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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 27. At A Railway Station
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 27. At A Railway Station Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :953

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 27. At A Railway Station


The few days of grace obtained by the accident that happened to Major Stuart fled too quickly away, and the time came for saying farewell. With a dismal apprehension Macleod looked forward to this moment. He had seen her on the stage bid a pathetic good-by to her lover, and there it was beautiful enough--with her shy coquetries, and her winning ways, and the timid, reluctant confession of her love. But there was nothing at all beautiful about this ordeal through which he must pass. It was harsh and horrible. He trembled even as he thought of it.

The last day of his stay in London arrived; he rose with a sense of some awful doom hanging over him that he could in nowise shake off. It was a strange day, too--the world of London vaguely shining through a pale fog, the sun a globe of red fire. There was hoar-frost on the window-ledges; at last the winter seemed about to begin.

And then, as ill luck would have it, Miss White had some important business at the theatre to attend to, so that she could not see him till the afternoon; and he had to pass the empty morning somehow.

"You look like a man going to be hanged," said the major, about noon. "Come, shall we stroll down to the river now? We can have a chat with your friend before lunch, and a look over his boat."

Colonel Ross, being by chance at Erith, had heard of Macleod's being in town, and had immediately come up in his little steam-yacht, the _Iris_, which now lay at anchor close to Westminster Bridge, on the Lambeth side. He had proposed, merely for the oddity of the thing, that Macleod and his friend the major should lunch on board, and young Ogilvie had promised to run up from Aldershot.

"Macleod," said the gallant soldier, as the two friends walked leisurely down towards the Thames, "if you let this monomania get such a hold of you, do you know how it will end? You will begin to show signs of having a conscience."

"What do you mean?" said he, absently.

"Your nervous system will break down, and you will begin to have a conscience. That is a sure sign, in either a man or a nation. Man, don't I see it all around us now in this way of looking at India and the colonies! We had no conscience--we were in robust health as a nation--when we thrashed the French out of Canada, and seized India, and stole land just wherever we could put our fingers on it all over the globe; but now it is quite different; we are only educating these countries up to self-government; it is all in the interest of morality that we protect them; as soon as they wish to go we will give them our blessing--in short, we have got a conscience, because the national health is feeble and nervous. You look out, or you will get into the same condition. You will begin to ask whether it is right to shoot pretty little birds in order to eat them; you will become a vegetarian; and you will take to goloshes."

"Good gracious!" said Macleod, waking up, "what is all this about?"

"Rob Roy," observed the major, oracularly, "was a healthy man. I will make you a bet he was not much troubled by chilblains."

"Stuart," Macleod cried, "do you want to drive me mad? What on earth are you talking about?"

"Anything," the major confessed, frankly, "to rouse you out of your monomania, because I don't want to have my throat cut by a lunatic some night up at Castle Dare."

"Castle Dare," repeated Macleod, gloomily. "I think I shall scarcely know the place again; and we have been away about a fortnight!"

No sooner had they got down to the landing-step on the Lambeth side of the river than they were descried from the deck of the beautiful little steamer, and a boat was sent ashore for them. Colonel Ross was standing by the tiny gangway to receive them. They got on board, and passed into the glass-surrounded saloon. There certainly was something odd in the notion of being anchored in the middle of the great city--absolutely cut off from it, and enclosed in a miniature floating world, the very sound of it hushed and remote. And, indeed, on this strange morning the big town looked more dream-like than usual as they regarded it from the windows of this saloon--the buildings opal-like in the pale fog, a dusky glitter on the high towers of the Houses of Parliament, and some touches of rose red on the ripples of the yellow water around them.

Right over there was the very spot to which he had idly wandered in the clear dawn to have a look at the peacefully flowing stream. How long ago? It seemed to him, looking back, somehow the morning of life--shining clear and beautiful, before any sombre anxieties and joys scarcely less painful had come to cloud the fair sky. He thought of himself at that time with a sort of wonder. He saw himself standing there, glad to watch the pale and glowing glory of the dawn, careless as to what the day might bring forth; and he knew that it was another and an irrecoverable Macleod he was mentally regarding.

Well, when his friend Ogilvie arrived, he endeavored to assume some greater spirit and cheerfulness, and they had a pleasant enough luncheon party in the gently moving saloon. Thereafter Colonel Ross was for getting up steam and taking them for a run somewhere; but at this point Macleod begged to be excused for running away; and so, having consigned Major Stuart to the care of his host for the moment, and having bade good-by to Ogilvie, he went ashore. He made his way up to the cottage in South Bank. He entered the drawing-room and sat down, alone.

When she came in, she said, with a quick anxiety, "You are not ill?"

"No, no," he said rising, and his face was haggard somewhat; "but--but it is not pleasant to come to say good-by--"

"You must not take it so seriously as that," she said, with a friendly smile.

"My going away is like going into a grave," he said, slowly. "It is dark."

And then he took her two hands in his, and regarded her with such an intensity of look that she almost drew back, afraid.

"Sometimes," he said, watching her eyes, "I think I shall never see you again."

"Oh, Keith," said she, drawing her hands away, and speaking half playfully, "you really frighten me! And even if you were never to see me again, wouldn't it be a very good thing for you? You would have got rid of a bad bargain."

"It would not be a very good thing for me," he said, still regarding her.

"Oh, well, don't speak of it," said she, lightly; "let us speak of all that is to be done in the long time that must pass before we meet--"

"But why '_must?_'" said he, eagerly--"why '_must?_' If you knew how I looked forward to the blackness of this winter away up there--so far away from you that I shall forget the sound of your voice--oh! you cannot know what it is to me?"

He had sat down again, his eyes, with a sort of pained and hunted look in them, bent on the floor.

"But there is a '_must_,' you know," she said, cheerfully, "and we ought to be sensible folk and recognize it. You know I ought to have a probationary period, as it were--like a nun, you know, just to see if she is fit to--"

Here Miss White paused, with a little embarrassment; but presently she charged the difficulty, and said, with a slight laugh,--

"To take the veil, in fact. You must give me time to become accustomed to a whole heap of things: if we were to do anything suddenly now, we might blunder into some great mistake, perhaps irretrievable. I must train myself by degrees for another kind of life altogether; and I am going to surprise you, Keith--I am indeed. If papa takes me to the Highlands next year, you won't recognize me at all. I am going to read up all about the Highlands, and learn the tartans, and the names of fishes and birds; and I will walk in the rain and try to think nothing about it; and perhaps I may learn a little Gaelic: indeed, Keith, when you see me in the Highlands, you will find me a thorough Highland-woman."

"You will never become a Highland-woman," he said, with a grave kindness. "Is it needful? I would rather see you as you are than playing a part."

Her eyes expressed some quick wonder, for he had almost quoted her father's words to her.

"You would rather see me as I am?" she said, demurely. "But what am I? I don't know myself."

"You are a beautiful and gentle-hearted Englishwoman," he said, with honest admiration--"a daughter of the South. Why should you wish to be anything else? When you come to us, I will show you a true Highland-woman--that is, my cousin Janet."

"Now you have spoiled all my ambition," she said, somewhat petulantly. "I had intended spending all the winter in training myself to forget the habits and feelings of an actress, and I was going to educate myself for another kind of life; and now I find that when I go to the Highlands you will compare me with your cousin Janet!"

"That is impossible," said he, absently, for he was thinking of the time when the summer seas would be blue again, and the winds soft, and the sky clear; and then he saw the white boat of the _Umpire going merrily out to the great steamer to bring the beautiful stranger from the South to Castle Dare!

"Ah, well, I am not going to quarrel with you on this our last day together," she said, and she gently placed her soft white hand on the clinched fist that rested on the table. "I see you are in great trouble--I wish I could lessen it. And yet how could I wish that you could think of me less, even during the long winter evenings, when it will be so much more lonely for you than for me? But you must leave me my hobby all the same; and you must think of me always as preparing myself and looking forward; for at least you know you will expect me to be able to sing a Highland ballad to your friends."

"Yes, yes," he said, hastily, "if it is all true--if it is all possible--what you speak of. Sometimes I think it is madness of me to fling away my only chance; to have everything I care for in the world near me, and to go away and perhaps never return. Sometimes I know in my heart that I shall never see you again--never after this day."

"Ah, now," said she, brightly--for she feared this black demon getting possession of him again--"I will kill that superstition right off. You _shall see me after to-day; for as sure as my name is Gertrude White, I will go up to the railway station to-morrow morning and see you off. There!"

"You will?" he said, with a flush of joy on his face.

"But I don't want any one else to see me," she said, looking down.

"Oh, I will manage that," he said, eagerly. "I will get Major Stuart into the carriage ten minutes before the train starts."

"Colonel Ross?"

"He goes back to Erith to-night."

"And I will bring to the station," said she, with some shy color in her face, "a little present--if you should speak of me to your mother, you might give her this from me; it belonged to my mother."

Could anything have been more delicately devised than this tender and timid message?

"You have a woman's heart," he said.

And then in the same low voice she began to explain that she would like him to go to the theatre that evening, and that perhaps he would go alone; and would he do her the favor to be in a particular box? She took a piece of paper from her purse, and shyly handed it to him. How could he refuse?--though he flushed slightly. It was a favor she asked. "I will know where you are," she said.

And so he was not to bid good-by to her on this occasion, after all. But he bade good-by to Mr. White, and to Miss Carry, who was quite civil to him now that he was going away; and then he went out into the cold and gray December afternoon. They were lighting the lamps. But gaslight throws no cheerfulness on a grave.

He went to the theatre later on; and the talisman she had given him took him into a box almost level with the stage, and so near to it that the glare of the foot-lights bewildered his eyes, until he retired into the corner. And once more he saw the puppets come and go, with the one live woman among them whose every tone of voice made his heart leap. And then this drawing-room scene, in which she comes in alone, and talking to herself? She sits down to the piano carelessly. Some one enters unperceived, and stands silent there, to listen to the singing. And this air that she sings, waywardly, like a light-hearted schoolgirl:--

"Hi-ri-libhin o, Brae MacIntyre,
Hi-ri-libhin o, Costly thy wooing!
Thou'st slain the maid.
Hug-o-rin-o, 'Tis thy undoing!
Hi-ri-libhin o, Friends of my love,
Hi-ri-libhin o, Do not upbraid him;
He was leal
Hug-o-rin-o, Chance betrayed him."

Macleod's breathing came quick and hard. She had not sung the ballad of the brave MacIntyre when formerly he had seen the piece. Did she merely wish him to know, by this arch rendering of the gloomy song, that she was pursuing her Highland studies? And then the last verse she sang in the Gaelic! He was so near that he could hear this adjuration to the unhappy lover to seek his boat and fly, steering wide of Jura and avoiding Mull:--

"Hi-ri-libhin o, Buin Bata,
Hi-ri-libhin o, Fag an dathaich,
Seachain Mule,
Hug-o-ri-no; Sna taodh Jura!"

Was she laughing, then, at her pronunciation of the Gaelic when she carelessly rose from the piano, and, in doing so, directed one glance to him that made him quail? The foolish piece went on. She was more bright, vivacious, coquettish than ever: how could she have such spirits in view of the long separation that lay on his heart like lead? Then, at the end of the piece, there was a tapping at the door, and an envelope was handed in to him. It only contained a card, with the message "Good-night?" scrawled in pencil. It was the last time he ever was in any theatre.

Then that next morning--cold and raw and damp, with a blustering northwest wind that seemed to bring an angry summons from the far seas. At the station his hand was trembling like the hand of a drunken man; his eyes wild and troubled: his face haggard. And as the moment arrived for the train to start, he became more and more excited.

"Come and take your place, Macleod," the major said. "There is no use worrying about leaving. We have eaten our cake. The frolic is at an end. All we can do is to sing, 'Then fare you well, my Mary Blane,' and put up with whatever is ahead. If I could only have a drop of real, genuine Talisker to steady my nerves--"

But here the major, who had been incidentally leaning out of the window, caught sight of a figure, and instantly he withdrew his head. Macleod disappeared.

That great, gaunt room--with the hollow footfalls of strangers, and the cries outside. His face was quite white when he took her hand.

"I am very late," she said, with a smile.

He could not speak at all. He fixed his eyes on hers with a strange intensity, as if he would read her very soul; and what could any one find there but a great gentleness and sincerity, and the frank confidence of one who had nothing to conceal?

"Gertrude," said he at last, "whatever happens to us two, you will never forget that I loved you?"

"I think I may be sure of that," she said, looking down.

They rang a bell outside.

"Good-by, then."

He tightly grasped the hand he held; once more he gazed into those clear and confiding eyes--with an almost piteously anxious look: then he kissed her and hurried away. But she was bold enough to follow. Her eyes were very moist. Her heart was beating fast. If Glenogie had there and then challenged her, and said, "_Come, then, sweetheart; will you fly with me? And the proud mother will meet you. And the gentle cousin will attend on you. And Castle Dare will welcome the young bride!_"--what would she have said? The moment was over. She only saw the train go gently away from the station; and she saw the piteous eyes fixed on hers; and while he was in sight she waved her handkerchief. When the train had disappeared she turned away with a sigh.

"Poor fellow," she was thinking to herself, "he is very much in earnest--far more in earnest than even poor Howson. It would break my heart if I were to bring him any trouble."

By the time she had got to the end of the platform, her thoughts had taken a more cheerful turn.

"Dear me," she was saying to herself, "I quite forgot to ask him whether my Gaelic was good!"

When she had got into the street outside, the day was brightening.

"I wonder," she was asking herself, "whether Carry would come and look at that exhibition of water-colors; and what would the cab fare be?"

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