A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 6

Coming events cast their shadows before.

CAMPBELL.

At an early hour in the morning the guests of the castle sprung from their repose; and, after a moment’s private conversation with his attendants, Lord Menteith addressed the soldier, who was seated in a corner burnishing his corslet with rot-stone and chamois-leather, while he hummed the old song in honour of the victorious Gustavus Adolphus:—

When cannons are roaring, and bullets are flying,

The lad that would have honour, boys, must never fear dying.

“Captain Dalgetty,” said Lord Menteith, “the time is come that we must part, or become comrades in service.”

“Not before breakfast, I hope?” said Captain Dalgetty.

“I should have thought,” replied his lordship, “that your garrison was victualled for three days at least.”

“I have still some stowage left for beef and bannocks,” said the Captain; “and I never miss a favourable opportunity of renewing my supplies.”

“But,” said Lord Menteith, “no judicious commander allows either flags of truce or neutrals to remain in his camp longer than is prudent; and therefore we must know your mind exactly, according to which you shall either have a safe-conduct to depart in peace, or be welcome to remain with us.”

“Truly,” said the Captain, “that being the case, I will not attempt to protract the capitulation by a counterfeited parley, (a thing excellently practised by Sir James Ramsay at the siege of Hannau, in the year of God 1636,) but I will frankly own, that if I like your pay as well as your provant and your company, I care not how soon I take the oath to your colours.”

“Our pay,” said Lord Menteith, “must at present be small, since it is paid out of the common stock raised by the few amongst us who can command some funds — As major and adjutant, I dare not promise Captain Dalgetty more than half a dollar a-day.”

“The devil take all halves and quarters!” said the Captain; “were it in my option, I could no more consent to the halving of that dollar, than the woman in the Judgment of Solomon to the disseverment of the child of her bowels.”

“The parallel will scarce hold, Captain Dalgetty, for I think you would rather consent to the dividing of the dollar, than give it up entire to your competitor. However, in the way of arrears, I may promise you the other half-dollar at the end of the campaign.”

“Ah! these arrearages!” said Captain Dalgetty, “that are always promised, and always go for nothing! Spain, Austria, and Sweden, all sing one song. Oh! long life to the Hoganmogans! if they were no officers of soldiers, they were good paymasters. — And yet, my lord, if I could but be made certiorate that my natural hereditament of Drumthwacket had fallen into possession of any of these loons of Covenanters, who could be, in the event of our success, conveniently made a traitor of, I have so much value for that fertile and pleasant spot, that I would e’en take on with you for the campaign.”

“I can resolve Captain Dalgetty’s question,” said Sibbald, Lord Menteith’s second attendant; “for if his estate of Drumthwacket be, as I conceive, the long waste moor so called, that lies five miles south of Aberdeen, I can tell him it was lately purchased by Elias Strachan, as rank a rebel as ever swore the Covenant.”

“The crop-eared hound!” said Captain Dalgetty, in a rage; “What the devil gave him the assurance to purchase the inheritance of a family of four hundred years standing? — CYNTHIUS AUREM VELLET, as we used to say at Mareschal-College; that is to say, I will pull him out of my father’s house by the ears. And so, my Lord Menteith, I am yours, hand and sword, body and soul, till death do us part, or to the end of the next campaign, whichever event shall first come to pass.”

“And I,” said the young nobleman, “rivet the bargain with a month’s pay in advance.”

“That is more than necessary,” said Dalgetty, pocketing the money however. “But now I must go down, look after my war-saddle and abuilziements, and see that Gustavus has his morning, and tell him we have taken new service.”

“There goes your precious recruit,” said Lord Menteith to Anderson, as the Captain left the room; “I fear we shall have little credit of him.”

“He is a man of the times, however,” said Anderson; “and without such we should hardly be able to carry on our enterprise.”

“Let us go down,” answered Lord Menteith, “and see how our muster is likely to thrive, for I hear a good deal of bustle in the castle.”

When they entered the hall, the domestics keeping modestly in the background, morning greetings passed between Lord Menteith, Angus M’Aulay, and his English guests, while Allan, occupying the same settle which he had filled the preceding evening, paid no attention whatever to any one. Old Donald hastily rushed into the apartment. “A message from Vich Alister More; [The patronymic of MacDonell of Glengarry.] he is coming up in the evening.”

“With how many attendants?” said M’Aulay.

“Some five-and-twenty or thirty,” said Donald, “his ordinary retinue.”

“Shake down plenty of straw in the great barn,” said the Laird.

Another servant here stumbled hastily in, announcing the expected approach of Sir Hector M’Lean, “who is arriving with a large following.”

“Put them in the malt-kiln,” said M’Aulay; “and keep the breadth of the middenstead between them and the M’Donalds; they are but unfriends to each other.”

Donald now re-entered, his visage considerably lengthened —“The tell’s i’ the folk,” he said; “the haill Hielands are asteer, I think. Evan Dhu, of Lochiel, will be here in an hour, with Lord kens how many gillies.”

“Into the great barn with them beside the M’Donalds,” said the Laird.

More and more chiefs were announced, the least of whom would have accounted it derogatory to his dignity to stir without a retinue of six or seven persons. To every new annunciation, Angus M’Aulay answered by naming some place of accommodation — the stables, the loft, the cow-house, the sheds, every domestic office, were destined for the night to some hospitable purpose or other. At length the arrival of M’Dougal of Lorn, after all his means of accommodation were exhausted, reduced him to some perplexity. “What the devil is to be done, Donald?” said he; “the great barn would hold fifty more, if they would lie heads and thraws; but there would be drawn dirks amang them which should lie upper-most, and so we should have bloody puddings before morning!”

“What needs all this?” said Allan, starting up, and coming forward with the stern abruptness of his usual manner; “are the Gael today of softer flesh or whiter blood than their fathers were? Knock the head out of a cask of usquebae; let that be their night-gear — their plaids their bed-clothes — the blue sky their canopy, and the heather their couch. — Come a thousand more, and they would not quarrel on the broad heath for want of room!”

“Allan is right,” said his brother; “it is very odd how Allan, who, between ourselves,” said he to Musgrave, “is a little wowf, [WOWF, i.e. crazed.] seems at times to have more sense than us all put together. Observe him now.”

“Yes,” continued Allan, fixing his eyes with a ghastly stare upon the opposite side of the hall, “they may well begin as they are to end; many a man will sleep this night upon the heath, that when the Martinmas wind shalt blow shall lie there stark enough, and reck little of cold or lack of covering.”

“Do not forespeak us, brother,” said Angus; “that is not lucky.”

“And what luck is it then that you expect?” said Allan; and straining his eyes until they almost started from their sockets, he fell with a convulsive shudder into the arms of Donald and his brother, who, knowing the nature of his fits, had come near to prevent his fall. They seated him upon a bench, and supported him until he came to himself, and was about to speak.

“For God’s sake, Allan,” said his brother, who knew the impression his mystical words were likely to make on many of the guests, “say nothing to discourage us.”

“Am I he who discourages you?” said Allan; “let every man face his world as I shall face mine. That which must come, will come; and we shall stride gallantly over many a field of victory, ere we reach yon fatal slaughter-place, or tread yon sable scaffolds.”

“What slaughter-place? what scaffolds?” exclaimed several voices; for Allan’s renown as a seer was generally established in the Highlands.

“You will know that but too soon,” answered Allan. “Speak to me no more, I am weary of your questions.” He then pressed his hand against his brow, rested his elbow upon his knee, and sunk into a deep reverie.

“Send for Annot Lyle, and the harp,” said Angus, in a whisper, to his servant; “and let those gentlemen follow me who do not fear a Highland breakfast.”

All accompanied their hospitable landlord excepting only Lord Menteith, who lingered in one of the deep embrasures formed by the windows of the hall. Annot Lyle shortly after glided into the room, not ill described by Lord Menteith as being the lightest and most fairy figure that ever trode the turf by moonlight. Her stature, considerably less than the ordinary size of women, gave her the appearance of extreme youth, insomuch, that although she was near eighteen, she might have passed for four years younger. Her figure, hands, and feet, were formed upon a model of exquisite symmetry with the size and lightness of her person, so that Titania herself could scarce have found a more fitting representative. Her hair was a dark shade of the colour usually termed flaxen, whose clustering ringlets suited admirably with her fair complexion, and with the playful, yet simple, expression of her features. When we add to these charms, that Annot, in her orphan state, seemed the gayest and happiest of maidens, the reader must allow us to claim for her the interest of almost all who looked on her. In fact, it was impossible to find a more universal favourite, and she often came among the rude inhabitants of the castle, as Allan himself, in a poetical mood, expressed it, “like a sunbeam on a sullen sea,” communicating to all others the cheerfulness that filled her own mind.

Annot, such as we have described her, smiled and blushed, when, on entering the apartment, Lord Menteith came from his place of retirement, and kindly wished her good-morning.

“And good-morning to you, my lord,” returned she, extending her hand to her friend; “we have seldom seen you of late at the castle, and now I fear it is with no peaceful purpose.”

“At least, let me not interrupt your harmony, Annot,” said Lord Menteith, “though my arrival may breed discord elsewhere. My cousin Allan needs the assistance of your voice and music.”

“My preserver,” said Annot Lyle, “has a right to my poor exertions; and you, too, my lord — you, too, are my preserver, and were the most active to save a life that is worthless enough, unless it can benefit my protectors.”

So saying, she sate down at a little distance upon the bench on which Allan M’Aulay was placed, and tuning her clairshach, a small harp, about thirty inches in height, she accompanied it with her voice. The air was an ancient Gaelic melody, and the words, which were supposed to be very old, were in the same language; but we subjoin a translation of them, by Secundus Macpherson, Esq. of Glenforgen, which, although submitted to the fetters of English rhythm, we trust will be found nearly as genuine as the version of Ossian by his celebrated namesake.

“Birds of omen dark and foul,

Night-crow, raven, bat, and owl,

Leave the sick man to his dream —

All night long he heard your scream —

Haste to cave and ruin’d tower,

Ivy, tod, or dingled bower,

There to wink and mope, for, hark!

In the mid air sings the lark.

“Hie to moorish gills and rocks,

Prowling wolf and wily fox —

Hie you fast, nor turn your view,

Though the lamb bleats to the ewe.

Couch your trains, and speed your flight,

Safety parts with parting night;

And on distant echo borne,

Comes the hunter’s early horn.

“The moon’s wan crescent scarcely gleams,

Ghost-like she fades in morning beams;

Hie hence each peevish imp and fay,

That scare the pilgrim on his way:—

Quench, kelpy! quench, in bog and fen,

Thy torch that cheats benighted men;

Thy dance is o’er, thy reign is done,

For Benyieglo hath seen the sun.

“Wild thoughts, that, sinful, dark, and deep,

O’erpower the passive mind in sleep,

Pass from the slumberer’s soul away,

Like night-mists from the brow of day:

Foul hag, whose blasted visage grim

Smothers the pulse, unnerves the limb,

Spur thy dark palfrey, and begone!

Thou darest not face the godlike sun.”

As the strain proceeded, Allan M’Aulay gradually gave signs of recovering his presence of mind, and attention to the objects around him. The deep-knit furrows of his brow relaxed and smoothed themselves; and the rest of his features, which had seemed contorted with internal agony, relapsed into a more natural state. When he raised his head and sat upright, his countenance, though still deeply melancholy, was divested of its wildness and ferocity; and in its composed state, although by no means handsome, the expression of his features was striking, manly, and even noble. His thick, brown eyebrows, which had hitherto been drawn close together, were now slightly separated, as in the natural state; and his grey eyes, which had rolled and flashed from under them with an unnatural and portentous gleam, now recovered a steady and determined expression.

“Thank God!” he said, after sitting silent for about a minute, until the very last sounds of the harp had ceased to vibrate, “my soul is no longer darkened — the mist hath passed from my spirit.”

“You owe thanks, cousin Allan,” said Lord Menteith, coming forward, “to Annot Lyle, as well as to heaven, for this happy change in your melancholy mood.”

“My noble cousin Menteith,” said Allan, rising and greeting him very respectfully, as well as kindly, “has known my unhappy circumstances so long, that his goodness will require no excuse for my being thus late in bidding him welcome to the castle.”

“We are too old acquaintances, Allan,” said Lord Menteith, “and too good friends, to stand on the ceremonial of outward greeting; but half the Highlands will be here today, and you know, with our mountain Chiefs, ceremony must not be neglected. What will you give little Annot for making you fit company to meet Evan Dhu, and I know not how many bonnets and feathers?”

“What will he give me?” said Annot, smiling; “nothing less, I hope, than the best ribbon at the Fair of Doune.”

“The Fair of Doune, Annot?” said Allan sadly; “there will be bloody work before that day, and I may never see it; but you have well reminded me of what I have long intended to do.”

Having said this, he left the room.

“Should he talk long in this manner,” said Lord Menteith, “you must keep your harp in tune, my dear Annot.”

“I hope not,” said Annot, anxiously; “this fit has been a long one, and probably will not soon return. It is fearful to see a mind, naturally generous and affectionate, afflicted by this constitutional malady.”

As she spoke in a low and confidential tone, Lord Menteith naturally drew close, and stooped forward, that he might the better catch the sense of what she said. When Allan suddenly entered the apartment, they as naturally drew back from each other with a manner expressive of consciousness, as if surprised in a conversation which they wished to keep secret from him. This did not escape Allan’s observation; he stopt short at the door of the apartment — his brows were contracted — his eyes rolled; but it was only the paroxysm of a moment. He passed his broad sinewy hand across his brow, as if to obliterate these signs of emotion, and advanced towards Annot, holding in his hand a very small box made of oakwood, curiously inlaid. “I take you to witness,” he said, “cousin Menteith, that I give this box and its contents to Annot Lyle. It contains a few ornaments that belonged to my poor mother — of trifling value, you may guess, for the wife of a Highland laird has seldom a rich jewel-casket.”

“But these ornaments,” said Annot Lyle, gently and timidly refusing the box, “belong to the family — I cannot accept —”

“They belong to me alone, Annot,” said Allan, interrupting her; “they were my mother’s dying bequest. They are all I can call my own, except my plaid and my claymore. Take them, therefore — they are to me valueless trinkets — and keep them for my sake — should I never return from these wars.”

So saying, he opened the case, and presented it to Annot. “If,” said he, “they are of any value, dispose of them for your own support, when this house has been consumed with hostile fire, and can no longer afford you protection. But keep one ring in memory of Allan, who has done, to requite your kindness, if not all he wished, at least all he could.”

Annot Lyle endeavoured in vain to restrain the gathering tears, when she said, “ONE ring, Allan, I will accept from you as a memorial of your goodness to a poor orphan, but do not press me to take more; for I cannot, and will not, accept a gift of such disproportioned value.”

“Make your choice, then,” said Allan; “your delicacy may be well founded; the others will assume a shape in which they may be more useful to you.”

“Think not of it,” said Annot, choosing from the contents of the casket a ring, apparently the most trifling in value which it contained; “keep them for your own, or your brother’s bride. — But, good heavens!” she said, interrupting herself, and looking at the ring, “what is this that I have chosen?”

Allan hastened to look upon it, with eyes of gloomy apprehension; it bore, in enamel, a death’s head above two crossed daggers. When Allan recognised the device, he uttered a sigh so deep, that she dropped the ring from her hand, which rolled upon the floor. Lord Menteith picked it up, and returned it to the terrified Annot.

“I take God to witness,” said Allan, in a solemn tone, “that your hand, young lord, and not mine, has again delivered to her this ill-omened gift. It was the mourning ring worn by my mother in memorial of her murdered brother.”

“I fear no omens,” said Annot, smiling through her tears; “and nothing coming through the hands of my two patrons,” so she was wont to call Lord Menteith and Allan, “can bring bad luck to the poor orphan.”

She put the ring on her finger, and, turning to her harp, sung, to a lively air, the following verses of one of the fashionable songs of the period, which had found its way, marked as it was with the quaint hyperbolical taste of King Charles’s time, from some court masque to the wilds of Perthshire:—

“Gaze not upon the stars, fond sage,

In them no influence lies;

To read the fate of youth or age,

Look on my Helen’s eyes.

“Yet, rash astrologer, refrain!

Too dearly would be won

The prescience of another’s pain,

If purchased by thine own.”

“She is right, Allan,” said Lord Menteith; “and this end of an old song is worth all we shall gain by our attempt to look into futurity.”

“She is WRONG, my lord,” said Allan, sternly, “though you, who treat with lightness the warnings I have given you, may not live to see the event of the omen. — laugh not so scornfully,” he added, interrupting himself “or rather laugh on as loud and as long as you will; your term of laughter will find a pause ere long.”

“I care not for your visions, Allan,” said Lord Menteith; “however short my span of life, the eye of no Highland seer can see its termination.”

“For heaven’s sake,” said Annot Lyle, interrupting him, “you know his nature, and how little he can endure —”

“Fear me not,” said Allan, interrupting her — “my mind is now constant and calm. — But for you, young lord,” said he, turning to Lord Menteith, “my eye has sought you through fields of battle, where Highlanders and Lowlanders lay strewed as thick as ever the rooks sat on those ancient trees,” pointing to a rookery which was seen from the window —“my eye sought you, but your corpse was not there — my eye sought you among a train of unresisting and disarmed captives, drawn up within the bounding walls of an ancient and rugged fortress; — flash after flash — platoon after platoon — the hostile shot fell amongst them, They dropped like the dry leaves in autumn, but you were not among their ranks; — scaffolds were prepared — blocks were arranged, saw-dust was spread — the priest was ready with his book, the headsman with his axe — but there, too, mine eye found you not.”

“The gibbet, then, I suppose, must be my doom?” said Lord Menteith. “Yet I wish they had spared me the halter, were it but for the dignity of the peerage.”

He spoke this scornfully, yet not without a sort of curiosity, and a wish to receive an answer; for the desire of prying into futurity frequently has some influence even on the minds of those who disavow all belief in the possibility of such predictions.

“Your rank, my lord, will suffer no dishonour in your person, or by the manner of your death. Three times have I seen a Highlander plant his dirk in your bosom — and such will be your fate.”

“I wish you would describe him to me,” said Lord Menteith, “and I shall save him the trouble of fulfilling your prophecy, if his plaid be passible to sword or pistol.”

“Your weapons,” said Allan, “would avail you little; nor can I give you the information you desire. The face of the vision has been ever averted from me.”

“So be it then,” said Lord Menteith, “and let it rest in the uncertainty in which your augury has placed it. I shall dine not the less merrily among plaids, and dirks, and kilts today.”

“It may be so,” said Allan; “and, it may be, you do well to enjoy these moments, which to me are poisoned by auguries of future evil. But I,” he continued —“I repeat to you, that this weapon — that is, such a weapon as this,” touching the hilt of the dirk which he wore, “carries your fate.” “In the meanwhile,” said Lord Menteith, “you, Allan, have frightened the blood from the cheeks of Annot Lyle — let us leave this discourse, my friend, and go to see what we both understand — the progress of our military preparations.”

They joined Angus M’Aulay and his English guests, and, in the military discussions which immediately took place, Allan showed a clearness of mind, strength of judgment, and precision of thought, totally inconsistent with the mystical light in which his character has been hitherto exhibited.

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