“I don’t think he will,” said Mr. Prendergast; and as he spoke, Captain Donnellan’s ear could detect that there was something approaching to sarcasm in the tone of the old man’s voice. The Captain was quite sure that his friend would not be even at the heel of the hunt that day; and without further compunction proceeded to fasten his buckskin gloves round his wrists. The meet was so near to them, that they had both intended to ride their own hunters from the door; and the two nags were now being led up and down upon the gravel.
But at this moment a terrible noise was heard to take place in the hall. There was a rush and crushing there which made even Mr. Prendergast to jump from his chair, and drove Captain Donnellan to forget his gloves and run to the door.
It was as though all the winds of heaven were being driven down the passage, and as though each separate wind was shod with heavy-heeled boots. Captain Donnellan ran to the door, and Mr. Prendergast with slower steps followed him. When it was opened, Owen was to be seen in the hall, apparently in a state of great excitement; and the gentleman whom he had lately asked to breakfast — he was to be seen also, in a position of unmistakable discomfort. He was at that moment proceeding, with the utmost violence, into a large round bed of bushes, which stood in the middle of the great sweep before the door of the house, his feet just touching the ground as he went; and then, having reached his bourne, he penetrated face foremost into the thicket, and in an instant disappeared. He had been kicked out of the house. Owen Fitzgerald had taken him by the shoulders, with a run along the passage and hall, and having reached the door, had applied the flat of his foot violently to poor Aby’s back, and sent him flying down the stone steps. And now, as Captain Donnellan and Mr. Prendergast stood looking on, Mr. Mollett junior buried himself altogether out of sight among the shrubs.
“You have done for that fellow, at any rate, Owen,” said Captain Donnellan, glancing for a moment at Mr. Prendergast. “I should say that he will never get out of that alive.”
“Not if he wait till I pick him out,” said Owen, breathing very hard after his exertion. “An infernal scoundrel! And now, Mr. Prendergast, if you are ready, sir, I am.” It was as much as he could do to finish these few words with that sang froid which he desired to assume, so violent was his attempt at breathing after his late exercise.
It was impossible not to conceive the idea that, as one disagreeable visitor had been disposed of in a somewhat summary fashion, so might be the other also. Mr. Prendergast did not look like a man who was in the habit of leaving gentlemen’s houses in the manner just now adopted by Mr. Mollett; but nevertheless, as they had come together, both unwished for and unwelcome, Captain Donnellan did for a moment bethink himself whether there might not be more of such fun, if he remained there on the spot. At any rate, it would not do for him to go to the hunt while such deeds as these were being done. It might be that his assistance would be wanted.
Mr. Prendergast smiled, with a saturnine and somewhat bitter smile — the nearest approach to a laugh in which he was known to indulge — for the same notion came also into his head. “He has disposed of him, and now he is thinking how he will dispose of me.” Such was Mr. Prendergast’s thought about the matter; and that made him smile. And then, too, he was pleased at what he had seen. That this Mollett was the son of that other Mollett, with whom he had been closeted at Castle Richmond, was plain enough; it was plain enough also to him, used as he was to trace out in his mind the courses of action which men would follow, that Mollett junior, having heard of his father’s calamitous failure at Castle Richmond, had come down to Hap House to see what he could make out of the hitherto unconscious heir. It had been matter of great doubt with Mr. Prendergast, when he first heard young Mollett’s name mentioned, whether or no he would allow him to make his attempt. He, Mr. Prendergast, could by a word have spoilt the game; but acting, as he was forced to act, on the spur of the moment, he resolved to permit Mr. Mollett junior to play out his play. He would be yet in time to prevent any ill result to Mr. Fitzgerald, should that gentleman be weak enough to succumb to any such ill results. As things had now turned out Mr. Prendergast rejoiced that Mr. Mollett junior had been permitted to play out his play. “And now, Mr. Prendergast, if you are ready, I am,” said Owen.
“Perhaps we had better first pick up the gentleman among the trees,” said Mr. Prendergast. And he and Captain Donnellan went down into the bushes.
“Do as you please about that,” said Owen. “I have touched him once and shall not touch him again.” And he walked back into the dining-room.
One of the grooms who were leading the horses had now gone to the assistance of the fallen hero; and as Captain Donnellan also had already penetrated as far as Aby’s shoulders, Mr. Prendergast, thinking that he was not needed, returned also to the house. “I hope he is not seriously hurt,” he said.
“Not he,” said Owen. “Those sort of men are as used to be kicked, as girls are to be kissed; and it comes as naturally to them. But anything short of having his bones broken will be less than he deserves.”
“May I ask what was the nature of his offence?”
Owen remained silent for a moment, looking his guest full in the face. “Well; not exactly,” said he. “He has been talking of people of whom he knows nothing, but it would not be well for me to repeat what he has said to a perfect stranger.”
“Quite right, Mr. Fitzgerald; it would not be well. But there can be no harm in my repeating it to you. He came here to get money from you for certain tidings which he brought; tidings which if true would be of great importance to you. As I take it, however, he has altogether failed in his object.”
“And how do you come to know all this, sir?”
“Merely from having heard that man mention his own name. I also have come with the same tidings; and as I ask for no money for communicating them, you may believe them to be true on my telling.”
“What tidings?” asked Owen, with a frown, and an angry jerk in his voice. No remotest notion had yet come in upon his mind that there was any truth in the story that had been told him. He had looked upon it all as a lie, and had regarded Mollett as a sorry knave who had come to him with a poor and low attempt at raising a few pounds. And even now he did not believe. Mr. Prendergast’s words had been too sudden to produce belief of so great a fact, and his first thought was that an endeavour was being made to fool him.
“Those tidings which that man has told you,” said Mr. Prendergast, solemnly. “That you should not have believed them from him shows only your discretion. But from me you may believe them. I have come from Castle Richmond, and am here as a messenger from Sir Thomas — from Sir Thomas and from his son. When the matter became clear to them both, then it was felt that you also should be made acquainted with it.”
Owen Fitzgerald now sat down, and looked up into the lawyer’s face, staring at him. I may say that the power of saying much was for the moment taken away from him by the words that he heard. What! was it really possible that that title, that property, that place of honour in the country was to be his when one frail old man should drop away? And then again was it really true that all this immeasurable misery was to fall — had fallen — upon that family whom he had once known so well? It was but yesterday that he had been threatening all manner of evil to his cousin Herbert; and had his threats been proved true so quickly? But there was no shadow of triumph in his feelings. Owen Fitzgerald was a man of many faults. He was reckless, passionate, prone to depreciate the opinion of others, extravagant in his thoughts and habits, ever ready to fight, both morally and physically, those who did not at a moment’s notice agree with him. He was a man who would at once make up his mind that the world was wrong when the world condemned him, and who would not in compliance with any argument allow himself to be so. But he was not avaricious, nor cruel, nor self-seeking, nor vindictive. In his anger he could pronounce all manner of ill things against his enemy, as he had pronounced some ill things against Herbert; but it was not in him to keep up a sustained wish that those ill things should really come to pass. This news which he now heard, and which he did not yet fully credit, struck him with awe, but created no triumph in his bosom. He realized the catastrophe as it affected his cousins of Castle Richmond rather than as it affected himself.
“Do you mean to say that Lady Fitzgerald —” and then he stopped himself. He had not the courage to ask the question which was in his mind. Could it really be the case that Lady Fitzgerald — that she whom all the world had so long honoured under that name, was in truth the wife of that man’s father — of the father of that wretch whom he had just spurned from his house? The tragedy was so deep that he could not believe in it.
“We fear that it is so, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said Mr. Prendergast. “That it certainly is so I cannot say. And therefore, if I may take the liberty to give you counsel, I would advise you not to make too certain of this change in your prospects.”
“Too certain!” said he, with a bitter laugh. “Do you suppose then that I would wish to see all this ruin accomplished? Heavens and earth! Lady Fitzgerald —! I cannot believe it.”
And then Captain Donnellan also returned to the room. “Fitzgerald,” said he, “what the mischief are we to do with this fellow? He says that he can’t walk, and he bleeds from his face like a pig.”
“What fellow? Oh, do what you like with him. Here: give him a pound note, and let him go to the d ——. And Donnellan, for heaven’s sake go to Cecilstown at once. Do not wait for me. I have business that will keep me here all day.”
“But I do not know what to do with this fellow that’s bleeding,” said the captain, piteously, as he took the proffered note. “If he puts up with a pound note for what you’ve done to him, he’s softer than what I take him for.”
“He will be very glad to be allowed to escape without being given up to the police,” said Mr. Prendergast.
“But I don’t know what to do with him,” said Captain Donnellan. “He says that he can’t stand.”
“Then lay him down on the dunghill,” said Owen Fitzgerald; “but for heaven’s sake do not let him interrupt me. And, Donnellan, you will altogether lose the day if you stay any longer.” Whereupon the captain, seeing that in very truth he was not wanted, did take himself off, casting as he went one farewell look on Aby as he lay groaning on the turf on the far side of the tuft of bushes.
“He’s kilt intirely, I’m thinking, yer honor,” said Thady, who was standing over him on the other side.
“He’ll come to life again before dinner-time,” said the Captain.
“Oh, in course he’ll do that, yer honor,” said Thady; and then added sotto voce, to himself, as the captain rode down the avenue, “Faix, an’ I don’t know about that. Shure an’ it’s the masther has a heavy hand.” And then Thady stood for a while perplexed, endeavouring to reanimate Aby by a sight of the pound note which he held out visibly between his thumb and fingers.
And now Mr. Prendergast and Owen were again alone. “And what am I to do?” said Owen, after a pause of a minute or two; and he asked the question with a serious, solemn voice.
“Just for the present — for the next day or two — I think that you should do nothing. As soon as the first agony of this time is over at Castle Richmond, I think that Herbert should see you. It would be very desirable that he and you should take in concert such proceedings as will certainly become necessary. The absolute proof of the truth of this story must be obtained. You understand, I hope, Mr. Fitzgerald, that the case still admits of doubt.”
Owen nodded his head impatiently, as though it were needless on the part of Mr. Prendergast to insist upon this. He did not wish to take it for true a moment sooner than was necessary.
“It is my duty to give you this caution. Many lawyers — I presume you know that I am a lawyer —”
“I did not know it,” said Owen; “but it makes no difference.”
“Thank you; that’s very kind,” said Mr. Prendergast; but the sarcasm was altogether lost upon his hearer. “Some lawyers, as I was saying, would in such a case have advised their clients to keep all their suspicions, nay all their knowledge, to themselves. Why play the game of an adversary? they would ask. But I have thought it better that we should have no adversary.”
“And you will have none,” said Owen; “none in me, at least.”
“I am much gratified in so perceiving, and in having such evidence that my advice has not been indiscreet. It occurred to me that if you received the first intimation of these circumstances from other sources, you would be bound on your own behalf to employ an agent to look after your own interests.”
“I should have done nothing of the kind,” said Owen.
“Ah, but, my dear young friend, in such a case it would have been your duty to do so.”
“Then I should have neglected my duty. And do you tell Herbert this from me, that let the truth be what it may, I shall never interrupt him in his title or his property. It is not there that I shall look either for justice or revenge. He will understand what I mean.”
But Mr. Prendergast did not, by any means; nor did he enter into the tone of Owen Fitzgerald’s mind. They were both just men, but just in an essentially different manner. The justice of Mr. Prendergast had come of thought and education. As a young man, when entering on his profession, he was probably less just than he was now. He had thought about matters of law and equity, till thought had shown to him the beauty of equity as it should be practised — often by the aid of law, and not unfrequently in spite of law. Such was the justice of Mr. Prendergast. That of Owen Fitzgerald had come of impulse and nature, and was the justice of a very young man rather than of a very wise one. That title and property did not, as he felt, of justice belong to him, but to his cousin. What difference could it make in the true justice of things, whether or no that wretched man was still alive whom all the world had regarded as dead? In justice he ought to be dead. Now that this calamity of the man’s life had fallen upon Sir Thomas and Lady Fitzgerald and his cousin Herbert, it would not be for him to aggravate it by seizing upon a heritage which might possibly accrue to him under the letter of the world’s law, but which could not accrue to him under heaven’s law. Such was the justice of Owen Fitzgerald; and we may say this of it in its dispraise, as comparing it with that other justice, that whereas that of Mr. Prendergast would wear for ever, through ages and ages, that other justice of Owen’s would hardly have stood the pull of a ten years’ struggle. When children came to him, would he not have thought of what might have been theirs by right; and then have thought of what ought to be theirs by right; and so on?
But in speaking of justice, he had also spoken of revenge, and Mr. Prendergast was altogether in the dark. What revenge? He did not know that poor Owen had lost a love, and that Herbert had found it. In the midst of all the confused thoughts which this astounding intelligence had brought upon him, Owen still thought of his love. There Herbert had robbed him — robbed him by means of his wealth; and in that matter he desired justice — justice or revenge. He wanted back his love. Let him have that and Herbert might yet be welcome to his title and estates.
Mr. Prendergast remained there for some half-hour longer, explaining what ought to be done, and how it ought to be done. Of course he combated that idea of Owen’s, that the property might be allowed to remain in the hands of the wrong heir. Had that been consonant with his ideas of justice he would not have made his visit to Hap House this morning. Right must have its way, and if it should be that Lady Fitzgerald’s marriage with Sir Thomas had not been legal, Owen, on Sir Thomas’s death, must become Sir Owen, and Herbert could not become Sir Herbert. So much to the mind of Mr. Prendergast was as clear as crystal. Let justice be done, even though these Castle Richmond heavens should fall in ruins.
And then he took his departure, leaving Owen to his solitude, much perplexed. “And where is that man?” Mr. Prendergast asked, as he got on to his car.
“Bedad thin, yer honor, he’s very bad intirely. He’s jist sitthing over the kitchen fire, moaning and croning this way and that, but sorrow a word he’s spoke since the masther hoisted him out o’ the big hall door. And thin for blood — why, saving yer honer’s presence, he’s one mash of gore.”
“You’d better wash his face for him, and give him a little tea,” said Mr. Prendergast, and then he drove away.
And strange ideas floated across Owen Fitzgerald’s brain as he sat there alone, in his hunting gear, leaning on the still covered breakfast-table. They floated across his brain backwards and forwards, and at last remained there, taking almost the form of a definite purpose. He would make a bargain with Herbert, let each of them keep that which was fairly his own; let Herbert have all the broad lands of Castle Richmond; let him have the title, the seat in parliament, and the county honour; but for him, Owen — let him have Clara Desmond. He desired nothing that was not fairly his own; but as his own he did regard her, and without her he did not know how to face the future of his life. And in suggesting this arrangement to himself, he did not altogether throw over her feelings; he did take into account her heart, though he did not take into account her worldly prospects. She had loved him — him — Owen; and he would not teach himself to believe that she did not love him still. Her mother had been too powerful for her, and she had weakly yielded, but as to her heart — Owen could not bring himself to believe that that was gone from him.
They two would make a bargain — he and his cousin. Honour and renown, and the money and the title would be everything to his cousin. Herbert had been brought up to expect these things, and all the world around him had expected them for him. It would be terrible to him to find himself robbed of them. But the loss of Clara Desmond was equally terrible to Owen Fitzgerald. He allowed his heart to fill itself with a romantic sense of honour, teaching him that it behoved him as a man not to give up his love. Without her he would live disgraced in his own estimation; but who would not think the better of him for refraining from the possession of those Castle Richmond acres? Yes; he would make a bargain with Herbert. Who was there in the world to deny his right to do so?
As he sat revolving these things in his mind, he suddenly heard a rushing sound, as of many horsemen down the avenue, and going to the window, he saw two or three leading men of the hunt, accompanied by the grey-haired old huntsman; and through and about and under the horsemen were the dogs, running in and out of the laurels which skirted the road, with their noses down, giving every now and then short yelps as they caught up the uncertain scent from the leaves on the ground, and hurried on upon the trail of their game.
“Yo ho! to him, Messenger; hark to him Maybird; good bitch, Merrylass. He’s down here, gen’lemen, and he’ll never get away alive. He came to a bad place when he looked out for going to ground anywhere near Mr. Owen.”
And then there came, fast trotting down through the other horsemen, making his way eagerly to the front, a stout heavy man, with a florid handsome face and eager eye. He might be some fifty years of age, but no lad there of three-and-twenty was so anxious and impetuous as he. He was riding a large-boned, fast-trotting bay horse, that pressed on as eagerly as his rider. As he hurried forward all made way for him, till he was close to the shrubs in the front of the house.
“Bless my soul, gentlemen,” he said, in an angry voice, “how, in the name of all that’s good, are hounds to hunt if you press them down the road in that way? By heavens, Barry, you are enough to drive a man wild. Yoicks, Merrylass! there it is, Pat;”— Pat was the huntsman —“outside the low wall there, down towards the river.” This was Sam O’Grady, the master of the Duhallow hounds, the god of Owen’s idolatry. No better fellow ever lived, and no master of hounds, so good; such at least was the opinion common among Duhallow sportsmen.
“Yes, yer honer — he did skirt round there, I knows that; but he’s been among them laurels at the bottom, and he’ll be about the place and outhouses somewhere. There’s a drain here that I knows on, and he knows on. But Mr. Owen, he knows on it too; and there ain’t a chance for him.” So argued Pat, the Duhallow huntsman, the experienced craft of whose aged mind enabled him to run counter to the cutest dodges of the cutest fox in that and any of the three neighbouring baronies.
And now the sweep before the door was crowded with red coats; and Owen, looking from his dining-room window, felt that he must take some step. As an ordinary rule, had the hunt thus drifted near his homestead, he would have been off his horse and down among his bottles, sending up sherry and cherry-brandy; and there would have been comfortable drink in plenty, and cold meat, perhaps, not in plenty; and every one would have been welcome in and out of the house. But now there was that at his heart which forbade him to mix with the men who knew him so well, and among whom he was customarily so loudly joyous. Dressed as he was, he could not go among them without explaining why he had remained at home; and as to that, he felt that he was not able to give any explanation at the present moment.
“What’s the matter with Owen?” said one fellow to Captain Donnellan.
“Upon my word I hardly know. Two chaps came to him this morning, before he was up; about business, they said. He nearly murdered one of them out of hand; and I believe that he’s locked up somewhere with the other this minute.”
But in the mean time a servant came up to Mr. O’Grady, and, touching his hat, asked the master of the hunt to go into the house for a moment; and then Mr. O’Grady, dismounting, entered in through the front door. He was only there two minutes, for his mind was still outside, among the laurels, with the fox; but as he put his foot again into the stirrup, he said to those around him that they must hurry away, and not disturb Owen Fitzgerald that day. It may, therefore, easily be imagined that the mystery would spread quickly through that portion of the county of Cork.
They must hurry away; — but not before they could give an account of their fox. Neither for gods nor men must he be left, as long as his skin was whole above ground. There is an importance attaching to the pursuit of a fox, which gives it a character quite distinct from that of any other amusement which men follow in these realms. It justifies almost anything that men can do, and that at any place and in any season. There is about it a sanctity which forbids interruption, and makes its votaries safe under any circumstances of trespass or intrusion. A man in a hunting county who opposes the county hunt must be a misanthrope, willing to live in seclusion, fond of being in Coventry, and in love with the enmity of his fellow-creatures. There are such men, but they are regarded as lepers by those around them. All this adds to the nobleness of the noble sport, and makes it worthy of a man’s energies.
And then the crowd of huntsmen hurried round from the front of the house to a paddock at the back, and then again through the stable yard to the front. The hounds were about — here, there, and everywhere, as any one ignorant of the craft would have said, but still always on the scent of that doomed beast. From one thicket to another he tried to hide himself, but the moist leaves of the underwood told quickly of his whereabouts. He tried every hole and cranny about the house, but every hole and corner had been stopped by Owen’s jealous care. He would have lived disgraced for ever in his own estimation, had a fox gone to ground anywhere about his domicile. At last a loud whoop was heard just in front of the hall door. The poor fox, with his last gasp of strength, had betaken himself to the thicket before the door, and there the hounds had killed him, at the very spot on which Aby Mollett had fallen.
Standing well back from the window, still thinking of Clara Desmond, Owen Fitzgerald saw the fate of the hunted animal; he saw the pate and tail severed from the carcase by old Pat, and the body thrown to the hounds — a ceremony over which he had presided so many scores of times; and then, when the hounds had ceased to growl over the bloody fragments, he saw the hunt move away, back along the avenue to the high road. All this he saw, but still he was thinking of Clara Desmond.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55