The Dark Mile by D K Broster

William Heinemann, 1958, 370 p.

 The Dark Mile cover

While Ewen Cameron of Ardroy, the protagonist of Broster’s first two books of her Jacobite trilogy (see here and here) does make an appearance in this last of the three, the book’s main focus is on the troubles of his cousin Ian Stewart of Invernacree. While riding home one day Ian witnesses a coach overturn into a loch and is called upon to rescue the lady trapped inside and take her to his father’s house to be cared for till she recovers. She turns out to be Olivia Campbell, the daughter of Campbell of Cairns, the man who commanded that part of the government forces which killed Ian’s elder brother Adam at the Battle of Culloden. Despite his growing feelings towards her this impediment to marriage means that any liaison is foredoomed.

In the meanwhile, Finlay MacPhair of Glenshian, an old foe, has contrived to make it look like Ewen Cameron or one of his tenants (which amounts to the same thing) has stolen two of his cattle and is pursuing him in the courts for restitution while he has attempted to persuade a Mr Maitland, the sender of the letter to the Government which had in the end resulted in the execution for treason during the rebellion of Ewen’s kinsman Archibald Cameron (and for which Maitland now suffers pangs of conscience,) to give the credit for this to Glenshian so that he can claim recompense for the many favours he thinks the government owes him. Maitland is a friend of Olivia Campbell’s family; indeed she calls him godfather. There is also some toing and froing as regards Hector Grant, who has formed an attachment to Ian Stewart’s sister, and whose imprisonment by Glenshian leads to him discovering the truth of the ploy with the cattle by overhearing a conversation in Gaelic which Glenshian’s retainer does not realise Grant can understand.

There is a degree of buckling of swashes, (made difficult it’s true by the bar on bearing arms suffered by Highland gentlemen in the wake of the ’45,) a high degree of coincidence and a blizzard of exclamation marks, not to mention a convoluted means by which our thwarted lovers may achieve a happy conclusion – all of which signal that the literature here may not be quite of the highest quality. But it fulfils the function of the adventure story (the good guys win and the baddies get their comeuppance) and serves as a reminder that the ramifications of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat resonated and not only in the general but also the personal lives of the inhabitants of Highland Scotland – and beyond – for many years afterwards.

Pedant’s corner:- “the two Miss Stewarts” (the two Misses Stewart,) Campbell of Cairns’ (Cairns’s,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, staunch (stanch,) focussing (focusing.) “None of the farmhouse people were stirring” (None … was stirring,) “he dare not touch her again” (the narration is in past tense; ‘dared not’,) a missing full stop.

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