With an Introduction by Algar Thorold
London & New York: MCMVI
"Castle Richmond" was written in 1861, long after Trollope had left Ireland. The characterization is weak, and the plot, although the author himself thought well of it, mechanical.
The value of the story is rather documentary than literary. It contains several graphic scenes descriptive of the great Irish famine. Trollope observed carefully, and on the whole impartially, though his powers of discrimination were not quite fine enough to make him an ideal annalist.
Still, such as they were, he has used them here with no inconsiderable effect. His desire to be fair has led him to lay stress in an inverse ratio to his prepossessions, and his Priest is a better man than his parson.
The best, indeed the only piece of real characterization in the book is the delineation of Abe Mollett. This unscrupulous blackmailer is put before us with real art, with something of the loving preoccupation of the hunter for his quarry. Trollope loved a rogue, and in his long portrait gallery there are several really charming ones. He did not, indeed, perceive the aesthetic value of sin—he did not perceive the esthetic value of anything,—and his analysis of human nature was not profound enough to reach the conception of sin, crime being to him the nadir of downward possibility—but he had a professional, a sort of half Scotland Yard, half master of hounds interest in a criminal. "See," he would muse, "how cunningly the creature works, now back to his earth, anon stealing an unsuspected run across country, the clever rascal;" and his ethical disapproval ever, as usual, with English critics of life, in the foreground, clearly enhanced a primitive predatory instinct not obscurely akin, a cynic might say, to those dark impulses he holds up to our reprobation. This self-realization in his fiction is one of Trollope's principal charms. Never was there a more subjective writer. Unlike Flaubert, who laid down the canon that the author should exist in his work as God in creation, to be, here or there, dimly divined but never recognized, though everywhere latent, Trollope was never weary of writing himself large in every man, woman, or child he described.
The illusion of objectivity which he so successfully achieves is due to the fact that his mind was so perfectly contented with its hereditary and circumstantial conditions, was itself so perfectly the mental equivalent of those conditions. Thus the perfection of his egotism, tight as a drum, saved him. Had it been a little less complete, he would have faltered and bungled; as it was, he had the naive certainty of a child, to whose innocent apprehension the world and self are one, and who therefore I cannot err.
I. The Barony of Desmond II. Owen Fitzgerald III. Clara Desmond IV. The Countess V. The Fitzgeralds of Castle Richmond VI. The Kanturk Hotel, South Main Street, Cork VII. The Famine Year VIII. Gortnaclough and Berryhill IX. Family Councils X. The Rector of Drumbarrow and his Wife XI. Second Love XII. Doubts XIII. Mr. Mollett returns to South Main Street XIV. The Rejected Suitor XV. Diplomacy XVI. The Path beneath the Elms XVII. Father Barney XVIII. The Relief Committee XIX. The Friend of the Family XX. Two Witnesses XXI. Fair Arguments XXII. The Telling of the Tale XXIII. Before Breakfast at Hap House XXIV. After Breakfast at Hap House XXV. A Muddy Walk on a Wet Morning XXVI. Comfortless XXVII. Comforted XXVIII. For a' that and a' that XXIX. Ill News flies Fast XXX. Pallida Mors XXXI. The First Month XXXII. Preparations for Going XXXIII. The Last Stage XXXIV. Farewell XXXV. Herbert Fitzgerald in London XXXVI. How the Earl was won XXXVII. A Tale of a Turbot XXXVIII. Condemned XXXIX. Fox-hunting in Spinny Lane XL. The Fox in his Earth XLI. The Lobby of the House of Commons XLII. Another Journey XLIII. Playing Rounders XLIV. Conclusion
THE BARONY OF DESMOND
I wonder whether the novel-reading world—that part of it, at least, which may honour my pages-will be offended if I lay the plot of this story in Ireland! That there is a strong feeling against things Irish it is impossible to deny. Irish servants need not apply; Irish acquaintances are treated with limited confidence; Irish cousins are regarded as being decidedly dangerous; and Irish stories are not popular with the booksellers.
For myself, I may say that if I ought to know anything about any place, I ought to know something about Ireland; and I do strongly protest against the injustice of the above conclusions. Irish cousins I have none. Irish acquaintances I have by dozens; and Irish friends, also, by twos and threes, whom I can love and cherish—almost as well, perhaps, as though they had been born in Middlesex. Irish servants I have had some in my house for years, and never had one that was faithless, dishonest, or intemperate. I have travelled all over Ireland, closely as few other men can have done, and have never had my portmanteau robbed or my pocket picked. At hotels I have seldom locked up my belongings, and my carelessness has never been punished. I doubt whether as much can be said for English inns.
Irish novels were once popular enough. But there is a fashion in novels, as there is in colours and petticoats; and now I fear they are drugs in the market. It is hard to say why a good story should not have a fair chance of success whatever may be its bent; why it should not be reckoned to be good by its own intrinsic merits alone; but such is by no means the case. I was waiting once, when I was young at the work, in the back parlour of an eminent publisher, hoping to see his eminence on a small matter of business touching a three—volumed manuscript which I held in my hand. The eminent publisher, having probably larger fish to fry, could not see me, but sent his clerk or foreman to arrange the business.
"A novel, is it, sir?" said the foreman.
"Yes," I answered; "a novel."
"It depends very much on the subject," said the foreman, with a thoughtful and judicious frown—"upon the name, sir, and the subject;—daily life, sir; that's what suits us; daily English life. Now, your historical novel, sir, is not worth the paper it's written on."
I fear that Irish character is in these days considered almost as unattractive as historical incident; but, nevertheless, I will make the attempt. I am now leaving the Green Isle and my old friends, and would fain say a word of them as I do so. If I do not say that word now it will never be said.
The readability of a story should depend, one would say, on its intrinsic merit rather than on the site of its adventures. No one will think that Hampshire is better for such a purpose than Cumberland, or Essex than Leicestershire. What abstract objection can there then be to the county Cork?
Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most beautiful part of Ireland is that which lies down in the extreme south-west, with fingers stretching far out into the Atlantic Ocean. This consists of the counties Cork and Kerry, or a portion, rather, of those counties. It contains Killarney, Glengarriffe, Bantry, and Inchigeela; and is watered by the Lee, the Blackwater, and the Flesk. I know not where is to be found a land more rich in all that constitutes the loveliness of scenery.
Within this district, but hardly within that portion of it which is most attractive to tourists, is situated the house and domain of Castle Richmond. The river Blackwater rises in the county Kerry, and running from west to east through the northern part of the county Cork, enters the county Waterford beyond Fermoy. In its course it passes near the little town of Kanturk, and through the town of Mallow: Castle Richmond stands close upon its banks, within the barony of Desmond, and in that Kanturk region through which the Mallow and Killarney railway now passes, but which some thirteen years since knew nothing of the navvy's spade, or even of the engineer's theodolite.
Castle Richmond was at this period the abode of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, who resided there, ever and always, with his wife, Lady Fitzgerald, his two daughters, Mary and Emmeline Fitzgerald, and, as often as purposes of education and pleasure suited, with his son Herbert Fitzgerald. Neither Sir Thomas nor Sir Thomas's house had about them any of those interesting picturesque faults which are so generally attributed to Irish landlords, and Irish castles. He was not out of elbows, nor was he an absentee Castle Richmond had no appearance of having been thrown out of its own windows. It was a good, substantial, modern family residence, built not more than thirty years since by the late baronet, with a lawn sloping down to the river, with kitchen gardens and walls for fruit, with ample stables, and a clock over the entrance to the stable yard. It stood in a well timbered park duly stocked with deer,—and with foxes also, which are agricultural animals much more valuable in an Irish county than deer. So that as regards its appearance Castle Richmond might have been in Hampshire or Essex, and as regards his property, Sir Thomas Fitzgerald might have been a Leicestershire baronet.
Here, at Castle Richmond, lived Sir Thomas with his wife and daughters, and here, taking the period of our story as being exactly thirteen years since, his son Herbert was staying also in those hard winter months, his Oxford degree having been taken, and his English pursuits admitting of a temporary sojourn in Ireland.
But Sir Thomas Fitzgerald was not the great man of that part of the country—at least, not the greatest man; nor was Lady Fitzgerald by any means the greatest lady. As this greatest lady, and the greatest man also, will, with their belongings, be among the most prominent of our dramatis personae, it may be well that I should not even say a word of them.
All the world must have heard of Desmond Court. It is the largest inhabited residence known in that part of the world, where rumours are afloat of how it covers ten acres of ground; how in hewing the stones for it a whole mountain was cut away; how it should have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, only that the money was never paid by the rapacious, wicked, bloodthirsty old earl who caused it to be erected;—and how the cement was thickened with human blood. So goes rumour with the more romantic of the Celtic tale-bearers.
It is a huge place—huge, ungainly, and uselessly extensive; built at a time when, at any rate in Ireland, men considered neither beauty, aptitude, nor economy. It is three stories high, and stands round a quadrangle, in which there are two entrances opposite to each other. Nothing can be well uglier than that great paved court, in which there is not a spot of anything green, except where the damp has produced an unwholesome growth upon the stones; nothing can well be more desolate. And on the outside of the building matters are not much better. There are no gardens close up to the house, no flower-beds in the nooks and corners, no sweet shrubs peeping in at the square windows. Gardens there are, but they are away, half a mile off; and the great hall door opens out upon a flat, bleak park, with hardly a scrap around it which courtesy can call a lawn.
Here, at this period of ours, lived Clara, Countess of Desmond, widow of Patrick, once Earl of Desmond, and father of Patrick, now Earl of Desmond. These Desmonds had once been mighty men in their country, ruling the people around them as serfs, and ruling them with hot iron rods. But those days were now long gone, and tradition told little of them that was true. How it had truly fared either with the earl, or with their serfs, men did not well know; but stories were ever being told of walls built with human blood, and of the devil bearing off upon his shoulder a certain earl who was in any other way quite unbearable, and depositing some small unburnt portion of his remains fathoms deep below the soil in an old burying ground near Kanturk. And there had been a good earl, as is always the case with such families; but even his virtues, according to tradition, had been of a useless namby-pamby sort. He had walked to the shrine of St. Finbar, up in the little island of the Gougane Barra, with unboiled peas in his shoes; had forgiven his tenants five years' rent all round, and never drank wine or washed himself after the death of his lady wife.
At the present moment the Desmonds were not so potent either for good or ill. The late earl had chosen to live in London all his life, and had sunk down to be the toadying friend, or perhaps I should more properly say the bullied flunky, of a sensual, wine-bibbing, gluttonous——king. Late in life when he was broken in means and character, he had married. The lady of his choice had been chosen as an heiress; but there had been some slip between that cup of fortune and his lip; and she, proud and beautiful, for such she had been—had neither relieved nor softened the poverty of her profligate old lord.
She was left at his death with two children, of whom the eldest, Lady Clara Desmond, will be the heroine of this story. The youngest, Patrick, now Earl of Desmond, was two years younger than his sister, and will make our acquaintance as a lad fresh from Eton.
In these days money was not plentiful with the Desmonds. Not but that their estates were as wide almost as their renown, and that the Desmonds were still great people in the country's estimation. Desmond Court stood in a bleak, unadorned region, almost among the mountains, halfway between Kanturk and Maccoom, and the family had some claim to possession of the land for miles around. The earl of the day was still the head landlord of a huge district extending over the whole barony of Desmond, and half the adjacent baronies of Muskerry and Duhallow; but the head landlord's rent in many cases hardly amounted to sixpence an acre, and even those sixpences did not always find their way into the earl's pocket. When the late earl had attained his sceptre, he might probably have been entitled to spend some ten thousand a-year; but when he died, and during the years just previous to that, he had hardly been entitled to spend anything.
But, nevertheless, the Desmonds were great people, and owned a great name. They had been kings once over those wild mountains; and would be still, some said, if every one had his own. Their grandeur was shown by the prevalence of their name. The barony in which they lived was the barony of Desmond. The river which gave water to their cattle was the river Desmond. The wretched, ragged, poverty-stricken village near their own dismantled gate was the town of Desmond. The earl was Earl of Desmond—not Earl Desmond, mark you; and the family name was Desmond. The grandfather of the present earl, who had repaired his fortune by selling himself at the time of the Union, had been Desmond Desmond, Earl of Desmond.
The late earl, the friend of the most illustrious person in the kingdom, had not been utterly able to rob his heir of everything, or he would undoubtedly have done so. At the age of twenty-one the young earl would come into possession of the property, damaged certainly, as far as an actively evil father could damage it by long leases, bad management, lack of outlay, and rack renting;—but still into the possession of a considerable property. In the mean time it did not fare very well, in a pecuniary way, with Clara, the widowed countess, or with the Lady Clara, her daughter. The means at the widow's disposal were only those which the family trustees would allow her as the earl's mother: on his coming of age she would have almost no means of her own; and for her daughter no provision whatever had been made.
As this first chapter is devoted wholly to the locale of my story, I will not stop to say a word as to the persons or characters of either of these two ladies, leaving them, as I did the Castle Richmond family, to come forth upon the canvas as opportunity may offer. But there is another homestead in this same barony of Desmond, of which and of its owner—as being its owner—I will say a word.
Hap House was also the property of a Fitzgerald. It had originally been built by an old Sir Simon Fitzgerald, for the use and behoof of a second son, and the present owner of it was the grandson of that man for whom it had been built. And old Sir Simon had given his offspring not only a house—he had endowed the house with a comfortable little slice of land, either out from the large patrimonial loaf, or else, as was more probable, collected together and separately baked for this younger branch of the family. Be that as it may, Hap House had of late years been always regarded as conferring some seven or eight hundred a-year upon its possessor, and when young Owen Fitzgerald succeeded to this property, on the death of an uncle in the year 1843, he was regarded as a rich man to that extent.
At that time he was some twenty-two years of age, and he came down from Dublin, where his friends had intended that he should practise as a barrister, to set up for himself as a country gentleman. Hap House was distant from Castle Richmond about four miles, standing also on the river Blackwater, but nearer to Mallow. It was a pleasant, comfortable residence, too large no doubt for such a property, as is so often the case in Ireland; surrounded by pleasant grounds and pleasant gardens, with a gorse fox covert belonging to the place within a mile of it, with a slated lodge, and a pretty drive along the river. At the age of twenty-two, Owen Fitzgerald came into all this; and as he at once resided upon the place, he came in also for the good graces of all the mothers with unmarried daughters in the county, and for the smiles also of many of the daughters themselves.
Sir Thomas and Lady Fitzgerald were not his uncle and aunt, but nevertheless they took kindly to him;—very kindly at first, though that kindness after a while became less warm. He was the nearest relation of the name; and should anything happen—as the fatal death-foretelling phrase goes—to young Herbert Fitzgerald, he would become the heir of the family title and of the family place.
When I hear of a young man sitting down by himself as the master of a household, without a wife, or even without a mother or sister to guide him, I always anticipate danger. If he does not go astray in any other way, he will probably mismanage his money matters. And then there are so many other ways. A house, if it be not made pleasant by domestic pleasant things, must be made pleasant by pleasure. And a bachelor's pleasures in his own house are always dangerous. There is too much wine drunk at his dinner parties. His guests sit too long over their cards. The servants know that they want a mistress; and, in the absence of that mistress, the language of the household becomes loud and harsh—and sometimes improper. Young men among us seldom go quite straight in their course, unless they are, at any rate occasionally, brought under the influence of tea and small talk.
There was no tea and small talk at Hap House, but there were hunting-dinners. Owen Fitzgerald was soon known for his horses and his riding. He lived in the very centre of the Duhallow hunt; and before he had been six months owner of his property had built additional stables, with half a dozen loose boxes for his friends' nags. He had an eye, too, for a pretty girl—not always in the way that is approved of by mothers with marriageable daughters; but in the way of which they so decidedly disapprove.
And thus old ladies began to say bad things. Those pleasant hunting-dinners were spoken of as the Hap House orgies. It was declared that men slept there half the day, having played cards all the night; and dreadful tales were told. Of these tales one-half was doubtless false. But, alas, alas! what if one-half were also true?
It is undoubtedly a very dangerous thing for a young man of twenty-two to keep house by himself, either in town or country.
I have tied myself down to thirteen years ago as the time of my story; but I must go back a little beyond this for its first scenes, and work my way up as quickly as may be to the period indicated. I have spoken of a winter in which Herbert Fitzgerald was at home at Castle Richmond, having then completed his Oxford doings; but I must say something of two years previous to that, of a time when Herbert was not so well known in the country as was his cousin of Hap House.
It was a thousand pities that a bad word should ever have been spoken of Owen Fitzgerald; ten thousand pities that he should ever have given occasion for such bad word. He was a fine, high-spirited, handsome fellow, with a loving heart within his breast, and bright thoughts within his brain. It was utterly wrong that a man constituted as he was should commence life by living alone in a large country-house. But those who spoke ill of him should have remembered that this was his misfortune rather than his fault. Some greater endeavour might perhaps have been made to rescue him from evil ways. Very little such endeavour was made at all. Sir Thomas once or twice spoke to him; but Sir Thomas was not an energetic man; and as for Lady Fitzgerald, though she was in many things all that was excellent, she was far too diffident to attempt the reformation of a headstrong young man, who after all was only distantly connected with her.
And thus there was no such attempt, and poor Owen became the subject of ill report without any substantial effort having been made to save him. He was a very handsome man—tall, being somewhat over six feet in height—athletic, almost more than in proportion—with short, light chestnut-tinted hair, blue eyes, and a mouth perfect as that of Phoebus. He was clever, too, though perhaps not educated as carefully as might have been: his speech was usually rapid, hearty, and short, and not seldom caustic and pointed. Had he fallen among good hands, he might have done very well in the world's fight; but with such a character, and lacking such advantages, it was quite as open to him to do ill. Alas! the latter chance seemed to have fallen to him.
For the first year of his residence at Hap House, he was popular enough among his neighbours. The Hap House orgies were not commenced at once, nor when commenced did they immediately become a subject of scandal; and even during the second year he was tolerated;—tolerated by all, and still flattered by some.
Among the different houses in the country at which he had become intimate was that of the Countess of Desmond. The Countess of Desmond did not receive much company at Desmond Court. She had not the means, nor perhaps the will, to fill the huge old house with parties of her Irish neighbours—for she herself was English to the backbone. Ladies of course made morning calls, and gentlemen too, occasionally; but society at Desmond Court was for some years pretty much confined to this cold formal mode of visiting. Owen Fitzgerald, however, did obtain admittance into the precincts of the Desmond barracks.
He went there first with the young earl, who, then quite a boy, had had an ugly tumble from his pony in the hunting-field. The countess had expressed herself as very grateful for young Fitzgerald's care, and thus an intimacy had sprung up. Owen had gone there once or twice to see the lad, and on those occasions had dined there; and on one occasion, at the young earl's urgent request, had stayed and slept.
And then the good-natured people of Muskerry, Duhallow, and Desmond began, of course, to say that the widow was going to marry the young man. And why not? she was still a beautiful woman; not yet forty by a good deal, said the few who took her part; or at any rate, not much over, as was admitted by the many who condemned her. We, who have been admitted to her secrets, know that she was then in truth only thirty-eight. She was beautiful, proud, and clever; and if it would suit her to marry a handsome young fellow with a good house and an unembarrassed income of eight hundred a-year, why should she not do so? As for him, would it not be a great thing for him to have a countess for his wife, and an earl for his stepson?
What ideas the countess had on this subject we will not just now trouble ourselves to inquire. But as to young Owen Fitzgerald, we may declare at once that no thought of such a wretched alliance ever entered his head. He was sinful in many things, and foolish in many things. But he had not that vile sin, that unmanly folly, which would have made a marriage with a widowed countess eligible in his eyes, merely because she was a countess, and not more than fifteen years his senior. In a matter of love he would as soon have thought of paying his devotions to his far-away cousin, old Miss Barbara Beamish, of Ballyclahassan, of whom it was said that she had set her cap at every unmarried man that had come into the west riding of the county for the last forty years. No; it may at any rate be said of Owen Fitzgerald, that he was not the man to make up to a widowed countess for the sake of the reflected glitter which might fall on him from her coronet.
But the Countess of Desmond was not the only lady at Desmond Court. I have before said that she had a daughter, the Lady Clara, the heroine of this coming story; and it may be now right that I should attempt some short description of her; her virtues and faults, her merits and defects. It shall be very short; for let an author describe as he will, he cannot by such course paint the characters of his personages on the minds of his readers. It is by gradual, earnest efforts that this must be done—if it be done. Ten, nay, twenty pages of the finest descriptive writing that ever fell from the pen of a novelist will not do it.
Clara Desmond, when young Fitzgerald first saw her, had hardly attained that incipient stage of womanhood which justifies a mother in taking her out into the gaieties of the world. She was then only sixteen; and had not in her manner and appearance so much of the woman as is the case with many girls of that age. She was shy and diffident in manner, thin and tall in person. If I were to say that she was angular and bony, I should disgust my readers, who, disliking the term, would not stop to consider how many sweetest girls are at that age truly subject to those epithets. Their undeveloped but active limbs are long and fleshless, the contour of their face is the same, their elbows and shoulders are pointed, their feet and hands seem to possess length without breadth. Birth and breeding have given them the frame of beauty, to which coming years will add the soft roundness of form, and the rich glory of colour. The plump, rosy girl of fourteen, though she also is very sweet, never rises to such celestial power of feminine grace as she who is angular and bony, whose limbs are long, and whose joints are sharp.
Such was Clara Desmond at sixteen. But still, even then, to those who were gifted with the power of seeing, she gave promise of great loveliness. Her eyes were long and large, and wonderfully clear. There was a liquid depth in them which enabled the gazer to look down into them as he would into the green, pellucid transparency of still ocean water. And then they said so much—those young eyes of hers: from her mouth in those early years words came but scantily, but from her eyes questions rained quicker than any other eyes could answer them. Questions of wonder at what the world contained,—of wonder as to what men thought and did; questions as to the inmost heart, and truth, and purpose of the person questioned. And all this was asked by a glance now and again; by a glance of those long, shy, liquid eyes, which were ever falling on the face of him she questioned, and then ever as quickly falling from it.
Her face, as I have said, was long and thin, but it was the longness and thinness of growing youth. The natural lines of it were full of beauty, of pale silent beauty, too proud in itself to boast itself much before the world, to make itself common among many. Her hair was already long and rich, but was light in colour, much lighter than it grew to be when some four or five more years had passed over her head. At the time of which I speak she wore it in simple braids brushed back from her forehead, not having as yet learned that majestic mode of sweeping it from her face which has in subsequent years so generally prevailed.
And what then of her virtues and her faults—of her merits and defects? Will it not be better to leave them all to time and the coming pages? That she was proud of her birth, proud of being an Irish Desmond, proud even of her poverty, so much I may say of her, even at that early age. In that she was careless of the world's esteem, fond to a fault of romance, poetic in her temperament, and tender in her heart, she shared the ordinary—shall I say foibles or virtues?—of so many of her sex. She was passionately fond of her brother, but not nearly equally so of her mother, of whom the brother was too evidently the favoured child.
She had lived much alone; alone, that is, with her governess and with servants at Desmond Court. Not that she had been neglected by her mother, but she had hardly found herself to be her mother's companion; and other companions there she had had none. When she was sixteen her governess was still with her; but a year later than that she was left quite alone, except inasmuch as she was with her mother.
She was sixteen when she first began to ask questions of Owen Fitzgerald's face with those large eyes of hers; and she saw much of him and he of her, for the twelve months immediately after that. Much of him, that is, as much goes in this country of ours, where four or five interviews in as many months between friends is supposed to signify that they are often together. But this much-seeing occurred chiefly during the young earl's holidays. Now and again he did ride over in the long intervals, and when he did do so was not frowned upon by the countess; and so, at the end of the winter holidays subsequent to that former winter in which the earl had had his tumble, people through the county began to say that he and the countess were about to become man and wife.
It was just then that people in the county were also beginning to talk of the Hay House orgies; and the double scandal reached Owen's ears, one shortly after the other. That orgies scandal did not hurt him much. It is, alas! too true that consciousness of such a reputation does not often hurt a young man's feelings. But the other rumour did wound him. What! he sell himself to a widowed countess almost old enough to be his mother; or bestow himself rather—for what was there in return that could be reckoned as a price? At any rate, he had given no one cause to utter such falsehood, such calumny as that. No; it certainly was not probable that he should marry the countess.
But this set him to ask himself whether it might or might not be possible that he should marry some one else. Might it not be well for him if he could find a younger bride at Desmond Court? Not for nothing had he ridden over there through those bleak mountains; not for nothing, nor yet solely with the view of tying flies for the young earl's summer fishing, or preparing the new nag for his winter's hunting. Those large bright eyes had asked him many questions. Would it not be well that he should answer them?
For many months of that year Clara Desmond had hardly spoken to him. Then, in the summer evening, as he and her brother would lie sprawling together on the banks of the little Desmond river, while the lad was talking of his fish, and his school, and his cricket club, she would stand by and listen, and so gradually she learned to speak.
And the mother also would sometimes be there; or else she would welcome Fitzgerald in to tea, and let him stay there talking as though they were all at home, till he would have to make a midnight ride of it before he reached Hap House. It seemed that no fear as to her daughter had ever crossed the mother's mind; that no idea had ever come upon her that her favoured visitor might learn to love the young girl with whom he was allowed to associate on so intimate a footing. Once or twice he had caught himself calling her Clara, and had done so even before her mother; but no notice had been taken of it. In truth, Lady Desmond did not know her daughter, for the mother took her absolutely to be a child, when in fact she was a child no longer.
"You take Clara round by the bridge," said the earl to his friend one August evening, as they were standing together on the banks of the river, about a quarter of a mile distant from the sombre old pile in which the family lived. "You take Clara round by the bridge, and I will get over the stepping-stones." And so the lad, with his rod in his hand, began to descend the steep bank.
"I can get over the stepping-stones, too, Patrick," said she.
"Can you though, my gay young woman? You'll be over your ankles if you do. That rain didn't come down yesterday for nothing."
Clara as she spoke had come up to the bank, and now looked wistfully down at the stepping-stones. She had crossed them scores of times, sometimes with her brother, and often by herself. Why was it that she was so anxious to cross them now?
"It's no use your trying," said her brother who was now half across, and who spoke from the middle of the river. "Don't you let her, Owen. She'll slip in, and then there will be no end of a row up at the house."
"You had better come round by the bridge," said Fitzgerald. "It is not only that the stones are nearly under water, but they are wet, and you would slip."
So cautioned, Lady Clara allowed herself to be persuaded, and turned upwards along the river by a little path that led to a foot bridge. It was some quarter of a mile thither, and it would be the same distance down the river again before she regained her brother.
"I needn't bring you with me, you know," she said to Fitzgerald. "You can get over the stones easily, and I can go very well by myself."
But it was not probable that he would let her do so. "Why should I not go with you?" he said. "When I get there I have nothing to do but see him fish. Only if we were to leave him by himself he would not be happy."
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, how very kind you are are! I do so often think of it. How dull his holidays would be in this place if it were not for you!"
"And what a godsend his holidays are to me!" said Owen. "When they come round I can ride over here and see him, and you—and your mother. Do you think that I am not dull also, living alone at Hap House, and that this is not an infinite blessing to me?"
He had named them all—son, daughter, and mother; but there had been a something in his voice, an almost inappreciable something in his tone, which had seemed to mark to Clara's hearing that she herself was not the least prized of the three attractions. She had felt this rather than realized it, and the feeling was not unpleasant.
"I only know that you are very goodnatured," she continued, "and that Patrick is very fond of you. Sometimes I think he almost takes you for a brother." And then a sudden thought flashed across her mind, and she said hardly a word more to him that evening.
This had been at the close of the summer holidays. After that he had been once or twice at Desmond Court, before the return of the boy from Eton; but on these occasions he had been more with the countess than with her daughter On the last of these visits, just before the holidays commenced, he had gone over respective a hunter he had bought for Lord Desmond, and on this occasion he did not even see Clara.
The countess, when she had thanked him for his trouble in the matter of the purchase, hesitated a moment, and then went on to speak of other matters.
"I understand, Mr. Fitzgerald," said she, "that you have been very gay at Hap House since the hunting commenced."
"Oh, I don't know," said Owen, half laughing and half blushing. "It's a convenient place for some of the men, and one must be sociable."
"Sociable! yes, one ought to be sociable certainly. But I am always afraid of the sociability of young men without ladies. Do not be angry with me if I venture as a friend to ask you not to be too sociable."
"I know what you mean, Lady Desmond. People have been accusing us of—of being rakes. Isn't that it?"
"Yes, Mr. Fitzgerald, that is it. But then I know that I have no right to speak to you on such a—such a subject."
"Yes, yes; you have every right," said he, warmly; "more right than any one else."
"Oh no; Sir Thomas, you know——"
"Well, yes, Sir Thomas. Sir Thomas is very ill, and so also is Lady Fitzgerald; but I do not feel the same interest about them that I do about you. And they are such humdrum, quiet-going people. As for Herbert, I'm afraid he'll turn out a prig."
"Well, Mr. Fitzgerald, if you give me the right I shall use it." And getting up from her chair, and coming to him where he stood, she looked kindly into his face. It was a bonny, handsome face for a woman to gaze on, and there was much kindness in hers as she smiled on him. Nay, there was almost more than kindness, he thought, as he caught her eye. It was like,—almost like the sweetness of motherly love. "And I shall scold you," she continued. "People say that for two or three nights running men have been playing cards at Hap House till morning."
"Yes, I had some men there for a week. I could not take their candles away, and put them to bed; could I, Lady Desmond?"
"And there were late suppers, and drinking of toasts, and headaches in the morning, and breakfast at three o'clock, and gentlemen with very pale faces when they appeared rather late at the meet—eh, Mr. Fitzgerald?" And she held up one finger at him, as she upbraided him with a smile. The smile was so sweet, so unlike her usual look; that, to tell the truth, was often too sad and careworn for her age.
"Such things do happen, Lady Desmond."
"Ah, yes; they do happen. And with such a one as you, heaven knows I do not begrudge the pleasure, if it were but now and then,—once again and then done with. But you are too bright and too good for such things to continue." And she took his hand and pressed it, as a mother or a mother's dearest friend might have done. "It would so grieve me to think that you should be even in danger of shipwreck.
"You will not be angry with me for taking this liberty?" she continued.
"Angry! how could any man be angry for such kindness?"
"And you will think of what I say. I would not have you unsociable, or morose, or inhospitable; but—"
"I understand, Lady Desmond; but when young men are together, one cannot always control them."
"But you will try. Say that you will try because I have asked you."
He promised that he would, and then went his way, proud in his heart at this solicitude. And how could he not be proud? was she not high in rank, proud in character, beautiful withal, and the mother of Clara Desmond? What sweeter friend could a man have; what counsellor more potent to avert those dangers which now hovered round his head?
And as he rode home he was half in love with the countess. Where is the young man who has not in his early years been half in love with some woman older, much older than himself, who has half conquered his heart by her solicitude for his welfare?—with some woman who has whispered to him while others were talking, who has told him in such gentle, loving tones of his boyish follies, whose tenderness and experience together have educated him and made him manly? Young men are so proud, proud in their inmost hearts, of such tenderness and solicitude, as long as it remains secret and wrapt, as it were, in a certain mystery. Such liaisons have the interests of intrigue, without—I was going to say without its dangers. Alas! it may be that it is not always so.
Owen Fitzgerald as he rode home was half in love with the countess. Not that his love was of a kind which made him in any way desirous of marrying her, or of kneeling at her feet and devoting himself to her for ever; not that it in any way interfered with the other love which he was beginning to feel for her daughter. But he thought with pleasure of the tone of her voice, of the pressure of her hand, of the tenderness which he had found in her eye.
It was after that time, as will be understood, that some goodnatured friend had told him that he was regarded in the county as the future husband of Lady Desmond. At first he laughed at this as being—as he himself said to himself—too good a joke. When the report first reached him, it seemed to be a joke which he could share so pleasantly with the countess. For men of three and twenty, though they are so fond of the society of women older than themselves, understand so little the hearts and feelings of such women. In his ideas there was an interval as of another generation between him and the countess. In her thoughts the interval was probably much less striking.
But the accusation was made to him again and again till it wounded him, and he gave up that notion of a mutual joke with his kind friend at Desmond Court. It did not occur to him that she could ever think of loving him as her lord and master; but it was brought home to him that other people thought so.
A year had now passed by since those winter holidays in which Clara Desmond had been sixteen, and during which she was described by epithets which will not, I fear, have pleased my readers. Those epithets were now somewhat less deserved, but still the necessity of them had not entirely passed away. Her limbs were still thin and long, and her shoulders pointed; but the growth of beauty had commenced, and in Owen's eyes she was already very lovely.
At Christmas-time during that winter a ball was given at Castle Richmond, to celebrate the coming of age of the young heir. It was not a very gay affair, for the Castle Richmond folk, even in those days, were not very gay people. Sir Thomas, though only fifty, was an old man for his age; and Lady Fitzgerald, though known intimately by the poor all round her, was not known intimately by any but the poor. Mary and Emmeline Fitzgerald, with whom we shall become better acquainted as we advance in our story, were nice, good girls, and handsome withal; but they had not that special gift which enables some girls to make a party in their own house bright in spite of all obstacles.
We should have but little to do with this ball, were it not that Clara Desmond was here first brought out, as the term goes. It was the first large party to which she had been taken, and it was to her a matter of much wonder and inquiry with those wondering, speaking eyes.
And Owen Fitzgerald was there;—as a matter of course, the reader will say. By no means so. Previous to that ball Owen's sins had been commented upon at Castle Richmond, and Sir Thomas had expostulated with him. These expostulations had not been received quite so graciously as those of the handsome countess, and there had been anger at Castle Richmond.
Now there was living in the house of Castle Richmond one Miss Letty Fitzgerald, a maiden sister of the baronet's, older than her brother by full ten years. In her character there was more of energy, and also much more of harsh judgment, and of consequent ill-nature, than in that of her brother. When the letters of invitation were being sent out by the two girls, she had given a decided opinion that the reprobate should not be asked. But the reprobate's cousins, with that partiality for a rake which is so common to young ladies, would not abide by their aunt's command, and referred the matter both to mamma and papa. Mamma thought it very hard that their own cousin should be refused admittance to their house, and very dreadful that his sins should be considered to be of so deep a dye as to require so severe a sentence; and then papa, much balancing the matter, gave final orders that the prodigal cousin should be admitted.
He was admitted, and dangerously he used the privilege. The countess, who was there, stood up to dance twice, and twice only. She opened the ball with young Herbert Fitzgerald the heir; and in about an hour afterwards she danced again with Owen. He did not ask her twice; but he asked her daughter three or four times, and three or four times he asked her successfully.
"Clara," whispered the mother to her child, after the last of these occasions, giving some little pull or twist to her girl's frock as she did so, "you had better not dance with Owen Fitzgerald again to-night. People will remark about it."
"Will they?" said Clara, and immediately sat down, checked in her young happiness.
Not many minutes afterwards, Owen came up to her again. "May we have another waltz together, I wonder?" he said.
"Not to-night, I think. I am rather tired already." And so she did not waltz again all the evening, for fear she should offend him.
But the countess, though she had thus interdicted her daughter's dancing with the master of Hap House, had not done so through absolute fear. To her, her girl was still a child; a child without a woman's thoughts, or any of a woman's charms. And then it was so natural that Clara should like to dance with almost the only gentleman who was not absolutely a stranger to her. Lady Desmond had been actuated rather by a feeling that it would be well that Clara should begin to know other persons.
By that feeling,—and perhaps unconsciously by another, that it would be well that Owen Fitzgerald should be relieved from his attendance on the child, and enabled to give it to the mother. Whether Lady Desmond had at that time realized any ideas as to her own interest in this young man, it was at any rate true that she loved to have him near her. She had refused to dance a second time with Herbert Fitzgerald; she had refused to stand up with any other person who had asked her; but with Owen she would either have danced again, or have kept him by her side, while she explained to him with flattering frankness that she could not do so lest others should be offended.
And Owen was with her frequently through the evening. She was taken to and from supper by Sir Thomas, but any other takings that were incurred were done by him. He led her from one drawing-room to another; he took her empty coffee-cup; he stood behind her chair, and talked to her; and he brought her the scarf which she had left elsewhere; and finally, he put a shawl round her neck while old Sir Thomas was waiting to hand her to her carriage. Reader, good-natured, middle-aged reader, remember that she was only thirty-eight, and that hitherto she had known nothing of the delights of love. By the young, any such hallucination on her part, at her years, will be regarded as lunacy, or at least frenzy.
Owen Fitzgerald drove home from that ball in a state of mind that was hardly satisfactory. In the first place, Miss Letty had made a direct attack upon his morals, which he had not answered in the most courteous manner.
"I have heard a great deal of your doings. Master Owen," she said to him. "A fine house you're keeping."
"Why don't you come and join us, Aunt Letty?" he replied. "It would be just the thing for you."
"God forbid!" said the old maid, turning up her eyes to heaven.
"Oh, you might do worse, you know. With us you'd only drink and play cards, and perhaps hear a little strong language now and again. But what's that to slander, and calumny, and bearing false witness against one's neighbour?" and so saying he ended that interview—not in a manner to ingratiate himself with his relative, Miss Letty Fitzgerald.
After that, in the supper-room, more than one wag of a fellow had congratulated him on his success with the widow. "She's got some some sort of a jointure, I suppose," said one. "She's very young-looking, certainly, to be the mother of that girl," declared another. "Upon my word, she's a handsome woman still," said a third. "And what title will you get when you marry her, Fitz?" asked a fourth, who was rather ignorant as to the phases under which the British peerage develops itself.
Fitzgerald pshawed, and pished, and poohed; and then, breaking away from them, rode home. He felt that he must at any rate put an end to this annoyance about the countess, and that he must put an end also to his state of doubt about the countess's daughter. Clara had been kind and gracious to him in the first part of the evening; nay, almost more than gracious. Why had she been so cold when he went up to her on that last occasion? why had she gathered herself like a snail into its shell for the rest of the evening?
The young earl had also been at the party, and had exacted a promise from Owen that he would be over at Desmond Court on the next day. It had almost been on Owen's lips to tell his friend, not only that he would be there, but what would be his intention when he got there. He knew that the lad loved him well; and almost fancied that, earl as he was, he would favour his friend's suit. But a feeling that Lord Desmond was only a boy, restrained him. It would not be well to induce one so young to agree to an arrangement of which in after and more mature years he would so probably disapprove.
But not the less did Fitzgerald, as he drove home, determine that on the next day he would know something of his fate: and with this resolve he endeavoured to comfort himself as he drove up into his own avenue, and betook himself to his own solitary home.
It had been Clara Desmond's first ball, and on the following morning she had much to occupy her thoughts. In the first place, had she been pleased or had she not? Had she been most gratified or most pained?
Girls when they ask themselves such questions seldom give themselves fair answers. She had liked dancing with Owen Fitzgerald; oh, so much! She had liked dancing with others too, though she had not known them, and had hardly spoken to them. The mere act of dancing, with the loud music in the room, and the gay dresses and bright lights around her, had been delightful. But then it had pained her—she knew not why, but it had pained her—when her mother told her that people would make remarks about her. Had she done anything improper on this her first entry into the world? Was her conduct to be scanned, and judged, and condemned, while she was flattering herself that no one had noticed her but him who was speaking to her?
Their breakfast was late, and the countess sat, as was her wont, with her book beside her teacup, speaking a word every now and again to her son.
"Owen will be over here to-day," said he. "We are going to have a schooling match down on the Callows." Now in Ireland a schooling match means the amusement of teaching your horses to jump.
"Will he?" said Lady Desmond, looking up from her book for a moment. "Mind you bring him in to lunch; I want to speak to him."
"He doesn't care much about lunch, I fancy," said he; "and, maybe, we shall be halfway to Millstreet by that time."
"Never mind, but do as I tell you. You expect everybody to be as wild and wayward as yourself." And the countess smiled on her son in a manner which showed that she was proud even of his wildness and his waywardness.
Clara had felt that she blushed when she heard that Mr. Fitzgerald was to be there that morning. She felt that her own manner became constrained, and was afraid that her mother should look at her. Owen had said nothing to her about love; and she, child as she was, had thought nothing about love. But she was conscious of something, she knew not what. He had touched her hand during those dances as it had never been touched before; he had looked into her eyes, and her eyes had fallen before his glance; he had pressed her waist, and she had felt that there was tenderness in the pressure. So she blushed, and almost trembled, when she heard that he was coming, and was glad in her heart when she found that there was neither anger nor sunshine in her mother's face.
Not long after breakfast, the earl went out on his horse, and met Owen at some gate or back entrance. In his opinion the old house was stupid, and the women in it were stupid companions in the morning. His heart for the moment was engaged on the thought of making his animal take the most impracticable leaps which he could find, and it did not occur to him at first to give his mother's message to his companion. As for lunch, they would get a biscuit and glass of cherry-brandy at Wat M'Carthy's, of Drumban; and as for his mother having anything to say, that of course went for nothing.
Owen would have been glad to have gone up to the house, but in that he was frustrated by the earl's sharpness in catching him. His next hope was to get through the promised lesson in horse-leaping as quickly as possible, so that he might return to Desmond Court, and take his chance of meeting Clara. But in this he found the earl very difficult to manage.
"Oh, Owen, we won't go there," he said, when Fitzgerald proposed a canter through some meadows down by the river-side. "There are only a few gripes"—Irish for small ditches—"and I have ridden Fireball over them a score of times. I want you to come away towards Drumban."
"Drumban! why, Drumban's seven miles from here."
"What matter? Besides, it's not six the way I'll take you. I want to see Wat M'Carthy especially. He has a litter of puppies there out of that black bitch of his, and I mean to make him give me one of them."
But on that morning, Owen Fitzgerald would not allow himself to be taken so far a-field as Drumban, even on a mission so important as this. The young lord fought the matter stoutly; but it ended by his being forced to content himself with picking out all the most dangerous parts of the fences in the river meadows.
"Why, you've hardly tried your own mare at all," said the lad, reproachfully.
"I'm going to hunt her on Saturday," said Owen; "and she'll have quite enough to do then."
"Well, you're very slow to-day. You're done up with the dancing, I think. And what do you mean to do now?"
"I'll go home with you, I think, and pay my respects to the countess."
"By-the-by, I was to bring you in to lunch. She said she wanted to see you. By jingo, I forgot all about it! But you've all become very stupid among you, I know that." And so they rode back to Desmond Court, entering the demesne by one of the straight, dull, level roads which led up to the house.
But it did not suit the earl to ride on the road while the grass was so near him; so they turned off with a curve across what was called the park, thus prolonging their return by about double the necessary distance.
As they were cantering on, Owen saw her of whom he was in quest walking in the road which they had left. His best chance of seeing her alone had been that of finding her outside the house. He knew that the countess rarely or never walked with her daughter, and that, as the governess was gone, Clara was driven to walk by herself.
"Desmond," he said, pulling up his horse, "do you go on and tell your mother that I will be with her almost immediately."
"Why, where are you off to now?"
"There is your sister, and I must ask her how she is after the ball;" and so saying he trotted back in the direction of the road.
Lady Clara had seen them; and though she had hardly turned her head, she had seen also how suddenly Mr. Fitzgerald had stopped his horse, and turned his course when he perceived her. At the first moment she had been almost angry with him for riding away from her, and now she felt almost angry with him because he did not do so.
He slackened his pace as he came near her, and approached her at a walk. There was very little of the faint heart about Owen Fitzgerald at any time, or in anything that he attempted. He had now made up his mind fairly to tell Clara Desmond that he loved her, and to ask for her love in return. He had resolved to do so, and there was very little doubt but that he would carry out his resolution. But he had in nowise made up his mind how he should do it, or what his words should be. And now that he saw her so near him he wanted a moment to collect his thoughts.
He took off his hat as he rode up, and asked her whether she was tired after the ball; and then dismounting, he left his mare to follow as she pleased.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, won't she run away?" said Clara, as she gave him her hand.
"Oh no; she has been taught better than that. But you don't tell me how you are. I thought you were tired last night when I saw that you had altogether given over dancing." And then he walked on beside her, and the docile mare followed them like a dog.
"No, I was not tired; at least, not exactly," said Clara, blushing again and again, being conscious that she blushed. "But—but—you know it was the first ball I was ever at."
"That is just the reason why you should have enjoyed it the more, instead of sitting down as you did, and being dull and unhappy. For I know you were unhappy; I could see it."
"Was I?" said Clara, not knowing what else to say.
"Yes; and I'll tell you what. I could see more than that; it was I that made you unhappy."
"You, Mr. Fitzgerald!"
"Yes, I. You will not deny it, because you are so true. I asked you to dance with me too often. And because you refused me, you did not like to dance with any one else. I saw it all. Will you deny that it was so?"
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!" Poor girl! She did not know what to say; how to shape her speech into indifference; how to assure him that he made himself out to be of too much consequence by far; how to make it plain that she had not danced because there was no one there worth dancing with. Had she been out for a year or two, instead of being such a novice, she would have accomplished all this in half a dozen words. As it was, her tell-tale face confessed it all, and she was only able to ejaculate, "Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!"
"When I went there last night," he continued, "I had only one wish—one hope. That was, to see you pleased and happy. I knew it was your first ball, and I did so long to see you enjoy it."
"And so I did, till—"
"Till what? Will you not let me ask?"
"Mamma said something to me, and that stopped me from dancing."
"She told you not to dance with me. Was that it?"
How was it possible that she should have had a chance with him; innocent, young, and ignorant as she was? She did not tell him in words that so it had been; but she looked into his face with a glance of doubt and pain that answered his question as plainly as any words could have done.
"Of course she did; and it was I that destroyed it all. I that should have been satisfied to stand still and see you happy. How you must have hated me!"
"Oh no; indeed I did not. I was not at all angry with you. Indeed, why should I have been? It was so kind of you, wishing to dance with me."
"No; it was selfish—selfish in the extreme. Nothing but one thing could excuse me, and that excuse—"
"I'm sure you don't want any excuse, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"And that excuse, Clara, was this: that I love you with all my heart. I had not strength to see you there, and not long to have you near me—not begrudge that you should dance with another. I love you with all my heart and soul. There, Lady Clara, now you know it all."
The manner in which he made his declaration to her was almost fierce in its energy. He had stopped in the pathway, and she, unconscious of what she was doing, almost unconscious of what she was hearing, had stopped also. The mare, taking advantage of the occasion, was cropping the grass close to them. And so, for a few seconds, they stood in silence.
"Am I so bold, Lady Clara," said he, when those few seconds had gone by—"Am I so bold that I may hope for no answer?" But still she said nothing. In lieu of speaking she uttered a long sigh; and then Fitzgerald could bear that she was sobbing.
"Oh, Clara, I love you so fondly, so dearly, so truly!" said he in an altered voice and with sweet tenderness. "I know my own presumption in thus speaking. I know and feel bitterly the difference in our rank."
"I—care—nothing—for rank," said the poor girl, sobbing through her tears. He was generous, and she at any rate would not be less so. No; at that moment, with her scanty seventeen years of experience, with her ignorance of all that the world had in it of grand and great, of high and rich, she did care nothing for rank. That Owen Fitzgerald was a gentleman of good lineage, fit to mate with a lady, that she did know; for her mother, who was a proud woman, delighted to have him in her presence. Beyond this she cared for none of the conventionalities of life. Rank! If she waited for rank, where was she to look for friends who would love her? Earls and countesses, barons and their baronesses, were scarce there where fate had placed her, under the shadow of the bleak mountains of Muskerry. Her want, her undefined want, was that some one should love her. Of all men and women whom she had hitherto known, this Owen Fitzgerald was the brightest, the kindest, the gentlest in his manner, the most pleasant to look on. And now he was there at her feet, swearing that he loved her;—and then drawing back as it were in dread of her rank. What did she care for rank?
"Clara, Clara, my Clara! Can you learn to love me?"
She had made her one little effort at speaking when she attempted to repudiate the pedestal on which he affected to place her; but after that she could for a while say no more. But she still sobbed, and still kept her eyes fixed upon the ground.
"Clara, say one word to me. Say that you do not hate me." But just at that moment she had not one word to say.
"If you will bid me do so, I will leave this country altogether. I will go away, and I shall not much care whither. I can only stay now on condition of your loving me. I have thought of this day for the last year past, and now it has come."
Every word that he now spoke was gospel to her. Is it not always so,—should it not be so always, when love first speaks to loving ears? What! he had loved her for that whole twelve-month that she had known him; loved her in those days when she had been wont to look up into his face, wondering why he was so nice, so much nicer than any one else that came near her! A year was a great deal to her; and had he loved her through all those days? and after that should she banish him from her house, turn him away from his home, and drive him forth unhappy and wretched? Ah, no! She could not be so unkind to him;—she could not be so unkind to her own heart. But still she sobbed; and still she said nothing.
In the mean time they had turned, and were now walking back towards the house, the gentle-natured mare still following at their heels. They were walking slowly—very slowly back—just creeping along the path, when they saw Lady Desmond and her son coming to meet them on the road.
"There is your mother, Clara. Say one word to me before we meet them."
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald; I am so frightened. What will mamma say?"
"Say about what? As yet I do not know what she may have to say. But before we meet her, may I not hope to know what her daughter will say? Answer me this, Clara. Can you, will you love me?"
There was still a pause, a moment's pause, and then some sound did fall from her lips. But yet it was so soft, so gentle, so slight, that it could hardly be said to reach even a lover's ear. Fitzgerald, however, made the most of it. Whether it were Yes, or whether it were No, he took it as being favourable, and Lady Clara Desmond gave him no sign to show that he was mistaken.
"My own, own, only loved one," he said, embracing her, as it were, with his words, since the presence of her approaching mother forbade him even to take her hand in his, "I am happy now, whatever may occur; whatever others may say; for I know that you will be true to me. And remember this—whatever others may say, I also will be true to you. You will think of that, will you not, love?"
This time she did answer him, almost audibly. "Yes," she said. And then she devoted herself to a vain endeavour to remove the traces of her tears before her mother should be close to them.
Fitzgerald at once saw that such endeavour must be vain. At one time he had thought of turning away, and pretending that they had not seen the countess. But he knew that Clara would not be able to carry out any such pretence; and he reflected also that it might be just as well that Lady Desmond should know the whole at once. That she would know it, and know it soon, he was quite sure. She could learn it not only from Clara, but from himself. He could not now be there at the house without showing that he both loved and knew that he was beloved. And then why should Lady Desmond not know it? Why should he think that she would set herself against the match? He had certainly spoken to Clara of the difference in their rank; but, after all, it was no uncommon thing for an earl's daughter to marry a commoner. And in this case the earl's daughter was portionless, and the lover desired no portion. Owen Fitzgerald at any rate might boast that he was true and generous in his love.
So he plucked up his courage, and walked on with a smiling face to meet Lady Desmond and her son; while poor Clara crept beside him with eyes downcast, and in an agony of terror.
Lady Desmond had not left the house with any apprehension that there was aught amiss. Her son had told her that Owen had gone off "to do the civil to Clara;" and as he did not come to the house within some twenty minutes after this, she had proposed that they would go and meet him.
"Did you tell him that I wanted him?" said the countess.
"Oh yes, I did; and he is coming, only he would go away to Clara."
"Then I shall scold him for his want of gallantry," said Lady Desmond, laughing, as they walked out together from beneath the huge portal.
But as soon as she was near enough to see the manner of their gait, as they slowly came towards her, her woman's tact told her that something was wrong;—and whispered to her also what might too probably be the nature of that something. Could it be possible, she asked herself, that such a man as Owen Fitzgerald should fall in love with such a girl as her daughter Clara?
"What shall I say to mamma?" whispered Clara to him, as they all drew near together.
"Tell her everything."
"I will take him off with me if I can." And then they were all together, standing in the road.
"I was coming to obey your behests, Lady Desmond," said Fitzgerald, trying to look and speak as though he were at his ease.
"Coming rather tardily, I think," said her ladyship, not altogether playfully.
"I told him you wanted him, as we were crossing to the house," said the earl. "Didn't I, Owen?"
"Is anything the matter with Clara?" said Lady Desmond, looking at her daughter.
"No, mamma," said Clara; and she instantly began to sob and cry.
"What is it, sir?" And as she asked she turned to Fitzgerald; and her manner now at least had in it nothing playful.
"Lady Clara is nervous and hysterical. The excitement of the ball has perhaps been too much for her. I think, Lady Desmond, if you were to take her in with you it would be well."
Lady Desmond looked up at him; and he then saw, for the first time, that she could if she pleased look very stern. Hitherto her face had always worn smiles, had at any rate always been pleasing when he had seen it. He had never been intimate with her, never intimate enough to care what her face was like, till that day when he had carried her son up from the hall door to his room. Then her countenance had been all anxiety for her darling; and afterwards it had been all sweetness for her darling's friend. From that day to this present one, Lady Desmond had ever given him her sweetest smiles.
But Fitzgerald was not a man to be cowed by any woman's looks. He met hers by a full, front face in return. He did not allow his eye for a moment to fall before hers. And yet he did not look at her haughtily, or with defiance, but with an aspect which showed that he was ashamed of nothing that he had done,—whether he had done anything that he ought to be ashamed of or no.
"Clara," said the countess, in a voice which fell with awful severity on the poor girl's ears, "you had better return to the house with me."
"And shall I wait on you to-morrow, Lady Desmond?" said Fitzgerald, in a tone which seemed to the countess to be, in the present state of affairs, almost impertinent. The man had certainly been misbehaving himself, and yet there was not about him the slightest symptom of shame.
"Yes; no," said the countess. "That is, I will write a note to you if it be necessary. Good morning."
"Good-bye, Lady Desmond," said Owen. And as he took off his hat with his left hand, he put out his right to shake hands with her, as was customary with him. Lady Desmond was at first inclined to refuse the courtesy; but she either thought better of such intention, or else she had not courage to maintain it; for at parting she did give him her hand.
"Good-bye, Lady Clara;" and he also shook hands with her, and it need hardly be said that there was a lover's pressure in the grasp.
"Good-bye," said Clara, through her tears, in the saddest, soberest tone. He was going away, happy, light-hearted, with nothing to trouble him. But she had to encounter that fearful task of telling her own crime. She had to depart with her mother;—her mother, who, though never absolutely unkind, had so rarely been tender with her. And then her brother—!
"Desmond," said Fitzgerald, "walk as far as the lodge with me like a good fellow. I have something that I want to say to you."
The mother thought for a moment that she would call her son back; but then she bethought herself that she also might as well be without him. So the young earl, showing plainly by his eyes that he knew that much was the matter, went back with Fitzgerald towards the lodge.
"What is it you have done now?" said the earl. The boy had some sort of an idea that the offence committed was with reference to his sister; and his tone was hardly as gracious as was usual with him.
This want of kindliness at the present moment grated on Owen's ears; but he resolved at once to tell the whole story out, and then leave it to the earl to take it in dudgeon or in brotherly friendship as he might please.
"Desmond," said he, "can you not guess what has passed between me and your sister?"
"I am not good at guessing," he answered, brusquely.
"I have told her that I loved her, and would have her for my wife; and I have asked her to love me in return."
There was an open manliness about this which almost disarmed the earl's anger. He had felt a strong attachment to Fitzgerald, and was very unwilling to give up his friendship; but, nevertheless, he had an idea that it was presumption on the part of Mr. Fitzgerald of Hap House to look up to his sister. Between himself and Owen the earl's coronet never weighed a feather; he could not have abandoned his boy's heart to the man's fellowship more thoroughly had that man been an earl as well as himself. But he could not get over the feeling that Fitzgerald's worldly position was beneath that of his sister;—that such a marriage on his sister's part would be a mesalliance. Doubting, therefore, and in some sort dismayed—and in some sort also angry—he did not at once give any reply.
"Well, Desmond, what have you to say to it? You are the head of her family, and young as you are, it is right that I should tell you."
"Tell me! of course you ought to tell me. I don't see what youngness has to do with it. What did she say?"
"Well, she said but little; and a man should never boast that a lady has favoured him. But she did not reject me." He paused a moment, and then added, "After all, honesty and truth are the best. I have reason to think that she loves me."
The poor young lord felt that he had a double duty, and hardly knew how to perform it. He owed a duty to his sister which was paramount to all others; but then he owed a duty also to the friend who had been so kind to him. He did not know how to turn round upon him and tell him that he was not fit to marry his sister.
"And what do you say to it, Desmond?"
"I hardly know what to say. It would be a very bad match for her. You, you know, are a capital fellow; the best fellow going. There is nobody about anywhere that I like so much."
"In thinking of your sister, you should put that out of the question."
"Yes; that's just it. I like you for a friend better than any one else. But Clara ought—ought—ought—"
"Ought to look higher, you would say."
"Yes; that's just what I mean. I don't want to offend you, you know."
"Desmond, my boy, I like you the better for it. You are a fine fellow, and I thoroughly respect you. But let us talk sensibly about this. Though your sister's rank is high—"
"Oh, I don't want to talk about rank. That's all bosh, and I don't care about it. But Hap House is a small place, and Clara wouldn't be doing well; and what's more, I am quite sure the countess will not hear of it."
"You won't approve, then?"
"No, I can't say I will."
"Well, that is honest of you. I am very glad that I have told you at once. Clara will tell her mother, and at any rate there will be no secrets. Good-bye, old fellow."
"Good-bye," said the earl. Then they shook hands, and Fitzgerald rode off towards Hap House. Lord Desmond pondered over the matter some time, standing alone near the lodge; and then walked slowly back towards the mansion. He had said that rank was all bosh; and in so saying had at the moment spoken out generously the feelings of his heart. But that feeling regarded himself rather than his sister; and if properly analyzed would merely have signified that, though proud enough of his own rank, he did not require that his friends should be of the same standing. But as regarded his sister, he certainly would not be well pleased to see her marry a small squire with a small income.
The countess, as she walked back with her daughter towards the house, had to bethink herself for a minute or two as to how she should act, and what she would say. She knew, she felt that she knew, what had occurred. If her daughter's manner had not told her, the downcast eyes, the repressed sobs, the mingled look of shame and fear;—if she had not read the truth from these, she would have learned it from the tone of Fitzgerald's voice, and the look of triumph which sat upon his countenance.
And then she wondered that this should be so, seeing that she had still regarded Clara as being in all things a child; and as she thought further, she wondered at her own fatuity, in that she had allowed herself to be so grossly deceived.
"Clara," said she, "what is all this?"
"You had better come on to the house, my dear, and speak to me there. In the mean time, collect your thoughts, and remember this, Clara, that you have the honour of a great family to maintain."
Poor Clara! what had the great family done for her, or how had she been taught to maintain its honour? She knew that she was an earl's daughter, and that people called her Lady Clara; whereas other young ladies were only called Miss So-and-So. But she had not been taught to separate herself from the ordinary throng of young ladies by any other distinction. Her great family had done nothing special for her, nor placed before her for example any grandly noble deeds. At that old house at Desmond Court company was scarce, money was scarce, servants were scarce. She had been confided to the care of a very ordinary governess; and if there was about her anything that was great or good, it was intrinsically her own, and by no means due to intrinsic advantages derived from her grand family. Why should she not give what was so entirely her own to one whom she loved, to one by whom it so pleased her to be loved?
And then they entered the house, and Clara followed her mother to the countess's own small upstairs sitting-room. The daughter did not ordinarily share this room with her mother, and when she entered it, she seldom did so with pleasurable emotion. At the present moment she had hardly strength to close the door after her.
"And now, Clara, what is all this?" said the countess, sitting down in her accustomed chair.
"All which, mamma?" Can any one blame her in that she so far equivocated?
"Clara, you know very well what I mean. What has there been between you and Mr. Fitzgerald?"
The guilt-stricken wretch sat silent for a while, sustaining the scrutiny of her mother's gaze; and then falling from her chair on to her knees, she hid her face in her mother's lap, exclaiming, "Oh, mamma, mamma, do not look at me like that!"
Lady Desmond's heart was somewhat softened by this appeal; nor would I have it thought that she was a cruel woman, or an unnatural mother. It had not been her lot to make an absolute, dearest, heartiest friend of her daughter, as some mothers do; a friend between whom and herself there should be, nay could be, no secrets. She could not become young again in sharing the romance of her daughter's love, in enjoying the gaieties of her daughter's balls, in planning dresses, amusements, and triumphs with her child. Some mothers can do this; and they, I think, are the mothers who enjoy most fully the delights of maternity. This was not the case with Lady Desmond; but yet she loved her child, and would have made any reasonable sacrifice for what she regarded as that child's welfare.
"But, my dear," she said, in a softened tone, "you must tell me what has occurred. Do you not know that it is my duty to ask, and yours to tell me? It cannot be right that there should be any secret understanding between yourself and Mr. Fitzgerald. You know that, Clara, do you not?"
"Yes, mamma," said Clara, remembering that her lover had bade her tell her mother everything.
"Well, my love?"
Clara's story was very simple, and did not, in fact, want any telling. It was merely the old well-worn tale, so common through all the world. "He had laughed on the lass with his bonny black eye!" and she,—she was ready to go "to the mountain to hear a love-tale!" One may say that an occurrence so very common could not want much telling.
"Mamma; he says—"
"Well, my dear?"
"He says—. Oh, mamma! I could not help it."
"No, Clara; you certainly could not help what he might say to you. You could not refuse to listen to him. A lady in such case, when she is on terms of intimacy with a gentleman, as you were with Mr. Fitzgerald, is bound to listen to him, and to give him an answer. You could not help what he might say, Clara. The question now is, what answer did you give to what he said?"
Clara, who was still kneeling, looked up piteously into her mother's face, sighed bitterly, but said nothing.
"He told you that he loved you, I suppose?"
"And I suppose you gave him some answer? Eh! my dear?"
The answer to this was another long sigh.
"But, Clara, you must tell me. It is absolutely necessary that I should know whether you have given him any hope, and if so, how much. Of course the whole thing must be stopped at once. Young as you are, you cannot think that a marriage with Mr. Owen Fitzgerald would be a proper match for you to make. Of course the whole thing must cease at once—at once." Here there was another piteous sigh. "But before I take any steps, I must know what you have said to him. Surely you have not told him that you have any feeling for him warmer than ordinary regard?"
Lady Desmond knew what she was doing very well. She was perfectly sure that her daughter had pledged her troth to Owen Fitzgerald. Indeed, if she made any mistake in the matter, it was in thinking that Clara had given a more absolute assurance of love than had in truth been extracted from her. But she calculated, and calculated wisely, that the surest way of talking her daughter out of all hope, was to express herself as unable to believe that a child of hers would own to love for one so much beneath her, and to speak of such a marriage as a thing absolutely impossible. Her method of acting in this manner had the effect which she desired. The poor girl was utterly frightened, and began to fear that she had disgraced herself, though she knew that she dearly loved the man of whom her mother spoke so slightingly.
"Have you given him any promise, Clara?"
"Not a promise, mamma."
"Not a promise! What then? Have you professed any regard for him?" But upon this Clara was again silent.
"Then I suppose I must believe that you have professed a regard for him—that you have promised to love him?"
"No, mamma; I have not promised anything. But when he asked me, I—I didn't—I didn't refuse him."
It will be observed that Lady Desmond never once asked her daughter what were her feelings. It never occurred to her to inquire, even within her own heart, as to what might be most conducive to her child's happiness. She meant to do her duty by Clara, and therefore resolved at once to put a stop to the whole affair. She now desisted from her interrogatories, and sitting silent for a while, looked out into the extent of flat ground before the house. Poor Clara the while sat silent also, awaiting her doom.
"Clara," said the mother at last, "all this must of course be made to cease. You are very young, very young indeed, and therefore I do not blame you. The fault is with him—with him entirely."
"But I say it is. He has behaved very badly, and has betrayed the trust which was placed in him when he was admitted here so intimately as Patrick's friend."
"I am sure he has not intended to betray any trust," said Clara, through her sobs. The conviction was beginning to come upon her that she would be forced to give up her lover; but she could not bring herself to hear so much evil spoken of him.
"He has not behaved like a gentleman," continued the countess, looking very stern. "And his visits here must of course be altogether discontinued. I am sorry on your brother's account, for Patrick was very fond of him—"
"Not half so fond as I am," thought Clara to herself. But she did not dare to speak her thoughts out loud.
"But I am quite sure that your brother, young as he is, will not continue to associate with a friend who has thought so slightly of his sister's honour. Of course I shall let Mr. Fitzgerald know that he can come here no more; and all I want from you is a promise that you will on no account see him again, or hold any correspondence with him."
That was all she wanted. But Clara, timid as she was, hesitated before she could give a promise so totally at variance with the pledge which she felt that she had given, hardly an hour since, to Fitzgerald. She knew and acknowledged to herself that she had given him a pledge, although she had given it in silence. How then was she to give this other pledge to her mother?
"You do not mean to say that you hesitate?" said Lady Desmond, looking as though she were thunderstruck at the existence of such hesitation. "You do not wish me to suppose that you intend to persevere in such insanity? Clara, I must have from you a distinct promise,—or—"
What might be the dreadful alternative the countess did not at that minute say. She perhaps thought that her countenance might be more effective than her speech, and in thinking so she was probably right.
It must be remembered that Clara Desmond was as yet only seventeen, and that she was young even for that age. It must be remembered also, that she knew nothing of the world's ways, of her own privileges as a creature with a soul and heart of her own, or of what might be the true extent of her mother's rights over her. She had not in her enough of matured thought to teach her to say that she would make no promise that should bind her for ever; but that for the present, in her present state, she would obey her mother's orders. And thus the promise was exacted and given.
"If I find you deceiving me, Clara," said the countess, "I will never forgive you."
Hitherto, Lady Desmond may probably have played her part well;—well, considering her object. But she played it very badly in showing that she thought it possible that her daughter should play her false. It was now Clara's turn to be proud and indignant.
"Mamma!" she said, holding her head high, and looking at her mother boldly through her tears, "I have never deceived you yet."
"Very well, my dear. I will take steps to prevent his intruding on you any further. There may be an end of the matter now. I have no doubt that he has endeavoured to use his influence with Patrick; but I will tell your brother not to speak of the matter further." And so saying, she dismissed her daughter.
Shortly afterwards the earl came in, and there was a conference between him and his mother. Though they were both agreed on the subject, though both were decided that it would not do for Clara to throw herself away on a county Cork squire with eight hundred a-year, a cadet in his family, and a man likely to rise to nothing, still the earl would not hear him abused.
"But, Patrick, he must not come here any more," said the countess.
"Well, I suppose not. But it will be very dull, I know that. I wish Clara hadn't made herself such an ass;" and then the boy went away, and talked kindly over the matter to his poor sister.
But the countess had another task still before her. She must make known the family resolution to Owen Fitzgerald. When her children had left her, one after the other, she sat at the window for an hour, looking at nothing, but turning over her own thoughts in her mind. Hitherto she had expressed herself as being very angry with her daughter's lover; so angry that she had said that he was faithless, a traitor, and no gentleman. She had called him a dissipated spendthrift, and had threatened his future wife, if ever he should have one, with every kind of misery that could fall to a woman's lot; but now she began to think of him perhaps more kindly.
She had been very angry with him;—and the more so because she had such cause to be angry with herself;—with her own lack of judgment, her own ignorance of the man's character, her own folly with reference to her daughter. She had never asked herself whether she loved Fitzgerald—had never done so till now. But now she knew that the sharpest blow she had received that day was the assurance that he was indifferent to herself.
She had never thought herself too old to be on an equality with him,—on such an equality in point of age as men and women feel when they learn to love each other; and therefore it had not occurred to her that he could regard her daughter as other than a child. To Lady Desmond, Clara was a child; how then could she be more to him? And yet now it was too plain that he had looked on Clara as a woman. In what light then must he have thought of that woman's mother? And so, with saddened heart, but subdued anger, she continued to gaze through the window till all without was dusk and dark.
There can be to a woman no remembrance of age so strong as that of seeing a daughter go forth to the world a married woman. If that does not tell the mother that the time of her own youth has passed away, nothing will ever bring the tale home. It had not quite come to this with Lady Desmond;—Clara was not going forth to the world as a married woman. But here was one now who had judged her as fit to be so taken; and this one was the very man of all others in whose estimation Lady Desmond would have wished to drop a few of the years that encumbered her.
She was not, however, a weak woman, and so she performed her task. She had candles brought to her, and sitting down, she wrote a note to Owen Fitzgerald, saying that she herself would call at Hap House at an hour named on the following day.
She had written three or four letters before she had made up her mind exactly as to the one she would send. At first she had desired him to come to her there at Desmond Court; but then she thought of the danger there might be of Clara seeing him;—of the danger, also, of her own feelings towards him when he should be there with her, in her own house, in the accustomed way. And she tried to say by letter all that it behoved her to say, so that there need be no meeting. But in this she failed. One letter was stern and arrogant, and the next was soft-hearted, so that it might teach him to think that his love for Clara might yet be successful. At last she resolved to go herself to Hap House; and accordingly she wrote her letter and despatched it.
Fitzgerald was of course aware of the subject of the threatened visit. When he determined to make his proposal to Clara, the matter did not seem to him to be one in which all chances of success were desperate. If, he thought, he could induce the girl to love him, other smaller difficulties might be made to vanish from his path. He had now induced the girl to own that she did love him; but not the less did he begin to see that the difficulties were far from vanishing. Lady Desmond would never have taken upon herself to make a journey to Hap House, had not a sentence of absolute banishment from Desmond Court been passed against him.
"Mr. Fitzgerald," she began, as soon as she found herself alone with him, "you will understand what has induced me to seek you here. After your imprudence with Lady Clara Desmond, I could not of course ask you to come to Desmond Court."
"I may have been presumptuous, Lady Desmond, but I do not think that I have been imprudent. I love your daughter dearly and I told her so. Immediately afterwards I told the same to her brother; and she, no doubt, has told the same to you."
"Yes, she has, Mr. Fitzgerald. Clara, as you are well aware, is a child, absolutely a child; much more so than is usual with girls of her age. The knowledge of this should, I think, have protected her from your advances."
"But I absolutely deny any such knowledge. And more than that, I think that you are greatly mistaken as to her character."
"Mistaken, sir, as to my own daughter?"
"Yes, Lady Desmond; I think you are. I think—"
"On such a matter, Mr. Fitzgerald, I need not trouble you for an expression of your thoughts. Nor need we argue that subject any further. You must of course be aware that all ideas of any such marriage as this must be laid aside."
"On what grounds, Lady Desmond?"
Now this appeared to the countess to be rather impudent on the part of the young squire. The reasons why he, Owen Fitzgerald of Hap House, should not marry a daughter of an Earl of Desmond, seemed to her to be so conspicuous and conclusive, that it could hardly be necessary to enumerate them. And such as they were, it might not be pleasant to announce them in his hearing. But though Owen Fitzgerald was so evidently an unfit suitor for an earl's daughter, it might still be possible that he should be acceptable to an earl's widow. Ah! if it might be possible to teach him the two lessons at the same time!
"On what grounds, Mr. Fitzgerald!" she said, repeating his question; "surely I need hardly tell you. Did not my son say the same thing to you yesterday, as he walked with you down the avenue?"
"Yes; he told me candidly that he looked higher for his sister; and I liked him for his candour, But that is no reason that I should agree with him; or, which is much more important, that his sister should do so. If she thinks that she can be happy in such a home as I can give her, I do not know why he or why you should object."
"You think, then, that I might give her to a blacksmith, if she herself were mad enough to wish it?"
"I thank you for the compliment, Lady Desmond."
"You have driven me to it, sir."
"I believe it is considered in the world," said he,—"that is, in our country, that the one great difference is between gentlemen and ladies, and those who are not gentlemen or ladies. A lady does not degrade herself if she marry a gentleman, even though that gentleman's rank be less high than her own."
"It is not a question of degradation, but of prudence;—of the ordinary caution which I, as a mother, am bound to use as regards my daughter. Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!" and she now altered her tone as she spoke to him; "we have all been so pleased to know you, so happy to have you there; why have you destroyed all this by one half-hour's folly?"
"The folly, as you call it, Lady Desmond, has been premeditated for the last twelve months."
"For twelve months!" said she, taken absolutely by surprise, and in her surprise believing him.
"Yes, for twelve months. Ever since I began to know your daughter, I have loved her. You say that your daughter is a child. I also thought so this time last year, in our last winter holidays. I thought so then; and though I loved her as a child, I kept it to myself. Now she is a woman, and so thinking I have spoken to her as one. I have told her that I loved her, as I now tell you that come what may I must continue to do so. Had she made me believe that I was indifferent to her, absence, perhaps, and distance might have taught me to forget her. But such, I think, is not the case."
"And you must forget her now."
"Never, Lady Desmond."
"Nonsense, sir. A child that does not know her own mind, that thinks of a lover as she does of some new toy, whose first appearance in the world was only made the other night at your cousin's house! you ought to feel ashamed of such a passion, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"I am very far from being ashamed of it, Lady Desmond."
"At any rate, let me tell you this. My daughter has promised me most solemnly that she will neither see you again, nor have any correspondence with you. And this I know of her, that her word is sacred. I can excuse her on account of her youth; and, young as she is, she already sees her own folly in having allowed you so to address her. But for you, Mr. Fitzgerald, under all the circumstances I can make no excuse for you. Is yours, do you think, the sort of house to which a young girl should be brought as a bride? Is your life, are your companions of that kind which could most profit her? I am sorry that you drive me to remind you of these things."
His face became very dark and his brow stern as his sins were thus cast into his teeth.
"And from what you know of me, Lady Desmond," he said,—and as he spoke he assumed a dignity of demeanour which made her more inclined to love him than ever she had been before,—"do you think that I should be the man to introduce a young wife to such companions as those to whom you allude? Do you not know, are you not sure in your own heart, that my marriage with your daughter would instantly put an end to all that?"
"Whatever may be my own thoughts, and they are not likely to be unfavourable to you—for Patrick's sake, I mean; but whatever may be my own thoughts, I will not subject my daughter to such a risk. And, Mr. Fitzgerald, you must allow me to say, that your income is altogether insufficient for her wants and your own. She has no fortune—"
"I want none with her."
"And—but I will not argue the matter with you. I did not come to argue it, but to tell you, with as little offence as may be possible, that such a marriage is absolutely impossible. My daughter herself has already abandoned all thoughts of it."
"Her thoughts then must be wonderfully under her own control. Much more so than mine are."
"Lord Desmond, you may be sure, will not hear of it."
"Lord Desmond cannot at present be less of a child than his sister."
"I don't know that, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"At any rate, Lady Desmond, I will not put my happiness, nor as far as I am concerned in it, his sister's happiness, at his disposal. When I told her that I loved her, I did not speak, as you seem to think, from an impulse of the moment. I spoke because I loved her; and as I love her, I shall of course try to win her. Nothing can absolve me from my engagement to her but her marriage with another person."
The countess had once or twice made small efforts to come to terms of peace with him; or rather to a truce, under which there might still be some friendship between them,—accompanied, however, by a positive condition that Clara should be omitted from any participation in it. She would have been willing to say, "Let all this be forgotten, only for some time to come you and Clara cannot meet each other." But Fitzgerald would by no means agree to such terms; and the countess was obliged to leave his house, having in effect only thrown down a gauntlet of battle; having in vain attempted to extend over it an olive-branch of peace.
He helped her, however, into her little pony carriage, and at parting she gave him her hand. He just touched it, and then, taking off his hat, bowed courteously to her as she drove from his door.
THE FITZGERALDS OF CASTLE RICHMOND
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.