“Woe to the vanquished!” was stern Brenno’s word,|
When sunk proud Rome beneath the Gallic sword—
“Woe to the vanquished!” when his massive blade
Bore down the scale against her ransom weigh’d;
And on the field of foughten battle still,
Woe knows no limits save the victor’s will.
After gazing everywhere in vain, I at length retraced my steps to see what assistance I could individually render to my unlucky friend, when, to my great joy, I saw Mr. Jarvie delivered from his state of suspense; and though very black in the face, and much deranged in the garments, safely seated beneath the rock, in front of which he had been so lately suspended. I hastened to join him and offer my congratulations, which he was at first far from receiving in the spirit of cordiality with which they were offered. A heavy fit of coughing scarce permitted him breath enough to express the broken hints which he threw out against my sincerity.
“Uh! uh! uh! uh!—they say a friend—uh! uh!—a friend sticketh closer than a brither—uh! uh! uh! When I came up here, Maister Osbaldistone, to this country, cursed of God and man—uh! uh—Heaven forgie me for swearing—on nae man’s errand but yours, d’ye think it was fair—uh! uh! uh!—to leave me, first, to be shot or drowned atween red-wad Highlanders and red-coats; and next to be hung up between heaven and earth, like an auld potato-bogle, without sae muckle as trying—uh! uh!—sae muckle as trying to relieve me?”
I made a thousand apologies, and laboured so hard to represent the impossibility of my affording him relief by my own unassisted exertions, that at length I succeeded, and the Bailie, who was as placable as hasty in his temper, extended his favour to me once more. I next took the liberty of asking him how he had contrived to extricate himself.
“Me extricate! I might hae hung there till the day of judgment or I could hae helped mysell, wi’ my head hinging down on the tae side, and my heels on the tother, like the yarn-scales in the weigh-house. It was the creature Dougal that extricated me, as he did yestreen; he cuttit aff the tails o’ my coat wi’ his durk, and another gillie and him set me on my legs as cleverly as if I had never been aff them. But to see what a thing gude braid claith is! Had I been in ony o’ your rotten French camlets now, or your drab-de-berries, it would hae screeded like an auld rag wi’ sic a weight as mine. But fair fa’ the weaver that wrought the weft o’t—I swung and bobbit yonder as safe as a gabbart1 that’s moored by a three-ply cable at the Broomielaw.”
I now inquired what had become of his preserver.
“The creature,” so he continued to call the Highlandman, “contrived to let me ken there wad be danger in gaun near the leddy till he came back, and bade me stay here. I am o’ the mind,” he continued, “that he’s seeking after you—it’s a considerate creature—and troth, I wad swear he was right about the leddy, as he ca’s her, too—Helen Campbell was nane o’ the maist douce maidens, nor meekest wives neither, and folk say that Rob himsell stands in awe o’ her. I doubt she winna ken me, for it’s mony years since we met—I am clear for waiting for the Dougal creature or we gang near her.”
I signified my acquiescence in this reasoning; but it was not the will of fate that day that the Bailie’s prudence should profit himself or any one else.
Andrew Fairservice, though he had ceased to caper on the pinnacle upon the cessation of the firing, which had given occasion for his whimsical exercise, continued, as perched on the top of an exposed cliff, too conspicuous an object to escape the sharp eyes of the Highlanders, when they had time to look a little around them. We were apprized he was discovered, by a wild and loud halloo set up among the assembled victors, three or four of whom instantly plunged into the copsewood, and ascended the rocky side of the hill in different directions towards the place where they had discovered this whimsical apparition.
Those who arrived first within gunshot of poor Andrew, did not trouble themselves to offer him any assistance in the ticklish posture of his affairs, but levelling their long Spanish-barrelled guns, gave him to understand, by signs which admitted of no misconstruction, that he must contrive to come down and submit himself to their mercy, or to be marked at from beneath, like a regimental target set up for ball-practice. With such a formidable hint for venturous exertion, Andrew Fairservice could no longer hesitate; the more imminent peril overcame his sense of that which seemed less inevitable, and he began to descend the cliff at all risks, clutching to the ivy and oak stumps, and projecting fragments of rock, with an almost feverish anxiety, and never failing, as circumstances left him a hand at liberty, to extend it to the plaided gentry below in an attitude of supplication, as if to deprecate the discharge of their levelled firearms. In a word, the fellow, under the influence of a counteracting motive for terror, achieved a safe descent from his perilous eminence, which, I verily believe, nothing but the fear of instant death could have moved him to attempt. The awkward mode of Andrew’s descent greatly amused the Highlanders below, who fired a shot or two while he was engaged in it, without the purpose of injuring him, as I believe, but merely to enhance the amusement they derived from his extreme terror, and the superlative exertions of agility to which it excited him.
At length he attained firm and comparatively level ground—or rather, to speak more correctly, his foot slipping at the last point of descent, he fell on the earth at his full length, and was raised by the assistance of the Highlanders, who stood to receive him, and who, ere he gained his legs, stripped him not only of the whole contents of his pockets, but of periwig, hat, coat, doublet, stockings, and shoes, performing the feat with such admirable celerity, that, although he fell on his back a well-clothed and decent burgher-seeming serving-man, he arose a forked, uncased, bald-pated, beggarly-looking scarecrow. Without respect to the pain which his undefended toes experienced from the sharp encounter of the rocks over which they hurried him, those who had detected Andrew proceeded to drag him downward towards the road through all the intervening obstacles.
In the course of their descent, Mr. Jarvie and I became exposed to their lynx-eyed observation, and instantly half-a-dozen of armed Highlanders thronged around us, with drawn dirks and swords pointed at our faces and throats, and cocked pistols presented against our bodies. To have offered resistance would have been madness, especially as we had no weapons capable of supporting such a demonstration. We therefore submitted to our fate; and with great roughness on the part of those who assisted at our toilette, were in the act of being reduced to as unsophisticated a state (to use King Lear’s phrase) as the plume-less biped Andrew Fairservice, who stood shivering between fear and cold at a few yards’ distance. Good chance, however, saved us from this extremity of wretchedness; for, just as I had yielded up my cravat (a smart Steinkirk, by the way, and richly laced), and the Bailie had been disrobed of the fragments of his riding-coat—enter Dougal, and the scene was changed. By a high tone of expostulation, mixed with oaths and threats, as far as I could conjecture the tenor of his language from the violence of his gestures, he compelled the plunderers, however reluctant, not only to give up their further depredations on our property, but to restore the spoil they had already appropriated. He snatched my cravat from the fellow who had seized it, and twisted it (in the zeal of his restitution) around my neck with such suffocating energy as made me think that he had not only been, during his residence at Glasgow, a substitute of the jailor, but must moreover have taken lessons as an apprentice of the hangman. He flung the tattered remnants of Mr. Jarvie’s coat around his shoulders, and as more Highlanders began to flock towards us from the high road, he led the way downwards, directing and commanding the others to afford us, but particularly the Bailie, the assistance necessary to our descending with comparative ease and safety. It was, however, in vain that Andrew Fairservice employed his lungs in obsecrating a share of Dougal’s protection, or at least his interference to procure restoration of his shoes.
“Na, na,” said Dougal in reply, “she’s nae gentle pody, I trow; her petters hae ganged parefoot, or she’s muckle mista’en.” And, leaving Andrew to follow at his leisure, or rather at such leisure as the surrounding crowd were pleased to indulge him with, he hurried us down to the pathway in which the skirmish had been fought, and hastened to present us as additional captives to the female leader of his band.
We were dragged before her accordingly, Dougal fighting, struggling, screaming, as if he were the party most apprehensive of hurt, and repulsing, by threats and efforts, all those who attempted to take a nearer interest in our capture than he seemed to do himself. At length we were placed before the heroine of the day, whose appearance, as well as those of the savage, uncouth, yet martial figures who surrounded us, struck me, to own the truth, with considerable apprehension. I do not know if Helen MacGregor had personally mingled in the fray, and indeed I was afterwards given to understand the contrary; but the specks of blood on her brow, her hands and naked arms, as well as on the blade of her sword which she continued to hold in her hand—her flushed countenance, and the disordered state of the raven locks which escaped from under the red bonnet and plume that formed her head-dress, seemed all to intimate that she had taken an immediate share in the conflict. Her keen black eyes and features expressed an imagination inflamed by the pride of gratified revenge, and the triumph of victory. Yet there was nothing positively sanguinary, or cruel, in her deportment; and she reminded me, when the immediate alarm of the interview was over, of some of the paintings I had seen of the inspired heroines in the Catholic churches of France. She was not, indeed, sufficiently beautiful for a Judith, nor had she the inspired expression of features which painters have given to Deborah, or to the wife of Heber the Kenite, at whose feet the strong oppressor of Israel, who dwelled in Harosheth of the Gentiles, bowed down, fell, and lay a dead man. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm by which she was agitated gave her countenance and deportment, wildly dignified in themselves, an air which made her approach nearly to the ideas of those wonderful artists who gave to the eye the heroines of Scripture history.
I was uncertain in what terms to accost a personage so uncommon, when Mr. Jarvie, breaking the ice with a preparatory cough (for the speed with which he had been brought into her presence had again impeded his respiration), addressed her as follows:—“Uh! uh! &c. &c. I am very happy to have this joyful opportunity” (a quaver in his voice strongly belied the emphasis which he studiously laid on the word joyful)—“this joyful occasion,” he resumed, trying to give the adjective a more suitable accentuation, “to wish my kinsman Robin’s wife a very good morning—Uh! uh!—How’s a’ wi’ ye?” (by this time he had talked himself into his usual jog-trot manner, which exhibited a mixture of familiarity and self-importance)—“How’s a’ wi’ ye this lang time? Ye’ll hae forgotten me, Mrs. MacGregor Campbell, as your cousin—uh! uh!—but ye’ll mind my father, Deacon Nicol Jarvie, in the Saut Market o’ Glasgow?—an honest man he was, and a sponsible, and respectit you and yours. Sae, as I said before, I am right glad to see you, Mrs. MacGregor Campbell, as my kinsman’s wife. I wad crave the liberty of a kinsman to salute you, but that your gillies keep such a dolefu’ fast haud o’ my arms, and, to speak Heaven’s truth and a magistrate’s, ye wadna be the waur of a cogfu’ o’ water before ye welcomed your friends.”
There was something in the familiarity of this introduction which ill suited the exalted state of temper of the person to whom it was addressed, then busied with distributing dooms of death, and warm from conquest in a perilous encounter.
“What fellow are you,” she said, “that dare to claim kindred with the MacGregor, and neither wear his dress nor speak his language?—What are you, that have the tongue and the habit of the hound, and yet seek to lie down with the deer?”
“I dinna ken,” said the undaunted Bailie, “if the kindred has ever been weel redd out to you yet, cousin—but it’s ken’d, and can be prov’d. My mother, Elspeth MacFarlane, was the wife of my father, Deacon Nicol Jarvie—peace be wi’ them baith!—and Elspeth was the daughter of Parlane MacFarlane, at the Sheeling o’ Loch Sloy. Now, this Parlane MacFarlane, as his surviving daughter Maggy MacFarlane, alias MacNab, wha married Duncan MacNab o’ Stuckavrallachan, can testify, stood as near to your gudeman, Robert MacGregor, as in the fourth degree of kindred, for”—
The virago lopped the genealogical tree, by demanding haughtily, “If a stream of rushing water acknowledged any relation with the portion withdrawn from it for the mean domestic uses of those who dwelt on its banks?”
“Vera true, kinswoman,” said the Bailie; “but for a’ that, the burn wad be glad to hae the milldam back again in simmer, when the chuckie-stanes are white in the sun. I ken weel eneugh you Hieland folk haud us Glasgow people light and cheap for our language and our claes;—but everybody speaks their native tongue that they learned in infancy; and it would be a daft-like thing to see me wi’ my fat wame in a short Hieland coat, and my puir short houghs gartered below the knee, like ane o’ your lang-legged gillies. Mair by token, kinswoman,” he continued, in defiance of various intimations by which Dougal seemed to recommend silence, as well as of the marks of impatience which the Amazon evinced at his loquacity, “I wad hae ye to mind that the king’s errand whiles comes in the cadger’s gate, and that, for as high as ye may think o’ the gudeman, as it’s right every wife should honour her husband—there’s Scripture warrant for that—yet as high as ye haud him, as I was saying, I hae been serviceable to Rob ere now;—forbye a set o’ pearlins I sent yourself when ye was gaun to be married, and when Rob was an honest weel-doing drover, and nane o’ this unlawfu’ wark, wi’ fighting, and flashes, and fluff-gibs, disturbing the king’s peace and disarming his soldiers.”
He had apparently touched on a key which his kinswoman could not brook. She drew herself up to her full height, and betrayed the acuteness of her feelings by a laugh of mingled scorn and bitterness.
“Yes,” she said, “you, and such as you, might claim a relation to us, when we stooped to be the paltry wretches fit to exist under your dominion, as your hewers of wood and drawers of water—to find cattle for your banquets, and subjects for your laws to oppress and trample on. But now we are free—free by the very act which left us neither house nor hearth, food nor covering—which bereaved me of all—of all—and makes me groan when I think I must still cumber the earth for other purposes than those of vengeance. And I will carry on the work, this day has so well commenced, by a deed that shall break all bands between MacGregor and the Lowland churls. Here Allan—Dougal—bind these Sassenachs neck and heel together, and throw them into the Highland Loch to seek for their Highland kinsfolk.”
The Bailie, alarmed at this mandate, was commencing an expostulation, which probably would have only inflamed the violent passions of the person whom he addressed, when Dougal threw himself between them, and in his own language, which he spoke with a fluency and rapidity strongly contrasted by the slow, imperfect, and idiot-like manner in which he expressed himself in English, poured forth what I doubt not was a very animated pleading in our behalf.
His mistress replied to him, or rather cut short his harangue, by exclaiming in English (as if determined to make us taste in anticipation the full bitterness of death)—“Base dog, and son of a dog, do you dispute my commands? Should I tell ye to cut out their tongues and put them into each other’s throats, to try which would there best knap Southron, or to tear out their hearts and put them into each other’s breasts, to see which would there best plot treason against the MacGregor—and such things have been done of old in the day of revenge, when our fathers had wrongs to redress—Should I command you to do this, would it be your part to dispute my orders?”
“To be sure, to be sure,” Dougal replied, with accents of profound submission; “her pleasure suld be done—tat’s but reason; but an it were—tat is, an it could be thought the same to her to coup the ill-faured loon of ta red-coat Captain, and hims corporal Cramp, and twa three o’ the red-coats, into the loch, herself wad do’t wi’ muckle mair great satisfaction than to hurt ta honest civil shentlemans as were friends to the Gregarach, and came up on the Chiefs assurance, and not to do no treason, as herself could testify.”
The lady was about to reply, when a few wild strains of a pibroch were heard advancing up the road from Aberfoil, the same probably which had reached the ears of Captain Thornton’s rear-guard, and determined him to force his way onward rather than return to the village, on finding the pass occupied. The skirmish being of very short duration, the armed men who followed this martial melody, had not, although quickening their march when they heard the firing, been able to arrive in time sufficient to take any share in the rencontre. The victory, therefore, was complete without them, and they now arrived only to share in the triumph of their countrymen.
There was a marked difference betwixt the appearance of these new comers and that of the party by which our escort had been defeated—and it was greatly in favour of the former. Among the Highlanders who surrounded the Chieftainess, if I may presume to call her so without offence to grammar, were men in the extremity of age, boys scarce able to bear a sword, and even women—all, in short, whom the last necessity urges to take up arms; and it added a shade of bitter shame to the defection which clouded Thornton’s manly countenance, when he found that the numbers and position of a foe, otherwise so despicable, had enabled them to conquer his brave veterans. But the thirty or forty Highlanders who now joined the others, were all men in the prime of youth or manhood, active clean-made fellows, whose short hose and belted plaids set out their sinewy limbs to the best advantage. Their arms were as superior to those of the first party as their dress and appearance. The followers of the female Chief had axes, scythes, and other antique weapons, in aid of their guns; and some had only clubs, daggers, and long knives. But of the second party, most had pistols at the belt, and almost all had dirks hanging at the pouches which they wore in front. Each had a good gun in his hand, and a broadsword by his side, besides a stout round target, made of light wood, covered with leather, and curiously studded with brass, and having a steel spike screwed into the centre. These hung on their left shoulder during a march, or while they were engaged in exchanging fire with the enemy, and were worn on their left arm when they charged with sword in hand.
But it was easy to see that this chosen band had not arrived from a victory such as they found their ill-appointed companions possessed of. The pibroch sent forth occasionally a few wailing notes expressive of a very different sentiment from triumph; and when they appeared before the wife of their Chieftain, it was in silence, and with downcast and melancholy looks. They paused when they approached her, and the pipes again sent forth the same wild and melancholy strain.
Helen rushed towards them with a countenance in which anger was mingled with apprehension.—“What means this, Alaster?” she said to the minstrel—“why a lament in the moment of victory?—Robert—Hamish—where’s the MacGregor?—where’s your father?”
Her sons, who led the band, advanced with slow and irresolute steps towards her, and murmured a few words in Gaelic, at hearing which she set up a shriek that made the rocks ring again, in which all the women and boys joined, clapping their hands and yelling as if their lives had been expiring in the sound. The mountain echoes, silent since the military sounds of battle had ceased, had now to answer these frantic and discordant shrieks of sorrow, which drove the very night-birds from their haunts in the rocks, as if they were startled to hear orgies more hideous and ill-omened than their own, performed in the face of open day.
“Taken!” repeated Helen, when the clamour had subsided—“Taken!— captive!—and you live to say so?—Coward dogs! did I nurse you for this, that you should spare your blood on your father’s enemies? or see him prisoner, and come back to tell it?”
The sons of MacGregor, to whom this expostulation was addressed, were youths, of whom the eldest had hardly attained his twentieth year. Hamish, or James, the elder of these youths, was the tallest by a head, and much handsomer than his brother; his light-blue eyes, with a profusion of fair hair, which streamed from under his smart blue bonnet, made his whole appearance a most favourable specimen of the Highland youth. The younger was called Robert; but, to distinguish him from his father, the Highlanders added the epithet Oig, or the young. Dark hair, and dark features, with a ruddy glow of health and animation, and a form strong and well-set beyond his years, completed the sketch of the young mountaineer.
Both now stood before their mother with countenances clouded with grief and shame, and listened, with the most respectful submission, to the reproaches with which she loaded them. At length when her resentment appeared in some degree to subside, the eldest, speaking in English, probably that he might not be understood by their followers, endeavoured respectfully to vindicate himself and his brother from his mother’s reproaches. I was so near him as to comprehend much of what he said; and, as it was of great consequence to me to be possessed of information in this strange crisis, I failed not to listen as attentively as I could.
“The MacGregor,” his son stated, “had been called out upon a trysting with a Lowland hallion, who came with a token from”—he muttered the name very low, but I thought it sounded like my own. “The MacGregor,” he said, “accepted of the invitation, but commanded the Saxon who brought the message to be detained, as a hostage that good faith should be observed to him. Accordingly he went to the place of appointment” (which had some wild Highland name that I cannot remember), “attended only by Angus Breck and Little Rory, commanding no one to follow him. Within half an hour Angus Breck came back with the doleful tidings that the MacGregor had been surprised and made prisoner by a party of Lennox militia, under Galbraith of Garschattachin.” He added, “that Galbraith, on being threatened by MacGregor, who upon his capture menaced him with retaliation on the person of the hostage, had treated the threat with great contempt, replying, ‘Let each side hang his man; we’ll hang the thief, and your catherans may hang the gauger, Rob, and the country will be rid of two damned things at once, a wild Highlander and a revenue officer.’ Angus Breck, less carefully looked to than his master, contrived to escape from the hands of the captors, after having been in their custody long enough to hear this discussion, and to bring off the news.”
“And did you learn this, you false-hearted traitor,” said the wife of MacGregor, “and not instantly rush to your father’s rescue, to bring him off, or leave your body on the place?”
The young MacGregor modestly replied, by representing the very superior force of the enemy, and stated, that as they made no preparation for leaving the country, he had fallen back up the glen with the purpose of collecting a band sufficient to attempt a rescue with some tolerable chance of success. At length he said, “the militiamen would quarter, he understood, in the neighbouring house of Gartartan, or the old castle in the port of Monteith, or some other stronghold, which, although strong and defensible, was nevertheless capable of being surprised, could they but get enough of men assembled for the purpose.”
I understood afterwards that the rest of the freebooter’s followers were divided into two strong bands, one destined to watch the remaining garrison of Inversnaid, a party of which, under Captain Thornton, had been defeated; and another to show front to the Highland clans who had united with the regular troops and Lowlanders in this hostile and combined invasion of that mountainous and desolate territory, which lying between the lakes of Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, and Loch Ard, was at this time currently called Rob Roy’s, or the MacGregor country. Messengers were despatched in great haste, to concentrate, as I supposed, their forces, with a view to the purposed attack on the Lowlanders; and the dejection and despair, at first visible on each countenance, gave place to the hope of rescuing their leader, and to the thirst of vengeance. It was under the burning influence of the latter passion that the wife of MacGregor commanded that the hostage exchanged for his safety should be brought into her presence. I believe her sons had kept this unfortunate wretch out of her sight, for fear of the consequences; but if it was so, their humane precaution only postponed his fate. They dragged forward at her summons a wretch already half dead with terror, in whose agonised features I recognised, to my horror and astonishment, my old acquaintance Morris.
He fell prostrate before the female Chief with an effort to clasp her knees, from which she drew back, as if his touch had been pollution, so that all he could do in token of the extremity of his humiliation, was to kiss the hem of her plaid. I never heard entreaties for life poured forth with such agony of spirit. The ecstasy of fear was such, that instead of paralysing his tongue, as on ordinary occasions, it even rendered him eloquent; and, with cheeks pale as ashes, hands compressed in agony, eyes that seemed to be taking their last look of all mortal objects, he protested, with the deepest oaths, his total ignorance of any design on the person of Rob Roy, whom he swore he loved and honoured as his own soul. In the inconsistency of his terror, he said he was but the agent of others, and he muttered the name of Rashleigh. He prayed but for life—for life he would give all he had in the world: it was but life he asked—life, if it were to be prolonged under tortures and privations: he asked only breath, though it should be drawn in the damps of the lowest caverns of their hills.
It is impossible to describe the scorn, the loathing, and contempt, with which the wife of MacGregor regarded this wretched petitioner for the poor boon of existence.
“I could have bid ye live,” she said, “had life been to you the same weary and wasting burden that it is to me—that it is to every noble and generous mind. But you—wretch! you could creep through the world unaffected by its various disgraces, its ineffable miseries, its constantly accumulating masses of crime and sorrow: you could live and enjoy yourself, while the noble-minded are betrayed—while nameless and birthless villains tread on the neck of the brave and the long-descended: you could enjoy yourself, like a butcher’s dog in the shambles, battening on garbage, while the slaughter of the oldest and best went on around you! This enjoyment you shall not live to partake of!—you shall die, base dog! and that before yon cloud has passed over the sun.”
She gave a brief command in Gaelic to her attendants, two of whom seized upon the prostrate suppliant, and hurried him to the brink of a cliff which overhung the flood. He set up the most piercing and dreadful cries that fear ever uttered—I may well term them dreadful, for they haunted my sleep for years afterwards. As the murderers, or executioners, call them as you will, dragged him along, he recognised me even in that moment of horror, and exclaimed, in the last articulate words I ever heard him utter, “Oh, Mr. Osbaldistone, save me!—save me!”
I was so much moved by this horrid spectacle, that, although in momentary expectation of sharing his fate, I did attempt to speak in his behalf, but, as might have been expected, my interference was sternly disregarded. The victim was held fast by some, while others, binding a large heavy stone in a plaid, tied it round his neck, and others again eagerly stripped him of some part of his dress. Half-naked, and thus manacled, they hurled him into the lake, there about twelve feet deep, with a loud halloo of vindictive triumph,—above which, however, his last death-shriek, the yell of mortal agony, was distinctly heard. The heavy burden splashed in the dark-blue waters, and the Highlanders, with their pole-axes and swords, watched an instant to guard, lest, extricating himself from the load to which he was attached, the victim might have struggled to regain the shore. But the knot had been securely bound—the wretched man sunk without effort; the waters, which his fall had disturbed, settled calmly over him, and the unit of that life for which he had pleaded so strongly, was for ever withdrawn from the sum of human existence.
|1. A kind of lighter used in the river Clyde,—probably from the French abare. [back]|