Whatever stranger visits here,
We pity his sad case,
Unless to worship he draw near
The King of Kings — his Grace.
BURNS’S EPIGRAM ON A VISIT TO INVERARY.
The Captain, finding himself deprived of light in the manner we have described, and placed in a very uncertain situation, proceeded to descend the narrow and broken stair with all the caution in his power, hoping that he might find at the bottom some place to repose himself. But with all his care he could not finally avoid making a false step, which brought him down the four or five last steps too hastily to preserve his equilibrium. At the bottom he stumbled over a bundle of something soft, which stirred and uttered a groan, so deranging the Captain’s descent, that he floundered forward, and finally fell upon his hands and knees on the floor of a damp and stone-paved dungeon.
When Dalgetty had recovered, his first demand was to know over whom he had stumbled.
“He was a man a month since,” answered a hollow and broken voice.
“And what is he now, then,” said Dalgetty, “that he thinks it fitting to lie upon the lowest step of the stairs, and clew’d up like a hurchin, that honourable cavaliers, who chance to be in trouble, may break their noses over him?”
“What is he now?” replied the same voice; “he is a wretched trunk, from which the boughs have one by one been lopped away, and which cares little how soon it is torn up and hewed into billets for the furnace.”
“Friend,” said Dalgetty, “I am sorry for you; but PATIENZA, as the Spaniard says. If you had but been as quiet as a log, as you call yourself, I should have saved some excoriations on my hands and knees.”
“You are a soldier,” replied his fellow-prisoner; “do you complain on account of a fall for which a boy would not bemoan himself?”
“A soldier?” said the Captain; “and how do you know, in this cursed dark cavern, that I am a soldier?”
“I heard your armour clash as you fell,” replied the prisoner, “and now I see it glimmer. When you have remained as long as I in this darkness, your eyes will distinguish the smallest eft that crawls on the floor.”
“I had rather the devil picked them out!” said Dalgetty; “if this be the case, I shall wish for a short turn of the rope, a soldier’s prayer, and a leap from a ladder. But what sort of provant have you got here — what food, I mean, brother in affliction?”
“Bread and water once a day,” replied the voice.
“Prithee, friend, let me taste your loaf,” said Dalgetty; “I hope we shall play good comrades while we dwell together in this abominable pit.”
“The loaf and jar of water,” answered the other prisoner, “stand in the corner, two steps to your right hand. Take them, and welcome. With earthly food I have wellnigh done.”
Dalgetty did not wait for a second invitation, but, groping out the provisions, began to munch at the stale black oaten loaf with as much heartiness as we have seen him play his part at better viands.
“This bread,” he said, muttering (with his mouth full at the same time), “is not very savoury; nevertheless, it is not much worse than that which we ate at the famous leaguer at Werben, where the valorous Gustavus foiled all the efforts of the celebrated Tilly, that terrible old hero, who had driven two kings out of the field — namely, Ferdinand of Bohemia and Christian of Denmark. And anent this water, which is none of the most sweet, I drink in the same to your speedy deliverance, comrade, not forgetting mine own, and devoutly wishing it were Rhenish wine, or humming Lubeck beer, at the least, were it but in honour of the pledge.”
While Dalgetty ran on in this way, his teeth kept time with his tongue, and he speedily finished the provisions which the benevolence or indifference of his companion in misfortune had abandoned to his voracity. When this task was accomplished, he wrapped himself in his cloak, and seating himself in a corner of the dungeon in which he could obtain a support on each side (for he had always been an admirer of elbow-chairs, he remarked, even from his youth upward), he began to question his fellow-captive.
“Mine honest friend,” said he, “you and I, being comrades at bed and board, should be better acquainted. I am Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket, and so forth, Major in a regiment of loyal Irishes, and Envoy Extraordinary of a High and Mighty Lord, James Earl of Montrose. — Pray, what may your name be?”
“It will avail you little to know,” replied his more taciturn companion.
“Let me judge of that matter,” answered the soldier.
“Well, then — Ranald MacEagh is my name — that is, Ranald Son of the Mist.”
“Son of the Mist!” ejaculated Dalgetty. “Son of utter darkness, say I. But, Ranald, since that is your name, how came you in possession of the provost’s court of guard? what the devil brought you here, that is to say?”
“My misfortunes and my crimes,” answered Ranald. “Know ye the Knight of Ardenvohr?”
“I do know that honourable person,” replied Dalgetty.
“But know ye where he now is?” replied Ranald.
“Fasting this day at Ardenvohr,” answered the Envoy, “that he may feast tomorrow at Inverary; in which last purpose if he chance to fail, my lease of human service will be something precarious.”
“Then let him know, one claims his intercession, who is his worst foe and his best friend,” answered Ranald.
“Truly I shall desire to carry a less questionable message,” answered Dalgetty, “Sir Duncan is not a person to play at reading riddles with.”
“Craven Saxon,” said the prisoner, “tell him I am the raven that, fifteen years since, stooped on his tower of strength and the pledges he had left there — I am the hunter that found out the wolfs den on the rock, and destroyed his offspring — I am the leader of the band which surprised Ardenvohr yesterday was fifteen years, and gave his four children to the sword.”
“Truly, my honest friend,” said Dalgetty, “if that is your best recommendation to Sir Duncan’s favour, I would pretermit my pleading thereupon, in respect I have observed that even the animal creation are incensed against those who intromit with their offspring forcibly, much more any rational and Christian creatures, who have had violence done upon their small family. But I pray you in courtesy to tell me, whether you assailed the castle from the hillock called Drumsnab, whilk I uphold to be the true point of attack, unless it were to be protected by a sconce.”
“We ascended the cliff by ladders of withies or saplings,” said the prisoner, “drawn up by an accomplice and clansman, who had served six months in the castle to enjoy that one night of unlimited vengeance. The owl whooped around us as we hung betwixt heaven and earth; the tide roared against the foot of the rock, and dashed asunder our skiff, yet no man’s heart failed him. In the morning there was blood and ashes, where there had been peace and joy at the sunset.”
“It was a pretty camisade, I doubt not, Ranald MacEagh, a very sufficient onslaught, and not unworthily discharged. Nevertheless, I would have pressed the house from that little hillock called Drumsnab. But yours is a pretty irregular Scythian fashion of warfare, Ranald, much resembling that of Turks, Tartars, and other Asiatic people. — But the reason, my friend, the cause of this war — the TETERRIMA CAUSA, as I may say? Deliver me that, Ranald.”
“We had been pushed at by the M’Aulays, and other western tribes,” said Ranald, “till our possessions became unsafe for us.”
“Ah ha!” said Dalgetty; “I have faint remembrance of having heard of that matter. Did you not put bread and cheese into a man’s mouth, when he had never a stomach whereunto to transmit the same?”
“You have heard, then,” said Ranald, “the tale of our revenge on the haughty forester?”
“I bethink me that I have,” said Dalgetty, “and that not of an old date. It was a merry jest that, of cramming the bread into the dead man’s mouth, but somewhat too wild and salvage for civilized acceptation, besides wasting the good victuals. I have seen when at a siege or a leaguer, Ranald, a living soldier would have been the better, Ranald, for that crust of bread, whilk you threw away on a dead pow.”
“We were attacked by Sir Duncan,” continued MacEagh, “and my brother was slain — his head was withering on the battlements which we scaled — I vowed revenge, and it is a vow I have never broken.”
“It may be so,” said Dalgetty; “and every thorough-bred soldier will confess that revenge is a sweet morsel; but in what manner this story will interest Sir Duncan in your justification, unless it should move him to intercede with the Marquis to change the manner thereof from hanging, or simple suspension, to breaking your limbs on the roue or wheel, with the coulter of a plough, or otherwise putting you to death by torture, surpasses my comprehension. Were I you, Ranald, I would be for miskenning Sir Duncan, keeping my own secret, and departing quietly by suffocation, like your ancestors before you.”
“Yet hearken, stranger,” said the Highlander. “Sir Duncan of Ardenvohr had four children. Three died under our dirks, but the fourth survives; and more would he give to dandle on his knee the fourth child which remains, than to rack these old bones, which care little for the utmost indulgence of his wrath. One word, if I list to speak it, could turn his day of humiliation and fasting into a day of thankfulness and rejoicing, and breaking of bread. O, I know it by my own heart? Dearer to me is the child Kenneth, who chaseth the butterfly on the banks of the Aven, than ten sons who are mouldering in earth, or are preyed on by the fowls of the air.”
“I presume, Ranald,” continued Dalgetty, “that the three pretty fellows whom I saw yonder in the market-place, strung up by the head like rizzer’d haddocks, claimed some interest in you?”
There was a brief pause ere the Highlander replied, in a tone of strong emotion — “They were my sons, stranger — they were my sons! — blood of my blood — bone of my bone! — fleet of foot — unerring in aim — unvanquished by foemen till the sons of Diarmid overcame them by numbers! Why do I wish to survive them? The old trunk will less feel the rending up of its roots, than it has felt the lopping off of its graceful boughs. But Kenneth must be trained to revenge — the young eagle must learn from the old how to stoop on his foes. I will purchase for his sake my life and my freedom, by discovering my secret to the Knight of Ardenvohr.”
“You may attain your end more easily,” said a third voice, mingling in the conference, “by entrusting it to me.”
All Highlanders are superstitious. “The Enemy of Mankind is among us!” said Ranald MacEagh, springing to his feet. His chains clattered as he rose, while he drew himself as far as they permitted from the quarter whence the voice appeared to proceed. His fear in some degree communicated itself to Captain Dalgetty, who began to repeat, in a sort of polyglot gibberish, all the exorcisms he had ever heard of, without being able to remember more than a word or two of each.
“IN NOMINE DOMINI, as we said at Mareschal-College — SANTISSMA MADRE DI DIOS, as the Spaniard has it — ALLE GUTEN GEISTER LOBEN DEN HERRN, saith the blessed Psalmist, in Dr. Luther’s translation —”
“A truce with your exorcisms,” said the voice they had heard before; “though I come strangely among you, I am mortal like yourselves, and my assistance may avail you in your present streight, if you are not too proud to be counselled.”
While the stranger thus spoke, he withdrew the shade of a dark lantern, by whose feeble light Dalgetty could only discern that the speaker who had thus mysteriously united himself to their company, and mixed in their conversation, was a tall man, dressed in a livery cloak of the Marquis. His first glance was to his feet, but he saw neither the cloven foot which Scottish legends assign to the foul fiend, nor the horse’s hoof by which he is distinguished in Germany. His first enquiry was, how the stranger had come among them?
“For,” said he, “the creak of these rusty bars would have been heard had the door been made patent; and if you passed through the keyhole, truly, sir, put what face you will on it, you are not fit to be enrolled in a regiment of living men.”
“I reserve my secret,” answered the stranger, “until you shall merit the discovery by communicating to me some of yours. It may be that I shall be moved to let you out where I myself came in.”
“It cannot be through the keyhole, then,” said Captain Dalgetty, “for my corslet would stick in the passage, were it possible that my head-piece could get through. As for secrets, I have none of my own, and but few appertaining to others. But impart to us what secrets you desire to know; or, as Professor Snufflegreek used to say at the Mareschal-College, Aberdeen, speak that I may know thee.”
“It is not with you I have first to do,” replied the stranger, turning his light full on the mild and wasted features, and the large limbs of the Highlander, Ranald MacEagh, who, close drawn up against the walls of the dungeon, seemed yet uncertain whether his guest was a living being.
“I have brought you something, my friend,” said the stranger, in a more soothing tone, “to mend your fare; if you are to die tomorrow, it is no reason wherefore you should not live to-night.”
“None at all — no reason in the creation,” replied the ready Captain Dalgetty, who forthwith began to unpack the contents of a small basket which the stranger had brought under his cloak, while the Highlander, either in suspicion or disdain, paid no attention to the good cheer.
“Here’s to thee, my friend,” said the Captain, who, having already dispatched a huge piece of roasted kid, was now taking a pull at the wine-flask. “What is thy name, my good friend?”
“Murdoch Campbell, sir,” answered the servant, “a lackey of the Marquis of Argyle, and occasionally acting as under-warden.”
“Then here is to thee once more, Murdoch,” said Dalgetty, “drinking to you by your proper name for the better luck sake. This wine I take to be Calcavella. Well, honest Murdoch, I take it on me to say, thou deservest to be upper-warden, since thou showest thyself twenty times better acquainted with the way of victualling honest gentlemen that are under misfortune, than thy principal. Bread and water? out upon him! It was enough, Murdoch, to destroy the credit of the Marquis’s dungeon. But I see you would converse with my friend, Ranald MacEagh here. Never mind my presence; I’ll get me into this corner with the basket, and I will warrant my jaws make noise enough to prevent my ears from hearing you.”
Notwithstanding this promise, however, the veteran listened with all the attention he could to gather their discourse, or, as he described it himself, “laid his ears back in his neck, like Gustavus, when he heard the key turn in the girnell-kist.” He could, therefore, owing to the narrowness of the dungeon, easily overhear the following dialogue.
“Are you aware, Son of the Mist,” said the Campbell, “that you will never leave this place excepting for the gibbet?”
“Those who are dearest to me,” answered MacEagh, “have trode that path before me.”
“Then you would do nothing,” asked the visitor, “to shun following them?”
The prisoner writhed himself in his chains before returning an answer.
“I would do much,” at length he said; “not for my own life, but for the sake of the pledge in the glen of Strath-Aven.”
“And what would you do to turn away the bitterness of the hour?” again demanded Murdoch; “I care not for what cause ye mean to shun it.”
“I would do what a man might do, and still call himself a man.”
“Do you call yourself a man,” said the interrogator, “who have done the deeds of a wolf?”
“I do,” answered the outlaw; “I am a man like my forefathers — while wrapt in the mantle of peace, we were lambs — it was rent from us, and ye now call us wolves. Give us the huts ye have burned, our children whom ye have murdered, our widows whom ye have starved — collect from the gibbet and the pole the mangled carcasses, and whitened skulls of our kinsmen — bid them live and bless us, and we will be your vassals and brothers — till then, let death, and blood, and mutual wrong, draw a dark veil of division between us.”
“You will then do nothing for your liberty,” said the Campbell.
“Anything — but call myself the friend of your tribe,” answered MacEagh.
“We scorn the friendship of banditti and caterans,” retorted Murdoch, “and would not stoop to accept it. — What I demand to know from you, in exchange for your liberty, is, where the daughter and heiress of the Knight of Ardenvohr is now to be found?”
“That you may wed her to some beggarly kinsman of your great master,” said Ranald, “after the fashion of the Children of Diarmid! Does not the valley of Glenorquhy, to this very hour, cry shame on the violence offered to a helpless infant whom her kinsmen were conveying to the court of the Sovereign? Were not her escort compelled to hide her beneath a cauldron, round which they fought till not one remained to tell the tale? and was not the girl brought to this fatal castle, and afterwards wedded to the brother of M’Callum More, and all for the sake of her broad lands?” [Such a story is told of the heiress of the clan of Calder, who was made prisoner in the manner described, and afterwards wedded to Sir Duncan Campbell, from which union the Campbells of Cawdor have their descent.]
“And if the tale be true,” said Murdoch, “she had a preferment beyond what the King of Scots would have conferred on her. But this is far from the purpose. The daughter of Sir Duncan of Ardenvohr is of our own blood, not a stranger; and who has so good a right to know her fate as M’Callum More, the chief of her clan?”
“It is on his part, then, that you demand it!” said the outlaw. The domestic of the Marquis assented.
“And you will practise no evil against the maiden? — I have done her wrong enough already.”
“No evil, upon the word of a Christian man,” replied Murdoch.
“And my guerdon is to be life and liberty?” said the Child of the Mist.
“Such is our paction,” replied the Campbell.
“Then know, that the child whom I saved our of compassion at the spoiling of her father’s tower of strength, was bred as an adopted daughter of our tribe, until we were worsted at the pass of Ballenduthil, by the fiend incarnate and mortal enemy of our tribe, Allan M’Aulay of the Bloody hand, and by the horsemen of Lennox, under the heir of Menteith.”
“Fell she into the power of Allan of the Bloody hand,” said Murdoch, “and she a reputed daughter of thy tribe? Then her blood has gilded the dirk, and thou hast said nothing to rescue thine own forfeited life.”
“If my life rest on hers,” answered the outlaw, “it is secure, for she still survives; but it has a more insecure reliance — the frail promise of a son of Diarmid.”
“That promise shall not fail you,” said the Campbell, “if you can assure me that she survives, and where she is to be found.”
“In the Castle of Darlinvarach,” said Ranald MacEagh, “under the name of Annot Lyle. I have often heard of her from my kinsmen, who have again approached their native woods, and it is not long since mine old eyes beheld her.”
“You!” said Murdoch, in astonishment, “you, a chief among the Children of the Mist, and ventured so near your mortal foe?”
“Son of Diarmid, I did more,” replied the outlaw; “I was in the hall of the castle, disguised as a harper from the wild shores of Skianach. My purpose was to have plunged my dirk in the body of the M’Aulay with the Bloody hand, before whom our race trembles, and to have taken thereafter what fate God should send me. But I saw Annot Lyle, even when my hand was on the hilt of my dagger. She touched her clairshach [Harp] to a song of the Children of the Mist, which she had learned when her dwelling was amongst us. The woods in which we had dwelt pleasantly, rustled their green leaves in the song, and our streams were there with the sound of all their waters. My hand forsook the dagger; the fountains of mine eyes were opened, and the hour of revenge passed away. — And now, Son of Diarmid, have I not paid the ransom of my head?”
“Ay,” replied Murdoch, “if your tale be true; but what proof can you assign for it?”
“Bear witness, heaven and earth,” exclaimed the outlaw, “he already looks how he may step over his word!”
“Not so,” replied Murdoch; “every promise shall be kept to you when I am assured you have told me the truth. — But I must speak a few words with your companion in captivity.”
“Fair and false — ever fair and false,” muttered the prisoner, as he threw himself once more on the floor of his dungeon.
Meanwhile, Captain Dalgetty, who had attended to every word of this dialogue, was making his own remarks on it in private. “What the HENKER can this sly fellow have to say to me? I have no child, either of my own, so far as I know, or of any other person, to tell him a tale about. But let him come on — he will have some manoeuvring ere he turn the flank of the old soldier.”
Accordingly, as if he had stood pike in hand to defend a breach, he waited with caution, but without fear, the commencement of the attack.
“You are a citizen of the world, Captain Dalgetty,” said Murdoch Campbell, “and cannot be ignorant of our old Scotch proverb, GIF-GAF, [In old English, KA ME KA THEE, i.e. mutually serving each other.] which goes through all nations and all services.”
“Then I should know something of it,” said Dalgetty; “for, except the Turks, there are few powers in Europe whom I have not served; and I have sometimes thought of taking a turn either with Bethlem Gabor, or with the Janizaries.”
“A man of your experience and unprejudiced ideas, then, will understand me at once,” said Murdoch, “when I say, I mean that your freedom shall depend on your true and up right answer to a few trifling questions respecting the gentlemen you have left; their state of preparation; the number of their men, and nature of their appointments; and as much as you chance to know about their plan of operations.”
“Just to satisfy your curiosity,” said Dalgetty, “and without any farther purpose?”
“None in the world,” replied Murdoch; “what interest should a poor devil like me take in their operations?”
“Make your interrogations, then,” said the Captain, “and I will answer them PREREMTORIE.”
“How many Irish may be on their march to join James Graham the delinquent?”
“Probably ten thousand,” said Captain Dalgetty.
“Ten thousand!” replied Murdoch angrily; “we know that scarce two thousand landed at Ardnamurchan.”
“Then you know more about them than I do,” answered Captain Dalgetty, with great composure. “I never saw them mustered yet, or even under arms.”
“And how many men of the clans may be expected?” demanded Murdoch.
“As many as they can make,” replied the Captain.
“You are answering from the purpose, sir,” said Murdoch “speak plainly, will there be five thousand men?”
“There and thereabouts,” answered Dalgetty.
“You are playing with your life, sir, if you trifle with me,” replied the catechist; “one whistle of mine, and in less than ten minutes your head hangs on the drawbridge.”
“But to speak candidly, Mr. Murdoch,” replied the Captain “do you think it is a reasonable thing to ask me after the secrets of our army, and I engaged to serve for the whole campaign? If I taught you how to defeat Montrose, what becomes of my pay, arrears, and chance of booty?”
“I tell you,” said Campbell, “that if you be stubborn, your campaign shall begin and end in a march to the block at the castle-gate, which stands ready for such land-laufers; but if you answer my questions faithfully, I will receive you into my — into the service of M’Callum More.”
“Does the service afford good pay?” said Captain Dalgetty.
“He will double yours, if you will return to Montrose and act under his direction.”
“I wish I had seen you, sir, before taking on with him,” said Dalgetty, appearing to meditate.
“On the contrary, I can afford you more advantageous terms now,” said the Campbell; “always supposing that you are faithful.”
“Faithful, that is, to you, and a traitor to Montrose,” answered the Captain.
“Faithful to the cause of religion and good order,” answered Murdoch, “which sanctifies any deception you may employ to serve it.”
“And the Marquis of Argyle — should I incline to enter his service, is he a kind master?” demanded Dalgetty.
“Never man kinder,” quoth Campbell.
“And bountiful to his officers?” pursued the Captain.
“The most open hand in Scotland,” replied Murdoch.
“True and faithful to his engagements?” continued Dalgetty.
“As honourable a nobleman as breathes,” said the clansman.
“I never heard so much good of him before,” said Dalgetty; “you must know the Marquis well — or rather you must be the Marquis himself! — Lord of Argyle,” he added, throwing himself suddenly on the disguised nobleman, “I arrest you in the name of King Charles, as a traitor. If you venture to call for assistance, I will wrench round your neck.”
The attack which Dalgetty made upon Argyle’s person was so sudden and unexpected, that he easily prostrated him on the floor of the dungeon, and held him down with one hand, while his right, grasping the Marquis’s throat, was ready to strangle him on the slightest attempt to call for assistance.
“Lord of Argyle,” he said, “it is now my turn to lay down the terms of capitulation. If you list to show me the private way by which you entered the dungeon, you shall escape, on condition of being my LOCUM TENENS, as we said at the Mareschal-College, until your warder visits his prisoners. But if not, I will first strangle you — I learned the art from a Polonian heyduck, who had been a slave in the Ottoman seraglio — and then seek out a mode of retreat.”
“Villain! you would not murder me for my kindness,” murmured Argyle.
“Not for your kindness, my lord,” replied Dalgetty: “but first, to teach your lordship the JUS GENTIUM towards cavaliers who come to you under safe-conduct; and secondly, to warn you of the danger of proposing dishonourable terms to any worthy soldado, in order to tempt him to become false to his standard during the term of his service.”
“Spare my life,” said Argyle, “and I will do as you require.”
Dalgetty maintained his gripe upon the Marquis’s throat, compressing it a little while he asked questions, and relaxing it so far as to give him the power of answering them.
“Where is the secret door into the dungeon?” he demanded.
“Hold up the lantern to the corner on your right hand, you will discern the iron which covers the spring,” replied the Marquis.
“So far so good. — Where does the passage lead to?”
“To my private apartment behind the tapestry,” answered the prostrate nobleman.
“From thence how shall I reach the gateway?”
“Through the grand gallery, the anteroom, the lackeys’ waiting hall, the grand guardroom —”
“All crowded with soldiers, factionaries, and attendants? — that will never do for me, my lord; — have you no secret passage to the gate, as you have to your dungeons? I have seen such in Germany.”
“There is a passage through the chapel,” said the Marquis, “opening from my apartment.”
“And what is the pass-word at the gate?”
“The sword of Levi,” replied the Marquis; “but if you will receive my pledge of honour, I will go with you, escort you through every guard, and set you at full liberty with a passport.”
“I might trust you, my lord, were your throat not already black with the grasp of my fingers — as it is, BESO LOS MANOS A USTED, as the Spaniard says. Yet you may grant me a passport; — are there writing materials in your apartment?”
“Surely; and blank passports ready to be signed. I will attend you there,” said the Marquis, “instantly.”
“It were too much honour for the like of me,” said Dalgetty; “your lordship shall remain under charge of mine honest friend Ranald MacEagh; therefore, prithee let me drag you within reach of his chain. — Honest Ranald, you see how matters stand with us. I shall find the means, I doubt not, of setting you at freedom. Meantime, do as you see me do; clap your hand thus on the weasand of this high and mighty prince, under his ruff, and if he offer to struggle or cry out, fail not, my worthy Ranald, to squeeze doughtily; and if it be AD DELIQUIUM, Ranald, that is, till he swoon, there is no great matter, seeing he designed your gullet and mine to still harder usage.”
“If he offer at speech or struggle,” said Ranald, “he dies by my hand.”
“That is right, Ranald — very spirited:— A thorough-going friend that understands a hint is worth a million!”
Thus resigning the charge of the Marquis to his new confederate, Dalgetty pressed the spring, by which the secret door flew open, though so well were its hinges polished and oiled, that it made not the slightest noise in revolving. The opposite side of the door was secured by very strong bolts and bars, beside which hung one or two keys, designed apparently to undo fetterlocks. A narrow staircase, ascending up through the thickness of the castle-wall, landed, as the Marquis had truly informed him, behind the tapestry of his private apartment. Such communications were frequent in old feudal castles, as they gave the lord of the fortress, like a second Dionysius, the means of hearing the conversation of his prisoners, or, if he pleased, of visiting them in disguise, an experiment which had terminated so unpleasantly on the present occasion for Gillespie Grumach. Having examined previously whether there was any one in the apartment, and finding the coast clear, the Captain entered, and hastily possessing himself of a blank passport, several of which lay on the table, and of writing materials, securing, at the same time, the Marquis’s dagger, and a silk cord from the hangings, he again descended into the cavern, where, listening a moment at the door, he could hear the half-stifled voice of the Marquis making great proffers to MacEagh, on condition he would suffer him to give an alarm.
“Not for a forest of deer — not for a thousand head of cattle,” answered the freebooter; “not for all the lands that ever called a son of Diarmid master, will I break the troth I have plighted to him of the iron-garment!”
“He of the iron-garment,” said Dalgetty, entering, “is bounden unto you, MacEagh, and this noble lord shall be bounden also; but first he must fill up this passport with the names of Major Dugald Dalgetty and his guide, or he is like to have a passport to another world.”
The Marquis subscribed, and wrote, by the light of the dark lantern, as the soldier prescribed to him.
“And now, Ranald,” said Dalgetty, “strip thy upper garment — thy plaid I mean, Ranald, and in it will I muffle the M’Callum More, and make of him, for the time, a Child of the Mist; — Nay, I must bring it over your head, my lord, so as to secure us against your mistimed clamour. — So, now he is sufficiently muffled; — hold down your hands, or, by Heaven, I will stab you to the heart with your own dagger! — nay, you shall be bound with nothing less than silk, as your quality deserves. — So, now he is secure till some one comes to relieve him. If he ordered us a late dinner, Ranald, he is like to be the sufferer; — at what hour, my good Ranald, did the jailor usually appear?”
“Never till the sun was beneath the western wave,” said MacEagh. “Then, my friend, we shall have three hours good,” said the cautious Captain. “In the meantime, let us labour for your liberation.”
To examine Ranald’s chain was the next occupation. It was undone by means of one of the keys which hung behind the private door, probably deposited there, that the Marquis might, if he pleased, dismiss a prisoner, or remove him elsewhere without the necessity of summoning the warden. The outlaw stretched his benumbed arms, and bounded from the floor of the dungeon in all the ecstasy of recovered freedom.
“Take the livery-coat of that noble prisoner,” said Captain Dalgetty; “put it on, and follow close at my heels.”
The outlaw obeyed. They ascended the private stair, having first secured the door behind them, and thus safely reached the apartment of the Marquis.
[The precarious state of the feudal nobles introduced a great deal of espionage into their castles. Sir Robert Carey mentions his having put on the cloak of one of his own wardens to obtain a confession from the mouth of Geordie Bourne, his prisoner, whom he caused presently to be hanged in return for the frankness of his communication. The fine old Border castle of Naworth contains a private stair from the apartment of the Lord William Howard, by which he could visit the dungeon, as is alleged in the preceding chapter to have been practised by the Marquis of Argyle.]
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