How Eily Undertakes a Journey in the Absence of Her Husband
Happier anticipations than this might not have been so perfectly fulfilled. The first weeks of winter swept rapidly away, and Eily neither saw, nor heard from, Hardress. Her situation became every moment more alarming. Her host and hostess, according as she appeared to grow out of favour with their patron, became at first negligent, and surly, and at last insulting. She had hitherto maintained her place on the sunny side of Poll's esteem, by supplying that virago with small sums of money from time to time, although her conscience told her that those donations were not appropriated hy the receiver to any virtuous end, but now her stock was running low. Hardress, and this was from mere lack of memory, had left her almost wholly unprovided with funds.
She resolved to write to him, not with the view of obtaining mere pecuniary assistance, but in order to communicate the request which is subjoined in her own simple language:—
To this letter, which she entrusted to Danny the Lord, she received no answer; neither Hardress nor his servant being seen at the cottage for more than a week after.
Matters in the mean time grew more unpleasing between Eily and her hosts. Poll treated her with the most contemptuous rudeness, and Phil hegan to throw out hints which it was difficult to misconceive respecting their poverty, and the unreasonableness of people thrusting idlers upon them, when it was as much as they could do to maintain themselves in honesty. But Poll, who possessed the national recklessness of expense, whenever her husband spoke in this niggardly humour, turned on him not in defence of Lily, but in abuse of his "mainness," although she could herself use the very same cause of invective when an occasion offered. Thus Eily, instead of commanding like a queen, as she had been promised, was compelled to fill the pitiable situation of an insecure and friendless dependant.
The wintry year rolled on, in barrenness and gloom, casting an air of iron majesty and grandeur over the savage scenery in which she dwelt, and bringing close to her threshold the first Christmas which she had ever spent away from home. The Christmas eve found her still looking anxiously forward to the return of her husband, or of his messenger. The morning had brought with it a black frost, and Eily sat down alone to a comfortless breakfast. No longer attended with that ready deference which marked the conduct of the Naughtens while she remained in favour, Eily was now obliged to procure and arrange all the materials for her repast with her own hands. There was no butter, nor cream; but as this was one of the great Vigils or fast days of her Church, which Eily observed with a conscientious exactness, she did not miss these prohibited luxuries. There was no fast upon sugar, however, and Eily perceived, with some chagrin, that the sugar-bowl also was empty. She walked softly to the chamber-door, where she paused for a moment, with her handkerchief placed before her cheeks in that beautiful attitude which Homer ascribes to Penelope at the entrance of the "stout-built-hall." At length she raised the latch, and opened the door to a few inches only.
"Poll," she said, in a timid and gentle voice, "do you know where's the sugar?"
"It's in the cubbert I suppose," was the harsh and unceremonious answer.
The fact was, Poll had begun to keep the Christmas the evening before, and treated herself to a few tumblers of hot punch, in the manufacture of which she had herself consumed the whole of Eily's sweets. And there might have been some cause of consolation, if Poll's temper had been rendered the sweeter by all the sugar she took, but this was not the case.
"There is none there, Poll," said Eily.
"Well, what hurt? Can't you put a double allowance o' crame in the tay, an' dhrink it raw, for once?"
"Ah, but this is a fast day," said Eily.
"Oyeh, choke it, for work! Well then, do as you plase, I can't help you. I haven't a spoonful o' groceries in the house, girl, except I went for 'em, a thing I'd be very onfond to do on a morning like this."
"Well, I can do without it, Poll," said Eily, returning to the table, and sitting down to her, unmetaphorically, bitter draught with the meekest resignation.
"Gi' me the money, by an' by, when I'm going into town for the Christmas candle, an' I'll buy it for you, itself, an' the tay."
"But I have no money, Poll." "No money, inagh? An' isn't it upon yourself we're dependin' this way to get in the things again' to-morrow, a Christmas day?" "
Well, I have not a farthing."
"Didn't you tell me, yourself, the other day, you had a half-crown keepin' for me again' Handsel Monday?"
"I gave it to Danny. I thought I'd have more for you before then."
Here Poll dashed in the door with her hand, and confronted her affrighted lodger with the look and gesture of a raging Bacchanal.
"An' is that my thanks?" she screamed aloud, "Why then, cock you up with bread and tay this morning. Go look afther Danny, now, if you want your bruk'ast." And so saying she seized two corners of the table-cloth, and upset the whole concern into the fire-place.
Terror and astonishment deprived Eily for some moments of the power of speech or motion. But when she saw Poll taking breath, for a moment, and looking around to know what farther devastation she might commit, the forlorn helplessness of her condition rushed at once upon her mind, and she fell back into her seat in a violent fit of hysterics.
This is a condition in which one woman can rarely behold another without emotion. Poll ran to her relief, uttering every sound of affectionate condolence and encouragement which arose to her lips. "Whisht, now, a' ra gal! Whisht now, missiz, a-chree!—Oh, ma chree, m'asthora, ma llanuv, you wor! Howl, now, a' ra gal! Oh vo! vo!—howl!—howl asthore! What ails you? Sure you know 'tis only funnin' I was, Well, see this! Tell me any thing now in the wide world I'll do for you, a' ra gal."
"Poll," said Eily, when she had recovered a certain degree of composure, "there is one thing that you can do for me, if you like, and it will relieve me from the greatest distress."
"An' what is that, a-chree?"
"To lend me one of the ponies, and get me a boy that can show me the way to Castle-Island."
"Is it goin' you're thinking of?"
"I will be here again," said Eily, "on to-morrow evening." Eily spoke this without any vehemence of asseveration, and in the quiet manner of one who had never been accustomed to have her words doubted. So irresistible, too, is the force of simple truth, that Poll did not even entertain a suspicion of any intent to deceive.
"An' what business would carry you to Castle-Island, a' ra gal?"
"I have a friend there, an uncle," Eily replied with tears starting into her eyes at the remembrance of her old preceptor. "I am sure, Poll, that he would assist me."
"I'm in dhread 'tis going from uz you are now, o' 'count o' what I said to you. Don't mind that at all. Stop here as long as ever you like, an' no thanks. I'll step across the road this minute an' borry the sugar for you if it's it you want."
"No, no. I only want to do as I have told you. I'll engage to screen you from all blame."
"Blame! A' whose blame is it you think I'd be afeerd of? I'll let you see that I'll do what I like myself, an' get you the pony saddled an' all this minute. But you didn't ate any thing hardly. Here's more bread in the cupboard, and strengthen yourself again' the road while I'm away."
She left the room, and Eily, who had little hope of succeeding so easily in her request, proceeded to make her preparations for the journey, with as much dispatch and animation as if she had discovered a sudden mode of release from all her anxieties. For a considerable time, the prospect of meeting with her uncle filled her bosom with sensations of unmingled pleasure. If she looked back, (while she tied her bonnet strings below her chin, and hurried on the plainest dress in her trunk,) if she looked back to those days in which her venerable relative presided over her evening studies, and directed their application, it was only to turn her eyes again upon the future, and hope for their speedy renovation.
Having concluded her arrangements and cautioned Poll not to say a word of her destination, in case Hardress should come to the cottage, Eily now set out upon her lonely journey. The person whom Poll Naughten had procured her for a guide was a stout made girl, who carried an empty spirit-keg, slung at her back, in the tail of her gown, which she had turned up over her shoulders. She informed Eily that she was accustomed to go every Saturday to a town at the distance of fourteen miles, and to return in the evening with the keg full of spirits. "But this week," she continued. "I'm obleest to go twice, on account o' the Christmas day falling in the middle of it."
"And what does your employer want of so much whiskey?" said Eily, a little interested in the fortune of so hard-working a creature.
"Want o' the whiskey, inagh?" exclaimed the mountain girl, turning her black eyes on her companion, in surprise. "Sure isn't it she that keeps the public house above the Gap, an' what business would she have wit a place o' the kind without a dhrop o' whiskey?"
"And what are you paid, now, for so long a journey as that?"
"Defferent ways, I'm paid, defferent times. If it's a could evening when I come home, I take a glass o' the spirits itself, in preference to any thing, an' if not, the misthress pays me a penny every time."
"One penny only!"
"One penny. Indeed it's too little, but when I spake of it, the misthress tells me she can get it done for less. So I have nothin' to say but do as I'm bid."
Eily paused for some moments, while she compared the situation of this uncomplaining individual with her own. The balance of external comforts, at least, did not appear to be on the side of the poor little mountaineer.
"And have you no other way of living now than this?" she asked with increasing interest.
"Illiloo! Is it upon a penny a week you think I'd live?" returned the girl, who was beginning to form no very exalted idea of her companion's intellect.
"Do you live with your mistress?"
"No, I live with my ould father. We have a spot o' ground beyant, for the piatees. Sometimes I dig it, but mostly the young boys o' the place comes and digs it for us on a Sunday or a holiday morning, an' I stick in the seed."
"And which is it for the sake of, the father or the daughter, they take that trouble?"
"For the sake, I b'lieve, of the Almighty that made 'em both. Signs on, they have our prayers, night an' morning."
"Is your father quite helpless?"
"Oyeh! long from it. He's a turner. He makes little boxes, and necklaces, and things that way, of the arbutus, and the black oak of the Lakes, that he sells to the English an' other quollity people that comes to see them. But he finds it hard to get the timber, for none of it is allowed to be cut, and 'tis only windfalls that he can take when the stormy saison beg'ns. Besides, there's more in the town o' Killarney that outsells him. He makes but a poor hand of it afther all."
"I wonder you have not got a sweetheart. You are very pretty, and very good."
The girl here gave her a side-long glance, and laughed so as to exhibit a set of teeth of the purest enamel. The look seemed to say, "Is that all you know about the matter?" but her words were different in their signification.
"Oyeh, I dont like 'em for men," she said with a half smiling, half coquetish air. "They're deceivers an' rovers, I believe, the best of 'em."
"Well, I wouldn't think that, now, of that handsome young man, in the check shirt, that nodded to you as we passed him, while ago. He has an honest face."
The girl again laughed and blushed. "Why then I'll tell you," she said, at length seduced into a confidence. "If I'd b'lieve any of 'em, I think it is that boy. He is a boatman on the Lakes, and airns a sighth o' money, but it goes as fast as it comes."
"How is that?"
"O then, he can't help it, poor fellow. Them boatman ar'nt allowed to dhrink any thing while they're upon the lake, except at the stations, but then, to make up for that, they all meet at night at a hall in town, where they stay dancing and dhrinking all night, 'till they spend whatever the quollity gives 'em in the day. Luke Kennedy, (that's this boy,) would like to save, if he could, but the rest wouldn't pull an oar with him, if he didn't do as they do. So that's the way of it. And sometimes afther being up all night a'most, you'll see 'em out again at the first light in the morning. 'Tis a pity the quollity would give 'em money at all, only have it laid out for 'em in some way that it would do 'em good. Luke Kennedy is a great fencer, I'm tould. Himself an' Myles Murphy, behind, are the best about the lakes at the stick. Sure Luke taught fencing himself once. Did you ever hear o' the great guard he taught the boys about the place?"
Fame had not informed Eily of this circumstance.
"Well, I'll tell you it. He gev it out one Sunday, upon some writing that was pasted again the chapel door, to have all the boys, that wor for larnen to fence, to come to him at sech a place, an' he'd taich 'em a guard that would hindher 'em of ever being sthruck. Well, 'tis an admiration what a gathering he had before him. So when they wor all listening, 'Boys' says he, getting up on a table an' looking round him, 'Boys, the guard I have to give ye, that 'll save ye from all sorts o' sthrokes' is this, to keep a civil tongue in ye'r head at all times. Do that,' says he, 'an' I'll be bail ye never 'll get a sthroke.' Well, you never seen people wondher so much, or look so foolish as they did, since the hour you wor born."
"'Twas a good advice."
"An' that's a thing Luke knew how to give, better than he'd take. I hardly spake to him at all now, myself.
"Oh, he knows, himself. He wanted me a while ago to marry him, and to part my ould father."
"And you refused?" said Eily, blushing a conscious crimson.
"I hardly spoke to him afther. He'd be the handsome Luke Kennedy, indeed, if he'd make me part the poor ould man that way. An' my mother dead, an' he having no else but myself to do a ha'p'orth for him. What could I expect if I done that? If Luke likes me, let him come and show it by my father, if not, there's more girls in the place, an' he's welcome to pick his choice, for Mary."
Every word of this speech fell, like a burning coal, upon the heart of Eily. She paused a moment in deep emotion, and then addressed her companion:
"You are right, Mary, you are very right. Let nothing, let no man's love, tempt you to forget your duty to your father. Oh, you don't know, much as you love him, what thoughts you would have, if you were to leave him as you say. Let nothing tempt you to it. You would neither have luck, nor peace, nor comfort, and if your husband should be unkind to you, you could not turn to him again for consolation. But I need not be talking to you; you are a good girl, and more fit to give me advice, than to listen to any I can offer you."
From this moment Eily did not open her lips to her companion, until they arrived in Castle-Island. The Christmas Candles were already lighted in every cottage, and Eily determined to defer seeing her uncle until the following morning.