A DAUGHTER OF RAASAY A TALE OF THE '45
By WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE
Illustrated by STUART TRAVIS
NEW YORK FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1901, by Frank Leslie Publishing House
Copyright, 1902, by Frederick A. Stokes Company
All rights reserved
Published in October, 1902
TO MR. ELLERY SEDGWICK
CHAPTER PAGE I. The Sport of Chance 1 II A Cry in the Night 19 III Deoch Slaint an Righ! 39 IV Of Love and War 60 V The Hue and Cry 79 VI In The Matter of a Kiss 99 VII My Lady Rages 116 VIII Charles Edward Stuart 133 IX Blue Bonnets are Over the Border 151 X Culloden 159 XI The Red Heather Hills 180 XII Volney Pays a Debt 202 XIII The Little God has an Innings 223 XIV The Aftermath 231 XV A Reprieve! 251 XVI Volney's Guest 266 XVII The Valley of the Shadow 278 XVIII The Shadow Falls 297 The Afterword 309
THE LADIES OF ST. JAMES'S
The ladies of St. James's Go swinging to the play; Their footmen run before them With a "Stand by! Clear the way!" But Phyllida, my Phyllida! She takes her buckled shoon. When we go out a-courting Beneath the harvest moon.
The ladies of St. James's! They are so fine and fair, You'd think a box of essences Was broken in the air: But Phyllida, my Phyllida! The breath of heath and furze When breezes blow at morning, Is not so fresh as hers.
The ladies of St. James's! They're painted to the eyes; Their white it stays forever, Their red it never dies: But Phyllida, my Phyllida! Her colour comes and goes; It trembles to a lily,— It wavers like a rose.
The ladies of St. James's! You scarce can understand The half of all their speeches, Their phrases are so grand: But Phyllida, my Phyllida! Her shy and simple words Are clear as after raindrops The music of the birds.
The ladies of St. James's! They have their fits and freaks; They smile on you—for seconds; They frown on you—for weeks: But Phyllida, my Phyllida! Come either storm or shine, From shrovetide unto shrovetide Is always true—and mine.
When this romance touches history the author believes that it is, in every respect, with one possible exception, in accord with the accepted facts. In detailing the history of "the '45'" and the sufferings of the misguided gentlemen who flung away the scabbard out of loyalty to a worthless cause, care has been taken to make the story agree with history. The writer does not of course indorse the view of Prince Charles' character herein set forth by Kenneth Montagu, but there is abundant evidence to show that the Young Chevalier had in a very large degree those qualities which were lacking to none of the Stuarts: a charming personality and a gallant bearing. If his later life did not fulfil the promise of his youth, the unhappy circumstances which hampered him should be kept in mind as an extenuation.
The thanks of the writer are due for pertinent criticism to Miss Chase, to Mr. Arthur Chapman and to Mr. James Rain, and especially to Mr. Ellery Sedgwick, whose friendly interest and kindly encouragement have been unfailing.
Acknowledgment must also be made of a copious use of Horace Walpole's Letters, the Chevalier Johnstone's History of the Rebellion, and other eighteenth century sources of information concerning the incidents of the times. The author has taken the liberty of using several anecdotes and bon mots mentioned in the "Letters"; but he has in each case put the story in the mouth of its historical originator.
W. M. R.
A DAUGHTER OF RAASAY
THE SPORT OF CHANCE
"Deep play!" I heard Major Wolfe whisper to Lord Balmerino. "Can Montagu's estate stand such a drain?"
"No. He will be dipped to the last pound before midnight. 'Tis Volney's doing. He has angled for Montagu a se'nnight, and now he has hooked him. I have warned the lad, but——"
He shrugged his shoulders.
The Scotchman was right. I was past all caution now, past all restraint. The fever of play had gripped me, and I would listen to nothing but the rattle of that little box which makes the most seductive music ever sung by siren. My Lord Balmerino might stand behind me in silent protest till all was grey, and though he had been twenty times my father's friend he would not move me a jot.
Volney's smoldering eyes looked across the table at me.
"Your cast, Kenn. Shall we say doubles? You'll nick this time for sure."
"Done! Nine's the main," I cried, and threw deuces.
With that throw down crashed fifty ancestral oaks that had weathered the storms of three hundred winters. I had crabbed, not nicked.
"The fickle goddess is not with you to-day, Kenn. The jade jilts us all at times," drawled Volney, as he raked in his winnings carelessly.
"Yet I have noted that there are those whom she forsakes not often, and I have wondered by what charmed talisman they hold her true," flashed out Balmerino.
The steel flickered into Volney's eyes. He understood it for no chance remark, but as an innuendo tossed forth as a challenge. Of all men Sir Robert Volney rode on the crest of fortune's wave, and there were not lacking those who whispered that his invariable luck was due to something more than chance and honest skill. For me, I never believed the charge. With all his faults Volney had the sportsman's love of fair play.
The son of a plain country gentleman, he had come to be by reason of his handsome face, his reckless courage, his unfailing impudence, and his gift of savoir-vivre, the most notorious and fortunate of the adventurers who swarmed at the court of St. James. By dint of these and kindred qualities he had become an intimate companion of the Prince of Wales. The man had a wide observation of life; indeed, he was an interested and whimsical observer rather than an actor, and a scoffer always. A libertine from the head to the heel of him, yet gossip marked him as the future husband of the beautiful young heiress Antoinette Westerleigh. For the rest, he carried an itching sword and the smoothest tongue that ever graced a villain. I had been proud that such a man had picked me for his friend, entirely won by the charm of manner that made his more evil faults sit gracefully on him.
Volney declined for the present the quarrel that Balmerino's impulsive loyalty to me would have fixed on him. He feared no living man, but he was no hothead to be drawn from his purpose. If Lord Balmerino wanted to measure swords with him he would accommodate the old Scotch peer with the greatest pleasure on earth, but not till the time fitted him. He answered easily:
"I know no talisman but this, my Lord; in luck and out of luck to bear a smiling front, content with the goods the gods may send."
It was a fair hit, for Balmerino was well known as an open malcontent and suspected of being a Jacobite.
"Ah! The goods sent by the gods! A pigeon for the plucking—the lad you have called friend!" retorted the other.
"Take care, my Lord," warningly.
"But there are birds it is not safe to pluck," continued Balmerino, heedless of his growing anger.
"As even Sir Robert Volney may find out. An eaglet is not wisely chosen for such purpose."
It irritated me that they should thrust and parry over my shoulder, as if I had been but a boy instead of full three months past my legal majority. Besides, I had no mind to have them letting each other's blood on my account.
"Rat it, 'tis your play, Volney. You keep us waiting," I cried.
"You're in a devilish hurry to be quit of your shekels," laughed the Irishman O'Sullivan, who sat across the table from me. "Isn't there a proverb, Mr. Montagu, about a—a careless gentleman and his money going different ways, begad? Don't keep him waiting any longer than need be, Volney."
There is this to be said for the Macaronis, that they plucked their pigeon with the most graceful negligence in the world. They might live by their wits, but they knew how to wear always the jauntiest indifference of manner. Out came the feathers with a sure hand, the while they exchanged choice bon mots and racy scandal. Hazard was the game we played and I, Kenneth Montagu, was cast for the role of the pigeon. Against these old gamesters I had no chance even if the play had been fair, and my head on it more than one of them rooked me from start to finish. I was with a vast deal of good company, half of whom were rogues and blacklegs.
"Heard George Selwyn's latest?" inquired Lord Chesterfield languidly.
"Not I. Threes, devil take it!" cried O'Sullivan in a pet.
"Tell it, Horry. It's your story," drawled the fourth Earl of Chesterfield.
"Faith, and that's soon done," answered Walpole. "George and I were taking the air down the Mall arm in arm yesterday just after the fellow Fox was hanged for cutting purses, and up comes our Fox to quiz George. Says he, knowing Selwyn's penchant for horrors, 'George, were you at the execution of my namesake?' Selwyn looks him over in his droll way from head to foot and says, 'Lard, no! I never attend rehearsals, Fox.'"
"'Tis the first he has missed for years then. Selwyn is as regular as Jack Ketch himself. Your throw, Montagu," put in O'Sullivan.
"Seven's the main, and by the glove of Helen I crab. Saw ever man such cursed luck?" I cried.
"'Tis vile. Luck's mauling you fearfully to-night," agreed Volney languidly. Then, apropos of the hanging, "Ketch turned off that fellow Dr. Dodd too. There was a shower, and the prison chaplain held an umbrella over Dodd's head. Gilly Williams said it wasn't necessary, as the Doctor was going to a place where he might be easily dried."
"Egad, 'tis his greatest interest in life," chuckled Walpole, harking back to Selwyn. "When George has a tooth pulled he drops his kerchief as a signal for the dentist to begin the execution."
Old Lord Pam's toothless gums grinned appreciation of the jest as he tottered from the room to take a chair for a rout at which he was due.
"Faith, and it's a wonder how that old Methuselah hangs on year after year," said O'Sullivan bluntly, before the door had even closed on the octogenarian. "He must be a thousand if he's a day."
"The fact is," explained Chesterfield confidentially, "that old Pam has been dead for several years, but he doesn't choose to have it known. Pardon me, am I delaying the game?"
He was not, and he knew it; but my Lord Chesterfield was far too polite to more than hint to Topham Beauclerc that he had fallen asleep over his throw. Selwyn and Lord March lounged into the coffee house arm in arm. On their heels came Sir James Craven, the choicest blackleg in England.
"How d'ye do, everybody? Whom are you and O'Sully rooking to-night, Volney? Oh, I see—Montagu. Beg pardon," said Craven coolly.
Volney looked past the man with a wooden face that did not even recognize the fellow as a blot on the landscape. There was bad blood between the two men, destined to end in a tragedy. Sir James had been in the high graces of Frederick Prince of Wales until the younger and more polished Volney had ousted him. On the part of the coarse and burly Craven, there was enduring hatred toward his easy and elegant rival, who paid back his malice with a serene contempt. Noted duellist as Craven was, Sir Robert did not give a pinch of snuff for his rage.
The talk veered to the new fashion of spangled skirts, and Walpole vowed that Lady Coventry's new dress was covered with spangles big as a shilling.
"'Twill be convenient for Coventry. She'll be change for a guinea," suggested Selwyn gloomily, his solemn face unlighted by the vestige of a smile.
So they jested, even when the play was deepest and while long-inherited family manors passed out of the hands of their owners. The recent French victory at Fontenoy still rankled in the heart of every Englishman. Within, the country seethed with an undercurrent of unrest and dissatisfaction. It was said that there were those who boasted quietly among themselves over their wine that the sun would yet rise some day on a Stuart England, that there were desperate men still willing to risk their lives in blind loyalty or in the gambler's spirit for the race of Kings that had been discarded for its unworthiness. But the cut of his Mechlin lace ruffles was more to the Macaroni than his country's future. He made his jest with the same aplomb at births and weddings and deaths.
Each fresh minute of play found me parted from some heirloom treasured by Montagus long since dust. In another half hour Montagu Grange was stripped of timber bare as the Row itself. Once, between games, I strolled uneasily down the room, and passing the long looking glass scarce recognized the haggard face that looked out at me. Still I played on, dogged and wretched, not knowing how to withdraw myself from these elegant dandies who were used to win or lose a fortune at a sitting with imperturbable face.
Lord Balmerino gave me a chance. He clapped a hand on my shoulder and said in his brusque kindly way—
"Enough, lad! You have dropped eight thou' to-night. Let the old family pictures still hang on the walls."
I looked up, flushed and excited, yet still sane enough to know his advice was good. In the strong sallow face of Major James Wolfe I read the same word. I knew the young soldier slightly and liked him with a great respect, though I could not know that this grave brilliant-eyed young man was later to become England's greatest soldier and hero. I had even pushed back my chair to rise from the table when the cool gibing voice of Volney cut in.
"The eighth wonder of the world; Lord Balmerino in a new role—adviser to young men of fashion who incline to enjoy life. Are you by any chance thinking of becoming a ranting preacher, my Lord?"
"I bid him do as I say and not as I have done. To point my case I cite myself as an evil example of too deep play."
"Indeed, my Lord! Faith, I fancied you had in mind even deeper play for the future. A vastly interesting game, this of politics. You stake your head that you can turn a king and zounds! you play the deuce instead."
Balmerino looked at him blackly out of a face cut in frowning marble, but Volney leaned back carelessly in his chair and his insolent eyes never flickered.
As I say, I sat swithering 'twixt will and will-not.
"Better come, Kenneth! The luck is against you to-night," urged Balmerino, his face relaxing as he turned to me.
Major Wolfe said nothing, but his face too invited me.
"Yes, better go back to school and be birched," sneered Volney.
And at that I flung back into my seat with a curse, resolute to show him I was as good a man as he. My grim-faced guardian angel washed his hands of me with a Scotch proverb.
"He that will to Cupar maun to Cupar. The lad will have to gang his ain gate," I heard him tell Wolfe as they strolled away.
Still the luck held against me. Before I rose from the table two hours later I wrote out notes for a total so large that I knew the Grange must be mortgaged to the roof to satisfy it.
Volney lolled in his chair and hid a yawn behind tapering pink finger-nails. "'Slife, you had a cursed run of the ivories to-night, Kenn! When are you for your revenge? Shall we say to-morrow? Egad, I'm ready to sleep round the clock. Who'll take a seat in my coach? I'm for home."
I pushed into the night with a burning fever in my blood, and the waves of damp mist which enveloped London and beat upon me, gathering great drops of moisture on my cloak, did not suffice to cool the fire that burnt me up. The black dog Care hung heavy on my shoulders. I knew now what I had done. Fool that I was, I had mortgaged not only my own heritage but also the lives of my young brother Charles and my sister Cloe. Our father had died of apoplexy without a will, and a large part of his personal property had come to me with the entailed estate. The provision for the other two had been of the slightest, and now by this one wild night of play I had put it out of my power to take care of them. I had better clap a pistol to my head and be done with it.
Even while the thought was in my mind a hand out of the night fell on my shoulder from behind. I turned with a start, and found myself face to face with the Scotchman Balmerino.
"Whither away, Kenneth?" he asked.
I laughed bitterly. "What does it matter? A broken gambler—a ruined dicer— What is there left for him?"
The Scotch Lord linked an arm through mine. I had liefer have been alone, but I could scarce tell him so. He had been a friend of my father and had done his best to save me from my folly.
"There is much left. All is not lost. I have a word to say to your father's son."
"What use!" I cried rudely. "You would lock the stable after the horse is stolen."
"Say rather that I would put you in the way of getting another horse," he answered gravely.
So gravely that I looked at him twice before I answered:
"And I would be blithe to find a way, for split me! as things look now I must either pistol myself or take to the road and pistol others," I told him gloomily.
"There are worse things than to lose one's wealth——"
"I hear you say it, but begad! I do not know them," I answered with a touch of anger at his calmness.
"——When the way is open to regain all one has lost and more," he finished, unheeding my interruption.
"Well, this way you speak of," I cried impatiently. "Where is it?"
He looked at me searchingly, as one who would know the inmost secrets of my soul. Under a guttering street light he stopped me and read my face line by line. I dare swear he found there a recklessness to match his own and perhaps some trace of the loyalty for which he looked. Presently he said, as the paving stones echoed to our tread:—
"You have your father's face, Kenn. I mind him a lad just like you when we went out together in the '15 for the King. Those were great days—great days. I wonder——"
His unfinished sentence tailed out into a meditative silence. His voice and eyes told of a mind reminiscent of the past and perhaps dreamful of the future. Yet awhile, and he snatched himself back into the present.
"Six hours ago I should not have proposed this desperate remedy for your ills. You had a stake in the country then, but now you are as poor in this world's gear as Arthur Elphinstone himself. When one has naught but life at stake he will take greater risks. I have a man's game to play. Are you for it, lad?"
I hesitated, a prophetic divination in my mind that I stood in a mist at the parting of life's ways.
"You have thrown all to-night—and lost. I offer you another cut at Fortune's cards. You might even turn a king."
He said it with a quiet steadfastness in which I seemed to detect an undercurrent of strenuous meaning. I stopped, and in my turn looked long at him. What did he mean? Volney's words came to my mind. I began to piece together rumours I had heard but never credited. I knew that even now men dreamed of a Stuart restoration. If Arthur Elphinstone of Balmerino were one of these I knew him to be of a reckless daring mad enough to attempt it.
"My Lord, you say I might turn a king," I repeated slowly. "'Tis more like that I would play the knave. You speak in riddles. I am no guesser of them. You must be plain."
Still he hung back from a direct answer. "You are dull to-night, Kenn. I have known you more gleg at the uptake, but if you will call on me to-morrow night I shall make all plain to you."
We were arrived at the door of his lodgings, a mean house in a shabby neighbourhood, for my Lord was as poor as a church mouse despite his title. I left him here, and the last words I called over my shoulder to him were,
"Remember, I promise nothing."
It may be surmised that as I turned my steps back toward my rooms in Arlington Street I found much matter for thought. I cursed the folly that had led me to offer myself a dupe to these hawks of the gaming table. I raged in a stress of heady passion against that fair false friend Sir Robert Volney. And always in the end my mind jumped back to dally with Balmerino's temptation to recoup my fallen fortunes with one desperate throw.
"Fraoch! Dh 'aindeoin co theireadh e!" (The Heath! Gainsay who dare!)
The slogan echoed and reechoed through the silent streets, and snatched me in an instant out of the abstraction into which I had fallen. Hard upon the cry there came to me the sound of steel ringing upon steel. I legged it through the empty road, flung myself round a corner, and came plump upon the combatants. The defendant was a lusty young fellow apparently about my own age, of extraordinary agility and no mean skill with the sword. He was giving a good account of himself against the four assailants who hemmed him against the wall, his point flashing here and there with swift irregularity to daunt their valiancy. At the moment when I appeared to create a diversion one of the four had flung himself down and forward to cling about the knees of their victim with intent to knife him at close quarters. The young man dared not shorten his sword length to meet this new danger. He tried to shake off the man, caught at his white throat and attempted to force him back, what time his sword still opposed the rest of the villains.
Then I played my small part in the entertainment. One of the rascals screamed out an oath at sight of me and turned to run. I pinked him in the shoulder, and at the same time the young swordsman fleshed another of them. The man with the knife scrambled to his feet, a ludicrous picture of ghastly terror. To make short, in another minute there was nothing to be seen of the cutpurses but flying feet scampering through the night.
The young gentleman turned to me with a bow that was never invented out of France. I saw now that he was something older than myself, tall, well-made, and with a fine stride to him that set off the easy grace of his splendid shoulders. His light steady blue eyes and his dark ruddy hair proclaimed him the Highlander. His face was not what would be called handsome: the chin was over-square and a white scar zigzagged across his cheek, but I liked the look of him none the less for that. His frank manly countenance wore the self-reliance of one who has lived among the hills and slept among the heather under countless stars. For dress he wore the English costume with the extra splash of colour that betokened the vanity of his race. "'Fore God, sir, you came none too soon," he cried in his impetuous Gaelic way. "This riff-raff of your London town had knifed me in another gliff. I will be thinking that it would have gone ill with me but for your opportune arrival. I am much beholden to you, and if ever I can pay the debt do not fail to call on Don—er—James Brown."
At the last words he fell to earth most precipitately, all the fervent ring dropping out of his voice. Now James Brown is a common name enough, but he happened to be the first of the name I had ever heard crying a Highland slogan in the streets of London, and I looked at him with something more than curiosity. I am a Scotchman myself on the mother's side, so that I did not need to have a name put to his nationality.
There was the touch of a smile on my face when I asked him if he were hurt. He gave me the benefit of his full seventy three inches and told me no, that he would think shame of himself if he could not keep his head with his hands from a streetful of such scum. And might he know the name of the unknown friend who had come running out of the night to lend him an arm?
"Kenneth Montagu," I told him, laughing at his enthusiasm.
"Well then, Mr. Kenneth Montagu, it's the good friend you've been to me this night, and I'll not be forgetting it."
"When I find myself attacked by footpads I'll just look up Mr. James Brown," I told him dryly with intent to plague.
He took the name sourly, no doubt in an itching to blurt out that he was a Mac-something or other. To a Gaelic gentleman like him the Sassenach name he used for a convenience was gall and wormwood.
We walked down the street together, and where our ways parted near Arlington Street he gave me his hand.
"The lucky man am I at meeting you, Mr. Montagu, while we were having the bit splore down the street. I was just weanying for a lad handy with his blade, and the one I would be choosing out of all England came hot-foot round the corner."
I made nothing of what I had done, but yet his Highland friendliness and flatteries were balm to a sick heart and we parted at my door with a great deal of good-will.
 The author takes an early opportunity to express his obligations to the letters of Horace Walpole who was himself so infinitely indebted to the conversation of his cronies.
A CRY IN THE NIGHT
"Past ten o'clock, and a clear starry night!" the watch was bawling as I set out from my rooms to keep my appointment with Lord Balmerino. I had little doubt that a Stuart restoration was the cause for which he was recruiting, and all day I had balanced in my mind the pros and cons of such an attempt. I will never deny that the exiled race held for me a strong fascination. The Stuarts may have been weak, headstrong Kings in their prosperity, but they had the royal virtue of drawing men to them in their misfortune. They were never so well loved, nor so worthy of it, as when they lived in exile at St. Germains. Besides, though I had never mixed with politics, I was a Jacobite by inheritance. My father had fought for a restoration, and my uncle had died for it.
There were no fast bound ties to hold me back. Loyalty to the Hanoverians had no weight with me. I was a broken man, and save for my head could lose nothing by the venture. The danger of the enterprise was a merit in my eyes, for I was in the mood when a man will risk his all on an impulse.
And yet I hung back. After all an Englishman, be he never so desperate, does not fling away the scabbard without counting the cost. Young as I was I grued at the thought of the many lives that would be cut off ere their time, and in my heart I distrusted the Stuarts and doubted whether the game were worth the candle.
I walked slowly, for I was not yet due at the lodgings of Balmerino for an hour, and as I stood hesitating at a street corner a chaise sheered past me at a gallop. Through the coach window by the shine of the moon I caught one fleeting glimpse of a white frightened girl-face, and over the mouth was clapped a rough hand to stifle any cry she might give. I am no Don Quixote, but there never was a Montagu who waited for the cool second thought to crowd out the strong impulse of the moment. I made a dash at the step, missed my footing, and rolled over into the mud. When I got to my feet again the coach had stopped at the far end of the street. Two men were getting out of the carriage holding between them a slight struggling figure. For one instant the clear shrill cry of a woman was lifted into the night, then it was cut short abruptly by the clutch of a hand at the throat.
I scudded toward them, lugging at my sword as I ran, but while I was yet fifty yards away the door of the house opened and closed behind them. An instant, and the door reopened to let out one of the men, who slammed it behind him and entered the chaise. The postilion whipped up his horses and drove off. The door yielded nothing to my hand. Evidently it was locked and bolted. I cried out to open, and beat wildly upon the door with the hilt of my sword. Indeed, I quite lost my head, threatening, storming, and abusing. I might as well have called upon the marble busts at the Abbey to come forth, for inside there was the silence of the dead. Presently lights began to glimmer in windows along the dark street, and nightcapped heads were thrust out to learn what was ado. I called on them to join me in a rescue, but I found them not at all keen for the adventure. They took me for a drunken Mohawk or some madman escaped from custody.
"Here come the watch to take him away," I heard one call across the street to another.
I began to realize that an attempt to force an entrance was futile. It would only end in an altercation with the approaching watch. Staid citizens were already pointing me out to them as a cause of the disturbance. For the moment I elected discretion and fled incontinent down the street from the guard.
But I was back before ten minutes were up, lurking in the shadows of opposite doorways, examining the house from front and rear, searching for some means of ingress to this mysterious dwelling. I do not know why the thing stuck in my mind. Perhaps some appealing quality of youth in the face and voice stirred in me the instinct for the championship of dames that is to be found in every man. At any rate I was grimly resolved not to depart without an explanation of the strange affair.
What no skill of mine could accomplish chance did for me. While I was inviting a crick in my neck from staring up at the row of unlighted windows above me, a man came out of the front door and stood looking up and down the street. Presently he spied me and beckoned. I was all dishevelled and one stain of mud from head to foot.
"D' ye want to earn a shilling, fellow?" he called.
I grumbled that I was out of work and money. Was it likely I would refuse such a chance? And what was it he would have me do?
He led the way through the big, dimly-lighted hall to an up-stairs room near the back of the house. Two heavy boxes were lying there, packed and corded, to be taken down-stairs. I tossed aside my cloak and stooped to help him. He straightened with a jerk. I had been standing in the shadow with my soiled cloak wrapped about me, but now I stood revealed in silken hose, satin breeches, and laced doublet. If that were not enough to proclaim my rank a rapier dangled by my side.
"Rot me, you're a gentleman," he cried.
I affected to carry off my shame with bluster.
"What if I am!" I cried fiercely. "May not a gentleman be hungry, man? I am a ruined dicer, as poor as a church mouse. Do you grudge me my shilling?"
He shrugged his shoulders. Doubtless he had seen more than one broken gentleman cover poverty with a brave front of fine lawn and gilded splendour of array.
"All one to me, your Royal 'Ighness. Take 'old 'ere," he said facetiously.
We carried the boxes into the hall. When we had finished I stood mopping my face with a handkerchief, but my eyes were glued to the label tacked on one of the boxes.
John Armitage, The Oaks, Epsom, Surrey.
"Wot yer waitin' for?" asked the fellow sharply.
"The shilling," I told him.
I left when he gave it me, and as I reached the door he bawled to be sure to shut it tight. An idea jumped to my mind on the instant, and though I slammed the door I took care to have my foot an inch or two within the portal. Next moment I was walking noisily down the steps and along the pavement.
Three minutes later I tiptoed back up the steps and tried the door. I opened it slowly and without noise till I could thrust in my head. The fellow was nowhere to be seen in the hall. I whipped in, and closed the door after me. Every board seemed to creak as I trod gingerly toward the stairway. In the empty house the least noise echoed greatly. The polished stairs cried out hollowly my presence. I was half way up when I came to a full stop. Some one was coming down round the bend of the stairway. Softly I slid down the balustrade and crouched behind the post at the bottom. The man—it was my friend of the shilling—passed within a foot of me, his hand almost brushing the hair of my head, and crossed the hall to a room opposite. Again I went up the stairs, still cautiously, but with a confidence born of the knowledge of his whereabouts.
The house was large, and I might have wandered long without guessing where lay the room I wanted had it not been for a slight sound that came to me—the low, soft sobbing of a woman. I groped my way along the dark passage, turned to the left, and presently came to the door from behind which issued the sound. The door was locked on the outside, and the key was in the lock. I knocked, and at once silence fell. To my second knock I got no answer. Then I turned the key and entered.
A girl was sitting at a table with her back to me, her averted head leaning wearily on her hand. Dejection spoke in every line of her figure. She did not even turn at my entrance, thinking me no doubt to be her guard. I stood waiting awkwardly, scarce knowing what to say.
"Madam," I began, "may I— Is there——?" So far I got, then I came to an embarrassed pause, for I might as well have talked to the dead for all the answer I got. She did not honour me with the faintest sign of attention. I hemmed and hawed and bowed to her back with a growing confusion.
At last she asked over her shoulder in a strained, even voice,
"What is it you're wanting now? You said I was to be left by my lane to-night."
I murmured like a gawk that I was at her service, and presently as I shifted from one foot to the other she turned slowly. Her face was a dumb cry for help, though it was a proud face too—one not lacking in fire and courage. I have seen fairer faces, but never one more to my liking. It was her eyes that held me. The blue of her own Highland lochs, with all their changing and indescribably pathetic beauty, lurked deeply in them. Unconsciously they appealed to me, and the world was not wide enough to keep me from her when they called. Faith, my secret is out already, and I had resolved that it should keep till near the end of my story!
I had dropped my muddy cloak before I entered, and as she looked at me a change came over her. Despair gave way to a startled surprise. Her eyes dilated.
"Who are you, sir? And—what are you doing here?" she demanded.
I think some fear or presage of evil was knocking at her heart, for though she fronted me very steadily her eyes were full of alarm. What should a man of rank be doing in her room on the night she had been abducted from her lodgings unless his purpose were evil? She wore a long cloak stretching to the ground, and from under it slippered feet peeped out. The cloak was of the latest mode, very wide and open at the neck and shoulders, and beneath the mantle I caught more than a glimpse of the laced white nightrail and the fine sloping neck. 'Twas plain that her abductors had given her only time to fling the wrap about her before they snatched her from her bedchamber. Some wild instinct of defense stirred within her, and with one hand she clutched the cloak tightly to her throat. My heart went out to the child with a great rush of pity. The mad follies of my London life slipped from me like the muddy garment outside, and I swore by all I held most dear not to see her wronged.
"Madam," I said, "for all the world I would not harm you. I have come to offer you my sword as a defense against those who would injure you. My name is Montagu, and I know none of the name that are liars," I cried.
"Are you the gentleman that was for stopping the carriage as we came?" she asked.
"I am that same unlucky gentleman that was sent speldering in the glaur. I won an entrance to the house by a trick, and I am here at your service," I said, throwing in my tag of Scotch to reassure her.
"You will be English, but you speak the kindly Scots," she cried.
"My mother was from the Highlands," I told her.
"What! You have the Highland blood in you? Oh then, it is the good heart you will have too. Will you ever have been on the braes of Raasay?"
I told her no; that I had always lived in England, though my mother was a Campbell. Her joy was the least thing in the world daunted, and in her voice there was a dash of starch.
"Oh! A Campbell!"
I smiled. 'Twas plain her clan was no friend to the sons of Diarmaid.
"My father was out in the '15, and when he wass a wounded fugitive with the Campbell bloodhounds on his trail Mary Campbell hid him till the chase was past. Then she guided him across the mountains and put him in the way of reaching the Macdonald country. My father married her after the amnesty," I explained.
The approving light flashed back into her eyes.
"At all events then I am not doubting she wass a good lassie, Campbell or no Campbell; and I am liking it that your father went back and married her."
"But we are wasting time," I urged. "What can I do for you? Where do you live? To whom shall I take you?"
She fell to earth at once. "My grief! I do not know. Malcolm has gone to France. He left me with Hamish Gorm in lodgings, but they will not be safe since——" She stopped, and at the memory of what had happened there the wine crept into her cheeks.
"And who is Malcolm?" I asked gently.
"My brother. He iss an agent for King James in London, and he brought me with him. But he was called away, and he left me with the gillie. To-night they broke into my room while Hamish was away, weary fa' the day! And now where shall I go?"
"My sister is a girl about your age. Cloe would be delighted to welcome you. I am sure you would like each other."
"You are the good friend to a poor lass that will never be forgetting, and I will be blithe to burden the hospitality of your sister till my brother returns."
The sharp tread of footsteps on the stairs reached us. A man was coming up, and he was singing languidly a love ditty.
"What is love? 'Tis not hereafter, Present mirth has present laughter, What's to come is still unsure; In delay there lies no plenty, Then come kiss me sweet and twenty. Youth's a stuff will not endure."
Something in the voice struck a familiar chord in my memory, but I could not put a name to its owner. The girl looked at me with eyes grown suddenly horror-stricken. I noticed that her face had taken on the hue of snow.
"We are too late," she cried softly.
We heard a key fumbling in the lock, and then the door opened—to let in Volney. His hat was sweeping to the floor in a bow when he saw me. He stopped and looked at me in surprise, his lips framing themselves for a whistle. I could see the starch run through and take a grip of him. For just a gliff he stood puzzled and angry. Then he came in wearing his ready dare-devil smile and sat down easily on the bed.
"Hope I'm not interrupting, Montagu," he said jauntily. "I dare say though that's past hoping for. You'll have to pardon my cursedly malapropos appearance. Faith, my only excuse is that I did not know the lady was entertaining other visitors this evening."
He looked at her with careless insolence out of his beautiful dark eyes, and for that moment I hated him with the hate a man will go to hell to satisfy.
"You will spare this lady your insults," I told him in a low voice. "At least so far as you can. Your presence itself is an insult."
"Egad, and that's where the wind sits, eh? Well, well, 'tis the manner of the world. When the cat's away!"
A flame of fire ran through me. I took a step toward him, hand on sword hilt. With a sweep of his jewelled hand he waved me back.
"Fie, fie, Kenn! In a lady's presence?"
Volney smiled at the girl in mock gallantry and my eyes followed his. I never saw a greater change. She was transformed. Her lithe young figure stood out tall and strong, every line of weariness gone. Hate, loathing, scorn, one might read plainly there, but no trace of fear or despair. She might have been a lioness defending her young. Her splendour of dark auburn hair, escaped and fallen free to her waist, fascinated me with the luxuriance of its disorder. Volney's lazy admiration quickened to a deeper interest. For an instant his breath came faster. His face lighted with the joy of the huntsman after worthy game. But almost immediately he recovered his aplomb. Turning to me, he asked with his odd light smile,
"Staying long, may I ask?"
My passion was gone. I was possessed by a slow fire as steady and as enduring as a burning peat.
"I have not quite made up my mind how long to stay," I answered coldly. "When I leave the lady goes with me, but I haven't decided yet what to do with you."
He began to laugh. "You grow amusing. 'Slife, you are not all country boor after all! May it please you, what are the alternatives regarding my humble self?" he drawled, leaning back with an elbow on the pillow.
"Well, I might kill you."
"Yes, you might. And—er— What would I be doing?" he asked negligently.
"Or, since there is a lady present, I might leave you till another time."
His handsome, cynical face, with its curious shifting lights and shadows, looked up at me for once suffused with genuine amusement.
"Stap me, you'd make a fortune as a play actor. Garrick is a tyro beside you. Some one was telling me that your financial affairs had been going wrong. An it comes to the worst, take my advice and out-Garrick Garrick."
"You are very good. Your interest in my affairs charms me, Sir Robert. 'Tis true they are not promising. A friend duped me. He held the Montagu estates higher than honour."
He appeared to reflect. "Friend? Don't think I'm acquainted with any of the kind, unless a friend is one who eats your dinners, drinks your wines, rides your horses, and"—with a swift sidelong look at the girl—"makes love to your charming adored."
Into the girl's face the colour flared, but she looked at him with a contempt so steady that any man but Volney must have winced.
"Friendship!" she cried with infinite disdain. "What can such as you know of it? You are false as Judas. Did you not begowk my honest brother with fine words till he and I believed you one of God's noblemen, and when his back was fairly turned——?"
"I had the best excuse in London for my madness, Aileen," he said with the wistful little laugh that had gone straight to many a woman's heart.
Her eye flashed and her bosom heaved. The pure girl-heart read him like an open book.
"And are you thinking me so mean a thing as still to care for your honeyed words? Believe me, there iss no viper on the braes of Raasay more detestable to me than you."
I looked to see him show anger, but he nursed his silk-clad ankle with the same insolent languor. He might have been a priest after the confessional for all the expression his face wore.
"I like you angry, Aileen. Faith, 'tis worth being the object of your rage to see you stamp that pretty foot and clench those little hands I love to kiss. But Ecod! Montagu, the hour grows late. The lady will lose her beauty sleep. Shall you and I go down-stairs and arrange for a conveyance?"
He bowed low and kissed his fingers to the girl. Then he led the way out of the room, fine and gallant and debonair, a villain every inch of him.
"Will you be leaving me?" the girl cried with parted lips.
"Not for long," I told her. "Do not fear. I shall have you out of here in a jiff," and with that I followed at his heels.
Sir Robert Volney led the way down the corridor to a small room in the west wing, where flaring, half-burnt candles guttering in their sconces drove back the darkness. He leaned against the mantel and looked long at me out of half-closed eyes.
"May I ask to what is due the honour of your presence to-night?" he drawled at last.
"I have said you may ask," I fleered rudely. "But for me— Gad's life! I am not in the witness box."
He took his snuff mull from his waistcoat pocket and offered it me, then took a pinch and brushed from his satin coat imaginary grains with prodigious care.
"You are perhaps not aware that I have the right to ask. It chances that this is my house."
"Indeed! And the lady we have just left——?"
"——Is, pardon me, none of your concern."
"Ah! I'm not so sure of that."
"Faith then, you'll do well to make sure."
"And—er—Mistress Antoinette Westerleigh?"
"Quite another matter! You're out of court again, Mr. Montagu."
"Egad, I enter an exception. The lady we have just left is of another mind in the affair. She is the court of last resort, and, I believe, not complaisant to your suit."
"She will change her mind," he said coolly.
"I trust so renowned a gallant as Sir Robert would not use force."
"Lard, no! She is a woman and therefore to be won. But I would advise you to dismiss the lady from your mind. 'Ware women, Mr. Montagu! You will sleep easier."
"In faith, a curious coincidence! I was about to tender you the same advice, Sir Robert," I told him lightly.
"You will forget the existence of such a lady if you are wise?"
"Wisdom comes with age. I am for none of it."
"Yet you will do well to remember your business and forget mine."
"I have no business of my own, Sir Robert. Last night you generously lifted all sordid business cares from my mind, and now I am quite free to attend those of my neighbours."
He shrugged his shoulders in the French way. "Very well. A wilful man! You've had your warning, and— I am not a man to be thwarted."
"I might answer that I am not a man to be frightened."
"You'll not be the first that has answered that. The others have 'Hic Jacet' engraved on their door plates. Well, it's an unsatisfactory world at best, and Lard! they're well quit of it. Still, you're young."
"And have yet to learn discretion."
"That's a pity too," he retorted lightly. "The door is waiting for you. Better take it, Mr. Montagu."
"With the lady?"
"I fear the lady is tired. Besides, man, think of her reputation. Zounds! Can she gad about the city at night alone with so gay a spark as you? 'Tis a censorious world, and tongues will clack. No, no! I will save you from any chance of such a scandal, Mr. Montagu."
"Faith, one good turn deserves another. I'll stay here to save your reputation, Sir Robert."
"I fear that mine is fly-blown already and something the worse for wear. It can take care of itself."
"Yet I'll stay."
"Gad's life! Stay then."
Volney had been standing just within the door, and at the word he stepped out and flung it to. I sprang forward, but before I reached it the click sounded. I was a prisoner, caught like a fly in a spider's web, and much it helped me to beat on the iron-studded door till my hand bled, to call on him to come in and fight it out like a man, to storm up and down the room in a stress of passion.
Presently my rage abated, and I took stock of my surroundings. The windows were barred with irons set in stone sockets by masonry. I set my knee against the window frame and tugged at them till I was moist with perspiration. As well I might have pulled at the pillars of St. Paul's. I tried my small sword as a lever, but it snapped in my hand. Again I examined the bars. There was no way but to pick them from their sockets by making a groove in the masonry. With the point of my sword I chipped industriously at the cement. At the end of ten minutes I had made perceptible progress. Yet it took me another hour of labour to accomplish my task. I undid the blind fastenings, clambered out, and lowered myself foot by foot to the ground by clinging to the ivy that grew thick along the wall. The vine gave to my hand, and the last three yards I took in a rush, but I picked myself up none the worse save for a torn face and bruised hands.
The first fall was Volney's, and I grudged it him; but as I took my way to Balmerino's lodgings my heart was far from heavy. The girl was safe for the present. I knew Volney well enough for that. That his plan was to take her to The Oaks and in seclusion lay a long siege to the heart of the girl, I could have sworn. But from London to Epsom is a far cry, and between them much might happen through chance and fate and—Kenneth Montagu.
 Speldering in the glaur—sprawling in the mud.
DEOCH SLAINT AN RIGH!
"You're late, Kenn," was Balmerino's greeting to me.
"Faith, my Lord, I'm earlier than I might have been. I found it hard to part from a dear friend who was loathe to let me out of his sight," I laughed.
The Scotchman buckled on his sword and disappeared into the next room. When he returned a pair of huge cavalry pistols peeped from under his cloak.
"Going to the wars, my Lord?" I quizzed gaily.
"Perhaps. Will you join me?"
"Maybe yes and maybe no. Is the cause good?"
"The best in the world."
"And the chances of success?"
"Fortune beckons with both hands."
"Hm! Has she by any chance a halter in her hands for Kenn Montagu and an axe for Balmerino since he is a peer?"
"Better the sharp edge of an axe than the dull edge of hunger for those we love," he answered with a touch of bitterness.
His rooms supplied the sermon to his text. Gaunt poverty stared at me on every hand. The floor was bare and the two ragged chairs were rickety. I knew now why the white-haired peer was so keen to try a hazard of new fortunes for the sake of the wife in the North.
"Where may you be taking me?" I asked presently, as we hurried through Piccadilly.
"If you ask no questions——" he began dryly.
"——You'll tell me no lies. Very good. Odd's my life, I'm not caring! Any direction is good enough for me—unless it leads to Tyburn. But I warn you that I hold myself unpledged."
"I shall remember."
I was in the gayest spirits imaginable. The task I had set myself of thwarting Volney and the present uncertainty of my position had combined to lend a new zest to life. I felt the wine of youth bubble in my veins, and I was ready for whatever fortune had in store.
Shortly we arrived at one of those streets of unimpeachable respectability that may be duplicated a hundred times in London. Its characteristics are monotony and dull mediocrity; a dead sameness makes all the houses appear alike. Before one of these we stopped.
Lord Balmerino knocked, A man came to the door and thrust out a head suspiciously. There was a short whispered colloquy between him and the Scotch lord, after which he beckoned me to enter. For an instant I hung back.
"What are you afraid of, man?" asked Balmerino roughly.
I answered to the spur and pressed forward at once. He led the way along a dark passage and down a flight of stone steps into a cellar fitted up as a drinking room. There was another low-toned consultation before we were admitted. I surmised that Balmerino stood sponsor for me, and though I was a little disturbed at my equivocal position, yet I was strangely glad to be where I was. For here was a promise of adventure to stimulate a jaded appetite. I assured myself that at least I should not suffer dulness.
There were in the room a scant dozen of men, and as I ran them over with my eye the best I could say for their quality in life was that they had not troubled the tailor of late. Most of them were threadbare at elbow and would have looked the better of a good dinner. There were two or three exceptions, but for the most part these broken gentlemen bore the marks of recklessness and dissipation. Two I knew: the O'Sullivan that had assisted at the plucking of a certain pigeon on the previous night, and Mr. James Brown, alias Mac-something or other, of the supple sword and the Highland slogan.
Along with another Irishman named Anthony Creagh the fellow O'Sullivan rushed up to my Lord, eyes snapping with excitement. He gave me a nod and a "How d'ye do, Montagu? Didn't know you were of the honest party," then broke out with—
"Great news, Balmerino! The French fleet has sailed with transports for fifteen thousand men. I have advices direct from the Prince. Marshal Saxe commands, and the Prince himself is with them. London will be ours within the week. Sure the good day is coming at last. The King—God bless him!—will have his own again; and a certain Dutch beer tub that we know of will go scuttling back to his beloved Hanover, glory be the day!"
Balmerino's eyes flashed.
"They have sailed then at last. I have been expecting it a week. If they once reach the Thames there is no force in England that can stop them," he said quietly.
"Surely the small fleet of Norris will prove no barrier?" asked another dubiously.
"Poof! They weel eat heem up jus' like one leetle mouse, my frien'," boasted a rat-faced Frenchman with a snap of his fingers. "Haf they not two sheeps to his one?"
"Egad, I hope they don't eat the mutton then and let Norris go," laughed Creagh. He was a devil-may-care Irishman, brimful of the virtues and the vices of his race.
I had stumbled into a hornet's nest with a vengeance. They were mad as March hares, most of them. For five minutes I sat amazed, listening to the wildest talk it had ever been my lot to hear. The Guelphs would be driven out. The good old days would be restored; there would be no more whiggery and Walpolism; with much more of the same kind of talk. There was drinking of wine and pledging of toasts to the King across the water, and all the while I sat by the side of Balmerino with a face like whey. For I was simmering with anger. I foresaw the moment when discovery was inevitable, and in those few minutes while I hung back in the shadow and wished myself a thousand miles away hard things were thought of Arthur Elphinstone Lord Balmerino. He had hoped to fling me out of my depths and sweep me away with the current, but I resolved to show him another ending to it.
Presently Mr. James Brown came up and offered me a frank hand of welcome. Balmerino introduced him as Captain Donald Roy Macdonald. I let my countenance express surprise.
"Surely you are mistaken, my Lord. This gentleman and I have met before, and I think his name is Brown."
Macdonald laughed a little sheepishly. "The air of London is not just exactly healthy for Highland Jacobite gentlemen at present. I wouldna wonder but one might catch the scarlet fever gin he werena carefu', so I just took a change of names for a bit while."
"You did not disguise the Highland slogan you flung out last night," I laughed.
"Did I cry it?" he asked. "It would be just from habit then. I didna ken that I opened my mouth." Then he turned to my affairs. "And I suppose you will be for striking a blow for the cause like the rest of us. Well then, the sooner the better. I am fair wearying for a certain day that is near at hand."
With which he began to hum "The King shall have his own again."
I flushed, and boggled at the "No!" that stuck in my throat. Creagh, standing near, slewed round his head at the word.
"Eh, what's that? Say that again, Montagu!"
I took the bull by the horns and answered bluntly, "There has been a mistake made. George is a good enough king for me."
I saw Macdonald stiffen, and angry amazement leap to the eyes of the two Irishmen.
"'Sblood! What the devil! Why are you here then?" cried Creagh.
His words, and the excitement in his raised voice, rang the bell for a hush over the noisy room. Men dropped their talk and turned to us. A score of fierce suspicious eyes burnt into me. My heart thumped against my ribs like a thing alive, but I answered—steadily and quietly enough, I dare say—"You will have to ask Lord Balmerino that. I did not know where he was bringing me."
"Damnation!" cried one Leath. "What cock and bull tale is this? Not know where he was bringing you! 'Slife, I do not like it!"
I sat on the table negligently dangling one foot in air. For that matter I didn't like it myself, but I was not going to tell him so. Brushing a speck of mud from my coat I answered carelessly,
"Like it or mislike it, devil a bit I care!"
"Ha, ha! I theenk you will find a leetle reason for caring," said the Frenchman ominously.
"Stab me, if I understand," cried Creagh. "Balmerino did not kidnap you here, did he? Devil take me if it's at all clear to me!"
O'Sullivan pushed to the front with an evil laugh.
"'T is clear enough to me," he said bluntly. "It's the old story of one too many trusted. He hears our plans and then the smug-faced villain peaches. Next week he sees us all scragged at Tyburn. But he's made a little mistake this time, sink me! He won't live to see the Chevalier O'Sullivan walk off the cart. If you'll give me leave, I'll put a name to the gentleman. He's what they call a spy, and stap my vitals! he doesn't leave this room alive."
At his words a fierce cry leaped from tense throats. A circle of white furious faces girdled me about. Rapiers hung balanced at my throat and death looked itchingly at me from many an eye.
As for me, I lazed against the table with a strange odd contraction of the heart, a sudden standing still and then a fierce pounding of the blood. Yet I was quite master of myself. Indeed I smiled at them, carelessly, as one that deprecated so much ado about nothing. And while I smiled, the wonder was passing through my mind whether the smile would still be there after they had carved the life out of me. I looked death in the face, and I found myself copying unconsciously the smirking manners of the Macaronis. Faith, 't was a leaf from Volney's life I was rehearsing for them.
This but while one might blink an eye, then Lord Balmerino interrupted. "God's my life! Here's a feery-farry about nothing. Put up your toasting fork, De Vallery! The lad will not bite."
"Warranted to be of gentle manners," I murmured, brushing again at the Mechlin lace of my coat.
"Gentlemen are requested not to tease the animals," laughed Creagh. He was as full of heat as a pepper castor, but he had the redeeming humour of his race.
Macdonald beat down the swords. "Are you a' daft, gentlemen? The lad came with Balmerino. He is no spy. Put up, put up, Chevalier! Don't glower at me like that, man! Hap-weel rap-weel, the lad shall have his chance to explain. I will see no man's cattle hurried."
"Peste! Let him explain then, and not summer and winter over the story," retorted O'Sullivan sourly.
Lord Balmerino slipped an arm through mine. "If you are quite through with your play acting, gentlemen, we will back to reason and common sense again. Mr. Montagu may not be precisely a pronounced Jack, but then he doesn't give a pinch of snuff for the Whigs either. I think we shall find him open to argument."
"He'd better be—if he knows what's good for him," growled O'Sullivan.
At once I grew obstinate. "I do not take my politics under compulsion, Mr. O'Sullivan," I flung out.
"Then you shouldn't have come here. You've drawn the wine, and by God! you shall drink it."
"Shall I? We'll see."
"No, no, Kenn! I promise you there shall be no compulsion," cried the old Lord. Then to O'Sullivan in a stern whisper, "Let be, you blundering Irish man! You're setting him against us."
Balmerino was right. Every moment I grew colder and stiffer. If they wanted me for a recruit they were going about it the wrong way. I would not be frightened into joining them.
"Like the rest of us y' are a ruined man. Come, better your fortune. Duty and pleasure jump together. James Montagu's son is not afraid to take a chance," urged the Scotch Lord.
Donald Roy's eyes had fastened on me from the first like the grip-of steel. He had neither moved nor spoken, but I knew that he was weighing me in the balance.
"I suppose you will not be exactly in love with the wamey Dutchmen, Mr. Montagu?" he asked now.
I smiled. "If you put it that way I don't care one jack straw for the whole clamjamfry of them."
"I was thinking so. They are a different race from the Stuarts."
"They are indeed," I acquiesced dryly. Then the devil of mischief stirred in me to plague him. "There's all the difference of bad and a vast deal worse between them. It's a matter of comparisons," I concluded easily.
"You are pleased to be facetious," returned O'Sullivan sourly. "But I would ask you to remember that you are not yet out of the woods, Mr. Montagu. My Lord seems satisfied, but here are some more of us waiting a plain answer to this riddle."
"And what may the riddle be?" I asked.
"Just this. What are you doing here?"
"Faith, that's easy answered," I told him jauntily. "I'm here by invitation of Lord Balmerino, and it seems I'm not overwelcome."
Elphinstone interrupted impatiently.
"Gentlemen, we're at cross purposes. You're trying to drive Mr. Montagu, and I'm all for leading him. I warn you he's not to be driven. Let us talk it over reasonably."
"Very well," returned O'Sullivan sulkily. "Talk as long as you please, but he doesn't get out of this room till I'm satisfied."
"We are engaged on a glorious enterprise to restore to these islands their ancient line of sovereigns. You say you do not care for the Hanoverians. Why not then strike a blow for the right cause?" asked Leath.
"Right and wrong are not to be divided by so clean a cut," I told him. "I am no believer in the divine inheritance of kings. In the last analysis the people shall be the judge."
"Of course; and we are going to put it to the test."
"You want to set the clock back sixty years. It will not do."
"We think it will. We are resolved at least to try," said Balmerino.
I shrugged my shoulders. "The times are against you. The Stuarts have dropped out of the race. The mill cannot grind with the water that is past."
"And if the water be not past?" asked Leath fiercely.
"Mar found it so in the '15, and many honest gentlemen paid for his mistake with their heads. My father's brother for one."
"Mar bungled it from start to finish. He had the game in his own hands and dribbled away his chances like a coward and a fool."
"Perhaps, but even so, much water has passed under London Bridge since then. It is sixty years since the Stuarts were driven out. Two generations have slept on it."
"Then the third generation of sleepers shall be wakened. The stream is coming down in spate," said Balmerino.
"I hear you say it," I answered dryly.
"And you shall live to see us do it, Mr. Montagu. The heather's in a blaze already. The fiery cross will be speeding from Badenoch to the Braes of Balwhidder. The clans will all rise whatever," cried Donald Roy.
"I'm not so sure about Mr. Montagu living to see it. My friends O'Sullivan and De Vallery seem to think not," said Creagh, giving me his odd smile. "Now, I'll wager a crown that——"
"Whose crown did you say?" I asked politely, handing him back his smile.
"The government cannot stand out against us," argued Balmerino. "The Duke of Newcastle is almost an imbecile. The Dutch usurper himself is over in Hanover courting a new mistress. His troops are all engaged in foreign war. There are not ten thousand soldiers on the island. At this very moment the King of France is sending fifteen thousand across in transports. He will have no difficulty in landing them and London cannot hold out."
"Faith, he might get his army here. I'm not denying that. But I'll promise him trouble in getting it away again."
"The Highlands are ready to fling away the scabbard for King James III," said Donald Roy simply.
"It is in my mind that you have done that more than once before and that because of it misguided heads louped from sturdy shoulders," I answered.
"Wales too is full of loyal gentlemen. What can the Hanoverians do if they march across the border to join the Highlanders rolling down from the North and Marshal Saxe with his French army?"
"My imagination halts," I answered dryly. "You will be telling me next that England is wearying for a change back to the race of Kings she has twice driven out."
"I do say it," cried Leath. "Bolingbroke is already negotiating with the royal family. Newcastle is a broken reed. Hervey will not stand out. Walpole is a dying man. In whom can the Dutchman trust? The nation is tired of them, their mistresses and their German brood."
"When we had them we found these same Stuarts a dangerous and troublesome race. We could not in any manner get along with them. We drove them out, and then nothing would satisfy us but we must have them back again. Well, they had their second chance, and we found them worse than before. They had not learnt the lesson of the age. They——"
"Split me, y'are not here to lecture us, Mr. Montagu," cried Leath with angry eye. "Damme, we don't care a rap for your opinions, but you have heard too much. To be short, the question is, will you join us or won't you?"
"To be short then, Mr. Leath, not on compulsion."
"There's no compulsion about it, Kenn. If you join it is of your own free will," said Balmerino.
"I think not. Mr. Montagu has no option in the matter," cried O'Sullivan. "He forfeited his right to decide for himself when he blundered in and heard our plans. Willy nilly, he must join us!"
"And if I don't?"
His smile was like curdled milk. "Have you made your will, Mr. Montagu?"
"I made it at the gaming table last night, and the Chevalier O'Sullivan was one of the legatees," I answered like a flash.
"Touche, Sully," laughed Creagh. "Ecod, I like our young cockerel's spirit."
"And I don't," returned O'Sullivan. "He shall join us, or damme——" He stopped, but his meaning was plain to be read.
I answered dourly. "You may blow the coals, but I will not be het."
"Faith, you're full of epigrams to-night, Mr. Montagu," Anthony Creagh was good enough to say. "You'll make a fine stage exit—granting that Sully has his way. I wouldn't miss it for a good deal."
"If the house is crowded you may have my seat for nothing," was my reply. Strange to say my spirits were rising. This was the first perilous adventure of my life, and my heart sang. Besides, I had confidence enough in Balmerino to know that he would never stand aside and let me suffer for his indiscretion if he could help it.
The old Lord's troubled eyes looked into mine. I think he was beginning to regret this impulsive experiment of his. He tried a new tack with me.
"Of course there is a risk. We may not win. Perhaps you do well to think of the consequences. As you say, heads may fall because of the rising."
The dye flooded my cheeks.
"You might have spared me that, my Lord. I am thinking of the blood of innocent people that must be spilled."
"Your joining us will neither help nor hinder that."
"And your not joining us will have deucedly unpleasant effects for you," suggested O'Sullivan pleasantly.
Lord Balmerino flung round on him angrily, his hand on sword hilt. "I think you have forgotten one thing, Mr. O'Sullivan."
"And that is——?"
"That Mr. Montagu came here as my guest. If he does not care to join us he shall be free as air to depart."
O'Sullivan laughed hardily. "Shall he? Gadzooks! The Chevalier O'Sullivan will have a word to say with him first. He did not come as any guest of mine. What the devil! If you were not sure of him, why did you bring him?"
Balmerino fumed, but he had no answer for that. He could only say,—
"I thought him sure to join, but I can answer for his silence with my life."
"'T will be more to the point that we do not answer for his speech with our lives," grumbled Leath.
The Frenchman leaned forward eagerly. "You thought heem to be at heart of us, and you were meestaken; you theenk heem sure to keep our secret, but how are we to know you are not again meestaken?"
"Sure, that's easy," broke out O'Sullivan scornfully. "We'll know when the rope is round our gullets."
"Oh, he won't peach, Sully. He isn't that kind. Stap me, you never know a gentleman when you see one," put in Creagh carelessly.
The young Highlander Macdonald spoke up. "Gentlemen, I'm all for making an end to this collieshangie. By your leave, Lord Balmerino, Mr. Creagh and myself will step up-stairs with this gentleman and come to some composition on the matter. Mr. Montagu saved my life last night, but I give you the word of Donald Roy Macdonald that if I am not satisfied in the end I will plant six inches of steel in his wame for him to digest, and there's gumption for you at all events."
He said it as composedly as if he had been proposing a stroll down the Row with me, and I knew him to be just the man who would keep his word. The others knew it too, and presently we four found ourselves alone together in a room above.
"Is your mind so set against joining us, Kenn? I have got myself into a pickle, and I wish you would just get me out," Balmerino began.
"If they had asked me civilly I dare say I should have said 'Yes!' an hour ago, but I'll not be forced in."
"Quite right, too. You're a broth of a boy. I wouldn't in your place, Montagu, and I take off my hat to your spirit," said Creagh. "Now let's begin again."—He went to the door and threw it open.—"The way is clear for you to leave if you want to go, but I would be most happy to have you stay with us. It's men like you we're looking for, and— Won't you strike a blow for the King o'er the sea, Montagu?"
"He is of the line of our ancient monarchs. He and his race have ruled us a thousand years," urged Balmerino. "They have had their faults perhaps——"
"Perhaps," I smiled.
"Well, and if they have," cried Donald Roy hotly in the impetuous Highland way. "Is this a time to be remembering them? For my part, I will be forgetting their past faults and minding only their present distresses."
"It appears as easy for a Highlander to forget the faults of the Stuarts as it is for them to forget his services," I told him.
"Oh, you harp on their faults. Have you none of your own?" cried Elphinstone impatiently. "I have seen and talked with the young Prince. He is one to follow to the death. I have never met the marrow of him."
"I think of the thousands who will lose their lives for him."
"Well, and that's a driech subject, too, but Donald Roy would a hantle rather die with claymore in hand and the whiddering steel aboot his head than be always fearing to pay the piper," said the young Highlander blithely.
"Your father was out for the King in the '15," said Balmerino gently.
Oh, Arthur Elphinstone had the guile for all his rough ways. I was moved more than I cared to own. Many a time I had sat at my father's knee and listened to the tale of "the '15." The Highland blood in me raced the quicker through my veins. All the music of the heather hills and the wimpling burns wooed me to join my kinsmen in the North. My father's example, his brother's blood, loyalty to the traditions of my family, my empty purse, the friendship of Balmerino and Captain Macdonald, all tugged at my will; but none of them were so potent as the light that shone in the eyes of a Highland lassie I had never met till one short hour before. I tossed aside all my scruples and took the leap.
"Come!" I cried. "Lend yourselves to me on a mission of some danger for one night and I will pledge myself a partner in your enterprise. I can promise you that the help I ask of you may be honourably given. A fair exchange is no robbery. What say you?"
"Gad's life, I cry agreed. You're cheap at the price, Mr. Montagu. I'm yours, Rip me, if you want me to help rum-pad a bishop's coach," exclaimed the Irishman.
"Mr. Creagh has just taken the words out of my mouth," cried Donald Roy. "If you're wanting to lift a lassie or to carry the war to a foe I'll be blithe to stand at your back. You may trust Red Donald for that whatever."
"You put your finger on my ambitions, Captain Macdonald. I'm wanting to do just those two things. You come to scratch so readily that I hope you have had some practice of your own," I laughed.
There was wine on the table and I filled the glasses.
"If no other sword leaves scabbard mine shall," I cried in a flame of new-born enthusiasm. "Gentlemen, I give you the King over the water."
"King James! God bless him," echoed Balmerino and Creagh.
"Deoch slaint an Righ! (The King's Drink). And win or lose, we shall have a beautiful time of it whatever," cried Donald gaily.
An hour later Kenneth Montagu, Jacobite, walked home arm in arm with Anthony Creagh and Donald Roy Macdonald. He was setting forth to them a tale of an imprisoned maid and a plan for the rescue of that same lady.
OF LOVE AND WAR
All day the rain had splashed down with an unusual persistence, but now there was a rising wind and a dash of clear sky over to the south which promised fairer weather. I was blithe to see it, for we had our night's work cut out for us and a driving storm would not add to our comfort.
From my hat, from the elbows of my riding-coat, and from my boot-heels constant rivulets ran; but I took pains to keep the pistols under my doublet dry as toast. At the courtyard of the inn I flung myself from my horse and strode to the taproom where my companions awaited me. In truth they were making the best of their circumstances. A hot water jug steamed in front of the hearth where Creagh lolled in a big armchair. At the table Captain Macdonald was compounding a brew by the aid of lemons, spices, and brandy. They looked the picture of content, and I stood streaming in the doorway a moment to admire the scene.
"What luck, Montagu?" asked Creagh.
"They're at 'The Jolly Soldier' all right en route for Epsom," I told him. "Arrived a half hour before I left. Hamish Gorm is hanging about there to let us know when they start. Volney has given orders for a fresh relay of horses, so they are to continue their journey to-night."
"And the lady?"
"The child looks like an angel of grief. She is quite out of hope. Faith, her despair took me by the heart."
"My certes! I dare swear it," returned Donald Roy dryly. "And did you make yourself known to her?"
"No, she went straight to her room. Volney has given it out that the lady is his wife and is demented. His man Watkins spreads the report broadcast to forestall any appeal she may make for help. I talked with the valet in the stables. He had much to say about how dearly his master and his mistress loved each other, and what a pity 'twas that the lady has lately fallen out of her mind by reason of illness. 'Twas the one thing that spoilt the life of Mr. Armitage, who fairly dotes on his sweet lady. Lud, yes! And one of her worst delusions is that he is not really her husband and that he wishes to harm her. Oh, they have contrived well their precious story to avoid outside interference."
I found more than one cause to doubt the fortunate issue of the enterprise upon which we were engaged. Volney might take the other road; or he might postpone his journey on account of the foul weather. Still other contingencies rose to my mind, but Donald Roy and Creagh made light of them.
"Havers! If he is the man you have drawn for me he will never be letting a smirr of rain interfere with his plans; and as for the other road, it will be a river in spate by this time," the Highlander reassured me.
"Sure, I'll give you four to one in ponies the thing does not miscarry," cried Creagh in his rollicking way. "After the King comes home I'll dance at your wedding, me boy; and here's to Mrs. Montagu that is to be, bedad!"
My wildest dreams had never carried me so far as this yet, and I flushed to my wig at his words; but the wild Irishman only laughed at my remonstrance.
"Faith man, 'tis you or I! 'Twould never do for three jolly blades like us to steal the lady from her lover and not offer another in exchange. No, no! Castle Creagh is crying for a mistress, and if you don't spunk up to the lady Tony Creagh will."
To his humour of daffing I succumbed, and fell into an extraordinary ease with the world. Here I sat in a snug little tavern with the two most taking comrades in the world drinking a hot punch brewed to a nicety, while outside the devil of a storm roared and screamed.
As for my companions, they were old campaigners, not to be ruffled by the slings of envious fortune. Captain Donald Roy was wont to bear with composure good luck and ill, content to sit him down whistling on the sodden heath to eat his mouthful of sour brose with the same good humour he would have displayed at a gathering of his clan gentlemen where the table groaned with usquebaugh, mountain trout, and Highland venison. Creagh's philosophy too was all for taking what the gods sent and leaving uncrossed bridges till the morrow. Was the weather foul? Sure, the sun would soon shine, and what was a cloak for but to keep out the rain? I never knew him lose his light gay spirits, and I have seen him at many an evil pass.
The clatter of a horse's hoofs in the courtyard put a period to our festivities. Presently rug-headed Hamish Gorm entered, a splash of mud from brogues to bonnet.
"What news, Hamish? Has Volney started?" I cried.
"She would be leaving directly. Ta Sassenach iss in ta carriage with ta daughter of Macleod, and he will be a fery goot man to stick a dirk in whatefer," fumed the gillie.
I caught him roughly by the shoulder. "There will be no dirk play this night, Hamish Gorm. Do you hear that? It will be left for your betters to settle with this man, and if you cannot remember that you will just stay here."
He muttered sullenly that he would remember, but it was a great pity if Hamish Gorm could not avenge the wrongs of the daughter of his chief.
We rode for some miles along a cross country path where the mud was so deep that the horses sank to their fetlocks. The wind had driven away the rain and the night had cleared overhead. There were still scudding clouds scouring across the face of the moon, but the promise was for a clear night. We reached the Surrey road and followed it along the heath till we came to the shadow of three great oaks. Many a Dick Turpin of the road had lurked under the drooping boughs of these same trees and sallied out to the hilltop with his ominous cry of "Stand and deliver!" Many a jolly grazier and fat squire had yielded up his purse at this turn of the road. For a change we meant to rum-pad a baronet, and I flatter myself we made as dashing a trio of cullies as any gentlemen of the heath among them all.
It might have been a half hour after we had taken our stand that the rumbling of a coach came to our ears. The horses were splashing through the mud, plainly making no great speed. Long before we saw the chaise, the cries of the postilions urging on the horses were to be heard. After an interminable period the carriage swung round the turn of the road and began to take the rise. We caught the postilion at disadvantage as he was flogging the weary animals up the brow of the hill. He looked up and caught sight of us.
"Out of the way, fellows," he cried testily. Next instant he slipped to the ground and disappeared in the darkness, crying "'Ware highwaymen!" In the shine of the coach lamps he had seen Creagh's mask and pistol. The valet Watkins, sitting on the box, tried to lash up the leaders, but Macdonald blocked the way with his horse, what time the Irishman and I gave our attention to the occupants of the chaise.
At the first cry of the postilion a bewigged powdered head had been thrust from the window and immediately withdrawn. Now I dismounted and went forward to open the door. From the corner of the coach into which Aileen Macleod had withdrawn a pair of bright eager eyes looked into my face, but no Volney was to be seen. The open door opposite explained his disappearance. I raised the mask a moment from my face, and the girl gave a cry of joy.
"Did you think I had deserted you?" I asked.
"Oh, I did not know. I wass thinking that perhaps he had killed you. I will be thanking God that you are alive," she cried, with a sweet little lift and tremble to her voice that told me tears were near.
A shot rang out, and then another.
"Excuse me for a moment. I had forgot the gentleman," I said, hastily withdrawing my head.
As I ran round the back of the coach I came plump into Volney. Though dressed to make love and not war, I'll do him the justice to say that one was as welcome to him as the other. He was shining in silver satin and blue silk and gold lace, but in each hand he carried a great horse pistol, one of which was still smoking at the barrel. The other he pointed at me, but with my sword I thrust up the point and it went off harmlessly in the air. Then I flung him from me and covered him with my barker. Creagh also was there to emphasize the wisdom of discretion. Sir Robert Volney was as daring a man as ever lived, but he was no fool neither. He looked at my weapon shining on him in the moonlight and quietly conceded to himself that the game was against him for the moment. From his fingers he slipped the rings, and the watch from his pocket-coat. To carry out our pretension I took them and filled my pockets with his jewelry.
"A black night, my cullies," said Volney as easy as you please.
"The colour of your business," I retorted thoughtlessly.
He started, looking at me very sharp.
"Else you would not be travelling on such a night," I explained lamely.
"Ah! I think we will not discuss my business. As it happens, the lady has no jewelry with her. If you are quite through with us, my good fellows, we'll wish you a pleasant evening. Watkins, where's that d—d postilion?"
"Softly, Sir Robert! The night's young yet. Will you not spare us fifteen minutes while the horses rest?" proposed Creagh.
"Oh, if you put it that way," he answered negligently, his agile mind busy with the problem before him. I think he began to put two and two together. My words might have been a chance shot, but when on the heel of them Creagh let slip his name Volney did not need to be told that we were not regular fly-by-nights. His eyes and his ears were intent to pierce our disguises.
"Faith, my bullies, you deserve success if you operate on such nights as this. An honest living were easier come by, but Lard! not so enticing by a deal. Your enterprise is worthy of commendation, and I would wager a pony against a pinch of snuff that some day you'll be raised to a high position by reason of it. How is it the old catch runs?
"'And three merry men, and three merry men, And three merry men are we, As ever did sing three parts in a string, All under the gallows tree.'