How the Story Ended
Stern and brief, then, be the order of our speech henceforward. Unhappily, a portion of our incident will fit that manner well. The remorse of Hardress led him even to exaggerate his own share in the transaction on which the foregoing measures were founded. Nevertheless, when all the circumstances of the case had been fully considered, the mercy of the executive power was extended to his life, and a perpetual exile from his native land was the only forfeit which he paid to the outraged law. But before this alteration in his destiny had been announced to him, Hardress had learned to receive it with great indifference. With the austerity of an ancient penitent, he persisted in refusing to hold personal communication with any of his friends, his mother only excepted, and even she was cheated, (by a necessary device, for her health could not have sustained it,) of the last parting interview.
The mitigation of punishment, which was intended to save his life, had only the effect of sparing him the ignominy of such a fate. An occurrence which took place on the day of his departure completed the ruin which ill-health had long been making in his constitution.
The convict ship which was to bear him from his home, had cleared out of port, and lay at anchor in that part of the river which from its basin like appearance has received the appropriate denomination of the Pool. In the grey of a summer morning, the prisoners, Hardress amongst the number, left the gaol in the King's Island where they had been confined, for the purpose of occupying their places on board. Arrived at the river side, the party halted with their guard, while a small boat was let down from the vessel's stern, and manned for the shore. It touched the strand, and received its lading of exiles. It could not hold the entire party, and Hardress, who felt a sudden and (to him) unaccountable reluctance to leave his native soil, while it was possible for him yet to feel its turf beneath his feet, petitioned to be left until the return of the pinnace.
He looked to the misty hills of Cratloe, to the yet silent and inactive city, and over the face of the gently agitated waters. The fresh, cool light of the morning only partially revealed the scene, but the veil that rested on the face of nature became more attenuated at every instant, and the aerial perspective acquired by rapid, yet imperceptible, degrees a greater scope and clearness. Groups of bathers appeared at various distances on both sides of the river, some plunging in headlong from the lofty quays, some playing various antics in the water, and some floating quietly on the surface of the tide in the centre of the stream, while others half dressed and shivering at the brink of the sloping strands, put in a hand or foot, to ascertain the temperature of the refreshing element, before they ventured to fling off their remaining habiliments and share in the salutary recreation.
In other respects the scene was nearly the same in appearance as it has been described in the third chapter of our first volume. Nature, always the same calm and provident benefactress, had preserved her mighty heart unchanged throughout the interval, and the same joyous serenity was still visible upon her countenance. The passions of men may convulse the frame of society, the duration of human prosperity may be uncertain as that of human woe, and centuries of ignorance, of poverty and of civil strife, may suddenly succeed to years of science and thrift and peace. But still the mighty mother holds her course unchanged. Spring succeeds winter, and summer spring, and all the harmonies of her great system move on through countless ages with the same unvarying serenity of purpose. The scene of his happy childhood evinced no sympathy with the condition of the altered Hardress.
He turned, with an aching heart, from the contemplation of the landscape, and his eye encountered a spectacle more accordant to his present feelings. The row of houses which lined the quay on which the party halted, consisted for the most part of coffin-makers' shops, a gloomy trade, although, to judge by the reckless faces of the workmen, it would appear that "custom had made it with them, a property of easiness."
Only one of those dismal houses of traffic was open at this early hour, and the light which burned in the interior showed that the proprietor was called to the exercise of his craft at this unseasonable time by some sudden and pressing call. The profession of the man was not indicated, as in more wealthy and populous cities, by a sculptured lid or glided and gaudy hatchment suspended at a window pane. A pile of the unfinished shells, formed for all ages from childhood to maturity, were thrust out at the open window to attract the eye of the relatives or the newly dead. The artificer himself appeared in the interior of his workshop, in his working dress, and, plane in hand, was employed in giving the last touch to an oaken coffin placed lengthways on his bench. Its size denoted that the intended occupant had died in the full maturity of manhood.
While Hardress watched him plying his melancholy trade in silence, a horseman rode up to the door, and dismounted with some awkwardness and difficulty. He was a small, red-haired man, and Hardress thought that the face and manner were not altogether new to his observation. Another horseman followed, and alighted with more ease and alertness. He was tall and well formed, and Hardress shrank aside from his gaze, for in this person he recognized one of the witnesses, who had appeared against him at his trial. Leaning against one of the short posts used for the purpose of holding the cables of the shipping, and once more turning his face toward the river, Hardress listened to the conversation which ensued.
"Sarvent kindly, Mr. Moran," said the smaller man—"Well, is the coffin ready?"
"What time will it be wanted?" was the reply. "The car will be here in half an hour. Father Edward bid me to step on before, in dread you wouldn't have it done. If it t'wasn't out of regard for him and his, indeed, I'd rather be spared the jaunt for I was always a poor horseman, and I think it jolting enough I'll get between this and the churchyard."
"And where'll he be buried?"
"At Mungret church, westwards. His people are all buried at St. John's, but he took it as a delight to be buried at Mungret, because it is there his daughter was buried before him."
A deep groan escaped the second horseman, as he said these words.
"No wonder for you to be heart-broken!" exclaimed the first—"Old and good friends were parted when they were taken from you. The poor old man! 'Twas enough to convert a Turk to hear him on his death-bed, giving his forgiveness to all the world, and praying for his enemies. A year since, as you know well, Myles Murphy, Mihil O'Connor and his daughter were a happy pair. But he never raised his head from the day she left his floor. Well, well; 'tis thrue for father Edward, what he says, that this world would be good for nothing if there was not another."
At this moment a soldier touched the arm of Hardress, and pointed to the pinnace whose keel just grated on the gravelled strand. With a rigid and terrified countenance, Hardress arose, and was about to hurry down the steps leading from the quay, when his strength suddenly failed him, and he would have fallen headlong to the bottom, but for the timely aid of his escort.
When he recovered from the confusion which this attack occasioned in his brain, he found himself seated on the deck of the vessel, her canvass wings outspread, and the shores of his native soil fleeting rapidly away on either side. He looked, as the ship swept on, to the cottage of the Daly's. Two or three of the children in deep mourning were playing on the lawn, Lowry Looby was turning the cows into the new-mown meadow, and Mr. Daly, himself, also in deep black, was standing, case in hand, upon the steps of the hall door. The vessel still swept on, but Hardress dared not turn his eyes in the direction of Castle-Chute. The dawn of the following morning beheld him tossed upon the waves of the Atlantic, and looking back to the clifted heads of the Shannon that stood like a gigantic portal opening far behind. The land of his nativity faded rapidly on his sight: but before the vessel came within sight of that of his exile, Hardress had rendered up the life which the law forebore to take!
His mother lived long after, in the practice of the austere and humiliating works of piety, which her church prescribes for the observance of the penitent. Her manner, in the course of time, became quiet, serene, and uncomplaining, and though not so generally admired, she became more loved among her friends and her dependants, than in her days of pride, and haughtier influence.
One circumstance may be mentioned as affording a striking proof of the deep root which her predominant failing had taken in her character. After reading the paper which Hardress had left in his cabinet, and finding that it was written under what she conceived a too humiliating sense of his unworthiness, she refrained from bestowing it as he desired. It was not until the salutary change above mentioned had been wrought in her character, and after the purpose, which the document was intended to accomplish, had been brought to pass by other means, that she complied with the parting wishes of her son.
It was a circumstance which placed the character of Anne Chute in a noble point of view, that from the moment of the fearful discovery, recorded in the last chapter, she never once upbraided her unhappy relative with the concealment which had so nearly linked her fate with that of one whose conduct she had so much cause to view with horror. Much as she had loved Hardress, and shocked as she was by the terrible occurrences of that night, she could not look back without the feeling of one who has escaped a great and hidden danger. It would have been denying her a virtue, which she ought not to have wanted, if we said that the generosity and disinterestedness of Kyrle Daly failed eventually to produce that effect upon her feelings which it had long since done upon her reason. It was long, indeed, before this favourable indication could be suffered to appear, but it did appear, at length, after the remembrance of this unhappy story had grown faint in the course of time, and the tumult, which it had left in many bosoms, had been stilled by years, by penitence, or death. They were then united, and they were happy as earth could render hearts that looked to higher destinies and a more lasting rest. They lived long after in the practice of the duties of their place in life, and of that religion to which the guilty, and the neglectful, owe their deepest terrors, and good men their dearest consolations.
The wretched partner in the crime of Hardress died amid all the agonies of a remorse, which made even those whose eyes had often looked upon such scenes, shrink back with fear and wonder. He owed his fate to an erring sense of fidelity, and to the limited and mischievous course of education, too common in his class; while Hardress might be looked on as the victim of his cherished vanity, and pride of self-direction.
These events furnished Lowry Looby with matter for a great fund of philosophical eloquence, which he was fond of indulging, at even, when his pipe lit freely, and the fire shone bright upon the hearth. This faithful servant lived long enough to enjoy the honours of a freehold in his native County of Clare, and to share it with the careful housewife who was accustomed to provide for his wants with so much affectionate care at the Dairy Cottage. His name, I understand, was found upon the poll-books at the late memorable election in that county; but on which side of the question he bestowed his voice is more than my utmost industry has enabled me to ascertain.
Reader, if you have shuddered at the excesses into which he plunged, examine your own heart, and see if it hide nothing of the intellectual pride, and volatile susceptibility of new impressions, which were the ruin of Hardress Cregan. If, besides the amusement which these pages may have afforded, you should learn anything from such research for the avoidance of evil, or the pursuit of good, it will not be in vain that we have penned the story of our two COLLEGIANS.