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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1171

Hardness Cregan and Kyrle Daly had been companions in their college days, in spite of the fact that Kyrle was of the middle classes and Hardress was the son of an Irish gentleman. Their respective ranks were close enough, however, so that they could respect each other and not be...

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Hardness Cregan and Kyrle Daly had been companions in their college days, in spite of the fact that Kyrle was of the middle classes and Hardress was the son of an Irish gentleman. Their respective ranks were close enough, however, so that they could respect each other and not be ashamed of their friendship. After leaving college, they maintained the same close relationship, for they lived not far from each other. In fact, Kyrle, who had begun the study of law, became a suitor for the hand of Hardress’ cousin, Ann Chute, a suit in which Kyrle had the good will of his friend.

Hardress Cregan, a spirited young man, lived more for sports and good times; he was actually shy in the presence of women, although he was bold enough in the face of danger. He was also disdainful of people from the lower classes as his attitude toward them revealed. One morning, Kyrle’s family watched from a window of their house as Hardress ran down some fishermen with his yacht, when such action could have been averted by a slight shift of the yacht’s tiller.

That same day, Kyrle set out for Chute Castle to attend the races and to press his suit with Ann Chute. He did not know that on board Hardress’ yacht was Eily O’Connor, a young woman of the lower classes and the daughter of a ropemaker. Hardress had secretly married Eily a month before. The young woman was beautiful, but Hardress was afraid to make his marriage public, for he knew that his mother expected him to marry a young woman of wealth and position. He had taken Eily on board his yacht and was sailing with her up the coast, where he intended lodging her close to his family’s home in the cottage of his servant’s sister. She had consented to go with him and to stay away from her father’s home only because Hardress had promised to acknowledge her publicly as his bride within a matter of days. Hardress knew that he was safe in settling her with the sister of his servant, Danny Mann, because Danny, a hunchback, was devotedly loyal to his headstrong master.

At Chute Castle that same afternoon, Kyrle’s suit for the hand of Ann was ended. The girl told Kyrle in definite terms that she could not marry him, although she loved no one else. That night, Kyrle met Hardress at the cottage where the latter had taken Eily. Kyrle was too distraught to notice anything unusual in the fact that the girl was with his friend. Hardress promised to do everything he could to assist Kyrle in marrying Ann.

Ann accepted the invitation to stay at the home of Hardress’ parents. A few days after her arrival, she confided to a sick old huntsman that she was in love with Hardress. Just before the old man died, he told his master that someone was in love with the young man. He did not, however, tell who loved him, but Hardress’ mother soon realized the love Ann had for her son. Even though the young people were cousins, she approved of the match and threw them together at every opportunity. When Hardress tried to avoid Ann, his mother scolded him bitterly. Her attitude completely prevented the young man from revealing his marriage to Eily.

Eily, meanwhile, grew restive when her husband refused to acknowledge her as his bride; even the people with whom she stayed did not know that Hardress was her husband. As the weeks went by, she realized that she had outworn her welcome among the peasants with whom she was quartered. Above all, she found her husband acting very strangely when he visited her. The girl asked him the reasons for his strangeness and for his reluctance to admit to the world that she was his wife. When she did, he burst out in anger, pointing out that he had married below his station and was very sorry he had done so. It was then that he realized his love for Ann. Leaving the cottage in a rage, he met his confidential servant, the hunchbacked Danny Mann. The servant was so devoted to his master that he promised to do away with the girl if Hardress so wished. His shocking offer brought Hardress to his senses, although he was still torn between his duty to his unacknowledged wife and his love for Ann.

At home, Hardress became increasingly perplexed by the love that Ann openly showed for him as well as his mother’s wishes that he marry the girl. Gradually, his desire to marry Ann overcame his sense of duty to his secret bride.

In the meantime, Eily decided to let someone know of her marriage. Leaving the cottage, she went to see an uncle, the parish priest in a village not far from where she was staying. She told her uncle that she was married, but obedience to her husband kept her from telling who the husband was. Upon her return to the cottage, she met Danny Mann, who gave her a letter from Hardress. Finally yielding to temptation and resolving to be rid of Eily, he had commissioned Danny to spirit her out of Ireland and put her on a boat bound for Canada. In the letter, he told his wife of his decision; Eily, still obedient to her husband, submitted to his wishes.

Danny, however, misinterpreted his master’s commands and murdered the girl. Hardress realized too late what had happened, but in spite of the blood on his hands, he determined to marry Ann. His hope was that Danny would disappear for good and that the crime would never be discovered. As plans were being made for the wedding, Hardress began to act rather strangely. No one knew of the crime that was preying on his mind; people attributed his strange actions to cowardice and illness.

Quite by chance, a short time before the date set for the marriage, Eily’s body was discovered. At the inquest, nothing was learned of the girl’s death. Although the coroner suspected foul play, it seemed as if Hardress’ plans were to work out successfully. Then, on the day before the marriage, Danny returned and was captured by the authorities. For a time, it seemed as if fate were with the criminals. Hardress was able to effect his servant’s escape, but Danny continued to linger in the neighborhood, much to Hardress’ dismay. Discovering the servant, he beat the hunchback unmercifully. In revenge, Danny went to the authorities, confessed his crimes, and thus implicated his master. Hardress, a few hours before his wedding, was taken from his home and sent into exile as a criminal. Danny Mann was hanged.

A happy ending of the tragedy came when, some months later, Ann married Kyrle Daly, who she found was really a better man and more worthy of her love than wealthier and more spirited Hardress Cregan.

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