, with an effort, “we must be going. I never thought
it was so late. And we must be on the other side of Dalness before
very long. You have been very good to us, and my name’s John M’I ver of
Barbreck--a kind of a Campbell with a great respect for the Mac-Donalds,
of whom I kent a few perfect gentry in foreign wars I have been at the
fighting of. And--good day, mistress, we must be going. My friends have
the very small manners surely, for they’re off down the road. Well just
let them go that way. What need ye expect off small men and gillies?”

He signed to me with a shake of his sporran to show it was empty, and,
falling to his meaning, I took some silver from my own purse and offered
it to the glum-faced lad in the blankets. Beetle-brow scowled, and
refused to put a hand out for it, so I left it on a table without a
clink to catch the woman’s ear.

“Would you not have a _deoch-an-doruis?_” asked the woman, making to a
press and producing a bottle.

M’Iver started in a new alarm. “No, no. You’re very good,” said he; “but
I never take it myself in the morning, and--good day, mistress--and my
friend Elrigmore, who’s left with me here, is perhaps too free with it
sometimes; and indeed maybe I’m that way myself too--it’s a thing that
grows on you. Good-bye, mistress.”

She put out her hand, facing us with uplifted eyes. I felt a push at my
shoulder, and the minister, who had left the four others down the brae,
stepped softly into the room. M’Iver was in a high perplexity. He dare
not shake the woman’s hand, and still he dare not hurt her feelings. “My
thong’s loose,” said he, stooping to fumble with a brogue that needed no
such attention. He rose with the minister at his shoulder.

“And good day to you again, mistress,” said M’Iver, turning about to go,
without heeding the outstretched hand.

Master Gordon saw the whole play at a glance. He took the woman’s hand
in his without a word, wrung it with great warmth, and, seized as it
seemed by a sudden whim, lifted the fingers to his lips, softly kissed
them, and turned away.

“O,” cried the woman, with tears welling to her poor eyes--“O Clan
Campbell, I’ll never call ye down! Ye may have the guile they claim for
ye, but ye have the way with a widow’s heart!”

I did it with some repugnance, let me own; but I, too, shook her hand,
and followed the minister out at the door. M’Iver was hot with annoyance
and shame, and ready to find fault with us for what we had done; but the
cleric carded him like wool in his feelings.

“Oh, valour, valour!” he said in the midst of his sermon, “did I not say
you knew your duty in hate better than in affection?”

John Splendid kept a dour-set jaw, said never a word, and the seven of
us proceeded on our way.

It was well on in the morning, the land sounding with a new key of
troubled and loosening waters. Mists clogged the mountain-tops, and
Glencoe far off to its westward streamed with a dun vapour pricked with
the tip of fir and ash. A moist feel was in the air; it relapsed anon to
a smirr of rain.

“This is a shade better than clear airs and frost and level snow for
quarries on a hunting,” said I.

“I’m glad it suits you,” said M’Iver. “I’ve seen the like before, and
I’m not so sure about the advantage of it.”


The rain that was a smirr or drizzle on the north side of Glencoe grew
to a steady shower in the valley itself, and when we had traversed a bit
in the airt of Tynree it had become a pouring torrent--slanting in our
faces with the lash of whips, streaming from the hair and crinkling
the hands, and leaving the bonnet on the head as heavy as any French
soldier’s salade. I am no great unlover of a storm in the right
circumstances. There is a long strath between Nordlingen and Donauworth
of Bavaria, where once we amazed our foreign allies by setting out, bare
to the kilt and sark, in threshing hail, running for miles in the pelt
of it out of the sheer content of encounter--and perhaps a flagon or two
of wine. It was a bravado, perhaps, but a ploy to brace the spirit; we
gathered from it some of the virtues of our simple but ample elders, who
were strong men when they lay asleep with a cheek to the naked earth and
held their faces frankly up to sun or rain. But if we rejoiced in the
rains of Bavaria, there was no cause for glee in those torrents of
Glencoe, for they made our passage through the country more difficult
and more dangerous than it was before. The snow on the ground was for
hours a slushy compost, that the foot slipped on at every step, or that
filled the brogue with a paste that nipped like brine. And when the
melting snow ran to lower levels, the soil itself, relaxing the rigour
of its frost, became as soft as butter and as unstable to the foot The
bums filled to the lip and brawled over, new waters sprung up among
the rocks and ran across our path, so that we were for ever wading and
slipping and splashing and stumbling on a route that seemed never to
come to any end or betterment.

Seven more pitiful men never trod Highlands. The first smirr soaked our
clothing; by the middle of the glen we were drenched to the hide, and
the rain was flowing from the edges of our kilts in runnels. Thus heaven
scourged us with waters till about the hour of noon, when she alternated
water with wind and gales burst from the west, the profound gorges
of Stob Dubh belching full to the throat with animus. There were
fir-plantings by the way, whose branches twanged and boomed in those
terrific blasts, that on the bare brae-side lifted up the snow with an
invisible scoop and flung it in our faces.

Stewart and the man with the want led the way, the latter ever with his
eyes red a-weeping, looking about him with starts and tremors, moaning
lamentably at every wail of wind, but pausing, now and then, to gnaw
a bone he had had enough of a thief s wit to pouch in the house of the
blind widow. Stewart, a lean wiry man, covered the way with a shepherd’s
long stride-heel and toe and the last spring from the knee-most
poverty-struck and mean in a kilt that flapped too low on his leg and
was frayed to ribbons, a man with but one wish in the world, to save his
own unworthy skin, even if every one else of our distressed corps found
a sodden and abominable death in the swamps or rocks of that doleful
valley. Then on the rear behind those commoners came the minister and
John Splendid and myself, the minister with his breeks burst at the
knees, his stockings caught up with a poor show of trimncss by a braid
of rushes, contrived by M’Iver, and his coat-skirts streaming behind
him. You could not but respect the man’s courage: many a soldier I’ve
seen on the dour hard leagues of Germanie--good soldiers too, heart and
body---collapse under hardships less severe. Gordon, with a drawn and
curd-white face, and eyes burning like lamps, surrendered his body to
his spirit, and it bore him as in a dream through wind and water, over
moor and rock, and amid the woods that now and again we had to hide in.

That we had to hide so little was one of the miracles of our traverse.
At any other time perhaps Glencoe and the regions round about it would
be as well tenanted as any low-country strath, for it abounded on either
hand with townships, with crofts that perched on brief plateaux, here
and there with black bothy-houses such as are (they say) the common
dwellings over all the Hebrid Isles. Yet, moving, not in the ultimate
hollow of the valley, but in fighting fashion upon the upper levels, we
were out of the way of molestation, and in any case it was a valley for
the time deserted of men. Women we could see in plenty, drawing water or
bearing peats in from the bogs behind their dwellings, or crossing from
house to house or toun to toun, with plaids drawn tightly over their
heads, their bodies bent to meet the blasts that made their clothing
banner and full. Nor children either were there in that most barren
country, or they kept within, sheltering the storms assailing, and the
want of them (for I have ever loved the little ones) added twenty-fold
to my abhorrence of the place.

We had to hide but rarely, I say: two or three times when down in the
valley’s depths there showed a small group of men who were going in the
same direction as ourselves by the more natural route, at a quarter of
a league’s distance in advance of us. They were moving with more speed
than we, and for a time we had the notion that they might be survivors,
like ourselves, of Argile’s clan. But at last this fancy was set at
flight by the openness of their march, as well as by their stoppage at
several houses by the way, from which they seemed to be joined by other
men, who swelled their numbers so that after a time there would be over
a score of them on the mission, whatever it might be. In that misty
rain-swept day the eye could not carry far, and no doubt they were
plainer to our view than we were to theirs among the drab vapours of
the hillside. But once or twice we thought they perceived us, for they
stopped and looked to the left and up the brae-face we were on, and then
it was we had to seek the shelter of tree or bush. If they saw us, they
seemed to suspect no evil, for they held on their way, still ahead of
us, and making for Tynree. Whoever they were, they became at last so
manifest a danger to our escape out of the head of the glen that we fell
back anew on the first plan of going through the corries on the south
side of the glen and piercing by them to Dalness. In the obscurity of a
great shower that set up a screen between us and the company marching
to Tynree, we darted down the brae, across the valley, and over to the
passage they call the Lairig Eilde, that is on the west of the great
Little Herd hill of Etive, and between it and Ben Fhada or the Long
Mount, whose peaks you will find with snow in their gullies in the
height of summer.

It was with almost a jocund heart I turned my back on Glencoe as we took
a drove-path up from the river. But I glanced with a shiver down its
terrible distance upon that nightmare of gulf and eminence, of gash, and
peaks afloat upon swirling mists. It lay, a looming terror, forgotten of
heaven and unfriendly to man (as one might readily imagine), haunted for
ever with wailing airs and rumours, ghosts calling in the deeps of dusk
and melancholy, legends of horror and remorse.

“Thank God,” said I, as we gave the last look at it--“thank God I was
not born and bred yonder. Those hills would crush my heart against my
very ribs.”

“It’s good enough for the people who are in it,” said John. “What are
they but MacDonalds? ‘Take and not give’ is their motto. They can have
Glencoe for me, with M’Millan’s right to Knapdale,--as long as wave
beats on rock.”

Master Gordon, though we had spoken in the Gaelic, half guessed our
meaning. “A black place and mournful,” said he; “but there may be love
there too and warm hearts, and soil where the truth might flourish as in
the champaign over against Gilgal beside the plains of Moreh.”

Now we were in a tract of country mournful beyond my poor description.
I know comes in Argile that whisper silken to the winds with juicy
grasses, corries where the deer love to prance deep in the cool dew, and
the beasts of far-off woods come in bands at their seasons and together
rejoice. I have seen the hunter in them and the shepherd too, coarse
men in life and occupation, come sudden among the blowing rush and
whispering reed, among the bog-flower and the cannoch, unheeding the
moor-hen and the cailzie-cock rising, or the stag of ten at pause, while
they stood, passionate adventurers in a rapture of the mind, held as it
were by the spirit of such places as they lay in a sloeberry bloom of
haze, the spirit of old good songs, the baffling surmise of the piper
and the bard. To those corries of my native place will be coming in the
yellow moon of brock and foumart--the beasts that dote on the autumn
eves--the People of Quietness; have I not seen their lanthoms and heard
their laughter in the night?--so that they must be blessed corries, so
endowed since the days when the gods dwelt in them without tartan and
spear in the years of the peace that had no beginning.

But the corries of Lorn; black night on them, and the rain rot!
They were swamps of despair as we went struggling through them. The
knife-keen rushes whipped us at the thigh, the waters bubbled in our
shoes. Round us rose the hills grey and bald, sown with boulders and
crowned with sour mists. Surely in them the sun never peeps even in the
long days of summer: the star, I’ll warrant, never rains on them his
calm influence!

Dolour left us speechless as we trudged, even when for a time we were
lost We essayed in a silence at openings here and there, at hacks and
water-currents, wandering off from each other, whistling and calling,
peering from rock-brows or spying into wounds upon the hills, so that
when we reached Dalness it was well on in the day. If in summer weather
the night crawls slowly on the Highlands, the winter brings a fast black
rider indeed. His hoofs were drumming on the hills when first we saw
sight of Dalness; he was over and beyond us when we reached the plain.
The land of Lorn was black dark to the very roots of its trees, and
the rivers and burns themselves got lost in the thick of it, and went
through the night calling from hollow to hollow to hearten each other
till the dawn.

Dalness lies in Glen Etive, at a gusset of hills on either side of which
lie paths known to the drover and the adventurer. The house receded from
the passes and lay back in a plcasance walled by whin or granite, having
a wattled gate at the entrance. When we were descending the pass we
could see a glare of light come from the place even though the mist
shrouded, and by the time we got to the gate h was apparent that the
house was lit in every chamber. The windows that pierced the tall gables
threw beams of light into the darkness, and the open door poured out
a yellow flood. At the time we came on it first we were unaware of our
propinquity to it, and this mansion looming on us suddenly through the
vapours teemed a cantrip of witchcraft, a dwelling’s ghost, grey, eerie,
full of frights, a phantom of the mind rather than a habitable home. We
paused in a dumb astonishment to look at it lying there in the darkness,
a thing so different from the barren hills and black bothies behind us.

We gathered in a cluster near the wattle gate, the minister perhaps the
only man who had the wit to acknowledge the reality of the vision.
His eyes fairly gloated on this evidence of civilised state, so much
recalling the surroundings in which he was most at home. As by an
instinct of decency, he drew up his slack hose and bound them anew with
the rushen garters, and pulled his coat-lapels straight upon his chest,
and set his dripping peruke upon his head with a touch of the dandy’s
air, all the time with his eyes on those gleaming windows, as if he
feared to relinquish the spectacle a moment, lest it should fly like a

We had thought first of pushing across the glen, over the river, through
Corrie Ghuibhasan, and into the Black Mount; but the journey in a night
like what was now fallen was not to be attempted. On the hills beyond
the river the dog-fox barked with constancy, his vixen screeching like a
child--signs of storm that no one dare gainsay. So we determined to
seek shelter and concealment somewhere in the policies of the house. But
first of all we had to find what the occasion was of this brilliancy
in Dalness, and if too many people for our safety were not in the
neighbourhood. I was sent forward to spy the place, while my companions
lay waiting below a cluster of alders.

I went into the grounds with my heart very high up on my bosom, not
much put about at any human danger, let me add, for an encounter with an
enemy of flesh and blood was a less fearsome prospect than the chance of
an encounter with more invulnerable foes, who, my skin told me, haunted
every heugh and howe of that still and sombre demesne of Dalness. But
I set my teeth tight in my resolution, and with my dirk drawn in my
hand--it was the only weapon left me--I crept over the grass from
bush to bush and tree to tree as much out of the revelation of the
window-lights as their numbers would let me.

There was not a sound in the place, and yet those lights might have
betokened a great festivity, with pipe and harp going, and dancers’ feet
thudding on the floor.

At one of the gables there was a low window, and I made for it, thinking
it a possible eye to a lobby or passage, and therefore not so hazardous
to look in at I crept up and viewed the interior.

My window, to my astonishment, looked in on no bare plain lobby, but
on a spacious salmanger or hall, very rosy with sconce-light and
wood-fire--a hall that extended the whole length of the house, with a
bye-ordinar high ceil of black oak carved very handsomely. The walls at
the far end were hung with tapestry very like MacCailein’s rooms at home
in Inneraora, and down the long sides, whose windows streamed the light
upon the hall, great stag-heads glowered with unsleeping eyes, stags of
numerous tines. The floor was strewn with the skins of the chase, and on
the centre of it was a table laden with an untouched meal, and bottles
that winked back the flicker of the candle and the hearth.

The comfort of the place, by contrast with our situation, seemed, as I
looked hungrily on it through the thick glass of the lozen, more great
and tempting than anything ever I saw abroad in the domains of princes.
Its air was charged with peace and order; the little puffs and coils and
wisps of silver-grey smoke, coming out of the fireplace into the room,
took long to swoon into nothingness in that tranquil interior.

But the most wonderful thing of all was, that though the supper seemed
ready waiting for a company, and could not have been long left, I waited
five or ten minutes with my face fast to the pane and no living footstep
entered the room. I watched the larger door near the far-off end
eagerly; it lay ajar, smiling a welcome to the parts of the house
beyond, but no one came in.

“Surely they are throng in some other wing,” I thought, “and not so
hungry as we, or their viands did not lie so long untouched in that
dainty room.”

I went round the house at its rear, feeling my way slowly among the
bushes. I looked upon parlours and bed-closets, kitchens and corridors;
they were lighted with the extravagance of a marriage-night, and
as tenantless and silent as the cells of Kilchrist The beds were
straightened out, the hearths were swept, the floors were scrubbed,
on every hand was the evidence of recent business, but the place was
relinquished to the ghosts.

How it was I cannot say, but The mystery of the house made me giddy at
the head. Yet I was bound to push my searching further, so round with a
swithering heart went Elrigmore to the very front door of the mansion
of Dalness--open, as I have said, with the light gushing lemon-yellow on
the lawn. I tapped softly, my heart this time even higher than my bosom,
with a foot back ready to retreat if answer came. Then I rasped an alarm
on the side of the yett with a noise that rang fiercely through the
place and brought the sweat to my body, but there was even then no

So in I went, the soft soles of my brogues making no sound on the
boards, but leaving the impress of my footsteps in a damp blot.

Now, to me, brought up in a Highland farm-steading (for the house of
Elrigmore is without great spaciousness or pretence), large and rambling
castles and mansions ever seem eerie. I must in them be thinking, like
any boy, of the whisperings of wraiths in their remote upper rooms;
I feel strange airs come whipping up their long or crooked lobbies at
night; the number of their doors are, to my Highland instinct, so many
unnecessary entrances for enemies and things mischancy.

But to wander over the house of Dalness, lit from tol-booth to
garret with lowe--to see the fires, not green but at their prime with
high-banked peat that as yet had not thrown an ash--to see so fine a
supper waiting in a mansion utterly desolate and its doors open to the
wilds, seemed a thing so magical that I felt like taking my feet from
the place in a hurry of hurries and fleeing with my comrades from so
unco a countryside. High and low I ranged in the interior. I had found
a nut without a kernel, and at last I stood dumfoundered and afraid,
struck solemn by the echo of my own hail as it rang unfamiliar through
the interior.

I might have been there fifteen minutes or half an hour when M’Iver,
impatient at my delay or fearing some injury to my person, came in and
joined me. He too was struck with amazement at the desertion of the

He measured the candles, he scrutinised the fires, he went round the
building out and in and he could but conclude that we must be close upon
the gate when the house was abandoned.

“But why abandon it?” I asked.

“That’s the Skyeman’s puzzle; it would take seven men and seven years to
answer it,” said he. “I can only say it’s very good of them (if there’s
no ambuscade in it) to leave so fine an inn and so bonny a supper with
a bush above the door and never a bar against entrance. We’ll just take
advantage of what fortune has sent us.”

“The sooner the better,” said I, standing up to a fire that delighted
my body like a caress. “I have a trick of knowing when good fortune’s
a dream, and i’ll be awake and find myself lying on hard heather before
the bite’s at my mouth.”

M’Iver ran out and brought in our companions, none of them unwilling to
put this strange free hostel to the test for its warmth and hospitality.
We shut and barred the doors, and set ourselves down to such a cold
collation as the most fortunate of us had not tasted since the little
wars began. Between the savage and the gentleman is but a good night’s
lodging. Give the savage a peaceful hearth to sit by, a roof to his
head, and a copious well-cooked supper, and his savagery will surrender
itself to the sleek content of a Dutch merchantman. We sat at a table
whose load would have rationed a company of twice our number, and I
could see the hard look of hunting relax in the aspect of us all: the
peering, restless, sunken eyes came out of their furrowed caverns,
turned calm, full, and satisfied; the lines of the brow and mouth, the
contour of the cheek, the carriage of the head, the disposition of the
hands, altered and improved. An hour ago, when we were the sport of
ferocious nature in the heart of a country infernal, no more than one
of us would have swithered to strike a blow at a fellow-creature and to
have robbed his corpse of what it might have of food and comfort Now we
gloated in the airs benign of Dalness house, very friendly to the world
at large, the stuff that tranquil towns are made of. We had even the
minister’s blessing on our food, for Master Gordon accepted the
miracle of the open door and the vacant dwelling with John Splen-did’s
philosophy, assuring us that in doing so he did no more than he would
willingly concede any harmless body of broken men such as we were,
even his direst enemies, if extremity like ours brought them to his

“I confess I am curious to know how the thing happened, but the hand of
the Almighty’s in it anyway,” he said; and so saying he lay back in his
chair with a sigh of satisfaction that lost nothing of its zest by the
influence of the rain that blattered now in drumming violence on the

John Splendid, at the table-end, laughed shortly between his sups at a
flagon of wine.

“All the same,” said he, “I would advise you to put some of the
Almighty’s provand in your pouch, for fear the grace that is ours now
may be torn suddenly enough from us.”

Sonachan pointed at Stewart, who had already filled every part of his
garments with broken meat, and his wallet as well. “There’s a cautious
man,” said he, “whatever your notion of sudden ceasing may be. He has
been putting bite about in his wallet and his stomach since ever we sat
down. Appin ways, no doubt.”

“_Biadh an diugh, cogadh a maireach_--food to-day, war to-morrow,” said
the son of kings. “Royal’s my race! A man should aye be laying in as he
goes: if I had not had my wallet on Loch Leven-side, I ken some gentry
who would have been as hungry as common herds, and with nothing to help

John Splendid laughed again. “Wise man, Rob!” said he; “you learnt the
first principles of campaigning in Appin as nicely as ever I did in
the wars of the Invincible Lion (as they called him) of the North. Our
reverend comrade here, by the wisdom of his books, never questions, it
seems, that we have a lease of Dalness house as long as we like to stay
in it, its pendicles and pertinents, lofts, crofts, gardens, mills,
multures, and sequels, as the lawyers say in their damned sheep-skins,
that have been the curse of the Highlands even more than books have
been. Now I’ve had an adventure like this before. Once in Regenwalde,
between Danzig and Stettin, where we lay for two months, I spent a night
with a company of Hepburn’s blades in a castle abandoned by a cousin
of the Duke of Pomerania. Roystering dogs! Stout hearts! Where are they
now, those fine lads in corslet and morgensterne, who played havoc with
the casks in the Regenwalde cellar? Some of them died of the pest in
Schiefelbein, four of them fell under old Jock Hepburn at Frankfort, the
lave went wandering about the world, kissing and drinking, no doubt, and
lying and sorrowing and dying, and never again will we foregather in a
vacant house in foreign parts! For that is the hardship of life, that
it’s ever a flux and change. We are here to-day and away to-morrow, and
the bigger the company and the more high-hearted the merriment, the
less likely is the experience to be repeated. I’m sitting here in a
miraculous dwelling in the land of Lorn, and I have but to shut my eyes
and round about me are cavaliers of fortune at the board. I give you
the old word, Elrigmore: ‘Claymore and the Gael ‘; for the rest--pardon
me--you gentlemen are out of the ploy. I shut my eyes and I see
Fowlis and Farquhar, Mackenzie, Obisdell, Ross, the two _balbiren_ and
_stabknechten_ with their legs about the board; the wind’s howling up
from Stettin road; to-morrow we may be carrion in the ditch at Guben’s
Gate, or wounded to a death by slow degrees in night scaladoe. That
was soldiering. You fought your equals with art and science; here’s----
Well, well, God’s grace for MacCailein Mor!”

“God’s grace for us all!” said the minister.

The man with the want fell fast asleep in his chair, with his limbs
in gawky disposition. Stewart’s bullet-head, with the line of the oval
unbroken by ears, bobbed with affected eagerness to keep up with the
fast English utterance and the foreign names of M’Iver, while all the
time he was fingering some metal spoons and wondering if money was in
them and if they could be safely got to Inneraora. Sonachan and the
baron-bailie dipped their beaks in the jugs, and with lifted heads, as
fowls slocken their thirst, they let the wine slip slowly down their
throats, glucking in a gluttonous ecstasy.

“God’s grace for us all!” said the minister again, as in a benediction.

M’Iver pushed back his chair without rising, and threw a leg across its
arm with a complacent look at the shapely round of the calf, that his
hose still fitted with wonderful neatness considering the stress they
must have had from wind and rain.

“We had grace indeed,” said he, “in Pomerania. We came at night, just as
now, upon this castle of its most noble and puissant lord. It was Palm
Sunday, April the third, Old Style. I mind, because it was my birthday;
the country all about was bursting out in a most rare green; the gardens
and fields breathed sappy odours, and the birds were throng at the
Digging of their homes in bush and eave; the day sparkled, and river and
cloud too, till the spirit in a person jigged as to a fiddle; the nights
allured to escapade.”

“What was the girl’s name?” I asked M’Iver, leaning forward, finding his
story in some degree had parallel with my own.

“Her name, Colin--I did not mention the girl, did I? How did you guess
there was a girl in it?” said John, perplexed.

I flushed at my own transparency, and was glad to see that none but the
minister (and M’Iver a little later) had observed the confession of my
query. The others were too busy on carnal appetites to feel the touch of
a sentiment wrung from me by a moment’s illusion.

“It is only my joke,” I stammered; “you have a reputation among the

M’Iver smiled on me very warm-heartedly, yet cunningly too.

“Colin, Colin,” he cried. “Do I not know _you_ from boot to bonnet? You
think the spring seasons are never so fond and magic as when a man is
courting a girl; you are minding of some spring day of your own and a
night of twinkling stars. I’ll not deny but there was a girl in my case
in the parlour of Pomerania’s cousin at Regenwalde; and I’ll not deny
that a recollection of her endows that season with something of its
charm. We had ventured into this vacant house, as I have said: its
larders were well plenished; its vaults were full of marshalled brigades
of bottles and battaglia of casks. Thinking no danger, perhaps careless
if there was, we sat late, feasted to the full, and drank deep in a
house that like this was empty in every part It was 1631--I’ll leave you
but that clue to my age at the time--and, well I was an even prettier
lad than I am to-day. I see you smile, Master Gordon; but that’s my bit
joke. Still there’s some relevance to my story in my looks too. Though
I was but a sergeant of pikes (with sons of good families below me, as
privates, mind you), I was very trim and particular about my apparel.
I carried myself with a good chest, as we say,--my features and my leg
speak for themselves. I had sung songs--trifles of my own, foolishly
esteemed, I’m hearing, in many parts of Argile. I’ll not deny but I like
to think of that, and to fancy young folks humming my ditties by warm
Ares when I’m maybe in the cold with the divot at my mouth. And I had
told a tale or two--a poor art enough, I’ll allow, spoiled by bookcraft
It was a cheery company as you may guess, and at last I was at a display
of our Highland dancing. I see dancing to-day in many places that is not
the thing as I was taught it by the strongest dancer in all Albainn. The
company sat facing me as I stepped it over a couple of sword-blades,
and their backs were to the door. Mackenzie was humming a _port-a-bheul_
with a North Country twang even in his nose, and I was at my last
step when the door opened with no noise and a girl looked in, her eyes
staring hard at me alone, and a finger on her lips for silence. A man of
less discernment would have stopped his dance incontinent and betrayed
the presence of the lady to the others, who never dreamt so interesting
a sight was behind them. But I never let on. I even put an extra
flourish on my conclusion, that came just as the girl backed out at the
door beckoning me to follow her. Two minutes later, while my friends
were bellowing a rough Gaelic chorus, I was out following my lady of
silence up a little stair and into a room below the eaves. There she
narrated to me the plot that we unhappy lads were to be the victims
of. The house was a trap: it was to be surrounded at night, when we had
eaten and drunken over-well, and the sword was our doom arranged for.
The girl told me all this very quietly in the French she learned I was
best master of next to my own Gaelic, and--what a mad thing’s the blood
in a youth--all the time I was indifferent to her alarum, and pondering
upon her charms of lip and eye. She died a twelvemonth later in Glogoe
of Silesia, and---- God give her peace!”

“You may save your supplication,” said Gordon; “her portion’s assigned,
a thing fixed and unalterable, and your prayer is a Popish conceit.”

“God give her peace! I’ll say it, Master Gordon, and I’ll wish it in the
face of every Covenanter ever droned a psalm! She died in Silesia, not
careless, I’m thinking, of the memory of one or two weeks we spent
in Frankfort, whose outer lanes and faubourgs are in my recollection
blossoming with the almond-flower and scented at eve.”

He rose to his feet and paced the floor beside us, strong, but loosened
a little at the tongue by the generous wine of Dalness; his mien a
blending of defiance against the cheatry of circumstance and a display
of old ancient grief.

“Heart of the rose, _gramachree_, bird-song at the lip, star eye and
wisdom, yet woman to the core! I wish I were so young as then I was, and
_ochanie_, what availed my teens, if the one woman that ever understood
me were no more but a dust in Glogoe!”

“Come, come, man,” I cried; “it’s a world full of very choice women.”

“Is it indeed?” asked he, turning on me a pitiful eye; “I’m wrong if you
ever met but one that was quite so fine as you must have them---- Tuts,
tuts, here I’m on the key of old man’s history. I cheat myself at times
of leisure into the notion that once I loved a foreign girl who died a
spotless maiden. You’ll notice, Master Gordon, I have something of the
sentiment you Low-landers make such show of, or I play-act the thing
very well. Believe me, I’ll hope to get a wife out of your parish some
day yet; but I warn you she must have a tocher in her stocking as well
as on her father’s hill.”

The minister surveyed him through half-shut eyes, leaning back on the
rungs of his chair. I think he saw the truth as clearly as I did myself,
for he spoke with more than common softness when he answered.

“I like your tale,” he said, “which had a different conclusion and a
more noble one than what I looked for at the opening.” Then he leaned
out and put a hand on John Splendid’s sleeve. “Human nature,” said
he, “is the most baffling of mysteries. I said I knew you from boot to
bonnet, but there’s a corner here I have still to learn the secret of.”

“Well, well,” cried M’Iver, lifting a glass confusedly, and seating
himself again at the board, “here’s a night-cap--MacCailein Mor and the
Campbell cause!”

“And a thought for the lady of Regenwalde,” I whispered, pressing his
foot with my toe beneath the table, and clinking my glass with his.

We drank, the two of us, in a silence, and threw the glasses on the

The windows, that now were shuttered, rattled to gowsty airs, and
the rain drummed on. All about the house, with its numerous corners,
turrets, gussets, and corbie-stepped gables, the fury of the world rose
and wandered, the fury that never rests but is ever somewhere round the
ancient universe, jibing night and morning at man’s most valiant effort.
It might spit and blow till our shell shook and creaked, and the staunch
walls wept, and the garden footways ran with bubbling waters, but we
were still to conquer. Our lanthorn gleamed defiance to that brag of
night eternal, that pattern-piece of the last triumph of the oldest
enemy of man--Blackness the Rider, who is older than the hoary star.

Fresh wood hissed on the fire, but the candles burned low in their
sockets. Sonachan and the baron-bailie slept with their heads on the
table, and the man with the want, still sodden at the eyes, turned his
wet hose upon his feet with a madman’s notion of comfort.

“I hope,” said M’Iver, “there’s no ambuscade here, as in the house
of the cousin of his Grace of Pomerania. At least we can but bide
on, whatever comes, and take the night’s rest that offers, keeping a
man-about watch against intrusion.”

“There’s a watch more pressing still,” said Master Gordon, shaking the
slumber off him and jogging the sleeping men upon the shoulders. “My
soul watcheth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning. We
have been wet with the showers of the mountain, like Job, and embracing
the rock for want of a shelter. We are lone-haunted men in a wild land
encompassed by enemies; let us thank God for our safety thus far, and
ask. His continued shield upon our flight.”

And in the silence of that great house, dripping and rocking in the
tempest of the night, the minister poured out his heart in prayer. It
had humility and courage too; it was imbued with a spirit strong and
calm. For the first time my heart warmed to the man who in years after
was my friend and mentor--Alexander Gordon, Master of the Arts, the man
who wedded me and gave my children Christian baptism, and brought solace
in the train of those little ones lost for a space to me among the
grasses and flowers of Kilmalieu.


It may seem, in my recounting of these cold wanderings, of days and
nights with nothing but snow and rain, and always the hounds of fear on
every hand, that I had forgotten to exercise my mind upon the blunder
and the shame of Argile’s defeat at Inverlochy. So far is this from the
fact that M’Iver and I on many available occasions disputed--as old
men at the trade of arms will do--the reasons of a reverse so much
unexpected, so little to be condoned, considering the advantage we
had in numbers compared with the fragments of clans Alasdair MacDonald
brought down from the gorges of Lochaber to the waters of Loch Linnhe
and Locheil. It was useless to bring either the baron-bailie or Sonachan
into our deliberations; neither of them had any idea of how the thing
had happened, though they were very well informed indeed about certain
trivial departures from strict forms of Highland procedure in the
hurried marshalling of the troops.

“Cheap trash of pennyland men from Lochow-side were put on the right
of gentlemen cadets of the castle and Loch Finne-side lairds,” was the
baron-bailie’s bitter protestation.

Sonachan, who was naturally possessed of a warm side to the people, even
common quality, of his own part of the country, would sniff at this with
some scorn.

“Pennyland here, pennyland there, they were closer in blood on Black
Duncan than any of your shore-side par-tans, who may be gentrice by
sheepskin right but never by the glaive.”

So the two would be off again into the tanglements of Highland pedigree.

The mind of the man with the want was, of course, a vacant tablet,
washed clean of every recollection by the copious tears he had wept in
his silliness since ever the shock of the battle came on him; Stewart
was so much of an unscrupulous liar that no word of his could be
trusted; and the minister alone could give us any idea of what had been
the sentiment in the army when the men of Montrose (who were really the
men of Sir Alas-dair, his major-general) came on them. But, for reasons
every true Gael need not even have a hint of, we were averse from
querying this dour, sour, Lowland cleric on points affecting a Highland

So it was, I say, that the deliberations of M’Iver and myself were
without any outside light in somewhat dark quarters: we had to guide us
only yon momentary glimpse of the stricken field with its flying men,
seen in a stupid blur of the senses,--as one lying by a dark hill tarn
at night, waiting for mallard or teal, sees the birds wheeling above the
water ere he has appreciated the whirr of their presence, lets bang his
piece at the midst of them, and is in a dense stillness again before he
comprehends that what he has waited for in the cold night has happened.

“The plan of old Gustavus did it, I’ll wager my share of the
silver-mine,” would John insist; “and who in heaven’s name would think
Alasdair _mosach_ knew the trick of it? I saw his horsemen fire one
pistol-shot and fall on at full speed. That’s old Gustavus for you,
isn’t it? And yet,” he would continue, reflecting, “Auchin-breac knew
the Swedish tactics too. He had his musketeers and pikemen separate,
as the later laws demand; he had even a hint from myself of the due
proportion of two pikes to three muskets.”

“But never a platoon fired a volley,” I recalled. “It was steel and
targe from the onset.” And then I would add, “What’s to be said for

On this John Splendid would ruffle up wrothily with blame for my harping
on that incident, as if it were a crime to hint at any weakness in his

“You are very much afraid of a waff of wind blowing on your cousin’s
name,” I would cry.

“My chief, Elrigmore, my chief. I make no claim to consideration for
a cousin, but I’ll stand up for Argile’s name so long as the gyrony of
eight and the galley for Lorn are in his coat of arms.”

Inverlochy, Inverlochy, Inverlochy--the black name of it rang in my head
like a tolling bell as I sought to doze for a little in Dalness house.
The whole events of the scandalous week piled up on me: I no sooner
wandered one thought away in the mists of the nether mind than a new
one, definite and harassing, grew in its place, so that I was turning
from side to side in a torture-rack of reflection when I should be lost
in the slumber my travel and weariness so well had earned me. Something
of an eeriness at our position in that genteel but lonely house lay
heavy on me too: it had no memories of friendship in any room for me; it
was haunted, if haunted at all, with the ghosts of people whose names we
only breathed with bitterness in the shire of Argile. And constantly the
wind would be howling in it, piping dismally in the vent of the room the
minister and I were in together; constant the rain would be hissing on
the embers of the fire; at a long distance off a waterfall, in veering
gusts of greater vehemence, crashed among its rocks and thundered in its

M’Iver, who was the first to take watch for the night, paced back and
forth along the lobbies or stood to warm himself at the fire he fed at
intervals with peat or pine-root Though he had a soldier’s reverence for
the slumbers of his comrades, and made the least of noises as he moved
around in his deer-skins, the slightest movement so advertised his zeal,
and so clearly recalled the precariousness of our position, that I
could not sleep. In an hour or more after I lay down M’Iver alarmed
the advance-guard of my coming sleep by his unconscious whistle of a
pibroch, and I sat up to find that the cleric was sharing my waukrife
rest He had cast his peruke. In the light of a cruisie that hung at the
mantel-breas he was a comical-looking fellow with a high bald head, and
his eyes, that were very dark and profound, surrounded by the red rings
of weariness, all the redder for the pallor of his face. He stretched
his legs and rubbed his knees slowly, and smiled on me a little

“I’m a poor campaigner,” said he; “I ought to be making the best of the
chance we have; but instead I must be thinking of my master and patron,
and about my flock in Inneraora town.”

I seized the opportunity as a gled would jump at a dove.

“You’re no worse than myself,” I said, rising to poke up the fire; “I’m
thinking of Argile too, and I wish I could get his defalcation--if that
it may be called--out of my mind. Was it a--was it--what you might call
a desertion without dignity, or a step with half an excuse in policy? I
know MacCailein had an injured arm.”

Gordon rose and joined me at the fireside. He seemed in a swither as to
whether I was a fit confidant or not in such a matter, but at last would
appear to decide in my favour.

“You have heard me speak well of Argile,” he said, quietly. “I never
said a word in his praise that was not deserved; indeed I have been
limited in my valuation of his virtues and ornaments, lest they should
think it the paid chaplain who spoke and not the honest acquaintance.
I know pious men, Highland and Lowland, but my lord of Argile has more
than any of them the qualities of perfection. At home yonder, he rises
every morning at five and is in private till eight. He prays in his
household night and morning, and never went abroad, though but for one
night, but he took his write-book, standish, and English New Bible, and
Newman’s Concordance with him. Last summer, playing one day with the
bullats with some gentlemen, one of them, when the Marquis stopped to
lift his bullat, fell pale, and said to them about him, ‘Bless me, it
is that I see my lord with his head off and all his shoulder full of
blood.’ A wicked man would have counted that the most gloomy portent
and a fit occasion for dread, for the person who spoke was the Laird of
Drimmindorren’s seventh son, with a reputation for the second sight.
But Argile laughed at the thing, no way alarmed, and then with a grave
demeanour he said, said he, ‘The wine’s in your head, sir; and even if
it was an omen, what then? The axe in troublous times is no disgrace,
and a chief of Clan Diarmaid would be a poor chief indeed if he failed
to surrender his head with some show of dignity.”’

“But to leave his people twice in one war with no apparent valid excuse
must look odd to his unfriends,” I said, and I toasted my hose at the

“I wish I could make up my mind whether an excuse is valid or not,” said
the cleric; “and I’m willing to find more excuses for MacCailein than
I’ll warrant he can find for himself this morning, wherever he may
happen to be. It is the humour of God Almighty sometimes to put two men
in the one skin. So far as I may humbly judge, Argile is the poor
victim of such an economy. You have seen the sort of man I mean: to-day
generous to his last plack, to-morrow the widow’s oppressor; Sunday a
soul humble at the throne of grace, and writhing with remorse for some
child’s sin, Monday riding vain-gloriously in the glaur on the road
to hell, bragging of filthy amours, and inwardly gloating upon a crime
anticipated. Oh, but were the human soul made on less devious plan, how
my trade of Gospel messenger were easy! And valour, too, is it not in
most men a fever of the moment; at another hour the call for courage
might find them quailing and flying like the coney of the rocks.”

“Then Argile, you think, was on those occasions the sport of his weaker
self?” I pushed. I found so many obstacles in the way of satisfaction to
my natural curiosity that I counted no persistence too rude now.

“He was the result of his history,” said the minister, quickly, his face
flushing with a sudden inspiration. “From the start of time those black
moments for the first Marquis of Argile have been preparing. I can speak
myself of his more recent environment He has about him ever flatterers
of the type of our friend the sentinel out there, well-meaning but a
woeful influence, keeping from him every rumour that might vex his ear,
colouring every event in such a manner as will please him. They kept the
man so long in a delusion that fate itself was under his heel, that when
the stress of things came--”

“Not another word!” cried M’Iver from the doorway.

We turned round and found him standing there wrapped up in his plaid,
his bonnet over a frowning brow, menace in his eye.

“Not another word, if it must be in that key. Has Archibald Marquis of
Argile and Lord of Lochow no friends in this convocation? I would have
thought his own paid curate and a neighbour so close as Elrigmore would
never waste the hours due to sleep upon treason to the man who deserved
better of them.”

“You should have eavesdropped earlier and you would have learned that
there was no treason in the matter. I’m as leal friend to my lord of
Argile as you or any of your clan. What do I care for your bubbly-jock
Highland vanity?” said Gordon.

“We were saying nothing of MacCailein that we would not say to you,” I
explained to M’Iver, annoyed in some degree by his interference.

“Ay, ay,” said he, with a pitying shrug of the shoulder, and throwing
off his last objection to my curiosity; “you’re on the old point again.
Man, but you’re ill to satisfy! And yet we must have the story sooner
or later, I suppose. I would rather have it anywhere than in this wauf

                    [Page 261 missing.]

...malcontents as we thought them, and found Montrose on the braes above
us as the dawn broke. We had but a shot or two apiece to the musket,
they tell me. Dun-barton’s drums rolled, the pipes clamoured, the camp
rose from its sleep in a confusion, and a white moon was fainting behind
us. Argile, who had slept in a galley all night, came ashore in a wherry
with his left arm in a sling. His face was like the clay, but he had a
firm lip, and he was buckling a hauberk with a steady hand as the men
fell under arms. Left alone then, I have a belief that he would have
come through the affair gallantly; but the Highland double-dealings were
too much for him. He turned to Auchinbreac and said ‘Shall I take the
command, or----?’ leaving an alternative for his relative to
guess at Auchinbreac, a stout soldier but a vicious, snapped him very
short ‘Leave it to me, leave it to me,’ he answered, and busied himself
again in disposing his troops, upon whom I was well aware he had no
great reliance. Then Sir James Rollock-Niddry, and a few others pushed
the Marquis to take his place in his galley again, but would he? Not
till Auchinbreac came up a second time, and seeing the contention of his
mind, took your Highland way of flattering a chief, and made a poltroon
act appear one of judgment and necessity. ‘As a man and soldier only,
you might be better here at the onset,’ said Auchinbreac, who had a wily
old tongue; ‘but you are disabled against using sword or pistol; you are
the mainstay of a great national movement, depending for its success on
your life, freedom, and continued exertion.’ Argile took to the galley
again, and Auchinbreac looked after him with a shamed and dubious eye.
Well, well, Sir Duncan has paid for his temporising; he’s in his place
appointed. I passed the knowe where he lay writhing to a terrible end,
with a pike at his vitals, and he was moaning for the chief he had
helped to a shabby flight.”

“A shabby flight!” said M’Iver, with a voice that was new to me, so
harsh was it and so high-set.

“You can pick the word for yourself,” said the minister; “if by heaven’s
grace I was out of this, in Inneraora I should have my own way of
putting it to Argile, whom I love and blame.”

“Oh you Lowland dog!” cried John Splendid, more high-keyed than ever,
“_you_ to blame Argile!” And he stepped up to the cleric, who was
standing by the chimney-jambs, glowered hellishly in his face, then with
a fury caught his throat in his fingers, and pinned him up against the


I caught M’Iver by the coat-lapels, and took him off the gasping cleric.

“Oh man!” I cried, “is this the Highland brigadier to be throttling an
old soldier of Christ?”

“Let me get at him and I’ll set him in the way of putting the last truth
of his trade to its only test,” said he, still with a face corp-white,
tugging at my hold and eyeing Master Gordon with a very uplifted and
ferocious demeanour.

I suppose he must, in the midst of his fury, have got just a glisk of
the true thing before him--not a worthy and fair opponent for a man of
his own years, but an old wearied man of peace, with a flabby neck,
and his countenance blotched, and his wig ajee upon his head so that
it showed the bald pate below, for he came to himself as it were with a
start. Then he was ashamed most bitterly. He hung his head and scraped
with an unconscious foot upon the floor. The minister recovered his
wind, looked with contempt in every line at the man who had abused him,
and sat down without a word before the fire.

“I’m sorry about this,” said M’Iver, fumbling about his waist-belt with
nervous ringers; “I’m sorry about this, Master Gordon. A Highlander
cannot be aye keeping God’s gift of a temper in leash, and yet it’s my
disgrace to have laid a hand on a gentleman of your age and calling,
even for the name of my chief. Will you credit me when I say I was blind
to my own act? Something in me rose uncontrollable, and had you been
Hector in armour, or my grandfather from the grave, I was at your neck.”

“Say no more about it,” answered Gordon. “I have seen the wolf so often
at the Highlander’s heart that I need not be wondering to find him
snarling and clawing now. And still--from a gentleman--and a person of

“Say away, sir,” said M’Iver, bitterly; “you have the whole plea with
you this time, and I’m a rogue of the blackest I can say no more than
I’m sorry for a most dirty action.”

Gordon looked at him, and seemed convinced that here was a genuine
remorse; at least his mien softened and he said quietly, “You’ll hear no
more of it from me.”

We were standing, M’Iver and I, in front of the hearth, warming to the
peat glow, and the cleric sat in an oak arm-chair. Out in the vacant
night the rain still pattered and the gale cried. And all at once, above
the sound of wind and water, there came a wild rapping at the main door
of the house, the alarum of a very crouse and angry traveller finding
a hostel barred against him at unseasonable hours. A whole childhood
of fairy tale rose to my mind in a second; but the plain truth followed
with more conviction, that likely here was no witch, warlock, nor fairy,
but some one with a better right to the tenancy of Dal-ness than seven
broken men with nor let nor tack. We were speedily together, the seven
of us, and gathered in the hall, and listening with mouths open and
hearts dunting, to the rapping that had no sign of ceasing.

“I’ll have a vizzy from an upper window of who this may be,” said John,
sticking a piece of pine in the fire till it flared at the end, and
hurrying with it thus lighted up the stair. I followed at his heels,
while the rest remained below ready to give whatever reception was most
desirable to the disturbers of our night’s repose. The window we went
to looked out on the most utter blackness, a blackness that seemed to
stream in at the window as we swung it softly back on its hinge. M’Iver
put oat his head and his torch, giving a warder’s keek at the door below
where the knocking continued. He drew in his head quickly and looked at
me with astonishment.

“It’s a woman,” said he. “I never saw a campaign where so many
petticoats of one kind or another were going. Who, in God’s name, can
this one be, and what’s her errand to Dalness at this hour? One of its
regular occupants would scarcely make such to-do about her summons.”

“The quickest answer could be got by asking her,” I said.

“And about a feint?” he said, musing. “Well, we can but test it.”

We went down and reported to our companions, and Gordon was for opening
the door on the moment “A wanderer like ourselves,” said he, “perhaps
a widow of our own making from Glencoe. In any case a woman, and out in
the storm.”

We stood round the doors while M’Iver put back the bars and opened as
much as would give entry to one person at a time. There was a loud cry,
and in came the Dark Dame, a very spectacle of sorrow! Her torn garments
clung sodden to her skin, her hair hung stringy at her neck, the
elements had chilled and drowned the frenzied gleaming of her eyes. And
there she stood in the doorway among us, poor woman, poor wretch, with a
frame shaking to her tearless sobs!

“You have no time to lose,” she said to our query, “a score of Glencoe
men are at my back. They fancy they’ll have you here in the trap
this house’s owner left you. Are you not the fools to be advantaging
yourselves of comforts you might be sure no fairy left for Campbells
in Dalness? You may have done poorly at Inverlochy--though I hear the
Lowlanders and not you were the poltroons--but blood is thicker than
water, and have we not the same hills beside our doors at home, and I
have run many miles to warn you that MacDonald is on his way.” She told
her story with sense and straightness, her frenzy subdued by the day’s
rigour. Our flight from her cries, she said, had left her a feeling
of lonely helplessness; she found, as she sped, her heart truer to the
tartan of her name than her anger had let her fancy, and so she followed
us round Loch Leven-head, and over the hills to Glencoe. At the blind
woman’s house in the morning, where she passed readily enough for a
natural, she learned that the eldest son in the bed had set about word
of our presence before we were long out of his mother’s door. The men we
had seen going down in the airt of Tynree were the lad’s gathering, and
they would have lost us but for the beetle-browed rogue, who, guessing
our route through the hills to Dalness, had run before them, and,
unhampered by arms or years, had reached the house of Dalness a little
before we came out of our journey in swamp and corry. A sharp blade,
certes! he had seen that unless something brought us to pause a while
at Dalness we would be out of the reach of his friends before they had
gained large enough numbers and made up on him. So he had planned with
the few folk in the house to leave it temptingly open in our way, with
the shrewd guess that starved and wearied men would be found sleeping
beside the fire when the MacDonalds came round the gusset. All this the
Dame Dubh heard and realised even in her half frenzy as she spent some
time in the company of the marching MacDonalds, who never dreamt that
her madness and her denunciations of Clan Diarmaid were mixed in some
degree with a natural interest in the welfare of every member of that

M’Iver scrutinised the woman sharply, to assure himself there was no
cunning effort of a mad woman to pay off the score her evil tongue of
the day before revealed she had been reckoning; but he saw only here
dementia gone to a great degree, a friend anxious for our welfare--so
anxious, indeed, that the food Master Gordon was pressing upon her made
no appeal to her famishing body.

“You come wonderfully close on my Frankfort story,” said M’Iver,
whimsically. “I only hope we may win out of Dalness as snugly as we won
out of the castle of the cousin of Pomerania.”

For a minute or two we debated on our tactics. We had no muskets, though
swords were rife enough in Dalness, so a stand and a defence by weapons
was out of the question. M’Iver struck on a more pleasing and cleanly
plan. It was to give the MacDonalds tit for tat, and decoy them into the
house as their friends had decoyed us into it, and leave them there in
durance while we went on our own ways.

We jammed down the iron pins of the shutters in the salmanger, so
that any exit or entrance by this way was made a task of the greatest
difficulty; then we lit the upper flats, to give the notion that we were
lying there. M’Iver took his place behind a door that led from the hall
to other parts of the house, and was indeed the only way there, while
the rest of us went out into the night and concealed ourselves in the
dark angle made by a turret and gable--a place where we could see,
without being seen, any person seeking entry to the house.

All the paths about the mansion were strewn with rough sand or gravel
from the river, and the rain, in slanting spears, played hiss upon them
with a sound I never hear to-day but my mind’s again in old Dalness. And
in the dark, vague with rain and mist, the upper windows shone blear and
ghostly, dull vapours from a swamp, corp-candles on the sea, more than
the eyes of a habitable dwelling warm and lit within. We stood, the
seven of us, against the gable (for the woman joined us and munched a
dry crust between the chittering of her teeth), waiting the coming of
the MacDonalds.

I got to my musing again, puzzled in this cold adventure, upon the
mystery of life. I thought it must be a dream such as a man has lying in
strange beds, for my spirit floated and cried upon that black and ugly
air, lost and seeking as the soul of a man struggling under sleep. I had
been there before, I felt, in just such piteous case among friends in
the gable of a dwelling, yet all alone, waiting for visitors I had no
welcome for. And then again ( I would think), is not all life a dream,
the sun and night of it, the seasons, the faces of friends, the flicker
of fires and the nip of wine; and am not I now stark awake for the first
time, the creature of God, alone in His world before the dusk has been
divided from the day and bird and beast have been let loose to wander
about a new universe? Or again (I would think), am I not dead and done
with? Surely I fell in some battle away in Low Germanie, or later in the
sack of Inneraora town, that was a town long, long ago, before the wave
threshed in upon Dunchuach?

The man with the want, as usual, was at his tears, whispering to himself
reproach and memory and omens of fear, but he was alert enough to be the
first to observe the approach of our enemy. Ten minutes at least before
they appeared on the sward, lit by the lights of the upper windows, he
lifted a hand, cocked an ear, and told us he heard their footsteps.

There were about a score and a half of the Mac-Donalds altogether, of
various ages, some of them old gutchers that had been better advised to
be at home snug by the fire in such a night or saying their prayers in
preparation for the looming grave, some of them young and strapping, all
well enough armed with everything but musketry, and guided to the house
by the blind woman’s son and a gentleman in a laced coat, whom we took
to be the owner of Dalness because two men of the bearing and style of
servants were in his train and very pretentious about his safety in the
course of a debate that took place a few yards from us as to whether
they should demand our surrender or attack and cut us down with-out

The gentleman sent his two lackeys round the house, and they came back
reporting (what we had been very careful of) that every door was barred.

“Then,” said the gentleman, “well try a bland knock, and if need be,
force the main door.”

He was standing now in a half dusk, clear of the light of the windows,
with a foot on the step of the door; behind him gathered the MacDonalds
with their weapons ready, and I dare say, could we have seen it, with
no very pretty look on their faces. As he spoke, he put his hand on the
hasp, and, to his surprise, the heavy door was open. We had taken good
care of that too.

The band gathered themselves together and dived into the place, and
the plaiding of the last of them had scarcely got inside the door than
Stewart ran up with the key and turned the lock, with a low whistle for
the guidance of M’Iver at the inner door. In a minute or less, John was
round in our midst again with his share of the contract done, and our
rats were squealing in their trap.

For a little there was nothing but crying and cursing, wild beating
against the door, vain attack on the windows, a fury so futile that it
was sweet to us outsiders, and we forgot the storm and the hardship.

At last M’Iver rapped on the door and demanded attention.

“Is there any one there with the English?” he asked.

The gentleman of Dalness answered that he could speak English with the
best cateran ever came out of MacCailein Mor’s country, and he called
for instant release, with a menace added that Hell itself could not
excel the punishment for us if they were kept much longer under lock and
bar. “We are but an advanced guard,” said he, with a happy thought at
lying, “and our friends will be at your back before long.”

M’Iver laughed pawkily.

“Come, come, Dalness,” said he, “do you take us for girls? You have
every man left in Glencoe at your back there; you’re as much ours as if
you were in the tolbooth of Inneraora O; and I would just be mentioning
that if I were in your place I would be speaking very soft and

“I’ll argue the thing fairly with you if you let us out,” said Dalness,
stifling his anger behind the door, but still with the full force of it
apparent in the stress of his accent.

M’Iver laughed again.

“You have a far better chance where you are,” said he. “You are very
snug and warm there; the keg of brandy’s on the left-hand side of the
fire, though I’m afraid there’s not very much left of it now that my
friend of Achnatra here has had his will of it. Tell those gentry with
you that we intend to make ourselves cosy in other parts of the house
till the morn’s morning, and that if they attempt to force a way out by
door or window before we let them, we’ll have sentinels to blow out
the little brains they have. I’m putting it to you in the English,
Dalness--and I cry pardon for making my first gossip with a Highland
gentleman in such a tongue--but I want you to put my message in as
plausible a way as suits you best to the lads and _bodachs_ with you.”

The man drew away from the neighbourhood of the door; there was a long
silence, and we concluded they were holding parley of war as to what was
next to be done. Meantime we made preparations to be moving from a
place that was neither safe nor homely. We took food from the pantries,
scourged Stewart from a press he was prying in with clawing fingers
and bulging pockets, and had just got together again at the rear of the
house when a cry at the front told us that our enemies, in some way we
never learned the manner of, had got the better of our bolted doors and

Perhaps a chance of planning our next step would have been in our
favour; perhaps on the other hand it would have been the worse for us,
because in human folly we might have determined on staying to face
the odds against us, but there was no time for balancing the chances;
whatever was to be done was to be done quickly.

“Royal’s my race!” cried Stewart, dropping a pillowslip full of goods he
carried with him--“Royal’s my race--and here’s one with great respect
for keeping up the name of it” And he leaped to a thicket on his left.
The man with the want ran weeping up to the Dark Dame and clung to
her torn gown, a very child in the stupor of his grief and fear. The
baron-bailie and Sonachan and the minister stood spellbound, and I
cursed our folly at the weakness of our trap. Only M’Iver kept his wits
about him.

“Scatter,” said he in English--“scatter without adieus, and all to the
fore by morning search back to the Brig of Urchy, comrades there till
the middle of the day, then the devil take the hindmost.”

More than a dozen MacDonalds came running round the gable end, lit
by the upper windows, and we dispersed like chaff to the wind before
M’Iver’s speech concluded. He and I ran for a time together, among the
bushes of the garden, through the curly kail, under low young firs that
clutched at the clothing. Behind us the night rang with pursuing cries,
with challenge and call, a stupid clamour that gave a clue to the
track we could follow with greatest safety. M’Iver seemingly stopped to
listen, or made up his mind to deviate to the side after a little; for I
soon found myself running alone, and two or three men--to judge by their
cries--keeping as close on me as they could by the sound of my plunging
among twig and bracken. At last, by striking to an angle down a field
that suddenly rolled down beside me, I found soft carpeting for my feet,
and put an increasing distance between us. With no relaxation to my
step, however, I kept running till I seemed a good way clear of Dalness
policies, and on a bridle-path that led up the glen--the very road, as I
learned later, that our enemy had taken on their way from Tynree. I kept
on it for a little as well as I could, but the night was so dark (and
still the rain was pouring though the wind had lowered) that by-and-by
I lost the path, and landed upon rough water-broken rocky land, bare of
tree or bush. The tumult behind me was long since stilled in distance,
the storm itself had abated, and I had traversed for less than an hour
when the rain ceased But still the night was solemn black, though my
eyes by usage had grown apt and accustomed to separate the dense black
of the boulder from the drab air around it. The country is one threaded
on every hand by eas and brook that drop down the mountain sides at
almost every yard of the way. Nothing was to hear but the sound of
running and falling waters, every brook with its own note, a tinkle
of gold on a marble stair as I came to it, declining to a murmur of
sweethearts in a bower as I put its banks behind me after wading or
leaping; or a song sung in a clear spring morning by a girl among
heather hills muffling behind me to the blackguard discourse of banditty
waiting with poignards out upon a lonely highway.

I was lost somewhere north of Glen Etive; near me I knew must be Tynrce,
for I had been walking for two hours and yet I dare not venture back on
the straight route to to-morrow’s rendezvous till something of daylight
gave me guidance At last I concluded that the way through the Black
Mount country to Bredalbane must be so dote at hand it would be
stupidity of the densest to go back by Dalness. There was so much level
land round me that I felt sure I must be rounding the Bredalbane hills,
and I chanced a plunge to the left. I had not taken twenty steps when I
ran up against the dry-stone dyke that bordered the Inns of Tynrec.


Tynree is the Gaelic of a name that in the English is King’s House. What
humour gave so gaudy a title to so humble a place I have been always
beat to know. For if the poorest of the chiefs of the poor isles had
his choice of the gallows at once or Tynree for a long habitation, I’m
thinking he would cry, “Out with your rope.” Standing all its lee lone
on the edge of the wildest moor of all the Scottish kingdom, blustered
on by the winds of Glen-coe and Glen Etive, the house, far apart from
any other (even a hunter’s bothy among the corries), must be eerie,
empty of all but its owner at most seasons of the year. He will have
nothing about him but the flying plover that is so heart-breaking in its
piping at the grey of morn, for him must the night be a dreariness no
rowth of cruisie or candle may mitigate. I can fancy him looking out day
after day upon plains of snow and cruel summits, blanching and snarling
under sodden skies, and him wishing that God so good was less careless,
and had given him a home and trade back among the cosy little glens,
if not in the romping towns. But they tell me--people who rove and have
tried Tynree in all weathers--that often it is cheerful with song and
story; and there is a tale that once upon a time a little king, out
adventuring in the kingly ways of winter stories, found this tavern in
the wilds so warm, so hospitable, so resounding with the songs of good
fellows, that he bided as a duc for a week of the winter weather.

When I came on Tynree, it was sounding with music, just, it might be,
as in the day of the king in the story. Three of the morning, yet the
hostel sent out a most hearty reek and firelight, the odours of stewing
meats and of strong waters, and the sound of piping and trumping and

I stood back a piece from the house and debated with myself whether or
not it was one where the tartan of Diarmaid would be sure of a welcome
even if his sporran jingled with gold to the very jaws. All I wanted was
shelter till the day broke and-this may seem odd to any one who has not
known the utter wearisomeness of being a hunted man jinking in the dark
among woods and alleys--the easy conversation of some human beings with
no thought bothering them but what would be for the next meal, or the
price of cattle at a town tryst And song and trump-come, I’ll tell the
G--s own truth upon that! They called me Sobersides in those days: Miver
gave me the name and kept it on me lili the very last, and yet sobriety
of spirit (in one way) was the last quality in those oh! days of no
grace to find in my nature. I liknl to sit in taverns, drinking not
deeply, but enough to keep the mood from flagging, with people of the
young heart, people fond of each other, adrift from all commercial
cunning, singing old staves and letting their fancy go free to a tunc
twanged on a Jew’s-tnimp or squeezed upon a lagulie or rigged upon a
fiddle. So the merriment of I’ynree held me like a charm, and a mad whin
last seized me, and in I went, confident that my insttn of comradery
would not deceive me, and that at last I hail the boon-companion’s

Its company never even stopped their clamour to look at me; the landlord
put a jug at my elbow, and a whang of bread and cheese, and I was
joining with an affected gusto in a chorus less than ten minutes after
I had been a hunted man on the edge of Moor Ran No ready to toss up a
bawbee to learn whither my road should be.

It was an orra and remarkable gathering, convened surely by the trickery
of a fantastic and vagabond providence,--“not a great many, but well
picked,” as Mac-gregor the Mottled said of his band of thieves. There
were men and women to the number of a score, two or three travelling
merchants (as they called themselves, but I think in my mind they were
the kind of merchants who bargain with the dead corp on the abandoned
battle-field, or follow expeditions of war to glean the spoil from
burning homesteads); there were several gangrels, an Irishman with a
silver eye, a strolling piper with poor skill of his noble instrument,
the fiddler who was a drunken native of the place, a gipsy and his wife
and some randy women who had dropped out of the march of Montrose’s
troops. Over this notable congregation presided the man of the
house--none of your fat and genial-looking gentlemen, but a long lean
personage with a lack-lustre eye. You would swear he would dampen the
joy of a penny wedding, and yet (such a deceit is the countenance) he
was a person of the finest wit and humour, otherwise I daresay Tynree
had no such wonderful party in it that night.

I sat by the fire-end and quaffed my ale, no one saying more to me for
a little than “There you are!” Well enough they knew my side in the
issue--my tartan would tell them that--but wandering bodies have no
politics beyond the conviction that the world owes them as easy a
living as they can cheat it out of, and they never mentioned war. The
landlord’s dram was on, and ‘twas it I had shared in, and when it was
over I pulled out a crown and bought the heartiest goodwill of a score
of rogues with some flagons of ale.

A beetle-browed chamber, long, narrow, stifling with the heat of a great
fire, its flagged floor at intervals would slap with bare or bauchled
feet dancing to a short reel. First one gangrel would sing a verse or
two of a Lowland ballant, not very much put out in its sentiment by the
presence of the random ladies; then another would pluck a tune upon the
Jew’s-trump, a chorus would rise like a sudden gust of wind, a jig
would shake upon the fiddle. I never saw a more happy crew, nor yet one
that--judging from the doctrine that thrift and sobriety have their just
reward--deserved it less. I thought of poor Master Gordon somewhere dead
or alive in or about Dalness, a very pupil of Christ, and yet with
a share of His sorrows, with nowhere to lay his head, but it did not
bitter me to my company.

By-and-by the landlord came cannily up to me and whispered in my ear a
sort of apology for the rabble of his house.

“You ken, sir,” said he in very good English--“you ken yourself what
the country’s like just now, given over to unending brawl, and I am
glad to see good-humoured people about me, even if they are penniless

“My own business is war,” I acknowledged; “I’ll be frank enough to tell
you I’m just now making my way to Inneraora as well as the weather and
the MacDonalds will let me.”

He was pleased at my candour, I could see; confidence is a quality that
rarely fails of its purpose. He pushed the bottle towards me with the
friendliest of gestures, and took the line of the fellow-conspirator.

“Keep your thumb on that,” said he; “I’m not supposed to precognosce
every lodger in Tynree upon his politics. I’m off Clan Chattan myself,
and not very keen on this quarrel--that’s to say, I’ll take no side
in it, for my trade is feeding folk and not fighting them. Might I be
asking if you were of the band of Campbells a corps of MacDonalds were
chasing down the way last night?”

I admitted I was.

“I have nothing to do with it,” said he; “and I’ll do a landlord’s duty
by any clan coming my way. As for my guests here, they’re so pleased to
see good order broken in the land and hamlets half-harried that
they’ll favour any man whose trade is the sword, especially if he’s
a gentleman,” he added. “I’m one myself, though I keep a sort of poor
hostel here. I’m a young son.”

We were joined by the gipsy, a bold tall man with very black and lambent
eyes, hiccoughing with drink but not by any means drunken, who took out
a wallet and insisted on my joining now in his drink. I dare not refuse
the courtesy.

“Would you like your fortune spaed, sir?” asked my black friend,
twitching his thumb in the direction of his wife, who was leering on me
with a friendliness begot of the bottle. The place was full of deafening
noises and peat-smoke. Fiddle jigged and pipes snored in the deep notes
of debauchery, and the little Jew’s-trump twanged between the teeth of a
dirty-faced man in a saffron shirt and hodden breeks, wanting jacket and
hose--a wizen little old man, going around the world living like a poet
in realms whereto trump and tipple could readily bring him.

“Spae my fortune!” said I, laughing; “such swatches of the same as I
had in the past were of no nature to make me eager to see what was to

“Still and on,” said he, “who knows but you may find a wife and a good
fortune in a little lurk of the thumb? Jean! Jean! woman,” he
cried across the chamber to his callet, and over she came to a very
indifferent and dubious client.

I had got my hand read a score of times ere this (for I am of a nature
curious and prying), and each time the reading was different, but it did
not altogether shake my faith in wise women; so, half for the fun of it,
I put some silver pieces in the loof of my hand and held it before the
woman, the transaction unnoticed by the company. She gave the common
harangue to start with. At last, “There’s a girl with a child,” said

“Faith, and she never went to the well with the dish-clout then,” said
the black man, using a well-known Gaelic proverb, meaning a compliment
in his dirty assumption.

“She’s in a place of many houses now,” went on the woman, busy upon the
lines of my hand, “and her mind is taken up with a man in the ranks of

“That’s not reading the hand at all, goodwife,” said I; “those small
facts of life are never written in a line across the loof.”

“Jean is no apprentice at the trade,” said her man across her shoulder.
“She can find a life’s history in the space of a hair.”

“The man found the woman and the child under a root of fir,” said the
woman, “and if the man is not very quick to follow her, he may find
kinship’s courting get the better of a far-off lover’s fancy.”

“_Dhè!_” said I; “you have your story most pat. And what now, would
you say, would be the end of it all--coming to the real business of the
palmist, which, I take it, is not to give past history but to forecast

I’ll not deny but I was startled by the woman’s tale, for here was Betty
and here was MacLachlan put before me as plainly as they were in my own
mind day and night since we left Inneraora.

The woman more closely scrutinised my hand, paused a while, and seemed
surprised herself at its story.

“After all,” said she, “the woman is not going to marry the man she

I plucked my hand away with a “Pshaw! what does it matter? If I doubled
your fee you would give me the very best fortune in your wit to devise.”

The Irishman with the silver eye here jostled a merchantman, who drew
his gully-knife, so that soon there was a fierce quarrel that it took
all the landlord’s threats and vigour of arm to put an end ta By this
time I was becoming tired of my company; now that the spae-wife had
planted the seed of distress in my mind, those people were tawdry,
unclean, wretched. They were all in rags, foul and smelling; their
music was but noise demented. I wondered at myself there in so vicious
a company. And Betty--home--love--peace--how all the tribe of them
suddenly took up every corner of my mind. Oh! fool, fool, I called
myself, to be thinking your half-hearted wooing of the woman had left
any fondness behind it. From the beginning you were second in the field,
and off the field now--a soldier of a disgraced army, has the cousin not
all the chances in the world? Hell be the true friend in trouble, hell
console her loneliness in a sacked burgh town; a woman’s affection is so
often her reward for simple kindness that he has got her long ago at no
greater cost than keeping her company in her lonely hours. And you are
but the dreamer, standing off trembling and flushing like a boy when you
should be boldly on her cheek, because you dare not think yourself her
equal The father’s was the true word: “There’s one thing a woman will
not abide, that her lover should think lightly either of himself or

All that black stream of sorry thought went rushing through me as I
sat with an empty jug in my hand in a room that was sounding like a
market-place. With a start I wakened up to find the landlord making a
buffoon’s attempt at a dance in the middle of the floor to the tune of
the Jew-trump, a transparent trick to restore the good-humour of his
roysterers, and the black man who had fetched the spae-wife was standing
at my side surveying me closely out of the corners of his eyes. I stood
to my feet and ganted with great deliberation to pretend I had been
half-sleeping. He yawned too, but with such obvious pretence that I
could not but laugh at him, and he smiled knowingly back.

“Well,” said he in English, “you’ll allow it’s a fair imitation, for I
never heard that a put-on gant was smittal. I see that you are put about
at my wife’s fortune: she’s a miracle at the business, as I said; she
has some secrets of fate I would rather with her than me. But I would
swear a man may sometime get the better even of fate if he has a warning
of its approach.”

“I can scarcely see that by the logic of Porphyrius or Peter Hispanus
with the categories, two scholars I studied at Glascow. But you
are surely a queer man to be a vagabond at the petticoat-tails of a
spae-wife,” said I.

“I’ve had my chance of common life, city and town, and the company of
ladies with broidery and camisole and washen faces,” he answered with no
hesitation, “and give me the highroad and freedom and the very brute of
simplicity. I’m not of these parts. I’m not of the Highlands at all, as
you may guess, though I’ve been in them and through them for many a day.
I see you’re still vexed about my woman’s reading of your palm. It seems
to have fitted in with some of your experience.”

I confessed her knowledge of my private affairs surprised me, and his
black eyes twinkled with humour.

“I’ll explain the puzzle for just as much money as you gave her,” said
he, “and leave you more satisfied at the end than she did. And there’s
no black art at the bottom of my skill either.”

“Very well,” said I; “here’s your drink-money; now tell me the trick of
it, for trick I suppose it is.”

He pocketed the money after a vagabond’s spit on the coin for luck, and
in twenty words exposed his by-love’s device. They had just come from
Inneraora two or three days before, and the tale of the Provost’s
daughter in Strongara had been the talk of the town.

“But how did your wife guess the interest of the lady in a man of
Argile’s army?” I asked.

“Because she spaed the lady’s fortune too,” he answered, “and she had to
find out in the neighbourhood what it was like to be before she did so;
you know that is half the art of the thing.”

“Yet your woman’s guess that I was the man--that’s beyond me!”

“I was struck myself when she out with that,” he confessed. “Oh, she’s a
deep one, Jean! But your manner and tongue betrayed the returned soldier
of fortune; of such officers in the ranks of Argile there are not so
many that it was risking too much to believe all of them knew the story
of the Provost’s daughter, and your conduct, once she got that length,
did the rest.”

“And about kinship’s courting?” I asked, amazed at the simplicity of the

The man dashed his fee on the board and ordered more liquor.

“Drink up,” said he, “and drown care if you’re the man my good-wife
thought you, for faith there’s a little fellow from over the loch making
himself very snug in the lady’s company in your absence.”

There was no more drinking for me; the fumes of this wretched company
stank in my nostril, and I must be off to be alone with melancholy. Up
I got and walked to the door with not fair-good-e’en nor fair-good-day,
and I walked through the beginnings of a drab disheartening dawn in the
direction that I guessed would lead me soonest to Bredalbane. I walked
with a mind painfully downcast, and it was not till I reached a little
hillock a good distance from the Inns at Tynree, a hillock clothed with
saugh saplings and conspicuously high over the flat countryside, that I
looked about me to see where I was.


I stood on the hillock clothed with its stunted saughtrees and waited
for the day that was mustering somewhere to the cast, far by the frozen
sea of moss and heather tuft. A sea more lonely than any ocean the most
wide and distant, where no ship heaves, and no isle lifts beckoning
trees above the level of the waves; a sea soundless, with no life below
its lamentable surface, no little fish or proud leviathan plunging and
romping and flashing from the silver roof of fretted wave dishevelled
to the deep profound. The moorfowl does not cry there, the coney has no
habitation. It rolled, that sea so sour, so curdled, from my feet away
to mounts I knew by day stupendous and not so far, but now in the dark
so hid that they were but troubled clouds upon the distant marge. There
was a day surely when, lashing up on those hills around, were waters
blue and stinging, and some plague-breath blew on them and they shivered
and dried and cracked into this parched semblance of what they were
in the old days when the galleys sailed over. No galleys now. No white
birds calling eagerly in the storm. No stiver bead of spray. Only in its
season the cannoch tuft, and that itself but sparsely; the very bluebell
shuns a track so desolate, the sturdy gall itself finds no nourishment

The grey day crept above the land; I watched it from my hillock, and
I shrunk in my clothing that seemed so poor a shielding in a land so
chill. A cold clammy dawn, that never cleared even as it aged, but held
a hint of mist to come that should have warned me of the danger I faced
in venturing on the untravelled surface of the moor, even upon its safer
verge. But it seemed so simple a thing to keep low to the left and down
on Glenurchy that I thought little of the risk, if I reflected upon it
at all.

Some of the stupidity of my venturing out on the surface of Rannoch that
day must have been due to my bodily state. I was not all there, as
the saying goes. I was suffering mind and body from the strain of my
adventures, and most of all from the stormy thrashings of the few days
before--the long journey, the want of reasonable sleep and food. There
had come over all my spirit a kind of dwam, so that at times my head
seemed as if it were stuffed with wool; what mattered was of no account,
even if it were a tinker’s death in the sheuch. No words will describe
the feeling except to such as themselves have known it; it is the
condition of the man dead with care and weariness so far as the body is
concerned, and his spirit, sorry to part company, goes lugging his flesh
about the highways.

I was well out on Rannoch before the day was full awake on the country,
walking at great trouble upon the coarse barren soil, among rotten
bog-grass, lichened stones, and fir-roots that thrust from the black
peatlike skeletons of antiquity. And then I came on a cluster of
lochs--grey, cold, vagrant lochs--still to some degree in the thrall of
frost Here’s one who has ever a fancy for such lochans, that are lost
and sobbing, sobbing, even-on among the hills, where the reeds and the
rushes hiss in the wind, and the fowls with sheeny feather make night
and day cheery with their call But not those lochs of Rannoch, those
black basins crumbling at the edge of a rotten soil. I skirted them as
far off as I could, as though they were the lochans of a nightmare that
drag the traveller to their kelpie tenants’ arms. There were no birds
among those rushes; I think the very deer that roamed in the streets of
Inneraora in the Novembers blast would have run far clear of so stricken
a territory. It must be horrible in snow, it must be lamentable in the
hottest days of summer, when the sun rides over the land, for what does
the most kindly season bring to this forsaken place except a scorching
for the fugitive wild-flower, if such there be?

These were not my thoughts as I walked on my way; they are what lie
in my mind of the feelings the Moor of Rannoch will rouse in every
stranger. What was in my mind most when I was not altogether in the
swound of wearied flesh was the spae-wife’s story of the girl in
Inneraora, and a jealousy so strong that I wondered where, in all my
exhausted frame, the passion for it came from. I forgot my friends left
in Dalness, I forgot that my compact and prudence itself called for my
hurrying the quickest way I could to the Brig of Urchy; I walked in an
indifference until I saw a wan haze spread fast over the country in
the direction of the lower hills that edged the desert I looked with a
careless eye on it at first, not reflecting what it might mean or how
much it might lead to. It spread with exceeding quickness, a grey silver
smoke rolling out on every hand, as if puffed continually from some glen
in the hills. I looked behind me, and saw that the same was happening
all around. Unless I made speed out of this sorrowful place I was caught
in the mist Then I came to the full understanding that trouble was
to face. I tightened the thongs of my shoes, pinched up a hole in my
waist-belt, scrugged my bonnet, and set out at a deer-stalker’s run
across the moor. I splashed in hags and stumbled among roots; I made
wild leaps across poisonous-looking holes stewing to the brim with
coloured water; I made long detours to find the most fordable part of a
stream that twisted back and forth, a very devil’s cantrip, upon my
way. Then a smirr of rain came at my back and chilled me to the marrow,
though the sweat of travail a moment before had been on every part of
me, and even dripping in beads from my chin. At length I lifted my eyes
from the ground that I had to scan most carefully in my running, and
behold! I was swathed in a dense mist that cut off every view of the
world within ten yards of where I stood. This cruel experience dashed
me more than any other misadventure in all my wanderings, for it cut
me off, without any hope of speedy betterment, from the others of our
broken band. They might be all at Urchy Bridge by now, on the very
selvedge of freedom, but I was couped by the heels more disastrously
than ever. Down I sat on a tuft of moss, and I felt cast upon the dust
by a most cruel providence.

How long I sat there I cannot tell; it may have been a full hour or
more, it may have been but a pause of some minutes, for I was in a
stupor of bitter disappointment And when I rose again I was the sport of
chance, for whether my way lay before me or lay behind me, or to left
or right, was altogether beyond my decision. It was well on in the day:
high above this stagnant plain among tall bens there must be shining
a friendly and constant sun; but Elrigmore, gentleman and sometime
cavalier of Mackay’s Scots, was in the very gullet of night for all he
could see around him. It was folly, I knew; but on somewhere I must be
going, so I took to where my nose led, picking my way with new caution
among the bogs and boulders. The neighbourhood of the lochs was a sort
of guidance in some degree, for their immediate presence gave to a
nostril sharpened by life in the wild a moist and peaty odour fresh from
the corroding banks. I sought them and I found them, and finding them I
found a danger even greater than my loss in that desolate plain. For in
the grey smoke of mist those treacherous pools crept noiselessly to
my feet, and once I had almost walked blindly into an ice-clear turgid
little lake. My foot sank in the mire of it almost up to the knees ere
I jumped to the nature of my neighbourhood, and with an effort little
short of miraculous in the state of my body, threw myself back on the
safe bank, clear of the death-trap.

And again I sat on a hillock and surrendered to the most doleful
meditations. Noon came and went, the rain passed and came again, and
passed once more, and still I was guessing my way about the lochs,
making no headway from their neighbourhood, and, to tell the truth, a
little glad of the same, for they were all I knew of the landscape
in Moor Rannoch, and something of friendship was in their treacherous
presence, and to know they were still beside me, though it said little
for my progress to Glenurchy, was an assurance that I was not making my
position worse by going in the wrong airt.

All about me, when the rain was gone for the last time, there was a cry
of waters, the voices of the burns running into the lochans, tinkling,
tinkling, tinkling merrily, and all out of key with a poor wretch
in draggled tartans, fleeing he knew not whither, but going about in
shortened circles like a hedgehog in the sea.

The mist made no sign of lifting all this time, but shrouded the country
as if it were come to stay for ever, and I was doomed to remain till the
end, guessing my way to death in a silver-grey reek. I strained my ears,
and far off to the right I heard the sound of cattle bellowing, the
snorting low of a stirk upon the hillside when he wonders at the lost
pastures of his calfhood in the merry summer before. So out I set in
that direction, and more bellowing arose, and by-and-by, out of the mist
but still far off, came a long low wail that baffled me. It was like
no sound nature ever conferred on the Highlands, to my mind, unless
the rare call of the Benderloch wolf in rigorous weather. I stopped and
listened, with my inner head cracking to the strain, and as I was thus
standing in wonder, a great form leaped out at me from the mist, and
almost ran over me ere it lessened to the semblance of a man, and I had
John M’Iver of Barbreck, a heated and hurried gentleman of arms, in my

He drew up with a shock, put his hand to his vest, and I could see him
cross himself under the jacket.

“Not a bit of it,” I cried; “no wraith nor warlock this time, friend,
but flesh and blood. Yet I’m bound to say I have never been nearer
ghostdom than now; a day of this moor would mean death to me.”

He shook me hurriedly and warmly by the hand, and stared in my face, and
stammered, and put an arm about my waist as if I were a girl, and turned
me about and led me to a little tree that lifted its barren branches
above the moor. He was in such a confusion and hurry that I knew
something troubled him, so I left him to choose his own time for
explanation. When we got to the tree, he showed me his black knife--a
very long and deadly weapon--laid along his wrist, and “Out dirk,” said
he; “there’s a dog or two of Italy on my track here.” His mind, by the
stress of his words, was like a hurricane.

Now I knew something of the Black Dogs of Italy, as they were called,
the abominable hounds that were kept by the Camerons and others mainly
for the hunting down of the Gregarich.

“Were they close on you?” I asked, as we prepared to meet them.

“Do you not hear them bay?” said he. “There were three on my track: I
struck one through the throat with my knife and ran, for two Italian
hounds to one knife is a poor bargain. Between us we should get rid of
them before the owners they lag for come up on their tails.”

“You should thank God who got you out of a trouble so deep,” I said,
astounded at the miracle of his escape so far.

“Oh ay,” said he; “and indeed I was pretty clever myself, or it was all
bye with me when one of the black fellows set his fangs in my hose. Here
are his partners; short work with it, on the neck or low at the belly
with an up cut, and ward your throat.”

The two dogs ran with ferocious growls at us as we stood by the little
tree, their faces gaping and their quarters streaked with foam. Strong
cruel brutes, they did not swither a moment, but both leaped at M’Iver’s
throat. With one swift slash of the knife, my companion almost cut the
head off the body of the first, and I reckoned with the second. They
rolled at our feet, and a silence fell on the country. Up M’Iver put
his shoulders, dighted his blade on a tuft of bog-grass, and whistled a
stave of the tune they call “The Desperate Battle.”

“If I had not my lucky penny with me I would wonder at this meeting,”
 said he at last, eyeing me with a look of real content that he should
so soon have fallen into my company at a time when a meeting was
so unlikely. “It has failed me once or twice on occasions far less
important; but that was perhaps because of my own fumbling, and I
forgive it all because it brought two brave lads together like barks of
one port on the ocean. ‘Up or down?’ I tossed when it came to putting
fast heels below me, and ‘up’ won it, and here’s the one man in all
broad Albainn I would be seeking for, drops out of the mist at the very
feet of me. Oh, I’m the most wonderful fellow ever stepped heather, and
I could be making a song on myself there and then if occasion allowed.
Some people have genius, and that, I’m telling you, is well enough so
far as it goes; but I have luck too, and I’m not so sure but luck is a
hantle sight better than genius. I’m guessing you have lost your way in
the mist now?”

He looked quizzingly at me, and I was almost ashamed to admit that I had
been in a maze for the greater part of the morning.

“And no skill for getting out of it?” he asked.

“No more than you had in getting into it,” I confessed.

“My good scholar,” said he, “I could walk you out into a drove-road in
the time you would be picking the bog from your feet I’m not making
any brag of an art that’s so common among old hunters as the snaring of
conies; but give me a bush or a tree here and there in a flat land like
this, and an herb here and there at my feet, and while winds from the
north blow snell, I’ll pick my way by them. It’s my notion that they
learn one many things at colleges that are no great value in the real
trials of life. You, I make no doubt, would be kenning the name of an
herb in the Latin, and I have but the Gaelic for it, and that’s good
enough for me; but I ken the use of it as a traveller’s friend whenever
rains are smirring and mists are blowing.”

“I daresay there’s much in what you state,” I confessed, honestly
enough; “I wish I could change some of my schooling for the art of
winning off Moor Rannoch.”

He changed his humour in a flash. “Man,” said he, “I’m maybe giving
myself overmuch credit at the craft; it’s so seldom I put it to the
trial that if we get clear of the Moor before night it’ll be as much to
your credit as to mine.”

As it happened, his vanity about his gift got but a brief gratification,
for he had not led me by his signs more than a mile on the way to the
south when we came again to a cluster of lochans, and among them a large
fellow called Loch Ba, where the mist was lifting quickly. Through the
cleared air we travelled at a good speed, off the Moor, among Bredalbane
braes, and fast though we went it was a weary march, but at last we
reached Loch Tulla, and from there to the Bridge of Urchy was no more
than a meridian daunder.

The very air seemed to change to a kinder feeling in this, the frontier
of the home-land. A scent of wet birk was in the wind. The river,
hurrying through grassy levels, glucked and clattered and plopped most
gaily, and bubble chased bubble as if all were in a haste to reach
Lochow of the bosky isles and holy. Oh! but it was heartsome, and as we
rested ourselves a little on the banks we were full of content to know
we were now in a friendly country, and it was a fair pleasure to think
that the dead leaves and broken branches we threw in the stream would be
dancing in all likelihood round the isle of Innishael by nightfall.

We ate our chack with exceeding content, and waited for a time on the
chance that some of our severed company from Dalness would appear,
though M’Iyer’s instruction as to the rendezvous had been given on the
prospect that they would reach the Brig earlier in the day. But after an
hour or two of waiting there was no sign of them, and there was nothing
for us but to assume that they had reached the Brig by noon as agreed
on and passed on their way down the glen. A signal held together by two
stones on the glen-side of the Brig indeed confirmed this notion almost
as soon as we formed it, and we were annoyed that we had not observed it
sooner. Three sprigs of gall, a leaf of ivy from the bridge arch where
it grew in dark green sprays of glossy sheen, and a bare twig of oak
standing up at a slant, were held down on the parapet by a peeled willow
withy, one end of which pointed in the direction of the glen.

It was M’Iver who came on the symbols first, and “We’re a day behind the
fair,” said he. “Our friends are all safe and on their way before us;
look at that.”

I confessed I was no hand at puzzles.

“Man,” he said, “there’s a whole history in it! Three sprigs of gall
mean three Campbells, do they not? and that’s the baron-bailie and
Sonachan, and this one with the leaves off the half-side is the fellow
with the want And oak is Stewart--a very cunning clan to be fighting or
foraying or travelling with, for this signal is Stewart’s work or I’m
a fool: the others had not the gumption for it. And what’s the ivy but
Clan Gordon, and the peeled withy but hurry, and--surely that will be
doing for the reading of a very simple tale. Let us be taking our ways.
I have a great admiration for Stewart that he managed to do so well with
this thing, but I could have bettered that sign, if it were mine, by a
chapter or two more.”

“It contains a wonderful deal of matter for the look of it,” I

“And yet,” said he, “it leaves out two points I consider of the greatest
importance. Where’s the Dark Dame, and when did our friends pass this
way? A few chucky-stones would have left the hour plain to our view, and
there’s no word of the old lady.”

I thought for a second, then, “I can read a bit further myself,” said
I; “for there’s no hint here of the Dark Dame because she was not here.
They left the _suaicheantas_ just of as many as escaped from----”

“And so they did! Where are my wits to miss a tale so plain?” said he.
“She’ll be in Dalness yet, perhaps better off than scouring the wilds,
for after all even the MacDonalds are human, and a half-wit widow woman
would be sure of their clemency. It was very clever of you to think of
that now.”

I looked again at the oak-stem, still sticking up at the slant “It
might as well have lain flat under the peeled wand like the others,” I
thought, and then the reason for its position flashed on me. It was with
just a touch of vanity I said to my friend, “A little coueging may be
of some use at woodcraft too, if it sharpens Elrigmore’s wits enough to
read the signs that Barbreck’s eagle eye can find nothing in. I could
tell the very hour our friends left here.”

“Not on their own marks,” he replied sharply, casting his eyes very
quickly again on twig and leaf.

“On nothing else,” said I.

He looked again, flushed with vexation, and cried himself beat to make
more of it than he had done.

“What’s the oak branch put so for, with its point to the sky if------?”

“I have you now!” he cried; “it’s to show the situation of the sun when
they left the rendezvous. Three o’clock, and no mist with them; good
lad, good lad! Well, we must be going. And now that we’re on the safe
side of Argile there’s only one thing vexing me, that we might have
been here and all together half a day ago if yon whelp of a whey-faced
MacDonald in the bed had been less of the fox.”

“Indeed and he might have been,” said I, as we pursued our way. “A
common feeling of gratitude for the silver----”

“Gratitude!” cried John, “say no more; you have fathomed the cause of
his bitterness at the first trial. If I had been a boy in a bed myself,
and some reckless soldiery of a foreign clan, out of a Sassenach notion
of decency, insulted my mother and my home with a covert gift of coin to
pay for a night’s lodging, I would throw it in their faces and follow it
up with stones.”

Refreshed by our rest and heartened by our meal, we took to the
drove-road almost with lightness, and walked through the evening till
the moon, the same that gleamed on Loch Linnhe and Lochiel, and lighted
Argile to the doom of his reputation for the time being, swept a path
of gold upon Lochow, still hampered with broken ice. The air was still,
there was no snow, and at Corryghoil, the first house of any dignity
we came to, we went up and stayed with the tenant till the morning. And
there we learned that the minister and the three Campbells and Stewart,
the last with a bullet in his shoulder, had passed through early in the
afternoon on their way to Cladich.


We got a cold welcome from the women of our own clan and country. They
had been very warm and flattering as we passed north--the best they had
was not good enough for us; now they eyed us askance as we went among
them in the morning. Glenurchy at its foot was wailing with one loud
unceasing coronach made up of many lamentations, for no poor croft, no
keep, no steading in all the countryside almost, but had lost its man at
Inverlochy. It was terrible to hear those sounds and see those sights
of frantic women setting every thought of life aside to give themselves
wholly to their epitaphs for the men who would come no more.

For ordinary our women keen but when they are up in years and without
the flowers of the cheek that the salt tear renders ugly; women who have
had good practice with grief, who are so far off from the fore-world
of childhood where heaven is about the dubs of the door that they find
something of a dismal pleasure in making wails for a penny or two or a
cogie of soldier’s brose. They would as soon be weeping as singing; have
you not seen them hurrying to the hut to coronach upon a corpse,
with the eager step of girls going to the last dance of the harvest?
Beldames, witches, I hate your dirges, that are but an old custom of
lamentation! But Glenurchy and Lochow to-day depended for their sorrow
upon no hired mourners, upon no aged play-actors at the passion of
grief; cherry-cheeked maidens wept as copiously as their grand-dames,
and so this universal coronach that rose and fell on the wind round by
Stronmealchan and Inish-trynich, and even out upon the little isles that
snuggle in the shadow of Cruachan Ben, had many an unaccustomed note;
many a cry of anguish from the deepest well of sorrow came to the ear.
To walk by a lake and hear griefs chant upon neighbouring isles is
the chief of the Hundred Dolours. Of itself it was enough to make us
melancholy and bitter, but it was worse to see in the faces of old women
and men who passed us surly on the road, the grudge that we had been
spared, we gentlemen in the relics of fine garments, while their own
lads had been taken. It was half envy that we, and not their own,
still lived, and half anger that we had been useless in preventing
the slaughter of their kinsmen. As we walked in their averted or surly
looks, we had no heart to resent them, for was it not human nature? Even
when a very old crooked man with a beard like the foam of the linn, and
eyes worn deep in their black sockets by constant staring upon care, and
through the black mystery of life, stood at his door among his wailing
daughters, and added to his rhyming a scurrilous verse whereof we were
the subjects, we did no more than hurry our pace.

By the irony of nature it was a day bright and sunny; the _londubh_
parted his beak of gold and warbled flutey from the grove, indifferent
to all this sorrow of the human world. Only in far-up gashes of the
hills was there any remnant of the snow we had seen cover the country
like a cloak but a few days before. The crows moved briskly about in the
trees of Cladich, and in roupy voices said it might be February of the
full dykes but surely winter was over and gone. Lucky birds! they were
sure enough of their meals among the soft soil that now followed the
frost in the fields and gardens; but the cotters, when their new grief
was weary, would find it hard to secure a dinner in all the country once
so well provided with herds and hunters, now reft of both.

I was sick of this most doleful expedition; M’Iver was no less, but he
mingled his pity for the wretches about us with a shrewd care for the
first chance of helping some of them. It came to him unexpectedly in a
dark corner of the way through Cladich wood, where a yeld hind lay with
a broken leg at the foot of a creag or rock upon which it must have
stumbled. Up he hurried, and despatched and gralloched it with his
_sgian dubh_ in a twinkling, and then he ran back to a cot where women
and children half craved us as we passed, and took some of them up to
this lucky find and divided the spoil It was a thin beast, a prey no
doubt to the inclement weather, with ivy and acorn, its last meal, still
in its paunch.

It was not, however, till we had got down Glenaora as far as Carnus that
we found either kindness or conversation. In that pleasant huddle of
small cothouses, the Macarthurs, aye a dour and buoyant race, were
making up their homes again as fast as they could, inspired by the old
philosophy that if an inscrutable God should level a poor man’s dwelling
with the dust of the valley, he should even take the stroke with
calmness and start to the building again. So the Macarthurs, some
of them back from their flight before Antrim and Athole, were throng
bearing stone from the river and turf from the brae, and setting up
those homes of the poor, that have this advantage over the homes of the
wealthy, that they are so easily replaced. In this same Carnus, in later
years, I have made a meal that showed curiously the resource of its
people. Hunting one day, I went to a little cothouse there and asked for
something to eat A field of unreaped barley stood ripe and dry before
the door. Out the housewife went and cut some straws of it, while her
daughter shook cream in a bottle, chanting a churn-charm the while. The
straw was burned to dry the grain, the breeze win’d it, the quern ground
it, the fire cooked the bannocks of it Then a cow was milked, a couple
of eggs were found in the loft, and I sat down in a marvellously short
space of time to bread and butter, milk, eggs, and a little drop of
spirits that was the only ready-made provand in the house. And though
now they were divided between the making of coronachs and the building
of their homes, they had still the art to pick a dinner, as it were, off
the lichened stone.

There was one they called Niall Mor a Chamais (Big Neil of Karnes), who
in his day won the applause of courts by slaying the Italian bully who
bragged Scotland for power of thew, and I liked Niall Mor’s word to us
as we proceeded on our way to Inneraora.

“Don’t think,” said he, “that MacCailein’s beat yet, or that the boar’s
tusks are reaped from his jaw. I am of an older clan than Campbell, and
closer on Diarmaid than Argile himself; but we are all under the one
banner now, and I’ll tell you two gentlemen something. They may tear
Castle Inneraora out at the roots, stable their horses in the yard of
Kilmalieu, and tread real Argile in the clay, but well be even with them
yet. I have an arm here” (and he held up a bloody-looking limb, hashed
at Inverlochy); “I’ll build my home when this is mended, and i’ll
challenge MacDonald till my mouth is gagged with the clod.”

“And they tell me your son is dead yonder,” I said, pitying the old man
who had now no wife nor child.

“So they tell me,” said he; “that’s the will of God, and better a fast
death on the field than a decline on the feather-bed. I’ll be weeping
for my boy when I have bigged my house again and paid a call to some of
his enemies.”

Niall Mot’s philosophy was very much that of all the people of the glen,
such of them as were left. They busily built their homes and pondered,
as they wrought, on the score to pay.

“That’s just like me,” M’Iver would say after speeches like that of
Niall Mor. He was ever one who found of a sudden all another person’s
traits in his own bosom when their existence was first manifested to
him. “That’s just like me myself; we are a beaten clan (in a fashion),
but we have our chief and many a thousand swords to the fore yet I
declare to you I am quite cheery thinking we will be coming back
again to those glens and mounts we have found so cruel because of our
loneliness, and giving the MacDonalds and the rest of the duddy crew the
sword in a double dose.”

“Ay, John,” said I, “it’s easy for you to be light-hearted in the
matter. You may readily build your bachelor’s house at Barbreck, and I
may set up again the barn at Elrigmore; but where husband or son is gone
it’s a different story. For love is a passion stronger than hate. Are
you not wondering that those good folk on either hand of us should
not be so stricken that they would be sitting in ashes, weeping like

“We are a different stuff from the lady you mention,” he said; “I am
aye thinking the Almighty put us into this land of rocks and holds, and
scalloped coast, cold, hunger, and the chase, just to keep ourselves
warm by quarrelling with each other. If we had not the recreation now
and then of a bit splore with the sword, we should be lazily rotting to
decay. The world’s well divided after all, and the happiness as well as
the dule of it. It is because I have never had the pleasure of wife nor
child I am a little better off to-day than the weeping folks about me,
and they manage to make up their share of content with reflections upon
the sweetness of revenge. There was never a man so poor and miserable in
this world yet but he had his share of it, even if he had to seek it in
the bottle. Amn’t I rather clever to think of it now? Have you heard of
the idea in your classes?”

“It is a notion very antique,” I confessed, to his annoyance; “but it
is always to your credit to have thought it out for yourself. It is
a notion discredited here and there by people of judgment, but a very
comfortable delusion (if it is one) for such as are well off, and would
salve their consciences against the miseries of the poor and distressed.
And perhaps, after all, you and the wise man of old are right; the
lowest state--even the swineherd’s--may have as many compensations as
that of his master the Earl. It is only sin, as my father would say,
that keeps the soul in a welter------”

“Does it indeed?” said John, lightly; “the merriest men ever I met were
rogues. I’ve had some vices myself in foreign countries, though I aye
had the grace never to mention them, and I ken I ought to be stewing
with remorse for them, but am I?”

“Are you?” I asked.

“If you put it so straight, I’ll say No--save at my best, and my best
is my rarest But come, come, we are not going into Inneraora on a
debate-parade; let us change the subject Do you know I’m like a boy with
a sweet-cake in this entrance to our native place. I would like not to
gulp down the experience all at once like a glutton, but to nibble round
the edges of it We’ll take the highway by the shoulder of Creag Dubh,
and let the loch slip into our view.”

I readily enough fell in with a plan that took us a bit off our way, for
I was in a glow of eagerness and apprehension. My passion to come home
was as great as on the night I rode up from Skipness after my seven
years of war, even greater perhaps, for I was returning to a home now
full of more problems than then. The restitution of my father’s house
was to be set about, six months of hard stint were perhaps to be faced
by my people, and, above all, I had to find out how it stood between a
certain lady and me.

Coming this way from Lochow, the traveller will get his first sight of
the waters of Loch Finne by standing on a stone that lies upon a little
knowe above his lordship’s stables. It is a spot, they say, Argile
himself had a keen relish for, and after a day of chasing the deer among
the hills and woods, sometimes would he come and stand there and look
with satisfaction on his country. For he could see the fat, rich fields
of his policies there, and the tumultuous sea that swarms with fish,
and to his left he could witness Glenaora and all the piled-up numerous
mountains that are full of story if not of crop. To this little knowe
M’Iver and I made our way. I would have rushed on it with a boy’s
impetuousness, but he stopped me with a hand on the sleeve.

“Canny, canny,” said he, “let us get the very best of it There’s a cloud
on the sun that’ll make Finne as cold, flat, and dead as lead; wait till
it passes.”

We waited but a second or two, and then the sun shot out above us, and
we stepped on the hillock and we looked, with our bonnets in our hands.

Loch Finne stretched out before us, a spread of twinkling silver waves
that searched into the curves of a myriad bays; it was dotted with
skiffs. And the yellow light of the early year gilded the remotest hills
of Ardno and Ben Ime, and the Old Man Mountain lifted his ancient rimy
chin, still merrily defiant, to the sky. The parks had a greener hue
than any we had seen to the north; the town revealed but its higher
chimneys and the gable of the kirk, still its smoke told of occupation;
the castle frowned as of old, and over all rose Dunchuach.

“O Dunchuach! Dunchuach!” cried M’Iver, in an ecstasy, spreading out
his arms, and I thought of the old war-worn Greeks who came with weary
marches to their native seas.

“Dunchuach! Dunchuach!” he said; “far have I wandered, and many a town
I’ve seen, and many a prospect that was fine, and I have made songs
to maids and mountains, and foreign castles too, but never a verse to
Dunchuach. I do not know the words, but at my heart is lilting the very
tune, and the spirit of it is here at my breast.”

Then the apple rose in his throat, and he turned him round about that I
might not guess the tear was at his eye.

“Tuts,” said I, broken, “‘tis at my own; I feel like a girl.”

“Just a tickling at the pap o’ the hass,” he said in English; and then
we both laughed.

It was the afternoon when we got into the town. The street was in the
great confusion of a fair-day, crowded with burgesses and landward
tenants, men and women from all parts of the countryside still on
their way back from flight, or gathered for news of Inverlochy from
the survivors, of whom we were the last to arrive. Tradesmen from the
Lowlands were busy fitting shops and houses with doors and windows, or
filling up the gaps made by fire in the long lands, for MacCailein’s
first thought on his return from Edinburgh had been the comfort of the
common people. Seamen clamoured at the quay, loud-spoken mariners from
the ports of Clyde and Leven and their busses tugged at anchor in the
upper bay or sat shoulder to shoulder in a friendly congregation under
the breast-wall, laden to the beams with merchandise and provender
for this hungry country. If Inneraora had been keening for the lost of
Inverlochy, it had got over it; at least we found no public lamentation
such as made our traverse on Lochow-side so dreary. Rather was there
something eager and rapt about the comportment of the people. They
talked little of what was over and bye with, except to curse our Lowland
troops, whose unacquaintance with native war had lost us Inverlochy.
The women went about their business, red-eyed, wan, silent, for the most
part; the men mortgaged the future, and drowned care in debauchery in
the alehouses. A town all out of its ordinary, tapsilteerie. Walking in
it, I was beat to imagine clearly what it had been like in its placid
day of peace. I could never think of it as ever again to be free from
this most tawdry aspect of war, a community in good order, with the day
moving from dawn to dusk with douce steps, and no sharp agony at the
public breast.

But we had no excuse for lingering long over our entrance upon its blue
flagstone pavements; our first duty was to report ourselves in person to
our commander, whose return to Inneraora Castle we had been apprised of
at Cladich.


This need for waiting upon his lordship so soon after the great reverse
was a sour bite to swallow, for M’Iver as well as myself. M’Iver, had
he his own way of it, would have met his chief and cousin alone; and he
gave a hint delicately of that kind, affecting to be interested only in
sparing me the trouble and helping me home to Elrigmore, where my father
and his men had returned three days before. But I knew an officer’s duty
too well for that, and insisted on accompanying him, certain (with some
mischievous humour in spoiling his fair speeches) that he dared scarcely
be so fair-faced and flattering to MacCailein before me as he would be
alone with him.

The castle had the stillness of the grave. Every guest had fled as
quickly as he could from this retreat of a naked and ashamed soul. Where
pipers played as a custom, and laughter rang, there was the melancholy
hush of a monastery. The servants went about a-tiptoe, speaking in
whispers lest their master should be irritated in his fever; the very
banner on the tower hung limp about its pole, hiding the black galley
of its blazon, now a lymphad of disgrace. As we went over the bridge
a little dog, his lordship’s favourite, lying at the door, weary, no
doubt, of sullen looks and silence, came leaping and barking about us at
John’s cheery invitation, in a joy, as it would appear, to meet any one
with a spark of life and friendliness.

Argile was in his bed-chamber and between blankets, in the hands of his
physician, who had been bleeding him. He had a minister for mind and
body, for Gordon was with him too, and stayed with him during our
visit, though the chirurgeon left the room with a word of caution to his
patient not to excite himself.

“Wise advice, is it not, gentlemen?” said the Marquis. “As if one
stirred up his own passions like a dame waiting on a drunken husband.
I am glad to see you back, more especially as Master Gordon was just
telling me of the surprise at Dalness, and the chance that you had been
cut down there by the MacDonalds, who, luckily for him and Sonachan and
the others, all followed you in your flight, and gave them a chance of
an easy escape.”

He shook hands with us warmly enough, with fingers moist and nervous.
A raised look was in his visage, his hair hung upon a brow of exceeding
pallor. I realised at a half-glance the commotion that was within.

“A drop of wine?”

“Thank you,” said I, “but I’m after a glass in the town.” I was yet to
learn sorrow for this unhappy nobleman whose conduct had bittered me all
the way from Lom.

MacCailein scrutinised me sharply, and opened his lips as it were to say
something, but changed his mind, and made a gesture towards the bottle,
which John Splendid speedily availed himself of with a “Here’s one who
has no swither about it. Lord knows I have had few enough of life’s
comforts this past week!”

Gordon sat with a Bible in his hand, abstracted, his eyes staring on a
window that looked on the branches of the highest tree about the castle.
He had been reading or praying with his master before the physician had
come in; he had been doing his duty (I could swear by his stern jaw),
and making MacCailein Mor writhe to the flame of a conscience revived.
There was a constraint on the company for some minutes, on no one more
than Argile, who sat propped up on his bolsters, and, fiddling with long
thin fingers with the fringes of his coverlet, looked every way but in
the eyes of M’Iver or myself. I can swear John was glad enough to escape
their glance. He was as little at ease as his master, made all the
fuss he could with his bottle, and drank his wine with far too great a
deliberation for a person generally pretty brisk with the beaker.

“It’s a fine day,” said he at last, breaking the silence. “The back of
the winter’s broken fairly.” Then he started and looked at me, conscious
that I might have some contempt for so frail an opening.

“Did you come here to speak about the weather?” asked MacCailein, with a
sour wearied smile.

“No,” said M’Iver, ruffling up at once; “I came to ask when you are
going to take us back the road we came?”

“To--to--overbye?” asked MacCailein, baulking at the name.

“Just so; to Inverlochy,” answered M’Iver. “I suppose we are to give
them a call when we can muster enough men?”

“Hadn’t we better consider where we are first?” said MacCailein. Then he
put his fair hand through his ruddy locks and sighed. “Have you nothing
to say (and be done with it) about my--my--my part in the affair? His
reverence here has had his will of me on that score.”

M’Iver darted a look of annoyance at the minister, who seemed to pay no
heed, but still to have his thoughts far off.

“I have really nothing to say, your lordship, except that I’m glad to
see you spared to us here instead of being left a corpse with our honest
old kinsman Auchinbreac (_beannachd leas!_) and more gentry of your clan
and house than the Blue Quarry will make tombs for in Kilmalieu. If the
minister has been preaching, it’s his trade; it’s what you pay him for.
I’m no homilist, thank God, and no man’s conscience.”

“No, no; God knows you are not,” said Argile, in a tone of pity
and vexation. “I think I said before that you were the poorest of
consciences to a man in a hesitancy between duty and inclination....
And all my guests have left me, John; I’m a lonely man in my castle of
Inneraora this day, except for the prayers of a wife--God bless and keep
her!--who knows and comprehends my spirit And I have one more friend
here in this room------”

“You can count on John M’Iver to the yetts of Hell,” said my friend,
“and I am the proud man that you should think it.”

“I am obliged to you for that, kinsman,” said his lordship in Gaelic,
with a by-your-leave to the cleric. “But do not give your witless vanity
a foolish airing before my chaplain.” Then he added in the English,
“When the fairy was at my cradle-side and gave my mother choice of my
gifts, I wish she had chosen rowth of real friends. I could be doing
with more about me of the quality I mention; better than horse and foot
would they be, more trusty than the claymores of my clan. It might be
the slogan ‘Cruachan’ whenever it wist, and Archibald of Argile would be
more puissant than he of Homer’s story. People have envied me when they
have heard me called the King of the Highlands--fools that did not know
I was the poorest, weakest man of his time, surrounded by flatterers
instead of friends. Gordon, Gordon, I am the victim of the Highland
liar, that smooth-tongued----”

“Call it the Campbell liar,” I cried bitterly, thinking of my father.
“Your clan has not the reputation of guile for nothing, and if you
refused straightforward honest outside counsel sometimes, it was not for
the want of its offering.”

“I cry your pardon,” said MacCailein, meekly; “I should have learned to
discriminate by now. Blood’s thicker than water, they say, but it’s not
so pure and transparent; I have found my blood drumly enough.”

“And ready enough to run freely for you,” said M’Iver, but half
comprehending this perplexed mind. “Your lordship should be the last to
echo any sentiment directed against the name and fame of Clan Campbell.”

“Indeed they gave me their blood freely enough--a thousand of them lying
yonder in the north--I wish they had been so lavish, those closest about
me, with truth and honour. For that I must depend on an honest servant
of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one man in my pay with the courage to
confront me with no cloaked speech, but his naked thought, though it
should lash me like whips. Oh, many a time my wife, who is none of our
race, warned me against the softening influence, the blight and rot of
this eternal air of flattery that’s round about Castle Inneraora like
a swamp vapour. She’s in Stirling to-day--I ken it in my heart that
to-night shell weep upon her pillow because she’ll know fate has found
the weak joint in her goodman’s armour again.”

John Splendid’s brow came down upon a most perplexed face; this seemed
all beyond him, but he knew his master was somehow blaming the world at
large for his own error.

“Come now, John,” said his lordship, turning and leaning on his arm and
looking curiously at his kinsman. “Come now, what do you think of me
here without a wound but at the heart, with Auchinbreac and all my
gallant fellows yonder?”

“Auchinbreac was a soldier by trade and a good one too,” answered
M’Iver, at his usual trick of prevarication.

“And a flatterer like yourself, you mean,” said his lordship. “He and
you learned the lesson in the same school, I’m thinking. And as ill-luck
had it, his ill counsel found me on the swither, as yours did when
Colkitto came down the glens there to rape and burn. That’s the Devil
for you; he’s aye planning to have the minute and the man together.
Come, sir, come, sir, what do you think, what do you think?”

He rose as he spoke and put his knees below him, and leaned across the
bed with hands upon the blankets, staring his kinsman in the face as if
he would pluck the truth from him out at the very eyes. His voice rose
to an animal cry with an agony in it; the sinister look that did him
such injustice breathed across his visage. His knuckle and collar-bones
shone blae through the tight skin.

“What do I think?” echoed M’Iver. “Well, now----”

“On your honour now,” cried Argile, clutching him by the shoulder.

At that M’Iver’s countenance changed: he threw off his soft complacence,
and cruelty and temper stiffened his jaw.

“I’ll soon give you that, my Lord of Argile,” said he. “I can lie like
a Dutch major for convenience sake, but put me on honour and you’ll get
the truth if it cost me my life. Purgatory’s your portion, Argile, for a
Sunday’s work that makes our name a mock to-day across the envious
world. Take to your books and your preachers, sir--you’re for the
cloister and not for the field; and if I live a hundred years, I’ll deny
I went with you to Inverlochy. I left my sword in Badenoch, but here’s
my dagger” (and he threw it with a clatter on the floor); “it’s the last
tool I’ll handle in the service of a scholar. To-morrow the old big wars
for me; Hebron’s troopers will welcome an umquhile comrade, and I’ll
find no swithering captains among the cavaliers in France.”

Back sat my lord in bed, and laughed with a surrender shrill and
distraught, until Master Gordon and I calmed him, and there was his
cousin still before him in a passion, standing in the middle of the

“Stop, stop, John,” he cried; “now that for once I’ve got the truth from
you, let us be better friends than ever before.”

“Never the same again,” said M’I ver, firmly, “never the same again, for
you ken my estimate of you now; and what avails my courtesy?”

“Your flatteries, you mean,” said Argile, good-natured. “And, besides,
you speak only of my two blunders; you know my other parts,--you know
that by nature I am no poltroon.”

“That’s no credit to you, sir--it’s the strong blood of Diarmaid; there
was no poltroon in the race but what came in on the wrong side of the
blanket I’ve said it first, and I’ll say it to the last, your spirit is
smoored among the books. Paper and ink will be the Gael’s undoing; my
mother taught me, and my mother knew. So long as we lived by our hands
we were the world’s invincibles. Rome met us and Rome tried us, and her
corps might come in winter torrents, but they never tore us from our
hills and keeps. What Rome may never do, that may paper and sheepskin;
you, yourself, MacCailein, have the name of plying pen and ink very well
to your own purpose in the fingers of old lairds who have small skill of
that contrivance.”

He would have passed on in this outrageous strain without remission, had
not Gordon checked him with a determined and unabashed voice. He told
him to sit down in silence or leave the room, and asked him to look upon
his master and see if that high fever was a condition to inflame in a
fit of temper. John Splendid cooled a little, and went to the window,
looking down with eyes of far surmise upon the pleasance and the town
below, chewing his temper between his teeth.

“You see, Elrigmore, what a happy King of the Highlands I am,” said the
Marquis, despondently. “Fortunate Auchinbreac, to be all bye with it
after a moment’s agony!”

“He died like a good soldier, sir,” I said; “he was by all accounts a
man of some vices, but he wiped them out in his own blood.”

“Are you sure of that? Is it not the old folly of the code of honour,
the mad exaltation of mere valour in arms, that makes you think so? What
if he was spilling his drops on the wrong side? He was against his king
at least, and--oh, my wits, my wits, what am I saying?... I saw you did
not drink my wine, Elrigmore; am I so low as that?”

“There is no man so low, my lord,” said I, “but he may be yet exalted.
We are, the best of us, the instruments of a whimsical providence”
 (“What a rank doctrine,” muttered the minister), “and Caesar himself
was sometimes craven before his portents. You, my lord, have the one
consolation left, that all’s not bye yet with the cause you champion,
and you may yet lead it to the highest victory.”

Argile took a grateful glance at me. “You know what I am,” he said,
“not a man of the happy, single mood like our friend Barbreck here, but
tossed between philosophies. I am paying bitterly for my pliability, for
who so much the sport of life as the man who knows right well the gait
he should gang, and prays fervently to be permitted to follow it,
but sometimes stumbles in the ditch? Monday, oh Monday; I must be at
Edinburgh and face them all! Tis that dauntons me.” His eyes seemed to
swim in blood, as he looked at me, or through me, aghast at the horror
of his situation, and sweat stood in blobs upon his brow. “That,” he
went on, “weighs me down like lead. Here about me my people know me, and
may palliate the mistake of a day by the recollection of a lifetime’s
honour. I blame Auchinbreac; I blame the chieftains,--they said I must
take to the galley; I blame----”

“Blame no one, Argile,” said Master Gordon, standing up before him, not
a second too soon, for his lordship had his hand on the dirk M’Iver had
thrown down. Then he turned to us with ejecting arms. “Out you go,” he
cried sternly, “out you go; what delight have you in seeing a nobleman
on the rack?”

As the door closed behind us we could hear Argile sob.

Seventeen years later, if I may quit the thread of my history and take
in a piece that more properly belongs to the later adventures of John
Splendid, I saw my lord die by the maiden. Being then in his tail, I
dined with him and his friends the day before he died, and he spoke with
exceeding cheerfulness of that hour M’Iver and I found him in bed in
Inneraora. “You saw me at my worst,” said he, “on two occasions; bide
till to-morrow and you’ll see me at my best I never unmasked to mortal
man till that day Gordon put you out of my room.” I stayed and saw him
die; I saw his head up and his chin in the air as behoved his
quality, that day he went through that noisy, crowded, causied
Edinburgh--Edinburgh of the doleful memories, Edinburgh whose ports I
never enter till this day but I feel a tickling at the nape of my neck,
as where a wooden collar should lie before the shear fall.

“A cool enough reception this,” said M’Iver, as we left the gate. “It
was different last year, when we went up together on your return from
Low Germanie. Then MacCailein was in the need of soldiers, now he’s in
the need of priests, who gloze over his weakness with their prayers.”

“You are hardly fair either to the one or the other,” I said. “Argile,
whom I went in to meet to-day with a poor regard for him, turns out a
better man than I gave him credit for being; he has at least the grace
to grieve about a great error of judgment, or weakness of the spirit,
whichever it may be. And as for Master Gordon, I’ll take off my hat to
him. Yon’s no type of the sour, dour, anti-prelatics; he comes closer on
the perfect man and soldier than any man I ever met.”

M’Iver looked at me with a sign of injured vanity.

“You’re not very fastidious in your choice of comparisons,” said he. “As
for myself, I cannot see much more in Gordon than what he is paid for--a
habit of even temper, more truthfulness than I have myself, and that’s a
dubious virtue, for see the impoliteness that’s always in its train! Add
to that a lack of any clannish regard for MacCailein Mor, whom he treats
just like a common merchant, and that’s all. Just a plain, stout, fozy,
sappy burrow-man, keeping a gospel shop, with scarcely so much of a
man’s parts as will let him fend a blow in the face. I could march four
miles for his one, and learn him the A B _ab_ of every manly art.”

“I like you fine, man,” I cried; “I would sooner go tramping the glens
with you any day than Master Gordon; but that’s a weakness of the
imperfect and carnal man, that cares not to have a conscience at his
coat-tail every hour of the day: you have your own parts and he his,
and his parts are those that are not very common on our side of the
country--more’s the pity.”

M’Iver was too busy for a time upon the sudden rupture with Argile to
pay very much heed to my defence of Master Gordon. The quarrel--to call
that a quarrel in which one man had all the bad temper and the other
nothing but self-reproach--had soured him of a sudden as thunder
turns the morning’s cream to curd before noon. And his whole demeanour
revealed a totally new man. In his ordinary John was very pernicketty
about his clothing, always with the most shining of buckles and buttons,
always trim in plaiding, snod and spruce about his hair and his hosen, a
real dandy who never overdid the part, but just contrived to be pleasant
to the eye of women, who, in my observation, have, the most sensible of
them, as great a contempt for the mere fop as they have for the sloven.
It took, indeed, trimness of apparel to make up for the plainness of
his face. Not that he was ugly or harsh-favoured,--he was too genial
for either; he was simply well-favoured enough to pass in a fair, as the
saying goes, which is a midway between Apollo and plain Donald But what
with a jacket and vest all creased for the most apparent reasons, a
plaid frayed to ribbons in dashing through the wood of Dalness, brogues
burst at the toes, and a bonnet soaked all out of semblance to itself by
rains, he appeared more common. The black temper of him transformed his
face too: it lost the geniality that was its main charm, and out of his
eyes flamed a most wicked, cunning, cruel fellow.

He went down the way from the castle brig to the “arches cursing with
great eloquence. A soldier picks up many tricks of blasphemy in a career
about the world with foreign legions, and John had the reddings of
three or four languages at his command, so that he had no need to repeat
himself much in his choice of terms aboat his chief. To do him justice
he had plenty of condemnation for himself too.

“Well,” said I, “you were inclined to be calm enough with MacCailein
when first we entered his room. I suppose all this uproar is over his
charge of flattery, not against yourself alone but against all the
people about.”

“That’s just the thing,” he cried, turning round and throwing his arms
furiously about “Could he not have charged the clan generally, and let
who would put the cap on? If yon’s the policy of Courts, heaven help

“And yet you were very humble when you entered,” I protested.

“Was I that?” he retorted. “That’s easy to account for. Did you ever
feel like arguing with a gentleman when you had on your second-best
clothes and no ruffle? The man was in his bed, and his position as he
cocked up there on his knees was not the most dignified I have seen; but
even then he had the best of it, for I felt like a beggar before him in
my shabby duds. Oh, he had the best of us all there! You saw Gordon had
the sense to put on a new surtout and clean linen and a freshly dressed
peruke before he saw him; I think he would scarcely have been so bold
before Argile if he had his breek-bands a finger-length below his belt,
and his wig on the nape of his neck as we saw him in Glencoe.”

“Anyhow,” said I, “you have severed from his lordship; are you really
going abroad?”

He paused a second in thought, smiled a little, and then laughed as if
he had seen something humorous.

“Man,” said he, “didn’t I do the dirk trick with a fine touch of
nobility? Maybe you thought it was done on the impulse and without any
calculation. The truth was, I played the whole thing over in my mind
while he was in the preliminaries of his discourse. I saw he was working
up to an attack, and I knew I could surprise him. But I must confess
I said more than I intended. When I spoke of the big wars and Hebron’s
troopers--well, Argile’s a very nice shire to be living in.”

“What, was it all play-acting then?”

He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

“You must be a singularly simple man, Elrigmore,” he said, “to ask that
of any one. Are we not play-acting half our lives once we get a little
beyond the stage of the ploughman and the herd? Half our tears and half
our laughter and the great bulk of our virtues are like your way of
cocking your bonnet over your right ear; it does not come by nature, and
it is done to pleasure the world in general Play-acting! I’ll tell you
this, Colin, I could scarcely say myself when a passion of mine is
real or fancied now. But I can tell you this too; if I began in play to
revile the Marquis, I ended in earnest I’m afraid it’s all bye with me
yonder. No more mine-managing for me; I struck too close on the marrow
for him to forget it.”

“He has forgotten and forgiven it already,” I cried “At least, let us
hope he has not forgotten it (for you said no more than was perhaps
deserved), but at least it’s forgiven. If you said to-morrow that you
were sorry for your temper----”

“Said ten thousand fiends in Hell!” cried M’Iver. “I may be vexed I
angered the man; but I’ll never let him know it by my words, if he
cannot make it out from my acts.”


I dressed myself up in the morning with scrupulous care, put my hair in
a queue, shaved cheek and chin, and put at my shoulder the old heirloom
brooch of the house, which, with some other property, the invaders had
not found below the _bruach_ where we had hid it on the day we had left
Elngmore to their mercy. I was all in a tremor of expectation, hot
and cold by turns in hope and apprehension, but always with a singular
uplifting at the heart, because for good or ill I was sure to meet in
the next hour or two the one person whose presence in Inneraora made
it the finest town in the world. Some men tell me they have felt the
experience more than once; light o’ loves they, errant gallants, I’ll
swear (my dear) the tingle of it came to me but at the thought of
meeting one woman. Had she been absent from Inneraora that morning
I would have avoided it like a leper-house because of its gloomy
memorials; but the very reek of its repairing tenements as I saw them
from the upper windows of my home floating in a haze against the blue
over the shoulder of Dun Torvil seemed to call me on. I went about the
empty chambers carolling like the bird. Aumrie and clothes-press were
burst and vacant, the rooms in all details were bereft and cheerless
because of the plenishing stolen, and my father sat among his losses and
mourned, but I made light of our spoiling.

As if to heighten the rapture of my mood, the day was full of sunshine,
and though the woods crowding the upper glen were leafless and
slumbering, they were touched to something like autumn’s gold. Some
people love the country but in the time of leafage! And laden with
delights in every season of the year, and the end of winter as cheery
a period as any, for I know that the buds are pressing at the bark,
and that the boughs in rumours of wind stretch out like the arms of the
sleeper who will soon be full awake.

Down I went stepping to a merry lilt, banishing every fear from my
thoughts, and the first call I made was on the Provost. He was over in
Akaig’s with his wife and family pending the repair of his own house,
and Askaig was off to his estate. Master Brown sat on the balusters of
the outer stair, dangling his squat legs and studying through horn specs
the talc of thig and theft which the town officer had made up a report
on. As I put my foot on the bottom step he looked up, and his welcome
was most friendly.

“Colin! Colin!” he cried, hastening down to shake me by the hand, “come
your ways in. I heard you got home yesterday, and I was sure you would
give us a call in the by-going to-day. And you’re little the waur of
your jaunt-hale and hearty. We ken all about your prisoning; M’Iver
was in last night and kept the crack going till morning--a most humorous

He pinched rappee as he spoke, in rapid doses from a snuff-box, and
spread the brown powder in extravagant carelessness over his vest.
He might affect what light-heartedness he could; I saw that the past
fortnight had made a difference for the worse on him. The pouches below
the eyes had got heavier and darker, the lines had deepened on his brow,
the ruddy polish had gone off his cheek, and it was dull and spotted;
by ten o’clock at night-when he used to be very jovial over a glass--I
could tell he would be haggard and yawning. At his years men begin to
age in a few hours; a sudden wrench to the affections, or shock to
a long-disciplined order of things in their lives, will send them
staggering down off the braehead whereon they have been perched with a
good balance so long that they themselves have forgot the natural course
of human man is to be progressing somewhere.

“Ah, lad, lad! haven’t we the times?” he said, as he led me within to
the parlour. “Inneraora in the stour in her reputation as well as in her
tenements. I wish the one could be amended as readily as the other; but
we mustn’t be saying a word against princes, ye ken,” he went on in
the discreet whisper of the conspirator. “You were up and saw him last
night, I’m hearing. To-day they tell me he’s himself again, and coming
down to a session meeting at noon. I must put myself in his way to say
a friendly word or two. Ah! you’re laughing at us. I understand, man,
I understand. You travellers need not practise the art of civility; but
we’re too close on the castle here to be out of favour with MacCailein
Mor. Draw in your chair, and--Mary, Mary, goodwife! bring in the bottle
with you and see young Elrigmore.”

In came the goodwife with even greater signs of trouble than her
husband, but all in a flurry of good-humoured welcome. They sat, the
pair of them, before me in a little room poorly lit by a narrow window
but half-glazed, because a lower portion of it had been destroyed in
the occupation of the Irish, and had to be timbered up to keep the wind
outside. A douce pathetic pair; I let my thoughts stray a little even
from their daughter as I looked on them, and pondered on the tragedy of
age that is almost as cruel as war, but for the love that set Provost
Brown with his chair haffit close against his wife’s, so that less
noticeably he might take her hand in his below the table and renew the
glow that first they learned, no doubt, when lad and lass awandering in
summer days, oh long ago, in Eas-a-chosain glen.

They plied me with a hundred questions, of my adventures, and of my
father, and of affairs up in Shira Glen. I sat answering very often at
hazard, with my mind fixed on the one question I had to ask, which was a
simple one as to the whereabouts and condition of their daughter. But I
leave to any lad of a shrinking and sensitive nature if this was not a
task of exceeding difficulty. For you must remember that here were two
very sharp-eyed parents, one of them with a gift of irony discomposing
to a lover, and the other or both perhaps, with no reason, so far as
I knew, to think I had any special feeling for the girl. But I knew as
well as if I had gone over the thing a score of times before, how my
manner of putting that simple question would reveal me at a flash to the
irony of the father and the wonder of the mother. And in any case they
gave me not the smallest chance of putting it As they plied me with
affairs a thousand miles beyond the limits of my immediate interest, and
I answered them with a brevity almost discourteous, I was practising two
or three phrases in my mind.

“And how is your daughter, sir?” might seem simple enough, but it would
be too cold for an inquirer to whom hitherto she had always been
Betty; while to ask for Betty outright would--a startling new spring of
delicacy in my nature told me--be to use a friendly warmth only the most
cordial relations with the girl would warrant No matter how I mooted the
lady, I knew something in my voice and the very flush in my face would
reveal my secret My position grew more pitiful every moment, for to
the charge of cowardice I levelled first at myself for my backwardness,
there was the charge of discourtesy. What could they think of ray
breeding that I had not mentioned their daughter? What could I think
from their silence regarding her but that they were vexed at my
indifference to her, and with the usual Highland pride were determined
not even to mention her name till she was asked for. Upon my word,
I was in a trouble more distressing than when I sat in the mist in the
Moor of Rannoch and confessed myself lost! I thought for a little, in a
momentary wave of courage, of leading the conversation in her direction
by harking back to the day when the town was abandoned, and she took
flight with the child into the woods. Still the Provost, now doing all
the talking, while his wife knit hose, would ever turn a hundred by-ways
from the main road I sought to lead him on.

By-and-by, when the crack had drifted hopelessly away from all
connection with Mistress Betty, there was a woman’s step on the stair.
My face became as hot as fire at the sound, and I leaned eagerly forward
in my chair before I thought of the transparency of the movement.

The Provost’s eyes closed to little slits in his face; the corner of his
mouth curled in amusement.

“Here’s Peggy back from Bailie Campbell’s,” he said to his wife, and I
was convinced he did so to let me know the new-comer, who was now moving
about in the kitchen across the lobby, was not the one I had expected.
My disappointment must have shown in my face; I felt I was wasting
moments the most precious, though it was something to be under the same
roof as my lady’s relatives, under the same roof as she had slept below
last night, and to see some of her actual self almost, in the smiles
and eyes and turns of the voice of her mother. I stood up to go, slyly
casting an eye about the chamber for the poor comfort of seeing so
little as a ribbon or a shoe that was hers, but even that was denied
me. The Provost, who, I’ll swear now, knew my trouble from the outset,
though his wife was blind to it, felt at last constrained to relieve it.

“And you must be going,” he said; “I wish you could have waited to see
Betty, who’s on a visit to Carlunnan and should be home by now.”

As he said it, he was tapping his snuff-mull and looking at me pawkily
out of the corners of his eyes, that hovered between me and his wife,
who stood with the wool in her hand, beaming mildly up in my face. I
half turned on my heel and set a restless gaze on the corner of the
room. For many considerations were in his simple words. That he should
say them at all relieved the tension of my wonder; that he should
say them in the way he did, was, in a manner, a manifestation that he
guessed the real state of ray feelings to the lady whose very name I had
not dared to mention to him, and that he was ready to favour any suit
I pressed I was even inclined to push my reading of his remark further,
and say to myself that if he had not known the lady herself favoured me,
he would never have fanned my hope by even so little as an indifferent

“And how is she--how is Betty?” I asked, lamely.

He laughed with a pleasing slyness, and gave me a dunt with his elbow on
the side, a bit of the faun, a bit of the father, a bit of my father’s

“You’re too blate, Colin,” he said, and then he put his arm through his
wife’s and gave her a squeeze to take her into his joke. I would have
laughed at the humour of it but for the surprise in the good woman’s
face. It fair startled me, and yet it was no more than the look of a
woman who leams that her man and she have been close company with a
secret for months, and she had never made its acquaintance. There was
perhaps a little more, a hesitancy in the utterance, a flush, a tone
that seemed to show the subject was one to be passed bye as fast as

She smiled feebly a little, picked up a row of dropped stitches, and
“Oh, Betty,” said she, “Betty--is--is--she’ll be back in a little. Will
you not wait?”

“No, I must be going,” I said; “I may have the happiness of meeting her
before I go up the glen in the afternoon.”

They pressed me both to stay, but I seemed, in my mind, to have a new
demand upon me for an immediate and private meeting with the girl; she
must be seen alone, and not in presence of the old couple, who would
give my natural shyness in her company far more gawkiness than it might
have if I met her alone.

I went out and went down the stair, and along the front of the land, my
being in a tumult, yet with my observation keen to everything, no matter
how trivial, that happened around me. The sea-gulls, that make the town
the playground of their stormy holidays, swept and curved among the
pigeons in the gutter and quarrelled over the spoils; tossed in the air
wind-blown, then dropped with feet outstretched upon the black joists
and window-sills. Fowls of the midden, new brought from other parts to
make up the place of those that had gone to the kail-pots of Antrim
and Athole, stalked about with heads high, foreign to this causied and
gravelled country, clucking eagerly for meat I made my way amid the bird
of the sea and the bird of the wood and common bird of the yard with
a divided mind, seeing them with the eye for future recollection, but
seeing them not Peats were at every close-mouth, at every door almost
that was half-habitable, and fuel cut from the wood, and all about the
thoroughfare was embarrassed.

I had a different decision at every step, now to seek the girl, now to
go home, now finding the most heartening hints in the agitation of the
parents, anon troubled exceedingly with the reflection that there was
something of an unfavourable nature in the demeanour of her mother,
however much the father’s badinage might soothe my vanity.

I had made up my mind for the twentieth time to go the length of
Carlunnan and face her plump and plain, when behold she came suddenly
round the corner at the Maltland where the surviving Lowland troops were
gathered! M’Iver was with her, and my resolution shrivelled and shook
within me like an old nut kernel. I would have turned but for the
stupidity and ill-breeding such a movement would evidence, yet as I held
on my way at a slower pace and the pair approached, I felt every limb an
encumbrance, I felt the country lout throbbing in every vein.

Betty almost ran to meet me as we came closer together, with an
agreeableness that might have pleased me more had I not the certainty
that she would have been as warm to either of the two men who had
rescued her from her hiding in the wood of Strongara, and had just come
back from her country’s battles with however small credit to themselves
in the result. She was in a very happy mood, for, like all women, she
could readily forget the large and general vexation of a reverse to her
people in war if the immediate prospect was not unpleasant and things
around were showing improvement Her eyes shone and sparkled, the
ordinary sedate flow of her words was varied by little outbursts of
gaiety. She had been visiting the child at Carlunnan, where it had
been adopted by her kinswoman, who made a better guardian than its
grandmother, who died on her way to Dunbarton.

“What sets you on this road?” she asked blandly.

“Oh, you have often seen me on this road before,” I said, boldly and
with meaning. Ere I went wandering we had heard the rivers sing many
a time, and sat upon its banks and little thought life and time were
passing as quickly as the leaf or bubble on the surface. She flushed
ever so little at the remembrance, and threw a stray curl back from her
temples with an impatient toss of her fingers.

“And so much of the dandy too!” put in M’Iver, himself perjink enough
about his apparel. “I’ll wager there’s a girl in the business.” He
laughed low, looked from one to the other of us, yet his meaning
escaped, or seemed to escape, the lady.

“Elrigmore is none of the kind,” she said, as if to protect a child.
“He has too many serious affairs of life in hand to be in the humour for

This extraordinary reading of my character by the one woman who ought to
have known it better, if only by an instinct, threw me into a blend of
confusion and chagrin. I had no answer for her. I regretted now that my
evil star had sent me up Glenaora, or that having met her with M’Iver,
whose presence increased my diffidence, I had not pretended some errand
or business up among the farmlands in the Salachry hills, where distant
relatives of our house were often found But now I was on one side of
the lady and M’Iver on the other, on our way towards the burgh, and the
convoy must be concluded, even if I were dumb all the way. Dumb, indeed,
I was inclined to be. M’Iver laughed uproariously at madame’s notion
that I was too seriously engaged with life for the recreation of
love-making; it was bound to please him, coming, as it did, so close on
his own estimate of me as the Sobersides he christened me at almost our
first acquaintance. But he had a generous enough notion to give me the
chance of being alone with the girl he knew very well my feelings for.

“I’ve been up just now at the camp,” he said, “anent the purchase of
a troop-horse, and I had not concluded my bargain when Mistress Brown
passed. I’m your true cavalier in one respect, that I must be offering
every handsome passenger an escort; but this time it’s an office for
Elrigmore, who can undertake your company down the way bravely enough,
I’ll swear, for all his blateness.”

Betty halted, as did the other two of us, and bantered my comrade.

“I ask your pardon a thousand times, Barbreck,” she said; “I thought you
were hurrying on your way down behind me, and came upon me before you
saw who I was.”

“That was the story,” said he, coolly; “I’m too old a hand at the
business to be set back on the road I came by a lady who has no relish
for my company.”

“I would not take you away from your marketing for the world,” she
proceeded. “Perhaps Elrigmore may be inclined to go up to the camp too;
he may help you to the pick of your horse--and we’ll believe you the
soldier of fortune again when we see you one.”

She, at least, had no belief that the mine-manager was to be a mercenary
again. She tapped with a tiny toe on the pebbles, affecting a choler the
twinkle in her eyes did not homologate. It was enough for M’Iver, who
gave a “Pshaw!” and concluded he might as well, as he said, “be in good
company so long as he had the chance,” and down the way again we went.
Somehow the check had put him on his mettle. He seemed to lose at once
all regard for my interests in this. I became in truth, more frequently
than was palatable, the butt of his little pleasantries; my mysterious
saunter up that glen, my sobriety of demeanour, my now silence-all those
things, whose meaning he knew very well, were made the text for his
amusement for the lady. As for me, I took it all weakly, striving to
meet his wit with careless smiles.

For the first time, I was seized with a jealousy of him. Here was I,
your arrant rustic; he was as composed as could be, overflowing with
happy thoughts, laughable incident, and ever ready with the compliment
or the retort women love to hear from a smart fellow of even indifferent
character. I ic had the policy to conceal the vanity that was for
ordinary his most transparent feature, and his trick was to admire the
valour and the humour of others. Our wanderings in Lorn and I-ochaber,
our adventures with the MacDonalds, all the story of the expedition, he
danced through, as it were, on the tip-toe of light phrase, as if it had
Ixrcn a strong man’s scheme of recreation, scarcely once appealing to ma
With a Mushed cheek and parted lips the lady hung upon his words, arched
her dark eyebrows in fear, or bubbled into the merriest laughter as the
occasion demanded. Worst of all, she teemed to share his amusement at
my silence, and then I could have wished rather than a bag of gold I had
the Mull witch’s invisible coat, or that the earth would swallow me
up. The very country-people passing on the way were art and part in
the conspiracy of circumstances to make me unhappy. Their salutes were
rarely for Elrigmore, but for the lady and John Splendid, whose bold
quarrel with MacCailein Mor was now the rumour of two parishes, and gave
him a wide name for unflinching bravery of a kind he had been generally
acknowledged as sadly want ing in before. And Mistress Betty could not
but see that high or low, I was second to this fellow going off--or at
least with the rumour of it--to Hebron’s cavaliers in France before the

M’Iver was just, perhaps, carrying his humour at my cost a little too
far for my temper, which was never readily stirred, but flamed fast
enough when set properly alowe, and Betty--here too your true woman
wit--saw it sooner than he did himself, quick enough in the uptake
though he was. He had returned again to his banter about the
supposititious girl I was trysted with up the glen, and my face showed
my annoyance.

“You think all men like yourself,” said the girl to him, “and all women
the same--like the common soldier you are.”

“I think them all darlings,” he confessed, laughing; “God bless them,
kind and foolish----”

“As you’ve known them oftenest,” she supplied, coldly.

“Or sedate and sensible,” he went on. “None of them but found John
M’Iver of Barbeck their very true cavalier.”

“Indeed,” said Mistress Betty, colder than ever, some new thought
working within her, judging from the tone. “And yet you leave to-morrow,
and have never been to Carlunnan.” She said the last words with a
hesitancy, blushing most warmly. To me they were a dark mystery, unless
I was to assume, what I did wildly for a moment, only to relinquish the
notion immediately, that she had been in the humour to go visiting
her friends with him. Mover’s face showed some curious emotion that it
baffled me to read, and all that was plain to me was that here were two
people with a very strong thought of a distressing kind between them.

“It would be idle for me,” he said in a little, “to deny that I know
what you mean. But do you not believe you might be doing me poor justice
in your suspicions?”

“It is a topic I cannot come closer upon,” she answered; “I am a woman.
That forbids me and that same compels me. If nature does not demand your
attendance up there, then you are a man wronged by rumour or a man dead
to every sense of the human spirit I have listened to your humour and
laughed at your banter, for you have an art to make people forget; but
all the way I have been finding my lightness broken in on by the feeble
cry of a child without a mother--it seems, too, without a father.”

“If that is the trouble,” he said, turning away with a smile he did not
succeed in concealing either from the lady or me, “you may set your mind
at rest The child you mention has, from this day, what we may be calling
a godfather.”

“Then the tale’s true?” she said, stopping on the road, turning and
gazing with neither mirth nor warmth in her countenance.

M’Iver hesitated, and looked upon the woman to me as if I could help him
in the difficulty; but I must have seemed a clown in the very abjection
of my ignorance of what all this mystery was about He searched my face
and I searched my memory, and then I recollected that he had told me
before of Mistress Brown’s suspicions of the paternity of the child.

“I could well wish your answer came more readily,” said she again,
somewhat bitterly, “for then I know it would be denial.”

“And perhaps untruth, too,” said John, oddly. “This time it’s a question
of honour, a far more complicated turn of circumstances than you can
fancy, and my answer takes time.”

“Guilty!” she cried, “and you go like this. You know what the story is,
and your whole conduct in front of my charges shows you take the very
lightest view of the whole horrible crime.”

“Say away, madame,” said M’Iver, assuming an indifference his every
feature gave the lie to. “I’m no better nor no worse than the rest of
the world. That’s all I’ll say.”

“You have said enough for me, then,” said the girl.

“I think, Elrigmore, if you please, I’ll not trouble you and your friend
to come farther with me now. I am obliged for your society so far.”

She was gone before either of us could answer, leaving us like a pair of
culprits standing in the middle of the road. A little breeze fanned
her clothing, and they shook behind her as to be free from some
contamination. She had overtaken and joined a woman in front of her
before I had recovered from my astonishment M’Iver turned from
surveying her departure with lowered eyebrows, and gave me a look with
half-a-dozen contending thoughts in it.

“That’s the end of it,” said he, as much to himself as for my ear, “and
the odd thing of it again is that she never seemed so precious fine a
woman as when it was ‘a bye wi’ auld days and you,’ as the Scots song

“It beats me to fathom,” I confessed. “Do I understand that you admitted
to the lady that you were the father of the child?”

“I admitted nothing,” he said, cunningly, “if you’ll take the trouble to
think again. I but let the lady have her own way, which most of her sex
generally manage from me in the long-run.”

“But, man! you could leave her only one impression, that you are as
black as she thinks you, and am I not sure you fall far short of that?”

“Thank you,” he said; “it is good of you to say it. I am for off
whenever my affairs here are settled, and when I’m the breadth of seas
afar from Inneraora, you’ll think as well as you can of John M’Iver,
who’ll maybe not grudge having lost the lady’s affection if he kept his
friend’s and comrade’s heart.”

He was vastly moved as he spoke. He took my hand and wrung it fiercely;
he turned without another word, good or ill, and strode back on his way
to the camp, leaving me to seek my way to the town alone.


On some days I kept to Glen Shim as the tod keeps to the cairn when
heather burns, afraid almost to let even my thoughts wander there lest
they should fly back distressed, to say the hope I cherished was in
vain. I worked in the wood among Use pines that now make rooftrees for
my home, and at nights I went on ttilidh among some of the poorer
houses of the Glen, and found a drug for a mind uneasy in the talcs our
peasants told around the fire. A drug, and yet a drug sometimes with the
very disease in itself I sought for it to kill. For the love of a man
for a maid is the one story of all lands, of all ages, trick it as we
may, and my good people, telling their old ancient histories round the
lire, found, although they never knew it, a young man’s quivering heart
a score of times a night.

Still at times, by day and night--ay! in the very midmost watches of the
stars-I walked, in my musing, as I thought, upon the causeyed street,
where perhaps I had been sooner in the actual fact if M’Iver’s departure
had not been delayed. He was swaggering, they told me, about the town in
his old regimentals, every pomp of the foreign soldier assumed again as
if they had never been relaxed in all those yean of peace and commerce.
I drank stoutly in the taverns, and ‘twas constantly, “Landlady, I’m
the lawing,” for the fishermen, that they might love him. A tale went
round, too, that one morning he went to a burial in Kilmalieu, and
Argile was there seeing the last of an old retainer to his long home,
and old Macnachtan came riding down past corpse and mourner with his
only reverence a finger to his cap. “Come down off your horse when death
or Argile goes bye,” cried M’Iver, hauling the laird off his saddle. But
between Argile and him were no transactions; the pride of both would not
allow it, though it was well known that their affections were stronger
than ever they had been before, and that Gordon made more than one
attempt at a plan to bring them together.

It is likely, too, I had been down--leaving M’Iver out of consideration
altogether--had there not been the tales about MacLachlan, tales that
came to my ears in the most miraculous way, with no ill intention on the
part of the gossips--about his constant haunting of Inneraora and the
company of his cousin. He had been seen there with her on the road to
Carlunnan. That venue of all others! God! did the river sing for him too
among its reeds and shallows; did the sun tip Dunchuach like a thimble
and the wild beast dally on the way? That was the greatest blow of all!
It left plain (I thought in ray foolishness) the lady’s coolness when
last I met her; for rae henceforth (so said bitterness) the serious
affairs of life, that in her notion set me more than courtship. I grew
solemn, so gloomy in spirit that even my father observed the ceasing of
my whistle and song, and the less readiness of my smile. And he, poor
man, thought it the melancholy of Inverlochy and the influence of this
ruined countryside.

When I went down to the town again the very house-fronts seemed
inhospitable, so that I must pass the time upon the quay. There are days
at that season when Loch Finne, so calm, so crystal, so duplicate of the
sky, seems like water sunk and lost for ever to wind and wave, when the
sea-birds doze upon its kindly bosom like bees upon the flower, and a
silence hangs that only breaks in distant innuendo of the rivers or the
low of cattle on the Cowal shore. The great bays lapse into hills
that float upon a purple haze, forest nor lea has any sign of spring’s
extravagance or the flame of the autumn that fires Dunchuach till it
blazes like a torch. All is in the light sleep of the year’s morning,
and what, I have thought, if God in His pious whim should never awake it
any more?

It was such a day when I went up and down the rough cobble of the quay,
and to behold men working there at their noisy and secular occupations
seemed, at first, a Sabbath desecration. But even they seemed affected
by this marvellous peace of sea and sky, as they lifted from the net
or rested on the tackle to look across greasy gunnels with some vague
unquiet of the spirit at the marvellous restfulness of the world. Their
very voices learned a softer note from that lulled hour of the enchanted
season, and the faint blue smoke of their den fires rose and mingled in
the clustered masts or nestled wooing in the drying sails. Then a man in
drink came roaring down the quay, an outrage on the scene, and the magic
of the day was gone! The boats bobbed and nudged each other or strained
at the twanging cord as seamen and fishers spanged from deck to deck;
rose cries in loud and southward Gaelic or the lowlands of Air. The
world was no longer dreaming but stark awake, all but the sea and the
lapsing bays and the brown floating hills. Town Inneraora bustled to its
marge. Here was merchandise, here the pack and the bale; snuffy men
in perukes, knee-breeched and portly, came and piped in high English,
managing the transport of their munitions ashore.

I was standing in the midst of the throng of the quay-head, with my
troubled mind rinding ease in the industry and interest of those people
without loves or jealousies, and only their poor merchandise to exercise
them, when I started at the sound of a foot coming up the stone slip
from the wateredge. I turned, and who was there but MacLachlan? He was
all alone but for a haunch-man, a gillie-wet-foot as we call him, and he
had been set on the slip by a wherry that had approached from Cowal side
unnoticed by me as I stood in meditation. As he came up the sloping
way, picking his footsteps upon the slimy stones, he gave no heed to the
identity of the person before him; and with my mood in no way favourable
to polite discourse with the fellow, I gave a pace or two round the
elbow of the quay, letting him pass on his way up among the clanking
rings and chains of the moored gaberts, the bales of the luggers,
and the brawny and crying mariners. He was not a favourite among the
quay-folk, this pompous little gentleman, with his nose in the air and
his clothing so very gaudy. The Lowlands men might salute his gentility
if they cared; no residenters of the place did so, but turned their
shoulders on him and were very busy with their affairs as he passed. He
went bye with a waff of wind in his plaiding, and his haunch-man as he
passed at a discreet distance got the double share of jibe and glunch
from the mariners.

At first I thought of going home; a dread came on me that if I waited
longer in the town I might come upon this intruder and his cousin, when
it would sore discomfort me to do so. Thus I went slowly up the quay,
and what I heard in the bye-going put a new thought in my head.

Two or three seamen were talking together as I passed, with nudges and
winks and sly laughs, not natives of the place but from farther up the
loch, yet old frequenters with every chance to know the full ins and
outs of what they discoursed upon. I heard but three sentences as I
passed; they revealed that MacLachlan at Kilmichael market had once
bragged of an amour in Inneraora. That was all! But it was enough to set
every drop of blood in my body boiling. I had given the dog credit for
a decent affection, and here he was narrating a filthy and impossible
story. Liar! liar! liar! At first the word rose to my mouth, and I had
to choke it at my teeth for fear it should reveal my passion to the
people as I passed through among them with a face inflamed; then doubt
arose, a contention of recollections, numb fears--but the girl’s eyes
triumphed: I swore to myself she at least should never know the villany
of this vulgar and lying rumour set about the country by a rogue.

Now all fear of facing the street deserted me. I felt a man upright,
imbued with a strong sense of justice; I felt I must seek out John
Splendid and get his mind, of all others, upon a villany he eould teach
me to avenge. I found him at Aakaig’s comer, a flushed man with perhaps
(as I thought at first) too much spirits in him to be the most sensible
of advisers in a matter of such delicacy.

“Elrigmore!” he cried; “sir, I give you welcome to Inneraora! You will
not know the place, it has grown so much since you last visited its
humble street.”

“I’m glad to see you now, John,” I said, hurriedly. “I would sooner see
you than any other living person here.”

He held up a finger and eyed me pawkily. “Come, man, cornel” he said,
laughing, “On your oath now, is there not a lady? And that minds me;
you have no more knowledge of the creatures, no more pluck in their
presence, than a child. Heavens, what a soldier of fortune is this?
Seven years among the army; town to town, camp to camp, here to-day and
away to-morrow, with a soldier’s pass to love upon your back and haunch,
and yet you have not learned to lift the sneck of a door, but must be
tap-tapping with your finger-nails.”

“I do not know what you mean,” said I.

“Lorf! lord!” he cried, pretending amazement, “and here’s schooling!
Just think it over for yourself. You are not an ill-looking fellow
(though I think I swing a kilt better myself), you are the proper age
(though it’s wonderful what a youngish-looking man of not much over
forty may do), you have a name for sobriety, and Elrigmore carries a
good many head of cattle and commands a hundred swords,--would a girl
with any wisdom and no other sweetheart in her mind turn her back on
such a list of virtues and graces? If I had your reputation and your
estate, I could have the pick of the finest women in Argile--ay, and far
beyond it.”

“Never mind about that just now,” I demanded, gripping my preacher by
the hand and forcing him with me out of the way of the passers-by, whose
glance upon us would have seemed an indelicacy when we were discussing
so precious a thing as my lady’s honour.

“But I shall mind it,” insisted M’Iver, pursing his lips as much to
check a hiccough as to express his determination. “It seems I am the
only man dare take the liberty. Fie on ye! man, fie! you have not once
gone to see the Provost or his daughter since I saw you last I dare not
go myself for the sake of a very stupid blunder; but I met the old man
coming up the way an hour ago, and he was asking what ailed you at them.
Will I tell you something, Colin? The Provost’s a gleg man, but he’s not
so gleg as his wife. The dame for me! say I, in every household, if it’s
her daughter’s love-affairs she’s to keep an eye on.”

“You know so much of the lady and her people,” said I, almost losing
patience, “that it’s a wonder you never sought her for yourself.”

He laughed. “Do you think so?” he said. “I have no doubt of the result;
at least I would have had no doubt of it a week or two ago, if I had
taken advantage of my chances.” Then he laughed anew. “I said the
good-wife was gleg; I’m just as gleg myself.”

This tipsy nonsense began to annoy me; but it was useless to try to
check it, for every sentence uttered seemed a spark to his vanity.

“It’s about Betty I want to speak,” I said.

“And it’s very likely too; I would not need to be very gleg to see that
She does not want to speak to me, however, or of me, as you’ll find out
when once you see her. I am in her black books sure enough, for I saw
her turn on the street not an hour ago to avoid me.”

“She’ll not do that to MacLachlan,” I put in, glad of the opening,
“unless she hears--and God forbid it--that the scamp lightlies her name
at common fairs.”

M’Iver drew himself up, stopped, and seemed to sober.

“What’s this you’re telling me?” he asked, and I went over the incident
on the quay. It was enough. It left him as hot as myself. He fingered
at his coat-buttons and his cuffs, fastening and unfastening them; he
played nervously with the hilt of his dirk; up would go his brows and
down again like a bird upon his prey; his lips would tighten on his
teeth, and all the time he was muttering in his pick of languages
sentiments natural to the occasion. Gaelic is the poorest of tongues to
swear in: it has only a hash of borrowed terms from Lowland Scots; but
my cavalier was well able to make up the deficiency.

“Quite so; very true and very comforting,” I said at last; “but what’s
to be done?”

“What’s to be done?” said he, with a start “Surely to God there’s no
doubt about that!”

“No, sir; I hope you know me better. But how’s it to be done? I thought
of going up in front of the whole quay and making him chew his lie at
the point of my dagger. Then I thought more formality was needed--a
friend or two, a select venue, and careful leisure time for so important
a meeting.”

“But what’s the issue upon which the rencontre shall take place?” asked
M’Iver, it seemed to me with ridiculous scrupulosity.

“Why need you ask?” said I. “You do not expect me to invite him to
repeat the insult or exaggerate the same.”

M’Iver turned on me almost roughly and shook me by the shoulder. “Man!”
 said he, “wake up, and do not let your wits hide in the heels of your
boots. Are you clown enough to think of sending a lady’s name around
the country tacked on to a sculduddry tale like this? You must make the
issue somewhat more politic than that.”

“I agree with you,” I confessed; “it was stupid of me not to think of
it, but what can I do? I have no other quarrel with the man.”

“Make one, then,” said M’Iver. “I cannot comprehend where you learned
your trade as cavalier, or what sort of company you kept in Mackay’s, if
you did not pick up and practise the art of forcing a quarrel with a man
on any issue you cared to choose. In ten minutes I could make this young
fellow put down his gage in a dispute about the lacing of boots.”

“But in that way at least I’m the poorest of soldiers; I never picked a
quarrel, and yet here’s one that sets my gorge to my palate, but cannot
be fought on.”

“Tuts, tuts! man,” he cried, “it seems that, after all, you must leave
the opening of this little play to John M’Iver. Come with me a bit yont
the Cross here and take a lesson.”

He led me up the wide pend close and round the back of old Stonefield’s
dwelling, and into a corner of a lane that gave upon the fields, yet at
the same time kept a plain view of the door of Askaig’s house, where we
guessed MacLachlan was now on his visit to the Provost’s family.

“Let us stand here,” said he, “and I’ll swear I’m not very well
acquainted with our friend’s habits if he’s not passing this way to
Carlunnan sometime in the next ten minutes, for I saw Mistress Betty
going up there, as I said, not so very long ago.”

This hint at MacLachlan’s persistency exasperated me the more. I felt
that to have him by the throat would be a joy second only to one other
in the world.

M’Iver saw my passion--it was ill to miss seeing it--and seemed struck
for the first time by the import of what we were engaged upon.

“We were not given to consider the end of a duello from the opening
when abroad,” he said; “but that was because we were abroad, and had no
remonstrance and reminder in the face of familiar fields and houses and
trees, and the passing footsteps of our own people. Here, however, the
end’s to be considered from the beginning--have you weighed the risks in
your mind?”

“I’ve weighed nothing,” said I, shortly, “except that I feel in me here
I shall have his blood before nightfall.”

“He’s a fairly good hand with his weapon, they tell me.”

“If he was a wizard, with the sword of Great Donald, I would touch
him to the vitals. Have I not learned a little, if you’ll give me the
credit, from Alasdair Mor?”

“I forgot that,” said M’lver; “you’ll come through it all right And
here’s our man coming up the lane. No anger now; nothing to be said on
your side till I give you a sign, and then I can leave the rest to your

MacLachlan came staving up the cobbles in a great hurry, flailing
the air, as he went, with a short rattan, for he affected some of the
foppish customs the old officers brought back from the Continent. He was
for passing us with no more than a jerk of the head, but M’Iver and I
between us took up the mouth of the lane, and as John seemed to smile on
him like one with gossip to exchange, he was bound to stop.

“Always on the going foot, MacLachlan,” said John, airily. “I never see
a young gentleman of your age and mettle but I wish he could see the
wisdom of putting both to the best purpose on the field.”

“With your cursed foreigners, I suppose you mean,” said the young
fellow. “I could scarcely go as a private pikeman like yourself.”

“I daresay not, I daresay not,” answered M’Iver, pricked at his heart (I
could tell by his eye) by this reflection upon his humble office, but
keeping a marvellously cool front to his cockerel. “And now when I think
of it, I am afraid you have neither the height nor width for even so
ornamental a post as an ensign’s.”

MacLachlan restrained himself too, unwilling, no doubt, as I thought,
to postpone his chase of the lady by so much time as a wrangle with
John M’Iver would take up. He affected to laugh at Splendid’s rejoinder,
turned the conversation upon the disjasket condition of the town, and
edged round to get as polite a passage as possible between us, without
betraying any haste to sever himself from our company. But both John
Splendid and I had our knees pretty close together, and the very topic
he started seemed to be the short cut to the quarrel we sought.

“A poor town indeed,” admitted M’Iver, readily, “but it might be worse.
It can be built anew. There’s nothing in nature, from a pigsty to a name
for valour and honour, that a wise man may not patch up somehow.”

MacLachlan’s retort to this opening was on the tip of his tongue; but
his haste made him surrender a taunt as likely to cause trouble. “You’re
very much in the proverb way to-day,” was all he said. “I’m sure I wish
I saw Inneraora as hale and complete as ever it was: it never had a more
honest friend than myself.”

“That one has missed,” thought I, standing by in a silent part of this
three-cornered convention. M’Iver smiled mildly, half, I should
think, at the manner in which his thrust had been foiled, half to
keep MacLachlan still with us. His next attack was more adroit though
roundabout, and it effected its purpose.

“I see you are on your way up to the camp,” said he, with an appearance
of indifference. “We were just thinking of a daunder there ourselves.”

“No,” said MacLachlan, shortly; “I’m for farther up the Glen.”

“Then at least we’ll have your company part of the way,” said John, and
the three of us walked slowly off, the young gentleman with no great
warmth at the idea, which was likely to spoil his excursion to some
degree. M’Iver took the place between us, and in the rear, twenty paces,
came the _gille cas-fleuch_.

“I have been bargaining for a horse up here,” said John in a while,
“and I’m anxious that Elrigmore should see it. You’ll have heard I’m off
again on the old road.”

“There’s a rumour of it,” said MacLachlan, cogitating on his own
affairs, or perhaps wondering what our new interest in his company was
due to.

“Ah! it’s in my blood,” said John, “in my blood and bones! Argile was a
fairly good master--so to call him--but--well, you understand yourself:
a man of my kind at a time like this feels more comfortable anywhere
else than in the neighbourhood of his chief.”

“I daresay,” replied MacLachlan, refusing the hook, and yet with a sneer
in his accent.

“Have you heard that his lordship and I are at variance since our return
from the North?”

“Oh! there’s plenty of gossip in the town,” said MacLachlan. “It’s
common talk that you threw your dagger in his face. My father, who’s a
small chief enough so far as wealth of men and acres goes, would have
used the weapon to let out the hot blood of his insulter there and

“I daresay,” said M’Iver. “You’re a hot-headed clan. And MacCailein has
his own ways.”

“He’s welcome to keep them too,” answered the young fellow, his sneer
in no ways abated I became afraid that his carefully curbed tongue would
not give us our opening before we parted, and was inclined to force his
hand; but M’Iver came in quickly and more astutely.

“How?” said he; “what’s your meaning? Are you in the notions that he
has anything to learn of courtesy and gallantry on the other side of the
loch at Strath-lachlan?”

MacLachlan’s eyes faltered a little under his pent brows. Perhaps he
had a suspicion of the slightest that he was being goaded on for some
purpose, but if he had, his temper was too raw to let him qualify his
retort with calmness.

“Do you know, Barbreck,” said he, “I would not care to say much about
what your nobleman has to learn or unlearn? As for the gallantry--good
Lord, now!--did you ever hear of one of my house leaving his men to
shift for themselves when blows were going?”

M’Iver with an utterance the least thought choked by an anger due to the
insult he had wrought for, shrugged his shoulders, and at the same time
gave me his elbow in the side for his sign.

“I’m sorry to hear you say that about Gillesbeg Gruamach,” said
he. “Some days ago, half as much from you would have called for my
correction; but I’m out of his lordship’s service, as the rumour rightly
goes, and seeing the manner of my leaving it was as it was, I have no
right to be his advocate now.”

“But I have!” said I, hotly, stopping and facing MacLachlan, with my
excuse for the quarrel now ready. “Do you dare come here and call down
the credit of MacCailein Mor?” I demanded in the English, with an idea
of putting him at once in a fury at having to reply in a language he
spoke but indifferently.

His face blanched; he knew I was doubling my insult for him. The skin of
his jaw twitched and his nostrils expanded; a hand went to his dirk hilt
on the moment.

“And is it that you are the advocate?” he cried to me in a laughable
kind of Scots. I was bitter enough to mock his words and accent with
the airs of one who has travelled far and knows other languages than his

“Keep to your Gaelic,” he cried in that language; “the other may be good
enough to be insolent in; let us have our own for courtesies.”

“Any language,” said I, “is good enough to throw the lie in your face
when you call MacCailein a coward.”

“Grace of God!” said he; “I called him nothing of the kind; but it’s
what he is all the same.”

Up came his valet and stood at his arm, his blade out, and his whole
body ready to spring at a signal from his master.

I kept my anger out of my head, and sunk to the pit of my stomach while
I spoke to him. “You have said too much about Archibald, Marquis of
Argile,” I said. “A week or two ago, the quarrel was more properly
M’Iver’s; now that he’s severed by his own act from the clan, I’m ready
to take his place and chastise you for your insolence. Are you willing,
John?” I asked, turning to my friend.

“If I cannot draw a sword for my cousin I can at least second his
defender,” he answered quickly. MacLachlan’s colour came back; he looked
from one to the other of us, and made an effort to laugh with cunning.

“There’s more here than I can fathom, gentlemen.” said he. “I’ll swear
this is a forced quarrel; but in any case I fear none of you.
Alasdair,” he said, turning to his man, who it seemed was his dalta or
foster-brother, “we’ll accommodate those two friends of ours when and
where they like.”

“Master,” cried the gillie, “I would like well to have this on my own
hands,” and he looked at me with great venom as he spoke.

MacLachlan laughed. “They may do their dangerous work by proxy in this
part of the shire,” said he; “but I think our own Cowal ways are better;
every man his own quarrel.”

“And now is the time to settle it,” said I; “the very place for our
purpose is less than a twenty minutes’ walk off.”

Not a word more was said; the four of us stepped out again.


We went along the road two and two, M’Iver keeping company behind with
the valet, who would have stabbed me in the back in all likelihood ere
we had made half our journey, had there been no such caution. We walked
at a good pace, and fast as we walked it was not fast enough for my
eagerness, so that my long steps set the shorter ones of MacLachlan
pattering beside me in a most humorous way that annoyed him much, to
judge from the efforts he made to keep time and preserve his dignity.
Not a word, good or bad, was exchanged between us; he left the guidance
to me, and followed without a pause when, over the tip of the brae at
Tarra Dubh, I turned sharply to the left and plunged into the wood.

In this part of the wood there is a _larach_ or site of an ancient
church. No stone stands there to-day, no one lives who has known another
who has heard another say he has seen a single stone of this umquhile
house of God; but the sward lies flat and square as in a garden,
levelled, and in summer fringed with clusters of the nettle that grows
over the ruins of man with a haste that seems to mock the brevity of his
interests, and the husbandman and the forester for generations have put
no spade to its soil. A _cill_ or cell we call it in the language; and
the saying goes among the people of the neighbourhood that on the eve
of Saint Patrick bells ring in this glade in the forest, sweet, soft,
dreamy bells, muffled in a mist of years--bells whose sounds have come,
as one might fancy, at their stated interval, after pealing in a wave
about God’s universe from star to star, back to the place of their first
chiming. Ah! the monk is no longer there to hear them, only the mavis
calls and the bee in its period hums where matins rose. A queer thought
this, a thought out of all keeping with my bloody mission in the wood,
which was to punish this healthy youth beside me; yet to-day, looking
back on the occasion, I do not wonder that, going a-murdering, my mind
in that glade should soften by some magic of its atmosphere. For, ever
was I a dreamer, as this my portion of history may long since have
disclosed. Ever must I be fronting the great dumb sorrow of the
universe, thinking of loves undone, of the weakness of man, poor man,
a stumbler under the stars, the sickening lapse of time, the vast and
awesome voids left by people dead, laughter quelled, eyes shut for
evermore, and scenes evanished. And it was ever at the crisis of things
my mind took on this mood of thought and pity.

It was not of my own case I reflected there, but of the great swooning
silences that might be tenanted ere the sun dropped behind the firs by
the ghost of him I walked with. Not of my own father, but of an even
older man in a strath beyond the water hearing a rap at his chamber door
to-night and a voice of horror tell him he had no more a son. A fool,
a braggart, a liar the less, but still he must leave a vacancy at the
hearth! My glance could not keep off the shoulder of him as he walked
cockily beside me, a healthy brown upon his neck, and I shivered to
think of this hour as the end of him, and of his clay in a little
stretched upon the grass that grew where psalm had chanted and the feet
of holy men had passed. Kill him! The one thrust of fence I dare not
neglect was as sure as the arrow of fate; I knew myself in my innermost
his executioner.

It was a day, I have said, of exceeding calm, with no trace left almost
of the winter gone, and the afternoon came on with a crimson upon the
west, and numerous birds in flying companies settled upon the bushes.
The firs gave a perfume from their tassels and plumes, and a little
burn among the bushes gurgled so softly, so like a sound of liquor in a
goblet, that it mustered the memories of good companionship. No more my
mind was on the knave and liar, but on the numerous kindnesses of man.

We stepped in upon the bare _larach_ with the very breath checked upon
our lips. The trees stood round it and back, knowing it sanctuary; tall
trees, red, and rough at the hide, cracked and splintered in roaring
storms; savage trees, coarse and vehement, but respecting that patch
of blessed memory vacant quite but of ourselves and a little bird who
turned his crimson breast upon us for a moment then vanished with a
thrill of song. Crimson sky, crimson-vested bird, the colour of that
essence I must be releasing with the push of a weapon at that youth
beside me!

John Splendid was the first to break upon the silence.

“I was never so much struck with the Sunday feeling of a place,” he
said; “I daresay we could find a less melancholy spot for our meeting if
we searched for it, but the day goes, and I must not be putting off an
interesting event both of you, I’m sure, are eager to begin.”

“Indeed we might have got a more suitable place in many ways,” I
confessed, my hands behind me, with every scrap of passion gone from my

MacLachlan showed no such dubiety. “What ails you at the place?” he
asked, throwing his plaid to his servant, and running his jacket off
its wooden buttons at one tug. “It seems to me a most particularly fine
place for our business. But of course,” he added with a sneer, “I have
not the experience of two soldiers by trade, who are so keen to force
the combat.”

He threw off his belt, released the sword from its scabbard--a clumsy
weapon of its kind, abrupt, heavy, and ill-balanced, I could tell by its
slow response to his wrist as he made a pass or two in the air to get
the feel of it. He was in a cold bravado, the lad, with his spirit
up, and utterly reckless of aught that might happen him, now saying
a jocular word to his man, and now gartering his hose a little more

I let myself be made ready by John Splendid without so much as putting
a hand to a buckle, for I was sick sorry that we had set out upon this
adventure. Shall any one say fear? It was as far from fear as it was
from merriment. I have known fear in my time--the fear of the night, of
tumultuous sea, of shot-ploughed space to be traversed inactively and
slowly, so my assurance is no braggadocio, but the simple truth. The
very sword itself, when I had it in my hand, felt like something alive
and vengeful.

Quick as we were in preparing, the sun was quicker in descending, and
as we faced each other, without any of the parades of foreign fence, the
sky hung like a bloody curtain between the trees behind MacLachlan.

M’Iver and the servant now stood aside and the play began. MacLachlan
engaged with the left foot forward, the trick of a man who is used to
the targaid, and I saw my poor fool’s doom in the antiquity of his first
guard. In two minutes I had his whole budget of the art laid bare to
me; he had but four parries--quarte and tierce for the high lines, with
septime and second for the low ones--and had never seen a counter-parry
or lunge in the whole course of his misspent life.

“Little hero!” thought I, “thou art a spitted cockerel already, and yet
hope, the blind, the ignorant, has no suspicion of it!”

A faint chill breeze rose and sighed among the wood, breathed from the
west that faced me, a breeze bearing the odour of the tree more strong
than before, and of corrupt leafage in the heughs. Our weapons tinkled
and rasped, the true-points hissed and the pommels rang, and into the
midst of this song of murderous game there trespassed the innocent
love-lilt of a bird. I risked him the flash of an eye as he stood, a
becking black body on a bough, his yellow beak shaking out a flutey note
of passionate serenade. Thus the irony of nature; no heed for us, the
head and crown of things created: the bird would build its home and
hatch its young upon the sapling whose roots were soaked by young
MacLachlan’s blood.

His blood! That was now the last thing I desired. He fought with
suppleness and strength, if not with art; he fought, too, with venom in
his strokes, his hair tossed high upon his temples, his eyes the whitest
of his person, as he stood, to his own advantage, that I never grudged
him, with his back against the sunset I contented with defence till he
cursed with a baffled accent. His man called piteously and eagerly; but
M’Iver checked him, and the fight went on. Not the lunge, at least,
I determined, though the punishment of a trivial wound was scarce
commensurate with his sin. So I let him slash and sweat till I wearied
of the game, caught his weapon in the curved guard of my hilt, and broke
it in two.

He dropped the fragment in his hand with a cry of mingled anger and
despair, snatched a knife from his stocking, and rushed on me to stab.
Even then I had him at my mercy. As he inclosed, I made a complete volte
with the left foot, passed back my right in rear of his, changed my
sword into my left hand, holding it by the middle of the blade and
presenting the point at his throat, while my right hand, across his
body, seized his wrist.

For a moment I felt the anger at his treachery almost overmaster me. He
thought himself gone. He let his head fall helplessly on my breast, and
stood still as one waiting the stroke, with his eyes, as M’Iver told
me again, closed and his mouth parted. But a spasm of disgust at the
uncleanness of the task to be done made me retch and pause.

“Home, dog!” I gasped, and I threw him from me sprawling on the sod.
He fell, in his weariness, in an awkward and helpless mass; the knife,
still in his hand, pierced him on the shoulder, and thus the injury I
could not give him by my will was given him by Providence. Over on his
back he turned with a plash of blood oozing at his shirt, and he grasped
with clawing fingers to stanch it, yet never relinquishing his look of
bitter anger at me. With cries, with tears, with names of affection, the
gillie ran to his master, who I saw was not very seriously injured.

M’Iver helped me on with my coat.

“You’re far too soft, man!” he said. “You would have let him go
scathless, and even now he has less than his deserts. You have a pretty
style of fence, do you know, and I should like to see it paraded against
a man more your equal.”

“You’ll never see it paraded by me,” I answered, sorrowfully. “Here’s my
last duello, if I live a thousand years.” And I went up and looked at my
fallen adversary. He was shivering with cold, though the sweat hung upon
the young down of his white cheeks, for the night air was more bitter
every passing moment The sun was all down behind the hills, the
valley was going to rest, the wood was already in obscurity. If our
butcher-work had seemed horrible in that sanctuary in the open light of
day, now in the eve it seemed more than before a crime against Heaven.
The lad weltering, with no word or moan from his lips; the servant
stanching his wound, shaken the while by brotherly tears; M’Iver, the
old man-at-arms, indifferent, practised to such sights, and with the
heart no longer moved by man-inflicted injury; and over all a brooding
silence; over all that place, consecrated once to God and prayer by men
of peace, but now degraded to a den of beasts--over it shone of a sudden
the new wan crescent moon! I turned me round, I turned and fell to
weeping in my hands!

This abject surrender of mine patently more astounded the company than
had the accident to MacLachlan. M’Iver stood dumfounded, to behold a
cavalier of fortune’s tears, and MacLachlan’s face, for all his pain,
gave up its hate and anger for surprise, as he looked at me over the
shoulder of his kneeling clansman plying rude leech-craft on his wound.

“Are you vexed?” said he, with short breaths.

“And that bitterly!” I answered.

“Oh, there is nothing to grieve on,” said he, mistaking me most
lamentably. “I’ll give you your chance again. I owe you no less; but my
knife, if you’ll believe me, sprang out of itself, and I struck at you
in a ruddy mist of the senses.”

“I seek no other chance,” I said; “our feuds are over: you were egged on
by a subterfuge, deceit has met deceit, and the balance is equal.”

His mood softened, and we helped him to his feet, M’Iver a silent man
because he failed to comprehend this turn of affairs. We took him to a
cothouse down at the foot of the wood, where he lay while a boy was sent
for a skilly woman.

In life, as often as in the stories of man’s invention, it is the one
wanted who comes when the occasion needs, for God so arranges, and if it
may seem odd that the skilly woman the messenger brought back with him
for the dressing of MacLachlan’s wound was no other than our Dark Dame
of Lorn, the dubiety must be at the Almighty’s capacity, and not at my
chronicle of the circumstance. As it happened, she had come back
from Dalness some days later than ourselves, none the worse for her
experience among the folks of that unchristian neighbourhood, who had
failed to comprehend that the crazy tumult of her mind might, like the
sea, have calm in its depths, and that she was more than by accident
the one who had alarmed us of their approach. She had come back with her
frenzy reduced, and was now with a sister at Balantyre the Lower, whose
fields slope on Aora’s finest bend.

For skill she had a name in three parishes; she had charms sure and
certain for fevers and hoasts; the lives of children were in her hands
while yet their mothers bore them; she knew manifold brews, decoctions,
and clysters; at morning on the saints’ days she would be in the woods,
or among the rocks by the rising of the sun, gathering mosses and herbs
and roots that contain the very juices of health and the secret of
age. I little thought that day when we waited for her, and my enemy lay
bleeding on the fern, that she would bring me the cure for a sore heart,
the worst of all diseases.

While M’Iver and I and the gillie waited the woman’s coming, MacLachlan
tossed in a fever, his mind absent and his tongue running on without
stoppage, upon affairs of a hundred different hues, but all leading
sooner or later to some babble about a child. It was ever “the dear
child,” the “_m’eudailgheal_” “the white treasure,” “the orphan “; it
was always an accent of the most fond and lingering character. I paid
no great heed to this constant wail; but M’Iver pondered and studied,
repeating at last the words to himself as MacLachlan uttered them.

“If that’s not the young one in Carlunnan he harps on,” he concluded at
last, “I’m mistaken. He seems even more wrapt in the child than does the
one we know who mothers it now, and you’ll notice, by the way, he has
nothing to say of her.”

“Neither he has,” I confessed, well enough pleased with a fact he had no
need to call my attention to.

“Do you know, I’m on the verge of a most particular deep secret?” said
John, leaving me to guess what he was at, but I paid no heed to him.

The skilly dame came in with her clouts and washes. She dressed the
lad’s wound and drugged him to a more cooling slumber, and he was to be
left in bed till the next day.

“What’s all his cry about the child?” asked M’Iver, indifferently, as we
stood at the door before leaving. “Is it only a fancy on his brain, or
do you know the one he speaks of?”

She put on a little air of vanity, the vanity of a woman who knows a
secret the rest of the world, and man particularly, is itching to
hear. “Oh, I daresay he has some one in his mind,” she admitted; “and
I daresay I know who it might be too, for I was the first to sweel the
baby and the last to dress its mother--blessing with her!”

M’I ver turned round and looked her, with cunning humour, in the face.
“I might well guess that,” he said; “you have the best name in the
countryside for these offices, that many a fumbling dame botches. I
suppose,” he added, when the pleasure in her face showed his words had
found her vanity--“I suppose you mean the bairn up in Carlunnan?”

“That’s the very one,” she said with a start; “but who told you?”

“Tuts!” said he, slyly, “the thing’s well enough known about the Castle,
and MacLachlan himself never denied he was the father. Do you think a
secret like that could be kept in a clattering parish like Inneraora?”

“You’re the first I ever heard get to the marrow of it,” confessed
the Dame Dubh. “MacLachlan himself never thought I was in the woman’s
confidence, and I’ve seen him in Carlunnan there since I came home,
pretending more than a cousin’s regard for the Provost’s daughter so
that he might share in the bairn’s fondling. He did it so well, too,
that the lady herself would talk of its fatherless state with tears in
her eyes.”

I stood by, stunned at the revelation that brought joy from the very
last quarter where I would have sought it. But I must not let my rapture
at the idea of MacLachlan’s being no suitor of the girl go too far till
I confirmed this new intelligence.

“Perhaps,” I said in a little to the woman, “the two of them fondling
the bairn were chief enough, though they did not share the secret of its

“Chief!” she cried; “the girl has no more notion of MacLachlan than I
have, if an old woman’s eyes that once were clear enough for such things
still show me anything. I would have been the first to tell her how
things stood if I had seen it otherwise. No, no; Mistress Brown has an
eye in other quarters. What do you say to that, Barbreck?” she added,
laughing slyly to my friend.

A great ease came upon my mind; it was lightened of a load that had lain
on it since ever my Tynree spaewife found, or pretended to find, in
my silvered loof such an unhappy portent of my future. And then this
rapture was followed by a gladness no less profound that Mac-Lachlan,
bad as he had been, was not the villain quite I had fancied: if he had
bragged of conquests, it had been with truth though not with decency.

Inneraora, as we returned to it that night, was a town enchanted; again
its lights shone warm and happily. I lingered late in its street, white
in the light of the stars, and looked upon the nine windows of Askaig’s
house. There was no light in all the place; the lower windows of the
tenement were shuttered, and slumber was within. It gave me an agreeable
exercise to guess which of the unshuttered nine would let in the first
of the morning light on a pillow with dark hair tossed upon it and a
rounded cheek upon a hand like milk.


Young Lachie did not bide long on our side of the water: a day or two
and he was away back to his people, but not before he and I, in a way,
patched up once more a friendship that had never been otherwise than
distant, and was destined so to remain till the end, when he married my
aunt, Nannie Ruadh of the Boshang Gate, whose money we had been led to
look for as a help to our fallen fortunes. She might, for age, have been
his mother, and she was more than a mother to the child he brought to
her from Carlunnan without so much as by your leave, the day after they
took up house together. “That’s my son,” said he, “young Lachie.” She
looked at the sturdy little fellow beating with a knife upon the bark
of an ashen sapling he was fashioning into a whistle, and there was no
denying the resemblance. The accident was common enough in those days.
“Who is the mother?” was all she said, with her plump hand on the little
fellow’s head. “She was So-and-so,” answered her husband, looking into
the fire; “we were very young, and I’ve paid the penalty by my rueing it
ever since.”

Nannie Ruadh took the child to her heart that never knew the glamour of
her own, and he grew up, as I could tell in a more interesting tale than
this, to be a great and good soldier, who won battles for his country.
So it will be seen that the Dame Dubh’s story to us in the cot by Aora
had not travelled very far when it had not in six years reached the
good woman of Boshang Gate, who knew everybody’s affairs between the two
stones of the parish. M’Iver and I shared the secret with MacLachlan and
the nurse of his dead lover; it went no farther, and it was all the
more wonderful that John should keep his thumb on it, considering its
relevancy to a blunder that made him seem a scoundrel in the eyes of
Mistress Betty. Once I proposed to him that through her father she might
have the true state of affairs revealed to her.

“Let her be,” he answered, “let her be. She’ll learn the truth some
day, no doubt.” And then, as by a second thought, “The farther off the
better, perhaps,” a saying full of mystery.

The Dark Dame, as I say, gave me the cure for a sore heart. Her news, so
cunningly squeezed from her by John Splendid, relieved me at once of the
dread that MacLachlan, by his opportunities of wooing, had made himself
secure in her affections, and that those rambles by the river to
Carlunnan had been by the tryst of lovers. A wholesome new confidence
came to my aid when the Provost, aging and declining day by day to the
last stroke that came so soon after, hinted once that he knew no one he
would sooner leave the fortunes of his daughter with than with myself.
I mooted the subject to his wife too, in one wild valour of a sudden
meeting, and even she, once so shy of the topic, seemed to look upon my
suit with favour.

“I could not have a goodson more worthy than yourself,” she was kind
enough to say. “Once I thought Betty’s favour was elsewhere, in an airt
that scarcely pleased me, and------”

“But that’s all over,” I said, warmly, sure she thought of MacLachlan.

“I hope it is; I think it is,” she said. “Once I had sharp eyes on my
daughter, and her heart’s inmost throb was plain to me, for you see,
Colin, I have been young myself, long since, and I remember. A brave
heart will win the brawest girl, and you have every wish of mine for
your good fortune.”

Then I played every art of the lover, emboldened the more since I knew
she had no tie of engagement. Remembering her father’s words in the
harvest-field of Elrigmore, I wooed her, not in humility, but in the
confidence that, in other quarters, ere she ever came on the scene, had
given me liberty on the lips of any girl I met in a lane without more
than a laughing protest Love, as I learned now, was not an outcome of
the reason but will’s mastership. Day by day I contrived to see my lady.
I was cautious to be neither too hot nor too cold, and never but at my
best in appearance and in conversation. All my shyness I thrust under my
feet: there is one way to a woman’s affections, and that is frankness
to the uttermost. I thought no longer, ere I spoke, if this sentiment
should make me ridiculous, or that sentiment too readily display my
fondness, but spoke out as one in a mere gallantry.

At first she was half alarmed at the new mood I was in, shrinking from
this, my open revelation, and yet, I could see, not unpleased altogether
that she should be the cause of a change so much to my advantage. I
began to find a welcome in her smile and voice when I called on the
household of an afternoon or evening, on one pretext or another, myself
ashamed sometimes at the very flimsiness of them. She would be knitting
by the fire perhaps, and it pleased me greatly by some design of my
conversation to make her turn at once her face from the flames whose
rosiness concealed her flushing, and reveal her confusion to’the yellow
candle-light. Oh! happy days. Oh! times so gracious, the spirit and the
joy they held are sometimes with me still. We revived, I think, the glow
of that meeting on the stair when I came home from Germanie, and the
hours passed in swallow flights as we talked of summer days gone bye.

At last we had even got the length of walking together in an afternoon
or evening in the wood behind the town that has been the haunt in
courting days of generations of our young people: except for a little
melancholy in my lady, these were perhaps life’s happiest periods. The
wind might be sounding and the old leaves flying in the wood, the air
might chill and nip, but there was no bitterness for us in the season’s
chiding. To-day, an old man, with the follies of youth made plain and
contemptible, I cannot but think those eves in the forest had something
precious and magic for memory. There is no sorrow in them but that they
are no more, and that the world to come may have no repetition. How the
trees, the tall companions, communed together in their heights among the
stars! how the burns tinkled in the grasses and the howlets mourned.
And we, together, walked sedate and slowly in those evening alleys,
surrounded by the scents the dews bring forth, shone upon by silver moon
and stars.

To-day, in my eld, it amuses me still that for long I never kissed her.
I had been too slow of making a trial, to venture it now without some
effort of spirit; and time after time I had started on our stately round
of the hunting-road with a resolution wrought up all the way from my
looking-glass at Elrigmore, that this should be the night, if any, when
I should take the liberty that surely our rambles, though actual word of
love had not been spoken, gave me a title to. A title! I had kissed many
a bigger girl before in a caprice at a hedge-gate. But this little one,
so demurely walking by my side, with never so much as an arm on mine,
her pale face like marble in the moonlight, her eyes, when turned on
mine, like dancing points of fire---Oh! the task defied me! The task I
say--it was a duty, I’ll swear now, in the experience of later years.

I kissed her first on the night before M’Iver set out on his travels
anew, no more in the camp of Argile his severed chief, but as a Cavalier
of the purchased sword.

It was a night of exceeding calm, with the moon, that I had seen as a
corn-hook over my warfare with MacLachlan in Tarra-dubh, swollen to the
full and gleaming upon the country till it shone as in the dawn of day.
We walked back and forth on the hunting-road, for long in a silence
broken by few words. My mind was in a storm. I felt that I was losing my
friend, and that, by itself, was trouble; but I felt, likewise, a shame
that the passion of love at my bosom robbed the deprivation of much of
its sorrow.

“I shall kiss her to-night if she spurns me for ever,” I said to myself
over and over again, and anon I would marvel at my own daring; but the
act was still to do. It was more than to do--it was to be led up to, and
yet my lady kept every entrance to the project barred, with a cunning
that yet astounds me.

We had talked of many things in our evening rambles in that wood, but
never of M’Iver, whose name the girl shunned mention of for a cause
I knew but could never set her right on. This night, his last in our
midst, I ventured on his name. She said nothing for a little, and for
a moment I thought, “Here’s a dour, little, unforgiving heart!”
 Then, softly, said she, “I wish him well and a safe return from his
travelling. I wish him better than his deserts. That he goes at all
surprises me. I thought it but John Splendid’s promise--to be acted on
or not as the mood happened.”

“Yes,” I said; “he goes without a doubt. I saw him to-day kiss his
farewells with half-a-dozen girls on the road between the Maltland and
the town.”

“I daresay,” she answered; “he never lacked boldness.”

My chance had come.

“No, indeed, he did not,” said I; “and I wish I had some of it myself.”

“What! for so common a display of it?” she asked, rallying, yet with
some sobriety in her tone.

“Not a bit,” I answered; “that--that--that I might act the part of a
lover with some credit to myself, and kiss the one girl I know in that

“Would she let you?” she asked, removing herself by a finger-length from
my side, yet not apparently enough to show she thought herself the one
in question.

“That, madame, is what troubles me,” I confessed in anguish, for her
words had burst the bubble of my courage.

“Of course you cannot tell till you try,” she said, demurely, looking
straight before her, no smile on the corners of her lips, that somehow
maddened by their look of pliancy.

“You know whom I mean,” I said, pursuing my plea, whose rustic
simplicity let no man mock at, remembering the gawky errors of his own

“There’s Bell, the minister’s niece, and there’s Kilblaan’s daughter,

“Oh, my dear! my dear!” I cried, stopping and putting my hand daringly
on her shoulder. “You know it is not any of these; you must know I mean
yourself. Here am I, a man travelled, no longer a youth, though still
with the flush of it, no longer with a humility to let me doubt myself
worthy of your best thoughts; I have let slip a score of chances on
this same path, and even now I cannot muster up the spirit to brave your
possible anger.”

She laughed a very pleasant soothing laugh and released her shoulder.
“At least you give me plenty of warning,” she said.

“I am going to kiss you now,” I said, with great firmness.

She walked a little faster, panting as I could hear, and I blamed myself
that I had alarmed her.

“At least,” I added, “I’ll do it when we get to Bealloch-an-uarain

She hummed a snatch of Gaelic song we have upon that notable well, a
song that is all an invitation to drink the waters while you are young
and drink you may, and I suddenly ventured to embrace her with an arm.
She drew up with stern lips and back from my embrace, and Elrigmore was
again in torment.

“You are to blame yourself,” I said, huskily; “you let me think I might.
And now I see you are angry.”

“Am I?” she said, smiling again. “I think you said the well, did you

“And may I?” eagerly I asked, devouring her with my eyes.

“You may--at the well,” she answered, and then she laughed softly.

Again my spirits bounded.

“But I was not thinking of going there to-night,” she added, and the
howlet in the bush beside me hooted at my ignominy.

I walked in a perspiration of vexation and alarm. It was plain that here
was no desire for my caress, that the girl was but probing the depth
of my presumption, and I gave up all thought of pushing my intention to
performance. Our conversation turned to more common channels, and I
had hoped my companion had lost the crude impression of my wooing as
we passed the path that led from the hunting-road to the

“Oh!” she cried here, “I wished for some ivy; I thought to pluck it
farther back, and your nonsense made me quite forget.”

“Cannot we return for it?” I said, well enough pleased at the chance of
prolonging our walk.

“No; it is too late,” she answered abruptly. “Is there nowhere else here
where we could get it?”

“I do not think so,” I said, stupidly. Then I remembered that it grew
in the richest profusion on the face of the grotto we call
Bealloch-an-uarain. “Except at the well,” I added.

“Of course it is so; now I remember,” said she; “there is plenty of
it there. Let us haste and get it” And she led the way up the path, I
following with a heart that surged and beat.

When our countryside is changed, when the forest of Creag Dubh, where
roam the deer, is levelled with the turf, and the foot of the passenger
wears round the castle of Argile, I hope, I pray, that grotto on the
brae will still lift up its face among the fern and ivy. Nowadays when
the mood comes on me, and I must be the old man chafing against the
decay of youth’s spirit, and the recollection overpowers of other times
and other faces than those so kent and tolerant about me, I put my
plaid on my shoulders and walk to Bealloch-an-uarain well. My children’s
children must be with me elsewhere on my saunters; here I must walk
alone. I am young again when looking on that magic fountain, still the
same as when its murmur sounded in my lover’s ears. Here are yet the
stalwart trees, the tall companions, that nodded on our shy confessions;
the ivy hangs in sheeny spray upon the wall. Time, that ranges, has
here no freedom, but stands, shackled by links of love and memory to
the rocks we sat on. I sit now there and muse, and beside me is a shadow
that never ages, with a pale face averted, looking through leafless
boughs at the glimpse of star and moon. I see the bosom heave; I see the
eyes flash full, then soften half-shut on some inward vision. For I am
never there at Bealloch-an-uarain, summer or spring, but the season, in
my thought, is that of my wife’s first kiss, and it is always a pleasant
evening and the birds are calling in the dusk.

I plucked my lady’s ivy with a cruel wrench, as one would pluck a sweet
delusion from his heart, and her fingers were so warm and soft as I gave
her the leaves! Then I turned to go.

“It is time we were home,” I said, anxious now to be alone with my

“In a moment,” she said, plucking more ivy for herself; and then she
said, “Let us sit a little; I am wearied.”

My courage came anew. “Fool!” I called myself. “You may never have the
chance again.” I sat down by her side, and talked no love but told a

It is a story we have in the sheilings among the hills, the tale of “The
Sea Fairy of French Foreland”; but I changed it as I went on, and made
the lover a soldier.

I made him wander, and wandering think of home and a girl beside the
sea. I made him confront wild enemies and battle with storms, I set him
tossing upon oceans and standing in the streets of leaguered towns, or
at grey heartless mornings upon lonely plains with solitude around, and
yet, in all, his heart was with the girl beside the sea.

She listened and flushed. My hero’s dangers lit her eyes like lanthorns,
my passions seemed to find an echo in her sighs.

Then I pitied my hero, the wandering soldier, so much alone, so eager,
and unforgetting, till I felt the tears in my eyes as I imaged his
hopeless longing.

She checked her sighs, she said my name in the softest whisper, laid
her head upon my shoulder and wept. And then at last I met her quivering


On the morrow, John Splendid came riding up the street on his way to
the foreign wars. He had attired himself most sprucely; he rode a good
horse, and he gave it every chance to show its quality. Old women cried
to him from their windows and close-mouths. “Oh! _laochain,_” they said,
“yours be the luck of the seventh son!” He answered gaily, with the
harmless flatteries that came so readily to his lips always, they seemed
the very bosom’s revelation. “Oh! women!” said he, “I’ll be thinking of
your handsome sons, and the happy days we spent together, and wishing
myself soberly home with them when I am far away.”

But not the old women alone waited on his going; shy girls courtesied or
applauded at the corners. For them his horse caracoled on Stonefield’s
causeway, his shoulders straightened, and his bonnet rose. “There
you are!” said he, “still the temptation and the despair of a decent
bachelor’s life. I’ll marry every one of you that has not a man when I
come home.”

“And when may that be?” cried a little, bold, lair one, with a laughing
look at him from under the blowing locks that escaped the snood on her

“When may it be?” he repeated. “Say ‘Come home, Barbreck,’ in every one
of your evening prayers, and heaven, for the sake of so sweet a face,
may send me home the sooner with my fortune.”

Master Gordon, passing, heard the speech. “Do your own praying,

“John,” said my hero. “John, this time, to you.”

“John be it,” said the cleric, smiling warmly. “I like you, truly, and I
wish you well.”

M’Iver stooped and took the proffered hand. “Master Gordon,” he said, “I
would sooner be liked and loved than only admired; that’s, perhaps, the
secret of my life.”

It was not the fishing season, but the street thronged with fishers from
Kenmore and Cairndhu and Kilcatrine and the bays of lower Cowal. Their
tall figures jostled in the causeway, their white teeth gleamed in their
friendliness, and they met this companion of numerous days and nights,
this gentleman of good-humour and even temper, with cries as in a
schoolboy’s playground. They clustered round the horse and seized upon
the trappings. Then John Splendid’s play-acting came to its conclusion,
as it was ever bound to do when his innermost man was touched. He forgot
the carriage of his shoulders; indifferent to the disposition of his
reins, he reached and wrung a hundred hands, crying back memory for
memory, jest for jest, and always the hope for future meetings.

“O scamps! scamps!” said he, “fishing the silly prey of ditches when
you might be with me upon the ocean and capturing the towns. I’ll never
drink a glass of Rhenish, but I’ll mind of you and sorrow for your sour
ales and bitter _aqua!_”

“Will it be long?” said they--true Gaels, ever anxious to know the lease
of pleasure or of grief.

“Long or short,” said he, with absent hands in his horse’s mane, “will
lie with Fate, and she, my lads, is a dour jade with a secret It’ll be
long if ye mind of me, and unco short if ye forget me till I return.”

I went up and said farewell. I but shook his hand, and my words were few
and simple. That took him, for he was always quick to sound the depth of
silent feeling.

“_Mo thruadh! mo thruadh!_ Colin,” said he. “My grief! my grief! here
are two brothers closer than by kin, and they have reached a gusset of
life, and there must be separation. I have had many a jolt from my fairy
relatives, but they have never been more wicked than now. I wish you
were with me, and yet, ah! yet----. Would her ladyship, think ye, forget
for a minute, and shake an old friend’s hand, and say good-bye?”

I turned to Betty, who stood a little back with her father, and conveyed
his wish. She came forward, dyed crimson to the neck, and stood by his
horse’s side. He slid off the saddle and shook her hand.

“It is very good of you,” said he. “You have my heart’s good wishes to
the innermost chamber.”

Then he turned to me, and while the fishermen stood back, he said, “I
envied you twice, Colin--once when you had the foresight of your fortune
on the side of Loch Loven, and now that it seems begun.”

He took the saddle, waved his bonnet in farewell to all the company,
then rode quickly up the street and round the castle walls.

It was a day for the open road, and, as we say, for putting the seven
glens and the seven bens and the seven mountain moors below a young
man’s feet,--a day with invitation in the air and the promise of gifts
around The mallards at morning had quacked in the Dhuloch pools, the
otter scoured the burn of Maam, the air-goat bleated as he flew among
the reeds, and the stag paused above his shed antlers on Torvil-side to
hide them in the dead bracken.

M’Iver rode beside flowering saugh and alder tree through those old
arches, now no more, those arches that were the outermost posterns
where good-luck allowed farewells. He dare not once look round, and his
closest friends dare not follow him, as he rode alone on the old road
so many of our people have gone to their country’s wars or to sporran

A silence fell upon the community, and in upon it broke from the
river-side the wail of a bagpipe played by the piper of Argile. It
played a tune familiar in those parts upon occasions of parting and
encouragement, a tune they call “Come back to the Glen.”

     Come back to the glen, to the glen, to the glen,
     And there shall the welcome be waiting for you.
     The deer and the heath-cock, the curd from the pen,
     The blaeberry fresh from the dew!

We saw the piper strut upon the gravelled walk beside the bridgegate, we
saw Argile himself come out to meet the traveller.

“MacCailein! MacCailein! Ah the dear heart!” cried all our people,
touched by this rare and genteel courtesy.

The Marquis and his clansman touched hands, lingered together a little,
and the rider passed on his way with the piper’s invitation the last
sound in his ears. He rode past Kilmalieu of the tombs, with his bonnet
off for all the dead that are so numerous there, so patient, waiting for
the final trump. He rode past Boshang Gate, portal to my native glen
of chanting birds and melodious waters and merry people. He rode past
Gearron hamlet, where the folk waved farewells; then over the river
before him was the bend that is ever the beginning of home-sickness for
all that go abroad for fortune.

I turned to the girl beside me, and “Sweetheart,” said I softly,
“there’s an elder brother lost. It is man’s greed, I know; but rich
though I am in this new heart of yours, I must be grudging the comrade

“Gone!” said she, with scarcely a glance after the departing figure.
“Better gone than here a perpetual sinner, deaf to the cry of justice
and of nature.”

“Good God!” I cried, “are you still in that delusion?” and I hinted at
the truth.

She saw the story at a flash; she paled to the very lips, and turned
and strained her vision after that figure slowly passing round the woody
point; she relinquished no moment of her gaze till the path bent and hid
John Splendid from her eager view.


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