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Chapter 16

And when he came to broken brigg,
He bent his bow and swam;
And when he came to grass growing,
Set down his feet and ran.
Gil Morrice.

The echoes of the rocks and ravines, on either side, now rang to the
trumpets of the cavalry, which, forming themselves into two distinct
bodies, began to move down the valley at a slow trot. That commanded by
Major Galbraith soon took to the right hand, and crossed the Forth, for
the purpose of taking up the quarters assigned them for the night, when
they were to occupy, as I understood, an old castle in the vicinity. They
formed a lively object while crossing the stream, but were soon lost in
winding up the bank on the opposite side, which was clothed with wood.

We continued our march with considerable good order. To ensure the safe
custody of the prisoner, the Duke had caused him to be placed on
horseback behind one of his retainers, called, as I was informed, Ewan of
Brigglands, one of the largest and strongest men who were present. A
horse-belt, passed round the bodies of both, and buckled before the
yeoman's breast, rendered it impossible for Rob Roy to free himself from
his keeper. I was directed to keep close beside them, and accommodated
for the purpose with a troop-horse. We were as closely surrounded by the
soldiers as the width of the road would permit, and had always at least
one, if not two, on each side, with pistol in hand. Andrew Fairservice,
furnished with a Highland pony, of which they had made prey somewhere or
other, was permitted to ride among the other domestics, of whom a great
number attended the line of march, though without falling into the ranks
of the more regularly trained troopers.

In this manner we travelled for a certain distance, until we arrived at a
place where we also were to cross the river. The Forth, as being the
outlet of a lake, is of considerable depth, even where less important in
point of width, and the descent to the ford was by a broken precipitous
ravine, which only permitted one horseman to descend at once. The rear
and centre of our small body halting on the bank while the front files
passed down in succession, produced a considerable delay, as is usual on
such occasions, and even some confusion; for a number of those riders,
who made no proper part of the squadron, crowded to the ford without
regularity, and made the militia cavalry, although tolerably well
drilled, partake in some degree of their own disorder.


[Illustration: Escape of Rob Roy at the Ford--232]


It was while we were thus huddled together on the bank that I heard Rob
Roy whisper to the man behind whom he was placed on horseback, "Your
father, Ewan, wadna hae carried an auld friend to the shambles, like a
calf, for a' the Dukes in Christendom."

Ewan returned no answer, but shrugged, as one who would express by that
sign that what he was doing was none of his own choice.

"And when the MacGregors come down the glen, and ye see toom faulds, a
bluidy hearthstone, and the fire flashing out between the rafters o' your
house, ye may be thinking then, Ewan, that were your friend Rob to the
fore, you would have had that safe which it will make your heart sair to
lose."

Ewan of Brigglands again shrugged and groaned, but remained silent.

"It's a sair thing," continued Rob, sliding his insinuations so gently
into Ewan's ear that they reached no other but mine, who certainly saw
myself in no shape called upon to destroy his prospects of escape--"It's
a sair thing, that Ewan of Brigglands, whom Roy MacGregor has helped with
hand, sword, and purse, suld mind a gloom from a great man mair than a
friend's life."

Ewan seemed sorely agitated, but was silent.--We heard the Duke's voice
from the opposite bank call, "Bring over the prisoner."

Ewan put his horse in motion, and just as I heard Roy say, "Never weigh a
MacGregor's bluid against a broken whang o' leather, for there will be
another accounting to gie for it baith here and hereafter," they passed
me hastily, and dashing forward rather precipitately, entered the water.

"Not yet, sir--not yet," said some of the troopers to me, as I was about
to follow, while others pressed forward into the stream.

I saw the Duke on the other side, by the waning light, engaged in
commanding his people to get into order, as they landed dispersedly, some
higher, some lower. Many had crossed, some were in the water, and the
rest were preparing to follow, when a sudden splash warned me that
MacGregor's eloquence had prevailed on Ewan to give him freedom and a
chance for life. The Duke also heard the sound, and instantly guessed its
meaning. "Dog!" he exclaimed to Ewan as he landed, "where is your
prisoner?" and, without waiting to hear the apology which the terrified
vassal began to falter forth, he fired a pistol at his head, whether
fatally I know not, and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, disperse and pursue the
villain--An hundred guineas for him that secures Rob Roy!"

All became an instant scene of the most lively confusion. Rob Roy,
disengaged from his bonds, doubtless by Ewan's slipping the buckle of his
belt, had dropped off at the horse's tail, and instantly dived, passing
under the belly of the troop-horse which was on his left hand. But as he
was obliged to come to the surface an instant for air, the glimpse of his
tartan plaid drew the attention of the troopers, some of whom plunged
into the river, with a total disregard to their own safety, rushing,
according to the expression of their country, through pool and stream,
sometimes swimming their horses, sometimes losing them and struggling for
their own lives. Others, less zealous or more prudent, broke off in
different directions, and galloped up and down the banks, to watch the
places at which the fugitive might possibly land. The hollowing, the
whooping, the calls for aid at different points, where they saw, or
conceived they saw, some vestige of him they were seeking,--the frequent
report of pistols and carabines, fired at every object which excited the
least suspicion,--the sight of so many horsemen riding about, in and out
of the river, and striking with their long broadswords at whatever
excited their attention, joined to the vain exertions used by their
officers to restore order and regularity,--and all this in so wild a
scene, and visible only by the imperfect twilight of an autumn evening,
made the most extraordinary hubbub I had hitherto witnessed. I was indeed
left alone to observe it, for our whole cavalcade had dispersed in
pursuit, or at least to see the event of the search. Indeed, as I partly
suspected at the time, and afterwards learned with certainty, many of
those who seemed most active in their attempts to waylay and recover the
fugitive, were, in actual truth, least desirous that he should be taken,
and only joined in the cry to increase the general confusion, and to give
Rob Roy a better opportunity of escaping.

Escape, indeed, was not difficult for a swimmer so expert as the
freebooter, as soon as he had eluded the first burst of pursuit. At one
time he was closely pressed, and several blows were made which flashed in
the water around him; the scene much resembling one of the otter-hunts
which I had seen at Osbaldistone Hall, where the animal is detected by
the hounds from his being necessitated to put his nose above the stream
to vent or breathe, while he is enabled to elude them by getting under
water again so soon as he has refreshed himself by respiration.
MacGregor, however, had a trick beyond the otter; for he contrived, when
very closely pursued, to disengage himself unobserved from his plaid, and
suffer it to float down the stream, where in its progress it quickly
attracted general attention; many of the horsemen were thus put upon a
false scent, and several shots or stabs were averted from the party for
whom they were designed.

Once fairly out of view, the recovery of the prisoner became almost
impossible, since, in so many places, the river was rendered inaccessible
by the steepness of its banks, or the thickets of alders, poplars, and
birch, which, overhanging its banks, prevented the approach of horsemen.
Errors and accidents had also happened among the pursuers, whose task the
approaching night rendered every moment more hopeless. Some got
themselves involved in the eddies of the stream, and required the
assistance of their companions to save them from drowning. Others, hurt
by shots or blows in the confused mele'e, implored help or threatened
vengeance, and in one or two instances such accidents led to actual
strife. The trumpets, therefore, sounded the retreat, announcing that the
commanding officer, with whatsoever unwillingness, had for the present
relinquished hopes of the important prize which had thus unexpectedly
escaped his grasp, and the troopers began slowly, reluctantly, and
brawling with each other as they returned, again to assume their ranks. I
could see them darkening, as they formed on the southern bank of the
river,--whose murmurs, long drowned by the louder cries of vengeful
pursuit, were now heard hoarsely mingling with the deep, discontented,
and reproachful voices of the disappointed horsemen.

Hitherto I had been as it were a mere spectator, though far from an
uninterested one, of the singular scene which had passed. But now I heard
a voice suddenly exclaim, "Where is the English stranger?--It was he gave
Rob Roy the knife to cut the belt."

"Cleeve the pock-pudding to the chafts!" cried one voice.

"Weize a brace of balls through his harn-pan!" said a second.

"Drive three inches of cauld airn into his brisket!" shouted a third.

And I heard several horses galloping to and fro, with the kind purpose,
doubtless, of executing these denunciations. I was immediately awakened
to the sense of my situation, and to the certainty that armed men, having
no restraint whatever on their irritated and inflamed passions, would
probably begin by shooting or cutting me down, and afterwards investigate
the justice of the action. Impressed by this belief, I leaped from my
horse, and turning him loose, plunged into a bush of alder-trees, where,
considering the advancing obscurity of the night, I thought there was
little chance of my being discovered. Had I been near enough to the Duke
to have invoked his personal protection, I would have done so; but he had
already commenced his retreat, and I saw no officer on the left bank of
the river, of authority sufficient to have afforded protection, in case
of my surrendering myself. I thought there was no point of honour which
could require, in such circumstances, an unnecessary exposure of my life.
My first idea, when the tumult began to be appeased, and the clatter of
the horses' feet was heard less frequently in the immediate vicinity of
my hiding-place, was to seek out the Duke's quarters when all should be
quiet, and give myself up to him, as a liege subject, who had nothing to
fear from his justice, and a stranger, who had every right to expect
protection and hospitality. With this purpose I crept out of my
hiding-place, and looked around me.

The twilight had now melted nearly into darkness; a few or none of the
troopers were left on my side of the Forth, and of those who were already
across it, I only heard the distant trample of the horses' feet, and the
wailing and prolonged sound of their trumpets, which rung through the
woods to recall stragglers, Here, therefore, I was left in a situation of
considerable difficulty. I had no horse, and the deep and wheeling stream
of the river, rendered turbid by the late tumult of which its channel had
been the scene, and seeming yet more so under the doubtful influence of
an imperfect moonlight, had no inviting influence for a pedestrian by no
means accustomed to wade rivers, and who had lately seen horsemen
weltering, in this dangerous passage, up to the very saddle-laps. At the
same time, my prospect, if I remained on the side of the river on which I
then stood, could be no other than of concluding the various fatigues of
this day and the preceding night, by passing that which was now closing
in, _al fresco_ on the side of a Highland hill.

After a moment's reflection, I began to consider that Fairservice, who
had doubtless crossed the river with the other domestics, according to
his forward and impertinent custom of putting himself always among the
foremost, could not fail to satisfy the Duke, or the competent
authorities, respecting my rank and situation; and that, therefore, my
character did not require my immediate appearance, at the risk of being
drowned in the river--of being unable to trace the march of the squadron
in case of my reaching the other side in safety--or, finally, of being
cut down, right or wrong, by some straggler, who might think such a piece
of good service a convenient excuse for not sooner rejoining his ranks. I
therefore resolved to measure my steps back to the little inn, where I
had passed the preceding night. I had nothing to apprehend from Rob Roy.
He was now at liberty, and I was certain, in case of my falling in with
any of his people, the news of his escape would ensure me protection. I
might thus also show, that I had no intention to desert Mr. Jarvie in the
delicate situation in which he had engaged himself chiefly on my account.
And lastly, it was only in this quarter that I could hope to learn
tidings concerning Rashleigh and my father's papers, which had been the
original cause of an expedition so fraught with perilous adventure. I
therefore abandoned all thoughts of crossing the Forth that evening; and,
turning my back on the Fords of Frew, began to retrace my steps towards
the little village of Aberfoil.

A sharp frost-wind, which made itself heard and felt from time to time,
removed the clouds of mist which might otherwise have slumbered till
morning on the valley; and, though it could not totally disperse the
clouds of vapour, yet threw them in confused and changeful masses, now
hovering round the heads of the mountains, now filling, as with a dense
and voluminous stream of smoke, the various deep gullies where masses of
the composite rock, or breccia, tumbling in fragments from the cliffs,
have rushed to the valley, leaving each behind its course a rent and torn
ravine resembling a deserted water-course. The moon, which was now high,
and twinkled with all the vivacity of a frosty atmosphere, silvered the
windings of the river and the peaks and precipices which the mist left
visible, while her beams seemed as it were absorbed by the fleecy
whiteness of the mist, where it lay thick and condensed; and gave to the
more light and vapoury specks, which were elsewhere visible, a sort of
filmy transparency resembling the lightest veil of silver gauze. Despite
the uncertainty of my situation, a view so romantic, joined to the active
and inspiring influence of the frosty atmosphere, elevated my spirits
while it braced my nerves. I felt an inclination to cast care away, and
bid defiance to danger, and involuntarily whistled, by way of cadence to
my steps, which my feeling of the cold led me to accelerate, and I felt
the pulse of existence beat prouder and higher in proportion as I felt
confidence in my own strength, courage, and resources. I was so much lost
in these thoughts, and in the feelings which they excited, that two
horsemen came up behind me without my hearing their approach, until one
was on each side of me, when the left-hand rider, pulling up his horse,
addressed me in the English tongue--"So ho, friend! whither so late?"

"To my supper and bed at Aberfoil," I replied.

"Are the passes open?" he inquired, with the same commanding tone of
voice.

"I do not know," I replied; "I shall learn when I get there. But," I
added, the fate of Morris recurring to my recollection, "if you are an
English stranger, I advise you to turn back till daylight; there has been
some disturbance in this neighbourhood, and I should hesitate to say it
is perfectly safe for strangers."

"The soldiers had the worst?--had they not?" was the reply.

"They had indeed; and an officer's party were destroyed or made
prisoners."

"Are you sure of that?" replied the horseman.

"As sure as that I hear you speak," I replied. "I was an unwilling
spectator of the skirmish."

"Unwilling!" continued the interrogator. "Were you not engaged in it
then?"

"Certainly no," I replied; "I was detained by the king's officer."

"On what suspicion? and who are you? or what is your name?" he continued.

"I really do not know, sir," said I, "why I should answer so many
questions to an unknown stranger. I have told you enough to convince you
that you are going into a dangerous and distracted country. If you choose
to proceed, it is your own affair; but as I ask you no questions
respecting your name and business, you will oblige me by making no
inquiries after mine."

"Mr. Francis Osbaldistone," said the other rider, in a voice the tones of
which thrilled through every nerve of my body, "should not whistle his
favourite airs when he wishes to remain undiscovered."

And Diana Vernon--for she, wrapped in a horseman's cloak, was the last
speaker--whistled in playful mimicry the second part of the tune which
was on my lips when they came up.

"Good God!" I exclaimed, like one thunderstruck, "can it be you, Miss
Vernon, on such a spot--at such an hour--in such a lawless country--in
such"--

"In such a masculine dress, you would say.--But what would you have? The
philosophy of the excellent Corporal Nym is the best after all; things
must be as they may--_pauca verba._"

While she was thus speaking, I eagerly took advantage of an unusually
bright gleam of moonshine, to study the appearance of her companion; for
it may be easily supposed, that finding Miss Vernon in a place so
solitary, engaged in a journey so dangerous, and under the protection of
one gentleman only, were circumstances to excite every feeling of
jealousy, as well as surprise. The rider did not speak with the deep
melody of Rashleigh's voice; his tones were more high and commanding; he
was taller, moreover, as he sate on horseback, than that first-rate
object of my hate and suspicion. Neither did the stranger's address
resemble that of any of my other cousins; it had that indescribable tone
and manner by which we recognise a man of sense and breeding, even in the
first few sentences he speaks.

The object of my anxiety seemed desirous to get rid of my investigation.

"Diana," he said, in a tone of mingled kindness and authority, "give your
cousin his property, and let us not spend time here."

Miss Vernon had in the meantime taken out a small case, and leaning down
from her horse towards me, she said, in a tone in which an effort at her
usual quaint lightness of expression contended with a deeper and more
grave tone of sentiment, "You see, my dear coz, I was born to be your
better angel. Rashleigh has been compelled to yield up his spoil, and had
we reached this same village of Aberfoil last night, as we purposed, I
should have found some Highland sylph to have wafted to you all these
representatives of commercial wealth. But there were giants and dragons
in the way; and errant-knights and damsels of modern times, bold though
they be, must not, as of yore, run into useless danger--Do not you do so
either, my dear coz."

"Diana," said her companion, "let me once more warn you that the evening
waxes late, and we are still distant from our home."

"I am coming, sir, I am coming--Consider," she added, with a sigh, "how
lately I have been subjected to control--besides, I have not yet given my
cousin the packet, and bid him fare-well--for ever. Yes, Frank," she
said, "for ever!--there is a gulf between us--a gulf of absolute
perdition;--where we go, you must not follow--what we do, you must not
share in--Farewell--be happy!"


[Illustration: Parting of Die and Frank on the Moor --242]


In the attitude in which she bent from her horse, which was a Highland
pony, her face, not perhaps altogether unwillingly, touched mine. She
pressed my hand, while the tear that trembled in her eye found its
way to my cheek instead of her own. It was a moment never to be
forgotten--inexpressibly bitter, yet mixed with a sensation of pleasure
so deeply soothing and affecting, as at once to unlock all the
flood-gates of the heart. It was _but_ a moment, however; for, instantly
recovering from the feeling to which she had involuntarily given way,
she intimated to her companion she was ready to attend him, and putting
their horses to a brisk pace, they were soon far distant from the place
where I stood.

Heaven knows, it was not apathy which loaded my frame and my tongue so
much, that I could neither return Miss Vernon's half embrace, nor even
answer her farewell. The word, though it rose to my tongue, seemed to
choke in my throat like the fatal _guilty,_ which the delinquent who
makes it his plea, knows must be followed by the doom of death. The
surprise--the sorrow, almost stupified me. I remained motionless with the
packet in my hand, gazing after them, as if endeavouring to count the
sparkles which flew from the horses' hoofs. I continued to look after
even these had ceased to be visible, and to listen for their footsteps
long after the last distant trampling had died in my ears. At length,
tears rushed to my eyes, glazed as they were by the exertion of straining
after what was no longer to be seen. I wiped them mechanically, and
almost without being aware that they were flowing--but they came thicker
and thicker; I felt the tightening of the throat and breast--the
_hysterica passio_ of poor Lear; and sitting down by the wayside, I shed
a flood of the first and most bitter tears which had flowed from my eyes
since childhood.


Sir Walter Scott