This was the entry then, these stairs--but whither after? Yet he that's sure to perish on the land May quit the nicety of card and compass, And trust the open sea without a pilot.--TRAGEDY OF BENNOVALT.
"Look out for the private way through the chapel, Ranald," said the Captain, "while I give a hasty regard to these matters."
Thus speaking, he seized with one hand a bundle of Argyle's most private papers, and with the other a purse of gold, both of which lay in a drawer of a rich cabinet, which stood invitingly open. Neither did he neglect to possess himself of a sword and pistols, with powder-flask and balls, which hung in the apartment. "Intelligence and booty," said the veteran, as he pouched the spoils, "each honourable cavalier should look to, the one on his general's behalf, and the other on his own. This sword is an Andrew Ferrara, and the pistols better than mine own. But a fair exchange is no robbery. Soldados are not to be endangered, and endangered gratuitously, my Lord of Argyle.--But soft, soft, Ranald; wise Man of the Mist, whither art thou bound?"
It was indeed full time to stop MacEagh's proceedings; for, not finding the private passage readily, and impatient, it would seem, of farther delay, he had caught down a sword and target, and was about to enter the great gallery, with the purpose, doubtless, of fighting his way through all opposition.
"Hold, while you live," whispered Dalgetty, laying hold on him. "We must be perdue, if possible. So bar we this door, that it may be thought M'Callum More would be private--and now let me make a reconnaissance for the private passage."
By looking behind the tapestry in various places, the Captain at length discovered a private door, and behind that a winding passage, terminated by another door, which doubtless entered the chapel. But what was his disagreeable surprise to hear, on the other side of this second door, the sonorous voice of a divine in the act of preaching.
"This made the villain," he said, "recommend this to us as a private passage. I am strongly tempted to return and cut his throat."
He then opened very gently the door, which led into a latticed gallery used by the Marquis himself, the curtains of which were drawn, perhaps with the purpose of having it supposed that he was engaged in attendance upon divine worship, when, in fact, he was absent upon his secular affairs. There was no other person in the seat; for the family of the Marquis,--such was the high state maintained in those days,--sate during service in another gallery, placed somewhat lower than that of the great man himself. This being the case, Captain Dalgetty ventured to ensconce himself in the gallery, of which he carefully secured the door.
Never (although the expression be a bold one) was a sermon listened to with more impatience, and less edification, on the part of one, at least, of the audience. The Captain heard SIXTEENTHLY-SEVENTEENTHLY-EIGHTEENTHLY and TO CONCLUDE, with a sort of feeling like protracted despair. But no man can lecture (for the service was called a lecture) for ever; and the discourse was at length closed, the clergyman not failing to make a profound bow towards the latticed gallery, little suspecting whom he honoured by that reverence. To judge from the haste with which they dispersed, the domestics of the Marquis were scarce more pleased with their late occupation than the anxious Captain Dalgetty; indeed, many of them being Highlandmen, had the excuse of not understanding a single word which the clergyman spoke, although they gave their attendance on his doctrine by the special order of M'Callum More, and would have done so had the preacher been a Turkish Imaum.
But although the congregation dispersed thus rapidly, the divine remained behind in the chapel, and, walking up and down its Gothic precincts, seemed either to be meditating on what he had just been delivering, or preparing a fresh discourse for the next opportunity. Bold as he was, Dalgetty hesitated what he ought to do. Time, however, pressed, and every moment increased the chance of their escape being discovered by the jailor visiting the dungeon perhaps before his wonted time, and discovering the exchange which had been made there. At length, whispering Ranald, who watched all his motions, to follow him and preserve his countenance, Captain Dalgetty, with a very composed air, descended a flight of steps which led from the gallery into the body of the chapel. A less experienced adventurer would have endeavoured to pass the worthy clergyman rapidly, in hopes to escape unnoticed. But the Captain, who foresaw the manifest danger of failing in such an attempt, walked gravely to meet the divine upon his walk in the midst of the chancel, and, pulling off his cap, was about to pass him after a formal reverence. But what was his surprise to view in the preacher the very same person with whom he had dined in the castle of Ardenvohr! Yet he speedily recovered his composure; and ere the clergyman could speak, was the first to address him. "I could not," he said, "leave this mansion without bequeathing to you, my very reverend sir, my humble thanks for the homily with which you have this evening favoured us."
"I did not observe, sir," said the clergyman, "that you were in the chapel."
"It pleased the honourable Marquis," said Dalgetty, modestly, "to grace me with a seat in his own gallery." The divine bowed low at this intimation, knowing that such an honour was only vouchsafed to persons of very high rank. "It has been my fate, sir," said the Captain, "in the sort of wandering life which I have led, to have heard different preachers of different religions--as for example, Lutheran, Evangelical, Reformed, Calvinistical, and so forth, but never have I listened to such a homily as yours."
"Call it a lecture, worthy sir," said the divine, "such is the phrase of our church."
"Lecture or homily," said Dalgetty, "it was, as the High Germans say, GANZ FORTRE FLICH; and I could not leave this place without testifying unto you what inward emotions I have undergone during your edifying prelection; and how I am touched to the quick, that I should yesterday, during the refection, have seemed to infringe on the respect due to such a person as yourself."
"Alas! my worthy sir," said the clergyman, "we meet in this world as in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, not knowing against whom we may chance to encounter. In truth, it is no matter of marvel, if we sometimes jostle those, to whom, if known, we would yield all respect. Surely, sir, I would rather have taken you for a profane malignant than for such a devout person as you prove, who reverences the great Master even in the meanest of his servants."
"It is always my custom to do so, learned sir," answered Dalgetty; "for in the service of the immortal Gustavus--but I detain you from your meditations,"--his desire to speak of the King of Sweden being for once overpowered by the necessity of his circumstances.
"By no means, my worthy sir," said the clergyman. "What was, I pray you, the order of that great Prince, whose memory is so dear to every Protestant bosom?"
"Sir, the drums beat to prayers morning and evening, as regularly as for parade; and if a soldier passed without saluting the chaplain, he had an hour's ride on the wooden mare for his pains. Sir, I wish you a very good evening--I am obliged to depart the castle under M'Callum More's passport."
"Stay one instant, sir," said the preacher; "is there nothing I can do to testify my respect for the pupil of the great Gustavus, and so admirable a judge of preaching?"
"Nothing, sir," said the Captain, "but to shew me the nearest way to the gate--and if you would have the kindness," he added, with great effrontery, "to let a servant bring my horse with him, the dark grey gelding--call him Gustavus, and he will prick up his ears--for I know not where the castle-stables are situated, and my guide," he added, looking at Ranald, "speaks no English."
"I hasten to accommodate you," said the clergyman; "your way lies through that cloistered passage."
"Now, Heaven's blessing upon your vanity!" said the Captain to himself. "I was afraid I would have had to march off without Gustavus."
In fact, so effectually did the chaplain exert himself in behalf of so excellent a judge of composition, that while Dalgetty was parleying with the sentinels at the drawbridge, showing his passport, and giving the watchword, a servant brought him his horse, ready saddled for the journey. In another place, the Captain's sudden appearance at large after having been publicly sent to prison, might have excited suspicion and enquiry; but the officers and domestics of the Marquis were accustomed to the mysterious policy of their master, and never supposed aught else than that he had been liberated and intrusted with some private commission by their master. In this belief, and having received the parole, they gave him free passage.
Dalgetty rode slowly through the town of Inverary, the outlaw attending upon him like a foot-page at his horse's shoulder. As they passed the gibbet, the old man looked on the bodies and wrung his hands. The look and gesture was momentary, but expressive of indescribable anguish. Instantly recovering himself, Ranald, in passing, whispered somewhat to one of the females, who, like Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, seemed engaged in watching and mourning the victims of feudal injustice and cruelty. The woman started at his voice, but immediately collected herself and returned for answer a slight inclination of the head.
Dalgetty continued his way out of the town, uncertain whether he should try to seize or hire a boat and cross the lake, or plunge into the woods, and there conceal himself from pursuit. In the former event he was liable to be instantly pursued by the galleys of the Marquis, which lay ready for sailing, their long yard-arms pointing to the wind, and what hope could he have in an ordinary Highland fishing-boat to escape from them? If he made the latter choice, his chance either of supporting or concealing himself in those waste and unknown wildernesses, was in the highest degree precarious. The town lay now behind him, yet what hand to turn to for safety he was unable to determine, and began to be sensible, that in escaping from the dungeon at Inverary, desperate as the matter seemed, he had only accomplished the easiest part of a difficult task. If retaken, his fate was now certain; for the personal injury he had offered to a man so powerful and so vindictive, could be atoned for only by instant death. While he pondered these distressing reflections, and looked around with a countenance which plainly expressed indecision, Ranald MacEagh suddenly asked him, "which way he intended to journey?"
"And that, honest comrade," answered Dalgetty, "is precisely the question which I cannot answer you. Truly I begin to hold the opinion, Ranald, that we had better have stuck by the brown loaf and water-pitcher until Sir Duncan arrived, who, for his own honour, must have made some fight for me."
"Saxon," answered MacEagh, "do not regret having exchanged the foul breath of yonder dungeon for the free air of heaven. Above all, repent not that you have served a Son of the Mist. Put yourself under my guidance, and I will warrant your safety with my head."
"Can you guide me safe through these mountains, and back to the army of Montrose?" said Dalgetty.
"I can," answered MacEagh; "there lives not a man to whom the mountain passes, the caverns, the glens, the thickets, and the corries are known, as they are to the Children of the Mist. While others crawl on the level ground, by the sides of lakes and streams, ours are the steep hollows of the inaccessible mountains, the birth-place of the desert springs. Not all the bloodhounds of Argyle can trace the fastnesses through which I can guide you."
"Say'st thou so, honest Ranald?" replied Dalgetty; "then have on with thee; for of a surety I shall never save the ship by my own pilotage."
The outlaw accordingly led the way into the wood, by which the castle is surrounded for several miles, walking with so much dispatch as kept Gustavus at a round trot, and taking such a number of cross cuts and turns, that Captain Dalgetty speedily lost all idea where he might be, and all knowledge of the points of the compass. At length, the path, which had gradually become more difficult, altogether ended among thickets and underwood. The roaring of a torrent was heard in the neighbourhood, the ground became in some places broken, in others boggy, and everywhere unfit for riding.
"What the foul fiend," said Dalgetty, "is to be done here? I must part with Gustavus, I fear."
"Take no care for your horse," said the outlaw; "he shall soon be restored to you."
As he spoke, he whistled in a low tune, and a lad, half-dressed in tartan, half naked, having only his own shaggy hair, tied with a thong of leather, to protect his head and face from sun and weather, lean, and half-starved in aspect, his wild grey eyes appearing to fill up ten times the proportion usually allotted to them in the human face, crept out, as a wild beast might have done, from a thicket of brambles and briars.
"Give your horse to the gillie," said Ranald MacEagh; "your life depends upon it."
"Och! och!" exclaimed the despairing veteran; "Eheu! as we used to say at Mareschal-College, must I leave Gustavus in such grooming!"
"Are you frantic, to lose time thus!" said his guide; "do we stand on friends' ground, that you should part with your horse as if he were your brother? I tell you, you shall have him again; but if you never saw the animal, is not life better than the best colt ever mare foaled?"
"And that is true too, mine honest friend," sighed Dalgetty; "yet if you knew but the value of Gustavus, and the things we two have done and suffered together--See, he turns back to look at me!--Be kind to him, my good breechless friend, and I will requite you well." So saying, and withal sniffling a little to swallow his grief, he turned from the heart-rending spectacle in order to follow his guide.
To follow his guide was no easy matter, and soon required more agility than Captain Dalgetty could master. The very first plunge after he had parted from his charger, carried him, with little assistance from a few overhanging boughs, or projecting roots of trees, eight foot sheer down into the course of a torrent, up which the Son of the Mist led the way. Huge stones, over which they scrambled,--thickets of them and brambles, through which they had to drag themselves,--rocks which were to be climbed on the one side with much labour and pain, for the purpose of an equally precarious descent upon the other; all these, and many such interruptions, were surmounted by the light-footed and half-naked mountaineer with an ease and velocity which excited the surprise and envy of Captain Dalgetty, who, encumbered by his head-piece, corslet, and other armour, not to mention his ponderous jack-boots, found himself at length so much exhausted by fatigue, and the difficulties of the road, that he sate down upon a stone in order to recover his breath, while he explained to Ranald MacEagh the difference betwixt travelling EXPEDITUS and IMPEDITUS, as these two military phrases were understood at Mareschal-College, Aberdeen. The sole answer of the mountaineer was to lay his hand on the soldier's arm, and point backward in the direction of the wind. Dalgetty could spy nothing, for evening was closing fast, and they were at the bottom of a dark ravine. But at length he could distinctly hear at a distance the sullen toll of a large bell.
"That," said he, "must be the alarm--the storm-clock, as the Germans call it."
"It strikes the hour of your death," answered Ranald, "unless you can accompany me a little farther. For every toll of that bell a brave man has yielded up his soul."
"Truly, Ranald, my trusty friend," said Dalgetty, "I will not deny that the case may be soon my own; for I am so forfoughen (being, as I explained to you, IMPEDITUS, for had I been EXPEDITUS, I mind not pedestrian exercise the flourish of a fife), that I think I had better ensconce myself in one of these bushes, and even lie quiet there to abide what fortune God shall send me. I entreat you, mine honest friend Ranald, to shift for yourself, and leave me to my fortune, as the Lion of the North, the immortal Gustavus Adolphus, my never-to-be-forgotten master (whom you must surely have heard of, Ranald, though you may have heard of no one else), said to Francis Albert, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburgh, when he was mortally wounded on the plains of Lutzen. Neither despair altogether of my safety, Ranald, seeing I have been in as great pinches as this in Germany--more especially, I remember me, that at the fatal battle of Nerlingen--after which I changed service--"
"If you would save your father's son's breath to help his child out of trouble, instead of wasting it upon the tales of Seannachies," said Ranald, who now grew impatient of the Captain's loquacity, "or if your feet could travel as fast as your tongue, you might yet lay your head on an unbloody pillow to-night."
"Something there is like military skill in that," replied the Captain, "although wantonly and irreverently spoken to an officer of rank. But I hold it good to pardon such freedoms on a march, in respect of the Saturnalian license indulged in such cases to the troops of all nations. And now, resume thine office, friend Ranald, in respect I am well-breathed; or, to be more plain, I PRAE, SEQUAR, as we used to say at Mareschal-College."
Comprehending his meaning rather from his motions than his language, the Son of the Mist again led the way, with an unerring precision that looked like instinct, through a variety of ground the most difficult and broken that could well be imagined. Dragging along his ponderous boots, encumbered with thigh-pieces, gauntlets, corslet, and back-piece, not to mention the buff jerkin which he wore under all these arms, talking of his former exploits the whole way, though Ranald paid not the slightest attention to him, Captain Dalgetty contrived to follow his guide a considerable space farther, when the deep-mouthed baying of a hound was heard coming down the wind, as if opening on the scent of its prey.
"Black hound," said Ranald, "whose throat never boded good to a Child of the Mist, ill fortune to her who littered thee! hast thou already found our trace? But thou art too late, swart hound of darkness, and the deer has gained the herd."
So saying, he whistled very softly, and was answered in a tone equally low from the top of a pass, up which they had for some time been ascending. Mending their pace, they reached the top, where the moon, which had now risen bright and clear, showed to Dalgetty a party of ten or twelve Highlanders, and about as many women and children, by whom Ranald MacEagh was received with such transports of joy, as made his companion easily sensible that those by whom he was surrounded, must of course be Children of the Mist. The place which they occupied well suited their name and habits. It was a beetling crag, round which winded a very narrow and broken footpath, commanded in various places by the position which they held.
Ranald spoke anxiously and hastily to the children of his tribe, and the men came one by one to shake hands with Dalgetty, while the women, clamorous in their gratitude, pressed round to kiss even the hem of his garment. "They plight their faith to you," said Ranald MacEagh, "for requital of the good deed you have done to the tribe this day."
"Enough said, Ranald," answered the soldier, "enough said--tell them I love not this shaking of hands--it confuses ranks and degrees in military service; and as to kissing of gauntlets, puldrons, and the like, I remember that the immortal Gustavus, as he rode through the streets of Nuremberg, being thus worshipped by the poulace (being doubtless far more worthy of it than a poor though honourable cavalier like myself), did say unto them, in the way of rebuke, 'If you idolize me thus like a god, who shall assure you that the vengeance of Heaven will not soon prove me to be a mortal?'--And so here, I suppose you intend to make a stand against your followers, Ranald--VOTO A DIOS, as the Spaniard says?--a very pretty position--as pretty a position for a small peloton of men as I have seen in my service--no enemy can come towards it by the road without being at the mercy of cannon and musket.--But then, Ranald, my trusty comrade, you have no cannon, I dare to aver, and I do not see that any of these fellows have muskets either. So with what artillery you propose making good the pass, before you come to hand blows, truly, Ranald, it passeth my apprehension."
"With the weapons and with the courage of our fathers," said MacEagh; and made the Captain observe, that the men of his party were armed with bows and arrows.
"Bows and arrows!" exclaimed Dalgetty; "ha! ha! ha! have we Robin Hood and Little John back again? Bows and arrows! why, the sight has not been seen in civilized war for a hundred years. Bows and arrows! and why not weavers' beams, as in the days of Goliah? Ah! that Dugald Dalgetty, of Drumthwacket, should live to see men fight with bows and arrows!--The immortal Gustavus would never have believed it--nor Wallenstein--nor Butler--nor old Tilly,--Well, Ranald, a cat can have but its claws--since bows and arrows are the word, e'en let us make the best of it. Only, as I do not understand the scope and range of such old-fashioned artillery, you must make the best disposition you can out of your own head for MY taking the command, whilk I would have gladly done had you been to fight with any Christian weapons, is out of the question, when you are to combat like quivered Numidians. I will, however, play my part with my pistols in the approaching melley, in respect my carabine unhappily remains at Gustavus's saddle.--My service and thanks to you," he continued, addressing a mountaineer who offered him a bow; "Dugald Dalgetty may say of himself, as he learned at Mareschal-College,
"Non eget Mauri jaculis, neque arcu, Nec venenatis gravida sagittis, Fusce, pharetra;whilk is to say--"
Ranald MacEagh a second time imposed silence on the talkative commander as before, by pulling his sleeve, and pointing down the pass. The bay of the bloodhound was now approaching nearer and nearer, and they could hear the voices of several persons who accompanied the animal, and hallooed to each other as they dispersed occasionally, either in the hurry of their advance, or in order to search more accurately the thickets as they came along. They were obviously drawing nearer and nearer every moment. MacEagh, in the meantime, proposed to Captain Dalgetty to disencumber himself of his armour, and gave him to understand that the women should transport it to a place of safety.
"I crave your pardon, sir," said Dalgetty, "such is not the rule of our foreign service in respect I remember the regiment of Finland cuirassiers reprimanded, and their kettle-drums taken from them, by the immortal Gustavus, because they had assumed the permission to march without their corslets, and to leave them with the baggage. Neither did they strike kettle-drums again at the head of that famous regiment until they behaved themselves so notably at the field of Leipsic; a lesson whilk is not to be forgotten, any more than that exclamation of the immortal Gustavus, 'Now shall I know if my officers love me, by their putting on their armour; since, if my officers are slain, who shall lead my soldiers into victory?' Nevertheless, friend Ranald, this is without prejudice to my being rid of these somewhat heavy boots, providing I can obtain any other succedaneum; for I presume not to say that my bare soles are fortified so as to endure the flints and thorns, as seems to be the case with your followers."
To rid the Captain of his cumbrous greaves, and case his feet in a pair of brogues made out of deerskin, which a Highlander stripped off for his accommodation, was the work of a minute, and Dalgetty found himself much lightened by the exchange. He was in the act of recommending to Ranald MacEagh, to send two or three of his followers a little lower to reconnoitre the pass, and, at the same time, somewhat to extend his front, placing two detached archers at each flank by way of posts of observation, when the near cry of the hound apprised them that the pursuers were at the bottom of the pass. All was then dead silence; for, loquacious as he was on other occasions, Captain Dalgetty knew well the necessity of an ambush keeping itself under covert.
The moon gleamed on the broken pathway, and on the projecting cliffs of rock round which it winded, its light intercepted here and there by the branches of bushes and dwarf-trees, which, finding nourishment in the crevices of the rocks, in some places overshadowed the brow and ledge of the precipice. Below, a thick copse-wood lay in deep and dark shadow, somewhat resembling the billows of a half-seen ocean. From the bosom of that darkness, and close to the bottom of the precipice, the hound was heard at intervals baying fearfully, sounds which were redoubled by the echoes of the woods and rocks around. At intervals, these sunk into deep silence, interrupted only by the plashing noise of a small runnel of water, which partly fell from the rock, partly found a more silent passage to the bottom along its projecting surface. Voices of men were also heard in stifled converse below; it seemed as if the pursuers had not discovered the narrow path which led to the top of the rock, or that, having discovered it, the peril of the ascent, joined to the imperfect light, and the uncertainty whether it might not be defended, made them hesitate to attempt it.
At length a shadowy figure was seen, which raised itself up from the abyss of darkness below, and, emerging into the pale moonlight, began cautiously and slowly to ascend the rocky path. The outline was so distinctly marked, that Captain Dalgetty could discover not only the person of a Highlander, but the long gun which he carried in his hand, and the plume of feathers which decorated his bonnet. "TAUSEND TEIFLEN! that I should say so, and so like to be near my latter end!" ejaculated the Captain, but under his breath, "what will become of us, now they have brought musketry to encounter our archers?"
But just as the pursuer had attained a projecting piece of rock about half way up the ascent, and, pausing, made a signal for those who were still at the bottom to follow him, an arrow whistled from the bow of one of the Children of the Mist, and transfixed him with so fatal a wound, that, without a single effort to save himself, he lost his balance, and fell headlong from the cliff on which he stood, into the darkness below. The crash of the boughs which received him, and the heavy sound of his fall from thence to the ground, was followed by a cry of horror and surprise, which burst from his followers. The Children of the Mist, encouraged in proportion to the alarm this first success had caused among the pursuers, echoed back the clamour with a loud and shrill yell of exultation, and, showing themselves on the brow of the precipice, with wild cries and vindictive gestures, endeavoured to impress on their enemies a sense at once of their courage, their numbers, and their state of defence. Even Captain Dalgetty's military prudence did not prevent his rising up, and calling out to Ranald, more loud than prudence warranted, "CAROCCO, comrade, as the Spaniard says! The long-bow for ever! In my poor apprehension now, were you to order a file to advance and take position--"
"The Sassenach!" cried a voice from beneath, "mark the Sassenach sidier! I see the glitter of his breastplate." At the same time three muskets were discharged; and while one ball rattled against the corslet of proof, to the strength of which our valiant Captain had been more than once indebted for his life, another penetrated the armour which covered the front of his left thigh, and stretched him on the ground. Ranald instantly seized him in his arms, and bore him back from the edge of the precipice, while he dolefully ejaculated, "I always told the immortal Gustavus, Wallenstein, Tilly, and other men of the sword, that, in my poor mind, taslets ought to be made musket-proof."
With two or three earnest words in Gaelic, MacEagh commended the wounded man to the charge of the females, who were in the rear of his little party, and was then about to return to the contest. But Dalgetty detained him, grasping a firm hold of his plaid.--"I know not how this matter may end--but I request you will inform Montrose, that I died like a follower of the immortal Gustavus--and I pray you, take heed how you quit your present strength, even for the purpose of pursuing the enemy, if you gain any advantage--and--and--"
Here Dalgetty's breath and eyesight began to fail him through loss of blood, and MacEagh, availing himself of this circumstance, extricated from his grasp the end of his own mantle, and substituted that of a female, by which the Captain held stoutly, thereby securing, as he conceived, the outlaw's attention to the military instructions which he continued to pour forth while he had any breath to utter them, though they became gradually more and more incoherent--"And, comrade, you will be sure to keep your musketeers in advance of your stand of pikes, Lochaber-axes, and two-handed swords--Stand fast, dragoons, on the left flank!--where was I?--Ay, and, Ranald, if ye be minded to retreat, leave some lighted matches burning on the branches of the trees--it shows as if they were lined with shot--But I forget--ye have no match-locks nor habergeons--only bows and arrows--bows and arrows! ha! ha! ha!"
Here the Captain sunk back in an exhausted condition, altogether unable to resist the sense of the ludicrous which, as a modern man-at-arms, he connected with the idea of these ancient weapons of war. It was a long time ere he recovered his senses; and, in the meantime, we leave him in the care of the Daughters of the Mist; nurses as kind and attentive, in reality, as they were wild and uncouth in outward appearance.