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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 5. In Park Lane
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 5. In Park Lane Post by :simkl Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1818

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 5. In Park Lane

CHAPTER V. IN PARK LANE

They found Mrs. Ross and her husband waiting in the corridor above.

"Well, how did you like it?" she said.

He could not answer offhand. He was afraid he might say too much.

"It is like her singing," he stammered, at length. "I am not used to these things. I have never seen anything like that before."

"We shall soon have her in a better piece," Mrs. Ross said. "It is being written for her, That is very pretty, but slight. She is capable of greater things."

"She is capable of anything," said Macleod, simply, "if she can make you believe that such nonsense is real. I looked at the others. What did they say or do better than mere pictures in a book? But she--it is like magic."

"And did Mr. Ogilvie give you my message?" said Mrs. Ross. "My husband and I are going down to see a yacht race on the Thames to-morrow--we did not think of it till this evening any more than we expected to find you here. We came along to try to get Miss White to go with us. Will you join our little party?"

"Oh, yes, certainly--thank you very much," Macleod said, eagerly.

"Then you'd better meet us at Charing Cross, at ten sharp," Colonel Ross said; "so don't let Ogilvie keep you up too late with brandy and soda. A special will take us down."

"Brandy and soda!" Mr. Ogilvie exclaimed. "I am going to take him along for a few minutes to Lady Beauregard's--surely that is proper enough; and I have to get down by the 'cold-meat' train to Aldershot, so there won't be much brandy and soda for me. Shall we go now, Mrs. Ross?"

"I am waiting for an answer," Mrs. Ross said, looking along the corridor.

Was it possible, then, that she herself should bring the answer to this message that had been sent her--stepping out of the dream-world in which she had disappeared with her lover? And how would she look as she came along this narrow passage? Like the arch coquette of this land of gaslight and glowing colors? or like the pale, serious, proud girl who was fond of sketching the elm at Prince's Gate? A strange nervousness possessed him as he thought she might suddenly appear. He did not listen to the talk between Colonel Ross and Mr. Ogilvie. He did not notice that this small party was obviously regarded as being in the way by the attendants who were putting out the lights and shutting the doors of the boxes. Then a man came along.

"Miss White's compliments, ma'am, and she will be very pleased to meet you at Charing Cross at ten to-morrow."

"And Miss White is a very brave young lady to attempt anything of the kind," observed Mr. Ogilvie, confidentially, as they all went downstairs; "for if the yachts should get becalmed of the Nore, or off the Mouse, I wonder how Miss White will get back to London in time?"

"Oh, we shall take care of that," said Colonel Ross. "Unless there is a good steady breeze we sha'n't go at all; we shall spend a happy day at Rosherville, or have a look at the pictures at Greenwich. We sha'n't get Miss White into trouble. Good-bye, Ogilvie. Good-bye, Sir Keith. Remember ten o'clock, Charing Cross."

They stepped into their carriage and drove off.

"Now," said Macleod's companion, "are you tired?"

"Tired? I have done nothing all day."

"Shall we get into a hansom and drive along to Lady Beauregard's?"

"Certainly, if you like. I suppose they won't throw you over again?"

"Oh no," said Mr. Ogilvie, as he once more adventured his person in a cab. "And I can tell you it is much better--if you look at the thing philosophically, as poor wretches like you and me must--to drive to a crush in a hansom than in your own carriage. You don't worry about your horses being kept out in the rain; you can come away at any moment; there is no fussing with servants, and rows because your man has got out of the rank--HOLD UP!"

Whether it was the yell or not, the horse recovered from the slight stumble: and no harm befel the two daring travellers.

"These vehicles give one some excitement," Macleod said--or rather roared, for Piccadilly was full of carriages. "A squall in Loch Scridain is nothing to them."

"You'll get used to them in time," was the complacent answer.

They dismissed the hansom at the corner of Piccadilly, and walked up Park Lane, so as to avoid waiting in the rank of carriages. Macleod accompanied his companion meekly. All this scene around him--the flashing lights of the broughams, the brilliant windows, the stepping across the pavement of a strangely dressed dignitary from some foreign land--seemed but some other part of that dream from which he had not quite shaken himself free. His head was still full of the sorrows and coquetries of that wild-spirited heroine. Whither had she gone by this time--away into some strange valley of that unknown world?

He was better able than Mr. Ogilvie to push his way through the crowd of footmen who stood in two lines across the pavement in front of Beauregard House, watching for the first appearance of their master or mistress; but he resignedly followed, and found himself in the avenue leading clear up to the steps. They were not the only arrivals, late as the hour was. Two young girls, sisters, clad in cream-white silk with a gold fringe across their shoulders and sleeves, preceded them; and he was greatly pleased by the manner in which these young ladies, on meeting in the great hall an elderly lady who was presumably a person of some distinction, dropped a pretty little old-fashioned courtesy as they shook hands with her. He admired much less the more formal obeisance which he noticed a second after. A royal personage was leaving; and as this lady, who was dressed in mourning, and was leaning on the arm of a gentleman whose coat was blazing with diamond stars, and whose breast was barred across with a broad blue ribbon, came along the spacious landing at the foot of the wide staircase, she graciously extended her hand and said a few words to such of the ladies standing by as she knew. That deep bending of the knee he considered to be less pretty than the little courtesy performed by the young ladies in cream-white silk. He intended to mention this matter to his cousin Janet.

Then, as soon as the Princess had left the lane, through which she had passed closed up again, and the crowd became a confused mass of murmuring groups. Still meekly following, Macleod plunged into this throng, and presently found himself being introduced to Lady Beauregard--an amiable little woman who had been a great beauty in her time, and was pleasant enough to look at now. He passed on.

"Who is the man with the blue ribbon and the diamond star?" he asked of Mr. Ogilvie.

"That is Monsieur le Marquis himself--that is your host," the young gentleman replied--only Macleod could nor tell why he was obviously trying to repress some covert merriment.

"Didn't you hear?" Mr. Ogilvie said at length. "Don't you know what he called you? That man will be the death of me--for he's always at it. He announced you as Sir Thief Macleod--I will swear he did."

"I should not have thought he had so much historical knowledge," Macleod answered, gravely. "He must have been reading up about the clans."

At this moment Lady Beauregard, who had been receiving some other late visitors, came up and said she wished to introduce him to--he could not make out the name. He followed her. He was introduced to a stout elderly lady, who still had beautifully fine features, and a simple and calm air which rather impressed him. It is true that at first a thrill of compassion went through him; for he thought that some accident had befallen the poor lady's costume, and that it had fallen down a bit unknown to herself; but he soon perceived that most of the other women were dressed similarly, some of the younger ones, indeed, having the back of their dress open practically to the waist. He wondered what his mother and Janet would say to this style.

"Don't you think the Princess is looking pale?" he was asked.

"I thought she looked very pretty--I never saw her before," said he.

What next? That calm air was a trifle cold and distant. He did not know who the woman was, or where she lived, or whether her husband had any shooting, or a yacht, or a pack of hounds. What was he to say? He returned to the Princess.

"I only saw her as she was leaving," said he. "We came late. We were at the Piccadilly Theatre."

"Oh, you saw Miss Gertrude White," said this stout lady; and he was glad to see her eyes light up with some interest. "She is very clever, is she not--and so pretty and engaging. I wish I knew some one who knew her."

"I know some friends of hers," Macleod said, rather timidly.

"Oh, do you, really? Do you think she would give me a morning performance for my Fund?"

This lady seemed to take it so much for granted that every one must have heard of her Fund that he dared not confess his ignorance. But it was surely some charitable thing; and how could he doubt that Miss White would immediately respond to such an appeal?

"I should think that she would," said he, with a little hesitation; but at this moment some other claimant came forward, and he turned away to seek young Ogilvie once more.

"Ogilvie," said he, "who is that lady in the green satin?"

"The Duchess of Wexford."

"Has she a Fund?"

"A what?"

"A Fund--a charitable Fund of some sort."

"Oh, let me see. I think she is getting up money for a new training ship--turning the young ragamuffins about the streets into sailors, don't you know."

"Do you think Miss White would give a morning performance for that Fund?"

"Miss White! Miss White! Miss White!" said Lieutenant Ogilvie. "I think Miss White has got into your head."

"But the lady asked me."

"Well, I should say it was exactly the thing that Miss White would like to do--get mixed up with a whole string of duchesses and marchionessses--a capital advertisement--and it would be all the more distinguished if it was an amateur performance, and Miss Gertrude White the only professional admitted into the charmed circle."

"You are a very shrewd boy, Ogilvie," Macleod observed, "I don't know how you ever got so much wisdom into so small a head."

And indeed, as Lieutenant Ogilvie was returning to Aldershot by what he was pleased to call the cold-meat train, he continued to play the part of mentor for a time with great assiduity, until Macleod was fairly confused with the number of persons to whom he was introduced, and the remarks his friend made about them. What struck him most, perhaps, was the recurrence of old Highland or Scotch family names, borne by persons who were thoroughly English in their speech and ways. Fancy a Gordon who said "lock" for "loch;" a Mackenzie who had never seen the Lewis; a Mac Alpine who had never heard the proverb, "The hills, the Mac Alpines, and the devil came into the world at the same time!"

It was a pretty scene: and he was young, and eager, and curious, and he enjoyed it. After standing about for half an hour or so, he got into a corner from which, in quiet, he could better see the brilliant picture as a whole: the bright, harmonious dresses; the glimpses of beautiful eyes and blooming complexions; the masses of foxgloves which Lady Beauregard had as the only floral decoration of the evening; the pale canary-colored panels and silver-fluted columns of the walls; and over all the various candelabra, each bearing a cluster of sparkling and golden stars. But there was something wanted. Was it the noble and silver-haired lady of Castle Dare whom he looked for in vain in that brilliant crowd that moved and murmured before him? Or was it the friendly and familiar face of his cousin Janet, whose eyes he knew, would be filled with a constant wonder if she saw such diamonds, and silks and satins? Or was it that _ignis fatuus_--that treacherous and mocking fire--that might at any time glimmer in some suddenly presented face with a new surprise? Had she deceived him altogether down at Prince's Gate? Was her real nature that of the wayward, bright, mischievous, spoiled child whose very tenderness only prepared her unsuspecting victim for a merciless thrust? And yet the sound of her sobbing was still in his ears. A true woman's heart beat beneath that idle raillery: challenged boldly, would it not answer loyally and without fear?

Psychological puzzles were new to this son of the mountains; and it is no wonder that, long after he had bidden good bye to his friend Ogilvie, and as he sat thinking alone in his own room, with Oscar lying across the rug at his feet, his mind refused to be quieted. One picture after another presented itself to his imagination: the proud-souled enthusiast longing for the wild winter nights and the dark Atlantic seas; the pensive maiden, shuddering to hear the fierce story of Maclean of Lochbuy; the spoiled child, teasing her mamma and petting her canary; the wronged and weeping woman, her frame shaken with sobs, her hands clasped in despair; the artful and demure coquette, mocking her lover with her sentimental farewells. Which of them all was she? Which should he see in the morning? Or would she appear as some still more elusive vision, retreating before him as he advanced?

Had he asked himself, he would have said that these speculations were but the fruit of a natural curiosity. Why should he not be interested in finding out the real nature of this girl, whose acquaintance he had just made? It has been observed, however, that young gentlemen do not always betray this frantic devotion to pyschological inquiry when the subject of it, instead of being a fascinating maiden of twenty, is a homely-featured lady of fifty.

Time passed; another cigar was lit; the blue light outside was becoming silvery; and yet the problem remained unsolved. A fire of impatience and restlessness was burning in his heart; a din as of brazen instruments--what was the air the furious orchestra played?--was in his ears; sleep or rest was out of the question.

"Oscar!" he called. "Oscar, my lad, let us go out!"

When he stealthily went downstairs, and opened the door and passed into the street, behold! the new day was shining abroad--and how cold, and still, and silent it was after the hot glare and whirl of that bewildering night! No living thing was visible. A fresh, sweet air stirred the leaves of the trees and bushes in St. James's Square. There was a pale lemon-yellow glow in the sky, and the long, empty thoroughfare of Pall Mall seemed coldly white.

Was this a somnambulist, then, who wandered idly along through the silent streets, apparently seeing nothing of the closed doors and the shuttered windows on either hand? A Policeman, standing at the corner of Waterloo Place, stared at the apparition--at the twin apparition, for this tall young gentleman with the light top-coat thrown over his evening dress was accompanied by a beautiful collie that kept close to his heels. There was a solitary four-wheeled cab at the foot of the Haymarket; but the man had got inside and was doubtless asleep. The embankment?--with the young trees stirring in the still morning air; and the broad bosom of the river catching the gathering glow of the skys. He leaned on the gray stone parapet, and looked out on the placid waters of the stream.

Placid, indeed, they were as they went flowing quietly by; and the young day promised to be bright enough; and why should there be aught but peace and goodwill upon earth toward all men and women? Surely there was no call for any unrest, or fear, or foreboding? The still and shining morning was but emblematic of his life--if only he knew, and were content. And indeed he looked contented enough, as he wandered on, breathing the cool freshness of the air, and with a warmer light from the east now touching from time to time his sun-tanned face. He went up to Covent Garden--for mere curiosity's sake. He walked along Piccadilly, and thought the elms in the Green Park looked more beautiful than ever. When he returned to his rooms he was of opinion that it was scarcely worth while to go to bed; and so he changed his clothes, and called for breakfast as soon as some one was up. In a short time--after his newspaper had been read--he would have to go down to Charing Cross.

What of this morning walk? Perhaps it was unimportant enough. Only, in after-times, he once or twice thought of it; and very clearly indeed he could see himself standing there in the early light, looking out on the shining waters of the river. They say that when you see yourself too vividly--when you imagine that you yourself are standing before yourself--that is one of the signs of madness.

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