The Glencoe Massacre page 2
It has been said that the word Glencoe means "the valley of weeping," but that is untrue; it means the "narrow glen" of the doe, for that river flows through its four miles of length. Its appearance is undoubtedly sinister, and those who visit it to-day agree that it feels haunted. At first it is a bleak upland moor, broad enough until it comes to those tall perpendicular cliffs, part of which are almost black. Hereabouts is Ossian's Cave and that dangerous rock, so tempting to the youth of Glencoe, known as The Chancellor, still the home of the eagle and the wild fox.
Farther on is a cluster of cottages, known as a clachan, near to which is a chasm, narrow and deep, which in the old days had more than once been used as a hiding-place for the cattle stolen from the enemy, the powerful Breadal-bane, himself covetous of others' goods, yet withal a man of tremendous influence in the Court of King William.
The burn winds prettily, receives a tributary from the village of Achnacon and passes through a wooded glen to another clachan known as Inverrigan. Both these places are to suffer in the massacre. The slopes are now more gentle, bushy and grassy, but the boulders have fantastic shapes, the burn flows on past Carnoch, where the chieftain resided, on towards Loch Leven and the sea. Such was the narrow domain of old MacIan; here came one day an officer named Glenlyon, uncle to the wife of one of the chief's sons, marching at the head of a company 120 strong.
At sight of the redcoats coming down the glen the MacIans began to wonder, but just then they had no suspicion of their real purpose. Better, they decided, not to be found in possession of arms. By the time the soldiers had halted, these had been cunningly hidden. Swords and muskets went into the thatch of the houses, some were buried in the peat, the rest under a heap of stones. Though they considered that they were now protected by the Government, they still thought it advisable to have arms to hand in case of emergencies.
The soldiers, they noted, were wearing grey breeks with their redcoats, which showed that they were Argyll's men. Their leader was well known to John MacIan, son of the chief, who waited at the entrance to the glen to discover the reason why the soldiers had come. Glenlyon had been well to do, but had squandered his money on drink and gambling. His ong, thin, petulant face showed John pretty clearly that he was not such a friend to Glencoe as would seem from the heartiness of his manner. In fact, John would have been happier to have seen any one but his relative leading those soldiers into their retreat.
Glenlyon's explanation of his visit was that he was making for Invergarry with his troops, and would like to have them billeted for a while at Glencoe. It seemed to John a rather unusual request, but in the sacred name of hospitality the redcoats were welcomed, even though February was not the month when food was most plentiful. Nevertheless, John promised to give the self-invited guests of their best. He walked with Glenlyon at the head of the troops as they marched to Garnoch, where old MacIan came out to see what was afoot and to extend a hand of dignified greeting. What he thought at that time we may guess; but when he heard from Glenlyon that his was only a passing visit, having no special import, he felt relieved. Anyway, Glenlyon was a relative. He would eat of their salt, and if there was mischief afoot he would surely have given them a friendly hint. Yet their soldier-relative showed no great keenness for the honour of being billeted in the house of the Laird of Glencoe. Perhaps he felt too sensitive of his mission to endure the gaze of those fierce and penetrating eyes for the period he was destined to stay in the glen. Anyway, Glenlyon, refusing the open door of the chieftain's house, quickly announced that he would billet himself at Inverrigan. The men would settle themselves in some of the cottages, whilst the other officers would be divided among the principal dwellings.
That first evening in the glen! The aged chieftain, all unsuspecting that he was inviting his murderers to dinner, asked Glenlyon to bring along his two brother-officers, Lieut. Lindsay and Ensign Lindsay. The menu included venison, salt beef, mutton-ham, gridled oatcakes and foreign brandy. Glenlyon stated that the officers had only brought a little French claret with them into the glen. What the feelings of those three British officers were as they sat at the simple board of the fine old chieftain, can be readily imagined. Did a voice whisper to them that they were officers and gentlemen, and that the job entrusted to their care would have come more naturally to felons from prison, if not to the common hangman? To fight an enemy in open battle for the defence of the Realm was a far different task to this one, of sitting at a friendly table, waiting the order to rise up and murder the host. All in the name of Protestant England. British representatives might have themselves been the victims of similar treacherous plots in the past, but these were from some barbarous peoples on the outskirts of civilisation - certainly not from the governments of Christian countries.
The conduct of the guests roused the suspicions of both the sons of MacIan during that meal, and when the officers had gone, the three had a discussion. Alasdair protested that Glenlyon was in the glen for some shady purpose, inimical to their welfare, and that he was rotten to the core.
Chief MacIan replied that they must treat him well, that they were now under the protection of the Government, and that since Glenlyon had taken their food, he could not do them harm.
The days went on and the soldiers showed no sign of departure. It was nearing the middle of the month. The soldiers drilled daily and in the afternoons indulged in wrestling, shinty and other sports. There were good-natured games with the lads of the villages, and everything seemed to be going well and friendly. In the evening the pipers played, songs were sung, and jests were made between soldiers and clansmen; and care was taken by the hosts not to give offence to Campbell pride. But so far only the officers and sergeant knew the real purpose of the visit.
Every day Glenlyon would pay a visit of respect to his niece, the wife of Alasdair, and would spend some time drinking there. He was welcomed, and probably he thought that his presence was enjoyed; for he did not know that his niece, like so many of her Scottish sisters before and since her day, was fey, and suffering from a dead-weight of depression because of his visit. Before his coming she had been the very life of the glen; nowadays she was constantly obsessed by a fear of impending evil. Yet her uncle still professed to be friendly to all. Whence then would this evil descend upon the clan?
At night she could not sleep. Visions of terrible doings in her own village kept crossing her brain. At first her husband tried to laugh her out of her melancholy, but she would not respond, and she communicated her doubts of Glenlyon to him.
When he had warned the chieftain that Glenlyon meant them no good by his visit, Alasdair was speaking for himself and his own observations; now that his wife had been having these unhappy forebodings, he became seriously alarmed. When Scottish women went fey it was usually to some purpose.
Yet MacIan liked Glenlyon, for he was a merry guest, though somewhat of a braggart. But he had come down in in the world and perforce had to boast. His fellow-officers had more sullen temperaments. Alasdair noticed some significant looks passing between the three officers and fervently wished they would soon leave the glen. Men did not glance furtively at one another as these officers were constantly doing unless they held a secret which boded ill for their hosts. Yet what could it be? No complaint was brought against them. No word came that their submission of allegiance had not been accepted.
Drilling went on, games were played and drinks went round; and all the time Chief MacIan was cheerfully bearing the costs of the visit. One of the village children came to Alasdair's wife with a queer story which made her face blanch as she told it to her husband. The child had been out in the glen and had heard one of the soldiers saying a piece of doggerel poetry to a boulder which stands in a field near to the monumental cross of to-day. It ran something like this:
"Thou grey stone of the Glen
Though great is thy right to be in it,
If thou but knewest what is to happen to-night
Thou wouldest not abide here a minute."
That was on February the 12th. Alasdair, with many secret misgivings, tried to reassure his wife by saying that nothing would happen that night in the glen except a snowfall, as all the signs were pointing that way. Yet he must have been singularly unobservant to have missed the other and more ominous signs which some were noticing. There had been no drilling that morning. Instead there had been a route march, during which the sergeant had held a long confabulation with his men, and Glenlyon with his officers. There might be nothing in that, for it is the duty of officers to talk things over with the troops. Yet there was a look in the eyes of both officers and men which caused more whisperings in the clachans. True, there were the usual afternoon games in the glens, but somehow the soldiers had little heart for sport; they did not try to excel; indeed, they seemed to be glad when they had lost.
Yet even when Glenlyon failed to look him in the eye old MacIan seemed to have no presentiment of immediate danger. That evening Glenlyon was in a devil-may-care mood; he drank much, he played his cards wildly. He received an invitation from the chieftain to bring his officers along to dinner the next evening. And all the while he knew that there would be no dinner in Glencoe for any MacIan on the following evening. But he did not stay late over the cards, excusing himself on the ground that he had just received news from headquarters which would keep him busy until bedtime. Before the party broke up he did throw out the hint that the end of his stay among them was near, for there had been fresh trouble with the Glengarrys, and he might have to say good-bye to them at any minute.
Glenlyon had spoken truly when he said that he had received news. For Hill that morning had issued formal orders that the hideous deed must be done next day - the 13th - a day which the glen is never likely to forget. Orders had been given to increase the Glencoe force from 120 to 920 men, whose task it was to see that the 200 inhabitants, with the exception of the women, and men over 70, were to be wiped out.
Duncanson had told Glenlyon not to wait for him, but to start the butchery at 5 a.m. exactly. When Alasdair was going to bed that night he saw something which was the preliminary of the massacre. In an empty cottage next to his house, used as a guard-room, he saw a light and heard footsteps. One of the men he noticed to be entering the guard-room looked like Lindsay. What with his wife's forebodings, and the child's story, Alasdair was now so thoroughly frightened that he slipped away to the house of brother John and told him what he had seen. John was asleep; he refused to rise; he said that Lindsay was merely doubling the guard, which was the right thing to do on a cold night; that Alasdair should go home and sleep.
The next that Alasdair remembered was being wakened by his servant and asked why he slept when the soldiers were killing his brother John. For ten minutes ago he had seen them with fixed bayonets marching in the direction of John's house. Alasdair jumped into his clothes and hurried his family away to a place where they were not likely to be found; then he went to look for John. No need now to warn his brother of his wife's forebodings, for there was plenty of evidence round them of the terrible intentions of their soldier-guests. Running along the south wall of the glen, he met John and, as they greeted, they heard the sound of many guns being fired in the villages below.
The two sons were safe for the moment. But what of their father? Obviously the first man to be tackled must be the chief of the clan. Glenlyon did not himself go to the house, but his men went early. It was a tempestuous snowy morning, and when the soldiers woke the old man with the intimation that they had a special message for him, he ordered them to be admitted and cheerfully called for a drink for each early visitor. Those were his last words. As he spoke the soldiers fired twice at him from behind. He fell dead, one bullet through his body, another through his brain.
The giant of the glen having been slain, the soldiers now turned their attentions to his wife, Lady Glencoe. Hearing the disturbance, she had risen and was dressed when the soldiers burst in on her. Half-crazed, they seized her, tore off all her clothing, and bit the flesh from her fingers, striving to gain possession of her jewelled rings. For though she was the wife of the Laird of Glencoe and, as a woman, immune from the order to kill, she was an outlaw, and her property was the perquisite of the murdering troops.
Three of the chief's men, who were attracted to the house by sounds of firing, were now shot, two fatally. Their bodies, with that of the dead chief, were unceremoniously thrown out into the snow.
Meanwhile John, not dreaming that his father was in danger, had been wakened by the noise of troops outside his window, had risen, dressed himself, and decided that he should hurry over to Inverrigan to ask Glenlyon what all the movement of soldiers implied. Glenlyon was up and dressed and, had John known it, just about to begin murdering. He told John that there was nothing to be frightened about; the troops were merely parading in readiness to leave for Glengarry. He laughed at the young man for looking so pale, and repeated that he need have no fears for Glencoe. Still dissembling, he vowed that even had he evil intentions against the clan, he would first have passed the warning word to his niece, the wife of Alasdair.
Even so, John had now the gravest doubts. Soon after his return home a servant rushed in to confirm them: a party of redcoats with bayonets fixed was coming through the snow towards the house. These were the 400 troops that Duncanson had promised to bring into the glen to help in the bloody work, but whose corning was not to be waited for. At last John knew the truth. He had suspected it when the shouting began outside his house, probably started by a soldier who wished to give him a friendly warning. Fleeing from his home, he made for the shelter of the scrub, and there, as stated, he found Alasdair.
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