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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 16. Rebellion
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 16. Rebellion Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1518

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 16. Rebellion

CHAPTER XVI. REBELLION

And where was she now--that strange creature who had bewildered and blinded his eyes and so sorely stricken his heart? It was, perhaps, not the least part of his trouble that all his passionate yearning to see her, and all his thinking about her and the scenes in which he had met her, seemed unable to conjure up any satisfactory vision of her. The longing of his heart went out from him to meet--a phantom. She appeared before him in a hundred shapes, now one, now the other; but all possessed with a terrible fascination from which it was in vain for him to try to flee.

Which was she, then--the pale, and sensitive, and thoughtful-eyed girl who listened with such intense interest to the gloomy tales of the Northern seas; who was so fine, and perfect, and delicate; who walked so gracefully and smiled so sweetly; the timid and gentle companion and friend?

Or the wild coquette, with her arch, shy ways, and her serious laughing, and her befooling of the poor stupid lover? He could hear her laugh now; he could see her feed her canary from her own lips. Where was the old mother whom that madcap girl teased and petted and delighted?

Or was not this she--the calm and gracious woman who received as a matter of right the multitude of attentions that all men--and women too--were glad to pay her? The air fine about her; the south winds fanning her cheek; the day long, and balmy, and clear. The white-sailed boats glide slowly through the water; there is a sound of music and of gentle talk; a butterfly comes fluttering over the blue summer seas. And then there is a murmuring refrain in the lapping of the waves: _Rose Leaf! Rose Leaf! what faint wind will carry you away to the south?_

Or this audacious Duchess of Devonshire, with the flashing black eyes, and a saucy smile on her lips? She knows that every one regards her; but what of that? Away she goes through the brilliant throng with that young Highland officer, with glowing light and gay costumes and joyous music all around her. What do you think of her, you poor clown, standing all alone and melancholy, with your cap and bells? Has she pierced your heart too with a flash of the saucy black eyes?

But there is still another vision; and perhaps this solitary dreamer, who has no eyes for the great slopes of Ben-an-Sloich that stretch into the clouds, and no ears for the soft calling of the sea-birds as they wheel over his head, tries hardest to fix this one in his memory. Here she is the neat and watchful house-mistress, with all things bright and shining around her; and she appears, too, as the meek daughter and the kind and caressing sister. Is it not hard that she should be torn from this quiet little haven of domestic duties and family affection to be bound hand and foot in the chains of art, and flung into the arena to amuse that great ghoul-faced thing, the public? The white slave does not complain. While as yet she may, she presides over the cheerful table; and the beautiful small hands are helpful, and that light morning costume is a wonder of simplicity and grace. And then the garden, and the soft summer air, and the pretty ways of the two sisters: why should not this simple, homely, beautiful life last forever, if only the summer and the roses would last forever?

But suppose now that we turn aside from these fanciful pictures of Macleod's and take a more commonplace one of which he could have no notion whatever. It is night--a wet and dismal night--and a four-wheeled cab is jolting along through the dark and almost deserted thoroughfares of Manchester. Miss Gertrude White is in the cab, and the truth is that she is in a thorough bad temper. Whether it was that the unseemly scuffle that took place in the gallery during the performance, or whether it is that the streets of Manchester, in the midst of rain and after midnight are not inspiriting, or whether it is merely that she has got a headache, it is certain that Miss White is in an ill-humor, and that she has not spoken a word to her maid, her only companion, since together they left the theatre. At length the cab stops opposite a hotel, which is apparently closed for the night. They get out, cross the muddy pavements under the glare of a gas-lamp; after some delay get into the hotel; pass through a dimly lit and empty corridor; and then Miss White bids her maid good-night and opens the door of a small parlor.

Here there is a more cheerful scene. There is a fire in the room; and there is supper laid on the table; while Mr. Septimus White, with his feet on the fender and his back turned to the lamp, is seated in an easy-chair, and holding up a book to the light so that the pages almost touch his gold-rimmed spectacles. Miss White sits down on the sofa on the dark side of the room. She has made no response to his greeting of "Well, Gerty?"

At length Mr. White becomes aware that his daughter is sitting there with her things on, and he turns from his book to her.

"Well, Gerty," he repeats, "aren't you going to have some supper?"

"No, thank you," she says.

"Come, come," he remonstrates, "that won't do. You must have some supper. Shall Jane get you a cup of tea?"

"I don't suppose there is any one up below; besides, I don't want it," says Miss White, rather wearily.

"What is the matter?"

"Nothing," she answers; and then she looks at the mantelpiece. "No letter from Carry?"

"No."

"Well, I hope you won't make her an actress, papa," observes Miss White, with no relevance, but with considerable sharpness in her tone.

In fact, this remark was so unexpected and uncalled-for that Mr. White suddenly put his book down on his knee, and turned his gold spectacles full on his daughter's face.

"I will beg you to remember, Gerty," he remarked, with some dignity, "that I did not make you an actress, if that is what you imply. If it had not been entirely your wish, I should never have encouraged you; and I think it shows great ingratitude, not only to me but to the public also, that when you have succeeded in obtaining a position such as any woman in the country might envy, you treat your good fortune with indifference, and show nothing but discontent. I cannot tell what has come over you of late. You ought certainly to be the last to say anything against a profession that has gained for you such a large share of public favor--"

"Public favor!" she said, with a bitter laugh. "Who is the favorite of the public in this very town? Why, the girl who plays in that farce--who smokes a cigarette, and walks round the stage like a man, and dances a breakdown. Why wasn't I taught to dance breakdowns?"

Her father was deeply vexed; for this was not the first time she had dropped small rebellious hints. And if this feeling grew, she might come to question his most cherished theories.

"I should think you were jealous of that girl," said he, petulantly, "if it were not too ridiculous. You ought to remember that she is an established favorite here. She has amused these people year after year; they look on her as an old friend; they are grateful to her. The means she uses to make people laugh may not meet with your approval; but she knows her own business, doubtless; and she succeeds in her own way."

"Ah, well," said Miss White, as she put aside her bonnet, "I hope you won't bring up Carry to this sort of life."

"To what sort of life?" her father exclaimed, angrily. "Haven't you everything that can make life pleasant? I don't know what more you want. You have not a single care. You are petted and caressed wherever you go. And you ought to have the delight of knowing that the further you advance in your art the further rewards are in store for you. The way is clear before you. You have youth and strength; and the public is only too anxious to applaud whatever you undertake. And yet you complain of your manner of life."

"It isn't the life of a human being at all," she said, boldly--but perhaps it was only her headache, or her weariness, or her ill-humor, that drove her to this rebellion; "it is the cutting one's self off from everything that makes life worth having. It is a continual degradation--the exhibition of feelings that ought to be a woman's most sacred and secret possession. And what will the end of it be? Already I begin to think I don't know what I am. I have to sympathize with so many characters--I have to be so many different people--that I don't quite know what my own character is, or if I have any at all--"

Her father was staring at her in amazement. What had led her into these fantastic notions? While she was professing that her ambition to become a great and famous actress was the one ruling thought and object of her life, was she really envying the poor domestic drudge whom she saw coming to the theatre to enjoy herself with her fool of a husband, having withdrawn for an hour or two from her housekeeping books and her squalling children? At all events, Miss White left him in no doubt as to her sentiments at that precise moment. She talked rapidly, and with a good deal of bitter feeling; but it was quite obvious, from the clearness of her line of contention, that she had been thinking over the matter. And while it was all a prayer that her sister Carry might be left to live a natural life, and that she should not be compelled to exhibit, for gain or applause, emotions which a woman would naturally lock up in her own heart, it was also a bitter protest against her own lot. What was she to become, she asked? A dram-drinker of fictitious sentiment? A Ten-minutes' Emotionalist? It was this last phrase that flashed in a new light on her father's bewildered mind. He remembered it instantly. So that was the source of inoperation?

"Oh, I see now," he said, with angry scorn. "You have learned your lesson well. A 'Ten-minutes' Emotionalist:' I remember. I was wondering who had put such stuff into your head."

She colored deeply, but said nothing.

"And so you are taking your notion, as to what sort of life you would lead, from a Highland savage--a boor whose only occupations are eating and drinking and killing wild animals. A fine guide, truly! He has had so much experience in aesthetic matters! Or is it _metapheesics is his hobby? And what, pray, is his notion as to what life should be? that the noblest object of a man's ambition should be to kill a stag? It was a mistake for Dante to let his work eat into his heart; he should have devoted himself to shooting rabbits. And Raphael--don't you think he would have improved his digestion by giving up pandering to the public taste for pretty things, and taking to hunting wild-boars? that is the theory, isn't it? Is that the _metapheesics you have learned?"

"You may talk about it," she said, rather humbly--for she knew very well she could not stand against her father in argument, especially on a subject that he rather prided himself on having mastered--"but you are not a woman, and you don't know what a woman feels about such things."

"And since when have you made the discovery? What has happened to convince you so suddenly that your professional life is a degradation?"

"Oh," she said, carelessly, "I was scarcely thinking of myself. Of course I know what lies before me. It was about Carry I spoke to you."

"Carry shall decide for herself, as you did; and when she has done so, I hope she won't come and blame me the first time she gets some ridiculous idea into her head."

"Now, papa, that isn't fair," the eldest sister said, in a gentler voice. "You know I never blamed you. I only showed you that even a popular actress sometimes remembers that she is a woman. And if she is a woman, you must let her have a grumble occasionally."

This conciliatory tone smoothed the matter down at once; and Mr. White turned to his book with another recommendation to his daughter to take some supper and get to bed.

"I will go now," she said, rather wearily, as she rose. "Good-night, papa--What is that?"

She was looking at a parcel that lay on a chair.

"It came for you, to-night. There was seven and sixpence to pay for extra carriage--it seems to have been forwarded from place to place."

"As if I had not enough luggage to carry about with me!" she said.

But she proceeded to open the parcel all the same, which seemed to be very carefully swathed in repeated covers of canvas. And presently she uttered a slight exclamation. She took up one dark object after another, passing her hand over them, and back again, and finally pressing them to her cheek.

"Just look at these, papa--did you ever in all your life see anything so beautiful?"

She came to a letter, too; which she hastily tore open and read. It was a brief note, in terms of great respect, written by Sir Keith Macleod, and begging Miss White's acceptance of a small parcel of otter-skins, which he hoped might be made into some article of attire. Moreover, he had asked his cousin's advice on the matter; and she thought there were enough; but if Miss White, on further inquiry, found she would rather have one or two more, he had no doubt that within the next month or so he could obtain these also. It was a very respectful note.

But there was no shyness or timidity about the manner of Miss White when she spread those skins out along the sofa, and again and again took them up to praise their extraordinary glossiness and softness.

"Papa," she exclaimed, "it is a present fit for a prince to make!"

"I dare say you will find them useful."

"And whatever is made of them," said she, with decision, "that I shall keep for myself--it won't be one of my stage properties."

Her spirits rose wonderfully. She kept on chatting to her father about these lovely skins, and the jacket she would have of them. She asked why he was so dull that evening. She protested that she would not take any supper unless he had some too: whereupon he had a biscuit and a glass of claret, which, at all events, compelled him to lay aside his book. And then, when she had finished her supper, she suddenly said,--

"Now, Pappy dear, I am going to tell you a great secret. I am going to change the song in the second act."

"Nonsense!" said he; but he was rather glad to see her come back to the interest of her work.

"I am," she said, seriously. "Would you like to hear it?"

"You will wake the house up."

"And if the public expect an actress to please them," she said, saucily, "they must take the consequences of her practising."

She went to the piano, and opened it. There was a fine courage in her manner as she struck the chords and sang the opening lines of the gay song:--

"'Threescore o' nobles rode up the King's ha'
But bonnie Glenogie's the flower of them a',
Wi' his milk-white steed and his bonnie black e'e.'"

--but here her voice dropped, and it was almost in a whisper that she let the maiden of the song utter the secret wish of her heart--

"'_Glenogie, dear mither, Glenogie for me_.'

"Of course," she said, turning round to her father, and speaking in a business-like way, though there was a spice of proud mischief in her eyes, "There is a stumbling-block, or where would the story be! Glenogie is poor; the mother will not let her daughter have anything to do with him; the girl takes to her bed with the definite intention of dying."

She turned to the piano again.

"'There is, Glenogie, a letter for thee,
Oh, there is, Glenogie, a letter for thee.
The first line he looked at, a light laugh laughed he;
But ere he read through it, tears blinded his e'e.'

"How do you like the air, papa?"

Mr. White did not seem over well pleased. He was quite aware that his daughter was a very clever young woman; and he did not know what insane idea might have got into her head of throwing an allegory at him.

"The air," said he, coldly, "is well enough. But I hope you don't expect an English audience to understand that doggerel Scotch."

"Glenogie understand it, any way," said she, blithely, "and naturally he rode off at once to see his dying sweetheart.

"'Pale and wan was she, when Glenogie gaed ben,
But rosy-red grew she when Glenogie sat down.
She turned away her head, but the smile was in her e'e,
_Oh, binna feared, mither, I'll maybe no dee_.'"

She shut the piano.

"Isn't it charmingly simple and tender, papa?" she said, with the same mischief in her eyes.

"I think it is foolish of you to think of exchanging that piece of doggerel--"

"For what?" said she, standing in the middle of the room. "For this?"

And therewith she sang these lines--giving an admirable burlesque imitation of herself, and her own gestures, and her own singing in the part she was then performing:--

"The morning bells are swinging, ringing,
Hail to the day!
The birds are winging, singing
To the golden day--
To the joyous day--
The morning bells are swinging, ringing,
And what do they say?
O bring my love to my love!
O bring my love to-day!
O bring my love to my love!
To be my love alway!'"

It certainly was cruel to treat poor Mrs. Ross's home-made lyrics so; but Miss White was burlesquing herself as well as the song she had to sing. And as her father did not know to what lengths this iconoclastic fit might lead her, he abruptly bade her good-night and went to bed, no doubt hoping that next morning would find the demon exorcised from his daughter.

As for her, she had one more loving look over the skins, and then she carefully read through the note that accompanied them. There was a smile on her face--perhaps of pleasure, perhaps of amusement at the simplicity of the lines. However, she turned aside, and got hold of a small writing-desk, which she placed on the table.

"'Oh, here is, Glenogie, a letter for thee,'"

she hummed to herself, with a rather proud look on her face, as she seated herself and opened the desk.

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