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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 31. Over The Seas
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 31. Over The Seas Post by :Truman Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1782

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 31. Over The Seas


But no harm at all came of that reckless ride through the storm; and in a day or two's time Macleod had almost argued himself into the belief that it was but natural for a young girl to be fascinated by these new friends. And how could he protest against a fancy-dress ball, when he himself had gone to one on his brief visit to London? And it was a proof of her confidence in him that she wished to take his advice about her costume.

Then he turned to other matters; for, as the slow weeks went by, one eagerly disposed to look for the signs of the coming spring might occasionally detect a new freshness in the morning air, or even find a little bit of the whitlow-grass in flower among the moss of an old wall. And Major Stuart had come over to Dare once or twice; and had privately given Lady Macleod and her niece such enthusiastic accounts of Miss Gertrude White that the references to her forthcoming visit ceased to be formal and became friendly and matter of course. It was rarely, however, that Keith Macleod mentioned her name. He did not seem to wish for any confidant. Perhaps her letters were enough.

But on one occasion Janet Macleod said to him, with a shy smile.

"I think you must be a very patient lover, Keith, to spend all the winter here. Another young man would have wished to go to London."

"And I would go to London, too!" he said suddenly, and then he stopped. He was somewhat embarrassed. "Well, I will tell you, Janet. I do not wish to see her any more as an actress, and she says it is better that I do not go to London; and--and, you know, she will soon cease to be an actress."

"But why not now," said Janet Macleod, with some wonder, "if she has such a great dislike for it?"

"That I do not know," said he, somewhat gloomily.

But he wrote to Gertrude White, and pressed the point once more, with great respect, it is true, but still with an earnestness of pleading that showed how near the matter lay to his heart. It was a letter that would have touched most women; and even Miss Gertrude White was pleased to see how anxiously interested he was in her.

"But you know, my dear Keith," she wrote back, "when people are going to take a great plunge into the sea, they are warned to wet their head first. And don't you think I should accustom myself to the change you have in store for me by degrees? In any case, my leaving the stage at the present moment could make no difference to us--you in the Highlands, I in London. And do you know, sir, that your request is particularly ill-timed; for, as it happens, I am about to enter into a new dramatic project of which I should probably never have heard but for you. Does that astonish you? Well, here is the story. It appears that you told the Duchess of Wexford that I would give her a performance for the new training-ship she is getting up; and, being challenged, could I break a promise made by you? And only fancy what these clever people have arranged, to flatter their own vanity in the name of charity. They have taken St. George's Hall, and the distinguished amateurs have chosen the play; and the play--don't laugh, dear Keith--is 'Romeo and Juliet!' And I am to play _Juliet to the _Romeo of the Honorable Captain Brierley, who is a very good-looking man, but who is so solemn and stiff a Romeo that I know I shall burst out laughing on the dreaded night. He is as nervous now at a morning rehearsal as if it were his _debut at Drury Lane; and he never even takes my hand without an air of apology, as if he were saying, 'Really, Miss White, you must pardon me; I am compelled by my part to take your hand; otherwise I would die rather than be guilty of such a liberty.' And when he addresses me in the balcony-scene, he _will not look at me; he makes his protestations of love to the flies; and when I make my fine speeches to him, he blushes if his eyes should by chance meet mine, just as if he had been guilty of some awful indiscretion. I know, dear Keith, you don't like to see me act, but you might come up for this occasion only. Friar Lawrence is the funniest thing I have seen for ages. The nurse, however, Lady Bletherin, is not at all bad. I hear there is to be a grand supper afterwards somewhere, and I have no doubt I shall be presented to a number of ladies who will speak for the first time to an actress and be possessed with a wild fear; only, if they have daughters, I suppose they will keep the fluttering-hearted young things out of the way, lest I should suddenly break out into blue flame, and then disappear through the floor. I am quite convinced that Captain Brierley considers me a bold person because I look at him when I have to say,

"'O gentle Romeo, If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully!'"

Macleod crushed this letter together, and thrust it into his pocket. He strode out of the room, and called for Hamish.

"Send Donald down to the quay," said he, "and tell them to get the boat ready. And he will take down my gun too."

Old Hamish, noticing the expression of his master's eyes, went off quickly enough, and soon got hold of Donald, the piper-lad.

"Donald," said he, in the Gaelic, "you will run down to the quay as fast as your legs can carry you, and you will tell them to get the boat ready, and not to lose any time in getting the boat ready, and to have the seat dry, and let there be no talking when Sir Keith gets on board. And here is the gun too, and the bag; and you will tell them to have no talking among themselves this day."

When Macleod got down to the small stone pier, the two men were in the boat. Johnny Wickes was standing at the door of the storehouse.

"Would you like to go for a sail, Johnny?" Macleod said abruptly, but there was no longer that dangerous light in his eyes.

"Oh yes, sir," said the boy, eagerly; for he had long ago lost his dread of the sea.

"Get in, then, and get up to the bow."

So Johnny Wickes vent cautiously down the few slippery stone steps, half tumbled into the bottom of the great open boat, and then scrambled up to the bow.

"Where will you be for going, sir?" said one of the men when Macleod had jumped into the stern and taken the tiller.

"Anywhere--right out!" he answered, carelessly.

But it was all very well to say "right out!" when there was a stiff breeze blowing right in. Scarcely had the boat put her nose out beyond the pier, and while as yet there was but little way on her, when a big sea caught her, springing high over her bows and coming rattling down on her with a noise as of pistol-shots. The chief victim of this deluge was the luckless Johnny Wickes, who tumbled down into the bottom of the boat, vehemently blowing the salt-water out of his mouth, and rubbing his knuckles into his eyes. Macleod burst out laughing.

"What's the good of you as a lookout?" he cried. "Didn't you see the water coming?"

"Yes, sir," said Johnny, ruefully laughing, too. But he would not be beaten. He scrambled up again to his post, and clung there, despite the fierce wind and the clouds of spray.

"Keep her close up, sir," said the man who had the sheet of the huge lugsail in both his hands, as he cast a glance out at the darkening sea.

But this great boat, rude and rough and dirty as she appeared, was a splendid specimen of her class; and they know how to build such boats up about that part of the world. No matter with how staggering a plunge she went down into the yawning green gulf, the white foam hissing away from her sides; before the next wave, high, awful, threatening, had come down on her with a crash as of mountains falling, she had glided buoyantly upward, and the heavy blow only made her bows spring the higher, as though she would shake herself free, like a bird, from the wet. But it was a wild day to be out. So heavy and black was the sky in the west that the surface of the sea out to the horizon seemed to be a moving mass of white foam, with only streaks of green and purple in it. The various islands changed every minute as the wild clouds whirled past. Already the great cliffs about Dare had grown distant and faint as seen through the spray; and here were the rocks of Colonsay, black as jet as they reappeared through the successive deluges of white foam; and far over there, a still gloomier mass against the gloomy sky told where the huge Atlantic breakers were rolling in their awful thunder into the Staffa caves.

"I would keep her away a bit," said the sailor next Macleod. He did not like the look of the heavy breakers that were crashing on to the Colonsay rocks.

Macleod, with his teeth set hard against the wind, was not thinking of the Colonsay rocks more than was necessary to give them a respectful berth.

"Were you ever in a theatre, Duncan?" he said, or rather bawled, to the brown-visaged and black-haired young fellow who had now got the sheet of the lugsail under his foot as well as in the firm grip of his hands.

"Oh yes, Sir Keith," said he, as he shook the salt-water away from his short beard. "It was at Greenock. I will be at the theatre, and more than three times or two times."

"How would you like to have a parcel of actors and actresses with us now?" he said, with a laugh.

"'Deed, I would not like it at all," said Duncan, seriously; and he twisted the sheet of the sail twice round his right wrist, so that his relieved left hand could convey a bit of wet tobacco to his mouth. "The women they would chump apout, and then you do not know what will happen at all."

"A little bit away yet, sir!" cried out the other sailor, who was looking out to windward, with his head between the gunwale and the sail. "There is a bad rock off the point."

"Why, it is half a mile north of our course as we are now going!" Macleod said.

"Oh yes, half a mile!" the man said to himself; "but I do not like half miles, and half miles, and half miles on a day like this!"

And so they went plunging and staggering and bounding onward, with the roar of the water all around them, and the foam at her bows, as it sprung high into the air, showing quite white against the black sky ahead. The younger lad, Duncan, was clearly of opinion that his master was running too near the shores of Colonsay; but he would say no more, for he knew that Macleod had a better knowledge of the currents and rocks of this wild coast than any man on the mainland of Mull. John Cameron, forward, kept his head down to the gunwale, his eyes looking far over that howling waste of sea; Duncan, his younger brother, had his gaze fixed mostly on the brown breadth of the sail, hammered at by the gusts of wind; while as for the boy at the bow, that enterprising youth had got a rope's end, and was endeavoring to strike at the crest of each huge wave as it came ploughing along in its resistless strength.

But at one moment the boat gave a heavier lurch than usual, and the succeeding wave struck her badly. In the great rush of water that then ran by her side, Macleod's startled eye seemed to catch a glimpse of something red, something blazing and burning red in the waste of green, and almost the same glance showed him there was no boy at the bow! Instantly, with just one cry to arrest the attention of the men, he had slipped over the side of the boat just as an otter slips off a rock. The two men were bewildered but for a second. One sprang to the halyards, and down came the great lugsail; the other got out one of the great oars, and the mighty blade of it fell into the bulk of the next wave as if he would with one sweep tear her head round. Like two mad men the men pulled; and the wind was with them, and the tide also, but, nevertheless, when they caught sight, just for a moment, of some object behind them, that was a terrible way away. Yet there was no time, they thought, or seemed to think, to hoist the sail again, and the small dingy attached to the boat would have been swamped in a second; and so there was nothing for it but the deadly struggle with those immense blades against the heavy resisting mass of the boat. John Cameron looked round again; then, with an oath, he pulled his oar across the boat.

"Up with the sail, lad!" he shouted; and again he sprang to the halyards.

The seconds, few as they were, that were necessary to this operation seemed ages; but no sooner had the wind got a purchase on the breadth of the sail, than the boat flew through the water, for she was new running free.

"He has got him! I can see the two!" shouted the elder Cameron.

And as for the younger? At this mad speed the boat would be close to Macleod in another second or two; but in that brief space of time the younger Cameron had flung his clothes off, and stood there stark-naked in the cutting March wind.

"That is foolishness!" his brother cried in the Gaelic. "You will have to take an oar!"

"I will not take an oar!" the other cried, with both hands ready to let go the halyards. "And if it is foolishness, this is the foolishness of it; I will not let you or any man say that Sir Keith Macleod was in the water, and Duncan Cameron went home with a dry skin!"

And Duncan Cameron was as good as his word; for as the boat went plunging forward to the neighborhood in which they occasionally saw the head of Macleod appear on the side of a wave and then disappear again as soon as the wave broke, and as soon as the lugsail had been rattled down, he sprung clear from the side of the boat. For a second or two, John Cameron, left by himself in the boat, could not see any one of the three; but at last he saw the black head of his brother, and then some few yards beyond, just as a wave happened to roll by, he saw his master and the boy. The boat had almost enough way on her to carry her the length; he had but to pull at the huge oar to bring her head round a bit. And he pulled, madly and blindly, until he was startled by a cry close by. He sprang to the side of the boat. There was his brother drifting by, holding the boy with one arm. John Cameron rushed to the stern to fling a rope, but Duncan Cameron had been drifting by with a purpose; for as soon as he got clear of the bigger boat, he struck for the rope of the dingy, and got hold of that, and was safe. And here was the master, too, clinging to the side of the dingy so as to recover his breath, but not attempting to board the cockleshell in these plunging waters. There were tears running down John Cameron's rugged face as he drew the three up and over the side of the big boat.

"And if you was drowned, Sir Keith, it was not me would have carried the story to Castle Dare. I would just as soon have been drowned too."

"Have you any whiskey, John?" Macleod said, pushing the hair out of his eyes, and trying to get his mustache out of his mouth.

In ordinary circumstances John Cameron would have told a lie; but on this occasion he hurriedly bade the still undressed Duncan to take the tiller, and he went forward to a locker at the bows, which was usually kept for bait, and from thence he got a black bottle which was half full.

"Now, Johnny Wickes," Macleod said to the boy, who was quite blinded and bewildered, but otherwise apparently not much the worse, "swallow a mouthful of this, you young rascal; and if I catch you imitating a dolphin again, it is a rope's end you'll have, and not good Highland whiskey."

Johnny Wickes did not understand; but he swallowed the whiskey, and then he began to look about him a bit.

"Will I put my clothes round him, Sir Keith?" Duncan Cameron said.

"And go home that way to Dare?" Macleod said, with a loud laugh. "Get on your clothes, Duncan, lad, and get up the sail again; and we will see if there is a dram left for us in the bottle. John Cameron, confound you! where are you putting her head to?"

John Cameron, who had again taken the tiller, seemed as one demented. He was talking to himself rapidly in Gaelic, and his brows were frowning; and he did not seem to notice that he was putting the head of the boat, which had now some little way on her by reason of the wind and tide, though she had no sail up, a good deal too near the southernmost point of Colonsay.

Roused from this angry reverie, he shifted her course a bit; and then, when his brother had got his clothes on, he helped to hoist the sail, and again they flew onward and shoreward, along with the waves that seemed to be racing them; but all the same he kept grumbling and growling to himself in Gaelic. Meanwhile Macleod had got a huge tarpaulin overcoat and wrapped Johnny Wickes in it, and put him in the bottom of the boat.

"You will soon be warm enough in that, Master Wickes," said he; "the chances are you will come out boiled red, like a lobster. And I would strongly advise you, if we can slip into the house and get dry clothes on, not to say a word of your escapade to Hamish."

"Ay, Sir Keith," said John Cameron, eagerly, in his native tongue, "that is what I will be saying to myself. If the story is told--and Hamish will hear that you will nearly drown yourself--what is it he will not do to that boy? It is for killing him he will be."

"Not as bad as that, John," Macleod said, good-naturedly. "Come, there is a glass for each of us; and you may give me the tiller now."

"I will take no whiskey, Sir Keith, with thanks to you," said John Cameron; "I was not in the water."

"There is plenty for all, man!"

"I was not in the water."

"I tell you there is plenty for all of us!"

"There is the more for you, Sir Keith," said he, stubbornly.

And then, as great good luck would have it, it was found, when they got ashore, that Hamish had gone away as far as Salen on business of some sort or other; and the story told by the two Camerons was that Johnny Wickes, whose clothes were sent into the kitchen to be dried, and who was himself put to bed, had fallen into the water down by the quay; and nothing at all was said about Keith Macleod having had to leap into the sea off the coast of Colonsay. Macleod got into Castle Dare by a back way, and changed his clothes in his own room. Then he went away upstairs to the small chamber in which Johnny Wickes lay in bed.

"You have had the soup, then? You look pretty comfortable."

"Yes, sir," said the boy, whose face was now flushed red with the reaction after the cold. "I beg your pardon, sir."

"For tumbling into the water?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, look here, Master Wickes; you chose a good time. If I had had trousers on, and waterproof leggings over them, do you know where you would be at the present moment? You would be having an interesting conversation with a number of lobsters at the bottom of the sea off the Colonsay shores. And so you thought because I had my kilt on, that I could fish you out of the water?"

"No, sir," said Johnny Wickes. "I beg your pardon, sir."

"Well, you will remember that it was owing to the Highland kilt that you were picked out of the water, and that it was Highland whiskey put life into your blood again; you will remember that well. And if any strange lady should come here from England and ask you how you like the Highlands, you will not forget?"

"No, sir."

"And you can have Oscar up here in the room with you, if you like, until they let you out of bed again; or you can have Donald to play the pipes to you until dinner-time."

Master Wickes chose the less heroic remedy; but, indeed, the companionship of Oscar was not needed; for Janet Macleod--who might just as well have tried to keep her heart from beating as to keep herself away from any one who was ill or supposed to be ill--herself came up to this little room, and was very attentive to Master Wickes, not because he was suffering very much from the effects of his ducking, but because he was a child, and alone, and a stranger. And to her Johnny Wickes told the whole story, despite the warnings he had received that, if Hamish came to learn of the peril in which Macleod had been placed by the incaution of the English lad, the latter would have had a bad time of it at Castle Dare. Then Janet hastened away again, and, finding her cousin's bedroom empty, entered; and there discovered that he had, with customary recklessness, hung up his wet clothes in his wardrobe. She had them at once conveyed away to the lower regions, and she went, with earnest remonstrances, to her cousin, and would have him drink some hot whiskey and water; and when Hamish arrived, went straight to him too, and told him the story in such a way that he said,--

"Ay, ay, it wass the poor little lad! And he will mek a good sailor yet. And it was not much dancher for him when Sir Keith wass in the boat; for there is no one in the whole of the islands will sweem in the water as he can sweem; and it is like a fish in the water that he is."

That was about the only incident of note, and little was made of it, that disturbed the monotony of life at Castle Dare at this time. But by and by, as the days passed, and as eager eyes looked abroad, signs showed that the beautiful summer-time was drawing near. The deep blue came into the skies and the seas again; the yellow mornings broke earlier. Far into the evening they could still make out the Dutchman's Cap, and Lunga, and the low-lying Coll and Tiree, amidst the glow at the horizon after the blood-red sunset had gone down. The white stars of the saxifrage appeared in the woods; the white daisies were in the grass. As you walked along the lower slopes of Ben-an-Sloich, the grouse that rose were in pairs. What a fresh green this was that shimmered over the young larches! He sent her a basket of the first trout he caught in the loch.

The wonderful glad time came nearer and nearer. And every clear and beautiful day that shone over the white sands of Iona and the green shores of Ulva, with the blue seas all breaking joyfully along the rocks, was but a day thrown away that should have been reserved for her. And whether she came by the _Dunara from Greenock, or by the _Pioneer from Oban, would they hang the vessel in white roses in her honor, and have velvet carpetings on the gangways for the dainty small feet to tread on? and would the bountiful heavens grant but one shining blue day for her first glimpse of the far and lonely Castle Dare? Janet, the kind-hearted, was busy from morning till night; she herself would place the scant flowers that could be got in the guests' rooms. The steward of the _Pioneer had undertaken to bring any number of things from Oban; Donald, the piper-lad, had a brand-new suit of tartan, and was determined that, short of the very cracking of his lungs, the English lady would have a good salute played for her that day. The _Umpire_, all smartened up now, had been put in a safe anchorage in Loch-na-Keal; the men wore their new jerseys; the long gig, painted white, with a band of gold, was brought along to Dare, so that it might, if the weather were favorable, go out to bring the Fair Stranger to her Highland home. And then the heart of her lover cried, "_O winds and seas, if only for one day, be gentle now! so that her first thoughts of us shall be all of peace and loveliness, and of a glad welcome, and the delight of clear summer days!_"

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