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bent on accepting the invitation.
"Perhaps she would come over and join us," said Lady Fitzgerald, feeling, however, that the subject was not without danger. Sending a carriage for a young girl like Lady Clara did very well, but it might not answer if she were to offer to send for the Countess of Desmond.
"Oh, mamma never goes out."
"I'm quite sure she'd like you to stay," said Herbert. "After you were all gone yesterday, she said how delighted she was to have you go away for a little time. And she did say she thought you could not go to a better place than Castle Richmond."
"I am sure that was very kind of her," said Lady Fitzgerald.
"Did she?" said Clara, longingly.
And so after a while it was settled that she should send a line to her mother, saying that she had been persuaded to stay over one other night, and that she should accompany them to inspect the site of this embryo mill at Berryhill.
"And I will write a line to the countess," said Lady Fitzgerald, "telling her how impossible it was for you to hold your own intention when we were all attacking you on the other side."
And so the matter was settled.
On the following day they were to leave home almost immediately after breakfast; and on this occasion Miss Letty insisted on going with them.
"There's a seat on the car, I know, Herbert," she said; "for you mean to ride; and I'm just as much interested about the mill as any of you."
"I'm afraid the day would be too long for you, Aunt Letty," said Mary: "we shall stay there, you know, till after four."
"Not a bit too long. When I'm tired I shall go into Mrs. Townsend's; the glebe is not ten minutes' drive from Berryhill."
The Rev. Aeneas Townsend was the rector of the parish, and he, as well as his wife, were fast friends of Aunt Letty. As we get on in the story we shall, I trust, become acquainted with the Rev. Aeneas Townsend and his wife. It was ultimately found that there was no getting rid of Aunt Letty, and so the party was made up.
They were all standing about the hall after breakfast, looking up their shawls and cloaks and coats, and Herbert was in the act of taking special and very suspicious care of Lady Clara's throat, when there came a ring at the door. The visitor, whoever he might be, was not kept long waiting, for one servant was in the hall, and another just outside the front door with the car, and a third holding Herbert's horse.
"I wish to see Sir Thomas," said a man's voice as soon as the door was opened; and the man entered the hall, and then, seeing that it was full of ladies, retreated again into the door-way. He was an elderly man, dressed almost more than well, for there was about him a slight affectation of dandyism; and though he had for the moment been abashed, there was about him also a slight swagger. "Good morning, ladies," he said, re-entering again, and bowing to young Herbert, who stood looking at him; "I believe Sir Thomas is at home; would you send your servant in to say that a gentleman wants to see him for a minute or so, on very particular business? I am a little in a hurry like."
The door of the drawing-room was ajar, so that Lady Fitzgerald, who was sitting there tranquilly in her own seat, could hear the voice. And she did hear it, and knew that some stranger had come to trouble her husband. But she did not come forth; why should she? was not Herbert there--if, indeed, even Herbert could be of any service?
"Shall I take your card in to Sir Thomas, sir?" said one of the servants, coming forward.
"Card!" said Mollett senior out loud; "well, if it is necessary, I believe I have a card." And he took from his pocket a greasy pocket-book, and extracted from it a piece of pasteboard on which his name was written. "There; give that to Sir Thomas. I don't think there's much doubt but that he'll see me." And then, uninvited, he sat himself down in one of the hall chairs.
Sir Thomas's study, the room in which he himself sat, and in which indeed he might almost be said to live at present,--for on many days he only came out to dine, and then again to go to bed,--was at some little distance to the back of the house, and was approached by a passage from the hall. While the servant was gone, the ladies finished their wrapping, and got up on the car.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald," said Clara, laughing, "I shan't be able to breathe with all that on me."
"Look at Mary and Emmeline," said he; "they have got twice as much. You don't know how cold it is."
"You had better have the fur close to your body," said Aunt Letty; "look here;" and she showed that her gloves were lined with fur, and her boots, and that she had gotten some nondescript furry article of attire stuck in underneath the body of her dress.
"But you must let me have them a little looser, Mr. Fitzgerald," said Clara; "there, that will do," and then they all got upon the car and started. Herbert was perhaps two minutes after them before he mounted; but when he left the hall the man was still sitting there; for the servant had not yet come back from his father's room.
But the clatter of his horse's hoofs was still distinct enough at the hall door when the servant did come back, and in a serious tone desired the stranger to follow him. "Sir Thomas will see you," said the servant, putting some stress on the word will.
"Oh, I did not doubt that the least in the world," said Mr. Mollett, as he followed the man along the passage.
The morning was very cold. There had been rainy weather, but it now appeared to be a settled frost. The roads were rough and hard, and the man who was driving them said a word now and again to his young master as to the expediency of getting frost nails put into the horse's shoes. "I'd better go gently, Mr. Herbert; it may be he might come down at some of these pitches." So they did go gently, and at last arrived safely at Berryhill.
And very busy they were there all day. The inspection of the site for the mill was not their only employment. Here also was an establishment for distributing food, and a crowd of poor half-fed wretches were there to meet them. Not that at that time things were so bad as they became afterwards. Men were not dying on the road-side, nor as yet had the apathy of want produced its terrible cure for the agony of hunger. The time had not yet come when the famished living skeletons might be seen to reject the food which could no longer serve to prolong their lives.
Though this had not come as yet, the complaints of the women with their throngs of children were bitter enough; and it was heart-breaking too to hear the men declare that they had worked like horses, and that it was hard upon them now to see their children starve like dogs. For in this earlier part of the famine the people did not seem to realize the fact that this scarcity and want had come from God. Though they saw the potatoes rotting in their own gardens, under their own eyes, they still seemed to think that the rich men of the land could stay the famine if they would; that the fault was with them; that the famine could be put down if the rich would but stir themselves to do it. Before it was over they were well aware that no human power could suffice to put it down. Nay, more than that; they had almost begun to doubt the power of God to bring back better days.
They strove, and toiled, and planned, and hoped at Berryhill that day. And infinite was the good that was done by such efforts as these. That they could not hinder God's work we all know; but much they did do to lessen the sufferings around, and many were the lives that were thus saved.
They were all standing behind the counter of a small store that had been hired in the village--the three girls at least, for Aunt Letty had already gone to the glebe, and Herbert was still down at the "water privilege," talking to a millwright and a carpenter. This was a place at which Indian corn flour, that which after a while was generally termed "meal" in those famine days, was sold to the poor. At this period much of it was absolutely given away. This plan, however, was soon found to be injurious, for hundreds would get it who were not absolutely in want, and would then sell it;--for the famine by no means improved the morals of the people.
And therefore it was found better to sell the flour; to sell it at a cheap rate, considerably less sometimes than the cost price, and to put the means of buying it into the hands of the people by giving them work, and paying them wages. Towards the end of these times, when the full weight of the blow was understood, and the subject had been in some sort studied, the general rule was thus to sell the meal at its true price, hindering the exorbitant profit of hucksters by the use of large stores, and to require that all those who could not buy it should seek the means of living within the walls of workhouses. The regular established workhouses,--unions as they were called,--were not as yet numerous, but supernumerary houses were provided in every town, and were crowded from the cellars to the roofs.
It need hardly be explained that no general rule could be established and acted upon at once. The numbers to be dealt with were so great, that the exceptions to all rules were overwhelming. But such and such like were the efforts made, and these efforts ultimately were successful.
The three girls were standing behind the counter of a little store which Sir Thomas had hired at Berryhill, when a woman came into the place with two children in her arms and followed by four others of different ages. She was a gaunt tall creature, with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes, and her clothes hung about her in unintelligible rags. There was a crowd before the counter, for those who had been answered or served stood staring at the three ladies, and could hardly be got to go away; but this woman pressed her way through, pushing some and using harsh language to others, till she stood immediately opposite to Clara.
"Look at that, madam," she cried, undoing an old handkerchief which
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