A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 19

As meets a rock a thousand waves, so Inisfail met Lochlin.

OSSIAN.

The trumpets and bagpipes, those clamorous harbingers of blood and death, at once united in the signal for onset, which was replied to by the cry of more than two thousand warriors, and the echoes of the mountain glens behind them. Divided into three bodies, or columns, the Highland followers of Montrose poured from the defiles which had hitherto concealed them from their enemies, and rushed with the utmost determination upon the Campbells, who waited their charge with the greatest firmness. Behind these charging columns marched in line the Irish, under Colkitto, intended to form the reserve. With them was the royal standard, and Montrose himself; and on the flanks were about fifty horse, under Dalgetty, which by wonderful exertions had been kept in some sort fit for service.

The right column of Royalists was led by Glengarry, the left by Lochiel, and the centre by the Earl of Menteith, who preferred fighting on foot in a Highland dress to remaining with the cavalry.

The Highlanders poured on with the proverbial fury of their country, firing their guns, and discharging their arrows, at a little distance from the enemy, who received the assault with the most determined gallantry. Better provided with musketry than their enemies, stationary also, and therefore taking the more decisive aim, the fire of Argyle’s followers was more destructive than that which they sustained. The royal clans, perceiving this, rushed to close quarters, and succeeded on two points in throwing their enemies into disorder. With regular troops this must have achieved a victory; but here Highlanders were opposed to Highlanders, and the nature of the weapons, as well as the agility of those who wielded them, was equal on both sides.

Their strife was accordingly desperate; and the clash of the swords and axes, as they encountered each other, or rung upon the targets, was mingled with the short, wild, animating shrieks with which Highlanders accompany the battle, the dance, or indeed violent exertion of any kind. Many of the foes opposed were personally acquainted, and sought to match themselves with each other from motives of hatred, or a more generous emulation of valour. Neither party would retreat an inch, while the place of those who fell (and they fell fast on both sides) was eagerly supplied by others, who thronged to the front of danger. A steam, like that which arises from a seething cauldron, rose into the thin, cold, frosty air, and hovered above the combatants.

So stood the fight on the right and the centre, with no immediate consequence, except mutual wounds and death.

On the right of the Campbells, the Knight of Ardenvohr obtained some advantage, through his military skill and by strength of numbers. He had moved forward obliquely the extreme flank of his line at the instant the Royalists were about to close, so that they sustained a fire at once on front and in flank, and, despite the utmost efforts of their leader, were thrown into some confusion. At this instant, Sir Duncan Campbell gave the word to charge, and thus unexpectedly made the attack at the very moment he seemed about to receive it. Such a change of circumstances is always discouraging, and often fatal. But the disorder was remedied by the advance of the Irish reserve, whose heavy and sustained fire compelled the Knight of Ardenvohr to forego his advantage, and content himself with repulsing the enemy. The Marquis of Montrose, in the meanwhile, availing himself of some scattered birch trees, as well as of the smoke produced by the close fire of the Irish musketry, which concealed the operation, called upon Dalgetty to follow him with the horse, and wheeling round so as to gain the right flank and even the rear of the enemy, he commanded his six trumpets to sound the charge. The clang of the cavalry trumpets, and the noise of the galloping of the horse, produced an effect upon Argyle’s right wing which no other sounds could have impressed them with. The mountaineers of that period had a superstitious dread of the war-horse, like that entertained by the Peruvians, and had many strange ideas respecting the manner in which that animal was trained to combat. When, therefore, they found their ranks unexpectedly broken, and that the objects of their greatest terror were suddenly in the midst of them, the panic, in spite of Sir Duncan’s attempts to stop it, became universal. Indeed, the figure of Major Dalgetty alone, sheathed in impenetrable armour, and making his horse caracole and bound, so as to give weight to every blow which he struck, would have been a novelty in itself sufficient to terrify those who had never seen anything more nearly resembling such a cavalier, than a SHELTY waddling under a Highlander far bigger than itself. The repulsed Royalists returned to the charge; the Irish, keeping their ranks, maintained a fire equally close and destructive. There was no sustaining the fight longer. Argyle’s followers began to break and fly, most towards the lake, the remainder in different directions. The defeat of the right wing, of itself decisive, was rendered irreparable by the death of Auchenbreck, who fell while endeavouring to restore order.

The Knight of Ardenvohr, with two or three hundred men, all gentlemen of descent and distinguished gallantry — for the Campbells are supposed to have had more gentlemen in their ranks than any of the Highland clans, endeavoured, with unavailing heroism, to cover the tumultuary retreat of the common file. Their resolution only proved fatal to themselves, as they were charged again and again by fresh adversaries, and forced to separate from each other, until at length their aim seemed only to be to purchase an honourable death by resisting to the very last.

“Good quarter, Sir Duncan,” called out Major Dalgetty, when he discovered his late host, with one or two others, defending himself against several Highlanders; and, to enforce his offer, he rode up to him with his sword uplifted. Sir Duncan’s reply was the discharge of a reserved pistol, which took effect not on the person of the rider, but on that of his gallant horse, which, shot through the heart, fell dead under him. Ranald MacEagh, who was one of those who had been pressing Sir Duncan hard, took the opportunity to cut him down with his broadsword, as he turned from him in the act of firing the pistol.

Allan M’Aulay came up at this moment. They were, excepting Ranald, followers of his brother who were engaged on that part of the field, “Villains!” he said, “which of you has dared to do this, when it was my positive order that the Knight of Ardenvohr should be taken alive?”

Half-a-dozen of busy hands, which were emulously employed in plundering the fallen knight, whose arms and accoutrements were of a magnificence befitting his quality, instantly forbore the occupation, and half the number of voices exculpated themselves, by laying the blame on the Skyeman, as they called Ranald MacEagh.

“Dog of an Islander!” said Allan, forgetting, in his wrath, their prophetic brotherhood, “follow the chase, and harm him no farther, unless you mean to die by my hand.” They were at this moment left almost alone; for Allan’s threats had forced his own clan from the spot, and all around had pressed onwards toward the lake, carrying before them noise, terror, and confusion, and leaving behind only the dead and dying. The moment was tempting to MacEagh’s vengeful spirit. —“That I should die by your hand, red as it is with the blood of my kindred,” said he, answering the threat of Allan in a tone as menacing as his own, “is not more likely than that you should fall by mine.” With that, he struck at M’Aulay with such unexpected readiness, that he had scarce time to intercept the blow with his target.

“Villain!” said Allan, in astonishment, “what means this?”

“I am Ranald of the Mist!” answered the Islesman, repeating the blow; and with that word, they engaged in close and furious conflict. It seemed to be decreed, that in Allan M’Aulay had arisen the avenger of his mother’s wrongs upon this wild tribe, as was proved by the issue of the present, as well as of former combats. After exchanging a few blows, Ranald MacEagh was prostrated by a deep wound on the skull; and M’Aulay, setting his foot on him, was about to pass the broadsword through his body, when the point of the weapon was struck up by a third party, who suddenly interposed. This was no other than Major Dalgetty, who, stunned by the fall, and encumbered by the dead body of his horse, had now recovered his legs and his understanding. “Hold up your sword,” said he to M’Aulay, “and prejudice this person no farther, in respect that he is here in my safeconduct, and in his Excellency’s service; and in regard that no honourable cavalier is at liberty, by the law martial, to avenge his own private injuries, FLAGRANTE BELLO, MULTO MAJUS FLAGRANTE PRAELIO.”

“Fool!” said Allan, “stand aside, and dare not to come between the tiger and his prey!”

But, far from quitting his point, Dalgetty stept across the fallen body of MacEagh, and gave Allan to understand, that if he called himself a tiger, he was likely, at present, to find a lion in his path. There required no more than the gesture and tone of defiance to turn the whole rage of the military Seer against the person who was opposing the course of his vengeance, and blows were instantly exchanged without farther ceremony.

The strife betwixt Allan and MacEagh had been unnoticed by the stragglers around, for the person of the latter was known to few of Montrose’s followers; but the scuffle betwixt Dalgetty and him, both so well known, attracted instant attention; and fortunately, among others, that of Montrose himself, who had come for the purpose of gathering together his small body of horse, and following the pursuit down Loch-Eil. Aware of the fatal consequences of dissension in his little army, he pushed his horse up to the spot, and seeing MacEagh on the ground, and Dalgetty in the attitude of protecting him against M’Aulay, his quick apprehension instantly caught the cause of quarrel, and as instantly devised means to stop it. “For shame,” he said, “gentlemen cavaliers, brawling together in so glorious a field of victory! — Are you mad? Or are you intoxicated with the glory which you have both this day gained?”

“It is not my fault, so please your Excellency,” said Dalgetty. “I have been known a BONUS SOCIUS, A BON CAMARADO, in all the services of Europe; but he that touches a man under my safeguard —”

“And he,” said Allan, speaking at the same time, “who dares to bar the course of my just vengeance —”

“For shame, gentlemen!” again repeated Montrose; “I have other business for you both — business of deeper importance than any private quarrel, which you may easily find a more fitting time to settle. For you, Major Dalgetty, kneel down.”

“Kneel!” said Dalgetty; “I have not learned to obey that word of command, saving when it is given from the pulpit. In the Swedish discipline, the front rank do indeed kneel, but only when the regiment is drawn up six file deep.”

“Nevertheless,” repeated Montrose — “kneel down, in the name of King Charles and of his representative.”

When Dalgetty reluctantly obeyed, Montrose struck him lightly on the neck with the flat of his sword, saying — “In reward of the gallant service of this day, and in the name and authority of our Sovereign, King Charles, I dub thee knight; be brave, loyal, and fortunate. And now, Sir Dugald Dalgetty, to your duty. Collect what horsemen you can, and pursue such of the enemy as are flying down the side of the lake. Do not disperse your force, nor venture too far; but take heed to prevent their rallying, which very little exertion may do. Mount, then, Sir Dugald, and do your duty.”

“But what shall I mount?” said the new-made chevalier. “Poor Gustavus sleeps in the bed of honour, like his immortal namesake! and I am made a knight, a rider, as the High Dutch have it, just when I have not a horse left to ride upon.” [In German, as in Latin, the original meaning of the word Ritter, corresponding to Eques, is merely a horseman.]

“That shall not be said,” answered Montrose, dismounting; “I make you a present of my own, which has been thought a good one; only, I pray you, resume the duty you discharge so well.”

With many acknowledgments, Sir Dugald mounted the steed so liberally bestowed upon him; and only beseeching his Excellency to remember that MacEagh was under his safe-conduct, immediately began to execute the orders assigned to him, with great zeal and alacrity.

“And you, Allan M’Aulay,” said Montrose, addressing the Highlander, who, leaning his sword-point on the ground, had regarded the ceremony of his antagonist’s knighthood with a sneer of sullen scorn — “you, who are superior to the ordinary men led by the paltry motives of plunder, and pay, and personal distinction — you, whose deep knowledge renders you so valuable a counsellor — is it YOU whom I find striving with a man like Dalgetty, for the privilege of trampling the remains of life out of so contemptible an enemy as lies there? Come, my friend, I have other work for you. This victory, skilfully improved, shall win Seaforth to our party. It is not disloyalty, but despair of the good cause, that has induced him to take arms against us. These arms, in this moment of better augury, he may be brought to unite with ours. I shall send my gallant friend, Colonel Hay, to him, from this very field of battle, but he must be united in commission with a Highland gentleman of rank, befitting that of Seaforth, and of talents and of influence such as may make an impression upon him. You are not only in every respect the fittest for this most important mission, but, having no immediate command, your presence may be more easily spared than that of a Chief whose following is in the field. You know every pass and glen in the Highlands, as well as the manners and customs of every tribe. Go therefore to Hay, on the right wing; he has instructions, and expects you. You will find him with Glenmorrison’s men; be his guide, his interpreter, and his colleague.”

Allan M’Aulay bent on the Marquis a dark and penetrating glance, as if to ascertain whether this sudden mission was not conferred for some latent and unexplained purpose. But Montrose, skilful in searching the motives of others, was an equal adept in concealing his own. He considered it as of the last consequence, in this moment of enthusiasm and exalted passion, to remove Allan from the camp for a few days, that he might provide, as his honour required, for the safety of those who had acted as his guides, when he trusted the Seer’s quarrel with Dalgetty might be easily made up. Allan, at parting, only recommended to the Marquis the care of Sir Duncan Campbell, whom Montrose instantly directed to be conveyed to a place of safety. He took the same precaution for MacEagh, committing the latter, however, to a party of the Irish, with directions that he should be taken care of, but that no Highlander, of any clan, should have access to him.

The Marquis then mounted a led horse, which was held by one of his attendants, and rode on to view the scene of his victory, which was more decisive than even his ardent hopes had anticipated. Of Argyle’s gallant army of three thousand men, fully one-half fell in the battle, or in the flight. They had been chiefly driven back upon that part of the plain where the river forms an angle with the lake, so that there was no free opening either for retreat or escape. Several hundreds were forced into the lake and drowned. Of the survivors, about one-half escaped by swimming the river, or by an early flight along the left bank of the lake. The remainder threw themselves into the old Castle of Inverlochy; but being without either provisions or hopes of relief, they were obliged to surrender, on condition of being suffered to return to their homes in peace. Arms, ammunition, standards, and baggage, all became the prey of the conquerors.

This was the greatest disaster that ever befell the race of Diarmid, as the Campbells were called in the Highlands; it being generally remarked that they were as fortunate in the issue of their undertakings, as they were sagacious in planning, and courageous in executing them. Of the number slain, nearly five hundred were dunniwassels, or gentlemen claiming descent from known and respected houses. And, in the opinion of many of the clan, even this heavy loss was exceeded by the disgrace arising from the inglorious conduct of their Chief, whose galley weighed anchor when the day was lost, and sailed down the lake with all the speed to which sails and oars could impel her.

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