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   Chapter 13 THE AFTERMATH

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 24036

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


At Edinburgh we received check one. Aileen's aunt had left for the Highlands the week before in a fine rage because the Duke of Cumberland, who had foisted himself upon her unwilling hospitality, had eaten her out of house and home, then departing had borne away with him her cherished household penates to the value of some hundred pounds. Years later Major Wolfe told me with twinkling eyes the story of how the fiery little lady came to him with her tale of woe. If she did not go straight to the dour Duke it was because he was already out of the city and beyond her reach. Into Wolfe's quarters she bounced, rage and suspicion speaking eloquent in her manner.

"Hech, sir! Where have ye that Dutch Prince of yours?" she demanded of Wolfe, her keen eyes ranging over him.

"'Pon honour, madam, I have not him secreted on my person," returned the Major, gravely turning inside out his pockets for her.

The spirited old lady glowered at him.

"It's ill setting ye to be sae humoursome," she told him frankly. "It wad be better telling ye to answer ceevilly a ceevil question, my birkie."

"If I can be of any service, madam--"

"Humph, service! And that's just it, my mannie. The ill-faured tykes hae rampaigned through the house and taen awa' my bonnie silver tea service that I hae scoured every Monday morning for thirty-seven years come Michelmas, forby the fine Holland linen that my father, guid carefu' man, brought frae the continent his nainsel."

"I am sorry--"

"Sorry! Hear till him," she snorted. "Muckle guid your sorrow will do me unless--" her voice fell to a wheedling cajolery-"you just be a guid laddie and get me back my linen and the silver."

"The Duke has a partiality for fine bed linen, and quaint silver devices are almost a mania with him. Perhaps some of your other possessions"-

"His Dutch officers ate me out of house and home. They took awa' eight sacks of the best lump sugar."

"The army is in need of sugar. I fear it is not recoverable."

Miss MacBean had a way of affecting deafness when the occasion suited her.

"Eih, sir! Were you saying you wad see it was recovered? And my silver set wi' twenty solid teaspoons, forby the linen?" she asked anxiously, her hand to her ear.

Wolfe smiled.

"I fear the Duke--"

"Ou ay, I ken fine you fear him. He's gurly enough, Guid kens."

"I was about to say, madam, that I fear the Duke will regard them as spoils from the enemy not to be given up."

The Major was right. Miss MacBean might as well have saved her breath to cool her porridge, for the Duke carried her possessions to London despite her remonstrances. Five years later as I was passing by a pawnbroker's shop on a mean street in London Miss MacBean's teapot with its curious device of a winged dragon for a spout caught my eye in the window. The shopkeeper told me that it had been sold him by a woman of the demi-monde who had formerly been a mistress of the Duke of Cumberland. She said that it was a present from his Royal Highness, who had taken the silver service from the house of a fiery rebel lady in the north.

Our stay in the Scottish capital was of the shortest. In the early morning we went knocking at the door of Miss MacBean's house. All day I kept under cover and in the darkness of night we slipped out of the city southwest bound. Of that journey, its sweet comradeship, its shy confidences, its perpetual surprises for each of us in discovering the other, I have no time nor mind to tell. The very danger which was never absent from our travel drew us into a closer friendliness. Was there an option between two roads, or the question of the desirability of putting up at a certain inn, our heads came together to discuss it. Her pretty confidence in me was touching in the extreme. To have her hold me a Captain Greatheart made my soul glad, even though I knew my measure did not fit the specifications by a mile. Her trust in me was less an incense to my vanity than a spur to my manhood.

The mere joy of living flooded my blood with happiness in those days. I vow it made me a better man to breathe the same air as she, to hear the lilt of her merry laugh and the low music of her sweet voice. Not a curve in that dimpled cheek I did not love; not a ripple in the russet hair my hungry eyes had not approved. When her shy glance fell on me I rode in the sunshine of bluest sky. If by chance her hand touched mine, my veins leaped with the wine of it. Of such does the happiness of youth consist.

'Tis strange how greedy love is in its early days of the past from which it has been excluded, how jealous sometimes of the point of contact with other lives in the unknown years which have gone to make up the rungs of the ladder of life. I was never tired of hearing of her childhood on the braes of Raasay: how she guddled for mountain trout in the burn with her brother Murdoch or hung around his neck chains of daisies in childish glee. And she- Faith, she drew me out with shy questions till that part of my life which would bear telling must have been to her a book learned by rote.

Yet there were times when we came near to misunderstanding of each other. The dear child had been brought up in a houseful of men, her mother having died while she was yet an infant, and she was in some ways still innocent as a babe. The circumstances of our journey put her so much in my power that I, not to take advantage of the situation, sometimes held myself with undue stiffness toward her when my every impulse was to tenderness. Perhaps it might be that we rode through woodland in the falling dusk while the nesting birds sang madrigals of love. Longing with all my heart to touch but the hem of her gown, I would yet ride with a wooden face set to the front immovably, deaf to her indirect little appeals for friendliness. Presently, ashamed of my gruffness, I would yield to the sweetness of her charm, good resolutions windwood scattered, and woo her with a lover's ardour till the wild-rose deepened in her cheek.

"Were you ever in love before, Kennie?" she asked me once, twisting at a button of my coat. We were drawing near Manchester and had let the postillion drive on with the coach, while we loitered hand in hand through the forest of Arden. The azure sky was not more blue than the eyes which lifted shyly to mine, nor the twinkling stars which would soon gaze down on us one half so bright.

I laughed happily. "Once-in a boy's way-a thousand years ago."

"And were you caring for her-much?"

"Oh, vastly."

"And she-wass she loving you too?"

"More than tongue could tell, she made me believe."

"Oh, I am not wondering at that," said my heart's desire. "Of course she would be loving you."

'Twas Aileen's way to say the thing she thought, directly, in headlong Highland fashion. Of finesse she used none. She loved me (oh, a thousand times more than I deserved!) and that was all there was about it. To be ashamed of her love or to hide it never, I think, occurred to her. What more natural then than that others should think of me as she did?

"Of course," I said dryly. "But in the end my sweetheart, plighted to me for all eternity, had to choose betwixt her lover and something she had which he much desired. She sighed, deliberated long-full five seconds I vow-and in end played traitor to love. She was desolated to lose me, but the alternative was not to be endured. She sacrificed me for a raspberry tart. So was shattered young love's first dream. 'Tis my only consolation that I snatched the tart and eat it as I ran. Thus Phyllis lost both her lover and her portion. Ah, those brave golden days! The world, an unexplored wonder, lay at my feet. She was seven, I was nine."

"Oh." There was an odd little note of relief in the velvet voice that seemed to reproach me for a brute. I was forever forgetting that the ways of 'Toinette Westerleigh were not the ways of Aileen Macleod.

The dying sun flooded the topmost branches of the forest foliage. My eyes came round to the aureole which was their usual magnet.

"When the sun catches it 'tis shot with glints of gold."

"It is indeed very beautiful."

"In cloudy weather 'tis a burnished bronze."

She looked at me in surprise.

"Bronze! Surely you are meaning green?"

"Not I, bronze. Again you might swear it russet."

"That will be in the autumn when they are turning colour just before the fall."

"No, that is when you have it neatly snodded and the firelight plays about your head."

She laughed, flushing. "You will be forever at your foolishness, Kenn. I thought you meant the tree tips."

"Is the truth foolishness?"

"You are a lover, Kennie. Other folks don't see that when they look at me."

"Other folks are blind," I maintained, stoutly.

"If you see all that I will be sure that what they say is true and love is blind."

"The wise man is the lover. He sees clear for the first time in his life. The sun shines for him-and her. For them the birds sing and the flowers bloom. For them the world was made. They--"

"Whiles talk blethers," she laughed.

"Yes, they do," I admitted. "And there again is another sign of wisdom. Your ponderous fool talks pompous sense always. He sees life in only one facet. Your lover sees its many sides, its infinite variety. He can laugh and weep; his imagination lights up dry facts with whimsical fancies; he dives through the crust of conventionality to the realities of life. 'Tis the lover keeps this old world young. The fire of youth, of eternal laughing youth, runs flaming through his blood. His days are radiant, his nights enchanted."

"I am thinking you quite a poet."

"Was there ever a better subject for a poem? Life would be poetry writ into action if all men were lovers-and all women Aileens."

"Ah, Kenneth! This fine talk I do not understand. It's sheer nonsense to tell such idle clavers about me. Am I not just a plain Highland lassie, as unskilled in flattering speeches as in furbelows and patches? Gin you will play me a spring on the pipes I'll maybe can dance you the fling, but of French minuets I have small skill."

"Call me dreamer if you will. By Helen's glove, your dreamer might be the envy of kings. Since I have known you life has taken a different hue. One lives for years without joy, pain, colour, all things toned to the dull monochrome of gray, and then one day the contact with another soul quickens one to renewed life, to more eager unselfish living. Never so bright a sun before, never so beautiful a moon. 'Tis true, Aileen. No fear but one, that Fate, jealous, may snatch my love from me."

Her laughter dashed my heroics; yet I felt, too, that back of her smiles there was belief.

"I dare say. At the least I will have heard it before. The voice iss Jacob's voice, but--"

I blushed, remembering too late that my text and its application were both Volney's.

"'Tis true, even if Jacob said it first. If a man is worth his salt love must purify him. Sure it must. I am a better man for knowing you."

A shy wonder filled her eyes; thankfulness too was there.

"Yet you are a man that has fought battles and known life, and I am only an ignorant girl."

I lifted her hand and kissed it.

"You are my queen, and I am your most loyal and devoted servant."

"For always, Kenn? When you are meeting the fine ladies of London will you love a Highland lassie that cannot make eyes and swear choicely?"

"Forever and a day, dear."

Aileen referred to the subject again two hours later when we arose from the table at the Manchester ordinary. It was her usual custom to retire to her room immediately after eating. To-night when I escorted her to the door she stood for a moment drawing patterns on the lintel with her fan. A fine blush touched her cheek.

"Were you meaning all that, Kennie?"

"All what, dear heart?"

"That-nonsense-in the forest."

"Every bit of it."

Her fan spelt Kenneth on the door.

"Sometimes," she went on softly, "a fa

ncy is built on moonlight and laughing eyes and opportunity. It iss like sunshine in winter on Raasay-just for an hour and then the mists fall."

"For our love there will be no mists."

"Ah, Kenn, you think so now, but afterward, when you take up again your London life, and I cannot play the lady of fashion, when you weary of my simpleness and are wishing me back among the purple heather hills?"

"That will be never, unless I wish myself there with you. I am no London Mohawk like Volney. To tramp the heather after muircocks or to ride to hounds is more my fancy. The Macaronis and I came long since to the parting of the ways. I am for a snug home in the country with the woman I love."

I stepped to the table, filled a glass with wine, and brought it to her.

"Come, love! We will drink together. How is it old Ben Jonson hath it?

"'Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I'll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth seek a drink divine;

But might I of Jove's nectar sup

I would not change from thine.'

"Drink, sweetheart."

She tasted, then I drained the glass and let it fall from my fingers to shiver on the floor.

Before we parted Aileen had one more word for me, "Kennie."

"Yes, dear heart," I cried, and was back at her side in a moment.

"What you said in the woods-I am knowing it all true. It is great foolishness, but my heart is singing the same song," and with that she whipped the door to in my face.

I sauntered into the common room, found a seat by the fireplace, and let my eye wander over the company. There were present some half dozen yokels, the vicar's curate, a country blood or two, and a little withered runt of a man in fustian with a weazened face like a wrinkled pippin. The moment I clapped eyes on him there came to my mind the dim recollection of a former acquaintance and the prescient fear of an impending danger. That I had seen him I was ready to take oath, yet I could not put my finger upon the circumstances. But the worst of it was that the old fellow recognized me, unless I were much mistaken, for his eyes never left me from the first.

From my mother I have inherited a Highland jauntiness which comes stealing over me when sobriety would set me better. Let the situation be a different one, uncertain of solution, with heads tipping in the balance, and an absurd spirit of recklessness straightway possesses me. But now, with this dear child on my hands, carelessness and I were far apart as the poles. Anxiety gripped me, and I sweated blood. Yet I must play the careless traveller, be full of good stories, unperturbed on the surface and apparently far from alarm. I began to overdo the part, recognized the fact, and grew savage at myself. Trying to conciliate him, I was free with the ale, and again overdid it.

He drank my ale and listened to my stories, but he sat cocking on his seat like an imp of mischief. I rattled on, insouciant and careless to all appearances, but in reality my heart like lead. Behind my smiling lips I cursed him up hill and down dale. Lard, his malicious grin was a thing to rile the gods! More than once I wake up in the night from dreaming that his scrawny hand was clapping the darbies on my wrists.

When we were ready to start next morning the post boy let me know that one of the horses had gone lame. Here was a pretty pickle. I pished and pshawed, but in the end had to scour the town to find another in its place. 'Twas well on toward noon when the boy and I returned to the ordinary with a nag that would serve.

Of other lovers I have scant knowledge, but the one I know was wont to cherish the memory of things his love had said and how she had said them; with what a pretty tilt to her chin, with what a daring shyness of the eyes, with what a fine colour and impetuous audacity she had done this or looked that. He was wont in advance to plan out conversations, to decide that he would tell her some odd brain fancy and watch her while he told it. Many an hour he spent in the fairy land of imagination; many a one he dreamed away in love castles built of fancied rambles in enchanted woods, of sweet talks in which he always said and did the right thing; destined alas! never to pass from mind to speech, for if ever tongue essayed the telling it faltered some fatuous abortion as little like love's dream as Caliban resembled Ariel. Fresh from the brave world of day-dreams, still smiling happily from some whimsical conceit as well as with anticipation of Aileen's gladness at sight of me, I passed through the courtyard and into the ordinary.

A hubbub at the foot of the stairway attracted me. A gaping crowd was gathered there about three central figures. My weasened pippin-face of the malicious grin was one of them; a broad-shouldered, fair-faced and very much embarrassed young officer in the King's uniform stood beside him; and from the stairway some three steps up Aileen, plainly frightened, fronted them and answered questions in her broken English.

"I am desolated to distress you, madam," the boy officer was saying, "but this man has laid an information with me that there is a rebel in your party, one who was in Manchester with the Pretender's force some months since. It will be necessary that I have speech with him."

"There iss no rebel with me, sir. The gentleman with whom I travel iss of most approved loyalty," she faltered.

"Ah! He will no doubt be able to make that clear to me. May I ask where he is at present?"

Aileen went white as snow. Her distress was apparent to all.

"Sir, I do entreat you to believe that what I say iss true," she cried whitely.

The little rat in fustian broke out screaming that he would swear to me among ten thousand: as to the girl she must be the rebel's accomplice, his mistress mayhap. Aileen, her big, anxious eyes fixed on the officer, shrank back against the stair rail at her accuser's word. The lad commanded him sharply to be quiet, but with the utmost respect let Aileen understand that he must have talk with me.

All this one swift glance had told me, and at this opportune moment I sauntered up, Volney's snuff-box in my hand. If the doubt possessed me as to how the devil I was to win free from this accusation, I trust no shadow of fear betrayed itself in my smirking face.

"Egad, here's a gathering of the clans. Hope I'm not de trop," I simpered.

The lieutenant bowed to me with evident relief.

"On the contrary, sir, if you are the gentleman travelling with this lady you are the desired complement to our party. There has been some doubt expressed as to you. This man here claims to have recognized you as one of the Pretender's army; says he was present when you bought provisions for a troop of horsemen during the rebel invasion of this town."

"'Slife, perhaps I'm Charles Stuart himself," I shrugged.

"I swear to him. I swear to him," screamed fustian.

On my soul merely to look at the man gave me a nausea. His white malevolence fair scunnered me.

I adjusted Volney's eye-glass with care and looked the fellow over with a candid interest, much as your scientist examines a new specimen.

"What the plague! Is this rusty old last year's pippin an evidence against me? Rot me, he's a pretty scrub on which to father a charge against a gentleman, Lud, his face is a lie. No less!"

"May I ask your name, sir, and your business in this part of the country?" said the lieutenant.

Some impulse-perhaps the fact that I was wearing his clothes-put it into my head to borrow Volney's name. There was risk that the lad might have met the baronet, but that was a contingency which must be ventured. It brought him to like a shot across a lugger's bows.

"Sir Robert Volney, the friend of the Prince," he said, patently astonished.

"The Prince has that honour," I smiled.

"Pray pardon my insistence. Orders from headquarters," says he apologetically.

I waved aside his excuses peevishly.

"Sink me, Sir Robert Volney should be well enough known not to be badgered by every country booby with a king's commission. Lard, I vow I'll have a change when Fritz wears the crown."

With that I turned on my heel in a simulation of petty anger, offered my arm to Aileen, and marched up the stairs with her. My manner and my speech were full of flowered compliments to her, of insolence to the young gentleman below, for there is nothing more galling to a man's pride than to be ignored.

"'Twas the only way," I said to Aileen when the door was closed on us above. "'Tis a shame to flout an honest young gentleman so, but in such fashion the macaroni would play the part. Had I stayed to talk with him he might have asked for my proof. We're well out of the affair."

But we were not out of it yet. I make no doubt that no sooner was my back turned than the little rat in fustian, his mind set on a possible reward, was plucking at the lad's sleeve with suggestions and doubts. In any case there came presently a knock at the door. I opened. The boy officer was there with a red face obstinately set.

"Sir, I must trouble you again," he said icily. "You say you are Sir Robert Volney. I must ask you for proofs."

At once I knew that I had overdone my part. It had been better to have dealt with this youth courteously; but since I had chosen my part, I must play it.

"Proofs," I cried blackly. "Do you think I carry proofs of my identity for every country bumpkin to read? Sink me, 'tis an outrage."

He flushed, but hung doggedly to his point.

"You gain nothing by insulting me, Sir Robert. I may be only a poor line officer and you one high in power, but by Heaven! I'm as good a man as you," cried the boy; then rapped out, "I'll see your papers, if you have me broke for it."

My papers! An inspiration shot into my brain. When Volney had substituted for me at Portree he had given me a pass through the lines, made out in his name and signed by the Duke of Cumberland, in order that I might present it if challenged. Hitherto I had not been challenged, and indeed I had forgotten the existence of it, but now- I fished out the sheet of parchment and handed it to the officer. His eye ran over the passport, and he handed it back with a flushed face.

"I have to offer a thousand apologies for troubling you, Sir Robert. This paper establishes your identity beyond doubt."

"Hope you're quite satisfied," I said with vast irony.

"Oh, just one more question. The lady travelling with you?"

I watched him silently.

"She is from the Highlands, is she not?" he asked.

"Is she?"

"To be sure 'tis sufficient if Sir Robert Volney vouches for her."

"Is it?"

"And of course the fact that she travels in his company--"

My answer was a yawn, half stifled behind my hand. The lad glared at me, in a rage at me for my insolence and at himself for his boyish inability to cope with it. Then he swung on his heel and stamped down-stairs. Five years later I met him at a dinner given by a neighbour of mine in the country, and I took occasion then to explain to him my intolerable conduct. Many a laugh we have since had over it.

We reached London on a dismal Wednesday when the rain was pouring down in sheets. Aileen I took at once to our town house that she might be with Cloe, though I expected to put up with my old nurse in another part of the city. I leave you to conceive the surprise of Charles and my sister when we dropped in on them.

The news they had for us was of the worst. Every week witnessed the execution of some poor Jacobites and the arrival of a fresh batch to take their place in the prisons. The Scotch Lords Balmerino, Cromartie and Kilmarnock were already on trial and their condemnation was a foregone conclusion. The thirst for blood was appalling and not at all glutted by the numerous executions that had already occurred. 'Twas indeed for me a most dismal home-coming.

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