THE evening was closing fast as the young Cormac O'FIaherty had reached the highest acclivity of one of the rugged passes of the steep mountains of Joyce's country. He made a brief pause--not to take breath, fair reader--Cormac needed no breathing time, and would have considered it little short of an insult to have had such a motive attributed to the momentary stand he made, and none that knew the action of the human figure would have thought it; for the firm footing which one beautifully formed leg held with youthful firmness on the mountain path, while the other, slightly thrown behind, rested On the half-bent foot, did not imply repose, but rather suspended action. In sooth, youth Cormac, to the eye of the painter, might have seemed a living Antinous--all the grace of that beautiful antique, all the youth, all the expression of suspended motion were there, with more of vigour and impatience. He paused--not to take breath, Sir Walter Scott; for, like your own Malcolm Graeme,
"Right up Ben Lomond could he press,
And not a sob his toll confess;"
and our young O'Flaberty was not to be outdone in breasting up a mountain side by the boldest Graeme of them all.
But he lingered for a moment to look back upon a scene at once sublime and gorgeous; and cold must the mortal have been who could have beheld and had not paused.
On one side the Atlantic lay beneath him, brightly reflecting the glories of an autumnal setting sun, and expanding into a horizon of dazzling light; on the other lay the untrodden wilds before him, stretching amidst the depths of mountain valleys, whence the sunbeam had long since departed, and mists were already wreathing round the overhanging heights, and veiling the distance in vapoury indistinctness - though you looked into some wizard's glass, and saw the uncertain conjuration of his wand, On the one side all was glory, light, and life--on the other all was awful, still, and almost dark. It was one of Nature's sublimest moments, such as are seldom witnessed, and never forgotten.
Ere he descended the opposite declivity, Cormac once more bent back his gaze; and now it was not one exclusively of admiration. There was a mixture of scrutiny in his look, and turning to Diarmid, a faithful adherent of his family, and only present companion, he said: "That sunset forebodes a coming storm; does it not, Diarmid?"
"Ay, truly does it," responded the attendant; "and there's no truth in the clouds if we haven't it soon upon us"
"Then let us speed," said Cormac; "for the high hill and the narrow path must be traversed ere our journey be accomplished." And he sprang down the steep and shingly, pass before him, followed by the faithful Diarmid.
"Tis sweet to know there is as eye to mark
Our coming and grow brighter when we come."
And there was a bright eye Watching for Cormac, and many a love-taught look did Eva cast over the waters of Lough Mask, impatient for the arrival of the O'Flaherty. "Surely he will be here this evening," thought Eva; "yet the sun is already low, and no distant oars disturb the lovely quiet of the lake. But may he not have tarried beyond the mountains--he has friends therein recollected Eva. But soon the maiden's jealous fancy whispered: "He has friends here too." And she reproached him for his delay; but it was only for a moment.
"The accusing spirit blushed," as Eva continued her train of conjecture. " 'Tis hard to part from pressing friends," thought she, "and Cormac is ever welcome in the hall, and heavily closes the portal after his departing footsteps."
Another glance across the lake. 'Tis yet unrippled by an oar. The faint outline of the dark grey mountains, whose large masses lie unbroken by the detail which daylight discovers; the hazy distance of the lake, whose extremity is undistinguishable from the overhanging cIiffs which embrace it; the fading of the western sky; the last lonely rook winging his weary way to the adjacent wood; the flickering flight of the bat across her windows--all--all told Eva that the night was fast approaching; yet Cormac was not come. She turned from the casement with a sigh. Oh! only those who love can tell how anxious are the moments we pass in watching the approach of the beloved one.
She took her harp. Every heroine, to be sure, has a harp; but this was not the pedal harp, that instrument par excellence of heroines, but the simple harp of her country, whose single row of brazen wires had often rung to many a sprightly planxty, long, long before the double action of Erard had vibrated to some fantasia from Rossini or Meyerbeer, under the brilliant finger of a Bochsa or a Labarre.
But now the harp of Eva did not ring forth the spirit-stirring planxty, but yielded to her gentlest touch one of the most soothing and plaintive of her native melodies; and to her woman sensibility, which long expectation had excited, it seemed to breathe an unusual flow of tenderness and pathos, which her heated imagination conjured almost into prophetic wailing. Eva paused--she was alone; the night had closed--her chamber was dark and silent. She burst into tears, and when her spirits became somewhat calmed by this gush of feeling, she arose, and dashing the lingering tear-drops from the long lashes of the most beautiful blue eyes in the world, she hastened to the hall, and sought in the society of others to dissipate those feelings by which she had been overcome.
The night closed over the path of Cormac, and the storm he anticipated had swept across the waves of the Atlantic, and now burst in all its fury over the mountains of Joyce's country. The wind rushed along in wild gusts, bearing in its sweeping eddy heavy dashes of rain, which soon increased to a continuous deluge of enormous drops, rendering the mountain gullies the channel of temporary rivers, and the path that wound along the verge of each precipice so slippery as to render its passage death to the timid or amwsry, and dangerous even to the firmest or most practised foot. But our hero and his attendant strode on; the torrent was resolutely passed, its wild roar audible above the loud thunder- peals that rolled through the startled echoes of the mountains; the dizzy path was firmly trod, its dangers rendered more perceptible by the blue lightnings, half revealing the depths of the abyss beneath, and Cormac and Diarmid still pressed on towards the shores of Lough Mask, unconscious of the interruption that yet awaited them, fiercer than the torrent, and more deadly than the lightning.
As they passed round the base of a projecting crag, that flung its angular masses athwart the ravine through which they wound, a voice of brutal coarseness suddenly arrested their progress with the fiercely uttered word of "Stand!"
Cormac instantly stopped--as instantly his weapon was in his hand; and with searching eye he sought to discover through the gloom what bold intruder dared cross the path of the O'Flaherty. His tongue now demanded what his eye failed him to make known, and the same rude voice that. first addressed him answered: "Thy mortal foe! Thou seek'st thy bride, fond boy, but never shalt thou behold her--never shalt thou share the bed of Eva."
"Thou liest, foul traitor!" cried Cormac fiercely. "Avoid my path; avoid it, I say, for death is in it!"
"Thou say'st truly," answered the, unknown, with a laugh of horrid meaning. "Come on, and thy words shall be made good!"
At this moment a flash of lightning illumined the whole glen with momentary splendour, and discovered to Cormac, a few paces before him, two armed men of gigantic stature, in one of whom he recognised Emman O'Flaherty, one of the many branches of that ancient and extensive family, equally distinguished for his personal prowess and savage temper.
"Ha!" exclaimed Cormac, "is it Emman Dubh?" for the black hair of Emman had obtained for him this denomination of Black Edward, a name fearfully suitable to him who bore it.
"Yes," answered be tauntingly, "it is Emman Dubh who waits the coming of his fair cousin. You have said death is in your path. Come on and meet it."
Nothing daunted, however shocked at discovering the midnight waylayer of his path in his own relative, Cormac answered:
"Emman Dubh, I have never wronged you; but since you thirst for my blood, and cross my path, on your own head be the penalty. Stand by me, Diarmuid," said the brave youth, and rushing on his Herculean enemy, they closed in mortal combat.
Had the numbers been equal, the colossal strength of Emman might have found its overmatch in the activity of Cormac, and his skill in the use of his weapon. But oh, the foul, the treacherous Emman! He dared his high - spirited rival to advance but to entrap him into an ambuscade; for as he rushed upon his foe, past the beetling rock that hung over his path, a third assassin, unseen by the gallant Cormac, lay in wait, and when the noble youth was engaged in the fierce encounter, a blow, dealt him in the back, laid the betrothed of Eva lifeless, at the feet of the savage and exulting Emman.
Restlessly had Eva passed that turbulent night--each gust of the tempest, each flash, of living flame and burst of thunder awakened her terrors, lest Cormac, the beloved of her soul, were exposed to its fury; but in the lapse of the storm hope ventured to whisper he yet lingered in the castle of some friend beyond the mountains. The morning dawned, and silently bore witness to the' commotion of the elements of the past night. The riven branch of the naked tree, that in one night had been shorn of its leafy beauty; the earth strewn with foliage half green, half yellow, ere yet the autumnal alchemy had converted its summer verdure quite to gold, gave evidence that an unusually early storm had been a forerunner of the equinox. The general aspect of Nature, too, though calm, was cold; the mountain, wore a dress of sombre grey, and the small, scattered clouds were straggling over the face of heaven, as though they had been rudely riven asunder, and the short and quick lash of the waters upon the shore of Lough Mask might have told to an accustomed eye that a longer wave and a whiter foam had broken on its strand a few hours before.
But what is that upthrown upon the beach? And who are those who surround it in suck consternation? It is the little skiff that was moored at the opposite side of the lake on the preceding eve, and was to have borne Cormac to his betrothed bride. And they who identify the shattered boat are those to whom Eva's happiness is dear; for it is her father and his attendants, who are drawing ill omens from the tiny wreck. But they conceal the fact, and the expecting girl is not told of the evil-boding discovery. But days have come and gone and Cormac yet tarries. At length 'tis past a doubt; and the father of Eva knows his child is widowed ere her bridal--widowed in heart, at least. And who shalI tell the fatal tale to Eva? Who shall cast the shadow o'er her soul, and make the future darkness? Alas! ye feeling souls that ask it, that pause ere you can speak the word that blights for ever, pause no longer, for Eva knows it. Yes; from tongue to tongue--by word on word from many a quivering lip, and meanings darkly given, the dreadful certainty at last arrived to the bewildered Eva.
It was nature's last effort at comprehension; her mind was filled with the one fatal knowledge--Cormac was gone for ever; and that was the only mental consciousness that ever after employed the lovely Eva.
The remainder of the melancholy tale is briefly told. Though quite bereft of reason, she was harmless as a child, and was allowed to wander round the borders of Lough Mask, and, its immediate neighbourhood. A favourite haunt of the still beautiful maniac was the Cave of Cong, where a subterranean river rushes from beneath a low natural arch in the rook, and passing for some yards over a strand of pebbles, in pellucid swiftness, loses itself in the dark recesses of the cavern with the sound of a rapid and turbulent fall. This river is formed by the waters of Lough Mask becoming engulfed at one of its extremities, and hurrying through a subterranean channel until they rise again in the neighbourhood of Cong, and become tributary to Lough Corrib. Here the poor girl would sit for hours; and believing that her beloved Cormac had been drowned In Lough Mask, she hoped, in one of those half-intelligent dreams which haunt a distempered brain, to arrest his body, as she fancied It must pass through the Cave of Cong, borne on the subterranean rlver.
Month after month passed by; but the nipping winter and the gentle spring found the lovely Eva still watching by the stream, like some tutelary water-nymph beside her sacred fountain. At length she disappeared--and though the strictest search was made, the broken-hearted Eva was never heard of more; and the tradition of the country is, that the fairies took pity on a love so devoted, and carried away the faithful girl to join her betrothed in fairyland!'
Mrs. - closed the manuscript, and replaced it in the little cabinet.
"Most likely," said I, "poor Eva, if ever such a person existed -"
"If!" said the fair reader. "Can you be so ungrateful as to question the truth of my legend, after all the trouble I have had in reading it to you? Getaway! A sceptic like you is only fit to hear the commonplaces of the daily press."
"I cry your pardon, fair lady," said I. "I am most orthodox in legendary belief, and question not the existence of your Eva. I was only about to say that perchance she might have been drowned in and carried away by the river she watched so closely."
"Hush, hush!" said the fair chronicler. "As you hope for favour or information in our fair counties of Galway or Mayo, never dare to question the truth of a legend--never venture a 'perhaps' for the purpose of making a tale more reasonable, nor endeavour to substitute the reign of common sense In hopes of superseding the empire of the fairies. Go to-morrow to the Cave of Cong, and if you return still an unbeliever, I give you up as an irreclaimable infidel."