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   Chapter 11 VOLNEY PAYS A DEBT

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 24161

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


There are some to whom strange changes never come. They pursue the even tenor of their way in humdrum monotony, content to tread the broad safe path of routine. For them the fascination of the mountain peaks of giddy chance has no allurement, the swift turbulent waters of intrigue no charm. There are others with whom Dame Fortune plays many an exciting game, and to these adventure becomes as the very breath of life. To such every hazard of new fortune is a diversion to be eagerly sought.

Something of this elation seized me-for I am of this latter class-as Murdoch and his gillies rowed me across the sound to Skye in the darkness of the early morning. It was a drab dawn as ever I have seen, and every tug at the oars shot me nearer to the red bloodhounds who were debouched over the island. What then? Was I not two years and twenty, and did I not venture for the life of a king's son? To-day I staked my head on luck and skill; to-morrow-but let the future care for her own.

In a grove of beeches about half a mile from Portree we landed, and Murdoch gave the call of the whaup to signal Donald Roy. From a clump of whins in the gorse the whistle echoed back to us, and presently Captain Macdonald came swinging down to the shore. It appeared that another boatload of soldiers had been landed during the night, a squad of clan militia under the command of a Lieutenant Campbell. We could but guess that this portended some knowledge as to the general whereabouts of the Prince, and 'twas my mission to learn the extent and reliability of that knowledge if I could. That there was some danger in the attempt I knew, but it had been minimized by the philibeg and hose, the Glengarry bonnet and Macleod plaid which I had donned at the instance of Malcolm.

I have spoken of chance. The first stroke of it fell as I strode along the highway to Portree. At a crossroad intersection I chanced on a fellow trudging the same way as myself. He was one of your furtive-faced fellows, with narrow slits of eyes and an acquired habit of skellying sidewise at one out of them. Cunning he was beyond doubt, and from the dour look of him one to bear malice. His trews were like Joseph's coat for the colour of the many patches, but I made them out to have been originally of the Campbell plaid.

"A fine day, my man," says I with vast irony.

"Wha's finding faut wi' the day?" he answers glumly.

"You'll be from across the mountains on the mainland by the tongue of you," I ventured.

"Gin you ken that there'll be nae use telling you."

"A Campbell, I take it."

He turned his black-a-vised face on me, scowling.

"Or perhaps you're on the other side of the hedge-implicated in this barelegged rebellion, I dare say."

Under my smiling, watchful eye he began to grow restless. His hand crept to his breast, and I heard the crackle of papers.

"Deil hae't, what's it to you?" he growled.

"To me? Oh, nothing at all. Merely a friendly interest. On the whole I think my first guess right. I wouldn't wonder but you're carrying dispatches from Lieutenant Campbell."

The fellow went all colours and was as easy as a worm on a hook.

"I make no doubt you'll be geyan tired from long travel, and the responsibility of carrying such important documents must weigh down your spirits," I drolled, "and so I will trouble you"-with a pistol clapped to his head and a sudden ring of command in my voice-"to hand them over to me at once."

The fellow's jaw dropped lankly. He looked hither and thither for a way of escape and found none. He was confronting an argument that had a great deal of weight with him, and out of the lining of his bonnet he ripped a letter.

"Thanks, but I'll take the one in your breast pocket," I told him dryly.

Out it came with a deal of pother. The letter was addressed to the Duke of Cumberland, Portree, Skye. My lips framed themselves to a long whistle. Here was the devil to pay. If the butcher was on the island I knew he had come after bigger game than muircocks. No less a quarry than the Prince himself would tempt him to this remote region. I marched my prisoner back to Captain Roy and Murdoch. To Donald I handed the letter, and he ripped it open without ceremony. 'Twas merely a note from the Campbell Lieutenant of militia, to say that the orders of his Highness regarding the watching of the coast would be fulfilled to the least detail.

"Well, and here's a pirn to unravel. What's to be done now?" asked the Macdonald.

"By Heaven, I have it," cried I. "Let Murdoch carry the news to Raasay that the Prince may get away at once. Do you guard our prisoner here, while I, dressed in his trews and bonnet, carry the letter to the Duke. His answer may throw more light on the matter."

Not to make long, so it was decided. We made fashion to plaster up the envelope so as not to show a casual looker that it had been tampered with, and I footed it to Portree in the patched trews of the messenger, not with the lightest heart in the world. The first redcoat I met directed me to the inn where the Duke had his headquarters, and I was presently admitted to a hearing.

The Duke was a ton of a little man with the phlegmatic Dutch face. He read the letter stolidly and began to ask questions as to the disposition of our squad. I lied generously, magnificently, my face every whit as wooden as his; and while I was still at it the door behind me opened and a man came in leisurely. He waited for the Duke to have done with me, softly humming a tune the while, his shadow flung in front across my track; and while he lilted there came to me a dreadful certainty that on occasion I had heard the singer and his song before.

"'Then come kiss me sweet and twenty.

Youth's a stuff will not endure,'"

carolled the melodious voice lazily. Need I say that it belonged to my umquhile friend Sir Robert Volney.

Cumberland brushed me aside with a wave of his hand.

"Donner! If the Pretender is on Skye-and he must be-we've got him trapped, Volney. Our cordon stretches clear across the isle, and every outlet is guarded," he cried.

"Immensely glad to hear it, sir. Let's see! Is this the twelfth time you've had him sure? 'Pon honour, he must have more lives than the proverbial cat," drawled Sir Robert insolently.

There was one thing about Volney I could never enough admire. He was no respecter of persons. Come high, come low, the bite of his ironic tongue struck home. For a courtier he had the laziest scorn of those he courted that ever adventurer was hampered with; and strangely enough from him his friends in high place tolerated anything. The Prince of Wales and his brother Cumberland would not speak to each other, yet each of them fought to retain Volney as his follower. Time-servers wondered that his uncurbed speech never brought him to grief. Perhaps the secret of his security lay in his splendid careless daring; in that, and in his winning personality.

"By God, Volney, sometimes I think you're half a Jacobite," said Cumberland, frowning.

"Your Grace does me injustice. My bread is buttered on the Brunswick side," answered the baronet, carelessly.

"But otherwise-at heart--"

Volney's sardonic smile came into play. "Otherwise my well-known caution, and my approved loyalty,-Egad, I had almost forgotten that!-refute such an aspersion."

"Himmel! If your loyalty is no greater than your caution it may be counted out. At the least you take delight in tormenting me. Never deny it, man! I believe you want the Pretender to get away."

"One may wish the Prince--"

"The Prince?" echoed Cumberland, blackly.

"The Young Chevalier then, if you like that better. 'Slife, what's in a name? One may wish him to escape and be guilty of no crime. He and his brave Highlanders deserve a better fate than death. I dare swear that half your redcoats have the sneaking desire to see the young man win free out of the country. Come, my good fellow"-turning to me-"What do they call you-Campbell? Well then, Campbell, speak truth and shame the devil. Are you as keen to have the Young Chevalier taken as you pretend?"

Doggedly I turned my averted head toward him, saw the recognition leap to his eyes, and waited for the word to fall from his lips that would condemn me. Amusement chased amazement across his face.

A moment passed, still another moment. The word was not spoken. Instead he began to smile, presently to hum,

"'You'll on an' you'll march to Carlisle ha'

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

"Come, Mont-Campbell, you haven't answered my question yet. If you knew where Charles Edward Stuart was in hiding would you give him up?" He looked at me from under lowered lids, vastly entertained, playing with me as a cat does with a mouse.

"I am a fery good servant of the King, God bless him whatefer, and I would just do my duty," answered I, still keeping the r?le I had assumed.

"Of course he would. Ach, liebe himmel! Any loyal man would be bound to do so," broke in Cumberland.

Volney's eyes shone. "I'm not so sure," said he. "Now supposing, sir, that one had a very dear friend among the rebels; given the chance, ought he to turn him over to justice?"

"No doubt about it. Friendship ends when rebellion begins," said the Duke, sententiously.

Sir Robert continued blandly to argue the case, looking at me out of the tail of his eye. Faith, he enjoyed himself prodigiously, which was more than I did, for I was tasting a bad quarter of an hour. "Put it this way, sir: I have a friend who has done me many good turns. Now assume that I have but to speak the word to send him to his death. Should the word be spoken?"

The Duke said dogmatically that a soldier's first duty was to work for the success of his cause regardless of private feelings.

"Or turn it this way," continued Volney, "that the man is not a friend. Suppose him a rival claimant to an estate I mean to possess. Can I in honour give him up? What would you think, Mont-er-Campbell?"

"Not Mont-Campbell, but Campbell," I corrected. "I will be thinking, sir, that it would be a matter for your conscience, and at all events it iss fery lucky that you do not hafe to decide it."

"Still the case might arise. It's always well to be prepared," he answered, laughing.

"Nonsense, Robert! What the deuce do you mean by discussing such a matter with a Highland kerne? I never saw your match for oddity," said the Duke.

While he was still speaking there was a commotion in the outer room of the inn. There sounded a rap at the door, and on the echo of the knock an officer came into the room to announce the capture of a suspect. He was followed by the last man in the world I wanted to see at that moment, no other than the Campbell soldier whose place I was usurping. The fat was in the fire with a vengeance now, and though I fell back to the rear I knew it was but a question of time till his eye lit on me.

The fellow began to tell his story, got nearly through before his ferret eyes circled round to me, then broke off to burst into a screed of the Gaelic as he pointed a long finger at me.

The Duke flung round on me in a cold fury. "Is this true, fellow?"

I came forward shrugging.

"To deny were folly when the evidence is writ so plain," I said.

"And who the devil are you?"

"Kenneth Montagu, at your service."

Cumberland ordered the room cleared, then turned on Volney a very grim face. "I'll remember this, Sir Robert. You knew him all the time. It has a bad look, I make plain to say."

"'Twas none of my business. Your troopers can find enough victims for you without my pointing out any. I take the liberty of reminding your Highness that I'm not a hangman by profession," returned Volney stiffly.

"You go too far, sir," answered the Duke haughtily. "I know my duty too well to allow me to be deterred from performing it by you or by anybody else. Mr. Montagu, have you any reason to give why I should not hang you for a spy?"

"No reason that would have any weight with your Grace," I answered.

He l

ooked long at me, frowning blackly out of the grimmest face I had ever fronted; and yet that countenance, inexorable as fate, belonged to a young man not four years past his majority.

"Without dubiety you deserve death," he said at the last, "but because of your youth I give you one chance. Disclose to me the hiding-place of the Pretender and you shall come alive out of the valley of the shadow."

A foretaste of the end clutched icily at my heart, but the price of the proffered safety was too great. Since I must die, I resolved that it should be with a good grace.

"I do not know whom your Grace can mean by the Pretender."

His heavy jaw set and his face grew cold and hard as steel.

"You fool, do you think to bandy words with me? You will speak or by heaven you will die the death of a traitor."

"I need not fear to follow where so many of my brave comrades have shown the way," I answered steadily.

"Bah! You deal in heroics. Believe me, this is no time for theatricals. Out with it. When did you last see Charles Stuart?"

"I can find no honourable answer to that question, sir."

"Then your blood be on your own head, fool. You die to-morrow morning by the cord."

"As God wills; perhaps to-morrow, perhaps not for fifty years."

While I was being led out another prisoner passed in on his way to judgment. The man was Captain Roy Macdonald.

"I'm wae to see you here, lad, and me the cause of it by sending you," he said, smiling sadly.

"How came they to take you?" I asked.

"I was surprised on the beach just after Murdoch left," he told me in the Gaelic so that the English troopers might not understand. "All should be well with the yellow haired laddie now that the warning has been given. Are you for Carlisle, Kenneth?"

I shook my head. "No, my time is set for to-morrow. If they give you longer you'll find a way to send word to Aileen how it went with me, Donald?"

He nodded, and we gripped hands in silence, our eyes meeting steadily. From his serene courage I gathered strength.

They took me to a bothy in the village which had been set apart as a prison for me, and here, a picket of soldiers with loaded muskets surrounding the hut, they left me to myself. I had asked for paper and ink, but my request had been refused.

In books I have read how men under such circumstance came quietly to philosophic and religious contemplation, looking at the issue with the far-seeing eyes of those who count death but an incident. But for me, I am neither philosopher nor saint. Connected thought I found impossible. My mind was alive with fleeting and chaotic fragmentary impulses. Memories connected with Cloe, Charles, Balmerino, and a hundred others occupied me. Trivial forgotten happenings flashed through my brain. All the different Aileens that I knew trooped past in procession. Gay and sad, wistful and merry, eager and reflective, in passion and in tender guise, I saw my love in all her moods; and melted always at the vision of her.

I descended to self-pity, conceiving myself a hero and a martyr, revelling in an agony of mawkish sentiment concerning the post-mortem grief of my friends. From this at length I snatched myself by calling to mind the many simple Highlanders who had preceded me in the past months without any morbid craving for applause. Back harked my mind to Aileen, imagination spanning the future as well as the past. Tender pity and love suffused me. Mingled with all my broken reflections was many a cry of the heart for mercy to a sinner about to render his last account and for healing balm to that dear friend who would be left to mourn the memory of me painted in radiant colours.

Paradoxical though it may seem, the leaden hours flew on feathered foot. Dusk fell, then shortly darkness. Night deepened, and the stars came out. From the window I watched the moon rise till it flooded the room with its pale light, my mind at last fallen into the sombre quiet of deep abstraction.

A mocking voice brought me to earth with a start.

"Romantic spectacle! A world bathed in moonlight. Do you compose verses to your love's bright eyes, Mr. Montagu? Or perhaps an epitaph for some close friend?"

An elegant figure in dark cloak, riding boots, and three-cornered hat confronted me, when I slowly turned.

"Hope I don't intrude," he said jauntily.

I gave him a plain hint. "Sir Robert, like Lord Chesterfield, when he was so ill last year, if I do not press you to remain it is because I must rehearse my funeral obsequies."

His laugh rang merrily. Coming forward a step or two, he flung a leg across the back of a chair.

"Egad, you're not very hospitable, my friend. Or isn't this your evening at home?" he fleered.

I watched him narrowly, answering nothing.

"Cozy quarters," he said, looking round with polite interest. "May I ask whether you have taken them for long?"

"The object of your visit, sir," I demanded coldly.

"There you gravel me," he laughed. "I wish I knew the motives for my visit. They are perhaps a blend-some pique, some spite, some curiosity, and faith! a little admiration, Mr. Montagu."

"All of which being presumably now satisfied--"

"But they're not, man! Far from it. And so I accept the courteous invitation you were about to extend me to prolong my call and join you in a glass of wine."

Seeing that he was determined to remain willy-nilly, I made the best of it.

"You have interpreted my sentiments exactly, Sir Robert," I told him. "But I fear the wine will have to be postponed till another meeting. My cellar is not well stocked."

He drew a flask from his pocket, found glasses on the table, and filled them.

"Then let me thus far play host, Mr. Montagu. Come, I give you a toast!" He held the glass to the light and viewed the wine critically. "'T is a devilish good vintage, though I say it myself. Montagu, may you always find a safe port in time of storm!" he said with jesting face, but with a certain undercurrent of meaning that began to set my blood pounding.

But though I took a glimmer of the man's purpose I would not meet him half-way. If he had any proposal to make the advances must come from him. Nor would I allow myself to hope too much.

"I' faith, 'tis a good port," I said, and eyed the wine no less judicially than he.

Volney's gaze loitered deliberately over the cottage furnishings. "Cozy enough, but after all not quite to my liking, if I may make so bold as to criticise your apartments. I wonder now you don't make a change."

"I'm thinking of moving to-morrow," I told him composedly. "To a less roomy apartment, but one just as snug."

"Shall you live there permanently?" he asked with innocent face.

"I shall stay there permanently," I corrected.

Despite my apparent unconcern I was playing desperately for my life. That Volney was dallying with some plan of escape for me I became more confident, and I knew from experience that nothing would touch the man on his weak side so surely as an imperturbable manner.

"I mentioned pique and spite, Mr. Montagu, and you did not take my meaning. Believe me, not against you, but against that oaf Cumberland," he said.

"And what may your presence here have to do with your pique against the Duke? I confess that the connection is not plain to me," I said in careless fashion.

"After you left to-day, Mr. Montagu, I humbled myself to ask a favour of the Dutchman-the first I ever asked, and I have done him many. He refused it and turned his back on me."

"The favour was--?"

"That you might be taken to London for trial and executed there."

I looked up as if surprised. "And why this interest on my behalf, Sir Robert?"

He shrugged. "I do not know-a fancy-a whim. George Selwyn would never forgive me if I let you be hanged and he not there to see."

"Had you succeeded Selwyn would have had you to thank for a pleasant diversion, but I think you remarked that the Dutchman was obstinate. 'Tis a pity-for Selwyn's sake."

"Besides, I had another reason. You and I had set ourselves to play out a certain game in which I took an interest. Now I do not allow any blundering foreigners to interfere with my amusements."

"I suppose you mean you do not like the foreigner to anticipate you."

"By God, I do not allow him to when I can prevent it."

"But as in this instance you cannot prevent it--" My sentence tailed into a yawn.

"That remains to be seen," he retorted, and whipped off first one boot and then the other. The unfastened cloak fell to the floor, and he began to unloose his doublet.

I stared calmly, though my heart stood still.

"Really, Sir Robert! Are you going to stay all night? I fear my accommodations are more limited than those to which you have been accustomed."

"Don't stand gaping there, Montagu. Get off those uncivilized rags of yours and slip on these. You're going out as Sir Robert Volney."

"I am desolated to interfere with your revenge, but-the guards?"

"Fuddled with drink," he said. "I took care of that. Don't waste time asking questions."

"The Duke will be in a fearful rage with you."

His eyes grew hard. "Am I a child that I should tremble when Cumberland frowns?"

"He'll make you pay for this."

"A fig for the payment!"

"You'll lose favour."

"I'll teach the sullen beast to refuse me one. The boots next."

He put on the wig and hat for me, arranged the muffler over the lower part of my face, and fastened the cloak.

"The watchword for the night is 'Culloden.' You should have no trouble in passing. I needn't tell you to be bold," he finished dryly.

"I'll not forget this," I told him.

"That's as you please," he answered carelessly. "I ask no gratitude. I'm settling a debt, or rather two-one due Cumberland and the other you."

"Still, I'll remember."

"Oh, all right. Hope we'll have the pleasure of renewing our little game some day. Better take to the hills or the water. You'll find the roads strictly guarded. Don't let yourself get killed, my friend. The pleasure of running you through I reserve for myself."

I passed out of the hut into the night. The troopers who guarded the bothy were in either the stupid or the uproarious stage of their drink. Two of them sang a catch of a song, and I wondered that they had not already brought down on them the officer of the day. I passed them carelessly with a nod. One of them bawled out, "The watchword!" and I gave them "Culloden." Toward the skirts of the village I sauntered, fear dogging my footsteps; and when I was once clear of the houses, cut across a meadow toward the shore, wary as a panther, eyes and ears alert for signals of danger. Without mishap I reached the sound, beat my way up the sand links for a mile or more, and saw a boat cruising in the moonlight off shore. I gave the whaup's cry, and across the water came an answer.

Five minutes later I was helping the gillie in the boat pull across to Raasay. When half way over we rested on our oars for a breathing space and I asked the news, the rug-headed kerne shot me with the dismal tidings that Malcolm Macleod and Creagh, rowing to Skyes for a conference with Captain Roy, had fallen into the hands of the troopers waiting for them among the sand dunes. He had but one bit of comfort in his budget, and that was "ta yellow-haired Sassenach body wass leaving this morning with Raasay hersel' and Murdoch." At least I had some assurance that my undertaking had secured the safety of the Prince, even though three staunch men were on their way to their death by reason of it.

Once landed on Raasay, I made up the brae to the great house. Lights were still burning, and when I got close 'twas easy to be seen that terror and confusion filled it. Whimpering, white-faced women and wailing bairns ran hither and thither blindly. Somewhere in the back part of the house the bagpipes were soughing a dismal kind of dirge. Fierce-eyed men with mops of shock hair were gathered into groups of cursing clansmen. Through them all I pushed my way in to Aileen.

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