Chapter XX. Her Clinging Arms
 

The ancient capital of Canada--the old gray queen of the mighty St. Lawrence--is a city of many charms and of much stately beauty. Its narrow, climbing streets, with their quaint shops and curious gables, its old market, with chaffering habitant farmers and their wives, are full of living interest. Its noble rock, crowned with the ancient citadel, and its sweeping tidal river, lend it a dignity and majestic beauty that no other city knows; and everywhere about its citadel and walls, and venerable, sacred buildings, there still linger the romance and chivalry of heroic days long gone. But there are times when neither the interests of the living present nor the charms of the romantic past can avail, and so a shadow lay upon Maimie's beautiful face as she sat in the parlor of the Hotel de Cheval Blanc, looking out upon the mighty streets and the huddled roofs of the lower town. She held in her hand an open note.

"It is just awfully stupid," she grumbled, "and I think pretty mean of him!"

"Of whom, may I ask?" said Kate, pausing in her singing, "or is there any need? What says the gallant lieutenant?"

Maimie tossed her the note.

"The picnic is postponed. Well, of course the rain told us that; and he is unavoidably prevented from calling, and entreats your sympathy and commiseration. Well, that's a very nice note, I am sure."

"Where has he been these three days! He might have known it would be stupid, and Harry gives one no satisfaction." Maimie was undeniably cross. "And Ranald, too," she went on, "where has he been? Not even your music could bring him!" with a little spice of spite. "I think men are just horrid, anyway."

"Especially when they will keep away," said Kate.

"Well, what are they good for if not to entertain us? I wish we could do without them! But I do think Ranald might have come."

"Well," said Kate, emphatically, "I can't see why you should expect him."

"Why not?"

"I think you ought to know."

"I, how should I know?" Maimie's innocent blue eyes were wide open with surprise.

"Nonsense," cried Kate, with impatience rare in her, "don't be absurd, Maimie; I am not a child."

"What do you mean?"

"You needn't tell me you don't know why Ranald comes. Do you want him to come?"

"Why, of course I do; how silly you are."

"Well," said Kate, deliberately, "I would rather be silly than cruel and unkind."

"Why, Kate, how dreadful of you!" exclaimed Maimie; "'cruel and unkind!'"

"Yes." said Kate; "you are not treating Ranald well. You should not encourage him to--to--care for you when you do not mean to-- to--go on with it."

"Oh, what nonsense; Ranald is not a baby; he will not take any hurt."

"Oh, Maimie," said Kate, and her voice was low and earnest, "Ranald is not like other men. He does not understand things. He loves you and he will love you more every day if you let him. Why don't you let him go?"

"Let him go!" cried Maimie, "who's keeping him?" But as she spoke the flush in her cheek and the warm light in her eye told more clearly than words that she did not mean to let him go just then.

"You are," said Kate, "and you are making him love you."

"Why, how silly you are," cried Maimie; "of course he likes me, but--"

"No, Maimie," said Kate, with sad earnestness, "he loves you; you can see it in the way he looks at you; in his voice when he speaks and--oh, you shouldn't let him unless you mean to--to--go on. Send him right away!" There were tears in Kate's dark eyes.

"Why, Katie," cried Maimie, looking at her curiously, "what difference does it make to you? And besides, how can I send him away? I just treat him as I do Mr. De Lacy."

"De Lacy!" cried Kate, indignantly. "De Lacy can look after himself, but Ranald is different. He is so serious and--and so honest, and he means just what he says, and you are so nice to him, and you look at him in such a way!"

"Why, Kate, do you mean that I try to--" Maimie was righteously indignant.

"You perhaps don't know," continued Kate, "but you can't help being fascinating to men; you know you are, and Ranald believes you so, and--and you ought to be quite straightforward with him!" Poor Kate could no longer command her voice.

"There, now," said Maimie, caressing her friend, not unpleased with Kate's description of her; "I'm going to be good. I will just be horrid to both of them, and they'll go away! But, oh, dear, things are all wrong! Poor Ranald," she said to herself, "I wonder if he will come to the picnic on Saturday?"

Kate looked at her friend a moment and wiped away her tears.

"Indeed I hope he will not," she said, indignantly, "for I know you mean to just lead him on. I have a mind to tell him."

"Tell him what?" said Maimie, smiling.

"Just what you mean to do."

"I wish you would tell me that."

"Now I tell you, Maimie," said Kate, "if you go on with Ranald so any longer I will just tell him you are playing with him."

"Do," said Maimie, scornfully, "and be careful to make clear to him at the same time that you are speaking solely in his interest!"

Kate's face flushed red at the insinuation, and then grew pale. She stood for some time looking in silence at her friend, and then with a proud flash of her dark eyes, she swept from the room without a word, nor did Maimie see her again that afternoon, though she stood outside her door entreating with tears to be forgiven. Poor Kate! Maimie's shaft had gone too near a vital spot, and the wound amazed and terrified her. Was it for Ranald's sake alone she cared? Yes, surely it was. Then why this sharp new pain under the hand pressing hard upon her heart?

Oh, what did that mean? She put her face in her pillow to hide the red that she knew was flaming in her cheeks, and for a few moments gave herself up to the joy that was flooding her whole heart and soul and all her tingling veins. Oh, how happy she was. For long she had heard of the Glengarry lad from Maimie and more from Harry till there had grown up in her heart a warm, admiring interest. And now she had come to know him for herself! How little after all had they told her of him. What a man he was! How strong and how fearless! How true-hearted and how his eyes could fill with love! She started up. Love? Love? Ah, where was her joy! How chill the day had grown and how hateful the sunlight on the river. She drew down the blind and threw herself once more upon the bed, shivering and sick with pain--the bitterest that heart can know. Once more she started up.

"She is not worthy of him!" she exclaimed, aloud; "her heart is not deep enough; she does not, cannot love him, and oh, if some one would only let him know!"

She would tell him herself. No! No! Maimie's sharp arrow was quivering still in her heart. Once more she threw herself upon the bed. How could she bear this that had stricken her? She would go home. She would go to her mother to-morrow. Go away forever from-- ah--could she? No, anything but that! She could not go away.

Over the broad river the warm sunlight lay with kindly glow, and the world was full of the soft, sweet air of spring, and the songs of mating birds; but the hours passed, and over the river the shadows began to creep, and the whole world grew dark, and the songs of the birds were hushed to silence. Then, from her room, Kate came down with face serene, and but for the eyes that somehow made one think of tears, without a sign of the storm that had swept her soul. She did not go home. She was too brave for that. She would stay and fight her battle to the end.

That was a dreary week for Ranald. He was lonely and heartsick for the woods and for his home and friends, but chiefly was he oppressed with the sense of having played the fool in his quarrel with De Lacy, whom he was beginning to admire and like. He surely might have avoided that; and yet whenever he thought of the game that had swept away from Rouleau all his winter's earnings, and of the cruel blow that had followed, he felt his muscles stiffen and his teeth set tight in rage. No, he would do it all again, nor would he retreat one single step from the position he had taken, but would see his quarrel through to the end. But worst of all he had not seen Maimie all the week. His experience with Harry in the ordering of his suit had taught him the importance of clothes, and he now understood as he could not before, Maimie's manner to him. "That would be it," he said to himself, "and no wonder. What would she do with a great, coarse tyke like me!" Then, in spite of all his loyalty, he could not help contrasting with Maimie's uncertain and doubtful treatment of him, the warm, frank friendliness of Kate. "She did not mind my clothes," he thought, with a glow of gratitude, but sharply checking himself, he added, "but why should she care?" It rather pleased him to think that Maimie cared enough to feel embarrassed at his rough dress. So he kept away from the Hotel de Cheval Blanc till his new suit should be ready. It was not because of his dress, however, that he steadily refused Harry's invitation to the picnic.

"No, I will not go," he said, with blunt decision, after listening to Harry's pleading. "It is Lieutenant De Lacy's picnic, and I will have nothing to do with him, and indeed he will not be wanting me!"

"Oh, he's forgotten all about that little affair," cried Harry.

"Has he? Indeed then if he is a man he has not!"

"I guess he hasn't remembered much of anything for the last week," said Harry, with a slight laugh.

"Why not?"

"Oh, pshaw, he's been on a big tear. He only sobered up yesterday."

"Huh!" grunted Ranald, contemptuously. He had little respect for a man who did not know when he had had enough. "What about his job?" he asked.

"His job? Oh, I see. His job doesn't worry him much. He's absent on sick-leave. But he's all fit again and I know he will be disappointed if you do not come to-morrow."

"I will not go," said Ranald, with final decision, "and you can tell him so, and you can tell him why."

And Harry did tell him with considerable fullness and emphasis not only of Ranald's decision, but also Ranald's opinion of him, for he felt that it would do that lordly young man no harm to know that a man whom he was inclined to patronize held him in contempt and for cause. The lieutenant listened for a time to all Harry had to say with apparent indifference, then suddenly interrupting him, he said: "Oh, I say, old chap, I wouldn't rub it in if I were you. I have a more or less vague remembrance of having rather indulged in heroics. One can't keep his head with poker and unlimited brandy- and-sodas; they don't go together. It's a thing I almost never do; never in a big game, but the thing got interesting before I knew. But I say, that Glengarry chap plays a mighty good game. Must get him on again. Feels hot, eh? I will make that all right, and what's the French chap's name--Boileau, Rondeau, eh? Rouleau. Yes, and where could one see him?"

"I can find out from LeNoir, who will be somewhere near Ranald. You can't get him away from him."

"Well, do," said the lieutenant, lazily. "Bring LeNoir to see me. I owe that Rouleau chap an apology. Beastly business! And I'll fix it up with Macdonald. He has the right of it, by Jove! Rather lucky, I fancy, he didn't yield to my solicitations for a try at the other game--from what I remember of the street riot, eh? Would not mind having a go with him with the gloves, though. I will see him to-morrow morning. Keep your mind at rest."

Next morning when LeNoir came to his work he was full of the lieutenant's praises to Ranald.

"Das fine feller le Capitaine, eh? Das de Grand Seigneur for sure! He's mak eet all right wit Rouleau! He's pay de cash money and he's mak eet de good posish for him, an' set him up the champagne, too, by gar!"

"Huh," grunted Ranald. "Run that crib around the boom there LeNoir; break it up and keep your gang moving to-day!"

"Bon!" said LeNoir, with alacrity. "I give 'em de big move, me!"

But however unwilling Ranald was to listen to LeNoir singing the lieutenant's praises, when he met Harry at noon in the office he was even more enthusiastic than LeNoir in his admiration of De Lacy.

"I never saw the likes of him," he said. "He could bring the birds out of the trees with that tongue of his. Indeed, I could not have done what he did whatever. Man, but he is a gentleman!"

"And are you going this evening?"

"That I am," said Ranald. "What else could I do? I could not help myself; he made me feel that mean that I was ready to do anything."

"All right," said Harry, delighted, "I will take my canoe around for you after six."

"And," continued Ranald, with a little hesitation, "he told me he would be wearing a jersey and duck trousers, and I think that was very fine of him."

"Why, of course," said Harry, quite mystified, "what else would he wear?"

Ranald looked at him curiously for a moment, and said: "A swallow- tail, perhaps, or a blanket, maybe," and he turned away leaving Harry more mystified than ever.

Soon after six, Harry paddled around in his canoe, and gave the stern to Ranald. What a joy it was to him to be in a canoe stern again; to feel the rush of the water under his knees; to have her glide swiftly on her soundless way down the full-bosomed, sunbathed river; to see her put her nose into the little waves and gently, smoothly push them asunder with never a splash or swerve; to send her along straight and true as an arrow in its flight, and then flip! flip to swing her off a floating log or around an awkward boat lumbering with clumsy oars. That was to be alive again. Oh, the joy of it! Of all things that move to the will of man there is none like the canoe. It alone has the sweet, smooth glide, the swift, silent dart answering the paddle sweep; the quick swerve in response to the turn of the wrist. Ranald felt as if he could have gladly paddled on right out to the open sea; but sweeping around a bend a long, clear call hailed them, and there, far down at the bottom of a little bay, at the foot of the big, scarred, and wrinkled rock the smoke and glimmer of the camp-fire could be seen. A flip of the stern paddle, and the canoe pointed for the waving figure, and under the rhythmic sweep of the paddles, sped like an arrow down the waters, sloping to the shore. There, on a great rock, stood Kate, directing their course.

"Here's a good landing," she cried. Right at the rock dashed the canoe at full speed. A moment more and her dainty nose would be battered out of all shape on the cruel rock, but a strong back stroke, a turn of the wrist, flip, and she lay floating quietly beside the rock.

"Splendid!" cried Kate.

"Well done, by Jove!" exclaimed the lieutenant, who was himself an expert with the paddle.

"I suppose you have no idea how fine you look," cried Kate.

"And I am quite sure," answered Harry, "you have no suspicion of what a beautiful picture you all make." And a beautiful picture it was: the great rocky cliff in the background, tricked out in its new spring green of moss and shrub and tree; the grassy plot at its foot where a little stream gurgled out from the rock; the blazing camp-fire with the little group about it; and in front the sunlit river. How happy they all were! And how ready to please and to be pleased. Even little Mr. Sims had his charm. And at the making of the tea, which Kate had taken in charge with Ranald superintending, what fun there was with burning of fingers and upsetting of kettles! And then, the talk and the laughter at the lieutenant's brilliant jokes, and the chaffing of the "lumbermen" over their voracious appetites! It was an hour of never-to-be-forgotten pleasure. They were all children again, and with children's hearts were happy in childhood's simple joys. And why not? There are no joys purer than those of the open air; of grass and trees flooded with the warm light and sweet scents of the soft springtime. Too soon it all came to an end, and then they set off to convoy the stately old lady to her carriage at the top of the cliff. Far in front went Kate, disdaining the assistance of Harry and Mr. Sims, who escorted her. Near at hand the lieutenant was in attendance upon Maimie, who seemed to need his constant assistance; for the way was rough, and there were so many jutting points of rock for wonderful views, and often the very prettiest plants were just out of reach. Last of all came Madame De Lacy, climbing the steep path with difficulty and holding fast to Ranald's arm. With charming grace she discoursed of the brave days of old in which her ancestors had played a worthy part. An interesting tale it was, but in spite of all her charm of speech, and grace of manner, Ranald could not keep his mind from following his heart and eyes that noted every step and move of the beautiful girl, flitting in and out among the trees before them. And well it was that his eyes were following so close; for, as she was reaching for a dainty spray of golden birch, holding by the lieutenant's hand, the treacherous moss slipped from under Maimie's feet, and with a piercing shriek she went rolling down the sloping mountain-side, dragging her escort with her. Like a flash of light Ranald dropped madame's arm, and seizing the top of a tall birch that grew up from the lower ledge, with a trick learned as a boy in the Glengarry woods, he swung himself clear over the edge, and dropping lightly on the mossy bank below, threw himself in front of the rolling bodies, and seizing them held fast. In another moment leaving the lieutenant to shift for himself, Ranald was on his knees beside Maimie, who lay upon the moss, white and still. "Some water, for God's sake!" he cried, hoarsely, to De Lacy, who stood dazed beside him, and then, before the lieutenant could move, Ranald lifted Maimie in his arms, as if she had been an infant, and bore her down to the river's edge, and laid her on the grassy bank. Then, taking up a double handful of water, he dashed it in her face. With a little sigh she opened her eyes, and letting them rest upon his face, said, gently, "Oh, Ranald, I am so glad you--I am so sorry I have been so bad to you." She could say no more, but from her closed eyes two great tears made their way down her pale cheeks.

"Oh, Maimie, Maimie," said Ranald, in a broken voice, "tell me you are not hurt."

Again she opened her eyes and said, "No, I am not hurt, but you will take me home; you will not leave me!" Her fingers closed upon his hand.

With a quick, strong clasp, he replied: "I will not leave you."

In a few minutes she was able to sit up, and soon they were all about her, exclaiming and lamenting.

"What a silly girl I am," she said, with a little tremulous laugh, "and what a fright I must have given you all!"

"Don't rise, my dear," said Madame De Lacy, "until you feel quite strong."

"Oh, I am quite right," said Maimie, confidently; "I am sure I am not hurt in the least."

"Oh, I am so thankful!" cried Kate.

"It is the Lord's mercy," said Ranald, in a voice of deep emotion.

"Are you quite sure you are not hurt?" said Harry, anxiously.

"Yes, I really think I am all right, but what a fright I must look!"

"Thank God!" said Harry fervently; "I guess you're improving," at which they all laughed.

"Now I think we must get home," said Madame De Lacy. "Do you think you can walk, Maimie?"

"Oh, yes," cried Maimie, and taking Ranald's hand, she tried to stand up, but immediately sank back with a groan.

"Oh, it is my foot," she said, "I am afraid it is hurt."

"Let me see!" cried Harry. "I don't think it is broken," he said, after feeling it carefully, "but I have no doubt it is a very bad sprain. You can't walk for certain."

"Then we shall have to carry her," said Madame De Lacy, and she turned to her son.

"I fear I can offer no assistance," said the lieutenant, pointing to his arm which was hanging limp at his side.

"Why, Albert, are you hurt? What is the matter? You are hurt!" cried his mother, anxiously.

"Not much, but I fear my arm is useless. You might feel it," he said to Ranald.

Carefully Ranald passed his hand down the arm.

"Say nothing," whispered the lieutenant to him. "It's broken. Tie it up some way." Without a word Ranald stripped the bark of a birch tree, and making a case, laid the arm in it and bound it firmly with his silk handkerchief.

"We ought to have a sling," he said, turning to Kate,.

"Here," said Madame De Lacy, untying a lace scarf from her neck, "take this."

Kate took the scarf, and while Ranald held the arm in place she deftly made it into a sling.

"There," said the lieutenant, "that feels quite comfortable. Now let's go."

"Come, Maimie, I'll carry you up the hill," said Harry.

"No," said Ranald, decidedly, "she will go in the canoe. That will be easier."

"Quite right," said the lieutenant. "Sims, perhaps you will give my mother your arm, and if Miss Kate will be kind enough to escort me, we can all four go in the carriage; but first we shall see the rest of the party safely off."

"Come, then, Maimie," said Harry, approaching his sister; "let me carry you."

But Maimie glanced up at Ranald, who without a word, lifted her in his arms.

"Put your arm about his neck, Maimie," cried Harry, "you will go more comfortably that way. Ranald won't mind," he added, with a laugh.

At the touch of her clinging arms the blood mounted slowly into Ranald's neck and face, showing red through the dark tan of his skin.

"How strong you are," said Maimie, softly, "and how easily you carry me. But you would soon tire of me," she added with a little laugh.

"I would not tire forever," said Ranald, as he laid her gently down in the canoe.

"I shall send the carriage to the wharf for you," said Madame De Lacy, "and you will come right home to me, and you, too, Miss Raymond."

Ranald took his place in the stern with Maimie reclining in the canoe so as to face him.

"You are sure you are comfortable," he said, with anxious solicitude in his tone.

"Quite," she replied, with a cosy little snuggle down among the cushions placed around her.

"Then let her go," cried Ranald, dipping in his paddle.

"Good by," cried Kate, waving her hand at them from the rock. "We'll meet you at the wharf. Take good care of your invalid, Ranald."

With hardly a glance at her Ranald replied: "You may be sure of that," and with a long, swinging stroke shot the canoe out into the river. For a moment or two Kate stood looking after them, and then, with a weary look in her face, turned, and with the lieutenant, followed Madame De Lacy and Mr. Sims.

"You are tired," said the lieutenant, looking into her face.

"Yes," she replied, with a little sigh, "I think I am tired."

The paddle home was all too short to Ranald, but whether it took minutes or hours he could not have told. As in a dream he swung his paddle and guided his canoe. He saw only the beautiful face and the warm light in the bright eyes before him. He woke to see Kate on the wharf before them, and for a moment he wondered how she came there. Once more, as he bore her from the canoe to the carriage, he felt Maimie's arms clinging about his neck and heard her whisper, "You will not leave me, Ranald," and again he replied, "No, I will not leave you."

Swiftly the De Lacy carriage bore them through the crooked, climbing streets of the city and out along the country road, then up a stately avenue of beeches, and drew up before the stone steps, of a noble old chateau. Once more Ranald lifted Maimie in his arms and carried her up the broad steps, and through the great oak- paneled hall into Madame De Lacy's own cosy sitting-room, and there he laid her safely in a snug nest of cushions prepared for her. There was nothing more to do, but to say good by and come away, but it was Harry that first brought this to Ranald's mind.

"Good by, Ranald," said Maimie, smiling up into his face. "I cannot thank you for all you have done to-day, but I am sure Madame De Lacy will let you come to see me sometimes."

"I shall be always glad to see you," said the little lady, with gentle, old-fashioned courtesy, "for we both owe much to you this day."

"Thank you," said Ranald, quietly, "I will come," and passed out of the room, followed by Harry and Kate.

At the great hall door, Kate stood and watched them drive away, waving her hand in farewell.

"Good by," cried Harry, "don't forget us in your stately palace," but Ranald made no reply. He had no thought for her. But still she stood and watched the carriage till the beeches hid it from her view, and then, with her hand pressed against her side, she turned slowly into the hall.

As the carriage rolled down the stately avenue, Ranald sat absorbed in deepest thought, heeding not his companion's talk.

"What's the matter with you, Ranald? What are you thinking of?" at last cried Harry, impatiently.

"What?" answered Ranald, in strange confusion, "I cannot tell you." Unconsciously as he spoke he put up his hand to his neck, for he was still feeling the pressure of those clinging arms, and all the way back the sounds of the rolling wheels and noisy, rattling streets wrought themselves into one sweet refrain, "You will not leave me, Ranald," and often in his heart he answered, "No, I will not," with such a look on his face as men wear when pledging life and honor.