IT was late afternoon in a Canadian midwinter day.
Cold and still, with a cold- ness so intense that the
blinding brightness of the sun made no discernable impression
on the densely packed snow, and with a stillness absolutely
undis- turbed by any slightest breath of blustering
wind. Before the early twilight came, Rose Macleod,
wrapped in furs from dainty head to well-booted feet,
ran lightly down stairs, tapping softly at the library
door on the way.
“I am all ready,
Papa,” she said, illumining the room for a moment
with a pair of dark blue eyes and crimson cheeks.
“Don’t you think it will be a beautiful
and cold enough to kill an Esquimaux. I confess
it would be a pleasure to know that in a few hours you
would be safe under the blankets instead of junketing
over at Madame DeBerczy’s.”
“I shall be just
as safe under the buffalo robes, just as warm, and a
great deal happier.”
“Very well; be off
then. By the way, how many are in your party?”
“Oh, nearly a dozen
“Then there is a
possibility that you will not all perish. Tell
the survivors to report themselves here as early tomorrow
morning as possible.”
There was a sound of bells
and a mingling of merry voices as a sleigh-load of young
people drove up to the door, and waited for Rose to
join them. “Delays are dangerous,”
observed Edward, as his sister, after opening the door,
was suddenly stung by the reflection that she had not
taken a last comprehensive view of herself in the glass,
and turned to the hall mirror to rectify the omission.
it is below zero,” said another. [Page
“What is she doing
now?” patiently inquired a third.
“Airing the hall,”
responded a girlish voice. “Oh, no, she
is really coming! Rose,” she called, “come
and sit by me.”
“No, there is more
room here,” said another voice; while still another
exclaimed, “I have been keeping such a cosy little
corner here for you.”
She stood in smiling hesitancy
a moment, when her hand, from which she had removed
the glove in order to adjust an unruly hair-pin, was
taken by another hand, firm and warm and gloveless,
and she was drawn almost unconsciously to the side of
its owner. It was Allan Dunlop who had thus taken
summary possession of her, and incurred a little of
her dignified displeasure.
“You left me no
room for choice,” she said in a slightly offended
“I beg your pardon,
I was thinking only of leaving you room for a seat.”
She was silent.
It was very difficult to keep this young man at a distance,
when there was such a very little distance between them,
and yet she must be true to the promise tacitly given
to her father. She must be cool, indifferent,
uninterested. “It isn’t a matter of
any importance,” she said absently.
it is to me,” he continued in a lower tone, “I
know scarcely a soul here, and declined Edward’s
invitation to join you on that account.”
“Oh, it is very
easy to become acquainted with a sleighing-party.”
She greeted the two young ladies on the other side of
him, and introduced him to them. They were refined,
attractive-looking girls, but they had a fatal defect.
They absorbed social heat and light instead of radiating
them. It seemed as though they might be saying:
“There, now, you got us into an unpleasant situa-
tion by inviting us here, and it’s your duty to
make us [Page 137] happy; but we’re
not having a good time at all, and we’d like to
know what you’re going to do about it.”
Allan did the best he could, not half-heartedly, for
he was accus- tomed to do thoroughly whatever he attempted,
and his success was marked. Those grave girls,
who, heretofore, had always seemed to be haunted by
some real or fancied neglect, were in a gale of semi-repressed
merriment. The mirth was infectious, and as the
horses flew over the frozen road, the gay jingle of
bells mingled happily with the joyous laughter of young
voices. Poor Rose, whose natural love for society
and capacity for fun-making had induced her to set very
pleasant hopes upon this sleigh-ride, found herself,
much to her sur- prise, the only silent one of the company.
With Allan’s gracefully unconcerned personality
on one side, a middle-aged lady of rather severe aspect—the
matron of the party—on the other, and just opposite
a pair who were very agreeably and entirely engaged
with as well as to each other, all
means of communication seemed to be hopelessly cut off.
It was really very unreasonable for Allan to act in
this way. He was saving her the trouble of treating
him badly and keeping him at a distance; but, strange
to say, there are some disagree- able duties of which
one does not whish to be relieved. If it were
possible to be overwhelmingly dignified when one is
buried shoulder deep in bear and buffalo skins—but
that was out of the question.
The clear crystalline
day began to be softly shadowed by twilight. Behind
them lay the town, its roofs and spires robed in swan’s-down,
while on all sides the fallen logs and deep underbrush,
the level stubbles and broad irregular hollows, and
all the vast sweep of dark evergreen forest, melting
away in imm- easurable distance, was a dazzling white
waste of snow. In the bright moon- shine it sparkled
as though studded with innumerable stars. Above
them was a marvelously brilliant sky. [Page
Suddenly, under a group
of trees that stretched their ghostly arms across the
roadway, the cavalcade came to a full stop; and Edward,
who was driving, looked round with a face of gloomy
foreboding at the merrymakers.
“What is the matter?”
demanded half-a-dozen voices.
“We shall have to
go back,” announced the young man, with a look
of forced resignation.
echoed the same voices an octave higher, “why,
what has happened?”
that Rose ought to take another look at herself in the
hall mirror. There is something fatally wrong
with her appearance.”
“About which part
of my appearance?” demanded the young lady, who
was too well acquainted with her brother to be at all
surprised or disturbed by any- thing he could say.
“I don’t know,
I’m sure. Perhaps it’s the tout
ensemble. Yes, that’s just what it
“Do drive on, Edward,
and don’t be ridiculous. It’s too
cold to discuss even so important a subject as that.”
“I am sure you must
be suffering from the cold.” It was Allan
who spoke, turning round to her in a tone of quick,
“Not in the least!”
Every small emphatic word was keen and hard as a piece
of ice. Then, in the white moonlight, she confronted
something that made her heart sink, it was the unmistakable
look of mental suffering, a look that showed her that
he at any rate was suffering from the cold—the
sharp stinging cold of a winter whose beginning was
pressing bitterly upon them, whose end, so far as they
could see, was death.
The mansion of Madame
DeBerczy sent out broad shafts of light through its
many windows to welcome the latest addition to the brilliant
throng already assembled in its ample interior.
Madame herself was superb in a regal-looking [Page
139] gown that became her aristocratic old
countenance as a rich setting becomes an antique cameo.
Her stately rooms were aglow with immense fire-places,
each holding a small cart-load of hissing and crackling
wood, the reflected light gleaming brightly from the
shining fire-irons, with a number of brass sconces—the
picturesque chandeliers of the past—polished to
the similitude of gold, were softly shimmering overhead.
The beautiful English furniture of the last century,
artistic yet home-like; the old world cabinets, covered
with surface carving, solid yet graceful in appearance;
tiles, grave and cheerful in design, set into oaken
mantel-pieces; peacock coloured screens, and ample crimson
curtains, edged with heavy silken borders of gold, all
lent their aid to brighten and enrich the rooms that
to-night were graced by some of the best society from
Upper Canada’s most ambitious little town of York.
Mademoiselle Hélène, beautiful in a blush
rose gown, with a few star-shaped flowers of the same
shade in her silky hair, was the magical living synthesis
of this small world of warmth and colour in the eyes
of her lover. These eyes were more than usually
brilliant from his long ride in the keen air, and the
yellow locks upon the smooth white brow were several
noticeable inches above the heads of those around him.
As he walked down the crowded rooms, in enviable proximity
to the blushing dress, his handsome face and half careless,
half military air drew the attention of more than one
bright pair of eyes.
“Rather a pretty
boy,” commented a pompous-looking gentleman, patronizingly.
“But entirely too
fair,” was the disapproving response of the critical
young lady beside him, whose own complexion and opinion
were certainly free from the undesirable quality she
referred to. “Of course, a pink face is
attractive—in a doll.” [Page 140]
“Then the daughter
of our hostess escapes the imputation of being doll-like.”
“Oh, she is quite
too overgrown for that. It’s a pity she
has the peculiar complexion through which the blood
In another group, an enthusiastic
young creature whispered to her mother: “Mamma,
do notice Miss DeBerczy’s face; white as a cherry
blossom, and her lips the cherries themselves.
Isn’t she just like a picture?”
drawled mamma, adjusting her eye-glass with an air of
rendering impartial justice, “like a very ill-painted
picture. Why don’t she lay on her colours
a little more artistically?”
“Oh, she doesn’t
lay them on, they’re natural.”
“Well, Lena, you
should not be so quick to notice and comment upon natural
defects. Not one of us is free from them, and
it is uncharitable and unkind to make them the subject
Thus silenced and put
in the wrong the young lady ventured nothing further.
said Hélène, later in the evening, “really
you ought to dance with somebody else. There are
dozens of charming girls here.”
“Which dozen did
you wish me to dance with?”
nonsensical, please. Haven’t you any preference?”
yes.” He glanced at a petite maiden,
whose figure and movements were light and fairy-like.
“I don’t think
sufficient. My vanity is painfully sensitive to
the smallest danger of slight.”
The fairy-like person
had unconsciously assumed an appreciative, not to say
sympathetic, expression. Hélène
smiled. “Your fears are very becoming to
your youth [Page 141] and modesty,
but I think I may go so far as to say I am sure she
will not refuse.”
“That is joyful
news.” Another set was forming, and he rose
with hand exten- ded to Hélène.
“You said you were sure she would not refuse,”
he responded to her look of blank amaze; and then, as
she yielded to the irresistible entreaty in his eyes,
he murmured softly, “How could you imagine I had
any other prefer- ence but you?”
“One imagines a
great many strange things,” she replied.
“Once I fancied that you preferred an Indian girl.”
“How could you!”
he repeated with intense emphasis. All that part
of his life seemed vague and far away as though he had
dreamed it in some prehistoric period of his existence.
It refused to take the hues and proportions of reality.
Yes, that was nothing but a wild fantastic dream—the
sort of dream from which one wakes with a wretchedly
bad taste in the mouth. This rare girl, with the
flower-like curves and colours, was the only reality.
And yet, was she reality? Her dress, wreathed
flame-like from warm white shoulders to satin shod feet,
lay in rich glowing lengths upon the waxed and polished
floor. Her beautiful head, too heavily weighted
with braids and coils of raven blackness, swayed slumberously
upon the dainty white neck, and he could not tell whether
he better liked to see the dark lashes lying upon her
cheeks or uplifted to reveal the magical eyes beneath.
He was very much in love. The soft intoxicating
strains of music went to his head like wine. He
was powerless to struggle against the thrilling illusion
of the hour. When the others returned to their
seats or promen- aded the brilliant rooms they escaped
alone and unobserved into the conservatory. Here
they beheld the greatest possible contrast to the desolate
wintry waste without. The air was heavy and languorous
with the odour of tropic flowers. The music, almost
oppressive in the crowded parlours, melted deliciously
upon the ear as [Page 142] they wandered
away. Hélène, when she noticed that
they were quite alone, suffered a vague alarm.
She told herself in one moment that it was not possible
that Edward would choose this opportunity for a formal
declaration of his love, and the next moment she reminded
herself that impossible things are the ones that frequently
come to pass. The idea, like an ill-shaped burden,
pressed uncomfortably upon her.
A maiden’s heart,
like a summer night, knows and loves its own secret.
All through the mysterious deep hours of sleep it holds
the secret closely wrapped in darkness, pure as the
dew on the grass, innocent as the little leaves in the
forest, glorious as the countless stars of heaven.
Some time, and soon enough, the dawn will come.
Then the stars will pale before a glory more intense,
the countless little leaves, like delicate human emotions,
will wake and stir, and the white mists of maidenliness
will be warmed with heavenly radiance. But after
sunrise comes the day—the long prosaic day of
duty and denial, or work and its rewards, of sober,
plain realities. Why should the night of mystery
and beauty hasten towards the common light? Her
being thrilled under the first faint approa- ches of
the dawn, and yet—yet a little longer, oh, ardent,
impetuous, all-conquering Sun! It seemed as though
the girl’s very soul were pleading. The
rich-hued, fragrance-laden flowers in the sweet dim
place bent their heads to listen, but her impassioned
lover paid no heed to the unspoken prayer. The
sense of her beauty—of her unsurpassable charm,
mingled with the voluptuous music—pierced his
heart with insupportable pain. Could she not feel
his unuttered love? Her lily-like face was cool
and pale, but in that warm-coloured robe it seemed as
though her very body blushed. In leaning over
to reach a peculiar flower that attracted her attention,
a little wave of her gown rested upon his knee, and
it seemed to his infatuated vision that the insensate
fabric throbbed as well as glowed from the momentary
[Page 143] contact. Hélène
kept up a continual flow of small talk, of which he
heard not a syllable. Rising hurriedly, her long
train caught in a low branch that stretched across the
walk, and he bent to extricate it.
“How is it that
you dare to touch the hem of my garment?” she
“Oh, I can dare
more than that,” he cried. The conviction
that she loved him, as indeed she did, gave him a sort
of desperate courage. He took her in his arms
and held her close, kissing her passionately on lips
and eyes and soft white shoulders. She neither
moved nor spoke, but stood, when he released her, confronting
him with a sort of frigid, fascinated stare. “Oh,
what have I done? Hélène,” he exclaimed
tremblingly. “I thought you loved me.”
she questioned with haughty disdain, “love?”
she demanded with incred- ulous contempt, “you?”
The concentrated fires
of her wrath and scorn were heaped upon this final monosyllable.
Every word was a fierce insulting interrogation.
Surely the traditional “three sweet words”
had never before been uttered with such tragic effect.
She stood before him a living statue of outraged pride,
clothed in a fiery robe of righteous indignation; then
she turned and passed out of his sight, leaving the
young man to his reflections.
They were bitter enough
in all truth. He still cared for Hélène,
he loved her as he loved himself. But it is only
fair to add that he held himself in the very smallest
estimation. He had acted like a drunken fool.
How would he like any man alive to treat his little
Rose in that style? But then she might have behaved
reasonably about it. She had trampled on his heart,
and left it sore and bruised and bleeding. Very
well, he was not a child to cry out when he was hurt.
He went back to the gay throng, and saw, as in a cruel
dream, the girl who despised [Page 144] him
scattering profuse smiles upon others. No matter!
Nothing could possibly be of any importance now.
Rose was making her way with some difficulty towards
him. How wan and tired she looked. Was it
possible that any one besides himself was suffering?
The idea was absurd.
time for us to go, Edward?” she said. “Madame
DeBerczy has invited our party to remain over to-morrow,
but I promised papa not to desert him any longer than
was strictly necessary.” Edward found the
proposition a most welcome one. They could not
leave Oak Ridges too soon, nor remain away from it too
His sister’s drooping
little figure attracted the attention of Hélène.
“Do you talk of going?” Hélène
asked. “Well, so you shall go—to bed;
and the very first bed we come to.” She
bent caressingly over the little golden head of her
friend. Their beautiful arms were interlinked.
Rose glanced irresolutely at her brother.
“You will need to
put on the extra wraps you brought,” he said,
“as it is particularly cold at this hour of the
morning.” Hélène was ignored
utterly. He did not seem to know that she was
present. The proud girl was wounded to the quick.
She was not visible at their leave-takings. When
every one was gone she went away upstairs, telling herself
at every step that she hated, hated, Edward Macleod;
that he was in all things and in every way detestable.
She did not weep nor bewail. The tears showed
as seldom in her eyes as the blood in her cheeks, and
her pride was of the inflexible sort that scorns to
relax when its possessor is alone. She dropped
into a heavy troubled sleep, and dreamed that she was
solitary in a frozen land, whose only sunshine was the
golden head of her lover. In the strange fantastic
manner of dreams he seemed to be a very little child,
whose light warm weight lay along her arms, close to
the heart above which he had [Page 145] pressed
those burning kisses. It was bitter cold; but
the whole scene was like a picture of winter.
She could not feel it—she could feel nothing but
the aching of her own heart, the warm breath growing
ever warmer, and the clinging hands, clinging ever closer,
of the child she loved. The sense of delicious
languor changed to a feeling of heaviness—almost
suffocation. Every golden hair of the head upon
her breast pierced her like a ray of brightest sunshine.
Hastily putting him from her she fled away with the
wintry winds, herself as wild and swift and soulless
as they. But presently coming to look for the
child, and unable to find him, she realized that he
was lost, and then she woke, trembling with deep, tearless
“What is it, my
dearest?” called Madame DeBerczy from the next
dear, but a troubled dream.”
“Ah, it is the excitement
of these late hours. Try to sleep again.”
could sleep no more. A few days later she heard
that Edward Macleod, with a party of friends, had gone
on a shooting expedition to the Muskoka country. [Page