Janet Macleod was not much afraid of the weather at any time, but she said to him at breakfast, in a laughing way,
"And if you are lost in a snowdrift in Glen Finichen, Keith, what are we to do for you?"
"What are you to do for me?—why, Donald will make a fine Lament; and what more than that?"
"Cannot you send one of the Camerons with a message, Keith?" his mother said.
"Well, mother," said he, "I think I will go on to Fhion-fort and cross over to Iona myself, if Mr. Mackinnon will go with me. For it is very bad the cottages are there, I know; and if I must write to the duke, it is better that I should have made the inquiries myself."
And, indeed, when Macleod set out on his stout young pony Jack, paying but little heed to the cold driftings of sleet that the sharp east wind was sending across, it seemed as though he were destined to perform several charitable deeds all on the one errand. For, firstly, about a mile from the house, he met Duncan the policeman, who was making his weekly round in the interests of morality and law and order, and who had to have his book signed by the heritor of Castle Dare as sure witness that his peregrinations had extended so far. And Duncan was not at all sorry to be saved that trudge of a mile in the face of those bitter blasts of sleet; and he was greatly obliged to Sir Keith Macleod for stopping his pony, and getting out his pencil with his benumbed fingers, and putting his initials to the sheet. And then, again, when he had got into Glen Finichen, he was talking to the pony and saying,—"Well, Jack, I don't wonder you want to stop, for the way this sleet gets down one's throat is rather choking. Or are you afraid of the sheep loosening the rocks away up there, and sending two or three hundred-weight on our head?"
Then he happened to look up the steep sides of the great ravine, and there, quite brown against the snow, he saw a sheep that had toppled over some rock, and was now lying with her legs in the air. He jumped off his pony, and left Jack standing in the middle of the road. It was a stiff climb up that steep precipice, with the loose stones slippery with the sleet and snow; but at last he got a good grip of the sheep by the back of her neck, and hauled her out of the hole into which she had fallen, and put her, somewhat dazed but apparently unhurt, on her legs again. Then he half slid and half ran down the slope again, and got into the saddle.
But what was this now? The sky in the east had grown quite black; and suddenly this blackness began to fall as if torn down by invisible hands. It came nearer and nearer, until it resembled the dishevelled hair of a woman. And then there was a rattle and roar of wind and snow and hail combined; so that the pony was nearly thrown from its feet, and Macleod was so blinded that at first he knew not what to do. Then he saw some rocks ahead, and he urged the bewildered and staggering beast forward through the darkness of the storm. Night seemed to have returned. There was a flash of lightning overhead, and a crackle of thunder rolled down the valley, heard louder than all the howling of the hurricane across the mountain sides. And then, when they had reached this place of shelter, Macleod dismounted, and crept as close as he could into the lea of the rocks.
He was startled by a voice; it was only that of old John MacIntyre, the postman, who was glad enough to get into this place of refuge too.
"It's a bad day for you to be out this day, Sir Keith," said he, in the Gaelic, "and you have no cause to be out; and why will you not go back to Castle Dare?"
"Have you any letter for me, John?" said he, eagerly.
Oh yes, there was a letter; and the old man was astonished to see how quickly Sir Keith Macleod took that letter, and how anxiously he read it, as though the awfulness of the storm had no concern for him at all. And what was it all about, this wet sheet that he had to hold tight between his hands, or the gust that swept round the rocks would have whirled it up and away over the giant ramparts of the Bourg? It was a very pretty letter, and rather merry; for it was all about a fancy-dress ball which was to take place at Mr. Lemuel's house; and all the people were to wear a Spanish costume of the time of Philip IV.; and there were to be very grand doings indeed. And as Keith Macleod had nothing to do in the dull winter-time but devote himself to books, would he be so kind as to read up about that period, and advise her as to which historical character she ought to assume?
Macleod burst out laughing, in a strange sort of way, and put the wet letter in his pocket, and led Jack out into the road again.
"Sir Keith, Sir Keith!" cried the old man, "you will not go on now?" And as he spoke, another blast of snow tore across the glen, and there was a rumble of thunder among the hills.
"Why, John," Macleod called back again from the gray gloom of the whirling snow and sleet, "would you have me go home and read books too? Do you know what a fancy dress ball is, John? And do you know what they think of us in the South, John: that we have nothing to do here in winter-time—nothing to do here but read books?"
The old man heard him laughing to himself in that odd way, as he rode off and disappeared into the driving snow; and his heart was heavy within him, and his mind filled with strange forebodings. It was a dark and an awful glen, this great ravine that led down to the solitary shores of Loch Scridain.
OVER THE SEAS.
But no harm at all came of that reckless ride through the storm; and in a day or two's time Macleod had almost argued himself into the belief that it was but natural for a young girl to be fascinated by these new friends. And how could he protest against a fancy-dress ball, when he himself had gone to one on his brief visit to London? And it was a proof of her confidence in him that she wished to take his advice about her costume.
Then he turned to other matters; for, as the slow weeks went by, one eagerly disposed to look for the signs of the coming spring might occasionally detect a new freshness in the morning air, or even find a little bit of the whitlow-grass in flower among the moss of an old wall. And Major Stuart had come over to Dare once or twice; and had privately given Lady Macleod and her niece such enthusiastic accounts of Miss Gertrude White that the references to her forthcoming visit ceased to be formal and became friendly and matter of course. It was rarely, however, that Keith Macleod mentioned her name. He did not seem to wish for any confidant. Perhaps her letters were enough.
But on one occasion Janet Macleod said to him, with a shy smile.
"I think you must be a very patient lover, Keith, to spend all the winter here. Another young man would have wished to go to London."
"And I would go to London, too!" he said suddenly, and then he stopped. He was somewhat embarrassed. "Well, I will tell you, Janet. I do not wish to see her any more as an actress, and she says it is better that I do not go to London; and—and, you know, she will soon cease to be an actress."
"But why not now," said Janet Macleod, with some wonder, "if she has such a great dislike for it?"
"That I do not know," said he, somewhat gloomily.
But he wrote to Gertrude White, and pressed the point once more, with great respect, it is true, but still with an earnestness of pleading that showed how near the matter lay to his heart. It was a letter that would have touched most women; and even Miss Gertrude White was pleased to see how anxiously interested he was in her.
"But you know, my dear Keith," she wrote back, "when people are going to take a great plunge into the sea, they are warned to wet their head first. And don't you think I should accustom myself to the change you have in store for me by degrees? In any case, my leaving the stage at the present moment could make no difference to us—you in the Highlands, I in London. And do you know, sir, that your request is particularly ill-timed; for, as it happens, I am about to enter into a new dramatic project of which I should probably never have heard but for you. Does that astonish you? Well, here is the story. It appears that you told the Duchess of Wexford that I would give her a performance for the new training-ship she is getting up; and, being challenged, could I break a promise made by you? And only fancy what these clever people have arranged, to flatter their own vanity in the name of charity. They have taken St. George's Hall, and the distinguished amateurs have chosen the play; and the play—don't laugh, dear Keith—is 'Romeo and Juliet!' And I am to play Juliet to the Romeo of the Honorable Captain Brierley, who is a very good-looking man, but who is so solemn and stiff a Romeo that I know I shall burst out laughing on the dreaded night. He is as nervous now at a morning rehearsal as if it were his debut at Drury Lane; and he never even takes my hand without an air of apology, as if he were saying, 'Really, Miss White, you must pardon me; I am compelled by my part to take your hand; otherwise I would die rather than be guilty of such a liberty.' And when he addresses me in the balcony-scene, he will not look at me; he makes his protestations of love to the flies; and when I make my fine speeches to him, he blushes if his eyes should by chance meet mine, just as if he had been guilty of some awful indiscretion. I know, dear Keith, you don't like to see me act, but you might come up for this occasion only. Friar Lawrence is the funniest thing I have seen for ages. The nurse, however, Lady Bletherin, is not at all bad. I hear there is to be a grand supper afterwards somewhere, and I have no doubt I shall be presented to a number of ladies who will speak for the first time to an actress and be possessed with a wild fear; only, if they have daughters, I suppose they will keep the fluttering-hearted young things out of the way, lest I should suddenly break out into blue flame, and then disappear through the floor. I am quite convinced that Captain Brierley considers me a bold person because I look at him when I have to say,
"'O gentle Romeo, If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully!'"
Macleod crushed this letter together, and thrust it into his pocket. He strode out of the room, and called for Hamish.
"Send Donald down to the quay," said he, "and tell them to get the boat ready. And he will take down my gun too."
Old Hamish, noticing the expression of his master's eyes, went off quickly enough, and soon got hold of Donald, the piper-lad.
"Donald," said he, in the Gaelic, "you will run down to the quay as fast as your legs can carry you, and you will tell them to get the boat ready, and not to lose any time in getting the boat ready, and to have the seat dry, and let there be no talking when Sir Keith gets on board. And here is the gun too, and the bag; and you will tell them to have no talking among themselves this day."
When Macleod got down to the small stone pier, the two men were in the boat. Johnny Wickes was standing at the door of the storehouse.
"Would you like to go for a sail, Johnny?" Macleod said abruptly, but there was no longer that dangerous light in his eyes.
"Oh yes, sir," said the boy, eagerly; for he had long ago lost his dread of the sea.
"Get in, then, and get up to the bow."
So Johnny Wickes vent cautiously down the few slippery stone steps, half tumbled into the bottom of the great open boat, and then scrambled up to the bow.
"Where will you be for going, sir?" said one of the men when Macleod had jumped into the stern and taken the tiller.
"Anywhere—right out!" he answered, carelessly.
But it was all very well to say "right out!" when there was a stiff breeze blowing right in. Scarcely had the boat put her nose out beyond the pier, and while as yet there was but little way on her, when a big sea caught her, springing high over her bows and coming rattling down on her with a noise as of pistol-shots. The chief victim of this deluge was the luckless Johnny Wickes, who tumbled down into the bottom of the boat, vehemently blowing the salt-water out of his mouth, and rubbing his knuckles into his eyes. Macleod burst out laughing.
"What's the good of you as a lookout?" he cried. "Didn't you see the water coming?"
"Yes, sir," said Johnny, ruefully laughing, too. But he would not be beaten. He scrambled up again to his post, and clung there, despite the fierce wind and the clouds of spray.
"Keep her close up, sir," said the man who had the sheet of the huge lugsail in both his hands, as he cast a glance out at the darkening sea.
But this great boat, rude and rough and dirty as she appeared, was a splendid specimen of her class; and they know how to build such boats up about that part of the world. No matter with how staggering a plunge she went down into the yawning green gulf, the white foam hissing away from her sides; before the next wave, high, awful, threatening, had come down on her with a crash as of mountains falling, she had glided buoyantly upward, and the heavy blow only made her bows spring the higher, as though she would shake herself free, like a bird, from the wet. But it was a wild day to be out. So heavy and black was the sky in the west that the surface of the sea out to the horizon seemed to be a moving mass of white foam, with only streaks of green and purple in it. The various islands changed every minute as the wild clouds whirled past. Already the great cliffs about Dare had grown distant and faint as seen through the spray; and here were the rocks of Colonsay, black as jet as they reappeared through the successive deluges of white foam; and far over there, a still gloomier mass against the gloomy sky told where the huge Atlantic breakers were rolling in their awful thunder into the Staffa caves.
"I would keep her away a bit," said the sailor next Macleod. He did not like the look of the heavy breakers that were crashing on to the Colonsay rocks.
Macleod, with his teeth set hard against the wind, was not thinking of the Colonsay rocks more than was necessary to give them a respectful berth.
"Were you ever in a theatre, Duncan?" he said, or rather bawled, to the brown-visaged and black-haired young fellow who had now got the sheet of the lugsail under his foot as well as in the firm grip of his hands.
"Oh yes, Sir Keith," said he, as he shook the salt-water away from his short beard. "It was at Greenock. I will be at the theatre, and more than three times or two times."
"How would you like to have a parcel of actors and actresses with us now?" he said, with a laugh.
"'Deed, I would not like it at all," said Duncan, seriously; and he twisted the sheet of the sail twice round his right wrist, so that his relieved left hand could convey a bit of wet tobacco to his mouth. "The women they would chump apout, and then you do not know what will happen at all."
"A little bit away yet, sir!" cried out the other sailor, who was looking out to windward, with his head between the gunwale and the sail. "There is a bad rock off the point."
"Why, it is half a mile north of our course as we are now going!" Macleod said.
"Oh yes, half a mile!" the man said to himself; "but I do not like half miles, and half miles, and half miles on a day like this!"
And so they went plunging and staggering and bounding onward, with the roar of the water all around them, and the foam at her bows, as it sprung high into the air, showing quite white against the black sky ahead. The younger lad, Duncan, was clearly of opinion that his master was running too near the shores of Colonsay; but he would say no more, for he knew that Macleod had a better knowledge of the currents and rocks of this wild coast than any man on the mainland of Mull. John Cameron, forward, kept his head down to the gunwale, his eyes looking far over that howling waste of sea; Duncan, his younger brother, had his gaze fixed mostly on the brown breadth of the sail, hammered at by the gusts of wind; while as for the boy at the bow, that enterprising youth had got a rope's end, and was endeavoring to strike at the crest of each huge wave as it came ploughing along in its resistless strength.
But at one moment the boat gave a heavier lurch than usual, and the succeeding wave struck her badly. In the great rush of water that then ran by her side, Macleod's startled eye seemed to catch a glimpse of something red, something blazing and burning red in the waste of green, and almost the same glance showed him there was no boy at the bow! Instantly, with just one cry to arrest the attention of the men, he had slipped over the side of the boat just as an otter slips off a rock. The two men were bewildered but for a second. One sprang to the halyards, and down came the great lugsail; the other got out one of the great oars, and the mighty blade of it fell into the bulk of the next wave as if he would with one sweep tear her head round. Like two mad men the men pulled; and the wind was with them, and the tide also, but, nevertheless, when they caught sight, just for a moment, of some object behind them, that was a terrible way away. Yet there was no time, they thought, or seemed to think, to hoist the sail again, and the small dingy attached to the boat would have been swamped in a second; and so there was nothing for it but the deadly struggle with those immense blades against the heavy resisting mass of the boat. John Cameron looked round again; then, with an oath, he pulled his oar across the boat.
"Up with the sail, lad!" he shouted; and again he sprang to the halyards.
The seconds, few as they were, that were necessary to this operation seemed ages; but no sooner had the wind got a purchase on the breadth of the sail, than the boat flew through the water, for she was new running free.
"He has got him! I can see the two!" shouted the elder Cameron.
And as for the younger? At this mad speed the boat would be close to Macleod in another second or two; but in that brief space of time the younger Cameron had flung his clothes off, and stood there stark-naked in the cutting March wind.
"That is foolishness!" his brother cried in the Gaelic. "You will have to take an oar!"
"I will not take an oar!" the other cried, with both hands ready to let go the halyards. "And if it is foolishness, this is the foolishness of it; I will not let you or any man say that Sir Keith Macleod was in the water, and Duncan Cameron went home with a dry skin!"
And Duncan Cameron was as good as his word; for as the boat went plunging forward to the neighborhood in which they occasionally saw the head of Macleod appear on the side of a wave and then disappear again as soon as the wave broke, and as soon as the lugsail had been rattled down, he sprung clear from the side of the boat. For a second or two, John Cameron, left by himself in the boat, could not see any one of the three; but at last he saw the black head of his brother, and then some few yards beyond, just as a wave happened to roll by, he saw his master and the boy. The boat had almost enough way on her to carry her the length; he had but to pull at the huge oar to bring her head round a bit. And he pulled, madly and blindly, until he was startled by a cry close by. He sprang to the side of the boat. There was his brother drifting by, holding the boy with one arm. John Cameron rushed to the stern to fling a rope, but Duncan Cameron had been drifting by with a purpose; for as soon as he got clear of the bigger boat, he struck for the rope of the dingy, and got hold of that, and was safe. And here was the master, too, clinging to the side of the dingy so as to recover his breath, but not attempting to board the cockleshell in these plunging waters. There were tears running down John Cameron's rugged face as he drew the three up and over the side of the big boat.
"And if you was drowned, Sir Keith, it was not me would have carried the story to Castle Dare. I would just as soon have been drowned too."
"Have you any whiskey, John?" Macleod said, pushing the hair out of his eyes, and trying to get his mustache out of his mouth.
In ordinary circumstances John Cameron would have told a lie; but on this occasion he hurriedly bade the still undressed Duncan to take the tiller, and he went forward to a locker at the bows, which was usually kept for bait, and from thence he got a black bottle which was half full.
"Now, Johnny Wickes," Macleod said to the boy, who was quite blinded and bewildered, but otherwise apparently not much the worse, "swallow a mouthful of this, you young rascal; and if I catch you imitating a dolphin again, it is a rope's end you'll have, and not good Highland whiskey."
Johnny Wickes did not understand; but he swallowed the whiskey, and then he began to look about him a bit.
"Will I put my clothes round him, Sir Keith?" Duncan Cameron said.
"And go home that way to Dare?" Macleod said, with a loud laugh. "Get on your clothes, Duncan, lad, and get up the sail again; and we will see if there is a dram left for us in the bottle. John Cameron, confound you! where are you putting her head to?"
John Cameron, who had again taken the tiller, seemed as one demented. He was talking to himself rapidly in Gaelic, and his brows were frowning; and he did not seem to notice that he was putting the head of the boat, which had now some little way on her by reason of the wind and tide, though she had no sail up, a good deal too near the southernmost point of Colonsay.
Roused from this angry reverie, he shifted her course a bit; and then, when his brother had got his clothes on, he helped to hoist the sail, and again they flew onward and shoreward, along with the waves that seemed to be racing them; but all the same he kept grumbling and growling to himself in Gaelic. Meanwhile Macleod had got a huge tarpaulin overcoat and wrapped Johnny Wickes in it, and put him in the bottom of the boat.
"You will soon be warm enough in that, Master Wickes," said he; "the chances are you will come out boiled red, like a lobster. And I would strongly advise you, if we can slip into the house and get dry clothes on, not to say a word of your escapade to Hamish."
"Ay, Sir Keith," said John Cameron, eagerly, in his native tongue, "that is what I will be saying to myself. If the story is told—and Hamish will hear that you will nearly drown yourself—what is it he will not do to that boy? It is for killing him he will be."
"Not as bad as that, John," Macleod said, good-naturedly. "Come, there is a glass for each of us; and you may give me the tiller now."
"I will take no whiskey, Sir Keith, with thanks to you," said John Cameron; "I was not in the water."
"There is plenty for all, man!"
"I was not in the water."
"I tell you there is plenty for all of us!"
"There is the more for you, Sir Keith," said he, stubbornly.
And then, as great good luck would have it, it was found, when they got ashore, that Hamish had gone away as far as Salen on business of some sort or other; and the story told by the two Camerons was that Johnny Wickes, whose clothes were sent into the kitchen to be dried, and who was himself put to bed, had fallen into the water down by the quay; and nothing at all was said about Keith Macleod having had to leap into the sea off the coast of Colonsay. Macleod got into Castle Dare by a back way, and changed his clothes in his own room. Then he went away upstairs to the small chamber in which Johnny Wickes lay in bed.
"You have had the soup, then? You look pretty comfortable."
"Yes, sir," said the boy, whose face was now flushed red with the reaction after the cold. "I beg your pardon, sir."
"For tumbling into the water?"
"Well, look here, Master Wickes; you chose a good time. If I had had trousers on, and waterproof leggings over them, do you know where you would be at the present moment? You would be having an interesting conversation with a number of lobsters at the bottom of the sea off the Colonsay shores. And so you thought because I had my kilt on, that I could fish you out of the water?"
"No, sir," said Johnny Wickes. "I beg your pardon, sir."
"Well, you will remember that it was owing to the Highland kilt that you were picked out of the water, and that it was Highland whiskey put life into your blood again; you will remember that well. And if any strange lady should come here from England and ask you how you like the Highlands, you will not forget?"
"And you can have Oscar up here in the room with you, if you like, until they let you out of bed again; or you can have Donald to play the pipes to you until dinner-time."
Master Wickes chose the less heroic remedy; but, indeed, the companionship of Oscar was not needed; for Janet Macleod—who might just as well have tried to keep her heart from beating as to keep herself away from any one who was ill or supposed to be ill—herself came up to this little room, and was very attentive to Master Wickes, not because he was suffering very much from the effects of his ducking, but because he was a child, and alone, and a stranger. And to her Johnny Wickes told the whole story, despite the warnings he had received that, if Hamish came to learn of the peril in which Macleod had been placed by the incaution of the English lad, the latter would have had a bad time of it at Castle Dare. Then Janet hastened away again, and, finding her cousin's bedroom empty, entered; and there discovered that he had, with customary recklessness, hung up his wet clothes in his wardrobe. She had them at once conveyed away to the lower regions, and she went, with earnest remonstrances, to her cousin, and would have him drink some hot whiskey and water; and when Hamish arrived, went straight to him too, and told him the story in such a way that he said,—
"Ay, ay, it wass the poor little lad! And he will mek a good sailor yet. And it was not much dancher for him when Sir Keith wass in the boat; for there is no one in the whole of the islands will sweem in the water as he can sweem; and it is like a fish in the water that he is."
That was about the only incident of note, and little was made of it, that disturbed the monotony of life at Castle Dare at this time. But by and by, as the days passed, and as eager eyes looked abroad, signs showed that the beautiful summer-time was drawing near. The deep blue came into the skies and the seas again; the yellow mornings broke earlier. Far into the evening they could still make out the Dutchman's Cap, and Lunga, and the low-lying Coll and Tiree, amidst the glow at the horizon after the blood-red sunset had gone down. The white stars of the saxifrage appeared in the woods; the white daisies were in the grass. As you walked along the lower slopes of Ben-an-Sloich, the grouse that rose were in pairs. What a fresh green this was that shimmered over the young larches! He sent her a basket of the first trout he caught in the loch.
The wonderful glad time came nearer and nearer. And every clear and beautiful day that shone over the white sands of Iona and the green shores of Ulva, with the blue seas all breaking joyfully along the rocks, was but a day thrown away that should have been reserved for her. And whether she came by the Dunara from Greenock, or by the Pioneer from Oban, would they hang the vessel in white roses in her honor, and have velvet carpetings on the gangways for the dainty small feet to tread on? and would the bountiful heavens grant but one shining blue day for her first glimpse of the far and lonely Castle Dare? Janet, the kind-hearted, was busy from morning till night; she herself would place the scant flowers that could be got in the guests' rooms. The steward of the Pioneer had undertaken to bring any number of things from Oban; Donald, the piper-lad, had a brand-new suit of tartan, and was determined that, short of the very cracking of his lungs, the English lady would have a good salute played for her that day. The Umpire, all smartened up now, had been put in a safe anchorage in Loch-na-Keal; the men wore their new jerseys; the long gig, painted white, with a band of gold, was brought along to Dare, so that it might, if the weather were favorable, go out to bring the Fair Stranger to her Highland home. And then the heart of her lover cried, "O winds and seas, if only for one day, be gentle now! so that her first thoughts of us shall be all of peace and loveliness, and of a glad welcome, and the delight of clear summer days!"
And now—look! The sky is as blue as the heart of a sapphire, and the sea would be as blue too, only for the glad white of the rippling waves. And the wind is as soft as the winnowing of a sea-gull's wing; and green, green, are the laughing shores of Ulva. The bride is coming. All around the coast the people are on the alert—Donald in his new finery; Hamish half frantic with excitement; the crew of the Umpire down at the quay; and the scarlet flag fluttering from the top of the white pole. And behold!—as the cry goes along that the steamer is in sight, what is this strange thing? She comes clear out from the Sound of Iona; but who has ever seen before that long line running from her stem to her top-mast and down again to her stern?
"Oh, Keith!" Janet Macleod cried, with sudden tears starting to her eyes, "do you know what Captain Macallum has done for you? The steamer has got all her flags out!"
Macleod flushed red.
"Well, Janet," said he, "I wrote to Captain Macullum, and I asked him to be so good as to pay them some little attention; but who was to know that he would do that?"
"And a very proper thing, too," said Major Stuart, who was standing hard by. "A very pretty compliment to strangers; and you know you have not many visitors coming to Castle Dare."
The major spoke in a matter of fact way. Why should not the steamer show her bunting in honor of Macleod's guests! But all the same the gallant soldier, as he stood and watched the steamer coming along, became a little bit excited too; and he whistled to himself, and tapped his toe on the ground. It was a fine air he was whistling. It was all about breast-knots!
"Into the boat with you now, lads!" Macleod called out; and first of all to go down to the steps was Donald; and the silver and cairngorms on his pipes were burnished so that they shone like diamonds in the sunlight; and he wore his cap so far on one side that nobody could understand how it did not fall off. Macleod was alone in the stern. Away the white boat went through the blue waves.
"Put your strength into it now," said he, in the Gaelic, "and show them how the Mull lads can row!"
And then again—
"Steady now! Well rowed all!"
And here are all the people crowding to one side of the steamer to see the strangers off; and the captain is on the bridge; and Sandy is at the open gangway: and, at the top of the iron steps, there is only one Macleod sees—all in white and blue—and he has caught her eyes—at last! at last!
He seized the rope and sprang up the iron ladder.
"Welcome to you, sweetheart!" said he, in a low voice, and his trembling hand grasped hers.
"How do you, Keith?" said she. "Must we go down these steps?"
He had no time to wonder over the coldness—the petulance almost—of her manner: for he had to get both father and daughter safely conducted into the stern of the boat; and their luggage had to be got in; and he had to say a word or two to the steward; and finally he had to hand down some loaves of bread to the man next him, who placed them in the bottom of the boat.
"The commissariat arrangements are primitive," said Mr. White, in an undertone, to his daughter; but she made no answer to his words or his smile. But, indeed, even if Macleod had overheard, he would have taken no shame to himself that he had secured a supply of white bread for his guests. Those who had gone yachting with Macleod—Major Stuart, for example, or Norman Ogilvie—had soon learned not to despise their host's highly practical acquaintance with tinned meats, pickles, condensed milk, and suchlike things. Who was it had proposed to erect a monument to him for his discovery of the effect of introducing a leaf of lettuce steeped in vinegar between the folds of a sandwich?
Then he jumped down into the boat again; and the great steamer steamed away; and the men struck their oars into the water.
"We will soon take you ashore now," said he, with a glad light on his face; but so excited was he that he could scarcely get the tiller-ropes right; and certainly he knew not what he was saying. And as for her—why was she so silent after the long separation? Had she no word at all for the lover who had so hungered for her coming?
And then Donald, perched high at the bow, broke away into his wild welcome of her; and there was a sound now louder than the calling of the sea birds and the rushing of the seas. And if the English lady knew that this proud and shrill strain had been composed in honor of her, would it not bring some color of pleasure to the pale face? So thought Donald at least; and he had his eyes fixed on her as he played as he had never played before that day. And if she did not know the cunning modulations and the clever fingering, Macleod knew them, and the men knew them; and after they got ashore they would say to him,—
"Donald, that was a good pibroch you played for the English lady."
But what was the English lady's thanks? Donald had not played over sixty seconds when she turned to Macleod and said,—
"Keith I wish you would stop him. I have a headache."
And so Macleod called out at once, in the lad's native tongue. But Donald could not believe this thing, though he had seen the strange lady turn to Sir Keith. And he would have continued had not one of the men turned to him and said,—
"Donald, do you not hear? Put down the pipes."
For an instant the lad looked dumbfounded; then he slowly took down the pipes from his shoulder and put them beside him, and then he turned his face to the bow, so that no one should see the tears of wounded pride that had sprung to his eyes. And Donald said no word to any one till they got ashore; and he went away by himself to Castle Dare, with his head bent down and his pipes under his arm; and when he was met at the door by Hamish, who angrily demanded why he was not down at the quay with his pipes, he only said,—
"There is no need of me or my pipes any more at Dare; and it is somewhere else that I will now go with my pipes."
But meanwhile Macleod was greatly concerned to find his sweetheart so cold and distant; and it was all in vain that he pointed out to her the beauties of this summer day—that he showed her the various islands he had often talked about, and called her attention to the skarts sitting on the Erisgeir rocks, and asked her—seeing that she sometimes painted a little in water-color—whether she noticed the peculiar, clear, intense, and luminous blue of the shadows in the great cliffs which they were approaching. Surely no day could have been more auspicious for her coming to Dare?
"The sea did not make you ill?" he said.
"Oh no," she answered; and that was true enough, though it had produced in her agonizing fears of becoming ill which had somewhat ruffled her temper. And besides, she had a headache. And then she had a nervous fear of small boats.
"It is a very small boat to be out in the open sea," she remarked, looking at the long and shapely gig that was cleaving the summer waves.
"Not on a day like this, surely," said he, laughing. "But we will make a good sailor of you before you leave Dare, and you will think yourself safer in a boat like this than in a big steamer. Do you know that the steamer you came in, big as it is, draws only five feet of water?"
If he had told her that the steamer drew five tons of coal she could just as well have understood him. Indeed, she was not paying much attention to him. She had an eye for the biggest of the waves that were running by the side of the white boat.
But she plucked up her spirits somewhat on getting ashore; and she made the prettiest of little courtesies to Lady Macleod; and she shook hands with Major Stuart, and gave him a charming smile; and she shook hands with Janet, too, whom she regarded with a quick scrutiny. So this was the cousin that Keith Macleod was continually praising?
"Miss White has a headache, mother," Macleod said, eager to account beforehand for any possible constraint in her manner. "Shall we send for the pony?"
"Oh no," Miss White said, looking up at the bare walls of Dare. "I shall be very glad to have a short walk now—unless you, papa, would like to ride?"
"Certainly not—certainly not," said Mr. White, who had been making a series of formal remarks to Lady Macleod about his impressions of the scenery of Scotland.
"We will get you a cup of tea," said Janet Macleod, gently, to the new-comer, "and you will lie down for a little time, and I hope the sound of the waterfall will not disturb you. It is a long way you have come: and you will be very tired, I am sure."
"Yes, it is a pretty long way," she said; but she wished this over-friendly woman would not treat her as if she were a spoiled child. And no doubt they thought, because she was English, she could not walk up to the farther end of that fir-wood?
So they all set out for Castle Dare; and Macleod was now walking—as many a time he had dreamed of his walking—with his beautiful sweetheart; and there were the very ferns that he thought she would admire; and here the very point in the fir-wood where he would stop her and ask her to look out on the blue sea, with Inch Kenneth, and Ulva, and Staffa, all lying in the sunlight, and the razor-fish of land—Coll and Tiree—at the horizon. But instead of being proud and glad, he was almost afraid. He was so anxious that everything should please her that he dared scarce bid her look at anything. He had himself superintended the mending of the steep path; but even now the recent rains had left some puddles. Would she not consider the moist, warm odors of this larch-wood as too oppressive?
"What is that?" she said, suddenly.
There was a sound far below them of the striking of oars in the water, and another sound of one or two men monotonously chanting a rude sort of chorus.
"They are taking the gig on to the yacht," he said.
"But what are they singing?"
"Oh, that is Fhir a bhata" said he; "it is the common boat-song. It means, Good-by to you, boatman, a hundred times, wherever you may be going."
"It is very striking, very effective, to hear singing and not see the people," she said. "It is the very prettiest introduction to a scene; I wonder it is not oftener used. Do you think they could write me down the words and music of that song?"
"Oh no, I think not," said he, with a nervous laugh. "But you will find something like it, no doubt, in your book."
So they passed on through the plantation; and at last they came to an open glade; and here was a deep chasm spanned by a curious old bridge of stone almost hidden by ivy; and there was a brawling stream dashing down over the rocks and flinging spray all over the briers, and queen of the meadow, and foxgloves on either bank.
"That is very pretty," said she; and then he was eager to tell her that this little glen was even more beautiful when the rowan-trees showed their rich clusters of scarlet berries.
"Those bushes there, you mean," said she. "The mountain-ash?"
"Ah," she said, "I never see those scarlet berries without wishing I was a dark woman. If my hair were black, I would wear nothing else in it."
By this time they had climbed well up the cliff; and presently they came on the open plateau on which stood Castle Dare, with its gaunt walls and its rambling courtyards, and its stretch of damp lawn with a few fuchsia-bushes and orange-lilies, that did not give a very ornamental look to the place.
"We have had heavy rains of late," he said, hastily; he hoped the house and its surroundings did not look too dismal.
And when they went inside and passed through the sombre dining-hall, with its huge fireplace, and its dark weapons, and its few portraits dimly visible in the dusk, he said,—
"It is very gloomy in the daytime; but it is more cheerful at night."
And when they reached the small drawing-room he was anxious to draw her attention away from the antiquated furniture and the nondescript decoration by taking her to the window and showing her the great breadth of the summer sea, with the far islands, and the brown-sailed boat of the Gometra men coming back from Staffa. But presently in came Janet, and would take the fair stranger away to her room; and was as attentive to her as if the one were a great princess, and the other a meek serving-woman. And by and by Macleod, having seen his other guest provided for, went into the library and shut himself in, and sat down, in a sort of stupor. He could almost have imagined that the whole business of the morning was a dream; so strange did it seem to him that Gertrude White should be living and breathing under the same roof with himself.
Nature herself seemed to have conspired with Macleod to welcome and charm this fair guest. He had often spoken to her of the sunsets that shone over the Western seas; and he had wondered whether, during her stay in the North, she would see some strange sight that would remain forever a blaze of color in her memory. And now on this very first evening there was a spectacle seen from the high windows of Dare that filled her with astonishment, and caused her to send quickly for her father, who was burrowing among the old armor. The sun had just gone down. The western sky was of the color of a soda-water bottle become glorified; and in this vast breadth of shining clear green lay one long island of cloud—a pure scarlet. Then the sky overhead and the sea far below them were both of a soft roseate purple; and Fladda and Staffa and Lunga, out at the horizon, were almost black against that flood of green light. When he asked her if she had brought her water-colors with her, smiled. She was not likely to attempt to put anything like that down on paper.
Then they adjourned to the big hall, which was now lit up with candles; and Major Stuart had remained to dinner: and the gallant soldier, glad to have a merry evening away from his sighing wife, did his best to promote the cheerfulness of the party. Moreover, Miss White had got rid of her headache, and showed a greater brightness of face; so that both the old lady at the head of the table and her niece Janet had to confess to themselves that this English girl who was like to tear Keith Macleod away from them was very pretty, and had an amiable look, and was soft and fine and delicate in her manners and speech. The charming simplicity of her costume, too: had anybody ever seen a dress more beautiful with less pretence of attracting notice? Her very hands—they seemed objects fitted to be placed on a cushion of blue velvet under a glass shade, so white and small and perfectly formed were they. That was what the kindly-hearted Janet thought. She did not ask herself how these hands would answer if called upon to help—amidst the grime and smoke of a shepherd's hut—the shepherd's wife to patch together a pair of homespun trousers for the sailor son coming back from the sea.
"And now," said Keith Macleod to his fair neighbor, when Hamish had put the claret and the whiskey on the table, "since your head is well now, would you like to hear the pipes? It is an old custom of the house. My mother would think it strange to have it omitted," he added, in a lower voice.
"Oh, if it is a custom of the house," she said, coldly—for she thought it was inconsiderate of him to risk bringing back her headache—"I have no objection whatever."
And so he turned to Hamish and said something in the Gaelic. Hamish replied in English, and loud enough for Miss White to hear.
"It is no pibroch there will be this night, for Donald is away."
"Ay, just that. When he wass come back from the boat, he will say to me, 'Hamish, it is no more of me or my pipes they want at Dare, and I am going away; and they can get some one else to play the pipes.' And I wass saying to him then, 'Donald, do not be a foolish lad; and if the English lady will not want the pibroch you made for her, perhaps at another time she will want it.' And now, Sir Keith, it is Maggie MacFarlane; she wass coming up from Loch-na-Keal this afternoon, and who was it she will meet but our Donald, and he wass saying to her, 'It is to Tobermory now that I am going, Maggie; and I will try to get a ship there; for it is no more of me or my pipes they will want at Dare.'"
This was Hamish's story; and the keen hawk-like eye of him was fixed on the English lady's face all the time he spoke in his struggling and halting fashion.
"Confound the young rascal!" Macleod said, with his face grown red. "I suppose I shall have to send a messenger to Tobermory and apologize to him for interrupting him to-day." And then he turned to Miss White. "They are like a set of children," he said, "with their pride and petulance."
This is all that needs be said about the manner of Miss White's coming to Dare, besides these two circumstances: First of all, whether it was that Macleod was too flurried, and Janet too busy, and Lady Macleod too indifferent to attend to such trifles, the fact remains that no one, on Miss White's entering the house, had thought of presenting her with a piece of white heather, which, as every one knows, gives good health and good fortune and a long life to your friend. Again, Hamish seemed to have acquired a serious prejudice against her from the very outset. That night, when Castle Dare was asleep, and the old dame Christina and her husband were seated by themselves in the servants' room, and Hamish was having his last pipe, and both were talking over the great events of the day, Christina said, in her native tongue,
"And what do you think now of the English lady, Hamish?"
Hamish answered with an old and sinister saying:
"A fool would he be that would burn his harp to warm her."
THE GRAVE OF MACLEOD OF MACLEOD.
The monotonous sound of the waterfall, so far from disturbing the new guest of Castle Dare, only soothed her to rest; and after the various fatigues, if not the emotions, of the day, she slept well. But in the very midst of the night she was startled by some loud commotion that seemed to prevail both within and without the house; and when she was fully awakened it appeared to her that the whole earth was being shaken to pieces in the storm. The wind howled in the chimneys; the rain dashed on the window-panes with a rattle as of musketry; far below she could hear the awful booming of the Atlantic breakers. The gusts that drove against the high house seemed ready to tear it from its foothold of rock and whirl it inland; or was it the sea itself that was rising in its thunderous power to sweep away this bauble from the face of the mighty cliffs? And then the wild and desolate morning that followed! Through the bewilderment of the running water on the panes she looked abroad on the tempest-riven sea—a slate-colored waste of hurrying waves with wind-swept streaks of foam on them—and on the lowering and ever-changing clouds. The fuchsia-bushes on the lawn tossed and bent before the wind; the few orange-lilies, wet as they were, burned like fire in this world of cold greens and grays. And then, as she stood and gazed, she made out the only sign of life that was visible. There was a cornfield below the larch-plantation; and though the corn was all laid flat by the wet and the wind, a cow and her calf that had strayed into the field seemed to have no difficulty in finding a rich, moist breakfast. Then a small girl appeared, vainly trying with one hand to keep her kerchief on her head, while with the other she threw stones at the marauders. By and by even these disappeared; and there was nothing visible outside but that hurrying and desolate sea, and the wet, bedraggled, comfortless shore. She turned away with a shudder.
All that day Keith Macleod was in despair. As for himself, he would have had sufficient joy in the mere consciousness of the presence of this beautiful creature. His eyes followed her with a constant delight; whether she took up a book, or examined the cunning spring of a sixteenth-century dagger, or turned to the dripping panes. He would have been content even to sit and listen to Mr. White sententiously lecturing Lady Macleod about the Renaissance, knowing that from time to time those beautiful, tender eyes would meet his. But what would she think of it? Would she consider this the normal condition of life in the Highlands—this being boxed up in an old-fashioned room, with doors and windows firmly closed against the wind and the wet, with a number of people trying to keep up some sort of social intercourse, and not very well succeeding? She had looked at the portraits in the dining-hall—looming darkly from their black backgrounds, though two or three were in resplendent uniforms; she had examined all the trophies of the chase—skins, horns, and what not—in the outer corridor; she had opened the piano, and almost started back from the discords produced by the feebly jangling old keys.
"You do not cultivate music much," she had said to Janet Macleod, with a smile.
"No," answered Janet, seriously. "We have little use for music here—except to sing to a child now and again, and you know you do not want a piano for that."
And then the return to the cold window, with the constant rain and the beating of the white surge on the black rocks. The imprisonment became torture—became maddening. What if he were suddenly to murder this old man and stop forever his insufferable prosing about Bernada Siena and Andrea Mantegna? It seemed so strange to hear him talk of the unearthly calm of Raphael's "St. Michael"—of the beautiful, still landscape of it, and the mysterious joy on the face of the angel—and to listen at the same moment to the wild roar of the Atlantic around the rocks of Mull. If Macleod had been alone with the talker, he might have gone to sleep. It was like the tolling of a bell. "The artist passes away, but he leaves his soul behind.... We can judge by his work of the joy he must have experienced in creation, of the splendid dreams that have visited him, of the triumph of completion.... Life without an object—a pursuit demanding the sacrifice of our constant care—what is it? The existence of a pig is nobler—a pig is of some use.... We are independent of weather in a great city; we do not need to care for the seasons; you take a hansom and drive to the National Gallery, and there all at once you find yourself in the soft Italian climate, with the most beautiful women and great heroes of chivalry all around you, and with those quaint and loving presentations of sacred stories that tell of a time when art was proud to be the meek handmaid of religion. Oh, my dear Lady Macleod, there is a 'Holy Family' of Giotto's—"
So it went on; and Macleod grew sick at heart to think of the impression that this funereal day must have had on the mind of his fair stranger. But as they sat at dinner that evening, Hamish came in and said a few words to his master. Instantly Macleod's face lighted up, and quite a new animation came into his manner.
"Do you know what Hamish says?" he cried—"that the night is quite fine? And Hamish has heard our talking of seeing the cathedral at Iona by moonlight, and he says the moon will be up by ten. And what do you say to running over now? You know we cannot take you in the yacht, for there is no good anchorage at Iona; but we can take you in a very good and safe boat; and it will be an adventure to go out in the night-time."
It was an adventure that neither Mr. White nor his daughter seemed too eager to undertake; but the urgent vehemence of the young man—who had discovered that it was a fine and clear starlit night—soon overcame their doubts and there was a general hurry of preparation. The desolation of the day, he eagerly thought, would be forgotten in the romance of this night excursion. And surely she would be charmed by the beauty of the starlit sky, and the loneliness of the voyage, and their wandering over the ruins in the solemn moonlight?
Thick boots and waterproofs—these were his peremptory instructions. And then he led the way down the slippery path, and he had a tight hold of her arm; and if he talked to her in a low voice so that none should overhear, it is the way of lovers under the silence of the stars. They reached the pier, and the wet stone steps; and here, despite the stars, it was so dark that perforce she had to permit him to lift her off the lowest step and place her in security in what seemed to her a great hole of some kind or other. She knew, however, that she was in a boat, for there was a swaying hither and thither even in this sheltered corner. She saw other figures arrive—black between her and the sky—and she heard her father's voice above. Then he, too, got into the boat; the two men forward hauled up the huge lugsail; and presently there was a rippling line of sparkling white stars on each side of the boat, burning for a second or two on the surface of the black water.
"I don't know who is responsible for this madness," Mr. White said—and the voice from inside the great waterproof coat sounded as if it meant to be jocular—"but really, Gerty, to be on the open Atlantic in the middle of the night, in an open boat—"
"My dear sir," Macleod said, laughing, "you are as safe as if you were in bed. But I am responsible in the meantime, for I have the tiller. Oh, we shall be over in plenty of time to be clear of the banks."
"What did you say?"
"Well," Macleod admitted, "there are some banks, you know, in the Sound of Iona; and on a dark night they are a little awkward when the tide is low; but I am not going to frighten you—"
"I hope we shall have nothing much worse than this," said Mr. White, seriously.
For, indeed, the sea, after the squally morning, was running pretty high; and occasionally a cloud of spray came rattling over the bows, causing Macleod's guests to pull their waterproofs still more tightly round their necks. But what mattered the creaking of the cordage, and the plunging of the boat, and the rushing of the seas, so long as that beautiful clear sky shone overhead?
"Gertrude," said he, in a low voice, "do you see the phosphorous-stars on the waves? I never saw them burn more brightly."
"They are very beautiful," said she. "When do we get to land, Keith?"
"Oh, pretty soon," said he. "You are not anxious to get to land?"
"It is stormier than I expected."
"Oh, this is nothing," said he. "I thought you would enjoy it."
However, that summer night's sail was like to prove a tougher business than Keith Macleod had bargained for. They had been out scarcely twenty minutes when Miss White heard the man at the bow call out something, which she could not understand, to Macleod. She saw him crane his neck forward, as if looking ahead; and she herself, looking in that direction, could perceive that from the horizon almost to the zenith the stars had become invisible.
"It may be a little bit squally," he said to her, "but we shall soon be under the lee of Iona. Perhaps you had better hold on to something."
The advice was not ill-timed; for almost as he spoke the first gust of the squall struck the boat, and there was a sound as if everything had been torn asunder and sent overboard. Then, as she righted just in time to meet the crash of the next wave, it seemed as though the world had grown perfectly black around them. The terrified woman seated there could no longer make out Macleod's figure; it was impossible to speak amidst this roar; it almost seemed to her that she was alone with those howling winds and heaving waves—at night on the open sea. The wind rose, and the sea too; she heard the men call out and Macleod answer; and all the time the boat was creaking and groaning as she was flung high on the mighty waves only to go staggering down into the awful troughs behind.
"Oh, Keith!" she cried—and involuntarily she seized his arm—"are we in danger?"
He could not hear what she said; but he understood the mute appeal. Quickly disengaging his arm—for it was the arm that was working the tiller—he called to her,—
"We are all right. If you are afraid, get to the bottom of the boat."
But unhappily she did not hear this; for, as he called her, a heavy sea struck the bows, sprung high in the air, and then fell over them in a deluge which nearly choked her. She understood, though, his throwing away her hand. It was the triumph of brute selfishness in the moment of danger. They were drowning, and he would not let her come near him! And so she shrieked aloud for her father.
Hearing those shrieks, Macleod called to one of the two men, who came stumbling along in the dark and got hold of the tiller. There was a slight lull in the storm, and he caught her two hands and held her.
"Gertrude, what is the matter? You are perfectly safe, and so is your father. For Heaven's sake, keep still! if you get up, you will be knocked overboard!"
"Where is papa?" she cried.
"I am here—I am all right, Gerty!" was the answer—which came from the bottom of the boat, into which Mr. White had very prudently slipped.
And then, as they got under the lee of the island, they found themselves in smoother water, though from time to time squalls came over and threatened to flatten the great lugsail right on to the waves.
"Come now, Gertrude," said Macleod, "we shall be ashore in a few minutes, and you are not frightened of a squall?"
He had his arm round her, and he held her tight; but she did not answer. At last she saw a light—a small, glimmering orange thing that quivered apparently a hundred miles off.
"See!" he said. "We are close by. And it may clear up to-night, after all."
Then he shouted to one of the men:
"Sandy, we will not try the quay the night: we will go into the Martyr's Bay."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
It was about a quarter of an hour after that—almost benumbed with fear—she discovered that the boat was in smooth water; and then there was a loud clatter of the sail coming down; and she heard the two sailors calling to each other, and one of them seemed to have got overboard. There was absolutely nothing visible—not even a distant light; but it was raining heavily. Then she knew that Macleod had moved away from her; and she thought she heard a splash in the water; and then a voice beside her said,—
"Gertrude, will you not get up? You must let me carry you ashore."
And she found herself in his arms—carried as lightly as though she had been a young lamb or a fawn from the hills; but she knew from the slow way of his walking that he was going through the sea. Then he set her on the shore.
"Take my hand," said he.
"But where is papa?"
"Just behind us," said he, "on Sandy's shoulders. Sandy will bring him along. Come, darling!"
"But where are we going?"
"There is a little inn near the Cathedral. And perhaps it will clear up to-night; and we will have a fine sail back again to Dare."
She shuddered. Not for ten thousand worlds would she pass through once more that seething pit of howling sounds and raging seas.
He held her arm firmly; and she stumbled along through the darkness, not knowing whether she was walking through sea-weed, or pools of water, or wet corn. And at last they came to a door; and the door was opened; and there was a blaze of orange light; and they entered—all dripping and unrecognizable—the warm, snug little place, to the astonishment of a handsome young lady who proved to be their hostess.
"Dear me, Sir Keith," said she at length, "is it you indeed! And you will not be going back to Dare to-night?"
In fact, when Mr. White arrived, it was soon made evident that going back to Dare that night was out of the question; for somehow the old gentleman, despite his waterproofs, had managed to get soaked through; and he was determined to go to bed at once, so as to have his clothes dried. And so the hospitalities of the little inn were requisitioned to the utmost; and as there was no whiskey to be had, they had to content themselves with hot tea; and then they all retired to rest for the night, convinced that the moonlight visitation of the ruins had to be postponed.
But next day—such are the rapid changes in the Highlands—broke blue and fair and shining; and Miss Gertrude White was amazed to find that the awful Sound she had come along on the previous night was now brilliant in the most beautiful colors—for the tide was low, and the yellow sandbanks were shining through the blue waters of the sea. And would she not, seeing that the boat was lying down at the quay now, sail round the island, and see the splendid sight of the Atlantic breaking on the wild coast on the western side? She hesitated; and then, when it was suggested that she might walk across the island, she eagerly accepted that alternative. They set out, on this hot, bright, beautiful day.
But where he, eager to please her and show the beauties of the Highlands, saw lovely white sands, and smiling plains of verdure, and far views of the sunny sea, she only saw loneliness, and desolation, and a constant threatening of death from the fierce Atlantic. Could anything have been more beautiful, he said to himself, than this magnificent scene that lay all around her when they reached a far point on the western shore?—in face of them the wildly rushing seas, coming thundering on to the rocks, and springing so high into the air that the snow-white foam showed black against the glare of the sky; the nearer islands gleaming with a touch of brown on their sunward side; the Dutchman's Cap, with its long brim and conical centre, and Lunga, also like a cap, but with a shorter brim and a high peak in front, becoming a trifle blue; then Coll and Tiree lying like a pale stripe on the horizon; while far away in the north the mountains of Rum and Skye were faint and spectral in the haze of the sunlight. Then the wild coast around them; with its splendid masses of granite; and its spare grass a brown-green in the warm sun; and its bays of silver sand; and its sea-birds whiter than the white clouds that came sailing over the blue. She recognized only the awfulness and the loneliness of that wild shore; with its suggestions of crashing storms in the night-time, and the cries of drowning men dashed helplessly on the cruel rocks. She was very silent all the way back, though he told her stories of the fairies that used to inhabit those sandy and grassy plains.
And could anything have been more magical than the beauty of that evening, after the storm had altogether died away? The red sunset sank behind the dark olive-green of the hills; a pale, clear twilight took its place, and shone over those mystic ruins that were the object of many a thought and many a pilgrimage in the far past and forgotten years; and then the stars began to glimmer as the distant shores and the sea grew dark; and then, still later on, a wonderful radiance rose behind the low hills of Mull, and across the waters of the Sound came a belt of quivering light as the white moon sailed slowly up into the sky. Would they venture out now into the silence? There was an odor of new-mown hay in the night air. Far away they could hear the murmuring of the waves around the rocks. They did not speak a word as they walked along to those solemn ruins overlooking the sea, that were now a mass of mysterious shadow, except where the eastern walls and the tower were touched by the silvery light that had just come into the heavens.
And in silence they entered the still churchyard, too, and passed the graves. The buildings seemed to rise above them in a darkened majesty; before them was a portal through which a glimpse of the moonlight sky was visible. Would they enter then?
"I am almost afraid," she said, in a low voice, to her companion, and the hand on his arm trembled.
But no sooner had she spoken than there was a sudden sound in the night that caused her heart to jump. All over them and around them, as it seemed, there was a wild uproar of wings; and the clear sky above them was darkened by a cloud of objects wheeling this way and that, until at length they swept by overhead as if blown by a whirlwind, and crossed the clear moonlight in a dense body. She had quickly clung to him in her fear.
"It is only the jackdaws—there are hundreds of them," he said to her; but even his voice sounded strange in this hollow building.
For they had now entered by the open doorway; and all around them were the tall and crumbling pillars, and the arched windows, and ruined walls, here and there catching the sharp light of the moonlight, here and there showing soft and gray with a reflected light, with spaces of black shadow which led to unknown recesses. And always overhead the clear sky with its pale stars; and always, far away, the melancholy sound of the sea.
"Do you know where you are standing now?" said he, almost sadly. "You are standing on the grave of Macleod of Macleod."
She started aside with a slight exclamation.
"I do not think they bury any one in here now," said he, gently. And then he added, "Do you know that I have chosen the place for my grave? It is away out at one of the Treshnish islands; it is a bay looking to the west; there is no one living on that island. It is only a fancy of mine—to rest for ever and ever with no sound around you but the sea and the winds—no step coming near you, and no voice but the waves."
"Oh Keith, you should not say such things: you frighten me!" she said, in a trembling voice.
Another voice broke in upon them, harsh and pragmatical.
"Do you know, Sir Keith," said Mr. White, briskly, "that the moonlight is clear enough to let you make out this plan? But I can't get the building to correspond. This is the chancel, I believe; but where are the cloisters?"
"I will show you," Macleod said; and he led his companion through the silent and solemn place, her father following. In the darkness they passed through an archway, and were about to step out on to a piece of grass, when suddenly Miss White uttered a wild scream of terror and sank helplessly to the ground. She had slipped from his arm, but in an instant he had caught her again and had raised her on his bended knee, and was calling to her with kindly words.
"Gertrude, Gertrude!" he said. "What is the matter? Won't you speak to me?"
And just as she was pulling herself together the innocent cause of this commotion was discovered. It was a black lamb that had come up in the most friendly manner and had rubbed its head against her hand to attract her notice.
"Gertrude, see! it is only a lamb! It comes up to me every time I visit the ruins; look!"
And, indeed, she was mightily ashamed of herself; and pretended to be vastly interested in the ruins; and was quite charmed with the view of the Sound in the moonlight, with the low hills beyond, now grown quite black; but all the same she was very silent as they walked back to the inn. And she was pale and thoughtful, too, while they were having their frugal supper of bread and milk; and very soon, pleading fatigue, she retired. But all the same, when Mr. White went upstairs, some time after, he had been but a short while in his room when he heard a tapping at the door. He said "Come in," and his daughter entered. He was surprised by the curious look of her face—a sort of piteous look, as of one ill at ease, and yet ashamed to speak.
"What is it, child?" said he.
She regarded him for a second with that piteous look; and then tears slowly gathered in her eyes.
"Papa," said she, in a sort of half-hysterical way, "I want you to take me away from here. It frightens me. I don't know what it is. He was talking to me about graves—"
And here she burst out crying, and sobbed bitterly.
"Oh, nonsense, child!" her father said; "your nervous system must have been shaken last night by that storm. I have seen a strange look upon your face all day. It was certainly a mistake our coming here; you are not fitted for this savage life."
She grew more composed. She sat down for a few minutes; and her father, taking out a small flask which had been filled from a bottle of brandy sent over during the day from Castle Dare, poured out a little of the spirits, added some water, and made her drink the dose as a sleeping draught.
"Ah well, you know, pappy," said she, as she rose to leave, and she bestowed a very pretty smile on him, "it is all in the way of experience, isn't it? and an artist should experience everything. But there is just a little too much about graves and ghosts in these parts for me. And I suppose we shall go to-morrow to see some cave or other where two or three hundred men, women, and children were murdered."
"I hope in going back we shall not be as near our own grave as we were last night," her father observed.
"And Keith Macleod laughs at it," she said, "and says it was unfortunate we got a wetting!"
And so she went to bed; and the sea-air had dealt well with her; and she had no dreams at all of shipwrecks, or of black familiars in moonlit shrines. Why should her sleep be disturbed because that night she had put her foot on the grave of the chief of the Macleods?
Next morning, with all this wonderful world of sea and islands shining in the early sunlight, Mr. White and his daughter were down by the shore, walking along the white sands, and chatting idly as they went. From time to time they looked across the fair summer seas to the distant cliffs of Bourg; and each time they looked a certain small white speck seemed coming nearer. That was the Umpire; and Keith Macleod was on board of her. He had started at an unknown hour of the night to bring the yacht over from her anchorage. He would not have his beautiful Fionaghal, who had come as a stranger to these far lands, go back to Dare in a common open boat with stones for ballast.
"This is the loneliest place I have ever seen," Miss Gertrude White was saying on this the third morning after her arrival. "It seems scarcely in the world at all. The sea cuts you off from everything you know; it would have been nothing if we had come by rail."
They walked on in silence, the blue waves beside them curling a crisp white on the smooth sands.
"Pappy," said she, at length, "I suppose if I lived here for six months no one in England would know anything about me? If I were mentioned at all, they would think I was dead. Perhaps some day I might meet some one from England; and I would have to say, 'Don't you know who I am? Did you never hear of one called Gertrude White? I was Gertrude White.'"
"No doubt," said her father, cautiously.
"And when Mr. Lemuel's portrait of me appears in the Academy, people would be saying, 'Who is that?' Miss Gertrude White, as Juliet? Ah, there was an actress of that name. Or was she an amateur? She married somebody in the Highlands. I suppose she is dead now?"
"It is one of the most gratifying instances, Gerty, of the position you have made," her father observed, in his slow and sententious way, "that Mr. Lemuel should be so willing, after having refused to exhibit at the Academy for so many years, to make an exception in the case of your portrait."
"Well, I hope my face will not get burned by the sea-air and the sun," she said. "You know he wants two or three more sittings. And do you know, pappy, I have sometimes thought of asking you to tell me honestly—not to encourage me with flattery, you know—whether my face has really that high-strung pitch of expression when I am about to drink the poison in the cell. Do I really look like Mr. Lemuel's portrait of me?"
"It is your very self, Gerty," her father said, with decision. "But then Mr. Lemuel is a man of genius. Who but himself could have caught the very soul of your acting and fixed it on canvas?"
She hesitated for a moment, and then there was a flush of genuine enthusiastic pride mantling on her forehead as she said, frankly,—
"Well, then, I wish I could see myself!"
Mr. White said nothing. He had watched this daughter of his through the long winter months. Occasionally, when he heard her utter sentiments such as these—and when he saw her keenly sensitive to the flattery bestowed upon her by the people assembled at Mr. Lemuel's little gatherings, he had asked himself whether it was possible she could ever marry Sir Keith Macleod. But he was too wise to risk reawakening her rebellious fits by any encouragement. In any case, he had some experience of this young lady; and what was the use of combatting one of her moods at five o'clock when at six o'clock she would be arguing in the contrary direction, and at seven convinced that the viv media was the straight road? Moreover, if the worst came to the worst, there would be some compensation in the fact of Miss White changing her name for that of Lady Macleod.
Just as quickly she changed her mood on the present occasion. She was looking again far over the darkly blue and ruffled seas toward the white-sailed yacht.
"He must have gone away in the dark to get that boat for us," said she, musingly. "Poor fellow, how very generous and kind he is! Sometimes—shall I make the confession, pappy?—I wish he had picked out some one who could better have returned his warmth of feeling."
She called it a confession; but it was a question. And her father answered more bluntly than she had quite expected.
"I am not much of an authority on such points," said he, with a dry smile; "but I should have said, Gerty, that you have not been quite so effusive towards Sir Keith Macleod as some young ladies would have been on meeting their sweetheart after a long absence."
The pale face flushed, and she answered, hastily,
"But you know, papa, when you are knocked about from one boat to another, and expecting to be ill one minute and drowned the next, you don't have your temper improved, do you? And then perhaps you have been expecting a little too much romance?—and you find your Highland chieftain handing down loaves, with all the people in the steamer staring at him. But I really mean to make it up to him, papa, if I could only get settled down for a day or two and get into my own ways. Oh dear me!—this sun—it is too awfully dreadful! When I appear before Mr. Lemuel again, I shall be a mulatto!"
And as they walked along the burning sands, with the waves monotonously breaking, the white-sailed yacht came nearer and more near; and, indeed, the old Umpire, broad-beamed and heavy as she was, looked quite stately and swanlike as she came over the blue water. And they saw the gig lowered; and the four oars keeping rhythmical time; and presently they could make out the browned and glad face of Macleod.
"Why did you take so much trouble?" said she to him—and she took his hand in a very kind way as he stepped on shore. "We could very well have gone back in the boat."
"Oh, but I want to take you round by Loch Tua," said he, looking with great gratitude into those friendly eyes. "And it was no trouble at all. And will you step into the gig now?"
He took her hand and guided her along the rocks until she reached the boat; and he assisted her father too. Then they pushed off, and it was with a good swing the men sent the boat through the lapping waves. And here was Hamish standing by the gangway to receive them; and he was gravely respectful to the stranger lady, as he assisted her to get up the small wooden steps; but there was no light of welcome in the keen gray eyes. He quickly turned away from her to give his orders; for Hamish was on this occasion skipper, and had donned a smart suit of blue with brass buttons. Perhaps he would have been prouder of his buttons, and of himself, and of the yacht he had sailed for so many years, if it had been any other than Gertrude White who had now stepped on board.
But, on the other hand, Miss White was quite charmed with this shapely vessel and all its contents. If the frugal ways and commonplace duties and conversation of Castle Dare had somewhat disappointed her, and had seemed to her not quite in accordance with the heroic traditions of the clans, here, at least, was something which she could recognize as befitting her notion of the name and position of Sir Keith Macleod. Surely it must be with a certain masterful sense of possession that he would stand on those white decks, independent of all the world besides, with those sinewy, sun-browned, handsome fellows ready to go anywhere with him at his bidding? It is true that Macleod, in showing her over the yacht, seemed to know far too much about tinned meats; and he exhibited with some pride a cunning device for the stowage of soda-water; and he even went the length of explaining to her the capacities of the linen-chest; but then she could not fail to see that, in his eagerness to interest and amuse her, he was as garrulous as a schoolboy showing to his companion a new toy. Miss White sat down in the saloon; and Macleod, who had but little experience in attending on ladies, and knew of but one thing that it was proper to recommend, said,—
"And will you have a cup of tea now, Gertrude? Johnny will get it to you in a moment."
"No, thank you," said she, with a smile, for she knew not how often he had offered her a cup of tea since her arrival in the Highlands. "But do you know, Keith, your yacht has a terrible bachelor look about it? All the comforts of it are in this saloon and in those two nice little state-rooms. Your lady's cabin looks very empty; it is too elegant and fine, as if you were afraid to leave a book or a match-box in it. Now, if you were to turn this into a lady's yacht; you would have to remove that pipe-rack, and the guns and rifles and bags."
"Oh," said he, anxiously, "I hope you do not smell any tobacco?"
"Not at all," said she. "It was only a fancy. Of course you are not likely to turn your yacht into a lady's yacht."
He started and looked at her. But she had spoken quite thoughtlessly, and had now turned to her father.
When they went on deck again they found that the Umpire, beating up in the face of a light northerly breeze, had run out for a long tack almost to the Dutchman's Cap; and from a certain distance they could see the grim shores of this desolate island, with its faint tinge of green grass over the brown of its plateau of rock. And then Hamish called out, "Ready, about!" and presently they were slowly leaving behind that lonely Dutchman and making away for the distant entrance to Loch Tua. The breeze was slight; they made but little way; far on the blue waters they watched the white gulls sitting buoyant; and the sun was hot on their hands. What did they talk about in this summer idleness? Many a time he had dreamed of his thus sailing over the clear seas with the fair Fionaghal from the South, until at times his heart, grown sick with yearning, was ready to despair of the impossible. And yet here she was sitting on a deck-stool near him—the wide-apart, long-lashed eyes occasionally regarding him—a neglected book open on her lap—the small gloved hands toying with the cover. Yet there was no word of love spoken. There was only a friendly conversation, and the idle passing of a summer day. It was something to know that her breathing was near him.
Then the breeze died away altogether, and they were left altogether motionless on the glassy blue sea. The great sails hung limp, without a single flap or quiver in them; the red ensign clung to the jigger-mast; Hamish, though he stood by the tiller, did not even put his hand on that bold and notable representation in wood of the sea-serpent.
"Come now, Hamish," Macleod said, fearing this monotonous idleness would weary his fair guest, "you will tell us now one of the old stories that you used to tell me when I was a boy."
Hamish had, indeed, told the young Macleod many a mysterious tale of magic and adventure, but he was not disposed to repeat any one of these in broken English in order to please this lady from the South.
"It is no more of the stories I hef now, Sir Keith," said he. "It was a long time since I had the stories."
"Oh, I could construct one myself," said Miss White, lightly. "Don't I know how they all begin? 'There was once a king in Erin, and he had a son and this son it was who would take the world for his pillow. But before he set out on his travels, he took counsel of the falcon, and the hoodie, and the otter. And the falcon said to him, go to the right; and the hoodie said to him, you will be wise now if you go to the left; but the otter said to him, now take my advice,' etc., etc."
"You have been a diligent student," Macleod said, laughing heartily. "And, indeed, you might go on with the story and finish it; for who knows now when we shall get back to Dare?"
It was after a long period of thus lying in dead calm—with the occasional appearance of a diver on the surface of the shining blue sea—that Macleod's sharply observant eye was attracted by an odd thing that appeared far away at the horizon.
"What do you think is that now?" said he, with a smile.
They looked steadfastly, and saw only a thin line of silver light, almost like the back of a knife, in the distant dark blue.
"The track of a seal swimming under water," Mr. White suggested.
"Or a shoal of fish," his daughter said.
The sharp line of light slowly spread; a trembling silver-gray took the place of the dark blue; it looked as if invisible fingers were rushing out and over the glassy surface. Then they felt a cool freshness in the hot air; the red ensign swayed a bit; then the great mainsail flapped idly; and finally the breeze came gently blowing over the sea, and on again they went through the now rippling water. And as the slow time passed in the glare of the sunlight, Staffa lay on the still water a dense mass of shadow; and they went by Lunga; and they drew near to the point of Gometra, where the black skarts were sitting on the exposed rocks. It was like a dream of sunlight, and fair colors, and summer quiet.
"I cannot believe," said she to him, "that those fierce murders and revenges took place in such beautiful scenes as these. How could they?"
And then, in the broad and still waters of Loch Tua, with the lonely rocks of Ulva close by them, they were again becalmed; and now it was decided that they should leave the yacht there at certain moorings, and should get into the gig and be pulled through the shallow channel between Ulva and Mull that connects Loch Tua with Loch-na-Keal. Macleod had been greatly favored by the day chosen at haphazard for this water promenade: at the end of it he was gladdened to hear Miss White say that she had never seen anything so lovely on the face of the earth.
And yet it was merely a question of weather. To-morrow they might come back and find the water a ruffled leaden color; the waves washing over the rocks; Ben More invisible behind driving clouds. But now, as those three sat in the stern of the gig, and were gently pulled by the sweep of the oars, it seemed to one at least of them that she must have got into fairyland. The rocky shores of Ulva lay on one side of this broad and winding channel, the flatter shores of Mull on the other, and between lay a perfect mirror of water, in which everything was so accurately reflected that it was quite impossible to define the line at which the water and the land met. In fact, so vivid was the reflection of the blue and white sky on the surface of the water that it appeared to her as if the boat was suspended in mid-air—a sky below, a sky above. And then the beauty of the landscape that enclosed this wonderful mirror—the soft green foliage above the Ulva rocks; the brilliant yellow-brown of the sea-weed, with here there a gray heron standing solitary and silent as a ghost over the pools; ahead of them, towering above this flat and shining and beautiful landscape, the awful majesty of the mountains around Loch-na-Keal—the monarch of them, Ben More, showing a cone of dark and thunderous purple under a long and heavy swathe of cloud. Far away, too, on their right, stretched the splendid rampart of the Gribun cliffs, a soft sunlight on the grassy greens of their summits; a pale and brilliant blue in the shadows of the huge and yawning caves. And so still it was, and the air so fine and sweet: it was a day for the idling of happy lovers.
What jarred, then? Not the silent appearance of the head of a seal in that shining plain of blue and white; for the poor old fellow only regarded the boat for a second or two with his large and pathetic eyes, and then quietly disappeared. Perhaps it was this—that Miss White was leaning over the side of the boat, and admiring very much the wonderful hues of groups of sea-weed below, that were all distinctly visible in the marvellously clear water. There were beautiful green plants that spread their flat fingers over the silver-white sands; and huge rolls of purple and sombre brown; and long strings that came up to the surface—the traceries and decorations of these haunts of the mermaid.
"It is like a pantomime," she said. "You would expect to see a burst of lime-light, and Neptune appearing with a silver trident and crown. Well, it only shows that the scene-painters are nearer nature than most people imagine. I should never have thought there was anything so beautiful in the sea."
And then again she said, when they had rounded Ulva, and got a glimpse of the open Atlantic again,
"Where is it, Keith, you proposed to sink all the theatres in England for the benefit of the dolphins and the lobsters?"
He did not like these references to the theatre.
"It was only a piece of nonsense," said he, abruptly.
But then she begged him so prettily to get the men to sing the boat-song, that he good-humoredly took out a sheet of paper and a pencil, and said to her,—
"If I write it down for you, I must write it as it is pronounced. For how would you know that Fhir a bhata, na horo eile is pronounced Feer a vahta na horo ailya?"
"And perhaps, then," said she, with a charming smile, "writing it down would spoil it altogether? But you will ask them to sing it for me."
He said a word or two in the Gaelic to Sandy, who was rowing stroke; and Sandy answered with a short, quick laugh of assent.
"I have asked them if they would drink your health," Macleod said, "and they have not refused. It would be a great compliment to them if you would fill out the whiskey yourself; here is my flask."
She took that formidable vessel in her small hands, and the men rested on their oars; and then the metal cup was passed along. Whether it was the dram, or whether it was the old familiar chorus they struck up—
"Fhir a bhata (na horo eile) Fhir a bhata (na horo eile) Fhir a bhata (na horo eile) Chead soire slann leid ge thobh a' theid u,"
certain it is that the boat swung forward with a new strength, and erelong they beheld in the distance the walls of Castle Dare. And here was Janet at the small quay, greatly distressed because of the discomfort to which Miss White must have been subjected.
"But I have been telling Sir Keith," she said, with a sweet smile, "that I have come through the most beautiful place I have ever seen in the world."
This was not, however, what she was saying to herself when she reached the privacy of her own room. Her thoughts took a different turn.
"And if it does seem impossible"—this was her inward speech to herself—"that those wild murders should have been committed in so beautiful a place, at least there will be a fair chance of one occurring when I tell him that I have signed an engagement that will last till Christmas. But what good could come of being in a hurry?"
A CAVE IN MULL.
Of love not a single word had so far been said between these two. It was a high sense of courtesy that on his part had driven him to exercise this severe self-restraint; he would not invite her to be his guest, and then take advantage of the various opportunities offered to plague her with the vehemence and passionate yearning of his heart. For during all those long winter months he had gradually learned, from the correspondence which he so carefully studied, that she rather disliked protestation; and when he hinted that he thought her letters to him were somewhat cold, she only answered with a playful humor; and when he tried to press her to some declaration about her leaving the stage or about the time of their marriage, she evaded the point with an extreme cleverness which was so good-natured and friendly that he could scarcely complain. Occasionally there were references in these letters that awakened in his breast a tumult of jealous suspicions and fears; but then again he consoled himself by looking forward to the time when she should be released from all those environments that he hated and dreaded. He would have no more fear when he could take her hand and look into her eyes.
And now that Miss Gertrude White was actually in Castle Dare—now that he could walk with her along the lonely mountain-slopes and show her the wonders of the Western seas and the islands—what was it that still occasioned that vague unrest? His nervous anxiety that she should be pleased with all she saw? or a certain critical coldness in her glance? or the consciousness that he was only entertaining a passing visitor—a beautiful bird that had alighted on his hand, and that the next moment would be winging its flight away into the silvery South?
"You are becoming a capital sailor," he said to her one day, with a proud light on his face. "You have no fear at all of the sea now."
He and she and the cousin Janet—Mr. White had some letters to answer, and had stayed at home—were in the stern of the gig, and they were being rowed along the coast below the giant cliffs of Gribun. Certainly if Miss White had confessed to being a little nervous, she might have been excused. It was a beautiful, fresh, breezy, summer day; but the heavy Atlantic swell, that slowly raised and lowered the boat as the men rowed along, passed gently and smoothly on, and then went booming and roaring and crashing over the sharp black rocks that were quite close at hand.
"I think I would soon get over my fear of the sea," she said, gently.
Indeed, it was not that that was most likely to impress her on this bright day—it was the awful loneliness and desolation of the scene around her. All along the summit of the great cliffs lay heavy banks of cloud that moved and wreathed themselves together, with mysterious patches of darkness here and there that suggested the entrance into far valleys in the unseen mountains behind. And if the outer surface of these precipitous cliffs was brightened by sunlight, and if there was a sprinkling of grass on the ledges, every few minutes they passed the yawning archway of a huge cavern, around which the sea was roaring with a muffled and thunderous noise. He thought she would be interested in the extraordinary number and variety of the sea-birds about—the solemn cormorants sitting on the ledges, the rock-pigeons shooting out from the caves, the sea-pyots whirring along the rocks like lightning-flashes of color, the lordly osprey, with his great wings outstretched and motionless, sailing slowly in the far blue overhead. And no doubt she looked at all these things with a forced interest; and she herself now could name the distant islands out in the tossing Atlantic; and she had in a great measure got accustomed to the amphibious life at Dare. But as she listened to the booming of the waves around those awful recesses; and as she saw the jagged and angry rocks suddenly appear through the liquid mass of the falling sea: and as she looked abroad on the unknown distances of that troubled ocean, and thought of the life on those remote and lonely islands, the spirit of a summer holiday forsook her altogether, and she was silent.