A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 17

The march begins in military state,

And nations on his eyes suspended wait;

Stern famine guards the solitary coast,

And winter barricades the realms of frost.

He comes — nor want, nor cold, his course delay.

VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES.

By break of day Montrose received in his cabin old MacEagh, and questioned him long and particularly as to the means of approaching the country of Argyle. He made a note of his answers, which he compared with those of two of his followers, whom he introduced as the most prudent and experienced. He found them to correspond in all respects; but, still unsatisfied where precaution was so necessary, the Marquis compared the information he had received with that he was able to collect from the Chiefs who lay most near to the destined scene of invasion, and being in all respects satisfied of its accuracy, he resolved to proceed in full reliance upon it.

In one point Montrose changed his mind. Having judged it unfit to take the boy Kenneth into his own service, lest, in case of his birth being discovered, it should be resented as an offence by the numerous clans who entertained a feudal enmity to this devoted family, he requested the Major to take him in attendance upon himself; and as he accompanied this request with a handsome DOUCEUR, under pretence of clothing and equipping the lad, this change was agreeable to all parties.

It was about breakfast-time, when Major Dalgetty, being dismissed by Montrose, went in quest of his old acquaintances, Lord Menteith and the M’Aulays, to whom he longed to communicate his own adventures, as well as to learn from them the particulars of the campaign. It may be imagined he was received with great glee by men to whom the late uniformity of their military life had rendered any change of society an interesting novelty. Allan M’Aulay alone seemed to recoil from his former acquaintance, although, when challenged by his brother, he could render no other reason than a reluctance to be familiar with one who had been so lately in the company of Argyle, and other enemies. Major Dalgetty was a little alarmed by this sort of instinctive consciousness which Allan seemed to entertain respecting the society he had been lately keeping; he was soon satisfied, however, that the perceptions of the seer in this particular were not infallible.

As Ranald MacEagh was to be placed under Major Dalgetty’s protection and superintendence, it was necessary he should present him to those persons with whom he was most likely to associate. The dress of the old man had, in the meantime, been changed from the tartan of his clan to a sort of clothing peculiar to the men of the distant Isles, resembling a waistcoat with sleeves, and a petticoat, all made in one piece. This dress was laced from top to bottom in front, and bore some resemblance to that called Polonaise, still worn by children in Scotland of the lower rank. The tartan hose and bonnet completed the dress, which old men of the last century remembered well to have seen worn by the distant Islesmen who came to the Earl of Mar’s standard in the year 1715.

Major Dalgetty, keeping his eye on Allan as he spoke, introduced Ranald MacEagh under the fictitious name of Ranald MacGillihuron in Benbecula, who had escaped with him out of Argyle’s prison. He recommended him as a person skilful in the arts of the harper and the senachie, and by no means contemptible in the quality of a second-sighted person or seer. While making this exposition, Major Dalgetty stammered and hesitated in a way so unlike the usual glib forwardness of his manner, that he could not have failed to have given suspicion to Allan M’Aulay, had not that person’s whole attention been engaged in steadily perusing the features of the person thus introduced to him. This steady gaze so much embarrassed Ranald MacEagh, that his hand was beginning to sink down towards his dagger, in expectation of a hostile assault, when Allan, suddenly crossing the floor of the hut, extended his hand to him in the way of friendly greeting. They sat down side by side, and conversed in a low mysterious tone of voice. Menteith and Angus M’Aulay were not surprised at this, for there prevailed among the Highlanders who pretended to the second-sight, a sort of Freemasonry, which generally induced them, upon meeting, to hold communication with each other on the nature and extent of their visionary experiences.

“Does the sight come gloomy upon your spirits?” said Allan to his new acquaintance.

“As dark as the shadow upon the moon,” replied Ranald, “when she is darkened in her mid-course in heaven, and prophets foretell of evil times.”

“Come hither,” said Allan, “come more this way, I would converse with you apart; for men say that in your distant islands the sight is poured forth with more clearness and power than upon us, who dwell near the Sassenach.”

While they were plunged into their mystic conference, the two English cavaliers entered the cabin in the highest possible spirits, and announced to Angus M’Aulay that orders had been issued that all should hold themselves in readiness for an immediate march to the westward. Having delivered themselves of their news with much glee, they paid their compliments to their old acquaintance Major Dalgetty, whom they instantly recognised, and enquired after the health of his charger, Gustavus.

“I humbly thank you, gentlemen,” answered the soldier, “Gustavas is well, though, like his master, somewhat barer on the ribs than when you offered to relieve me of him at Darnlinvarach; and let me assure you, that before you have made one or two of those marches which you seem to contemplate with so much satisfaction in prospect, you will leave, my good knights, some of your English beef, and probably an English horse or two, behind you.”

Both exclaimed that they cared very little what they found or what they left, provided the scene changed from dogging up and down Angus and Aberdeenshire, in pursuit of an enemy who would neither fight nor run away.

“If such be the case,” said Angus M’Aulay, “I must give orders to my followers, and make provision too for the safe conveyance of Annot Lyle; for an advance into M’Callum More’s country will be a farther and fouler road than these pinks of Cumbrian knighthood are aware of.” So saying, he left the cabin.

“Annot Lyle!” repeated Dalgetty, “is she following the campaign?”

“Surely,” replied Sir Giles Musgrave, his eye glancing slightly from Lord Menteith to Allan M’Aulay; “we could neither march nor fight, advance nor retreat, without the influence of the Princess of Harps.”

“The Princess of Broadswords and Targets, I say,” answered his companion; “for the Lady of Montrose herself could not be more courteously waited upon; she has four Highland maidens, and as many bare-legged gillies, to wait upon her orders.”

“And what would you have, gentlemen?” said Allan, turning suddenly from the Highlander with whom he was in conversation; “would you yourselves have left an innocent female, the companion of your infancy, to die by violence, or perish by famine? There is not, by this time, a roof upon the habitation of my fathers — our crops have been destroyed, and our cattle have been driven — and you, gentlemen, have to bless God, that, coming from a milder and more civilized country, you expose only your own lives in this remorseless war, without apprehension that your enemies will visit with their vengeance the defenceless pledges you may have left behind you.”

The Englishmen cordially agreed that they had the superiority in this respect; and the company, now dispersing, went each to his several charge or occupation.

Allan lingered a moment behind, still questioning the reluctant Ranald MacEagh upon a point in his supposed visions, by which he was greatly perplexed. “Repeatedly,” he said, “have I had the sight of a Gael, who seemed to plunge his weapon into the body of Menteith — of that young nobleman in the scarlet laced cloak, who has just now left the bothy. But by no effort, though I have gazed till my eyes were almost fixed in the sockets, can I discover the face of this Highlander, or even conjecture who he may be, although his person and air seem familiar to me.” [See Note II. — Wraiths.]

“Have you reversed your own plaid,” said Ranald, “according to the rule of the experienced Seers in such case?”

“I have,” answered Allan, speaking low, and shuddering as if with internal agony.

“And in what guise did the phantom then appear to you?” said Ranald.

“With his plaid also reversed,” answered Allan, in the same low and convulsed tone.

“Then be assured,” said Ranald, “that your own hand, and none other, will do the deed of which you have witnessed the shadow.”

“So has my anxious soul a hundred times surmised,” replied Allan. “But it is impossible! Were I to read the record in the eternal book of fate, I would declare it impossible — we are bound by the ties of blood, and by a hundred ties more intimate — we have stood side by side in battle, and our swords have reeked with the blood of the same enemies — it is IMPOSSIBLE I should harm him!”

“That you WILL do so,” answered Ranald, “is certain, though the cause be hid in the darkness of futurity. You say,” he continued, suppressing his own emotions with difficulty, “that side by side you have pursued your prey like bloodhounds — have you never seen bloodhounds turn their fangs against each other, and fight over the body of a throttled deer?”

“It is false!” said M’Aulay, starting up, “these are not the forebodings of fate, but the temptation of some evil spirit from the bottomless pit!” So saying, he strode out of the cabin.

“Thou hast it!” said the Son of the Mist, looking after him with an air of exultation; “the barbed arrow is in thy side! Spirits of the slaughtered, rejoice! soon shall your murderers’ swords be dyed in each other’s blood.”

On the succeeding morning all was prepared, and Montrose advanced by rapid marches up the river Tay, and poured his desultory forces into the romantic vale around the lake of the same name, which lies at the head of that river. The inhabitants were Campbells, not indeed the vassals of Argyle, but of the allied and kindred house of Glenorchy, which now bears the name of Breadalbane. Being taken by surprise, they were totally unprepared for resistance, and were compelled to be passive witnesses of the ravages which took place among their flocks and herds. Advancing in this manner to the vale of Loch Dochart, and laying waste the country around him, Montrose reached the most difficult point of his enterprise.

To a modern army, even with the assistance of the good military road which now leads up by Teinedrum to the head of Loch Awe, the passage of these extensive wilds would seem a task of some difficulty. But at this period, and for long afterwards, there was no road or path whatsoever; and to add to the difficulty, the mountains were already covered with snow. It was a sublime scene to look up to them, piled in great masses, one upon another, the front rank of dazzling whiteness, while those which arose behind them caught a rosy tint from the setting of a clear wintry sun. Ben Cruachan, superior in magnitude, and seeming the very citadel of the Genius of the Region, rose high above the others, showing his glimmering and scathed peak to the distance of many miles.

The followers of Montrose were men not to be daunted by the sublime, yet terrible prospect before them. Many of them were of that ancient race of Highlanders, who not only willingly made their couch in the snow, but considered it as effeminate luxury to use a snowball for a pillow. Plunder and revenge lay beyond the frozen mountains which they beheld, and they did not permit themselves to be daunted by the difficulty of traversing them. Montrose did not allow their spirits time to subside. He ordered the pipes to play in the van the ancient pibroch entitled, “HOGGIL NAM BO,” etc. (that is, We come through snow-drift to drive the prey), the shrilling sounds of which had often struck the vales of the Lennox with terror. [It is the family-march of the M’Farlanes, a warlike and predatory clan, who inhabited the western banks of Loch-Lomond. See WAVERLY, Note XV.] The troops advanced with the nimble alacrity of mountaineers, and were soon involved in the dangerous pass, through which Ranald acted as their guide, going before them with a select party, to track out the way.

The power of man at no time appears more contemptible than when it is placed in contrast with scenes of natural terror and dignity. The victorious army of Montrose, whose exploits had struck terror into all Scotland, when ascending up this terrific pass, seemed a contemptible handful of stragglers, in the act of being devoured by the jaws of the mountain, which appeared ready to close upon them. Even Montrose half repented the boldness of his attempt, as he looked down from the summit of the first eminence which he attained, upon the scattered condition of his small army. The difficulty of getting forward was so great, that considerable gaps began to occur in the line of march, and the distance between the van, centre, and rear, was each moment increased in a degree equally incommodious and dangerous. It was with great apprehension that Montrose looked upon every point of advantage which the hill afforded, in dread it might be found occupied by an enemy prepared for defence; and he often afterwards was heard to express his conviction, that had the passes of Strath-Fillan been defended by two hundred resolute men, not only would his progress have been effectually stopped, but his army must have been in danger of being totally cut off. Security, however, the bane of many a strong country and many a fortress, betrayed, on this occasion, the district of Argyle to his enemies. The invaders had only to contend with the natural difficulties of the path, and with the snow, which, fortunately, had not fallen in any great quantity. The army no sooner reached the summit of the ridge of hills dividing Argyleshire from the district of Breadalbane, than they rushed down upon the devoted vales beneath them with a fury sufficiently expressive of the motives which had dictated a movement so difficult and hazardous.

Montrose divided his army into three bodies, in order to produce a wider and more extensive terror, one of which was commanded by the Captain of Clan Ranald, one intrusted to the leading of Colkitto, and the third remained under his own direction. He was thus enabled to penetrate the country of Argyle at three different points. Resistance there was none. The flight of the shepherds from the hills had first announced in the peopled districts this formidable irruption, and wherever the clansmen were summoned out, they were killed, disarmed, and dispersed, by an enemy who had anticipated their motions. Major Dalgetty, who had been sent forward against Inverary with the few horse of the army that were fit for service, managed his matters so well, that he had very nearly surprised Argyle, as he expressed it, INTER POCULA; and it was only a rapid flight by water which saved that chief from death or captivity. But the punishment which Argyle himself escaped fell heavily upon his country and clan, and the ravages committed by Montrose on that devoted land, although too consistent with the genius of the country and times, have been repeatedly and justly quoted as a blot on his actions and character.

Argyle in the meantime had fled to Edinburgh, to lay his complaints before the Convention of Estates. To meet the exigence of the moment, a considerable army was raised under General Baillie, a Presbyterian officer of skill and fidelity, with whom was joined in command the celebrated Sir John Urrie, a soldier of fortune like Dalgetty, who had already changed sides twice during the Civil War, and was destined to turn his coat a third time before it was ended. Argyle also, burning with indignation, proceeded to levy his own numerous forces, in order to avenge himself of his feudal enemy. He established his head-quarters at Dunbarton, where he was soon joined by a considerable force, consisting chiefly of his own clansmen and dependants. Being there joined by Baillie and Urrie, with a very considerable army of regular forces, he prepared to march into Argyleshire, and chastise the invader of his paternal territories.

But Montrose, while these two formidable armies were forming a junction, had been recalled from that ravaged country by the approach of a third, collected in the north under the Earl of Seaforth, who, after some hesitation, having embraced the side of the Covenanters, had now, with the assistance of the veteran garrison of Inverness, formed a considerable army, with which he threatened Montrose from Inverness-shire. Enclosed in a wasted and unfriendly country, and menaced on each side by advancing enemies of superior force, it might have been supposed that Montrose’s destruction was certain. But these were precisely the circumstances under which the active and enterprising genius of the Great Marquis was calculated to excite the wonder and admiration of his friends, the astonishment and terror of his enemies. As if by magic, he collected his scattered forces from the wasteful occupation in which they had been engaged; and scarce were they again united, ere Argyle and his associate generals were informed, that the royalists, having suddenly disappeared from Argyleshire, had retreated northwards among the dusky and impenetrable mountains of Lochaber.

The sagacity of the generals opposed to Montrose immediately conjectured, that it was the purpose of their active antagonist to fight with, and, if possible, to destroy Seaforth, ere they could come to his assistance. This occasioned a corresponding change in their operations. Leaving this chieftain to make the best defence he could, Urrie and Baillie again separated their forces from those of Argyle; and, having chiefly horse and Lowland troops under their command, they kept the southern side of the Grampian ridge, moving along eastward into the county of Angus, resolving from thence to proceed into Aberdeenshire, in order to intercept Montrose, if he should attempt to escape in that direction.

Argyle, with his own levies and other troops, undertook to follow Montrose’s march; so that, in case he should come to action either with Seaforth, or with Baillie and Urrie, he might be placed between two fires by this third army, which, at a secure distance, was to hang upon his rear.

For this purpose, Argyle once more moved towards Inverary, having an opportunity, at every step, to deplore the severities which the hostile clans had exercised on his dependants and country. Whatever noble qualities the Highlanders possessed, and they had many, clemency in treating a hostile country was not of the number; but even the ravages of hostile troops combined to swell the number of Argyle’s followers. It is still a Highland proverb, He whose house is burnt must become a soldier; and hundreds of the inhabitants of these unfortunate valleys had now no means of maintenance, save by exercising upon others the severities they had themselves sustained, and no future prospect of happiness, excepting in the gratification of revenge. His bands were, therefore, augmented by the very circumstances which had desolated his country, and Argyle soon found himself at the head of three thousand determined men, distinguished for activity and courage, and commanded by gentlemen of his own name, who yielded to none in those qualities. Under himself, he conferred the principal command upon Sir Duncan Campbell of Ardenvohr, and another Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchenbreck, [This last character is historical] an experienced and veteran soldier, whom he had recalled from the wars of Ireland for this purpose. The cold spirit of Argyle himself, however, clogged the military councils of his more intrepid assistants; and it was resolved, notwithstanding their increased force, to observe the same plan of operations, and to follow Montrose cautiously, in whatever direction he should march, avoiding an engagement until an opportunity should occur of falling upon his rear, while he should be engaged with another enemy in front.

Note II. — Wraiths.

A species of apparition, similar to what the Germans call a Double-Ganger, was believed in by the Celtic tribes, and is still considered as an emblem of misfortune or death. Mr. Kirke (See Note to ROB ROY,), the minister of Aberfoil, who will no doubt be able to tell us more of the matter should he ever come back from Fairy-land, gives us the following:—

“Some men of that exalted sight, either by art or nature, have told me they have seen at these meetings a double man, or the shape of some man in two places, that is, a superterranean and a subterranean inhabitant perfectly resembling one another in all points, whom he, notwithstanding, could easily distinguish one fro another by some secret tokens and operations, and so go speak to the man his neighbour and familiar, passing by the apparition or resemblance of him. They avouch that every element and different state of being have animals resembling those of another element, as there be fishes at sea resembling Monks of late order in all their hoods and dresses, so as the Roman invention of good and bad daemons and guardian angels particularly assigned, is called by them ane ignorant mistake, springing only from this originall. They call this reflex man a Co-Walker, every way like the man, as a twin-brother and companion haunting him as his shadow, as is that seen and known among men resembling the originall, both before and after the originall is dead, and was also often seen of old to enter a hous, by which the people knew that the person of that liknes was to visit them within a few days. This copy, echo, or living picture, goes at last to his own herd. It accompanied that person so long and frequently for ends best known to its selve, whether to guard him from the secret assaults of some of its own folks, or only as an sportfull ape to counterfeit all his actions.”— KIRKE’S SECRET COMMOMWEALTH, p. 3.

The two following apparitions, resembling the vision of Allan M’Aulay in the text, occur in Theophilus Insulanus (Rev. Mr. Fraser’s Treatise on the Second Sight, Relations x. and xvii.):—

“Barbara Macpherson, relict of the deceased Mr. Alexander MacLeod, late minister of St. Kilda, informed me the natives of that island had a particular kind of second sight, which is always a forerunner of their approaching end. Some months before they sicken, they are haunted with an apparition, resembling themselves in all respects as to their person, features, or clothing. This image, seemingly animated, walks with them in the field in broad daylight; and if they are employed in delving, harrowing, seed-sowing, or any other occupation, they are at the same time mimicked by this ghostly visitant. My informer added further that having visited a sick person of the inhabitants, she had the curiosity to enquire of him, if at any time he had seen any resemblance of himself as above described; he answered in the affirmative, and told her, that to make farther trial, as he was going out of his house of a morning, he put on straw-rope garters instead of those he formerly used, and having gone to the fields, his other self appeared in such garters. The conclusion was, the sick man died of that ailment, and she no longer questioned the truth of those remarkable presages.”

“Margaret MacLeod, an honest woman advanced in years, informed me, that when she was a young woman in the family of Grishornish, a dairy-maid, who daily used to herd the calves in a park close to the house, observed, at different times, a woman resembling herself in shape and attire, walking solitarily at no great distance from her, and being surprised at the apparition, to make further trial, she put the back part of her upper garment foremost, and anon the phantom was dressed in the same manner, which made her uneasy, believing it portended some fatal consequence to herself. In a short time thereafter she was seized with a fever, which brought her to her end, and before her sickness and on her deathbed, declared the second sight to several.”

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