“I don’t know why you should talk to me like that, Keith,” said she, though she seemed somewhat frightened by this fierce gayety. “I was going to tell you that if Mrs. Stuart had a piano I would very gladly sing one or two songs for your mother and Miss Macleod when we went over there to-morrow. You have frequently asked me. Indeed, I have brought with me the very songs I sung to you the first time I saw you—at Mrs. Ross’s.”
Instantly his memory flew back to that day—to the hushed little room over the sunlit gardens—to the beautiful, gentle, sensitive girl who seemed to have so strange an interest in the Highlands—to the wonderful thrill that went through him when she began to sing with an exquisite pathos, “A wee bird cam’ to our ha’ door,” and to the prouder enthusiasm that stirred him when she sang, “I’ll to Lochiel, and Appin, and kneel to them!” These were fine, and tender, and proud songs. There was no gloom about them—nothing about a grave, and the dark winter-time, and a faithless lost love. This song of Norman Ogilvie’s that he had gayly proposed they should sing now? What had Major Stuart, or his wife, or any one in Mull to do with “Death’s black wine?”
“I meant to tell you, Keith,” said she, somewhat nervously, “that I had signed an engagement to remain at the Piccadilly Theatre till Christmas next. I knew you wouldn’t mind—I mean, you would be considerate, and you would understand how difficult it is for one to break away all at once from one’s old associations. And then, you know, Keith,” said she, shyly, “though you may not like the theatre, you ought to be proud of my success, as even my friends and acquaintances are. And as they are all anxious to see me make another appearance in tragedy, I really should like to try it; so that when my portrait appears in the Academy next year, people may not be saying, ’Look at the impertinence of that girl appearing as a tragic actress when she can do nothing beyond the familiar modern comedy!’ I should have told you all about it before, Keith, but I know you hate to hear any talk about the theatre; and I sha’n’t bore you again, you may depend on that. Isn’t it time to go back now? See! the rose-color is away from Ulva now; it is quite a dark purple.”
He turned in silence and led the way back. Behind them he could faintly hear Mr. White discoursing to Janet Macleod about the manner in which the old artists mixed their own pigments.
Then Macleod said, with a great gentleness and restraint,
“And when you go away from here, Gertrude, I suppose I must say good-by to you; and no one knows when we shall see each other again. You are returning to the theatre. If that is your wish, I would not try to thwart it. You know best what is the highest prize the world can give you. And how can I warn you against failure and disappointment? I know you will be successful. I know the people will applaud you, and your head will be filled with their praises. You are going forward to a new triumph, Gerty; and the first step you will take will be on my heart.”