But he went and saw Major Stuart—a round, red, jolly little man, with white hair and a cheerful smile, who had a sombre and melancholy wife. Major Stuart received Macleod’s offer with great gravity. It was a matter of business that demanded serious consideration. He had worked out the whole system of drying crops with hot air as it was shown him in pamphlets, reports, and agricultural journals, and he had come to the conclusion that—on paper at least—it could be made to pay. What was wanted was to give the thing a practical trial. If the system was sound, surely any one who helped to introduce it into the Western Highlands was doing a very good work indeed. And there was nothing but personal inspection could decide on the various merits of latest improvements.
This was what he said before his wife one night at dinner. But when the ladies had left the room, the little stout major suddenly put up both his hands, snapped his thumb and middle finger, and very cleverly executed one or two reel steps.
“By George! my boy,” said he, with a ferocious grin on his face, “I think we will have a little frolic—a little frolic!—a little frolic! You were never shut up in a house for six months with a woman like my wife, were you, Macleod? You were never reminded of your coffin every morning, were you? Macleod, my boy, I am just mad to get after those drying-machines!”
And indeed Macleod could not have had a merrier companion to go South with him than this rubicund major just escaped from the thraldom of his wife. But it was with no such high spirits that Macleod set out. Perhaps it was only the want of sleep that had rendered him nerveless and morbid; but he felt, as he left Castle Dare, that there was a lie in his actions, if not in his words. And as for the future that lay before him, it was a region only of doubt, and vague regrets, and unknown fears; and he was entering upon it without any glimpse of light, and without the guidance of any friendly hand.
“AH, pappy,” said Miss Gertrude White to her father and she pretended to sigh as she spoke—“this is a change indeed!”
They were driving up to the gate of the small cottage in South Bank. It was the end of October. In the gardens they passed the trees were almost bare; though such leaves as hung sparsely on the branches of the chestnuts and maples were ablaze with russet and gold in the misty sunshine.
“In another week,” she continued, “there will not be a leaf left. I dare say there is not a single geranium in the garden. All hands on deck to pipe a farewell:
’Ihr Matten, lebt wohl,
Ihr sonnigen Weiden
Der Senne muss scheiden,
Der Sommer ist hin.’
Farewell to the blue mountains of Newcastle, and the sunlit valleys of Liverpool, and the silver waterfalls of Leeds; the summer is indeed over; and a very nice and pleasant summer we have had of it.”