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right to claim that she should abide by her first acceptance? Could any one be found to justify the theory that a girl may throw over a poor lover because a rich lover comes in the way? Owen had his own ideas of right and wrong--ideas which were not without a basis of strong, rugged justice; and nothing could be more antagonistic to them than such a doctrine as this. And then he still believed in his heart that he was dearer to Clara than that other richer suitor. He heard of her from time to time, and those who had spoken to him had spoken of her as pining for love of him. In this there had been much of the flattery of servants, and something of the subservience of those about him who wished to stand well in his graces. But he had believed it. He was not a conceited man, nor even a vain man. He did not think himself more clever than his cousin; and as for personal appearance, it was a matter to which his thoughts never descended; but he had about him a self-dependence and assurance in his own manhood, which forbade him to doubt the love of one who had told him that she loved him.
And he did not believe in Herbert's love. His cousin was, as he thought, of a calibre too cold for love. That Clara was valued by him, Owen did not doubt--valued for her beauty, for her rank, for her grace and peerless manner; but what had such value as that to do with love? Would Herbert sacrifice everything for Clara Desmond? would he bid Pelion fall on Ossa? would he drink up Esil? All this would Owen do, and more; he would do more than any Laertes had ever dreamed. He would give up for now and for ever all title to those rich lands which made the Fitzgeralds of Castle Richmond the men of greatest mark in all their county.
And thus he fanned himself into a fury as he thought of his cousin's want of generosity. Herbert would be the heir, and because he was the heir he would be the favoured lover. But there might yet be time and opportunity; and at any rate Clara should not marry without knowing what was the whole truth. Herbert was ungenerous, but Clara still might be just. If not,--then, as he had said before, he would fight out the battle to the end as with an enemy.
Herbert, when he got on to his horse to ride home, was forced to acknowledge to himself that no good whatever had come from his visit to Hap House. Words had been spoken which might have been much better left unspoken. An angry man will often cling to his anger because his anger has been spoken; he will do evil because he has threatened evil, and is ashamed to be better than his words. And there was no comfort to be derived from those lavish promises made by Owen with regard to the property. To Herbert's mind they were mere moonshine--very graceful on the part of the maker, but meaning nothing. No one could have Castle Richmond but him who owned it legally. Owen Fitzgerald would become Sir Owen, and would, as a matter of course, be Sir Owen of Castle Richmond. There was no comfort on that score; and then, on that other score, there was so much discomfort. Of giving up his bride Herbert never for a moment thought; but he did think, with increasing annoyance, of the angry threats which had been pronounced against him.
When he rode into the stable-yard as was his wont, he found Richard waiting for him. This was not customary; as in these latter days Richard, though he always drove the car, as a sort of subsidiary coachman to the young ladies to whom the car was supposed to belong in fee, did not act as general groom. He had been promoted beyond this, and was a sort of hanger-on about the house, half indoor servant and half out, doing very much what he liked, and giving advice to everybody, from the cook downwards. He thanked God that he knew his place, he would often say; but nobody else knew it. Nevertheless, everybody liked him; even the poor housemaid whom he snubbed.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Herbert, looking at the man's sorrow-laden face.
'"Deed an' there is, Mr. Herbert; Sir Thomas is--"
"My father is not dead!" exclaimed Herbert.
"Oh no, Mr. Herbert; it's not so bad as that; but he is very failing,--very failing. My lady is with him now."
Herbert ran into the house, and at the bottom of the chief stairs he met one of his sisters, who had heard the steps of his horse.
"Oh, Herbert, I am so glad you have come!" said she. Her eyes and cheeks were red with tears, and her hand, as her brother took it, was cold and numbed.
"What is it, Mary? Is he worse?"
"Oh, so much worse. Mamma and Emmeline are there. He has asked for you three or four times, and always says that he is dying. I had better go up and say that you are here."
"And what does my mother think of it?"
"She has never left him, and therefore I cannot tell; but I know from her face that she thinks that he is--dying. Shall I go up, Herbert?" and so she went; and Herbert, following softly on his toes, stood in the corridor outside the bedroom-door, waiting till his arrival should have been announced. It was but a minute, and then his sister, returning to the door, summoned him to enter.
The room had been nearly darkened, but as there were no curtains to the bed, Herbert could see his mother's face as she knelt on a stool at the bedside. His father was turned away from him, and lay with his hand inside his wife's, and Emmeline was sitting on the foot of the bed, with her face between her hands, striving to stifle her sobs. "Here is Herbert now, dearest," said Lady Fitzgerald, with a low, soft voice, almost a whisper, yet clear enough to cause no effort in the hearing. "I knew that he would not be long." And Herbert, obeying the signal of his mother's eye, passed round to the other side of the bed.
"Father," said he, "are you not so well to-day?"
"My poor boy, my poor ruined boy!" said the dying man, hardly articulating the words as he dropped his wife's hand and took that of his son. Herbert found that it was wet, and clammy, and cold, and almost powerless in its feeble grasp.
"Dearest father, you are wrong if you let that trouble you; all that will never trouble me. Is it not well that a man should earn his own bread? Is it not the lot of all good men?" But still the old man murmured with his broken voice, "My poor boy, my poor boy!"
The hopes and aspirations of his eldest son are as the breath of his nostrils to an Englishman who has been born to land and fortune. What had not this poor man endured in order that his son might be Sir Herbert Fitzgerald of Castle Richmond? But this was no longer possible; and from the moment that this had been brought home to him, the father had felt that for him there was nothing left but to die. "My poor boy," he muttered, "tell me that you have forgiven me."
And then they all knelt round the bed and prayed with him; and afterwards they tried to comfort him, telling him how good he had been to them; and his wife whispered in his ear that if there had been fault, the fault was hers, but that her conscience told her that such fault had been forgiven; and while she said this she motioned the children away from him, and strove to make him understand that human misery could never kill the soul, and should never utterly depress the spirit. "Dearest love," she said, still whispering to him in her low, sweet voice--so dear to him, but utterly inaudible beyond--"if you would cease to accuse yourself so bitterly, you might yet be better, and remain with us to comfort us."
But the slender, half-knit man, whose arms are without muscles and whose back is without pith, will strive in vain to lift the weight which the brawny vigour of another tosses from the ground almost without an effort. It is with the mind and the spirit as with the body; only this, that the muscles of the body can be measured, but not so those of the spirit. Lady Fitzgerald was made of other stuff than Sir Thomas; and that which to her had cost an effort, but with an effort had been done surely, was to him as impossible as the labour of Hercules. "My poor boy, my poor ruined boy!" he still muttered, as she strove to comfort him.
"Mamma has sent for Mr. Townsend," Emmeline whispered to her brother, as they stood together in the bow of the window.
"And do you really think he is so bad as that?"
"I am sure that mamma does. I believe he had some sort of a fit before you came. At any rate, he did not speak for two hours."
"And was not Finucane here?" Finucane was the Mallow doctor.
"Yes; but he had left before papa became so much worse. Mamma has sent for him also."
But I do not know that it boots to dally longer in a dying chamber. It is an axiom of old that the stage curtain should be drawn before the inexorable one enters in upon his final work. Dr. Finucane did come, but his coming was all in vain. Sir Thomas had known that it was in vain, and so also had his patient wife. There was that mind diseased, towards the cure of which no Dr. Finucane could make any possible approach. And Mr. Townsend came also, let us hope not in vain; though the cure which he fain would have perfected can hardly be effected in such moments as those. Let us hope that it had been already effected. The only crying sin which we can lay to the charge of the dying man is that of which we have spoken; he had endeavoured by pensioning falsehood and fraud to preserve for his wife her name, and for his son that son's inheritance. Even over this, deep as it was, the recording angel may have dropped some cleansing tears of pity.
That night the poor man died, and the Fitzgeralds who sat in the chambers of Castle Richmond were no longer the owners of the mansion. There was no speech of Sir Herbert among the servants as there would have been had these tidings not have reached them. Dr. Finucane had remained in the house, and even he, in speaking of the son, had shown that he knew the story. They were strangers there now, as they all knew--intruders, as they would soon be considered in the house of their cousin Owen; or rather not their cousin. In that he was above them by right of his blood, they had no right to claim him as their relation.
It may be said that at such a moment all this should not have been thought of; but those who say so know little, as I imagine, of the true effect of sorrow. No wife and no children ever grieved more heartily for a father; but their grief was blacker and more gloomy in that they knew that they were outcasts in the world.
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