27

How Hardress Answered the Letter of Eily

"YOU HAVE destroyed yourself!" Mrs. Cregan repeated, on the following morning, as she sat in the breakfast parlour, in angry communion with our collegian. "If you have any desire to redeem even a portion of her forfeited esteem, now is your time. She is sitting alone in the drawing room, and I have prevailed on her to see you for a few moments. She returns in two or three days to Castle-Chute, where she is to Christmas, and unless you are able to make your peace before her departure, I know not how long the war may last."

    "Yes," said Hardress, with a look of deep anguish, "I shall go and meet her on the spot where I dared to insult her! Insult Anne Chute? Why, if my brain had turned, if lunacy, instead of drunkenness, had set a blind upon my reason at the time, I thought my heart at least would have directed me. Mother, don't ask me to see her there, I could tear my very flesh for anger; I never will forgive myself, and how then can I seek forgiveness from her?"

    "Go——go!—That speech might have done much for you, if it had been properly addressed—Go to her."

    "I will!" said Hardress, setting his teeth, and rising with a look of forced resolution, "I know that it is merely a courting of ruin, a hastening and confirming of my own black destiny, and yet I will go seek her. I cannot describe to you the sensation that attracts my feet at this moment in the direction of the drawing room. There is a demon leading, and a demon driving me on, and I know them well and plainly, and yet I will not choose but go——The way is torture, and the end is hell, and I know it, and I go! And there is one sweet spirit, one trembling, pitying angel that waves me back with its pale, fair hands, and strives to frown in its kindness, and points that way to the hills! Mother! mother! the day may come when you will wish a burning brand had seared those lips athwart before they said—'Go to her!'"

    "What do you mean?" said Mrs. Cregan, with some indignant surprize.

    "Well, well, am I not going? Do I not say I go?" continued Hardress, "Is it not enough if I comply? May I not talk? May I not rant a little? My heart will burst if I do these things in silence."

    "Come Hardress, you are far too sensitive a lover—"

    "A what?" cried Hardress, springing to his feet, and with a fierceness of tone and look that made his mother start.

    "Pooh, pooh! A cousin, then, a good, kind cousin, hut too sensitive."

    "Yes—yes"——muttered Hardress, "I am not yet damned. The sentence is above my head, but it is not spoken; the scarlet sin is willed, but not recorded.—Mother, have patience with me! I will not, I cannot, I dare see Anne Chute this morning." And he again sunk into his chair.

    Mrs. Cregan, who attributed all those manifestations of reluctance, and remorse, (which her son had evinced during their frequent interviews) to the recollection of some broken promise, or boyish faith forsaken, was now surprized at their intensity.

    "My dear Hardress! "she said, laying her hand affectionately on his shoulder—" my darling child, you afflict yourself too honestly. Say what you will, there are few natures nursed in an Irish cabin that are capable of suffering so keenly to the endurance of any disappointment as you do to the inflicting it."

    "Do you think so, mother?"

    "Be assured of it. And again—why do you vex your mind about this interview? Is it not a simple matter for a gentleman to apologize politely to a lady for an unintentional affront? If you have hurt your cousin's feelings, what crime can accompany or follow a plain and gentlemanly apology?"

    "That's true, that's very true," said Hardress. "There is a call upon me, and I will obey it. But politely? Politely? If I could stop at that. It is impossible, I shall first become a fool, and, by and by, a demon. But you are right, and I obey you, mother."

    So saying, he walked with a kind of desperate calmness our of the room, and Mrs. Cregan heard him continue the same heavy, self-abandoned step along the hall which led to the drawing-room door.

    Nothing could have been more propitiatory than the air of mournful tranquility with which the young collegian entered the room in which his cousin was expecting him. It might resemble that of a believing mussulman, who prepared to encounter a predestined sorrow. He observed, and his pulse quickened at the sight, that his cousin's eyes were marked with a slight circle of red as if she had been weeping. She rose as he entered, and lowered her head and her person in rather distant courtesy, a coldness which she repented the moment her eye rested on his pale and anxious countenance.

    "You see how totally all shame has left me," said Hardress, forcing a smile, "I do not even hide myself. Will any apology, Anne, be admissible after last night?" Miss Chute hesitated and appeared slightly confused. She did not, she said, for her own sake, look for any. But, it would indeed give her pleasure, to hear any thing that might explain the extraordinary scene on which she had intruded.

    "You are astonished," said Hardress, "to find that I could make myself so much a beast! But intoxication is not always a voluntary sin, with people who sit down after dinner with such men as Creagh, and Connolly, and——" he did not add, "my father."

    "But when you were aware"

    "And when I was, and as I was, Anne, I rose and left the table; I, and young Geoghegan, but they all got up, to a man, and shut out the door, and swore we should not stir. They went so far as to draw their swords. Upon my honour, I do not think we could have left the room last night, sober, without bloodshed. And was it so unpardonable then? Cato, himself, you know, was once found drunk."

    "Yes, once."

    "I don't think that's deserved," said Hardress, colouring slightly, "I may have often trespassed a little in that way, but I never, till last night, became as drunk as Cato. Nor even last night, for I was able to ride home at a canter, to rescue my poor hunch-back out of a dilemma, and to bring him hither on my saddle, whereas Cato was unable to keep his own legs, you know."

    "I heard that circumstance this morning, and I admit that it altered the posture of the transaction very considerably. But did those gentlemen who drew their swords upon you, make you promise to continue drinking after your return, and to bring Danny into the drawing-room to join you?"

    "And to insult my cousin?" added Hardress, "No, there my guilt begins, and unless your mercy steps in to my relief, I must bear the burthen unassisted."

    "To tell you the truth, Hardress," said Anne, assuming an air of greater frankness, "it is not the offence or insult (as you term it) of last night alone, that perplexes and afflicts me. Your whole manner, for a long time past, is one continued enigma, one distressing series of misconceptions on my part, and of inconsistencies, I will say nothing harder, upon yours. Your whole conduct has changed since I have met you here, and changed by no means favourably. I cannot understand you. I appear to give you pain most frequently when it is farthest from my own intention, and I cannot tell you how distressed I feel upon the subject."

    Hardress fixed his eyes upon her while she spoke, and remained for some moments wrapt in silent and intoxicating admiration. When she had concluded, and while a gentle anxiety still shadowed her features with an additional depth of interest, he approached to her side, and said.

    "And is it possible, Anne, that the conduct of so worthless a fellow as I am should in any way affect you so deeply as you describe? Believe me, Anne, I do not mouth, nor rave, while I declare to you, that I had rather lie down and die here at your feet, than give you a moment's painful thought, or seem to disregard your feelings."

    "Oh, sir," said Anne, looking more offended than usual, "I cannot sit to hear this language again repeated. You must remember how painfully those conversations have always terminated."

    The intoxication of passion is no less absorbing and absolute, than that which arises our of a coarser sensual indulgence. Hardress was no more capable of thought or of reflection now, than he was during the excesses of the foregoing night. He yielded himself slowly, but surely, to the growing delirium, and became forgetful of every thing but the unspeakable happiness that seemed to thrust itself upon him.

    "Anne," he said, with great anxiety of voice and manner; "let that, too, he made a subject for your forgiveness. Shall I tell you a secret? Shall I give yoii the key to all those perplexing inconsistencies, the solution to that long enigma of which you have complained? I can no more contain it than I could arrest a torrent. I love you! Does that explain it? If you are satisfied, do not conceal your thought. Say it kindly, say it generously! I do not ask you to say any thing that can even make you blush. If you are not displeased, say only that you forgive me, and that word will be the token of my happiness."

    He paused, and Anne Chute, turning away her head, and reaching him her hand, said in a low, hut distinct tone, "Hardress, I am satisfied, I do forgive you.

    " Hardress sunk at her feet, and bathed with his tears the hand which had been surrendered to him.

    "One moment! one moment's patience, my kindest, my sweetest Anne!" he said, as a sudden thought started into his mind. "I wish to send one line to my mother, is it your pleasure? She is in the next room, and I wish to—Ha!"

    A sudden alteration took place in his appearance. While he spoke of writing, he had taken from his waistcoat pocket a pencil and an open letter, ftom which he tore away a portion of the back. The handwriting arrested his attention, and he looked within. The first words that met his eye were the following:

    "If EiIy bas done any thing to offend you, come and tell her so; but remember she is now away from every friend in the whole world. Even if you are still in the same mind as when you left me, come, at all events, for once, and let me go back to my father."

    While his eyes wandered over this letter, his figure underwent an alteration that filled the heart of Anne with terror. The apparition of the murdered Banquo, at the festival, could not have shot a fiercer remorse into the soul of his slayer, than did those simple lines into the heart of Hardress. He held the paper before him at arm's length, his cheek grew white, his forehead grew damp, and the sinews of his limbs grew faint and quivering with fear. His uneasiness was encreased by his total ignorance of the manner in which the letter came into his possession.

    "Hardress! What is the matter? What is it you tremble at?" said Anne, in great uneasiness.

    "I do not know, Anne. I think there's witch-craft here. I am doomed, I think, to live a charmed life. I never yet imagined that I was on the threshold of happiness; but some wild hurry, some darkening change, swept across the prospect, and made it all a dream. It has been always so, in my least, as in my highest, hopes. I think it is my doom. Even now, I thought I had already entered upon its free enjoyment, and behold, yourself, how swiftly it has vanished!"

    "Vanished!" "Aye vanished, and for ever! Were we not now almost one soul and being? Did we not mingle sighs? Did we not mingle tears? Was not your hand in mine, and did I not think I felt our spirits growing together in an inseparable league? And now, (be witness for me against my destiny) how suddenly we have been wrenched asunder! how soon a gulf has opened at our feet, to separate our hearts and fortunes from henceforth and forever!"

    "For ever!" echoed Anne, lost in perplexity and astonishment.

    "Forgive me!" Hardress continued in a dreary tone. 'I did but mock you, Anne, I cannot, must not love you! I am called away; I was mad, and dreamed a lunatic's dream, but a horrid voice has woke me up, and warned me to begone. I never can be the happy one I hoped, Anne Chute's accepted lover."

    "Yet once again, sir!" exclaimed Miss Chute, with a burst of natural indignation. "Once more must I endure those insults? Do you think I am made of marble! Do you think," she continued, panting heavily, "that you can sport with my feelings at your pleasure?"

    "I can only say, forgive me!"

    "I do not think you value my forgiveness. I have been always too ready to accord it, and that I think has subjected me to additional insult. Oh, Mrs. Cregan!" she added, as she saw that lady enter the room, and close the door carefully behind her. Oh, Mrs. Cregan, why did you bring me to this house?"

    With these words she ran, as if for refuge, to the arms of her aunt, and fell in a fit of hysterical weeping upon her neck.

    "What is the matter?" said Mrs. Cregan, sternly, and standing at her full height. "What have you done?"

    "I have, in one breath, made her a proposal, which I have broken in the next," said Hardress calmly.

    "You do well to boast of it. Comfort yourself, my love, you shall have justice. Now, hear me, sir. Abandon my house this instant!"

    "Mother—"

    "Be silent, sir, and dare not address me by that name. My love, be comforted! I disown, I renounce you, for a son of mine. If you had one drop of gentle blood in your veins, it would have rebelled against such perfidy, such inhuman villany as this! Away, sir, your presence is distressing to us both! My love! my love! my unoffending love, he comforted!" she added, gathering her niece tenderly in her arms, and pressing her head against her bosom.

    "Mother," said Hardress, drawing in his breath between his teeth, "if you are wise, you will not urge me farther. Your power is great upon me. If you are merciful, do not put it in exercise at this moment."

    "Do not, aunt!" said Anne, in a whisper, "let him do nothing against his own desire.

    "He shall do it, girl!" exclaimed Mrs. Cregan. "Must the selfish boy suppose that there are no feelings to be consulted besides his own in the world?—I will nut speak for myself," she added, "but look there!" holding towards him the form of her niece as if in reproach. "Is there a man on earth besides yourself that——"here the words stuck in her throat and her eyes filled up. "Excuse me, my darling!" she said to Anne, "I must sit down. This monster will kill me!" she burst into tears as she spoke those words.

    It now became Anne's turn to assume the office of comforter. She stood by her aunt's chair, with her arm round her neck, and loading her with caresses. If ever a man felt like a fiend, Hardress Cregan did so at that moment.

    "I am a villain either way," he muttered below his breath. "There is no escaping it. Well whispered, fiend! I have but a choice between the two modes of evil, and there is no resisting this! I cannot hold out against this."

    "Come Anne," said Mrs. Cregan, rising, "let us look for privacy elsewhere, since this gentleman loves so well to feast his eyes upon the misery he can occasion, that he will not afford it to us here."

    "Stay, mother!" said Hardress suddenly rising and walking towards them, "I have decided between them."

    "Between what?"

    "I—I mean, that I am ready to obey you. I am ready, if Anne will forgive me, to fulfill my pledge. I ask her pardon and yours for the distress I have occasioned. From this moment I will offend no more. Your power, mother, has prevailed. Whether for good or evil, let Time tell!"

    "But will you hold to this?"

    "To death, and after. Surely that may answer."

    "No more discoveries?"

    "None, mother, none."

    "This, once for all, and at every hazard?"

    "At every hazard, and at every expense to soul or to body, here or hereafter."

    "Fie! fie! Why need you use those desperate terms? Where are you running now?"

    "Merely to speak to my servant. I will return to dinner."

    "Why, how you tremble! You are pale and ill!"

    "No, no, 'tis nothing. The air will take it away. Good bye, one moment, I will return to dinner."

    He hurried out of the room, leaving the ladies to speculate together on the probable cause of his vaccillation. What appeared most perplexing to Anne Chute was the circumstance that she knew he loved her as deeply and intensely as he said, and yet her admitting his addresses always seemed to occasion a feeling of terror in his mind. More than once, as his character unfolded on her view, she had been tempted to regret her hasty predilection; and had recurred, with a feeling of saddened recollection, to the quiet tenderness, and cheerful affection, of the rejected Kyrle Daly.

    In the meantime Hardress Cregan hurried through the house in search of his boatman. Danny's wounds had become inflamed in the course of the night, and he was now lying in a feverish state in the little green room in which Hardress had held his last interview with the poor huntsman. Hither he hastened, with a greater turbulence of mind than he had ever yet experienced.

    "They are driving me upon it!" he muttered between his teeth. They are gathering upon me, and urging me onward in my own despite! Why then, have at ye, devils! I am among ye. Which way must it be done? Heaven grant I may not one day weep for this!—but I am scourged to it!"

    He entered the room. The check blind was drawn across the little window, and he could scarcely, for a moment, distinguish the face of his servant, as the latter raised himself in the bed at his approach. Old Nancy was standing with a bowl of whey in her hand near the bedside. Hardress, as if unwilling to afford a moment's time for reflection, walked quickly to her, seized her by the shoulders, and thrust her out of the room. He then threw in the bolt of the door, and took a chair by the sick man's side. A silence of some moments ensued.

    "Long life to you, master Hardress, 'tis kind o' you to come and see me dis mornin'," said the wounded Lord.

    His master made no reply, but remained for a minute with his elbows on his knees, and his face buried between his hands.

    "Danny," he said, at length, "do you remember a conversation which I had with you some weeks since on the Purple Mountain?" "O den, master," said Danny putting his hands together with a beseeching look, "don't talk o' dat, any more. I ax heaven's pardon, an' I ax your pardon, for what I said; and I hope and pray your honour 'ill rink of it no more. Many is de time I was sorry for it since, and moreover now being on my sick bed, an' tinking of every ting."

    "Pooh, pooh! you do not understand me! Do you remember your saying something about hiring a passage for Eily in a North American vessel, and—— "

    "I do, an' I ax pardon. Let me out o' de bed, an' I'll go down on my two knees—"

    "Pish! bah! he silent. When you spoke of that, I was not wise enough to judge correctly. Do you mark? If that conversation were to pass again I would not speak, nor think, nor feel, as I did then."

    Danny gaped and stared on him, as if at a loss.

    "Look here! you asked me for a token of my approbation. Do you remember it? You bade me draw my glove from off my hand, and give it for a warrant. Danny," he continued, plucking off the glove slowly, finger after finger; "my mind has altered. I married too young. I didn't know my own mind. Your words were wiser than I thought. I am hampered in my will. I am burning with this thraldom. Here is my glove."

    Danny received it, while they exchanged a look of cold and fatal intelligence.

    "You shall have money;" Hardress continued, throwing a purse upon the bed. "My wish is this. She must not live in Ireland. Take her to her father? No, the old man would babble, and all would come to light. Three thousand miles of a roaring ocean may be a better security for silence. She could not keep her secret at her father's. She would murmur it in her dreams. I have heard her do it. She must not stay in Ireland. And you, do you go with her, watch her, mark all her words, her wishes, I will find you money enough, and never let me see her more. Harm not, I say——Oh, harm not a hair of the poor wretch's head!—but never let me see her more! Do you hear? Do you agree?"

    "O den, I'd do more dan dat for your honour, but—"

    "Enough. When? when then? when?"

    "Ah den, master Hardress, dear knows I'm so poorly after de proddin' I got from dem jettlemen, dat I don't know will I he able to lay dis for a few days, I'm tinken'."

    "Well, when you go, here is your warrant."

    He tore the back from Eily's letter and wrote in answer:—

    "I am still in the same mind as when I left you. I accept your proposal. Put yourself under the bearer's care and he will restore you to your father."

    He placed this black lie in the hand of his retainer, and hurried out of the room.