Lord Cowley's Grandson
by NN West
A Chieftain to the Highlands bound
Cries "Boatman, do not tarry!
And I'll give thee a silver pound
To row us o'er the ferry!"
"Now who be ye, would cross Lochgyle
This dark and stormy water?"
"I'm Raymond, Chief of Ulva's isle,
With the son of Lord Cowley's daughter.
"And fast before his grandsire's men
Three days we've fled together,
For should he find us in the glen
My blood would stain the heather.
"His horsemen hard behind us dart -
Should they our steps discover,
Then who would cheer my Bodie's heart
When they have slain his lover?"
Out spake the hardy Highland wight,
"I'll go, my chief, I'm ready:
It is not for your silver bright,
But for your handsome laddie:-
"And by my word! the bonny lad
In danger shall not tarry;
So though the waves are raging white
I'll row you o'er the ferry."
By this the storm grew loud apace
, The water-wraith was shrieking;
And in the scowl of heaven each face
Grew dark as they were speaking.
But still as wilder blew the wind
And as the night grew drearer,
Adown the glen rode armed men,
Their trampling sounded nearer.
"O haste thee, haste!" young Bodie cries,
"Though tempests round us gather;
I'll meet the raging of the skies,
But not a raged grandfather."
The boat has left a stormy land,
A stormy sea before her -
When, oh! too strong for Human hand
The tempest gathers o'er her.
And still they row'd amidst the roar
Of waters still prevailing:
Lord Cowley reached that fatal shore, -
His wrath was changed to wailing.
For, sore dismay'd through storm and shade
His grandchild he discovered: -
One pleading hand he stretch'd for aid,
And one was round his lover.
"Come back! Come back!" he cried in grief,
"Across this stormy water:
And I'll forgive your Highland chief,
Oh child of my lost daughter!"
'Twas vain: the loud waves lash'd the shore
, Return or aid preventing:
The waters wild took his grandchild,
And he was left lamenting.
(With apologies to Thomas Campbell: Lord Ullin's Daughter.)
In the interests of morality, the renowned poet did of course make considerable alterations to a well-known Highland tale. Dedicated research has revealed this true account of what really happened on the shores of Lochgyle on that stormy night so long ago . . .
The Palace of Holyroodhouse glittered in the light of ten thousand candles as the fair and noble-born gathered in homage to Majesty King George III on the occasion of that illustrious gentleman's visit to this remote part of his domain. Finely dressed, magnificently jewelled they were, these absentee landlords whose ancestors had deserted their clan lands in the train of King James as they sought the richer pickings of a southern court. For many this was the first time they had ventured north of the border, despite the proud names they bore. Even now they clustered around the court, scarce venturing beyond Edinburgh's bounds, as though they feared some hideous fate might greet them should they dare to intrude further into the land they despoiled.
And such might indeed be the case, mused the young Chieftain who stood gazing with mild contempt at the chattering, gilded monkey-tribe before him. Raymond of Ulva was here only to satisfy a youthful curiosity for which he despised himself even as he indulged it with a wry grin. An hour in this stifling, noisy, over-perfumed bedlam was more than enough; with a pitying shake of the head, he turned to leave, and collided with a man who was just passing behind him.
"Your pardon, sir," he said absently, admiring the richness of the silver and pearl trimmed blue brocade coat.
"I am equally to blame, sir. I did not look where I was going."
The Chieftain paused; such courtesy was unusual in one of the southerners. He found curiosity stirring, and lifted his eyes to the other's face, only to stand amazed, one hand reaching automatically to the blue sleeve as though he feared his companion would depart.
"Sir? Is aught amiss?" The Englishman's voice held concern.
"I . . . A moment, I implore you." The Chieftain's eyes grew wider as detailed study confirmed first impression. That face he knew! How many hours had he studied its contours, the pale skin, the full pouting mouth, the delicate nose, the oddly angled brows, and those incredible eyes edged with a sweep of ebon lashes . . . Older it was, the face of a young man, not a child, but unmistakable in its entrancing beauty. "You are real," he said at last.
A dark eyebrow rose. "So I have always believed," the Englishman agreed. "Well, sir? Am I to know the reason for this flattering, but puzzling, interest in my unworthy self?"
"Yes, of course." Realising that he still clutched the blue sleeve he released it with a smile of apology. "Forgive me, sir. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Raymond, Chief of the Isle of Ulva."
"Bodie." The Englishman took the extended hand. "Have we met before, sir? Yet I think not - I would scarcely have forgotten such a face." The blue eyes lingered appreciatively on the tumbled mop of curls, the enchanting sea-green eyes, the flawed cheekbone that gave a piquant cast to almost elfin features. "Indeed, I would have remembered," he added softly. "I should very much like to talk to you, but not here. Will you come apart with me?"
"Gladly. There must be some quiet corner in this madhouse, can we but find it."
The two young men were edging their way through the crowd when one of the palace servants approached with a deferential bow.
"Pardon me, Sir William, but His Lordship is looking for you - his Majesty summons you both."
"Oh lord." Blue eyes met green in rueful apology. "My grandfather can't stand to be kept waiting." He glanced at the servant. "Tell Lord Cowley I will join him in a moment. Sir, we must arrange a meeting. We cannot part like this."
"I know. I am at your service, Sir William."
"Call me Bodie. I fear I am ignorant of the correct form of address for a Highland Chieftain."
"My name is Ray - to you." The quietly spoken words held an unexpected but very welcome intimacy, and a smile of astonishing sweetness curved Bodie's lips.
"Pray name a place and a time - I will be there," he said quietly.
"Then tomorrow, nine of the clock, at Greyfriars."
"I will be there." Blue eyes narrowed in amusement. "My grandfather has always had the most appalling sense of timing," Bodie murmured as he turned and vanished in the crowd.
The hour of nine had scarcely begun to strike from St. Giles when an idle watcher would have seen two young men meet at the entrance to Greyfriars. Their hands clasped in greeting, and smiles of relief lit both faces.
"I wasn't sure you'd come," Bodie confessed, shame-faced.
"I, too, feared lest you should change your mind," Raymond admitted.
Blue eyes studied the vivid face. "Do you feel as I do?" Bodie asked. "That we were destined to meet? That we must be together?"
"I know it was so ordained," Raymond answered. "Ah, Bodie, there is so much I want to say to you . . . Shall we spend the day together, then?"
"I should like that above all things," was Bodie's reply. "But Ray - my grandsire must not know, and there are many here who would tell him if we were seen together. May we go apart, you and I?"
For a moment the curly head was thrown back in anger, and it was in Raymond's mind to question arrogantly if Bodie was ashamed to be seen in his company; but the eager, candid eyes met his so pleadingly that the angry words died on his lips.
"I have horses nearby," he answered at last. "Would it please you to ride out with me?"
"Gladly," Bodie answered.
The interval afforded by reaching the horses and mounting gave Raymond time to consider his approach, and as the two rode side by side through open country, he said gently, "Why are you so afraid of your grandfather knowing that you are with me?"
Bodie met his gaze frankly. "Although he is of Scottish descent, he despises this country and everything to do with it," he said. "He is ruthless in ensuring that his wishes are obeyed, and he forbids me to have friends unless he has approved them first. My parents are dead, and he is my legal guardian until I reach the age of thirty. Moreover, he has the King's authority to control me and my inheritance as he chooses until I come of legal age."
"And how old are you now?"
"One and twenty. So you see, I cannot escape him for another nine years. When I was seventeen I tried to enlist under a false name, but he traced me and had me returned to him. Since then, one of his men follows me wherever I go."
"What?" Raymond swung round in the saddle to study the path behind them.
"It's all right," Bodie assured him. "I eluded Jem this morning - he has grown careless since I give little trouble - who would aid me, after all? But that is why I did not wish to be seen with you, Raymond. I could not bear it if you were harmed because of me. But perhaps you will not wish to pursue the acquaintance now?"
"Don't be any more of an idiot than you can help," Raymond begged him acidly. "I told you - I know that we were meant to be together. Hey, Bodie - race you to the river!"
And the two young men charged laughing into the golden morning.
The sun was setting by the time the two returned by a seldom-frequented byway to Raymond's lodgings in the city. The young Chieftain gave the horses into the charge of one of his clansmen, and led the way to his rooms, where a supper was prepared and served to them before the silent Highlanders withdrew, leaving them alone before a blazing fire of logs.
Bodie sighed, and stretched. "I have enjoyed today," he said softly. "Talking to you, being with you . . . I will never forget you, Raymond."
"We will have other days, will we not?" Raymond asked.
"I fear not, my friend. My grandfather returns to London tomorrow, and I must go with him. Unless you can contrive to follow, we will not meet again . . . And I am foolish to hope that we might, for once back on his estates in the south, I will be more closely watched. Even if you do follow, we will be unable to meet. This must be our meeting and our farewell, my Raymond."
"No!" The Chieftain left his seat to kneel in front of his companion. "I've found you at last, Bodie, and I won't lose you, not for the King himself!"
"Ah Raymond, if only it could be so." Bodie rested his hands on the Chieftain's shoulders.
"I will make it so," Raymond vowed.
For uncounted moments the two gazed deep into each other's eyes. Which of them moved first neither could later be sure, but certain it was that with a sigh and a murmur the two intent faces moved closer until two pairs of lips met and clung. Raymond's arms slipped around Bodie's waist, the Englishman's hands cupped the Chieftain's face, and they came to their knees locked in a desperate embrace that revealed love and hunger and need all at once.
So intense was the kiss, so soul-deep the emotions it revealed, that at its ending both men looked upon a world remade. Quite calmly they sat at gaze, fingers entwined. There were no questions, no doubts; they belonged together - that decision had been taken in the silence of their kiss, and all that remained was to find a way to satisfy a need that had become life and breath.
"I won't go back." It was Bodie who broke the silence. "You do want me, Ray, don't you?"
"Oh yes, I want you," Raymond whispered. "I think I've always loved you."
"My grandfather . . . He'll never let us be together. He's trying to arrange a marriage for me with Lady Katherine Ross. I didn't bother arguing - it made very little difference to me until now. But if I defy him, he'll use his influence with the King to force me. He's a bitter, ruthless old man, Ray. Oh, maybe it's not all his fault. He's always been afraid I'll take after my mother - she ran away when I was a baby, abandoned me . . . "
"No," Raymond said with quiet certainty.
"I'm afraid it's true. She . . . she didn't want me . . . "
"No," Raymond said again. "Oh love, I knew I would have to tell you this . . . Bodie, your mother loved you very much. She never stopped loving you."
"You can't know . . . "
The Chieftain took his lover's hands between his own. "I'll never lie to you, Bodie. This is how it was." He drew a deep breath. "Your mother, Lady Amanda, defied her father, Lord Cowley, to marry Captain Philip Bodie. They were passionately in love, and when you were born their happiness was complete. But your grandfather never forgave them, and when he heard of your birth, he vowed to take you and rear you as his heir. He dared do nothing, however, while your father lived; and so Captain Bodie died - a most convenient . . . accident. I do not say that Lord Cowley had a hand in his death, but . . .
"With your father out of the way, and your mother devastated by grief, your grandfather intended to take you by force. A loyal servant warned Lady Amanda, and she arranged to have you taken secretly to Ireland, to your father's cousin, while she tried to distract your grandfather by leaving a false trail, hoping that while he pursued her, you would be taken safely abroad. Unfortunately, her trust was betrayed; the agent employed to convey you to your father's kinsman sold you to Lord Cowley.
"It was some time before Lady Amanda learned that you were not with her husband's family, as she had hoped. When she learned the truth she wrote to your grandfather, begging to be allowed to return to care for you. He replied . . . " The soft voice faltered.
"Please go on," Bodie said, and with a murmur of pity Raymond drew the dark head to his shoulder, gentle fingers stroking the pale face.
"Lord Cowley replied that since she had defied his will, he no longer had a daughter; she was as the dead to him. He swore that if she attempted to contact you in any way he would have her confined to an asylum for the insane - he invited her to consider the effect on you of believing you had a lunatic for a mother. Lady Amanda, grieving, resigned herself, taking comfort from the thought that when you were of age she could seek you out and lay the truth before you - if there was anything of your father in you, she said, despite Lord Cowley's teaching, you would give her fair hearing. Alas, long before you reached adulthood, she was dead."
Bodie drew back so that the blue eyes could search the intent face that leaned lovingly over him. "How do you know this?" he asked curiously.
Raymond lifted Bodie's hand to his lips, kissing the slender fingers. "A ship was wrecked off our coast," he said. "Among the survivors were an Englishwoman of gentle birth, and her maidservant. Although they were not seriously injured, it was thought advisable for them to rest before completing their journey, and my father brought them to his home. The Lady Amanda was a beautiful, gentle, gracious creature; my father, then a widower, fell in love with her, as did his children. He proposed marriage. Lady Amanda told him the tale as I have told it to you. She was an honest and honourable woman; although she had a great affection for my father, she would always love her Captain Bodie and her lost child. On those terms, they were wed. I heard the tale from her own lips, Bodie. She was as dear as a mother to me, and the whole island wept for her when she and my father perished ten years later of a fever. In all those years she spoke of you always with love and longing, counting the days until she could go to you and tell you the truth. Bodie, she did love you - so very much."
Raymond leaned forward, cupping the pale face in gentle hands as he kissed the exquisite nose. "I always felt close to you as I listened to her. She used to laugh and exclaim what brothers we would be when we met; and as she lay dying, she gave me this." He released Bodie, and drew from around his neck a silver locket on a chain. Opening it, he handed it to Bodie, who gazed at the miniatures it contained with eyes that misted with tears.
"That's your father, love; and the child is you. I've known and loved that portrait for years; now you know why I reacted as I did at the sight of you."
Bodie gazed at the portraits a moment longer, then closed the locket and with fingers that trembled slightly, fastened it once more around his lover's neck.
"So, Ray, you give me not only your love, but that of my dead mother. Now I know I can never go back to my grandfather. Can we leave at once, my love? Is there somewhere we can go?"
"I will show you my island, Bodie. The King's Writ does not rule everywhere in Scotland. My clansmen will hide you, for your mother's sake, for mine . . . and for your own." He rose, leaning down to brush a kiss on the soft lips. "I must leave you for a moment to give my orders. We will leave at first light. The first part of our journey we must make with caution, but once across Lochgyle, we are safe. Are you sure there is nothing you wish to take with you?"
"Nothing!" Bodie said bitterly. "I will take nothing of his." He reached out and touched the Chieftain's arm. "All I want is in this room," he said shyly, and Raymond perforce had to kiss him again before he could leave to give orders for their departure.
Twenty four hours later the two young men lay clinging together on a bed of heather exchanging kisses and caresses that left them both trembling, almost incapable of speech or rational thought. Bodie, a virgin with men, knew instinctively that there was more yet to share, and begged for it in a passion-husky voice; Raymond, more experienced, resolutely denied them the fulfillment they craved.
"Only a few more days, my Bodie," he whispered. "I want us to be safe and at peace; I do not want our first time together to be snatched and hurried. In my home, which will be our home, I will come to you, Bodie, and we will be one. Please, wait?"
"Since you wish it," Bodie replied, drawing his cloak over them both.
During the night they dozed rather than slept, for the day's journey had not been hard, and neither was particularly tired. They had left Edinburgh at daybreak, and the Chieftain's fine horses had carried them at a steady, easy pace. So it was that they woke to exchange kisses, or whispered confidences, only to doze again until the faint light of dawn edged into the cave, and Raymond got up to coax their small fire into a blaze against the dawn chill.
When they were ready to continue their journey they left the cave, walking to where they had left the horses tethered overnight. As they approached they saw with some surprise that the animals had been caught and saddled. A Highlander, one of the men Bodie had seen with Raymond in Edinburgh, was holding the reins.
"My Chief, Sir William," he said in greeting, "I bring ill news. You have lost your advantage - already Lord Cowley pursues you."
"How did he know where I'd gone?" Bodie demanded. "And how did he know that Raymond was with me?"
"It was misfortune, Sir William. Colin Campbell chanced to see you as you rode out of Edinburgh. When he heard that Lord Cowley sought his missing grandson, he told what he had seen, and identified the Chieftain. Campbell himself and a troop of his men ride with Cowley to capture you."
"Surely we have a good enough lead? We can outrun them, can't we?" Bodie asked.
"I fear not, Sir William. Campbell knows that you must seek safety on Ulva. He rides not in pursuit, but to intercept you at Lochgyle. Can he but reach the ferry before you and deny you that escape, he knows that he will be able to run you to earth before you can circle the loch."
"He's right," Raymond said grimly. "Angus, my thanks. Get you back to Edinburgh - I will not have you fall foul of the King's law." He turned to his lover, white teeth flashing. "Into the saddle with you, Bodie. We must ride like the very devil now. Can you do it?"
The blue eyes laughed back at him as Bodie swung to horseback. "The devil? Aye, I'd ride through hell itself for you, love. Let's go!"
"We made it! Bodie, we made it!"
Two storm-crossed riders crested the hill and paused to rest weary horses as they studied the loch below. The little ferry boat was drawn up on the shore, and the ferryman himself was busy tying down the heather thatch of his tiny cottage, fighting the strong wind that seemed to grow by the minute.
"Are you sure? Maybe it's a trap - Cowley could be here already . . . "
"No, it's safe. Donal would not be so easy with a Campbell nearby. Come on, we'd better hurry before the storm gets any worse."
The wind carried the sound of the horses to the ferryman, and he came to greet them as they dismounted.
"It's yourself, Ulva," he said quietly. "Now what can I be doing for you this day?"
The storm wind was howling fiercely as Lord Cowley and his men drew rein before the ferryman's cottage.
"There you are, My Lord," Colin Campbell said smugly as they dismounted. "We can take shelter with the ferryman until the storm passes - our prey will easily run to ground then."
"Sir! Sir! Look!" One of the soldiers rushed up, pointing out over the water as his comrades gathered on the shore. "It's Donal of the ferry! It's madness to risk the loch in this storm!"
Lord Cowley hurried as close to the water's edge as he could, straining his eyes to peer through the driving rain. As he squinted anxiously the rain abated for a moment, a full moon shone briefly through wind-torn clouds, and by its light he saw the tiny boat tossing on the water. In the stern, looking back to shore, his grandson sat calmly, one arm around the man who had seduced him away from All That Was Civilized into this Barren Wasteland. Incredible as it seemed, Bodie was smiling.
"William, come back! Come back!" Lord Cowley called desperately. "Come back, and I'll make sure your friend is pardoned. You're all I have, my heir, my only kin . . . Come back, William, or . . . "
Even as he called his promises, the momentary lull was over. With a savage shriek the wind swirled about them, and a towering wall of water caught the tiny boat, burying it in a flurry of white spray. The last thing Lord Cowley saw was how Bodie turned to his lover, and was taken into enfolding arms; a curly head bent over the sleek dark hair, and in an instant they were gone.
Morning dawned fair and mild, the waters of the loch sparkling in the sun. The searching troops brought to Lord Cowley a few shattered fragments of a tiny boat - but the men she carried had vanished into the storm, and he knew that it was too late, that he would never see his grandson again. For the first and only time in his life Lord Cowley wept.
On the far side of Lochgyle the sun warmed two shivering, bedraggled figures as Bodie was held in the Chieftain's arms - the same strong arms that had held him through the violence of the storm until by some miracle Donal had brought his tiny boat to shore. There had been a frantic scramble onto land, then the boat had been cast adrift again, its shattered timbers to stand mute witness to the tragedy.
Bodie stirred, and looked up into sparkling green eyes. "We're really safe here?" he asked.
Raymond hugged him tighter. "Donal has gone to bring horses from my cousin's farm," he said. "From here, less than a day will see us on Ulva. Lord Cowley will return to England convinced that you are dead . . . unless, after all, you wish to let him know that you are safe?"
"No." Bodie shuddered. "Lord William is dead, I am free. Let's go home, lover."
As Raymond lowered his head for Bodie's kiss, neither of them knew that on this day a legend had been created, a legend that, sanitised and expurgated for a sensitive and delicate audience, would find final expression when the August Poet recounted the tragic tale of Lord Ullin's daughter.
And had they known, it is unlikely that either of them would have given a damn.
-- THE END --