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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 11. A Flower
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 11. A Flower Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3479

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 11. A Flower

CHAPTER XI. A FLOWER

The many friends Macleod had made in the South--or rather those of them who had remained in town till the end of the season--showed an unwonted interest in this nondescript party of his; and it was at a comparatively early hour in the evening that the various groups of people began to show themselves in Miss Rawlinson's garden. That prim old lady, with her quick, bright ways, and her humorous little speeches, studiously kept herself in the background. It was Sir Keith Macleod who was the host. And when he remarked to her that he thought the most beautiful night of all the beautiful time he had spent in the South had been reserved for this very party, she replied--looking round the garden just as if she had been one of his guests--that it was a pretty scene. And it was a pretty scene. The last fire of the sunset was just touching the topmost branches of the trees. In the colder shade below, the banks and beds of flowers and the costumes of the ladies acquired a strange intensity of color. Then there was a band playing, and a good deal of chatting going on, and one old gentleman with a grizzled mustache humbly receiving lessons in lawn tennis from an imperious small maiden of ten. Macleod was here, there, and everywhere. The lanterns were to be lit while the people were in at supper. Lieutenant Ogilvie was directed to take in Lady Beauregard when the time arrived.

"You must take her in yourself, Macleod," said that properly constituted youth. "If you outrage the sacred laws of precedence--"

"I mean to take Miss Rawlinson in to supper," said Macleod; "she is the oldest woman here, and I think, my best friend."

"I thought you might wish to give Miss White the place of honor," said Ogilvie, out of sheer impertinence; but Macleod went off to order the candles to be lit in the marquee, where supper was laid.

By and by he came out again. And now the twilight had drawn on apace; there was a cold, clear light in the skies, while at the same moment a red glow began to shine through the canvas of the long tent. He walked over to one little group who were seated on a garden chair.

"Well," said he, "I have got pretty nearly all my people together now, Mrs. Ross."

"But where is Gertrude White?" said Mrs. Ross; "surely she is to be here?"

"Oh yes, I think so," said he. "Her father and herself both promised to come. You know her holidays have begun now."

"It is a good thing for that girl," said Miss Rawlinson, in her quick, _staccato fashion, "that she has few holidays. Very good thing she has her work to mind. The way people run after her would turn any woman's head. The Grand D---- is said to have declared that she was one of the three prettiest women he saw in England: what can you expect if things like that get to a girl's ears?"

"But you know Gerty is quite unspoiled," said Mrs. Ross, warmly.

"Yes, so far," said the old lady, "So far she retains the courtesy of being hypocritical."

"Oh, Miss Rawlinson, I won't have you say such things of Gerty White!" Mrs. Ross protested. "You are a wicked old woman--isn't she Hugh?"

"I am saying it to her credit," continued the old lady, with much composure. "What I say is, that most pretty women who are much run after are flattered into frankness. When they are introduced to you, they don't take the trouble to conceal that they are quite indifferent to you. A plain woman will be decently civil, and will smile, and pretend she is pleased. A beauty--a recognized beauty--doesn't take the trouble to be hypocritical. Now Miss White does."

"It is an odd sort of compliment," said Colonel Ross, laughing. "What do you think of it Macleod?"

"These are too great refinements for my comprehension," said he, modestly. "I think if a pretty woman is uncivil to you, it is easy for you to turn on your heel and go away."

"I did not say uncivil--don't you go misrepresenting a poor old woman, Sir Keith. I said she is most likely to be flattered into being honest--into showing a stranger that she is quite indifferent, whereas a plain woman will try to make herself a little agreeable. Now a poor lone creature like myself likes to fancy that people are glad to see her, and Miss White pretends as much. It is very kind. By and by she will get spoiled like the rest, and then she will become honest. She will shake hands with me, and then turn off, as much as to say, 'Go away, you ugly old woman, for I can't be bothered with you, and I don't expect any money from you, and why should I pretend to like you?'"

All this was said in a half-jesting way; and it certainly did not at all represent--so far as Macleod had ever made out--the real opinions of her neighbors in the world held by this really kind and gentle old lady. But Macleod had noticed before that Miss Rawlinson never spoke with any great warmth about Miss Gertrude White's beauty, or her acting, or anything at all connected with her. At this very moment, when she was apparently praising the young lady, there was a bitter flavor about what she said. There may be jealousy between sixty-five and nineteen; and if this reflection occurred to Macleod, he no doubt assumed that Miss Rawlinson, if jealous at all, was jealous of Miss Gertrude White's influence over--Mrs. Ross.

"As for Miss White's father," continued the old lady, with a little laugh, "perhaps he believes in those sublime theories of art he is always preaching about. Perhaps he does. They are very fine. One result of them is that his daughter remains on the stage--and earns a handsome income--and he enjoys himself in picking up bits of curiosities."

"Now that is really unfair," said Mrs. Ross, seriously. "Mr. White is not a rich man, but he has some small means that render him quite independent of any income of his daughter's. Why, how did they live before they ever thought of letting her try her fortune on the stage? And the money he spent, when it was at last decided she should be carefully taught--"

"Oh, very well," said Miss Rawlinson, with a smile; but she nodded her head ominously. If that old man was not actually living on his daughter's earnings, he had at least strangled his mother, or robbed the Bank of England, or done something or other. Miss Rawlinson was obviously not well disposed either to Mr. White or to his daughter.

At this very moment both these persons made their appearance, and certainly, as this slender and graceful figure, clad in a pale summer costume, came across the lawn, and as a smile of recognition lit up the intelligent fine face, these critics sitting there must have acknowledged that Gertrude White was a singularly pretty woman. And then the fascination of that low-toned voice! She began to explain to Macleod why they were so late: some trifling accident had happened to Carry. But as these simple, pathetic tones told him the story, his heart was filled with a great gentleness and pity towards that poor victim of misfortune. He was struck with remorse because he had sometimes thought harshly of the poor child on account of a mere occasional bit of pertness. His first message from the Highlands would be to her.

"O, Willie brew'd a peck o'maut,"

the band played merrily, as the gay company took their seats at the long banquet-table, Macleod leading in the prim old dame who had placed her house at his disposal. There was a blaze of light and color in this spacious marquee. Bands of scarlet took the place of oaken rafters; there were huge blocks of ice on the table, each set in a miniature lake that was filled with white water-lilies; there were masses of flowers and fruit from one end to the other; and by the side of each _menu lay a tiny nosegay, in the centre of which was a sprig of bell-heather. This last was a notion of Macleod's amiable hostess; she had made up those miniature bouquets herself. But she had been forestalled in the pretty compliment. Macleod had not seen much of Miss Gertrude White in the cold twilight outside. Now, in this blaze of yellow light, he turned his eyes to her, as she sat there demurely flirting with an old admiral of ninety-two, who was one of Macleod's special friends. And what was that flower she wore in her bosom--the sole piece of color in the costume of white? That was no sprig of blood-red bell-heather, but a bit of real heather--of the common ling; and it was set amidst a few leaves of juniper. Now, the juniper is the badge of the Clan Macleod. She wore it next her heart.

There was laughter, and wine, and merry talking.

"Last May a braw wooer,"

the band played now; but they scarcely listened.

"Where is your piper, Sir Keith?" said Lady Beauregard.

"At this moment," said he, "I should not wonder if he was down at the shore, waiting for me."

"You are going away quite soon, then?"

"To-morrow. But I don't wish to speak of it. I should like to-night to last forever."

Lady Beauregard was interrupted by her neighbor.

"What has pleased you, then, so much?" said his hostess, looking up at him. "London? Or the people in it? Or any one person in it?"

"Oh," he said, laughingly, "the whole thing. What is the use of dissecting? It is nothing but holiday making in this place. Now, Miss Rawlinson, are you brave? Won't you challenge the admiral to drink a glass of wine with you? And you must include his companion--just as they do at the city dinners--and I will join you too."

And so these old sweethearts drank to each other. And Macleod raised his glass too; and Miss White lowered her eyes, and perhaps flushed a little as she touched hers with her lips, for she had not often been asked to take a part in this old-fashioned ceremony. But that was not the only custom they revived that evening. After the banquet was over, and the ladies had got some light shawls and gone out into the mild summer night, and when the long marquee was cleared, and the band installed at the farther end, then there was a murmured talk of a minuet. Who could dance it? Should they try it?

"You know it?" said Macleod to Miss White.

"Yes," said she looking down.

"Will you be my partner?"

"With pleasure," she answered, but there was some little surprise in her voice which he at once detected.

"Oh," said he, "the mother taught me when I was a child. She and I used to have grand dances together. And Hamish he taught me the sword-dance."

"Do you know the sword-dance?" she said.

"Any one can know it," said he; "it is more difficult to do it. But at one time I could dance it with four of the thickest handled dirks instead of the two swords."

"I hope you will show us your skill to-night," she said, with a smile.

"Do you think any one can dance the sword-dance without the pipes?" said he, quite simply.

And now some of the younger people had made bold to try this minuet, and Macleod led his partner up to the head of the improvised ball-room, and the slow and graceful music began. That was a pretty sight for those walking outside in the garden. So warm was the night that the canvas of one side of the marquee had been removed, and those walking about in the dark outside could look into this gayly lighted place with the beautifully colored figures moving to the slow music. And as they thus walked along the gravel-paths, or under the trees, the stems of which were decorated with spirals of colored lamps, a new light arose in the south to shed a further magic over the scene. Almost red at first, the full moon cleared as it rose, until the trees and bushes were touched with a silver radiance, and the few people who walked about threw black shadows on the greensward and gravel. In an arbor at the farthest end of the garden a number of Chinese lanterns shed a dim colored light on a table and a few rocking-chairs. There were cigarettes on the table.

By and by from out of the brilliancy of the tent stepped Macleod and Fionaghal herself, she leaning on his arm, a light scarf thrown round her neck. She uttered a slight cry of surprise when she saw the picture this garden presented--the colored cups on the trees, the swinging lanterns, the broader sheen of the moonlight spreading over the foliage, and the lawn, and the walks.

"It is like fairyland!" she said.

They walked along the winding gravel-paths; and now that some familiar quadrille was being danced in that brilliant tent, there were fewer people out here in the moonlight.

"I should begin to believe that romance was possible," she said, with a smile, "if I often saw a beautiful scene like this. It is what we try to get in the theatre; but I see all the bare boards and the lime light--I don't have a chance of believing in it."

"Do you have a chance of believing in anything," said he, "on the stage?"

"I don't understand you," she said, gently; for she was sure he would not mean the rudeness that his words literally conveyed.

"And perhaps I cannot explain," said he. "But--but your father was talking the other day about your giving yourself up altogether to your art--living the lives of other people for the time being, forgetting yourself, sacrificing yourself, having no life of your own but that. What must the end of it be?--that you play with emotions and beliefs until you have no faith in any one--none left for yourself; it is only the material of your art. Would you not rather like to live your own life?"

He had spoken rather hesitatingly, and he was not at all sure that he had quite conveyed to her his meaning, though he had thought over the subject long enough and often enough to get his own impressions of it clear.

If she had been ten years older, and an experienced coquette, she would have said to herself, "_This man hates the stage because he is jealous of its hold on my life_," and she would have rejoiced over the inadvertent confession. But now these hesitating words of his seemed to have awakened some quick responsive thrill in her nature, for she suddenly said, with an earnestness that was not at all assumed:

"Sometimes I have thought of that--it is so strange to hear my own doubts repeated. If I could choose my own life--yes, I would rather live that out than merely imagining the experiences of others. But what is one to do? You look around, and take the world as it is. Can anything be more trivial and disappointing? When you are Juliet in the balcony, or Rosalind in the forest, then you have some better feeling with you, if it is only for an hour or so."

"Yes," said he; "and you go on indulging in those doses of fictitious sentiment until--But I am afraid the night air is too cold for you. Shall we go back?"

She could not fail to notice the trace of bitterness, and subsequent coldness, with which he spoke. She knew that he must have been thinking deeply over this matter, and that it was no ordinary thing that caused him to speak with so much feeling. But, of course, when he proposed that they should return to the marquee, she consented. He could not expect her to stand there and defend her whole manner of life. Much less could he expect her to give up her profession merely because he had exercised his wits in getting up some fantastic theory about it. And she began to think that he had no right to talk to her in this bitter fashion.

When they had got half way back to the tent, he paused for a moment.

"I am going to ask a favor of you," he said, in a low voice. "I have spent a pleasant time in England, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for letting me become one of your friends. To-morrow morning I am going back home. I should like you to give me that flower--as some little token of remembrance."

The small fingers did not tremble at all as she took the flower from her dress. She presented it to him with a charming smile and without a word. What was the giving of a flower? There was a cart-load of roses in the tent.

But this flower she had worn next her heart.

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