It was in vain that Elspat's eyes surveyed the distant path by
the earliest light of the dawn and the latest glimmer of the
twilight. No rising dust awakened the expectation of nodding
plumes or flashing arms. The solitary traveller trudged
listlessly along in his brown lowland greatcoat, his tartans dyed
black or purple, to comply with or evade the law which prohibited
their being worn in their variegated hues. The spirit of the
Gael, sunk and broken by the severe though perhaps necessary
laws, that proscribed the dress and arms which he considered as
his birthright, was intimated by his drooping head and dejected
appearance. Not in such depressed wanderers did Elspat recognise
the light and free step of her son, now, as she concluded,
regenerated from every sign of Saxon thraldom. Night by night,
as darkness came, she removed from her unclosed door, to throw
herself on her restless pallet, not to sleep, but to watch. The
brave and the terrible, she said, walk by night. Their steps are
heard in darkness, when all is silent save the whirlwind and the
cataract. The timid deer comes only forth when the sun is upon
the mountain's peak, but the bold wolf walks in the red light of
the harvest-moon. She reasoned in vain; her son's expected
summons did not call her from the lowly couch where she lay
dreaming of his approach. Hamish came not.
"Hope deferred," saith the royal sage, "maketh the heart sick;"
and strong as was Elspat's constitution, she began to experience
that it was unequal to the toils to which her anxious and
immoderate affection subjected her, when early one morning the
appearance of a traveller on the lonely mountain-road, revived
hopes which had begun to sink into listless despair. There was
no sign of Saxon subjugation about the stranger. At a distance
she could see the flutter of the belted-plaid that drooped in
graceful folds behind him, and the plume that, placed in the
bonnet, showed rank and gentle birth. He carried a gun over his
shoulder, the claymore was swinging by his side with its usual
appendages, the dirk, the pistol, and the SPORRAN MOLLACH. [The
goat-skin pouch, worn by the Highlanders round their waist.] Ere
yet her eye had scanned all these particulars, the light step of
the traveller was hastened, his arm was waved in token of
recognition--a moment more, and Elspat held in her arms her
darling son, dressed in the garb of his ancestors, and looking,
in her maternal eyes, the fairest among ten thousand!
The first outpouring of affection it would be impossible to
describe. Blessings mingled with the most endearing epithets
which her energetic language affords in striving to express the
wild rapture of Elspat's joy. Her board was heaped hastily with
all she had to offer, and the mother watched the young soldier,
as he partook of the refreshment, with feelings how similar to,
yet how different from, those with which she had seen him draw
his first sustenance from her bosom!
When the tumult of joy was appeased, Elspat became anxious to
know her son's adventures since they parted, and could not help
greatly censuring his rashness for traversing the hills in the
Highland dress in the broad sunshine, when the penalty was so
heavy, and so many red soldiers were abroad in the country.
"Fear not for me, mother," said Hamish, in a tone designed to
relieve her anxiety, and yet somewhat embarrassed; "I may wear
the BREACAN [That which is variegated--that is, the tartan.] at
the gate of Fort-Augustus, if I like it."
"Oh, be not too daring, my beloved Hamish, though it be the fault
which best becomes thy father's son--yet be not too daring!
Alas! they fight not now as in former days, with fair weapons
and on equal terms, but take odds of numbers and of arms, so that
the feeble and the strong are alike levelled by the shot of a
boy. And do not think me unworthy to be called your father's
widow and your mother because I speak thus; for God knoweth,
that, man to man, I would peril thee against the best in
Breadalbane, and broad Lorn besides."
"I assure you, my dearest mother," replied Hamish, "that I am in
no danger. But have you seen MacPhadraick, mother? and what has
he said to you on my account?"
"Silver he left me in plenty, Hamish; but the best of his comfort
was that you were well, and would see me soon. But beware of
MacPhadraick, my son; for when he called himself the friend of
your father, he better loved the most worthless stirk in his herd
than he did the life-blood of MacTavish Mhor. Use his services,
therefore, and pay him for them, for it is thus we should deal
with the unworthy; but take my counsel, and trust him not."
Hamish could not suppress a sigh, which seemed to Elspat to
intimate that the caution came too late. "What have you done
with him?" she continued, eager and alarmed. "I had money of
him, and he gives not that without value; he is none of those who
exchange barley for chaff. Oh, if you repent you of your
bargain, and if it be one which you may break off without
disgrace to your truth or your manhood, take back his silver, and
trust not to his fair words."
"It may not be, mother," said Hamish; "I do not repent my
engagement, unless that it must make me leave you soon."
"Leave me! how leave me? Silly boy, think you I know not what
duty belongs to the wife or mother of a daring man? Thou art but
a boy yet; and when thy father had been the dread of the country
for twenty years, he did not despise my company and assistance,
but often said my help was worth that of two strong gillies."
"It is not on that score, mother, but since I must leave the
"Leave the country!" replied his mother, interrupting him. "And
think you that I am like a bush, that is rooted to the soil where
it grows, and must die if carried elsewhere? I have breathed
other winds than these of Ben Cruachan. I have followed your
father to the wilds of Ross and the impenetrable deserts of Y Mac
Y Mhor. Tush, man! my limbs, old as they are, will bear me as
far as your young feet can trace the way."
"Alas, mother," said the young man, with a faltering accent, "but
to cross the sea--"
"The sea! who am I that I should fear the sea? Have I never
been in a birling in my life--never known the Sound of Mull, the
Isles of Treshornish, and the rough rocks of Harris?"
"Alas, mother, I go far--far from all of these. I am enlisted in
one of the new regiments, and we go against the French in
"Enlisted!" uttered the astonished mother--"against MY will--
without MY consent! You could not! you would not!" Then rising
up, and assuming a posture of almost imperial command, "Hamish,
you DARED not!"
"Despair, mother, dares everything," answered Hamish, in a tone
of melancholy resolution. "What should I do here, where I can
scarce get bread for myself and you, and when the times are
growing daily worse? Would you but sit down and listen, I would
convince you I have acted for the best."
With a bitter smile Elspat sat down, and the same severe ironical
expression was on her features, as, with her lips firmly closed,
she listened to his vindication.
Hamish went on, without being disconcerted by her expected
displeasure. "When I left you, dearest mother, it was to go to
MacPhadraick's house; for although I knew he is crafty and
worldly, after the fashion of the Sassenach, yet he is wise, and
I thought how he would teach me, as it would cost him nothing, in
which way I could mend our estate in the world."
"Our estate in the world!" said Elspat, losing patience at the
word; "and went you to a base fellow with a soul no better than
that of a cowherd, to ask counsel about your conduct? Your
father asked none, save of his courage and his sword."
"Dearest mother," answered Hamish, "how shall I convince you that
you live in this land of our fathers as if our fathers were yet
living? You walk as it were in a dream, surrounded by the
phantoms of those who have been long with the dead. When my
father lived and fought, the great respected the man of the
strong right hand, and the rich feared him. He had protection
from Macallum Mhor, and from Caberfae, and tribute from meaner
men. [Caberfae--ANGLICE, the Stag's-head, the Celtic designation
for the arms of the family of the high Chief of Seaforth.] That
is ended, and his son would only earn a disgraceful and unpitied
death by the practices which gave his father credit and power
among those who wear the breacan. The land is conquered; its
lights are quenched--Glengarry, Lochiel, Perth, Lord Lewis, all
the high chiefs are dead or in exile. We may mourn for it, but
we cannot help it. Bonnet, broadsword, and sporran--power,
strength, and wealth, were all lost on Drummossie Muir."
"It is false!" said Elspat, fiercely; "you and such like
dastardly spirits are quelled by your own faint hearts, not by
the strength of the enemy; you are like the fearful waterfowl, to
whom the least cloud in the sky seems the shadow of the eagle."
"Mother," said Hamish proudly, "lay not faint heart to my charge.
I go where men are wanted who have strong arms and bold hearts
too. I leave a desert, for a land where I may gather fame."
"And you leave your mother to perish in want, age, and solitude,"
said Elspat, essaying successively every means of moving a
resolution which she began to see was more deeply rooted than she
had at first thought.
"Not so, neither," he answered; "I leave you to comfort and
certainty, which you have yet never known. Barcaldine's son is
made a leader, and with him I have enrolled myself. MacPhadraick
acts for him, and raises men, and finds his own in doing it."
"That is the truest word of the tale, were all the rest as false
as hell," said the old woman, bitterly.
"But we are to find our good in it also," continued Hamish; "for
Barcaldine is to give you a shieling in his wood of Letter-
findreight, with grass for your goats, and a cow, when you please
to have one, on the common; and my own pay, dearest mother,
though I am far away, will do more than provide you with meal,
and with all else you can want. Do not fear for me. I enter a
private gentleman; but I will return, if hard fighting and
regular duty can deserve it, an officer, and with half a dollar a
"Poor child!" replied Elspat, in a tone of pity mingled with
contempt, "and you trust MacPhadraick?"
"I might mother," said Hamish, the dark red colour of his race
crossing his forehead and cheeks, "for MacPhadraick knows the
blood which flows in my veins, and is aware, that should he break
trust with you, he might count the days which could bring Hamish
back to Breadalbane, and number those of his life within three
suns more. I would kill him at his own hearth, did he break his
word with me--I would, by the great Being who made us both!"
The look and attitude of the young soldier for a moment overawed
Elspat; she was unused to see him express a deep and bitter mood,
which reminded her so strongly of his father. But she resumed
her remonstrances in the same taunting manner in which she had
"Poor boy!" she said; "and you think that at the distance of
half the world your threats will be heard or thought of! But,
go--go--place your neck under him of Hanover's yoke, against whom
every true Gael fought to the death. Go, disown the royal
Stewart, for whom your father, and his fathers, and your mother's
fathers, have crimsoned many a field with their blood. Go, put
your head under the belt of one of the race of Dermid, whose
children murdered--Yes," she added, with a wild shriek, "murdered
your mother's fathers in their peaceful dwellings in Glencoe!
Yes," she again exclaimed, with a wilder and shriller scream, "I
was then unborn, but my mother has told me--and I attended to the
voice of MY mother--well I remember her words! They came in
peace, and were received in friendship--and blood and fire arose,
and screams and murder!" [See Note 9.--Massacre of Glencoe.]
"Mother," answered Hamish, mournfully, but with a decided tone,
"all that I have thought over. There is not a drop of the blood
of Glencoe on the noble hand of Barcaldine; with the unhappy
house of Glenlyon the curse remains, and on them God hath avenged
"You speak like the Saxon priest already," replied his mother;
"will you not better stay, and ask a kirk from Macallum Mhor,
that you may preach forgiveness to the race of Dermid?"
"Yesterday was yesterday," answered Hamish, "and to-day is to-
day. When the clans are crushed and confounded together, it is
well and wise that their hatreds and their feuds should not
survive their independence and their power. He that cannot
execute vengeance like a man, should not harbour useless enmity
like a craven. Mother, young Barcaldine is true and brave. I
know that MacPhadraick counselled him that he should not let me
take leave of you, lest you dissuaded me from my purpose; but he
said, 'Hamish MacTavish is the son of a brave man, and he will
not break his word.' Mother, Barcaldine leads an hundred of the
bravest of the sons of the Gael in their native dress, and with
their fathers' arms--heart to heart--shoulder to shoulder. I
have sworn to go with him. He has trusted me, and I will trust
At this reply, so firmly and resolvedly pronounced, Elspat
remained like one thunderstruck, and sunk in despair. The
arguments which she had considered so irresistibly conclusive,
had recoiled like a wave from a rock. After a long pause, she
filled her son's quaigh, and presented it to him with an air of
dejected deference and submission.
"Drink," she said, "to thy father's roof-tree, ere you leave it
for ever; and tell me--since the chains of a new King, and of a
new chief, whom your fathers knew not save as mortal enemies, are
fastened upon the limbs of your father's son--tell me how many
links you count upon them?"
Hamish took the cup, but looked at her as if uncertain of her
meaning. She proceeded in a raised voice. "Tell me," she said,
"for I have a right to know, for how many days the will of those
you have made your masters permits me to look upon you? In other
words, how many are the days of my life? for when you leave me,
the earth has nought besides worth living for!"
"Mother," replied Hamish MacTavish, "for six days I may remain
with you; and if you will set out with me on the fifth, I will
conduct you in safety to your new dwelling. But if you remain
here, then I will depart on the seventh by daybreak--then, as at
the last moment, I MUST set out for Dunbarton, for if I appear
not on the eighth day, I am subject to punishment as a deserter,
and am dishonoured as a soldier and a gentleman."
"Your father's foot," she answered, "was free as the wind on the
heath--it were as vain to say to him, where goest thou? as to
ask that viewless driver of the clouds, wherefore blowest thou?
Tell me under what penalty thou must--since go thou must, and go
thou wilt--return to thy thraldom?"
"Call it not thraldom, mother; it is the service of an honourable
soldier--the only service which is now open to the son of
"Yet say what is the penalty if thou shouldst not return?"
"Military punishment as a deserter," answered Hamish, writhing,
however, as his mother failed not to observe, under some internal
feelings, which she resolved to probe to the uttermost.
"And that," she said, with assumed calmness, which her glancing
eye disowned, "is the punishment of a disobedient hound, is it
"Ask me no more, mother," said Hamish; "the punishment is nothing
to one who will never deserve it."
"To me it is something," replied Elspat, "since I know better
than thou, that where there is power to inflict, there is often
the will to do so without cause. I would pray for thee, Hamish,
and I must know against what evils I should beseech Him who
leaves none unguarded, to protect thy youth and simplicity."
"Mother," said Hamish, "it signifies little to what a criminal
may be exposed, if a man is determined not to be such. Our
Highland chiefs used also to punish their vassals, and, as I have
heard, severely. Was it not Lachlan MacIan, whom we remember of
old, whose head was struck off by order of his chieftain for
shooting at the stag before him?"
"Ay," said Elspat, "and right he had to lose it, since he
dishonoured the father of the people even in the face of the
assembled clan. But the chiefs were noble in their ire; they
punished with the sharp blade, and not with the baton. Their
punishments drew blood, but they did not infer dishonour. Canst
thou say, the same for the laws under whose yoke thou hast placed
thy freeborn neck?"
"I cannot, mother--I cannot," said Hamish mournfully. "I saw
them punish a Sassenach for deserting as they called it, his
banner. He was scourged--I own it--scourged like a hound who has
offended an imperious master. I was sick at the sight--I confess
it. But the punishment of dogs is only for those worse than
dogs, who know not how to keep their faith."
"To this infamy, however, thou hast subjected thyself, Hamish,"
replied Elspat, "if thou shouldst give, or thy officers take,
measure of offence against thee. I speak no more to thee on thy
purpose. Were the sixth day from this morning's sun my dying
day, and thou wert to stay to close mine eyes, thou wouldst run
the risk of being lashed like a dog at a post--yes! unless thou
hadst the gallant heart to leave me to die alone, and upon my
desolate hearth, the last spark of thy father's fire, and of thy
forsaken mother's life, to be extinguished together!"--Hamish
traversed the hut with an impatient and angry pace.
"Mother," he said at length, "concern not yourself about such
things. I cannot be subjected to such infamy, for never will I
deserve it; and were I threatened with it, I should know how to
die before I was so far dishonoured."
"There spoke the son of the husband of my heart!" replied
Elspat, and she changed the discourse, and seemed to listen in
melancholy acquiescence, when her son reminded her how short the
time was which they were permitted to pass in each other's
society, and entreated that it might be spent without useless and
unpleasant recollections respecting the circumstances under which
they must soon be separated.
Elspat was now satisfied that her son, with some of his father's
other properties, preserved the haughty masculine spirit which
rendered it impossible to divert him from a resolution which he
had deliberately adopted. She assumed, therefore, an exterior of
apparent submission to their inevitable separation; and if she
now and then broke out into complaints and murmurs, it was either
that she could not altogether suppress the natural impetuosity of
her temper, or because she had the wit to consider that a total
and unreserved acquiescence might have seemed to her son
constrained and suspicious, and induced him to watch and defeat
the means by which she still hoped to prevent his leaving her.
Her ardent though selfish affection for her son, incapable of
being qualified by a regard for the true interests of the
unfortunate object of her attachment, resembled the instinctive
fondness of the animal race for their offspring; and diving
little farther into futurity than one of the inferior creatures,
she only felt that to be separated from Hamish was to die.
In the brief interval permitted them, Elspat exhausted every art
which affection could devise, to render agreeable to him the
space which they were apparently to spend with each other. Her
memory carried her far back into former days, and her stores of
legendary history, which furnish at all times a principal
amusement of the Highlander in his moments of repose, were
augmented by an unusual acquaintance with the songs of ancient
bards, and traditions of the most approved seannachies and
tellers of tales. Her officious attentions to her son's
accommodation, indeed, were so unremitted as almost to give him
pain, and he endeavoured quietly to prevent her from taking so
much personal toil in selecting the blooming heath for his bed,
or preparing the meal for his refreshment. "Let me alone,
Hamish," she would reply on such occasions; "you follow your own
will in departing from your mother, let your mother have hers in
doing what gives her pleasure while you remain."
So much she seemed to be reconciled to the arrangements which he
had made in her behalf, that she could hear him speak to her of
her removing to the lands of Green Colin, as the gentleman was
called, on whose estate he had provided her an asylum. In truth,
however, nothing could be farther from her thoughts. From what
he had said during their first violent dispute, Elspat had
gathered that, if Hamish returned not by the appointed time
permitted by his furlough, he would incur the hazard of corporal
punishment. Were he placed within the risk of being thus
dishonoured, she was well aware that he would never submit to the
disgrace by a return to the regiment where it might be inflicted.
Whether she looked to any farther probable consequences of her
unhappy scheme cannot be known; but the partner of MacTavish
Mhor, in all his perils and wanderings, was familiar with an
hundred instances of resistance or escape, by which one brave
man, amidst a land of rocks, lakes, and mountains, dangerous
passes, and dark forests, might baffle the pursuit of hundreds.
For the future, therefore, she feared nothing; her sole
engrossing object was to prevent her son from keeping his word
with his commanding officer.
With this secret purpose, she evaded the proposal which Hamish
repeatedly made, that they should set out together to take
possession of her new abode; and she resisted it upon grounds
apparently so natural to her character that her son was neither
alarmed nor displeased. "Let me not," she said, "in the same
short week, bid farewell to my only son, and to the glen in which
I have so long dwelt. Let my eye, when dimmed with weeping for
thee, still look around, for a while at least, upon Loch Awe and
on Ben Cruachan."
Hamish yielded the more willingly to his mother's humour in this
particular, that one or two persons who resided in a neighbouring
glen, and had given their sons to Barcaldine's levy, were also to
be provided for on the estate of the chieftain, and it was
apparently settled that Elspat was to take her journey along with
them when they should remove to their new residence. Thus,
Hamish believed that he had at once indulged his mother's humour,
and ensured her safety and accommodation. But she nourished in
her mind very different thoughts and projects.
The period of Hamish's leave of absence was fast approaching, and
more than once he proposed to depart, in such time as to ensure
his gaining easily and early Dunbarton, the town where were the
head-quarters of his regiment. But still his mother's
entreaties, his own natural disposition to linger among scenes
long dear to him, and, above all, his firm reliance in his speed
and activity, induced him to protract his departure till the
sixth day, being the very last which he could possibly afford to
spend with his mother, if indeed he meant to comply with the
conditions of his furlough.