15

How Hardress Spent His Time While Kyrle Daly Was Asleep

ALL WERE now asleep, except the two strangers, and the silence, which reigned throughout the little cottage, showed Hardress that no ear was capable of detecting his movements. He opened his room door softly, slipped his shoes from his feet, and leaving the light burning on his table, trusted to the famous sixth sense of the German physiologists, for a chance of finding his way among the chairs and tables in the dark. He reached the door without a stumble; and perceived by the light, which streamed through the keyhole and under the door of his fair friend's apartment, that she still expected him.

    Their meeting, though silent, was impassioned and affectionate. Hardress enquired, with the tender and sedulous attention of a newly married man, whether she felt any injurious effects from the storm—whether she had changed her dress, and taken some refreshment—whether, in fine, her situation was in any way inconvenient to her?

    "In no way' at all, Mr. Hardress, as to any of these things you mention," she replied in a low voice, for she was fearful of waking Mrs. Frawley in the next room. "But as to the mind!—May heaven never give you the affliction of spending two such hours as I have done since I entered this room!"

    "My life, why will you speak so? What other course remained for our adoption? You know your father's temper, he would as soon have died as sanctioned a private marriage, such as ours must be for some time longer. It would be absolute ruin to me if my mother knew of my having contracted such an engagement without consulting her wishes—and my father, as I have before told you, will act exactly as she desires. And why, now, my love, will you indulge those uneasy humours? Are you not my bride, my wife, the chosen of my heart, and the future partner of my fortunes? Do you really think that I would forget my little angel's feelings, so far as to omit any thing in my power that might set her mind at rest? If you do, I must tell you that I love you more than you imagine."

    "Oh, Mr. Hardress! oh, don't say that at all, sir," said the young woman with frankness and ready warmth of manner. "Only I was just thinking, an' I sitting by the fire, what a heartbreak it would be to my father, if any body put it into his head that the case was worse than it is," (here she hung down her head) "and no more would be wanting but just a little word on a scrap o' paper, to let him know that he needn't be uneasy, and that he'd know all in time."

    This suggestion appeared to jar against the young gentleman's inclinations. "If you wish," said he, with a little earnestness of voice, "I will return with you to Garryowen to-morrow, and have our marriage made public from the altar of John's Gate Chapel. I have no object in seeking to avoid my own ruin, greater than that of preventing you from sharing it. But if you will insist upon running the hazard—hazard? I mean, if you are determined on certainly destroying our prospects of happiness, your will shall be dearer to me than fortune or friends either. If you have a father to feel for, you will not forget, my love, that I have a mother whom I love as tenderly, and whose feelings deserve some consideration at my hands."

    The gentle girl seemed affected, but not hurt, by this speech. "Don't be angry with me," she said, laying her hand affectionately on his shoulder, "don't be angry, Mr. Hardress. I know I have a very bad head, and can't see into every thing at once; but one word from you, (and it needn't be an angry one either) is enough to open my eyes. Insist, do you say, Mr. Hardress? Indeed, sir, I was never made to insist upon any thing. But when a thought, foolish as it is, once comes into my bead, I long to speak of it, to know what you will say, to know if it is wrong or right. You wouldn't wish that I should keep it from you, sir?"

    "Never, oh, never! Do not think of that."

    "I never will practice it long, any way, for such thoughts as those, if I were to hide them, would kill me before a month. But keep always near me, my dear, dear Mr. Hardress, for though you showed me that there is nothing very criminal in what I have done, yet when you leave me long alone, the reasons go out of my head, and I only think of what the neighbours are saying about me, this way, and of what my father must feel, listening to them. Don't think, now, sir, that I am going to question what you tell me (for I trust in you next to heaven) but if I am not so much to blame, why is it that my mind is not at ease? The storm, sir—oh, that storm! When the waves rose, and the boat rocked, and the wind howled about me, how my feelings changed on a sudden! I strove to look quiet before you, but my heart was leaping for fear within me. When we sank down in the darkness and rose in the light, when the waves were dashen' in over the side, and the sails were dippen' in the water, I thought of my father's fire-side, and I was sure that it was the anger of the Almighty, hunting the disobedient child over the dark waters. I thought I never would walk the land again—and how will it be, says I, if the boat breaks under us, and my father is told that his daughter was washed ashore a corpse, with a blot upon her name, and no one living that can clear it?——But, I give thanks to Heaven!" the poor girl continued, clasping her hands, and looking upward with tears in her eyes—"that judgment has been spared; not for my merit, I am sure, but for its own mercy.""

    "And is not that a quieting remembrance, Eily?" said her husband. "Oh, that is not all," said Eily, "that is not the worst. Every moment that I make seems to bring down the anger of heaven, since I first thought of deceiving my father. Do you remember the morning of our marriage?" she added with a slight shudder, "I never can put that frightful morning out of my mind. 'Tis always before my eyes. The little room inside the sacristy, and the candles burning on the small table, and the grey dawn just breaking through the window! We did not marry as other people do, in their families, or in the open daylight. We married in secret, like criminals in prison, without preparation, without confession, or communion, or repentance. We chose a priest that was disgraced by his Bishop, to give us that great sacrament, for money. May heaven forgive him! how soon and suddenly he was called to judgment for that act!"

    Hardress, who had himself been struck by the circumstance last alluded to, remained silent for a moment, while his eyes were fixed upon the earth.

    "Why did you go back to the chapel that time, Eily," he said at length, "after I parted from you at the door?" "Every thing looked bad and disheartening," said the young woman, "I was just going to lift the latch of my father's door, when I found that I had forgot the priest's certificate. I went back to the chapel as fast as I could walk. I passed through the sacristy and into the little room. The certificate was there upon the table, the candles were burning, and the clergyman was sitting upright in his chair—a dead man! Oh, I can no more tell you how I felt that moment than if I was dumb. I thought the world was coming to an end, and that I had no more hold of life, than of the wind that was going by me. I ran out into the chapel and strove to pray, but my blood was boiling out at my fingers' ends. While I was on my knees, I heard the people running to and fro in the sacristy, and I hurried out of the chapel for fear I'd be questioned."

    "And did you go home at once?"

    "No; I took a walk first, to quiet my mind a little, and when I did go home, I found my father was up and getting the breakfast ready before me. Ah, he deserved a better daughter than Eily!"

    "Come, come!" said her husband kindly, "you will be a good daughter to him yet."

    "I hope so, sir," said Eily, in a mournful voice. "There's one thing, at all events. He loves me very well, and whenever I return, I am sure of being easily forgiven."

    "And can you find no encouragement in that?" Hardress said, while he took her hand in his, and pressed it in a soothing manner. "You say that you have confidence in me—and the few happy weeks that we have counted since our marriage have furnished me with no occasion for complaint on that subject. Continue yet a little longer to trust in your own Hardress, and the time will shortly come when you shall find that it was not besrowed in vain. Come, now, let me dry those sweet eyes, while I tell you shortly what my plans shall be. You have heard me speak of Danny Mann's sister, Naughten, who lives on the side of the Purple Mountain, in the Gap of Dunlough—(you don't know those places now, but you'll be enchanted with them by and by.) She is a good natured creature, though somewhat violent; and is, moreover, entirely at my command. I have had two neat rooms fitted up for you in her cottage, where you can have some books to read, a little garden to amuse you, and a Kerry pony to ride over the mountains, and see all that is to he seen about the lakes. In the meantime I will steal a visit now and then to my mother, who spends the autumn in the neighbourhood. She loves me, I know, as well as I love her; and that is very well. I will gradually let her into my secret, and obtain her forgiveness—I am certain she will not withhold it—and my father's will follow as a matter of course—for he has the greatest respect for her opinions." [If Hardress had not been Barny Cregan's son, he would have given this respect another name.] "I shall then present you to my mother, she will commend your modesty and gentleness;—to my father, who will rap out an exclamation on your beauty:—we shall send for your father and priest O'Connor to the hauling-home, and then where is the tongue that shall venture to wag against the fame of Eily Cregan? If such a one there be, it shall never sting again, for I will cut the venom out of it with my small-sword."

    "Hush! hush, sir! Do not speak so loud," cried the young woman in some alarm—"there's one asleep in the next room. "Who is it? Mrs. Frawley?"

    "The fat, good old woman that got dinner ready for me."

    "Never fear her. She is a hard-working diligent woman, that always minds the business she has in hand. It was not to lie awake and make use of her ears that she got between the blankets. Hark!—There is a clearer proof still that she is asleep. She must be dreaming of a hunt, she imitates the horn of chase so finely. Well, Eily, be ready to start for Ballybunion at sunrise in the morning. You must contrive to slip down to the shore without being seen by Lowry, or any body else, if possible."

    The creaking of the bed, which sustained the ponderous Mrs. Frawley, here startled the young and passionate, though most ill sorted, pair. After a hurried good night, Hardress returned to his room just in time to escape the observation of the good dairy-woman, who had been awaked out of a dream of pecks and keelers and fresh prints by the sound of voices in the stranger's room. On opening the door, however, she was a little astonished to observe the lovely guest in the attitude of devotion. Deprived, by this circumstance, of the opportunity of putting any awkward questions, Mrs. Frawley, after yawning once or twice, and shaking her shoulders as often, tumbled into bed again, and speedily resumed the same tone upon the horn which had excited the admiration of Hardress.

    Reader, I desire you not to think that this speedy fit of devotion was a manœuvre of the gentle Eily. The sin, assuredly, was not done with reflection. But if the case appears suspicious, go down upon your knees and pray that as (alas, the while!) it has not been the first, it may be the last instance in which religion shall be made subservient to human and terrestrial purposes!

    There was a slight feeling of chagrin mingled with the happier emotions of the young husband as he prepared for slumber. Gifted, as he was, with a quick perception and keen feeling of the beautiful and worthy, the passion he had conceived for the gentle Eily had been as sudden as it was violent. The humility of her origin, at a period when pride of birth was more considered in matrimonial alliances than it is at present, might, it is true, have deterred him from contravening the wishes of his friends, if the impression made on his imagination had been less powerful; but his extreme youth, and the excelling beauty of his bride, were two circumstances that operated powerfully in tempting him to overlook all other counsels than those which love suggested. He thought, nevertheless, that he had acted towards Eily O'Connor with a generosity which approached a species of magnanimity, in preferring her before the whole world and its opinions; and perhaps, too, he entertained a little philosophical vanity in the conceit that he had thus evinced an independent reliance on his own mental resources, and shown a spirit superior to the ordinary prejudices of society. He felt therefore, a little chagrined at Eily's apparent slowness in appreciating so noble an effort, for indeed she did him the justice to believe that it was a higher motive than the love of self-adulation which induced him to bestow upon her his hand and his affections. But the reader is yet only partially acquainted with the character of Hardress, and those early circumstances which fashioned it to its present state of irregular and imperfect virtue; we will, therefore, while that fiery heart lies quenched in slumber, employ those hours of inaction in a brief and comprehensive view of the natural qualities and acquirements of our hero.

    While Hardress Cregan was yet a child, he displayed more symptoms of precocious ability, than might have shed a lustre on the boyhood of many a celebrated genius. He obtained, even in his school days, the sobriquet of "Counsellor" from his fondness for discussion, and the childish eloquence which he displayed in maintaining a favourite position. His father liked him for a certain desperation of courage which he was apt to discover on occasions of very inadequate provocation. His mother, too, doated on him for a mother's own, best reason; that he was her child. Indulgent she was, even to a ruinous extent; and proud she was, when her sagacious acquaintances, after hearing her relate some wonderful piece of wit in little Hardress, would compress their lips, shake their heads with much emphasis, and prophecy that "that boy would shine one day or another." His generosity too (a quality in which Mrs. Cregan was herself preeminent) excited his mother's admiration, and proved indeed that Hardress was not an ordinary child.

    And yet he was not without the peculiar selfishness of genius, that selfishness which consists not in the love of getting, or the love of keeping, in cupidity or avarice; but in a luxurious indulgence of all one's natural inclinations, even to an effeminate degree. His very generosity was a species of self-seeking, of that vulgar quality which looks to nothing more than the gratification of a suddenly awakened impulse of compassion, or, perhaps, has a still meaner object for its stimulus, the gratitude of the assisted, and the fame of an open hand. If this failing were in Hardress, as in Charles Surface, the result of habitual thoughtlessness and dissipation, it might challenge a gentler condemnation, and awaken pity rather than dislike; but young Cregan was by no means incapable of appreciating the high merit of a due self-government even in the exercise of estimable dispositions. He admired, in Kyrle Daly, that noble and yet unaffected firmness of principle which led him, on many occasions, to impose a harsh restraint upon his own feelings, when their indulgence was not in accordance with his notions of justice. But Hardress Cregan, with an imagination which partook much more largely of the national luxuriance, and with a mind which displayed, at intervals, bursts of energy which far surpassed the reach of his steady friend, was yet the less estimable character of the two. They were, nevertheless, well calculated for a lasting friendship; for Kyrle Daly liked and valued the surpassing talent of Hardress, and Hardress was pleased with the even temper and easy resolution of his school-fellow.

    Seldom, indeed, it was, that esteem formed any portion in the leading motive of Hardress Cregan's attachments. He liked for liking's sake, and as long only as his humour lasted. It required but a spark to set him all on fire, but the flame was often as prone to smoulder, and become extinct, as it was hasty to kindle. The reader is already aware that he had formed during his boyhood, a passion for Anne Chute, who was then a mere girl, and on a visit at Dinis Cottage. His mother, who, from his very infancy had arranged this match within her own mind, was delighted to observe the early attachment of the children, and encouraged it by every means in her power. They studied, played, and walked together, and all his recollections of the magnificent scenery of those romantic mountain lakes were blended with the form, the voice, the look and manner of his childish love. The long separation, however, which ensued when he was sent to school, and from thence to college, produced a total alteration in his sentiments; and the mortification which his pride experienced on finding himself, as he imagined, utterly forgotten by her, completely banished even the wish to renew their old familiar life. Still, however, the feeling with which be regarded her was rather one of resentment than indifference, and it was not without a secret creeping of the heart, that he witnessed what he thought the successful progress of Kyrle Daly's attachment.

    It was under these circumstances, that he formed his present hasty union with Eily O'Connor. His love for her was deep, sincere, and tender. Her entire and unbounded confidence, her extreme beauty, her simplicity and timid deference to his wishes, made a soothing compensation to his heart for the coldness of the haughty, though superior, beauty, whose inconstancy had raised his indignation.

    "Yes," said Hardress to himself as be gathered the blankets about his shoulders, and disposed himself for sleep. "Her form and dispositions are perfect. Would that education had been to her as kind as nature! Yet she does not want grace nor talent;—but that brogue! Well, well! the materials of refinement are within and around her, and it must be my task, and my delight, to make the brilliant shine out that is yet dark in the ore. I fear Kyrle Daly is, after all, correct in saying that I am not indifferent to those external allurements." (Here his eyelids drooped.) "The beauties of our mountain residence will make a mighty alteration in her mind, and my society will—will—gradually— beautiful—Anne Chute—Poll Naughten—independent—"

    The ideas faded on his imagination, a cloud settled on his brain, a delicious languor crept through all his limbs, he fell into a profound repose.