33

How Hardress Met a Friend of Eily's at the Wake

HE ENTERED the house with that species of vulgar resolution which a person feels who is conscious of deserving a repulse, and determined to outface it. But his bravery was wholly needless. Poor Kyrle was busy now with other thoughts than those of Cregan's treachery.

    He was shown into the parlour, in which the gentlemen were seated round the fire, and listening to the mournful clamour which yet had hardly subsided in the distant room. The table was covered with decanters of wine, bowls of whiskey-punch, and long glasses. A large turf fire blazed in the grate, and Lowry Looby was just occupied in placing on the table a pair of plated candlesticks almost as long as himself. Mr. Barnaby Cregan, Mr. Connolly, Doctor Leake, and several other gentlemen were seated at one side of the fire. On the other stood a vacant chair from which Mr. Daly had been summoned a few minutes before, by the voice of his son in suffering. A little farther back, on a row of chairs which was placed along the wall, the children were seated; some of them with countenances touchingly dejected, and a few of the very youngest appearing still more touchingly unconscious of their misfortune. The remainder of the circle (which though widened to the utmost limit, completely filled the room,) consisted of the more fortuneless connections of the family, their tradesmen, and some of the more comfortable class of tenants. One or two persons took upon themselves the office of attending to the company, supplying them with liquor, and manufacturing punch, according as the fountain was exhausted.

    When Hardress appeared at the door, his eye met that of Connolly, who beckoned to him in silence, and made room for him upon his own chair. He took his place, and looked round for some member of the family. It was perhaps rather to his relief, than disappointment, that he could not discern Kyrle Daly, or his father, among the company.

    Shortly afterwards, two or three clergymen made their appearance, and were, with difficulty, accommodated with places. While Hardress was occupied in perusing the countenances of these last, he felt his arm grasped, and, turning round, received a nod of recognition, and a handshake (such as was then in fashion) from Doctor Leake.

    "A dreadful occasion this, doctor," whispered Hardress.

    The doctor shut his eyes, knit his brows, thrust out his lips, and shook his head, with an air of deep reproof. Laying his hand familiarly on Hardress's knee, and looking fixedly in his face, he said, in a low whisper:—

    "My dear Cregan, 'tis a warning—'tis a warning to the whole country. This is what comes of employing unscientific persons."

    Some whispering conversation now proceeded amongst the guests, which however was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Kyrle Daly at the parlour door. He walked across the room with that port of mournful ease and dignity which men are apt to exhibit under any deep emotion, and took possession of the vacant chair before alluded to. Not forgetful, in his affliction, of the courtesy of a host, he looked around to see what new faces had entered during his absence. He recognized the clergymen, and addressed them with a calm, yet cordial, politeness.

    "I hope," he said, smiling courteously, yet sadly, as he looked round upon the circle: "I hope the gentlemen will excuse my father for his absence. He was anxious to return, indeed; but I prevented him. I thought a second night's watching would have been too severe a trial of his strength."

    A general murmur of assent followed this appeal, and the speaker, resting his forehead on his hand, was silent for an instant.

    "I wish you would follow his example, Kyrle," said Mr. Cregan. "I am sure we can all take care of ourselves, and you must want rest."

    "It is madness," said Connolly, "for the living to injure their health, when it can be of no possible use."

    "Pray, do not speak of it," said Kyrle, "if I felt in the least degree fatigued, I should not hesitate. Lowry!" he added, calling to the servant, who started, and turned round on his heel, with a serious eagerness, that would at any other time have been comic in its effect. "Lowry, will you tell Mrs. O'Connell to send in some tea? Some of the gentlemen may wish to take it."

    Lowry disappeared, and Kyrle relapsed into his attitude of motionless dejection. A long silence ensued, the guests conversing only by secret whispers, signs, gestures, and significant contortions of the face. It was once more broken by Kyrle, who, looking at Mr. Cregan, said, in a restrained and steady voice:

    "Has Hardress returned from Killarney yet, Mr. Cregan?"

    Hardress felt his blood rush through his veins, like that of a convict, when he hears from the bench those fearful words, "Bring him up for judgment!" He made a slight motion in his chair, while his father answered the question of Kyrle.

    "Hardress is here," said Mr. Cregan, "he came in while you were out."

    "Here! is he? I ought to be ashamed of myself," said Kyrle rising slowly from his chair, and meeting his old friend halfway with an extended hand. They looked, to the eyes of the guests, pale, cold, and passionless like two animated corpses.

    "But Hardress," continued Kyrle, with a ghastly lip, "will excuse me, I hope. Did you leave Mrs. Cregan well?"

    "Quite well," muttered Hardress, with a confused bow.

    "I am glad of it," returned Kyrle, in the same tone of calm, dignified and yet mournful politeness.

    "You are fortunate, Hardress, in that. If I had met you yesterday, I would have answered a similar question with the same confidence. And see how short—— "

    A sudden passion choked his utterance, he turned aside, and both the young men resumed their seats in silence. There was something to Hardress, infinitely humiliating in this brief interview. The manner of Kyrle Daly, as it regarded him, was merely indifferent. It was not cordial, for then it must necessarily have been hypocritical, but neither could he discern the slightest indication of a resentful feeling. He saw that Kyrle Daly was perfectly aware of his treason, he saw that his esteem and friendship were utterly extinct, and he saw, likewise, that he had formed the resolution of never exchanging with him a word of explanation or reproach, and of treating him in future as an indifferent acquaintance, who could not be esteemed, and ought to be avoided. This calm avoidance was the stroke that cut him to the quick.

    Lowry now entered with tea, and a slight movement took place amongst the guests. Many left their places, and when order was restored, Hardress found himself placed between two strangers, of a rank more humble than his own. He continued to sip his tea for some time in silence, when a slight touch on his arm made him turn round. He beheld on his right, an old man dressed in dark frieze, with both hands crossed on the head of his walking stick, his chin resting upon those, and his eyes fixed upon Hardress, with an air of settled melancholy. It was the same old man whose appearance on the avenue had produced so deep an effect on Kyrle Daly—Mihil O'Connor, the rope-maker.

    "I beg your pardon, sir," he said, gently, "but I think I have seen your face somewhere before now. Did you ever spend an evening at Garryowen?"

    If, as he turned on his chair, the eye of Hardress had encountered that of the corpse which now lay shrouded and coffined in the other room, he could not have experienced a more sudden revulsion of affright. He did not answer the question of the old man, (his father-in-law! the plundered parent!) but remained staring, and gaping on him, in silence.

    Old Mihil imagined that he was at a loss, and labouring to bestir his memory. "Don't you remember, sir," he added—" on a Patrick's eve, saving an old man and a girl from a parcel o' the boys in Mungret Street?"

    "I do," answered Hardress, in a low and hoarse voice.

    "I thought I remembered the face, and the make," returned Mihil.— "Well, sir, I'm that same old man, and many is the time since that night that I wished (if it was heaven's will,) that both she an' I had died that night, upon that spot together. I wished that when you seen us that time you passed us by, and never riz a hand to save us,—always if it was heaven's will, for I'm submissive, the will of heaven be done, for I'm a great sinner and I deserved great punishment, and great punishment I got; great punishment that's laid on my old heart this night!"

    "I pity you!" muttered Hardress, involuntarily. "I pity you, although you may not think it."

    "For what?" exclaimed the old man still in a whisper, elevating his person and planting his stick upright upon the floor. "For what would you pity me? You know nothing about me, man, that you'd pity me for. If I was to tell you my story, you'd pity me, I know, for there isn't that man living, with a heart in his breast, that wouldn't feel it. But I won't tell it to you, sir. I'm tired of telling it, that's what I am. I'm tired of talking of it, and thinking of it, and draming of it, an' I wisht I was in my grave, to be done with it for ever for a story—always, always," he added, lifting his eyes in devout fear—" always, if it was Heaven's will. Heaven forgi' me! I say what I oughtn't to say, sometimes, thinken' of it."

    "I understand," muttered Hardress, incoherently. The old man did not hear him.

    "An' still, for all," Mihil added, after a pause, "as I spoke of it, at all, I'll tell you something of it. That girl you saw that night with me—she was a beautiful little girl, sir, wasn't she?"

    "Do you think so?" Hardress murmured, still without knowing what he said.

    "Do I think so?" echoed the father with a grim smile. "It's little matter what her father thought. The world knew her for a beauty, but what was the good of it? She left me there; afther that night, an' went off with a sthranger."

    Hardress again said something, but it resembled only the delirious murmurs of a person on the rack.

    "Oh, vo, Eily!" that night, that woeful night!" continued the old man. "I'm ashamed o' myself, to be always this way, like an ould woman, moaning and ochoning, among the neighbours; like an ould goose, that would be cackling afther the flock, or a fool of a little bird, whistling upon a bough of a summer evening, afther the nest is robbed."

    "How close this room is!" exclaimed Hardress, "the heat is suffocating."

    "I thought at first," continued Mihil, "that it is dead she was, but a letther come to a neighbour o' mine, to let me know that she was alive and hearty. I know how it was. Some villyan that enticed her off. I sent the neighbour westwards to look afther her, an' I thought he'd be back to day, but he isn't. I tould him to call at my brother's, the priest's, in Castle-Island. Sure, he writes me word, he seen her himself of a Christmas-day last, an' that she tould him she was married, and coming home shortly. Ayeh, I'm afraid the villyan deçaived her, an' that she's not rightly married; for I made it my business to enquire of every priest in town and counthry, an' none of 'em could tell me a word about it. She deçaived me, and I'm afeerd he's deçaiven' her. There let him! there let him! But there's a throne in heaven, and there's One upon it, an' that man, an' my daughter, and I, will stand together before that throne one day!"

    "Let me go!" cried Hardress, aloud and breaking from the circle, with violence, "let me go! let me go!—can any one bear this?"

    Such an incident, amid the general silence, and on this solemn occasion, could not fail to produce a degree of consternation amongst the company. Kyrle looked up with an expression of strong feeling. "What's the matter?" "What has happened?" was asked by several voices. "It is highly indecorous." "It is very unfeeling," was added by many more.

    Hardress staid not to hear their observations, but struggled through the astonished crowd, and reached the door. Kyrle, after looking in vain for an explanation, once more leaned down, with his forehead on his hand, and remained silent.

    "He's a good young gentleman," said Mihil O'Connor, looking after Hardress, and addressing those who sat around him. "I was telling him the story of my daughter. He's a good young gentleman—he has great nature."

    The unfortunate Hardress, in the mean time, strayed onward through the hall of the cottage, with the feeling of a man who has just escaped from the hands of justice. He entered another room, appropriated to the female guests, where Mrs. O'Connell presided at the tea table. The gradation of ranks in this apartment was similar to that in the other, but the company were not quite so scrupulous in the maintenance of silence. A general and very audible whispering conversation was carried on, in which a few young gentlemen who were sprinkled among the ladies, took no inactive part. A hush, of some moments' duration, took place on the entrance of Hardress, and a hundred curious eyes were turned on his figure. His extreme paleness, the wildness of his eyes, and the ghastly attempt at courtesy which he made as he entered, occasioned a degree of general surprise. He passed on, and took his seat by the side of Mrs. O'Connell, who, like Mihil, placed his agitation to the account of sympathy, and entered him at once upon her list of favourites.

    A number of young ladies were seated on the right of this good lady, and at a distance from the long table, round which were placed a number of females of an humbler rank, dressed out in all their finery, and doing honour to Mrs. O'Connell's tea and coffee. One or two young gentlemen were waiting on the small circle of ladies who sat apart near the fire, with tea, cakes, toast, &c. The younger of the two, a handsome lad, of a cultivated figure, seemed wholly occupied in showing off his grace and gallantry. The other, a grave wag, strove to amuse the ladies by paying a mock ceremonious attention to the tradesmen's wives and daughters at the other side of the fire, and to amuse himself by provoking the ladies to laugh.

    Revolutions in private, as in public life, are occasions which call into action the noblest and meanest principles of our nature; the extremes of generosity and of selfishness. As Lowry Looby took away the tea-service he encountered, in the hall and kitchen, a few sullen and discontented faces. Some complained that they had not experienced the slightest attention since their arrival, and others declared they had not got "as much as one cup o' tay."

    "Why then, mend ye!" said Lowry, "why didn't ye call for it? Do ye think people that's in throuble that way, has nothing else to do but to be thinking of ye, an' of ye'r aiting an' drinking? What talk it is? There's people in this world, I b'lieve, that thinks worse of their own little finger, than of the lives an' fortunes of all the rest."

    So saying, he took a chair before the large kitchen fire, which, like those in the two other apartments was surrounded by a new class of watchers. On a wooden form at one side, were seated the female servants of the house, and opposite to them the hearse driver, the mutes, the drivers of two or three hack carriages, and one or two of the gentlemen's servants. The table was covered with bread, jugs of punch, and Cork porter. A few, exhausted by the preceding night's watching, and overpowered by the heat of the fire, were lying asleep in various postures, on the settle-bed at the farther end.

    "'Twill be a great funeral," said the hearse-driver, laying aside the mug of porter, from which he had just taken a refreshing draught.

    "If it isn't it ought," said Lowry; "they're people, sir, that are well known in the counthry."

    "Surely, surely," said one of the hack-coachmen, taking a pipe from the corner of his mouth, "an well liked, too, by all accounts."

    A moan from the females gave a mournful assent to this proportion. "Ah, she was a queen of a little woman," said Lowry. "She was too good for this world. O vo! where's the use o' talking at all? Sure 'twas only a few days since, I was salting the bacon at the table over, an' she standing a-near me, knitting. "I'm afraid, Lowry," says she, "we won't find that bacon enough, I'm sorry I didn't get another o' them pigs killed." Little she thought that time, that they'd outlast herself. She never lived to see 'em in pickle!"

    A pause of deep affliction followed this speech, which was once more broken by the hearse-driver.

    "The grandest funeral," said he, "that ever I see in my life, was that of the Marquis of Watherford, father to the present man. It was a sighth for a king. There was six men marching out before the hearse, with goold sticks in their hands, an' as much black silk about 'em as a lady. The coffin was covered all over with black velvet an' goold, an' there was his name above upon the top of it, on a great goold plate intirely, that was shining like the sun. I never seen such a sighth before nor since. There was forty six carriages afther the hearse, an' every one of 'em belonging to a lord, or an estated man, at the laste. It flogged all the shows I ever see since I was able to walk the ground."

    The eyes of the whole parry were fixed in admiration upon the speaker, while he made the above oration, with much importance of look and gesture. Lowry, who felt that poor Mrs. Daly's funeral must necessarily shrink into insignificance, in comparison with this magnificent description, endeavoured to diminish its effect upon the imaginations of the company, by a few philosophical remarks.

    "'Twas a great funeral surely," he began.

    "Great!" exclaimed the hearse-driver, "It was worth walking to Watherford to see it."

    "Them that has money," added Lowry, "can aisily find mains to sport it. An' still, for all, now, sir, if a man was to look into the rights o' the thing, what was the good of all that? What was the good of it, for him that was in the hearse, or for them that wor afther it? The Lord save us, it isn't what goold or silver they had upon their hearses, they'll be axed, where they are going; only what use they made of the goold an' silver, that was given them in this world?—'Tisn't how many carriages was afther 'em, but how many good actions went before 'em; nor how they were buried, they'll be axed, but how they lived. Them are the questions, the Lord save us, that'll be put to us all, one day; and them are the questions that Mrs. Daly could answer this night, as well as, the Marquis of Watherford, or any other lord or marquis in the land."

    The appeal was perfectly successful: the procession of the marquis, the gold sticks, the silks, the velvet, and the forty-six carriages were forgotten; the hearse-driver resumed his mug of porter, and the remainder of the company returned to their attitudes of silence and dejection.