It was not quite at first that the countess could explain to her son how she now wished that Owen Fitzgerald might become her son-inlaw. She had been so steadfast in her opposition to Owen when the earl had last spoken of the matter, and had said so much of the wickedly dissipated life which Owen was leading, that she feared to shock the boy. But by degrees she brought the matter round, speaking of Owen’s great good fortune, pointing out how much better he was suited for riches than for poverty, insisting warmly on all his good qualities and high feelings, and then saying at last, as it were without thought, “Poor Clara! She has been unfortunate, for at one time she loved Owen Fitzgerald much better than she will ever love his cousin Herbert.”
“Do you think so, mother?”
“I am sure of it. The truth is, Patrick, you do not understand your sister; and indeed it is hard to do so. I have also always had an inward fear that she had now engaged herself to a man whom she did not love. Of course as things were then it was impossible that she should marry Owen; and I was glad to break her off from that feeling. But she never loved Herbert Fitzgerald.”
“Why, she is determined to have him, even now.”
“Ah, yes! That is where you do not understand her. Now, at this special moment, her heart is touched by his misfortune, and she thinks herself bound by her engagement to sacrifice herself with him. But that is not love. She has never loved any one but Owen — and who can wonder at it? for he is a man made for a woman to love.”
The earl said nothing for a while, but sat balancing himself on the back legs of his chair. And then, as though a new idea had struck him, he exclaimed, “If I thought that, mother, I would find out what Owen thinks of it himself.”
“Poor Owen!” said the countess. “There is no doubt as to what he thinks;” and then she left the room, not wishing to carry the conversation any further.
Two days after this, and without any further hint from his mother, he betook himself along the banks of the river to Hap House. In his course thither he never let his horse put a foot upon the road, but kept low down upon the water meadows, leaping over all the fences, as he had so often done with the man whom he was now going to see. It was here, among these banks, that he had received his earliest lessons in horsemanship, and they had all been given by Owen Fitzgerald. It had been a thousand pities, he had thought, that Owen had been so poor as to make it necessary for them all to discourage that love affair with Clara. He would have been so delighted to welcome Owen as his brother-inlaw. And as he strode along over the ground, and landed himself knowingly over the crabbed fences, he began to think how much pleasanter the country would be for him if he had a downright good fellow and crack sportsman as his fast friend at Castle Richmond. Sir Owen Fitzgerald of Castle Richmond! He would be the man to whom he would be delighted to give his sister Clara.
And then he hopped in from one of Owen’s fields into a small paddock at the back of Owen’s house, and seeing one of the stable-boys about the place, asked him if his master was at home.
“Shure an’ he’s here thin, yer honour;” and Lord Desmond could hear the boy whispering, “It’s the young lord hisself.” In a moment Owen Fitzgerald was standing by his horse’s side. It was the first time that Owen had seen one of the family since the news had been spread abroad concerning his right to the inheritance of Castle Richmond.
“Desmond,” said he, taking the lad’s hand with one of his, and putting the other on the animal’s neck, “this is very good of you. I am delighted to see you. I had heard that you were in the country.”
“Yes; I have been home for this week past. But things are all so at sixes and sevens among us all that a fellow can’t go and do just what he would like.”
Owen well understood what he meant. “Indeed, they are at sixes and sevens; you may well say that. But get off your horse, old fellow, and come into the house. Why, what a lather of heat the mare’s in!”
“Isn’t she? it’s quite dreadful. That chap of ours has no more idea of condition than I have of — of — of — of an archbishop. I’ve just trotted along the fields, and put her over a ditch or two, and you see the state she’s in. It’s a beastly shame.”
“I know of old what your trottings are, Desmond; and what a ditch or two means. You’ve been at every bank between this and Banteer as though you were going for a steeple-chase plate.”
“Upon my honour, Owen —”
“Look here, Patsey. Walk that mare up and down here, between this gate and that post, till the big sweat has all dried on her; and then stick to her with a whisp of straw till she’s as soft as silk. Do you hear?”
Patsey said that he did hear; and then Owen, throwing his arm over the earl’s shoulder, walked slowly towards the house.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you, old boy,” said Owen, pressing his young friend with something almost like an embrace. “You will hardly believe how long it is since I have seen a face that I cared to look at.”
“Haven’t you?” said the young lord, wondering. He knew that Fitzgerald had now become heir to a very large fortune, or rather the possessor of that fortune, and he could not understand why a man who had been so popular while he was poor should be deserted now that he was rich.
“No, indeed, have I not. Things are all at sixes and sevens, as you say. Let me see. Donnellan was here when you last saw me; and I was soon tired of him when things became serious.”
“I don’t wonder you were tired of him.”
“But, Desmond, how’s your mother?”
“Oh, she’s very well. These are bad times for poor people like us, you know.”
“And your sister?”
“She’s pretty well too, thank you” And then there was a pause. “You’ve had a great change in your fortune since I saw you, have you not?” said the earl, after a minute or two. And there it occurred to him for the first time, that, having refused his sister to this man when he was poor, he had now come to offer her to him when he was rich. “Not that that was the reason,” he said to himself. “But it was impossible then, and now it would be so pleasant.”
“It is a sad history, is it not?” said Owen.
“Very sad,” said the earl, remembering, however, that he had ridden over there with his heart full of joy — of joy occasioned by that very catastrophe which now, following his friend’s words like a parrot, he declared to be so very sad.
And now they were in the dining-room in which Owen usually lived, and were both standing on the rug, as two men always do stand when they first get into a room together. And it was clear to see that neither of them knew how to break at once into the sort of loving, genial talk which each was longing to have with the other. It is so easy to speak when one has little or nothing to say; but often so difficult when there is much that must be said: and the same paradox is equally true of writing.
Then Owen walked away to the window, looking out among the shrubs into which Aby Mollett had been precipitated, as though he could collect his thoughts there; and in a moment or two the earl followed him, and looked out also among the shrubs. “They killed a fox exactly there the other day; didn’t they?” asked the earl, indicating the spot by a nod of his head.
“Yes, they did.” And then there was another pause. “I’ll tell you what it is, Desmond,” Owen said at last, going back to the rug and speaking with an effort. “As the people say, ‘a sight of you is good for sore eyes.’ There is a positive joy to me in seeing you. It is like a cup of cold water when a man is thirsty. But I cannot put the drink to my lips till I know on what terms we are to meet. When last we saw each other, we were speaking of your sister; and now that we meet again, we must again speak of her. Desmond, all my thoughts are of her; I dream of her at night, and find myself talking to her spirit when I wake in the morning. I have much else that I ought to think of; but I go about thinking of nothing but of her. I am told that she is engaged to my cousin Herbert. Nay, she has told me so herself, and I know that it is so. But if she becomes his wife — any man’s wife but mine — I cannot live in this country.”
He had not said one word of that state of things in his life’s history of which the countryside was so full. He had spoken of Herbert, but he had not alluded to Herbert’s fall. He had spoken of such hope as he still might have with reference to Clara Desmond; but he did not make the slightest reference to that change in his fortunes — in his fortunes, and in those of his rival — which might have so strong a bias on those hopes, and which ought so to have in the minds of all worldly, prudent people. It was to speak of this specially that Lord Desmond had come thither; and then, if opportunity should offer, to lead away the subject to that other one; but now Owen had begun at the wrong end. If called upon to speak about his sister at once, what could the brother say, except that she was engaged to Herbert Fitzgerald?
“Tell me this, Desmond, whom does your sister love?” said Owen, speaking almost fiercely in his earnestness. “I know so much of you, at any rate, that whatever may be your feelings you will not lie to me,”— thereby communicating to the young lord an accusation, which he very well understood, against the truth of the countess, his mother.
“When I have spoken to her about this she declares that she is engaged to Herbert Fitzgerald.”
“Engaged to him! yes, I know that; I do not doubt that. It has been dinned into my ears now for the last six months till it is impossible to doubt it. And she will marry him too, if no one interferes to prevent it. I do not doubt that either. But, Desmond, that is not the question that I have asked. She did love me; and then she was ordered by her mother to abandon that love, and to give her heart to another. That in words she has been obedient, I know well; but what I doubt is this — that she has in truth been able so to chuck her heart about like a shuttlecock. I can only say that I am not able to do it.”
How was the earl to answer him? The very line of argument which Owen’s mind was taking was exactly that which the young lord himself desired to promote. He too was desirous that Clara should go back to her first love. He himself thought strongly that Owen was a man more fitted than Herbert for the worshipful adoration of such a girl as his sister Clara. But then he, Desmond, had opposed the match while Owen was poor, and how was he to frame words by which he might encourage it now that Owen was rich?
“I have been so little with her, that I hardly know,” he said. “But, Owen —”
“It is so difficult for me to talk to you about all this.”
“Why, yes. You know that I have always liked you — always. No chap was ever such a friend to me as you have been;” and he squeezed Owen’s arm with strong boyish love.
“I know all about it,” said Owen.
“Well; then all that happened about Clara. I was young then, you know,”— he was now sixteen —“and had not thought anything about it. The idea of you and Clara falling in love had never occurred to me. Boys are so blind, you know. But when it did happen — you remember that day, old fellow, when you and I met down at the gate?”
“Remember it!” said Owen. He would remember it, as he thought, when half an eternity should have passed over his head.
“And I told you then what I thought. I don’t think I am a particular fellow myself about money and rank and that sort of thing. I am as poor as a church mouse, and so I shall always remain; and for myself I don’t care about it. But for one’s sister, Owen — you never had a sister, had you?”
“Never,” said Owen, hardly thinking of the question.
“One is obliged to think of such things for her. We should all go to rack and ruin, the whole family of us, box and dice — as indeed we have pretty well already — if some of us did not begin to look about us. I don’t suppose I shall ever marry and have a family. I couldn’t afford it, you know. And in that case Clara’s son would be Earl of Desmond; or if I died she would be Countess of Desmond in her own right.” And the young lord looked the personification of family prudence.
“I know all that,” said Owen; “but you do not suppose that I was thinking of it?”
“What; as regards yourself. No; I am sure you never did. But, looking to all that, it would never have done for her to marry a man as poor as you were. It is not a comfortable thing to be a very poor nobleman, I can tell you.”
Owen again remained silent. He wanted to talk the earl over into favouring his views, but he wanted to do so as Owen of Hap House, not as Owen of Castle Richmond. He perceived at once from the tone of the boy’s voice, and even from his words, that there was no longer anything to be feared from the brother’s opposition; and perceiving this, he thought that the mother’s opposition might now perhaps also be removed. But it was quite manifest that this had come from what was supposed to be his altered position. “A man as poor as you were,” Lord Desmond had said, urging that though now the marriage might be well enough, in those former days it would have been madness. The line of argument was very clear; but as Owen was as poor as ever, and intended to remain so, there was nothing in it to comfort him.
“I cannot say that I, myself, have so much worldly wisdom as you have,” said he at last, with something like a sneer.
“Ah, that is just what I knew you would say. You think that I am coming to you now, and offering to make up matters between you and Clara because you are rich!”
“But can you make up matters between me and Clara?” said Owen, eagerly.
“Well, I do not know. The countess seems to think it might be so.”
And then again Owen was silent, walking about the room with his hands behind his back. Then, after all, the one thing of this world which his eye regarded as desirable was within his reach. He had then been right in supposing that that face which had once looked up to his so full of love had been a true reflex of the girl’s heart — that it had indicated to him love which was not changeable. It was true that Clara, having accepted a suitor at her mother’s order, might now be allowed to come back to him! As he thought of this, he wondered at the endurance and obedience of a woman’s heart which could thus give up all that it held as sacred at the instance of another. But even this, though it was but little flattering to Clara, by no means lessened the transport which he felt. He had had that pride in himself, that he had never ceased to believe that she loved him. Full of that thought, of which he had not dared to speak, he had gone about, gloomily miserable since the news of her engagement with Herbert had reached him, and now he learned, as he thought with certainty, that his belief had been well grounded. Through all that had passed Clara Desmond did love him still!
But as to this overture of reconciliation that was now made to him, how was he to accept it or reject it? It was made to him because he was believed to be Sir Owen Fitzgerald of Castle Richmond, a baronet of twelve thousand a year, instead of a poor squire, whose wife would have to look narrowly to the kitchen, in order that food in sufficiency might be forthcoming for the parlour. That he would become Sir Owen he thought probable; but that he would be Sir Owen of Hap House and not of Castle Richmond he had firmly resolved. He had thought of this for long hours and hours together, and felt that he could never again be happy were he to put his foot into that house as its owner. Every tenant would scorn him, every servant would hate him, every neighbour would condemn him; but this would be as nothing to his hatred of himself, to his own scorn and his own condemnation. And yet how great was the temptation to him now! If he would consent to call himself master of Castle Richmond, Clara’s hand might still be his.
So he thought; but those who know Clara Desmond better than he did will know how false were his hopes. She was hardly the girl to have gone back to a lover when he was rich, whom she had rejected when he was poor.
“Desmond,” said he, “come here and sit down;” and both sat leaning on the table together, with their arms touching. “I understand it all now, I think; and remember this, my boy, that whomever I may blame, I do not blame you; that you are true and honest I am sure; and, indeed, there is only one person whom I do blame.” He did not say that this one person was the countess, but the earl knew just as well as though he had been told.
“I understand all this now,” he repeated, “and before we go any further, I must tell you one thing; I shall never be owner of Castle Richmond.”
“Why, I thought it was all settled!” said the earl, looking up with surprise.
“Nothing at all is settled. To every bargain there must be two parties, and I have never yet become a party to the bargain which shall make me owner of Castle Richmond.”
“But is it not yours of right?”
“I do not know what you call right.”
“Right of inheritance,” said the earl, who, having succeeded to his own rank by the strength of the same right enduring through many ages, looked upon it as the one substantial palladium of the country.
“Look here, old fellow, and I’ll tell you my views about this. Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, when he married that poor lady who is still staying at Castle Richmond, did so in the face of the world with the full assurance that he made her his legal wife. Whether such a case as this ever occurred before I don’t know, but I am sure of this, that in the eye of God she is his widow. Herbert Fitzgerald was brought up as the heir to all that estate, and I cannot see that he can fairly be robbed of that right because another man has been a villain. The title he cannot have, I suppose, because the law won’t give it him; but the property can be made over to him, and as far as I am concerned it shall be made over. No earthly consideration shall induce me to put my hand upon it, for in doing so I should look upon myself as a thief and a scoundrel.”
“And you mean then that Herbert will have it all, just the same as it was before?”
“Just the same as regards the estate.”
“Then why has he gone away?”
“I cannot answer for him. I can only tell you what I shall do. I dare say it may take months before it is all settled. But now, Desmond, you know how I stand; I am Owen Fitzgerald of Hap House, now as I have ever been, that and nothing more — for as to the handle to my name it is not worth talking about.”
They were still sitting at the table, and now they both sat silent, not looking at each other, but with their eyes fixed on the wood. Owen had in his hand a pen, which he had taken from the mantelpiece, and unconsciously began to trace signs on the polished surface before him. The earl sat with his forehead leaning on his two hands, thinking what he was to say next. He felt that he himself loved the man better than ever; but when his mother should come to hear all this, what would she say?
“You know it all now, my boy,” said Owen, looking up at last; and as he did so there was an expression about his face to which the young earl thought that he had never seen the like. There was a gleam in his eye which, though not of joy, was so bright; and a smile round his mouth which was so sweet, though full of sadness! “How can she not love him?” said he to himself, thinking of his sister. “And now, Desmond, go back to your mother and tell her all. She has sent you here.”
“No, she did not send me,” said the boy, stoutly — almost angrily; “she does not even know that I have come.”
“Go back then to your sister.”
“Nor does she know it.”
“Nevertheless, go back to them, and tell them both what I have told you; and tell them this also, that I, Owen Fitzgerald of Hap House, still love her better than all that the world else can give me; indeed, there is nothing else that I do love — except you, Desmond. But tell them also that I am Owen of Hap House still — that and nothing more.”
“Owen,” said the lad, looking up at him; and Fitzgerald as he glanced into the boy’s face could see that there was that arising within his breast which almost prevented him from speaking.
“And look, Desmond,” continued Fitzgerald; “do not think that I shall blame you because you turn from me, or call you mercenary. Do you do what you think right. What you said just now of your sister’s — well, of the possibility of our marriage, you said under the idea that I was a rich man. You now find that I am a poor man; and you may consider that the words were never spoken.”
“Owen!” said the boy again; and now that which was before rising in his breast had risen to his brow and cheeks, and was telling its tale plainly in his eyes. And then he rose from his chair, turning away his face, and walking towards the window; but before he had gone two steps he turned again, and throwing himself on Fitzgerald’s breast, he burst out into a passion of tears.
“Come, old fellow, what is this? This will never do,” said Owen. But his own eyes were full of tears also, and he too was nearly past speaking.
“I know you will think — I am a boy and a — fool,” said the earl, through his sobs, as soon as he could speak; “but I can’t — help it.”
“I think you are the dearest, finest, best fellow that ever lived,” said Fitzgerald, pressing him with his arm.
“And I’ll tell you what, Owen, you should have her tomorrow if it were in my power, for, by heaven! there is not another man so worthy of a girl in all the world; and I’ll tell her so; and I don’t care what the countess says. And, Owen, come what come may, you shall always have my word;” and then he stood apart, and rubbing his eyes with his arm, tried to look like a man who was giving this pledge from his judgment, not from his impulse.
“It all depends on this, Desmond; whom does she love? See her alone, Desmond, and talk softly to her, and find out that.” This he said thoughtfully, for in his mind “love should still be lord of all.”
“By heavens! if I were her, I know whom I should love,” said the brother.
“I would not have her as a gift if she did not love me,” said Owen, proudly; “but if she do, I have a right to claim her as my own.”
And then they parted, and the earl rode back home with a quieter pace than that which had brought him there, and in a different mood. He had pledged himself now to Owen — not to Owen of Castle Richmond, but to Owen of Hap House — and he intended to redeem his pledge if it were possible. He had been so conquered by the nobleness of his friend, that he had forgotten his solicitude for his family and his sister.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01