A Legend of Montrose eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2006)

  II. INTRODUCTION (Supplement).

  Sergeant More M'Alpin was, during his residence among us, one of themost honoured inhabitants of Gandercleugh. No one thought of disputinghis title to the great leathern chair on the "cosiest side of thechimney," in the common room of the Wallace Arms, on a Saturday evening.No less would our sexton, John Duirward, have held it an unlicensedintrusion, to suffer any one to induct himself into the corner ofthe left-hand pew nearest to the pulpit, which the Sergeant regularlyoccupied on Sundays. There he sat, his blue invalid uniform brushedwith the most scrupulous accuracy. Two medals of merit displayed at hisbutton-hole, as well as the empty sleeve which should have been occupiedby his right arm, bore evidence of his hard and honourable service.His weatherbeaten features, his grey hair tied in a thin queue in themilitary fashion of former days, and the right side of his head a littleturned up, the better to catch the sound of the clergyman's voice, wereall marks of his profession and infirmities. Beside him sat his sisterJanet, a little neat old woman, with a Highland curch and tartan plaid,watching the very looks of her brother, to her the greatest man uponearth, and actively looking out for him, in his silver-clasped Bible,the texts which the minister quoted or expounded.

  I believe it was the respect that was universally paid to this worthyveteran by all ranks in Gandercleugh which induced him to chooseour village for his residence, for such was by no means his originalintention.

  He had risen to the rank of sergeant-major of artillery, by hard servicein various quarters of the world, and was reckoned one of the most triedand trusty men of the Scotch Train. A ball, which shattered his arm ina peninsular campaign, at length procured him an honourable discharge.with an allowance from Chelsea, and a handsome gratuity from thepatriotic fund. Moreover, Sergeant More M'Alpin had been prudent as wellas valiant; and, from prize-money and savings, had become master of asmall sum in the three per cent consols.

  He retired with the purpose of enjoying this income in the wild Highlandglen, in which, when a boy, he had herded black cattle and goats, erethe roll of the drum had made him cock his bonnet an inch higher, andfollow its music for nearly forty years. To his recollection, thisretired spot was unparalleled in beauty by the richest scenes he hadvisited in his wanderings. Even the Happy Valley of Rasselas would havesunk into nothing upon the comparison. He came--he revisited the lovedscene; it was but a sterile glen, surrounded with rude crags, andtraversed by a northern torrent. This was not the worst. The fires hadbeen quenched upon thirty hearths--of the cottage of his fathershe could but distinguish a few rude stones--the language was almostextinguished--the ancient race from which he boasted his descenthad found a refuge beyond the Atlantic. One southland farmer, threegrey-plaided shepherds, and six dogs, now tenanted the whole glen, whichin his youth had maintained, in content, if not in competence, upwardsof two hundred inhabitants.

  In the house of the new tenant, Sergeant M'Alpin found, however, anunexpected source of pleasure, and a means of employing his socialaffections. His sister Janet had fortunately entertained so strong apersuasion that her brother would one day return, that she had refusedto accompany her kinsfolk upon their emigration. Nay, she had consented,though not without a feeling of degradation, to take service with theintruding Lowlander, who, though a Saxon, she said, had proved a kindman to her. This unexpected meeting with his sister seemed a curefor all the disappointments which it had been Sergeant More's lot toencounter, although it was not without a reluctant tear that heheard told, as a Highland woman alone could ten it, the story of theexpatriation of his kinsmen.

  She narrated at great length the vain offers they had made of advancedrent, the payment of which must have reduced them to the extremity ofpoverty, which they were yet contented to face, for permission to liveand die on their native soil. Nor did Janet forget the portents whichhad announced the departure of the Celtic race, and the arrival of thestrangers. For two years previous to the emigration, when the night windhowled dawn the pass of Balachra, its notes were distinctly modelledto the tune of "HA TIL MI TULIDH" (we return no more), with which theemigrants usually bid farewell to their native shores. The uncouth criesof the Southland shepherds, and the barking of their dogs, were oftenheard in the midst of the hills long before their actual arrival.A bard, the last of his race, had commemorated the expulsion of thenatives of the glen in a tune, which brought tears into the aged eyes ofthe veteran, and of which the first stanza may be thus rendered:--

  Woe, woe, son of the Lowlander, Why wilt thou leave thine own bonny Border? Why comes thou hither, disturbing the Highlander, Wasting the glen that was once in fair order?

  What added to Sergeant More M'Alpin's distress upon the occasion was,that the chief by whom this change had been effected, was, by traditionand common opinion, held to represent the ancient leaders and fathers ofthe expelled fugitives; and it had hitherto been one of Sergeant More'sprincipal subjects of pride to prove, by genealogical deduction, in whatdegree of kindred he stood to this personage. A woful change was nowwrought in his sentiments towards him.

  "I cannot curse him," he said, as he rose and strode through the room,when Janet's narrative was finished--"I will not curse him; he is thedescendant and representative of my fathers. But never shall mortal manhear me name his name again." And he kept his word; for, until his dyingday, no man heard him mention his selfish and hard-hearted chieftain.

  After giving a day to sad recollections, the hardy spirit which hadcarried him through so many dangers, manned the Sergeant's bosom againstthis cruel disappointment. "He would go," he said, "to Canada to hiskinsfolk, where they had named a Transatlantic valley after the glen oftheir fathers. Janet," he said, "should kilt her coats like a leaguerlady; d--n the distance! it was a flea's leap to the voyages and marcheshe had made on a slighter occasion."

  With this purpose he left the Highlands, and came with his sister as faras Gandercleugh, on his way to Glasgow, to take a passage to Canada.But winter was now set in, and as he thought it advisable to wait for aspring passage, when the St. Lawrence should be open, he settled amongus for the few months of his stay in Britain. As we said before, therespectable old man met with deference and attention from all ranksof society; and when spring returned, he was so satisfied with hisquarters, that he did not renew the purpose of his voyage. Janet wasafraid of the sea, and he himself felt the infirmities of age and hardservice more than he had at first expected. And, as he confessed to theclergyman, and my worthy principal, Mr. Cleishbotham, "it was betterstaying with kend friends, than going farther, and faring worse."

  He therefore established himself and his domicile at Gandercleugh, tothe great satisfaction, as we have already said, of all its inhabitants,to whom he became, in respect of military intelligence, and ablecommentaries upon the newspapers, gazettes, and bulletins, a veryoracle, explanatory of all martial events, past, present, or to come.

  It is true, the Sergeant had his inconsistencies. He was a steadyjacobite, his father and his four uncles having been out in theforty-five; but he was a no less steady adherent of King George, inwhose service he had made his little fortune, and lost three brothers;so that you were in equal danger to displease him, in terming PrinceCharles, the Pretender, or by saying anything derogatory to the dignityof King George. Further, it must not be denied, that when the day ofreceiving his dividends came round, the Sergeant was apt to tarry longerat the Wallace Arms of an evening, than was consistent with stricttemperance, or indeed with his worldly interest; for upon theseoccasions, his compotators sometimes contrived to flatter hispartialities by singing jacobite songs, and drinking confusion toBonaparte, and the health of the Duke of Wellington, until the Sergeantwas not only flattered into paying the whole reckoning, but occasionallyinduced to lend small sums to his interested companions. After suchsprays, as he called them, were over, and his temper once more cool, heseldom failed to thank God, and the Duke of York, who had made it muchmore difficult for an old soldier to ruin himself by his folly, than hadbeen the case in his young
er days.

  It was not on such occasions that I made a part of Sergeant MoreM'Alpin's society. But often, when my leisure would permit, I used toseek him, on what he called his morning and evening parade, on which,when the weather was fair, he appeared as regularly as if summoned bytuck of drum. His morning walk was beneath the elms in the churchyard;"for death," he said, "had been his next-door neighbour for so manyyears, that he had no apology for dropping the acquaintance." Hisevening promenade was on the bleaching-green by the river-side, wherehe was sometimes to be seen on an open bench, with spectacles onnose, conning over the newspapers to a circle of village politicians,explaining military terms, and aiding the comprehension of his hearersby lines drawn on the ground with the end of his rattan. On otheroccasions, he was surrounded by a bevy of school-boys, whom he sometimesdrilled to the manual, and sometimes, with less approbation on the partof their parents, instructed in the mystery of artificial fire-works;for in the case of public rejoicings, the Sergeant was pyrotechnist (asthe Encyclopedia calls it) to the village of Gandercleugh.

  It was in his morning walk that I most frequently met with the veteran.And I can hardly yet look upon the village footpath, overshadowed bythe row of lofty elms, without thinking I see his upright form advancingtowards me with measured step, and his cane advanced, ready to pay methe military salute--but he is dead, and sleeps with his faithful Janet,under the third of those very trees, counting from the stile at the westcorner of the churchyard.

  The delight which I had in Sergeant M'Alpin's conversation, relatednot only to his own adventures, of which he had encountered many in thecourse of a wandering life, but also to his recollection of numerousHighland traditions, in which his youth had been instructed by hisparents, and of which he would in after life have deemed it a kind ofheresy to question the authenticity. Many of these belonged to the warsof Montrose, in which some of the Sergeant's ancestry had, it seems,taken a distinguished part. It has happened, that, although these civilcommotions reflect the highest honour upon the Highlanders, being indeedthe first occasion upon which they showed themselves superior, or evenequal to their Low-country neighbours in military encounters, they havebeen less commemorated among them than any one would have expected,judging from the abundance of traditions which they have preserved uponless interesting subjects. It was, therefore, with great pleasure, thatI extracted from my military friend some curious particulars respectingthat time; they are mixed with that measure of the wild and wonderfulwhich belongs to the period and the narrator, but which I do not in theleast object to the reader's treating with disbelief, providing hewill be so good as to give implicit credit to the natural events of thestory, which, like all those which I have had the honour to put underhis notice, actually rest upon a basis of truth.