And now I will beg my readers to suppose a month to have passed by since Sir Thomas Fitzgerald died. It was a busy month in Ireland. It may probably be said that so large a sum of money had never been circulated in the country in any one month since money had been known there; and yet it may also be said that so frightful a mortality had never occurred there from the want of that which money brings.
It was well understood by all men now that the customary food of the country had disappeared. There was no longer any difference of opinion between rich and poor, between Protestant and Roman Catholic; as to that, no man dared now to say that the poor, if left to themselves, could feed themselves, or to allege that the sufferings of the country arose from the machinations of money-making speculators. The famine was an established fact, and all men knew that it was God’s doing — all men knew this, though few could recognize as yet with how much mercy God’s hand was stretched out over the country.
Or may it not perhaps be truer to say that in such matters there is no such thing as mercy — no special mercies — no other mercy than that fatherly, forbearing, all-seeing, perfect goodness by which the Creator is ever adapting this world to the wants of His creatures, and rectifying the evils arising from their faults and follies? Sed quo Musa tendis? Such discourses of the gods as these are not to be fitly handled in such small measures.
At any rate, there was the famine, undoubted now by any one; and death, who in visiting Castle Richmond may be said to have knocked at the towers of a king, was busy enough also among the cabins of the poor. And now the great fault of those who were the most affected was becoming one which would not have been at first sight expected. One would think that starving men would become violent, taking food by open theft — feeling, and perhaps not without some truth, that the agony of their want robbed such robberies of its sin. But such was by no means the case. I only remember one instance in which the bakers’ shops were attacked; and in that instance the work was done by those who were undergoing no real suffering. At Clonmel, in Tipperary, the bread was one morning stripped away from the bakers’ shops; but at that time, and in that place, there was nothing approaching to famine. The fault of the people was apathy. It was the feeling of the multitude that the world and all that was good in it was passing away from them; that exertion was useless, and hope hopeless. “Ah, me! your honour,” said a man to me, “there’ll never be a bit and a sup again in the county Cork! The life of the world is fairly gone!”
And it was very hard to repress this feeling. The energy of a man depends so much on the outward circumstances that encumber him! It is so hard to work when work seems hopeless — so hard to trust where the basis of our faith is so far removed from sight! When large tracts of land went out of cultivation, was it not natural to think that agriculture was receding from the country, leaving the green hills once more to be brown and barren, as hills once green have become in other countries? And when men were falling in the highways, and women would sit with their babes in their arms, listless till death should come to them, was it not natural to think that death was making a huge success — that he, the inexorable one, was now the inexorable indeed?
There were greatly trusting hearts that could withstand the weight of this terrible pressure, and thinking minds which saw that good would come out of this great evil; but such hearts and such minds were not to be looked for among the suffering poor, and were not, perhaps, often found even among those who were not poor or suffering. It was very hard to be thus trusting and thoughtful while everything around was full of awe and agony.
The people, however, were conscious of God’s work, and were becoming dull and apathetic. They clustered about the roads, working lazily while their strength lasted them; and afterwards, when strength failed them for this, they clustered more largely in the poor-houses. And in every town — in every assemblage of houses which in England would be called a village, there was a poor-house. Any big barrack of a tenement that could be obtained at a moment’s notice, whatever the rent, became a poor-house in the course of twelve hours — in twelve, nay, in two hours. What was necessary but the bare walls, and a supply of yellow meal? Bad provision this for all a man’s wants — as was said often enough by irrational philanthropists; but better provision than no shelter and no yellow meal! It was bad that men should be locked up at night without any of the appliances of decency; bad that they should be herded together for day after day with no resource but the eating twice a day of enough unsavoury food to keep life and soul together; — very bad, ye philanthropical irrationalists! But is not a choice of evils all that is left to us in many a contingency? Was not even this better than that life and soul should be allowed to part, without any effect at preserving their union?
And thus life and soul were kept together, the government of the day having wisely seen what, at so short a notice, was possible for them to do. and what was absolutely impossible. It is in such emergencies as these that the watching and the wisdom of a government are necessary; and I shall always think — as I did think then — that the wisdom of its action and the wisdom of its abstinence from action were very good. And now again the fields in Ireland are green, and the markets are busy, and money is chucked to and fro like a weathercock which the players do not wish to have abiding with them; and the tardy speculator going over to look for a bit of land comes back muttering angrily that fancy prices are demanded. “They’ll run you up to thirty-three years’ purchase,” says the tardy speculator, thinking, as it seems, that he is specially ill used. Agricultural wages have been nearly doubled in Ireland during the last fifteen years. Think of that, Master Brook. Work for which, at six shillings a week, there would be a hundred hungry claimants in 1845 — in the good old days before the famine, when repeal was so immediately expected — will now fetch ten shillings, the claimants being by no means numerous. In 1843 and 1844, I knew men to work for fourpence a day — something over the dole on which we are told, being mostly incredulous as we hear it, that a Coolie labourer can feed himself with rice in India; — not one man or two men, the broken-down incapables of the parish, but the best labour of the country. One and twopence is now about the cheapest rate at which a man can be hired for agricultural purposes. While this is so, and while the prices are progressing, there is no cause for fear, let Bishops A and B, and Archbishops C and D fret and fume with never so great vexation touching the clipped honours of their father the Pope.
But again, Quo Musa tendis? I could write on this subject for a week were it not that Rhadamanthus awaits me, Rhadamanthus the critic, and Rhadamanthus is, of all things, impatient of an episode.
Life and soul were kept together in those terrible days — that is, the Irish life and soul generally. There were many slips, in which the union was violently dissolved — many cases in which the yellow meal allowed was not sufficient, or in which it did not reach the sufferer in time to prevent such dissolution — cases which when numbered together amounted to thousands. And then the pestilence came, taking its victims by tens of thousands — but that was after the time with which we shall have concern here; and immigration followed, taking those who were saved by hundreds of thousands. But the millions are still there, a thriving people, for His mercy endureth for ever.
During this month, the month ensuing upon the death of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, Herbert could of course pay no outward attention to the wants or relief of the people. He could make no offer of assistance, for nothing belonged to him, nor could he aid in the councils of the committees, for no one could have defined the position of the speaker. And during that month nothing was defined about Castle Richmond. Lady Fitzgerald was still always called by her title. The people of the country, including the tradesmen of the neighbouring towns, addressed the owner of Hap House as Sir Owen; and gradually the name was working itself into common use, though he had taken no steps to make himself legally entitled to wear it. But no one spoke of Sir Herbert. The story was so generally known, that none were so ignorant as to suppose him to be his father’s heir. The servants about the place still called him Mr. Herbert, orders to that effect having been specially given; and the peasants of the country, with that tact which graces them, and with that anxiety to abstain from giving pain which always accompanies them unless when angered, carefully called him by no name. They knew that he was not Sir Herbert, but they would not believe but what, perchance, he might be so yet on some future day. So they took off their old hats to him, and passed him silently in his sorrow, or if they spoke to him, addressed his honour simply, omitting all mention of that Christian name, which the poor Irishman is generally so fond of using. “Mister Blake” sounds cold and unkindly in his ears. It is the “Masther,” or “His honour,” or if possible “Misther Thady.” Or if there be any handle, that is used with avidity. Pat is a happy man when he can address his landlord as “Sir Patrick.”
But now the “ould masther’s son” could be called by no name. Men knew not what he was to be, though they knew well that he was not that which he ought to be. And there were some who attempted to worship Owen as the rising sun; but for such of them as had never worshipped him before that game was rather hopeless. In those days he was not much seen, neither hunting nor entertaining company; but when seen he was rough enough with those who made any deep attempt to ingratiate themselves with his coming mightiness. And during this month he went over to London, having been specially invited so to do by Mr. Prendergast; but very little came of his visit there, except that it was certified to him that he was beyond all doubt the baronet. “And there shall be no unnecessary delay, Sir Owen,” said Mr. Prendergast, “in putting you into full possession of all your rights.” In answer to which Owen had replied that he was not anxious to be put in possession of any rights. That as far as any active doing of his own was concerned, the title might lie in abeyance, and that regarding the property he would make known his wish to Mr. Prendergast very quickly after his return to Ireland. But he intimated at the same time that there could be no ground for disturbing Lady Fitzgerald, as he had no intention under any circumstances of living at Castle Richmond.
“Had you not better tell Lady Fitzgerald that yourself?” said Mr. Prendergast, catching at the idea that his friend’s widow — my readers will allow me so to call her — might be allowed to live undisturbed at the family mansion, if not for life, at any rate for a few years. If this young man were so generous, why should it not be so? He would not want the big house, at any rate, till he were married.
“It would be better that you should say so,” said Owen. “I have particular reasons for not wishing to go there.”
“But allow me to say, my dear young friend — and I hope I may call you so, for I greatly admire the way in which you have taken all these tidings — that I would venture to advise you to drop the remembrance of any unpleasantness that may have existed. You should now feel yourself to be the closest friend of that family.”
“So I would if — ” and then Owen stopped short, though Mr. Prendergast gave him plenty of time to finish his sentence were he minded to do so.
“In your present position,” continued the lawyer, “your influence will be very great.”
“I can’t explain it all,” said Owen; “but I don’t think my influence will be great at all. And what is more, I do not want any influence of that sort. I wish Lady Fitzgerald to understand that she is at perfect liberty to stay where she is — as far as I am concerned. Not as a favour from me, mind; for I do not think that she would take a favour from my hands.”
“But, my dear sir!”
“Therefore you had better write to her about remaining there.”
Mr. Prendergast did write to her, or rather to Herbert: but in doing so he thought it right to say that the permission to live at Castle Richmond should be regarded as a kindness granted them by their relative. “It is a kindness which, under the circumstances, your mother may, I think, accept without compunction; at any rate, for some time to come — till she shall have suited herself without hurrying her choice; but, nevertheless, it must be regarded as a generous offer on his part; and I do hope, my dear Herbert, that you and he will be fast friends.”
But Mr. Prendergast did not in the least comprehend the workings of Owen’s mind; and Herbert, who knew more of them than any one else, did not understand them altogether. Owen had no idea of granting any favour to his relatives, who, as he thought, had never granted any to him. What Owen wanted — or what he told himself that he wanted — was justice. It was his duty as a just man to abstain from taking hold of those acres, and he was prepared to do his duty. But it was equally Herbert’s duty as a just man to abstain from taking hold of Clara Desmond, and he was resolved that he would never be Herbert’s friend if Herbert did not perform that duty. And then, though he felt himself bound to give up the acres — though he did regard this as an imperative duty, he nevertheless felt also that something was due to him for his readiness to perform such a duty — that some reward should be conceded to him; what this reward was to be, or rather what he wished it to be, we all know.
Herbert had utterly refused to engage in any such negotiation; but Owen, nevertheless, would not cease to think that something might yet be done. Who was so generous as Clara, and would not Clara herself speak out if she knew how much her old lover was prepared to do for this newer lover? Half a dozen times Owen made up his mind to explain the whole thing to Mr. Prendergast; but when he found himself in the presence of the lawyer, he could not talk about love. Young men are so apt to think that their seniors in age cannot understand romance, or acknowledge the force of a passion. But here they are wrong, for there would be as much romance after forty as before, I take it, were it not checked by the fear of ridicule. So Owen stayed a week in London, seeing Mr. Prendergast every day; and then he returned to Hap House.
In the mean time life went on at a very sad pace at Desmond Court. There was no concord whatever between the two ladies residing there. The mother was silent, gloomy, and sometimes bitter, seldom saying a word about Herbert Fitzgerald or his prospects, but saying that word with great fixity of purpose when it was spoken. “No one,” she said, “should attribute to her the poverty and misery of her child. That marriage should not take place from her house, or with her consent.” And Clara for the most part was silent also. In answer to such words as the above she would say nothing; but when, as did happen once or twice, she was forced to speak, she declared openly enough that no earthly consideration should induce her to give up her engagement.
And then the young earl came home, brought away from his school in order that his authority might have effect on his sister. To speak the truth, he was unwilling enough to interfere, and would have declined to come at all could he have dared to do so. Eton was now more pleasant to him than Desmond Court, which, indeed, had but little of pleasantness to offer to a lad such as he was now. He was sixteen, and manly for his age, but the question in dispute at Desmond Court offered little attraction even to a manly boy of sixteen. In that former question as to Owen he had said a word or two, knowing that Owen could not be looked upon as a fitting husband for his sister, but now he knew not how to counsel her again as to Herbert, seeing that it was but the other day that he had written a long letter, congratulating her on that connection.
Towards the end of the month, however, he did arrive, making glad his mother’s heart as she looked at his strong limbs and his handsome open face. And Clara, too, threw herself so warmly into his arms that he did feel glad that he had come to her. “Oh, Patrick, it is so sweet to have you here!” she said, before his mother had had time to speak to him.
“But, Patrick, you must not be cruel to me. Look here, Patrick, you are my only brother, and I so love you that I would not offend you or turn you against me for worlds. You are the head of our family, too, and nothing should be done that you do not like. But if so much depends on you, you must think well before you decide on anything.”
He opened his young eyes and looked intently into her face, for there was an earnestness in her words that almost frightened him. “You must think well of it before you speak, Patrick; and remember this, you and I must be honest and honourable, whether we be poor or no. You remember about Owen Fitzgerald, how I gave way then because I could do so without dishonour. But now —”
“But, Clara, I do not understand it all as yet.”
“No; you cannot — not as yet — and I will let mamma tell you the story. All I ask is this, that you will think of my honour before you say a word that can favour either her or me.” And then he promised her that he would do so; and his mother, when on the following morning she told him all the history, found him reserved and silent.
“Look at his position,” said the mother, pleading her cause before her son. “He is illegitimate, and —”
“Yes, but, mother —”
“I know all that, my dear; I know what you would say; and no one can pity Mr. Fitzgerald’s position more than I do; but you would not on that account have your sister ruined. It is romance on her part.”
“But what does he say?”
“He is quite willing to give up the match. He has told me so, and said as much to his aunt, whom I have seen three times on the subject.”
“Do you mean that he wishes to give it up?”
“No; — at least, I don’t know. If he does, he cannot express such a wish, because Clara is so headstrong. Patrick, in my heart I do not believe that she cares for him. I have doubted it for some time.”
“But you wanted her to marry him.”
“So I did. It was an excellent match, and in a certain way she did like him; and then, you know, there was that great danger about poor Owen. It was a great danger then. But now she is so determined about this, because she thinks it would be ungenerous to go back from her word; and in this way she will ruin the very man she wishes to serve. Of course he cannot break off the match if she persists in it. What I want you to perceive is this, that he, utterly penniless as he is, will have to begin the world with a clog round his neck, because she is so obstinate. What could possibly be worse for him than a titled wife without a penny?” And in this way the countess pleaded her side of the question before her son.
It was quite true that she had been three times to Castle Richmond, and had thrice driven Aunt Letty into a state bordering on distraction. If she could only get the Castle Richmond people to take it up as they ought to do! It was thus she argued with herself — and with Aunt Letty also, endeavouring to persuade her that these two young people would undoubtedly ruin each other, unless those who were really wise and prudent, and who understood the world — such as Aunt Letty, for instance — would interfere to prevent it.
Aunt Letty on the whole did agree with her, though she greatly disliked her. Miss Fitzgerald had strongly planted within her bosom the prudent old-world notion, that young gentlefolks should not love each other unless they have plenty of money; and that, if unfortunately such did love each other, it was better that they should suffer all the pangs of hopeless love than marry and trust to God and their wits for bread and cheese. To which opinion of Aunt Letty’s, as well as to some others entertained by that lady with much pertinacity, I cannot subscribe myself as an adherent.
Lady Desmond had wit enough to discover that Aunt Letty did agree with her in the main, and on this account she was eager in seeking her assistance. Lady Fitzgerald of course could not be seen, and there was no one else at Castle Richmond who could be supposed to have any weight with Herbert. And therefore Lady Desmond was very eloquent with Aunt Letty, talking much of the future miseries of the two young people, till the old lady had promised to use her best efforts in enlisting Lady Fitzgerald on the same side. “You cannot wonder, Miss Fitzgerald, that I should wish to put an end to the cruel position in which my poor girl is placed. You know how much a girl suffers from that kind of thing.”
Aunt Letty did dislike Lady Desmond very much; but, nevertheless, she could not deny the truth of all this, and therefore it may be said that the visits of the countess to Castle Richmond were on the whole successful.
And the month wore itself away also in that sad household, and the Fitzgeralds were gradually becoming used to their position. Family discussions were held among them as to what they should do, and where they should live in future. Mr. Prendergast had written, seeing that Owen had persisted in refusing to make the offer personally himself — saying that there was no hurry for any removal. “Sir Owen,” he said — having considered deeply whether or no he would call him by the title or no, and having resolved that it would be best to do so at once —“Sir Owen was inclined to behave very generously. Lady Fitzgerald could have the house and demesne at any rate for twelve months, and by that time the personal property left by Sir Thomas would be realized, and there would be enough,” Mr. Prendergast said, “for the three ladies to live ‘in decent quiet comfort.’” Mr. Prendergast had taken care before he left Castle Richmond that a will should be made and duly executed by Sir Thomas, leaving what money he had to his three children by name — in trust for their mother’s use. Till the girls should be of age that trust would be vested in Herbert.
“Decent quiet comfort!” said Mary to her brother and sister as they conned the letter over; “how comfortless it sounds!”
And so the first month after the death of Sir Thomas passed by, and the misfortunes of the Fitzgerald family ceased to be the only subject spoken of by the inhabitants of county Cork.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55