I am as free as nature first made man, Ere the base laws of servitude began, When wild in woods the noble savage ran. --CONQUEST OF GRANADA
The Earl of Menteith, as he had undertaken, so he proceeded to investigate more closely the story told by Ranald of the Mist, which was corroborated by the examination of his two followers, who had assisted in the capacity of guides. These declarations he carefully compared with such circumstances concerning the destruction of his castle and family as Sir Duncan Campbell was able to supply; and it may be supposed he had forgotten nothing relating to an event of such terrific importance. It was of the last consequence to prove that this was no invention of the outlaw's, for the purpose of passing an impostor as the child and heiress of Ardenvohr.
Perhaps Menteith, so much interested in believing the tale, was not altogether the fittest person to be intrusted with the investigation of its truth; but the examinations of the Children of the Mist were simple, accurate, and in all respects consistent with each other. A personal mark was referred to, which was known to have been borne by the infant child of Sir Duncan, and which appeared upon the left shoulder of Annot Lyle. It was also well remembered, that when the miserable relics of the other children had been collected, those of the infant had nowhere been found. Other circumstances of evidence, which it is unnecessary to quote, brought the fullest conviction not only to Menteith, but to the unprejudiced mind of Montrose, that in Annot Lyle, an humble dependant, distinguished only by beauty and talent, they were in future to respect the heiress of Ardenvohr.
While Menteith hastened to communicate the result of these enquiries to the persons most interested, the outlaw demanded to speak with his grandchild, whom he usually called his son. "He would be found," he said, "in the outer apartment, in which he himself had been originally deposited."
Accordingly, the young savage, after a close search, was found lurking in a corner, coiled up among some rotten straw, and brought to his grandsire.
"Kenneth," said the old outlaw, "hear the last words of the sire of thy father. A Saxon soldier, and Allan of the Red-hand, left this camp within these few hours, to travel to the country to Caberfae. Pursue them as the bloodhound pursues the hurt deer--swim the lake-climb the mountain--thread the forest--tarry not until you join them;" and then the countenance of the lad darkened as his grandfather spoke, and he laid his hand upon a knife which stuck in the thong of leather that confined his scanty plaid. "No!" said the old man; "it is not by thy hand he must fall. They will ask the news from the camp--say to them that Annot Lyle of the Harp is discovered to be the daughter of Duncan of Ardenvohr; that the Thane of Menteith is to wed her before the priest; and that you are sent to bid guests to the bridal. Tarry not their answer, but vanish like the lightning when the black cloud swallows it.--And now depart, beloved son of my best beloved! I shall never more see thy face, nor hear the light sound of thy footstep--yet tarry an instant and hear my last charge. Remember the fate of our race, and quit not the ancient manners of the Children of the Mist. We are now a straggling handful, driven from every vale by the sword of every clan, who rule in the possessions where their forefathers hewed the wood, and drew the water for ours. But in the thicket of the wilderness, and in the mist of the mountain, Kenneth, son of Eracht, keep thou unsoiled the freedom which I leave thee as a birthright. Barter it not neither for the rich garment, nor for the stone-roof, nor for the covered board, nor for the couch of down--on the rock or in the valley, in abundance or in famine--in the leafy summer, and in the days of the iron winter--Son of the Mist! be free as thy forefathers. Own no lord--receive no law--take no hire--give no stipend--build no hut--enclose no pasture--sow no grain;--let the deer of the mountain be thy flocks and herds--if these fail thee, prey upon the goods of our oppressors--of the Saxons, and of such Gael as are Saxons in their souls, valuing herds and flocks more than honour and freedom. Well for us that they do so--it affords the broader scope for our revenge. Remember those who have done kindness to our race, and pay their services with thy blood, should the hour require it. If a MacIan shall come to thee with the head of the king's son in his hand, shelter him, though the avenging army of the father were behind him; for in Glencoe and Ardnamurchan, we have dwelt in peace in the years that have gone by. The sons of Diarmid--the race of Darnlinvarach--the riders of Menteith--my curse on thy head, Child of the Mist, if thou spare one of those names, when the time shall offer for cutting them off! and it will come anon, for their own swords shall devour each other, and those who are scattered shall fly to the Mist, and perish by its Children. Once more, begone--shake the dust from thy feet against the habitations of men, whether banded together for peace or for war. Farewell, beloved! and mayst thou die like thy forefathers, ere infirmity, disease, or age, shall break thy spirit--Begone!--begone!--live free--requite kindness--avenge the injuries of thy race!"
The young savage stooped, and kissed the brow of his dying parent; but accustomed from infancy to suppress every exterior sign of emotion, he parted without tear or adieu, and was soon far beyond the limits of Montrose's camp.
Sir Dugald Dalgetty, who was present during the latter part of this scene, was very little edified by the conduct of MacEagh upon the occasion. "I cannot think, my friend Ranald," said he, "that you are in the best possible road for a dying man. Storms, onslaughts, massacres, the burning of suburbs, are indeed a soldier's daily work, and are justified by the necessity of the case, seeing that they are done in the course of duty; for burning of suburbs, in particular, it may be said that they are traitors and cut-throats to all fortified towns. Hence it is plain, that a soldier is a profession peculiarly favoured by Heaven, seeing that we may hope for salvation, although we daily commit actions of so great violence. But then, Ranald, in all services of Europe, it is the custom of the dying soldier not to vaunt him of such doings, or to recommend them to his fellows; but, on the contrary, to express contrition for the same, and to repeat, or have repeated to him, some comfortable prayer; which, if you please, I will intercede with his Excellency's chaplain to prefer on your account. It is otherwise no point of my duty to put you in mind of those things; only it may be for the ease of your conscience to depart more like a Christian, and less like a Turk, than you seem to be in a fair way of doing."
The only answer of the dying man--(for as such Ranald MacEagh might now be considered)--was a request to be raised to such a position that he might obtain a view from the window of the Castle. The deep frost mist, which had long settled upon the top of the mountains, was now rolling down each rugged glen and gully, where the craggy ridges showed their black and irregular outline, like desert islands rising above the ocean of vapour. "Spirit of the Mist!" said Ranald MacEagh, "called by our race our father, and our preserver--receive into thy tabernacle of clouds, when this pang is over, him whom in life thou hast so often sheltered." So saying, he sunk back into the arms of those who upheld him, spoke no further word, but turned his face to the wall for a short space.
"I believe," said Dalgetty, "my friend Ranald will be found in his heart to be little better than a heathen." And he renewed his proposal to procure him the assistance of Dr. Wisheart, Montrose's military chaplain; "a man," said Sir Dugald, "very clever in his exercise, and who will do execution on your sins in less time than I could smoke a pipe of tobacco."
"Saxon," said the dying man, "speak to me no more of thy priest--I die contented. Hadst thou ever an enemy against whom weapons were of no avail--whom the ball missed, and against whom the arrow shivered, and whose bare skin was as impenetrable to sword and dirk as thy steel garment--Heardst thou ever of such a foe?"
"Very frequently, when I served in Germany," replied Sir Dugald. "There was such a fellow at Ingolstadt; he was proof both against lead and steel. The soldiers killed him with the buts of their muskets."
"This impassible foe," said Ranald, without regarding the Major's interruption, "who has the blood dearest to me upon his hands--to this man I have now bequeathed agony of mind, jealousy, despair, and sudden death,--or a life more miserable than death itself. Such shall be the lot of Allan of the Red-hand, when he learns that Annot weds Menteith and I ask no more than the certainty that it is so, to sweeten my own bloody end by his hand."
"If that be the case," said the Major, "there's no more to be said; but I shall take care as few people see you as possible, for I cannot think your mode of departure can be at all creditable or exemplary to a Christian army." So saying, he left the apartment, and the Son of the Mist soon after breathed his last.
Menteith, in the meanwhile, leaving the new-found relations to their mutual feelings of mingled emotion, was eagerly discussing with Montrose the consequences of this discovery. "I should now see," said the Marquis, "even had I not before observed it, that your interest in this discovery, my dear Menteith, has no small reference to your own happiness. You love this new-found lady,--your affection is returned. In point of birth, no exceptions can be made; in every other respect, her advantages are equal to those which you yourself possess--think, however, a moment. Sir Duncan is a fanatic--Presbyterian, at least--in arms against the King; he is only with us in the quality of a prisoner, and we are, I fear, but at the commencement of a long civil war. Is this a time, think you, Menteith, for you to make proposals for his heiress? Or what chance is there that he will now listen to it?"
Passion, an ingenious, as well as an eloquent advocate, supplied the young nobleman with a thousand answers to these objections. He reminded Montrose that the Knight of Ardenvohr was neither a bigot in politics nor religion. He urged his own known and proved zeal for the royal cause, and hinted that its influence might be extended and strengthened by his wedding the heiress of Ardenvohr. He pleaded the dangerous state of Sir Duncan's wound, the risk which must be run by suffering the young lady to be carried into the country of the Campbells, where, in case of her father's death, or continued indisposition, she must necessarily be placed under the guardianship of Argyle, an event fatal to his (Menteith's) hopes, unless he could stoop to purchase his favour by abandoning the King's party.
Montrose allowed the force of these arguments, and owned, although the matter was attended with difficulty, yet it seemed consistent with the King's service that it should be concluded as speedily as possible.
"I could wish," said he, "that it were all settled in one way or another, and that this fair Briseis were removed from our camp before the return of our Highland Achilles, Allan M'Aulay.--I fear some fatal feud in that quarter, Menteith--and I believe it would be best that Sir Duncan be dismissed on his parole, and that you accompany him and his daughter as his escort. The journey can be made chiefly by water, so will not greatly incommode his wound--and your own, my friend, will be an honourable excuse for the absence of some time from my camp."
"Never!" said Menteith. "Were I to forfeit the very hope that has so lately dawned upon me, never will I leave your Excellency's camp while the royal standard is displayed. I should deserve that this trifling scratch should gangrene and consume my sword-arm, were I capable of holding it as an excuse for absence at this crisis of the King's affairs."
"On this, then, you are determined?" said Montrose.
"As fixed as Ben-Nevis," said the young nobleman.
"You must, then," said Montrose, "lose no time in seeking an explanation with the Knight of Ardenvohr. If this prove favourable, I will talk myself with the elder M'Aulay, and we will devise means to employ his brother at a distance from the army until he shall be reconciled to his present disappointment. Would to God some vision would descend upon his imagination fair enough to obliterate all traces of Annot Lyle! That perhaps you think impossible, Menteith?--Well, each to his service; you to that of Cupid, and I to that of Mars."
They parted, and in pursuance of the scheme arranged, Menteith, early on the ensuing morning, sought a private interview with the wounded Knight of Ardenvohr, and communicated to him his suit for the hand of his daughter. Of their mutual attachment Sir Duncan was aware, but he was not prepared for so early a declaration on the part of Menteith. He said, at first, that he had already, perhaps, indulged too much in feelings of personal happiness, at a time when his clan had sustained so great a loss and humiliation, and that he was unwilling, therefore, farther to consider the advancement of his own house at a period so calamitous. On the more urgent suit of the noble lover, he requested a few hours to deliberate and consult with his daughter, upon a question so highly important.
The result of this interview and deliberation was favourable to Menteith. Sir Duncan Campbell became fully sensible that the happiness of his new-found daughter depended upon a union with her lover; and unless such were now formed, he saw that Argyle would throw a thousand obstacles in the way of a match in every respect acceptable to himself. Menteith's private character was so excellent, and such was the rank and consideration due to his fortune and family, that they outbalanced, in Sir Duncan's opinion, the difference in their political opinions. Nor could he have resolved, perhaps, had his own opinion of the match been less favourable, to decline an opportunity of indulging the new-found child of his hopes. There was, besides, a feeling of pride which dictated his determination. To produce the Heiress of Ardenvohr to the world as one who had been educated a poor dependant and musician in the family of Darnlinvarach, had something in it that was humiliating. To introduce her as the betrothed bride, or wedded wife, of the Earl of Menteith, upon an attachment formed during her obscurity, was a warrant to the world that she had at all times been worthy of the rank to which she was elevated.
It was under the influence of these considerations that Sir Duncan Campbell announced to the lovers his consent that they should be married in the chapel of the Castle, by Montrose's chaplain, and as privately as possible. But when Montrose should break up from Inverlochy, for which orders were expected in the course of a very few days, it was agreed that the young Countess should depart with her father to his Castle, and remain there until the circumstances of the nation permitted Menteith to retire with honour from his present military employment. His resolution being once taken, Sir Duncan Campbell would not permit the maidenly scruples of his daughter to delay its execution; and it was therefore resolved that the bridal should take place the next evening, being the second after the battle.