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A Tradition of Lochaber
by Mary Cameron Mackellar
Celtic Magazine
December 1883

On the banks of the River Spean, and nearly opposite Keppoch, stands the farm house of "Inch" - "Tigh na h-Innse."  At the time of which I write, the tacksman of this place was Ronald MacDonald, a cadet of the house of Keppoch.  He was a brave young fellow, of a most soldierlike appearance, and of a high and noble spirit.  He fell in love with the daughter of the chief of the MacMartin Camerons of Letterfinlay, "Eili na Leitreach" - as she was called - and the maiden responded to his affection with her whole heart.  MacMartin, however, made an excuse of her extreme youth to delay their betrothal, but Ronald feared that the father was hoping to get a richer suitor for his beautiful daughter.

One day Ronald was out deerstalking, and towards night, when preparing to return home, he heard a woman's shriek on the mountain side.  The men who were with him got frightened, thinking it was the cry of the "Bean-Shith," but Ronald knew the voice of his beloved.  "Follow me," he cried hastily to his men, and before many minutes were over he overtook a gentleman of the clan Mackintosh, accompanied by some of his followers, carrying off Eili, who shortly before had utterly refused his offer of marriage.  Ronald fought like a hero, and at last delivered his beloved from the rough hands that held her in bondage; she clung to him in gladness and joy; together they returned to her father's house, and as soon as Eili was in safety, he fell fainting on the floor.  His brow had been cut in the most dreadful manner, and the blood streaming from the wound had been blinding him all the way down the hill, although he had said nothing to the maiden about it.  He lay ill for a long time after, in Letterfinlay House, and when he returned home to Inch, he took his bride with him.  She could not bear to be again separated from him, and her father admitted that he had nobly earned her.

The young pair were as happy as such lovers could be, and before they were married a year a daughter was born to them.  Shortly after the birth of their child, Ronald found he had to go to the south on business, and though he felt sorry to be even so short a time parted from his wife, he cheered her with hopes of a speedy return.  A young relative of his own, named Coll, was standing, holding the infant in his arms, as Ronald left the house.  "If I do not return, whether will you marry my wife or my daughter?" asked Ronald laughingly.  "Both perhaps," replied the lad.  The time appointed for his return came, but no Ronald, and for many a weary night Eili sat up waiting to hear his well-known foot approaching the house, but all in vain.  Months passed and years rolled on, but he came not, and then they ceased to expect him.  Coll remained at Inch, faithful always to the lady and her young daughter, protecting them in every possible way.

Macintosh began to make proposals again to Eili; she felt sorely afraid of him, and as a protection against him, as well as to reward Coll, she made up her mind rather to marry her faithful friend who had managed everything so well for her during the years of her desolation.  Her daughter was now upwards of fifteen years of age, and needed a guardian who could act with the authority of a father.  The marriage was duly arranged, and all their mutual friends thought it was a very wise step for both to take.  On the wedding day a wearied traveler came to the district, and on calling for a glass of water at a house by the roadside, he was told of the cause for the appearance of festivity about the house of Inch, when he said the following words, which have been handed down: -
"Chunnaic mi smùid do thigh na h-Innse,
'S bha mi cinnteach gu'r smùid bhainns'i,
'S tha mi 'n duil a Righ na Soillse,
Gur ann leams' tha biadh na bainnse."

He went on to the house and asked for food, which was placed before him in abundance.  He inquired if the marriage ceremony was over, and he was told that it was.  Then he said - "Will you ask the bride to do me the grace of giving me a glass of whisky out of her own hand, and I will give her my blessing."  The bride came, still looking youthful and lovely.  She filled the glass, and gave it to the stranger, who rose, and stood looking at her in silence, as if preparing to say words that refused to come.  He took off his bonnet, and running his fingers through his hair exposed his brow.  The lady looked, and saw the mark of the gash that had been made on her husband's brow on the night on which he had saved her from Mackintosh.  She looked into his eyes, and crying aloud, "My darling, my darling," she fell on his bosom.  It soon became known to the guests that the marriage ceremony of the morning was null and void, and no one was better pleased at the return of the long lost one than the generous-hearted Coll.  "Come here my friend," said Ronald, "you cannot have my wife.  I have, however, heard to-day of your faithfulness, and you shall have my daughter."  The priest was called forthwith, and Coll was married to young Mariot, who had secretly loved him, and sorrowed over his marriage to her mother.  "By my garment," cried Ronald, "you kept your word.  You said if I did not return you would marry both my wife and daughter, but it was too bad to marry them both on the same day."

Ronald never told what kept him away those fifteen years.  It was known that a tale of wrong and suffering could be related about his absence, and that Mackintosh was to blame for it.  If Ronald would tell all, he said, the fiery cross would be out at once to gather the Macdonalds to avenge his wrongs; and having got home again he wished to live a life of peace.  The happy pair had several children after that, and their grandchildren and their own played together round the same hearth in peace and happiness.