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Chapter 2


Oh, I'm come to the Low Country,
Och, och, ohonochie,
Without a penny in my pouch
To buy a meal for me.
I was the proudest of my clan,
Long, long may I repine;
And Donald was the bravest man,
And Donald he was mine. OLD SONG.

Elspat had enjoyed happy days, though her age had sunk into
hopeless and inconsolable sorrow and distress. She was once the
beautiful and happy wife of Hamish MacTavish, for whom his
strength and feats of prowess had gained the title of MacTavish
Mhor. His life was turbulent and dangerous, his habits being of
the old Highland stamp which esteemed it shame to want anything
that could be had for the taking. Those in the Lowland line who
lay near him, and desired to enjoy their lives and property in
quiet, were contented to pay him a small composition, in name of
protection money, and comforted themselves with the old proverb
that it was better to "fleech the deil than fight him." Others,
who accounted such composition dishonourable, were often
surprised by MacTavish Mhor and his associates and followers, who
usually inflicted an adequate penalty, either in person or
property, or both. The creagh is yet remembered in which he
swept one hundred and fifty cows from Monteith in one drove; and
how he placed the laird of Ballybught naked in a slough, for
having threatened to send for a party of the Highland Watch to
protect his property.

Whatever were occasionally the triumphs of this daring cateran,
they were often exchanged for reverses; and his narrow escapes,
rapid flights, and the ingenious stratagems with which he
extricated himself from imminent danger, were no less remembered
and admired than the exploits in which he had been successful.
In weal or woe, through every species of fatigue, difficulty, and
danger, Elspat was his faithful companion. She enjoyed with him
the fits of occasional prosperity; and when adversity pressed
them hard, her strength of mind, readiness of wit, and courageous
endurance of danger and toil, are said often to have stimulated
the exertions of her husband.

Their morality was of the old Highland cast--faithful friends and
fierce enemies. The Lowland herds and harvests they accounted
their own, whenever they had the means of driving off the one or
of seizing upon the other; nor did the least scruple on the right
of property interfere on such occasions. Hamish Mhor argued like
the old Cretan warrior:

"My sword, my spear, my shaggy shield,
They make me lord of all below;
For he who dreads the lance to wield,
Before my shaggy shield must bow.
His lands, his vineyards, must resign,
And all that cowards have is mine."

But those days of perilous, though frequently successful
depredation, began to be abridged after the failure of the
expedition of Prince Charles Edward. MacTavish Mhor had not sat
still on that occasion, and he was outlawed, both as a traitor to
the state and as a robber and cateran. Garrisons were now
settled in many places where a red-coat had never before been
seen, and the Saxon war-drum resounded among the most hidden
recesses of the Highland mountains. The fate of MacTavish became
every day more inevitable; and it was the more difficult for him
to make his exertions for defence or escape, that Elspat, amid
his evil days, had increased his family with an infant child,
which was a considerable encumbrance upon the necessary rapidity
of their motions.

At length the fatal day arrived. In a strong pass on the skirts
of Ben Crunchan, the celebrated MacTavish Mhor was surprised by a
detachment of the Sidier Roy. [The Red Soldier.] His wife
assisted him heroically, charging his piece from time to time;
and as they were in possession of a post that was nearly
unassailable, he might have perhaps escaped if his ammunition had
lasted. But at length his balls were expended, although it was
not until he had fired off most of the silver buttons from his
waistcoat; and the soldiers, no longer deterred by fear of the
unerring marksman, who had slain three and wounded more of their
number, approached his stronghold, and, unable to take him alive,
slew him after a most desperate resistance.

All this Elspat witnessed and survived; for she had, in the child
which relied on her for support, a motive for strength and
exertion. In what manner she maintained herself it is not easy
to say. Her only ostensible means of support were a flock of
three or four goats, which she fed wherever she pleased on the
mountain pastures, no one challenging the intrusion. In the
general distress of the country, her ancient acquaintances had
little to bestow; but what they could part with from their own
necessities, they willingly devoted to the relief of others, From
Lowlanders she sometimes demanded tribute, rather than requested
alms. She had not forgotten she was the widow of MacTavish Mhor,
or that the child who trotted by her knee might, such were her
imaginations, emulate one day the fame of his father, and command
the same influence which he had once exerted without control.
She associated so little with others, went so seldom and so
unwillingly from the wildest recesses of the mountains, where she
usually dwelt with her goats, that she was quite unconscious of
the great change which had taken place in the country around her
--the substitution of civil order for military violence, and the
strength gained by the law and its adherents over those who were
called in Gaelic song, "the stormy sons of the sword." Her own
diminished consequence and straitened circumstances she indeed
felt, but for this the death of MacTavish Mhor was, in her
apprehension, a sufficing reason; and she doubted not that she
should rise to her former state of importance when Hamish Bean
(or fair-haired James) should be able to wield the arms of his
father. If, then, Elspat was repelled, rudely when she demanded
anything necessary for her wants, or the accommodation of her
little flock, by a churlish farmer, her threats of vengeance,
obscurely expressed, yet terrible in their tenor, used frequently
to extort, through fear of her maledictions, the relief which was
denied to her necessities; and the trembling goodwife, who gave
meal or money to the widow of MacTavish Mhor, wished in her heart
that the stern old carlin had been burnt on the day her husband
had his due.

Years thus ran on, and Hamish Bean grew up--not, indeed, to be of
his father's size or strength, but to become an active, high-
spirited, fair-haired youth, with a ruddy cheek, an eye like an
eagle's, and all the agility, if not all the strength, of his
formidable father, upon whose history and achievements his mother
dwelt, in order to form her son's mind to a similar course of
adventures. But the young see the present state of this
changeful world more keenly than the old. Much attached to his
mother, and disposed to do all in his power for her support,
Hamish yet perceived, when he mixed with the world, that the
trade of the cateran was now alike dangerous and discreditable,
and that if he were to emulate his father's progress, it must be
in some other line of warfare more consonant to the opinions of
the present day.

As the faculties of mind and body began to expand, he became more
sensible of the precarious nature of his situation, of the
erroneous views of his mother, and her ignorance respecting the
changes of the society with which she mingled so little. In
visiting friends and neighbours, he became aware of the extremely
reduced scale to which his parent was limited, and learned that
she possessed little or nothing more than the absolute
necessaries of life, and that these were sometimes on the point
of failing. At times his success in fishing and the chase was
able to add something to her subsistence; but he saw no regular
means of contributing to her support, unless by stooping to
servile labour, which, if he himself could have endured it,
would, he knew, have been like a death's-wound to the pride of
his mother.

Elspat, meanwhile, saw with surprise that Hamish Bean, although
now tall and fit for the field, showed no disposition to enter on
his father's scene of action. There was something of the mother
at her heart, which prevented her from urging him in plain terms
to take the field as a cateran, for the fear occurred of the
perils into which the trade must conduct him; and when she would
have spoken to him on the subject, it seemed to her heated
imagination as if the ghost of her husband arose between them in
his bloody tartans, and laying his finger on his lips, appeared
to prohibit the topic. Yet she wondered at what seemed his want
of spirit, sighed as she saw him from day to day lounging about
in the long-skirted Lowland coat which the legislature had
imposed upon the Gael instead of their own romantic garb, and
thought how much nearer he would have resembled her husband had
he been clad in the belted plaid and short hose, with his
polished arms gleaming at his side.

Besides these subjects for anxiety, Elspat had others arising
from the engrossing impetuosity of her temper. Her love of
MacTavish Mhor had been qualified by respect and sometimes even
by fear, for the cateran was not the species of man who submits
to female government; but over his son she had exerted, at first
during childhood, and afterwards in early youth, an imperious
authority, which gave her maternal love a character of jealousy.
She could not bear when Hamish, with advancing life, made
repeated steps towards independence, absented himself from her
cottage at such season and for such length of time as he chose,
and seemed to consider, although maintaining towards her every
possible degree of respect and kindness, that the control and
responsibility of his actions rested on himself alone. This
would have been of little consequence, could she have concealed
her feelings within her own bosom; but the ardour and impatience
of her passions made her frequently show her son that she
conceived herself neglected and ill-used. When he was absent for
any length of time from her cottage without giving intimation of
his purpose, her resentment on his return used to be so
unreasonable, that it naturally suggested to a young man fond of
independence, and desirous to amend his situation in the world,
to leave her, even for the very purpose of enabling him to
provide for the parent whose egotistical demands on his filial
attention tended to confine him to a desert, in which both were
starving in hopeless and helpless indigence.

Upon one occasion, the son having been guilty of some independent
excursion, by which the mother felt herself affronted and
disobliged, she had been more than usually violent on his return,
and awakened in Hamish a sense of displeasure, which clouded his
brow and cheek. At length, as she persevered in her unreasonable
resentment, his patience became exhausted, and taking his gun
from the chimney corner, and muttering to himself the reply which
his respect for his mother prevented him from speaking aloud, he
was about to leave the hut which he had but barely entered.

"Hamish," said his mother, "are you again about to leave me?"
But Hamish only replied by looking at and rubbing the lock of his
gun.

"Ay, rub the lock of your gun," said his parent bitterly. "I am
glad you have courage enough to fire it? though it be but at a
roe-deer." Hamish started at this undeserved taunt, and cast a
look of anger at her in reply. She saw that she had found the
means of giving him pain.

"Yes," she said, "look fierce as you will at an old woman, and
your mother; it would be long ere you bent your brow on the angry
countenance of a bearded man."

"Be silent, mother, or speak of what you understand," said
Hamish, much irritated, "and that is of the distaff and the
spindle."

"And was it of spindle and distaff that I was thinking when I
bore you away on my back through the fire of six of the Saxon
soldiers, and you a wailing child? I tell you, Hamish, I know a
hundredfold more of swords and guns than ever you will; and you
will never learn so much of noble war by yourself, as you have
seen when you were wrapped up in my plaid."

"You are determined, at least, to allow me no peace at home,
mother; but this shall have an end," said Hamish, as, resuming
his purpose of leaving the hut, he rose and went towards the
door.

"Stay, I command you," said his mother--"stay! or may the gun
you carry be the means of your ruin! may the road you are going
be the track of your funeral!"

"What makes you use such words, mother?" said the young man,
turning a little back; "they are not good, and good cannot come
of them. Farewell just now! we are too angry to speak together
--farewell! It will be long ere you see me again." And he
departed, his mother, in the first burst of her impatience,
showering after him her maledictions, and in the next invoking
them on her own head, so that they might spare her son's. She
passed that day and the next in all the vehemence of impotent and
yet unrestrained passion, now entreating Heaven, and such powers
as were familiar to her by rude tradition, to restore her dear
son, "the calf of her heart;" now in impatient resentment,
meditating with what bitter terms she should rebuke his filial
disobedience upon his return, and now studying the most tender
language to attach him to the cottage, which, when her boy was
present, she would not, in the rapture of her affection, have
exchanged for the apartments of Taymouth Castle.

Two days passed, during which, neglecting even the slender means
of supporting nature which her situation afforded, nothing but
the strength of a frame accustomed to hardships and privations of
every kind could have kept her in existence, notwithstanding the
anguish of her mind prevented her being sensible of her personal
weakness. Her dwelling at this period was the same cottage near
which I had found her, but then more habitable by the exertions
of Hamish, by whom it had been in a great measure built and
repaired.

It was on the third day after her son had disappeared, as she sat
at the door rocking herself, after the fashion of her
countrywomen when in distress, or in pain, that the then unwonted
circumstance occurred of a passenger being seen on the highroad
above the cottage. She cast but one glance at him. He was on
horseback, so that it could not be Hamish; and Elspat cared not
enough for any other being on earth to make her turn her eyes
towards him a second time. The stranger, however, paused
opposite to her cottage, and dismounting from his pony, led it
down the steep and broken path which conducted to her door.

"God bless you, Elspat MacTavish!" She looked at the man as he
addressed her in her native language, with the displeased air of
one whose reverie is interrupted; but the traveller went on to
say, "I bring you tidings of your son Hamish." At once, from
being the most uninteresting object, in respect to Elspat, that
could exist, the form of the stranger became awful in her eyes,
as that of a messenger descended from heaven, expressly to
pronounce upon her death or life. She started from her seat, and
with hands convulsively clasped together, and held up to Heaven,
eyes fixed on the stranger's countenance, and person stooping
forward to him, she looked those inquiries which her faltering
tongue could not articulate. "Your son sends you his dutiful
remembrance, and this," said the messenger, putting into Elspat's
hand a small purse containing four or five dollars.

"He is gone! he is gone!" exclaimed Elspat; "he has sold
himself to be the servant of the Saxons, and I shall never more
behold him! Tell me, Miles MacPhadraick--for now I know you--is
it the price of the son's blood that you have put into the
mother's hand?"

"Now, God forbid!" answered MacPhadraick, who was a tacksman,
and had possession of a considerable tract of ground under his
chief, a proprietor who lived about twenty miles off--"God forbid
I should do wrong, or say wrong, to you, or to the son of
MacTavish Mhor! I swear to you by the hand of my chief that your
son is well, and will soon see you; and the rest he will tell you
himself." So saying, MacPhadraick hastened back up the pathway,
gained the road, mounted his pony, and rode upon his way.

Sir Walter Scott

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