They performed this service pretty effectually, skirmishing as they went on, and the main body advanced safely about six miles. They were here arrived at a place called Ath-na-Mullach, where the waters, descending from the Cralich and the lofty mountains of Kintail, issue eastwards through a narrow gorge into Loch Affric. It was a place remarkably well adapted for the purpose of a resisting party. A rocky boss, called Torr-a-Bheathaich, then densely covered with birch, closes up the glen as with a gate. The black mountain stream, "spear-deep," sweeps round it. A narrow path wound up the rock, admitting of passengers in single file. Here lay Murchison with the best of his people, while inferior adherents were ready to make demonstrations at a little distance. As the invading party approached, they received a platoon from a wood on the left, but nevertheless went on. When, however, they were all engaged in toiling up the pass, forty men concealed in the heather close by fired with deadly effect, inflicting a mortal would on Walter Ross, Easterfearn's son while Bailie Ross's son was wounded by a bullet which swept across his breast.
The Bailie called to his son to retire, and the order was obeyed but the two wounded youths and Bailie Ross's servant were taken prisoners, and carried up the hill, where they were quickly divested of clothes, arms, money, and papers. Easterfearn's son died next morning. The troops faced the ambuscade manfully and are said to have given their fire thrice, and to have beaten the Highlanders from the bushes near them; but, observing at this juncture several parties of the enemy on the neighbouring heights, and being informed of a party of sixty in their rear, Easterfearn deemed it best to temporise.
He thereupon sent forward a messenger to ask who they were that opposed the King's troops, and what they wanted. The answer was that, in the first place, they required to have Ross of Easterfearn delivered up to them. This was pointedly refused; but it was at length arranged that Easterfearn should go forward and converse with the leader of the opposing party. The meeting took place at Beul-ath-na-Mullach, and Easterfearn found himself confronted with Donald Murchison. It ended with Easterfearn giving up his papers, and covenanting, under a penalty of five hundred pounds, not to officiate in his factory any more; after which he gladly departed homewards with his associates, under favour of a guard of Donald's men to conduct them safely past the sixty men who were lurking in the rear. It was alleged afterwards that the commander was much blamed by his own people for letting the factors off with their lives and baggage, particularly by the Camerons, who had been five days at their post with hardly anything to eat; and Murchison only pacified them by sending them a good supply of meat and drink. He had in reality given a very effective check to the two gentlemen-factors, to one of whom he imparted in conversation that any scheme of Government stewartship in Kintail was hopeless, for he and sixteen others had sworn that, if any person calling himself a factor came there, they would take his life, whether at kirk or at market, and deem it a meritorious action, though they should be cut to pieces for it the next minute.
A bloody grave for young Easterfearn in Beauly Cathedral concluded this abortive attempt to take the Seaforth estates within the scope of a law sanctioned by statesmen, but against which the natural feelings of nearly a whole people revolted.
A second attempt was then made to obtain possession of the forfeited Seaforth estates for the Government. It was calculated that what the two factors and their attendants with a small military force had failed to accomplish in the preceding October, when they were beaten back with fatal loss at Ath-na-Mullach, might now be effected by a military party alone, if they should make their approach through a less critical passage.
A hundred and sixty of Colonel Kirk's regiment left Inverness under Captain M'Neill, who had at one time been Commander of the Highland Watch. They proceeded by Dingwall, Strathgarve, and Loch Carron, an easier, though a longer way. Donald Murchison, nothing daunted, got together his followers, and advanced to the top of Mam Attadale, by a high pass from Loch Carron to the bead of Loch Long, separating Lochalsh from Kintail. Here a gallant relative, Kenneth Murchison, and a few others, volunteered to go forward and plant themselves in ambush in the defiles of the Coille Bhan (White Wood), while the bulk of the party should remain where they were. It would appear that this ambush party consisted of thirteen men, all peculiarly well armed.
On approaching this dangerous place the Captain of the invading party went forward with a sergeant and eighteen men to clear the wood, while the main body came on slowly in the rear. At a place called Altanbadubh, in the Coille Bhan, he encountered Kenneth and his associates, whose fire wounded himself severely, killed one of his grenadiers, and wounded several others of the party. He persisted in advancing, and attacking the handful of natives with sufficient resolution they slowly withdrew, as unable to resist; but the Captain now obtained intelligence that a large body of Mackenzies was posted in the mountain pass of Attadale. It seemed to him as if there was a design to draw him into a fatal ambuscade. His own wounded condition probably warned him that a better opportunity might occur afterwards. He turned his forces about, and made the best of his way back to Inverness. Kenneth Murchison quickly rejoined Colonel Donald on Mam Attadale, with the cheering intelligence that one salvo of thirteen guns had repelled the hundred and sixty red-coats. After this we hear of no more attempts to comprise the Seaforth property.
Strange as it may seem, Donald Murchison, two years after this a second time resisting the Government troops, came down to Edinburgh with eight hundred pounds of the Earl's rents, that he might get the money sent abroad for Seaforth's use. He remained a fortnight in the city unmolested. He on this occasion appeared in the garb of a Lowland gentleman; he mingled with old acquaintances, "doers" and writers; and appeared at the Cross amongst the crowd of gentlemen who assembled there every day at noon. Scores knew all about his doings at Ath-na-Mullach and the Coille Bhan; but thousands might have known without the chance of one of them betraying him to the Government.