MoboReader> Literature > A Daughter of Raasay

   Chapter 10 THE RED HEATHER HILLS

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 26648

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


A sullen day, full of chill gusts and drizzle, sinking into a wet misty night! Three hunted Jacobites, dragging themselves forward drearily, found the situation one of utter cheerlessness. For myself, misery spoke in every motion, and to say the same of Creagh and Macdonald is to speak by the card. Fatigue is not the name for our condition. Fagged out, dispirited, with legs moving automatically, we still slithered down cleughs, laboured through dingles and corries, clambered up craggy mountainsides all slippery with the wet heather, weariness tugging at our leaden feet like a convict's chain and ball. Our bones ached, our throats were limekilns, composts of sores were our ragged feet.

On every side the redcoats had hemmed us in, and we knew not whether we tramped to a precarious safety or to death. Indeed, 'twas little we cared, for at last exhaustion had touched the limit of endurance. Not a word had passed the lips of any of us for hours, lest the irritation of our worn nerves should flame into open rupture.

At length we stood on the summit of the ridge. Scarce a half mile from us a shieling was to be seen on the shoulder of the mount.

"That looks like the cot where O'Sullivan and the Prince put up a month ago," said Creagh.

Macdonald ruffled at the name like a turkeycock. Since Culloden the word had been to him as a red rag to a bull.

"The devil take O'Sullivan and his race," burst out the Scotch Captain. "Gin it had not been for him the cause had not been lost."

The Irishman's hot temper flared.

"You forget the Macdonalds, sir," he retorted, tartly.

"What ails you at the Macdonalds?" demanded the gentleman of that ilk, looking him over haughtily from head to foot.

Creagh flung out his answer with an insolent laugh. "Culloden."

The Macdonald's colour ebbed. "It will be a great peety that you hafe insulted me, for there will presently be a dead Irishman to stain the snow with hiss blood," he said deliberately, falling into more broken English as he always did when excited.

Creagh shrugged. "That's on the knees of the gods. At the worst it leaves one less for the butcher to hang, Scotch or Irish."

"It sticks in my mind that I hafe heard you are a pretty man with the steel-at the least I am thinking so," said Captain Roy, standing straight as an arrow, his blue eyes fixed steadily on his opponent.

"Gadso! Betwixt and between, but I dare say my sword will serve to keep my head at all events whatefer," cried Creagh, mimicking scornfully the other's accent.

Donald whipped his sword from its scabbard.

"Fery well. That will make easy proving, sir."

The quarrel had cropped out so quickly that hitherto I had found no time to interfere, but now I came between them and beat down the swords.

"Are you mad, gentlemen? Put up your sword, Tony. Back, Macdonald, or on my soul I'll run you through," I cried.

"Come on, the pair of ye. Captain Roy can fend for (look out for) himself," shouted the excited Highlander, thrusting at me.

"Fall back, Tony, and let me have a word," I implored.

The Irishman disengaged, his anger nearly gone, a whimsical smile already twitching at his mouth.

"Creagh, you don't mean to impeach the courage of Captain Macdonald, do you?" I asked.

"Not at all-not at all. Faith, I never saw a man more keen to fight," he admitted, smiling.

"He was wounded at Culloden. You know that?"

"So I have heard." Then he added dryly, some imp of mischief stirring him: "In the heel, wasn't it?"

"Yes, in the foot," I told him hastily. "I suppose you do not doubt the valour of the Captain's clan any more than his own."

"Devil a bit!" he answered carelessly. "I've seen them fight too often to admit of any question as to their courage at all, at all. For sheer daring I never saw the beat of the Highland troops-especially if there chanced to be any plunder on the other side of the enemy, Egad!"

I turned to Donald Roy, who was sullenly waiting for me to have done. "Are you satisfied, Captain, that Tony meant to impute nothing against you or your men?"

"Oich! Oich!" he grumbled. "I wass thinking I heard some other dirty sneers."

"If the sneers were unjust I retract them with the best will in the world. Come, Captain Macdonald, sure 'tis not worth our while doing the work of the redcoats for them. 'Slife, 'tis not fair to Jack Ketch!" exclaimed the Irishman.

"Right, Donald! Why, you fire-eating Hotspur, you began it yourself with a fling at the Irish. Make up, man! Shake hands with Tony, and be done with your bile."

Creagh offered his hand, smiling, and his smile was a handsome letter of recommendation. Donald's face cleared, and he gripped heartily the hand of the other.

"With great pleasure, and gin I said anything offensive I eat my words at all events," he said.

"You may say what you please about O'Sullivan, Captain Macdonald. Ecod, he may go to the devil for me," Creagh told him.

"Well, and for me too; 'fore God, the sooner the better."

"If there is to be no throat-cutting to warm the blood maybe we had better push on to the bothy, gentlemen. I'm fain niddered [perishing] with the cold. This Highland mist goes to the marrow," I suggested merrily, and linking arms with them I moved forward.

In ten minutes we had a roaring fire ablaze, and were washing down with usquebaugh the last trace of unkindness. After we had eaten our bannocks and brose we lay in the shine of the flame and revelled in the blessed heat, listening to the splash of the rain outside. We were still encompassed by a cordon of the enemy, but for the present we were content to make the most of our unusual comfort.

"Here's a drammoch left in the flask. I give you the restoration, gentlemen," cried Donald.

"I wonder where the Prince is this night," I said after we had drunk the toast.

We fell to a meditative sombre silence, and presently Captain Roy began to sing softly one of those touching Jacobite melodies that go to the source of tears like rain to the roots of flowers. Donald had one of the rare voices that carry the heart to laughter and to sobs. The singer's song, all pathos and tenderness, played on the chords of our emotion like a harp. My eyes began to smart. Creagh muttered something about the peat-smoke affecting his, and I'm fain to admit that I rolled over with my face from the fire to hide the tell-tale tears. The haunting pathetic wistfulness of the third stanza shook me with sobs.

"On hills that are by right his ain,

He roams a lanely stranger;

On ilka hand he's pressed by want,

On ilka hand by danger."

"Ohon! Ohon!" groaned Donald. "The evil day! The evil day! Wae's me for our bonnie Hieland laddie!"

"May the Blessed Mother keep him safe from all enemies and dangers!" said Creagh softly.

"And God grant that he be warm and well fed this bitter night wherever he may be," I murmured.

Something heavy like the butt of a musket fell against the door, and we started to our feet in an instant. Out flashed our swords.

"Who goes?" cried the Macdonald.

We threw open the door, and in came a party of four, rain dripping from their soaked plaids. I recognized at once Young Clanranald and Major Macleod. The other two were a tattered gillie in the Macdonald tartan and a young woman of most engaging appearance, who was supported in the arms of Clanranald and his henchman. The exhausted lady proved to be no other than the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, whose gallant and generous devotion, for a protracted period, as we afterwards learned, had undoubtedly saved the life of the Prince from his enemies.

Donald no sooner beheld his kinswoman than he dropped on his knee and with the wildest demonstrations of joy kissed the hand of the ragged kerne who supported her. I stared at Captain Roy in amazement, and while I was yet wondering at his strange behaviour Tony Creagh plumped down beside him. My eyes went to the face of the gillie and encountered the winsome smile of the Young Chevalier. Desperately white and weary as he was, and dressed in an outcast's rags, he still looked every inch the son of kings. To me he was always a more princely figure in his days of adversity, when he roamed a hunted wanderer among Highland heughs and corries with only those about him over whose hearts he still was king, than when he ruled at Holyrood undisputed master of Scotland.

It appeared that the party of the Prince, with the exception of Clanranald, were destined for Raasay, could they but run the cordon of troopers who guarded the island of Skye. Through Malcolm, arrangements had been made by which Murdoch Macleod, a younger brother wounded at Culloden, was to be in waiting with a boat to convey the party of the Prince across the sound. It will be believed that we discussed with much care and anxiety the best disposition to be made of ourselves in running the lines of the enemy. The final decision was that the Prince, Malcolm, and I should make the attempt that night while Creagh, Captain Roy, and Miss Flora followed at their leisure on the morrow. Since the young lady was provided with a passport for herself and her attendant this promised to be a matter of small danger on their part.

Never have I known a woman treated with truer chivalry and deference than this heroic Highland girl was by these hardy mountaineers. Her chief, Clanranald, insisted on building with his own hands a fire in her sleeping room "ben" the house, and in every way the highest marks of respect were shown her for her devotion to the cause. Though he expected to join her again shortly, the Prince made her his warmest acknowledgments of thanks in a spirit of pleasantry which covered much tender feeling. They had been under fire together and had shared perils by land and by sea during which time his conduct to her had been perfect, a gentle consideration for her comfort combined with the reserve that became a gentleman under such circumstances. On this occasion he elected to escort her in person to the door of her chamber.

After a snatch of sleep we set out on our perillous journey. Sheets of rain were now falling in a very black night. Donald Roy parted from us at the door of the hut with much anxiety. He had pleaded hard to be allowed to join the party of the Prince, but had been overruled on the ground that he was the only one of us with the exception of Malcolm that could act as a guide. Moreover he was the kinsman of Miss Flora, and therefore her natural protector. Over and over he urged us to be careful and to do nothing rash. The Prince smilingly answered him with a shred of the Gaelic.

"Bithidh gach ni mar is aill Dhiu." (All things must be as God will have them.)

The blackness of the night was a thing to be felt. Not the faithful Achates followed ?neas more closely than did we the Macleod. No sound came to us but the sloshing of the rain out of a sodden sky and the noise of falling waters from mountain burns in spate (flood). Hour after hour while we played blindly follow-my-leader the clouds were a sieve over our devoted heads. Braes we breasted and precipitous heathery heights we sliddered down, but there was always rain and ever more rain, turning at last into a sharp thin sleet that chilled the blood.

Then in the gray breaking of the day Malcolm turned to confess what I had already suspected, that he had lost the way in the darkness. We were at present shut in a sea of fog, a smirr of mist and rain, but when that lifted he could not promise that we would not be close on the campfires of the dragoons. His fine face was a picture of misery, and bitterly he reproached himself for the danger into which he had led the Prince. The Young Chevalier told him gently that no blame was attaching to him; rather to us all for having made the attempt in such a night.

For another hour we sat on the dripping heather opposite the corp-white face of the Macleod waiting for the mist to lift. The wanderer exerted himself to keep us in spirits, now whistling a spring of Clanranald's march, now retailing to us the story of how he had walked through the redcoats as Miss Macdonald's Betty Burke. It may be conceived with what anxiety we waited while the cloud of moisture settled from the mountain tops into the valleys.

"By Heaven, sir, we have a chance," cried Malcolm suddenly, and began to lead the way at a great pace up the steep slope. For a half hour we scudded along, higher and higher, always bearing to the right and at such a burst of speed that I judged we must be in desperate danger. The Prince hung close to the heels of Malcolm, but I was a sorry laggard ready to die of exhaustion. When the mist sank we began to go more cautiously, for the valley whence we had just emerged was dotted at intervals with the campfires of the soldiers. Cautiously we now edged our way along the slippery incline, keeping in the shadow of great rocks and broom wherever it was possible. 'Tis not in nature to walk unmoved across an open where every bush may hide a sentinel who will let fly at one as gladly as at a fat buck-yes, and be sure of thirty thousand pounds if he hit the right mark. I longed for eyes in the back of my head, and every moment could feel the lead pinging its way between my shoulder blades.

Major Macle

od had from his youth stalked the wary stag, and every saugh and birch and alder in our course was made to yield us its cover. Once a muircock whirred from my very feet and brought my heart to my mouth. Presently we topped the bluff and disappeared over its crest. Another hour of steady tramping down hill and the blue waters of the sound stretched before us. 'Twas time. My teeth chattered and my bones ached. I was sick-sick-sick.

"And here we are at the last," cried the Major with a deep breath of relief. "I played the gomeral brawly, but in the darkness we blundered ram-stam through the Sassenach lines."

"'Fortuna favet fatuis,'" quoted the Young Chevalier. "Luck for fools! The usurper's dragoons will have to wait another day for their thirty thousand pounds. Eh, Montagu?" he asked me blithely; then stopped to stare at me staggering down the beach. "What ails you, man?"

I was reeling blindly like a drunkard, and our Prince put an arm around my waist. I resisted feebly, but he would have none of it; the arm of a king's son (de jure) supported me to the boat.

We found as boatmen not only Murdoch Macleod but his older brother Young Raasay, the only one of the family that had not been "out" with our army. He had been kept away from the rebellion to save the family estates, but his heart was none the less with us.

"And what folly is this, Ronald?" cried Malcolm when he saw the head of the house on the links. "Murdoch and I are already as black as we can be, but you were to keep clean of the Prince's affairs. It wad be a geyan ill outcome gin we lost the estates after all. The red cock will aiblins craw at Raasay for this."

"I wass threepin' so already, but he wass dooms thrang to come. He'll maybe get his craig raxed (neck twisted) for his ploy," said Murdoch composedly.

"By Heaven, Malcolm, I'll play the trimmer no longer. Raasay serves his Prince though it cost both the estate and his head," cried the young chieftain hotly.

"In God's name then let us get away before the militia or the sidier roy (red soldiers) fall in with us. In the woody cleughs yonder they are thick as blackcocks in August," cried the Major impatiently.

We pushed into the swirling waters and were presently running free, sending the spurling spray flying on both sides of the boat. The wind came on to blow pretty hard and the leaky boat began to fill, so that we were hard put to it to keep from sinking. The three brothers were quite used to making the trip in foul weather, but on the Prince's account were now much distressed. To show his contempt for danger, the royal wanderer sang a lively Erse song. The Macleods landed us at Glam, and led the way to a wretched hovel recently erected by some shepherds. Here we dined on broiled kid, butter, cream, and oaten bread.

I slept round the clock, and awoke once more a sound man to see the Prince roasting the heart of the kid on an iron spit. Throughout the day we played with a greasy pack of cards to pass the time. About sundown Creagh joined us, Macdonald having stayed on Skye to keep watch on any suspicious activity of the clan militia or the dragoons. Raasay's clansmen, ostensibly engaged in fishing, dotted the shore of the little island to give warning of the approach of any boats. To make our leader's safety more certain, the two proscribed brothers took turns with Creagh and me in doing sentinel duty at the end of the path leading to the sheep hut.

At the desire of the Prince-and how much more at mine!-we ventured up to the great house that night to meet the ladies, extraordinary precautions having been taken by Raasay to prevent the possibility of any surprise. Indeed, so long as the Prince was in their care, Raasay and his brothers were as anxious as the proverbial hen with the one chick. Doubtless they felt that should he be captured while on the island the reputation of the house would be forever blasted. And this is the most remarkable fact of Charles Edward Stuart's romantic history; that in all the months of his wandering, reposing confidence as he was forced to do in hundreds of different persons, many of them mere gillies and some of them little better than freebooters, it never seems to have occurred to one of these shag-headed Gaels to earn an immense fortune by giving him up.

My heart beat a tattoo against my ribs as I followed the Prince and Raasay to the drawing-room where his sister and Miss Macdonald awaited us. Eight months had passed since last I had seen my love; eight months of battle, of hairbreadth escapes, and of hardships scarce to be conceived. She too had endured much in that time. Scarce a house in Raasay but had been razed by the enemy because her brothers and their following had been "out" with us. I was to discover whether her liking for me had outlived the turmoils of "the '45," or had been but a girlish fancy.

My glance flashed past Miss Flora Macdonald and found Aileen on the instant. For a hundredth part of a second our eyes met before she fell to making her devoirs to the Young Chevalier, and after that I did not need to be told that my little friend was still staunch and leal. I could afford to wait my turn with composure, content to watch with long-starved eyes the delicacy and beauty of this sweet wild rose I coveted. Sure, hers was a charm that custom staled not nor longer acquaintance made less alluring. Every mood had its own characteristic fascination, and are not the humours of a woman numberless? She had always a charming note of unconventional freshness, a childlike naiveté of immaturity and unsophistication at times, even a certain girlish shy austerity that had for me a touch of saintliness. But there- Why expatiate? A lover's midsummer madness, you will say!

My turn at last! The little brown hand pressed mine firmly for an instant, the warm blue eyes met mine full and true, the pulse in the soft-throated neck beat to a recognition of my presence. I found time to again admire the light poise of the little head carried with such fine spirit, the music of the broken English speech in this vibrant Highland voice.

"Welcome- Welcome to Raasay, my friend!" Then her eyes falling on the satin cockade so faded and so torn, there came a tremulous little catch to her voice, a fine light to her eyes. "It iss the good tale that my brothers have been telling me of Kenneth Montagu's brave devotion to hiss friends, but I wass not needing to hear the story from them. I will be thinking that I knew it all already," she said, a little timidly.

I bowed low over her hand and kissed it. "My friends make much of nothing. Their fine courage reads their own spirit reflected in the eyes of others."

"Oh, then I will have heard the story wrong. It would be Donald who went back to Drummossie Moor after you when you were wounded?"

"Could a friend do less?"

"Or more?"

"He would have done as much for me. My plain duty!" I said, shrugging, anxious to be done with the subject.

She looked at me with sparkling eyes, laughing at my discomposure, in a half impatience of my stolid English phlegm.

"Oh, you men! You go to your death for a friend, and if by a miracle you escape: 'Pooh! 'Twas nothing whatever. Gin it rain to-morrow, I think 'twill be foul,' you say, and expect to turn it off so."

I took the opening like a fox.

"Faith, I hope it will not rain to-morrow," I said. "I have to keep watch outside. Does the sun never shine in Raasay, Aileen?"

"Whiles," she answered, laughing. "And are all Englishmen so shy of their virtues?"

Tony Creagh coming up at that moment, she referred the question to him.

"Sure, I can't say," he answered unsmilingly. "'Fraid I'm out of court. Never knew an Englishman to have any."

"Can't you spare them one at the least?" Aileen implored, gaily.

He looked at her, then at me, a twinkle in his merry Irish eyes.

"Ecod then, I concede them one! They're good sportsmen. They follow the game until they've bagged it."

We two flushed in concert, but the point of her wit touched Creagh on the riposte.

"The men of the nation being disposed of in such cavalier fashion, what shall we say of the ladies, sir?" she asked demurely.

"That they are second only to the incomparable maidens of the North," he answered, kissing her hand in his extravagant Celtic way.

"But I will not be fubbed off with your Irish blarney. The English ladies, Mr. Creagh?" she merrily demanded.

"Come, Tony, you renegade! Have I not heard you toast a score of times the beauties of London?" said I, coming up with the heavy artillery.

"Never, I vow. Sure I always thought Edinburgh a finer city-not so dirty and, pink me, a vast deal more interesting. Now London is built--"

"On the Thames. So it is," I interrupted dryly. "And-to get back to the subject under discussion-the pink and white beauties of London are built to take the eye and ensnare the heart of roving Irishmen. Confess!"

"Or be forever shamed as recreant knight," cried Aileen, her blue eyes bubbling with laughter.

Tony unbuckled his sword and offered it her. "If I yield 'tis not to numbers but to beauty. Is my confession to be in the general or the particular, Miss Macleod?"

"Oh, in the particular! 'Twill be the mair interesting."

"Faith then, though it be high treason to say so of one lady before another, Tony Creagh's scalp dangles at the belt of the most bewitching little charmer in Christendom."

"Her name?"

"Mistress Antoinette Westerleigh, London's reigning toast."

Aileen clapped her hands in approving glee.

"And did you ever tell her?"

"A score of times. Faith, 'twas my rule to propose every second time I saw her and once in between."

"And she--?"

"Laughed at me; played shill-I-shall-I with my devotion; vowed she would not marry me till I had been killed in the wars to prove I was a hero; smiled on me one minute and scorned me the next."

"And you love her still?"

"The sun rises in 'Toinette's eyes; when she frowns the day is vile."

"Despite her whims and arrogances?"

"Sure for me my queen can do no wrong. 'Tis her right to laugh and mock at me so only she enjoy it."

Aileen stole one shy, quick, furtive look at me. It seemed to question whether her lover was such a pattern of meek obedience.

"And you never falter? There iss no other woman for you?"

"Saving your presence, there is no other woman in the world?"

Her eyes glistened.

"Kneel down, sir," she commanded.

Tony dropped to a knee. She touched him lightly on the shoulder with his sword.

"In love's name I dub you worthy knight. Be bold, be loyal, be fortunate. Arise, Sir Anthony Creagh, knight of the order of Cupid!"

We three had wandered away together into an alcove, else, 'tis almost needless to say, our daffing had not been so free. Now Malcolm joined us with a paper in his hand. He spoke to me, smiling yet troubled too.

"More labours, O my Theseus! More Minotaurs to slay! More labyrinths to thread!"

"And what may be these labours now?" I asked.

"Captain Donald Roy sends for you. He reports unusual activity among the clan militia and the redcoats on Skye. A brig landed men and officers there yesterday. And what for will they be coming?"

"I think the reason is very plain, Major Macleod," said Tony blithely.

"I'm jalousing (suspecting) so mysel'. They will be for the taking of a wheen puir callants (lads) that are jinking (hiding) in the hill birken (scrub). But here iss the point that must be learned: do they ken that the Prince iss on the islands?"

Creagh sprang to his feet from the chair in which he had been lazying. "The devil's in it! Why should Montagu go? Why not I?"

"Because you can't talk the Gaelic, Creagh. You're barred," I told him triumphantly.

"Would you be sending our guest on such an errand of danger, Malcolm?" asked Aileen in a low voice.

"Not I, but Fegs! I will never say the word to hinder if he volunteers. 'Tis in the service of the Prince. The rest of us are kent (known) men and canna gang."

Grouped behind Malcolm were now gathered the Prince, Raasay, and Miss Flora. To me as a focus came all eyes. I got to my feet in merry humour.

"Ma foi! Ulysses as a wanderer is not to be compared with me. When do I set out, Major?"

"At skreigh-o'-day (daybreak). And the sooner you seek your sleep the better. Best say good-night to the lassies, for you'll need be wide awake the morn twa-three hours ere sun-up. Don't let the redcoats wile (lure) you into any of their traps, lad. You maunna lose your head or--"

"--Or I'll lose my head," I answered, drolling. "I take you, Major; but, my word for it, I have not, played hide-and-go-seek six months among your Highland lochs and bens to dance on air at the last."

The Prince drew me aside. "This will not be forgotten when our day of power comes, Montagu. I expected no less of your father's son." Then he added with a smile: "And when Ulysses rests safe from his wanderings at last I trust he will find his Penelope waiting for him with a true heart."

Without more ado I bade Miss Macdonald and Aileen good-bye, but as I left the room I cast a last look back over my shoulder and methought that the lissome figure of my love yearned forward toward me tenderly and graciously.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares