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Chapter 3

Elspat MacTavish remained gazing on the money as if the impress
of the coin could have conveyed information how it was procured.

"I love not this MacPhadraick," she said to herself. "It was his
race of whom the Bard hath spoken, saying, Fear them not when
their words are loud as the winter's wind, but fear them when
they fall on you like the sound of the thrush's song. And yet
this riddle can be read but one way: My son hath taken the sword
to win that, with strength like a man, which churls would keep
him from with the words that frighten children." This idea, when
once it occurred to her, seemed the more reasonable, that
MacPhadraick, as she well knew, himself a cautious man, had so
far encouraged her husband's practices as occasionally to buy
cattle of MacTavish, although he must have well known how they
were come by, taking care, however, that the transaction was so
made as to be accompanied with great profit and absolute safety.
Who so likely as MacPhadraick to indicate to a young cateran the
glen in which he could commence his perilous trade with most
prospect of success? Who so likely to convert his booty into
money? The feelings which another might have experienced on
believing that an only son had rushed forward on the same path in
which his father had perished, were scarce known to the Highland
mothers of that day. She thought of the death of MacTavish Mhor
as that of a hero who had fallen in his proper trade of war, and
who had not fallen unavenged. She feared less for her son's life
than for his dishonour. She dreaded, on his account, the
subjection to strangers, and the death-sleep of the soul which is
brought on by what she regarded as slavery.

The moral principle which so naturally and so justly occurs to
the mind of those who have been educated under a settled
government of laws that protect the property of the weak against
the incursions of the strong, was to poor Elspat a book sealed
and a fountain closed. She had been taught to consider those
whom they call Saxons as a race with whom the Gael were
constantly at war; and she regarded every settlement of theirs
within the reach of Highland incursion as affording a legitimate
object of attack and plunder. Her feelings on this point had
been strengthened and confirmed, not only by the desire of
revenge for the death of her husband, but by the sense of general
indignation entertained, not unjustly, through the Highlands of
Scotland, on account of the barbarous and violent conduct of the
victors after the battle of Culloden. Other Highland clans, too,
she regarded as the fair objects of plunder, when that was
possible, upon the score of ancient enmities and deadly feuds.

The prudence that might have weighed the slender means which the
times afforded for resisting the efforts of a combined
government, which had, in its less compact and established
authority, been unable to put down the ravages of such lawless
caterans as MacTavish Mhor, was unknown to a solitary woman whose
ideas still dwelt upon her own early times. She imagined that
her son had only to proclaim himself his father's successor in
adventure and enterprise, and that a force of men, as gallant as
those who had followed his father's banner, would crowd around to
support it when again displayed. To her Hamish was the eagle who
had only to soar aloft and resume his native place in the skies,
without her being able to comprehend how many additional eyes
would have watched his flight--how many additional bullets would
have been directed at his bosom. To be brief, Elspat was one who
viewed the present state of society with the same feelings with
which she regarded the times that had passed away. She had been
indigent, neglected, oppressed since the days that her husband
had no longer been feared and powerful, and she thought that the
term of her ascendence would return when her son had determined
to play the part of his father. If she permitted her eye to
glance farther into futurity, it was but to anticipate that she
must be for many a day cold in the grave, with the coronach of
her tribe cried duly over her, before her fair-haired Hamish
could, according to her calculation, die with his hand on the
basket-hilt of the red claymore. His father's hair was grey,
ere, after a hundred dangers, he had fallen with his arms in his
hands. That she should have seen and survived the sight was a
natural consequence of the manners of that age. And better it
was--such was her proud thought--that she had seen him so die,
than to have witnessed his departure from life in a smoky hovel
on a bed of rotten straw like an over-worn hound, or a bullock
which died of disease. But the hour of her young, her brave
Hamish, was yet far distant. He must succeed--he must conquer
--like his father. And when he fell at length--for she
anticipated for him no bloodless death--Elspat would ere then
have lain long in the grave, and could neither see his death-
struggle nor mourn over his grave-sod.

With such wild notions working in her brain, the spirit of Elspat
rose to its usual pitch, or, rather, to one which seemed higher.
In the emphatic language of Scripture, which in that idiom does
not greatly differ from her own, she arose, she washed and
changed her apparel, and ate bread, and was refreshed.

She longed eagerly for the return of her son, but she now longed
not with the bitter anxiety of doubt and apprehension. She said
to herself that much must be done ere he could in these times
arise to be an eminent and dreaded leader. Yet when she saw him
again, she almost expected him at the head of a daring band, with
pipes playing and banners flying, the noble tartans fluttering
free in the wind, in despite of the laws which had suppressed,
under severe penalties, the use of the national garb and all the
appurtenances of Highland chivalry. For all this, her eager
imagination was content only to allow the interval of some days.

From the moment this opinion had taken deep and serious
possession of her mind, her thoughts were bent upon receiving her
son at the head of his adherents in the manner in which she used
to adorn her hut for the return of his father.

The substantial means of subsistence she had not the power of
providing, nor did she consider that of importance. The
successful caterans would bring with them herds and flocks. But
the interior of her hut was arranged for their reception, the
usquebaugh was brewed or distilled in a larger quantity than it
could have been supposed one lone woman could have made ready.
Her hut was put into such order as might, in some degree, give it
the appearance of a day of rejoicing. It was swept and
decorated, with boughs of various kinds, like the house of a
Jewess upon what is termed the Feast of the Tabernacles. The
produce of the milk of her little flock was prepared in as great
variety of forms as her skill admitted, to entertain her son and
his associates whom she, expected to receive along with him.

But the principal decoration, which she sought with the greatest
toil, was the cloud-berry, a scarlet fruit, which is only found
on very high hills; and these only in small quantities. Her
husband, or perhaps one of his forefathers, had chosen this as
the emblem of his family, because it seemed at once to imply, by
its scarcity, the smallness of their clan, and, by the places in
which it was found, the ambitious height of their pretensions.

For the time that these simple preparations of welcome endured,
Elspat was in a state of troubled happiness. In fact, her only
anxiety was that she might be able to complete all that she could
do to welcome Hamish and the friends who she supposed must have
attached themselves to his band, before they should arrive and
find her unprovided for their reception.

But when such efforts as she could make had been accomplished,
she once more had nothing left to engage her save the trifling
care of her goats; and when these had been attended to, she had
only to review her little preparations, renew such as were of a
transitory nature, replace decayed branches and fading boughs,
and then to sit down at her cottage-door and watch the road as it
ascended on the one side from the banks of the Awe, and on the
other wound round the heights of the mountain, with such a degree
of accommodation to hill and level as the plan of the military
engineer permitted. While so occupied, her imagination,
anticipating the future from recollections of the past, formed
out of the morning mist or the evening cloud the wild forms of an
advancing band, which were then called "Sidier Dhu" (dark
soldiers), dressed in their native tartan, and so named to
distinguish them from the scarlet ranks of the British army. In
this occupation she spent many hours of each morning and evening.

Sir Walter Scott

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