How Kyrle Daly's Warlike Ardour Was Checked by an Untoward Incident
"Oh, masther Kyrle!" he said, "you're just come in time. I was goin' off for you. Hurry in—hurry in, sir! There's a new little sister within, waiting for you this way."
"And your mistress, Lowry?" said Kyrle springing from his horse, and tossing the rein to the servant.
"Finely, finely, sir, thank heaven."
"Thank heaven, indeed!" echoed Daly, hurrying on, with a flushed and gladdened face, toward the hall door. Every thing of self, his disappointment, the treachery of his friend, the loss of his mistress, and his dilemma with the duellist, were all forgotten, in his joy at the safety of his mother. The door stood open, and the hall was crowded with servants, children, and tenants. In the midst of a hundred exclamations of wonder, delight, and affection, which broke from the lips of the group, the faint cry of a baby was heard, no louder than the wail of a young kitten. He saw his father holding the little stranger in his arms, and looking in its face with a smile, which he was in vain endeavouring to suppress. The old kitchen maid stood on his right, with her apron to her eyes, crying for joy. One or two younger females, the wives of tenants, were on the other side, gazing on the red and peevish little face of the innocent, with a smile of maternal sympathy and compassion. A fair haired girl clung to her father's skirt, and petitioned loudly to be allowed to nurse it for a moment. Another looked rebukingly upon her, and told her to be silent. North East, and Charles, had clambered up on a chair to overlook the throng which they could not penetrate. Patcy stood near the parlour door, jumping with all his might, and clapping his hands like one possessed. There appeared only one discontented figure on the scene. It was that of little Sally, hitherto the pet and plaything of the family, who stood in a distant corner, with her face turned to the wall, her lip pouting, and her blue eyes filling up with jealous tears.
The moment Kyrle made his appearance at the door, the uproar was redoubled. "Kyrle! Kyrle! Here's Kyrle! Kyrle, look at your sister! look at your sister!" exclaimed a dozen voices, while the group at the same moment opened, and admitted him into the centre.
"Poor little darling!" said Kyrle, patting it on the cheek, "Is it not better take it in out of the cold, sir?"
"I think so, Kyrle. Nurse! Where's the nurse?" The door of Mrs. Daly's sleeping chamber opened, and a woman appeared on the threshold looking rather anxious. She ran hastily through the hall, got a bowl of water in the kitchen, and hurried back again into the bed-room.
"Why doesn't she come?" said Mr. Daly. "The little thing cries so, I am afraid it is pinched by the air."
"I suppose she is busy with my aunt O'Connell, and her patient, yet," said Kyrle. A hurried trampling of feet was now heard in the bed-room, and the sound of rapid voices, in anxiety and confusion. A dead silence sunk upon the hall. Mr. Daly and his son exchanged a glance of thrilling import. A low moan was the next sound that proceeded from the room. The husband placed the child in the arms of the old woman, and hurried to the chamber door. He was met at the threshold, by his sister, Mrs. O'Connell, (a grave looking lady in black) who placed her hand against his breast, and said with great agitation of manner:——
"Charles, you must not come in yet."
"Why so, Mary? how is she?"
"Winny," said Mrs. O'Connell, addressing the old woman who held the infant, "take the child into the kitchen until the nurse can come to you."
"How is Sally?" repeated the anxious husband.
"You had better go into the parlour, Charles. Recollect yourself now, my dear Charles, remember your children——"
The old man began to tremble. "Mary," he said, "Why will you not answer me? How is she?"
"She is not better, Charles."
"No, far otherwise."
"Far otherwise! Come! woman, let me pass into the room."
"You must not, in deed you must not Charles!" exclaimed his sister flinging her arms round his neck, and bursting into tears. "Kyrle, Kyrle! Speak to him!"
Young Daly caught his father's arm. "Well, well!" said the latter looking round with a calm yet ghastly smile, "if you are all against me, I must of course submit."
"Come with me to the parlour," said Mrs. O'Connell, "and I will explain to you."
She took him by the arm, and led him with a vacant countenance, and passive demeanour, through the silent and astonished group. They entered the parlour, and the door was closed by Mrs. O'Connell. Kyrle Daly remained fixed like a statue, in the same attitude in which his aunt had left him, and a moment of intense and deep anxiety ensued.
That rare and horrid sound, the scream of an old man in suffering, was the first that broke on the portentous stillness. It acted like a spell upon the group in the hall. They were dispersed in an instant. The women ran shrieking in various directions. The men looked dismayed, and uttered hurried sentences of wonder and affright. The children, terrified by the confusion, added their shrill and helpless wailings to the rest. The death cry was echoed in the bed-room, in the parlour, in the kitchen. From every portion of the dwelling, the funeral shriek ascended to the heavens; and Death, and Sorrow, like armed conquerors, seemed to have possessed themselves, by sudden storm, of this little hold where peace, and happiness had reigned so long and calmly.
Kyrle's first impulse, on hearing his father's voice, made him rush to the bed room of his mother. There was no longer any opposition at the door, and he entered with a throbbing heart. The nurse was crying aloud, and wringing her hands at the fire-place. Mrs. Leahy, the midwife, was standing near the bedside, with a troubled and uneasy countenance, evidently as much concerned for the probable injury to her own reputation as for the affliction of the family. Kyrle passed them both, and drew back the curtain of the bed. His mother was lying back, quite dead, and with an expression of languid pain upon her features.
"I never saw a case o' the kind in my life," muttered Mrs. Leahy. "I have attended hundreds in my time, an' I never saw the like. She was sitting up in the bed, sir, as well as I'd wish to see her, an' I just stepped to the fire, to warm a little gruel, when I heard Mrs. O'Connell calling me. I ran to the bed, an' sure there I found her dying! She just gave one moan, and 'twas all over. I never heard of such a case. All the skill in the world wouldn't be any good in such a business."
Kyrle Daly felt no inclination to dispute the point with her. A heavy, dizzy sensation was in his brain, which made his actions and his manner resemble those of a person who walks in his sleep. He knelt down to pray, but a feeling like lethargy disqualified him for any exercise of devotion. He rose again, and walked listlessly into the hall.
Almost at the same moment, Mr. Daly appeared at the parlour door, followed by his aged sister, who was still in tears. The old man glanced at his children, and waved his hands before him. "Take them from my sight!" he said in a low voice—— "Let the orphans be removed. Go now, my children, we never shall be happy here again."
"Charles, my dear Charles!" said his sister, in a tone of gentle remonstrance, while she laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Well, Mary, I will do whatever you like. Heaven knows, I am not fit to direct myself, now. Ha, Kyrle, are you returned? I remember I wrote you word to come home to conclude the Christmas with us. I did not think you would have so mournful a home to come to. When did you come?"
"You forget, Charles, that you saw Kyrle awhile ago," said Mrs. O'Connell.
"Did I? I had forgotten it," returned Mr. Daly, tossing his head. He extended his hand to Kyrle, and burst into tears. Kyrle could not do so. He passed his father and aunt, and entered the parlour which was now deserted. He sat down at a small table before the window, and leaning on his elbow, looked out upon the face of the river. The wintry tide was flowing against a sharp and darkening gale, and a number of boats with close-reefed sails, and black hulls heeling to the blast were beating through the yellow waves. The sky was low and dingy, the hills of Cratloe rose on the other side in all their bleak and barren wildness of attire. A harsh wind stirred the dry and leafless woodbines that covered the front of the cottage, and every object in the landscape seemed to wear a character of dreariness and discomfort.
Here he remained for several hours in the same dry and stolid mood of reflection. Not a single tear, not a single sound of sorrow, was added by him to the general clamour of the household. He never before had been tried by an occasion of this nature, and his present apathy filled him with alarm and astonishment. He listened to the wailings of the women and children, and he looked on the moistened faces of those who hurried past his chair from time to time, until he began to accuse himself of want of feeling and affection.
While he sat thus silent, the door was opened, and Lowry Looby thrust in his head to inform him that the family were assembled to say a litany in the other room. Kyrle rose, and proceeded thither without reply or question, while Lowry, oppressed with grief, made his retreat into the kitchen. Here he was met by the nurse, who asked him for some half-pence, that she might lay them according to custom, on the lips and eyes of the corpse.
"I didn't like," she said, "to be tazing any o' the family about it, an' they in throuble."
"Surely, surely;" said Lowry, while he searched his pockets for the coin. "Ah, nurse, so that's the way ye let her go between ye!—Oh, asthora, Mrs. Daly, an' tis I that lost the good misthress, in you, this day! Soft and pleasant be your bed in heaven this night! An' so it will. You never refused to feed the hungry here, an' God won't refuse to feed you where you are gone.—You never turned the poor out o' your house in this world, an' God won't turn you out of his house in the other. Soft and pleasant be your bed in heaven this night, Mrs. Daly! Winny, eroo, wasn't it you was telling me that the misthress's three first childher died at nurse?"
Old Winny was sitting by the fire-side, dandling the now forgotten little infant in her arms, and lulling it with an ancient ditty, of which the following beautiful fragment formed the burthen:
"Gilli beg le m'onum thu
Gilli beg le m' chree
Coth yani me von Gilli beg,
'N heur ve thu more a creena."
My soul's little darling you are
My heart's little darling!
What will I do without my little darling,
When you're grown up and old?
"They did," she said, in answer to Lowry's question, "all, before Masther North-aist, went off so fast as they wor wained."
"See that!" said Lowry, "She cried, I wasn't in the family then, but still I know she cried a pottle for every one o' them. An' see how it is now. She has them three little angels waiting to recave her at the gate of heaven this day. Here is the money, nurse, an' I wish every coin of it was goold for the use you're going to make of it."
The nurse left the kitchen, and Lowry took his seat upon the settle-bed, where he remained for some time, looking downwards, and striking the end of his walking stick against the floor, gently, and at regular intervals. The crying of the child disturbed his meditations, and he frequently lifted his head, and stared with a look of stern remonstrance at the unconscious innocent. "
The Lord forgive you, you little disciple!" said Lowry, "'tis little you know what harm you done this day! Do' all you can, grow up as fine as a queen, an' talk like an angel, 'twill set you to fill up the place o' the woman you took away from us this day. Howl your tongue, again, I tell you, 'tis we that have raison to cry, an' not you."
The news of this unexpected visitation became diffused throughout the country, with a speed resembling that of sound itself. Friend after friend dropped in as evening fell, and the little parlour was crowded before midnight. It was a dreadful night without, the same (it will be remembered) on which Eily O'Connor left the cottage in the gap. The thunder clattered close over-head, the rain fell down in torrents, and the reflection of the frequent lightning flashes danced upon the glasses and bowl, around which the company were seated in the parlour. It was yet too soon for the report to have reached the ears of the real friends of the family, whose condolence might have been more efficacious than that of the humbler crowd of distant relatives and dependants, who were now assembled in the house of mourning. Kyrle considered this, and yet he could not avoid a certain dreary and desolate feeling, as he looked round upon the throng of persons by whom their hearth was girded. But though he could not receive from them the delicate condolence which his equals might have afforded, their sympathy was not less cordial and sincere.
The night passed away in silence and watching. A few conversed in low whispers, and some pressed each other, by signs, to drink; but this courtesy was for the most part declined by a gathering of the brows, and a shake of the head. The grey and wintry morning found the dwelling thronged with pale, unwashed, and lengthened faces. Some strayed out on the little lawn, to breathe the river air. Others thronged the room of death, where an early mass was celebrated for the soul of the departed. At intervals, a solitary cry of pain and grief was heard to break from some individual of the crowd, but it was at once repressed, by the guests, with low sounds of anger and surprise. The family were silent in their woe, and it was thought daring in a stranger to usurp their prerogative of sorrow.
The arrivals were more frequent in the course of the second evening, and a number of gigs, curricles, and outside jaunting cars, were laid by in the yard. No circumstance could more fully demonstrate the estimation in which this family was held, than the demeanour of the guests as they entered the house. Instead of the accustomed ceremonial which friends use at meeting, they recognised each other in silence and with reserve, as in a house of worship. Sometimes a lifting of the eye-lid and a slight elevation of the hand, expressed their dismay and their astonishment; and if they did exchange a whisper it was only to give expression to the same feeling. "It was a dreadful loss!" they said, "Poor man! What will become of the children?"
About night-fall on the second evening, Kyrle was standing at the window of the room in which the corpse was laid out. The old nurse was lighting the candles that were to burn on either side of the death-bed. The white curtains were festooned with artificial roses, and a few were scattered upon the counterpane. Kyrle was leaning with his arm against the window- sash, and looking out upon the river, when Mrs. O'Connell laid her hand upon his shoulder:
"Kyrle," said she, "I wish you would speak to your father, and make him go to bed to-night. It would be a great deal too much for him to go without rest the two nights successively."
"I have already spoken to' him, aunt; and he has promised me, that he will retire early to his room. We ought to be all obliged to you, aunt, for your attention; it is in conjunctures like this, that we discover our real friends. I am only afraid that you will suffer from your exertions. Could you not find somebody to attend to the company to-night, while you are taking a little rest?"
"Oh, I am an old nurse-tender," said Mrs. O'Connell. "I am accustomed to sit up. Do not think of me, Kyrle." She left the room, and Kyrle resumed his meditative posture. Up to this moment, he had not shed a single tear; and the nurse was watching him, from time to time, with an anxious and uneasy eye. As he remained looking out, an old man, dressed in dark frieze, and with a stooping gait, appeared upon the little avenue. The eye of Kyrle rested on his figure, as he walked slowly forward, assisting his aged limbs with a seasoned blackthorn stick. He figured, involuntarily, to his own mind, the picture of this poor old fellow in his cottage, taking his hat and stick, and telling his family that he would "step over to Mrs. Daly's wake." To Mrs. Daly's wake! His mother, with whom he had dined on the Christmas day just past, in perfect health and security! The incident was slight, but it struck the spring of nature in his heart. He turned from the window, threw himself into a chair, extended his arms, let his head hang back, and burst, at once, into a loud and hysterical passion of grief.
In an instant, the room was thronged with anxious figures. All gathered around his chair, with expressions of compassion and condolence.
"Come out, come out into the air, masther Kyrle!" said the nurse, while she added her tears to his, "don't a'ra gal! Don't now, asthora machree! Oh, then 'tis little wondher you should feel your loss."
"Kyrle!" said Mrs. O'Connell, in a voice nearly as convulsive as his whom she sought to comfort, "remember your father, Kyrle, don't disturb him."
"Let me alone, oh, let me alone, aunt Mary!" returned the young man, waving his hands, and turning away his head, in deep suffering. "I tell you I shall die if you prevent me." And he abandoned himself, once more, to' a convulsive fit of weeping.
"Let him alone, as he says," whimpered old Winny. "'m sure I thought it wasn't natural he should keep it on his heart so long. It will do him good. Oh, vo, vo'! it is a frightful thing to hear a man crying!"
Suddenly, Mr. Daly appeared amid the group. He walked up to Kyrle's chair, and took him by the arm. The latter checked his feelings on the instant, and arose with a calm and ready obedience. As they passed the foot of the bed, the father and son paused, as if by a consent of intelligence. They exchanged one silent glance, and then flinging themselves each on the other's neck, they wept long, loudly, and convulsively together. There was no one now to interfere. No one dared at this moment to assume the office of comforter, and every individual acted the part of a principal in the affliction. The general wail of sorrow, which issued from the room, was once more echoed in the other parts of the dwelling, and the winds bore it to the ear of Hardress Cregan, as he approached the entrance of the avenue.