FICTION

ME AND MY TRUE LOVE

DOUGLAS CARMICHAEL August 15 1951
FICTION

ME AND MY TRUE LOVE

DOUGLAS CARMICHAEL August 15 1951

ME AND MY TRUE LOVE

FICTION

DOUGLAS CARMICHAEL

IT WAS APRIL 1746. The damp western winds blowing across the loch from Ben Vorlich carried a new warmth that was melting the last streaks of snow on the flanks of Ben Lomond. On the braes sloping down to the water the snow had gone completely except in the hollows, leaving bare muddy ground and patches of draggled heather. The ice had gone from the loch. Its water lay like a hard, glittering sheet of mica reflecting the swirling, surly greyness of the sky. Graceful white birches leaned over the water’s edge with yellow-green buds inching out along their red branches. Winter still covered the peak of Ben Lui and clung to its sides with claws that raked white gashes down the rock. But spring was coming to the shores of Loch Lomond.

Along the lonely lake side walked a girl, a tall girl whose red-gold hair blew loose in the wind in lines that accented the sharpness of her features. She walked slowly, as if performing a duty, her dark green cloak pulled tight around her, and her eyes on the ground. At the mouth of a deep glen that stretched back in the shadow of dark pines between two mighty shoulders of Ben Lomond she stopped and turned to face the wind that blew across the narrow loch. She drank it in with a keen light in her eyes. It seemed to tell her something painful for she winced and started to go on. A voice spoke behind her

“Ye shouldna gae here by yoursel’, Mistress Diana, and a’ the broken men abroad. It’ll come to nae guid.” The girl turned slowly. She recognized the speaker and smiled. It was old Angus, shuffling out of the woods

bent over under a load of faggots. “I’ll be all right, Angus,” she said. “This is the only place I do feel safe.”

The old man eased his burden to the ground and spat into a lingering snowbank. “It was here ye’d be meetin’ him,” he challenged.

“Aye. Here.”

“It’s nae guid lookin’ for him again. He’ll nae be cornin’ back.”

A quick shadow fell over the girl’s eyes and she spoke tensely. “He will come back. Alec has gane to take care of it. He’ll gae to London if he must.”

“The saigheardan ruadh, the red soldiers, they let gae o’ nane they take. Least of a’ a MacGregor with a price on his head for his name. He’ll nae be cornin’ back unless Phrionssa Tearlach tears doun Carlisle. Stane by stane.”

“Then the prince will tear down Carlisle. Is there news today, Angus?”

The old man drew a hand over his grizzled beard. “Only mair red soldiers at Dumbarton.”

“The prince will fight again, won’t he? He can’t win staying in the mountains.”

“There’ll be mair fechtin’. Old Mhairi saw the dead flyin’ through the air last nicht in their shrouds and there’s keenin’ in the north. There’ll be fechtin’ again, and bluid on the claymores. And on the bayonets.”

Diana’s face went pale. “No, Angus, no,” she breathed.

The old Highlander shrugged, hitched up his dirty kilt, and went off down

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By the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond the girl with the red-gold hair proudly waited

for her fighting MacGregor.

And who’s to say he didn’t send her the song you know so well?

Me and My True Love

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the lake under his load of brush. Diana watched him till he disappeared around the curve of the shore, then turned and began to climb the steep side of the glen, moving surefootedly over the mud and slippery rocks.

The dead flying through the air in their shrouds. She shuddered. The idea was horrible. It was plain superstition. Or was it? Old Mhairi claimed to have the seeing, the second sight. These Highlanders. She never quite knew whether to believe them or not. There were many secrets up there behind the hills. Her father could talk all he wanted and have her brought up by her aunts in Edinburgh, but there was still something about the Highlands that Sir Isaac Newton and all the new laws of natural philosophy couldn’t explain. And whatever it was, it was part of her. The Grahams were more than half Highland, and her father couldn’t get rid of his blood—in spite of all his friends in London and his ships sailing from Glasgow.

She came to the foot of a gigantic pine high up on the side of the glen, gnarled and twisted by centuries of wind. Its knotted roots held three boulders firmly in the shape of a giant’s throne, facing the sunset over Ben Vorlich. The sun struck full here, and the rough grey granite was dry. Diana sat down on the throne with a little sigh of content. The feeling of happiness still hung over this spot.

IT WAS here she had met Donald.

Donald Maelan MacGregor. It was almost a year since she had come up here to watch the sun go down one warm evening in full spring. She had been sitting on the stone chair watching the changing colors of the clouds when something made her look up. A tall Highlander in the red tartan of the MacGregors was leaning against the pine trunk behind her. There was a great broadsword at his side and a sardonic smile on his lips, but for some strange reason she wasn’t afraid, even when he spoke to her.

“It’s a big throne for one lass,” he said, with only the faintest trace of a Gaelic lilt.

“There’s room for another,” she replied boldly, and without a word more he sat beside her until the sun went down, a strange dark man whose eyes shifted from the softness of a wounded deer’s to the fierceness of an eagle’s, and then back again without I seeming cause.

Donald went home with her that j evening, and her father’s sense of hospitality compelled him with some misgiving to ask the stranger to spend the night. The MacGregors had a bad name and no love for the Grahams, but Donald was a gentleman in spite j of his clan, and nothing untoward happened. He was lately back from France, where he had been educated, and had been visiting his father’s grave at Inehcailloch, The Isle of Old j Women, at the other end of the loch. Here the MacGregors buried their dead and took their oaths. His lands lay northward beyond Ben Mor.

After that evening Donald came j often to Lowrie House, but he always appeared unannounced, and he always met Diana in the glen before anyone else saw him. He was always a quiet man, full of fierce desires that he could express best in music. Sometimes he would sit down at the spinet in the drawing-room. He could play the French and Italian airs beautifully, but after half an hour of them he would suddenly bang out a few jarring chords

and make the old spinet skirl and wail like the bagpipes.

Sometimes he brought his pipes with him and squeezed out a wild haunting music that sang of things deep in the blood no words could ever tell. He made up his own songs, too, gay lilting things that shifted suddenly into minor keys and left her heart aching. Her brother Alec, who had just received his degree from St. Andrews, and was reading law in Edinburgh, played the flute, and he and Donald sometimes joined in duets. Alec conceived a boyish admiration for this moody Highlander, and the three of them became fast friends.

But there was always something between Diana and Donald that Alec

couldn’t share. It was the secret of the glen. The glen itself was no different from a hundred others along the loch, except that perhaps its shade was a little deeper. It was only when the two of them met here on the giant’s throne that it all took on a special faery meaning. There they would sit through the long evenings of late spring and early summer while scores of tiny birds sang in the birches by the water and the wild flowers pushed their way up through the thick pine needles of the glen. The sun would fall beneath the lowering clouds and turn the lake to molten silver that needed only to be dipped up and coined. Diana spoke of it one evening in August.

“And whose head would you be stamping on the coins?” Donald asked.

“The king’s,” she answered vaguely, avoiding politics. She knew he meant which king, German George in London of James over the water, whose son, it was rumored from the Highlands, had just landed in Moidart to claim his crown. Donald had met the young Prince Charles in France and was a strong Jacobite, but now he too avoided polities.

Instead he took her hands in one of his and with the other he lifted a lock of her hair as though assaying its weight. “No king’s,” he said. “The image shall be the goddess Diana’s, and men shall give all their goods for the smallest farthing that bears it. The metal shall be worth it too, for we’ll throw a lock of your hair in the silver and turn it all to red gold. The goddess who wears red gold on her head. Shall I tell you a myth of the Greeks?”

“If it’s a bon nie one.”

“The story is told that Diana the huntress lived many years on Delos in the Grecian sea hunting the stags

among the mountains. But Delos is a small island, and after many years the sun scorched its forests and burned the grass, and the deer died. Then Diana was very sad and looked for a new home farther north, one that the rays of her brother Apollo couldn’t destroy. She searched across all Europe, going farther and farther, but finding nothing she liked until she came to Caledonia, far in the northwest. And there she found mountains steeper and more purple than the mountains of Greece, and pines even darker, and water brighter than the Aegean Sea. So she made herself queen there and sat upon a granite throne, but she found new sport, for instead of stags she hunted men, and killed them with arrows from her eyes. Then all men feared her and fled before her, all except one. He was a young chief, and instead of fleeing, this man faced the goddess and dared her to do her worst.”

“And then what happened?”

Donald shrugged. “The tale has no end.”

The girl stared straight before her. “I shall end it,” she said in a low voice. “Scotland is lonelier than Greece, and Diana was weary of being a virgin goddess. So she moved over on her throne and asked the brave young chief to be her kind and share it with her.” Then he kissed her, and she stayed in the strength of his arms while the sun went down as red as blood behind Ben Vorlich and the heather of the mountains turned deeper purple in the gloaming, as rich as an emperor’s robe.

THAT was the last time Diana had seen him. He was to have come again five days later to speak to her father. Instead there came a letter. Prince Charles Edward had raised his standard at Glenfinnan, and all through the Highlands the clans were rising to throw out the Hanoverian usurpers. The prince was at Blair Atholl, and the Duke of Perth was raising men to join him. Donald had taken a commission in the Duke’s regiment and had left for Perth.

Diana choked thinking of it. A man like Donald had no right to throw himself away as a soldier. There was a fierceness in him, yes, but he would find his peace in the glen over Loch Lomond, not on a bloody field. He felt beauty too keenly for that. And yet. . . There was a music of swordblades and cannons and the screams of the dying as well as of bagpipes. Even though she could not hear it herself, she knew how it would call to him. Donald was a MacGregor, and their motto was “My race is royal.” He would follow his king. There was no point trying to stop him, and she had not tried.

It all looked so hopeless at first, throwing a few ragged Highlanders against King George’s red-coated regulars. Then came the news of the fiveminute slaughter at Prestonpans, where the redcoats fled from the claymores and dirks as fast as their legs would carry them and General Johnny Cope galloped to England with the first news of his own defeat.

When the birches turned yellow in October the Highlanders took Edinburgh, and Diana pestered her father for permission to go there and visit her aunts. Perhaps she could find Donald somewhere in the army. Hector Graham was a lukewarm Whig who thought it would do no harm to have connections in the Jacobite camp, and Diana had run the household since her mother's death. He let her go. Her aunts, prim Lowland ladies, had been as terrified of the bare-legged Highlanders as they would have been of

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Red Indians from America, but Diana mocked their fears and searched for Donald. She found he had been sent on a special mission south toward the border, and she felt angry at this young prince who could come over the sea and take the man she loved away from her. Angry and jealous. What right did he have to break the wish they had made on the new moon?

Then there was the night of the prince’s ball at Holyrood Palace. Diana attended with Lady Ogilvy, who was an old friend of her mother’s. It was a magnificent affair of many candles, men in bright tartans, and ladies in court dresses that had not been worn since the Union. To Diana’s consternation the prince noticed her and honored her with a dance. She had no idea of how to behave, but she knew at once why they called him Bonnie Prince Charlie, why the men were ready to die for him and the women ready to urge them on. He put her at ease immediately, talking to her of Scotland and how much he felt at home there. It was the poorest land he had seen in all his travels, he said, rich only in the bravest men and most beautiful women on earth.

It was a high-flown compliment, yet there was something in his face and voice that showed he meant it. Diana would always remember his sad eyes, pointed chin, and almost girlish smile. But in spite of his delicate features there was a dashing gallantry about him that made him a man to love and to serve. Diana couldn’t surrender Donald, but from then on she loaned him gladly.

She saw the prince once more, from a distance, the day he led his army south to conquer England. The streets were crowded with people cheering and wearing white cockades. The long files of fighting men went by—Camerons, Stewarts of Appin, MacPhersons, and Gordons. The Duke of Perth’s regiment was there, and her heart beat faster, but Donald was still away. The Atholl men, the Robertsons, Ogilvy’s regiment, Glenbucket’s, Roy Stewart’s, Tulloch’s. They were all there. Their plaids were torn and dirty, their beards were shaggy, and many of them walked bare-foot on the hard cobblestones, but their swords were bright and clean, the great gleaming broadswords that terrified the English. They were tall lean men who walked with springy steps and flashing eyes. And though Donald himself wasn’t there his music was all about. The pipes were playing a new song and the people were singing it . . .

Diana paused in her reverie as the notes came into her mind, and she sang it over softly:

The news frae Moidart cam -yestre’en, Will soon gar mony ferlie,

For ships o’ war hae just come in And landed royal Charlie.

Come through the heather,

Around him gather,

Ye’re a’ the welcomer early.

Around him cling wi’ a’ your kin, For wha’ll be king but Charlie? Come through the heather,

Around him gather.

Come Ronald, come Donald . . .

Thg rest of the chorus stuck in her throat. Donald had come. Come too far.

The days grew darker in November and December while she waited back by the loch for reports of the army’s progress and the infrequent letters from Donald, now back with his regiment. The prince had reached Lancaster, Manchester, Derby, and the English were fleeing. Then in December came news that puzzled her. The prince was retreating. With victory in its grasp the army was marching north again. English regiments rushed back from Flanders were closing in on it from

three sides. There were stories of a rearguard action fought by Lord George Murray’s men at Cliftonhall—and no further word from Donald.

Diana paced the drawing-room and glared out the window at the snowdrifts. The prince’s new victory at Falkirk seemed unimportant and useless. She fingered out snatches of Donald’s songs on the spinet and lacked the urge to finish them. She thought of going north to the MacGregor country to see if they had news of him there. The news came late in January, as she was about to leave. Donald had been wounded at Cliftonhall and taken prisoner by the redcoats. His wound was healing, but he was being held at Carlisle to await trial for high treason. Treason to the fat

German hog in London whom he had never acknowledged.

Diana remembered the sentence for treason. It was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Or a person of no importance might get off with mere hanging. She remembered Carlisle, too. She had passed through the old border town coming back from London three years before and had seen the cold grey stones of its castle. The cells would be wet and filthy. The thought of Donald there, wounded, drove her nearly crazy, till her father agreed to send Alec off with letters to all their friends who might have any influence. Money could talk even for rebels.

ALEC had been gone almost two YX. months now. He had made a hero of Donald and would do everything possible, even if he had to go to the prime minister. If he failed . . . Diana’s jaw stiffened and her hand gripped an outcropping of rock. If he failed there was nothing to do but what old Angus said, wait till Prince Charlie’s men tore down Carlisle stone by stone. The prince had retreated north of the mountains to Inverness, but he’d fight again. He’d fight, and he would win. No troops on earth could face a Highland charge, and with Bonnie Prince Charlie at its head leading his clansmen like a spirit of the air . . . Once more Diana began to hum “Wha’ll be King but Charlie?”

“Faster, lass, faster. That’s a quickstep and ye’re making a dirge of it.” The voice! She caught her breath and for a moment didn’t dare look up. It was he, Donald, leaning against the pine tree as she had first seen him, with a twisted smile on his lips. Only now his shirt was dirty and his plaid torn, and his left arm hung in a bloodstained sling. But he was there. Tears filled her eyes and she sprang up to throw her arms around him.

But he wasn’t there. Her arms clasped only air, and missing his expected support she staggered and fell to the ground. She brushed the tears from her eyes and shook her head. She couldn’t have been dreaming. She had heard his voice and seen him standing as clearly as she ever had. His eyes had been sad and far away and warm with love. She had ached to answer the call in them. Was it some trick of the light? She looked

out at the loch. The sun was sinking red and throwing long blue shadows on the snow slopes of Ben Vorlich, but the air was sharp and a million crystals of snow sparkled on the shoulders of Ben Lomond above her. She must have been dreaming. But there was a cold longing in her heart, and the wind turned cold to match it.

Sadly Diana rose and started down the glen to the lakeside. Loch Lomond itself was the only sure thing left when she started seeing visions. The long, quiet loch and the swelling hills above it, ever changing but ever the same. She smiled faintly. If she told old Angus about her dream he’d say she had the seeing like Mhairi. But there hadn’t been any shroud on Donald. She was sure of that.

She walked back along the gravelly beach between the birches and the lake. A hundred yards or so from the house she saw Alec coming toward her, and her feet refused to move, either to meet him or to run away. Alec was walking slowly and heavily with his eyes on the ground. When he raised them they saw the question in hers, and he shook his head.

Dumbly she reached out to take his arm, then whispered one word. “When?”

“Four days ago. Noon. I left the day before. He didna want me to stay.”

Diana wondered why the wind didn’t rise to a hurricane and blow her away, or the ground open underneath her, or the lake swallow her up. She was surprised to find that she was still walking, but there was nothing else to do. There was nothing at all to do any more. They walked on in wretched silence.

Alec spoke again. “He made another song for ye in prison. He finished it the day I left and asked me to give it to ye. Would ye care to see it?”

She shook her head. She couldn’t now. Her foot made a squushing sound in the soft mud. Spring was coming again, but Donald was gone. First love’s first spring couldn’t last. Nothing lasted.

“Why did he nae want ye to stay?” she asked.

“He wanted to be alone. He said he’d done all his duty except the last part, and now that’s done. T want ye to remember I was a man with an idea,’ he said, ‘not just something on the end of a rope.’ ”

“An idea?”

“The prince. ‘Be loyal,’ he was saying.”

“And ye’re a Whig like father,” she said bitterly.

“I can change. The prince can still use men. He’ll be needing a replacement for Donald.”

“He can use men. He can use men to tear down Carlisle, tear down London, drive George back to Germany, and dye the redcoats red with their own blood!” Her voice rose to a scream, then fell again dully. “That’s all that’s left. Take me home, Alec.”

SHE WISHED she could cry, but no tears would come. The MacGregor women of Donald’s clan would be greeting and howling, but she was too much Saxon for that. Instead she sat at the window watching the rippling waves that washed against the pebbles on the shore. The mournful murmur crept into her mind. The whole world was one throbbing murmur of endless, changeless change. First love’s first spring couldn’t last, but winter went on forever. The murmur broke off sharply when Alec ran in and slammed the door.

“It’s all over,” he blurted out. “Everything. Fergus MacLaren just limped in from some place called Cullo-

den. He’s been running four days. The prince is hiding in the heather. The army’s broken. Nothing left. The redcoats are butchering everywhere.” He sank into a chair by the fire. “I’m too late again.”

Diana rose automatically to stroke his hair. Thank God Donald hadn’t lived to know this. He’d given everything he had for the beautiful young prince, and now the prince had nothing left to give for him, not even revenge. The flowers of the forest were withered. If there were even one last memory. Then she remembered.

“Ye said Donald gave ye a song?”

Alec reached into the pocket of his coat and brought out a wrinkled scrap of paper. He handed it to her silently. Diana took it over to the spinet. The paper was small and the words and notes were crowded together, but she knew the writing. She played the tune through hesitantly, picking it out one note at a time. Gaining confidence she went back over it, losing herself in the rhythm and the melody. As she reached the chorus Alec got up and took out his flute to join her.

Diana added her quavering voice to the instruments and sang the words with growing wonder:

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond,

Where me and my true love were ever wont to gae,

By the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Tis long since we parted in yon shady glen,

On the steep, steep side of Ben Lomond,

Where in purple hue the Highland hills we view,

And the moon coming out in the gloaming.

The wee birds may sing, and the wild flowers spring.

And in sunshine the waters be sleeping,

But the broken heart it kens nae second spring again,

Through the waefu’ may cease frae their greeting.

Oh, ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,

But me and my true love will never meet again,

By the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Diana’s fingers rested on the keys and she stared again out over the loch. The sun had gone down and the moon was coming out in the gloaming. A path of silver light lay across the water. As she watched, a wild duck flew down the path and landed on it, raveling the silver carpet into a thousand silver threads. It was spring, and yet not spring. There was no second spring. And yet, and yet . . .

She started to sing the words over again softly and slowly, wringing out of them all the beauty and the pain. “Oh, ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road . . .” She stopped abruptly. Other words were echoing in her ears. “Faster, lass . . . ye’re making a dirge of it.” Before her mind again came the picture of the haggard Highlander leaning against the pine tree with the sad longing in his eyes. She closed her own. It couldn’t be, but spring was rising within her.

She turned to face her brother. “Alec. Did ye take the high road up from Carlisle?”

“As far as Glasgow. Why?”

The girl smiled softly. “Nothing. Only whatever the low road is, Donald took it. He was here afore ye. And he was wrong. He met his true love again by Loch Lomond.”