19

How Hardress Met an Old Friend and Made a New One

FANCY RESTORED the dreaming Hardress to the society of his beloved Eily. He sat by her side once more, quieting, with the caresses of a boyish fondness, her still recorring anxieties, and comforting her apprehensions by endeavouring to make her share his own steady anticipation of his mother's favour and forgiveness. This hope, on his own part, it must be acknowledged, was much stronger in his sleeping than his waking moments; for it was extraordinary how different his feeling on that subject became after he had reached his home, and when the moment of disclosure drew near. His extreme youth, all ruined as he was by over indulgence, made him regard his mother with a degree of reverence that approached to fear; and as he seldom loved to submit when once aroused to contest, so he was usually careful to avoid as much as possible, any occasion for the exercise of his hereditary perseverance. The influence of his parent, however, consisted not so much in her parental authority, as in the mastery which she held over his filial affections, which partook of the intensity that distinguished his entire character. Mrs. Cregan governed both her husband and her son; but the means which she employed in moulding each to her own wishes, were widely different. In her arguments with the former, it was her usual practice to begin with an intreaty and end with a command. On the contrary when she sought to work upon the inclinations of Hardeess, she opened with a command, and concluded with an intreaty. It was indeed, as Hardress had frequently experienced, a difficult task to withstand her instances, when she had recourse to the latter expedient. Mrs. Cregan possessed all the national warmth of temperament and liveliness of feeling. Like all naturally generous people, whose virtue is rather the offspring of a kindly heart than a well-regulated understanding, Mrs. Cregan was not more boundless in her bounty than in her exaction of gratitude. She not only looked for gratitude to those whom she had obliged, but was so exorbitant as to imagine that all those likewise whom she really wished to serve should return her an equal degree of kindness; and actually evince as lively a sense of obligation as if her wishes in their favour had been deeds. Alas! in this selfish world, we are told that real benefits are frequently forgotten by the receiver, and sometimes repaid by cold unkindness or monstrous hostility. It is no wonder then that Mrs. Cregan should have sometimes found people slow to appreciate the value of her vain desires.

    While Hardress was still murmuring some sentiment of passionate admiration in the ear of his visionary bride, he was awakened by the pressure of a light finger on his shoulder. He looked up and beheld a lady in a broad-leafed beavee hat, and ball dress, standing by his bed-side, and smiling down upon him with an air of affection and reproof. Her countenance, though it had already acquired in a slight degree that hardness of outline which marks the approach of the first matronal years, was striking, and even beautiful in its character. The forehead was high and commanding, the eye of a dark hazel, well opened, and tender and rapid in its expression. The entire face had that length of feature which painters employ in their representations of the tragic muse, and the character of the individual had given to this natural conformation a depth of feeling which was calculated to make a strong and even a gloomy impression on the imagination of the beholder. Her person likewise partook of this imposing character, and was displayed to some advantage by her dress, the richness of which was perfectly adapted to her lofty and regal air. It consisted of a beautiful poplin, a stomacher set off with small brilliants, and a rich figured silk petticoat, which was fully displayed in front. The skirt of the gown parted and fell back from either side, while a small hoop, occupying the position of the modern Vestris, imparted to this interesting portion of the figure a degree of fashionable slimness and elegance. An amber necklace, some enormous broches, and rings containing locks of hair, the bequest of three succeeding generations completed the decorations of her person.

    "You are a pretty truant," she said, "to absent yourself for a whole fortnight together, and at a time too when I had brought a charming friend to make your acquaintance. You are a pretty truant. And immediately on your return, instead of showing any affectionate anxiety to compensate for you inattention, you run off to your sleeping chamber, and oblige your foolish mother to come and seek you?"

    "My trim, mother, would have hardly become your drawing-room."

    "Or looked to advantage in the eyes of my lovely visitor?"

    "Upon my word, mother, I had not a thought of her. I should feel as little inclined to appear wanting in respect to you, as to any visitor to whom you could introduce me."

    "Respect?" echoed Mrs. Cregan, while she laid the light away upon the dressing-table (in such a position, that it could shine full and bright upon the features of her son,) and took a chair near his bed-side. "Respect is fond of going well dressed, I grant you; but there is another feeling, Hardress, that is far more sensitive and exquisite on points of this nature, a feeling much more lively and anxious than any that a poor fond mother can expect. Do not interrupt me; I am not so unreasonable as to desire that the course of human nature should be inverted for my sake. But I have a question to ask you. Have you any engagement during the next month, that will prevent your spending it with us? If you have, and if it be not a very weighty one, break it off as politely as you can. You owe some little attention to your cousin, and I think you ought to pay it."

    Hardress looked displeased at this, and muttered something about his inability to see in what way this obligation had been laid upon him.

    "If you feel no disposition to shew a kindness to your old play-fellow," said his mother, endeavouring to suppress her vexation, "you are of course at liberty to act as you please. You, Hardress, in your own person, owe nothing to the Chutes, unless you accept their general claim, as near relatives of mine."

    "They could not, my dear mother, possess a stronger. But this is a sudden change. While I was in Dublin, I thought that both you and my father had broken off the intercourse that subsisted between the families, and lived altogether within yourselves."

    "It was a foolish coldness that had arisen between your aunt and myself on account of some free, some very free, expressions she had used with regard to your father. But when she fell ill, and my poor darling Anne was left to struggle, unassisted, beneath the weight of occupation that was thrown thus suddenly upon her hands, my self-respect gave way to my love for them both. I drove to Castle-Chute, and divided with Anne the cares of nurse-tending and house-keeping, until my dear Hetty's health was in some degree restored. About a fortnight since, by the force of incessant letter-writing, and the employment of her mother's influence, I obtained Anne's very reluctant consent to spend a month at Killarney. Now, my dear Hardress, you must do me a kindness. I have no female friend of your cousin's age, whose society might afford her a constant source of enjoyment, and in spite of all my efforts to procure her amusement, I cannot but observe, that she has been more frequently dull, than merry, since her arrival. Now you can prevent this if you please. You must remain at home while she is with us, entertain her while I am occupied, walk with her, dance with her, be her beau. If she were a stranger, hospitality alone would call for those attentions, and I think under the circumstances, your own good feeling will teach you, that she ought not to be neglected."

    "My dear mother, do not say another word upon the subject. It will be necessary for me to go from home sometimes; but I can engage to spend a great portion of the month as you desire. Send for a dancing master tomorrow morning. I am but an awkward fellow at best, but I will do all that is in my power."

    "You will breakfast with us then to-morrow morning, and come on a laking-party? It was for the purpose of making you promise, I disturbed your rest at this hour; for I knew there was no calculating in what part of Munster one might find you after sunrise."

    "How far do you go?"

    "Only to Innisfallen."

    "Ah! dear, dear, Innisfallen! I will be with you certainly, mother. Ah, dear Innisfallen! Mother, do you think that Anne remembers the time when Lady K—— invited us to take a cold dinner in Saint Finian's oratoty? It is one of the sweetest days that ever brightened my recollection. I think I can still see that excellent lady laying her hand upon Anne Chute's shoulder, and telling her that she should be the little princess of this little fairy isle. Dear Innisfallen! If I were but to tell you, mother, how many a mournful hour that single happy one has cost me!"

    "Tell me of no such thing, my boy. Look forvard, and not back. Reserve the enjoyment of your recollections until you are no longer capable of present and actual happiness. And do not think, Hardress, that you make so extraordinary a sacrifice in undertaking this pretty office. There is many a fine gentleman in Killarney who would gladly forego a whole season's sport for the privilege of acting such a part for a single day. I cannot describe to you the sensation that your cousin has produced since her arrival. Her beauty, her talents, her elegance and her accomplishments are the subject of conversation in every circle. You will acquire a greater brilliance as the satellite of such a planet than if you were to move for ages in your own solitary orbit. But if I were to say all that I desire, you should not sleep to-night; so I shall reserve it to a moment of greater leisure. Good night, Hardress, and sleep soundly, for the cockswain is to be at the door before nine."

    Mrs. Cregan was well acquainted with the character of her son. The distinction of attending on so celebrated a beauty as his cousin was one to which his vanity could never be indifferent, and nothing could be more agreeable to his pride than to find it thus forced upon him without any effort of his own to seek it. To be thus, out of pure kindness, and much against his own declared wishes, placed in a situation which was so generally envied! To obtain likewise (and these were the only motives that Hardress would acknowledge to his own mind,) to obtain an opportunity of softening his mother's prejudices against the time of avowal, and of forwarding the interest of his friend Kyrle Daly in another quarter. All these advantages were sufficient to compensate to his pride for the chance of some mortifying awkwardness, which might occur through his long neglect of, and contempt for, the habitual forms of society.

    And of all the places in the world, thought Hardress, Killarney is the scene for such a debut as this. There is such an everlasting fund of conversation. The very store of common-place remarks is inexhaustible. If it rains, one can talk of the Killarney showers, and tell the story of Mr. Fox; and if the sun shine, it must shine upon more wonders than a hundred tongues as nimble as those of Fame herself could tell. The teasing of the guides, the lies of the boatmen, the legends of the lakes, the English arrivals, the echoes, the optical illusions, the mists, the mountains. If I were as dull as Otter, I could be as talkative as the barber in the Arabian Nights on such a subject, and yet without the necessity of burthening my tongue with more than a sentence at a time.

    Notwithstanding these encouraging reflections, Hardress, next morning, experienced many a struggle with his evil shame before he left his chamber to encounter his mother's charming visitor. What was peculiar in the social timidity of this young gentleman lay in the circumstance that it could scarcely ever be perceived in society. His excessive pride prevented his often incurring the danger of a mortifying repression, and it could hardly be inferred from his reserved and, at the same time, dignified demeanour, whether his silence were the effect of ill temper, stupidity, or bashfulness. Few indeed ever thought of attributing it to that lofty philosophical principle to which he himself pretended; and there was but one, in addition to Kyrle Daly, of all his acquaintances on whom it did not produce an unfavourable impression.

    After having been summoned half a dozen times to the breakfast parlour, and delaying each time to indulge in a fresh glance at the mirror, to adjust his hair, which had now too much, and now too little powder; to alter the disposition of his shirt frill, and consummate the tying of his cravat, Hardress descended to the parlour, where to his surprise, he found his cousin seated alone. She was simply dressed, and her hair, according to the fashion of unmarried ladies at the period, fell down in black and shining ringlets on her neck. A plain necklace of the famous black oak of the lakes, and a Maltese cross formed from the hoof of the red deer, constituted the principal decorations of her person. There was a consciousness, and even a distress in the manner of their meeting. A womanly reserve and delicacy made Anne unwilling to affect an intimacy that might not be met as she could desire; and his never-failing pride prevented Hardress from seeming to desire a favour that he had reason to suppose might not be granted him.

    Accordingly, the great store of conversation which he had been preparing the night before, now, to his astonishment, utterly deserted him, and he discovered that subject is an acquisition of little use while it is unassisted by mutual confidence, and good will, among the interlocutors. Nothing was effective, nothing told; and when Mrs. Cregan entered the parlour, she lifted her hands in wonder, to see her fair visitor seated by the fire, and reading some silly novel of the day (which happened to lie near her) while Hardress affected to amuse himself with Creagh's dog Pincher at the window, and said repeatedly within his own heart, "Ah, Eily, my own, own Eily! you are worth this fine lady a hundred times over!"

    "Anne! Hardress! My lady, and my gentleman! Upon my word, Hardress, you ought to be proud of your gallantry. On the very first morning of your return, I find you seated at the distance of half a room from your old play-fellow, and allowing her to look for entertainment in a stupid book! But, perhaps you have not spoken yet? Perhaps you do not know each other? Oh, then it is my duty to apologize for being out of the way. Miss Chute, this is Mr. Hardress Cregan; Mr. Hardress Cregan, this is Miss Chute." And she went through a mock introduction in the formal manner of the day.

    The lady and gentleman each muttered something in reply.

    "We have spoken, ma'am," said Hardress.

    "We have spoken, ma'am!" echoed Mrs. Cregan. "Sir, your most obedient servant! You have made a wonderful effort, and shown a great deal of condescension! You have spoken! You have done every thing that a gentleman of so much dignity and consequence was called upon to do, and you will not move a single footstep farther. But perhaps " she added glancing at Anne, "perhaps I am dealing unjustly here. Perhaps the will to hear, and not the will to say, was wanted. If the fault lay with the listener, Hardress, speak! It is the only defence that I will think of admitting."

    "Except that the listener might not he worth the trial," said Anne, in the same tone of liveliness, not unmingled with pique, "I don't know how he can enter such a plea as that."

    "Oh! Hardress! Oh fie, Hardress! There's a charge from a lady."

    "I can assure you, (said Hardress, a little confused, yet not displeased with the manner in which his cousin took up the subject,) "I am not conscious of having deserved any such accusation. If you call on me for a defence, I can only find it in a simple recrimination. Anne has been so distant to me ever since my return from Dublin, that I was afraid I had offended her."

    "Very fair, sir, a very reasonable plea, indeed. Well, Miss Chute," continued Mrs. Cregan, turning round with an air of mock gravity to her young visitor, "why have you been so distant to my son since his return, as to make him suppose he had offended you?" And she stood with her hands expanded before her, in the attitude of one who looks for an explanation.

    "Offended me?" said Anne, "I must have been exceedingly unreasonable indeed, if I had quarrelled with any thing that was said or done by Hardress, for I am sure he never once allowed me the opportunity."

    "Oh! oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Cregan, clasping her hands, and bursting into a fit of laughter. "You grow more severe. If I were a young gentleman, I should sink down with shame after such an imputation as that."

    Hardress found himself suddenly entrapped in a scene of coquetry. "Might one not do better, mother," he said, running lightly across the room, and taking a seat close by the side of his cousin— 'Might not one do better by endeavouring to amend?"

    "But it is too late, sir," said Anne, affecting to move away, "My aunt Cregan is right, and 1 am offended with you. Don't sit so near, if you please. The truth is, I have made up my mind not to like you at all, and I never will change it, you may be certain." "

    That is too hard, Anne. We are old friends, you should remember. What can I have done to make you so inveterate?"

    "That's right, Hardress," said Mrs. Cregan, who had now taken her place at the breakfast table—" do not be discouraged by her. Give her no peace, until she is your friend. But in the meantime, come to breakfast. The cockswain has been waiting this half hour."

    The same scene of coquetry was continued during the morning. Hardress, who was no less delighted than surprized at this change of manner in his lovely cousin, assumed the part of a duteous knight, endeavouring, by the most assiduous attentions to conciliate the favour of his offended "ladye;" and Anne maintained with a playful dignity, the inexorable coldness and reserve which was the prerogative of the sex in the days of chivalry and sound sense. We hate those, says Bruyere, who treat us with pride; but a smile is sufficient to reconcile us. In proportion to the chagrin which the fancied coldness of his fair cousin had occasioned to the quick-hearted Hardress, was the pleasure which he received from this unexpected and intimate turn of manner. And now it was, moreover, that he became capable of doing justice to the real character of the young lady. No longer embarrassed by the feeling of strangeness and apprehension which had kept her spirits back on their first meeting, Anne now assumed to him that ease and liveliness of manner with which she was accustomed to fascinate her more familiar acquaintances. He was astonished even to a degree of consternation at the extent both of her talents and her knowledge. On general subjects, he found, with extreme and almost humiliating surprize, that her information very nearly approached his own; and in a graceful and unostentatious application of that knowledge to familiar subjects she possessed the customary female superiority.

    We will not intrude so far upon the peculiar province of the guide-books as to furnish any detail of the enchanting scenery through which our party travelled in the course of the forenoon. Every new sight that he beheld, every new hour that he spent in the society of his cousin, assisted in disabusing his mind of the prejudice which he had conceived against her, and supplying its place by a feeling of strong kindness. It happened, likewise, that in the course of the day, many circumstances occurred to render him well satisfied with the company of his new associates. The disposition to please and be pleased was general amongst them; and Hardress was flattered by the degree of attention which he received, not only from his own party, but from his mother's fashionable acquaintances, to whom he was introduced in passing. Life, spirit, courtliness of manner, and kindness of feeling, governed the tone of conversation throughout the day; and Hardress bore his part, in quality of host, with a degree of success and effect that was a matter of astonishment to himself. One or two of the younger ladies only were heard to say that Mr. Cregan was a little inattentive, and that he seemed to imagine there was not another lady of the party beside Miss Chute; but it is suspected that even those pretty murmurers were by no means the least sensible of the merit of the person whom they censured. When the evening drew near, and the party left the island for home, Hardress was once more surprised to find, that although he had been speaking for nearly half the day, he had not once found it necessary to make allusion to the Killarney showers, the optical deceptions, or the story of Charles James Fox.

    When he parted from the merry circle in order to fulfil his promise to Eily, a feeling of blank regret fell suddenly upon his heart, like that which is experienced by a boy, when the curtain falls at the close of the first theatrical spectacle which he has ever witnessed. His mother, who knew him too well to press any enquiry into the nature of his present engagement, had found no great difficulty in making him promise to return on the next day, in order to be present at a ball, which she was about to give at the cottage. The regret which Anne manifested at his departure, (to her an unexpected movement) and the cordial pleasure with which she heard of his intention to return on the next morning, inspired him with a feeling of happiness, which he had not hitherto experienced since his childhood.

    The next time he thought of Anne and Eily at the same moment, the conjunction was not so unfavourable to the former as it had been in the morning. "There is no estimating the advantage," he said within his own mind, "which the society of so accomplished a girl as that must produce on the mind and habits of my dear little Eily. I wish they were already friends. My poor little love! how much she has to learn before she can assume with comfort to herself the place for which I have designed her. But women are imitative creatures. They can more readily adapt themselves to the tone of any new society, than we, who boast a firmer and less ductile nature; and Eily will find an additional facility in the good nature and active kindness of Anne Chute. I wish from my heart they were already friends."

    As he finished this reflection, he turned his pony off the Gap-road, upon the crags which led to the cottage of Phil Naughten.