Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine

The following is from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine:

The Curse of Glencoe

By B. Simmons

The tale that follows is founded upon an incident that occurred some little time before the American War, to Colonel Campbell of Glenlyon, whose grandfather, the Laird of Glenlyon, was the officer in King William's service who commanded at the slaughter of the Macdonalds of Glencoe. The anecdote is told in Colonel David Stewart's valuable history of the Highland Regiments. Edin 1822

The fair calm eve on wood and wold
          Shone down with softest ray,
Beneath the sycamore's red leaf
          The mavis trill'd her lay,
Murmur'd the Tweed afar, as if
          Complaining for the day.

And evening's light, and wild-bird's song,
          And Tweed's complaining tune;
And far-off hills, whose restless pines
          Were beckoning up the moon—
Beheld and heard, shed silence through
          A lofty dim saloon.

The fruits of mellow autumn glow'd
          Upon the ebon board;
The blood that grape of Burgundy
          In other days had pour'd,
Gleam'd from its crystal vase—but all
          Untasted stood the hoard.

Two guests alone sat listlessly
          That lavish board beside;
The one a fair-haired stripling, tall,
          Blithe-brow'd and eager-ey'd,
Caressing still two hounds in leash,
          That by his chair abide.

Right opposite, in musing mood,
          A stalwart man was placed,
With veteran aspect, like a tower
          By war, not time, defaced,
Whose shatter'd walls exhibit Power
          Contending still with Waste.

And as the ivy's sudden veil
          Will round the fortress spring,
Some grief unfading o'er that brow
          Its shadow seemed to fling,
And made that stalwart man's whole air
          A sad and solemn thing.

And so they sat, both Youth and Years,
          An hour without a word—
The pines that beckon'd up the moon
          Their arms no longer stirr'd,
And through the open windows wide
          The Tweed alone was heard.

The elder's mood gave way at last,
          Perhaps some sudden whine
Of the lithe quest-hounds startled him,
          Or timepiece striking nine;
"Fill for thyself, forgotten Boy,"
          He said, "and pass the wine."

"A churlish host I ween am I
          To thee, who, day by day,
Thus comest to cheer my solitude
          With converse frank and gay,
Or tempt me with thy dogs to course
          The moorlands far away.

"But still the fit returns"—he paused,
          Then with a sigh resumed,
"Remember'st thou how once beneath,
          Yon chestnut, when it bloom'd,
Thou ask'd'st me why I wore the air
          Of spirit disentomb'd;

"And why, apart from man, I chose
          This mansion grim and hoary,
Nor in my ancient lineage seem'd,
          Nor ancient name, to glory?
I shunn'd thy questions then—now list,
          And thou shalt hear the story—

"With a brief preface, and thro' life
          Believe its warning true—
That they who (save in righteous cause)
          Their hands with blood imbrue—
Man's sacred blood—avenging heaven
          Will long in wrath pursue.

"A curse has fallen upon my race;
          The Law once given in fire,
While Sinai trembled to its base,
          That curse inflicted dire,
TO VISIT STILL UPON THE SON,
          THE OFFENCES OF THE SIRE.

"My fathers strong, of iron hand,
          Had hearts as iron hard,
That never love nor pity's touch,
          From ruthless deeds bebarr'd.
And well they held their Highland glen,
          Whatever factions warr'd.

"When Stuart's great but godless race
          Dissolved like thinnest snow
Before bright Freedom's face, my clan,
          The Campbells, served their foe.
—Boy—'twas my grandsire" (soft he said)
          "Commanded at Glencoe."

The stripling shrank, nor quite suppress'd
          His startled bosom's groan;
Forward and back the casements huge
          By sudden gust were blown,
And at the sound one dreaming hound
          Awaken'd with a moan.

"Glencoe—ay, well the word may stir,
          The stoutest heart with fear,
Or burn with monstrous shame the face
          Of man from year to year,
As long as Scotland's girdling rocks
          The roar of seas shall hear.

"Enough—Glenlyon redly earn'd
          The curse he won that night,
When rising from the social hearth
          He gave the word to smite,
And all was shriek and helplessness,
          And massacre and flight.

"And such a flight!—O, outraged Heaven,
          How could'st thou, since, have smiled?
A fathom deep the frozen snow
          Lay horrid on the wild,
Where fled to perish youth and age,
          And wife and feeble child.

"My couch is soft—yet dreams will stil
          Convert that couch to snow,
And in my slumbers shot and shout
          Are ringing from Glencoe."
That stalwart man arose and paced
          The chamber to and fro,
While to his brow the sweat-drop sprung
          Like one in mortal throe.

* * * * *

"Glenlyon died, be sure, as die
          All desperate men of blood,
And from my sire (his son) our lands
          Departed sod by sod,
Till the sole wealth bequeathed me was
          A mother fearing God.

"She rear'd me in that holy fear,
          In stainless honour's love,
And from the past she warned me,
          Whate'er my fate should prove,
To shrink from bloodshed as a sin.
          All human sins above.

"I kept the precept;—by the sword
          Compell'd to win me bread,
A soldier's life of storm and strife
          For forty years I led,
Yet ne'er by this reluctant arm
          Has friend or foeman bled.

"But still I felt Glencoe's dark curse
          My head suspended o'er,
—Look, this reluctant hand, for all,
          Is red with human gore!"
Again that white-lipp'd man arose
          And strode the echoing floor.

* * * * *

"A prosperous course through life was mine
          On rampart, field, and wave,
Though more my warrior skill than deeds,
          Command and fortune gave.
Years roll'd away, and I prepared
          To drop the weary glaive.

"'Twas when beyond th' Atlantic foam,
          To check encroaching France,
Our war spread wide, and, on his tide,
          In many a martial glance,
St Lawrence saw grey Albyn's plumes
          And Highland pennons dance.

"E'en while I waited for the Chief,
          By whom relieved at last,
Heart-young, though time-worn, I was free
          To hail my country's blast—
That on a sentry, absent found,
          The doom of death was pass'd.

"POOR RONALD BLAIR! a fleeter foot
          Ne'er track'd through Morvern moss
The wind-hoof'd deer; nor swimmer's arm
          More wide the surge could toss
Than his, for whom dishonour's hand
          Now dug the griesly fosse.

"Suspicion of those hunter tribes,
          Along whose giant screen
Of shadowy woods our host encamp'd,
          The early cause had been
Of rule, that none of Indian race
          Should come our lines within.

"The law was kept, yet, far away,
          Amid the forests' glade,
The fair-hair'd warriors of the North
          Woo'd many a dusky maid,
Who charm'd, perhaps, not less because
          In Nature's garb array'd.

"And warm and bright as southern night,
          When all is stars and dew,
Was that dark girl, who, to the banks,
          Where lay her light canoe,
Lured Ronald's footsteps, day by day,
          What time the sun withdrew.

"Far down the stream she dwelt, 'twould seem,
          Yet stream nor breeze could bar
Her little boat, that to a nook,
          Dark with the pine-tree's spar,
Each evening Ronald saw shoot up
          As constant as a star.

"Alone she came—she went alone:—
          She came with fondest freight
Of maize and milky fruits and furs
          Her lover's eyes to greet;
She went—ah, 'twas her bosom then,
          Not bark, that bore the weight!

"How fast flew time to hearts like theirs!
          The ruddy summer died,
And Arctic frosts must soon enchain
          St. Lawrence' mighty tide;
But yet awhile the little boat
          Came up the river-side.

"One night while from their northern lair
          With intermittent swell,
The keen winds grumbled loud and long,
          To Ronald's turn it fell
Close to the shore to keep the lines,
          A lonely sentinel.

"'Twas now the hour was wont to bring
          His Indian maid; and hark!
As constant as a star it comes,
          That small love-laden bark,
It anchors in the cove below—
          She calls him through the dark.

"He dared not answer, dared not stir,
          Where Discipline had bound him;
Nor was there need—led by her heart
          The joyous girl has found him;
She understands it not, nor cares,
          Her raptured arms are round him.

"He kiss'd her face—he breathed low
          Those brook-like, murmuring words
That, without meaning, speak out all
          The heart's impassion'd chords,
The truest language human lip
          To human lip affords.

"He pointed towards the distant camp,
          Her clasping arms undid,
And show'd that till the morrow's sun
          Their meeting was forbid;
She went—her eyes in tears—he call'd,
          And kiss'd them from the lid.

"She went—he heard her far below
          Unmoor her little boat;
He caught the oars' first dip that sent
          It from the bank afloat;
Next moment, down the tempest swept
          With an all-deafening throat.

"Loud roar'd the storm, but louder still
          The river roar'd and rose,
Tumbling its angry billows, white
          And huge as Alpine snows;
Yet clear through all, one piercing cry
          His heart with terror froze.

"She shrieks, and calls upon the name
          She learn'd to love him by;
The waves have swamp'd her little boat—
          She sinks before his eye!
And he must keep his dangerous post,
          And leave her there to die!

"One moment's dreadful strife—Love wins;
          He plunges in the water;
The moon is out, his strokes are stout,
          The swimmer's arm has caught her,
And back he bears, with gasping heart,
          The Forest's matchless daughter!

"'Twas but a chance!—her life is gain'd,
          And his is gone—for, lo!
The picquet round has come, and found,
          Left open to the foe,
The dangerous post that Ronald kept
          So short a time ago.

"They met him bearing her—he scorn'd
          To palter or to plead:
Arrested—bound—ere beat of drum,
          The Judgment-court decreed
That Ronald Blair should with his life
          Pay forfeit for his deed.

"He knew it well—that deed involved
          Such mischief to the host,
While prowling spy and open foe
          Watch'd every jealous post,
That, of a soldier's crimes, it call'd
          For punishment the most.

"On me, as senior in command,
          The charge I might not shun
Devolved, to see the doom of death
          Upon the culprit done.
The place—a league from camp; the hour—
          The morrow's evening sun.

"Meanwhile some touches of the tale
          That reach'd the distant tent
Of Him who led the war in Chief,
          Won justice to relent.
That night, in private, a REPRIEVE
          Unto my care was sent,

"With secret orders to pursue
          The sentence to the last,
And when the prisoner's prayer was o'er,
          And the death-fillet past,
But not till then, to read to him
          That Pardon for the past.

"The morrow came; the evening sun
          Was sinking red and cold,
When Ronald Blair, a league from camp
          We led, erect and bold,
To die the soldier's death, while low
          The funeral drum was roll'd.

"With arms reversed, our plaided ranks
          The distance due retire,
The fatal musqueteers advance
          The signal to require:
'Till I produce this kerchief blue,
          Be sure withhold your fire.'

"His eyes are bound—the prayer is said—
          He kneels upon his bier;
So dread a silence sank on all,
          You might have heard a tear
Drop to the earth. My heart beat quick
          With happiness and fear,

"To feel conceal'd within my vest
          A parting soul's relief!
I kept my hand on that REPRIEVE
          Another moment brief;
Then drew it forth, but with it drew,
          O God! the handkerchief.

"He fell!—and whether He or I
          Had died I hardly knew—
But when the gusty forest breeze
          Aside the death-smoke blew,
I heard those bearing off the dead,
          Proclaim that there were two.

"They said that as the volley ceased,
          A low sob call'd them where
They found an Indian maiden dead,
          Clasping in death's despair
One feather from a Highland plume
          And one bright lock of hair.

"I've long forgot what follow'd, save
          That standing by his bier,
I shouted out the words some fiend
          Was whispering in my ear—
'My race is run—the curse of Heaven
          And of Glencoe is here!' *

"From that dark hour all hope to me,
          All human hope was gone;
I shrank from life a branded man—
          I sought my land alone,
And of a stranger's purchased halls
          I joy'd to make my own.

"Thou'st known me long as Campbell—now
          Thou know'st the Campbell's story,
And why, apart from man, I chose
          This mansion grim and hoary,
Nor in my ancient lineage seem'd,
          Nor ancient name, to glory.

"Though drear my lot, yet, noble boy,
          Not always I repine;
Come, wipe those watery drops away
          That in thine eyelids shine;
Fill for thyself," the old man said,
          "Once more, and pass the wine."

* Such was his exclamation, as repeated in the History before referred to. Colonel Campbell always imputed the unfortunate occurrence that clouded the evening of his life to the share his ancestor had in the disastrous affair of Glencoe.

The Dream of Lord Nithsdale


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