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   Chapter 2 A CRY IN THE NIGHT

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 23114

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"Past ten o'clock, and a clear starry night!" the watch was bawling as I set out from my rooms to keep my appointment with Lord Balmerino. I had little doubt that a Stuart restoration was the cause for which he was recruiting, and all day I had balanced in my mind the pros and cons of such an attempt. I will never deny that the exiled race held for me a strong fascination. The Stuarts may have been weak, headstrong Kings in their prosperity, but they had the royal virtue of drawing men to them in their misfortune. They were never so well loved, nor so worthy of it, as when they lived in exile at St. Germains. Besides, though I had never mixed with politics, I was a Jacobite by inheritance. My father had fought for a restoration, and my uncle had died for it.

There were no fast bound ties to hold me back. Loyalty to the Hanoverians had no weight with me. I was a broken man, and save for my head could lose nothing by the venture. The danger of the enterprise was a merit in my eyes, for I was in the mood when a man will risk his all on an impulse.

And yet I hung back. After all an Englishman, be he never so desperate, does not fling away the scabbard without counting the cost. Young as I was I grued at the thought of the many lives that would be cut off ere their time, and in my heart I distrusted the Stuarts and doubted whether the game were worth the candle.

I walked slowly, for I was not yet due at the lodgings of Balmerino for an hour, and as I stood hesitating at a street corner a chaise sheered past me at a gallop. Through the coach window by the shine of the moon I caught one fleeting glimpse of a white frightened girl-face, and over the mouth was clapped a rough hand to stifle any cry she might give. I am no Don Quixote, but there never was a Montagu who waited for the cool second thought to crowd out the strong impulse of the moment. I made a dash at the step, missed my footing, and rolled over into the mud. When I got to my feet again the coach had stopped at the far end of the street. Two men were getting out of the carriage holding between them a slight struggling figure. For one instant the clear shrill cry of a woman was lifted into the night, then it was cut short abruptly by the clutch of a hand at the throat.

I scudded toward them, lugging at my sword as I ran, but while I was yet fifty yards away the door of the house opened and closed behind them. An instant, and the door reopened to let out one of the men, who slammed it behind him and entered the chaise. The postilion whipped up his horses and drove off. The door yielded nothing to my hand. Evidently it was locked and bolted. I cried out to open, and beat wildly upon the door with the hilt of my sword. Indeed, I quite lost my head, threatening, storming, and abusing. I might as well have called upon the marble busts at the Abbey to come forth, for inside there was the silence of the dead. Presently lights began to glimmer in windows along the dark street, and nightcapped heads were thrust out to learn what was ado. I called on them to join me in a rescue, but I found them not at all keen for the adventure. They took me for a drunken Mohawk or some madman escaped from custody.

"Here come the watch to take him away," I heard one call across the street to another.

I began to realize that an attempt to force an entrance was futile. It would only end in an altercation with the approaching watch. Staid citizens were already pointing me out to them as a cause of the disturbance. For the moment I elected discretion and fled incontinent down the street from the guard.

But I was back before ten minutes were up, lurking in the shadows of opposite doorways, examining the house from front and rear, searching for some means of ingress to this mysterious dwelling. I do not know why the thing stuck in my mind. Perhaps some appealing quality of youth in the face and voice stirred in me the instinct for the championship of dames that is to be found in every man. At any rate I was grimly resolved not to depart without an explanation of the strange affair.

What no skill of mine could accomplish chance did for me. While I was inviting a crick in my neck from staring up at the row of unlighted windows above me, a man came out of the front door and stood looking up and down the street. Presently he spied me and beckoned. I was all dishevelled and one stain of mud from head to foot.

"D' ye want to earn a shilling, fellow?" he called.

I grumbled that I was out of work and money. Was it likely I would refuse such a chance? And what was it he would have me do?

He led the way through the big, dimly-lighted hall to an up-stairs room near the back of the house. Two heavy boxes were lying there, packed and corded, to be taken down-stairs. I tossed aside my cloak and stooped to help him. He straightened with a jerk. I had been standing in the shadow with my soiled cloak wrapped about me, but now I stood revealed in silken hose, satin breeches, and laced doublet. If that were not enough to proclaim my rank a rapier dangled by my side.

"Rot me, you're a gentleman," he cried.

I affected to carry off my shame with bluster.

"What if I am!" I cried fiercely. "May not a gentleman be hungry, man? I am a ruined dicer, as poor as a church mouse. Do you grudge me my shilling?"

He shrugged his shoulders. Doubtless he had seen more than one broken gentleman cover poverty with a brave front of fine lawn and gilded splendour of array.

"All one to me, your Royal 'Ighness. Take 'old 'ere," he said facetiously.

We carried the boxes into the hall. When we had finished I stood mopping my face with a handkerchief, but my eyes were glued to the label tacked on one of the boxes.

John Armitage, The Oaks, Epsom, Surrey.

"Wot yer waitin' for?" asked the fellow sharply.

"The shilling," I told him.

I left when he gave it me, and as I reached the door he bawled to be sure to shut it tight. An idea jumped to my mind on the instant, and though I slammed the door I took care to have my foot an inch or two within the portal. Next moment I was walking noisily down the steps and along the pavement.

Three minutes later I tiptoed back up the steps and tried the door. I opened it slowly and without noise till I could thrust in my head. The fellow was nowhere to be seen in the hall. I whipped in, and closed the door after me. Every board seemed to creak as I trod gingerly toward the stairway. In the empty house the least noise echoed greatly. The polished stairs cried out hollowly my presence. I was half way up when I came to a full stop. Some one was coming down round the bend of the stairway. Softly I slid down the balustrade and crouched behind the post at the bottom. The man-it was my friend of the shilling-passed within a foot of me, his hand almost brushing the hair of my head, and crossed the hall to a room opposite. Again I went up the stairs, still cautiously, but with a confidence born of the knowledge of his whereabouts.

The house was large, and I might have wandered long without guessing where lay the room I wanted had it not been for a slight sound that came to me-the low, soft sobbing of a woman. I groped my way along the dark passage, turned to the left, and presently came to the door from behind which issued the sound. The door was locked on the outside, and the key was in the lock. I knocked, and at once silence fell. To my second knock I got no answer. Then I turned the key and entered.

A girl was sitting at a table with her back to me, her averted head leaning wearily on her hand. Dejection spoke in every line of her figure. She did not even turn at my entrance, thinking me no doubt to be her guard. I stood waiting awkwardly, scarce knowing what to say.

"Madam," I began, "may I- Is there--?" So far I got, then I came to an embarrassed pause, for I might as well have talked to the dead for all the answer I got. She did not honour me with the faintest sign of attention. I hemmed and hawed and bowed to her back with a growing confusion.

At last she asked over her shoulder in a strained, even voice,

"What is it you're wanting now? You said I was to be left by my lane to-night."

I murmured like a gawk that I was at her service, and presently as I shifted from one foot to the other she turned slowly. Her face was a dumb cry for help, though it was a proud face too-one not lacking in fire and courage. I have seen fairer faces, but never one more to my liking. It was her eyes that held me. The blue of her own Highland lochs, with all their changing and indescribably pathetic beauty, lurked deeply in them. Unconsciously they appealed to me, and the world was not wide enough to keep me from her when they called. Faith, my secret is out already, and I had resolved that it should keep till near the end of my story!

I had dropped my muddy cloak before I entered, and as she looked at me a change came over her. Despair gave way to a startled surprise. Her eyes dilated.

"Who are you, sir? And-what are you doing here?" she demanded.

I think some fear or presage of evil was knocking at her heart, for though she fronted me very steadily her eyes were full of alarm. What should a man of rank be doing in her room on the night she had been abducted from her lodgings unless his purpose were evil? She wore a long cloak stretching to the ground, and from under it slippered feet peeped out. The cloak was of the latest mode, very wide and open at the neck and shoulders, and beneath the mantle I caught more than a glimpse of the laced white nightrail and the fine sloping neck. 'Twas plain that her abductors had given her only time to fling the wrap about her before they snatched her from her bedchamber. Some wild instinct of defense stirred within her, and with one hand she clutched the cloak tightly to her throat. My heart went out to the child with a great rush of pity. The mad follies of my London life slipped from me like the muddy garment outside, and I swore by all I held most dear not to see her wronged.

"Madam," I said, "for all the world I would not harm you. I have come to offer you my sword as a defense against those who would injure you. My name is Montagu, and I know none of the name that are liars," I cried.

"Are you the gentleman that was for stopping the carriage as we came?" she asked.

"I am that same unlucky gentleman that was sent speldering in the glaur.[2] I won an entrance to the house by a trick, and I am here at your service," I said, throwing in my tag of Scotch to reassure her.

"You will be English, but you speak the kindly Scots," she cried.

"My mother was from the Highlands," I told her.

"What! You have the Highland blood in you? Oh then, it is the good heart you will have too. Will you ever have been on the braes of Raasay?"

I told her no; that I had always lived in England, though my mother was a Campbell. Her joy was the least thing in the world daunted, and in her voice there was a dash of starch.

"Oh! A Campbell!"

I smiled. 'Twas plain her clan was no friend to the sons of Diarmaid.

"My father was out in the '15, and when he wass a wounded fugitive with the Campbell bloodhounds on his trail Mary Campbell hid him till the chase was past. Then she guided him across the mountains and put him in the way of reaching the Macdonald country. My father married her after the amnesty," I explained.

The approving light flashed back into her eyes.

"At all events then I am not doubting she wass a good

lassie, Campbell or no Campbell; and I am liking it that your father went back and married her."

"But we are wasting time," I urged. "What can I do for you? Where do you live? To whom shall I take you?"

She fell to earth at once. "My grief! I do not know. Malcolm has gone to France. He left me with Hamish Gorm in lodgings, but they will not be safe since--" She stopped, and at the memory of what had happened there the wine crept into her cheeks.

"And who is Malcolm?" I asked gently.

"My brother. He iss an agent for King James in London, and he brought me with him. But he was called away, and he left me with the gillie. To-night they broke into my room while Hamish was away, weary fa' the day! And now where shall I go?"

"My sister is a girl about your age. Cloe would be delighted to welcome you. I am sure you would like each other."

"You are the good friend to a poor lass that will never be forgetting, and I will be blithe to burden the hospitality of your sister till my brother returns."

The sharp tread of footsteps on the stairs reached us. A man was coming up, and he was singing languidly a love ditty.

"What is love? 'Tis not hereafter,

Present mirth has present laughter,

What's to come is still unsure;

In delay there lies no plenty,

Then come kiss me sweet and twenty.

Youth's a stuff will not endure."

Something in the voice struck a familiar chord in my memory, but I could not put a name to its owner. The girl looked at me with eyes grown suddenly horror-stricken. I noticed that her face had taken on the hue of snow.

"We are too late," she cried softly.

We heard a key fumbling in the lock, and then the door opened-to let in Volney. His hat was sweeping to the floor in a bow when he saw me. He stopped and looked at me in surprise, his lips framing themselves for a whistle. I could see the starch run through and take a grip of him. For just a gliff he stood puzzled and angry. Then he came in wearing his ready dare-devil smile and sat down easily on the bed.

"Hope I'm not interrupting, Montagu," he said jauntily. "I dare say though that's past hoping for. You'll have to pardon my cursedly malapropos appearance. Faith, my only excuse is that I did not know the lady was entertaining other visitors this evening."

He looked at her with careless insolence out of his beautiful dark eyes, and for that moment I hated him with the hate a man will go to hell to satisfy.

"You will spare this lady your insults," I told him in a low voice. "At least so far as you can. Your presence itself is an insult."

"Egad, and that's where the wind sits, eh? Well, well, 'tis the manner of the world. When the cat's away!"

A flame of fire ran through me. I took a step toward him, hand on sword hilt. With a sweep of his jewelled hand he waved me back.

"Fie, fie, Kenn! In a lady's presence?"

Volney smiled at the girl in mock gallantry and my eyes followed his. I never saw a greater change. She was transformed. Her lithe young figure stood out tall and strong, every line of weariness gone. Hate, loathing, scorn, one might read plainly there, but no trace of fear or despair. She might have been a lioness defending her young. Her splendour of dark auburn hair, escaped and fallen free to her waist, fascinated me with the luxuriance of its disorder. Volney's lazy admiration quickened to a deeper interest. For an instant his breath came faster. His face lighted with the joy of the huntsman after worthy game. But almost immediately he recovered his aplomb. Turning to me, he asked with his odd light smile,

"Staying long, may I ask?"

My passion was gone. I was possessed by a slow fire as steady and as enduring as a burning peat.

"I have not quite made up my mind how long to stay," I answered coldly. "When I leave the lady goes with me, but I haven't decided yet what to do with you."

He began to laugh. "You grow amusing. 'Slife, you are not all country boor after all! May it please you, what are the alternatives regarding my humble self?" he drawled, leaning back with an elbow on the pillow.

"Well, I might kill you."

"Yes, you might. And-er- What would I be doing?" he asked negligently.

"Or, since there is a lady present, I might leave you till another time."

His handsome, cynical face, with its curious shifting lights and shadows, looked up at me for once suffused with genuine amusement.

"Stap me, you'd make a fortune as a play actor. Garrick is a tyro beside you. Some one was telling me that your financial affairs had been going wrong. An it comes to the worst, take my advice and out-Garrick Garrick."

"You are very good. Your interest in my affairs charms me, Sir Robert. 'Tis true they are not promising. A friend duped me. He held the Montagu estates higher than honour."

He appeared to reflect. "Friend? Don't think I'm acquainted with any of the kind, unless a friend is one who eats your dinners, drinks your wines, rides your horses, and"-with a swift sidelong look at the girl-"makes love to your charming adored."

Into the girl's face the colour flared, but she looked at him with a contempt so steady that any man but Volney must have winced.

"Friendship!" she cried with infinite disdain. "What can such as you know of it? You are false as Judas. Did you not begowk my honest brother with fine words till he and I believed you one of God's noblemen, and when his back was fairly turned--?"

"I had the best excuse in London for my madness, Aileen," he said with the wistful little laugh that had gone straight to many a woman's heart.

Her eye flashed and her bosom heaved. The pure girl-heart read him like an open book.

"And are you thinking me so mean a thing as still to care for your honeyed words? Believe me, there iss no viper on the braes of Raasay more detestable to me than you."

I looked to see him show anger, but he nursed his silk-clad ankle with the same insolent languor. He might have been a priest after the confessional for all the expression his face wore.

"I like you angry, Aileen. Faith, 'tis worth being the object of your rage to see you stamp that pretty foot and clench those little hands I love to kiss. But Ecod! Montagu, the hour grows late. The lady will lose her beauty sleep. Shall you and I go down-stairs and arrange for a conveyance?"

He bowed low and kissed his fingers to the girl. Then he led the way out of the room, fine and gallant and debonair, a villain every inch of him.

"Will you be leaving me?" the girl cried with parted lips.

"Not for long," I told her. "Do not fear. I shall have you out of here in a jiff," and with that I followed at his heels.

Sir Robert Volney led the way down the corridor to a small room in the west wing, where flaring, half-burnt candles guttering in their sconces drove back the darkness. He leaned against the mantel and looked long at me out of half-closed eyes.

"May I ask to what is due the honour of your presence to-night?" he drawled at last.

"Certainly."

"Well?"

"I have said you may ask," I fleered rudely. "But for me- Gad's life! I am not in the witness box."

He took his snuff mull from his waistcoat pocket and offered it me, then took a pinch and brushed from his satin coat imaginary grains with prodigious care.

"You are perhaps not aware that I have the right to ask. It chances that this is my house."

"Indeed! And the lady we have just left--?"

"--Is, pardon me, none of your concern."

"Ah! I'm not so sure of that."

"Faith then, you'll do well to make sure."

"And-er-Mistress Antoinette Westerleigh?"

"Quite another matter! You're out of court again, Mr. Montagu."

"Egad, I enter an exception. The lady we have just left is of another mind in the affair. She is the court of last resort, and, I believe, not complaisant to your suit."

"She will change her mind," he said coolly.

"I trust so renowned a gallant as Sir Robert would not use force."

"Lard, no! She is a woman and therefore to be won. But I would advise you to dismiss the lady from your mind. 'Ware women, Mr. Montagu! You will sleep easier."

"In faith, a curious coincidence! I was about to tender you the same advice, Sir Robert," I told him lightly.

"You will forget the existence of such a lady if you are wise?"

"Wisdom comes with age. I am for none of it."

"Yet you will do well to remember your business and forget mine."

"I have no business of my own, Sir Robert. Last night you generously lifted all sordid business cares from my mind, and now I am quite free to attend those of my neighbours."

He shrugged his shoulders in the French way. "Very well. A wilful man! You've had your warning, and- I am not a man to be thwarted."

"I might answer that I am not a man to be frightened."

"You'll not be the first that has answered that. The others have 'Hic Jacet' engraved on their door plates. Well, it's an unsatisfactory world at best, and Lard! they're well quit of it. Still, you're young."

"And have yet to learn discretion."

"That's a pity too," he retorted lightly. "The door is waiting for you. Better take it, Mr. Montagu."

"With the lady?"

"I fear the lady is tired. Besides, man, think of her reputation. Zounds! Can she gad about the city at night alone with so gay a spark as you? 'Tis a censorious world, and tongues will clack. No, no! I will save you from any chance of such a scandal, Mr. Montagu."

"Faith, one good turn deserves another. I'll stay here to save your reputation, Sir Robert."

"I fear that mine is fly-blown already and something the worse for wear. It can take care of itself."

"Yet I'll stay."

"Gad's life! Stay then."

Volney had been standing just within the door, and at the word he stepped out and flung it to. I sprang forward, but before I reached it the click sounded. I was a prisoner, caught like a fly in a spider's web, and much it helped me to beat on the iron-studded door till my hand bled, to call on him to come in and fight it out like a man, to storm up and down the room in a stress of passion.

Presently my rage abated, and I took stock of my surroundings. The windows were barred with irons set in stone sockets by masonry. I set my knee against the window frame and tugged at them till I was moist with perspiration. As well I might have pulled at the pillars of St. Paul's. I tried my small sword as a lever, but it snapped in my hand. Again I examined the bars. There was no way but to pick them from their sockets by making a groove in the masonry. With the point of my sword I chipped industriously at the cement. At the end of ten minutes I had made perceptible progress. Yet it took me another hour of labour to accomplish my task. I undid the blind fastenings, clambered out, and lowered myself foot by foot to the ground by clinging to the ivy that grew thick along the wall. The vine gave to my hand, and the last three yards I took in a rush, but I picked myself up none the worse save for a torn face and bruised hands.

The first fall was Volney's, and I grudged it him; but as I took my way to Balmerino's lodgings my heart was far from heavy. The girl was safe for the present. I knew Volney well enough for that. That his plan was to take her to The Oaks and in seclusion lay a long siege to the heart of the girl, I could have sworn. But from London to Epsom is a far cry, and between them much might happen through chance and fate and-Kenneth Montagu.

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[2] Speldering in the glaur-sprawling in the mud.

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