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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 24. Enthusiasms
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 24. Enthusiasms Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :2420

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 24. Enthusiasms

CHAPTER XXIV. ENTHUSIASMS

She was seated alone, her arms on the table, her head bent down. There was no red rose now in the white morning-dress, for she had given it to him when he left. The frail November sunshine streamed into the room and put a shimmer of gold on the soft brown of her hair.

It was a bold step she had taken, without counsel of any one. Her dream was now to give up everything that she had hitherto cared about, and to go away into private life to play the part of Lady Bountiful. And if doubts about the strength of her own resolution occasionally crossed her mind, could she not appeal for aid and courage to him who would always be by her side? When she became a Macleod, she would have to accept the motto of the Macleods. That motto is, _Hold Fast_.

She heard her sister come into the house, and she raised her head. Presently Carry opened the door; and it was clear she was in high spirits.

"Oh, Mopsy," said she--and this was a pet name she gave her sister Carry when the latter was in great favor--"did you ever see such a morning in November? Don't you think papa might take us to Kew Gardens?"

"I want to speak to you, Carry--come here," she said, gravely; and the younger sister went and stood by the table. "You know you and I are thrown very much on each other; and we ought to have no secrets from each other; and we ought to be always quite sure of each other's sympathy. Now, Carry, you must be patient, you must be kind: if I don't get sympathy from you, from whom should I get it?"

Carry withdrew a step, and her manner instantly changed. Gertrude White was a very clever actress; but she had never been able to impose on her younger sister. This imploring look was all very fine; this appeal for sympathy was pathetic enough; but both only awakened Carry's suspicions. In their ordinary talk sisters rarely use such formal words as "sympathy."

"What do you mean?" said she, sharply.

"There--already!" exclaimed the other, apparently in deep disappointment. "Just when I most need your kindness and sympathy, you show yourself most unfeeling--"

"I wish you would tell me what it is all about," Carry said, impatiently.

The elder sister lowered her eyes, and her fingers began to work with a paper-knife that was lying there. Perhaps this was only a bit of stage-business: or perhaps she was really a little apprehensive about the effect of her announcement.

"Carry," she said, in a low voice, "I have promised to marry Sir Keith Macleod."

Carry uttered a slight cry of horror and surprise; but this too was only a bit of stage effect, for she had fully anticipated the disclosure.

"Well, Gertrude White!" said she, apparently when she had recovered her breath. "Well--I--I--I--never!"

Her language was not as imposing as her gestures; but then nobody had written the part for her; whereas her very tolerable acting was nature's own gift.

"Now, Carry, be reasonable--don't be angry: what is the use of being vexed with what is past recalling? Any other sister would be very glad at such a time--" These were the hurried and broken sentences with which the culprit sought to stave off the coming wrath. But, oddly enough, Miss Carry refrained from denunciations or any other stormy expression of her anger and scorn. She suddenly assumed a cold and critical air.

"I suppose," said she, "before you allowed Sir Keith Macleod to ask you to become his wife, you explained to him our circumstances."

"I don't understand you."

"You told him, of course, that you had a ne'er-do-well brother in Australia, who might at any moment appear and disgrace the whole family?"

"I told him nothing of the kind. I had no opportunity of getting into family affairs. And if I had, what has Tom got to do with Sir Keith Macleod? I had forgotten his very existence--no wonder, after eight years of absolute silence."

But Carry, having fired this shot, was off after other ammunition.

"You told him you had sweethearts before?"

"No, I did not," said Miss Gertrude White, warmly, "because it isn't true."

"What?--Mr. Howson?"

"The orchestra leader in a provincial theatre!"

"Oh yes! but you did not speak so contemptuously of him then. Why, you made him believe he was another Mendelssohn!"

"You are talking nonsense."

"And Mr. Brook--you no doubt told him that Mr. Brook called on papa, and asked him to go down to Doctors' Commons and see for himself what money he would have--"

"And what then? How can I prevent any idiotic boy who chooses to turn me into a heroine from going and making a fool of himself?"

"Oh, Gertrude White!" said Carry, solemnly. "Will you sit there and tell me you gave him no encouragement?"

"This is mere folly!" the elder sister said, petulantly; as she rose and proceeded to put straight a few of the things about the room. "I had hoped better things of you, Carry. I tell you of an important step I have taken in my life, and you bring out a lot of tattle and nonsense. However, I can act for myself. It is true, I had imagined something different. When I marry, of course, we shall be separated. I had looked forward to the pleasure of showing you my new home."

"Where is it to be?"

"Wherever my husband wishes it to be," she answered, proudly; but there was a conscious flush of color in her face as she uttered--for the first time--that word.

"In the Highlands, I suppose, for he is not rich enough to have two houses," said Carry; which showed that she had been pondering over this matter before. "And he has already got his mother and his old-maid sister, or whatever she is, in the house. You will make a pretty family!"

This was a cruel thrust. When Macleod had spoken of the far home overlooking the Northern seas, what could be more beautiful than his picture of the noble and silver-haired dame, and of the gentle and loving cousin who was the friend and counsellor of the poor people around? And when he had suggested that some day or other Mr. White might bring his daughter to these remote regions to see all the wonders and the splendors of them, he told her how the beautiful mother would take her to this place and to that place, and how that Janet Macleod would pet and befriend her, and perhaps teach her a few words of the Gaelic, that she might have a kindly phrase for the passer-by. But this picture of Carry's!--a houseful of wrangling women!

If she had had her will just then, she would instantly have recalled Macleod, and placed his courage and careless confidence between her and this cruel criticism. She had never, in truth, thought of these things. His pertinacity would not allow her. He had kept insisting that the only point for her to consider was whether she had sufficient love for him to enable her to answer his great love for her with the one word "Yes." Thereafter, according to his showing, everything else was a mere trifle. Obstacles, troubles, delays?--he would hear of nothing of the sort. And although, while he was present, she had been inspired by something of this confident feeling, now when she was attacked in his absence she felt herself defenceless.

"You may be as disagreeable as you like, Carry," said she, almost wearily. "I cannot help it. I never could understand your dislike to Sir Keith Macleod."

"Cannot you understand," said the younger sister, with some show of indignation, "that if you are to marry at all, I should like to see you marry an Englishman, instead of a great Highland savage who thinks about nothing but beasts' skins. And why should you marry at all, Gertrude White? I suppose he will make you leave the theatre; and instead of being a famous woman whom everybody admires and talks about, you will be plain Mrs. Nobody, hidden away in some place, and no one will ever hear of you again! Do you know what you are doing? Did you ever hear of any woman making such a fool of herself before?"

So far from being annoyed by this strong language, the elder sister seemed quite pleased.

"Do you know, Carry, I like to hear you talk like that," she said, with a smile. "You almost persuade me that I am not asking him for too great a sacrifice, after all--"

"A sacrifice! On his part!" exclaimed the younger sister; and then she added, with decision: "but it shan't be, Gertrude White! I will go to papa."

"Pardon me," said the elder sister, who was nearer the door, "you need not trouble yourself: I am going now."

She went into the small room which was called her father's study, but which was in reality a sort of museum. She closed the door behind her.

"I have just had the pleasure of an interview with Carry, papa," she said, with a certain bitterness of tone, "and she has tried hard to make me as miserable as I can be. If I am to have another dose of it from you, papa, I may as well have it at once. I have promised to marry Sir Keith Macleod."

She sank down in an easy-chair. There was a look on her face which plainly said, "Now do your worst; I cannot be more wretched than I am."

"You have promised to marry Sir Keith Macleod?" he repeated, slowly, and fixing his eyes on her face.

He did not break into any rage, and accuse Macleod of treachery or her of filial disobedience. He knew that she was familiar with that kind of thing. What he had to deal with was the immediate future, not the past.

"Yes," she answered.

"Well," he said, with the same deliberation of tone, "I suppose you have not come to me for advice, since you have, acted so far for yourself. If I were to give you advice, however, it would be to break your promise as soon as you decently can, both for his sake and for your own."

"I thought you would say so," she said, with a sort of desperate mirth. "I came to have all my wretchedness heaped on me at once. It is a very pleasing sensation. I wonder if I could express it on the stage. That would be making use of my new experiences--as you have taught me--"

But here she burst into tears; and then got up and walked impatiently about the room; and finally dried her eyes, with shame and mortification visible on her face.

"What have _you to say to me, papa? I am a fool to mind what a schoolgirl says."

"I don't know that I have anything to say," he observed, calmly. "You know your own feelings best."

And then he regarded her attentively.

"I suppose when you marry you will give up the stage."

"I suppose so," she said, in a low voice.

"I should doubt," he said, with quite a dispassionate air, "your being able to play one part for a lifetime. You might get tired--and that would be awkward for your husband and yourself. I don't say anything about your giving up all your prospects, although I had great pride in you and a still greater hope. That is for your own consideration. If you think you will be happier--if you are sure you will have no regret--if, as I say, you think you can play the one part for a lifetime--well and good."

"And you are right," she said, bitterly, "to speak of me as an actress, and not as a human being. I must be playing a part to the end, I suppose. Perhaps so. Well, I hope I shall please my smaller audience as well as I seem to have pleased the bigger one."

Then she altered her tone.

"I told you, papa, the other day of my having seen that child run over and brought back to the woman who was standing on the pavement."

"Yes," said he; but wondering why this incident should be referred to at such a moment.

"I did not tell you the truth--at least the whole truth. When I walked away, what was I thinking of? I caught myself trying to recall the way in which the woman threw her arms up when she saw the dead body of her child, and I was wondering whether I could repeat it. And then I began to wonder whether I was a devil--or a woman."

"Bah!" said he. "That is a craze you have at present. You have had fifty others before. What I am afraid of is that, at the instigation of some such temporary fad, you will take a step that you will find irrevocable. Just think it over, Gerty. If you leave the stage, you will destroy many a hope I had formed; but that doesn't matter. Whatever is most for your happiness--that is the only point."

"And so you have given me your congratulations, papa," she said, rising. "I have been so thoroughly trained to be an actress that, when I marry, I shall only go from one stage to another."

"That was only a figure of speech," said he.

"At all events," she said, "I shall not be vexed by petty jealousies of other actresses, and I shall cease to be worried and humiliated by what they say about me in the provincial newspapers."

"As for the newspapers," he retorted, "you have little to complain of. They have treated _you very well. And even if they annoyed you by a phrase here or there, surely the remedy is simple. You need not read them. You don't require any recommendation to the public now. As for your jealousy of other actresses--that was always an unreasonable vexation on your part--"

"Yes, and that only made it the more humiliating to myself," said she, quickly.

"But think of this," said he. "You are married. You have been long away from the scene of your former triumphs. Some day you go to the theatre; and you find as the favorite of the public a woman who, you can see, cannot come near to what you used to do. And I suppose you won't be jealous of her, and anxious to defeat her on the old ground."

"I can do with that as you suggested about the newspapers: I need not go to the theatre."

"Very well, Gerty. I hope all will be for the best. But do not be in a hurry; take time and consider."

She saw clearly enough that this calm acquiescence was all the congratulation or advice she was likely to get; and she went to the door.

"Papa," said she, diffidently, "Sir Keith Macleod is coming up to-morrow morning--to go to church with us."

"Yes?" said he, indifferently.

"He may speak to you before we go."

"Very well. Of course I have nothing to say in the matter. You are mistress of your own actions."

She went to her own room, and locked herself in, feeling very lonely, and disheartened, and miserable. There was more to alarm her in her father's faintly expressed doubts than in all Carry's vehement opposition and taunts. Why had Macleod left her alone?--if only she could see him laugh, her courage would be reassured.

Then she bethought her that this was not a fit mood for one who had promised to be the wife of a Macleod. She went to the mirror and regarded herself; and almost unconsciously an expression of pride and resolve appeared about the lines of her mouth. And she would show to herself that she had still a woman's feelings by going out and doing some actual work of charity; she would prove to herself that the constant simulation of noble emotions had not deadened them in her own nature. She put on her hat and shawl, and went downstairs, and went out into the free air and the sunlight--without a word to either Carry or her father. She was trying to imagine herself as having already left the stage and all its fictitious allurements. She was now Lady Bountiful: having looked after the simple cares of her household she was now ready to cast her eyes abroad, and relieve in so far as she might the distress around her. The first object of charity she encountered was an old crossing-sweeper. She addressed him in a matter-of-fact way which was intended to conceal her fluttering self-consciousness. She inquired whether he had a wife; whether he had any children; whether they were not rather poor. And having been answered in the affirmative on all these points, she surprised the old man by giving him five shillings and telling him to go home and get a good warm dinner for his family. She passed on, and did not observe that, as soon as her back was turned, the old wretch made straight for the nearest public-house.

But her heart was happy; and her courage rose. It was not for nothing, then, that she had entertained the bold resolve of casting aside forever the one great ambition of her life--with all its intoxicating successes, and hopes, and struggles--for the homely and simple duties of an ordinary woman's existence. It was not in vain that she had read and dreamed of the far romantic land, and had ventured to think of herself as the proud wife of Macleod of Dare. Those fierce deeds of valor and vengeance that had terrified and thrilled her would now become part of her own inheritance: why, she could tell her friends, when they came to see her, of all the old legends and fairy stories that belonged to her own home. And the part of Lady Bountiful--surely, if she must play some part that was the one she would most dearly like to play. And the years would go by; and she would grow silver-haired too; and when she lay on her deathbed she would take her husband's hand and say, "Have I lived the life you wished me to live?" Her cheerfulness grew apace; and the walking, and the sunshine, and the fresh air brought a fine light and color to her eyes and cheeks. There was a song singing through her head; and it was all about the brave Glenogie who rode up the king's ha'.

But as she turned the corner of a street, her eye rested on a huge colored placard--rested but for a moment, for she would not look on the great, gaudy thing. Just at this time a noble lord had shown his interest in the British drama by spending an enormous amount of money in producing, at a theatre of his own building, a spectacular burlesque, the gorgeousness of which surpassed anything that had ever been done in that way. And the lady who appeared to be playing (in silence mostly) the chief part in this hash of glaring color and roaring music and clashing armor had gained a great celebrity by reason of her handsome figure, and the splendor of her costume, and the magnificence of the real diamonds that she wore. All London was talking of her; and the vast theatre--even in November--was nightly crammed to overflowing. As Gertrude White walked back to her home her heart was filled with bitterness. She had caught sight of the ostentatious placard; and she knew that the photograph of the creature who was figuring there was in every stationer's shop in the Strand. And that which galled her was not that the theatre should be so taken and so used, but that the stage heroine of the hour should be a woman who could act no more than any baboon in the Zoological Gardens.

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