AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER X.

YORK AND THE MAITLANDS.

 


THERE are difficulties in the way of one who would describe an event after an immortal poet has given it a setting in lines that a worshipping world will not willingly let die.  A tree, it is said, is never struck by lightning more than once, and it is safe to suppose that a subject is never illumined by the rays of heaven- descended genius without being as thoroughly exhausted.  Nevertheless, with our tame domestic lantern, let us endeavour to throw a little prosaic light over the details of a scene that has been irradiated by the imagination of a Byron.
     It was one of the events of the season to the social world of that foreign town, but to us it is one of the events of the century.  On an evening in June, 1815, in the city of Brussels, the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball on so magnificent a scale that even the gray heads of society’s veteran devotees were a little turned, and the chestnut and golden pates of their juniors tossed sleeplessly on their pillows for several nights preceding it.  After all, humanity is perpetually and overpoweringly interested in nothing except humanity.  On the evening appoin- ted there was a vast beautiful throng, moving through halls as beautiful and more vast; there was the witchery of soft lights and softer sounds, of odours and colours that enchant the senses; there were banks of flowers, each of whose tiny blossoms yielded its dying breath to make the world sweeter for an hour, and among them, under the starry lights, in warm human veins, flowed a thousand streams; very blue, not so blue, and even common crimson.  But all flowed faster than usual, perhaps the better to warm the lovely bare shoulders and arms, or to paint the sweet cheeks above them in the vivid hues of glad, intense young life.  Intermingled with the costly robes and [Page 110] flashing gems on the ideal figures of fair women, gleamed the brilliant uniforms of brave men.  “A thousand hearts beat happily”—with one exception.  This was in the possession of the second daughter of a duke. She was even then remarkable for her beauty and for a certain imperious, condescending grace.  The gay throng of which she was a part was no more to her than so many buttercups and daisies; and these sum- ptuous apartments, so far as they concerned her, might have been a series of green meadows.  At last her indifferent glance, travelling over the room, encoun- tered an object that faintly flushed her cheek, and brightened the eyes, whose orbit of vision was now limited to the circle immediately about her.  Cold indifference had changed to throbbing impatience.  Ah, why did he not come! With whom was he lingering?  She dared not look up lest her glance, like a swift, bright messenger, should tell him all her heart, and draw him magnetically to her side.  No, he must come of his own choice, and quickly, else her mood would change.  Soft strains of music arose, melting, aching, dying upon the air.  Her heart melted, ached, and apparently died also, for it turned cold and hard as she glanced at her watch, and saw that it was more than a minute, nearly two minutes (two eternities they seemed to her) since she began to be glad that she had come.
     The next instant her long-lashed lids were raised in spite of herself, and she confronted a singularly tall and attractive-looking gentleman, whose face, from its pensive sadness, had a certain poetic charm.  He begged the honour of the next dance with her.  She regretted that he was too late.  He looked disapp- ointed, but ventured to name the next one.  She was sorry, but it was imposs- ible.  Had she room for him anywhere at all on her list?  She shook her head prettily but inexorably.  The handsomest coquette and the plainest school-ma’am have this in common, that they detest and punish tardiness.  The young man was overpowered [Page 111] by his sense of loss.  It was small comfort to stand and look at the beautiful girl.  When the gates of paradise are closed against one it matters little whether they are made of gold or of iron.  Inwardly he bestowed some very hard names upon himself for imagining that that peerless creature would be allowed to await a willing wall-flower his languidly deferred appearance. 
     Again those heavenly strains rose and throbbed upon the air.  It was maddening.  The keenness of his disappointment gave his face an intensity of ardent expression that certainly did not detract from its charm in the eyes of the girl who at that instant glanced up into it.  The next moment he was pressed aside—very decorously, very courteously, even apologetically pushed aside, but still compelled by an insinuating patrician hand to make room for its owner, a gentleman whose extremely lofty title had already drawn the homage of a hundred admiring pairs of eyes upon him, and whose prevailing expression was a haughty consciousness of accustomed and assumed success.  The young lady whom he now honoured with a request to dance did not think of his title, nor of his condescension, nor of him.  She declined with characteristic indifference on the plea that she was already engaged, and turning placed her hand on the arm of Sir Peregrine Maitland, whose suddenly bewildered and enraptured heart, if it had never before given its assent to the time-worn proposition that all is fair in love as well as in war, certainly could not hesitate now.  Perhaps the triumphs of the ball-room are not less thrilling than those of the battle-field.  “Why were you so cruel to me a moment ago?” he murmured, looking down into eyes that but too clearly reflected the happiness of his own. 
     “For the same reason that I am kind to you now,” she responded like a flash.
     He did not ask her the reason.  Perhaps he was intuitively [Page 112] and blissfully aware of it.  Did ever maiden discover a more demurely daring way of telling her lover that she loved him?
     But now, caressed by little wafts of perfume, and half-dazed by the blaze of lights and colours around and above them, they were drifting as on a tide upon soft swelling waves of music.  In liquid undulations of sweet sound they floated insensibly down the windings of the waltz, nor dreamed of danger till the note of warning came.  It was a prodigious note—nothing less than the boom of a cannon—and the signal for instant, perhaps life-long, separation.

                                          “Who could guess,
If ever more should meet those mutual eyes?
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise.”

     But, as we know, two pairs at least of those mutual eyes were destined to meet again, and meet as gladly and warmly as when their owners danced together on the evening before the battle of Waterloo.  But the chill atmosphere of a father’s disapproval lay between them.  It is reasonable to suppose that the fourth Duke of Richmond and Lennox was not so susceptible to the charms of pensive and picturesque young gentlemen as was his wilful daughter.  Among the names on a list of invitations to a party given by the latter appeared that of Sir Peregrine Maitland, which, coming under the cold parental eye, was prompt- ly erased.  At the same time he inquired of his daughter why she permitted that undesirable gentleman to hang about her skirts—why she did not let him go.  The response was that after this decided slight he probably would go; she added with a little sigh that she did not know where.  The duke profanely and contemptuously mentioned a locality which shall be nameless.  The young lady made no reply.  She believed in division of labour, and in former domestic affairs of this sort her stern parent had invariably said what he pleased, [Page 113] while she contented herself with merely doing what she pleased.
     Proverbially, actions speak louder than words, and the present case was no exception, for while the echo of her father’s speech did not go beyond the walls of the apartment they were in, her own rash performance, which was a direct consequence of it, was a few days later noised abroad through all Paris.  This was an evening call at the lodgings of Sir Peregrine Maitland.  She came in unannounced, flushed, eager, defiant, lovely, letting fall the rich train of her robe, which she had caught up in a swift flight through the streets, and throwing off her enveloping cloak, which scattered a shower of sparkling drops on brow and bosom, and beautiful bare arms, for a light shower had fallen.  “They would not let you come to me, so I have come to you,” she declared with a daring little laugh.  “I have run away from my guests.  There is a houseful of them and they tire me to death.  Everyone tires me to-night except you.”  The gentleman stood before her speechless with bewilderment.  “I believe,” she said with a little pout, like a spoiled child, “that you are not glad to see me.”
     “Glad to see you,” he repeated, “dearest yes!  But not in this way, at this time.”
     She turned aside, but the drops that glittered on her cheek now were not caused by the rain.  Her shimmering silken robes seemed to utter continuous soft whispers of applause to her nervous yet graceful movements.  Altogether she was an incongruous object in the unhome-like bareness of a bachelor’s apartments.  “You are not very cordial, monsieur,” she remarked in a cold tone, as she stood with her back to him, staring hard at an uninteresting picture above the mantel-shelf; “it seems to be a pleasure to you to receive an evening caller, but not exactly a rapture.”  She smiled her old imperious smile as she threw herself into a tired-looking chair, while her host, with very obvious reluctance, [Page 114] sank into one just opposite.  For an instant her beauty smote upon his brain.  He leaned forward until his face touched the lapful of rare old laces that flowed wave-like from waist to knee on the dress of the girl he loved.
     “Darling,” he murmured, “it is a rapture”—then he suddenly drew himself very far back in his chair—“but not exactly a pleasure!”
     She rose again and moved restlessly about the room.  He stood pale, speechless, waiting for her to go—a waiting that was almost a supplication.  “How could you have the courage to come to me,” he breathed as she drew near him.
     “Because I hadn’t the courage to stay away from you.  I am brave enough to do, but not to endure.”
     “My poor love!  if this escapade becomes public you will have enough to endure.”
     “I do not care for the world.”  She stood facing him with the absolute sincerity and trust of irresistible love.  “I care for you,” she said.
     He took the little jewelled hand and reverently kissed it.
     “Ah, don’t do that!” she cried, drawing it away with a quick impatient frown.  He drew away, supposing that he had offended her, while she, giving him the puzzled incredulous look that a woman must give a man when she discovers, not that his intuitions are duller than her own, but that he has no intuitions at all, continued her tour about the room.
     “Sweetheart,” he said, following her, but not venturing to lay a finger upon her, but not venturing to lay a finger upon her, “you must go.”  His voice was earnest and very tender.
     “The same idea has occurred to me,” she said, “but I dislike to hurry.  There is nothing so vulgar as haste.”  Her old mocking tone had returned, and in despair he threw himself back into his seat.
     Something in the pathetic grace of his attitude and the beauty of his sensitive poetic face smote upon the heart that, with all its perversity, belonged alone to him.  She [Page 115] ran to him and knelt at his side, with her white arms out- stretched across his knees, and her lovely head bowed upon them.  The young man realized with sharp distinctness that the fear of society is not the strongest feeling that can animate the human frame.  He uttered a few passionate words of endearment, and would have gathered her closely into his breast, but she, without looking up, sprang suddenly from him and, seizing her cloak, sped wind-like to her home.
     But there were consequences.  Madame Grundy, who is chief among those for whom Satan finds some mischief still, openly declared that there were some forms of imprudence that could be tolerated and some that could not, and that this particular indiscretion must, with reluctance, be relegated to the latter class.  The irate father of the erring one coincided with this view of things, and a speedy marriage was the result.  “Not guilty—but she mustn’t do so again!” had evidently been the verdict of society.
     A few months later, in 1818, Sir Peregrine Maitland, his affairs of love happily settled, was appointed ruler of Upper Canada, where his attention was turned to affairs of State.  But there was one subject in connection with his courtship-days which had never been satisfactorily settled, and upon which he did not venture to question his wife until several years had elapsed.  Then, late one afternoon, it re- curred to him in that unaccountable way in which bygone events are accustomed to rise at odd times and lay claim to the attention.
     “Dear,” he said, “why did you object to my kissing your hand the evening you called on me in Paris?”
     “You may lay out the corn-coloured silk, Emma,” said Lady Sarah to her maid, who came that moment with an inquiry upon toilette matters.  Then as the girl disappeared she resumed her novel, peeping over the top of it at her husband.
     “As though I wanted you to kiss my hand!” she said. [Page 116]
     “Oh!”  A sudden light seemed to dawn upon the dense masculine understanding.  Sir Peregrine was very proud of his beautiful wife.  At the private reception which she gave that evening the corn-coloured silk gown was the centre of a group of government officials and the social dignitaries of the time, between herself and whom the ball of conversation kept lightly moving.
     She turned from them to greet an old friend.  “Ah, Commodore, so you are really settled here for the winter.  Rose told me that you had some thoughts of remaining out in the bush through the cold season, in the cosy but rather too exclusive manner of a family of chipmunks.  What have you been doing all summer?”
     “Keeping myself unspotted from the world,” replied the gentleman, with a stately bow to the lady, and a sportive glance at the worthy representatives of the social world surrounding her.
     “How very scriptural!  Do Bibles grow on bushes in the backwoods that quotation of them comes so easily?”
     “I don’t know, I’m sure.   Such searching theological questions are, I suppose, what a man must expect to confront when he forsakes the simple and sequestered life of the chipmunks.”
     “Well, I am disappointed.  I supposed from the expression of your eyes that you were going to say something complimentary.”
     “My dear Lady Sarah, do compliments grow on street corners in the metropolis that the expectation of them comes so easily?”
     “No, indeed—nor in drawing-rooms either, apparently.  It is a novelty to meet a man who persists in making his conversation impersonal; but it is really cold-hearted of you to think of remaining so long away from us.”
     “How can you say so!  Absence, you know, makes the heart grow fonder.” [Page 117]
     “Does it?”  The lady made a feint of moving away.  “Now if it were only possible for me to absent myself,” she said, laughingly.
     “Impossible!  That is for me to do.”  And the gentleman withdrew with flattering haste.
     In his place appeared a blonde young man, with deep sea-blue eyes and a bright buoyant expression, on whose arm his hostess laid a soft detaining hand.  “Were you on the point of asking me to walk about a little?” she inquired.  “I am going to accept with alacrity.”
     The young fellow, who would scarcely have made the suggestion in the face and eyes of several among the most distinguished of his fellow citizens immediately surrounding her, was not slow to respond, though he assumed an expression of alarm.
     “I fear this is a deep-laid plot,” he remarked.  “I saw my father leaving you in haste a moment ago.  Probably he has offended you, and you are about to visit the iniquities of the parents upon the children.  Pray are you taking me apart in order to spare my sensitive feelings?  So kind of you!”
     “Well, it was not my benevolent intention to lecture you at all, either in public or private, but since you speak of it so feelingly no doubt the need exists.  First tell me what you have been doing all summer.”
     “Living out in the wild woods among the wild flowers, wild animals, wild Indians, and—”
     “What a wild young man!  I am positively afraid of you.”
     “Delightful!  Please oblige me by remaining so.  It is difficult for me to be appalling for any length of time, yet the emotion of fear must be cultivated in your mind at all hazards.”
     “And why?”
     “Because you will never dare to lecture the awe-inspiring being of whom you are in mortal terror.”
     “Oh! are you sure of that?  I met a famous lecturer the [Page 118] other day, and he assured me that he never stepped before an audience without suffering from fright; yet he did not spare his hearers on that account.”
     “Such is the hardheartedness of man.  We expect more from a woman.”
     “More of a lecture, or more hardheartedness?”
     “More of the latter—from you.”
     “Well I am under the impression that you will receive, before long, a good deal of the former from a young lady present.  Are you aware that we are observed?”
     “I am sure that one of us is the observed of all observers.”
     “It is kind of you not to add that politeness forbids you to say which.  But what I mean is that since we began to talk I have twice encountered a glance from the darkest eyes I ever saw.”
     “They must belong to Mademoiselle DeBerczy.”
     “They do.  That girl’s eyes and hair are black enough to cast a gloom over the liveliest conversation.”
     “But her smiles are bright enough to illumine the gloom.”
     “Then it is a shame that she should waste them upon that rather slow-looking young man in front of her.  Will you take me back to my seat and then go and see if you can release her from bondage?”
     The request was immediately acceded to, and not long afterwards Hélène DeBerczy and Edward Macleod were exchanging the light talk, not worth reporting, that springs so easily from those whose hearts are light.
     Meantime where was Rose?  To all outward appearance she was demurely listening to the remarks of a distinguished statesman, whose opinions were held to be of great weight, and whose form, at any rate, fully merited this description.  He was so delighted to think that one so young and fair could be so deep.  Alas! she was deep in a sense the gifted gentleman never knew.  For, while the sweet head bowed [Page 119] assent, and the rose-bud lips unclosed to utter such remarks as “Ah, indeed!  You surprise me!” and “Very true!” to statements of profound national import, her maiden meditations were as free as fancy.  Before her mental vision the brilliant rooms with their gay well-dressed assemblage melted away, and in their place was a fair green meadow, wide and waving and deliciously cool under the declining sun of a summer evening.  The last load of the second crop of hay was on its way to the barn, when a great longing desire took possession of her to ride on it.  She walked out to the field, very slowly and feebly, but still she actually walked—and the whole cavalcade came to a dead stop at sight of her, for she had never been able to go any farther than the gate since her accident.  Mr. Dunlop, and Allan, and the hired man, and even the oxen all stopped, and looked at her as though they expected to hear that the house was afire, or that the servant girl had run away with the butcher’s boy.  But when they found that nothing was wanted except a ride on a load of hay Mr. Dunlop said, “bless the child!” and held her up as high as he could reach.  Then Allan lifted her the rest of the way, blushing as he did so.  She remembered how beautifully clean he looked in his white shirt sleeves, and what clear warm shades of brown there were in the eyes and on the cheeks under the broad straw hat.  She remembered, too, with a little warmth of feeling—not a very uncomfortable warmth of feeling—how, when the wagon made a great lurch going over a ditch, she had uttered a little scream, and laid strenuous hands of appeal upon the white sleeved arm, and how, when they came to another ditch, a brown palm had held fast to her trembling hand until the danger was over.  Halfway in the barn door he made the oxen stop, until she had stood on tip toe, and put her hand among the little swallows in a nest under the eaves.  Ah, what was there in the memory of new-mown hay to fill her with this sharp sweet pain?  She awoke from her [Page 120] dream to a consciousness that the gentleman beside her was saying that it was sufficiently clear to every enlightened understanding that unless tum tum tum tum measures were instantly adopted mum mum mum mum would be the inevitable result.
     “Oh, no doubt of it,” said Rose, and then there was a readjustment of the group in her immediate vicinity.  Lady Sarah Maitland appeared with a bewitching smile and begged to introduce the honourable gentleman, who had been discoursing with so much eloquence to a friend of hers.  The ‘friend’ hovered in the distance, but even in perspective it was clear to be seen that he was a man of great powers of endurance.
     The honourable gentleman concealed under a flattered smile his distaste for the proposition, and in a few moments his place was occupied by Lady Sarah, who took one of the little hands, soft and pink as a handful of rose-leaves, between her own.
     “I wonder if I might venture to ask a favour,” she said.
     “I’m sure I should never venture to refuse it,” returned the young girl, with all a young girl’s appreciation of kindness coming from a thoroughbred woman of the world.
     “Then I wish very much that you would sing one of your favourite songs.  It would be a great pleasure to very many of us.”
     “I’ll not wait to be coaxed,” was the reply, after a moment’s hesitation.  “It is only really good singers who can afford to do that.”
     In spite of her dimpled figure and child-face, Rose Macleod had a very stately little way with her, and it served to repel one pair of eyes that for the first time that evening caught sight of her as she moved towards the instrument.  A little queen!  That was what he had always called her in his heart.  His little queen!  Oh, how had he dared to enthrone her there?  Presumptuous idiot!  she was as far [Page 121] from him as the stars are from the weeds.  But the girl at the piano thought of nothing but the sharp, sweet odour of new-mown hay.  Sharp as a sword and sweet as love, it pierced and thrilled her being.  Then, like a fragrant blossom, a melody sprang from the hidden sources of her pain.  The sympathetic musical expressiveness of her voice, and its pure penetrating quality filled the room, and riveted the attention of every one in it.  Others came in from adjoining rooms, until, in the press of the throng, a young man was forced, in spite of himself, nearer and nearer to the instrument, and found himself close beside the fair girl-goddess of song, just as the last words left her lips.  Like one awaking from sleep she looked at him, and then the glad light of recognition swept up to her eyes.  Her dream had come true.  “Oh,” she exclaimed, “it is Allan!” [Page 122]


[Chapter XI]