MACLEOD OF DARE.
"A PRINCESS OF THULE," "THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON," "A DAUGHTER OF HETH," ETC., ETC.
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JOHN B. ALDEN, PUBLISHER,
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MACLEOD OF DARE.
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THE SIX BOYS OF DARE.
The sun had sunk behind the lonely western seas; Ulva, and Lunga, and the Dutchman's Cap had grown dark on the darkening waters; and the smooth Atlantic swell was booming along the sombre caves; but up here in Castle Dare, on the high and rocky coast of Mull, the great hall was lit with such a blaze of candles as Castle Dare had but rarely seen. And yet there did not seem to be any grand festivities going forward; for there were only three people seated at one end of the long and narrow table; and the banquet that the faithful Hamish had provided for them was of the most frugal kind. At the head of the table sat an old lady with silvery-white hair and proud and fine features. It would have been a keen and haughty face but for the unutterable sadness of the eyes—blue-gray eyes under black eyelashes that must have been beautiful enough in her youth, but were now dimmed and worn, as if the weight of the world's sorrows had been too much for the proud, high spirit. On the right of Lady Macleod sat the last of her six sons, Keith by name, a tall, sparely built, sinewy young fellow, with a sun-tanned cheek and crisp and curling hair, and with a happy and careless look in his clear eyes and about his mouth that rather blinded one to the firm lines of his face. Glad youth shone there, and the health begotten of hard exposure to wind and weather. What was life to him but a laugh: so long as there was a prow to cleave the plunging seas, and a glass to pick out the branching antlers far away amidst the mists of the corrie? To please his mother, on this the last night of his being at home, he wore the kilts; and he had hung his broad blue bonnet, with its sprig of juniper—the badge of the clan—on the top of one of many pikes and halberds that stood by the great fireplace. Opposite him, on the old lady's left hand, sat his cousin, or rather half-cousin, the plain-featured but large-hearted Janet, whom the poor people about that neighborhood regarded as being something more than any mere mortal woman. If there had been any young artist among that Celtic peasantry fired by religious enthusiasm to paint the face of a Madonna, it would have been the plain features of Janet Macleod he would have dreamed about and striven to transfer to his canvas. Her eyes were fine, it is true: they were honest and tender; they were not unlike the eyes of the grand old lady who sat at the head of the table; but, unlike hers, they were not weighted with the sorrow of years.
"It is a dark hour you have chosen to go away from your home," said the mother; and the lean hand, resting on the table before her, trembled somewhat.
"Why, mother," the young man said, lightly, "you know I am to have Captain ——'s cabin as far as Greenock; and there will be plenty of time for me to put the kilts away before I am seen by the people."
"Oh, Keith," his cousin cried—for she was trying to be very cheerful, too—"do you say that you are ashamed of the tartan?"
"Ashamed of the tartan!" he said, with a laugh. "Is there any one who has been brought up at Dare who is likely to be ashamed of the tartan! When I am ashamed of the tartan I will put a pigeon's feather in my cap, as the new suaicheantas of this branch of Clann Leoid. But then, my good Janet, I would as soon think of taking my rifle and the dogs through the streets of London as of wearing the kilts in the south."
The old lady paid no heed. Her hands were now clasped before her. There was sad thinking in her eyes.
"You are the last of my six boys," said she, "and you are going away from me too."
"Now, now, mother," said he, "you must not make so much of a holiday. You would not have me always at Dare? You know that no good comes of a stay-at-home."
She knew the proverb. Her other sons had not been stay-at-homes. What had come to them!
Of Sholto, the eldest, the traveller, the dare-devil, the grave is unknown; but the story of how he met his death, in far Arizona, came years after to England and to Castle Dare. He sold his life dearly, as became one of his race and name. When his cowardly attendants found a band of twenty Apaches riding down on them, they unhitched the mules and galloped off, leaving him to confront the savages by himself. One of these, more courageous than his fellows, advanced and drew his arrow to the barb; the next second he uttered a yell, and rolled from his saddle to the ground, shot through the heart. Macleod seized this instant, when the savages were terror-stricken by the precision of the white man's weapons, to retreat a few yards and get behind a mesquit-tree. Here he was pretty well sheltered from the arrows that they sent in clouds about him, while he succeeded in killing other two of his enemies who had ventured to approach. At last they rode off: and it seemed as though he would be permitted to rejoin his dastardly comrades. But the Indians had only gone to windward to set the tall grass on fire; and presently he had to scramble, burned and blinded, up the tree, where he was an easy mark for their arrows. Fortunately, when he fell he was dead. This was the story told by some friendly Indians to a party of white men, and subsequently brought home to Castle Dare.
The next four of the sons of Dare were soldiers, as most of the Macleods of that family had been. And if you ask about the graves of Roderick and Ronald, what is one to say? They are known, and yet unknown. The two lads were in one of the Highland regiments that served in the Crimea. They both lie buried on the bleak plains outside Sevastopol. And if the memorial stones put up to them and their brother officers are falling into ruin and decay—if the very graves have been rifled—how is England to help that? England is the poorest country in the world. There was a talk some two or three years ago of putting up a monument on Cathcart Hill to the Englishmen who died in the Crimea; and that at least would have been some token of remembrance, even if we could not collect the scattered remains of our slain sons, as the French have done, but then that monument would have cost L5000. How could England afford L5000? When a big American city takes fire, or when a district in France is inundated, she can put her hand into her pocket deeply enough; but how can we expect so proud a mother to think twice about her children who perished in fighting for her? Happily the dead are independent of forgetfulness.
Duncan the Fair-haired—Donacha Ban, they called him, far and wide among the hills—lies buried in a jungle on the African coast. He was only twenty-three when he was killed: but he knew he had got the Victoria Cross. As he lay dying, he asked whether the people in England would send it to his mother, showing that his last fancies were still about Castle Dare.
And Hector? As you cross the river at Sadowa, and pass through a bit of forest, some cornfields begin to appear, and these stretch away up to the heights of Chlum. Along the ridge there, by the side of the wood, are many mounds of earth. Over the grave of Hector Macleod is no proud and pathetic inscription such as marks the last resting-place of a young lieutenant who perished at Gravelotte—Er ruht saft in wiedererkampfter deutscher Erde—but the young Highland officer was well beloved by his comrades, and when the dead were being pitched into the great holes dug for them, and when rude hands were preparing the simple record, painted on a wooden cross—-"Hier liegen—tapfere Krieger"—a separate memento was placed over the grave of Under-lieutenant Hector Macleod of the ——th Imperial and Royal Cavalry Regiment. He was one of the two sons who had not inherited the title. Was it not a proud boast for this white-haired lady in Mull that she had been the mother of four baronets? What other mother in all the land could say as much? And yet it was that that had dimmed and saddened the beautiful eyes.
And now her youngest—her Benjamin, her best-beloved—he was going away from her too. It was not enough that the big deer forest, the last of the possessions of the Macleods of Dare, had been kept intact for him, when the letting of it to a rich Englishman would greatly have helped the failing fortunes of the family; it was not enough that the poor people about, knowing Lady Macleod's wishes, had no thought of keeping a salmon spear hidden in the thatch of their cottages. Salmon and stag could no longer bind him to the place. The young blood stirred. And when he asked her what good things came of being a stay-at-home, what could she say?
Suddenly old Hamish threw wide the oaken doors at the end of the hall, and there was a low roar like the roaring of lions. And then a young lad, with the pipes proudly perched on his shoulder, marched in with a stately step, and joyous and shrill arose the Salute. Three times he marched round the long and narrow hall, finishing behind Keith Macleod's chair. The young man turned to him.
"It was well played, Donald," said he, in the Gaelic; "and I will tell you that the Skye College in the old times never turned out a better pupil. And will you take a glass of whiskey now, or a glass of claret? And it is a great pity your hair is red, or they would call you Donull Dubh, and people would say you were the born successor of the last of the MacCruimins."
At this praise—imagine telling a piper lad that he was a fit successor of the MacCruimins, the hereditary pipers of the Macleods—the young stripling blushed hot; but he did not forget his professional dignity for all that. And he was so proud of his good English that he replied in that tongue.
"I will take a glass of the claret wine, Sir Keith," said he.
Young Macleod took up a horn tumbler, rimmed with silver, and having the triple-towered castle of the Macleods engraved on it, and filled it with wine. He handed it to the lad.
"I drink your health, Lady Macleod," said he, when he had removed his cap; "and I drink your health, Miss Macleod; and I drink your health, Sir Keith; and I would have a lighter heart this night if I was going with you away to England."
It was a bold demand.
"I cannot take you with me, Donald; the Macleods have got out of the way of taking their piper with them now. You must stay and look after the dogs."
"But you are taking Oscar with you, Sir Keith."
"Yes, I am. I must make sure of having one friend with me in the south."
"And I think I would be better than a collie," muttered the lad to himself, as he moved off in a proud and hurt way toward the door, his cap still in his hand.
And now a great silence fell over these three; and Janet Macleod looked anxiously toward the old lady, who sat unmoved in the face of the ordeal through which she knew she must pass. It was an old custom that each night a pibroch should be played in Castle Dare in remembrance of her five slain sons; and yet on this one night her niece would fain have seen that custom abandoned. For was not the pibroch the famous and pathetic "Cumhadh na Cloinne," the Lament for the Children, that Patrick Mor, one of the pipers of Macleod of Skye, had composed to the memory of his seven sons, who had all died within one year? And now the doors were opened, and the piper boy once more entered. The wild, sad wail arose: and slow and solemn was the step with which he walked up the hall. Lady Macleod sat calm and erect, her lips proud and firm, but her lean hands were working nervously together; and at last, when the doors were closed on the slow and stately and mournful Lament for the Children, she bent down the silvery head on those wrinkled hands and wept aloud. Patrick Mor's seven brave sons could have been no more to him than her six tall lads had been to her; and now the last of them was going away from her.
"Do you know," said Janet, quickly, to her cousin across the table, "that it is said no piper in the West Highlands can play 'Lord Lovat's Lament' like our Donald?"
"Oh yes, he plays it very well; and he has got a good step," Macleod said. "But you will tell him to play no more Laments to-night. Let him take to strathspeys if any of the lads come up after bringing back the boat. It will be time enough for him to make a Lament for me when I am dead. Come, mother, have you no message for Norman Ogilvie?"
The old lady had nerved herself again, though her hands were still trembling.
"I hope he will come back with you, Keith," she said.
"For the shooting? No, no, mother. He was not fit for the shooting about here: I have seen that long ago. Do you think he could lie for an hour in a wet bog? It was up at Fort William I saw him last year, and I said to him, 'Do you wear gloves at Aldershot?' His hands were as white as the hands of a woman."
"It is no woman's hand you have, Keith," his cousin said; "it is a soldier's hand."
"Yes," said he, with his face flushing, "and if I had had Norman Ogilvie's chance—"
But he paused. Could he reproach this old dame, on the very night of his departure, with having disappointed all those dreams of military service and glory that are almost the natural inheritance of a Macleod of the Western Highlands? If he was a stay-at-home, at least his hands were not white. And yet, when young Ogilvie and he studied under the same tutor—the poor man had to travel eighteen miles between the two houses, many a time in hard weather—all the talk and aspirations of the boys were about a soldier's life; and Macleod could show his friend the various trophies, and curiosities sent home by his elder brothers from all parts of the world. And now the lily-fingered and gentle-natured Ogilvie was at Aldershot; while he—what else was he than a mere deer-stalker and salmon-killer?
"Ogilvie has been very kind to me, mother," he said, laughing. "He has sent me a list of places in London where I am to get my clothes, and boots, and a hat; and by the time I have done that, he will be up from Aldershot, and will lead me about—with a string round my neck, I suppose, lest I should bite somebody."
"You could not go better to London than in your own tartan," said the proud mother; "and it is not for an Ogilvie to say how a Macleod should be dressed. But it is no matter, one after the other has gone; the house is left empty at last. And they all went away like you, with a laugh on their face. It was but a trip, a holiday, they said: they would soon be back to Dare. And where are they this night?"
Old Hamish came in.
"It will be time for the boat now, Sir Keith, and the men are down at the shore."
He rose, the handsome young fellow, and took his broad, blue bonnet with the badge of juniper.
"Good-by, cousin Janet," said he, lightly. "Good-by, mother. You are not going to send me away in this sad fashion? What am I to bring you back—a satin gown from Paris? or a young bride to cheer up the old house?"
She took no heed of the passing jest. He kissed her, and bade her good-by once more. The clear stars were shining over Castle Dare, and over the black shadows of the mountains, and the smoothly swelling waters of the Atlantic. There was a dull booming of the waves along the rocks.
He had thrown his plaid round him, and he was wondering to himself as he descended the steep path to the shore. He could not believe that the two women were really saddened by his going to the south for awhile; he was not given to forebodings. And he had nearly reached the shore, when he was overtaken by some one running, with a light step behind him. He turned quickly, and found his cousin before him, a shawl thrown round her head and shoulders.
"Oh, Keith," said she, in a bright and matter-of-fact way, "I have a message for you—from myself—and I did not want aunt to hear, for she is very proud, you know, and I hope you won't be. You know we are all very poor, Keith; and yet you must not want money in London, if only for the sake of the family; and you know I have a little, Keith, and I want you to take it. You won't mind my being frank with you. I have written a letter."
She had the envelope in her hand.
"And if I would take money from any one, it would be from you, Cousin Janet; but I am not so selfish as that. What would all the poor people do if I were to take your money to London and spend it?"
"I have kept a little," said she, "and it is not much that is needed. It is L2000 I would like you to take from me, Keith. I have written a letter."
"Why, bless me, Janet, that is nearly all the money you've got!"
"I know it."
"Well, I may not be able to earn any money for myself, but at least I would not think of squandering your little fortune. No, no; but I thank you all the same, Janet; and I know that it is with a free heart that you offer it."
"But this is a favor, Keith," said she. "I do not ask you, to spend the money. But you might be in trouble; and you would be too proud to ask any one—perhaps you would not even ask me; and here is a letter that you can keep till then, and if you should want the money, you can open the letter, and it will tell you how to get it."
"And it is a poor forecast you are making, Cousin Janet," said he, cheerfully. "I am to play the prodigal son, then. But I will take the letter. And good-bye again, Janet; and God bless you, for you are a kind-hearted woman."
She went swiftly up to Castle Dare again, and he walked on toward the shore. By-and-by he reached a small stone pier that ran out among some rocks, and by the side of it lay a small sailing launch, with four men in her, and Donald the piper boy perched up at the bow. There was a lamp swinging at her mast, but she had no sail up, for there was scarcely any wind.
"Is it time to go out now?" said Macleod to Hamish who stood waiting on the pier, having carried down his master's portmanteau.
"Ay, it will be time now, even if you will wait a little," said Hamish. And then the old man added, "It is a dark night, Sir Keith, for your going away from Castle Dare."
"And it will be the brighter morning when I come back," answered the young man, for he could not mistake the intention of the words.
"Yes, indeed, Sir Keith; and now you will go into the boat, and you will take care of your footing, for the night is dark, and the rocks they are always slippery whatever."
But Keith Macleod's foot was as familiar with the soft sea-weed of the rocks as it was with the hard heather of the hills, and he found no difficulty in getting into the broad-beamed boat. The men put out their oars and pushed her off. And now, in the dark night, the skill of the pipes rose again; and it was no stately and mournful lament that young Donald played up there at the bow as the four oars struck the sea and sent a flash of white fire down into the deeps.
"Donald," Hamish had said to him on the shore, "when you are going out to the steamer, it is the 'Seventy-ninth's Farewell to Chubraltar' that you will play, and you will play no other thing than that."
And surely the Seventy-ninth were not sorry to leave Gibraltar when their piper composed for them so glad a farewell.
At the high windows of Castle Dare the mother stood, and her niece, and as they watched the yellow lamp move slowly out from the black shore, they heard this proud and joyous march that Donald was playing to herald the approach of his master. They listened to it as it grew fainter and fainter, and as the small yellow star trembling over the dark waters, became more and more remote. And then this other sound—this blowing of a steam whistle far away in the darkness?
"He will be in good time, aunt; she is a long way off yet," said Janet Macleod. But the mother did not speak.
Out there on the dark and moving waters the great steamer was slowly drawing near the open boat; and as she came up, the vast hull of her, seen against the starlit sky, seemed a mountain.
"Now, Donald," Macleod called out, "you will take the dog—here is the string; and you will see he does not spring into the water."
"Yes, I will take the dog," muttered the boy, half to himself. "Oh yes, I will take the dog; but it is better if I was going with you, Sir Keith, than any dog."
A rope was thrown out, the boat dragged up to the side of the steamer, the small gangway let down, and presently Macleod was on the deck of the large vessel. Then Oscar was hauled up too, and the rope flung loose, and the boat drifted away into the darkness. But the last good-bye had not been said, for over the black waters came the sound of pipes once more, the melancholy wail of "Macintosh's Lament."
"Confound that obstinate brat!" Macleod said to himself. "Now he will go back to Castle Dare and make the women miserable."
"The captain is below at his supper, Sir Keith," said the mate. "Will you go down to him?"
"Yes, I will go down to him," said he; and he made his way along the deck of the steamer.
He was arrested by the sound of some one crying, and he looked down, and found a woman crouched under the bulwarks, with two small children asleep on her knee.
"My good woman, what is the matter with you?" said he.
"The night is cold," she said in the Gaelic, "and my children are cold; and it is a long way that we are going."
He answered her in her own tongue.
"You will be warmer if you go below; but here is a plaid for you, anyway;" and with that he took the plaid from round his shoulders and flung it across the children, and passed on.
That was the way of the Macleods of Dare. They had a royal manner with them. Perhaps that was the reason that their revenues were now far from royal.
And meanwhile the red light still burned in the high windows of Castle Dare, and two women were there looking out on the pale stars and the dark sea beneath. They waited until they heard the plashing of oars in the small bay below, and the message was brought them that Sir Keith had got safely on board the great steamer. Then they turned away from the silent and empty night, and one of them was weeping bitterly.
"It is the last of my six sons that has gone from me," she said, coming back to the old refrain, and refusing to be comforted.
"And I have lost my brother," said Janet Macleod, in her simple way. "But he will came back to us, auntie; and then we shall have great doings at Castle Dare."
It was with a wholly indescribable surprise and delight that Macleod came upon the life and stir and gayety of London in the sweet June time, when the parks and gardens and squares would of themselves have been a sufficient wonder to him. The change from the sombre shores of lochs Na Keal, and Iua, and Scridain to this world of sunlit foliage—the golden yellow of the laburnum, the cream-white of the chestnuts, the rose-pink of the red hawthorn, and everywhere the keen, translucent green of the young lime-trees—was enough to fill the heart with joy and gladness, though he had been no diligent student of landscape and color. The few days he had to spend by himself—while getting properly dressed to satisfy the demands of his friend—passed quickly enough. He was not at all ashamed of his country-made clothes as he watched the whirl of carriages in Piccadilly, or lounged under the elms at Hyde Park, with his beautiful silver-white and lemon-colored collie attracting the admiration of every passer-by. Nor had he waited for the permission of Lieutenant Ogilvie to make his entrance into, at least, one little corner of society. He was recognized in St. James's Street one morning by a noble lady whom he had met once or twice at Inverness; and she, having stopped her carriage, was pleased to ask him to lunch with herself and her husband next day. To the great grief of Oscar, who had to be shut up by himself, Macleod went up next day to Brook Street, and there met several people whose names he knew as representatives of old Highland families, but who were very English, as it seemed to him, in their speech and ways. He was rather petted, for he was a handsome lad, and he had high spirits and a proud air. And his hostess was so kind as to mention that the Caledonian Ball was coming off on the 25th, and of course he must come, in the Highland costume; and as she was one of the patronesses, should she give him a voucher? Macleod answered, laughingly, that he would be glad to have it, though he did not know what it was; whereupon she was pleased to say that no wonder he laughed at the notion of a voucher being wanted for any Macleod of Dare.
One morning a good-looking and slim young man knocked at the door of a small house in Bury Street, St. James's, and asked if Sir Keith Macleod was at home. The man said he was, and the young gentleman entered. He was a most correctly dressed person. His hat, and gloves, and cane, and long-tailed frock-coat were all beautiful; but it was, perhaps, the tightness of his nether garments, or, perhaps, the tightness of his brilliantly-polished boots (which were partially covered by white gaiters), that made him go up the narrow little stairs with some precision of caution. The door was opened and he was announced.
"My dear old boy," said he, "how do you do?" and Macleod gave him a grip of the hand that nearly burst one of his gloves.
But at this moment an awful accident occurred. From behind the door of the adjacent bedroom, Oscar, the collie, sprang forward with an angry growl; then he seemed to recognize the situation of affairs, when he saw his master holding the stranger's hand; then he began to wag his tail; then he jumped up with his fore-paws to give a kindly welcome.
"Hang it all, Macleod!" young Ogilvie cried, with all the starch gone out of his manner; "your dog's all wet? What's the use of keeping a brute like that about the place?"
Alas! the beautiful, brilliant boots were all besmeared, and the white gaiters too, and the horsey-looking nether garments. Moreover, the Highland savage, so far from betraying compunction, burst into a roar of laughter.
"My dear fellow," he cried, "I put him in my bedroom to dry. I couldn't do more, could I? He has just been in the Serpentine."
"I wish he was there now, with a stone and a string round his neck!" observed Lieutenant Ogilvie, looking at his boots; but he repented him of this rash saying, for within a week he had offered Macleod L20 for the dog. He might have offered twenty dozen of L20, and thrown his polished boots and his gaiters too into the bargain, and he would have had the same answer.
Oscar was once more banished into the bedroom; and Mr. Ogilvie sat down, pretending to take no more notice of his boots. Macleod put some sherry on the table, and a handful of cigars; his friend asked whether he could not have a glass of seltzer-water and a cigarette.
"And how do you like the rooms I got for you?"
"There is not much fresh air about them, nor in this narrow street," Macleod said, frankly; "but that is no matter for I have been out all day—all over London."
"I thought the price was as high as you would care to go," Ogilvie said; "but I forgot you had come fresh up, with your pocket full of money. If you would like something a trifle more princely, I'll put you up to it."
"And where have I got the money? There are no gold mines in the west of Mull. It is you who are Fortunatus."
"By Jove, if you knew how hard a fellow is run at Aldershot," Mr. Ogilvie remarked, confidentially, "you would scarcely believe it. Every new batch of fellows who come in have to be dined all round; and the mess bills are simply awful. It's getting worse and worse; and then these big drinks put one off one's work so."
"You are studying hard, I suppose," Macleod said, quite gravely.
"Pretty well," said he, stretching out his legs, and petting his pretty mustache with his beautiful white hand. Then he added, suddenly, surveying the brown-faced and stalwart young fellow before him, "By Jove, Macleod, I'm glad to see you in London. It's like a breath of mountain air. Don't I remember the awful mornings we've had together—the rain and the mist and the creeping through the bogs? I believe you did your best to kill me. If I hadn't had the constitution of a horse, I should have been killed."
"I should say your big drinks at Aldershot were more likely to kill you than going after the deer," said Macleod, "And will you come up with me this autumn, Ogilvie? The mother will be glad to see you, and Janet, too; though we haven't got any fine young ladies for you to make love to, unless you go up to Fort William, or Fort George, or Inverness. And I was all over the moors before I came away; and if there is anything like good weather, we shall have plenty of birds this year, for I never saw before such a big average of eggs in the nests."
"I wonder you don't let part of that shooting," said young Ogilvie, who knew well of the straitened circumstances of the Macleods of Dare.
"The mother won't have it done," said Macleod, quite simply, "for she thinks it keeps me at home. But a young man cannot always stay at home. It is very good for you, Ogilvie, that you have brothers."
"Yes, if I had been the eldest of them," said Mr. Ogilvie. "It is a capital thing to have younger brothers; it isn't half so pleasant when you are the younger brother."
"And will you come up, then, and bury yourself alive at Dare?"
"It is awfully good of you to ask me, Macleod; and if I can manage it, I will; but I am afraid there isn't much chance this year. In the meantime, let me give you a hint. In London we talk of going down to the Highlands."
"Oh, do you? I did not think you were so stupid," Macleod remarked.
"Why, of course we do. You speak of going up to the capital of a country, and of going down to the provinces."
"Perhaps you are right—no doubt you are right; but it sounds stupid," the unconvinced Highlander observed again. "It sounds stupid to say going up to the south, and going down to the north. And how can you go down to the Highlands? You might go down to the Lowlands. But no doubt you are right; and I will be more particular. And will you have another cigarette? And then we will go out for a walk, and Oscar will get drier in the street than indoors."
"Don't imagine I am going out to have that dog plunging about among my feet," said Ogilvie. "But I have something else for you to do. You know Colonel Ross of Duntorme."
"I have heard of him."
"His wife is an awfully nice woman, and would like to meet you, I fancy they think of buying some property—I am not sure it isn't an island—in your part of the country; and she has never been to the Highlands at all. I was to take you down with me to lunch with her at two, if you care to go. There is her card."
Macleod looked at the card.
"How far is Prince's Gate from here?" he asked.
"A mile and a half, I should say."
"And it is now twenty minutes to two," said he, rising. "It will be a nice smart walk."
"Thank you," said Mr. Ogilvie; "if it is all the same to you, we will perform the journey in a hansom. I am not in training just at present for your tramps to Ben-an-Sloich."
"Ah! Your boots are rather tight," said Macleod, with grave sympathy.
They got into a hansom, and went spinning along through the crowd of carriages on this brilliant morning. The busy streets, the handsome women, the fine buildings, the bright and beautiful foliage of the parks—all these were a perpetual wonder and delight to the new-comer, who was as eager in the enjoyment of this gay world of pleasure and activity as any girl come up for her first season. Perhaps this notion occurred to the astute and experienced Lieutenant Ogilvie, who considered it his duty to warn his youthful and ingenuous friend.
"Mrs. Ross is a very handsome woman," he remarked.
"And uncommonly fascinating, too, when she likes."
"You had better look out, if she tries to fascinate you."
"She is a married woman," said Macleod.
"They are always the worst," said this wise person; "for they are jealous of the younger women."
"Oh, that is all nonsense," said Macleod, bluntly. "I am not such a greenhorn. I have read all that kind of talk in books and magazines: it is ridiculous. Do you think I will believe that married women have so little self-respect as to make themselves the laughing stock of men?"
"My dear fellow, they have cart-loads of self-respect. What I mean is, that Mrs. Ross is a bit of a lion-hunter, and she may take a fancy to make a lion of you—"
"That is better than to make an ass of me, as you suggested."
"—And naturally she will try to attach you to her set. I don't think you are quite outre enough for her; perhaps I made a mistake in putting you into decent clothes. You wouldn't have time to get into your kilts now? But you must be prepared to meet all sorts of queer folks at her house, especially if you stay on a bit and have some tea—mysterious poets that nobody ever heard of, and artists who won't exhibit, and awful swells from the German universities, and I don't know what besides—everybody who isn't the least like anybody else."
"And what is your claim, then, to go there?" Macleod asked.
"Oh," said the young lieutenant, laughing at the home-thrust, "I am only admitted on sufferance, as a friend of Colonel Ross. She never asked me to put my name in her autograph-book. But I have done a bit of the jackal for her once or twice, when I happened to be on leave; and she has sent me with people to her box at Covent Garden when she couldn't go herself."
"And how am I to propitiate her? What am I to do?"
"She will soon let you know how you strike her. Either she will pet you, or she will snuff you out like winking. I don't know a woman who has a blanker stare, when she likes."
This idle conversation was suddenly interrupted. At the same moment both young men experienced a sinking sensation, as if the earth had been cut away from beneath their feet; then there was a crash, and they were violently thrown against each other; then they vaguely knew that the cab, heeling over, was being jolted along the street by a runaway horse. Fortunately, the horse could not run very fast, for the axle-tree, deprived of its wheel, was tearing at the road; but, all the same, the occupants of the cab thought they might as well get out, and so they tried to force open the two small panels of the door in front of them. But the concussion had so jammed these together that, shove at them as they might, they would not yield. At this juncture, Macleod, who was not accustomed to hansom cabs, and did not at all like this first experience of them, determined to get out somehow; and so he raised himself a bit, so as to get his back firm against the back of the vehicle; he pulled up his leg until his knee almost touched his mouth; he got the heel of his boot firmly fixed on the top edge of the door: and then with one forward drive he tore the panel right away from its hinges. The other was of course flung open at once. Then he grasped the brass rail outside, steadied himself for a moment, and jumped clear from the cab, lighting on the pavement. Strange to say, Ogilvie did not follow, though Macleod, as he rushed along to try to get hold of the horse, momentarily expected to see him jump out. His anxiety was of short duration. The axle-tree caught on the curb; there was a sudden lurch; and then, with a crash of glass, the cab went right over, throwing down the horse, and pitching the driver into the street. It was all the work of a few seconds; and another second seemed to suffice to collect a crowd, even in this quiet part of Kensington Gore. But, after all, very little damage was done, except to the horse, which had cut one of its hocks. When young Mr. Ogilvie scrambled out and got on to the pavement, instead of being grateful that his life had been spared, he was in a towering passion—with whom or what he knew not.
"Why didn't you jump out?" said Macleod to him, after seeing that the cabman was all right.
Ogilvie did not answer; he was looking at his besmeared hands and dishevelled clothes.
"Confound it!" said he; "what's to be done now? The house is just round the corner."
"Let us go in, and they will lend you a clothesbrush."
"As if I had been fighting a bargee? No, thank you. I will go along till I find some tavern, and get myself put to rights."
And this he did gloomily, Macleod accompanying him. It was about a quarter of an hour before he had completed his toilet; and then they set out to walk back to Prince's Gate. Mr. Ogilvie was in a better humor.
"What a fellow you are to jump, Macleod!" said he. "If you had cannoned against that policeman you would have killed him. And you never paid the cabman for destroying the lid of the door; you prized the thing clean off its hinges. You must have the strength of a giant."
"But where the people came from—it was that surprised me," said Macleod, who seemed to have rather enjoyed the adventure. "It was like one of our sea-lochs in the Highlands—you look all round and cannot find any gull anywhere but throw a biscuit into the water, and you will find them appearing from all quarters at once. As for the door, I forgot that; but I gave the man half a sovereign to console him for his shaking. Was not that enough?"
"We shall be frightfully late for luncheon," said Mr. Ogilvie, with some concern.
And, indeed, when they entered the house—the balconies and windows were a blaze of flowers all shining in the sun—they found that their host and hostess had already come downstairs, and were seated at table with their small party of guests. This circumstance did not lessen Sir Keith Macleod's trepidation; for there is no denying the fact that the young man would rather have faced an angry bull on a Highland road than this party of people in the hushed and semi-darkened and flower-scented room. It seemed to him that his appearance was the signal for a confusion that was equivalent to an earthquake. Two or three servants—all more solemn than any clergyman—began to make new arrangements; a tall lady, benign of aspect, rose and most graciously received him; a tall gentleman, with a gray mustache, shook hands with him; and then, as he vaguely heard young Ogilvie, at the other end of the room, relate the incident of the upsetting of the cab, he found himself seated next to this benign lady, and apparently in a bewildering paradise of beautiful lights and colors and delicious odors. Asparagus soup? Yes, he would take that; but for a second or two this spacious and darkened room, with its stained glass and its sombre walls, and the table before him, with its masses of roses and lilies-of-the-valley, its silver, its crystal, its nectarines, and cherries, and pineapples, seemed some kind of enchanted place. And then the people talked in a low and hushed fashion, and the servants moved silently and mysteriously, and the air was languid with the scents of fruits and flowers. They gave him some wine in a tall green glass that had transparent lizards crawling up its stem; he had never drunk out of a thing like that before.
"It was very kind of Mr. Ogilvie to get you to come; he is a very good boy; he forgets nothing," said Mrs. Ross to him; and as he became aware that she was a pleasant-looking lady of middle age, who regarded him with very friendly and truthful eyes, he vowed to himself that he would bring Mr. Ogilvie to task for representing this decent and respectable woman as a graceless and dangerous coquette. No doubt she was the mother of children. At her time of life she was better employed in the nursery or in the kitchen than in flirting with young men; and could he doubt that she was a good house-mistress when he saw with his own eyes how spick and span everything was, and how accurately everything was served? Even if his cousin Janet lived in the south, with all these fine flowers and hot-house fruits to serve her purpose, she could not have done better. He began to like this pleasant-eyed woman, though she seemed delicate, and a trifle languid, and in consequence he sometimes could not quite make out what she said. But then he noticed that the other people talked in this limp fashion too: there was no precision about their words; frequently they seemed to leave you to guess the end of their sentences. As for the young lady next him, was she not very delicate also? He had never seen such hands—so small, and fine, and white. And although she talked only to her neighbor on the other side of her, he could hear that her voice, low and musical as it was, was only a murmur.
"Miss White and I," said Mrs. Ross to him—and at this moment the young lady turned to them—"were talking before you came in of the beautiful country you must know so well, and of its romantic stories and associations with Prince Charlie. Gertrude, let me introduce Sir Keith Macleod to you. I told Miss White you might come to us to-day; and she was saying what a pity it was that Flora MacDonald was not a Macleod."
"That was very kind" said he, frankly, turning to this tall, pale girl, with the rippling hair of golden brown and the heavy-lidded and downcast eyes. And then he laughed. "We would not like to steal the honor from a woman, even though she was a Macdonald, and you know the Macdonalds and the Macleods were not very friendly in the old time. But we can claim something too about the escape of Prince Charlie, Mrs. Ross. After Flora Macdonald had got him safe from Harris to Skye, she handed him over to the sons of Macleod of Raasay, and it was owing to them that he got to the mainland. You will find many people up there to this day who believe that if Macleod of Macleod had gone out in '45, Prince Charlie would never have had to flee at all. But I think the Macleods had done enough for the Stuarts; and it was but little thanks they ever got in return, so far as I could ever hear. Do you know, Mrs. Ross, my mother wears mourning every 3d of September, and will eat nothing from morning till night. It is the anniversary of the battle of Worcester; and then the Macleods were so smashed up that for a long time the other clans relieved them from military service."
"You are not much of a Jacobite, Sir Keith," said Mrs. Ross, smiling.
"Only when I hear a Jacobite song sung," said he. "Then who can fail to be a Jacobite?"
He had become quite friendly with this amiable lady. If he had been afraid that his voice, in these delicate southern ears, must sound like the first guttral drone of Donald's Pipes at Castle Dare, he had speedily lost that fear. The manly, sun-browned face and clear-glancing eyes were full of animation; he was oppressed no longer by the solemnity of the servants; so long as he talked to her he was quite confident; he had made friends with this friendly woman. But he had not as yet dared to address the pale girl who sat on his right, and who seemed so fragile and beautiful and distant in manner.
"After all," said he to Mrs. Ross, "there were no more Highlanders killed in the cause of the Stuarts than used to be killed every year or two merely out of the quarrels of the clans among themselves. All about where I live there is scarcely a rock, or a loch, or an island that has not its story. And I think," added he, with a becoming modesty, "that the Macleods were by far the most treacherous and savage and bloodthirsty of the whole lot of them."
And now the fair stranger beside him addressed him for the first time; and as she did so, she turned her eyes towards him—clear, large eyes that rather startled one when the heavy lids were lifted, so full of expression were they.
"I suppose," said she, with a certain demure smile, "you have no wild deeds done there now?"
"Oh, we have become quite peaceable folks now," said he, laughing. "Our spirit is quite broken. The wild boars are all away from the islands now, even from Muick; we have only the sheep. And the Mackenzies, and the Macleans, and the Macleods—they are all sheep now."
Was it not quite obvious? How could any one associate with this bright-faced young man the fierce traditions of hate and malice and revenge, that makes the seas and islands of the north still more terrible in their loneliness? Those were the days of strong wills and strong passions, and of an easy disregard of individual life when the gratification of some set desire was near. What had this Macleod to do with such scorching fires of hate and of love? He was playing with a silver fork and half a dozen strawberries: Miss White's surmise was perfectly natural and correct.
The ladies went upstairs, and the men, after the claret had gone round, followed them. And now it seemed to this rude Highlander that he was only going from wonder to wonder. Half-way up the narrow staircase was a large recess dimly lit by the sunlight falling through stained glass, and there was a small fountain playing in the middle of this grotto and all around was a wilderness of ferns dripping with the spray, while at the entrance two stone figures held up magical globes on which the springing and falling water was reflected. Then from this partial gloom he emerged into the drawing-room—a dream of rose-pink and gold, with the air sweetened around him by the masses of roses and tall lilies about. His eyes were rather bewildered at first; the figures of the women seemed dark against the white lace of the windows. But as he went forward to his hostess, he could make out still further wonders of color; for in the balconies outside, in the full glare of the sun, were geraniums, and lobelias, and golden calceolarias, and red snapdragon, their bright hues faintly tempered by the thin curtains through which they were seen. He could not help expressing his admiration of these things that were so new to him, for it seemed to him that he had come into a land of perpetual summer and sunshine and glowing flowers. Then the luxuriant greenness of the foliage on the other side of Exhibition Road—for Mrs. Ross's house faced westward—was, as he said, singularly beautiful to one accustomed to the windy skies of the western isles.
"But you have not seen our elm—our own elm," said Mrs. Ross, who was arranging some azaleas that had just been sent her. "We are very proud of our elm. Gertrude, will you take Sir Keith to see our noble elm?"
He had almost forgotten who Gertrude was; but the next second he recognized the low and almost timid voice that said.
"Will you come this way, then Sir Keith?"
He turned, and found that it was Miss White who spoke. How was it that this girl, who was only a girl, seemed to do things so easily, and gently, and naturally, without any trace of embarrassment or self-consciousness? He followed her, and knew not which to admire the more, the careless simplicity of her manner, or the singular symmetry of her tall and slender figure. He had never seen any statue or any picture in any book to be compared with this woman, who was so fine, and rare, and delicate that she seemed only a beautiful tall flower in this garden of flowers. There was a strange simplicity, too, about her dress—a plain, tight-fitting, tight-sleeved dress of unrelieved black, her only adornment being some bands of big blue beads worn loosely round the neck. The black figure, in this shimmer of rose-pink and gold and flowers, was effective enough; but even the finest of pictures or the finest of statues has not the subtle attraction of a graceful carriage. Macleod had never seen any woman walk as this woman walked, in so stately and yet so simple a way.
From Mrs. Ross's chief drawing-room they passed into an antedrawing-room, which was partly a passage and partly a conservatory. On the window side were some rows of Cape heaths, on the wall side some rows of blue and white plates; and it was one of the latter that was engaging the attention of two persons in this anteroom—Colonel Ross himself, and a little old gentleman in gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Shall I introduce you to my father?" said Miss White to her companion; and, after a word or two, they passed on.
"I think papa is invaluable to Colonel Ross," said she: "he is as good as an auctioneer at telling the value of china. Look at this beautiful heath. Mrs. Ross is very proud of her heaths."
The small white fingers scarcely touched the beautiful blossoms of the plant; but which were the more palely roseate and waxen? If one were to grasp that hand—in some sudden moment of entreaty, in the sharp joy of reconciliation, in the agony of farewell—would it not be crushed like a frail flower?
"There is our elm," said she, lightly. "Mrs. Ross and I regard it as our own, we have sketched it so often."
They had emerged from the conservatory into a small square room, which was practically a continuation of the drawing-room, but which was decorated in pale blue and silver, and filled with a lot of knick-knacks that showed it was doubtless Mrs. Ross's boudoir. And out there, in the clear June sunshine, lay the broad greensward behind Prince's Gate, with the one splendid elm spreading his broad branches into the blue sky, and throwing a soft shadow on the corner of the gardens next to the house. How sweet and still it was!—as still as the calm, clear light in this girl's eyes. There was no passion there, and no trouble; only the light of a June day, and of blue skies, and a peaceful soul. She rested the tips of her fingers on a small rosewood table that stood by the window: surely, if a spirit ever lived in any table, the wood of this table must have thrilled to its core.
And had he given all this trouble to this perfect creature merely that he should look at a tree? and was he to say some ordinary thing about an ordinary elm to tell her how grateful he was?
"It is like a dream to me," he said, honestly enough, "since I came to London. You seem always to have sunlight and plenty of fine trees and hot-house flowers. But I suppose you have winter, like the rest us?"
"Or we should very soon tire of all this, beautiful as it is," said she; and she looked rather wistfully out on the broad, still gardens. "For my part, I should very soon tire of it. I should think there was more excitement in the wild storms and the dark nights of the north; there must be a strange fascination in the short winter days among the mountains, and the long winter nights by the side of the Atlantic."
He looked at her and smiled. That fierce fascination he knew something of: how had she guessed at it? And as for her talking as if she herself would gladly brave these storms—was it for a foam-bell to brave a storm? was it for a rose-leaf to meet the driving rains of Ben-an-Sloich?
"Shall we go back now?" said she; and as she turned to lead the way he could not fail to remark how shapely her neck was, for her rich golden-brown hair was loosely gathered up behind.
But just at this moment Mrs. Ross made her appearance.
"Come," said she, "we shall have a chat all to ourselves; and you will tell me, Sir Keith, what you have seen since you came to London, and what has struck you most. And you must stay with us, Gertrude. Perhaps Sir Keith will be so kind as to freeze your blood with another horrible story about the Highlanders. I am only a poor southerner, and had to get up my legends from books. But this wicked girl, Sir Keith, delights as much in stories of bloodshed as a schoolboy does."
"You will not believe her," said Miss White, in that low-toned, gravely sincere voice of hers, while a faint shell-like pink suffused her face. "It was only that we were talking of the highlands, because we understood you were coming; and Mrs. Ross was trying to make out"—and here a spice of proud mischief came into her ordinarily calm eyes—"she was trying to make out that you must be a very terrible and dangerous person, who would probably murder us all if we were not civil to you."
"Well, you know, Sir Keith," said Mrs. Ross, apologetically, "you acknowledge yourself that you Macleods were a very dreadful lot of people at one time. What a shame it was to track the poor fellow over the snow, and then deliberately to put brushwood in front of the cave, and then suffocate whole two hundred persons at once!"
"Oh yes, no doubt!" said he; "but the Macdonalds were asked first to give up the men that had bound the Macleods hand and foot and set them adrift in the boat, and they would not do it. And if the Macdonalds had got the Macleods into a cave, they would have suffocated them too. The Macdonalds began it."
"Oh, no, no, no," protested Mrs. Ross; "I can remember better than that. What were the Macleods about on the island at all when they had to be sent off, tied hand and foot, in their boats?"
"And what is the difference between tying a man hand and foot and putting him out in the Atlantic, and suffocating him in a cave? It was only by an accident that the wind drifted them over to Skye."
"I shall begin to fear that you have some of the old blood in you," said Mrs. Ross, with a smile, "if you try to excuse one of the cruelest things ever heard of."
"I do not excuse it at all," said he, simply. "It was very bad—very cruel. But perhaps the Macleods were not so much worse than others. It was not a Macleod at all, it was a Gordon—and she a woman, too—that killed the chief of the Mackintoshes after she had received him as a friend. 'Put your head down on the table,' said she to the chief, 'in token of your submission to the Earl of Huntly.' And no sooner had he bowed his neck than she whipped out a knife and cut his head off. That was a Gordon, not a Macleod. And I do not think the Macleods were so much worse than their neighbors, after all."
"Oh, how can you say that?" exclaimed his persecutor. "Who was ever guilty of such an act of treachery as setting fire to the barn at Dunvegan? Macdonald and his men get driven on to Skye by the bad weather; they beg for shelter from their old enemy; Macleod professes to be very great friends with them; and Macdonald is to sleep in the castle, while his men have a barn prepared for them. You know very well, Sir Keith, that if Macdonald had remained that night in Dunvegan Castle he would have been murdered; and if the Macleod girl had not given a word of warning to her sweetheart, the men in the barn would have been burned to death. I think if I were a Macdonald I should be proud of that scene—the Macdonalds marching down to their boats with their pipes playing, while the barn was all in a blaze fired by their treacherous enemies. Oh, Sir Keith, I hope there are no Macleods of that sort alive now."
"There are not, Mrs. Ross," said he, gravely. "They were all killed by the Macdonalds, I suppose."
"I do believe," said she, "that it was a Macleod who built a stone tower on a lonely island, and imprisoned his wife there—"
"Miss White," the young man said, modestly, "will not you help me? Am I to be made responsible for all the evil doings of my ancestors?"
"It is really not fair, Mrs. Ross," said she; and the sound of this voice pleading for him went to his heart: it was not as the voice of other women.
"I only meant to punish you," said Mrs. Ross, "for having traversed the indictment—I don't know whether that is the proper phrase, or what it means, but it sounds well. You first acknowledge that the Macleods were by far the most savage of the people living up there: and then you tried to make out that the poor creatures whom they harried were as cruel as themselves."
"What is cruel now was not cruel then," he said; "it was a way of fighting: it was what is called an ambush now—enticing your enemy, and then taking him at a disadvantage. And if you did not do that to him, he would do it to you. And when a man is mad with anger or revenge, what does he care for anything?"
"I thought we were all sheep now," said she.
"Do you know the story of the man who was flogged by Maclean of Lochbuy—that is in Mull," said he, not heeding her remark. "You do not know that old story?"
They did not; and he proceeded to tell it in a grave and simple fashion which was sufficiently impressive. For he was talking to these two friends now in the most unembarrassed way; and he had, besides, the chief gift of a born narrator—an utter forgetfulness of himself. His eyes rested quite naturally on their eyes as he told his tale. But first of all, he spoke of the exceeding loyalty of the Highland folk to the head of their clan. Did they know that other story of how Maclean of Duart tried to capture the young heir of the house of Lochbuy, and how the boy was rescued and carried away by his nurse? And when, arrived at man's estate, he returned to revenge himself on those who had betrayed him, among them was the husband of the nurse. The young chief would have spared the life of this man, for the old woman's sake. "Let the tail go with the hide," said she, and he was slain with the rest. And then the narrator went on to the story of the flogging. He told them how Maclean of Lochbuy was out after the deer one day; and his wife, with her child, had come out to see the shooting. They were driving the deer; and at a particular pass a man was stationed so that, should the deer come that way, he should turn them back. The deer came to this pass; the man failed to turn them; and the chief was mad with rage. He gave orders that the man's back should be bared, and that he should be flogged before all the people.
"Very well," continued Macleod. "It was done. But it is not safe to do anything like that to a Highlander; at least it was not safe to do anything like that to a highlander in those days; for, as I told you, Mrs. Ross, we are all like sheep now. Then they went after the deer again; but at one moment the man that had been flogged seized Maclean's child from the nurse, and ran with it across the mountain-side, till he reached a place overhanging the sea. And he held out the child over the sea; and it was no use that Maclean begged on his knees for forgiveness. Even the passion of loyalty was lost now in the fierceness of his revenge. This was what the man said—that unless Maclean had his back bared there and then before all the people, and flogged as he had been flogged, then the child should be dashed into the sea below. There was nothing to be done but that—no prayers, no offers, no appeals from the mother, were of any use. And so it was that Maclean of Lochbuy was flogged there before his own people, and his enemy above looking on. And then? When it was over, the man called aloud, 'Revenged! revenged!' and sprang into the air with the child along with him; and neither of them was ever seen again after they had sunk into the sea. It is an old story."
An old story, doubtless, and often told; but its effect on this girl sitting beside him was strange. Her clasped hands trembled; her eyes were glazed and fascinated as if by some spell. Mrs. Ross, noticing this extreme tension of feeling, and fearing it, hastily rose.
"Come, Gertrude," she said, taking the girl by the hand, "we shall be frightened to death by these stories. Come and sing us a song—a French song, all about tears, and fountains, and bits of ribbon—or we shall be seeing the ghosts of murdered Highlanders coming in here in the daytime."
Macleod, not knowing what he had done, but conscious that something had occurred, followed then into the drawing-room, and retired to a sofa, while Miss White sat down to the open piano. He hoped he had not offended her. He would not frighten her again with any ghastly stories from the wild northern seas.
And what was this French song that she was about to sing? The pale, slender fingers were wandering over the keys; and there was a sound—faint and clear and musical—as of the rippling of summer seas. And sometimes the sounds came nearer; and now he fancied he recognized some old familiar strain; and he thought of his cousin Janet somehow, and of summer days down by the blue waters of the Atlantic. A French song? Surely if this air, that seemed to come nearer and nearer, was blown from any earthly land, it had come from the valleys of Lochiel and Ardgour, and from the still shores of Arisaig and Moidart? Oh yes; it was a very pretty French song that she had chosen to please Mrs. Ross with.
"A wee bird cam' to our ha' door"—
this was what she sang; and though, to tell the truth, she had not much of a voice, it was exquisitely trained, and she sang with a tenderness and expression such as he, at least, had never heard before,—
"He warbled sweet and clearly; An' aye the o'ercome o' his sang Was 'Wae's me for Prince Charlie!' Oh, when I heard the bonnie bonnie bird The tears cam' drappin' rarely; I took my bonnet off my head, For well I lo'ed Prince Charlie."
It could not have entered into his imagination to believe that such pathos could exist apart from the actual sorrow of the world. The instrument before her seemed to speak; and the low, joint cry was one of infinite grief, and longing, and love.
"Quoth I, 'My bird, my bonnie, bonnie bird, Is that a sang ye borrow? Are these some words ye've learnt by heart, Or a lilt o' dool an' sorrow? 'Oh, no, no, no,' the wee bird sang; 'I've flown sin' mornin' early; But sic a day o' wind an' rain— Oh, wae's me for Prince Charlie!'"
Mrs. Ross glanced archly at him when she discovered what sort of French song it was that Miss White had chosen; but he paid no heed. His only thought was, "If only the mother and Janet could hear this strange singing!"
When she had ended, Mrs. Ross came over to him and said, "That is a great compliment to you."
And he answered, simply, "I have never heard any singing like that."
Then young Mr. Ogilvie—whose existence, by-the-way, he had entirely and most ungratefully forgotten—came up to the piano, and began to talk in a very pleasant and amusing fashion to Miss White. She was turning over the leaves of the book before her, and Macleod grew angry with this idle interference. Why should this lily-fingered jackanapes, whom a man could wind round a reel and throw out of window, disturb the rapt devotion of this beautiful Saint Cecilia?
She struck a firmer chord; the bystanders withdrew a bit; and of a sudden it seemed to him that all the spirit of all the clans was ringing in the proud fervor of this fragile girl's voice. Whence had she got this fierce Jacobite passion that thrilled him to the very finger-tips?
"I'll to Lochiel, and Appin, and kneel to them, Down by Lord Murray and Roy of Kildarlie: Brave Mackintosh, he shall fly to the field with them; These are the lads I can trust wi' my Charlie!"
Could any man fail to answer? Could any man die otherwise than gladly if he died with such an appeal ringing in his ears? Macleod did not know there was scarcely any more volume in this girl's voice now than when she was singing the plaintive wail that preceded it: it seemed to him that there was the strength of the tread of armies in it, and a challenge that could rouse a nation.
"Down through the Lowlands, down wi' the Whigamore, Loyal true Highlanders, down wi' them rarely! Ronald and Donald, drive on wi' the broad claymore Over the neck o' the foes o' Prince Charlie! Follow thee! follow thee! wha wadna follow thee, King o' the Highland hearts, bonnie Prince Charlie!"
She shut the book, with a light laugh, and left the piano. She came over to where Macleod sat. When he saw that she meant to speak to him, he rose and stood before her.
"I must ask your pardon," said she, smiling, "for singing two Scotch songs, for I know the pronunciation is very difficult."
He answered with no idle compliment.
"If Tearlach ban og, as they used to call him, were alive now," said he—and indeed there was never any Stuart of them all, not even the Fair Young Charles himself, who looked more handsome than this same Macleod of Dare who now stood before her—"you would get him more men to follow him than any flag or standard he ever raised."
She cast her eyes down.
Mrs. Ross's guests began to leave.
"Gertrude," said she, "will you drive with me for half an hour—the carriage is at the door? And I know the gentlemen want to have a cigar in the shade of Kensington Gardens: they might come back and have a cup of tea with us."
But Miss White had some engagement; she and her father left together; and the young men followed them almost directly, Mrs. Ross saying that she would be most pleased to see Sir Keith Macleod any Tuesday or Thursday afternoon he happened to be passing, as she was always at home on these days.
"I don't think we can do better than take her advice about the cigar," said young Ogilvie, as they crossed to Kensington Gardens. "What do you think of her?"
"Of Mrs. Ross?"
"Oh, I think she is a very pleasant woman."
"Yes, but," said Mr. Ogilvie, "how did she strike you? Do you think she is as fascinating as some men think her?"
"I don't know what men think about her," said Macleod. "It never occurred to me to ask whether a married woman was fascinating or not. I thought she was a friendly woman—talkative, amusing, clever enough."
They lit their cigars in the cool shadow of the great elms: who does not know how beautiful Kensington Gardens are in June? And yet Macleod did not seem disposed to be garrulous about these new experiences of his; he was absorbed, and mostly silent.
"That is an extraordinary fancy she has taken for Gertrude White," Mr. Ogilvie remarked.
"Why extraordinary?" the other asked, with sudden interest.
"Oh, well, it is unusual, you know. But she is a nice girl enough, and Mrs. Ross is fond of odd folks. You didn't speak to old White?—his head is a sort of British Museum of antiquities; but he is of some use to these people—he is such a swell about old armor, and china, and such things. They say he wants to be sent out to dig for Dido's funeral pyre at Carthage, and that he is only waiting to get the trinkets made at Birmingham."
They walked on a bit in silence.
"I think you made a good impression on Mrs. Ross," said Ogilvie, coolly. "You'll find her an uncommonly useful woman, if she takes a fancy to you; for she knows everybody and goes everywhere, though her own house is too small to entertain properly. By-the-way, Macleod, I don't think you could have hit on a worse fellow than I to take you about, for I am so little in London that I have become a rank outsider. But I'll tell you what I'll do for you if you will go with me to-night to Lord Beauregard's who is an old friend of mine. I will ask him to introduce you to some people—and his wife gives very good dances—and if any royal or imperial swell comes to town, you'll be sure to run against him there. I forget who it is they are receiving there to-night; but anyhow you'll meet two or three of the fat duchesses whom Dizzy adores; and I shouldn't wonder if that Irish girl were there—the new beauty: Lady Beauregard is very clever at picking people up."
"Will Miss White be there?" Macleod asked, apparently deeply engaged in probing the end of his cigar.
His companion looked up in surprise. Then a new fancy seemed to occur to him, and he smiled very slightly.
"Well, no," said he, slowly, "I don't think she will. In fact, I am almost sure she will be at the Piccadilly Theatre. If you like, we will give up Lady Beauregard, and after dinner go to the Piccadilly Theatre instead. How will that do?"
"I think that will do very well," said Macleod.
A cool evening in June, the club windows open, a clear twilight shining over Pall Mall, and a tete-a-tete dinner at a small, clean, bright table—these are not the conditions in which a young man should show impatience. And yet the cunning dishes which Mr. Ogilvie, who had a certain pride in his club, though it was only one of the junior institutions, had placed before his friend, met with but scanty curiosity: Macleod would rather have handed questions of cookery over to his cousin Janet. Nor did he pay much heed to his companion's sage advice as to the sort of club he should have himself proposed at, with a view to getting elected in a dozen or fifteen years. A young man is apt to let his life at forty shift for itself.
"You seem very anxious to see Miss White again," said Mr. Ogilvie, with a slight smile.
"I wish to make all the friends I can while I am in London," said Macleod. "What shall I do in this howling wilderness when you go back to Aldershot?"
"I don't think Miss Gertrude White will be of much use to you. Colonel Ross may be. Or Lord Beauregard. But you cannot expect young ladies to take you about."
"No?" said Macleod, gravely; "that is a great pity."
Mr. Ogilvie, who, with all his knowledge of the world, and of wines and cookery, and women, and what not, had sometimes an uneasy consciousness that his companion was laughing at him, here proposed that they should have a cigar before walking up to the Piccadilly Theatre; but as it was now ten minutes to eight, Macleod resolutely refused. He begged to be considered a country person, anxious to see the piece from the beginning. And so they put on their light top-coats over their evening dress and walked up to the theatre.
A distant sound of music, an odor of escaped gas, a perilous descent of a corkscrew staircase, a drawing aside of heavy curtains, and then a blaze of yellow light shining within this circular building, on its red satin and gilt plaster, and on the spacious picture of a blue Italian lake, with peacocks on the wide stone terraces. The noise at first was bewildering. The leader of the orchestra was sawing away at his violin as savagely as if he were calling on his company to rush up and seize a battery of guns. What was the melody that was being banged about by the trombones, and blared aloud by the shrill cornets, and sawed across by the infuriated violins? "When the heart of a man is oppressed with care." The cure was never insisted on with such an angry vehemence.
Recovering from the first shock of this fierce noise, Macleod began to look around this strange place, with its magical colors and its profusion of gilding; but nowhere in the half-empty stalls or behind the lace curtains of the boxes could he make out the visitor of whom he was in search. Perhaps she was not coming, then? Had he sacrificed the evening all for nothing? As regarded the theatre or the piece to be played, he had not the slightest interest in either. The building was very pretty, no doubt; but it was only, in effect, a superior sort of booth; and as for the trivial amusement of watching a number of people strut across a stage and declaim—or perhaps make fools of themselves to raise a laugh—that was not at all to his liking. It would have been different had he been able to talk to the girl who had shown such a strange interest in the gloomy stories of the Northern seas; perhaps, though he would scarcely have admitted this to himself, it might have been different if only he had been allowed to see her at some distance. But her being absent altogether? The more the seats in the stalls were filled—reducing the chances of her coming—the more empty the theatre seemed to become.
"At least we can go along to that house you mentioned," said he to his companion.
"Oh, don't be disappointed yet," said Ogilvie; "I know she will be here."
"With Mrs. Ross?"
"Mrs. Ross comes very often to this theatre. It is the correct thing to do. It is high art. All the people are raving about the chief actress; artists painting her portrait; poets writing sonnets about her different characters—no end of a fuss. And Mrs. Ross is very proud that so distinguished a person is her particular friend."
"Do you mean the actress?"
"Yes; and makes her the big feature of her parties at present; and society is rather inclined to make a pet of her, too—patronizing high art, don't you know. It's wonderful what you can do in that way. If a duke wants a clown to make fellows laugh after a Derby dinner, he gets him to his house and makes him dance; and if the papers find it out, it is only raising the moral status of the pantomine. Of course it is different with Mrs. Ross's friend: she is all right socially."
The garrulous boy was stopped by the sudden cessation of the music; and then the Italian lake and the peacocks disappeared into unknown regions above; and behold! in their place a spacious hall was revealed—not the bare and simple hall at Castle Dare with which Macleod was familiar, but a grand apartment, filled with old armor, and pictures, and cabinets, and showing glimpses of a balcony and fair gardens beyond. There were two figures in this hall, and they spoke—in the high and curious falsetto of the stage. Macleod paid no more heed to them than if they had been marionettes. For one thing, he could not follow their speech very well; but, in any case, what interest could he have in listening to this old lawyer explaining to the stout lady that the family affairs were grievously involved? He was still intently watching the new-comers who straggled in, singly or in pairs, to the stalls. When a slight motion of the white curtains showed that some one was entering one of the boxes, the corner of the box was regarded with as earnest a gaze as ever followed the movements of a herd of red deer in the misty chasms of Ben-an-Sloich. What concern had he in the troubles of this over-dressed and stout lady, who was bewailing her misfortunes and wringing her bejewelled hands?
Suddenly his heart seemed to stand still altogether. It was a light, glad laugh—the sound of a voice he knew—that seemed to have pierced him as with a rifle-ball; and at the same moment from the green shimmer of foliage in the balcony there stepped into the glare of the hall a young girl with life, and laughter, and a merry carelessness in her face and eyes. She threw her arms around her mother's neck and kissed her. She bowed to the legal person. She flung her garden hat on to a couch, and got up on a chair to get fresh seed put in for her canary. It was all done so simply, and naturally, and gracefully that in an instant a fire of life and reality sprang into the whole of this sham thing. The woman was no longer a marionette, but the anguish-stricken mother of this gay and heedless girl. And when the daughter jumped down from the chair again—her canary on her finger—and when she came forward to pet, and caress, and remonstrate with her mother, and when the glare of the lights flashed on the merry eyes, and on the white teeth and laughing lips, there was no longer any doubt possible. Macleod's face was quite pale. He took the programme from Ogilvie's hand, and for a minute or two stared mechanically at the name of Miss Gertrude White, printed on the pink-tinted paper. He gave it him back without a word. Ogilvie only smiled; he was proud of the surprise he had planned.
And now the fancies and recollections that came rushing into Macleod's head were of a sufficiently chaotic and bewildering character. He tried to separate that grave, and gentle, and sensitive girl he had met at Prince's Gate from this gay madcap, and he could not at all succeed. His heart laughed with the laughter of this wild creature; he enjoyed the discomfiture and despair of the old lawyer as she stood before him twirling her garden hat by a solitary ribbon; and when the small, white fingers raised the canary to be kissed by the pouting lips, the action was more graceful than anything he had ever seen in the world. But where was the silent and serious girl who had listened with such rapt attention to his tales of passion and revenge, who seemed to have some mysterious longing for those gloomy shores he came from, who had sung with such exquisite pathos "A wee bird cam' to our ha' door?" Her cheek had turned white when she heard of the fate of the son of Maclean: surely that sensitive and vivid imagination could not belong to this audacious girl, with her laughing, and teasings, and demure coquetry?
Society had not been talking about the art of Mrs. Ross's protegee for nothing; and that art soon made short work of Keith Macleod's doubts. The fair stranger he had met at Prince's Gate vanished into mist. Here was the real woman; and all the trumpery business of the theatre, that he would otherwise have regarded with indifference or contempt, became a real and living thing, insomuch that he followed the fortunes of this spoiled child with a breathless interest and a beating heart. The spell was on him. Oh, why should she be so proud to this poor lover, who stood so meekly before her? "Coquette, coquette" (Macleod could have cried to her), "the days are not always full of sunshine; life is not all youth, and beauty, and high spirits; you may come to repent of your pride and your cruelty." He had no jealousy against the poor youth who took his leave; he pitied him, but it was for her sake; he seemed to know that evil days were coming, when she would long for the solace of an honest man's love. And when the trouble came—as it speedily did—and when she stood bravely up at first to meet her fate, and when she broke down for a time, and buried her face in her hands, and cried with bitter sobs, the tears were running down his face. Could the merciful heavens see such grief, and let the wicked triumph? And why was there no man to succor her? Surely some times arise in which the old law is the good law, and a man will trust to his own right arm to put things straight in the world? To look at her!—could any man refuse? And now she rises and goes away, and all the glad summer-time and the sunshine have gone, and the cold wind shivers through the trees, and it breathes only of farewell. Farewell, O miserable one! the way is dark before you, and you are alone. Alone, and no man near to help.
Macleod was awakened from his trance. The act drop was let down; there was a stir throughout the theatre; young Ogilvie turned to him,—
"Don't you see who has come into that corner box up there?"
If he had told that Miss White, just come up from Prince's Gate, in her plain black dress and blue beads, had just arrived and was seated there, he would scarcely have been surprised. As it was, he looked up and saw Colonel Ross taking his seat, while the figure of a lady was partially visible behind the lace curtain.
"I wonder how often Mrs. Ross has seen this piece?" Ogilvie said. "And I think Colonel Ross is as profound a believer in Miss White as his wife is. Will you go up and see them now?"
"No," Macleod said, absently.
"I shall tell them," said the facetious boy as he rose and got hold of his crush hat, "that you are meditating a leap on to the stage to rescue the distressed damsel."
And then his conscience smote him.
"Mind you," said he, "I think it is awfully good myself. I can't pump up any enthusiasm for most things that people rave about, but I do think this girl is uncommonly clever. And then she always dresses like a lady."
With this high commendation, Lieutenant Ogilvie left, and made his way upstairs to Mrs. Ross's box. Apparently he was well received there, for he did not make his appearance again at the beginning of the next act, nor, indeed, until it was nearly over.
The dream-world opens again; and now it is a beautiful garden, close by the ruins of an old abbey, and fine ladies are walking about there. But what does he care for these marionettes uttering meaningless phrases? They have no more interest for him than the sham ruins, so long as that one bright, speaking, pathetic face is absent; and the story they are carrying forward is for him no story at all, for he takes no heed of its details in his anxious watching for her appearance. The sides of this garden are mysteriously divided: by which avenue shall she approach? Suddenly he hears the low voice—she comes nearer. Now let the world laugh again! But, alas! when she does appear, it is in the company of her lover, and it is only to bid him good-by. Why does the coward hind take her at her word? A stick, a stone, a wave of the cold sea, would be more responsive to that deep and tremulous voice, which has now no longer any of the art of a wilful coquetry about it, but is altogether as self-revealing as the generous abandonment of her eyes. The poor cipher! he is not the man to woo and win and carry off this noble woman, the unutterable soul surrender of whose look has the courage of despair in it. He bids her farewell. The tailor's dummy retires. And she? in her agony, is there no one to comfort her? They have demanded his sacrifice in the name of duty, and she has consented: ought not that to be enough to comfort her? then other people appear from other parts of the garden, and there is a Babel of tongues. He hears nothing; but he follows that sad face, until he could imagine that he listened to the throbbing of her aching heart.
And then, as the phantasms of the stage come and go, and fortune plays many pranks with these puppets, the piece draws near to an end. And now as it appears, everything is reversed, and it is the poor lover who is in grievous trouble, while she is restored to the proud position of her coquetries and wilful graces again, with all her friends smiling around her, and life lying fair before her. She meets him by accident. Suffering gives him a certain sort of dignity: but how is one to retain patience with the blindness of this insufferable ass? Don't you see, man—don't you see that she is waiting to throw herself into your arms? and you, you poor ninny, are giving yourself airs, and doing the grand heroic! And then the shy coquetry comes in again. The pathetic eyes are full of a grave compassion, if he must really never see her more. The cat plays with the poor mouse, and pretends that really the tender thing is gone away at last. He will take this half of a broken sixpence back: it was given in happier times. If ever he should marry, he will know that one far away prays for his happiness. And if—if these unwomanly tears—And suddenly the crass idiot discovers that she is laughing at him, and that she has secured him and bound him as completely as a fly fifty times wound round by a spider. The crash of applause that accompanied the lowering of the curtain stunned Macleod, who had not quite come back from dreamland. And then, amidst a confused roar the curtain was drawn a bit back, and she was led—timidly smiling, so that her eyes seemed to take in all the theatre at once—across the stage by that same poor fool of a lover; and she had two or three bouquets thrown her, notably one from Mrs. Ross's box. Then she disappeared, and the lights were lowered, and there was a dull shuffling of people getting their cloaks and hats and going away.
"Mrs. Ross wants to see you for a minute," Ogilvie said.
"Yes," Macleod answered, absently.
"And we have time yet, if you like, to get into a hansom and drive along to Lady Beauregard's."
IN PARK LANE.
They found Mrs. Ross and her husband waiting in the corridor above.
"Well, how did you like it?" she said.
He could not answer offhand. He was afraid he might say too much.
"It is like her singing," he stammered, at length. "I am not used to these things. I have never seen anything like that before."
"We shall soon have her in a better piece," Mrs. Ross said. "It is being written for her, That is very pretty, but slight. She is capable of greater things."
"She is capable of anything," said Macleod, simply, "if she can make you believe that such nonsense is real. I looked at the others. What did they say or do better than mere pictures in a book? But she—it is like magic."
"And did Mr. Ogilvie give you my message?" said Mrs. Ross. "My husband and I are going down to see a yacht race on the Thames to-morrow—we did not think of it till this evening any more than we expected to find you here. We came along to try to get Miss White to go with us. Will you join our little party?"
"Oh, yes, certainly—thank you very much," Macleod said, eagerly.
"Then you'd better meet us at Charing Cross, at ten sharp," Colonel Ross said; "so don't let Ogilvie keep you up too late with brandy and soda. A special will take us down."
"Brandy and soda!" Mr. Ogilvie exclaimed. "I am going to take him along for a few minutes to Lady Beauregard's—surely that is proper enough; and I have to get down by the 'cold-meat' train to Aldershot, so there won't be much brandy and soda for me. Shall we go now, Mrs. Ross?"
"I am waiting for an answer," Mrs. Ross said, looking along the corridor.
Was it possible, then, that she herself should bring the answer to this message that had been sent her—stepping out of the dream-world in which she had disappeared with her lover? And how would she look as she came along this narrow passage? Like the arch coquette of this land of gaslight and glowing colors? or like the pale, serious, proud girl who was fond of sketching the elm at Prince's Gate? A strange nervousness possessed him as he thought she might suddenly appear. He did not listen to the talk between Colonel Ross and Mr. Ogilvie. He did not notice that this small party was obviously regarded as being in the way by the attendants who were putting out the lights and shutting the doors of the boxes. Then a man came along.
"Miss White's compliments, ma'am, and she will be very pleased to meet you at Charing Cross at ten to-morrow."
"And Miss White is a very brave young lady to attempt anything of the kind," observed Mr. Ogilvie, confidentially, as they all went downstairs; "for if the yachts should get becalmed of the Nore, or off the Mouse, I wonder how Miss White will get back to London in time?"
"Oh, we shall take care of that," said Colonel Ross. "Unless there is a good steady breeze we sha'n't go at all; we shall spend a happy day at Rosherville, or have a look at the pictures at Greenwich. We sha'n't get Miss White into trouble. Good-bye, Ogilvie. Good-bye, Sir Keith. Remember ten o'clock, Charing Cross."
They stepped into their carriage and drove off.
"Now," said Macleod's companion, "are you tired?"
"Tired? I have done nothing all day."
"Shall we get into a hansom and drive along to Lady Beauregard's?"
"Certainly, if you like. I suppose they won't throw you over again?"
"Oh no," said Mr. Ogilvie, as he once more adventured his person in a cab. "And I can tell you it is much better—if you look at the thing philosophically, as poor wretches like you and me must—to drive to a crush in a hansom than in your own carriage. You don't worry about your horses being kept out in the rain; you can come away at any moment; there is no fussing with servants, and rows because your man has got out of the rank—HOLD UP!"
Whether it was the yell or not, the horse recovered from the slight stumble: and no harm befel the two daring travellers.
"These vehicles give one some excitement," Macleod said—or rather roared, for Piccadilly was full of carriages. "A squall in Loch Scridain is nothing to them."
"You'll get used to them in time," was the complacent answer.
They dismissed the hansom at the corner of Piccadilly, and walked up Park Lane, so as to avoid waiting in the rank of carriages. Macleod accompanied his companion meekly. All this scene around him—the flashing lights of the broughams, the brilliant windows, the stepping across the pavement of a strangely dressed dignitary from some foreign land—seemed but some other part of that dream from which he had not quite shaken himself free. His head was still full of the sorrows and coquetries of that wild-spirited heroine. Whither had she gone by this time—away into some strange valley of that unknown world?
He was better able than Mr. Ogilvie to push his way through the crowd of footmen who stood in two lines across the pavement in front of Beauregard House, watching for the first appearance of their master or mistress; but he resignedly followed, and found himself in the avenue leading clear up to the steps. They were not the only arrivals, late as the hour was. Two young girls, sisters, clad in cream-white silk with a gold fringe across their shoulders and sleeves, preceded them; and he was greatly pleased by the manner in which these young ladies, on meeting in the great hall an elderly lady who was presumably a person of some distinction, dropped a pretty little old-fashioned courtesy as they shook hands with her. He admired much less the more formal obeisance which he noticed a second after. A royal personage was leaving; and as this lady, who was dressed in mourning, and was leaning on the arm of a gentleman whose coat was blazing with diamond stars, and whose breast was barred across with a broad blue ribbon, came along the spacious landing at the foot of the wide staircase, she graciously extended her hand and said a few words to such of the ladies standing by as she knew. That deep bending of the knee he considered to be less pretty than the little courtesy performed by the young ladies in cream-white silk. He intended to mention this matter to his cousin Janet.
Then, as soon as the Princess had left the lane, through which she had passed closed up again, and the crowd became a confused mass of murmuring groups. Still meekly following, Macleod plunged into this throng, and presently found himself being introduced to Lady Beauregard—an amiable little woman who had been a great beauty in her time, and was pleasant enough to look at now. He passed on.
"Who is the man with the blue ribbon and the diamond star?" he asked of Mr. Ogilvie.
"That is Monsieur le Marquis himself—that is your host," the young gentleman replied—only Macleod could nor tell why he was obviously trying to repress some covert merriment.
"Didn't you hear?" Mr. Ogilvie said at length. "Don't you know what he called you? That man will be the death of me—for he's always at it. He announced you as Sir Thief Macleod—I will swear he did."
"I should not have thought he had so much historical knowledge," Macleod answered, gravely. "He must have been reading up about the clans."
At this moment Lady Beauregard, who had been receiving some other late visitors, came up and said she wished to introduce him to—he could not make out the name. He followed her. He was introduced to a stout elderly lady, who still had beautifully fine features, and a simple and calm air which rather impressed him. It is true that at first a thrill of compassion went through him; for he thought that some accident had befallen the poor lady's costume, and that it had fallen down a bit unknown to herself; but he soon perceived that most of the other women were dressed similarly, some of the younger ones, indeed, having the back of their dress open practically to the waist. He wondered what his mother and Janet would say to this style.
"Don't you think the Princess is looking pale?" he was asked.
"I thought she looked very pretty—I never saw her before," said he.
What next? That calm air was a trifle cold and distant. He did not know who the woman was, or where she lived, or whether her husband had any shooting, or a yacht, or a pack of hounds. What was he to say? He returned to the Princess.
"I only saw her as she was leaving," said he. "We came late. We were at the Piccadilly Theatre."
"Oh, you saw Miss Gertrude White," said this stout lady; and he was glad to see her eyes light up with some interest. "She is very clever, is she not—and so pretty and engaging. I wish I knew some one who knew her."
"I know some friends of hers," Macleod said, rather timidly.
"Oh, do you, really? Do you think she would give me a morning performance for my Fund?"
This lady seemed to take it so much for granted that every one must have heard of her Fund that he dared not confess his ignorance. But it was surely some charitable thing; and how could he doubt that Miss White would immediately respond to such an appeal?
"I should think that she would," said he, with a little hesitation; but at this moment some other claimant came forward, and he turned away to seek young Ogilvie once more.
"Ogilvie," said he, "who is that lady in the green satin?"
"The Duchess of Wexford."
"Has she a Fund?"
"A Fund—a charitable Fund of some sort."
"Oh, let me see. I think she is getting up money for a new training ship—turning the young ragamuffins about the streets into sailors, don't you know."
"Do you think Miss White would give a morning performance for that Fund?"
"Miss White! Miss White! Miss White!" said Lieutenant Ogilvie. "I think Miss White has got into your head."
"But the lady asked me."
"Well, I should say it was exactly the thing that Miss White would like to do—get mixed up with a whole string of duchesses and marchionessses—a capital advertisement—and it would be all the more distinguished if it was an amateur performance, and Miss Gertrude White the only professional admitted into the charmed circle."
"You are a very shrewd boy, Ogilvie," Macleod observed, "I don't know how you ever got so much wisdom into so small a head."
And indeed, as Lieutenant Ogilvie was returning to Aldershot by what he was pleased to call the cold-meat train, he continued to play the part of mentor for a time with great assiduity, until Macleod was fairly confused with the number of persons to whom he was introduced, and the remarks his friend made about them. What struck him most, perhaps, was the recurrence of old Highland or Scotch family names, borne by persons who were thoroughly English in their speech and ways. Fancy a Gordon who said "lock" for "loch;" a Mackenzie who had never seen the Lewis; a Mac Alpine who had never heard the proverb, "The hills, the Mac Alpines, and the devil came into the world at the same time!"
It was a pretty scene: and he was young, and eager, and curious, and he enjoyed it. After standing about for half an hour or so, he got into a corner from which, in quiet, he could better see the brilliant picture as a whole: the bright, harmonious dresses; the glimpses of beautiful eyes and blooming complexions; the masses of foxgloves which Lady Beauregard had as the only floral decoration of the evening; the pale canary-colored panels and silver-fluted columns of the walls; and over all the various candelabra, each bearing a cluster of sparkling and golden stars. But there was something wanted. Was it the noble and silver-haired lady of Castle Dare whom he looked for in vain in that brilliant crowd that moved and murmured before him? Or was it the friendly and familiar face of his cousin Janet, whose eyes he knew, would be filled with a constant wonder if she saw such diamonds, and silks and satins? Or was it that ignis fatuus—that treacherous and mocking fire—that might at any time glimmer in some suddenly presented face with a new surprise? Had she deceived him altogether down at Prince's Gate? Was her real nature that of the wayward, bright, mischievous, spoiled child whose very tenderness only prepared her unsuspecting victim for a merciless thrust? And yet the sound of her sobbing was still in his ears. A true woman's heart beat beneath that idle raillery: challenged boldly, would it not answer loyally and without fear?
Psychological puzzles were new to this son of the mountains; and it is no wonder that, long after he had bidden good bye to his friend Ogilvie, and as he sat thinking alone in his own room, with Oscar lying across the rug at his feet, his mind refused to be quieted. One picture after another presented itself to his imagination: the proud-souled enthusiast longing for the wild winter nights and the dark Atlantic seas; the pensive maiden, shuddering to hear the fierce story of Maclean of Lochbuy; the spoiled child, teasing her mamma and petting her canary; the wronged and weeping woman, her frame shaken with sobs, her hands clasped in despair; the artful and demure coquette, mocking her lover with her sentimental farewells. Which of them all was she? Which should he see in the morning? Or would she appear as some still more elusive vision, retreating before him as he advanced?
Had he asked himself, he would have said that these speculations were but the fruit of a natural curiosity. Why should he not be interested in finding out the real nature of this girl, whose acquaintance he had just made? It has been observed, however, that young gentlemen do not always betray this frantic devotion to pyschological inquiry when the subject of it, instead of being a fascinating maiden of twenty, is a homely-featured lady of fifty.
Time passed; another cigar was lit; the blue light outside was becoming silvery; and yet the problem remained unsolved. A fire of impatience and restlessness was burning in his heart; a din as of brazen instruments—what was the air the furious orchestra played?—was in his ears; sleep or rest was out of the question.
"Oscar!" he called. "Oscar, my lad, let us go out!"
When he stealthily went downstairs, and opened the door and passed into the street, behold! the new day was shining abroad—and how cold, and still, and silent it was after the hot glare and whirl of that bewildering night! No living thing was visible. A fresh, sweet air stirred the leaves of the trees and bushes in St. James's Square. There was a pale lemon-yellow glow in the sky, and the long, empty thoroughfare of Pall Mall seemed coldly white.
Was this a somnambulist, then, who wandered idly along through the silent streets, apparently seeing nothing of the closed doors and the shuttered windows on either hand? A Policeman, standing at the corner of Waterloo Place, stared at the apparition—at the twin apparition, for this tall young gentleman with the light top-coat thrown over his evening dress was accompanied by a beautiful collie that kept close to his heels. There was a solitary four-wheeled cab at the foot of the Haymarket; but the man had got inside and was doubtless asleep. The embankment?—with the young trees stirring in the still morning air; and the broad bosom of the river catching the gathering glow of the skys. He leaned on the gray stone parapet, and looked out on the placid waters of the stream.