An algonquin maiden a r.., p.1
An Algonquin Maiden: A Romance of the Early Days of Upper Canada, p.1G. Mercer Adam and A. Ethelwyn Wetherald
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AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
A ROMANCE OF THE EARLY DAYS OF UPPER CANADA
G. MERCER ADAM AND A. ETHELWYN WETHERALD
Entered according to Act of Parliament, in the year one thousand eighthundred and eighty-six, by GRAEME MERCER ADAM and AGNES ETHELWYNWETHERALD, in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Ottawa.
TO THE VETERAN PUBLISHER, John Lovell, Esq., OF MONTREAL, WHO HASSPENT A LONG AND BUSY LIFE IN THE VARIED SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY, THISMODEST EFFORT IN THE FIELD OF CANADIAN FICTION IS AFFECTIONATELY ANDADMIRINGLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHORS.
The Young Master of Pine Towers
An Upper Canadian Household
"When Summer Days were Fair"
Indian Annals and Legends
The Algonquin Maiden
On the Way to the Capital
York and the Maitlands
After "The Ball"
A Kiss and its Consequences
"Muddy Little York"
Politics at the Capital
A Picnic in the Woods
The Commodore Surrenders
At Stamford Cottage
The Coming of Wanda
The Passing of Wanda
AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN.
THE YOUNG MASTER OF PINE TOWERS.
It was a May morning in 1825--spring-time of the year, late spring-timeof the century. It had rained the night before, and a warm pallor inthe eastern sky was the only indication that the sun was trying topierce the gray dome of nearly opaque watery fog, lying low upon thatpart of the world now known as the city of Toronto, then the town ofLittle York. This cluster of five or six hundred houses had taken up adetermined position at the edge of a forest then gloomily forbiddingin its aspect, interminable in extent, inexorable in its resistance tothe shy or to the sturdy approaches of the settler. Man _versus_nature--the successive assaults of perishing humanity upon the almostimpregnable fortresses of the eternal forests--this was the struggleof Canadian civilization, and its hard-won triumphs were bodied forthin the scattered roofs of these cheap habitations. Seen now throughsoft gradations of vapoury gloom, they took on a poetic significance,as tenderly intangible as the romantic halo which the mist of yearsloves to weave about the heads of departed pioneers, who, for the mostpart, lived out their lives in plain, grim style, without any thoughtof posing as "conquering heroes" in the eyes of succeeding generations.
From the portico of one of these dwellings, under a wind-swayed signwhich advertised it to be a place of rest and refreshment, stepped aman of more than middle age, whose nervous gait and anxious facebetokened a mind ill at ease. He had the look and air of a highlyrespectable old servitor,--one who had followed the family to whom hewas bound by ties of life-long service to a country of which hestrongly disapproved, not because it offered a poor field for his ownadvancement, but because, to his mind, its crude society and narrowopportunities ill became the distinction of the Old World family towhose fortunes he was devoted. Time had softened these prejudices, buthad failed to melt them; and if they had a pardonable fashion ofcongealing under the stress of the Canadian winter, they generallyshowed signs of a thaw at the approach of spring. At the presentmoment he had no thought, no eyes, for anything save a mist-enshroudedspeck far off across the waters of Lake Ontario. All the impatienceand longing of the week just past found vent through his eyes, as hewatched that pale, uncertain, scarcely visible mote on the horizon. Ashe reached the shore the fog lifted a little, and a great sunbeam,leaping from a cloud, illumined for a moment the smooth expanse ofwater; but the new day was as yet chary of its gifts. It was verystill. The woods and waves alike were tranced in absolute calm. Theunlighted heavens brooded upon the silent limpid waters and thebreathless woods, while between them, with restless step, and heart asgloomy as the morning, with secret, sore misgiving, paced the oldservant, his attention still riveted upon that distant speck. Thesight of land and home to the gaze of a long absent wanderer, weariedwith ocean, is not more dear than the first glimpse of the approachingsail to watching eyes on shore.
Was it in truth the packet vessel for whose coming he had yearninglywaited, or the dark wing of a soaring bird, or did it exist only inimagination? The tide of his impatience rose anew as the dim objectslowly resolved itself into the semblance of a sail, shrouded in thepale, damp light of early morning. Unwilling to admit to his usuallygrave unimpressible self the fact that he was restless and disturbed,he reduced his pace to a dignified march, extended his chosen beat toa wider margin of the sandy shore, and, parting the blighted branchesof a group of trees, that bore evidence of the effect of constantexposure to lake winds, he affected to examine them critically. Butthe hand that touched the withered leaves trembled, and his sight wasdimmed with something closely resembling the morning's mist. When heagain raised his eyes to that white-sailed vessel it looked to hishopeless gaze absolutely becalmed. The slow moments dragged heavilyalong. The mantle of fog was wholly lifted at last, and the lonelywatcher was enveloped in the soft beauty of the morning. A light cloudhung motionless, as though spell-bound, above the mute and movelesstrees, while before him the dead blue slopes of heaven were unbrokenby a single flying bird, the wide waste of water unlighted, save bythat unfluttering sail.
And now, like a visible response to his silent but seeminglyresistless longing, a boat was rapidly pushed away from the largercraft, and the swift flash and fall of the oars kept time to thepulsing in the old man's breast. Again ensued that inglorious conflictbetween self-respecting sobriety of demeanour and long suppressedemotion, which ended only when the boat grated on the sand, and ablonde stalwart youth leaped ashore. The old man fell upon his neckwith tears and murmured ejaculations of gratitude and welcome; butyoung impatient hands pushed him not ungently aside, and a youthfulvoice, high and intense from anxiety, urgently exclaimed:
"My mother! How is my mother?"
"She yet breathes, thank God. She has been longing for your coming asa suffering saint longs for heaven. She must see you before she dies!"
The young man turned a little aside with down-bent head. His positiveblue eyes looked almost feverishly bright; and the lip, on which hehad unconsciously bitten hard, now released from pressure, quiveredperceptibly; but with the unwillingness or inability of youth to admitthe inevitableness of a great grief he burst forth with:
"Is that all you have to say to me?" And then, as his keen eye noticedthe tears still undried upon the cheeks of the old man, he sighedheavily. "Can nothing be done? Is there no help? It doesn't se
Tredway shook his head. "The only hope that remains is that you willreach home in time to receive her last words. This is the second timethat I have come down expecting to meet you."
The young fellow with his erect military air and noticeably handsomeface betrayed a remote consciousness that he was perhaps worth thetrouble of coming after twice. As they together hastened up from thebeach the younger of the two briefly narrated the cause of hisdelay--a delay occasioned by stress of weather on the Atlantic, andthe state of the roads in the valley of the Mohawk, on the journeyfrom the seaboard. He had lost not an hour, the young man said, inobeying the summons of his father, the Commodore, to quit England andreturn to his Canadian home ere his much-loved mother passed from theearth.
Eager to reach that home, which was on the shores of Lake Simcoe, theyoung Cadet bade the old servitor hasten to get their horses readywhen they would instantly set forth. As they were about to mount, theyounger of the two was accosted by an old friend, now an attache ofGovernment House, who, learning of the arrival of the packet, andexpecting the young master of Pine Towers, had strolled down to thelanding-place to welcome the newcomer and ask him to partake of theGovernor's hospitality. The young man, however, begged his friend tohave him excused, and with dutiful messages of respect for theGovernor and his household, and a cordial adieu to his formerboon-companion, he rapidly set off for home, closely followed by hisattendant.
Coming up the old military road, cut out between York and HollandLanding by His Majesty's corps of Queen's Rangers, under the _regime_of Governor Simcoe, both horsemen fell into a brief silence, broken bysorrowful inquiries from the younger man regarding the subject whichlay so close to the heart of each. "Dying!" he exclaimed in deepsadness, and with the utter incapacity of young and ardent life toconceive the reality of death. "And my own mother. It seems naturalenough for other mothers to die--but mine! Heaven help us! We neverknow the meaning of grief until it comes to our own threshold."
The old steward viewed with a desolate stare the May landscape,brightly lit with sunshine and bloom, and said wearily:
"But what can one expect in this wretched, half-civilized country? Nowin England--"
His voice lingered long upon that fondly loved word, and his youngmaster concluded the sentence with,
"There would be little hope, but in this 'brave new world,' where theodour of the woods is a tonic, and the air brings healing and balm,how can death exist? Ah, Tredway, this is a beautiful country!"
"To me there is but one beautiful country--that is England." Againthere was that lingering intonation.
Edward Macleod gave vent to a short melancholy laugh. The allurementsof an old civilization were over-ripe to his taste. Promise appealedto his imagination; fulfilment was a dull fact. Along with theunmistakable evidences of birth and breeding in his person, there wasin his fresh youth and buoyancy something joyously akin to thevigorous young life about him.
"England," said Tredway, with his disapproving regard fixed upon thewilderness around, "is a garden."
"And I take no delight in gardens," declared Edward. "I was neverintended for a garden statue. This long day's journey under the gianttrees of the wild, unconquered woods seems to gratify some savageinstinct of my nature. The old country is well adapted to keep aliveold customs, old notions, old traditions; but for me I am a Canadian,my mind is wearied with over-much civilization. I hate the Englishlove of land for land's sake. That line of hills, swelling in massivecurves, and crowned, not with a tottering ruin, serving to hang somelegendary romance or faded rag of superstition upon, but with statelytrees--that is my idea of the beautiful."
He struck into a sharp gallop, his bright head above the dark bluemilitary cloak forming a picturesque feature in the woodland, and theflying heels of his spirited horse seeming to add a rattling chorus ofapplause to his patriotic sentiments. The old retainer ambled along inhis wake, but more slowly. His idea of the beautiful was not quite sorecklessly defiant. Presently, for he was still jaded from the effectsof his long journey on the previous day, he relaxed his attempt atspeed, and soon lost sight of his companion altogether. The vision ofwaving cloak and flying steed vanished in the green aisles of theforest.
Along the Oak Ridges--situate some thirty miles from York--which thetwo horsemen now neared, a Huguenot settlement had been formed aboutthe close of the eighteenth century. The settlers were French officersof the noblesse order, who, during the French Revolution, when theroyalist cause became desperate, emigrated to England, thence toCanada, where, by the bounty of the Crown, they were given grants ofland in this portion of the Province of Upper Canada. Here many ofthese _emigres_ had made clearings on the Ridges, and reared _chateaux_for themselves and their households after the manner of their ancestralhomes in Languedoc and Brittany. Into the grounds of one of thesemansions had the younger horseman disappeared to pay his hurriedrespects to the stately dame who was its owner, and who, with her fairdaughter, were intimate friends of the Macleod family.
Almost before the old man had time to wonder what mad freak had kepthis young master so long from the beaten road, he was at his sideagain.
"I have been trying to get a glimpse of my little friend, Helene," hesaid, in explanation of his absence, "but the DeBerczy mansion is asempty as a church on Monday. They still go to Lake Simcoe in summer,I suppose. But what does this early flight portend?"
"It was caused solely by the serious nature of your mother's illness.Madame and Mademoiselle have been now five weeks at 'Bellevue.'"
The young man's face darkened, or rather lost the brightness thathabitually played upon it, like gleams of sunshine on a stream, which,when disappearing, show the depth of the tide beneath.
"You would scarcely know the young lady now," continued Tredway. "Thedifference between fifteen and eighteen is the difference betweenchildhood and womanhood."
"I suppose she has grown like a young forest tree, and holds hergraceful head almost as high."
"She is well grown, and very beautiful, but not bewitching like yoursister Rose."
"Ah! dear little Rose! But she, too, I doubt not, is a bud no longer.It's odd how much easier it is for a girl to be a woman than for a boyto become a man." There was something vaguely suggestive of regret inthe gesture with which young Macleod lightly brushed his short upperlip, whose hirsute adornment was not, in its owner's estimation, allthat it ought to have been. "I was twenty-one last winter. Do I lookvery young?" he inquired, with the natural anxiety of a man who hasrecently escaped the ignominy of being in his teens.
"You look altogether too young," dryly returned the ancient servitor,"to appreciate the worth of a country where old customs, old ideas,and old traditions are respected."
"Then may youth always be mine!" exclaimed Edward, looking round himwith the glow in his heart, sure to be felt by the devout worshipperof Nature in the large and beautiful presence of her whom he adores.The region about him, esteemed the epitome of dreariness in winter,held now in its depths a vast luxury of vegetation. The wild vines ranknotted and twisted about the trunks and branches of multitudinoustrees, and the fallen logs were draped with moss, lichens, anddelicate ferns. Passing through this boundless wilderness, they seemedto look into a succession of woodland chambers, thickly carpeted withwild flowers, gorgeously festooned with creeping and parasiticalplants hanging from the branches, and secured in their leafy seclusionby walls of abundant foliage. In one of these natural parlours theypaused for their mid-day repast--mid-day in the world without, buthere, where only vagrant gleams of the spring sun pierced the forestsolitudes, gloomy with spruce and pine, there was a sense of morningin the air. This appearance was heightened by the delicate curtains ofcobweb, strung with shining pearls, which still might be seen afterthe fog at early dawn. There was no sound except sometimes that of aninvisible bird, singing in the upper air, or when a partridge, rousedby approaching steps, s
The road they followed cut straight through the forest, and, disdainingto enclose the hills in graceful curves, attacked and surmounted themin the direct fashion common to our forefathers, when they encounteredobstacles of any serious nature. The absence of human sight or voicegave a strangeness to the sound of their own utterances, and therewere frequent lapses into that sad silence which fell upon them asnaturally as the gloom from the overshadowing boughs above. The oldattendant who viewed every member of the family whom he served andloved just as the first man regarded the world at his first glimpse ofit--that is, as an extension of his own consciousness--was deeplymoved at the sight of his young master's sombre face. Edward's heart,indeed, ached painfully. The perpetual repetition of this luxurianceof young fresh life in the woods of May was a constant reminder of alife that until lately had been as vigorously beautiful, and nowperhaps had passed away from this world forever.
Leaving their weary horses at Holland Landing, they took boat down theriver and bay, desiring to hasten their arrival at the family mansion,nearly opposite to what is now the prettily situated town of Barrie.Edward sat apart and gazed long and silently at the waving tree lines,dark against a luminous, cool, gray sky, with its scattered but serenegroup of clouds. All his desire for home and for her who was thesunshine of it had resolved itself into a yearning that gnawedmomentarily at his heart. Instead of the fair sky and landscape andsilent waterways of his New World home, he saw or rather felt, thehush of a dim chamber, whose wasted occupant had travelled far intothe valley of the shadow of death. His wet eyes, looking abroad uponthe outer world, were as the eyes of those who see not. The afternoonsunshine paled and thinned, but beneath the chill of the spring daythere lay a warm hint of the untold tenderness of midsummer.Unconsciously to himself the prophecy brought a feeling of comfort tohis heart, in its reminder of the glory of that summer to which hismother might even now be passing--"the glory that was to be revealed."
It was early twilight when Edward Macleod reached his beautiful homeoverlooking Kempenfeldt Bay. The broad, solid-built house, with itscommanding position, and spacious verandas, seemed just such a mansionas an old naval officer, who was reduced to the insipid necessity of alife on shore, would choose to dwell in. One might almost be temptedto call it a fine piece of marine architecture, in some of itsfanciful reminders of an ocean vessel. Its solitariness, its pointedturrets and gables, its proud position on what might be termed thetopmost wave of earth in that region, the flying flag at its summit,and the ample white curtains that fluttered sail-like in the openwindows, all heightened the resemblance. From its portal down to thebay, extended a noble avenue of hardwood trees--oak, walnut andelm--never planted by the hand of man. Their gracious lives thewoodman had spared, and now, with their outstretched branches,catching the faint evening breeze, they seemed to breathe a sadbenediction upon the returning youth, who walked hurriedly andtremblingly beneath them.
As he stepped from their leafy shadow upon the sunset-gilded lawn, hewas startled by an apparition which seemed suddenly to take shape froma sweet-scented thicket of lilacs now in profuse bloom at the rear ofthe house. A dark, lissome creature, beautiful as a young princess,but a princess in the disguise of a savage, darted past him. So suddenwas the appearance, and so swift the flight of this dusky Diana,speeding through the blossoming shrubs of spring, that his mindretained only a general impression of a face, perfect-featured andolive-tinted, and a form robed in a brilliant and barbarous admixtureof scarlet, yellow, and very dark blue.
But the next moment every sensation and emotion gave way tooverwhelming and profound grief, for his sister Rose, hurrying to meethim, threw herself into his arms with an abandon of sorrow that seemedto leave no room for hope. The fatal question burned a moment on hislips, then died away unuttered, leaving them pale as ashes, and a bigtear fell upon the bright head of the girl whom he now believed to bewith himself motherless. But in a moment his father took his hand in atense, strong grasp, and drew him quickly forward. "She yet breathes,"he whispered, "but is unable to recognize any of us. Heaven grant shemay know you. For days past her moan has been, 'I cannot die until Isee my son, until I see my first-born.'"
His voice broke as they entered the chamber of death. The young man,feeling strangely weak and blind, sat down beside the bed, for theawful hush of this darkened room weighed heavily upon him. As in aterrible dream he saw the sorrowing forms of his younger brother andsister, crouching at his feet, poor Rose drooping in the doorway, hisfather's trembling hands grasping a post of the high, old-fashionedbedstead, and, on the other side of the bed a youthful stranger, whoseblack dress and very black hair divinely framed a face and throat ofmilky whiteness. These objects left but a weak impression upon hisdulled senses, for all his soul was going out in resistless longingtowards the fast-ebbing life that seemed to be slipping away from hisfeeble grasp. He stroked the little bloodless hand, and kissedrepeatedly the wasted cheek, uttering at the same time low murmurs ofentreaty that she would look upon him once more before she died. Allin vain. Utterly still and unresponsive as death itself, she laybefore him. "Dear mother," he implored, "it is your son, your ownEdward that calls you. Can you not hear? Will you not come back to mea single moment? Ah, I cannot let you go; I cannot, I cannot!" Hisvoice sank in a passionate murmur of grief. "You will look at me once,will you not? Oh, mother, mother, mother!"
He had fallen to his knees, with his face on the pillow close to hers,and his last words smote upon her ear like the inarticulate wail of aninfant whose life must perish along with the strong sustaining life ofher who gave it birth. The head turned ever so slightly, the eyelidsquivered faintly and lifted, and her eyes looked fully and tenderlyupon her son. Then, with a mighty effort, she raised one transparenthand, and brought it feebly, flutteringly, higher and higher, untilit lay upon his cheek. A strange faint light of unearthly sweetnessplayed about her lips. It was a light as sweet and beautiful asher own life had been, but now it paled and faded--brightenedagain--flickered a moment--and then went out forever.
The sad sound of children weeping broke the silence of thedeath-chamber. Edward still knelt, and Rose was bowed with grief; butthe old Commodore's courageous voice sounded as though wrung from thedepths of his sorely-stricken heart:
"The Lord gave, and the Lord--" his tongue failed him, but after amomentary struggle he continued in shaking tones--"and the Lord takethaway. _Blessed_--"
He could say no more.
Surely the blessing that, for choking sobs, could not find utteranceon earth, was heard in heaven, and abundantly returned upon the braveand desolate spirit of him who strove to pronounce it.
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