Macleod’s breathing came quick and hard. She had not sung the ballad of the brave MacIntyre when formerly he had seen the piece. Did she merely wish him to know, by this arch rendering of the gloomy song, that she was pursuing her Highland studies? And then the last verse she sang in the Gaelic! He was so near that he could hear this adjuration to the unhappy lover to seek his boat and fly, steering wide of Jura and avoiding Mull:—
“Hi-ri-libhin o, Buin Bata,
Hi-ri-libhin o, Fag an dathaich,
Hug-o-ri-no; Sna taodh Jura!”
Was she laughing, then, at her pronunciation of the Gaelic when she carelessly rose from the piano, and, in doing so, directed one glance to him that made him quail? The foolish piece went on. She was more bright, vivacious, coquettish than ever: how could she have such spirits in view of the long separation that lay on his heart like lead? Then, at the end of the piece, there was a tapping at the door, and an envelope was handed in to him. It only contained a card, with the message “Good-night?” scrawled in pencil. It was the last time he ever was in any theatre.
Then that next morning—cold and raw and damp, with a blustering northwest wind that seemed to bring an angry summons from the far seas. At the station his hand was trembling like the hand of a drunken man; his eyes wild and troubled: his face haggard. And as the moment arrived for the train to start, he became more and more excited.
“Come and take your place, Macleod,” the major said. “There is no use worrying about leaving. We have eaten our cake. The frolic is at an end. All we can do is to sing, ‘Then fare you well, my Mary Blane,’ and put up with whatever is ahead. If I could only have a drop of real, genuine Talisker to steady my nerves—”
But here the major, who had been incidentally leaning out of the window, caught sight of a figure, and instantly he withdrew his head. Macleod disappeared.
That great, gaunt room—with the hollow footfalls of strangers, and the cries outside. His face was quite white when he took her hand.
“I am very late,” she said, with a smile.
He could not speak at all. He fixed his eyes on hers with a strange intensity, as if he would read her very soul; and what could any one find there but a great gentleness and sincerity, and the frank confidence of one who had nothing to conceal?
“Gertrude,” said he at last, “whatever happens to us two, you will never forget that I loved you?”
“I think I may be sure of that,” she said, looking down.
They rang a bell outside.