A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 20

Faint the din of battle bray’d,

Distant down the hollow wind;

War and terror fled before,

Wounds and death remain’d behind.

PENROSE.

Montrose’s splendid success over his powerful rival was not attained without some loss, though not amounting to the tenth of what he inflicted. The obstinate valour of the Campbells cost the lives of many brave men of the opposite party; and more were wounded, the Chief of whom was the brave young Earl of Menteith, who had commanded the centre. He was but slightly touched, however, and made rather a graceful than a terrible appearance when he presented to his general the standard of Argyle, which he had taken from the standard-bearer with his own hand, and slain him in single combat. Montrose dearly loved his noble kinsman, in whom there was conspicuous a flash of the generous, romantic, disinterested chivalry of the old heroic times, entirely different from the sordid, calculating, and selfish character, which the practice of entertaining mercenary troops had introduced into most parts of Europe, and of which degeneracy Scotland, which furnished soldiers of fortune for the service of almost every nation, had been contaminated with a more than usual share. Montrose, whose native spirit was congenial, although experience had taught him how to avail himself of the motives of others, used to Menteith neither the language of praise nor of promise, but clasped him to his bosom as he exclaimed, “My gallant kinsman!” And by this burst of heartfelt applause was Menteith thrilled with a warmer glow of delight, than if his praises had been recorded in a report of the action sent directly to the throne of his sovereign.

“Nothing,” he said, “my lord, now seems to remain in which I can render any assistance; permit me to look after a duty of humanity — the Knight of Ardenvohr, as I am told, is our prisoner, and severely wounded.”

“And well he deserves to be so,” said Sir Dugald Dalgetty, who came up to them at that moment with a prodigious addition of acquired importance, “since he shot my good horse at the time that I was offering him honourable quarter, which, I must needs say, was done more like an ignorant Highland cateran, who has not sense enough to erect a sconce for the protection of his old hurley-house of a castle, than like a soldier of worth and quality.”

“Are we to condole with you then,” said Lord Menteith, “upon the loss of the famed Gustavus?”

“Even so, my lord,” answered the soldier, with a deep sigh, “DIEM CLAUSIT SUPREMUM, as we said at the Mareschal-College of Aberdeen. Better so than be smothered like a cadger’s pony in some flow-moss, or snow-wreath, which was like to be his fate if this winter campaign lasted longer. But it has pleased his Excellency” (making an inclination to Montrose) “to supply his place by the gift of a noble steed, whom I have taken the freedom to name ‘LOYALTY’S REWARD,’ in memory of this celebrated occasion.”

“I hope,” said the Marquis, “you’ll find Loyalty’s Reward, since you call him so, practised in all the duties of the field — but I must just hint to you, that at this time, in Scotland, loyalty is more frequently rewarded with a halter than with a horse.”

“Ahem! your Excellency is pleased to be facetious. Loyalty’s Reward is as perfect as Gustavus in all his exercises, and of a far finer figure. Marry! his social qualities are less cultivated, in respect he has kept till now inferior company.”

“Not meaning his Excellency the General, I hope,” said Lord Menteith. “For shame, Sir Dugald!”

“My lord,” answered the knight gravely, “I am incapable to mean anything so utterly unbecoming. What I asseverate is, that his Excellency, having the same intercourse with his horse during his exercise, that he hath with his soldiers when training them, may form and break either to every feat of war which he chooses to practise, and accordingly that this noble charger is admirably managed. But as it is the intercourse of private life that formeth the social character, so I do not apprehend that of the single soldier to be much polished by the conversation of the corporal or the sergeant, or that of Loyalty’s Reward to have been much dulcified, or ameliorated, by the society of his Excellency’s grooms, who bestow more oaths, and kicks, and thumps, than kindness or caresses, upon the animals intrusted to their charge; whereby many a generous quadruped, rendered as it were misanthropic, manifests during the rest of his life a greater desire to kick and bite his master, than to love and to honour him.”

“Spoken like an oracle,” said Montrose. “Were there an academy for the education of horses to be annexed to the Mareschal-College of Aberdeen, Sir Dugald Dalgetty alone should fill the chair.”

“Because, being an ass,” said Menteith, aside to the General, “there would be some distant relation between the professor and the students.”

“And now, with your Excellency’s permission,” said the new-made knight, “I am going to pay my last visit to the remains of my old companion in arms.”

“Not with the purpose of going through the ceremonial of interment?” said the Marquis, who did not know how far Sir Dugald’s enthusiasm might lead him; “consider our brave fellows themselves will have but a hasty burial.”

“Your Excellency will pardon me,” said Dalgetty; “my purpose is less romantic. I go to divide poor Gustavus’s legacy with the fowls of heaven, leaving the flesh to them, and reserving to myself his hide; which, in token of affectionate remembrance, I purpose to form into a cassock and trowsers, after the Tartar fashion, to be worn under my armour, in respect my nether garments are at present shamefully the worse of the wear. — Alas! poor Gustavus, why didst thou not live at least one hour more, to have borne the honoured weight of knighthood upon thy loins!”

He was now turning away, when the Marquis called after him — “As you are not likely to be anticipated in this act of kindness, Sir Dugald, to your old friend and companion, I trust,” said the Marquis, “you will first assist me, and our principal friends, to discuss some of Argyle’s good cheer, of which we have found abundance in the Castle.”

“Most willingly, please your Excellency,” said Sir Dugald; “as meat and mass never hinder work. Nor, indeed, am I afraid that the wolves or eagles will begin an onslaught on Gustavus to-night, in regard there is so much better cheer lying all around. But,” added he, “as I am to meet two honourable knights of England, with others of the knightly degree in your lordship’s army, I pray it may be explained to them, that now, and in future, I claim precedence over them all, in respect of my rank as a Banneret, dubbed in a field of stricken battle.”

“The devil confound him!” said Montrose, speaking aside; “he has contrived to set the kiln on fire as fast as I put it out. —‘This is a point, Sir Dugald,” said he, gravely addressing him, “which I shall reserve for his Majesty’s express consideration; in my camp, all must be upon equality, like the Knights of the Round Table; and take their places as soldiers should, upon the principle of — first come, first served.”

“Then I shall take care,” said Menteith, apart to the Marquis, “that Don Dugald is not first in place today. — Sir Dugald,” added he, raising his voice, “as you say your wardrobe is out of repair, had you not better go to the enemy’s baggage yonder, over which there is a guard placed? I saw them take out an excellent buff suit, embroidered in front in silk and silver.”

“VOTO A DIOS! as the Spaniard says,” exclaimed the Major, “and some beggarly gilly may get it while I stand prating here!”

The prospect of booty having at once driven out of his head both Gustavus and the provant, he set spurs to Loyalty’s Reward, and rode off through the field of battle.

“There goes the hound,” said Menteith, “breaking the face, and trampling on the body, of many a better man than himself; and as eager on his sordid spoil as a vulture that stoops upon carrion. Yet this man the world calls a soldier — and you, my lord, select him as worthy of the honours of chivalry, if such they can at this day be termed. You have made the collar of knighthood the decoration of a mere bloodhound.”

“What could I do?” said Montrose. “I had no half-picked bones to give him, and bribed in some manner he must be — I cannot follow the chase alone. Besides, the dog has good qualities.”

“If nature has given him such,” said Menteith, “habit has converted them into feelings of intense selfishness. He may be punctilious concerning his reputation, and brave in the execution of his duty, but it is only because without these qualities he cannot rise in the service; — nay, his very benevolence is selfish; he may defend his companion while he can keep his feet, but the instant he is down, Sir Dugald will be as ready to ease him of his purse, as he is to convert the skin of Gustavus into a buff jerkin.”

“And yet, if all this were true, cousin,” answered Montrose, “there is something convenient in commanding a soldier, upon whose motives and springs of action you can calculate to a mathematical certainty. A fine spirit like yours, my cousin, alive to a thousand sensations to which this man’s is as impervious as his corslet — it is for such that thy friend must feel, while he gives his advice.” Then, suddenly changing his tone, he asked Menteith when he had seen Annot Lyle.

The young Earl coloured deeply, and answered, “Not since last evening — excepting,” he added, with hesitation, “for one moment, about half an hour before the battle began.”

“My dear Menteith,” said Montrose, very kindly, “were you one of the gay cavaliers of Whitehall, who are, in their way, as great self-seekers as our friend Dalgetty, should I need to plague you with enquiring into such an amourette as this? it would be an intrigue only to be laughed at. But this is the land of enchantment, where nets strong as steel are wrought out of ladies’ tresses, and you are exactly the destined knight to be so fettered. This poor girl is exquisitely beautiful, and has talents formed to captivate your romantic temper. You cannot think of injuring her — you cannot think of marrying her?”

“My lord,” replied Menteith, “you have repeatedly urged this jest, for so I trust it is meant, somewhat beyond bounds. Annot Lyle is of unknown birth — a captive — the daughter, probably, of some obscure outlaw; a dependant on the hospitality of the M’Aulays.”

“Do not be angry, Menteith,” said the Marquis, interrupting him; “you love the classics, though not educated at Mareschal-College; and you may remember how many gallant hearts captive beauty has subdued:—

Movit Ajacem, Telamone natum,

Forma captivae dominum Tecmessae.

In a word, I am seriously anxious about this — I should not have time, perhaps,” he added very gravely, “to trouble you with my lectures on the subject, were your feelings, and those of Annot, alone interested; but you have a dangerous rival in Allan M’Aulay; and there is no knowing to what extent he may carry his resentment. It is my duty to tell you that the King’s service may be much prejudiced by dissensions betwixt you.”

“My lord,” said Menteith, “I know what you mean is kind and friendly; I hope you will be satisfied when I assure you, that Allan M’Aulay and I have discussed this circumstance; and that I have explained to him, that it is utterly remote from my character to entertain dishonourable views concerning this unprotected female; so, on the other hand, the obscurity of her birth prevents my thinking of her upon other terms. I will not disguise from your lordship, what I have not disguised from M’Aulay — that if Annot Lyle were born a lady, she should share my name and rank; as matters stand, it is impossible. This explanation, I trust, will satisfy your lordship, as it has satisfied a less reasonable person.”

Montrose shrugged his shoulders. “And, like true champions in romance,” he said, “you have agreed, that you are both to worship the same mistress, as idolaters do the same image, and that neither shall extend his pretensions farther?”

“I did not go so far, my lord,” answered Menteith —“I only said in the present circumstances — and there is no prospect of their being changed — I could, in duty to myself and family, stand in no relation to Annot Lyle, but as that of friend or brother — But your lordship must excuse me; I have,” said he, looking at his arm, round which he had tied his handkerchief, “a slight hurt to attend to.”

“A wound?” said Montrose, anxiously; “let me see it. — Alas!” he said, “I should have heard nothing of this, had I not ventured to tent and sound another more secret and more rankling one, Menteith; I am sorry for you — I too have known — But what avails it to awake sorrows which have long slumbered!”

So saying, he shook hands with his noble kinsman, and walked into the castle.

Annot Lyle, as was not unusual for females in the Highlands, was possessed of a slight degree of medical and even surgical skill. It may readily be believed, that the profession of surgery, or medicine, as a separate art, was unknown; and the few rude rules which they observed were intrusted to women, or to the aged, whom constant casualties afforded too much opportunity of acquiring experience. The care and attention, accordingly, of Annot Lyle, her attendants, and others acting under her direction, had made her services extremely useful during this wild campaign. And most readily had these services been rendered to friend and foe, wherever they could be most useful. She was now in an apartment of the castle, anxiously superintending the preparation of vulnerary herbs, to be applied to the wounded; receiving reports from different females respecting those under their separate charge, and distributing what means she had for their relief, when Allan M’Aulay suddenly entered the apartment. She started, for she had heard that he had left the camp upon a distant mission; and, however accustomed she was to the gloom of his countenance, it seemed at present to have even a darker shade than usual. He stood before her perfectly silent, and she felt the necessity of being the first to speak.

“I thought,” she said, with some effort, “you had already set out.”

“My companion awaits me,” said Allan; “I go instantly.” Yet still he stood before her, and held her by the arm, with a pressure which, though insufficient to give her pain, made her sensible of his great personal strength, his hand closing on her like the gripe of a manacle.

“Shall I take the harp?” she said, in a timid voice; “is — is the shadow falling upon you?”

Instead of replying, he led her to the window of the apartment, which commanded a view of the field of the slain, with all its horrors. It was thick spread with dead and wounded, and the spoilers were busy tearing the clothes from the victims of war and feudal ambition, with as much indifference as if they had not been of the same species, and themselves exposed, perhaps tomorrow, to the same fate.

“Does the sight please you?” said M’Aulay.

“It is hideous!” said Annot, covering her eyes with her hands; “how can you bid me look upon it?”

“You must be inured to it,” said he, “if you remain with this destined host — you will soon have to search such a field for my brother’s corpse — for Menteith’s — for mine —— but that will be a more indifferent task — You do not love me!”

“This is the first time you have taxed me with unkindness,” said Annot, weeping. “You are my brother — my preserver — my protector — and can I then BUT love you? — But your hour of darkness is approaching, let me fetch my harp —”

“Remain,” said Allan, still holding her fast; “be my visions from heaven or hell, or from the middle sphere of disembodied spirits — or be they, as the Saxons hold, but the delusions of an over-heated fancy, they do not now influence me; I speak the language of the natural, of the visible world. — You love not me, Annot — you love Menteith — by him you are beloved again, and Allan is no more to you than one of the corpses which encumber yonder heath.”

It cannot be supposed that this strange speech conveyed any new information to her who was thus addressed. No woman ever lived who could not, in the same circumstances, have discerned long since the state of her lover’s mind. But by thus suddenly tearing off the veil, thin as it was, Allan prepared her to expect consequences violent in proportion to the enthusiasm of his character. She made an effort to repel the charge he had stated.

“You forget,” she said, “your own worth and nobleness when you insult so very helpless a being, and one whom fate has thrown so totally into your power. You know who and what I am, and how impossible it is that Menteith or you can use language of affection to me, beyond that of friendship. You know from what unhappy race I have too probably derived my existence.”

“I will not believe it,” said Allan, impetuously; “never flowed crystal drop from a polluted spring.”

“Yet the very doubt,” pleaded Annot, “should make you forbear to use this language to me.”

“I know,” said M’Aulay, “it places a bar between us — but I know also that it divides you not so inseparably from Menteith. — Hear me, my beloved Annot! — leave this scene of terrors and danger — go with me to Kintail — I will place you in the house of the noble Lady of Seaforth — or you shall be removed in safety to Icolmkill, where some women yet devote themselves to the worship of God, after the custom of our ancestors.”

“You consider not what you ask of me,” replied Annot; “to undertake such a journey under your sole guardianship, were to show me less scrupulous than maiden ought. I will remain here, Allan — here under the protection of the noble Montrose; and when his motions next approach the Lowlands, I will contrive some proper means to relieve you of one, who has, she knows not how, become an object of dislike to you.”

Allan stood as if uncertain whether to give way to sympathy with her distress, or to anger at her resistance.

“Annot,” he said, “you know too well how little your words apply to my feelings towards you — but you avail yourself of your power, and you rejoice in my departure, as removing a spy upon your intercourse with Menteith. But beware both of you,” he added, in a stern tone; “for when was it ever heard that an injury was offered to Allan M’Aulay, for which he exacted not tenfold vengeance?”

So saying, he pressed her arm forcibly, pulled the bonnet over his brows, and strode out of the apartment.

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