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"And why not, Lady Clara? Why is love to cease on your part--to be thrown aside so easily by you, while with me it remains so stern a fact, and so deep a necessity? Is that just? When the bargain has once been made, should it not be equally binding on us both?"
"I do not think you are fair to me, Mr. Fitzgerald," she said; and some spirit was now rising in her bosom.
"Not fair to you? Do you say that I am unfair to you? Speak but one word to say that the troth which you pledged me a year since shall still remain unbroken, and I will at once leave you till you yourself shall name the time when my suit may be renewed."
"You know that I cannot do that."
"And why not? I know that you ought to do it."
"No, Mr. Fitzgerald, I ought not. I am now engaged to your cousin, with the consent of mamma and of his friends. I can say nothing to you now which I cannot repeat to him; nor can I say anything which shall oppose his wishes."
"He is, then, so much more to you now than I am?"
"He is everything to me now."
"That is all the reply I am to get, then! You acknowledge your falseness, and throw me off without vouchsafing me any answer beyond this."
"What would you have me say? I did do that which was wrong and foolish, when--when we were walking there on the avenue. I did give a promise which I cannot now keep. It was all so hurried that I hardly remember what I said. But of this I am sure, that if I have caused you unhappiness, I am very sorry to have done so. I cannot alter it all now; I cannot unsay what I said then, nor can I offer yon that which I have now absolutely given to another."
And then, as she finished speaking, she did pluck up courage to look him in the face. She was now standing as well as he; but she was so standing that the table, which was placed near the sofa, was still between him and her. As she finished speaking the door opened, and the Countess of Desmond walked slowly into the room.
Owen Fitzgerald, when he saw her, bowed low before her, and then frankly offered her his hand. There was something in his manner to ladies devoid of all bashfulness, and yet never too bold. He seemed to be aware that in speaking to any lady, be she who she might, he was only exercising his undoubted privilege as a man. He never hummed and hawed and shook in his shoes as though the majesty of womanhood were too great for his encounter. There are such men, and many of them, who carry this dread to the last day of their long lives. I have often wondered what women think of men who regard women as too awful for the free exercise of open speech.
"Mr. Fitzgerald," she said accepting the hand which he offered to her, but resuming her own very quickly, and then standing before him in all the dignity which she was able to assume, "I quite concurred with my daughter that it was right that she should see you, as you insisted on such an interview, but you must excuse me if I interrupt it. I must protect her from the embarrassment which your--your vehemence may occasion her."
"Lady Desmond," he replied, "you are quite at liberty, as far as I am concerned, to hear all that passes between us. Your daughter is betrothed to me, and I have come to claim from her the fulfilment of her promise."
"For shame, Mr. Fitzgerald, for shame! When she was a child you extracted from her one word of folly; and now you would take advantage of that foolish word; now, when you know that she is engaged to a man she loves with the full consent of all her friends. I thought I knew you well enough to feel sure that you were not so ungenerous."
"Ungenerous! no; I have not that generosity which would enable me to give up my very heart's blood, the only joy of my soul, to such a one as my cousin Herbert."
"You have nothing to give up, Mr. Fitzgerald: you must have known from the very first that my daughter could not marry you--"
"Not marry me! And why not, Lady Desmond? Is not my blood as good as his?--unless, indeed, you are prepared to sell your child to the highest bidder!"
"Clara, my dear, I think you had better leave the room," said the countess; "no doubt you have assured Mr. Fitzgerald that you are engaged to his cousin Herbert."
"Then he can have no further claim on your attendance, and his vehemence will terrify you."
"Vehement! how can I help being vehement when, like a ruined gambler, I am throwing my last chance for such a stake?"
And then he intercepted Clara as she stepped towards the drawing-room door. She stopped in her course, and stood still, looking down upon the ground.
"Mr. Fitzgerald," said the countess, "I will thank you to let Lady Clara leave the room. She has given you the answer for which you have asked, and it would not be right in me to permit her to be subjected to further embarrassment."
"I will only ask her to listen to one word. Clara--"
"Mr. Fitzgerald, you have no right to address my daughter with that freedom," said the countess; but Owen hardly seemed to hear her.
"I here, in your hearing, protest against your marriage with Herbert Fitzgerald. I claim your love as my own. I bid you think of the promise which you gave me; and I tell you that as I loved you then with all my heart, so do I love you at this moment; so shall I love you always. Now I will not hinder you any longer."
And then he opened the door for her, and she passed on, bowing to him, and muttering some word of farewell that was inaudible.
He stood for a moment with the door in his hand, meditating whether he might not say good morning to the countess without returning into the room; but as he so stood she called him. "Mr. Fitzgerald," she said; and so he therefore came back, and once more closed the door.
And then he saw that the countenance of Lady Desmond was much changed. Hitherto she had been every inch the countess, stern and cold and haughty; but now she looked at him as she used to look in those old winter evenings when they were accustomed to talk together over the evening fire in close friendliness, while she, Lady Desmond, would speak to him in the intimacy of her heart of her children, Patrick ad Clara.
"Mr. Fitzgerald," she said, and the tone of her voice also was changed. "You are hardly fair to us; are you?"
"Not fair, Lady Desmond?"
"No, not fair. Sit down now, and listen to me for a moment. If you had a child, a penniless girl like Clara, would you be glad to see her married to such a one as you are yourself?"
"In what way do you mean? Speak out, Lady Desmond."
"No; I will not speak out, for I would not hurt you. I myself am too fond of you--as an old friend, to wish to do so. That you may marry and live happily, live near us here, so that we may know you, I most heartily desire. But you cannot marry that child."
"And why not, if she loves me?"
"Nay, not even if she did. Wealth and position are necessary to the station in which she has been born. She is an earl's daughter, penniless as she is. I will have no secrets from you. As a mother, I could not give her to one whose career is such as yours. As the widow of an earl, I could not give her to one whose means of maintaining her are so small. If you will think of this, you will hardly be angry with me."
"Love is nothing, then?"
"Is all to be sacrificed to your love? Think of it, Mr. Fitzgerald, and let me have the happiness of knowing that you consent to this match."
"Never!" said he. "Never!" And so he left the room, without wishing her further farewell.
About a week after the last conversation that has been related as having taken place at the Kanturk Hotel, Mr. Mollett junior was on his way to Castle Richmond. He had on that occasion stated his intention of making such a journey with the view of "freshening the old gentleman up a bit;" and although his father did all in his power to prevent the journey, going so far on one occasion as to swear that if it was made he would throw over the game altogether, nevertheless Aby persevered.
"You may leave the boards whenever you like, governor," said Aby. "I know quite enough of the part to carry on the play."
"You think you do," said the father in his anger; "but you'll find yourself in the dark yet before you've done."
And then again he expostulated in a different tone. "You'll ruin it all, Aby; you will indeed; you don't know all the circumstances;
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