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The Curse of Glencoe
By B. Simmons taken from Blackwoods Magazine


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 still
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_!'[13]

"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.


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