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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 15. A Confession
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 15. A Confession Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1315

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 15. A Confession

CHAPTER XV. A CONFESSION

And once again the big dining-hall of Castle Dare was ablaze with candles; and Janet was there, gravely listening to the garrulous talk of the boy-officer; and Keith Macleod, in his dress tartan; and the noble-looking old lady at the head of the table, who more than once expressed to her guest, in that sweetly modulated and gracious voice of hers, how sorry she was he had encountered so bad a day for the first day of his visit.

"It is different with Keith," said she, "for he is used to be out in all weathers. He has been brought up to live out of doors."

"But you know, auntie," said Janet Macleod, "a soldier is much of the same thing. Did you ever hear of a soldier with an umbrella?"

"All I know is," remarked Mr. Ogilvie--who, in his smart evening dress, and with his face flashed into a rosy warmth after the cold and the wet, did not look particularly miserable--"that I don't remember ever enjoying myself so much in one day. But the fact is, Lady Macleod, your son gave me all the shooting; and Hamish was sounding my praises all day long, so that I almost got to think I could shoot the birds without putting up the gun at all; and when I made a frightful bad miss, everybody declared the bird was dead round the other side of the hill."

"And indeed you were not making many misses," Macleod said. "But we will try your nerve, Ogilvie, with a stag or two, I hope."

"I am on for anything. What with Hamish's flattery and the luck I had to-day, I begin to believe I could bag a brace of tigers if they were coming at me fifty miles an hour."

Dinner over, and Donald having played his best (no doubt he had learned that the stranger was an officer in the Ninety-third), the ladies left the dining-hall, and presently Macleod proposed to his friend that they should go into the library and have a smoke. Ogilvie was nothing loath. They went into the odd little room, with its guns and rods and stuffed birds, and, lying prominently on the writing-table, a valuable little heap of dressed otter-skins. Although the night was scarcely cold enough to demand it, there was a log of wood burning in the fireplace; there were two easy-chairs, low and roomy; and on the mantelpiece were some glasses, and a big black broad-bottomed bottle, such as used to carry the still vintages of Champagne even into the remote wilds of the Highlands, before the art of making sparkling wines had been discovered. Mr. Ogilvie lit a cigar, stretched out his feet towards the blazing log, and rubbed his hands, which were not as white as usual.

"You are a lucky fellow, Macleod," said he, "and you don't know it. You have everything about you here to make life enjoyable."

"And I feel like a slave tied to a galley oar," said he, quickly. "I try to hide it from the mother--for it would break her heart--and from Janet too; but every morning I rise, the dismalness of being alone here--of being caged up alone--eats more and more into my heart. When I look at you, Ogilvie--to-morrow morning you could go spinning off to any quarter you liked, to see any one you wanted to see--"

"Macleod," said his companion, looking up, and yet speaking rather slowly and timidly, "if I were to say what would naturally occur to any one--you won't be offended? What you have been telling me is absurd, unnatural, impossible, unless there is a woman in the case."

"And what then?" Macleod said, quickly, as he regarded his friend with a watchful eye, "You have guessed?"

"Yes," said the other: "Gertrude White."

Macleod was silent for a second or two. Then he sat down.

"I scarcely care who knows it now," said he, absently "so long as I can't fight it out of my own mind. I tried not to know it. I tried not to believe it. I argued with myself, laughed at myself, invented a hundred explanations of this cruel thing that was gnawing at my heart and giving me no peace night or day. Why, man, Ogilvie, I have read 'Pendennis!' Would you think it possible that any one who has read 'Pendennis' could ever fall in love with an actress?"

He jumped to his feet again, walked up and down for a second or two, twisting the while a bit of casting-line round his finger so that it threatened to cut into the flesh.

"But I will tell you now, Ogilvie--now that I am speaking to any one about it," said he--and he spoke in a rapid, deep, earnest voice, obviously not caring much what his companion might think, so that he could relieve his overburdened mind--"that it was not any actress I fell in love with. I never saw her in a theatre but that once. I hated the theatre whenever I thought of her in it. I dared scarcely open a newspaper, lest I should see her name. I turned away from the posters in the streets: when I happened by some accident to see her publicly paraded that way, I shuddered all through--with shame, I think; and I got to look on her father as a sort of devil that had been allowed to drive about that beautiful creature in vile chains. Oh, I cannot tell you! When I have heard him talking away in that infernal, cold, precise way about her duties to her art, and insisting that she should have no sentiments or feelings of her own, and that she should simply use every emotion as a bit of something to impose on the public--a bit of her trade, an exposure of her own feelings to make people clap their hands--I have sat still and wondered at myself that I did not jump up and catch him by the throat, and shake the life out of his miserable body."

"You have cut your hand, Macleod."

He shook a drop or two of blood off.

"Why, Ogilvie, when I saw you on the bridge of the steamer, I nearly went mad with delight. I said to myself, 'Here is some one who has seen her and spoken to her, who will know when I tell him.' And now that I am telling you of it, Ogilvie, you will see--you will understand--that it is not any actress I have fallen in love with--it was not the fascination of an actress at all, but the fascination of the woman herself; the fascination of her voice, and her sweet ways, and the very way she walked, too, and the tenderness of her heart. There was a sort of wonder about her; whatever she did or said was so beautiful, and simple, and sweet! And day after day I said to myself that my interest in this beautiful woman was nothing. Some one told me there had been rumors: I laughed. Could any one suppose I was going to play Pendennis over again? And then as the time came for me to leave, I was glad, and I was miserable at the same time. I despised myself for being miserable. And then I said to myself, 'This stupid misery is only the fancy of a boy. Wait till you get back to Castle Dare, and the rough seas, and the hard work of the stalking. There is no sickness and sentiment on the side of Ben-an-Sloich.' And so I was glad to come to Castle Dare, and to see the old mother, and Janet, and Hamish; and the sound of the pipes, Ogilvie--when I heard them away in the steamer, that brought tears to my eyes; and I said to myself, 'Now you are at home again, and there will be no more nonsense of idle thinking.' And what has it come to? I would give everything I possess in the world to see her face once more--ay, to be in the same town where she is. I read the papers, trying to find out where she is. Morning and night it is the same--a fire, burning and burning, of impatience, and misery, and a craving just to see her face and hear her speak."

Ogilvie did not know what to say. There was something in this passionate confession--in the cry wrung from a strong man, and in the rude eloquence that here and there burst from him--that altogether drove ordinary words of counsel or consolation out of the young man's mind.

"You have been hard hit, Macleod," he said, with some earnestness.

"That is just it," Macleod said, almost bitterly. "You fire at a bird. You think you have missed him. He sails away as if there was nothing the matter, and the rest of the covey no doubt think he is as well as any one of them. But suddenly you see there is something wrong. He gets apart from the others; he towers; then down he comes, as dead as a stone. You did not guess anything of this in London?"

"Well," said Ogilvie, rather inclined to beat about the bush, "I thought you were paying her a good deal of attention. But then--she is very popular, you know, and receives a good deal of attention; and--and the fact is, she is an uncommonly pretty girl, and I thought you were flirting a bit with her, but nothing more than that. I had no idea it was something more serious than that."

"Ay," Macleod said, "if I myself had only known! If it was a plunge--as people talk about falling in love with a woman--why, the next morning I would have shaken myself free of it, as a Newfoundland dog shakes himself free of the water. But a fever, a madness, that slowly gains on you--and you look around and say it is nothing, but day after day it burns more and more. And it is no longer something that you can look at apart from yourself--it is your very self; and sometimes, Ogilvie, I wonder whether it is all true, or whether it is mad I am altogether. Newcastle--do you know Newcastle?"

"I have passed through it, of course," his companion said, more and more amazed at the vehemence of his speech.

"It is there she is now--I have seen it in the papers; and it is Newcastle--Newcastle--Newcastle--I am thinking of from morning till night, and if I could only see one of the streets of it I should be glad. They say it is smoky and grimy; I should be breathing sunlight if I lived in the most squalid of all its houses. And they say she is going to Liverpool, and to Manchester, and to Leeds; and it is as if my very life were being drawn away from me. I try to think what people may be around her; I try to imagine what she is doing at a particular hour of the day; and I feel as if I were shut away in an island in the middle of the Atlantic, with nothing but the sound of the waves around my ears. Ogilvie, it is enough to drive a man out of his senses."

"But, look here, Macleod," said Ogilvie, pulling himself together; for it was hard to resist the influence of this vehement and uncontrollable passion--"look here, man; why don't you think of it in cold blood? Do you expect me to sympathize with you as a friend? Or would you like to know what any ordinary man of the world would think of the whole case?"

"Don't give me your advice, Ogilvie," said he, untwining and throwing away the bit of casting-line that had cut his finger. "It is far beyond that. Let me talk to you--that is all. I should have gone mad in another week, if I had had no one to speak to; and as it is, what better am I than mad? It is not anything to be analyzed and cured: it is my very self; and what have I become?"

"But look here, Macleod--I want to ask you a question: would you marry her?"

The common-sense of the younger man was re-asserting itself. This was what any one--looking at the whole situation from the Aldershot point of view--would at the outset demand? But if Macleod had known all that was implied in the question, it is probable that a friendship that had existed from boyhood would then and there have been severed. He took it that Ogilvie was merely referring to the thousand and one obstacles that lay between him and that obvious and natural goal.

"Marry her!" he exclaimed. "Yes, you are right to look at it in that way--to think of what it will all lead to. When I look forward, I see nothing but a maze of impossibilities and trouble. One might as well have fallen in love with one of the Roman maidens in the Temple of Vesta. She is a white slave. She is a sacrifice to the monstrous theories of that bloodless old pagan, her father. And then she is courted and flattered on all sides; she lives in a smoke of incense: do you think, even supposing that all other difficulties were removed--that she cared for no one else, that she were to care for me, that the influence of her father was gone--do you think she would surrender all the admiration she provokes and the excitement of the life she leads, to come and live in a dungeon in the Highlands? A single day like to-day would kill her, she is so fine and delicate--like a rose leaf, I have often thought. No, no, Ogilvie, I have thought of it every way. It is like a riddle that you twist and twist about to try and get the answer; and I can get no answer at all, unless wishing that I had never been born. And perhaps that would have been better."

"You take too gloomy a view of it, Macleod," said Ogilvie. "For one thing, look at the common-sense of the matter. Suppose that she is very ambitious to succeed in her profession, that is all very well; but, mind you, it is a very hard life. And if you put before her the chance of being styled Lady Macleod--well, I may be wrong, but I should say that would count for something. I haven't known many actresses myself--"

"That is idle talk," Macleod said; and then he added, proudly, "You do not know this woman as I know her."

He put aside his pipe; but in truth he had never lit it.

"Come," said he, with a tired look, "I have bored you enough. You won't mind, Ogilvie? The whole of the day I was saying to myself that I would keep all this thing to myself, if my heart burst over it; but you see I could not do it, and I have made you the victim, after all. And we will go into the drawing-room now; and we will have a song. And that was a very good song you sang one night in London, Ogilvie--it was about 'Death's black wine'--and do you think you could sing us that song to-night?"

Ogilvie looked at him.

"I don't know what you mean by the way you are talking, Macleod," said he.

"Oh," said he, with a laugh that did not sound quite natural, "have you forgotten it? Well, then, Janet will sing us another song--that is, 'Farewell, Manchester.' And we will go to bed soon to-night, for I have not been having much sleep lately. But it is a good song--it is a song you do not easily forget--that about 'Death's black wine.'"

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