Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXIV

A Stag-Hunt and its Consequences

Shall this be a long or a short chapter? This is a question in which you, gentle reader, have no vote, however much you may be interested in the consequences; just as you may (like myself) probably have nothing to do with the imposing a new tax, excepting the trifling circumstance of being obliged to pay it. More happy surely in the present case, since, though it lies within my arbitrary power to extend my materials as I think proper, I cannot call you into Exchequer if you do not think proper to read my narrative. Let me therefore consider. It is true that the annals and documents in my hands say but little of this Highland chase; but then I can find copious materials for description elsewhere. There is old Lindsay of Pitscottie ready at my elbow, with his Athole hunting, and his ‘lofted and joisted palace of green timber; with all kind of drink to be had in burgh and land, as ale, beer, wine, muscadel, malvaise, hippocras, and aquavitae; with wheat-bread, main-bread, ginge-bread, beef, mutton, lamb, veal, venison, goose, grice, capon, coney, crane, swan, partridge, plover, duck, drake, brisselcock, pawnies, black-cock, muir-fowl, and capercailzies’; not forgetting the ‘costly bedding, vaiselle, and napry,’ and least of all the ‘excelling stewards, cunning baxters, excellent cooks, and pottingars, with confections and drugs for the desserts.’ Besides the particulars which may be thence gleaned for this Highland feast (the splendour of which induced the Pope’s legate to dissent from an opinion which he had hitherto held, that Scotland, namely, was the — the — the latter end of the world) — besides these, might I not illuminate my pages with Taylor the Water Poet’s hunting in the Braes of Mar, where, —

Through heather, mosse,‘mong frogs, and bogs, and fogs,

‘Mongst craggy cliffs and thunder-batter’d hills,

Hares, hinds, bucks, roes, are chased by men and dogs,

Where two hours’ hunting fourscore fat deer kills.

Lowland, your sports are low as is your seat;

The Highland games and minds are high and great?

But without further tyranny over my readers, or display of the extent of my own reading, I shall content myself with borrowing a single incident from the memorable hunting at Lude, commemorated in the ingenious Mr. Gunn’s essay on the Caledonian Harp, and so proceed in my story with all the brevity that my natural style of composition, partaking of what scholars call the periphrastic and ambagitory, and the vulgar the circumbendibus, will permit me.

The solemn hunting was delayed, from various causes, for about three weeks. The interval was spent by Waverley with great satisfaction at Glennaquoich; for the impression which Flora had made on his mind at their first meeting grew daily stronger. She was precisely the character to fascinate a youth of romantic imagination. Her manners, her language, her talents for poetry and music, gave additional and varied influence to her eminent personal charms. Even in her hours of gaiety she was in his fancy exalted above the ordinary daughters of Eve, and seemed only to stoop for an instant to those topics of amusement and gallantry which others appear to live for. In the neighbourhood of this enchantress, while sport consumed the morning and music and the dance led on the hours of evening, Waverley became daily more delighted with his hospitable landlord, and more enamoured of his bewitching sister.

At length the period fixed for the grand hunting arrived, and Waverley and the Chieftain departed for the place of rendezvous, which was a day’s journey to the northward of Glennaquoich. Fergus was attended on this occasion by about three hundred of his clan, well armed and accoutred in their best fashion. Waverley complied so far with the custom of the country as to adopt the trews (he could not be reconciled to the kilt), brogues, and bonnet, as the fittest dress for the exercise in which he was to be engaged, and which least exposed him to be stared at as a stranger when they should reach the place of rendezvous. They found on the spot appointed several powerful Chiefs, to all of whom Waverley was formally presented, and by all cordially received. Their vassals and clansmen, a part of whose feudal duty it was to attend on these parties, appeared in such numbers as amounted to a small army. These active assistants spread through the country far and near, forming a circle, technically called the tinchel, which, gradually closing, drove the deer in herds together towards the glen where the Chiefs and principal sportsmen lay in wait for them. In the meanwhile these distinguished personages bivouacked among the flowery heath, wrapped up in their plaids, a mode of passing a summer’s night which Waverley found by no means unpleasant.

For many hours after sunrise the mountain ridges and passes retained their ordinary appearance of silence and solitude, and the Chiefs, with their followers, amused themselves with various pastimes, in which the joys of the shell, as Ossian has it, were not forgotten. ‘Others apart sate on a hill retired,’ probably as deeply engaged in the discussion of politics and news as Milton’s spirits in metaphysical disquisition. At length signals of the approach of the game were descried and heard. Distant shouts resounded from valley to valley, as the various parties of Highlanders, climbing rocks, struggling through copses, wading brooks, and traversing thickets, approached more and more near to each other, and compelled the astonished deer, with the other wild animals that fled before them, into a narrower circuit. Every now and then the report of muskets was heard, repeated by a thousand echoes. The baying of the dogs was soon added to the chorus, which grew ever louder and more loud. At length the advanced parties of the deer began to show themselves; and as the stragglers came bounding down the pass by two or three at a time, the Chiefs showed their skill by distinguishing the fattest deer, and their dexterity in bringing them down with their guns. Fergus exhibited remarkable address, and Edward was also so fortunate as to attract the notice and applause of the sportsmen.

But now the main body of the deer appeared at the head of the glen, compelled into a very narrow compass, and presenting such a formidable phalanx that their antlers appeared at a distance, over the ridge of the steep pass, like a leafless grove. Their number was very great, and from a desperate stand which they made, with the tallest of the red-deer stags arranged in front, in a sort of battle-array, gazing on the group which barred their passage down the glen, the more experienced sportsmen began to augur danger. The work of destruction, however, now commenced on all sides. Dogs and hunters were at work, and muskets and fusees resounded from every quarter. The deer, driven to desperation, made at length a fearful charge right upon the spot where the more distinguished sportsmen had taken their stand. The word was given in Gaelic to fling themselves upon their faces; but Waverley, on whose English ears the signal was lost, had almost fallen a sacrifice to his ignorance of the ancient language in which it was communicated. Fergus, observing his danger, sprung up and pulled him with violence to the ground, just as the whole herd broke down upon them. The tide being absolutely irresistible, and wounds from a stag’s horn highly dangerous, the activity of the Chieftain may be considered, on this occasion, as having saved his guest’s life. He detained him with a firm grasp until the whole herd of deer had fairly run over them. Waverley then attempted to rise, but found that he had suffered several very severe contusions, and, upon a further examination, discovered that he had sprained his ankle violently. 57

This checked the mirth of the meeting, although the Highlanders, accustomed to such incidents, and prepared for them, had suffered no harm themselves. A wigwam was erected almost in an instant, where Edward was deposited on a couch of heather. The surgeon, or he who assumed the office, appeared to unite the characters of a leech and a conjuror. He was an old smoke-dried Highlander, wearing a venerable grey beard, and having for his sole garment a tartan frock, the skirts of which descended to the knee, and, being undivided in front, made the vestment serve at once for doublet and breeches.58 He observed great ceremony in approaching Edward; and though our hero was writhing with pain, would not proceed to any operation which might assuage it until he had perambulated his couch three times, moving from east to west, according to the course of the sun. This, which was called making the deasil, 59 both the leech and the assistants seemed to consider as a matter of the last importance to the accomplishment of a cure; and Waverley, whom pain rendered incapable of expostulation, and who indeed saw no chance of its being attended to, submitted in silence.

After this ceremony was duly performed, the old Esculapius let his patient’s blood with a cupping-glass with great dexterity, and proceeded, muttering all the while to himself in Gaelic, to boil on the fire certain herbs, with which he compounded an embrocation. He then fomented the parts which had sustained injury, never failing to murmur prayers or spells, which of the two Waverley could not distinguish, as his ear only caught the words Gaspar-Melchior-Balthazar-max-prax-fax, and similar gibberish. The fomentation had a speedy effect in alleviating the pain and swelling, which our hero imputed to the virtue of the herbs or the effect of the chafing, but which was by the bystanders unanimously ascribed to the spells with which the operation had been accompanied. Edward was given to understand that not one of the ingredients had been gathered except during the full moon, and that the herbalist had, while collecting them, uniformly recited a charm, which in English ran thus:—

Hail to thee, them holy herb,

That sprung on holy ground!

All in the Mount Olivet

First wert thou found.

Thou art boot for many a bruise,

And healest many a wound;

In our Lady’s blessed name,

I take thee from the ground. 60

Edward observed with some surprise that even Fergus, notwithstanding his knowledge and education, seemed to fall in with the superstitious ideas of his countrymen, either because he deemed it impolitic to affect scepticism on a matter of general belief, or more probably because, ike most men who do not think deeply or accurately on such subjects, he had in his mind a reserve of superstition which balanced the freedom of his expressions and practice upon other occasions. Waverley made no commentary, therefore, on the manner of the treatment, but rewarded the professor of medicine with a liberality beyond the utmost conception of his wildest hopes. He uttered on the occasion so many incoherent blessings in Gaelic and English that Mac-Ivor, rather scandalised at the excess of his acknowledgments, cut them short by exclaiming, Ceud mile mhalloich ort! i.e. ‘A hundred thousand curses on you!’ and so pushed the helper of men out of the cabin.

After Waverley was left alone, the exhaustion of pain and fatigue — for the whole day’s exercise had been severe — threw him into a profound, but yet a feverish sleep, which he chiefly owed to an opiate draught administered by the old Highlander from some decoction of herbs in his pharmacopoeia.

Early the next morning, the purpose of their meeting being over, and their sports damped by the untoward accident, in which Fergus and all his friends expressed the greatest sympathy, it became a question how to dispose of the disabled sportsman. This was settled by Mac-Ivor, who had a litter prepared, of ‘birch and hazel-grey,’ 61

which was borne by his people with such caution and dexterity as renders it not improbable that they may have been the ancestors of some of those sturdy Gael who have now the happiness to transport the belles of Edinburgh in their sedan-chairs to ten routs in one evening. When Edward was elevated upon their shoulders he could not help being gratified with the romantic effect produced by the breaking up of this sylvan camp.62

The various tribes assembled, each at the pibroch of their native clan, and each headed by their patriarchal ruler. Some, who had already begun to retire, were seen winding up the hills, or descending the passes which led to the scene of action, the sound of their bagpipes dying upon the ear. Others made still a moving picture upon the narrow plain, forming various changeful groups, their feathers and loose plaids waving in the morning breeze, and their arms glittering in the rising sun. Most of the Chiefs came to take farewell of Waverley, and to express their anxious hope they might again, and speedily, meet; but the care of Fergus abridged the ceremony of taking leave. At length, his own men being completely assembled and mustered, Mac-Ivor commenced his march, but not towards the quarter from which they had come. He gave Edward to understand that the greater part of his followers now on the field were bound on a distant expedition, and that when he had deposited him in the house of a gentleman, who he was sure would pay him every attention, he himself should be under the necessity of accompanying them the greater part of the way, but would lose no time in rejoining his friend.

Waverley was rather surprised that Fergus had not mentioned this ulterior destination when they set out upon the hunting-party; but his situation did not admit of many interrogatories. The greater part of the clansmen went forward under the guidance of old Ballenkeiroch and Evan Dhu Maccombich, apparently in high spirits. A few remained for the purpose of escorting the Chieftain, who walked by the side of Edward’s litter, and attended him with the most affectionate assiduity. About noon, after a journey which the nature of the conveyance, the pain of his bruises, and the roughness of the way rendered inexpressibly painful, Waverley was hospitably received into the house of a gentleman related to Fergus, who had prepared for him every accommodation which the simple habits of living then universal in the Highlands put in his power. In this person, an old man about seventy, Edward admired a relic of primitive simplicity. He wore no dress but what his estate afforded; the cloth was the fleece of his own sheep, woven by his own servants, and stained into tartan by the dyes produced from the herbs and lichens of the hills around him. His linen was spun by his daughters and maidservants, from his own flax; nor did his table, though plentiful, and varied with game and fish, offer an article but what was of native produce.

Claiming himself no rights of clanship or vassalage, he was fortunate in the alliance and protection of Vich Ian Vohr and other bold and enterprising Chieftains, who protected him in the quiet unambitious life he loved. It is true, the youth born on his grounds were often enticed to leave him for the service of his more active friends; but a few old servants and tenants used to shake their grey locks when they heard their master censured for want of spirit, and observed, ‘When the wind is still, the shower falls soft.’ This good old man, whose charity and hospitality were unbounded, would have received Waverley with kindness had he been the meanest Saxon peasant, since his situation required assistance. But his attention to a friend and guest of Vich Ian Vohr was anxious and unremitted. Other embrocations were applied to the injured limb, and new spells were put in practice. At length, after more solicitude than was perhaps for the advantage of his health, Fergus took farewell of Edward for a few days, when, he said, he would return to Tomanrait, and hoped by that time Waverley would be able to ride one of the Highland ponies of his landlord, and in that manner return to Glennaquoich.

The next day, when his good old host appeared, Edward learned that his friend had departed with the dawn, leaving none of his followers except Callum Beg, the sort of foot-page who used to attend his person, and who had now in charge to wait upon Waverley. On asking his host if he knew where the Chieftain was gone, the old man looked fixedly at him, with something mysterious and sad in the smile which was his only reply. Waverley repeated his question, to which his host answered in a proverb, —

What sent the messengers to hell,

Was asking what they knew full well. 63

He was about to proceed, but Callum Beg said, rather pertly, as Edward thought, that ‘Ta Tighearnach (i.e. the Chief) did not like ta Sassenagh duinhe-wassel to be pingled wi’ mickle speaking, as she was na tat weel.’ From this Waverley concluded he should disoblige his friend by inquiring of a stranger the object of a journey which he himself had not communicated.

It is unnecessary to trace the progress of our hero’s recovery. The sixth morning had arrived, and he was able to walk about with a staff, when Fergus returned with about a score of his men. He seemed in the highest spirits, congratulated Waverley on his progress towards recovery, and finding he was able to sit on horseback, proposed their immediate return to Glennaquoich. Waverley joyfully acceded, for the form of its fair mistress had lived in his dreams during all the time of his confinement.

Now he has ridden o’er moor and moss,

O’er hill and many a glen,

Fergus, all the while, with his myrmidons, striding stoutly by his side, or diverging to get a shot at a roe or a heath-cock. Waverley’s bosom beat thick when they approached the old tower of Ian nan Chaistel, and could distinguish the fair form of its mistress advancing to meet them.

Fergus began immediately, with his usual high spirits, to exclaim, ‘Open your gates, incomparable princess, to the wounded Moor Abindarez, whom Rodrigo de Narvez, constable of Antiquera, conveys to your castle; or open them, if you like it better, to the renowned Marquis of Mantua, the sad attendant of his half-slain friend Baldovinos of the Mountain. Ah, long rest to thy soul, Cervantes! without quoting thy remnants, how should I frame my language to befit romantic ears!’

Flora now advanced, and welcoming Waverley with much kindness, expressed her regret for his accident, of which she had already heard particulars, and her surprise that her brother should not have taken better care to put a stranger on his guard against the perils of the sport in which he engaged him. Edward easily exculpated the Chieftain, who, indeed, at his own personal risk, had probably saved his life.

This greeting over, Fergus said three or four words to his sister in Gaelic. The tears instantly sprung to her eyes, but they seemed to be tears of devotion and joy, for she looked up to heaven and folded her hands as in a solemn expression of prayer or gratitude. After the pause of a minute, she presented to Edward some letters which had been forwarded from Tully-Veolan during his absence, and at the same time delivered some to her brother. To the latter she likewise gave three or four numbers of the Caledonian Mercury, the only newspaper which was then published to the north of the Tweed.

Both gentlemen retired to examine their despatches, and Edward speedily found that those which he had received contained matters of very deep interest.

57 The thrust from the tynes, or branches, of the stag’s horns was accounted far more dangerous than those of the boar’s tusk:—

If thou be hurt with horn of stag,

it brings thee to thy bier,

But barber’s hand shall boar’s hurt heal,

thereof have thou no fear.

58 This garb, which resembled the dress often put on children in Scotland, called a polonie (i. e. polonaise), is a very ancient modification of the Highland garb. It was, in fact, the hauberk or shirt of mail, only composed of cloth instead of rings of armour.

59 Old Highlanders will still make the deasil around those whom they wish well to. To go round a person in the opposite direction, or withershins (German wider-shins), is unlucky, and a sort of incantation.

60 This metrical spell, or something very like it, is preserved by Reginald Scott in his work on Witchcraft.

61

On the morrow they made their biers

Of birch and hazel grey. Chevy Chase.

62 The author has been sometimes accused of confounding fiction with reality. He therefore thinks it necessary to state that the circumstance of the hunting described in the text as preparatory to the insurrection of 1745 is, so far as he knows, entirely imaginary. But it is well known such a great hunting was held in the Forest of Brae-Mar, under the auspices of the Earl of Mar, as preparatory to the Rebellion of 1715; and most of the Highland chieftains who afterwards engaged in that civil commotion were present on this occasion.

63 Corresponding to the Lowland saying, ‘Mony ane speirs the gate they ken fu’ weel.’

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