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Ardenmohr
Chapter XXI. - Dunesk


“Are we all right then?” inquired Major Duncan as we settled in the carriage ready to start.

“Yes, Major, a’ richt, a’ in order,” replied Archie, who had superintended; “and we will he wishing ye sune bock.”

“Good-bye then — good-bye to you all,” and waving our hands to Janet Cameron and her daughter, who still stood at the door, we drove away down the glen; nor was it until we had passed through the valley, and were out on the high-road, that we felt fairly off from Ardenmohr.

Our journey was only about twenty-three miles, and as there was no particular hurry we took it easily.

For the greater part of the way the country around is monotonous enough, alternate moorland, plantation, and poorly-cultivated land; but as tlie day was cool and breezy, while the horses stepped easily along, the drive was far from unpleasant. We came in good time to the resting-place, a roadside inn, more than half-way to our destination, we took out the horses, rested for an hour or so, and then went on.

Shortly after leaving the inn we passed by a small stream, and on its banks came upon two Highland maidens washing clothes in the Scottish fashion. Hope and Fred, in their Southern simplicity, were taken aback and marvelled greatly; not so the damsels, who did not seem a whit discomposed, but merely took a look at the passing vehicle, and went on with their hornpipe.

About six miles from Dunesk the road turned left toward the sea-side, and after going through a long stretch of young plantation we came in view of the sea, and in about a quarter of an hour were driving along the level road, which now runs by the sea-side almost the whole way.

How fresh and exhilarating it feels when, after a long sojourn inland, one comes close to the glittering ocean and inhales the pure, strong sea air. It was by this time near high tide, and we could see and hear the waters break on the rocks, and rolling in foamy lines along the strand, and view far ont on the deeps the white crests of the great ocean waves: all this bright scene enlivened by the sea birds flying about in full enjoyment of life—and what free, roving lives they do lead ! Observe the gulls, how leisurely and listlessly they swing about in the air, enjoying the sunshine, or now and again dipping into the waves; then, in contrast, see the ducks and sooty cormorants as they cleave their way through the air in a direct line, on business intent; and here again are our moorland friends, the curlew and the golden plover, skimming along the strand quite as much at home as among the hills. But on the sea-coast the scenery and objects to study are of endless variety and interest.

About a mile from our destination the road turned inland, and, on getting to the top of a long ascent, we came presently to the woods and well-kept parks of Dunesk, and saw the old grey mansion looming amongst the trees. Turning through the ancient gateway and along the avenue, we arrived at the house, and received a genuine Highland welcome from the Laird.

Mr. Grant, after introductions to his maiden sister and niece, now took us to our rooms. My crib was at the top of the tower, and at the last step of a narrow spiral staircase, but just the room I would have chosen out of the many in the old house—a quaint, comfortable watch-tower, with a narrow slip of a window looking down on the tree-tops and away over the sea.

Before dinner we made the acquaintance of the only guests of the house, Captain Leslie and Mr. McKenzie, of the —7th foot.

The first evening at Dunesk was a fair prelude to a very enjoyable visit. The Laird (or Dunesk, as he was sometimes styled by one title, sometimes by the other, never as Mr. Grant) was a famous host: he had travelled a great deal, seen much of life, rough and refined, and conversed as one who had observed things; his anecdotes were short and racy. Captain Leslie, too, proved himself a capital raconteur, and so droll, with his languid air and ladylike voice—which seemed very little in keeping with many of his experiences, that had been“ gey queer.” He seemed quite reconciled to his old friend’s good-natured quizzing on his gentle manners, and would blandly help the Laird with particulars of stories told at his expense ; but Leslie soon showed us the real stuff he was made of, as he could swim, walk, and shoot with the best, and was something of a scholar withal.

On going into the drawing-room little Maggy was caught at the piano, and easily prevailed on to sing some Jacobite songs, which she did very nicely. Miss Grant interpreted certain parts of the songs that seemed obscure, and was gradually led on to tell us stories of the old stirring times, which she related with infinite spirit; and having such perfect acquaintance with the country, family histories and clans, this made her conversation particularly interesting. She brought many scenes before the mind as if they had happened yesterday. I could have sat all night to listen, and I began to understand in some degree the loyalty and devotion so uselessly spent on those selfish and ungrateful Stuarts.

Before going to bed we had a turn in the avenue, and arranged to have a sea bath in the morning.

After a sound sleep, undisturbed by ghost or banshee, I was out soon after seven, first at parade; but the others duly appeared, and we set off for the sea, a walk of about half a mile. Leslie took us to a ledge of rocks projecting into the water, where one may have a deep plunge at any period of the tide, and here we had a glorious swim among the waves.

On coming back, glowing, and hungry as hunters, every one was ready for the Highland breakfast— home-made bread and oat cakes, fresh trout and sea fish, grouse, roe liver, eggs, ham, and honey, finishing with the ad valorem thimbleful of cognac, approved by Frenchman and Highlander alike.

All this first day was passed in wandering over the grounds, inspecting Highland cattle and cross-bred sheep, and ransacking the stables and kennels; and in the afternoon we had a long ramble by the sea-coast.

In the evening there was much talk of sport, and of our qualifications for next day’s work : the Laird having arranged to have the covers driven for roc and capercailzie. Mrs. Peyton and the young ladies were to come" to Dunesk on the day following, and the Laird said we must do our duty as sportsmen, for all failures would be related and unmercifully quizzed. Of course each one thought he at least was safe to be on the laughing side.

After having music, round games, &c., Miss Grant showed us some curious and interesting portraits of the notables of the Forty-five and other stirring times; they were small pictures, and some of them not highly artistic, but they bore the impress of being genuine. In her collection was one of Claver-house (the Bonnie Dundee of song), and what a striking, romantic countenance — fair, smooth, and almost effeminate in its pale and regular beauty, with little or no index of the firm, daring character of the man, nor of that cruel zeal which makes, even to this day, his name a hated sound in many parts of Scotland.

Why is it that no distinguished painter has pictured the death of Claverhouse? There seems everything in the subject to commend itself to a great artist: the remarkable grace and beauty of Dundee himself, which can be easily studied from authentic portraits, for the completion of his knightly figure, mailed and plaided; then the sorrowing Highlanders grouped around the dying chief as he droops with his death-wound—all this occurring midst some of the grandest scenery in Scotland.

Too many pictures now produced are just subjects for water-colour sketches, not for painting. Who would dream of making a water-colour sketch of Claverhouse, or of the Bass of Killiecrankie.


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