Hear me, and mark me well, and look upon me
Directly in my face—my woman’s face—
See if one fear, one shadow of a terror,
One paleness dare appear, but from my anger,
To lay hold on your mercies.
The morning had broken, when a corporal and two men rushed into the hut, dragging after them, in a sort of triumph, a Highlander, whom I immediately recognised as my acquaintance the ex-turnkey. The Bailie, who started up at the noise with which they entered, immediately made the same discovery, and exclaimed—“Mercy on us! they hae grippit the puir creature Dougal.—Captain, I will put in bail—sufficient bail, for that Dougal creature.”
To this offer, dictated undoubtedly by a grateful recollection of the late interference of the Highlander in his behalf, the Captain only answered by requesting Mr. Jarvie to “mind his own affairs, and remember that he was himself for the present a prisoner.”
“I take you to witness, Mr. Osbaldistone,” said the Bailie, who was probably better acquainted with the process in civil than in military cases, “that he has refused sufficient bail. It’s my opinion that the creature Dougal will have a good action of wrongous imprisonment and damages agane him, under the Act seventeen hundred and one, and I’ll see the creature righted.”
The officer, whose name I understood was Thornton, paying no attention to the Bailie’s threats or expostulations, instituted a very close inquiry into Dougal’s life and conversation, and compelled him to admit, though with apparent reluctance, the successive facts,—that he knew Rob Roy MacGregor—that he had seen him within these twelve months—within these six months—within this month—within this week; in fine, that he had parted from him only an hour ago. All this detail came like drops of blood from the prisoner, and was, to all appearance, only extorted by the threat of a halter and the next tree, which Captain Thornton assured him should be his doom, if he did not give direct and special information.
“And now, my friend,” said the officer, “you will please inform me how many men your master has with him at present.”
Dougal looked in every direction except at the querist, and began to answer, “She canna just be sure about that.”
“Look at me, you Highland dog,” said the officer, “and remember your life depends on your answer. How many rogues had that outlawed scoundrel with him when you left him?”
“Ou, no aboon sax rogues when I was gane.”
“And where are the rest of his banditti?”
“Gane wi’ the Lieutenant agane ta westland carles.”
“Against the westland clans?” said the Captain. “Umph—that is likely enough; and what rogue’s errand were you despatched upon?”
“Just to see what your honour and ta gentlemen red-coats were doing doun here at ta Clachan.”
“The creature will prove fause-hearted, after a’,” said the Bailie, who by this time had planted himself close behind me; “it’s lucky I didna pit mysell to expenses anent him.”
“And now, my friend,” said the Captain, “let us understand each other. You have confessed yourself a spy, and should string up to the next tree—But come, if you will do me one good turn, I will do you another. You, Donald—you shall just, in the way of kindness, carry me and a small party to the place where you left your master, as I wish to speak a few words with him on serious affairs; and I’ll let you go about your business, and give you five guineas to boot.”
“Oigh! oigh!” exclaimed Dougal, in the extremity of distress and perplexity; “she canna do tat—she canna do tat; she’ll rather be hanged.”
“Hanged, then, you shall be, my friend” said the officer; “and your blood be upon your own head. Corporal Cramp, do you play Provost-Marshal—away with him!”
The corporal had confronted poor Dougal for some time, ostentatiously twisting a piece of cord which he had found in the house into the form of a halter. He now threw it about the culprit’s neck, and, with the assistance of two soldiers, had dragged Dougal as far as the door, when, overcome with the terror of immediate death, he exclaimed, “Shentlemans, stops—stops! She’ll do his honour’s bidding—stops!”
“Awa’ wi’ the creature!” said the Bailie, “he deserves hanging mair now than ever; awa’ wi’ him, corporal. Why dinna ye tak him awa’?”
“It’s my belief and opinion, honest gentleman,” said the corporal, “that if you were going to be hanged yourself, you would be in no such d—d hurry.”
This by-dialogue prevented my hearing what passed between the prisoner and Captain Thornton; but I heard the former snivel out, in a very subdued tone, “And ye’ll ask her to gang nae farther than just to show ye where the MacGregor is?—Ohon! ohon!”
“Silence your howling, you rascal—No; I give you my word I will ask you to go no farther.—Corporal, make the men fall in, in front of the houses. Get out these gentlemen’s horses; we must carry them with us. I cannot spare any men to guard them here. Come, my lads, get under arms.”
The soldiers bustled about, and were ready to move. We were led out, along with Dougal, in the capacity of prisoners. As we left the hut, I heard our companion in captivity remind the Captain of “ta foive kuineas.”
“Here they are for you,” said the officer, putting gold into his hand; “but observe, that if you attempt to mislead me, I will blow your brains out with my own hand.”
“The creature,” said the Bailie, “is waur than I judged him—it is a warldly and a perfidious creature. O the filthy lucre of gain that men gies themsells up to! My father the deacon used to say, the penny siller slew mair souls than the naked sword slew bodies.”
The landlady now approached, and demanded payment of her reckoning, including all that had been quaffed by Major Galbraith and his Highland friends. The English officer remonstrated, but Mrs. MacAlpine declared, if “she hadna trusted to his honour’s name being used in their company, she wad never hae drawn them a stoup o’ liquor; for Mr. Galbraith, she might see him again, or she might no, but weel did she wot she had sma’ chance of seeing her siller—and she was a puir widow, had naething but her custom to rely on.”
Captain Thornton put a stop to her remonstrances by paying the charge, which was only a few English shillings, though the amount sounded very formidable in Scottish denominations. The generous officer would have included Mr. Jarvie and me in this general acquittance; but the Bailie, disregarding an intimation from the landlady to “make as muckle of the Inglishers as we could, for they were sure to gie us plague eneugh,” went into a formal accounting respecting our share of the reckoning, and paid it accordingly. The Captain took the opportunity to make us some slight apology for detaining us. “If we were loyal and peaceable subjects,” he said, “we would not regret being stopt for a day, when it was essential to the king’s service; if otherwise, he was acting according to his duty.”
We were compelled to accept an apology which it would have served no purpose to refuse, and we sallied out to attend him on his march.
I shall never forget the delightful sensation with which I exchanged the dark, smoky, smothering atmosphere of the Highland hut, in which we had passed the night so uncomfortably, for the refreshing fragrance of the morning air, and the glorious beams of the rising sun, which, from a tabernacle of purple and golden clouds, were darted full on such a scene of natural romance and beauty as had never before greeted my eyes. To the left lay the valley, down which the Forth wandered on its easterly course, surrounding the beautiful detached hill, with all its garland of woods. On the right, amid a profusion of thickets, knolls, and crags, lay the bed of a broad mountain lake, lightly curled into tiny waves by the breath of the morning breeze, each glittering in its course under the influence of the sunbeams. High hills, rocks, and banks, waving with natural forests of birch and oak, formed the borders of this enchanting sheet of water; and, as their leaves rustled to the wind and twinkled in the sun, gave to the depth of solitude a sort of life and vivacity. Man alone seemed to be placed in a state of inferiority, in a scene where all the ordinary features of nature were raised and exalted. The miserable little bourocks, as the Bailie termed them, of which about a dozen formed the village called the Clachan of Aberfoil, were composed of loose stones, cemented by clay instead of mortar, and thatched by turfs, laid rudely upon rafters formed of native and unhewn birches and oaks from the woods around. The roofs approached the ground so nearly, that Andrew Fairservice observed we might have ridden over the village the night before, and never found out we were near it, unless our horses’ feet had “gane through the riggin’.”
From all we could see, Mrs. MacAlpine’s house, miserable as were the quarters it afforded, was still by far the best in the hamlet; and I dare say (if my description gives you any curiosity to see it) you will hardly find it much improved at the present day, for the Scotch are not a people who speedily admit innovation, even when it comes in the shape of improvement.1
The inhabitants of these miserable dwellings were disturbed by the noise of our departure; and as our party of about twenty soldiers drew up in rank before marching off, we were reconnoitred by many a beldam from the half-opened door of her cottage. As these sibyls thrust forth their grey heads, imperfectly covered with close caps of flannel, and showed their shrivelled brows, and long skinny arms, with various gestures, shrugs, and muttered expressions in Gaelic addressed to each other, my imagination recurred to the witches of Macbeth, and I imagined I read in the features of these crones the malevolence of the weird sisters. The little children also, who began to crawl forth, some quite naked, and others very imperfectly covered with tatters of tartan stuff, clapped their tiny hands, and grinned at the English soldiers, with an expression of national hate and malignity which seemed beyond their years. I remarked particularly that there were no men, nor so much as a boy of ten or twelve years old, to be seen among the inhabitants of a village which seemed populous in proportion to its extent; and the idea certainly occurred to me, that we were likely to receive from them, in the course of our journey, more effectual tokens of ill-will than those which lowered on the visages, and dictated the murmurs, of the women and children. It was not until we commenced our march that the malignity of the elder persons of the community broke forth into expressions. The last file of men had left the village, to pursue a small broken track, formed by the sledges in which the natives transported their peats and turfs, and which led through the woods that fringed the lower end of the lake, when a shrilly sound of female exclamation broke forth, mixed with the screams of children, the whooping of boys, and the clapping of hands, with which the Highland dames enforce their notes, whether of rage or lamentation. I asked Andrew, who looked as pale as death, what all this meant.
“I doubt we’ll ken that ower sune,” said he. “Means? It means that the Highland wives are cursing and banning the red-coats, and wishing ill-luck to them, and ilka ane that ever spoke the Saxon tongue. I have heard wives flyte in England and Scotland—it’s nae marvel to hear them flyte ony gate; but sic ill-scrapit tongues as thae Highland carlines’—and sic grewsome wishes, that men should be slaughtered like sheep—and that they may lapper their hands to the elbows in their heart’s blude—and that they suld dee the death of Walter Cuming of Guiyock,2 wha hadna as muckle o’ him left thegither as would supper a messan-dog—sic awsome language as that I ne’er heard out o’ a human thrapple;—and, unless the deil wad rise amang them to gie them a lesson, I thinkna that their talent at cursing could be amended. The warst o’t is, they bid us aye gang up the loch, and see what we’ll land in.”
Adding Andrew’s information to what I had myself observed, I could scarce doubt that some attack was meditated upon our party. The road, as we advanced, seemed to afford every facility for such an unpleasant interruption. At first it winded apart from the lake through marshy meadow ground, overgrown with copsewood, now traversing dark and close thickets which would have admitted an ambuscade to be sheltered within a few yards of our line of march, and frequently crossing rough mountain torrents, some of which took the soldiers up to the knees, and ran with such violence, that their force could only be stemmed by the strength of two or three men holding fast by each other’s arms. It certainly appeared to me, though altogether unacquainted with military affairs, that a sort of half-savage warriors, as I had heard the Highlanders asserted to be, might, in such passes as these, attack a party of regular forces with great advantage. The Bailie’s good sense and shrewd observation had led him to the same conclusion, as I understood from his requesting to speak with the captain, whom he addressed nearly in the following terms:— “Captain, it’s no to fleech ony favour out o’ ye, for I scorn it—and it’s under protest that I reserve my action and pleas of oppression and wrongous imprisonment;—but, being a friend to King George and his army, I take the liberty to speer—Dinna ye think ye might tak a better time to gang up this glen? If ye are seeking Rob Roy, he’s ken’d to be better than half a hunder men strong when he’s at the fewest; an if he brings in the Glengyle folk, and the Glenfinlas and Balquhidder lads, he may come to gie you your kail through the reek; and it’s my sincere advice, as a king’s friend, ye had better tak back again to the Clachan, for thae women at Aberfoil are like the scarts and seamaws at the Cumries—there’s aye foul weather follows their skirting.”
“Make yourself easy, sir,” replied Captain Thornton; “I am in the execution of my orders. And as you say you are a friend to King George, you will be glad to learn that it is impossible that this gang of ruffians, whose license has disturbed the country so long, can escape the measures now taken to suppress them. The horse squadron of militia, commanded by Major Galbraith, is already joined by two or more troops of cavalry, which will occupy all the lower passes of this wild country; three hundred Highlanders, under the two gentlemen you saw at the inn, are in possession of the upper part, and various strong parties from the garrison are securing the hills and glens in different directions. Our last accounts of Rob Roy correspond with what this fellow has confessed, that, finding himself surrounded on all sides, he had dismissed the greater part of his followers, with the purpose either of lying concealed, or of making his escape through his superior knowledge of the passes.”
“I dinna ken,” said the Bailie; “there’s mair brandy than brains in Garschattachin’s head this morning—And I wadna, an I were you, Captain, rest my main dependence on the Hielandmen—hawks winna pike out hawks’ een. They may quarrel among themsells, and gie ilk ither ill names, and maybe a slash wi’ a claymore; but they are sure to join in the lang run, against a’ civilised folk, that wear breeks on their hinder ends, and hae purses in their pouches.”
Apparently these admonitions were not altogether thrown away on Captain Thornton. He reformed his line of march, commanded his soldiers to unsling their firelocks and fix their bayonets, and formed an advanced and rear-guard, each consisting of a non-commissioned officer and two soldiers, who received strict orders to keep an alert look-out. Dougal underwent another and very close examination, in which he steadfastly asserted the truth of what he had before affirmed; and being rebuked on account of the suspicious and dangerous appearance of the route by which he was guiding them, he answered with a sort of testiness that seemed very natural, “Her nainsell didna mak ta road; an shentlemans likit grand roads, she suld hae pided at Glasco.”
All this passed off well enough, and we resumed our progress.
Our route, though leading towards the lake, had hitherto been so much shaded by wood, that we only from time to time obtained a glimpse of that beautiful sheet of water. But the road now suddenly emerged from the forest ground, and, winding close by the margin of the loch, afforded us a full view of its spacious mirror, which now, the breeze having totally subsided, reflected in still magnificence the high dark heathy mountains, huge grey rocks, and shaggy banks, by which it is encircled. The hills now sunk on its margin so closely, and were so broken and precipitous, as to afford no passage except just upon the narrow line of the track which we occupied, and which was overhung with rocks, from which we might have been destroyed merely by rolling down stones, without much possibility of offering resistance. Add to this, that, as the road winded round every promontory and bay which indented the lake, there was rarely a possibility of seeing a hundred yards before us. Our commander appeared to take some alarm at the nature of the pass in which he was engaged, which displayed itself in repeated orders to his soldiers to be on the alert, and in many threats of instant death to Dougal, if he should be found to have led them into danger. Dougal received these threats with an air of stupid impenetrability, which might arise either from conscious innocence, or from dogged resolution.
“If shentlemans were seeking ta Red Gregarach,” he said, “to be sure they couldna expect to find her without some wee danger.”
Just as the Highlander uttered these words, a halt was made by the corporal commanding the advance, who sent back one of the file who formed it, to tell the Captain that the path in front was occupied by Highlanders, stationed on a commanding point of particular difficulty. Almost at the same instant a soldier from the rear came to say, that they heard the sound of a bagpipe in the woods through which we had just passed. Captain Thornton, a man of conduct as well as courage, instantly resolved to force the pass in front, without waiting till he was assailed from the rear; and, assuring his soldiers that the bagpipes which they heard were those of the friendly Highlanders who were advancing to their assistance, he stated to them the importance of advancing and securing Rob Roy, if possible, before these auxiliaries should come up to divide with them the honour, as well as the reward which was placed on the head of this celebrated freebooter. He therefore ordered the rearguard to join the centre, and both to close up to the advance, doubling his files so as to occupy with his column the whole practicable part of the road, and to present such a front as its breadth admitted. Dougal, to whom he said in a whisper, “You dog, if you have deceived me, you shall die for it!” was placed in the centre, between two grenadiers, with positive orders to shoot him if he attempted an escape. The same situation was assigned to us, as being the safest, and Captain Thornton, taking his half-pike from the soldier who carried it, placed himself at the head of his little detachment, and gave the word to march forward.
The party advanced with the firmness of English soldiers. Not so Andrew Fairservice, who was frightened out of his wits; and not so, if truth must be told, either the Bailie or I myself, who, without feeling the same degree of trepidation, could not with stoical indifference see our lives exposed to hazard in a quarrel with which we had no concern. But there was neither time for remonstrance nor remedy.
We approached within about twenty yards of the spot where the advanced guard had seen some appearance of an enemy. It was one of those promontories which run into the lake, and round the base of which the road had hitherto winded in the manner I have described. In the present case, however, the path, instead of keeping the water’s edge, scaled the promontory by one or two rapid zigzags, carried in a broken track along the precipitous face of a slaty grey rock, which would otherwise have been absolutely inaccessible. On the top of this rock, only to be approached by a road so broken, so narrow, and so precarious, the corporal declared he had seen the bonnets and long-barrelled guns of several mountaineers, apparently couched among the long heath and brushwood which crested the eminence. Captain Thornton ordered him to move forward with three files, to dislodge the supposed ambuscade, while, at a more slow but steady pace, he advanced to his support with the rest of his party.
The attack which he meditated was prevented by the unexpected apparition of a female upon the summit of the rock.
“Stand!” she said, with a commanding tone, “and tell me what ye seek in MacGregor’s country?”
I have seldom seen a finer or more commanding form than this woman. She might be between the term of forty and fifty years, and had a countenance which must once have been of a masculine cast of beauty; though now, imprinted with deep lines by exposure to rough weather, and perhaps by the wasting influence of grief and passion, its features were only strong, harsh, and expressive. She wore her plaid, not drawn around her head and shoulders, as is the fashion of the women in Scotland, but disposed around her body as the Highland soldiers wear theirs. She had a man’s bonnet, with a feather in it, an unsheathed sword in her hand, and a pair of pistols at her girdle.
“It’s Helen Campbell, Rob’s wife,” said the Bailie, in a whisper of considerable alarm; “and there will be broken heads amang us or it’s lang.”
“What seek ye here?” she asked again of Captain Thornton, who had himself advanced to reconnoitre.
“We seek the outlaw, Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell,” answered the officer, “and make no war on women; therefore offer no vain opposition to the king’s troops, and assure yourself of civil treatment.”
“Ay,” retorted the Amazon, “I am no stranger to your tender mercies. Ye have left me neither name nor fame—my mother’s bones will shrink aside in their grave when mine are laid beside them—Ye have left me neither house nor hold, blanket nor bedding, cattle to feed us, or flocks to clothe us—Ye have taken from us all—all!—The very name of our ancestors have ye taken away, and now ye come for our lives.”
“I seek no man’s life,” replied the Captain; “I only execute my orders. If you are alone, good woman, you have nought to fear—if there are any with you so rash as to offer useless resistance, their own blood be on their own heads. Move forward, sergeant.”
“Forward! march!” said the non-commissioned officer. “Huzza, my boys, for Rob Roy’s head and a purse of gold.”
He quickened his pace into a run, followed by the six soldiers; but as they attained the first traverse of the ascent, the flash of a dozen of firelocks from various parts of the pass parted in quick succession and deliberate aim. The sergeant, shot through the body, still struggled to gain the ascent, raised himself by his hands to clamber up the face of the rock, but relaxed his grasp, after a desperate effort, and falling, rolled from the face of the cliff into the deep lake, where he perished. Of the soldiers, three fell, slain or disabled; the others retreated on their main body, all more or less wounded.
“Grenadiers, to the front!” said Captain Thornton.—You are to recollect, that in those days this description of soldiers actually carried that destructive species of firework from which they derive their name. The four grenadiers moved to the front accordingly. The officer commanded the rest of the party to be ready to support them, and only saying to us, “Look to your safety, gentlemen,” gave, in rapid succession, the word to the grenadiers—“Open your pouches—handle your grenades—blow your matches—fall on.”
The whole advanced with a shout, headed by Captain Thornton,—the grenadiers preparing to throw their grenades among the bushes where the ambuscade lay, and the musketeers to support them by an instant and close assault. Dougal, forgotten in the scuffle, wisely crept into the thicket which overhung that part of the road where we had first halted, which he ascended with the activity of a wild cat. I followed his example, instinctively recollecting that the fire of the Highlanders would sweep the open track. I clambered until out of breath; for a continued spattering fire, in which every shot was multiplied by a thousand echoes, the hissing of the kindled fusees of the grenades, and the successive explosion of those missiles, mingled with the huzzas of the soldiers, and the yells and cries of their Highland antagonists, formed a contrast which added—I do not shame to own it—wings to my desire to reach a place of safety. The difficulties of the ascent soon increased so much, that I despaired of reaching Dougal, who seemed to swing himself from rock to rock, and stump to stump, with the facility of a squirrel, and I turned down my eyes to see what had become of my other companions. Both were brought to a very awkward standstill.
The Bailie, to whom I suppose fear had given a temporary share of agility, had ascended about twenty feet from the path, when his foot slipping, as he straddled from one huge fragment of rock to another, he would have slumbered with his father the deacon, whose acts and words he was so fond of quoting, but for a projecting branch of a ragged thorn, which, catching hold of the skirts of his riding-coat, supported him in mid-air, where he dangled not unlike to the sign of the Golden Fleece over the door of a mercer in the Trongate of his native city.
As for Andrew Fairservice, he had advanced with better success, until he had attained the top of a bare cliff, which, rising above the wood, exposed him, at least in his own opinion, to all the dangers of the neighbouring skirmish, while, at the same time, it was of such a precipitous and impracticable nature, that he dared neither to advance nor retreat. Footing it up and down upon the narrow space which the top of the cliff afforded (very like a fellow at a country-fair dancing upon a trencher), he roared for mercy in Gaelic and English alternately, according to the side on which the scale of victory seemed to predominate, while his exclamations were only answered by the groans of the Bailie, who suffered much, not only from apprehension, but from the pendulous posture in which he hung suspended by the loins.
On perceiving the Bailie’s precarious situation, my first idea was to attempt to render him assistance; but this was impossible without the concurrence of Andrew, whom neither sign, nor entreaty, nor command, nor expostulation, could inspire with courage to adventure the descent from his painful elevation, where, like an unskilful and obnoxious minister of state, unable to escape from the eminence to which he had presumptuously ascended, he continued to pour forth piteous prayers for mercy, which no one heard, and to skip to and fro, writhing his body into all possible antic shapes to avoid the balls which he conceived to be whistling around him.
In a few minutes this cause of terror ceased, for the fire, at first so well sustained, now sunk at once—a sure sign that the conflict was concluded. To gain some spot from which I could see how the day had gone was now my object, in order to appeal to the mercy of the victors, who, I trusted (whichever side might be gainers), would not suffer the honest Bailie to remain suspended, like the coffin of Mahomet, between heaven and earth, without lending a hand to disengage him. At length, by dint of scrambling, I found a spot which commanded a view of the field of battle. It was indeed ended; and, as my mind already augured, from the place and circumstances attending the contest, it had terminated in the defeat of Captain Thornton. I saw a party of Highlanders in the act of disarming that officer, and the scanty remainder of his party. They consisted of about twelve men most of whom were wounded, who, surrounded by treble their number, and without the power either to advance or retreat, exposed to a murderous and well-aimed fire, which they had no means of returning with effect, had at length laid down their arms by the order of their officer, when he saw that the road in his rear was occupied, and that protracted resistance would be only wasting the lives of his brave followers. By the Highlanders, who fought under cover, the victory was cheaply bought, at the expense of one man slain and two wounded by the grenades. All this I learned afterwards. At present I only comprehended the general result of the day, from seeing the English officer, whose face was covered with blood, stripped of his hat and arms, and his men, with sullen and dejected countenances which marked their deep regret, enduring, from the wild and martial figures who surrounded them, the severe measures to which the laws of war subject the vanquished for security of the victors.
1. I do not know how this might stand in Mr. Osbaldistone’s day, but I can assure the reader, whose curiosity may lead him to visit the scenes of these romantic adventures, that the Clachan of Aberfoil now affords a very comfortable little inn. If he chances to be a Scottish antiquary, it will be an additional recommendation to him, that he will find himself in the vicinity of the Rev. Dr. Patrick Grahame, minister of the gospel at Aberfoil, whose urbanity in communicating information on the subject of national antiquities, is scarce exceeded even by the stores of legendary lore which he has accumulated.—Original Note. The respectable clergyman alluded to has been dead for some years. [back]
2. A great feudal oppressor, who, riding on some cruel purpose through the forest of Guiyock, was thrown from his horse, and his foot being caught in the stirrup, was dragged along by the frightened animal till he was torn to pieces. The expression, “Walter of Guiyock’s curse,” is proverbial. [back]