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Summer at the Lake of Monteith
The Earl’s Niece

"There’s a ball in Talla to-night,” said a Highland native to his companion, as they passed along the lone Highland highway that winds its serpentine form along the north shore of the Lake of Monteith, one clear moonlight night about the fall of the year. “Ay,” returned the other, “I hear the music; and see how the lights flash in the windows!” They were right; there was a gathering of the chiefs within the lordly halls of Talla. The Chief of Buchan was there; Lord Rusky mingled with the guests; and Gartmore Barons strode through the hall; while the young Graham of Gloschoil, the Earl’s kinsman, sat chat-' ting with the Countess. The Earl was proud of his name, proud of his title, and jealous of his fame; his heart was the warm heart of the Highlander; his nature the fiery dash of the Celt—the first to resent an insult—the first to forgive an injury. When a friend or foe chanced to be injured, it grieved him at his heart, and could never be forgotten. The field was his delight. The halls of his fathers were hung with trophies of the chase. There were antlered heads from the forest of Miling, the wolf from Craigvad, and the wild boar from his den in the Pass; the eagle from Glenny, and the osprey from Arnmauch; the wild fox and badger from the hill, and the otter from the lake. There, too, dangled in gloomy array the glories of the war chief, wrecks of the battle-field, gathered by a long list of illustrious ancestors, each proud of his achievements, and whose trophies hung as heirlooms in the family. Largs sent its shattered helmets—Falkirk its broken shields.

There were gory lances from Stirling Bridge, and bloodstained swords from Bannockburn — all telling their own tale of rivalry and death. The Earl’s heart beat high as he showed his guests the trophies; and as his dark eye rolled from object to object, one would think he felt proud of his descent from the great Dundaff. The ladies played, and the Countess sang, while the chiefs drank their wine; and so the night whiled merrily away. While the nobles laughed and talked, and the rooms rang with the music of the ladies, down in the servants’ hall sat a jovial crew. These were the servants of “ my lords.” Conspicuous in the group was a short and thick well-made form, with long grey hair, dark rolling eye, and countenance brown as the heath on his native moor. That was “Stoat-the-Yrouach,” which means, in readable language, “The Stumpy for the brae,” the Earl’s archer. Behind him, on the wall, dangled a huge cross-bow and bunch of arrows, with which, in their turn, he had brought down the “enemies of the king” in many a battle-field, the wolf and the stag in the forest, the eagle and ptarmigan on the mountain, and the sea-gull on the lake. In his hand was a long sharp-pointed “sgian-dubh,” the cherished gift of his father, the plaything of his early youth, and the trusty companion of his manhood and riper years. The “Stoat” was a valued servant of the Earl, both on account of his deeds in the “sgian-dubh” line, and his length of service. He was long archer to the Earl, and the Earl’s son at Dounance. It was at the latter place he performed some of his most distinguished services, and on one occasion, at least, saved his master and family from destruction by the M'Pherson. In early times, it is said, one Norman M'Pherson was laird of Drunkie and Duchray, and was rather a powerful rival to the Menteith family. By-and-by, however, MTherson fell into debt, when he applied to the Earl’s son, at Dounance, to grant him money on his property. Graham thinking this a good chance of getting M'Pherson into his grasp, instantly gave him all he asked, under the condition that, if the money was not paid off by a certain date, the land should revert to Dounance. MTherson failed to fulfil the conditions, and Graham took hold of Duchray. M'Pherson, driven to despair, retired back on Drunkie, where he brooded over his revenge, and “nursed his wrath to keep it warm.” After a while, M'Pherson resolved to attack Dounance, murder the family, and retake Duchray. With this purpose he left Drunkie with a number of his men, took Stoat-the-Vrouach prisoner in his own house near the lake, and ordered the archer to lead the way, at the same time offering him a large sum to betray Graham into his hands. The night being dark was well fitted for such bloody work, and on their arrival all was still within the castle. "Stand here,” muttered the Stoat, my Lord has a secret knock which no one knows but myself; I will leave the door open, and you will rush in at my heels.” The archer stepped forward and gave the secret knock. "What brings the Stoat here at this time of the night?” asked a voice from within. “Open: the M'Phersons are at my back; they have come to be revenged for Duchray; make haste, for God’s sake! or we are all lost,” whispered the archer earnestly. Graham sprung from his couch, the massive door reeled back on its hinges, and another moment saw the Stoat safe within the castle portals. The Grahams were instantly armed, and rushing out upon their foes, made short work of the M'Phersons, who, it is said, were all killed. Norman was pursued by the renowned archer into a cave near to Drunkie House, and there slain, the place being still called “Norman’s Wood.” The Stoat was delighting his cronies with stories like these, telling them scenes of other days and tales of bygone years; and if the black sgian-dubh he held in his hand could but have whispered, it would have told a tale of its own.

The archer had just finished M'Pherson afresh, when the noise announced the parting of the chiefs, and each valet hastened to the service of his lord; while the Earl’s boatmen feathered their oars, ready to row their noble freights over the still waters. There were laughing faces there, and the gentle zephyrs wafted around the fairy island the happy parting, while the echoes whispered back the farewells. The night was calm and clear, as if Nature smiled on the happy gathering. The moon—“pale mistress of the night”—rose as only autumn moons can rise, while the still waters reflected back the glories of a star-pearl’d heaven. The mist crawled along the braes of Auchyle, and Red-nock hills looked through the grey covering. The lake was quiet as a “mill-pond”—only the zephyrs kissed its waters—no ripple on its bosom save that in the trail of the scallop; but ever and anon was heard the quack of the wild drake, startled by the splash of the oar; while far in the still midnight came the moan of the owl, and

“The dookers dived beneath the stream,
And wondered what the thing could mean.”

The otter prowled along the shore; the bark of the fox was heard far off among the dark recesses of Arnmauch; the wild swan spread her wings to catch the floating zephyrs; and the cormorant nestled among the reeds. When in wine the Earl was fiery and vain—fiery to those who dared to ruffle his temper, and vain enough to fancy himself the finest specimen of a man within the Earldom. As he sat on his couch with the fair young Countess by his side, chatting over the happy gathering, he suddenly exclaimed, “ Who do you think was the best-looking man at the ball1?”The Countess looked surprised, and smiling, replied, “What makes the Earl ask such a question?” “Oh, only for your opinion,” replied the Earl dryly. The Countess sat closer to the chief, and laying her lily hand on the shoulder of her haughty lord, whispered into his ear, “Who but your own kinsman and tenant, Malise Graham?” and starting from his side, the fair lady glided away to her bedroom. For a time the Earl sat in wild bewilderment, his passion inflamed with wine, and his brain reeling with the debauch; his brow scowled like the thunder-cloud, and his eyes stared like fixed stars. “Malise Graham,” he muttered to himself; and his recollection of seeing him at several stages of the evening paying close attention to the Countess, shot through his memory with meteoric flash.

“Villain!” exclaimed the Earl, “he’ll rue those deeds. I’ll have his blood before to-morrow’s sun rises!” and, clutching his dagger, the jealous lord staggered from his couch breathing curses on his unhappy friend. “Bring me Stoat-the-Vrouach,” growled the enraged chief, in tones that rang through every comer of the island; and the only one of the castle who heard not the stern order was the fair Countess, who, close in her bedroom and earnest at her devotions, was all unconscious of the terrible scene about to be enacted, and of which she was the unhappy cause. The faithful archer rushed to the presence of his enraged master. “Go,” cried the Earl; “Gloschoil has dared to insult his chief, and this night I have sworn to have his blood; take your men and let him not escape.” The old servant looked surprised, and whispered “What means my lord by this? Has the Earl forgotten that his friend is a faithful and true vassal?” “That’s for me to judge,” cried the Earl fiercely; “do my bidding, and mutter but a rebellious sentence and to-morrow thy carcase shall hang on Miling.” With a heavy heart the archer obeyed; and while, with crossbow slung on his shoulder and sword unsheathed, he departed on his mission of death, the half unconscious Earl slunk away to his bedroom. Malise Graham was slowly plodding his homeward path, with neither friend nor guide—he needed none—these hills were the hills of his youth—these his native glens. A thousand times his youthful limbs had trod the breckan brae, when the rocks rang with his boyish voice. Upon yon hill’s craggy face he had stalked the red-deer and brought down the eagle; deep in that misty glen he had sought out the wolf, and hunted the wild boar; away on the skirts of yonder valley, he had met invading clans, when the clash of shields and the clang of claymores rang wildly around him. Malise’s heart was light, he reflected on the happy hours spent with his chief, and the thoughts of his young wife and two prattling boys, that awaited his coming, cheered him on; and as he turned down into his own native strath, there, sure enough, was the light in the window, the traveller’s home star. Already he heard the stifled bark of his favourite hound in the kennel at home; that home, alas! he was never to reach. He dreamed not the toils of the assassin, like the serpent’s embrace, were drawing closer and closer around him—the Earl’s death-hounds treading at his heels,—only watching the proper moment for striking the fatal blow. It soon arrived; and as Stoat-the-Vrouach raised aloft his arm, the moon buried her face in a cloud, as if Heaven frowned on the deed; one moment’s stillness, and a wild yell burst among the shattered hills and awoke the slumbering echoes of Auchray.

“What is that, mother?” cried a half-sleeping boy, starting from his pillow, aroused by the dying cry of his father, as it echoed wildly across Loch-Katrine, and rang among the scattered buildings of Gloschoil. “That is father’s voice —something has befallen him.” “Hush, boy,” replied the wakeful mother. “Nothing can befall thy father; the night is clear and the lamp still burns in the -window; ’twas the growl of the watch-dog, or the cry of the eagle on the hill. Your father is well acquainted with the track over the hills; the Kittearns know him well; the Macgregors are friendly to the Graham; and the M£Farlanes are thy mother’s kinsmen;—there is nothing to fear, and, besides,

"Your father has his favourite sword,
Made by that man of fame,
And woe betide the single arm
That dares to meet the Graham. ”

And again the boy nestled himself to sleep. It was grey dawn ere the wife of Malise Graham again looked out of the window. All was still in the Highland glen; here and there the curling smoke ascended from the cottars’ homes; the moor-cock was heard on the hill; and the September hoarfrost lay thick and grey around the shores of Loch-Katrine, nipping the already fading glories of summer. The fair lady looked anxious, and whispered to herself, “My lord is long in coming! ” Then, turning her eyes towards the “Path of the red post,” she saw a number of men slowly approaching, carrying in their midst an uncouth-looking object. A thrill of fear shot through her nerves. The anxious -wife watched with eager eye, and as they drew near, she rushed to meet the mournful cavalcade; and there, sure enough, was Malise Graham, stark and cold, with the crimson tide oozing from his manly heart. For a moment the Highland lady surveyed her murdered lord; her cheek grew pale; her frame shook like a shattered reed; and with hysteric groan she fell back among her native heather. And now

“On Katrine’s coast, the widowed dame
May wash the rocks with tears.”

On returning to consciousness, the widow’s first resolve was revenge; and she determined on rousing her kinsmen, and bringing down on the Earl the vengeance of

“The wild M'Farlane’s plaided clan.”

But being told of the utter hopelessness of the task, and that there yet remained a cloud of mystery to be cleared away, she abandoned the project.

While this sad scene was being enacted on the heathy shores of Loch-Katrine, another, but of a less terrible description, was going on at the Lake of Monteith. The Earl awoke, as only those who awaken after a debauch can describe. The events of the previous night shot like wild dreams through his brain, and a lingering remembrance of his stem order to the archer floated before his distorted imagination. As he sat looking up to the hill, with the lake calm around him, the door of his room suddenly flew open, and in rushed “The Earl’s Niece,” the orphaned daughter of the house of Dounance, but not the merry wee thing of former mornings. True, the same blue eyes and rosy cheeks were there, and the flaxen hair hung in its usual silken curls around her neck; but there was a stillness in her eye, and a sadness in her young face, which the Earl could not mistake. The niece was followed by the Countess, also looking sadder than usual. And the Earl, whose mind was haunted by the previous night’s events, was trying to banish them as airy phantoms, when he began to see that they were stern realities. In a fit of excitement, he started to his feet, exclaiming, “Is Malise Graham then dead?” “Yes,” whispered the Countess; “and the sword of the archer is gory with his blood.” The Earl looked pale; a scalding tear filled his eye; and he paced the room impatiently. “ What made Stoat-the-Vrouach obey such foolish orders?” he asked. “The archer remonstrated, and you threatened to hang him,” replied the Countess. “Ay,” responded the Earl; “pity I did not; but what is done cannot be undone. I will see to the widow,” and he threw himself back on his couch. The Earl was true to his promise; he gifted the widow her lifetime of Gloschoil, and otherwise saw to the well-being of the family, for it is said he was deeply grieved for the loss of his friend. Malise Graham had two sons, Malise the elder, and Robert the younger. Malise was of a mild and gentle nature, and inherited in a large degree the character of the Grahams. Robert was a reckless spirit, in fact “a wild M'Farlane,” and partook deeply of the spirit of the robber clan. All the wild fancies of youth floated through his brain; the loch, the glen, and the hill were his favourite delights; and he loved to rob the eyrie, and possess himself of the young eagle. He would climb the rocks where no human foot had ever been but his own, and whose brown surface was disturbed only by the claws of wild cats, the talons of eagles, and by a thousand storms. The sea-gull’s nests floating on the bosom of the wide-spreading loch, or hidden among the reeds of the deep mountain tarn, were alike insecure from the agile form of Robert Graham. From a mere boy he bore a mortal hatred towards the Earl; and to be revenged for his father’s death was his only and darling ambition. During the long wintry nights, when the mother and her two sons sat by the blazing peat fire in their lone Highland home, Robert, laying his dark curly head in his mother’s lap, would lisp, “When I grow big I will punish the Earl for killing my father.” A tear would dim the fond mother’s eye, and she would whisper, “Hush boy, the Earl is kind; he will one day make you a man.”

One day, during midsummer, some years after the death of Malise Graham, the Earl’s niece was sent by the Countess with presents to the widow of Gloschoil. After roaming for some hours on the banks of Loch-Katrine, Robert was sent by his mother to see the niece safe over the rugged “pass of the red post.” Robert felt proud of the honour, for although he hated the Earl, there was something that drew him towards the fair young lady he could not describe, and with light hearts the youthful pair disappeared among the heather. When Robert and his fair charge left Gloschoil

“Noontide was slumbering on the hill,”

and the lambkins were sporting among the bracken knowes with hearts as light as their oavil. They soon reached Auchray, when the niece pulled the blue bell, and Robert gathered the wild clover, to spread on his father’s cairn, while they added a stone each to the heap. Robert gazed wistfully at the rude memento of his father’s death, a tear stood in his dark eye, and his heart was full to over-flowing; for although Robert was a reckless youth, he had a large and warm heart, and be he friend or foe, who trusted in Robert Graham was never disappointed, for his heart was as good as his nature was rash. The fair lady saw the tear that dimmed her young friend’s eye, and she whispered, “’Twas a sad night that, Robert; but the Earl repents it deeply.” Robert was about to break out with threats against the Earl; that he would make him rue the day he had done the deed;—but the thought of grieving the niece prevented him, and he concealed the thoughts in his bosom. Robert saw his fair charge over the hills; not parting with her until he put her in sight of her own fairy lake; when bidding her adieu, he turned his steps homewards to Gloschoil. Years rolled on; Robert grew to man’s estate, and the hatred towards the Earl grew with his years. The canker-worm of revenge gnawed wildly at his heart, and, in spite of a mother’s warning and brother’s advice, the youth persisted in cherishing the idea of one day revenging his father’s blood. In furtherance of his darling ambition, he enlisted the sympathies of a large body of his mother’s kinsmen, and other lawless robbers that inhabited the wild shores of Loch-Katrine and Loch-Lomond, Robert promising them large rewards. He soon found himself at the head of a powerful body of banditti, all as eager for the fray as himself, and as earnest to share the spoil. The Earl being wealthy, and having a large tract of rich country, the hardy half-starved mountaineers looked forward to rich rewards. One day, about twenty years after the death of Malise Graham, the Earl had just returned from fishing on the lake, when his eyes caught the sight of a boat approaching the island from the northern shore. Landing, the messenger handed him a letter, and then retired as he came. The Earl tore it open. It was short, but it could not be mistaken; it read thus,—

“To the Earl.

“I come to revenge my father’s death.

Robert Graham.”

The old man looked bewildered; and gazed after the messenger, but he had disappeared on the distant shore. The Earl hastened into the hall, not knowing whither he went. For a time he paced the room in a state of wild agitation, as if fully realising the nature of his position; but recollecting himself, he sank calmly back on his seat. At that moment the niece chanced to enter the room, and seeing the sad countenance of her friend and benefactor, she playfully asked its cause. “Ah! and well I might look sad!” replied the Earl. “To-night, I am a dead man; and God knows but you’ll be houseless and homeless. Robert Graham of Gloschoil has come to be revenged for his father’s death.” “That cannot be,” exclaimed the maid, and snatching the letter she rushed to the Countess with the fatal epistle. There was no time to lose, the shades of evening were gathering fast around the lake, and already the voice of the foemen came from Crockmelly. The sound of the slogan was distinctly heard, and the cry of “Loch Sloy” echoed wildly across Portend, I’ll tell you what to do,” whispered the Countess. “Go and meet Robert Graham unarmed; take your niece along with you; offer her to him for wife; and for dowry grant him a portion of land.” The Earl, acting on the advice of his wife, met his young and fierce kinsman on the shore of the lake. The old chief first broke silence. “Robert Graham!” he exclaimed, “you have come to' be revenged for your father’s death?” “Yes,” answered Robert. “I hope you will forego your intention,” replied the Earl. “Never,” growled the youth. “I am getting old now,” continued the Earl; “and I know you will not shorten the waning life, nor make my wife a widow.” “You made my mother a widow, and me fatherless,” cried the passionate boy. “I did,” replied the Earl; “and it grieved me to the heart. But I did what in me lay to make amends for it, and I am ready to do more now. Only give up your intention, become peaceful, and I will give you that young lady for your wife, with land for her dowry.” “What!” exclaimed Robert, “I become your vassal? No, and I could not protect you now though I were willing,—for

“Heard’st thou not that loud a-hoy?
And yonder distant cry ‘ Loch Sloy’?
A hundred spearmen, like a tide
Come rushing down the deep lake side;
And loudly each for vengeance calls
To lordly homes and ruined walls.”

As the youth finished the last sentence, the niece sprang from the Earl’s side, and throwing her arms around the neck of Robert Graham, exclaimed; “O, for my sake, Robert, save the Earl!” Her tears bathed his bosom, and her flaxen hair hung in silken tresses on his breast. Robert started, the appeal reached his heart, and the remembrance of the time when she pulled the blue bell, while he gathered the wild clover to spread on his father’s cairn, shot with meteoric flash through his memory. The young heroic soul was moved, the naked sword was sheathed, and his men were signalled back from the hill. A short time thereafter Robert Graham became the husband of the Earl’s niece, and received as her dowry the lands of Bruchorn in Aberfoyle.

Robert Graham and the Earl’s niece lie in the lone island of Inchmahome—the green sod resting lightly on their bosoms, while zephyrs play around their grave; and although the storms of a hundred years have rattled over them, their descendants still live, and many respectable families in Monteith trace with pride their descent from the Earl’s niece.

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