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She made another such declaration within her own heart, only with words that were more natural to her. He was the noblest gentleman of whom she had ever heard, or read, or thought.
"But," continued Owen, "as I will not interfere with him in that which should be his, neither should he interfere with me in that which should be mine. Clara, the only estate that I claim, is your heart."
And that estate she could not give him. On that at any rate she was fixed. She could not barter herself about from one to the other either as a make-weight or a counterpoise. All his pleading was in vain; all his generosity would fail in securing to him this one reward that he desired. And now she had to tell him so.
"Your brother seems to think," he continued, "that you still--;" but now it was her turn to interrupt him.
"Patrick is mistaken," she said, with her eyes still fixed upon the ground.
"What. You will tell me, then, that I am utterly indifferent to you?"
"No, no, no; I did not say so." And now she got up and took hold of his arm, and looked into his face imploringly. "I did not say so. But, oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, be kind to me, be forbearing with me, be good to me," and she almost embraced his arm as she appealed to him, with her eyes all swimming with tears.
"Good to you!" he said. And a strong passion came upon him, urging him to throw his arm round her slender body, and press her to his bosom. Good to her! would he not protect her with his life's blood against all the world if she would only come to him? "Good to you, Clara! Can you not trust me that I will be good to you if you will let me?"
"But not so, Owen." It was the first time she had ever called him by his name, and she blushed again as she remembered that it was so. "Not good, as you mean, for now I must trust to another for that goodness. Herbert must be my husband, Owen; but will not you be our friend?"
"Herbert must be your husband!"
"Yes, yes, yes. It is so. Do not look at me in that way, pray do not; what would you have me do? You would not have me false to my troth, and false to my own heart, because you are generous. Be generous to me--to me also."
He turned away from her, and walked the whole length of the long room; away and back, before he answered her, and even then, when he had returned to her, he stood looking at her before he spoke. And she now looked full into his face, hoping, but yet fearing; hoping that he might yield to her; and fearing his terrible displeasure should he not yield.
"Clara," he said; and he spoke solemnly, slowly, and in a mood unlike his own,--"I cannot as yet read your heart clearly; nor do I know whether you can quite so read it yourself."
"I can, I can," she answered quickly; "and you shall know it all--all, if you wish."
"I want to know but one thing. Whom is it that you love? And, Clara,"--and this he said interrupting her as she was about to speak--"I do not ask you to whom you are engaged. You have engaged yourself both to him and to me."
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!"
"I do not blame you, not in the least. But is it not so? as to that I will ask no question, and say nothing; only this, that so far we are equal. But now ask of your own heart, and then answer me. Whom is it then you love?"
"Herbert Fitzgerald," she said. The words hardly formed themselves into a whisper, but nevertheless they were audible enough to him.
"Then I have no further business here," he said, and turned about as though to leave the room.
But she ran forward and stopped him, standing between him and the door. "Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, do not leave me like that. Say one word of kindness to me before you go. Tell me that you forgive me for the injury I have done you."
"Yes, I forgive you."
"And is that all? Oh, I will love you so, if you will let me,--as your friend, as your sister; you shall be our dearest, best, and nearest friend. You do not know how good he is. Owen, will you not tell me that you will love me as a brother loves?"
"No!" and the sternness of his face was such that it was dreadful to look on it. "I will tell you nothing that is false."
"And would that be false?"
"Yes, false as hell! What, sit by at his hearthstone and see you leaning on his bosom! Sleep under his roof while you were in his arms! No, Lady Clara, that would not be possible. That virtue, if it be virtue, I cannot possess."
"And you must go from me in anger? If you knew what I am suffering you would not speak to me so cruelly."
"Cruel! I would not wish to be cruel to you; certainly not now, for we shall not meet again; if ever, not for many years. I do not think that I have been cruel to you."
"Then say one word of kindness before you go!"
"A word of kindness! Well; what shall I say? Every night, as I have lain in my bed, I have said words of kindness to you, since-- since--since longer than you will remember; since I first knew you as a child. Do you ever think of the day when you walked with me round by the bridge?"
"It is bootless thinking of that now."
"Bootless! yes, and words of kindness are bootless. Between you and me, such words should be full of love, or they would have no meaning. What can I say to you that shall be both kind and true?"
"Bid God bless me before you leave me."
"Well. I will say that. May God bless you, in this world and in the next! And now, Lady Clara Desmond, good-bye!" and he tendered to her his hand.
She took it, and pressed it between both of hers, and looked up into his face, and stood so while the fast tears ran down her face. He must have been more or less than man had he not relented then. "And, Owen," she said, "dear Owen, may God in His mercy bless you also, and make you happy, and give you some one that you can love, and--and--teach you in your heart to forgive the injury I have done you." And then she stooped down her head and pressed her lips upon the hand which she held within her own.
"Forgive you! Well--I do forgive you. Perhaps it may be right that we should both forgive; though I have not wittingly brought unhappiness upon you. But what there is to be forgiven on my side, I do forgive. And--and I hope that you may be happy." They were the last words that he spoke; and then leading her back to her seat, he placed her there, and without turning to look at her again, he left the room.
He hurried down into the court, and called for his horse. As he stood there, when his foot was in the stirrup, and his hand on the animal's neck, Lord Desmond came up to him. "Goodbye, Desmond," he said. "It is all over; God knows when you and I may meet again." And without waiting for a word of reply he rode out under the porch, and putting spurs to his horse, galloped fast across the park. The earl, when he spoke of it afterwards to his mother, said that Owen's face had been as it were a thunder-cloud.
FOX-HUNTING IN SPINNY LANE
I think it will be acknowledged that Mr. Prendergast had said no word throughout the conversation recorded in a late chapter as having taken place between him and Herbert Fitzgerald over their wine, which could lead Herbert to think it possible that he might yet recover his lost inheritance; but nevertheless during the whole of that evening he held in his pocket a letter, received by him only that afternoon, which did encourage him to think that such an event might at any rate be possible. And, indeed, he held in his pocket two letters, having a tendency to the same effect, but we shall have nothing now to say as to that letter from Mr. Somers of which we have spoken before.
It must be understood that up to this time certain inquiries had been going on with reference to the life of Mr. Matthew Mollett, and that these inquiries were being made by agents employed by Mr. Prendergast. He had found that Mollett's identity with Talbot had been so fully proved as to make it, in his opinion, absolutely necessary that Herbert and his mother should openly give up Castle Richmond. But, nevertheless, without a hope, and in obedience solely to what he felt that prudence demanded in so momentous a matter, he did prosecute all manner of inquiries;--but prosecuted them altogether in vain. And now, O thou most acute of lawyers, this new twinkling spark of hope has come to thee from a source whence thou least expectedst it!
Quod minime reris Graia pandetur ab urbe.
And then, as soon as Herbert was gone from him, crossing one leg over the other as he sat in his easy chair, he took it from his pocket and read it for the third time. The signature at the end of
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