I went along the mountain-side until I came to the great ridge of rocks which, as Dick had explained to me, protected the lower end of Murdock’s farm from the westerly wind. I climbed to the top to get a view, and then found that the ridge was continuous, running as far as the Snake’s Pass where I had first mounted it. Here, however, I was not as then above the sea, for I was opposite what they had called the Cliff Fields, and a very strange and beautiful sight it was.

Some hundred and fifty feet below me was a plateau of seven or eight acres in extent, and some two hundred and fifty feet above the sea. It was sheltered on the north by a high wall of rock like that I stood on, serrated in the same way, as the strata ran in similar layers. In the centre there rose a great rock with a flat top some quarter of an acre in extent. The whole plateau, save this one bare rock, was a mass of verdure. It was watered by a small stream which fell through a deep narrow cleft in the rocks, where the bog drained itself from Murdock’s present land. The after-grass was deep, and there were many clumps of trees and shrubs—none of them of considerable height except a few great stone-pines which towered aloft and dared the fury of the western breeze. But not all the beauty of the scene could hold my eyes—for seated on the rocky table in the centre, just as I had seen her on the hill-top at Knocknacar, sat a girl to all intents the ditto of my unknown.

My heart gave a great bound, and in the tumult of hope that awoke within my breast the whole world seemed filled with sunshine. For an instant I almost lost my senses; my knees shook, and my eyes grew dim. Then came a horrible suspense and doubt. It was impossible to believe that I should see my unknown here when I least expected to see her. And then came the man’s desire of action.

I do not know how I began. To this day I cannot make out whether I took a bee-line for that isolated table of rock, and from where I was, slid or crawled down the face of the rock, or whether I made a detour to the same end. All I can recollect is that I found myself scrambling over some large boulders, and then passing through the deep heavy grass at the foot of the rock.

Here I halted to collect my thoughts—a moment sufficed. I was too much in earnest to need any deliberation, and there was no choice of ways. I only waited to be sure that I would not create any alarm by unnecessary violence.

Then I ascended the rock. I did not make more noise than I could help; but I did not try to come silently. She had evidently heard steps, for she spoke without turning round:—

“Am I wanted?” Then, as I was passing across the plateau, my step seemed to arouse her attention; for at a bound she leaped to her feet, and turned with a glad look that went through the shadow on my soul, as the sunshine strikes through the mist.

“Arthur!” She almost rushed to meet me; but stopped suddenly—for an instant grew pale—and then a red flush crimsoned her face and neck. She put up her hands before her face, and I could see the tears drop through her fingers.

As for myself, I was half-dazed. When I saw that it was indeed my unknown, a wild joy leaped to my heart; and then came the revulsion from my long pent-up sorrow and anxiety; and as I faltered out—“At last! at last!”—the tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. There is, indeed, a dry-eyed grief, but its corresponding joy is as often smit with sudden tears.

In an instant I was by her side, and had her hand in mine. It was only for a moment, for she withdrew it with a low cry of maidenly fear—but in that moment of gentle, mutual pressure, a whole world had passed, and we knew that we loved.

We were silent for a time, and then we sat together on a boulder—she edging away from me shyly.

What matters it of what we talked? There was not much to say—nothing that was new—the old, old story that has been told since the days when Adam, waking, found that a new joy had entered into his life. For those whose feet have wandered in Eden, there is no need to speak; for those who are yet to tread the hallowed ground, there is no need either—for in the fulness of time their knowledge will come.

It was not till we had sat some time that we exchanged any sweet words—they were sweet, although to any one but ourselves they would have seemed the most absurd and soulless commonplaces.

We spoke, and that was all. It is of the nature of love that it can from airy nothings win its own celestial food!

Presently I said—and I pledge my word that this was the first speech that either of us had made, beyond the weather and the view, and such lighter topics:—

“Won’t you tell me your name? I have so longed to know it, all these weary days.”

“Norah—Norah Joyce! I thought you knew.”

This was said with a shy lifting of the eyelashes, which were as suddenly and as shyly dropped again.

“Norah!” As I spoke the word—and my whole soul was in its speaking—the happy blush overspread her face again. “Norah! What a sweet name! Norah! No, I did not know it; if I had known it, when I missed you from the hill-top at Knocknacar, I should have sought you here.”

Somehow her next remark seemed to chill me:—

“I thought you remembered me, from that night when father came home with you?”

There seemed some disappointment that I had so forgotten.

“That night,” I said, “I did not see you at all. It was so dark, that I felt like a blind man—I only heard your voice.”

“I thought you remembered my voice.”

The disappointment was still manifest. Fool that I was!—that voice, once heard, should have sunk into my memory for ever.

“I thought your voice was familiar when I heard you on the hill-top; but when I saw you, I loved you from that moment—and then every other woman’s voice in the world went, for me, out of existence!” She half arose, but sat down again, and the happy blush once more mantled her cheek—I felt that my peace was made. “My name is Arthur.” Here a thought struck me—struck me for the first time, and sent through me a thrill of unutterable delight. The moment she had seen me she had mentioned my name—all unconsciously, it is true—but she had mentioned it. I feared, however, to alarm her by attracting her attention to it as yet, and went on:—“Arthur Severn—but I think you know it.”

“Yes; I heard it mentioned up at Knocknacar.”

“Who by?”

“Andy the driver. He spoke to my aunt and me when we were driving down, the day after we—after we met on the hill-top the last time.”

Andy! And so my jocose friend knew all along! Well, wait! I must be even with him!

“Your aunt?”

“Yes; my aunt Kate. Father sent me up to her, for he knew it would distress me to see all our things moved from our dear old home—all my mother’s things. And father would have been distressed to see me grieved, and I to see him. It was kind of him; he is always so good to me.”

“He is a good man, Norah—I know that; I only hope he won’t hate me.”

“Why?”—This was said very faintly.

“For wanting to carry off his daughter. Don’t go, Norah. For God’s sake, don’t go! I shall not say anything you do not wish; but if you only knew the agony I have been in since I saw you last—when I thought I had lost you—you would pity me—indeed you would! Norah, I love you! No! you must listen to me—you must! I want you to be my wife—I shall love and honour you all my life! Don’t refuse me, dear; don’t draw back—for I love you!—I love you!”

There, it was all out. The pent-up waters find their own course.

For a minute, at least, Norah sat still. Then she turned to me very gravely, and there were tears in her eyes:—

“Oh, why did you speak like that, sir?—why did you speak like that? Let me go!—let me go! You must not try to detain me!”—I stood back, for we had both risen—“I am conscious of your good intention—of the honour you do me—but I must have time to think. Good-bye!”

She held out her hand. I pressed it gently—I dared not do more—true love is very timid at times!—She bowed to me, and moved off.

A sudden flood of despair rushed over me—the pain of the days when I thought I had lost her could not be soon forgotten, and I feared that I might lose her again.

“Stay, Norah!—stay one moment!” She stopped and turned round. “I may see you again, may I not? Do not be cruel!—may I not see you again?”

A sweet smile lit up the perplexed sadness of her face:—

“You may meet me here to-morrow evening, if you will,” and she was gone.

To-morrow evening! Then there was hope; and with gladdened heart I watched her pass across the pasture and ascend a path over the rocks. Her movements were incarnate grace; her beauty and her sweet presence filled the earth and air. When she passed from my sight, the sunlight seemed to pale and the warm air to grow chill.

For a long while I sat on that table-rock, and my thoughts were of heavenly sweetness—all, save one which was of earth—one brooding fear that all might not be well—some danger I did not understand.

And then I too arose, and took my way across the plateau, and climbed the rock, and walked down the boreen on my way for Carnaclif.

And then, and for the first time, did a thought strike me—one which for a moment made my blood run cold—Dick!

Aye—Dick! What about him? It came to me with a shudder, that my happiness—if it should be my happiness—must be based on the pain of my friend. Here, then, there was perhaps a clue to Norah’s strange gravity! Could Dick have made a proposal to her? He admitted having spoken to her—why should he, too, not have been impulsive? Why should it not be that he, being the first to declare himself, had got a favourable answer, and that now Norah was not free to choose?

How I cursed the delay in finding her—how I cursed and found fault with everyone and everything! Andy especially came in for my ill-will. He, at any rate, knew that my unknown of the hill-top at Knocknacar was none other than Norah!

And yet, stay! who but Andy persisted in turning my thoughts to Norah, and more than once suggested my paying a visit to Shleenanaher to see her? No! Andy must be acquitted at all points: common justice demanded that. Who, then, was I to blame? Not Andy—not Dick, who was too noble and too loyal a friend to give any cause for such a thought. Had he not asked me at the first if the woman of my fancy was not, this very woman; and had he not confessed his own love only when I answered him that it was not? No! Dick must be acquitted from blame!

Acquitted from blame! Was that justice? At present he was in the position of a wronged man, and it was I who had wronged him—in ignorance certainly, but still the wrong was mine. And now what could I do? Should I tell Dick? I shrank from such a thing; and as yet there was little to tell. Not till to-morrow evening should I know my fate; and might not that fate be such that it would be wiser not to tell Dick of it? Norah had asked for time to consider my offer. If it should be that she had already promised Dick, and yet should have taken time to consider another offer, would it be fair to tell Dick of such hesitation, even though the result was a loyal adherence to her promise to him? Would such be fair either to him or to her? No! he must not be told—as yet, at all events.

How, then, should I avoid telling him, in case the subject should crop up in the course of conversation? I had not told him of any of my late visits to Knockcalltecrore, although, God knows! they were taken not in my own interest, but entirely in his; and now an explanation seemed impossible.

Thus revolving the situation in my mind as I walked along, I came to the conclusion that the wisest thing I could do was to walk to some other place and stay there for the night. Thus I might avoid questioning altogether. On the morrow I could return to Carnaclif, and go over to Shleenanaher at such a time that I might cross Dick on the way, so that I might see Norah and get her answer without anyone knowing of my visit. Having so made up my mind, I turned my steps towards Roundwood, and when I arrived there in the evening sent a wire to Dick:—

“Walked here, very tired; sleep here to-night; probably return to-morrow.”

The long walk did me good, for it made me thoroughly tired, and that night, despite my anxiety of mind, I slept well—I went to sleep with Norah’s name on my lips.

The next day I arrived at Carnaclif about mid-day. I found that Dick had taken Andy to Knockcalltecrore. I waited until it was time to leave, and then started off. About half a mile from the foot of the boreen I went and sat in a clump of trees, where I could not be seen, but from which I could watch the road; and presently saw Dick passing along on Andy’s car. When they had quite gone out of sight, I went on my way to the Cliff Fields.

I went with mingled feelings. There was hope, there was joy at the remembrance of yesterday, there was expectation that I would see her again—even though the result might be unhappiness, there was doubt, and there was a horrible, haunting dread. My knees shook, and I felt weak as I climbed the rocks. I passed across the field and sat on the table-rock.

Presently she came to join me. With a queenly bearing she passed over the ground, seeming to glide rather than to walk. She was very pale, but as she drew near I could see in her eyes a sweet calm.

I went forward to meet her, and in silence we shook hands. She motioned to the boulder, and we sat down. She was less shy than yesterday, and seemed in many subtle ways to be, though not less girlish, more of a woman.

When we sat down I laid my hand on hers and said—and I felt that my voice was hoarse:—


She looked at me tenderly, and said in a sweet, grave voice:—

“My father has a claim on me that I must not overlook. He is all alone; he has lost my mother, and my brother is away, and is going into a different sphere of life from us. He has lost his land that he prized and valued, and that has been ours for a long, long time; and now that he is sad and lonely, and feels that he is growing old, how could I leave him? He that has always been so good and kind to me all my life!” Here the sweet eyes filled with tears. I had not taken away my hand, and she had not removed hers; this negative of action gave me hope and courage.

“Norah! answer me one thing. Is there any other man between your heart and me?”

“Oh no! no!” Her speech was impulsive; she stopped as suddenly as she began. A great weight seemed lifted from my heart; and yet there came a qualm of pity for my friend. Poor Dick! poor Dick!

Again we were silent for a minute. I was gathering courage for another question.

“Norah!”—I stopped; she looked at me.

“Norah! if your father had other objects in life, which would leave you free, what would be your answer to me?”

“Oh, do not ask me! Do not ask me!” Her tone was imploring; but there are times when manhood must assert itself, even though the heart be torn with pity for woman’s weakness. I went on:—

“I must, Norah! I must! I am in torture till you tell me. Be pitiful to me! Be merciful to me! Tell me, do you love me? You know I love you, Norah. Oh God! how I love you! The world has but one being in it for me; and you are that one! With every fibre of my being—with all my heart and soul, I love you! Won’t you tell me, then, if you love me?”

A flush as rosy as dawn came over her face, and timidly she asked me, “Must I answer? Must I?”

“You must, Norah!”

“Then, I do love you! God help us both! but I love you! I love you!” and tearing away her hand from mine, she put both hands before her face and burst into a passionate flood of tears.

There could be but one ending to such a scene. In an instant she was in my arms. Her will and mine went down before the sudden flood of passion that burst upon us both. She hid her face upon my breast, but I raised it tenderly, and our lips met in one long, loving, passionate kiss.

We sat on the boulder, hand in hand, and whispering confessed to each other, in the triumph of our love, all those little secrets of the growth of our affection that lovers hold dear. That final separation, which had been spoken of but a while ago, was kept out of sight by mutual consent; the dead would claim its dead soon enough. Love lives in the present and in the sunshine finds its joy.

Well, the men of old knew the human heart, when they fixed upon the butterfly as the symbol of the soul; for the rainbow is but sunshine through a cloud, and love, like the butterfly, takes the colours of the rainbow on its aery wings!

Long we sat in that beauteous spot. High above us towered the everlasting rocks; the green of nature’s planting lay beneath our feet; and far off the reflection of the sunset lightened the dimness of the soft twilight over the wrinkled sea.

We said little, as we sat hand in hand; but the silence was a poem, and the sound of the sea, and the beating of our hearts were hymns of praise to nature and to nature’s God.

We spoke no more of the future; for now that we knew that we were each beloved, the future had but little terror for us. We were content!

When we had taken our last kiss, and parted beneath the shadow of the rock, I watched her depart through the gloaming to her own home; and then I too took my way. At the foot of the Boreen I met Murdock, who looked at me in a strange manner, and merely growled some reply to my salutation.

I felt that I could never meet Dick to-night. Indeed, I wished to see no human being, and so I sat for long on the crags above the sounding sea; and then wandered down to the distant beach. To and fro I went all the night long, but ever in sight of the hill, and ever and anon coming near to watch the cottage where Norah slept.

In the early morning, I took my way to Roundwood, and going to bed, slept until late in the day.

When I woke, I began to think of how I could break my news to Dick. I felt that the sooner it was done the better. At first I had a vague idea of writing to him from where I was, and explaining all to him; but this, I concluded, would not do—it seemed too cowardly a way to deal with so true and loyal a friend—I would go now and await his arrival at Carnaclif, and tell him all, at the earliest moment when I could find an opportunity.

I drove to Carnaclif, and waited his coming impatiently, for I intended, if it were not too late, to afterwards drive over to Shleenanaher, and see Norah—or at least the house she was in.

Dick arrived a little earlier than usual, and I could see from the window that he was grave and troubled. When he got down from the car, he asked if I were in, and being answered in the affirmative, ordered dinner to be put on the table as soon as possible, and went up to his room.

I did not come down until the waiter came to tell me that dinner was ready. Dick had evidently waited also, and followed me down. When he came into the room, he said heartily:—

“Hallo! Art, old fellow, welcome back, I thought you were lost,” and shook hands with me warmly.

Neither of us seemed to have much appetite, but we pretended to eat, and sent away platesfull of food, cut up into the smallest proportions. When the apology for dinner was over, Dick offered me a cigar, lit his own, and said:—

“Come out for a stroll on the sand, Art; I want to have a chat with you.” I could feel that he was making a great effort to appear hearty, but there was a hollowness about his voice, which was not usual. As we went through the hall, Mrs. Keating handed me my letters, which had just arrived.

We walked out on the wide stretch of fine hard sand, which lies westwards from Carnaclif when the tide is out, and were a considerable distance from the town before a word was spoken. Dick turned to me, and said:—

“Art! what does it all mean?”

I hesitated for a moment, for I hardly knew where to begin—the question, so comprehensive and so sudden, took me aback. Dick went on:—

“Art! two things I have always believed; and I won’t give them up without a struggle. One is that there are very few things that, no matter how strange or wrong they look, won’t bear explanation of some kind; and the other is that an honourable man does not grow crooked in a moment. Is there anything, Art, that you would like to tell me?”

“There is, Dick! I have a lot to tell; but won’t you tell me what you wish me to speak about?” I was just going to tell him all, but it suddenly occurred to me that it would be wise to know something of what was amiss with him first.

“Then I shall ask you a few questions! Did you not tell me that the girl you were in love with was not Norah Joyce?”

“I did; but I was wrong. I did not know it at the time—I only found it out, Dick, since I saw you last!”

“Since you saw me last! Did you not then know that I loved Norah Joyce, and that I was only waiting a chance to ask her to marry me?”

“I did!” I had nothing to add here; it came back to me that I had spoken and acted all along without a thought of my friend.

“Have you not of late payed many visits to Shleenanaher; and have you not kept such visits quite dark from me?”

“I have, Dick.”

“Did you keep me ignorant on purpose?”

“I did! But those visits were made entirely on your account.”—I stopped, for a look of wonder and disgust spread over my companion’s face.

“On my account! on my account! And was it, Arthur Severn, on my account that you asked, as I presume you did, Norah Joyce to marry you—I take it for granted that your conduct was honourable, to her at any rate—the woman whom I had told you I loved, and that I wished to marry, and that you assured me that you did not love, your heart being fixed on another woman? I hate to speak so, Art! but I have had black thoughts, and am not quite myself—was this all on my account?” It was a terrible question to answer, and I paused; Dick went on:—

“Was it on my account that you, a rich man, purchased the home that she loved; whilst I, a poor one, had to stand by and see her father despoiled day by day, and, because of my poverty, had to go on with a hateful engagement, which placed me in a false position in her eyes?”

Here I saw daylight. I could answer this scathing question:—

“It was, Dick—entirely on your account!” He drew away from me, and stood still, facing me in the twilight as he spoke:—

“I should like you to explain, Mr. Severn—for your own sake—a statement like that.”

Then I told him, with simple earnestness, all the truth. How I had hoped to further his love, since my own seemed so hopeless—how I had bought the land intending to make it over to him, so that his hands might be strong to woo the woman he loved—how this and nothing else had taken me to Shleenanaher; and that whilst there I had learned that my own unknown love and Norah were one and the same—of my proposal to her; and here I told him humbly how in the tumult of my own passion I had forgotten his—whereat he shrugged his shoulders—and of my long anxiety till her answer was given. I told him that I had stayed away the first night at Roundwood, lest I should be betrayed into any speech which would lack in loyalty to him as well as to her. And then I told him of her decision not to leave her father—touching but lightly on the confession of her love, lest I should give him needless pain; I did not dare to avoid it lest I should mislead him to his further harm. When I had finished he said softly:—

“Art, I have been in much doubt!”

I thought a moment, and then remembered that I had in my pocket the letters which had been handed to me at the hotel, and that amongst them there was one from Mr. Caicy at Galway. This letter I took out and handed to Dick.

“There is a letter unopened. Open it and it may tell you something. I know my word will suffice you; but this is in justice to us both.”

Dick took the letter and broke the seal. He read the letter from Caicy, and then holding up the deed so that the dying light of the west should fall on it, read it. The deed was not very long. When he finished it he stood for a moment with his hands down by his sides; then he came over to me, and laying his hands, one of which grasped the deed, on my shoulders, said:—

“Thank God, Art, there need be no bitterness between me and thee—all is as you say, but oh! old fellow!”—and here he laid his head on my shoulder and sobbed—“my heart is broken! All the light has gone out of my life!”

His despair was only for a moment. Recovering himself as quickly as he had been overcome, he said:—

“Never mind, old fellow, only one of us must suffer; and, thank God! my secret is with you alone—no one else in the wide world even suspects. She must never know! Now tell me all about it; don’t fear that it will hurt me. It will be something to know that you are both happy. By the way, this had better be torn up; there is no need for it now!” Having torn the paper across, he put his arm over my shoulder as he used to do when we were boys; and so we passed into the gathering darkness.

Thank God for loyal and royal manhood! Thank God for the heart of a friend that can suffer and remain true! And thanks, above all, that the lessons of tolerance and forgiveness, taught of old by the Son of God, are now and then remembered by the sons of men.

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