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upon as a dream of time gone by, which could never again cheer his withered heart. The recollection of the Lady's Island, like a bloody phantom, stood present to his view, while the mysterious monthly letter, with the dread of approaching death, cast a horrid gloom over the future: an occasional release, or only partial release, from corroding thoughts, was all that his most sanguine hopes pointed to. The porter toiling under his burden was to him an object of envy. The husbandman whistling at his plough was a picture of simple happiness, which, forcing upon his mind a comparison with his own intolerable existence, threw a darker shade over his reflections. For however pleasing the contemplation of the happiness of others may be to a mind at ease, to the truly miserable, much as they may wish to conceal the fact, it adds but additional pain.
Day after day O'Gunnell toiled after the wild fowl on the moors, avurting fatigue, and hoping for sleep: for night was the time that he dreaded most, and forgetfulness of the present was the highest object of his desire. At length, the monthly period expired, and the fearful day came round again. He was returning from the hills, and was passing along a narrow footway by the side of a brook, when suddenly he saw the figure of a tall man in a grey frieze coat, standing on a steep eminence immediately above him, its countenance was turned towards him, and its hand appeared to point to a broad flat stone that lay immediately before him by the side of the brook. O’Gunnell looked steadfastly at the figure. It was O'Darcy! He turned pale and trembled, and scarcely knowing what he did, he thrust his hand into his bosom and drew out a pistol, which he discharged at it. A contemptuous smile appeared, for a moment, to rest upon the countenance of this phantom in the grey frieze coat. It did not flinch, or turn, or move, but stood for a few seconds longer pointing at the broad flat stone, and then disappeared either behind, or into the hill, for O’Gunnell could not tell which. Upon the broad flat stone was found a letter, similar to the preceding ones, but which informed him that his time was reduced to nine months. This was the severest blow that he had yet received, for he now felt convinced that these letters were not sent him by any living being, and that the illegible characters were evidently the name of a certain personage, who, when he does pay a visit to this world, is reported to take as much pains to conceal his real name, as he does to hide his cloven foot. Now this conviction was the occasion of bitter reflections to O'Gunnell, for he thought, and naturally enough, that if that personage had such power of tormenting him in this world, what a terrible condition he would be in when he got into his clutches in the next. It was quite clear that his power would be infinitely greater then, or why should he take such trouble to pursue him, and keep dunning him month after
month like a creditor, impatient for the settlement of his account. O’Gunnell thought, that though he certainly had sinned, this was a most unfair mode of proceeding, and altogether different from the usual practice.
Shooting was now no longer supportable to him. Upon every eminence he fancied he saw the figure in a grey frieze coat, and on every broad flat stone he expected to find a letter. But although shooting no longer afforded him an occupation, he dared not return to society: he dreaded the curiosity of his friends on the subject of the mysterious letter delivered to him at the dinner : he feared the observations that might be made on his altered appearance ; for in his present state of mind, he imagined that every one who saw him perceived the traces of conscious guilt graven in his features.
At length, the dreaded first of the month came round again, and evening overtook him in a wild and uninhabited part of the country: he was on foot, and had some distance to go to reach the place where he was then residing. The fated hour had arrived; he had seen no man in a grey frieze coat; he had received no letter : he began to entertain a distant hope that the charm was at length broken. Such happiness, however, was not in store for him. He presently arrived at a small bridge that crossed a brook of some magnitude, and which it was necessary for him to pass to return home. On the other side of it was a gate, over which a man was leaning, looking at the ground, apparently in deep meditation, or else asleep, for he allowed O'Gunnell to walk close to him without looking up. But from this man he was under no apprehension, for he was short and stout, and wore a broad-brimmed hat, and a brown coat. O'Gunnell told him to move out of the way, as he wished to pass through the gate. The stranger, however, did not stir, but looked him full in the face, and said, in a low, quiet tone of voice, “ I have been waiting for you."
O'Gunnell knew the countenance. It was that of a Roman Catholic gentleman of small property, whose house he, with a party of soldiers, had burnt during the rebellion in Wexford: he had seen the house in flames, and had heard the shrieks of some of its inmates, whom he knew had no means of escaping from the fire. He had thought that the whole family had perished. But now that his whole fears were centered in the grey-frieze-coated apparition, he felt as if he cared not for any man, living or dead, that did not appear in that dreaded form. “Waiting for me!” said O'Gunnell; “ I hold no communion with rebels or papists."
“ Villain !" said the other, in the same low, quiet tone, looking him full in the face.
O'Gunnell's blood rushed to his face. His pale cheeks instantly changed to crimson. “ No man ever insulted me with impunity. Here, take
your choice:” and he drew two pistols from his bosom. “ I once,” said the other, in the same low, searching tone, “ had a wife and children-I once was happy; but though death were a relief to me, I scorn to take an unfair advantage over you—a murderer's hand always trembles."
“Does my hand tremble ?” said O'Gunnell, in the extremity of rage ; for there is nothing that adds fuel to anger so much as a calm manner in an opponent.
“Does your hand tremble!” said the other, with an ironical smile. “I have been requested to give you this letter.”
O’Gunnell knew the seal—he fell back senseless to the ground, When he came to himself the other had gone; but in the distance, leaning against a tree, with his arms folded, and his eyes fixed upon him, he saw a tall figure in a grey frieze coat.
It were tedious to recount the various wanderings, and the different occupations by which O'Gunnell vainly endeavoured to afford his mind a partial relief from the corroding thoughts that were gradually wasting him away. Month after month passed, and each morning brought him nearer to his fated end. How little do we in general appreciate the blessing we enjoy in our ignorance of the future; for though the days of all are numbered, how miserable is the lot of him who knows the exact amount that are allotted to him! His existence may be considered rather as death delayed, than as life enjoyed. O'Gunnell felt like a condemned felon, who had been apprized of the hour of his execution.
At length, he determined upon quitting Ireland, and trying the bustle and dissipation of the British metropolis. The strong contrast between the loneliness of the wild regions he had left, and that restless activity, that noise, and hurry, and turmoil, that strike so forcibly upon the attention of a stranger visiting London, for the first few days drew his attention in some degree to surrounding objects : but the charm of novelty rapidly wore away, and left him again a prey to his thoughts. The less absorbing and more innocent amusements first palled upon his mind.
his mind. Yet, for a time, one miserable resource yet remained to him, which was the gaming-table.
That agony of intense interest which, by an irresistible fascination, leads the gambler on to his destruction, though he sees ruin at the end of the vista, and is conscious that he is continually approaching it, produced in O'Gunnell a temporary oblivion of his dreaded reflections. He clung to the gaming-table as a drowning man clings to a sinking boat, as a temporary reprieve from a darker fate. Here for some hours in the day he was able to shake off the bitter recollections that preyed upon his peace. The first few days he neither won nor lost considerably: but at length he had what is called a run of luck, and came home laden with spoil. Not only were his cares banished, but his spirits were high, and these, indeed, were the only few moments of pleasurable existence that he had enjoyed since the commencement of his misfortunes. It is probable that his success would have redoubled his ardour for play, and would soon have accomplished his ruin. From this he was however saved, by the following occurrence. When he reached the door of his hotel, the waiter informed him that a person had called and inquired for him, but said that he could not wait, as he had a long way to go, and must be home before twelve o'clock, but that he had left a letter containing his business, and went away.
“ What time did he call ?”
“ He was a tall man, dressed in a grey great-coat ; he believed he was an Irishman."
It was enough. The blood rushed back to his heart. It was the first day of the month. He felt sick and faint, and clung to the railing for support.
He was unable to proceed, without assistance, and was with some difficulty supported to his room. On the table lay a letter sealed with a black seal, and the impression of a human thumb. He sank back in a chair, and wished that his time was come, and that he was dead: life was too great a burden for him.
We are told that persons looking over a fearful precipice are sometimes tempted by a maddening impulse to cast themselves headlong down. With a similar feeling O'Gunnell saw the razors that lay upon his table, but shuddered at the thought of another murder: besides, when he began to reflect more calmly upon the matter, it was not worth the while, as the letter upon the table informed him that he had only two months more to run.
London and the gaming-table now became rife with the figure in the grey frieze coat: every cast of the dice brought to recollection the letter and its mysterious writer.
After wandering about different country towns and watering-places in England, he at length determined to go abroad, and visit a cousin who had settled as a merchant at Amsterdam. To be sure, there was some risk of the vessel he sailed in being taken by a French cruiser, but to him the thoughts of a French prison brought no terrors.
It is indeed a dreadful thing to spend two or three years of one's life in a prison. But here he had the melancholy satisfaction that this could not be his case, as he had less than two months left him to find employment for: and he entertained, besides, a kind of desperate hope that the grey frieze coat might still retain the same antipathy to the interior of a prison, that he had in his lifetime.
At length, his passage was taken in a small sailing vessel bound to Rotterdam. Among the passengers there was one singular personage that particularly attracted his attention : it was an old woman, apparently of enormous stature, who was squatted in a corner upon the deck, with her body bent nearly double, and her face muffled up in a handkerchief. She was constantly calling for spirits, which she said was the only thing that did her face-ache any good.
At night there came on a violent gale, and considerable apprehensions were entertained for the safety of the vessel. O'Gunnell was standing upon the deck, looking up at some sailors, who were endeavouring to take in one of the sails, when a bright flash of lightning illuminated everything on board ; his eye fell on one of the men-his features exactly resembled those of the murdered O'Darcy. O'Gunnell fell senseless upon the deck, and remained in that condition until he was revived by the coldness of a sea breaking over him. He then went below : and to his horror, by the light of the cabin lamp, he saw a letter with a black seal lying on his berth. The rest of the voyage he remained rather dead than alive perfectly indifferent to the safety of the vessel. At length, however, she reached her destined port: and another day brought him to the residence of his relation at Amsterdam.
His cousin was astonished at his unexpected arrival, and still more at his altered appearance and manner. When he last saw him, he was a stout, hearty, red-faced man, who would ride, hunt, or drink claret with any man in Ireland. He was now pale and emaciated, spoke but seldom, and was never seen to smile. Day after day passed, and his cousin in vain attempted to cheer him, or elicit from him the cause of the change. He had had a fever, which had left him weak
and low-spirited. He did not know what was the matter with him. At other times he would stoutly deny that there was any alteration either in his health or his spirits.
Thus time wore on. They were one day walking together, along the Heeren Graat, one of the principal streets in Amsterdam, with a canal running down the middle, O’Gunnell leaning upon the other's arm, for he was too weak to walk without assistance : at length the merchant said to O'Gunnell, “I am afraid that there is something upon your mind. Have you ever done anything that preys upon your conscience ?"
O'Gunnell was silent. The merchant then recommended him to try the consolation of religion.
“No, no, no !” said O'Gunnell, “I can't pray—I can't pray—I have often wished that I could. This is the last day that I have left me in this world, and yet—I can't pray. My tormentor is within me, drying up my life-blood drop by drop. By five o'clock this evening I shall be a cold corpse—and yet I can't pray. Look! look! look! there he walks,” said he, with a convulsive shudder, while he pointed to a tall figure in a loose grey coat, that was slowly moving along the other side of the canal.
The merchant darted from him in pursuit of the man in the grey great-coat; but before he could reach the nearest bridge the figure in the grey great-coat had disappeared up a narrow alley, and the merchant was unable to obtain any further tidings of him.
O’Gunnell was carried home and put to bed; and the merchant, justly supposing that his illness had much to do with the imagination, ordered a clock, set half an hour in advance, to be placed in his bedroom. O'Gunnell grew rapidly weaker, occasionally shuddering, and sometimes giving a convulsive start ; but after the clock had struck the hour of five, and they shewed him the time upon the dial, which had been before concealed from him, they endeavoured to assure him that his apprehensions were imaginary. They thought that the patient had begun to rally a little, and were in hopes that he might yet live, when a loud altercation was heard in the outer chamber. A man had forced himself up stairs, and insisted upon having an immediate interview with Captain O'Gunnell. He was told that Captain O'Gunnell was dangerously ill, and could see nobody. “Sure, it's just his life or death that depends upon his seeing me," was the reply.
The door of the bed-room then opened, and there appeared the figure of a tall man, in a grey frieze great-coat. O'Gunnell sprung up in his bed, his eyes fixed upon the intruder, appeared to be starting out of his head. But his strength rapidly failed, he fell back, , and ceased to breathe.
The merchant turned to the stranger and said, “ You have murdered this man, for your intrusion here, at this moment, has been the cause of his death."
A kind of satisfied smile seemed to pass over the countenance of the stranger, as he replied. “Sure, if he had had an asy conscience, he would not have perished thus.”