He was two hours later than he had intended as he rode up the avenue to Lady Desmond’s gate, and his chief thought at the moment was how he should describe to the countess the scene he had just witnessed. Why describe it at all? That is what we should all say. He had come there to talk about other things — about other things which must be discussed, and which would require all his wits. Let him keep that poor woman on his mind, but not embarrass himself with any mention of her for the present. This, no doubt, would have been wise if only it had been possible; but out of the full heart the mouth speaks.
But Lady Desmond had not witnessed the scene which I have attempted to describe, and her heart, therefore, was not full of it, and was not inclined to be so filled. And so, in answer to Herbert’s exclamation, “Oh, Lady Desmond, I have seen such a sight!” she gave him but little encouragement to describe it, and by her coldness, reserve, and dignity, soon quelled the expression of his feelings.
The earl was present, and shook hands very cordially with Herbert when he entered the room; and he, being more susceptible as being younger, and not having yet become habituated to the famine as his mother was, did express some eager sympathy. He would immediately go down, or send Fahy with the car, and have her brought up and saved, but his mother had other work to do, and soon put a stop to all this.
“Mr. Fitzgerald,” said she, speaking with a smile upon her face, and with much high-bred dignity of demeanour, “as you and Lady Clara both wish to see each other before you leave the country, and as you have known each other so intimately, and considering all the circumstances, I have not thought it well absolutely to forbid an interview. But I do doubt its expediency; I do, indeed. And Lord Desmond, who feels for your late misfortune as we all do, perfectly agrees with me. He thinks that it would be much wiser for you both to have parted without the pain of a meeting, seeing how impossible it is that you should ever be more to each other than you are now.” And then she appealed to her son, who stood by, looking not quite so wise, nor even quite so decided as his mother’s words would seem to make him.
“Well, yes; upon my word I don’t see how it’s to be,” said the young earl. “I am deuced sorry for it for one, and I wish I was well off, so that I could give Clara a pot of money, and then I should not care so much about your not being the baronet.”
“I am sure you must see, Mr. Fitzgerald, and I know that you do see it because you have very properly said so, that a marriage between you and Lady Clara is now impossible. For her such an engagement would be very bad — very bad indeed; but for you it would be utter ruin. Indeed, it would be ruin for you both. Unencumbered as you will be, and with the good connection which you will have, and with your excellent talents, it will be quite within your reach to win for yourself a high position. But with you, as with other gentlemen who have to work their way, marriage must come late in life, unless you marry an heiress. This I think is thoroughly understood by all people in our position; and I am sure that it is understood by your excellent mother, for whom I always had atd still have the most unfeigned respect. As this is so undoubtedly the case, and as I cannot of course consent that Lady Clara should remain hampered by an engagement which would in all human probability hang over the ten best years of her life, I thought it wise that you should not see each other. I have, however, allowed myself to be overruled, and now I must only trust to your honour, forbearance, and prudence to protect my child from what might possibly be the ill effects of her own affectionate feelings. That she is romantic — enthusiastic to a fault, I should perhaps rather call it — I need not tell you. She thinks that your misfortune demands from her a sacrifice of herself; but you, I know, will feel that, even were such a sacrifice available to you, it would not become you to accept it. Because you have fallen, you will not wish to drag her down; more especially as you can rise again — and she could not.”
So spoke the countess, with much worldly wisdom, and with considerable tact in adjusting her words to the object which she had in view. Herbert, as he stood before her silent during the period of her oration, did feel that it would be well for him to give up his love, and go away in utter solitude of heart to those dingy studies which Mr. Prendergast was preparing for him. His love, or rather the assurance of Clara’s love, had been his great consolation. But what right had he, with all the advantages of youth, and health, and friends, and education, to require consolation? And then from moment to moment he thought of the woman whom he had left in the cabin, and confessed that he did not dare to call himself unhappy.
He had listened attentively, although he did thus think of other eloquence besides that of the countess — of the eloquence of that silent, solitary, dying woman; but when she had done he hardly knew what to say for himself. She did make him feel that it would be ungenerous in him to persist in his engagement; but then again, Clara’s letters and his sister’s arguments had made him feel that it was impossible to abandon it. They pleaded of heart-feelings so well that he could not resist them; and the countess — she pleaded so well as to world’s prudence that he could not resist her.
“I would not willingly do anything to injure Lady Clara,” he said.
“That’s what we all knew,” said the young earl. “You see, what is a girl to do like her? Love in a cottage is all very well, and all that; and as for riches, I don’t care about them. It would be a pity if I did, for I shall be about the poorest nobleman in the three kingdoms, I suppose. But a chap when he marries should have something; shouldn’t he now?”
To tell the truth the earl had been very much divided in his opinions since he had come home, veering round a point or two this way or a point or two that, in obedience to the blast of eloquence to which he might be last subjected. But latterly the idea had grown upon him that Clara might possibly marry Owen Fitzgerald. There was about Owen a strange fascination which all felt who had once loved him. To the world he was rough and haughty, imperious in his commands, and exacting even in his fellowship; but to the few whom he absolutely loved, whom he had taken into his heart’s core, no man ever was more tender or more gracious. Clara, though she had resolved to banish him from her heart, had found it impossible to do so till Herbert’s misfortunes had given him a charm in her eyes which was not all his own. Clara’s mother had loved him — had loved him as she never before had loved; and now she loved him still, though she had so strongly determined that her love should be that of a mother, and not that of a wife. And the young earl, now that Owen’s name was again rife in his ears, remembered all the pleasantness of former days. He had never again found such a companion as Owen had been. He had met no other friend to whom he could talk of sport and a man’s outward pleasures when his mind was that way given, and to whom he could also talk of soft inward things — the heart’s feelings, and aspirations, and wants. Owen would be as tender with him as a woman, allowing the young lad’s arm round his body, listening to words which the outer world would have called bosh — and have derided as girlish. So at least thought the young earl to himself. And all boys long to be allowed utterance occasionally for these soft tender things; — as also do all men, unless the devil’s share in the world has become altogether uppermost with them.
And the young lad’s heart hankered after his old friend. He had listened to his sister, and for a while had taken her part; but his mother had since whispered to him that Owen would now be the better suitor, the preferable brother-inlaw; and that in fact Clara loved Owen the best, though she felt herself bound by honour to his kinsman. And then she reminded her son of Clara’s former love for Owen — a love which he himself had witnessed; and he thought of the day when with so much regret he had told his friend that he was unsuited to wed with an earl’s penniless daughter. Of the subsequent pleasantness which had come with Herbert’s arrival, he had seen little or nothing. He had been told by letter that Herbert Fitzgerald, the prosperous heir of Castle Richmond, was to be his future brother-inlaw, and he had been satisfied. But now, if Owen could return — how pleasant it would be!
“But a chap when he marries should have something; shouldn’t he now?” So spoke the young earl, re-echoing his mother’s prudence.
Herbert did not quite like this interference on the boy’s part. Was he to explain to a young lad from Eton what his future intentions were with reference to his mode of living and period of marriage? “Of course,” he said, addressing himself to the countess, “I shall not insist on an engagement made under such different circumstances.”
“Nor will you allow her to do so through a romantic feeling of generosity,” said the countess.
“You should know your own daughter, Lady Desmond, better than I do,” he answered; “but I cannot say what I may do at her instance till I shall have seen her.”
“Do you mean to say that you will allow a girl of her age to talk you into a proceeding which you know to be wrong?”
“I will allow no one,” he said, “to talk me into a proceeding which I know to be wrong; nor will I allow any one to talk me out of a proceeding which I believe to be right.” And then, having uttered these somewhat grandiloquent words, he shut himself up as though there were no longer any need for discussing the subject.
“My poor child!” said the countess, in a low tremulous voice, as though she did not intend him to hear them. “My poor unfortunate child!” Herbert as he did hear them thought of the woman in the cabin, and of her misfortunes and of her children. “Come, Patrick,” continued the countess, “it is perhaps useless for us to say anything further at present. If you will remain here, Mr. Fitzgerald, for a minute or two, I will send Lady Clara to wait upon you;” and then curtsying with great dignity she withdrew, and the young earl scuffled out after her. “Mamma,” he said, as he went, “he is determined that he will have her.”
“My poor child!” answered the countess.
“And if I were in his place I should be determined also. You may as well give it up. Not but that I like Owen a thousand times the best.”
Herbert did wait there for some five minutes, and then the door was opened very gently, was gently closed again, and Clara Desmond was in the room. He came towards her respectfully, holding out his hand that he might take hers; but before he had thought of how she would act she was in his arms. Hitherto, of all betrothed maidens, she had been the most retiring. Sometimes he had thought her cold when she had left the seat by his side to go and nestle closely by his sister. She had avoided the touch of his hand and the pressure of his arm, and had gone from him speechless, if not with anger then with dismay, when he had carried the warmth of his love beyond the touch of his hand or the pressure of his arm. But now she rushed into his embrace and hid her face upon his shoulder, as though she were over glad to return to the heart from which those around her had endeavoured to banish her. Was he or was he not to speak of his love? That had been the question which he had asked himself when left alone there for those five minutes, with the eloquence of the countess ringing in his ears. Now that question had in truth been answered for him.
“Herbert,” she said, “Herbert! I have so sorrowed for you; but I know that you have borne it like a man.”
She was thinking of what he had now half forgotten — the position which he had lost, those hopes which had all been shipwrecked, his title surrendered to another, and his lost estates. She was thinking of them as the loss affected him, but he, he had reconciled himself to all that — unless all that were to separate him from his promised bride.
“Dearest Clara,” he said, with his arm close round her waist, while neither anger nor dismay appeared to disturb the sweetness of that position, “the letter which you wrote me has been my chief comfort.” Now if he had any intention of liberating Clara from trie bond of her engagement — if he really had any feeling that it behoved him not to involve her in the worldly losses which had come upon him — he was taking a very bad way of carrying out his views in that respect. Instead of confessing the comfort which he had received from that letter, and holding her close to his breast while he did confess it, he should have stood away from her — quite as far apart as he had done from the countess; and he should have argued with her, showing her how foolish and imprudent her letter had been, explaining that it behoved her now to repress her feelings, and teaching her that peers’ daughters as well as housemaids should look out for situations which would suit them, guided by prudence and a view to the wages — not follow the dictates of impulse and of the heart. This is what he should have done, according, I believe, to the views of most men and women. Instead of that he held her there as close as he could hold her, and left her to do the most of the speaking. I think he was right. According to my ideas woman’s love should be regarded as fair prize of war — as long as the war has been earned on with due adherence to the recognized law of nations. When it has been fairly won, let it be firmly held. I have no opinion of that theory of giving up.
“You knew that I would not abandon you! Did you not know it? say that you knew it?” said Clara, and then she insisted on having an answer.
“I could hardly dare to think that there was so much happiness left for me,” said Herbert.
“Then you were a traitor to your love, sir; a false traitor.” But deep as was the offence for which she arraigned him, it was clear to see that the pardon came as quick as the conviction. “And was Emmeline so untrue to me also as to believe that?”
“Emmeline said —” and then he told her what Emmeline had said.
“Dearest, dearest Emmeline! give her a whole cart-load of love from me; now mind you do — and to Mary, too. And remember this, sir; that I love Emmeline ten times better than I do you; twenty times — because she knew me. Oh, if she had mistrusted me —!”
“And do you think that I mistrusted you?”
“Yes, you did; you know you did, sir. You wrote and told me so; — and now, this very day, you come here to act as though you mistrusted me still. You know you have, only you have not the courage to go on with the acting.”
And then he began to defend himself, showing how ill it would have become him to have kept her bound to her engagements had she feared poverty as most girls in her position would have feared it. But on this point she would not hear much from him, lest the very fact of her hearing it should make it seem that such a line of conduct were possible to her.
“You know nothing about most girls, sir, or about any, I am afraid; not even about one. And if most girls were frightfully heartless, which they are not, what right had you to liken me to most girls? Emmeline knew better, and why could not you take her as a type of most girls? You have behaved very badly, Master Herbert, and you know it; and nothing on earth shall make me forgive you; nothing — but your promise that you will not so misjudge me any more.” And then the tears came to his eyes, and her face was again hidden on his shoulder.
It was not very probable that after such a commencement the interview would terminate in a manner favourable to the wishes of the countess. Clara swore to her lover that she had given him all that she had to give — her heart, and will, and very self; and swore, also, that she could not and would not take back the gift. She would remain as she was now as long as he thought proper, and would come to him whenever he should tell her that his home was large enough for them both. And so that matter was settled between them.
Then she had much to say about his mother and sisters, and a word too about his poor father. And now that it was settled between them so fixedly, that come what might they were to float together in the same boat down the river of life, she had a question or two also to ask, and her approbation to give or to withhold, as to his future prospects. He was not to think, she told him, of deciding on anything without at any rate telling her. So he had to explain to her all the family plans, making her know why he had decided on the law as his own path to fortune, and asking for and obtaining her consent to all his proposed measures.
In this way her view of the matter became more and more firmly adopted as that which should be the view resolutely to be taken by them both. The countess had felt that that interview would be fatal to her; and she had been right. But how could she have prevented it? Twenty times she had resolved that she would prevent it; but twenty times she had been forced to confess that she was powerless to do so. In these days a mother even can only exercise such power over a child as public opinion permits her to use. “Mother, it was you who brought us together, and you cannot separate us now.” That had always been Clara’s argument, leaving the countess helpless, except as far as she could work on Herbert’s generosity. That she had tried — and, as we have seen, been foiled there also. If only she could have taken her daughter away while the Castle Richmond family were still mersed in the bitter depth of their suffering — at that moment when the blows were falling on them! Then, indeed, she might have done something; but she was not like other titled mothers. In such a step as this she was absolutely without the means.
Thus talking together they remained closeted fora most unconscionable time. Clara had had her purpose to carry out, and to Herbert the moments had been too precious to cause him any regret as they passed. But now at last a knock was heard at the door, and Lady Desmond, without waiting for an answer to it, entered the room. Clara immediately started from her seat, not as though she were either guilty or tremulous, but with a brave resolve to go on with her purposed plan.
“Mamma,” she said, “it is fixed now; it cannot be altered now.”
“What is fixed, Clara?”
“Herbert and I have renewed our engagement, and nothing must now break it, unless we die.”
“Mr. Fitzgerald, if this be true your conduct to my daughter has been unmanly as well as ungenerous.”
“Lady Desmond, it is true; and I think that my conduct is neither unmanly nor ungenerous.”
“Your own relations are against you, sir.”
“What relations?” asked Clara, sharply.
“I am not speaking to you, Clara; your absurdity and romance are so great that I cannot speak to you.”
“What relations, Herbert?” again asked Clara; for she would not for the world have had Lady Fitzgerald against her.
“Lady Desmond has, I believe, seen my Aunt Letty two or three times lately; I suppose she must mean her.”
“Oh,” said Clara, turning away as though she were now satisfied. And then Herbert, escaping from the house as quickly as he could, rode home with a renewal of that feeling of triumph which he had once enjoyed before when returning from Desmond Court to Castle Richmond.
On the next day Herbert started for London. The parting was sad enough, and the occasion of it was such that it could hardly be otherwise. “I am quite sure of one thing,” he said to his sister Emmeline, “I shall never see Castle Richmond again.” And, indeed, one may say that small as might be his chance of doing so, his wish to do so must be still less. There could be no possible inducement to him to come back to a place which had so nearly been his own, and the possession of which he had lost in so painful a manner. Every tree about the place, every path across the wide park, every hedge and ditch and hidden leafy corner, had had for him a special interest — for they had all been his own. But all that was now over. They were not only not his own, but they belonged to one who was mounting into his seat of power over his head.
He had spent the long evening before his last dinner in going round the whole demesne alone, so that no eye should witness what he felt. None but those who have known the charms of a country-house early in life can conceive the intimacy to which a man attains with all the various trifling objects round his own locality; how he knows the bark of every tree, and the bend of every bough; how he has marked where the rich grass grows in tufts, and where the poorer soil is always dry and bare; how he watches the nests of the rooks, and the holes of the rabbits, and has learned where the thrushes build, and can show the branch on which the linnet sits. All these things had been dear to Herbert, and they all required at his hand some last farewell. Every dog, too, he had to see, and to lay his hand on the neck of every horse. This making of his final adieu under such circumstances was melancholy enough.
And then, too, later in the evening, after dinner, all the servants were called into the parlour that he might shake hands with them. There was not one of them who had not hoped, as lately as three months since, that he or she would live to call Herbert Fitzgerald master. Indeed, he had already been their master — their young master. All Irish servants especially love to pay respect to the “young masther;” but Herbert now was to be their master no longer, and the probability was that he would never see one of them again.
He schooled himself to go through the ordeal with a manly gait and with dry eyes, and he did it; but their eyes were not dry, not even those of the men. Mrs. Jones and a favourite girl whom the young ladies patronized were not of the number, for it had been decided that they should follow the fortunes of their mistress; but Richard was there, standing a little apart from the others, as being now on a different footing. He was to go also, but before the scene was over he also had taken to sobbing violently.
“I wish you all well and happy,” said Herbert, making his little speech, “and regret deeply that the intercourse between us should be thus suddenly severed. You have served me and mine well and truly, and it is hard upon you now, that you should be bid to go and seek another home elsewhere.”
“It isn’t that we mind, Mr. Herbert; it ain’t that as frets us,” said one of the men.
“It ain’t that at all, at all,” said Richard, doing chorus; “but that yer honour should be robbed of what is yer honour’s own.”
“But you all know that we cannot help it,” continued Herbert; “a misfortune has come upon us which nobody could have foreseen, and therefore we are obliged to part with our old friends and servants.”
At the word friends the maid-servants all sobbed. “And ‘deed we is your frinds, and true frinds, too,” wailed the cook.
“I know you are, and it grieves me to feel that I shall see you no more. But you must not be led to think by what Richard says that anybody is depriving me of that which ought to be my own. I am now leaving Castle Richmond because it is not my own, but justly belongs to another — to another who, I must in justice tell you, is in no hurry to claim his inheritance. We none of us have any ground for displeasure against the present owner of this place, my cousin, Sir Owen Fitzgerald.”
“We don’t know nothing about Sir Owen,” said one voice.
“And don’t want,” said another, convulsed with sobs.
“He’s a very good sort of young gentleman — of his own kind, no doubt,” said Richard.
“But you can all of you understand,” continued Herbert, “that as this place is no longer our own, we are obliged to leave it; and as we shall live in a very different way in the home to which we are going, we are obliged to part with you, though we have no reason to find fault with any one among you. I am going tomorrow morning early, and my mother and sisters will follow after me in a few weeks. It will be a sad thing too for them to say good-bye to you all, as it is for me now; but it cannot be helped. God bless you all, and I hope that you will find good masters and kind mistresses, with whom you may live comfortably, as I hope you have done here.”
“We can’t find no other mistresses like her leddyship,” sobbed out the senior housemaid.
“There ain’t niver such a one in the county Cork,” said the cook; “in a week of Sundays you wouldn’t hear the breath out of her above her own swait nathural voice.”
“I’ve driv’ her since iver —” began Richard; but he was going to say since ever she was married, but he remembered that this allusion would be unbecoming, so he turned his face to the doorpost, and began to wail bitterly.
And then Herbert shook hands with them all, and it was pretty to see how the girls wiped their hands in their aprons before they gave them to him, and how they afterwards left the room with their aprons up to their faces. The women walked out first, and then the men, hanging down their heads, and muttering as they went, each some little prayer that fortune and prosperity might return to the house of Fitzgerald. The property might go, but according to their views Herbert was always, and always would be, the head of the house. And then, last of all, Richard went. “There ain’t one of ’em, Mr. Herbert, as wouldn’t guv his fist to go wid yer, and think nothing about the wages.”
He was to start very early, and his packing was all completed that night. “I do so wish we were going with you,” said Emmeline, sitting in his room on the top of a corded box, which was to follow him by some slower conveyance.
“And I do so wish I was staying with you,” said he.
“What is the good of staying here now?” said she; “what pleasure can there be in it? I hardly dare to go outside the house door for fear I should be seen.”
“But why? We have done nothing that we need be ashamed of.”
“No; I know that. But, Herbert, do you not find that the pity of the people is hard to bear? It is written in their eyes, and meets one at every turn.”
“We shall get rid of that very soon. In a few months we shall be clean forgotten.”
“I do not know about being forgotten.”
“You will be as clean forgotten — as though you had never existed. And all these servants who are now so fond of us, in three months’ time will be just as fond of Owen Fitzgerald, if he will let them stay here; it’s the way of the world.”
That Herbert should have indulged in a little morbid misanthropy on such an occasion was not surprising. But I take leave to think that he was wrong in his philosophy; we do make new friends when we lose our old friends, and the heart is capable of cure as is the body; were it not so, how terrible would be our fate in this world! But we are so apt to find fault with God’s goodness to us in this respect, arguing, of others if not of ourselves, that the heart once widowed should remain a widow through all rime. I, for one, think that the heart should receive its new spouses with what alacrity it may, and always with thankfulness.
“I suppose Lady Desmond will let us see Clara,” said Emmeline.
“Of course you must see her. If you knew how much she talks about you, you would not think of leaving Ireland without seeing her.”
“Dear Clara! I am sure she does not love me better than I do her. But suppose that Lady Desmond won’t let us see her! and I know that it will be so. That grave old man with the bald head will come out and say that ‘the Lady Clara is not at home,’ and then we shall have to leave without seeing her. But it does not matter with her as it might with others, for I know that her heart will be with us.”
“If you write beforehand to say that you are coming, and explain that you are doing so to say good-bye, then I think they will admit you.”
“Yes; and the countess would take care to be there, so that I could not say one word to Clara about you. Oh, Herbert! I would give anything if I could have her here for one day — only for one day.” But when they talked it over they both of them decided that this would not be practicable. Clara could not stay away from her own house without her mother’s leave, and it was not probable that her mother would give her permission to stay at Castle Richmond.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14