AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER XI.

AFTER “THE BALL.”

 


SHE was conscious of what she had said an instant afterwards and blushed to the brow.  If any one at that moment had asked her what’s in a name, and she had been compelled to reveal her inmost convictions, the fair Rose, who by any other name would be as sweet, would have answered “impropriety, embarrassment, a host of unpleasant emotions.”  It was impossible to explain to him that she had been helping him to make hay that evening in Lady Sarah Maitland’s parlours, and that this was why the name that she had heard so frequently in the meadow had left her lips so easily and naturally that night.  Better try and seem unconscious.  But unconsciousness, like happiness, comes unsought or not at all.  As for Allan, his own name had never made such music in his ears; and surely to no lone watcher waiting for the dawn could the first blush of morn be more welcome than was to him this lovely mantling bloom on the face of the girl he loved.
     “Charming!” “Exquisite!” “Do sing something else!” were the exclamations rained upon her as she ceased to sing, but she looked only to him.
     “How is it I have never heard you sing before?” he inquired, with the applause that the others had uttered shining unspoken in his eyes.
     “You have too many professional singers about your home.  I am afraid to sing before them.  Did you ever hear birds called ‘the angels of earth?’”
     “Never.”
     “Well, if nobody else originated the phrase I am willing to do so—rather than that it shouldn’t be originated at all.”
     “It may be a pretty idea,” said Allan, “and yet it fails to suit my critical taste.”  They withdrew a little from the [Page 123] crowd, and found a quiet place in which to sit and chat, for now a pianist of note had been led a willing sacrifice to the place Rose vacated.
     “You must be hard to please,” said Rose.  “What can be more like an angel than a bird?  It has wings, and it sings, and it is rejoicingly happy.  It seems to be particularly blest every moment of its blessed little life.”
     “Very likely.  Nevertheless I think a flower much more closely resembles an angel.”
     “A flower?  Why, there is scarcely a point of resemblance.”
     The young man laughed, but the slight whimsical frown between his brows deepened.
     “Now that isn’t at all what I expected you to say.  I thought you might be kind enough to inquire, ‘What flower?’ and then I could reply, ‘The queen of flowers.’”
     “Rose looked down a moment at the warm pink hands restlessly twining and intertwining in her lap.  “I am glad I did not make the inquiry,” she said.
     “You don’t like clumsy compliments?”
     “I believe I don’t like any kind from you.”
     “Why, please?”
     “I don’t know exactly, unless because it seems natural to expect something better.”
     Allan Dunlop was dimly aware that a compliment of a very high order had been paid to himself.  “Our best friends are those who compel us to do our best,” he said.  “I hope you will always expect something better of me than anything I have done.”
     It was the speech of an ambitious young man.  They both recognized the note of earnestness that seemed to place them for a moment above the frivolous crowd about them.  Only for a moment; then they lapsed easily into the light talk so natural to the occasion.
     “Have you had a pleasant evening?” he asked. [Page 124]
     “Very pleasant.”  Her mind reverted once more to her delightful reverie, and the scent of new-mown hay was again about her.  Then, as though he could read her thoughts, she brought them back to the present with a quick little blush, and mentioned the name of the gentleman who had absorbed so large a part of her time, if not of her attention, through the evening.
     “Now, why should she blush when she mentions his name?” thought poor Allan, with a sharp jealous pang at his heart, for the man she alluded to was an eligible bachelor, who had successfully resisted the charms of one generation of maidens.  “If you find Mr. Galton’s conversation so interesting,” he said, rather forlornly, “mine will seem dull by contrast.  What was he expatiating upon?”
     “Politics, mostly.”
     “Are you interested in that subject?  I think of going into politics more deeply myself some time.”
     “Do you, indeed?  More than you have?”  If he had spoken of going into a decline Rose could not have looked more foreboding.  Allan glanced across half-enviously at the personage who had the power to invest that topic with interest.  “He seems to be more than usually roused to-night.”
     Rose suppressed a yawn.  “Does he talk better when he is roused than he does when he’s asleep?” she asked.
     “Surely he displayed no signs of sleepiness when talking with you.”
     “No; but I cannot answer for myself.”
     That senseless pang of jealousy died a very easy death after all, and the only sufferer from it would have been entirely happy were it not for the advancing form of Commodore Macleod, who came in search of his daughter, and bore her off with a speed that left her lover a little chilled and daunted. [Page 125]
     The Canadian winter with its bright, fierce days and sparkling nights was upon them, but it held no terrors for the young hearts who met it in a mood as defiantly merry as its own.  Only a suffering or morbid nature sees in winter the synonym of death and decay; fancies that mourning and desolation is the burden of the gaily whistling winds; and regards the bare trees, rid of their dusty garments, and quietly resting, as shivering skeletons, and the dancing snowflakes as the colourless pall that hides from sight all there is of life and loveliness.  Nature, when the labours of the year are over, sinks to rest beneath her fleecy coverings, lulled to sleep in the kindly, yet frosty, arms of the Northern tempest.  What wild weird lullabies are sung to her unheeding ears, dulled by the lethargy of sleep.  How early falls the darkness, and how late the long night lingers, the better to ensure repose to the sweet mistress of the earth!  How bright the starry eyes of heaven keeping watch above her rest!
     The Macleods had settled in a furnished house, through which Rose had already diffused the charm of her dainty personality.  She was kneeling before the hearth, like a young fire-worshipper, one snowy afternoon, and thinking a little drearily that the close environment of a snow-storm in town rendered it almost as lonely as the country, when a visitor was announced, the sound of whose name seemed to make the solitude populous.  It was Allan Dunlop, whom she instantly forgave for so soon availing himself of her permission to call, when she realized how welcome a break his coming made in the cheerless monotony of the day.  He caught a glimpse of bright hair against a background of blazing logs, and then she came forward to meet him, not eagerly, not shyly, but with a charming manner in which both eagerness and shyness were suggested.  At that moment all the warmth and brightness of the bleak clourless world shone for him in the eyes and hair of this sweet girl and in the glowing fire-place before which she drew his chair. [Page 126]
     “It is exactly the sort of day on which one expects to be free from the annoyance of callers,” he said.  “Ought I to apologize?”
     “By all means—instantly—and in the most profuse and elaborate terms.”  She assumed her grand air, mounted a footstool, and stood looking over his head with her saucy chin elevated, waiting for the abject petition that did not come.  The young man’s heart rendered the tribute of an unmistakable throb to its “little queen;” but emotional declarations are out of place after a short acquaintance, especially when there exists a decided belief that they will be listened to in an unfriendly spirit, or, what is infinitely worse, in a friendly spirit.  It was the fear of making Rose his friend that steeled Allan’s determination to bide his time, and that rendered his present reply rather more stiff than sensational.
     “I beg a thousand pardons.” he began, when she interrupted him with—
     “Oh, that is too many.  Do try and be a little more moderate in your demands.  Would it please you to have me spend the whole afternoon in forgiving you?”
     Allan laughed—a blithe contented little laugh.  “Any way that you like to spend the afternoon will please me,” he said, “so long as I am not deprived of your presence.  Oh, not that way,” he added, as a little frown crept between her golden-brown eyebrows, “that way excepted.”
     “Very well.  I’ll not frown at you, but you must promise not to come so near again to the verge of a compliment.”
     “I promise.  Anything to keep a frown from marring the—I mean from your face.  But the difficulty is to think of anything that is as easy to say.”
     “You might better remind me of my faults.”
     “Oh, you could scarcely expect me to be eloquent on that subject.  I didn’t know that they exist—that is to say, I am incapable of speaking upon a subject so wide reaching [Page 127] and profound.  Are they like unto the snow-flakes for multitude?”
     “No, not quite so numerous, but far worse in quality.  For instance, the other day I never smiled at papa the least bit when I said, good morning!”
     “Horrible! what an unnatural daughter!”
     “It was because he wouldn’t let me dance as often as I wanted to the night before.  He said he must draw the line somewhere.  It is strange that the word somewhere in that sentence invariably means the precise point where it is most painful to have it drawn.”
     Allan Dunlop, who had already had some experience of the Commodore’s ability to draw the line at the sensitive point designated by his daughter, murmured only, “very strange.”
     “Not that he was in the least unkind about it,” continued Rose.  “Papa is always lovely to me, no matter how I behave.”
     “Very lovely?”
     “Very lovely.”
     “I never before was so struck with the truths of heredity,” mused the young man.  “You are exactly like him.”
     “Oh!” the girl dropped her face in her hands a moment, and then thrust them out with the palms toward her guest.  “You have need to beg a thousand pardons and a thousand more to cover the offences you have committed.  And you have broken your promise!”
     “What a harsh accusation!  I promised not to come to the verge of a compliment.  Do you think that was on the verge?”
     “No!  It was too blunt—too dreadfully—”
     “It is a pleasure to hear you so emphatically contradict an assertion made by yourself.”
     “That is a mere quibble—a legal quibble.  Well, there is no doubt that you would make a very successful lawyer.” [Page 128]
     “Is that a compliment, or does it approach the verge of one?”
     Before this problem could be solved Herbert, who was deeply engaged in a game of checkers with his younger sister, at the other end of the apartment, suddenly announced: “Rose, here is Mr. Galton coming across the street, making directly for our house.”
     “Oh, dear!” was the very inhospitable exclamation of its pretty mistress.  Then as she caught an amused glance from Allan’s eyes, she added demurely, “I am so glad.”
     “Perhaps it would be better for me to go.”  The words escaped with obvious reluctance.
     “Better for which of us?”
     “For both, I think.”
     “Your charities are conducted on too large a scale.  Now, if you could only content yourself with benefiting one of us you would remain.  I have a dread of that man.”
     “So have I, but from a different motive.  As your dread increases mine grows less.”
     Close analysis and consideration of this fact gave a very becoming tint to her cheeks as she welcomed the entering guest.  “Ah, Miss Rose,” he exclaimed, “blooming as ever, in spite of wintry days.  Do you know I came very near going past your door?”  He allowed the announcement of this providentially averted calamity to sink deep into her heart, while he bowed to Allan.
     “This is an unexpected pleasure,” murmured the young lady, with sufficient formality to prevent her words from being dangerously insincere.
     “Unexpected to you and a pleasure to me?” queried the gentleman, with a keen glance at the pair, whose tête-à-tête he had evidently disturbed, “or do your words bear reference to the idea of seeing me going past your door?”
     The amount of truth in these very good guesses startled the girl to whom they were addressed into an uncomfortable [Page 129] sense of guilt.  “How can you accuse me of anything so horrid?” she said, drawing her chair not far from him, and looking into his face with the appreciative air and attitude that are not to be resisted.
     “Mr. Galton,” said Herbert, who, having completed the game, and vanquished his sister, could afford to turn his attention to the frivolous conversation of his elders, “do you know what Rose said when she saw you coming?  She said, “Oh dear, I am so glad!’”
     “Herbert,” implored Rose, crimsoning under these carefully reported words, and fearing that Mr. Galton, not being aware of the motive which prompted them, would not know whether to be ecstatic or sarcastic, “you are a terrible boy!”
     “Herbert has done me a great kindness,” exclaimed the flattered gentleman, who considered Rose’s embarrassment quite natural, and very pleasing under the circumstances.  “All my doubts of a welcome he has happily removed.”
     In the fear that these doubts might unhappily return if he were allowed to continue conversation with a too-confiding younger brother, Rose devoted herself with nervous intentness to his entertainment, and succeeded brilliantly.  Fragments of laughter and chat drifted across to where Eva was trying to persuade Allan into playing checkers.
     “Just one game, please, Mr. Dunlop, pleaded the little damsel, in resistless accents.
     “If you but knew what a wretched player I am,” said the young man gloomily.
     “Oh, are you a wretched player?” she exclaimed brightly, “I am so glad.  Then there is some chance for me.”  She added confidentially “I am even more wretched.”
     “I hope you may never have the same reason to be,” said Allan, with a half-suppressed glance at the lively pair near the window.
     A lover, from his very nature, must be decidedly unhappy or supremely blest, and it is scarcely to be expected that perfect [Page 130] felicity can reign in a heart whose pretty mistress is spending her smiles on another man.  Allan did not believe that Rose really cared for Mr. Galton—he had seen too many proofs to the contrary—but he did believe that she was giving that objectionable gentleman every reason to think that she did care.  With how many men did she pursue this course of action, and was he to believe her guilty of careless coquetry?  Upon how many admirers may a rose breathe perfume and still keep its innocent heart sweet for its lover?  These were questions that rankled in his mind, while Eva set the checkers in place.
     “Perhaps I can keep you from getting a king,” she said exultantly.
     “If I can only keep my queen,” observed the young man absently.
     “Why, Mr. Dunlop, there are no queens in this game; it isn’t like chess.
     “There! you see how little I know about it,” was the regretful reply.
     Despite this painful manifestation of ignorance the two combatants appeared for a while to be very equally matched.  Then the advantage was clearly on Allan’s side.  His king committed frightful havoc among the scattered ranks of the enemy, till suddenly, as he observed the painful stress of attention and warm colour in the face of his fair little foe, a strange and unaccountable languor fell upon his troops.  They seemed to care not whether they lived or died, while their shameless commander, surveying them with anxious countenance, gave vent to his emotion in such ejaculations as “Dear me!” “Why didn’t I see that move?”  or, “The idea of your taking two men at one jump!”  At last the announcement that he was completely vanquished was joyfully made by Eva, and incredulously listened to by Herbert, who viewed his sister’s opponent with amazement, not unmingled with pity. [Page 131]
     “The battle is indeed lost!”  Herbert said, quoting the historic words in a consolatory way; “but there is time to win another.”
     “I’m afraid not,” said Allan, rising and preparing to depart.
     “I wish that you could have won the game, too,” said Eva, suddenly stricken with remorse in the midst of her good-fortune.
     “You are a very kind little girl.  I can depend on you to consider my feelings.”
     The accent, ever so slight, upon the “you” aroused Rose’s attention.  “Why, you are not going?” she exclaimed, coming towards him.
     “Such is my charitable intention,” he replied, smiling with sad eyes.
     “I was only waiting for you to finish your game before bringing Mr. Galton to the fire to talk politics with you.”
     “That is a warm topic, and a warm place.”
     “Perhaps Mr. Dunlop fears that we shall quarrel on the subject.  You know we are on different sides, Miss Macleod.”
     “We shall hardly come to blows, I think,” returned Allan, with the look of bright good-fellowship which made him a favourite with both political parties.
     “The idea of your quarrelling with anybody!” said Rose, as she accompanied him to the door.
     “I may have a very serious disagreement with him some time,” replied her jealous though unacknowledged lover, “but it will not be about politics.”
     He ran hastily down the steps, unconsciously brushing against Commodore Macleod, who favoured him with a bow of about the same temperature as the weather.  Muttering a hurried excuse, he went on into the cold gloom of the early winter twilight, shivering slightly, not from the chill without, but from the deadlier chill within.  ‘What a pompous unbearable old fellow the elder Macleod was.  How could he endure [Page 132] to have him for a father-in-law?  Ah! how could he endure not to have him?’  The fear that he might never stand in a closer relationship to a man for whom he had so little liking lay heavily upon him.
     That same evening the object of these mingled emotions laid a detaining hand upon the shoulder of his pretty daughter as she bent to bestow a bed-time kiss upon his grizzled moustache.  “I wish to have a little conversation with you, my dear, on a serious subject.” 
     “Oh, but Papa,” replied the spoiled girl, “I am not at all in a serious frame of mind.”
     “It is highly probably that you will find yourself so at the end of our talk.”     
     “Charming prospect!  After such an inducement as that I can’t resist any longer.”  She sank back into a low chair near a great case of books, for they were sitting in the cosy library.
     “I met young Dunlop coming out of the house as I was coming in,” began the Commodore.  “I was sorry to see that.”
     “I was sorry to see it, too, Papa, but he couldn’t be persuaded to stay longer.”
     “That is not a very respectful answer to give to your old father; nevertheless, I am glad to hear it, as it assures me that you have not reached the point when his absence will leave you sad.”
     “Oh, no!  But I am willing to admit that over Mr. Galton’s departure I did come very near shedding tears—of joy.”
     “I hope my little girl will have no cause to shed any other kind.”
     “His little girl” endeavoured to look oracular as she replied:  “That will largely depend upon the nature of the information you are about to communicate to me.”
     “It is only a request, my dear!  I wish for your own sake [Page 133] that you would have as little as possible to do with that young Dunlop.”
     There was an appreciable interval of silence.  Rose stared hard at the fire.  Her father added, “Of course, I do not wish you to do anything unreasonable.”
     “I am sure of that,” said the girl softly, “nor anything unkind.”
     The gentleman stirred a little uneasily in his chair.  “You must remember,” he said, “that the greatest unkindness one can do another is to encourage false hopes in him.”
     “How would you like me to treat him?”
     “Oh, my dear child, I can’t tell.  You know perfectly well yourself.  Be preoccupied, absent-minded, indifferent when he comes.  Make him repeat what he says, and then answer him at random.  Look as though you had a thousand things to distract your attention, and treat him as though he were the chair on which he is sitting.”
     “And you think that would be an ample and delicate return for the countless kindnesses shown me by himself and his people last summer?”
     “Oh, hang himself and his people!” was the Commodore’s mental comment.  Aloud he said, “Well, the young fellow could hardly leave you to perish under the horse’s heels.  What he did was only common decency.”
     “Then, perhaps, it would be as well to treat him with common decency.  Don’t you think that desirable quality is omitted from your course of treatment?”  Her tones were those of caressing gentleness, but the flame of the firelight was not more red than the cheek on which it gleamed.
     “Why, bless me, Rose, I don’t want you to give him the cut direct.  There is no need to put him either in paradise or the inferno.  Better adopt a happy medium.”
     “Yes; but purgatory is rather an unhappy medium.”
     “Well, my dear, I have nothing more to say.  I suppose it is natural that you should set aside the counsel of a man [Page 134] who has loved you for nineteen years in favour of the attention of one who has known you about the same number of weeks.”
     “Papa, you are unjust!”  The repressed tears came at last, but they were dried as quickly as they dropped.
     “Can’t you understand,” he continued in a softened tone, “that I would willingly give him anything in return for his kindness—except my eldest daughter?”
     “That is a gift he would never value.  A society man might do so, but the idea of a young fellow of talent and energy and ambition and brains looking at a little goose like me!”
     The Commodore laughed.  “No doubt it would be a great hardship for him to look at you; but young men of talent, ambition and that sort of thing are not afraid of hardship.  In fact they grow to love it.  So you think he would not value the gift?”  He laughed again very heartily.
     “I am perfectly certain,” declared the young girl, with impressive earnestness, “that he will never stoop to ask you for it.”
     “Then there is nothing more to be said,” replied the Commodore, with an air of great relief.  “The whole question could not be more satisfactorily settled.  You are my own loyal little girl and—and you don’t think me a dreadfully cross old bear, do you?”
     She went straight to his arms.  “How can I help it,” she asked, with her customary bright smile, “when you give me such a bearish hug?”
     But alone in her room, the smile vanished in a tempest of fast-coming tears.  There was a reason for them, but she was unconscious of it then.  Later she discovered it to lie in the fact that in her heart of hearts she was not a “loyal little girl” at all, but an “out and out little traitor and rebel.” [Page 135]


[Chapter XII]