Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 16

   

“…For it will be a bluidie morning!”

“Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye walkin’ yet?

And are your drums a-beatin’ yet?…”

The voices rose around her in a roar of approbation as they joined in the chorus. She had a moment of rising panic, when she would have fled away like Johnnie Cope, but it passed, leaving her buffeted by emotion as much as by the music.

“In faith, quo Johnnie, I got sic flegs,

Wi’ their claymores an’ philabegs,

Gin I face them again, de’il brak my legs,

So I wish you a’ good morning!

Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye walkin’ yet?…”

Yes, he was. And he would be, as long as that song lasted. Some people tried to preserve the past; others, to escape it. And that was by far the greatest gulf between herself and Roger. Why hadn’t she seen it before?

She didn’t know whether Roger had seen her momentary distress, but he abandoned the dangerous territory of the Jacobites and went into “MacPherson’s Lament,” sung with no more than an occasional touch of the strings. The woman next to Brianna let out a long sigh and looked doe-eyed at the stage.

“Sae rantingly, sae wantonly, sae dauntingly gaed he,

He played a tune and he danced it roond…alow the gallows tree!”

She picked up the envelope, weighing it on her fingers. She ought to wait, maybe, until she got home. But curiosity was warring with reluctance. Roger hadn’t been sure he should give it to her; she’d seen that in his eyes.

“…a bodhran,” Roger was saying. The drum was no more than a wooden hoop, a few inches wide, with a skin head stretched over it, some eighteen inches across. He held the drum balanced on the fingers of one hand, a small double-headed stick in the other. “One of the oldest known instruments, this is the drum with which the Celtic tribes scared the bejesus out of Julius Caesar’s troops in 52 BC.” The audience tittered, and he touched the wide drumhead with the stick, back and forth in a soft, quick rhythm like a heartbeat.

“And here’s ‘The Sheriffmuir Fight,’ from the first Jacobite Rising, in 1715.”

The drumhead shifted and the beat dropped in pitch, became martial in tone, a thundering behind the words. The audience was still well-behaved, but now sat up and leaned forward, hanging on the chant that described the battle of Sheriffmuir, and all the clans who had fought in it.

“…then on they rushed, and blood out-gushed, and many a puke did fall, man…

They hacked and hashed, while broadswords clashed…”

As the song ended she put her fingers inside the envelope and pulled out a set of photographs. Old snapshots, black-and-white faded to tones of brown. Her parents. Frank and Claire Randall, both looking absurdly young—and terribly happy.

They were in a garden somewhere; there were lawn chairs, and a table with drinks in a background dappled with the scattered light of tree leaves. The faces showed clearly, though—laughing, faces alight with youth, eyes only for each other.

Posing formally, arm in arm, mocking their own formality. Laughing, Claire half bent over with hilarity at something Frank had said, holding down a wide skirt flying in the wind, her curly hair suffering no such restraint. Frank handing Claire a cup, she looking up into his face as she took it, with such a look of hope and trust that Brianna’s heart squeezed tight to see it.

Then she looked at the last of the pictures, and realized what she was looking at. The two of them stood by the table, hands together on a knife, laughing as they cut into an obviously homemade cake. A wedding cake.

“And for the last, an old favorite that you’ll know. This song is said to have been sent by a Jacobite prisoner, on his way to London to be hanged, to his wife in the Highlands…”

She spread her hands out flat on top of the pictures, as though to keep anyone from seeing them. An icy shock went through her. Wedding pictures. Snapshots of their wedding day. Of course; they’d been married in Scotland. The Reverend Wakefield wouldn’t have done the ceremony, not being a Catholic priest, but he was one of her father’s oldest friends; the reception must have been held at the manse.

Yes. Peeking through her fingers, she could make out familiar bits of the old house in the background. Then, reluctantly sliding her hand aside, she looked again at her mother’s young face.

Eighteen. Claire had married Frank Randall at eighteen—perhaps that explained it. How could anyone know their mind so young?

“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…”

But Claire had been sure—or she’d thought so. The broad clear brow and delicate mouth admitted of no doubt; the big, luminous eyes were fixed on her new husband with no sign of reservation or misgiving. And yet—

“But me and my true love will never meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Oblivious of the toes she stepped on, Brianna blundered out of the row and fled, before anyone should see the tears.

“I can stay with you through part of the calling of the clans,” Roger said, “but I’ve a bit to do at the end of it, so I’ll have to leave you. Will you be all right?”

“Yes, of course,” she said firmly. “I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

He looked at her a little anxiously, but let it pass. Neither of them had mentioned her precipitous departure earlier; by the time he had made his way through the congratulatory well-wishers and gone to find her, she had had time to find a Ladies’ and get herself under control with cold water.

They had spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the festival, shopping a bit, going outside to watch the pipe-bands’ competition, coming in half deafened to see a young man dance between two swords crossed on the ground. The photographs stayed safely out of sight in her handbag.

It was nearly dark now; people were leaving the eating area and heading for the open stands outside, at the foot of the mountain.

She had thought the families with young children would leave, and some did, but there were small bodies and sleepy heads drooping among the older people in the stands. A tiny girl lay limp, sound asleep on her father’s shoulder as they made their way into one of the upper rows of the stands. There was a clear, flat space in front of the bleachers, in which a huge heap of wood had been piled.

“What’s the calling of the clans?” she heard a woman ask her companion in the row ahead. The companion shrugged, and Brianna looked at Roger for enlightenment, but he only smiled.

“You’ll see,” he said.

It was full dark, and the moon not risen; the bulk of the mountainside rose up as a darker black against the star-flecked sky. There was an exclamation from somewhere in the crowd, a scattering of more, and then the notes of a single bagpipe came faintly through the air, silencing everything else.

A pinpoint of light appeared near the top of the mountain. As they watched, it moved down, and another sprang up behind it. The music grew stronger, and another light came over the top of the mountain. For nearly ten minutes, the anticipation grew, as the music grew louder, and the string of lights grew longer, a blazing chain down the mountainside.

Near the bottom of the slope, a trail came out from the trees above; she had seen it during her earlier exploration. Now a man stepped out of the trees into sight, holding a blazing torch above his head. Behind him was the piper, and the sound now was strong enough to drown even the oohs and ahhs of the crowd.

As the two moved down the trail and toward the cleared space in front of the bleachers, Brianna could see that there were more men behind them; a long line of men, each with a torch, all dressed in the finery of the Highland chieftains. They were barbarous and splendid, decked in grouse feathers, the silver of swords and dirks gleaming red by the torchlight, picked out amid the folds of tartan cloth.

The pipes stopped abruptly, and the first of the men strode into the clearing and stopped before the stands. He raised his torch above his head and shouted, “The Camerons are here!”

Loud whoops of delight rang out from the stands, and he threw the torch into the kerosene-soaked wood, which went up with a roar, in a pillar of fire ten feet high.

Against the blinding sheet of flame, another man stepped out, and called, “The MacDonalds are here!”

Screams and yelps from those in the crowd that claimed kinship with clan MacDonald, and then—

“The MacLachlans are here!”

“The MacGillivrays are here!”

She was so entranced by the spectacle that she was only dimly aware of Roger. Then another man stepped out and cried, “The MacKenzies are here!”

“Tulach Ard!” bellowed Roger, making her jump.

“What was that?” she asked.

“That,” he said, grinning, “is the war cry of clan MacKenzie.”

“Sounded like it.”

“The Campbells are here!” There must have been a lot of Campbells; the response shook the bleachers. As though that was the signal he had been waiting for, Roger stood up and flung his plaid over his shoulder.

“I’ll meet you afterward by the dressing rooms, all right?” She nodded, and he bent suddenly and kissed her.

“Just in case,” he said. “The Frasers’ cry is Caisteal Dhuni!”

She watched him go, climbing down the bleachers like a mountain goat. The smell of woodsmoke filled the night air, mixing with the smaller fragrance of tobacco from cigarettes in the crowd.

“The MacKays are here!”

“The MacLeods are here!”

“The Farquarsons are here!”

Her chest felt tight, from the smoke and from emotion. The clans had died at Culloden—or had they? Yes, they had; this was no more than memory, than the calling up of ghosts; none of the people shouting so enthusiastically owed kinship to each other, none of them lived any longer by the claims of laird and land, but…

“The Frasers are here!”

Sheer panic gripped her, and her hand closed tight on the clasp of her bag.

No, she thought. Oh, no. I’m not.

Then the moment passed, and she could breathe again, but jolts of adrenaline still thrilled through her blood.

“The Grahams are here!”

“The Inneses are here!”

The Ogilvys, the Lindsays, the Gordons…and then finally, the echoes of the last shout died. Brianna held the bag on her lap, gripped tight, as though to keep its contents from escaping like the jinn from a lamp.

How could she? she thought, and then, seeing Roger come into the light, fire on his head and his bodhran in his hand, thought again, How could she help it?

5

TWO HUNDRED YEARS FROM YESTERDAY

You didn’t wear your kilt!” Gayle’s mouth turned down in disappointment.

“Wrong century,” Roger said, smiling down at her. “Drafty for a moonwalk.”

“You have to teach me to do that.” She bounced on her toes, leaning toward him.

“Do what?”

“Roll your r’s like that.” She puckered her brows and made an earnest attempt, sounding like a motorboat in low gear.

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