At the end of the month, Herbert began to prepare himself for facing the world. The first question to be answered was that one which is so frequently asked in most families, but which had never yet been necessary in this — What profession would he follow? All manners of ways by which an educated man can earn his bread had been turned over in his mind, and in the minds of those who loved him, beginning with the revenues of the Archbishop of Armagh, which was Aunt Letty’s idea, and ending with a seat at a government desk, which was his own. Mr. Prendergast had counselled the law; not his own lower branch of the profession, but a barrister’s full-blown wig, adding, in his letter to Lady Fitzgerald, that if Herbert would come to London, and settle in chambers, he, Mr. Prendergast, would see that his life was made agreeable to him. But Mr. Somers gave other advice. In those days Assistant Poor-Law Commissioners were being appointed in Ireland, almost by the score, and Mr. Somers declared that Herbert had only to signify his wish for such a position, and he would get it. The interest which he had taken in the welfare of the poor around him was well known, and as his own story was well known also, there could be no doubt that the government would be willing to assist one so circumstanced, and who when assisted would make himself so useful. Such was the advice of Mr. Somers; and he might have been right but for this, that both Herbert and Lady Fitzgerald felt that it would be well for them to move out of that neighbourhood — out of Ireland altogether, if such could be possible.
Aunt Letty was strong for the Church. A young man who had distinguished himself at the University so signally as her nephew had done, taking his degree at the very first attempt, and that in so high a class of honour as the fourth, would not fail to succeed in the Church. He might not perhaps succeed as to Armagh; that she admitted, but there were some thirty other bishoprics to be had, and it would be odd if, with his talents, he did not get one of them. Think what it would be if he were to return to his own country as Bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, as to which amalgamation of sees, however, Aunt Letty had her own ideas. He was slightly tainted with the venom of Puseyism, Aunt Letty said to herself; but nothing would dispel this with so much certainty as the theological studies necessary for ordination. And then Aunt Letty talked it over by the hour together with Mrs. Townsend, and both those ladies were agreed that Herbert should get himself ordained as quickly as possible; — not in England, where there might be danger even in ordination, but in good, wholesome, Protestant Ireland, where a Church of England clergyman was a clergyman of the Church of England, and not a priest, slipping about in the mud halfway between England and Rome.
Herbert himself was anxious to get some employment by which he might immediately earn his bread, but not unnaturally wished that London should be the scene of his work. Anywhere in Ireland he would be known as the Fitzgerald who ought to have been the Fitzgerald of Castle Richmond. And then too, he, as other young men, had an undefined idea, that as he must earn his bread London should be his ground. He had at first been not ill inclined to that Church project, and had thus given a sort of ground on which Aunt Letty was able to stand — had, as it were, given her some authority for carrying on an agitation in furtherance of her own views; but Herbert himself soon gave up this idea. A man, he thought, to be a clergyman should have a very strong predilection in favour of that profession; and so he gradually abandoned that idea — actuated, as poor Aunt Letty feared, by the agency of the evil one, working through the means of Puseyism.
His mother and sisters were in favour of Mr. Prendergast’s views, and as it was gradually found by them all that there would not be any immediate pressure as regarded pecuniary means, that seemed at last to be their decision. Herbert would remain yet for three or four weeks at Castle Richmond, till matters there were somewhat more thoroughly settled, and would then put himself into the hands of Mr. Prendergast in London. Mr. Prendergast would select a legal tutor for him, and proper legal chambers; and then not long afterwards his mother and sisters should follow, and they would live together at some small villa residence near St. John’s Wood Road, or perhaps out at Brompton.
It is astonishing how quickly in this world of ours chaos will settle itself into decent and graceful order, when it is properly looked in the face, and handled with a steady hand which is not sparing of the broom. Some three months since, everything at Castle Richmond was ruin; such ruin, indeed, that the very power of living under it seemed to be doubtful. When first Mr. Prendergast arrived there, a feeling came upon them all as though they might hardly dare to live in a world which would look at them as so thoroughly degraded. As regards means, they would be beggars! and as regards position, so much worse than beggars! A broken world was in truth falling about their ears, and it was felt to be impossible that they should endure its convulsions and yet live.
But now the world had fallen, the ruin had come, and they were already strong in future hopes. They had dared to look at their chaos, and found that it still contained the elements of order. There was much still that marred their happiness, and forbade the joyousness of other days. Their poor father had gone from them in their misery, and the house was still a house of mourning; and their mother too, though she bore up so wonderfully against her fate, and for their sakes hoped and planned and listened to their wishes, was a stricken woman. That she would never smile again with any heartfelt joy they were all sure. But, nevertheless, their chaos was conquered, and there was hope that the fields of life would again show themselves green and fruitful.
On one subject their mother never spoke to them, nor had even Herbert dared to speak to her: not a word had been said in that house since Mr. Prendergast left it as to the future whereabouts or future doings of that man to whom she had once given her hand at the altar. But she had ventured to ask by letter a question of Mr. Prendergast. Her question had been this: What must I do that he may not come to me or to my children? In answer to this Mr. Prendergast had told her, after some delay, that he believed she need fear nothing. He had seen the man, and he thought that he might assure her that she would not be troubled in that respect.
“It is possible,” said Mr. Prendergast, “that he may apply to you by letter for money. If so, give him no answer whatever, but send his letters to me.”
“And are you all going?” asked Mrs. Townsend of Aunt Letty, with a lachrymose voice soon after the fate of the family was decided. They were sitting together with their knees over the fire in Mrs. Townsend’s dining-parlour, in which the perilous state of the country had been discussed by them for many a pleasant hour together.
“Well, I think we shall; you see, my sister would never be happy here.”
“No, no; the shock and the change would be too great for her. Poor Lady Fitzgerald! And when is that man coming into the house?”
“Yes! Sir Owen I suppose he is now.”
“Well, I don’t know; he does not seem to be in any hurry. I believe that he has said that my sister may continue to live there if she pleases. But of course she cannot do that.”
“They do say about the country,” whispered Mrs. Townsend, “that he refuses to be the heir at all. He certainly has not had any cards printed with the title on them — I know that as a fact.”
“He is a very singular man, very. You know I never could bear him,” said Aunt Letty.
“No, nor I either. He has not been to our church once these six months. But it’s very odd, isn’t it? Of course you know the story?”
“What story?” asked Aunt Letty.
“About Lady Clara. Owen Fitzgerald was dreadfully in love with her before your Herbert had ever seen her. And they do say that he has sworn his cousin shall never live if he marries her.”
“They can never marry now, you know. Only think of it. There would be three hundred a year between them. — Not at present, that is,” added Aunt Letty, looking forward to a future period after her own death.
“That is very little, very little indeed,” said Mrs. Townsend, remembering, however, that she herself had married on less. “But, Miss Fitzgerald, if Herbert does not marry her do you think this Owen will?”
“I don’t think she’d have him. I am quite sure she would not.”
“Not when he has all the property, and the title too?”
“No, nor double as much. What would people say of her if she did? But, however, there is no fear, for she declares that nothing shall induce her to give up her engagement with our Herbert.”
And so they discussed it backward and forward in every way, each having her own theory as to that singular rumour which was going about the country, signifying that Owen had declined to accept the title. Aunt Letty, however, would not believe that any good could come from so polluted a source, and declared that he had his own reasons for the delay. “It’s not for any love of us,” she said, “if he refuses to take either that or the estate.” And in this she was right. But she would have been more surprised still had she learned that Owen’s forbearance arose from a strong anxiety to do what was just in the matter.
“And so Herbert won’t go into the Church?”
And Letty shook her head sorrowing.
“Aeneas would have been so glad to have taken him for a twelvemonth’s reading,” said Mrs. Townsend. “He could have come here, you know, when you went away, and been ordained at Cork, and got a curacy close in the neighbourhood, where he was known. It would have been so nice; wouldn’t it?”
Aunt Letty would not exactly have advised the scheme as suggested by Mrs. Townsend. Her ideas as to Herbert’s clerical studies would have been higher than this. Trinity College, Dublin, was in her estimation the only place left for good Church of England ecclesiastical teaching. But as Herbert was obstinately bent on declining sacerdotal life, there was no use in dispelling Mrs. Townsend’s bright vision.
“It’s all of no use,” she said; “he is determined to go to the bar.”
“The bar is very respectable,” said Mrs. Townsend, kindly.
“And you mean to go with them, too?” said Mrs. Townsend, after another pause. “You’ll hardly be happy, I’m thinking, so far away from your old home.”
“It is sad to change at my time of life,” said Aunt Letty, plaintively. “I’m sixty-two now.”
“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Townsend, who, however, knew her age to a day.
“Sixty-two if I live another week, and I have never yet had any home but Castle Richmond. There I was born, and till the other day I had every reason to trust that there I might die. But what does it matter?”
“No, that’s true of course, what does it matter where we are while we linger in this vale of tears? But couldn’t you get a little place for yourself somewhere near here? There’s Callaghan’s cottage, with the two-acre piece for a cow, and as nice a spot of a garden as there is in the county Cork.”
“I wouldn’t separate myself from her now,” said Aunt Letty, “for all the cottages and all the gardens in Ireland. The Lord has been pleased to throw us together, and together we will finish our pilgrimage. Whither she goes, I will go, and where she lodges, I will lodge; her people shall be my people, and her God my God.” And then Mrs. Townsend said nothing further of Callaghan’s pretty cottage, or of the two-acre piece.
But one reason for her going Aunt Letty did not give, even to her friend Mrs. Townsend. Her income, that which belonged exclusively to herself, was in no way affected by these sad Castle Richmond revolutions. This was a comfortable — we may say a generous provision for an old maiden lady, amounting to some six hundred a year, settled upon her for life, and this, if added to what could be saved and scraped together, would enable them to live comfortably, as far as means were concerned, in that suburban villa to which they were looking forward. But without Aunt Letty’s income that suburban villa must be but a poor home. Mr. Prendergast had calculated that some fourteen thousand pounds would represent the remaining property of the family, with which it would be necessary to purchase government stock. Such being the case, Aunt Letty’s income was very material to them.
“I trust you will be able to find some one there who will preach the gospel to you,” said Mrs. Townsend, in a tone that showed how serious were her misgivings on the subject.
“I will search for such a one, at any rate,” said Aunt Letty. “You need not be afraid that I shall be a backslider.”
“But they have crosses now over the communion tables in the churches in England,” said Mrs. Townsend.
“I know it is very bad,” said Aunt Letty. “But there will always be a remnant left. The Lord will not utterly desert us.” And then she took her departure, leaving Mrs. Townsend with the conviction that the land to which her friend was going was one in which the light of the gospel no longer shone in its purity.
It was not wonderful that they should all be anxious to get away from Castle Richmond, for the house there was now not a pleasant one in which to live. Let all those who have houses and the adjuncts of houses think how considerable a part of their life’s pleasures consists in their interest in the things around them. When will the seakale be fit to cut, and when will the crocuses come up? will the violets be sweeter than ever? and the geranium cuttings, are they thriving? we have dug, and manured, and sown, and we look forward to the reaping, and to see our garners full. The very furniture which ministers to our daily uses is loved and petted; and in decorating our rooms we educate ourselves in design. The place in church which has been our own for years — is not that dear to us, and the voice that has told us of God’s tidings — even though the drone become more evident as it waxes in years, and though it grows feeble and indolent? And the faces of those who have lived around us, do we not love them too, the servants who have worked for us, and the children who have first toddled beneath our eyes and prattled in our ears, and now run their strong races, screaming loudly, splashing us as they pass — very unpleasantly? Do we not love them all? Do they not all contribute to the great sum of our enjoyment? All men love such things, more or less, even though they know it not. And women love them even more than men.
And the Fitzgeralds were about to leave them all. The early buds of spring were now showing themselves, but how was it possible that they should look to them? One loves the bud because one expects the flower. The seakale now was beyond their notice, and though they plucked the crocuses, they did so with tears upon their cheeks. After much consideration the church had been abandoned by all except Aunt Letty and Herbert. That Lady Fitzgerald should go there was impossible, and the girls were only too glad to be allowed to stay with their mother. And the schools in which they had taught since the first day in which teaching had been possible for them, had to be abandoned with such true pangs of heart-felt sorrow.
From the time when their misery first came upon them, from the days when it first began to be understood that the world had gone wrong at Castle Richmond, this separation from the schools had commenced. The work had been dropped for a while, but the dropping had in fact been final, and there was nothing further to be done than the saddest of all leave-taking. The girls had sent word to the children, perhaps imprudently, that they would go down and say a word of adieu to their pupils. The children had of course told their mothers, and when the girls reached the two neat buildings which stood at the corner of the park, there were there to meet them, not unnaturally, a concourse of women and children.
In former prosperous days the people about Castle Richmond had, as a rule, been better to do than their neighbours. Money wages had been more plentiful, and there had been little or no subletting of land; the children had been somewhat more neatly clothed, and the women less haggard in their faces; but this difference was hardly perceptible any longer. To them, the Miss Fitzgeralds, looking at the poverty-stricken assemblage, it almost seemed as though the misfortune of their house had brought down its immediate consequences on all who had lived within their circle; but this was the work of the famine. In those days one could rarely see any member of a peasant’s family bearing in his face a look of health. The yellow meal was a useful food — the most useful, doubtless, which could at that time be found; but it was not one that was gratifying either to the eye or palate.
The girls had almost regretted their offer before they had left the house. It would have been better, they said to themselves, to have had the children up in the hall, and there to have spoken their farewells, and made their little presents. The very entering those school-rooms again would almost be too much for them; but this consideration was now too late, and when they got to the corner of the gate, they found that there was a crowd to receive them. “Mary, I must go back,” said Emmeline, when she first saw them; but Aunt Letty, who was with them, stepped forward, and they soon found themselves in the school-room.
“We have come to say good-bye to you all,” said Aunt Letty, trying to begin a speech.
“May the heavens be yer bed then, the lot of yez, for ye war always good to the poor. May the Blessed Virgin guide and protect ye wherever ye be”— a blessing against which Aunt Letty at once entered a little inward protest, perturbed though she was in spirit. “May the heavens rain glory on yer heads, for ye war always the finest family that war ever in the county Cork!”
“You know, I dare say, that we are going to leave you,” continued Aunt Letty.
“We knows it, we knows it; sorrow come to them as did it all. Faix, an’ there’ll niver be any good in the counthry, at all at all, when you’re gone, Miss Emmeline; an’ what’ll we do at all for the want of yez, and when shall we see the likes of yez? Eh, Miss Letty, but there’ll be sore eyes weeping for ye; and for her leddyship too; may the Lord Almighty bless her, and presarve her, and carry her sowl to glory when she dies; for av there war iver a good woman on God’s ‘arth, that woman is Leddy Fitzgerald.”
And then Aunt Letty found that there was no necessity for her to continue her speech, and indeed no possibility of her doing so even if she were so minded. The children began to wail and cry, and the mothers also mixed loud sobbings with their loud prayers; and Emmeline and Mary, dissolved in tears, sat themselves down, drawing to them the youngest bairns and those whom they had loved the best, kissing their sallow, famine-stricken, unwholesome faces, and weeping over them with a love of which hitherto they had been hardly conscious.
There was not much more in the way of speech possible to any of them, for even Aunt Letty was far gone in tender wailing; and it was wonderful to see the liberties that were taken even with that venerable bonnet. The women had first of all taken hold of her hands to kiss them, and had kissed her feet, and her garments, and her shoulders, and then behind her back they had made crosses on her, although they knew how dreadfully she would have raged had she caught them polluting her by such doings; and they grasped her arms and embraced them, till at last, those who were more daring, reached her forehead and her face, and poor old Aunt Letty, who in her emotion could not now utter a syllable, was almost pulled to pieces among them.
Mary and Emmeline had altogether surrendered themselves, and were the centres of clusters of children who hung upon them. And the sobs now were no longer low and tearful, but they had grown into long, protracted groanings, and loud wailings, and clapping of hands, and tearings of the hair. O, my reader, have you ever seen a railway train taking its departure from an Irish station, with a freight of Irish emigrants? If so, you know how the hair is torn, and how the hands are clapped, and how the low moanings gradually swell into notes of loud lamentation. It means nothing, I have heard men say — men and women too. But such men and women are wrong. It means much; it means this: that those who are separated, not only love each other, but are anxious to tell each other that they so love. We have all heard of demonstrative people. A demonstrative person, I take it, is he who is desirous of speaking out what is in his heart. For myself I am inclined to think that such speaking out has its good ends. “The faculty of silence! is it not of all things the most beautiful?” That is the doctrine preached by a great latter-day philosopher; for myself, I think that the faculty of speech is much more beautiful — of speech if it be made but by howlings, and wailings, and loud clappings of the hand. What is in a man, let it come out and be known to those around him, if it be bad it will find correction, if it be good it will spread and be beneficent.
And then one woman made herself audible over the sobs of the crowding children; she was a gaunt, high-boned woman, but she would have been comely, if not handsome, had not the famine come upon her. She held a baby in her arms, and another little toddling thing had been hanging on her dress till Emmeline had seen it, and plucked it away; and it was now sitting in her lap quite composed, and sucking a piece of cake that had been given to it. “An’ it’s a bad day for us all,” said the woman, beginning in a low voice, which became louder and louder as she went on, “it’s a bad day for us all that takes away from us the only rale friends that we iver had, and the back of my hand to them that have come in the way, bringin’ sorrow, an’ desolation, an’ misery on gentlefolks that have been good to the poor since iver the poor have been in the land, rale gentlefolks, sich as there ain’t no others to be found nowadays in any of these parts. O’hone, o’hone! but it’s a bad day for us and for the childer, for where shall we find the dhrop to comfort us or the bit to ate when the sickness comes on us, as it’s likely to come now, when the Fitzgeralds is out of the counthry. May the Lord bless them, and keep them, and presarve them, and the Holy Virgin have them in her keepin’!”
“Wh — i — s — h — h,” said Aunt Letty, who could not allow such idolatry to pass by unobserved or unrebuked.
“An’ shure the blessin’ of a poor woman cannot haram you,” continued the mother, “an’ I’ll tell you what, neighbours, it’ll be a bad day for him that folk call the heir when he puts his foot in that house.”
“‘Deed an’ that’s thrue for you, Bridget Magrath,” said another voice from among the crowd of women.
“A bad day intirely,” continued the woman, with the baby; “av the house stans over his head when he does the like o’ that, there’ll be no justice in the heavens”
“But, Mrs. Magrath,” said Aunt Letty, trying to interrupt her, “you must not speak in that way; you are mistaken in supposing that Mr. Owen —”
“We’ll all live to see,” said the woman; “for the time’s comin’ quick upon us now. But it’s a bad law that kills our ould masther over our heads, an’ takes away from us our ould misthress. An’ as for him they calls Mr. Owen —”
But the ladies found it impossible to listen to her any longer, so with some difficulty they extricated themselves from the crowd by which they were surrounded, and once more shaking hands with those who were nearest to them escaped into the park, and made their way back towards the house.
They had not expected so much demonstration, and were not a little disconcerted at the scene which had taken place. Aunt Letty had never been so handled in her life, and hardly knew how to make her bonnet sit comfortably on her head; and the two girls were speechless till they were half across the park.
“I am glad we have been,” said Emmeline at last, as soon as the remains of her emotion would allow her to articulate her words.
“It would have been dreadful to have gone away without seeing them,” said Mary. “Poor creatures, poor dear creatures; we shall never again have any more people to be fond of us like that!”
“There is no knowing,” said Aunt Letty; “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and blessed is the name of the Lord. You are both young, and may come back again; but for me —”
“Dear Aunt Letty, if we come back you shall come too.”
“If I only thought that my bones could lie here near my brother’s. But never mind; what signifies it where our bones lie?” And then they were silent for a while, till Aunt Letty spoke again. “I mean to be quite happy over in England; I believe I shall be happiest of you all if I can find any clergyman who is not half perverted to idolatry.”
This took place some time before the ladies left Castle Richmond — perhaps as much as three weeks; it was even before Herbert’s departure, who started for London the day but one after the scene here recorded; he had gone to various places to take his last farewell; to see the Townsends at their parsonage; to call on Father Barney at Kanturk, and had even shaken hands with the Rev. Mr. Creagh, at Gortnaclough. But one farewell visit had been put off for the last. It was now arranged that he was to go over to Desmond Court and see Clara before he went. There had been some difficulty in this, for Lady Desmond had at first declared that she could not feel justified in asking him into her house; but the earl was now at home, and her ladyship had at last given her consent: he was to see the countess first, and was afterwards to see Clara — alone. He had declared that he would not go there unless he were to be allowed an interview with her in private. The countess, as I have said, at last consented, trusting that her previous eloquence might be efficacious in counteracting the ill effects of her daughter’s imprudence. On the day after that interview he was to start for London; “never to return,” as he said to Emmeline, “unless he came to seek his wife.”
“But you will come to seek your wife,” said Emmeline, stoutly; “I shall think you faint-hearted if you doubt it.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01