22

How the Temptation of Hardress Proceeded

DURING THE FEW weeks that followed the conversation just detailed, Eily perceived a rapid and a fearful change in the temper and appearance of her husband. His visits were fewer and shorter than before, and when he did come, his manner was restrained and conscious in an extraordinary degree. His eye looked troubled, his voice was deep and broken, his cheek grew pale and fleshless, and a gloomy air, which might be supposed the mingled result of discontent and dissipation, appeared in all his person. He no longer conversed with that noisy frankness and gaiety which he was accustomed to indulge in all societies where he felt perfectly at his ease. To Eily he spoke sometimes with coldness and impatience, and very often with a wild affection that had in it as much of grief as of tenderness. To the other inmates of the cottage he was altogether reserved and haughty, and even his own boatman seldom cared to tempt him into a conversation. Sometimes Eily was inclined to think that he had escaped from some unpleasing scenes at home, his demeanour during the evening was so abstracted and so full of care. On other occasions, when he came to her cottage late at night, she was shocked to discover about him the appearances of a riotous indulgence. Born and educated as she was in the Ireland of the eighteenth century, this circumstance would not have much disturbed the mind of our heroine, hut that it became gradually more frequent of occurrence, and seemed rather to indicate a voluntary habit than that necessity to which even sober people were often subjected, when they mingled in the society of Irish country gentlemen of that period. Eily thus experienced, for the first time, and with an aching spirit, one of the keenest anxieties of married life.

    "Hardress," she said to him one morning when he was preparing to depart, after an interval of gloomy silence, long unbroken. "I wont let you go among those fine ladies any more, if you be thinking of them always when you come to me again."

    Her husband started like one conscience struck, and looked sharply round upon her.

    "What do you mean?" he said, with a slight contraction of the brows.

    "Just what I say, then," said Eily, smiling and nodding her head, with a pretty affectation of authority. "Those fine ladies musn't take you from Eily. And I'll tell you another thing, Hardress: whisper!" she laid her hand on his shoulder, raised herself on tiptoe, and murmured in his ear, "I'll not let you among the fine gentlemen either, if that's the teaching they give you.

    "What teaching?"

    "Oh, you know, yourself;" Eily continued nodding and smiling: "it is a teaching that you would never learn from Eily if you spent the evenings with her as you used to do in the beginning. Do you know is there e'er a priest living in this neighbourhood?"

    "Why do you ask?" "Because I have something to tell him that lies upon my conscience."

    "And would you not confess your failings to an affectionate friend, Eily, as well as to a holier director?"

    "I would," said Eily, bending on him a look of piercing sweetness—"if I thought he would forgive me afterwards, as readily."

    "Provided always that you are a true penitent," returned Hardress, reaching her his hand.

    "There is little fear of that;" said Eily. "It would be well for me, Hardress, if I could as easily be penitent for heavier sins."

    After a moment's deep thought, Eily resumed her playful manner, and placing both her hands in the still expanded one of her husband, she continued, "Well then, sir, I'll tell you what's troubling me. I'm afraid I'm going wrong entirely, this time back. I got married, sir, a couple o' months ago, to one Mr. Hardress Cregan, a very nice gentleman that I'm very fond of."

    "Too fond, perhaps?"

    "I'm afraid so, rightly speaking, although I hope he doesn't think so. But he told me when he brought me down to Killarney, that he was going to speak to his friends, (the brow of the listener darkened,) and to ask their forgiveness for himself and Eily. And there's nearly two months now, since I came, and what I have to charge myself with, sir, is, that I am too fond of my husband, and that I don't like to vex him by speaking about it, as may be it would be my duty to do. And, besides, I don't keep my husband to proper order at all. I let him stop out sometimes for many days together, and then I'm very angry with him, but when he comes, I'm so foolish and so glad to see him, that I can't look cross, or speak a hard word, if I was to get all Ireland for it. And more than that, again; I'm not at all sure how he spends his time while he is out, and I don't ever question him properly about it. I know there are a great many handsome young ladies where he goes to, and a deal of gentlemen that are very pleasant company after dinner, for indeed, my husband is often more merry than wise, when he comes home to me late at night, and still Eily says nothing. And besides all this, I think my husband has something weighing upon his mind, and I don't make him tell it to me, as a good wife ought to do, and I'd like to have a friend's advice, as you're good enough to offer it, sir, to know what I'd do. What do you think about him, sir? Do you think any of the ladies has taken his fancy? Or do you think he's growing tired of Eily? Or do you think he doesn't think so much of her now that he knows her better? What would you advise me to do?"

    "I am rather at a loss," said Hardress, with some bitterness in his accent, "it is so difficult to advise a jealous person."

    "Jealous!" exclaimed Eily with a slight blush, "Ah, now I'm sorry I came to you at all, for I see you know nothing about me, since you think that's the way. I see now that you don't know how to advise me at all, and I'll leave you there. What would I be jealous of?"

    "Why, of those handsome young ladies that your husband visits."

    "Ah, if I was jealous that way," said Eily, with a keen and serious smile, "that isn't the way I'd show it."

    "How then, Eily?"

    "Why, first of all, I wouldn't as much as think of such a thing, without the greatest reason in the world, without being down-right sure of it, and if I got that reason, nobody would ever know it, for I wouldn't say a word, only walk into that room there, and stretch upon the bed, and die."

    "Why, that's what many a brutal husband, in such a case, would exactly desire."

    "So itself," said Eily, with a flushed, and kindling cheek—" so itself. I wouldn't be long in his way, I'll engage.

    "Well then," Hardress said, rising and addressing her with a severe solemnity of manner, "my advice to you is this. As long as you live, never presume to inquire into your husband's secrets, nor affect an influence which he never will admit. And if you wish to avoid that great reason for jealousy of which you stand in fear, avoid suffering the slightest suspicion to appear; for men are stubborn beings, and when such suspicions are wantonly set afloat, they find the temptation to furnish them with a cause almost irresistible."

    "Well, Hardress," said Eily, "you are angry with me, after all. Didn't you say you would forgive me? Oh, then, I'll engage I'd be very sorry to say any thing, if I thought you'd be this way."

    "I am not angry," said Hardress, in a tone of vexation. "I do forgive you," he added in an accent of sharp reproof, "I spoke entirely for your own sake."

    "And wouldn't Hardress allow his own Eily her little joke?"

    "Joke!" exclaimed Hardress, bursting into a sudden passion, which made his eyes water and his limbs shake as if they would have sunk beneath him. "Am I become the subject of your mirth? Day after day my brain is verging nearer and nearer to utter madness, and do you jest on that? Do you see this cheek? You count more hollows there than when I met you first, and does that make you merry? Give me your hand! Do you feel how that heart beats? Is that a subject, Eily, for joke or jest? Do you think this face turns thin and yellow for nothing? There are a thousand and a thousand horrid thoughts and temptations burning within me daily, and eating my flesh away by inches. The devil is laughing at me, and Eily joins him."

    "Oh, Hardress—Hardress!—"

    "Yes!—you have the best right to laugh, for you are the gainer. Curse on you! Curse on your beauty—curse on my own folly—for I have been undone by both! Let go my knees! let go my arm! I hate you! Take the truth, I'll not be poisoned with it. I am sick of you, you have disgusted me! I will ease my heart by telling you the whole. If I seek the society of other women, it is because I find not among them your meanness and vulgarity. If I get drunk, and make myself the beast you say, it is in the hope to forget the iron chain that binds me to you!"

    "Oh, Hardress," shrieked the affrighted girl, "you are not in earnest now?"

    "I am! I do not joke!" her husband exclaimed with a hoarse vehemence. "Let go my knees! you are sure enough of me. I am bound to you too firmly."

    "Oh, my dear Hardress! Oh, my own husband, listen to me! Hear your own Eily for one moment! Oh, my poor father!"

    "Ha!"

    "It slipped from me! Forgive me! I know I am to blame, I am greatly to blame, dear Hardress, but forgive me! I left my home and all for you—oh, do not cast me off! I will do any thing to please you, I never will open my lips again—only say you did not mean all that! Oh, heaven!" she continued, throwing her head back, and looking upward with expanded mouth and eyes, while she maintained her kneeling posture and clasped her husband's feet. "Merciful Heaven, direct him! Oh, Hardress, think how far I am from home! think of all you promised me, and how I believed you! Stay with me for a while at any rate! Do not——"

    On a sudden, while Hardress was still struggling to free himself from her arms, without doing her a violence—Eily felt a swimming in her head, and a cloud upon her sight. The next instant she was motionless.

    The first face which she beheld on recovering from her insensibility was that of Poll Naughten, who was seated in a low chair, and supporting Eily's head against her knees, while she was striking her in the open palm with a prodigious violence.

    "Ah, there she dhraws the breath," said Fighting Poll. "Oh, wirra, missis, what brought you out on your face and hands in the middle of the floore, that way?"

    Eily muttered some unmeaning answer and remained for some minutes struggling with the consciousness of some undefined horror. Looking around at length, and missing the figure of Hardress, she lay back once more, and burst into a fit of hysterical weeping. Phil Naughten, who was smoking a short pipe by the fire-side, said something in Irish to his wife, to which the latter replied in the same language, and then turning to Eily, said:—

    "Will you take a drop of any thing, achree?"

    Eily raised her hand in dissent. "Will you come in, and take a sthretch on the bed then?"

    To this Eily answered in the affirmative, and walked with the assistance of her hostess into her sleeping chamber. Here she lay during the remainder of the day, the curtain suffered to fall so as to keep the broad sunshine from her aching eyes and head. Her reflections, however, on the frightful and sudden alteration which had taken place in her condition were cut short, ere long, by a sleep, of that sound and dreamless nature which usually supervenes after an access of passionate excitement or anxiety.

    In the meantime Hardress hurried along the Gap road with the speed of one who desires to counteract by extreme bodily exertion the turbulence of an uneasy spirit. As he passed the lonely little bridge, which crosses the stream above the Black Lake, his attention was suddenly arrested by the sound of a familiar voice which appeared to reach him from the clouds. Looking over his shoulder to the summit of the Purple Mountain, he beheld Danny Mann, nearly a thousand feet above him, moving toward the immense pile of loose stones, (from the hue of which the mountain has derived its name,) and driving before him a small herd of goats, the property of his brother-in-law. Turning off the road, Hardress commenced the ascent of this toilsome eminence, partly because the difficulty afforded a relief to his spirits, and partly because he wished to converse with his dependent.

    Although the day was fine, and sometimes cheered with sunshine near the base of the mountain, its summit was wrapped in mist, and wet with incessant showers. The scenery around was solitary, gigantic, and sternly barren. The figure of some wonder-hunting tourist, with a guide-boy bearing his port-folio and umbrella, appeared at long intervals, among the lesser undulations of the mountain side, and the long road, which traversed the gloomy valley, dwindled to the width of a meadow foot-path. On the opppsite side of the enormous ravine, the grey and misty Reeks still raised their crumbling summits far above him. Masses of white mist gathered in sullen congress between their peaks, and, sometimes floating upward in large volumes, were borne majestically onward, catching a thousand tints of gold and purple from the declining sun. Sometimes a trailing shower, of mingled mist and rain, would sweep across the intervening chasm, like the sheeted spectre of a giant, and present to the eye of the spectator that appearance which supplied the imagination of Ossian with its romantic images. The mighty gorge, itself, at one end, appeared to be lost and divided amid a host of mountains tossed together in provoking gloom and mystery. Lower down, it opened upon a wide and cultivated champaign, which, at this altitude, presented the resemblance of a rich mosaic, of a thousand colours, and afforded a bright contrast to the barren and shrubless gloom of the solitary vale itself. As Hardress approached the summit, this scene of grandeur and of beauty was shut out from his view by the intervening mist, which left nothing visible but the peak on which he stood, and which looked like a barren islet in a sea of vapour. Above him was a blue sky, broken up with masses of cloud against which the rays of the sun were refracted, with various effect, according to their degrees of density and altitude. Occasionally, as Hardress pressed onward through the heath, a heavy grouse wouild spring up at his feet, challenge, and wheel to the other side of the mountain. Sometimes also, as he looked downward, a passing gust of wind would draw aside the misty veil that lay between him and the world, and cause the picture once more to open on his sight.

    His attendant now met, and greeted, him as usual. "It's well for you, Master Hardress, dat hasn't a flock o' goats to be hunting after dis mornin';—my heart is broke from 'em, dat's what it is. We turn 'em out in de mornin,' and dough dey have plenty to ate below dere, dey never stop till dey go to de top o' the mountain, nothing less would do for 'em; like many o' de Christians demselves, dey 'll be mounting always, even when 'tis no good for 'em."

    "I have no remedy," said Hardress musing, "and yet the thought of enduring such a fate is intolerable."

    "What a fine day dis would be for de water, Master?" continued his servant—"You don't ever care to take a sail now, sir?"

    "Oh, Kyrle! Kyrle Daly, what a prophetic truth was in your words! Giddy, headlong wretch that I have been! I wish that my feet had grown to my mother's hearth when I first thought of evading her controul, and marrying without her sanction." He paused in a mood of bitter retrospection. "I'll not endure it!" he again exclaimed, starting from his reverie, "It shall not be without recall. I will not, because I cannot. Monster! Monster, that I am! Wed one, and woo another! Both now are cheated! Which shall be the victim?"

    The devil was at his ear, and whispered, "Be not uneasy, hundreds have done the same before you."

    "Firm as dat mountain stands, an' as it stood dis hundred, aye, dis tousand year, may be," continued Danny Mann, "still an' all, to look up dat way at dem great loose stones, dat look as if dey were shovelled up above us by some joyants or great people of ould, a body would tink it hardly safe to stand here onder 'em, in dread dey'd come tumblin' down, may be, an' make smiddereens of him, bless de mark! Wouldn't he now, master Hardress?"

    The person so addressed turned his eyes mechanically in the same direction. A kind of desperate satisfaction was visible on his features, as the idea of insecurity, which his servant suggested, became impressed upon his mind. The latter perceived and understood its expression on the instant.

    "Dere's something troublin' you, Master Hardress; dat I see plain enough. An' tisn't now, nor to day, nor 'isterday, I seen it, aider. Is dere anyting Danny Mann can do to sarve you? If dere be, say de word dis moment, an' I'll be bail he'll do it before long."

    "Danny," said Hardress after a pause, "I am troubled. I was a fool, Danny, when I refused to listen to your advice upon one occasion.

    "An' dat was de time when I tould you not to go again' de missis, an' to have no call to Eily O'Connor."

    "It was."

    "I tought it would be dis way. I tought, all along, dat Eily was no wife for you, master Hardress. It was not in natur she could be, a poor man's daughter, widout money, or manners, or book-larnen', or one ha'p'ort'. I told you dat, master Hardress, but you wouldn't hear me, by any means, an' dis is de way of it, now."

    "Well, well, 'tis done, 'tis done," said Hardress, with sullen impatience, "I was to blame, Danny, an' I am suffering for it."

    "Does she know herself the trouble she is to you?"

    "I could not keep it from her. I did not know, myself, how utterly my dislike had prevailed within me, until the occasion arose for giving it utterance, and then it came forth, at once, like a torrent. I told her what I felt; that I hated, that I was sick of her! I could not stop my tongue. My heart struck me for the base unkindness, the ungrateful ruffianism of my speech, and yet I could not stop my tongue. I have made her miserable, and I am myself accursed. What is there to be done? Have you only skill to prevent mischief? Have you none to remedy?"

    Danny took thought for a moment. "Sorrow trouble would I ever give myself about her," he said at last, "only send her home packin' to her fader, an' give her no thanks."

    "And with what face should I appear before my honourable friends, when that old rope-maker should come to demand redress for his insulted child, and to claim her husband's promise? Should I send Eily home, to earn for myself the reputation of a faithless villain?"

    "I never tought o' dat," said Danny, nodding his head. "Dat's a horse of anoder colour. Why, den, I'll tell you what I'd do. Pay her passage out to Quaybec, and put her aboord of a three-master, widout ever sayin' a word to any body. I'll tell you what it is, master Hardress. Do by her as you'd do by that glove you have on your hand. Make it come off as well as it come on, and if it fits too tight, take the knife to it."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Only gi' me the word, as I said before, an' I'll engage Eily O'Connor will never trouble you any more. Don't ax me any questions at all, only if you're agreeable, take off dat glove an' give it to me for a token. Dat'll be enough. Lave the rest to Danny."

    A doubtful, horrible sensation of fear and anxiety gathered upon the heart of the listener, and held him for a minute fixed in breathless expectation. He gazed upon the face of his servant, with an expression of gaping terror, as if he stood in the presence of the Arch Tempter himself. At length he walked up to the latter, laid his open hand upon his neck, and then drawing his fingers close, until the fellow's face was purple with blood, he shook him as if he would have shaken his joints out of their sockets.

    "Villain!" he exclaimed, with a hoarseness and vehemence of tone, which gave an appalling depth to his expressions. "Dangerous villain and tempter! If you ever dare again to utter a word, or meditate a thought of violence towards that unhappy creature, I will tear you limb from limb between my hands!"

    "Oh, murder, Master Hartiress! Dat de hands may stick to me, sir, if I tought a ha'p'ort o' harm!"

    "Do you mark me well, now? I am quite in earnest. Respect her, as you would the highest lady in the land. Do as she commands you, without murmuring. If I hear her say, (and I will question her upon it) that you have leered one glance of those blood-longing eyes upon her, it shall be their last look in this world."

    "Oh, Vo! Dat I may never die in sin, Master Hardress, if—"

    "Begone! I am glad you have opened my eyes. I tread more safely now. My heart is lighter! Yet that I should have endured to be so tempted! Fellow, I doubt you for worse than you appear! We are here alone; the world, the busy world, is hid beneath us, and we stand here alone in the eye of the open heaven, and without roof or wall, to screen us, even in fancy, from the downright reproach of the beholding angels. None but the haughty and insulting Lucifer, himself, could think of daring Providence upon the threshold of his own region. But be you fiend, or mortal, I defy and dare you! I repel your bloody temptation! I tell you, fiend or mortal, that my soul abhors your speech and gesture both. I may be wretched and impious I may send up to heaven a cry of discontent and murmuring; the cry of blood shall never leave this earth for me. Blood! Whose blood? Hers? Great heaven! Great heaven defend me!" He covered his face with his hands, and bent down for a moment in dreadful agitation; then suddenly starting up, and waving his hand rapidly, he continued, "Away! away at once, and quit my sight. I have chosen my doom. My heart may burn for years within my breast, if I can find no other way to soothe it. I know how to endure, I am wholly ignorant of guilt like this. Once more, he added, clenching his fist, and shaking it towards his startled dependant, "Once more, I warn you, mark my words, and obey them."

    So saying, be hurried down the hill, and was hid in the ascending mist; while his affrighted servant remained gaping after him, and muttering mechanically such asseverations as, "Dat I may never sin, Master Hardress! Dat de head may go to de grave wit me! Dat I may be happy! Dat de hands may stick to me, if I tought any harm!"

    More than half of the frantic speech of Hardress, it may be readily imagined, was wholly unintelligible to Danny, who followed him down the mountain, half crazed with terror, and not a little choked into the bargain.