On the day after Clara’s departure, Herbert did, as a matter of course, make his promised visit at Desmond Court. It was on that day that Sir Thomas had been driving about in the pony-carriage with Lady Fitzgerald, as Richard had reported. Herbert had been with his father in the morning, and then having seen him and his mother well packed up in their shawls and cloaks, had mounted his horse and ridden off.
“I may be kept some time,” said he, “as I have promised to go on to Clady, and see after that soup kitchen.”
“I shouldn’t wonder if Herbert became attached to Clara Desmond,” said the mother to Sir Thomas, soon after they had begun their excursion.
“Do you think so?” said the baronet; and his tone was certainly not exactly that of approbation.
“Well, yes; I certainly do think it probable. I am sure he admires her, and I think it very likely to come to more. Would there be any objection?”
“They are both very young,” said Sir Thomas.
“But in Herbert’s position will not a young marriage be the best thing for him?”
“And she has no fortune; not a shilling. If he does marry young, quite young you know, it might be prudent that his wife should have something of her own.”
“They’d live here,” said Lady Fitzgerald, who knew that of all men her husband was usually most free from mercenary feelings and an over-anxiety as to increased wealth, either for himself or for his children; “and I think it would be such a comfort to you. Herbert, you see, is so fond of county business, and so little anxious for what young men generally consider pleasure.”
There was nothing more said about it at that moment; for the question in some measure touched upon money matters and considerations as to property, from all of which Lady Fitzgerald at present wished to keep her husband’s mind free. But towards the end of the drive he himself again referred to it.
“She is a nice girl, isn’t she?”
“Very nice, I think; as far as I’ve seen her.”
“She is pretty, certainly.”
“Very pretty; more than pretty; much more. She will be beautiful.”
“But she is such a mere child. You do not think that anything will come of it immediately; — not quite immediately?”
“Oh no; certainly not quite immediately. I think Herbert is not calculated to be very sudden in any such feelings, or in the expression of them: but I do think such an event very probable before the winter is over.”
In the mean time Herbert spent the whole day over at Desmond Court, or at Clady. He found the countess delighted to see him, and both she and Lady Clara went on with him to Clady. It was past five and quite dark before he reached Castle Richmond, so that he barely got home in time to dress for dinner.
The dinner-party that evening was more pleasant than usual. Sir Thomas not only dined with them, but came into the drawing-room after dinner, and to a certain extent joined in their conversation. Lady Fitzgerald could see that this was done by a great effort; but it was not remarked by Aunt Letty and the others, who were delighted to have him with them, and to see him once more interested about their interests.
And now the building of the mill had been settled, and the final orders were to be given by Herbert at the spot on the following morning.
“We can go with you to Berryhill, I suppose, can’t we?” said Mary.
“I shall be in a great hurry,” said Herbert, who clearly did not wish to be encumbered by his sisters on this special expedition.
“And why are you to be in such a hurry tomorrow?” asked Aunt Letty.
“Well, I shall be hurried; I have promised to go to Clady again, and I must be back here early, and must get another horse.”
“Why, Herbert, you are becoming a Hercules of energy,” said his father, smiling: “you will have enough to do if you look to all the soup kitchens on the Desmond property as well as our own.”
“I made a sort of promise about this particular affair at Clady, and I must carry it out,” said Herbert.
“And you’ll pay your devoirs to the fair Lady Clara on your way home of course,” said Mary.
“More than probable,” he replied.
“And stay so late again that you’ll hardly be here in time for dinner,” continued Mary: to which little sally her brother vouchsafed no answer.
But Emmeline said nothing. Lady Clara was specially her friend, and she was too anxious to secure such a sister-inlaw to make any joke upon such a subject.
On that occasion nothing more was said about it; but Sir Thomas hoped within his heart that his wife was right in prophesying that his son would do nothing sudden in this matter.
On the following morning young Fitzgerald gave the necessary orders at Berryhill very quickly, and then coming back remounted another horse without going into the house. Then he trotted off to Clady, passing the gate of Desmond Court without calling; did what he had promised to do at Clady, or rather that which he had made to stand as an excuse for again visiting that part of the world so quickly; and after that, with a conscience let us hope quite clear, rode up the avenue at Desmond Court. It was still early in the day when he got there, probably not much after two o’clock; and yet Mary had been quite correct in foretelling that he would only be home just in time for dinner.
But, nevertheless, he had not seen Lady Desmond. Why or how it had occurred that she had been absent from the drawing-room the whole of the two hours which he had passed in the house, it may be unnecessary to explain. Such, however, had been the fact. The first five minutes had been passed in inquiries after the bruise, and, it must be owned, in a surgical inspection of the still discoloured arm. “It must be very painful,” he had said, looking into her face, as though by doing so he could swear that he would so willingly bear all the pain himself, if it were only possible to make such an exchange.
“Not very,” she had answered, smiling. “It is only a little stiff. I can’t quite move it easily.”
And then she lifted it up, and afterwards dropped it with a little look of pain that ran through his heart.
The next five minutes were taken up in discussing the case of the recusant boiler, and then Clara discovered that she had better go and fetch her mother. But against the immediate taking of this step he had alleged some valid reason, and so they had gone on, till the dark night admonished him that he could do no more than save the dinner hour at Castle Richmond.
The room was nearly dark when he left her, and she got up and stood at the front window, so that, unseen, she might see his figure as he rode off from the house. He mounted his horse within the quadrangle, and coming out at the great old-fashioned ugly portal, galloped off across the green park with a loose rein and a happy heart. What is it the song says?
“Oh, ladies, beware of a gay young knight Who loves and who rides away.”
There was at Clara’s heart, as she stood there at the window, some feeling of the expediency of being beware, some shadow of doubt as to the wisdom of what she had done. He rode away gaily, with a happy spirit, for he had won that on the winning of which he had been intent. No necessity for caution presented itself to him. He had seen and loved; had then asked, and had not asked in vain.
She stood gazing after him, as long as her straining eye could catch any outline of his figure as it disappeared through the gloom of the evening. As long as she could see him, or even fancy that she still saw him, she thought only of his excellence; of his high character, his kind heart, his talents — which in her estimation were ranked perhaps above their real value — his tastes, which coincided so well with her own, his quiet yet manly bearing, his useful pursuits, his gait, appearance, and demeanour. All these were of a nature to win the heart of such a girl as Clara Desmond; and then, probably, in some indistinct way, she remembered the broad acres to which he was the heir, and comforted herself by reflecting that this at least was a match which none would think disgraceful for a daughter even of an Earl of Desmond.
But sadder thoughts did come when that figure had wholly disappeared. Her eye, looking out into the darkness, could not but see another figure on which it had often in past times delighted almost unconsciously to dwell. There, walking on that very road, another lover, another Fitzgerald, had sworn that he loved her; and had truly sworn so, as she well knew. She had never doubted his truth to her, and did not doubt it now; — and yet she had given herself away to another.
And in many things he too, that other lover, had been noble and gracious, and fit for a woman to love. In person he exceeded all that she had ever seen or dreamed of, and why should we think that personal excellence is to count for nothing in female judgment, when in that of men it ranks so immeasurably above all other excellences? His bearing, too, was chivalrous and bold, his language full of poetry, and his manner of loving eager, impetuous, and of a kin to worship. Then, too, he was now in misfortune, and when has that failed to soften even the softness of a woman’s heart?
It was impossible that she should not make comparisons, comparisons that were so distasteful to her; impossible, also, that she should not accuse herself of some falseness to that first lover. The time to us, my friends, seems short enough since she was walking there, and listening with childish delight to Owen’s protestations of love. It was but little more than one year since: but to her those months had been very long. And, reader, if thou hast arrived at any period of life which enables thee to count thy past years by lustrums; if thou art at a time of life, past thirty we will say, hast thou not found that thy years, which are now short enough, were long in those bygone days?
Those fourteen months were to her the space almost of a second life, as she now looked back upon them. When those earlier vows were made, what had she cared for prudence, for the world’s esteem, or an alliance that might be becoming to her? That Owen Fitzgerald was a gentleman of high blood and ancient family, so much she had cared to know; for the rest, she had only cared to feel this, that her heart beat high with pleasure when he was with her.
Did her heart beat as high now, when his cousin was beside her? No; she felt that it did not. And sometimes she felt, or feared to feel, that it might beat high again when she should again see the lover whom her judgment had rejected.
Her judgment had rejected him altogether long before an idea had at all presented itself to her that Herbert Fitzgerald could become her suitor. Nor had this been done wholly in obedience to her mother’s mandate. She had realized in her own mind the conviction that Owen Fitzgerald was not a man with whom any girl could at present safely link her fortune. She knew well that he was idle, dissipated, and extravagant; and she could not believe that these vices had arisen only from his banishment from her, and that they would cease and vanish whenever that banishment might cease.
Messages came to her, in underhand ways — ways well understood in Ireland, and not always ignored in England — to the effect that all his misdoings arose from his unhappiness; that he drank and gambled only because the gates of Desmond Court were no longer open to him. There was that in Clara’s heart which did for a while predispose her to believe somewhat of this, to hope that it might not be altogether false. Could any girl loving such a man not have had some such hope? But then the stories of these revelries became worse and worse, and it was dinned into her ears that these doings had been running on in all their enormity before that day of his banishment. And so, silently and sadly, with no outspoken word either to mother or brother, she had resolved to give him up.
There was no necessity to her for any outspoken word. She had promised her mother to hold no intercourse with the man; and she had kept and would keep her promise. Why say more about it? How she might have reconciled her promise to her mother with an enduring engagement, had Owen Fitzgerald’s conduct allowed her to regard her engagement as enduring — that had been a sore trouble to her while hope had remained; but now no hope remained, and that trouble was over.
And then Herbert Fitzgerald had come across her path, and those sweet, loving, kind Fitzgerald girls, who were always ready to cover her with such sweet caresses, with whom she had known more of the happiness of friendliness than ever she had felt before. They threw themselves upon her like sisters, and she had never before enjoyed sisterly treatment. He had come across her path; and from the first moment she had become conscious of his admiration.
She knew herself to be penniless, and dreaded that she should be looked upon as wishing to catch the rich heir. But every one had conspired to throw them together. Lady Fitzgerald had welcomed her like a mother, with more caressing soft tenderness than her own mother usually vouchsafed to her; and even Sir Thomas had gone out of his usual way to be kind to her.
That her mother would approve of such a marriage she could not doubt. Lady Desmond in these latter days had not said much to her about Owen; but she had said very much of the horrors of poverty. And she had been too subtle to praise the virtues of Herbert with open plain words; but she had praised the comforts of a handsome income and well-established family mansion. Clara at these times had understood more than had been intended, and had, therefore, put herself on her guard against her mother’s worldly wisdom; but, nevertheless, the dropping of the water had in some little measure hollowed the stone beneath.
And thus, thinking of these things, she stood at the window for some half-hour after the form of her accepted lover had become invisible in the gathering gloom of the evening.
And then her mother entered the room, and candles were brought. Lady Desmond was all smiles and benignity, as she had been for this last week past, while Herbert Fitzgerald had been coming and going almost daily at Desmond Court. But Clara understood this benignity, and disliked it.
It was, however, now necessary that everything should be told. Herbert had declared that he should at once inform his father and mother, and obtain their permission for his marriage. He spoke of it as a matter on which there was no occasion for any doubt or misgiving. He was an only son, he said, and trusted and loved in everything. His father never opposed him on any subject whatever; and would, he was sure, consent to any match he might propose. “But as to you,” he added, with a lover’s flattering fervour, “they are all so fond of you, they all think so much of you, that my only fear is that I shall be jealous. They’ll all make love to you, Aunt Letty included.”
It was therefore essential that she should at once tell her mother, and ask her mother’s leave. She had once before confessed a tale of love, and had done so with palpitation of the heart, with trembling of the limbs, and floods of tears. Then her tale had been received with harsh sternness. Now she could tell her story without any trembling, with no tears; but it was almost indifferent to her whether her mother was harsh or tender.
“What! has Mr. Fitzgerald gone?” said the countess, on entering the room.
“Yes, mamma; this half-hour,” said Clara, not as yet coming away from the window.
“I did not hear his horse, and imagined he was here still. I hope he has not thought me terribly uncivil, but I could not well leave what I was doing.”
To this little make-believe speech Clara did not think it necessary to return any answer. She was thinking how she would begin to say that for saying which there was so strong a necessity, and she could not take a part in small false badinage on a subject which was so near her heart.
“And what about that stupid mason at Clady?” asked the countess, still making believe.
“Mr. Fitzgerald was there again today, mamma; and I think it will be all right now; but he did not say much about it.”
“Why not? you were all so full of it yesterday.”
Clara, who had half turned round towards the light, now again turned herself towards the window. This task must be done; but the doing of it was so disagreeable! How was she to tell her mother that she loved this man, seeing that so short a time since she had declared that she loved another?
“And what was he talking about, love?” said the countess, ever so graciously. “Or, perhaps, no questioning on the matter can be allowed. May I ask questions, or may I not? eh, Clara?” and then the mother, walking up towards the window, put her fair white hands upon her daughter’s two shoulders.
“Of course you may inquire,” said Clara.
“Then I do inquire — immediately. What has this preux chevalier been saying to my Clara, that makes her stand thus solemn and silent, gazing out into the dark night?”
“Herbert Fitzgerald has — has asked me to be his wife. He has proposed to me.”
The mother’s arm now encircled the daughter lovingly, and the mother’s lips were pressed to the daughter’s forehead. “Herbert Fitzgerald has asked you to be his wife, has he? And what answer has my bonny bird deigned to make to so audacious a request?”
Lady Desmond had never before spoken to her daughter in tones so gracious, in a manner so flattering, so caressing, so affectionate. But Clara would not open her heart to her mother’s tenderness. She could not look into her mother’s face, and welcome her mother’s consent with unutterable joy, as she would have done had that consent been given a year since to a less prudent proposition. That marriage for which she was now to ask her mother’s sanction would of course be sanctioned. She had no favour to beg; nothing for which to be grateful. With a slight motion, unconsciously, unwillingly, but not the less positively, she repulsed her mother’s caress as she answered her question.
“I have accepted him, mamma; that is, of course, if you do not object.”
“My own, own child!” said the countess, seizing her daughter in her arms, and pressing her to her bosom. And in truth Clara was, now probably for the first time, her own heart’s daughter. Her son, though he was but a poor earl, was Earl of Desmond. He too, though in truth but a poor earl, was not absolutely destitute — would in truth be blessed with a fair future. But Lady Clara had hitherto been felt only as a weight. She had been born poor as poverty itself, and hitherto had shown so little disposition to find for herself a remedy for this crushing evil! But now — now matters were indeed changed. She had obtained for herself the best match in the whole country round, and, in doing so, had sacrificed her heart’s young love. Was she not entitled to all a mother’s tenderness? Who knew, who could know the miseries of poverty so well as the Countess of Desmond? Who then could feel so much gratitude to a child for prudently escaping from them? Lady Desmond did feel grateful to her daughter.
“My own, own child; my happy girl,” she repeated. “He is a man to whom any mother in all the land would be proud to see her daughter married. Never, never did I see a young man so perfectly worthy of a girl’s love. He is so thoroughly well educated, so thoroughly well conducted, so good-looking, so warm-hearted, so advantageously situated in all his circumstances. Of course he will go into Parliament, and then any course is open to him. The property is, I believe, wholly unembarrassed, and there are no younger brothers. You may say that the place is his own already, for old Sir Thomas is almost nobody. I do wish you joy, my own dearest, dearest Clara!” After which burst of maternal eloquence, the countess pressed her lips to those of her child, and gave her a mother’s warmest kiss.
Clara was conscious that she was thoroughly dissatisfied with her mother, but she could not exactly say why it was so. She did return her mother’s kiss, but she did it coldly, and with lips that were not eager.
“I’m glad you think that I have done right, mamma.”
“Right, my love! Of course I think that you have done right: only I give you no credit, dearest; none in the least; for how could you help loving one so lovable in every way as dear Herbert?”
“Credit! no, there is no credit,” she said, not choosing to share her mother’s pleasantry.
“But there is this credit. Had you not been one of the sweetest girls that ever was born, he would not have loved you.”
“He has loved me because there was no one else here,” said Clara.
“Nonsense! No one else here, indeed! Has he not the power if he pleases to go and choose whomever he will in all London. Had he been mercenary, and wanted money,” said the countess, in a tone which showed how thoroughly she despised any such vice, “he might have had what he would. But then he could not have had my Clara. But he has looked for beauty and manners and high-bred tastes, and an affectionate heart; and, in my opinion, he could not have been more successful in his search.” After which second burst of eloquence, she again kissed her daughter.
’Twas thus, at that moment, that she congratulated the wife of the future Sir Herbert Fitzgerald; and then she allowed Clara to go up to her own room, there to meditate quietly on what she had done, and on that which she was about to do. But late in the evening, Lady Desmond, whose mind was thoroughly full of the subject, again broke out into triumph.
“You must write to Patrick tomorrow, Clara. He must hear the good news from no one but yourself.”
“Had we not better wait a little, mamma?”
“Why, my love? You hardly know how anxious your brother is for your welfare.”
“I knew it was right to tell you, mamma —”
“Right to tell me! of course it was. You could not have had the heart to keep it from me for half a day.”
“But perhaps it may be better not to mention it further till we know —”
“Till we know what?” said the countess, with a look of fear about her brow.
“Whether Sir Thomas and Lady Fitzgerald will wish it. If they object —”
“Object! why should they object? how can they object? They are not mercenary people; and you are an earl’s daughter. And Herbert is not like a girl. The property is his own, entailed on him, and he may do as he pleases.”
“In such a matter I am sure he would not wish to displease either his father or his mother.”
“Nonsense, my dear; quite nonsense; you do not at all see the difference between a young man and a girl. He has a right to do exactly as he likes in such a matter. But I am quite sure that they will not object. Why should they? How can they?”
“Mr. Fitzgerald says that they will not,” Clara admitted, almost grudgingly.
“Of course they will not. I don’t suppose they could bring themselves to object to anything he might suggest. I never knew a young man so happily situated in this respect. He is quite a free agent. I don’t think they would say much to him if he insisted on marrying the cook-maid. Indeed, it seems to me that his word is quite paramount at Castle Richmond.”
“All the same, mamma, I would rather not write to Patrick till something more has been settled.”
“You are wrong there, Clara. If anything disagreeable should happen, which is quite impossible, it would be absolutely necessary that your brother should know. Believe me, my love, I only advise you for your own good.”
“But Mr. Fitzgerald will probably be here tomorrow; or if not tomorrow, next day.”
“I have no doubt he will, love. But why do you call him Mr. Fitzgerald? You were calling him Herbert the other day. Don’t you remember how I scolded you? I should not scold you now.”
Clara made no answer to this, and then the subject was allowed to rest for that night. She would call him Herbert, she said to herself; but not to her mother. She would keep the use of that name till she could talk with Emmeline as a sister. Of all her anticipated pleasures, that of having now a real sister was perhaps the greatest; or, rather, that of being able to talk about Herbert with one whom she could love and treat as a sister. But Herbert himself would exact the use of his own Christian name, for the delight of his own ears; that was a matter of course; that, doubtless, had been already done.
And then mother and daughter went to bed. The countess, as she did so, was certainly happy to her heart’s core. Could it be that she had some hope, unrecognized by herself, that Owen Fitzgerald might now once more be welcomed at Desmond Court? that something might now be done to rescue him from that slough of despond?
And Clara too was happy, though her happiness was mixed. She did love Herbert Fitzgerald. She was sure of that. She said so to herself over and over again. Love him! of course she loved him, and would cherish him as her lord and husband to the last day of her life, the last gasp of her breath.
But still, as sleep came upon her eyelids, she saw in her memory the bright flash of that other lover’s countenance, when he first astonished her with the avowal of his love, as he walked beside her under the elms, with his horse following at his heels.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01