A Legend of Montrose, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 4

Once on a time, no matter when,

Some Glunimies met in a glen;

As deft and tight as ever wore

A durk, a targe, and a claymore,

Short hose, and belted plaid or trews,

In Uist, Lochaber, Skye, or Lewes,

Or cover’d hard head with his bonnet;

Had you but known them, you would own it.


A hill was now before the travellers, covered with an ancient forest of Scottish firs, the topmost of which, flinging their scathed branches across the western horizon, gleamed ruddy in the setting sun. In the centre of this wood rose the towers, or rather the chimneys, of the house, or castle, as it was called, destined for the end of their journey.

As usual at that period, one or two high-ridged narrow buildings, intersecting and crossing each other, formed the CORPS DE LOGIS. A protecting bartizan or two, with the addition of small turrets at the angles, much resembling pepper-boxes, had procured for Darnlinvarach the dignified appellation of a castle. It was surrounded by a low court-yard wall, within which were the usual offices.

As the travellers approached more nearly, they discovered marks of recent additions to the defences of the place, which had been suggested, doubtless, by the insecurity of those troublesome times. Additional loop-holes for musketry were struck out in different parts of the building, and of its surrounding wall. The windows had just been carefully secured by stancheons of iron, crossing each other athwart and end-long, like the grates of a prison. The door of the court-yard was shut; and it was only after cautious challenge that one of its leaves was opened by two domestics, both strong Highlanders, and both under arms, like Bitias and Pandarus in the AEneid, ready to defend the entrance if aught hostile had ventured an intrusion.

When the travellers were admitted into the court, they found additional preparations for defence. The walls were scaffolded for the use of fire-arms, and one or two of the small guns, called sackers, or falcons, were mounted at the angles and flanking turrets.

More domestics, both in the Highland and Lowland dress, instantly rushed from the anterior of the mansion, and some hastened to take the horses of the strangers, while others waited to marshal them a way into the dwelling-house. But Captain Dalgetty refused the proffered assistance of those who wished to relieve him of the charge of his horse. “It is my custom, my friends, to see Gustavus (for so I have called him, after my invincible master) accommodated myself; we are old friends and fellow-travellers, and as I often need the use of his legs, I always lend him in my turn the service of my tongue, to call for whatever he has occasion for;” and accordingly he strode into the stable after his steed without farther apology.

Neither Lord Menteith nor his attendants paid the same attention to their horses, but, leaving them to the proffered care of the servants of the place, walked forward into the house, where a sort of dark vaulted vestibule displayed, among other miscellaneous articles, a huge barrel of two-penny ale, beside which were ranged two or three wooden queichs, or bickers, ready, it would appear, for the service of whoever thought proper to employ them. Lord Menteith applied himself to the spigot, drank without ceremony, and then handed the stoup to Anderson, who followed his master’s example, but not until he had flung out the drop of ale which remained, and slightly rinsed the wooden cup.

“What the deil, man,” said an old Highland servant belonging to the family, “can she no drink after her ain master without washing the cup and spilling the ale, and be tamned to her!”

“I was bred in France,” answered Anderson, “where nobody drinks after another out of the same cup, unless it be after a young lady.”

“The teil’s in their nicety!” said Donald; “and if the ale be gude, fat the waur is’t that another man’s beard’s been in the queich before ye?”

Anderson’s companion drank without observing the ceremony which had given Donald so much offence, and both of them followed their master into the low-arched stone hall, which was the common rendezvous of a Highland family. A large fire of peats in the huge chimney at the upper end shed a dim light through the apartment, and was rendered necessary by the damp, by which, even during the summer, the apartment was rendered uncomfortable. Twenty or thirty targets, as many claymores, with dirks, and plaids, and guns, both match-lock and fire-lock, and long-bows, and cross-bows, and Lochaber axes, and coats of plate armour, and steel bonnets, and headpieces, and the more ancient haborgeons, or shirts of reticulated mail, with hood and sleeves corresponding to it, all hung in confusion about the walls, and would have formed a month’s amusement to a member of a modern antiquarian society. But such things were too familiar, to attract much observation on the part of the present spectators.

There was a large clumsy oaken table, which the hasty hospitality of the domestic who had before spoken, immediately spread with milk, butter, goat-milk cheese, a flagon of beer, and a flask of usquebae, designed for the refreshment of Lord Menteith; while an inferior servant made similar preparations at the bottom of the table for the benefit of his attendants. The space which intervened between them was, according to the manners of the times, sufficient distinction between master and servant, even though the former was, as in the present instance, of high rank. Meanwhile the guests stood by the fire — the young nobleman under the chimney, and his servants at some little distance.

“What do you think, Anderson,” said the former, “of our fellow-traveller?”

“A stout fellow,” replied Anderson, “if all be good that is upcome. I wish we had twenty such, to put our Teagues into some sort of discipline.”

“I differ from you, Anderson,” said Lord Menteith; “I think this fellow Dalgetty is one of those horse-leeches, whose appetite for blood being only sharpened by what he has sucked in foreign countries, he is now returned to batten upon that of his own. Shame on the pack of these mercenary swordmen! they have made the name of Scot through all Europe equivalent to that of a pitiful mercenary, who knows neither honour nor principle but his month’s pay, who transfers his allegiance from standard to standard, at the pleasure of fortune or the highest bidder; and to whose insatiable thirst for plunder and warm quarters we owe much of that civil dissension which is now turning our swords against our own bowels. I had scarce patience with the hired gladiator, and yet could hardly help laughing at the extremity of his impudence.”

“Your lordship will forgive me,” said Anderson, “if I recommend to you, in the present circumstances, to conceal at least a part of this generous indignation; we cannot, unfortunately, do our work without the assistance of those who act on baser motives than our own. We cannot spare the assistance of such fellows as our friend the soldado. To use the canting phrase of the saints in the English Parliament, the sons of Zeruiah are still too many for us.”

“I must dissemble, then, as well as I can,” said Lord Menteith, “as I have hitherto done, upon your hint. But I wish the fellow at the devil with all my heart.”

“Ay, but still you must remember, my lord,” resumed Anderson, “that to cure the bite of a scorpion, you must crush another scorpion on the wound — But stop, we shall be overheard.”

From a side-door in the hall glided a Highlander into the apartment, whose lofty stature and complete equipment, as well as the eagle’s feather in his bonnet, and the confidence of his demeanour, announced to be a person of superior rank. He walked slowly up to the table, and made no answer to Lord Menteith, who, addressing him by the name of Allan, asked him how he did.

“Ye manna speak to her e’en now,” whispered the old attendant.

The tall Highlander, sinking down upon the empty settle next the fire, fixed his eyes upon the red embers and the huge heap of turf, and seemed buried in profound abstraction. His dark eyes, and wild and enthusiastic features, bore the air of one who, deeply impressed with his own subjects of meditation, pays little attention to exterior objects. An air of gloomy severity, the fruit perhaps of ascetic and solitary habits, might, in a Lowlander, have been ascribed to religious fanaticism; but by that disease of the mind, then so common both in England and the Lowlands of Scotland, the Highlanders of this period were rarely infected. They had, however, their own peculiar superstitions, which overclouded the mind with thick-coming fancies, as completely as the puritanism of their neighbours.

“His lordship’s honour,” said the Highland servant sideling up to Lord Menteith, and speaking in a very low tone, “his lordship manna speak to Allan even now, for the cloud is upon his mind.”

Lord Menteith nodded, and took no farther notice of the reserved mountaineer.

“Said I not,” asked the latter, suddenly raising his stately person upright, and looking at the domestic —“said I not that four were to come, and here stand but three on the hall floor?”

“In troth did ye say sae, Allan,” said the old Highlander, “and here’s the fourth man coming clinking in at the yett e’en now from the stable, for he’s shelled like a partan, wi’ airn on back and breast, haunch and shanks. And am I to set her chair up near the Menteith’s, or down wi’ the honest gentlemen at the foot of the table?”

Lord Menteith himself answered the enquiry, by pointing to a seat beside his own.

“And here she comes,” said Donald, as Captain Dalgetty entered the hall; “and I hope gentlemens will all take bread and cheese, as we say in the glens, until better meat be ready, until the Tiernach comes back frae the hill wi’ the southern gentlefolk, and then Dugald Cook will show himself wi’ his kid and hill venison.”

In the meantime, Captain Dalgetty had entered the apartment, and walking up to the seat placed next Lord Menteith, was leaning on the back of it with his arms folded. Anderson and his companion waited at the bottom of the table, in a respectful attitude, until they should receive permission to seat themselves; while three or four Highlanders, under the direction of old Donald, ran hither and thither to bring additional articles of food, or stood still to give attendance upon the guests.

In the midst of these preparations, Allan suddenly started up, and snatching a lamp from the hand of an attendant, held it close to Dalgetty’s face, while he perused his features with the most heedful and grave attention.

“By my honour,” said Dalgetty, half displeased, as, mysteriously shaking his head, Allan gave up the scrutiny —“I trow that lad and I will ken each other when we meet again.”

Meanwhile Allan strode to the bottom of the table, and having, by the aid of his lamp, subjected Anderson and his companion to the same investigation, stood a moment as if in deep reflection; then, touching his forehead, suddenly seized Anderson by the arm, and before he could offer any effectual resistance, half led and half dragged him to the vacant seat at the upper end, and having made a mute intimation that he should there place himself, he hurried the soldado with the same unceremonious precipitation to the bottom of the table. The Captain, exceedingly incensed at this freedom, endeavoured to shake Allan from him with violence; but, powerful as he was, he proved in the struggle inferior to the gigantic mountaineer, who threw him off with such violence, that after reeling a few paces, he fell at full length, and the vaulted hall rang with the clash of his armour. When he arose, his first action was to draw his sword and to fly at Allan, who, with folded arms, seemed to await his onset with the most scornful indifference. Lord Menteith and his attendants interposed to preserve peace, while the Highlanders, snatching weapons from the wall, seemed prompt to increase the broil.

“He is mad,” whispered Lord Menteith, “he is perfectly mad; there is no purpose in quarrelling with him.”

“If your lordship is assured that he is NON COMPOS MENTIS,” said Captain Dalgetty, “the whilk his breeding and behaviour seem to testify, the matter must end here, seeing that a madman can neither give an affront, nor render honourable satisfaction. But, by my saul, if I had my provstnt and a bottle of Rhenish under my belt, I should hive stood otherways up to him. And yet it’s a pity he should be sae weak in the intellectuals, being a strong proper man of body, fit to handle pike, morgenstern, or any other military implement whatsoever.” [This was a sort of club or mace, used in the earlier part of the seventeenth century in the defence of breaches and walls. When the Germans insulted a Scotch regiment then besieged in Trailsund, saying they heard there was a ship come from Denmark to them laden with tobacco pipes, “One of our soldiers,” says Colonel Robert Munro, “showing them over the work a morgenstern, made of a large stock banded with iron, like the shaft of a halberd, with a round globe at the end with cross iron pikes, saith, ‘Here is one of the tobacco pipes, wherewith we will beat out your brains when you intend to storm us.’"]

Peace was thus restored, and the party seated themselves agreeably to their former arrangement, with which Allan, who had now returned to his settle by the fire, and seemed once more immersed in meditation, did not again interfere. Lord Menteith, addressing the principal domestic, hastened to start some theme of conversation which might obliterate all recollection of the fray that had taken place. “The laird is at the hill then, Donald, I understand, and some English strangers with him?”

“At the hill he is, an it like your honour, and two Saxon calabaleros are with him sure eneugh; and that is Sir Miles Musgrave and Christopher Hall, both from the Cumraik, as I think they call their country.”

“Hall and Musgrave?” said Lord Menteith, looking at his attendants, “the very men that we wished to see.”

“Troth,” said Donald, “an’ I wish I had never seen them between the een, for they’re come to herry us out o’ house and ha’.”

“Why, Donald,” said Lord Menteith, “you did not use to be so churlish of your beef and ale; southland though they be, they’ll scarce eat up all the cattle that’s going on the castle mains.”

“Teil care an they did,” said Donald, “an that were the warst o’t, for we have a wheen canny trewsmen here that wadna let us want if there was a horned beast atween this and Perth. But this is a warse job — it’s nae less than a wager.”

“A wager!” repeated Lord Menteith, with some surprise.

“Troth,” continued Donald, to the full as eager to tell his news as Lord Menteith was curious to hear them, “as your lordship is a friend and kinsman o’ the house, an’ as ye’ll hear eneugh o’t in less than an hour, I may as weel tell ye mysell. Ye sall be pleased then to know, that when our Laird was up in England where he gangs oftener than his friends can wish, he was biding at the house o’ this Sir Miles Musgrave, an’ there was putten on the table six candlesticks, that they tell me were twice as muckle as the candlesticks in Dunblane kirk, and neither airn, brass, nor tin, but a’ solid silver, nae less; — up wi’ their English pride, has sae muckle, and kens sae little how to guide it! Sae they began to jeer the Laird, that he saw nae sic graith in his ain poor country; and the Laird, scorning to hae his country put down without a word for its credit, swore, like a gude Scotsman, that he had mair candlesticks, and better candlesticks, in his ain castle at hame, than were ever lighted in a hall in Cumberland, an Cumberland be the name o’ the country.”

“That was patriotically said,” observed Lord Menteith.

“Fary true,” said Donald; “but her honour had better hae hauden her tongue: for if ye say ony thing amang the Saxons that’s a wee by ordinar, they clink ye down for a wager as fast as a Lowland smith would hammer shoon on a Highland shelty. An’ so the Laird behoved either to gae back o’ his word, or wager twa hunder merks; and sa he e’en tock the wager, rather than be shamed wi’ the like o’ them. And now he’s like to get it to pay, and I’m thinking that’s what makes him sae swear to come hame at e’en.”

“Indeed,” said Lord Menteith, “from my idea of your family plate, Donald, your master is certain to lose such a wager.”

“Your honour may swear that; an’ where he’s to get the siller I kenna, although he borrowed out o’ twenty purses. I advised him to pit the twa Saxon gentlemen and their servants cannily into the pit o’ the tower till they gae up the bagain o’ free gude-will, but the Laird winna hear reason.”

Allan here started up, strode forward, and interrupted the conversation, saying to the domestic in a voice like thunder, “And how dared you to give my brother such dishonourable advice? or how dare you to say he will lose this or any other wager which it is his pleasure to lay?”

“Troth, Allan M’Aulay,” answered the old man, “it’s no for my father’s son to gainsay what your father’s son thinks fit to say, an’ so the Laird may no doubt win his wager. A’ that I ken against it is, that the teil a candlestick, or ony thing like it, is in the house, except the auld airn branches that has been here since Laird Kenneth’s time, and the tin sconces that your father gard be made by auld Willie Winkie the tinkler, mair be token that deil an unce of siller plate is about the house at a’, forby the lady’s auld posset dish, that wants the cover and ane o’ the lugs.”

“Peace, old man!” said Allan, fiercely; “and do you, gentlemen, if your refection is finished, leave this apartment clear; I must prepare it for the reception of these southern guests.”

“Come away,” said the domestic, pulling Lord Menteith by the sleeve; “his hour is on him,” said he, looking towards Allan, “and he will not be controlled.”

They left the hall accordingly, Lord Menteith and the Captain being ushered one way by old Donald, and the two attendants conducted elsewhere by another Highlander. The former had scarcely reached a sort of withdrawing apartment ere they were joined by the lord of the mansion, Angus M’Aulay by name, and his English guests. Great joy was expressed by all parties, for Lord Menteith and the English gentlemen were well known to each other; and on Lord Menteith’s introduction, Captain Dalgetty was well received by the Laird. But after the first burst of hospitable congratulation was over, Lord Menteith could observe that there was a shade of sadness on the brow of his Highland friend.

“You must have heard,” said Sir Christopher Hall, “that our fine undertaking in Cumberland is all blown up. The militia would not march into Scotland, and your prick-ear’d Covenanters have been too hard for our friends in the southern shires. And so, understanding there is some stirring work here, Musgrave and I, rather than sit idle at home, are come to have a campaign among your kilts and plaids.”

“I hope you have brought arms, men, and money with you,” said Lord Menteith, smiling.

“Only some dozen or two of troopers, whom we left at the last Lowland village,” said Musgrave, “and trouble enough we had to get them so far.”

“As for money,” said his companion, “We expect a small supply from our friend and host here.”

The Laird now, colouring highly, took Menteith a little apart, and expressed to him his regret that he had fallen into a foolish blunder.

“I heard it from Donald,” said Lord Menteith, scarce able to suppress a smile.

“Devil take that old man,” said M’Aulay, “he would tell every thing, were it to cost one’s life; but it’s no jesting matter to you neither, my lord, for I reckon on your friendly and fraternal benevolence, as a near kinsman of our house, to help me out with the money due to these pock-puddings; or else, to be plain wi’ ye, the deil a M’Aulay will there be at the muster, for curse me if I do not turn Covenanter rather than face these fellows without paying them; and, at the best, I shall be ill enough off, getting both the scaith and the scorn.”

“You may suppose, cousin,” said Lord Menteith, “I am not too well equipt just now; but you may be assured I shall endeavour to help you as well as I can, for the sake of old kindred, neighbourhood, and alliance.”

“Thank ye — thank ye — thank ye,” reiterated M’Aulay; “and as they are to spend the money in the King’s service, what signifies whether you, they, or I pay it? — we are a’ one man’s bairns, I hope? But you must help me out too with some reasonable excuse, or else I shall be for taking to Andrew Ferrara; for I like not to be treated like a liar or a braggart at my own board-end, when, God knows, I only meant to support my honour, and that of my family and country.”

Donald, as they were speaking, entered, with rather a blither face than he might have been expected to wear, considering the impending fate of his master’s purse and credit. “Gentlemens, her dinner is ready, and HER CANDLES ARE LIGHTED TOO,” said Donald, with a strong guttural emphasis on the last clause of his speech.

“What the devil can he mean?” said Musgrave, looking to his countryman.

Lord Menteith put the same question with his eyes to the Laird, which M’Aulay answered by shaking his head.

A short dispute about precedence somewhat delayed their leaving the apartment. Lord Menteith insisted upon yielding up that which belonged to his rank, on consideration of his being in his own country, and of his near connexion with the family in which they found themselves. The two English strangers, therefore, were first ushered into the hall, where an unexpected display awaited them. The large oaken table was spread with substantial joints of meat, and seats were placed in order for the guests. Behind every seat stood a gigantic Highlander, completely dressed and armed after the fashion of his country, holding in his right hand his drawn sword, with the point turned downwards, and in the left a blazing torch made of the bog-pine. This wood, found in the morasses, is so full of turpentine, that, when split and dried, it is frequently used in the Highlands instead of candles. The unexpected and somewhat startling apparition was seen by the red glare of the torches, which displayed the wild features, unusual dress, and glittering arms of those who bore them, while the smoke, eddying up to the roof of the hall, over-canopied them with a volume of vapour. Ere the strangers had recovered from their surprise, Allan stept forward, and pointing with his sheathed broadsword to the torch-bearers, said, in a deep and stern tone of voice, “Behold, gentlemen cavaliers, the chandeliers of my brother’s house, the ancient fashion of our ancient name; not one of these men knows any law but their Chiefs command — Would you dare to compare to THEM in value the richest ore that ever was dug out of the mine? How say you, cavaliers? — is your wager won or lost?”

“Lost; lost,” said Musgrave, gaily —“my own silver candlesticks are all melted and riding on horseback by this time, and I wish the fellows that enlisted were half as trusty as these. — Here, sir,” he added to the Chief, “is your money; it impairs Hall’s finances and mine somewhat, but debts of honour must be settled.”

“My father’s curse upon my father’s son,” said Allan, interrupting him, “if he receive from you one penny! It is enough that you claim no right to exact from him what is his own.”

Lord Menteith eagerly supported Allan’s opinion, and the elder M’Aulay readily joined, declaring the whole to be a fool’s business, and not worth speaking more about. The Englishmen, after some courteous opposition, were persuaded to regard the whole as a joke.

“And now, Allan,” said the Laird, “please to remove your candles; for, since the Saxon gentlemen have seen them, they will eat their dinner as comfortably by the light of the old tin sconces, without scomfishing them with so much smoke.”

Accordingly, at a sign from Allan, the living chandeliers, recovering their broadswords, and holding the point erect, marched out of the hall, and left the guests to enjoy their refreshment. [Such a bet as that mentioned in the text is said to have been taken by MacDonald of Keppoch, who extricated himself in the manner there narrated.]


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