St. Helen’s Island, named affectionately by Champlain after his fair young wife, Helene, stretches its half-mile of park along the middle of the River opposite the city of Montreal. It is at all times a graceful sight; in summer by the refreshing shade of its deep groves beheld from the dusty city; in winter by the contrast of its flowing purple crest of trees with the flat white expanse of ice-covered river. The lower end, towards which the outlines of its double hill tend, is varied by the walls and flagstaffs of a military establishment, comprising some grey barracks, a row of officers’ quarters, and a block-house, higher on the hill. In former times, when British redcoats were stationed here, and military society made the dashing feature in fashionable life, when gay and high-born parties scattered their laughter through the trim groves, improved and kept in shape by labor of the rank and file, and “the Fusileers and the Grenadiers” marched in or out with band and famous colors flying, and the regimental goat or dog, and shooting practice, officers’ cricket and football matches, and mess dinners, kept the island lively and picturesque, St. Helen’s was a theatre of unceasing charm to the citizens.
“Is she here yet?” I asked, eagerly grasping the hand of Grace, who, more exceedingly pretty than ever, had invited all their friends to meet them on the island, in the grove, “I am delighted to see you back. It is almost worth the absence.”
“And I welcome you as Noah the dove, after the waste of waters,” exclaimed she, laughing. “But I must answer your first question before it is repeated. No, mon frere, I am afraid she is not to be here to day. She is a little ill with fatigue.”
“O my poor friend!” I exclaimed, and led Grace down the avenue of leafing trees in which we were; for this grove had been planted in regular walks by the garrison forty years before, and the turf had been sown with grass that sprang up at that season a vivid green. The dell had been a theatre of the gaieties of days past. To me it was deserted loveliness—a scene prepared and not occupied.
“Is she very ill?”
“No; merely tired. You see she is a thousand times more industrious than I. Nothing could content her over there unless she was putting out her utmost. She said it was her ambition to improve, like the great men and women; that she was strong and ought to make up for some of her imperfections by greater diligence. I never saw anyone so anxious to do a thing perfectly. The great Bertini in Florence said of her—’She will certainly be greater than Angelica Kauffman.’ ... ‘Alexandra,’ he said, ‘will rank with men.’ The egotism of the creature! You see there are others who admire her besides yourself.”
“None more passionately.”
“I thought so.—But look this way, Tityrus,” said she, wheeling quickly and stepping forward. “How do you do, Alexandra!”
There she stood, pale and ill, but proud of carriage as ever.