A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 12

For close designs and crooked counsels fit,

Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,

Restless, unfix’d in principle and place,

In power unpleased, impatient in disgrace.

ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.

The village of Inverary, now a neat country town, then partook of the rudeness of the seventeenth century, in the miserable appearance of the houses, and the irregularity of the unpaved street. But a stronger and more terrible characteristic of the period appeared in the market-place, which was a space of irregular width, half way betwixt the harbour, or pier, and the frowning castle-gate, which terminated with its gloomy archway, portcullis, and flankers, the upper end of the vista. Midway this space was erected a rude gibbet, on which hung five dead bodies, two of which from their dress seemed to have been Lowlanders, and the other three corpses were muffled in their Highland plaids. Two or three women sate under the gallows, who seemed to be mourning, and singing the coronach of the deceased in a low voice. But the spectacle was apparently of too ordinary occurrence to have much interest for the inhabitants at large, who, while they thronged to look at the military figure, the horse of an unusual size, and the burnished panoply of Captain Dalgetty, seemed to bestow no attention whatever on the piteous spectacle which their own market-place afforded.

The envoy of Montrose was not quite so indifferent; and, hearing a word or two of English escape from a Highlander of decent appearance, he immediately halted Gustavus and addressed him, “The Provost-Marshal has been busy here, my friend. May I crave of you what these delinquents have been justified for?”

He looked towards the gibbet as he spoke; and the Gael, comprehending his meaning rather by his action than his words, immediately replied, “Three gentlemen caterans — God sain them,” (crossing himself)—“twa Sassenach bits o’ bodies, that wadna do something that M’Callum More bade them;” and turning from Dalgetty with an air of indifference, away he walked, staying no farther question.

Dalgetty shrugged his shoulders and proceeded, for Sir Duncan Campbell’s tenth or twelfth cousin had already shown some signs of impatience.

At the gate of the castle another terrible spectacle of feudal power awaited him. Within a stockade or palisade, which seemed lately to have been added to the defences of the gate, and which was protected by two pieces of light artillery, was a small enclosure, where stood a huge block, on which lay an axe. Both were smeared with recent blood, and a quantity of saw-dust strewed around, partly retained and partly obliterated the marks of a very late execution.

As Dalgetty looked on this new object of terror, his principal guide suddenly twitched him by the skirt of his jerkin, and having thus attracted his attention, winked and pointed with his finger to a pole fixed on the stockade, which supported a human head, being that, doubtless, of the late sufferer. There was a leer on the Highlander’s face, as he pointed to this ghastly spectacle, which seemed to his fellow-traveller ominous of nothing good.

Dalgetty dismounted from his horse at the gateway, and Gustavus was taken from him without his being permitted to attend him to the stable, according to his custom.

This gave the soldier a pang which the apparatus of death had not conveyed. —“Poor Gustavus!” said he to himself, “if anything but good happens to me, I had better have left him at Darnlinvarach than brought him here among these Highland salvages, who scarce know the head of a horse from his tail. But duty must part a man from his nearest and dearest —

“When the cannons are roaring, lads, and the colours are flying,

The lads that seek honour must never fear dying;

Then, stout cavaliers, let us toil our brave trade in,

And fight for the Gospel and the bold King of Sweden.”

Thus silencing his apprehensions with the but-end of a military ballad, he followed his guide into a sort of guard-room filled with armed Highlanders. It was intimated to him that he must remain here until his arrival was communicated to the Marquis. To make this communication the more intelligible, the doughty Captain gave to the Dunniewassel Sir Duncan Campbell’s packet, desiring, as well as he could, by signs, that it should be delivered into the Marquis’s own hand. His guide nodded, and withdrew.

The Captain was left about half an hour in this place, to endure with indifference, or return with scorn, the inquisitive, and, at the same time, the inimical glances of the armed Gael, to whom his exterior and equipage were as much subject of curiosity, as his person and country seemed matter of dislike. All this he bore with military nonchalance, until, at the expiration of the above period, a person dressed in black velvet, and wearing a gold chain like a modern magistrate of Edinburgh, but who was, in fact, steward of the household to the Marquis of Argyle, entered the apartment, and invited, with solemn gravity, the Captain to follow him to his master’s presence.

The suite of apartments through which he passed, were filled with attendants or visitors of various descriptions, disposed, perhaps, with some ostentation, in order to impress the envoy of Montrose with an idea of the superior power and magnificence belonging to the rival house of Argyle. One ante-room was filled with lacqueys, arrayed in brown and yellow, the colours of the family, who, ranged in double file, gazed in silence upon Captain Dalgetty as he passed betwixt their ranks. Another was occupied by Highland gentlemen and chiefs of small branches, who were amusing themselves with chess, backgammon, and other games, which they scarce intermitted to gaze with curiosity upon the stranger. A third was filled with Lowland gentlemen and officers, who seemed also in attendance; and, lastly, the presence-chamber of the Marquis himself showed him attended by a levee which marked his high importance.

This apartment, the folding doors of which were opened for the reception of Captain Dalgetty, was a long gallery, decorated with tapestry and family portraits, and having a vaulted ceiling of open wood-work, the extreme projections of the beams being richly carved and gilded. The gallery was lighted by long lanceolated Gothic casements, divided by heavy shafts, and filled with painted glass, where the sunbeams glimmered dimly through boars’-heads, and galleys, and batons, and swords, armorial bearings of the powerful house of Argyle, and emblems of the high hereditary offices of Justiciary of Scotland, and Master of the Royal Household, which they long enjoyed. At the upper end of this magnificent gallery stood the Marquis himself, the centre of a splendid circle of Highland and Lowland gentlemen, all richly dressed, among whom were two or three of the clergy, called in, perhaps, to be witnesses of his lordship’s zeal for the Covenant.

The Marquis himself was dressed in the fashion of the period, which Vandyke has so often painted, but his habit was sober and uniform in colour, and rather rich than gay. His dark complexion, furrowed forehead, and downcast look, gave him the appearance of one frequently engaged in the consideration of important affairs, and who has acquired, by long habit, an air of gravity and mystery, which he cannot shake off even where there is nothing to be concealed. The cast with his eyes, which had procured him in the Highlands the nickname of Gillespie Grumach (or the grim), was less perceptible when he looked downward, which perhaps was one cause of his having adopted that habit. In person, he was tall and thin, but not without that dignity of deportment and manners, which became his high rank. Something there was cold in his address, and sinister in his look, although he spoke and behaved with the usual grace of a man of such quality. He was adored by his own clan, whose advancement he had greatly studied, although he was in proportion disliked by the Highlanders of other septs, some of whom he had already stripped of their possessions, while others conceived themselves in danger from his future schemes, and all dreaded the height to which he was elevated.

We have already noticed, that in displaying himself amidst his councillors, his officers of the household, and his train of vassals, allies, and dependents, the Marquis of Argyle probably wished to make an impression on the nervous system of Captain Dugald Dalgetty. But that doughty person had fought his way, in one department or another, through the greater part of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, a period when a brave and successful soldier was a companion for princes. The King of Sweden, and, after his example, even the haughty Princes of the Empire, had found themselves fain, frequently to compound with their dignity, and silence, when they could not satisfy the pecuniary claims of their soldiers, by admitting them to unusual privileges and familiarity. Captain Dugald Dalgetty had it to boast, that he had sate with princes at feasts made for monarchs, and therefore was not a person to be brow-beat even by the dignity which surrounded M’Callum More. Indeed, he was naturally by no means the most modest man in the world, but, on the contrary, had so good an opinion of himself, that into whatever company he chanced to be thrown, he was always proportionally elevated in his own conceit; so that he felt as much at ease in the most exalted society as among his own ordinary companions. In this high opinion of his own rank, he was greatly fortified by his ideas of the military profession, which, in his phrase, made a valiant cavalier a camarade to an emperor.

When introduced, therefore, into the Marquis’s presence-chamber, he advanced to the upper end with an air of more confidence than grace, and would have gone close up to Argyle’s person before speaking, had not the latter waved his hand, as a signal to him to stop short. Captain Dalgetty did so accordingly, and having made his military congee with easy confidence, he thus accosted the Marquis: “Give you good morrow, my lord — or rather I should say, good even; BESO A USTED LOS MANOS, as the Spaniard says.”

“Who are you, sir, and what is your business?” demanded the Marquis, in a tone which was intended to interrupt the offensive familiarity of the soldier.

“That is a fair interrogative, my lord,” answered Dalgetty, “which I shall forthwith answer as becomes a cavalier, and that PEREMPTORIE, as we used to say at Mareschal-College.”

“See who or what he is, Neal,” said the Marquis sternly, to a gentleman who stood near him.

“I will save the honourable gentleman the labour of investigation,” continued the Captain. “I am Dugald Dalgetty, of Drumthwacket, that should be, late Ritt-master in various services, and now Major of I know not what or whose regiment of Irishes; and I am come with a flag of truce from a high and powerful lord, James Earl of Montrose, and other noble persons now in arms for his Majesty. And so, God save King Charles!”

“Do you know where you are, and the danger of dallying with us, sir,” again demanded the Marquis, “that you reply to me as if I were a child or a fool? The Earl of Montrose is with the English malignants; and I suspect you are one of those Irish runagates, who are come into this country to burn and slay, as they did under Sir Phelim O’Neale.”

“My lord,” replied Captain Dalgetty, “I am no renegade, though a Major of Irishes, for which I might refer your lordship to the invincible Gustavus Adolphus the Lion of the North, to Bannier, to Oxenstiern, to the warlike Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Tilly, Wallenstein, Piccolomini, and other great captains, both dead and living; and touching the noble Earl of Montrose, I pray your lordship to peruse these my full powers for treating with you in the name of that right honourable commander.”

The Marquis looked slightingly at the signed and sealed paper which Captain Dalgetty handed to him, and, throwing it with contempt upon a table, asked those around him what he deserved who came as the avowed envoy and agent of malignant traitors, in arms against the state?

“A high gallows and a short shrift,” was the ready answer of one of the bystanders.

“I will crave of that honourable cavalier who hath last spoken,” said Dalgetty, “to be less hasty in forming his conclusions, and also of your lordship to be cautelous in adopting the same, in respect such threats are to be held out only to base bisognos, and not to men of spirit and action, who are bound to peril themselves as freely in services of this nature, as upon sieges, battles, or onslaughts of any sort. And albeit I have not with me a trumpet, or a white flag, in respect our army is not yet equipped with its full appointments, yet the honourable cavaliers and your lordship must concede unto me, that the sanctity of an envoy who cometh on matter of truth or parle, consisteth not in the fanfare of a trumpet, whilk is but a sound, or in the flap of a white flag, whilk is but an old rag in itself, but in the confidence reposed by the party sending, and the party sent, in the honour of those to whom the message is to be carried, and their full reliance that they will respect the JUS GENTIUM, as weel as the law of arms, in the person of the commissionate.”

“You are not come hither to lecture us upon the law of arms, sir,” said the Marquis, “which neither does nor can apply to rebels and insurgents; but to suffer the penalty of your insolence and folly for bringing a traitorous message to the Lord Justice General of Scotland, whose duty calls upon him to punish such an offence with death.”

“Gentlemen,” said the Captain, who began much to dislike the turn which his mission seemed about to take, “I pray you to remember, that the Earl of Montrose will hold you and your possessions liable for whatever injury my person, or my horse, shall sustain by these unseemly proceedings, and that he will be justified in executing retributive vengeance on your persons and possessions.”

This menace was received with a scornful laugh, while one of the Campbells replied, “It is a far cry to Lochow;” proverbial expression of the tribe, meaning that their ancient hereditary domains lay beyond the reach of an invading enemy. “But, gentlemen,” further urged the unfortunate Captain, who was unwilling to be condemned, without at least the benefit of a full hearing, “although it is not for me to say how far it may be to Lochow, in respect I am a stranger to these parts, yet, what is more to the purpose, I trust you will admit that I have the guarantee of an honourable gentleman of your own name, Sir Duncan Campbell of Ardenvohr, for my safety on this mission; and I pray you to observe, that in breaking the truce towards me, you will highly prejudicate his honour and fair fame.”

This seemed to be new information to many of the gentlemen, for they spoke aside with each other, and the Marquis’s face, notwithstanding his power of suppressing all external signs of his passions, showed impatience and vexation.

“Does Sir Duncan of Ardenvohr pledge his honour for this person’s safety, my lord?” said one of the company, addressing the Marquis.

“I do not believe it,” answered the Marquis; “but I have not yet had time to read his letter.”

“We will pray your lordship to do so,” said another of the Campbells; “our name must not suffer discredit through the means of such a fellow as this.”

“A dead fly,” said a clergyman, “maketh the ointment of the apothecary to stink.”

“Reverend sir,” said Captain Dalgetty, “in respect of the use to be derived, I forgive you the unsavouriness of your comparison; and also remit to the gentleman in the red bonnet, the disparaging epithet of FELLOW, which he has discourteously applied to me, who am no way to be distinguished by the same, unless in so far as I have been called fellow-soldier by the great Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North, and other choice commanders, both in Germany and the Low Countries. But, touching Sir Duncan Campbell’s guarantee of my safety, I will gage my life upon his making my words good thereanent, when he comes hither tomorrow.”

“If Sir Duncan be soon expected, my Lord,” said one of the intercessors, “it would be a pity to anticipate matters with this poor man.”

“Besides that,” said another, “your lordship — I speak with reverence — should, at least, consult the Knight of Ardenvohr’s letter, and learn the terms on which this Major Dalgetty, as he calls himself, has been sent hither by him.”

They closed around the Marquis, and conversed together in a low tone, both in Gaelic and English. The patriarchal power of the Chiefs was very great, and that of the Marquis of Argyle, armed with all his grants of hereditary jurisdiction, was particularly absolute. But there interferes some check of one kind or other even in the most despotic government. That which mitigated the power of the Celtic Chiefs, was the necessity which they lay under of conciliating the kinsmen who, under them, led out the lower orders to battle, and who formed a sort of council of the tribe in time of peace. The Marquis on this occasion thought himself under the necessity of attending to the remonstrances of this senate, or more properly COUROULTAI, of the name of Campbell, and, slipping out of the circle, gave orders for the prisoner to be removed to a place of security.

“Prisoner!” exclaimed Dalgetty, exerting himself with such force as wellnigh to shake off two Highlanders, who for some minutes past had waited the signal to seize him, and kept for that purpose close at his back. Indeed the soldier had so nearly attained his liberty, that the Marquis of Argyle changed colour, and stepped back two paces, laying, however, his hand on his sword, while several of his clan, with ready devotion, threw themselves betwixt him and the apprehended vengeance of the prisoner. But the Highland guards were too strong to be shaken off, and the unlucky Captain, after having had his offensive weapons taken from him, was dragged off and conducted through several gloomy passages to a small side-door grated with iron, within which was another of wood. These were opened by a grim old Highlander with a long white beard, and displayed a very steep and narrow flight of steps leading downward. The Captain’s guards pushed him down two or three steps, then, unloosing his arms, left him to grope his way to the bottom as he could; a task which became difficult and even dangerous, when the two doors being successively locked left the prisoner in total darkness.

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