A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 3

For pleas of right let statesmen vex their head,

Battle’s my business, and my guerdon bread;

And, with the sworded Switzer, I can say,

The best of causes is the best of pay.

DONNE.

The difficulty and narrowness of the road had by this time become such as to interrupt the conversation of the travellers, and Lord Menteith, reining back his horse, held a moment’s private conversation with his domestics. The Captain, who now led the van of the party, after about a quarter of a mile’s slow and toilsome advance up a broken and rugged ascent, emerged into an upland valley, to which a mountain stream acted as a drain, and afforded sufficient room upon its greensward banks for the travellers to pursue their journey in a more social manner.

Lord Menteith accordingly resumed the conversation, which had been interrupted by the difficulties of the way. “I should have thought,” said he to Captain Dalgetty, “that a cavalier of your honourable mark, who hath so long followed the valiant King of Sweden, and entertains such a suitable contempt for the base mechanical States of Holland, would not have hesitated to embrace the cause of King Charles, in preference to that of the low-born, roundheaded, canting knaves, who are in rebellion against his authority?”

“Ye speak reasonably, my lord,” said Dalgetty, “and, CAETERIS PARIBUS, I might be induced to see the matter in the same light. But, my lord, there is a southern proverb, fine words butter no parsnips. I have heard enough since I came here, to satisfy me that a cavalier of honour is free to take any part in this civil embroilment whilk he may find most convenient for his own peculiar. Loyalty is your pass-word, my lord — Liberty, roars another chield from the other side of the strath — the King, shouts one war-cry — the Parliament, roars another — Montrose, for ever, cries Donald, waving his bonnet — Argyle and Leven, cries a south-country Saunders, vapouring with his hat and feather. Fight for the bishops, says a priest, with his gown and rochet — Stand stout for the Kirk, cries a minister, in a Geneva cap and band. — Good watchwords all — excellent watchwords. Whilk cause is the best I cannot say. But sure am I, that I have fought knee-deep in blood many a day for one that was ten degrees worse than the worst of them all.”

“And pray, Captain Dalgetty,” said his lordship, “since the pretensions of both parties seem to you so equal, will you please to inform us by what circumstances your preference will be determined?”

“Simply upon two considerations, my lord,” answered the soldier. “Being, first, on which side my services would be in most honourable request; — And, secondly, whilk is a corollary of the first, by whilk party they are likely to be most gratefully requited. And, to deal plainly with you, my lord, my opinion at present doth on both points rather incline to the side of the Parliament.”

“Your reasons, if you please,” said Lord Menteith, “and perhaps I may be able to meet them with some others which are more powerful.”

“Sir, I shall be amenable to reason,” said Captain Dalgetty, “supposing it addresses itself to my honour and my interest. Well, then, my lord, here is a sort of Highland host assembled, or expected to assemble, in these wild hills, in the King’s behalf. Now, sir, you know the nature of our Highlanders. I will not deny them to be a people stout in body and valiant in heart, and courageous enough in their own wild way of fighting, which is as remote from the usages and discipline of war as ever was that of the ancient Scythians, or of the salvage Indians of America that now is, They havena sae mickle as a German whistle, or a drum, to beat a march, an alarm, a charge, a retreat, a reveille, or the tattoo, or any other point of war; and their damnable skirlin’ pipes, whilk they themselves pretend to understand, are unintelligible to the ears of any cavaliero accustomed to civilised warfare. So that, were I undertaking to discipline such a breechless mob, it were impossible for me to be understood; and if I were understood, judge ye, my lord, what chance I had of being obeyed among a band of half salvages, who are accustomed to pay to their own lairds and chiefs, allenarly, that respect and obedience whilk ought to be paid to commissionate officers. If I were teaching them to form battalia by extracting the square root, that is, by forming your square battalion of equal number of men of rank and file, corresponding to the square root of the full number present, what return could I expect for communicating this golden secret of military tactic, except it may be a dirk in my wame, on placing some M’Alister More M’Shemei or Capperfae, in the flank or rear, when he claimed to be in the van? — Truly, well saith holy writ, ‘if ye cast pearls before swine, they will turn again and rend ye.’”

“I believe, Anderson,” said Lord Menteith, looking back to one of his servants, for both were close behind him, “you can assure this gentleman, we shall have more occasion for experienced officers, and be more disposed to profit by their instructions, than he seems to be aware of.”

“With your honour’s permission,” said Anderson, respectfully raising his cap, “when we are joined by the Irish infantry, who are expected, and who should be landed in the West Highlands before now, we shall have need of good soldiers to discipline our levies.”

“And I should like well — very well, to be employed in such service,” said Dalgetty; “the Irish are pretty fellows — very pretty fellows — I desire to see none better in the field. I once saw a brigade of Irish, at the taking of Frankfort upon the Oder, stand to it with sword and pike until they beat off the blue and yellow Swedish brigades, esteemed as stout as any that fought under the immortal Gustavus. And although stout Hepburn, valiant Lumsdale, courageous Monroe, with myself and other cavaliers, made entry elsewhere at point of pike, yet, had we all met with such opposition, we had returned with great loss and little profit. Wherefore these valiant Irishes, being all put to the sword, as is usual in such cases, did nevertheless gain immortal praise and honour; so that, for their sakes, I have always loved and honoured those of that nation next to my own country of Scotland.”

“A command of Irish,” said Menteith, “I think I could almost promise you, should you be disposed to embrace the royal cause.”

“And yet,” said Captain Dalgetty, “my second and greatest difficulty remains behind; for, although I hold it a mean and sordid thing for a soldado to have nothing in his mouth but pay and gelt, like the base cullions, the German lanz-knechts, whom I mentioned before; and although I will maintain it with my sword, that honour is to be preferred before pay, free quarters, and arrears, yet, EX CONTRARIO, a soldier’s pay being the counterpart of his engagement of service, it becomes a wise and considerate cavalier to consider what remuneration he is to receive for his service, and from what funds it is to be paid. And truly, my lord, from what I can see and hear, the Convention are the purse-masters. The Highlanders, indeed, may be kept in humour, by allowing them to steal cattle; and for the Irishes, your lordship and your noble associates may, according to the practice of the wars in such cases, pay them as seldom or as little as may suit your pleasure or convenience; but the same mode of treatment doth not apply to a cavalier like me, who must keep up his horses, servants, arms, and equipage, and who neither can, nor will, go to warfare upon his own charges.”

Anderson, the domestic who had before spoken now respectfully addressed his master. —“I think, my lord,” he said, “that, under your lordship’s favour, I could say something to remove Captain Dalgetty’s second objection also. He asks us where we are to collect our pay; now, in my poor mind, the resources are as open to us as to the Covenanters. They tax the country according to their pleasure, and dilapidate the estates of the King’s friends; now, were we once in the Lowlands, with our Highlanders and our Irish at our backs, and our swords in our hands, we can find many a fat traitor, whose ill-gotten wealth shall fill our military chest and satisfy our soldiery. Besides, confiscations will fall in thick; and, in giving donations of forfeited lands to every adventurous cavalier who joins his standard, the King will at once reward his friends and punish his enemies. In short, he that joins these Roundhead dogs may get some miserable pittance of pay — he that joins our standard has a chance to be knight, lord, or earl, if luck serve him.”

“Have you ever served, my good friend?” said the Captain to the spokesman.

“A little, sir, in these our domestic quarrels,” answered the man, modestly.

“But never in Germany or the Low Countries?” said Dalgetty.

“I never had the honour,” answered Anderson.

“I profess,” said Dalgetty, addressing Lord Menteith, “your lordship’s servant has a sensible, natural, pretty idea of military matters; somewhat irregular, though, and smells a little too much of selling the bear’s skin before he has hunted him. — I will take the matter, however, into my consideration.”

“Do so, Captain,” said Lord Menteith; “you will have the night to think of it, for we are now near the house, where I hope to ensure you a hospitable reception.”

“And that is what will be very welcome,” said the Captain, “for I have tasted no food since daybreak but a farl of oatcake, which I divided with my horse. So I have been fain to draw my sword-belt three bores tighter for very extenuation, lest hunger and heavy iron should make the gird slip.”

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