It was scarcely half-past eleven when Macleod got out of the hansom, and opened a small gate, and walked up to the door of a certain house. He was afraid she had already gone. He was afraid she might resent his calling at so unusual an hour. He was afraid—of a thousand things. And when at last the trim maid-servant told him that Miss White was within, and asked him to step into the drawing-room, it was almost as one in a dream that he followed her. As one in a dream, truly; but nevertheless he saw every object around him with a marvellous vividness. Next day he could recollect every feature of the room—the empty fireplace, the black-framed mirror, the Chinese fans, the small cabinets with their shelves of blue and white, and the large open book on the table, with a bit of tartan lying on it. These things seemed to impress themselves on his eyesight involuntarily; for he was in reality intently listening for a soft footfall outside the door. He went forward to this open book. It was a volume of a work on the Highland clans—a large and expensive work that was not likely to belong to Mr. White. And this colored figure? It was the representative of the clan Macleod: and this bit of cloth that lay on the open book was of the Macleod tartan. He withdrew quickly, as though he had stumbled on some dire secret. He went to the window. He saw only leafless trees now, and withered flowers; with the clear sunshine touching the sides of houses and walls that had in the summer months been quite invisible.
There was a slight noise behind him; he turned, and all the room seemed filled with a splendor of light and of life as she advanced to him—the clear, beautiful eyes full of gladness, the lips smiling, the hand frankly extended. And of a sudden his heart sank. Was it indeed of her,
“The glory of life, the beauty of the world,”
that he had dared to dream wild and impossible dreams? He had set out that morning with a certain masterful sense that he would face his fate. He had “taken the world for his pillow,” as the Gaelic stories say. But at this sudden revelation of the incomparable grace, and self-possession, and high loveliness of this beautiful creature, all his courage and hopes fled instantly, and he could only stammer out excuses for his calling so early. He was eagerly trying to make himself out an ordinary visitor. He explained that he did not know but that she might be going to the theatre during the day. He was in London for a short time on business. It was an unconscionable hour.
“But I am so glad to see you!” she said, with a perfect sweetness, and her eyes said more than her words. “I should have been really vexed if I had heard you had passed through London without calling on us. Won’t you sit down?”
As he sat down, she turned for a second, and without any embarrassment shut the big book that had been lying open on the table.