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   Chapter 6 MY LADY RAGES

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 20692

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I was shaken quite out of my exultation. I stood raging at myself in a defiant scorn, struck dumb at the folly that will let a man who loves one woman go sweethearting with another. Her eyes stabbed me, the while I stood there dogged yet grovelling, no word coming to my dry lips. What was there to be said? The tie that bound me to Aileen was indefinable, tenuous, not to be phrased; yet none the less it existed. I stood convicted, for I had tacitly given her to understand that no woman found place in my mind save her, and at the first chance she found another in my arms. Like a detected schoolboy in presence of the rod I awaited my sentence, my heart a trip-hammer, my face a picture of chagrin and dread.

For just a moment she held me in the balance with that dreadful smile on her face, my day of judgment come to earth, then turned and away without a word. I flung wildly after her, intent on explaining what could not be explained. In the night I lost her and went up and down through the shrubbery calling her to come forth, beating the currant and gooseberry bushes in search of her. A shadow flitted past me toward the house, and at the gate I intercepted the girl. Better I had let her alone. My heart misgave me at sight of her face; indeed the whole sweep of her lithesome reedy figure was pregnant with Highland scorn and pride.

"Oh, Aileen, in the arbour--" I was beginning, when she cut me short.

"And I am thinking I owe you an apology for my intrusion. In troth, Mr. Montagu, my interruption of your love-makings was not intentional."

Her voice gave me the feel of being drenched with ice-water.

"If you will let me explain, Aileen--"

"Indeed, and there iss nothing to explain, sir. It will be none of my business who you are loving, and- Will you open the gate, Mr. Montagu?"

"But I must explain; 'twas a madness of the blood. You do not understand--"

"And gin I never understand, Mr. Montagu, the lift (sky) will not fall. Here iss a great to-do about nothing," she flung back with a kind of bitter jauntiness.

"Aileen," I cried, a little wildly, "you will not cast me off without a hearing. Somehow I must make it clear, and you must try--"

"My name it iss Miss Macleod, and I would think it clear enough already at all events. I will be thanking you to let me pass, sir."

Her words bit, not less the scorch of her eyes. My heart was like running water.

"And is this an end to all- Will you let so small a thing put a period to our good comradeship?" I cried.

"Since you mention it I would never deny that I am under obligations to you, sir, which my brother will be blithe to repay--"

"By Heaven, I never mentioned obligations; I never thought of them. Is there no friendship in your heart for me?"

"Your regard iss a thing I have valued, but"-there was a little break in the voice which she rode over roughshod-"I can very well be getting along without the friendships of that girl's lover."

She snatched open the gate and flung past me to the house, this superb young creature, tall, slim, supple, a very Diana in her rage, a woman too if one might judge by the breasts billowing with rising sobs. More slow I followed, quite dashed to earth. All that I had gained by months of service in one moment had been lost. She would think me another of the Volney stamp, and her liking for me would turn to hate as with him.

A low voice from the arbour called "Kenn!" But I had had enough of gallivanting for one night and I held my way sullenly to the house. Swift feet pattered down the path after me, and presently a little hand fell on my arm. I turned, sulky as a baited bear.

"I am so sorry, Kenn," said Mistress Antoinette demurely.

My sardonic laughter echoed cheerlessly. "That there is no more mischief to your hand. Oh never fear! You'll find some other poor breeched gull shortly."

The brown dovelike eyes of the little rip reproached me.

"'Twill all come right, Kenn. She'll never think the worse of you for this."

"I'll be no more to her than a glove outworn. I have lost the only woman I could ever love, and through my own folly, too."

"Alackaday, Kenn! Y' 'ave much to learn about women yet. She will think the more of you for it when her anger is past."

"Not she. One of your fashionables might, but not Aileen."

"Pooh! I think better of her than you. She's not all milk and water. There's red blood in her veins, man. Spunk up and brazen it out. Cock your chin and whistle it off bravely. Faith, I know better men than you who would not look so doleful over one of 'Toinette Westerleigh's kisses. If I were a man I would never kiss and be sorry for all the maids in Christendom."

The saucy piquant tilt to her chin was a sight for the gods to admire.

"You forget I love her."

"Oh, you play on one string. She's not the only maid i' the world," pouted the London beauty.

"She's the only one for me," I said stubbornly, and then added dejectedly, "and she's not for me neither."

The little rogue began to laugh. "I give you up, Kenn. Y'are as moonstruck a lover as ever I saw. Here's for a word of comfort, which you don't deserve at all. For a week she will be a thunder-cloud, then the sun will beam more brightly than ever. But don't you be too submissive. La! Women cannot endure a wheedling lover."

After that bit of advice my sage little monitor fell sober and explained to me her reason for sending me the note. It appeared that Sir Robert Volney was due to meet the party at the inn that very evening, and Miss Westerleigh was of opinion that I and my charge would do well to take the road at once. I was of that mind myself. I lost no time in reaching the house and ordering a relay of horses for our immediate travel. Then I took the stairs three at a time and came knocking at Aileen's door.

"Who iss there?" asked a small voice, full of tears and muffled in a pillow.

Her distress went to my heart, none the less because I who had been the cause of it could not heal it.

"Tis I-Kenneth Montagu. Open the door, please."

There was a moment's silence, then-

"I am not wishing to see Mr. Montagu to-night."

"Not for the world would I trouble you, Miss Macleod, but there is a matter I have to disclose that touches us nearly."

"I think you will not have heard aright. I am desiring to be alone, sir," she answered, the frost in her voice.

It may be guessed that this dismissal chafed me. My eagerness was daunted, but yet I would not be fubbed off.

"Miss Macleod, you may punish me as much as you like some other time," I cried desperately, "but 'fore God! if you do not open the door you will regret it till the last day of your life."

"Are you threatening me, sir?" she asks, mighty haughty.

"Threatening-no! I do not threaten, but warn. This matter is of life and death, not to be played with;" and to emphasize my words I mentioned the name of Volney.

She came raging to the door and whipped it open very sudden. Her affronted eyes might have belonged to a queen, but the stains on her cheeks betrayed her.

"Well, and what iss this important matter that cannot be waiting? Perhaps Mr. Montagu mistakes this for the room of Mistress Westerleigh."

I told her that Sir Robert was expected shortly to arrive at the inn, and that we must be on the road at once. She thanked me very primly for the information, but declared she would not trouble me further, that she meant to abide at the inn all night no matter who came; moreover, that when she did leave Hamish Gorm would be sufficient guard. I argued, cajoled, warned, threatened, but she was not to be moved. The girl took a perverse pleasure in thwarting me, and the keener I grew the more dour grew she. We might have disputed the point an hour had I not come to my senses and appeared to give way.

Suspecting that the girl's fears of Sir Robert would reassert themselves when she was left to herself, I sought her maid and easily induced the girl to propose to her mistress a departure without my knowledge. The suggestion worked like a charm, and fifteen minutes later I had the pleasure of seeing the chaise roll out of the lighted yard into the night. Need it be said that Kenneth Montagu was ahorse and after the coach within a few minutes.

All night I jogged behind them, and in the morning rode up to the inn where they stopped for breakfast. From Mistress Aileen I got the slightest bow in the world as I passed to my solitary breakfast at a neighbouring table. Within the hour they were away again, and I after to cover the rear. Late in the day the near wheeler fell very lame. The rest of the animals were dead beat, and I rode to the nearest hamlet to get another horse. The night was falling foul, very mirk, with a rising wind, and methought the lady's eyes lightened when she saw me return with help to get them out of their difficulty. She thanked me stiffly with a very straight lip.

"At all events there will be no end to the obligations I am under, Mr. Montagu. They will be piling high as Ben Nevis," she said, but 'twould have taken a penetrating man to have discovered any friendliness in the voice.

Yet henceforth I made myself one of the party, admitted on sufferance with a very bad grace. More than once I tried to break through the chill conventionals that made the staple of our conversation, but the girl was ice to me. In the end I grew stiff as she. I would ride beside the coach all day with scarce a word, wearying for a reconciliation and yet nourishing angry pride. When speech appeared to be demanded between us 'twas of the most formal. Faith, I think we were liker a pair of spoilt children than sensible grown folks.

While we were still in the northern counties rumours began to reach us that General Cope's army had been cut to pieces by the Highlanders. The stories ran that not a single man had escaped, that the clans, twenty thousand strong, were headed for England, that they were burning and destroying as they advanced. Incredible reports of all kinds sprang out of the air, and the utmost alarm prevailed. The report of Cope's defeat was soon verified. We met more than one redcoat speeding south on a foam-flecked weary steed, and it did not need the second sight to divine that the dispatches they carried spoke loudly of disaster fallen and of r

einforcements needed.

After we had crossed the border parties of foraging Highlanders began to appear occasionally, but a word in the Gaelic from Hamish Gorm always served as a password for us. To make short, early in October we reached the Scottish capital, the formal relations which had been established between Miss Macleod and me continuing to the end of the journey.

There lived in Edinburgh an unmarried aunt of Aileen, a Miss Flora MacBean by name, and at her house I left the girl while I went to notify her brother of our arrival. I found him lodged in High Street near the old Flesh-market Close. Malcolm Macleod was a fine manly fellow of about three and thirty, lusty and well-proportioned, very tanned and ruddy. He had a quick lively eye and a firm good-humoured mouth. In brief, he was the very picture of a frank open-hearted Highland gentleman, and in the gay Macleod tartan looked as gallant a figure of a soldier as one would wish to see. He greeted me with charming friendliness and expressed himself as deeply gratified for my care of his sister, offering again and again to put himself at my service in any way I might desire.

We walked down the street together, and more than once a shot plumped at our feet, for the city was under fire from the Hanoverian garrison at the castle. Everywhere the clansmen were in evidence. Barefooted and barelegged Celts strutted about the city with their bonnets scrugged low on their heads, the hair hanging wild over their eyes and the matted beards covering their faces. For the most part they were very ragged, and tanned exceedingly wherever the flesh took a peep through their outworn plaids. They ran about the streets in groups, looking in shop windows like children and talking their outlandish gibberish; then presently their Highland pride would assert itself at the smile of some chance passer and would send them swinging proudly off as though they had better things at home.

Out of a tobacco shop came Captain Donald Roy singing blithely,

"'Will ye play me fair,

Highland laddie, Highland laddie?'"

He was of course in the full Macdonald tartan regimentals-checkered kilt, sporran, plaid, a brace of pistols, a dirk in his stocking, and claymore. At sight of me his face lighted and he came running forward with both hands outstretched.

"And is it you at last, Kenn? Man, but I've been wearying for a sight of your honest face. I was whiles thinking you must have given us the go-by. Fegs, but it's a braw day and a sight guid for sair een to see you, lad. You will have heard how we gave Johnnie Cope his kail through his reek." He broke off to hum:-

"'Now Johnnie, troth, ye werena blate, to come wi' the news o' your ain,

And leave your men in sic a strait, so early in the morning.'

"And did you bring my kinswoman back safe with you? I'se wad ye found the journey no' ower lang;" and he cocked a merry eye at me.

I flushed, and introduced him to Major Macleod, who took occasion to thank him for his services to his sister. They fell into a liking for each other at once. When the major was called aside by one of his gillies a moment later, Macdonald expressed his trust of the other in the old Scotch saying,

"Yon's a man to ride the water wi', Kenneth."

A curious sight illustrative of the Highland way of "lifting" what took their fancy occurred as we were all three walking toward the house of Macleod's aunt. Three shag-headed gillies in the tattered Cameron tartan dragged an innkeeper from his taproom and set him down squat on the causeway. Without even a by-your-leave they took from his feet a pair of new shoes with silver buckles. He protested that he was a loyal Jacobite.

"Sae muckle ta better. She'll no' grumble to shange a progue for the Prince's guid," one of the caterans answered cheerfully by way of comfort.

To my surprise the two Highland gentlemen watched this high-handed proceeding with much amusement, enjoying not a little the ridiculous figure cut by the frightened, sputtering host. I asked them if they were not going to interfere.

"What for would we do that at all events?" asked the Macdonald. "Man, Montagu, but you whiles have unco queer notions for so wise a lad. It's as natural for a Hielander to despoil a Southron as for a goose to gang barefit. What would Lochiel think gin we fashed wi' his clansmen at their ploy? Na, na! I wad be sweir to be sae upsitten (impertinent). It wadna be tellin' a Macdonald, I'm thinkin'."

Aileen was so prettily glad to see her brother and so friendly with Donald Roy, so full of gay chatter and eager reminiscence, that I felt myself quite dashed by the note of reserve which crept into her voice and her manner whenever she found it incumbent to speak to me. Her laugh would be ringing clear as the echo of steel in frost, and when Donald lugged me into the talk she would fall mim as a schoolgirl under the eye of her governess. Faith, you would have thought me her dearest enemy, instead of the man that had risked life for her more than once. Here is a pretty gratitude, I would say to myself in a rage, hugging my anger with the baby thought that she would some day scourge herself for this after I were killed in battle. Here is a fine return for loyal service rendered, and the front of my offending is nothing more than the saluting an old playmate.

"Man, Kenneth, but you hae played the cuddie brawly," was Donald's comforting remark to me after we had left. "You maun hae made an awfu' bauchle of it. When last I saw the lady she hoisted a fine colour when I daffed about you, and now she glowers at you in a no' just friendly way."

I admitted sadly that 'twas so and told him the reason, for Donald Roy had a wide observation of life and a varied experience with the sex that made him a valuable counsellor. The situation amused him hugely, but what he could find of humour in it was more than I could see.

"Deil hae't, but yon quean Antoinette will be a geyan ettercap (madcap). Tony Creagh has been telling me about her; he's just a wee thingie touched there himsel'."

"Pardon me," I interrupted a little stiffly, "but I think I did not give the name of the lady."

The Highlander looked at me dryly with a pawky smile.

"Hoots, man! I ken that fine, but I'm no a fule. You named over the party and I picked the lady that suited the speceefications." Then he began to chuckle: "I wad hae liked dooms weel to hae seen you stravaiging (wandering) through the grosset (gooseberry) bushes after the lass."

I told him huffily that if that was all he could say I had better have kept the story to myself. I had come for advice, not to be laughed at. Donald flashed his winsome smile and linked an arm in mine.

"Well then, and here's advice for you, man. Jouk (duck) and let the jaw (wave) go by. Gin it were me the colder she were the better I wad like it. Dinna you see that the lass rages because she likes you fine; and since she's a Hieland maid brought up under the blue lift she hasna learnt to hate and smile in the same breath."

"I make neither head nor tail of your riddles," I told him impatiently. "By your way of it so far as I can make out she both likes and hates me. Now how can that be?"

Captain Macdonald's droll eye appeared to pity me. "Kenneth, bairn, but you're an awfu' ignoramus. You ken naething ava about the lassies. I'm wondering what they learnt you at Oxford. Gin it's the same to you we'll talk of something mair within your comprehension." And thereupon he diverted the conversation to the impending invasion of England by the Highland army. Presently I asked him what he thought of the Prince now that he had been given a chance to study the Young Chevalier at closer range, and I shall never forget the eager Highlander's enthusiastic answer.

"From the head to the heel of him he is a son of Kings, kind-hearted, gallant, modest. He takes all hearts by storm. Our Highland laddie is the bravest man I ever saw, not to be rash, and the most cautious, not to be a coward. But you will be judging for yourself when you are presented at the ball on Tuesday."

I told him that as yet I had no invitation to the ball.

"That's easy seen to. The Chevalier O'Sullivan makes out the list. I'll drop a flea in his lug (ear)."

Next day was Sunday, and I arrayed myself with great care to attend the church at which one Macvicar preached; to be frank I didn't care a flip of my fingers what the doctrine was he preached; but I had adroitly wormed out of Miss MacBean that he was the pastor under whom she sat. Creagh called on me before I had set out, and I dragged him with me, he protesting much at my unwonted devotion.

I dare say he understood it better when he saw my eyes glued to the pew where Miss Aileen sat with her aunt in devout attention. What the sermon was to have been about we never knew, on account of an interruption which prevented us from hearing it. During the long prayer I was comfortably watching the back of Aileen's head and the quarter profile of her face when Creagh nudged me. I turned to find him looking at me out of a very comical face, and this was the reason for it. The hardy Macvicar was praying for the Hanoverians and their cause.

"Bless the King," he was saying boldly. "Thou knows what King I mean- May the crown sit easy on his head for lang. And for the young man that is come among us to seek an earthly crown, we beseech Thee in mercy to take him to Thyself, and give him a crown of glory."

One could have heard a pin fall in the hush, and then the tense rustle that swept over the church and drowned the steady low voice that never faltered in the prayer.

"Egad, there's a hit for the Prince straight from the shoulder," chuckled the Irishman by my side. "Faith, the Jacks are leaving the church to the Whigs. There goes the Major, Miss Macleod, and her aunt."

He was right. The prayer had ended and the Macleod party were sailing down the aisle. Others followed suit, and presently we joined the stream that poured out of the building to show their disapproval. 'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good. Miss MacBean invited Creagh and me to join them in dinner, and methought that my goddess of disdain was the least thing warmer to me than she had been in weeks. For the rest of the day I trod on air.

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