Legendary Tales of the Highlands (Volume 2 of 3) A sequel to Highland Rambles
TALES OF THE HIGHLANDS.
TALES OF THE HIGHLANDS.
HENRY COLBURN, PUBLISHER,
GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.
A TEMPEST, 79
AN UNWELCOME VISITOR, 150
THE AUTHOR FLOORED, 289
THE LEGEND OF CHARLEY STEWART TņILLEAR-CRUBACH.
There is a long, low, flat-topped, and prettily wooded eminence, that rises out ofthe middle of the bonny haughs of Kilmaichly, at some distance below the junctionof the rivers Aven and Livat. I don’t remember that it has any particular name, butit looks, for all the world, like the fragment of some ancient plain, that must havebeen of much higher level than that from which it now rises, which fragment had beenleft, after the ground on each side of it had been worn down to its present level,by the changeful operations of the neighbouring streams. But whatever you geology gentlemen might say, as to what its origin might have been, every loverof nature must agree, that it is a very beautiful little hill, covered as its slopesare with graceful weeping birches, and other trees. The bushes that still remain,show that, in earlier times, it must have been thickly wooded with great oaks, whichprobably gave shelter to the ould auncient Druids, when engaged in their superstitiousmysteries. At the period to which the greater part of my story belongs—that is, inand about that of the reign of King James the III.—the blue smoke that curled up fromamong the trees betrayed the existence of a cottage, that sat perched upon the browof its western extremity, looking towards the Castle of Drummin. This little dwellingwas much better built, and, in every respect, much neater than any of those in thesurrounding district; and its interior exhibited more comforts as to furniture andplenishing of all sorts, and those too of a description, superior to any thing of the kind whicha mere cottager might have been reasonably expected to have possessed.
The inhabitants of this snug little dwelling were, a very beautiful woman, of somefour or five and twenty years of age, named Alice Asher, and her son, a handsome noblelooking boy, who, from certain circumstances affecting his birth, bore the name ofCharles Stewart.
There was a well doing and brave retainer of the house of Clan-Allan, called MacDermot,who had lived a little way up in Glen Livat, and who, for several years, had donegood service to the Sir Walter Stewart, who was then chieftain of the Clan, as sonand heir of that Sir Patrick whom my last Legend left so happily married to the LadyCatherine Forbes, and quietly settled at Drummin. This man MacDermot died bravelyin a skirmish, leaving a widow and an infant daughter. It happened that some few monthsafter the death of her husband, the good woman Bessy MacDermot went out to shear oneof those small patches of wretched corn, which were then to be seen, almost as a wonder,scattered here and there, in these upland glens, and which belonged in run-rig, or in alternate ridges, to different owners, being so disposed, as you probably know gentlemen, that all might have an equal interest,and consequently an equal inducement, to assemble for its protection in the eventof the sudden appearance of an enemy. Charley Stewart, then a fine, kind-hearted boyof some nine or ten years of age, had taken a great affection for the little Rosa,the child of Bessy MacDermot; and this circumstance had induced the mother to askpermission of Alice Asher, to be allowed to take her son with her on this occasionto the harvest-field, that, whilst she went on with her work, he might watch the infant.Charley was delighted with his employment; and accordingly she laid the babe carefullydown by him to leeward of one of the stooks of sheaves. Many an anxious glance did the fond mother throw behind her, as the onwardprogress of her work slowly but gradually increased her distance from Charley andhis precious charge. The thoughts of her bereft and widowed state saddened her heart,and made it heavy, and rendered her eyes so moist from time to time, that ever andanon she was compelled to rest for an instant from her labour, in order to wipe away the tearswith her sleeve. Her little Rosa was now all the world to her. The anxiety regardingthe child which possessed her maternal bosom was always great; but, at the presentmoment, she had few fears about her safety, for, ever as she looked behind her, shebeheld Charley Stewart staunchly fixed at his post, and busily employed in tryingto catch the attention of the infant, and to amuse it by plucking from the sheavesthose gaudy flowered weeds, of various kinds and hues, which Nature brought up everywhereso profusely among the grain, and which the rude and unlearned farmers of those earlytimes took no pains to extirpate.
Whilst the parties were so occupied, the sun was shining brightly upon the new shornstubble, that stretched away before the eyes of Charley Stewart, when its flat unbrokenfield of light was suddenly interrupted by a shadow that came sailing across it. Helooked up into the air, and beheld a large bird hovering over him. Inexperienced ashe was, and by no means aware that its apparent size was diminished by the height at which it was flying, he took itfor a kite, or a buzzard, and it immediately ceased to occupy his attention. Roundand round sailed the shadow upon the stubble, increasing in magnitude at every turnit made, but totally unheeded by the boy amid the interesting occupation in whichhe was engaged. At length a loud shriek reached him from the very farther end of theridge. Charley started up from his sitting position, and beheld Bessy MacDermot rushingtowards him, tossing her arms, and screaming as if she were distracted. She was yettoo far off from him to enable him to gather her words, amidst the alarm that nowseized him; and, accordingly, believing that she had been stung by some viper, orthat she had cut herself desperately with the reaping-hook, he abandoned his charge,and ran off to meet her, that he might the sooner render her assistance; but, by thetime they had approached near enough to each other to enable him to catch up the importof her cries, he halted—for they made his little heart faint within him.
“The eagle! the eagle!” wildly screamed Bessy MacDermot. “Oh, my child! my child!”
Turning round hastily, Charley Stewart now saw that the very bird which he had sorecently regarded with so little alarm, had now grown six times larger than he hadbelieved it really to be. It was in the very act of swooping down upon the infant.Charley ran towards the spot, mingling his shrieks with those of the frantic mother;but ere their feet had carried them over half the distance towards it, they heardthe cries of the babe, as the fell eagle was flapping his broad wings, in his exertionsto lift it from the ground; and, ere they could reach it, the bird was already flying,heavily encumbered with his burden, over the surface of the standing corn, from whichhe gradually rose, as his pinions gained more air, and greater way, till he finallysoared upwards, and then held on his slow, but strong course, towards his nest inthe neighbouring mountains.
“Oh, my babe! my babe!” cried the agonized Bessy MacDermot, her eyes starting fromtheir very sockets, in her anxiety to keep sight of the object of her affections,and her terrors.
But she did not follow it with her eyes alone. She paused not for a moment, but dartedoff through the standing corn, and over moor and moss, hill and heugh, and throughwoods, and rills, and bogs, in the direction which the eagle was taking, without oncethinking of poor little Charley Stewart, who kept after her as hard as his activelittle legs could carry him; and, great as the distance was which they had to run,the eagle, impeded as he was in his flight by the precious burden he carried, wasstill within reach of the eyes of the panting and agonized mother, when a thinnerpart of the wood enabled her to see, from a rising ground, the cliff where he finallyrested, and where he deposited the child in his nest, that was well known to hangon a ledge in the face of the rock, a little way down from its bare summit. On ranthe frantic mother, with redoubled energy,—for she remembered that an old man livedby himself, in a little cot hard by the place, and she never rested till she sank down, faint and exhausted, at his door.
“Oh, Peter, Peter!—my baby, my baby!” was all she could utter, as the old man camehobbling out, to learn what was the matter.
“What has mischanced your baby, Mrs. MacDermot?” demanded Peter.
“Oh, the eagle! the eagle!” cried the distracted mother. “Oh, my child! my child!”
“Holy saints be about us! has the eagle carried off your child?” cried Peter, in horror.
“Och, yes, yes!” replied Bessy. “Oh my baby, my baby!”
“St. Michael be here!” exclaimed Peter. “What can an old man like me do to help thee?”
“Ropes! ropes!” cried little Charley Stewart, who at this moment came up, so breathlessand exhausted that he could hardly speak.
“Ropes!” said Peter; “not a rope have I. There’s a bit old hair-line up on the baulksthere, to be sure, that my son Donald used for stretching his hang-net; but it hasbeen so much in the water, that I have some doubt if it would stand the weight ofa man, even if we could get a man to go down over the nose of the craig;—and there is not a man butmyself, that I know of, within miles of us.”
“You have forgotten me,” cried Charley Stewart, who had now somewhat recovered hiswind. “I will go down over the craig. Come, then, Peter!—get out your hair-line. Itwill not break with my weight.”
“By the Rood but thou art a gallant little chield!” said Peter.
“Oh, the blessings of the virgin on thee, my dearest Charley!” cried Bessy MacDermot,embracing him. “And yet,” added she, with hesitation, “why should I put Alice Asher’sboy to such peril, even to save mine own child? Oh, canst thou think of no other means?I cannot put Charley Stewart in peril.”
“Nay,” said Peter, “I know of no means; and, in truth, the poor bairn is like enoughto have been already half devoured by the young eagles.”
“Merciful Mother of God!” cried poor Bessy, half fainting at the horrible thought.“Oh, my baby, my baby!”
“Come, old man,” cried Charley Stewart, with great determination, “we have no timeto waste—we have lost too much already. Where is the hair-line you spake of?—Tut,I must seek for it myself;” and rushing into the cot, he leaped upon