AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE COMMODORE SURRENDERS.

 


A few weeks later there was another excursion to the emerald glooms of the forest, but this was limited in number to the Macleods and DeBerczys, with a few of their intimate friends.  Wanda was absent on one of her indefinite expeditions —indefinite in length as well as in object, though the wigwam of her foster-father was one of the points of interest visited by the party.  Conspicuous among the numerous Indians in the settlement in the neighbourhood of Orilla was the last of the Algonquins, partly because of the pathos which attaches to the sole survivor in any region of a nearly extinct race, partly because of the mantle of traditional glory that had fallen upon him from the shoulders of valorous ancestors.  He declined to join the revellers at their midday feasting under the trees, but his unexpected appearance afterwards suggested a pleasant substitute for the noon-day siesta.  “Talk about the storied memories of the past, in the old world,” said Edward, leaning back on the mossy sward, and gazing up through green branches to the blue heaven, “this country has had its share of them, and here is the man,” clapping a friendly hand on the Indian’s shoulder, “who can tell us about them.”
     “Ah, do!” implored Herbert and Eva.
     “Ah, don’t!” entreated their father.  “If there’s anything that spoils the sylvan shades for me, it is to learn that they were once the scene of battle axes and blood spilling, and such like gruesomeness.”
     “But we ought to know about it,” said Hélène.  “It’s history.”
     “That makes it all the worse.  If it were fiction I wouldn’t care.” [Page 199]
     “Now, Papa,” said Rose, “that evinces a depraved taste.  People will blame your home-training.  Consider my feelings.”
     “That is what I supposed I was doing, my dear, in praying to be delivered from a tale that would make your blood run cold.”
     “What a delightful way for one’s blood to run in this weather,” lazily remarked one of the Boulton girls, and the other said she was pining for a story of partic- ular horror.
     “Oh, a story, by all means,” said the Commodore, “but let it be a tradition or something of that sort.”  Then turning to the Chief:  “Does not our brother know the legend of the unfortunate wretch of a man who was set upon and abused by a lot of unmerciful women, because he barbarously forbade them to learn all the history they wanted?  Something of that sort would be appropriate.”
     “Our brother” shook his head.  “That is beyond my skill, but I can relate a story of the times before ever women were brought into the world.”
     “Rather dull times for the men, weren’t they?” inquired one of the party.
     “It is the belief of some of our race that they were very good times,” replied the Chief, tranquilly.  “The men of that period, free from the influence of the other sex, have been spoken of as a much better race of beings than they are to-day.  At that time you never heard of such a thing as a man being cross to his wife, or too attentive to his neighbour’s wife, and when the husband game back from the chase without meat there was no one to scold him.  Every man had his own way, and dwelt in peace in his own wigwam.  As fast as they died out the Manito created more, and as they had no families they had nothing to fight for, nothing to defend, and, consequently, there were few wars among them.  There were, I am sorry to say, some disadvantages.  The men were obliged to weed corn, dry fish, mend nets, fell [Page 200] trees, carry logs, and do other women’s work, which, as we know, is a great degradation.  Also, when they were sick or in trouble, some of the weaker ones were heard to declare that they wished women were invented, but as a rule they were blithe and gay as warriors in the dance that follows a great victory.  There were many ennobling influences in this world before women entered it.  Vanity did not exist.  Simplicity was the rule, especially in attire, which ordinarily consisted of hunting coats and leggings, deer skin moccasins and coloured blankets, enriched with beads.  It was only once in a while that they appeared in black eagle plumes, and gorgeous feath- ers, garters gay with beads, moccasins worked with stained porcupine quills, leggings of scarlet cloth, embroidered and decorated with tufts of moose- hair, dyed blue and red, robes curiously plaited of the bark of the mulberry, and ador- ned with bear claws, hawks’ bills and turtle shells.  Besides being plain and quiet in their dress they were very upright in their lives.  No man ever was known to lie to his neighbour; but now when you see a man and woman too frequently together you may be sure he is telling her things that come true about as often as larks fall from the skies.  Neither were men in those days ever deceived; but now they are tangled in women’s wiles as easily as a partridge is caught in a net.  There were no cowards, for men at all times are staunch and bold, whereas a woman has nothing but the heart of a little bird in her breast.  All nature shared in man’s prosperity.  The corn grew to the height of a young forest tree, and in the hunting-grounds the deer and bears were as thick as stars.
     “But the chief glory of man in those days was his long, superb and glossy tail; for at that time it could not be said that the horses were more highly gifted than he.  You must often have noticed the pride with which horses switch their tails about, apparently to drive off flies, but really to show their superiority to the race they serve.  The reproach of [Page 201] having no tail is one that is hard to bear; but at the time of which I speak all men were endowed with luxuriant tails, some of them black as the shell of a butternut when it is fully ripe, others the colour of the setting sun, but all trimmed with shells, gay coloured beads and flowers, and strings of alligators’ teeth.  Those who say that there is nothing on earth so beautiful as a woman did not live in the time when tails were invented.  Nothing could surpass the pride their owners took in them, nor the scorn that was heaped upon the hapless creature whose tail was short or scanty.
     “But, as often happens to people who have all and more than they need, so it was with our ancestors.  From being simply proud of their tales they began to grow vain and useless, caring for nothing but their own ease and adornment, neglecting to harvest the maize, feeble in the chase, sleeping sometimes for the space of nearly a moon, and unable to take more than a woman’s journey of six suns at a time.  Then the Manito reflected and said to himself: ‘this will never do.  Man was not made to be a mere groundling.  His greatest luxury must be taken from him, and in its place there must be given him something to tax his patience and strengthen his powers.’  So one fine morning every man in the world woke up to find his tail missing.  Great was the surprise and lamentation, and this was not lessened by the sudden appearance of the women, who came in number like that of the flight of pigeons in the moon before the snow moon.  No prayers could avail to stay their coming, and from that time all the troubles in the world began.  No man was allowed to have his own way thenceforward, nor was he permitted to plod along in his old, slow, comfortable fashion, but each one in terror went to work as swift as a loon flying before a high wind.”
     The laugh that arose at the end of this not strictly authentic narrative was prolonged by a strange voice, and Allan Dunlop, who, unobserved, had made his appearance [Page 202] among them, now came forward to exchange greet- ings with his friends.  Herbert and Eva Macleod hung enraptured about him, while he went to congratulate the old Indian upon his gifts as a story-teller.  Then Edward’s warm hand clasped his.  “Come over and see my father,” he said.  “Oh, no, he is asleep.  He generally sleeps in the afternoon of the day.”
     “A very good plan when one comes to the afternoon of one’s days,” observed Allan, and then he went over to speak to Rose.
     Her little soft hand fluttered up to his as a bird flutters to its nest.  They had not met since that stormy March night.  Since then he had confessed, in correspon- dence between them, that life was a perpetual struggle between him and love, and she had asked—though not in so many words—if it would make it any easier for him to know that she was engaged in the same struggle with the same great enemy.  Ah, with what a fine pen had she written that, and with what pale ink, and nervous, nearly illegible strokes, and how she had crowded it down to the very edge of the paper.  But he had read it, and it was fixed on his mind as clearly as though it had been written in lightning on the dark horizon of his future.  And now, though his brown eyes were warming into black, and her cheeks were the colour of the flower after which she was named, they talked of conventional things in an indifferent way, as is the customary and proper thing to do.  They saw little of each other through the remainder of the afternoon, but when they were making ready for the sail home, Eva, at Allan’s invitation, sprang into his little light boat.
     “Come with me, Rose,” she cried, “Mr Dunlop is going to row me home, and it will be better worth while if there are two of us.” [Page 203]
     The excuses which Rose instantly invented were not so strong as the vehe- ment tones in which her sister uttered her invitation, and to avoid attracting attention or remark she gently seated herself in the boat, which Allan exultantly pushed away from the shore.  The delight of being for a little while almost alone with his love was intoxicating.  The younger girl, who had counted so ardently upon the pleasure of Allan’s society, found herself in a short time too sleepy to enjoy it.  Her pale, pretty head nodded drowsily, and at last found a resting-place in the lap of her sister.  The other two did not exchange many words.  It would have been a shame to disturb the play-worn little maid.  The night was very beautiful; the stars seemed softly remote.  Beneath their light the woods gleam- ed mysteriously, and the waves were hushed into a dream of peace.  The bay that at sunset had seemed a sea of melted gold, now held the young moon trembling in its liquid embrace.  About them played the ineffable caresses of the light evening breeze.
     “Rose,” said Allan, softly.
     She looked up with conscious resistance, but it was too late for that now.  The imperious passion of his mood met the sad grace of her attitude.  His speech flowed fast and warm as if it had been blood from his veins.  She felt herself weakening into helpless tears.  “Ah, spare me!” she cried.  “It is all so hopeless. My father—”
     “I am coming to see your father to-morrow,” he said.  “It will be a hard battle, but it must be decided at once.”
     He helped them to land, and they walked in silence to the house.  At the doorway, in which Eva had disappeared, Rose took Allan’s outstretched hand in both of hers, and drawing it close, laid her weary, wet little face down upon it.  The sound of voices and laughter came up from the beach, and she hastily released herself and fled to her room. [Page 204]
     The next afternoon Eva Macleod, with an air of considerable importance, tapped at the door of her father’s apartment.  “Papa,” she said, with that fond- ness for a choice diction observable in carefully reared young ladies at the beginning of their teens, “may I have a private conversation with you?”
     “Why, certainly, my dear!  A little talk, I suppose, you mean.”
     Without heeding this undignified interruption, Miss Eva gave her parent a very accurate report of the dramatic scene in the boat the evening before, of which she had been an interested auditor.
     “Of course,” she added, in conscientious defence, “I didn’t want them to suppose I was sleeping, but if I had opened my eyes it would have been very embarrassing for us all.”
     “Humph!” said her father.  “Does Rose know that you were awake?”
     “No, I have not broached the topic to her,” replied Eva, with an affectation of maturer speech.
     “Humph!” said the gentleman again; a quizzical glance at his younger daughter breaking for a moment through the gloom with which he was meditat- ing the fate of the elder one.  “Well, I am glad you ‘broached’ it to me; I shall—”
     “Papa,” interrupted Eva, with bated breath, glancing down from the window at which she stood, “there is Allan now.”
     “Allan!  You are mightily well acquainted. I see I must prepare to make an unconditional surrender.”
     He walked in a nervous and disquieted manner out of the room.  At the head of the stairs he encountered Mademoiselle DeBerczy, on her way up.
     “Hélène,” he said, with the desperation of one who in the fifty-ninth minute after the eleventh hour does not entirely [Page 205] despair of a gleam of hope, “I wish you would tell me in two words if Rose loves Allan Dunlop.  Does she?”
     “Don’t she!” exclaimed Hélène, with explosive earnestness, and the two words were sufficient.  Their effect was not lessened by subsequent occurrenc- es.  On opening the drawing-room door Rose hastened to his side, turning her back, as she did so, upon a young man of ardent but entirely self-respectful aspect, standing not far distant.
     “Oh, Papa!” she cried in her extremity, “save me from him.  He loves me!”
     “Is that the only reason?” asked her father.
     “No; there is a greater one.  I love him!
     “Ah!” murmured Allan softly, “it is to me you should say that.”
     “She shall have unlimited opportunities for saying it to you,” observed the elder gentleman, with kindly promptness, but with a sore heart.  “After a while,” he added, turning to Allan, with his hand on the door knob, “I will be glad to see you.”
     In this sentence, which is an interesting illustration of the power of manners over mind, the word “will” was purposely substituted for the customary “shall.”  It was only by an active effort of will that the good Commodore could be glad to see his daughter’s suitor.  But their interview, if it did not prove a death-blow to his prejudices, at least inflicted serious injuries upon them, from which they never afterwards recovered.  He was won over by the young fellow’s manliness, which, when contrasted with mere gentlemanliness, apart from it, puts the latter at a striking disadvantage, even in the mind of the confirmed aristocrat.  There was also a tinge of absurdity in the idea of being ashamed of a son-in-law of whom his country was beginning to be proud.  Perhaps it was as well that he should arrive unaided at this opinion, for Allan had won the rest of the household to his side, and a belief in which one is entirely alone must [Page 206] contain something more than mere pride of birth in order to support its possessor in comfort.  Even the loyal Tredway would have failed to respond to his imagined need, for this faithful servitor had long since discovered that the happiness of his young mistress was more to be desired than the preservation of any fancied superiority on the part of the family to which he was devotedly attached. [Page 207]


[Chapter XIX]