Ticonderoga by Robert Louis Stevenson

Story type: Literature

A Legend Of The West Highlands

This is the tale of the man Who heard a word in the night In the land of the heathery hills, In the days of the feud and the fight. By the sides of the rainy sea, Where never a stranger came, On the awful lips of the dead, He heard the outlandish name. It sang in his sleeping ears, It hummed in his waking head: The name–Ticonderoga, The utterance of the dead.


On the loch-sides of Appin, When the mist blew from the sea, A Stewart stood with a Cameron: An angry man was he. The blood beat in his ears, The blood ran hot to his head, The mist blew from the sea, And there was the Cameron dead. “O, what have I done to my friend, O, what have I done to mysel’, That he should be cold and dead, And I in the danger of all?

Nothing but danger about me, Danger behind and before, Death at wait in the heather In Appin and Mamore, Hate at all of the ferries And death at each of the fords, Camerons priming gunlocks And Camerons sharpening swords.”

But this was a man of counsel, This was a man of a score, There dwelt no pawkier Stewart In Appin or Mamore. He looked on the blowing mist, He looked on the awful dead, And there came a smile on his face And there slipped a thought in his head.

Out over cairn and moss, Out over scrog and scaur, He ran as runs the clansman That bears the cross of war. His heart beat in his body, His hair clove to his face, When he came at last in the gloaming To the dead man’s brother’s place. The east was white with the moon, The west with the sun was red, And there, in the house-doorway, Stood the brother of the dead.

“I have slain a man to my danger, I have slain a man to my death. I put my soul in your hands,” The panting Stewart saith. “I lay it bare in your hands, For I know your hands are leal; And be you my targe and bulwark From the bullet and the steel.”

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Then up and spoke the Cameron, And gave him his hand again: “There shall never a man in Scotland Set faith in me in vain; And whatever man you have slaughtered, Of whatever name or line, By my sword and yonder mountain, I make your quarrel mine. {3a} I bid you in to my fireside, I share with you house and hall; It stands upon my honour To see you safe from all.”

It fell in the time of midnight, When the fox barked in the den And the plaids were over the faces In all the houses of men, That as the living Cameron Lay sleepless on his bed, Out of the night and the other world, Came in to him the dead.

“My blood is on the heather, My bones are on the hill; There is joy in the home of ravens That the young shall eat their fill. My blood is poured in the dust, My soul is spilled in the air; And the man that has undone me Sleeps in my brother’s care.”

“I’m wae for your death, my brother, But if all of my house were dead, I couldnae withdraw the plighted hand, Nor break the word once said.”

“O, what shall I say to our father, In the place to which I fare? O, what shall I say to our mother, Who greets to see me there? And to all the kindly Camerons That have lived and died long-syne – Is this the word you send them, Fause-hearted brother mine?”

“It’s neither fear nor duty, It’s neither quick nor dead Shall gar me withdraw the plighted hand, Or break the word once said.”

Thrice in the time of midnight, When the fox barked in the den, And the plaids were over the faces In all the houses of men, Thrice as the living Cameron Lay sleepless on his bed, Out of the night and the other world Came in to him the dead, And cried to him for vengeance On the man that laid him low; And thrice the living Cameron Told the dead Cameron, no.

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“Thrice have you seen me, brother, But now shall see me no more, Till you meet your angry fathers Upon the farther shore. Thrice have I spoken, and now, Before the cock be heard, I take my leave for ever With the naming of a word. It shall sing in your sleeping ears, It shall hum in your waking head, The name–Ticonderoga, And the warning of the dead.”

Now when the night was over And the time of people’s fears, The Cameron walked abroad, And the word was in his ears. “Many a name I know, But never a name like this; O, where shall I find a skilly man Shall tell me what it is?” With many a man he counselled Of high and low degree, With the herdsmen on the mountains And the fishers of the sea. And he came and went unweary, And read the books of yore, And the runes that were written of old On stones upon the moor. And many a name he was told, But never the name of his fears – Never, in east or west, The name that rang in his ears: Names of men and of clans; Names for the grass and the tree, For the smallest tarn in the mountains, The smallest reef in the sea: Names for the high and low, The names of the craig and the flat; But in all the land of Scotland, Never a name like that.


And now there was speech in the south, And a man of the south that was wise, A periwig’d lord of London, {3b} Called on the clans to rise. And the riders rode, and the summons Came to the western shore, To the land of the sea and the heather, To Appin and Mamore. It called on all to gather From every scrog and scaur, That loved their fathers’ tartan And the ancient game of war.

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And down the watery valley And up the windy hill, Once more, as in the olden, The pipes were sounding shrill; Again in highland sunshine The naked steel was bright; And the lads, once more in tartan Went forth again to fight.

“O, why should I dwell here With a weird upon my life, When the clansmen shout for battle And the war-swords clash in strife? I cannae joy at feast, I cannae sleep in bed, For the wonder of the word And the warning of the dead. It sings in my sleeping ears, It hums in my waking head, The name–Ticonderoga, The utterance of the dead. Then up, and with the fighting men To march away from here, Till the cry of the great war-pipe Shall drown it in my ear!”

Where flew King George’s ensign The plaided soldiers went: They drew the sword in Germany, In Flanders pitched the tent. The bells of foreign cities Rang far across the plain: They passed the happy Rhine, They drank the rapid Main. Through Asiatic jungles The Tartans filed their way, And the neighing of the war-pipes Struck terror in Cathay. {3c}

“Many a name have I heard,” he thought, “In all the tongues of men, Full many a name both here and there. Full many both now and then. When I was at home in my father’s house In the land of the naked knee, Between the eagles that fly in the lift And the herrings that swim in the sea, And now that I am a captain-man With a braw cockade in my hat – Many a name have I heard,” he thought, “But never a name like that.”


There fell a war in a woody place, Lay far across the sea, A war of the march in the mirk midnight And the shot from behind the tree, The shaven head and the painted face, The silent foot in the wood, In a land of a strange, outlandish tongue That was hard to be understood.

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It fell about the gloaming The general stood with his staff, He stood and he looked east and west With little mind to laugh. “Far have I been and much have I seen, And kent both gain and loss, But here we have woods on every hand And a kittle water to cross. Far have I been and much have I seen, But never the beat of this; And there’s one must go down to that waterside To see how deep it is.”

It fell in the dusk of the night When unco things betide, The skilly captain, the Cameron, Went down to that waterside. Canny and soft the captain went; And a man of the woody land, With the shaven head and the painted face, Went down at his right hand. It fell in the quiet night, There was never a sound to ken; But all of the woods to the right and the left Lay filled with the painted men.

“Far have I been and much have I seen, Both as a man and boy, But never have I set forth a foot On so perilous an employ.” It fell in the dusk of the night When unco things betide, That he was aware of a captain
-man Drew near to the waterside. He was aware of his coming Down in the gloaming alone; And he looked in the face of the man And lo! the face was his own. “This is my weird,” he said, “And now I ken the worst; For many shall fall the morn, But I shall fall with the first. O, you of the outland tongue, You of the painted face, This is the place of my death; Can you tell me the name of the place?” “Since the Frenchmen have been here They have called it Sault-Marie; But that is a name for priests, And not for you and me. It went by another word,” Quoth he of the shaven head: “It was called Ticonderoga In the days of the great dead.”

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And it fell on the morrow’s morning, In the fiercest of the fight, That the Cameron bit the dust As he foretold at night; And far from the hills of heather Far from the isles of the sea, He sleeps in the place of the name As it was doomed to be.


INTRODUCTION.–I first heard this legend of my own country from that friend of men of letters, Mr. Alfred Nutt, “there in roaring London’s central stream,” and since the ballad first saw the light of day in Scribner’s Magazine, Mr. Nutt and Lord Archibald Campbell have been in public controversy on the facts. Two clans, the Camerons and the Campbells, lay claim to this bracing story; and they do well: the man who preferred his plighted troth to the commands and menaces of the dead is an ancestor worth disputing. But the Campbells must rest content: they have the broad lands and the broad page of history; this appanage must be denied them; for between the name of Cameron and that of Campbell, the muse will never hesitate.

{3a} Mr. Nutt reminds me it was “by my sword and Ben Cruachan” the Cameron swore.

{3b} “A periwig’d lord of London.” The first Pitt.

{3c} “Cathay.” There must be some omission in General Stewart’s charming History of the Highland Regiments, a book that might well be republished and continued; or it scarce appears how our friend could have got to China.

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