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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The End of Macleod of Dare
By William Black (1841–1898)
“DUNCAN,” said Hamish in a low whisper,—for Macleod had gone below, and they thought he might be asleep in the small hushed state-room—“this is a strange-looking day, is it not? And I am afraid of it in this open bay, with an anchorage no better than a sheet of paper for an anchorage. Do you see now how strange-looking it is?”  1
  Duncan Cameron also spoke in his native tongue, and he said:—  2
  “That is true, Hamish. And it was a day like this there was when the Solan was sunk at her moorings in Loch Hourn. Do you remember, Hamish? And it would be better for us now if we were in Loch Tua, or Loch-na-Keal, or in the dock that was built for the steamer at Tiree. I do not like the look of this day.”  3
  Yet to an ordinary observer it would have seemed that the chief characteristic of this pale, still day was extreme and settled calm. There was not a breath of wind to ruffle the surface of the sea; but there was a slight glassy swell, and that only served to show curious opalescent tints under the suffused light of the sun. There were no clouds; there was only a thin veil of faint and sultry mist all across the sky: the sun was invisible, but there was a glare of yellow at one point of the heavens. A dead calm; but heavy, oppressed, sultry. There was something in the atmosphere that seemed to weigh on the chest.  4
  “There was a dream I had this morning,” continued Hamish, in the same low tones. “It was about my little granddaughter Christina. You know my little Christina, Duncan. And she said to me, ‘What have you done with Sir Keith Macleod? Why have you not brought him back? He was under your care, grandfather.’ I did not like that dream.”  5
  “Oh, you are becoming as bad as Sir Keith Macleod himself!” said the other. “He does not sleep. He talks to himself. You will become like that if you pay attention to foolish dreams, Hamish.”  6
  Hamish’s quick temper leaped up.  7
  “What do you mean, Duncan Cameron, by saying ‘as bad as Sir Keith Macleod’? You—you come from Ross: perhaps they have not good masters there. I tell you there is not any man in Ross, or in Sutherland either, is as good a master and as brave a lad as Sir Keith Macleod—not any one, Duncan Cameron!”  8
  “I did not mean anything like that, Hamish,” said the other, humbly. “But there was a breeze this morning. We could have got over to Loch Tua. Why did we stay here, where there is no shelter and no anchorage? Do you know what is likely to come after a day like this?”  9
  “It is your business to be a sailor on board this yacht; it is not your business to say where she will go,” said Hamish.  10
  But all the same the old man was becoming more and more alarmed at the ugly aspect of this dead calm. The very birds, instead of stalking among the still pools, or lying buoyant on the smooth waters, were excitedly calling, and whirring from one point to another.  11
  “If the equinoctials were to begin now,” said Duncan Cameron, “this is a fine place to meet the equinoctials! An open bay, without shelter; and a ground that is no ground for an anchorage. It is not two anchors or twenty anchors would hold in such a ground.”  12
  Macleod appeared: the men were suddenly silent. Without a word to either of them—and that was not his wont—he passed to the stern of the yacht. Hamish knew from his manner that he would not be spoken to. He did not follow him, even with all this vague dread on his mind.  13
  The day wore on to the afternoon. Macleod, who had been pacing up and down the deck, suddenly called Hamish. Hamish came aft at once.  14
  “Hamish,” said he, with a strange sort of laugh, “do you remember this morning, before the light came? Do you remember that I asked you about a brass-band that I heard playing?”  15
  Hamish looked at him, and said with an earnest anxiety:—  16
  “O Sir Keith, you will pay no heed to that! It is very common; I have heard them say it is very common. Why, to hear a brass-band, to be sure! There is nothing more common than that. And you will not think you are unwell merely because you think you can hear a brass-band playing!”  17
  “I want you to tell me, Hamish,” said he, in the same jesting way, “whether my eyes have followed the example of my ears, and are playing tricks. Do you think they are bloodshot, with my lying on deck in the cold? Hamish, what do you see all around?”  18
  The old man looked at the sky, and the shore, and the sea. It was a marvelous thing. The world was all enshrouded in a salmon-colored mist: there was no line of horizon visible between, the sea and the sky.  19
  “It is red, Sir Keith,” said Hamish.  20
  “Ah! Am I in my senses this time? And what do you think of a red day, Hamish? That is not a usual thing.”  21
  “Oh, Sir Keith, it will be a wild night this night! And we cannot stay here, with this bad anchorage!”  22
  “And where would you go, Hamish—in a dead calm?” Macleod asked, still with a smile on the wan face.  23
  “Where would I go?” said the old man, excitedly. “I—I will take care of the yacht. But you, Sir Keith; oh! you—you will go ashore now. Do you know, sir, the sheiling that the shepherd had? It is a poor place—oh yes; but Duncan Cameron and I will take some things ashore. And do you not think we can look after the yacht? She has met the equinoctials before, if it is the equinoctials that are beginning. She has met them before; and cannot she meet them now? But you, Sir Keith, you will go ashore!”  24
  Macleod burst out laughing, in an odd sort of fashion.  25
  “Do you think I am good at running away when there is any kind of danger, Hamish? Have you got into the English way? Would you call me a coward too? Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense, Hamish! I—why, I am going to drink a glass of the coal-black wine, and have done with it. I will drink it to the health of my sweetheart, Hamish!”  26
  “Sir Keith,” said the old man, beginning to tremble, though he but half understood the meaning of the scornful mirth, “I have had charge of you since you were a young lad.”  27
  “Very well!”  28
  “And Lady Macleod will ask of me, ‘Such and such a thing happened: what did you do for my son?’ Then I will say, ‘Your ladyship, we were afraid of the equinoctials; and we got Sir Keith to go ashore; and the next day we went ashore for him; and now we have brought him back to Castle Dare!’”  29
  “Hamish, Hamish, you are laughing at me! Or you want to call me a coward? Don’t you know I should be afraid of the ghost of the shepherd who killed himself? Don’t you know that the English people call me a coward?”  30
  “May their souls dwell in the downmost hall of perdition!” said Hamish, with his cheeks becoming a gray white; “and every woman that ever came of the accursed race!”  31
  He looked at the old man for a second, and he gripped his hand.  32
  “Do not say that, Hamish—that is folly. But you have been my friend. My mother will not forget you—it is not the way of a Macleod to forget—whatever happens to me.”  33
  “Sir Keith!” Hamish cried, “I do not know what you mean! But you will go ashore before the night?”  34
  “Go ashore?” Macleod answered, with a return to this wild bantering tone, “when I am going to see my sweetheart? Oh no! Tell Christina, now! Tell Christina to ask the young English lady to come into the saloon, for I have something to say to her. Be quick, Hamish!”  35
  Hamish went away; and before long he returned with the answer that the young English lady was in the saloon. And now he was no longer haggard and piteous, but joyful, and there was a strange light in his eyes.  36
  “Sweetheart,” said he, “are you waiting for me at last? I have brought you a long way. Shall we drink a glass now at the end of the voyage?”  37
  “Do you wish to insult me?” said she; but there was no anger in her voice: there was more of fear in her eyes as she regarded him.  38
  “You have no other message for me than the one you gave me last night, Gerty?” said he, almost cheerfully. “It is all over, then? You would go away from me forever? But we will drink a glass before we go!”  39
  He sprang forward, and caught both her hands in his with the grip of a vise.  40
  “Do you know what you have done, Gerty?” said he, in a low voice. “Oh, you have soft, smooth, English ways; and you are like a rose-leaf; and you are like a queen, whom all people are glad to serve. But do you know that you have killed a man’s life? And there is no penalty for that in the South, perhaps; but you are no longer in the South. And if you have this very night to drink a glass with me, you will not refuse it? It is only a glass of the coal-black wine!”  41
  She struggled back from him, for there was a look in his face that frightened her. But she had a wonderful self-command.  42
  “Is that the message I was to hear?” said she, coldly.  43
  “Why, sweetheart, are you not glad? Is not that the only gladness left for you and for me, that we should drink one glass together, and clasp hands, and say good-by? What else is there left? What else could come to you and to me? And it may not be this night, or to-morrow night; but one night I think it will come; and then, sweetheart, we will have one more glass together, before the end.”  44
  He went on deck. He called Hamish.  45
  “Hamish,” said he, in a grave, matter-of-fact way, “I don’t like the look of this evening. Did you say the sheiling was still on the island?”  46
  “Oh yes, Sir Keith,” said Hamish, with great joy; for he thought his advice was going to be taken, after all.  47
  “Well, now, you know the gales, when they begin, sometimes last for two or three or four days; and I will ask you to see that Christina takes a good store of things to the sheiling before the darkness comes on. Take plenty of things now, Hamish, and put them in the sheiling, for I am afraid this is going to be a wild night.”  48
  Now indeed all the red light had gone away; and as the sun went down there was nothing but a spectral whiteness over the sea and the sky; and the atmosphere was so close and sultry that it seemed to suffocate one. Moreover, there was a dead calm; if they had wanted to get away from this exposed place, how could they? They could not get into the gig and pull this great yacht over to Loch Tua.  49
  It was with a light heart that Hamish set about this thing; and Christina forthwith filled a hamper with tinned meats, and bread, and whisky, and what not. And fuel was taken ashore, too; and candles, and a store of matches. If the gales were coming on, as appeared likely from this ominous-looking evening, who could tell how many days and nights the young master—and the English lady, too, if he desired her company—might not have to stay ashore, while the men took the chance of the sea with this yacht, or perhaps seized the occasion of some lull to make for some place of shelter? There was Loch Tua, and there was the bay at Bunessan, and there was the little channel called Polterriv, behind the rocks opposite Iona. Any shelter at all was better than this exposed place, with the treacherous anchorage.  50
  Hamish and Duncan Cameron returned to the yacht.  51
  “Will you go ashore now, Sir Keith?” the old man said.  52
  “Oh no; I am not going ashore yet. It is not yet time to run away, Hamish.”  53
  He spoke in a friendly and pleasant fashion, though Hamish, in his increasing alarm, thought it no proper time for jesting. They hauled the gig up to the davits, however, and again the yacht lay in dead silence in this little bay.  54
  The evening grew to dusk; the only change visible in the spectral world of pale yellow-white mist was the appearance in the sky of a number of small, detached bulbous-looking clouds of a dusky blue-gray. They had not drifted hither, for there was no wind. They had only appeared. They were absolutely motionless. But the heat and the suffocation in this atmosphere became almost insupportable. The men, with bare heads, and jerseys unbuttoned at the neck, were continually going to the cask of fresh water beside the windlass. Nor was there any change when the night came on. If anything, the night was hotter than the evening had been. They waited in silence what might come of this ominous calm.  55
  Hamish came aft.  56
  “I beg your pardon, Sir Keith,” said he, “but I am thinking we will have an anchor-watch to-night.”  57
  “You will have no anchor-watch to-night,” Macleod answered slowly, from out of the darkness. “I will be all the anchor-watch you will need, Hamish, until the morning.”  58
  “You, sir!” Hamish cried. “I have been waiting to take you ashore; and surely it is ashore that you are going!”  59
  Just as he had spoken, there was a sound that all the world seemed to stand still to hear. It was a low, murmuring sound of thunder; but it was so remote as almost to be inaudible. The next moment an awful thing occurred. The two men standing face to face in the dark suddenly found themselves in a blaze of blinding steel-blue light, and at the very same instant the thunder-roar crackled and shook all around them like the firing of a thousand cannon. How the wild echoes went booming over the sea!  60
  Then they were in the black night again. There was a period of awed silence.  61
  “Hamish,” Macleod said, quickly, “do as I tell you now! Lower the gig; take the men with you, and Christina, and go ashore and remain in the sheiling till the morning.”  62
  “I will not!” Hamish cried. “O Sir Keith, would you have me do that?”  63
  Macleod had anticipated his refusal. Instantly he went forward and called up Christina. He ordered Duncan Cameron and John Cameron to lower away the gig. He got them all in but Hamish.  64
  “Hamish,” said he, “you are a smaller man than I. Is it on such a night that you would have me quarrel with you? Must I throw you into the boat?”  65
  The old man clasped his trembling hands together as if in prayer; and he said, with an agonized and broken voice:—  66
  “O Sir Keith, you are my master, and there is nothing I will not do for you; but only this one night you will let me remain with the yacht? I will give you the rest of my life; but only this one night—”  67
  “Into the gig with you!” Macleod cried, angrily. “Why, man, don’t you think I can keep anchor-watch?” But then he added very gently, “Hamish, shake hands with me now. You were my friend, and you must get ashore before the sea rises.”  68
  “I will stay in the dingy, then?” the old man entreated.  69
  “You will go ashore, Hamish; and this very instant, too. If the gale begins, how will you get ashore? Good-by, Hamish—good-night!”  70
  Another white sheet of flame quivered all around them, just as this black figure was descending into the gig; and then the fierce hell of sounds broke loose once more. Sea and sky together seemed to shudder at the wild uproar, and far away the sounds went thundering through the hollow night. How could one hear if there was any sobbing in that departing boat, or any last cry of farewell? It was Ulva calling now, and Fladda answering from over the black water; and the Dutchman is surely awake at last!  71
  There came a stirring of wind from the east, and the sea began to moan. Surely the poor fugitives must have reached the shore now. And then there was a strange noise in the distance: in the awful silence between the peals of thunder it would be heard; it came nearer and nearer—a low murmuring noise, but full of a secret life and thrill—it came along like the tread of a thousand armies—and then the gale struck its first blow. The yacht reeled under the stroke, but her bows staggered up again like a dog that has been felled, and after one or two convulsive plunges she clung hard at the strained cables. And now the gale was growing in fury, and the sea rising. Blinding showers of rain swept over, hissing and roaring; the white tongues of flame were shooting this way and that across the startled heavens; and there was a more awful thunder than even the falling of the Atlantic surge booming into the great sea-caves. In the abysmal darkness the spectral arms of the ocean rose white in their angry clamor; and then another blue gleam would lay bare the great heaving and wreathing bosom of the deep. What devil’s dance is this? Surely it cannot be Ulva—Ulva the green-shored—Ulva that the sailors, in their love of her, call softly Ool-a-va—that is laughing aloud with wild laughter on this awful night? And Colonsay, and Lunga, and Fladda—they were beautiful and quiet in the still summer-time; but now they have gone mad, and they are flinging back the plunging sea in white masses of foam, and they are shrieking in their fierce joy of the strife. And Staffa—Staffa is far away and alone; she is trembling to her core: how long will the shuddering caves withstand the mighty hammer of the Atlantic surge? And then again the sudden wild gleam startles the night, and one sees, with an appalling vividness, the driven white waves and the black islands; and then again a thousand echoes go booming, along the iron-bound coast. What can be heard in the roar of the hurricane, and the hissing of rain, and the thundering whirl of the waves on the rocks? Surely not the one glad last cry: SWEETHEART! YOUR HEALTH! YOUR HEALTH IN THE COAL-BLACK WINE!
*        *        *        *        *
  The poor fugitives crouching in among the rocks—is it the blinding rain or the driven white surf that is in their eyes? But they have sailors’ eyes; they can see through the awful storm; and their gaze is fixed on one small green point far out there in the blackness—the starboard light of the doomed ship. It wavers like a will-o’-the-wisp, but it does not recede; the old Umpire still clings bravely to her chain cables.  73
  And amidst all the din of the storm they hear the voice of Hamish lifted aloud in lamentation:—  74
  “Oh, the brave lad! the brave lad! And who is to save my young master now? and who will carry this tale back to Castle Dare? They will say to me, ‘Hamish, you had charge of the young lad; you put the first gun in his hand; you had charge of him; he had the love of a son for you: what is it you have done with him this night?’ He is my Absalom; he is my brave young lad: oh, do you think that I will let him drown and do nothing to try to save him? Do you think that? Duncan Cameron, are you a man? Will you get into the gig with me and pull out to the Umpire?”  75
  “By God,” said Duncan Cameron, solemnly, “I will do that! I have no wife; I do not care. I will go into the gig with you, Hamish; but we will never reach the yacht—this night or any night that is to come.”  76
  Then the old woman Christina shrieked aloud, and caught her husband by the arm.  77
  “Hamish! Hamish! Are you going to drown yourself before my eyes?”  78
  He shook her hand away from him.  79
  “My young master ordered me ashore: I have come ashore. But I myself, I order myself back again. Duncan Cameron, they will never say that we stood by and saw Macleod of Dare go down to his grave!”  80
  They emerged from the shelter of this great rock; the hurricane was so fierce that they had to cling to one bowlder after another to save themselves from being whirled into the sea. But were these two men by themselves? Not likely! It was a party of five men that now clambered along the slippery rocks to the shingle up which they had hauled the gig, and one wild lightning-flash saw them with their hands on the gunwale, ready to drag her down to the water. There was a surf raging there that would have swamped twenty gigs: these five men were going of their own free will and choice to certain death—so much had they loved the young master.  81
  But a piercing cry from Christina arrested them. They looked out to sea. What was this sudden and awful thing? Instead of the starboard green light, behold! the port red light—and that moving! Oh, see! how it recedes, wavering, flickering through the whirling vapor of the storm! And there again is the green light! Is it a witch’s dance, or are they strange death-fires hovering over the dark ocean-grave? But Hamish knows too well what it means; and with a wild cry of horror and despair, the old man sinks on his knees and clasps his hands, and stretches them out to the terrible sea.  82
  “O, Macleod, Macleod! are you going away from me forever? and we will go up the hills together and on the lochs together no more—no more—no more! Oh, the brave lad that he was! and the good master! And who was not proud of him—my handsome lad—and he the last of the Macleods of Dare?”  83
  Arise, Hamish, and have the gig hauled up into shelter; for will you not want it when the gale abates, and the seas are smooth, and you have to go away, to Dare, you and your comrades, with silent tongues and sombre eyes? Why this wild lamentation in the darkness of the night? The stricken heart that you loved so well has found peace at last; the coal-black wine has been drunk: there is an end! And you, you poor, cowering fugitives, who only see each other’s terrified faces when the wan gleam of the lightning blazes through the sky, perhaps it is well that you should weep and wail for the young master; but that is soon over, and the day will break. And this is what I am thinking of now: when the light comes and the seas are smooth, then which of you—oh, which of you all will tell this tale to the two women at Castle Dare?
*        *        *        *        *
  So fair shines the morning sun on the white sands of Iona! The three-days’ gale is over. Behold how Ulva—Ulva the green-shored—the Ool-a-va that the sailors love—is laughing out again to the clear skies! And the great skarts on the shores of Erisgeir are spreading abroad their dusky wings to get them dried in the sun; and the seals are basking on the rocks in Loch-na-Keal; and in Loch Scridain the white gulls sit buoyant on the blue sea. There go the Gometra men in their brown-sailed boat to look after the lobster traps at Staffa, and very soon you will see the steamer come round the far Cailleach Point; over at Erraidh they are signaling to the men at Dubh-Artach, and they are glad to have a message from them after the heavy gale. The new, bright day has begun; the world has awakened again to the joyous sunlight; there is a chattering of the sea-birds all along the shores. It is a bright, eager, glad day for all the world. But there is silence in Castle Dare!  85

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