AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER XVI.

LOVE’S PROTESTATIONS.

 


DURING the rest of the dreary winter the memory of that enchanted walk through mire and darkness and driving snow, kept two hearts—Rose’s and Allan’s—fully awake.  A pity, too; for sleep covers a multitude of sufferings, and when the most impressible part of our being is wrapped in unconsciousness, we can make shift to go through the world with only an endurable number of the usual aches and ailments.  If these young hearts had ever really slumbered since their owners met for the first time, less than a year before, it had been rather an uneasy re- pose; and now that they were fully awake, it was to find not the glory of the dawn, but a dark bleak day, whose beginning could scarcely be distinguished from the night out of which it emerged, whose end was so far—so drearily far away.  Things went on as before in their old monotonous manner.  Winter relented into spring, and the intimacy that had warmed almost into acknowledged love that wild March evening had apparently died of its own intensity.  Rose and Allan met occasionally, but with mutual avoidance; she from innate loyalty to her father—he from a pride that was too strong to plead.  So the endless conflict went on, but not alone in the minds of the lovers.
     The doughty Commodore was daily suffering in his own person the just punishment, which is but too apt to overtake the man, who in a point of differ- ence with a woman ends by having his own way.  This stern parent liked to think of himself as generous, compassionate, and tender-hearted; and he had been grievously cheated out of this agreeable sensation.  His daughter’s absolute and sweet-natured loyalty to his will sharpened his sense of deprivation.  Was it possible that he was unnatural and tyrannical?  The answer [Page 179] to this question was what Rose’s pale cheeks seemed to require of him, and he chafed under the mute, unconscious, persistent repetition of the query.  He recommended her to take long walks, but she came back from them paler and more lifeless than before.  He began to see that it was possible to gain one’s own point and lose something infinitely more precious.  It hurt him to see her suffer, and he despised himself as the suspected cause of her sufferings.  He asked himself how he could have endured it if, in his courting days, he had been shut out from the woman he loved.  She was infinitely his superior, he thought with a swelling heart, and then his arm fell on the back of the chair beside him, and his hand clenched, as he grimly wondered what bolts or bars would suffice to have kept them apart.  If she was alive now would she have taken this cruelly peremptory course with their daughter?  He revolved the question with a sore heart.  It admitted of but one answer.  In all her sweet and gentle life his wife had never been either peremptory or cruel.
     Unknown to Rose her father’s stout heart showed signs of thawing with the weather.  He began to inform himself warily, and by indirect means, with regard to the character, circumstances, and prospects of Allan Dunlop, in much the same way as we make a study of the drug, hitherto supposed to be a poison, but now believed capable of saving the life of a loved one.  In his present mood of despondency and anxiety it seemed that every fresh fact that he learned served to raise Allan and lower himself in his own estimation.  It is difficult to atone for a wrong so delicate that one shrinks from expressing it in words, and yet the need of making at least one attempt at reparation was pressing sorely upon him.
     So it was with almost a girlish bound of the heart that the Commodore read aloud, one morning, in all the polysyllabic glory of newspaper English, an account of the [Page 180] heroic way in which a young child was saved from drowning by the prompt and daring action of Allan Dunlop.  It was an opportunity for praising his enemy, and the worthy gentleman was almost as relieved and happy as the rescued child.  “Upon my word, Rose,” he said, turning to the silent girl at the other end of the breakfast table, “that young Dunlop is a much finer fellow than I supposed him to be.”
     “Yes, Papa,” she assented meagrely.  She had no idea of undoing the work of weeks—the work of steeling herself against the sweetness of recollection— by too warm an interest in the subject.
     “The idea of a child paddling about alone in a boat during that horrible storm,” continued the Commodore, more impatient, if the truth were known, with his daughter’s lukewarmness than with the waif’s recklessness.  “Not one man in a thousand,” he continued abruptly, “would have ventured out on Lake Ontario in that raging tempest.”
     “People of plebeian origin usually have a well-developed muscular system,” remarked Rose.
     “But they are not fond of risking their life in the interest of their muscles,” returned the gentleman, annoyed at the girl’s obstinacy, nor dreaming how sweet from his lips sounded his praise of her lover.
     “It depends upon what their life is worth.  Common folks, who suffer under the well-merited contempt of their social superiors, must grow at last to despise what better educated people know to be despicable.”
     “No doubt, it is as you say,” replied her father.  He was thoroughly irritated, and all his benevolent notions took flight, as they are apt to do when the object of our philanthropy proves perverse.  “I was about to suggest that you invite him to your party to-morrow night; but in [Page 181] the present state of feeling per- haps it would be better not.”
     “I haven’t the least idea that he would come,” returned the girl.  “He isn’t the sort of person to allow himself to be taken up and dropped at random.”
     “Well, settle it to suit yourself,” he concluded.  She reflected bitterly that this privilege came when it was too late.  Nevertheless, she was grateful for it, and scolded herself soundly for giving her father undutiful replies.  She also remar- ked in the solitude of her own room that she did not care a particle whether Allan came or not, and then with a fluttering heart she wrote him a note of invitation.  When Tredway was requested to deliver it that ancient servitor manifested so much interest in his errand that the blue eyes of his young mistress lingered on him a moment in surprise.
     “I am under very great obligations to Mr. Dunlop,” he said.  “I may say that I owe my life to him?”
     “You, too!” laughed the girl.  “Why it was only the other day that he rescued a strange child from the wild waves.”
     “He rescued me from the wild woods,” said the man, with the impressiveness of one who wishes to celebrate the most remarkable escape on record.  Tred- way had a profound objection to the woods.  In the previous summer he had, with great reluctance, served as commissary general to a party of young men, who went in pursuit of a week’s sport to Burlington Bay.  Edward and Allan were of the number, and when Tredway was lost on a little expedition of his own, to the nearest shanty in quest of provisions, it was Allan who went in search of him, and after some difficulty brought him back to camp.  The event had been a source of some amusement to the rest; but to the mind of its hero it had lost nothing of its tragic aspect.  “The woods are very confusing to a person of my life and habits,” he observed deprecatingly. [Page 182]
     “Oh, yes, indeed,” returned Rose, “and so very different from England.”
     The gratitude with which Tredway listened to this remark was not unmixed with regret that the tone in which it was uttered was sportive rather than serious.  He was consoled, however, by the reflection that national differences could not be expected to oppress the heart of unthinking youth as it did that of sad maturity.
     The unreasoning joy that flamed in Allan Dunlop’s face, as he glanced over the dainty note, faded into ashen paleness as he remembered what its respon- se must be.  “Sit down, Tredway,” he said mechanically, “I will have an answer ready in a moment.”  Grateful to be relieved of the pains of indecision by the necessity for prompt action he took up a pen and wrote rapidly:
     
“DEAR MISS MACLEOD:
     It is very hard for me to refuse your kind invitation to be with you to-morrow night, but it is impossible to accept it.  If I were invited to Paradise, ‘for one night only,’ with the knowledge that I must forego my share of its delights thenceforth, I should wish to return the same answer.  Have I no right to hint that your presence is my Paradise?  Forgive me for it, and for my rudeness and perverseness, which all arises out of my consuming and indestructible love for you.  The only thing I can say that can condone this offence is that I never cease trying to destroy your image in my heart.  So far the results are extremely discouraging; but I cannot resign the hope that Time, the great healer, may also prove, like other notable physicians, the great destroyer.  Ah! what am I saying?  I can never say enough to you, and yet already I have said too much.  God bless the sweet ruler of my life and heart forever, and grant that every ill that threatens her may fall instead upon the head of her unworthy lover. [Page 183]
     Will you not write me a word of forgiveness for resisting the temptation to go to you?
                  Ever your worshipper,
                                                      ALLAN DUNLOP.”

     He ended with a strange feeling of the incongruity of this declaration of passion with his surroundings, the stuffy unhomelike chambers on King Street, and the rather severe presence of a man, whose existence emphasized all the hated social distinction that never weighed so heavily on him as at present.  This rigorous representative of his class took the message delivered to him, and stood for a moment hesitatingly in the doorway.
     “Your people are quite well, I hope, Tredway,” said Allan.
     “Yes, sir, thank you.  Quite well with the exception of Miss Rose.  She is looking badly.”
     “I am very sorry.  I made no inquiries about her, because, since her accident last summer, she has never been otherwise than well.  I wish,” and his tones were sad and sincere as his meaning, “that I could do something for her.”
     “Thank you, sir.  It is taking a great liberty to say so, but your visits are so infrequent that I believe Miss Rose is under the impression that you did not greatly care.”
     “Oh, I care enough, quite enough,” he added mentally.  “The fact is there is danger of my caring too much, and nobody knows better than you, Tredway, that that would be the greatest piece of folly I could perpetrate.  Miss Rose is vastly my social superior.”
     The old man bowed his head as though this were too obvious a truth to need comment.  Then he said encouragingly:
     “Ah, there is nothing but the remains of their former greatness left to the Macleods.  They are growing more and more bourgeois since coming to this degenerate country.” [Page 184]
     “Yes, I imagine that their family dignity, in such times as these, may be a little out of repair; but I can hardly venture to build vain hopes on the ruins.  You are a good fellow, Tredway; good-bye!”
     A few days later the coveted answer to his missive came.

“DEAR MR. DUNLOP:
     Since I am to see you no more it seems unnecessary if not unkind of me to write and prolong the pain of parting.  But if you were dying, and should tell me with nearly your latest breath what you wrote in your letter, I should want you to know that the confession was dear and sacred to me—something I should remember all the rest of my life.
     I am not willing to believe that your future will be wholly bereft of consolation.  One who is capable of imperiling his life to save that of an unknown child ought to know that he can never find any better company than his own.  But you need never be lonely; I hear your name and career frequently spoken of with warm appreciation by your friends, among whom I hope you will always number
                              Yours very sincerely,
                                                               ROSE MACLEOD.”

     “Ah!” ejaculated Allan, as he read and re-read this brief epistle, “she does not despise my love, but she recognizes its hopelessness.”  With the usual blunt- ness of masculine perception he failed to see that it was impossible for her to ignore what he himself was accustomed to dwell upon at such dreary length.  If he was profoundly convinced that there was no hope, she could scarcely con- descend to suggest that there might be a glimmer.  So the young man continued to be wrapped in the darkness which was largely born of his own imagination.
     “What rank,” he wrote, in immediate response, “shall I assign you among my friends?  One’s friend may be simply [Page 185] an acquaintance of long stand- ing, who cherishes no special animosity toward one, or it may be the stranger of a year ago, who now is knit into the very fibre of one’s being.  Just so closely woven with my inmost self have you grown, dear, and to put the thought of you away from me is like putting my own eyes from me.  Do you think I can be trusted as a friend?  I foresee that I shall be the most faithless one ever known, for I have never been your friend, and I don’t know how to begin to be one, whereas I have had nearly a year’s experience in loving you.  But I am jesting with a sore heart.  It is strange that I can jest at all; and yet I know that I am richer and happier in owning the smallest corner of your heart, than if I possessed the whole of any other woman’s.”
       He wrote a great deal more of the same sort, by turns light, fanciful, woful or desperate.  But all this Rose ignored.  “I am very glad,” she wrote demurely, “that you are rich and happy on such insufficient grounds.  I could scarcely deny a corner of my heart to any of my friends, but the rest of them are well enough acquainted with me to know that the possession is not a source of unmixed joy.  This illusion of yours must be destroyed, and, as you will see, my share of this correspondence is going to tend gently but inexorably towards that end.  I still cherish hopes of retaining your friendship.  It is so much more difficult for a man to be a woman’s friend than it is for him to be by turns her worshipper and oppressor—and you are made to conquer difficult things, and be made stronger by them.  You have admirable qualities—self-forgetfulness, lofty purpose, a will that never falters, a heart that never faints.  I discovered all these before I received your letters.  Otherwise, do you think I would have discovered them at all?”
     Thus preached this adorable little high-priest of heroic self-denial, and when she had made an end she burst into tears, and wished that Allan were there to wipe them away. [Page 186]