A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 18

Piobracht au Donuil-dhu,

Piobrachet au Donuil,

Piobrachet agus S’breittach

Feacht an Innerlochy.

The war-tune of Donald the Black,

The war-tune of Black Donald,

The pipes and the banner

Are up in the rendezvous of Inverlochy.

The military road connecting the chains of forts, as it is called, and running in the general line of the present Caledonian Canal, has now completely opened the great glen, or chasm, extending almost across the whole island, once doubtless filled by the sea, and still affording basins for that long line of lakes, by means of which modern art has united the German and Atlantic Oceans. The paths or tracks by which the natives traversed this extensive valley, were, in 1645-6, in the same situation as when they awaked the strain of an Irish engineer officer, who had been employed in converting them into practicable military roads, and whose eulogium begins, and, for aught I know, ends, as follows:

Had you seen but these roads before they were made, You would have held up your hands and bless’d General Wade.

But, bad as the ordinary paths were, Montrose avoided them, and led his army, like a herd of wild deer, from mountain to mountain, and from forest to forest, where his enemies could learn nothing of his motions, while he acquired the most perfect knowledge respecting theirs from the friendly clans of Cameron and M’Donnell, whose mountainous districts he now traversed. Strict orders had been given that Argyle’s advance should be watched, and that all intelligence respecting his motions should be communicated instantly to the General himself.

It was a moonlight night, and Montrose, worn out by the fatigues of the day, was laid down to sleep in a miserable shieling. He had only slumbered two hours, when some one touched his shoulder. He looked up, and, by the stately form and deep voice, easily recognised the Chief of the Camerons.

“I have news for you,” said that leader, “which is worth while to arise and listen to.”

“M’Ilduy [Mhich-Connel Dhu, the descendant of Black Donald.] can bring no other,” said Montrose, addressing the Chief by his patronymic title —“are they good or bad?”

“As you may take them,” said the Chieftain.

“Are they certain?” demanded Montrose.

“Yes,” answered M’Ilduy, “or another messenger should have brought them. Know that, tired with the task imposed upon me of accompanying that unhappy Dalgetty and his handful of horse, who detained me for hours on the march at the pace of a crippled badger, I made a stretch of four miles with six of my people in the direction of Inverlochy, and there met with Ian of Glenroy, who had been out for intelligence. Argyle is moving upon Inverlochy with three thousand chosen men, commanded by the flower of the sons of Diarmid. — These are my news — they are certain — it is for you to construe their purport.”

“Their purport must be good,” answered Montrose, readily and cheerfully; “the voice of M’Ilduy is ever pleasant in the ears of Montrose, and most pleasant when it speaks of some brave enterprise at hand — What are our musters?”

He then called for light, and easily ascertained that a great part of his followers having, as usual, dispersed to secure their booty, he had not with him above twelve or fourteen hundred men.

“Not much above a third,” said Montrose, pausing, “of Argyle’s force, and Highlanders opposed to Highlanders. — With the blessing of God upon the royal cause, I would not hesitate were the odds but one to two.”

“Then do not hesitate,” said Cameron; “for when your trumpets shall sound to attack M’Callum More, not a man of these glens will remain deaf to the summons. Glengarry — Keppoch — I myself — would destroy, with fire and sword, the wretch who should remain behind under any pretence whatsoever. To-morrow, or the next day, shall be a day of battle to all who bear the name of M’Donnell or Cameron, whatever be the event.”

“It is gallantly said, my noble friend,” said Montrose, grasping his hand, “and I were worse than a coward did I not do justice to such followers, by entertaining the most indubitable hopes of success. We will turn back on this M’Callum More, who follows us like a raven to devour the relics of our army, should we meet braver men who may be able to break its strength! Let the Chiefs and leaders be called together as quickly as possible; and you, who have brought us the first news of this joyful event — for such it shall be — you, M’Ilduy, shall bring it to a joyful issue, by guiding us the best and nearest road against our enemy.”

“That will I willingly do,” said M’Ilduy; “if I have shown you paths by which to retreat through these dusky wilds, with far more readiness will I teach you how to advance against your foe.”

A general bustle now prevailed, and the leaders were everywhere startled from the rude couches on which they had sought temporary repose.

“I never thought,” said Major Dalgetty, when summoned up from a handful of rugged heather roots, “to have parted from a bed as hard as a stable-broom with such bad will; but, indubitably, having but one man of military experience in his army, his Excellency the Marquis may be vindicated in putting him upon hard duty.”

So saying, he repaired to the council, where, notwithstanding his pedantry, Montrose seemed always to listen to him with considerable attention; partly because the Major really possessed military knowledge and experience, and often made suggestions which were found of advantage, and partly because it relieved the General from the necessity of deferring entirely to the opinion of the Highland Chiefs, and gave him additional ground for disputing it when it was not agreeable to his own. On the present occasion, Dalgetty joyfully acquiesced in the proposal of marching back and confronting Argyle, which he compared to the valiant resolution of the great Gustavus, who moved against the Duke of Bavaria, and enriched his troops by the plunder of that fertile country, although menaced from the northward by the large army which Wallenstein had assembled in Bohemia.

The Chiefs of Glengarry, Keppoch, and Lochiel, whose clans, equal in courage and military fame to any in the Highlands, lay within the neighbourhood of the scene of action, dispatched the fiery cross through their vassals, to summon every one who could bear arms to meet the King’s lieutenant, and to join the standards of their respective Chiefs, as they marched towards Inverlochy. As the order was emphatically given, it was speedily and willingly obeyed. Their natural love of war, their zeal for the royal cause — for they viewed the King in the light of a chief whom his clansmen had deserted — as well as their implicit obedience to their own patriarch, drew in to Montrose’s army not only all in the neighbourhood who were able to bear arms, but some who, in age at least, might have been esteemed past the use of them. During the next day’s march, which, being directed straight through the mountains of Lochaber, was unsuspected by the enemy, his forces were augmented by handfuls of men issuing from each glen, and ranging themselves under the banners of their respective Chiefs. This was a circumstance highly inspiriting to the rest of the army, who, by the time they approached the enemy, found their strength increased considerably more than one-fourth, as had been prophesied by the valiant leader of the Camerons.

While Montrose executed this counter-march, Argyle had, at the head of his gallant army, advanced up the southern side of Loch-Eil, and reached the river Lochy, which combines that lake with Loch-Lochy. The ancient Castle of Inverlochy, once, as it is said, a royal fortress, and still, although dismantled, a place of some strength and consideration, offered convenient head-quarters, and there was ample room for Argyle’s army to encamp around him in the valley, where the Lochy joins Loch-Eil. Several barges had attended, loaded with provisions, so that they were in every respect as well accommodated as such an army wished or expected to be. Argyle, in council with Auchenbreck and Ardenvohr, expressed his full confidence that Montrose was now on the brink of destruction; that his troops must gradually diminish as he moved eastward through such uncouth paths; that if he went westward, he must encounter Urrie and Baillie; if northward, fall into the hands of Seaforth; or should he choose any halting-place, he would expose himself to be attacked by three armies at once.

“I cannot rejoice in the prospect, my lord,” said Auchebreck, “that James Grahame will be crushed with little assistance of ours. He has left a heavy account in Argyleshire against him, and I long to reckon with him drop of blood for drop of blood. I love not the payment of such debts by third hands.”

“You are too scrupulous,” said Argyle; “what signifies it by whose hands the blood of the Grahames is spilt? It is time that of the sons of Diarmid should cease to flow. — What say you, Ardenvohr?”

“I say, my lord,” replied Sir Duncan, “that I think Auchenbreck will be gratified, and will himself have a personal opportunity of settling accounts with Montrose for his depredations. Reports have reached our outposts that the Camerons are assembling their full strength on the skirts of Ben-Nevis; this must be to join the advance of Montrose, and not to cover his retreat.”

“It must be some scheme of harassing and depredation,” said Argyle, “devised by the inveterate malignity of M’Ilduy, which he terms loyalty. They can intend no more than an attack on our outposts, or some annoyance to tomorrow’s march.”

“I have sent out scouts,” said Sir Duncan, “in every direction, to procure intelligence; and we must soon hear whether they really do assemble any force, upon what point, or with what purpose.”

It was late ere any tidings were received; but when the moon had arisen, a considerable bustle in the camp, and a noise immediately after heard in the castle, announced the arrival of important intelligence. Of the scouts first dispersed by Ardenvohr, some had returned without being able to collect anything, save uncertain rumours concerning movements in the country of the Camerons. It seemed as if the skirts of Ben-Nevis were sending forth those unaccountable and portentous sounds with which they sometimes announce the near approach of a storm. Others, whose zeal carried them farther upon their mission, were entrapped and slain, or made prisoners, by the inhabitants of the fastnesses into which they endeavoured to penetrate. At length, on the rapid advance of Montrose’s army, his advanced guard and the outposts of Argyle became aware of each other’s presence, and after exchanging a few musket-shots and arrows, fell back to their respective main bodies, to convey intelligence and receive orders.

Sir Duncan Campbell, and Auchenbreck, instantly threw themselves on horseback, in order to visit the state of the outposts; and Argyle maintained his character of commander-inchief with reputation, by making a respectable arrangement of his forces in the plain, as it was evident that they might now expect a night alarm, or an attack in the morning at farthest. Montrose had kept his forces so cautiously within the defiles of the mountain, that no effort which Auchenbreck or Ardenvohr thought it prudent to attempt, could ascertain his probable strength. They were aware, however, that, at the utmost computation, it must be inferior to their own, and they returned to Argyle to inform him of the amount of their observations; but that nobleman refused to believe that Montrose could be in presence himself. He said, “It was a madness, of which even James Grahame, in his height of presumptuous frenzy, was incapable; and he doubted not that their march was only impeded by their ancient enemies, Glencoe, Keppoch, and Glengarry; and perhaps M’Vourigh, with his M’Phersons, might have assembled a force, which he knew must be greatly inferior in numbers to his own, and whom, therefore, he doubted not to disperse by force, or by terms of capitulation.”

The spirit of Argyle’s followers was high, breathing vengeance for the disasters which their country had so lately undergone; and the night passed in anxious hopes that the morning might dawn upon their vengeance. The outposts of either army kept a careful watch, and the soldiers of Argyle slept in the order of battle which they were next day to occupy.

A pale dawn had scarce begun to tinge the tops of these immense mountains, when the leaders of both armies prepared for the business of the day. It was the second of February, 1645-6. The clansmen of Argyle were arranged in two lines, not far from the angle between the river and the lake, and made an appearance equally resolute and formidable. Auchenbreck would willingly have commenced the battle by an attack on the outposts of the enemy, but Argyle, with more cautious policy, preferred receiving to making the onset. Signals were soon heard, that they would not long wait for it in vain. The Campbells could distinguish, in the gorge of the mountains, the war-tunes of various clans as they advanced to the onset. That of the Camerons, which bears the ominous words, addressed to the wolves and ravens, “Come to me, and I will give you flesh,” was loudly re-echoed from their native glens. In the language of the Highland bards, the war voice of Glengarry was not silent; and the gathering tunes of other tribes could be plainly distinguished, as they successively came up to the extremity of the passes from which they were to descend into the plain.

“You see,” said Argyle to his kinsmen, “it is as I said, we have only to deal with our neighbours; James Grahame has not ventured to show us his banner.”

At this moment there resounded from the gorge of the pass a lively flourish of trumpets, in that note with which it was the ancient Scottish fashion to salute the royal standard.

“You may hear, my lord, from yonder signal,” said Sir Duncan Campbell, “that he who pretends to be the King’s Lieutenant, must be in person among these men.”

“And has probably horse with him,” said Auchenbreck, “which I could not have anticipated. But shall we look pale for that, my lord, when we have foes to fight, and wrongs to revenge?”

Argyle was silent, and looked upon his arm, which hung in a sash, owing to a fall which he had sustained in a preceding march.

“It is true,” interrupted Ardenvohr, eagerly, “my Lord of Argyle, you are disabled from using either sword or pistol; you must retire on board the galleys — your life is precious to us as a head — your hand cannot be useful to us as a soldier.”

“No,” said Argyle, pride contending with irresolution, “it shall never be said that I fled before Montrose; if I cannot fight, I will at least die in the midst of my children.”

Several other principal Chiefs of the Campbells, with one voice, conjured and obtested their Chieftain to leave them for that day to the leading of Ardenvohr and Auchenbreck, and to behold the conflict from a distance and in safety. — We dare not stigmatize Argyle with poltroonery; for, though his life was marked by no action of bravery, yet he behaved with so much composure and dignity in the final and closing scene, that his conduct upon the present and similar occasions, should be rather imputed to indecision than to want of courage. But when the small still voice within a man’s own breast, which tells him that his life is of consequence to himself, is seconded by that of numbers around him, who assure him that it is of equal advantage to the public, history affords many examples of men more habitually daring than Argyle, who have consulted self-preservation when the temptations to it were so powerfully increased.

“See him on board, if you will, Sir Duncan,” said Auchenbreck to his kinsman; “It must be my duty to prevent this spirit from spreading farther among us.”

So saying, he threw himself among the ranks, entreating, commanding, and conjuring the soldiers, to remember their ancient fame and their present superiority; the wrongs they had to revenge, if successful, and the fate they had to dread, if vanquished; and imparting to every bosom a portion of the fire which glowed in his own. Slowly, meanwhile, and apparently with reluctance, Argyle suffered himself to be forced by his officious kinsmen to the verge of the lake, and was transported on board of a galley, from the deck of which he surveyed with more safety than credit the scene which ensued.

Sir Duncan Campbell of Ardenvohr, notwithstanding the urgency of the occasion, stood with his eyes riveted on the boat which bore his Chieftain from the field of battle. There were feelings in his bosom which could not be expressed; for the character of a Chief was that of a father, and the heart of a clansman durst not dwell upon his failings with critical severity as upon those of other men. Argyle, too, harsh and severe to others, was generous and liberal among his kinsmen, and the noble heart of, Ardenvohr was wrung with bitter anguish, when he reflected to what interpretation his present conduct might subject him.

“It is better it should be so,” said he to himself, devouring his own emotion; “but — of his line of a hundred sires, I know not one who would have retired while the banner of Diarmid waved in the wind, in the face of its most inveterate foes!”

A loud shout now compelled him to turn, and to hasten with all dispatch to his post, which was on the right flank of Argyle’s little army.

The retreat of Argyle had not passed unobserved by his watchful enemy, who, occupying the superior ground, could mark every circumstance which passed below. The movement of three or four horsemen to the rear showed that those who retreated were men of rank.

“They are going,” said Dalgetty, “to put their horses out of danger, like prudent cavaliers. Yonder goes Sir Duncan Campbell, riding a brown bay gelding, which I had marked for my own second charger.”

“You are wrong, Major,” said Montrose, with a bitter smile, “they are saving their precious Chief — Give the signal for assault instantly — send the word through the ranks. — Gentlemen, noble Chiefs, Glengarry, Keppoch, M’Vourigh, upon them instantly! — Ride to M’Ilduy, Major Dalgetty, and tell him to charge as he loves Lochaber — return and bring our handful of horse to my standard. They shall be placed with the Irish as a reserve.”


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