Volume One


9


FOR a short and happy month John Nowlan talked and read poetry with Miss Letty. Mr. Long's library was open to him, when her's became exhausted, and he was indefatigable. Naturally quick, and eloquent too, his development in conversation of the new ideas he gradually gained, was marked by a vigour and freshness as new to the lady as to himself. She had never heard any thing like it—any thing so strong, so natural, so exciting, even on subjects with which early habit had rendered her familiar. If John was delighted while he spoke, merely to hear himself speaking, so was she to hear. The very occasional ruggedness and imperfection of his views and criticism had a nameless charm; and while his handsome eyes sparkled, and his fine features grew into play, she thought he looked a personification of the poetry bespoke. Miss Letty had a portion of romance in her soul, joined to all her accomplishments, tastes, and virtues. The sphere in which she had been educated, promoted, if it did not create, this principle. Without allowing a breath of impurity to visit her, it called out every delicate sensitiveness, every charming susceptibility, and not only left them all unchecked, but suffered some to become ill-directed, or self-directed, which often means the same thing. Religion was reverenced within its limit, but seldom invoked to preside over the heart. Virtue was not taught as chiefly dependent on prayer, watchfulness, self-knowledge, but rather on instinctive feeling. It is not meant that the young lady did not systematically kneel down to her prayers, or did not at all times repeat them very devoutly; but it is meant that a distrust of herself, and an exclusive reliance on the help from above, seldom regulated her thoughts and actions. Most certainly she never wished to go wrong; never supposed she could, and never feared to do so; yet for the very latter reasons she was likely to do so. And for all these reasons she was likely, at the end of a month, to—fall in love with John Nowlan.

     For other reasons, too. She had never yet been in love, and she wanted to be so. During her residence with her uncle's fashionable friend, it had not been her lot to encounter the kind of man capable of touching her generous and romantic heart. All the men she had seen were too polished, and, at the same time, too cold, too proper, too common-place, and too much like each other.

     At a more advanced age, mature judgment would doubtless have distinguished among them many high-minded gentlemen well calculated to honour and bless her choice; but at sixteen or seventeen, ardent and somewhat visionary as she was, Miss Letty imagined a lover for herself. Her vision, like all visions, had been vague;—an unfinished idea; a thing like Job's ghost:—to say, therefore, that poor John Nowlan realized it, would be incorrect; but she thought he came very near it; and, so far as vagueness of intellect and character, of perceptions and feeling, could bear the lady out, he certainly did.—But, added to all those reasons for a tendency to place her affections upon an object every way unfitted to arouse or respond them, there was yet another arising from a mistake—a disastrous mistake—which we shall hereafter be obliged to explain.

     When an amiable and very young girl begins to feel love, it is well known she cannot hide it so effectually as to defy the eyes of, particularly, the person beloved. This leads to the admission, that, towards the end of his happy month, John Nowlan was not without suspicions (suspicions they should have been, but, alas ! they were more like hopes,) on the subject. Absorbed, entranced, day after day, with the new life he began to live, and with the presence and inspiration of her who had called him into it, never,—though he did not fear so,—never, even during the temptations of his erring boyhood, had he been so much off his guard. His feelings for poor Maggy Nowlan were distinct; from their distinctness, alarming; and therefore he might, if he liked, have struggled against them; even while coming on, they gave their rattle-snake warning: but the different kind of passion that now stole to his heart was unobservable, silent, insidious; a beautiful snake winding through fields of flowers to sting him as he lay asleep. Because his blood did not flame in the presence of the new syren, as it used to do by the side of his unhappy cousin, he never thought himself in danger. The very purity of the love he began for the first time to feel, left him unguarded against its possible vehemence. He thought it was love he had felt for Maggy Nowlan, when it was but gross inclination; and although the experience of that early paroxysm still lurked in the pulses of his heart, ready to add a headlong rage to the maturity of his present delusion, yet because none of its wild throbbings now, in the first instance, disturbed him, the idea that he loved Miss Letty could not occur. When her manner, looks, and words conveyed, in spite of her, the first intimations of a growing love for him, he therefore rejoiced instead of trembling at symptoms that only seemed to bespeak what was, he thought, the liveliest ambition of his soul; a friendship and interest, harmless though strong and decided, on the part of a being whose good wishes were the highest honour he or any other person could receive.

     At the end of the month, Peggy moved to go home, and asked him with her. He was glad his sister should once again experience the quiet protection of her father's roof. The attentions of Mr. Frank, though still unobtrusive, continued to alarm him, particularly as he believed he had reason to fear that the young gentleman sought the most private occasions to address himself to Peggy. But John did not feel so happy at the notion of accompanying her home. The opportunities for improvement afforded by Mr. Long's library, should not, he argued, be so soon abandoned; and it was with great satisfaction he heard that gentleman, upon the evening before Peggy's departure, press him to spend more time at Long Hall; and, in the most delicate manner, propose that, at his own terms, he should engage to become Miss Letty's tutor in Latin, a language she had always been anxious to acquire, and, he added, that her brother Frank had often, without effect, been asked to assist her in. John, giving no answer to the clause about terms, eagerly accepted this appointment; he thought he should now be able to make some slight return for all the kindness and services Mr. Long and his niece had conferred upon him.

     So Peggy went home, and John Nowlan stayed behind to teach Latin to Miss Letty. But, before Peggy quitted him, she whispered a few words, that much pained, and, perhaps for the first time, alarmed him.

     "I'm glad you're staying, John, since the ways of this great house please you. But, John, will you have time for all the things you are bound to do besides?"

     "Certainly, my dear Peggy; you know that, although I have taken my vows, I must pass some time before I am allowed to perform the daily duties of a priest, and go on the mission: in the mean time, my private devotions are my only responsibility; and these I can attend to here, as well as any where else; then you see how Mr. Long wishes me to make myself useful; and the books I have at hand, and all."

     "You can, John," answered Peggy, replying only to the first part of his case; "I'm sure you can; God send you can! at all events, you will do your best. Good-b'ye, John:" she held her cheek for a kiss:—"but, John, will you let your sister say one word? take care, dear John, take care."

     "What, Peggy! what do you mean?"

     "Nothing, John, nothing; nothing when you look angry with me; I didn't mean you could want to take care; but, dear, dear John!" weeping on his hand, "my own heart is not the better of this great house, and the people, and the ways of it; I don't know why, but I think I am going home without the pleasure I used to have at the thoughts of home, or the contentment, or the peace of mind;—that's all that troubles me most; I don't think I can sit down to work at my mother's side, as I used to do; —God bless you, John; God bless and protect us both!"

     She hurried away, leaving her brother, as we have premised, less at ease than he had been.

     Miss Letty conducted her humble visitor in the carriage to the farthest point a carriage could proceed on her way home. Thence to Daniel Nowlan's house, she wished Peggy to accept the attendance of a footman through the by-roads and the fields: but Peggy would not hear of such an arrangement; she knew every stock and stone to her father's door so well; and after pressings and refusals, again and again, Miss Letty took a final leave, and Peggy Nowlan sprang homeward alone.

     While she and her new friend had been politely debating at the road side, a "jaunting-car," evidently one in the service of the Irish public, passed them, stopped at a stile a little way onward, and allowed a female to get off, who crossed the stile into the fields. Peggy, only a little surprised at the unusual circumstance, took no further notice. But as she rapidly continued her way in the dusk of the evening, through a very lonesome and secluded spot, the same female started across her path from a side direction, and called on her, by name, to stop.

     The stranger, habited in a blue cloth pelisse of a fashionable cut, though much the worse for wear, and in a brownish-black beaver bonnet and a profuse plume of black-feathers, was about two-and-twenty years old, tall, well-formed, inclining to fulness, and with a startling kind of beauty in her features. Her cheeks flamed with colour; even her round chin and straight and handsome nose were a little rosy; and her large, black eyes glistened with a strange brilliancy. Peggy was much alarmed at her challenge; she recollected nothing of her.

     "Stop, Peggy Nowlan, an' let us spake a civil word," continued the young woman; "do you know me?"

     "No, indeed; though you know me."

     "So much the better. Where are you goin', now?"

     "Home, to my father's."

     "Where are you comin' from?"

     Peggy simply answered.

     "I thought as much. Who came in the carriage with you? Did he?" "I don't know who you mean, no more than I know who you are; but no he came in the carriage with me."

     "You don't know who I mane, don't you?" coming closer, while her beautiful eyes began to flare with impatience:—" have a care, Miss Peggy Nowlan;—it isn't for nothin' I cum many a mile to see you here, an' it isn't for nothin' I got the word an' the warnin' to come; —who are you thinkin' most of, in your heart, this moment?—who were you thinkin' must of, for the last month? answer me that."

     "Good woman," said Peggy, stepping back, as the fumes of strong spirits reached her from her unknown catechist—" I can answer no such questions to one I am a stranger to;—Iet me go my road; I have nothing to do with you.

     "You shall have nothin' to do with me, Peggy Nowlan," continued her companion, stumbling as she still kept close before her; "an' that's just what I want to tell you:—put him out of your mind; forget you ever saw him; promise me never to change another word with him;—promise me that," she continued, seizing her arm, "or—"

     Peggy interrupted her with a shrill and terrified scream, which, in a few bounds, brought to her side a man who at some distance had watched the scene. It was Peery Conolly; and, light-headed with continued dissipation, as well as with the irritated state of his nerves—irritated on many accounts besides his misunderstanding with Peggy,—he came up flourishing his cudgel at the intruder, and capering round her, as, for the first time we have been able to recognise it, he sang his newly-made song:


    "My name it's Conolly the rake,
        I don't care a sthraw for any man;
    I dhrinks good whishkey an ale,
        An' I'd bate out the brains iv a Connaught-man—
                                                                        Whoo!"
The young woman, frightened in her turn, released Peggy, and rapidly withdrew, as she whispered—"I'lI find you again where you'll have no bully to fight for you: 'till then, remember my biddin', or rue it."

     After a few words of question and answer with Peery, as to who the stranger was, and when both had disclaimed all knowledge of her, Peggy continued her hasty walk to her father's house, scarce more at ease in Peery Conolly's company, than she had been in that of the violent young person. She feared he would renew his former addresses; and, in their present lonely situation, and while she could not but notice that poor Peery was in a state he ought not to be in, this was a painful thought. But she erred: Peery, after the few words mentioned, addressed no discourse to her; contenting himself with capering and dancing some paces before Peggy, as she walked on, and flourishing his stick, and singing, without intermission, various raking songs. As they came in sight of the house, he grew more silent and steady, still leaving her uninconvemenced, and at last was about to turn from her, with a scrape and a bow, when, in gratitude for his protection and forbearance, Peggy asked him to come in.

     "Do you say it from the heart out, Peggy?" he asked, stopping, his head down.

     She freely answered; and, uttering a screech and jumping high, Peery accordingly entered the house. After greeting her father and mother, and giving an account of her adventure on the way home, and of Peery's gallantry, Peggy engaged in preparing a supper in which he was to join. He continued unusually mute during the meal; his tipsiness had passed away; and when it was time to go home, he asked Peggy in a whisper just to see him "beyand the dour." She tucked the skirt of her gown over her head and stepped out with him.

     "You see, Miss Peggy," he began, fidgeting about, and still looking down, "I wouldn't ax this only for the kind way you bid me come in this evenin ;—I said to myself a month ago, it was all over between us, an' that I'd jist let you take your own road, an' I'd take mine; an' no harum done to you at laste, whatever way my road 'ud bring me; an' divil may care for that any how, or one way or another; an' success to the whishkey every day it gets up, that 'ill soon make all even, an' rakin' an' rolleckin' for ever—hurra! an' amin, I pray Gor."

     "Oh, Peery, Peery, take care what you're saying, and what you're doing," answered Peggy to this unintelligible exordium.

     "To be sure, an' why not?—an' never fear, Peggy, a-chorra-ma-chree;— only this:—I was jist goin' on, in a hand-gallop, to where you know, when I cum across you this evenin'."

     "Where? where were you going, Peery?"

     "To ould Nick, a-cuishla, every step o' the road, an' a pleasant one it is;—sorrow a pleasanter, barrin' the road I once thought you an' myself might be thravellin' together; but never heed that; only, as I was sayin', afther I met you this evenin' an' you said the kind word to me, it turned me aside a bit, an' put me thinkin' that maybe all wasn't lost for good an' all, an' maybe you might have the heart to say another word;—one—jist one—that 'ud save poor Peery Conolly sowl an' body, lock, stock, an barrel, an' ould Matthew along wid him, that's goin' to ruination an smithereens faster nor you'd dhrive a slip iv a pig, against her likin', to Nenagh fair, any how; an'—wait Peggy till I say it out—bud I think it's all said by this time;—an' it's jist this;—yourself is the colleen, an' th' only colleen on Ireland's ground, able to stop or stay me; I'm sure of that in the heart within; for you're after breakin' Peery's heart, Peggy Nowlan, an' it'll never be made whole again without you, come what may; nor his mind neither; he has a love for you, ma-colleen, that 'ill do for him, for ever an a day—he has, so he has!"—continued Peery, choked with emotion, as he ground his teeth, and smote the wall with his cudgel.

     "Peery Conolly," said Peggy, "it's not the part of a man or a Christian to go astray as you are going, because the first wish of your heart cannot be satisfied; you have duties to do, and you have commands to obey, whether it can or no;—and in this it cannot, Peery. What will you have me tell you?—we are not able to give away our love like a ribband, or a keepsake; it gives itself away, without our asking; and the same thing that I said to you in the very beginning, I say to you now; I wish you well, Peery Conolly; but not well enough to be your wife; and so good night, and God bless you, and give you better notions of yourself and your——"

     "Good night, Peggy, an' many thanks," interrupted Peery; "enough said; an' I'm only keepin' you in the cauld o' the night, an' myself from the merry boys that's waitin' for me: loock an' speed, a- cuishla; we know well you haven't the love to give; but keep an eye on the man that tuck it from you; that's all; an' maybe it's no fool's advice; good night; I'll soon be cured o' you, one way or another, Peggy; there's the whishkey galore, an' the ruination, an' the dhraught my ould aunt Mull has such a name for"—

     "Oh Peery, Peery," Peggy began, when he interrupted her with another "Good night," a jump, and a "Hurra for Tipperary, an the skhy over it!" And away he capered, singing gaily, to the village ale-house; next morning, under the sage advice of his compeers, to get the draught from his eminent relation; and back again to the public house, day after day, until, in the course of a few months, Peery and his father were dispossessed of every acre they held, and thrust into jail, whence with a brain (that had never been very sound) much shattered, Peery escaped to become, whenever he would or could work, a day-labourer to Daniel Nowlan, and, alternately, the pity or the butt of his neighbours, but at all times a sore trouble to poor Peggy's eye and recollections.