The Gleam in the North by D K Broster

Windmill, 1958, 302 p.

The Gleam in the North cover

This is the second of Broster’s Jacobite trilogy (the first of which, The Flight of the Heron, I wrote about here.) Again it follows the fortunes of Ewen Cameron of Ardroy and also once more starts with a scene set at the Loch of the Eagle on his estate. Ewen’s son Donald pushes his younger brother Keith into the loch as revenge for him throwing his favourite object, a sword hilt memento from the Battle of Culloden, into the loch. Ewen has to effect a rescue but Keith becomes ill and the local doctor is summoned but is on a call. Meanwhile Ewen’s cousin Archibald Cameron, still in the service of the young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, and so subject to government attainder, turns up at the house and, as a doctor himself, ministers to the child. When Doctor Kincaid arrives he surmises the Camerons’ visitor is indeed the wanted man and informs the authorities. So Ewen’s adventures begin once more, as he is taken in to Fort William to be questioned and eventually bust out.

In his peregrinations about the Western Highlands trying to avoid government soldiery Ewen comes across Viscount Aveling, half-brother of the Major Keith Windham whom he befriended in The Flight of the Heron and from whom he learns that Archibald Cameron’s whereabouts have been betrayed. In the process, though, he makes an enemy of Aveling. Trying to warn Archie, Ewen only ends up injured during his capture.

After convalescing, Ewen makes his way to London to attempt to secure Doctor Cameron’s release and one night rescues a gentleman from street thieves. This turns out to be Lord Stowe, Aveling’s father. Coincidences being stretched a mite too far here perhaps. The rest of the book is made up of Ewen’s encounters with Aveling’s mother, Jacobite turncoats and trying to intercede with the Duke of Argyll, a Campbell and so sworn enemy of the Camerons but the government’s man for Scottish affairs.

While not as immediate in its chronicling of historical events as was The Flight of the Heron Broster manages to keep the level of peril reasonably high. A description of the Aurora Borealis could be taken to be the gleam in the north of the book’s title, as well as an allusion to the residual glimmer of the hopes of the Stuart dynasty, but the aurora’s relatively quick disappearance “as if it had never been” does not, quite, apply to the ramifications of the 1745 Jacobite rising.

Sensitivity alert. In a piece of stereotyping racist to modern eyes, a black servant of Lord Stowe is named Sambo.

Pedant’s corner:- had …. sowed (sown,) “would none of the thanks” (would have none of,) an extra comma in “‘Yes,, you may do that’”,) “once for all” (once and for all,) “They an prove nothing” (They can prove nothing,) gillie (ghillie,) “requires, it for his chaise” (no comma necessary,) a missing single quote mark at the end of a thought followed by a missing start one at the direct speech following on from it, a missing comma at the end of a piece of direct speech where the sentence carried on, paplably (palpably,) Gailbraith (elsewhere Galbraith,) Lock Arkaig (Loch Arkaig,) caryatides (caryatids.)

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