Page images
PDF
EPUB

demand it. The cause of justice and liberty is free, and merits rather emulation than pity; we ask it not, nor would accept it at any price. We must be content to dwell amid the ruins and devastation that you cannot take from us. They are relics of the past that will speak for us in ages to come, and tell of the glory and storied fame that once was ours, before treachery and conquest laid them low.”

“At least, Miss O'Neile, since I am so unhappy as to find no favour in your sight, let me—oh, let me hear the assurance of your forgiveness, for the wild impulse which led me to address you to-night?"

“Forgiveness is one of the Christian virtues, Mr. Herbert, and I am not so presumptuous as to lay any claim to it. But I will forget what you have spoken tonight,”—and then, as if speaking partly to herself, she added—“forgetfulness is an error to which we are all liable."

Catherine, I feel your scorn more than your hate. Cannot you say one kind, one soothing word to me, before we part? I never injured you. Admiration waits not for permission to express its sentiment to the object of its choice, but declares itself from the very fulness of its passion."

“Mr. Herbert, I have said that I shall forget all that has passed between us. Now return to the O'Neile ; he has more claims to your society than I have, and if you ever loved and respected him, help to comfort him now in his great sorrow, and I shall be grateful. Forget my existence." Thus speaking, she hurried from the spot.

CHAPTER XXI.

"All around him was calm, but within him

commotion and conflict, Love contending with friendship, and self with generous impulse. To and fro in his breast his thoughts were heaving and dashing, As in a foundering ship, with every roll of the vessel, Washes the bitter sea, the merciless surge of the ocean!”

LONGFELLOW.

An hour later Catherine was seated in Miss Maitland's bed-room, with her head buried in the cushions of the sofa, upon which her friend was partly reclining.

My dearest Catherine, this silent, terrible grief will have a fatal effect upon your nerves; I know all, my dear child, and pity you from my heart. Lift up your head-look at me-listen ! Believe me, there is comfort for all afflictions, even this dreadful one which has fallen upon you. You have not sinned willingly. and I know that your remorse and your conscience are fearfully at war. If you would only give words to your sorrow, and listen to me! What, stiil silent !"

Catherine, so often appealed to, now looked up with an impassible, stony expression, to the sweet, pale face which was bending over her, and said,

“What would you have me say, Miss Maitland ?"

“Your sorrow, your contrition. It will help to relieve your heart; you know that you may confide in me.”

You say truly; I have sorrow to bear, and something greater still; but it is for another, and therefore cannot be cast off at will ; were it only for myself—"

Margaret Maitland did not understand this reasoning, and began to fancy that grief was turning Catherine's brain. After reflecting a little time, Catherine said

Miss Maitland, I think I can partly realise what our Lord suffered in this world.”

“Catherine, do you not know that He bore the sins of others in His own innocent person, and that He would not cast them off. We dare not, and must not, compare our weaknesses with Him who was without sin or guile."

“Which should you imagine the greater suffering,that which one suffers for oneself or for others ?”

“ That which one suffers for others Catherine ; because there is more uncertainty in it."

“Then you think it more sustaining ?”

“Certainly, for it gives greater courage and power of endurance. If one had to have his hand cut off for his own freedom, I doubt whether he could be brought to endure such a sacrifice for himself, but might for a dear friend.”

“Then how much greater must be the courage required to endure pain for an enemy!”

No, Catherine, I cannot accept your idea upon that point, for there can be no courage where there is no love ; the one feeling incites the other and upholds it. It is the love of faith which gives the martyr courage to sustain a cruel death. Then, again, love of fame and country has sent many a warrior into the midst of the battle; and the love of science and discovery has carried many a brave heart to the farthest extremity of the unknown world. Catherine, a noble, pure and devoted love can do anything." “Do you mean to infer that courage is dependent

Cannot we have a love for what is bad, as well as for what is beautiful and true ?

“No, dear Catherine, that I think would be contrary to the universal law of nature. For we have, inherently, an undefined love of all that is good.”

“Yet, how would that explain and account for the love that we hear and read of, as having been given to, and felt for the worst of creatures; and the fascination that vice presents, not only to the wicked, but also to the good ?"

“It must be that what we once loved and believed to

upon love?

be good and pure. Although we too often find out our mistake as to the worth of the object, we still, with the weakness of humanity, cling to believe and hope that the germ of what once was good, will bloom again. And as to being fascinated by wickedness, it is unfortunately but too commonly the case."

You admit it, then ?”

“ Yes, upon reflection, I cannot help doing so. It is not always the faultless and exemplary people who interest us the most, or claim our particular attention. Take, for instance, a child, who although well brought up, is not wholly free from the temptations of childhood. For instance, say that you are going to tell or read about a naughty child of its own age, and you will find that all its interest and curiosity are called into action on behalf of the delinquent; whereas, had you, on the contrary, depicted it as a model hero or heroine, the child might have accepted it as a matter of course, just as it would its dinner, its daily promenade, or anything else that custom had familiarised it with, but the tale would not fascinate or rivet its attention. And we, even of older growth, are just as prone to this weakness or defect in human nature. Look at a young man or woman who has been forbidden, it may be, to read some romance of fiction, wherein faultlessness is not the predominant characteristic of the personages represented. How they long to peruse it ! Even in the celebrities of ancient and modern history, how much more is our imagination and curiosity excited in reading about fallen greatness and perverted nature, than in the exemplary and sinless life of good, harmless individuals."

Catherine's face, as she listened to Miss Maitland, lost its fixed look, and she was upon the point of speaking, when the door opened, and to her great surprise Edward Maitland appeared. She went up to him, and said

“ You see, Mr. Maitland, I have come to claim the fulfilment of the promise you voluntarily made me some weeks ago. From this night I have forfeited my home and my friends, till it may please Providence to restore them to me again. Is it asking too much of your hospitality to let me share it for the present ? I can only say one word as an excuse for the request, and that is, that I am innocent of the catastrophe of to-day.”

As she spoke, an almost imperceptible and momentary lighting up of the usually stern and impassible countenance of Edward Maitland might have been observed. He took her hand, afterwards she remembered that his trembled as he did so, and said

Catherine, you do not require words to assure you of your welcome to our home,-innocent or not.”

Then, as he saw the look of sorrow with which she withdrew her hand from his, he added—“I give you my sacred word that I believe in your innocence, as I did from the first moment. I do not ask for any confidence upon your part, were it yours to confer. I hope that we understand each other ?

And he looked into her face as if he would read what was passing in her mind. Her heart was too full for speech, and an emotion, which the sad sight of that day had failed to call up, was now visible. His belief in her innocence had touched her more than she thought it possible for anything to do after what she had gone through ; for except him, all thought her guilty. He spoke again,

“I imagined, at least I hoped, you would come to my sister, and I acquainted your uncle with my confidence that you would do so. He wishes you to prove your innocence, by giving an account of all that passed from the moment that you and your little cousin left him this morning. Will you do so ?

“ No.

“But do you not know, Catherine, that in remaining thus silent upon the matter, you tacitly accept the

« PreviousContinue »