THE evening spent at the home of
President Rolphe was, for the boys, a "red letter" one. Mrs. Rolphe
exerted herself to entertain them and make them feel perfectly at home,
and Mr. Rolphe ably assisted her. Helenís beauty made a great impression
on Colin and Jamie, unaccustomed as they were to visions of maidens
After the company had participated
in a number of games, in connection with which Mrs. Rolphe exercised the
greatest tact in seeing that the boys found pleasure and amusement,
refreshments were served, and the boys were brought face to face with the
imposing butler. Jamie felt, every time he came near, as if, instead of
offering to help him to fruit or cake, he might suddenly confront him with
some such question as, "What is the chief end of man?" or "What is the
eighth commandment?" But he did nothing of the kind, and was very
attentive in looking after their wants.
After supper, Mrs. Rolphe, who had
heard her husband sounding Colinís praises, took the young man off to the
conservatory, where she talked about such subjects as she thought would
interest him. She adroitly drew him out and got the boy to talk about
Meanwhile, Helen had been telling
Willie about a black pony, which her father had sent her for a birthday
present a few weeks ago. The hostler brought Darkie around to the
driveway, and after the spirited creature had been duly inspected, the
young folks sat on the old-fashioned piazza overlooking the west lawn.
"So you are going to the war?" said
Helen, turning the conversation, after Darkie had been duly extolled.
"Yes," answered Willie, and not
knowing what to say further, like a very sensible boy, said nothing, and
there was an awkward pause.
"And youíre not afraid of being
"Oh, dear, no!" answered Willie.
"Iím a bit of a Calvinist, like mother, and if Iím not born to be shot, I
shall not be; and besides," he continued, "Colin and I have both unbounded
confidence that we shall come off all right."
"After your rescuing me when the
railway offices were burning, I donít need to be convinced of your bravery
and contempt of danger."
"Pray do not speak of that,"
answered Willie. "Do you know, it takes more courage for me to talk to you
than it did to rescue you from the fire."
"I donít understand what you mean,"
Helen. "And if I were to place a
literal interpretation upon your words, I fear the result would not be
flattering to myself. Wonít you please explain to me?"
"Of course, I donít mean that I am
not pleased beyond expression to sit near you and talk to you; but
somehow, you seem so elevated and so far removed from me."
Helen (she was still but little more
than a child) was somewhat startled and amused at Willieís speech. "Having
escaped from the burning building, I have no intention of flitting from
the world, for a time at least," she said playfully.
After she had spoken, she felt that
she had not said exactly the right thing, and so she added: "Please be
quite frank with me, Mr. McNabb, and tell me what is in your mind. Iím not
really so very different from other girls as you seem to think."
"You have been brought up in a
different world from mine. You have had a training and lived a life that I
have not, and if you will pardon the simile, you resemble one of those
lovely hyacinths blooming in the conservatory yonder, while I, like the
common grass found along the road, have grown up amid the plainest and
homeliest scenes of backwoods country life. From childhood I have been
obliged to participate in the struggles and hardships incident to that
life, and to assist in maintaining an existence on the homestead. Please
do not mis-understand my allusions to my home life and history, for there
was an honest dignity about them that I would not exchange for princely
lineage. The man who would offer any apology for such a home and such a
history as ours, and for such modest, short, and simple annals as filled
our little world in the backwoods of Canada, I should despise as I would a
coward. I am very proud of it all, but I am not unmindful that the world
recognises a great difference in our positions."
Helen laughed, and her laugh was
always sweet music to Willieís ear. "Why, you great, silly boy," she
exclaimed with enthusiasm, "what a long, serious speech you have made!"
Then gravely, "Do you know, I had rather be the author of that speech,
serious and long as it was, in which you refer to your home and to your
manly struggles, than I would be ó why, than I would be ó President of the
Willie was swept off his feet by the
generous enthusiasm of the girl. With the idealism of youth and love, he
had placed Helen upon a pedestal so elevated that anything beyond an
occasional pilgrimage for the purpose of indulging in worship and
adoration before the shrine, appeared a sacrilegious presumption that
might call down swift retribution.
Before he had time to reply to Helen
she increased his astonishment by adding: "It was very nice of you to
liken me to a hyacinth, and if you will allow me, I shall reward you by
giving you Ďyonder hyacinth.í"
In an instant she passed into the
conservatory, and returned, bearing the flower. She pinned it on the lapel
of his coat, and as she did so, her face was so close to Willieís that he
almost fancied he could catch the warm glow. He could feel her breath, and
as she bent down lower, her wealth of hair flowed over her shoulders.
For an instant, just one instant,
the boy was seized with a wild, exultant desire to take the beautiful girl
in his arms and press her to his heart. He felt that he would have
bartered his existence for the joy of just one such moment.
Love was awakening, as by magic
touch, emotions the existence of which the young man had never before
conceived. But the next instant that wild, passionate desire to embrace
Helen and call her his was gone, and he inwardly returned thanks that he
had been saved from doing so.
Such is youth. As an old moralist
has dryly written, "Young men often view matters of this nature in a
remarkable and exaggerated manner." When Willie came to himself, he was
seated by Helenís side, with the hyacinth pinned on his coat. Helen sat
calm and thoughtful, while Willie was consumed with excitement, joy, and
ówell no doubt the reader knows more about it than I do.
"I suppose you will forget all about
us when you go to the front," said Helen, quietly.
"Indeed, no!" answered Willie. "And
if you will let me, I shall send you occasionally an account of our
"Iím sure I should be delighted, and
father, who is so much interested in the war, will be greatly pleased to
hear from you."
"Perhaps I had better direct the
correspondence to your father," said Willie, drawing a bow at venture.
"Oh, dear, no!" responded Helen,
with a shade of disappointment in her tone. "I want you to write to
me, and Iíll only read to papa what you say about the battles. You
can tell me a lot of things about yourself and your observations. And
donít forget to let me know if you find any finer hyacinths than the one I
have pinned on your coat."
Willie said solemnly ó so solemnly
that Helen smiled, "Miss Rolphe, I never want to."
"So we are to be friends, are we?"
said Helen, emphasising the word "friends."
"Well, that is the way you honour me
by putting it," answered Willie. "I would gladly be your slave."
"You are going to war," said Helen,
as she rose, "to help set the slaves free, and who knows? you may prove
your own liberator."
It was not until Willie had spent
two or three years in camp, and had learned something of what active
warfare meant, that the possible significance of the words of Helen "Who
knows? you may prove your own liberator," came to him; and as he pondered
over them, they kindled in his soul a hope that lightened his knapsack
over many a weary march, and proved an inspiration to him in moments when
the finest nerve and most dauntless courage were required to honour the
flag under which he was fighting.