WELL, Gentlemen – as I was telling you, I was born in Strathdawn here – as pretty a glen as there is in all Scotland. Oh, what a bonny glen it was in my young days! You see plain enough, without my telling you, that there are no trees now in it to speak of – none, indeed, but a parcel of straggling patches and bushes of aller and birch and hazel about the bit water-runs and burnies, or hanging here and there on the brae sides. But when I was a boy, the hills were all one thick wood of tall trees, that gave shelter to great herds of deer in the winter. Now, alas! the trees have fallen, and the deer, annoyed and persecuted by sheep, shepherds, and sheep-dogs, have longsyne retreated to the upper mountains and valleys of the Cairngorms, save may be, at an anterin1 time, when severe weather on the heights, may drive an odd few of them down upon us for a short season.
Well, gentlemen – not to detain you with my school-boy days – (for I was at school, gentlemen – and not so bad a scholar neither) – when I grew up to be a stout lad, I left the glen, with six others of my own age, to go and seek for work in the south country. I shall never forget that day that we left it. We went off full of life and joy – for we thought but little of leaving our friends or the scenes of our youth, since we trusted that the same firm legs that were carrying us away could at any time bring us back to them the moment we had the will to return. We panted to see the world, and it was now opening before us. All the fanciful dreams of our boyhood were, as we thought, now about to be realised. Light, I trow, were our hearts, and full were we of hopes, as we made our way across the Grampians, and in a few days these hopes were realised, by our finding ourselves busily employed, and working hard, though at good wages, in a quarry near Cupar in Fife.
There we continued for some time perfectly contented with our labour, as well as with the price of it, till John Grant of Lurg, grandson of the famous Robert of Lurg, well known by the nick-name of Old Stachcan, or the stubborn –
Clifford (breaking in on the Serjeant’s narrative). – What! the fierce looking fellow whose picture we saw at Castle Grant with a pistol in his hand?
Serjeant. – Just exactly – the very same, sir – he has a pistol in his hand in the picture, and well, I promise you, did he know how to use it when he was in the body. Well, it was his grandson, John of Lurg, who, some how or other, smelt us out in the place where we then were in Fife; and as he was at that time raising men for a company, you may well believe that his joy was not small when he thus came, like a setting dog, to a dead point on such a covey of stout young Hillantmen in a quarry. He soon contrived to get about us altogether, and with a hantel of fair words, and mony a bonny speech about our Hillant hills – Hillant glens – Hillant waters – Hillant lasses – and, what was more to his purpose at the time, about Hillant deeds of arms – all of which, observe ye gentlemen, were made over a reeking bowl of punch that you might have swum in, he very soon succeeded in stirring up the fire of military ambition within our souls, until he ultimately so inflamed us that, with all the ease in life, he quickly converted us, who were nothing unwilling, from hard-working quarriers, into gentlemen sodgers, by enlisting us, all in a bunch, into the ninety-seventh regiment, or Inverness Highlanders.
I need not tell you all the outs-and-ins of adventures that befell me while I was in the ninety-seventh, in which corps I remained about two years and a half. But I may mention to you, that I was serving with it when I got my first wound – I mean this bit of crack here, gentlemen – (and he pulled up his trews, and showed his right leg immediately below the knee, which was shrunken up to half the thickness of the other, from having had the greater part of the muscles utterly destroyed). – Some way or another, they took it into their heads to put us on board of the Orion, one of the ships of Lord Bridport’s squadron, to act as marines – an odd sort of duty truly for Hillantmen, and one, I’ll assure you, that we by no means liked over much, seeing that, on board of a ship, we were obliged to stand to be peppered at like brancher crows on a tree, without the power of having our will out against the villains, by charging them with the baggonet, as we should have done had we been opposed to them on dry land; and, indeed, we soon felt the frost of this, when we came to be engaged in the action fought with the French fleet on the 23rd of June, 1795.
On that day, the French had twelve line-of-battle ships, besides a number of frigates and other smaller vessels. From all their manœvres it was very clear that they did not wish to face us – for they stole off in a very dignified manner, never looking over their shoulders all the time, as they were fain to have made us believe that they never saw us at all, or that we were quite beneath their notice. But it was no time for us to stand upon ceremony. We after them full sail, and we soon made them condescend to attend to us. In spite of all they could do we brought them to action in L’Orient Bay. There we lethered them handsomely, and we very speedily took from them three great ships – the Alexander, the Formidable, and the Tigger; and, if it had not been for the batteries on shore, there was no doubt that we should have had every keel of them. Well, you see, gentlemen, a large splinter of oak – rent away from the ship’s side by a cannon shot – took me just below the knee, and demolished the shape of my leg in the ugly fashion I showed you this moment. But I was young then, and hearty, and no very easily daunted or cast down, so that I was soon out of the doctor’s list, and on duty again.
But what was far worse than all the wounds that my body could have suffered, though it had been shot and drilled through and through like a riddle, was that which befell me at Hilsea barracks after we returned to Britain. You know very well, gentlemen, that the Bible says, “a wounded speerit who can bear?” Now, you may guess what were the wounds of my speerit, and consequently what were my sufferings, when I and some of my Hillant comrades were told that we were to be immediately drafted into the ninth, or East Norfolk – an English regiment!
It was with sore hearts, and no little indignation, that we heard of the odious order for this cruel separation from our beloved native regiment – a corps in which we had all been like bairns of the same family in the bosom of our common mothers – where our officers had been more like elder brothers than superiors – cracking with us, at times, in Gaelic, over all our old Hillant stories – and enjoying, as much as we did, our Hillant songs and Hillant dances – and many of them, having known sundry individuals among us when at home in boyhood, were as familiar and easy with us, at any ordinary bye-hour, as you, gentlemen, are pleased to be with me at this precious moment – and yet the de’il ae bit was our discipline any the waur o’ that, whatever his Grace the gallant Duke of Wellington may say against such a system – and, for aught I know, he may be right enough as to the English, who have not been brought up as we were in the allowance of such liberties, – but, as for us, when the parade hour came, or the time for duty, all such familiarities ceased, and everyone filled his own place, like the wheel of a watch, to be turned at the will of him who was above him. You may easily conceive, then, that banishment, or even death itself, would have been better to us than the being thus torn from such a regiment for the express purpose of being joined to a corps composed of Englishmen, with whom we could neither crack of our homes, nor of our Hillant hills, nor sing Gaelic songs, nor tell auncient stories, nor speak about Ossian, nor hear the pipes play, nor dance the Hillant-fling. And then, instead of the kind and brotherly correction of our Hillant officers, the very slightest sound of whose word of reproof brought the blush of shame into our cheeks, and was as effectual a punishment to us as if we had been brought to the halberts – think what it was to us to be snubbed by some cross tempered upsetting Sassenach, who could know nothing of our nation’s temper or disposition, and who might perhaps, of a morning, order our backs to be scored, with as little remorse as he would order a beef-steak to be brandered for his breakfast. Oh it was a terrible change! Our very speerits were just altogether broken at the very thought of it, and we actually ceased to be the same men.
But, gentlemen, if this was the effect produced on our minds by the mere anticipation of this most bitter change in our fate, what think ye was the misery of body which we sustained, and, especially, what think ye was my misery, when I, who never wore aught else but a kilt from the day I was born till that accursed moment, was crammed, in spite of all I could say or do to the contrary, hip and thigh, into a pair of tight regimental small clothes! Aye, you may laugh indeed, gentlemen – but if anybody was to tie your legs together with birken woodies, as they have tied the fore-legs of yon ponny that you see feeding yonder in the bit meadow at the foot of the brae, and if you were then to be bidden to climb up the steepest face of Ben-Machduie, you could not be more helpless, or more ill at ease than I was. As for drilling, you might as well have set up a man in a sack to march.
“Step out!” cried they eternally – “why the devil don’t you step out?”
But it was just altogether ridiculous to cry out any such thing to me, for fint a step could I take at all, unless they had letten me step out of my breeks. – I was in perfect torture with them. – The very circulation of my blood was stopped – my nether man was rendered entirely numb and powerless. Nay, had I been built up mid man into a brick-wall I might have stepped out just as well.
Now, I would have you to understand, gentlemen, that especially and above all things, the confounded articles grippit and pinched me most desperately over the henches. The joints of my henches were so bound together in their very sockets by their pressure as to be rendered altogether useless; and the torture I endured in these quarters became so great, that I felt I could bear it no longer. I sat down, therefore, to hold a consultation with myself what was best to be done; and, after as cool and calm a consideration of my lamentable case as my extreme state of misery would allow, I came, in my own private council of was, to the determination, that I had only three things to choose from, and there were, – to desert – to cut my throat – or to cut my breeches; and, after having much and duly weighed these different evil alternatives, I finally resolved to adopt the last of them.
Having come to this resolution, I then began, like a skilful engineer, narrowly to examine the horrid instruments of my sufferings, in order to ascertain how and where I could most easily make a breach in them, and one that was most likely to give the greatest ease to myself. A little farther thought and observation soon convinced me, that, as the parts most grievously afflicted, were those which your masters of fortification would have called the sailliant angles of my henches to right and left, and especially as on these hinged much of the motion of the whole man, it was clear that the proposed attempt to work myself relief should be first tried in those two points. I lost not a moment, therefore, in carrying my plan into execution. I immediately borrowed a pair of shears from a sodger’s wife; and, sitting down regularly before my breeches, like an experienced general about to besiege a fortress, I fairly attacked the two sailliant angles of the bastion, and carried them by storm; and having, with the greatest nicety, cut out a round piece of the cloth of three or four inches in width, directly over each hipjoint, I ventured to thrust my limbs within the very garrison of my breeches; and really, gentlemen, the ease I obtained in consequence of this bold operation is not to be described.
So innocent was I, and so utterly unconscious of even a suspicion that I had done any thing wrong, that when the drum beat, I went off to the private parade of the company I had been attached to, with my heart almost as much eased as my henches; nay, it was absolutely bounding with benevolence, and brimful with the earnest desire and intention of spreading the blessed discovery I had made, and making it widely known among my Hillant comrades, so that all of them who might be in the same state of misery as I had been, might forthwith proceed to benefit themselves, as I had done, by the bright discovery I had made. Rejoicing in my ease, therefore, I strode across the barrack-square, with a step so much wider and grander than any I had lately been able to use, that I felt a pride in the excellence of my invention which I cannot possibly describe. I halted for a moment – stretched out, first my right leg, and then my left, just as I have seen a fowl do upon its perch – and then, clapping my hand upon the new made hole on either side of me, I chuckled for joy.
“Hah!” cried I; “breeches do they call you? By my faith, then, but I have made you more like you name by these well imagined breaches of my own contrivance, which I have so ingeniously opened through your accursed sides.”
I then bent myself down, and made a spring into the air; after which, being quite satisfied that a paring or two more off the edges of the round holes would make all nearly right, I walked on with an air of dignified self-satisfaction that was not to be mistaken. But I had not come within ten yards of the spot where the company was falling in, when I heard the serjeant exclaim:-
“My heyes! look at that ere Ighland savage! I’m damned if he arn’t been cutting big oles in his Majesty’s rigimental breeches!”
A loud horse-laugh burst out from among the men, and the serjeant joined heartily in it. But it was no laughing matter to me; I was cut to the soul. All our horrible anticipations of English officers, halberds, and cat-o’-nine-tails, came smack upon me at once. I was overwhelmed – I grew dizzy – and, before I had well recovered myself, I was marched off to the guard-house under the charge of a corporal and a file of men, and a written crime was given in against me in these terms –
“Privut Archbauld Stewart of Captain Ketley’s compnay, confined by order of Sargunt Nevett, for aving cut two big oles in the ipps of a pair of riggimental britches belonghing too is Magesty King George the Third.”
Well, gentlemen, there was I left in the guard-house for some hours a prisoner. But if I was confined in one way, I took good care to put myself very much at my ease in another; for I pulled off my tormentors altogether, and sat quite coolly for all that; for, independent of the fearful prospect of the unrelenting punishment that awaited me, the disgrace of confinement to which I had thus, for the first time in my life, been subjected, and that so unjustly, stung me to the very heart. For a good hour or more I could do nothing but grind my teeth with absolute vexation and rage; but at length I began to gather some command of myself, and to think of the necessity of making up my mind as to what was to be done. I recalled the three evil alternatives, from which I had already made that which had now proved to be so unfortunate a selection, and as that had so miserably failed me, I continued for sometime swinging backwards and forwards, like a bairn in a shuggy-shue,2 between the two that yet remained to be tried, and I had not yet made up my mind on the subject, when the serjeant appeared, and ordered me to put on my breeches and follow him. I obeyed like a man who gets up from his straw to go out and be hanged. But there was one great difference between such a poor wretch and me, very much in his favour, for as his fetters in such a case are taken off, I was on the contrary condemned to buckle on mine.
I did follow the serjeant as he bade me, but notwithstanding the outlets I had made in the breeches for the joints of my hench bones, and the comparative ease U had thereby formerly enjoyed, yet the few hours I had had in the guard-house of a freedom of limb resembling that which I was wont to enjoy in my old kilt, made me feel so strange upon thus recommitting my joints to the thraldom of the accursed garments, that I went shaughling along after him, as if they had undergone no improvement at all. He took me directly to Captain Ketley’s quarters, and whilst I was on my way thither, I was compelled to bring my doubts to a hasty conclusion, and so I resolved that of the two plans now only remaining for me to choose from, desertion should be first tried, seeing that if it should fail me, I might cut my throat afterwards, for that is I should cut my throat first, I should not afterwards find it an easy matter to desert. I had no more time than just enough to settle this point with myself, when the serjeant rapped at our captain’s door.
“Come in!” cried Captain Ketley, in what sounded in my ear like a tremendous voice.
“Privut Archbauld Stewart and his cut breeches, your honour!” cried the serjeant, ushering me without ceremony into the middle of the room.
There I stood with my head up, and in the military attitude of attention, the which, as you will naturally observe, gentlemen, was, of all others, out of all sight the most convenient and best chosen attitude for me at the time; for, as you will understand, the palms of my two hands were thus exactly applied to the two holes I had made, though the size of the holes themselves was so great that I could by no means entirely cover them. But if I could have done so, this well conceived manœuvre of mine would have been of no avail.
“Stand at ease!” cried the serjeant, giving me at the same time a smart tap on the back with his rattan cane.
“Serjeant,” said I impatiently, “you know very well that it’s not possible for me to stand at ease in thir fashious breeks of mine.”
I saw that Captain Ketley had a hard task of it to keep his gravity.
“What is this which has been reported to me of you sir?” demanded he with as stern a look as he could possibly assume; “how comes it that you have taken upon you to destroy a pair of new regimental breeches in that manner?”
“Captain,” said I, now quite brought to bay, and making up my mind to go through with it, whatever the consequences might be; “Captain, if your honour will but hear me, I will speak.”
“Speak on then,” said Captain Ketley, “provided you say nothing that as an officer I may not listen to. Serjeant Nevett, you may retire.”
“You need not fear that I shall offend you, Captain Ketley,” said I, “I have been over long accustomed to speak to officers to forget the respect and duty I owe to them as a sodger, and since your honour is so kind, I will be as short as I can. I enlisted, you see, to serve in the Inverness Highlanders, and in so doing I covenanted to fight in company with my own countrymen, and in the freedom of a kilt. Now, against all bargain – against all manner of justice – against my will – and against the very nature of a Hillantman, I have been thrust, first into this English regiment, and then into this pair of English small clothes – well may they be so called, I’m sure. Captain Ketley, all this is most unreasonable. You might as well put a deer of the mountains into a breachame, and expect to plough the land with him, as to put a Hillantman into such cruel harness as thir things, with the hope that he can do his work with them; and, although I am as wishful as any man that serves King George can be, to spend the last drop of my blood, as some of it has flowed already in the cause of his Majesty, God bless him! and for our common country, yet I will just tell your honour plainly and honestly – though with all manner of respect – that I will not stay in this Ninth Regiment to be kept in the eternal torture of thir breeks, though I should see the men drawn out to shoot me for trying to desert – for death itself is desirable rather than that I should longer endure such misery as this. So I say again, that although I am quite willing to serve King George in any regiment he may be pleased to put me into that wears the kilt, yet I will take the first moment I can catch, to run away from such disgraceful and heartbreaking bondage as this to which I am now subjected.”
“No, no, my good fellow,” said Captain Ketley, who had all this time had his own share of trouble in keeping himself from laughing, and who now gave way and laughed outright; “you must not run away from us, Archy. We cannot afford to lose so good a man. We must do all we can to put you at your ease with us. Your complaints are certainly not altogether unreasonable. But you should not have cut holes in your breeches – you should have come and stated your grievances to me. Remember in future, that you will always find me ready to listen to any well-founded complaint you may have to make. Meanwhile, – see here,” said he, taking a pair of old loose trowsers out of his chest, and tossing them to me, – “wear these for a few days, till your limbs get somewhat accustomed to the thraldom of small clothes, and until we can get you fitted with a better and easier pair of your own. I shall see about your immediate release from confinement, and that you and your Highland comrades be excused from duty until you are more at home in your new clothing. If you behave yourself well, you shall always find a friend in me.”
“God bless your honour!” cried I, with a joyful and grateful heart, and, if you will believe me, gentlemen, almost with the tears in my eyes; “your honour has spoken to me just like one of our kind Hillant officers of the Ninety-seventh. I’ll go all the world over with you, though my breeks were of iron!”
Well, gentlemen, Captain Ketley was as good as his word – he was a kind and steady friend to me as long as he lived. He inquired of me whether I could read and write; and finding that I could do both – aye, and spell too – and that somewhat better, as I reckon, than Serjeant Nevett, – and, moreover, that I was not a bad hand at counting, – he got me made a corporal in less than a fortnight, and, very soon after that, a serjeant. But woe’s me! a few months had hardly passed away when Captain Ketley died. Many were the salt tears I shed over his grave, after we had given him our parting volleys, and no wonder, for he was one of the best friends I ever had in my life. I cannot think of him, even yet, without regret. Willingly would I have given my life for his at any time. But what is this miserable world, gentlemen, but a valley of sorrow?
Well, I got fond enough, after all, of the Holy Boys, as the old Ninth lads were called.
Clifford (interrupting.) – How did they get that name, Archy?
Serjeant. – Oh, I’ll tell you that, sir. – You see, when they came from the West Indies, as a skeleton regiment, they were made up again with growing boys. Colonel Campbell of Blythswood tried to do them some good by getting them schoolmasters and Bibles. But the young rogues had been ill nurtured in the parent nest, and they used to barter their Bibles for gin and gingerbread. The Duke of York used to say of them, that they were everything that was bad but bad sodgers – ha! ha! ha!
And now, gentlemen, I believe I have little more to tell you about myself, except that I got my jaw broken in two places by a musket ball in Holland, on the 19th September, 1799. See what a queer kind of a mouth it has made me in the inside here. You see I had been out superintending the working party in the redoubts, and I had returned, tired as a dog, to the barn where the light company were quartered, and had just laid my head on my wife’s knee to take a nap – for I was married by this time – when a terrible thumping came to the door, and Corporal Parrot ran to see who was there. Now, it happened that one of our serjeants was sick, and the other had been killed. – It was Adjutant Orchard who knocked so loud.
“Where is Serjeant Stewart?” demanded he, in a terrible hurry, the moment he entered the place.
“Can’t I do instead of him?” replied Corporal Parrot; “for he is just new out of the trenches.”
“No!” replied the adjutant; “if he was new out of hell, I must have him directly.”
“What’s ado, sir?” demanded I, jumping up.
“You know as much as I do,” replied the Adjutant; “but, depend upon it, we are not wanted to build churches. Get you out the light bobs as fast as you can.”
Well, I hurried about and got out the light company with as little delay as possible; and no very easy matter it was to get hold of the poor fellows, knocked up as they were. Some of them I actually pulled out of hay stacks by the legs, as you would pull out periwinkles from their shells. The troops marched fifteen miles without a halt. We found the French and Russians hard at it, blazing away so that we could see the very straws at our feet as we marched over the sand. The balls came whistling about us like hail as we advanced. First came one, and knocked away the hilt of my sword; then came another, and cracked off the iron head of my halberd.
“If you go on at this rate, you villains,” said I, “you’ll disarm us altogether.”
Then smack came another, whack through my canteen, and spilt all my brandy.
“Ye rascals!” said I, trying at the same time to save us much of it as I could in my mouth, “that is most uncivil. Ye are no gentlemen, ye scoundrels, to spill a poor fellow’s drop of comfort in this way.”
By and bye, half-a-dozen of balls or so went through the blanket I carried on my shoulders.
“By my faith,” said I, “it’s time now that I should return you my compliments for all your civilities, you vagabonds.”
I stooped to take a musket from a dead Russian for my own defence. The piece was a rifle, and it was yet warm in his hand from the last discharge.
“By your leave, my poor fellow,” said I, “I’ll borrow your firelock for a shot or two, seeing that you have no farther use for it at this present time.”
But dead as he was, the last gripe of departing life had made him hold it so fast, that I was obliged to twist it round ere I could make him part with it. I took off his cartridgebox by pulling the belt over his head. He had fired but two cartridges, and eighteen still remained. I loaded and fired twice; and I was just in the act of biting off the end of my third cartridge to fire again, when a musket ball took me in the left cheek, and knocked me over as flat as a sixpence on the ground. The captain of the company looked behind him, and seeing that I was still able to move my hands, he very humanely ordered a file of men to carry me to the rear. They lifted me up from the ground, and the whole world seemed to be going round with me. They supported me under the arms, and I staggered along like a drunk man. They took me to a barn, where I lay insensible for some time, until coming to myself somewhat, as I lay there, I saw two surgeons employed with the wounded. “You will have little trouble with me, gentlemen,” thought I within myself; “I shall be dead before you get at me.” Just at this moment I heard one of the surgeons say to the other, –
“I believe I shall die of hunger.”
“I am like to faint from absolute want,” said the other.
I could not speak, but I beckoned.
“By and bye,” said one of the surgeons, shaking his head.
“Your turn is not come yet,” said the other.
I beckoned again, and pointed to the wallet at my side.
“Oh ho!” said the first surgeon crossing the place, and rapidly followed by the other, – “Oh ho! I comprehend you now. Let’s see what you have got in your larder.”
He put his hand into the wallet, and found some balls of oatmeal, which my wife, honest woman, had made by rolling them up with water, and then giving them a roast among the ashes. The two gentlemen devoured them with great glee. They then looked at my chafts, put some lint into the wound, and bound it up.
“Well,” thought I to myself, “a leaden ball made the wound, and a ball of oatmeal has doctored it. Many thanks to my worthy wife, God bless her!”
After the doctors left us, the place, which was pitch dark, became hot and pestiferous, and the groans that came from some of the poor wretches put me in mind of pandemonium. I was for some time feverish and restless. I tried to stretch myself out at length, but I felt some one at my feet who would not stir all I could do. Though I could not speak, I was not sparing of my kicks, but still the person regarded me not. Next to me was Serjeant Wilson with a broken leg, and he was pressed upon by some one at his side. But the Serjeant had the full use of his tongue.
“Sir,” said he to his neighbour, for he was noted for being a very polite man, “will you do me the favour to lie a little farther over, and take your elbow out of my stomach?”
His civil request was disregarded, and there was no reply.
“Oh!” said the serjeant, “perhaps the gentleman is a furreiner; but all them furreiners understands French, so I’ll try my hand at that with him:- Moushee wooly wous have the goodness to takee your elbow out of my guts. Confound the fellow, what an edification he has had that he does not understand French. I’ve heard Ensign Flitterkin say that it is the language of Europe. Pray, sir, may I ax if you be a European? No answer, – by my soul then I may make bold to say that you are anything but a civilian. Sir,” continued the serjeant, beginning now to lose patience altogether, and to wax very wroth, “I insist on your removing your elbow. I say, rascal! take your elbow out of my stomach this moment!”
And so the serjeant went on from bad to worse, till he swore, and went on to swear, at the poor man more and more bloodily the whole night. But neither his swearing, nor my kicking, could rid either of us of our troublesome companions. And it was no great wonder indeed – for when the day-light came, we discovered that they were two dead Russians!
“This is a horrible place!” exclaimed the principal surgeon when he came back in the morning. “As near as I can guess, one hundred and fifty-two men have died in this wretched barn since last night! – we must have the wounded out of this.”
Thanks to my wife’s oatmeal balls, which the grateful surgeons had not forgotten, my wounds were dressed the very first man. We were soon afterwards carried on hand-barrows by a Russian party down to the flat-bottomed boats, and so we were conveyed to the Texel. I bore the bullet home in my chafts, and it was cut out by an English doctor in Deal hospital. I was discharged on the 23d of June, 1800. But my pension was granted before pensions were so big as they are now-a-days, so that I am but ill off compared to some who have come home from the late wars. But, thank God, I am contented, since I cannot make a better of it.