AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
A ROMANCE OF THE EARLY DAYS OF UPPER CANADA
G. MERCER ADAM AND A. ETHELWYN WETHERALD
Entered according to Act of Parliament, in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-six, by GRAEME MERCER ADAM and AGNES ETHELWYN WETHERALD, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Ottawa.
TO THE VETERAN PUBLISHER, John Lovell, Esq., OF MONTREAL, WHO HAS SPENT A LONG AND BUSY LIFE IN THE VARIED SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY, THIS MODEST EFFORT IN THE FIELD OF CANADIAN FICTION IS AFFECTIONATELY AND ADMIRINGLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHORS.
The Young Master of Pine Towers
An Upper Canadian Household
"When Summer Days were Fair"
Indian Annals and Legends
The Algonquin Maiden
On the Way to the Capital
York and the Maitlands
After "The Ball"
A Kiss and its Consequences
"Muddy Little York"
Politics at the Capital
A Picnic in the Woods
The Commodore Surrenders
At Stamford Cottage
The Coming of Wanda
The Passing of Wanda
AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN.
THE YOUNG MASTER OF PINE TOWERS.
It was a May morning in 1825—spring-time of the year, late spring-time of the century. It had rained the night before, and a warm pallor in the eastern sky was the only indication that the sun was trying to pierce the gray dome of nearly opaque watery fog, lying low upon that part of the world now known as the city of Toronto, then the town of Little York. This cluster of five or six hundred houses had taken up a determined position at the edge of a forest then gloomily forbidding in its aspect, interminable in extent, inexorable in its resistance to the shy or to the sturdy approaches of the settler. Man versus nature—the successive assaults of perishing humanity upon the almost impregnable fortresses of the eternal forests—this was the struggle of Canadian civilization, and its hard-won triumphs were bodied forth in the scattered roofs of these cheap habitations. Seen now through soft gradations of vapoury gloom, they took on a poetic significance, as tenderly intangible as the romantic halo which the mist of years loves to weave about the heads of departed pioneers, who, for the most part, lived out their lives in plain, grim style, without any thought of posing as "conquering heroes" in the eyes of succeeding generations.
From the portico of one of these dwellings, under a wind-swayed sign which advertised it to be a place of rest and refreshment, stepped a man of more than middle age, whose nervous gait and anxious face betokened a mind ill at ease. He had the look and air of a highly respectable old servitor,—one who had followed the family to whom he was bound by ties of life-long service to a country of which he strongly disapproved, not because it offered a poor field for his own advancement, but because, to his mind, its crude society and narrow opportunities ill became the distinction of the Old World family to whose fortunes he was devoted. Time had softened these prejudices, but had failed to melt them; and if they had a pardonable fashion of congealing under the stress of the Canadian winter, they generally showed signs of a thaw at the approach of spring. At the present moment he had no thought, no eyes, for anything save a mist-enshrouded speck far off across the waters of Lake Ontario. All the impatience and longing of the week just past found vent through his eyes, as he watched that pale, uncertain, scarcely visible mote on the horizon. As he reached the shore the fog lifted a little, and a great sunbeam, leaping from a cloud, illumined for a moment the smooth expanse of water; but the new day was as yet chary of its gifts. It was very still. The woods and waves alike were tranced in absolute calm. The unlighted heavens brooded upon the silent limpid waters and the breathless woods, while between them, with restless step, and heart as gloomy as the morning, with secret, sore misgiving, paced the old servant, his attention still riveted upon that distant speck. The sight of land and home to the gaze of a long absent wanderer, wearied with ocean, is not more dear than the first glimpse of the approaching sail to watching eyes on shore.
Was it in truth the packet vessel for whose coming he had yearningly waited, or the dark wing of a soaring bird, or did it exist only in imagination? The tide of his impatience rose anew as the dim object slowly resolved itself into the semblance of a sail, shrouded in the pale, damp light of early morning. Unwilling to admit to his usually grave unimpressible self the fact that he was restless and disturbed, he reduced his pace to a dignified march, extended his chosen beat to a wider margin of the sandy shore, and, parting the blighted branches of a group of trees, that bore evidence of the effect of constant exposure to lake winds, he affected to examine them critically. But the hand that touched the withered leaves trembled, and his sight was dimmed with something closely resembling the morning's mist. When he again raised his eyes to that white-sailed vessel it looked to his hopeless gaze absolutely becalmed. The slow moments dragged heavily along. The mantle of fog was wholly lifted at last, and the lonely watcher was enveloped in the soft beauty of the morning. A light cloud hung motionless, as though spell-bound, above the mute and moveless trees, while before him the dead blue slopes of heaven were unbroken by a single flying bird, the wide waste of water unlighted, save by that unfluttering sail.
And now, like a visible response to his silent but seemingly resistless longing, a boat was rapidly pushed away from the larger craft, and the swift flash and fall of the oars kept time to the pulsing in the old man's breast. Again ensued that inglorious conflict between self-respecting sobriety of demeanour and long suppressed emotion, which ended only when the boat grated on the sand, and a blonde stalwart youth leaped ashore. The old man fell upon his neck with tears and murmured ejaculations of gratitude and welcome; but young impatient hands pushed him not ungently aside, and a youthful voice, high and intense from anxiety, urgently exclaimed:
"My mother! How is my mother?"
"She yet breathes, thank God. She has been longing for your coming as a suffering saint longs for heaven. She must see you before she dies!"
The young man turned a little aside with down-bent head. His positive blue eyes looked almost feverishly bright; and the lip, on which he had unconsciously bitten hard, now released from pressure, quivered perceptibly; but with the unwillingness or inability of youth to admit the inevitableness of a great grief he burst forth with:
"Is that all you have to say to me?" And then, as his keen eye noticed the tears still undried upon the cheeks of the old man, he sighed heavily. "Can nothing be done? Is there no help? It doesn't seem possible!" He ground his heel heavily into the sand. "Say something, Tredway," he entreated, "anything with a gleam of hope in it."
Tredway shook his head. "The only hope that remains is that you will reach home in time to receive her last words. This is the second time that I have come down expecting to meet you."
The young fellow with his erect military air and noticeably handsome face betrayed a remote consciousness that he was perhaps worth the trouble of coming after twice. As they together hastened up from the beach the younger of the two briefly narrated the cause of his delay—a delay occasioned by stress of weather on the Atlantic, and the state of the roads in the valley of the Mohawk, on the journey from the seaboard. He had lost not an hour, the young man said, in obeying the summons of his father, the Commodore, to quit England and return to his Canadian home ere his much-loved mother passed from the earth.
Eager to reach that home, which was on the shores of Lake Simcoe, the young Cadet bade the old servitor hasten to get their horses ready when they would instantly set forth. As they were about to mount, the younger of the two was accosted by an old friend, now an attache of Government House, who, learning of the arrival of the packet, and expecting the young master of Pine Towers, had strolled down to the landing-place to welcome the newcomer and ask him to partake of the Governor's hospitality. The young man, however, begged his friend to have him excused, and with dutiful messages of respect for the Governor and his household, and a cordial adieu to his former boon-companion, he rapidly set off for home, closely followed by his attendant.
Coming up the old military road, cut out between York and Holland Landing by His Majesty's corps of Queen's Rangers, under the regime of Governor Simcoe, both horsemen fell into a brief silence, broken by sorrowful inquiries from the younger man regarding the subject which lay so close to the heart of each. "Dying!" he exclaimed in deep sadness, and with the utter incapacity of young and ardent life to conceive the reality of death. "And my own mother. It seems natural enough for other mothers to die—but mine! Heaven help us! We never know the meaning of grief until it comes to our own threshold."
The old steward viewed with a desolate stare the May landscape, brightly lit with sunshine and bloom, and said wearily:
"But what can one expect in this wretched, half-civilized country? Now in England—"
His voice lingered long upon that fondly loved word, and his young master concluded the sentence with,
"There would be little hope, but in this 'brave new world,' where the odour of the woods is a tonic, and the air brings healing and balm, how can death exist? Ah, Tredway, this is a beautiful country!"
"To me there is but one beautiful country—that is England." Again there was that lingering intonation.
Edward Macleod gave vent to a short melancholy laugh. The allurements of an old civilization were over-ripe to his taste. Promise appealed to his imagination; fulfilment was a dull fact. Along with the unmistakable evidences of birth and breeding in his person, there was in his fresh youth and buoyancy something joyously akin to the vigorous young life about him.
"England," said Tredway, with his disapproving regard fixed upon the wilderness around, "is a garden."
"And I take no delight in gardens," declared Edward. "I was never intended for a garden statue. This long day's journey under the giant trees of the wild, unconquered woods seems to gratify some savage instinct of my nature. The old country is well adapted to keep alive old customs, old notions, old traditions; but for me I am a Canadian, my mind is wearied with over-much civilization. I hate the English love of land for land's sake. That line of hills, swelling in massive curves, and crowned, not with a tottering ruin, serving to hang some legendary romance or faded rag of superstition upon, but with stately trees—that is my idea of the beautiful."
He struck into a sharp gallop, his bright head above the dark blue military cloak forming a picturesque feature in the woodland, and the flying heels of his spirited horse seeming to add a rattling chorus of applause to his patriotic sentiments. The old retainer ambled along in his wake, but more slowly. His idea of the beautiful was not quite so recklessly defiant. Presently, for he was still jaded from the effects of his long journey on the previous day, he relaxed his attempt at speed, and soon lost sight of his companion altogether. The vision of waving cloak and flying steed vanished in the green aisles of the forest.
Along the Oak Ridges—situate some thirty miles from York—which the two horsemen now neared, a Huguenot settlement had been formed about the close of the eighteenth century. The settlers were French officers of the noblesse order, who, during the French Revolution, when the royalist cause became desperate, emigrated to England, thence to Canada, where, by the bounty of the Crown, they were given grants of land in this portion of the Province of Upper Canada. Here many of these emigres had made clearings on the Ridges, and reared chateaux for themselves and their households after the manner of their ancestral homes in Languedoc and Brittany. Into the grounds of one of these mansions had the younger horseman disappeared to pay his hurried respects to the stately dame who was its owner, and who, with her fair daughter, were intimate friends of the Macleod family.
Almost before the old man had time to wonder what mad freak had kept his young master so long from the beaten road, he was at his side again.
"I have been trying to get a glimpse of my little friend, Helene," he said, in explanation of his absence, "but the DeBerczy mansion is as empty as a church on Monday. They still go to Lake Simcoe in summer, I suppose. But what does this early flight portend?"
"It was caused solely by the serious nature of your mother's illness. Madame and Mademoiselle have been now five weeks at 'Bellevue.'"
The young man's face darkened, or rather lost the brightness that habitually played upon it, like gleams of sunshine on a stream, which, when disappearing, show the depth of the tide beneath.
"You would scarcely know the young lady now," continued Tredway. "The difference between fifteen and eighteen is the difference between childhood and womanhood."
"I suppose she has grown like a young forest tree, and holds her graceful head almost as high."
"She is well grown, and very beautiful, but not bewitching like your sister Rose."
"Ah! dear little Rose! But she, too, I doubt not, is a bud no longer. It's odd how much easier it is for a girl to be a woman than for a boy to become a man." There was something vaguely suggestive of regret in the gesture with which young Macleod lightly brushed his short upper lip, whose hirsute adornment was not, in its owner's estimation, all that it ought to have been. "I was twenty-one last winter. Do I look very young?" he inquired, with the natural anxiety of a man who has recently escaped the ignominy of being in his teens.
"You look altogether too young," dryly returned the ancient servitor, "to appreciate the worth of a country where old customs, old ideas, and old traditions are respected."
"Then may youth always be mine!" exclaimed Edward, looking round him with the glow in his heart, sure to be felt by the devout worshipper of Nature in the large and beautiful presence of her whom he adores. The region about him, esteemed the epitome of dreariness in winter, held now in its depths a vast luxury of vegetation. The wild vines ran knotted and twisted about the trunks and branches of multitudinous trees, and the fallen logs were draped with moss, lichens, and delicate ferns. Passing through this boundless wilderness, they seemed to look into a succession of woodland chambers, thickly carpeted with wild flowers, gorgeously festooned with creeping and parasitical plants hanging from the branches, and secured in their leafy seclusion by walls of abundant foliage. In one of these natural parlours they paused for their mid-day repast—mid-day in the world without, but here, where only vagrant gleams of the spring sun pierced the forest solitudes, gloomy with spruce and pine, there was a sense of morning in the air. This appearance was heightened by the delicate curtains of cobweb, strung with shining pearls, which still might be seen after the fog at early dawn. There was no sound except sometimes that of an invisible bird, singing in the upper air, or when a partridge, roused by approaching steps, started from the hollow, and rapidly whirring away directly before them was again startled into flight when they overtook it.
The road they followed cut straight through the forest, and, disdaining to enclose the hills in graceful curves, attacked and surmounted them in the direct fashion common to our forefathers, when they encountered obstacles of any serious nature. The absence of human sight or voice gave a strangeness to the sound of their own utterances, and there were frequent lapses into that sad silence which fell upon them as naturally as the gloom from the overshadowing boughs above. The old attendant who viewed every member of the family whom he served and loved just as the first man regarded the world at his first glimpse of it—that is, as an extension of his own consciousness—was deeply moved at the sight of his young master's sombre face. Edward's heart, indeed, ached painfully. The perpetual repetition of this luxuriance of young fresh life in the woods of May was a constant reminder of a life that until lately had been as vigorously beautiful, and now perhaps had passed away from this world forever.
Leaving their weary horses at Holland Landing, they took boat down the river and bay, desiring to hasten their arrival at the family mansion, nearly opposite to what is now the prettily situated town of Barrie. Edward sat apart and gazed long and silently at the waving tree lines, dark against a luminous, cool, gray sky, with its scattered but serene group of clouds. All his desire for home and for her who was the sunshine of it had resolved itself into a yearning that gnawed momentarily at his heart. Instead of the fair sky and landscape and silent waterways of his New World home, he saw or rather felt, the hush of a dim chamber, whose wasted occupant had travelled far into the valley of the shadow of death. His wet eyes, looking abroad upon the outer world, were as the eyes of those who see not. The afternoon sunshine paled and thinned, but beneath the chill of the spring day there lay a warm hint of the untold tenderness of midsummer. Unconsciously to himself the prophecy brought a feeling of comfort to his heart, in its reminder of the glory of that summer to which his mother might even now be passing—"the glory that was to be revealed."
It was early twilight when Edward Macleod reached his beautiful home overlooking Kempenfeldt Bay. The broad, solid-built house, with its commanding position, and spacious verandas, seemed just such a mansion as an old naval officer, who was reduced to the insipid necessity of a life on shore, would choose to dwell in. One might almost be tempted to call it a fine piece of marine architecture, in some of its fanciful reminders of an ocean vessel. Its solitariness, its pointed turrets and gables, its proud position on what might be termed the topmost wave of earth in that region, the flying flag at its summit, and the ample white curtains that fluttered sail-like in the open windows, all heightened the resemblance. From its portal down to the bay, extended a noble avenue of hardwood trees—oak, walnut and elm—never planted by the hand of man. Their gracious lives the woodman had spared, and now, with their outstretched branches, catching the faint evening breeze, they seemed to breathe a sad benediction upon the returning youth, who walked hurriedly and tremblingly beneath them.
As he stepped from their leafy shadow upon the sunset-gilded lawn, he was startled by an apparition which seemed suddenly to take shape from a sweet-scented thicket of lilacs now in profuse bloom at the rear of the house. A dark, lissome creature, beautiful as a young princess, but a princess in the disguise of a savage, darted past him. So sudden was the appearance, and so swift the flight of this dusky Diana, speeding through the blossoming shrubs of spring, that his mind retained only a general impression of a face, perfect-featured and olive-tinted, and a form robed in a brilliant and barbarous admixture of scarlet, yellow, and very dark blue.
But the next moment every sensation and emotion gave way to overwhelming and profound grief, for his sister Rose, hurrying to meet him, threw herself into his arms with an abandon of sorrow that seemed to leave no room for hope. The fatal question burned a moment on his lips, then died away unuttered, leaving them pale as ashes, and a big tear fell upon the bright head of the girl whom he now believed to be with himself motherless. But in a moment his father took his hand in a tense, strong grasp, and drew him quickly forward. "She yet breathes," he whispered, "but is unable to recognize any of us. Heaven grant she may know you. For days past her moan has been, 'I cannot die until I see my son, until I see my first-born.'"
His voice broke as they entered the chamber of death. The young man, feeling strangely weak and blind, sat down beside the bed, for the awful hush of this darkened room weighed heavily upon him. As in a terrible dream he saw the sorrowing forms of his younger brother and sister, crouching at his feet, poor Rose drooping in the doorway, his father's trembling hands grasping a post of the high, old-fashioned bedstead, and, on the other side of the bed a youthful stranger, whose black dress and very black hair divinely framed a face and throat of milky whiteness. These objects left but a weak impression upon his dulled senses, for all his soul was going out in resistless longing towards the fast-ebbing life that seemed to be slipping away from his feeble grasp. He stroked the little bloodless hand, and kissed repeatedly the wasted cheek, uttering at the same time low murmurs of entreaty that she would look upon him once more before she died. All in vain. Utterly still and unresponsive as death itself, she lay before him. "Dear mother," he implored, "it is your son, your own Edward that calls you. Can you not hear? Will you not come back to me a single moment? Ah, I cannot let you go; I cannot, I cannot!" His voice sank in a passionate murmur of grief. "You will look at me once, will you not? Oh, mother, mother, mother!"
He had fallen to his knees, with his face on the pillow close to hers, and his last words smote upon her ear like the inarticulate wail of an infant whose life must perish along with the strong sustaining life of her who gave it birth. The head turned ever so slightly, the eyelids quivered faintly and lifted, and her eyes looked fully and tenderly upon her son. Then, with a mighty effort, she raised one transparent hand, and brought it feebly, flutteringly, higher and higher, until it lay upon his cheek. A strange faint light of unearthly sweetness played about her lips. It was a light as sweet and beautiful as her own life had been, but now it paled and faded—brightened again—flickered a moment—and then went out forever.
The sad sound of children weeping broke the silence of the death-chamber. Edward still knelt, and Rose was bowed with grief; but the old Commodore's courageous voice sounded as though wrung from the depths of his sorely-stricken heart:
"The Lord gave, and the Lord—" his tongue failed him, but after a momentary struggle he continued in shaking tones—"and the Lord taketh away. Blessed—"
He could say no more.
Surely the blessing that, for choking sobs, could not find utterance on earth, was heard in heaven, and abundantly returned upon the brave and desolate spirit of him who strove to pronounce it.
AN UPPER CANADIAN HOUSEHOLD.
The breakfast-room of Pine Towers, on a bright, sunny morning, some three or four days after the death of its much-respected mistress, held a large concourse of the notables of York, and other private and official gentry of the Province. They had come to take part, on the previous day, in the funeral obsequies; and were now, after a night's rest and bountiful morning repast, about to return to the Capital. Among the number gathered to pay respect to the deceased lady's memory, as well as to show their regard and sympathy for the bereaved husband, the good old Commodore, were many whose names were "household words" in the early days of Upper Canada. Sixty years have passed over the Province since the notable gathering, and all who were then present have paid the debt of nature. Hushed now as are their voices, the Macleod breakfast-room, on the morning we have indicated, was a perfect babel of noise. The solemn pageant of the previous day, and the sacred griefs of those whom the grim Enemy had made desolate, seemed at the moment to have been forgotten by the departing throng; and for a time the young master of Pine Towers, as he bade adieu to his father's guests, witnessed a scene in sharp contrast to yesterday's orderly decorum. It was with a sigh of relief that Edward Macleod saw the last of the miscellaneous vehicles move off, and the final guest take the road to the bateaux on the lake, to convey him and those who were returning by water to Holland Landing, there to find the means of reaching the Capital.
Entering the house, empty now of all but those who were left of its usual inmates, including his sister's friend, the beautiful Helene—whom he had hardly had an opportunity to more than greet on his return from England—an overpowering sense of desolation fell upon him. Seating himself near his mother's favourite window, the young man's loneliness and bereavement found vent in tears. All the past came vividly before him—a mother's life-long devotion and tender care; her thousand winning ways and loving endearments; her pride in his future career and prospects; and the recollection of the many innocent confidences which a mother loves to pour into the ear of a handsome, grown-up son, whose filial affection and chivalrous devotion assure her that she still possesses charms to which her husband and his contemporaries of a previous generation had been wont sedulously to pay tribute. "Ah, beautiful mother, it is not to-day nor to-morrow that I shall fully realize that I am to see thee no more on earth," said the young man musingly, as he left his seat and strode nervously up and down the room, while his favourite hound from a rug by the large open fire-place eyed his agitated movements.
Presently the young man's soliloquies were interrupted by the timid entrance of his sister, Rose, followed by the more decided and stately tread of the charming Helene.
"Ah, Edward," said his sister, "you are alone. Have all our guests gone?"
"Yes," was the reply, "and I am not sorry to have the house again to ourselves."
"You, of course, include Helene among the latter," observed Rose interrogatively.
"I do, certainly," was Edward's instant and cordial response, as he offered Helene his hand to conduct her down the steps into the conservatory and out on to the lawn. "Miss DeBerczy, of course, is one of us, though you told me this morning that she, too, expressed a wish to be gone."
Helene interrupted these remarks with the explanation that her wish to take leave was owing to a mandate of her mother's which had reached her that morning.
"We shall all be sorry at your leaving us so soon," was Edward's courteous rejoinder. "But, when you go," he added, "you must permit me to accompany you to 'Bellevue,' for I wish to pay my respects to your mamma; it is a long time now since we met. Besides, I have to deliver to her the cameos I brought her from England and the family trinkets your uncle entrusted to my care."
"Mamma, I know, is eager to receive them, and will be delighted to welcome you back. In her note, by the way, she tells me that Captain John Franklin has written to her from York, asking permission to call upon her on his way north. You know that the Arctic Expedition is to go overland, by way of Penetanguishene and Rupert's Land, and is to effect a junction with Captain Beechey's party operating from Hudson's Bay."
"So I learned before I left England," replied Edward. "I hope my father," he added, "will be able to meet the members of the Expedition. It would rouse him from his grief, and I know that he takes a great interest in Captain Franklin's project."
The conversation was now monopolized by the ladies, for Helene took Rose aside to tell that young lady that her mamma had given her some news of a young and handsome land-surveyor, of Barrie, of whom she had heard Rose speak in terms of warm admiration.
The gentleman referred to was Allan Dunlop, who, Helene related, had been very useful at York to Captain Franklin, in giving him information as to the route to be followed by his Expedition on its way to the "hoarse North sea."
Rose visibly coloured as she listened to the young man's praises, in the extract Helene's mother had enclosed from Captain Franklin's communication. That young lady protested, however, that Allan Dunlop was her brother's friend, not hers. "Indeed," she added, "we have only occasionally met at the Church at Barrie, and I have not even been introduced to him."
"Ah, and how is it that his name is always on your lips after every service I hear you have attended across the bay?" queried Helene archly.
The tints deepened on Rose's sweet, bright face as she apologetically urged "that at such times there was doubtless nothing better to talk about."
Happily for Rose the embarrassing conversation was interrupted by the return of her brother, who rejoined the ladies to say that on the highway, at the end of the avenue down which he had strolled, a party of marines and English shipwrights, in command of a naval officer, had just passed on their way to the post, near Barrie, to proceed on the morrow by the Notawassaga river to the Georgian Bay, and on to the new naval station at Penetanguishene. A Mr. Galt, who accompanied the party, and was on his way to the Canada Land Company's reserve in the Huron district, had brought him letters from York, among which, he added, was one from his old friend, Allan Dunlop, condoling with him on the loss of his mother and sending his respectful compliments to his father and his family.
"How curious!" observed Helene, "why, we've just been talking of Mr. Dunlop."
"You mean to say," interposed Rose, "that you have just been talking of him."
"Well! that is quite a coincidence, Miss DeBerczy, but do you know my friend?" asked Edward.
"No, I've not that pleasure," replied the beautiful Huguenot. "but your sister, I believe, knows him—"
"Oh, Helene! I do not!" said Rose, interruptingly.
Edward turned towards his sister, and for a moment regarded her lovingly. After a pause, he said, "Well, Sis, if you do know him, you know one of the best and most promising of my early acquaintances, and from what I have heard of him since my return, I feel that I want to improve my own acquaintance with him, and shall not be sorry to know that he has become your friend as well as mine."
"But, Edward, you must wait till I do know him," said Rose with some emphasis. "I know your friend by sight only, and have never spoken to him; though, I confess, I have heard a good deal of him in the recent election, and much that is favourable, though papa has taken a great dislike to him on account of his political opinions."
"Ah, papa's Tory prejudices would be sure to do injustice to Dunlop," Edward rejoined; "but, I fear," he added, "there is need in the political arena of Upper Canada of just such a Reformer as he."
At this stage of the conversation the old Commodore was observed on the veranda, and Tredway approached the group to announce that lunch was on the table.
Commodore Macleod, as may be inferred from his son's remark about his father's Tory prejudices, was a Tory of the old school, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, and a firm ally and stiff upholder of the Provincial Executive, who had earned for themselves, by their autocratic rule, the rather sinister designation of "the Family Compact." As a trusted friend and loyal supporter of the oligarchy of the day, whom a well-known radical who figured prominently in the later history of the Province was wont to speak of as that army of placemen and pensioners, "Paymasters, Receivers, Auditors, King, Lords and Commons, who swallowed the whole revenue of Upper Canada"—the reference to a man of the type of young Dunlop, who aspired to political honours, was particularly distasteful, and sure to bring upon the object of his bitter animadversion the full vials of his wrath.
Ralph Macleod was a grand specimen of the sturdy British seamen, who contributed by their prowess to make England mistress of the seas. He entered the navy during the war with Holland, and served under Lord Howe, when that old "sea-dog," in 1782, came to the relief of Gibraltar, against the combined forces of France and Spain. He served subsequently under Lord Rodney, in the West Indies, and was a shipmate of Nelson's in Sir John Jervis' victory over the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent. For his share in that action Macleod gained his captaincy, while his friend Commodore Nelson was made a Rear-Admiral. In 1797 he was wounded at Camperdown while serving under Admiral Duncan, and retired with the rank of Commodore.
Early in the century, he married an English lady and came to Canada, where for a time he held various posts on the naval stations on the Lakes, and was with Barclay, on his flagship, The Detroit, in the disaster on Lake Erie, in September, 1813. Narrowly escaping capture by Commander Perry's forces at Put-in-Bay, he joined General Proctor in his retreat from Amherstburg to the Thames, and was present at the battle of Moravian Town, where the Indian chief, Tecumseh, lost his life.
When the Treaty of Ghent terminated the war and left Canada in possession of her own, Commodore Macleod, with other old naval officers, retired from the service, and took grants of land in the neighbourhood of Lake Simcoe. Being possessed of considerable private means, the Commodore built a palatial residence on the borders of that lake, and varied the monotony of a life ashore by an engrossing interest in politics and the active duties of a Legislative Councillor. The illness of his wife, to whom he was devoted, had in the past two years almost entirely withdrawn him from political life, and lost to his colleagues in the Upper House the services of one who took grim pleasure in strangling bills obnoxious to the dominant faction which originated in the Lower Chamber. His temporary withdrawal from the Legislative Council, and the lengthened absence in England of Dr. Strachan, that sturdy ecclesiastic who was long the ruling spirit of the "Family Compact," emboldened the leaders of Reform to inveigh against the Hydra-headed abuses of the time, and sow broadcast the dragon-teeth of discontent and the seeds of a speedy harvest of sedition.
Already, Wm. Lyon Mackenzie had unfolded, in the lively columns of The Colonial Advocate, his "plentiful crop of grievances;" while the harsh operations of the Alien Act, the interdicting of immigrants from the United States, the arrogant claims of the Anglican Church to the exclusive possession of the Clergy Reserves, and the jobbery and corruption that prevailed in the Land-granting Department of the Government, all contributed to fan the flame of discontent and sap the loyalty of the colony. In the Legislative Assembly each recurring session added to the clamour of opposition, and emphasized the demand for Responsible Government and Popular Rights. But as yet such demands were looked upon as the ravings of lunacy or the impertinences of treason. Constitutional Government, even in the mother-land, was not yet fully attained; and, in a distant dependency, it was not to be expected that the prerogative of the Crown, or the rights and privileges of its nominee, an irresponsible Executive, were to be made subordinate to the will of the people. "Take care what you are about in Canada," were the irate words William IV. hurled at his ministers, some few years after the period of which we are writing. "By—!" added this constitutional monarch, "I will never consent to alienate the Crown Lands nor to make the Council elective."
With such outbursts of royal petulance and old-time kingcraft, and similar ebullitions from Downing Street, exhorting the Upper Canadian Administration to hold tight the reins of government, the reforming spirit of the period had a hard time of it in entering on its many years conflict with an arrogant and bureaucratic Executive. Of many of the members of the ruling faction of the time it may not become us now to speak harshly, for most of them were men of education and refinement, and in their day did good service to the State. If, in the exercise of their office, they lacked consideration at times for the less favoured of their fellow-colonists, they had the instincts and bearing of gentlemen, save, it may be, when, in conclave, occasion drove them to a violent and contemptuous opposition to the will of the people. But men—most of all politicians—naturally defend the privileges which, they enjoy; and the exceptional circumstances of the country seemed at the time to give to the holders of office a prescriptive right to their position and emoluments.
At the period of which we are writing, there was much need of wise moderation on the side of the governed as well as on that of the governing class. But of moderation there was little; and the nature of the evils complained of, the non-conciliatory attitude of the ruling oligarchy, and the licence which a "Free Press,"—recently introduced into the colony,—gave in formulating charges of corruption, and in loosening the tongue of invective, made it almost impossible to discuss affairs of State, save in the heated terms familiar to irritated and incensed combatants. It was at this period that the young land-surveyor, Allan Dunlop, entered the Legislative Assembly and took his seat as member for the Northern division of the Home District. Though warmly espousing the cause of the people in the ever-recurring collisions with the different branches of the Government, and as warmly asserting the rights and privileges of the popular Chamber in its struggles with the autocracy of the Upper House, the young Parliamentarian was equally jealous of the reasonable prerogative of the Crown, and temperate in the language he used when he had occasion to decry its abuse. He was one of the few in the Legislature who, while they recognized that the old system of government was becoming less and less suited to the genius and wants of the young Canadian community, at the same time wished to usher in the new regime with the moderation and tact which mark the work of the thoughtful politician and the aims of the true statesman. It has been said that one never knows what is inside a politician. What was inside the Reformer, Allan Dunlop, was all that became a patriot and a high-minded gentleman.
"WHEN SUMMER DAYS WERE FAIR."
Afterwards—for close upon the coming of every grief, however great, fall the slow, dull footsteps of Afterwards—, the bereaved Macleod family took up again the occupations and interests of life in the benumbed fashion of those whose nerves are slow in recovering the effect of a great shock. Edward alone bore a brave front, though his heart at times failed him. He was something of a puzzle to the friend of his sister, who could not reconcile the tears which she saw in his eyes one moment to the jest she heard from his lips the next, and who marvelled in secret that the utter abandon of his grief at the bedside of his dying mother had not been followed by a state of settled melancholy after her death. To the cool, steadfast nature of Mademoiselle DeBerczy this alternate light and shade, gaiety and grief, in the heart of Rose, as well as of her brother, was difficult to understand; but now she began faintly to perceive that to their ardent temperament sunshine came as naturally as it did to the first day of spring, which, while it ached with the remembrance of winter, could not wholly repress on that account its natural brightness. Certainly Edward Macleod, though his unusually pale face gave evidence of the suffering which he had lately experienced—nay, which he was even now experiencing—could not say that life for him was utterly without consolation. For the sake of the stricken household, for the sake of her who had left them desolate, he would be a man; and, being that complex creature, a man, involves not only the lofty virtues of courage and self-forgetfulness, but also a tender susceptibility to the charms of these perfect spring days, and to the no less alluring charms of a maiden in the spring-time of youth.
Nearly a week had elapsed since the funeral of Mrs. Macleod, and now a second message from home had been received by Helene DeBerczy, reminding her that her invalid mother had claims which could no longer be set aside. If Madame DeBerczy's language was seldom imperative, her intention abundantly made up for the deficiency. Consequently, her daughter was now reluctantly turning her face homeward—a dull outlook, brightened only by the prospect of a boat-ride down the bay with Edward and Rose.
"And to think," said Edward to Helene, as the trio paced the long avenue together, "that I scarcely recognized you on the evening of my return!"
"That is not surprising. I am an entirely different person from the one you left three years ago."
"Let me see," mused the young man, "three years ago you were a little inclined to be haughty and cold, occasionally difficult to please, and sometimes exacting. On the whole, 'tis pleasant to reflect that you are an entirely different person now."
He turned towards her with a merry glance, but her face was invisible. She wore one of those long straw bonnets, no doubt esteemed very pretty and stylish in that day, but marred by what a disciple of Fowler might call a remarkable phrenological development of the anterior portion. This severely intellectual quality in the bonnets of that time naturally stood in the way of the merely sensuous delights of observation. Edward had barely time to be reminded of an unused well, in whose dark, shallow depths his boyish eyes had once discovered a cluster of white water-lilies, languidly opening to the light, when the liquid eyes and lily-like face in the inner vista of this well-like bonnet again confronted him.
"Is that the sort of person I used to be?" she queried, with the incredulity one naturally feels on being presented with a slightly exaggerated outline of one's own failings. "What pleasant memories you must have carried away with you!"
"I did, indeed—myriads of them. Some of the pleasantest were connected with our last dance together. Do you remember it?"
A slight warmth crept up, not into her cheeks, but into her eyes. "I have never forgiven you for that," she said.
"And you don't deserve forgiveness," declared Rose, championing the cause of her friend.
"Ah, well," said the culprit, "perhaps I had better wait till I deserve it before I plead for it."
How strange and far away, almost like part of their childhood, seemed the time of which he spoke. Like a painted picture, suddenly thrust before their view, the scene came back to them. A windy night in late Autumn, illumined without only by the broad shafts of light from the Commodore's mansion, and within by the leaping flames in the big hall fire-place. The young people had improvised a dance in the great hall, and Helene had tantalizingly bestowed most of her favours upon Fred Jarvis, a handsome youngster of twenty, who frequently improved his opportunities of becoming the special object of Edward's boyish enmity. To fall a willing victim to the pangs of jealousy formed, however, no part of this young gentleman's intention. Returning late in the evening, he caught a glimpse of Fred and Helene dancing a stately minuet together, and, lightly securing his horse at the door, he entered the hall, just as Helene was protesting that she was too tired to dance any longer. "Just once with me," he pleaded; and their winged footsteps kept time to the tumultuous throbbing of the music. The young girl suddenly grew faint. "Give me air," she cried, and at the words Edward's strong arm swept her across the broad veranda, and up on the waiting steed. Mounting behind her, like another young Lochinvar, they dashed wildly off, but just in what direction could not be told, for Helene, in mingled consternation, exhaustion, and alarm, had fainted in earnest, and Edward, in the endeavour to hold her limp, unconscious figure before him, had dropped the reins. The steed, however, with a prudent indisposition for pastures new at that hour of the night, turned into a stubble-field, and brought up at a haystack. How, in the utter darkness, and with the wind blowing a gale, the young man managed to restore his companion to consciousness and bring her back to the house, were mysteries which Rose could never attempt to penetrate with any degree of satisfaction. Helene, of course, was superbly angry, and even this bare mention of the escapade brought fire to her eyes and a loftier poise to the well-set head. Strongly set about the heart of this young Huguenot were barriers of pride, that could not be overleaped in a day—scarcely in a life-time.
"It is a bargain, then," said Edward, with a mischievous light in his smile, "you will never forgive, and I shall never forget."
"I wish, if it isn't asking too much, that you would allow me to forget. I particularly want to forget everything unpleasant on a morning as beautiful as this," rejoined Helene.
It was indeed an ideal morning. The sky was as soft and warm, as blue and white, as only the skies of early summer can be. Treading the mingled shadow and light, thrown from the interlacing boughs above, they came at last to the blue curves of Kempenfeldt Bay, whose waves lapped lightly on the beach. Here they found the two younger Macleod children, who had come to see the party off. Just as the latter arrived, the youth, Herbert, who had been amusing himself rocking a punt in a creek by the shore, managed to upset the craft and precipitate himself into deep water. The mishap had no more serious result—for the lad was a good swimmer—than to frighten Rose, and deprive her of the anticipated pleasure of a visit to "Bellevue" with Helene and her brother Edward. Bidding the former a hurried goodbye, with injunctions to her brother to take care of her friend, Rose disappeared with the children into the woods.
The young man now released a row-boat from its bondage to the shore, helped his companion into it, and pushed it far out upon its native element. A new day in the New World, and a long boat-ride before them—what could they wish for more? Edward, at least, enjoyed the prospect extremely, especially when he could get the bonnet rightly focused. This was a matter somewhat difficult of achievement, as its owner had to his mind a heedless habit of dodging, and his remarks, instead of being didactic and improving in their nature, were necessarily exclamatory and interrogative, in order to gain the attention of his fair vis-a-vis. Being a young gentleman of literary tastes he thought of Addison's dissertation upon the fan, and its great adaptability to the purposes of the coquette. To the mind of this impartial critic, a fan was not half so effective and terrible a weapon as the present style of bonnet.
"Bother Addison!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud.
"I beg your pardon," said a voice from the depths of the obnoxious head-gear before him.
"I was thinking of the author of The Spectator. You know Johnson says we ought to give our days and nights to the study of Addison. Don't you think it would be more profitable for us to devote our days and nights to the study of Nature?"
"Undoubtedly; and especially in this short-summered region, where there are only a few months of the year in which one can pursue one's studies out of doors. My days are spent on the shore, and as for my nights—well, even at night I often go to sleep to the fancy that I am drifting over the water with just such a gentle movement as this."
"I hope," said Edward gravely, "that you have an efficient oarsman. You couldn't row and sleep at the same time, you know."
He looked up to see if his companion was struck with the force of this observation, but although they were moving towards the east, the bonnet pointed due north. There was also a slight suspicion of the wintry north in the tone with which she replied:
"Oh, there is no labour connected with it; I am merely drifting—drifting to the Isle of Sleep."
"That is a pretty idea, but it is too lonely and listless to suit me. I should prefer to have a young lady in the boat—and a pair of oars."
"In that case you would have to row," and, with a slightly mocking accent, "you couldn't row and sleep at the same time, you know."
"In that case I should never want to sleep. No, please, Miss DeBerczy, don't look to the north again. Every time your gaze is riveted upon that frozen region my heart sinks within me. I feel as if I were not entertaining you as well as I should."
"Oh, don't let that illusion disturb you. I have never doubted that you were entertaining me as well as you—could."
A brief silence fell upon them, broken only by the regular plash of the oars. In the young man's conversational attacks there had been nothing but a light play of sunny humour, but in this last retort of hers there was something like the glimmer of cold steel. It wounded him, yet he was unwilling either to conceal or reveal the hurt. But Helene DeBerczy had this weakness, common to generous souls, that she could not utter an ungenerous remark without suffering more than her victim. So, scarcely more than a minute elapsed before she said appealingly,
"You are not going to leave me with the last word, are you?"
"Is not that what your sex specially like to have?"
"Perhaps so. I should prefer to have the best word, and—"
"And let a certain well-known gentleman take the hindmost?" supplied the young man smilingly.
"If he only would! What a shocking thing to say, but with me it is always conscience who has the very hindmost word; and my conscience is perfect mistress of the art of saying disagreeable things. At the present moment she is trying to make me believe that I have been unpardonably rude to you."
"She is mistaken then, for even if it were possible for you to be rude, I could not fail to pardon you immediately."
"There! now you have had the best word. It is useless for me to try to say anything better than that. Perhaps the most becoming thing I could do would be to relapse into ignominious silence."
"Silence! Desolation! And with a two-mile pull yet before us! If I have had the best word you have uttered the worst one. What so terrible as silence?"
"It is said to be golden."
"And, like the gold that Robinson Crusoe discovered on his island, it is of no particular use to anyone."
"It is one of the charms of Nature."
"A charm that I have never discovered. What about the ever-present hum of multitudinous insects, the song of birds, the moan of winds, the laughter of leaping water? It seems to me that Nature is all voice."
"Then, suppose," said the undaunted young lady, lifting her languorous lids, "that we listen to her voice."
There was no answering this; but, as the bonnet now veered towards the sunny south, and the boat rounding the sharp corner of the bay abruptly turned in the same direction, the young man was surprised to find himself looking his companion fully in the face, caught in the sudden sunshine of her smile.
"I was about to remark," he said, emboldened by this token of favour, "that there is nothing I delight in so much as listening to the voice of nature—that is human nature."
The smile deepened into a rippling laugh. "I am in one of my inhuman moods this morning," she said, "but I believe my forte is action rather than speech. Let me take your place, and those oars, please."
He resigned them both, and at once; not because the unusual exertion had made any appreciable inroad upon his strength, but because he foresaw new phases of picturesqueness in the young girl's dainty handling of the oars. Nor was he disappointed. The skirt of her dress was narrow and long, beginning, like an infant's robe, a few inches below the arms, and thence descending in softly curving lines to her feet, with as little hint of rigidity or compression about the tenderly rounded waist as about the full fair throat above it. She stretched out a pair of shoes, incredibly small and unmistakably French, and bent her slender gauntleted hands blithely to their task. The newborn sweetness of the spring morning was about them. On the heavily wooded shore the great evergreens towered darkly against the sun, but its beams fell with dazzling brightness upon the meadowy undulations of the lake. Above them they heard at times the wild cry of the soaring gull, or the apparently disembodied voice of some unseen bird. Behind them they left the beautiful stretch of Kempenfeldt Bay, gleaming in the sunshine, and now they slowly ascended the waters of Cook's Bay, called after the great circumnavigator, under whom many of the naval officers who had settled in the region had served, Governor Simcoe's father, after whom the old Lac des Clies—as the French called it—had received its modern name, being a shipmate.
But, now, Helene, whose slender strength had succumbed to the difficulties of propelling their little craft, resumed her old seat, and her bonnet, like a dark lantern, sometimes allowed a charming light to be reflected upon surrounding objects, and then as suddenly withdrew it. In the blue distance, near the mouth of the Holland River, they caught the first glimpse of "Bellevue"—the home of the DeBerczy's. The long sunlit run had after all been too brief. Edward began to realize that some days might elapse before this pleasure could be repeated. He drew in his oars, and let the boat rock idly on the tide. His companion gave him an inquiring glance. "I wish," said he, "that you would do me a favour."
"Isn't that rather an extraordinary request?"
"Not at all. It is a very natural remark. It has not yet advanced so far as to be a request."
"Oh! well, of course, I can't grant what isn't a request."
"Does that mean that you can grant what is one?"
"How good of you! But, as I said before, I had only expressed a wish. Aren't you in the least interested in my wishes?"
"If you were interested in mine you would take up those oars again."
"And thereby shorten the term of your imprisonment by me! Your kindness emboldens me to make known my desire. I wish you would let me examine something that appears to be hanging to your bonnet."
"Is it a grub—a caterpillar—a spider?" These horrors were mentioned in the order of their detestability, and with a rising accent.
"Really, I wouldn't like to say, unless you remove the bonnet." She gave a convulsive twitch to the strings, and pulled them into a hard knot. "Can't you brush it off?" she asked Edward breathlessly.
"Pray do not be so alarmed. No, indeed, I couldn't brush it off. It sticks too fast for that. I wish," he said, as she made a frantic lurch towards him, "that you could be mild but firm—I mean not quite so agitated." Her breath came in quick perfumed wafts into his face, as his steady fingers strove to undo the knot in her ribbons. But even after this lengthy business was concluded his trouble (if it could rightly be called a trouble) was only half over, for the careful Rose, with a prudent foreknowledge of the power of lake breezes to disarrange, if not carry away altogether, the headgear of helpless woman, had by some ingenious arrangement of hair-pins fastened the bonnet to the raven locks of her friend in such a manner that it could not be removed without endangering the structure of her elaborate hair-architecture. So it was among the dark waves of rapidly down-flowing tresses that Helene's voice was again heard beseeching him to tell her what it was.
"Your scientific curiosity seems to be almost as great as your fear of the insect creation. But, really, it is quite a harmless little fellow. See!" and he pointed to a steel beetle set with a view to ornamental effect in the centre of a little rosette of ribbons.
"Oh, shameless!" exclaimed the young girl, sinking her lily-white face again among the abundant waves of her hair.
"Yes, I daresay he is ashamed enough to think that he isn't alive when he sees that you regret it so much."
It is very annoying to be obliged to laugh when one has just made up one's mind to be very angry; but Mademoiselle DeBerczy, with all her haughtiness, was endowed with a sense of humour; so it was with only a weak show of reproachful indignation that she at last threw back her head and exclaimed:
"How could you—when I have such a horror of every sort of creeping thing—and you knew what it was all the time!"
"Oh, excuse me, I did not know—that is, I wasn't positive. At a distance I thought it was some sort of a big fly—a blue-bottle. Now I see it is a blue beetle."
The young lady deigned no reply.
"I am sorry that you were frightened, but you don't seem to be a bit sorry on account of my sufferings."
"Yes, see how surprised you are even to know that they existed! But they are over now. At frequent intervals, all through this long voyage, I have been forced to look at a heavenly body through a telescope—that is, when I could get the telescope properly adjusted to my vision. The difficulties of adjustment have cost me a world of trouble."
She gazed at him a moment in wide-eyed amazement, and then without attempting to solve the riddle of his remarks, proceeded to reduce her wind-blown locks to something like their usual law and order. The dark heavy waves, rioting in the breeze, seemed to offer a problem to the deft white fingers that fluttered among them, but they were speedily subjugated, and the despised bonnet was added as the crowning touch. Not a moment too soon, for the boat grated on the sandy beach, and the austere windows of her home were looking coldly down upon her. A pair of austere eyes were also fixedly regarding her; but of this Helene was happily unconscious. Perhaps it was the instinct of hospitality alone that made her smile so brightly upon the brother of her friend, as they walked up to the house together. The grounds about "Bellevue," not so ample as those surrounding the home of the old Commodore, gave equal evidence of wealth and taste, and reminded one of a little park set in the midst of the wilderness. The garden borders were bright with crocuses and snowdrops and rich in promises of future bloom, while from the orchard slopes on the left came a fair vision of wall-like masses of foliage, frescoed with blossoms and the perfumed touch of the blithe breezes at play among them. Entering the quaint, dimly-lighted hall, they passed under long plumes of peacock feathers, o'erhanging the arched doorway leading into the drawing-room. The floors were waxed and polished, the apartments spacious and lofty with elaborate cornices and panels. Leaving her guest in mute contemplation of a tiny wood fire in a great fire-place, the young girl ran lightly up the broad, low stairway, pausing at the half-way landing to gaze dreamily from a casemated window out upon the sparkling waters of the lake. Some of its brightness was reflected in her eyes, as, with a step less discreet and deferential than that which usually characterized her approaches to her mother's bedchamber, she passed on to a half-closed door, tapped lightly upon it, and then pushed it wide open.
"Ah, my daughter, what tidings do you bring?"
"He has come!" declared the girl, proclaiming with unaffected gladness what was at that moment a great event in her life.
The chilly palm which the elder lady had extended, without rising, for the customary greeting, was not so chilly as the tone with which she uttered this offending pronoun. Helene, suddenly remembering with deep self-reproach the grief that her mother must feel in the loss of her old friend, took the cold fingers in both her warm white hands, and whispered tenderly:
"She has gone!"
Madame DeBerczy was not overcome by this intelligence. She had indeed learned the sad truth from Tredway, who had been despatched to "Bellevue" by the Commodore immediately upon the death of his wife. Consequently, at this moment, her heart did not suffer so much as her sense of propriety—which her enemies asserted was a more vital organ.
"I trust," she said, not unkindly, but with a sort of majestic displeasure, "that you do not mention these facts to me in what you consider the order of their importance."
The young girl was chilled. She moved away to one of the spindle-legged chairs near a window, and played absently with the knotted fringes of the old-fashioned dimity curtain. "I mention them in the order of their occurrence," she said gently. "Dear Mrs. Macleod could scarcely close her eyes on earth until they rested upon her son. He brought me over in his boat this morning, and is waiting below to see you. Do you feel able to go down?"
"I hope I shall always be able to respond to social requirements, and the son of my old friend must not be slighted. Were you about to suggest that I receive him in my bedchamber?"
Helene, who had risen with charming alertness at the first intimation of her mother's intentions, now confronted that frigid dame with the subdued radiance of her glance. "Ah, dear mother!" she murmured deprecatingly. Daughterly submissiveness, tender consideration for an invalid's querulous moods, gentle insistence upon her own right to be happy in spite of them, were all radiated from the softly spoken words. Rigid propriety may have slain its thousands, perhaps its tens of thousands, but the elder lady foresaw with terrible clearness that it would never find a victim in this blithe girl, who refrained from dancing down the stairs before her simply because her happiness was accustomed to find expression in her looks, not in her actions. However, motherly allegiance to duty might curb if it could not altogether control. "Is it possible that I heard you humming a tune as you came through the hall?" she inquired.
"No, no; it is impossible! I hummed it so low that you certainly could not have heard it!"
Dignified rebuke was out of the question, as they had reached the foot of the stairway. In another moment Edward Macleod was bending profoundly over the hand of his hostess. The aristocratic, little old lady, with her delicate faded face, always seemed to him like some rare piece of porcelain or other fragile, highly-finished object. He led her to the easiest chair, and drew his own close beside her, only interrupting the absorbed attention which he gave to her remarks by soft inquiries regarding her health, or compliments upon the way in which her not very vigorous constitution had withstood the severity of the Canadian winter.
This noble dame, though she had been accustomed to a Northern climate, had never reconciled herself to it. She still longed for la belle France. Those who accompanied her husband to this portion of Upper Canada, on the outbreak of the French Revolution, had either returned to France or had gone to settle in French Canada, at the capital of which Helene was born shortly after the death of her father. The old friendship of General DeBerczy for Commodore Macleod, and the fact that the latter was the executor of her husband's estate and the guardian of her daughter, had led her to return to the Huguenot colony on the Oak Ridges, and summer always found Madame and her household at her northern villa, near the Macleod residence, on Lake Simcoe. Here Edward passed the day gossiping with the old lady, and sauntering about the trim grounds with the stately Helene until the afternoon was far advanced.
After taking his leave of Madame DeBerczy, Edward cast a fugitive glance about him in search of her daughter, but that young lady, for reasons of her own, was absent. He suffered a vague disappointment, as he took his way to the shore, but at the water's edge a girlish form overtook him, and a superb bouquet of hot-house flowers was placed in his hand.
"I brought them for you to place upon—upon—"
She hesitated. It sounded like wanton cruelty to say "your mother's grave" to him, whose idea of everything lovely on earth must be signified in the word "mother," everything terrible in the word "grave." But he understood her, and thanked her, while his heart and eyes filled fast. On that lonely homeward row the burden of his bereavement lay heavily upon him, and the remembrance of his happy morning with his childhood's friend, though sweet, was almost as faint as the fragrance exhaled from the rare exotics at his feet. The pure tender curves of the white camellias reminded him of Helene. She herself was the rare product of choicest care and cultivation—the flower of an old and complex civilization. The fancy pleased him at first, and then woke in his mind a certain vague disdain. What place had hot-house plants, either human or otherwise, in this wild new land, whose illimitable forests as yet were almost strangers to axe and fire?
In a remote and solitary corner of his own domain, the Commodore had made for his dead wife a last abiding-place. Thitherward, and alone, the motherless youth bent his steps in the soft glow of sunset. The stillness of the place was broken only by the whisper of the trees overhead, the faint hum of insects, and the low murmur of the lapping waters of the lake. Walking with downbent head and step so light that his footfall made no slightest sound upon the young grass in his path, he did not see the form of a half wild, wholly beautiful girl, emerge from the deep gloom of the woods before him. Nor did she observe him, for her attention was wholly bent upon the armful of forest-flowers, which she let fall upon the grave with a passionate gesture of grief. The young man, looking up in startled amaze, recognized the strange, fantastic figure that had fled before his approach on the evening of his return home. He scarcely noticed her odd costume of mingled blue and yellow, so drawn was he to the dusky splendour of her face. The warm vitality of the mantling cheek, and the charm of the lustrous lips, were matched in hue by a blood-coloured 'kerchief, carelessly knotted about the supple, tawny throat, behind which streamed a profuse abundance of deep-black hair. Giving him one frightened glance, she turned and sped like some strange tropic bird upon the wind. Moved by wonder, curiosity, and admiration, the young man gave stealthy chase; but, after following in the wake of her flying feet by bush and brier, and through the tangled thickets of the forest, he had the poor satisfaction of losing sight of her altogether, and then gaining one last glimpse of her, as, from the dense shadowy point where she became invisible, shot out a birch-bark canoe, and the dying sunset illumined with all the hues of victory the superb form of an Algonquin maiden rapidly rowing away. Hot, irritated, and tired, Edward returned home, nor did he observe that, in this fruitless chase, one of the pure buds that Helene had given him had fallen from his breast, on which he had pinned it, and had been rudely crushed beneath his heel.
INDIAN ANNALS AND LEGENDS.
The last flame of sunset had gone out on a horizon of ashy paleness, as the light bark of the Indian girl swept up the beach, and its occupant, after making it secure, loitered idly home. Here, undismayed by observation, she was as gracefully at ease as a fawn in its leafy covert, and as quickly startled into flight at the tread of a stranger.
So lightly did her moccasined feet press the underbrush that no sound preceded her coming, until she reached the blanketed opening of a wigwam where sat an aged Algonquin chief, very grave, very dignified, very far from being immaculately clean. The young girl was not intimidated by this picturesque combination of dignity and dirt. Perhaps it was the absence of these qualities in the young cadet that caused her sudden flight from him. Seating herself on a bearskin, not far from her foster-father, she interchanged with him mellow syllables of greeting. The chief placed a finger upon her moist brow, and inquired the cause of her haste.
"It was the young kinsman of the Wild Rose who followed me. His head is beautiful as the sun, but he moves, alas, yes, he moves more slowly."
"Then, why this haste?" queried the Indian, who, though he could boast all the keen and subtle instincts of his race, was apparently in some matters as obtuse as a white man.
The girl bowed her face upon her slim brown hands.
"I do not like the glances of his eye," she said. "They are strong and dazzling as sunbeams on the water."
The chief smoked in meditative silence. "You go too often to the dwelling of the Wild Rose, my daughter."
"Ah, yes; but to-night her pink face is dewy wet, I know, and she is alone. The Moon-in-a-black-cloud has gone to the home of her people."
"Then let her seek consolation in the slow moving sun. The pale-faced nation are not fit associates for an Algonquin maiden. Mother Earth has no love for them; they are quick to wash away her lightest finger-touch upon them. They are pale and lifeless as a rock over which the stream washes continually. Their men are afraid of the rain; their women of the sunshine."
"It is even so. The Wild Rose covers her head, and even her hands, when she leaves the house."
At this mournful assent the chief warmed to his task of depreciation.
"They are degraded, these pale faces, they are poor-spirited, mean, contemptible; unable to cope with the wild beasts of the forest, they settle down in weak resignation to grow vegetables; nothing stirs them from their state of ignoble content except the call to battle, and that is responded to not in defence of the lives of their fathers, their wives and children, but merely to settle some petty quarrel between the chiefs of their nations.
"Ah, they are a strange, servile race! They work with their hands." The Indian paused and looked down at the wrinkled yet shapely members that lay before him. "They look upon the grand forest as their natural enemy, burning, cutting, mutilating, until they have made that odious thing 'a clearing,' when a house is built with the dead bodies of the beautiful trees that have fallen by their hand."
"But surely they are not wholly bad," pleaded the girl, her kind heart refusing to accept the belief that even the lowest of humanity could be utterly worthless.
The chief was not to be turned from the swift current of his thoughts by idle interruptions.
"Their religion is dead, buried in a book, and they put it from them as easily as they put the book on the shelf. Our religion is alive, broad as the earth, deep as the sky. They go into a house to worship; our temple is fashioned by the great Spirit, and our prayers ascend continually like the white smoke from our wigwams. Ah, but they should be pitied not blamed. They are far from the heart of nature—they have ceased to be her children."
"It is money they worship, and the soul of a man becomes like that which he adores. They mourn bitterly for their dead, because they feel how great is the distance between them and the land of spirits. I have heard that there are white men who do not believe that this land exists, but that cannot be true."
There were some depths of degradation that even his far-reaching imagination failed to compass. Wanda listened wearily, though she manifested no signs of impatience.
"The pale-faced women are sometimes very beautiful," she said.
"Yes; but they are strange, unnatural creatures. In times of anger they attack their helpless little ones, talking in a harsh voice, pinching, beating, slapping them, doing everything but bite them."
His listener did not shudder. The Indian, no matter how much his feelings may be stirred, is unaccustomed to evince emotion.
"With us," continued the old man, "an angry woman frequently pulls her husband's hair; for is he not her husband to do with what she likes? but to fall upon her own flesh and blood—that is unnatural and horrible. It is as if she should wilfully injure her own person, bruise it with stones or sear it with hot irons. Perhaps it is because the pale-faced tribes suffer so much in childhood that they are weak and cowardly in manhood. They shrink and cry like a wounded panther at the touch of pain."
The girl who had not dwelt upon it except in her thoughts was nevertheless filled with a gently uplifting sense of race superiority. Her admiration of Rose was tinged with pity. Poor garden flower, confined for life to the dull walks and prim parterres of a fixed enclosure, when she might roam the wild paths of the forest; condemned to sleep in a close room, on stifling feathers, and bathe in an elongated tub, when she might feel the elasticity of hemlock boughs beneath her, inhale the perfumed breath of myriad trees, and plunge at sunrise into the gleaming waters of the lake. It was indeed a pitiable life.
They entered the wigwam, and seated themselves on the rush mats that lay upon the ground. About them were carelessly disposed some dressed skins of the beaver and otter, a brace of wild duck, fishing tackle, and the accoutrements of the chase, a rifle, powder-horn and shot pouch. The chief himself, in his buckskin garment, tightened by a wampum belt, his deer-skin moccasins, scarlet cloth leggings and blanket, was not the least picturesque object of the interior. Usually reticent, he found great difficulty to-night in withdrawing his mind from the subject that had taken such violent possession of it.
"The influence of the white race is spreading," he said. "Like the poison vines of the forest it touches all who come near it with fatal effect. The tribe of the Hurons is infected with it, and they are becoming mere tillers of the soil—miserable earth-worms! Men were made to be free as the bounding deer or the flowing stream, but they have paled and weakened, they have become wretched grovellers on the ground."
Wanda's large eyes held a smouldering fire of repressed indignation. Her mother had been a Huron.
The story of that dark time, far back in the annals of Canada, when the Huron hunting-grounds in this region were laid waste by the destroyer, had been told her so often that her childish imagination had been filled with horror, and a passionate sense of outraged justice and impossible revenge stirred within her at the bare mention of her mother's martyred tribe. She did not vent her feelings in bitter or retaliatory speech—that is the weakness of fairer-faced women—but through her brain rushed like a swift stream a vivid recollection of the tragic tale as it fell from the lips of her Huron mother upon her young horror-stricken heart.
Less than two hundred years before, the poetry of Indian life among the peaceful shades of this virgin wilderness was turned into a tale too ghastly for human imagination, too terrible for human endurance. At that time the Huron settlements on the borders of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, and between Nottawasaga and Matchedash bays, numbered from twenty to thirty thousand souls. The picturesque country, thickly dotted with Indian towns, was for many years the scene of Champlain's zealous efforts to erect in these western wilds the standard of the Cross. While he won, among the Hurons, converts to his faith and a colony to his country, they found in him a leader in a fateful attack upon their ancient and most obdurate enemies, the Iroquois. The result of the expedition was failure and discomfiture, but years afterwards, when Champlain was dead, and the "great-souled and giant-statured Jean de Brebeuf" became known as the apostle of the tribe, this foray brought most disastrous consequences upon the unsuspecting Hurons.
Not far from the present site of Barrie was the frontier town of St. Joseph, where the Jesuit Fathers, in view of the perils surrounding them, had concentrated their forces in a central stronghold, with a further inland defence at Ste. Marie, near the site of the present town of Penetanguishene. Here, at St. Joseph, after years of incessant labour, of discomforts and discouragements without parallel in the annals of our country, the ardent souls whose enthusiasm for faith and duty had become the dominant principle of their life, were swept away in the red tide of blood that was opened by the Iroquois. One still fair morning in the summer of 1648, while most of the warriors were absent at the chase, and a company of devout worshippers were celebrating Mass in the Mission Chapel, their brutish enemies descended upon their peaceful domains, and by means of every torture conceivable to the savage imagination practically exterminated the tribe. Before the century had half-ended the mission post of St. Ignace was similarly invaded by the Iroquois, who, after they wearied of the pastime of hacking the flesh off their prisoners with tomahawks and hatchets, and scorching them with red-hot irons, bound them at last to the stake and mercifully allowed the swift-mounting flames to end their sufferings. Whole families were bound in their houses before the town was set on fire, and their wild cries mingled with the wilder laughter of their inhuman captors. The few who escaped were so wounded and mutilated that before they could reach a place of safety numbers of them died frozen in the woods.
The remembrance of this dark tale never failed to stir the young girl to a sort of slow self-contained fury, but the blood of the peace-loving Hurons was in her veins, and could not long be dominated by the vengeful propensities of her haughty Algonquin father. Invariably with the mixture of blood comes the warring of diverse emotions, the dissatisfaction with the present life, the secret yearning for something better, the impulse towards something worse. She sighed furtively, and half-impatiently went outside to tend the evening camp-fire. The blazing branches illuminated the starless summer night, and cast a superb glow over the beautiful half-clothed figure crouching not far from them. Beyond, the dark blue bay ebbed and flowed languidly.
Some days elapsed before Wanda again made her appearance in the neighbourhood of the Commodore's mansion. This was caused partly by shyness, partly by fear of meeting the bold-eyed youth, whose interest in her had been so painfully apparent. At length Rose, who had noted with wonder and a little anxiety this unusual absence, suggested to her brother that they call upon one of her Indian friends. To this Edward demurred, on the ground that the work in which he happened to be engaged at the time could not possibly wait. But when he learned that the beautiful Wanda was the friend alluded to he agreed to go with her at once, saying that the work he was doing could wait as well as not. Such was the manner in which brotherly affection was manifested sixty years ago.
It was a still, almost breathless evening in June. From the meadows, thickly starred with dew, rose the thin high chorus of the crickets, while above, the commingling of gray cloud and crimson sunset had subsided into dusk and golden twilight, which were giving place to the white radiance of the moon slowly climbing the warm heights of heaven. It was so quiet that the sound of waves and insects seemed like the softest whispers of nature. Rose and Edward had rowed down the bay for Helene, who usually accompanied them on their impromptu excursions by lake and wood. Seen in the pale brilliance of sky and water her loveliness had an almost unearthly quality, perfectly akin to the night, but giving her a strange effect of soft remoteness from her friends. The light from a brazier, fitted into a stanchion in the prow of the boat, in which some pieces of birch-bark were kindled, brought the deep dark shadow of the woods into sharp relief, and gave a more vivid brilliance to the immediate surroundings; but along the dimly-lit path in the forest all the magical influences of the night held sway. Beneath the tangled underbrush they caught glimpses of the rich and fantastic vegetation with which the earth was clothed, while above them, intermingled with the shadows cast by the vaulted boughs, played the vivid brightness of the moon. Some of the trees were deeply girdled—a slow method of killing them. These lingering deaths affected the trio with melancholy. A wounded inmate of the grove, standing in mute and pathetic resignation to its fate, loses first the feeling of the sap that, blood-like, circulates through every limb, then all its leafy honours fade, and its death is slow and inevitable as the death of a forsaken woman who carries a deep hurt at the heart.
Near where a group of lofty elms lifted their beautiful heads up to the moonlight they found the old chief busily engaged in mending his seine. He greeted them with entire self-possession, rising and giving his hand to each, after which he resumed his occupation in tranquil content, as though the duties of hospitality were now over. The young ladies, however, without waiting for any further exhibition of courtesy, seated themselves on a mossy log, and bestowed upon their host and his employment the flattering attention, which, if it failed to make an impression upon him, would certainly prove him more—or less—than mortal man. Edward, meantime, finding a convenient bough a few feet above his head, amused himself in swinging by his hands, with a view to muscular development. The contrast between the sad dignity of the aged Indian, the lone survivor of a despised race, and the light-heartedness of the fair boy, upon whom all the hopes of his family centred, struck both girls forcibly. After a few sympathetic inquiries regarding the health of the chief, Rose asked after the whereabouts of Wanda.
"She is not here," he replied. "She flies from our home as a bird flies from its cage, returning only when she is weary, or when the shades of night are upon the land."
"Do you know where she is?" inquired Edward, dropping to his feet, and seating himself on a log facing the others.
"Somewhere in the forest," replied the Indian, indicating the direction by a broad sweep of the hand, which might include a thousand acres.
This was sufficiently indefinite. "It appears to be characteristic of this young lady that she is either a vanished joy, or just on the point of becoming one. Have you any idea how far away she is?" he asked.
"Something more than twice the flight of an arrow," tranquilly answered the Indian—"yes, much more. It used to be that she went short distances, but she now goes a papoose's journey of half a sun—sometimes further." He viewed his impatient guest a moment with gravity, and added, "yes, much further."
"And you trust her all alone?"
"She is an Algonquin maiden. She fears nothing."
"And why is an Algonquin superior to a Huron, for instance?" The young man, leaning idly back, and caressing the Indian dog of the chief, pursued his questions without any definite purpose, but merely to draw out his reserved-looking host.
"Why is the fleet deer that spurns the soil better than the dull ox that tills it? Or why is the eagle better than the hen that picks up corn in your doorway? But there was a time when in all the land no Indian could be found who was tame and stupid—what you call civilized."
"Tell us a legend of that time, will you not?" pleaded Rose, who had been watching in silence for a fitting opportunity to make her favourite request.
"Ah, please do," said Edward, and the three settled themselves comfortably to listen.
"It was a great many moons ago," began the chief, "long before the time of my grandfather. All the Indian races were then as one people, living in peace, and speaking one tongue. Not one of them worked with his hands. The deer, the beaver, the otter, the antelope, and the bear flourished and fattened for all, and were caught with scarcely any skill or effort. The men were never wearied in the chase, nor the women with pounding corn. None of the white races had as yet come upon the earth to molest and insult the guardian spirits of hill and stream and stately wood, and the red men, then as now, were in the habit of propitiating these deities by offerings of maize, bright coloured flowers, or belts of wampum laid upon the mountains, or dropped into caves or streams. Yes, every one lived without fear of his neighbour, and the red ochre with which our tribes paint their faces in war was used only to decorate the pipe of peace.
"One day it happened that a few chosen ones of all these tribes were met together upon a plain, about the distance of four bow-shots across. Very green and shining it looked to the eye, for it was in the Flower-moon, and the great star of day was bright in the heaven. By its clear light they saw, far in the distance, two strange, enormous things moving towards them. But whether these things were writhing wreaths of thunder clouds descended to earth, or gigantic trees denuded of their foliage and suddenly gifted with the power of motion, or whether they were wild beasts of a size never seen before, they could not tell. But presently they found them to be immense creatures in the form of rattlesnakes, poisoning the air with their vile effluvia, and destroying every green tree and living thing in their path. Every delicate plant and creeping thing was poisoned by their breath, and the larger animals were devoured in the flap of a bird's wing. With them came terrific lightnings that rent the trees and cleft the solid rock, and thunders which caused the earth to reel like a man who had drank many times of fire-water. Nearer and nearer they approached, and now the chosen residents of this fair plain were filled with alarm for their lives, and at once began to build fortifications against the terrible intruders. The snakes, who appeared to prefer the flesh of man to that of the other animals, crawled up close to the defence of their enemies, and flung their long horrible bodies against it, but in vain. It was useless to attack them with bows and arrows, on account of the scales which enveloped them like an armour. Those who ventured without the walls were instantly swallowed, while those within, who had fasted many suns, were growing weak from want of food.
"Now there was among them a chief, called the Big Bear, who was very brave and cunning. He had been a hunter of the deer and wolf ever since he had been pronounced a man. No danger was so great that he could not find a trail out of it. So when he began to speak all the people who remained gathered round him.
"'Brothers and chiefs,' he said, 'I perceive that one of our enemies is a woman, because she is less sluggish in her movements than the other, and her eyes are bright and deceitful. Besides she cares not to eat all the time, but she will sometimes go to view herself in the river, or when she thinks no one is looking will slyly turn her head to see the graceful movements of her tail. Brothers, my plan is this: Let me contrive to win the heart of this vain squaw-snake, and then with her aid I shall be able to destroy her husband; afterwards we may compass the destruction of the faithless wife. If I perish it is in a good cause, I am a willing martyr.'