AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
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CHAPTER VI.

CATECHISINGS.

 


A JUNE Sunday in the country, radiant, cloudless, odorous with the breath of countless blossoms, thrilled with the melody of unnumbered voices, was just beginning.  The first blush of morning lay warm upon sky and lake—the splendour above perfectly matched by the splendour below,—as Rose Macleod opened her casement window fronting the east, and looked out upon the myriad tender tints, the new yet ever familiar harmonies of light and colour with which the world was clothed.  The gray walls of the Commodore’s home on this side were hung with climbing plants, and as his pretty daughter leaned out of her chamber window a dewy branch of roses, loosened from its fastening, struck her softly on the cheek.  The touch gave her a thrill, delicately keen—a pleasure, sharp as pain.  No life was abroad yet except the birds, but the morning-glories were all awake.  She could see their wealth of tender bloom outspread upon the rugged heap of rocks, warm with sunshine, that separated between a corner of the flower-smothered turf and the dark shadow of the almost impenetrable woods.
     With her golden head drooped in drowsy meditation upon her folded arms she would have made a picture for a painter, a picture rose-tinted and rose-framed.  But no painter was there to look upon her except the sun, and his ardent attentions becoming altogether too warm to be agreeable he was incontinently shut outside.  She turned away with that slight sense of intoxication that comes from gazing too long upon the inexpressible beauty of a world that is dimmed only by the complaints and forebodings of querulous humanity.  In the cool dimness of the pretty many-windowed room she stood a moment irresolutely, and then went in search of inspiration to a row of well-used books, over which she [Page 66] ran a pink reflective finger-tip.  But nothing there responded to her need.  It is a rare book that is worthy to hold the attention of maidenhood on a June morning.
     So, as further slumber was impossible, she presently slipped down stairs, and stepped out upon the broad veranda.  Afterwards came the younger children, Herbert and Eva, whose usually bright faces were shadowed now with the consciousness that it was Sunday, a fact that was aggravated rather than palliated by the radiant perfection of the weather.  The Commodore, who was the most sympathetic soul alive, would, if he could have followed his own unperverted instincts, have had his children as happy on Sunday as on any other day, but it was necessary to make concessions to the Puritan spirit of the time, which ruled that a certain degree of discomfort and restraint should mark the first day of the week.  But every dull look vanished as the father’s step was heard, for his was one of those genial, warm-hearted, caressing natures, which are calculated to dispel the chill of even an old-fashioned Sunday.  There was also a hearty brusqueness in the tone of his voice, something of the sea in the wing of his gait, and even in the movement of his full kindly gray eye, which could not fail to inspire confidence.  His children flew to him at once, laying violent hands upon him, and clinging to his arms with decorously subdued shrieks of merriment, as he walked briskly to and fro.
     “Where’s Edward?” he demanded of his eldest daughter, as they approached that young lady, who was pensively reclining in a rustic chair.
     “Not up yet, papa,” she dreamily responded, uplifting her face for his morning salutation.
     “Not awake yet,” corrected Herbert, with a boy’s unmistakable contempt for the luxurious habits of his elders.
     “Lazy dog!” commented the Commodore, in a voice whose irateness was wholly assumed.  “If I had come down [Page 67] late to breakfast when I was young I would have been sent back to bed again.”
     “That is what Ed. would like,” declared Herbert.  “He said it was no use calling Sunday a day of rest unless one could get all the rest one wanted, and it was hardly worth while for him to get up at all on a day when he couldn’t fish or shoot or go out in his boat.”
     “The young barbarian! After all the care and pains expended on his bringing up.  What shall we do about it, Rosy?”
     “Call him again!” said Herbert, who, with the ever-fertile mind of tender youth, was never destitute of practical suggestions.
     “Bright boy!   run at once and ring the bell just outside his door.”  As the child departed to make the clangour, so much more delightful to his own ears than to those for whom it was intended, Eva observed:
     “But he came in so late last night, papa, and looked very tired.”
     The Commodore patted the head of his little girl, but he continued to direct towards her elder sister a glance of half-humorous inquiry.  Poor Rose knitted her pretty brows in troubled perplexity.  She had been informed in the “Advice to Young Women,” “Duties of Womanhood,” and other ethical works of the day, that a sister’s influence is illimitable, and she felt besides an added weight of responsibility towards her motherless sister and brothers.  “I don’t know, papa,” she said at last, “unless we all take to the backwoods, live in a wigwam, and feast on the fruits of the chase.  Edwards chafes a good deal under the restraints of civilized life.”
     “Ah, here comes the prodigal son!” joyously exclaimed Eva, who ran to meet her favourite brother, oblivious of the smiles produced by her unflatteringly inapt remark.
     “Don’t kill any calf for me,” entreated Edward, thrusting [Page 68] his younger sister’s straight yellow locks over her face, until it was hard to say where her features ended and the back of her head began.  “I deserve it, but I don’t like it.  Veal is my detestation.”
     “Upon my word,” said the old gentleman, looking very hard at a discoloured spot just above the left eye of his eldest born, “it looks as though I had been trying to kill the prodigal instead of the calf.  That’s a bad bruise, my boy.”
     “’Tis, sir,” responded Edward, in a tone which implied that meek assent was all that could be expected from him to a proposition so very self-evident.  He felt uncomfortably conscious that the eyes of the assembled family were upon him, and glanced half enviously at Eva, as though the ability to shake a sunny mane over one’s face at will was something to be thankful for.  The breakfast bell roused them from a momentary silence, but the shadow of this mysterious bruise seemed to follow them even to the table.  Herbert and Eva, aged respectively ten and twelve, had that superabundant love of information so characteristic of their tender years.  They sat in round-eyed silence, bringing the battery of their glances to bear upon their unfortunate brother, who at last could endure it no longer.
     “Upon my life!” he exclaimed, “one would think I was the governor-general, or some wild animal in a menagerie, to become the object of so much concentrated and distinguished attention.”
     “Which would you say he was, Eva?” asked Herbert.
     “Which what?” inquired the young lady.
     “Sir Peregrine Maitland, or a wild animal?”
     “Oh, Sir Peregrine, of course.  See what a lofty, scornful way he has of looking at us.  And yet he is not really proud; he is willing to sit down with us at our humble board, just as though he was a common person.”
     “Children!” said Rose with soft reproach, but her voice trembled, and the imps were subjugated only outwardly. [Page 69]
     “Anything particular going on in Barrie?” queried the Commodore, turning to his eldest son.
     “Really, I can’t say.  I haven’t been over in several days.”
     “Oh, I imagined you were there last night.”
     “I never go there at night,” protested the young man, with unnecessary vehemence.  It was clear to him now that his father and sister held a very low opinion of him indeed.  Probably they thought he had been hurt in some vulgar tavern brawl, or drunken street fight.  The idea was loathsome to him.  He had not a single low taste or trait of character.
     “I’m afraid,” said Herbert, shaking his head with mock regret, “that you are a very wild fellow.”
     “He means that you are very fond of the wilds,” interpreted Rose, hurriedly endeavouring to avert the threatened domestic storm.  “Eva,” she continued, taking up that irrepressible damsel before she could give utterance to the uncalled-for remark, which was but too evidently burning upon her lips, “do you know your catechism?”
     “Yes,” replied her sister, in rather an aggrieved tone, for she did not relish this change in the conversation, “I know it—to a certain extent.”
     “Eva looks as though she would prefer to catechize Edward,” slyly interpolated her father; and under this shameless encouragement the young lady boldly observed:
     “Indeed, I should.  I should like to begin right at the beginning with, ‘Can you tell me, dear child, who made you’—have that big black bruise on your brow?”
     “I can,” responded Edward, imperturbably.  “It was a beautiful little beast, not much bigger than you are, but a great deal prettier.”
     “Was it, really?”  Any offence that might have been taken at the uncomplimentary nature of the reply was swallowed up in eager curiosity.  “What was it?” [Page 70]
     “Well, that I can’t tell you.  I never saw anything like it before.”
     “That’s queer,” said Herbert.  “What colour was it?”
     “Oh, black and brown and all the loveliest shades of scarlet—with cruel, little, white teeth, sharp and strong as a squirrel’s teeth.”
     “But it didn’t bite you,” said Rose, with a puzzled glance at the white brow, whose delicate fairness made the discolouration more conspicuous.
     “No, but it looked fully capable of biting—enchanting little brute!”
     “Why on earth didn’t you shoot it?” questioned the Commodore, rousing himself to the exploration of this new mystery.
     The young man laughed a little guiltily.  “To tell the truth the idea never once entered my head.  You have no idea what beautiful eyes it had.”
     “Oh—sentimentalist!”
     “Yes, I was sentimental enough yesterday, but it will be long before I am troubled that way again.”
     “At any rate,” said Herbert, as they drifted back to the shadowing veranda, whose flowery screen the sun had not yet penetrated, “you can’t go to church.”
     “I wish I could take you all over in my sail-boat,” said his elder brother, wistfully surveying the blue waters of Kempenfeldt Bay.
     “Ed., you are a heathen,” declared Miss Eva, whose usual adoring advocacy of her brother’s opinions was paralyzed by this assault upon the proprieties; “it’s wicked to ride in a boat on Sunday.”
     “But it’s perfectly right to ride in a carriage,” added Herbert, with a view to giving information, and not with any satirical intention.
     There was no reply.  If it is a crime to possess a too great susceptibility to the ever-deepening charm of woods [Page 71] and waters then Edward Macleod was the chief of sinners.  In his father he had a secret sympathizer, for the old gentleman himself was not without strong leanings toward a free and careless, if not semi-savage, life.  But no hint of this escaped him in the presence of the younger children, whose air of severe morality, born of renewed attacks and final triumph over the difficulties of the Sunday School lesson, he considered it unwise to disturb.
     Church service was not a painfully long or tedious affair.  The little wooden structure, erected for that purpose in Barrie, had the air of trying to be in sweet accord with the outlying wilderness, from the dark green drapery of ivy which charitably strove to hide its raw newness.  The town itself (for in a new country everything in excess of a post-office is called a town) was wrapped in Sabbath stillness.  The little church was well filled, for a bright Sunday in a country village draws the inhabitants from their homes as infallibly as bees from their hives.  Workers and drones they were all there, bowed together under the sense of a common need, and of faith in a common Helper, which alone makes men free and equal.
     Like a light in a dark place gleamed the bright head of Rose Macleod in the farthest corner of the family pew.  A vagrant sunbeam, like a golden arrow, pierced the gloom about her, but to the disappointment of one interested observer, it failed to reach the rich coils, so nearly resembling it in colour.  This observer presently reminded himself that he had come there to worship the divine, as revealed in holy writ, not in human beauty; nevertheless he could not forbear sending another stealthy glance, which, more accurately aimed than the sunbeam, rested fully and lingeringly upon the shadowy recess, where a glowing amber-golden head bloomed richly forth against the frigid back-ground of a bare wooden wall.  The dainty little lady, enveloped in the antique richness of a stiff brocade, should have been made [Page 72] aware by some mysteriously occult means of a strange thrill at the heart, caused by the protracted gaze of a handsome fellow-worshipper, but to tell the truth her thoughts were piously intent upon the enormity of her own sins, and the necessity of reclaiming her brother from the very literal wildness of his ways.
     Service was over; the still air seemed vibrant with the notes of the last hymn, and tender with the just-uttered words of the benediction, as this stately little damsel, with the peculiar air of distinction which set so charmingly upon her doll-like personality, passed down the aisle and out into the sunshine.  She had looked on him—she had been conscious of his existence; but it was seemingly in the same way that she had noticed the wooden pews against which her rich little robe was trailing, and the floor which felt the pressure of her dainty feet.  Allan Dunlop standing among the outcoming worshippers, whose greetings he mechanically responded to, silently anathematized the soulless edict of society, which forbids a man to stand and gaze after a vanishing vision in feminine form.  The receding figure was not wholly unconscious, however, of the mute homage of which she had been the recipient.
     A few hours later this lovely possessor of all the graces and virtues, according to the newly-awakened imagination of her unknown admirer, reclined in her shell-pink apartment, in which the breezes blowing through the lattice sounded like the andante of the sea, and sighed for the forbidden fruit of a half-finished novel.  But the sigh perished with the breath that gave it birth.  The next moment she sternly doubled a very diminutive fist, and demanded of herself whether that was the best use that could be made of her time and opportunities.  Then she looked about for some missionary work.  It was not far to seek, for the children, weary of purposeless drifting on the still monotonous tide of Sunday afternoon, came battering at her door with united [Page 73] hands and voices, demanding a story.  In the midst of her recital she suddenly bethought herself of Edward and inquired after his whereabouts.
     “Roaming up and down the strawberry patch,” said Eva.
     “Seeking what he may devour,” added her brother, unconsciously giving a scriptural turn to his information.
     “For shame, Herbert!”
     “Shame enough!  He never offered me one.”
     The subject of this discussion passed the open door shortly after and looked rather forlornly in upon the interested trio.  On his way upstairs a casement window that stood ajar swung softly open as he passed it, touched by the invisible fingers of the breeze; and the young man was not comforted by the picture suddenly revealed to him—the picture of a slim shape in a light canoe darting bird-like over the water.  Rose felt a vague pang of pity, but had no opportunity to go to him.  Her ministrations were in active demand by the younger pair from whom she was unable to free herself until twilight fell, when they voluntarily resigned her to a need greater than their own.  On many a summer night in years past they had seen their father and mother pace the winding length of the avenue together.  Now, when the tender gloom of evening was beginning, and the solitary figure of the Commodore was seen going with drooped head toward his favourite walk, it was Rose who ran with eager step to take the vacant place at his side.  If his heart was saddened by that shadowy presence, which walks at eventide by the side of him who is bereaved, it could not be wholly cast down so long as warm clinging hands were about his arm, a bright face looking up into his, and a clear voice, from which every note of sadness was excluded, murmuring a thousand entertaining nothings in his ear.
     If Rose was a never-failing fountain of alluring fiction to Herbert and Eva, and the comfort of life to her father, she [Page 74] was the sympathizing confidante of her elder brother, who unburdened his heart to her in a private interview just before retiring.
     “But what under the sun made you kiss her?” inquired this practical young lady.
     “Oh, murder, Rose, what a question!  What under the sun makes one taste a peach or pluck a flower?”
     “But if the peach or the flower does not belong to you?  Well, I’ll not lecture you, Edward; you have sufficiently expiated your offence.”
     “I never dreamed,” returned the delinquent, “that a kiss for a blow, which is the Christian’s rule of morals, could be translated by the poor savage into a blow for a kiss.”
     “Probably you terrified her.  That old chief has brought her up in the belief that the white man is a compound of all the vices.”
     “Well, she behaved as though I might be that.  She never paused to consider the ruin she had wrought, but darted off like a flash of lightning.”
     Rose laughed; but after she departed the smile upon her brother’s face quickly vanished.  Not that the bruise on his brow was so severe, but he found it impossible to forgive the blow to his vanity.
     “Beautiful little brute!” he muttered under his breath, “I haven’t done with her yet.  She’ll live to give me something prettier than this in return for my caresses.” [Page 75]


[Chapter VII]