It had been Clara Desmond's first ball, and on the following
morning she had much to occupy her thoughts. In the first place,
had she been pleased or had she not? Had she been most gratified or
Girls when they ask themselves such questions seldom give
themselves fair answers. She had liked dancing with Owen
Fitzgerald; oh, so much! She had liked dancing with others too,
though she had not known them, and had hardly spoken to them. The
mere act of dancing, with the loud music in the room, and the gay
dresses and bright lights around her, had been delightful. But then
it had pained her—she knew not why, but it had pained her—when her
mother told her that people would make remarks about her. Had she
done anything improper on this her first entry into the world? Was
her conduct to be scanned, and judged, and condemned, while she was
flattering herself that no one had noticed her but him who was
speaking to her?
Their breakfast was late, and the countess sat, as was her wont,
with her book beside her teacup, speaking a word every now and
again to her son.
"Owen will be over here to-day," said he. "We are going to have
a schooling match down on the Callows." Now in Ireland a schooling
match means the amusement of teaching your horses to jump.
"Will he?" said Lady Desmond, looking up from her book for a
moment. "Mind you bring him in to lunch; I want to speak to
"He doesn't care much about lunch, I fancy," said he; "and,
maybe, we shall be halfway to Millstreet by that time."
"Never mind, but do as I tell you. You expect everybody to be as
wild and wayward as yourself." And the countess smiled on her son
in a manner which showed that she was proud even of his wildness
and his waywardness.
Clara had felt that she blushed when she heard that Mr.
Fitzgerald was to be there that morning. She felt that her own
manner became constrained, and was afraid that her mother should
look at her. Owen had said nothing to her about love; and she,
child as she was, had thought nothing about love. But she was
conscious of something, she knew not what. He had touched her hand
during those dances as it had never been touched before; he had
looked into her eyes, and her eyes had fallen before his glance; he
had pressed her waist, and she had felt that there was tenderness
in the pressure. So she blushed, and almost trembled, when she
heard that he was coming, and was glad in her heart when she found
that there was neither anger nor sunshine in her mother's face.
Not long after breakfast, the earl went out on his horse, and
met Owen at some gate or back entrance. In his opinion the old
house was stupid, and the women in it were stupid companions in the
morning. His heart for the moment was engaged on the thought of
making his animal take the most impracticable leaps which he could
find, and it did not occur to him at first to give his mother's
message to his companion. As for lunch, they would get a biscuit
and glass of cherry-brandy at Wat M'Carthy's, of Drumban; and as
for his mother having anything to say, that of course went for
Owen would have been glad to have gone up to the house, but in
that he was frustrated by the earl's sharpness in catching him. His
next hope was to get through the promised lesson in horse-leaping
as quickly as possible, so that he might return to Desmond Court,
and take his chance of meeting Clara. But in this he found the earl
very difficult to manage.
"Oh, Owen, we won't go there," he said, when Fitzgerald proposed
a canter through some meadows down by the river-side. "There are
only a few gripes"—Irish for small ditches—"and I have ridden
Fireball over them a score of times. I want you to come away
"Drumban! why, Drumban's seven miles from here."
"What matter? Besides, it's not six the way I'll take you. I
want to see Wat M'Carthy especially. He has a litter of puppies
there out of that black bitch of his, and I mean to make him give
me one of them."
But on that morning, Owen Fitzgerald would not allow himself to
be taken so far a-field as Drumban, even on a mission so important
as this. The young lord fought the matter stoutly; but it ended by
his being forced to content himself with picking out all the most
dangerous parts of the fences in the river meadows.
"Why, you've hardly tried your own mare at all," said the lad,
"I'm going to hunt her on Saturday," said Owen; "and she'll have
quite enough to do then."
"Well, you're very slow to-day. You're done up with the dancing,
I think. And what do you mean to do now?"
"I'll go home with you, I think, and pay my respects to the
"By-the-by, I was to bring you in to lunch. She said she wanted
to see you. By jingo, I forgot all about it! But you've all become
very stupid among you, I know that." And so they rode back to
Desmond Court, entering the demesne by one of the straight, dull,
level roads which led up to the house.
But it did not suit the earl to ride on the road while the grass
was so near him; so they turned off with a curve across what was
called the park, thus prolonging their return by about double the
As they were cantering on, Owen saw her of whom he was in quest
walking in the road which they had left. His best chance of seeing
her alone had been that of finding her outside the house. He knew
that the countess rarely or never walked with her daughter, and
that, as the governess was gone, Clara was driven to walk by
"Desmond," he said, pulling up his horse, "do you go on and tell
your mother that I will be with her almost immediately."
"Why, where are you off to now?"
"There is your sister, and I must ask her how she is after the
ball;" and so saying he trotted back in the direction of the
Lady Clara had seen them; and though she had hardly turned her
head, she had seen also how suddenly Mr. Fitzgerald had stopped his
horse, and turned his course when he perceived her. At the first
moment she had been almost angry with him for riding away from her,
and now she felt almost angry with him because he did not do
He slackened his pace as he came near her, and approached her at
a walk. There was very little of the faint heart about Owen
Fitzgerald at any time, or in anything that he attempted. He had
now made up his mind fairly to tell Clara Desmond that he loved
her, and to ask for her love in return. He had resolved to do so,
and there was very little doubt but that he would carry out his
resolution. But he had in nowise made up his mind how he should do
it, or what his words should be. And now that he saw her so near
him he wanted a moment to collect his thoughts.
He took off his hat as he rode up, and asked her whether she was
tired after the ball; and then dismounting, he left his mare to
follow as she pleased.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald, won't she run away?" said Clara, as she
gave him her hand.
"Oh no; she has been taught better than that. But you don't tell
me how you are. I thought you were tired last night when I saw that
you had altogether given over dancing." And then he walked on
beside her, and the docile mare followed them like a dog.
"No, I was not tired; at least, not exactly," said Clara,
blushing again and again, being conscious that she blushed.
"But—but—you know it was the first ball I was ever at."
"That is just the reason why you should have enjoyed it the
more, instead of sitting down as you did, and being dull and
unhappy. For I know you were unhappy; I could see it."
"Was I?" said Clara, not knowing what else to say.
"Yes; and I'll tell you what. I could see more than that; it was
I that made you unhappy."
"You, Mr. Fitzgerald!"
"Yes, I. You will not deny it, because you are so true. I asked
you to dance with me too often. And because you refused me, you did
not like to dance with any one else. I saw it all. Will you deny
that it was so?"
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald!" Poor girl! She did not know what to say;
how to shape her speech into indifference; how to assure him that
he made himself out to be of too much consequence by far; how to
make it plain that she had not danced because there was no one
there worth dancing with. Had she been out for a year or two,
instead of being such a novice, she would have accomplished all
this in half a dozen words. As it was, her tell-tale face confessed
it all, and she was only able to ejaculate, "Oh, Mr.
"When I went there last night," he continued, "I had only one
wish—one hope. That was, to see you pleased and happy. I knew it
was your first ball, and I did so long to see you enjoy it."
"And so I did, till—"
"Till what? Will you not let me ask?"
"Mamma said something to me, and that stopped me from
"She told you not to dance with me. Was that it?"
How was it possible that she should have had a chance with him;
innocent, young, and ignorant as she was? She did not tell him in
words that so it had been; but she looked into his face with a
glance of doubt and pain that answered his question as plainly as
any words could have done.
"Of course she did; and it was I that destroyed it all. I that
should have been satisfied to stand still and see you happy. How
you must have hated me!"
"Oh no; indeed I did not. I was not at all angry with you.
Indeed, why should I have been? It was so kind of you, wishing to
dance with me."
"No; it was selfish—selfish in the extreme. Nothing but one
thing could excuse me, and that excuse—"
"I'm sure you don't want any excuse, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"And that excuse, Clara, was this: that I love you with all my
heart. I had not strength to see you there, and not long to have
you near me—not begrudge that you should dance with another. I love
you with all my heart and soul. There, Lady Clara, now you know it
The manner in which he made his declaration to her was almost
fierce in its energy. He had stopped in the pathway, and she,
unconscious of what she was doing, almost unconscious of what she
was hearing, had stopped also. The mare, taking advantage of the
occasion, was cropping the grass close to them. And so, for a few
seconds, they stood in silence.
"Am I so bold, Lady Clara," said he, when those few seconds had
gone by—"Am I so bold that I may hope for no answer?" But still she
said nothing. In lieu of speaking she uttered a long sigh; and then
Fitzgerald could bear that she was sobbing.
"Oh, Clara, I love you so fondly, so dearly, so truly!" said he
in an altered voice and with sweet tenderness. "I know my own
presumption in thus speaking. I know and feel bitterly the
difference in our rank."
"I—care—nothing—for rank," said the poor girl, sobbing through
her tears. He was generous, and she at any rate would not be less
so. No; at that moment, with her scanty seventeen years of
experience, with her ignorance of all that the world had in it of
grand and great, of high and rich, she did care nothing for rank.
That Owen Fitzgerald was a gentleman of good lineage, fit to mate
with a lady, that she did know; for her mother, who was a proud
woman, delighted to have him in her presence. Beyond this she cared
for none of the conventionalities of life. Rank! If she waited for
rank, where was she to look for friends who would love her? Earls
and countesses, barons and their baronesses, were scarce there
where fate had placed her, under the shadow of the bleak mountains
of Muskerry. Her want, her undefined want, was that some one should
love her. Of all men and women whom she had hitherto known, this
Owen Fitzgerald was the brightest, the kindest, the gentlest in his
manner, the most pleasant to look on. And now he was there at her
feet, swearing that he loved her;—and then drawing back as it were
in dread of her rank. What did she care for rank?
"Clara, Clara, my Clara! Can you learn to love me?"
She had made her one little effort at speaking when she
attempted to repudiate the pedestal on which he affected to place
her; but after that she could for a while say no more. But she
still sobbed, and still kept her eyes fixed upon the ground.
"Clara, say one word to me. Say that you do not hate me." But
just at that moment she had not one word to say.
"If you will bid me do so, I will leave this country altogether.
I will go away, and I shall not much care whither. I can only stay
now on condition of your loving me. I have thought of this day for
the last year past, and now it has come."
Every word that he now spoke was gospel to her. Is it not always
so,—should it not be so always, when love first speaks to loving
ears? What! he had loved her for that whole twelve-month that she
had known him; loved her in those days when she had been wont to
look up into his face, wondering why he was so nice, so much nicer
than any one else that came near her! A year was a great deal to
her; and had he loved her through all those days? and after that
should she banish him from her house, turn him away from his home,
and drive him forth unhappy and wretched? Ah, no! She could not be
so unkind to him;—she could not be so unkind to her own heart. But
still she sobbed; and still she said nothing.
In the mean time they had turned, and were now walking back
towards the house, the gentle-natured mare still following at their
heels. They were walking slowly—very slowly back—just creeping
along the path, when they saw Lady Desmond and her son coming to
meet them on the road.
"There is your mother, Clara. Say one word to me before we meet
"Oh, Mr. Fitzgerald; I am so frightened. What will mamma
"Say about what? As yet I do not know what she may have to say.
But before we meet her, may I not hope to know what her daughter
will say? Answer me this, Clara. Can you, will you love me?"
There was still a pause, a moment's pause, and then some sound
did fall from her lips. But yet it was so soft, so gentle, so
slight, that it could hardly be said to reach even a lover's ear.
Fitzgerald, however, made the most of it. Whether it were Yes, or
whether it were No, he took it as being favourable, and Lady Clara
Desmond gave him no sign to show that he was mistaken.
"My own, own, only loved one," he said. embracing her, as it
were, with his words, since the presence of her approaching mother
forbade him even to take her hand in his, "I am happy now, whatever
may occur; whatever others may say; for I know that you will be
true to me. And remember this—whatever others may say, I also will
be true to you. You will think of that, will you not, love?"
This time she did answer him, almost audibly. "Yes," she said.
And then she devoted herself to a vain endeavour to remove the
traces of her tears before her mother should be close to them.
Fitzgerald at once saw that such endeavour must be vain. At one
time he had thought of turning away, and pretending that they had
not seen the countess. But he knew that Clara would not be able to
carry out any such pretence; and he reflected also that it might be
just as well that Lady Desmond should know the whole at once. That
she would know it, and know it soon, he was quite sure. She could
learn it not only from Clara, but from himself. He could not now be
there at the house without showing that he both loved and knew that
he was beloved. And then why should Lady Desmond not know it? Why
should he think that she would set herself against the match? He
had certainly spoken to Clara of the difference in their rank; but,
after all, it was no uncommon thing for an earl's daughter to marry
a commoner. And in this case the earl's daughter was portionless,
and the lover desired no portion. Owen Fitzgerald at any rate might
boast that he was true and generous in his love.
So he plucked up his courage, and walked on with a smiling face
to meet Lady Desmond and her son; while poor Clara crept beside him
with eyes downcast, and in an agony of terror.
Lady Desmond had not left the house with any apprehension that
there was aught amiss. Her son had told her that Owen had gone off
"to do the civil to Clara;" and as he did not come to the house
within some twenty minutes after this, she had proposed that they
would go and meet him.
"Did you tell him that I wanted him?" said the countess.
"Oh yes, I did; and he is coming, only he would go away to
"Then I shall scold him for his want of gallantry," said Lady
Desmond, laughing, as they walked out together from beneath the
But as soon as she was near enough to see the manner of their
gait, as they slowly came towards her, her woman's tact told her
that something was wrong;—and whispered to her also what might too
probably be the nature of that something. Could it be possible, she
asked herself, that such a man as Owen Fitzgerald should fall in
love with such a girl as her daughter Clara?
"What shall I say to mamma?" whispered Clara to him, as they all
drew near together.
"Tell her everything."
"I will take him off with me if I can." And then they were all
together, standing in the road.
"I was coming to obey your behests, Lady Desmond," said
Fitzgerald, trying to look and speak as though he were at his
"Coming rather tardily, I think," said her ladyship, not
"I told him you wanted him, as we were crossing to the house,"
said the earl. "Didn't I, Owen?"
"Is anything the matter with Clara?" said Lady Desmond, looking
at her daughter.
"No, mamma," said Clara; and she instantly began to sob and
"What is it, sir?" And as she asked she turned to Fitzgerald;
and her manner now at least had in it nothing playful.
"Lady Clara is nervous and hysterical. The excitement of the
ball has perhaps been too much for her. I think, Lady Desmond, if
you were to take her in with you it would be well."
Lady Desmond looked up at him; and he then saw, for the first
time, that she could if she pleased look very stern. Hitherto her
face had always worn smiles, had at any rate always been pleasing
when he had seen it. He had never been intimate with her, never
intimate enough to care what her face was like, till that day when
he had carried her son up from the hall door to his room. Then her
countenance had been all anxiety for her darling; and afterwards it
had been all sweetness for her darling's friend. From that day to
this present one, Lady Desmond had ever given him her sweetest
But Fitzgerald was not a man to be cowed by any woman's looks.
He met hers by a full, front face in return. He did not allow his
eye for a moment to fall before hers. And yet he did not look at
her haughtily, or with defiance, but with an aspect which showed
that he was ashamed of nothing that he had done,—whether he had
done anything that he ought to be ashamed of or no.
"Clara," said the countess, in a voice which fell with awful
severity on the poor girl's ears, "you had better return to the
house with me."
"And shall I wait on you to-morrow, Lady Desmond?" said
Fitzgerald, in a tone which seemed to the countess to be, in the
present state of affairs, almost impertinent. The man had certainly
been misbehaving himself, and yet there was not about him the
slightest symptom of shame.
"Yes; no," said the countess. "That is, I will write a note to
you if it be necessary. Good morning."
"Good-bye, Lady Desmond," said Owen. And as he took off his hat
with his left hand, he put out his right to shake hands with her,
as was customary with him. Lady Desmond was at first inclined to
refuse the courtesy; but she either thought better of such
intention, or else she had not courage to maintain it; for at
parting she did give him her hand.
"Good-bye, Lady Clara;" and he also shook hands with her, and it
need hardly be said that there was a lover's pressure in the
"Good-bye," said Clara, through her tears, in the saddest,
soberest tone. He was going away, happy, light-hearted, with
nothing to trouble him. But she had to encounter that fearful task
of telling her own crime. She had to depart with her mother;—her
mother, who, though never absolutely unkind, had so rarely been
tender with her. And then her brother—!
"Desmond," said Fitzgerald, "walk as far as the lodge with me
like a good fellow. I have something that I want to say to
The mother thought for a moment that she would call her son
back; but then she bethought herself that she also might as well be
without him. So the young earl, showing plainly by his eyes that he
knew that much was the matter, went back with Fitzgerald towards
"What is it you have done now?" said the earl. The boy had some
sort of an idea that the offence committed was with reference to
his sister; and his tone was hardly as gracious as was usual with
This want of kindliness at the present moment grated on Owen's
ears; but he resolved at once to tell the whole story out, and then
leave it to the earl to take it in dudgeon or in brotherly
friendship as he might please.
"Desmond," said he, "can you not guess what has passed between
me and your sister?"
"I am not good at guessing," he answered, brusquely.
"I have told her that I loved her, and would have her for my
wife; and I have asked her to love me in return."
There was an open manliness about this which almost disarmed the
earl's anger. He had felt a strong attachment to Fitzgerald, and
was very unwilling to give up his friendship; but, nevertheless, he
had an idea that it was presumption on the part of Mr. Fitzgerald
of Hap House to look up to his sister. Between himself and Owen the
earl's coronet never weighed a feather; he could not have abandoned
his boy's heart to the man's fellowship more thoroughly had that
man been an earl as well as himself. But he could not get over the
feeling that Fitzgerald's worldly position was beneath that of his
sister;—that such a marriage on his sister's part would be a
mesalliance. Doubting, therefore, and in some sort dismayed—and in
some sort also angry—he did not at once give any reply.
"Well, Desmond, what have you to say to it? You are the head of
her family, and young as you are, it is right that I should tell
"Tell me! of course you ought to tell me. I don't see what
youngness has to do with it. What did she say?"
"Well, she said but little; and a man should never boast that a
lady has favoured him. But she did not reject me." He paused a
moment, and then added, "After all, honesty and truth are the best.
I have reason to think that she loves me."
The poor young lord felt that he had a double duty, and hardly
knew how to perform it. He owed a duty to his sister which was
paramount to all others; but then he owed a duty also to the friend
who had been so kind to him. He did not know how to turn round upon
him and tell him that he was not fit to marry his sister.
"And what do you say to it, Desmond?"
"I hardly know what to say. It would be a very bad match for
her. You, you know, are a capital fellow; the best fellow going.
There is nobody about anywhere that I like so much."
"In thinking of your sister, you should put that out of the
"Yes; that's just it. I like you for a friend better than any
one else. But Clara ought—ought—ought—"
"Ought to look higher, you would say."
"Yes; that's just what I mean. I don't want to offend you, you
"Desmond, my boy, I like you the better for it. You are a fine
fellow, and I thoroughly respect you. But let us talk sensibly
about this. Though your sister's rank is high—"
"Oh, I don't want to talk about rank. That's all bosh, and I
don't care about it. But Hap House is a small place, and Clara
wouldn't be doing well; and what's more, I am quite sure the
countess will not hear of it."
"You won't approve, then?"
"No, I can't say I will."
"Well, that is honest of you. I am very glad that I have told
you at once. Clara will tell her mother, and at any rate there will
be no secrets. Good-bye, old fellow."
"Good-bye," said the earl. Then they shook hands, and Fitzgerald
rode off towards Hap House. Lord Desmond pondered over the matter
some time, standing alone near the lodge; and then walked slowly
back towards the mansion. He had said that rank was all bosh; and
in so saying had at the moment spoken out generously the feelings
of his heart. But that feeling regarded himself rather than his
sister; and if properly analyzed would merely have signified that,
though proud enough of his own rank, he did not require that his
friends should be of the same standing. But as regarded his sister,
he certainly would not be well pleased to see her marry a small
squire with a small income.