“He lay on his belly the whole of that day,” said the earl, “and through all of the night, with his father there dead at his shoulder.”
By nightfall the town was in flames, and next morning the government forces received reinforcements that let them surround the town, trapping the Jacobite army within. Still, the men were for staying and fighting, but some of the gentlemen officers voted instead to surrender, and Hugh, just like all of the other brave Highlanders, was told by his own commanders to lay down his weapons. His father was thrown in a ditch to be buried, and Hugh and his brothers and cousins and all of the others were taken up prisoners.
Numbers were hanged. For the rest, several hundred men crowded all into the jails where they lay upon straw with no covering, there was but fever and sickness and suffering through the raw winter months until their trials.
“I know not what horrors he saw there,” the earl said, “but one of his cousins died and the surviving ones were, with his brothers, condemned to be transported to the Americas and sold for slaves for seven years.”
Mary remembered the depth of the darkness and pain she had glimpsed in Hugh’s eyes in Marseilles, when he’d looked at the galley slaves. Now she knew why.
“How was he spared?”
The earl said, “He was not.” Then more quietly, “He was not spared.”
Hugh, the youngest of his family captured and condemned to transportation, was so dangerously ill when they were sent on board their ships his brothers feared that he would not survive the voyage, so they gathered what they could among them—all they had remaining—and they bribed the captain to set Hugh down on the coast of Ireland. He was too ill and unaware to raise a protest, or to even see them before they were gone across the sea without him, and he never after heard if they were taken to America or to the harsh plantations of Jamaica and Antigua. They were simply gone and lost to him, with neither trace nor word.
The rebellion meantime had been lost, and the earl with his own younger brother had made his escape through the Highlands to wait in the western isles until the king sent a ship out of France to collect them. Hugh’s own passage was less direct—from Ireland he found a boat to carry him to Cornwall, where he fell into the company of free traders who, unable to set him down in Scotland, took him safe instead to Spain.
“We met him there, my brother Jemmy and I,” said the earl, “when the Governor of Palamos assigned him to us as a guard against the robbers on our road, when we arrived ourselves upon the coast of Catalonia in the first months of the year nineteen. Hugh and his clan are of the same origin as my family, if old tradition does not fail, so I did take a real concern in what regarded him, and finding him a loyal lad I hired him myself to guard my brother.”
Then in the summer of that year the Jacobites made another descent upon Scotland, landing a body of soldiers, some Spanish among them, near Inverness. Hugh was one of the first men ashore, keen to finally return to his home and his family—what little remained of it—after his three years in exile.
And then came the Battle of Glen Shiel.
“The whole affair was poorly done,” the earl admitted. “We advised the Spanish to surrender, and ourselves made a retreat. I managed to get off the coast in safety on my ship, but Jemmy and MacPherson with some others were cut off and forced to escape as they could to the mountains.”
Hugh led the way through the wild passes and mist-shrouded heights and made straight for his home. The earl’s brother, fighting off illness through all this time, spoke of it afterward—how Hugh encouraged him, telling him what they would find at the end of their climbing: a cottage slung close to the earth, with a roof of fine thatch that would keep out the rain that now plagued them; a fire to warm them, and beds soft with blankets Hugh’s father had woven himself on the loom that at one time had seemed to be always in motion; Hugh’s mother and sister within the door, waiting to welcome them.
Then they’d come over the last of the hills and found…nothing.
A hollow of stones where the cottage had been, partly tumbled and blackened by fire, and the wind blowing lonely and weeping across the scarred earth.
The earl said in a somber tone, “I’m told MacPherson said nothing. Did nothing. He stood and he looked, that was all.”
For what else could he do, Mary wondered, when all of his memories and hopes had been struck from the place where they ought to have been? When the light in the window that beckoned him home had been naught but a false fire that died in the darkness? She saw him again standing out in the night at the farmhouse near Maisonneuve, chopping at wood as though killing the demons that Effie’s sad Highland lament had released, the song of the warrior who had outlived all his loved ones and had none left now who could comfort him. Which way, she’d asked him that night, is your home from here? And he had looked to the stars and had pointed the way. Do you miss it? she’d asked. And she understood now why he’d answered, There’s nothing to miss.
The earl told her, “The saighdearan dearg—that’s what they call them in the Highland language. The red-coated soldiers, the government soldiers, not all of them English unfortunately. In the wake of the Fifteen, they punished those men who’d come out for the king.”
Little knowing or caring that Hugh’s father lay dead already at Preston, the red-coated soldiers had burnt both his home and his livelihood, setting the loom ablaze, and finding no men to punish they’d turned to the women and…and…