Among such sights and sounds a boy was born, in February, 1629, at Kulchorn Castle, a pile of grey towers rising under the shadow of Ben Cruachan, on an island of Loch Awe. His mother was a Campbell. His father, who died before the boy was old enough to recollect him, was the eldest son of Cameron of Lochiel, one of the most famous of the Gaelic kings, a shrewd and fierce old chief, who for seventy years had lived amidst a whirl of wild adventures, and who had been long regarded with a double terror, partly as a warrior and partly as a seer. His ancestry went back, through times of history, into times of fable from a chief who fought for Mary at Corrichy, to a chief who fought for James at Flodden Field; from John of Ochtry, who bore at Halidon the bloody heart of Douglas, to that Angus who, three hundred years before, is said to have rescued Fleance from the vengeance of Macbeth. The old man desired to give his grandson a more courtly education than he had himself received; and Ewen, as the boy was called, was brought up by the Marquis of Argyle, who placed him, at the age of twelve, under a tutor of his own choice at Inverary. But Ewen had no taste for books; and too often his perceptor saw, in agony of spirit, his pupil rush away from spelling-books and grammars, to hunt foxes and red hares among the neighboring glens, to fill his creel with fish out of Loch Fyne, or to listen, for half a summers day together, to some tattered pilgrim, the Homer of the villages, who could pour forth endless stories of the ancient heroes of Wallace at the Brig of Stirling, of Bruce swimming from the bloodhound, of Black Donald's exploits over the Lords of the Isles, or of the vengeance of Allan-a-Sop. In spite, however, of his tutors lamentations, at sixteen Ewen was, in mind and body, worthy of his race; tall, well-built, fresh-colored, eagle-eyed; of that high temper to which dishonor is more terrible than death; and of the same innate sagacity which had so often made the enemies of his grandfather, who saw their plans outwitted, mutter that the old chief must have sold his soul to Satan.
While he was still at Inverary the old warrior died. Ewen, at sixteen, found himself the chieftain of his clan. He did not for some months, however, put on the eagles feather, or take command of his wild tribe among the hills. Argyle desired that he should go to Oxford. The marquis was about to make a journey into England. Donald Cameron, Ewens uncle, took, for the time, his nephews place as leader of the clan; and Lochiel, as he must now be called, set out among the men-at-arms who rode with Argyles carriage. The party never saw the oriels and quadrangles of the ancient city; but Lochiel, within the space of a few months, saw much stirring life, and gained a kind of knowledge which is very little to be learnt from deans and doctors. One of the first of his adventures might, however, very well have proved to be the last. At Stirling, where the party halted, the pestilence was raging. The utmost care was necessary. Argyle himself, with a prudence quite his own, refused to stir outside his coach. But when the party was about to start, Lochiel had disappeared. The marquis was in terror; squires and pages ran wildly up and down the city; and presently the object of this agitation was discovered affably conversing with the inmates of a hovel, ever one of whom had got the plague. At Berwick, where the party made a longer stay, Lochiel cheered the time by fighting duels in the streets with the gay youths of the city. But this amusement was soon interrupted. Montrose was marching into Fife, and Argyle was compelled to mount in haste and gallop at fall speed to Castle Campbell. That ancient pile, which stood in a wild glen among the Ochil hills, had once been known, together with its stream, by names of strange romantic sound. The castle had been Castle Gloom, and the waters which rolled past its walls, the waters of the stream of Grief. Within this ominous tower Lochiel had some experience of a siege. A fierce band of the Macleans attacked the fort. It was not taken; but the defenders showed themselves so little lion-hearted that Lochiel bluntly told the governor that his quaking poltroons deserved hanging, and himself among them. Then came, as in Othello's story, battles, fortunes, and disastrous chances. At Kilsyth, Lochiel saw Argyles trim troops fly like hares before the clansmen of Montrose. A month later, by a turn of fate, he formed part of that soft-footed band which stole upon Montrose at Philiphaugh, and started like ghosts out of the morning mist upon his sleepy camp.
Among the prisoners taken at that action was Sir Robert Spottiswood, an ancient friend of Lochiel's father, and of his grandfather before him. The old man was brought up for judgment at St. Andrews, and condemned to be beheaded. Lochiel, who was present at the trial, watched the proceedings with the keenest interest, and was, like all the rest of the spectators, struck with wonder and admiration at the calm and noble bearing of the prisoner, and by the moving eloquence of his defence. On the night before the execution he made his way to the cell door. The jailer had strict orders to admit no visitor. But Lochiel was the favorite of Argyle. The door opened, and he entered.
Before he left the cell Lochiel's whole destiny was altered. Sir Robert, finding him the son of his old friend, spoke with him long and earnestly about the cause for which he was condemned to suffer. He found a willing hearer. Lochiel was by natural bent a cavalier. In secret, Montrose had long been his hero. And his own sagacity had taught him that Argyle was false, cunning, and cold-hearted.
These things he now heard solemnly unpressed upon him by a voice which was no longer of this world. He left the cell at midnight, his heart beating, and the tears streaming from his eyes. The next morning, from a window opposite the scaffold, he saw the prisoner, with cheek still ruddy, and with eagle eyes that looked proudly on the crowd, mount the steps, and lay his grey head on the block. The death of a brave man confirmed his words. From that moment Lochiel determined to follow his own course, to cast off Argyle's authority, and to take, without delay, command of his wild kingdom on the uplands of Ben Nevis, and along the rocky ranges of Glen Roy.
Indeed, there were reasons why he should not linger. His uncle Donald had turned out a sluggard; and his clan, which had received some tidings of his character, were already looking for him eagerly. Argyle, finding his mind fixed, made no attempt to thwart him; and in December, 1646, Lochiel started for the Highlands. At the news of his approach his tribesmen mustered and marched out to meet him; and thus, with colors flying and pipes playing, he came to his ancestral residence, Torr Castle, on Loch Lochy. He was not yet quite eighteen.
And now the eyes of friends and of enemies were bent alike upon him. A chief, at the beginning of his reign, was virtually on his probation. His empire over his wild clansmen had to be established by his own capacity. A coward or a fool, set over that fierce host, was not regarded simply with contempt, but was fortunate if he escaped, to use Dalgetty's phrase, "a dirk-thrust in his wame." On the other hand, a great chief was the idol of his tribe. The minstrels were never weary of singing, nor the people weary of hearing, of the splendor of his rush to victory, or of the craft and skill with which he could stalk the wariest mountain stag, or thrust his spear into the fiercest wolf. But first his powers as a warrior and a hunter had to be set clear before all eyes. Lochiel had now to show what blood ran in his veins.
An opportunity was not likely to be wanting. The little kingdom of the clan Cameron was girdled on all sides by the estates of rival princes, Campbells, Stewarts, Gordons, Macintoshes, Macphersons, Macdonalds, and Macleans. Every one of these sovereigns was either at daggers drawn with all the rest, or ready at any moment to become so. No reader of "The Legend of Montrose" will have forgotten the gathering of the clans at the Castle of Darnlinvarach; the assembly of the chiefs, the fire glittering in the eyes, the dirks ready at every instant to fly out of the scabbards, the rival pipers strutting up and down, each piping for his life to drown the rest, the sleeping-quarters settled jealously apart, in the barn and the stables, the malt-kiln and the loft. Some of the feuds between the clans were as old as the quarrel on which, two centuries and a half before, Lochiel's ancestors and the ancestors of Macintosh had fought their immortal fight at Perth, in the days of the Fair Maid. Others were disputes of yesterday; and one of these Lochiel found ready to his hands.
Macdonald of Keppoch owed him a sum of money for a piece of moorland which he rented in Glen Roy. This was the same Keppoch who once, it is related, gained a curious wager from an English lord, as to which of them possessed the finest candlesticks. The Englishman's candlesticks were of massive silver; Keppoch's turned out to be two brawny Highlanders, each grasping in his fist a blazing torch. This wily potentate had speedily discovered that, against Lochiel's uncle, it was an easier policy to bluster than to pay; and on Lochiel's arrival he soothed his soul with the reflection, that against so young a leader that policy would certainly prove easier still. He soon found out his error. Before he knew it, Lochiel, with five hundred men behind him, was marching down on his domain. Keppoch, who began with his old policy of bluster, wavered, put his claymore back into its scabbard, and sent a herald with the money.
Lochiel, burning for battle, regarded such a victory with disgust. But he was soon to have his heart's desire. The Earl of Glencairn, after the defeat of Worcester, summoned the clans, as volunteers, to fight for their uncrowned king. Lochiel, with seven hundred claymores, was the first to join him. Then came adventures thick and fast. Wherever the thickest of the fighting fell, there was Lochiel with his seven hundred.
Glericairn had one evening pitched his camp at Tulluch, a village approached only by a steep and narrow pass, in which Lochiel was posted. A large force of the enemy was known to be at hand; but an immediate attack was not expected. On a sudden, in the twilight of the morning, the scouts came running in. The enemy were approaching in great numbers, evidently resolved to force their way through the ravine.
Lochiel, who had lain down on the heather, wrapped up in his plaid, was instantly aroused. The night was frosty, and a thin veil of mist hung above the valley. He climbed a lofty pinnacle of rock, from which he could plainly see the horses, the red coats, the glittering mail, and the dancing colors of the English soldiers. Lilburn himself was at their head. The peril was extreme; for their mere numbers were, in open ground, sufficient to cut Glencairn's entire force to pieces. Lochiel sent off a messenger to warn the general to retire into a place of safety. Then he prepared to hold the way to his last man.
Scarcely had he set his force in order, when the enemy dashed gaily forward, confident of victory. They found themselves confronted by a grim array of targets, behind each of which a savage soldier, armed with a glittering claymore, was quivering like a greyhound in the leash. Twenty times the horsemen charged that wall of warriors and twenty times went reeling back, stabbed, hacked, and broken. Lochiel himself fought in front of his array; and at every charge his voice was heard, above the clash of battle, sending forth the slogan. Four hours passed in desperate conflict; and still the little band held fast the gorge against the most furious efforts of the English.
At last, when the men were weary, drenched in blood, and weak with wounds and bruises, a herald came from Glencairn. He had retired into a swamp, some two miles distant, where it was impossible that a horse could follow, and was now in perfect safety.
Lochiel instantly drew off his men. But he retreated, not towards the village, but up the sides of the ravine, where nothing but a cat-o'-mountain or a Highlander could cling. Lilburn, to his amazement, found the enemy suddenly above his head, and the passage through the gorge left open. He pushed forward at full speed; but Glencairn was now safe beyond his reach; and he was compelled at last, to his extreme vexation, to drag his horses from the quag, and to march back through the pass. There, as his tormented troopers made their way, every boulder, every heather-tuft, along the walls of the ravine, seemed to have turned itself into an enemy shooting an arrow, or hurling down a stone; and with every stone and arrow came the notes of a terrific chant: -
Wolves and ravens, come to me, and I will give you flesh!
It was the war-song of Lochiel.
This exploit raised his glory to a great height. For every man he lost, the enemy lost six. Glencairn welcomed him as a deliverer; and not long afterwards the king himself sent him a letter, which acknowledged in the warmest terms the signal service which his valor had rendered to the royal cause. But as yet his fame was only in its dawn.
Monk marched into Scotland. It was that generals policy to fight with gold as often as with steel. He tried to bribe Lochiel; but on his blunt refusal, he resolved to plant a fortress in the heart of his domains. Lochiel received intelligence that five ships, carrying three thousand soldiers and a colony of workmen, were sailing up Loch Eil towards Ben Nevis.
He instantly marched homewards along the mountain ranges, and looked down on Inverlochy. The ships were riding off the shore, the troops were landed, the garrison was already fortified against all danger, and the fort was rising fast. To attack them would have been mere madness, and Lochiel was forced to lie in watch for an opportunity of avenging their presumption. With thirty-five picked men he posted himself upon the woody heights above Achdalew, having the lake and the garrison beneath his eye. His men were grievously in want of forage; and he was compelled to send out the remainder of his party to drive in cattle from some distance round.
The men were scarcely gone, when a boat belonging to the garrison put forth upon the lake, and stood over the water to the shore beneath him. A hundred and fifty soldiers were on board. Their purpose was to strip the village and to cut down wood. Lochiel resolved that they should not touch a girdle-cake or break a twig. His men were ready to follow him through any peril. But the risk of an attack was fearful; the enemy were more than four to one against them; and they besought him not to expose his life to such a hazard. Lochiel replied that if he fell, his brother Allan, who was with them, would take his place as chief. But the lives of both must not be jeopardized; and Allan positively refused to be left out of the adventure. It was found necessary, for his own security, to lash him to tree, where he was left under the guard of a young boy. And then the little band prepared for the attack.
By this time the English soldiers had landed, and were busy in the village, stripping the hovels of eatables and putting the ducks and the hens into their sacks. While they were thus employed, a scout dashed in among them. They had scarcely time to draw up in rough order on the shore, when Lochiel at the head of his party came rushing out of the wood upon their ranks.
A desperate fight ensued. The English had a vast superiority of numbers. But the first fire of their muskets did no injury; and before they could reload, the enemy were among them. The clansmen, after their manner, caught the sword-cuts and the bayonets on their targets, and stabbed upwards from beneath them; and the English, thus fighting at great disadvantage, were slowly driven down the strand into the water.
Lochiel himself had driven three or four assailants into the wood, where after a sharp contest he had left them lying in a heap. He was returning at full speed towards the shore, eager to rejoin his men, when a gigantic officer, who had concealed himself in a thicket, sprang out upon him with a cry of vengeance. Their blades were instantly opposed. And then came a combat which, under a slight disguise, was destined to become famous over all the world. It was the fight between Fitz-James and Roderick Dhu. The parts of the Gael and the Saxon are, however, interchanged. Lochiel is the Fitz-James the officer is Roderick Dhu. With this fact borne in mind, the words of the great wizard set the fight before our eyes: -
Three times in closing strife they stood,
Fierce Roderick felt the fatal drain,
"Now yield thee, or by Him that made
Lochiel and his antagonist, however, fell not on soft heather. Locked in the deadly conflict, they tottered, wavered, and rolled together down a steep bank into the dry gulley of a brook. Lochiel, who was undermost, wedged between rocks, and crushed against the pebbles by the weight of his huge foe, was unable to stir hand or foot. But as his enemy stretched forth his hand to reach his dagger, which had fallen out of his belt, Lochiel, with a last effort, darted his head upwards and fixed his teeth in his opponent's throat. He fell back, writhing, and Lochiel stabbed him with his dirk.
Unwounded from the dreadful close,
But his adventures were not ended.
As he was issuing from the wood, a soldier, who was skulking in the thicket, levelled his musket at him through the branches, and in another instant would have shot him dead. A true deus ex machind saved him. While he had been engaged with his opponent, his brother Allan, who had been left lashed, in fancied safety, to the tree, had bribed the boy who attended him to cut his cords. At this instant he came running up, and espying the musket-barrel peeping from the bush, instantly fired his own piece in that direction. The soldier tumbled dead into the thicket, and the brothers hurried down the shore together.
The combatants, who were now of almost equal numbers, were fighting in the water. Lochiel, in a loud voice, offered quarter to all who would throw down their arms. The offer was accepted; and both parties began to wade ashore. Among the first to surrender was an Irishman, who must have been a fellow of delightful humor. As soon as this worthy felt himself on land, he cast down his weapon, seized Lochiel's hand in a friendly grasp, bade him adieu, and was off like the wind. Before the victors had done staring at one another he was half-way back to Inverlochy.
He reached the fort in safety, with the tidings of the fray. His escape was narrower than he imagined. While he was turning his hearers into stone with horror, his late companions were in evil plight. Lochiel's offer of quarter had been accepted; the men were laying down their arms; when one of their party, who had swum out to the boat, found there a loaded firelock. He rested the barrel on the gun-wale, and aimed deliberately at Lochiel. Lochiels foster-brother, who stood beside him, saw the action. He threw himself before his chief, and the next instant was shot through the heart.
His blood was instantly and bitterly avenged. Lochiel himself, with his sword between his teeth, dashed through the water to the boat, and drove his blade into the assassin's heart. There was no more thought of mercy. The English soldiers snatched up their arms and fought with desperation for their lives. But the mountaineers, breathing forth vengeance, cut them down to the last man.
That night Lochiel himself bore in his arms the body of his preserver, over three miles of crags and moorlands, to the dead man's home among the hills; and there the coronach which was wailed above his bier, ere he was laid among the graves of his own people, doubtless had in it as much of pride as of sorrow, as for one who had died for his chief.
And now the fight was over a fight of which the incidents of self-devotion, of single combat, of hairs-breadth escapes, of victory achieved against appalling odds, resemble some wild fable of romantic story rather than events of history. The whole of the English force, except a single fugitive, lay dead upon the shore or in the wood. Lochiel, though nearly all his band were bruised and wounded, had only lost five men.
Some of his wild warriors had that day set eyes for the first time on Saxon soldiers. There was a singular superstition in the Highlands, often muttered by the ancient wives, that an Englishman in one respect was like a monkey; and it is recorded that, after the battle, the conquerors were to be seen inspecting the dead bodies with lively curiosity, and breaking forth into cries of disappointment because they had no tails!
Next morning Colonel Bryan, the governor of the garrison, marched out two thousand soldiers, thirsting for revenge. In vain. He could see the Camerons on the lofty crags, their colors flying, and their bagpipes yelling in triumph; but he could no more reach them than if they had had wings. On the other hand, wherever parties of his men were to be seen, the mountaineers came swooping from the hills, attacked them, slew them, and rose again, uninjured, like a flight of eagles, into their wild heights and inaccessible ravines. For some days this war went on. But Lochiel, who could no longer absent himself from the main army, at last drew off his men. The colonel instantly told off a strong troop to pursue him. The man who took Lochiel, alive or dead, was to receive promotion and a bag of gold.
Lochiel marched by day over the mountain ranges, and slept by night upon the heather, or in the little shealings, made of turf and branches, which the mountain shepherds build on the bare moors. In one of these he lay one night among the hills of Braemar. No enemy was known to be at hand; and the watch was kept with negligence. In the dead of night an apparition stood beside him. It was the figure of a small, red-bearded man, with troubled features and wild eyes, who struck the sleeper on the breast, and bade him instantly arise. Lochiel awoke, and gazed about him; but he could see nothing, and soon fell asleep once more. Immediately the figure reappeared, and awoke him with the same alarming cry. Lochiel, in some amazement, roused his henchman, who lay beside him. The man had seen no visitor; and Lochiel for the third time sunk to slumber. But now the ghost, appearing with an angry aspect, struck him more sharply than before, and cried in a compelling voice, "Arise, arise, Lochiel!" With the accents ringing in his ears, Lochiel sprang up and looked forth at the doorway of the cabin. To his unspeakable surprise, the moor was covered with the red coats of English soldiers. His pursuers had stolen between his outposts, and were creeping up to seize him in his sleep.
Whoever the red-bearded ghost might be, he certainly came through the gate of horn. His warning was delivered just in time. Lochiel instantly dashed out of the hut, and favored by the dusky light of morning, got clear away among the trackless hills. His men soon gathered round him; but two or three were missing; and Lochiel, moreover, had lost all his baggage, in which were some unset diamonds, and a dozen silver spoons engraven with the ten commandments.
He joined his allies without misadventure. But the campaign was nearly over; and he was soon at liberty to revisit his old foes. He marched back in deep secrecy to Inverlochy. It chanced that on the day of his arrival about a hundred of the officers were celebrating his absence by holding a hunting-party in his forests, and killing his red deer. They were destined to enjoy, that day, the excitement both of the hunter and of the game. In the midst of their amusement Lochiel came suddenly upon them, hunted them out of the forest, and left only ten of them alive.
Nor did he confine himself to Inverlochy. Some days later three colonels, with their guards and servants, who had been sent out to survey the country, were drinking their wine at evening in their inn at Portuchrekine. The door was well guarded; no danger was thought possible; when suddenly the party were electrified to perceive a hole appear among the rafters of the roof. Through the hole Lochiel, with a string of men behind him, came tumbling into the room. In a moment he had made every man of them a prisoner. They were conducted, under the darkness of the night, to the shores of Loch Ortuigg, where a boat was waiting, and were lodged in a crazy cabin on an island in the middle of the lake. Except for their lodgings, however, they had little to complain of. Their servants were permitted to attend them; and every day, as long as they were prisoners, their table was loaded with venison and wild-fowl. Lochiel, though an appalling enemy, was, after the ancient Highland manner, a host of the most lofty courtesy; and he chose to consider his captives as his guests.
His enemies were, by this time, eager to buy peace. Every chief in Scotland, himself excepted, had now submitted to the Protector, and had been compelled to take an oath of fealty to the State. Lochiel alone received an intimation, that on passing his bare word to fight no longer for Prince Charles, he should receive full compensation for all injuries, and be left, for the future, in undisturbed possession of his lands. These conditions as glorious to his fame as any feat of arms Lochiel accepted. At the head of his clan, he marched to the garrison at Inverlochy. The treaty was ratified; and Lochiel found himself at peace.
His name was now renowned all over Scotland. And his appearance was worthy of his name. He had now attained to his full growth. His figure was six feet high, slender, yet of amazing strength. His face was eminently handsome. His swarthy skin, and his dark and piercing eyes, caused him to be known throughout the country by the title of Black Ewen. In nobility of bearing he was said, in after years, to present a striking likeness to Louis the Fourteenth. The resemblance, however, must have been rather in impression than in reality; for the majestic Frenchman, in spite of a towering periwig, and shoes with heels like stilts, could hardly have come up to Lochiel's shoulder.
And now, for a time, the claymore was put back into the scabbard. The war-pipes were to warble the gay strains of peace. The wild pibroch was to change to wedding reels. Lochiel was to be married.
His bride was a beautiful Macdonald - a daughter of the lofty house whose chieftains had, for many ages, been known by the proud title of the Lords of the Isles. The wedding was long remembered for its splendor, for the brilliance of the company who gathered to the feast, and who danced from night to morning to the joyous skirling of the pipes. Among the merry-makers was one ancient minstrel, who had made a pilgrimage of many miles, that he might add to the festivities the humble tribute of his song. A version of the Gaelic ditty which he sang before the guests is still extant. It is an amusing specimen of the simplicity of art. The singer, having extolled the virtues of the chiefs, leads, by a deft transition, to the loss of three cows which had befallen himself, and for lack of which, he sighs, he fears that he shall be reduced to feed on grass. Lochiel presented the performer, who in point of poverty, at least, seems to have been the equal of most poets, from Homer downwards, with three fresh cows from his own stock. The company filled his sporran with silver pieces. And hills and valleys echoed with thanksgivings, as the joyful bard departed.
Up to this point we have traced Lochiels career with some minuteness. The course of events between his marriage and the battle of Killiecrankie may pass more rapidly before us.
In times of peace, among the ancient Highlands, vast hunting parties took the place of war. The wolves, that once had prowled in mighty packs among the mountains, were by no means yet extinct. Twenty years later, Lochiel himself drove his spear into the ribs of the last wolf that howled in Scotland; but at this time numbers of the fierce beasts were to be found, and provided a dangerous and exciting sport. Lochiel's hunting parties soon grew famous. They were varied by occasional campaigns against the neighboring clans. He marched against Macintosh. He fought with the Macleans against the Campbells. In 1660, when Monk declared his pleasure that the king should enjoy his own again, Lochiel marched with Monk to London, rode at his side on the day of the triumphal entry, was presented, kissed the kings hand, and might, as it appears, have had the bliss of holding the king's stirrup, had he not lacked grievously the courtiers art of thrusting himself forward. It was not, however, from the merry monarch that Lochiel was destined to receive the most distinguished marks of favor, but from James, then Duke of York.
In 1682 some villagers of Lochiel were seized and brought for trial to Edinburgh, on the charge of having killed two soldiers, who had attempted to drive off cattle from the village, and who had caused the death of an old woman, to whom the herd belonged. Thither Lochiel repaired to answer for his men. The duke happened to be visiting the city; and Lochiel, who waited on him, was most graciously received. The duke talked long with him about his exploits in the royal cause, and finally demanded Lochiel's sword. Lochiel chanced to be wearing, at the time, an ornamental rapier, such as he never used in actual fighting. He handed his weapon to James, who attempted to draw it; but the blade, which had grown rusty, would not stir. Lochiel's weapon, said the duke, with a smile, has not often stuck in its scabbard when the royal cause required it. Then, as Lochiel, with a slight effort, drew the blade himself, "See, my lords," he continued, turning to the crowd of courtiers who stood round, "the sword of Lochiel obeys no hand except his own!" And with this extremely graceful speech he took the rapier, made Lochiel kneel down, struck him on the shoulder with the blade, and bade him rise up Sir Ewen.
The courtiers who were present at this ceremony smiled so affably that Lochiel believed himself to be among a host of friends. No sooner, however, had the duke departed than some of these, bursting with envy, pushed on the case against his villagers with the most bitter vigor. The culprits would certainly have been doomed to dangle in a row, had not Lochiel, who had no mind to see his clansmen hanged to spite himself, set his own wits against his enemies. He hired a band of pot-companions to pick acquaintance with the most dangerous of the witnesses against him. These genial spirits earned their pay. On the morning of the trial the witnesses were discovered, after a long search, snoring under a table covered with bottles. No effort could erect them on their legs. The case was dismissed for want of evidence, and Lochiel returned in triumph to Lochaber.
Strategy was, indeed, as native to his character as a feat of arms. In 1685 the sheriff of Inverness was charged by the Council to hold assizes in the Highlands. In the course of his circuit he came into Lochaber, attended by a guard of six or seven hundred men. Lochiel, incensed that any but himself should dare to exercise authority in his domains, marched to the court with five hundred of his followers. These he professed were intended as a band of honor to the judge; but he had dropped a broad hint in the ears of two or three of his most turbulent spirits: "This judge will ruin us all. Is there none of my lads so clever as to get up a tumult, and send him packing? I have seen them raise mischief at less need." His listeners, eager to seize the least sign of his pleasure, caught up the words in a moment.
The sheriff was sitting; the court was crowded to the doors; when on a sudden, no one could say where, a blow was struck, a scuffle arose, and in two minutes the place was ringing with uproar and dazzling with the gleam of swords. The sheriff, frightened out of his wits, threw himself on the protection of Lochiel; and Lochiel, with much loyal parade, escorted him out of the country, into which he never ventured to set his foot again. To add the last touch to the comedy, the sheriff regarded Lochiel as the preserver of his life, and commended his name to the Council, who sent him a letter of thanks!
But although Lochiel permitted no rival not even the kings representative to usurp his authority, he was ready at all times to fight for the king. When Dundee summoned the clans for his last venture, it was from Lochiel's castle that the fiery crosses took their flight. His part in the campaign that followed is one of the well-known events of history. No reader of Scott or of Macaulay will have forgotten how his voice induced the Council to give battle; how, before the fight, he drew from every Cameron an oath to conquer or to perish; and how his onset whirled the red-coats, in a torrent, down the gorge of Killiecrankie.
He had never led his men except to victory and such a victory was the fitting crown of his career. And at this point we must leave him. After the battle he retired into his kingdom, where he lived, taking no further active part in public matters, till 1719, when he died of fever. But, with the exception of a few vague glimpses, we have no record of his later years. In truth, in this point, as in others, he resembles the ancient hero to whom he has been likened. We know little more of the old age of Lochiel than of the old age of Ulysses.
Nevertheless, his character, his picturesque and striking figure, are as distinct to us as those of any hero of history or romance. The Ulysses of the Highlands! The title is no freak of fancy. There is no act, no exploit, of the Ithacan, which will not perfectly well suit the character of Lochiel. Nothing is easier than to picture him among the scenes of Homer; to see him, in the minds eye, rising in the hushed assembly of the Grecian kings, whirling in his chariot along the banks of the Scamander, emerging like a phantom from the wooden horse, plunging the burning brand into the eye of the Cyclops, or scheming how to sail in safety past the perilous islands where the Sirens were singing on the shingle, among the bones of men. Strength, courage, fiery vigor, a sagacity which was never to be found at fault such was the character of the ancient wanderer. And such was the character of Lochiel.