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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 10. Last Nights
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 10. Last Nights Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1954

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 10. Last Nights

CHAPTER X. LAST NIGHTS

"Good-night, Macleod!"--"Good-night!"--"Good-night!" The various voices came from the top of a drag. They were addressed to one of two young men who stood on the steps of the Star and Garter--black fingers in the blaze of light. And now the people on the drag had finally ensconced themselves, and the ladies had drawn their ample cloaks more completely around their gay costumes, and the two grooms were ready to set free the heads of the leaders. "Good-night, Macleod!" Lord Beauregard called again; and then, with a little preliminary prancing of the leaders, away swung the big vehicle through the clear darkness of the sweet-scented summer night.

"It was awfully good-natured of Beauregard to bring six of your people down and take them back again," observed Lieutenant Ogilvie to his companion. "He wouldn't do it for most folks. He wouldn't do it for me. But then you have the grand air, Macleod. You seem to be conferring a favor when you get one."

"The people have been very kind to me," said Macleod, simply. "I do not know why. I wish I could take them all up to Castle Dare and entertain them as a prince could entertain people--"

"I want to talk to you about that, Macleod," said his companion. "Shall we go upstairs again? I have left my hat and coat there."

They went upstairs, and entered a long chamber which had been formed by the throwing of two rooms into one. The one apartment had been used as a sort of withdrawing room; in the other stood the long banquet-table, still covered with bright-colored flowers, and dishes of fruit, and decanters and glasses. Ogilvie sat down, lit a cigar, and poured himself out some claret.

"Macleod," said he, "I am going to talk to you like a father. I hear you have been going on in a mad way. Surely you know that a batchelor coming up to London for a season, and being asked about by people who are precious glad to get unmarried men to their houses, is not expected to give these swell dinner parties? And then, it seems, you have been bringing down all your people in drags. What do those flowers cost you? I dare say this is Lafitte, now?"

"And if it is, why not drink it and say no more about it? I think they enjoyed themselves pretty well this evening--don't you, Ogilvie?"

"Yes, yes; but then, my dear fellow, the cost! You will say it is none of my business; but what would your decent, respectable mother say to all this extravagance?"

"Ah?" said Macleod, "that is just the thing; I should have more pleasure in my little dinner parties if only the mother and Janet were here to see. I think the table would look a good deal better if my mother was at the head of it. And the cost?--oh, I am only following out her instructions. She would not have people think that I was insensible to the kindness that has been shown me; and then we cannot ask all those good friends up to Castle Dare; it is an out-of-the-way place, and there are no flowers on the dining-table there."

He laughed as he looked at the beautiful things before him; they would look strange in the gaunt hall of Castle Dare.

"Why," said he, "I will tell you a secret, Ogilvie. You know my cousin Janet--she is the kindest-hearted of all the women I know--and when I was coming away she gave me L2000, just in case I should need it."

"L2000!" exclaimed Ogilvie. "Did she think you were going to buy Westminster Abbey during the course of your holidays?" And then he looked at the table before him, and a new idea seemed to strike him. "You don't mean to say, Macleod, that it is your cousin's money--"

Macleod's face flushed angrily. Had any other man made the suggestion, he would have received a tolerably sharp answer. But he only said to his old friend Ogilvie,--

"No, no, Ogilvie; we are not very rich folks; but we have not come to that yet. 'I'd sell my kilts, I'd sell my shoon,' as the song says, before I touched a farthing of Janet's money. But I had to take it from her so as not to offend her. It is wonderful, the anxiety and affection of women who live away out of the world like that. There was my mother, quite sure that something awful was going to happen to me, merely because I was going away for two or three months, And Janet--I suppose she knew that our family never was very good at saving money--she would have me take this little fortune of hers, just as if the old days were come back, and the son of the house was supposed to go to Paris to gamble away every penny."

"By the way, Macleod," said Ogilvie, "you have never gone to Paris, as you intended."

"No," said he, trying to balance three nectarines one on the top of the other, "I have not gone to Paris. I have made enough friends in London. I have had plenty to occupy the time. And now, Ogilvie," he added, brightly, "I am going in for my last frolic, before everybody has left London, and you must come to it, even if you have to go down by your cold-meat train again. You know Miss Rawlinson; you have seen her at Mrs. Ross's, no doubt. Very well; I met her first when we went down to the Thames yacht race, and afterwards we became great friends; and the dear little old lady already looks on me as if I were her son. And do you know what her proposal is? That she is to give me up her house and garden for a garden party, and I am to ask my friends; and it is to be a dance as well, for we shall ask the people to have supper at eight o'clock or so; and then we shall have a marquee--and the garden all lighted up--do you see? It is one of the largest gardens on Campden Hill; and the colored lamps hung on the trees will make it look very fine; and we shall have a band to play music for the dancers--"

"It will cost you L200 or L300 at least," said Ogilvie, sharply.

"What then? You give your friends a pleasant evening, and you show them that you are not ungrateful," said Macleod.

Ogilvie began to ponder over this matter. The stories he had heard of Macleod's extravagant entertainments were true, then. Suddenly he looked up and said,--

"Is Miss White to be one of your guests?"

"I hope so," said he. "The theatre will be closed at the end of this week."

"I suppose you have been a good many times to the theatre."

"To the Piccadilly Theatre?"

"Yes."

"I have been only once to the Piccadilly Theatre--when you and I went together," said Macleod, coldly; and they spoke no more of that matter.

By and by they thought they might as well smoke outside, and so they went down and out upon the high and walled terrace overlooking the broad valley of the Thames. And now the moon had arisen in the south, and the winding river showed a pale gray among the black woods, and there was a silvery light on the stone parapet on which they leaned their arms. The night was mild and soft and clear, there was an intense silence around, but they heard the faint sound of oars far away--some boating party getting home through the dark shadows of the river-side trees.

"It is a beautiful life you have here in the south," Macleod said, after a time, "though I can imagine that the women enjoy it more than the men. It is natural for women to enjoy pretty colors, and flowers, and bright lights, and music; and I suppose it is the mild air that lets their eyes grow so big and clear. But the men--I should think they must get tired of doing nothing. They are rather melancholy, and their hands are white. I wonder they don't begin to hate Hyde Park, and kid gloves, and tight boots. Ogilvie," said he, suddenly, straightening himself up, "what do you say to the 12th? A few breathers over Ben-an-Sloich would put new lungs into you. I don't think you look quite so limp as most of the London men; but still you are not up to the mark. And then an occasional run out to Coll or Tiree in that old tub of ours, with a brisk sou'-wester blowing across--that would put some mettle into you. Mind you, you won't have any grand banquets at Castle Dare. I think it is hard on the poor old mother that she should have all the pinching, and none of the squandering; but women seem to have rather a liking for these sacrifices, and both she and Janet are very proud of the family name; I believe they would live on sea-weed for a year if only their representative in London could take Buckingham Palace for the season. And Hamish--don't you remember Hamish?--he will give you a hearty welcome to Dare, and he will tell you the truth about any salmon or stag you may kill, though he was never known to come within five pounds of the real weight of any big salmon I ever caught. Now then, what do you say?"

"Ah, it is all very well," said Lieutenant Ogilvie. "If we could all get what we want, there would scarcely be an officer in Aldershot Camp on the 12th of August. But I must say there are some capitally good fellows in our mess--and it isn't every one gets the chance you offer me--and there's none of the dog-in-the-manger feeling about them: in short. I do believe, Macleod, that I could get off for a week or so about the 20th."

"The 20th? So be it. Then you will have the blackcock added in."

"When do you leave?"

"On the 1st of August--the morning after my garden party. You must come to it, Ogilvie. Lady Beauregard has persuaded her husband to put off their going to Ireland for three days in order to come. And I have got old Admiral Maitland coming--with his stories of the press-gang, and of Nelson, and of the raids on the merchant-ships for officers for the navy. Did you know that Miss Rawlinson was an old sweetheart of his? He knew her when she lived in Jamaica with her father--several centuries ago you would think, judging by their stories. Her father got L28,000 from the government when his slaves were emancipated. I wish I could get the old admiral up to Dare--he and the mother would have some stories to tell, I think. But you don't like long journeys at ninety-two."

He was in a pleasant and talkative humor, this bright-faced and stalwart young fellow, with his proud, fine features and his careless air. One could easily see how these old folks had made a sort of a pet of him. But while he went on with this desultory chatting about the various people whom he had met, and the friendly invitations he had received, and the hopes he had formed of renewing his acquantainceship with this person and the next person, should chance bring him again to London soon, he never once mentioned the name of Miss Gertrude White, or referred to her family, or even to her public appearances, about which there was plenty of talk at this time. Yet Lieutenant Ogilvie, on his rare visits to London, had more than once heard Sir Keith Macleod's name mentioned in conjunction with that of the young actress whom society was pleased to regard with a special and unusual favor just then; and once or twice he, as Macleod's friend, had been archly questioned on the subject by some inquisitive lady, whose eyes asked more than her words. But Lieutenant Ogilvie was gravely discreet. He neither treated the matter with ridicule, nor, on the other hand, did he pretend to know more than he actually knew--which was literally nothing at all. For Macleod, who was, in ordinary circumstances, anything but a reserved or austere person, was on this subject strictly silent, evading questions with a proud and simple dignity that forbade the repetition of them. "_The thing that concerns you not, meddle not with:_" he observed the maxim himself, and expected others to do the like.

It was an early dinner they had had, after their stroll in Richmond Park, and it was a comparatively early train that Macleod and his friend now drove down to catch, after he had paid his bill. When they reached Waterloo Station it was not yet eleven o'clock; when he, having bade good-bye to Ogilvie, got to his rooms in Bary Street, it was but a few minutes after. He was joyfully welcomed by his faithful friend Oscar.

"You poor dog," said he, "here have we been enjoying ourselves all the day, and you have been in prison. Come, shall we go for a run?"

Oscar jumped up on him with a whine of delight; he knew what that taking up of the hat again meant. And then there was a silent stealing downstairs, and a slight, pardonable bark of joy in the hall, and a wild dash into the freedom of the narrow street when the door was opened. Then Oscar moderated his transports, and kept pretty close to his master as together they began to wander through the desert wilds of London.

Piccadilly?--Oscar had grown as expert in avoiding the rattling broughams and hansoms as the veriest mongrel that ever led a vagrant life in London streets. Berekely Square?--here there was comparative quiet, with the gas lamps shining up on the thick foliage of the maples. In Grosvenor Square he had a bit of a scamper; but there was no rabbit to hunt. In Oxford Street his master took him into a public-house and gave him a biscuit and a drink of water; after that his spirits rose a bit, and he began to range ahead in Baker Street. But did Oscar know any more than his master why they had taken this direction?

Still farther north; and now there were a good many trees about; and the moon, high in the heavens, touched the trembling foliage, and shone white on the front of the houses. Oscar was a friendly companion; but he could not be expected to notice that his master glanced somewhat nervously along South Bank when he had reached the entrance to that thoroughfare. Apparently the place was quite deserted; there was nothing visible but the walls, trees, and houses, one side in black shadow, the other shining cold and pale in the moonlight. After a moment's hesitation Macleod resumed his walk, though he seemed to tread more softly.

And now, in the perfect silence, he neared a certain house, though but little of it was visible over the wall and through the trees. Did he expect to see a light in one of those upper windows, which the drooping acacias did not altogether conceal. He walked quickly by, with his head averted. Oscar had got a good way in front, not doubting that his master was following him.

But Macleod, perhaps having mustered up further courage, stopped in his walk, and returned. This time he passed more slowly, and turned his head to the house, as if listening. There was no light in the windows; there was no sound at all; there was no motion but that of the trembling acacia leaves as the cold wind of the night stirred them. And then he passed over to the south side of the thoroughfare, and stood in the black shadow of a high wall; and Oscar came and looked up into his face.

A brougham rattled by; then there was utter stillness again; and the moonlight shone on the front of the small house; which was to all appearances as lifeless as the grave. Then, far away, twelve o'clock struck, and the sound seemed distant as the sound of a bell at sea in this intense quiet.

He was alone with the night, and with the dreams and fancies of the night. Would he, then, confess to himself that which he would confess to no other? Or was it merely some passing whim--some slight underchord of sentiment struck amidst the careless joy of a young man's holiday--that had led him up into the silent region of trees and moonlight? The scene around him was romantic enough, but he certainly had not the features of an anguish-stricken lover.

Again the silence of the night was broken by the rumbling of a cab that came along the road; and now, whatever may have been the fancy that brought him hither, he turned to leave, and Oscar joyfully bounded out into the road. But the cab, instead of continuing its route, stopped at the gate of the house he had been watching, and two young ladies stepped out. Fionaghal, the Fair Stranger, had not, then, been wandering in the enchanted land of dreams, but toiling home in a humble four-wheeler from the scene of her anxious labors? He would have slunk away rapidly but for an untoward accident. Oscar, ranging up and down, came upon an old friend, and instantly made acquaintance with her, on seeing which, Macleod, with deep vexation at his heart, but with a pleasant and careless face, had to walk along also.

"What an odd meeting!" said he. "I have been giving Oscar a run. I am glad to have a chance of bidding you good-night. You are not very tired, I hope."

"I am rather tired," said she; "but I have only two more nights, and then my holiday begins."

He shook hands with both sisters, and wished them good-night, and departed. As Miss Gertrude White went into her father's house she seemed rather grave.

"Gerty," said the younger sister, as she screwed up the gas, "wouldn't the name of Lady Macleod look well in a play-bill?"

The elder sister would not answer; but as she turned away there was a quick flush of color in her face--whether caused by anger or by a sudden revelation of her own thought it was impossible to say.

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