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- Castle Richmond - 30/114 -


"I have accepted him, mamma; that is, of course, if you do not object."

"My own, own child!" said the countess, seizing her daughter in her arms, and pressing her to her bosom. And in truth Clara was, now probably for the first time, her own heart's daughter. Her son, though he was but a poor earl, was Earl of Desmond. He too, though in truth but a poor earl, was not absolutely destitute,--would in truth be blessed with a fair future. But Lady Clara had hitherto been felt only as a weight. She had been born poor as poverty itself, and hitherto had shown so little disposition to find for herself a remedy for this crushing evil! But now--now matters were indeed changed. She had obtained for herself the best match in the whole country round, and, in doing so, had sacrificed her heart's young love. Was she not entitled to all a mother's tenderness? Who knew, who could know the miseries of poverty so well as the Countess of Desmond? Who then could feel so much gratitude to a child for prudently escaping from them? Lady Desmond did feel grateful to her daughter.

"My own, own child; my happy girl," she repeated. "He is a man to whom any mother in all the land would be proud to see her daughter married. Never, never did I see a young man so perfectly worthy of a girl's love. He is so thoroughly well educated, so thoroughly well conducted, so good-looking, so warm-hearted, so advantageously situated in all his circumstances. Of course he will go into Parliament, and then any course is open to him. The property is, I believe, wholly unembarrassed, and there are no younger brothers. You may say that the place is his own already, for old Sir Thomas is almost nobody. I do wish you joy, my own dearest, dearest Clara!" After which burst of maternal eloquence, the countess pressed her lips to those of her child, and gave her a mother's warmest kiss.

Clara was conscious that she was thoroughly dissatisfied with her mother, but she could not exactly say why it was so. She did return her mother's kiss, but she did it coldly, and with lips that were not eager.

"I'm glad you think that I have done right, mamma."

"Right, my love! Of course I think that you have done right: only I give you no credit, dearest; none in the least; for how could you help loving one so lovable in every way as dear Herbert?"

"Credit! no, there is no credit," she said, not choosing to share her mother's pleasantry.

"But there is this credit. Had you not been one of the sweetest girls that ever was born, he would not have loved you."

"He has loved me because there was no one else here," said Clara.

"Nonsense! No one else here, indeed! Has he not the power if he pleases to go and choose whomever he will in all London. Had he been mercenary, and wanted money," said the countess, in a tone which showed how thoroughly she despised any such vice, "he might have had what he would. But then he could not have had my Clara. But he has looked for beauty and manners and high-bred tastes, and an affectionate heart; and, in my opinion, he could not have been more successful in his search." After which second burst of eloquence, she again kissed her daughter.

'Twas thus, at that moment, that she congratulated the wife of the future Sir Herbert Fitzgerald; and then she allowed Clara to go up to her own room, there to meditate quietly on what she had done, and on that which she was about to do. But late in the evening, Lady Desmond, whose mind was thoroughly full of the subject, again broke out into triumph.

"You must write to Patrick to-morrow, Clara. He must hear the good news from no one but yourself."

"Had we not better wait a little, mamma?"

"Why, my love? You hardly know how anxious your brother is for your welfare."

"I knew it was right to tell you, mamma--"

"Right to tell me! of course it was. You could not have had the heart to keep it from me for half a day."

"But perhaps it may be better not to mention it further till we know--"

"Till we know what?" said the countess, with a look of fear about her brow.

"Whether Sir Thomas and Lady Fitzgerald will wish it. If they object--"

"Object! why should they object? how can they object? They are not mercenary people; and you are an earl's daughter. And Herbert is not like a girl. The property is his own, entailed on him, and he may do as he pleases."

"In such a matter I am sure he would not wish to displease either his father or his mother."

"Nonsense, my dear; quite nonsense; you do not at all see the difference between a young man and a girl. He has a right to do exactly as he likes in such a matter. But I am quite sure that they will not object. Why should they? How can they?"

"Mr. Fitzgerald says that they will not," Clara admitted, almost grudgingly.

"Of course they will not. I don't suppose they could bring themselves to object to anything he might suggest. I never knew a young man so happily situated in this respect. He is quite a free agent. I don't think they would say much to him if he insisted on marrying the cook-maid. Indeed, it seems to me that his word is quite paramount at Castle Richmond."

"All the same, mamma, I would rather not write to Patrick till something more has been settled."

"You are wrong there, Clara. If anything disagreeable should happen, which is quite impossible, it would be absolutely necessary that your brother should know. Believe me, my love, I only advise you for your own good."

"But Mr. Fitzgerald will probably be here to-morrow; or if not to-morrow, next day."

"I have no doubt he will, love. But why do you call him Mr. Fitzgerald? You were calling him Herbert the other day. Don't you remember how I scolded you? I should not scold you now."

Clara made no answer to this, and then the subject was allowed to rest for that night. She would call him Herbert, she said to herself; but not to her mother. She would keep the use of that name till she could talk with Emmeline as a sister. Of all her anticipated pleasures, that of having now a real sister was perhaps the greatest; or, rather, that of being able to talk about Herbert with one whom she could love and treat as a sister. But Herbert himself would exact the use of his own Christian name, for the delight of his own ears; that was a matter of course; that, doubtless, had been already done.

And then mother and daughter went to bed. The countess, as she did so, was certainly happy to her heart's core. Could it be that she had some hope, unrecognized by herself, that Owen Fitzgerald might now once more be welcomed at Desmond Court? that something might now be done to rescue him from that slough of despond?

And Clara too was happy, though her happiness was mixed. She did love Herbert Fitzgerald. She was sure of that. She said so to herself over and over again. Love him! of course she loved him, and would cherish him as her lord and husband to the last day of her life, the last gasp of her breath.

But still, as sleep came upon her eyelids, she saw in her memory the bright flash of that other lover's countenance, when he first astonished her with the avowal of his love, as he walked beside her under the elms, with his horse following at his heels.

CHAPTER XII

DOUBTS

I believe there is no period of life so happy as that in which a thriving lover leaves his mistress after his first success. His joy is more perfect then than at the absolute moment of his own eager vow, and her half-assenting blushes. Then he is thinking mostly of her, and is to a certain degree embarrassed by the effort necessary for success. But when the promise has once been given to him, and he is able to escape into the domain of his own heart, he is as a conqueror who has mastered half a continent by his own strategy.

It never occurs to him, he hardly believes, that his success is no more than that which is the ordinary lot of mortal man. He never reflects that all the old married fogies whom he knows and despises, have just as much ground for pride, if such pride were enduring; that every fat, silent, dull, somnolent old lady whom he sees and quizzes, has at some period been deemed as worthy a prize as his priceless galleon; and so deemed by as bold a captor as himself.

Some one has said that every young mother, when her first child is born, regards the babe as the most wonderful production of that description which the world has yet seen. And this too is true. But I doubt even whether that conviction is so strong as the conviction of the young successful lover, that he has achieved a triumph which should ennoble him down to late generations. As he goes along he has a contempt for other men; for they know nothing of such glory as his. As he pores over his "Blackstone," he remembers that he does so, not so much that he may acquire law, as that he may acquire Fanny; and then all other porers over "Blackstone" are low and mean in his sight--are mercenary in their views and unfortunate in their ideas, for they have no Fanny in view.


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