William Edmondstoune Aytoun

(1813 - 1865 / Scotland)

The Execution Of Montrose


COME hither, Evan Cameron!
Come, stand beside my knee:
I hear the river roaring down
Towards the wintry sea.
There ’s shouting on the mountain-side,
There ’s war within the blast;
Old faces look upon me,
Old forms go trooping past:
I hear the pibroch wailing
Amidst the din of fight,
And my dim spirit wakes again
Upon the verge of night.

’T was I that led the Highland host
Through wild Lochaber’s snows,
What time the plaided clans came down
To battle with Montrose.
I ’ve told thee how the Southrons fell
Beneath the broad claymore,
And how we smote the Campbell clan
By Inverlochy’s shore.
I ’ve told thee how we swept Dundee,
And tam’d the Lindsays’ pride;
But never have I told thee yet
How the great Marquis died.

A traitor sold him to his foes;
O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meet
With one of Assynt’s name—
Be it upon the mountain’s side,
Or yet within the glen,
Stand he in martial gear alone,
Or back’d by armed men—
Face him, as thou wouldst face the man
Who wrong’d thy sire’s renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,
And strike the caitiff down!

They brought him to the Watergate,
Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
And not a fenceless man.
They set him high upon a cart,
The hangman rode below,
They drew his hands behind his back
And bar’d his noble brow.
Then, as a hound is slipp’d from leash,
They cheer’d the common throng,
And blew the note with yell and shout
And bade him pass along.

It would have made a brave man’s heart
Grow sad and sick that day,
To watch the keen malignant eyes
Bent down on that array.
There stood the Whig west-country lords,
In balcony and bow;
There sat their gaunt and wither’d dames,
And their daughters all a-row.
And every open window
Was full as full might be
With black-rob’d Covenanting carles,
That goodly sport to see!

But when he came, though pale and wan,
He look’d so great and high,
So noble was his manly front,
So calm his steadfast eye,
The rabble rout forbore to shout,
And each man held his breath,
For well they knew the hero’s soul
Was face to face with death.
And then a mournful shudder
Through all the people crept,
And some that came to scoff at him
Now turn’d aside and wept.

But onwards—always onwards,
In silence and in gloom,
The dreary pageant labor’d,
Till it reach’d the house of doom.
Then first a woman’s voice was heard
In jeer and laughter loud,
And an angry cry and a hiss arose
From the heart of the tossing crowd:
Then as the Graeme look’d upwards,
He saw the ugly smile
Of him who sold his king for gold,
The master-fiend Argyle!

The Marquis gaz’d a moment,
And nothing did he say,
But the cheek of Argyle grew ghastly pale
And he turn’d his eyes away.
The painted harlot by his side,
She shook through every limb,
For a roar like thunder swept the street,
And hands were clench’d at him;
And a Saxon soldier cried aloud,
“Back, coward, from thy place!
For seven long years thou hast not dar’d
To look him in the face.”

Had I been there with sword in hand,
And fifty Camerons by,
That day through high Dunedin’s streets
Had peal’d the slogan-cry.
Not all their troops of trampling horse,
Nor might of mailed men,
Not all the rebels in the south
Had borne us backwards then!
Once more his foot on Highland heath
Had trod as free as air,
Or I, and all who bore my name,
Been laid around him there!

It might not be. They placed him next
Within the solemn hall,
Where once the Scottish kings were thron’d
Amidst their nobles all.
But there was dust of vulgar feet
On that polluted floor,
And perju’d traitors fill’d the place
Where good men sate before.
With savage glee came Warristoun
To read the murderous doom;
And then uprose the great Montrose
In the middle of the room.

“Now, by my faith as belted knight,
And by the name I bear,
And by the bright Saint Andrew’s cross
That waves above us there,
Yea, by a greater, mightier oath—
And oh, that such should be!
By that dark stream of royal blood
That lies ’twixt you and me,
I have not sought in battle-field
A wreath of such renown,
Nor dar’d I hope on my dying day
To win the martyr’s crown!

“There is a chamber far away
Where sleep the good and brave,
But a better place ye have nam’d for me
Than by my father’s grave.
For truth and right, ’gainst treason’s might,
This hand hath always striven,
And ye raise it up for a witness still
In the eye of earth and heaven.
Then nail my head on yonder tower,
Give every town a limb,
And God who made shall gather them:
I go from you to Him!”

The morning dawn’d full darkly,
The rain came flashing down,
And the jagged streak of the levin-bolt
Lit up the gloomy town:
The thunder crash’d across the heaven,
The fatal hour was come;
Yet aye broke in with muffled beat
The ’larum of the drum.
There was madness on the earth below
And anger in the sky,
And young and old, and rich and poor,
Came forth to see him die.

Ah, God! that ghastly gibbet!
How dismal ’t is to see
The great tall spectral skeleton,
The ladder and the tree!
Hark! hark! it is the clash of arms—
The bells begin to toll—
“He is coming! he is coming!
God’s mercy on his soul!”
One last long peal of thunder:
The clouds are clear’d away,
And the glorious sun once more looks down
Amidst the dazzling day.

“He is coming! he is coming!”
Like a bridegroom from his room,
Came the hero from his prison
To the scaffold and the doom.
There was glory on his forehead,
There was lustre in his eye,
And he never walk’d to battle
More proudly than to die:
There was color in his visage,
Though the cheeks of all were wan,
And they marvell’d as they saw him pass,
That great and goodly man!

He mounted up the scaffold,
And he turn’d him to the crowd;
But they dar’d not trust the people,
So he might not speak aloud.
But he look’d upon the heavens,
And they were clear and blue,
And in the liquid ether
The eye of God shone through;
Yet a black and murky battlement
Lay resting on the hill,
As though the thunder slept within—
All else was clam and still.

The grim Geneva ministers
With anxious scowl drew near,
As you have seen the ravens flock
Around the dying deer.
He would not deign them word nor sign,
But alone he bent the knee,
And veil’d his face for Christ’s dear grace
Beneath the gallows-tree.
Then radiant and serene he rose,
And cast his cloak away:
For he had ta’en his latest look
Of earth and sun and day.

A beam of light fell o’er him,
Like a glory round the shriven,
And he climb’d the lofty ladder
As it were the path to heaven.
Then came a flash from out the cloud,
And a stunning thunder-roll;
And no man dar’d to look aloft,
For fear was on every soul.
There was another heavy sound,
A hush and then a groan;
And darkness swept across the sky—
The work of death was done!

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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