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Span o' Life

A Tale of Louisbourg and Quebec

William McLennan

211 pages
Library of Alexandria
Every one knows of my connection with the ill-starred Rebellion of Prince Charles, and for this it was that I found myself, a few months after the disaster of Culloden, lying close in an obscure lodging in Greek Street, Soho, London. Surely a rash proceeding, you may say, this adventuring into the lion's den! But such has not been my experience: in an escalado, he who hugs closest the enemy's wall has often a better chance than he who lies at a distance. And so I, Hugh Maxwell of Kirkconnel, Chevalier of the Order of St. Louis, Captain en seconde in Berwick's Foot in the service of His Most Christian Majesty, and late Aide-de-Camp to General Lord George Murray in the misdirected affair of His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales and Regent for his illustrious father, “Jacobus Tertius, Rex Angliae, Hiberniae, et Franciae, Dei Gratia”—Heaven save the mark!—found it safer and more to my taste to walk abroad in London under the nose of the usurping but victorious Hanoverian than to continue skulking under the broader heavens of the Highlands. I will not deny there were moments when I would rather have been enjoying the clearer atmosphere of France (for it is easier to put a brave face on such dangers once they are safely overcome than bear them with an unruffled fortitude at the time); but there I was, with just enough money to discharge my most pressing necessities, with the precious Cause for which I had sacrificed my hopes of advancement in my own regiment blown to the four corners of the Highlands—more remote and unknown up to this time than the four corners of the earth, though to all appearance about to undergo such a scouring when I left them that they would be uninhabitable for any one who was not born with the Broad Arrow printed on his back. I was lodging in the attic of a disreputable pot-house, kept by one of those scurvy Scots who traded on his reputed disloyalty as a lure to entice unfortunate gentlemen in similar plight to myself under his roof, and then job them off to the government at so much a head; but this I only knew of a certainty later. It was not long, however, before I was relieved from my penury at least, for my cousin, Lady Jane Drummond, who since my childhood had stood towards me in the relation of a mother, hearing from me of my position, raised me above all anxiety in that respect. I cannot help reflecting here on the inopportuneness with which Providence is sometimes pleased to bestow its gifts; the starving wretch, houseless in the streets, has an appetite and a digestion which, in this regard, make him the envy of the epicure, dowered with a wealth useless in its most cherished application. And though ingratitude has never been one of my faults, was it possible not to feel some resentment at the comparative uselessness of a blessing which fell at a time when I was debarred from any greater satisfaction than paying my mean obligations or helping some more needy unfortunate, while forced to look on those pleasures incidental to a gentleman's existence with the unsatisfied eye of forbidden indulgence? The banker, Mr. Drummond of Charing Cross, who was an old family friend, and through whom I had received my remittance, could or would give me no definite information of the movements of my cousin, Lady Jane, or of her probable arrival at London, so I had nothing to do but await further news and occupy my time as best I might. On my arrival I had laid aside all the outward marks of a gentleman, dressing myself in imitation of—say a scrivener's clerk—and, save for that bearing which is incorporate with one of my condition and becomes a second nature, not to be disguised by any outward cloak, I might fairly well pass for my exemplar.