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   Chapter 12 THE LITTLE GOD HAS AN INNINGS

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9065

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


By the great fireplace she stood, hands clasped, head upturned as in prayer. The lips moved silently in the petition of her heart. I saw in profile a girl's troubled face charged with mystery, a slim, tall, weary figure all in white against the flame, a cheek's pure oval, the tense curve of a proud neck, a mass of severely snodded russet hair. So I recalled her afterward, picture of desolation seeking comfort, but at the moment when I blundered on her my presence seemed profanity and no time was found for appraisement. Abashed I came to a halt, and was for tiptoeing back to the door; but hearing me she turned.

"Kenneth!" she cried, and stood with parted lips. Then, "They told me--"

"That I was taken. True, but I escaped. How, I will tell you later. The Prince- Is he safe?"

"For the present, yes. A lugger put in this morning belonging to some smugglers. In it he sailed for the mainland with Ronald and Murdoch. You will have heard the bad news," she cried.

"That Malcolm, Creagh, and Donald are taken?"

"And Flora, too. She iss to be sent to London for assisting in the escape of the Prince. And so are the others."

I fell silent, deep in thought, and shortly came to a resolution.

"Aileen, the Highlands are no place for me. I am a stranger here. Every clachan in which I am seen is full of danger for me. To-morrow I am for London."

"To save Malcolm," she cried.

"If I can. Raasay cannot go. He must stay to protect his clansmen. Murdoch is a fugitive and his speech would betray him in an hour. Remains only I."

"And I."

"You?"

"Why not? After 'the '15' women's tears saved many a life. And I too have friends. Sir Robert Volney, evil man as he iss, would move heaven and earth to save my brother."

There was much truth in what she said. In these days of many executions a pardon was to be secured less by merit than by the massing of influence, and I knew of no more potent influence than a beautiful woman in tears. Together we might be able to do something for our friends. But there was the long journey through a hostile country to be thought of, and the probability that we might never reach our destination in freedom. I could not tell the blessed child that her presence would increase threefold my chances of being taken, nor indeed was that a thing that held weight with me. Sure, there was her reputation to be considered, but the company of a maid would obviate that difficulty.

Ronald returned next day, and I laid the matter before him. He was extraordinarily loath to let Aileen peril herself, but on the other hand he could not let Malcolm suffer the penalty of the law without making an effort on his behalf. Raasay was tied hand and foot by the suspicions of the government and was forced to consent to leave the matter in our hands. He made only the one stipulation, that we should go by way of Edinburgh and take his Aunt Miss MacBean with us as chaperone.

We embarked on the smuggler next day for the Long Island and were landed at Stornoway. After a dreary wait of over a week at this place we took shipping on a brig bound for Edinburgh. Along the north coast of Scotland, through the Pentland Firth, and down the east shore The Lewis scudded. It seemed that we were destined to have an uneventful voyage till one day we sighted a revenue cutter which gave chase. As we had on board The Lewis a cargo of illicit rum, the brig being in the contraband trade, there was nothing for it but an incontinent flight. For some hours our fate hung in the balance, but night coming on we slipped away in the darkness. The Captain, however, being an exceedingly timid man for one in his position, refused absolutely to put into the Leith Road lest his retreat should be cut off. Instead he landed us near Wemyss Castle, some distance up the coast, and what was worse hours before the dawn had cleared and in a pelting rain.

I wrapped Volney's cloak around Aileen and we took the southward road, hoping to come on some village where we might find shelter. The situation might be thought one of extreme discomfort. There were we three-Aileen, her maid, and I-sloshing along the running road in black darkness with the dreary splashing of the rain to emphasize our forlorn condition. Over unknown paths we travelled on precarious errand. Yet I for one never took a journey that pleased me more. The mirk night shut out all others, and a fair face framed in a tartan shawl made my whole world for me. A note of tenderness not to be defined crept into our relatio

nship. There was a sweet disorder in her hair and more than once the wind whaffed it into my face. In walking our fingers touched once and again; greatly daring, mine slipped over hers, and so like children we went hand in hand. An old romancer tells quaintly in one of his tales how Love made himself of the party, and so it was with us that night. I found my answer at last without words. While the heavens wept our hearts sang. The wine of love ran through me in exquisite thrills. Every simple word she spoke went to my heart like sweetest music, and every unconscious touch of her hand was a caress.

"Tired, Aileen?" I asked. "There is my arm to lean on."

"No," she said, but presently her ringers rested on my sleeve.

"'T will be daylight soon, and see! the scudding clouds are driving away the rain."

"Yes, Kenneth," she answered, and sighed softly.

"You will think I am a sad blunderer to bring you tramping through the night."

"I will be thinking you are the good friend."

Too soon the grey dawn broke, for at the first glimmer my love disengaged herself from my arm. I looked shyly at her, and the glory of her young beauty filled me. Into her cheeks the raw morning wind had whipped the red, had flushed her like a radiant Diana. The fresh breeze had outlined her figure clear as she struggled against it, and the billowing sail was not more graceful than her harmonious lines.

Out of the sea the sun rose a great ball of flaming fire.

"A good omen for the success of our journey," I cried. "Look!

"'Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.'

"The good God grant it prove so, Kenneth, for Malcolm and for all our friends."

After all youth has its day and will not be denied. We were on an anxious undertaking of more than doubtful outcome, but save when we remembered to be sober we trod the primrose path.

We presently came to a small village where we had breakfast at the inn. For long we had eaten nothing but the musty fare of the brig, and I shall never forget with what merry daffing we enjoyed the crisp oaten cake, the buttered scones, the marmalade, and the ham and eggs. After we had eaten Aileen went to her room to snatch some hours sleep while I made arrangements for a cart to convey us on our way.

A wimpling burn ran past the end of the inn garden, and here on a rustic bench I found my comrade when I sought her some hours later. The sun was shining on her russet-hair. Her chin was in her hands, her eyes on the gurgling brook. The memories of the night must still have been thrilling her, for she was singing softly that most exquisite of love songs "Annie Laurie."

"'Maxwelton's braes are bonnie,

Where early fa's the dew,

Where me and Annie Laurie

Made up the promise true.'"

Her voice trembled a little, and I took up the song.

"'Made up the promise true,

And ne'er forget will I;

And for bonnie Annie Laurie

I'd lay me doun and dee.'"

At my first words she gave a little start, her lips parted, her head came up prettily to attention, and though I could not see them I was ready to vow that she listened with shining eyes. Softly her breath came and went. I trod nearer as I sang.

"'Her brow is like the snaw-drift,

Her throat is like the swan,

She's jimp about the middle,

Her waist ye weel micht span.'

"Oh, Aileen, if I might-if I only had the right! Won't you give it me, dear heart?"

In the long silence my pulse stopped, then throbbed like an aching tooth.

"I'm waiting, Aileen. It is to be yes or no?"

The shy blue eyes met mine for an instant before they fluttered groundward. I could scarce make out the low sweet music of her voice.

"Oh, Kenneth, not now! You forget-my brother Malcolm--"

"I forget everything but this, that I love you."

In her cheeks was being fought the war of the roses, with Lancaster victorious. The long-lashed eyes came up to meet mine bravely, love lucent in them. Our glances married; in those clear Highland lochs of hers I was sunk fathoms deep.

"Truly, Kenneth?"

"From the head to the heel of you, Aileen, lass. For you I would die, and that is all there is about it," I cried, wildly.

"Well then, take me, Kenneth! I am all yours. Of telling love there will be many ways in the Gaelic, and I am thinking them all at once."

And this is the plain story of how the great happiness came into Kenneth Montagu's life, and how, though all unworthy, he won for his own the daughter of Raasay.

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