Notwithstanding the proverbial epicurism of the English,--- proverbial, that is to say, in Scotland at the period,---the English visitors made no figure whatever at the entertainment, compared with the portentous voracity of Captain Dalgetty, although that gallant soldier had already displayed much steadiness and pertinacity in his attack upon the lighter refreshment set before them at their entrance, by way of forlorn hope. He spoke to no one during the time of his meal; and it was not until the victuals were nearly withdrawn from the table, that he gratified the rest of the company, who had watched him with some surprise, with an account of the reasons why he ate so very fast and so very long.
``The former quality,'' he said, ``he had acquired while he filled a place at the bursar's table at the Mareschal College of Aberdeen; when,'' said he, ``if you did not move your jaws as fast as a pair of castanets, you were very unlikely to get any thing to put between them. And as for the quantity of my food, be it known to this honourable company,'' continued the Captain, ``that it's the duty of every commander of a fortress, on all occasions which offer, to secure as much munition and vivers as their magazines can possibly hold, not knowing when they may have to sustain a siege or a blockade. Upon which principle, gentlemen,'' said he, ``when a cavalier finds that provant is good and abundant, he will, in my estimation, do wisely to victual himself for at least three days, as there is no knowing when he may come by another meal.''
The laird expressed his acquiescence in the prudence of this principle, and recommended to the veteran to add a tass of brandy and a flagon of claret to the substantial provisions he had already laid in, to which proposal the Captain readily agreed.
When dinner was removed, and the servants had withdrawn, excepting the Laird's page, or henchman, who remained in the apartment to call for or bring whatever was wanted, or, in a word, to answer the purposes of a modern bell-wire, the conversation began to turn upon politics, and the state of the country; and Lord Menteith inquired anxiously and particularly what clans were expected to join the proposed muster of the King's friends.
``That depends much, my lord, on the person who lifts the banner,'' said the Laird; ``for you know we Highlanders, when a few clans are assembled, are not easily commanded by one of our own Chiefs, or, to say the truth, by any other body. We have heard a rumour, indeed, that Colkitto---that is, young Colkitto, or Alaster M`Donald, is come over the Kyle from Ireland, with a body of the Earl of Antrim's people, and that they had got as far as Ardnamurchan. They might have been here before now, but, I suppose, they loitered to plunder the country as they came along.''
``Will Colkitto not serve you for a leader then ?'' said Lord Menteith.
``Colkitto!'' said Allan M`Aulay, scornfully; ``who talks of Colkitto ? There lives but one man whom we will follow, and that is Montrose.''
``But Montrose, sir,'' said Sir Christopher Hall, ``has not been heard of since our ineffectual attempt to rise in the north of England. It is thought he has returned to the King at Oxford for farther instructions.''
``Returned!'' said Allan, with a scornful laugh; ``I could tell ye, but it is not worth my while; ye will know soon enough.''
``By my honour, Allan,'' said Lord Menteith, ``you will weary out your friends with this intolerable, froward, and sullen humour. ---But I know the reason,'' added he, laughing; ``you have not seen Annot Lyle to-day.''
``Whom did you say I had not seen?'' said Allan, sternly.
``Annot Lyle, the fairy queen of song and minstrelsy,'' said Lord Menteith.
``Would to God I were never to see her again,'' said Allan, sighing, ``on condition the same weird were laid on you.''
``And why on me?'' said Lord Menteith, carelessly.
``Because,'' said Allan, ``it is written on your forehead, that you are to be the ruin of each other.'' So saying, he rose up and left the room.
``Has he been long in this way?'' asked Lord Menteith, addressing his brother.
``About three days,'' answered Angus; ``the fit is weel-nigh over, he will be better to-morrow. But come, gentlemen, don't let the tappit-hen scraugh to be emptied. The King's health, King Charles's health! and may the covenanting dog that refuses it, go to Heaven by the road of the Grassmarket!''<*>
* [Formerly the place of execution in Edinburgh.]
The health was quickly pledged, and as fast succeeded by another, and another, and another, all of a party cast, and enforced in an earnest manner. Captain Dalgetty, however, thought it necessary to enter a protest.
``Gentlemen cavaliers,'' he said, ``I drink these healths, _primo,_ both out of respect to this honourable and hospitable roof-tree, and, _secundo,_ because I hold it not good to be preceese in such matters, _inter pocula;_ but I protest, agreeable to the warrandice granted by this honourable lord, that it shall be free to me, notwithstanding my present complaisance, to take service with the Covenanters to-morrow, provided I shall be so minded.''
M`Aulay and his English guests stared at this declaration, which would have certainly bred new disturbance, if Lord Menteith had not taken up the affair, and explained the circumstances and conditions. ``I trust,'' he concluded, ``we shall be able to secure Captain Dalgetty's assistance to our own party.''
``And if not,'' said the Laird, ``I protest, as the Captain says, that nothing that has passed this evening, not even his having eaten my bread and salt, and pledged me in brandy, Bourdeaux, or usquebaugh, shall prejudice my cleaving him to the neekbone.''
``You shall be heartily welcome,'' said the Captain, ``provided my sword cannot keep my head, which it has done in worse dangers than your feud is likely to make for me.''
Here Lord Menteith again interposed, and the concord of the company being with no small difficulty restored, was cemented by some deep carouses. Lord Menteith, however, contrived to break up the party earlier than was the usage of the Castle, under pretence of fatigue and indisposition. This was somewhat to the disappointment of the valiant Captain, who, among other habits acquired in the Low Countries, had acquired both a disposition to drink, and a capacity to bear, an exorbitant quantity of strong liquors.
Their landlord ushered them in person to a sort of sleeping gallery, in which there was a four-post bed, with tartan curtains, and a number of cribs, or long hampers, placed along the wall, three of which, well stuffed with blooming heather, were prepared for the reception of guests.
``I need not tell your lordship,'' said M`Aulay to Lord Menteith, a little apart, ``our Highland mode of quartering. Only that, not liking you should sleep in the room alone with this German landlouper, I have caused your servants' beds to be made here in the gallery. By G-d, my lord, these are times when men go to bed with a throat hale and sound as ever swallowed brandy, and before next morning it may be gaping like an oyster-shell.''
Lord Menteith thanked him sincerely, saying, ``It was just the arrangement he would have requested; for, although he had not the least apprehension of violence from Captain Dalgetty, yet Anderson was a better kind of person, a sort of gentleman, whom he always liked to have near his person.''
``I have not seen this Anderson,'' said M`Aulay; ``did you hire him in England?''
``I did so,'' said Lord Menteith; ``you will see the man to-morrow; in the meantime I wish you good-night.''
His host left the apartment after the evening salutation, and was about to pay the same compliment to Captain Dalgetty, but observing him deeply engaged in the discussion of a huge pitcher filled with brandy-posset, he thought it a pity to disturb him in so laudable an employment, and took his leave without farther ceremony.
Lord Menteith's two attendants entered the apartment almost immediately after his departure. The good Captain, who was now somewhat encumbered with his good cheer, began to find the undoing of the clasps of his armour a task somewhat difficult, and addressed Anderson in these words, interrupted by a slight hiccup,---``Anderson, my good friend, you may read in Scripture, that he that putteth off his armour should not boast himself like he that putteth it on---I believe that is not the right word of command; but the plain truth of it is, I am like to sleep in my corselet, like many an honest fellow that never waked again, unless you unloose this buckle.''
``Undo his armour, Sibbald,'' said Anderson to the other servant.
``By St. Andrew,'' exclaimed the Captain, turning round in great astonishment, ``here's a common fellow---a stipendiary with four pounds a-year and a livery cloak, thinks himself too good to serve Ritt-Master Dugald Dalgetty of Drumthwacket, who has studied humanity at the Mareschal College of Aberdeen, and served half the princes of Europe!''
``Captain Dalgetty,'' said Lord Menteith, whose lot it was to stand peacemaker throughout the evening, ``please to understand that Anderson waits upon no one but myself; but I will help Sibbald to undo your corselet with much pleasure.''
``Too much trouble for you, my lord,'' said Dalgetty; ``and yet it would do you no harm to practise how a handsome harness is put on and put off. I can step in and out of mine like a glove; only to-night, although not _ebrius,_ I am, in the classic phrase, _vino ciboque gravatus._''
By this time he was unshelled, and stood before the fire musing with a face of drunken wisdom on the events of the evening. What seemed chiefly to interest him, was the character of Allan M`Aulay. ``To come over the Englishman so cleverly with his Highland torch-bearers---eight bare-breeched Rories for six silver candlesticks!---it was a master-piece---a _tour-de-passe_---it was perfect legerdemain---and to be a madman after all!---I doubt greatly, my lord'' (shaking his head), ``that I must allow him, notwithstanding his relationship to your lordship, the privileges of a rational person, and either batoon him sufficiently to expiate the violence offered to my person, or else bring it to a matter of mortal arbitrament, as becometh an insulted cavalier.''
``If you care to hear a long story,'' said Lord Menteith, ``at this time of night, I can tell you how the circumstances of Allan's birth account so well for his singular character, as to put such satisfaction entirely out of the question.''
``A long story, my lord,'' said Captain Dalgetty, ``is, next to a good evening draught and a warm nightcap, the best shoeing-horn for drawing on a sound sleep. And since your lordship is pleased to take the trouble to tell it, I shall rest your patient and obliged auditor.''
``Anderson,'' said Lord Menteith, ``and you, Sibbald, are dying to hear, I suppose, of this strange man too; and I believe I must indulge your curiosity, that you may know how to behave to him in time of need. You had better step to the fire then.''
Having thus assembled an audience about him, Lord Menteith sat down upon the edge of the four-post bed, while Captain Dalgetty, wiping the relics of the posset from his beard and moustachoes, and repeating the first verse of the Lutheran psalm,_ Alle guten geister loben den Herrn,_ etc., rolled himself into one of the places of repose, and thrusting his shock pate from between the blankets, listened to Lord Menteith's relation in a most luxurious state, between sleeping and waking.
``The father,'' said Lord Menteith, ``of the two brothers, Angus and Allan M`Aulay, was a gentleman of consideration and family, being the chief of a Highland clan, of good account, though not numerous; his lady, the mother of these young men, was a gentlewoman of good family, if I may be permitted to say so of one nearly connected with my own. Her brother, an honourable and spirited young man, obtained from James the Sixth a grant of forestry, and other privileges, over a royal chase, adjacent to this castle; and, in exercising and defending these rights, he was so unfortunate as to involve himself in a quarrel with some of our Highland freebooters, or caterans, of whom, I think, Captain Dalgetty, you must have heard.''
``And that I have,'' said the Captain, exerting himself to answer the appeal. ``Before I left the Mareschal College of Aberdeen, Dugald Garr was playing the devil in the Garioch, and the Farquharsons on Deeside, and the Clan Chattan on the Gordon's lands, and the Grants and Camerons in Moray-land. And since that, I have seen the Cravats and Pandours in Pannonia and Transylvania, and the Cossacks from the Polish frontier, and robbers, banditti, and barbarians of all countries besides, so that I have a distinct idea of your broken Highlandmen.''
``The clan,'' said Lord Menteith, ``with whom the maternal uncle of the M`Aulays had been placed in feud, was a small sept of banditti, called, from their houseless state, and their incessantly wandering among the mountains and glens, the Children of the Mist. They are a fierce and hardy people, with all the irritability, and wild and vengeful passions, proper to men who have never known the restraint of civilised society. A party of them lay in wait for the unfortunate Warden of the Forest, surprised him while hunting alone and unattended, and slew him with every circumstance of inventive cruelty. They cut off his head, and resolved, in a bravado, to exhibit it at the castle of his brother-in-law. The laird was absent, and the lady reluctantly received as guests, men against whom, perhaps, she was afraid to shut her gates. Refreshments were placed before the Children of the Mist, who took an opportunity to take the head of their victim from the plaid in which it was wrapt, placed it on the table, put a piece of bread between the lifeless jaws, bidding them do their office now, since many a good meal they had eaten at that table. The lady, who had been absent for some household purpose, entered at this moment, and, upon beholding her brother's head, fled like an arrow out of the house into the woods, uttering shriek upon shriek. The ruffians, satisfied with this savage triumph, withdrew. The terrified menials, after overcoming the alarm to which they had been subjected, sought their unfortunate mistress in every direction, but she was nowhere to be found. The miserable husband returned next day, and, with the assistance of his people, undertook a more anxious and distant search, but to equally little purpose. It was believed universally, that, in the ecstasy of her terror, she must either have thrown herself over one of the numerous precipices which overhang the river, or into a deep lake about a mile from the castle. Her loss was the more lamented, as she was six months advanced in her pregnancy; Angus M`Aulay, her eldest son, having been born about eighteen months before.---But I tire you, Captain Dalgetty, and you seem inclined to sleep.''
``By no means,'' answered the soldier; ``I am no whit somnolent; I always hear best with my eyes shut. It is a fashion I learned when I stood sentinel.''
``And I dare say,'' said Lord Menteith, aside to Anderson, ``the weight of the halberd of the sergeant of the round often made him open them.''
Being apparently, however, in the humour of story-telling, the young nobleman went on, addressing himself chiefly to his servants, without minding the slumbering veteran.
``Every baron in the country,'' said he, ``now swore revenge for this dreadful crime. They took arms with the relations and brother-in-law of the murdered person, and the Children of the Mist were hunted down, I believe, with as little mercy as they had themselves manifested. Seventeen heads, the bloody trophies of their vengeance, were distributed among the allies, and fed the crows upon the gates of their castles. The survivors sought out more distant wildernesses, to which they retreated.''
``To your right hand, counter-march, and retreat to your former ground,'' said Captain Dalgetty; the military phrase having produced the correspondent word of command; and then starting up, processed he had been profoundly attentive to every word that had been spoken.
``It is the custom in summer,'' said Lord Menteith, without attending to his apology, ``to send the cows to the upland pastures to have the benefit of the grass; and the maids of the village, and of the family, go there to milk them in the morning and evening. While thus employed, the females of this family, to their great terror, perceived that their motions were watched at a distance by a pale, thin, meagre figure, bearing a strong resemblance to their deceased mistress, and passing, of course, for her apparition. When some of the boldest resolved to approach this faded form, it fled from them into the woods with a wild shriek. The husband, informed of this circumstance, came up to the glen with some attendants, and took his measures so well as to intercept the retreat of the unhappy fugitive, and to secure the person of his unfortunate lady, though her intellect proved to be totally deranged. How she supported herself during her wandering in the woods, could not be known---some supposed she lived upon roots and wild berries, with which the woods at that season abounded; but the greater part of the vulgar were satisfied that she must have subsisted upon the milk of the wild does, or been nourished by the fairies, or supported in some manner equally marvellous. Her re-appearance was more easily accounted for. She had seen from the thicket, the milking of the cows, to superintend which had been her favourite domestic employment, and the habit had prevailed even in her deranged state of mind.
In due season the unfortunate lady was delivered of a boy, who not only showed no appearance of having suffered from his mother's calamities, but appeared to be an infant of uncommon health and strength. The unhappy mother, after her confinement, recovered her reason---at least in a great measure, but never her health and spirits. Allan was her only joy. Her attention to him was unremitting; and unquestionably she must have impressed upon his early mind many of those superstitious ideas to which his moody and enthusiastic temper gave so ready a reception. She died when he was about ten years old. Her last words were spoken to him in private; but there is little doubt that they conveyed an injunction of vengeance upon the Children of the Mist, with which he has since amply complied.<*>
* [See Introduction to the ``Chronicles of the Canongate,'' vol. xix.]
``From this moment the habits of Allan M`Aulay were totally changed. He had hitherto been his mother's constant companion, listening to her dreams, and repeating his own, and feeding his imagination, which, probably from the circumstances preceding his birth, was constitutionally deranged, with all the wild and terrible superstitions so common to the mountaineers, to which his unfortunate mother had become much addicted since her brother's death. By living in this manner, the boy had gotten a timid, wild, startled look, loved to seek out solitary places in the woods, and was never so much terrified as by the approach of children of the same age. I remember, although some years younger, being brought up here by my father upon a visit, nor can I forget the astonishment with which I saw this infant hermit shun every attempt I made to engage him in the sports natural to our age. I can remember his father bewailing his disposition to mine, and alleging, at the same time, that it was impossible for him to take from his wife the company of the boy, as he seemed to be the only consolation that remained to her in this world, and as the amusement which Allan's society afforded her seemed to prevent the recurrence, at least in its full force, of that fearful malady by which she had been visited. But, after the death of his mother, the habits and manners of the boy seemed at once to change. It is true he remained as thoughtful and serious as before; and long fits of silence and abstraction showed plainly that his disposition, in this respect, was in no degree altered. But at other times, he sought out the rendezvous of the youth of the clan, which he had hitherto seemed anxious to avoid. He took share in all their exercises and, from his very extraordinary personal strength, soon excelled his brother and other youths, whose age considerably exceeded his own. They who had hitherto held him in contempt, now feared, if they did not love him; and, instead of Allan's being esteemed a dreaming, womanish, and feeble-minded boy, those who encountered him in sports or military exercise, now complained that, when heated by the strife, he was too apt to turn game into earnest, and to forget that he was only engaged in a friendly trial of strength.---But I speak to regardless ears,'' said Lord Menteith, interrupting himself, for the Captain's nose now gave the most indisputable signs that he was fast locked in the arms of oblivion.
``If you mean the ears of that snorting swine, my lord,'' said Anderson, ``they are, indeed, shut to anything that you can say, nevertheless, this place being unfit for more private conference, I hope you will have the goodness to proceed, for Sibbald's benefit and for mine. The history of this poor young fellow has a deep and wild interest in it.''
``You must know, then,'' proceeded Lord Menteith, ``that Allan continued to increase in strength and activity till his fifteenth year, about which time he assumed a total independence of character, and impatience of control, which much alarmed his surviving parent. He was absent in the woods for whole days and nights, under pretence of hunting, though he did not always bring home game. His father was the more alarmed, because several of the Children of the Mist, encouraged by the increasing troubles of the state, had ventured back to their old haunts, nor did he think it altogether safe to renew any attack upon them. The risk of Allan, in his wanderings, sustaining injury from these vindictive freebooters, was a perpetual source of apprehension.
``I was myself upon a visit to the castle when this matter was brought to a crisis. Allan had been absent since daybreak in the woods, where I had sought for him in vain; it was a dark stormy night, and he did not return. His father expressed the utmost anxiety, and spoke of detaching a party at the dawn of morning in quest of him; when, as we were sitting at the supper-table, the door suddenly opened, and Allan entered the room with a proud, firm, and confident air. His intractability of temper, as well as the unsettled state of his mind, had such an influence over his father, that he suppressed all other tokens of displeasure, excepting the observation that I had killed a fat buck, and had returned before sunset, while he supposed Allan, who had been on the hill till midnight, had returned with empty hands. `Are you sure of that?' said Allan fiercely; `here is something will tell you another tale.'
``We now observed his hands were bloody, and that there were spots of blood on his face, and waited the issue with impatience; when suddenly, undoing the corner of his plaid, he rolled down on the table a human head bloody and new severed, saying at the same time, `lie thou where the head of a better man lay before ye.' From the haggard features, and matted red hair and beard, partly grizzled with age, his father and others present recognised the head of Hector of the Mist, a well-known leader among the outlaws, redoubted for strength and ferocity, who had been active in the murder of the unfortunate Forester, uncle to Allan, and had escaped by a desperate defence and extraordinary agility, when so many of his companions were destroyed. We were all, it may be believed, struck with surprise, but Allan refused to gratify our curiosity; and we only conjectured that he must have overcome the outlaw after a desperate struggle, because we discovered that he had sustained several wounds from the contest. All measures were now taken to ensure him against the vengeance of the freebooters; but neither his wounds, nor the positive command of his father, nor even the locking of the gates of the castle and the doors of his apartment, were precautions adequate to prevent Allan from seeking out the very persons to whom he was peculiarly obnoxious. He made his escape by night from the window of the apartment, and laughing at his father's vain care, produced on one occasion the head of one, and upon another those of two, of the Children of the Mist. At length these men, fierce as they were, became appalled by the inveterate animosity and audacity with which Allan sought out their recesses. As he never hesitated to encounter any odds, they concluded that he must bear a charmed life, or fight under the guardianship of some supernatural influence. Neither gun, dirk, nor dourlach,<*> they said,
* _Dourlach_---quiver; literally, satchel---of arrows.
availed aught against him. They imputed this to the remarkable circumstances under which he was born; and at length five or six of the stoutest caterans of the Highlands would have fled at Allan's halloo, or the blast of his horn.
``In the meanwhile, however, the Children of the Mist carried on their old trade, and did the M`Aulays, as well as their kinsmen and allies, as much mischief as they could. This provoked another expedition against the tribe, in which I had my share; we surprised them effectually, by besetting at once the upper and under passes of the country, and made such clean work as is usual on these occasions, burning and slaying right before us. In this terrible species of war, even the females and the helpless do not always escape. One little maiden alone, who smiled upon Allan's drawn dirk, escaped his vengeance upon my earnest entreaty. She was brought to the castle, and here bred up under the name of Annot Lyle, the most beautiful little fairy certainly that ever danced upon a heath by moonlight. It was long ere Allan could endure the presence of the child, until it occurred to his imagination, from her features perhaps, that she did not belong to the hated blood of his enemies, but had become their captive in some of their incursions: a circumstance not in itself impossible, but in which he believes as firmly as holy writ. He is particularly delighted by her skill in music, which is so exquisite that she far exceeds the best performers in this country in playing on the clairshach, or harp. It was discovered that this produced upon the disturbed spirits of Allan, in his gloomiest moods, beneficial effects, similar to those experienced by the Jewish monarch of old; and so engaging is the temper of Annot Lyle, so fascinating the innocence and gaiety of her disposition, that she is considered and treated in the castle rather as the sister of the proprietor, than as a dependant upon his charity. Indeed, it is impossible for any one to see her without being deeply interested by the ingenuity, liveliness, and sweetness of her disposition.''
``Take care, my lord,'' said Anderson, smiling; ``there is danger in such violent commendations. Allan M`Aulay, as your lordship describes him, would prove no very safe rival.''
``Pooh! pooh!'' said Lord Menteith, laughing, yet blushing at the same time: ``Allan is not accessible to the passion of love; and for myself,'' said he more gravely, ``Annot's unknown birth is a sufficient reason against serious designs, and her unprotected state precludes every other.''
``It is spoken like yourself, my lord,'' said Anderson.---``But I trust you will proceed with your interesting story.''
``It is well-nigh finished,'' said Lord Menteith; ``I have only to add, that from the great strength and courage of Allan M`Aulay, from his energetic and uncontrollable disposition, and from an opinion generally entertained and encouraged by himself, that he holds communion with supernatural beings, and can predict future events, the clan pay a much greater degree of deference to him than even to his brother, who is a bold-hearted rattling Highlander, but with nothing which can possibly rival the extraordinary character of his younger brother.''
``Such a character,'' said Anderson, ``cannot but have the deepest effect on the minds of a Highland host. We must secure Allan, my lord, at all events. What between his bravery and his second sight ''------
``Hush!'' said Lord Menteith, ``that owl is awaking.''
``Do you talk of the second sight, or _deuteroscopia?_'' said the soldier; ``I remember memorable Major Munro telling me how Murdoch Mackenzie, born in Assint, a private gentleman in a company, and a pretty soldier, foretold the death of Donald Tough, a Lochaber man, and certain other persons, as well as the hurt of the Major himself at a sudden onfall at the siege of Trailsund.''
``I have often heard of this faculty,'' observed Anderson, ``but I have always thought those pretending to it were either enthusiasts or impostors.''
``I should be loath,'' said Lord Menteith, ``to apply either character to my kinsman Allan M`Aulay. He has shown on many occasions too much acuteness and sense, of which you this night had an instance, for the character of an enthusiast; and his high sense of honour, and manliness of disposition, free him from the charge of imposture.''
``Your lordship, then,'' said Anderson, ``is a believer in his supernatural attributes ?''
``By no means,'' said the young nobleman; ``I think that he persuades himself that the predictions, which are, in reality, the result of judgment and reflection, are supernatural impressions on his mind, just as fanatics conceive the workings of their own imagination to be divine inspiration---at least, if this will not serve you, Anderson, I have no better explanation to give; and it is time we were all asleep after the toilsome journey of the day.''
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