Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 56 - A Third Excerpt From My Culloden Story

Here's my final installment of my Culloden story. It takes place after these two excerpts posted previously on the Poetry Train:

Culloden excerpt 1
Culloden excerpt 2

I've modelled Jock MacKeigan on Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, and Emma MacBean on English actress Emma Samms.

Near Drumossie Moor, in the hills outside Inverness, April 1746

He could tell by the way they snuck glances at him. Lady MacBean felt it was time to leave the cavern. But what to do about him?

His leg was useless. Not that it wouldn’t heal with time. But several more patrols had come looking for them. They must steal away now or never.

Perhaps she could spare a few days’ provisions. By that time he would have some strength returned to him. Stumbling upon the MacBeans had bought him some valuable time. That was more than he could have hoped for a few days ago.

He would need a crutch to lean on. Fashioning one would give him something to do while he waited. He must trust that whatever the Almighty’s reason to see him through thus far would continue to help him. It gave Jock a strange confidence, considering what he was facing.

The young boy Davey joined him on the edge of the pallet. “Mistress wants to know if ye have need of anything,” he asked. The boy’s face was unusually guarded. If Jock had doubted Lady MacBean’s intentions, Davey’s expression removed any misconceptions.

“I would at that. Fetch me a stick so I can make something to help me hobble about.”

Davey was off like a volley of muskets and out of the cave. A bit like talking to a ghost, it seemed.

Jock moved his leg gingerly, growing stiff from sitting in the same position for hours. The pain ignited from his ankle to his hip, up his spine, hammering Jock’s head so that he shut his eyes against it.

How could he let them go, five women with just an old man, a youth and a boy to protect them? Jock felt a shudder erupt as images flared through his mind. The soldiers - if they fell upon them - he shook his head to chase the horrors away, but they lurked uneasily.

Jock’s fingers played with the fringed edge of the wrap that covered his leg, keeping it warm against the damp of the cave. He thought of Lieutenant-Colonel Montford, of Miss MacBean and her engagement to the officer of his regiment. He could hear Montford barking orders even now, his voice deep and resonant, booming through the clamour of musket fire and the cries of other officers.

Her intended was a good man as officers went. Decisive and practical. Not one to tolerate any loafing, sloppiness or unreadiness. That is why Jock and the others pressed on through the night march to Nairn. Montford’s regiment was a fit one, not like some that were plagued with desertions, the men unfed, bitter and without a shred of confidence in the prince’s generals.

Such incredible folly that had been. Tiring them to the breaking point before such a battle. The original orders for a surprise attack on the English encampment would have made all the difference. Jock still didn’t understand why the march had gone so badly, why they’d been halted so often that the grey light of daybreak came before they’d reached Nairn.

But he vividly remembered the moment it was called off. The English drums rolled the general call to arms in the distance. A weary messenger appeared from the head of the column and Montford bent low in the saddle, his ear close to the panting youth. It seemed a very long while after he’d finished speaking before Montford straightened to send him on his way.

The Scots Royal turned in the road and headed back to camp, every man silent with his own thoughts or simply pure fatigue. Even then, they’d all sensed it. The late change in orders boded ill for victory.

Not a man on that march could have forseen what awaited them. Not even the lieutenant-colonel, not even in that suspended moment when he must have been sorely tempted to disregard orders. To fall upon the English as they were turned out of their bedrolls. To pursue the only reasonable course of action.

As Jock was doing now.

The lady must take her daughter and the servants and flee for their lives. He must warn her son just how dangerous it would be for them.

He could see Miss MacBean watching him even as she made to appear engrossed in collecting up the meagre belongings scattered throughout the cave.

Miss MacBean would become Montford’s wife, if Montford survived as Jock had done.

And if Jock was made to stay in hiding much longer with her, his greatest threat would no longer be the English soldiers.

It would be the way she stood in her thin frock, trying not to shiver in the cold. The stocking she wore beneath her skirts, stained with his blood although she’d washed it in the icy stream with her gentle fingers. The blue eyes blazing with her father’s courage, reaching into him so he could bear the pain.

Jock had survived the worst of what the English could dish out. But he had nothing left to resist Miss MacBean.


(This scene comes a bit later, but I'm telescoping the storyline for the Poetry Train.)

Jock lay very still on his side, pressing himself as closely into the wall of the cave as he could. He heard someone moving not too far from the entrance.

Three days had passed since the MacBeans and their servants left the cave, three days of more patrols and Jock barely escaping detection. Yesterday a soldier actually pushed his way partially past the brush which Thomas had wedged securely behind them to better conceal Jock.

“Oh, mercy,” the soldier had grunted.

“What is it, Marks?”

“I’m bloody stuck! Come get me out!”

Jock had heard laughter from several men. If he’d had to take on that many he’d have been done for.

“How’d ye manage this, then?”

“Shut yer gob and give the old heave-ho, eh? And be quick about it, I can’t catch my breath.”

Were they back to check the cave again? The screen rustled ominously.

Whoever it was knew exactly what he was about. Several blows to the edge of the screen frame and it came free from the rock wall.

Jock opened and closed his fingers around the handle of his dirk. Felt the weight of it, knew just what he would do to the first one that came upon him. If they didn’t miss him completely in the gloom.

He would wait, still and silent. He’d gone over this many times in those three days. First, watch and wait. If detection was certain, the first man would be down with a slit throat before he could call to his fellows. Several good-sized stones were at hand to take down a man or two. From there, well it would depend on who was left, wouldn’t it?

Someone was definitely entering the cave. Jock’s ears strained to hear how many there were. He couldn’t turn his head to look without giving himself away.

Cautious steps, quiet as a cat. Not the usual blundering infantryman. Jock waited to hear any others approaching but there seemed to be only one.

He took a deep, calming breath. There was a chance, then. Only one. He could dispatch one easily enough. He resheathed his dirk, needing both hands free.

The soldier neared. Jock could see a slight form in the dimness, heard his quickened breathing. The fellow didn’t call to anyone. Strange.

Steps scratched in the dirt as the man turned. Jock lunged like a coiled snake.

His arms wrapped tightly about the lad’s calves, tugging hard to bring him down with a grunt. Before the soldier could regain his senses, Jock rolled forward, crawling up by handfuls of clothing till he had the man by the collar. Twisting sharply, Jock rammed him against the cavern wall.

A sure motion down to retrieve his dirk, a swift arc upwards and the blade pressed in warning against the man’s throat.

In the second it took to size up his foe, Jock heard his name whispered frantically. A chill went up his neck.

His fingers clutched thinner cloth than a redcoat.

“It’s me. It’s me. Emma! It’s Emma.”

Jock relaxed his grip, pulling the dirk away from her neck, hoping he’d not already drawn blood.

She panted with fear. Jock pulled her to face him, shaking with relief he’d not discovered her too late. “What are you doing here?” he fairly shouted.

“I couldn’t leave you behind.”

“I nearly killed you!”

“I had a horrid row with my mother. I snuck away.”

“What - have you lost your mind, girl? Had a row with your mother? What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t think it was right to leave you here on your own,” she choked out, her voice tight with tears she fought to keep back. “Mother was furious with me. She said things. She...struck me. She’s never struck me since I was a wee bairn.”

Jock felt as though the cave was closing in on him, pressing the breath from his lungs. “Where are the rest of them?” he asked, trying to sort his swirling thoughts.

“I don’t know.”

Jock squeezed her shoulders as though he could press some answers from them. “Where were you heading, then?”

He felt her stiffen against his roughness. “We were heading north. I think it was north.”

“Where, north?”

“Away from the patrols!”

Jock pushed her away from him in frustration. “She’ll probably send someone after you.”

“She won’t.”

“Your brother, likely. And he’ll be lucky to make it this far. I’ll bet you weren’t giving any thought to that when you were stealing away. Were you?”

“She won’t have anything more to do with me, I don’t think. Nor will Murray.”

“What are you talking about? Will ye no make any sense at all?”

“We shouldn’t have left you here," she said. "My Douglas wouldn’t approve.”

No wonder Lady MacBean had lost patience with her. “Look. I’m sorry to have to be the one to say it. But...” Jock took a very deep breath. “There’s not many of us made it off that field.”

She lay very still beside him.

“I was separated from most of my regiment," he said. "I don't know the lieutenant-colonel's position at the end. Once the fighting stopped. What I can tell ye is this. No wounded were taken from the moor. The English swept over us with bayonets and...there’s not many of us still livin' who fought that day.”

Emma said nothing, only lay there beside him in silence.

“I don’t know what ye were thinkin’ when ye left yer mother like that. Ye’ve no idea how lucky ye are to have got here at all. I’ve had four patrols come since ye left. I thought ye were another one.”

“Then I must help you get to someplace safe.” Her voice was full of hurt feelings and stubbornness. Jock reached for her in the dim light, pulling her to rest her head on his shoulder.

“We must wait till the soldiers stop paying us so many visits.” Jock sighed. She curled against him. How warm she felt after the hard dampness of the past few lonely days.

He should be as outraged as Lady MacBean at Emma’s thoughtless risk taking. And he did rather feel like throttling her.

How could he admit to himself how it terrified him, that she’d nearly died under his own blade? How it made his heart swell almost painfully with joy that she'd done something so foolish as to come back for him.

- Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Photo of Robert Carlyle by Brian Pendreigh