Nothing but Dust – Diana Knightley

Cousin May leaned in close tae Kaitlyn’s ear and they both laughed on something bein’ said between them. My eyes rested on her, Kaitlyn, dressed in her finery, a glass of wine in her hand, surrounded by women. She was brightness and light and I liked verra much tae gaze on her across the crowded lawn. We were guests at a large dinner at Cliveden House, held by Frederick, Prince of Wales. It was meant tae honor his daughter, Augusta, for her past birthday, and especially tae perform a musical piece with lyrics by a Scotsman. These were the reasons Cousin May gave us because she wanted us tae attend the festivities with her while her husband was gone from the country. She wanted company and attendin’ was an honor. Now that Fraoch was mended we would soon be leavin’ London and Cousin May wanted this one last grand evening with us. The Prince’s summer home was resplendent. Twas a palace large enough tae house a number of the royal household and their guests and their distant relations and then people such as Kaitlyn and I, conversin’ with strangers and longingly staring at each other from across the room. Cousin May caught my stare at Kaitlyn. Her brow lifted and she whispered tae her again. Kaitlyn’s eyes met mine and the corner of her lips lifted, her eyes twinkled. They were havin’ fun because I couldna quit gazin’ on her, but I couldna help m’self. The night had darkened, musicians played upon a stage built on the wide lawn, music and laughter filling the air around us.

There had been a great deal of food and drink served at long buffet tables and now we were milling around, some were dancing. Candles flickered all around us, candle wax and flame on the breeze. I had forgotten that smell and realized twas one I missed when I was away in the future. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful ladies dressed in their finery, wide dresses, their best jewelry and makeup, the men in their frock coats wearing powdered wigs and buckled shoes. Twas a party tae wear your best. Kaitlyn approached me. “Hello handsome stranger, with your jaunty bow on the back of your wig. Do you come here often, in your fancy, blue, embroidered suit?” “Tae the year 1740, Madame? I haena spent much time here, but I do greatly appreciate the view.” “Sir, you have a flirtatious tongue, careful or I might report you to my husband.” “Where is he? Tis any one of these men and I will best him.

Then I will sweep ye intae my arms and carry ye away.” She smiled, shaking her head. “You sir are a scoundrel. I do hope your wife doesn’t hear of you speaking to married women like this. She would be aghast.” I chuckled. “She winna hold it against me. She kens I think she is the most beautiful woman in the room. She would nae believe ye if ye said it.” She took a sip of her wine while I spoke, then wiped a droplet of wine from the corner of her mouth.

“I missed you while I was across the lawn.” “Aye.” I brushed my finger tips across her lips, watching the delicate skin there. She looked up into my eyes, her lips parted, the rest of the party guests slid from my mind, but I pushed my immediate desires away and tried tae be a respectable guest of the prince. “What were you speakin’ on with Cousin May?” “She was telling me about some of the palace gossip. Over there,” she pointed at a man with a verra large thin nose, “is George Lyttelton, a politician. Have you met him yet?” “I haena.” “Well, he’s the Prince’s secretary, and they are very good friends. He introduced the prince to Alexander Pope, standing to his right.” She tapped her lip with a finger.

“That guy there is someone, Philip or James — can’t remember. There are a lot of poets here and politicians.” “I have met a few of the poets. They found it hard tae believe that I, a Scotsman, could appreciate poetry.” “Really?” She scoffed. “You are poetic enough I would think.” “They asked me tae prove I had ever read the greats and I have had a great deal of wine so I couldna remember any but there were some poets who visited Balloch once. They recited a poem that went like this: ‘Fra banc to banc, fra wod to wod, I rin Ourhailit with my feble fantasie, Lyk til a leif that fallis from a trie…’ but the men here found it humorous and tis a verra serious poem, so I remembered the one ye taught me: ‘Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi’ the sun; I will love thee still, my dear, While the sands o’ life shall run.’” “You remembered that much?” “I did.” “You might have ruined the history of literature.

He hasn’t written it yet; what if one of them copies it and Robert Burns doesn’t get credit?” “None would copy the lines, they were too concerned with laughin’ at the way I spoke. They told me twas hard tae understand what I was sayin’.” “What? I have half a mind to run over and kick them in the shins.” “Twas funny because I was tryin’ tae speak m’best english.” She laughed. “Well, I guess that explains why you were on your own over here. Cousin May noticed you kept looking at me. She found it surprising that a husband wanted his wife as much as you want me. I assured her you were simply being protective.” I took a swig of my wine.

“Both these things are true.” Kaitlyn joked, “Aye.” Cousin May was correct though, my mood was set on takin’ Kaitlyn upstairs tae our room. She said, her face flushed red with the wine, “While you were checking me out did you notice anything?” “Nae, what sort of thing?” She twisted. “I wondered if you might have seen I was pregnant? Maybe?” “I haena. Dost ye feel pregnant?” “No, I feel totally un-pregnant. Not at all like last time. Dammit. I was hoping Santorini was magic.” “Me too, mo reul-iuil.

” “I mean, whatever, there’s always next month.” She took a deep breath and changed the subject. “Did you know that Cousin May’s house passed to her husband? He controls everything? It doesn’t seem very fair at all, but she shrugs it off, like it’s normal.” “Tis the way of it. Women must choose carefully, or their family must choose well for them. Tis a great deal of wealth that changes hands.” Kaitlyn shook her head. “It dawns on me you took a leap of faith, passing me your wealth after our wedding. Not only did we barely know each other but it went against what you were taught about how marriage is supposed to work.” “True, but as ye ken Lady Mairead wields a good deal of power in her marriages.

She told me tae give ye my fortune.” “Wow, yet another thing that I have conflicted feelings about when it comes to Lady Wicked Bitch.” She giggled and drank a sip of her wine. “She is a complicated adversary because she is often takin’ our side in it.” “I think she is always taking your side, at least her perception of it. It’s just that now I’m on your side too and she hates—” Cousin May approached in a rush with a worried whisper. “Young Magnus have you heard the news from London?” She turned to the wall, so I leaned in tae speak without bein’ overheard. “Nae.” “Dodington and Viscount Bolingbroke were discussing it. There is word of many desertions during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, many Scotsmen.

” Her words were rushed and urgent. “St Augustine has been lost. Oglethorpe was beaten back and His Highness will be sending more men. They have been conscripting men from the hospitals, kidnapping men from villages, and grabbing any Scottish men they find in London. They are charging them as deserters and forcing them aboard ships bound for the colonies.” “Fraoch is still in St Thomas’ Hospital, dost ye think they have taken him?” “I would suppose they have, but I first thought of you, Young Magnus. You must be very careful, and you must not be seen with your weapons.” Her face had a high color now, from worry and excitement. “You must not tarry on the streets looking as if you are a Scotsman.” She put her hand on my arm.

“I assured the Prince you were a colonist, one of the landed gentry, and that your father grew up in London with my family. He is assuaged, but the gangs of men are charged with finding soldiers. They will not ask for your history. They are taking men from the streets outside their homes, beating them, and once on board a ship it is too late for them to return.” Kaitlyn’s eyes went wide with fear. “Kidnapping them? Men just disappear from their lives, their families? How awful.” I said, “I have tae find Fraoch and remove him from London.” Cousin May said, “I believe you should return to Ham House, Young Magnus. The ships will be leaving for the colonies tomorrow. After that the streets will be safer for you.

I believe Fraoch is lost to us.” “You have met Fraoch, Cousin May, he winna stand for bein’ lost. I must find him or he will fight the whole Navy with a sword, vanquish them all, and lose the English the war.” I took her hands in mine. “Thank you for your guidance and hospitality, but he is well now. I will go tae the hospital afore the ships leave. Once I find Fraoch, we will leave London.” “I will be so worried about you and Kaitlyn.” I thought for a moment. “If something happens, if I am taken, Kaitlyn will come directly tae ye at Ham house.

You will know there has been trouble. If you daena hear from Kaitlyn, ye will ken we are well and that we have delivered Fraoch safely from London.” She nodded, her eyes full of sadness and concern. “You can return to London in my carriage, follow me.” She led us around the grassy lawn to the front drive. There were rows of carriages, the drivers resting inside for the night. She found her carriage and arranged for the driver, with a postilion for protection, tae drive us through the night.

.

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