A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 9

. . . . In a rebellion,

When what’s not meet, but what must be, was law,

Then were they chosen, in a better hour,

Let what is meet be said it must be meet,

And throw their power i’ the dust.

CORIOLANUS.

In a small apartment, remote from the rest of the guests assembled at the castle, Sir Duncan Campbell was presented with every species of refreshment, and respectfully attended by Lord Menteith, and by Allan M’Aulay. His discourse with the latter turned upon a sort of hunting campaign, in which they had been engaged together against the Children of the Mist, with whom the Knight of Ardenvohr, as well as the M’Aulays, had a deadly and irreconcilable feud. Sir Duncan, however, speedily endeavoured to lead back the conversation to the subject of his present errand to the castle of Darnlinvarach.

“It grieved him to the very heart,” he said, “to see that friends and neighbours, who should stand shoulder to shoulder, were likely to be engaged hand to hand in a cause which so little concerned them. What signifies it,” he said, “to the Highland Chiefs, whether King or Parliament got uppermost? Were it not better to let them settle their own differences without interference, while the Chiefs, in the meantime, took the opportunity of establishing their own authority in a manner not to be called in question hereafter by either King or Parliament?” He reminded Allan M’Aulay that the measures taken in the last reign to settle the peace, as was alleged, of the Highlands, were in fact levelled at the patriarchal power of the Chieftains; and he mentioned the celebrated settlement of the Fife Undertakers, as they were called, in the Lewis, as part of a deliberate plan, formed to introduce strangers among the Celtic tribes, to destroy by degrees their ancient customs and mode of government, and to despoil them of the inheritance of their fathers. [In the reign of James VI., an attempt of rather an extraordinary kind was made to civilize the extreme northern part of the Hebridean Archipelago. That monarch granted the property of the Island of Lewis, as if it had been an unknown and savage country, to a number of Lowland gentlemen, called undertakers, chiefly natives of the shire of Fife, that they might colonize and settle there. The enterprise was at first successful, but the natives of the island, MacLeods and MacKenzies, rose on the Lowland adventurers, and put most of them to the sword.] “And yet,” he continued, addressing Allan, “it is for the purpose of giving despotic authority to the monarch by whom these designs have been nursed, that so many Highland Chiefs are upon the point of quarrelling with, and drawing the sword against, their neighbours, allies, and ancient confederates.” “It is to my brother,” said Allan, “it is to the eldest son of my father’s house, that the Knight of Ardenvohr must address these remonstrances. I am, indeed, the brother of Angus; but in being so, I am only the first of his clansmen, and bound to show an example to the others by my cheerful and ready obedience to his commands.”

“The cause also,” said Lord Menteith, interposing, “is far more general than Sir Duncan Campbell seems to suppose it. It is neither limited to Saxon nor to Gael, to mountain nor to strath, to Highlands nor to Lowlands. The question is, if we will continue to be governed by the unlimited authority assumed by a set of persons in no respect superior to ourselves, instead of returning to the natural government of the Prince against whom they have rebelled. And respecting the interest of the Highlands in particular,” he added, “I crave Sir Duncan Campbell’s pardon for my plainness; but it seems very clear to me, that the only effect produced by the present usurpation, will be the aggrandisement of one overgrown clan at the expense of every independent Chief in the Highlands.”

“I will not reply to you, my lord,” said Sir Duncan Campbell, “because I know your prejudices, and from whom they are borrowed; yet you will pardon my saying, that being at the head of a rival branch of the House of Graham, I have both read of and known an Earl of Menteith, who would have disdained to have been tutored in politics, or to have been commanded in war, by an Earl of Montrose.”

“You will find it in vain, Sir Duncan,” said Lord Menteith, haughtily, “to set my vanity in arms against my principles. The King gave my ancestors their title and rank; and these shall never prevent my acting, in the royal cause, under any one who is better qualified than myself to be a commander-inchief. Least of all, shall any miserable jealousy prevent me from placing my hand and sword under the guidance of the bravest, the most loyal, the most heroic spirit among our Scottish nobility.”

“Pity,” said Sir Duncan Campbell, “that you cannot add to this panegyric the farther epithets of the most steady, and the most consistent. But I have no purpose of debating these points with you, my lord,” waving his hand, as if to avoid farther discussion; “the die is cast with you; allow me only to express my sorrow for the disastrous fate to which Angus M’Aulay’s natural rashness, and your lordship’s influence, are dragging my gallant friend Allan here, with his father’s clan, and many a brave man besides.”

“The die is cast for us all, Sir Duncan,” replied Allan, looking gloomy, and arguing on his own hypochondriac feelings; “the iron hand of destiny branded our fate upon our forehead long ere we could form a wish, or raise a finger in our own behalf. Were this otherwise, by what means does the Seer ascertain the future from those shadowy presages which haunt his waking and his sleeping eye? Nought can be foreseen but that which is certain to happen.”

Sir Duncan Campbell was about to reply, and the darkest and most contested point of metaphysics might have been brought into discussion betwixt two Highland disputants, when the door opened, and Annot Lyle, with her clairshach in her hand, entered the apartment. The freedom of a Highland maiden was in her step and in her eye; for, bred up in the closest intimacy with the Laird of M’Aulay and his brother, with Lord Menteith, and other young men who frequented Darnlinvarach, she possessed none of that timidity which a female, educated chiefly among her own sex, would either have felt, or thought necessary to assume, on an occasion like the present.

Her dress partook of the antique, for new fashions seldom penetrated into the Highlands, nor would they easily have found their way to a castle inhabited chiefly by men, whose sole occupation was war and the chase. Yet Annot’s garments were not only becoming, but even rich. Her open jacket, with a high collar, was composed of blue cloth, richly embroidered, and had silver clasps to fasten, when it pleased the wearer. Its sleeves, which were wide, came no lower than the elbow, and terminated in a golden fringe; under this upper coat, if it can be so termed, she wore an under dress of blue satin, also richly embroidered, but which was several shades lighter in colour than the upper garment. The petticoat was formed of tartan silk, in the sett, or pattern, of which the colour of blue greatly predominated, so as to remove the tawdry effect too frequently produced in tartan, by the mixture and strong opposition of colours. An antique silver chain hung round her neck, and supported the WREST, or key, with which she turned her instrument. A small ruff rose above her collar, and was secured by a brooch of some value, an old keepsake from Lord Menteith. Her profusion of light hair almost hid her laughing eyes, while, with a smile and a blush, she mentioned that she had M’Aulay’s directions to ask them if they chose music. Sir Duncan Campbell gazed with considerable surprise and interest at the lovely apparition, which thus interrupted his debate with Allan M’Aulay.

“Can this,” he said to him in a whisper, “a creature so beautiful and so elegant, be a domestic musician of your brother’s establishment?”

“By no means,” answered Allan, hastily, yet with some hesitation; “she is a — a — near relation of our family — and treated,” he added, more firmly, “as an adopted daughter of our father’s house.”

As he spoke thus, he arose from his seat, and with that air of courtesy which every Highlander can assume when it suits him to practise it, he resigned it to Annot, and offered to her, at the same time, whatever refreshments the table afforded, with an assiduity which was probably designed to give Sir Duncan an impression of her rank and consequence. If such was Allan’s purpose, however, it was unnecessary. Sir Duncan kept his eyes fixed upon Annot with an expression of much deeper interest than could have arisen from any impression that she was a person of consequence. Annot even felt embarrassed under the old knight’s steady gaze; and it was not without considerable hesitation, that, tuning her instrument, and receiving an assenting look from Lord Menteith and Allan, she executed the following ballad, which our friend, Mr. Secundus M’Pherson, whose goodness we had before to acknowledge, has thus translated into the English tongue:

The Orphan Maid.

November’s hail-cloud drifts away,

November’s sunbeam wan

Looks coldly on the castle grey,

When forth comes Lady Anne.

The orphan by the oak was set,

Her arms, her feet, were bare,

The hail-drops had not melted yet,

Amid her raven hair.

“And, Dame,” she said, “by all the ties

That child and mother know,

Aid one who never knew these joys,

Relieve an orphan’s woe.”

The Lady said, “An orphan’s state

Is hard and sad to bear;

Yet worse the widow’d mother’s fate,

Who mourns both lord and heir.

“Twelve times the rolling year has sped,

Since, when from vengeance wild

Of fierce Strathallan’s Chief I fled,

Forth’s eddies whelm’d my child.”

“Twelve times the year its course has born,”

The wandering maid replied,

“Since fishers on St. Bridget’s morn

Drew nets on Campsie side.

“St. Bridget sent no scaly spoil; —

An infant, wellnigh dead,

They saved, and rear’d in want and toil,

To beg from you her bread.”

That orphan maid the lady kiss’d —

“My husband’s looks you bear;

St. Bridget and her morn be bless’d!

You are his widow’s heir.”

They’ve robed that maid, so poor and pale,

In silk and sandals rare;

And pearls, for drops of frozen hail,

Are glistening in her hair.

The admirers of pure Celtic antiquity, notwithstanding the elegance of the above translation, may be desirous to see a literal version from the original Gaelic, which we therefore subjoin; and have only to add, that the original is deposited with Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham.

LITERAL TRANSLATION.

The hail-blast had drifted away upon the wings of the gale of autumn. The sun looked from between the clouds, pale as the wounded hero who rears his head feebly on the heath when the roar of battle hath passed over him.

Finele, the Lady of the Castle, came forth to see her maidens pass to the herds with their leglins [Milk-pails].

There sat an orphan maiden beneath the old oak-tree of appointment. The withered leaves fell around her, and her heart was more withered than they.

The parent of the ice [poetically taken from the frost] still congealed the hail-drops in her hair; they were like the specks of white ashes on the twisted boughs of the blackened and half-consumed oak that blazes in the hall.

And the maiden said, “Give me comfort, Lady, I am an orphan child.” And the Lady replied, “How can I give that which I have not? I am the widow of a slain lord — the mother of a perished child. When I fled in my fear from the vengeance of my husband’s foes, our bark was overwhelmed in the tide, and my infant perished. This was on St. Bridget’s morn, near the strong Lyns of Campsie. May ill luck light upon the day.” And the maiden answered, “It was on St. Bridget’s morn, and twelve harvests before this time, that the fishermen of Campsie drew in their nets neither grilse nor salmon, but an infant half dead, who hath since lived in misery, and must die, unless she is now aided.” And the Lady answered, “Blessed be Saint Bridget and her morn, for these are the dark eyes and the falcon look of my slain lord; and thine shall be the inheritance of his widow.” And she called for her waiting attendants, and she bade them clothe that maiden in silk, and in samite; and the pearls which they wove among her black tresses, were whiter than the frozen hail-drops.

While the song proceeded, Lord Menteith observed, with some surprise, that it appeared to produce a much deeper effect upon the mind of Sir Duncan Campbell, than he could possibly have anticipated from his age and character. He well knew that the Highlanders of that period possessed a much greater sensibility both for tale and song than was found among their Lowland neighbours; but even this, he thought, hardly accounted for the embarrassment with which the old man withdrew his eyes from the songstress, as if unwilling to suffer them to rest on an object so interesting. Still less was it to be expected, that features which expressed pride, stern common sense, and the austere habit of authority, should have been so much agitated by so trivial a circumstance. As the Chief’s brow became clouded, he drooped his large shaggy grey eyebrows until they almost concealed his eyes, on the lids of which something like a tear might be seen to glisten. He remained silent and fixed in the same posture for a minute or two, after the last note had ceased to vibrate. He then raised his head, and having looked at Annot Lyle, as if purposing to speak to her, he as suddenly changed that purpose, and was about to address Allan, when the door opened, and the Lord of the Castle made his appearance.

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