| copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Click Here to return to
the previous section
THE FLIGHT IN THE HEATHER: THE HEUGH OF CORRYNAKIEGH
Early as day comes in the beginning
of July, it was
still dark when we reached our destination, a cleft in the head of a
mountain, with a water running through the midst, and upon the one hand
shallow cave in a rock. Birches
grew there in a thin, pretty wood, which a little farther on was
changed into a
wood of pines. The
burn was full of
trout; the wood of cushat-doves; on the open side of the mountain
would be always whistling, and cuckoos were plentiful.
From the mouth of the cleft we looked down upon a
Mamore, and on the sea-loch that divides that country from Appin; and
so great a height as made it my continual wonder and pleasure to sit
The name of the cleft was the Heugh of Corrynakiegh; and although from its height and being so near upon the sea, it was often beset with clouds, yet it was on the whole a pleasant place, and the five days we lived in it went happily.
We slept in the cave, making our
bed of heather
bushes which we cut for that purpose, and covering ourselves with
was a low
concealed place, in a turning of the glen, where we were so bold as to
fire: so that we could warm ourselves when the clouds set in, and cook
porridge, and grill the little trouts that we caught with our hands
stones and overhanging banks of the burn.
was indeed our chief pleasure and business; and not only to save our
against worse times, but with a rivalry that much amused us, we spent a
part of our days at the water-side, stripped to the waist and groping
(as they say) guddling for these fish. The largest we got might have
quarter of a pound; but they were of good flesh and flavour, and when
upon the coals, lacked only a little salt to be delicious.
In any by-time Alan must teach me
to use my sword,
for my ignorance had much distressed him; and I think besides, as I had
sometimes the upper-hand of him in the fishing, he was not sorry to
turn to an
exercise where he had so much the upper-hand of me. He made it somewhat
a pain than need have been, for he stormed at me all through the
lessons in a
very violent manner of scolding, and would push me so close that I made
must run me through the body. I
often tempted to turn tail, but held my ground for all that, and got
of my lessons; if it was but to stand on guard with an assured
which is often all that is required.
So, though I could never in the least please my
master, I was
not altogether displeased with myself.
In the meanwhile, you are not to suppose that we neglected our chief business, which was to get away.
"It will be many a long day," Alan
me on our first morning, "before the red-coats think upon seeking
Corrynakiegh; so now we must get word sent to James, and he must find
"And how shall we send that word?"
"We are here in a desert place, which yet we dare
not leave; and
unless ye get the fowls of the air to be your messengers, I see not
shall be able to do."
"Ay?" said Alan. "Ye're a man of
Thereupon he fell in a muse,
looking in the embers of
the fire; and presently, getting a piece of wood, he fashioned it in a
the four ends of which he blackened on the coals.
Then he looked at me a little shyly.
"Could ye lend me my button?" says
"It seems a strange thing to ask a gift again, but I
own I am laith
to cut another."
I gave him the button; whereupon he
strung it on a
strip of his great-coat which he had used to bind the cross; and tying
little sprig of birch and another of fir, he looked upon his work with
"Now," said he, "there is a little clachan" (what is called a hamlet in the English) "not very far from Corrynakiegh, and it has the name of Koalisnacoan. There there are living many friends of mine whom I could trust with my life, and some that I am no just so sure of. Ye see, David, there will be money set upon our heads; James himsel' is to set money on them; and as for the Campbells, they would never spare siller where there was a Stewart to be hurt. If it was otherwise, I would go down to Koalisnacoan whatever, and trust my life into these people's hands as lightly as I would trust another with my glove."
"But being so?" said I.
"Being so," said he, "I would as
they didnae see me. There's bad folk everywhere, and what's far worse,
ones. So when it
comes dark again,
I will steal down into that clachan, and set this that I have been
making in the
window of a good friend of mine, John Breck Maccoll, a bouman
"With all my heart," says I; "and
he finds it, what is he to think?"
"Well," says Alan, "I wish he was a
man of more penetration, for by my troth I am afraid he will make
of it! But this is
what I have in
my mind. This cross
is something in
the nature of the crosstarrie, or fiery cross, which is the signal of
in our clans; yet he will know well enough the clan is not to rise, for
is standing in his window, and no word with it.
So he will say to himsel', THE CLAN IS NOT TO RISE,
IS SOMETHING. Then
he will see my
button, and that was Duncan Stewart's.
then he will say to himsel', THE SON OF DUNCAN IS IN THE HEATHER, AND
"Well," said I, "it may be.
But even supposing so, there is a good deal of
heather between here and
"And that is a very true word," says Alan. "But then John Breck will see the sprig of birch and the sprig of pine; and he will say to himsel' (if he is a man of any penetration at all, which I misdoubt), ALAN WILL BE LYING IN A WOOD WHICH IS BOTH OF PINES AND BIRCHES. Then he will think to himsel', THAT IS NOT SO VERY RIFE HEREABOUT; and then he will come and give us a look up in Corrynakiegh. And if he does not, David, the devil may fly away with him, for what I care; for he will no be worth the salt to his porridge."
"Eh, man," said I, drolling with him a little, "you're very ingenious! But would it not be simpler for you to write him a few words in black and white?"
"And that is an excellent observe,
of Shaws," says Alan, drolling with me; "and it would certainly be
much simpler for me to write to him, but it would be a sore job for
to read it. He
would have to go to
the school for two-three years; and it's possible we might be wearied
So that night Alan carried down his fiery cross and set it in the bouman's window. He was troubled when he came back; for the dogs had barked and the folk run out from their houses; and he thought he had heard a clatter of arms and seen a red-coat come to one of the doors. On all accounts we lay the next day in the borders of the wood and kept a close look-out, so that if it was John Breck that came we might be ready to guide him, and if it was the red-coats we should have time to get away.
About noon a man was to be spied, straggling up the open side of the mountain in the sun, and looking round him as he came, from under his hand. No sooner had Alan seen him than he whistled; the man turned and came a little towards us: then Alan would give another "peep!" and the man would come still nearer; and so by the sound of whistling, he was guided to the spot where we lay.
He was a ragged, wild, bearded man,
grossly disfigured with the small pox, and looked both dull and savage.
his English was very bad and broken, yet Alan (according to his very
use, whenever I was by) would suffer him to speak no Gaelic.
Perhaps the strange language made him appear more
backward than he really
was; but I thought he had little good-will to serve us, and what he had
child of terror.
Alan would have had him carry a message to James; but the bouman would hear of no message. "She was forget it," he said in his screaming voice; and would either have a letter or wash his hands of us.
I thought Alan would be gravelled
at that, for we
lacked the means of writing in that desert.
But he was a man of more resources
than I knew;
searched the wood until he found the quill of a cushat-dove, which he
into a pen; made himself a kind of ink with gunpowder from his horn and
from the running stream; and tearing a corner from his French military
commission (which he carried in his pocket, like a talisman to keep him
gallows), he sat down and wrote as follows:
"DEAR KINSMAN, — Please send the money by the bearer to the place he kens of.
"Your affectionate cousin,
This he intrusted to the bouman, who promised to make what manner of speed he best could, and carried it off with him down the hill.
He was three full days gone, but
about five in the
evening of the third, we heard a whistling in the wood, which Alan
presently the bouman came up the water-side, looking for us, right and
He seemed less sulky than before, and indeed he was
no doubt well pleased
to have got to the end of such a dangerous commission.
He gave us the news of the country; that it was alive with red-coats; that arms were being found, and poor folk brought in trouble daily; and that James and some of his servants were already clapped in prison at Fort William, under strong suspicion of complicity. It seemed it was noised on all sides that Alan Breck had fired the shot; and there was a bill issued for both him and me, with one hundred pounds reward.
This was all as bad as could be;
and the little note
the bouman had carried us from Mrs. Stewart was of a miserable sadness.
In it she besought Alan not to let himself be
captured, assuring him, if
he fell in the hands of the troops, both he and James were no better
men. The money she
had sent was all
that she could beg or borrow, and she prayed heaven we could be doing
Lastly, she said, she enclosed us one of the bills
in which we were
This we looked upon with great
curiosity and not a
little fear, partly as a man may look in a mirror, partly as he might
the barrel of an enemy's gun to judge if it be truly aimed. Alan was
as "a small, pock-marked, active man of thirty-five or thereby, dressed
a feathered hat, a French side-coat of blue with silver buttons, and
great deal tarnished, a red waistcoat and breeches of black, shag;" and
as "a tall strong lad of about eighteen, wearing an old blue coat, very
ragged, an old Highland bonnet, a long homespun waistcoat, blue
legs bare, low-country shoes, wanting the toes; speaks like a
Lowlander, and has
Alan was well enough pleased to see his finery so fully remembered and set down; only when he came to the word tarnish, he looked upon his lace like one a little mortified. As for myself, I thought I cut a miserable figure in the bill; and yet was well enough pleased too, for since I had changed these rags, the description had ceased to be a danger and become a source of safety.
"Alan," said I, "you should change
"Na, troth!" said Alan, "I have nae
others. A fine
sight I would be, if
I went back to France in a bonnet!"
This put a second reflection in my
mind: that if I
were to separate from Alan and his tell-tale clothes I should be safe
arrest, and might go openly about my business.
Nor was this all; for suppose I was arrested when I
was alone, there was
little against me; but suppose I was taken in company with the reputed
my case would begin to be grave. For
generosity's sake I dare not speak my mind upon this head; but I
thought of it
none the less.
I thought of it all the more, too,
when the bouman
brought out a green purse with four guineas in gold, and the best part
another in small change. True,
was more than I had. But
with less than five guineas, had to get as far as France; I, with my
two, not beyond Queensferry; so that taking things in their proportion,
society was not only a peril to my life, but a burden on my purse.
But there was no thought of the
sort in the honest
head of my companion. He
he was serving, helping, and protecting me.
And what could I do but hold my peace, and chafe,
and take my chance of
"It's little enough," said Alan,
the purse in his pocket, "but it'll do my business.
And now, John Breck, if ye will hand me over my
button, this gentleman
and me will be for taking the road."
But the bouman, after feeling about in a hairy purse that hung in front of him in the Highland manner (though he wore otherwise the Lowland habit, with sea-trousers), began to roll his eyes strangely, and at last said, "Her nainsel will loss it," meaning he thought he had lost it.
"What!" cried Alan, "you will lose
button, that was my father's before me?
I will tell you what is in my mind, John Breck: it is in my mind this
worst day's work that ever ye did since ye was born."
And as Alan spoke, he set his hands on his knees and looked at the bouman with a smiling mouth, and that dancing light in his eyes that meant mischief to his enemies.
Perhaps the bouman was honest enough; perhaps he had meant to cheat and then, finding himself alone with two of us in a desert place, cast back to honesty as being safer; at least, and all at once, he seemed to find that button and handed it to Alan.
"Well, and it is a good thing for
the honour of
the Maccolls," said Alan, and then to me, "Here is my button back
again, and I thank you for parting with it, which is of a piece with
friendships to me." Then
took the warmest parting of the bouman.
says he, "ye have done very well by me, and set your neck at a venture,
I will always give you the name of a good man."
Lastly, the bouman took himself off by one way; and Alan I (getting our chattels together) struck into another to resume our flight.