A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 21

— After you’re gone,

I grew acquainted with my heart, and search’d,

What stirr’d it so. — Alas! I found it love.

Yet far from lust, for could I but have lived

In presence of you, I had had my end.

PHILASTER.

Annot Lyle had now to contemplate the terrible gulf which Allan M’Aulay’s declaration of love and jealousy had made to open around her. It seemed as if she was tottering on the very brink of destruction, and was at once deprived of every refuge, and of all human assistance. She had long been conscious that she loved Menteith dearer than a brother; indeed, how could it be otherwise, considering their early intimacy, the personal merit of the young nobleman, his assiduous attentions — and his infinite superiority in gentleness of disposition, and grace of manners, over the race of rude warriors with whom she lived? But her affection was of that quiet, timid, meditative character, which sought rather a reflected share in the happiness of the beloved object, than formed more presumptuous or daring hopes. A little Gaelic song, in which she expressed her feelings, has been translated by the ingenious and unhappy Andrew M’Donald; and we willingly transcribe the lines:—

Wert thou, like me, in life’s low vale,

With thee how blest, that lot I’d share;

With thee I’d fly wherever gale

Could waft, or bounding galley bear.

But parted by severe decree,

Far different must our fortunes prove;

May thine be joy — enough for me

To weep and pray for him I love.

The pangs this foolish heart must feel,

When hope shall be forever flown,

No sullen murmur shall reveal,

No selfish murmurs ever own.

Nor will I through life’s weary years,

Like a pale drooping mourner move,

While I can think my secret tears

May wound the heart of him I love.

The furious declaration of Allan had destroyed the romantic plan which she had formed, of nursing in secret her pensive tenderness, without seeking any other requital. Long before this, she had dreaded Allan, as much as gratitude, and a sense that he softened towards her a temper so haughty and so violent, could permit her to do; but now she regarded him with unalloyed terror, which a perfect knowledge of his disposition, and of his preceding history, too well authorised her to entertain. Whatever was in other respects the nobleness of his disposition, he had never been known to resist the wilfulness of passion — he walked in the house, and in the country of his fathers, like a tamed lion, whom no one dared to contradict, lest they should awaken his natural vehemence of passion. So many years had elapsed since he had experienced contradiction, or even expostulation, that probably nothing but the strong good sense, which, on all points, his mysticism excepted, formed the ground of his character, prevented his proving an annoyance and terror to the whole neighbourhood. But Annot had no time to dwell upon her fears, being interrupted by the entrance of Sir Dugald Dalgetty.

It may well be supposed, that the scenes in which this person had passed his former life, had not much qualified him to shine in female society. He himself felt a sort of consciousness that the language of the barrack, guard-room, and parade, was not proper to entertain ladies. The only peaceful part of his life had been spent at Mareschal-College, Aberdeen; and he had forgot the little he had learned there, except the arts of darning his own hose, and dispatching his commons with unusual celerity, both which had since been kept in good exercise by the necessity of frequent practice. Still it was from an imperfect recollection of what he had acquired during this pacific period, that he drew his sources of conversation when in company with women; in other words, his language became pedantic when it ceased to be military.

“Mistress Annot Lyle,” said he, upon the present occasion, “I am just now like the half-pike, or spontoon of Achilles, one end of which could wound and the other cure — a property belonging neither to Spanish pike, brown-bill, partizan, halberd, Lochaber-axe, or indeed any other modern staff-weapon whatever.” This compliment he repeated twice; but as Annot scarce heard him the first time, and did not comprehend him the second, he was obliged to explain.

“I mean,” he said, “Mistress Annot Lyle, that having been the means of an honourable knight receiving a severe wound in this day’s conflict — he having pistolled, somewhat against the law of arms, my horse, which was named after the immortal King of Sweden — I am desirous of procuring him such solacement as you, madam, can supply, you being like the heathen god Esculapius” (meaning possibly Apollo), “skilful not only in song and in music, but in the more noble art of chirurgery-OPIFERQUE PER ORBEM DICOR.”

“If you would have the goodness to explain,” said Annot, too sick at heart to be amused by Sir Dugald’s airs of pedantic gallantry.

“That, madam,” replied the Knight, “may not be so easy, as I am out of the habit of construing — but we shall try. DICOR, supply EGO— I am called — OPIFER? OPIFER? — I remember SIGNIFER and FURCIFER— but I believe OPIFER stands in this place for M.D., that is, Doctor of Physic.”

“This is a busy day with us all,” said Annot; “will you say at once what you want with me?”

“Merely,” replied Sir Dugald, “that you will visit my brother knight, and let your maiden bring some medicaments for his wound, which threatens to be what the learned call a DAMNUM FATALE.”

Annot Lyle never lingered in the cause of humanity. She informed herself hastily of the nature of the injury, and interesting herself for the dignified old Chief whom she had seen at Darnlinvarach, and whose presence had so much struck her, she hastened to lose the sense of her own sorrow for a time, in the attempt to be useful to another.

Sir Dugald with great form ushered Annot Lyle to the chamber of her patient, in which, to her surprise, she found Lord Menteith. She could not help blushing deeply at the meeting, but, to hide her confusion, proceeded instantly to examine the wound of the Knight of Ardenvohr, and easily satisfied herself that it was beyond her skill to cure it. As for Sir Dugald, he returned to a large outhouse, on the floor of which, among other wounded men, was deposited the person of Ranald of the Mist.

“Mine old friend,” said the Knight, “as I told you before, I would willingly do anything to pleasure you, in return for the wound you have received while under my safe-conduct. I have, therefore, according to your earnest request, sent Mrs. Annot Lyle to attend upon the wound of the knight of Ardenvohr, though wherein her doing so should benefit you, I cannot imagine. — I think you once spoke of some blood relationship between them; but a soldado, in command and charge like me, has other things to trouble his head with than Highland genealogies.”

And indeed, to do the worthy Major justice, he never enquired after, listened to, or recollected, the business of other people, unless it either related to the art military, or was somehow or other connected with his own interest, in either of which cases his memory was very tenacious.

“And now, my good friend of the Mist,” said he, “can you tell me what has become of your hopeful grandson, as I have not seen him since he assisted me to disarm after the action, a negligence which deserveth the strapado?”

“He is not far from hence,” said the wounded outlaw —“lift not your hand upon him, for he is man enough to pay a yard of leathern scourge with a foot of tempered steel.”

“A most improper vaunt,” said Sir Dugald; “but I owe you some favours, Ranald, and therefore shall let it pass.”

“And if you think you owe me anything,” said the outlaw, “it is in your power to requite me by granting me a boon.”

“Friend Ranald,” answered Dalgetty, “I have read of these boons in silly story-books, whereby simple knights were drawn into engagements to their great prejudice; wherefore, Ranald, the more prudent knights of this day never promise anything until they know that they may keep their word anent the premises, without any displeasure or incommodement to themselves. It may be, you would have me engage the female chirurgeon to visit your wound; though you ought to consider, Ranald, that the uncleanness of the place where you are deposited may somewhat soil the gaiety of her garments, concerning the preservation of which, you may have observed, women are apt to be inordinately solicitous. I lost the favour of the lady of the Grand Pensionary of Amsterdam, by touching with the sole of my boot the train of her black velvet gown, which I mistook for a foot-cloth, it being half the room distant from her person.”

“It is not to bring Annot Lyle hither,” answered MacEagh, “but to transport me into the room where she is in attendance upon the Knight of Ardenvohr. Somewhat I have to say of the last consequence to them both.”

“It is something out of the order of due precedence,” said Dalgetty, “to carry a wounded outlaw into the presence of a knight; knighthood having been of yore, and being, in some respects, still, the highest military grade, independent always of commissioned officers, who rank according to their patents; nevertheless, as your boon, as you call it, is so slight, I shall not deny compliance with the same.” So saying, he ordered three files of men to transport MacEagh on their shoulders to Sir Duncan Campbell’s apartment, and he himself hastened before to announce the cause of his being brought thither. But such was the activity of the soldiers employed, that they followed him close at the heels, and, entering with their ghastly burden, laid MacEagh on the floor of the apartment. His features, naturally wild, were now distorted by pain; his hands and scanty garments stained with his own blood, and those of others, which no kind hand had wiped away, although the wound in his side had been secured by a bandage.

“Are you,” he said, raising his head painfully towards the couch where lay stretched his late antagonist, “he whom men call the Knight of Ardenvohr?”

“The same,” answered Sir Duncan — “what would you with one whose hours are now numbered?”

“My hours are reduced to minutes,” said the outlaw; “the more grace, if I bestow them in the service of one, whose hand has ever been against me, as mine has been raised higher against him.”

“Thine higher against me! — Crushed worm!” said the Knight, looking down on his miserable adversary.

“Yes,” answered the outlaw, in a firm voice, “my arm hath been highest. In the deadly contest betwixt us, the wounds I have dealt have been deepest, though thine have neither been idle nor unfelt. — I am Ranald MacEagh — I am Ranald of the Mist — the night that I gave thy castle to the winds in one huge blaze of fire, is now matched with the day in which you have fallen under the sword of my fathers. — Remember the injuries thou hast done our tribe — never were such inflicted, save by one, beside thee. HE, they say, is fated and secure against our vengeance — a short time will show.”

“My Lord Menteith,” said Sir Duncan, raising himself out of his bed, “this is a proclaimed villain, at once the enemy of King and Parliament, of God and man — one of the outlawed banditti of the Mist; alike the enemy of your house, of the M’Aulays, and of mine. I trust you will not suffer moments, which are perhaps my last, to be embittered by his barbarous triumph.”

“He shall have the treatment he merits,” said Menteith; “let him be instantly removed.”

Sir Dugald here interposed, and spoke of Ranald’s services as a guide, and his own pledge for his safety; but the high harsh tones of the outlaw drowned his voice.

“No,” said he, “be rack and gibbet the word! let me wither between heaven and earth, and gorge the hawks and eagles of Ben-Nevis; and so shall this haughty Knight, and this triumphant Thane, never learn the secret I alone can impart; a secret which would make Ardenvohr’s heart leap with joy, were he in the death agony, and which the Earl of Menteith would purchase at the price of his broad earldom. — Come hither, Annot Lyle,” he said, raising himself with unexpected strength; “fear not the sight of him to whom thou hast clung in infancy. Tell these proud men, who disdain thee as the issue of mine ancient race, that thou art no blood of ours — no daughter of the race of the Mist, but born in halls as lordly, and cradled on couch as soft, as ever soothed infancy in their proudest palaces.”

“In the name of God,” said Menteith, trembling with emotion, “if you know aught of the birth of this lady, do thy conscience the justice to disburden it of the secret before departing from this world!”

“And bless my enemies with my dying breath?” said MacEagh, looking at him malignantly. —“Such are the maxims your priests preach — but when, or towards whom, do you practise them? Let me know first the worth of my secret ere I part with it — What would you give, Knight of Ardenvohr, to know that your superstitious fasts have been vain, and that there still remains a descendant of your house? — I pause for an answer — without it, I speak not one word more.

“I could,” said Sir Duncan, his voice struggling between the emotions of doubt, hatred, and anxiety —“I could — but that I know thy race are like the Great Enemy, liars and murderers from the beginning — but could it be true thou tellest me, I could almost forgive thee the injuries thou hast done me.”

“Hear it!” said Ranald; “he hath wagered deeply for a son of Diarmid — And you, gentle Thane — the report of the camp says, that you would purchase with life and lands the tidings that Annot Lyle was no daughter of proscription, but of a race noble in your estimation as your own — Well — It is for no love I tell you — The time has been that I would have exchanged this secret against liberty; I am now bartering it for what is dearer than liberty or life. — Annot Lyle is the youngest, the sole surviving child of the Knight of Ardenvohr, who alone was saved when all in his halls besides was given to blood and ashes.”

“Can this man speak truth?” said Annot Lyle, scarce knowing what she said; “or is this some strange delusion?”

“Maiden,” replied Ranald, “hadst thou dwelt longer with us, thou wouldst have better learnt to know how to distinguish the accents of truth. To that Saxon lord, and to the Knight of Ardenvohr, I will yield such proofs of what I have spoken, that incredulity shall stand convinced. Meantime, withdraw — I loved thine infancy, I hate not thy youth — no eye hates the rose in its blossom, though it groweth upon a thorn, and for thee only do I something regret what is soon to follow. But he that would avenge him of his foe must not reck though the guiltless be engaged in the ruin.”

“He advises well, Annot,” said Lord Menteith; “in God’s name retire! if — if there be aught in this, your meeting with Sir Duncan must be more prepared for both your sakes.”

“I will not part from my father, if I have found one!” said Annot —“I will not part from him under circumstances so terrible.”

“And a father you shall ever find in me,” murmured Sir Duncan.

“Then,” said Menteith, “I will have MacEagh removed into an adjacent apartment, and will collect the evidence of his tale myself. Sir Dugald Dalgetty will give me his attendance and assistance.”

“With pleasure, my lord,” answered Sir Dugald. —“I will be your confessor, or assessor — either or both. No one can be so fit, for I had heard the whole story a month ago at Inverary castle — but onslaughts like that of Ardenvohr confuse each other in my memory, which is besides occupied with matters of more importance.”

Upon hearing this frank declaration, which was made as they left the apartment with the wounded man, Lord Menteith darted upon Dalgetty a look of extreme anger and disdain, to which the self-conceit of the worthy commander rendered him totally insensible.

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