I have said that Lord Desmond rode home from Hap House that day in a quieter mood and at a slower pace than that which had brought him thither, and in truth it was so. He had things to think of now much more serious than any that had filled his mind as he had cantered along, joyously hoping that after all he might have for his brother the man that he loved, and the owner of Castle Richmond also. This was now impossible; but he felt that he loved Owen better than ever he had done, and he was pledged to fight Owen’s battle, let Owen be ever so poor.
“And what does it signify after all?” he said to himself, as he rode along. “We shall all be poor together, and then we sha’n’t mind it so much; and if I don’t marry, Hap House itself will be something to add to the property;” and then he made up his mind that he could be happy enough, living at Desmond Court all his life, so long as he could have Owen Fitzgerald near him to make life palatable.
That night he spoke to no one on the subject, at least to no one of his own accord. When they were alone his mother asked him where he had been; and when she learned that he had been at Hap House, she questioned him much as to what had passed between him and Owen; but he would tell her nothing, merely saying that Owen had spoken of Clara with his usual ecstasy of love, but declining to go into the subject at any length. The countess, however, gathered from him that he and Owen were on kindly terms together, and so far she felt satisfied.
On the following morning he made up his mind “to have it out,” as he called it, with Clara; but when the hour came his courage failed him: it was a difficult task — that which he was now to undertake — of explaining to her his wish that she should go back to her old lover, not because he was no longer poor, but, as it were in spite of his poverty, and as a reward to him for consenting to remain poor. As he had thought about it while riding home, it had seemed feasible enough. He would tell her how nobly Owen was going to behave to Herbert, and would put it to her whether, as he intended willingly to abandon the estate, he ought not to be put into possession of the wife. There was a romantic justice about this which he thought would touch Clara’s heart. But on the following morning when he came to think what words he would use for making his little proposition, the picture did not seem to him to be so beautiful. If Clara really loved Herbert — and she had declared that she did twenty times over — it would be absurd to expect her to give him up merely because he was not a ruined man. But then, which did she love? His mother declared that she loved Owen. “That’s the real question,” said the earl to himself, as on the second morning he made up his mind that he would “have it out” with Clara without any further delay. He must be true to Owen; that was his first great duty at the present moment.
“Clara, I want to talk to you,” he said, breaking suddenly into the room where she usually sat alone o’ mornings. “I was at Hap House the day before yesterday with Owen Fitzgerald, and to tell you the truth at once, we were talking about you the whole time we were there. And now what I want is, that something should be settled, so that we may all understand one another.”
These words he spoke to her quite abruptly. When he first said that he wished to speak to her, she had got up from her chair to welcome him, for she dearly loved to have him there. There was nothing she liked better than having him to herself when he was in a soft brotherly humour; and then she would interest herself about his horse, and his dogs, and his gun, and predict his life for him, sending him up as a peer to Parliament, and giving him a noble wife, and promising him that he should be such a Desmond as would redeem all the family from their distresses. But now as he rapidly brought out his words, she found that on this day her prophecies must regard herself chiefly.
“Surely, Patrick, it is easy enough to understand me,” she said.
“Well, I don’t know; I don’t in the least mean to find fault with you.”
“I am glad of that, dearest,” she said, laying her hand upon his arm.
“But my mother says one thing, and you another, and Owen another; and I myself, I hardly know what to say.”
“Look here, Patrick, it is simply this: I became engaged to Herbert with my mother’s sanction and yours; and now —”
“Stop a moment,” said the impetuous boy, “and do not pledge yourself to anything till you have heard me. I know that you are cut to the heart about Herbert Fitzgerald losing his property.”
“No, indeed; not at all cut to the heart; that is as regards myself.”
“I don’t mean as regards yourself; I mean as regards him. I have heard you say over and over again that it is a piteous thing that he should be so treated. Have I not?”
“Yes, I have said that, and I think so.”
“And I think that most of your great — great — great love for him, if you will, comes from that sort of feeling.”
“But, Patrick, it came long before.”
“Dear Clara, do listen to me, will you? You may at any rate do as much as that for me.” And then Clara stood perfectly mute, looking into his handsome face as he continued to rattle out his words at her.
“Now, if you please, Clara, you may have the means of giving back to him all his property, every shilling that he ever had, or expected to have. Owen Fitzgerald — who certainly is the finest fellow that ever I came across in all my life, or ever shall, if I live to five hundred — says that he will make over every acre of Castle Richmond back to his cousin Herbert if —” Oh, my lord, my lord, what a scheme is this you are concocting to entrap your sister! Owen Fitzgerald inserted no “if,” as you are well aware! “If,” he continued, with some little qualm of conscience, “if you will consent to be his wife.”
“Listen, now listen. He thinks, and, Clara, by the heavens above me! I think also, that you did love him better than you ever loved Herbert Fitzgerald.” Clara as she heard these words blushed ruby red up to her very hair, but she said never a word. “And I think, and he thinks, that you are bound now to Herbert by his misfortunes — that you feel that you cannot desert him because he has fallen so low. By George, Clara, I am proud of you for sticking to him through thick and thin, now that he is down! But the matter will be very difficult if you have the means of giving back to him all that he has lost, as you have. Owen will be poor, but he is a prince among men. By heaven, Clara, if you will only say that he is your choice, Herbert shall have back all Castle Richmond! and I— I shall never marry, and you may give to the man that I love as my brother all that there is left to us of Desmond.”
There was something grand about the lad’s eager tone of voice as he made his wild proposal, and something grand also about his heart. He meant what he said, foolish as he was either to mean or to say it. Clara burst into tears, and threw herself into his arms. “You don’t understand,” she said, through her sobs, “my own, own brother, you do not understand.”
“But, by Jove! I think I do understand. As sure as you are a living girl he will give back Castle Richmond to Herbert Fitzgerald.”
She recovered herself, and leaving her brother’s arms, walked away to the window, and from thence looked down to that path beneath the elms which was the spot in the world which she thought of the oftenest, but as she gazed, there was no lack of loyalty in her heart to the man to whom she was betrothed. It seemed to her as though those childish days had been in another life, as though Owen had been her lover in another world — a sweet, childish, innocent, happy world which she remembered well, but which was now dissevered from her by an impassable gulf. She thought of his few words of love — so few that she remembered every word that he had then spoken, and thought of them with a singular mixture of pain and pleasure. And now she heard of his noble self-denial with a thrill which was in no degree enhanced by the fact that she, or even Herbert, was to be the gainer by it. She rejoiced at his nobility, merely because it was a joy to her to know that he was so noble. And yet all through this she was true to Herbert. Another work-a-day world had come upon her in her womanhood, and as that came she had learned to love a man of another stamp, with a love that was quieter, more subdued, and perhaps, as she thought, more enduring. Whatever might be Herbert’s lot in life, that lot she would share. Her love for Owen should never be more to her than a dream.
“Did he send you to me?” she said at last, without turning her face away from the window.
“Yes, then, he did; he did send me to you, and he told me to say that as Owen of Hap House he loved you still. And I, I promised to do his bidding; and I promised, moreover, that as far as my good word could go with you, he should have it. And now you know it all; if you care for my pleasure in the matter you will take Owen, and let Herbert have his property. By Jove! if he is treated in that way he cannot complain.”
“Patrick,” said she, returning to him and again laying her hand on him. “You must now take my message also. You must go to him and bid him come here that I may see him.”
“Yes, Owen Fitzgerald.”
“Very well, I have no objection in life.” And the earl thought that the difficulty was really about to be overcome. “And about my mother?”
“I will tell mamma.”
“And what shall I say to Owen?”
“Say nothing to him, but bid him come here. But wait, Patrick; yes, he must not misunderstand me; I can never, never, never marry him.”
“Never, never; it is impossible. Dear Patrick, I am so sorry to make you unhappy, and I love you so very dearly — better than ever, I think, for speaking as you do now. But that can never be. Let him come here, however, and I myself will tell him all.” At last, disgusted and unhappy though he was, the earl did accept the commission, and again on that afternoon rode across the fields to Hap House.
“I will tell him nothing but that he is to come,” said the earl to himself as he went thither. And he did tell Owen nothing else. Fitzgerald questioned him much, but learned but little from him. “By heavens, Owen,” he said, “you must settle the matter between you, for I don’t understand it. She has bid me ask you to come to her; and now you must fight your own battle.” Fitzgerald of course said that he would obey, and so Lord Desmond left him.
In the evening Clara told her mother. “Owen Fitzgerald is to be here tomorrow,” she said.
“Owen Fitzgerald; is he?” said the countess. She hardly knew how to bear herself, or how to interfere so as to assist her own object; or how not to interfere, lest she should mar it.
“Yes, mamma. Patrick saw him the other day, and I think it is better that I should see him also.”
“Very well, my dear. But you must be aware, Clara, that you have been so very — I don’t wish to say headstrong exactly — so very entetee about your own affairs, that I hardly know how to speak of them. If your brother is in your confidence I shall be satisfied.”
“He is in my confidence, and so may you be also, mamma, if you please.”
But the countess thought it better not to have any conversation forced upon her at that moment; and so she asked her daughter for no further show of confidence then. It would probably be as well that Owen should come and plead his own cause.
And Owen did come. All that night and on the next morning the poor girl remained alone in a state of terrible doubt. She had sent for her old lover, thinking at the moment that no one could explain to him in language so clear as her own what was her fixed resolve. And she had too been so moved by the splendour of his offer, that she longed to tell him what she thought of it. The grandeur of that offer was enhanced tenfold in her mind by the fact that it had been so framed as to include her in this comparative poverty with which Owen himself was prepared to rest contented. He had known that she was not to be bought by wealth, and had given her credit for a nobility that was akin to his own.
But yet, now that the moment was coming, how was she to talk to him? How was she to speak the words which would rob him of his hope, and tell him that he did not, could not, never could possess that one treasure which he desired more than houses and lands, or station and rank? Alas, alas! If it could have been otherwise! If it could have been otherwise! She also was in love with poverty; — but at any rate, no one could accuse her now of sacrificing a poor lover for a rich one. Herbert Fitzgerald would be poor enough.
And then he came. They had hitherto met but once since that afternoon, now so long ago — that afternoon to which she looked back as to another former world — and that meeting had been in the very room in which she was now prepared to receive him. But her feelings towards him had been very different then. Then he had almost forced himself upon her, and for months previously she had heard nothing of him but what was evil. He had come complaining loudly, and her heart had been somewhat hardened against him. Now he was there at her bidding, and her heart and very soul were full of tenderness. She rose rapidly, and sat down again, and then again rose as she heard his footsteps; but when he entered the room she was standing in the middle of it.
“Clara,” he said, taking the hand which she mechanically held out, “I have come here now at your brother’s request.”
Her name sounded so sweet upon his lips. No idea occurred to her that she ought to be angry with him for using it. Angry with him! Could it be possible that she should ever be angry with him — that she ever had been so?
“Yes,” she said. “Patrick said something to me which made me think that it would be better that we should meet.”
“Well, yes; it is better. If people are honest they had always better say to each other’s faces that which they have to say.”
“I mean to be honest, Mr. Fitzgerald.”
“Yes, I am sure you do; and so do I also. And if this is so, why cannot we say each to the other that which we have to say? My tale will be a very short one; but it will be true if it is short.”
“But, Mr. Fitzgerald —”
“Will you not sit down?” And she herself sat upon the sofa; and he drew a chair for himself near to her; but he was too impetuous to remain seated on it long. During the interview between them he was sometimes standing, and sometimes walking quickly about the room; and then for a moment he would sit down, or lean down over her on the sofa arm.
“But, Mr. Fitzgerald, it is my tale that I wish you to hear.”
“Well; I will listen to it.” But he did not listen; for before she had spoken a dozen words he had interrupted her, and poured out upon her his own wild plans and generous schemes. She, poor girl, had thought to tell him that she loved Herbert, and Herbert only — as a lover. But that if she could love him, him Owen, as a brother and a friend, that love she would so willingly give him. And then she would have gone on to say how impossible it would have been for Herbert, under any circumstances, to have availed himself of such generosity as that which had been offered. But her eloquence was all cut short in the bud. How could she speak with such a storm of impulse raging before her as that which was now strong within Owen Fitzgerald’s bosom?
He interrupted her before she had spoken a dozen words, in order that he might exhibit before her eyes the project with which his bosom was filled. This he did, standing for the most part before her, looking down upon her as she sat beneath him, with her eyes fixed upon the floor, while his were riveted on her down-turned face. She knew it all before — all this that he had to say to her, or she would hardly have understood it from his words, they were so rapid and vehement. And yet they were tender, too; spoken in a loving tone, and containing ever and anon assurances of respect, and a resolve to be guided now and for ever by her wishes — even though those wishes should be utterly subversive of his happiness.
“And now you know it all,” he said, at last. “And as for my cousin’s property, that is safe enough. No earthly consideration would induce me to put a hand upon that, seeing that by all justice it is his.” But in this she hardly yet quite understood him. “Let him have what luck he may in other respects, he shall still be master of Castle Richmond. If it were that that you wanted — as I know it is not — that I cannot give you. I cannot tell you with what scorn I should regard myself if I were to take advantage of such an accident as this to rob any man of his estate.”
Her brother had been right, so Clara felt, when he declared that Owen Fitzgerald was the finest fellow that ever he had come across. She made another such declaration within her own heart, only with words that were more natural to her. He was the noblest gentleman of whom she had ever heard, or read, or thought.
“But,” continued Owen, “as I will not interfere with him in that which should be his, neither should he interfere with me in that which should be mine. Clara, the only estate that I claim, is your heart.”
And that estate she could not give him. On that at any rate she was fixed. She could not barter herself about from one to the other either as a make-weight or a counterpoise. All his pleading was in vain; all his generosity would fail in securing to him this one reward that he desired. And now she had to tell him so.
“Your brother seems to think,” he continued, “that you still —;” but now it was her turn to interrupt him.
“Patrick is mistaken,” she said, with her eyes still fixed upon the ground.
“What. You will tell me, then, that I am utterly indifferent to you?”
“No, no, no; I did not say so.” And now she got up and took hold of his arm, and looked into his face imploringly. “I did not say so. But, oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, be kind to me, be forbearing with me, be good to me,” and she almost embraced his arm as she appealed to him, with her eyes all swimming with tears.
“Good to you!” he said. And a strong passion came upon him, urging him to throw his arm round her slender body, and press her to his bosom. Good to her! would he not protect her with his life’s blood against all the world if she would only come to him? “Good to you, Clara! Can you not trust me that I will be good to you if you will let me?”
“But not so, Owen.” It was the first time she had ever called him by his name, and she blushed again as she remembered that it was so. “Not good, as you mean, for now I must trust to another for that goodness. Herbert must be my husband, Owen; but will not you be our friend?”
“Herbert must be your husband!”
“Yes, yes, yes. It is so. Do not look at me in that way, pray do not; what would you have me do? You would not have me false to my troth, and false to my own heart, because you are generous. Be generous to me — to me also.”
He turned away from her, and walked the whole length of the long room; away and back, before he answered her, and even then, when he had returned to her, he stood looking at her before he spoke. And she now looked full into his face, hoping, but yet fearing; hoping that he might yield to her; and fearing his terrible displeasure should he not yield.
“Clara,” he said; and he spoke solemnly, slowly, and in a mood unlike his own — “I cannot as yet read your heart clearly; nor do I know whether you can quite so read it yourself.”
“I can, I can,” she answered quickly; “and you shall know it all — all, if you wish.”
“I want to know but one thing. Whom is it that you love? And, Clara,”— and this he said interrupting her as she was about to speak —“I do not ask you to whom you are engaged. You have engaged yourself both to him and to me.”
“Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!”
“I do not blame you, not in the least. But is it not so? as to that I will ask no question, and say nothing; only this, that so far we are equal. But now ask of your own heart, and then answer me. Whom is it then you love?”
“Herbert Fitzgerald,” she said. The words hardly formed themselves into a whisper, but nevertheless they were audible enough to him.
“Then I have no further business here,” he said, and turned about as though to leave the room.
But she ran forward and stopped him, standing between him and the door. “Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, do not leave me like that. Say one word of kindness to me before you go. Tell me that you forgive me for the injury I have done you.”
“Yes, I forgive you.”
“And is that all? Oh, I will love you so, if you will let me — as your friend, as your sister; you shall be our dearest, best, and nearest friend. You do not know how good he is. Owen, will you not tell me that you will love me as a brother loves?”
“No!” and the sternness of his face was such that it was dreadful to look on it. “I will tell you nothing that is false.”
“And would that be false?”
“Yes, false as hell! What, sit by at his hearthstone and see you leaning on his bosom! Sleep under his roof while you were in his arms! No, Lady Clara, that would not be possible. That virtue, if it be virtue, I cannot possess.”
“And you must go from me in anger? If you knew what I am suffering you would not speak to me so cruelly.”
“Cruel! I would not wish to be cruel to you; certainly not now, for we shall not meet again; if ever, not for many years. I do not think that I have been cruel to you.”
“Then say one word of kindness before you go!”
“A word of kindness! Well; what shall I say? Every night, as I have lain in my bed, I have said words of kindness to you, since — since — since longer than you will remember; since I first knew you as a child. Do you ever think of the day when you walked with me round by the bridge?”
“It is bootless thinking of that now.”
“Bootless! yes, and words of kindness are bootless. Between you and me, such words should be full of love, or they would have no meaning. What can I say to you that shall be both kind and true?”
“Bid God bless me before you leave me.”
“Well. I will say that. May God bless you, in this world and in the next! And now, Lady Clara Desmond, good-bye!” and he tendered to her his hand.
She took it, and pressed it between both of hers, and looked up into his face, and stood so while the fast tears ran down her face. He must have been more or less than man had he not relented then. “And, Owen,” she said, “dear Owen, may God in His mercy bless you also, and make you happy, and give you some one that you can love, and — and — teach you in your heart to forgive the injury I have done you.” And then she stooped down her head and pressed her lips upon the hand which she held within her own.
“Forgive you! Well — I do forgive you. Perhaps it may be right that we should both forgive; though I have not wittingly brought unhappiness upon you. But what there is to be forgiven on my side, I do forgive. And — and I hope that you may be happy.” They were the last words that he spoke; and then leading her back to her seat, he placed her there, and without turning to look at her again, he left the room.
He hurried down into the court, and called for his horse. As he stood there, when his foot was in the stirrup, and his hand on the animal’s neck, Lord Desmond came up to him. “Goodbye, Desmond,” he said. “It is all over; God knows when you and I may meet again.” And without waiting for a word of reply he rode out under the porch, and putting spurs to his horse, galloped fast across the park. The earl, when he spoke of it afterwards to his mother, said that Owen’s face had been as it were a thunder-cloud.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55