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Hearing the exclamation, the coachman applied the whip, and attempted to drive off, but the crowd were too quick for him. Regardless of the risk they incurred, several persons threw themselves in the way of the carriage, while others seized hold of the horses. Every eye was now directed to the interior of the equipage in the hope of discovering Law. But they were disappointed. The only occupant of the carriage was a young and beautiful girl, who appeared dreadfully frightened at what was occurring. Her looks moved the crowd to compassion, and she might perhaps have been allowed to pass on, if the voice that had previously spoken had not called out, "It is the robber's daughter! It is Mam'zelle Law!
I know her."
Immediately upon this a heavy stone was launched against the carriage-window, which Kate in her fright had drawn up, and shivered the glass. Notwithstanding the poor girl's screams, and although the blood was streaming down her face from a cut in the forehead, other missiles were thrown, and the crowd might have proceeded to yet more frightful extremities, if a deliverer had not appeared in the shape of Evelyn.
Forcing his way to the carriage, he tore open the door, and seizing Kate, who had fallen back in a half-fainting state, took her in his arms, and called out to the menacing crowd, "What! are you men, and would injure an innocent child!"
The appeal and the looks of the speaker produced the desired effect. Infuriated as they were, the crowd could not behold Kate thus presented to them and continue their violence. Those nearest to Evelyn drew back, and taking instant advantage of the movement, he flew with his burden to the convent. Already the gate had been closed by the porter, but the wicket was left open, and through this Evelyn passed, and the moment he had done so it was shut, and pursuit prevented.
On passing through the gate Evelyn found himself in the presence of several of the nuns, who had flocked into the courtyard on hearing the disturbance. He instantly consigned poor Kate, who was still in a state of insensibility, to their charge, and she was borne off to the abbess's own room, while he himself was shown by one of the elder sisters to the parlour ordinarily allotted to visitors. Here he was left alone for some time, but at last the door opened, and the abbess entered. Her looks were so sad that Evelyn's apprehensions were roused, and he anxiously inquired how Mademoiselle Law was going on.
"She has quite recovered," replied the abbess. "No serious consequences are to be apprehended from the injury she has received. I have despatched a messenger to Lady Catherine Law to relieve her from any uneasiness in regard to her daughter. So far well. But I have sad news for you. You are aware of Colombe's precarious condition?"
"Is she worse?" cried Evelyn. "For pity's sake tell me. not keep me in suspense."
"Alas! she is rapidly passing away," replied the abbess. On hearing this Evelyn uttered a cry of anguish so piercing that it went to the heart of his listener. She waited for a few moments till the paroxysm with which he was seized had abated, and then said, in tones of profound commiseration,
"This morning Colombe became alarmingly ill, and Doctor Chirac being hastily summoned, declared at once on seeing her that she had not many hours to live. As the truth could not be disguised, I was about to communicate it to the sweet sufferer, when she took my hand, and gently pressing it, said, with an angelic smile, 'I know what you are about to tell me. I could read my sentence in Doctor Chirac's looks. I feel I have not many hours to live. But death will be a elief to me, and I am fully prepared for the blow. There are two persons to whom I desire to bid farewell-Kate Law and Evelyn Harcourt." "
An irrepressible groan burst from Evelyn.
"The request could not be refused," pursued the abbess. "Mademoiselle Law came immediately on receiving the summons, but you were not to be found, and I feared that poor Colombe's latest wish would have been ungratified, and that she would expire without beholding you. But even this disappointment, which must have been bitter to her, she bore without a murmur. But our Blessed Lady in her compassion willed it otherwise, and brought you hither for a double purpose, to be the means of rescuing Mademoiselle Law from the violence of the populace, and to soothe poor Colombe's parting pangs. You should have been admitted to her sooner, but up to this moment she has been engaged in religious offices, and could not be disturbed. Follow me, and as you value Colombe, and would not disturb her happy frame of mind, I pray you to put all possible. constraint upon your feelings. This must be the condition of the interview."
They then quitted the room, ascended a staircase, and entered a gallery in which were the dormitories. Stopping at a door, the abbess softly opened it, and admitted Evelyn into a room, where he beheld a sight that well-nigh unmanned him.
On a small couch, simple in character as the rest of the furniture of the chamber, which was all of conventual plainness, lay Colombe, her appearance betokening the extremity to which she was reduced.
Approaching dissolution was written plainly on her features. Since Evelyn beheld her last, a fearful change had taken place in her countenance, but its beauty was unimpaired. So rigid were her lineaments, so like marble was their death-like hue, that she resembled an exquisite piece of monumental sculpture. Her very
attitude contributed to this effect, for her thin hands pressed a crucifix devoutly to her bosom.
By the bedside knelt Kate Law, praying fervently, and at the farther end of the room were two nuns, likewise engaged in devotion. It was a profoundly touching scene, but though it afflicted Evelyn at the moment, he loved to dwell upon it afterwards, when the bitterness of his grief had passed.
The door had been opened so gently, and both the abbess and Evelyn entered with such noiseless footsteps, that at first none of the occupants of the room were conscious of their presence. The only sounds heard were the murmured prayers of Kate Law and the nuns.
Holding his breath, so as not to disturb the sacred quietude of the scene by sigh or groan, Evelyn gazed at the form of her he loved. So motionless was its attitude, that for a few moments he thought all was over, but on closer scrutiny the feeble movements caused by respiration showed that the vital spark had not yet fled. An exclamation, which he could not repress, caused Colombe to open her eyes. As she fixed them upon him, a slight, very slight, flush rose to her pallid cheeks, and a faint smile played around her lips. But the flush presently faded away, and though the eyes still rested lovingly upon him, their light grew gradually dim.
On hearing Evelyn's approach, Kate Law had risen from her kneeling posture and moved to another part of the room.
Enabled thus to approach the dying maiden, he pressed his lips to her brow, and taking her thin cold hand, implored her to speak to him.
An effort at compliance was made by the expiring damsel. Her lips moved, but the power of articulation was gone, and no sound was audible. A very slight pressure, however, was perceptible from the hand which he grasped in his own.
To the last her gaze remained fixed upon him, and proclaimed the love which her lips were unable to utter-a love only quenched when her heart was stilled for ever.
Evelyn was roused from the stupefaction into which he was thrown by the abbess, who said to him in a commiserating voice,
"Do not grieve for her, my son. You have only parted from her for a time. You will rejoin her in heaven. And now go hence, and leave us to pray for the soul of our departed sister."
Evelyn obeyed. Casting one last look at the inanimate body of Colombe, he quitted the chamber of death.
Before morning he was on his way to England, and not till many years afterwards did he return to Paris, when his first visit was to the chapel of the convent of the Capucines, where Colombe was interred. All her possessions had been given to the establishment.
FORTY YEARS AGO.
A YOUNG man was leaning against a gate with his elbows over the top rail, and his head bent forward. It was a twisted, awkward position, and his handsome face wore a not very well-pleased expression. He was looking intently at some object on the farther side of the hedge, and there was a nervous contraction of the corner of his mouth. What could he be looking at to whom was he speaking? To a strong-made, healthy country girl, who stood there with her sleeves tucked up, and the skirt of her gown turned inside out and pinned behind, showing a stuff petticoat, and a pair of good strong boots below. She was looking him full in the face with her honest hazel eyes, and there was an expression of conscious power and merriment on her lips. She had evidently had the last word!
It needed no quick observer to decide at once that the young man was courting her, and that she knew exactly how far to trust his words and to permit his attentions.
"Ya taak such strange fancies, Polly. It all cums along o' ya haven been in sarvice wi' the parson's family down yonder," he said. the harm o' smugglen ? It's not loike taaken what's not a chep's ownnot loike stealen, ya know."
"No, it's no so mean as that, sartenly; but it's cheaten," she rejoined, somewhat sharply.
"Cheaten!" he echoed, in some surprise, and with a smile of derision. "Yas, cheaten the government o' its rights."
"Why, bless ya, girl, the government don't geet on a whit the worse fer't."
"It's breaken the laws, an' that's wrong," continued she, in a decided tone. "Ya woll see it all as I do sum day, Jim, but till ya do, remember I won't ha' anythen to say to ya."
"Why, Polly, ya fergeet, we never can marry if I gee it up. Thur's plenty to maake the pot bile as it is. Think, now, what a nice cottage we moight ha', wi' a snug bit o' a kitchen and chimney fer me to smoke pipe in, an' ya to sit wi' yer needle an' rock the baby to sleep, eh? Then we wud ha' a garden, wi' apples fer cider, an' a pig o' our own. Jes think o' the pig, Poll," he added, in his most persuasive tone, as if the prospect in the dim future of fat bacon or maybe a joint of pork must prove irresistible, to say nothing of the charms of the grunter's society during lifetime. Polly was unmoved by such visions of future bliss.
"An' jes think, Jim, o' the long dreary winter nites as I shud ha' to sit alone list'nen to the wind an' rain, an' feelen uneasy about yer. Don't tell me o' the comforts o' that sort o' life. Go an' geet an 'onest liven by the work o' yer own hans, an' I'm ready to share a barn wi' yer. Thur, ya know mind! Gude-by!" And she turned to go.
"Polly," he said, calling after her. "Woll-what?"
"I don't know!" And Jim laughed at his own indecision.
It was very true, he did not know what more to say, and so Polly Hunter (that was her name) turned away with a request that he would think the matter over, and make his choice between smuggling and her for his wife. She did not mean to change her mind, he might be sure of that; and she looked as if she did not and would not, as she passed through a garden gate hard by the footpath, and crossing in front of her brother's neat little cottage-she had come to help since her sister-inlaw's confinement-entered an outhouse, and was soon busily engaged with her hands in the wash-tub, and her left foot rocking a clothes-basket in which a baby lay crying. Polly soothed the little one, bade it be quiet and good in that strange language and tone women use, and which it is supposed babies understand. The child screamed on, and Polly Hunter's thoughts were with Jim Holding, and busy with the uncertain future before her. She had not placed her affections on so bad a subject after all. Jim was a good sort of fellow in his own unenlightened way-goodnatured and stout-hearted, but with no very distinct ideas of right and wrong. How should he have? No one had taught him his duty, there was no church for miles from Hopedean, the hamlet where he lived, and his parents had not thought it necessary to send him to the school in the neighbouring parish. They could not read or write themselves, and they did not see what good came of learning. It was all very well for gentlefolks, but they had to work with their hands and not their heads, and book-learning would be quite out of place. This was their reasoning. They had never known how a book can solace a weary hour, distract the thoughts, and chase away griefs, and how especially the book of booksthe Bible-can bring peace of mind and comfort to the serious and rightminded reader. Thus it was that James Holding-or Jim, as it seems most natural to call him-was brought up in ignorance of his alphabet, and without any help to guide him in the right way, save a disposition naturally averse to cruelty and to all that his instincts called mean. The harm of smuggling he could not see. So far all had gone well with him. The results of his expeditions being gold sovereigns, a little excitement, and no mishaps.
Jim watched his sweetheart out of sight, and then rolled round, resting his back against the gate. With a noisy, long-drawn yawn, he stretched himself and shook his head, muttering something about the perversity and wilfulness of women in general, and Polly Hunter in particular. along o' her be'n wi' the parson's family, sure enough," he thought to himself. Jim was a strong-built man, with sinewy arms and broad shoulders. His hair was jet black, and he had a pair of very keen, observant eyes. There was no lack of acuteness in his expression, though his parents had not done their best for him. Jim had an eye, too, for the picturesque in his attire. Perhaps he had taken a little more pains that morning, on account of this meeting with his sweetheart, and sure enough the black velveteen trousers, snow-white smock-frock, the black cap placed on one side, and the dark blue neckhandkerchief, gave him a very jaunty appearance. Jim Holding was not a conceited fellow, but he was quite aware of possessing good looks, and of the advantages to be derived from them. He stood there wondering how he was to overcome his difficulties with Mary, for he had no idea of giving her up. He was sincerely attached to her, and had never liked her better than he did that September