How the Bride was Startled by an Unexpected Guest
The popularity of the bride amongst the tenantry of the estate was manifested by the usual demonstrations of festive enjoyment. Bonfires were lighted on the road before the avenue gate, and before every public-house in the neighbourhood. The little village was illuminated, and bands of rural music followed by crowds of merry idlers strolled up and down, playing various lively airs, and often halting to partake of the refreshments which were free to all who chose to draw upon the hospitality of the family.
Before sunset, the house was crowded with blue coats, and snow-white silks. Several of the guests strayed in groups, upon the demesne, and several young gentlemen fashionably dressed might be seen hovering around the ladies, and endeavouring to make havoc of all, by enchanting those who were near them by their conversation, and those at a distance by the elegance and grace of their gesticulation.
Mrs. Cregan was in the drawing-room, among the elder guests, pale, worn, and hollow-eyed, but still preserving the same lofty, courteous, and cordial demeanour to her friends, by which her manner had been always marked.
The bridegroom, habited in a splendid suit that seemed to sit upon his frame as the shirt of Deianira upon the shoulders of Hercules, glided like a spectre through the laughing crowd, the most envied, and the most miserable of all the throng.
A few of the most intimate female connexions of the bride were admitted into the garden where Anne herself, leaning on the arm of a bridesmaid, was watching the last sun that was to shine upon her freedom. Her dress was a simple robe of white, and her hair, for the last time dressed in the maiden fashion of the day, hung loose upon her neck. As she glided to and fro, amongst the walks, her fair companion endeavoured by every species of raillery to draw her out of the low-spirited and anxious mood which had been hourly encreasing upon her since the morning. But as in a disease of the frame, an injurious determination to the part afflicted is said to be occasioned by merely directing the attention towards it, so in our moments of nervous depression, the jest that makes us feel it is observed, serves only to augment its heaviness.
At a turn in the walk, hedged round by a pear-tree, neatly trained, the lovely friends were suddenly met, and one of them startled, by the appearance of a young man, attired in the wedding costume, and handsome; but with a pale serenity upon his features that might have qualified him to sit as a study for Camillus. The lady, who started at his appearance, was the bride; for in this interesting person she recognized her old admirer, Mr. Kyrle Daly.
It was the first time they had seen each other since the day on which their conversation had been attended with so much pain to both. It would have little served to confirm the newly acquired tranquillity of Kyrle Daly, if he had known how often, and with feelings how unconsciously altered, his conduct had been compared by Anne with that of Hardress during the last few months. True, this was a subject of meditation, on which she never willfully suffered her mind to repose for an instant. It was a forbidden land, on which her wandering thoughts alone would steal at intervals, but these unlicensed musings had tended to qualify her old opinions in a degree more striking than she herself believed. Of all this Kyrle Daly, of course, knew or imagined nothing, and therefore was he here. He came, secure in the consciousness of a right intention and believing that his own appearance of quiet and cheerfulness of mind would afford a real satisfaction to his fair, and only poetically cruel, friend.
He advanced towards the ladies with an easy cordiality, and that total absence of consciousness in his own demeanour which was most certain to restore quietness to Anne; for self-possession is often as contagious as embarrassment. He addressed her in the tone of an interested friend, inquired for her health, spoke of her mother, even of Hardress, whom he said he had not yet been fortunate enough to meet; then of the weather, of the scene around them, of the company, of every subject that was at the same time amusing and indifferent. The same attentions, and with a tone so studiously similar that the ear of Petrarch only might have found a difference, he addressed to Miss Prendergast, the bridesmaid, who also was an old acquaintance. Finally, he gently contrived to separate the ladies, and giving an arm to each, they continued to thrid the garden walks, while he divided between them the same cheerful conversation on indifferent subjects. His spirits flowing freely, and supported by those of the lively bridesmaid, became too much for Anne's depression, and she became cheerful almost without perceiving it.
After some time, Miss Prendergast, beckoned by a fair friend in a neighbouring walk, deserted her companions for some moments. Both stopt upon the walk to await her return, and Kyrle, perceiving the embarrassment of the bride beginning to return, took this opportunity of entering on something like an explanatory conversation.
"You see, Miss Chute," he said, with a smile, "you were a better prophetess than I believed you. If you were one that could be vain of your influence, I should not do wisely perhaps in making such an admission, but you are not. I have not, as you perceive, found itso difficult a task to master my old remembrances."
The eye of Anne fell unconsciously upon the worn cheek and fingers of the speaker. He saw the secret suspicion which the glance implied, and he reddened slightly, but he saw likewise that it was involuntary, and he did not seem to have observed it.
"There are some feelings," he continued, "though looked upon as harmless, and even amiable in themselves, which ought to be avoided, and repelled with as much vigilance as vice itself. I once thought it a harmless thing to turn my eyes on past times, and deliver myself up, on a calm evening, to the memory of my younger hours, of sunny days departed, of faces fled or changed, of hearts made cold by death or by the world, that once beat fervently beside our own;—to lean against some aged tree in the twilight, and close my eyes and ears to the lonely murmur of the woods around me, and fancy I heard the whoop of my boyish friends, or the laugh of my first love along the meadows. But I have learned to think more vigorously. I was young then, and fond, but age has taught me wisdom, at least in this respect. I shun these feelings now, as I would crime. They are the fancies that make our natures effeminate and weak; that unfit us for our duty to heaven, and to our fellow creatures, and render us in soul what the sensualist is in frame. I have meditated long enough to know that even my feelings towards yourself, at one time, (exalted as they were by the excellence of the object) were still unworthy, and deserved to be disappointed. I think, and I fear not to let you know, that if I were again to become a suitor, my sentiments should be governed by a higher feeling of duty, and I could bear the trial of a sudden repression with greater firmness, and a more submissive spirit."
"You will give me credit, then," said Anne, with much relief, and real pleasure, "for some knowledge of your character."
"No—no!—it was not in me, then," said Kyrle, with a smile, "or the occasion would have brought it into action. Hardress could tell you what a mournful evening——but wherefore should he trouble you?" he added, suddenly interrupting himself. "And, apropos, of Hardress—his health appears to suffer, does it not?"
"Daily and hourly."
"And without a cause?"
"The physicians," said Anne, "can find none."
"Aye," returned Kyrle, "it is a distemper that is not to be found in their nosology. It is the burning of an honourable mind beneath an undeserved and self-inflicted imputation. He knew of my—my—regard for his fair cousin. I forced a confidence upon him, and he feels this transaction a great deal more acutely than he ought."
Anne started at this disclosure, as if it shed a sudden light upon her mind. Her eyes sparkled, her face glowed, and her whole frame seemed agitated by a solution of her doubts, which appeared so natural, and which at once elevated the character of Hardress to that noble standard at which she always loved to contemplate and admire it.
"It must be so!" she said, with great animation, "and I have done him wrong. It is like his fine and delicate nature. He is still, then, what I have always thought him, fine-minded, sensitive, and generous as——" she suddenly turned, and extending her hand to Kyrle, said in an altered tone——"as yourself, my excellent friend!"
Kyrle took the hand which was tendered to him, with as little appearance of emotion as he could command, and resigned it again almost upon the instant. At this moment Hardress appeared upon the walk. His step was troubled and rapid, his eye suspicious and wandering, his hair neglected, and his whole appearance that of a person at fearful odds with his own thought. He stopped short, as he approached them, and glanced from one to another with a look of wildness and irresolution.
"I have been looking for you, Anne," he said in a weak voice, "Mrs. Chute has been wishing to speak with you about your preparations."
"Do you leave Ireland then so soon?" asked Kyrle, with some interest.
"To-morrow morning we leave home," replied Anne, trembling, and slightly confused.
"Then," said Kyrle, resuming the hand which he had so hastily resigned, "permit me to offer my good wishes. Be assured, Anne," he added, accompanying her to a little distance along the walk, and using a tone which Hardress could not overhear, "be assured that I am perfectly, perfectly contented with your happiness. Let me entreat you to forget altogether, as I myself will learn to do henceforward, that I have ever proposed to myself any higher or happier destiny. That scheme has fallen asunder, and left no deeper an impression on my reason, than a love dream might upon my heart. I desire only to be remembered as one, who imagined himself the warmest of your admirers, but who found out, on a little examination, that he was only your friend."
Anne remained silent for a moment, deeply penetrated by the anxiety for her peace of mind which Kyrle evinced in all his conduct and his conversation.
"Mr. Daly," she replied at length, and with some agitation, "it is impossible for me now to say all that I feel with respect to your consideration of me on every occasion. I am proud of the friendship that you offer me, and if we meet again, I hope you will find me worthy of it."
She hurried away, and Kyrle, returning on his steps, resumed his place before the bridegroom. The picture which was formed by the two figures might have challenged the united efforts of a Raffaelle and an Angiolo to do it justice. Kyrle Daly, standing erect, with arms folded, his face pale, and bright with the serenity of triumphant virtue; his mouth touched by a smile of forgiveness and of sympathy, and his eye clear, open and seraphic in its character, presented a subject that might have pleased the eye of the pupil of Perugino. Hardress, on the other side, with one hand thrust into his bosom, his shoulders gathered and raised, his brow knitted, rather in shame and pain, than in sternness or anger, his eyes not daring to look higher than the breast of Kyrle, and his face of the colour of burnt Sienna, would have furnished a hint for the sterner genius of Buonarrotti.
"Hardress," said Kyrle, with an air of sudden frankness, "confess the truth, that you did not expect me here to-day."
Hardress looked up surprised, but made no answer.
"I am come," continued Kyrle, "to do justice to you and to myself. That I have something to complain of, you will not deny,—that I have not so much as I imagined, I am compelled to admit. My resentment, Hardress, has been excessive and unjustifiable, and with that admission, I toss it to the winds for ever."
The surprise of Hardress seemed now so great as to master even his remorse and his anxiety. He looked with increasing wonder into the eyes of Daly.
"Knowing as I did," continued the latter, "what passion was, I should have made more charitable allowances for its influence on another; but all charity forsook me at that moment, and I thought it reasonable that my friend should be a cold philosopher where I was a wild enthusiast. I have not even to reproach you with your want of confidence, for it now appears from my unreasonable expectations, that I could not have deserved it. We are both perhaps to blame. Let that be a point agreed, and let all our explanations resolve themselves into these two words—forgive, forget."
Saying this, he gave his hand to Hardress, who received it with a stare of absent wonder and confusion. Some indistinct and unintelligible murmurs arose to his lips, and died in the act of utterance.
"I know not," continued Kyrle, "and I shudder to think how far I might have suffered this odious sentiment to grow upon me, if it were not for an occasion of melancholy importance to us all, which arrested the feeling in its very bound. I have even sometimes thought, that my unaccomplished sin might possibly have been the cause of that——"here he shuddered, and stopped speaking for some moments.
Before he could resume, the sound of the dinner bell broke short the conference. Kyrle, glad of the relief, hastened to the house, while Hardress remained as if rooted to the spot, and gazing after him in silence. When he had disappeared, the bridegroom raised his eyes to the heavens, where, already, a few stars twinkled in the dying twilight; and said within his own mind:—
"In that world which lies beyond those points of light, is it possible that this man and I should ever fill a place in the same region?"