Our plot is a good plot as ever was laid; our friends true and constant: a good plot, good friends, and full of expectation: an excellent plot, very good friends.--HENRY IV Part I.
No sooner had the general acclamation of joyful surprise subsided, than silence was eagerly demanded for reading the royal commission; and the bonnets, which hitherto each Chief had worn, probably because unwilling to be the first to uncover, were now at once vailed in honour of the royal warrant. It was couched in the most full and ample terms, authorizing the Earl of Montrose to assemble the subjects in arms, for the putting down the present rebellion, which divers traitors and seditious persons had levied against the King, to the manifest forfaulture, as it stated, of their allegiance, and to the breach of the pacification between the two kingdoms. It enjoined all subordinate authorities to be obedient and assisting to Montrose in his enterprise; gave him the power of making ordinances and proclamations, punishing misdemeanours, pardoning criminals, placing and displacing governors and commanders. In fine, it was as large and full a commission as any with which a prince could intrust a subject. As soon as it was finished, a shout burst from the assembled Chiefs, in testimony of their ready submission to the will of their sovereign. Not contented with generally thanking them for a reception so favourable, Montrose hastened to address himself to individuals, The most important Chiefs had already been long personally known to him, but even to those of inferior consequence he now introduced himself and by the acquaintance he displayed with their peculiar designations, and the circumstances and history of their clans, he showed how long he must have studied the character of the mountaineers, and prepared himself for such a situation as he now held.
While he was engaged in these acts of courtesy, his graceful manner, expressive features, and dignity of deportment, made a singular contrast with the coarseness and meanness of his dress. Montrose possessed that sort of form and face, in which the beholder, at the first glance, sees nothing extraordinary, but of which the interest becomes more impressive the longer we gaze upon them. His stature was very little above the middle size, but in person he was uncommonly well-built, and capable both of exerting great force, and enduring much fatigue. In fact, he enjoyed a constitution of iron, without which he could not have sustained the trials of his extraordinary campaigns, through all of which he subjected himself to the hardships of the meanest soldier. He was perfect in all exercises, whether peaceful or martial, and possessed, of course, that graceful ease of deportment proper to those to whom habit has rendered all postures easy.
His long brown hair, according to the custom of men of quality among the Royalists, was parted on the top of his head, and trained to hang down on each side in curled locks, one of which, descending two or three inches lower than the others, intimated Montrose's compliance with that fashion against which it pleased Mr. Prynne, the puritan, to write a treatise, entitled, THE UNLOVELINESS OF LOVE-LOCKS. The features which these tresses enclosed, were of that kind which derive their interest from the character of the man, rather than from the regularity of their form. But a high nose, a full, decided, well-opened, quick grey eye, and a sanguine complexion, made amends for some coarseness and irregularity in the subordinate parts of the face; so that, altogether, Montrose might be termed rather a handsome, than a hard-featured man. But those who saw him when his soul looked through those eyes with all the energy and fire of genius--those who heard him speak with the authority of talent, and the eloquence of nature, were impressed with an opinion even of his external form, more enthusiastically favourable than the portraits which still survive would entitle us to ascribe to it. Such, at least, was the impression he made upon the assembled Chiefs of the mountaineers, over whom, as upon all persons in their state of society, personal appearance has no small influence.
In the discussions which followed his discovering himself, Montrose explained the various risks which he had run in his present undertaking. His first attempt had been to assemble a body of loyalists in the north of England, who, in obedience to the orders of the Marquis of Newcastle, he expected would have marched into Scotland; but the disinclination of the English to cross the Border, and the delay of the Earl of Antrim, who was to have landed in the Solway Frith with his Irish army, prevented his executing this design. Other plans having in like manner failed, he stated that he found himself under the necessity of assuming a disguise to render his passage secure through the Lowlands, in which he had been kindly assisted by his kinsman of Menteith. By what means Allan M'Aulay had come to know him, he could not pretend to explain. Those who knew Allan's prophetic pretensions, smiled mysteriously; but he himself only replied, that "the Earl of Montrose need not be surprised if he was known to thousands, of whom he himself could retain no memory."
"By the honour of a cavalier," said Captain Dalgetty, finding at length an opportunity to thrust in his word, "I am proud and happy in having an opportunity of drawing a sword under your lordship's command; and I do forgive all grudge, malecontent, and malice of my heart, to Mr. Allan M'Aulay, for having thrust me down to the lowest seat of the board yestreen. Certes, he hath this day spoken so like a man having full command of his senses, that I had resolved in my secret purpose that he was no way entitled to claim the privilege of insanity. But since I was only postponed to a noble earl, my future commander-in-chief, I do, before you all, recognise the justice of the preference, and heartily salute Allan as one who is to be his BON-CAMARADO."
Having made this speech, which was little understood or attended to, without putting off his military glove, he seized on Allan's hand, and began to shake it with violence, which Allan, with a gripe like a smith's vice, returned with such force, as to drive the iron splents of the gauntlet into the hand of the wearer.
Captain Dalgetty might have construed this into a new affront, had not his attention, as he stood blowing and shaking the injured member, been suddenly called by Montrose himself.
"Hear this news," he said, "Captain Dalgetty--I should say Major Dalgetty,--the Irish, who are to profit by your military experience, are now within a few leagues of us."
"Our deer-stalkers," said Angus M'Aulay, "who were abroad to bring in venison for this honourable party, have heard of a band of strangers, speaking neither Saxon nor pure Gaelic, and with difficulty making themselves understood by the people of the country, who are marching this way in arms, under the leading, it is said, of Alaster M'Donald, who is commonly called Young Colkitto."
"These must be our men," said Montrose; "we must hasten to send messengers forward, both to act as guides and to relieve their wants."
"The last," said Angus M'Aulay, "will be no easy matter; for I am informed, that, excepting muskets and a very little ammunition, they want everything that soldiers should have; and they are particularly deficient in money, in shoes, and in raiment."
"There is at least no use in saying so," said Montrose, "in so loud a tone. The puritan weavers of Glasgow shall provide them plenty of broad-cloth, when we make a descent from the Highlands; and if the ministers could formerly preach the old women of the Scottish boroughs out of their webs of napery, to make tents to the fellows on Dunse Law, [The Covenanters encamped on Dunse Law, during the troubles of 1639.] I will try whether I have not a little interest both to make these godly dames renew their patriotic gift, and the prick-eared knaves, their husbands, open their purses."
"And respecting arms," said Captain Dalgetty, "if your lordship will permit an old cavalier to speak his mind, so that the one-third have muskets, my darling weapon would be the pike for the remainder, whether for resisting a charge of horse, or for breaking the infantry. A common smith will make a hundred pike-heads in a day; here is plenty of wood for shafts; and I will uphold, that, according to the best usages of war, a strong battalion of pikes, drawn up in the fashion of the Lion of the North, the immortal Gustavus, would beat the Macedonian phalanx, of which I used to read in the Mareschal-College, when I studied in the ancient town of Bon-accord; and further, I will venture to predicate--"
The Captain's lecture upon tactics was here suddenly interrupted by Allan M'Aulay, who said, hastily,--"Room for an unexpected and unwelcome guest!"
At the same moment, the door of the hall opened, and a grey-haired man, of a very stately appearance, presented himself to the assembly. There was much dignity, and even authority, in his manner. His stature was above the common size, and his looks such as were used to command. He cast a severe, and almost stern glance upon the assembly of Chiefs. Those of the higher rank among them returned it with scornful indifference; but some of the western gentlemen of inferior power, looked as if they wished themselves elsewhere.
"To which of this assembly," said the stranger, "am I to address myself as leader? or have you not fixed upon the person who is to hold an office at least as perilous as it is honourable?"
"Address yourself to me, Sir Duncan Campbell," said Montrose, stepping forward.
"To you!" said Sir Duncan Campbell, with some scorn.
"Yes,--to me," repeated Montrose,--"to the Earl of Montrose, if you have forgot him."
"I should now, at least," said Sir Duncan Campbell, "have had some difficulty in recognising him in the disguise of a groom.--and yet I might have guessed that no evil influence inferior to your lordship's, distinguished as one who troubles Israel, could have collected together this rash assembly of misguided persons."
"I will answer unto you," said Montrose, "in the manner of your own Puritans. I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house. But let us leave an altercation, which is of little consequence but to ourselves, and hear the tidings you have brought from your Chief of Argyle; for I must conclude that it is in his name that you have come to this meeting."
"It is in the name of the Marquis of Argyle," said Sir Duncan Campbell,--"in the name of the Scottish Convention of Estates, that I demand to know the meaning of this singular convocation. If it is designed to disturb the peace of the country, it were but acting like neighbours, and men of honour, to give us some intimation to stand upon our guard."
"It is a singular, and new state of affairs in Scotland," said Montrose, turning from Sir Duncan Campbell to the assembly, "when Scottish men of rank and family cannot meet in the house of a common friend without an inquisitorial visit and demand, on the part of our rulers, to know the subject of our conference. Methinks our ancestors were accustomed to hold Highland huntings, or other purposes of meeting, without asking the leave either of the great M'Callum More himself, or any of his emissaries or dependents."
"The times have been such in Scotland," answered one of the Western Chiefs, "and such they will again be, when the intruders on our ancient possessions are again reduced to be Lairds of Lochow instead of overspreading us like a band of devouring locusts."
"Am I to understand, then," said Sir Duncan, "that it is against my name alone that these preparations are directed? or are the race of Diarmid only to be sufferers in common with the whole of the peaceful and orderly inhabitants of Scotland?"
"I would ask," said a wild-looking Chief, starting hastily up, "one question of the Knight of Ardenvohr, ere he proceeds farther in his daring catechism.--Has he brought more than one life to this castle, that he ventures to intrude among us for the purposes of insult?"
"Gentlemen," said Montrose, "let me implore your patience; a messenger who comes among us for the purpose of embassy, is entitled to freedom of speech and safe-conduct. And since Sir Duncan Campbell is so pressing, I care not if I inform him, for his guidance, that he is in an assembly of the King's loyal subjects, convoked by me, in his Majesty's name and authority, and as empowered by his Majesty's royal commission."
"We are to have, then, I presume," said Sir Duncan Campbell, "a civil war in all its forms? I have been too long a soldier to view its approach with anxiety; but it would have been for my Lord of Montrose's honour, if, in this matter, he had consulted his own ambition less, and the peace of the country more."
"Those consulted their own ambition and self-interest, Sir Duncan," answered Montrose, "who brought the country to the pass in which it now stands, and rendered necessary the sharp remedies which we are now reluctantly about to use."
"And what rank among these self-seekers," said Sir Duncan Campbell, "we shall assign to a noble Earl, so violently attached to the Covenant, that he was the first, in 1639, to cross the Tyne, wading middle deep at the head of his regiment, to charge the royal forces? It was the same, I think, who imposed the Covenant upon the burgesses and colleges of Aberdeen, at the point of sword and pike."
"I understand your sneer, Sir Duncan," said Montrose, temperately; "and I can only add, that if sincere repentance can make amends for youthful error, and for yielding to the artful representation of ambitious hypocrites, I shall be pardoned for the crimes with which you taunt me. I will at least endeavour to deserve forgiveness, for I am here, with my sword in my hand, willing to spend the best blood of my body to make amends for my error; and mortal man can do no more."
"Well, my lord," said Sir Duncan, "I shall be sorry to carry back this language to the Marquis of Argyle. I had it in farther charge from the Marquis, that, to prevent the bloody feuds which must necessarily follow a Highland war, his lordship will be contented if terms of truce could be arranged to the north of the Highland line, as there is ground enough in Scotland to fight upon, without neighbours destroying each other's families and inheritances."
"It is a peaceful proposal," said Montrose, smiling, "such as it should be, coming from one whose personal actions have always been more peaceful than his measures. Yet, if the terms of such a truce could be equally fixed, and if we can obtain security, for that, Sir Duncan, is indispensable,--that your Marquis will observe these terms with strict fidelity, I, for my part, should be content to leave peace behind us, since we must needs carry war before us. But, Sir Duncan, you are too old and experienced a soldier for us to permit you to remain in our leaguer, and witness our proceedings; we shall therefore, when you have refreshed yourself, recommend your speedy return to Inverary, and we shall send with you a gentleman on our part to adjust the terms of the Highland armistice, in case the Marquis shall be found serious in proposing such a measure." Sir Duncan Campbell assented by a bow.
"My Lord of Menteith," continued Montrose, "will you have the goodness to attend Sir Duncan Campbell of Ardenvohr, while we determine who shall return with him to his Chief? M'Aulay will permit us to request that he be entertained with suitable hospitality."
"I will give orders for that," said Allan M'Aulay, rising and coming forward. "I love Sir Duncan Campbell; we have been joint sufferers in former days, and I do not forget it now."
"My Lord of Menteith," said Sir Duncan Campbell, "I am grieved to see you, at your early age, engaged in such desperate and rebellious courses."
"I am young," answered Menteith, "yet old enough to distinguish between right and wrong, between loyalty and rebellion; and the sooner a good course is begun, the longer and the better have I a chance of running it."
"And you too, my friend, Allan M'Aulay," said Sir Duncan, taking his hand, "must we also call each other enemies, that have been so often allied against a common foe?" Then turning round to the meeting, he said, "Farewell, gentlemen; there are so many of you to whom I wish well, that your rejection of all terms of mediation gives me deep affliction. May Heaven," he said, looking upwards, "judge between our motives, and those of the movers of this civil commotion!"
"Amen," said Montrose; "to that tribunal we all submit us."
Sir Duncan Campbell left the hall, accompanied by Allan M'Aulay and Lord Menteith. "There goes a true-bred Campbell," said Montrose, as the envoy departed, "for they are ever fair and false."
"Pardon me, my lord," said Evan Dhu; "hereditary enemy as I am to their name, I have ever found the Knight of Ardenvohr brave in war, honest in peace, and true in council."
"Of his own disposition," said Montrose, "such he is undoubtedly; but he now acts as the organ or mouth-piece of his Chief, the Marquis, the falsest man that ever drew breath. And, M'Aulay," he continued in a whisper to his host, "lest he should make some impression upon the inexperience of Menteith, or the singular disposition of your brother, you had better send music into their chamber, to prevent his inveigling them into any private conference."
"The devil a musician have I," answered M'Aulay, "excepting the piper, who has nearly broke his wind by an ambitious contention for superiority with three of his own craft; but I can send Annot Lyle and her harp." And he left the apartment to give orders accordingly.
Meanwhile a warm discussion took place, who should undertake the perilous task of returning with Sir Duncan to Inverary. To the higher dignitaries, accustomed to consider themselves upon an equality even with M'Callum More, this was an office not to be proposed; unto others who could not plead the same excuse, it was altogether unacceptable. One would have thought Inverary had been the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the inferior chiefs showed such reluctance to approach it. After a considerable hesitation, the plain reason was at length spoken out, namely, that whatever Highlander should undertake an office so distasteful to M'Callum More, he would be sure to treasure the offence in his remembrance, and one day or other to make him bitterly repent of it.
In this dilemma, Montrose, who considered the proposed armistice as a mere stratagem on the part of Argyle, although he had not ventured bluntly to reject it in presence of those whom it concerned so nearly, resolved to impose the danger and dignity upon Captain Dalgetty, who had neither clan nor estate in the Highlands upon which the wrath of Argyle could wreak itself.
"But I have a neck though," said Dalgetty, bluntly; "and what if he chooses to avenge himself upon that? I have known a case where an honourable ambassador has been hanged as a spy before now. Neither did the Romans use ambassadors much more mercifully at the siege of Capua, although I read that they only cut off their hands and noses, put out their eyes, and suffered them to depart in peace."
"By my honour Captain Dalgetty," said Montrose, "should the Marquis, contrary to the rules of war, dare to practise any atrocity against you, you may depend upon my taking such signal vengeance that all Scotland shall ring of it."
"That will do but little for Dalgetty," returned the Captain; "but corragio! as the Spaniard says. With the Land of Promise full in view, the Moor of Drumthwacket, MEA PAUPERA REGNA, as we said at Mareschal-College, I will not refuse your Excellency's commission, being conscious it becomes a cavalier of honour to obey his commander's orders, in defiance both of gibbet and sword."
"Gallantly resolved," said Montrose; "and if you will come apart with me, I will furnish you with the conditions to be laid before M'Callum More, upon which we are willing to grant him a truce for his Highland dominions."
With these we need not trouble our readers. They were of an evasive nature, calculated to meet a proposal which Montrose considered to have been made only for the purpose of gaining time. When he had put Captain Dalgetty in complete possession of his instructions, and when that worthy, making his military obeisance, was near the door of his apartment, Montrose made him a sign to return.
"I presume," said he, "I need not remind an officer who has served under the great Gustavus, that a little more is required of a person sent with a flag of truce than mere discharge of his instructions, and that his general will expect from him, on his return, some account of the state of the enemy's affairs, as far as they come under his observation. In short, Captain Dalgetty, you must be UN PEU CLAIR-VOYANT."
"Ah ha! your Excellency," said the Captain, twisting his hard features into an inimitable expression of cunning and intelligence, "if they do not put my head in a poke, which I have known practised upon honourable soldados who have been suspected to come upon such errands as the present, your Excellency may rely on a preceese narration of whatever Dugald Dalgetty shall hear or see, were it even how many turns of tune there are in M'Callum More's pibroch, or how many checks in the sett of his plaid and trews."
"Enough," answered Montrose; "farewell, Captain Dalgetty: and as they say that a lady's mind is always expressed in her postscript, so I would have you think that the most important part of your commission lies in what I have last said to you."
Dalgetty once more grinned intelligence, and withdrew to victual his charger and himself, for the fatigues of his approaching mission.
At the door of the stable, for Gustavus always claimed his first care,--he met Angus M'Aulay and Sir Miles Musgrave, who had been looking at his horse; and, after praising his points and carriage, both united in strongly dissuading the Captain from taking an animal of such value with him upon his present very fatiguing journey.
Angus painted in the most alarming colours the roads, or rather wild tracks, by which it would be necessary for him to travel into Argyleshire, and the wretched huts or bothies where he would be condemned to pass the night, and where no forage could be procured for his horse, unless he could eat the stumps of old heather. In short, he pronounced it absolutely impossible, that, after undertaking such a pilgrimage, the animal could be in any case for military service. The Englishman strongly confirmed all that Angus had said, and gave himself, body and soul, to the devil, if he thought it was not an act little short of absolute murder to carry a horse worth a farthing into such a waste and inhospitable desert. Captain Dalgetty for an instant looked steadily, first at one of the gentlemen and next at the other, and then asked them, as if in a state of indecision, what they would advise him to do with Gustavus under such circumstances.
"By the hand of my father, my dear friend," answered M'Aulay, "if you leave the beast in my keeping, you may rely on his being fed and sorted according to his worth and quality, and that upon your happy return, you will find him as sleek as an onion boiled in butter."
"Or," said Sir Miles Musgrave, "if this worthy cavalier chooses to part with his charger for a reasonable sum, I have some part of the silver candlesticks still dancing the heys in my purse, which I shall be very willing to transfer to his."
"In brief, mine honourable friends," said Captain Dalgetty, again eyeing them both with an air of comic penetration, "I find it would not be altogether unacceptable to either of you, to have some token to remember the old soldier by, in case it shall please M'Callum More to hang him up at the gate of his own castle. And doubtless it would be no small satisfaction to me, in such an event, that a noble and loyal cavalier like Sir Miles Musgrave, or a worthy and hospitable chieftain like our excellent landlord, should act as my executor."
Both hastened to protest that they had no such object, and insisted again upon the impassable character of the Highland paths. Angus M'Aulay mumbled over a number of hard Gaellic names, descriptive of the difficult passes, precipices, corries, and beals, through which he said the road lay to Inverary, when old Donald, who had now entered, sanctioned his master's account of these difficulties, by holding up his hands, and elevating his eyes, and shaking his head, at every gruttural which M'Aulay pronounced. But all this did not move the inflexible Captain.
"My worthy friends," said he, "Gustavus is not new to the dangers of travelling, and the mountains of Bohemia; and (no disparagement to the beals and corries Mr. Angus is pleased to mention, and of which Sir Miles, who never saw them, confirms the horrors,) these mountains may compete with the vilest roads in Europe. In fact, my horse hath a most excellent and social quality; for although he cannot pledge in my cup, yet we share our loaf between us, and it will be hard if he suffers famine where cakes or bannocks are to be found. And, to cut this matter short, I beseech you, my good friends, to observe the state of Sir Duncan Campbell's palfrey, which stands in that stall before us, fat and fair; and, in return for your anxiety an my account, I give you my honest asseveration, that while we travel the same road, both that palfrey and his rider shall lack for food before either Gustavus or I."
Having said this he filled a large measure with corn, and walked up with it to his charger, who, by his low whinnying neigh, his pricked ears, and his pawing, showed how close the alliance was betwixt him and his rider. Nor did he taste his corn until he had returned his master's caresses, by licking his hands and face. After this interchange of greeting, the steed began to his provender with an eager dispatch, which showed old military habits; and the master, after looking on the animal with great complacency for about five minutes, said,--"Much good may it do your honest heart, Gustavus;--now must I go and lay in provant myself for the campaign."
He then departed, having first saluted the Englishman and Angus M'Aulay, who remained looking at each other for some time in silence, and then burst out into a fit of laughter.
"That fellow," said Sir Miles Musgrave, "is formed to go through the world."
"I shall think so too," said M'Aulay, "if he can slip through M'Callum More's fingers as easily as he has done through ours."
"Do you think," said the Englishman, "that the Marquis will not respect, in Captain Dalgetty's person, the laws of civilized war?"
"No more than I would respect a Lowland proclamation," said Angus M'Aulay.--"But come along, it is time I were returning to my guests."