25

How Eily Fared in Her Expedition

AFTER A SHARP and frosty morning, the cold sun of the Christmas noon found Father Edward O'Connor seated in his little parlour, before a cheerful turf fire. A small table was laid before it, and decorated with a plain breakfast, which the fatigues of the forenoon rendered not a little acceptable. The sun shone directly in the window, dissolving slowly away the fantastic foliage of frost-work upon the window-panes, and flinging its shadow on the boarded floor. The reverend host himself sat in a meditative posture, near the fire, awaiting the arrival of some fresh eggs, over the cookery of which, Jim, the clerk, presided in the kitchen. His head was drooped a little; his eyes fixed upon the burning fuel, his nether lip a little protruded, his feet stretched out and crossed, and the small bulky volume, in which he had been reading his daily office, half closed in his right hand, with a finger left between the leaves to mark the place. No longer a pale and secluded student, Father Edward now presented the appearance of a healthy man, with a face hardened by frequent exposure to the winds of midnight and of morn, and with a frame made firm and vigorous by unceasing exercise. His eye, moreover, had acquired a certain character of severity, which was more than qualified by a nature of the tenderest benevolence.

    On the table, close to the small tray which held his simple equipage, was placed a linen bag, containing in silver the amount of his Christmas offerings. They had been paid him on that morning, in crowns, half-crowns, and shillings, at the parish chapel. And Father Edward on this occasion had returned thanks to his parishioners for their liberality,—the half yearly compensation for all his toils and exertions, his sleepless nights and restless days, amounting to no less a sum than thirteen pounds, fourteen shillings.

    "'Tis an admiration, sir," said Jim, the clerk, as he entered, clad in a suit of Father Edward's rusty black, laid the eggs upon the tray, and moved back to a decorous distance from the table. "'Tis an admiration what a sighth o' people is abroad in the kitchen, money hunting."

    "Didn't I tell 'em the last time, that I never would pay a bill upon a Christmas day, again?"

    "That's the very thing I said to 'em, sir. But 'tis the answer they made me, that they come a long distance, and 'twould cost 'em a day more if they were obliged to be coming again to-morrow."

    Father Edward, with a countenance of perplexity and chagrin, removed the top of the egg, while he cast a glance alternately at the bag, and at his clerk. "It is a hard case, Jim," he said at last, "that they will not allow a man even the satisfaction of retaining so much money in his possession for a single day, and amusing himself by fancying it his own. I suspect I am doomed to be no more than a mere agent to this thirteen pound fourteen, after all; to receive and pay it away in a breath."

    "Just what I was thinking myself, sir," said Jim, tossing his head.

    "Well, I suppose, I must not cost the poor fellows a day's work, however, Jim, if they have come such a distance. That would he a little Pharisaical, I fear."

    Jim did not understand this word, but he bowed as if he would say, "Whatever your reverence says, I am sure, must be correct."

    "Who are they, Jim?" resumed the clergyman.

    "There's Luke Scanlon the shoe-maker, for your boots, sir; and Reardon the black-smith for shoeing the pony; and Miles-na-coppulleen as they call him, for the price o' the little crathur; and the printher for your reverence 5 subscription to the Kerry Luminary; an' Rawley, the carpenther, for the repairs o' the althar, an— "

    "Hut-tut! he must settle that with the parishioners. But the others, let me see. Shoeing myself, fifteen shillings; shoeing my pony thirteen, four sets; Well! the price of the 'little crathur,' as you say, seven pounds ten, (and she's well worth it) and lastly, the newspaper man two pounds."

    "But not lastly intirely," said Jim, "for there's the tailor—"

    "Sixteen and three pence. Jim, Jim, that will be a great reduction on the thirteen pound fourteen." "Just what I was thinking of myself, sir," said the clerk.

    "But I suppose they must have their money. Well, bring me in their bills, and let them all write a settled at the bottom."

    Exit Jim.

    "Here they are all, sir," he said, returning with a parcel of soiled and crumpled papers in his hand, "and Myles Murphy says that the agreement about the pony was seven pound ten an' a glass o' whiskey, an' that he never know a morning he'd sooner give your reverence a reçate for it, than a frosty one like this."

    "Let him have it, Jim. That was an item, in the bargain, which had slipped my memory. And as you are giving it to him, take the bottle and treat them all round. They have a cold road before them."

    "It's what I thought myself, sir," said Jim.

    Father Edward emptied the bag of silver and counted into several sums the amount of all the bills. When he had done so, he took in one hand the few shillings that remained, threw them into the empty bag, jingled them a little, smiled and tossed his head. Jim, the clerk, smiled and tossed his head in sympathy.

    "It's aisier emptied than filled, plase your reverence," said Jim, with a short sigh.

    "If it were not for the honour and dignity of it," thought Father Edward, after his clerk had once more left the room, "my humble curacy at St. John's were preferable to this extensive charge in so dreary a peopled wilderness. Quiet lodgings, a civil landlady, regular hours of discipline, and the society of my oldest friends; what was there in these that could be less desirable than a cold small house, on a mountain side, total seclusion from the company of my equals, and a fearful increase of responsibility? Did the cause of preference lie in the distinction between the letters V.P. And P.P.; and the pleasure of paying away thirteen pounds fourteen shillings at Christmas? Oh, world! world! world! You are a great stage coach with fools for outside passengers; a huge round lump of earth, on the surface of which men seek for peace, but find it only when they sink beneath. Would I not give the whole thirteen pounds fourteen at this moment, to sit once more in my accustomed chair, in that small room, with the noise of the streets just dying away as the evening fell, and my poor little Eily reading to me from the window, as of old, as innocent, as happy, and as dutiful as then? Indeed I would, and more, if I had it. Poor Mihil! Ah, Eily, Eily! You deceived me! Well, well! Old Mihil says, I am too ready to preach patience to him. I must try and practise it myself."

    At this moment the parlour door opened again, and Jim once more thrust in his head.

    "A girl, sir, that's abroad, an' would want to see you, if you plase."

    "Who is she? What does she want? Confession, I suspect."

    "Just what I was thinking of myself, sir."

    "Oh, why didn't she go to the chapel yesterday, where I was sitting until ten at night?"

    "It's the very thing I said to her myself, sir, and she had no answer to make, only wanting to see you."

    "Who is she? Don't you know her, even by sight?"

    "No, sir, in regard she keeps her head down, and her handkerchief to her mouth. I stooped to have a peep undernaith, but if I stooped low, she stooped lower, an' left me just as wise as I was in the beginning."

    "Send her in," said Father Edward, "I don't like that secrecy."

    Jim went out, and presently returned, ushering in with many curious and distrustful glances, the young female of whom he had spoken. Father Edward desired her to take a chair, and then told the clerk to go out to the stable, and give the pony his afternoon feed. When the latter had left the room, he indulged in a preliminary examination of the person of his visitor. She was young, and well formed, and clothed in a blue cloak and bonnet, which were so disposed, as she sat, as to conceal altogether both her person and her features.

    "Well, my good girl," said the clergyman, in an encouraging tone, "what is your business with me?"

    The young female remained for some moments silent, and her dress moved as if it were agitated by some strong emotion of the frame. At length rising from her seat, and tottering towards the astonished priest, she knelt down suddenly at his feet, and exclaimed while she uncovered her face, with a burst of tears and sobbing, "Oh, Uncle Edward, don't you know me?"

    Her uncle started from his chair. Astonishment, for some moments, held him silent and almost breathless. He, at last, stooped down, gazed intently on her face, raised her, placed her on a chair, where she remained quite passive, resumed his own seat, and covered his face, in silence, with his hand. Eily, more affected by this action than she might have been by the bitterest reproaches, continued to weep aloud with increasing violence.

    "Don't cry, do not afflict yourself," said Father Edward, in a quiet, yet cold tone, "there can be no use in that. The Lord forgive you, child! Don't cry. Ah, Eily O'Connor! I never thought it would be our fate to meet in this manner."

    "I hope you will forgive me, uncle," sobbed the poor girl, "I did it for the best, indeed."

    "Did it for the best!" said the clergyman looking on her for the first time with some sternness. Now Eily, you will vex me, if you say that again. I was in hopes that, lost as you are, you came to me, nevertheless, in penitence and in humility, at least, which was the only consolation your friends could ever look for. But the first word I hear from you is an excuse, a justification of your crime. Did it for the best? Don't you remember, Eily, having ever read in that book that I was accustomed to explain to you in old times, don't you remember that the excuses of Saul made his repentance unaccepted? —and will you imitate his example? You did it for the best, after all! I won't speak of my own sufferings, since this unhappy affair, but there is your old father, (I am sorry to hurt your feelings, but it is my duty to make you know the extent of your guilt,) your old father has not enjoyed one moment's rest ever since you left him. He was here with me a week since, for the second time after your departure, and I never was more shocked in all my life. You cry, but you would cry more bitterly if you saw him. When I knew you together, he was a good father to you, and a happy father too. He is now a frightful skeleton!—Was that done for the best, Eily?"

    "Oh, no, no, sir, I did not mean to say that I acted right, or even from a right intention. I only meant to say, that it was not quite so bad as it might appear."

    "To judge by your own appearance, Eily," her uncle continued, in a compassionate tone, "one would say, that its effects have not been productive of much happiness on either side. Turn to the light; you are very thin and pale. Poor, child! poor child! oh, why did you do this? What could have tempted you to throw away your health, your duty, to destroy your father's peace of mind, and your own honest reputation all in a day?"

    "Uncle," said Eily, "there is one point on which I fear you have made a wrong conclusion. I have been, I know, sir, very ungrateful to you, and to my father, and very guilty in the sight of heaven, but I am not quite so abandoned a creature as you seem to believe me. Disobedience, sir," she added with a blush of the deepest crimson, "is the very worst offence of which I can accuse myself."

    "What!" exclaimed Father Edward, while his eyes lit up with sudden pleasure, "Are you then married?"

    "I was married, sir, a month before I left my father." The good clergyman seemed to be more deeply moved by this intelligence than by any thing which had yet occurred in the scene. He winked repeatedly with his eyelids, in order to clear away the moisture which began to overspread the balls, but it would not do. The fountain had been unlocked, it gushed forth in a flood, too copious to be restrained, and he gave up the contest. He reached his hand to Eily, grasped hers, and shook it fervently, and long, while he said, in a voice that was made hoarse and broken by emotion:—

    "Well, well, Eily, that's a great deal. 'Tis not every thing, but it is a great deal. The general supposition was that the cause of secrecy could be no other than a shameful one. I am very glad of this, Eily. This will be some comfort to your father." He again pressed her hand, and shook it kindly, while Eily wept upon his own, like an infant.

    "And where do you stay, now, Eily? Where—who is your husband?"

    Eily appeared distressed at this question, and, after some embarrassment, said:—" My dear uncle, I am not at liberty to answer you those questions, at present. My husband does not know of my having even taken this step;—and I dare not think of telling what he commanded that I should keep secret."

    "Secrecy, still, Eily?" said the clergyman, rising from his seat and walking up and down the room with his hands behind his back, and a severe expression returning to his eye—" I say again, I do not like this affair. Why should your husband affect this deep concealment? Is he poor? Your father will rejoice to find it no worse. Is he afraid of the resentment of your friends? Let him bring back our own Eily, and he will be received with arms as open as charity. What, besides conscious guilt, can make him thus desirous of concealment?"

    "I cannot tell you his reasons, uncle," said Eily, timidly, "but indeed he is nothing of what you say."

    "Well, and how do you live, then, Eily? With his friends, or how? If you will not tell where, you may at least tell how."

    "It is not, will not, with me, indeed, uncle Edward, but dare not. My first act of disobedience cost me dearly enough, and I dare not attempt a second."

    "Well, well," replied her uncle, a little annoyed, "you have more logic than I thought you had. I must not press you farther on that head. But how do you live? Where do you hear mass on Sundays? Or do you hear it regularly at all?"

    Eily's drooping head and long silence gave answer in the negative.

    "Do you go to mass every Sunday at least? You used to hear it every day, and a blessing fell on you, and on your house, while you did so. Do you attend it now on Sunday itself?"

    Eily continued silent.

    "Did you hear mass a single Sunday, at all since you left home?" he asked in increasing amazement.

    Eily answered in a whisper between her teeth—" Not one."

    The good Religious lifted up his hands to heaven, and then suffered them to fall motionless by his side. "Oh, you poor child!" he exclaimed, "May the Lord forgive you your sins! It is no wonder that you should be ashamed, and afraid, and silent."

    A pause of some moments now ensued, which was eventually broken by the Clergyman. "And what was your object in coming then, if you had it not in your power to tell me any thing that could enable me to be of some assistance to you?"

    "I came, sir," said Eily, "in the hope that you would, in a kinder manner than any body else, let my father know all that I have told you, and inform him, moreover, that I hope it will not be long before I am allowed to ask his pardon, with my own lips, for all the sorrow that I have caused him. I was afraid, if I had asked my husband's permission to make this journey, it might have been refused. I will now return, and persuade him if I can, to come here with me again this week."

    Father Edward again paused for a considerable time, and eventually addressed his niece with a deep seriousness of voice and manner. "Eily, he said, "a strong light has broken in upon me respecting your situation. I fear this man, in whom you trust so much and so generously, and to whose will you show so perfect an obedience, is not a person fit to be trusted, nor obeyed. You are married, I think, to one who is not proud of his wife. Stay with me, Eily, I advise—I warn you. It appears by your own words that this man is already a tyrant, he loves you not, and from being despotic, he may grow dangerous. Remain with me, and write him a letter. I do not judge the man. I speak only from general probabilities, and these would suggest the great wisdom of your acting as I say."

    "I dare not, I could not, would not, do so," said Eily. "You never were more mistaken in any body's character than in his of whom you are speaking. If I did not fear, I love him far too well to treat him with so little confidence. When next we meet, uncle, you shall know the utmost of my apprehensions. At present, I can say no more. And the time is passing too," she continued, looking at the sunshine which traversed the little room, with a ray more faint and more oblique. "I am pledged to return this evening. Well, my dear uncle, good bye! I hope to bring you back a better niece than you are parting now. Trust all to me for three or four days more, and Eily never will have a secret again from her uncle, nor her father."

    "Good bye, child, good bye, Eily," said the clergyman much affected. "Stay—Stay!" he exclaimed, as a sudden thought entered his head. "Come here, Eily, an instant." He took up the linen bag before mentioned and shook out into his hand the remaining silver of his dues. "Eily," said he with a smile "it is a long time since Uncle Edward gave you a Christmas-box. Here is one for you. Open your hand, now, if you do not wish to offend me. Good bye! Good bye, my poor, darling child!" He kissed her cheek, and then, as if reproaching himself for an excess of leniency, he added in a more stern accent. "I hope, Eily, that this may be the last time I shall have to part from my niece, without being able to tell her name."

    Eily had no other answer than her tears, which, in most instances, were the most persuasive arguments she could employ. "She is an affectionate creature, after all," said Father Edward, when his niece had left the house—"a simple, affectionate little creature, but I was in the right to be severe with her," he added, giving himself credit for more than he deserved," her conduct called for some severity, and I was in the right to exercise it as I did. So saying, he returned to his chair by the fire-side, and resumed the reading of his interrupted Office.