A hopeless darkness settles o’er my fate; I’ve seen the last look of her heavenly eyes,— I’ve heard the last sound of her blessed voice,— I’ve seen her fair form from my sight depart; My doom is closed. Count Basil.
“I ken not what to make of you, Mr. Osbaldistone,” said MacGregor, as he pushed the flask towards me. “You eat not, you show no wish for rest; and yet you drink not, though that flask of Bourdeaux might have come out of Sir Hildebrand’s ain cellar. Had you been always as abstinent, you would have escaped the deadly hatred of your cousin Rashleigh.”
“Had I been always prudent,” said I, blushing at the scene he recalled to my recollection, “I should have escaped a worse evil—the reproach of my own conscience.”
MacGregor cast a keen and somewhat fierce glance on me, as if to read whether the reproof, which he evidently felt, had been intentionally conveyed. He saw that I was thinking of myself, not of him, and turned his face towards the fire with a deep sigh. I followed his example, and each remained for a few minutes wrapt in his own painful reverie. All in the hut were now asleep, or at least silent, excepting ourselves.
MacGregor first broke silence, in the tone of one who takes up his determination to enter on a painful subject. “My cousin Nicol Jarvie means well,” he said, “but he presses ower hard on the temper and situation of a man like me, considering what I have been—what I have been forced to become—and, above all, that which has forced me to become what I am.”
He paused; and, though feeling the delicate nature of the discussion in which the conversation was likely to engage me, I could not help replying, that I did not doubt his present situation had much which must be most unpleasant to his feelings.
“I should be happy to learn,” I added, “that there is an honourable chance of your escaping from it.”
“You speak like a boy,” returned MacGregor, in a low tone that growled like distant thunder—“like a boy, who thinks the auld gnarled oak can be twisted as easily as the young sapling. Can I forget that I have been branded as an outlaw—stigmatised as a traitor—a price set on my head as if I had been a wolf—my family treated as the dam and cubs of the hill-fox, whom all may torment, vilify, degrade, and insult—the very name which came to me from a long and noble line of martial ancestors, denounced, as if it were a spell to conjure up the devil with?”
As he went on in this manner, I could plainly see, that, by the enumeration of his wrongs, he was lashing himself up into a rage, in order to justify in his own eyes the errors they had led him into. In this he perfectly succeeded; his light grey eyes contracting alternately and dilating their pupils, until they seemed actually to flash with flame, while he thrust forward and drew back his foot, grasped the hilt of his dirk, extended his arm, clenched his fist, and finally rose from his seat.
“And they shall find,” he said, in the same muttered but deep tone of stifled passion, “that the name they have dared to proscribe—that the name of MacGregor—is a spell to raise the wild devil withal. They shall hear of my vengeance, that would scorn to listen to the story of my wrongs—The miserable Highland drover, bankrupt, barefooted,—stripped of all, dishonoured and hunted down, because the avarice of others grasped at more than that poor all could pay, shall burst on them in an awful change. They that scoffed at the grovelling worm, and trode upon him, may cry and howl when they see the stoop of the flying and fiery-mouthed dragon.—But why do I speak of all this?” he said, sitting down again, and in a calmer tone—“Only ye may opine it frets my patience, Mr. Osbaldistone, to be hunted like an otter, or a sealgh, or a salmon upon the shallows, and that by my very friends and neighbours; and to have as many sword-cuts made, and pistols flashed at me, as I had this day in the ford of Avondow, would try a saint’s temper, much more a Highlander’s, who are not famous for that gude gift, as ye may hae heard, Mr. Osbaldistone.—But as thing bides wi’ me o’ what Nicol said;—I’m vexed for the bairns—I’m vexed when I think o’ Hamish and Robert living their father’s life.” And yielding to despondence on account of his sons, which he felt not upon his own, the father rested his head upon his hand.
I was much affected, Will. All my life long I have been more melted by the distress under which a strong, proud, and powerful mind is compelled to give way, than by the more easily excited sorrows of softer dispositions. The desire of aiding him rushed strongly on my mind, notwithstanding the apparent difficulty, and even impossibility, of the task.
“We have extensive connections abroad,” said I: “might not your sons, with some assistance—and they are well entitled to what my father’s house can give—find an honourable resource in foreign service?”
I believe my countenance showed signs of sincere emotion; but my companion, taking me by the hand, as I was going to speak farther, said—“I thank—I thank ye—but let us say nae mair o’ this. I did not think the eye of man would again have seen a tear on MacGregor’s eye-lash.” He dashed the moisture from his long gray eye-lash and shaggy red eye-brow with the back of his hand. “To-morrow morning,” he said, “we’ll talk of this, and we will talk, too, of your affairs—for we are early starters in the dawn, even when we have the luck to have good beds to sleep in. Will ye not pledge me in a grace cup?” I declined the invitation.
“Then, by the soul of St. Maronoch! I must pledge myself,” and he poured out and swallowed at least half-a-quart of wine.
I laid myself down to repose, resolving to delay my own inquiries until his mind should be in a more composed state. Indeed, so much had this singular man possessed himself of my imagination, that I felt it impossible to avoid watching him for some minutes after I had flung myself on my heath mattress to seeming rest. He walked up and down the hut, crossed himself from time to time, muttering over some Latin prayer of the Catholic church; then wrapped himself in his plaid, with his naked sword on one side, and his pistol on the other, so disposing the folds of his mantle that he could start up at a moment’s warning, with a weapon in either hand, ready for instant combat. In a few minutes his heavy breathing announced that he was fast asleep. Overpowered by fatigue, and stunned by the various unexpected and extraordinary scenes of the day, I, in my turn, was soon overpowered by a slumber deep and overwhelming, from which, notwithstanding every cause for watchfulness, I did not awake until the next morning.
When I opened my eyes, and recollected my situation, I found that MacGregor had already left the hut. I awakened the Bailie, who, after many a snort and groan, and some heavy complaints of the soreness of his bones, in consequence of the unwonted exertions of the preceding day, was at length able to comprehend the joyful intelligence, that the assets carried off by Rashleigh Osbaldistone had been safely recovered. The instant he understood my meaning, he forgot all his grievances, and, bustling up in a great hurry, proceeded to compare the contents of the packet which I put into his hands, with Mr. Owen’s memorandums, muttering, as he went on, “Right, right—the real thing—Bailie and Whittington—where’s Bailie and Whittington?—seven hundred, six, and eight—exact to a fraction—Pollock and Peelman—twenty-eight, seven—exact—Praise be blest!—Grub and Grinder—better men cannot be—three hundred and seventy—Gliblad—twenty; I doubt Gliblad’s ganging—Slipprytongue; Slipprytongue’s gaen—but they are sma’sums—sma’sums—the rest’s a’right—Praise be blest! we have got the stuff, and may leave this doleful country. I shall never think on Loch-Ard but the thought will gar me grew again.”
“I am sorry, cousin,” said MacGregor, who entered the hut during the last observation, “I have not been altogether in the circumstances to make your reception sic as I could have desired—natheless, if you would condescend to visit my puir dwelling”—
“Muckle obliged, muckle obliged,” answered Mr. Jarvie, very hastily—“But we maun be ganging—we maun be jogging, Mr. Osbaldistone and me—business canna wait.”
“Aweel, kinsman,” replied the Highlander, “ye ken our fashion—foster the guest that comes—further him that maun gang. But ye cannot return by Drymen—I must set you on Loch Lomond, and boat ye down to the Ferry o’ Balloch, and send your nags round to meet ye there. It’s a maxim of a wise man never to return by the same road he came, providing another’s free to him.”
“Ay, ay, Rob,” said the Bailie, “that’s ane o’ the maxims ye learned when ye were a drover;—ye caredna to face the tenants where your beasts had been taking a rug of their moorland grass in the by-ganging, and I doubt your road’s waur marked now than it was then.”
“The mair need not to travel it ower often, kinsman,” replied Rob; “but I’se send round your nags to the ferry wi’ Dougal Gregor, wha is converted for that purpose into the Bailie’s man, coming—not, as ye may believe, from Aberfoil or Rob Roy’s country, but on a quiet jaunt from Stirling. See, here he is.”
“I wadna hae ken’d the creature,” said Mr. Jarvie; nor indeed was it easy to recognise the wild Highlander, when he appeared before the door of the cottage, attired in a hat, periwig, and riding-coat, which had once called Andrew Fairservice master, and mounted on the Bailie’s horse, and leading mine. He received his last orders from his master to avoid certain places where he might be exposed to suspicion—to collect what intelligence he could in the course of his journey, and to await our coming at an appointed place, near the Ferry of Balloch.
At the same time, MacGregor invited us to accompany him upon our own road, assuring us that we must necessarily march a few miles before breakfast, and recommending a dram of brandy as a proper introduction to the journey, in which he was pledged by the Bailie, who pronounced it “an unlawful and perilous habit to begin the day wi’ spirituous liquors, except to defend the stomach (whilk was a tender part) against the morning mist; in whilk case his father the deacon had recommended a dram, by precept and example.”
“Very true, kinsman,” replied Rob, “for which reason we, who are Children of the Mist, have a right to drink brandy from morning till night.”
The Bailie, thus refreshed, was mounted on a small Highland pony; another was offered for my use, which, however, I declined; and we resumed, under very different guidance and auspices, our journey of the preceding day.
Our escort consisted of MacGregor, and five or six of the handsomest, best armed, and most athletic mountaineers of his band, and whom he had generally in immediate attendance upon his own person.
When we approached the pass, the scene of the skirmish of the preceding day, and of the still more direful deed which followed it, MacGregor hastened to speak, as if it were rather to what he knew must be necessarily passing in my mind, than to any thing I had said—he spoke, in short, to my thoughts, and not to my words.
“You must think hardly of us, Mr. Osbaldistone, and it is not natural that it should be otherwise. But remember, at least, we have not been unprovoked. We are a rude and an ignorant, and it may be a violent and passionate, but we are not a cruel people. The land might be at peace and in law for us, did they allow us to enjoy the blessings of peaceful law. But we have been a persecuted generation.”
“And persecution,” said the Bailie, “maketh wise men mad.”
“What must it do then to men like us, living as our fathers did a thousand years since, and possessing scarce more lights than they did? Can we view their bluidy edicts against us—their hanging, heading, hounding, and hunting down an ancient and honourable name—as deserving better treatment than that which enemies give to enemies?—Here I stand, have been in twenty frays, and never hurt man but when I was in het bluid; and yet they wad betray me and hang me like a masterless dog, at the gate of ony great man that has an ill will at me.”
I replied, “that the proscription of his name and family sounded in English ears as a very cruel and arbitrary law;” and having thus far soothed him, I resumed my propositions of obtaining military employment for himself, if he chose it, and his sons, in foreign parts. MacGregor shook me very cordially by the hand, and detaining me, so as to permit Mr. Jarvie to precede us, a manoeuvre for which the narrowness of the road served as an excuse, he said to me—“You are a kind-hearted and an honourable youth, and understand, doubtless, that which is due to the feelings of a man of honour. But the heather that I have trode upon when living, must bloom ower me when I am dead—my heart would sink, and my arm would shrink and wither like fern in the frost, were I to lose sight of my native hills; nor has the world a scene that would console me for the loss of the rocks and cairns, wild as they are, that you see around us.—And Helen—what could become of her, were I to leave her the subject of new insult and atrocity?—or how could she bear to be removed from these scenes, where the remembrance of her wrongs is aye sweetened by the recollection of her revenge?—I was once so hard put at by my Great enemy, as I may well ca’ him, that I was forced e’en to gie way to the tide, and removed myself and my people and family from our dwellings in our native land, and to withdraw for a time into MacCallum More’s country—and Helen made a Lament on our departure, as weel as MacRimmon* himsell could hae framed it—and so piteously sad and waesome, that our hearts amaist broke as we sate and listened to her—it was like the wailing of one that mourns for the mother that bore him—the tears came down the rough faces of our gillies as they hearkened; and I wad not have the same touch of heartbreak again, no, not to have all the lands that ever were owned by MacGregor.”
* The MacRimmons or MacCrimonds were hereditary pipers to the chiefs of MacLeod, and celebrated for their talents. The pibroch said to have been composed by Helen MacGregor is still in existence. See the Introduction to this Novel.
“But your sons,” I said—“they are at the age when your countrymen have usually no objection to see the world?”
“And I should be content,” he replied, “that they pushed their fortune in the French or Spanish service, as is the wont of Scottish cavaliers of honour; and last night your plan seemed feasible eneugh—But I hae seen his Excellency this morning before ye were up.”
“Did he then quarter so near us?” said I, my bosom throbbing with anxiety.
“Nearer than ye thought,” was MacGregor’s reply; “but he seemed rather in some shape to jalouse your speaking to the young leddy; and so you see”—
“There was no occasion for jealousy,” I answered, with some haughtiness; —“I should not have intruded on his privacy.”
“But ye must not be offended, or look out from amang your curls then, like a wildcat out of an ivy-tod, for ye are to understand that he wishes most sincere weel to you, and has proved it. And it’s partly that whilk has set the heather on fire e’en now.”
“Heather on fire?” said I. “I do not understand you.”
“Why,” resumed MacGregor, “ye ken weel eneugh that women and gear are at the bottom of a’ the mischief in this warld. I hae been misdoubting your cousin Rashleigh since ever he saw that he wasna to get Die Vernon for his marrow, and I think he took grudge at his Excellency mainly on that account. But then came the splore about the surrendering your papers—and we hae now gude evidence, that, sae soon as he was compelled to yield them up, he rade post to Stirling, and tauld the Government all and mair than all, that was gaun doucely on amang us hill-folk; and, doubtless, that was the way that the country was laid to take his Excellency and the leddy, and to make sic an unexpected raid on me. And I hae as little doubt that the poor deevil Morris, whom he could gar believe onything, was egged on by him, and some of the Lowland gentry, to trepan me in the gate he tried to do. But if Rashleigh Osbaldistone were baith the last and best of his name, and granting that he and I ever forgather again, the fiend go down my weasand with a bare blade at his belt, if we part before my dirk and his best blude are weel acquainted thegither!”
He pronounced the last threat with an ominous frown, and the appropriate gesture of his hand upon his dagger.
“I should almost rejoice at what has happened,” said I, “could I hope that Rashleigh’s treachery might prove the means of preventing the explosion of the rash and desperate intrigues in which I have long suspected him to be a prime agent.”
“Trow ye na that,” said Rob Roy; “traitor’s word never yet hurt honest cause. He was ower deep in our secrets, that’s true; and had it not been so, Stirling and Edinburgh Castles would have been baith in our hands by this time, or briefly hereafter, whilk is now scarce to be hoped for. But there are ower mony engaged, and far ower gude a cause to be gien up for the breath of a traitor’s tale, and that will be seen and heard of ere it be lang. And so, as I was about to say, the best of my thanks to you for your offer anent my sons, whilk last night I had some thoughts to have embraced in their behalf. But I see that this villain’s treason will convince our great folks that they must instantly draw to a head, and make a blow for it, or be taen in their houses, coupled up like hounds, and driven up to London like the honest noblemen and gentlemen in the year seventeen hundred and seven. Civil war is like a cockatrice;—we have sitten hatching the egg that held it for ten years, and might hae sitten on for ten years mair, when in comes Rashleigh, and chips the shell, and out bangs the wonder amang us, and cries to fire and sword. Now in sic a matter I’ll hae need o’ a’ the hands I can mak; and, nae disparagement to the Kings of France and Spain, whom I wish very weel to, King James is as gude a man as ony o’ them, and has the best right to Hamish and Rob, being his natural-born subjects.”
I easily comprehended that these words boded a general national convulsion; and, as it would have been alike useless and dangerous to have combated the political opinions of my guide, at such a place and moment, I contented myself with regretting the promiscuous scene of confusion and distress likely to arise from any general exertion in favour of the exiled royal family.
“Let it come, man—let it come,” answered MacGregor; “ye never saw dull weather clear without a shower; and if the world is turned upside down, why, honest men have the better chance to cut bread out of it.”
I again attempted to bring him back to the subject of Diana; but although on most occasions and subjects he used a freedom of speech which I had no great delight in listening to, yet upon that alone which was most interesting to me, he kept a degree of scrupulous reserve, and contented himself with intimating, “that he hoped the leddy would be soon in a quieter country than this was like to be for one while.” I was obliged to be content with this answer, and to proceed in the hope that accident might, as on a former occasion, stand my friend, and allow me at least the sad gratification of bidding farewell to the object which had occupied such a share of my affections, so much beyond even what I had supposed, till I was about to be separated from her for ever.
We pursued the margin of the lake for about six English miles, through a devious and beautifully variegated path, until we attained a sort of Highland farm, or assembly of hamlets, near the head of that fine sheet of water, called, if I mistake not, Lediart, or some such name. Here a numerous party of MacGregor’s men were stationed in order to receive us. The taste as well as the eloquence of tribes in a savage, or, to speak more properly, in a rude state, is usually just, because it is unfettered by system and affectation; and of this I had an example in the choice these mountaineers had made of a place to receive their guests. It has been said that a British monarch would judge well to receive the embassy of a rival power in the cabin of a man-of-war; and a Highland leader acted with some propriety in choosing a situation where the natural objects of grandeur proper to his country might have their full effect on the minds of his guests.
We ascended about two hundred yards from the shores of the lake, guided by a brawling brook, and left on the right hand four or five Highland huts, with patches of arable land around them, so small as to show that they must have been worked with the spade rather than the plough, cut as it were out of the surrounding copsewood, and waving with crops of barley and oats. Above this limited space the hill became more steep; and on its edge we descried the glittering arms and waving drapery of about fifty of MacGregor’s followers. They were stationed on a spot, the recollection of which yet strikes me with admiration. The brook, hurling its waters downwards from the mountain, had in this spot encountered a barrier rock, over which it had made its way by two distinct leaps. The first fall, across which a magnificent old oak, slanting out from the farther bank, partly extended itself as if to shroud the dusky stream of the cascade, might be about twelve feet high; the broken waters were received in a beautiful stone basin, almost as regular as if hewn by a sculptor; and after wheeling around its flinty margin, they made a second precipitous dash, through a dark and narrow chasm, at least fifty feet in depth, and from thence, in a hurried, but comparatively a more gentle course, escaped to join the lake.
With the natural taste which belongs to mountaineers, and especially to the Scottish Highlanders, whose feelings, I have observed, are often allied with the romantic and poetical, Rob Roy’s wife and followers had prepared our morning repast in a scene well calculated to impress strangers with some feelings of awe. They are also naturally a grave and proud people, and, however rude in our estimation, carry their ideas of form and politeness to an excess that would appear overstrained, except from the demonstration of superior force which accompanies the display of it; for it must be granted that the air of punctilious deference and rigid etiquette which would seem ridiculous in an ordinary peasant, has, like the salute of a corps-de-garde, a propriety when tendered by a Highlander completely armed. There was, accordingly, a good deal of formality in our approach and reception.
The Highlanders, who had been dispersed on the side of the hill, drew themselves together when we came in view, and, standing firm and motionless, appeared in close column behind three figures, whom I soon recognised to be Helen MacGregor and her two sons. MacGregor himself arranged his attendants in the rear, and, requesting Mr. Jarvie to dismount where the ascent became steep, advanced slowly, marshalling us forward at the head of the troop. As we advanced, we heard the wild notes of the bagpipes, which lost their natural discord from being mingled with the dashing sound of the cascade. When we came close, the wife of MacGregor came forward to meet us. Her dress was studiously arranged in a more feminine taste than it had been on the preceding day, but her features wore the same lofty, unbending, and resolute character; and as she folded my friend the Bailie in an unexpected and apparently unwelcome embrace, I could perceive by the agitation of his wig, his back, and the calves of his legs, that he felt much like to one who feels himself suddenly in the gripe of a she-bear, without being able to distinguish whether the animal is in kindness or in wrath.
“Kinsman,” she said, “you are welcome—and you, too, stranger,” she added, releasing my alarmed companion, who instinctively drew back and settled his wig, and addressing herself to me—“you also are welcome. You came,” she added, “to our unhappy country, when our bloods were chafed, and our hands were red. Excuse the rudeness that gave you a rough welcome, and lay it upon the evil times, and not upon us.” All this was said with the manners of a princess, and in the tone and style of a court. Nor was there the least tincture of that vulgarity, which we naturally attach to the Lowland Scottish. There was a strong provincial accentuation, but, otherwise, the language rendered by Helen MacGregor, out of the native and poetical Gaelic, into English, which she had acquired as we do learned tongues, but had probably never heard applied to the mean purposes of ordinary life, was graceful, flowing, and declamatory. Her husband, who had in his time played many parts, used a much less elevated and emphatic dialect;—but even his language rose in purity of expression, as you may have remarked, if I have been accurate in recording it, when the affairs which he discussed were of an agitating and important nature; and it appears to me in his case, and in that of some other Highlanders whom I have known, that, when familiar and facetious, they used the Lowland Scottish dialect,—when serious and impassioned, their thoughts arranged themselves in the idiom of their native language; and in the latter case, as they uttered the corresponding ideas in English, the expressions sounded wild, elevated, and poetical. In fact, the language of passion is almost always pure as well as vehement, and it is no uncommon thing to hear a Scotchman, when overwhelmed by a countryman with a tone of bitter and fluent upbraiding, reply by way of taunt to his adversary, “You have gotten to your English.”
Be this as it may, the wife of MacGregor invited us to a refreshment spread out on the grass, which abounded with all the good things their mountains could offer, but was clouded by the dark and undisturbed gravity which sat on the brow of our hostess, as well as by our deep and anxious recollection of what had taken place on the preceding day. It was in vain that the leader exerted himself to excite mirth;—a chill hung over our minds, as if the feast had been funereal; and every bosom felt light when it was ended.
“Adieu, cousin,” she said to Mr. Jarvie, as we rose from the entertainment; “the best wish Helen MacGregor can give to a friend is, that he may see her no more.”
The Bailie struggled to answer, probably with some commonplace maxim of morality;—but the calm and melancholy sternness of her countenance bore down and disconcerted the mechanical and formal importance of the magistrate. He coughed,—hemmed,—bowed,—and was silent.
“For you, stranger,” she said, “I have a token, from one whom you can never”—
“Helen!” interrupted MacGregor, in a loud and stern voice, “what means this?—have you forgotten the charge?”
“MacGregor,” she replied, “I have forgotten nought that is fitting for me to remember. It is not such hands as these,” and she stretched forth her long, sinewy, and bare arm, “that are fitting to convey love-tokens, were the gift connected with aught but misery. Young man,” she said, presenting me with a ring, which I well remembered as one of the few ornaments that Miss Vernon sometimes wore, “this comes from one whom you will never see more. If it is a joyless token, it is well fitted to pass through the hands of one to whom joy can never be known. Her last words were—Let him forget me for ever.”
“And can she,” I said, almost without being conscious that I spoke, “suppose that is possible?”
“All may be forgotten,” said the extraordinary female who addressed me,—“all—but the sense of dishonour, and the desire of vengeance.”
“Seid suas!”* cried the MacGregor, stamping with impatience.
* “Strike up.”
The bagpipes sounded, and with their thrilling and jarring tones cut short our conference. Our leave of our hostess was taken by silent gestures; and we resumed our journey with an additional proof on my part, that I was beloved by Diana, and was separated from her for ever.