What idea of carrying out his plans may have been prevalent in Fitzgerald’s mind when he was so defiant of the countess, it may be difficult to say. Probably he had no idea, but felt at the spur of the moment that it would be weak to yield. The consequence was, that when Lady Desmond left Hap House, he was obliged to consider himself as being at feud with the family.
The young lord he did see once again during the holidays, and even entertained him at Hap House; but the earl’s pride would not give way an inch.
“Much as I like you, Owen, I cannot do anything but oppose it. It would be a bad match for my sister, and so you’d feel if you were in my place.” And then Lord Desmond went back to Eton.
After that they none of them met for many months. During this time life went on in a very triste manner at Desmond Court. Lady Desmond felt that she had done her duty by her daughter; but her tenderness to Clara was not increased by the fact that her foolish attachment had driven Fitzgerald from the place. As for Clara herself, she not only kept her word, but rigidly resolved to keep it. Twice she returned unopened, and without a word of notice, letters which Owen had caused to be conveyed to her hand. It was not that she had ceased to love him, but she had high ideas of truth and honour, and would not break her word. Perhaps she was sustained in her misery by the remembrance that heroines are always miserable.
And then the orgies at Hap House became hotter and faster. Hitherto there had perhaps been more smoke than fire, more calumny than sin. And Fitzgerald, when he had intimated that the presence of a young wife would save him from it all, had not boasted falsely. But now that his friends had turned their backs upon him, that he was banished from Desmond Court, and twitted with his iniquities at Castle Richmond, he threw off all restraint, and endeavoured to enjoy himself in his own way. So the orgies became fast and furious; all which of course reached the ears of poor Clara Desmond.
During the summer holidays, Lord Desmond was not at home, but Owen Fitzgerald was also away. He had gone abroad, perhaps with the conviction that it would be well that he and the Desmonds should not meet; and he remained abroad till the hunting season again commenced. Then the winter came again, and he and Lord Desmond used to meet in the field. There they would exchange courtesies, and, to a certain degree, show that they were intimate. But all the world knew that the old friendship was over. And, indeed, all the world — all the county Cork world — soon knew the reason. And so we are brought down to the period at which our story was to begin.
We have hitherto said little or nothing of Castle Richmond and its inhabitants; but it is now time that we should do so, and we will begin with the heir of the family. At the period of which we are speaking, Herbert Fitzgerald had just returned from Oxford, having completed his affairs there in a manner very much to the satisfaction of his father, mother, and sisters; and to the unqualified admiration of his aunt, Miss Letty. I am not aware that the heads of colleges and supreme synod of Dons had signified by any general expression of sentiment, that Herbert Fitzgerald had so conducted himself as to be a standing honour and perpetual glory to the University; but at Castle Richmond it was all the same as though they had done so. There are some kindly-hearted, soft-minded parents, in whose estimation not to have fallen into disgrace shows the highest merit on the part of their children. Herbert had not been rusticated; had not got into debt, at least not to an extent that had been offensive to his father’s pocket; he had not been plucked. Indeed, he had taken honours, in some low unnoticed degree; — unnoticed, that is, at Oxford; but noticed at Castle Richmond by an ovation — almost by a triumph.
But Herbert Fitzgerald was a son to gladden a father’s heart and a mother’s eye. He was not handsome, as was his cousin Owen; not tall and stalwart and godlike in his proportions, as was the reveller of Hap House; but nevertheless, and perhaps not the less, was he pleasant to look on. He was smaller and darker than his cousin; but his eyes were bright and full of good humour. He was clean looking and clean made; pleasant and courteous in all his habits; attached to books in a moderate, easy way, but no bookworm; he had a gentle affection for bindings and titlepages; was fond of pictures, of which it might be probable that he would some day know more than he did at present; addicted to Gothic architecture, and already proprietor of the germ of what was to be a collection of coins.
Owen Fitzgerald had called him a prig; but Herbert was no prig. Nor yet was he a pedant; which word might, perhaps, more nearly have expressed his cousin’s meaning. He liked little bits of learning, the easy outsides and tags of classical acquirements, which come so easily within the scope of the memory when a man has passed some ten years between a public school and a university. But though he did love to chew the cud of these morsels of Attic grass which he had cropped, certainly without any great or sustained effort, he had no desire to be ostentatious in doing so, or to show off more than he knew. Indeed, now that he was away from his college friends, he was rather ashamed of himself than otherwise when scraps of quotations would break forth from him in his own despite. Looking at his true character, it was certainly unjust to call him either a prig or a pedant.
He was fond of the society of ladies, and was a great favourite with his sisters, who thought that every girl who saw him must instantly fall in love with him. He was goodnatured, and, as the only son of a rich man, was generally well provided with money. Such a brother is usually a favourite with his sisters. He was a great favourite too with his aunt, whose heart, however, was daily sinking into her shoes through the effect of one great terror which harassed her respecting him. She feared that he had become a Puseyite. Now that means much with some ladies in England; but with most ladies of the Protestant religion in Ireland, it means, one may almost say, the very Father of Mischief himself. In their minds, the pope, with his lady of Babylon, his college of cardinals, and all his community of pinchbeck saints, holds a sort of second head-quarters of his own at Oxford. And there his high priest is supposed to be one wicked infamous Pusey, and his worshippers are wicked infamous Puseyites. Now, Miss Letty Fitzgerald was strong on this subject, and little inklings had fallen from her nephew which robbed her of much of her peace of mind.
It is impossible that these volumes should be graced by any hero, for the story does not admit of one. But if there were to be a hero, Herbert Fitzgerald would be the man.
Sir Thomas Fitzgerald at this period was an old man in appearance, though by no means an old man in years, being hardly more than fifty. Why he should have withered away, as it were, into premature greyness, and loss of the muscle and energy of life, none knew; unless, indeed, his wife did know. But so it was. He had, one may say, all that a kind fortune could give him. He had a wife who was devoted to him; he had a son on whom he doted, and of whom all men said all good things; he had two sweet, happy daughters; he had a pleasant house, a fine estate, position and rank in the world. Had it so pleased him, he might have sat in Parliament without any of the trouble, and with very little of the expense, which usually attends aspirants for that honour. And, as it was, he might hope to see his son in Parliament within a year or two. For among other possessions of the Fitzgerald family was the land on which stands the borough of Kilcommon, a borough to which the old Reform Bill was merciful, as it was to so many others in the south of Ireland.
Why, then, should Sir Thomas Fitzgerald be a silent, melancholy man, confining himself for the last year or two almost entirely to his own study; giving up to his steward the care even of his own demesne and farm; never going to the houses of his friends, and rarely welcoming them to his; rarely as it was, and never as it would have been, had he been always allowed to have his own way?
People in the surrounding neighbourhood had begun to say that Sir Thomas’s sorrow had sprung from shortness of cash, and that money was not so easily to be had at Castle Richmond now-a-days as was the case some ten years since. If this were so, the dearth of that very useful article could not have in any degree arisen from extravagance. It was well known that Sir Thomas’s estate was large, being of a value, according to that public and well-authenticated rent-roll which the neighbours of a rich man always carry in their heads, amounting to twelve or fourteen thousand a-year. Now Sir Thomas had come into the unencumbered possession of this at an early age, and had never been extravagant himself or in his family. His estates were strictly entailed, and therefore, as he had only a life interest in them, it of course was necessary that he should save money and insure his life, to make provision for his daughters. But by a man of his habits and his property, such a burden as this could hardly have been accounted any burden at all. That he did, however, in this mental privacy of his carry some heavy burden, was made plain enough to all who knew him.
And Lady Fitzgerald was in many things a counterpart of her husband, not in health so much as in spirits. She, also, was old for her age, and woebegone, not only in appearance, but also in the inner workings of her heart. But then it was known of her that she had undergone deep sorrows in her early youth, which had left their mark upon her brow, and their trace upon her inmost thoughts. Sir Thomas had not been her first husband. When very young, she nad been married, or rather, given in marriage, to a man who in a very few weeks after that ill-fated union had shown himself to be perfectly unworthy of her.
Her story, or so much of it as was known to her friends, was this. Her father had been a clergyman in Dorsetshire, burdened with a small income, and blessed with a large family. She who afterwards became Lady Fitzgerald was his eldest child; and, as Miss Wainwright — Mary Wainwright — had grown up to be the possessor of almost perfect female loveliness. While she was yet very young, a widower with an only boy, a man who at that time was considerably less than thirty, had come into her father’s parish, having rented there a small hunting-box. This gentleman — we will so call him, in lack of some other term — immediately became possessed of an establishment, at any rate eminently respectable. He had three hunters, two grooms, and a gig; and on Sundays went to church with a prayer-book in his hand, and a black coat on his back. What more could be desired to prove his respectability?
He had not been there a month before he was intimate in the parson’s house. Before two months had passed he was engaged to the parson’s daughter. Before the full quarter had flown by, he and the parson’s daughter were man and wife; and in five months from the time of his first appearance in the Dorsetshire parish, he had flown from his creditors, leaving behind him his three horses, his two grooms, his gig, his wife, and his little boy.
The Dorsetshire neighbours, and especially the Dorsetshire ladies, had at first been loud in their envious exclamations as to Miss Wainwright’s luck. The parson and the parson’s wife, and poor Mary Wainwright herself, had, according to the sayings of that moment prevalent in the county, used most unjustifiable wiles in trapping this poor rich stranger. Miss Wainwright, as they all declared, had not clothes to her back when she went to him. The matter had been got up and managed in most indecent hurry, so as to rob the poor fellow of any chance of escape. And thus all manner of evil things were said, in which envy of the bride and pity of the bridegroom were equally commingled.
But when the sudden news came that Mr Talbot had bolted, and when after a week’s inquiry no one could tell whither Mr. Talbot had gone, the objurgations of the neighbours were expressed in a different tone. Then it was declared that Mr. Wainwright had sacrificed his beautiful child without making any inquiry as to the character of the stranger to whom he had so recklessly given her. The pity of the county fell to the share of the poor beautiful girl, whose welfare and happiness were absolutely ruined; and the parson was pulled to pieces for his sordid parsimony in having endeavoured to rid himself in so disgraceful a manner of the charge of one of his children.
It would be beyond the scope of my story to tell here of the anxious family councils which were held in that parsonage parlour, during the time of that daughter’s courtship. There had been misgivings as to the stability of the wooer; there had been an anxious wish not to lose for the penniless daughter the advantage of a wealthy match; the poor girl herself had been much cross-questioned as to her own feelings. But let them have been right, or let them have been wrong at that parsonage, the matter was settled, very speedily as we have seen; and Mary Wainwright became Mrs Talbot when she was still almost a child.
And then Mr. Talbot bolted; and it became known to the Dorsetshire world that he had not paid a shilling for rent, or for butcher’s meat for his human family, or for oats for his equine family, during the whole period of his sojourn at Chevychase Lodge. Grand references had been made to a London banker, which had been answered by assurances that Mr. Talbot was as good as the Bank of England. But it turned out that the assurances were forged, and that the letter of inquiry addressed to the London banker had been intercepted. In short, it was all ruin, roguery, and wretchedness.
And very wretched they all were, the old father, the young bride, and all that parsonage household. After much inquiry something at last was discovered. The man had a sister whose whereabouts was made out; and she consented to receive the child — on condition that the bairn should not come to her empty-handed. In order to get rid of this burden, Mr. Wainwright with great difficulty made up thirty pounds.
And then it was discovered that the man’s name was not Talbot. What it was did not become known in Dorsetshire, for the poor wife resumed her maiden name — with very little right to do so, as her kind neighbours observed — till fortune so kindly gave her the privilege of bearing another honourably before the world.
And then other inquiries, and almost endless search was made with reference to that miscreant — not quite immediately — for at the moment of the blow such search seemed to be but of little use; but after some months, when the first stupor arising from their grief had passed away, and when they once more began to find that the fields were still green, and the sun warm, and that God’s goodness was not at an end.
And the search was made not so much with reference to him as to his fate, for tidings had reached the parsonage that he was no more. The period was that in which Paris was occupied by the allied forces, when our general, the Duke of Wellington, was paramount in the French capital, and the Tuileries and Champs Elysees were swarming with Englishmen.
Report at the time was brought home that the soidisant Talbot, fighting his battles under the name of Chichester, had been seen and noted in the gambling-houses of Paris; that he had been forcibly extruded from some such chamber for non-payment of a gambling debt; that he had made one in a violent fracas which had subsequently taken place in the French streets; and that his body had afterwards been identified in the Morgue.
Such was the story which bit by bit reached Mr. Wainwright’s ears, and at last induced him to go over to Paris, so that the absolute and proof-sustained truth of the matter might be ascertained, and made known to all men. The poor man’s search was difficult and weary. The ways of Paris were not then so easy to an Englishman as they have since become, and Mr. Wainwright could not himself speak a word of French. But nevertheless he did learn much; so much as to justify him, as he thought, in instructing his daughter to wear a widow’s cap. That Talbot had been kicked out of a gambling-house in the Rue Richelieu was absolutely proved. An acquaintance who had been with him in Dorsetshire on his first arrival there had seen this done; and bore testimony of the fact that the man so treated was the man who had taken the hunting-lodge in England. This same acquaintance had been one of the party adverse to Talbot in the row which had followed, and he could not, therefore, be got to say that he had seen him dead. But other evidence had gone to show that the man who had been so extruded was the man who had perished; and the French lawyer whom Mr. Wainwright had employed, at last assured the poor broken-hearted clergyman that he might look upon it as proved. “Had he not been dead,” said the lawyer, “the inquiry which has been made would have traced him out alive.” And thus his daughter was instructed to put on her widow’s cap, and her mother again called her Mrs. Talbot.
Indeed, at that time they hardly knew what to call her, or how to act in the wisest and most befitting manner. Among those who had truly felt for them in their misfortunes, who had really pitied them and encountered them with loving sympathy, the kindest and most valued friend had been the vicar of a neighbouring parish. He himself was a widower without children; but living with him at that time, and reading with him, was a young gentleman whose father was just dead, a baronet of large property, and an Irishman. This was Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.
It need not now be told how this young man’s sympathies were also excited, or how sympathy had grown into love. In telling our tale we fain would not dwell much on the cradledom of our Meleager. The young widow in her widow’s cap grew to be more lovely than she had ever been before her miscreant husband had seen her. They who remembered her in those days told wondrous tales of her surprising loveliness; — how men from London would come down to see her in the parish church; how she was talked of as the Dorsetshire Venus, only that unlike Venus she would give a hearing to no man; how sad she was as well as lovely; and how impossible it was found to win a smile from her.
But though she could not smile, she could love; and at last she accepted the love of the young baronet. And then the father, who had so grossly neglected his duty when he gave her in marriage to an unknown rascally adventurer, endeavoured to atone for such neglect by the severest caution with reference to this new suitor. Further inquiries were made. Sir Thomas went over to Paris himself with that other clergyman. Lawyers were employed in England to sift out the truth; and at last, by the united agreement of some dozen men, all of whom were known to be worthy, it was decided that Talbot was dead, and that his widow was free to choose another mate. Another mate she had already chosen, and immediately after this she was married to Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.
Such was the early life-story of Lady Fitzgerald; and as this was widely known to those who lived around her — for how could such a life-story as that remain untold? — no one wondered why she should be gentle and silent in her life’s course. That she had been an excellent wife, a kind and careful mother, a loving neighbour to the poor, and courteous neighbour to the rich, all the county Cork admitted. She had lived down envy by her gentleness and soft humility, and every one spoke of her and her retiring habits with sympathy and reverence.
But why should her husband also be so sad — nay, so much sadder? For Lady Fitzgerald, though she was gentle and silent, was not a sorrowful woman — otherwise than she was made so by seeing her husband’s sorrow. She had been to him a loving partner, and no man could more tenderly have returned a wife’s love than he had done. One would say that all had run smoothly at Castle Richmond since the house had been made happy, after some years of waiting, by the birth of an eldest child and heir. But, nevertheless, those who knew most of Sir Thomas saw that there was a peacock on the wall.
It is only necessary to say further a word or two as to the other ladies of the family, and hardly necessary to say that. Mary and Emmeline Fitzgerald were both cheerful girls. I do not mean that they were boisterous laughers, that in waltzing they would tear round a room like human steam-engines, that they rode well to hounds as some young ladies now-a-days do — and some young ladies do ride very well to hounds; nor that they affected slang, and decked their persons with odds and ends of masculine costume. In saying that they were cheerful, I by no means wish it to be understood that they were loud.
They were pretty, too, but neither of them lovely, as their mother had been — hardly, indeed, so lovely as that pale mother was now, even in these latter days. Ah, how very lovely that pale mother was, as she sat still and silent in her own place on the small sofa by the slight, small table which she used! Her hair was grey, and her eyes sunken, and her lips thin and bloodless; but yet never shall I see her equal for pure feminine beauty, for form and outline, for passionless grace, and sweet, gentle, womanly softness. All her sad tale was written upon her brow; and its sadness and all its poetry. One could read there the fearful, all but fatal danger to which her childhood has been exposed, and the daily thanks with which she praised her God for having spared and saved her.
But I am running back to the mother in attempting to say a word about her children. Of the two, Emmeline, the younger, was the more like her; but no one who was a judge of outline could imagine that Emmeline, at her mother’s age, would ever have her mother’s beauty. Nevertheless, they were fine, handsome girls, more popular in the neighbourhood than any of their neighbours, well educated, sensible, feminine, and useful; fitted to be the wives of good men.
And what shall I say of Miss Letty? She was ten years older than her brother, and as strong as a horse. She was great at walking, and recommended that exercise strongly to all young ladies as an antidote to every ill, from love to chilblains. She was short and dapper in person; not ugly, excepting that her nose was long, and had a little bump or excrescence at the end of it. She always wore a bonnet, even at meal times; and was supposed by those who were not intimately acquainted with the mysteries of her toilet, to sleep in it; often, indeed, she did sleep in it, and gave unmusical evidence of her doing so. She was not ill-natured; but so strongly prejudiced on many points as to be equally disagreeable as though she were so. With her, as with the world in general, religion was the point on which those prejudices were the strongest; and the peculiar bent they took was horror and hatred of popery. As she lived in a country in which the Roman Catholic was the religion of all the poorer classes, and of very many persons who were not poor, there was ample scope in which her horror and hatred could work. She was charitable to a fault, and would exercise that charity for the good of Papists as willingly as for the good of Protestants; but in doing so she always remembered the good cause. She always clogged the flannel petticoat with some Protestant teaching, or burdened the little coat and trousers with the pains and penalties of idolatry.
When her brother had married the widow Talbot, her anger with him and her hatred towards her sister-inlaw had been extreme. But time and conviction had worked in her so thorough a change, that she now almost worshipped the very spot in which Lady Fitzgerald habitually sat. She had the faculty to know and recognize goodness when she saw it, and she had known and recognized it in her brother’s wife.
Him also, her brother himself, she warmly loved and greatly reverenced. She deeply grieved over his state of body and mind, and would have given all she ever had, even her very self, to restore him to health and happiness.
The three children of course she loved, and petted, and scolded; and as children bothered them out of all their peace and quietness. To the girls she was still almost as great a torment as in their childish days. Nevertheless, they still loved, and sometimes obeyed her. Of Herbert she stood somewhat more in awe. He was the future head of the family, and already a Bachelor of Arts. In a very few years he would probably assume the higher title of a married man of arts, she thought; and perhaps the less formidable one of a member of Parliament also. Him, therefore, she treated with deference But, alas! what if he should become a Puseyite!
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