« PreviousContinue »
tion of joining the fishing party,—if they did not mind being hampered with an old fellow like himself.
An hour later, the jaunting-car was at the door, and the O'Neile was in the act of seating himself upon it, when Catherine, hastening towards him, in a somewhat excited manner begged him to give her a few moments hearing. He got down at her request, and allowed himself to be drawn aside. Catherine then appeared to be appealing to him about something or other, for at first he laughed at whatever she was telling him, but afterwards he became more serious, and was heard to say
“Nonsense! why, Catherine, I am certain this continued poring over old chronicles is turning your brain. The absurd idea! and your wishing me to believe all this; it is really too ridiculous! Accidents will happen, as we all know, but as to any one knowing when and where, is utterly impossible. You must not be so childish. I must try and crush those visionary ideas of yours. Come, suppose you join us instead of wandering about some old ruin? There will be room for you, and Otway can sit on the flirting cushion. What do you say, Lionel, don't you think we can manage with one more ? "
Lionel, thus addressed, added his entreaties to those of his uncle, but looking at Geraldine all the while, who was rather annoyed at seeing the alacrity with which Catherine accepted the invitation, for the latter quickly jumped up beside her uncle, and took the reins in her own hands, as she understood more about driving than any of the others.
She was unusually silent, and took no part in the jokes or hilarity of the rest of the party. After an hour's drive, they reached the edge of the lake, that lay stretched before them in the sunlight of an early autumn day in September, the most beautiful month in Ireland, when the flowering arbutus, with its pale bell-shaped blossoms, perfumes the air with an agreeable fragrance. At this season a hushed repose seems to enthral nature, before the ensuing storms and decay of the end of that period of the year which it has but entered upon, as if to impart renewed strength and courage for the contest it is so surely and gradually approaching
The party alighted close to a rough plank of wood, to which a boat was moored. They entered it one after another, followed by a sturdy peasant lad, whom they took with them to help in rowing; Catherine officiating as steer's-man, while Geraldine with careless grace did the looking-on to perfection.
When they reached the middle of the lake, they pulled in their oars, and allowed the boat to float along at pleasure, a deep silence falling upon its occupants. They severally gave themselves up to the enjoyment of the moment, and to idle and pleasant dreaming, which the warm atmosphere favoured. A deep silence reigned around, only broken occasionally by jumping fish as they incautiously caught at the luring bait, and by the far-off lowing of cattle, and by echo taking up some oft-repeated sound which it loved to repeat and prolong. Some hours passed thus, till the craving of hunger proved stronger than the romance of the moment. This necessity satisfied, as far as ham sandwiches and cold punch could contribute to it, the oars were once more vigorously plied, disturbing the repose of the placid waters. Again were heard the sounds of mirth and song, in which all heartily joined. Even Catherine, as the day wore on, seemed to forget any cause of uneasiness she might have felt, keeping up an animated conversation with her uncle, interrupted by occasional monosyllabic replies to some casual remark made by either Geraldine or Lionel ; both of whom had apparently entered into the enjoyment of the hour. Yet, oddly enough, whenever Catherine unconsciously looked round, she invariably found Lionel's eyes following her movements. She naturally attributed it to mere accident, till an event, slight in itself, and which chance brought before her, made her think otherwise.
As they were stepping out of the boat, Catherine happened to be the last to leave it, Lionel assisting her to do so. She had advanced a few steps towards the rest of the party, who were then in the act of seating themselves upon
car, when actuated by one of those unaccountable impulses for which we can often give no reason, she turned round, and saw Lionel in the act of stooping to pick up something, that he furtively put into the breast of his coat, but not before Catherine's quick glance had detected what it was.
She felt her face crimson, as she mechanically put her hand to her throat as if to assure herself that a little ribbon, that she had worn round it, was still there.
It was gone-she had evidently dropped it, and he had picked it up-yet, strange enough, not with the intention of returning it to her, or why such promptitude and secrecy in putting it away? He surely must have imagined that it belonged to Geraldine. Yet, she was not in the habit of wearing anything round her throat; and now she remembered that he must have noticed it, for each time she had met his eye all that afternoon, she happened to be tying and untying it, a common practice of hers.
Should she ask him for it before Geraldine ? that would surely be the frankest way—still, what would the latter think about it? In any case he was the culprit, and must get out of the awkwardness as best he could. As she thus reasoned with herself, she waited quietly till he had joined the others, then going up to him in the most innocent manner in the world, as if thoroughly indifferent about the subject, she said
“Mr. Herbert, you have just picked up a little ribbon ? perhaps you were not aware that it was mine ?” She put out her hand as she addressed him, as if waiting for it, while she looked him steadily in the face with an expression which told him plainly that it was a great mistake he had made.
He became painfully embarrassed as he drew it from its hiding-place, and muttered an apology about having been mistaken, at which Geraldine blushed as she listened, for in her vanity she firmly believed he had only taken it because he imagined it belonged to her ; and as she gave him a tender glance of reproach, he must have felt the false position in which he had placed himself in Catherine's opinion, for he knew that she at least had read the truth.
The O'Neile, as he witnessed the scene, gave an expressive shake of the head as he smiled facetiously, while he muttered something to the effect of “one's not being able to put an old head upon young shoulders.”
“Suddenly, as if arrested by fear, or a feeling of wonder, Still she stood with her colourless lips apart, while a shudder Ran through her frame
LONGFELLOW. The O'Neile insisted upon driving them himself back to the Court. Catherine endeavoured to persuade him to the contrary, but this time he was obdurate, and would not yield to her demand.
Meanwhile, she became restless, and each moment when the jaunting-car swayed more to one side than the other, or when any children were seen loitering in the road, she would suddenly start up, and, in an agitated way, look round, much to the inconvenience and annoyance of Otway, who was seated upon the middle cushion between them all. They had nearly reached half way home, when the horse abruptly shied at something in the road, and then set off at such a furious pace, that neither the united efforts of the O'Neile nor of Catherine could pull him in. They were now descending a steep hill, at the foot of which, upon each side, were two or three cabins. Before they could reach the bottom, the horse stumbled to the earth, and a piercing scream was heard, although nothing to justify the fearful cry could be distinctly seen, on account of the thick dust that was flying about in all directions.
Catherine, pale as death, threw herself from the car, seized the reins, and tried to raise the prostrate animal, but without success, though Lionel Herbert and her uncle had come to her assistance. A woman was now seen rushing out of one of the cabins, wildly flinging her arms about her, and calling madly for her boy. All stood there silent and awe-stricken, afraid to ask what it all meant, till Catherine spoke
"In the name of heaven, let some one help me to take the child from under the horse! There may yet be time to save him!”
What a terrible light these words cast upon those assembled there ! Several labourers were now seen approaching, marshalled hither by one of the biggest of the children, who was present at the moment of the accident, and who, child-like, had imprudently ran away, leaving its younger and more helpless companion to its fate. With the aid of the men, the horse was at last pulled up, when every one but Catherine and the mother turned aside, not daring to look upon the bruised and flattened mass, that lay apparently lifeless in the dusty road. The woman tried to seize hold of it, but Catherine, by a more prompt movement, had anticipated her design, and, regardless of fear, and a disinclination to touch such a heart-sickening object, she caught it quickly in her arms, and ran with it to a little spring, that was close by; and stooping down, held the face of the child under the trickling water.
After a few seconds the child slowly opened its eyes, but shut them languidly again, while the poor little