” So you’ve two Americans with you today,” the factor (or overseer )of the Cawdor Castle estate was saying to Mrs. Pitt, as he readjusted the blush rosebud in his buttonhole. ” We are not admitting the public to the castle; but you’re quite sure they are from the States? Well, I’ll do what I can; I promise you that.”
So saying, he stepped into his smart trap, which had been awaiting him at the door, and was driven away in the direction of the castle, where there were certain repairs requiring his oversight in progress. It had, been arranged that Mrs. Pitt and her party should follow him about half an hour later.
In the meantime they found things to interest them in Nairn, a town about fifteen miles from Inverness. It is a place of strange contrasts, for, in spite of its beingl, a popular seaside resort, it has kept its quaint old-world appearance. Motor cars, driven by gay summer girls, honked up and down its narrow main street, and fashionably dressed visitors jostled the shoulders of stout fishwives in starched caps and aprons, with creels of fish on their backs. They even met a man who was striding down the middle of the street, ringing a huge bell and, in a Fingalian voice, announcing a ” sale of potatoes in the ground ” which would take place at a neighboring farm at seven-forty-five that evening.
At the appointed time they set out in an open carriage, and, after a pleasant six-mile drive, arrived at the castle gate.
” Did you ever see such an adorable little lodge ! ” cried Betty, catching sight of a low graystone cottage, over which climbed a wonderful scarlet vine.
Just then the cheery Scotch caretaker appeared to beckon them within, for it was showering a bit out of a blue sky, as it has a delightful fashion of doing in the British Isles. Such summer showers never do any harm and are often the means of leading to agreeable and unexpected experiences, or of showing one homelike interiors, as was the case on this July day when John and Betty visited Cawdor Castle.
In the neat but crowded little room, and over the steaming cups of tea and flat, beautifully baked and jam-spread pancakes which the woman insisted they should accept, she told them what she called the flame-colored vine, of which she was very proud. Unfortunately its name is so long and difficult that neither Mrs. Pitt nor any of the others could recall it afterwards; but they always remembered the pride with which they were assured that it is ” quite Scotch and willna grow south o’ the Tweed.”
When, after a little, the rain ceased and they bade farewell to the woman at the lodge, walking through the ancient gate into the castle grounds, the factor from Nairn was coming down the drive toward them. He was smiling, so they knew that all was well; he had decided in their favor, and they would see the castle interior.
The factor put his finger to his lips. ” We’ll just walk around the lawn a bit,” said he.
I’ve refused admission to some English people staying at a castle near here, and they may yet be about the grounds. You under-stand that the castle’s just being newly done up, a little painting and putting in new drains, and no visitors are allowed. The Earl and her Ladyship are in Edinburgh now, but they’ll be coming here with a houseful of guests in a few weeks’ time. I assure you we’ve our hands full to be ready for them ! ” and he shook his head wearily. But the factor had not the look of an overworked man.
By the time he had shown them a most imposing view of the castle from across a little river, a view including the long, severely plain portion in which are the living apartments, as well as the old fifteenth-century keep whose four pointed turrets tower behind and above, it was considered that the English party must have taken its disappointed departure; so they approached the castle entrance.
Bully ! ” shouted John. ” It’s got a draw-bridge and a moat, only the moat’s got two trees growing in it ! ”
” Is that the only way to get in? ” asked Betty, pointing to the ancient drawbridge with its heavy chains and its great beams, now green with the mold of ,ages.
” Ay,” replied the factor.
” Will it still work? ” demanded John. ” Can they pull it up the way they used to? ”
” If his lordship wished, he could have it raised and lowered as in the old days. I showed Sir Henry Irving and Ellen Terry through the castle before their production of ` Macbeth.’ Do ye ken that they copied our old entrance here for one of their stage settings? ”
The first courtyard they reached, after crossing the drawbridge, was littered with carpenters’ tools and lumber, and men were noisily at work there; they turned to the right into another courtyard where the factor unlocked a broad, low door. This is the entrance, he told them, through which the Earl, his family, and his guests enter the castle.
” Dandy old place ! ” exclaimed John, as they followed the factor through the dark, narrow passage.
” It’s a really old castle and they haven’t fixed it up a bit,” said Betty, who was delighted with everything about Cawdor,the uneven floors and the low ceilings and the small windows in the thick walls.
Mrs. Pitt called attention to the fine oak paneling in the somber drawing-room, the fleur-de-lis design on the dining-room ceiling, and the rich tapestries; but as they came again into the hall, Philip and John espied a rusted iron gate at the foot of a winding stair.
” Where does that lead toy ” they demanded.
The factor told them they would explore in a few minutes, and meanwhile showed them a door close by, opening into the dungeon in the old keep.
” Why, there’s a tree here, too! ” exclaimed Betty, who had stepped in ahead of the rest, and whose eyes were sooner accustomed to the dim light.
” Ay, that’s Cawdor’s famous hawthorn tree;” and the factor then went on to relate its strange tradition.
The thane (or lord) who built the castle, consulting some wise men about the site to choose, was advised to put the heavy chest, full of gold which was to pay the workmen, upon the back of an ass and to build where the animal halted. The ass stopped at the third hawthorn tree and around it the thane built the walls of his keep.
The tree is undoubtedly very, very old. It reaches to the ceiling of the dungeon and at its foot lies an old chest. Who will say that it may not be the very one which the ass carried so long ago?
The winding stair by the iron wicket leads to a chamber which is large and light, has an old-fashioned curtained four-poster, electric lighting, and bare, plaster walls upon which the well-meaning guests have sketched certain weird scenes from Shakespeare. The room, called King Duncan’s Chamber, is known as that in which Macbeth committed the murder.
” But I thought Macbeth killed him at Inverness Castle ! ” said Betty. ” The penny guide says so.”
” And I thought it was at Glamis Castle, Mother,” put in Philip.
The factor and Mrs. Pitt exchanged helpless glances; but it was Mrs. Pitt who spoke, for the factor was gazing intently at a coat of mail which is said to have served as a model for the one worn by Sir Henry Irving in the play.
” The fact is that all three castles claim to possess the identical room, but no one will ever know where it really was. The tower at Glamis Castle may possibly have been built in the thirteenth century; they say it is probable that Inverness Castle was destroyed by a son of the murdered King Duncan; but no one can credit this Cawdor Castle keep with a date farther back than 1440. If one of us were actually privileged to see Macbeth’s own castle as it existed during his lifetime,well, do you know how it would probably look? ” she laughed. ” It would doubtless be made of wicker, or timber at best, and it would never do to copy it for a stage-setting intended to satisfy a modern audience. Wise Sir Henry knew that, and so he came to Cawdor for his inspiration. However, as long as we always like to select some place where we can ourselves picture such famous happenings, I confess that I long ago chose Cawdor as the scene of Dun-can’s murder. I was not thinking so much of this room, which is far too cheerful, but of the winding stairway and the rusty iron gate, you know. I can almost see the marks of Macbeth’s bloody hands on that, can’t you? ”
The spiral stair wound on even higher, and at length brought them to the battlement of the old keep, on a level with the quaint turrets which once served as lookout points. Below were the various courts of the castle and the other buildings with their flagged roofs and sixteenth-century dormer windows. The entrance to a tiny secret chamber, under the roof, was pointed out; here Lord Lovat is said to have hidden for a time after Prince Charlie’s defeat at Culloden Moor.
The views on all sides are very lovely and far-reaching, including many farms and great woods that extend in one direction twenty miles beyond the castle, all the property of the Earl of Cawdor.
” Oh, can you see from here where the witches danced? ” inquired Betty.
” Over yonder, about four miles toward Forres, is what they call the ` blasted heath ‘ where the witches accosted Macbeth,” replied the factor. ” There’s nought but a bare hillock there, upon which the three witches stood, bare because they poured over its summit their poisonous brewing from the great pot. In that direction, I can see the roof of a castle. Ay, that’s it, Master John; you’ve a good eye. The story goes that the eldest son of the Thane of Cawdor ran away with his sweetheart, who was called the Rose of Kilravock; they lived in that castle. The son was disinherited by his father, but after both were dead, the Cawdor estate was claimed by Rose’s little daughter. The matter was left to the Duke of Argyll, then Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, and he gave his answer in the young girl’s favor on condition that she which the bright flash of wild flowers was some-times caught; in the distance rose purple hills, and those still farther toward the horizon were a smoky blue.
” It’s just as bright as a colored picture postcard,” declared Betty.
Men who have traveled far and seen the greatest and most beautiful cities of the world have sung the praises of Inverness ; and the modern little city is certainly very fair. The river which divides it is as clear as a mountain stream, and so shallow in summer that boys can wade into the very center for their fishing. On a hill, above the river, is the castle which has a certain picturesqueness, although it is quite new and is occupied by the county offices and the prison. It is the site of historic old Inverness Castle. In front of it is a statue of Flora Macdonald, erected in 1899; but Mrs. Pitt took all the romance out of that, for she would have it that the heroine’s attitude re-minded her of a London suffragette giving a street lecture. Best of all, the young people thought, were the Ness Islands, which are connected by many little rustic bridges, and with their trees and flowers make a pleasant resort for the townspeople.
Soon after the canal-boat left Inverness early the following morning, they came in sight of Tomnahurich Hill or ” Hill of the Fairies,” which is described as ” shaped like a ship with its keel uppermost.” Strange to say, in spite of odd tales of the hill’s connection with the ” good people,” it is now a cemetery, a very unusual one with its steep paths, and its monuments, one above another, on the hillside. So heavily wooded it is that, from a little distance, one has no suspicion of its purpose.
Their trip down the famous Caledonian Canal, from Inverness to Fort William, was rather unsatisfactory because of the bad weather. Early in the day it had seemed promising enough, but by the time they had come into the broader waters of Loch Ness, a strong wind was buffeting the little boat about and they were peering through a heavy mist at the mountains, the attractive country houses, and the occasional castles which they passed. After leaving Fort Augustus, where tiny bazaars lined either side of the lock, the rain began in earnest; in the stuffy cabin, babies cried fretfully and people slept noisily, occupying more than their share of the narrow benches.
It was a relief to reach Fort William, even to tramp through the rain to the hotel, which they had to do because the bus was over-crowded.
Before dinner a lone piper stood under the front windows and played the same monotonous tune over and over on his bagpipe for half an hour. Mrs. Pitt quoted an appropriate verse, describing this strange music:
” ‘It was wild, it was fitful, it died on the breeze, It wandered about into various keys;
It was jerky, spasmodic, and harsh, I declare, But stillit distinctly suggested an air.’
” The bagpipe really belongs no more to the Scot than it does to the Englishman, the Irish-man, or the Italian,” she told them; ” in the early growth of all these peoples the bagpipe had its place. But with its strange tones, now gay and now sad, it seemed to appeal especially to the changeable Gael or Scot. In the days of the great chiefs, each had his particular piper, who was frequently a person of enough importance to have his own servants, such as his pipe-bearer. There used to be schools for pipers. Now that I think of it, the innkeeper told me that one still exists at Dunvegan. What a pity! We might have paid it a visit.”
” Not for mine ! ” cried John, as the weird strains outside grew louder. ” I’m getting plenty of it right here ! ”
And away he went to search out the head-porter in the hope of hearing something interesting regarding the observatory on Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Great Britain, which, they said, lay at the back of Fort William, behind the clouds and mist.