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I got a teeny bit of time off before finals week, so naturally I thought the most relaxing possible thing to do would be to settle down with a completely random book found on the library free giveaway shelf. I really do find that relaxing; there is something exciting about dipping into a complete unknown. You might find a gem! Or something awesomely bad. Or just something really bizarre. This was a gem. A slashy gem.Published in 1929, it’s a delicious melodrama about an English soldier, Keith Windham, and a Highlander, Ewen Cameron of Ardroy, who become best friends or possibly more despite being on opposite sides of the Jacobite rebellion. And when I say “or more,” what I mean is that the only way this novel could have had more gay subtext would have been if it had… actually, I don’t think more subtext was possible. It would have had to go straight (as it were) to gay text.It was strange, it was alarming, to feel, as by this time he did, how strongly their intimacy had progressed in two months of absence and, on his side, of deliberate abstention from communication – like the roots of two trees growing secretly towards each other in darkness.“Love across battle lines” is one of my very favorite tropes, and this squeezes every bit of angsty juice out of it. To give more of a taste of how this goes, I’ll summarize the first fifth or so. Ewen Cameron is admiring his beloved loch when he sees his loyal but not too bright foster-brother Lachlan trying to kill a heron. Ewen stops him, and Lachlan reveals that his father, who has second sight, has predicted that a heron will bring about a meeting between Ewen and a man. They will meet five times, and it will end in grief. Then Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives, and the war soon begins. Keith Windham, a lonely woobie English soldier whose father is dead, whose mother didn’t love him, and whose girlfriend cheated on him, gets caught in an ambush. His cowardly new recruits flee, and a heron startles his horse. He’s thrown, and gets a concussion and a sprained ankle. Ewen finds him and attempts to take him prisoner. From Keith’s POV, Ewen is a magnificent specimen of young manhood, as the soldier could not help admitting. Also, Splendidly built as this young Highlander was…. Keith refuses to surrender, and they have a swordfight. Ewen defeats him and, weakened by his wounds and exhaustion, Keith passes out. He wakes up cradled in Ewen’s arms. And so begins a friendship, or possibly “friendship,” which becomes the most important thing in Keith’s life and second only in Ewen’s life to his beloved Scotland. I won’t spoil the rest, but there is lots of fleeing across the moors, fighting, capture, misunderstandings, “my love or my loyalty” conflicts, admiring each others bodies and courage, and being cradled in each other’s arms. So, you know, if you like that sort of thing…The novel is a bit prolix, even for 1929, and contains a lot of annoying, borderline incomprehensible dialect. Broster uses “pe” instead of “be” for rustic Scottish characters, resulting in more than one sentence in which some earthy fellow says, “I peed…” But the scenes between Keith and Ewen are great, and make up the majority of the book. (Thankfully, neither of them speak in phonetic dialect.)

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