In The Western Highlands
( Originally Published 1912 )
"... AND he was away so long, fighting in foreign wars, that his wife thought, of course, he was dead. First she built this beautiful big Kilchurn Castle with a keep five whole stories high, and then finally she decided to marry. But while the castle was filled with guests who were there for the wedding feast, a beggar appeared at the entrance. They let him come in, and offered him some wine, but he said he could not drink their healths unless the bride came to pour him his cupful. She did, you know, and when the beggar gave her back the cup, in the bottom of it she saw a gold ring, all set with heaps of precious stones. It had belonged to her husband, and she looked up and saw that the beggar was her husband,—Colin Campbell of Glenorchy."
Well," demanded John, " go on, Sis ! What happened then, "
" But, John,—the book doesn't say." A glance at Betty's face would almost have made one think that she imagined herself responsible for this very unsatisfactory ending of the tale.
As the little boat, named the Countess of Breadalbane, waited a long time at this end of Loch Awe, to which the Oban train had brought them, they had an excellent chance to study the picturesque old castle pile. It stands on a rocky promontory, which is sometimes an island and sometimes connected with the shore by a bit of marshy land; and all about it are mountains, Glenstrae and Glenorchy and Ben Cruachan, behind their veils of lavender gauze.
All this Loch Awe country once belonged to the clan Macgregor," said Mrs. Pitt, as she fanned herself with yesterday's Glasgow paper, ` but the Campbells drove them all out; the last of the Macgregors were actually hunted along these shores and mountain sides, where they had made their home for so long. Dr. John Leyden has written a splendid poem about that. You especially would like it, John. Part of it runs like this :
" ` In the vale of Glenorchy the night breeze was sighing O'er the tombs where the ancient Macgregors are lying; Green are their graves by their soft murmuring river, But the name of Macgregor has perished forever.'"
" That sounds like what happened at Glen coe," remarked Barbara, but there they were Macdonalds who were killed, weren't they, Mother?"
Yes, Barbara, the Macdonalds, men, women, and children, were slain during a blinding snow-storm in lonely Glencoe Pass. I suppose it is one of the most terrible massacres in all history, far too terrible for you children to hear its details. The Macdonald chief had been pre-vented, by weather or circumstances; from taking his oath of allegiance to the king within the required number of days, and this slight fault was seized upon as excuse for an attempt to destroy the whole clan of Glencoe Macdonalds. Influenced by certain Scotch enemies of the clan, who greatly desired the massacre, King William signed the order for the attack. It is one of the most disgraceful blots upon his reign."
" There ! We're starting away at last," exclaimed Philip, " and there will be a breeze. It is warm, you know."
It certainly was a relief to feel the boat gliding rapidly over the lake, which lay perfectly smooth beneath the hot sunshine. There were very lovely views on all sides, views of wooded shores, of lofty mountains, and of numerous pretty little islands.
Pointing to one of them, Mrs. Pitt said, " Ac-cording to a tradition which dates from the time of the old poet, Ossian, it was on that island that a dragon kept guard over the apples of immortal youth.
"There's such a quaint legend about the origin of Loch Awe, Betty," she soon went on, after they had praised a particularly fine view of Ben Cruachan. " I wonder if you have heard it. A spring, high on the side of this old giant mountain, was in charge of the fairies, who every night put a cover securely over it. But on one eventful night, a lovesick maiden, pausing to drink there, never thought to replace the cover. In the morning the spring had overflowed the whole valley, which has ever since been known as Loch Awe."
Very soon the boat drew up at a little pier which was quite deserted except for one lone boatman and a dog. Not a house was to be seen, but two tired tramps sat resting by the roadside.
" Why in the world should we stop here l " laughed Barbara; and John called out, " What's this place, Mac? " (John had such a knack of finding out people's names without asking them at all!)
The old Scotchman on the pier was busy with his ropes; never did he so much as look up from his work, but he answered John's question by two gruff words which certainly did sound like " New York."
Do you hear that, Betty? " shouted John in high glee. " He says this place is New York ! There isn't a single house in sight ! Ho ! Ho ! that's a good one ! New York ! He just ought to see our New York ! "
As the boat moved away, the boatman looked straight down at John with something suspiciously like a twinkle in his eye. This was a small thing, surely, but it is still troubling John. He can never feel quite sure whether that old Scotchman might not have been poking fun at him.
" I say! " cried Philip, as he felt a cold nose touch his hand, " the dog came aboard ; he wanted to leave New York. Fancy that, John ! "
After hurriedly exploring the boat, sniffing about in corners, and smelling the boots of the passengers, the little whitish mongrel lay quietly down on the floor between Philip and John. He was ever watchful, however, and when the next stopping-place was reached, he eagerly jumped ashore, where he stood overseeing the unloading of some boxes and barrels. Just at the last moment, a misunderstanding man, taking the dog quite off his guard, tossed him once again aboard the boat. So surprised was this companion of old Mac's that he lost his chance of leaping back to the pier. Suddenly realizing what a calamity had befallen him, he stood upon the seat, put his front paws on the railing, and howled.
Betty was much concerned. " What can we do about it? " she said. " We're carrying him farther and farther away from his home. Wouldn't the captain go back? It isn't far, truly !
But Mrs. Pitt advised her not to appeal to the captain. " That dog can be trusted to find his own way home."
At the narrow, lower end of Loch Awe, they left the boat and ate their luncheon at the odd little Ford Hotel, close by. The six or eight guests were seated at a long table, at the foot of which a typical old Scotch serving-man carved the meats. A younger man was there to assist him in his efforts to satisfy the appetites of the hungry tourists.
The cold meats vanished with remarkable speed, and then the old Scotchman, who wore crisp side-whiskers, tiptoed to the left of each guest, tilted his head to one side, and, with an air of infinite pride and importance, inquired whether he would have stewed rhubarb or stewed gooseberries."
Mrs. Pitt only looked puzzled when Betty exclaimed tragically, " 0 dear ! the gooseberries are always so sour that they pucker me all up. I don't like rhubarb, either; I did think maybe we had seen the last of that when we came to the Highlands ! "
" You can't expect to find much variety in such a remote inn, Betty," said Mrs. Pitt, helping herself to a large portion of the despised stewed rhubarb and custard.
" I'll back you up, Sister," said John, a little aside. " I'd give all the pennies and half-pennies in my pocket for some real ice-cream! My, but it would taste good on this hot day ! They don't know what they miss over here. All they care about is tea, tea, tea,—and stewed things ! ''
At the door a big motor car, " like the sight-seeing autos at home," as John remarked, waited to carry the passengers over the twenty-five miles of rough mountain road between Loch Awe and Oban. As the car lumbered along, they talked of clans and Highland chiefs. Mrs. Pitt was forced to raise her voice that the others might hear above the rumble of the noisy engine and the whirr of the mountain wind in their ears.
" How did there happen to be so many clans and chiefs? " Betty inquired thoughtfully.
" Yes, Mother," put in Philip; " and who was the Lord of the Isles? "
" There are rather long and puzzling answers to those questions, but I'll try to make them clear to you," began Mrs. Pitt, in her good-natured way. " First of all, you must under-stand that the court of the Scottish kings had long been held in the Highlands ; it was Malcolm Canmore who, in 1066, chose to live at Dunfermline, which decision made this more southern place of first importance in the country. Malcolm had been much in England before he came to the throne, and consequently he spoke the Anglo-Saxon tongue as well as his native Gaelic. When the King married the English princess Margaret, Anglo-Saxon became the common language at court. Now, you see, it was natural that the Highlanders should suffer very much from these two changes. They no longer had the protection of the king's presence. He was too far away to understand their needs, and the laws, often unjust and expressed in unfamiliar language, could not be enforced."
" And in those days it took longer to send letters, didn't it, Mother? Of course, they had to go over mountains and across lakes; and there were no trains, no telegraphs, not even postmen."
" Yes, dear, you are quite right. There were certainly none of those things. It is impossible for us to appreciate what very effectual barriers these valleys and mountains and lakes made. Not only were the Highlanders prevented from communicating with the Lowlanders, but each clan found it very difficult to hold intercourse with neighboring clans. And thus you can readily see how a leader was needed for each clan, some one who could make wise laws and see that they were obeyed. The people simply allowed the mountains to separate them into little independent communities, and in each of these there arose a man of unusual courage who naturally became their chief. And so it was that each clan, or big family, had its own laws, its own customs, its own plaid or tartan of chosen colors, its own war cry, called a slogan. The loyalty of the clansmen to their chief is illustrated by many stories of the life of those days."
" Tell us some of them," put in Philip, as Mrs. Pitt paused to tighten her veil. It was of pale blue chiffon, and it looked very pretty as the wind caught it and held it out straight.
" Well, here is one instance. A certain James Menzies of Culdares had been taken as a prisoner to London, and there condemned for his share in the rebellions of 1715. He was pardoned, but, because of this dangerous experience, was prevented from offering his services in the cause of Prince Charlie, thirty years later. Wishing in some way to show his sympathy with the Young Pretender, Menzies ordered a trusty member of his clan to take a fine horse as a present to the Prince. The clansman safely delivered the horse, but on his return journey he was suspected at Carlisle, taken prisoner, and sentenced to immediate execution unless he would confess from whom the horse had come. The fellow knew too well what serious trouble such a disclosure would bring upon his master, and he preferred to lose his life. When given one last chance to confess, John MacNaughton asked those about him if they really thought him such a villain as to be-tray his master; and, besides, said he, if he did do so, it would only mean that he would ever afterwards be scorned and shunned and hunted out of his glen by his fellow clansmen."
He was a dandy! " commended John.
" Oh, you were going to tell us who the Lords of the Isles were," remarked Betty, remembering Philip's questions.
They were chiefs of the clan Macdonald, who, from the almost mythical times, when the Norsemen were driven away, until the sixteenth century, ruled over these western islands. The story is that they were descended from a certain Somerlid, whose father, Godfrey, was King of Argyle. Somerlid, you must know, was the youngest, handsomest, and bravest of the King's four sons; but, much to his father's disappointment, he was very lazy. He would fill his days with nothing but pleasure; while his dutiful brothers were fighting, conquering new territory, or running away with island heiresses, Somerlid was only happily hunting and fishing. But all the while old King Godfrey suspected that there might be more in this idle son of his than had yet been seen; and so it proved. About this time the men of the western isles found themselves without a chief, and at length decided to invite Somerlid to come and be their leader. A few chosen men were accordingly sent to Godfrey's court, only to be told that they must go out into the wilds to find young Somerlid. The fisherman ceased his labors just long enough to hear that the Islesmen desired to make him their chief; he was silent for a few moments, and then said : ` Islesmen, there's a newly-run salmon in the black pool, yonder. If I catch him, I shall go with you as your chief; if I catch him not, I shall remain where I am.'
" Breathlessly the Islesmen watched Somerlid's movements, for they wanted very much to carry him back to Skye with them as their chief. Loud were their shouts when they saw the silvery salmon safely landed upon the river bank, and with great rejoicing they put Somerlid aboard their largest galley, and sailed away. with him to Skye."
" And then was he a good chief? " asked Betty.
" From that day," said Mrs. Pitt, in her most impressive tones, " Somerlid was the most war-like and energetic of chiefs. He burned and ravaged and fought; he conquered island after island, and married the daughter of the King of the Isle of Man, thus adding to his wide domains. He became a great chief and the first Lord of the Isles; from him all were descended who bore that title, and claimed a right to these vast western territories. Partly because of their wild, mountainous, and remote possessions, which were difficult of attack, and partly because of the great numbers of their brave and loyal clansmen, these chiefs were for centuries like veritable petty kings, who paid practically no heed to the King of Scotland's laws and acts, frequently taking sides against him in time of war. History is full of the continual strife between the kings and these chiefs, which finally ended in the addition of Lord of the Isles to the various titles of Scotland's king. It will interest you to know," she added, " that that very name, Lord of the Isles, is even now among the titles of the little Prince of Wales, and that there is a special tartan which only he and the Macdonald chief have the right to wear. But, dearie me! We must stop this talk and see the country we are going through. I believe we are nearing Melfort Pass."
This celebrated mountain pass is a fine bit of Highland scenery, a deep, heavily-wooded ravine, through the bottom of which a dark stream tumbles along over the rocks, now and then breaking into foaming yellowish-white falls. The road is very narrow, and a dangerous precipice is at one side, but the driver chatted carelessly with his passengers while his motor car shot around sharp curves in truly marvelous fashion.
" It would be a nice mess if we met a fellow coming the other way! '' exclaimed John, just rescuing his camera as a particularly violent lurch almost sent it out into the road. The rest of the party said nothing, but they held fast to the nearest support. Mrs. Pitt was grateful when the pass was left behind, and they came to an open road. But still the car creaked and gasped up hill, swerved along the few level bits of road, and flew down hill in a way to make one's heart stand still.
" Is there a school near here? " Betty asked wonderingly, by and by.
They had just passed a queer little group of school-children, trudging along the steep road. Most of them, boys and girls alike, were wearing scanty, ragged kilts, over which was some sort of tattered jacket, or outer garment. In spite of their rags, most of them carried square bags for their books, made of shiny leather, and they all shouted a greeting and stood in the middle of the road, with the evident intention of getting the very last possible view of the clumsy motor car.
Once or twice the Oban car overtook lone men who leaned upon staves and fanned them-selves with their battered hats, as they paused a moment to shift the weight of a heavy pack. Sometimes whole families, their household goods beside them, sat resting by the road. Occasionally a woman was filling her pail at a wayside spring. There were very few huts, and even fewer tiny hamlets, through this district; but when a thatched roof was seen, it actually seemed to tone in with the exquisite, soft lavender tints of the mountains. There was one wonderful hedge of vivid yellow laburnums; there were many stately larches; and the motor car traveled but few miles of road from which a blue loch was not visible. On and on they sped through this beautiful Highland country, until late afternoon brought them into Oban.
The following morning poor Betty was obliged to visit the dentist. However, she assured Mrs. Pitt, who went with her, that she " didn't mind so very much, really, because there was such a lovely view of the bay from his window. She could see all the yachts, decorated with lots of flags in honor of somebody who was there. The dentist didn't know who."
In the meantime the others had shopped. John wanted some postcards and a supply of films for his beloved camera; Barbara desired a dainty Shetland shawl of clinging gray, and Philip was in search of a new electric battery for a little " bug-light " which John had given him. Everything was easily found at the town's excellent shops, that is, everything but the electric battery for Philip. Oban is not sufficiently up to date to supply that.
In the afternoon they took one of the boats which make the short trip to Dunstaffnage Castle, where the famous Stone of Scone was kept for many years, but first they admired pretty Dunollie Castle, on a high rocky point overlooking Oban Bay. They had hardly noticed it when they had passed it in returning from Staffa and Iona. Now its square keep and outer walls, solid green in their close covering of ivy, charmed them.
" What's that queer, green post, Mother, there, on the road, beneath the castle? "
" That, Barbara, is what is called the ` Clachna-can,' a great pillar made of pudding-stone and entirely covered with thick ivy, like the castle walls. ` Clach-na-can ' means Dog's Pillar, and Fingal, the giant, is supposed to have tied his dog, Bran, to this stake. The castle was a place of importance in the seventh century," she continued, " but it probably was most famous in Bruce's time, when it belonged to John of Lorne, an enemy of the Bruce, who more than once defeated that King. The present owner of the castle, who lives close by, is Captain Alexander John Macdougal, a descendant of the ancient Lords of Lorne. The chief treasure of this family is the celebrated Brooch of Lorne, which was snatched from the shoulder of the Bruce during a fierce combat. Scott has beautifully described the brooch in his poem, ` The Lord of the Isles,' which you have probably never read. He calls it
. . . The broach of burning gold, That clasps the Chieftain's mantle-fold, Wrought and chased with rare device, Studded fair with gems of price,'"
" I suppose it was one of those great big pins that they used to fasten the plaid over the shoulder; I've seen pictures of them." Mrs. Pitt was just nodding assent to Betty's remark when they came in sight of the dark walls of old Dunstaffnage Castle, once the home of Scottish kings.
Tradition says that
"Unless the fates be faithless grown,
This Stone of Scone is said to have been Jacob's pillow. From the Holy Land it was carried to Spain, and later to Ireland. It then came to Iona, where St. Columba perhaps also used it as a pillow. From Iona it was brought for safe-keeping to Dunstaffnage, coronation place of the Scottish kings, and here it remained until Kenneth Macalpine took it to Scone.
" And Edward I carried it to Westminster Abbey, where it's been ever since, and King George V has just been crowned on it," Betty said, with an air of finality.
The castle is built on an enormous rock which forms part of its dark old walls ; it is massive, but not a very beautiful ruin. The peninsula on which it stands is wooded and juts out into Loch Etive.
" What's that funny little building? " inquired Betty, pointing to a very commonplace structure inside the castle court. " It truly looks almost new."
A woman who sold picture postcards close by answered that it had been built for a museum, but no further steps had been taken because of the lawsuit."
" What lawsuit? " asked Mrs. Pitt promptly.
" Do ye no ken that the castle belongs to the Campbells of Dunstaffnage, and that the Duke of Argyll, who is a Campbell, too, is laying his claim to it 7 "
" So the strife between the different clans and between various branches of the same clan still continues," said Mrs. Pitt thoughtfully.
It seems strange that times have changed so little, doesn't it? Only the other day I remember to have read that a feud which has lasted for several hundred years had just been settled at a dinner in Glasgow. It was some question of chieftainship of the clan Macdonald."
Mrs. Pitt then took the young people to see the little Gothic chapel, now unroofed and falling to decay, which was erected about the year 1250, as was the present castle. It stands in a pine grove, at some distance, and its crumbling walls and broken tombs and monuments are overgrown with weeds or covered with mould, yet, 'tis said that some pieces of the ancient Scottish regalia were kept here in. charge of an old servant until some time in the eighteenth century.
" Where are they now? " asked Philip.
" Dishonest servants stole and later sold them," remarked Mrs. Pitt grimly.
They found places on one of the big tourist coaches from Oban, and, driving across the wet sands at low tide connecting Dunstaffnage with the mainland, they rolled through a gate which was opened by two little bright-eyed girls. Not far away, down the road, is Connel Ferry, at the outlet of Loch Etive.
" Falls of Lora! " sang out their driver. Falls of Lora ! " and every one began to clamber down.
" What's that? " asked Betty curiously.
" A very famous waterfall about which that same poet Ossian wrote," answered Mrs. Pitt patiently.
But this was too much for John, who had done all the sightseeing he could agreeably endure in one day.
The fellow who talked about the apples of immortal youth? " demanded he with much scorn. " Well, I wouldn't give much for him, anyhow! Looks to me like a wide river rolling over a few little stones! Falls of Lora! Come on back to the coach ! "
Obediently they all followed John, climbed to their places, and calmly awaited the departure for Oban.