44

How More Guests Appeared at the Wedding Than Had Been Invited

LIGHT, LAUGHTER, mirth and music,—plenteous fare, and pleasant hearts to share it, were mingled in the dining-room on this occasion. Mrs. Chute presided; the 'old familiar faces' of Mr. Cregan, Mr. Creagh, Mr. Connolly, Doctor Leake, and many others, were scattered among the guests, and every eye seemed lighted up, to contribute its portion of gaiety to the domestic jubilee. A cloud of vapour, thin and transparent as a Peri's sighs, arose from the dishes which adorned the table, and was dissipated in the air above. The heavy moreen window curtains were let down, the servants flew from place to place like magic, the candles shed a warm and comfortable lustre upon the board, and the clatter of plates, the jingling of glasses and decanters, the discomfiture of provision, and the subdued vigour with which all this was accomplished, considering the respectability of the guests, was really astonishing. Without any appearance of the havoc and carnage, which is displayed on such occasions in humbler life, it is a question whether there were not actually more execution done, in a quiet determined way. It furnished a new instance of the superior advantages of discipline.

    Towards the close of the feast, the manliness of Kyrle Daly was put to a cruel test, by one of those unfeeling jests, which are the sport of fools in every country. The reader may smile at the circumstance as trifling, but it was not so in its effect upon the heart of the forlorn lover. A young lady, who was considered a wit among her country friends, and feared accordingly, put a willow leaf upon a slice of cream cheese, and handed it to Kyrle Daly with an unconscious face. Some months before, a jest of this kind would have put his temper to its severest trial, and even now, he felt as if he had been stung by a serpent. He did not, however, betray the least emotion, but took his revenge, by going near the lady as soon as circumstances permitted, and making mock-love to her during the night.

    The spirit of the scene produced its effect upon the mind of Hardress himself, who, yielding to its influence, adopted a degree of gaiety, that surprized and delighted all who were interested in his fortunes. It is true, that from time to time, a fear struck at his heart like the shock of an alarum, and the glassy eyes of a corpse seemed at intervals to stare at him from among the crowd. But he turned his eyes and his thoughts away to happier objects, and, as if in defiance of the ghastly interruption, became more gay and mirthful than before.

    Mrs. Cregan did not smile to see her son so far forget his misery. A feeling of nervous apprehension had lain upon her spirits throughout the day, and became more oppressive and insupportable according as the time approached of Hardress's departure. The more certain his escape became, the more did her anxiety encrease, lest it should, by some unlucky circumstance, be yet prevented.

    While Hardress, in the full fling and zest of his false spirits, was in the act of taking wine with a fair friend, he felt a rustling, as of some person passing by his chair, and a low voice whispered close to his ear, "Arise, and fly for your life."

    The wine-glass fell, untasted, from his hand, and he remained a pale and motionless image of terror. There was some laughing among the company, who perceived the accident; and many ingenious omens were deduced, not very favourable to the prospects of the lady. But the agitation of the bridegroom was attributed to mere embarrassment.

    The cloth, soon after, was removed; some songs were sung, and the ladies rose to depart. Hardress, with the mysterious warning still ringing in his ear, was about to follow in their train, when a rough grasp was laid upon his arm, the door was shut with violence, and he beheld Hepton Connolly standing with his finger raised in an attitude of menace and reproach. Hardress felt his heart sink at the thought that this interruption might cost him his life.

    "Let me go, my dear Connolly," he said, in an anxious voice. "It is of the last importance to me."

    "The last importance!" repeated Connolly, with a suspicious smile. "I'd consider it a disgrace to me, my dear Hardress, if you were to go to bed sober after being in my company to-night, the last that you are to spend in the country. Come, come, Hardress, don't look fierce, you will have Miss Chute long enough, but here are a pleasant set of fellows whom, perhaps, you may never see round the same table on earth again."

    "But, Connolly!"

    "But, Hardress!"

    "What's the matter there?" cried a rough voice from the head of the table. "Any body sneaking? Bring him up here by the collar. If any man leaves this room sober to-night, I shall make it personal with him."

    The speaker, (who was no other than the culprit's father) added an oath, and the room rang with acclamations. Hardress, faint with fear and anxiety, was compelled to return to the table, and the bowl was shortly circulated with that enthusiasm which was considered appropriate to the occasion. The wine which he drank, and the conversation in which he was compelled to mingle, gradually stole him back into his revel mood, and in a little time he became more loud and seeming mirthful than ever. The voice, which he had heard, might be ideal as the visions he had seen. He thought no more of it.

    He became engaged in a violent dispute with Creagh, as to whether the cascades of Killarney were the better or worse for being without basins. Hardress contended that the want was a defect, inasmuch as it left the beholder without that delightful sensation which he might gather from the contrast of those two most perfect images of tumult and repose, a roaring cataract, with its clouds of foam and mist, and a smooth expanse of water with its glancing and streaky light, and its lulling motion, like the heaving of a sleeping infant's bosom. Creagh on the other hand, held (and he defended the idea the more stoutly as he happened to hit on it by accident,) that the very mystery attending the disappearance of the stream, when the spectator saw it hurry downward, by his feet, still foaming and roaring on, until it was hidden from his view by the closing thicket below, gave a greater idea to the mind than could be produced by the contrast which Hardress admired.

    The latter had his hand raised with a cascade of eloquence just bursting from his lip, when a warm breath came to his ear, and the same low voice murmured in a tone still lower than before:—"Arise, I tell you! the army is abroad, and your life in danger."

    It could not now be an illusion, for the tresses of the speaker had touched his cheek, and the dress had brushed his feet. He dashed his chair aside, and standing suddenly erect, looked round him for the warner. A female dress just glanced on his eye as he stared on the open door which led to the hall. He followed it with so much rapidity no one could find time to interfere; but the hall was empty of living figures. He only saw the cloaks, and hats of the visitors, hanging against the wall, while the dusky flame of a globe lamp threw a gloomy and dispiriting light upon the walls and ceiling. On one side, the floor was shaken by the dancers, and the ear stunned with the music of bagpipe, violin, and dulcimer. On the other he heard the bacchanalian uproar of the party he had left. At a distance, in the kitchen, he could distinguish the sound of one solitary bagpipe, playing some air of a more rapid and vulgar character; while the voice of a villager, penetrating in triumph through a two foot wall of stone and mortar, was heard singing some wild and broken melody, which was meant for mirth, but in which a stranger ear might have detected a greater depth of pathos and of feeling than the composer probably intended. Snatching his hat and coat, and trembling in every joint, Hardress was about to hurry down a narrow staircase leading to the yard door, when his mother with a bridesmaid met him on the way.

    "Come this way, Hardress," said she. "I have a partner engaged for you."

    "Mother," said Hardress, with the horrid sense of oppression which one feels in a dream of danger and vain resistance, "Take your hand from my arm, and let me pass.

    Mrs. Cregan imagined that as, in compliance with an established superstition, patronized by some of the old people, the bridegroom was not to sleep in the house on the night before the bridal, Hardress was thus early preparing to comply with the old custom.

    "You must not go so soon," returned, Mrs. Cregan. 'Come, Miss Prendergast, make that arm prisoner and lead him to the ball room."

    Hardress, with a beating pulse, resigned himself to his fate, and accompanied the ladies to the dancing-room. Here he remained for some time endeavouring, but with a faint spirit, to meet and answer the gaiety of his companions. After dancing a minuet with a good deal of silent approbation, he led his fair partner to her seat, and taking a chair at her side began to entertain her, as well as he could, while other dancers occupied the floor. His chair was placed a few yards distant from an open door at which a crowd of the servants and tenants appeared thrusting in their heads, and staring on the dancers for the purposes of admiration, and of satire, as the occasion might arise.

    One of these, a handsome country lad, had encroached so far as to get within a foot or two of Hardress's chair, and to be recognized by him with some appearance of kindness.

    "Master Hardress," he said stooping to his ear, "did Syl Carney tell you any thing?"

    "No!" said Hardress, turning suddenly round, and neglecting to finish some observation which he was in the act of making to his fair companion.

    "Why then, never welcome her!" said the lad. "I told her to slip in a word to you, some way, to let you know that Danny Mann has given information, and the army are out this night."

    Hardress trembled, as if the grasp of the hangman had been laid upon him.

    "What a shocking dance that horn-pipe is!" exclaimed the lady. "I am always reminded when I see it of the dampers of a piano."

    "Precisely, indeed," said Hardress, with a smile like death, "very ridiculous indeed. Tell me how you know of this," he said apart to the boy, "speak low, and quickly."

    "From a little hunch-back in bridewell at magistrate Warner's"—returned the lad, "He bid me—but the lady is talking to you."

    "I beg your pardon," said Hardress, turning quickly round.

    "It was not I," said the fair dancer, "It was Mrs. Cregan called you."

    He looked at his mother, and saw her holding towards him a small basket of confectionery and oranges, while she glanced towards the ladies. Hardress rose to perform this piece of gallantry, with a sensation of gloomy resignation, and with a feeling of bitterness towards his unhappy parent, as if she ought to have known that she was knotting the cord upon his life.

    When it was done, he hurried back to his seat, but the servants were all gone, and the door was closed. He stole from the apartment to the hall, once more resumed his hat, and ascending the small flight of steps leading to the chamber so often mentioned, he was once more upon the point of freedom.

    But the grasp of an avenging providence was laid upon his life. In the middle of this chamber he encountered the bride, alone.

    "Hardress," said she, "are you leaving us for the night?"

    "I am," he murmured, in a faint voice, and passed on.

    "Stay, Hardress!" said Anne, laying her hand upon his arm. "I have something to say, which I am anxious you should know immediately."

    This last interruption completed the confusion of the bridegroom. A sudden faintness fell on his whole frame, his brain grew dizzy, his senses swam, and he reeled like one intoxicated into a vacant chair.

    "Well, Anne," said he, "any thing—every thing—my life itself, if you think it worth your while to require it."

    "I owe it to my own peace, and even to your's Hardress," said Anne, "to tell you that I have discovered all."

    "Discovered all!" echoed Hardress, springing to his feet.

    "Yes—all. A generous friend, generous to you, and me, alike, has given the whole history of your cause of suffering, and left me nothing to regret, but that Hardress should not have thought it worth his while to make Anne a partner in his confidence. But that I have forgotten likewise, and have only now to say, that I regret my own conduct as much as I once was grieved for yours. I must have added to the pain which—Hark!"

    "What do you hear?" cried Hardress, crouching fearfully.

    "There is a tumult in the drawing room. Good heaven defend our hearts! What is that noise?"

    The door of the room was thrown open, and a female figure appeared, with hair disordered, and hands outspread with an action of warning and avoidance.

    "Hardress, my child!"

    "Well, mother?"

    "Hardress, my child!"

    "Mother, I am here! Look on me!—Speak to me! Don't gasp, and stare on your son in that horrid way! Oh, mother, speak, or you will break my heart!"

    "Fly—fly—my child Not that way! No! The doors are all defended. There is a soldier set on every entrance. You are trapt and caught. What shall we do? The window! Come this way—come—quick—quick!"

    She drew him passively after her into her own sleeping chamber, which lay immediately adjoining. Before Anne had made one movement, from the attitude of sudden fear and wonder to which this strange occurrence had given rise, Mrs. Cregan again appeared in the chamber, showing in her look and action the same hurried and disordered energy of mind.

    "Go to your room!" she said, addressing the bride. "Go quickly to your room, stop not to question me——"

    "Dear Aunt!——"

    "Away, I say! you will drive me frantic, girl! My reason is already stretched to its full tension, and a single touch may rend it. Go, my dear child, my love! my wretched—— Ha!"

    "Anne Chute! Where's Anne?" exclaimed an anxious voice, at the door way. "Where is the bride?"

    "Here, here!" said Mrs. Cregan. Kyrle Daly rushed into the room, his face paler than ever, and his eye filled with an anxious enquiry.

    "Come this way, Anne!" he said, taking her hand, while his own were trembling with anxiety, "Unhappy bride! Oh, horrid—fearful night! Come—come!"

    "I will not sir!" exclaimed the bride with vehemence, "What mean those words and actions? There is some danger threatens Hardress Tell me, if there is—"

    "Take her away, good Kyrle."

    "He shall not take me hence. Why should he? Why does he call me an unhappy bride? Wliy does he say this night is hoirid and fearful? I will not stir—"

    "They are coming!—force her hence, good Kyrle," muttered the expectant mother.

    Struggling in his arms, and opposing prayers, threats and entreaties to the gentle violence which he employed, Kyrle Daly bore the affrighted bride away from the apartment. He remained by her side during the whole evening, often soothing her anxiety by his ready eloquence, and watching every movement of her mind and feelings, with the tender vigilance of a near and devoted relative.

    Mrs. Cregan, meanwhile, remained alone in the room, her ear bent to catch the first sounds of approaching danger, and her frame made rigid with the intensity of feeling. Her hands were employed, while in this attitude, in arranging her hair, and removing as far as possible every appearance of disorder from her dress. At length, the clatter of muskets, and the tramp of many feet, was heard in the little hall. A momentary convulsion shook her frame. It passed away, and she rose to her usual height and her customary stateliness of eye and gesture.

    At the same moment, the door opened, and Mr. Warner accompanied by Captain Gibson and the military party, appeared upon the little stair-case. The first mentioned seemed surprized, and somewhat embarrassed, at the sight of Mrs. Cregan. He murmured something of his regret at being compelled to do what must be so painful to her and was proceeding to recommend that she should retire, when she cut short the speech.

    "Talk not to me, sir," she said, "of your regret or your reluctance. You have already done your worst to fix a stigma on our name, and a torture in our memories. For months, for weeks, and days, my son spoke with you, laughed with you, and walked freely and openly among you, and then you laid no hand upon his shoulder. You waited for his wedding day, to raise your lying cry of murder; you waited to see how many hearts you might crush together at a blow. You have done the worst of evil in your power; you have dismayed our guests, scattered terror amid our festival, and made the remembrance of this night, which should have been a happy one, a thought of gloom and shame."

    "My duty," murmured the magistrate, "obliged me to sacrifice—"

    "Complete your duty, then," said the mother haughtily, "and do not speak of your personal regrets. If justice and my son are foes, what place do you fill between them? You mistake your calling, Mr. Magistrate, you have no personal feelings in this transaction. You are a servant of the law, and, as a servant, act."

    Mr. Warner bowed, and directed the soldiers to follow him into the inner room. At this order, Mrs. Cregan turned her face over her shoulder, with a ghastly smile.

    "That," she said, in a tone of calm reproach, "that is my sleeping- hamber."

    "My duty, madam."

    "Be it so," said Mrs. Cregan, in a low voice, and turning away her face with the same painful smile, while her heart crept and trembled.

    The party entered the room.

    "I hope," said Captain Gibson, who really began to think that Mrs. Cregan had a great deal of reason: "I hope Mrs. Cregan will not blame me for my part in this transaction."

    "I do not blame you," said the mother, with a scornful smile, "it is your trade."

    At this portentous moment, Mr. Cregan, Mr. Connolly, and two or three other gentlemen, came reeling into the apartment, excessively intoxicated, and retaining consciousness enough to feel a sense of injury, not fully understood, and a vague purpose of resistance.

    "Dora," said Mr. Cregan, staggering towards her, and endeavouring to look sober, "What are you doing here? What's the matter?"

    Mrs. Cregan, her whole soul absorbed by the proceedings in the inner room, did not even appear to be conscious of his presence.

    "Very—very extraordinary conduct," he said, turning an unsteady eye upon the Captain. "Soldiers, officers, eh, Connolly?"

    "Very, very extraordinary conduct," echoed Connolly.

    "Do they take the house for a barrack?" continued Cregan, "Captain, withdraw your soldiers."

    Captain Gibson, already annoyed by the taunt of Mrs. Cregan, returned this demand by a stern look.

    "Stand by me, Connolly. Your swords gentlemen!" cried Cregan, as he drew his own.

    The others imitated his example. Captain Gibson, without condescending to unsheath his own weapon, turned to his men, and beckoning with his finger, said:

    "Disarm those drunken gentlemen." His orders were obeyed upon the instant, a few slight scratches being all that was sustained by the soldiers in the drunken scuffle that ensued. The gentlemen were placed with their hands tied on chairs at the other side of the room, and the bundle of rapiers was laid upon the window seat.

    "Very well, sir—very well," said Mr. Cregan, "I shall remember this, and so shall my friends. I am a gentleman, sir, and shall look for the satisfaction of a gentleman."

    "Expect the same from me," said Connolly, swinging his person round upon the chair.

    "And me," said a third.

    "And me," echoed a fourth.

    "I little expected to meet with such a return as this for our hospitality," continued Mr. Cregan.

    "For shame! for shame, Cregan," said the unhappy mother, "do not degrade yourself and your friends by such remonstrances. The hand of an enemy is raised against us, and let not the unworthy being think that he can sink us as low in mind as in our fortunes."

    Captain Gibson, who took no notice of the gentlemen, again seemed hurt to the quick, perhaps not wisely, by this allusion from the lady.

    "Mrs. Cregan," he said, "it is one of the most painful duties of a gentleman in my situation, that he must sometimes be subjected to such insinuations as those; and it is only the peculiar circumstances in which you are placed that would prevent my forming a very harsh judgment of any lady who could use them."

    "Sir!" said Mrs. Cregan, lowering her head with a smile of the most bitter irony, "your consideration and your forbearance are extraordinary. All the events of this night bear witness to it.—It must have surely been with much violence to that fine gentlemanly spirit that you chose a moment like this for your investigation. But I see you are impatient, sir, and I will desist, for you are a soldier, and I am but a female, and it is easy to see who would have the best of the argument."

    "Madam!——"

    "Our friends dispersed, our mirth so quickly changed to terror, this scene of confusion at our domestic festivity, every thing, sir, bears testimony to your forbearance. That sensitive and gentlemanly nature that is so tender of insinuations appears in all the actions of this night. My husband tied, there, like a malefactor, and my poor son Ah! shield and hide us, earth!——I hear his voice!"

    A bustle was heard in the inner room and the wretched lady, throwing her arms high above her head, uttered a shriek so loud, so shrill and piercing, that the stoutest soldier started like a maiden, and the flush of anger upon the officer's cheek was changed to a death-like paleness. Half sobered by the fearful sound, the intoxicated father rose from his chair, and turned a dull eye upon the room door, while every figure on the scene expressed in various degrees the same feeling of commiseration and anxiety.

    "The prisoner is here!" cried Warner, hurrying into the room.

    "Is he?" shrieked the distracted, and almost delirious mother. "Dark blood hound, have ye found him? May the tongue that tells me so be withered from the roots, and the eye that first detected him be darkened in its socket!"

    "Peace, shocking woman," said the magistrate, "your curses only add to the offence that heaven has already suffered."

    "What!" cried the unhappy parent, "shall it be for nothing then, that you have stung the mother's heart, and set the mother's brain on fire? I tell you, no! My tongue may hold its peace, but there is not a vein in all my frame but curses you! My child! My child!" she screamed aloud, on seeing Hardress at the door. She rushed, as if with the intent of flinging herself upon his neck, but, checking the impulse as she came near, she clasped her hands, and sinking at his feet, exclaimed, "My child, forgive me!"

    "Forgive you, mother?" replied her son, in a wretched voice, "I have destroyed you all!"

    "The crime was mine," exclaimed the miserable parent; "I was the author of your first temptation, the stumbling-block between you and repentance. You will think bitterly of me, Hardress, when you are alone."

    "Never!" said Hardress, raising her to his arms. "Still honoured, always well-meaning and affectionate, I will never think of you but as a mother. My eyes are opened now. For the first time in many weary months, the first thought of peace is in my heart; and but for you, and those whom I have made wretched with you, I would call that thought a thought of joy. Grieve no more, mother, for my sake. Grieve not, because it is in vain. The bolt is sped, the victim has been struck, and earth has not a remedy. Grieve not, because I would not have it otherwise. A victim was due to justice, and she shall no longer be defrauded. I had rather reckon with her here, than in a future world."

    "I cannot part with you," murmured his mother, while her head rested on his shoulder, "do not put away my hands awhile.—It is tearing my very heart up!"

    "Dear mother, let me go," said Hardress, gently disengaging himself, "we shall meet again, I hope. In the mean time, hear my farewell request, as you have heard all that I have ever made.—Waste not your days in idle retrospection, but pray for me with fervour.—Be kind to those whom I have loved, and remember that my death, at least, was happier than my life."

    "I threatened you with poverty!" muttered Mrs. Cregan, while her memory glanced wildly through the past.

    "Dear mother! "

    "I bade you leave my house, or do my pleasure—"

    "Why will you vex my soul at such a moment?"

    "I have tied the cord upon your throat! I slighted your scruples. Your own dread words come back upon me now. Those words which I heard with so little emotion at Dinis, and in this hall, before, now ring like the peal of dead bells in my ear. I have been your fellest foe. You drank in pride with my milk, and passion under my indulgence. I have destroyed you for this world, and——"

    "My dear, dear mother!" cried Hardress, clasping her to his breast, and bursting into tears of shame and penitence, "forget, I implore you, those impious and reproachful words. They were the ravings of my madness, and should not be regarded. Hear me, now, in the full and calm possession of my judgment, and let those words only be remembered. Do you hear me, my dear mother?"

    "I do—I am listening to you, speak, my child, I will remember well."

    Hardress stooped to her ear, and murmured in a low voice. "In a secret drawer of my cabinet, you will find a paper unsealed. Give it to——" he paused, and bowed down a moment in deep agitation—"to Anne Chute. I am glad she bears that name—glad of her fortune in escaping me. Let her read that paper. I have penned it with the view of rendering justice to a confiding friend, whose confidence I have betrayed. Oh, memory! memory! but I must look forward now, not back. Ah, mother, if I had really known how to value your affectionate counsels in my childhood—if I had only humbled my heart to a belief in its own weakness, and a ready obedience to your will in my younger days, I should not die in my youth a shameful death, and leave you childless in your age."

    "Aye," said Mrs. Cregan, "or if I had done the duty of a mother. If I had thought less of your worldly, and more of your eternal happiness. My brain is scorched!"

    "My dear, fond parent, will you add to my agony?"

    "You will hate me in your prison."

    "Never!—"

    "I know what you will say, when they are dragging you to the scaffold. It is my mother, you will say, that has bound these cords upon my limbs! The people will stare on you, and you will hang your head, and say that I was the author of your shame. And in the moment of your death—"

    "I will pray for you!" said Hardress, pressing her to him, and kissing her forehead, "as you will do for me." While he spoke he felt the arms that encircled his neck grow rigid, and the face that looked up to his was overspread with a damp and leaden paleness.

    "Farewell, dear mother, for the present," he continued, "and remember—Oh, she is growing cold and weak,—remove her, remove her quickly, gentlemen!"

    She was borne out, in a half fainting condition, and Hardress, surrendering himself to the hands of the soldiers, prepared to depart. Turning round once more before he left the room, he said aloud:

    "Hear me, and testify against me, if it shall please you. Lest my returning feebleness, or the base love of life, should tempt me once again to shun my destiny, I am willing here to multiply my witnesses. I am guilty of the crime with which you charge me,—guilty, not in act, nor guilty even in word, nor positive, implied assent, but guilty yet, beyond even the wish for pardon. I am glad this hideous dream at length is ended,—glad that I have been forced to render up her right to Justice, even against my will, for I was sick of my anxieties."

    He ceased: and the party proceeded down the narrow staircase leading to the hall door, Hardress being placed in the centre. In a few minutes, the lighted chambers of the castle, its affrighted revellers, its silenced musicians, the delirious mother, the drunken father and his band of brawlers, the bewildered bride, and all the scattered pomp of the espousal, were lost for ever to the eye of the unhappy Hardress.

    Some apprehension was entertained, lest any injudicious person amongst the peasantry should occasion the useless loss of lives, by attempting a rescue, before the party left the neighbourhood; but no symptoms of such an intention were manifested by the people. The whole transaction had been conducted with so much rapidity, that the circumstance of the bridegroom's capture was not generally known, even in the castle, for some time after his departure.