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“Miss Catherine, may all the saints be between you and harm!”
Then, as if angered and surprised at her own doubts in connection with the child that she had nursed and tended from the moment of its birth, she now passionately folded her in her embrace,--the strongest proof that she could give of her belief in Catherine's being in the keeping of a higher Power.
“You remember, Nora, before the unforeseen and fatal death of my brother Mark, who was drowned at sea, the strange vision I had respecting him, and how, to ease my mind, even before confiding in you, I went to Father Maguire and confessed all to him. He, for the moment, doubted my reason, and exhorted me to discard and look beyond such deceptions, as he called them. And indeed, Nora, I am assured and feel that he but did his duty ; but if he could have looked into my heart then!
Oh, if he could look into it now, what torture should I not be spared! Where shall I now find comfort and consolation if my religion-my Church shuts me out from them! Oh, that it were a delusion, aye, even madness—anything better than to know and feel that the dread reality must come !”
“Who knows, Miss, but that it may be sent as a sort of warning, to give you time and opportunity of preventing it."
“Ah, Nora! you know better than that, and you know me better.”
The last sentence was spoken with a half reproachful, half melancholy intonation of voice, that but too surely expressed conviction of its truth.
“ Around thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green :
GOLDSMITH. SOME five or six miles distant from O'Neile Court, stood a handsome square stone mansion, called the “Falls," belonging to a Mr. Maitland, and occupied by him and a maiden sister. Although they were such near neighbours, the O'Neile and he very seldom met more than once or twice in the year, and then generally at some public dinner, or during occasional visits that courtesy exacted. Mr. Maitland was magistrate for the county, and respected by all who knew him. His age might have been about forty. He was a fine looking man, and the principal charm was in his bearing, which, though haughty and reserved, was condescending and unbending when occasion required. One felt in his presence that some great grief had been his through life, and that it had partly left its freezing influence upon his countenance and manner. He was thought proud by those who could not understand the eccentric side of his character. He had lived many years abroad, mostly in Spain, where it was whispered, he belonged to some secret anti-monarchal society. What his religious principles were, remained a matter of surmise and doubt; he was never seen to enter any place of worship, at least since his youth. Yet in his laboratory, where he passed the greater part of his time, was to be seen, upon the table at which he usually sat, an enormous old Bible in the Chaldean tongue, that his own servant affirmed to have seen him poring over.
Still he never
mentioned the subject of religion, and in fact was looked upon by all the peasantry as little better than a heathen; not even when a funeral procession went by, was he observed to take off his hat in reverence to the dead.
He had a passion for chemistry and experiments of all kinds; many and strange were the sounds that were heard proceeding from his laboratory in the dead of night, when all in the house were supposed to be wrapped in slumber.
Catherine was a frequent visitor at the Falls, and a great pet of Miss Maitland's, who, partly an invalid, in spite of her delicate health, superintended her brother's establishment, and went about administering to the wants of the poor in a little pony carriage, driven by herself, in which she carried all sorts of necessaries, such as clothing and food for their use.
She idolised her brother, to whom she looked up as a superior being, always showing great deference to his wishes and opinions. Margaret Maitland had not been without her share of sorrow and trial, and perhaps that was one of the strongest ties which united brother and sister, and made one home theirs, for they had suffered in common. Very few, to whom her history was unknown, whilst looking upon the placid brow, and mildly-beaming eyes, would have imagined that there had been such a thing as a disappointment in her life, and a sad, and bitter one too,-for, on her bridal eve, as she sat careless and happy in her room, surrounded by the bright faces of youthful friends, who were to partake in the ceremony of the morrow, the sudden and dreadful news was brought to her, that her bridegroom, on his way to her, had been thrown from his horse, and had expired before assistance could reach him.
For months, after this shock, she lay upon a sick bed, hovering between life and death; yet, with the assiduous care which her brother, all through her long illness, unceasingly bestowed on her, youth and
nature triumphed in the end. When she became convalescent, he took her abroad, where they resided some years.
When she returned once more to her home, great was the astonishment of those who had known Margaret Maitland in happier days, at the change that a few years had made in the former blooming and joyous girl of twenty.
It was not that she had aged, but the buoyancy of heart and step, the bloom of health, had left her form for ever.
She had become a confirmed invalid, but not such as to incapacitate her from performing her necessary duties as head of her brother's house, for he intrusted everything to her care. Neither murmurs nor regrets were ever known to pass those pale suffering lips; at times she was even cheerful.
Since her return from abroad, she had ceased to make one of the congregation of the little chapel of Gillenddy; yet she was a true Christian, and had a little oratory fitted up near her own rooms, where she spent many an hour in silent and earnest prayer.
Report said (what will it not say ?) she had changed from the faith that had been hers and that of her forefathers from time immemorial, and this was the only fault that was not forgiven her. Even Catherine, who loved her, and admired her fortitude and resignation (she had been made acquainted with her sad tale), was sometimes aroused to anger and contempt, which she could not always conceal, when she remembered that she had been false to her religion.
Still no words on the subject had ever been exchanged between them, except upon one occasion, which we shall take this opportunity of relating.
One day Miss Maitland, feeling rather indisposed, had sent to beg of Catherine to come and read to her. The latter having seated herself upon a chair at the bedside, took up the book that had been placed in her hand by the invalid, and began reading at the page
indicated, without having once remarked the title. She had not proceeded far, when Miss Maitland perceived that every now and then she made an abrupt pause, and that her voice, a few moments before so musical and steady, now suddenly became broken and harsh. At last, with burning cheeks and flashing eyes, she threw it down, as in trembling and excited tones she said,
" I will not read another word, even to gratify you!”
Then in an imploring voice she continued—“Oh, Miss Maitland, let me throw it into the fire !” She hastily rose from her seat with the resolve of carrying out her intention, when Margaret Maitland, weak and suffering as she was, seized her arm, raised herself up in bed, and in a solemn yet calm voice said,
“Catherine, you know not what you would do ! Give me the book. I can read it, when I am better, for myself.”
There was a silence-a painful, prolonged silenceduring which, Catherine's smothered sobs were alone heard ; she sank upon her knees before the bed, and, burying her face in the clothes, tried to overcome her emotion. Although no word had been spoken by either, yet Margaret Maitland guessed what was passing in the young girl's heart; for she put out her white emaciated hand-the one still bedecked with the betrothal ring, which now hung loosely on the thin, wasted finger and laid it with a look and a movement of unutterable affection and pity upon Catherine's bowed head ; then caressingly stroking back the dark, wavy hair, she plaintively said
"My poor, poor Catherine!”
These accents of pity had more effect in arousing Catherine, than any sharp language could have done. She rose quickly from her kneeling position, while the emotion, which a moment before had seemed to conquer her, now disappeared, as she spoke in rapid ard bitter tones