All that day of the hunt was passed very quietly at Castle Richmond. Herbert did not once leave the house, having begged Mr. Somers to make his excuse at a Relief Committee which it would have been his business to attend. A great portion of the day he spent with his father, who lay all but motionless, in a state that was apparently half comatose. During all those long hours very little was said between them about this tragedy of their family. Why should more be said now; now that the worst had befallen them — all that worst, to hide which Sir Thomas had endured such superhuman agony? And then four or five times during the day he went to his mother, but with her he did not stay long. To her he could hardly speak upon any subject, for to her as yet the story had not been told.
And she, when he thus came to her from time to time, with a soft word or two, or a softer kiss, would ask him no question. She knew that he had learned the whole, and knew also from the solemn cloud on his brow that that whole must be very dreadful. Indeed we may surmise that her woman’s heart had by this time guessed somewhat of the truth. But she would inquire of no one. Jones, she was sure, knew it all, but she did not ask a single question of her servant. It would be told to her when it was fitting. Why should she move in the matter?
Whenever Herbert entered her room she tried to receive him with something of a smile. It was clear enough that she was always glad of his coming, and that she made some little show of welcoming him. A book was always put away, very softly and by the slightest motion; but Herbert well knew what that book was, and whence his mother sought that strength which enabled her to live through such an ordeal as this.
And his sisters were to be seen, moving slowly about the house like the very ghosts of their former selves. Their voices were hardly heard; no ring of customary laughter ever came from the room in which they sat, when they passed their brother in the house they hardly dared to whisper to him. As to sitting down at table now with Mr. Prendergast, that effort was wholly abandoned; they kept themselves even from the sound of his footsteps.
Aunt Letty perhaps spoke more than the others, but what could she speak to the purpose? “Herbert,” she once said, as she caught him close by the door of the library and almost pulled him into the room —“Herbert, I charge you to tell me what all this is!”
“I can tell you nothing, dear aunt, nothing; — nothing as yet.”
“But, Herbert, tell me this; is it about my sister?” For very many years past Aunt Letty had always called Lady Fitzgerald her sister.
“I can tell you nothing; — nothing today.”
“I do not know — we must let Mr. Prendergast manage this matter as he will. I have taken nothing on myself, Aunt Letty — nothing.”
“Then I tell you what, Herbert; it will kill me. It will kill us all, as it is killing your father and your darling mother. I tell you that it is killing her fast. Human nature cannot bear it. For myself I could endure anything if I were trusted.” And sitting down in one of the high-backed library chairs she burst into a flood of tears; a sight which, as regarded Aunt Letty, Herbert had never seen before.
What if they all died? thought Herbert to himself in the bitterness of the moment. There was that in store for some of them which was worse than death. What business had Aunt Letty to talk of her misery? Of course she was wretched, as they all were; but how could she appreciate the burden that was on his back? What was Clara Desmond to her?
Shortly after noon Mr. Prendergast was back at the house; but he slunk up to his room, and no one saw anything of him. At half-past six he came down, and Herbert constrained himself to sit at the table while dinner was served; and so the day passed away. One more day only Mr. Prendergast was to stay at Castle Richmond; and then, if, as he expected, certain letters should reach him on that morning, he was to start for London late on the following day. It may well be imagined that he was not desirous of prolonging his visit.
Early on the following morning Herbert started for a long solitary walk. On that day Mr. Prendergast was to tell everything to his mother, and it was determined between them that her son should not be in the house during the telling. In the evening, when he came home, he was to see her. So he started on his walk, resolving some other things also in his mind before he went. He would reach Desmond Court before he returned home that day, and let the two ladies there know the fate that was before them. Then, after that, they might let him know what was to be his fate; — but on this head he would not hurry them.
So he started on his walk, resolving to go round by Gortnaclough on his way to Desmond Court, and then to return home from that place. The road would be more than twenty long Irish miles; but he felt that the hard work would be of service. It was instinct rather than thought which taught him that it would be good for him to put some strain on the muscles of his body, and thus relieve the muscles of his mind. If his limbs could become thoroughly tired — thoroughly tired so that he might wish to rest — then he might hope that for a moment he might cease to think of all this sorrow which encompassed him.
So he started on his walk, taking with him a thick cudgel and his own thoughts. He went away across the demesne and down into the road that led away by Gortnaclough and Boherbue towards Castleisland and the wilds of county Kerry. As he went, the men about the place refrained from speaking to him, for they all knew that bad news had come to the big house. They looked at him with lowered eyes and with tenderness in their hearts, for they loved the very name of Fitzgerald. The love which a poor Irishman feels for the gentleman whom he regards as his master —“his masther,” though he has probably never received from him, in money, wages for a day’s work, and in all his intercourse has been the man who has paid money and not the man who received it — the love which he nevertheless feels, if he has been occasionally looked on with a smiling face and accosted with a kindly word, is astonishing to an Englishman. I will not say that the feeling is altogether good. Love should come of love. Where personal love exists on one side, and not even personal regard on the other, there must be some mixture of servility. That unbounded respect for human grandeur cannot be altogether good; for human greatness, if the greatness be properly sifted, it may be so.
He got down into the road, and went forth upon his journey at a rapid pace. The mud was deep upon the way, but he went through the thickest without a thought of it. He had not been out long before there came on a cold, light, drizzling rain, such a rain as gradually but surely makes its way into the innermost rag of a man’s clothing, running up the inside of his waterproof coat, and penetrating by its perseverance the very folds of his necktie. Such cold, drizzling rain is the commonest phase of hard weather during Irish winters, and those who are out and about get used to it and treat it tenderly. They are euphemistical as to the weather, calling it hazy and soft, and never allowing themselves to carry bad language on such a subject beyond the word dull. And yet at such a time one breathes the rain and again exhales it, and become as it were oneself a water spirit, assuming an aqueous fishlike nature into one’s inner fibres. It must be acknowledged that a man does sometimes get wet in Ireland; but then a wetting there brings no cold in the head, no husky voice, no need for multitudinous pocket-handkerchiefs, as it does here in this land of catarrhs. It is the east wind and not the rain that kills; and of east wind in the south of Ireland they know nothing.
But Herbert walked on quite unmindful of the mist, swinging his thick stick in his hand, and ever increasing his pace as he went. He was usually a man careful of such things, but it was nothing to him now whether he were wet or dry. His mind was so full of the immediate circumstances of his destiny that he could not think of small external accidents. What was to be his future life in this world, and how was he to fight the battle that was now before him? That was the question which he continually asked himself, and yet never succeeded in answering. How was he to come down from the throne on which early circumstances had placed him, and hustle and struggle among the crowd for such approach to other thrones as his sinews and shoulders might procure for him? If he had been only born to the struggle, he said to himself, how easy and pleasant it would have been to him! But to find himself thus cast out from his place by an accident — cast out with the eyes of all the world upon him; to be talked of, and pointed at, and pitied; to have little aids offered him by men whom he regarded as beneath him — all this was terribly sore, and the burden was almost too much for his strength. “I do not care for the money,” he said to himself a dozen times; and in saying so he spoke in one sense truly. But he did care for things which money buys; for outward respect, permission to speak with authority among his fellow-men, for power and place, and the feeling that he was prominent in his walk of life. To be in advance of other men, that is the desire which is strongest in the hearts of all strong men; and in that desire how terrible a fall had he not received from this catastrophe!
And what were they all to do, he and his mother and his sisters? How were they to act — now, at once? In what way were they to carry themselves when this man of law and judgment should have gone from them? For himself, his course of action must depend much upon the word which might be spoken to him today at Desmond Court. There would still be a drop of comfort left at the bottom of his cup if he might be allowed to hope there. But in truth he feared greatly. What the countess would say to him he thought he could foretell; what it would behove him to say himself — in matter, though not in words — that he knew well. Would not the two sayings tally well together? and could it be right for him even to hope that the love of a girl of seventeen should stand firm against her mother’s will, when her lover himself could not dare to press his suit? And then another reflection pressed on his mind sorely. Clara had already given up one poor lover at her mother’s instance; might she not resume that lover, also at her mother’s instance, now that he was no longer poor? What if Owen Fitzgerald should take from him everything!
And so he walked on through the mud and rain, always swinging his big stick. Perhaps, after all, the worst of it was over with him, when he could argue with himself in this way. It is the first plunge into the cold water that gives the shock. We may almost say that every human misery will cease to be miserable if it be duly faced; and something is done towards conquering our miseries, when we face them in any degree, even if not with due courage. Herbert had taken his plunge into the deep, dark, cold, comfortless pool of misfortune; and he felt that the waters around him were very cold. But the plunge had been taken, and the worst, perhaps, was gone by.
As he approached near to Gortnaclough, he came upon one of those gangs of road-destroyers who were now at work everywhere, earning their pittance of “yellow meal” with a pickaxe and a wheelbarrow. In some sort or other the labourers had been got to their work. Gangsmen there were with lists, who did see, more or less accurately, that the men, before they received their sixpence or eightpence for their day’s work, did at any rate pass their day with some sort of tool in their hands. And consequently the surface of the hill began to disappear, and there were chasms in the orad, which caused those who travelled on wheels to sit still, staring across with angry eyes, and sometimes to apostrophize the doer of these deeds with very naughty words. The doer was the Board of Works, or the “Board” as it was familiarly termed; and were it not that those ill words must have returned to the bosoms which vented them, and have flown no further, no Board could ever have been so terribly curse-laden. To find oneself at last utterly stopped, after proceeding with great strain to one’s horse for half a mile through an artificial quagmire of slush up to the wheelbox, is harassing to the customary traveller; and men at that crisis did not bethink themselves quite so frequently as they should have done, that a people perishing from famine is more harassing.
But Herbert was not on wheels, and was proceeding through the slush and across the chasm, regardless of it all, when he was stopped by some of the men. All the land thereabouts was Castle Richmond property; and it was not probable that the young master of it all would be allowed to pass through some two score of his own tenantry without greetings, and petitions, and blessings, and complaints.
“Faix, yer honer, thin, Mr. Herbert,” said one man, standing at the bottom of the hill, with the half-filled wheelbarrow still hanging in his hands — an Englishman would have put down the barrow while he was speaking, making some inner calculation about the waste of his muscles; but an Irishman would despise himself for such low economy —“Faix, thin, yer honer, Mr. Herbert; an’ it’s yourself is a sight good for sore eyes. May the heavens be your bed, for it’s you is the frind to a poor man.”
“How are you, Pat?” said Herbert, without intending to stop. “How are you, Mooney? I hope the work suits you all.” And then he would at once have passed on, with his hat pressed down low over his brow.
But this could be by no means allowed. In the first place, the excitement arising from the young master’s presence was too valuable to be lost so suddenly; and then, when might again occur so excellent a time for some mention of their heavy grievances? Men whose whole amount of worldly good consists in a bare allowance of nauseous food, just sufficient to keep body and soul together, must be excused if they wish to utter their complaints to ears that can hear them.
“Arrah, yer honer, thin, we’re none on us very well, and how could we, with the male at a penny a pound?” said Pat.
“Sorrow to it for male,” said Mooney. “It’s the worst vittles iver a man tooked into the inside of him. Saving yer honer’s presence it’s as much as I can do to raise the bare arm of me since the day I first began with the yally male.”
“It’s as wake as cats we all is,” said another, who from the weary way in which he dragged his limbs about certainly did not himself seem to be gifted with much animal strength.
“And the childer is worse, yer honer,” said a fourth. “The male is bad for them intirely. Saving yer honer’s presence, their bellies is gone away most to nothing.”
“And there’s six of us in family, yer honer,” said Pat. “Six mouths to feed; and what’s eight pennorth of yally male among such a lot as that, let alone the Sundays, when there’s nothing?”
“An’ shure, Mr. Herbert,” said another, a small man with a squeaking voice, whose rags of clothes hardly hung on to his body, “warn’t I here with the other boys the last Friday as iver was? Ax Pat Condon else, yer honer; and yet when they comed to give out the wages, they sconced me of —.” And so on. There were as many complaints to be made as there were men, if only he could bring himself to listen to them.
On ordinary occasions Herbert would listen to them, and answer them, and give them, at any rate, the satisfaction which they derived from discoursing with him, if he could give them no other satisfaction. But now, on this day, with his own burden so heavy at his heart, he could not even do this. He could not think of their sorrows; his own sorrow seemed to him to be so much the heavier. So he passed on, running the gauntlet through them as best he might, and shaking them off from him, as they attempted to cling round his steps. Nothing is so powerful in making a man selfish as misfortune.
And then he went on to Gortnaclough. He had not chosen his walk to this place with any fixed object, except this perhaps, that it enabled him to return home round by Desmond Court. It was one of the places at which a Relief Committee sat every fortnight, and there was a soup-kitchen here, which, however, had not been so successful as the one at Berryhill; and it was the place of residence selected by Father Barney’s coadjutor. But in spite of all this, when Herbert found himself in the wretched, dirty, straggling, damp street of the village, he did not know what to do or where to betake himself. That every eye in Gortnaclough would be upon him was a matter of course. He could hardly turn round on his heel and retrace his steps through the village, as he would have to do in going to Desmond Court, without showing some pretext for his coming there; so he walked into the little shop which was attached to the soup-kitchen, and there he found the Rev. Mr. Columb Creagh, giving his orders to the little girl behind the counter.
Herbert Fitzgerald was customarily very civil to the Roman Catholic priests around him — somewhat more so, indeed, than seemed good to those very excellent ladies, Mrs. Townsend and Aunt Letty; but it always went against the grain with him to be civil to the Rev. Columb Creagh; and on this special day it would have gone against the grain with him to be civil to anybody. But the coadjutor knew his character, and was delighted to have an opportunity of talking to him, when he could do so without being snubbed either by Mr. Somers, the chairman, or by his own parish priest. Mr. Creagh had rejoiced much at the idea of forming one at the same council board with county magistrates and Protestant parsons; but the fruition of his promised delights had never quite reached his lips. He had been like Sancho Panza in his government; he had sat down to the grand table day after day, but had never yet been allowed to enjoy the rich dish of his own oratory. Whenever he had proposed to help himself, Mr. Somers or Father Barney had stopped his mouth. Now probably he might be able to say a word or two; and though the glory would not be equal to that of making a speech at the Committee, still it would be something to be seen talking on equal terms, and on affairs of state, to the young heir of Castle Richmond.
“Mr. Fitzgerald! well, I declare! And how are you, sir?” And he took off his hat and bowed, and got hold of Herbert’s hand, shaking it ruthlessly; and altogether he made him very disagreeable.
Herbert, though his mind was not really intent on the subject, asked some question of the girl as to the amount of meal that had been sold, and desired to see the little passbook that they kept at the shop.
“We are doing pretty well, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said the coadjutor; “pretty well. I always keep my eye on, for fear things should go wrong, you know.”
“I don’t think they’ll do that,” said Herbert.
“No; I hope not. But it’s always good to be on the safe side, you know. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re altogether on the right tack about them shops. It’s very hard on a poor woman —”
Now, the fact was, though the Relief Committee at Gortnaclough was attended by magistrates, priests, and parsons, the shop there was Herbert Fitzgerald’s own affair. It had been stocked with his or his father’s money; the flour was sold without profit at his risk, and the rent of the house and wages of the woman who kept it came out of his own pocket-money. Under these circumstances he did not see cause why Mr. Creagh should interfere, and at the present moment was not well inclined to put up with such interference.
“We do the best we can, Mr. Creagh,” said he, interrupting the priest. “And no good will be done at such a time as this by unnecessary difficulties.”
“No, no, certainly not. But still I do think —” And Mr. Creagh was girding up his loins for eloquence, when he was again interrupted.
“I am rather in a hurry today,” said Herbert, “and therefore, if you please, we won’t make any change now. Never mind the book today, Sally. Good day, Mr. Creagh.” And so saying, he left the shop and walked rapidly back out of the village.
The poor coadjutor was left alone at the shop-door, anathematizing in his heart the pride of all Protestants. He had been told that this Mr. Fitzgerald was different from others, that he was a man fond of priests and addicted to the “ould religion;” and so hearing, he had resolved to make the most of such an excellent disposition. But he was forced to confess to himself that they were all alike. Mr. Somers could not have been more imperious, nor Mr. Townsend more insolent.
And then, through the still drizzling rain, Herbert walked on to Desmond Court. By the time that he reached the desolate-looking lodge at the demesne gate, he was nearly wet through, and was besmeared with mud up to his knees. But he had thought nothing of this as he walked along. His mind had been intent on the scene that was before him. In what words was he to break the news to Clara Desmond and her mother? and with what words would they receive the tidings? The former question he had by no means answered to his own satisfaction, when, all muddy and wet, he passed up to the house through that desolate gate.
“Is Lady Desmond at home?” he asked of the butler. “Her ladyship is at home,” said the grey-haired old man, with his blandest smile, “and so is Lady Clara.” He had already learned to look on the heir of Castle Richmond as the coming saviour of the impoverished Desmond family.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14