"If I have to get up in the milkman hours, begad, when that day comes I'll make it a point to be at Tyburn to see your promotion over the heads of humdrum honest folks," he drawled, and at the tail of his speech yawned in our faces.
"We'll send you cards to the entertainment when that happy day arrives," laughed Creagh, delighted of course at the aplomb of the Macaroni.
Donald Roy came up to ask what should be done with Watkins. It appeared that Volney had mistaken him for one of us and let fly at him. The fellow lay groaning on the ground as if he were on the edge of expiration. I stooped and examined him. 'Twas a mere flesh scratch.
"Nothing the matter but a punctured wing. All he needs is a kerchief round his arm," I said.
Captain Macdonald looked disgusted and a little relieved.
"'Fore God, he deaved (deafened) me with his yammering till I thought him about to ship for the other world. These Englishers make a geyan work about nothing."
For the moment remembrance of Volney had slipped from our minds. As I rose to my feet he stepped forward. Out flashed his sword and ripped the mask from my face.
"Egad, I thought so," he chuckled. "My young friend Montagu repairing his fallen fortunes on the road! Won't you introduce me to the other gentlemen, or would they rather remain incog? Captain Claude Duval, your most obedient! Sir Dick Turpin, yours to command! Delighted, 'pon my word, to be rum-padded by such distinguished—er—knights of the road."
"The honour is ours," answered Creagh gravely, returning his bow, but the Irishman's devil-may-care eyes were dancing.
"A strange fortuity, in faith, that our paths have crossed so often of late, Montagu. Now I would lay something good that our life lines will not cross more than once more."
"Why should we meet at all again?" I cried. "Here is a piece of good turf under the moonlight. 'Twere a pity to lose it."
He appeared to consider. "As you say, the turf is all that is to be desired and the light will suffice. Why not? We get in each other's way confoundedly, and out of doubt will some day have to settle our little difference. Well then, if 'twere done 'twere well done quickly. Faith, Mr. Montagu, y'are a man after my own heart, and it gives me a vast deal of pleasure to accept your proposal. Consider me your most obedient to command and prodigiously at your service."
Raffish and flamboyant, he lounged forward to the window of the carriage.
"I beg a thousand pardons, sweet, for leaving you a few minutes alone," he said with his most silken irony. "I am desolated at the necessity, but this gentleman has a claim that cannot be ignored. Believe me, I shall make the absence very short. Dear my life, every instant that I am from you is snatched from Paradise. Fain would I be with you alway, but stern duty"—the villain stopped to draw a plaintive and theatric sigh—"calls me to attend once for all to a matter of small moment. Anon I shall be with you, life of my life."
She looked at him as if he were the dirt beneath her feet, and still he smiled his winsome smile, carrying on the mock pretense that she was devoted to him.
"Ah, sweet my heart!" he murmured. "'Twere cheap to die for such a loving look from thee. All Heaven lies in it. 'Tis better far to live for many more of such."
There was a rush of feet and a flash of steel. Donald Roy leaped forward just in time, and next moment Hamish Gorm lay stretched on the turf, muttering Gaelic oaths and tearing at the sod with his dirk in an impotent rage. Sir Robert looked down at the prostrate man with his inscrutable smile.
"Your friend from the Highlands is in a vast hurry, Montagu. He can't even wait till you have had your chance to carve me. Well, are you ready to begin the argument?"
"Quite at your command. There is a bit of firm turf beyond the oaks. If you will lead the way I shall be with you anon."
"Lud! I had forgot. You have your adieux to make to the lady. Pray do not let me hurry you," he said urbanely, as he picked his way daintily through the mud.
When he had gone I turned to the girl.
"You shall be quit of him," I told her. "You may rely on my friends if—if the worst happens. They will take you to Montagu Grange, and my brother Charles will push on with you to Scotland. In this country you would not be safe from him while he lives."
Her face was like the snow.
"Iss there no other way whatever?" she cried. "Must you be fighting with this man for me, and you only a boy? Oh, I could be wishing for my brother Malcolm or some of the good claymores on the braes of Raasay!"
The vanity in me was stung by her words.
"I'm not such a boy neither, and Angelo judged me a good pupil. You might find a worse champion."
"Oh, it iss the good friend you are to me, and I am loving you for it, but I think of what may happen to you."
My pulse leaped and my eyes burned, but I answered lightly,
"For a change think of what may happen to him, and maybe to pass the time you might put up a bit prayer for me."
"Believe me, I will be doing that same," she cried with shining eyes, and before I divined her intent had stooped to kiss my hand that rested on the coach door.
My heart lilted as I crossed the heath to where the others were waiting for me beyond the dip of the hillock.
"Faith, I began to think you had forgotten me and gone off with the lady yourself," laughed Volney.
I flung off my cloak and my inner coat, for though the night was chill I knew I should be warm enough when once we got to work. Then, strangely enough, an unaccountable reluctance to engage came over me, and I stood tracing figures on the heath with the point of my small sword.
"Are you ready?" asked the baronet.
I broke out impetuously. "Sir Robert, you have ruined many. Your victims are to be counted by the score. I myself am one. But this girl shall not be added to the list. I have sworn it; so have my friends. There is still time for you to leave unhurt if you desire it, but if we once cross swords one of us must die."
"And, prithee, Mr. Montagu, why came we here?"
"Yet even now if you will desist——"
His caustic insolent laugh rang out gaily as he mouthed the speech of Tybalt in actor fashion.
"'What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagus, and thee; Have at thee, coward.'"
I drew back from his playful lunge.
"Very well. Have it your own way. But you must have some one to act for you. Perhaps Captain Mac—er—the gentleman on your right—will second you."
Donald Roy drew himself up haughtily. "Feint a bit of it! I'm on the other side of the dyke. Man, Montagu! I'm wondering at you, and him wronging a Hieland lassie. Gin he waits till I stand back of him he'll go wantin', ye may lippen (trust) to that."
"Then it'll have to be you, Tony," I said, turning to Creagh. "Guard, Sir Robert!"
"'Sdeath! You're getting in a hurry, Mr. Montagu. I see you're keen after that 'Hic Jacet' I promised you. Lard! I vow you shall have it."
Under the shifting moonlight we fell to work on the dripping heath. We were not unevenly matched considering the time and the circumstances. I had in my favour youth, an active life, and a wrist of steel. At least I was a strong swordsman, even though I could not pretend to anything like the mastery of the weapon which he possessed. To some extent his superior skill was neutralized by the dim light. He had been used to win his fights as much with his head as with his hand, to read his opponent's intention in advance from the eyes while he concealed his own; but the darkness, combined with my wooden face, made this impossible now. Every turn and trick of the game he knew, but the shifting shine and shadow disconcerted him. More than once I heard him curse softly when at a critical moment the scudding clouds drifted across the moon in time to save me.
He had the better of me throughout, but somehow I blundered through without letting him find the chance for which he looked. I kept my head, and parried by sheer luck his brilliant lunges. I broke ground and won free—if but barely—from his incessant attack. More than once he pricked me. A high thrust which I diverted too late with the parade of tierce drew blood freely. He fleshed me again on the riposte by a one-two feint in tierce and a thrust in carte.
"'L'art de donner et de ne pas recevoir,'" he quoted, as he parried my counter-thrust with debonair ease.
Try as I would I could not get behind that wonderful guard of his. It was easy, graceful, careless almost, but it was sure. His point was a gleaming flash of light, but it never wavered from my body line.
A darker cloud obscured the moon, and by common consent we rested.
"Three minutes for good-byes," said Volney, suggestively.
"Oh, my friends need not order the hearse yet—at least for me. Of course, if it would be any convenience——"
He laughed. "Faith, you improve on acquaintance, Mr. Montagu, like good wine or—to stick to the same colour—the taste of the lady's lips."
I looked blackly at him. "Do you pretend——?"
"Oh, I pretend nothing. Kiss and never tell, egad! Too bad they're not for you too, Montagu."
"I see that Sir Robert Volney has added another accomplishment to his vices."
"And that is——?"
"He can couple a woman's name with the hint of a slanderous lie."
Sir Robert turned to Creagh and waved a hand at me, shaking his head sorrowfully. "The country boor in evidence again. Curious how it will crop out. Ah, Mr. Montagu! The moon shines bright again. Shall we have the pleasure of renewing our little debate?"
I nodded curtly. He stopped a moment to say:
"You have a strong wrist and a prodigious good fence, Mr. Montagu, but if you will pardon a word of criticism I think your guard too high."
"Y'are not here to instruct me, Sir Robert, but——"
"To kill you. Quite so!" he interrupted jauntily. "Still, a friendly word of caution—and the guard is overhigh! 'Tis the same fault my third had. I ran under it, and——" He shrugged his shoulders.
"Was that the boy you killed for defending his sister?" I asked insolently.
Apparently my hit did not pierce the skin. "No. I've forgot the nomination of the gentleman. What matter? He has long been food for worms. Pardon me, I see blood trickling down your sword arm. Allow me to offer my kerchief."
"Thanks! 'Twill do as it is. Art ready?"
"Lard, yes! And guard lower, an you love me. The high guard is the one fault— Well parried, Montagu!—I find in Angelo's pupils. Correcting that, you would have made a rare swordsman in time."
His use of the subjunctive did not escape me. "I'm not dead yet," I panted.
I parried a feint une-deux, in carte, with the parade in semicircle, and he came over my blade, thrusting low in carte. His laugh rang out clear as a boy's, and the great eyes of the man blazed with the joy of fight.
"Gad, you're quick to take my meaning! Ah! You nearly began the long journey that time, my friend."
He had broken ground apparently in disorder, and by the feel of his sword I made sure he had in mind to parry; but the man was as full of tricks as the French King Louis and with incredible swiftness he sent a straight thrust in high tierce—a thrust which sharply stung my ribs only, since I had flung myself aside in time to save my vitals.
After that came the end. He caught me full and fair in the side of the neck. A moist stifling filled my throat and the turf whirled up to meet the sky. I knew nothing but a mad surge of rage that he had cut me to pieces and I had never touched him once. As I went down I flung myself forward at him wildly. It is to be supposed that he was off guard for the moment, supposing me a man already dead. My blade slipped along his, lurched farther forward, at last struck something soft and ripped down. A hundred crimson points zigzagged before my eyes, and I dropped down into unconsciousness in a heap.
THE HUE AND CRY
Languidly I came back to a world that faded and grew clear again most puzzlingly, that danced and jerked to and fro in oddly irresponsible fashion. At first too deadly weary to explain the situation to myself, I presently made out that I was in a coach which lurched prodigiously and filled me with sharp pains. Fronting me was the apparently lifeless body of a man propped in the corner with the head against the cushions, the white face grinning horridly at me. 'Twas the face of Volney. I stirred to get it out of my line of vision, and a soft, firm hand restrained me gently.
"You are not to be stirring," a sweet voice said. Then to herself its owner added, ever so softly and so happily, "Thaing do Dhia (Thank God.) He iss alive—he iss alive!"
I pointed feebly a leaden finger at the white face over against me with the shine of the moon on it.
"No. He hass just fainted. You are not to talk!"
"And Donald Roy——?"
The imperious little hand slipped down to cover my mouth, and Kenneth Montagu kissed it where it lay. For a minute she did not lift the hand, what time I lay in a dream of warm happiness. A chuckle from the opposite seat aroused me. The eyes in the colourless face had opened, and Volney sat looking at us with an ironic smile.
"I must have fallen asleep—and before a lady. A thousand apologies! And for awaking so inopportunely, ten thousand more!"
He changed his position that he might look the easier at her, a half-humorous admiration in his eyes. "Sweet, you beggar my vocabulary. As the goddess of healing you are divine."
The flush of alarmed maiden modesty flooded her cheek.
"You are to lie still, else the wound will break out again," she said sharply.
"Faith, it has broken out," he feebly laughed, pretending to misunderstand. Then, "Oh, you mean the sword cut. 'Twould never open after it has been dressed by so fair a leech."
The girl looked studiously out of the coach window and made no answer. Now, weak as I was—in pain and near to death, my head on her lap with her dear hand to cool my fevered brow—yet was I fool enough to grow insanely jealous that she had used her kerchief to bind his wound. His pale, handsome face was so winning and his eyes so beautiful that they thrust me through the heart as his sword had been unable to do.
He looked at me with an odd sort of friendliness, the respect one man has for another who has faced death without flinching.
"Egad, Montagu, had either of us driven but a finger's breadth to left we had made sure work and saved the doctors a vast deal of pother. I doubt 'twill be all to do over again one day. Where did you learn that mad lunge of yours? I vow 'tis none of Angelo's teaching. No defense would avail against such a fortuitous stroke. Methought I had you speeding to kingdom come, and Lard! you skewered me bravely. 'Slife, 'tis an uncertain world, this! Here we ride back together to the inn and no man can say which of us has more than he can carry."
All this with his easy dare-devil smile, though his voice was faint from weakness. An odd compound of virtues and vices this man! I learnt afterwards that he had insisted on my wounds being dressed before he would let them touch him, though he was bleeding greatly.
But I had no mind for badinage, and I turned my face from him sullenly. Silence fell till we jolted into the courtyard of "The Jolly Soldier," where Creagh, Macdonald, and Hamish Gorm, having dismounted from their horses, waited to carry us into the house. We were got to bed at once, and our wounds looked to more carefully. By an odd chance Volney and I were put in the same room, the inn being full, and the Macdonald nursed us both, Creagh being for the most part absent in London on business connected with the rising.
Lying there day after day, the baronet and I came in time to an odd liking for each other, discussing our affairs frankly with certain reservations. Once he commented on the strangeness of it.
"A singular creature is man, Montagu! Here are we two as friendly as—as brothers I had almost said, but most brothers hate each other with good cause. At all events here we lie with nothing but good-will; we are too weak to get at each other's throats and so perforce must endure each the other's presence, and from mere sufferance come to a mutual—shall I say esteem? A while since we were for slaying; naught but cold steel would let out our heat; and now—I swear I have for you a vast liking. Will it last, think you?"
"Till we are on our feet again. No longer," I answered.
"I suppose you are right," he replied, with the first touch of despondency I had ever heard in his voice. "The devil of it is that when I want a thing I never rest till I get it, and after I have won it I don't care any more for it."
"I'm an obstinate man myself," I said.
"Yes, I know. And when I say I'll do a thing and you say I sha'n't nothing on earth can keep us from the small sword."
"Did you never spare a victim—never draw back before the evil was done?" I asked curiously.
"Many a time, but never when the incentive to the chase was so great as now. 'Tis the overcoming of obstacles I cannot resist. In this case—to pass by the acknowledged charms of the lady—I find two powerful reasons for continuing: her proud coyness and your defense of her. Be sure I shall not fail."
"I think you will," I answered quietly.
Out of doubt the man had a subtle fascination for me, even though I hated his principles in the same breath. When he turned the batteries of his fine winning eyes and sparkling smile on me I was under impulse to capitulate unconditionally; 'twas at remembrance of Aileen that my jaws set like a vice again.
But as the days passed I observed a gradual change in Volney's attitude toward the Highland lass. Macdonald had found a temporary home for her at the house of a kind-hearted widow woman who lived in the neighbourhood, and so long as we were in danger the girl and her grey-haired friend came often to offer their services in nursing. Aileen treated the baronet with such shy gentle womanliness, her girlish pity struggling through the Highland pride, forgetting in the suffering man the dastard who had wronged her, that he was moved not a little from his cynical ironic gayety. She was in a peculiar relation toward us, one lacking the sanction of society and yet quite natural. I had fought for her, and her warm heart forbade her to go her way and leave me to live or die as chance might will. As she would move about the room ministering to our wants, wrapped in her sweet purity and grace, more than once I caught on his face a pain of wistfulness that told me of another man beneath the polished heartless Macaroni. For the moment I knew he repented him of his attempted wrong, though I could not know that a day of manly reparation would come to blot out his sin against her.
As we grew better Aileen's visits became shorter and less frequent, so that our only temptation to linger over our illness was removed. One day Sir Robert limped slowly across the floor on the arm of Creagh while I watched him enviously. From that time his improvement was rapid and within a week he came to make his adieux to me. Dressed point-devise, he was once more every inch a fop.
"I sha'n't say good-bye, Montagu, to either you or the lady, because I expect to see you both again soon. I have a shot in my locker that will bring you to mighty short one of these days. Tony Creagh is going to London with me in my coach. Sorry you and the lady won't take the other two seats. Well, au revoir. Hope you'll be quite fit when you come up for the next round." And waving a hand airily at me he went limping down the stairs, devoid of grace yet every motion eloquent of it, to me a living paradox.
Nor was it long before I too was able to crawl out into the sunshine with Aileen Macleod and Captain Macdonald as my crutches. Not far from the inn was a grove of trees, and in it a rustic seat or two. Hither we three repaired for many a quiet hour of talk. Long ago Donald had established his relationship with Aileen. It appeared that he was a cousin about eight degrees removed. None but a Highlander would have counted it at all, but for them it sufficed. Donald Roy had an extraordinary taking way with women, and he got on with the girl much more easily than I did. Indeed, to hear them daffing with each other one would have said they had been brought up together instead of being acquaintances of less than three weeks standing.
Yet Donald was so clever with it all that I was never the least jealous of him. He was forever taking pains to show me off well before her, making as much of my small attainments as a hen with one chick. Like many of the West country Highlanders he was something of a scholar. French he could speak like a native, and he had dabbled in the humanities; but he would drag forth my smattering of learning with so much glee that one might have thought him ignorant of the plainest A B C of the matter. More than once I have known him blunder in a Latin quotation that I might correct him. Aileen and he had a hundred topics in common from which I was excluded by reason of my ignorance of the Highlands, but the Macdonald was as sly as a fox on my behalf. He would draw out the girl about the dear Northland they both loved and then would suddenly remember that his pistols needed cleaning or that, he had promised to "crack" with some chance gentleman stopping at the inn, and away he would go, leaving us two alone. While I lay on the grass and looked at her Aileen would tell me in her eager, impulsive way about her own kindly country, of tinkling, murmuring burns, of hills burnt red with the heather, of a hundred wild flowers that blossomed on the braes of Raasay, and as she talked of them her blue eyes sparkled like the sun-kissed lochs themselves.
Ah! Those were the good days, when the wine of life was creeping back into my blood and I was falling forty fathoms deep in love. Despite myself she was for making a hero of me, and my leal-hearted friend, Macdonald, was not a whit behind, though the droll look in his eyes suggested sometimes an ulterior motive. We talked of many things, but in the end we always got back to the one subject that burned like a flame in their hearts—the rising of the clans that was to bring back the Stuarts to their own. Their pure zeal shamed my cold English caution. I found myself growing keen for the arbitrament of battle.
No earthly Paradise endures forever. Into those days of peace the serpent of my Eden projected his sting. We were all sitting in the grove one morning when a rider dashed up to the inn and flung himself from his horse. 'Twas Tony Creagh, and he carried with him a placard which offered a reward of a hundred guineas for the arrest of one Kenneth Montagu, Esquire, who had, with other parties unknown, on the night of July first, robbed Sir Robert Volney of certain jewelry therein described.
"Highwayman it says," quoth I in frowning perplexity. "But Volney knows I had no mind to rob him. Zounds! What does he mean?"
"Mean? Why, to get rid of you! I tore this down from a tavern wall in London just after 'twas pasted. It seems you forgot to return the gentleman his jewelry."
I turned mighty red and pleaded guilty.
"I thought so. Gad! You're like to keep sheep by moonlight," chuckled Creagh.
"Nonsense! They would never hang me," I cried.
"Wouldn't, eh! Deed, and I'm not so sure. The hue and cry is out for you."
"Havers, man!" interrupted Macdonald sharply. "You're frightening the lady with your fairy tales, Creagh. Don't you be believing him, my dear. The hemp is not grown that will hang Kenneth."
But for all his cheery manner we were mightily taken aback, especially when another rider came in a few minutes later with a letter to me from town. It ran:—
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends." Our pleasant little game is renewed. The first trick was, I believe, mine; the second yours. The third I trump by lodging an information against you for highway robbery. Tony I shall not implicate, of course, nor Mac-What's-His-Name. Take wings, my Fly-by-night, for the runners are on your heels, and if you don't, as I live, you'll wear hemp. Give my devoted love to the lady. I am,
Your most obed^t serv^t to command, Rob^t Volney.
In imagination I could see him seated at his table, pushing aside a score of dainty notes from Phyllis indiscreet or passionate Diana, that he might dash off his warning to me, a whimsical smile half-blown on his face, a gleam of sardonic humour in his eyes. Remorseless he was by choice, but he would play the game with an English sportsman's love of fair play. Eliminating his unscrupulous morals and his acquired insolence of manner, Sir Robert Volney would have been one to esteem; by impulse he was one of the finest gentlemen I have known.
Though Creagh had come to warn me of Volney's latest move, he was also the bearer of a budget of news which gravely affected the State at large and the cause on which we were embarked. The French fleet of transports, delayed again and again by trivial causes, had at length received orders to postpone indefinitely the invasion of England. Yet in spite of this fatal blow to the cause it was almost certain that Prince Charles Edward Stuart with only seven companions, of whom one was the ubiquitous O'Sullivan, had slipped from Belleisle on the Doutelle and escaping the British fleet had landed on the coast of Scotland. The emotions which animated us on hearing of the gallant young Prince's daring and romantic attempt to win a Kingdom with seven swords, trusting sublimely in the loyalty of his devoted Highlanders, may better be imagined than described. Donald Roy flung up his bonnet in a wild hurrah, Aileen beamed pride and happiness, and Creagh's volatile Irish heart was in the hilltops. If I had any doubts of the issue I knew better than to express them.
But we were shortly recalled to our more immediate affairs. Before we got back to the inn one of those cursed placards offering a reward for my arrest adorned the wall, and in front of it a dozen open-mouthed yokels were spelling out its purport. Clearly there was no time to be lost in taking Volney's advice. We hired a chaise and set out for London within the hour. 'Twas arranged that Captain Macdonald and Hamish Gorm should push on at once to Montagu Grange with Aileen, while I should lie in hiding at the lodgings of Creagh until my wounds permitted of my travelling without danger. That Volney would not rest without attempting to discover the whereabouts of Miss Macleod I was well assured, and no place of greater safety for the present occurred to me than the seclusion of the Grange with my brother Charles and the family servants to watch over her. As for myself, I was not afraid of their hanging me, but I was not minded to play into the hands of Volney by letting myself get cooped up in prison for many weeks pending a trial while he renewed his cavalier wooing of the maid.
Never have I spent a more doleful time than that which followed. For one thing my wounds healed badly, causing me a good deal of trouble. Then too I was a prisoner no less than if I had been in The Tower itself. If occasionally at night I ventured forth the fear of discovery was always with me. Tony Creagh was the best companion in the world, at once tender as a mother and gay as a schoolboy, but he could not be at home all day and night, and as he was agog to be joining the Prince in the North he might leave any day. Meanwhile he brought me the news of the town from the coffee-houses: how Sir Robert Walpole was dead; how the Camerons under Lochiel, the Macdonalds under Young Clanranald, and the Macphersons under Cluny had rallied to the side of the Prince and were expected soon to be defeated by Sir John Cope, the Commander-in-Chief of the Government army in Scotland; how Balmerino and Leath had already shipped for Edinburgh to join the insurgent army; how Beauclerc had bet Lord March a hundred guineas that the stockings worn by Lady Di Faulkner at the last Assembly ball were not mates, and had won. It appeared that unconsciously I had been a source of entertainment to the club loungers.
"Sure 'tis pity you're mewed up here, Kenn, for you're the lion of the hour. None can roar like you. The betting books at White's are filled with wagers about you," Creagh told me.
"About me?" I exclaimed.
"Faith, who else? 'Lord Pam bets Mr. Conway three ponies against a hundred pounds that Mr. Kenneth Montagu of Montagu Grange falls by the hand of justice before three months from date,'" he quoted with a great deal of gusto. "Does your neck ache, Kenn?"
"Oh, the odds are in my favour yet. What else?" I asked calmly.
"'Mr. James Haddon gives ten pounds each to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and to Sir Robert Volney and is to receive from each twenty guineas if Mr. K. Montagu is alive twelve months from date.' Egad, you're a topic of interest in high quarters!"
"Honoured, I'm sure! I'll make it a point to see that his Royal Highness and my dear friend Volney lose. Anything else?"
"At the coffee-house they were talking about raising a subscription to you because they hear you're devilish hard up and because you made such a plucky fight against Volney. Some one mentioned that you had a temper and were proud as Lucifer. 'He's such a hothead. How'll he take it?' asks Beauclerc. 'Why, quarterly, to be sure!' cries Selwyn. And that reminds me: George has written an epigram that is going the rounds. Out of some queer whim—to keep them warm I suppose—Madame Bellevue took her slippers to bed with her. Some one told it at the club, so Selwyn sat down and wrote these verses:
"'Well may Suspicion shake its head— Well may Clorinda's spouse be jealous, When the dear wanton takes to bed Her very shoes—because they're fellows.'"
Creagh's merry laugh was a source of healing in itself, and his departure to join the Prince put an edge to the zest of my desire to get back into the world. Just before leaving he fished a letter from his pocket and tossed it across the room to me.
"Egad, and you are the lucky man, Kenn," he said. "The ladies pester us with praises of your valour. This morning one of the fair creatures gave me this to deliver, swearing I knew your whereabouts."
'Twas a gay little note from my former playmate Antoinette Westerleigh, and inclosed was a letter to her from my sister. How eagerly I devoured Cloe's letter for news of Aileen may be guessed.
MY DEAREST 'TOINETTE:—
Since last I saw you (so the letter ran) seems a century, and of course I am dying to come to town. No doubt the country is very healthy, but Lud! 'tis monstrous dull after a London season. I vow I am already a lifetime behind the fashions. Is't true that prodigious bustles are the rage? And while I think of it I wish you would call at Madame Ronald's and get the lylack lute-string scirt she is making for me.
Also at Duprez's for the butifull little hat I ordered. Please have them sent by carrier. I know I am a vast nuisance; 'tis the penalty, my dear, for having a country mawkin as your best friend.
Of course you know what that grate brother of mine has been at. Gaming I hear, playing ducks and drakes with his money, and fighting duels with your lover. For a time we were dreadfully anxious about him. What do you think he has sent me down to take care of for him? But you would never guess. My love, a Scotch girl, shy as one of her own mountain deer. I suppose when he is recovert of his wounds he will be down here to philander with her. Aileen Macleod is her name, and really I do not blame him. I like her purely myself. In a way quite new she is very taking; speaks the prettiest broken English, is very simple, sweet, and grateful. At a word the pink and white comes and goes in her cheeks as it never does in ours. I wish I could acquire her manner, but Alack! 'tis not to be learnt though I took lessons forever. The gracefull creature dances the Scottish flings divinely. She is not exactly butifull, but—well, I can see why the men think so and fall down in worship! By the way, she is very nearly in love—tho she does not know it—with that blundering brother of mine; says that "her heart iss always thanking him at all events." If he knew how to play his cards—but there, the oaf will put his grate foot in it.
She came here with a shag-headed gillie of a servant, under the protection of a Captain Macdonald who is a very fine figure of a man. He was going to stay only an hour or two, but Charles persuaded him to stop three days. Charles teases me about him, swears the Captain is already my slave, but you may depend on't there is nothing in it. Last night we diverted ourselves with playing Hide the Thimble, and the others lost the Scotch Captain and me in the
armory. He is a peck of fun. This morning he left for the North, and do you think the grate Mr. Impudence did not buss us both; Aileen because she is his cousin a hundred times removed and me because (what a reason!) "my eyes dared him." Of course I was in a vast rage, which seemed to hily delight Captain Impudence. I don't see how he dared take so grate a preaviledge. Do you?
Aileen is almost drest, and I must go smart myself. My dear, an you love me, write to
Your own CLOE.
P. S.—Lard, I clear forgot! 'Tis a secret that the Scotch enchantress is here. You must be sure not to mention it, my dear, to your Sir Robert, But la! I have the utmost confidence in your discretion.
Conceive my dismay! Discretion and Antoinette Westerleigh were as far apart as the poles. What more likely than that the dashing little minx would undertake to rally her lover about Aileen, and that the adroit baronet would worm out of her the information he desired? The letter crystallized my desire to set out at once for Montagu Grange, and from there to take the road with Miss Macleod hotspur for Scotland. It appeared to me that the sooner we were out of England the better it would be for both of us.
I made the journey to the Grange by easy stages, following so far as I could little used roads and lanes on account of a modest desire to avoid publicity. 'Twas early morning when I reached the Grange. I remember the birds were twittering a chorus as I rode under the great oaks to the house. Early as it was, Cloe and Aileen were already walking in the garden with their arms entwined about each other's waists in girl fashion. They made a picture taking enough to have satisfied a jaded connoisseur of beauty: the fair tall Highland lass, jimp as a willow wand, with the long-lashed blue eyes that looked out so shyly and yet so frankly on those she liked, and the merry brown-eyed English girl so ready of saucy tongue, so worldly wise and yet so innocent of heart.
Cloe came running to meet me in a flutter of excitement and Mistress Aileen followed more demurely down the path, though there was a Highland welcome in her frank face not to be denied. I slid from the horse and kissed Cloe. Miss Macleod gave me her hand.
"We are hoping you are quite well from your wounds," she said.
"Quite," I answered. "Better much for hearing your kind voices and seeing your bright faces."
I dare say I looked over-long into one of the bright faces, and for a punishment was snatched into confusion by my malapert sister.
"I didn't know you had heard my kind voice yet," mimicked Miss Madcap. "And are you thinking of holding Aileen's hand all day?"
My hand plumped to my side like a shot. Both of us flamed, I stammering apologies the while Cloe no doubt enjoyed hugely my embarrassment. 'Tis a sister's prerogative to teach her older brothers humility, and Cloe for one did not let it fall into neglect.
"To be sure I do not know the Highland custom in the matter," she was continuing complacently when Aileen hoist her with her own petard.
"I wass thinking that perhaps Captain Macdonald had taught you in the armory," she said quietly; and Cloe, to be in the fashion, ran up the red flag too.
It appeared that my plan for an immediate departure from England jumped with the inclination of Miss Macleod. She had received a letter from her brother, now in Scotland, whose plans in regard to her had been upset by the unexpected arrival of the Prince. He was extremely solicitous on her behalf, but could only suggest for her an acceptance of a long-standing invitation to visit Lady Strathmuir, a distant relative living in Surrey, until times grew more settled. To Aileen the thought of throwing herself upon the hospitality of one she had never met was extremely distasteful, and she hailed my proposal as an alternative much to be desired.
The disagreeable duty of laying before my lawyer the involved condition of my affairs had to be endured, and I sent for him at once to get it over with the sooner. He pulled a prodigious long face at my statement of the gaming debts I had managed to contract during my three months' experiment as the prodigal son in London, but though he was extraordinarily severe with me I made out in the end that affairs were not so bad as I had thought. The estate would have to be plastered with a mortgage, but some years of stiff economy and retrenchment, together with a ruthless pruning of the fine timber, would suffice to put me on my feet again. The expenditures of the household would have to be cut down, but Mr. Brief thought that a modest establishment befitting my rank might still be maintained. If I thought of marrying——
A ripple of laughter from the lawn, where Aileen and Charles were arranging fishing tackle, was wafted through the open window and cut athwart the dry speech of the lawyer. My eyes found her and lingered on the soft curves, the rose-leaf colouring, the eager face framed in a sunlit aureola of radiant hair. Already my mind had a trick of imagining her the mistress of the Grange. Did she sit for a moment in the seat that had been my mother's my heart sang; did she pluck a posy or pour a cup of tea 'twas the same. "If I thought of marrying——" Well, 'twas a thing to be considered one day—when I came back from the wars.
IN THE MATTER OF A KISS
It may be guessed that the music of the gray morn when we started found a ready echo in my heart. The whistle of a plover cut the breaking day, the meadow larks piped clear above us in chorus with the trilling of the thrush, the wimpling burn tinkled its song, and the joy that took me fairly by the throat was in tune with all of them. For what does a lover ask but to be one and twenty, to be astride a willing horse, and to be beside the one woman in the world for him? Sure 'tis heaven enough to watch the colour come and go in her face, to hear the lilt of her voice, and to see the changing light in her eye. What though at times we were shy as the wild rabbit, we were none the less happy for that. In our hearts there bubbled a childlike gaiety; we skipped upon the sunlit hilltops of life.
And here was the one drop of poison in the honey of my cup: that I was wearing an abominable misfit of a drab-coloured suit of homespun more adapted to some village tradesman than to a young cavalier of fashion, for on account of the hue and cry against me I had pocketed my pride and was travelling under an incognito. Nor did it comfort me one whit that Aileen also was furbished up in sombre gray to represent my sister, for she looked so taking in it that I vow 'twas more becoming than her finery. Yet I made the best of it, and many a good laugh we got from rehearsing our parts.
I can make no hand at remembering what we had to say to each other, nor does it matter; in cold type 'twould lose much of its charm. The merry prattle of her pretty broken English was set to music for me, and the very silences were eloquent of thrill. Early I discovered that I had not appreciated fully her mental powers, on account of a habit she had of falling into a shy silence when several were present. She had a nimble wit, an alert fancy, and a zest for life as earnest as it was refreshing. A score of times that day she was out of the shabby chaise to pick the wild flowers or to chat with the children by the wayside. The memory of her warm friendliness to me stands out the more clear contrasted with the frigid days that followed.
It may be thought by some that our course in travelling together bordered on the edge of the proprieties, but it must be remembered that the situation was a difficult one for us both. Besides which my sister Cloe was always inclined to be independent, of a romantical disposition, and herself young; as for Aileen, I doubt whether any thought of the conventions crossed her mind. Her people would be wearying to see her; her friend Kenneth Montagu had offered his services to conduct her home; Hamish Gorm was a jealous enough chaperone for any girl, and the maid that Cloe had supplied would serve to keep the tongues of the gossips from clacking.
We put up that first evening at The King's Arms, a great rambling inn of two stories which caught the trade of many of the fashionable world on their way to and from London. Aileen and I dined together at a table in the far end of the large dining-room. As I remember we were still uncommon merry, she showing herself very clever at odd quips and turns of expression. We found matter for jest in a large placard on the wall, with what purported to be a picture of me, the printed matter containing the usual description and offer of reward. Watching her, I was thinking that I had never known a girl more in love with life or with so mobile a face when a large company of arrivals from London poured gaily into the room.
They were patched and powdered as if prepared for a ball rather than for the dust of the road. Dowagers, frigid and stately as marble, murmured racy gossip to each other behind their fans. Famous beauties flitted hither and thither, beckoning languid fops with their alluring eyes. Wits and beaux sauntered about elegantly even as at White's. 'Twas plain that this was a party en route for one of the great county houses near.
Aileen stared with wide-open eyes and parted lips at these great dames from the fashionable world about which she knew nothing. They were prominent members of the leading school for backbiting in England, and in ten minutes they had talked more scandal than the Highland lass had heard before in a lifetime. But the worst of the situation was that there was not one of them but would cry "Montagu!" when they clapped eyes on me. Here were Lord March, George Selwyn, Sir James Craven, Topham Beauclerc, and young Winton Westerleigh; Lady Di Davenport and the Countess Dowager of Rocksboro; the Hon. Isabel Stanford, Mistress Antoinette Westerleigh, and others as well known to me. They had taken us at unawares, and as Creagh would have put it in an Irish bull the only retreat possible for us was an advance through the enemy. At present they paid no more attention to us than they would to the wooden negro in front of a tobacco shop, but at any moment detection might confront me. Faith, here was a predicament! Conceive me, with a hundred guineas set upon my head, thrust into the very company in all England I would most have avoided.
And of all the people in the world they chanced on me as a topic of conversation. George Selwyn, strolling up and down the room, for want of something better to do, stopped in front of that confounded placard and began reading it aloud. Now I don't mind being described as "Tall, strong, well-built, and extremely good-looking; brown eyes and waving hair like ilk; carries himself with distinction;" but I grue at being set down as a common cutpurse, especially when I had taken the trouble to send back Sir Robert's jewelry at some risk to myself.
"Wonder what Montagu has done with himself," queried Beauclerc after Selwyn had finished.
"Or what Volney has done with him," muttered March behind his hand. "I'll lay two to one in ponies he never lives to cross another man."
"You're wrong, March, if you think Volney finished him. He's alive all right. I heard it from Denman that he got safe across to France. Pity Volney didn't pink the fellow through the heart for his d——d impudence in interfering; not that I can stand Volney either, curse the popinjay!" snarled Craven sourly.
"If Montagu reaches the continent, 'twill be a passover the Jews who hold his notes will not relish," suggested Selwyn in his sleepy way.
A pink-and-white-faced youth shimmering in cream satin was the animated heart of another group. His love for scandal and his facility for acquiring the latest tidbit made him the delight of many an old tabby cat. Now his eyes shone with the joy of imparting a delicious morsel.
"Egad, then, you're all wrong," he was saying in a shrill falsetto. "Stap me, the way of it was this! I have it on the best of authority and it comes direct, rot me if it doesn't! Sir Robert's man, Watkins, told Madame Bellevue's maid, from whom it came straight to Lord Pam's fellow and through him to old Methuselah, who mentioned it to——"
"You needn't finish tracing the lineage of the misinformation. We'll assume it began with Adam and ended with a dam—with a descendant of his," interrupted Craven with his usual insolence. "Now out with the lie!"
"'Pon honour, Craven, 'tis gospel truth," gasped Pink-and-White.
"Better send for a doctor then. If he tries to tell the truth for once he'll strangle," suggested Selwyn whimsically to March.
"Spit it out then!" bullied Craven coarsely.
"Oh, Lard! Your roughness gives me the flutters, Sir James. I'm all of a tremble. Split me, I can't abide to be scolded! Er— Well, then, 'twas a Welsh widow they fought about—name of Gwynne and rich as Croesus—old enough to be a grandmother of either of 'em, begad! Volney had first claim and Montagu cut in; swore he'd marry her if she went off the hooks next minute. They fought and Montagu fell at the first shot. Next day the old Begum ran off with her footman. That's the story, you may depend on't. Lud, yes!"
"You may depend on its being wrong in every particular," agreed Lady Di coolly. "You'd better tell the story, 'Toinette. They'll have it a hundred times worse."
"Oh Lard! Gossip about my future husband. Not I!" giggled that lively young woman.
"Don't be a prude, miss!" commanded the Dowager Countess sharply. "'Tis to stifle false reports you tell it."
"Slidikins! An you put it as a duty," simpered the young beauty. "'Twould seem that—it would appear—the story goes that— Do I blush?—that Sir Robert— Oh, let Lady Di tell it!"
Lady Di came to scratch with the best will in the world.
"To correct a false impression then; for no other reason I tell it save to kill worse rumours. Everybody knows I hate scandal."
"'Slife, yes! Everybody knows that," agreed Craven, leering over at March.
"Sir Robert Volney then was much taken with a Scotch girl who was visiting in London, and of course she dreamed air castles and fell in love with him. 'Twas Joan and Darby all the livelong day, but alack! the maid discovered, as maids will, that Sir Robert's intentions were—not of the best, and straightway the blushing rose becomes a frigid icicle. Well, this Northern icicle was not to be melted, and Sir Robert was for trying the effect of a Surrey hothouse. In her brother's absence he had the maid abducted and carried to a house of his in town."
"'Slife! A story for a play. And what then?" cried Pink-and-White.
"Why then—enter Mr. Montagu with a 'Stay, villain!' It chanced that young Don Quixote was walking through the streets for the cooling of his blood mayhap, much overheated by reason of deep play. He saw, he followed, at a fitting time he broke into the apartment of the lady. Here Sir Robert discovered them——"
"The lady all unready, alackaday!" put in the Honourable Isabel, from behind a fan to hide imaginary blushes.
"Well, something easy of attire to say the least," admitted Lady Di placidly.
"I' faith then, Montagu must make a better lover than Sir Robert," cried March.
"Every lady to her taste. And later they fought on the way to Surrey. Both wounded, no graves needed. The girl nursed Montagu back to health, and they fled to France together," concluded the narrator.
"And the lady—is she such a beauty?" queried Beauclerc.
"Slidikins! I don't know. She must have points. No Scotch mawkin would draw Sir Robert's eye."
You are to imagine with what a burning face I sat listening to this devil's brew of small talk. What their eyes said to each other of innuendo, what their lifted brows implied, and what they whispered behind white elegant hands, was more maddening than the open speech. For myself, I did not value the talk of the cats at one jack straw, but for this young girl sitting so still beside me— By Heaven, I dared not look at her. Nor did I know what to do, how to stop them without making the matter worse for her, and I continued to sit in an agony grizzling on the gridiron of their calumnies. Had they been talking lies outright it might have been easily borne, but there was enough of truth mixed in the gossip to burn the girl with the fires of shame.
At the touch of a hand I turned to look into a face grown white and chill, all the joy of life struck out of it. The girl's timorous eyes implored me to spare her more of this scene.
"Oh Kenneth, get me away from here. I will be dying of shame. Let us be going at once," she asked in a low cry.
"There is no way out except through the crowd of them. Will you dare make the attempt? Should I be recognized it may be worse for you."
"I am not fearing if you go with me. And at all events anything iss better than this."
There was a chance that we might pass through unobserved, and I took it; but I was white-hot with rage and I dare say my aggressive bearing bewrayed me. In threading our way to the door I brushed accidentally against Mistress Westerleigh. She drew aside haughtily, then gave a little scream of recognition.
"Kenn Montagu, of all men in the world—and turned Quaker, too. Gog's life, 'tis mine, 'tis mine! The hundred guineas are mine. I call you all to witness I have taken the desperate highwayman. 'Tall, strong, and extremely well-looking; carries himself like a gentleman.' This way, sir," she cried merrily, and laying hold of my coat-tails began to drag me toward the men.
There was a roar of laughter at this, and the pink-white youth lounged forward to offer me a hand of welcome I took pains not to see.
"Faith, the lady has the right of it, Montagu. That big body of yours is worth a hundred guineas now if it never was before," laughed Selwyn.
"Sorry to disappoint the lady, but unfortunately my business carries me in another direction," I said stiffly.
"But Lud! 'Tis not fair. You're mine. I took you, and I want the reward," cries the little lady with the sparkling eyes.
Aileen stood by my side like a queen cut out of marble, turning neither to the right nor to the left, her head poised regally on her fine shoulders as if she saw none in the room worthy a look.
"This must be the baggage about which they fought. Faith, as fine a piece as I have seen," said Craven to March in an audible aside, his bold eyes fixed insolently on the Highland girl.
Aileen heard him, and her face flamed. I set my teeth and swore to pay him for that some day, but I knew this to be no fitting time for a brawl. Despite me the fellow forced my hand. He planted himself squarely in our way and ogled my charge with impudent effrontery. Me he quite ignored, while his insulting eyes raked her fore and aft. My anger seethed, boiled over. Forward slid my foot behind his heel, my forearm under his chin. I threw my weight forward in a push. His head went back as though shot from a catapult, and next moment Sir James Craven measured his length on the ground. With the girl on my arm I pushed through the company to the door. They cackled after me like solan-geese, but I shut and locked the door in their faces and led Aileen to her room. She marched up the stairs like a goddess, beautiful in her anger as one could desire. The Gaelic heart is a good hater, and 'twas quite plain that Miss Macleod had inherited a capacity for anger.
"How dare they? How dare they? What have I done that they should talk so? There are three hundred claymores would be leaping from the scabbard for this. My grief! That they would talk so of my father's daughter."
She was superbly beautiful in her wrath. It was the black fury of the Highland loch in storm that leaped now from her eyes. Like a caged and wounded tigress she strode up and down the room, her hands clenched and her breast heaving, an impetuous flood of Gaelic pouring from her mouth.
For most strange logic commend me to a woman's reasoning, I had been in no way responsible for the scene down-stairs, but somehow she lumped me blindly with the others in her mind, at least so far as to punish me because I had seen and heard. Apparently 'twas enough that I was of their race and class, for when during a pause I slipped in my word of soothing explanation the uncorked vials of her rage showered down on me. Faith, I began to think that old Jack Falstaff had the right of it in his rating of discretion, and the maid appearing at that moment I showed a clean pair of heels and left her alone with her mistress.
As I was descending the stairs a flunky in the livery of the Westerleighs handed me a note. It was from Antoinette, and in a line requested me to meet her at once in the summer-house of the garden. In days past I had coquetted many an hour away with her. Indeed, years before we had been lovers in half-earnest boy and girl fashion, and after that the best of friends. Grimly I resolved to keep the appointment and to tell this little worldling some things she needed much to know.
I found her waiting. Her back was turned, and though she must have heard me coming she gave no sign. I was still angry at her for her share in what had just happened and I waited coldly for her to begin. She joined me in the eloquent silence of a Quaker meeting.
"Well, I am here," I said at last.
"Oh, it's you." She turned on me, mighty cold and haughty. "Sir, I take it as a great presumption that you dare to stay at the same inn with me after attempting to murder my husband that is to be."
"Murder!" I gasped, giving ground in dismay at this unexpected charge.
"Murder was the word I used, sir. Do you not like it?"
"'Twas a fair fight," I muttered.
"Was it not you that challenged? Did you not force it on him?"
"And then you dare to come philandering here after me. Do you think I can change lovers as often as gloves, sir? Or as often as you?"
"Madam, I protest——"
"La! You protest! Did you not come here to see me? Answer me that, sir!" With an angry stamp of her foot.
"Yes, Mistress Westerleigh, your note——"
"And to philander? Do you deny it?"
"Deny it. Odzooks, yes! 'Tis the last thing I have in my mind," I rapped out mighty short. "I have done with women and their follies. I begin to see why men of sense prefer to keep their freedom."
"Do you, Kenn? And was the other lady so hard on you? Did she make you pay for our follies? Poor Kenn!" laughed my mocking tormentor with so sudden a change of front that I was quite nonplussed. "And did you think I did not know my rakehelly lover Sir Robert better than to blame you for his quarrels?"
I breathed freer. She had taken the wind out of my sails, for I had come purposing to give her a large piece of my mind. Divining my intention, womanlike she had created a diversion by carrying the war into the country of the enemy.
She looked winsome in the extreme. Little dimples ran in and out her peach-bloom cheeks. In her eyes danced a kind of innocent devilry, and the alluring mouth was the sweetest Cupid's bow imaginable. Laughter rippled over her face like the wind in golden grain. Mayhap my eyes told what I was thinking, for she asked in a pretty, audacious imitation of the Scotch dialect Aileen was supposed to speak,
"Am I no' bonny, Kenneth?"
"You are that, 'Toinette."
"But you love her better?" she said softly.
I told her yes.
"And yet——" She turned and began to pull a honeysuckle to pieces, pouting in the prettiest fashion conceivable.
The graceful curves of the lithe figure provoked me. There was a challenge in her manner, and my blood beat with a surge. I made a step or two toward her.
"And yet?" I repeated, over her shoulder.
One by one the petals floated away.
"There was a time——" She spoke so softly I had to bend over to hear.
I sighed. "A thousand years ago, 'Toinette."
"But love is eternal, and in eternity a thousand years are but as a day."
The long curving lashes were lifted for a moment, and the dancing brown eyes flashed into mine. While mine held them they began to dim. On my soul the little witch contrived to let the dew of tears glisten there. Now a woman's tears are just the one thing Kenneth Montagu cannot resist. After all I am not the first man that has come to make war and stayed to make love.
"'Toinette! 'Toinette!" I chided, resolution melting fast.
"And y'are commanded to love your neighbours, Kenn."
I vow she was the takingest madcap in all England, and not the worst heart neither. I am no Puritan, and youth has its day in which it will be served. My scruples took wing.
"Faith, one might travel far and not do better," I told her. "When the gods send their best to a man he were a sorry knave to complain."
Yet I stood helpless, in longing desire and yet afraid to dare. No nicety of conscience held me now, rather apprehension. I had not lived my one and twenty years without learning that a young woman may be free of speech and yet discreet of action, that alluring eyes are oft mismated with prim maiden conscience. 'Tis in the blood of some of them to throw down the gauntlet to a man's courage and then to trample on him for daring to accept the challenge.
Her eyes derided me. A scoffing smile crept into that mocking face of hers. No longer I shilly-shallied. She had brought me to dance, and she must pay the piper.
"Modesty is a sweet virtue, but it doesn't butter any bread," I cried gaily. "Egad, I embrace my temptation."
Which same I did, and the temptress too.
"Am I your temptation, Adam?" quoth the lady presently.
"I vow y'are the fairest enticement, Eve, that ever trod the earth since the days of the first Garden. For this heaven of your lips I'll pay any price in reason. A year in purgatory were cheap——"
I stopped, my florid eloquence nipped in bud, for the lady had suddenly begun to disengage herself. Her glance shot straight over my shoulder to the entrance of the summer-house. Divining the presence of an intruder, I turned.
Aileen was standing in the doorway looking at us with an acrid, scornful smile that went to my heart like a knife.
MY LADY RAGES
I was shaken quite out of my exultation. I stood raging at myself in a defiant scorn, struck dumb at the folly that will let a man who loves one woman go sweethearting with another. Her eyes stabbed me, the while I stood there dogged yet grovelling, no word coming to my dry lips. What was there to be said? The tie that bound me to Aileen was indefinable, tenuous, not to be phrased; yet none the less it existed. I stood convicted, for I had tacitly given her to understand that no woman found place in my mind save her, and at the first chance she found another in my arms. Like a detected schoolboy in presence of the rod I awaited my sentence, my heart a trip-hammer, my face a picture of chagrin and dread.
For just a moment she held me in the balance with that dreadful smile on her face, my day of judgment come to earth, then turned and away without a word. I flung wildly after her, intent on explaining what could not be explained. In the night I lost her and went up and down through the shrubbery calling her to come forth, beating the currant and gooseberry bushes in search of her. A shadow flitted past me toward the house, and at the gate I intercepted the girl. Better I had let her alone. My heart misgave me at sight of her face; indeed the whole sweep of her lithesome reedy figure was pregnant with Highland scorn and pride.
"Oh, Aileen, in the arbour——" I was beginning, when she cut me short.
"And I am thinking I owe you an apology for my intrusion. In troth, Mr. Montagu, my interruption of your love-makings was not intentional."
Her voice gave me the feel of being drenched with ice-water.
"If you will let me explain, Aileen——"
"Indeed, and there iss nothing to explain, sir. It will be none of my business who you are loving, and— Will you open the gate, Mr. Montagu?"
"But I must explain; 'twas a madness of the blood. You do not understand——"
"And gin I never understand, Mr. Montagu, the lift (sky) will not fall. Here iss a great to-do about nothing," she flung back with a kind of bitter jauntiness.
"Aileen," I cried, a little wildly, "you will not cast me off without a hearing. Somehow I must make it clear, and you must try——"
"My name it iss Miss Macleod, and I would think it clear enough already at all events. I will be thanking you to let me pass, sir."
Her words bit, not less the scorch of her eyes. My heart was like running water.
"And is this an end to all— Will you let so small a thing put a period to our good comradeship?" I cried.
"Since you mention it I would never deny that I am under obligations to you, sir, which my brother will be blithe to repay——"
"By Heaven, I never mentioned obligations; I never thought of them. Is there no friendship in your heart for me?"
"Your regard iss a thing I have valued, but"—there was a little break in the voice which she rode over roughshod—"I can very well be getting along without the friendships of that girl's lover."
She snatched open the gate and flung past me to the house, this superb young creature, tall, slim, supple, a very Diana in her rage, a woman too if one might judge by the breasts billowing with rising sobs. More slow I followed, quite dashed to earth. All that I had gained by months of service in one moment had been lost. She would think me another of the Volney stamp, and her liking for me would turn to hate as with him.
A low voice from the arbour called "Kenn!" But I had had enough of gallivanting for one night and I held my way sullenly to the house. Swift feet pattered down the path after me, and presently a little hand fell on my arm. I turned, sulky as a baited bear.
"I am so sorry, Kenn," said Mistress Antoinette demurely.
My sardonic laughter echoed cheerlessly. "That there is no more mischief to your hand. Oh never fear! You'll find some other poor breeched gull shortly."
The brown dovelike eyes of the little rip reproached me.
"'Twill all come right, Kenn. She'll never think the worse of you for this."
"I'll be no more to her than a glove outworn. I have lost the only woman I could ever love, and through my own folly, too."
"Alackaday, Kenn! Y' 'ave much to learn about women yet. She will think the more of you for it when her anger is past."
"Not she. One of your fashionables might, but not Aileen."
"Pooh! I think better of her than you. She's not all milk and water. There's red blood in her veins, man. Spunk up and brazen it out. Cock your chin and whistle it off bravely. Faith, I know better men than you who would not look so doleful over one of 'Toinette Westerleigh's kisses. If I were a man I would never kiss and be sorry for all the maids in Christendom."
The saucy piquant tilt to her chin was a sight for the gods to admire.
"You forget I love her."
"Oh, you play on one string. She's not the only maid i' the world," pouted the London beauty.
"She's the only one for me," I said stubbornly, and then added dejectedly, "and she's not for me neither."
The little rogue began to laugh. "I give you up, Kenn. Y'are as moonstruck a lover as ever I saw. Here's for a word of comfort, which you don't deserve at all. For a week she will be a thunder-cloud, then the sun will beam more brightly than ever. But don't you be too submissive. La! Women cannot endure a wheedling lover."
After that bit of advice my sage little monitor fell sober and explained to me her reason for sending me the note. It appeared that Sir Robert Volney was due to meet the party at the inn that very evening, and Miss Westerleigh was of opinion that I and my charge would do well to take the road at once. I was of that mind myself. I lost no time in reaching the house and ordering a relay of horses for our immediate travel. Then I took the stairs three at a time and came knocking at Aileen's door.
"Who iss there?" asked a small voice, full of tears and muffled in a pillow.
Her distress went to my heart, none the less because I who had been the cause of it could not heal it.
"Tis I—Kenneth Montagu. Open the door, please."
There was a moment's silence, then—
"I am not wishing to see Mr. Montagu to-night."
"Not for the world would I trouble you, Miss Macleod, but there is a matter I have to disclose that touches us nearly."
"I think you will not have heard aright. I am desiring to be alone, sir," she answered, the frost in her voice.
It may be guessed that this dismissal chafed me. My eagerness was daunted, but yet I would not be fubbed off.
"Miss Macleod, you may punish me as much as you like some other time," I cried desperately, "but 'fore God! if you do not open the door you will regret it till the last day of your life."
"Are you threatening me, sir?" she asks, mighty haughty.
"Threatening—no! I do not threaten, but warn. This matter is of life and death, not to be played with;" and to emphasize my words I mentioned the name of Volney.
She came raging to the door and whipped it open very sudden. Her affronted eyes might have belonged to a queen, but the stains on her cheeks betrayed her.
"Well, and what iss this important matter that cannot be waiting? Perhaps Mr. Montagu mistakes this for the room of Mistress Westerleigh."
I told her that Sir Robert was expected shortly to arrive at the inn, and that we must be on the road at once. She thanked me very primly for the information, but declared she would not trouble me further, that she meant to abide at the inn all night no matter who came; moreover, that when she did leave Hamish Gorm would be sufficient guard. I argued, cajoled, warned, threatened, but she was not to be moved. The girl took a perverse pleasure in thwarting me, and the keener I grew the more dour grew she. We might have disputed the point an hour had I not come to my senses and appeared to give way.
Suspecting that the girl's fears of Sir Robert would reassert themselves when she was left to herself, I sought her maid and easily induced the girl to propose to her mistress a departure without my knowledge. The suggestion worked like a charm, and fifteen minutes later I had the pleasure of seeing the chaise roll out of the lighted yard into the night. Need it be said that Kenneth Montagu was ahorse and after the coach within a few minutes.
All night I jogged behind them, and in the morning rode up to the inn where they stopped for breakfast. From Mistress Aileen I got the slightest bow in the world as I passed to my solitary breakfast at a neighbouring table. Within the hour they were away again, and I after to cover the rear. Late in the day the near wheeler fell very lame. The rest of the animals were dead beat, and I rode to the nearest hamlet to get another horse. The night was falling foul, very mirk, with a rising wind, and methought the lady's eyes lightened when she saw me return with help to get them out of their difficulty. She thanked me stiffly with a very straight lip.
"At all events there will be no end to the obligations I am under, Mr. Montagu. They will be piling high as Ben Nevis," she said, but 'twould have taken a penetrating man to have discovered any friendliness in the voice.
Yet henceforth I made myself one of the party, admitted on sufferance with a very bad grace. More than once I tried to break through the chill conventionals that made the staple of our conversation, but the girl was ice to me. In the end I grew stiff as she. I would ride beside the coach all day with scarce a word, wearying for a reconciliation and yet nourishing angry pride. When speech appeared to be demanded between us 'twas of the most formal. Faith, I think we were liker a pair of spoilt children than sensible grown folks.
While we were still in the northern counties rumours began to reach us that General Cope's army had been cut to pieces by the Highlanders. The stories ran that not a single man had escaped, that the clans, twenty thousand strong, were headed for England, that they were burning and destroying as they advanced. Incredible reports of all kinds sprang out of the air, and the utmost alarm prevailed. The report of Cope's defeat was soon verified. We met more than one redcoat speeding south on a foam-flecked weary steed, and it did not need the second sight to divine that the dispatches they carried spoke loudly of disaster fallen and of reinforcements needed.
After we had crossed the border parties of foraging Highlanders began to appear occasionally, but a word in the Gaelic from Hamish Gorm always served as a password for us. To make short, early in October we reached the Scottish capital, the formal relations which had been established between Miss Macleod and me continuing to the end of the journey.
There lived in Edinburgh an unmarried aunt of Aileen, a Miss Flora MacBean by name, and at her house I left the girl while I went to notify her brother of our arrival. I found him lodged in High Street near the old Flesh-market Close. Malcolm Macleod was a fine manly fellow of about three and thirty, lusty and well-proportioned, very tanned and ruddy. He had a quick lively eye and a firm good-humoured mouth. In brief, he was the very picture of a frank open-hearted Highland gentleman, and in the gay Macleod tartan looked as gallant a figure of a soldier as one would wish to see. He greeted me with charming friendliness and expressed himself as deeply gratified for my care of his sister, offering again and again to put himself at my service in any way I might desire.
We walked down the street together, and more than once a shot plumped at our feet, for the city was under fire from the Hanoverian garrison at the castle. Everywhere the clansmen were in evidence. Barefooted and barelegged Celts strutted about the city with their bonnets scrugged low on their heads, the hair hanging wild over their eyes and the matted beards covering their faces. For the most part they were very ragged, and tanned exceedingly wherever the flesh took a peep through their outworn plaids. They ran about the streets in groups, looking in shop windows like children and talking their outlandish gibberish; then presently their Highland pride would assert itself at the smile of some chance passer and would send them swinging proudly off as though they had better things at home.
Out of a tobacco shop came Captain Donald Roy singing blithely,
"'Will ye play me fair, Highland laddie, Highland laddie?'"
He was of course in the full Macdonald tartan regimentals—checkered kilt, sporran, plaid, a brace of pistols, a dirk in his stocking, and claymore. At sight of me his face lighted and he came running forward with both hands outstretched.
"And is it you at last, Kenn? Man, but I've been wearying for a sight of your honest face. I was whiles thinking you must have given us the go-by. Fegs, but it's a braw day and a sight guid for sair een to see you, lad. You will have heard how we gave Johnnie Cope his kail through his reek." He broke off to hum:—
"'Now Johnnie, troth, ye werena blate, to come wi' the news o' your ain, And leave your men in sic a strait, so early in the morning.'
"And did you bring my kinswoman back safe with you? I'se wad ye found the journey no' ower lang;" and he cocked a merry eye at me.
I flushed, and introduced him to Major Macleod, who took occasion to thank him for his services to his sister. They fell into a liking for each other at once. When the major was called aside by one of his gillies a moment later, Macdonald expressed his trust of the other in the old Scotch saying,
"Yon's a man to ride the water wi', Kenneth."
A curious sight illustrative of the Highland way of "lifting" what took their fancy occurred as we were all three walking toward the house of Macleod's aunt. Three shag-headed gillies in the tattered Cameron tartan dragged an innkeeper from his taproom and set him down squat on the causeway. Without even a by-your-leave they took from his feet a pair of new shoes with silver buckles. He protested that he was a loyal Jacobite.
"Sae muckle ta better. She'll no' grumble to shange a progue for the Prince's guid," one of the caterans answered cheerfully by way of comfort.
To my surprise the two Highland gentlemen watched this high-handed proceeding with much amusement, enjoying not a little the ridiculous figure cut by the frightened, sputtering host. I asked them if they were not going to interfere.
"What for would we do that at all events?" asked the Macdonald. "Man, Montagu, but you whiles have unco queer notions for so wise a lad. It's as natural for a Hielander to despoil a Southron as for a goose to gang barefit. What would Lochiel think gin we fashed wi' his clansmen at their ploy? Na, na! I wad be sweir to be sae upsitten (impertinent). It wadna be tellin' a Macdonald, I'm thinkin'."
Aileen was so prettily glad to see her brother and so friendly with Donald Roy, so full of gay chatter and eager reminiscence, that I felt myself quite dashed by the note of reserve which crept into her voice and her manner whenever she found it incumbent to speak to me. Her laugh would be ringing clear as the echo of steel in frost, and when Donald lugged me into the talk she would fall mim as a schoolgirl under the eye of her governess. Faith, you would have thought me her dearest enemy, instead of the man that had risked life for her more than once. Here is a pretty gratitude, I would say to myself in a rage, hugging my anger with the baby thought that she would some day scourge herself for this after I were killed in battle. Here is a fine return for loyal service rendered, and the front of my offending is nothing more than the saluting an old playmate.
"Man, Kenneth, but you hae played the cuddie brawly," was Donald's comforting remark to me after we had left. "You maun hae made an awfu' bauchle of it. When last I saw the lady she hoisted a fine colour when I daffed about you, and now she glowers at you in a no' just friendly way."
I admitted sadly that 'twas so and told him the reason, for Donald Roy had a wide observation of life and a varied experience with the sex that made him a valuable counsellor. The situation amused him hugely, but what he could find of humour in it was more than I could see.
"Deil hae't, but yon quean Antoinette will be a geyan ettercap (madcap). Tony Creagh has been telling me about her; he's just a wee thingie touched there himsel'."
"Pardon me," I interrupted a little stiffly, "but I think I did not give the name of the lady."
The Highlander looked at me dryly with a pawky smile.
"Hoots, man! I ken that fine, but I'm no a fule. You named over the party and I picked the lady that suited the speceefications." Then he began to chuckle: "I wad hae liked dooms weel to hae seen you stravaiging (wandering) through the grosset (gooseberry) bushes after the lass."
I told him huffily that if that was all he could say I had better have kept the story to myself. I had come for advice, not to be laughed at. Donald flashed his winsome smile and linked an arm in mine.
"Well then, and here's advice for you, man. Jouk (duck) and let the jaw (wave) go by. Gin it were me the colder she were the better I wad like it. Dinna you see that the lass rages because she likes you fine; and since she's a Hieland maid brought up under the blue lift she hasna learnt to hate and smile in the same breath."
"I make neither head nor tail of your riddles," I told him impatiently. "By your way of it so far as I can make out she both likes and hates me. Now how can that be?"
Captain Macdonald's droll eye appeared to pity me. "Kenneth, bairn, but you're an awfu' ignoramus. You ken naething ava about the lassies. I'm wondering what they learnt you at Oxford. Gin it's the same to you we'll talk of something mair within your comprehension." And thereupon he diverted the conversation to the impending invasion of England by the Highland army. Presently I asked him what he thought of the Prince now that he had been given a chance to study the Young Chevalier at closer range, and I shall never forget the eager Highlander's enthusiastic answer.
"From the head to the heel of him he is a son of Kings, kind-hearted, gallant, modest. He takes all hearts by storm. Our Highland laddie is the bravest man I ever saw, not to be rash, and the most cautious, not to be a coward. But you will be judging for yourself when you are presented at the ball on Tuesday."
I told him that as yet I had no invitation to the ball.
"That's easy seen to. The Chevalier O'Sullivan makes out the list. I'll drop a flea in his lug (ear)."
Next day was Sunday, and I arrayed myself with great care to attend the church at which one Macvicar preached; to be frank I didn't care a flip of my fingers what the doctrine was he preached; but I had adroitly wormed out of Miss MacBean that he was the pastor under whom she sat. Creagh called on me before I had set out, and I dragged him with me, he protesting much at my unwonted devotion.
I dare say he understood it better when he saw my eyes glued to the pew where Miss Aileen sat with her aunt in devout attention. What the sermon was to have been about we never knew, on account of an interruption which prevented us from hearing it. During the long prayer I was comfortably watching the back of Aileen's head and the quarter profile of her face when Creagh nudged me. I turned to find him looking at me out of a very comical face, and this was the reason for it. The hardy Macvicar was praying for the Hanoverians and their cause.
"Bless the King," he was saying boldly. "Thou knows what King I mean— May the crown sit easy on his head for lang. And for the young man that is come among us to seek an earthly crown, we beseech Thee in mercy to take him to Thyself, and give him a crown of glory."
One could have heard a pin fall in the hush, and then the tense rustle that swept over the church and drowned the steady low voice that never faltered in the prayer.
"Egad, there's a hit for the Prince straight from the shoulder," chuckled the Irishman by my side. "Faith, the Jacks are leaving the church to the Whigs. There goes the Major, Miss Macleod, and her aunt."
He was right. The prayer had ended and the Macleod party were sailing down the aisle. Others followed suit, and presently we joined the stream that poured out of the building to show their disapproval. 'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good. Miss MacBean invited Creagh and me to join them in dinner, and methought that my goddess of disdain was the least thing warmer to me than she had been in weeks. For the rest of the day I trod on air.
CHARLES EDWARD STUART
A beautifully engrossed invitation to the Prince's ball having duly arrived from his Secretary the Chevalier O'Sullivan, I ask you to believe that my toilet Tuesday evening was even more a work of art than that of Sunday. In huge disorder scarfs, lace cravats, muffs, and other necessary equipment were littered about the room. I much missed the neat touch of my valet Simpkins, and the gillie Hamish Gorm, whom Major Macleod had put at my service, did not supply his place by a deal, since he knew no more of patching the face or powdering a periwig than he had arrived at by the light of nature. But despite this handicap I made shift to do myself justice before I set off for the lodgings of Lord Balmerino, by whom I was to be presented.
'Twas long since the Scottish capital had been so gay as now, for a part of the policy of the Young Chevalier was to wear a brave front before the world. He and his few thousand Highlanders were pledged to a desperate undertaking, but it was essential that the waverers must not be allowed to suspect how slender were the chances of success. One might have thought from the splendour of his court and from the serene confidence exhibited by the Prince and his chiefs that the Stuarts were already in peaceable possession of the entire dominions of their ancestors. A vast concourse of well-dressed people thronged to Holyrood House from morning till night to present their respects to Prince Charles Edward. His politeness and affability, as well as the charms of his conversation and the graces of his person, swept the ladies especially from their lukewarm allegiance to the Hanoverians. They would own no lover who did not don the white cockade of Jacobitism. They would hesitate at no sacrifice to advance the cause of this romantic young gambler who used swords for dice. All this my three days residence in the city had taught me. I was now to learn whether a personal meeting with him would inspire me too with the ardent devotion that animated my friends.
A mixed assembly we found gathered in the picture gallery of Holyrood House. Here were French and Irish adventurers, Highland chiefs and Lowland gentlemen, all emulating each other in loyalty to the ladies who had gathered from all over Scotland to dance beneath the banner of the white rose. The Hall was a great blaze of moving colour, but above the tartans and the plaids, the mixed reds, greens, blues, and yellows, everywhere fluttered rampant the white streamers and cockades of the Stuarts.
No doubt there were here sober hearts, full of anxious portent for the future, but on the surface at least was naught but merriment. The gayest abandon prevailed. Strathspey and reel and Highland fling alternated with the graceful dances of France and the rollicking jigs of Ireland. Plainly this was no state ceremonial, rather an international frolic to tune all hearts to a common glee. We were on the top of fortune's wave. Had we not won for the Young Chevalier by the sword the ancient capital of his family, and did not the road to London invite us southward? The pipers of each clan in turn dirled out triumphant marches, and my heart began to beat in faster time. Water must have filled the veins of a man who could stand unmoved such contagious enthusiasm. For me, I confess it, a climax came a moment later that made my eyes swim.
Balmerino was talking with Malcolm Macleod and James Hepburn of Keith, a model of manly simplicity and honour who had been "out" in the '15; and as usual their talk fell on our enterprise and its gallant young leader. Keith narrated a story of how the Young Chevalier, after a long day's march on foot, had led the army three miles out of its way in order to avoid disturbing the wife of a cottar who had fallen asleep at the critical stage of a severe illness. Balmerino capped it with another anecdote of his dismounting from his horse after the battle of Gladsmuir to give water and attendance to a wounded English soldier of Cope's army.
Macleod smiled, eyes sparkling. "He iss every inch the true prince. He can tramp the hills with a Highlander all day and never weary, he can sleep on pease-straw as well as on a bed of down, can sup on brose in five minutes, and win a battle in four. Oh, yes, he will be the King for Malcolm Macleod."
While he was still speaking there fell over the assembly a sudden stillness. The word was passed from lips to lips, "The Prince comes." Every eye swept to the doorway. Men bowed deep and women curtsied low. A young man was entering slowly on the arm of Lord George Murray.
"The Prince!" whispered Balmerino to me.
The pipes crashed out a measure of "Wha'll be King but Charlie?" then fell into quiet sudden as they had begun. "Dhia theasirg an Righ!" (God save the King) cried a splendid young Highland chief in a voice that echoed through the hall.
Clanranald's cry was lifted to the rafters by a hundred throats. A hundred claymores leaped to air, and while the skirling bagpipes pealed forth, "The King shall enjoy his own again," Charles Stuart beneath an arch of shining steel trod slowly down the hall to a dais where his fathers had sat before him.
If the hearts of the ladies had surrendered at discretion, faith! we of the other sex were not much tardier. The lad was every inch a prince. His after life did not fulfil the promise of his youth, but at this time he was one to see, and once having seen, to love. All the great charm of his race found expression in him. Gallant, gracious, generous, tender-hearted in victory and cheerful in defeat (as we had soon to learn, alas!), even his enemies confessed this young Stuart a worthy leader of men. Usually suffused with a gentle pensiveness not unbecoming, the ardour of his welcome had given him on this occasion the martial bearing of a heroic young Achilles. With flushed cheek and sparkling eye he ascended the dais.
"Ladies, gentlemen, my loyal Highlanders, friends all, the tongue of Charles Stuart has no words to tell the warm message of his heart. Unfriended and alone he came among you, resolved with the help of good swords to win back that throne on which a usurper sits, or failing in that to perish in the attempt. How nobly you our people have rallied to our side in this undertaking to restore the ancient liberties of the kingdom needs not be told. To the arbitrament of battle and to the will of God we confidently appeal, and on our part we pledge our sacred honour neither to falter nor to withdraw till this our purpose is accomplished. To this great task we stand plighted, so help us God and the right."
'Tis impossible to conceive the effect of these few simple sentences. Again the pipes voiced our dumb emotion in that stirring song,
"We'll owre the water and owre the sea, We'll owre the water to Charlie; Come weal, come woe, we'll gather and go, And live and die wi' Charlie."
The mighty cheer broke forth again and seemed to rock the palace, but deeper than all cheering was the feeling that found expression in long-drawn breath and broken sob and glimmering tear. The gallant lad had trusted us, had put his life in our keeping; we highly resolved to prove worthy of that trust.
At a signal from the Prince the musicians struck up again the dance, and bright eyes bedimmed with tears began to smile once more. With a whispered word Balmerino left me and made his way to the side of the Prince, about whom were grouped the Duke of Perth, Lord Lewis Gordon, Lord Elcho, the ill-fated Kilmarnock, as well as Lochiel, Cluny, Macleod, Clanranald, and other Highland gentlemen who had taken their fortune in their hands at the call of this young adventurer with the enchanting smile. To see him was to understand the madness of devotion that had carried away these wise gray-haired gentlemen, but to those who never saw him I despair of conveying in cold type the subtle quality of charm that radiated from him. In the very bloom of youth, tall, slender, and handsome, he had a grace of manner not to be resisted. To condescend to the particulars of his person: a face of perfect oval very regular in feature; large light blue eyes shaded by beautifully arched brows; nose good and of the Roman type; complexion fair, mouth something small and effeminate, forehead high and full. He was possessed of the inimitable reserve and bearing that mark the royal-born, and that despite his genial frankness. On this occasion he wore his usual light-coloured peruke with the natural hair combed over the front, a tartan short coat on the breast of which shone the star of the order of St. Andrews, red velvet small-clothes, and a silver-hilted rapier. The plaid he ordinarily carried had been doffed for a blue sash wrought with gold.
All this I had time to note before Lord Balmerino rejoined me and led me forward to the presentation. The Prince separated himself from the group about him and came lightly down the steps to meet me. I fell on my knee and kissed his hand, but the Prince, drawing me to my feet, embraced me.
"My gallant Montagu," he cried warmly. "Like father, like son. God knows I welcome you, both on your own account and because you are one of the first English gentlemen to offer his sword to the cause of his King."
I murmured that my sword would be at his service till death. To put me at my ease he began to question me about the state of public feeling in England concerning the enterprise. What information I had was put at his disposal, and I observed that his grasp of the situation appeared to be clear and incisive. He introduced me to the noblemen and chiefs about him, and I was wise enough to know that if they made much of me it was rather for the class I was supposed to represent than for my own poor merits. Presently I fell back to make way for another gentleman about to be presented. Captain Macdonald made his way to me and offered a frank hand in congratulation.
"'Fore God, Montagu, you have leaped gey sudden into favour. Deil hae't, Red Donald brought with him a hundred claymores and he wasna half so kenspeckle (conspicuous). I'll wad your fortune's made, for you hae leaped in heels ower hurdies," he told me warmly.
From affairs of state to those of the heart may be a long cast, but the mind of one-and-twenty takes it at a bound. My eye went questing, fell on many a blushing maid and beaming matron, at last singled out my heart's desire. She was teaching a Highland dance to a graceful cavalier in white silk breeches, flowered satin waistcoat, and most choicely powdered periwig, fresh from the friseur. His dainty muff and exquisite clouded cane depended from a silken loop to proclaim him the man of fashion. Something characteristic in his easy manner, though I saw but his back, chilled me to an indefinable premonition of his identity. Yet an instant, and a turn in the dance figure flung into view the face of Sir Robert Volney, negligent and unperturbed, heedless apparently of the fact that any moment a hand might fall on his shoulder to lead him to his death. Aileen, to the contrary, clearly showed fear, anxiety, a troubled mind—to be detected in the hurried little glances of fearfulness directed toward her brother Malcolm, and in her plain eagerness to have done with the measure. She seemed to implore the baronet to depart, and Volney smilingly negatived her appeal. The girl's affronted eyes dared him to believe that she danced with him for any other reason than because he had staked his life to see her again and she would not have his death at her door. Disdain of her own weakness and contempt of him were eloquent in every movement of the lissom figure. 'Twas easy to be seen that the man was working on her fears for him, in order to obtain another foothold with her. I resolved to baulk his scheme.
While I was still making my way toward them through the throng they disappeared from the assembly hall. A still hunt of five minutes, and I had run down my prey in a snug little reception-room of a size to fit two comfortably. The girl fronted him scornfully, eyes flaming.
"Coward, you play on a girl's fears, you take advantage of her soft heart to force yourself on her," she was telling him in a low, bitter voice.
"I risk my life to see the woman that I love," he answered.
"My grief! Love! What will such a thing as you be knowing of love?"
The man winced. On my soul I believe that at last he was an honest lover. His beautiful, speaking eyes looked straight into hers. His mannerisms had for the moment been sponged out. Straight from the heart he spoke.