“Why is it,” she asked, “that one is so delighted to look a long distance, even when the view is quite uninteresting? I wonder if that is why I greatly prefer landscapes to figure subjects. The latter always seem to me to be painted from models just come from the Hampstead Road. There was scarcely a sea-piece in the exhibition that was not spoiled by figures, put in for the sake of picturesqueness, I suppose. Why, when you are by the sea you want to be alone, surely! Ah, if I could only have a look at those winter seas you speak of!”
He did not echo that wish at all. Even as he read he could hear the thunderous booming of the breakers into the giant caves. Was it for a pale rose-leaf to brave that fell wind that tore the waves into spindrift, and howled through the lonely chasms of Ben-an-Sloich?
To one of these precious documents, written in the small, neat hand on pink-toned and perfumed paper, a postscript was added: “If you keep my letters,” she wrote, and he laughed when he saw that if, “I wish you would go back to the one in which I told you of papa and me calling at Mr. Lemuel’s house, and I wish, dear Keith, you would burn it. I am sure it was very cruel and unjust. One often makes the mistake of thinking people affected when there is no affectation about them. And if a man has injured his health and made an invalid of himself, through his intense and constant devotion to his work, surely that is not anything to be laughed at? Whatever Mr. Lemuel may be, he is, at all events, desperately in earnest. The passion that he has for his art, and his patience and concentration and self-sacrifice, seems to me to be nothing less than noble. And so, dear Keith, will you please to burn that impertinent letter?”
Macleod sought out the letter and carefully read it over. He came to the conclusion that he could see no just reason for complying with her demand. Frequently first impressions are best.
In the by-gone days, this eager, active, stout-limbed young fellow had met the hardest winter with a glad heart. He rejoiced in its thousand various pursuits; he set his teeth against the driving hail; he laughed at the drenching spray that sprung high over the bows of his boat; and what harm ever came to him if he took the short-cut across the upper reaches of Loch Scridain, wading waist-deep through a mile of sea-water on a bitter January day? And where was the loneliness of his life when always, wherever he went by sea or shore, he had these old friends around him—the red-beaked sea-pyots whirring along the rocks; and the startled curlews, whistling their warning note across the sea; and the shy duck swimming far out on the smooth lochs; to say nothing of the black game that would scarcely move from their perch on the larch-trees as he approached, and the deer that were more distinctly visible on the far heights of Ben-an-Sloich when a slight sprinkling of snow had fallen?