AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
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CHAPTER XIV.

MUDDY LITTLE YORK.

 


IF the course of true love could be persuaded to forsake its ancient uncomfort- able method in favour of a single harrassed lover, surely the trials of Allan Dunlop might soften its harsh turbulence, and move it to a gentler flow.  Rose was devoted to her father, and the tie between them, made stronger by her mother’s death, was not of a nature to be affected by the sighing breath of a mere lover.  Then she was as lovable as she was lovely, and there was nothing in the cordial liking of a host of friends to encourage the growth of any morbid desire for the affection of a poor and insignificant outsider.  There were other insurmountable points on the mountain chain of circumstance that lay between him and his heart’s dearest wish.  The Commodore’s inherent reverence for birth and breeding, and his comparative indifference to brain, was one of them.  The obstinate pride of Allan’s undistinguished and ambitious self was another.
     Of all sorts of pride the sort that goes with inferiority, not of a person, or behaviour, or talents, but of mere social position, is the most inveterate.  This unreasonable feeling was the mightiest of all the obstructions that, mountain-like, lay between them; but on its rough sides—flowers on an arid rock—grew the yearning affections, seemingly rootless, yet continuing to bloom in secret, scarce discovered beauty.  Of what use was it, he asked himself in bitterness, to brood over these impassable barriers, to cultivate a faith in the power of his own affection strong enough to remove them, to cherish the vain imagination that this incomparably sweet girl and his own plain self were made for each other, and that no earthly obstacle could suffice to separate them?  Upon his [Page 159] soul had fallen the edict of society, “What man hath put asunder let no higher power join together!”
     And so he hardened his heart and closed his eyes to the heavenly vision of girlish beauty and purity that shone forever in the upper skies of his conscious- ness, as clear as the star of evening, and almost as far away.  But tears flow as easily beneath closed lids as when the eyes are wide open, and to the hardest heart come moments of reverie, of sudden waking from sleep, or involuntary lapsing into day dream, when, like a sword in the heart, comes the thought of one too dearly loved.  Do his best he could not escape these moments of exquisite torture.  The poem he was reading fell fantastically into the tune of the last waltz down which he and Rose had drifted together.  The prose—and very prosy—work he impatiently seized in the hope of banishing that witching melody from his brain, simply followed the perverted feet of the poem.  Down the dull page danced the meaningless syllables, keeping time to the delicious strain in a way that was simply appalling to a mind whose intellectual processes were, as a rule, thoroughly well regulated.  If he walked the street there was small chance but that some half-turned head or fluttering robe among the women he met would remind him of the sweetest head and prettiest drapery in the world.
     Always along the misty aisles of his consciousness sped this little lovely vision, now hasting, now delaying, now bending with melting tenderness toward him, now mockingly eluding his grasp, never out of sight, never within reach.  No wonder he grew pale and heavy-eyed and distrait.  But no one of those who noticed that he ate little and spoke little, and walked with weary footsteps, knew that he was a haunted man—haunted not by any pale spectre, but by veritable flesh and blood, gold crowned, pink tinted, and illumined by the bluest eyes this side of the blue heavens.  It is useless for those who are troubled in this way to say they [Page 160] will not be haunted.  Celestial visits are planned with refer- ence to anything but the convenience of their recipient. 
     Allan Dunlop was spoken of as ‘a pushing young man,’ but in affairs of the heart he did not push—he simply waited.  Not that he had any faith in the so-called beneficent influences of time—for what young lover is willing to believe that the slow drag of months and years over his passion will crush all life from it at last?—but he had the delicacy of nature which forbids the gross intrusion of personal wishes and desires upon unwilling ears.  He had, besides, a spark of that old-world loyalty which is prone to uphold the claim of the father in the face of despairing aspirants for the daughter’s hand.
     This unwillingness to take an advantage, or to push it when it was thrust upon him, was not without a certain allurement for Rose.  She was accustomed to be sought after; but the man who unconsciously occupied a higher place in her estimation than any by whom she was surrounded, held himself aloof.  Probably he despised her and the frivolous society in which she moved.  It was a depress- ing reflection, for the regard of those whom we believe to be our superiors is infinitely more precious than the adoration of those who are not.
     To the lover, as to the good general, the knowledge of when not to approach is of inestimable importance.  Scarce are the girls upon whose hearts a tender impression can be made in the middle of an ordinary work-a-day forenoon, or who can give sigh for sigh immediately after a hearty dinner.  Very few are those who, at all times, are equally approachable and appreciative.  Allan’s stern, self-denying course of action, to which he considered himself forced, could not have been better chosen had he had nothing at heart but the aim of furthering his own interests.  In Rose’s imagination he had always formed an [Page 161] admirable contrast to the purposeless, objectless young men of her acquaintance, and his wise withdrawal after he had roused her interest, she interpreted as indifference.  So let it be, thought the young lady, assuming a feeling of entire content.  But assumed feelings are not lasting.  She who had been the life of society now grew very weary of it.  She yawned secretly in rooms of entertainment, or invented lame excuses for her non-appearance there.  “I can’t think what is the matter with me,” she said to herself.  “I never cared for solitude, and I don’t now; but I care less for common people and commonplace talk.”
     It was perfectly consistent with this state of feeling that, on one of the most disagreeable of all disagreeable March days, she should go out alone for a long walk which had no definite direction nor object.  There was a certain satisfaction in matching her restless mood with the restless weather, in feeling herself now gently buoyed along, now almost lifted up and borne away on the strong wings of the rushing wind.  Great soft flakes of snow were falling, and yielding up their heavenly purity at the first touch of earth, and the dull sunless day, weary of its own existence, was with seeming relief dying into night.  Rose walked very fast without being aware of the fact.  It is a peculiarity of windy weather that it begets a mental exaltation, in which even the clumsiest body seems to partake of the immortal energy of the soul.  Rose’s trim figure moved as softly and swiftly as a sail-boat before the wind.  Nevertheless it was with a feeling of dismay that she found herself at the edge of night and far from home.  She had been dreaming as she walked, and now—the usual fate of dreamers—she found herself abrupt- ly brought face to face with reality.  The big flakes were still falling, the wind still urging her forward, as she turned to retrace her steps.  But now progress be- came difficult.  The wind was in her face, and the snow blinded her eyes.  She had [Page 162] turned so suddenly that the broad-shouldered, heavily-coated young pedestrian, who had been following in her wake, was astounded to see her, with down-bent head, swiftly advance and abruptly fling herself upon him with an impetuosity born of sightless but determined resistance to the rampant breezes.  The next instant, with a movement equally impetuous, and a deeply drawn “oh!” she swept aside and looked straight into the eyes of Allan Dunlop.  “I didn’t know it was you,” she murmured, her cheeks turning to flame beneath his gaze.
     “No, you usually treat me with more hauteur.  I never expected you to make all the advances in this way.”
     “Oh, shameless!” exclaimed Rose, clasping both daintily gloved hands first to her ears, then to her eyes.  Then, mockingly, she responded, “I never expected to find you so approachable.”
     They were very glad to meet again.  They did not say so, but what necessity existed for the verbal expression of a fact so apparent in the face looking down and in the face that for more than a moment at a time was unable to look up.  She laid her hand within his arm, and they faced the storm together.  “What were you doing at this end of the town?” she asked, fearing he would make the same inquiry of her.
     “Following in you footsteps,” he replied.  “I was not sure who it was, but your gait reminded me so much of yourself.”
     What light words to make a little heart beat faster!  The wind would have blown them away if she had not caught them.
     “Ah, yes, no doubt a moving spectacle, but,” glancing at the rough pavement which had grown worse and worse, until in pure self pity in came to an end, “I’m afraid that for the last half-hour I have led you a hard life of it.”
     “It was hard—very.  This side-walk is a disgrace to [Page 163] the town, and it usually has a depressing effect on me to be out in windy, uncertain kind of weather, but I think”—the wind blew an end of her long silken scarf caressingly about his neck—“I think it was worth while.”
     In his heart he added, “Little darling, what rough road would I not travel in pursuit of you, if only you would turn at last to throw yourself in my arms.”
     They walked on for a little in silence.  When love looks out of the eyes, and hesitates on the lips, and trembles in the arm that feels the confiding pressure of a tiny hand, it seems as though words were a crude, primitive method of communicating ideas.  Nevertheless, so strong is the power of habit, that there are few who can resist the imagined necessity to talk if one feels like it, and make talk if one does not.  So presently Rose remarked upon the beauty of the town.  Even in his love wrapt state the idea struck Allan as slightly absurd.
     “Where do you find it?” he asked in amused perplexity, looking at the little wooden houses and shops, the meagre beginnings of a city that as yet had no time to be beautiful, and noted the vile mud with which the streets were thickly overlaid.  “Though, of course,” he added, “there is scarcely anything to be seen save darkness, and that element is strictly necessary to an appreciation of the beauties of ‘Muddy Little York.’”
     “Oh,” exclaimed Rose, “don’t you see the lights flashing in the windows, and in every little muddy pool on the street?  Think of the concentrated life in these little human nests set against the vast wilderness.  Look at those faint yellow rays mingling with the slanting lines of snow, with the deep woods and dark sky in the distance.  If it isn’t beauty it is poetry.”
     Her foot slipped a little on an unexpected piece of ice, and his arm felt the momentary pressure of both hands. [Page 164] “It is everything heavenly you can mention,” said Allan devoutly.
     He noticed the slight instantaneous withdrawal, and was impelled to be practical, if possible; so he began to dilate at length upon the future glories of York.  “This will be a great city, some day,” he said.
     “Possibly, but who loves greatness?  People may say what they please against muddy little York.  To me it is dear because it is so little.”
     “Yes, there is an unexplainable charm in littleness.”  He glanced thoughtfully down at the dainty figure beside him, while Rose wondered if it would be poss- ible for her to make a remark to which he could not give a personal application.  It was impossible for them to walk on in silence, as though this were a lover’s idle stroll.  Her face warmed at the mere fancy.  No, she must e’en try again.
     “Particularly when it is a little breeze,” she said.  “Now, a huge, awkward, overgrown affair like this changes what ought to be a caress into an assault.”
     “Yes; but you brave little creature, how blithely you face it.  I wish I could shelter you from the storm.  I wish I could defend you from all the storms of life.”
     His voice broke, and the girl felt as though her heart would burst.  No bold, imperious, master spirit was this, demanding her love and life as if they were his by natural right.  It was as though she had been newly roused by a faint knock at the door; and now, before her foot was set upon the stair that led down to the entering guest, he had turned away again.
     “I like your way of meeting the tempest,” he continued.  “Your face it for a moment with mocking defiance, then you step aside to escape a fierce gust, or turn your head to avoid at least half its violence.  You seem to be coquetting with old Boreas.  For me, I can’t play with the foe; I simply have to meet him and fight him till my strength [Page 165] is exhausted—then rest till I can get breath—then up and at it again.  Do you remember those old lines:

  ‘A little I’me hurt but not yett slaine,
I’le but lye down and bleed awhile,
And then I’le rise and fight againe!’

     “Oh, heaven help me,” thought poor Rose, “what can I say now?  There is nothing in the world to say.”  She fell to crying bitterly, as she safely could under cover of the snow and the darkness; but after a minute she controlled herself, and was, to outward appearance, tranquil and buoyant as before.
     They had reached the house.  He stepped inside the warmly-lighted hall just for a moment, as Rose, with a gesture of dismay, threw off her wraps, and dis- closed an inappropriately elaborate little gown, partially soaked by the storm.  “I suppose I need not have put on anything so fine as this to go out in on a wet day, but I am fond of dressing, not for others, but for myself.  I prefer feeling effects to producing them.  Do you think me very selfish?”
     “Oh, yes; everything that is hard, unfeeling, and unlike your sweet little self.”
     She had already mounted a few steps of the stairway, as he had said he could not stay.  His outstretched hand held hers in a last good-by, but instead of going he touched a fold of the damp edge of her gown.  “It is very wet,” he said.  “You are shockingly careless.”  And then, without daring to meet the divine eyes bent upon him, he lifted her hand reverently to his lips, and so went forth into the night and the storm.
     “Rose,” said the Commodore, interrupting her at the head of the stairs, “who is it that has just gone?”
     “Mr. Dunlop,” said his daughter hesitatingly; “he overtook—he met—I met him on my way home, and he came with me.”  The young girl’s face was a flame, and [Page 166] her heart was a song.  She felt that she was aggressively, barbar- ously happy, and tried to modify the unruly emotion out of deference to her father’s anticipated anger.  He looked extremely annoyed.
     “I am sorry to seem arbitrary,” he said, “but in future, my dear, it will greatly oblige me if you will so conduct yourself towards that young man as to discour- age him from meeting or overtaking you, or accompanying you home.”
     “Very well, Papa.”  Not a ray of light faded from her eyes, not a particle of warmth from her smile.  She had heard him make similar remarks before, and they affected her the same as if he had said: “It is yet winter; don’t be deceived into supposing that spring-time is coming.”  Ah! but under the snows of winter, what power can hinder the countless delicate roots of spring flowers from thrilling into life? [Page 167]