Well, tears did gather in her eyes as she listened to this wild, despairing cry, and her hands were working nervously with a book she had taken from the table; but what answer could she make. In self-defence against this vehemence she adopted an injured air.
"Really, Keith," said she, in a low voice, "you do not seem to pay any attention to anything I say or write. Surely I have prepared you to understand that my consent to what you propose is quite impossible—for the present, at least? I asked for time to consider."
"I know—I know," said he. "You would wait, and let those doubts close in upon you. But here is a way to defeat them all. Sweetheart, why do you not rise and give me your hand, and say 'Yes?' There would be no more doubts at all!"
"But surely, Keith, you must understand me when I say that rushing into a marriage in this mad way is a very dangerous thing. You won't look or listen to anything I suggest. And really—well, I think you should have some little consideration for me—"
He regarded her for a moment with a look almost of wonder; and then he said, hastily,—
"Perhaps you are right, Gerty; I should not have been so selfish. But—but you cannot tell how I have suffered—all through the night-time, thinking and thinking—and saying to myself that surely you could not be going away from me—and in the morning, oh! the emptiness of all the sea and the sky, and you not there to be asked whether you would go out to Colonsay, or round to Loch Scridain, or go to see the rock-pigeons fly out of the caves. It is not a long time since you were with us Gerty; but to me it seems longer than half a dozen of winters; for in the winter I said to myself, 'Ah, well, she is now working off the term of her imprisonment in the theatre; and when the days get long again, and the blue skies come again, she will use the first of her freedom to come and see the sea-birds about Dare.' But this last time, Gerty—well, I had strange doubts and misgivings; and sometimes I dreamed in the night-time that you were going away from me altogether—on board a ship—and I called to you and you would not even turn your head. Oh, Gerty, I can see you now as you were then—your head turned partly aside; and strangers round you; and the ship was going farther and farther away; and if I jumped into the sea, how could I overtake you? But at least the waves would come over me, and I should have forgetfulness."
"Yes, but you seem to think that my letters to you had no meaning whatever," said she, almost petulantly. "Surely I tried to explain clearly enough what our relative positions were?"
"You had got back to the influence of the theatre, Gerty—I would not believe the things you wrote. I said, 'You will go now and rescue her from herself. She is only a girl; she is timid; she believes the foolish things that are said by the people around her.' And then, do you know, sweetheart," said he, with a sad smile on his face, "I thought if I were to go and get this paper, and suddenly show it to you—well, it is not the old romantic way, but I thought you would frankly say 'Yes!' and have an end of all this pain. Why, Gerty, you have been many a romantic heroine in the theatre; and you know they are not long in making up their minds. And the heroines in our old songs, too: do you know the song of Lizzie Lindsay, who 'kilted her coats o' green satin,' and was off to the Highlands before any one could interfere with her? That is the way to put an end to doubts. Gerty, be a brave woman! Be worthy of yourself! Sweetheart, have you the courage now to 'kilt your coats o' green satin?' And I know that in the Highlands you will have as proud a welcome as ever Lord Ronald Macdonald gave his bride from the South."
Then the strange smile went away from his face.
"I am tiring you, Gerty," said he.
"Well, you are very much excited, Keith," said she; "and you won't listen to what I have to say. I think your coming to London was a mistake. You are giving both of us a great deal of pain; and, as far as I can see, to no purpose. We could much better have arrived at a proper notion of each other's feelings by writing; and the matter is so serious as to require consideration. If it is the business of a heroine to plunge two people into lifelong misery, without thinking twice about it, then I am not a heroine. Her 'coats o' green satin!'—I should like to know what was the end of that story. Now really, dear Keith, you must bear with me if I say that I have a little more prudence than you, and I must put a check on your headstrong wishes. Now I know there is no use in our continuing this conversation: you are too anxious and eager to mind anything I say. I will write to you."
"Gerty," said he, slowly, "I know you are not a selfish or cruel woman; and I do not think you would willingly pain any one. But if you came to me and said, 'Answer my question, for it is a question of life or death to me,' I should not answer that I would write a letter to you."
"You may call me selfish, if you like," said she, with some show of temper, "but I tell you once for all that I cannot bear the fatigue of interviews such as this, and I think it was very inconsiderate of you to force it on me. And as for answering a question, the position we are in is not to be explained with a 'Yes' or a 'No'—it is mere romance and folly to speak of people running away and getting married; for I suppose that is what you mean. I will write to you if you like, and give you every explanation in my power. But I don't think we shall arrive at any better understanding by your accusing me of selfishness or cruelty."
"And if it comes to that," she continued, with a flush of angry daring in her face, "perhaps I could bring a similar charge against you, with some better show of reason."
"That I was ever selfish or cruel as regards you!" said he, with a vague wonder, as if he had not heard aright.
"Shall I tell you, then," said she, "as you seem bent on recriminations? Perhaps you thought I did not understand?—that I was too frightened to understand? Oh, I knew very well!"
"I don't know what you mean!" said he, in absolute bewilderment.
"What!—not the night we were caught in the storm in crossing to Iona?—and when I clung to your arm, you shook me off, so that you should be free to strike for yourself if we were thrown into the water? Oh, I don't blame you! It was only natural. But I think you should be cautious in accusing others of selfishness."
For a moment he stood looking at her, with something like fear in his eyes—fear and horror, and a doubt as to whether this thing was possible; and then came the hopeless cry of a breaking heart,—
"Oh God, Gerty! I thought you loved me—and you believed that!"
This long and terrible night: will it never end? Or will not life itself go out, and let the sufferer have rest? The slow and sleepless hours toil through the darkness; and there is a ticking of a clock in the hushed room; and this agony of pain still throbbing and throbbing in the breaking heart. And then, as the pale dawn shows gray in the windows, the anguish of despair follows him even into the wan realms of sleep, and there are wild visions rising before the sick brain. Strange visions they are; the confused and seething phantasmagoria of a shattered life; himself regarding himself as another figure, and beginning to pity this poor wretch who is not permitted to die. "Poor wretch—poor wretch!" he says to himself. "Did they use to call you Macleod; and what is it that has brought you to this?"
* * * * *
See now! He lays his head down on the warm heather, on this beautiful summer day, and the seas are all blue around him; and the sun is shining on the white sands of Iona. Far below, the men are singing "Fhir a bhata," and the sea birds are softly calling. But suddenly there is a horror in his brain, and the day grows black, for an adder has stung him!—it is Righinn—the Princess—the Queen of Snakes. Oh why does she laugh, and look at him so with that clear, cruel look? He would rather not go into this still house where the lidless-eyed creatures are lying in their awful sleep. Why does she laugh? Is it a matter for laughing that a man should be stung by an adder, and all his life grow black around him? For it is then that they put him in a grave; and she—she stands with her foot on it! There is moonlight around; and the jackdaws are wheeling overhead; our voices sound hollow in these dark ruins. But you can hear this, sweetheart: shall I whisper it to you? "You are standing on the grave of Macleod."
* * * * *
Lo! the grave opens! Why, Hamish, it was no grave at all, but only the long winter; and now we are all looking at a strange thing away in the south, for who ever saw all the beautiful flags before that are fluttering there in the summer wind? Oh, sweetheart!—your hand—give me your small, warm, white hand! See! we will go up the steep path by the rocks; and here is the small white house; and have you never seen so great a telescope before? And is it all a haze of heat over the sea; or can you make out the quivering phantom of the lighthouse—the small gray thing out at the edge of the world? Look! they are signalling now; they know you are here; come out, quick! to the great white boards; and we will send them over a message—and you will see that they will send back a thousand welcomes to the young bride. Our ways are poor; we have no satin bowers to show you, as the old songs say—but do you know who are coming to wait on you? The beautiful women out of the old songs are coming to be your handmaidens: I have asked them—I saw them in many dreams—I spoke gently to them, and they are coming. Do you see them? There is the bonnie Lizzie Lindsay, who kilted her coats o' green satin to be off with young Macdonald; and Burd Helen—she will come to you pale and beautiful; and proud Lady Maisry, that was burned for her true love's sake; and Mary Scott of Yarrow, that set all men's hearts aflame. See, they will take you by the hand. They are the Queen's Maries. There is no other grandeur at Castle Dare.
* * * * *
Is this Macleod? They used to say that Macleod was a man! They used to say he had not much fear of anything; but this is only a poor trembling boy, a coward trembling at everything, and going away to London with a lie on his lips. And they know how Sholto Macleod died, and how Roderick Macleod died, and Ronald, and Duncan the Fair-haired, and Hector, but the last of them—this poor wretch—what will they say of him? "Oh, he died for the love of a woman!" She struck him in the heart; and he could not strike back, for she was a woman. Ah, but if it was a man now! They say the Macleods are all become sheep; and their courage has gone; and if they were to grasp even a Rose-leaf they could not crush it. It is dangerous to say that; do not trust to it. Oh, it is you, you poor fool in the newspaper, who are whirling along behind the boat? Does the swivel work? Are the sharks after you? Do you hear them behind you cleaving the water? The men of Dubh-Artach will have a good laugh when we whisk you past. What! you beg for mercy?—come out, then, you poor devil! Here is a tarpaulin for you. Give him a glass of whiskey, John Cameron. And so you know about theatres; and perhaps you have ambition, too; and there is nothing in the world so fine as people clapping their hands? But you—even you—if I were to take you over in the dark, and the storm came on, you would not think that I thrust you aside to look after myself? You are a stranger; you are helpless in boats: do you think I would thrust you aside? It was not fair—oh, it was not fair? If she wished to kill my heart, there were other things to say than that. Why, sweetheart, don't you know that I got the little English boy out of the water; and you think I would let you drown! If we were both drowning now, do you know what I should do? I should laugh, and say, "Sweetheart, sweetheart, if we were not to be together in life, we are now in death, and that is enough for me."
* * * * *
What is the slow sad sound that one hears? The grave is on the lonely island; there is no one left on the island now; there is nothing but the grave. "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery." Oh no, not that! That is all over; the misery is over, and there is peace. This is the sound of the sea-birds, and the wind coming over the seas, and the waves on the rocks. Or is it Donald, in the boat going back to the land? The people have their heads bent; it is a Lament the boy is playing. And how will you play the Cumhadh na Cloinne to-night, Donald?—and what will the mother say? It is six sons she has to think of now; and Patrick Mor had but seven dead when he wrote the Lament of the Children. Janet, see to her! Tell her it is no matter now; the peace has come; the misery is over; there is only the quiet sound of the waves. But you, Donald, come here. Put down your pipes, and listen. Do you remember the English lady who was here in the summer-time; and your pipes were too loud for her, and were taken away? She is coming again. She will try to put her foot on my grave. But you will watch for her coming, Donald; and you will go quickly to Hamish; and Hamish will go down to the shore and send her back. You are only a boy, Donald; she would not heed you; and the ladies at the Castle are too gentle, and would give her fair words; but Hamish is not afraid of her—he will drive her back; she shall not put her foot on my grave, for my heart can bear no more pain.
* * * * *
And are you going away—Rose-leaf—Rose-leaf—are you sailing away from me on the smooth waters to the South? I put out my hand to you; but you are afraid of the hard hands of the Northern people, and you shrink from me. Do you think we would harm you, then, that you tremble so? The savage days are gone. Come—we will show you the beautiful islands in the summer-time; and you will take high courage, and become yourself a Macleod; and all the people will be proud to hear of Fionaghal, the Fair Stranger, who has come to make her home among us. Oh, our hands are gentle enough when it is a Rose-leaf they have to touch. There was blood on them in the old days; we have washed it off now: see—this beautiful red rose you have given me is not afraid of rough hands! We have no beautiful roses to give you, but we will give you a piece of white heather, and that will secure to you peace and rest and a happy heart all your days. You will not touch it, sweetheart? Do not be afraid! There is no adder in it. But if you were to find, now, a white adder, would you know what to do with it? There was a sweetheart in an old song knew what to do with an adder. Do you know the song? The young man goes back to his home, and he says to his mother, "Oh make my bed soon; for I'm weary, weary hunting, and fain would lie doon." Why do you turn so pale, sweetheart? There is the whiteness of a white adder in your cheeks; and your eyes—there is death in your eyes! "Donald!—Hamish! help! help!—her foot is coming near to my grave!—my heart—!"
* * * * *
And so, in a paroxysm of wild terror and pain, he awoke again; and behold, the ghastly white daylight was in the room—the cold glare of a day he would fain have never seen! It was all in a sort of dream that this haggard-faced man dressed, and drank a cup of tea, and got outside into the rain. The rain, and the noise of the cabs, and the gloom of London skies; these harsh and commonplace things were easier to bear than the dreams of the sick brain. And then, somehow or other, he got his way down to Aldershot, and sought out Norman Ogilvie.
"Macleod!" Ogilvie cried—startled beyond measure by his appearance.
"I—I wanted to shake hands with you, Ogilvie, before I am going," said this hollow-eyed man, who seemed to have grown old.
Ogilvie hesitated for a second or two; and then he said, vehemently,—
"Well, Macleod, I am not a sentimental chap—but—but—hang it! it is too bad. And again and again I have thought of writing to you, as your friend, just within the last week or so; and then I said to myself that tale-bearing never came to any good. But she won't darken Mrs. Ross's door again—that I know. Mrs. Ross went straight to her the other day. There is no nonsense about that woman. And when she got to understand that the story was true, she let Miss White know that she considered you to be a friend of hers, and that—well, you know how women give hints—"
"But I don't know what you mean, Ogilvie!" he cried, quite bewildered. "Is it a thing for all the world to know? What story is it—when I knew nothing till yesterday?"
"Well, you know now: I saw by your face a minute ago that she had told you the truth at last," Ogilvie said. "Macleod, don't blame me. When I heard of her being about to be married, I did not believe the story—"
Macleod sprang at him like a tiger, and caught his arm with the grip of a vise.
"Her getting married?—to whom?"
"Why, don't you know?" Ogilvie said, with his eyes staring. "Oh yes, you must know. I see you know! Why, the look in your face when you came into this room—"
"Who is the man, Ogilvie?"—and there was the sudden hate of ten thousand devils in his eyes.
"Why, it is that artist fellow—Lemuel. You don't mean to say she hasn't told you? It is the common story! And Mrs. Ross thought it was only a piece of nonsense—she said they were always making out those stories about actresses—but she went to Miss White. And when Miss White could not deny it, Mrs. Ross said there and then they had better let their friendship drop. Macleod, I would have written to you—upon my soul, I would have written to you—but how could I imagine you did not know? And do you really mean to say she has not told you anything of what has been going on recently—what was well known to everybody?"
And this young man spoke in a passion, too; Keith Macleod was his friend. But Macleod himself seemed, with some powerful effort of will, to have got the better of his sudden and fierce hate; he sat down again; he spoke in a low voice, but there was a dark look in his eyes.
"No," said he, slowly, "she has not told me all about it. Well, she did tell me about a poor creature—a woman-man—a thing of affectation, with his paint-box and his velvet coat, and his furniture. Ogilvie, have you got any brandy?"
Ogilvie rang, and got some brandy, some water, a tumbler, and a wineglass placed on the table. Macleod, with a hand that trembled violently, filled the tumbler half full of brandy.
"And she could not deny the story to Mrs. Ross?" said he, with a strange and hard smile on his face. "It was her modesty. Ah, you don't know, Ogilvie, what an exalted soul she has. She is full of idealisms. She could not explain all that to Mrs. Ross. I know. And when she found herself too weak to carry out her aspirations, she sought help. Is that it? She would gain assurance and courage from the woman-man?"
He pushed the tumbler away; his hand was still trembling violently.
"I will not touch that Ogilvie," said he, "for I have not much mastery over myself. I am going away now—I am going back now to the Highlands—oh! you do not know what I have become since I met that woman—a coward and a liar! They wouldn't have you sit down at the mess-table, Ogilvie, if you were that, would they? I dare not stay in London now. I must run away now—like a hare that is hunted. It would not be good for her or for me that I should stay any longer in London."
He rose and held out his hand; there was a curious glazed look on his eyes. Ogilvie pressed him back into the chair again.
"You are not going out in this condition, Macleod?—you don't know what you are doing! Come now, let us be reasonable; let us talk over the thing like men. And I must say, first of all, that I am heartily glad of it, for your sake. It will be a hard twist at first; but, bless you! lots of fellows have had to fight through the same thing, and they come up smiling after it, and you would scarcely know the difference. Don't imagine I am surprised—oh no. I never did believe in that young woman; I thought she was a deuced sight too clever; and when she used to go about humbugging this one and the other with her innocent airs, I said to myself, 'Oh, it's all very well: but you know what you are about.' Of course there was no use talking to you. I believe at one time Mrs. Ross was considering the point whether she ought not to give you a hint—seeing that you had met Miss White first at her house—that the young lady was rather clever at flirtation, and that you ought to keep a sharp lookout. But then you would only have blazed up in anger. It was no use talking to you. And then, after all, I said that if you were so bent on marrying her, the chances were that you would have no difficulty, for I thought the bribe of her being called Lady Macleod would be enough for any actress. As for this man Lemuel, no doubt he is a very great man, as people say; but I don't know much about these things myself; and—and—I think it is very plucky of Mrs. Ross to cut off two of her lions at one stroke. It shows she must have taken an uncommon liking for you. So you must cheer up, Macleod. If woman take a fancy to you like that, you'll easily get a better wife than Miss White would have made. Mind you, I don't go back from anything I ever said of her. She is a handsome woman, and no mistake; and I will say that she is the best waltzer that I ever met with in the whole course of my life—without exception. But she's the sort of woman who, if I married her, would want some looking after—I mean, that is my impression. The fact is, Macleod, away there in Mull you have been brought up too much on books and your own imagination. You were ready to believe any pretty woman, with soft English ways, an angel. Well, you have had a twister; but you'll come through it; and you will get to believe, after all, that women are very good creatures just as men are very good creatures, when you get the right sort. Come now, Macleod, pull yourself together; Perhaps I have just as hard an opinion of her conduct towards you as you have yourself. But you know what Tommy Moore, or some fellow like that says—'Though she be not fair to me, what the devil care I how fair she be?' And if I were you, I would have a drop of brandy—but not half a tumblerful."
But neither Lieutenant Ogilvie's pert common-sense, nor his apt and accurate quotation, nor the proffered brandy, seemed to alter much the mood of this haggard-faced man. He rose.
"I think I am going now," said he, in a low voice. "You won't take it unkindly, Ogilvie, that I don't stop to talk with you: it is a strange story you have told me—I want time to think over it. Good-by!"
"The fact is, Macleod," Ogilvie stammered, as he regarded his friend's face, "I don't like to leave you. Won't you stay and dine with our fellows? or shall I see if I can run up to London with you?"
"No, thank you, Ogilvie," said he. "And have you any message for the mother and Janet?"
"Oh, I hope you will remember me most kindly to them. At least, I will go to the station with you, Macleod."
"Thank you, Ogilvie; but I would rather go alone. Good-by, now."
He shook hands with his friend, in an absent sort of way, and left. But while yet his hand was on the door, he turned and said,—
"Oh, do you remember my gun that has the shot barrel and the rifle barrel?"
"And would you like to have that, Ogilvie?—we sometimes had it when we were out together."
"Do you think I would take your gun from you, Macleod?" said the other. "And you will soon have plenty of use for it now."
"Good-by, then, Ogilvie," said he, and he left, and went out into the world of rain, and lowering skies, and darkening moors.
And when he went back to Dare it was a wet day also; but he was very cheerful; and he had a friendly word for all whom he met; and he told the mother and Janet that he had got home at last, and meant to go no more a-roving. But that evening, after dinner, when Donald began to play the Lament for the memory of the five sons of Dare, Macleod gave a sort of stifled cry, and there were tears running down his cheeks—which was a strange thing for a man; and he rose and left the hall, just as a woman would have done. And his mother sat there, cold, and pale, and trembling; but the gentle cousin Janet called out, with a piteous trouble in her eyes,—
"Oh, auntie, have you seen the look on our Keith's face, ever since he came ashore to-day?"
"I know it, Janet," said she. "I have seen it. That woman has broken his heart; and he is the last of my six brave lads!"
They could not speak any more now; for Donald had come up the hall; and he was playing the wild, sad wail of the Cumhadh-na-Cloinne.
A LAST HOPE.
Those sleepless nights of passionate yearning and despair—those days of sullen gloom, broken only by wild cravings for revenge that went through his brain like spasms of fire—these were killing this man. His face grew haggard and gray; his eyes morose and hopeless; he shunned people as if he feared their scrutiny; he brooded over the past in a silence he did not wish to have broken by any human voice. This was no longer Macleod of Dare. It was the wreck of a man—drifting no one knew whither.
And in those dark and morbid reveries there was no longer any bewilderment. He saw clearly how he had been tricked and played with. He understood now the coldness she had shown on coming to Dare; her desire to get away again; her impatience with his appeals; her anxiety that communication between them should be solely by letter. "Yes, yes," he would say to himself—and sometimes he would laugh aloud in the solitude of the hills, "she was prudent. She was a woman of the world, as Stuart used to say. She would not quite throw me off—she would not be quite frank with me—until she had made sure of the other. And in her trouble of doubt, when she was trying to be better than herself, and anxious to have guidance, that was the guide she turned to—the woman-man, the dabbler in paint-boxes, the critic of carpets and wall-papers!"
Sometimes he grew to hate her. She had destroyed the world for him. She had destroyed his faith in the honesty and honor of womanhood. She had played with him as with a toy—a fancy of the brain—and thrown him aside when something new was presented to her. And when a man is stung by a white adder, does he not turn and stamp with his heel? Is he not bound to crush the creature out of existence, to keep God's earth and the free sunlight sweet and pure?
But then—but then—the beauty of her! In dreams he heard her low, sweet laugh again; he saw the beautiful brown hair; he surrendered to the irresistible witchery of the clear and lovely eyes. What would not a man give for one last, wild kiss of the laughing and half-parted lips? His life? And if that life happened to be a mere broken and useless thing—a hateful thing—would he not gladly and proudly fling it away? One long, lingering, despairing kiss, and then a deep draught of Death's black wine!
One day he was riding down to the fishing-station, when he met John MacIntyre, the postman, who handed him a letter, and passed on. Macleod opened this letter with some trepidation, for it was from London; but it was in Norman Ogilvie's handwriting.
"DEAR MACLEOD,—I thought you might like to hear the latest news. I cut the enclosed from a sort of half-sporting, half-theatrical paper our fellows get; no doubt the paragraph is true enough. And I wish it was well over and done with, and she married out of hand; for I know until that is so you will be torturing yourself with all sorts of projects and fancies. Good-by old fellow. I suppose when you offered me the gun, you thought your life had collapsed altogether, and that you would have no further use for anything. But no doubt, after the first shock, you have thought better of that. How are the birds? I hear rather bad accounts from Ross, but then he is always complaining about something.
"Yours sincerely, NORMAN OGILVIE."
And then he unfolded the newspaper cutting which Ogilvie had enclosed. The paragraph of gossip announced that the Piccadilly Theatre would shortly be closed for repairs; but that the projected provincial tour of the company had been abandoned. On the re-opening of the theatre, a play, which was now in preparation, written by Mr. Gregory Lemuel, would be produced. "It is understood," continued the newsman, "that Miss Gertrude White, the young and gifted actress who has been the chief attraction at the Piccadilly Theatre for two years back, is shortly to be married to Mr. L. Lemuel, the well-known artist; but the public have no reason to fear the withdrawal from the stage of so popular a favorite, for she has consented to take the chief role in the new play, which is said to be of a tragic nature."
Macleod put the letter and its enclosure into his pocket, and rode on. The hand that held the bridle shook somewhat; that was all.
He met Hamish.
"Oh, Hamish!" he cried, quite gayly. "Hamish, will you go to the wedding?"
"What wedding, sir?" said the old man; but well he knew. If there was any one blind to what had been going on, that was not Hamish; and again and again he had in his heart cursed the English traitress who had destroyed his master's peace.
"Why, do you not remember the English lady that was here not so long ago? And she is going to be married. And would you like to go to the wedding, Hamish!"
He scarcely seemed to know what he was saying in this wild way; there was a strange look in his eyes, though apparently he was very merry. And this was the first word he had uttered about Gertrude White to any living being at Dare ever since his last return from the South.
Now what was Hamish's answer to this gay invitation? The Gaelic tongue is almost devoid of those meaningless expletives which, in other languages, express mere annoyance of temper; when a Highlander swears, he usually swears in English. But the Gaelic curse is a much more solemn and deliberate affair.
"May her soul dwell in the lowermost hall of perdition!"—that was the answer that Hamish made; and there was a blaze of anger in the keen eyes and in the proud and handsome face.
"Oh, yes," continued the old man, in his native tongue, and he spoke rapidly and passionately, "I am only a serving-man, and perhaps a serving-man ought not to speak; but perhaps sometimes he will speak. And have I not seen it all, Sir Keith?—and no more of the pink letters coming; and you going about a changed man, as if there was nothing more in life for you? And now you ask me if I will go to the wedding? And what do I say to you, Sir Keith? I say this to you—that the woman is not now living who will put that shame on Macleod of Dare!"
Macleod regarded the old man's angry vehemence almost indifferently; he had grown to pay little heed to anything around him.—
"Oh yes, it is a fine thing for the English lady," said Hamish, with the same proud fierceness, "to come here and amuse herself. But she does not know the Mull men yet. Do you think, Sir Keith, that any one of your forefathers would have had this shame put upon him? I think not. I think he would have said, 'Come, lads, here is a proud madam that does not know that a man's will is stronger than a woman's will; and we will teach her a lesson. And before she has learned that lesson, she will discover that it is not safe to trifle with a Macleod of Dare.' And you ask me if I will go to the wedding! I have known you since you were a child, Sir Keith; and I put the first gun in your hand; and I saw you catch your first salmon: it is not right to laugh at an old man."
"Laughing at you Hamish? I gave you an invitation to a wedding!"
"And if I was going to that wedding," said Hamish, with a return of that fierce light to the gray eyes, "do you know how I would go to the wedding? I would take two or three of the young lads with me. We would make a fine party for the wedding. Oh yes, a fine party! And if the English church is a fine church, can we not take off our caps as well as any one? But when the pretty madam came in, I would say to myself, 'Oh yes, my fine madam, you forgot it was a Macleod you had to deal with, and not a child, and you did not think you would have a visit from two or three of the Mull lads!'"
"And what then?" Macleod said, with a smile, though this picture of his sweetheart coming into the church as the bride of another man had paled his cheek.
"And before she had brought that shame on the house of Dare," said Hamish, excitedly, "do you not think that I would seize her—that I would seize her with my own hands? And when the young lads and I had thrust her down into the cabin of the yacht—oh yes, when we had thrust her down and put the hatch over, do you think the proud madam would be quite so proud?"
Macleod laughed a loud laugh.
"Why, Hamish, you want to become a famous person! You would carry off a popular actress, and have all the country ringing with the exploit! And would you have a piper, too, to drown her screams—just as Macdonald of Armadale did when he came with his men to South Uist and carried off Flora Macdonald's mother?"
"And was there ever a better marriage than that—as I have heard many a man of Skye say?" Hamish exclaimed, eagerly. "Oh yes, it is good for a woman to know that a man's will is stronger than a woman's will! And when we have the fine English madam caged up in the cabin, and we are coming away to the North again, she will not have so many fine airs, I think. And if the will cannot be broken, it is the neck that can be broken; and better that than that Sir Keith Macleod should have a shame put on him."
"Hamish, Hamish, how will you dare to go into the church at Salen next Sunday?" Macleod said; but he was now regarding the old man with a strange curiosity.
"Men were made before churches were thought of," Hamish said, curtly; and then Macleod laughed, and rode on.
The laugh soon died away from his face. Here was the stone bridge on which she used to lean to drop pebbles into the whirling clear water. Was there not some impression even yet of her soft warm arm on the velvet moss? And what had the voice of the streamlet told him in the days long ago—that the summer-time was made for happy lovers; that she was coming; that he should take her hand and show her the beautiful islands and the sunlit seas before the darkening skies of the winter came over them. And here was the summer sea; and moist, warm odors were in the larch-wood; and out there Ulva was shining green, and there was sunlight on the islands and on the rocks of Erisgeir. But she—where was she? Perhaps standing before a mirror; with a dress all of white; and trying how orange-blossoms would best lie in her soft brown hair. Her arms are uplifted to her head; she smiles: could not one suddenly seize her now by the waist and bear her off, with the smile changed to a blanched look of fear? The wild pirates have got her; the Rose-leaf is crushed in the cruel Northern hands; at last—at last—what is in the scabbard has been drawn, and declared, and she screams in her terror!
Then he fell to brooding again over Hamish's mad scheme. The fine English church of Hamish's imagination was no doubt a little stone building that a handful of sailors could carry at a rush. And of course the yacht must needs be close by; for there was no land in Hamish's mind that was out of sight of the salt-water. And what consideration would this old man have for delicate fancies and studies in moral science? The fine madam had been chosen to be the bride of Macleod of Dare; that was enough. If her will would not bend, it would have to be broken; that was the good old way. Was there ever a happier wife than the Lady of Armadale, who had been carried screaming downstairs in the night-time, and placed in her lover's boat, with the pipes playing a wild pibroch all the time?
Macleod was in the library that night when Hamish came to him with some papers. And just as the old man was about to leave, Macleod said to him,—
"Well, that was a pretty story you told me this morning, Hamish, about the carrying off the young English lady. And have you thought any more about it?"
"I have thought enough about it," Hamish said, in his native tongue.
"Then perhaps you could tell me, when you start on this fine expedition, how you are going to have the yacht taken to London? The lads of Mull are very clever, Hamish, I know; but do you think that any one of them can steer the Umpire all the way from Loch-na-Keal to the river Thames?"
"Is it the river Thames?" said Hamish, with great contempt. "And is that all—the river Thames? Do you know this, Sir Keith, that my cousin Colin Laing, that has a whiskey-shop now in Greenock, has been all over the world, and at China and other places; and he was the mate of many a big vessel; and do you think he could not take the Umpire from Loch-na-Keal to London? And I would only have to send a line to him and say, 'Colin, it is Sir Keith Macleod himself that will want you to do this;' and then he will leave twenty or thirty shops, ay, fifty and a hundred shops, and think no more of them at all. Oh yes, it is very true what you say Sir Keith. There is no one knows better than I the soundings in Loch Scridain and Loch Tua; and you have said yourself that there is not a bank or a rock about the islands that I do not know; but I have not been to London—no, I have not been to London. But is there any great trouble in getting to London? No, none at all, when we have Colin Laing on board."
Macleod was apparently making a gay joke of the matter; but there was an anxious, intense look in his eyes all the same—even when he was staring absently at the table before him.
"Oh yes, Hamish," he said, laughing in a constrained manner, "that would be a fine story to tell. And you would become very famous—just as if you were working for fame in a theatre; and all the people would be talking about you. And when you got to London, how would you get through the London streets?"
"It is my cousin who would show me the way: has he not been to London more times than I have been to Stornoway?"
"But the streets of London—they would cover all the ground between here and Loch Scridain; and how would you carry the young lady through them?"
"We would carry her," said Hamish, curtly.
"With the bagpipes to drown her screams?"
"I would drown her screams myself," said Hamish, with a sudden savageness; and he added something that Macleod did not hear.
"Do you know that I am a magistrate, Hamish?"
"I know it, Sir Keith."
"And when you come to me with this proposal, do you know what I should do?"
"I know what the old Macleods of Dare would have done," said Hamish, proudly, "before they let this shame come on them. And you, Sir Keith—you are a Macleod, too; ay, and the bravest lad that ever was born in Castle Dare! And you will not suffer this thing any longer, Sir Keith; for it is a sore heart I have from the morning till the night; and it is only a serving-man that I am; but sometimes when I will see you going about—and nothing now cared for, but a great trouble on your face—oh, then I say to myself, 'Hamish, you are an old man, and you have not long to live; but before you die you will teach the fine English madam what it is to bring a shame on Sir Keith Macleod!'"
"Ah, well, good-night-now, Hamish; I am tired," he said; and the old man slowly left.
He was tired—if one might judge by the haggard cheeks and the heavy eyes; but he did not go to sleep. He did not even go to bed. He spent the livelong night, as he had spent too many lately, in nervously pacing to and fro within this hushed chamber; or seated with his arms on the table, and the aching head resting on the clasped hands. And again those wild visions came to torture him—the product of a sick heart and a bewildered brain; only now there was a new element introduced. This mad project of Hamish's at which he would have laughed in a saner mood, began to intertwist itself with all these passionate longings and these troubled dreams of what might yet be possible to him on earth; and wherever he turned it was suggested to him; and whatever was the craving and desire of the moment, this, and this only, was the way to reach it. For if one were mad with pain, and determined to crush the white adder that had stung one, what better way than to seize the hateful thing and cage it so that it should do no more harm among the sons of men? Or if one were mad because of the love of a beautiful white Princess—and she far away, and dressed in bridal robes: what better way than to take her hand and say, "Quick, quick, to the shore! For the summer seas are waiting for you, and there is a home for the bride far away in the North?" Or if it was only one wild, despairing effort—one last means of trying—to bring her heart back again? Or if there was but the one fierce, captured kiss of those lips no longer laughing at all? Men had ventured more for far less reward, surely? And what remained to him in life but this? There was at least the splendid joy of daring and action!
The hours passed; and sometimes he fell into a troubled sleep as he sat with his head bent on his hands; but then it was only to see those beautiful pictures of her, that made his heart ache all the more. And sometimes he saw her all in sailor-like white and blue, as she was stepping down from the steamer; and sometimes he saw the merry Duchess coming forward through the ball-room, with her saucy eyes and her laughing and parted lips; and sometimes he saw her before a mirror; and again she smiled—but his heart would fain have cried aloud in its anguish. Then again he would start up, and look at the window. Was he impatient for the day?
The lamp still burned in the hushed chamber. With trembling fingers he took out the letter Ogilvie had written to him, and held the slip of printed paper before his bewildered gaze. "The young and gifted actress." She is "shortly to be married." And the new piece that all the world will come to see, as soon as she is returned from her wedding tour, is "of a tragic nature."
* * * * *
Hamish! Hamish! do you hear these things? Do you know what they mean? Oh, we will have to look sharp if we are to be there in time. Come along, you brave lads! it is not the first time that a Macleod has carried off a bride. And will she cry, do you think—for we have no pipes to drown her screams? Ah, but we will manage it another way than that, Hamish! You have no cunning, you old man! There will be no scream when the white adder is seized and caged.
* * * * *
But surely no white adder? Oh, sweetheart, you gave me a red rose! And do you remember the night in the garden, with the moonlight around us, and the favor you wore next your heart was the badge of the Macleods? You were not afraid of the Macleods then; you had no fear of the rude Northern people; you said they would not crush a pale Rose-leaf. And now—now—see! I have rescued you; and those people will persuade you no longer: I have taken you away—you are free! And will you come up on deck now, and look around on the summer sea? And shall we put in to some port, and telegraph that the runaway bride is happy enough, and that they will hear of her next from Castle Dare? Look around, sweetheart: surely you know the old boat. And here is Christina to wait on you; and Hamish—Hamish will curse you no more—he will be your friend now. Oh, you will make the mother's heart glad at last! she has not smiled for many a day.
* * * * *
Or is it the proud madam that is below, Hamish; and she will not speak; and she sits alone in all her finery? And what are we to do with her now, then, to break her will? Do you think she will speak when she is in the midst of the silence of the Northern seas? Or will they be after us, Hamish? Oh, that would be a fine chase, indeed! and we would lead them a fine dance through the Western Isles; and I think you would try their knowledge of the channels and the banks. And the painter-fellow, Hamish, the woman-man, the dabbler—would he be in the boat behind us? or would he be down below, in bed in the cabin, with a nurse to attend him? Come along, then!—but beware of the over-falls of Tiree, you southern men! Or is it a race for Barra Head; and who will be at Vatersay first! There is good fishing-ground on the Sgriobh bhan; Hamish; they may as well stop to fish as seek to catch us among our Western Isles! See, the dark is coming down; are these the Monach lights in the north?—Hamish, Hamish, we are on the rocks!—and there is no one to help her! Oh, sweetheart! sweetheart!—
* * * * *
The brief fit of struggling sleep is over; he rises and goes to the window; and now, if he is impatient for the new day, behold! the new day is here. Oh, see how the wan light of the morning meets the wan face! It is the face of a man who has been close to Death; it is the face of a man who is desperate. And if, after the terrible battle of the night, with its uncontrollable yearning and its unbearable pain, the fierce and bitter resolve is taken?—if there remains but this one last despairing venture for all that made life worth having? How wildly the drowning man clutches at this or that, so only that he may breathe for yet a moment more? He knows not what miracle may save him; he knows not where there is any land; but only to live—only to breath for another moment—that is his cry. And then, mayhap, amidst the wild whirl of waves, if he were suddenly to catch sight of the shore; and think that he was getting near to that; and see awaiting him there a white Princess, with a smile on her lips and a red rose in her outstretched hand. Would he not make one last convulsive effort before the black waters dragged him down?
THE WHITE-WINGED DOVE.
The mere thought of this action, swift, immediate, impetuous, seemed to give relief to the burning brain. He went outside, and walked down to the shore; all the world was asleep; but the day had broken fair and pleasant, and the sea was calm and blue. Was not that a good omen? After all, then, there was still the wild, glad hope that Fionaghal might come and live in her Northern home: the summer days had not gone forever; they might still find a red rose for her bosom at Castle Dare.
And then he tried to deceive himself. Was not this a mere lover's stratagem. Was not all fair in love as in war? Surely she would forgive him, for the sake of the great love he bore her, and the happiness he would try to bring her all the rest of her life? And no sailor, he would take care, would lay his rough hand on her gentle arm. That was the folly of Hamish. There was no chance, in these days, for a band of Northern pirates to rush into a church and carry off a screaming bride. There were other ways than that—gentler ways; and the victim of the conspiracy, why, she would only laugh in the happy after-time, and be glad that he had succeeded. And meanwhile he rejoiced that so much had to be done. Oh yes, there was plenty to think about now, other than these terrible visions of the night. There was work to do; and the cold sea-air was cooling the fevered brain, so that it all seemed pleasant and easy and glad. There was Colin Laing to be summoned from Greenock, and questioned. The yacht had to be provisioned for a long voyage. He had to prepare the mother and Janet for his going away. And might not Norman Ogilvie find out somehow when the marriage was to be, so that he would know how much time was left him?
But with all this eagerness and haste, he kept whispering to himself counsels of caution and prudence. He dared not awaken her suspicion by professing too much forgiveness or friendliness. He wrote to her—with what a trembling hand he put down those words, Dear Gertrude, on paper, and how wistfully he regarded them!—but the letter was a proud and cold letter. He said that he had been informed she was about to be married; he wished to ascertain from herself whether that was true. He would not reproach her, either with treachery or deceit; if this was true, passionate words would not be of much avail. But he would prefer to be assured, one way or another, by her own hand. That was the substance of the letter.
And then, the answer! He almost feared she would not write. But when Hamish himself brought that pink envelope to him, how his heart beat! And the old man stood there in silence, and with gloom on his face; was there to be, after all, no act of vengeance on her who had betrayed Macleod of Dare?
These few words seemed to have been written with unsteady fingers. He read them again and again. Surely there was no dark mystery within them.
"DEAR KEITH,—I cannot bear to write to you. I do not know how it has all happened. Forgive me, if you can and forget me. G."
"Oh, Hamish," said he, with a strange laugh, "it is an easy thing to forget that you have been alive? That would be an easy thing, if one were to ask you? But is not Colin Laing coming here to-day?"
"Oh yes, Sir Keith," Hamish said, with his eyes lighting up eagerly; "he will be here with the Pioneer, and I will send the boat out for him. Oh yes, and you are wanting to see him, Sir Keith?"
"Why, of course!" Macleod said. "If we are going away on a long voyage, do we not want a good pilot?"
"And we are going, Sir Keith?" the old man said; and there was a look of proud triumph in the keen face.
"Oh, I do not know yet," Macleod said, impatiently. "But you will tell Christina that, if we are going away to the South, we may have lady-visitors come on board, some day or another; and she would be better than a young lass to look after them, and make them comfortable on board. And if there is any clothes or ribbons she may want from Salen, Donald can go over with the pony; and you will not spare any money, Hamish, for I will give you the money."
"Very well, sir."
"And you will not send the boat out to the Pioneer till I give you a letter; and you will ask the clerk to be so kind as to post it for me to-night at Oban; and he must not forget that."
"Very well, sir," said Hamish; and he left the room, with a determined look about his lips, but with a glad light in his eyes.
This was the second letter that Macleod wrote; and he had to keep whispering to himself "Caution! caution!" or he would have broken into some wild appeal to his sweetheart far away.
"DEAR GERTRUDE," he wrote, "I gather from your note that it is true you are going to be married. I had heard some time ago, so your letter was no great shock to me; and what I have suffered—well, that can be of no interest to you now, and it will do me no good to recall it. As to your message, I would forgive you freely; but how can I forget? Can you forget? Do you remember the red rose? But that is all over now, I suppose; and I should not wonder if I were after all, to be able to obey you, and to forget very thoroughly—not that alone, but everything else. For I have been rather ill of late—more through sleeplessness than any other cause, I think; and they say I must go for a long sea-voyage; and the mother and Janet both say I should be more at home in the old Umpire, with Hamish and Christina, and my own people round me, than in a steamer; and so I may not hear of you again until you are separated from me forever. But I write now to ask you if you would like your letters returned, and one or two keepsakes, and the photographs. I would not like them to fall into other hands; and sometimes I feel so sick at heart that I doubt whether I shall ever again get back to Dare. There are some flowers, too; but I would ask to be allowed to keep them, if you have no objection; and the sketch of Ulva, that you made on the deck of the Umpire, when we were coming back from Iona, I would like to keep that, if you have no objection. And I remain your faithful friend,
Now, at the moment he was writing this letter, Lady Macleod and her niece were together; the old lady at her spinning-wheel, the younger one sewing; and Janet Macleod was saying,—
"Oh, auntie, I am so glad Keith is going away now in the yacht! and you must not be vexed at all or troubled if he stays a long time; for what else can make him well again? Why, you know that he has not been Keith at all of late,—he is quite another man—I do not think any one would recognize him. And surely there can be no better cure for sleeplessness than the rough work of the yachting; and you know Keith will take his share, in despite of Hamish; and if he goes away to the South, they will have watches, and he will take his watch with the others, and his turn at the helm. Oh, you will see the change when he comes back to us!"
The old lady's eyes had slowly filled with tears.
"And do you think it is sleeplessness, Janet," said she, "that is the matter with our Keith? Ah, but you know better than that, Janet."
Janet Macleod's face grew suddenly red; but she said, hastily,—
"Why, auntie, have I not heard him walking up and down all the night, whether it was in his own room or in the library? And then he is out before any one is up: oh yes, I know that when you cannot sleep the face grows white and the eyes grow tired. And he has not been himself at all—going away like that from every one, and having nothing to say, and going away by himself over the moors. And it was the night before last he came back from Kinloch, and he was wet through, and he only lay down on the bed, as Hamish told me, and would have slept there all the night, but for Hamish. And do you not think that was to get sleep at last that he had been walking so far, and coming through the shallows of Loch Scridain, too? Ah, but you will see the difference, auntie, when he comes back on board the Umpire, and we will go down to the shore, and we will be glad to see him that day."
"Oh yes, Janet," the old lady said, and the tears were running down her face, "but you know—you know. And if he had married you, Janet, and stayed at home at Dare, there would have been none of all this trouble. And now—what is there now? It is the young English lady that has broken his heart; and he is no longer a son to me, and he is no longer your cousin, Janet; but a broken-hearted man, that does not care for anything. And you are very kind, Janet; and you would not say any harm of any one. But I am his mother—I—I—well, if the woman was to come here this day, do you think I would not speak? It was a bad day for us all that he went away—instead of marrying you, Janet."
"But you know that could never have been, auntie," said the gentle-eyed cousin, though there was some conscious flush of pride in her cheeks. "I could never have married Keith."
"But why, Janet?"
"You have no right to ask me, auntie. But he and I—we did not care for each other—I mean, we never could have been married. I hope you will not speak about that any more, auntie."
"And some day they will take me, too, away from Dare," said the old dame, and the spinning-wheel was left unheeded; "and I cannot go into the grave with my five brave lads—for where are they all now, Janet?—in Arizona one, in Africa one, and two in the Crimea, and my brave Hector at Koniggratz. But that is not much; I shall be meeting them all together: and do you not think I shall be glad to see them all together again just as it was in the old days; and they will come to meet me; and they will be glad enough to have the mother with them once again. But, Janet, Janet, how can I go to them? What will I say to them when they ask about Keith—about Keith, my Benjamin, my youngest, my handsome lad?"
The old woman was sobbing bitterly; and Janet went to her and put her arms round her, and said,—
"Why, auntie, you must not think of such things. You will send Keith away in low spirits, if you have not a bright face and a smile for him when he goes away."
"But you do not know—you do not know," the old woman said, "what Keith has done for me. The others—oh yes, they were brave lads; and very proud of their name, too; and they would not disgrace their name, wherever they went; and if they died—that is nothing: for they will be together again now, and what harm is there? But Keith, he was the one that did more than any of them; for he stayed at home for my sake; and when other people were talking about this regiment and that regiment, Keith would not tell me what was sore at his heart; and never once did he say, 'Mother, I must go away like the rest,' though it was in his blood to go away. And what have I done now?—and what am I to say to his brothers when they come to ask me? I will say to them, 'Oh yes, he was the handsomest of all my six lads; and he had the proudest heart, too; but I kept him at home—and what came of it all?' Would it not be better now that he was lying buried in the jungle of the Gold Coast, or at Koniggratz, or in the Crimea?"
"Oh, surely not, auntie! Keith will come back to us soon; and when you see him well and strong again, and when you hear his laugh about the house, surely you will not be wishing that he was in his grave? Why, what is the matter with you to-day, auntie?"
"The others did not suffer much, Janet, and to three of them, anyway, it was only a bullet, a cry, and then the death sleep of a brave man and the grave of a Macleod. But Keith, Janet—he is my youngest—he is nearer to my heart than any of them: do you not see his face?"
"Yes, auntie," Janet Macleod said, in a low voice; "but he will get over that. He will come back to us strong and well."
"Oh yes, he will come back to us strong and well!" said the old lady, almost wildly, and she rose, and her face was pale. "But I think it is a good thing for that woman that my other sons are all away now; for they had quick tempers, those lads; and they would not like to see their brother murdered."
Lady Macleod would have answered in the same wild, passionate way; but at this very moment her son entered. She turned quickly; she almost feared to meet the look of this haggard face. But Keith Macleod said, quite cheerfully,—
"Well now, Janet, and will you go round to-day to look at the Umpire? And will you come too, mother? Oh, she is made very smart now; just as if we were all going away to see the Queen."
"I cannot go to-day, Keith," said his mother; and she left the room before he had time to notice that she was strangely excited.
"And I think I will go some other day, Keith," his cousin said, gently, "just before you start, that I may be sure you have not forgotten anything. And, of course, you will take the ladies' cabin, Keith, for yourself; for there is more light in that, and it is farther away from the smell of the cooking in the morning. And how can you be going to-day, Keith, when it is the man from Greenock will be here soon now?"
"Why, I forgot that, Janet," said he, laughing in a nervous way—"I forgot that, though I was talking to Hamish about him only a little while ago. And I think I might as well go out to meet the Pioneer myself, if the boat has not left yet. Is there anything you would like to get from Oban, Janet?"
"No, nothing, thank you, Keith," said she; and then he left; and he was in time to get into the big sailing-boat before it went out to meet the steamer.
This cousin of Hamish, who jumped into the boat when Macleod's letter had been handed up to the clerk, was a little, black-haired Celt, beady-eyed, nervous, but with the affectation of a sailor's bluffness, and he wore rings in his ears. However, when he was got ashore, and taken into the library, Macleod very speedily found out that the man had some fair skill in navigation, and that he had certainly been into a good number of ports in his lifetime. And if one were taking the Umpire into the mouth of the Thames, now? Mr. Lang looked doubtfully at the general chart Macleod had; he said he would rather have a special chart, which he could get at Greenock; for there were a great many banks about the mouth of the Thames; and he was not sure that he could remember the channel. And if one wished to go farther up the river, to some anchorage in communication by rail with London? Oh yes, there was Erith. And if one would rather have moorings than an anchorage, so that one might slip away without trouble when the tide and wind were favorable? Oh yes, there was nothing simpler than that. There were many yachts about Erith; and surely the pier-master could get the Umpire the loan of moorings. All through Castle Dare it was understood that there was no distinct destination marked down for the Umpire on this suddenly-arranged voyage of hers; but all the same Sir Keith Macleod's inquiries went no farther, at present at least, than the river Thames.
There came another letter in dainty pink; and this time there was less trembling in the handwriting, and there was a greater frankness in the wording of the note.
"DEAR KEITH," Miss White wrote, "I would like to have the letters; as for the little trifles you mention, it does not much matter. You have not said that you forgive me; perhaps it is asking too much; but believe me you will find some day it was all for the best. It is better now than later on. I had my fears from the beginning; did not I tell you that I was never sure of myself for a day? and I am sure papa warned me. I cannot make you any requital for the great generosity and forbearance you show to me now; but I would like to be allowed to remain your friend. G.W."
"P.S.—I am deeply grieved to hear of your being ill, but hope it is only something quite temporary. You could not have decided better than on taking a long sea-voyage. I hope you will have fine weather."
All this was very pleasant. They had got into the region of correspondence again; and Miss White was then mistress of the situation. His answer to her was less cheerful in tone. It ran thus:
"DEAR GERTRUDE,—To-morrow morning I leave Dare. I have made up your letters, etc., in a packet; but as I would like to see Norman Ogilvie before going farther south, it is possible that we may run into the Thames for a day; and so I have taken the packet with me, and, if I see Ogilvie, I will give it to him to put into your hands. And as this may be the last time that I shall ever write to you, I may tell you now there is no one anywhere more earnestly hopeful than I that you may live a long and happy life, not troubled by any thinking of what is past and irrevocable. Yours faithfully, KEITH MACLEOD."
So there was an end of correspondence. And now came this beautiful morning, with a fine northwesterly breeze blowing, and the Umpire, with her mainsail and jib set, and her gray pennon and ensign fluttering in the wind, rocking gently down there at her moorings. It was an auspicious morning; of itself it was enough to cheer up a heart-sick man. The white sea-birds were calling; and Ulva was shining green; and the Dutchman's Cap out there was of a pale purple-blue; while away in the south there was a vague silver mist of heat lying all over the Ross of Mull and Iona. And the proud lady of Castle Dare and Janet, and one or two others more stealthily, were walking down to the pier to see Keith Macleod set sail; but Donald was not there—there was no need for Donald or his pipes on board the yacht. Donald was up at the house, and looking at the people going down to the quay, and saying bitterly to himself, "It is no more thought of the pipes, now, that Sir Keith has, ever since the English lady was at Dare; and he thinks I am better at work in looking after the dogs."
Suddenly Macleod stopped, and took out a pencil and wrote something on a card.
"I was sure I had forgotten something, Janet," said he. "That is the address of Johnny Wickes's mother. We were to sent him up to see her some time before Christmas."
"Before Christmas!" Janet exclaimed; and she looked at him in amazement. "But you are coming back before Christmas, Keith!"
"Oh, well, Janet," said he carelessly, "you know that when one goes away on a voyage it is never certain about your coming back at all, and it is better to leave everything right."
"But you are not going away from us with thoughts like those in your head, surely?" the cousin said. "Why, the man from Greenock says you could go to America in the Umpire; and if you could go to America, there will not be much risk in the calmer seas of the South. And you know, Keith, auntie and I don't want you to trouble about writing letters to us; for you will have enough trouble in looking after the yacht; but you will send us a telegram from the various places you put into."
"Oh yes, I will do that," said he somewhat absently. Even the bustle of departure and the brightness of the morning had failed to put color and life into the haggard face and the hopeless eyes.
That was a sorrowful leave-taking at the shore; and Macleod, standing on the deck of the yacht, could see long after they had set sail, that his mother and cousin were still on the small quay watching the Umpire so long as she was in sight. Then they rounded the Ross of Mull, and he saw no more of the women of Castle Dare.
And this beautiful white sailed vessel that is going south through the summer seas: surely she is no deadly instrument of vengeance, but only a messenger of peace? Look, now how she has passed through the Sound of Iona; and the white sails are shining in the light; and far away before her, instead of islands with which she is familiar, are other islands—another Colonsay altogether, and Islay, and Jura, and Scarba, all a pale transparent blue. And what will the men on the lonely Dubh-Artach rock think of her as they see her pass by? Why, surely that she looks like a beautiful white dove. It is a summer day; the winds are soft; fly south, then, White Dove, and carry to her this message of tenderness, and entreaty, and peace? Surely the gentle ear will listen to you before the winter comes and the skies grow dark overhead, and there is no white dove at all, but an angry sea-eagle, with black wings outspread and talons ready to strike, Oh, what is the sound in the summer air? Is it the singing of the sea-maiden of Colonsay, bewailing still the loss of her lovers in other years? We cannot stay to listen; the winds are fair; fly southward, and still southward, oh you beautiful White Dove, and it is all a message of love and of peace that you will whisper to her ear.
DOVE, OR SEA-EAGLE?
But there are no fine visions troubling the mind of Hamish as he stands here by the tiller in eager consultation with Colin Laing, who has a chart outspread before him on the deck. There is pride in the old man's face. He is proud of the performances of the yacht he has sailed for so many years; and proud of himself for having brought her—always subject to the advice of his cousin from Greenock—in safety through the salt sea to the smooth waters of the great river. And, indeed, this is a strange scene for the Umpire to find around her in the years of her old age. For instead of the giant cliffs of Gribun and Bourg there is only the thin green line of the Essex coast; and instead of the rushing Atlantic there is the broad smooth surface of this coffee-colored stream, splashed with blue where the ripples catch the reflected light of the sky. There is no longer the solitude of Ulva and Colonsay, or the moaning of the waves round the lonely shores of Fladda, and Staffa, and the Dutchman; but the eager, busy life of the great river—a black steamer puffing and roaring, russet-sailed barges going smoothly with the ride, a tug bearing a large green-hulled Italian ship through the lapping waters, and everywhere a swarming fry of small boats of every description. It is a beautiful summer morning, though there is a pale haze lying along the Essex woods. The old Umpire, with the salt foam of the sea incrusted on her bows, is making her first appearance in the Thames.
"And where are we going, Hamish," says Colin Laing, in the Gaelic, "when we leave this place?"
"When you are told, then you will know," says Hamish.
"You had enough talk of it last night in the cabin. I thought you were never coming out of the cabin," says the cousin from Greenock.
"And if I have a master, I obey my master without speaking," Hamish answers.
"Well, it is a strange master you have got. Oh, you do not know about these things, Hamish. Do you know what a gentleman who has a yacht would do when he got into Gravesend as we got in last night? Why, he would go ashore, and have his dinner in a hotel, and drink four or five different kinds of wine, and go to the theatre. But your master, Hamish, what does he do? He stays on board, and sends ashore for time-tables and such things; and what is more than that, he is on deck all night, walking up and down. Oh yes; I heard him walking up and down all night, with the yacht lying at anchor!"
"Sir Keith is not well. When a man is not well he does not act in an ordinary way. But you talk of my master," Hamish answered, proudly. "Well, I will tell you about my master, Colin—that he is a better master than any ten thousand masters that ever were born in Greenock, or in London either. I will not allow any man to say anything against my master."
"I was not saying anything against your master. He is a wiser man than you, Hamish. For he was saying to me last night, 'Now, when I am sending Hamish to such and such places in London, you must go with him, and show him the trains, and cabs, and other things like that.' Oh yes, Hamish, you know how to sail a yacht; but you do not know anything about towns?"
"And who would want to know anything about towns? Are they not full of people who live by telling lies and cheating each other?"
"And do you say that is how I have been able to buy my house at Greenock," said Colin Laing, angrily, "with a garden, and a boathouse, too?"
"I do not know about that," said Hamish; and then he called out some order to one of the men. Macleod was at this moment down in the saloon, seated at the table, with a letter enclosed and addressed lying before him. But surely this was not the same man who had been in these still waters of the Thames in the by-gone days—with gay companions around him, and the band playing "A Highland Lad my Love was born," and a beautiful-eyed girl, whom he called Rose-leaf, talking to him in the quiet of the summer noon. This man had a look in his eyes like that of an animal that has been hunted to death, and is fain to lie down and give itself up to its pursuers in the despair of utter fatigue. He was looking at this letter. The composition of it had cost him only a whole night's agony. And when he sat down and wrote it in the blue-gray dawn, what had he not cast away?
"Oh no," he was saying now to his own conscience, "she will not call it deceiving! She will laugh when it is all over—she will call it a stratagem—she will say that a drowning man will catch at anything. And this is the last effort—but it is only a stratagem: she herself will absolve me, when she laughs and says, 'Oh, how could you have treated the poor theatres so?'"
A loud rattling overhead startled him.
"We must be at Erith," he said to himself; and then, after a pause of a second, he took the letter in his hand. He passed up the companion-way. Perhaps it was the sudden glare of the light around that falsely gave to his eyes the appearance of a man who had been drinking hard; but his voice was clear and precise as he said to Hamish,—
"Now, Hamish, you understand everything I have told you?"
"Oh yes, Sir Keith."
"And you will put away that nonsense from your head; and when you see the English lady that you remember, you will be very respectful to her, for she is a very great friend of mine; and if she is not at the theatre, you will go on to the other address, and Colin Laing will go with you in the cab. And if she comes back in the cab, you and Colin will go outside beside the driver, do you understand? And when you go ashore, you will take John Cameron with you, and you will ask the pier-master about the moorings."
"Oh yes, Sir Keith; have you not told me before?" Hamish said, almost reproachfully.
"You are sure you got everything on board last night?"
"There is nothing more that I can think of, Sir Keith."
"Here is the letter, Hamish."
And so he pledged himself to the last desperate venture.
Not long after that Hamish, and Laing, and John Cameron went in the dingy to the end of Erith pier, and left the boat there; and went along to the head of the pier, and had a talk with the pier-master. Then John Cameron went back, and the other two went on their way to the railway-station.
"And I will tell you this, Hamish," said the little black Celt, who swaggered a good deal in his walk, "that when you go in the train you will be greatly frightened; for you do not know how strong the engines are, and how they will carry you through the air."
"That is a foolish thing to say," answered Hamish, also speaking in the Gaelic; "for I have seen many pictures of trains; and do you say that the engines are bigger than the engines of the Pioneer, or the Dunara Castle, or the Clansman that goes to Stornoway? Do not talk such nonsense to me. An engine that runs along the road, that is a small matter; but an engine that can take you up the Sound of Sleat, and across the Minch, and all the way to Stornoway, that is an engine to be talked about!"
But nevertheless it was with some inward trepidation that Hamish approached Erith station; and it was with an awestruck silence that he saw his cousin take tickets at the office; nor did he speak a word when the train came up and they entered and sat down in the carriage. Then the train moved off, and Hamish breathed more freely: what was this to be afraid of?
"Did I not tell you you would be frightened?" Colin Laing said.
"I am not frightened at all," Hamish answered, indignantly.
But as the train began to move more quickly, Hamish's hands, that held firmly by the wooden seat on which he was sitting, tightened and still further tightened their grasp, and his teeth got clinched, while there was an anxious look in his eyes. At length, as the train swung into a good pace, his fear got the better of him, and he called out,—
"Colin, Colin, she's run away?"
And then Colin Laing laughed aloud, and began to assume great airs; and told Hamish that he was no better than a lad kept for herding the sheep, who had never been away from his own home. This familiar air reassured Hamish; and then the train stopping at Abbey Wood proved to him that the engine was still under control.
"Oh yes, Hamish," continued his travelled cousin, "you will open your eyes when you see London; and you will tell all the people when you go back that you have never seen so great a place; but what is London to the cities and the towns and the palaces that I have seen? Did you ever hear of Valparaiso, Hamish? Oh yes, you will live a long time before you will get to Valparaiso! And Rio: why, I have known mere boys that have been to Rio. And you can sail a yacht very well, Hamish; and I do not grumble that you would be the master of the yacht, though I know the banks and the channels a little better than you, and it was quite right of you to be the master of the yacht; but you have not seen what I have seen. And I have been where there are mountains and mountains of gold—"
"Do you take me for a fool, Colin?" said Hamish, with a contemptuous smile.
"Not quite that," said the other, "but am I not to believe my own eyes?"
"And if there were the great mountains of gold," said Hamish, "why did you not fill your pockets with the gold? and would not that be better than selling whiskey in Greenock?"
"Yes; and that shows what an ignorant man you are, Hamish," said the other, with disdain. "For do you not know that the gold is mixed with quartz and you have got to take the quartz out? But I dare say now you do not know what quartz is; for it is a very ignorant man you are, although you can sail a yacht. But I do not grumble at all. You are master of your own yacht, just as I am the master of my own shop. But if you were coming into my shop, Hamish, I would say to you, 'Hamish, you are the master here, and I am not the master; and you can take a glass of anything that you like.' That is what people who have travelled all over the world, and seen princes and great cities and palaces, call politeness. But how could you know anything about politeness? You have lived only on the west coast of Mull; and they do not even know how to speak good Gaelic there."
"That is a lie, Colin!" said Hamish, with decision, "We have better Gaelic there than any other Gaelic that is spoken."
"Were you ever in Lochaber, Hamish?"
"No, I was never in Lochaber."
"Then do not pretend to give an opinion about the Gaelic—especially to a man who has travelled all over the world, though perhaps he cannot sail a yacht as well as you, Hamish."
The two cousins soon became friends again, however. And now, as they were approaching London, a strange thing became visible. The blue sky grew more and more obscured. The whole world seemed to be enveloped in a clear brown haze of smoke.
"Ay, ay," said Hamish, "that is a strange thing."
"What is a strange thing, Hamish?"
"I was reading about it in a book many a time—the great fire that was burning in London for years and years and years, and have they not quite got it out yet, Colin?"
"I do not know what you are talking about, Hamish," said the other, who had not much book-learning, "but I will tell you this, that you may prepare yourself now to open your eyes. Oh yes, London will make you open your eyes wide; though it is nothing to one who has been to Rio, and Shanghai, and Rotterdam, and other places like that."
Now these references to foreign parts only stung Hamish's pride, and when they did arrive at London Bridge he was determined to show no surprise whatever. He stepped into the four-wheeled cab that Colin Laing chartered, just as if four-wheeled cabs were as common as sea-gulls on the shores of Loch-na-Keal. And though his eyes were bewildered and his ears dinned with the wonderful sights and sounds of this great roaring city—that seemed to have the population of all the world pouring through its streets—he would say nothing at all. At last the cab stopped; the two men were opposite the Piccadilly Theatre.
Then Hamish got out and left his cousin with the cab, He ascended the wide steps; he entered the great vestibule; and he had a letter in his hand. The old man had not trembled so much since he was a schoolboy.
"What do you want, my man?" some one said, coming out of the box-office by chance. Hamish showed the letter.
"I wass to hef an answer, sir if you please, sir, and I will be opliged," said Hamish, who had been enjoined to be very courteous.
"Take it round to the stage entrance," said the man, carelessly.
"Yes, sir, if you please, sir," said Hamish; but he did not understand; and he stood.
The man looked at him; called for some one: a young lad came, and to him was given the letter.
"You may wait here, then," said he to Hamish; "but I think rehearsal is over, and Miss White has most likely gone home."
The man went into the box-office again; Hamish was left alone there, in the great empty vestibule. The Piccadilly Theatre had seldom seen within its walls a more picturesque figure than this old Highlandman, who stood there with his sailor's cap in his hand, and with a keen excitement in the proud and fine face. There was a watchfulness in the gray eyes like the watchfulness of an eagle. If he twisted his cap rather nervously, and if his heart beat quick, it was not from fear.
Now, when the letter was brought to Miss White, she was standing in one of the wings, laughing and chatting with the stage manager. The laugh went from her face. She grew quite pale.
"Oh, Mr. Cartwright," said she, "do you think I could go down to Erith and be back before six in the evening?"
"Oh yes, why not?" said he carelessly.
But she scarcely heard him. She was still staring at that sheet of paper, with its piteous cry of the sick man. Only to see her once more—to shake hands in token of forgiveness—to say good-by for the last time: what woman with the heart of a woman could resist this despairing prayer?
"Where is the man who brought this letter?" said she.
"In front, miss," said the young lad, "by the box-office."
Very quickly she made her way along the gloomy and empty corridors, and there in the twilit hall she found the gray-haired old sailor, with his cap held humbly in his hands. "Oh, Hamish," said she, "is Sir Keith so very ill?"
"Is it ill, mem?" said Hamish; and quick tears sprang to the old man's eyes. "He iss more ill than you can think of, mem; it iss another man that he iss now. Ay, ay, who would know him to be Sir Keith Macleod?"
"He wants me to go and see him; and I suppose I have no time to go home first—"
"Here is the list of the trains, mem," said Hamish, eagerly, producing a certain card. "And it iss me and Colin Laing, that's my cousin, mem; and we hef a cab outside; and will you go to the station? Oh, you will not know Sir Keith, mem; there iss no one at all would know my master now."
"Come along, then, Hamish," said she, quickly. "Oh, but he cannot be so ill as that. And the long sea-voyage will pull him round, don't you think?"
"Ay, ay, mem," said Hamish; but he was paying little heed. He called up the cab, and Miss White stepped inside, and he and Colin Laing got on the box.
"Tell him to go quickly," she said to Hamish, "for I must have something instead of luncheon if we have a minute at the station."
And Miss White, as the cab rolled away, felt pleased with herself. It was a brave act.
"It is the least I can do for the sake of my bonny Glenogie," she was saying to herself, quite cheerfully. "And if Mr. Lemuel were to hear of it? Well, he must know that I mean to be mistress of my own conduct. And so the poor Glenogie is really ill. I can do no harm in parting good friends with him. Some men would have made a fuss."
At the station they had ten minutes to wait; and Miss White was able to get the slight refreshment she desired. And although Hamish would fain have kept out of her way—for it was not becoming in a rude sailor to be seen speaking to so fine a lady—she would not allow that.
"And where are you going, Hamish, when you leave the Thames?" she asked, smoothing the fingers of the glove she had just put on again.
"I do not know that, mem," said he.
"I hope Sir Keith won't go to Torquay or any of those languid places. You will go to the Mediterranean, I suppose?"
"Maybe that will be the place, mem," said Hamish.
"Or the Isle of Wight, perhaps," said she, carelessly.
"Ay, ay, mem—the Isle of Wight—that will be a ferry good place, now. There wass a man I wass seeing once in Tobbermorry, and he wass telling me about the castle that the Queen herself will hef on that island. And Mr. Ross, the Queen's piper, he will be living there too."
But, of course, they had to part company when the train came up; and Hamish and Colin Laing got into a third-class carriage together. The cousin from Greenock had been hanging rather in the background; but he had kept his ears open.
"Now, Hamish," said he, in the tongue in which they could both speak freely enough, "I will tell you something; and do not think I am an ignorant man, for I know what is going on. Oh yes. And it is a great danger you are running into."
"What do you mean, Colin?" said Hamish; but he would look out of the window.
"When a gentleman goes away in a yacht, does he take an old woman like Christina with him? Oh no; I think not. It is not a customary thing. And the ladies' cabin; the ladies' cabin is kept very smart, Hamish. And I think I know who is to have the ladies' cabin?"
"Then you are very clever, Colin," said Hamish, contemptously. "But it is too clever you are. You think it strange that the young English lady should take that cabin. I will tell you this—that it is not the first time nor the second time that the young English lady has gone for a voyage in the Umpire, and in that very cabin too. And I will tell you this, Colin; that it is this very year she had that cabin; and was in Loch Tua, and Loch-na-Keal, and Loch Scridain, and Calgary Bay. And as for Christina—oh, it is much you know about fine ladies in Greenock! I tell you that an English lady cannot go anywhere without someone to attend to her."
"Hamish, do not try to make a fool of me," said Laing angrily. "Do you think a lady would go travelling without any luggage? And she does not know where the Umpire is going!"
"Do you know?"
"Very well, then. It is Sir Keith Macleod who is the master when he is on board the Umpire, and where he wants to go the others have to go."
"Oh, do you think that? And do you speak like that to a man who can pay eighty-five pounds a year of rent?"
"No, I do not forget that it is a kindness to me that you are doing, Colin; and to Sir Keith Macleod, too; and he will not forget it. But as for this young lady, or that young lady, what has that to do with it? You know what the bell of Scoon said, 'That which concerns you not, meddle not with.'"
"I shall be glad when I am back in Greenock," said Colin Laing, moodily.
But was not this a fine, fair scene that Miss Gertrude White saw around her when they came in sight of the river and Erith pier?—the flashes of blue on the water, the white-sailed yachts, the russet-sailed barges, and the sunshine shining all along the thin line of the Essex shore. The moment she set foot on the pier she recognized the Umpire lying out there, the great white mainsail and jib idly flapping in the summer breeze: but there was no one on deck. And she was not afraid at all; for had he not written in so kindly a fashion to her; and was she not doing much for his sake too?
"Will the shock be great?" she was thinking to herself. "I hope my bonnie Glenogie is not so ill as that; for he always looked like a man. And it is so much better that we should part good friends."
She turned to Hamish.
"There is no one on the deck of the yacht, Hamish," said she.
"No, mem," said he, "the men will be at the end of the pier, mem, in the boat, if you please, mem."
"Then you took it for granted I should come back with you?" said she, with a pleasant smile.
"I wass thinking you would come to see Sir Keith, mem," said Hamish, gravely. His manner was very respectful to the fine English lady; but there was not much of friendliness in his look.
She followed Hamish down the rude wooden steps at the end of the pier; and there they found the dingy awaiting them, with two men in her. Hamish was very careful of Miss White's dress as she got into the stern of the boat; then he and Colin Laing got into the bow; and the men half paddled and half floated her along to the Umpire—the tide having begun to ebb.
And it was with much ceremony, too, that Hamish assisted Miss White to get on board by the little gangway; and for a second or two she stood on deck and looked around her while the men were securing the dingy. The idlers lounging on Erith pier must have considered that this was an additional feature of interest in the summer picture—the figure of this pretty young lady standing there on the white decks and looking around her with a pleased curiosity. It was some little time since she had been on board the Umpire.
Then Hamish turned to her, and said, in the same respectful way,
"Will you go below, mem, now? It iss in the saloon that you will find Sir Keith; and if Christina iss in the way, you will tell her to go away, mem."
The small gloved hand was laid on the top of the companion, and Miss White carefully went down the wooden steps. And it was with a gentleness equal to her own that Hamish shut the little doors after her.
But no sooner had she quite disappeared than the old man's manner swiftly changed. He caught hold of the companion hatch, jammed it across with a noise that was heard throughout the whole vessel; and then he sprang to the helm, with the keen gray eyes afire with a wild excitement.
"—— her, we have her now!" he said, between his teeth; and he called aloud: "Hold the jib to weather there! Off with the moorings, John Cameron! —— her, we have her now!—and it is not yet that she has put a shame on Macleod of Dare!"
The sudden noise overhead and the hurried trampling of the men on deck were startling enough; but surely there was nothing to alarm her in the calm and serious face of this man who stood before her. He did not advance to her. He regarded her with a sad tenderness, as if he were looking at one far away. When the beloved dead come back to us in the wonder-halls of sleep, there is no wild joy of meeting: there is something strange. And when they disappear again, there is no surprise: only the dull aching returns to the heart.
"Gertrude," said he, "you are as safe here as ever you were in your mother's arms. No one will harm you."
"What is it? What do you mean?" said she, quickly.
She was somewhat bewildered. She had not expected to meet him thus suddenly face to face. And then she became aware that the companion-way by which she had descended into the saloon had grown dark: that was the meaning of the harsh noise.
"I want to go ashore, Keith," said she hurriedly. "Put me on shore. I will speak to you there."
"You cannot go ashore," said he, calmly.
"I don't know what you mean," said she; and her heart began to beat hurriedly. "I tell you I want to go ashore, Keith. I will speak to you there."
"You cannot go ashore, Gertrude," he repeated. "We have already left Erith. * * * Gerty, Gerty," he continued, for she was struck dumb with a sudden terror, "don't you understand now? I have stolen you away from yourself. There was but the one thing left: the one way of saving you. And you will forgive me, Gerty, when you understand it all—"
She was gradually recovering from her terror. She did understand it now. And he was not ill at all.
"Oh, you coward! you coward! you coward!" she exclaimed, with a blaze of fury in her eyes. "And I was to confer a kindness on you—a last kindness! But you dare not do this thing! I tell you, you dare not do it! I demand to be put on shore at once! Do you hear me?"
She turned wildly round, as if to seek for some way of escape. The door in the ladies' cabin stood open; the clay-light was streaming down into that cheerful little place; there were some flowers on the dressing-table. But the way by which she had descended was barred over and dark.
She faced him again, and her eyes were full of fierce indignation and anger; she drew herself up to her full height; she overwhelmed him with taunts, and reproaches, and scorn. That was a splendid piece of acting, seeing that it had never been rehearsed. He stood unmoved before all this theatrical rage.
"Oh yes, you were proud of your name," she was saying, with bitter emphasis; "and I thought you belonged to a race of gentlemen, to whom lying was unknown. And you were no longer murderous and revengeful; but you can take your revenge on a woman, for all that! And you ask me to come and see you, because you are ill! And you have laid a trap—like a coward!"
"And if I am what you say, Gerty," said he, quite gently, "it is the love of you that has made me that. Oh, you do not know!"
She saw nothing of the lines that pain had written on this man's face; she recognized nothing of the very majesty of grief in the hopeless eyes. He was only her gaoler, her enemy.
"Of course—of course," she said. "It is the woman—it is always the woman who is in fault! That is a manly thing, to put the blame on the woman! And it is a manly thing to take your revenge on a woman! I thought, when a man had a rival, that it was his rival whom he sought out. But you—you kept out of the way—"