MEANWHILE the days spent so busily and actively by the absent father at Toronto, passed slowly and. sadly, albeit busily too, with the children at Weston farm.
"Minnie," Denham had said as they walked back through the frosty woods on the morning of the 5th of December, "you must let me do all I can to help you manage things while papa is away. I know I am not old enough nor big enough to do so much as I should like, and you will, after all, have most of the burden to bear, but you must let me help you all I can. Will you, Min?"
There were tears, as much of suddenly roused fondness and affectionate pride as of sadness, in Minnie's eyes as she looked down at her young brother's bright, earnest face, so like Mr. Holford's, with its broad forehead and large blue eyes. The boy was possessed by an enthusiastic admiration of, and a chivalrous devotion to, his pretty and graceful elder sister,--feelings which she returned with a love and a pride in his noble looks and still nobler qualifies, which were almost motherly.
"You are always a help and comfort to me, Denham," she replied, putting her hand into his, "and never more so than now." They were too downhearted and too anxious about their father as well as themselves to say much more just then. And so they walked home band in hand, gaining courage and confidence from that tacit compact of mutual help and support. How well that compact was kept the sequel will shew.
The weeks rolled on and Christmas Day arrived, and yet they had no tidings of their absent father, for the only letter which he had been able to send to them had been intercepted on its road by the rebels. It was but a cheerless Christmas Day, though Minnie did her best to make it bright for the younger ones. Nor was she the only anxious elder in the party,--old Mary's face wore a look of trouble which had a more immediately personal source than the anxiety of the family whom she served; and Minnie, always thoughtful for, others, was not long in discerning the cause.
"You are anxious about Rose, Mary," she observed sympathizingly, following the direction of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's eyes, which kept glancing aside from the savoury dinner which she was dishing to the little woodhouse across the yard, where her youngest daughter was busy gathering up a few light dry chips in her apron wherewith to replenish the fire.
"She frets about Baptiste Lemourier," said Mary, with a heavy sigh. "She says nothing and she does not cry, but she weeps inwardly, and it's killing her, Miss Minnie. Look at her face.--Hush! here she comes." And Mary turned all her attention and looks upon her gravy and vegetables, as Rose reentered the kitchen. It was true enough that the poor girl's face shewed signs of suffering, which were but too plainly visible even to less anxiously observant eyes than her mother's. The plump outline of the laughing cheek was thinned, and much of its bloom was gone; the merry lips which used to be always parting with some laughing sally or gleeful smile were now closed with an expression of mournful patience and determination to endure which was very sorrowful to see. She was a special favourite with Minnie. There was a certain naïve and childlike simplicity about her which won upon Minnie more, upon the whole, than did Jessie's sedateness and slightly self-conscious wisdom. Her sad looks pained this good little woman, and took away her appetite for her Christmas dinner. "She must not brood all by herself over her troubles," thought she to herself during the said dinner, "that must be bad for any one. To be sure, she has Jacqueline to talk to, but then one never gets too much of sympathy. I fancy it's an article of which the demand usually exceeds the supply." And Minnie began to blame herself severely for having been so busy with her brothers and sister as to have omitted talking to Rose before about her lover and his possible whereabouts. Dinner over, she drew the Irish girl aside, and soon had gently won her way into her confidence. For Rose was not reserved. The pride which has a large share in producing that quality was quite foreign to her open and affectionate nature. She took gratefully all the relief from her pain which she could get, and was too simply wise to make her burden any heavier by refusing, for dignity's sake, to let any one bear a little of it with her. Except the expression of her sympathy, it was little enough that Minnie could do for her; but sympathy goes a great way with many people, and, as Minnie rightly guessed, the demand here exceeded the supply.
"I cannot add to dear Jacqueline's troubles by telling her all mine," said Rose, plaintively, "and so I have to tell them to myself, and to the Blessed Virgin, until my heart is sore for a word--a spoken word--of comfort. Oh, I could bear it if I had given him up to a good cause. But to think of what has parted us, to think of the companions he is with, of the deeds they have done,--there is the pain. That my Baptiste, of whom I was so proud, should have joined with such as these!"
"Ah, Rose, you may be sure his heart is not with them, however he may have got ensnared by them for a time. Dear old Jacqueline's son and your betrothed, sweet Rose, cannot be at heart one of these black rebels."
"You think not, Miss Minnie? Ah, that is a comfort. But then, another thing which makes my heart fit to break when I think of it is, that I fear some hasty words of mine drove him into it further than lie would otherwise have gone." And then she told Minnie all about their conversation on the Sunday evening just preceding the first outbreak of les Fils de la Liberté.
"Be comforted, Rose. You did and said all for the best. And doubt not Baptiste's heart is not estranged from you; it yearns after you, you may be sure, wherever he is. Perhaps in the end his love for you will be just the leading star to guide him back to his duty and loyalty."
So they talked on by the Christmas fire until Rose's brightened face shewed how much her grief was lightened by the sympathy of the gentle little lady, whose ready tact made her understand the sore points of other folk's troubles, even though she might have never felt the like.
Among the many little works of Christian charity which Minnie had laid by for the festival week, was a visit to Anoonk, whom she was teaching to read, with great patience and no small success. "Rose," she said, "will you come with me to the Indian encampment. I am going to see my friend Anoonk, and I think the walk will do you good. Besides, you have never seen her, and you will be amused at her pretty, odd little ways." And so the two foster-sisters set out on their way one bright afternoon towards the close of the Christmas week to go to the Indian camp. Jacqueline watched them from the door with a pensive smile oh her benevolent, wrinkled old face. "The English lady is as good as she is sweet-looking. Already she, has done good to my Baptiste's Rose; this is two or three times that she has had Rose out to walk with her. Ah, that one also is a good girl. She deserves to have my Baptise, for she loves him truly.
They had not gone more than half way towards their journey's end when they saw a light and graceful little figure coming along the track in front of them.
"Anoonk!" exclaimed Minnie, in surprise. "How strange! Why I was just coming to see you."
"And Anoonk came to see the 'White Cloud,'" said the young Indian, in her low musical voice. Then, tendering a letter, she added, "Anoonk brings a letter for the old white squaw,"--meaning by this, Mary Kirkpatrick.
Minnie took the missive with some surprise. "How ever did you come by a letter for Mary, dear Anoonk?--But you are mistaken," she added, as she looked more closely at the superscription, "this is not for the old squaw, but for the young one here. Here, take it, Rose. The direction is quite clear, 'Rose Kirkpatrick.' Anoonk knew not of you, while she is aware that Mary's name is Kirkpatrick, and therefore concluded that any one of that name must be your mother." Rose's pale cheek glowed brilliantly as she took the letter into her hand and opened it, but the next moment it paled again as swiftly, and she would have fallen had it not been for Minnie's prompt support. Anoonk looked on gravely and wonderingly.
"What is it, dear Rose?" whispered Minnie. "Is it any ill tidings, think you?"
"No, no," answered Rose in a voice half stifled with agitation. "It is from Baptiste. Oh, I am so glad--so sorry. Holy Virgin, I do not know what I am saying!"
"First tell me what makes you glad," said Minnie, adroitly, "and do not stand still in the snow, it is bad for you. Anoonk, come with us."
"Oh, I am glad," said Rose, "because he writes to me; because he says--yes, see, here it is--he is no longer a 'Son of Liberty.' He wants me to say that I forgive him; he wants to see me:--but oh, he is ill, very ill. That is sad news. But take the letter. See, read it; it is very short."
It was indeed short; in fact, it contained little more than what Rose had already briefly told Minnie. It concluded by saying that the bearers of the note would tell Rose all the rest.
"Who are they who have brought it, Anoonk?" enquired Minnie of the Indian, "and why did they bring it to you?"
"Two red men brought it. They did not know the white man's house. They knew the river; they knew Sekoskee's dwelling; they brought it that Anoonk might give it to the squaw."
"I understand," said Minnie, who by this time had become quite au fait of Anoonk's abrupt and broken English, and had not only taught the Indian to speak that language more correctly, but had even learned some of the Indian words. "I understand. Anoonk means, Rose, that these Indians who brought your letter were directed to this part of the country to find us, but not knowing the exact spot, and being well, acquainted with the locality of the Indian village, they went there to gain more precise information as to our whereabouts, and finding that Anoonk knew us, they entrusted the letter to her."
"The stranger red men live in Sekoskee's wigwam while they stay. To-morrow they go to their houses," said Anoonk.
The three girls pursued their way to the said wigwam, where they found the two "stranger red men,"--tall and handsome men, Mohawks from the Bay of Quinté. In personal appearance they had decidedly the advantage over the Missasaguas, to which tribe Sekoskee and Anoonk belonged; they were Christians moreover, and spoke very tolerable English. Their story was short and plain. Baptiste Lemourier had been found by one of their tribe in the Indian woods in the township of Tyendinaga, badly wounded and unable to move. They had taken him under their care, had nursed and tended him, and finally at his earnest request had undertaken this lengthy journey in order to bring his letter to Rose. Having fulfilled their mission, they intended returning to their homes on the morrow, as Anoonk had said.
"I must go with them," said Rose to Minnie, in a tone of determination that presupposed opposition and set it at defiance before it was expressed. She was mistaken, however, for Minnie was too wise to make any. She did not feel quite certain of the wisdom of the scheme, it is true, without a further reflection, but if opposition was to be made, she left it to Rose's own mother and Baptiste's mother to make it. With them Rose's persuasions soon carried the day. The Mohawks, though strangers and somewhat fierce-looking men, were evidently thoroughly friendly, or they would not have taken the trouble to nurse Baptiste and convey his letter so long a distance for him. And the difficulty of the escort being got over, the rest of the plan was suitable and natural enough. The Tyendinaga Indians had with them a horse and sleigh, and on the morrow, under Anoonk's guidance, they arrived at John Kirkpatrick's house, and found Rose all ready prepared to take Anoonk's place in the sleigh, and go with them to the Bay of Quinté. Good old Jacqueline saw her depart without any jealous regrets. "His old mother tried to keep him in the right way," she said, imply, "and could not do it; if Rose can, it will be the happier for us both. At least she can try, and God's blessing go with her."
Rose's journey was swift and prosperous. No polished Europeans could have been more careful nor more thoughtfully courteous to their pretty young charge than were these two dark-skinned and fierce-looking Mohawks. And, when they at length arrived under the shadow of the Indian woods, the simple but stately welcome to their land, which they expressed with the measured dignity of language common to all the North American Indians, moved the susceptible Irish girl even to tears.
Emerging from the broad belt of forest-land through which they had been travelling, they now came upon a wide, cleared slope, bounded at its lower extreme by the clear, glittering waters of the Bay of Quinté and dotted over with neat farm-houses and patches of cultivated ground. Hither, towards the close of the last century, had the loyal Mohawks emigrated, choosing rather to leave their native valleys by the fertile banks of the Mohawk river, than to relinquish their allegiance to the British sovereign when that land became a part of the United States. They were members of the Church of England, and brought with them the altar-cloth and communion-plate of their church. Nor was it long before they erected a pretty Gothic edifice, about a mile from the Bay, where their sacred treasures were deposited, including three large marble tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments, which had been presented to the tribe by Queen Anne. Nor was this picturesque stone church the result of other people's care on their behalf; for the greater portion of the funds necessary for its erection were contributed by the Indians themselves. They prized their holy faith to a degree which might put to shame many of our white Canadian settlers, and did not rest satisfied until both church, school, and parsonage-house graced their new land.
The two Indians who had Rose in charge took her to one of the those comfortable-looking of the houses in the village, and there consigned her to the care of an old squaw, whose kindly dark eyes, though not absolutely like, somehow reminded the young stranger pleasantly of her dear old friend Jacqueline. Her guides explained to this old woman who Rose was, and what was her errand; then with a few words of graceful farewell they turned their horse's steps to their own dwelling.
This old Indian spoke no English, or next to none, and it was only by signs, therefore, that she and Rose could communicate. Under these circumstances she wisely thought the best thing she could do was to take her young guest at once to the sick man, and let the two pale-faces explain things themselves to each other. She beckoned Rose to follow her accordingly, and led her into a little apartment, plain enough certainly, unpainted, and wanting in many of the little finishings and elegancies of a white settler's farmhouse, but by no means uncomfortable nor destitute of attractiveness. The window looked down over a well-cultivated piece of the broad slope on which the settlement is situated, into the bright and dancing bay, across which one might see the beautiful, well-wooded shore on the further side of the lake. Some sacred prints adorned the walls, and the floor was garnished with Indian mats of bright colour and choice weaving. But on none of these things did Rose's eye rest. The room contained but one thing for her, and that one thing was the thin, pale, dark-eyed being, more like the ghost of Baptiste than like Baptiste himself, lying upon the carefully piled-up buffalo robes on the opposite side of the room. How she flew to him, and caressed him like a sick child--as he was! How she soothed him and calmed his agitation, controlling her own the while, that she might not hurt him! How she murmured of nothing but joy at meeting him again, taking scrupulous heed to make no allusion which might pain or distress him! He was very weak yet, for his wounds had been severe,--just in that state of weakness when even the strongest and hardest man does not object to being treated with more of petting and tenderness than they usually care to have. He leaned his head against her shoulder, and listened gladly to the kind words which his betrothed lavished upon him, unmingled with the slightest syllable or tone of reproach. A stream of confidence and great contentment flowed back into his troubled mind; and then it broke upon him how grievously he had mistrusted, as men often do mistrust, a good woman's plighted love. How in Rose's, as in many another warm and tender nature, that love included many varying shades of affection, and contained within its rainbow-like circle a tinge of many other hues of the crowning grace of charity;--how with strange and rapid play of feeling she could look up with all the reliance of the submissive future wife, and look down with all the gentle indulgence and unexacting tenderness of the fond unselfish mother. He was supremely happy at that moment, and if he was getting rather better treatment than he deserved, why, it is what we most of us get many times in our own lives from One who is wiser than any fellow-creature can be, however pure and good. Rose would not let him talk much at first, and very soon the good old Indian came in to feed her patient, and to insist, by signs sufficiently imperative, and little guttural words that had a most ominously determined sound, that Rose also should eat and drink.