Rob Roy

by Sir Walter Scott

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Volume II - Chapter Fifteenth

And be he safe restored ere evening set,
                Or, if there’s vengeance in an injured heart,
                And power to wreak it in an armed hand,
                      Your land shall ache for’t.
                                          Old Play.

I know not why it is that a single deed of violence and cruelty affects our nerves more than when these are exercised on a more extended scale. I had seen that day several of my brave countrymen fall in battle: it seemed to me that they met a lot appropriate to humanity, and my bosom, though thrilling with interest, was affected with nothing of that sickening horror with which I beheld the unfortunate Morris put to death without resistance, and in cold blood. I looked at my companion, Mr. Jarvie, whose face reflected the feelings which were painted in mine. Indeed he could not so suppress his horror, but that the words escaped him in a low and broken whisper,—

“I take up my protest against this deed, as a bloody and cruel murder—it is a cursed deed, and God will avenge it in his due way and time.”

“Then you do not fear to follow?” said the virago, bending on him a look of death, such as that with which a hawk looks at his prey ere he pounces.

“Kinswoman,” said the Bailie, “nae man willingly wad cut short his thread of life before the end o’ his pirn was fairly measured off on the yarn-winles—And I hae muckle to do, an I be spared, in this warld—public and private business, as weel that belonging to the magistracy as to my ain particular; and nae doubt I hae some to depend on me, as puir Mattie, wha is an orphan—She’s a far-awa’ cousin o’ the Laird o’ Limmerfield. Sae that, laying a’ this thegither—skin for skin, yea all that a man hath, will he give for his life.”

“And were I to set you at liberty,” said the imperious dame, “what name could you give to the drowning of that Saxon dog?”

“Uh! uh!—hem! hem!” said the Bailie, clearing his throat as well as he could, “I suld study to say as little on that score as might be—least said is sunest mended.”

“But if you were called on by the courts, as you term them, of justice,” she again demanded, “what then would be your answer?”

The Bailie looked this way and that way, like a person who meditates an escape, and then answered in the tone of one who, seeing no means of accomplishing a retreat, determines to stand the brunt of battle—“I see what you are driving me to the wa’ about. But I’ll tell you’t plain, kinswoman,—I behoved just to speak according to my ain conscience; and though your ain gudeman, that I wish had been here for his ain sake and mine, as wool as the puir Hieland creature Dougal, can tell ye that Nicol Jarvie can wink as hard at a friend’s failings as onybody, yet I’se tell ye, kinswoman, mine’s ne’er be the tongue to belie my thought; and sooner than say that yonder puir wretch was lawfully slaughtered, I wad consent to be laid beside him—though I think ye are the first Hieland woman wad mint sic a doom to her husband’s kinsman but four times removed.”

It is probable that the tone and firmness assumed by the Bailie in his last speech was better suited to make an impression on the hard heart of his kinswoman than the tone of supplication he had hitherto assumed, as gems can be cut with steel, though they resist softer metals. She commanded us both to be placed before her. “Your name,” she said to me, “is Osbaldistone?—the dead dog, whose death you have witnessed, called you so.”

“My name is Osbaldistone,” was my answer.

“Rashleigh, then, I suppose, is your Christian name?” she pursued.

“No,—my name is Francis.”

“But you know Rashleigh Osbaldistone,” she continued. “He is your brother, if I mistake not,—at least your kinsman and near friend.”

“He is my kinsman,” I replied, “but not my friend. We were lately engaged together in a rencontre, when we were separated by a person whom I understand to be your husband. My blood is hardly yet dried on his sword, and the wound on my side is yet green. I have little reason to acknowledge him as a friend.”

“Then,” she replied, “if a stranger to his intrigues, you can go in safety to Garschattachin and his party without fear of being detained, and carry them a message from the wife of the MacGregor?”

I answered that I knew no reasonable cause why the militia gentlemen should detain me; that I had no reason, on my own account, to fear being in their hands; and that if my going on her embassy would act as a protection to my friend and servant, who were here prisoners, “I was ready to set out directly.” I took the opportunity to say, “That I had come into this country on her husband’s invitation, and his assurance that he would aid me in some important matters in which I was interested; that my companion, Mr. Jarvie, had accompanied me on the same errand.”

“And I wish Mr. Jarvie’s boots had been fu’ o’ boiling water when he drew them on for sic a purpose,” interrupted the Bailie.

“You may read your father,” said Helen MacGregor, turning to her sons, “in what this young Saxon tells us—Wise only when the bonnet is on his head, and the sword is in his hand, he never exchanges the tartan for the broad-cloth, but he runs himself into the miserable intrigues of the Lowlanders, and becomes again, after all he has suffered, their agent—their tool—their slave.”

“Add, madam,” said I, “and their benefactor.”

“Be it so,” she said; “for it is the most empty title of them all, since he has uniformly sown benefits to reap a harvest of the most foul ingratitude.—But enough of this. I shall cause you to be guided to the enemy’s outposts. Ask for their commander, and deliver him this message from me, Helen MacGregor;—that if they injure a hair of MacGregor’s head, and if they do not set him at liberty within the space of twelve hours, there is not a lady in the Lennox but shall before Christmas cry the coronach for them she will be loath to lose,—there is not a farmer but shall sing well-a-wa over a burnt barnyard and an empty byre,—there is not a laird nor heritor shall lay his head on the pillow at night with the assurance of being a live man in the morning,—and, to begin as we are to end, so soon as the term is expired, I will send them this Glasgow Bailie, and this Saxon Captain, and all the rest of my prisoners, each bundled in a plaid, and chopped into as many pieces as there are checks in the tartan.”

As she paused in her denunciation, Captain Thornton, who was within hearing, added, with great coolness, “Present my compliments—Captain Thornton’s of the Royals, compliments—to the commanding officer, and tell him to do his duty and secure his prisoner, and not waste a thought upon me. If I have been fool enough to have been led into an ambuscade by these artful savages, I am wise enough to know how to die for it without disgracing the service. I am only sorry for my poor fellows,” he said, “that have fallen into such butcherly hands.”

“Whist! whist!” exclaimed the Bailie; “are ye weary o’ your life?—Ye’ll gie my service to the commanding officer, Mr. Osbaldistone—Bailie Nicol Jarvie’s service, a magistrate o’ Glasgow, as his father the deacon was before him—and tell him, here are a wheen honest men in great trouble, and like to come to mair; and the best thing he can do for the common good, will be just to let Rob come his wa’s up the glen, and nae mair about it. There’s been some ill dune here already; but as it has lighted chiefly on the gauger, it winna be muckle worth making a stir about.”

With these very opposite injunctions from the parties chiefly interested in the success of my embassy, and with the reiterated charge of the wife of MacGregor to remember and detail every word of her injunctions, I was at length suffered to depart; and Andrew Fairservice, chiefly, I believe, to get rid of his clamorous supplications, was permitted to attend me. Doubtful, however, that I might use my horse as a means of escape from my guides, or desirous to retain a prize of some value, I was given to understand that I was to perform my journey on foot, escorted by Hamish MacGregor, the elder brother, who, with two followers, attended, as well to show me the way, as to reconnoitre the strength and position of the enemy. Dougal had been at first ordered on this party, but he contrived to elude the service, with the purpose, as we afterwards understood, of watching over Mr. Jarvie, whom, according to his wild principles of fidelity, he considered as entitled to his good offices, from having once acted in some measure as his patron or master.

After walking with great rapidity about an hour, we arrived at an eminence covered with brushwood, which gave us a commanding prospect down the valley, and a full view of the post which the militia occupied. Being chiefly cavalry, they had judiciously avoided any attempt to penetrate the pass which had been so unsuccessfully essayed by Captain Thornton. They had taken up their situation with some military skill, on a rising ground in the centre of the little valley of Aberfoil, through which the river Forth winds its earliest course, and which is formed by two ridges of hills, faced with barricades of limestone rock, intermixed with huge masses of breecia, or pebbles imbedded in some softer substance which has hardened around them like mortar; and surrounded by the more lofty mountains in the distance. These ridges, however, left the valley of breadth enough to secure the cavalry from any sudden surprise by the mountaineers and they had stationed sentinels and outposts at proper distances from this main body, in every direction, so that they might secure full time to mount and get under arms upon the least alarm. It was not, indeed, expected at that time, that Highlanders would attack cavalry in an open plain, though late events have shown that they may do so with success.*

* The affairs of Prestonpans and Falkirk are probably alluded to, which * marks the time of writing the Memoirs as subsequent to 1745.

When I first knew the Highlanders, they had almost a superstitious dread of a mounted trooper, the horse being so much more fierce and imposing in his appearance than the little shelties of their own hills, and moreover being trained, as the more ignorant mountaineers believed, to fight with his feet and his teeth. The appearance of the piequeted horses, feeding in this little vale—the forms of the soldiers, as they sate, stood, or walked, in various groups in the vicinity of the beautiful river, and of the bare yet romantic ranges of rock which hedge in the landscape on either side,—formed a noble foreground; while far to the eastward the eye caught a glance of the lake of Menteith; and Stirling Castle, dimly seen along with the blue and distant line of the Ochil Mountains, closed the scene.

After gazing on this landscape with great earnestness, young MacGregor intimated to me that I was to descend to the station of the militia and execute my errand to their commander,—enjoining me at the same time, with a menacing gesture, neither to inform them who had guided me to that place, nor where I had parted from my escort. Thus tutored, I descended towards the military post, followed by Andrew, who, only retaining his breeches and stockings of the English costume, without a hat, bare-legged, with brogues on his feet, which Dougal had given him out of compassion, and having a tattered plaid to supply the want of all upper garments, looked as if he had been playing the part of a Highland Tom-of-Bedlam. We had not proceeded far before we became visible to one of the videttes, who, riding towards us, presented his carabine and commanded me to stand. I obeyed, and when the soldier came up, desired to be conducted to his commanding-officer. I was immediately brought where a circle of officers, sitting upon the grass, seemed in attendance upon one of superior rank. He wore a cuirass of polished steel, over which were drawn the insignia of the ancient Order of the Thistle. My friend Garschattachin, and many other gentlemen, some in uniform, others in their ordinary dress, but all armed and well attended, seemed to receive their orders from this person of distinction. Many servants in rich liveries, apparently a part of his household, were also in waiting.

Having paid to this nobleman the respect which his rank appeared to demand, I acquainted him that I had been an involuntary witness to the king’s soldiers having suffered a defeat from the Highlanders at the pass of Loch-Ard (such I had learned was the name of the place where Mr. Thornton was made prisoner), and that the victors threatened every species of extremity to those who had fallen into their power, as well as to the Low Country in general, unless their Chief, who had that morning been made prisoner, were returned to them uninjured. The Duke (for he whom I addressed was of no lower rank) listened to me with great composure, and then replied, that he should be extremely sorry to expose the unfortunate gentlemen who had been made prisoners to the cruelty of the barbarians into whose hands they had fallen, but that it was folly to suppose that he would deliver up the very author of all these disorders and offences, and so encourage his followers in their license. “You may return to those who sent you,” he proceeded, “and inform them, that I shall certainly cause Rob Roy Campbell, whom they call MacGregor, to be executed, by break of day, as an outlaw taken in arms, and deserving death by a thousand acts of violence; that I should be most justly held unworthy of my situation and commission did I act otherwise; that I shall know how to protect the country against their insolent threats of violence; and that if they injure a hair of the head of any of the unfortunate gentlemen whom an unlucky accident has thrown into their power, I will take such ample vengeance, that the very stones of their glens shall sing woe for it this hundred years to come!”

I humbly begged leave to remonstrate respecting the honourable mission imposed on me, and touched upon the obvious danger attending it, when the noble commander replied, “that such being the case, I might send my servant.”

“The deil be in my feet,” said Andrew, without either having respect to the presence in which he stood, or waiting till I replied—“the deil be in my feet, if I gang my tae’s length. Do the folk think I hae another thrapple in my pouch after John Highlandman’s sneeked this ane wi’ his joctaleg? or that I can dive doun at the tae side of a Highland loch and rise at the tother, like a shell-drake? Na, na—ilk ane for himsell, and God for us a’. Folk may just make a page o’ their ain age, and serve themsells till their bairns grow up, and gang their ain errands for Andrew. Rob Roy never came near the parish of Dreepdaily, to steal either pippin or pear frae me or mine.”

Silencing my follower with some difficulty, I represented to the Duke the great danger Captain Thornton and Mr. Jarvie would certainly be exposed to, and entreated he would make me the bearer of such modified terms as might be the means of saving their lives. I assured him I should decline no danger if I could be of service; but from what I had heard and seen, I had little doubt they would be instantly murdered should the chief of the outlaws suffer death.

The Duke was obviously much affected. “It was a hard case,” he said, “and he felt it as such; but he had a paramount duty to perform to the country—Rob Roy must die!”

I own it was not without emotion that I heard this threat of instant death to my acquaintance Campbell, who had so often testified his good-will towards me. Nor was I singular in the feeling, for many of those around the Duke ventured to express themselves in his favour. “It would be more advisable,” they said, “to send him to Stirling Castle, and there detain him a close prisoner, as a pledge for the submission and dispersion of his gang. It were a great pity to expose the country to be plundered, which, now that the long nights approached, it would be found very difficult to prevent, since it was impossible to guard every point, and the Highlanders were sure to select those that were left exposed.” They added, that there was great hardship in leaving the unfortunate prisoners to the almost certain doom of massacre denounced against them, which no one doubted would be executed in the first burst of revenge.

Garschattachin ventured yet farther, confiding in the honour of the nobleman whom he addressed, although he knew he had particular reasons for disliking their prisoner. “Rob Roy,” he said, “though a kittle neighbour to the Low Country, and particularly obnoxious to his Grace, and though he maybe carried the catheran trade farther than ony man o’ his day, was an auld-farrand carle, and there might be some means of making him hear reason; whereas his wife and sons were reckless fiends, without either fear or mercy about them, and, at the head of a’ his limmer loons, would be a worse plague to the country than ever he had been.”

“Pooh! pooh!” replied his Grace, “it is the very sense and cunning of this fellow which has so long maintained his reign—a mere Highland robber would have been put down in as many weeks as he has flourished years. His gang, without him, is no more to be dreaded as a permanent annoyance—it will no longer exist—than a wasp without its head, which may sting once perhaps, but is instantly crushed into annihilation.”

Garschattachin was not so easily silenced. “I am sure, my Lord Duke,” he replied, “I have no favour for Rob, and he as little for me, seeing he has twice cleaned out my ain byres, beside skaith amang my tenants; but, however”—

“But, however, Garschattachin,” said the Duke, with a smile of peculiar expression, “I fancy you think such a freedom may be pardoned in a friend’s friend, and Rob’s supposed to be no enemy to Major Galbraith’s friends over the water.”

“If it be so, my lord,” said Garschattachin, in the same tone of jocularity, “it’s no the warst thing I have heard of him. But I wish we heard some news from the clans, that we have waited for sae lang. I vow to God they’ll keep a Hielandman’s word wi’ us—I never ken’d them better—it’s ill drawing boots upon trews.”

“I cannot believe it,” said the Duke. “These gentlemen are known to be men of honour, and I must necessarily suppose they are to keep their appointment. Send out two more horse-men to look for our friends. We cannot, till their arrival, pretend to attack the pass where Captain Thornton has suffered himself to be surprised, and which, to my knowledge, ten men on foot might make good against a regiment of the best horse in Europe—Meanwhile let refreshments be given to the men.”

I had the benefit of this last order, the more necessary and acceptable, as I had tasted nothing since our hasty meal at Aberfoil the evening before. The videttes who had been despatched returned without tidings of the expected auxiliaries, and sunset was approaching, when a Highlander belonging to the clans whose co-operation was expected, appeared as the bearer of a letter, which he delivered to the Duke with a most profound conge’.

“Now will I wad a hogshead of claret,” said Garschattachin, “that this is a message to tell us that these cursed Highlandmen, whom we have fetched here at the expense of so much plague and vexation, are going to draw off, and leave us to do our own business if we can.”

“It is even so, gentlemen,” said the Duke, reddening with indignation, after having perused the letter, which was written upon a very dirty scrap of paper, but most punctiliously addressed, “For the much-honoured hands of Ane High and Mighty Prince, the Duke,” &c. &c. &c. “Our allies,” continued the Duke, “have deserted us, gentlemen, and have made a separate peace with the enemy.”

“It’s just the fate of all alliances,” said Garschattachin, “the Dutch were gaun to serve us the same gate, if we had not got the start of them at Utrecht.”

“You are facetious, air,” said the Duke, with a frown which showed how little he liked the pleasantry; “but our business is rather of a grave cut just now.—I suppose no gentleman would advise our attempting to penetrate farther into the country, unsupported either by friendly Highlanders, or by infantry from Inversnaid?”

A general answer announced that the attempt would be perfect madness.

“Nor would there be great wisdom,” the Duke added, “in remaining exposed to a night-attack in this place. I therefore propose that we should retreat to the house of Duchray and that of Gartartan, and keep safe and sure watch and ward until morning. But before we separate, I will examine Rob Roy before you all, and make you sensible, by your own eyes and ears, of the extreme unfitness of leaving him space for farther outrage.” He gave orders accordingly, and the prisoner was brought before him, his arms belted down above the elbow, and secured to his body by a horse-girth buckled tight behind him. Two non-commissioned officers had hold of him, one on each side, and two file of men with carabines and fixed bayonets attended for additional security.

I had never seen this man in the dress of his country, which set in a striking point of view the peculiarities of his form. A shock-head of red hair, which the hat and periwig of the Lowland costume had in a great measure concealed, was seen beneath the Highland bonnet, and verified the epithet of Roy, or Red, by which he was much better known in the Low Country than by any other, and is still, I suppose, best remembered. The justice of the appellation was also vindicated by the appearance of that part of his limbs, from the bottom of his kilt to the top of his short hose, which the fashion of his country dress left bare, and which was covered with a fell of thick, short, red hair, especially around his knees, which resembled in this respect, as well as from their sinewy appearance of extreme strength, the limbs of a red-coloured Highland bull. Upon the whole, betwixt the effect produced by the change of dress, and by my having become acquainted with his real and formidable character, his appearance had acquired to my eyes something so much wilder and more striking than it before presented, that I could scarce recognise him to be the same person.

His manner was bold, unconstrained unless by the actual bonds, haughty, and even dignified. He bowed to the Duke, nodded to Garschattachin and others, and showed some surprise at seeing me among the party.

“It is long since we have met, Mr. Campbell,” said the Duke.

“It is so, my Lord Duke; I could have wished it had been” (looking at the fastening on his arms) “when I could have better paid the compliments I owe to your Grace;—but there’s a gude time coming.”

“No time like the time present, Mr. Campbell,” answered the Duke, “for the hours are fast flying that must settle your last account with all mortal affairs. I do not say this to insult your distress; but you must be aware yourself that you draw near the end of your career. I do not deny that you may sometimes have done less harm than others of your unhappy trade, and that you may occasionally have exhibited marks of talent, and even of a disposition which promised better things. But you are aware how long you have been the terror and the oppressor of a peaceful neighbourhood, and by what acts of violence you have maintained and extended your usurped authority. You know, in short, that you have deserved death, and that you must prepare for it.”

“My Lord,” said Rob Roy, “although I may well lay my misfortunes at your Grace’s door, yet I will never say that you yourself have been the wilful and witting author of them. My Lord, if I had thought sae, your Grace would not this day have been sitting in judgment on me; for you have been three times within good rifle distance of me when you were thinking but of the red deer, and few people have ken’d me miss my aim. But as for them that have abused your Grace’s ear, and set you up against a man that was ance as peacefu’ a man as ony in the land, and made your name the warrant for driving me to utter extremity,—I have had some amends of them, and, for a’ that your Grace now says, I expect to live to hae mair.”

“I know,” said the Duke, in rising anger, “that you are a determined and impudent villain, who will keep his oath if he swears to mischief; but it shall be my care to prevent you. You have no enemies but your own wicked actions.”

“Had I called myself Grahame, instead of Campbell, I might have heard less about them,” answered Rob Roy, with dogged resolution.

“You will do well, sir,” said the Duke, “to warn your wife and family and followers, to beware how they use the gentlemen now in their hands, as I will requite tenfold on them, and their kin and allies, the slightest injury done to any of his Majesty’s liege subjects.”

“My Lord,” said Roy in answer, “none of my enemies will allege that I have been a bloodthirsty man, and were I now wi’ my folk, I could rule four or five hundred wild Hielanders as easy as your Grace those eight or ten lackeys and foot-boys—But if your Grace is bent to take the head away from a house, ye may lay your account there will be misrule amang the members.—However, come o’t what like, there’s an honest man, a kinsman o’ my ain, maun come by nae skaith. Is there ony body here wad do a gude deed for MacGregor?—he may repay it, though his hands be now tied.”

The Highlander who had delivered the letter to the Duke replied, “I’ll do your will for you, MacGregor; and I’ll gang back up the glen on purpose.”

He advanced, and received from the prisoner a message to his wife, which, being in Gaelic, I did not understand, but I had little doubt it related to some measures to be taken for the safety of Mr. Jarvie.

“Do you hear the fellow’s impudence?” said the Duke; “he confides in his character of a messenger. His conduct is of a piece with his master’s, who invited us to make common cause against these freebooters, and have deserted us so soon as the MacGregors have agreed to surrender the Balquhidder lands they were squabbling about.

No truth in plaids, no faith in tartan trews!

Chameleon-like, they change a thousand hues.”

“Your great ancestor never said so, my Lord,” answered Major Galbraith;—“and, with submission, neither would your Grace have occasion to say it, wad ye but be for beginning justice at the well-head—Gie the honest man his mear again—Let every head wear it’s ane bannet, and the distractions o’ the Lennox wad be mended wi’ them o’the land.”

“Hush! hush! Garschattachin,” said the Duke; “this is language dangerous for you to talk to any one, and especially to me; but I presume you reckon yourself a privileged person. Please to draw off your party towards Gartartan; I shall myself see the prisoner escorted to Duchray, and send you orders tomorrow. You will please grant no leave of absence to any of your troopers.”

“Here’s auld ordering and counter-ordering,” muttered Garschattachin between his teeth. “But patience! patience!—we may ae day play at change seats, the king’s coming.”

The two troops of cavalry now formed, and prepared to march off the ground, that they might avail themselves of the remainder of daylight to get to their evening quarters. I received an intimation, rather than an invitation, to attend the party; and I perceived, that, though no longer considered as a prisoner, I was yet under some sort of suspicion. The times were indeed so dangerous,—the great party questions of Jacobite and Hanoverian divided the country so effectually,—and the constant disputes and jealousies between the Highlanders and Lowlanders, besides a number of inexplicable causes of feud which separated the great leading families in Scotland from each other, occasioned such general suspicion, that a solitary and unprotected stranger was almost sure to meet with something disagreeable in the course of his travels.

I acquiesced, however, in my destination with the best grace I could, consoling myself with the hope that I might obtain from the captive freebooter some information concerning Rashleigh and his machinations. I should do myself injustice did I not add, that my views were not merely selfish. I was too much interested in my singular acquaintance not to be desirous of rendering him such services as his unfortunate situation might demand, or admit of his receiving.


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