« AnteriorContinuar »
that which they never can bring their lips to say. Besides, it was no matter what was that lowly maiden to him, the heir of Clifton, and the prospective husband of the highest and haughtiest lady in the land? Yes-what to him except an object of his high patronage could be that girl of, not only "humble parentage," but indubitably low birth? He rode on dissatisfied, he knew not wherefore, with her and himself.
As for Catherine, she stood lost, where he had left her -lost to the consciousness of her grandfather's and of Carl's presence with her eyes fixed upon the ground, blaming herself for her awkwardness and seeming ingratitude; wondering if he blamed her too; wondering why it was that, when she saw him enter, she grew cold and trembled so; and when he spoke to her in that gentle tone, and looked at her with that gentle gaze, her whole nature shrank away in fear and trepidation; and though she would have given the world for the ability to express her gratitude and regard, all power of uttering a grateful word or of lifting a grateful glance to his face deserted her, and left her pale and trembling before the man whom she had no cause to fear, and every reason to trust. Catherine stood with her mind deep in this problem, until the harsh voice of Carl startled her, saying in rasping tones
"Well! are you going to stand there burrowing your eyes in the ground all day? A pretty way you have behaved! Please goodness, you've got no more manners than a dumb brute! I take my oath I am ashamed of you! Now, there was Captain Clifton, a gentleman of so high rank, condescending to come here and tell us himself of the place he had got for us, even after your unmannerly refusal of that first place and here were you with not one word of thanks to give-no! please Heaven, not so much as one civil look! I wonder what he'll think of you?"
"What, indeed?" repeated Catherine very meekly.
But Carl scarcely recognised her voice. It was no longer the childish treble-it was the deep, full, melodious voice of rich womanhood.
Why, the kindest thought he can have of you will be to think you are a fool-that is all.”
"Carl, I was in fear of him."
"In fear of him! In fear of Archer Clifton ! A man whom all the country knows to be of the highest honour,
and one to whom even I, cautious as I am, could trust you with, to go from one end of the world to the other!"
I know that, Carl-I know he is a gentleman of honour; but-but-I tremble before him, and have not courage to lift my eyes."
"But that is so confoundedly ridiculous, now! Why are you afraid of him ?"
Kate shook her head and waved her hand in that quick, short manner which was peculiar to her, and turned away-repeating in her own heart the question, Yes, why, why, WHY?"
Whether the maiden found an answer to her question or not remained a secret to Carl; this was the first and last conversation they ever held on the subject; and whatever phenomena the opening heart of the maiden revealed to herself were carefully shrouded away from the eyes of all.
How beautiful was Carolyn Clifton! so fair, so purely, so divinely fair, so radiant, so refined, so stately! How fit a consort for the proud Archer Clifton! How his heart swelled with admiration and pride as he gazed upon her queenly form! and how it glowed to think that in a very few days that fair and stately lady, who never deigned to own a passion, whose love he only guessed by her proud exaction of exclusive service, who scarcely condescended to extend her snowy hand to his salute, would be his own, his own, his wife, his property, his other self-whose form he might press to his bosom in the fullest freedom of possession! And as he sat by her side and held her hand, and gazed upon her inaccessible, delightful beauty, oh! how slowly, slowly, to his impatient, burning, throbbing heart-how slowly dragged the days and hours!
Well-oh! very well would it have been for Archer Clifton, could he have rent his gaze from his magnetic idol a moment, and caught a certain pair of evil eyes upon him. Their baleful glare might have shed upon his path some light to see the pitfalls in his way.
THE TIDE OF FATE. (CONTINUED.)
CARL KAVANAGH and his sister were settled in the logcabin on the farm of Hardbargain. Carl, as an old acquaintance of the mistress, and a late labourer on the plantation, fell readily into his new business of overseeing it. Catherine began to busy herself in the management of her new and very comfortable home. Their cabin contained a sitting-room, kitchen, and two chambers. Mrs. Clifton had gratified her own kindly and benevolent disposition by adding several plain articles of furniture to the small stock possessed by the poor family. She had, besides, given Catherine a set of half-worn, white dimity curtains, and a pair of coarse, homemade, white counterpanes. These gave an air of neatness-approaching, I had almost said refinement-to the sittingroom, and two little bed-rooms. Mrs. Clifton of Hardbargain was not addicted to taking sudden likings—indeed, though a lady of perfect frankness, benevolence, and liberality of judgment, she was cool and prudent; yet, notwithstanding this, her kindest affections were at once attracted towards Kate. It is true she had been prepared to think well of the child from an intimate knowledge of her brother Carl's honesty and intelligence; but at the first sight of Catherine, the noble countenance of the mountain-girl riveted her esteem. There are some faces which we know at a glance cannot belong to other than a fine, high-toned character, and such a countenance was that of Catherine; and it won upon the lady every day, as no merely beautiful face could ever have done. For hers was a brow "where every god did seem to set his seal, to give the world assurance of" a peerless woman. Often Mrs. Clifton invited Catherine to bring her work and sit with her through the afternoon; and seldom did she let the girl return without placing in her hand some book just suitable to her very age, and the stage of progress of her mind. And, oh! did not the heart of the maiden kindle and glow with love and admiration for the noble lady who, without one particle of pride, or the least pretension to condescension, condescended so much? And so Catherine grew to understand and appreciate Mrs. Clifton,
and to look upon her with a feeling amounting almost to worship. How happy were those afternoons spent with her in the cool and breezy parlour! How deeply grateful was Kate for all her benefits-how anxious to prove her gratitude -to do something for her benefactress! But Kate was very shy, and her love only spoke in the stealthy look of affection fixed upon the lady, and withdrawn with a deeply-blushing cheek if discovered. But by these tokens sure did Mrs. Clifton know the sweetness and the tenderness, the modesty and the sincerity, of the maiden's hidden heart. And all this time was Catherine wishing for the ability to tell her friend how much she thanked and loved her. One afternoon she mustered up the courage to tell the lady that she should like to read to her any time that it would be agreeable; also, that she had some skill in doing up laces and such things, and that she should be happy if she could assist Mrs. Clifton in such matters. Mrs. Clifton placed her hand affectionately on Catherine's head, and declined all her offers of service except that which related to the reading, which she accepted, hoping thereby to improve her protégée in many ways-to direct her choice of books, to correct her elocution, and to awaken her understanding of what she read by questions and comments. So they began a course of historical reading with Rollin's Ancient History; and that which this excellent lady commenced as a duty of kindness soon became a matter of daily recreation. It was, indeed, a rare intellectual pleasure to arouse, cultivate, and hold communion with a fresh, vigorous, original, enthusiastic mind like that of Catherine. And those afternoons were almost as happy for the lady as for her protégée-happier for Catherine they could not have been. Once, the shy girl was entirely carried out of herself and her reverie by the following circumstance. The lady had inadvertently let fall that she was a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, when Kate, hurried beyond her consciousness, clasped her hand and gazed fervently up in her face, exclaiming
"Descended from Oliver Cromwell? Descended from Oliver Cromwell, that friend of man? that friend of freedom? Oh! it is no wonder, lady, that you are so noble! so superior to all the world!"
"My Catherine," said the lady, calmly withdrawing her hand, you know too little, far too little of the world to
judge how I stand in comparison to others. And what know you of Oliver Cromwell? Our reading has scarcely reached the invasion of Britain by the Romans.'
"O lady! lady! lady!" said Kate warmly, being not yet recovered from her trance, "lady, Carl and I had not many books, so we read what we had over and over again! And one of the books we read the most was the Life of Oliver Cromwell!""
"You are generally so shy, Catherine, that it is a blind work in me to direct your studies, not knowing what you have read and what you have not."
Yes, very delightful to both were these seasons, and very strong was the affection beginning to cement between the lady and the maiden. There was only one thing that disturbed Catherine in the perfect enjoyment of these afternoons: when Archer Clifton would surprise them by suddenly entering the room, and throwing himself into an arm-chair or upon a sofa, her heart would stand still, and her whole frame tremble with an agitation as impossible to comprehend as to conquer. And yet much as his arrival disturbed her, his departure failed to make her happy; on the contrary, it left a strange sadness and yearning she could not shake off. But then these things were of rare occurrence. Captain Clifton very seldom found time to visit his mother-he was contented to know that she had a companion; and as for Kate, he never thought of her at all -she was provided for and forgotten. Body, soul, and spirit were taken up-absorbed in the contemplation of his promised bride, and in the anticipation of her possession. Catherine knew he was soon to be married, but what of that? She was a child, with no knowledge at her tender years to understand her own heart, and no skill to define its first developments.
At White Cliffs "all went merry as a marriage-bell." The Rockbridge was at length telegraphed at Norfolk. A letter, with an invoice, was received by Mr. Clifton, who immediately despatched a special messenger to receive his valuable portion of the cargo. The wedding-day was fixed. for that day week, and great preparations were on foot. The gentry of the neighbouring counties were invited. The mansion-house was swept and garnished" from garret to cellar. Frank and Zuleime were daily rehearsing their parts