On the summit of a bluff
headland that projects into the Sound of Skye, there stand the grey ruins
of an ancient castle, which was once the residence of a Highland chieftain
of the name of M’Morrough—a man of fierce nature and desperate courage,
but not without some traits of a generous disposition. When about middle
age, M’Morrough married the daughter of a neighbouring chief—a lady of
much sweetness of manner and gentleness of nature. On the part of the
former, however, this connection was one in which love had little share:
its chief purpose would have been attainted by the birth of a male heir to
the name and property of the feudal chieftain; and this was an event to
which he looked anxiously forward.
When the accouchement of
his lady arrived, M’Morrough retired to an upper apartment of the castle
to await the result—having desired a trusty domestic to bring him instant
intelligence when the child was born, whether it was a male or a female.
The interval he employed in walking up and down the chamber in a fever of
impatience. At length the door of the chamber opened, and Innes M’Phail
entered. The chieftain turned quickly and fiercely round, glanced at the
countenance of his messenger, and there read the disappointment of his
hopes without a word being uttered.
"It is even so, then,"
roared out the infuriated chieftain, "It is a girl, Innes; a girl. My
curses on her!"
M’Morrough," said Innes, despondingly. "There are twins."
"And both girls—both!"
exclaimed the former, stamping the floor in the violence of his passion.
"To the battlements with them, Innes!—to the battlements with them
instantly, and toss them over into the deep sea! Let the waves of Loch
Sonoran rock them to sleep, and the winds that rush against Inch Caillach
sing their lullaby. Let it be done—done instantly, Innes, as you value
your own life and I will witness the fidelity with which you serve me from
this window. I will, with my own eyes, see the deed done. Go—go
Innes, who had been
previously aware that such would be the fate of a female child, if such
should unfortunately be born to his ruthless chief, and who had promised
to be the instrument of that fate, now left the apartment to execute the
atrocious deed. In less than ten minutes after, Innes M’Phail appeared on
the battlements, carrying a large wicker basket. From this depository he
took out a child, swaddled in its first apparel, and raising it aloft,
tossed it over to perish in the raging sea below. The little arms of the
infant extended as it fell; but the sight was momentary. It glanced white
through the air like an ocean bird, and, in an instant after, disappeared
in the dark waters of Loch Sonoran. The murderer followed with his eye the
descent of his little victim, till the sea closed over it, when, returning
to the basket, he took from it another child, and disposed of it as he had
done the first.
During the whole of this
dreadful exhibition, M’Morrough was standing at a window several yards
lower down than the battlements, but, so situated in an angle of the
building that he could distinctly see what passed on the former. Satisfied
that his atrocious decree had been fully executed, he withdrew from the
window; and, avoiding an interview with his wife, whom—stern and ruthless
as he was—he dreaded to meet with the murder of her infants on his head,
he left the castle on a hunting expedition, from which he did not return
for three days. On his return, M’Morrough would have waited on his lady,
whom he hoped now to find in some measure reconciled to her bereavement;
but was told that she would see no one; that she had caused a small
apartment at the top of the castle to be hung with black; and that,
immuring herself in this dismal chamber, she spent both her nights and
days in weeping and lamentation. On learning this, M’Morrough did not
press his visits, but left it to time to heal, or, at least, to soothe the
grief of his unhappy wife. In the expectation which he had formed from the
silent but powerful operation of this infallible anodyne, M’Morrough was
not mistaken. In about a month after the murder of her babes, the lady of
M’Morrough, deeply veiled, and betraying every symptom of a profound but
subdued grief, presented herself at the morning meal which was spread for
her husband. It was the first time they had met since the occurrence of
the tragical event recorded above. To that event, however, neither made
even the slightest allusion; and, whether it was that time had weakened
the impression of her late misfortune, or that she dreaded rousing the
enmity of her husband towards herself by a longer estrangement, the lady
of M’Morrough chewed no violent disinclination to accept of the courtesies
which, well-pleased with her having made her appearance of her own accord,
he seemed anxious to press upon her. A footing of companionship having
thus been restored between the chieftain and his lady, matters, from this
day, went on at Castle Tulim much as they had done before, only that the
latter long continued to wear a countenance expressive of a deeply
wounded, but resigned spirit. Even this, however, gradually gave way
beneath the influence of time; and, when seventeen years had passed away,
as they now did, unmarked by the occurrence, at Castle Tulim, of an event
of the smallest importance, the lady of M’Morrough had long been in the
possession of her wonted cheerfulness.
It was about the end of
this period, that the haughty chieftian, now somewhat subdued by age, and
no longer under the evil influence of those ungovernable passions that had
run riot with him in his more vigorous years, was invited, along with his
lady, to a great entertainment which was about to be given by his
father-in-law. M’Morrough and his lady proceeded to the castle of their
relative. The banquet hall was lighted up; it was hung with banners,
crowded with a gay assemblage, and filled with music. There were many fair
faces in the assemblage; but the fairest of all, were those of two
sisters, who sat apart by themselves. The beauty of countenance and
elegance of form of these two girls, who seemed to be both about the same
age— seventeen—were surpassing. M’Morrough marked them; he watch them
during the dance; he could not keep his eyes off them. At length, turning
to his lady, he asked who they were.
"They are your
daughters, M’Morrough," replied the former.
A deadly paleness
overspread the countenance of the chief. He shook in every limb, and would
have sunk on the floor had he not been supported. On recovering a little,
he covered his face with his hand, burst into a flood of tears, and rushed
out of the apartment. On gaining a retired and unoccupied chamber,
M’Morrough sent for his daughters. When they came, they found him on his
knees, fervently thanking God for this signal instance of his mercy and
beneficence. He took his daughters in his arms, blessed them a thousand
times over, buried his head between them, and wept like a child.