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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 7. The Duchess Of Devonshire
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 7. The Duchess Of Devonshire Post by :Dusty13 Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :571

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 7. The Duchess Of Devonshire


Late one night a carefully dressed elderly gentleman applied his latch-key to the door of a house in Bury Street, St. James's, and was about to enter without any great circumspection, when he was suddenly met by a white phantom, which threw him off his legs, and dashed outward into the street. The language that the elderly gentleman used, as he picked himself up, need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the white phantom was the dog Oscar, who had been shut in a minute before by his master, and who now, after one or two preliminary dashes up and down the street, very soon perceived the tall figure of Macleod, and made joyfully after him. But Oscar knew that he had acted wrongly, and was ashamed to show himself; so he quietly slunk along at his master's heels. The consequence of this was that the few loiterers about beheld the very unusual spectacle of a tall young gentleman walking down Bury Street and into King Street, dressed in full Highland costume, and followed by a white-and-lemon collie. No other person going to the Caledonian fancy-dress ball was so attended.

Macleod made his way through the carriages, crossed the Pavement, and entered the passage. Then he heard some scuffling behind, and he turned.

"Let alone my dog, you fellow!" said he, making a step forward, for the man had got hold of Oscar by the head, and was hauling him out.

"Is it your dog, sir?" said he.

Oscar himself answered by wrestling himself free and taking refuge by his master's legs, though he still looked guilty.

"Yes, he is my dog; and a nice fix he has got me into," said Macleod, standing aside to let the Empress Maria Theresa pass by in her resplendent costume. "I suppose I must walk home with him again. Oscar, Oscar, how dare you?"

"If you please, sir," said a juvenile voice behind him, "if Mr. ---- will let me, I will take the dog. I know where to tie him up."

Macleod turned.

"_Co an so?_" said he, looking down at the chubby-faced boy in the kilts, who had his pipes under his arm. "Don't you know the Gaelic?"

"I am only learning," said the young musician. "Will I take the dog, sir?"

"March along, then, Phiobaire bhig!" Macleod said. "He will follow me, if he will not follow you."

Little Piper turned aside into a large hall which had been transformed into a sort of waiting-room; and here Macleod found himself in the presence of a considerable number of children, half of them girls, half of them boys, all dressed in tartan, and seated on the forms along the walls. The children, who were half asleep at this time of the night, woke up with sudden interest at sight of the beautiful collie; and at the same moment Little Piper explained to the gentleman who was in charge of these young ones that the dog had to be tied up somewhere, and that a small adjoining room would answer that purpose. The proposal was most courteously entertained. Macleod, Mr. ----, and Little Piper walked along to this side room, and there Oscar was properly secured.

"And I will get him some water, sir, if he wants it," said the boy in the kilts.

"Very well," Macleod said. "And I will give you my thanks for it; for that is all that a Highlander, and especially a piper, expects for a kindness. And I hope you will learn the Gaelic soon, my boy. And do you know 'Cumhadh na Cloinne?' No, it is too difficult for you; but I think if I had the chanter between my fingers myself, I could let you hear 'Cumhadh na Cloinne.'"

"I am sure John Maclean can play it," said the small piper.

"Who is he?"

The gentleman in charge of the youngsters explained that John Maclean was the eldest of the juvenile pipers, five others of whom were in attendance.

"I think," said Macleod, "that I am coming down in a little time to make the acquaintance of your young pipers, if you will let me."

He passed up the broad staircase and into the empty supper-room, from which a number of entrances showed him the strange scene being enacted in the larger hall. Who were these people who were moving to the sound of rapid music? A clown in a silken dress of many colors, with bells to his cap and wrists, stood at one of the doors. Macleod became his fellow-spectator of what was going forward. A beautiful Tyrolienne, in a dress of black, silver, and velvet, with her yellow hair hanging in two plaits down her back, passed into the room, accompanied by Charles the First in a large wig and cloak; and the next moment they were whirling along in the waltz, coming into innumerable collisions with all the celebrated folk who ever lived in history. And who were these gentlemen in the scarlet collars and cuffs, who but for these adornments would have been in ordinary evening dress? he made bold to ask the friendly clown, who was staring in a pensive manner at the rushing couples.

"They call it the Windsor uniform," said the clown. "_I think it mean. I sha'n't come in a fancy dress again, if stitching on a red collar will do."

At this moment the waltz came to an end, and the people began to walk up and down the spacious apartment. Macleod entered the throng to look about him. And soon he perceived, in one of the little stands at the side of the hall, the noble lady who had asked him to go to this assembly, and forthwith he made his way through the crowd to her. He was most graciously received.

"Shall I tell you a secret, Lady ----?" said he. "You know the children belonging to the charity; they are all below, and they are sitting doing nothing, and they are all very tired and half asleep. It is a shame to keep them there--"

"But the Prince hasn't come yet; and they must be marched round: they show that we are not making fools of ourselves for nothing."

A sharper person than Macleod might have got in a pretty compliment here: for this lady was charmingly dressed as Flora Macdonald; but he merely said:--

"Very well; perhaps it is necessary. But I think I can get them some amusement, if you will only keep the director of them, that is, Mr. ----, out of the way. Now shall I send him to you? Will you talk to him?"

"What do you mean to do?"

"I want to give them a dance. Why should you have all the dancing up here?"

"Mind, I am not responsible. What shall I talk to him about?"

Macleod considered for a moment.

"Tell him that I will take the whole of the girls and boys to the Crystal Palace for a day, if it is permissable; and ask him what it will cost, and all about the arrangements."


"Yes. Why not? They can have a fine run in the grounds, and six pipers to play for them. I will ask them now whether they will go."

He left and went downstairs. He had seen but few people in the hall above whom he knew. He was not fond of dancing, though he knew the elaborate variations of the reel. And here was a bit of practical amusement.

"Oh, Mr. ----," said he, with great seriousness, "I am desired by Lady ---- to say that she would like to see you for a moment or two. She wishes to ask you some questions about your young people."

"The Prince may come at any moment," said Mr. ---- doubtfully.

"He won't be in such a hurry as all that, surely."

So the worthy man went upstairs; and the moment he was gone Macleod shut the door.

"Now, you piper boys!" he called aloud, "get up and play us a reel. We are going to have a dance. You are all asleep, I believe. Come, girls stand up. You that know the reel, you will keep to this end. Boys, come out. You that can dance a reel, come to this end; the others will soon pick it up. Now, piper boys, have you got the steam up? What can you give us, now? 'Monymusk?' or the 'Marquis of Huntley's Fling?' or 'Miss Johnston?' Nay, stay a bit. Don't you know 'Mrs. Macleod of Raasay?'"

"Yes," "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," came from the six pipers, all standing in a row, with the drones over their shoulders and the chanters in their fingers.

"Very well, then--off you go! Now, boys and girls, are all ready? Pipers, 'Mrs. Macleod of Raasay!'"

For a second there was a confused roaring on the long drones; then the shrill chanters broke clear away into the wild reel; and presently the boys and girls, who were at first laughingly shy and embarrassed, began to make such imitations of the reel figure, which they had seen often enough, as led to a vast amount of scrambling and jollity, if it was not particularly accurate. The most timid of the young ones soon picked up courage. Here and there one of the older boys gave a whoop that would have done justice to a wedding dance in a Highland barn.

"Put your lungs into it, pipers!" Macleod cried out, "Well played, boys! You are fit to play before a prince?"

The round cheeks of the boys were red with their blowing; they tapped their toes on the ground as proudly as if every one of them was a MacCruimin; the wild noise in this big, empty hall grew more furious than ever--when suddenly there was an awful silence. The pipers whipped the chanters from their mouths; the children, suddenly stopping in their merriment, cast one awestruck glance at the door, and then slunk back to their seats. They had observed not only Mr. ----, but also the Prince himself. Macleod was left standing alone in the middle of the floor.

"Sir Keith Macleod?" said his Royal Highness, with a smile.

Macleod bowed low.

"Lady ---- told me what you were about. I thought we could have had a peep unobserved, or we should not have broken in on the romp of the children."

"I think your Royal Highness could make amends for that," said Macleod.

There was an inquiring glance.

"If your Royal Highness would ask some one to see that each of the children has an orange, and a tart, and a shilling, it would be some compensation to them for being kept up so late."

"I think that might be done," said the Prince, as he turned to leave. "And I am glad to have made your acquaintance, although in--"

"In the character of a dancing-master," said Macleod, gravely.

After having once more visited Oscar, in the company of Phiobaire bhig, Macleod went up again to the brilliantly lit hall; and here he found that a further number of his friends had arrived. Among them was young Ogilvie, in the tartan of the Ninety-third Highlanders; and very smart indeed the boy-officer looked in his uniform. Mrs. Ross was here too and she was busy in assisting to get up the Highland quadrille. When she asked Macleod if he would join in it, he answered by asking her to be his partner, as he would be ashamed to display his ignorance before an absolute stranger. Mrs. Ross most kindly undertook to pilot him through the not elaborate intricacies of the dance; and they were fortunate in having the set made up entirely of their own friends.

Then the procession of the children took place; and the fantastically dressed crowd formed a lane to let the homely-clad lads and lasses pass along, with the six small pipers proudly playing a march at their head.

He stopped the last of the children for a second.

"Have you got a tart, and an orange, and a shilling?"

"No, sir."

"I have got the word of a prince for it," he said to himself, as he went out of the room; "and they shall not go home with empty pockets."

As he was coming up the staircase again to the ball-room he was preceded by two figures that were calculated to attract any one's notice by the picturesqueness of their costume. The one stranger was apparently an old man, who was dressed in a Florentine costume of the fourteenth century--a cloak of sombre red, with a flat cap of black velvet, one long tail of which was thrown over the left shoulder and hung down behind. A silver collar hung from his neck across his breast: other ornament there was none. His companion, however, drew all eyes toward her as the two passed into the ball-room. She was dressed in imitation of Gainsborough's portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire; and her symmetrical figure and well-poised head admirably suited the long trained costume of blue satin, with its _fichu of white muslin, the bold coquettish hat and feathers, and the powdered puffs and curls that descended to her shoulders. She had a gay air with her, too. She bore her head proudly. The patches on her cheek seemed not half so black as the blackness of her eyes, so full of a dark mischievous light were they; and the redness of the lips--a trifle artificial, no doubt--as she smiled seemed to add to the glittering whiteness of her teeth. The proud, laughing, gay coquette: no wonder all eyes were for a moment turned to her, in envy or in admiration.

Macleod, following these two, and finding that his old companion, the pensive clown in cap and bells, was still at his post of observation at the door, remained there also for a minute or two, and noticed that among the first to recognize the two strangers was young Ogilvie, who with laughing surprise in his face, came forward to shake hands with them. Then there was some further speech; the band began to play a gentle and melodious waltz; the middle of the room cleared somewhat; and presently her Grace of Devonshire was whirled away by the young Highland officer, her broad-brimmed hat rather overshadowing him, notwithstanding the pronounced colors of his plaid. Macleod could not help following this couple with his eyes whithersoever they went. In any part of the rapidly moving crowd he could always make out that one figure; and once or twice as they passed him it seemed to him that the brilliant beauty, with her powdered hair, and her flashing bright eyes, and her merry lips, regarded him for an instant; and then he could have imagined that in a by-gone century--

"Sir Keith Macleod, I think?"

The old gentleman with the grave and scholarly cap of black velvet and the long cloak of sober red held out his hand. The folds of the velvet hanging down from the cap rather shadowed his face; but all the same Macleod instantly recognized him--fixing the recognition by means of the gold spectacles.

"Mr. White?" said he.

"I am more disguised than you are," the old gentleman said, with a smile. "It is a foolish notion of my daughter's; but she would have me come."

His daughter! Macleod turned in a bewildered way to that gay crowd under the brilliant lights.

"Was that Miss White?" said he.

"The Duchess of Devonshire. Didn't you recognize her? I am afraid she will be very tired to-morrow; but she would come."

He caught sight of her again--that woman, with the dark eyes full of fire, and the dashing air, and the audacious smile! He could have believed this old man to be mad. Or was he only the father of a witch, of an illusive _ignis fatuus_, of some mocking Ariel darting into a dozen shapes to make fools of the poor simple souls of earth?

"No," he stammered, "I--I did not recognize her. I thought the lady who came with you had intensely dark eyes."

"She is said to be very clever in making up," her father said, coolly and sententiously. "It is a part of her art that is not to be despised. It is quite as important as a gesture or a tone of voice in creating the illusion at which she aims. I do not know whether actresses, as a rule, are careless about it, or only clumsy; but they rarely succeed in making their appearance homogeneous. A trifle too much here, a trifle too little there, and the illusion is spoiled. Then you see a painted woman--not the character she is presenting. Did you observe my daughter's eyebrows?"

"No, sir, I did not," said Macleod, humbly.

"Here she comes. Look at them."

But how could he look at her eyebrows, or at any trick of making up, when the whole face, with its new excitement of color, its parted lips and lambent eyes, was throwing its fascination upon him? She came forward laughing, and yet with a certain shyness. He would fain have turned away.

The Highlanders are superstitious. Did he fear being bewitched? Or what was it that threw a certain coldness over his manner? The fact of her having danced with young Ogilvie? Or the ugly reference made by her father to her eyebrows? He had greatly admired this painted stranger when he thought she was a stranger; he seemed less to admire the artistic make-up of Miss Gertrude White.

The merry Duchess, playing her part admirably, charmed all eyes but his; and yet she was so kind as to devote herself to her father and him, refusing invitations to dance, and chatting to them--with those brilliant lips smiling--about the various features of the gay scene before them. Macleod avoided looking at her face.

"What a bonny boy your friend Mr. Ogilvie is!" said she, glancing across the room.

He did not answer.

"But he does not look much of a soldier," she continued. "I don't think I should be afraid of him if I were a man."

He answered, somewhat distantly:--

"It is not safe to judge that way, especially of any one of Highland blood. If there is fighting in his blood, he will fight when the proper time comes. And we have a good Gaelic saying--it has a great deal of meaning in it, that saying--'_You do not know what sword is in the scabbard until it is drawn._'"

"What did you say was the proverb?" she asked; and for second her eyes met his; but she immediately withdrew them startled by the cold austerity of his look.

"'_You do not know what sword is in the scabbard until it is drawn_,'" said he, carelessly. "There is a good deal of meaning in it."

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