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by you, and, to my astonishment, remained in an immoveable attitude near the door till you had finished your song ; then he left the apartment as noiselessly as he had entered.”
Catherine's curiosity was excited upon hearing that the misanthrope, as she imagined Edward Maitland to be, should have deigned to waste his valuable time in bestowing it upon such a trivial pastime as a song. She asked Miss Maitland if she could remember which one it was?
“ To be sure I do-your favourite one, and which you invariably sing."
“ Then it must be 'The Harp that once through Tara's Halls ?'" “ The very one.
I believe I have forgotten to tell you, that the last time Edward was in Dublin, he chanced to meet Thomas Moore at the house of a friend, and there had the exquisite pleasure of hearing him sing that song.
He has assured me that he never heard anything before to equal the pathos and soul that he threw into it.”
Catherine, with sparkling eyes, exclaimed—“How I should like to hear Mr. Moore sing some of his beautiful melodies! I am told that they are not published yet.
* Tara's Halls,' with one or two others, I obtained as a great favour from an ardent admirer of his—as we all are.'
When the tea-service was removed, Catherine read aloud to Miss Maitland till eleven o'clock, when the latter began to feel uneasy at her brother's protracted absence. Every sound in the house caused her to interrupt the reading, in the hope that he had returned. Catherine at last succeeded in assuring her that there was no cause for uneasiness, as she had heard Mr. Maitland say that it was very uncertain at what hour he should return. When next Catherine accidentally looked up from her book, she perceived that Miss Maitland had fallen asleep.
She placed the book beside her upon the table, and allowed herself to fall into a train of thought, unconsciously closing her eyes as she did so. She had not long indulged in her reverie, when she thought she heard a sharp click, a
ne was trying to turn the handle of the glass door, that led out into a pleasuregarden, which was divided from the grounds by a thick hedge. She raised her head quickly, and looked over in the direction from whence the noise proceeded. The curtains were but partly drawn, and through the opening she could see some dark mass, like a human form, pressed against the glass. She felt a terrible inclination to scream, yet fear for the moment paralysed both movement and voice.
There was another click, and this time there was no mistaking that some one must be trying to turn the lock. Catherine's naturally fearless nature now predominated over the weakness of the first moment, and she had taken her resolution as to how she should act. She knew that beside the old butler there was only a boy in the house, and the coachman slept in the stable-loft. That dark, indistinct outline at the window could only be one of the “Blackfeet,” as they were called in Ireland, from the black shirts and masks they wore, thus completely disguising both figure and features. From under her half-closed eyelids, and without moving, Catherine glanced over at Miss Maitland, who still slept on, unconscious of danger. How she prayed that she might not awaken! Then quite shutting her eyes, and breathing heavily like one in a deep sleep, she remained motionless, instinct telling her what was taking place. After a few moments of a death-like stillness, a rustling sound was heard, and then she knew that the robbers had succeeded in gaining an entrance, for the night air wafted into the apartment.
The table at which she was seated was not far from the window, and the sofa upon which Margaret Maitland reposed was close to the fire-place. Catherine heard the stealthy tread of muffled feet come into the room; a moment later a light flashed before her closed eyelids, while the suspended breathing of some one was heard close to her face. The agony of that moment was indescribable; yet she kept perfectly still, for she felt that death was staring her in the face. The life-blood seemed to freeze in her veins, and a faintness was creeping over her, in spite of all her efforts to the contrary; when suddenly the light was withdrawn from her face, and, as she imagined, with a smothered ejaculation as of surprise, the sound of retreating footsteps assured her that she was alone.
Five minutes might have elapsed, when she took courage, and tried to rouse herself to glance round the apartment. No one was to be seen, except the sleeping form upon the sofa. Catherine stood up tremblingly at first, then finally summoning all her courage, she moved slowly and cautiously towards the door, opened it softly, and listened. Along the passage all seemed perfectly still ; at the end of it was a large dining-room, seldom used by the family unless upon state occasions. Next to this was the butler's pantry, where she knew all the plate to be kept locked up in an iron safe. It was not difficult for her to imagine where they had betaken themselves. She went on tiptoe half way
down the corridor, when she could distinguish voices speaking in an under-tone. Then retracing her steps towards the drawing-room, she went straight up to the window, and noiselessly drew the bolt across it. This done, she approached Miss Maitland, and, stooping over her, was satisfied that her repose was still unbroken. She once more went to the door, and opening it, stepped out, locking it after her, and then stole down the passage. As she neared the end, she perceived a door partly open, from which a light glimmered, and the whispered disputes of those within it, enabled her with greater facility to pass unobserved.
At last she reached the hall door, which she boldly opened, and closed it softly behind her. A few seconds later she had gained the stables, and thrown the bridle over her horse's head, as she led him out.
The lawn was soon reached. When she neared the stump of a tree, she mounted on horseback without a saddle, and horse and rider soon disappeared, like the wind.
One deep breath of relief escapes Catherine as they dash on; she, bare-headed and uncloaked, exposed to the sharp air of a November night. Nevertheless, she feels nothing-sees nothing—for her thoughts are all in that drawing-room, where the pale solitary figure of Margaret Maitland reclined unconscious (oh, how she prayed she might remain so !) of her dreadful position. She knew that it would have been madness to have alarmed or roused up the small household. What could they do? how defend themselves against so many ?
In case Miss Maitland should awaken before her return, and find herself alone and locked in, she had torn the fly-leaf out of the book she had been reading, and written with a pencil the following words:
“Have no fears when you read this. I shall be back soon ; and, above all, don't be alarmed when you find yourself locked in. I have done it.
“ CATHERINE." She placed the scrap of paper in a conspicuous place, where Miss Maitland could not fail to see it upon awaking.
On, on they flew-horse and rider-while Catherine from time to time bent caressingly over him, urging him to greater speed. The lights of the village now shone in the distance. The minutes seemed to her as years. Will they never reach their destination ? Patience—a few moments more, and the animal's hoofs were clattering over the rough pavement of the long street of houses. Darting figures were seen rushing to the doors of the shebeens that were still open at that midnight hour-attracted thither by the noise made by
the horse's hoofs; and as the dim lamps shone out upon the wild pace of the horse, with its strange rider, whose white face and flowing garments were indistinctly seen as she passed, those midnight revellers crossed themselves, believing they had seen a spirit.
The last house in that straggling line was reached ; over the door a lamp was burning. Catherine pulled up before it, and quickly slipped from the back of the animal, which remained at a dead stand, foaming at the mouth and steaming all over; and no wonder, for in less than twenty minutes, he had been ridden over four miles of ground. Catherine rushed into the policestation, without considering the strange appearance she presented, alone, with her dress in disorder, at that hour of the night. In a very few words she explained to the head-constable what had happened, and begged for an escort of constabulary to return with her without delay, if they wished to capture the robbers.
They lost no time in accompanying her back, and in fifty minutes from the time Catherine first started, two detachments of police halted before the lodge gate. They dismounted, and the better to avoid suspicion, divided into twos and threes. They proceeded on foot to the house, which a party of them soon surrounded, while the remainder entered noiselessly through the hall-door, that Catherine found, as she had left it, half open. When they reached the long corridor, it was quite dark and silent. They found the drawing-room door, to Catherine's great astonishment, wide open. On entering the room, what was her horror at discovering that Miss Maitland was gone! The lights were extinguished, but just sufficient fire left to enable her to distinguish the different articles of furniture. They soon procured a light, and searched the apartment through, but Miss Maitland was nowhere to be seen. The police-sergeant, who had followed Catherine, suggested that it was very possible she had gone up-stairs to her room; adding, that he would go up and ascertain, and he asked her if she her