A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 11

Is this thy castle, Baldwin? Melancholy

Displays her sable banner from the donjon,

Darkening the foam of the whole surge beneath.

Were I a habitant, to see this gloom

Pollute the face of nature, and to hear

The ceaseless sound of wave, and seabird’s scream,

I’d wish me in the hut that poorest peasant

E’er framed, to give him temporary shelter.

BROWN.

The gallant Ritt-master would willingly have employed his leisure in studying the exterior of Sir Duncan’s castle, and verifying his own military ideas upon the nature of its defences. But a stout sentinel, who mounted guard with a Lochaber-axe at the door of his apartment, gave him to understand, by very significant signs, that he was in a sort of honourable captivity.

It is strange, thought the Ritt-master to himself, how well these salvages understand the rules and practique of war. Who should have pre-supposed their acquaintance with the maxim of the great and godlike Gustavus Adolphus, that a flag of truce should be half a messenger half a spy? — And, having finished burnishing his arms, he sate down patiently to compute how much half a dollar per diem would amount to at the end of a six-months’ campaign; and, when he had settled that problem, proceeded to the more abstruse calculations necessary for drawing up a brigade of two thousand men on the principle of extracting the square root.

From his musings, he was roused by the joyful sound of the dinner bell, on which the Highlander, lately his guard, became his gentleman-usher, and marshalled him to the hall, where a table with four covers bore ample proofs of Highland hospitality. Sir Duncan entered, conducting his lady, a tall, faded, melancholy female, dressed in deep mourning. They were followed by a Presbyterian clergyman, in his Geneva cloak, and wearing a black silk skull-cap, covering his short hair so closely, that it could scarce be seen at all, so that the unrestricted ears had an undue predominance in the general aspect. This ungraceful fashion was universal at the time, and partly led to the nicknames of roundheads, prick-eared curs, and so forth, which the insolence of the cavaliers liberally bestowed on their political enemies.

Sir Duncan presented his military guest to his lady, who received his technical salutation with a stiff and silent reverence, in which it could scarce be judged whether pride or melancholy had the greater share. The churchman, to whom he was next presented, eyed him with a glance of mingled dislike and curiosity.

The Captain, well accustomed to worse looks from more dangerous persons, cared very little either for those of the lady or of the divine, but bent his whole soul upon assaulting a huge piece of beef, which smoked at the nether end of the table. But the onslaught, as he would have termed it, was delayed, until the conclusion of a very long grace, betwixt every section of which Dalgetty handled his knife and fork, as he might have done his musket or pike when going upon action, and as often resigned them unwillingly when the prolix chaplain commenced another clause of his benediction. Sir Duncan listened with decency, though he was supposed rather to have joined the Covenanters out of devotion to his chief, than real respect for the cause either of liberty or of Presbytery. His lady alone attended to the blessing, with symptoms of deep acquiescence.

The meal was performed almost in Carthusian silence; for it was none of Captain Dalgetty’s habits to employ his mouth in talking, while it could be more profitably occupied. Sir Duncan was absolutely silent, and the lady and churchman only occasionally exchanged a few words, spoken low, and indistinctly.

But, when the dishes were removed, and their place supplied by liquors of various sorts, Captain Dalgetty no longer had, himself, the same weighty reasons for silence, and began to tire of that of the rest of the company. He commenced a new attack upon his landlord, upon the former ground.

“Touching that round monticle, or hill, or eminence, termed Drumsnab, I would be proud to hold some dialogue with you, Sir Duncan, on the nature of the sconce to be there constructed; and whether the angles thereof should be acute or obtuse — anent whilk I have heard the great Velt-Mareschal Bannier hold a learned argument with General Tiefenbach during a still-stand of arms.”

“Captain Dalgetty,” answered Sir Duncan very dryly, “it is not our Highland usage to debate military points with strangers. This castle is like to hold out against a stronger enemy than any force which the unfortunate gentlemen we left at Darnlinvarach are able to bring against it.”

A deep sigh from the lady accompanied the conclusion of her husband’s speech, which seemed to remind her of some painful circumstance.

“He who gave,” said the clergyman, addressing her in a solemn tone, “hath taken away. May you, honourable lady, be long enabled to say, Blessed be his name!”

To this exhortation, which seemed intended for her sole behoof, the lady answered by an inclination of her head, more humble than Captain Dalgetty had yet observed her make. Supposing he should now find her in a more conversible humour, he proceeded to accost her.

“It is indubitably very natural that your ladyship should be downcast at the mention of military preparations, whilk I have observed to spread perturbation among women of all nations, and almost all conditions. Nevertheless, Penthesilea, in ancient times, and also Joan of Arc, and others, were of a different kidney. And, as I have learned while I served the Spaniard, the Duke of Alva in former times had the leaguer-lasses who followed his camp marshalled into TERTIAS (whilk me call regiments), and officered and commanded by those of their own feminine gender, and regulated by a commander-in chief, called in German Hureweibler, or, as we would say vernacularly, Captain of the Queans. True it is, they were persons not to be named as parallel to your ladyship, being such QUAE QUAESTUM CORPORIBUS FACIEBANT, as we said of Jean Drochiels at Mareschal-College; the same whom the French term CURTISANNES, and we in Scottish —”

“The lady will spare you the trouble of further exposition, Captain Dalgetty,” said his host, somewhat sternly; to which the clergyman added, “that such discourse better befitted a watch-tower guarded by profane soldiery than the board of an honourable person, and the presence of a lady of quality.”

“Craving your pardon, Dominie, or Doctor, AUT QUOCUNQUE ALIO NOMINE GAUDES, for I would have you to know I have studied polite letters,” said the unabashed envoy, filling a great cup of wine, “I see no ground for your reproof, seeing I did not speak of those TURPES PERSONAE, as if their occupation or character was a proper subject of conversation for this lady’s presence, but simply PAR ACCIDENS, as illustrating the matter in hand, namely, their natural courage and audacity, much enhanced, doubtless, by the desperate circumstances of their condition.”

“Captain Dalgetty,” said Sir Duncan Campbell, “to break short this discourse, I must acquaint you, that I have some business to dispatch to-night, in order to enable me to ride with you tomorrow towards Inverary; and therefore —”

“To ride with this person tomorrow!” exclaimed his lady; “such cannot be your purpose, Sir Duncan, unless you have forgotten that the morrow is a sad anniversary, and dedicated to as sad a solemnity.”

“I had not forgotten,” answered Sir Duncan; “how is it possible I can ever forget? but the necessity of the times requires I should send this officer onward to Inverary, without loss of time.”

“Yet, surely, not that you should accompany him in person?” enquired the lady.

“It were better I did,” said Sir Duncan; “yet I can write to the Marquis, and follow on the subsequent day. — Captain Dalgetty, I will dispatch a letter for you, explaining to the Marquis of Argyle your character and commission, with which you will please to prepare to travel to Inverary early tomorrow morning.”

“Sir Duncan Campbell,” said Dalgetty, “I am doubtless at your discretionary disposal in this matter; not the less, I pray you to remember the blot which will fall upon your own escutcheon, if you do in any way suffer me, being a commissionate flag of truce, to be circumvented in this matter, whether CLAM, VI, VEL PRECARIO; I do not say by your assent to any wrong done to me, but even through absence of any due care on your part to prevent the same.”

“You are under the safeguard of my honour, sir,” answered Sir Duncan Campbell, “and that is more than a sufficient security. And now,” continued he, rising, “I must set the example of retiring.”

Dalgetty saw himself under the necessity of following the hint, though the hour was early; but, like a skilful general, he availed himself of every instant of delay which circumstances permitted. “Trusting to your honourable parole,” said he, filling his cup, “I drink to you, Sir Duncan, and to the continuance of your honourable-house.” A sigh from Sir Duncan was the only reply. “Also, madam,” said the soldier, replenishing the quaigh with all possible dispatch, “I drink to your honourable health, and fulfilment of all your virtuous desires — and, reverend sir” (not forgetting to fit the action to the words), “I fill this cup to the drowning of all unkindness betwixt you and Captain Dalgetty — I should say Major — and, in respect the flagon contains but one cup more, I drink to the health of all honourable cavaliers and brave soldados — and, the flask being empty, I am ready, Sir Duncan, to attend your functionary or sentinel to my place of private repose.”

He received a formal permission to retire, and an assurance, that as the wine seemed to be to his taste, another measure of the same vintage should attend him presently, in order to soothe the hours of his solitude.

No sooner had the Captain reached the apartment than this promise was fulfilled; and, in a short time afterwards, the added comforts of a pasty of red-deer venison rendered him very tolerant both of confinement and want of society. The same domestic, a sort of chamberlain, who placed this good cheer in his apartment, delivered to Dalgetty a packet, sealed and tied up with a silken thread, according to the custom of the time, addressed with many forms of respect to the High and Mighty Prince, Archibald, Marquis of Argyle, Lord of Lorne, and so forth. The chamberlain at the same time apprized the Ritt-master, that he must take horse at an early hour for Inverary, where the packet of Sir Duncan would be at once his introduction and his passport. Not forgetting that it was his object to collect information as well as to act as an envoy, and desirous, for his own sake, to ascertain Sir Duncan’s reasons for sending him onward without his personal attendance, the Ritt-master enquired the domestic, with all the precaution that his experience suggested, what were the reasons which detained Sir Duncan at home on the succeeding day. The man, who was from the Lowlands, replied, “that it was the habit of Sir Duncan and his lady to observe as a day of solemn fast and humiliation the anniversary on which their castle had been taken by surprise, and their children, to the number of four, destroyed cruelly by a band of Highland freebooters during Sir Duncan’s absence upon an expedition which the Marquis of Argyle had undertaken against the Macleans of the Isle of Mull.”

“Truly,” said the soldier, “your lord and lady have some cause for fast and humiliation. Nevertheless, I will venture to pronounce, that if he had taken the advice of any experienced soldier, having skill in the practiques of defending places of advantage, he would have built a sconce upon the small hill which is to the left of the draw-brigg. And this I can easily prove to you, mine honest friend; for, holding that pasty to be the castle — What’s your name, friend?”

“Lorimer, sir,” replied the man.

“Here is to your health, honest Lorimer. — I say, Lorimer — holding that pasty to be the main body or citadel of the place to be defended, and taking the marrow-bone for the sconce to be erected —”

“I am sorry, sir,” said Lorimer, interrupting him, “that I cannot stay to hear the rest of your demonstration; but the bell will presently ring. As worthy Mr. Graneangowl, the Marquis’s own chaplain, does family worship, and only seven of our household out of sixty persons understand the Scottish tongue, it would misbecome any one of them to be absent, and greatly prejudice me in the opinion of my lady. There are pipes and tobacco, sir, if you please to drink a whiff of smoke, and if you want anything else, it shall be forthcoming two hours hence, when prayers are over.” So saying, he left the apartment.

No sooner was he gone, than the heavy toll of the castle-bell summoned its inhabitants together; and was answered by the shrill clamour of the females, mixed with the deeper tones of the men, as, talking Earse at the top of their throats, they hurried from different quarters by a long but narrow gallery, which served as a communication to many rooms, and, among others, to that in which Captain Dalgetty was stationed. There they go as if they were beating to the roll-call, thought the soldier to himself; if they all attend the parade, I will look out, take a mouthful of fresh air, and make mine own observations on the practicabilities of this place.

Accordingly, when all was quiet, he opened his chamber door, and prepared to leave it, when he saw his friend with the axe advancing towards him from the distant end of the gallery, half whistling, a Gaelic tune. To have shown any want of confidence, would have been at once impolitic, and unbecoming his military character; so the Captain, putting the best face upon his situation he could, whistled a Swedish retreat, in a tone still louder than the notes of his sentinel; and retreating pace by pace, with an air of indifference, as if his only purpose had been to breathe a little fresh air, he shut the door in the face of his guard, when the fellow had approached within a few paces of him.

It is very well, thought the Ritt-master to himself; he annuls my parole by putting guards upon me, for, as we used to say at Mareschal-College, FIDES ET FIDUCIA SUNT RELATIVA [See Note I]; and if he does not trust my word, I do not see how I am bound to keep it, if any motive should occur for my desiring to depart from it. Surely the moral obligation of the parole is relaxed, in as far as physical force is substituted instead thereof.

Thus comforting himself in the metaphysical immunities which he deduced from the vigilance of his sentinel, Ritt-master Dalgetty retired to his apartment, where, amid the theoretical calculations of tactics, and the occasional more practical attacks on the flask and pasty, he consumed the evening until it was time to go to repose. He was summoned by Lorimer at break of day, who gave him to understand, that, when he had broken his fast, for which he produced ample materials, his guide and horse were in attendance for his journey to Inverary. After complying with the hospitable hint of the chamberlain, the soldier proceeded to take horse. In passing through the apartments, he observed that domestics were busily employed in hanging the great hall with black cloth, a ceremony which, he said, he had seen practised when the immortal Gustavus Adolphus lay in state in the Castle of Wolgast, and which, therefore, he opined, was a testimonial of the strictest and deepest mourning.

When Dalgetty mounted his steed, he found himself attended, or perhaps guarded, by five or six Campbells, well armed, commanded by one, who, from the target at his shoulder, and the short cock’s feather in his bonnet, as well as from the state which he took upon himself, claimed the rank of a Dunniewassel, or clansman of superior rank; and indeed, from his dignity of deportment, could not stand in a more distant degree of relationship to Sir Duncan, than that of tenth or twelfth cousin at farthest. But it was impossible to extract positive information on this or any other subject, inasmuch as neither this commander nor any of his party spoke English. The Captain rode, and his military attendants walked; but such was their activity, and so numerous the impediments which the nature of the road presented to the equestrian mode of travelling, that far from being retarded by the slowness of their pace, his difficulty was rather in keeping up with his guides. He observed that they occasionally watched him with a sharp eye, as if they were jealous of some effort to escape; and once, as he lingered behind at crossing a brook, one of the gillies began to blow the match of his piece, giving him to understand that he would run some risk in case of an attempt to part company. Dalgetty did not augur much good from the close watch thus maintained upon his person; but there was no remedy, for an attempt to escape from his attendants in an impervious and unknown country, would have been little short of insanity. He therefore plodded patiently on through a waste and savage wilderness, treading paths which were only known to the shepherds and cattle-drivers, and passing with much more of discomfort than satisfaction many of those sublime combinations of mountainous scenery which now draw visitors from every corner of England, to feast their eyes upon Highland grandeur, and mortify their palates upon Highland fare.

At length they arrived on the southern verge of that noble lake upon which Inverary is situated; and a bugle, which the Dunniewassel winded till rock and greenwood rang, served as a signal to a well-manned galley, which, starting from a creek where it lay concealed, received the party on board, including Gustavus; which sagacious quadruped, an experienced traveller both by water and land, walked in and out of the boat with the discretion of a Christian.

Embarked on the bosom of Loch Fine, Captain Dalgetty might have admired one of the grandest scenes which nature affords. He might have noticed the rival rivers Aray and Shiray, which pay tribute to the lake, each issuing from its own dark and wooded retreat. He might have marked, on the soft and gentle slope that ascends from the shores, the noble old Gothic castle, with its varied outline, embattled walls, towers, and outer and inner courts, which, so far as the picturesque is concerned, presented an aspect much more striking than the present massive and uniform mansion. He might have admired those dark woods which for many a mile surrounded this strong and princely dwelling, and his eye might have dwelt on the picturesque peak of Duniquoich, starting abruptly from the lake, and raising its scathed brow into the mists of middle sky, while a solitary watch-tower, perched on its top like an eagle’s nest, gave dignity to the scene by awakening a sense of possible danger. All these, and every other accompaniment of this noble scene, Captain Dalgetty might have marked, if he had been so minded. But, to confess the truth, the gallant Captain, who had eaten nothing since daybreak, was chiefly interested by the smoke which ascended from the castle chimneys, and the expectations which this seemed to warrant of his encountering an abundant stock of provant, as he was wont to call supplies of this nature.

The boat soon approached the rugged pier, which abutted into the loch from the little town of Inverary, then a rude assemblage of huts, with a very few stone mansions interspersed, stretching upwards from the banks of Loch Fine to the principal gate of the castle, before which a scene presented itself that might easily have quelled a less stout heart, and turned a more delicate stomach, than those of Ritt-master Dugald Dalgetty, titular of Drumthwacket.

Note I. — Fides Et Fiducia Sunt Relativa.

The military men of the times agreed upon dependencies of honour, as they called them, with all the metaphysical argumentation of civilians, or school divines.

The English officer, to whom Sir James Turner was prisoner after the rout at Uttoxeter, demanded his parole of honour not to go beyond the wall of Hull without liberty. “He brought me the message himself — I told him I was ready to do so, provided he removed his guards from me, for FIDES ET FIDUCIA SUNT RELATIVA; and, if he took my word for my fidelity, he was obliged to trust it, otherwise, it was needless for him to seek it, either to give trust to my word, which I would not break, or his own guards, who I supposed would not deceive him. In this manner I dealt with him, because I knew him to be a scholar.”— TURNER’S MEMOIRS, p. 80.

The English officer allowed the strength of the reasoning; but that concise reasoner, Cromwell, soon put an end to the dilemma: “Sir James Turner must give his parole, or be laid in irons.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29