Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

It was the day after Doune Fair when my story commences. It had
been a brisk market. Several dealers had attended from the
northern and midland counties in England, and English money had
flown so merrily about as to gladden the hearts of the Highland
farmers. Many large droves were about to set off for England,
under the protection of their owners, or of the topsmen whom they
employed in the tedious, laborious, and responsible office of
driving the cattle for many hundred miles, from the market where
they had been purchased, to the fields or farmyards where they
were to be fattened for the shambles.

The Highlanders in particular are masters of this difficult trade
of driving, which seems to suit them as well as the trade of war.
It affords exercise for all their habits of patient endurance and
active exertion. They are required to know perfectly the drove-
roads, which lie over the wildest tracts of the country, and to
avoid as much as possible the highways, which distress the feet
of the bullocks, and the turnpikes, which annoy the spirit of the
drover; whereas on the broad green or grey track which leads
across the pathless moor, the herd not only move at ease and
without taxation, but, if they mind their business, may pick up a
mouthful of food by the way. At night the drovers usually sleep
along with their cattle, let the weather be what it will; and
many of these hardy men do not once rest under a roof during a
journey on foot from Lochaber to Lincolnshire. They are paid
very highly, for the trust reposed is of the last importance, as
it depends on their prudence, vigilance, and honesty whether the
cattle reach the final market in good order, and afford a profit
to the grazier. But as they maintain themselves at their own
expense, they are especially economical in that particular. At
the period we speak of, a Highland drover was victualled for his
long and toilsome journey with a few handfulls of oatmeal and two
or three onions, renewed from time to time, and a ram's horn
filled with whisky, which he used regularly, but sparingly, every
night and morning. His dirk, or SKENE-DHU, (that is, black-
knife), so worn as to be concealed beneath the arm, or by the
folds of the plaid, was his only weapon, excepting the cudgel
with which he directed the movements of the cattle. A Highlander
was never so happy as on these occasions. There was a variety in
the whole journey, which exercised the Celt's natural curiosity
and love of motion. There were the constant change of place and
scene, the petty adventures incidental to the traffic, and the
intercourse with the various farmers, graziers, and traders,
intermingled with occasional merry-makings, not the less
acceptable to Donald that they were void of expense. And there
was the consciousness of superior skill; for the Highlander, a
child amongst flocks, is a prince amongst herds, and his natural
habits induce him to disdain the shepherd's slothful life, so
that he feels himself nowhere more at home than when following a
gallant drove of his country cattle in the character of their

Of the number who left Doune in the morning, and with the purpose
we have described, not a GLUNAMIE of them all cocked his bonnet
more briskly, or gartered his tartan hose under knee over a pair
of more promising SPIOGS, (legs), than did Robin Oig M'Combich,
called familiarly Robin Oig, that is young, or the Lesser, Robin.
Though small of stature, as the epithet Oig implies, and not very
strongly limbed, he was as light and alert as one of the deer of
his mountains. He had an elasticity of step which, in the course
of a long march, made many a stout fellow envy him; and the
manner in which he busked his plaid and adjusted his bonnet
argued a consciousness that so smart a John Highlandman as
himself would not pass unnoticed among the Lowland lasses. The
ruddy cheek, red lips, and white teeth set off a countenance
which had gained by exposure to the weather a healthful and hardy
rather than a rugged hue. If Robin Oig did not laugh, or even
smile frequently--as, indeed, is not the practice among his
countrymen--his bright eyes usually gleamed from under his bonnet
with an expression of cheerfulness ready to be turned into mirth.

The departure of Robin Oig was an incident in the little town, in
and near which he had many friends, male and female. He was a
topping person in his way, transacted considerable business on
his own behalf, and was entrusted by the best farmers in the
Highlands, in preference to any other drover in that district.
He might have increased his business to any extent had he
condescended to manage it by deputy; but except a lad or two,
sister's sons of his own, Robin rejected the idea of assistance,
conscious, perhaps, how much his reputation depended upon his
attending in person to the practical discharge of his duty in
every instance. He remained, therefore, contented with the
highest premium given to persons of his description, and
comforted himself with the hopes that a few journeys to England
might enable him to conduct business on his own account, in a
manner becoming his birth. For Robin Oig's father, Lachlan
M'Combich (or SON OF MY FRIEND, his actual clan surname being
M'Gregor), had been so called by the celebrated Rob Roy, because
of the particular friendship which had subsisted between the
grandsire of Robin and that renowned cateran. Some people even
said that Robin Oig derived his Christian name from one as
renowned in the wilds of Loch Lomond as ever was his namesake
Robin Hood in the precincts of merry Sherwood. "Of such
ancestry," as James Boswell says, "who would not be proud?"
Robin Oig was proud accordingly; but his frequent visits to
England and to the Lowlands had given him tact enough to know
that pretensions which still gave him a little right to
distinction in his own lonely glen, might be both obnoxious and
ridiculous if preferred elsewhere. The pride of birth,
therefore, was like the miser's treasure--the secret subject of
his contemplation, but never exhibited to strangers as a subject
of boasting.

Many were the words of gratulation and good-luck which were
bestowed on Robin Oig. The judges commended his drove,
especially Robin's own property, which were the best of them.
Some thrust out their snuff-mulls for the parting pinch, others
tendered the DOCH-AN-DORRACH, or parting cup. All cried, "Good-
luck travel out with you and come home with you. Give you luck
in the Saxon market--brave notes in the LEABHAR-DHU," (black
pocket-book), "and plenty of English gold in the SPORRAN" (pouch
of goat-skin).

The bonny lasses made their adieus more modestly, and more than
one, it was said, would have given her best brooch to be certain
that it was upon her that his eye last rested as he turned
towards the road.

Robin Oig had just given the preliminary "HOO-HOO!" to urge
forward the loiterers of the drove, when there was a cry behind

"Stay, Robin--bide a blink. Here is Janet of Tomahourich--auld
Janet, your father's sister."

"Plague on her, for an auld Highland witch and spaewife," said a
farmer from the Carse of Stirling; "she'll cast some of her
cantrips on the cattle."

"She canna do that," said another sapient of the same profession.
"Robin Oig is no the lad to leave any of them without tying Saint
Mungo's knot on their tails, and that will put to her speed the
best witch that ever flew over Dimayet upon a broomstick."

It may not be indifferent to the reader to know that the Highland
cattle are peculiarly liable to be TAKEN, or infected, by spells
and witchcraft, which judicious people guard against by knitting
knots of peculiar complexity on the tuft of hair which terminates
the animal's tail.

But the old woman who was the object of the farmer's suspicion
seemed only busied about the drover, without paying any attention
to the drove. Robin, on the contrary, appeared rather impatient
of her presence.

"What auld-world fancy," he said, "has brought you so early from
the ingle-side this morning, Muhme? l am sure I bid you good-
even, and had your God-speed, last night."

"And left me more siller than the useless old woman will use till
you come back again, bird of my bosom," said the sibyl. "But it
is little I would care for the food that nourishes me, or the
fire that warms me, or for God's blessed sun itself, if aught but
weel should happen to the grandson of my father. So let me walk
the DEASIL round you, that you may go safe out into the far
foreign land, and come safe home."

Robin Oig stopped, half embarrassed, half laughing, and signing
to those around that he only complied with the old woman to
soothe her humour. In the meantime, she traced around him, with
wavering steps, the propitiation, which some have thought has
been derived from the Druidical mythology. It consists, as is
well known, in the person who makes the DEASIL walking three
times round the person who is the object of the ceremony, taking
care to move according to the course of the sun. At once,
however, she stopped short, and exclaimed, in a voice of alarm
and horror, "Grandson of my father, there is blood on your hand."

"Hush, for God's sake, aunt!" said Robin Oig. "You will bring
more trouble on yourself with this TAISHATARAGH" (second sight)
"than you will be able to get out of for many a day."

The old woman only repeated, with a ghastly look, "There is blood
on your hand, and it is English blood. The blood of the Gael is
richer and redder. Let us see--let us--"

Ere Robin Oig could prevent her, which, indeed, could only have
been by positive violence, so hasty and peremptory were her
proceedings, she had drawn from his side the dirk which lodged in
the folds of his plaid, and held it up, exclaiming, although the
weapon gleamed clear and bright in the sun, "Blood, blood--Saxon
blood again. Robin Oig M'Combich, go not this day to England!"

"Prutt, trutt," answered Robin Oig, "that will never do neither
--it would be next thing to running the country. For shame,
Muhme--give me the dirk. You cannot tell by the colour the
difference betwixt the blood of a black bullock and a white one,
and you speak of knowing Saxon from Gaelic blood. All men have
their blood from Adam, Muhme. Give me my skene-dhu, and let me
go on my road. I should have been half way to Stirling brig by
this time. Give me my dirk, and let me go."

"Never will I give it to you," said the old woman--"Never will I
quit my hold on your plaid--unless you promise me not to wear
that unhappy weapon."

The women around him urged him also, saying few of his aunt's
words fell to the ground; and as the Lowland farmers continued to
look moodily on the scene, Robin Oig determined to close it at
any sacrifice.

"Well, then," said the young drover, giving the scabbard of the
weapon to Hugh Morrison, "you Lowlanders care nothing for these
freats. Keep my dirk for me. I cannot give it you, because it
was my father's; but your drove follows ours, and I am content it
should be in your keeping, not in mine.--Will this do, Muhme?"

"It must," said the old woman--"that is, if the Lowlander is mad
enough to carry the knife."

The strong Westlandman laughed aloud.

"Goodwife," said he, "I am Hugh Morrison from Glenae, come of the
Manly Morrisons of auld lang syne, that never took short weapon
against a man in their lives. And neither needed they. They had
their broadswords, and I have this bit supple"--showing a
formidable cudgel; "for dirking ower the board, I leave that to
John Highlandman.--Ye needna snort, none of you Highlanders, and
you in especial, Robin. I'll keep the bit knife, if you are
feared for the auld spaewife's tale, and give it back to you
whenever you want it."

Robin was not particularly pleased with some part of Hugh
Morrison's speech; but he had learned in his travels more
patience than belonged to his Highland constitution originally,
and he accepted the service of the descendant of the Manly
Morrisons without finding fault with the rather depreciating
manner in which it was offered.

"If he had not had his morning in his head, and been but a
Dumfriesshire hog into the boot, he would have spoken more like a
gentleman. But you cannot have more of a sow than a grumph.
It's shame my father's knife should ever slash a haggis for the
like of him."

Thus saying, (but saying it in Gaelic), Robin drove on his
cattle, and waved farewell to all behind him. He was in the
greater haste, because he expected to join at Falkirk a comrade
and brother in profession, with whom he proposed to travel in

Robin Oig's chosen friend was a young Englishman, Harry Wakefield
by name, well known at every northern market, and in his way as
much famed and honoured as our Highland driver of bullocks. He
was nearly six feet high, gallantly formed to keep the rounds at
Smithfield, or maintain the ring at a wrestling match; and
although he might have been overmatched, perhaps, among the
regular professors of the Fancy, yet, as a yokel or rustic, or a
chance customer, he was able to give a bellyful to any amateur of
the pugilistic art. Doncaster races saw him in his glory,
betting his guinea, and generally successfully; nor was there a
main fought in Yorkshire, the feeders being persons of celebrity,
at which he was not to be seen if business permitted. But though
a SPRACK lad, and fond of pleasure and its haunts, Harry
Wakefield was steady, and not the cautious Robin Oig M'Combich
himself was more attentive to the main chance. His holidays were
holidays indeed; but his days of work were dedicated to steady
and persevering labour. In countenance and temper, Wakefield was
the model of Old England's merry yeomen, whose clothyard shafts,
in so many hundred battles, asserted her superiority over the
nations, and whose good sabres, in our own time, are her cheapest
and most assured defence. His mirth was readily excited; for,
strong in limb and constitution, and fortunate in circumstances,
he was disposed to be pleased with every thing about him, and
such difficulties as he might occasionally encounter were, to a
man of his energy, rather matter of amusement than serious
annoyance. With all the merits of a sanguine temper, our young
English drover was not without his defects. He was irascible,
sometimes to the verge of being quarrelsome; and perhaps not the
less inclined to bring his disputes to a pugilistic decision,
because he found few antagonists able to stand up to him in the
boxing ring.

It is difficult to say how Harry Wakefield and Robin Oig first
became intimates, but it is certain a close acquaintance had
taken place betwixt them, although they had apparently few common
subjects of conversation or of interest, so soon as their talk
ceased to be of bullocks. Robin Oig, indeed, spoke the English
language rather imperfectly upon any other topics but stots and
kyloes, and Harry Wakefield could never bring his broad Yorkshire
tongue to utter a single word of Gaelic. It was in vain Robin
spent a whole morning, during a walk over Minch Moor, in
attempting to teach his companion to utter, with true precision,
the shibboleth LLHU, which is the Gaelic for a calf. From
Traquair to Murder Cairn, the hill rung with the discordant
attempts of the Saxon upon the unmanageable monosyllable, and the
heartfelt laugh which followed every failure. They had, however,
better modes of awakening the echoes; for Wakefield could sing
many a ditty to the praise of Moll, Susan, and Cicely, and Robin
Oig had a particular gift at whistling interminable pibrochs
through all their involutions, and what was more agreeable to his
companion's southern ear, knew many of the northern airs, both
lively and pathetic, to which Wakefield learned to pipe a bass.
Thus, though Robin could hardly have comprehended his companion's
stories about horse-racing, and cock-fighting, or fox-hunting,
and although his own legends of clan-fights and CREAGHS, varied
with talk of Highland goblins and fairy folk, would have been
caviare to his companion, they contrived, nevertheless to find a
degree of pleasure in each other's company, which had for three
years back induced them to join company and travel together, when
the direction of their journey permitted. Each, indeed, found
his advantage in this companionship; for where could the
Englishman have found a guide through the Western Highlands like
Robin Oig M'Combich? and when they were on what Harry called the
RIGHT side of the Border, his patronage, which was extensive, and
his purse, which was heavy, were at all times at the service of
his Highland friend, and on many occasions his liberality did him
genuine yeoman's service.

Sir Walter Scott

Sorry, no summary available yet.