A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 10

Dark on their journey lour’d the gloomy day,

Wild were the hills, and doubtful grew the way;

More dark, more gloomy, and more doubtful, show’d

The mansion, which received them from the road.


Angus M’Aulay was charged with a message which he seemed to find some difficulty in communicating; for it was not till after he had framed his speech several different ways, and blundered them all, that he succeeded in letting Sir Duncan Campbell know, that the cavalier who was to accompany him was waiting in readiness, and that all was prepared for his return to Inverary. Sir Duncan Campbell rose up very indignantly; the affront which this message implied immediately driving out of his recollection the sensibility which had been awakened by the music.

“I little expected this,” he said, looking indignantly at Angus M’Aulay. “I little thought that there was a Chief in the West Highlands, who, at the pleasure of a Saxon, would have bid the Knight of Ardenvohr leave his castle, when the sun was declining from the meridian, and ere the second cup had been filled. But farewell, sir, the food of a churl does not satisfy the appetite; when I next revisit Darnlinvarach, it shall be with a naked sword in one hand, and a firebrand in the other.”

“And if you so come,” said Angus, “I pledge myself to meet you fairly, though you brought five hundred Campbells at your back, and to afford you and them such entertainment, that you shall not again complain of the hospitality of Darnlinvarach.”

“Threatened men,” said Sir Duncan, “live long. Your turn for gasconading, Laird of M’Aulay, is too well known, that men of honour should regard your vaunts. To you, my lord, and to Allan, who have supplied the place of my churlish host, I leave my thanks. — And to you, pretty mistress,” he said, addressing Annot Lyle, “this little token, for having opened a fountain which hath been dry for many a year.” So saying, he left the apartment, and commanded his attendants to be summoned. Angus M’Aulay, equally embarrassed and incensed at the charge of inhospitality, which was the greatest possible affront to a Highlander, did not follow Sir Duncan to the court-yard, where, mounting his palfrey, which was in readiness, followed by six mounted attendants, and accompanied by the noble Captain Dalgetty, who had also awaited him, holding Gustavus ready for action, though he did not draw his girths and mount till Sir Duncan appeared, the whole cavalcade left the castle.

The journey was long and toilsome, but without any of the extreme privations which the Laird of M’Aulay had prophesied. In truth, Sir Duncan was very cautious to avoid those nearer and more secret paths, by means of which the county of Argyle was accessible from the eastward; for his relation and chief, the Marquis, was used to boast, that he would not for a hundred thousand crowns any mortal should know the passes by which an armed force could penetrate into his country.

Sir Duncan Campbell, therefore, rather shunned the Highlands, and falling into the Low-country, made for the nearest seaport in the vicinity, where he had several half-decked galleys, or birlings, as they were called, at his command. In one of these they embarked, with Gustavus in company, who was so seasoned to adventure, that land and sea seemed as indifferent to him as to his master.

The wind being favourable, they pursued their way rapidly with sails and oars; and early the next morning it was announced to Captain Dalgetty, then in a small cabin beneath the hall-deck, that the galley was under the walls of Sir Duncan Campbell’s castle.

Ardenvohr, accordingly, rose high above him, when he came upon the deck of the galley. It was a gloomy square tower, of considerable size and great height, situated upon a headland projecting into the salt-water lake, or arm of the sea, which they had entered on the preceding evening. A wall, with flanking towers at each angle, surrounded the castle to landward; but, towards the lake, it was built so near the brink of the precipice as only to leave room for a battery of seven guns, designed to protect the fortress from any insult from that side, although situated too high to be of any effectual use according to the modern system of warfare.

The eastern sun, rising behind the old tower, flung its shadow far on the lake, darkening the deck of the galley, on which Captain Dalgetty now walked, waiting with some impatience the signal to land. Sir Duncan Campbell, as he was informed by his attendants, was already within the walls of the castle; but no one encouraged the Captain’s proposal of following him ashore, until, as they stated, they should receive the direct permission or order of the Knight of Ardenvohr.

In a short time afterwards the mandate arrived, while a boat, with a piper in the bow, bearing the Knight of Ardenvohr’s crest in silver upon his left arm, and playing with all his might the family march, entitled “The Campbells are coming,” approached to conduct the envoy of Montrose to the castle of Ardenvohr. The distance between the galley and the beach was so short as scarce to require the assistance of the eight sturdy rowers, in bonnets, short coats, and trews, whose efforts sent the boat to the little creek in which they usually landed, before one could have conceived that it had left the side of the birling. Two of the boatmen, in spite of Dalgetty’s resistance, horsed the Captain on the back of a third Highlander, and, wading through the surf with him, landed him high and dry upon the beach beneath the castle rock. In the face of this rock there appeared something like the entrance of a low-browed cavern, towards which the assistants were preparing to hurry our friend Dalgetty, when, shaking himself loose from them with some difficulty, he insisted upon seeing Gustavus safely landed before he proceeded one step farther. The Highlanders could not comprehend what he meant, until one who had picked up a little English, or rather Lowland Scotch, exclaimed, “Houts! it’s a’ about her horse, ta useless baste.” Farther remonstrance on the part of Captain Dalgetty was interrupted by the appearance of Sir Duncan Campbell himself, from the mouth of the cavern which we have described, for the purpose of inviting Captain Dalgetty to accept of the hospitality of Ardenvohr, pledging his honour, at the same time, that Gustavus should be treated as became the hero from whom he derived his name, not to mention the important person to whom he now belonged. Notwithstanding this satisfactory guarantee, Captain Dalgetty would still have hesitated, such was his anxiety to witness the fate of his companion Gustavus, had not two Highlanders seized him by the arms, two more pushed him on behind, while a fifth exclaimed, “Hout awa wi’ the daft Sassenach! does she no hear the Laird bidding her up to her ain castle, wi’ her special voice, and isna that very mickle honour for the like o’ her?”

Thus impelled, Captain Dalgetty could only for a short space keep a reverted eye towards the galley in which he had left the partner of his military toils. In a few minutes afterwards he found himself involved in the total darkness of a staircase, which, entering from the low-browed cavern we have mentioned, winded upwards through the entrails of the living rock.

“The cursed Highland salvages!” muttered the Captain, half aloud; “what is to become of me, if Gustavus, the namesake of the invincible Lion of the Protestant League, should be lamed among their untenty hands!”

“Have no fear of that,” said the voice of Sir Duncan, who was nearer to him than he imagined; “my men are accustomed to handle horses, both in embarking and dressing them, and you will soon see Gustavus as safe as when you last dismounted from his back.”

Captain Dalgetty knew the world too well to offer any farther remonstrance, whatever uneasiness he might suppress within his own bosom. A step or two higher up the stair showed light and a door, and an iron-grated wicket led him out upon a gallery cut in the open face of the rock, extending a space of about six or eight yards, until he reached a second door, where the path re-entered the rock, and which was also defended by an iron portcullis. “An admirable traverse,” observed the Captain; “and if commanded by a field-piece, or even a few muskets, quite sufficient to ensure the place against a storming party.”

Sir Duncan Campbell made no answer at the time; but, the moment afterwards, when they had entered the second cavern, he struck with the stick which he had in his hand, first on the one side, and then on the other of the wicket, and the sullen ringing sound which replied to the blows, made Captain Dalgetty sensible that there was a gun placed on each side, for the purpose of raking the gallery through which they had passed, although the embrasures, through which they might be fired on occasion, were masked on the outside with sods and loose stones. Having ascended the second staircase, they found themselves again on an open platform and gallery, exposed to a fire both of musketry and wall-guns, if, being come with hostile intent, they had ventured farther. A third flight of steps, cut in the rock like the former, but not caverned over, led them finally into the battery at the foot of the tower. This last stair also was narrow and steep, and, not to mention the fire which might be directed on it from above, one or two resolute men, with pikes and battle-axes, could have made the pass good against hundreds; for the staircase would not admit two persons abreast, and was not secured by any sort of balustrade, or railing, from the sheer and abrupt precipice, on the foot of which the tide now rolled with a voice of thunder. So that, under the jealous precautions used to secure this ancient Celtic fortress, a person of weak nerves, and a brain liable to become dizzy, might have found it something difficult to have achieved the entrance to the castle, even supposing no resistance had been offered.

Captain Dalgetty, too old a soldier to feel such tremors, had no sooner arrived in the court-yard, than he protested to God, the defences of Sir Duncan’s castle reminded him more of the notable fortress of Spandau, situated in the March of Brandenburg, than of any place whilk it had been his fortune to defend in the course of his travels. Nevertheless, he criticised considerably the mode of placing the guns on the battery we have noticed, observing, that “where cannon were perched, like to scarts or sea-gulls on the top of a rock, he had ever observed that they astonished more by their noise than they dismayed by the skaith or damage which they occasioned.”

Sir Duncan, without replying, conducted the soldier into the tower; the defences of which were a portcullis and ironclenched oaken door, the thickness of the wall being the space between them. He had no sooner arrived in a hall hung with tapestry, than the Captain prosecuted his military criticism. It was indeed suspended by the sight of an excellent breakfast, of which he partook with great avidity; but no sooner had he secured this meal, than he made the tour of the apartment, examining the ground around the Castle very carefully from each window in the room. He then returned to his chair, and throwing himself back into it at his length, stretched out one manly leg, and tapping his jack-boot with the riding-rod which he carried in his hand, after the manner of a half-bred man who affects ease in the society of his betters, he delivered his unasked opinion as follows:—“This house of yours, now, Sir Duncan, is a very pretty defensible sort of a tenement, and yet it is hardly such as a cavaliero of honour would expect to maintain his credit by holding out for many days. For, Sir Duncan, if it pleases you to notice, your house is overcrowed, and slighted, or commanded, as we military men say, by yonder round hillock to the landward, whereon an enemy might stell such a battery of cannon as would make ye glad to beat a chamade within forty-eight hours, unless it pleased the Lord extraordinarily to show mercy.”

“There is no road,” replied Sir Duncan, somewhat shortly, “by which cannon can be brought against Ardenvohr. The swamps and morasses around my house would scarce carry your horse and yourself, excepting by such paths as could be rendered impassable within a few hours.”

“Sir Duncan,” said the Captain, “it is your pleasure to suppose so; and yet we martial men say, that where there is a sea-coast there is always a naked side, seeing that cannon and munition, where they cannot be transported by land, may be right easily brought by sea near to the place where they are to be put in action. Neither is a castle, however secure in its situation, to be accounted altogether invincible, or, as they say, impregnable; for I protest t’ye, Sir Duncan, that I have known twenty-five men, by the mere surprise and audacity of the attack, win, at point of pike, as strong a hold as this of Ardenvohr, and put to the sword, captivate, or hold to the ransom, the defenders, being ten times their own number.”

Notwithstanding Sir Duncan Campbell’s knowledge of the world, and his power of concealing his internal emotion, he appeared piqued and hurt at these reflections, which the Captain made with the most unconscious gravity, having merely selected the subject of conversation as one upon which he thought himself capable of shining, and, as they say, of laying down the law, without exactly recollecting that the topic might not be equally agreeable to his landlord.

“To cut this matter short,” said Sir Duncan, with an expression of voice and countenance somewhat agitated, “it is unnecessary for you to tell me, Captain Dalgetty, that a castle may be stormed if it is not valorously defended, or surprised if it is not heedfully watched. I trust this poor house of mine will not be found in any of these predicaments, should even Captain Dalgetty himself choose to beleaguer it.”

“For all that, Sir Duncan,” answered the persevering commander, “I would premonish you, as a friend, to trace out a sconce upon that round hill, with a good graffe, or ditch, whilk may be easily accomplished by compelling the labour of the boors in the vicinity; it being the custom of the valorous Gustavus Adolphus to fight as much by the spade and shovel, as by sword, pike, and musket. Also, I would advise you to fortify the said sconce, not only by a foussie, or graffe, but also by certain stackets, or palisades.”—(Here Sir Duncan, becoming impatient, left the apartment, the Captain following him to the door, and raising his voice as he retreated, until he was fairly out of hearing.)—“The whilk stackets, or palisades, should be artificially framed with re-entering angles and loop-holes, or crenelles, for musketry, whereof it shall arise that the foeman — The Highland brute! the old Highland brute! They are as proud as peacocks, and as obstinate as tups — and here he has missed an opportunity of making his house as pretty an irregular fortification as an invading army ever broke their teeth upon. — But I see,” he continued, looking own from the window upon the bottom of the precipice, “they have got Gustavus safe ashore — Proper fellow! I would know that toss of his head among a whole squadron. I must go to see what they are to make of him.”

He had no sooner reached, however, the court to the seaward, and put himself in the act of descending the staircase, than two Highland sentinels, advancing their Lochaber axes, gave him to understand that this was a service of danger.

“Diavolo!” said the soldier, “and I have got no pass-word. I could not speak a syllable of their salvage gibberish, an it were to save me from the provost-marshal.”

“I will be your surety, Captain Dalgetty,” said Sir Duncan, who had again approached him without his observing from whence; “and we will go together, and see how your favourite charger is accommodated.”

He conducted him accordingly down the staircase to the beach, and from thence by a short turn behind a large rock, which concealed the stables and other offices belonging to the castle, Captain Dalgetty became sensible, at the same time, that the side of the castle to the land was rendered totally inaccessible by a ravine, partly natural and partly scarped with great care and labour, so as to be only passed by a drawbridge. Still, however, the Captain insisted, not withstanding the triumphant air with which Sir Duncan pointed out his defences, that a sconce should be erected on Drumsnab, the round eminence to the east of the castle, in respect the house might be annoyed from thence by burning bullets full of fire, shot out of cannon, according to the curious invention of Stephen Bathian, King of Poland, whereby that prince utterly ruined the great Muscovite city of Moscow. This invention, Captain Dalgetty owned, he had not yet witnessed, but observed, “that it would give him particular delectation to witness the same put to the proof against Ardenvohr, or any other castle of similar strength;” observing, “that so curious an experiment could not but afford the greatest delight to all admirers of the military art.”

Sir Duncan Campbell diverted this conversation by carrying the soldier into his stables, and suffering him to arrange Gustavus according to his own will and pleasure. After this duty had been carefully performed, Captain Dalgetty proposed to return to the castle, observing, it was his intention to spend the time betwixt this and dinner, which, he presumed, would come upon the parade about noon, in burnishing his armour, which having sustained some injury from the sea-air, might, he was afraid, seem discreditable in the eyes of M’Callum More. Yet, while they were returning to the castle, he failed not to warn Sir Duncan Campbell against the great injury he might sustain by any sudden onfall of an enemy, whereby his horses, cattle, and granaries, might be cut off and consumed, to his great prejudice; wherefore he again strongly conjured him to construct a sconce upon the round hill called Drumsnab, and offered his own friendly services in lining out the same. To this disinterested advice Sir Duncan only replied by ushering his guest to his apartment, and informing him that the tolling of the castle bell would make him aware when dinner was ready.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00