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A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 22227

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

A beautifully engrossed invitation to the Prince's ball having duly arrived from his Secretary the Chevalier O'Sullivan, I ask you to believe that my toilet Tuesday evening was even more a work of art than that of Sunday. In huge disorder scarfs, lace cravats, muffs, and other necessary equipment were littered about the room. I much missed the neat touch of my valet Simpkins, and the gillie Hamish Gorm, whom Major Macleod had put at my service, did not supply his place by a deal, since he knew no more of patching the face or powdering a periwig than he had arrived at by the light of nature. But despite this handicap I made shift to do myself justice before I set off for the lodgings of Lord Balmerino, by whom I was to be presented.

'Twas long since the Scottish capital had been so gay as now, for a part of the policy of the Young Chevalier was to wear a brave front before the world. He and his few thousand Highlanders were pledged to a desperate undertaking, but it was essential that the waverers must not be allowed to suspect how slender were the chances of success. One might have thought from the splendour of his court and from the serene confidence exhibited by the Prince and his chiefs that the Stuarts were already in peaceable possession of the entire dominions of their ancestors. A vast concourse of well-dressed people thronged to Holyrood House from morning till night to present their respects to Prince Charles Edward. His politeness and affability, as well as the charms of his conversation and the graces of his person, swept the ladies especially from their lukewarm allegiance to the Hanoverians. They would own no lover who did not don the white cockade of Jacobitism. They would hesitate at no sacrifice to advance the cause of this romantic young gambler who used swords for dice. All this my three days residence in the city had taught me. I was now to learn whether a personal meeting with him would inspire me too with the ardent devotion that animated my friends.

A mixed assembly we found gathered in the picture gallery of Holyrood House. Here were French and Irish adventurers, Highland chiefs and Lowland gentlemen, all emulating each other in loyalty to the ladies who had gathered from all over Scotland to dance beneath the banner of the white rose. The Hall was a great blaze of moving colour, but above the tartans and the plaids, the mixed reds, greens, blues, and yellows, everywhere fluttered rampant the white streamers and cockades of the Stuarts.

No doubt there were here sober hearts, full of anxious portent for the future, but on the surface at least was naught but merriment. The gayest abandon prevailed. Strathspey and reel and Highland fling alternated with the graceful dances of France and the rollicking jigs of Ireland. Plainly this was no state ceremonial, rather an international frolic to tune all hearts to a common glee. We were on the top of fortune's wave. Had we not won for the Young Chevalier by the sword the ancient capital of his family, and did not the road to London invite us southward? The pipers of each clan in turn dirled out triumphant marches, and my heart began to beat in faster time. Water must have filled the veins of a man who could stand unmoved such contagious enthusiasm. For me, I confess it, a climax came a moment later that made my eyes swim.

Balmerino was talking with Malcolm Macleod and James Hepburn of Keith, a model of manly simplicity and honour who had been "out" in the '15; and as usual their talk fell on our enterprise and its gallant young leader. Keith narrated a story of how the Young Chevalier, after a long day's march on foot, had led the army three miles out of its way in order to avoid disturbing the wife of a cottar who had fallen asleep at the critical stage of a severe illness. Balmerino capped it with another anecdote of his dismounting from his horse after the battle of Gladsmuir to give water and attendance to a wounded English soldier of Cope's army.

Macleod smiled, eyes sparkling. "He iss every inch the true prince. He can tramp the hills with a Highlander all day and never weary, he can sleep on pease-straw as well as on a bed of down, can sup on brose in five minutes, and win a battle in four. Oh, yes, he will be the King for Malcolm Macleod."

While he was still speaking there fell over the assembly a sudden stillness. The word was passed from lips to lips, "The Prince comes." Every eye swept to the doorway. Men bowed deep and women curtsied low. A young man was entering slowly on the arm of Lord George Murray.

"The Prince!" whispered Balmerino to me.

The pipes crashed out a measure of "Wha'll be King but Charlie?" then fell into quiet sudden as they had begun. "Dhia theasirg an Righ!" (God save the King) cried a splendid young Highland chief in a voice that echoed through the hall.

Clanranald's cry was lifted to the rafters by a hundred throats. A hundred claymores leaped to air, and while the skirling bagpipes pealed forth, "The King shall enjoy his own again," Charles Stuart beneath an arch of shining steel trod slowly down the hall to a dais where his fathers had sat before him.

If the hearts of the ladies had surrendered at discretion, faith! we of the other sex were not much tardier. The lad was every inch a prince. His after life did not fulfil the promise of his youth, but at this time he was one to see, and once having seen, to love. All the great charm of his race found expression in him. Gallant, gracious, generous, tender-hearted in victory and cheerful in defeat (as we had soon to learn, alas!), even his enemies confessed this young Stuart a worthy leader of men. Usually suffused with a gentle pensiveness not unbecoming, the ardour of his welcome had given him on this occasion the martial bearing of a heroic young Achilles. With flushed cheek and sparkling eye he ascended the dais.

"Ladies, gentlemen, my loyal Highlanders, friends all, the tongue of Charles Stuart has no words to tell the warm message of his heart. Unfriended and alone he came among you, resolved with the help of good swords to win back that throne on which a usurper sits, or failing in that to perish in the attempt. How nobly you our people have rallied to our side in this undertaking to restore the ancient liberties of the kingdom needs not be told. To the arbitrament of battle and to the will of God we confidently appeal, and on our part we pledge our sacred honour neither to falter nor to withdraw till this our purpose is accomplished. To this great task we stand plighted, so help us God and the right."

'Tis impossible to conceive the effect of these few simple sentences. Again the pipes voiced our dumb emotion in that stirring song,

"We'll owre the water and owre the sea,

We'll owre the water to Charlie;

Come weal, come woe, we'll gather and go,

And live and die wi' Charlie."

The mighty cheer broke forth again and seemed to rock the palace, but deeper than all cheering was the feeling that found expression in long-drawn breath and broken sob and glimmering tear. The gallant lad had trusted us, had put his life in our keeping; we highly resolved to prove worthy of that trust.

At a signal from the Prince the musicians struck up again the dance, and bright eyes bedimmed with tears began to smile once more. With a whispered word Balmerino left me and made his way to the side of the Prince, about whom were grouped the Duke of Perth, Lord Lewis Gordon, Lord Elcho, the ill-fated Kilmarnock, as well as Lochiel, Cluny, Macleod, Clanranald, and other Highland gentlemen who had taken their fortune in their hands at the call of this young adventurer with the enchanting smile. To see him was to understand the madness of devotion that had carried away these wise gray-haired gentlemen, but to those who never saw him I despair of conveying in cold type the subtle quality of charm that radiated from him. In the very bloom of youth, tall, slender, and handsome, he had a grace of manner not to be resisted. To condescend to the particulars of his person: a face of perfect oval very regular in feature; large light blue eyes shaded by beautifully arched brows; nose good and of the Roman type; complexion fair, mouth something small and effeminate, forehead high and full. He was possessed of the inimitable reserve and bearing that mark the royal-born, and that despite his genial frankness. On this occasion he wore his usual light-coloured peruke with the natural hair combed over the front, a tartan short coat on the breast of which shone the star of the order of St. Andrews, red velvet small-clothes, and a silver-hilted rapier. The plaid he ordinarily carried had been doffed for a blue sash wrought with gold.

All this I had time to note before Lord Balmerino rejoined me and led me forward to the presentation. The Prince separated himself from the group about him and came lightly down the steps to meet me. I fell on my knee and kissed his hand, but the Prince, drawing me to my feet, embraced me.

"My gallant Montagu," he cried warmly. "Like father, like son. God knows I welcome you, both on your own account and because you are one of the first English gentlemen to offer his sword to the cause of his King."

I murmured that my sword would be at his service till death. To put me at my ease he began to question me about the state of public feeling in England concerning the enterprise. What information I had was put at his disposal, and I observed that his grasp of the situation appeared to be clear and incisive. He introduced me to the noblemen and chiefs about him, and I was wise enough to know that if they made much of me it was rather for the class I was supposed to represent than for my own poor merits. Presently I fell back to make way for another gentleman about to be presented. Captain Macdonald made his way to me and offered a frank hand in congratulation.

"'Fore God, Montagu, you have leaped gey sudden into favour. Deil hae't, Red Donald brought with him a hundred claymores and he wasna half so kenspeckle (conspicuous). I'll wad your fortune's made, for you hae leaped in heels ower hurdies," he told me warmly.

From affairs of state to those of the heart may be a long cast, but the mind of one-and-twenty takes it at a bound. My eye went questing, fell on many a blushing maid and beaming matron, at last singled out my heart's desire. She was teaching a Highland dance to a graceful cavalier in white silk breeches, flowered satin waistcoat, and most choicely powdered periwig, fresh from the friseur. His dainty muff and exquisite clouded cane depended from a silken loop to proclaim him the man of fashion. Something characteristic in his easy manner, though I saw but his back, chilled me to an indefinable premonition of his identity. Yet an instant, and a turn in the dance figure flung into view the face of Sir Robert Volney, negligent and unperturbed, heedless apparently of the fact that any moment a hand might fall on his shoulder to lead him to his death. Aileen, to the contrary, clearly showed fear, anxie

ty, a troubled mind-to be detected in the hurried little glances of fearfulness directed toward her brother Malcolm, and in her plain eagerness to have done with the measure. She seemed to implore the baronet to depart, and Volney smilingly negatived her appeal. The girl's affronted eyes dared him to believe that she danced with him for any other reason than because he had staked his life to see her again and she would not have his death at her door. Disdain of her own weakness and contempt of him were eloquent in every movement of the lissom figure. 'Twas easy to be seen that the man was working on her fears for him, in order to obtain another foothold with her. I resolved to baulk his scheme.

While I was still making my way toward them through the throng they disappeared from the assembly hall. A still hunt of five minutes, and I had run down my prey in a snug little reception-room of a size to fit two comfortably. The girl fronted him scornfully, eyes flaming.

"Coward, you play on a girl's fears, you take advantage of her soft heart to force yourself on her," she was telling him in a low, bitter voice.

"I risk my life to see the woman that I love," he answered.

"My grief! Love! What will such a thing as you be knowing of love?"

The man winced. On my soul I believe that at last he was an honest lover. His beautiful, speaking eyes looked straight into hers. His mannerisms had for the moment been sponged out. Straight from the heart he spoke.

"I have learnt, Aileen. My hunger for a sight of you has starved my folly and fed my love. Believe me, I am a changed man."

The play and curve of her lips stung him. He flung himself desperately into his mad love-making. "'Belle Marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d'amour,'" he quoted from Moliere. "'Tis true, Aileen; I die of love; it burns me up," he added passionately, hungry eyes devouring the flying colours of her cheek, the mass of rippling hair, the fresh, sweet, subtle fragrance of her presence.

"You'll have to hurry about it then, for on my soul you're due to die of tightened hemp to-morrow," I told him, lounging forward from the door.

The girl cried out, eyes dilating, hand pressing to the heart. For the man, after the first start he did not turn a hair. The face that looked over his shoulder at me was unmoved and bereft of emotion.

"My malapropos friend Montagu again. Devil take it, you have an awkward way of playing harlequin when you're not wanted! Now to come blundering in upon a lady and her friend is- Well, not the best of form. Better drop it before it becomes a habit," he advised.

"'Slife, 'tis tit for tat! I learnt it from you," was my answer.

Long we looked at each other, preparing for the battle that was to come. Save for the quick breathing of the girl no sound fell.

"Sir Robert, your audacity confounds all precedent," I said at last.

"You flatter me, Mr. Montagu."

"Believe me, had Major Macleod discovered you instead of me your soul had by this time been speeding hellward."

"Exit Flattery," he laughed. "The lady phrased it less vilely. Heavenward, she put it! 'Twould be interesting to know which of you is right."

"As you say, an interesting topic of speculation, and one you're like to find the answer of shortly, presupposing that you suffer the usual fate of captured spies."

His brows lifted in polite inquiry. "Indeed! A spy?" he asked, indifferently.

"Why not? The favourite of the Hanoverian usurpers discovered in our midst-what other explanation will it bear?"

He smiled. "Perhaps I have a mind to join your barelegged rebellion."

"Afraid your services are not available, Sir Robert. Three hundred Macleod claymores bar the way, all eager to wipe out an insult to the daughter of Raasay. Faith, when they have settled their little account against you there won't be much left for the Prince."

"Ah! Then for the sake of argument suppose we put it that I'm visiting this delightful city for my health."

"You will find the climate not agree with you, I fear."

"Then say for pleasure."

"'Twill prove more exciting than amusing."

"On my life, dear Kenn, 'tis both."

"I have but to raise my voice and you are undone."

"His voice was ever soft, gentle, and low, an excellent thing in Kenneth," he parodied, laughing at me.

The girl said never a word, but her level eyes watched me steadily. No need of words to tell me that I was on trial! But I would not desist.

"You appear not to realize the situation," I told him coldly. "Your life is in hazard."

The man yawned in my face. "Not at all, I sit here as safe as if I were at White's, and a devilish deal better satisfied. Situation piquant! Company of the best! Gad's life, I cry content."

"I think we talk at cross purposes. I am trying to have you understand that your position is critical, Sir Robert."

Nonchalant yet watchful, indolent and yet alert, gracefully graceless, he watched me smilingly out of half-closed eyes; and then quietly fired the shot that brought me to.

"If you were not a gentleman, Montagu, the situation would be vastly different."

"I do not see the point," I told him; but I did, and raged at it.

"I think you do. Your lips are sealed. I am your rival"-he bowed to Aileen-"for the favour of a lady. If you put me out of the way by playing informer what appearance will it bear? You may talk of duty till the world ends, but you will be a marked man, despised by all-and most of all by Kenneth Montagu."

The man was right. At one sweep he had spiked my guns, demolished my defenses. The triumph was sponged from my face. I fumed in a stress of impotence.

"I don't know about that. I shall have to think of it. There is a duty to perform," I said at last, lamely.

He waved a hand airily. "My dear fellow, think as long as you please. You can't think away facts. Egad, they're immutable. You know me to be no spy. Conceded that I am in a false position. What can you do about it? You can't in honour give me up. I'faith, you're handcuffed to inaction."

I was, but my temper was not improved at hearing him tell it me so suavely and so blandly. He sat smiling and triumphant, chuckling no doubt at the dilemma into which he had thrust me. The worst of it was that while I was ostensibly master of the situation he had me at his mercy. I was a helpless victor without any of the fruits of victory.

"You took advantage of a girl's soft heart to put her in a position that was indefensible," I told him with bitter bluntness. "Save this of throwing yourself on her mercy there was no other way of approaching her. Of the wisdom of the serpent you have no lack. I congratulate you, Sir Robert. But one may be permitted to doubt the manliness of such a course."

The pipers struck up a song that was the vogue among our party, and a young man passed the entrance of the room singing it.

"Oh, it's owre the border awa', awa',

It's owre the border awa', awa',

We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle Ha',

Wi' its yetts, its castles, an' a', an' a'."

The audacious villain parodied it on the spot, substituting two lines of his own for the last ones.

"You'll on an' you'll march to Carlisle Ha',

To be hanged and quartered an' a', an' a',"

he hummed softly in his clipped English tongue.

"Pity you won't live to see it," I retorted tartly.

"You're still nursing that maggot, are you? Debating with yourself about giving me up, eh? Well that's a matter you must settle with your conscience, if you indulge in the luxury of one."

"You would never give him up, Kenneth," said Aileen in a low voice. "Surely you would not be doing that."

"I shall not let him stay here. You may be sure of that," I said doggedly.

The girl ventured a suggestion timidly. "Perhaps Sir Robert will be leaving to-morrow-for London mayhap."

Volney shook his head decisively. "Not I. Why, I have but just arrived. Besides, here is a problem in ethics for Mr. Montagu to solve. Strength comes through conflict, so the schools teach. Far be it from me to remove the cause of doubt. Let him solve his problem for himself, egad!"

He seemed to find a feline pleasure in seeing how far he could taunt me to go. He held me on the knife-edge of irritation, and perillous as was the experiment he enjoyed seeing whether he could not drive me to give him up.

"Miss Macleod's solution falls pat. Better leave to-morrow, Sir Robert. To stay is dangerous."

"'Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, 'out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower safety,'" he quoted.

"I see you always have your tag of Shakespeare ready; then let me remind you what he has to say about the better part of valour," I flung back, for once alert in riposte.

"A hit, and from the same play," he laughed. "But a retreat- 'Tis not to be thought of. No, no, Montagu! And it must be you'll just have to give me up."

"Oh, you harp on that! You may say it once too often. I shall find a way to get rid of you," I answered blackly.

"Let me find it for you, lad," said a voice from the doorway.

We turned, to find that Donald Roy had joined the party. He must have been standing there unobserved long enough to understand my dilemma, for he shot straight to the mark.

"Sir Robert, I'll never be denying that you're a bold villain, and that is the one thing that will be saving your life this night. I'm no' here to argie-bargie with you. The plain fact is just this; that I dinna care a rap for you the tane gate or the tither (the one way or the other). I'd like fine to see you dancing frae the widdie (gallows), but gin the lady wants you spared I'll no' say her no. Mr. Englisher, you'll just gie me your word to tak the road for the border this night, or I'll give a bit call to Major Macleod. I wouldna wonder but he wad be blithe to see you. Is it to be the road or the Macleod?"

I could have kissed the honest trusty face of the man, for he had lifted me out of a bog of unease. I might be bound by honour, but Captain Macdonald was free as air to dictate terms. Volney looked long at him, weighed the man, and in the end flung up the sponge. He rose to his feet and sauntered over to Aileen.

"I am desolated to find that urgent business takes me south at once, Miss Macleod. 'Tis a matter of the gravest calls me; nothing of less importance than the life of my nearest friend would take me from you. But I'm afraid it must be 'Au revoir' for the present," he said.

She looked past the man as if he had not existed.

He bowed low, the flattery of deference in his fine eyes, which knew so well how to be at once both bold and timid.

"Forgiven my madness?" he murmured.

Having nothing to say, she still said it eloquently. Volney bowed himself out of the room, nodded carelessly to me as he passed, touched Macdonald on the arm with a pleasant promise to attend the obsequies when the Highlander should be brought to London for his hanging, lounged elegantly through the crowded assembly hall, and disappeared into the night.

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