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A National Tale.
No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear,
In a dark and stormy night in November 17-, Ronald Macalbyn, a Scottish Highlander, left the hamlet of L- to cross the mountains to Glen-Albyn, a solitary and remote valley in the Western Highlands. In the person of Ronald were invested the various trades of blacksmith, farmer, distiller, and drover; and in the last capacity, he had just been attending a cattle fair, annually held at L as agent for the little community to which he belonged.
The leave of absence which Ronald had obtained from his wife was for one day; but at the fair he had met with many clansmen and old friends, and his social propensities were of the most ardent kind. It was on the evening of the third day that he reluctantly bent his way homeward, revolving some probable tale with which to appease the anticipated clamours of his help-mate. Like most of the procrastinating sons of mortality, Ronald had averted the evil day as long as possible. In the midst of his jollity, the idea of his wife had, indeed, intruded; but it still fled before the jests of Mr. Wingate, top-master to an English drover, and the pipe of “Piper Hugh;" or was drowned amid the quaighs of Fairntosh with which he laboured to keep his spirits buoyant.
It was now when alone, and exposed to the fury of the tempest, that all the terrors of the reception he expected congregated in dismal array before him; and the thunder* which broke on the surrounding mountains, rolling in long, deep peals through the
In the West Highlands thunder is very common in winter.
glens, and flining back on the stunned ear in awful reverberation, seemed but a faint emblem of the more dreaded moral thunders which thirty years' experience had taught Ronald to anticipate.
“Had she the heart of a Christian,” thought Ronald, “ let alone of a wife and namesake, she could not scold to-night;" and he rolled an additional wrapper round a fine plaid shawl which he had purchased at the fair as an offering of peace.
“Had she the soul of a Macalbyn, she would pity me.” And the next suggestion of Ronald's fancy appeared so like high treason against the powers that were, that he feared to give it a local habitation in his mind, much ore to embody it in words; for the laws recognised in his household, assimilating to those of the realm, made it death even to imagine evil of the supreme authority;
The tempest raged with increasing violence; and Ronald, leaving his track to the sagacity of his horse, continued to frame and reject a thousand plans for palliating his conduct, or averting its punishment, as he skirted the mountains.
"I will intreat old Moome to plead for me,” he exclaimed at last; and, delighted with this idea, he was urging on his horse, when the animal suddenly stopped short and refused to advance. Ronald, who could have faced an opposing host of his own species with an unblanched cheek, and found courage in danger, felt all the national awe and dread of beings of a superior nature. Now, it
wn to Ronald, that both horses and dogs can discover spirits invisible to human ken;-his wife had often assured him that his nocturnal rambles would tempt some supernatural visitant - he began to think his hour was come; and, in a voice that shook with terror, demanded, “if any one stopped the way." No answer was returned. He again attempted to make his horse proceed, but the animal was rooted to the spot; and, to confirm his worst fears, the dog began to howl most piteously. Ronald, nearly distracted with terror, shouted in a louder tone, and, mingled with the echoes of his own words, fancied he distinguished the faint murmurs of a female voice. His courage instantly revived, and, heartily ashamed of his fears, he alighted, and leading his horse forward a few paces, discovered a female leaning on a cliff by the side of the path.
“ 'Tis a sad night,” said Ronald, in Gaelic. “Are you a stranger, or a countrywoman? God help you! are you alone?” Ronald received no intelligible answer; and he repeated his observation and interrogatory in the best English he was master of.
“I am, indeed, alone,” said the female in a feeble voice; and Ronald inquired whither she was going;
“To the next hamlet,” she replied: "is it still far distant?"
"To Dunalbyn!" exclaimed Ronald; "then we shall go together; and if you can ride behind me, I give you a thousand welcomes." In a tremulous voice the wandering female returned her thanks, but declined his offer. Ronald would strip off his slip-on, and convert it into a pillion for her accommodation; this was likewise declined. “If she would ride alone, he would lead forward the horse.”
“I cannot indeed,” said she, earnestly; "when I have rested, I hope I shall be able to go on.”
Half petted by her peremptory refusal, Ronald remounted, and slowly rode off.
“It is a pitiful night for any Christian soul to be out and alone in the middle of Glenlenan,” said Ronald, addressing his roughcoated steed; "and that a woman, a stranger too,-English, or Irish, or Lowland,-a soldier's wife, I warrant, crossing the countries, poor thing, to Fort
Well, women are all alike positive. It will be three in the morning before she gets through the glen; and then, a mighty likely thing that Mr. Daniel M‘Pherson will open the New Inns to a soldier's wife: and then, the river to-night will be dreadfully swelled—the poor thing might be drowned.”.
These probabilities smote the simple, but humane heart of Ronald. “I will return, and at least tell her of the stepping stones,” thought he; "perhaps she is come to reason, and I will bring her home. She might be afraid to meet me in that lone place, I will tell her whose husband I am.”
Ronald, besides the courteous hospitality of the national, and the kindness of the individual character, had a third motive for pressing the stranger to accompany him to his home. He knew that his wife, to a violent temper, united a generous disposition; and that her anxiety to welcome and accommodate the stranger would divert the displeasure his lengthened stay must have occasioned. He retraced his steps.
“I am returned,” cried Ronald, as he again approached the wandering female, “to tell you that the stepping-stones are now removed to the pebbly shallow, where the old willow dips into the stream, by 'the Cairn of the Hunter.'
Ronald received no answer, but his ear caught a faint hollow moan, that seemed to announce the separation of body and spirit. He was instantly on his feet, and caught the unfortunate female in his arms, as she was sinking from an attempt to rise.
"Don't be afraid, poor soul,” said the kind-hearted Highlander, in a voice which instinctively softened to the expression of sympathy and encouragement; “ don't be afraid of me, I shall take good care of you.-Don't you know that I am Ronald,—the smith's wife's husband :"- -“Ronald's wife's husband” received no ans in a short time he learned that his wretched companion was seized with the pangs of child-birth.
For the love of God, I pray thee, have me conveyed to the shelter of some roof, and to the care of some female ; what a condition is mine!” and she shuddered with the mingled agony of body and spirit.
Ronald placed her gently under the shelter of a projecting cliff, stripped off his upper garments, and wrapped them around her ;even the new shawl was put in requisition;-for Roland, forgetting that he was—" his wife's husband,”—only remembered that he
The trampling of the horse's feet was the usual signal for Ronald's wife to commence her cannonade; but when she saw her husband, instead of his customary slow and hesitating mode of entrance, furiously dashing open the wattled door, she blessed
was a man.
herself, and vowed the man had seen a spirit. The wild, raised, and haggard appearance of Ronald, confirmed this conjecture, till, in a few incoherent sentences, he explained his adventure in Glenleran, and loudly called for blankets and dairy candles. The “weeping blood of woman's heart,” instantly warmed at the strange recital ; and, while Ronald got ready a kind of sledge, which, in a country where roads are impassable to wheeled carriages, was used for carrying stones, she had made every arrangement for conveying the wandering stranger to Dunalbyn.
And God grant that she may be alive,” said Ronald's wife, as, attended by his daughter, he was about to set out; and Ronald, who fancied her voice never sounded so sweetly as when tuned to the note of pity, ventured to shake her hand while he repeated her wish.
“Is she young?" inquired Mary, the daughter of Ronald, as they hastened forward.
“I should think so,” said Ronald, "some soldier's wife, I warrant. Ah! Mary, you see what it is to be the wife of a soldier!"
“Poor thing!” sighed Mary, starting forward involuntarily. A soldier's wife!"-and she darted away, unmindful that the dreary glen she entered was celebrated as the haunt of many a wayward ghost.
She is gone!” cried Mary, as Ronald approached with his sledge; we are too late to save her!” and she wept and trembled while she gently supported the stranger in her arms. A low moan, which seemed the last effort of expiring nature, broke from the lips of the wandering female. “She lives!”—cried Mary, with tremulous joy; and depositing her charge gently on the ground, she sprung into the sledge. Ronald placed the stranger in her
Oh, drive softly, very softly, my father. --Think you, is she indeed the wife of a soldier?”
She is a stranger at any rate,” replied Ronald ;—"and the claim of a stranger is to a Highlander only secondary to the right of a kinsman.”
Mary persevered in kind endeavours to impart vital warmth to the almost frozen frame of the wanderer, and to restore her to sensibility. A struggling sigh at times gave token of returning animation, but a deathlike stillness succeeding, would chill every hope. Mary listened with inbreathed expectation; and they reached Dunalbyn.
The heart of Ronald beat cheerily when he viewed the fire of turf and brushwood, which his wife's
humanity had heaped, blazing brightly in the centre of his hut. The good woman stepping to the door, bade them a cordial welcome; and Ronald lifted the stranger into the cottage, and recommending her to the care of his wife, retreated to the cellar ; for so is the second, or inner apartment of a Highland hut, where there happens to be a second, modestly named.
The clothes of the unfortunate stranger were drenched with rain. Mary undressed her, and they placed her in bed. She was made to swallow a small quantity of warmed milk, the only cordial the house afforded suitable to her condition, and in a short time she
perceptibly recovered. Her languid eyes met the earnest gaze of Mary:—"May God reward thy care of an unfortunate,” said she faintly.–Mary smiled, beckoned her to be still, and muttered a few words in Gaelic, which was her only language. The stranger understood not the exact meaning of these words; but her heart comprehended nature's universal language. Mary's kindness was eloquent, and the wanderer returned her thanks with a languid, though grateful smile. Ronald entered the apartment on tip-toe.
She is better,” cried Mary, smiling, and without waiting to be interrogated; “the soldier's poor wife is better.”
Now darling,” said Ronald, whispering his wife, -"you see plain it was God himself put it in my heart to stay so long at the fair-this poor soul else would have perished in Glenlenan.” Ronald, who had kept his eye anxiously fixed on the face of his wife while he made this observation, did not venture to hazard another, but quietly followed her back to the cellar, where, now that the stranger no longer needed her attentions, she set out his supper of milk, cheese, and potatoes. If ever a genuine Highlander knew the vulgar sensations of hunger, thirst, cold, or fatigue, it is certain that he never complained of them. Ronald, who, cold, wet, and weary, had waited his wife's leisure with a patience which in his own eyes had no merit, made a hurried and spare repast, and stretched himself, still in his wet clothes, upon his humble pallet, that, on any sudden emergency, he might be ready to obey the call of his wife, and administer to the comfort of the stranger.
Ronald had slept for some hours, and was actually dreaming of striking a bargain with Mr. Wingate for the Dunalbyn shotts at an advance of half-a-crown a head, when he was awakened by the feeble cry of a new-born infant.
"To Himself be the praise,” cried the pious Highlander; shall I go to the New Inns for a drop of wine to cherish her heart. -But if I could go to “The Lady,'--across the lake is but a half mile, and she would get it sooner.”—Ronald consulted his wife, who scoffed at the idea of disturbing “ The Lady.”
Now, Ronald, you make me ashamed,” said the indignant matron, " rather than go down the glen, and over the hill, and across the moor, you would be cruel enough to alarm your mistress.”—Ronald had never felt his clannish pride more bitterly insulted, than by the insinuation, that to spare himself the fatigue and danger of exploring six miles of Highland road, over mountains and mosses, in a dark winter morning, he would willingly alarm “The Lady.”-Few could feel how loved, how revered, was that “ Lady,” by all who boasted the name of Macalbyn!
“Now, God forgive you, woman,” said Ronald, his kindly feelings as much wounded as his clannish pride, “ for sure and sure you know I would shed my blood a thousand and a thousand times, rather than alarm her dog, if it had not been for the sake of the stranger.”—Ronald's wife was stung by a sense of her unkindness; but before she had time to apologize, he snatched up his brogues and his bonnet, and rushed from the house.
Before proceeding to the New Inns, he went to the door of a