THE spectacle of a pair of lovers equally pale and proud
alighting at her door was rather dispiriting to Lady
Sarah Maitland, but she did not lose heart. This
she rightly considered to be the proper thing for them,
not for her to do. At least they should not escape
“the solitude of the crowd,” and opportunities
for bringing them into this sort of solitude were not
lacking. The same afternoon an English lord, who
had recently been making a tour of the States, with
some officers of His Majesty’s 70th Regiment,
then stationed at York, arrived at Stamford Cott- age,
and in their honour a large number of guests were assembled
that eve- ning. The soft radiance of mingled moonlight
and candle light, the artistic luxury of the place and
its surroundings, the exquisite robes of soft-voiced
women, the cultivated tone and manner of the men, with
a sort of subtle and distinguished aroma of British
nobility shed over the whole—all of these things
held for Edward Macleod a potent witchery. This
evening he was in unusually good spirits, and was entertaining
a group of gentlemen, who had gathered about him in
the centre of the large drawing-room, by an amusing
account of his hunting experiences in the backwoods.
The sounds of subdued mirth that followed his recital
induced a passing bevy of ladies to join them.
Lady Sarah took the arm of Hélène, and
gave him her flattering attention along with the rest.
A young man never talks poorly from the knowledge that
he has gained the ear of his audi- ence.
“Really, a remarkably
bright young fellow,” confided Lord E—to
Sir Peregrine, at the close of another story, which
was accentuated by little bursts of gentle laughter.
A slight breeze blew from
a suddenly opened door upon the wax tapers, and the
next moment a strange figure made [Page 217]
its way through that brill- iantly dressed
assemblage, and laid its hand upon the arm of Edward.
With his face flushed and eyes brightened by the sweetly
breathed flattery that, like wine, was apt to go to
his brain, he turned and beheld Wanda. She had
evidently walked all the way from her home for the express
purpose of finding him. Her dress, made up of
various coloured garments, the cast-off raiment of those
whose charity had fed and lodged her on the way, was
covered with dust; her magnificent hair lay in a great
straggling heap upon her shoulders. “My
father has gone to the spirit-land,” she said,
“and now I come to you.” Lady Sarah
and Rose advanced immediately, with protestations of
pity and sympathy, and entreaties that she would go
at once with them to find food and rest. But she
was immovable as granite. “I have come to you,”
she said, her beautiful eyes fixed upon Edward, and
she uttered a few words of endearment in the Huron tongue.
Nobody understood them but the young man, his sister,
and hostess. The latter lady felt herself growing
very cold, but she accompanied the pair to a private
parlour, and returned to her guests with an amused smile
upon her lips.
she said in a clear voice, distinctly audible to all.
“Her foster-father died last week, and left no
end of messages and requests to Mr. Macleod, his friend
and constant companion in his hunting expeditions.
The girl has that exaggerated idea of filial duty common
to the Indian races. She could not rest until
she had fulfilled his dying wishes.”
No; Lady Sarah certainly
did not merit the compliment she had given her husband—she
was not the soul of honour—but what would you?
With her cheery voice and confident laugh she had dispelled
at a breath the vile suspic- ion of scandal. The
company experienced a wonderful relief, and the conver-
sation naturally turned to the peculiarities of savages.
Rose had vanished, and it was generally supposed [Page
218] that she was with her brother and that
queer Indian girl. In reality she was locked in
her room, saturating her pillow with her tears.
Edward was alone with
Wanda. For a moment the blood ran hot in his veins,
and he longed to act the part of a man. He longed
to take the hand of this beautiful travel-stained savage,
and lead her back into the midst of those fashionably
dressed, superficially smiling, ladies and gentlemen.
He longed to declare, nay, rather to thunder forth,
the words: “This is my promised wife!
Through weary days and nights, with sore feet and sorer
heart she has been coming to me. Burned by the
sun and blinded with the dust, hungry and thirsty, and
aching in every fibre, her trust never faltered, her
love never failed. And her love is matched by
mine. The loyalty and devotion of my life I lay
at her poor bleeding feet.”
That would have satisfied
his imagination, but in real life imagination must always
go a-hungering. He sat down beside her with a
face far more weary than her own.
burst forth, “my poor fatherless, friendless child,
what can I say to you? I am a villain, a coward,
a reptile! I thought I loved you, and I do not.
No, though my heart aches for you, I do not love you.
Oh, you look as though I were murdering you, and it
is better for me to murder you now by a few sharp terrible
words, than by a life-time of neglect and loathing.”
The colour had all ebbed
from her face. She fell on her knees beside him,
and her liquid childish eyes and sweet lips were upraised
“No, no, my little
fawn, I must not kiss you. It is wicked to kiss
what we do not love. And I do not love
you.” He was sheltering himself behind that
assertion, but of a sudden he broke into crying, and
his tears fell upon her face. “Child,”
he said, rising and pacing the room, “do you know
what it is to marry a man who cares a great deal for
your lips and [Page 219] eyes, and
nothing for your mind and soul? It is to marry
a beast! You would be wretched with me.
We should grow inexpressibly tired of each other.
Tell me,” he cried, stopping short in his swift
walk to and fro, and confronting her with parched lips
and wet eyes, “could you endure to have me say
cruel things to you every day? Could you bear
to have me think bitter things of you in my heart, though
I left them unsaid? How could you live under my
coldness and neglect? You must learn to hate me—to
scorn me,—to think as harshly of me as I shall
always think of myself.”
She was faint and dizzy,
but she rose to her feet, and groped feebly to the door,
cowering from him as she went, with her hands over her
eyes. Then she turned back with a low wail of
“I cannot leave
you,” she said, “I cannot give you up!”
Again he was bound in
her chains. Her feverish hands held his, her burning
eyes drank up the dew in his own, her magnetic presence
thrilled him with a sense of love stronger than any
he had dreamed of or imagined. Neglect, cruelty,
coldness, scorn! What did the words mean?
Like poisonous weeds they had grown fast and rank before
his eyes, but in the burning face of this all-conquering
love they had shrunk, withered and dead to the earth.
Yes, it was the vile earth from which they had sprung,
and it was in the radiant heavens that this great love
was shining. Wanda’s victory was nearly
complete. The only thing lacking to make it so
was that she should renounce it altogether. And
this she did—not with conscious art but by that
sure instinct of womanliness which teaches that a man
won by other than indirect methods is not won at all.
Then she said, pushing him gently aside, “I will
go away now, and never see you again, because I am a
burden to you. No,” for he had put his hand
upon her wrist, “you must not touch me, because—”
the words choked her for [Page 220] a
moment, and then they fell from her lips with a sound
of fathomless despair— “it is as though
you were my little child that I was forced to leave
forever.” Again she had reached the door,
but this time it was his arm around her that brought
her back, his protestations of undying affection that
revived her drooping frame.
There was a light tap
at the door, which opened to admit Lady Sarah Maitland.
“My maids will attend to this poor child,”
she said, addressing Edward. “She will have
a bath, and food, and a bed. Meantime, I want
you to help to entertain my guests.”
The young man frowned at the idea of rejoining that
gay throng. He was in a state of mental exaltation—so
far up in the clouds that the idea of atten- ding a
reception given by his brilliant hostess seemed by contrast
spiritless and earthy.
“It would be a great
kindness to let me off,” he pleaded.
“It would be the
greatest kindness to compel you to come,” she
insisted. There was a significance in the eye
and tone of this thorough-bred woman of the world that
were not without effect upon Edward, who at once accompanied
her. His bright face, collected manner, and ready speech,
lessened the impression made upon the company by the
episode which had drawn general attention to him early
in the evening. Not till after the guests had
begun to retire did he again see Wanda. Running
upstairs to get a wrap for the fair shoulders of a young
lady, who preferred a moon-lit seat on the lawn to the
rather oppressive warmth within doors, he chanced into
a little sitting-room in which Wanda, left alone for
a moment, was resting with closed eyes in a great easy
chair. Fresh from her bath, with her damp heavy
hair lying along the folds of a loose white négligé,
she looked almost too tired to smile. Edward advanced
with beating heart, but stopped half-way, suddenly smitten
by the sight of a pair of little bruised feet, carefully
bandaged, [Page 221] resting upon a
stool—the little feet that had travelled such
a long hard road, that had been torn and wounded for
his sake. A great wave of shame swept over him.
“I am not worthy
to stand in your presence,” he said penitently,
kneeling at her side.
A low murmur of joy escaped
the Indian Maiden’s lips.
She drew his head down
for a moment under the dusky curtain of her overhanging
hair, and then her eyes closed again.
Edward rose and beheld
in the open doorway Hélène DeBerczy; her
large gaze, darker than a thunder cloud, was illumined
by a long lightning flash of merciless irony. [Page