As Mollett left the house he saw two men walking down the road away from the sweep before the hall door, and as he passed them he recognized one as the young gentleman of the house. He also saw that a horse followed behind them, on the grass by the roadside, not led by the hand, but following with the reins laid loose upon his neck. They took no notice of him or his car, but allowed him to pass as though he had no concern whatever with the destinies of either of them. They were Herbert and Owen Fitzgerald.
The reader will perhaps remember the way in which Owen left Desmond Court on the occasion of his last visit there. It cannot be said that what he had heard had in any way humbled him, nor indeed had it taught him to think that Clara Desmond looked at him altogether with indifference. Greatly as she had injured him, he could not bring himself to look upon her as the chief sinner. It was Lady Desmond who had done it all. It was she who had turned against him because of his poverty, who had sold her daughter to his rich cousin, and robbed him of the love which he had won for himself. Or perhaps not of the love — it might be that this was yet his; and if so, was it not possible that he might beat the countess at her own weapons? Thinking over this, he felt that it was necessary for him to do something, to take some step; and therefore he resolved to go boldly to his cousin, and tell him that he regarded Lady Clara Desmond as still his own.
On this morning, therefore, he had ridden up to the Castle Richmond door. It was now many months since he had been there, and he was no longer entitled to enter the house on the acknowledged intimate footing of a cousin. He rode up, and asked the servant with grave ceremony whether Mr. Herbert Fitzgerald were at home. He would not go in, he said, but if Mr. Herbert were there he would wait for him at the porch. Herbert at the time was standing in the dining-room, all alone, gloomily leaning against the mantelpiece. There was nothing for him to do during the whole of that day but wait for the evening, when the promised revelation would be made to him. He knew that Mollett and Mrs. Jones were with Mr. Prendergast in the study, but what was the matter now being investigated between them — that he did not know. And till he knew that, closely as he was himself concerned, he could meddle with nothing. But it was already past noon and the evening would soon be there.
In this mood he was interrupted by being told that his cousin Owen was at the door. “He won’t come in at all, Mr. Herbert,” Richard had said; for Richard, according to order, was still waiting about the porch; “but he says that you are to go to him there.” And then Herbert, after considering the matter for a moment, joined his cousin at the front entrance.
“I want to speak to you a few words,” said Owen; “but as I hear that Sir Thomas is not well, I will not go into the house; perhaps you will walk with me as far as the lodge. Never mind the mare, she will not go astray.” And so Herbert got his hat and accompanied him. For the first hundred yards neither of them said anything. Owen would not speak of Clara till he was well out of hearing from the house, and at the present moment Herbert had not much inclination to commence a conversation on any subject.
Owen was the first to speak. “Herbert,” said he, “I have been told that you are engaged to marry Lady Clara Desmond.”
“And so I am,” said Herbert, feeling very little inclined to admit of any question as to his privilege in that respect. Things were happening around him which might have — Heaven only knows what consequence. He did fear — fear with a terrible dread that something might occur which would shatter the cup of his happiness, and rob him of the fruition of his hopes. But nothing had occurred as yet.
“And so I am,” he said; “it is no wonder that you should have heard it, for it has been kept no secret. And I also have heard of your visit to Desmond Court. It might have been as well, I think, if you had stayed away.”
“I thought differently,” said Owen, frowning blackly. “I thought that the most straight-forward thing for me was to go there openly, having announced my intention, and tell them both, mother and daughter, that I hold myself as engaged to Lady Clara, and that I hold her as engaged to me.”
“That is absurd nonsense. She cannot be engaged to two persons.”
“Anything that interferes with you, you will of course think absurd. I think otherwise. It is hardly more than twelve months since she and I were walking there together, and then she promised me her love. I had known her long and well, when you had hardly seen her. I knew her and loved her; and what is more, she loved me. Remember, it is not I only that say so. She said it herself, and swore that nothing should change her. I do not believe that anything has changed her.”
“Do you mean to say that at present she cares nothing for me? Owen, you must be mad on this matter.”
“Mad; yes, of course; if I think that any girl can care for me while you are in the way. Strange as it may appear, I am as mad even as that. There are people who will not sell themselves even for money and titles. I say again, that I do not believe her to be changed. She has been weak, and her mother has persuaded her. To her mother, rank and money, titles and property, are everything. She has sold her daughter, and I have come to ask you, whether, under such circumstances, you intend to accept the purchase.”
In his ordinary mood Herbert Fitzgerald was by no means a quarrelsome man. Indeed we may go further than that, and say that he was very much the reverse. His mind was argumentative rather than impulsive, and in all matters he was readier to persuade than overcome. But his ordinary nature had been changed. It was quite new with him to be nervous and fretful but he was so at the present moment. He was deeply concerned in the circumstances around him, but yet had been allowed no voice in them. In this affair that was so peculiarly his own — this of his promised bride, he was determined that no voice should be heard but his own; and now, contrary to his wont, he was ready enough to quarrel with his cousin.
Of Owen we may say, that he was a man prone to fighting of all sorts, and on all occasions. By fighting I do not mean the old-fashioned resource of putting an end to fighting by the aid of two pistols, which were harmless in nineteen cases out of twenty. In saying that Owen Fitzgerald was prone to fight, I do not allude to fighting of that sort; I mean that he was impulsive, and ever anxious to contend and conquer. To yield was to him ignoble, even though he might know that he was yielding to the right. To strive for mastery was to him noble, even though he strove against those who had a right to rule, and strove on behalf of the wrong. Such was the nature of his mind and spirit; and this nature had impelled him to his present enterprise at Castle Richmond. But he had gone thither with an unwonted resolve not to be passionate. He had, he had said to himself, right on his side, and he had purposed to argue it out fairly with his more cold-blooded cousin. The reader may probably guess the result of these fair arguments on such a subject. “And I have come to ask you,” he said, “whether under such circumstances you intend to accept the purchase?”
“I will not allow you to speak of Lady Desmond in such language; nor of her daughter,” said Herbert, angrily.
“Ah! but, Herbert, you must allow me; I have been ill used in this matter, and I have a right to make myself heard.”
“Is it I that have ill used you? I did not know before that gentlemen made loud complaints of such ill usage from the hands of ladies.”
“If the ill usage, as you please to call it —”
“It is your own word.”
“Very well. If this ill usage came from Clara Desmond herself, I should be the last person to complain of it; and you would be the last person to whom I should make complaint. But I feel sure that it is not so. She is acting under the influence of her mother, who has frightened her into this thing which she is doing. I do not believe that she is false herself.”
“I am sure that she is not false. We are quite agreed there, but it is not likely that we should agree further. To tell you the truth frankly I think you are ill-judged to speak to me on such a topic.”
“Perhaps in that respect you will allow me to think for myself. But I have not yet said that which I came to say. My belief is that unfair and improper restraint is put upon Clara Desmond, that she has been induced by her mother to accept your offer in opposition to her own wishes, and that therefore it is my duty to look upon her as still betrothed to me. I do so regard her, and shall act under such conviction. The first thing that I do therefore is to call upon you to relinquish your claim.”
“What, to give her up?”
“Yes, to give her up; — to acknowledge that you cannot honestly call upon her to fulfil her pledge to you.”
“The man must be raving,” Herbert said.
“Very probably; but remember this, it may be that he will rave to some purpose, when such insolence will be but of little avail to you. Raving! Yes, I suppose that a man poor as I am must be mad indeed to set his heart upon anything you may choose to fancy.”
“All that is nonsense; Owen, I ask for nothing but my own. I won her love fairly, and I mean to keep it firmly.”
“You may possibly have won her hand, but never her heart. You are rich, and it may be that even she will condescend to barter her hand; but I doubt it; I altogether doubt it. It is her mother’s doing, as it was plain enough for me to see the other day at Desmond Court; but much as she may fear her mother, I cannot think that she will go to the altar with a lie in her mouth.”
And then they walked on in silence for a few yards. Herbert was anxious to get back to the house, and was by no means desirous of continuing this conversation with his cousin. He, at any rate, could get nothing by talking about Lady Clara Desmond to Owen Fitzgerald. He stopped therefore on the path, and said, that if Owen had nothing further to say, he, Herbert, would go back to the house.
“Nothing further! Nothing further, if you understand me; but you do not. You are not honest enough in this matter to understand any purpose but your own.”
“I tell you what, Owen: I did not come out here to hear myself abused; and I will not stand it. According to my idea you had no right whatever to speak to me about Lady Clara Desmond. But you are my cousin; and therefore I have borne it. It may be as well that we should both understand that it is once for all. I will not listen to you again on the same subject.”
“Oh, you won’t. Upon my word you are a very great man! You will tell me next, I suppose, that this is your demesne, and will warn me off!”
“Even if I did that, I should not be wrong, under such provocation.”
“Very well, sir; then I will go off. But remember this, Herbert Fitzgerald, you shall live to rue the day when you treated me with such insolence. And remember this also, Clara Desmond is not your wife as yet. Everything now seems happy with you, and fortunate; you have wealth and a fine house, and a family round you, while I am there all alone, left like a dog, as far as my own relatives are concerned. But yet it may come to pass that the Earl of Desmond’s daughter will prefer my hand to yours, and my house to your house. They who mount high may chance to get a fall.” And then, having uttered this caution, he turned to his mare, and putting his hand upon the saddle, jumped into his seat, and pressing her into a gallop, darted off across the grass.
He had not meant anything specially by his threat; but his heart was sore within him. During some weeks past, he had become sick of the life that he was leading. He had begun to hate his own solitary house — his house that was either solitary, or filled with riot and noise. He sighed for the quiet hours that were once his at Desmond Court, and the privilege of constant entrance there, which was now denied him. His cousin Herbert had everything at his command — wealth, station, family ties, society, and all the consideration of high place. Every blessing was at the feet of the young heir; but every blessing was not enough, unless Clara Desmond was also added. All this seemed so cruel to him, as he sat alone in his parlour at Hap House, meditating on his future course of life! And then he would think of Clara’s promise, of her assurance that nothing should frighten her from her pledge. He thought of this as though the words had been spoken to him only yesterday. He pondered over these things till he hated his cousin Herbert; and hating him, he vowed that Clara Desmond should not be his wife. “Is he to have everything?” he would say to himself. “No, by leavens! not everything. He has enough, and may be contented; but he shall not have all.” And now, with similar thoughts running through his mind, he rode back to Hap House.
And Herbert turned back to Castle Richmond. As he approached the front door, he met Mr. Prendergast, who was leaving the house; but they had no conversation with each other. Herbert was in hopes that he might now, at once, be put out of suspense. Mollett was gone; and would it not be better that the tale should be told? But it was clear that Mr. Prendergast had no intention of lessening by an hour the interval he had given himself. He merely muttered a few words passing on, and Herbert went into the house.
And then there was another long, tedious, dull afternoon. Herbert sat with his sisters, but they had not the heart to talk to each other. At about four a note was brought to him. It was from Mr. Prendergast, begging Herbert to meet him in Sir Thomas’s study at eight. Sir Thomas had not been there during the day; and now did not intend to leave his own room. They dined at half-past six; and the appointment was therefore to take place almost immediately after dinner.
“Tell Mr. Prendergast that I will be there,” he said to the servant. And so that afternoon passed away, and the dinner also, very slowly and very sadly.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55