Thretty for thretty faucht in barreris,
At Sanct Johnstoun on a day besyde the black freris.
Palm Sunday now dawned. At an earlier period of the Christian Church, the use of any of the days of Passion Week for the purpose of combat would have been accounted a profanity worthy of excommunication. The Church of Rome, to her infinite honour, had decided that during the holy season of Easter, when the redemption of man from his fallen state was accomplished, the sword of war should be sheathed, and angry monarchs should respect the season termed the Truce of God. The ferocious violence of the latter wars betwixt Scotland and England had destroyed all observance of this decent and religious Ordinance. Very often the most solemn occasions were chosen by one party for an attack, because they hoped to find the other engaged in religious duties and unprovided for defence. Thus the truce, once considered as proper to the season, had been discontinued; and it became not unusual even to select the sacred festivals of the church for decision of the trial by combat, to which this intended contest bore a considerable resemblance.
On the present occasion, however, the duties of the day were observed with the usual solemnity, and the combatants themselves took share in them. Bearing branches of yew in their hands, as the readiest substitute for palm boughs, they marched respectively to the Dominican and Carthusian convents, to hear High Mass, and, by a show at least of devotion, to prepare themselves for the bloody strife of the day. Great care had of course been taken that, during this march, they should not even come within the sound of each other’s bagpipes; for it was certain that, like game cocks exchanging mutual notes of defiance, they would have sought out and attacked each other before they arrived at the place of combat.
The citizens of Perth crowded to see the unusual procession on the streets, and thronged the churches where the two clans attended their devotions, to witness their behaviour, and to form a judgment from their appearance which was most likely to obtain the advantage in the approaching conflict. Their demeanour in the church, although not habitual frequenters of places of devotion, was perfectly decorous; and, notwithstanding their wild and untamed dispositions, there were few of the mountaineers who seemed affected either with curiosity or wonder. They appeared to think it beneath their dignity of character to testify either curiosity or surprise at many things which were probably then presented to them for the first time.
On the issue of the combat, few even of the most competent judges dared venture a prediction; although the great size of Torquil and his eight stalwart sons induced some who professed themselves judges of the thewes and sinews of men to incline to ascribe the advantage to the party of the Clan Quhele. The opinion of the female sex was much decided by the handsome form, noble countenance, and gallant demeanour of Eachin MacIan. There were more than one who imagined they had recollection of his features, but his splendid military attire rendered the humble glover’s apprentice unrecognisable in the young Highland chief, saving by one person.
That person, as may well be supposed, was the Smith of the Wynd, who had been the foremost in the crowd that thronged to see the gallant champions of Clan Quhele. It was with mingled feelings of dislike, jealousy, and something approaching to admiration that he saw the glover’s apprentice stripped of his mean slough, and blazing forth as a chieftain, who, by his quick eye and gallant demeanour, the noble shape of his brow and throat, his splendid arms and well proportioned limbs, seemed well worthy to hold the foremost rank among men selected to live or die for the honour of their race. The smith could hardly think that he looked upon the same passionate boy whom he had brushed off as he might a wasp that stung him, and, in mere compassion, forebore to despatch by treading on him.
“He looks it gallantly with my noble hauberk,” thus muttered Henry to himself, “the best I ever wrought. Yet, if he and I stood together where there was neither hand to help nor eye to see, by all that is blessed in this holy church, the good harness should return to its owner! All that I am worth would I give for three fair blows on his shoulders to undo my own best work; but such happiness will never be mine. If he escape from the conflict, it will be with so high a character for courage, that he may well disdain to put his fortune, in its freshness, to the risk of an encounter with a poor burgess like myself. He will fight by his champion, and turn me over to my fellow craftsman the hammerer, when all I can reap will be the pleasure of knocking a Highland bullock on the head. If I could but see Simon Glover! I will to the other church in quest of him, since for sure he must have come down from the Highlands.”
The congregation was moving from the church of the Dominicans when the smith formed this determination, which he endeavoured to carry into speedy execution, by thrusting through the crowd as hastily as the solemnity of the place and occasion would permit. In making his way through the press, he was at one instant carried so close to Eachin that their eyes encountered. The smith’s hardy and embrowned countenance coloured up like the heated iron on which he wrought, and retained its dark red hue for several minutes. Eachin’s features glowed with a brighter blush of indignation, and a glance of fiery hatred was shot from his eyes. But the sudden flush died away in ashy paleness, and his gaze instantly avoided the unfriendly but steady look with which it was encountered.
Torquil, whose eye never quitted his foster son, saw his emotion, and looked anxiously around to discover the cause. But Henry was already at a distance, and hastening on his way to the Carthusian convent. Here also the religious service of the day was ended; and those who had so lately borne palms in honour of the great event which brought peace on earth and goodwill to the children of men were now streaming to the place of combat — some prepared to take the lives of their fellow creatures or to lose their own, others to view the deadly strife with the savage delight which the heathens took in the contests of their gladiators.
The crowd was so great that any other person might well have despaired of making way through it. But the general deference entertained for Henry of the Wynd, as the champion of Perth, and the universal sense of his ability to force a passage, induced all to unite in yielding room for him, so that he was presently quite close to the warriors of the Clan Chattan. Their pipers marched at the head of their column. Next followed the well known banner, displaying a mountain cat rampant, with the appropriate caution, “Touch not the cat, but (i.e. without) the glove.” The chief followed with his two handed sword advanced, as if to protect the emblem of the tribe. He was a man of middle stature, more than fifty years old, but betraying neither in features nor form any decay of strength or symptoms of age. His dark red close curled locks were in part chequered by a few grizzled hairs, but his step and gesture were as light in the dance, in the chase, or in the battle as if he had not passed his thirtieth year. His grey eye gleamed with a wild light expressive of valour and ferocity mingled; but wisdom and experience dwelt on the expression of his forehead, eyebrows, and lips. The chosen champions followed by two and two. There was a cast of anxiety on several of their faces, for they had that morning discovered the absence of one of their appointed number; and, in a contest so desperate as was expected, the loss seemed a matter of importance to all save to their high mettled chief, MacGillie Chattanach.
“Say nothing to the Saxons of his absence,” said this bold leader, when the diminution of his force was reported to him. “The false Lowland tongues might say that one of Clan Chattan was a coward, and perhaps that the rest favoured his escape, in order to have a pretence to avoid the battle. I am sure that Ferquhard Day will be found in the ranks ere we are ready for battle; or, if he should not, am not I man enough for two of the Clan Quhele? or would we not fight them fifteen to thirty, rather than lose the renown that this day will bring us?”
The tribe received the brave speech of their leader with applause, yet there were anxious looks thrown out in hopes of espying the return of the deserter; and perhaps the chief himself was the only one of the determined band who was totally indifferent on the subject.
They marched on through the streets without seeing anything of Ferquhard Day, who, many a mile beyond the mountains, was busied in receiving such indemnification as successful love could bestow for the loss of honour. MacGillie Chattanach marched on without seeming to observe the absence of the deserter, and entered upon the North Inch, a beautiful and level plain, closely adjacent to the city, and appropriated to the martial exercises of the inhabitants.
The plain is washed on one side by the deep and swelling Tay. There was erected within it a strong palisade, inclosing on three sides a space of one hundred and fifty yards in length and seventy-four yards in width. The fourth side of the lists was considered as sufficiently fenced by the river. An amphitheatre for the accommodation of spectators surrounded the palisade, leaving a large space free to be occupied by armed men on foot and horseback, and for the more ordinary class of spectators. At the extremity of the lists which was nearest to the city, there was a range of elevated galleries for the King and his courtiers, so highly decorated with rustic treillage, intermingled with gilded ornaments, that the spot retains to this day the name of the Golden, or Gilded, Arbour.
The mountain minstrelsy, which sounded the appropriate pibrochs or battle tunes of the rival confederacies, was silent when they entered on the Inch, for such was the order which had been given. Two stately but aged warriors, each bearing the banner of his tribe, advanced to the opposite extremities of the lists, and, pitching their standards into the earth, prepared to be spectators of a fight in which they were not to join. The pipers, who were also to be neutral in the strife, took their places by their respective brattachs.
The multitude received both bands with the same general shout with which on similar occasions they welcome those from whose exertion they expect amusement, or what they term sport. The destined combatants returned no answer to this greeting, but each party advanced to the opposite extremities of the lists, where were entrances by which they were to be admitted to the interior. A strong body of men at arms guarded either access; and the Earl Marshal at the one and the Lord High Constable at the other carefully examined each individual, to see whether he had the appropriate arms, being steel cap, mail shirt, two handed sword, and dagger. They also examined the numbers of each party; and great was the alarm among the multitude when the Earl of Errol held up his hand and cried: “Ho! The combat cannot proceed, for the Clan Chattan lack one of their number.”
“What reek of that?” said the young Earl of Crawford; “they should have counted better ere they left home.”
The Earl Marshal, however, agreed with the Constable that the fight could not proceed until the inequality should be removed; and a general apprehension was excited in the assembled multitude that, after all the preparation, there would be no battle.
Of all present there were only two perhaps who rejoiced at the prospect of the combat being adjourned, and these were the captain of the Clan Quhele and the tender hearted King Robert. Meanwhile the two chiefs, each attended by a special friend and adviser, met in the midst of the lists, having, to assist them in determining what was to be done, the Earl Marshal, the Lord High Constable, the Earl of Crawford, and Sir Patrick Charteris. The chief of the Clan Chattan declared himself willing and desirous of fighting upon the spot, without regard to the disparity of numbers.
“That,” said Torquil of the Oak, “Clan Quhele will never consent to. You can never win honour from us with the sword, and you seek but a subterfuge, that you may say when you are defeated, as you know you will be, that it was for want of the number of your band fully counted out. But I make a proposal: Ferquhard Day was the youngest of your band, Eachin MacIan is the youngest of ours; we will set him aside in place of the man who has fled from the combat.”
“A most unjust and unequal proposal,” exclaimed Toshach Beg, the second, as he might be termed, of MacGillie Chattanach. “The life of the chief is to the clan the breath of our nostrils, nor will we ever consent that our chief shall be exposed to dangers which the captain of Clan Quhele does not share.”
Torquil saw with deep anxiety that his plan was about to fail when the objection was made to Hector’s being withdrawn from the battle, and he was meditating how to support his proposal, when Eachin himself interfered. His timidity, it must be observed, was not of that sordid and selfish nature which induces those who are infected by it calmly to submit to dishonour rather than risk danger. On the contrary, he was morally brave, though constitutionally timid, and the shame of avoiding the combat became at the moment more powerful than the fear of facing it.
“I will not hear,” he said, “of a scheme which will leave my sword sheathed during this day’s glorious combat. If I am young in arms, there are enough of brave men around me whom I may imitate if I cannot equal.”
He spoke these words in a spirit which imposed on Torquil, and perhaps on the young chief himself.
“Now, God bless his noble heart!” said the foster father to himself. “I was sure the foul spell would be broken through, and that the tardy spirit which besieged him would fly at the sound of the pipe and the first flutter of the brattach!”
“Hear me, Lord Marshal,” said the Constable. “The hour of combat may not be much longer postponed, for the day approaches to high noon. Let the chief of Clan Chattan take the half hour which remains, to find, if he can, a substitute for this deserter; if he cannot, let them fight as they stand.”
“Content I am,” said the Marshal, “though, as none of his own clan are nearer than fifty miles, I see not how MacGillis Chattanach is to find an auxiliary.”
“That is his business,” said the High Constable; “but, if he offers a high reward, there are enough of stout yeomen surrounding the lists, who will be glad enough to stretch their limbs in such a game as is expected. I myself, did my quality and charge permit, would blythely take a turn of work amongst these wild fellows, and think it fame won.”
They communicated their decision to the Highlanders, and the chief of the Clan Chattan replied: “You have judged unpartially and nobly, my lords, and I deem myself obliged to follow your direction. So make proclamation, heralds, that, if any one will take his share with Clan Chattan of the honours and chances of this day, he shall have present payment of a gold crown, and liberty to fight to the death in my ranks.”
“You are something chary of your treasure, chief,” said the Earl Marshal: “a gold crown is poor payment for such a campaign as is before you.”
“If there be any man willing to fight for honour,” replied MacGillis Chattanach, “the price will be enough; and I want not the service of a fellow who draws his sword for gold alone.”
The heralds had made their progress, moving half way round the lists, stopping from time to time to make proclamation as they had been directed, without the least apparent disposition on the part of any one to accept of the proffered enlistment. Some sneered at the poverty of the Highlanders, who set so mean a price upon such a desperate service. Others affected resentment, that they should esteem the blood of citizens so lightly. None showed the slightest intention to undertake the task proposed, until the sound of the proclamation reached Henry of the Wynd, as he stood without the barrier, speaking from time to time with Baillie Craigdallie, or rather listening vaguely to what the magistrate was saying to him.
“Ha! what proclaim they?” he cried out.
“A liberal offer on the part of MacGillie Chattanach,” said the host of the Griffin, “who proposes a gold crown to any one who will turn wildcat for the day, and be killed a little in his service! That’s all.”
“How!” exclaimed the smith, eagerly, “do they make proclamation for a man to fight against the Clan Quhele?”
“Ay, marry do they,” said Griffin; “but I think they will find no such fools in Perth.”
He had hardly said the word, when he beheld the smith clear the barriers at a single bound and alight in the lists, saying: “Here am I, sir herald, Henry of the Wynd, willing to battle on the part of the Clan Chattan.”
A cry of admiration ran through the multitude, while the grave burghers, not being able to conceive the slightest reason for Henry’s behaviour, concluded that his head must be absolutely turned with the love of fighting. The provost was especially shocked.
“Thou art mad,” he said, “Henry! Thou hast neither two handed sword nor shirt of mail.”
“Truly no,” said Henry, “for I parted with a mail shirt, which I had made for myself, to yonder gay chief of the Clan Quhele, who will soon find on his shoulders with what sort of blows I clink my rivets! As for two handed sword, why, this boy’s brand will serve my turn till I can master a heavier one.”
“This must not be,” said Errol. “Hark thee, armourer, by St. Mary, thou shalt have my Milan hauberk and good Spanish sword.”
“I thank your noble earlship, Sir Gilbert Hay, but the yoke with which your brave ancestor turned the battle at Loncarty would serve my turn well enough. I am little used to sword or harness that I have not wrought myself, because I do not well know what blows the one will bear out without being cracked or the other lay on without snapping.”
The cry had in the mean while run through the multitude and passed into the town, that the dauntless smith was about to fight without armour, when, just as the fated hour was approaching, the shrill voice of a female was heard screaming for passage through the crowd. The multitude gave place to her importunity, and she advanced, breathless with haste under the burden of a mail hauberk and a large two handed sword. The widow of Oliver Proudfute was soon recognised, and the arms which she bore were those of the smith himself, which, occupied by her husband on the fatal evening when he was murdered, had been naturally conveyed to his house with the dead body, and were now, by the exertions of his grateful widow, brought to the lists at a moment when such proved weapons were of the last consequence to their owner. Henry joyfully received the well known arms, and the widow with trembling haste assisted in putting them on, and then took leave of him, saying: “God for the champion of the widow and orphan, and ill luck to all who come before him!”
Confident at feeling himself in his well proved armour, Henry shook himself as if to settle the steel shirt around him, and, unsheathing the two handed sword, made it flourish over his head, cutting the air through which it whistled in the form of the figure eight with an ease and sleight of hand that proved how powerfully and skilfully he could wield the ponderous weapon. The champions were now ordered to march in their turns around the lists, crossing so as to avoid meeting each other, and making obeisance as they passed the Golden Arbour where the King was seated.
While this course was performing, most of the spectators were again curiously comparing the stature, limbs, and sinews of the two parties, and endeavouring to form a conjecture an to the probable issue of the combat. The feud of a hundred years, with all its acts of aggression and retaliation, was concentrated in the bosom of each combatant. Their countenances seemed fiercely writhen into the wildest expression of pride, hate, and a desperate purpose of fighting to the very last.
The spectators murmured a joyful applause, in high wrought expectation of the bloody game. Wagers were offered and accepted both on the general issue of the conflict and on the feats of particular champions. The clear, frank, and elated look of Henry Smith rendered him a general favourite among the spectators, and odds, to use the modern expression, were taken that he would kill three of his opponents before he himself fell.
Scarcely was the smith equipped for the combat, when the commands of the chiefs ordered the champions into their places; and at the same moment Henry heard the voice of Simon Glover issuing from the crowd, who were now silent with expectation, and calling on him: “Harry Smith — Harry Smith, what madness hath possessed thee?”
“Ay, he wishes to save his hopeful son in law that is, or is to be, from the smith’s handling,” was Henry’s first thought; his second was to turn and speak with him; and his third, that he could on no pretext desert the band which he had joined, or even seem desirous to delay the fight, consistently with honour.
He turned himself, therefore, to the business of the hour. Both parties were disposed by the respective chiefs in three lines, each containing ten men. They were arranged with such intervals between each individual as offered him scope to wield his sword, the blade of which was five feet long, not including the handle. The second and third lines were to come up as reserves, in case the first experienced disaster. On the right of the array of Clan Quhele, the chief, Eachin MacIan, placed himself in the second line betwixt two of his foster brothers. Four of them occupied the right of the first line, whilst the father and two others protected the rear of the beloved chieftain. Torquil, in particular, kept close behind, for the purpose of covering him. Thus Eachin stood in the centre of nine of the strongest men of his band, having four especial defenders in front, one on each hand, and three in his rear.
The line of the Clan Chattan was arranged in precisely the same order, only that the chief occupied the centre of the middle rank, instead of being on the extreme right. This induced Henry Smith, who saw in the opposing bands only one enemy, and that was the unhappy Eachin, to propose placing himself on the left of the front rank of the Clan Chattan. But the leader disapproved of this arrangement; and having reminded Henry that he owed him obedience, as having taken wages at his hand, he commanded him to occupy the space in the third line immediately behind himself — a post of honour, certainly, which Henry could not decline, though he accepted of it with reluctance.
When the clans were thus drawn up opposed to each other, they intimated their feudal animosity and their eagerness to engage by a wild scream, which, uttered by the Clan Quhele, was answered and echoed back by the Clan Chattan, the whole at the same time shaking their swords and menacing each other, as if they meant to conquer the imagination of their opponents ere they mingled in the actual strife.
At this trying moment, Torquil, who had never feared for himself, was agitated with alarm on the part of his dault, yet consoled by observing that he kept a determined posture, and that the few words which he spoke to his clan were delivered boldly, and well calculated to animate them to combat, as expressing his resolution to partake their fate in death or victory. But there was no time for further observation. The trumpets of the King sounded a charge, the bagpipes blew up their screaming and maddening notes, and the combatants, starting forward in regular order, and increasing their pace till they came to a smart run, met together in the centre of the ground, as a furious land torrent encounters an advancing tide.
For an instant or two the front lines, hewing at each other with their long swords, seemed engaged in a succession of single combats; but the second and third ranks soon came up on either side, actuated alike by the eagerness of hatred and the thirst of honour, pressed through the intervals, and rendered the scene a tumultuous chaos, over which the huge swords rose and sunk, some still glittering, others streaming with blood, appearing, from the wild rapidity with which they were swayed, rather to be put in motion by some complicated machinery than to be wielded by human hands. Some of the combatants, too much crowded together to use those long weapons, had already betaken themselves to their poniards, and endeavoured to get within the sword sweep of those opposed to them. In the mean time, blood flowed fast, and the groans of those who fell began to mingle with the cries of those who fought; for, according to the manner of the Highlanders at all times, they could hardly be said to shout, but to yell. Those of the spectators whose eyes were best accustomed to such scenes of blood and confusion could nevertheless discover no advantage yet acquired by either party. The conflict swayed, indeed, at different intervals forwards or backwards, but it was only in momentary superiority, which the party who acquired it almost instantly lost by a corresponding exertion on the other side. The wild notes of the pipers were still heard above the tumult, and stimulated to farther exertions the fury of the combatants.
At once, however, and as if by mutual agreement, the instruments sounded a retreat; it was expressed in wailing notes, which seemed to imply a dirge for the fallen. The two parties disengaged themselves from each other, to take breath for a few minutes. The eyes of the spectators greedily surveyed the shattered array of the combatants as they drew off from the contest, but found it still impossible to decide which had sustained the greater loss. It seemed as if the Clan Chattan had lost rather fewer men than their antagonists; but in compensation, the bloody plaids and skirts of their party (for several on both sides had thrown their mantles away) showed more wounded men than the Clan Quhele. About twenty of both sides lay on the field dead or dying; and arms and legs lopped off, heads cleft to the chin, slashes deep through the shoulder into the breast, showed at once the fury of the combat, the ghastly character of the weapons used, and the fatal strength of the arms which wielded them. The chief of the Clan Chattan had behaved himself with the most determined courage, and was slightly wounded. Eachin also had fought with spirit, surrounded by his bodyguard. His sword was bloody, his bearing bold and warlike; and he smiled when old Torquil, folding him in his arms, loaded him with praises and with blessings.
The two chiefs, after allowing their followers to breathe for the space of about ten minutes, again drew up in their files, diminished by nearly one third of their original number. They now chose their ground nearer to the river than that on which they had formerly encountered, which was encumbered with the wounded and the slain. Some of the former were observed, from time to time, to raise themselves to gain a glimpse of the field, and sink back, most of them to die from the effusion of blood which poured from the terrific gashes inflicted by the claymore.
Harry Smith was easily distinguished by his Lowland habit, as well as his remaining on the spot where they had first encountered, where he stood leaning on a sword beside a corpse, whose bonneted head, carried to ten yards’ distance from the body by the force of the blow which had swept it off, exhibited the oak leaf, the appropriate ornament of the bodyguard of Eachin MacIan. Since he slew this man, Henry had not struck a blow, but had contented himself with warding off many that were dealt at himself, and some which were aimed at the chief. MacGillie Chattanach became alarmed, when, having given the signal that his men should again draw together, he observed that his powerful recruit remained at a distance from the ranks, and showed little disposition to join them.
“What ails thee, man?” said the chief. “Can so strong a body have a mean and cowardly spirit? Come, and make in to the combat.”
“You as good as called me hireling but now,” replied Henry. “If I am such,” pointing to the headless corpse, “I have done enough for my day’s wage.”
“He that serves me without counting his hours,” replied the chief, “I reward him without reckoning wages.”
“Then,” said the smith, “I fight as a volunteer, and in the post which best likes me.”
“All that is at your own discretion,” replied MacGillis Chattanach, who saw the prudence of humouring an auxiliary of such promise.
“It is enough,” said Henry; and, shouldering his heavy weapon, he joined the rest of the combatants with alacrity, and placed himself opposite to the chief of the Clan Quhele.
It was then, for the first time, that Eachin showed some uncertainty. He had long looked up to Henry as the best combatant which Perth and its neighbourhood could bring into the lists. His hatred to him as a rival was mingled with recollection of the ease with which he had once, though unarmed, foiled his own sudden and desperate attack; and when he beheld him with his eyes fixed in his direction, the dripping sword in his hand, and obviously meditating an attack on him individually, his courage fell, and he gave symptoms of wavering, which did not escape his foster father.
It was lucky for Eachin that Torquil was incapable, from the formation of his own temper, and that of those with whom he had lived, to conceive the idea of one of his own tribe, much less of his chief and foster son, being deficient in animal courage. Could he have imagined this, his grief and rage might have driven him to the fierce extremity of taking Eachin’s life, to save him from staining his honour. But his mind rejected the idea that his dault was a personal coward, as something which was monstrous and unnatural. That he was under the influence of enchantment was a solution which superstition had suggested, and he now anxiously, but in a whisper, demanded of Hector: “Does the spell now darken thy spirit, Eachin?”
“Yes, wretch that I am,” answered the unhappy youth; “and yonder stands the fell enchanter!”
“What!” exclaimed Torquil, “and you wear harness of his making? Norman, miserable boy, why brought you that accursed mail?”
“If my arrow has flown astray, I can but shoot my life after it,” answered Norman nan Ord. “Stand firm, you shall see me break the spell.”
“Yes, stand firm,” said Torquil. “He may be a fell enchanter; but my own ear has heard, and my own tongue has told, that Eachin shall leave the battle whole, free, and unwounded; let us see the Saxon wizard who can gainsay that. He may be a strong man, but the fair forest of the oak shall fall, stock and bough, ere he lay a finger on my dault. Ring around him, my sons; bas air son Eachin!”
The sons of Torquil shouted back the words, which signify, “Death for Hector.”
Encouraged by their devotion, Eachin renewed his spirit, and called boldly to the minstrels of his clan, “Seid suas” that is, “Strike up.”
The wild pibroch again sounded the onset; but the two parties approached each other more slowly than at first, as men who knew and respected each other’s valour. Henry Wynd, in his impatience to begin the contest, advanced before the Clan Chattan and signed to Eachin to come on. Norman, however, sprang forward to cover his foster brother, and there was a general, though momentary, pause, as if both parties were willing to obtain an omen of the fate of the day from the event of this duel. The Highlander advanced, with his large sword uplifted, as in act to strike; but, just as he came within sword’s length, he dropt the long and cumbrous weapon, leapt lightly over the smith’s sword, as he fetched a cut at him, drew his dagger, and, being thus within Henry’s guard, struck him with the weapon (his own gift) on the side of the throat, directing the blow downwards into the chest, and calling aloud, at the same time, “You taught me the stab!”
But Henry Wynd wore his own good hauberk, doubly defended with a lining of tempered steel. Had he been less surely armed, his combats had been ended for ever. Even as it was, he was slightly wounded.
“Fool!” he replied, striking Norman a blow with the pommel of his long sword, which made him stagger backwards, “you were taught the thrust, but not the parry”; and, fetching a blow at his antagonist, which cleft his skull through the steel cap, he strode over the lifeless body to engage the young chief, who now stood open before him.
But the sonorous voice of Torquil thundered out, “Far eil air son Eachin!” (Another for Hector!) and the two brethren who flanked their chief on each side thrust forward upon Henry, and, striking both at once, compelled him to keep the defensive.
“Forward, race of the tiger cat!” cried MacGillie Chattanach. “Save the brave Saxon; let these kites feel your talons!”
Already much wounded, the chief dragged himself up to the smith’s assistance, and cut down one of the leichtach, by whom he was assailed. Henry’s own good sword rid him of the other.
“Reist air son Eachin!” (Again for Hector!) shouted the faithful foster father.
“Bas air son Eachin!” (Death for Hector!) answered two more of his devoted sons, and opposed themselves to the fury of the smith and those who had come to his aid; while Eachin, moving towards the left wing of the battle, sought less formidable adversaries, and again, by some show of valour, revived the sinking hopes of his followers. The two children of the oak, who had covered, this movement, shared the fate of their brethren; for the cry of the Clan Chattan chief had drawn to that part of the field some of his bravest warriors. The sons of Torquil did not fall unavenged, but left dreadful marks of their swords on the persons of the dead and living. But the necessity of keeping their most distinguished soldiers around the person of their chief told to disadvantage on the general event of the combat; and so few were now the number who remained fighting, that it was easy to see that the Clan Chattan had fifteen of their number left, though most of them wounded, and that of the Clan Quhele only about ten remained, of whom there were four of the chief’s bodyguard, including Torquil himself.
They fought and struggled on, however, and as their strength decayed, their fury seemed to increase. Henry Wynd, now wounded in many places, was still bent on breaking through, or exterminating, the band of bold hearts who continued to fight around the object of his animosity. But still the father’s shout of “Another for Hector!” was cheerfully answered by the fatal countersign, “Death for Hector!” and though the Clan Quhele were now outnumbered, the combat seemed still dubious. It was bodily lassitude alone that again compelled them to another pause.
The Clan Chattan were then observed to be twelve in number, but two or three were scarce able to stand without leaning on their swords. Five were left of the Clan Quhele; Torquil and his youngest son were of the number, both slightly wounded. Eachin alone had, from the vigilance used to intercept all blows levelled against his person, escaped without injury. The rage of both parties had sunk, through exhaustion, into sullen desperation. They walked staggering, as if in their sleep, through the carcasses of the slain, and gazed on them, as if again to animate their hatred towards their surviving enemies by viewing the friends they had lost.
The multitude soon after beheld the survivors of the desperate conflict drawing together to renew the exterminating feud on the banks of the river, as the spot least slippery with blood, and less encumbered with the bodies of the slain.
“For God’s sake — for the sake of the mercy which we daily pray for,” said the kind hearted old King to the Duke of Albany, “let this be ended! Wherefore should these wretched rags and remnants of humanity be suffered to complete their butchery? Surely they will now be ruled, and accept of peace on moderate terms?”
“Compose yourself, my liege,” said his brother. “These men are the pest of the Lowlands. Both chiefs are still living; if they go back unharmed, the whole day’s work is cast away. Remember your promise to the council, that you would not cry ‘hold.’”
“You compel me to a great crime, Albany, both as a king, who should protect his subjects, and as a Christian man, who respects the brother of his faith.”
“You judge wrong, my lord,” said the Duke: “these are not loving subjects, but disobedient rebels, as my Lord of Crawford can bear witness; and they are still less Christian men, for the prior of the Dominicans will vouch for me that they are more than half heathen.”
The King sighed deeply. “You must work your pleasure, and are too wise for me to contend with. I can but turn away and shut my eyes from the sights and sounds of a carnage which makes me sicken. But well I know that God will punish me even for witnessing this waste of human life.”
“Sound, trumpets,” said Albany; “their wounds will stiffen if they dally longer.”
While this was passing, Torquil was embracing and encouraging his young chief.
“Resist the witchcraft but a few minutes longer! Be of good cheer, you will come off without either scar or scratch, wem or wound. Be of good cheer!”
“How can I be of good cheer,” said Eachin, “while my brave kinsmen have one by one died at my feet — died all for me, who could never deserve the least of their kindness?”
“And for what were they born, save to die for their chief?” said Torquil, composedly. “Why lament that the arrow returns not to the quiver, providing it hit the mark? Cheer up yet. Here are Tormot and I but little hurt, while the wildcats drag themselves through the plain as if they were half throttled by the terriers. Yet one brave stand, and the day shall be your own, though it may well be that you alone remain alive. Minstrels, sound the gathering.”
The pipers on both sides blew their charge, and the combatants again mingled in battle, not indeed with the same strength, but with unabated inveteracy. They were joined by those whose duty it was to have remained neuter, but who now found themselves unable to do so. The two old champions who bore the standards had gradually advanced from the extremity of the lists, and now approached close to the immediate scene of action. When they beheld the carnage more nearly, they were mutually impelled by the desire to revenge their brethren, or not to survive them. They attacked each other furiously with the lances to which the standards were attached, closed after exchanging several deadly thrusts, then grappled in close strife, still holding their banners, until at length, in the eagerness of their conflict, they fell together into the Tay, and were found drowned after the combat, closely locked in each other’s arms. The fury of battle, the frenzy of rage and despair, infected next the minstrels. The two pipers, who, during the conflict, had done their utmost to keep up the spirits of their brethren, now saw the dispute well nigh terminated for want of men to support it. They threw down their instruments, rushed desperately upon each other with their daggers, and each being more intent on despatching his opponent than in defending himself, the piper of Clan Quhele was almost instantly slain and he of Clan Chattan mortally wounded. The last, nevertheless, again grasped his instrument, and the pibroch of the clan yet poured its expiring notes over the Clan Chattan, while the dying minstrel had breath to inspire it. The instrument which he used, or at least that part of it called the chanter, is preserved in the family of a Highland chief to this day, and is much honoured under the name of the federan dhu, or, “black chanter.”’
Meanwhile, in the final charge, young Tormot, devoted, like his brethren, by his father Torquil to the protection of his chief, had been mortally wounded by the unsparing sword of the smith. The other two remaining of the Clan Quhele had also fallen, and Torquil, with his foster son and the wounded Tormot, forced to retreat before eight or ten of the Clan Chattan, made a stand on the bank of the river, while their enemies were making such exertions as their wounds would permit to come up with them. Torquil had just reached the spot where he had resolved to make the stand, when the young Tormot dropped and expired. His death drew from his father the first and only sigh which he had breathed throughout the eventful day.
“My son Tormot!” he said, “my youngest and dearest! But if I save Hector, I save all. Now, my darling dault, I have done for thee all that man may, excepting the last. Let me undo the clasps of that ill omened armour, and do thou put on that of Tormot; it is light, and will fit thee well. While you do so, I will rush on these crippled men, and make what play with them I can. I trust I shall have but little to do, for they are following each other like disabled steers. At least, darling of my soul, if I am unable to save thee, I can show thee how a man should die.”
While Torquil thus spoke, he unloosed the clasps of the young chief’s hauberk, in the simple belief that he could thus break the meshes which fear and necromancy had twined about his heart.
“My father — my father — my more than parent,” said the unhappy Eachin, “stay with me! With you by my side, I feel I can fight to the last.”
“It is impossible,” said Torquil. “I will stop them coming up, while you put on the hauberk. God eternally bless thee, beloved of my soul!”
And then, brandishing his sword, Torquil of the Oak rushed forward with the same fatal war cry which had so often sounded over that bloody field, “Bas air son Eachin!” The words rung three times in a voice of thunder; and each time that he cried his war shout he struck down one of the Clan Chattan as he met them successively straggling towards him.
“Brave battle, hawk — well flown, falcon!” exclaimed the multitude, as they witnessed exertions which seemed, even at this last hour, to threaten a change of the fortunes of the day. Suddenly these cries were hushed into silence, and succeeded by a clashing of swords so dreadful, as if the whole conflict had recommenced in the person of Henry Wynd and Torquil of the Oak. They cut, foined, hewed, and thrust as if they had drawn their blades for the first time that day; and their inveteracy was mutual, for Torquil recognised the foul wizard who, as he supposed, had cast a spell over his child; and Henry saw before him the giant who, during the whole conflict, had interrupted the purpose for which alone he had joined the combatants — that of engaging in single combat with Hector. They fought with an equality which, perhaps, would not have existed, had not Henry, more wounded than his antagonist, been somewhat deprived of his usual agility.
Meanwhile Eachin, finding himself alone, after a disorderly and vain attempt to put on his foster brother’s harness, became animated by an emotion of shame and despair, and hurried forward to support his foster father in the terrible struggle, ere some other of the Clan Chattan should come up. When he was within five yards, and sternly determined to take his share in the death fight, his foster father fell, cleft from the collarbone well nigh to the heart, and murmuring with his last breath, “Bas air son Eachin!” The unfortunate youth saw the fall of his last friend, and at the same moment beheld the deadly enemy who had hunted him through the whole field standing within sword’s point of him, and brandishing the huge weapon which had hewed its way to his life through so many obstacles. Perhaps this was enough to bring his constitutional timidity to its highest point; or perhaps he recollected at the same moment that he was without defensive armour, and that a line of enemies, halting indeed and crippled, but eager for revenge and blood, were closely approaching. It is enough to say, that his heart sickened, his eyes darkened, his ears tingled, his brain turned giddy, all other considerations were lost in the apprehension of instant death; and, drawing one ineffectual blow at the smith, he avoided that which was aimed at him in return by bounding backward; and, ere the former could recover his weapon, Eachin had plunged into the stream of the Tay. A roar of contumely pursued him as he swam across the river, although, perhaps, not a dozen of those who joined in it would have behaved otherwise in the like circumstances. Henry looked after the fugitive in silence and surprise, but could not speculate on the consequences of his flight, on account of the faintness which seemed to overpower him as soon as the animation of the contest had subsided. He sat down on the grassy bank, and endeavoured to stanch such of his wounds as were pouring fastest.
The victors had the general meed of gratulation. The Duke of Albany and others went down to survey the field; and Henry Wynd was honoured with particular notice.
“If thou wilt follow me, good fellow,” said the Black Douglas, “I will change thy leathern apron for a knight’s girdle, and thy burgage tenement for an hundred pound land to maintain thy rank withal.”
“I thank you humbly, my lord,” said the smith, dejectedly, “but I have shed blood enough already, and Heaven has punished me by foiling the only purpose for which I entered the combat.”
“How, friend?” said Douglas. “Didst thou not fight for the Clan Chattan, and have they not gained a glorious conquest?”
“I fought for my own hand,” [meaning, I did such a thing for my own pleasure, not for your profit] said the smith, indifferently; and the expression is still proverbial in Scotland.
The good King Robert now came up on an ambling palfrey, having entered the barriers for the purpose of causing the wounded to be looked after.
“My lord of Douglas,” he said, “you vex the poor man with temporal matters when it seems he may have short timer to consider those that are spiritual. Has he no friends here who will bear him where his bodily wounds and the health of his soul may be both cared for?”
“He hath as many friends as there are good men in Perth,” said Sir Patrick Charteris, “and I esteem myself one of the closest.”
“A churl will savour of churl’s kind,” said the haughty Douglas, turning his horse aside; “the proffer of knighthood from the sword of Douglas had recalled him from death’s door, had there been a drop of gentle blood in his body.”
Disregarding the taunt of the mighty earl, the Knight of Kinfauns dismounted to take Henry in his arms, as he now sunk back from very faintness. But he was prevented by Simon Glover, who, with other burgesses of consideration, had now entered the barrace.
“Henry, my beloved son Henry!” said the old man. “Oh, what tempted you to this fatal affray? Dying — speechless?”
“No — not speechless,” said Henry. “Catharine —” He could utter no more.
“Catharine is well, I trust, and shall be thine — that is, if —”
“If she be safe, thou wouldst say, old man,” said the Douglas, who, though something affronted at Henry’s rejection of his offer, was too magnanimous not to interest himself in what was passing. “She is safe, if Douglas’s banner can protect her — safe, and shall be rich. Douglas can give wealth to those who value it more than honour.”
“For her safety, my lord, let the heartfelt thanks and blessings of a father go with the noble Douglas. For wealth, we are rich enough. Gold cannot restore my beloved son.”
“A marvel!” said the Earl: “a churl refuses nobility, a citizen despises gold!”
“Under your lordship’s favour,” said Sir Patrick, “I, who am knight and noble, take license to say, that such a brave man as Henry Wynd may reject honourable titles, such an honest man as this reverend citizen may dispense with gold.”
“You do well, Sir Patrick, to speak for your town, and I take no offence,” said the Douglas. “I force my bounty on no one. But,” he added, in a whisper to Albany, “your Grace must withdraw the King from this bloody sight, for he must know that tonight which will ring over broad Scotland when tomorrow dawns. This feud is ended. Yet even I grieve that so many brave Scottishmen lie here slain, whose brands might have decided a pitched field in their country’s cause.”
With dignity King Robert was withdrawn from the field, the tears running down his aged cheeks and white beard, as he conjured all around him, nobles and priests, that care should be taken for the bodies and souls of the few wounded survivors, and honourable burial rendered to the slain. The priests who were present answered zealously for both services, and redeemed their pledge faithfully and piously.
Thus ended this celebrated conflict of the North Inch of Perth. Of sixty-four brave men (the minstrels and standard bearers included) who strode manfully to the fatal field, seven alone survived, who were conveyed from thence in litters, in a case little different from the dead and dying around them, and mingled with them in the sad procession which conveyed them from the scene of their strife. Eachin alone had left it void of wounds and void of honour.
It remains but to say, that not a man of the Clan Quhele survived the bloody combat except the fugitive chief; and the consequence of the defeat was the dissolution of their confederacy. The clans of which it consisted are now only matter of conjecture to the antiquary, for, after this eventful contest, they never assembled under the same banner. The Clan Chattan, on the other hand, continued to increase and flourish; and the best families of the Northern Highlands boast their descent from the race of the Cat a Mountain.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00