28

How the Little Lord Put His Master's Wishes Into Action

WE LOST sight of Eily after her parting with her uncle. She wasted no time on her journey homewards, but yet it was nearly dusk before the pony had turned in upon the little craggy road which led upward through the Gap. The evening was calm and frosty, and every foot-fall of the animal was echoed from the opposite cliffs like the stroke of a hammer. A broken covering of crystal was thrown across the stream that bubbled downwards through the wild valley, and the rocks and leafless trees, in those corners of the Glen which had escaped the direct influence of the sunshine, were covered with drooping spars of ice. Chilled by the nipping air, and fearful of attracting the attention of any occasional straggler in the wild, Eily had drawn her blue cloak around her face, and was proceeding quietly in the direction of the cottage, when the sound of voices on the other side of a hedge, by which she passed, struck on her ear.

    "Seven pound tin, an' a pint o' whiskey! the same money as I had for the dead match of her from Father O'Connor the priest, eastwards in Castle-Island. Say the word now, seven pound tin, or lave it there."

    "Seven pound."

    "No, seven pound tin." "I will not, I tell you."

    "Well then, being relations as we are, I never will break your word, although she's worth that if it was between brothers."

    In her first start of surprise at hearing this well remembered voice, Eily had dropt the mantle from her face. Before she could resume it, the last speaker had sprung up on the hedge and plainly encountered her.

    At this moment, far away from home, forsaken, as it appeared, by her chosen, her own accepted love, living all alone in heart, and without even the feverish happiness of hope itself; at this mournful moment it would be difficult to convey any idea of the effect which was produced upon Eily by the sudden apparition of the first, though not the favoured, love of her girlish days. Both came simultaneously to a pause, and both remained gazing each on the other's face with a feeling too sudden and too full for immediate expression. The handsome, though no longer healthy, countenance of the mountaineer was expanded to a stare of pleasurable astonishment, while that of Eily was covered with an appearance of shame, sorrow, and perplexity. The pony likewise, drooping his head as she suffered the rein to slacken in her hand, seemed to participate in her confusion.

    At length, Myles of the ponies, keeping his eyes still fixed on Eily, advanced towards her step after step, with the breathless suspense of King Leontes before the feigned statue.

    "Eily!" he said at length, laying one hand upon the shaggy neck of the little animal, and placing the other against his throat, to keep down the passion which he felt gathering within, "Oh, Eily O'Connor, is it you I see at last?"

    Eily, with her eyes lowered, replied in a whisper, which was all but utterly inaudible, "'Tis, Myles."

    A long pause ensued. The poor mountaineer bent down his head in a degree of emotion which it would be difficult to describe, otherwise than by adverting to the causes in which it originated. He was Eily's first declared admirer, and he was the cause of her present exile from her father's fire-side. He had the roughness, but at the same time the honesty, of a mountain cottager, and he possessed a nature, which was capable of being deeply, if not acutely, impressed by the circumstances just mentioned. It was long, therefore, before he could renew the conversation. At last he looked up and said:

    "Why then, I felt you when you were below that lake, when I seen you, that it was somebody was there, greatly, although I couldn't see a bit o' you but the cloak. I wondhered what is it made me feel so quare in myself. Sure it's little notion I had who was in it, for a cloak. Little I thought—— (here he passed his hand across his eyes) Ah, what's the use o' talking?"

    Eily was still unable to articulate a syllable.

    "I saw the old man last week," continued Myles, "still at the old work on the rope-walk."

    "Did you—speak to him?" whispered Eily.

    "No. He gave me great anger (and justly) the next time he saw me afther you going, in regard it was on my account, he said, (and justly too) that you were driven to do as you done. Oh, then, Miss Eily, why did you do that? Why didn't you come to me, unknownst to the old man, and says you, 'Myles, I make it my request o' you, you wont ax me any more, for I cant have you at all?' And sure, if my heart was to split open that minute, its the last word you'd ever hear from Myles."

    "There's only one person to blame in all this business," murmured the unhappy girl, "and that is Eily O'Connor."

    "I don't say that," returned the mountaineer. "It's no admiration to me you should be heart broken with all the persecution we gave you day after day. All I'm thinking, is, I'm so sorry you didn't mention it to myself, unknownst. Sure it would be betther for me than to be as I was afther when I heerd you wor gone. Lowry Looby that told me first of it when I was eastwards. Oh, vo! such a life as I led afther! Lonesome as these mountains looked before, when I used to come home thinken' of you, they looked ten times lonesomer afther I heard that story. The ponies—poor craturs, see 'em all how they're looken' down at us this moment, they didn't hear me spring the rattle on the mountain for a month afther. I suppose they thought it is in Garryowen I was."

    Here he looked upward, and pointed to his herd, a great number of which were collected in groups on the broken cliff above the road, some standing so far forward on the projections of rock, as to appear magnified against the dusky sky. Myles sprung the large wooden rattle which he held in his hand, and in an instant all dispersed and disappeared like the clan of the highland chief, at the sound of their leader's whistle.

    "Well, Myles," said Eily, at length, collecting a little strength.

    "I hope we'll see some happy days in Garryowen yet."

    "Heaven send it. I'll pack off a boy to-night to town, or I'll go myself if you like, or I'll get you a horse and truckle, and guide it myself for you, or I'll do any thing in the whole world that you'll have me. Look at this. I'd rather be doing your bidding this moment than my own mother's, and heaven forgive me, if that's a sin. Ah, Eily, they may say this and that o' you, in the place where you were born, but I'll ever hold to it, I held to it all through, an' I'll hold to it to my death, that when you darken your father's door again, you will send no shame before you!"

    "You are right in that, Myles."

    "Didn't I know I was? And wasn't it that that broke my heart? Look! If one met me afther you flitted away, and saw me walking the road with my hands in my pocket, and my head down, an' I thinking; an' if he sthruck me upon the shouldher an' 'Myles' says, he 'don't grieve for her, she's this and that!' an' if he proved it to me, why, I'd look up that minute an' I'd smile in his face. I'd be as easy from that hour as if I never crossed your threshold at Garryowen! But knowing in my heart, and as my heart told me, that it never could be that way, that Eily was still the old girl always, an' hearing what they said o' you, an knowing that it was I that brought it all upon you,——oh, Eily! Eily!——Oh, Eily O'Connor, there is not that man upon Ireland ground that can tell what I felt. That was what killed me! That was what drove the pain into my heart, and kept me in the docthor's hands 'till now.

    "Were you ill then, Myles?" Eily asked in a tone of greater tenderness and interest than she had ever shown to this faithful lover. He seemed to feel it, too; for he turned away his head, and did not answer for some moments.

    "Nothing to speak of;" he said, at length, "nothing, Eily, that couldn't be cured by a kind word or a look o' that kind. But where are you going now? The night is falling, and this is a lonesome road. The Sowlth* was seen upon the Black Lake, last week, and few are fond of crossing the little bridge at dark since then."

    "I am not afraid," said Eily.

    "Are you going far a-past the gap? Let me guide the pony for you?"

    "No, Myles, where I am going, I must go alone."

    "Alone? Sure 'tisn't to part me you will, now?"

    "I must indeed, Myles."

    "And what will I say to the old man, when I go and tell him that Isaw Eily, an' spoke to her, an' that I know no more?"

    "Tell him, if you like, that Eily is sorry for the trouble she gave him, and that before many days she hopes to ask his pardon on her knees. Good night, and heaven be with you, Myles! you are a good man."

    "An' amn't I to know where you stop itself?"

    "Not now. You said, Myles, that you would like to do my bidding. Miy bidding is now that you would neither ask, nor look after, where I'm going, nor where I stop. If you do either one or the other, you will do me a great injury."

    "Say no more, a-chree!" said Myles, "the word is enough. Well, Eily, good night! your own good night back again to you, and may the angels guide you on your road. Cover up your hands in your cloak, an' hide your face from the frost. I do your bidding, but I don't like the look o' you that way, going up this lonesome glen alone, and a winter night coming on, an not knowing where you re steering, or who you're trusting to. Eily, be said by me and let me go with you."

    Eily again refused, and gave her hand to Myles, who pressed it between his, and seemed as loth to part with it as if it were a treasure of gold. At length, however, Eily disengaged herself, and put her pony to a trot. The mountaineer remained gazing after her until her figure was lost among the shadows of the rocks. He then turned on his path, and pursued the road which led down the valley, with his eyes fixed heavily upon the ground, and his head sunk forward in an access of deep and singular emotion.

    Eily, meanwhile, pursued her journey to the cottage, where, as the reader is already aware, no news of her forgetful husband had as yet been heard. Some days of painful suspense and solitude elapsed, and then came Danny Mann, with his young master's note.

    It was the eve of Little Christmas, and Eily was seated by the fire, still listening, with the anxiety of defeated hope, to every sound that approached the cottage door. She held in her hand a small prayer book, in which she was reading, from time to time, the office of the day. The sins and negligences of the courted maiden, and the happy bride, came now in dread array before the memory of the forsaken wife, and she leaned forward with her cheek supported by one finger, to contemplate the long arrear, in silent penitence. They were for the most part, such transgressions as might, in a more worldly soul, he considered indicative of innocence rather than hopeless guilt, but Eily's was a young and tender conscience, that bore the burthen with reluctance, and with difficulty.

    Poll Naughten was arranging at a small table, the three-branched candle, with which the vigil of this festival is celebrated in Catholic houses. While she was so occupied, a shadow fell upon the threshold, and Eily started from her chair. It was that of Danny Mann. She looked for a second figure, but it did not appear, and she returned to her chair with a look of agony and disappointment.

    "Where's your masther? Isn't he coming?" asked Poll, while she applied a lighted rush to one of the branches of the candle.

    "He isn't," returned Danny, in a surly tone, "he has something else to do."

    He approached Eily, who observed, as he handed her the note, that he looked more pale than usual, and that his eye quivered with an uncertain and gloomy fire. She cast her eyes on the note, in the hope of finding there a refuge from the fears which crowded in upon her. But it came only to confirm them in all their gloomy force. She read it word after word, and then letting her hand fall lifeless by her side, she leaned back against the wall, in an attitude of utter desolation. Danny avoided contemplating her in this condition, and stooped forward, with his hands expanded over the fire. The whole took place in silence so complete, that Poll was not yet aware of the transaction, and had not even looked on Eily. Again she raised the paper to her eyes, and again she read in the same well known hand, to which her pulses had so often thrilled and quickened, the same unkind, cold, heartless, loveless words. She thought of the first time on which she had met with Hardress, she remembered the warmth, the tenderness, the respectful zeal of his young and early attachment, she recalled his favourite phrases of affection, and again she looked upon this unfeeling scrawl, and the contrast almost broke her heart. She thought, that if he were determined to renounce her, he might at least have come and spoken a word at parting; even if he had used the same violence, as in their last interview. His utmost harshness would be kinder than indifference like this. It was an irremediable affliction, one of those frightful visitations from the effects of which, a feeble and unelastic character like that of this unhappy girl, can never after be recovered.

    But though the character of Eily was, as we have termed it, unelastic; though, when once bowed down by a calamitous pressure, her spirits could not recoil, but took the drooping form, and retained it, even after that pressure was removed; still she possessed a heroism peculiar to herself; the noblest heroism of which humanity is capable; the heroism of endurance. The time had now arrived for the exercise of that faculty of silent sufferance, of which she had made her gentle boast to Hardress. She saw, now, that complaint would be in vain, that Hardress loved her not, that she was dead in his affections, and that, although she might disturb the quiet of her husband, she never could restore her own. She determined therefore to obey him at once, and without a murmur. She thought that Hardress's unkindness had its origin in a dislike to her, and did not at all imagine the possibility of his proceeding to such a degree of perfidy as he, in point of fact contemplated. Had she done so, she would not have agreed to maintain the secresy which she had promised.

    While this train of meditation was still passing in her mind, Danny Mann advanced toward the place where she was standing, and said, without raising his eyes from her feet:—"If you're agreeable to do what's in dat paper, Miss EiIy, I have a boy below at de gap wit a horse an' car, an' you can set off to-night if you like."

    Eily, as if yielding to a mechanical impulse, glided into the little room, which, during the honey moon, had been furnished up and decorated for her own use. She restrained her eyes from wandering, as much as possible; and commenced with hurried and trembling hands her arrangements for departure. They were few and speedily effected. Her apparel was folded into her trunk, and, for once, she tied on her bonnet and cloak without referring to the glass. It was all over now!—it was a happy dream, but it was ended. Not a tear fell, not a sigh escaped her lips, during the course of those farewell occupations. The struggle within her breast was deep and terrible, but it was firmly mastered.

    A few minutes only elapsed, before she again appeared at the door of the little chamber accoutered for the journey. "Danny," she said, in a faint, small voice, "I am ready."

    "Ready?" exclaimed Poll. "Is it going you are, a-chree?"

    Nothing could be more dangerous to Eily's firmness, at this moment, than any sound of commiseration, or of kindness. She felt the difficulty at once, and hurried to escape the chance of this additional trial.

    "Poll," she replied, still in the same faint tone. "Good bye to you! I am sorry I have only thanks to give at parting, but I will not forget you, when it is in my power. I left my things within. I will send for them some other time."

    "And where is it you're going? Danny, what's all this about?"

    "What business is it of yours?" replied her brother, in a peevish tone, "or of mine eider? It is de master's bidding, an' you can ax him why he done it, when he comes, if you want to know."

    "But the night will rain. It will be a bad night," said Poll. "I seen the clouds gatherin' for tundher, an' I comen' down the mountain."

    Eily smiled faintly, and shook her head, as if to intimate that the changes of the seasons would henceforth be to her a matter of trivial interest.

    "If it be the masther's bidding, it must be right, no doubt," said Poll, still looking in wonder and perplexity on Eily's dreary and dejected face, "but it is a quare story, that's what it is. Won't you ate any thing?"

    "Oh, not a morsel!" said Eily, with a look of sudden and intense disgust, "but perhaps Danny may."

    "No, but I'll drink a dhrop, if you have it," returned the Lord, in a tone which showed that he doubted much the likelihood of any refreshment of that kind remaining long inactive in the possession of his sister. To his delight and disappointment, however, Poll handed him a bottle from the neighbouring dresser which contained a considerable quantity of spirits. He drank off the whole at a draught, and we cannot more clearly show the strong interest which Poll Naughten felt in the situation of Eily than by mentioning that she left this circumstance unnoticed.

    Without venturing to reiterate her farewell, Eily descended, with a hasty but feeble step, the broken path which led to the Gap road, and was quickly followed by the little Lord. Committing herself to his guidance, she soon lost sight of the mountain cottage, which she had sought in hope and joy, and which she now abandoned in despair.







 









* A gloomy spirit.