"I have learnt, Aileen. My hunger for a sight of you has starved my folly and fed my love. Believe me, I am a changed man."
The play and curve of her lips stung him. He flung himself desperately into his mad love-making. "'Belle Marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d'amour,'" he quoted from Moliere. "'Tis true, Aileen; I die of love; it burns me up," he added passionately, hungry eyes devouring the flying colours of her cheek, the mass of rippling hair, the fresh, sweet, subtle fragrance of her presence.
"You'll have to hurry about it then, for on my soul you're due to die of tightened hemp to-morrow," I told him, lounging forward from the door.
The girl cried out, eyes dilating, hand pressing to the heart. For the man, after the first start he did not turn a hair. The face that looked over his shoulder at me was unmoved and bereft of emotion.
"My malapropos friend Montagu again. Devil take it, you have an awkward way of playing harlequin when you're not wanted! Now to come blundering in upon a lady and her friend is— Well, not the best of form. Better drop it before it becomes a habit," he advised.
"'Slife, 'tis tit for tat! I learnt it from you," was my answer.
Long we looked at each other, preparing for the battle that was to come. Save for the quick breathing of the girl no sound fell.
"Sir Robert, your audacity confounds all precedent," I said at last.
"You flatter me, Mr. Montagu."
"Believe me, had Major Macleod discovered you instead of me your soul had by this time been speeding hellward."
"Exit Flattery," he laughed. "The lady phrased it less vilely. Heavenward, she put it! 'Twould be interesting to know which of you is right."
"As you say, an interesting topic of speculation, and one you're like to find the answer of shortly, presupposing that you suffer the usual fate of captured spies."
His brows lifted in polite inquiry. "Indeed! A spy?" he asked, indifferently.
"Why not? The favourite of the Hanoverian usurpers discovered in our midst—what other explanation will it bear?"
He smiled. "Perhaps I have a mind to join your barelegged rebellion."
"Afraid your services are not available, Sir Robert. Three hundred Macleod claymores bar the way, all eager to wipe out an insult to the daughter of Raasay. Faith, when they have settled their little account against you there won't be much left for the Prince."
"Ah! Then for the sake of argument suppose we put it that I'm visiting this delightful city for my health."
"You will find the climate not agree with you, I fear."
"Then say for pleasure."
"'Twill prove more exciting than amusing."
"On my life, dear Kenn, 'tis both."
"I have but to raise my voice and you are undone."
"His voice was ever soft, gentle, and low, an excellent thing in Kenneth," he parodied, laughing at me.
The girl said never a word, but her level eyes watched me steadily. No need of words to tell me that I was on trial! But I would not desist.
"You appear not to realize the situation," I told him coldly. "Your life is in hazard."
The man yawned in my face. "Not at all, I sit here as safe as if I were at White's, and a devilish deal better satisfied. Situation piquant! Company of the best! Gad's life, I cry content."
"I think we talk at cross purposes. I am trying to have you understand that your position is critical, Sir Robert."
Nonchalant yet watchful, indolent and yet alert, gracefully graceless, he watched me smilingly out of half-closed eyes; and then quietly fired the shot that brought me to.
"If you were not a gentleman, Montagu, the situation would be vastly different."
"I do not see the point," I told him; but I did, and raged at it.
"I think you do. Your lips are sealed. I am your rival"—he bowed to Aileen—"for the favour of a lady. If you put me out of the way by playing informer what appearance will it bear? You may talk of duty till the world ends, but you will be a marked man, despised by all—and most of all by Kenneth Montagu."
The man was right. At one sweep he had spiked my guns, demolished my defenses. The triumph was sponged from my face. I fumed in a stress of impotence.
"I don't know about that. I shall have to think of it. There is a duty to perform," I said at last, lamely.
He waved a hand airily. "My dear fellow, think as long as you please. You can't think away facts. Egad, they're immutable. You know me to be no spy. Conceded that I am in a false position. What can you do about it? You can't in honour give me up. I'faith, you're handcuffed to inaction."
I was, but my temper was not improved at hearing him tell it me so suavely and so blandly. He sat smiling and triumphant, chuckling no doubt at the dilemma into which he had thrust me. The worst of it was that while I was ostensibly master of the situation he had me at his mercy. I was a helpless victor without any of the fruits of victory.
"You took advantage of a girl's soft heart to put her in a position that was indefensible," I told him with bitter bluntness. "Save this of throwing yourself on her mercy there was no other way of approaching her. Of the wisdom of the serpent you have no lack. I congratulate you, Sir Robert. But one may be permitted to doubt the manliness of such a course."
The pipers struck up a song that was the vogue among our party, and a young man passed the entrance of the room singing it.
"Oh, it's owre the border awa', awa', It's owre the border awa', awa', We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle Ha', Wi' its yetts, its castles, an' a', an' a'."
The audacious villain parodied it on the spot, substituting two lines of his own for the last ones.
"You'll on an' you'll march to Carlisle Ha', To be hanged and quartered an' a', an' a',"
he hummed softly in his clipped English tongue.
"Pity you won't live to see it," I retorted tartly.
"You're still nursing that maggot, are you? Debating with yourself about giving me up, eh? Well that's a matter you must settle with your conscience, if you indulge in the luxury of one."
"You would never give him up, Kenneth," said Aileen in a low voice. "Surely you would not be doing that."
"I shall not let him stay here. You may be sure of that," I said doggedly.
The girl ventured a suggestion timidly. "Perhaps Sir Robert will be leaving to-morrow—for London mayhap."
Volney shook his head decisively. "Not I. Why, I have but just arrived. Besides, here is a problem in ethics for Mr. Montagu to solve. Strength comes through conflict, so the schools teach. Far be it from me to remove the cause of doubt. Let him solve his problem for himself, egad!"
He seemed to find a feline pleasure in seeing how far he could taunt me to go. He held me on the knife-edge of irritation, and perillous as was the experiment he enjoyed seeing whether he could not drive me to give him up.
"Miss Macleod's solution falls pat. Better leave to-morrow, Sir Robert. To stay is dangerous."
"'Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, 'out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower safety,'" he quoted.
"I see you always have your tag of Shakespeare ready; then let me remind you what he has to say about the better part of valour," I flung back, for once alert in riposte.
"A hit, and from the same play," he laughed. "But a retreat— 'Tis not to be thought of. No, no, Montagu! And it must be you'll just have to give me up."
"Oh, you harp on that! You may say it once too often. I shall find a way to get rid of you," I answered blackly.
"Let me find it for you, lad," said a voice from the doorway.
We turned, to find that Donald Roy had joined the party. He must have been standing there unobserved long enough to understand my dilemma, for he shot straight to the mark.
"Sir Robert, I'll never be denying that you're a bold villain, and that is the one thing that will be saving your life this night. I'm no' here to argie-bargie with you. The plain fact is just this; that I dinna care a rap for you the tane gate or the tither (the one way or the other). I'd like fine to see you dancing frae the widdie (gallows), but gin the lady wants you spared I'll no' say her no. Mr. Englisher, you'll just gie me your word to tak the road for the border this night, or I'll give a bit call to Major Macleod. I wouldna wonder but he wad be blithe to see you. Is it to be the road or the Macleod?"
I could have kissed the honest trusty face of the man, for he had lifted me out of a bog of unease. I might be bound by honour, but Captain Macdonald was free as air to dictate terms. Volney looked long at him, weighed the man, and in the end flung up the sponge. He rose to his feet and sauntered over to Aileen.
"I am desolated to find that urgent business takes me south at once, Miss Macleod. 'Tis a matter of the gravest calls me; nothing of less importance than the life of my nearest friend would take me from you. But I'm afraid it must be 'Au revoir' for the present," he said.
She looked past the man as if he had not existed.
He bowed low, the flattery of deference in his fine eyes, which knew so well how to be at once both bold and timid.
"Forgiven my madness?" he murmured.
Having nothing to say, she still said it eloquently. Volney bowed himself out of the room, nodded carelessly to me as he passed, touched Macdonald on the arm with a pleasant promise to attend the obsequies when the Highlander should be brought to London for his hanging, lounged elegantly through the crowded assembly hall, and disappeared into the night.
BLUE BONNETS ARE OVER THE BORDER
Next day I enrolled myself as a gentleman volunteer in Lord Balmerino's troop of horse-guards, and was at once appointed to a lieutenancy. In waiting for reinforcements and in making preparations for the invasion three weeks were lost, but at last, on the 31st of October, came the order for the march. We had that day been joined by Cluny Macpherson at the head of his clan Pherson, by Menzies of Shien, and by several other small bodies of Highlanders. All told our force amounted to less than five thousand men, but the rapidity of our movements and the impetuous gallantry of the clansmen made the enterprise less mad than it appeared upon the face of it. Moreover we expected to be largely reinforced by recruits who were to declare themselves as we marched south.
It may be guessed that the last hour of leisure I had in the city was spent with Aileen. Of that hour the greater part of it was worse than lost, for a thickheaded, long-legged oaf of an Ayrshire laird shared the room with us and hung to his chair with dogged persistency the while my imagination rioted in diverse forms of sudden death for him. Nor did it lessen my impatience to know that the girl was laughing in her sleeve at my restlessness. She took a malicious pleasure in drawing out her hobnailed admirer on the interesting subject of sheep-rot. At last, having tormented me to the limit of prudence, she got rid of him. To say truth, Miss Aileen had for weeks held me on the tenter-hooks of doubt, now in high hope, far more often in black despair. She had become very popular with the young men who had declared in favour of the exiled family, and I never called without finding some colour-splashed Gael or broad-tongued Lowland laird in dalliance. 'Twas impossible to get a word with her alone. Her admirers were forever shutting off the sunlight from me.
Aileen was sewing on a white satin cockade, which the man from Ayrshire, in the intervals between the paragraphs of his lecture on the sheep industry, had been extremely solicitous of obtaining for a favour. 'Twas a satisfaction to me that my rustic friend departed without it. He was no sooner gone than I came near and perched myself on the arm of a chair beside the girl. For a minute I sat watching in silence the deft movements of the firm brown hands in which were both delicacy and power.
Then, "For Malcolm?" I asked.
"For whom then?"
"For a brave gentleman who iss marching south with the Prince—a kind friend of mine."
"You seem to have many of them. For which one is the favour?" I queried, a little bitterly.
She looked at me askance, demure yet whimsical.
"You will can tell when you see him wearing it."
I fell sulky, at the which mirth bubbled up in her.
"Is he as good a friend as I am, this fine lover of yours?" I asked.
"Every whit." Mockery of my sullenness danced in her blue eyes.
"And do you—like him as well?" I blurted out, face flaming.
She nodded yes, gaily, without the least sentiment in the world.
I flung away in a pet. "You're always laughing at me. By Heaven, I won't be made a fool of by any girl!"
The corners of her eyes puckered to fresh laughter. "Troth, and you needna fear, Kenneth. No girl will can do that for you."
"Well then," I was beginning, half placated at the apparent flattery, but stopped with a sudden divination of her meaning. "You think me a fool already. Is that it?"
"I wass thinking that maybe you werena showing the good gumption this day, Mr. Kenneth Montagu."
My pride and my misery shook hands. I came back to blurt out in boyish fashion,
"Let us not quarrel again to-day, Aileen, and—do not laugh at me these last few minutes. We march this afternoon. The order has been given out."
Her hands dropped to her lap. Save where a spot of faint red burned in either cheek the colour ran out of her face. I drove my news home, playing for a sign of her love, desiring to reach the spring of her tears.
"Some of us will never cross the border twice," I said.
My news had flung a shadow across the bright track of her gayety. 'Tis one thing for a high-spirited woman to buckle on the sword of her friend; 'tis another to see him go out to the fight.
"Let us not be thinking of that at all, Kenneth," she cried.
"Why not? 'Tis a fact to face," I insisted cruelly. "There'll be many a merry lusty gentleman lying quiet under the sod, Aileen, before we reach London town. From the ownership of broad moorland and large steading they will come down to own no more of earth than six foot by two."
"They will be dying as brave gentlemen should," she said, softly, her voice full of tears.
"And if I am one of them?" I asked, making a more home thrust.
The girl stood there tall, slim, pallid, head thrown back, the pulse in the white curved throat beating fast.
"Oh Kenneth, you will not be," she cried piteously.
"But if I am?"
"Please, Kenneth?" Her low voice implored me to desist; so too the deep billowing breasts and melting eyes.
"The fighting will be sharp and our losses heavy. It's his death many a man is going to, Aileen."
"Yes, and if you will be believing me, Kenneth, the harder part iss for those of us who cannot fight but must wear away the long days and mirk nights at home. At the least I am thinking so whatever. The long live day we sit, and can do nothing but wait and wait. After every fight will not some mother be crooning the coronach for her dear son? Every glen will have its wailing wife and its fatherless bairns. And there will be the lovers too for whom there iss the driech wait, forby (besides) that maybe their dearest will be lying under the rowans with their een steekit (eyes fixed) in death."
"There are some of us who have neither mother, wife, nor lover. Will there be none to spare a tear for us if we fall?"
"Indeed, and there will, but"—a wan little smile broke through the film of gathering tears—"we will be waiting till they are needed, and we will be praying that the evil day may never come."
"I'm hoping that myself," I told her, smiling, "but hope never turns aside the leaden bullet."
"Prayers may," she answered quickly, the shy lids lifting from the blue eyes bravely to meet my look, "and you will never be wanting (lacking) mine, my friend." Then with the quick change of mood that was so characteristic of her, she added: "But I will be the poor friend, to fash (bother) you with all these clavers (idle talk) when I should be heartening you. You are glad to be going, are you not?"
All the romance and uplift of our cause thrilled through me.
"By God, yes! When my King calls I go."
Her eyes shone on me, tender, wistful, proud.
"And that's the true word, Kenneth. It goes to the heart of your friend."
"To hear you say that rewards me a hundred times, dear."
I rose to go. She asked, "Must you be leaving already?"
When I told her "Yes!" she came forward and shyly pinned the cockade on the lapel of my coat. I drew a deep breath and spoke from a husky throat.
"God bless you for that, Aileen girl."
I was in two minds then about taking her in my arms and crying out that I loved her, but I remembered that I had made compact with myself not to speak till the campaign was ended and the Prince seated as regent on his father's throne. With a full heart I wrung her hand in silence and turned away.
Prince Charles and his life-guards, at the head of the army, moved from Holyrood to Pinkie-house that afternoon. A vast concourse of people were gathered to cheer us on our way, as we passed through the streets to the sound of the pipes and fife and beating drum. More than one twisted cripple flung himself before the horse of the Prince, begging for "the King's touch." In each case the Young Chevalier disclaimed any power of healing, but his kindly heart forbade his denying the piteous appeal. With a slight smile of sympathy he would comply with the request, saying, "I touch, but God heal." At the head of each clan-regiment rode its chief, and in front of every company the captains, lieutenants, and ensigns, all of whom were gentlemen of the clan related by blood ties to the chief. Though I say it who was one of them, never a more devoted little army went out on a madder or more daring enterprise.
Just one more glimpse of Aileen I got to carry with me through weary months of desire. From the window of her aunt's house she was waving a tartan scarf, and many a rugged kerne's face lighted at the girl's eager loyalty. Flushed with shy daring, the soft pliant curves of her figure all youth and grace, my love's picture framed in the casement was an unconscious magnet for all eyes. The Prince smiled and bowed to her, then said something which I did not catch to Creagh who was riding beside him. The Irishman laughed and looked over at me, as did also the Prince. His Highness asked another question or two, and presently Tony fell into narration. From the young Stuart Prince's curious looks at me 'twas plain to be seen that Creagh was recounting the tale of my adventures. Once I heard the Prince exclaim, "What! That boy?" More than once he laughed heartily, for Creagh was an inimitable story-teller and every point to be scored in the telling gained sparkle from his Irish wit. When he had finished Prince Charles sent for me and congratulated me warmly on the boldness and the aplomb (so he was kind enough to phrase it) which had carried me through devious dangers.
I have neither space nor heart to attempt a history of our brilliant but ill-starred campaign. Surely no more romantic attempt to win a throne was ever made. With some few thousand ill-armed Highlanders and a handful of lowland recruits the Prince cut his way through the heart of England, defeated two armies and repulsed a third, each of them larger than his own and far better supplied with the munitions of war, captured Carlisle, Manchester, and other towns, even pushed his army beyond Derby to a point little more than a hundred miles from London. Had the gentlemen of England who believed in our cause been possessed of the same spirit of devotion that animated these wild Highlanders we had unseated the Hanoverians out of doubt, but their loyalty was not strong enough to outweigh the prudential considerations that held them back. Their doubts held them inactive until too late.
There are some who maintain that had we pushed on from Derby, defeated the army of the Duke of Cumberland, of which the chance at this time was good, and swept on to London, that George II would have been sent flying to his beloved Hanover. We know now in what a state of wild excitement the capital city was awaiting news of our approach, how the household treasures of the Guelphs were all packed, how there was a run on the Bank of England, how even the Duke of Newcastle, prime minister of Great Britain, locked himself in his chamber all day denying admittance to all in an agony of doubt as to whether he had better declare at once for the Stuarts. We know too that the Wynns and other loyal Welsh gentlemen had already set out to rally their country for the honest cause, that cautious France was about to send an army to our assistance.
But all this was knowledge too late acquired. The great fact that confronted us was that without a French army to assist, our English friends would not redeem their contingent pledges. We were numerically of no greater force than when we had set out from Scotland, and the hazard of an advance was too great. General Wade and the Duke of Cumberland were closing in on us from different sides, each with an army that outnumbered ours, and a third army was waiting for us before London. 'Tis just possible that we might have taken the desperate chance and won, as the Prince was so eager that we should do, but it was to be considered that as a defeated army in a hostile country, had the fortune of war declared against us, we would surely have been cut to pieces in our retreat. By Lord George Murray and the chiefs it was judged wiser to fall back and join Lord John Drummond's army in Scotland. They declared that they would follow wherever the Prince chose to lead, but that they felt strongly that a further advance was to doom their clansmen to destruction. Reluctantly the Prince gave way.
On the 6th of December, before daybreak, the army began its retreat, which was conducted with great skill by Lord George Murray. Never were men more disappointed than the rank and file of the army when they found that a retreat had been resolved upon. Expressions of chagrin and disappointment were to be heard on every hand. But the necessity of the retreat was soon apparent to all, for the regulars were now closing in on us from every hand. By out-marching and out-maneuvering General Wade, we beat him to Lancaster, but his horse were entering the town before we had left the suburbs. At Clifton the Duke of Cumberland, having joined forces with Wade, came in touch with us, and his van was soundly drubbed by our rear-guard under Lord George, who had with him at the time the Stewarts of Appin, the Macphersons, Colonel Stuart's regiment, and Donald Roy's Macdonalds. By great good chance I arrived with a message to Lord George from the Prince in time to take part in this brilliant little affair. With his usual wisdom Lord George had posted his men in the enclosures and park of Lowther Hall, the Macdonalds on the right of the highway, Colonel Stuart in close proximity, and the Macphersons and the Appin regiment to the left of the road. I dismounted, tied my horse, and joined the Red Macdonald's company where they were lying in the shrubbery. We lay there a devil of a while, Donald Roy smoking as contented as you please, I in a stew of impatience and excitement; presently we could hear firing over to the left where Cluny Macpherson and Stewart of Ardshiel were feeling the enemy and driving them back. At last the order came to advance. Donald Roy leaped to his feet, waved his sword and shouted "Claymore!" Next moment we were rushing pell-mell down the hillside through the thick gorse, over hedges, and across ditches. We met the dragoons in full retreat across the moor at right angles toward us, raked them with a cross fire, and coming to close quarters cut them to pieces with the sword. In this little skirmish, which lasted less than a quarter of an hour, our loss was insignificant, while that of the enemy reached well into the three figures. The result of this engagement was that our army was extricated from a precarious position and that Cumberland allowed us henceforth to retreat at leisure without fear of molestation.
Of the good fortune which almost invariably attended our various detachments in the North, of our retreat to Scotland and easy victory over General Hawley at the battle of Falkirk, and of the jealousies and machinations of Secretary Murray and the Irish Prince's advisers, particularly O'Sullivan and Sir Thomas Sheridan, against Lord George Murray and the chiefs, I can here make no mention, but come at once to the disastrous battle of Culloden which put a period to our hopes. A number of unfortunate circumstances had conspired to weaken us. According to the Highland custom, many of the troops, seeing no need of their immediate presence, had retired temporarily to their homes. Several of the clan regiments were absent on forays and other military expeditions. The Chevalier O'Sullivan, who had charge of the commissariat department, had from gross negligence managed to let the army get into a state bordering on starvation, and that though there was a quantity of meal in Inverness sufficient for a fortnight's consumption. The man had allowed the army to march from the town without provisions, and the result was that at the time of the battle most of the troops had tasted but a single biscuit in two days. To cap all, the men were deadly wearied by the long night march to surprise the Duke of Cumberland's army and their dejected return to Drummossie Moor after the failure of the attempt. Many of the men and officers slipped away to Inverness in search of refreshments, being on the verge of starvation; others flung themselves down on the heath, sullen, dejected, and exhausted, to forget their hunger for the moment in sleep.
Without dubiety our plain course was to have fallen back across the Nairn among the hills and let the Duke weary his troops trying to drag his artillery up the mountainsides. The battle might easily have been postponed for several days until our troops were again rested, fed, and in good spirits. Lord George pointed out at the counsel that a further reason for delay lay in the fact that the Mackenzies under Lord Cromarty, the second battalion of the Frasers under the Master of Lovat, the Macphersons under Cluny, the Macgregors under Glengyle, Mackinnon's followers, and the Glengary Macdonald's under Barisdale were all on the march to join us and would arrive in the course of a day or two. That with these reinforcements, and in the hill country, so eminently suited to our method of warfare, we might make sure of a complete victory, was urged by him and others. But O'Sullivan and his friends had again obtained the ear of the Prince and urged him to immediate battle. This advice jumped with his own high spirit, for he could not brook to fall back in the face of the enemy awaiting the conflict. The order went forth to gather the clans for the fight.
To make full the tale of his misdeeds came O'Sullivan's fatal slight to the pride of the Macdonalds. Since the days of Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn it had been their clan privilege to hold the post of honour on the right. The blundering Irishman assigned this position to the Athole men in forming the line of battle, and stubbornly refused to reform his line. The Duke of Perth, who commanded on the left wing, endeavoured to placate the clan by vowing that they would that day make a right of the left and promising to change his name to Macdonald after the victory. Riding to the Duke with a message from the Prince I chanced on a man lying face down among the whin bushes. For the moment I supposed him dead, till he lifted himself to an elbow. The man turned to me a gash face the colour of whey, and I saw that it was Donald Roy.
"Ohon! Ohon! The evil day hass fallen on us, Kenneth. Five hundred years the Macdonalds have held the post of honour. They will never fight on the left," he told me in bitter despair and grief. "Wae's me! The red death grips us. Old MacEuan who hass the second sight saw a vision in the night of Cumberland's ridens driving over a field lost to the North. Death on the field and on the scaffold."
I have never known a man of saner common sense than Donald Roy, but when it comes to their superstitions all Highlanders are alike. As well I might have reasoned with a wooden post. MacEuan of the seeing eyes had predicted disaster, and calamity was to be our portion.
He joined me and walked beside my horse toward his command. The firing was by this time very heavy, our cannon being quite ineffective and the artillery of the English well served and deadly. Their guns, charged with cartouch, flung death wholesale across the ravine at us and decimated our ranks. The grape-shot swept through us like a hail-storm. Galled beyond endurance by the fire of the enemy, the clans clamoured to be led forward in the charge. Presently through the lifting smoke we saw the devoted Mackintoshes rushing forward against the cannon. After them came the Maclaughlans and the Macleans to their left, and a moment later the whole Highland line was in motion with the exception of the Macdonalds, who hewed the turf with their swords in a despairing rage but would neither fight nor fly. Their chief, brave Keppoch, stung to the quick, advanced almost alone, courting death rather than to survive the day's disgrace. Captain Donald Roy followed at his heels, imploring his chieftain not to sacrifice himself, but Keppoch bade him save himself. For him, he would never see the sunrise again. Next moment he fell to the ground from a musket-shot, never to speak more. My last glimpse of Captain Roy was to see him carrying back the body of his chief.
I rode back at a gallop along the ridge to my troop. The valley below was a shambles. The English cannon tore great gaps in the ranks of the advancing Highlanders. The incessant fire of the infantry raked them. From the left wing Major Wolfe's regiment poured an unceasing flank fire of musketry. The Highlanders fell in platoons. Still they swept forward headlong. They reached the first line of the enemy. 'Twas claymore against bayonet. Another minute, and the Highlanders had trampled down the regulars and were pushing on in impetuous gallantry. The thin tartan line clambering up the opposite side of the ravine grew thinner as the grape-shot carried havoc to their ranks. Cobham's and Kerr's dragoons flanked them en potence. To stand that hell of fire was more than mortal men could endure. Scarce a dozen clansmen reached the second line of regulars. The rest turned and cut their way, sword in hand, through the flanking regiments which had formed on the ground over which they had just passed with the intention of barring the retreat.
Our life-guards and the French pickets, together with Ogilvy's regiment, checked in some measure the pursuit, but nothing could be done to save the day. All was irretrievably lost, though the Prince galloped over the field attempting a rally. The retreat became a rout, and the rout a panic. As far as Inverness the ground was strewn with the dead slain in that ghastly pursuit.
The atrocities committed after the battle would have been worthy of savages rather than of civilized troops. Many of the inhabitants of Inverness had come out to see the battle from curiosity and were cut down by the infuriated cavalry. The carnage of the battle appeared not to satiate their horrid thirst for blood, and the troopers, bearing in mind their disgrace at Gladsmuir and Falkirk, rushed to and fro over the field massacring the wounded. I could ask any fair-minded judge to set up against this barbarity the gentle consideration and tenderness of Prince Charles and his wild Highlanders in their hours of victory. We never slew a man except in the heat of fight, and the wounded of the enemy were always cared for with the greatest solicitude. From this one may conclude that the bravest troops are the most humane. These followers of the Duke had disgraced themselves, and they ran to an excess of cruelty in an attempt to wipe out their cowardice.
Nor was it the soldiery alone that committed excesses. I regret to have to record that many of the officers also engaged in them. A party was dispatched from Inverness the day after the battle to put to death all the wounded they might find in the inclosures of Culloden Park near the field of the contest. A young Highlander serving with the English army was afterwards heard to declare that he saw seventy-two unfortunate victims dragged from their hiding in the heather to hillocks and shot down by volleys of musketry. Into a small sheep hut on the moor some of our wounded had dragged themselves. The dragoons secured the door and fired the hut. One instance of singular atrocity is vouched for. Nineteen wounded Highland officers, too badly injured to join the retreat, secreted themselves in a small plantation near Culloden-house, to which mansion they were afterward taken. After being allowed to lie without care twenty-four hours they were tossed into carts, carried to the wall of the park, ranged against it in a row, and instantly shot. I myself was a witness of one incident which touches the butcher of Cumberland nearly. If I relate the affair, 'tis because it falls pat with the narrative of my escape.
In the streets of Inverness I ran across Major Macleod gathering together the remnant of his command to check the pursuit until the Prince should have escaped. The man had just come from seeing his brave clansmen mowed down, and his face looked like death.
"The Prince— Did he escape?" I asked. "I saw him last trying to stem the tide, with Sheridan and O'Sullivan tugging at his reins to induce a flight."
The Macleod nodded. "They passed through the town not five minutes ago."
I asked him whether he had seen anything of Captain Roy Macdonald, and he told me that he had last seen him lying wounded on the field. I had him describe to me accurately the position, and rode back by a wide circuit toward Drummossie Moor. I had of course torn off the white cockade and put it in my breast so as to minimize the danger of being recognized as a follower of the Prince. My heart goes to my throat whenever I think of that ride, for behind every clump of whins one might look to find a wounded clansman hiding from the riders of Cumberland. By good providence I came on Captain Macdonald just as three hussars were about to make an end of him. He had his back to a great stone, and was waiting grimly for them to shoot him down. Supposing me to be an officer of their party the troopers desisted at my remonstrance and left him to me. Donald Roy was wounded in the foot, but he managed to mount behind me. We got as far as the wall of the park when I saw a party of officers approaching. Hastily dismounting, we led the horse behind a nest of birches till they should pass. A few yards from us a sorely wounded Highland officer was lying. Macdonald recognized him as Charles Fraser, younger of Inverallachie, the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fraser regiment and in the absence of the Master of Lovat commander. We found no time to drag him to safety before the English officers were upon us.
The approaching party turned out to be the Duke of Cumberland himself, Major Wolfe, Lord Boyd, Sir Robert Volney, and a boy officer of Wolfe's regiment. Young Fraser raised himself on his elbow to look at the Duke. The Butcher reined in his horse, frowning blackly down at him.
"To which side do you belong?" he asked.
"To the Prince," was the undaunted answer.
Cumberland, turning to Major Wolfe, said,
"Major, are your pistols loaded?"
Wolfe said that they were.
"Then shoot me that Highland scoundrel who dares look on me so insolently."
Major Wolfe looked at his commander very steadily and said quietly: "Sir, my commission is at the disposal of your Royal Highness, but my honour is my own. I can never consent to become a common executioner."
The Duke purpled, and burst out with, "Bah! Pistol him, Boyd."
"Your Highness asks what is not fitting for you to require nor for me to perform," answered that young nobleman.
The Duke, in a fury, turned to a passing dragoon and bade him shoot the young man. Charles Fraser dragged himself to his feet by a great effort and looked at the butcher with a face of infinite scorn while the soldier was loading his piece.
"Your Highness," began Wolfe, about to remonstrate.
"Sir, I command you to be silent," screamed the Duke.
The trooper presented his piece at the Fraser, whose steady eyes never left the face of Cumberland.
"God save King James!" cried Inverallachie in English, and next moment fell dead from the discharge of the musket.
The faces of the four Englishmen who rode with the Duke were stern and drawn. Wolfe dismounted from his horse and reverently covered the face of the dead Jacobite with a kerchief.
"God grant that when our time comes we may die as valiantly and as loyally as this young gentleman," he said solemnly, raising his hat.
Volney, Boyd, and Wolfe's subaltern uncovered, and echoed an "Amen." Cumberland glared from one to another of them, ran the gamut of all tints from pink to deepest purple, gulped out an apoplectic Dutch oath, and dug the rowels deep into his bay. With shame, sorrow, and contempt in their hearts his retinue followed the butcher across the field.
My face was like the melting winter snows. I could not look at the Macdonald, nor he at me. We mounted in silence and rode away. Only once he referred to what we had seen.
"Many's the time that Charlie Fraser and I have hunted the dun deer across the heather hills, and now——" He broke into Gaelic lamentation and imprecation, then fell as suddenly to quiet.
We bore up a ravine away from the roads toward where a great gash in the hills invited us, for we did not need to be told that the chances of safety increased with our distance from the beaten tracks of travel. A man on horseback came riding behind and overhauled us rapidly. Presently we saw that he was a red-coated officer, and behind a huge rock we waited to pistol him as he came up. The man leaped from his horse and came straight toward us. I laid a hand on Captain Roy's arm, for I had recognized Major Wolfe. But I was too late. A pistol ball went slapping through the Major's hat and knocked it from his head. He stooped, replaced it with the utmost composure, and continued to advance, at the same time calling out that he was a friend.
"I recognized you behind the birches, Montagu, and thought that you and your friend could use another horse. Take my Galloway. You will find him a good traveller."
I ask you to believe that we stared long at him. A wistful smile touched his sallow face.
"We're not all ruffians in the English army, lad. If I aid your escape it is because prisoners have no rights this day. My advice would be for you to strike for the hills."
"In troth and I would think your advisings good, sir," answered Donald. "No glen will be too far, no ben too high, for a hiding-place from these bloody Sassenach dogs." Then he stopped, the bitterness fading from his voice, and added: "But I am forgetting myself. God, sir, the sights I have seen this day drive me mad. At all events there iss one English officer Captain Macdonald will remember whatever." And the Highlander bowed with dignity.
I thanked Wolfe warmly, and lost no time in taking his advice. Captain Roy's foot had by this time so swollen that he could not put it in the stirrup. He was suffering a good deal, but at least the pain served to distract him from the gloom that lay heavy on his spirits. From the hillside far above the town we could see the lights of Inverness beginning to glimmer as we passed. A score of times we had to dismount on account of the roughness of the ground to lead our horses along the steep incline of the mountainsides, and each time Donald set his teeth and dragged his shattered ankle through bracken and over boulder by sheer dour pluck. Hunger gnawed at our vitals, for in forty-eight hours we had but tasted food. Deadly weariness hung on our stumbling footsteps, and in our gloomy hearts lurked the coldness of despair. Yet hour after hour we held our silent course, clambering like heather-cats over cleugh and boggy moorland, till at last we reached Bun Chraobg, where we unsaddled for a snatch of sleep.
We flung ourselves down on the soft heather wrapped in our plaids, but for long slumber was not to be wooed. Our alert minds fell to a review of all the horrors of the day: to friends struck down, to the ghastly carnage, to fugitives hunted and shot in their hiding-places like wild beasts, to the mistakes that had ruined our already lost cause. The past and the present were bitter as we could bear; thank Heaven, the black shadow of the future hung as yet but dimly on our souls. If we had had the second sight and could have known what was to follow—the countryside laid waste with fire and sword, women and children turned out of their blazing homes to perish on the bleak moors, the wearing of the tartan proscribed and made a crime punishable with death, a hundred brave Highlanders the victim of the scaffold—we should have quite despaired.
Except the gentle soughing of the wind there was no sound to stir the silent night. A million of night's candles looked coldly down on an army of hunted stragglers. I thought of the Prince, Cluny, Lord Murray, Creagh, and a score of others, wondering if they had been taken, and fell at last to troubled sleep, from which ever and anon I started to hear the wild wail of the pibroch or the ringing Highland slogans, to see the flaming cannon mouths vomiting death or the fell galloping of the relentless Hanoverian dragoons.
In the chill dawn I awoke to a ravening hunger that was insistent to be noted, and though my eyes would scarce believe there was Donald Roy cocked tailor fashion on the heath arranging most temptingly on a rock scone sandwiches of braxy mutton and a flask of usquebaugh (Highland whiskey). I shut my eyes, rubbed them with my forefingers, and again let in the light. The viands were still there.
The Macdonald smiled whimsically over at me. "Gin ye hae your appetite wi' you we'll eat, Mr. Montagu, for I'm a wee thingie hungry my nainsell (myself). 'Deed, to mak plain, I'm toom (empty) as a drum, and I'm thinkin' that a drappie o' the usquebaugh wad no' come amiss neither."
"But where in the world did you get the food, Donald?"
"And where wad you think, but doon at the bit clachan yonder? A very guid freend of mine named Farquhar Dhu lives there. He and Donald Roy are far ben (intimate), and when I came knocking at his window at cock-craw he was no' very laithe to gie me a bit chack (lunch)."
"Did you climb down the mountain and back with your sore ankle?"
He coloured. "Hoots, man! Haud your whitter (tongue)! Aiblins (perhaps) I wass just wearying for a bit exercise to test it. And gin I were you I wadna sit cocking on that stane speiring at me upsitten (impertinent) questions like a professor of pheelosophy, you muckle sumph!"
I fell to with a will. He was not a man to be thanked in words. Long since I had found out that Captain Roy was one to spend himself for his friends and make nothing of it. This was one of his many shining qualities that drew me so strongly to him. If he had a few of the Highland faults he did not lack any of the virtues of his race.
Shortly we were on our way once more, and were fortunate enough before night to fall in with Cluny and his clan, who having heard of our reverse had turned about and were falling back to Badenoch. At Trotternich we found a temporary refuge at the home of a surgeon who was distantly related to the Macdonald, but at the end of a fortnight were driven away by the approach of a troop of Wolfe's regiment.
The course of our wanderings I think it not needful to detail at length. For months we were forever on the move. From one hiding-place to another the redcoats and their clan allies drove us. No sooner were we fairly concealed than out we were routed. Many a weary hundred miles we tramped over the bleak mountains white with snow. Weariness walked with us by day, and cold and hunger lay down with us at night. Occasionally we slept in sheilings (sheep-huts), but usually in caves or under the open sky. Were we in great luck, venison and usquebaugh fell to our portion, but more often our diet was brose (boiling water poured over oatmeal) washed down by a draught from the mountain burn. Now we would be lurking on the mainland, now skulking on one of the islands or crossing rough firths in crazy boats that leaked like a sieve. Many a time it was touch and go with us, for the dragoons and the Campbells followed the trail like sleuths. We fugitives had a system of signals by which we warned each other of the enemy's approach and conveyed to each other the news. That Balmerino, Kilmarnock, and many another pretty man had been taken we knew, and scores of us could have guessed shrewdly where the Prince was hiding in the heather hills.
THE RED HEATHER HILLS
A sullen day, full of chill gusts and drizzle, sinking into a wet misty night! Three hunted Jacobites, dragging themselves forward drearily, found the situation one of utter cheerlessness. For myself, misery spoke in every motion, and to say the same of Creagh and Macdonald is to speak by the card. Fatigue is not the name for our condition. Fagged out, dispirited, with legs moving automatically, we still slithered down cleughs, laboured through dingles and corries, clambered up craggy mountainsides all slippery with the wet heather, weariness tugging at our leaden feet like a convict's chain and ball. Our bones ached, our throats were limekilns, composts of sores were our ragged feet.
On every side the redcoats had hemmed us in, and we knew not whether we tramped to a precarious safety or to death. Indeed, 'twas little we cared, for at last exhaustion had touched the limit of endurance. Not a word had passed the lips of any of us for hours, lest the irritation of our worn nerves should flame into open rupture.
At length we stood on the summit of the ridge. Scarce a half mile from us a shieling was to be seen on the shoulder of the mount.
"That looks like the cot where O'Sullivan and the Prince put up a month ago," said Creagh.
Macdonald ruffled at the name like a turkeycock. Since Culloden the word had been to him as a red rag to a bull.
"The devil take O'Sullivan and his race," burst out the Scotch Captain. "Gin it had not been for him the cause had not been lost."
The Irishman's hot temper flared.
"You forget the Macdonalds, sir," he retorted, tartly.
"What ails you at the Macdonalds?" demanded the gentleman of that ilk, looking him over haughtily from head to foot.
Creagh flung out his answer with an insolent laugh. "Culloden."
The Macdonald's colour ebbed. "It will be a great peety that you hafe insulted me, for there will presently be a dead Irishman to stain the snow with hiss blood," he said deliberately, falling into more broken English as he always did when excited.
Creagh shrugged. "That's on the knees of the gods. At the worst it leaves one less for the butcher to hang, Scotch or Irish."
"It sticks in my mind that I hafe heard you are a pretty man with the steel—at the least I am thinking so," said Captain Roy, standing straight as an arrow, his blue eyes fixed steadily on his opponent.
"Gadso! Betwixt and between, but I dare say my sword will serve to keep my head at all events whatefer," cried Creagh, mimicking scornfully the other's accent.
Donald whipped his sword from its scabbard.
"Fery well. That will make easy proving, sir."
The quarrel had cropped out so quickly that hitherto I had found no time to interfere, but now I came between them and beat down the swords.
"Are you mad, gentlemen? Put up your sword, Tony. Back, Macdonald, or on my soul I'll run you through," I cried.
"Come on, the pair of ye. Captain Roy can fend for (look out for) himself," shouted the excited Highlander, thrusting at me.
"Fall back, Tony, and let me have a word," I implored.
The Irishman disengaged, his anger nearly gone, a whimsical smile already twitching at his mouth.
"Creagh, you don't mean to impeach the courage of Captain Macdonald, do you?" I asked.
"Not at all—not at all. Faith, I never saw a man more keen to fight," he admitted, smiling.
"He was wounded at Culloden. You know that?"
"So I have heard." Then he added dryly, some imp of mischief stirring him: "In the heel, wasn't it?"
"Yes, in the foot," I told him hastily. "I suppose you do not doubt the valour of the Captain's clan any more than his own."
"Devil a bit!" he answered carelessly. "I've seen them fight too often to admit of any question as to their courage at all, at all. For sheer daring I never saw the beat of the Highland troops—especially if there chanced to be any plunder on the other side of the enemy, Egad!"
I turned to Donald Roy, who was sullenly waiting for me to have done. "Are you satisfied, Captain, that Tony meant to impute nothing against you or your men?"
"Oich! Oich!" he grumbled. "I wass thinking I heard some other dirty sneers."
"If the sneers were unjust I retract them with the best will in the world. Come, Captain Macdonald, sure 'tis not worth our while doing the work of the redcoats for them. 'Slife, 'tis not fair to Jack Ketch!" exclaimed the Irishman.
"Right, Donald! Why, you fire-eating Hotspur, you began it yourself with a fling at the Irish. Make up, man! Shake hands with Tony, and be done with your bile."
Creagh offered his hand, smiling, and his smile was a handsome letter of recommendation. Donald's face cleared, and he gripped heartily the hand of the other.
"With great pleasure, and gin I said anything offensive I eat my words at all events," he said.
"You may say what you please about O'Sullivan, Captain Macdonald. Ecod, he may go to the devil for me," Creagh told him.
"Well, and for me too; 'fore God, the sooner the better."
"If there is to be no throat-cutting to warm the blood maybe we had better push on to the bothy, gentlemen. I'm fain niddered [perishing] with the cold. This Highland mist goes to the marrow," I suggested merrily, and linking arms with them I moved forward.
In ten minutes we had a roaring fire ablaze, and were washing down with usquebaugh the last trace of unkindness. After we had eaten our bannocks and brose we lay in the shine of the flame and revelled in the blessed heat, listening to the splash of the rain outside. We were still encompassed by a cordon of the enemy, but for the present we were content to make the most of our unusual comfort.
"Here's a drammoch left in the flask. I give you the restoration, gentlemen," cried Donald.
"I wonder where the Prince is this night," I said after we had drunk the toast.
We fell to a meditative sombre silence, and presently Captain Roy began to sing softly one of those touching Jacobite melodies that go to the source of tears like rain to the roots of flowers. Donald had one of the rare voices that carry the heart to laughter and to sobs. The singer's song, all pathos and tenderness, played on the chords of our emotion like a harp. My eyes began to smart. Creagh muttered something about the peat-smoke affecting his, and I'm fain to admit that I rolled over with my face from the fire to hide the tell-tale tears. The haunting pathetic wistfulness of the third stanza shook me with sobs.
"On hills that are by right his ain, He roams a lanely stranger; On ilka hand he's pressed by want, On ilka hand by danger."
"Ohon! Ohon!" groaned Donald. "The evil day! The evil day! Wae's me for our bonnie Hieland laddie!"
"May the Blessed Mother keep him safe from all enemies and dangers!" said Creagh softly.
"And God grant that he be warm and well fed this bitter night wherever he may be," I murmured.
Something heavy like the butt of a musket fell against the door, and we started to our feet in an instant. Out flashed our swords.
"Who goes?" cried the Macdonald.
We threw open the door, and in came a party of four, rain dripping from their soaked plaids. I recognized at once Young Clanranald and Major Macleod. The other two were a tattered gillie in the Macdonald tartan and a young woman of most engaging appearance, who was supported in the arms of Clanranald and his henchman. The exhausted lady proved to be no other than the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, whose gallant and generous devotion, for a protracted period, as we afterwards learned, had undoubtedly saved the life of the Prince from his enemies.
Donald no sooner beheld his kinswoman than he dropped on his knee and with the wildest demonstrations of joy kissed the hand of the ragged kerne who supported her. I stared at Captain Roy in amazement, and while I was yet wondering at his strange behaviour Tony Creagh plumped down beside him. My eyes went to the face of the gillie and encountered the winsome smile of the Young Chevalier. Desperately white and weary as he was, and dressed in an outcast's rags, he still looked every inch the son of kings. To me he was always a more princely figure in his days of adversity, when he roamed a hunted wanderer among Highland heughs and corries with only those about him over whose hearts he still was king, than when he ruled at Holyrood undisputed master of Scotland.
It appeared that the party of the Prince, with the exception of Clanranald, were destined for Raasay, could they but run the cordon of troopers who guarded the island of Skye. Through Malcolm, arrangements had been made by which Murdoch Macleod, a younger brother wounded at Culloden, was to be in waiting with a boat to convey the party of the Prince across the sound. It will be believed that we discussed with much care and anxiety the best disposition to be made of ourselves in running the lines of the enemy. The final decision was that the Prince, Malcolm, and I should make the attempt that night while Creagh, Captain Roy, and Miss Flora followed at their leisure on the morrow. Since the young lady was provided with a passport for herself and her attendant this promised to be a matter of small danger on their part.
Never have I known a woman treated with truer chivalry and deference than this heroic Highland girl was by these hardy mountaineers. Her chief, Clanranald, insisted on building with his own hands a fire in her sleeping room "ben" the house, and in every way the highest marks of respect were shown her for her devotion to the cause. Though he expected to join her again shortly, the Prince made her his warmest acknowledgments of thanks in a spirit of pleasantry which covered much tender feeling. They had been under fire together and had shared perils by land and by sea during which time his conduct to her had been perfect, a gentle consideration for her comfort combined with the reserve that became a gentleman under such circumstances. On this occasion he elected to escort her in person to the door of her chamber.
After a snatch of sleep we set out on our perillous journey. Sheets of rain were now falling in a very black night. Donald Roy parted from us at the door of the hut with much anxiety. He had pleaded hard to be allowed to join the party of the Prince, but had been overruled on the ground that he was the only one of us with the exception of Malcolm that could act as a guide. Moreover he was the kinsman of Miss Flora, and therefore her natural protector. Over and over he urged us to be careful and to do nothing rash. The Prince smilingly answered him with a shred of the Gaelic.
"Bithidh gach ni mar is aill Dhiu." (All things must be as God will have them.)
The blackness of the night was a thing to be felt. Not the faithful Achates followed AEneas more closely than did we the Macleod. No sound came to us but the sloshing of the rain out of a sodden sky and the noise of falling waters from mountain burns in spate (flood). Hour after hour while we played blindly follow-my-leader the clouds were a sieve over our devoted heads. Braes we breasted and precipitous heathery heights we sliddered down, but there was always rain and ever more rain, turning at last into a sharp thin sleet that chilled the blood.
Then in the gray breaking of the day Malcolm turned to confess what I had already suspected, that he had lost the way in the darkness. We were at present shut in a sea of fog, a smirr of mist and rain, but when that lifted he could not promise that we would not be close on the campfires of the dragoons. His fine face was a picture of misery, and bitterly he reproached himself for the danger into which he had led the Prince. The Young Chevalier told him gently that no blame was attaching to him; rather to us all for having made the attempt in such a night.
For another hour we sat on the dripping heather opposite the corp-white face of the Macleod waiting for the mist to lift. The wanderer exerted himself to keep us in spirits, now whistling a spring of Clanranald's march, now retailing to us the story of how he had walked through the redcoats as Miss Macdonald's Betty Burke. It may be conceived with what anxiety we waited while the cloud of moisture settled from the mountain tops into the valleys.
"By Heaven, sir, we have a chance," cried Malcolm suddenly, and began to lead the way at a great pace up the steep slope. For a half hour we scudded along, higher and higher, always bearing to the right and at such a burst of speed that I judged we must be in desperate danger. The Prince hung close to the heels of Malcolm, but I was a sorry laggard ready to die of exhaustion. When the mist sank we began to go more cautiously, for the valley whence we had just emerged was dotted at intervals with the campfires of the soldiers. Cautiously we now edged our way along the slippery incline, keeping in the shadow of great rocks and broom wherever it was possible. 'Tis not in nature to walk unmoved across an open where every bush may hide a sentinel who will let fly at one as gladly as at a fat buck—yes, and be sure of thirty thousand pounds if he hit the right mark. I longed for eyes in the back of my head, and every moment could feel the lead pinging its way between my shoulder blades.
Major Macleod had from his youth stalked the wary stag, and every saugh and birch and alder in our course was made to yield us its cover. Once a muircock whirred from my very feet and brought my heart to my mouth. Presently we topped the bluff and disappeared over its crest. Another hour of steady tramping down hill and the blue waters of the sound stretched before us. 'Twas time. My teeth chattered and my bones ached. I was sick—sick—sick.
"And here we are at the last," cried the Major with a deep breath of relief. "I played the gomeral brawly, but in the darkness we blundered ram-stam through the Sassenach lines."
"'Fortuna favet fatuis,'" quoted the Young Chevalier. "Luck for fools! The usurper's dragoons will have to wait another day for their thirty thousand pounds. Eh, Montagu?" he asked me blithely; then stopped to stare at me staggering down the beach. "What ails you, man?"
I was reeling blindly like a drunkard, and our Prince put an arm around my waist. I resisted feebly, but he would have none of it; the arm of a king's son (de jure) supported me to the boat.
We found as boatmen not only Murdoch Macleod but his older brother Young Raasay, the only one of the family that had not been "out" with our army. He had been kept away from the rebellion to save the family estates, but his heart was none the less with us.
"And what folly is this, Ronald?" cried Malcolm when he saw the head of the house on the links. "Murdoch and I are already as black as we can be, but you were to keep clean of the Prince's affairs. It wad be a geyan ill outcome gin we lost the estates after all. The red cock will aiblins craw at Raasay for this."
"I wass threepin' so already, but he wass dooms thrang to come. He'll maybe get his craig raxed (neck twisted) for his ploy," said Murdoch composedly.
"By Heaven, Malcolm, I'll play the trimmer no longer. Raasay serves his Prince though it cost both the estate and his head," cried the young chieftain hotly.
"In God's name then let us get away before the militia or the sidier roy (red soldiers) fall in with us. In the woody cleughs yonder they are thick as blackcocks in August," cried the Major impatiently.
We pushed into the swirling waters and were presently running free, sending the spurling spray flying on both sides of the boat. The wind came on to blow pretty hard and the leaky boat began to fill, so that we were hard put to it to keep from sinking. The three brothers were quite used to making the trip in foul weather, but on the Prince's account were now much distressed. To show his contempt for danger, the royal wanderer sang a lively Erse song. The Macleods landed us at Glam, and led the way to a wretched hovel recently erected by some shepherds. Here we dined on broiled kid, butter, cream, and oaten bread.
I slept round the clock, and awoke once more a sound man to see the Prince roasting the heart of the kid on an iron spit. Throughout the day we played with a greasy pack of cards to pass the time. About sundown Creagh joined us, Macdonald having stayed on Skye to keep watch on any suspicious activity of the clan militia or the dragoons. Raasay's clansmen, ostensibly engaged in fishing, dotted the shore of the little island to give warning of the approach of any boats. To make our leader's safety more certain, the two proscribed brothers took turns with Creagh and me in doing sentinel duty at the end of the path leading to the sheep hut.
At the desire of the Prince—and how much more at mine!—we ventured up to the great house that night to meet the ladies, extraordinary precautions having been taken by Raasay to prevent the possibility of any surprise. Indeed, so long as the Prince was in their care, Raasay and his brothers were as anxious as the proverbial hen with the one chick. Doubtless they felt that should he be captured while on the island the reputation of the house would be forever blasted. And this is the most remarkable fact of Charles Edward Stuart's romantic history; that in all the months of his wandering, reposing confidence as he was forced to do in hundreds of different persons, many of them mere gillies and some of them little better than freebooters, it never seems to have occurred to one of these shag-headed Gaels to earn an immense fortune by giving him up.
My heart beat a tattoo against my ribs as I followed the Prince and Raasay to the drawing-room where his sister and Miss Macdonald awaited us. Eight months had passed since last I had seen my love; eight months of battle, of hairbreadth escapes, and of hardships scarce to be conceived. She too had endured much in that time. Scarce a house in Raasay but had been razed by the enemy because her brothers and their following had been "out" with us. I was to discover whether her liking for me had outlived the turmoils of "the '45," or had been but a girlish fancy.
My glance flashed past Miss Flora Macdonald and found Aileen on the instant. For a hundredth part of a second our eyes met before she fell to making her devoirs to the Young Chevalier, and after that I did not need to be told that my little friend was still staunch and leal. I could afford to wait my turn with composure, content to watch with long-starved eyes the delicacy and beauty of this sweet wild rose I coveted. Sure, hers was a charm that custom staled not nor longer acquaintance made less alluring. Every mood had its own characteristic fascination, and are not the humours of a woman numberless? She had always a charming note of unconventional freshness, a childlike naivete of immaturity and unsophistication at times, even a certain girlish shy austerity that had for me a touch of saintliness. But there— Why expatiate? A lover's midsummer madness, you will say!
My turn at last! The little brown hand pressed mine firmly for an instant, the warm blue eyes met mine full and true, the pulse in the soft-throated neck beat to a recognition of my presence. I found time to again admire the light poise of the little head carried with such fine spirit, the music of the broken English speech in this vibrant Highland voice.
"Welcome— Welcome to Raasay, my friend!" Then her eyes falling on the satin cockade so faded and so torn, there came a tremulous little catch to her voice, a fine light to her eyes. "It iss the good tale that my brothers have been telling me of Kenneth Montagu's brave devotion to hiss friends, but I wass not needing to hear the story from them. I will be thinking that I knew it all already," she said, a little timidly.
I bowed low over her hand and kissed it. "My friends make much of nothing. Their fine courage reads their own spirit reflected in the eyes of others."
"Oh, then I will have heard the story wrong. It would be Donald who went back to Drummossie Moor after you when you were wounded?"
"Could a friend do less?"
"He would have done as much for me. My plain duty!" I said, shrugging, anxious to be done with the subject.
She looked at me with sparkling eyes, laughing at my discomposure, in a half impatience of my stolid English phlegm.
"Oh, you men! You go to your death for a friend, and if by a miracle you escape: 'Pooh! 'Twas nothing whatever. Gin it rain to-morrow, I think 'twill be foul,' you say, and expect to turn it off so."
I took the opening like a fox.
"Faith, I hope it will not rain to-morrow," I said. "I have to keep watch outside. Does the sun never shine in Raasay, Aileen?"
"Whiles," she answered, laughing. "And are all Englishmen so shy of their virtues?"
Tony Creagh coming up at that moment, she referred the question to him.
"Sure, I can't say," he answered unsmilingly. "'Fraid I'm out of court. Never knew an Englishman to have any."
"Can't you spare them one at the least?" Aileen implored, gaily.
He looked at her, then at me, a twinkle in his merry Irish eyes.
"Ecod then, I concede them one! They're good sportsmen. They follow the game until they've bagged it."
We two flushed in concert, but the point of her wit touched Creagh on the riposte.
"The men of the nation being disposed of in such cavalier fashion, what shall we say of the ladies, sir?" she asked demurely.
"That they are second only to the incomparable maidens of the North," he answered, kissing her hand in his extravagant Celtic way.
"But I will not be fubbed off with your Irish blarney. The English ladies, Mr. Creagh?" she merrily demanded.
"Come, Tony, you renegade! Have I not heard you toast a score of times the beauties of London?" said I, coming up with the heavy artillery.
"Never, I vow. Sure I always thought Edinburgh a finer city—not so dirty and, pink me, a vast deal more interesting. Now London is built——"
"On the Thames. So it is," I interrupted dryly. "And—to get back to the subject under discussion—the pink and white beauties of London are built to take the eye and ensnare the heart of roving Irishmen. Confess!"
"Or be forever shamed as recreant knight," cried Aileen, her blue eyes bubbling with laughter.
Tony unbuckled his sword and offered it her. "If I yield 'tis not to numbers but to beauty. Is my confession to be in the general or the particular, Miss Macleod?"
"Oh, in the particular! 'Twill be the mair interesting."
"Faith then, though it be high treason to say so of one lady before another, Tony Creagh's scalp dangles at the belt of the most bewitching little charmer in Christendom."
"Mistress Antoinette Westerleigh, London's reigning toast."
Aileen clapped her hands in approving glee.
"And did you ever tell her?"
"A score of times. Faith, 'twas my rule to propose every second time I saw her and once in between."
"Laughed at me; played shill-I-shall-I with my devotion; vowed she would not marry me till I had been killed in the wars to prove I was a hero; smiled on me one minute and scorned me the next."
"And you love her still?"
"The sun rises in 'Toinette's eyes; when she frowns the day is vile."
"Despite her whims and arrogances?"
"Sure for me my queen can do no wrong. 'Tis her right to laugh and mock at me so only she enjoy it."
Aileen stole one shy, quick, furtive look at me. It seemed to question whether her lover was such a pattern of meek obedience.
"And you never falter? There iss no other woman for you?"
"Saving your presence, there is no other woman in the world?"
Her eyes glistened.
"Kneel down, sir," she commanded.
Tony dropped to a knee. She touched him lightly on the shoulder with his sword.
"In love's name I dub you worthy knight. Be bold, be loyal, be fortunate. Arise, Sir Anthony Creagh, knight of the order of Cupid!"
We three had wandered away together into an alcove, else, 'tis almost needless to say, our daffing had not been so free. Now Malcolm joined us with a paper in his hand. He spoke to me, smiling yet troubled too.
"More labours, O my Theseus! More Minotaurs to slay! More labyrinths to thread!"
"And what may be these labours now?" I asked.
"Captain Donald Roy sends for you. He reports unusual activity among the clan militia and the redcoats on Skye. A brig landed men and officers there yesterday. And what for will they be coming?"
"I think the reason is very plain, Major Macleod," said Tony blithely.
"I'm jalousing (suspecting) so mysel'. They will be for the taking of a wheen puir callants (lads) that are jinking (hiding) in the hill birken (scrub). But here iss the point that must be learned: do they ken that the Prince iss on the islands?"
Creagh sprang to his feet from the chair in which he had been lazying. "The devil's in it! Why should Montagu go? Why not I?"
"Because you can't talk the Gaelic, Creagh. You're barred," I told him triumphantly.
"Would you be sending our guest on such an errand of danger, Malcolm?" asked Aileen in a low voice.
"Not I, but Fegs! I will never say the word to hinder if he volunteers. 'Tis in the service of the Prince. The rest of us are kent (known) men and canna gang."
Grouped behind Malcolm were now gathered the Prince, Raasay, and Miss Flora. To me as a focus came all eyes. I got to my feet in merry humour.
"Ma foi! Ulysses as a wanderer is not to be compared with me. When do I set out, Major?"
"At skreigh-o'-day (daybreak). And the sooner you seek your sleep the better. Best say good-night to the lassies, for you'll need be wide awake the morn twa-three hours ere sun-up. Don't let the redcoats wile (lure) you into any of their traps, lad. You maunna lose your head or——"
"——Or I'll lose my head," I answered, drolling. "I take you, Major; but, my word for it, I have not, played hide-and-go-seek six months among your Highland lochs and bens to dance on air at the last."
The Prince drew me aside. "This will not be forgotten when our day of power comes, Montagu. I expected no less of your father's son." Then he added with a smile: "And when Ulysses rests safe from his wanderings at last I trust he will find his Penelope waiting for him with a true heart."
Without more ado I bade Miss Macdonald and Aileen good-bye, but as I left the room I cast a last look back over my shoulder and methought that the lissome figure of my love yearned forward toward me tenderly and graciously.
VOLNEY PAYS A DEBT
There are some to whom strange changes never come. They pursue the even tenor of their way in humdrum monotony, content to tread the broad safe path of routine. For them the fascination of the mountain peaks of giddy chance has no allurement, the swift turbulent waters of intrigue no charm. There are others with whom Dame Fortune plays many an exciting game, and to these adventure becomes as the very breath of life. To such every hazard of new fortune is a diversion to be eagerly sought.
Something of this elation seized me—for I am of this latter class—as Murdoch and his gillies rowed me across the sound to Skye in the darkness of the early morning. It was a drab dawn as ever I have seen, and every tug at the oars shot me nearer to the red bloodhounds who were debouched over the island. What then? Was I not two years and twenty, and did I not venture for the life of a king's son? To-day I staked my head on luck and skill; to-morrow—but let the future care for her own.
In a grove of beeches about half a mile from Portree we landed, and Murdoch gave the call of the whaup to signal Donald Roy. From a clump of whins in the gorse the whistle echoed back to us, and presently Captain Macdonald came swinging down to the shore. It appeared that another boatload of soldiers had been landed during the night, a squad of clan militia under the command of a Lieutenant Campbell. We could but guess that this portended some knowledge as to the general whereabouts of the Prince, and 'twas my mission to learn the extent and reliability of that knowledge if I could. That there was some danger in the attempt I knew, but it had been minimized by the philibeg and hose, the Glengarry bonnet and Macleod plaid which I had donned at the instance of Malcolm.
I have spoken of chance. The first stroke of it fell as I strode along the highway to Portree. At a crossroad intersection I chanced on a fellow trudging the same way as myself. He was one of your furtive-faced fellows, with narrow slits of eyes and an acquired habit of skellying sidewise at one out of them. Cunning he was beyond doubt, and from the dour look of him one to bear malice. His trews were like Joseph's coat for the colour of the many patches, but I made them out to have been originally of the Campbell plaid.
"A fine day, my man," says I with vast irony.
"Wha's finding faut wi' the day?" he answers glumly.
"You'll be from across the mountains on the mainland by the tongue of you," I ventured.
"Gin you ken that there'll be nae use telling you."
"A Campbell, I take it."
He turned his black-a-vised face on me, scowling.
"Or perhaps you're on the other side of the hedge—implicated in this barelegged rebellion, I dare say."
Under my smiling, watchful eye he began to grow restless. His hand crept to his breast, and I heard the crackle of papers.
"Deil hae't, what's it to you?" he growled.
"To me? Oh, nothing at all. Merely a friendly interest. On the whole I think my first guess right. I wouldn't wonder but you're carrying dispatches from Lieutenant Campbell."
The fellow went all colours and was as easy as a worm on a hook.
"I make no doubt you'll be geyan tired from long travel, and the responsibility of carrying such important documents must weigh down your spirits," I drolled, "and so I will trouble you"—with a pistol clapped to his head and a sudden ring of command in my voice—"to hand them over to me at once."
The fellow's jaw dropped lankly. He looked hither and thither for a way of escape and found none. He was confronting an argument that had a great deal of weight with him, and out of the lining of his bonnet he ripped a letter.
"Thanks, but I'll take the one in your breast pocket," I told him dryly.
Out it came with a deal of pother. The letter was addressed to the Duke of Cumberland, Portree, Skye. My lips framed themselves to a long whistle. Here was the devil to pay. If the butcher was on the island I knew he had come after bigger game than muircocks. No less a quarry than the Prince himself would tempt him to this remote region. I marched my prisoner back to Captain Roy and Murdoch. To Donald I handed the letter, and he ripped it open without ceremony. 'Twas merely a note from the Campbell Lieutenant of militia, to say that the orders of his Highness regarding the watching of the coast would be fulfilled to the least detail.
"Well, and here's a pirn to unravel. What's to be done now?" asked the Macdonald.
"By Heaven, I have it," cried I. "Let Murdoch carry the news to Raasay that the Prince may get away at once. Do you guard our prisoner here, while I, dressed in his trews and bonnet, carry the letter to the Duke. His answer may throw more light on the matter."
Not to make long, so it was decided. We made fashion to plaster up the envelope so as not to show a casual looker that it had been tampered with, and I footed it to Portree in the patched trews of the messenger, not with the lightest heart in the world. The first redcoat I met directed me to the inn where the Duke had his headquarters, and I was presently admitted to a hearing.
The Duke was a ton of a little man with the phlegmatic Dutch face. He read the letter stolidly and began to ask questions as to the disposition of our squad. I lied generously, magnificently, my face every whit as wooden as his; and while I was still at it the door behind me opened and a man came in leisurely. He waited for the Duke to have done with me, softly humming a tune the while, his shadow flung in front across my track; and while he lilted there came to me a dreadful certainty that on occasion I had heard the singer and his song before.
"'Then come kiss me sweet and twenty. Youth's a stuff will not endure,'"
carolled the melodious voice lazily. Need I say that it belonged to my umquhile friend Sir Robert Volney.
Cumberland brushed me aside with a wave of his hand.
"Donner! If the Pretender is on Skye—and he must be—we've got him trapped, Volney. Our cordon stretches clear across the isle, and every outlet is guarded," he cried.
"Immensely glad to hear it, sir. Let's see! Is this the twelfth time you've had him sure? 'Pon honour, he must have more lives than the proverbial cat," drawled Sir Robert insolently.
There was one thing about Volney I could never enough admire. He was no respecter of persons. Come high, come low, the bite of his ironic tongue struck home. For a courtier he had the laziest scorn of those he courted that ever adventurer was hampered with; and strangely enough from him his friends in high place tolerated anything. The Prince of Wales and his brother Cumberland would not speak to each other, yet each of them fought to retain Volney as his follower. Time-servers wondered that his uncurbed speech never brought him to grief. Perhaps the secret of his security lay in his splendid careless daring; in that, and in his winning personality.
"By God, Volney, sometimes I think you're half a Jacobite," said Cumberland, frowning.
"Your Grace does me injustice. My bread is buttered on the Brunswick side," answered the baronet, carelessly.
"But otherwise—at heart——"
Volney's sardonic smile came into play. "Otherwise my well-known caution, and my approved loyalty,—Egad, I had almost forgotten that!—refute such an aspersion."
"Himmel! If your loyalty is no greater than your caution it may be counted out. At the least you take delight in tormenting me. Never deny it, man! I believe you want the Pretender to get away."
"One may wish the Prince——"
"The Prince?" echoed Cumberland, blackly.
"The Young Chevalier then, if you like that better. 'Slife, what's in a name? One may wish him to escape and be guilty of no crime. He and his brave Highlanders deserve a better fate than death. I dare swear that half your redcoats have the sneaking desire to see the young man win free out of the country. Come, my good fellow"—turning to me—"What do they call you—Campbell? Well then, Campbell, speak truth and shame the devil. Are you as keen to have the Young Chevalier taken as you pretend?"
Doggedly I turned my averted head toward him, saw the recognition leap to his eyes, and waited for the word to fall from his lips that would condemn me. Amusement chased amazement across his face.
A moment passed, still another moment. The word was not spoken. Instead he began to smile, presently to hum,
"'You'll on an' you'll march to Carlisle ha' To be hanged and quartered, an' a', an' a'.'
"Come, Mont-Campbell, you haven't answered my question yet. If you knew where Charles Edward Stuart was in hiding would you give him up?" He looked at me from under lowered lids, vastly entertained, playing with me as a cat does with a mouse.
"I am a fery good servant of the King, God bless him whatefer, and I would just do my duty," answered I, still keeping the role I had assumed.
"Of course he would. Ach, liebe himmel! Any loyal man would be bound to do so," broke in Cumberland.
Volney's eyes shone. "I'm not so sure," said he. "Now supposing, sir, that one had a very dear friend among the rebels; given the chance, ought he to turn him over to justice?"
"No doubt about it. Friendship ends when rebellion begins," said the Duke, sententiously.
Sir Robert continued blandly to argue the case, looking at me out of the tail of his eye. Faith, he enjoyed himself prodigiously, which was more than I did, for I was tasting a bad quarter of an hour. "Put it this way, sir: I have a friend who has done me many good turns. Now assume that I have but to speak the word to send him to his death. Should the word be spoken?"
The Duke said dogmatically that a soldier's first duty was to work for the success of his cause regardless of private feelings.
"Or turn it this way," continued Volney, "that the man is not a friend. Suppose him a rival claimant to an estate I mean to possess. Can I in honour give him up? What would you think, Mont—er—Campbell?"
"Not Mont-Campbell, but Campbell," I corrected. "I will be thinking, sir, that it would be a matter for your conscience, and at all events it iss fery lucky that you do not hafe to decide it."
"Still the case might arise. It's always well to be prepared," he answered, laughing.
"Nonsense, Robert! What the deuce do you mean by discussing such a matter with a Highland kerne? I never saw your match for oddity," said the Duke.
While he was still speaking there was a commotion in the outer room of the inn. There sounded a rap at the door, and on the echo of the knock an officer came into the room to announce the capture of a suspect. He was followed by the last man in the world I wanted to see at that moment, no other than the Campbell soldier whose place I was usurping. The fat was in the fire with a vengeance now, and though I fell back to the rear I knew it was but a question of time till his eye lit on me.
The fellow began to tell his story, got nearly through before his ferret eyes circled round to me, then broke off to burst into a screed of the Gaelic as he pointed a long finger at me.
The Duke flung round on me in a cold fury. "Is this true, fellow?"
I came forward shrugging.
"To deny were folly when the evidence is writ so plain," I said.
"And who the devil are you?"
"Kenneth Montagu, at your service."
Cumberland ordered the room cleared, then turned on Volney a very grim face. "I'll remember this, Sir Robert. You knew him all the time. It has a bad look, I make plain to say."
"'Twas none of my business. Your troopers can find enough victims for you without my pointing out any. I take the liberty of reminding your Highness that I'm not a hangman by profession," returned Volney stiffly.
"You go too far, sir," answered the Duke haughtily. "I know my duty too well to allow me to be deterred from performing it by you or by anybody else. Mr. Montagu, have you any reason to give why I should not hang you for a spy?"
"No reason that would have any weight with your Grace," I answered.
He looked long at me, frowning blackly out of the grimmest face I had ever fronted; and yet that countenance, inexorable as fate, belonged to a young man not four years past his majority.
"Without dubiety you deserve death," he said at the last, "but because of your youth I give you one chance. Disclose to me the hiding-place of the Pretender and you shall come alive out of the valley of the shadow."
A foretaste of the end clutched icily at my heart, but the price of the proffered safety was too great. Since I must die, I resolved that it should be with a good grace.