“I have passed through it, of course,” his companion said, more and more amazed at the vehemence of his speech.
“It is there she is now—I have seen it in the papers; and it is Newcastle—Newcastle—Newcastle—I am thinking of from morning till night, and if I could only see one of the streets of it I should be glad. They say it is smoky and grimy; I should be breathing sunlight if I lived in the most squalid of all its houses. And they say she is going to Liverpool, and to Manchester, and to Leeds; and it is as if my very life were being drawn away from me. I try to think what people may be around her; I try to imagine what she is doing at a particular hour of the day; and I feel as if I were shut away in an island in the middle of the Atlantic, with nothing but the sound of the waves around my ears. Ogilvie, it is enough to drive a man out of his senses.”
“But, look here, Macleod,” said Ogilvie, pulling himself together; for it was hard to resist the influence of this vehement and uncontrollable passion—“look here, man; why don’t you think of it in cold blood? Do you expect me to sympathize with you as a friend? Or would you like to know what any ordinary man of the world would think of the whole case?”
“Don’t give me your advice, Ogilvie,” said he, untwining and throwing away the bit of casting-line that had cut his finger. “It is far beyond that. Let me talk to you—that is all. I should have gone mad in another week, if I had had no one to speak to; and as it is, what better am I than mad? It is not anything to be analyzed and cured: it is my very self; and what have I become?”
“But look here, Macleod—I want to ask you a question: would you marry her?”
The common-sense of the younger man was re-asserting itself. This was what any one—looking at the whole situation from the Aldershot point of view—would at the outset demand? But if Macleod had known all that was implied in the question, it is probable that a friendship that had existed from boyhood would then and there have been severed. He took it that Ogilvie was merely referring to the thousand and one obstacles that lay between him and that obvious and natural goal.
“Marry her!” he exclaimed. “Yes, you are right to look at it in that way—to think of what it will all lead to. When I look forward, I see nothing but a maze of impossibilities and trouble. One might as well have fallen in love with one of the Roman maidens in the Temple of Vesta. She is a white slave. She is a sacrifice to the monstrous theories of that bloodless old pagan, her father. And then she is courted and flattered on all sides; she lives in a smoke of incense: do you think, even supposing that all other difficulties were removed—that she cared for no one else, that she were to care for me, that the influence of her father was gone—do you think she would surrender all the admiration she provokes and the excitement of the life she leads, to come and live in a dungeon in the Highlands? A single day like to-day would kill her, she is so fine and delicate—like a rose leaf, I have often thought. No, no, Ogilvie, I have thought of it every way. It is like a riddle that you twist and twist about to try and get the answer; and I can get no answer at all, unless wishing that I had never been born. And perhaps that would have been better.”