34

How the Wake Concluded

IT WAS intended that the funeral should proceed at day-break. Towards the close of a hurried breakfast, which the guests took by candle-light, the tinkling of a small silver bell summoned them to an early mass, which was being celebrated in the room of the dead. As Hardress obeyed its call, he found the apartment already crowded, and a number of the domestics, and other dependents of the family, kneeling at the door and in the hall. The low murmur of the clergyman's voice was only interrupted occasionally by a faint moan, or a short, thick sob, heard amid the crowd. The density of the press around the door prevented Hardress from ascertaining the individuals, from whom those sounds of affliction proceeded.

    When the ceremony had concluded, and when the room became less thronged, he entered, and took his place near the window. There was some whispering between Mrs. O'Connell, his father, Hepton Connolly, and one or two other friends of the family. They were endeavouring to contrive some means of withdrawing Kyrle and his father from the apartment, while that most mournful crisis of this domestic calamity was carried on, the removal of the coffin from the dwelling of its perished inmate. Mr. Daly seemed to have some suspicion of an attempt of this kind, for he had taken his seat close by the bed's head, and sat erect in his chair with a look of fixed and even gloomy resolution. Kyrle was standing at the head of the coffin, his arms crossed upon the bed, his face buried between them, and his whole frame as motionless as that of one in a deep slumber. The priest was unvesting himself at the table near the window, which had been elevated a little, so as to serve for an altar. The clerk was at his side, placing the chalice, altar cloths, and vestments in a large ticken bag according as they were folded. A few old women still remained kneeling at the foot of the bed, rocking their persons from side to side, and often striking their bosoms with the cross of the long rosary. The candles were now almost burnt down and smouldering in their sockets, and the winter dawn, which broke through the open window, was gradually overmastering their yellow and imperfect light.

    "Kyrle," said Hepton Connolly, in a whisper, touching the arm of the afflicted son," come with me into the parlour, for an instant, I want to speak to you."

    Kyrle raised his head, and stared on the speaker, like one who suddenly wakes from a long sleep. Connolly took him by the sleeve with an urgent look, and led him, altogether passive, out of the apartment.

    Mr. Daly saw the manoeuvre, but he did not appear to notice it. He kept the same rigid, set position, and looked straight forwards with the same determined and unwinking glance, as if he feared that the slightest movement might unhinge his resolution.

    "Daly," said Mr. Cregan, advancing to his side, "Mr. Neville, the clergyman, wishes to speak with you in the middle room."

    "I will not leave this!" said the widower, in a low, short, and muttering voice, while his eyes filled up with a gloomy fire, and his mannor resembled that of a tigress, who suspects some invasion of her young, but endeavours to conceal that suspicion until the first stroke is made. "I will not stir from this, sir, if you please."

    Mr. Cregan turned away at once, and cast a desponding look at Mrs. O'Connell. That lady lowered her eyelids significantly, and glanced at the door. Mr. Cregan at once retired, beckoning to his son that he might follow him.

    Mrs. O'Connell now took upon herself the task which had proved so complete a failure in the hands of Mr. Cregan. She leaned over her brother's chair, laid her hand on his, and said in an earnest voice:

    "Charles, will you come with me to the parlour for one moment?"

    "I will not," replied Mr. Daly, in the same hoarse tone, "I will not go, ma'am, if you please."

    Mrs. O'Connell pressed his hand, and stooped over his shoulder. "Charles," she continued with increasing earnestness, "will you refuse me this request?"

    "If you please;" said the bereaved husband. "I will not go,—indeed, ma am, I wont stir!"

    "Now is the time, Charles, to show that you can be resigned. I feel for you, indeed I do, but you must deny yourself. Remember your duty to heaven, and to your children, and to yourself. Come with me, my dear Charles!"

    The old man trembled violently, turned round on his chair, and fixed his eyes upon his sister.

    "Mary," said he with a broken voice, "this is the last half hour that I shall ever spend with Sally in this world, and do not take me from her."

    "I would not," said the good lady, unable to restrain her tears, "I would not, my dear Charles. But you know her well. You know how she would act if she were in your place. Act that way, Charles, and that is the greatest kindness you can show to Sally now."

    "Take me where you please," cried the old man, stretching out his arms, and bursting into a fit of convulsive weeping, "Oh, Sally," he exclaimed, turning round and stretching his arms toward the coffin, as he reached the door, "Oh, Sally, is this the way that we are parted, after all? This day, I thought your friends would have been visiting you and your babe in health and happiness. They are come to visit you, my darling, but it is in your coffin, not in your bed, they find you! They are come, not to your babe's christening, but to your own funeral. For the last time now, good bye, my darling Sally. It is not now, to say, good bye for an hour, or good bye for a day, or for a week,—but for ever and for ever; God be with you, Sally! For ever and for ever! They are little words, Mary!" he added, turning to his weeping sister, "but there's a deal of grief in them. Well, now Sally, my days are done for this world. It is time for me, now, to think of a better life. I am satisfied. Far be it from me to murmur. My life was too happy, Mary, and I was becoming too fond of it. This will teach me to despise a great many things that I valued highly until yesterday, and to warn my children to despise them likewise. I believe, Mary, if every thing in this world went on as we could wish, it might tempt us to forget that there was another before us. This is my comfort—and it must be my comfort now for evermore. Take me where you please now, Mary, and let them take her, too, wherever they desire. Oh, Sally, my poor love, it is not to-day, nor to-morrow, nor the day after, that I shall feel your loss, but when weeks and months are gone by, and when I am sitting all alone by the fire-side; or when I am talking of you, to my orphan children. It is then, Sally, that I shall feel what happened yesterday! That is the time when I shall think of you, and of all our happy days, until my heart is breaking in my bosom!" These last sentences the old man spoke standing erect, with his hands clenched and trembling above his head, his eyes filled up, and fixed on the coffin, and every feature swollen and quivering with the strong emotion. As he concluded, he sank, exhausted by the passionate lament, upon the shoulder of his sister.

    Almost at the same instant, little Sally came peeping in at the door, with a face of innocent wonder and timidity. Mrs. O'Connell, with the quick feeling of a woman, took advantage of the incident, to create a diversion in the mind of her brother.

    "My dear Charles," she said, "do try and conquer this dejection. You will not be so lonely as you think. Look there, Charles; you have got a Sally still to care for you."

    The aged father glanced a quick eye around him, and met the sweet and simple gaze of the little innocent, upturned to seek his own. He shook his sister's hand forcibly, and said with vehemence:—

    "Mary, Mary! I thank you! from my heart I am obliged to you for this!" He caught the little child into his breast, devoured it with kisses and murmurs of passionate fondness, and hurried with it, as with a treasure, to a distant part of the dwelling.

    Mr. Cregan, in the mean while, had been engaged, at the request of Mrs. O'Connell, in giving out the gloves, scarfs, and cypresses, in the room, which, on the preceding night, had been allotted to the female guests. In this matter, too, the selfishness of some unworthy individuals was made to appear, in their struggles for precedence, and in their disssatisfaction at being neglected in the allotment of the funeral favours. In justice, however, it should be stated that the number of those unfeeling individuals was inconsiderable.

    The last and keenest trial was now begun. The coffin was borne on the shoulders of men to the hearse, which was drawn up at the hall door. The hearse-driver had taken his seat, the mourners were already in the carriages, and a great crowd of horsemen, and people on foot, were assembled around the front of the house, along the avenue, and on the road. The female servants of the family were dressed in scarfs, and huge head dresses of white linen. The house-maid and Winny sat on the coffin, and three or four followed, on an outside jaunting car. In this order, the procession began to move, and the remains of this kind mistress, and affectionate wife and parent, were borne away for ever from the mansion which she had blessed so many years by her gentle government.

    The scene of desolation which prevailed from the time in which the coffin was first taken from the room, until the whole procession had passed out of sight, it would be a vain effort to describe. The shrieks of the women and children pierced the ears and the hearts of the multitude. Every room presented a picture of affliction. Female figures flying to and fro, with expanded arms, and cries of heart-broken sorrow, children weeping and sobbing aloud in each other's arms, men clenching their hands close, and stifling the strong sympathy that was making battle for loud utterance in their breasts, and the low groans of exhausted agony, which proceeded from the mourning coaches that held the father, Kyrle Daly, and the two nearest sons. In the midst of these affecting sounds, the hearse began to move, and was followed to a long distance on its way, by the wild lament that broke from the open doors and windows of the now forsaken dwelling.

    "Oh, misthress!" exclaimed Lowry Looby, as he stood at the avenue gate, clapping his hands and weeping, while he gazed, not without a sentiment of melancholy pride, on the long array which lined the uneven road, and saw the black hearse plumes becoming indistinct in the distance, while the rear of the funeral train was yet passing him by. "Oh, misthress! misthress! 'tis now I see that you are gone in airnest. I never would believe that you wor lost, until I saw your coffin goen' out the doores!"

    From the date of this calamity, a change was observed to have taken place in the character and manners of this amiable family. The war of instant affliction passed away, but it left deep and perceptible traces in the household. The Dalys became more grave, and more religious; their tone of conversation of a deeper turn, and the manner, even of the younger children, more staid and thoughtful. Their natural mirth (the child of good nature, and conscious innocence of heart) was not extinguished, the flame lit up again, as time rolled on, but it burned with a calmer, fainter, and perhaps a purer radiance. Their merriment was frequent and cordial, but it never again was boisterous. With the unhappy father, however, the case was different. He never rallied. The harmony of his existence was destroyed, and he seemed to have lost all interest in those occupations of rural industry which had filled up the great proportion of his time from boyhood. Still, from a feeling of duty, he was exact and diligent in the performance of those obligations, but he executed them as a task, not as a pleasure. He might still be found, at morning, superintending his workmen, at their agricultural employments, but he did not join so heartily as of old, in the merry jests and tales which made their labour light. It seemed, as if he had, on that morning, touched the perihelium of his existence, and from that hour, the warmth and sunshine of his course was destined to decline from day to day.