Volume One


8


JOHN, after waiting Mr. Frank's leisure to give over his obliging, yet not very marked attentions to Peggy, and retire to rest, ushered him into his own little room, which contained two beds: returned to the kitchen until he thought his new guest was asleep, and then cautiously stept back and also prepared for rest. He knelt down to his prayers; there was an abstraction of his mind. He gave up his usual course of nightly prayers, and begged for the grace to curb his wayward thoughts, and bend himself wholly to his devotions. With more success he then resumed; yet, after a little time, while his lips still moved, without sound, apparently following the mental aspirations, he suddenly found himself thinking—"Good God! what a different creature she is from poor Maggy Nowlan."

     He started; crossed himself, and hastily arose. He would arrange some little matters about his chamber, and that, perhaps, might serve to divert his vagrant thoughts. His books, which still lay strewed on his reading table, might be put on the shelf. He stepped towards them, but had not taken the first in his hand, when the recollection of the person who last looked over them, occurred more strongly than before. Her figure, her face, the glance she had shot out to him, as he detected her at tbe table, every little detail came before him with provoking readiness. He hastened to put them in their places, as if they had been dangerous things to touch or handle; and, his task over, disposed himself, with an appeal to the watchfulness of God, for going to sleep. Looking towards the bed, he saw the mark of a pressure at its side, as if somebody had gently sat on it, since it had been made op, in the morning; who was that somebody? Certainly not he: and Peggy would not sit, during the short time she was attending her chance visitor; and Mr. Frank had his own bed to have sat upon: and——but, nonsense, and folly; what a ridiculous question he was troubling his head about: and he tried to make it all a matter of laughing inwardly at, as, shaking the ticken, he destroyed the appearance that amused him. While thus employed, something moved on the cover of the bed; he stopped, and picked up a lady's glove: a very small one; a very soft, slight kind of one; in short, a real "Limerick glove." It was so curious an article, that he could not help peering at it witb eager scrutiny; and then, half smiling, he tried how only two or three of his fingers could make way into the opening at the wrist; and again, as the velvet feel of the interior reminded him of the small and still more velvet hand that had often worn it, he caught himself inclined to a respiration like a sigh; but blushing deeply, and frowning sternly, John checked this treacherous symptom; walked steadily to the door of his chamber; called in a whisper to Peggy, who still sat up alone at the kitchen fire, sighing also; and handing the glove, from the threshold, told her she had better put it by safe for Miss Letty, as he supposed she had forgotten it, while in the room that evening.

     He lay down in bed, and extinguished his candle. Some slight matter, of a hard substance, hurt his shoulder. He rose on his elbow, and found a ring, with a stone set in it. He had no such trinket; Peggy had none such; it was certainly Miss Letty's too, placed doubtless on bis pillow, while that young lady was hastily dressing; forgotten on her return to the kitchen; disturbed by his shaking the bed, and so had rolled down where he found it. He touched it all round, and tried to put it on the tip of his little finger, just to ascertain if it was so very small as the owner of the very small glove might wear. With quick association, Letry's taper, rosy-tipped finger was presented to his mind, instead of his own; then her whole person again; then her sun-shiny face, her bewitching smile, her blushes, her glances: from this he ran on to the mystery of her having made her toilet in his chamber, and to some of the mysteries of the toilet, too; of her sitting on that very bed; and of his holding that moment, on the tip of his finger, her ring in that very bed: and, in fact, more sorely beset than ever, John found himself straying once more, and hastily sat up, made the sign of the cross, and prayed to he delivered from temptation.

     He would banish the ring out of his chamber, as he had banished the glove; and for this purpose he was rising in the dark, when he recollected that he had heard Peggy going to bed; that consequently no one was up in the kitchen; and that if he could not give it into somebody's charge, hut rather ventured to place it away at random, the valuable trinket might be lost. But he could at least put it from him upon a corner shelf in the chamber, to which, dark as it was, he knew his way. At his first motion Mr. Frank stirred, and asked "Who was there?" John remained silent and still; half because he was frightened, he knew not why, half because he was loth to disturb his guest: when the young gentleman again gave signs of repose, he durst not venture again to rouse him; so, disagreeable as was the arrangement, he could only thrust the ring under his pillow, make up his mind to forget it, and fall asleep.

     But it was long ere he fell asleep, and many a waking thought and many a combination he should not have experienced, if it were possible, shook his soul and troubled his blood; and many a worse dream afterwards ran riot with his sleeping fancy. Recurrences to the past chiefly persecuted his waking mind: snatching recurrences of the unholy visions, now first felt during four years, that used to haunt him when he lurked out in the fields, hoping to meet Maggy Nowlan, though at present a new face and form rose to shape them; and in his dreams she was the chief tempter too, while sometimes the meeting her ended in a fantastic encounter with her new rival; or, as his arms clasped her, she changed her identity. The old impression led to the novel excitement. John Nowlan was now but twenty-three.

     In youth passion is like knowledge: when once experienced, it can no more be quite neutralized than the other, when once acquired, can be forgotten. New habits, indeed, may, for a time, lull both. Vulgar pursuits and companions, followed and met for years, may for years reduce to a seeming blank the mind of a scholar; and religious discipline, abstraction, and most of all, absence of causes to excitement, may cool the throbbings of a youth whose earlier life has not passed unroused. But take one from his common sphere, and place him among men of intellect, or, at his leisure, put a favourite old book in his hand; and lead the other out of his magic circle of avoidance, and expose him to new sights and sounds of the old infatuation, and the scholar will again show himself a scholar, and the once ardent pulse will again beat ardently. It must be so; it cannot be helped. Memory will not let go her hold at a bidding; and the heart has a memory of its own.

     His companion getting up, awoke him in the morning from a dream of a nature so entrancing, that for many minutes it still swayed his thoughts and feelings, and kept him spellbound in unlawful indulgence. But he closed his eyes, prayed a sincere morning prayer, and now nothing but remorse for his unwilled lapses, and a horror of their recurrence, agitated him. Ere he could leave his chamber, after Mr. Frank had gone out, he remained on his knees for an unusual time: and not allowing himself to indulge even his curiosity in examining the workmanship of the ring, he removed it from under his pillow, and without a look, placed it on the table where the servant or Peggy must find it.

     Mr. Frank's fishing-rod did nor arrive as soon as was expected; but Mr. Frank seemed little inconvenienced at the disappointment. When John reached the kitchen, he found him sitting on a low stool at Peggy's feet, who was industriously engaged in spinning flax, while the young gentleman looked up, very animatedly, and spoke to her. His attentions now began to strike the brother as too remarkable: yet, after he appeared, Mr. Frank arose with such self-possession and ease, engaging him in conversation, and turned so freely to the old man and woman, as they came in, and altogether was so pleasing and so kind, that suspicion at once fled from the simple heart of John Nowlan.

     After breakfast they still waited for Mr. Long's servant, but, at last, that gentleman and his niece came in his place, for the purpose, they said, of making the earliest possible visit of thanks for the service and kindness of the preceding evening. John could not possibly have expected them; and, taken by surprise, the re-appearance of Miss Letty called up a consciousness and a confusion he had not power to disguise. When he took her proffered hand, his trembled like that of a criminal; the young lady must have perceived it did; she looked up to his eyes; blushed deeply; and now, as she hastily withdrew her hand, John thought it trembled a little, too. Scarcely were the visitors seated, when Peggy brought forward the glove, and with great simplicity told how her brother had called her to his bed-room door to give it to her, the night before, having found it on his bed. John, trying to retain his quiet smile, felt his face flame up at these particulars; nor could he avoid seeing that Miss Letty, as, with a forced laugh and return of thanks, she accepted her stray glove, also betrayed embarrassment. Peggy did not mention the ring, and he concluded she had not yet found it; perhaps it might have been overlooked, thrown about the room, and swept out. This alarmed him, and muttering that "he believed there was something else," he entered his chamber, found the trinket where he had placed it, returned, and presented it to its beautiful owner.

     "Musha, John, a-vich, you're soon bigginen' part o' your thrade o' findin' rings for the young ladies," remarked Mrs. Nowlan, jocosely. John laughed out, Miss Letty looked earnestly at the stone of her ring, her head down. "No harm come over it, I hope, Miss?" asked the dame, alarmed at the scrutiny. "None in the world," the young lady answered.

     "If I was a fair lady, and had an old uncle whose neck might just have been saved from breaking by a brave young gentleman, that afterwards found and honestly returned a ring I had lost, I know what I would do with such a ring," said Mr. Long, laying his hand on his niece's head. "Well then, there, Sir," she answered, playfully, giving him the ring, "you shall bestow it for me, only where I was thinking much more is due, indeed."

     "No, no; fair hands alone must confer prizes," and he returned it.

     "Then, Mr. Nowlan, keep this trifle to remind you of my uncle's gratitude, and mine, of course;" quickly turning, and with a new blush, holding out the palm of her hand, on which the ring lay, to John. His conscience told him he must not take it; his fear of offending urged him to accept it instantly. He stammered, and said something, that meant nothing, and was really too awkward for a grown man of three and twenty. Miss Letty having to hold out her hand longer than was necessary, looked piqued, and a little impatient: this determined him; and at a "Musha, John, what bolgh is on you now?" from his mother, he picked up the ring, after one or two efforts, from the velvet palm of its former owner, bowed again, muttered, looked at it, and —put it into his waistcoat pocket. The little scene was altogether so clumsily gone through, that none of the spectators, except Mr. Frank, remained unembarrassed; even Mr. Long fidgeted; but his nephew looked silently on, with a steady smile seated round his closed lips, that, to Peggy, seemed a strange one. She feared it might indicate a contempt of her brother.

     "Letty and I have been thinking, Frank, that if we can prevail on our young friends to accompany us home to-day, you will have no difficulty in postponing your intended trout-warfare," said Mr. Long.

     Frank could have no difficulty in the world; on the contrary, the proposal met his hearty seconding. John was pressed by Mr. Long and him; Peggy by the young lady: ere either could answer, their father and mother answered for them: John began a stout resistance; every tongue overruled him; and in fact, only a few minutes had elapsed, when he and his sister left their father's house to walk with Mr. Long and his niece towards the road, to meet their carriage, and, perhaps, stop and look out for "bits" of close scenery on the way.

     Miss Letty called on John, as one acquainted with every spot around, to point out, or rather lead to such features of the wild landscape as were most worthy of being sketched. The request puzzled him. He knew nothing about sketching; nor had his eye ever been formed to a habit of recognizing the picturesque in nature; and especially among his native hills, to which, from infancy, he had been familiar and indifferent, John could see little worthy of attention of any kind. So he was doubly posed; first, as to what Miss Letty wished to do; next, as to what she wished him to do to assist her. Observing his uselessness as a ciceroni, the young lady looked out for herself, or under the guidance of her uncle, and soon chose a group of near hills, topped by remote blue ones, intensected by turnings of a mountain stream, and relieved by a bold rocky foreground, and at once sat down, opened her portfolio, and began her sketch. John looked over her shoulder; first embarrassed at the seemingly vague and confused lines with which she marked the general forms and relative places of her objects; then, at the rapidity of the handling, and the piecemeal progress of the work; until, at last, as the once blank paper showed a portrait of the scene at which he gazed, giving it a shape, an interest, and a picture effect as new as it was pleasing to his mind, he felt a glow of admiration for the talent and the industry, that, in one so young, could exhibit a skill which he regarded as perfect, and in an art which he looked upon as a great mystery.

     This and other sketches having been completed, about two hours of a sauntering walk, over hills and valleys, brought them to the carriage. John never forgot the sensations with which he first placed his foot on the step, as a powdered and liveried footman held the door; nor his fears, his almost agonies, that he should not know how to sit, or demean himself when the door had closed. But soon perceiving that Mr. Long sat as easily as if he was not in a carriage at all, and that, in fact, the usual modes of sitting, talking, and looking, were adopted in a carriage, as well as out of one, he recovered his equanimity, his manly confidence, and his simple, almost natural politeness. Arrived at Mr. Long's fine house, he experienced, indeed, some new fidgets on the great flight of steps leading up to the hall-door; again on the great staircase; when a servant asked him a question about his little stock of luggage, he smiled graciously, and called him Sir: and when Mr. Long motioned to a chair in his library, he felt half afraid to sit in one so curious and massive. In a word, it was some time before he felt himself at home.

     After some discourse about the Latin and Greek authors John had read, and an exhibition of some fine or rare editions of them, Mr. Long caught his eye wandering to the few prints and paintings on the walls of the library, and proposed that they should visit the picture-gallery together. Accordingly, John found himself in the presence of more than a hundred good works of art, the greater number copies of the master-pieces Mr. Long had met on the continent, executed, under his own eye, by good living artists, together with a few originals. John could feel little of the pleasure so much resulting ftom gradually acquired taste, which a connoisseur would have felt in his situation; but the glow and variety of colour and subject around him, the very blaze of a hundred gilt ftames, the sobered light, and the extent and silence of the gallery, awed him.

     By and by, his eye became offended, and his conscience alarmed at certain pictures, showing groups of goddesses or nymphs in a more primitive state than he had before contemplated the human figure; and the luxury of colouring, and the graceful positions by which they were expressed, appealed, he thought, too powerfully to his imagination. Still wearing his mild smile of assent to Mr. Long's unintelligible though learned criticism, he felt his cheeks burning at the sight; when a far door opened, and Miss Letty, his sister, and Mr. Frank, entered to sink him in confusion. John could with some difficulty conceive, that, out of reverence to the superior art of those works, Mr. Long might fairly appropriate an apartment to them, and, perhaps with but slight impropriety, visit them himself; but how his amiable niece could also come to look at such objects, seemed amazing. Nor was his amazement lessened, when the young lady, leaving Peggy and Mr. Frank at the remote end of the gallery, came up to him, selected a good copy of a Venus by Titian, and called on him to agree that never had artist produced a more sparkling imitation of nature. In a little time, however, the innocent ardency of Miss Letty's manner corrected his clumsy digressions. He saw that no wrong association could possibly attach to the chastened mind of the beautiful connoisseur; that none ever had; he began to feel that, if any mind took offence at the sublime truths of art, it must he such a mind as his own, that, half in ignorance, half in self-mistrust, felt only a gross consciousness, when it should have been admiring the wonders of genius: and thus, supplied with a new and useful idea, the further remarks of Miss Letty served but to increase his respect for her acquirements, and his esteem—alas, more than esteem—for the high cultivation of her intellect, and the real purity of her heart.

     All adjourned to the garden. Mr. Nowlan was a botanist and florist, Miss Letty took for granted; and he had not time to undeceive her, when she astonished him with some little remark, which he thought profound, in a science he had always regarded as very abstruse; and the commonest words of the theory of botany sounded in his ears with the magic of Hebrew, a language he stood much in awe of. Turning to flowers, Miss Letty fluently ran through the praises of her yellow picot‚, and of all her show carnations, and the different shades of perfection in little flowers he used to think were alike; and pointed out a vicious "run-flower," and spoke of "plagiarism" in flowers, and of the sleights practised by clever hands in "dressing flowers for exhibition"—that is, compounding with the leaves of many, "like the old statuary of the Medici Venus," (Miss Letty said, still unintelligibly to poor John) one seemingly perfect flower; and how a truly perfect "Flake," or "Bizarre," should have the "calix," after the "petals" unfold, whole and unburst, and the large external "guard-leaves" without crack or blemish; and be sufficiently double to form a kind of crown, in the centre, like "Davy's tower of Babel," and "James's Lord Craven;" and the "corolla" long, and the guard-leaves neither indented nor fringed, as is unfortunately the case with "Honey's Princess Charlotte," but plain and circular like the lovely Provence Rose, &c. John was more and more ashamed of his own ignorance, and charmed with the lecturer. He felt that young female beauty could never be more characteristically engaged than in the sweet science of flowers. Although not thinking the sentiment in, perhaps, the very following words, he felt that cheeks,

"Young rivals of the rose,"
vermilion lips, violet eyes, and lily hands, should naturally make acquaintance with the nearest representatives of their charms and graces that are to be found under the sun; and while the hard words and learned phrases of Miss Letty filled him with increased respect and admiration, there was a dangerous sympathy in the topic, that stole on his heart.

     All retired to dress for dinner; and during the time that Miss Letty remained in the room, after it was over, John still listened with astonishment to the conversation, very little assisted by him, which she shared witb her uncle and brother. They spoke occasionally, of artists, poets, travellers, and authors in every branch of elegant literature, about which he knew little or nothing; and he could not observe that Mr. Long was slightly tinctured with the old-fashioned pedantry, nor his fair niece with the new, joined to an amiable little vanity of display, not unnatural to a really intelligent and industrious girl of seventeen: he only felt that both were superior beings; she, considering every thing, excelling even her uncle. John's silence was noticed at last, and the young lady led the conversation to Latin and Greek literature, for the purpose of giving him his turn. She wished to know if there was much difference between the course her brother had read at Oxford, and that taught in the Bishop's school at Limerick. He answered readily, on the only branch of acquirement in which he was respectable; Mr. Frank supported him; Mr. Long's classical recollections became revived; the topic extended to critical notices of the old authors; John found himself at home; the Oxford student, wearing a condescending yet pleasing smile, drew him out and allowed him to flow on; Miss Letty listened as attentively as John had before listened to her; and the party grew very scholastic and pedantic, in fact, much to the delight of the poor young priest, who did not understand Mr. Frank's civil assents, and whose eye was only alive to the devoted gaze of Miss Letty, fastened from time to time on his handsome, noble, and now very animated features.

     Miss Letty and Peggy Nowlan retired to the drawing-room. In a little time, the gentlemen followed them. The lightness of the apartment, strewed with books, music, drawing apparatus, and mysterious kinds of pretty manufacture, breathing of flowers, and showing a harp, a grand piano, and a guitar, appeared to John, whose feelings and imagination were, for the first time, generously excited by champaign and claret, as an ideal lady's heaven upon earth. He looked over its mistress's port-folio of drawings; had a peep into her scrap-book; and still found every thing new and elevating. "The Pleasures of Hope," its sister poem, "The Pleasures of Memory," "The Lady of the Lake," "The Bride of Abydos," and other new volumes, lay near at hand. In illustration of some remarks of her uncle, or her brother, or that escaped herself, she opened them in turn, and read with good expression her favourite passages. It was the first time John Nowlan had seen these poems, or any like them; of their names he had scarcely heard; but from nature he inherited a soul that responded, if not to all the minute beauties of their excellence, certainly to their general appeal; his heart melted, or beat quick, or his blood tingled, while the young lady read different sentiments, descriptions, or situations; poetry gushed up within him, like a newly- bursting spring in a green field; he began to feel conscious of a new intellectual life, his spirits rose with the thought, and he became ecstatic.

     As Miss Letty finished the perusal of young Norman's song to his "young bride, Mary," Mr. Long asked her to sing that beautiful ballad; accordingly, the lady sat down to her grand piano. John thought he had understood something of music: in order to enable himself to chant the "high mass," he had learned to read it; and he and some of his fellow-students often sang, together, certain of Moore's melodies. But for the expression and feeling with which he now heard executed a song so fully requiring both, he was not prepared: entranced he listened, except when murmurs escaped his parted lips;—the song ceased; he ventured to request another, from his only known collection, the "Melodies," of course. Miss Letty, pursuing her tone of feeling, already aroused, selected perhaps the most perfect ballad Moore ever wrote, namely, that addressed, after her death, to his sister poetess, Mrs. Tighe; its pathos exceeded even the pathos of the former song; the songstress conveyed it with even more expression; and once, while

"—like so many tears the trickling touches fell,"
when her watery eyes turned up to him, it was to meet eyes that glistened in sympathy.

     But let him be at once shut up in his chamber for the night, and, if possible, let us snatch a picture of his bosom. He was bewildered, on fire again, and yet not with mere physical passion, now. For the first time in his life the refined pleasures to which his mind and heart had originally been strung, swept over him in turn. A thousand new ideas, only half conceived, yet more engrossing from that very imperfection; a thousand buddings and shootings of taste, judgment, feeling, knowledge, began to peep out in his soul. Hitherto he had been exclusively occupied in acquiring what he thought the only high species of knowledge, but really in no more than learning new names for things already known, or in devoting the powers of his mind to a voluminous system of abstruse metaphysical theology, which, however necessary to his sacred profession, absorbed genius, destroyed taste and feeling, and left untouched the gentler sympathies of human nature, if not of human intellect itself. Such of the old classics as he had read, he had read to learn Greek and Latin from, not to become acquainted with their deep poetical character, their eloquence, their soarings, their appeals to fancy or to the heart: and of the literature of his own language he was, as has been seen, almost ignorant. From painting, music, and other inferior though still elegant pursuits, he had never derived pleasure. The "dumb poesy" had seemed to him only a very crabbed modification of house or gate-painting; a song was a song and no more; it had an air, and that air was to be learned, and words recited to it, and that was all. We have seen him but a surprised listener in the garden. But to what convictions had he now arrived!—With a crowd of new objects, new sounds, new perceptions, bustling through his mind, and thrilling along his nerves; with beauty and harmony, "thoughts that breathe and words that burn," art and nature, taste and feeling, at once unveiled, responded to, aroused—known; with a nature to rejoice in this glorious novelty, a soul to expand to it, and an ambition to grasp it all, and become familiarized with it;—who shall imagine for us the happy tumult now called up in the breast of the primitive and boyish John Nowlan? He could not pause even to dwell upon the enchantress who had conjured this new creation about him; for the present bethought more of what he had learned from her, than of herself. The reaction waited its own time. She had lent him Campbell and Rogers, bound up together; and before he fell asleep John had devoured both poems. At four o'clock next morning he stole into the drawing-room, laid his hand on "The Bride of Abydos," and again retired to his chamber with it: and when that also had been perused, he fastened, while preparing for breakfast, on a riband round his neck, to which already hung a matter of a very different kind, the ring she had given him.