And now my story is told; and were it not for the fashion of the thing, this last short chapter might be spared. It shall at any rate be very short.
Were it not that I eschew the fashion of double names for a book, thinking that no amount of ingenuity in this respect will make a bad book pass muster, whereas a good book will turn out as such though no such ingenuity be displayed, I might have called this “A Tale of the Famine Year in Ireland.” At the period of the year to which the story has brought us — and at which it will leave us — the famine was at its very worst. People were beginning to believe that there would never be a bit more to eat in the land, and that the time for hope and energy was gone. Land was becoming of no value, and the only thing regarded was a sufficiency of food to keep body and soul together. Under such circumstances it was difficult to hope.
But energy without hope is impossible, and therefore was there such an apathy and deadness through the country. It was not that they did not work who were most concerned to work. The amount of conscientious work then done was most praiseworthy. But it was done almost without hope of success, and done chiefly as a matter of conscience. There was a feeling, which was not often expressed but which seemed to prevail everywhere, that ginger would not again be hot in the mouth, and that in very truth the time for cakes and ale in this world was all over. It was this feeling that made a residence in Ireland at that period so very sad.
Ah me! how little do we know what is coming to us! Irish cakes and ale were done and over for this world, we all thought. But in truth the Irish cakes were only then a-baking, and the Irish ale was being brewed. I am not sure that these good things are yet quite fit for the palates of the guest; — not as fit as a little more time will make them. The cake is still too new — cakes often are; and the ale is not sufficiently mellowed. But of this I am sure, that the cakes and ale are there; — and the ginger, too, very hot in the mouth. Let a committee of Irish landlords say how the rents are paid now, and what amount of arrears was due through the country when the famine came among them. Rents paid to the day: that is the ginger hot in the mouth which best pleases the palate of a country gentleman.
But if one did in truth write a tale of the famine, after that it would behove the author to write a tale of the pestilence; and then another, a tale of the exodus. These three wonderful events, following each other, were the blessings coming from Omniscience and Omnipotence by which the black clouds were driven from the Irish firmament. If one through it all could have dared to hope, and have had from the first that wisdom which has learned to acknowledge that His mercy endureth for ever! And then the same author going on with his series would give in his last set — Ireland in her prosperity.
Of all those who did true good conscientious work at this time, none exceeded in energy our friend Herbert Fitzgerald after his return to Castle Richmond. It seemed to him as though some thank-offering were due from him for all the good things that Providence had showered upon him, and the best thank-offering that he could give was a devoted attention to the interest of the poor around him. Mr. Somers soon resigned to him the chair at those committee meetings at Berryhill and Gortnaclough, and it was acknowledged that the Castle Richmond arrangements for soup-kitchens, out-door relief, and labour-gangs, might be taken as a model for the south of Ireland. Few other men were able to go to the work with means so ample and with hands so perfectly free. Mr. Carter even, who by this time had become cemented in a warm trilateral friendship with Father Barney and the Rev. Aeneas Townsend, was obliged to own that many a young English country gentleman might take a lesson from Sir Herbert Fitzgerald in the duties peculiar to his position.
His marriage did not take place till full six months after the period to which our story has brought us. Baronets with twelve thousand a-year cannot be married off the hooks, as may be done with ordinary mortals. Settlements of a grandiose nature were required, and were duly concocted. Perhaps Mr. Die had something to say to them, so that the great maxim of the law was brought into play. Perhaps also, though of this Herbert heard no word, it was thought inexpedient to hurry matters while any further inquiry was possible in that affair of the Mollett connection. Mr. Die and Mr. Prendergast were certainly going about, still drawing all coverts far and near, lest their fox might not have been fairly run to his last earth. But, as I have said, no tidings as to this reached Castle Richmond. There, in Ireland, no man troubled himself further with any doubt upon the subject; and Sir Herbert took his title and received his rents, by the hands of Mr. Somers, exactly as though the Molletts, father and son, had never appeared in those parts.
It was six months before the marriage was celebrated, but during a considerable part of that time Clara remained a visitor at Castle Richmond. To Lady Fitzgerald she was now the same as a daughter, and to Aunt Letty the same as a niece. By the girls she had for months been regarded as a sister. So she remained in the house of which she was to be the mistress, learning to know their ways, and ingratiating herself with those who were to be dependent on her.
“But I had rather stay with you, mamma, if you will allow me,” Clara had said to her mother when the countess was making some arrangement with her that she should return to Castle Richmond. “I shall be leaving you altogether so soon now!” And she got up close to her mother’s side caressingly, and would fain have pressed into her arms and kissed her, and have talked to her of what was coming, as a daughter loves to talk to a loving mother. But Lady Desmond’s heart was sore and sad and harsh, and she preferred to be alone.
“You will be better at Castle Richmond, my dear: you will be much happier there, of course. There can be no reason why you should come again into the gloom of this prison.”
“But I should be with you, dearest mamma.”
“It is better that you should be with the Fitzgeralds now; and as for me — I must learn to live alone. Indeed I have learned it, so you need not mind for me.” Clara was rebuffed by the tone rather than the words, but she still looked up into her mother’s face wistfully. “Go, my dear,” said the countess —“I would sooner be alone at present.” And so Clara went. It was hard upon her that even now her mother would not accept her love.
But Lady Desmond could not be cordial with her daughter. She made more than one struggle to do so, but always failed. She could — she thought that she could, have watched her child’s happiness with contentment had Clara married Owen Fitzgerald — Sir Owen, as he would then have been. But now she could only remember that Owen was lost to them both, lost through her child’s fault. She did not hate Clara: nay, she would have made any sacrifice for her daughter’s welfare; but she could not take her lovingly to her bosom. So she shut herself up alone, in her prison as she called it, and then looked back upon the errors of her life. It was as well for her to look back as to look forward, for what joy was there for which she could dare to hope?
In the days that were coming, however, she did relax something of her sternness. Clara was of course married from Desmond Court, and the very necessity of making some preparations for this festivity was in itself salutary. But indeed it could hardly be called a festivity — it was so quiet and sombre. Clara had but two bridesmaids, and they were Mary and Emmeline Fitzgerald. The young earl gave away his sister, and Aunt Letty was there, and Mr. Prendergast, who had come over about the settlements; Mr. Somers also attended, and the ceremony was performed by our old friend Mr. Townsend. Beyond these there were no guests at the wedding of Sir Herbert Fitzgerald.
The young earl was there, and at the last the wedding had been postponed a week for his coming. He had left Eton at Midsummer in order that he might travel for a couple of years with Owen Fitzgerald before he went to Oxford. It had been the lad’s own request, and had been for a while refused by Owen. But Fitzgerald had at last given way to the earl’s love, and they had started together for Norway.
“They want me to be home,” he had said one morning to his friend.
“Ah, yes; I suppose so.”
“Do you know why?” They had never spoken a word about Clara since they had left England together, and the earl now dreaded to mention her name.
“Know why!” replied Owen; “of course I do. It is to give away your sister. Go home, Desmond, my boy; when you have returned we will talk about her. I shall bear it better when I know that she is his wife.”
And so it was with them. For two years Lord Desmond travelled with him, and after that Owen Fitzgerald went on upon his wanderings alone. Many a long year has run by since that, and yet he has never come back to Hap House. Men of the county Cork now talk of him as one whom they knew long since. He who took his house as a stranger is a stranger no longer in the country, and the place that Owen left vacant has been filled. The hounds of Duhallow would not recognize his voice, nor would the steed in the stable follow gently at his heels. But there is yet one left who thinks of him, hoping that she may yet see him before she dies.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01