Castle Richmond, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIII

Playing Rounders

My story is nearly at its close, and all readers will now know how it is to end. Those difficulties raised by Mr. Die were all made to vanish; and though he implored Mr. Prendergast over and over again to go about this business with a moderated eagerness, that gentleman would not consent to let any grass grow under his heels till he had made assurance doubly sure, and had seen Herbert Fitzgerald firmly seated on his throne. All that the women in Spinny Lane had told him was quite true. The register was found in the archives of the parish of Putney, and Mr. Prendergast was able to prove that Mr. Matthew Mollett, now of Spinny Lane, and the Mr. Matthew Mollett then designated as of Newmarket in Cambridgeshire, were one and the same person; therefore Mr. Mollett’s marriage with Miss Wainwright was no marriage, and therefore, also, the marriage between Sir Thomas Fitzgerald and that lady was a true marriage; all which things will now be plain to any novel-reading capacity, mean as such capacity may be in respect to legal law.

And I have only further to tell in respect to this part of my story, that the Molletts, both father and son, escaped all punishments for the frauds and villanies related in these pages — except such punishment as these frauds and villanies, acting by their own innate destructive forces and poisons, brought down upon their unfortunate heads. For so allowing them to escape I shall be held by many to have been deficient in sound teaching. “What!” men will say, “not punish your evil principle! Allow the prevailing evil genius of your book to escape scot free, without administering any of that condign punishment which it would have been so easy for you to allot to them! Had you not treadmills to your hand, and all manner of new prison disciplines? Should not Matthew have repented in the sackcloth of solitary confinement, and Aby have munched and crunched between his teeth the bitter ashes of prison bread and water? Nay, for such offences as those did you wot of no penal settlements? Were not Portland and Spike Islands gaping for them? Had you no memory of Dartmoor and the Bermudas?”

Gentle readers, no; not in this instance shall Spike Island or the Bermudas be asked to give us their assistance. There is a sackcloth harsher to the skin than that of the penal settlement, and ashes more bitter in the crunching than convict rations. It would be sad indeed if we thought that those rascals who escape the law escape also the just reward of their rascality. May it not rather be believed that the whole life of the professional rascal is one long wretched punishment, to which, if he could but know it, the rations and comparative innocence of Bermuda would be so preferable? Is he not always rolling the stone of Sysiphus, gyrating on the wheel of Ixion, hankering after the waters of Tantalus, filling the sieves of the daughters of Danaus? He pours into his sieve stolen corn beyond measure, but no grain will stay there. He lifts to his lips rich cups, but Rhadamanthus the policeman allows him no moment for a draught. The wheel of justice is ever going, while his poor hanging head is in a whirl. The stone which he rolls never perches for a moment at the top of the hill, for the trade which he follows admits of no rest. Have I not said truly that he is hunted like a fox, driven from covert to covert with his poor empty craving belly? prowling about through the wet night, he returns with his prey, and finds that he is shut out from his lair; his bloodshot eye is ever over his shoulder, and his advanced foot is ever ready for a start; he stinks in the nostrils of the hounds of the law, and is held by all men to be vermin.

One would say that the rascal, if he but knew the truth, would look forward to Spike Island and the Bermudas with impatience and raptures. The cold, hungry, friendless, solitary doom of unconvicted rascaldom has ever seemed to me to be the most wretched phase of human existence — that phase of living in which the liver can trust no one, and be trusted by none; in which the heart is ever quailing at the policeman’s hat, and the eye ever shrinking from the policeman’s gaze. The convict does trust his gaoler, at any rate his master gaoler, and in so doing is not all wretched. It is Bill Sikes before conviction that I have ever pitied. Any man can endure to be hanged; but how can any man have taken that Bill Sikes’ walk and have lived through it?

To such punishments will we leave the Molletts, hoping of the elder one, that under the care of those ministering angels in Spinny Lane, his heart may yet be softened; hoping also for the younger one that some ministering angel may be appointed also for his aid. ’Tis a grievous piece of work though, that of a ministering angel to such a soul as his. And now, having seen them so far on their mortal career, we will take our leave of both of them.

Mr. Prendergast’s object in sparing them was of course that of saving Lady Fitzgerald from the terrible pain of having her name brought forward at any trial. She never spoke of this, even to Herbert, allowing those in whom she trusted to manage those things for her without an expression of anxiety on her own part; but she was not the less thankful when she found that no public notice was to be taken of the matter.

Very shortly after Herbert’s return to Castle Richmond, it was notified to him that he need have no fear as to his inheritance; and it was so notified with the great additional comfort of an assuring opinion from Mr. Die. He then openly called himself Sir Herbert, took upon himself the property which became his by right of the entail, and issued orders for the preparation of his marriage settlement. During this period he saw Owen Fitzgerald; but he did so in the presence of Mr. Somers, and not a word was then said about Lady Clara Desmond. Both the gentlemen, Herbert and Mr. Somers, cordially thanked the master of Hap House for the way in which he had behaved to the Castle Richmond family, and in reference to the Castle Richmond property during the terrible events of the last two months; but Owen took their thanks somewhat haughtily. He shook hands warmly enough with his cousin. wishing him joy on the arrangement of his affairs, and was at first less distant than usual with Mr. Somers; but when they alluded to his own conduct, and expressed their gratitude, he declared that he had done nothing for which thanks were due, and that he begged it to be understood that he laid claim to no gratitude. Had he acted otherwise, he said, he would have deserved to be kicked out of the presence of all honest men; and to be thanked for the ordinary conduct of a gentleman was almost an insult. This he said looking chiefly at Mr. Somers, and then turning to his cousin, he asked him if he intended to remain in the country.

“Oh, certainly,” said Herbert.

“I shall not,” said Owen; “and if you know any one who will take a lease of Hap House for ten or twelve years, I shall be glad to find a tenant.”

“And you, where are you going?”

“To Africa in the first instance,” said he; “there seems to be some good hunting there, and I think that I shall try it.”

The new tidings were not long in reaching Desmond Court, and the countess was all alone when she first heard them. With very great difficulty, taking as it were the bit between her teeth, Clara had managed to get over to Castle Richmond that she might pay a last visit to the Fitzgerald girls. At this time Lady Desmond’s mind was in a terribly distracted state. The rumour was rife about the country that Owen had refused to accept the property; and the countess herself had of course been made aware that he had so refused. But she was too keenly awake to the affairs of the world to suppose that such a refusal could continue long in force; neither, as she knew well, could Herbert accept of that which was offered to him. It might be that for some years to come the property might be unenjoyed; the rich fruit might fall rotten from the wall; but what would that avail to her or to her child? Herbert would still be a nameless man, and could never be master of Castle Richmond.

Nevertheless Clara carried her point, and went over to her friends, leaving the countess all alone. She had now permitted her son to return to Eton, finding that he was powerless to aid her. The young earl was quite willing that his sister should marry Owen Fitzgerald; but he was not willing to use any power of persuasion that he might have, in what his mother considered a useful or legitimate manner. He talked of rewarding Owen for his generosity; but Clara would have nothing to do either with the generosity or with the reward. And so Lady Desmond was left alone, hearing that even Owen, Owen himself, had now given up the quest, and feeling that it was useless to have any further hope. “She will make her own bed,” the countess said to herself, “and she must lie on it.”

And then came this rumour that after all Herbert was to be the man. It first reached her ears about the same time that Herbert arrived at his own house, but it did so in such a manner as to make but little impression at the moment. Lady Desmond had but few gossips, and in a general way heard but little of what was doing in the country. On this occasion the Caleb Balderston of her house came in, making stately bows to his mistress, and with low voice, and eyes wide open, told her what a gossoon running over from Castle Richmond had reported in the kitchen of Desmond Court. “At any rate, my lady, Mr. Herbert is expected this evening at the house;” and then Caleb Balderston, bowing stately again, left the room. This did not make much impression, but it made some.

And then on the following day Clara wrote to her: this she did after deep consideration and much consultation with her friends. It would be unkind, they argued, to leave Lady Desmond in ignorance on such a subject; and therefore a note was written very guardedly, the joint production of the three, in which, with the expression of many doubts, it was told that perhaps after all Herbert might yet be the man. But even then the countess did not believe it.

But during the next week the rumour became a fact through the country, and everybody knew, even the Countess of Desmond, that all that family history was again changed. Lady Fitzgerald, whom they had all known, was Lady Fitzgerald still, and Herbert was once more on his throne. When rumours thus became a fact, there was no longer any doubt about the matter. The countryside did not say that, “perhaps after all so and so would go in such and such a way,” or that “legal doubts having been entertained, the gentlemen of the long robe were about to do this and that.” By the end of the first week the affair was as surely settled in county Cork as though the line of the Fitzgeralds had never been disturbed; and Sir Herbert was fully seated on his throne.

It was well then for poor Owen that he had never assumed the regalia of royalty: had he done so his fall would have been very dreadful; as it was, not only were all those pangs spared to him, but he achieved at once an immense popularity through the whole country. Everybody called him poor Owen, and declared how well he had behaved. Some expressed almost a regret that his generosity should go unrewarded, and others went so far as to give him his reward: he was to marry Emmeline Fitzgerald, they said at the clubs in Cork, and a considerable slice of the property was destined to give additional charms to the young lady’s hand and heart. For a month or so Owen Fitzgerald was the most popular man in the south of Ireland; that is, as far as a man can be popular who never shows himself.

And the countess had to answer her daughter’s letter. “If this be so,” she said, “of course I shall be well pleased. My anxiety has been only for your welfare, to further which I have been willing to make any possible sacrifice.” Clara when she read this did not know what sacrifice had been made, nor had the countess thought as she wrote the words what had been the sacrifice to which she had thus alluded, though her heart was ever conscious of it, unconsciously. And the countess sent her love to them all at Castle Richmond. “She did not fear,” she said, “that they would misinterpret her. Lady Fitzgerald, she was sure, would perfectly understand that she had endeavoured to do her duty by her child.” It was by no means a bad letter, and, which was better, was in the main a true letter. According to her light she had striven to do her duty, and her conduct was not misjudged, at any rate at Castle Richmond.

“You must not think harshly of mamma,” said Clara to her future mother-inlaw.

“Oh no,” said Lady Fitzgerald. “I certainly do not think harshly of her. In her position I should probably have acted as she has done.” The difference, however, between them was this, that it was all but impossible that Lady Fitzgerald should not sympathize with her children, while it was almost impossible that the Countess Desmond should do so.

And so Lady Desmond remained all alone at Desmond Court, brooding over the things as they now were. For the present it was better that Clara should remain at Castle Richmond, and nothing therefore was said of her return on either side. She could not add to her mother’s comfort at home, and why should she not remain happy where she was? She was already a Fitzgerald in heart rather than a Desmond; and was it not well that she should be so? If she could love Herbert Fitzgerald, that was well also. Since the day on which he had appeared at Desmond Court, wet and dirty and wretched, with a broken spirit and fortunes as draggled as his dress, he had lost all claim to be a hero in the estimation of Lady Desmond. To her those only were heroes whose pride and spirit were never draggled; and such a hero there still was in her close neighbourhood.

Lady Desmond herself was a woman of a mercenary spirit; so at least it will be said and thought of her. But she was not altogether so, although the two facts were strong against her that she had sold herself for a title, and had been willing to sell her daughter for a fortune. Poverty she herself had endured upon the whole with patience; and though she hated and scorned it from her very soul, she would now have given herself in marriage to a poor man without rank or station — she, a countess, and the mother of an earl; and that she would have done with all the romantic love of a girl of sixteen, though she was now a woman verging upon forty!

Men and women only know so much of themselves and others as circumstances and their destiny have allowed to appear. Had it perchance fallen to thy lot, O my forensic friend, heavy laden with the wisdom of the law, to write tales such as this of mine, how charmingly might not thy characters have come forth upon the canvas — how much more charmingly than I can limn them! While, on the other hand, ignorant as thou now tellest me that I am of the very alphabet of the courts, had thy wig been allotted to me, I might have gathered guineas thick as daisies in summer, while to thee perhaps they come no faster than snow-drops in the early spring. It is all in our destiny. Chance had thrown that terrible earl in the way of the poor girl in her early youth, and she had married him. She had married him, and all idea of love had flown from her heart. All idea of love, but not all the capacity — as now within this last year or two she had learned, so much to her cost.

Long months had passed since she had first owned this to herself, since she had dared to tell herself that it was possible even for her to begin the world again, and to play the game which women love to play, once at least before they die. She could have worshipped this man, and sat at his feet, and endowed him in her heart with heroism, and given him her soft brown hair to play with when it suited her Hercules to rest from his labours. She could have forgotten her years, and have forgotten too the children who had now grown up to seize the world from beneath her feet — to seize it before she herself had enjoyed it. She could have forgotten all that was past, and have been every whit as young as her own daughter. If only —!

It is so, I believe, with most of us who have begun to turn the hill. I myself could go on to that common that is at this moment before me, and join that game of rounders with the most intense delight. “By George! you fellow, you’ve no eyes; didn’t you see that he hadn’t put his foot in the hole. He’ll get back now that long-backed, hard-hitting chap, and your side is done for the next half-hour!” But then they would all be awestruck for a while; and after that, when they grew to be familiar with me, they would laugh at me because I loomed large in my running, and returned to my ground scant of breath. Alas, alas! I know that it would not do. So I pass by, imperious in my heavy manhood, and one of the lads respectfully abstains from me though the ball is under my very feet.

But then I have had my game of rounders. No horrible old earl with gloating eyes carried me off in my childhood and robbed me of the pleasure of my youth. That part of my cake has been eaten, and, in spite of some occasional headache, has been digested not altogether unsatisfactorily. Lady Desmond had as yet been allowed no slice of her cake. She had never yet taken her side in any game of rounders. But she too had looked on and seen how jocund was the play; she also had acknowledged that that running in the ring, that stout hitting of the ball, that innocent craft, that bringing back by her own skill and with her own hand of some long-backed fellow, would be pleasant to her as well as to others. If only she now could be chosen in at that game! But what if the side that she cared for would not have her?

But tempus edax rerum, though it had hardly nibbled at her heart or wishes, had been feeding on the freshness of her brow and the bloom of her lips. The child with whom she would have loved to play kept aloof from her too, and would not pick up the ball when it rolled to his feet. All this, if one thinks of it, is hard to bear. It is very hard to have had no period for rounders, not to be able even to look back to one’s games, and to talk of them to one’s old comrades! “But why then did she allow herself to be carried off by the wicked wrinkled earl with the gloating eyes?” asks of me the prettiest girl in the world, just turned eighteen. Oh heavens! Is it not possible that one should have one more game of rounders? Quite impossible, O my fat friend! And therefore I answer the young lady somewhat grimly. “Take care that thou also art not carried off by a wrinkled earl. Is thy heart free from all vanity? Of what nature is the heroism that thou worshippest?” “A nice young man!” she says, boldly, though in words somewhat different. “If so it will be well for thee; but did I not see thine eyes hankering the other day after the precious stones of Ophir, and thy mouth watering for the flesh-pots of Egypt? Was I not watching thee as thou sattest at that counter, so frightfully intent? Beware!”

“The grumpy old fellow with the bald head!” she said shortly afterwards to her bosom friend, not careful that her words should be duly inaudible.

Some idea that all was not yet over with her had come upon her poor heart — upon Lady Desmond’s heart, soon after Owen Fitzgerald had made himself familiar in her old mansion. We have read how that idea was banished, and how she had ultimately resolved that that man whom she could have loved herself should be given up to her own child when she thought that he was no longer poor and of low rank. She could not sympathize with her daughter — love with her love, and rejoice with her joy; but she could do her duty by her, and according to her lights she endeavoured so to do.

But now again all was turned and changed and altered. Owen of Hap House was once more Owen of Hap House only, but still in her eyes heroic, as it behoved a man to be. He would not creep about the country with moaning voice and melancholy eyes, with draggled dress and outward signs of wretchedness. He might be wretched, but he would still be manly. Could it be possible that to her should yet be given the privilege of soothing that noble, unbending wretchedness? By no means possible, poor, heart-laden countess; thy years are all against thee. Girls whose mouths will water unduly for the flesh-pots of Egypt must in after life undergo such penalties as these. Art thou not a countess?

But not so did she answer herself. Might it not be possible? Ah, might it not be possible? And as the question was even then being asked, perhaps for the ten thousandth time, Owen Fitzgerald stood before her. She had not yet seen him since the new news had gone abroad, and had hardly yet conceived how it might be possible that she should do so. But now as she thought of him there he was. They two were together — alone together; and the door by which he had entered had closed upon him before she was aware of his presence.

“Owen Fitzgerald!” she said, starting up and giving him both her hands. This she did, not of judgment, nor yet from passion, but of impulse. She had been thinking of him with such kindly thoughts, and now he was there it became natural that her greeting should be kindly. It was more so than it had ever been to any but her son since the wrinkled, gloating earl had come and fetched her.

“Yes, Owen Fitzgerald,” said he, taking the two hands that were offered to him, and holding them awhile; not pressing them as a man who loved her, who could have loved her, would have done. “After all that has gone and passed between us, Lady Desmond, I cannot leave the country without saying one word of farewell to you.”

“Leave the country!” she exclaimed. “And where are you going?”

As she looked into his face with her hands still in his — for she did not on the moment withdraw them, she felt that he had never before looked so noble, so handsome, so grand. Leave the country! ah, yes; and why should not she leave it also? What was there to bind her to those odious walls in which she had been immolated during the best half of her life?

“Where are you going?” she asked, looking almost wildly up at him.

“Somewhere very far a-field, Lady Desmond,” he said; and then the hands dropped from him.

“You will understand, at any rate, that Hap House will not be a fitting residence for me.”

“I hate the whole country,” said she, “the whole place hereabouts. I have never been happy here. Happy! I have never been other than unhappy. I have been wretched. What would I not give to leave it also?”

“To you it cannot be intolerable as it will be to me. You have known so thoroughly where all my hopes were garnered, that I need not tell you why I must go from Hap House. I think that I have been wronged, but I do not desire that others should think so. And as for you and me, Lady Desmond, though we have been enemies, we have been friends also.”

“Enemies!” said she, “I hope not.” And she spoke so softly, so unlike her usual self, in the tones so suited to a loving, clinging woman, that though he did not understand it, he was startled at her tenderness. “I have never felt that you were my enemy, Mr. Fitzgerald; and certainly I never was an enemy to you.”

“Well; we were opposed to each other. I thought that you were robbing me of all I valued in life; and you, you thought —”

“I thought that Clara’s happiness demanded rank and wealth and position. There; I tell you my sins fairly. You may say that I was mercenary if you will, mercenary for her. I thought that I knew what would be needful for her. Can you be angry with a mother for that?”

“She had given me a promise! But never mind. It is all over now. I did not come to upbraid you, but to tell you that I now know how it must be, and that I am going.”

“Had you won her, Owen,” said the countess, looking intently into his face, “had you won her, she would not have made you happy.”

“As to that it was for me to judge — for me and her. I thought it would, and was willing to peril all in the trial. And so was she — willing at one time. But never mind, it is useless to talk of that.”

“Quite useless now.”

“I did think — when it was, as they said, in my power to give him back his own — I did think — but no, it would have been mean to look for payment. It is all over, and I will say nothing further, not a word. I am not a girl to harp on such a thing day after day, and to grow sick with love. I shall be better away. And therefore I am going, and I have now come to say goodbye, because we were friends in old days, Lady Desmond.”

Friends in old days! They were old days to him, but they were no more than the other day to her. It was as yet hardly more than two years since she had first known him, and yet he looked on the acquaintance as one that had run out its time and required to be ended. She would so fain have been able to think that the beginning only had as yet come to them. But there he was, anxious to bid her adieu, and what was she to say to him?

“Yes, we were friends. You have been my only friend here, I think. You will hardly believe with how much true friendship I have thought of you when the feud between us — if it was a feud — was at the strongest. Owen Fitzgerald, I have loved you through it all.”

Loved him? She was so handsome as she spoke, so womanly, so graceful, there was still about her so much of the charm of beauty, that he could hardly take the word when coming from her mouth as applicable to ordinary friendship. And yet he did so take it. They had all loved each other — as friends should love-and now that he was going she had chosen to say as much. He felt the blood tingle his cheek at the sound of her words; but he was not vain enough to take it in its usual sense. “Then we will part as friends,” said he — tamely enough.

“Yes, we will part,” she said. And as she spoke the blood mantled deep on her neck and cheek and forehead, and a spirit came out of her eye, such as never had shone there before in his presence. “Yes, we will part,” and she took up his right hand, and held it closely, pressed between both her own. “And as we must part I will tell you all. Owen Fitzgerald, I have loved you with all my heart — with all the love that a woman has to give. I have loved you, and have never loved any other. Stop, stop,” for he was going to interrupt her. “You shall hear me now to the last — and for the last time. I have loved you with such love — such love as you perhaps felt for her, but as she will never feel. But you shall not say, nay you shall not think that I have been selfish. I would have kept you from her when you were poor as you are now — not because I loved you. No; you will never think that of me. And when I thought that you were rich, and the head of your family, I did all that I could to bring her back for you. Did I not, Owen?”

“Yes, I think you did,” he muttered between his teeth, hardly knowing how to speak.

“Indeed, indeed I did so. Others may say that I was selfish for my child, but you shall not think that I was selfish for myself. I sent for Patrick, and bade him go to you. I strove as mothers do strive for their children. I taught myself — I strove to teach myself to forget that I had loved you. I swore on my knees that I would love you only as my son — as my dear, dear son. Nay, Owen, I did; on my knees before my God.”

He turned away from her to rub the tears from his eyes, and in doing so he dragged his hand away from her. But she followed him, and again took it. “You will hear me to the end now,” she said; “will you not? you will not begrudge me that? And then came these other tidings, and all that scheme was dashed to the ground. It was better so, Owen; you would not have been happy with the property —”

“I should never have taken it.”

“And she, she would have clung closer to him as a poor man than ever she had done when he was rich. She is her mother’s daughter there. And then — then — But I need not tell you more. You will know it all now. If you had become rich, I would have ceased to love you; but I shall never cease now that you are again poor — now that you are Owen of Hap House again, as you sent us word yourself that day.”

And then she ceased, and bending down her head bathed his hand with her tears. Had any one asked him that morning, he would have said that it was impossible that the Countess of Desmond should weep. And now the tears were streaming from her eyes as though she were a broken-hearted girl. And so she was. Her girlhood had been postponed and marred — not destroyed and made away with, by the wrinkled earl with the gloating eyes.

She had said all now, and she stood there, still holding his hand in hers, but with her head turned from him. It was his turn to speak now, and how was he to answer her. I know how most men would have answered; — by the pressure of an arm, by a warm kiss, by a promise of love, and by a feeling that such love was possible. And then most men would have gone home, leaving the woman triumphant, and have repented bitterly as they sat moody over their own fires, with their wine-bottles before them. But it was not so with Owen Fitzgerald. His heart was to him a reality. He had loved with all his power and strength, with all the vigour of his soul — having chosen to love. But he would not now be enticed by pity into a bastard feeling, which would die away when the tenderness of the moment was no longer present to his eye and touch. His love for Clara had been such that he could not even say that he loved another.

“Dear Lady Desmond,” he began.

“Ah, Owen; we are to part now, part for ever,” she said; “speak to me once in your life as though we were equal friends. Cannot you forget for one minute that I am Countess of Desmond?”

Mary, Countess of Desmond; such was her name and title. But so little familiar had he been with the name by which he had never heard her called, that in his confusion he could not remember it. And had he done so, he could not have brought himself to use it. “Yes,” he said; “we must part. It is impossible for me to remain here.”

“Doubly impossible now,” she replied, half reproaching him.

“Yes; doubly impossible now. Is it not better that the truth should be spoken?”

“Oh yes. I have spoken it — too plainly.”

“And so will I speak it plainly. We cannot control our own hearts, Lady Desmond. It is, as you say, doubly impossible now. All the love I have had to give she has had — and has. Such being so, why should I stay here? or could you wish that I should do so?”

“I do not wish it.” That was true enough. The wish would have been to wander away with him.

“I must go, and shall start at once. My very things are packed for my going. I will not be here to have the sound of their marriage bells jangling in my ears. I will not be pointed at as the man who has been duped on every side.”

“Ah me, that I was a man too — that I could go away and make for myself a life!”

“You have Desmond with you.”

“No, no. He will go too; of course he will go. He will go, and I shall be utterly alone. What a fool I am — what an ass, that by this time I have not learned to bear it!”

“They will always be near you at Castle Richmond.”

“Ah, Owen, how little you understand! Have we been friends while we lived under the same roof? And now that she is there, do you think that she will heed me? I tell you that you do not know her. She is excellent, good, devoted; but cold as ice. She will live among the poor, and grace his table; and he will have all that he wants. In twelve months, Owen, she would have turned your heart to a stone.”

“It is that already, I think,” said he. “At any rate, it will be so to all others. Good-bye, Lady Desmond.”

“Good-bye, Owen; and God bless you. My secret will be safe with you.”

“Safe! yes, it will be safe.” And then, as she put her cheek up to him, he kissed it and left her.

He had been very stern. She had laid bare to him her whole heart, and he had answered her love by never a word. He had made no reply in any shape — given her no thanks for her heart’s treasure. He had responded to her affection by no tenderness. He had not even said that this might have been so, had that other not have come to pass. By no word had he alluded to her confession — but had regarded her delusion as monstrous, a thing of which no word was to be spoken.

So at least said the countess to herself, sitting there all alone where he had left her. “He regards me as old and worn. In his eyes I am wrinkled and ugly.” ’Twas thus that her thoughts expressed themselves; and then she walked across the room towards the mirror, but when there she could not look in it: she turned her back upon it without a glance, and returned to her seat by the window. What mattered it now? It was her doom to live there alone for the term of life with which it might still please God to afflict her.

And then looking out from the window her eyes fell upon Owen as he rode slowly down across the park. His horse was walking very slowly, and it seemed as though he himself were unconscious of the pace. As long as he remained in sight she did not take her eyes from his figure, gazing at him painfully as he grew dimmer and more dim in the distance. Then at last he turned behind the bushes near the lodge, and she felt that she was all alone. It was the last that she ever saw of Owen Fitzgerald.

Unfortunate girl, marred in thy childhood by that wrinkled earl with the gloating eyes; or marred rather by thine own vanity! Those flesh-pots of Egypt! Are they not always thus bitter in the eating?

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01