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Chapter 5

But for your son, believe it--oh, believe it--
Most dangerously you have with him prevailed,
If not most mortal to him. CORIOLANUS.

On the evening which preceded his proposed departure, Hamish
walked down to the river with his fishing-rod, to practise in the
Awe, for the last time, a sport in which he excelled, and to
find, at the same time, the means for making one social meal with
his mother on something better than their ordinary cheer. He was
as successful as usual, and soon killed a fine salmon. On his
return homeward an incident befell him, which he afterwards
related as ominous, though probably his heated imagination,
joined to the universal turn of his countrymen for the
marvellous, exaggerated into superstitious importance some very
ordinary and accidental circumstance.

In the path which he pursued homeward, he was surprised to
observe a person, who, like himself, was dressed and armed after
the old Highland fashion. The first idea that struck him was,
that the passenger belonged to his own corps, who, levied by
government, and bearing arms under royal authority, were not
amenable for breach of the statutes against the use of the
Highland garb or weapons. But he was struck on perceiving, as he
mended his pace to make up to his supposed comrade, meaning to
request his company for the next day's journey, that the stranger
wore a white cockade, the fatal badge which was proscribed in the
Highlands. The stature of the man was tall, and there was
something shadowy in the outline, which added to his size; and
his mode of motion, which rather resembled gliding than walking,
impressed Hamish with superstitious fears concerning the
character of the being which thus passed before him in the
twilight. He no longer strove to make up to the stranger, but
contented himself with keeping him in view, under the
superstition common to the Highlanders, that you ought neither to
intrude yourself on such supernatural apparitions as you may
witness, nor avoid their presence, but leave it to themselves to
withhold or extend their communication, as their power may
permit, or the purpose of their commission require.

Upon an elevated knoll by the side of the road, just where the
pathway turned down to Elspat's hut, the stranger made a pause,
and seemed to await Hamish's coming up. Hamish, on his part,
seeing it was necessary he should pass the object of his
suspicion, mustered up his courage, and approached the spot where
the stranger had placed himself; who first pointed to Elspat's
hut, and made, with arm and head, a gesture prohibiting Hamish to
approach it, then stretched his hand to the road which led to the
southward, with a motion which seemed to enjoin his instant
departure in that direction. In a moment afterwards the plaided
form was gone--Hamish did not exactly say vanished, because there
were rocks and stunted trees enough to have concealed him; but it
was his own opinion that he had seen the spirit of MacTavish
Mhor, warning him to commence his instant journey to Dunbarton,
without waiting till morning, or again visiting his mother's hut.

In fact, so many accidents might arise to delay his journey,
especially where there were many ferries, that it became his
settled purpose, though he could not depart without bidding his
mother adieu, that he neither could nor would abide longer than
for that object; and that the first glimpse of next day's sun
should see him many miles advanced towards Dunbarton. He
descended the path, therefore, and entering the cottage, he
communicated, in a hasty and troubled voice, which indicated
mental agitation, his determination to take his instant
departure. Somewhat to his surprise, Elspat appeared not to
combat his purpose, but she urged him to take some refreshment
ere he left her for ever. He did so hastily, and in silence,
thinking on the approaching separation, and scarce yet believing
it would take place without a final struggle with his mother's
fondness. To his surprise, she filled the quaigh with liquor for
his parting cup.

"Go," she said, "my son, since such is thy settled purpose; but
first stand once more on thy mother's hearth, the flame on which
will be extinguished long ere thy foot shall again be placed

"To your health, mother!" said Hamish; "and may we meet again in
happiness, in spite of your ominous words."

"It were better not to part," said his mother, watching him as he
quaffed the liquor, of which he would have held it ominous to
have left a drop.

"And now," she said, muttering the words to herself, "go--if thou
canst go."

"Mother," said Hamish, as he replaced on the table the empty
quaigh, "thy drink is pleasant to the taste, but it takes away
the strength which it ought to give."

"Such is its first effect, my son," replied Elspat. "But lie
down upon that soft heather couch, shut your eyes but for a
moment, and, in the sleep of an hour, you shall have more
refreshment than in the ordinary repose of three whole nights,
could they be blended into one."

"Mother," said Hamish, upon whose brain the potion was now taking
rapid effect, "give me my bonnet--I must kiss you and begone--yet
it seems as if my feet were nailed to the floor."

"Indeed," said his mother, "you will be instantly well, if you
will sit down for half an hour--but half an hour. It is eight
hours to dawn, and dawn were time enough for your father's son to
begin such a journey."

"I must obey you, mother--I feel I must," said Hamish
inarticulately; "but call me when the moon rises."

He sat down on the bed, reclined back, and almost instantly was
fast asleep. With the throbbing glee of one who has brought to
an end a difficult and troublesome enterprise, Elspat proceeded
tenderly to arrange the plaid of the unconscious slumberer, to
whom her extravagant affection was doomed to be so fatal,
expressing, while busied in her office, her delight, in tones of
mingled tenderness and triumph. "Yes," she said, "calf of my
heart, the moon shall arise and set to thee, and so shall the
sun; but not to light thee from the land of thy fathers, or tempt
thee to serve the foreign prince or the feudal enemy! To no son
of Dermid shall I be delivered, to be fed like a bondswoman; but
he who is my pleasure and my pride shall be my guard and my
protector. They say the Highlands are changed; but I see Ben
Cruachan rear his crest as high as ever into the evening sky; no
one hath yet herded his kine on the depths of Loch Awe; and
yonder oak does not yet bend like a willow. The children of the
mountains will be such as their fathers, until the mountains
themselves shall be levelled with the strath. In these wild
forests, which used to support thousands of the brave, there is
still surely subsistence and refuge left for one aged woman, and
one gallant youth of the ancient race and the ancient manners."

While the misjudging mother thus exulted in the success of her
stratagem, we may mention to the reader that it was founded on
the acquaintance with drugs and simples which Elspat,
accomplished in all things belonging to the wild life which she
had led, possessed in an uncommon degree, and which she exercised
for various purposes. With the herbs, which she knew how to
select as well as how to distil, she could relieve more diseases
than a regular medical person could easily believe. She applied
some to dye the bright colours of the tartan; from others she
compounded draughts of various powers, and unhappily possessed
the secret of one which was strongly soporific. Upon the effects
of this last concoction, as the reader doubtless has anticipated,
she reckoned with security on delaying Hamish beyond the period
for which his return was appointed; and she trusted to his horror
for the apprehended punishment to which he was thus rendered
liable, to prevent him from returning at all.

Sound and deep, beyond natural rest, was the sleep of Hamish
MacTavish on that eventful evening, but not such the repose of
his mother. Scarce did she close her eyes from time to time, but
she awakened again with a start, in the terror that her son had
arisen and departed; and it was only on approaching his couch,
and hearing his deep-drawn and regular breathing, that she
reassured herself of the security of the repose in which he was

Still, dawning, she feared, might awaken him, notwithstanding the
unusual strength of the potion with which she had drugged his
cup. If there remained a hope of mortal man accomplishing the
journey, she was aware that Hamish would attempt it, though he
were to die from fatigue upon the road. Animated by this new
fear, she studied to exclude the light, by stopping all the
crannies and crevices through which, rather than through any
regular entrance, the morning beams might find access to her
miserable dwelling; and this in order to detain amid its wants
and wretchedness the being on whom, if the world itself had been
at her disposal, she would have joyfully conferred it.

Her pains were bestowed unnecessarily. The sun rose high above
the heavens, and not the fleetest stag in Breadalbane, were the
hounds at his heels, could have sped, to save his life, so fast
as would have been necessary to keep Hamish's appointment. Her
purpose was fully attained--her son's return within the period
assigned was impossible. She deemed it equally impossible, that
he would ever dream of returning, standing, as he must now do, in
the danger of an infamous punishment. By degrees, and at
different times, she had gained from him a full acquaintance with
the predicament in which he would be placed by failing to appear
on the day appointed, and the very small hope he could entertain
of being treated with lenity.

It is well known, that the great and wise Earl of Chatham prided
himself on the scheme, by which he drew together for the defence
of the colonies those hardy Highlanders, who, until his time, had
been the objects of doubt, fear, and suspicion, on the part of
each successive administration. But some obstacles occurred,
from the peculiar habits and temper of this people, to the
execution of his patriotic project. By nature and habit, every
Highlander was accustomed to the use of arms, but at the same
time totally unaccustomed to, and impatient of, the restraints
imposed by discipline upon regular troops. They were a species
of militia, who had no conception of a camp as their only home.
If a battle was lost, they dispersed to save themselves, and look
out for the safety of their families; if won, they went back to
their glens to hoard up their booty, and attend to their cattle
and their farms. This privilege of going and coming at pleasure,
they would not be deprived of even by their chiefs, whose
authority was in most other respects so despotic. It followed as
a matter of course, that the new-levied Highland recruits could
scarce be made to comprehend the nature of a military engagement,
which compelled a man to serve in the army longer than he
pleased; and perhaps, in many instances, sufficient care was not
taken at enlisting to explain to them the permanency of the
engagement which they came under, lest such a disclosure should
induce them to change their mind. Desertions were therefore
become numerous from the newly-raised regiment, and the veteran
general who commanded at Dunbarton saw no better way of checking
them than by causing an unusually severe example to be made of a
deserter from an English corps. The young Highland regiment was
obliged to attend upon the punishment, which struck a people,
peculiarly jealous of personal honour, with equal horror and
disgust, and not unnaturally indisposed some of them to the
service. The old general, however, who had been regularly bred
in the German wars, stuck to his own opinion, and gave out in
orders that the first Highlander who might either desert, or fail
to appear at the expiry of his furlough, should be brought to the
halberds, and punished like the culprit whom they had seen in
that condition. No man doubted that General -- would keep his
word rigorously whenever severity was required, and Elspat,
therefore, knew that her son, when he perceived that due
compliance with his orders was impossible, must at the same time
consider the degrading punishment denounced against his defection
as inevitable, should he place himself within the general's
power. [See Note 10.--Fidelity of the Highlanders.]

When noon was well passed, new apprehensions came on the mind of
the lonely woman. Her son still slept under the influence of the
draught; but what if, being stronger than she had ever known it
administered, his health or his reason should be affected by its
potency? For the first time, likewise, notwithstanding her high
ideas on the subject of parental authority, she began to dread
the resentment of her son, whom her heart told her she had
wronged. Of late, she had observed that his temper was less
docile, and his determinations, especially upon this late
occasion of his enlistment, independently formed, and then boldly
carried through. She remembered the stern wilfulness of his
father when he accounted himself ill-used, and began to dread
that Hamish, upon finding the deceit she had put upon him, might
resent it even to the extent of cutting her off, and pursuing his
own course through the world alone. Such were the alarming and
yet the reasonable apprehensions which began to crowd upon the
unfortunate woman, after the apparent success of her ill-advised

It was near evening when Hamish first awoke, and then he was far
from being in the full possession either of his mental or bodily
powers. From his vague expressions and disordered pulse, Elspat
at first experienced much apprehension; but she used such
expedients as her medical knowledge suggested, and in the course
of the night she had the satisfaction to see him sink once more
into a deep sleep, which probably carried off the greater part of
the effects of the drug, for about sunrising she heard him arise,
and call to her for his bonnet. This she had purposely removed,
from a fear that he might awaken and depart in the night-time,
without her knowledge.

"My bonnet--my bonnet," cried Hamish; "it is time to take
farewell. Mother, your drink was too strong--the sun is up--but
with the next morning I will still see the double summit of the
ancient Dun. My bonnet--my bonnet, mother; I must be instant in
my departure." These expressions made it plain that poor Hamish
was unconscious that two nights and a day had passed since he had
drained the fatal quaigh, and Elspat had now to venture on what
she felt as the almost perilous, as well as painful, task of
explaining her machinations.

"Forgive me, my son," she said, approaching Hamish, and taking
him by the hand with an air of deferential awe, which perhaps she
had not always used to his father, even when in his moody fits.

"Forgive you, mother!--for what?" said Hamish, laughing; "for
giving me a dram that was too strong, and which my head still
feels this morning, or for hiding my bonnet to keep me an instant
longer? Nay, do YOU forgive ME. Give me the bonnet, and let
that be done which now must be done. Give me my bonnet, or I go
without it; surely I am not to be delayed by so trifling a want
as that--I, who have gone for years with only a strap of deer's
hide to tie back my hair. Trifle not, but give it me, or I must
go bareheaded, since to stay is impossible."

"My son," said Elspat, keeping fast hold of his hand, "what is
done cannot be recalled. Could you borrow the wings of yonder
eagle, you would arrive at the Dun too late for what you purpose
--too soon for what awaits you there. You believe you see the
sun rising for the first time since you have seen him set; but
yesterday beheld him climb Ben Cruachan, though your eyes were
closed to his light."

Hamish cast upon his mother a wild glance of extreme terror, then
instantly recovering himself, said, "I am no child to be cheated
out of my purpose by such tricks as these. Farewell, mother!
each moment is worth a lifetime."

"Stay," she said, "my dear, my deceived son, run not on infamy
and ruin. Yonder I see the priest upon the high-road on his
white horse. Ask him the day of the month and week; let him
decide between us."

With the speed of an eagle, Hamish darted up the acclivity, and
stood by the minister of Glenorquhy, who was pacing out thus
early to administer consolation to a distressed family near

The good man was somewhat startled to behold an armed Highlander,
then so unusual a sight, and apparently much agitated, stop his
horse by the bridle, and ask him with a faltering voice the day
of the week and month. "Had you been where you should have been
yesterday, young man," replied the clergyman, "you would have
known that it was God's Sabbath; and that this is Monday, the
second day of the week, and twenty-first of the month."

"And this is true?" said Hamish.

"As true," answered the surprised minister, "as that I yesterday
preached the word of God to this parish. What ails you, young
man?--are you sick?--are you in your right mind?"

Hamish made no answer, only repeated to himself the first
expression of the clergyman, "Had you been where you should have
been yesterday;" and so saying, he let go the bridle, turned from
the road, and descended the path towards the hut, with the look
and pace of one who was going to execution. The minister looked
after him with surprise; but although he knew the inhabitant of
the hovel, the character of Elspat had not invited him to open
any communication with her, because she was generally reputed a
Papist, or rather one indifferent to all religion, except some
superstitious observances which had been handed down from her
parents. On Hamish the Reverend Mr. Tyrie had bestowed
instructions when he was occasionally thrown in his way; and if
the seed fell among the brambles and thorns of a wild and
uncultivated disposition, it had not yet been entirely checked or
destroyed. There was something so ghastly in the present
expression of the youth's features that the good man was tempted
to go down to the hovel, and inquire whether any distress had
befallen the inhabitants, in which his presence might be
consoling and his ministry useful. Unhappily he did not
persevere in this resolution, which might have saved a great
misfortune, as he would have probably become a mediator for the
unfortunate young man; but a recollection of the wild moods of
such Highlanders as had been educated after the old fashion of
the country, prevented his interesting himself in the widow and
son of the far-dreaded robber, MacTavish Mhor, and he thus missed
an opportunity, which he afterwards sorely repented, of doing
much good.

When Hamish MacTavish entered his mother's hut, it was only to
throw himself on the bed he had left, and exclaiming, "Undone,
undone!" to give vent, in cries of grief and anger, to his deep
sense of the deceit which had been practised on him, and of the
cruel predicament to which he was reduced.

Elspat was prepared for the first explosion of her son's passion,
and said to herself, "It is but the mountain torrent, swelled by
the thunder shower. Let us sit and rest us by the bank; for all
its present tumult, the time will soon come when we may pass it
dryshod." She suffered his complaints and his reproaches, which
were, even in the midst of his agony, respectful and
affectionate, to die away without returning any answer; and when,
at length, having exhausted all the exclamations of sorrow which
his language, copious in expressing the feelings of the heart,
affords to the sufferer, he sunk into a gloomy silence, she
suffered the interval to continue near an hour ere she approached
her son's couch.

"And now," she said at length, with a voice in which the
authority of the mother was qualified by her tenderness, "have
you exhausted your idle sorrows, and are you able to place what
you have gained against what you have lost? Is the false son of
Dermid your brother, or the father of your tribe, that you weep
because you cannot bind yourself to his belt, and become one of
those who must do his bidding? Could you find in yonder distant
country the lakes and the mountains that you leave behind you
here? Can you hunt the deer of Breadalbane in the forests of
America, or will the ocean afford you the silver-scaled salmon of
the Awe? Consider, then, what is your loss, and, like a wise
man, set it against what you have won."

"I have lost all, mother," replied Hamish, "since I have broken
my word, and lost my honour. I might tell my tale, but who, oh,
who would believe me?" The unfortunate young man again clasped
his hands together, and, pressing them to his forehead, hid his
face upon the bed.

Elspat was now really alarmed, and perhaps wished the fatal
deceit had been left unattempted. She had no hope or refuge
saving in the eloquence of persuasion, of which she possessed no
small share, though her total ignorance of the world as it
actually existed rendered its energy unavailing. She urged her
son, by every tender epithet which a parent could bestow, to take
care for his own safety.

"Leave me," she said, "to baffle your pursuers. I will save your
life--I will save your honour. I will tell them that my fair-
haired Hamish fell from the Corrie Dhu (black precipice) into the
gulf, of which human eye never beheld the bottom. I will tell
them this, and I will fling your plaid on the thorns which grow
on the brink of the precipice, that they may believe my words.
They will believe, and they will return to the Dun of the double-
crest; for though the Saxon drum can call the living to die, it
cannot recall the dead to their slavish standard. Then will we
travel together far northward to the salt lakes of Kintail, and
place glens and mountains betwixt us and the sons of Dermid. We
will visit the shores of the dark lake; and my kinsmen--for was
not my mother of the children of Kenneth, and will they not
remember us with the old love?--my kinsmen will receive us with
the affection of the olden time, which lives in those distant
glens, where the Gael still dwell in their nobleness, unmingled
with the churl Saxons, or with the base brood that are their
tools and their slaves."

The energy of the language, somewhat allied to hyperbole, even in
its most ordinary expressions, now seemed almost too weak to
afford Elspat the means of bringing out the splendid picture
which she presented to her son of the land in which she proposed
to him to take refuge. Yet the colours were few with which she
could paint her Highland paradise. "The hills," she said, "were
higher and more magnificent than those of Breadalbane--Ben
Cruachan was but a dwarf to Skooroora. The lakes were broader
and larger, and abounded not only with fish, but with the
enchanted and amphibious animal which gives oil to the lamp.
[The seals are considered by the Highlanders as enchanted
princes.] The deer were larger and more numerous; the white-
tusked boar, the chase of which the brave loved best, was yet to
be roused in those western solitudes; the men were nobler, wiser,
and stronger than the degenerate brood who lived under the Saxon
banner. The daughters of the land were beautiful, with blue eyes
and fair hair, and bosoms of snow; and out of these she would
choose a wife for Hamish, of blameless descent, spotless fame,
fixed and true affection, who should be in their summer bothy as
a beam of the sun, and in their winter abode as the warmth of the
needful fire."

Such were the topics with which Elspat strove to soothe the
despair of her son, and to determine him, if possible, to leave
the fatal spot, on which he seemed resolved to linger. The style
of her rhetoric was poetical, but in other respects resembled
that which, like other fond mothers, she had lavished on Hamish,
while a child or a boy, in order to gain his consent to do
something he had no mind to; and she spoke louder, quicker, and
more earnestly, in proportion as she began to despair of her
words carrying conviction.

On the mind of Hamish her eloquence made no impression. He knew
far better than she did the actual situation of the country, and
was sensible that, though it might be possible to hide himself as
a fugitive among more distant mountains, there was now no corner
in the Highlands in which his father's profession could be
practised, even if he had not adopted, from the improved ideas of
the time when he lived, the opinion that the trade of the cateran
was no longer the road to honour and distinction. Her words were
therefore poured into regardless ears, and she exhausted herself
in vain in the attempt to paint the regions of her mother's
kinsmen in such terms as might tempt Hamish to accompany her
thither. She spoke for hours, but she spoke in vain. She could
extort no answer, save groans and sighs and ejaculations,
expressing the extremity of despair.

At length, starting on her feet, and changing the monotonous tone
in which she had chanted, as it were, the praises of the province
of refuge, into the short, stern language of eager passion--"I am
a fool," she said, "to spend my words upon an idle, poor-
spirited, unintelligent boy, who crouches like a hound to the
lash. Wait here, and receive your taskmasters, and abide your
chastisement at their hands; but do not think your mother's eyes
will behold it. I could not see it and live. My eyes have
looked often upon death, but never upon dishonour. Farewell,
Hamish! We never meet again."

She dashed from the hut like a lapwing, and perhaps for the
moment actually entertained the purpose which she expressed, of
parting with her son for ever. A fearful sight she would have
been that evening to any who might have met her wandering through
the wilderness like a restless spirit, and speaking to herself in
language which will endure no translation. She rambled for
hours, seeking rather than shunning the most dangerous paths.
The precarious track through the morass, the dizzy path along the
edge of the precipice or by the banks of the gulfing river, were
the roads which, far from avoiding, she sought with eagerness,
and traversed with reckless haste. But the courage arising from
despair was the means of saving the life which (though deliberate
suicide was rarely practised in the Highlands) she was perhaps
desirous of terminating. Her step on the verge of the precipice
was firm as that of the wild goat. Her eye, in that state of
excitation, was so keen as to discern, even amid darkness, the
perils which noon would not have enabled a stranger to avoid.

Elspat's course was not directly forward, else she had soon been
far from the bothy in which she had left her son. It was
circuitous, for that hut was the centre to which her heartstrings
were chained, and though she wandered around it, she felt it
impossible to leave the vicinity. With the first beams of
morning she returned to the hut. Awhile she paused at the
wattled door, as if ashamed that lingering fondness should have
brought her back to the spot which she had left with the purpose
of never returning; but there was yet more of fear and anxiety in
her hesitation--of anxiety, lest her fair-haired son had suffered
from the effects of her potion--of fear, lest his enemies had
come upon him in the night. She opened the door of the hut
gently, and entered with noiseless step. Exhausted with his
sorrow and anxiety, and not entirely relieved perhaps from the
influence of the powerful opiate, Hamish Bean again slept the
stern, sound sleep by which the Indians are said to be overcome
during the interval of their torments. His mother was scarcely
sure that she actually discerned his form on the bed, scarce
certain that her ear caught the sound of his breathing. With a
throbbing heart, Elspat went to the fireplace in the centre of
the hut, where slumbered, covered with a piece of turf, the
glimmering embers of the fire, never extinguished on a Scottish
hearth until the indwellers leave the mansion for ever.

"Feeble greishogh," [Greishogh, a glowing ember.] she said, as
she lighted, by the help of a match, a splinter of bog pine which
was to serve the place of a candle--"weak greishogh, soon shalt
thou be put out for ever, and may Heaven grant that the life of
Elspat MacTavish have no longer duration than thine!"

While she spoke she raised the blazing light towards the bed, on
which still lay the prostrate limbs of her son, in a posture that
left it doubtful whether he slept or swooned. As she advanced
towards him, the light flashed upon his eyes--he started up in an
instant, made a stride forward with his naked dirk in his hand,
like a man armed to meet a mortal enemy, and exclaimed, "Stand
off!--on thy life, stand off!"

"It is the word and the action of my husband," answered Elspat;
"and I know by his speech and his step the son of MacTavish

"Mother," said Hamish, relapsing from his tone of desperate
firmness into one of melancholy expostulation--"oh, dearest
mother, wherefore have you returned hither?"

"Ask why the hind comes back to the fawn," said Elspat, "why the
cat of the mountain returns to her lodge and her young. Know
you, Hamish, that the heart of the mother only lives in the bosom
of the child."

"Then will it soon cease to throb," said Hamish, "unless it can
beat within a bosom that lies beneath the turf. Mother, do not
blame me. If I weep, it is not for myself but for you; for my
sufferings will soon be over, but yours--oh, who but Heaven shall
set a boundary to them?"

Elspat shuddered and stepped backward, but almost instantly
resumed her firm and upright position and her dauntless bearing.

"I thought thou wert a man but even now," she said, "and thou art
again a child. Hearken to me yet, and let us leave this place
together. Have I done thee wrong or injury? if so, yet do not
avenge it so cruelly. See, Elspat MacTavish, who never kneeled
before even to a priest, falls prostrate before her own son, and
craves his forgiveness." And at once she threw herself on her
knees before the young man, seized on his hand, and kissing it an
hundred times, repeated as often, in heart-breaking accents, the
most earnest entreaties for forgiveness. "Pardon," she
exclaimed, "pardon, for the sake of your father's ashes--pardon,
for the sake of the pain with which I bore thee, the care with
which I nurtured thee!--Hear it, Heaven, and behold it, Earth--
the mother asks pardon of her child, and she is refused!"

It was in vain that Hamish endeavoured to stem this tide of
passion, by assuring his mother, with the most solemn
asseverations, that he forgave entirely the fatal deceit which
she had practised upon him.

"Empty words," she said, "idle protestations, which are but used
to hide the obduracy of your resentment. Would you have me
believe you, then leave the hut this instant, and retire from a
country which every hour renders more dangerous. Do this, and I
may think you have forgiven me; refuse it, and again I call on
moon and stars, heaven and earth, to witness the unrelenting
resentment with which you prosecute your mother for a fault,
which, if it be one, arose out of love to you."

"Mother," said Hamish, "on this subject you move me not. I will
fly before no man. If Barcaldine should send every Gael that is
under his banner, here, and in this place, will I abide them; and
when you bid me fly, you may as well command yonder mountain to
be loosened from its foundations. Had I been sure of the road by
which they are coming hither, I had spared them the pains of
seeking me; but I might go by the mountain, while they perchance
came by the lake. Here I will abide my fate; nor is there in
Scotland a voice of power enough to bid me stir from hence, and
be obeyed."

"Here, then, I also stay," said Elspat, rising up and speaking
with assumed composure. "I have seen my husband's death--my
eyelids shall not grieve to look on the fall of my son. But
MacTavish Mhor died as became the brave, with his good sword in
his right hand; my son will perish like the bullock that is
driven to the shambles by the Saxon owner who had bought him for
a price."

"Mother," said the unhappy young man, "you have taken my life.
To that you have a right, for you gave it; but touch not my
honour! It came to me from a brave train of ancestors, and
should be sullied neither by man's deed nor woman's speech. What
I shall do, perhaps I myself yet know not; but tempt me no
farther by reproachful words--you have already made wounds more
than you can ever heal."

"It is well, my son," said Elspat, in reply. "Expect neither
farther complaint nor remonstrance from me; but let us be silent,
and wait the chance which Heaven shall send us."

The sun arose on the next morning, and found the bothy silent as
the grave. The mother and son had arisen, and were engaged each
in their separate task--Hamish in preparing and cleaning his arms
with the greatest accuracy, but with an air of deep dejection.
Elspat, more restless in her agony of spirit, employed herself in
making ready the food which the distress of yesterday had induced
them both to dispense with for an unusual number of hours. She
placed it on the board before her son so soon as it was prepared,
with the words of a Gaelic poet, "Without daily food, the
husbandman's ploughshare stands still in the furrow; without
daily food, the sword of the warrior is too heavy for his hand.
Our bodies are our slaves, yet they must be fed if we would have
their service. So spake in ancient days the Blind Bard to the
warriors of Fion."

The young man made no reply, but he fed on what was placed before
him, as if to gather strength for the scene which he was to
undergo. When his mother saw that he had eaten what sufficed
him, she again filled the fatal quaigh, and proffered it as the
conclusion of the repast. But he started aside with a convulsive
gesture, expressive at once of fear and abhorrence.

"Nay, my son," she said, "this time surely, thou hast no cause of

"Urge me not, mother," answered Hamish--"or put the leprous toad
into a flagon, and I will drink; but from that accursed cup, and
of that mind-destroying potion, never will I taste more!"

"At your pleasure, my son," said Elspat, haughtily, and began,
with much apparent assiduity, the various domestic tasks which
had been interrupted during the preceding day. Whatever was at
her heart, all anxiety seemed banished from her looks and
demeanour. It was but from an over-activity of bustling exertion
that it might have been perceived, by a close observer, that her
actions were spurred by some internal cause of painful
excitement; and such a spectator, too, might also have observed
how often she broke off the snatches of songs or tunes which she
hummed, apparently without knowing what she was doing, in order
to cast a hasty glance from the door of the hut. Whatever might
be in the mind of Hamish, his demeanour was directly the reverse
of that adopted by his mother. Having finished the task of
cleaning and preparing his arms, which he arranged within the
hut, he sat himself down before the door of the bothy, and
watched the opposite hill, like the fixed sentinel who expects
the approach of an enemy. Noon found him in the same unchanged
posture, and it was an hour after that period, when his mother,
standing beside him, laid her hand on his shoulder, and said, in
a tone indifferent, as if she had been talking of some friendly
visit, "When dost thou expect them?"

"They cannot be here till the shadows fall long to the eastward,"
replied Hamish; "that is, even supposing the nearest party,
commanded by Sergeant Allan Breack Cameron, has been commanded
hither by express from Dunbarton, as it is most likely they

"Then enter beneath your mother's roof once more; partake the
last time of the food which she has prepared; after this, let
them come, and thou shalt see if thy mother is an useless
encumbrance in the day of strife. Thy hand, practised as it is,
cannot fire these arms so fast as I can load them; nay, if it is
necessary, I do not myself fear the flash or the report, and my
aim has been held fatal."

"In the name of Heaven, mother, meddle not with this matter!"
said Hamish. "Allan Breack is a wise man and a kind one, and
comes of a good stem. It may be, he can promise for our officers
that they will touch me with no infamous punishment; and if they
offer me confinement in the dungeon, or death by the musket, to
that I may not object."

"Alas, and wilt thou trust to their word, my foolish child?
Remember the race of Dermid were ever fair and false; and no
sooner shall they have gyves on thy hands, than they will strip
thy shoulders for the scourge."

"Save your advice, mother," said Hamish, sternly; "for me, my
mind is made up."

But though he spoke thus, to escape the almost persecuting
urgency of his mother, Hamish would have found it, at that
moment, impossible to say upon what course of conduct he had thus
fixed. On one point alone he was determined--namely, to abide
his destiny, be what it might, and not to add to the breach of
his word, of which he had been involuntarily rendered guilty, by
attempting to escape from punishment. This act of self-devotion
he conceived to be due to his own honour and that of his
countrymen. Which of his comrades would in future be trusted, if
he should be considered as having broken his word, and betrayed
the confidence of his officers? and whom but Hamish Bean
MacTavish would the Gael accuse for having verified and confirmed
the suspicions which the Saxon General was well known to
entertain against the good faith of the Highlanders? He was,
therefore, bent firmly to abide his fate. But whether his
intention was to yield himself peaceably into the bands of the
party who should come to apprehend him, or whether he purposed,
by a show of resistance, to provoke them to kill him on the spot,
was a question which he could not himself have answered. His
desire to see Barcaldine, and explain the cause of his absence at
the appointed time, urged him to the one course; his fear of the
degrading punishment, and of his mother's bitter upbraidings,
strongly instigated the latter and the more dangerous purpose.
He left it to chance to decide when the crisis should arrive; nor
did he tarry long in expectation of the catastrophe.

Evening approached; the gigantic shadows of the mountains
streamed in darkness towards the east, while their western peaks
were still glowing with crimson and gold. The road which winds
round Ben Cruachan was fully visible from the door of the bothy,
when a party of five Highland soldiers, whose arms glanced in the
sun, wheeled suddenly into sight from the most distant extremity,
where the highway is hidden behind the mountain. One of the
party walked a little before the other four, who marched
regularly and in files, according to the rules of military
discipline. There was no dispute, from the firelocks which they
carried, and the plaids and bonnets which they wore, that they
were a party of Hamish's regiment, under a non-commissioned
officer; and there could be as little doubt of the purpose of
their appearance on the banks of Loch Awe.

"They come briskly forward"--said the widow of MacTavish Mhor;--
"I wonder how fast or how slow some of them will return again!
But they are five, and it is too much odds for a fair field.
Step back within the hut, my son, and shoot from the loophole
beside the door. Two you may bring down ere they quit the
highroad for the footpath--there will remain but three; and your
father, with my aid, has often stood against that number."

Hamish Bean took the gun which his mother offered, but did not
stir from the door of the hut. He was soon visible to the party
on the highroad, as was evident from their increasing their pace
to a run--the files, however, still keeping together like coupled
greyhounds, and advancing with great rapidity. In far less time
than would have been accomplished by men less accustomed to the
mountains, they had left the highroad, traversed the narrow path,
and approached within pistol-shot of the bothy, at the door of
which stood Hamish, fixed like a statue of stone, with his
firelock in his band, while his mother, placed behind him, and
almost driven to frenzy by the violence of her passions,
reproached him in the strongest terms which despair could invent,
for his want of resolution and faintness of heart. Her words
increased the bitter gall which was arising in the young man's
own spirit, as he observed the unfriendly speed with which his
late comrades were eagerly making towards him, like hounds
towards the stag when he is at bay. The untamed and angry
passions which he inherited from father and mother, were awakened
by the supposed hostility of those who pursued him; and the
restraint under which these passions had been hitherto held by
his sober judgment began gradually to give way. The sergeant now
called to him, "Hamish Bean MacTavish, lay down your arms and

"Do YOU stand, Allan Breack Cameron, and command your men to
stand, or it will be the worse for us all."

"Halt, men," said the sergeant, but continuing himself to
advance. "Hamish, think what you do, and give up your gun; you
may spill blood, but you cannot escape punishment."

"The scourge--the scourge--my son, beware the scourge!"
whispered his mother.

"Take heed, Allan Breack," said Hamish. "I would not hurt you
willingly, but I will not be taken unless you can assure me
against the Saxon lash."

"Fool!" answered Cameron, "you know I cannot. Yet I will do all
I can. I will say I met you on your return, and the punishment
will be light; but give up your musket--Come on, men."

Instantly he rushed forward, extending his arm as if to push
aside the young man's levelled firelock. Elspat exclaimed, "Now,
spare not your father's blood to defend your father's hearth!"
Hamish fired his piece, and Cameron dropped dead. All these
things happened, it might be said, in the same moment of time.
The soldiers rushed forward and seized Hamish, who, seeming
petrified with what he had done, offered not the least
resistance. Not so his mother, who, seeing the men about to put
handcuffs on her son, threw herself on the soldiers with such
fury, that it required two of them to hold her, while the rest
secured the prisoner.

"Are you not an accursed creature," said one of the men to
Hamish, "to have slain your best friend, who was contriving,
during the whole march, how he could find some way of getting you
off without punishment for your desertion?"

"Do you hear THAT, mother?" said Hamish, turning himself as much
towards her as his bonds would permit; but the mother heard
nothing, and saw nothing. She had fainted on the floor of her
hut. Without waiting for her recovery, the party almost
immediately began their homeward march towards Dunbarton, leading
along with them their prisoner. They thought it necessary,
however, to stay for a little space at the village of Dalmally,
from which they despatched a party of the inhabitants to bring
away the body of their unfortunate leader, while they themselves
repaired to a magistrate, to state what had happened, and require
his instructions as to the farther course to be pursued. The
crime being of a military character, they were instructed to
march the prisoner to Dunbarton without delay.

The swoon of the mother of Hamish lasted for a length of time--
the longer perhaps that her constitution, strong as it was, must
have been much exhausted by her previous agitation of three days'
endurance. She was roused from her stupor at length by female
voices, which cried the coronach, or lament for the dead, with
clapping of hands and loud exclamations; while the melancholy
note of a lament, appropriate to the clan Cameron, played on the
bagpipe, was heard from time to time.

Elspat started up like one awakened from the dead, and without
any accurate recollection of the scene which had passed before
her eyes. There were females in the hut who were swathing the
corpse in its bloody plaid before carrying it from the fatal
spot. "Women," she said, starting up and interrupting their
chant at once and their labour--"Tell me, women, why sing you the
dirge of MacDhonuil Dhu in the house of MacTavish Mhor?"

"She-wolf, be silent with thine ill-omened yell," answered one of
the females, a relation of the deceased, "and let us do our duty
to our beloved kinsman. There shall never be coronach cried, or
dirge played, for thee or thy bloody wolf-burd. [Wolf-brood--
that is, wolf-cub.] The ravens shall eat him from the gibbet, and
the foxes and wild-cats shall tear thy corpse upon the hill.
Cursed be he that would sain [Bless.] your bones, or add a stone
to your cairn!"

"Daughter of a foolish mother," answered the widow of MacTavish
Mhor, "know that the gibbet with which you threaten us is no
portion of our inheritance. For thirty years the Black Tree of
the Law, whose apples are dead men's bodies, hungered after the
beloved husband of my heart; but he died like a brave man, with
the sword in his hand, and defrauded it of its hopes and its

"So shall it not be with thy child, bloody sorceress," replied
the female mourner, whose passions were as violent as those of
Elspat herself. "The ravens shall tear his fair hair to line
their nests, before the sun sinks beneath the Treshornish

These words recalled to Elspat's mind the whole history of the
last three dreadful days. At first she stood fixed, as if the
extremity of distress had converted her into stone; but in a
minute, the pride and violence of her temper, outbraved as she
thought herself on her own threshold, enabled her to reply, "Yes,
insulting hag, my fair-haired boy may die, but it will not be
with a white hand. It has been dyed in the blood of his enemy,
in the best blood of a Cameron--remember that; and when you lay
your dead in his grave, let it be his best epitaph that he was
killed by Hamish Bean for essaying to lay hands on the son of
MacTavish Mhor on his own threshold. Farewell--the shame of
defeat, loss, and slaughter remain with the clan that has endured

The relative of the slaughtered Cameron raised her voice in
reply; but Elspat, disdaining to continue the objurgation, or
perhaps feeling her grief likely to overmaster her power of
expressing her resentment, had left the hut, and was walking
forth in the bright moonshine.

The females who were arranging the corpse of the slaughtered man
hurried from their melancholy labour to look after her tall
figure as it glided away among the cliffs. "I am glad she is
gone," said one of the younger persons who assisted. "I would as
soon dress a corpse when the great fiend himself--God sain us!--
stood visibly before us, as when Elspat of the Tree is amongst
us. Ay, ay, even overmuch intercourse hath she had with the
enemy in her day."

"Silly woman," answered the female who had maintained the
dialogue with the departed Elspat, "thinkest thou that there is a
worse fiend on earth, or beneath it, than the pride and fury of
an offended woman, like yonder bloody-minded hag? Know that
blood has been as familiar to her as the dew to the mountain
daisy. Many and many a brave man has she caused to breathe their
last for little wrong they had done to her or theirs. But her
hough-sinews are cut, now that her wolf-burd must, like a
murderer as he is, make a murderer's end."

Whilst the women thus discoursed together, as they watched the
corpse of Allan Breack Cameron, the unhappy cause of his death
pursued her lonely way across the mountain. While she remained
within sight of the bothy, she put a strong constraint on
herself, that by no alteration of pace or gesture she might
afford to her enemies the triumph of calculating the excess of
her mental agitation, nay, despair. She stalked, therefore, with
a slow rather than a swift step, and, holding herself upright,
seemed at once to endure with firmness that woe which was passed,
and bid defiance to that which was about to come. But when she
was beyond the sight of those who remained in the hut, she could
no longer suppress the extremity of her agitation. Drawing her
mantle wildly round her, she stopped at the first knoll, and
climbing to its summit, extended her arms up to the bright moon,
as if accusing heaven and earth for her misfortunes, and uttered
scream on scream, like those of an eagle whose nest has been
plundered of her brood. Awhile she vented her grief in these
inarticulate cries, then rushed on her way with a hasty and
unequal step, in the vain hope of overtaking the party which was
conveying her son a prisoner to Dunbarton. But her strength,
superhuman as it seemed, failed her in the trial; nor was it
possible for her, with her utmost efforts, to accomplish her

Yet she pressed onward, with all the speed which her exhausted
frame could exert. When food became indispensable, she entered
the first cottage. "Give me to eat," she said. "I am the widow
of MacTavish Mhor--I am the mother of Hamish MacTavish Bean,--
give me to eat, that I may once more see my fair-haired son."
Her demand was never refused, though granted in many cases with a
kind of struggle between compassion and aversion in some of those
to whom she applied, which was in others qualified by fear. The
share she had had in occasioning the death of Allan Breack
Cameron, which must probably involve that of her own son, was not
accurately known; but, from a knowledge of her violent passions
and former habits of life, no one doubted that in one way or
other she had been the cause of the catastrophe, and Hamish Bean
was considered, in the slaughter which he had committed, rather
as the instrument than as the accomplice of his mother.

This general opinion of his countrymen was of little service to
the unfortunate Hamish. As his captain, Green Colin, understood
the manners and habits of his country, he had no difficulty in
collecting from Hamish the particulars accompanying his supposed
desertion, and the subsequent death of the non-commissioned
officer. He felt the utmost compassion for a youth, who had thus
fallen a victim to the extravagant and fatal fondness of a
parent. But he had no excuse to plead which could rescue his
unhappy recruit from the doom which military discipline and the
award of a court-martial denounced against him for the crime he
had committed.

No time had been lost in their proceedings, and as little was
interposed betwixt sentence and execution. General -- had
determined to make a severe example of the first deserter who
should fall into his power, and here was one who had defended
himself by main force, and slain in the affray the officer sent
to take him into custody. A fitter subject for punishment could
not have occurred, and Hamish was sentenced to immediate
execution. All which the interference of his captain in his
favour could procure was that he should die a soldier's death;
for there had been a purpose of executing him upon the gibbet.

The worthy clergyman of Glenorquhy chanced to be at Dunbarton, in
attendance upon some church courts, at the time of this
catastrophe. He visited his unfortunate parishioner in his
dungeon, found him ignorant indeed, but not obstinate, and the
answers which he received from him, when conversing on religious
topics, were such as induced him doubly to regret that a mind
naturally pure and noble should have remained unhappily so wild
and uncultivated.

When he ascertained the real character and disposition of the
young man, the worthy pastor made deep and painful reflections on
his own shyness and timidity, which, arising out of the evil fame
that attached to the lineage of Hamish, had restrained him from
charitably endeavouring to bring this strayed sheep within the
great fold. While the good minister blamed his cowardice in
times past, which had deterred him from risking his person, to
save, perhaps, an immortal soul, he resolved no longer to be
governed by such timid counsels, but to endeavour, by application
to his officers, to obtain a reprieve, at least, if not a pardon,
for the criminal, in whom he felt so unusually interested, at
once from his docility of temper and his generosity of

Accordingly the divine sought out Captain Campbell at the
barracks within the garrison. There was a gloomy melancholy on
the brow of Green Colin, which was not lessened, but increased,
when the clergyman stated his name, quality, and errand. "You
cannot tell me better of the young man than I am disposed to
believe," answered the Highland officer; "you cannot ask me to do
more in his behalf than I am of myself inclined, and have already
endeavoured to do. But it is all in vain. General -- is half a
Lowlander, half an Englishman. He has no idea of the high and
enthusiastic character which in these mountains often brings
exalted virtues in contact with great crimes, which, however, are
less offences of the heart than errors of the understanding. I
have gone so far as to tell him, that in this young man he was
putting to death the best and the bravest of my company, where
all, or almost all, are good and brave. I explained to him by
what strange delusion the culprit's apparent desertion was
occasioned, and how little his heart was accessory to the crime
which his hand unhappily committed. His answer was, 'These are
Highland visions, Captain Campbell, as unsatisfactory and vain as
those of the second sight. An act of gross desertion may, in any
case, be palliated under the plea of intoxication; the murder of
an officer may be as easily coloured over with that of temporary
insanity. The example must be made, and if it has fallen on a
man otherwise a good recruit, it will have the greater effect.'
Such being the general's unalterable purpose," continued Captain
Campbell, with a sigh, "be it your care, reverend sir, that your
penitent prepare by break of day tomorrow for that great change
which we shall all one day be subjected to."

"And for which," said the clergyman, "may God prepare us all, as
I in my duty will not be wanting to this poor youth!"

Next morning, as the very earliest beams of sunrise saluted the
grey towers which crown the summit of that singular and
tremendous rock, the soldiers of the new Highland regiment
appeared on the parade, within the Castle of Dunbarton, and
having fallen into order, began to move downward by steep
staircases, and narrow passages towards the external barrier-
gate, which is at the very bottom of the rock. The wild wailings
of the pibroch were heard at times, interchanged with the drums
and fifes, which beat the Dead March.

The unhappy criminal's fate did not, at first, excite that
general sympathy in the regiment which would probably have arisen
had he been executed for desertion alone. The slaughter of the
unfortunate Allan Breack had given a different colour to Hamish's
offence; for the deceased was much beloved, and besides belonged
to a numerous and powerful clan, of whom there were many in the
ranks. The unfortunate criminal, on the contrary, was little
known to, and scarcely connected with, any of his regimental
companions. His father had been, indeed, distinguished for his
strength and manhood; but he was of a broken clan, as those names
were called who had no chief to lead them to battle.

It would have been almost impossible in another case to have
turned out of the ranks of the regiment the party necessary for
execution of the sentence; but the six individuals selected for
that purpose, were friends of the deceased, descended, like him,
from the race of MacDhonuil Dhu; and while they prepared for the
dismal task which their duty imposed, it was not without a stern
feeling of gratified revenge. The leading company of the
regiment began now to defile from the barrier-gate, and was
followed by the others, each successively moving and halting
according to the orders of the adjutant, so as to form three
sides of an oblong square, with the ranks faced inwards. The
fourth, or blank side of the square, was closed up by the huge
and lofty precipice on which the Castle rises. About the centre
of the procession, bare-headed, disarmed, and with his hands
bound, came the unfortunate victim of military law. He was
deadly pale, but his step was firm and his eye as bright as ever.
The clergyman walked by his side; the coffin, which was to
receive his mortal remains, was borne before him. The looks of
his comrades were still, composed, and solemn. They felt for the
youth, whose handsome form and manly yet submissive deportment
had, as soon as he was distinctly visible to them, softened the
hearts of many, even of some who had been actuated by vindictive

The coffin destined for the yet living body of Hamish Bean was
placed at the bottom of the hollow square, about two yards
distant from the foot of the precipice, which rises in that place
as steep as a stone wall to the height of three or four hundred
feet. Thither the prisoner was also led, the clergyman still
continuing by his side, pouring forth exhortations of courage and
consolation, to which the youth appeared to listen with
respectful devotion. With slow, and, it seemed, almost unwilling
steps, the firing party entered the square, and were drawn up
facing the prisoner, about ten yards distant. The clergyman was
now about to retire. "Think, my son," he said, "on what I have
told you, and let your hope be rested on the anchor which I have
given. You will then exchange a short and miserable existence
here for a life in which you will experience neither sorrow nor
pain. Is there aught else which you can entrust to me to execute
for you?"

The youth looked at his sleeve buttons. They were of gold, booty
perhaps which his father had taken from some English officer
during the civil wars. The clergyman disengaged them from his

"My mother!" he said with some effort--"give them to my poor
mother! See her, good father, and teach her what she should
think of all this. Tell her Hamish Bean is more glad to die than
ever he was to rest after the longest day's hunting. Farewell,

The good man could scarce retire from the fatal spot. An officer
afforded him the support of his arm. At his last look towards
Hamish, he beheld him alive and kneeling on the coffin; the few
that were around him had all withdrawn. The fatal word was
given, the rock rung sharp to the sound of the discharge, and
Hamish, falling forward with a groan, died, it may be supposed,
without almost a sense of the passing agony.

Ten or twelve of his own company then came forward, and laid with
solemn reverence the remains of their comrade in the coffin,
while the Dead March was again struck up, and the several
companies, marching in single files, passed the coffin one by
one, in order that all might receive from the awful spectacle the
warning which it was peculiarly intended to afford. The regiment
was then marched off the ground, and reascended the ancient
cliff, their music, as usual on such occasions, striking lively
strains, as if sorrow, or even deep thought, should as short a
while as possible be the tenant of the soldier's bosom.

At the same time the small party, which we before mentioned, bore
the bier of the ill-fated Hamish to his humble grave, in a corner
of the churchyard of Dunbarton, usually assigned to criminals.
Here, among the dust of the guilty, lies a youth, whose name, had
he survived the ruin of the fatal events by which he was hurried
into crime, might have adorned the annals of the brave.

The minister of Glenorquhy left Dunbarton immediately after he
had witnessed the last scene of this melancholy catastrophe. His
reason acquiesced in the justice of the sentence, which required
blood for blood, and he acknowledged that the vindictive
character of his countrymen required to be powerfully restrained
by the strong curb of social law. But still he mourned over the
individual victim. Who may arraign the bolt of Heaven when it
bursts among the sons of the forest? yet who can refrain from
mourning when it selects for the object of its blighting aim the
fair stem of a young oak, that promised to be the pride of the
dell in which it flourished? Musing on these melancholy events,
noon found him engaged in the mountain passes, by which he was to
return to his still distant home.

Confident in his knowledge of the country, the clergyman had left
the main road, to seek one of those shorter paths, which are only
used by pedestrians, or by men, like the minister, mounted on the
small, but sure-footed, hardy, and sagacious horses of the
country. The place which he now traversed was in itself gloomy
and desolate, and tradition had added to it the terror of
superstition, by affirming it was haunted by an evil spirit,
termed CLOGHT-DEARG--that is, Redmantle--who at all times, but
especially at noon and at midnight, traversed the glen, in enmity
both to man and the inferior creation, did such evil as her power
was permitted to extend to, and afflicted with ghastly terrors
those whom she had not license otherwise to hurt.

The minister of Glenorquhy had set his face in opposition to many
of these superstitions, which he justly thought were derived from
the dark ages of Popery, perhaps even from those of paganism, and
unfit to be entertained or believed by the Christians of an
enlightened age. Some of his more attached parishioners
considered him as too rash in opposing the ancient faith of their
fathers; and though they honoured the moral intrepidity of their
pastor, they could not avoid entertaining and expressing fears
that he would one day fall a victim to his temerity, and be torn
to pieces in the glen of the Cloght-dearg, or some of those other
haunted wilds, which he appeared rather to have a pride and
pleasure in traversing alone, on the days and hours when the
wicked spirits were supposed to have especial power over man and

These legends came across the mind of the clergyman, and,
solitary as he was, a melancholy smile shaded his cheek, as he
thought of the inconsistency of human nature, and reflected how
many brave men, whom the yell of the pibroch would have sent
headlong against fixed bayonets, as the wild bull rushes on his
enemy, might have yet feared to encounter those visionary
terrors, which he himself, a man of peace, and in ordinary perils
no way remarkable for the firmness of his nerves, was now risking
without hesitation.

As he looked around the scene of desolation, he could not but
acknowledge, in his own mind, that it was not ill chosen for the
haunt of those spirits, which are said to delight in solitude and
desolation. The glen was so steep and narrow that there was but
just room for the meridian sun to dart a few scattered rays upon
the gloomy and precarious stream which stole through its
recesses, for the most part in silence, but occasionally
murmuring sullenly against the rocks and large stones which
seemed determined to bar its further progress. In winter, or in
the rainy season, this small stream was a foaming torrent of the
most formidable magnitude, and it was at such periods that it had
torn open and laid bare the broad-faced and huge fragments of
rock which, at the season of which we speak, hid its course from
the eye, and seemed disposed totally to interrupt its course.
"Undoubtedly," thought the clergyman, "this mountain rivulet,
suddenly swelled by a waterspout or thunderstorm, has often been
the cause of those accidents which, happening in the glen called
by her name, have been ascribed to the agency of the Cloght-

Just as this idea crossed his mind, he heard a female voice
exclaim, in a wild and thrilling accent, "Michael Tyrie! Michael
Tyrie!" He looked round in astonishment, and not without some
fear. It seemed for an instant, as if the evil being, whose
existence he had disowned, was about to appear for the punishment
of his incredulity. This alarm did not hold him more than an
instant, nor did it prevent his replying in a firm voice, "Who
calls? and where are you?"

"One who journeys in wretchedness, between life and death,"
answered the voice; and the speaker, a tall female, appeared from
among the fragments of rocks which had concealed her from view.

As she approached more closely, her mantle of bright tartan, in
which the red colour much predominated, her stature, the long
stride with which she advanced, and the writhen features and wild
eyes which were visible from under her curch, would have made her
no inadequate representative of the spirit which gave name to the
valley. But Mr. Tyrie instantly knew her as the Woman of the
Tree, the widow of MacTavish Mhor, the now childless mother of
Hamish Bean. I am not sure whether the minister would not have
endured the visitation of the Cloght-dearg herself, rather than
the shock of Elspat's presence, considering her crime and her
misery. He drew up his horse instinctively, and stood
endeavouring to collect his ideas, while a few paces brought her
up to his horse's head.

"Michael Tyrie," said she, "the foolish women of the Clachan [The
village; literally, the stones.] hold thee as a god--be one to
me, and say that my son lives. Say this, and I too will be of
thy worship; I will bend my knees on the seventh day in thy house
of worship, and thy God shall be my God."

"Unhappy woman," replied the clergyman, "man forms not pactions
with his Maker as with a creature of clay like himself. Thinkest
thou to chaffer with Him, who formed the earth, and spread out
the heavens, or that thou canst offer aught of homage or devotion
that can be worth acceptance in his eyes? He hath asked
obedience, not sacrifice; patience under the trials with which He
afflicts us, instead of vain bribes, such as man offers to his
changeful brother of clay, that he may be moved from his

"Be silent, priest!" answered the desperate woman; "speak not to
me the words of thy white book. Elspat's kindred were of those
who crossed themselves and knelt when the sacring bell was rung,
and she knows that atonement can be made on the altar for deeds
done in the field. Elspat had once flocks and herds, goats upon
the cliffs, and cattle in the strath. She wore gold around her
neck and on her hair--thick twists, as those worn by the heroes
of old. All these would she have resigned to the priest--all
these; and if he wished for the ornaments of a gentle lady, or
the sporran of a high chief, though they had been great as
Macallum Mhor himself, MacTavish Mhor would have procured them,
if Elspat had promised them. Elspat is now poor, and has nothing
to give. But the Black Abbot of Inchaffray would have bidden her
scourge her shoulders, and macerate her feet by pilgrimage; and
he would have granted his pardon to her when he saw that her
blood had flowed, and that her flesh had been torn. These were
the priests who had indeed power even with the most powerful;
they threatened the great men of the earth with the word of their
mouth, the sentence of their book, the blaze of their torch, the
sound of their sacring bell. The mighty bent to their will, and
unloosed at the word of the priests those whom they had bound in
their wrath, and set at liberty, unharmed, him whom they had
sentenced to death, and for whose blood they had thirsted. These
were a powerful race, and might well ask the poor to kneel, since
their power could humble the proud. But you!--against whom are
ye strong, but against women who have been guilty of folly, and
men who never wore sword? The priests of old were like the
winter torrent which fills this hollow valley, and rolls these
massive rocks against each other as easily as the boy plays with
the ball which he casts before him. But you!--you do but
resemble the summer-stricken stream, which is turned aside by the
rushes, and stemmed by a bush of sedges. Woe worth you, for
there is no help in you!"

The clergyman was at no loss to conceive that Elspat had lost the
Roman Catholic faith without gaining any other, and that she
still retained a vague and confused idea of the composition with
the priesthood, by confession, alms, and penance, and of their
extensive power, which, according to her notion, was adequate, if
duly propitiated, even to effecting her son's safety.
Compassionating her situation, and allowing for her errors and
ignorance, he answered her with mildness.

"Alas, unhappy woman! Would to God I could convince thee as
easily where thou oughtest to seek, and art sure to find,
consolation, as I can assure you with a single word, that were
Rome and all her priesthood once more in the plenitude of their
power, they could not, for largesse or penance, afford to thy
misery an atom of aid or comfort--Elspat MacTavish, I grieve to
tell you the news."

"I know them without thy speech," said the unhappy woman. "My
son is doomed to die."

"Elspat," resumed the clergyman, "he WAS doomed, and the sentence
has been executed."

The hapless mother threw her eyes up to heaven, and uttered a
shriek so unlike the voice of a human being, that the eagle which
soared in middle air answered it as she would have done the call
of her mate.

"It is impossible!" she exclaimed--"it is impossible! Men do
not condemn and kill on the same day! Thou art deceiving me.
The people call thee holy--hast thou the heart to tell a mother
she has murdered her only child?"

"God knows," said the priest, the tears falling fast from his
eyes, "that were it in my power, I would gladly tell better
tidings. But these which I bear are as certain as they are
fatal. My own ears heard the death-shot, my own eyes beheld thy
son's death--thy son's funeral. My tongue bears witness to what
my ears heard and my eyes saw."

The wretched female clasped her bands close together, and held
them up towards heaven like a sibyl announcing war and
desolation, while, in impotent yet frightful rage, she poured
forth a tide of the deepest imprecations. "Base Saxon churl!"
she exclaimed--"vile hypocritical juggler! May the eyes that
looked tamely on the death of my fair-haired boy be melted in
their sockets with ceaseless tears, shed for those that are
nearest and most dear to thee! May the ears that heard his
death-knell be dead hereafter to all other sounds save the
screech of the raven, and the hissing of the adder! May the
tongue that tells me of his death and of my own crime, be
withered in thy mouth--or better, when thou wouldst pray with thy
people, may the Evil One guide it, and give voice to blasphemies
instead of blessings, until men shall fly in terror from thy
presence, and the thunder of heaven be launched against thy head,
and stop for ever thy cursing and accursed voice! Begone, with
this malison! Elspat will never, never again bestow so many
words upon living man."

She kept her word. From that day the world was to her a
wilderness, in which she remained without thought, care, or
interest, absorbed in her own grief, indifferent to every thing

With her mode of life, or rather of existence, the reader is
already as far acquainted as I have the power of making him. Of
her death, I can tell him nothing. It is supposed to have
happened several years after she had attracted the attention of
my excellent friend Mrs. Bethune Baliol. Her benevolence, which
was never satisfied with dropping a sentimental tear, when there
was room for the operation of effective charity, induced her to
make various attempts to alleviate the condition of this most
wretched woman. But all her exertions could only render Elspat's
means of subsistence less precarious--a circumstance which,
though generally interesting even to the most wretched outcasts,
seemed to her a matter of total indifference. Every attempt to
place any person in her hut to take charge of her miscarried,
through the extreme resentment with which she regarded all
intrusion on her solitude, or by the timidity of those who had
been pitched upon to be inmates with the terrible Woman of the
Tree. At length, when Elspat became totally unable (in
appearance at least) to turn herself on the wretched settle which
served her for a couch, the humanity of Mr. Tyrie's successor
sent two women to attend upon the last moments of the solitary,
which could not, it was judged, be far distant, and to avert the
possibility that she might perish for want of assistance or food,
before she sunk under the effects of extreme age or mortal

It was on a November evening, that the two women appointed for
this melancholy purpose arrived at the miserable cottage which we
have already described. Its wretched inmate lay stretched upon
the bed, and seemed almost already a lifeless corpse, save for
the wandering of the fierce dark eyes, which rolled in their
sockets in a manner terrible to look upon, and seemed to watch
with surprise and indignation the motions of the strangers, as
persons whose presence was alike unexpected and unwelcome. They
were frightened at her looks; but, assured in each other's
company, they kindled a fire, lighted a candle, prepared food,
and made other arrangements for the discharge of the duty
assigned them.

The assistants agreed they should watch the bedside of the sick
person by turns; but, about midnight, overcome by fatigue, (for
they had walked far that morning), both of them fell fast asleep.
When they awoke, which was not till after the interval of some
hours, the hut was empty, and the patient gone. They rose in
terror, and went to the door of the cottage, which was latched as
it had been at night. They looked out into the darkness, and
called upon their charge by her name. The night-raven screamed
from the old oak-tree, the fox howled on the hill, the hoarse
waterfall replied with its echoes; but there was no human answer.
The terrified women did not dare to make further search till
morning should appear; for the sudden disappearance of a creature
so frail as Elspat, together with the wild tenor of her history,
intimidated them from stirring from the hut. They remained,
therefore, in dreadful terror, sometimes thinking they heard her
voice without, and at other times, that sounds of a different
description were mingled with the mournful sigh of the night-
breeze, or the dashing of the cascade. Sometimes, too, the latch
rattled, as if some frail and impotent hand were in vain
attempting to lift it, and ever and anon they expected the
entrance of their terrible patient, animated by supernatural
strength, and in the company, perhaps, of some being more
dreadful than herself. Morning came at length. They sought
brake, rock, and thicket in vain. Two hours after daylight, the
minister himself appeared, and, on the report of the watchers,
caused the country to be alarmed, and a general and exact search
to be made through the whole neighbourhood of the cottage and the
oak-tree. But it was all in vain. Elspat MacTavish was never
found, whether dead or alive; nor could there ever be traced the
slightest circumstance to indicate her fate.

The neighbourhood was divided concerning the cause of her
disappearance. The credulous thought that the evil spirit, under
whose influence she seemed to have acted, had carried her away in
the body; and there are many who are still unwilling, at untimely
hours, to pass the oak-tree, beneath which, as they allege, she
may still be seen seated according to her wont. Others less
superstitious supposed, that had it been possible to search the
gulf of the Corri Dhu, the profound deeps of the lake, or the
whelming eddies of the river, the remains of Elspat MacTavish
might have been discovered--as nothing was more natural,
considering her state of body and mind, than that she should have
fallen in by accident, or precipitated herself intentionally,
into one or other of those places of sure destruction. The
clergyman entertained an opinion of his own. He thought that,
impatient of the watch which was placed over her, this unhappy
woman's instinct had taught her, as it directs various domestic
animals, to withdraw herself from the sight of her own race, that
the death-struggle might take place in some secret den, where, in
all probability, her mortal relics would never meet the eyes of
mortals. This species of instinctive feeling seemed to him of a
tenor with the whole course of her unhappy life, and most likely
to influence her when it drew to a conclusion.


Sir Walter Scott

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