AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER VII.

AN ACCIDENT.




SOME days later, Edward, mounted on his favourite Black Bess, waiting for Rose to accompany him in a morning gallop, was amazed to see that venturesome young lady prepare to seat herself on Flip, a crazy little animal scarcely more than a colt, whose character for unsteadiness was notorious.
     I have set my heart on him,” was all Rose could say in answer to her brother’s protestations.
     “Set your heart on him as much as you please,” returned Edward, “so long as you do not set your person on him.”
     “In England,” ventured, the respectful Tredway, “young ladies generally prefer a more trustworthy animal.”
     “Well, when we go to England,” responded Rose, casting her arms around the neck of her slandered steed, “we’ll do as the English do—won’t we Flip, dear?  In this country we’ll have just a little of our own wild way.”
     From this decision there was no appeal.  The words were scarcely spoken when there was a swift scamper of heels, a smothered sound, half shriek, half laughter, from Rose’s lips, a cloud of dust, and that was all.  Edward’s alarm was changed to amusement as the pony, after its first wild flight, settled down into a sort of dancing step, ambling, pirouetting, curvetting, sidling, arching its wilful neck at one moment, and rushing off at a rate that bade fair to break its rider’s at the next.
     By fits and starts—a great many of them—they managed to make their way to “Bellevue,” where the lovely Hélène, arrayed in the alluring coolness of a white négligé, and with her braided locks drooping to her waist, came down the walk to meet them.
     “Rose Macleod!” she exclaimed, for Black Bess was [Page 76] still far in the rear, and she imagined her friend unaccompanied, “and on that desperately dangerous little Flip!”
     “The very same,” responded Rose saucily, “but I don’t know how long I may remain on him.  We want you to join us in a glorious old gallop.”
     “Good morning, Mademoiselle,” exclaimed Edward, reining in his black steed.  “I hope Madame DeBerczy is better than usual, as I have some thought of leaving my wild sister with her.  She’s every bit as unmanageable as Flip.”
     “Leave me, indeed,” retorted Rose, “as though I could trust you alone in the woods—with a pretty girl.”
     The last words were inaudible, save to Hélène, between whom and Rose there passed a subtle glance which gave Edward a vague alarm.  Could it be that Hélène had received intelligence of his encounter with Wanda?  No, it was clearly impossible.  There was nothing of mocking in her look—nothing but the pretty consciousness of a girl who could not forget that her shoulders and arms were gleaming beneath the mist of a muslin altogether too thin, and a weight of loosened braids altogether too thick, to be proper subjects for a young man’s contemplation.
     She presently vanished within, and reappeared before they had time to be impatient.  In her close-clinging habit, with her black braids securely pinned, a handful of lilies drooping at her waist, and the whole of her fair young figure invested with a sort of stately maidenliness, she formed a sufficient contrast to Rose, who, perched defiantly upon her wicked little steed, looked every inch a rogue.  Mademoiselle DeBerczy’s white horse was slim and graceful as became its owner, who glanced with lady-like apprehension at the dashings and plungings and other dog-like vagaries of Flip.  “Dear me, Rose,” she at last remarked rather nervously, “I can’t bear to look at you.”
     “Then don’t look at me!” exclaimed the wild girl, “go on [Page 77] with Edward; Flip and I are going to make a morning of it.”
     The young man nothing loth drew in Black Bess beside the milk-white palfrey, and began to comment upon the beauty of the morning, of the woods through which they were passing, and, lastly, of an Indian child, who, straying away from a settlement of wigwams, perched itself upon a stump, and surveyed the cavalcade with round-eyed interest.
     “The loveliest Indian girl I ever saw,” remarked Hélène, “is Wanda, the Algonquin chief’s adopted daughter.  But this is no news to you, as I hear that you were quite forcibly stuck by her.”
     Oh, the ambiguities of the English language!  There was not a quiver of an eye-lash, not the slightest curl of the scarlet lips, and the wide dark eyes were seemingly free from guile; but nevertheless, Edward suffered again that vague alarm which had sprung into being at the gate of “Bellevue.”
     “I think her very pretty, certainly,” he returned, “but I can’t say that I admire her.”
     “I am surprised at that.  Rose told me that she made quite an impression upon you.”
     Ought this to be taken literally?  The lily-white face was no tell-tale.  Could one so fair be so deceitful?  This matter must be further probed.
     “The impression was not altogether a pleasant one,” he confessed with a rising flush.
     “Not pleasant?  You are very hard to please.  She is not only remarkably handsome but she has a vigorous personality—a sort of native force that is sure to make its mark.”
     “I fear I am not an admirer of force—that is in a woman.”
     “I am sure you have no reason to be.  It is possible [Page 78] that even the beautiful Wanda might not be above brow-beating a man.”
     “Oh, she might do worse than that,” said Edward, with the coolness born of desperation.  “She might sink so low as to basely persecute him with her knowledge of a secret extracted from his sister.  Don’t you think that would be treating him very contemptibly.”
     “It would depend altogether upon what sort of treatment he deserved.”
     “It occurs to me that the unfortunate creature we have in mind has suffered enough.”
     It was evident that Hélène thought so too.  She said nothing, but the sweet eyes that had refrained from mocking at him could not hide a tinge of remorse.  This pledge of peace was quickly noted by the much-enduring youth, whose gratitude might have found vocal expression had not his attention that moment been called off by an approaching pedestrian, who suddenly appeared at a curve in the Penetanguishene road, which, after partly retracing their steps, they had now reached.
     “What, Dunlop, as I live!” he exclaimed, eagerly reining in his steed, and extending a cordial hand.  “My dear fellow, how long have you been at home, and why have I been left in ignorance of your coming?”
     The young man who had paid Hélène the doubtful tribute of a disappointed glance, returned the greeting warmly, but in more measured terms.  “I was at church on Sunday,” he said, “for the first time since my return home.  Why weren’t you there?”
     “Ugh!” said Edward, as though the recollection had been an icicle suddenly thrust down his back.  “Why, to tell the truth, I performed an act of worship on the day before and the consequence was so frightful that I was discouraged from further attempts at prayer and praise.  I hadn’t the heart to go.” [Page 79]
     “You had’nt the face to go!” softly corrected Hélène.
     “Exactly.  Your knowledge of the facts is copious and profound.  Excuse me!  Miss DeBerczy, let me present to you Mr. Allan Dunlop, Provincial land-surveyor, member for the Home District, future leader in parliament, and a man after my own heart!”
     The stranger looked as though a less elaborate introduction might have pleased him better.  “Edward you are as extravagant as ever,” he exclaimed, and then, turning to the lady, with a sort of shy sincerity, “Don’t believe him, Miss DeBerczy.  I am studying politics and practicing surveying, but that is all.”
     “And you mean to say that you are not a man after my own heart,” demanded Edward, threatening him with his riding-whip; “then, perhaps, you will be good enough to tell me whose heart you are after.”
     An embarrassed laugh broke from Allan’s lips, as he thought involuntarily of the queenly little creature, golden crowned and richly robed, whose reign had begun, so far as he knew, on the Sunday previous.  Oddly enough, the same personage came at that moment to Hélène’s mind, and she hurriedly inquired, “Why, where can Rose be?”
     “Here she comes,” said Edward, after a backward glance, and here indeed she came.  With her bright hair flying in the breeze, her riding hat rakishly askew, one glove invisible, and the other tucked for safe keeping under the saddle, her riding-habit gray with dust, and fantastically trimmed with thorns and nettles, her blue eyes at their bluest, her pink cheeks at their rosiest, she produced a very powerful effect upon the minds of her spectators.  Perhaps it would not be too much to say that she produced three distinct effects upon their minds.
     Hélène was the first to recover the faculty of speech.  “Why, you are a regular little brier rose!” she exclaimed laughingly, wheeling her horse about so as to remove what [Page 80] appeared to be the larger part of a blackberry bush from her friend’s habit, and improving the opportunity to insert a pin in the ragged edges of a dreadful looking rent, which the premature removal of the blackberry bush had revealed.
     Edward introduced his friend to Rose with a gravity which was too evidently born of the belief that she had never before presented quite so disreputable an appearance.  Allan knew his goddess under this quaint disguise, and his heart beat a loud recognition.  The cool graceful black and white propriety of Hélène DeBerczy was barren of significance compared with the slightest strand of yellow wilful hair that blew about the pink-shamed face of his friend’s sister.
     With renewed expressions of good-feeling and the promise, by Allan, of an early visit to Pine Towers, the young men separated, the riding party moving off in the same order as before, Hélène and Edward going first, leaving Rose and Flip to follow at their own discretion.
     But the latter, who had exhausted every known device for his own amusement, now suddenly discovered and put into instant execution another way to annoy his pretty mistress.  This was to stand perfectly still—inexorably, indomitably, immovably still.  In vain Rose whipped, begged, prayed, and almost wept.  But Flip was thereby only strengthened in his decision.  Rose’s companions had vanished around the bend in the road.  Though lost to sight they were to memory obnoxious.  How mean of Edward to go off in that cool, careless way, without a thought of her left behind!  How contemptible of Hélène to leave her without so much as a hair-pin to repair the ravages made by that horrible little horse.  And now, worse and worse, Allan Dunlop, who might have had the gentlemanliness to make himself invisible as soon as possible, came hurrying back to be a further witness of her dishevelled embarrassment.
     “I am afraid your horse is a little fractious,” he suggested respectfully. [Page 81]
     “Oh, no,” replied Rose, earnestly, scarcely conscious of what she said.  “Only—sometimes—he won’t go.”
     This was a statement which Flip seemed in no wise disposed to contradict.
     “Perhaps if you will allow me to pet him a little, we may induce a change in his behaviour.”  He drew near and laid his head upon the pony’s mane, accidentally brushing with his moustache the warm little hand upon the reins.  Its owner drew it away, while an expression of absolute pain crossed her face.  “I don’t know what you can think of me,” she said contritely.  “I lost one of my gloves in reaching for a branch above my head, and its no use wearing the other and trying to be half respectable.”  She was miserably conscious that she was not even that, as she tried to fasten up her loosely waving locks, and thought of the awful rent in her habit, through which that saving pin had slipped and been lost sight of forever, like a weary little missionary in a very large field of labour.  The skirt beneath was deplorably short, and her feet, though small, were not small enough to be invisible.  Her chivalrous attendant seemed quite unconscious of these glaring deficiencies in her appearance, as he looked up with a bright smile, and said: “There, I think he will go now.”  At the word Flip began a slow undulating movement, something akin to that produced by a rocking-horse, which while it “goes” fast enough makes no perceptible progress.  Poor Rose, excited and unstrung by her morning’s adventures, dropped the reins in disgust, and then with one hand clutching her skirt, and the other her hair, she resigned herself to a fit of uncontrollable laughter.  The next moment the wilful horse made a wild plunge forward, and the wilful girl was flung with terrible force against a heap of stones on the roadside.  Colourless, motionless, breathless, she lay at the feet of Allan Dunlop, whose heart turned sick as he discerned [Page 82] among the yellow locks outspread on the gray stones a slender stream of blood.
     For a moment the young man stood horror-struck.  Fortunately he was not far from home, and there he proceeded at once to take the almost lifeless girl.  As he was about to lift her gently in his arms, a low moan escaped her lips, the significance of which he was not slow to catch.  Unable to speak, almost unable to move, she made a slight writhing motion of the limbs, accompanied by a convulsive twitch at the torn gown.  Allan Dunlop was not dull-witted enough to suppose that her ankle was sprained.  His sensibilities and sympathies were exquisitely quick and fine.  Catching up an end of the unfortunate riding-habit he twisted it closely about the helplessly exposed little feet—an act of delicacy which received a faint glance of grateful recognition before she lapsed into utter unconsciousness.  Gathering her into his arms he carried her as he might have carried a child to the shelter of his own house.  But here a fresh dilemma presented itself.  Not a soul was in the house.  His father had not yet returned from market, his mother and the servant were absent, he knew not where.  Placing her on a couch he bathed with awkwardly gentle fingers the wound in her head, and dared even to wipe away a few drops of blood from the little pallid face.  Still the white lids lay motionless over the blue eyes, and the girlish form was unmoved by a breath.  He stood anxiously looking down at her, wondering what his mother would do in his place, and feeling in every fibre a man’s natural helplessness in the presence of a suffering woman.  “What can I do for you?” he asked, as she at last opened her eyes, and gazed half-frightened at her strange surroundings.
     “Thank you, I believe I am quite comfortable, except—except for the dreadful pain.  I feel so terribly shaken.”  And the poor child broke into uncontrollable sobs.
     “Oh, don’t cry!” begged Allan, who might with equal [Page 83] truth have claimed that he too felt terribly shaken.  “I can’t imagine where my mother has gone.”  He stared miserably out of the window a moment, and then returned to his patient, with the air of a man who is not going to shirk a duty, no matter how difficult it may be.
     “If you could dry your eyes,” he began with a sort of brotherly gentleness, “and tell”—
     “I’m afraid I can’t.  I don’t dare move my right hand from under me, the pain is so acute in my back, and there is something dreadfully wrong with my left arm.”
     Dreadfully wrong indeed!  It hung limp and broken.  The young man was spurred by the sight to instant, decisive action.
     “Miss Macleod,” he said, “I will have to leave you alone, and go at once for a physician and your father.  Do you think you can be very brave?”
     Her tears flowed afresh at the question.  This time he wiped them away himself.  “Oh, I’m afraid I couldn’t be that,” she said.  “I never could.  But I’ll promise not to run away before you come back.”
     She is a brave little soul after all, he thought, as he waved his hand, and hurried off to the stable; but that is a woman’s courage—cry one moment and make a joke the next. 
     Mrs. Dunlop, who was not as far distant from home as her son had supposed, entered the house a few minutes after his departure, followed by the servant, both bearing great baskets of raspberries.  The two women were sufficiently astonished at sight of the unexpected and most unfortunate guest; but Allan’s mother would scarcely allow Rose to pronounce a word of her penitent confession.  It was enough for her to know that here was an opportunity for her to relieve suffering, and she improved it with characteristic tact and delicacy.  The open-eyed and open-mouthed maid was sent on various small missions of mercy, which she attacked [Page 84] with zeal, in the hope that thereby in some way her abounding thirst for information might be assuaged.
     Very soon after, the quiet farm-house became the rendezvous of an unusual number of strangers.  Hélène and Edward, who had returned to see if Allan could tell them anything concerning the whereabouts of the missing girl, came first.  Hélène, full of grief and contrition because she had not remained by the side of Rose through the entire length of her perilous undertaking, and Edward, whose brotherly sympathy was tinged by the magnanimous consciousness that nothing would tempt him to remind her that he had warned her of the evil which had resulted in her downfall.  Afterwards came the physician who set the broken arm, and forbade the patient’s removal, and then the Commodore, in whose brawny neck his daughter hid a wet, pitiful face.
     “It was my fault, Papa,” she whispered, “and it’s a miracle I’m not broken up into more pieces than I am.  I deserve to be.  I’m as full of penitence as I am of pain.  But don’t you be troubled about me.  Mrs. Dunlop is as good and kind as it is possible to be.  I am sure they are very nice people.”
     Very nice people perhaps, but very little to the Commodore’s taste.  As he turned to greet the man, upon whose hospitality his daughter had been so literally and unexpectedly thrown, he was scarcely his frank, genial, outspoken self.  There was a secret root of prejudice against this unpretending farmer, whose son’s political views were as far from his own as the east is from the west, and whose social position was decidedly inferior.  Not that the kindly Commodore was gifted with that microscopic eye which is too easily impressed by the infinitesimal gradations of society, but he retained too much of the Old World feeling for class distinctions to make him oblivious to the difference in their rank. [Page 85]
     “Good heavens!  Edward,” he exclaimed, in a conversation with his son a few days after the accident, “what uncommonly low ground our little Rose has been suddenly transplanted to.  That old farmer looks as stiff and straight as one of his own furrows, and his son, what’s-his-name?  is of the same mould.”
     “It’s a remarkably rich mould, Father.  Not such low ground as one might think”
     “Rich!  What, in dollars and cents?”
     “No; better than that.  In knowledge and sense.  Allan Dunlop is a very bright fellow.”
     “Oh, I thought the paternal acres could scarcely afford a sufficient yield of potatoes and parsnips to furnish material wealth.  As for the sense you speak of, I hope your friend possesses enough to keep him from making love to your sister.”
     “He is far too proud to make love to one whom he considers his social superior, though she might do worse than permit it.”
     “Oh, dear yes; she might have been thrown into a settlement of savages, and wedded to the first wild Indian that ran to pick her up.”
     Edward’s cheek reddened perceptibly.
     “Or she might marry a snob,” he said.
     “Come, Edward,” returned the commodore, with a breezy laugh, “you must not insinuate that your old father is such a disagreeable sort of person.  But, seriously, you don’t consider Allan Dunlop your equal, do you?”
     “No,” said Edward, “I don’t think him my equal.”
     “That’s the sensible way to look at it.  Not but that he is as good and necessary in his way as the earth he tills and the vegetables he sells.”
     “Oh, it is the father—who, by the way, is an old soldier—that tills and sells.  The son, as you know, is a young rising politician—a radical.” [Page 86]
     “I am only too well aware of that, but why couldn’t he stick to the plough?  It’s the unluckiest business imaginable, Edward, that we should have played into their hands in this way.  They are the last sort of people to whom one cares to be under a personal obligation.”
     Edward had no balm to apply to his father’s irritation.  “When I say that I don’t consider Allan my equal,” he explained, “I mean that I fancy him my superior.”
     His father laughed aloud.  “You seem to have a good many fancies,” he said, tolerantly, and continued to smoke in meditative silence.
     And still among the people of whom her father and brother held such entirely opposite opinions lay the helpless Rose, victim of a slow fever, which left her, as Hélène pityingly said, weak as a roseleaf.  But Hélène seldom saw her now.  Edward and his father were also all but banished from her bedside.  “Really,” said Dr. Ardagh to the Commodore, “I must insist upon absolute quiet as the first requisite for my patient’s recovery.  Those daily visits are exciting and harmful.  Mrs. Dunlop has a perfect genius for sick-nursing, and you can safely leave your daughter to her.  She is really a remarkable woman!”
     The Commodore made a wry face.  “Not long ago Edward would have me believe that the Dunlops, father and son, were endowed with uncommon mental power.  Now it appears that the mother is similarly gifted.  My poor child hasn’t brains enough to keep her from riding an unsafe colt, but it is to be hoped she knows enough to appreciate the advantages of her situation.”
     The doctor raised his eyebrows at this peculiar pleasantry, but managed to harrow his listener’s heart by intimating that it would be a confoundedly strange thing if young Dunlop did not appreciate his advantages. [Page 87]


[Chapter VIII]