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Chapter 17
The Hold Of A Highland Robber
The party preserved silence, interrupted only by the monotonous and murmured chant of
a Gaelic song, sung in a kind of low recitative by the steersman, and by the dash of the
oars, which the notes seemed to regulate, as they dipped to them in cadence. The light,
which they now approached more nearly, assumed a broader, redder, and more irregular
splendour. It appeared plainly to be a large fire, but whether kindled upon an island or the
main land, Edward could not determine. As he saw it, the red glaring orb seemed to rest
on the very surface of the lake itself, and resembled the fiery vehicle in which the Evil
Genius of an Oriental tale traverses land and sea. They approached nearer, and the light
of the fire sufficed to show that it was kindled at the bottom of a huge dark crag or rock,
rising abruptly from the very edge of the water; its front changed by the reflection to
dusky red, formed a strange and even awful contrast to the banks around, which were
from time to time faintly and partially illuminated by pallid moonlight.
The boat now neared the shore, and Edward could discover that this large fire, amply
supplied with branches of pine-wood by two figures, who, in the red reflection of its
light, appeared like demons, was kindled in the jaws of a lofty cavern, into which an inlet
from the lake seemed to advance; and he conjectured, which was indeed true, that the fire
had been lighted as a beacon to the boatmen on their return. They rowed right for the
mouth of the cave, and then, shipping their oars, permitted the boat to enter in obedience
to the impulse which it had received.
The skiff passed the little point or platform of rock on which the fire was blazing, and
running about two boats' length farther, stopped where the cavern (for it was already
arched overhead) ascended from the water by five or six broad ledges of rocks, so easy
and regular that they might be termed natural steps. At this moment a quantity of water
was suddenly flung upon the fire, which sank with a hissing noise, and with it
disappeared the light it had hitherto afforded. Four or five active arms lifted Waverley out
of the boat, placed him on his feet, and almost carried him into the recesses of the cave.
He made a few paces in darkness, guided in this manner; and advancing towards a hum
of voices, which seemed to sound from the centre of the rock, at an acute turn Donald
Bean Lean and his whole establishment were before his eyes.
The interior of the cave, which here rose very high, was illuminated by torches made of
pine-tree, which emitted a bright and bickering light, attended by a strong though not
unpleasant odour. Their light was assisted by the red glare of a large charcoal fire, round
which were seated five or six armed Highlanders, while others were indistinctly seen
couched on their plaids, in the more remote recesses of the cavern. In one large aperture,
which the robber facetiously called his spence (or pantry), there hung by the heels the
carcasses of a sheep, or ewe, and two cows lately slaughtered. The principal inhabitant of
this singular mansion, attended by Evan Dhu as master of the ceremonies, came forward
to meet his guest, totally different in appearance and manner from what his imagination