It will be remembered that in the last chapter but one Owen Fitzgerald left Lady Desmond in the drawing-room at Desmond Court somewhat abruptly, having absolutely refused to make peace with the Desmond faction by giving his consent to the marriage between Clara and his cousin Herbert. And it will perhaps be remembered also, that Lady Desmond had asked for this consent in a manner that was almost humble. She had shown herself most anxious to keep on friendly terms with the rake of Hap House — rake and roue, gambler and spendthrift, as he was reputed to be — if only he would abandon his insane claim to the hand of Clara Desmond. But this feeling she had shown when they two were alone together, after Clara had left them. As long as her daughter had been present, Lady Desmond had maintained her tone of indignation and defiance; but, when the door was closed and they two were alone, she had become kind in her language and almost tender.
My readers will probably conceive that she had so acted, overcome by her affection for Owen Fitzgerald and with a fixed resolve to win him for herself. Men and women when they are written about are always supposed to have fixed resolves, though in life they are so seldom found to be thus armed. To speak the truth, the countess had had no fixed resolve in the matter, either when she had thought about Owen’s coming, or when, subsequently, she had found herself alone with him in her drawing-room. That Clara should not marry him — on so much she had resolved long ago. But all danger on that head was, it may be said, over. Clara, like a good child, had behaved in the best possible manner; had abandoned her first lover, a lover that was poor and unfitted for her, as soon as told to do so; and had found for herself a second lover, who was rich, and proper, and in every way desirable. As regards Clara, the countess felt herself to be safe; and, to give her her due, she had been satisfied that the matter should so rest. She had not sought any further interview with Fitzgerald. He had come there against her advice, and she had gone to meet him prompted by the necessity of supporting her daughter, and without any other views of her own.
But when she found herself alone with him; when she looked into his face, and saw how handsome, how noble, how good it was — good in its inherent manliness and bravery — she could not but long that this feud should be over, and that she might be able once more to welcome him as her friend. If only he would give up this frantic passion, this futile, wicked, senseless attempt to make them all wretched by an insane marriage, would it not be sweet again to make some effort to rescue him from the evil ways into which he had fallen?
But Owen himself would make no response to this feeling. Clara Desmond was his love, and he would, of his own consent, yield her to no one. In truth, he was, in a certain degree, mad on this subject. He did think that because the young girl had given him a promise — had said to him a word or two which he called a promise — she was now of right his bride; that there belonged to him an indefeasible property in her heart, in her loveliness, in the inexpressible tenderness of her young springing beauty, of which no subsequent renouncing on her part could fairly and honestly deprive him. That others should oppose the match was intelligible to him; but it was hardly intelligible that she should betray him. And, as yet, he did not believe that she herself was the mainspring of this renouncing. Others, the countess and the Castle Richmond people, had frightened her into falseness; and, therefore, it became him to maintain his right by any means — almost by any means, within his power. Give her up of his own free will and voice! Say that Herbert Fitzgerald should take her with his consent! that she should go as a bride to Castle Richmond, while he stood by and smiled, and wished them joy! Never! And so he rode away with a stern heart, leaving her standing there with something of sternness about her heart also.
In the meantime, Clara, when she was sure that her rejected suitor was well away from the place, put on her bonnet and walked out. It was her wont at this time to do so; and she was becoming almost a creature of habit, shut up as she was in that old dreary barrack. Her mother very rarely went with her; and she habitually performed the same journey over the same ground, at the same hour, day after day. So it had been, and so it was still — unless Herbert Fitzgerald were with her.
On the present occasion she saw no more of her mother before she left the house. She passed the drawing-room door, and seeing that it was ajar, knew that the countess was there: but she had nothing to say to her mother as to the late interview, unless her mother had aught to say to her. So she passed on. In truth her mother had nothing to say to her. She was sitting there alone, with her head resting on her hand, with that sternness at her heart and a cloud upon her brow, but she was not thinking of her daughter. Had she not, with her skill and motherly care, provided well for Clara? Had she not saved her daughter from all the perils which beset the path of a young girl? Had she not so brought her child up and put her forth into the world, that, portionless as that child was, all the best things of the world had been showered into her lap? Why should the countess think more of her daughter? It was of herself she was thinking; and of what her life would be all alone, absolutely alone, in that huge frightful home of hers, without a friend, almost without an acquaintance, without one soul near her whom she could love or who would love her. She had put out her hand to Owen Fitzgerald, and he had rejected it. Her he had regarded merely as the mother of the woman he loved. And then the Countess of Desmond began to ask herself if she were old and wrinkled and ugly, only fit to be a dowager in mind, body, and in name!
Over the same ground! Yes, always over the same ground. Lady Clara never varied her walk. It went from the front entrance of the court, with one great curve, down to the old ruined lodge which opened on to the road running from Kanturk to Cork. It was here that the row of elm trees stood, and it was here that she had once walked with a hot, eager lover beside her, while a docile horse followed behind their feet. It was here that she walked daily; and was it possible that she should walk here without thinking of him?
It was always on the little well-worn path by the road-side, not on the road itself, that she took her measured exercise; and now, as she went along, she saw on the moist earth the fresh prints of a horse’s hoofs. He also had ridden down the same way, choosing to pass over the absolute spot in which those words had been uttered, thinking of that moment, as she also was thinking of it. She felt sure that such had been the case. She knew that it was this that had brought him there — there on to the foot-traces which they had made together.
And did he then love her so truly — with a love so hot, so eager, so deeply planted in his very soul? Was it really true that a passion for her had so filled his heart, that his whole life must by that be made or marred? Had she done this thing to him? Had she so impressed her image on his mind that he must be wretched without her? Was she so much to him, so completely all in all as regarded his future worldly happiness? Those words of his, asserting that love — her love — was to him a stern fact, a deep necessity — recurred over and over again to her mind. Could it really be that in doing as she had done, in giving herself to another after she had promised herself to him, she had committed an injustice which would constantly be brought up against her by him and by her own conscience? Had she in truth deceived and betrayed him — deserted him because he was poor, and given herself over to a rich lover because of his riches?
As she thought of this she forgot again that fact — which, indeed, she had never more than half realized in her mind — that he had justified her in separating herself from him by his reckless course of living; that his conduct must be held to have so justified her, let the pledge between them have been of what nature it might. Now, as she walked up and down that path, she thought nothing of his wickedness and his sins; she thought only of the vows to which she had once listened, and the renewal of those vows to which it was now so necessary that her ear should be deaf.
But was her heart deaf to them? She swore to herself, over and over again, scores and scores of oaths, that it was so; but each time that she swore, some lowest corner in the depth of her conscience seemed to charge her with a falsehood. Why was it that in all her hours of thinking she so much oftener saw his face, Owen’s, than she did that other face of which in duty she was bound to think and dream? It was in vain that she told herself that she was afraid of Owen, and therefore thought of him. The tone of his voice that rang in her ears the oftenest was not that of his anger and sternness, but the tone of his first assurance of love — that tone which had been so inexpressibly sweet to her — that to which she had listened on this very spot where she now walked slowly, thinking of him. The look of his which was ever present to her eyes was not that on which she had almost feared to gaze but an hour ago; but the form and spirit which his countenance had worn when they were together on that well-remembered day.
And then she would think, or try to think, of Herbert, and of all his virtues and of all his goodness. He too loved her well. She never doubted that. He had come to her with soft words, and pleasant smiles, and sweet honeyed compliments — compliments which had been sweet to her as they are to all girls; but his soft words, and pleasant smiles, and honeyed love-making had never given her so strong a thrill of strange delight as had those few words from Owen. Her very heart’s core had been affected by the vigour of his affection. There had been in it a mysterious grandeur which had half charmed and half frightened her. It had made her feel that he, were it fated that she should belong to him, would indeed be her lord and ruler; that his was a spirit before which hers would bend and feel itself subdued. With him she could realize all that she had dreamed of woman’s love, and that dream which is so sweet to some women — of woman’s subjugation. But could it be the same with him to whom she was now positively affianced, with him to whom she knew that she did now owe all her duty? She feared that it was not the same.
And then again she swore that she loved him. She thought over all his excellences; how good he was as a son — how fondly his sisters loved him — how inimitable was his conduct in these hard trying times. And she remembered also that it was right in every way that she should love him. Her mother and brother approved of it. Those who were to be her new relatives approved of it. It was in every way fitting. Pecuniary considerations were so favourable! But when she thought of that her heart sank low within her breast. Was it true that she had sold herself at her mother’s bidding? Should not the remembrance of Owen’s poverty have made her true to him had nothing else done so?
But be all that as it might, one thing, at any rate, was clear to her, that it was now her fate, her duty — and, as she repeated again and again, her wish to marry Herbert. No thought of rebellion against him and her mother ever occurred to her as desirable or possible. She would be to him a true and loving wife, a wife in very heart and soul. But, nevertheless, walking thus beneath those trees, she could not but think of Owen Fitzgerald.
In this mood she had gone twice down from the house to the lodge and back again, and now again she had reached the lodge the third time, making thus her last journey for in these solitary walks her work was measured. The exercise was needful, but there was little in the task to make her prolong it beyond what was necessary. But now, as she was turning for the last time, she heard the sound of a horse’s hoof coming fast along the road, and looking from the gate, she saw that Herbert was coming to her. She had not expected him, but now she waited at the gate to meet him.
It had been arranged that she was to go over in a few days to Castle Richmond, and stay there for a fortnight. This had been settled shortly before the visit made by Mr. Mollett, junior, at that place, and had not as yet been unsettled. But as soon as it was known that Sir Thomas had summoned Mr. Prendergast from London, it was felt by them all that it would be as well that Clara’s visit should be postponed. Herbert had been especially cautioned by his father, at the time of Mollett’s visit, not to tell his mother anything of what had occurred, and to a certain extent he had kept his promise. But it was of course necessary that Lady Fitzgerald should know that Mr. Prendergast was coming to the house, and it was of course impossible to keep from her the fact that his visit was connected with the lamentable state of her husband’s health and spirits. Indeed, she knew as much as that without any telling. It was not probable that Mr. Prendergast should come there now on a visit of pleasure.
“Whatever this may be that weighs upon his mind,” Herbert had said, “he will be better for talking it over with a man whom he trusts.”
“And why not with Somers?” said Lady Fitzgerald.
“Somers is too often with him, too near to him in all the affairs of his life. I really think he is wise to send for Mr. Prendergast. We do not know him, but I believe him to be a good man.”
Then Lady Fitzgerald had expressed herself as satisfied — as satisfied as she could be, seeing that her husband would not take her into his confidence; and after this it was settled that Herbert should at once ride over to Desmond Court, and explain that Clara’s visit had better be postponed.
Herbert got off his horse at the gate, and gave it to one of the children at the lodge to lead after him. His horse would not follow him, Clara said to herself as they walked back together towards the house. She could not prevent her mind running off in that direction. She would fain not have thought of Owen as she thus hung upon Herbert’s arm, but as yet she had not learned to control her thoughts. His horse had followed him lovingly-the dogs about the place had always loved him-the men and women of the whole country round, old and young, all spoke of him with a sort of love: everybody admired him. As all this passed through her brain, she was hanging on her accepted lover’s arm, and listening to his soft sweet words.
“Oh, yes! it will be much better,” she said, answering his proposal that she should put off her visit to Castle Richmond. “But I am so sorry that Sir Thomas should be ill. Mr. Prendergast is not a doctor, is he?”
And then Herbert explained that Mr. Prendergast was not a doctor, that he was a physician for the mind rather than for the body. Regarding Clara as already one of his own family, he told her as much as he had told his mother. He explained that there was some deep sorrow weighing on his father’s heart of which they none of them knew anything save its existence; that there might be some misfortune coming on Sir Thomas of which he, Herbert, could not even guess the nature; but that everything would be told to this Mr. Prendergast.
“It is very sad,” said Herbert.
“Very sad; very sad,” said Clara, with tears in her eyes. “Poor gentleman! I wish that we could comfort him.”
“And I do hope that we may,” said Herbert.
“Somers seems to think that his mind is partly affected, and that this misfortune, whatever it be, may not improbably be less serious than we anticipate;-that it weighs heavier on him than it would do, were he altogether well.”
“And your mother, Herbert?”
“Oh, yes; she also is to be pitied. Sometimes, for moments, she seems to dread some terrible misfortune; but I believe that in her calm judgment she thinks that our worst calamity is the state of my father’s health.”
Neither in discussing the matter with his mother or Clara, nor in thinking it over when alone, did it ever occur to Herbert that he himself might be individually subject to the misfortune over which his father brooded. Sir Thomas had spoken piteously to him, and called him poor, and had seemed to grieve over what might happen to him; but this had been taken by the son as a part of his father’s malady.
Everything around him was now melancholy, and therefore these terms had not seemed to have any special force of their own. He did not think it necessary to warn Clara that bad days might be in store for both of them, or to caution her that their path of love might yet be made rough.
“And whom do you think I met, just now, on horseback?” he asked, as soon as this question of her visit had been decided.
“Mr. Owen Fitzgerald, probably,” said Clara. “He went from hence about an hour since.”
“Owen Fitzgerald here!” he repeated, as though the tidings of such a visit having been made were not exactly pleasant to him. “I thought that Lady Desmond did not even see him now.”
“His visit was to me, Herbert, and I will explain it to you. I was just going to tell you when you first came in, only you began about Castle Richmond.”
“And have you seen him?”
“Oh yes, I saw him. Mamma thought it best. Yesterday he wrote a note to me which I will show you.” And then she gave him such an account of the interview as was possible to her, making it, at any rate, intelligible to him that Owen had come thither to claim her for himself, having heard the rumour of her engagement to his cousin.
“It was inexcusable on his part — unpardonable!” said Herbert, speaking with an angry spot on his face, and with more energy than was usual with him.
“Was it? why?” said Clara, innocently. She felt unconsciously that it was painful to her to hear Owen ill spoken of by her lover, and that she would fain excuse him if she could.
“Why, dearest? Think what motives he could have had; what other object than to place you in a painful position, and to cause trouble and vexation to us all. Did he not know that we were engaged?”
“Oh yes; he knew that; — at least, no; I am not quite sure — I think he said that he had heard it but did not —-”
“Did not what, love?”
“I think he said he did not quite believe it;” and then she was forced, much against her will, to describe to her betrothed how Owen had boldly claimed her as his own.
“His conduct has been unpardonable,” said Herbert, again. “Nay, it has been ungentleman-like. He has intruded himself where he well knew that he was not wanted; and he has done so taking advantage of a few words which, under the present circumstances, he should force himself to forget.”
“But, Herbert, it is I that have been to blame.”
“No; you have not been in blame. I tell you honestly that I can lay no blame at your door. At the age you were then, it was impossible that you should know your own mind. And even had your promise to him been of a much more binding nature, his subsequent conduct, and your mother’s remonstrance, as well as your own age, would have released you from it without any taint of falsehood. He knew all this as well as I do; and I am surprised that he should have forced his way into your mother’s house with the mere object of causing you embarrassment.”
It was marvellous how well Herbert Fitzgerald could lay down the law on the subject of Clara’s conduct, and on all that was due to her, and all that was not due to Owen. He was the victor; he had gained the prize; and therefore it was so easy for him to acquit his promised bride, and heap reproaches on the head of his rejected rival. Owen had been told that he was not wanted, and of course should have been satisfied with his answer. Why should he intrude himself among happy people with his absurd aspirations? For were they not absurd? Was it not monstrous on his part to suppose that he could marry Clara Desmond?
It was in this way that Herbert regarded the matter. But it was not exactly in that way that Clara looked at it. “He did not force his way in.” she said. “He wrote to ask if we would see him; and mamma said that she thought it better.”
“That is forcing his way in the sense that I meant it; and if I find that he gives further annoyance I shall tell him what I think about it. I will not have you persecuted.”
“Herbert, if you quarrel with him you will make me wretched. I think it would kill me.”
“I shall not do it if I can help it, Clara. But it is my duty to protect you, and if it becomes necessary I must do so; you have no father, and no brother of an age to speak to him, and that consideration alone should have saved you from such an attack.”
Clara said nothing more, for she knew that she could not speak out to him the feelings of her heart. She could not plead to him that she had injured Owen, that she had loved him and then given him up; that she had been false to him: she could not confess that, after all, the tribute of such a man’s love could not be regarded by her as an offence. So she said nothing further, but walked on in silence, leaning on his arm.
They were now close to the house, and as they drew near to it Lady Desmond met them on the door-step. “I dare say you have heard that we had a visitor here this morning,” she said, taking Herbert’s hand in an affectionate motherly way, and smiling on him with all her sweetness.
Herbert said that he had heard it, and expressed an opinion that Mr. Owen Fitzgerald would have been acting far more wisely to have remained at home at Hap House.
“Yes, perhaps so; certainly so,” said Lady Desmond, putting her arm within that of her future son, and walking back with him through the great hall. “He would have been wiser: he would have saved dear Clara from a painful half-hour, and he would have saved himself from perhaps years of sorrow. He has been very foolish to remember Clara’s childhood as he does remember it. But, my dear Herbert, what can we do? You lords of creation sometimes will be foolish even about such trifling things as women’s hearts.”
And then, when Herbert still persisted that Owen’s conduct had been inexcusable and ungentlemanlike, she softly flattered him into quiescence. “You must not forget,” she said, “that he perhaps has loved Clara almost as truly as you do. And then what harm can he do? It is not very probable that he should succeed in winning Clara away from you!”
“Oh no, it is not that I mean. It is for Clara’s sake.”
“And she, probably, will never see him again till she is your wife. That event will, I suppose, take place at no very remote period.”
“As soon as ever my father’s health will admit. That is if I can persuade Clara to be so merciful.”
“To tell the truth, Herbert, I think you could persuade her to anything. Of course we must not hurry her too much. As for me, my losing her will be very sad; you can understand that; but I would not allow any feeling of my own to stand in her way for half-an-hour.”
“She will be very near you, you know.”
“Yes, she will; and therefore, as I was saying, it would be absurd for you to quarrel with Mr. Owen Fitzgerald. For myself, I am sorry for him — very sorry for him. You know the whole story of what occurred between him and Clara, and of course you will understand that my duty at that time was plain. Clara behaved admirably, and if only he would not be so foolish, the whole matter might be forgotten. As far as you and I are concerned I think it may be forgotten.”
“But then his coming here?”
“That will not be repeated. I thought it better to show him that we were not afraid of him, and therefore I permitted it. Had I conceived that you would have objected —”
“Oh no!” said Herbert.
“Well, there was not much for you to be afraid of, certainly,” said the countess. And so he was appeased, and left the house promising that he, at any rate, would do nothing that might lead to a quarrel with his cousin Owen.
Clara, who had still kept on her bonnet, again walked down with him to the lodge, and encountered his first earnest supplication that an early day should be named for their marriage. She had many reasons, excellent good reasons, to allege why this should not be the case. When was a girl of seventeen without such reasons? And it is so reasonable that she should have such reasons. That period of having love made to her must be by far the brightest in her life. Is it not always a pity that it should be abridged?
“But your father’s illness, Herbert, you know.”
Herbert acknowledged that, to a certain extent, his father’s illness was a reason — only to a certain extent. It would be worse than useless to think of waiting till his father’s health should be altogether strong. Just for the present, till Mr. Prendergast should have gone, and perhaps for a fortnight longer, it might be well to wait. But after that — and then he pressed very closely the hand which rested on his arm. And so the matter was discussed between them with language and arguments which were by no means original.
At the gate, just as Herbert was about to remount his horse, they were encountered by a sight which for years past had not been uncommon in the south of Ireland, but which had become frightfully common during the last two or three months. A woman was standing there of whom you could hardly say that she was clothed, though she was involved in a mass of rags which covered her nakedness. Her head was all uncovered, and her wild black hair was streaming round her face. Behind her back hung two children enveloped among the rags in some mysterious way; and round about her on the road stood three others, of whom the two younger were almost absolutely naked. The eldest of the five was not above seven. They all had the same wild black eyes, and wild elfish straggling locks; but neither the mother nor the children were comely. She was short ad broad in the shoulders, though wretchedly thin; her bare legs seemed to be of nearly the same thickness up to the knee, and the naked limbs of the children were like yellow sticks. It is strange how various are the kinds of physical development among the Celtic peasantry in Ireland. In many places they are singularly beautiful, especially as children; and even after labour and sickness shall have told on them as labour and sickness will tell, they still retain a certain softness and grace which is very nearly akin to beauty. But then again in a neighbouring district they will be found to be squat, uncouth, and in no way attractive to the eye. The tint of the complexion, the nature of the hair, the colour of the eyes, shall be the same. But in one place it will seem as though noble blood had produced delicate limbs and elegant stature, whereas in the other a want of noble blood had produced the reverse. The peasants of Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary are, in this way, much more comely than those of Cork and Kerry.
When Herbert and Clara reached the gate they found this mother with her five children crouching at the ditch-side, although it was still mid-winter. They had seen him enter the demesne, and were now waiting with the patience of poverty for his return.
“An’ the holy Virgin guide an’ save you, my lady,” said the woman, almost frightening Clara by the sudden way in which she came forward, “an’ you too, Misther Herbert; and for the love of heaven do something for a poor crathur whose five starving childher have not had wholesome food within their lips for the last week past.”
Clara looked at them piteously and put her hand towards her pocket. Her purse was never well furnished, and now in these bad days was usually empty. At the present moment it was wholly so. “I have nothing to give her; not a penny,” she said, whispering to her lover.
But Herbert had learned deep lessons of political economy, and was by no means disposed to give promiscuous charity on the road-side. “What is your name,” said he; “and from where do you come?”
“Shure, an’ it’s yer honor knows me well enough; and her ladyship too; may the heavens be her bed. And don’t I come from Clady; that is two long miles the fur side of it? And my name is Bridget Sheehy. Shure, an’ yer ladyship remembers me at Clady the first day ye war over there about the biler.”
Clara looked at her, and thought that she did remember her, but she said nothing. “And who is your husband?” said Herbert.
“Murty Brien, plaze yer honor;” and the woman ducked a curtsey with the heavy load of two children on her back. It must be understood that among the poorer classes in the south and west of Ireland it is almost rare for a married woman to call herself or to be called by her husband’s name.
“And is he not at work?”
“Shure, an’ he is, yer honor — down beyant Kinsale by the say. But what’s four shilling a week for a man’s diet, let alone a woman and five bairns?”
“And so he has deserted you?”
“No, yer honor; he’s not dasarted me thin. He’s a good man and a kind, av’ he had the mains. But we’ve a cabin up here, on her ladyship’s ground that is; and he has sent me up among my own people, hoping that times would come round; but faix, yer honor, I’m thinking that they’ll never come round, no more.”
“And what do you want now, Bridget?”
“What is it I’m wanting? just a thrifle of money then to get a sup of milk for thim five childher as is starving and dying for the want of it.” And she pointed to the wretched, naked brood around her with a gesture which in spite of her ugliness had in it something of tragic grandeur.
“But you know that we will not give money. They will take you in at the poorhouse at Kanturk.”
“Is it the poorhouse, yer honor?”
“Or, if you get a ticket from your priest they will give you meal twice a week at Clady. You know that. Why do you not go to Father Connellan?”
“Is it the mail? An’ shure an’ haven’t I had it the last month past; nothin’ else; not a taste of a piaty or a dhrop of milk for nigh a month, and now look at the childher. Look at them, my lady. They are dyin’ by the very road-side. And she undid the bundle at her back, and laying the two babes down on the road, showed that the elder of them was in truth in a fearful state. It was a child nearly two years of age. but its little legs seemed to have withered away; its cheeks were wan, and yellow and sunken, and the two teeth which it had already cut were seen with terrible plainness through its emaciated lips. Its head and forehead were covered with sores; and then the mother, moving aside the rags, showed that its back and legs were in the same state. “Look to that,” she said, almost with scorn. “That’s what the mail has done — my black curses be upon it, and the day that it first come nigh the counthry.” And then again she covered the child and began to resume her load.
“Do give her something, Herbert, pray do,” said Clara, with her whole face suffused with tears.
“You know that we cannot give away money,” said Herbert, arguing with Bridget Sheehy, and not answering Clara at the moment. “You understand enough of what is being done to know that. Why do you not go into the Union?”
“Shure thin an’ I’ll jist tramp on as fur as Hap House, I and my childher; that is av’ they do not die by the road-side. Come on, bairns. Mr. Owen won’t be afther sending me to the Kanturk union when I tell him that I’ve travelled all thim miles to get a dhrink of milk for a sick babe; more by token when I tells him also that I’m one of the Desmond tinantry. It’s he that loves the Desmonds, Lady Clara — loves them as his own heart’s blood. And it’s I that wish him good luck with his love, in spite of all that’s come and gone yet. Come on, bairns, come along; we have seven weary miles to walk.”
And then, having rearranged her burden on her back, she prepared again to start.
Herbert Fitzgerald, from the first moment of his interrogating the woman, had of course known that he would give her somewhat. In spite of all his political economy, there were but few days in which he did not empty his pocket of his loose silver, with these culpable deviations from his theoretical philosophy. But yet he felt that it was his duty to insist on his rules, as far as his heart would allow him to do so. It was a settled thing at their relief committee that there should be no giving away of money to chance applicants for alms. What money each had to bestow would go twice further by being brought to the general fund — by being expended with forethought and discrimination. This was the system which all attempted, which all resolved to adopt who were then living in the south of Ireland. But the system was impracticable, for it required frames of iron and hearts of adamant. It was impossible not to waste money in almsgiving.
“Oh, Herbert!” said Clara, imploringly, as the woman prepared to start.
“Bridget, come here,” said Herbert, and he spoke very seriously, for the woman’s allusion to Owen Fitzgerald had driven a cloud across his brow. “Your child is very ill, and therefore I will give you something to help you,” and he gave her a shilling and two sixpences.
“May the God in heaven bless you thin, and make you happy, whoever wins the bright darling by your side; and may the good days come back to yer house and all that belongs to it. May yer wife clave to you all her days, and be a good mother to your childher.” And she would have gone on further with her blessing had not he interrupted her.
“Go on now, my good woman,” said he, “and take your children where they may be warm. If you will be advised by me, you will go to the Union at Kanturk.” And so the woman passed on still blessing them. Very shortly after this none of them required pressing to go to the workhouse. Every building that could be arranged for the purpose was filled to overflowing as soon as it was ready. But the worst of the famine had not come upon them as yet. And then Herbert rode back to Castle Richmond.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01