The Man From Glengarry by Ralph Connor
Chapter VII. Maimie
Before Hughie came back from the sugar camp, the minister had returned from the presbytery, bringing with him his wife's niece, Maimie St. Clair, who had come from her home in a Western city to meet him. Her father, Eugene St. Clair, was president of Raymond and St. Clair Lumber Company. Nineteen years before this time he had married Mrs. Murray's eldest sister, and established his home with every prospect of a prosperous and happy life, but after three short, bright years of almost perfect joy, his young wife, his heart's idol, after two days' illness, fluttered out from her beautiful home, leaving with her broken-hearted husband her little boy and a baby girl two weeks old. Then Eugene St. Clair besought his sister to come out from England and preside over his home and care for his children; and that he might forget his grief, he gave himself, heart and mind, to his business. Wealth came to him, and under his sister's rule his home became a place of cultured elegance and a center of fashionable pleasure.
Miss Frances St. Clair was a woman of the world, proud of her family-tree, whose root disappeared in the depths of past centuries, and devoted to the pursuit and cultivation of those graces and manners that are supposed to distinguish people of birth and breeding from the common sort. Indeed, from common men and things she shrank almost with horror. The entrance of "trade" into the social sphere of her life she would regard as an impertinent intrusion. It was as much as she could bear to allow the approach of "commerce," which her brother represented. She supposed, of course, there must be people to carry on the trades and industries of the country--very worthy people, too--but these were people one could not be expected to know. Miss St. Clair thanked heaven that she had had the advantages of an English education and up-bringing, and she lamented the stubborn democratic opinions of her brother, who insisted that Harry should attend the public school. She was not surprised, therefore, though greatly grieved, that Harry chose his friends in school with a fine disregard of "their people." It was with surprise amounting to pain that she found herself one day introduced by her nephew to Billie Barclay, who turned out to be the son of Harry's favorite confectioner. To his aunt's remonstrance it seemed to Harry a sufficient reply that Billy was a "brick" and a shining "quarter" on the school Rugby team.
"But, Harry, think of his people!" urged his aunt.
"Oh, rot!" replied her irreverent nephew; "I don't play with his people."
"Yes, but Harry, you don't expect to make him your friend?"
"But he is my friend, and I don't care what his people are. Besides, I think his governor is a fine old boy, and I know he gives us jolly good taffy."
"But, Harry," answered his aunt, in despair, "you are positively dreadful. Why can't you make friends in your own set? There is Hubert Evans and the Langford boys."
"Evans!" snorted Harry, with contempt; "beastly snob, and the Langfords are regular Mollies!" Whereupon Miss St. Clair gave up her nephew as impossible. But Billie did not repeat his visit to his friend Harry's home. Miss Frances St. Clair had a way of looking through her pince-nez that even a boy could understand and would seek to avoid.
With Maimie, Miss St. Clair achieved better results. She was a gentle girl, with an affectionate, yielding disposition, tending towards indolence and self-indulgence. Her aunt's chief concern about her was that she should be frocked and mannered as became her position. Her education was committed to a very select young ladies' school, where only the daughters of the first families ever entered. What or how they were taught, her aunt never inquired. She felt quite sure that the lady principal would resent, as indeed she ought, any such inquiry. Hence Maimie came to have a smattering of the English poets, could talk in conversation-book French, and could dash off most of the notes of a few waltzes and marches from the best composers, her piece de resistance, however, being "La Priere d'une Vierge." She carried with her from school a portfolio of crayons of apparently very ancient and very battered castles; and water-colors of landscapes, where the water was quite as solid as the land. True, she was quite unable to keep her own small accounts, and when her father chanced to ask her one day to do for him a simple addition, he was amazed to find that only after the third attempt did she get it right; but, in the eyes of her aunt, these were quite unimportant deficiencies, and for young ladies she was not sure but that the keeping of accounts and the adding of figures were almost vulgar accomplishments. Her father thought otherwise, but he was a busy man, and besides, he shrank from entering into a region strange to him, but where his sister moved with assured tread. He contented himself with gratifying his daughter's fancies and indulging her in every way allowed him by her system of training and education. The main marvel in the result was that the girl did not grow more selfish, superficial, and ignorant than she did. Something in her blood helped her, but more, it was her aunt's touch upon her life. For every week a letter came from the country manse, bringing with it some of the sweet simplicity of the country and something like a breath of heaven.
She was nearing her fifteenth birthday, and though almost every letter brought an invitation to visit the manse in the backwoods, it was only when the girl's pale cheek and languid air awakened her father's anxiety that she was allowed to accept the invitation to spend some weeks in the country.
* * * * *
When Ranald and Hughie drove up to the manse on Saturday evening in the jumper the whole household rushed forth to see them. They were worth seeing. Burned black with the sun and the March winds, they would have easily passed for young Indians. Hughie's clothes were a melancholy and fluttering ruin; and while Ranald's stout homespun smock and trousers had successfully defied the bush, his dark face and unkempt hair, his rough dress and heavy shanty boots, made him appear, to Maimie's eyes, an uncouth, if not pitiable, object.
"Oh, mother!" cried Hughie, throwing himself upon her, "I'm home again, and we've had a splendid time, and we made heaps of sugar, and I've brought you a whole lot." He drew out of his pockets three or four cakes of maple sugar. "There is one for each," he said, handing them to his mother.
"Here, Hughie," she replied, "speak to your cousin Maimie."
Hughie went up shyly to his cousin and offered a grimy hand. Maimie, looking at the ragged little figure, could hardly hide her disgust as she took the dirty, sticky little hand very gingerly in her fingers. But Hughie was determined to do his duty to the full, even though Ranald was present, and shaking his cousin's hand with great heartiness, he held up his face to be kissed. He was much surprised, and not a little relieved, when Maimie refused to notice his offer and turned to look at Ranald.
She found him scanning her with a straight, searching look, as if seeking to discover of what sort she was. She felt he had noticed her shrinking from Hughie, and was annoyed to find herself blushing under his keen gaze. But when Mrs. Murray presented Ranald to her niece, it was his turn to blush and feel awkward, as he came forward with a triangular sort of movement and offered his hand, saying, with an access of his Highland accent, "It is a fine day, ma'am." It required all Maimie's good manners to keep back the laugh that fluttered upon her lips.
Slight as it was, Ranald noticed the smile, and turning from her abruptly to Mrs. Murray, said: "We were thinking that Friday would be a good day for the sugaring-off, if that will do you."
"Quite well, Ranald," said the minister's wife; "and it is very good of you to have us."
She, too, had noted Maimie's smile, and seeing the dark flush on Ranald's cheek, she knew well what it meant.
"Come and sit down a little, Ranald," she said, kindly; "I have got some books here for you and Don to read."
But Ranald would not sit, nor would he wait a moment. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, "but I will need to be going."
"Wait, Ranald, a moment," cried Mrs. Murray. She ran into the next room, and in a few moments returned with two or three books and some magazines. "These," she said, handing him the books, "are some of Walter Scott's. They will be good for week-days; and these," giving him the magazines, "you can read after church on Sabbath."
The boy's eyes lighted up as he thanked Mrs. Murray, and he shook hands with her very warmly. Then, with a bow to the company, and without looking at Maimie again, he left the room, with Hughie following at his heels. In a short time Hughie came back full of enthusiastic praise of his hero.
"Oh, mother!" he cried, "he is awful smart. He can just do anything. He can make a splendid bed of balsam brush, and porridge, and pancakes, and--and--and--everything."
"A bed of balsam brush and porridge! What a wonderful boy he must be, Hughie," said Maimie, teasing him. "But isn't he just a little queer?"
"He's not a bit queer," said Hughie, stoutly. "He is the best, best, best boy in all the world."
"Indeed! how extraordinary!" said Maimie; "you wouldn't think so to look at him."
"I think he is just splendid," said Hughie; "don't you, mother?"
"Indeed, he is fery brown whatever," mocked Maimie, mimicking Ranald's Highland tongue, a trick at which she was very clever, "and--not just fery clean."
"You're just a mean, mean, red-headed snip!" cried Hughie, in a rage, "and I don't like you one bit."
But Maimie was proud of her golden hair, so Hughie's shot fell harmless.
"And when will you be going to the sugaring-off, Mistress Murray?" went on Maimie, mimicking Ranald so cleverly that in spite of herself Mrs. Murray smiled.
It was his mother's smile that perfected Hughie's fury. Without a word of threat or warning, he seized a dipper of water and threw it over Maimie, soaking her pretty ribbons and collar, and was promptly sent upstairs to repent.
"Poor Hughie!" said his mother, after he had disappeared; "Ranald is his hero, and he cannot bear any criticism of him."
"He doesn't look much of a hero, auntie," said Maimie, drying her face and curls.
"Very few heroes do," said her aunt, quietly. "Ranald has noble qualities, but he has had very few advantages."
Then Mrs. Murray told her niece how Ranald had put himself between her and the pursuing wolves. Maimie's blue eyes were wide with horror.
"But, auntie," she cried, "why in the world do you go to such places?"
"What places, Maimie?" said the minister, who had come into the room.
"Why, those awful places where the wolves are."
"Indeed, you may ask why," said the minister, gravely. He had heard the story from his wife the night before. "But it would need a man to be on guard day and night to keep your aunt from 'those places.'"
"Yes, and your uncle, too," said Mrs. Murray, shaking her head at her husband. "You see, Maimie, we live in 'those places'; and after all, they are as safe as any. We are in good keeping."
"And was Hughie out all night with those two boys in those woods, auntie?"
"Oh, there was no danger. The wolves will not come near a fire, and the boys have their dogs and guns," said Mrs. Murray; "besides, Ranald is to be trusted."
"Trusted?" said the minister; "indeed, I would not trust him too far. He is just wild enough, like his father before him."
"Oh, papa, you don't know Ranald," said his wife, warmly; "nor his father either, for that matter. I never did till this last week. They have kept aloof from everything, and really--"
"And whose fault is that?" interrupted the minister. "Why should they keep aloof from the means of grace? They are a godless lot, that's what they are." The minister's indignation was rising.
"But, my dear," persisted Mrs. Murray, "I believe if they had a chance--"
"Chance!" exclaimed the minister; "what more chance do they want? Have they not all that other people have? Macdonald Dubh is rarely seen at the services on the Lord's day, and as for Ranald, he comes and goes at his own sweet will."
"Let us hope," said his wife, gently, "they will improve. I believe Ranald would come to Bible class were he not so shy."
"Shy!" laughed the minister, scornfully; "he is not too shy to stand up on the table before a hundred men after a logging and dance the Highland fling, and beautifully he does it, too," he added.
"But for all that," said his wife, "he is very shy."
"I don't like shy people," said Maimie; "they are so awkward and dreadful to do with."
"Well," said her aunt, quietly, "I rather like people who are not too sure of themselves, and I think all the more of Ranald for his shyness and modesty."
"Oh, Ranald's modesty won't disable him," said the minister. "For my part, I think he is a daring young rascal; and indeed, if there is any mischief going in the countryside you may be sure Ranald is not far away."
"Oh, papa, I don't think Ranald is a bad boy," said his wife, almost pleadingly.
"Bad? I'm sure I don't know what you call it. Who let off the dam last year so that the saw-mill could not run for a week? Who abused poor Duncie MacBain so that he was carried home groaning?"
"Duncie MacBain!" exclaimed his wife, contemptuously; "great, big, soft lump, that he is. Why, he's a man, as big as ever he'll be."
"Who broke the Little Church windows till there wasn't a pane left?" pursued the minister, unheeding his wife's interruption.
"It wasn't Ranald that broke the church windows, papa," piped Hughie from above.
"How do you know, sir? Who did it, then?" demanded his father.
"It wasn't Ranald, anyway," said Hughie, stoutly.
"Who was it, then? Tell me that," said his father again.
"Hughie, go to your room and stay there, as I told you," said his mother, fearing an investigation into the window-breaking episode, of which Hughie had made full confession to her as his own particular achievement, in revenge for a broken window in the new church.
"I think," continued Mr. Murray, as if closing the discussion, "you'll find that your Ranald is not the modest, shy, gentle young man you think him to be, but a particularly bold young rascal."
"Poor Ranald," sighed his wife; "he has no mother, and his father has just let him grow up wild."
"Aye, that's true enough," assented her husband, passing into his study.
But he could have adopted no better means of awakening Maimie's interest in Ranald than by the recital of his various escapades. Women love good men, but are interested in men whose goodness is more or less impaired. So Maimie was determined that she would know more of Ranald, and hence took every opportunity of encouraging Hughie to sing the praises of his hero and recount his many adventures. She was glad, too, that her aunt had fixed the sugaring-off for a time when she could be present. But neither at church on Sunday nor during the week that followed did she catch sight of his face, and though Hughie came in with excited reports now and then of having seen or heard of Ranald, Maimie had to content herself with these; and, indeed, were it not that the invitation had already been given, and the day fixed for her visit to the camp, the chances are that Maimie's acquaintance with Ranald would have ended where it began, in which case both had been saved many bitter days.