Volume Two


2


HAD WE to rehearse a story woven out of our own brains, imagination, unable or unwilling to recognize any plausibility in the stem truths of real life, would, perhaps, have rejected the sudden catastrophe of the last chapter; and, even allowing John and Letty finally to commit crime, have invented some more gradual progress to it. The lovers of beautiful fiction may exclaim against their fall at the very moment when they had braced themselves in virtue, and only met to prove to each other how straight and how firmly they could walk their path. But human nature, such as it is known to those who study it, must be an appeal from possible censure in this instance. Temptations that have long borne hard, and often made a distinct, though unwelcomed impression, are not to be set at bay by any other means than total estrangement from the object or opportunity that has set them on. In the presence of that object or opportunity, WILL, however previously made up and determined, may, in one second, be dethroned and trampled down. We prose, or we sermonize; but, in illustration of the oft-repeated, though oft-forgotten theory, cannot the sagest reader recollect any slight case in which he has made the identical slip he had spent much preparation to avoid? Crime is not meant; the most trivial counteraction of "re- resolved" reason, by a momentary pressure of old temptation, will suffice—indeed, more than suffice;—for, as it is ordained that the greater the sin the greater shall be the temptation to commit it; and, as in the instance recorded, the sin and the passion accordingly balanced each other so, if but an ordinary infatuation has overthrown the wisest plans of the wisest reader, an extraordinary one must have had equal power, more power, over the best resolves of this poor boy and girl.

     At the utmost speed the unhappy young pair were whirled in the post-chaise to Nenagh. We believe Letty was half sensible of being lifted by John into the vehicle; but she made no resistance; she even showed no consciousness. He held her in his circling arms as they now sat together; still she remained passive and motionless; her head hanging towards the corner of the chaise, or falling on his shoulder. Night closed; he could not see her; and yet she stirred not. It suddenly struck him that she was dead; but he did not start at the thought; nor call out to stop the chaise; nor utter a cry; the wretched youth only smiled to himself. His feeling could not be understood, were it even well-defined; it is left then, in the darkness and confusion that gave it birth.

     Thus, without moving or speaking, they gained Nenagh. The horn of a night coach was heard coming to the inn door. The driver told him he could have two seats for Dublin, and asked should he change his luggage from the chaise. John calmly answered him. The man re-appeared, saying the coach was about to start, and offering his assistance to remove the lady. John fiercely turned from him, caught her up suddenly and unassisted, and with some difficulty, removed her himself.

     "Is the lady very sick, Sir?" enquired a surly old gentleman, as, after much squeezing among well-wrapt knees, broad shoulders, elbows squared, and heads wearing white nightcaps, John placed her in the corner of a "six-inside."

     "Very, Sir;" imagining he answered a commiserating person.

     "Then wouldn't it be more comfortable to you and her, Sir, to travel alone, than for us to travel with you?" continued the man.

     "Answer your question your own way, Sir," growled John Nowlan.

     "Guard!" cried the knowing stage-coacher, thrusting his head out at the window. The moving woolsack appeared at the door.

     "Do you mean that I am to travel in your coach to Dublin, with a sick and dying body cheek by jowl with me?"

     "Rascal!" exclaimed John, and was starting from his seat to seize the old barbarian, when, to his utter surprise—horror—Letty roused herself— caught his arm, and said, scarcely articulate—"I am not very ill, Sir; I am only—only "—and burst into tears.

     Even the crabbed selfishness of a cruel-hearted old man melted at her voice and her sorrow; apologies were instantly made to John and her; the pert voices of two younger passengers broke out in assurances of satisfaction and good wishes; the guard disappeared to his place, the horn sounded, the driver's whip cracked, and John proceeded on his journey, half-thinking, even amid the chaos within him—" So this is our first welcome among mankind."

     After Letty had spoken, she sank back in the corner of the coach, covering her face, although it was pitch-dark, with some loose drapery; and did not utter another word during the remainder of the journey: nor did John once address her. He did not now even hold her in his arms: and she seemed to shrink ftom his touch.

     The night, the dreary, horrible night wore on, unnoticed and uncared for. Without weariness, without a tear, without a thought, John sat by the side of his poor partner in guilt, in misery, and in despair. If, as his unwinking eyes strained through the blank at the window, perception brought, now and then, a notice of any thing to his mind, it was only to encourage the mood that was upon him. The howling of the midnight wind over the black bogs of Tipperary; the gusty beating of the rain against the glass; the feeble glimmering of lanterns at the doors of miserable inns or cabins, as the coach stopped to change horses, and the miserable, half-dressed, ghost-like, figures, roused out of their sleep, who vaguely appeared and disappeared in the dreary light and engulphing darkness; such circumstances or sights, if at all observed by John Nowlan, could only tend to answer, in an outward prospect, the inward horror of his soul.

     When the first ray of grey dawn entered the coach windows, he found himself pulling his hat over his eyes; then glancing at Letty's face, which was still covered, and then fearfully around him, into the faces of the other passengers:—and thought of her, because for her, now at last began to break his trance, and, folding his arms hard, he fell back in his seat.

     The two younger passengers awoke, yawning, shrugging, and pulling off, one a night-cap, the other a smart fur-cap; and turned to him and Letty, expressing hopes that they had found themselves comfortable during the night. John scarcely answered, Letty did not breathe. They spoke to each other of causes pending in Chancery and the Common-pleas and the King's- Bench; and of "latitats," writs, declarations, pleas, plaintiffs and defendants plainly indicating, to any one that would pay attention, that they were two rising young attornies from Limerick, going up to term: but our poor friends were still abstracted, and the surly old fellow was still asleep, or, the better to avoid any talk of his former rudeness, pretended to be so. They changed the topic, and—in the acceptation of the term among young Limerick attornies who knew town—waxed witty: evidently exhibiting, with a polite intent, to interest the lady whose face they could not see. Practical joking, (now that people began to pass along the road) which, to any one that can enjoy it, is the life of an Irish stage, went on among those of their friends and acquaintances who, as they expressed it, had "endorsed the coach," and they contributed as much as they could: still no one but themselves took the least notice of their cleverness. John scarce heard or heeded any thing; or, if he did hear and heed, it was only to loathe it. Even tranquil, rational happiness he would have loathed; and how must he have felt affected by mere trifling? The chastest wit would have played round him in vain; how must he have relished buffoonery?

     The coach entered Dublin. Streets and high houses closed around him; other night-coaches passed him coming in from the country; or day-coaches whisked by starting from town. In the trading and manufacturing district of the metropolis by which he entered, that of James-street and Thomas- street, groups of "operatives" were already in motion towards the places of their daily occupation; the early cries were sung or screamed aloud; carts, drays, and such vehicles ground their way over the stones; from different public-houses, the voices of very late or very early tipplers now and then came in vehement accents; every thing gave him the novel sensation of a morning in a great city. To the young person who, for the first time, experiences such a sensation, it brings—no matter how calm may be his mind and breast, how certain and soothing his prospects—depression rather than excitement; a bleak strangeness seems around him: he doubts and shrinks more than he admires or wonders; he is in a solitude, unlike the remote solitudes he has quitted; in solitude with men, not nature; without the face of nature to cheer him. But, added to this common depression, John Nowlan felt remorse for the past, despair of the present, terror of the future. First—his distracted speculations only made on his own account,—he saw himself sunk in crime, an outcast among men, poor, hopeless, helpless;—his eye glanced to Letty, and he started to find his thoughts occupied without her; he shuddered to behold her at his side; to behold her torn by him from rank, name, and affluence, and dependent on him, alone, for future protection, for mere existence; on him who was unable to protect himself; who had no earthly means of shielding his own outcast head from poverty, shame, ruin; and who dared not now even call on God to interpose between him and his crime and punishment.

     The passengers left the coach, and the waiter often invited him to descend before John heard or understood the request. Still he was obliged to take Letty in his arms into the hotel: she appeared almost as helpless as ever. The young attornies and the cross old gentleman eyed him and her ftom top to toe, as he bore her through the hall; and, had his observation been acute, he might have seen many a leer and grimace upon their features, as well as those of the waiters, called up by his clerical dress, primitive air, and questionable situation. Again the waiters winked at each other as, in a tone that showed little of the self-confidence of an experienced traveller, he requested a bedchamber for the lady. A female attendant appeared, however; Letty retired with her; and then John rapidly left the Royal Hibernian hotel, Dawson-street, in prosecution of some plans he had calmly, as he thought, within the last few hours, determined upon. Turning down Grafton-street into College Green, and thence over Carlisle Bridge into Sackville-street, he gazed from house to house, only anxious to find open shops of a particular kind, and uninterested by the fine city prospect about him, indeed unconscious of it. Few shops of any kind were, however, yet opened; and for nearly two hours he walked about the streets, awaiting the leisure of the Dublin shopmen and apprentices, who had no motive to leave their well-esteemed beds before the hour prescribed by their masters. At last they began to take down their window-shutters, and John entered a ready-made clothes shop; purchased a suit that did not show a bit of black; put it on in the back parlour, into which, at his request, the young man had ushered him, and walked out among the awaking crowds of Dublin, so far disguised from their most dreaded scrutiny.

     Beautifully closing the perspective of Sackville-street, he saw the steeple of George's Church; he knew it must belong to a Protestant place of worship and, in furtherance of his most important plan, John hastily walked towards it. Arriving before the church, (a little architectural gem,) he proceeded to make enquiries for the residence of the clergyman, which he supposed must be in the neighbourhood; and, after much trouble, was at last directed to his house.

     At his request for an interview upon particular business, an amiable old gentleman appeared. In a few words, which sounded with a startling abruptness and energy, he stated that between himself and a young lady, his companion in town, crime and misery had taken place: that they were obliged to fly from their friends in the country, had arrived in Dublin that morning, and now besought the clergyman to confer upon them the only consolation their sorrow and remorse could admit; to marry them. After some questions that evinced a due sympathy in the case, the clergyman said he should but attend, with all despatch, to the necessary preliminaries, and at once meet his request. John's face showed the only gleam of relief that had lately visited it. He pressed the old gentleman to name an hour; "Twelve o'clock," he answered. "Could it not be sooner?" Impossible. "Well, he was most thankful;" and he rose to take his leave, without naming a place of meeting. The clergyman now spoke of seeing him and his lady in the church. John clasped his hands, and begged him not to insist on that; the poor young lady was too ill, she could not stir out. The clergyman paused; but, with a benevolent smile, said he would, in that case, call at the hotel; and his suitor, eloquent in thanks, left the house.

     "It is the only step I can now take," thought John, as he walked rapidly through street after street, he did not know where,—"the only one: she is a Protestant, and this will help to bring her to some peace with herself; it will give some little relief, no matter how little. According to her creed, my vows can form no bar; and even the laws of the land make it a good marriage. As for myself, and my own creed and obligations, why, it is but heaping blasphemy upon blasphemy, sacrilege upon sacrilege. Well, no matter about me; I have destroyed her, and the least satisfaction I can offer is my own destruction at her feet; and I am bound to cheer her present despair, and to guard her future lot, by any means, earth, heaven, or hell, can suggest. I have chosen my fate; I have made it, and it must be gone through; it shall be gone through: from this hour let me be as forgotten by myself, as I am shaken off by the world; let me live and die only for her; suffer and perish here, and for ever, so I but help her to a consolation. Come, there are other things to do; come, come, no drooping, no tardiness, no neglect of a moment."

     It was but nine o'clock: he had to wait three hours err he could meet Letty with the clergyman, and without him he dared not meet her; to that resolution he had tied down his soul. But she must not be left uninformed about him, in the mean time. So he strove to retrace his steps into the more bustling parts of the town; enquired his way to a tavern, called for breakfast, of which he could not touch a mouthful; seized a sheet of paper, wrote her a line, saying, that he was engaged on business which concerned them both, and which would not allow him to wait on her till noon; sent it by a messenger procured by the waiter; paid for the untouched breakfast, and once more sallied forth into the streets.

     To a goldsmith's shop John next bent his steps, and asked for a wedding-ring. The man enquired the size; John recollected the ring he had so long worn round his neck, and so lately returned, selected one that he believed was about its compass, purchased it, together with its guard, clasped both in his palm, and amid the titters of the shopman and his boys, hurried out.

     More than two hours were yet to elapse, before he could face towards the hotel. Again he wandered, he did not know nor care whither. Passing through a private street, a person, he thought he should recognise, stopped at a hall-door opposite to him, and knocked. Another look convinced him; it was, indeed, his old reverend friend and relative, Mr. Kennedy. While he looked, and as the door opened, the clergyman started and glanced towards him. John felt as if cleft by a thunderbolt. His face turned down, he expected every instant the approach of his old guide and patron; but it seemed that Mr. Kennedy refused to believe the suggestion of John's identity, which his first glance and start intimated; the changed dress, the unlikely situation, must have baffled him, for the door sounded as if heavily shut to. John ventured to peep up; the clergyman had retired into the house. He turned, walked a few steps very slowly, gained the corner of a cross street, there began to run forward with all his speed, got into other streets, still more private and silent, without knowing it, upon the Circular Road, thence into the Phoenix Park, and under shelter of a clump of trees, there cast himself upon the grass.

     It would be superfluous to display his feelings; every reader will comprehend them. He was roused from his trance by a near clock striking eleven, and the chimes for a quarter. Starting up, and examining his watch, he saw, indeed, he had but three quarters of an hour to get to the hotel, and keep his most important appointment. He staggered to the gate of the park, enquiring his way to Dawson-street. The people told him he was very far away from it. Again he ran along the Circular Road; found himself in the town; turned into street after street, without asking any proper direction, or without thinking of a hackney coach: as he rushed by a stand of them, however, a Dublin jarvey hailed him, and after some trouble made him understand the nature of the service offered. John gladly bounded into the crazy machine; gained the steps of his hotel a few minutes before twelve; looked up and down the street for the clergyman; precisely at the appointed moment saw him approach; accompanied him into a waiting-room, and then, pausing to compose himself, slowly ascended to Letty's chamber.

     He tapped at her door; no voice sounded in answer: he tapped again, all was silent: seizing the handle in much alarm, he entered, and, at the remote end of a large apartment, saw her kneeling, her back turned, in earnest prayer. He started, and stood motionless. Letty did not seem aware of his presence, but, her hands clasped, and her head raised, continued to pray. Still John stood without moving; without a loud breath; but he shook from top to toe and, his feelings at last exhausting him, he staggered against the wall. Then she looked round, and, seeing him, buried her face in the bed. He manned himself, stept softly towards her, gently took her hand, placed in it the wedding-ring, and in a solemn tone said, "The Protestant clergyman is in waiting."

     She looked at the ring, again hid her face, groaned dolefully, but, in a few seconds, rose up, snatched a white veil that lay near her, threw it over her head and neck, and, without venturing a glance at John, took his arm, and walked with him to the waiting-room.

     The moment the door opened she curtsied, profoundly and lowlily, not raising her eyes from the ground, and advanced with John into the middle of the floor, both scarce able to move. The good clergyman, fully understanding the scene, spoke only few words, and those few of the gentlest accents, but at once opened his book, and performed the marriage service; his servant standing by as a witness. John and Letty did not know the ceremony was over, when, taking their hands, he caused them to confront each other, as he said, "Salute one another, my poor children; wife, behold your husband; husband, behold your wife."

     Letty at last looked up, pale, shivering, and in blinding tears; she saw John stand with extended arms: shrieking, she cast herself upon his neck, and was clasped to his despairing heart, and their united sobs were soon echoed by the clergyman: until, as he tried to lead the sinking girl to a seat, she dropped, fainting, at her husband's feet.

     When recalled to her senses, the former scene was renewed. The poor young pair again clung to each other, sobbing aloud, and continuing to pour forth the first shower of blessed tears that had come to melt the hardness of their sorrow. Now and then Letty murmured, "I knew it—I expected it.—I knew you would immolate yourself, John, to your wretched Letty.—I knew I was to be your ruin!"—and he only replied—"My joy! my only joy and hope, you mean!—my only life—my pride—my own Letty—my wife! my wife, dearly loved, and honoured for ever!"

     The clergyman, again taking their hands, withdrew. Hours lapsed while they still remained weeping in each other's arms. It was a miserably happy nuptial day; a day and evening of delightful anguish; of terrible enjoyment. She clung to him, now in a sense of virtue somewhat restored, as her sole earthly good;—all other good—every one and every thing lost for him; and a hope of the future, by his side, springing up in her heart: he clung to her with a conscience unrelieved, a remorse unsoothed, a future uncalculated or dreaded, and yet with a surpassing pity and love, an oblivion of self that humanized even the black visage of despair, and made him determined, if not content, to think this world and the next "well lost" upon her bosom. He felt the joy of frenzy, the secret of despair, that sends the poor suicide to the bed destined to be drenched in his blood, smiling upon the hard-crammed pistol, which, at a certain hour, is to give him his supposed triumph over misery.