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The spot where they stood was very commanding, and nothing in nature could be more enchanting than the surrounding scenery; the morning sun was now hailing it with a smiling face, as if he rejoiced to revisit it ; his beams lighted up the woods hanging on the surrounding heights with the richest hues. The horsemen staid not long to admire, but rode away at a smart trot, Hamish preceding them as before.
Amherst availed himself of the first opportunity to question Lochandhu about the persons and place they had just left.
Macrory is a sort of a cattle-dealer,” replied he, a great attender of markets; and besides, as you might have gathered from his conversation, as well as from the liquor he entertained us with, he merchandizes a little in the smuggling way. He and his men have no objections to take a deer when he comes across them, or even to go in search of him when he does not choose to be so mannerly. As for the place, it is an old halting corner of his, where he often stops. I had some reason to guess he would be there last night, and thought it better to beat up his quarters, than that we should travel all night to reach the public-house we are now going to."
There was something not quite satisfactory, and a good deal rather at variance with appearances, in this explanation, but Amherst was forced to content himself with it such as it was.
Their course lay for many miles up the banks of the larger river, sometimes running close to its margin through little dells of rich pasture, and at others along steep wooded precipices, or under the base of overhanging crags, or along their brow, where the smallest slip of a foot might have been fatal to both horse and rider. The grandeur, the beauty, and the endless diversity of the scenery of this wild stream, so bewitched Amherst's romantic imagination, that he almost forgot for a time the theme of his sorrows.
In this, however, he had soon sufficient leisure to indulge. For, winding away from the river, they climbed through woods of oak and birch, up the banks of a small tributary stream, in its rocks, its waterfalls, and its rapids, appearing like a miniature picture of the larger. As they continued to ascend, the birches grew thinner, until at last they entirely disappeared ; and Amherst, in look
ing before him, found that their horses' heads were directed up the gentle but rugged ascent of an apparently endless stretch of moorland, with hills rising here and there in lumpish and unshapely masses. Here, then, his thoughts were left undisturbed by external objects, save when occasionally interrupted by the sudden rising of a moorcock, as he started away with his covey behind him from among their horses' feet, and wheeled his flight to some knoll, where alighting, and carrying his red comb erect, he repeated his sonorous bell of defiance,-or by the conversation of his companion, which, however, chiefly passed unheeded by him, except when politeness made him give a reply, not always exactly to the purpose.
A lake of several miles in extent, bounded by high barren hills, sweeping down to its edge with bold outlines, but without a tree to cheer the eye, now opened at some distance to their left. The scene was loneliness itself. An islet near one side of it, entirely covered with the extensive ruins of a castle, tinged of a grey and orange mixture of colours from the lichens, time, and the humidity of the situation, had engendered on its walls, was the only feature suggesting the idea of man, but rather bringing with it reflections adding to the surrounding dreariness. It was the haunt of myriads of gulls and other waterfowl, skimming in many a circling maze, and producing waving lines of transient silvery light, against those raw, cold, hazy clouds, half concealing the farther boundary of the sheet of water.
It seemed as if man had been forced, by the inhospitable climate of this region, to relinquish his dominion to those inhabitants of the storm.
But after leaving this gloomy scene, and climbing for several miles towards a group of hills forming the ridge of that part of the country, the view of a range of grandly-shaped and very lofty mountains, their sides blue with the air of distance, and their summits clothed in a glazed covering of snow, broke upon them through a bold pass.
“ Behold the Cairngorums !" said his companion; we must be near those white-headed gentlemen before we sleep, Mr Oakenwold. Let us put on a little, if you please.”
Amherst readily complied, and urging on Brisk, they rattled down the rocky path, wound over the knolls beyond it, and after a long and dreary ride,
descending through a dull moorland country, they reached a sod-built cottage, on the bank of a clear and rapid stream, running among rocks, and fringed here and there with a few alders and birches,
The ground plan of this curious erection presented a number of outshots and to-fa's, as such periodical additions are called in the language of Scotland. A broom from the top of one of the chimnies, was the sign that it was a place of entertainment, and here they halted to procure some refreshment for themselves and their horses.
Lochandhu was saluted by the landlord, a redfaced little man, in a coarse blue jacket and tartan kilt, who answered his inquiries without leaving the place where he was standing, with his back leaning against the wall of the house, and without withdrawing his hands from the otter-skin purse hanging from his middle, nor did he betray any sign of his profession, but even permitted the horses to be led off to the turf stable, without offering the smallest assistance.
“ Can we have anything to eat, Mr Macphie ?" said Lochandhu, nodding to him familiarly.
“ Ou, nae doubt, nae doubt ye may that, Sir,".