He’s twenty three, but looks older, rugged, tanned and world-weary, sprawled in the window seat his arms loosely crossed over his chest. His gaze is focused on a point out on the loch beyond the open window, from where a breeze lifts wayward strands of hair from his strong forehead. He doesn’t look round when I enter, which gives me time to register its rich brown shade that toys with red, worn tied back with a black riband.
He continues his contemplation of the loch as if he doesn’t much care whether I am here or not. His clothes are military style; a black coat nipped in at the waist with a line of metal buttons down the front, worn open to reveal a blue woollen waistcoat, and a plain cravat folded neatly at his throat. On the bench beside him lies a flat light-blue cap with a white ribbon on the band. His kilt is of a coarse moss green and light blue check, quite different to the bright reds, oranges and yellows of the Victorian tartans. He swivels his head toward me, a tiny smile on his mouth.
Ruairi: I didn’t think ye’d coom. After all, I dinna send oot scribed invitations.
Anita: All that stomping about above our heads could hardly have been anyone else.
Ruairi: The family heard me then?
Anita: Yes, but they don’t know about the ghost of Drummashie Moor, they blamed it on the wind. After all, you haven’t been here for over a hundred years.
Ruairi: Has it been that lang? [Sighs] Time is but a strange thing. Some moments linger a lifetime and yet others . . .
Anita: So, why did you summon me?
Ruairi: Summon? Thas a harsh word. I merely blew in yer ear and sent a whisper on the wind. I ne’er summon. Ah could ask ye the same question.
Anita: I didn’t call you here, I never have.
Ruairi: O’ course ye did. When ye told Carrie’s story, ye told mine as weel.
Anita: My novel was about Carrie discovering her ancestral home. The legend of the McRae son lost at Culloden was a tale related at the dinner table. You were the one who insisted on being heard.
Ruairi: They didnae even knaw ma name, only that I was Lachlan’s son. [sniffs] Ye sent Carrie into this room - my room in the tower. The place where my heart still lives.
Anita: You didn’t have to punish her for it.
Ruairi: I didn’t mean tae, but she read the books in the library about the ‘45’ and wanted tae knaw, so I let her see what is was really like. She was a fey lass and came tae understand too.
Anita: You wanted to put the record straight, I can understand that. However, it wasn’t my idea to make her relive your death - that was you. Why do you keep coming back, and always to the McRae women?
Ruairi: Ye knaw why - fer Jean. But it wasnae enough - fer either of us. She would wait for me down by the loch and I could ne-er resist her.
Anita: When you didn’t return after Culloden, Jean married your brother James.
Ruairi: I ken that! [He narrows his eyes at me and his jaw hardens] And I ne’er blamed her. She was eighteen and so bonny, I’m glad she didnae spend her life in mourning fer me. Wee Jamie was good to her.
Anita: You could have left her alone, left Alice and Carrie too. Allowed them to live their own lives with no knowledge of you, and gone to wherever you should be now.
Ruairi: I wanted tae, but Jean begged me tae come back, and I was lost. The years passed and she grew old and grey, while I stayed that same boy with his chest caved in by a horse on Drummashie Moor. Then she left forever and Alice came, and then Carrie. [He ducks his head and skews his gaze sideways at me] Ah loved them all, and fine lasses they were too. The only one who was different was that gypsy lass, Nadya. She could tek me or leave me that one, and I never touched her heart.
Anita: I get the impression you were hurt far more than those girls.
Ruairi: [Nods] Perhaps ye are right. I saw mysel’ as a King Charles’ man, a hero o’ the Jacobite cause. But it all went wrong and my death didnae count in the end. Faither forgot me, Jamie took ma love [shrugs] while I remained nothing more than a gentle memory.
Anita: I doubt they forgot you. They moved on because they came to understand you weren’t real and could offer them nothing.
Ruairi: You’re a cruel one aren’t ye? [a lop-sided smile tugs at his mouth and I know he doesn’t mean it]
Anita: I don’t like men who play games. It’s not romantic, just unkind.
Ruairi: Aye, but what a braw game it was. Watching them wander the banks of the loch in search of me, day after day made me feel something. Then I’d stir their romantic hearts and drift away again, leavin’ them with the hope they would love like that again.
Anita: Now who’s the cruel one?
Ruairi: [Winks and even my pulse jumps a little] I’ve an eye for a pretty lass, but ye have to admit, they had an eye fer me too.
Anita: Heroes and tortured souls all have faces like yours, and that faraway look that is so mysterious. They’ll never know you properly. So what do you want of me now?
Ruairi: Tell my story - all of it. Why I took the King’s pledge and betrayed ma family for the glory of war. A glory that nae exists. How I walked away from the only lass who mattered tae me, and had tae die afore I realised what I had done.
Anita: The real Ruairi McRae you mean? Where would I find him after all this time? Your story was lost long ago in a romantic legend. You said yourself no one even knew your name.
Ruairi: [Sweeps a hand round the tower room] It’s right here - all of it. You only have tae look. Don’t let the granite walls fool ye though - there’s more behind them than ye can see.
Anita: What does that mean?
Ruairi: [He ignores my question, stretches and rises] Mebbe Cair Innis is nae ma place now. My descendants are lang dead, and that family doonstairs bought it from a bankrupt laird, not a McRae. It’s just a pretty castle on a loch with strange gates that open and close without a body touching them.
Anita: They are electric and remote control.
Ruairi: Aye - Thas what ah meant.
I am still chuckling to myself when I realise he has already gone, and I am alone.