IN TWO CHAPTERS. —
Of our pleasant party at The Elms last Christmas, Kate O’Hara was the beauty, far away. I remember our little silence of admiration as she came into the drawing-room just before dinner was announced (for your prima donna does not care to enter until the house is full), and the great sensation her arrival made, though she could not have approached more quietly or meekly if she had been the cat.
Half-a-dozen young ladies who, before her advent, looked pretty enough, suddenly became quite uninteresting to a corresponding number of bachelors, and even we married gentlemen paused awhile in our talk of shorthorns to steal an admiring glance. We had resumed our bovine conversation, and were diverging, if I remember aright, in the direction of the Prince Consort’s pigs, when my wife came up to me, and whispered:
“That’s little Kate O’Hara!”
Why did my cheek glow and my heart throb? Why did the name of one whom I had not seen since she was a little child recall at once the crowning happiness and chief confusion of my life?
It shall be told, terribly, anon.
The six bachelors “entered themselves” immediately for “the O’Hara stakes,” as one of them was subsequently pleased to designate the dreaming of Love’s young dream; and two of them — a middy and an under-graduate — got the start, and made the running at the most reckless pace I ever saw. Indeed, the sailor proposed on the third evening, and was declined with such good-natured cheerfulness that he seemed to be rather pleased than otherwise; whereas the collegian, who was of a poetical turn, took his refusal, the day following, very seriously to heart, and passed the remaining part of his visit in sorrow and the shrubberies. Two other competitors, unattached (except to Kate), were disposed of at an archery ball; and the race then lay between Charley Northcote, captain of hussars, and Philip Lee, curate.
It was a grand set-to — “hands up,” I can tell you. If Charley had the handsomest face, and, playing with a bullet pendent from his watchchain, but which had previously resided in his leg, could talk of the time ”when I was in the Crimea,” Philip had the more intellectual expression, and had won at Oxford the under-gvaduate’s “blue ribbon “—the Newdegate prize for English verse. Charley, it is true, when we were skating on the lake, produced upon the ice such wondrous “eagles” as Audubon never dreamed of; but he was, on the other hand, the first to own, when the frost broke up, that, “in a really good thing with hounds, there was not one of them could catch the parson.” For Philip, though he did not hunt in his own parish, could “go like a bird” out of it, whenever he could get a mount.
On the night before our party separated, we had a grand performance of charades, and, in the last of these, the Reverend Mr. Lee had won immense applause as a ferocious captain of banditti, acting with the greatest enthusiasm, and having composed for himself, with the co-operation of a cork, a pair of moustachios, which rivalled Charley’s.
We were to appear at supper in our charade costumes, and were waiting the announcement of that refection, when I noticed an extraordinary phenomenon which caused me instantly and earnestly to whisper to Miss O’Hara, “I have something to say to you. Come at once.”
We passed unnoticed from the crowded drawing room into the library, still littered with our theatrical properties. Seizing a dagger, and assuming a characteristic scowl (I was attired as a brigand’s assistant), I bade her “ Listen!” And she (I see her now in her pretty hat and cloak, for she had represented in our last scene the young English countess stopped by the robbers), ever ready for burlesque and mirth — as she supposed all this to be — made answer, solemnly, “Say on.”
“Twelve years ago, Catherine O’Hara, I wooed and won in the home of your childhood the lady who is now my wife. On a sweet summer’s eve I told my love, sitting under an acacia, and upon a garden-seat the property of your respected sire. Hard by, you, then a little child, were swinging in a swing. Those same long silken Irish lashes drooped over those deep blue eyes, and we never dreamed that you took note of us, sealing, in the usual manner, our vows of mutual love. Judge, then, how intense our agony, how complete and awful our abasement, when, as we rejoined the festive throng for coffee, you cried aloud for all to hear:
“‘Oh, mama! those two did so kiss each other, when I was swinging in the elm!’
“For twelve years, Kate O’Hara, the memory of that humiliation has troubled my indignant soul; but, at last, I am avenged — look here!”
I held before her one of the hand looking-glasses which lay on the table near, and she was preparing to say something in the dramatic style, as she snatched it from me with the proud air of a tragedy queen, when her eye caught the reflection of her face, and in a moment that fair countenance was blanched and pale, and she stood, with her head drooping, speechless.
For upon her lip, reader, she saw, as I had seen, the certain sign and trace that, in some obscure corner behind the scenes, the race had been derided for the “O’Hara Stakes,” and that the Brigand Lee had won.
“Kate,” I said, “you cannot bo vexed with me, for I congratulate you with all my heart. May you be as happy, dear girl, with our friend the Robber as ‘those two’ have been happy, whom you saw ‘so kissing one another,’ from beneath those silken lashes as you sat swinging in the elm.”