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   Chapter 15 VOLNEY’S GUEST

A Daughter of Raasay By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 14043

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Of all the London beaux not one had apartments more elegant than Sir Robert Volney.[3] It was one of the man's vanities to play the part of a fop, to disguise his restless force and eager brain beneath the vapid punctilios of a man of fashion. There were few suspected that his reckless gayety was but a mask to hide a weary, unsatisfied heart, and that this smiling debonair gentleman with the biting wit was in truth the least happy of men. Long he had played his chosen r?le. Often he doubted whether the game were worth the candle, but he knew that he would play it to the end, and since he had so elected would bear himself so that all men should mark him. If life were not what the boy Robert Volney had conceived it; if failure were inevitable and even the fruit of achievement bitter; if his nature and its enveloping circumstance had proven more strong than his dim, fast-fading, boyish ideals, at least he could cross the stage gracefully and bow himself off with a jest. So much he owed himself and so much he would pay.

Something of all this perhaps was in Sir Robert Volney's mind as he lay on the couch with dreamy eyes cast back into the yesterdays of life, that dim past which echoed faintly back to him memories of a brave vanished youth. On his lips, no doubt, played the half ironic, half wistful smile which had become habitual to the man.

And while with half-shut eyes his mind drifted lazily back to that golden age forever gone, enter from the inner room, Captain Donald Roy Macdonald, a cocked pistol in his hand, on his head Volney's hat and wig, on his back Volney's coat, on his feet Volney's boots. The baronet eyed the Highlander with mild astonishment, then rose to his feet and offered him a chair.

"Delighted, I'm sure," he said politely.

"You look it," drolled Macdonald.

"Off to the wars again, or are you still at your old profession of lifting, my Highland cateran?"

Donald shrugged. "I am a man of many trades. In my day I have been soldier, sailor, reiver, hunter and hunted, doctor and patient, forby a wheen mair. What the gods provide I take."

"Hm! So I see. Prithee, make yourself at home," was Volney's ironical advice.

Macdonald fell into an attitude before the glass and admired himself vastly.

"Fegs, I will that. The small-clothes now- Are they not an admirable fit whatever? And the coat- 'Tis my measure to a nicety. Let me congratulate you on your tailor. Need I say that the periwig is a triumph of the friseur's art?"

"Your approval flatters me immensely," murmured Volney, smiling whimsically. "Faith, I never liked my clothes so well as now. You make an admirable setting for them, Captain, but the ruffles are somewhat in disarray. If you will permit me to ring for my valet Watkins he will be at your service. Devil take him, he should have been here an hour ago."

"He sends by me a thousand excuses for his absence. The fact is that he is unavoidably detained."

"Pardon me. I begin to understand. You doubtless found it necessary to put a quietus on him. May one be permitted to hope that you didn't have to pistol him? I should miss him vastly. He is the best valet in London."

"Your unselfish attachment to him does you infinite credit, Sir Robert. It fair brings the water to my een. But it joys me to reassure you at all events. He is in your bedroom tied hand and foot, biting on a knotted kerchief. I persuaded him to take a rest."

Volney laughed.

"Your powers of persuasion are great, Captain Macdonald. Once you persuaded me to leave your northern capital. The air, I think you phrased it, was too biting for me. London too has a climate of its own, a throat disease epidemic among northerners is working great havoc here now. One trusts you will not fall a victim, sir. Have you-er-developed any symptoms?"

"'Twould nae doubt grieve you sair. You'll be gey glad to learn that the crisis is past."

"Charmed, 'pon honour. And would it be indiscreet to ask whether you are making a long stay in the city?"

"Faith, I wish I knew. Donald Roy wad be blithe to answer no. And that minds me that I will be owing you an apology for intruding in your rooms. Let the facts speak for me. Stravaiging through the streets with the chase hot on my heels, your open window invited me. I stepped in, footed it up-stairs, and found refuge in your sleeping apartments, where I took the liberty of borrowing a change of clothes, mine being over well known at the New Prison. So too I purloined this good sword and the pistol. That Sir Robert Volney was my host I did not know till I chanced on some letters addressed to that name. Believe me, I'm unco sorry to force myself upon you."

"I felicitate myself on having you as a guest. The vapours had me by the throat to-night. Your presence is a sufficing tonic for a most oppressive attack of the blue devils. This armchair has been recommended as an easy one. Pray occupy it."

Captain Roy tossed the pistol on a table and sat him down in the chair with much composure. Volney poured him wine and he drank; offered him fruit and he ate. Together, gazing into the glowing coals, they supped their mulled claret in a luxurious silence.

The Highlander was the first to speak.

"It's a geyan queer warld this. Anjour d'hui roi, demain rien. Yestreen I gaped away the hours in a vile hole waiting for my craig (neck) to be raxed (twisted); the night I drink old claret in the best of company before a cheery fire. The warm glow of it goes to my heart after that dank cell in the prison. By heaven, the memory of that dungeon sends a shiver down my spine."

"To-morrow, was it not, that you were to journey to Tyburn and from thence across the Styx?"

"Yes, to-morrow, and with me as pretty a lot of lads as ever threw steel across their hurdies. My heart is wae for them, the leal comrades who have lain out with me in the heather many a night and watched the stars come out. There's Montagu and Creagh now! We three have tholed together empty wame and niddering cold and the weariness o' death. The hurly o' the whistling claymore has warmed our hearts; the sight of friends stark from lead and steel and rope has garred them rin like water. God, it makes me feel like a deserter to let them take the lang journey alane. Did you ken that the lad came back to get me from the field when I was wounded at Drummossie Moor?"

"Montagu? I never heard that."

"Took his life in his hand to come back to that de'il's caldron where the red bluid ran like a mountain burn. It iss the boast of the Macdonalds that they always pay their debts both to friend and foe. Fine have I paid mine. He will be thinking me the true friend in his hour of need," finished Donald bitterly.

"You don't know him. The temper of the man is not so grudging. His joy in your escape will help deaden his own pain. Besides, what could you do for him if you were with him at the end? 'Twould be only one more sacrifice."

The grim dour Highland sternness hung heavy on Donald's face.

"I could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and curse the whigs at all events. I could cry with him 'God save King James' in the teeth of the sidier roy."

Volney clapped his hands softly. "Hear, hear!" he cried with flaming eyes. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Jacobite."

The Gael turned to him impetuously, his blue eyes (as I conceive) moist with emotion.

"Man, could I persuade you to be saving the lad? It was for this that I waited in your rooms to see you. They say that you are a favourite of princes, that what you ask you get. Do for once a fine thing and ask this boy's life."

"They exaggerate my power. But for argument's sake suppose it true. Why should I ask it? What have I to gain by it?"

Volney, his eyes fixed on the fire, asked the question as much to himself as to the Highlander. The manner of his tone suggested that it was not a new one to him.

"Gain! Who spoke of gain? Are you a Jew peddler or an English gentleman?" cried Donald.

"They call me dissolute, gambler, profligate. These be hard names, but I have earned them all. I make no apologies and offer no excuses. As I have lived my life, so have I lived it. For buttered phrases I have no taste. Call me libertine, or call me man of fashion; 'tis all one. My evil nature-C'est plus fort que moi. At least I have not played the hypocrite. No canting sighs! No lapses to morality and prayers! No vices smugly hidden! The plain straight road to hell taken at a gallop!" So, with chin in hand and dark eyes lit by the flickering flame, this roué and sentimentalist philosophized.

"And Montagu?" cried the Gael, harking back to his prosaic text.

"Has made his bed and he must lie in it."

"By Heaven, who ruined him and made an outlaw of him? Who drove him to rebellion?"

"You imply that I strewed his bed with nettles. Perhaps. 'Tis well my shoulders are broad, else they could not bear all that is laid upon them."

"You would never be letting a petty private grudge influence you?"

Volney turned, stung to the quick.

"You go too far, Captain Macdonald. Have I given bonds to save this fool from the consequences of his folly? I cherish no hatred toward him, but I play no Jonathan to his David. Egad, it were a pretty r?le for me to essay! You would cast me for a part full of heroics, the moving of heaven and earth to save my dearest enemy. Thank you, I am not for it. Neither for nor against him will I lift a hand. There is no malice in my heart toward this poor condemned young gentleman. If he can win free I shall be glad, even though his gain is my loss, but further than that I will not go. He came between me and the thing I most desired on earth. Shall I help him to the happiness which will condemn me to misery?"

For an instant the habitual veil of mockery was snatched aside and the tortured soul of the man leaped from his burning eyes.

"You saved him at Portree," was all that Donald could say.

"I paid a debt to him and to Cumberland. The ledger is now balanced."

The Jacobite paced up and down the room for a minute, then stopped and touched the other on his shoulder where he sat.

"I too am somewhat in your debt, Sir Robert. When Montagu opposed you he fought for his own hand. Therein he was justified. But I, an outsider, interfered in a quarrel that was not mine own, spoiled sport for you, in short lost you the lassie. You followed her to Scotland; 'twas I that drove you back to England when Montagu was powerless. From first to last I am the rock on which your love bark has split. If your cause has spelled failure I alone am to blame."

"So? What then?"

"Why this: without Captain Donald Roy Macdonald the lad had been helpless. Donald was at his back to whisper words of advice and encouragement. Donald contrived the plot which separated you from the lady. Donald stood good fairy to the blessed pair of bairns and made of himsel' a match-making auld mither. You owe your hatred to Donald Roy and not to the lad who was but his instrument."

The macaroni looked at the other with an odd smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"And so?"

"And so," continued the Macdonald triumphantly, a challenge in his voice and manner, "and so, who but Donald should be your enemy? My certes, a prettier foe at the broadsword you will not find in a' Scotland."

"I do not quite take your meaning. Would you fight with me?"

"Blithe would I be to cross the steel with you, but little that would help Kenneth. My plan is this: save the lad from the halter and I will tak' his place."

"You mean that if I compass his freedom you will surrender to be executed?"

"I am meaning just that."

"I thought so from the first. 'Slife, man, do you think I can change my foes like gloves? Chacun paie son écot."

"Why not? Iss not a man a better foe than a halfling boy?"

"I would never seek a better foe or a better friend than either you or Montagu, Captain. On my soul, you have both the true ring. But as to your offer I must decline it. The thing is one of your wild impracticable Highland imaginings, a sheer impossibility. You seem to think I have a blood feud and that nothing less than a foeman's life will satisfy me. In that you err. I am a plain man of the world and cannot reach your heroics."

The Jacobite's face fell.

"You are going to let the boy die then?"

Volney hesitated, then answered with a shrug.

"I shall be frank with you. To-day I secured Montagu a reprieve for two weeks. He shall have his chance such as it is, but I do not expect him to take it. If he shows stubborn I wash my hands of him. I have said the last word. You may talk till Yule without changing my mind." Then, with an abrupt turn of the subject: "Have you with you the sinews of war, Captain? You will need money to effect your escape. My purse is at your service not less than my wardrobe, or if you care to lie hidden here for a time you will be quite safe. Watkins is a faithful fellow and devoted to me."

The Highlander flushed, stammering out:

"For your proffered loan, I accept it with the best will in the world; and as to your offer of a hiding-place, troth! I'm badly needing one. Gin it were no inconvenience--"

"None in the world."

"I will be remembering you for a generous foe till the day of my death. You're a man to ride the water wi'."

"Lard! There's no generosity in it. Every Mohawk thinks it a pleasure to help any man break the laws. Besides, I count on you to help drive away the doldrums. Do you care for a hand at piquet now, Captain?"

"With pleasure. I find in the cartes great diversion, but by your leave I'll first unloose your man Watkins."

"'Slife, I had forgot him. We'll have him brew us a punch and make a night of it. Sleep and I are a thousand miles apart."

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[3] The material for this chapter was furnished me with great particularity by Captain Donald Roy Macdonald. From his narrative to me, I set down the story in substance as he told it.   K. M.

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