"I do not know whom your Grace can mean by the Pretender."
His heavy jaw set and his face grew cold and hard as steel.
"You fool, do you think to bandy words with me? You will speak or by heaven you will die the death of a traitor."
"I need not fear to follow where so many of my brave comrades have shown the way," I answered steadily.
"Bah! You deal in heroics. Believe me, this is no time for theatricals. Out with it. When did you last see Charles Stuart?"
"I can find no honourable answer to that question, sir."
"Then your blood be on your own head, fool. You die to-morrow morning by the cord."
"As God wills; perhaps to-morrow, perhaps not for fifty years."
While I was being led out another prisoner passed in on his way to judgment. The man was Captain Roy Macdonald.
"I'm wae to see you here, lad, and me the cause of it by sending you," he said, smiling sadly.
"How came they to take you?" I asked.
"I was surprised on the beach just after Murdoch left," he told me in the Gaelic so that the English troopers might not understand. "All should be well with the yellow haired laddie now that the warning has been given. Are you for Carlisle, Kenneth?"
I shook my head. "No, my time is set for to-morrow. If they give you longer you'll find a way to send word to Aileen how it went with me, Donald?"
He nodded, and we gripped hands in silence, our eyes meeting steadily. From his serene courage I gathered strength.
They took me to a bothy in the village which had been set apart as a prison for me, and here, a picket of soldiers with loaded muskets surrounding the hut, they left me to myself. I had asked for paper and ink, but my request had been refused.
In books I have read how men under such circumstance came quietly to philosophic and religious contemplation, looking at the issue with the far-seeing eyes of those who count death but an incident. But for me, I am neither philosopher nor saint. Connected thought I found impossible. My mind was alive with fleeting and chaotic fragmentary impulses. Memories connected with Cloe, Charles, Balmerino, and a hundred others occupied me. Trivial forgotten happenings flashed through my brain. All the different Aileens that I knew trooped past in procession. Gay and sad, wistful and merry, eager and reflective, in passion and in tender guise, I saw my love in all her moods; and melted always at the vision of her.
I descended to self-pity, conceiving myself a hero and a martyr, revelling in an agony of mawkish sentiment concerning the post-mortem grief of my friends. From this at length I snatched myself by calling to mind the many simple Highlanders who had preceded me in the past months without any morbid craving for applause. Back harked my mind to Aileen, imagination spanning the future as well as the past. Tender pity and love suffused me. Mingled with all my broken reflections was many a cry of the heart for mercy to a sinner about to render his last account and for healing balm to that dear friend who would be left to mourn the memory of me painted in radiant colours.
Paradoxical though it may seem, the leaden hours flew on feathered foot. Dusk fell, then shortly darkness. Night deepened, and the stars came out. From the window I watched the moon rise till it flooded the room with its pale light, my mind at last fallen into the sombre quiet of deep abstraction.
A mocking voice brought me to earth with a start.
"Romantic spectacle! A world bathed in moonlight. Do you compose verses to your love's bright eyes, Mr. Montagu? Or perhaps an epitaph for some close friend?"
An elegant figure in dark cloak, riding boots, and three-cornered hat confronted me, when I slowly turned.
"Hope I don't intrude," he said jauntily.
I gave him a plain hint. "Sir Robert, like Lord Chesterfield, when he was so ill last year, if I do not press you to remain it is because I must rehearse my funeral obsequies."
His laugh rang merrily. Coming forward a step or two, he flung a leg across the back of a chair.
"Egad, you're not very hospitable, my friend. Or isn't this your evening at home?" he fleered.
I watched him narrowly, answering nothing.
"Cozy quarters," he said, looking round with polite interest. "May I ask whether you have taken them for long?"
"The object of your visit, sir," I demanded coldly.
"There you gravel me," he laughed. "I wish I knew the motives for my visit. They are perhaps a blend—some pique, some spite, some curiosity, and faith! a little admiration, Mr. Montagu."
"All of which being presumably now satisfied——"
"But they're not, man! Far from it. And so I accept the courteous invitation you were about to extend me to prolong my call and join you in a glass of wine."
Seeing that he was determined to remain willy-nilly, I made the best of it.
"You have interpreted my sentiments exactly, Sir Robert," I told him. "But I fear the wine will have to be postponed till another meeting. My cellar is not well stocked."
He drew a flask from his pocket, found glasses on the table, and filled them.
"Then let me thus far play host, Mr. Montagu. Come, I give you a toast!" He held the glass to the light and viewed the wine critically. "'T is a devilish good vintage, though I say it myself. Montagu, may you always find a safe port in time of storm!" he said with jesting face, but with a certain undercurrent of meaning that began to set my blood pounding.
But though I took a glimmer of the man's purpose I would not meet him half-way. If he had any proposal to make the advances must come from him. Nor would I allow myself to hope too much.
"I' faith, 'tis a good port," I said, and eyed the wine no less judicially than he.
Volney's gaze loitered deliberately over the cottage furnishings. "Cozy enough, but after all not quite to my liking, if I may make so bold as to criticise your apartments. I wonder now you don't make a change."
"I'm thinking of moving to-morrow," I told him composedly. "To a less roomy apartment, but one just as snug."
"Shall you live there permanently?" he asked with innocent face.
"I shall stay there permanently," I corrected.
Despite my apparent unconcern I was playing desperately for my life. That Volney was dallying with some plan of escape for me I became more confident, and I knew from experience that nothing would touch the man on his weak side so surely as an imperturbable manner.
"I mentioned pique and spite, Mr. Montagu, and you did not take my meaning. Believe me, not against you, but against that oaf Cumberland," he said.
"And what may your presence here have to do with your pique against the Duke? I confess that the connection is not plain to me," I said in careless fashion.
"After you left to-day, Mr. Montagu, I humbled myself to ask a favour of the Dutchman—the first I ever asked, and I have done him many. He refused it and turned his back on me."
"The favour was——?"
"That you might be taken to London for trial and executed there."
I looked up as if surprised. "And why this interest on my behalf, Sir Robert?"
He shrugged. "I do not know—a fancy—a whim. George Selwyn would never forgive me if I let you be hanged and he not there to see."
"Had you succeeded Selwyn would have had you to thank for a pleasant diversion, but I think you remarked that the Dutchman was obstinate. 'Tis a pity—for Selwyn's sake."
"Besides, I had another reason. You and I had set ourselves to play out a certain game in which I took an interest. Now I do not allow any blundering foreigners to interfere with my amusements."
"I suppose you mean you do not like the foreigner to anticipate you."
"By God, I do not allow him to when I can prevent it."
"But as in this instance you cannot prevent it——" My sentence tailed into a yawn.
"That remains to be seen," he retorted, and whipped off first one boot and then the other. The unfastened cloak fell to the floor, and he began to unloose his doublet.
I stared calmly, though my heart stood still.
"Really, Sir Robert! Are you going to stay all night? I fear my accommodations are more limited than those to which you have been accustomed."
"Don't stand gaping there, Montagu. Get off those uncivilized rags of yours and slip on these. You're going out as Sir Robert Volney."
"I am desolated to interfere with your revenge, but—the guards?"
"Fuddled with drink," he said. "I took care of that. Don't waste time asking questions."
"The Duke will be in a fearful rage with you."
His eyes grew hard. "Am I a child that I should tremble when Cumberland frowns?"
"He'll make you pay for this."
"A fig for the payment!"
"You'll lose favour."
"I'll teach the sullen beast to refuse me one. The boots next."
He put on the wig and hat for me, arranged the muffler over the lower part of my face, and fastened the cloak.
"The watchword for the night is 'Culloden.' You should have no trouble in passing. I needn't tell you to be bold," he finished dryly.
"I'll not forget this," I told him.
"That's as you please," he answered carelessly. "I ask no gratitude. I'm settling a debt, or rather two—one due Cumberland and the other you."
"Still, I'll remember."
"Oh, all right. Hope we'll have the pleasure of renewing our little game some day. Better take to the hills or the water. You'll find the roads strictly guarded. Don't let yourself get killed, my friend. The pleasure of running you through I reserve for myself."
I passed out of the hut into the night. The troopers who guarded the bothy were in either the stupid or the uproarious stage of their drink. Two of them sang a catch of a song, and I wondered that they had not already brought down on them the officer of the day. I passed them carelessly with a nod. One of them bawled out, "The watchword!" and I gave them "Culloden." Toward the skirts of the village I sauntered, fear dogging my footsteps; and when I was once clear of the houses, cut across a meadow toward the shore, wary as a panther, eyes and ears alert for signals of danger. Without mishap I reached the sound, beat my way up the sand links for a mile or more, and saw a boat cruising in the moonlight off shore. I gave the whaup's cry, and across the water came an answer.
Five minutes later I was helping the gillie in the boat pull across to Raasay. When half way over we rested on our oars for a breathing space and I asked the news, the rug-headed kerne shot me with the dismal tidings that Malcolm Macleod and Creagh, rowing to Skyes for a conference with Captain Roy, had fallen into the hands of the troopers waiting for them among the sand dunes. He had but one bit of comfort in his budget, and that was "ta yellow-haired Sassenach body wass leaving this morning with Raasay hersel' and Murdoch." At least I had some assurance that my undertaking had secured the safety of the Prince, even though three staunch men were on their way to their death by reason of it.
Once landed on Raasay, I made up the brae to the great house. Lights were still burning, and when I got close 'twas easy to be seen that terror and confusion filled it. Whimpering, white-faced women and wailing bairns ran hither and thither blindly. Somewhere in the back part of the house the bagpipes were soughing a dismal kind of dirge. Fierce-eyed men with mops of shock hair were gathered into groups of cursing clansmen. Through them all I pushed my way in to Aileen.
THE LITTLE GOD HAS AN INNINGS
By the great fireplace she stood, hands clasped, head upturned as in prayer. The lips moved silently in the petition of her heart. I saw in profile a girl's troubled face charged with mystery, a slim, tall, weary figure all in white against the flame, a cheek's pure oval, the tense curve of a proud neck, a mass of severely snodded russet hair. So I recalled her afterward, picture of desolation seeking comfort, but at the moment when I blundered on her my presence seemed profanity and no time was found for appraisement. Abashed I came to a halt, and was for tiptoeing back to the door; but hearing me she turned.
"Kenneth!" she cried, and stood with parted lips. Then, "They told me——"
"That I was taken. True, but I escaped. How, I will tell you later. The Prince— Is he safe?"
"For the present, yes. A lugger put in this morning belonging to some smugglers. In it he sailed for the mainland with Ronald and Murdoch. You will have heard the bad news," she cried.
"That Malcolm, Creagh, and Donald are taken?"
"And Flora, too. She iss to be sent to London for assisting in the escape of the Prince. And so are the others."
I fell silent, deep in thought, and shortly came to a resolution.
"Aileen, the Highlands are no place for me. I am a stranger here. Every clachan in which I am seen is full of danger for me. To-morrow I am for London."
"To save Malcolm," she cried.
"If I can. Raasay cannot go. He must stay to protect his clansmen. Murdoch is a fugitive and his speech would betray him in an hour. Remains only I."
"Why not? After 'the '15' women's tears saved many a life. And I too have friends. Sir Robert Volney, evil man as he iss, would move heaven and earth to save my brother."
There was much truth in what she said. In these days of many executions a pardon was to be secured less by merit than by the massing of influence, and I knew of no more potent influence than a beautiful woman in tears. Together we might be able to do something for our friends. But there was the long journey through a hostile country to be thought of, and the probability that we might never reach our destination in freedom. I could not tell the blessed child that her presence would increase threefold my chances of being taken, nor indeed was that a thing that held weight with me. Sure, there was her reputation to be considered, but the company of a maid would obviate that difficulty.
Ronald returned next day, and I laid the matter before him. He was extraordinarily loath to let Aileen peril herself, but on the other hand he could not let Malcolm suffer the penalty of the law without making an effort on his behalf. Raasay was tied hand and foot by the suspicions of the government and was forced to consent to leave the matter in our hands. He made only the one stipulation, that we should go by way of Edinburgh and take his Aunt Miss MacBean with us as chaperone.
We embarked on the smuggler next day for the Long Island and were landed at Stornoway. After a dreary wait of over a week at this place we took shipping on a brig bound for Edinburgh. Along the north coast of Scotland, through the Pentland Firth, and down the east shore The Lewis scudded. It seemed that we were destined to have an uneventful voyage till one day we sighted a revenue cutter which gave chase. As we had on board The Lewis a cargo of illicit rum, the brig being in the contraband trade, there was nothing for it but an incontinent flight. For some hours our fate hung in the balance, but night coming on we slipped away in the darkness. The Captain, however, being an exceedingly timid man for one in his position, refused absolutely to put into the Leith Road lest his retreat should be cut off. Instead he landed us near Wemyss Castle, some distance up the coast, and what was worse hours before the dawn had cleared and in a pelting rain.
I wrapped Volney's cloak around Aileen and we took the southward road, hoping to come on some village where we might find shelter. The situation might be thought one of extreme discomfort. There were we three—Aileen, her maid, and I—sloshing along the running road in black darkness with the dreary splashing of the rain to emphasize our forlorn condition. Over unknown paths we travelled on precarious errand. Yet I for one never took a journey that pleased me more. The mirk night shut out all others, and a fair face framed in a tartan shawl made my whole world for me. A note of tenderness not to be defined crept into our relationship. There was a sweet disorder in her hair and more than once the wind whaffed it into my face. In walking our fingers touched once and again; greatly daring, mine slipped over hers, and so like children we went hand in hand. An old romancer tells quaintly in one of his tales how Love made himself of the party, and so it was with us that night. I found my answer at last without words. While the heavens wept our hearts sang. The wine of love ran through me in exquisite thrills. Every simple word she spoke went to my heart like sweetest music, and every unconscious touch of her hand was a caress.
"Tired, Aileen?" I asked. "There is my arm to lean on."
"No," she said, but presently her ringers rested on my sleeve.
"'T will be daylight soon, and see! the scudding clouds are driving away the rain."
"Yes, Kenneth," she answered, and sighed softly.
"You will think I am a sad blunderer to bring you tramping through the night."
"I will be thinking you are the good friend."
Too soon the grey dawn broke, for at the first glimmer my love disengaged herself from my arm. I looked shyly at her, and the glory of her young beauty filled me. Into her cheeks the raw morning wind had whipped the red, had flushed her like a radiant Diana. The fresh breeze had outlined her figure clear as she struggled against it, and the billowing sail was not more graceful than her harmonious lines.
Out of the sea the sun rose a great ball of flaming fire.
"A good omen for the success of our journey," I cried. "Look!
"'Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.'
"The good God grant it prove so, Kenneth, for Malcolm and for all our friends."
After all youth has its day and will not be denied. We were on an anxious undertaking of more than doubtful outcome, but save when we remembered to be sober we trod the primrose path.
We presently came to a small village where we had breakfast at the inn. For long we had eaten nothing but the musty fare of the brig, and I shall never forget with what merry daffing we enjoyed the crisp oaten cake, the buttered scones, the marmalade, and the ham and eggs. After we had eaten Aileen went to her room to snatch some hours sleep while I made arrangements for a cart to convey us on our way.
A wimpling burn ran past the end of the inn garden, and here on a rustic bench I found my comrade when I sought her some hours later. The sun was shining on her russet-hair. Her chin was in her hands, her eyes on the gurgling brook. The memories of the night must still have been thrilling her, for she was singing softly that most exquisite of love songs "Annie Laurie."
"'Maxwelton's braes are bonnie, Where early fa's the dew, Where me and Annie Laurie Made up the promise true.'"
Her voice trembled a little, and I took up the song.
"'Made up the promise true, And ne'er forget will I; And for bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay me doun and dee.'"
At my first words she gave a little start, her lips parted, her head came up prettily to attention, and though I could not see them I was ready to vow that she listened with shining eyes. Softly her breath came and went. I trod nearer as I sang.
"'Her brow is like the snaw-drift, Her throat is like the swan, She's jimp about the middle, Her waist ye weel micht span.'
"Oh, Aileen, if I might—if I only had the right! Won't you give it me, dear heart?"
In the long silence my pulse stopped, then throbbed like an aching tooth.
"I'm waiting, Aileen. It is to be yes or no?"
The shy blue eyes met mine for an instant before they fluttered groundward. I could scarce make out the low sweet music of her voice.
"Oh, Kenneth, not now! You forget—my brother Malcolm——"
"I forget everything but this, that I love you."
In her cheeks was being fought the war of the roses, with Lancaster victorious. The long-lashed eyes came up to meet mine bravely, love lucent in them. Our glances married; in those clear Highland lochs of hers I was sunk fathoms deep.
"From the head to the heel of you, Aileen, lass. For you I would die, and that is all there is about it," I cried, wildly.
"Well then, take me, Kenneth! I am all yours. Of telling love there will be many ways in the Gaelic, and I am thinking them all at once."
And this is the plain story of how the great happiness came into Kenneth Montagu's life, and how, though all unworthy, he won for his own the daughter of Raasay.
At Edinburgh we received check one. Aileen's aunt had left for the Highlands the week before in a fine rage because the Duke of Cumberland, who had foisted himself upon her unwilling hospitality, had eaten her out of house and home, then departing had borne away with him her cherished household penates to the value of some hundred pounds. Years later Major Wolfe told me with twinkling eyes the story of how the fiery little lady came to him with her tale of woe. If she did not go straight to the dour Duke it was because he was already out of the city and beyond her reach. Into Wolfe's quarters she bounced, rage and suspicion speaking eloquent in her manner.
"Hech, sir! Where have ye that Dutch Prince of yours?" she demanded of Wolfe, her keen eyes ranging over him.
"'Pon honour, madam, I have not him secreted on my person," returned the Major, gravely turning inside out his pockets for her.
The spirited old lady glowered at him.
"It's ill setting ye to be sae humoursome," she told him frankly. "It wad be better telling ye to answer ceevilly a ceevil question, my birkie."
"If I can be of any service, madam——"
"Humph, service! And that's just it, my mannie. The ill-faured tykes hae rampaigned through the house and taen awa' my bonnie silver tea service that I hae scoured every Monday morning for thirty-seven years come Michelmas, forby the fine Holland linen that my father, guid carefu' man, brought frae the continent his nainsel."
"I am sorry——"
"Sorry! Hear till him," she snorted. "Muckle guid your sorrow will do me unless——" her voice fell to a wheedling cajolery—"you just be a guid laddie and get me back my linen and the silver."
"The Duke has a partiality for fine bed linen, and quaint silver devices are almost a mania with him. Perhaps some of your other possessions"—
"His Dutch officers ate me out of house and home. They took awa' eight sacks of the best lump sugar."
"The army is in need of sugar. I fear it is not recoverable."
Miss MacBean had a way of affecting deafness when the occasion suited her.
"Eih, sir! Were you saying you wad see it was recovered? And my silver set wi' twenty solid teaspoons, forby the linen?" she asked anxiously, her hand to her ear.
"I fear the Duke——"
"Ou ay, I ken fine you fear him. He's gurly enough, Guid kens."
"I was about to say, madam, that I fear the Duke will regard them as spoils from the enemy not to be given up."
The Major was right. Miss MacBean might as well have saved her breath to cool her porridge, for the Duke carried her possessions to London despite her remonstrances. Five years later as I was passing by a pawnbroker's shop on a mean street in London Miss MacBean's teapot with its curious device of a winged dragon for a spout caught my eye in the window. The shopkeeper told me that it had been sold him by a woman of the demi-monde who had formerly been a mistress of the Duke of Cumberland. She said that it was a present from his Royal Highness, who had taken the silver service from the house of a fiery rebel lady in the north.
Our stay in the Scottish capital was of the shortest. In the early morning we went knocking at the door of Miss MacBean's house. All day I kept under cover and in the darkness of night we slipped out of the city southwest bound. Of that journey, its sweet comradeship, its shy confidences, its perpetual surprises for each of us in discovering the other, I have no time nor mind to tell. The very danger which was never absent from our travel drew us into a closer friendliness. Was there an option between two roads, or the question of the desirability of putting up at a certain inn, our heads came together to discuss it. Her pretty confidence in me was touching in the extreme. To have her hold me a Captain Greatheart made my soul glad, even though I knew my measure did not fit the specifications by a mile. Her trust in me was less an incense to my vanity than a spur to my manhood.
The mere joy of living flooded my blood with happiness in those days. I vow it made me a better man to breathe the same air as she, to hear the lilt of her merry laugh and the low music of her sweet voice. Not a curve in that dimpled cheek I did not love; not a ripple in the russet hair my hungry eyes had not approved. When her shy glance fell on me I rode in the sunshine of bluest sky. If by chance her hand touched mine, my veins leaped with the wine of it. Of such does the happiness of youth consist.
'Tis strange how greedy love is in its early days of the past from which it has been excluded, how jealous sometimes of the point of contact with other lives in the unknown years which have gone to make up the rungs of the ladder of life. I was never tired of hearing of her childhood on the braes of Raasay: how she guddled for mountain trout in the burn with her brother Murdoch or hung around his neck chains of daisies in childish glee. And she— Faith, she drew me out with shy questions till that part of my life which would bear telling must have been to her a book learned by rote.
Yet there were times when we came near to misunderstanding of each other. The dear child had been brought up in a houseful of men, her mother having died while she was yet an infant, and she was in some ways still innocent as a babe. The circumstances of our journey put her so much in my power that I, not to take advantage of the situation, sometimes held myself with undue stiffness toward her when my every impulse was to tenderness. Perhaps it might be that we rode through woodland in the falling dusk while the nesting birds sang madrigals of love. Longing with all my heart to touch but the hem of her gown, I would yet ride with a wooden face set to the front immovably, deaf to her indirect little appeals for friendliness. Presently, ashamed of my gruffness, I would yield to the sweetness of her charm, good resolutions windwood scattered, and woo her with a lover's ardour till the wild-rose deepened in her cheek.
"Were you ever in love before, Kennie?" she asked me once, twisting at a button of my coat. We were drawing near Manchester and had let the postillion drive on with the coach, while we loitered hand in hand through the forest of Arden. The azure sky was not more blue than the eyes which lifted shyly to mine, nor the twinkling stars which would soon gaze down on us one half so bright.
I laughed happily. "Once—in a boy's way—a thousand years ago."
"And were you caring for her—much?"
"And she—wass she loving you too?"
"More than tongue could tell, she made me believe."
"Oh, I am not wondering at that," said my heart's desire. "Of course she would be loving you."
'Twas Aileen's way to say the thing she thought, directly, in headlong Highland fashion. Of finesse she used none. She loved me (oh, a thousand times more than I deserved!) and that was all there was about it. To be ashamed of her love or to hide it never, I think, occurred to her. What more natural then than that others should think of me as she did?
"Of course," I said dryly. "But in the end my sweetheart, plighted to me for all eternity, had to choose betwixt her lover and something she had which he much desired. She sighed, deliberated long—full five seconds I vow—and in end played traitor to love. She was desolated to lose me, but the alternative was not to be endured. She sacrificed me for a raspberry tart. So was shattered young love's first dream. 'Tis my only consolation that I snatched the tart and eat it as I ran. Thus Phyllis lost both her lover and her portion. Ah, those brave golden days! The world, an unexplored wonder, lay at my feet. She was seven, I was nine."
"Oh." There was an odd little note of relief in the velvet voice that seemed to reproach me for a brute. I was forever forgetting that the ways of 'Toinette Westerleigh were not the ways of Aileen Macleod.
The dying sun flooded the topmost branches of the forest foliage. My eyes came round to the aureole which was their usual magnet.
"When the sun catches it 'tis shot with glints of gold."
"It is indeed very beautiful."
"In cloudy weather 'tis a burnished bronze."
She looked at me in surprise.
"Bronze! Surely you are meaning green?"
"Not I, bronze. Again you might swear it russet."
"That will be in the autumn when they are turning colour just before the fall."
"No, that is when you have it neatly snodded and the firelight plays about your head."
She laughed, flushing. "You will be forever at your foolishness, Kenn. I thought you meant the tree tips."
"Is the truth foolishness?"
"You are a lover, Kennie. Other folks don't see that when they look at me."
"Other folks are blind," I maintained, stoutly.
"If you see all that I will be sure that what they say is true and love is blind."
"The wise man is the lover. He sees clear for the first time in his life. The sun shines for him—and her. For them the birds sing and the flowers bloom. For them the world was made. They——"
"Whiles talk blethers," she laughed.
"Yes, they do," I admitted. "And there again is another sign of wisdom. Your ponderous fool talks pompous sense always. He sees life in only one facet. Your lover sees its many sides, its infinite variety. He can laugh and weep; his imagination lights up dry facts with whimsical fancies; he dives through the crust of conventionality to the realities of life. 'Tis the lover keeps this old world young. The fire of youth, of eternal laughing youth, runs flaming through his blood. His days are radiant, his nights enchanted."
"I am thinking you quite a poet."
"Was there ever a better subject for a poem? Life would be poetry writ into action if all men were lovers—and all women Aileens."
"Ah, Kenneth! This fine talk I do not understand. It's sheer nonsense to tell such idle clavers about me. Am I not just a plain Highland lassie, as unskilled in flattering speeches as in furbelows and patches? Gin you will play me a spring on the pipes I'll maybe can dance you the fling, but of French minuets I have small skill."
"Call me dreamer if you will. By Helen's glove, your dreamer might be the envy of kings. Since I have known you life has taken a different hue. One lives for years without joy, pain, colour, all things toned to the dull monochrome of gray, and then one day the contact with another soul quickens one to renewed life, to more eager unselfish living. Never so bright a sun before, never so beautiful a moon. 'Tis true, Aileen. No fear but one, that Fate, jealous, may snatch my love from me."
Her laughter dashed my heroics; yet I felt, too, that back of her smiles there was belief.
"I dare say. At the least I will have heard it before. The voice iss Jacob's voice, but——"
I blushed, remembering too late that my text and its application were both Volney's.
"'Tis true, even if Jacob said it first. If a man is worth his salt love must purify him. Sure it must. I am a better man for knowing you."
A shy wonder filled her eyes; thankfulness too was there.
"Yet you are a man that has fought battles and known life, and I am only an ignorant girl."
I lifted her hand and kissed it.
"You are my queen, and I am your most loyal and devoted servant."
"For always, Kenn? When you are meeting the fine ladies of London will you love a Highland lassie that cannot make eyes and swear choicely?"
"Forever and a day, dear."
Aileen referred to the subject again two hours later when we arose from the table at the Manchester ordinary. It was her usual custom to retire to her room immediately after eating. To-night when I escorted her to the door she stood for a moment drawing patterns on the lintel with her fan. A fine blush touched her cheek.
"Were you meaning all that, Kennie?"
"All what, dear heart?"
"That—nonsense—in the forest."
"Every bit of it."
Her fan spelt Kenneth on the door.
"Sometimes," she went on softly, "a fancy is built on moonlight and laughing eyes and opportunity. It iss like sunshine in winter on Raasay—just for an hour and then the mists fall."
"For our love there will be no mists."
"Ah, Kenn, you think so now, but afterward, when you take up again your London life, and I cannot play the lady of fashion, when you weary of my simpleness and are wishing me back among the purple heather hills?"
"That will be never, unless I wish myself there with you. I am no London Mohawk like Volney. To tramp the heather after muircocks or to ride to hounds is more my fancy. The Macaronis and I came long since to the parting of the ways. I am for a snug home in the country with the woman I love."
I stepped to the table, filled a glass with wine, and brought it to her.
"Come, love! We will drink together. How is it old Ben Jonson hath it?
"'Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine; Or leave a kiss but in the cup, And I'll not look for wine. The thirst that from the soul doth rise Doth seek a drink divine; But might I of Jove's nectar sup I would not change from thine.'
She tasted, then I drained the glass and let it fall from my fingers to shiver on the floor.
Before we parted Aileen had one more word for me, "Kennie."
"Yes, dear heart," I cried, and was back at her side in a moment.
"What you said in the woods—I am knowing it all true. It is great foolishness, but my heart is singing the same song," and with that she whipped the door to in my face.
I sauntered into the common room, found a seat by the fireplace, and let my eye wander over the company. There were present some half dozen yokels, the vicar's curate, a country blood or two, and a little withered runt of a man in fustian with a weazened face like a wrinkled pippin. The moment I clapped eyes on him there came to my mind the dim recollection of a former acquaintance and the prescient fear of an impending danger. That I had seen him I was ready to take oath, yet I could not put my finger upon the circumstances. But the worst of it was that the old fellow recognized me, unless I were much mistaken, for his eyes never left me from the first.
From my mother I have inherited a Highland jauntiness which comes stealing over me when sobriety would set me better. Let the situation be a different one, uncertain of solution, with heads tipping in the balance, and an absurd spirit of recklessness straightway possesses me. But now, with this dear child on my hands, carelessness and I were far apart as the poles. Anxiety gripped me, and I sweated blood. Yet I must play the careless traveller, be full of good stories, unperturbed on the surface and apparently far from alarm. I began to overdo the part, recognized the fact, and grew savage at myself. Trying to conciliate him, I was free with the ale, and again overdid it.
He drank my ale and listened to my stories, but he sat cocking on his seat like an imp of mischief. I rattled on, insouciant and careless to all appearances, but in reality my heart like lead. Behind my smiling lips I cursed him up hill and down dale. Lard, his malicious grin was a thing to rile the gods! More than once I wake up in the night from dreaming that his scrawny hand was clapping the darbies on my wrists.
When we were ready to start next morning the post boy let me know that one of the horses had gone lame. Here was a pretty pickle. I pished and pshawed, but in the end had to scour the town to find another in its place. 'Twas well on toward noon when the boy and I returned to the ordinary with a nag that would serve.
Of other lovers I have scant knowledge, but the one I know was wont to cherish the memory of things his love had said and how she had said them; with what a pretty tilt to her chin, with what a daring shyness of the eyes, with what a fine colour and impetuous audacity she had done this or looked that. He was wont in advance to plan out conversations, to decide that he would tell her some odd brain fancy and watch her while he told it. Many an hour he spent in the fairy land of imagination; many a one he dreamed away in love castles built of fancied rambles in enchanted woods, of sweet talks in which he always said and did the right thing; destined alas! never to pass from mind to speech, for if ever tongue essayed the telling it faltered some fatuous abortion as little like love's dream as Caliban resembled Ariel. Fresh from the brave world of day-dreams, still smiling happily from some whimsical conceit as well as with anticipation of Aileen's gladness at sight of me, I passed through the courtyard and into the ordinary.
A hubbub at the foot of the stairway attracted me. A gaping crowd was gathered there about three central figures. My weasened pippin-face of the malicious grin was one of them; a broad-shouldered, fair-faced and very much embarrassed young officer in the King's uniform stood beside him; and from the stairway some three steps up Aileen, plainly frightened, fronted them and answered questions in her broken English.
"I am desolated to distress you, madam," the boy officer was saying, "but this man has laid an information with me that there is a rebel in your party, one who was in Manchester with the Pretender's force some months since. It will be necessary that I have speech with him."
"There iss no rebel with me, sir. The gentleman with whom I travel iss of most approved loyalty," she faltered.
"Ah! He will no doubt be able to make that clear to me. May I ask where he is at present?"
Aileen went white as snow. Her distress was apparent to all.
"Sir, I do entreat you to believe that what I say iss true," she cried whitely.
The little rat in fustian broke out screaming that he would swear to me among ten thousand: as to the girl she must be the rebel's accomplice, his mistress mayhap. Aileen, her big, anxious eyes fixed on the officer, shrank back against the stair rail at her accuser's word. The lad commanded him sharply to be quiet, but with the utmost respect let Aileen understand that he must have talk with me.
All this one swift glance had told me, and at this opportune moment I sauntered up, Volney's snuff-box in my hand. If the doubt possessed me as to how the devil I was to win free from this accusation, I trust no shadow of fear betrayed itself in my smirking face.
"Egad, here's a gathering of the clans. Hope I'm not de trop," I simpered.
The lieutenant bowed to me with evident relief.
"On the contrary, sir, if you are the gentleman travelling with this lady you are the desired complement to our party. There has been some doubt expressed as to you. This man here claims to have recognized you as one of the Pretender's army; says he was present when you bought provisions for a troop of horsemen during the rebel invasion of this town."
"'Slife, perhaps I'm Charles Stuart himself," I shrugged.
"I swear to him. I swear to him," screamed fustian.
On my soul merely to look at the man gave me a nausea. His white malevolence fair scunnered me.
I adjusted Volney's eye-glass with care and looked the fellow over with a candid interest, much as your scientist examines a new specimen.
"What the plague! Is this rusty old last year's pippin an evidence against me? Rot me, he's a pretty scrub on which to father a charge against a gentleman, Lud, his face is a lie. No less!"
"May I ask your name, sir, and your business in this part of the country?" said the lieutenant.
Some impulse—perhaps the fact that I was wearing his clothes—put it into my head to borrow Volney's name. There was risk that the lad might have met the baronet, but that was a contingency which must be ventured. It brought him to like a shot across a lugger's bows.
"Sir Robert Volney, the friend of the Prince," he said, patently astonished.
"The Prince has that honour," I smiled.
"Pray pardon my insistence. Orders from headquarters," says he apologetically.
I waved aside his excuses peevishly.
"Sink me, Sir Robert Volney should be well enough known not to be badgered by every country booby with a king's commission. Lard, I vow I'll have a change when Fritz wears the crown."
With that I turned on my heel in a simulation of petty anger, offered my arm to Aileen, and marched up the stairs with her. My manner and my speech were full of flowered compliments to her, of insolence to the young gentleman below, for there is nothing more galling to a man's pride than to be ignored.
"'Twas the only way," I said to Aileen when the door was closed on us above. "'Tis a shame to flout an honest young gentleman so, but in such fashion the macaroni would play the part. Had I stayed to talk with him he might have asked for my proof. We're well out of the affair."
But we were not out of it yet. I make no doubt that no sooner was my back turned than the little rat in fustian, his mind set on a possible reward, was plucking at the lad's sleeve with suggestions and doubts. In any case there came presently a knock at the door. I opened. The boy officer was there with a red face obstinately set.
"Sir, I must trouble you again," he said icily. "You say you are Sir Robert Volney. I must ask you for proofs."
At once I knew that I had overdone my part. It had been better to have dealt with this youth courteously; but since I had chosen my part, I must play it.
"Proofs," I cried blackly. "Do you think I carry proofs of my identity for every country bumpkin to read? Sink me, 'tis an outrage."
He flushed, but hung doggedly to his point.
"You gain nothing by insulting me, Sir Robert. I may be only a poor line officer and you one high in power, but by Heaven! I'm as good a man as you," cried the boy; then rapped out, "I'll see your papers, if you have me broke for it."
My papers! An inspiration shot into my brain. When Volney had substituted for me at Portree he had given me a pass through the lines, made out in his name and signed by the Duke of Cumberland, in order that I might present it if challenged. Hitherto I had not been challenged, and indeed I had forgotten the existence of it, but now— I fished out the sheet of parchment and handed it to the officer. His eye ran over the passport, and he handed it back with a flushed face.
"I have to offer a thousand apologies for troubling you, Sir Robert. This paper establishes your identity beyond doubt."
"Hope you're quite satisfied," I said with vast irony.
"Oh, just one more question. The lady travelling with you?"
I watched him silently.
"She is from the Highlands, is she not?" he asked.
"To be sure 'tis sufficient if Sir Robert Volney vouches for her."
"And of course the fact that she travels in his company——"
My answer was a yawn, half stifled behind my hand. The lad glared at me, in a rage at me for my insolence and at himself for his boyish inability to cope with it. Then he swung on his heel and stamped down-stairs. Five years later I met him at a dinner given by a neighbour of mine in the country, and I took occasion then to explain to him my intolerable conduct. Many a laugh we have since had over it.
We reached London on a dismal Wednesday when the rain was pouring down in sheets. Aileen I took at once to our town house that she might be with Cloe, though I expected to put up with my old nurse in another part of the city. I leave you to conceive the surprise of Charles and my sister when we dropped in on them.
The news they had for us was of the worst. Every week witnessed the execution of some poor Jacobites and the arrival of a fresh batch to take their place in the prisons. The Scotch Lords Balmerino, Cromartie and Kilmarnock were already on trial and their condemnation was a foregone conclusion. The thirst for blood was appalling and not at all glutted by the numerous executions that had already occurred. 'Twas indeed for me a most dismal home-coming.
"My Lord of March, is Arthur Lord Balmerino guilty of High Treason?"
Lord March, youngest peer of the realm, profligate and scoundrel, laid his hand on the place where his heart ought to have been and passed judgment unctuously.
"Guilty, upon my honour."
The Lord High Steward repeated the same question to each of the peers in order of their age and received from each the same answer. As it became plain that the prisoner at the bar was to be convicted the gentleman-gaoler gradually turned the edge of his axe toward Balmerino, whose manner was nonchalant and scornful. When the vote had been polled my Lord bowed to the judges with dignity and remarked, "I am sorry to have taken up so much of your time without avail, my lords. If I pleaded 'not guilty' my principal reason was that the ladies might not miss their show." Shortly afterward he was ushered out of Westminster Hall to his carriage.
From the view-point of the whigs Balmerino was undoubtedly guilty as Lucifer and not all the fair play in the world could have saved him from Tower Hill. He was twice a rebel, having been pardoned for his part in "the '15," and 'twas not to be expected that so hardened an offender would again receive mercy. But at the least he might have been given courtesy, and that neither he nor his two fellows, Kilmarnock and Cromartie, did at all receive. The crown lawyers to the contrary took an unmanly delight in girding and snapping at the captives whom the fortune of war had put in their power. Monstrous charges were trumped up that could not be substantiated, even the Lord High Steward descending to vituperation.
Horry Walpole admitted Balmerino to be the bravest man he had ever seen. Throughout the trial his demeanour had been characteristic of the man, bold and intrepid even to the point of bravado. The stout old lord conversed with the official axe-bearer and felt the edge of the ominous instrument with the unconcern of any chance spectator. There was present a little boy who could see nothing for the crowd and Balmerino alone was unselfish enough to think of him. He made a seat for the child beside himself and took care that he missed nothing of the ceremony. When the Solicitor-General, whose brother, Secretary Murray, had saved his own life by turning evidence against Balmerino, went up to the Scotch Lord and asked him insolently how he dared give the peers so much trouble, Balmerino drew himself up with dignity and asked, "Who is this person?" Being told that it was Mr. Murray, "Oh!" he answered smiling, "Mr. Murray! I am glad to see you. I have been with several of your relations; the good lady your mother was of great use to us at Perth."
Through the crowd I elbowed my way and waited for the three condemned Scotch lords to pass into their carriages. Balmerino, bluff and soldierly, led the way; next came the tall and elegant Kilmarnock; Lord Cromartie, plainly nervous and depressed, brought up the rear. Balmerino recognized me, nodded almost imperceptibly, but of course gave no other sign of knowing the gawky apprentice who gaped at him along with a thousand others. Some one in the crowd cried out, "Which is Balmerino?" The old lord turned courteously, and said with a bow, "I am Balmerino." At the door of the coach he stopped to shake hands with his fellow-sufferers.
"I am sorry that I alone cannot pay the debt, gentlemen. But after all 'tis but what we owe to nature sooner or later, the common debt of all. I bear in mind what Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the night before his head paid forfeit.
"'Cowards fear to die; but courage stout, Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.'
"Poor Murray drags out a miserable life despised by all, but we go to our God with clean hands. By St. Andrew, the better lot is ours."
"I think of my poor wife and eight fatherless bairns," said Cromartie sadly.
Rough Arthur Elphinstone's comforting hand fell on his shoulder.
"A driech outlook, my friend. You must commend them to the God of orphans if the worst befalls. As for us— Well, in the next world we will not be tried by a whig jury."
Balmerino stepped into the coach which was waiting to convey him to the Tower. The gentleman-gaoler followed with the official axe, the edge of which still pointed toward its victim. He must have handled it carelessly in getting into the carriage, for I heard Balmerino bark out,
"Take care, man, or you'll break my shins with that d——d axe."
They were the last words I ever heard from his lips. The door slammed and the coach drove away to the prison, from which my Lord came forth only to meet the headsman and his block.
Sadly I made my way towards the city through the jostling crowds of sightseers. Another batch of captives from the North was to pass through the town that day on their way to prison, and a fleering rabble surged to and fro about the streets of London in gala dress, boisterous, jovial, pitiless. From high to low by common consent the town made holiday. Above the common ruck, in windows hired for the occasion, the fashionable world, exuding patronage and perfume, sat waiting for the dreary procession to pass. In the windows opposite where I found standing room a party from the West End made much talk and laughter. In the group I recognized Antoinette Westerleigh, Sir James Craven, and Topham Beauclerc.
"Slitterkins! I couldn't get a seat at Westminster Hall this morning for love or money," pouted Mistress Westerleigh. "'Tis pity you men can't find room for a poor girl to see the show."
"Egad, there might as well have been no rebellion at all," said Beauclerc dryly. "Still, you can go to see their heads chopped off. 'Twill be some compensation."
"I suppose you'll go, Selwyn," said Craven to that gentleman, who with Volney had just joined the group.
"I suppose so, and to make amends I'll go to see them sewn on again," returned Selwyn.
"I hear you want the High Steward's wand for a memento," said Beauclerc.
"Not I," returned Selwyn. "I did, but egad! he behaved so like an attorney the first day and so like a pettifogger the second that I wouldn't take the wand to light my fire with."
"Here they come, sink me!" cried Craven, and craned forward to get a first glimpse of the wretched prisoners.
First came four wagon-loads of the wounded, huddled together thick as shrimps, their pallid faces and forlorn appearance a mute cry for sympathy. The mob roared like wild beasts, poured out maledictions on their unkempt heads, hurled stones and sticks at them amid furious din and clamour. At times it seemed as if the prisoners would be torn from the hands of their guard by the excited mob. Scarce any name was found too vile with which to execrate these unfortunate gentlemen who had been guilty of no crime but excessive loyalty.
Some of the captives were destined for the New Prison in Southwark, others for Newgate, and a few for the Marshalsea. Those of the prisoners who were able to walk were handcuffed together in couples, with the exception of a few of the officers who rode on horseback bound hand and foot. Among the horsemen I easily recognized Malcolm Macleod, who sat erect, dour, scornful, his strong face set like a vise, looking neither to the right nor the left. Another batch of foot prisoners followed. Several of the poor fellows were known to me, including Leath, Chadwick, and the lawyer Morgan. My roving eye fell on Creagh and Captain Roy shackled together.
From the window above a piercing cry of agony rang out.
Creagh slewed round his head and threw up his free hand.
"'Toinette!" he cried.
But Miss Westerleigh had fainted, and Volney was already carrying her from the window with the flicker of a grim smile on his face. I noticed with relief that Craven had disappeared from sight.
My relief was temporary. When I turned to leave I found my limbs clogged with impedimenta. To each arm hung a bailiff, and a third clung like a leech to my legs. Some paces distant Sir James Craven stood hulloing them to the sport with malign pleasure.
"To it, fustian breeches! Yoho, yoho! There's ten guineas in it for each of you and two hundred for me. 'Slife, down with him, you red-haired fellow! Throw him hard. Ecod, I'll teach you to be rough with Craven, my cockerel Montagu!" And the bully kicked me twice where I lay.
They dragged me to my feet, and Craven began to sharpen his dull wit on me.
"Two hundred guineas I get out of this, you cursed rebel highwayman, besides the pleasure of seeing you wear hemp—and that's worth a hundred more, sink my soul to hell if it isn't."
"Your soul is sunk there long ago, and this blackguard job sends you one circle lower in the Inferno, Catchpoll Craven," said a sneering voice behind him.
Craven swung on his heel in a fury, but Volney's easy manner—and perhaps the reputation of his small sword too—damped the mettle of his courage. He drew back with a curse, whispered a word into the ear of the nearest bailiff, and shouldered his way into the crowd, from the midst of which he watched us with a sneer.
"And what mad folly, may I ask, brought you back to London a-courting the gallows?" inquired Volney of me.
"Haven't you heard that Malcolm Macleod is taken?" I asked.
"And did you come to exchange places with him? On my soul you're madder than I thought. Couldn't you trust me to see that my future brother-in-law comes to no harm without ramming your own head down the lion's throat? Faith, I think Craven has the right of it: the hempen noose is yawning for such fools as you."
The bailiffs took me to the New Prison and thrust me into an underground cell about the walls of which moisture hung in beads. Like the rest of the prisoners I was heavily ironed by day and fastened down to the floor by a staple at night. One hour in the day we were suffered to go into the yard for exercise and to be inspected and commented upon by the great number of visitors who were allowed access to the prison. On the second day of my arrival I stood blinking in the strong sunlight, having just come up from my dark cell, when two prisoners shuffled across the open to me, their fetters dragging on the ground. Conceive my great joy at finding Creagh and Donald Roy fellow inmates of New Prison with me. Indeed Captain Roy occupied the very next cell to mine.
I shall not weary you with any account of our captivity except to state that the long confinement in my foul cell sapped my health. I fell victim to agues and fevers. Day by day I grew worse until I began to think that 'twas a race between disease and the gallows. Came at last my trial, and prison attendants haled me away to the courts. Poor Leath, white to the lips, was being hustled out of the room just as I entered.
"By Heaven, Montagu, these whigs treat us like dogs," he cried passionately to me. "They are not content with our lives, but must heap foul names and infamy upon us."
The guards hurried us apart before I could answer. I asked one of them what the verdict had been in Leath's case, and the fellow with an evil laugh made a horrid gesture with his hands that confirmed my worst fears.
In the court room I found a frowning judge, a smug-faced yawning jury, and row upon row of eager curious spectators come to see the show. Besides these there were some half-score of my friends attending in the vain hope of lending me countenance. My shifting glance fell on Charles, Cloe, and Aileen, all three with faces like the corpse for colour and despairing eyes which spoke of a hopeless misery. They had fought desperately for my life, but they knew I was doomed. I smiled sadly on them, then turned to shake hands with George Selwyn.
He hoped, in his gentle drawl, that I would win clear. My face lit up at his kindly interest. I was like a drowning man clutching at straws. Even the good-will of a turnkey was of value to me.
"Thanks, Selwyn," I said, a little brokenly. "I'm afraid there's no chance for me, but it's good hearing that you are on my side."
He appeared embarrassed at my eagerness. Not quite good form he thought it, I dare say. His next words damped the glow at my heart.
"'Gad, yes! Of course. I ought to be; bet five ponies with Craven that you would cheat the gallows yet. He gave me odds of three to one, and I thought it a pretty good risk."
It occurred to me fantastically that he was looking me over with the eye of an underwriter who has insured at a heavy premium a rotten hulk bound for stormy seas. I laughed bitterly.
"You may win yet," I said. "This cursed prison fever is eating me up;" and with that I turned my back on him.
I do not intend to go into my trial with any particularity. From first to last I had no chance and everybody in the room understood it. There were a dozen witnesses to prove that I had been in the thick of the rebellion. Among the rest was Volney, in a vile temper at being called on to give testimony. He was one of your reluctant witnesses, showed a decided acrimony toward the prosecution, and had to have the facts drawn out of him as with a forceps. Such a witness, of high social standing and evidently anxious to shield me, was worth to the State more than all the other paltry witnesses combined. The jury voted guilty without leaving the court-room, after which the judge donned his black cap and pronounced the horrible judgment which was the doom of traitors. I was gash with fear, but I looked him in the face and took it smilingly. It was Volney who led the murmur of approval which greeted my audacity, a murmur which broke frankly into applause when Aileen, white to the lips, came fearlessly up to bid me be of good cheer, that she would save me yet if the importunity of a woman would avail aught.
Wearily the days dragged themselves into weeks, and still no word of hope came to cheer me. There was, however, one incident that gave me much pleasure. On the afternoon before the day set for our execution Donald Roy made his escape. Some one had given him a file and he had been tinkering at his irons for days. We were in the yard for our period of exercise, and half a dozen of us, pretending to be in earnest conversation together, surrounded him while he snapped the irons. Some days before this time he had asked permission to wear the English dress, and he now coolly sauntered out of the prison with some of the visitors quite unnoticed by the guard.
The morning dawned on which nine of us were to be executed. Our coffee was served to us in the room off the yard, and we drank it in silence. I noticed gladly that Macdonald was not with us, and from that argued that he had not been recaptured.
"Here's wishing him a safe escape from the country," said Creagh.
"Lucky dog!" murmured Leath, "I hope they won't nail him again."
Brandy was served. Creagh named the toast and we drank it standing.
The governor of the prison bustled in just as the broken glasses shivered behind us.
"Now gentlemen, if you are quite ready."
Three sledges waited for us in the yard to draw us to the gallows tree. There was no cowardly feeling, but perhaps a little dilatoriness in getting into the first sledge. Five minutes might bring a reprieve for any of us, and to be in the first sledge might mean the difference between life and death.
"Come, gentlemen! If you please! Let us have no more halting," said the governor, irritably.
Creagh laughed hardily and vaulted into the sledge. "Egad, you're right! We'll try a little haltering for a change."
Morgan followed him, and I took the third place.
A rider dismounted at the prison gate.
"Is there any news for me?" asked one poor fellow eagerly.
"Yes, the sheriff has just come and is waiting for you," jeered one of the guards with brutal frankness.
The poor fellow stiffened at once. "Very well. I am ready."
A heavy rain was falling, but the crowd between the prison and Kennington Common was immense. At the time of our trials the mob had treated us in ruffianly fashion, but now we found a respectful silence. The lawyer Morgan was in an extremely irritable mood. All the way to the Common he poured into our inattentive ears a tale of woe about how his coffee had been cold that morning. Over and over again he recited to us the legal procedure for bringing the matter into the courts with sufficient effect to have the prison governor removed from his position.
A messenger with an official document was waiting for us at the gallows. The sheriff tore it open. We had all been bearing ourselves boldly enough I dare say, but at sight of that paper our lips parched, our throats choked, and our eyes burned. Some one was to be pardoned or reprieved. But who? What a moment! How the horror of it lives in one's mind! Leisurely the sheriff read the document through, then deliberately went over it again while nine hearts stood still. Creagh found the hardihood at that moment of intense anxiety to complain of the rope about his neck.
"I wish the gossoon who made this halter was to be hanged in it. 'Slife, the thing doesn't fit by a mile," he said jauntily.
"Mr. Anthony Creagh pardoned, Mr. Kenneth Montagu reprieved," said the sheriff without a trace of feeling in his voice.
For an instant the world swam dizzily before me. I closed my eyes, partly from faintness, partly to hide from the other poor fellows the joy that leaped to them. One by one the brave lads came up and shook hands with Creagh and me in congratulation. Their good-will took me by the throat, and I could only wring their hands in silence.
On our way back to the prison Creagh turned to me with streaming eyes. "Do you know whom I have to thank for this, Kenneth?"
"Antoinette Westerleigh, God bless her dear heart!"
And that set me wondering. It might be that Charles and Aileen alone had won my reprieve for me, but I suspected Volney's fine hand in the matter. Whether he had stirred himself in my affairs or not, I knew that I too owed my life none the less to the leal heart of a girl.
Of all the London beaux not one had apartments more elegant than Sir Robert Volney. It was one of the man's vanities to play the part of a fop, to disguise his restless force and eager brain beneath the vapid punctilios of a man of fashion. There were few suspected that his reckless gayety was but a mask to hide a weary, unsatisfied heart, and that this smiling debonair gentleman with the biting wit was in truth the least happy of men. Long he had played his chosen role. Often he doubted whether the game were worth the candle, but he knew that he would play it to the end, and since he had so elected would bear himself so that all men should mark him. If life were not what the boy Robert Volney had conceived it; if failure were inevitable and even the fruit of achievement bitter; if his nature and its enveloping circumstance had proven more strong than his dim, fast-fading, boyish ideals, at least he could cross the stage gracefully and bow himself off with a jest. So much he owed himself and so much he would pay.
Something of all this perhaps was in Sir Robert Volney's mind as he lay on the couch with dreamy eyes cast back into the yesterdays of life, that dim past which echoed faintly back to him memories of a brave vanished youth. On his lips, no doubt, played the half ironic, half wistful smile which had become habitual to the man.
And while with half-shut eyes his mind drifted lazily back to that golden age forever gone, enter from the inner room, Captain Donald Roy Macdonald, a cocked pistol in his hand, on his head Volney's hat and wig, on his back Volney's coat, on his feet Volney's boots. The baronet eyed the Highlander with mild astonishment, then rose to his feet and offered him a chair.
"Delighted, I'm sure," he said politely.
"You look it," drolled Macdonald.
"Off to the wars again, or are you still at your old profession of lifting, my Highland cateran?"
Donald shrugged. "I am a man of many trades. In my day I have been soldier, sailor, reiver, hunter and hunted, doctor and patient, forby a wheen mair. What the gods provide I take."
"Hm! So I see. Prithee, make yourself at home," was Volney's ironical advice.
Macdonald fell into an attitude before the glass and admired himself vastly.
"Fegs, I will that. The small-clothes now— Are they not an admirable fit whatever? And the coat— 'Tis my measure to a nicety. Let me congratulate you on your tailor. Need I say that the periwig is a triumph of the friseur's art?"
"Your approval flatters me immensely," murmured Volney, smiling whimsically. "Faith, I never liked my clothes so well as now. You make an admirable setting for them, Captain, but the ruffles are somewhat in disarray. If you will permit me to ring for my valet Watkins he will be at your service. Devil take him, he should have been here an hour ago."
"He sends by me a thousand excuses for his absence. The fact is that he is unavoidably detained."
"Pardon me. I begin to understand. You doubtless found it necessary to put a quietus on him. May one be permitted to hope that you didn't have to pistol him? I should miss him vastly. He is the best valet in London."
"Your unselfish attachment to him does you infinite credit, Sir Robert. It fair brings the water to my een. But it joys me to reassure you at all events. He is in your bedroom tied hand and foot, biting on a knotted kerchief. I persuaded him to take a rest."
"Your powers of persuasion are great, Captain Macdonald. Once you persuaded me to leave your northern capital. The air, I think you phrased it, was too biting for me. London too has a climate of its own, a throat disease epidemic among northerners is working great havoc here now. One trusts you will not fall a victim, sir. Have you—er—developed any symptoms?"
"'Twould nae doubt grieve you sair. You'll be gey glad to learn that the crisis is past."
"Charmed, 'pon honour. And would it be indiscreet to ask whether you are making a long stay in the city?"
"Faith, I wish I knew. Donald Roy wad be blithe to answer no. And that minds me that I will be owing you an apology for intruding in your rooms. Let the facts speak for me. Stravaiging through the streets with the chase hot on my heels, your open window invited me. I stepped in, footed it up-stairs, and found refuge in your sleeping apartments, where I took the liberty of borrowing a change of clothes, mine being over well known at the New Prison. So too I purloined this good sword and the pistol. That Sir Robert Volney was my host I did not know till I chanced on some letters addressed to that name. Believe me, I'm unco sorry to force myself upon you."
"I felicitate myself on having you as a guest. The vapours had me by the throat to-night. Your presence is a sufficing tonic for a most oppressive attack of the blue devils. This armchair has been recommended as an easy one. Pray occupy it."
Captain Roy tossed the pistol on a table and sat him down in the chair with much composure. Volney poured him wine and he drank; offered him fruit and he ate. Together, gazing into the glowing coals, they supped their mulled claret in a luxurious silence.
The Highlander was the first to speak.
"It's a geyan queer warld this. Anjour d'hui roi, demain rien. Yestreen I gaped away the hours in a vile hole waiting for my craig (neck) to be raxed (twisted); the night I drink old claret in the best of company before a cheery fire. The warm glow of it goes to my heart after that dank cell in the prison. By heaven, the memory of that dungeon sends a shiver down my spine."
"To-morrow, was it not, that you were to journey to Tyburn and from thence across the Styx?"
"Yes, to-morrow, and with me as pretty a lot of lads as ever threw steel across their hurdies. My heart is wae for them, the leal comrades who have lain out with me in the heather many a night and watched the stars come out. There's Montagu and Creagh now! We three have tholed together empty wame and niddering cold and the weariness o' death. The hurly o' the whistling claymore has warmed our hearts; the sight of friends stark from lead and steel and rope has garred them rin like water. God, it makes me feel like a deserter to let them take the lang journey alane. Did you ken that the lad came back to get me from the field when I was wounded at Drummossie Moor?"
"Montagu? I never heard that."
"Took his life in his hand to come back to that de'il's caldron where the red bluid ran like a mountain burn. It iss the boast of the Macdonalds that they always pay their debts both to friend and foe. Fine have I paid mine. He will be thinking me the true friend in his hour of need," finished Donald bitterly.
"You don't know him. The temper of the man is not so grudging. His joy in your escape will help deaden his own pain. Besides, what could you do for him if you were with him at the end? 'Twould be only one more sacrifice."
The grim dour Highland sternness hung heavy on Donald's face.
"I could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and curse the whigs at all events. I could cry with him 'God save King James' in the teeth of the sidier roy."
Volney clapped his hands softly. "Hear, hear!" he cried with flaming eyes. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Jacobite."
The Gael turned to him impetuously, his blue eyes (as I conceive) moist with emotion.
"Man, could I persuade you to be saving the lad? It was for this that I waited in your rooms to see you. They say that you are a favourite of princes, that what you ask you get. Do for once a fine thing and ask this boy's life."
"They exaggerate my power. But for argument's sake suppose it true. Why should I ask it? What have I to gain by it?"
Volney, his eyes fixed on the fire, asked the question as much to himself as to the Highlander. The manner of his tone suggested that it was not a new one to him.
"Gain! Who spoke of gain? Are you a Jew peddler or an English gentleman?" cried Donald.
"They call me dissolute, gambler, profligate. These be hard names, but I have earned them all. I make no apologies and offer no excuses. As I have lived my life, so have I lived it. For buttered phrases I have no taste. Call me libertine, or call me man of fashion; 'tis all one. My evil nature—C'est plus fort que moi. At least I have not played the hypocrite. No canting sighs! No lapses to morality and prayers! No vices smugly hidden! The plain straight road to hell taken at a gallop!" So, with chin in hand and dark eyes lit by the flickering flame, this roue and sentimentalist philosophized.
"And Montagu?" cried the Gael, harking back to his prosaic text.
"Has made his bed and he must lie in it."
"By Heaven, who ruined him and made an outlaw of him? Who drove him to rebellion?"
"You imply that I strewed his bed with nettles. Perhaps. 'Tis well my shoulders are broad, else they could not bear all that is laid upon them."
"You would never be letting a petty private grudge influence you?"
Volney turned, stung to the quick.
"You go too far, Captain Macdonald. Have I given bonds to save this fool from the consequences of his folly? I cherish no hatred toward him, but I play no Jonathan to his David. Egad, it were a pretty role for me to essay! You would cast me for a part full of heroics, the moving of heaven and earth to save my dearest enemy. Thank you, I am not for it. Neither for nor against him will I lift a hand. There is no malice in my heart toward this poor condemned young gentleman. If he can win free I shall be glad, even though his gain is my loss, but further than that I will not go. He came between me and the thing I most desired on earth. Shall I help him to the happiness which will condemn me to misery?"
For an instant the habitual veil of mockery was snatched aside and the tortured soul of the man leaped from his burning eyes.
"You saved him at Portree," was all that Donald could say.
"I paid a debt to him and to Cumberland. The ledger is now balanced."
The Jacobite paced up and down the room for a minute, then stopped and touched the other on his shoulder where he sat.
"I too am somewhat in your debt, Sir Robert. When Montagu opposed you he fought for his own hand. Therein he was justified. But I, an outsider, interfered in a quarrel that was not mine own, spoiled sport for you, in short lost you the lassie. You followed her to Scotland; 'twas I that drove you back to England when Montagu was powerless. From first to last I am the rock on which your love bark has split. If your cause has spelled failure I alone am to blame."
"So? What then?"
"Why this: without Captain Donald Roy Macdonald the lad had been helpless. Donald was at his back to whisper words of advice and encouragement. Donald contrived the plot which separated you from the lady. Donald stood good fairy to the blessed pair of bairns and made of himsel' a match-making auld mither. You owe your hatred to Donald Roy and not to the lad who was but his instrument."
The macaroni looked at the other with an odd smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
"And so," continued the Macdonald triumphantly, a challenge in his voice and manner, "and so, who but Donald should be your enemy? My certes, a prettier foe at the broadsword you will not find in a' Scotland."
"I do not quite take your meaning. Would you fight with me?"
"Blithe would I be to cross the steel with you, but little that would help Kenneth. My plan is this: save the lad from the halter and I will tak' his place."
"You mean that if I compass his freedom you will surrender to be executed?"
"I am meaning just that."
"I thought so from the first. 'Slife, man, do you think I can change my foes like gloves? Chacun paie son ecot."
"Why not? Iss not a man a better foe than a halfling boy?"
"I would never seek a better foe or a better friend than either you or Montagu, Captain. On my soul, you have both the true ring. But as to your offer I must decline it. The thing is one of your wild impracticable Highland imaginings, a sheer impossibility. You seem to think I have a blood feud and that nothing less than a foeman's life will satisfy me. In that you err. I am a plain man of the world and cannot reach your heroics."
The Jacobite's face fell.
"You are going to let the boy die then?"
Volney hesitated, then answered with a shrug.
"I shall be frank with you. To-day I secured Montagu a reprieve for two weeks. He shall have his chance such as it is, but I do not expect him to take it. If he shows stubborn I wash my hands of him. I have said the last word. You may talk till Yule without changing my mind." Then, with an abrupt turn of the subject: "Have you with you the sinews of war, Captain? You will need money to effect your escape. My purse is at your service not less than my wardrobe, or if you care to lie hidden here for a time you will be quite safe. Watkins is a faithful fellow and devoted to me."
The Highlander flushed, stammering out:
"For your proffered loan, I accept it with the best will in the world; and as to your offer of a hiding-place, troth! I'm badly needing one. Gin it were no inconvenience——"
"None in the world."
"I will be remembering you for a generous foe till the day of my death. You're a man to ride the water wi'."
"Lard! There's no generosity in it. Every Mohawk thinks it a pleasure to help any man break the laws. Besides, I count on you to help drive away the doldrums. Do you care for a hand at piquet now, Captain?"
"With pleasure. I find in the cartes great diversion, but by your leave I'll first unloose your man Watkins."
"'Slife, I had forgot him. We'll have him brew us a punch and make a night of it. Sleep and I are a thousand miles apart."
 The material for this chapter was furnished me with great particularity by Captain Donald Roy Macdonald. From his narrative to me, I set down the story in substance as he told it. —K. M.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
There came to me one day a surprise, a marked hour among my weeks struck calm. Charles, Cloe, and Aileen had been wont to visit me regularly; once Selwyn had dropped in on me; but I had not before been honoured by a visit from Sir Robert Volney. He sauntered into my cell swinging a clouded cane, dressed to kill and point device in every ruffle, all dabbed with scented powder, pomatum, and jessamine water. To him, coming direct from the strong light of the sun, my cell was dark as the inside of Jonah's whale. He stood hesitating in the doorway, groping with his cane for some guide to his footsteps.
For an instant I drew back, thinking he had come to mock me; then I put the idea from me. However much of evil there was in him, Volney was not a small man. I stepped forward to greet him.
"Welcome to my poor best, Sir Robert! If I do not offer you a chair it is because I have none. My regret is that my circumstances hamper my hospitality."
"Not at all. You offer me your best, and in that lies the essence of hospitality. Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred, Egad," returned my guest with easy irony.
All the resources of the courtier and the beau were his. One could but admire the sparkle and the versatility of the man. His wit was brilliant as the play of a rapier's point. Set down in cold blood, remembered scantily and clumsily as I recall it, without the gay easy polish of his manner, the fineness is all out of his talk. After all 'tis a characteristic of much wit that it is apposite to the occasion only and loses point in the retelling.
He seated himself on the table with a leg dangling in air and looked curiously around on the massive masonry, the damp floor, the walls oozing slime. I followed his eye and in some measure his thoughts.
"Stone walls do not a prison make," I quoted gaily.
"Ecod, they make a pretty fair imitation of one!" he chuckled.
I was prodigious glad to see him.
His presence stirred my sluggish blood. The sound of his voice was to me like the crack of a whip to a jaded horse. Graceful, careless, debonair, a man of evil from sheer reckless wilfulness, he was the one person in the world I found it in my heart to both hate and admire at the same time.
He gazed long at me. "You're looking devilish ill, Montagu," he said.
I smiled. "Are you afraid I'll cheat the hangman after all?"
His eyes wandered over the cell again. "By Heaven, this death's cage is enough to send any man off the hooks," he shivered.
"One gets used to it," I answered, shrugging.
He looked at me with a kind of admiration. "They may break you, Montagu, but I vow they will never bend you. Here are you torn with illness, the shadow of the gallows falling across your track, and never a whimper out of you."
"Would that avail to better my condition?"
"I suppose not. Still, self-pity is the very ecstasy of grief, they tell me."
"For girls and halfling boys, I dare say."
There he sat cocked on the table, a picture of smiling ease, raffish and fascinating, as full of sentimental sympathy as a lass in her teens. His commiseration was no less plain to me because it was hidden under a debonair manner. He looked at me in a sidelong fashion with a question in his eyes.
"Speak out!" I told him. "Your interest in me as evidenced by this visit has earned the right to satisfy your curiosity."
"I dare swear you have had your chance to save yourself?" he asked.
"Oh, the usual offer! A life for a life, the opportunity to save myself by betraying others."
"Do you never dally with the thought of it?" he questioned.
I looked up quickly at him. A hundred times I had nursed the temptation and put it from me.
"Are you never afraid, Montagu, when the night falls black and slumber is not to be wooed?"
"Many a time," I told him, smiling.
"You say it as easily as if I had asked whether you ever took the air in the park. 'Slife, I have never known you flinch. There was always a certain d——d rough plainness about you, but you play the game."
"'Tis a poor hound falls whining at the whip when there is no avoiding it."
"You will never accept their offer of a pardon on those terms. I know you, man. Y'are one of those fools hold by honour rather than life, and damme! I like you for it. Now I in your place——"
"——Would do as I do."
"Would I? I'm not so sure. If I did it would be no virtue, but an obstinacy not to be browbeat." Then he added, "You would give anything else on earth for your life, I suppose?"
"Anything else," I told him frankly.
"Anything else?" he repeated, his eyes narrowing. "No reservations, Montagu?"
Our eyes crossed like rapiers, each searching into the other's very soul.
"Am I to understand that you are making me an offer, Sir Robert?"
"I am making you an offer of your life."
"Think again, man! Once you are dead you will be a long time dead. Refuse to give her up, and you die; she is not for you in any case. Give way, and I will move heaven and earth for a pardon. Believe me, never was such perfect weather before. The birds sing divinely, and Charles tells me Montagu Grange is sorely needing a master."
"Charles will look the part to admiration."
"And doubtless will console himself in true brotherly fashion for the loss of his brother by reciting his merits on a granite shaft and straightway forgetting them in the enjoyment of the estate."
"I think it likely."
He looked at me gloomily. "There is a way to save you, despite your obstinacy."
I shuffled across to him in a tumult of emotion. "You would never do it, would never be so vile as to trade on her fears for me to win her."
"I would do anything to win her, and I would do a great deal to save your life. The two things jump together. In a way I like you, man."
But I would have none of his liking. "Oh, spare me that! You are the most sentimental villain unhung, and I can get along without your liking."
"That's as may be," said he laughing, "but I cannot well get along without you. On my honour, you have become one of my greatest sources of interest."
"Do you mean that you would stake my life against her hand?" I demanded whitely.
He gave me look for look. "I mean just that. By Heaven, I shall win her fair or foul."
I could only keep saying over and over again, "You would never do it. Even you would never do that."
"Wouldn't I? You'll see," he answered laughing hardily. "Well, I must be going. Oh, I had forgot. Balmerino sent you this note. I called on him yesterday at the Tower. The old Scotchman is still as full of smiles as a bride."
Balmerino's letter was the friendliest imaginable. He stated that for him a pardon was of course out of the question, but that Sir Robert Volney had assured him that there was a chance for me on certain conditions; he understood that the conditions had to do with the hand of a young woman, and he advised me, if the thing were consistent with honour, to make submission, and let no foolish pride stand in the way of saving my life. The letter ended with a touching reference to the cause for which he was about to die.
I was shaken, I confess it. Not that I thought for a moment of giving up my love, but my heart ached to think of the cruel position into which she would be cast. To save her lover's life, she must forsake her love, or if she elected the other alternative must send him to his death. That Volney would let this burden of choice fall on her I would scarce let myself believe; and yet—there was never a man more madly, hopelessly in love than he. His passion for her was like a whirlwind tossing him hither and thither like a chip on the boiling waters, but I thought it very characteristic of the man that he used his influence to have me moved to a more comfortable cell and supplied with delicacies, even while he plotted against me with my love.
After that first visit he used to come often and entertain me with the news and gossip of the town. I have never met a more interesting man. He was an onlooker of life rather than an actor, an ironical cynic, chuckling with sardonic humour. The secret of his charm lay perhaps in a certain whimsical outlook and in an original turn of mind.
Once I asked him why he found it worth while to spend so many hours with me when his society was so much sought after by the gayest circle in the town.
"I acquit you of any suspicion of philanthropy, Sir Robert. I give you credit for pursuing a policy of intelligent selfishness. You must know by this time that I will not purchase my life, nor let it be purchased, on the terms which you propose. Well then, I confess it puzzles me to guess what amusement you find in such a hole as this."
"Variety spices life. What's a man to do to keep himself from ennui? For instance, I got up this morning at ten, with Selwyn visited Lady Dapperwit while she was drinking coffee in her nightrail, talked a vast deal of scandal with her, strolled in the park with Fritz, from there to White's in a sedan, two hours at lunch, and an hour with you for the good of my soul."
"The good of your soul?" I quizzed.
"Yes, I visit you here and then go away deuced thankful for my mercies. I'm not to be hanged next week, you know. I live to marry the girl."
"Still, I should think you might find more interesting spots than this."
"I am a student of human nature, Montagu."
"A condemned prisoner, never a wit at the best of times, full of fears and agues and fevers! One would scarce think the subject an inviting one for study."
"There you do yourself injustice. Y'are the most interesting man I know. A dozen characters are wrapped up in you. You have the appearance of being as great a rip as the rest of us, and I vow your looks do not belie you, yet at times you have the conscience of a ranting dissenter. I find in you a touch both of Selwyn's dry wit and of Balmerino's frostly bluntness; the cool daring of James Wolfe combined with as great a love of life as Murray has shown; the chivalry of Don Quixote and the hard-headedness of Cumberland; sometimes an awkward boy, again the grand manner Chesterfield himself might envy you; the obstinacy of the devil and——"
"Oh, come!" I broke in laughing. "I don't mind being made a composite epitome of all the vices of the race, but I object to your crossing the Styx on my behalf."
"And that reminds me of the time we came so near crossing together," he broke out, diverting the subject in his inconsequent fashion. "D'ye remember that Dr. Mead who dressed our wounds for us after our little argument? It appears that he and a Dr. Woodward fell into some professional dispute as to how a case should be treated, and Lud! nothing would satisfy them but they must get their toasting forks into action. The story goes that they fought at the gate of Gresham College. Mead pinked his man. 'Take your life,' quoth he. 'Anything but your medicine,' returns Woodward just before he faints. Horry Walpole told me the story. I suppose you have heard Selwyn's story of Lord Wharton. You know what a spendthrift Wharton is. Well the Duke of Graftsbury offered him one of his daughters in marriage, a lady of uncertain age and certain temper. But the lady has one virtue; she's a devilish fine fortune. A plum, they say! Wharton wrote Graftsbury a note of three lines declining the alliance because, as he put it, the fortune was tied up and the lady wasn't."
"Not bad. Talking of Selwyn, I suppose he gets his fill of horrors these days."
"One would think he might. I met him at the Prince's dinner yesterday, and between us we two emptied nine bottles of maraschino. Conceive the splitting headache I'm wearing to-day."
"You should take a course in Jacobitism," I told him gravely. "'Tis warranted to cure gout, liver trouble, indigestion, drunkenness, and sundry other complaints. I can warrant that one lives simply while he takes the treatment; sometimes on a crust of bread and a bowl of brose, sometimes on water from the burn, never does one dine over-richly."
"Yet this course is not conducive to long life. I've known a hundred followers of it fall victim to an epidemic throat disease," he retorted. Then he added more gravely, "By the way, you need have no fears for your friend Miss Flora Macdonald. I learn on the best of authority that she is in no danger whatever."
"And Malcolm?" I asked.
"His name has been put near the foot of the list for trial. Long before that time the lust for blood will be glutted. I shall make it a point to see that his case never comes to trial. One cannot afford to have his brother-in-law hanged like a common cutpurse."
Day by day the time drew nearer on which my reprieve expired. I saw nothing of Aileen now, for she had followed the King and his court to Bath, intent on losing no opportunity that might present itself in my favour. For one reason I was glad to have her gone; so long as she was out of town Sir Robert could not urge on her the sacrifice which he intended.
The time of my execution had been set for Friday, and on the preceding Monday Volney, just arrived from the executions of Balmerino and Kilmarnock, drove out to New Prison to see me. He was full of admiration for Balmerino's bold exit from the stage of life and retailed to me with great gusto every incident of the last scene on Tower Hill.
"I like your bluff Balmerino's philosophy of life," he told me. "When I called on him and apologized for intruding on the short time he had left the old Lord said, 'O sir, no intrusion at all. I am in no ways concerned to spend more time than usual at my devotions. I think no man fit to live who is not fit to die, and to die well is much the easier of the two.' On the scaffold no bridegroom could have been more cheerful. He was dressed in his old blue campaign uniform and was as bold and manly as ever. He expressed joy that Cromartie had been pardoned, inspected with interest the inscription on his coffin, and smilingly called the block his pillow of rest. 'Pon honour, the intrepid man then rehearsed the execution with his headsman, kneeling down at the block to show how he would give the signal for the blow. He then got up again, made a tender smiling farewell with his friends, and said to me, 'I fear some will think my behaviour bold, Volney, but remember what I say, that it arises from confidence in God and a clear conscience.' He reaffirmed his unshaken adherence to the house of Stuart, crying aloud, 'God save King James!' and bowed to the multitude. Presently, still cheerfully, he knelt at the block and said in a clear voice, 'O Lord, reward my friends, forgive my enemies, bless Prince Charles and his brother, the Duke, and receive my soul.' His arms dropped for the signal, and Arthur Elphinstone of Balmerino passed to the Valhalla where brave men dwell as gods."
"God bring peace to his valiant restless soul," I said, much moved.
"'Tis a thing to admire, the sturdy loyalty of you Jacobites," he said after a pause. "You carry it off like gentlemen. Every poor Highlander who has yet suffered has flung out his 'God save King James' on the scaffold. Now I'll wager you too go to death with the grand air—no canting prayers for King George, eh?"
"I must e'en do as the rest," I smiled.
"Yet I'd bet a pony you don't care a pinch of snuff for James Stuart. 'Tis loyalty to yourselves that animates you."
Presently he harked back to the topic that was never closed between us.
"By this time next week you will have touched the heart of our eternal problem. The mystery of it will perhaps be all clear to you then. 'Tis most strange how at one sweep all a man's turbulent questing life passes into the quiet of—of what? That is the question: of unending death or of achieved knowledge?" Then he added, coming abruptly to the issue: "The day draws near. Do you think better of my offer now?"
"Sir Robert, I have lived a tempestuous life these past months. I have known hunger and cold and weariness; I have been at the top of fortune's wave and at the bottom; but I have never found it worth my while to become divorced from honour. You find me near dead from privations and disease. Do you think I would pay so much for such an existence? Believe me, when a man has passed through what I have he is empty of fears."
"I could better spare a better man," he said.
"Sorry to inconvenience you," I told him grimly.
"I' faith, I think you're destined to do that dead or alive."
"I think I am. You will find me more in your way dead than alive."
"I'll outlive your memory, never fear." Then quietly, after a moment's hesitation: "There's one thing it may be a comfort for you to know. I've given up any thought of putting her on the rack. I'll win fairly or not at all."
I drew a deep free breath. "Thank you for telling me."
"I mean to marry her though. I swear to you, Montagu, that my heart is wrapped up in her. I thought all women alike until I met this one. Now I know better. She could have made a different man of me; sometimes I think she could even yet. I vow to you I would not now injure a hair of her head, but willy-nilly, in the end I shall marry the girl."
"To ruin her life?"
"To save mine rather."
"Do you think yourself able to change the whole course of your life for her?"
He mused. "Ah, Montagu! There your finger falls pat on the pulse of my doubt. My heart cries aye, my reason gives a negative."
"Don't worry overmuch about it," I answered, railing at him. "She'll never look at you, man. My grave will be an insurmountable barrier. She will idealize my memory, think me a martyr and herself a widowed maid."
The shot scored. 'Twas plain he must have often thought of that himself.
"It may interest you to know that we are engaged to be married," I added.
"Indeed! Let me congratulate you. When does the happy event occur, may I ask? Or is the day set?"
He had no need to put into words more clearly the irony of the fate that encompassed us.
"Dead or alive, as you say, I bar your way," I said tartly.
"Pooh, man! I give you six weeks of violent grief, six months of tender melancholy."
"You do not know the Scotch. She will die a maid," I answered.
"Not she! A live lover is more present than a dead one. Has she sworn pretty vows to you, Montagu? 'At lovers' perjuries, they say, love laughs.' Is there nothing to be said for me? Will her heart not always whisper that I deserve gratitude and love, that I perilled my life for her, saved the lives of her brother and her lover, neither of them friends of mine, again reprieved her lover's life, stood friend to her through all her trouble? You know a woman's way—to make much of nothing."
"Forgive, if I prod a lagging memory, Miss Westerleigh?"
Long he laughed and merrily.
"Eloped for Gretna Green with Tony Creagh last night, and I, poor forsaken swain, faith! I do not pursue."
You may be sure that dashed me. I felt as a trapped fox with the dogs closing in. The future loomed up clear before me, Aileen hand in hand with Volney scattering flowers on my grave in sentimental mood. The futility of my obstinacy made me bitter.
"Come, Montagu! Listen to reason," urged the tempter. "You get in my way, but I don't want to let you be sponged out. The devil of it is that if I get you a pardon—and I'm not sure that I can get it—you'll marry the girl. I might have you shipped to the Barbadoes as a slave with some of the others, but to be frank I had rather see you hanged than give you so scurvy an end. Forswear what is already lost and make an end of it."
I turned away blackly. "You have my answer. Sir Robert, you have played your last card. Now let me die in peace."
He shrugged impatiently and left me. "A fool's answer, yet a brave man's too," he muttered.
Aileen, heart-broken with the failure of her mission, reached town on Thursday and came at once to the prison. Her face was as the face of troubled waters. I had no need to ask the question on my lips. With a sobbing cry she threw herself on my breast. My heart was woe for her. Utter weariness was in her manner. All through the long days and nights she had agonized, and now at last despaired. There seemed no tears left to shed.
Long I held her tight, teeth set, as one who would keep his own perforce from that grim fate which would snatch his love from him. She shivered to me half-swooning, pale and of wondrous beauty, nesting in my arms as a weary homing-bird. A poignant grief o'erflowed in me.
"Oh, Aileen! At least we have love left," I cried, breaking the long silence.
"Always! Always!" her white lips answered.
"Then let us regret nothing. They can do with me what they will. What are life and death when in the balance dwells love?" I cried, rapt in unearthly worship of her.
Her eyes found mine. "Oh, Kenneth, I cannot—I cannot—let you go."
Sweet and lovely she was beyond the dream of poet. I trembled in an ecstasy of pain. From the next cell there came to us softly the voice of a poor condemned Appin Stewart. He was crooning that most tender and heart-breaking of all strains. Like the pibroch's mournful sough he wailed it out, the song that cuts deep to a Scotchman's heart in time of exile.
"Lochabar no more, Lochabar no more. We'll maybe return to Lochabar no more."
I looked at Aileen, my face working. A long breath came whistling through her lips. Her dear face was all broken with emotion. I turned my eyes aside, not daring to trust myself. Through misty lashes again I looked. Her breast lifted and fell in shaking sobs, the fount of tears touched at last. Together we wept, without shame I admit it, while the Stewart's harrowing strain ebbed to a close. To us it seemed almost as the keening of the coronach.
So in the quiet that comes after storm, her dear supple figure still in my arms, Sir Robert Volney came in unexpectedly and found us. He stopped at the door, startled at her presence, and methought a shadow fell on his face. Near to death as I was, the quality of his courage was so fine and the strength of the passion in him so great that he would have changed places with me even then.
Aileen went up to him at once and gave him her hand. She was very simple, her appeal like a child's for directness.
"Sir Robert, you have already done much for me. I will be so bold as to ask you to do more. Here iss my lover's life in danger. I ask you to save it."
"That he may marry you?"
"If God wills."
Volney looked at her out of a haggard face, all broken by the emotions which stirred him.
A minute passed, two minutes. He fought out his fight and won.
"Aileen," he said at last, "before heaven I fear it is too late, but what man can do, that will I do."
He came in and shook hands with me. "I'll say good-bye, Montagu. 'Tis possible I'll see you but once more in this world. Yet I will do my best. Don't hope too much, but don't despair."