Volume 3
Chapter XII. "The Chase of the Yellow Swan"
 

Frank and Lali did not meet until dinner was announced. The conversation at dinner was mainly upon the return to Greyhope, which was fixed for the following morning, and it was deftly kept gay and superficial by Marion and Richard and Captain Vidall, until General Armour became reminiscent, and held the interest of the table through a dozen little incidents of camp and barrack life until the ladies rose. There had been an engagement for late in the evening, but it had been given up because of Frank's home-coming, and there was to be a family gathering merely-- for Captain Vidall was now as much one of the family as Frank or Richard, by virtue of his approaching marriage with Marion. The men left alone, General Armour questioned Frank freely about life in the Hudson's Bay country, and the conversation ran on idly till it was time to join the ladies.

When they reached the drawing-room, Marion was seated at the piano, playing a rhapsody of Raff's, and Mrs. Armour and Lali were seated side by side. Frank thrilled at seeing his wife's hand in his mother's. Marion nodded over the piano at the men, and presently played a snatch of Carmen, then wandered off into the barbaric strength of Tannhauser, and as suddenly again into the ballet music of Faust.

"Why so wilful, my girl?" asked her father, who had a keen taste for music. "Why this tangle? Let us have something definite."

Marion sprang up from the piano. "I can't. I'm not definite myself to-night." Then, turning to Lali: "Lali dear, sing something--do! Sing my favourite, 'The Chase of the Yellow Swan.'"

This was a song which in the later days at Greyhope, Lali had sung for Marion, first in her own language, with the few notes of an Indian chant, and afterwards, by the help of the celebrated musician who had taught her both music and singing, both of which she had learned but slowly, it was translated and set to music. Lali looked Marion steadily in the eyes for a moment and then rose. It cost her something to do this thing, for while she had often talked much and long with Richard about that old life, it now seemed as if she were to sing it to one who would not quite understand why she should sing it at all, or what was her real attitude towards her past--that she looked upon it from the infinite distance of affectionate pity, knowledge, and indescribable change, and yet loved the inspiring atmosphere and mystery of that lonely North, which once in the veins never leaves it--never. Would he understand that she was feeling, not the common detail of the lodge and the camp-fire and the Company's post, but the deep spirit of Nature, filtering through the senses in a thousand ways--the wild ducks' flight, the sweet smell of the balsam, the exquisite gallop of the deer, the powder of the frost, the sun and snow and blue plains of water, the thrilling eternity of plain and the splendid steps of the hills, which led away by stair and entresol to the Kimash Hills, the Hills of the Mighty Men?

She did not know what he would think, and again on second thought she determined to make him, by this song, contrast her as she was when he married her, and now--how she herself could look upon that past unabashed, speak of it without blushing, sing of it with pride, having reached a point where she could look down and say: "This was the way by which I came."

She rose, and was accompanied to the piano by General Armour, Frank admiring her soft, springing steps, her figure so girlish and lissom. She paused for a little before she began. Her eyes showed for a moment over the piano, deep, burning, in-looking; then they veiled; her fingers touched the keys, wandered over them in a few strange, soft chords, paused, wandered again, more firmly and very intimately, and then she sang. Her voice was a good contralto, well balanced, true, of no great range, but within its compass melodious, and having some inexpressible charm of temperament. Frank did not need to strain his ears to hear the words; every one came clear, searching, delicately valued:

              "In the flash of the singing dawn,
               At the door of the Great One,
               The joy of his lodge knelt down,
               Knelt down, and her hair in the sun
               Shone like showering dust,
               And her eyes were as eyes of the fawn.
               And she cried to her lord,
               'O my lord, O my life,
               From the desert I come;
               From the hills of the Dawn.'
               And he lifted the curtain and said,
               'Hast thou seen It, the Yellow Swan?'

              "And she lifted her head, and her eyes
               Were as lights in the dark,
               And her hands folded slow on her breast,
               And her face was as one who has seen
               The gods and the place where they dwell;
               And she said: 'Is it meet that I kneel,
               That I kneel as I speak to my lord?'
               And he answered her: 'Nay, but to stand,
               And to sit by my side;
               But speak, thou hast followed the trail,
               Hast thou found It, the Yellow Swan?'

"And she stood as a queen, and her voice Was as one who hath seen the Hills, The Hills of the Mighty Men, And hath heard them cry in the night, Hath heard them call in the dawn, Hath seen It, the Yellow Swan. And she said: 'It is not for my lord;' And she murmured, 'I cannot tell, But my lord must go as I went, And my lord must come as I came, And my lord shall be wise.' "And he cried in his wrath, 'What is thine, it is mine, And thine eyes are my eyes Thou shalt speak of the Yellow Swan!' But she answered him: 'Nay, though I die. I have lain in the nest of the Swan, I have heard, I have known; When thine eyes too have seen, When thine ears too have heard, Thou shalt do with me then as thou wilt!' "And he lifted his hand to strike, And he straightened his spear to slay, But a great light struck on his eyes, And he heard the rushing of wings, And his long spear fell from his hand, And a terrible stillness came. And when the spell passed from his eyes, He stood in his doorway alone, And gone was the queen of his soul, And gone was the Yellow Swan."

Frank Armour listened as in a dream. The song had the wild swing of savage life, the deep sweetness of a monotone, but it had also the fine intelligence, the subtle allusiveness of romance. He could read between the lines. The allegory touched him where his nerves were sensitive. Where she had gone he could not go until his eyes had seen and known what hers had seen and known; he could not grasp his happiness all in a moment; she was no longer at his feet, but equal with him, and wiser than he. She had not meant the song to be allusive when she began, but to speak to him through it by singing the heathen song as his own sister might sing it. As the song went on, however, she felt the inherent suggestion in it, so that when she had finished it required all her strength to get up calmly, come among them again, and listen to their praises and thanks. She had no particular wish to be alone with Frank just yet, but the others soon arranged themselves so that the husband and wife were left in a cosey corner of the room.

Lali's heart fluttered a little at first, for the day had been trying, and she was not as strong as she could wish. Admirably as she had gone through the season, it had worn on her, and her constitution had become sensitive and delicate, while yet strong. The life had almost refined her too much. Always on the watch that she should do exactly as Marion or Mrs. Armour, always so sensitive as to what was required of her, always preparing for this very time, now that it had come, and her heart and mind were strong, her body seemed to weaken. Once or twice during the day she had felt a little faint, but it had passed off, and she had scolded herself. She did not wish a serious talk with her husband to-night, but she saw now that it was inevitable.

He said to her as he sat down beside her: "You sing very well indeed. The song is full of meaning, and you bring it all out."

"I am glad you like it," she responded conventionally. "Of course it's an unusual song for an English drawing-room."

"As you sing it, it would be beautiful and acceptable anywhere, Lali."

"Thank you again," she answered, closing and unclosing her fan, her eyes wandering to where Mrs. Armour was. She wished she could escape, for she did not feel like talking, and yet though the man was her husband she could not say that she was too tired to talk; she must be polite. Then, with a little dainty malice: "It is more interesting, though, in the vernacular--and costume!"

"Not unless you sang it so," he answered gallantly, and with a kind of earnestness.

"You have not forgotten the way of London men," she rejoined.

"Perhaps that is well, for I do not know the way of women," he said, with a faint bitterness. "Yet, I don't speak unadvisedly in this,"--here he meant to be a little bold and bring the talk to the past,--"for I heard you sing that song once before."

She turned on him half puzzled, a little nervous. "Where did you hear me sing it?"

He had made up his mind, wisely enough, to speak with much openness and some tact also, if possible. "It was on the Glow Worm River at the Clip Claw Hills. I came into your father's camp one evening in the autumn, hungry and tired and knocked about. I was given the next tent to yours. It was night, and just before I turned in I heard your voice singing. I couldn't understand much of the language, but I had the sense of it, and I know it when I hear it again."

"Yes, I remember singing it that night," she said. "Next day was the Feast of the Yellow Swan."

Her eyes presently became dreamy, and her face took on a distant, rapt look. She sat looking straight before her for a moment.

He did not speak, for he interpreted the look aright, and he was going to be patient, to wait.

"Tell me of my father," she said. "You have been kind to him?"

He winced a little. "When I left Fort Charles he was very well," he said, "and he asked me to tell you to come some day. He also has sent you a half-dozen silver-fox skins, a sash, and moccasins made by his own hands. The things are not yet unpacked."

Moccasins?--She remembered when last she had moccasins on her feet--the day she rode the horse at the quick-set hedge, and nearly lost her life. How very distant that all was, and yet how near too! Suddenly she remembered also why she took that mad ride, and her heart hardened a little.

"You have been kind to my father since I left?" she asked.

He met her eyes steadily. "No, not always; not more than I have been kind to you. But at the last, yes." Suddenly his voice became intensely direct and honest. "Lali," he continued, "there is much that I want to say to you." She waved her hand in a wearied fashion. "I want to tell you that I would do the hardest penance if I could wipe out these last four years."

"Penance?" she said dreamily--"penance? What guarantee of happiness would that be? One would not wish another to do penance if--"

She paused.

"I understand," he said--"if one cared--if one loved. Yes, I understand. But that does not alter the force or meaning of the wish. I swear to you that I repent with all my heart--the first wrong to you, the long absence--the neglect--everything."

She turned slowly to him. "Everything-Everything?" she repeated after him. "Do you understand what that means? Do you know a woman's heart? No. Do you know what a shameful neglect is at the most pitiful time in your life? No. How can a man know! He has a thousand things--the woman has nothing, nothing at all except the refuge of home, that for which she gave up everything!"

Presently she broke off, and something sprang up and caught her in the throat. Years of indignation were at work in her. "I have had a home," she said, in a low, thrilling voice--"a good home; but what did that cost you? Not one honest sentiment of pity, kindness, or solicitude. You clothed me, fed me, abandoned me, as--how can one say it? Do I not know, if coming back you had found me as you expected to find me, what the result would have been? Do I not know? You would have endured me if I did not thrust myself upon you, for you have after all a sense of legal duty, a kind of stubborn honour. But you would have made my life such that some day one or both of us would have died suddenly. For"--she looked him with a hot clearness in the eyes--"for there is just so much that a woman can bear. I wish this talk had not come now, but, since it has come, it is better to speak plainly. You see, you misunderstand. A heathen has a heart as another--has a life to be spoiled or made happy as another. Had there been one honest passion in your treatment of me-- in your marrying me--there would be something on which to base mutual respect, which is more or less necessary when one is expected to love. But--but I will not speak more of it, for it chokes me, the insult to me, not as I was, but as I am. Then it would probably have driven me mad, if I had known; now it eats into my life like rust."

He made a motion as if to take her hands, but lifting them away quietly she said: "You forget that there are others present, as well as the fact that we can talk better without demonstration."

He was about to speak, but she stopped him. "No, wait," she said; "for I want to say a little more. I was only an Indian girl, but you must remember that I had also in my veins good white blood, Scotch blood. Perhaps it was that which drew me to you then--for Lali the Indian girl loved you. Life had been to me pleasant enough--without care, without misery, open, strong and free; our people were not as those others which had learned the white man's vices. We loved the hunt, the camp-fires, the sacred feasts, the legends of the Mighty Men; and the earth was a good friend, whom we knew as the child knows its mother."

She paused. Something seemed to arrest her attention. Frank followed her eyes. She was watching Captain Vidall and Marion. He guessed what she was thinking--how different her own wooing had been from theirs, how concerning her courtship she had not one sweet memory--the thing that keeps alive more love and loyalty in this world than anything else. Presently General Armour joined them, and Frank's opportunity was over for the present.

Captain Vidall and Marion were engaged in a very earnest conversation, though it might not appear so to observers.

"Come, now, Marion," he said protestingly, "don't be impossible. Please give the day a name. Don't you think we've waited about long enough?"

"There was a man in the Bible who served seven years."

"I've served over three in India since I met you at the well, and that counts double. Why so particular to a day? It's a bit Jewish. Anyhow, that seven years was rough on Rachel."

"How, Hume? Because she got passee?"

"Well, that counted; but do you suppose that Jew was going to put in those seven years without interest? Don't you believe it. Rachel paid capital and interest back, or Jacob was no Jew. Tell me, Marion, when shall it be?"

"Hume, for a man who has trifled away years in India, you are strangely impatient."

"Mrs. Lambert says that I have the sweetest disposition."

"My dear sir!"

"Don't look at me like that at this distance, or I shall have to wear goggles, as the man did who went courting the Sun."

"How supremely ridiculous you are! And I thought you such a sensible, serious man."

"Mrs. Lambert put that in your head. We used to meet at the annual dinners of the Bible Society."

"Why do you tell me such stuff?"

"It's a fact. Her father and my aunt were in that swim, and we were sympathisers."

"Mercenary people!"

"It worked very well in her case; not so well in mine. But we conceived a profound respect for each other then. But tell me, Marion, when is it to be? Why put off the inevitable?"

"It isn't inevitable--and I'm only twenty-three."

                    "Only twenty-three,
                    And as good fish in the sea"

he responded, laughing. "Yes, but you've set the precedent for a courtship of four years and a bit, and what man could face it?"

"You did."

"Yes, but I wasn't advertised of the fact beforehand. Suppose I had seen the notice at the start: 'This mortgage cannot be raised inside of four years--and a bit!' There's a limit to human endurance."

"Why shouldn't I hold to the number, but alter the years to days?"

"You wouldn't dare. A woman must live up to her reputation."

"Indeed? What an ambition!"

"And a man to his manners."

"An unknown quantity."

"And a lover to his promises."

"A book of jokes." Marion had developed a taste for satire.

"Which reminds me of Lady Halwood and Mrs. Lambert. Lady Halwood was more impertinent than usual the other day at the Sinclairs' show, and had a little fling at Mrs. Lambert. The talk turned on gowns. Lady Halwood was much interested at once. She has a weakness that way. 'Why,' said she, 'I like these fashions this year, but I'm not sure that they suit me. They're the same as when the Queen came to the throne.' 'Well,' said Mrs. Lambert sweetly, 'if they suited you then--' There was an audible titter, and Mrs. Lambert had an enemy for life."

"I don't see the point of your story in this connection."

"No? Well, it was merely to suggest that if you had to live up to this scheme of four-years' probation, other people besides lovers would make up books of jokes, and--"

"That's like a man--to threaten."

"Yes, I threaten--on my knees."

"Hume, how long do you think Frank will have to wait?"

They were sitting where they had a good view of the husband and wife, and Vidall, after a moment, said: "I don't know. She has waited four years, too; now it looks as if, like Jacob, she was going to gather in her shekels of interest compounded."

"It isn't going to be a bit pleasant to watch."

"But you won't be here to see."

Marion ignored the suggestion. "She seems to have hardened since he came yesterday. I hardly know her; and yet she looks awfully worn to-night, don't you think?"

"Yes, as if she had to keep a hand on herself. But it'll come out all right in the end, you'll see."

"Yes, of course; but she might be sensible and fall in love with Frank at once. That's what she did when--"

"When she didn't know man."

"Yes, but where would you all be if we women acted on what we know of you?"

"On our knees chiefly, as I am. Remember this, Marion, that half a sinner is better than no man."

"You mean that no man is better than half a saint?"

"How you must admire me!"

"Why?"

"As you are about to name the day, I assume that I'm a whole saint in your eyes."

"St. Augustine!"

"Who was he?"

"A man that reformed."

"Before or after marriage?"

"Before, I suppose."

"I don't think he died happy."

"Why not?"

"I've a faint recollection that he was boiled."

"Don't be horrid. What has that to do with it?"

"Nothing, perhaps. But he probably broke out again after marriage, and sank at last into that caldron. That's what it means by being-steeped in crime."

"How utterly nonsensical you are!"

"I feel light-headed. You've been at sea, on a yacht becalmed, haven't you? when along comes a groundswell, and as you rock in the sun there comes trouble, and your head goes round like a top? Now, that's my case. I've been becalmed four years, and while I pray for a little wind to take me--home, you rock me in the trough of uncertainty. Suspense is very gall and wormwood. You know what the jailer said to the criminal who was hanging on a reprieve: 'Rope deferred maketh the heart sick.' Marion, give me the hour, or give me the rope."

"The rope enough to hang yourself?"

She suddenly reached up and pulled a hair from her head. She laid it in his hand-a long brown silken thread. "Hume," she said airily yet gently, "there is the rope. Can you love me for a month of Sundays?"

"Yes, for ever and a day!"

"I will cancel the day, and take your bond for the rest. I will be generous. I will marry you in two months-and a day."

"My dearest girl!"--he drew her hand into both of his--"I can't have you more generous than myself, I'll throw off the month." But his eyes were shining very seriously, though his mouth smiled.

"Two months and a day," she repeated.

"We must all bundle off to Greyhope to-morrow," came General Armour's voice across the room. "Down comes the baby, cradle and all."

Lali rose. "I am very tired," she said; "I think I will say good-night."

"I'll go and see the boy with you," Frank said, rising also.

Lali turned towards Marion. Marion's face was flushed, and had a sweet, happy confusion. With a low, trembling good-night to Captain Vidall, a hurried kiss on her mother's cheek, and a tip-toed caress on her father's head, she ran and linked her arm in Lali's, and together they proceeded to the child's room. Richard was there when they arrived, mending a broken toy. Two hours later, the brothers parted at Frank's door.

"Reaping the whirlwind, Dick?" Frank said, dropping his hand on his brother's arm.

Richard pointed to the child's room.

"Nonsense! Do you want all the world at once? You are reaping the forgiveness of your sins." Somehow Richard's voice was a little stern.

"I was thinking of my devilry, Dick. That's the whirlwind--here!" His hand dropped on his breast.

"That's where it ought to be. Good-night."

"Good-night."