The Absentee, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 13.

Larry drove off at full gallop, and kept on at a good rate, till he got out of the great gate, and beyond the sight of the crowd: then, pulling up, he turned to Lord Colambre —“Plase your honour, I did not know nor guess ye was my lord, when I let you have the horses: did not know who you was from Adam, I’ll take my affidavit.”

“There’s no occasion,” said Lord Colambre; “I hope you don’t repent letting me have the horses, now you do know who I am?”

“Oh! not at all, sure: I’m as glad as the best horse ever I crossed, that your honour is my lord — but I was only telling your honour, that you might not be looking upon me as a timesarver.”

“I do not look upon you as a timesarver, Larry; but keep on, that time may serve me.”

In two words, he explained his cause of haste; and no sooner explained than understood. Larry thundered away through the town of Clonbrony, bending over his horses, plying the whip, and lending his very soul at every lash. With much difficulty, Lord Colambre stopped him at the end of the town, at the post-office. The post was gone out — gone a quarter of an hour.

“May be, we’ll overtake the mail,” said Larry: and, as he spoke, he slid down from his seat, and darted into the public-house, re-appearing, in a few moments, with a copper of ale and a horn in his hand: he and another man held open the horses’ mouths, and poured the ale through the horn down their throats.

“Now, they’ll go with spirit!”

And, with the hope of overtaking the mail, Larry made them go “for life or death,” as he said: but in vain! At the next stage, at his own inn-door, Larry roared for fresh horses till he, got them, harnessed them with his own hands, holding the six shilling piece, which Lord Colambre had given him, in his mouth, all the while: for he could not take time to put it into his pocket.

“Speed ye! I wish I was driving you all the way, then,” said he. The other postilion was not yet ready. “Then your honour sees,” said he, putting his head into the carriage, “consarning of them Garraghties — Old Nick and St. Dennis — the best part, that is, the worst part, of what I told you, proved true; and I’m glad of it, that is, I’m sorry for it — but glad your honour knows it in time. So Heaven prosper you! And may all the saints (barring St. Dennis) have charge of you, and all belonging to you, till we see you here again! — And when will it be?”

“I cannot say when I shall return to you myself, but I will do my best to send your landlord to you soon. In the mean time, my good fellow, keep away from the sign of the Horseshoe — a man of your sense to drink and make an idiot and a brute of yourself!”

“True! — And it was only when I had lost hope I took to it — but now! Bring me the book one of yees, out of the landlady’s parlour. By the virtue of this book, and by all the books that ever was shut and opened, I won’t touch a drop of spirits, good or bad, till I see your honour again, or some of the family, this time twelvemonth — that long I live on hope — but mind, if you disappoint me, I don’t swear but I’ll take to the whiskey for comfort, all the rest of my days. But don’t be staying here, wasting your time, advising me. Bartley! take the reins, can’t ye?” cried he, giving them to the fresh postilion; “and keep on, for your life, for there’s thousands of pounds depending on the race — so off, off, Bartley, with speed of light!”

Bartley did his best; and such was the excellence of the roads, that, notwithstanding the rate at which our hero travelled, he arrived safely in Dublin, just in time to put his letter into the post-office, and to sail in that night’s packet. The wind was fair when Lord Colambre went on board, but before they got out of the Bay it changed; they made no way all night: in the course of the next day, they had the mortification to see another packet from Dublin sail past them, and when they landed at Holyhead, were told the packet, which had left Ireland twelve hours after them, had been in an hour before them. The passengers had taken their places in the coach, and engaged what horses could be had. Lord Colambre was afraid that Mr. Garraghty was one of them; a person exactly answering his description had taken four horses, and set out half an hour before in great haste for London. Luckily, just as those who had taken their places in the mail were getting into the coach, Lord Colambre saw among them a gentleman, with whom he had been acquainted in Dublin, a barrister, who was come over during the long vacation, to make a tour of pleasure in England. When Lord Colambre explained the reason he had for being in haste to reach London, he had the good-nature to give up to him his place in the coach. Lord Colambre travelled all night, and delayed not one moment, till he reached his father’s house, in London.

“My father at home?”

“Yes, my lord, in his own room — the agent from Ireland with him, on particular business — desired not to be interrupted — but I’ll go and tell him, my lord, you are come.”

Lord Colambre ran past the servant, as he spoke — made his way into the room — found his father, Sir Terence O’Fay, and Mr. Garraghty — leases open on the table before them; a candle lighted; Sir Terence sealing; Garraghty emptying a bag of guineas on the table, and Lord Clonbrony actually with a pen in his hand, ready to sign.

As the door opened, Garraghty started back, so that half the contents of his bag rolled upon the floor.

“Stop, my dear father, I conjure you,” cried Lord Colambre, springing forward, and snatching the pen from his father’s hand.

“Colambre! God bless you, my dear boy! at all events. But how came you here? — And what do you mean?” said his father.

“Burn it!” cried Sir Terence, pinching the sealing-wax; “for I burnt myself with the pleasure of the surprise.”

Garraghty, without saying a word, was picking up the guineas that were scattered upon the floor.

“How fortunate I am,” cried Lord Colambre, “to have arrived just in time to tell you, my dear father, before you put your signature to these papers, before you conclude this bargain, all I know, all I have seen of that man!”

“Nick Garraghty, honest old Nick; do you know him, my lord?” said Sir Terence.

“Too well, sir.”

“Mr. Garraghty, what have you done to offend my son? I did not expect this,” said Lord Clonbrony.

“Upon my conscience, my lord, nothing to my knowledge,” said Mr. Garraghty, picking up the guineas; “but showed him every civility, even so far as offering to accommodate him with cash without security; and where will you find the other agent, in Ireland, or any where else, will do that? To my knowledge, I never did any thing, by word or deed, to offend my Lord Colambre; nor could not, for I never saw him but for ten minutes, in my days; and then he was in such a foaming passion, begging his lordship’s pardon, owing to the misrepresentations he met with of me, I presume, from a parcel of blackguards that he went amongst, incognito, he would not let me or my brother Dennis say a word to set him right; but exposed me before all the tenantry, and then threw himself into a hack, and drove off here, to stop the signing of these leases, I perceive. But I trust,” concluded he, putting the replenished money-bag down, with a heavy sound on the table, opposite to Lord Clonbrony, “I trust my Lord Clonbrony will do me justice; that’s all I have to say.”

“I comprehend the force of your last argument fully, sir,” said Lord Colambre. “May I ask, how many guineas there are in the bag? — I don’t ask whether they are my father’s or not.”

“They are to be your lordship’s father’s, sir, if he thinks proper,” replied Garraghty. “How many, I don’t know that I can justly, positively say — five hundred, suppose.”

“And they would be my father’s, if he signed those leases — I understand that perfectly, and understand that my father will lose three times that sum by the bargain. My dear father, you start — but it is true — is not this the rent, sir, at which you are going to let Mr. Garraghty have the land?” placing a paper before Lord Clonbrony.

“It is — the very thing.”

“And here, sir, written with my own hand, are copies of the proposals I saw from responsible, respectable tenants, offered and refused. Is it so, or is it not, Mr. Garraghty? — deny it, if you can.”

Mr. Garraghty grew pale; his lips quivered; he stammered; and, after a shocking convulsion of face, could at last articulate — only, “That there was a great difference between tenant and tenant, his lordship must be sensible — especially for so large a rent.”

“As great a difference as between agent and agent, I am sensible — especially for so large a property!” said Lord Colambre, with cool contempt. “You find, sir, I am well informed with regard to this transaction; you will find, also, that I am equally well informed with respect to every part of your conduct towards my father and his tenantry. If, in relating to him what I have seen and heard, I should make any mistakes, you are here; and I am glad you are, to set me right, and to do yourself justice.”

“Oh! as to that, I should not presume to contradict any thing your lordship asserts from your own authority: where would be the use? I leave it all to your lordship. But, as it is not particularly agreeable to stay to hear one’s self abused — Sir Terence! I’ll thank you to hand me my hat! — And if you’ll have the goodness, my Lord Clonbrony, to look over finally the accounts before morning, I’ll call at your leisure to settle the balance, as you find convenient: as to the leases, I’m quite indifferent.” So saying, he took up his money-bag.

“Well, you’ll call again in the morning, Mr. Garraghty?” said Sir Terence; “and, by that time, I hope we shall understand this misunderstanding better.”

Sir Terence pulled Lord Clonbrony’s sleeve: “Don’t let him go with the money — it’s much wanted.”

“Let him go,” said Lord Colambre: “money can be had by honourable means.”

“Wheugh! — He talks as if he had the bank of England at his command, as every young man does,” said Sir Terence.

Lord Colambre deigned no reply. Lord Clonbrony walked undecidedly between his agent and his son — looked at Sir Terence, and said nothing.

Mr. Garraghty departed: Lord Clonbrony called after him from the head of the stairs, “I shall be at home and at leisure in the morning.”

Sir Terence ran down stairs after him: Lord Colambre waited quietly for their return.

“Fifteen hundred guineas at a stroke of a goose-quill! — That was a neat hit, narrowly missed, of honest Nick’s!” said Lord Clonbrony. “Too bad! too bad, faith! — I am much, very much obliged to you, Colambre, for that hint: by to-morrow morning we shall have him in another tune.”

“And he must double the bag, or quit,” said Sir Terence.

“Treble it, if you please, Terry. Sure, three times five’s fifteen:— fifteen hundred down, or he does not get my signature to those leases for his brother, nor get the agency of the Colambre estate. — Colambre, what more have you to tell of him? for, since he is making out his accounts against me, it is no harm to have a per contra against him, that may ease my balance.”

“Very fair! very fair!” said Sir Terence. “My lord, trust me for remembering all the charges against him — every item: and when he can’t clear himself, if I don’t make him buy a good character dear enough, why, say I am a fool, and don’t know the value of character, good or bad!”

“If you know the value of character, Sir Terence,” said Lord Colambre, “you know that it is not to be bought or sold.” Then turning from Sir Terence to his father, he gave a full and true account of all he had seen in his progress through his Irish estates; and drew a faithful picture both of the bad and good agent. Lord Clonbrony, who had benevolent feelings, and was fond of his tenantry, was touched; and when his son ceased speaking, repeated several times, “Rascal! rascal! How dare he use my tenants so — the O’Neills in particular! — Rascal! bad heart! — I’ll have no more to do with him.” But, suddenly recollecting himself, he turned to Sir Terence, and added, “That’s sooner said than done — I’ll tell you honestly, Colambre, your friend Mr. Burke may he the best man in the world — but he is the worst man to apply to for a remittance or a loan, in a HURRY! He always tells me, ‘he can’t distress the tenants.’”

“And he never, at coming into the agency even,” said Sir Terence, “advanced a good round sum to the landlord, by way of security for his good behaviour. Now honest Nick did that much for us at coming in.”

“And at going out is he not to be repaid?” said Lord Colambre.

“That’s the devil!” said Lord Clonbrony: “that’s the very reason I can’t conveniently turn him out.”

“I will make it convenient to you, sir, if you will permit me,” said Lord Colambre. “In a few days I shall be of age, and will join with you in raising whatever sum you want, to free you from this man. Allow me to look over his account; and whatever the honest balance may be, let him have it.”

“My dear boy!” said Lord Clonbrony, “you’re a generous fellow. Fine Irish heart! — glad you’re my son! But there’s more, much more, that you don’t know,” added he, looking at Sir Terence, who cleared his throat; and Lord Clonbrony, who was on the point of opening all his affairs to his son, stopped short.

“Colambre,” said he, “we will not say any thing more of this at present; for nothing effectual can be done till you are of age, and then we shall see all about it.”

Lord Colambre perfectly understood what his father meant, and what was meant by the clearing of Sir Terence’s throat. Lord Clonbrony wanted his son to join him in opening the estate to pay his debts; and Sir Terence feared that if Lord Colambre were abruptly told the whole sum total of the debts, he would never be persuaded to join in selling or mortgaging so much of his patrimony as would be necessary for their payment. Sir Terence thought that the young man, ignorant probably of business, and unsuspicious of the state of his father’s affairs, might be brought, by proper management, to any measures they desired. Lord Clonbrony wavered between the temptation to throw himself upon the generosity of his son, and the immediate convenience of borrowing a sum of money from his agent, to relieve his present embarrassments.

“Nothing can be settled,” repeated he, “till Colambre is of age; so it does not signify talking of it.”

“Why so, sir?” said Lord Colambre. “Though my act, in law, may not be valid till I am of age, my promise, as a man of honour, is binding now; and, I trust, would be as satisfactory to my father as any legal deed whatever.”

“Undoubtedly, my dear boy; but —”

“But what?” said Lord Colambre, following his father’s eye, which turned to Sir Terence O’Fay, as if asking his permission to explain. “As my father’s friend, sir, you ought, permit me to say, at this moment to use your influence to prevail upon him to throw aside all reserve with a son, whose warmest wish is to serve him, and to see him at ease and happy.”

“Generous, dear boy,” cried Lord Clonbrony. “Terence, I can’t stand it; but how shall I bring myself to name the amount of the debts?”

“At some time or other, I must know it,” said Lord Colambre: “I cannot be better prepared at any moment than the present; never more disposed to give my assistance to relieve all difficulties. Blindfold, I cannot be led to any purpose, sir,” said he, looking at Sir Terence: “the attempt would be degrading and futile. Blindfolded I will not be — but, with my eyes open, I will see, and go straight and prompt as heart can go, to my father’s interest, without a look or thought to my own.”

“By St. Patrick! the spirit of a prince, and an Irish prince, spoke there,” cried Sir Terence: “and if I’d fifty hearts, you’d have all in your hand this minute, at your service, and warm. Blindfold you! After that, the man that would attempt it desarves to be shot; and I’d have no sincerer pleasure in life than shooting him this moment, was he my best friend. But it’s not Clonbrony, or your father, my lord, would act that way, no more than Sir Terence O’Fay — there’s the schedule of the debts,” drawing a paper from his bosom; “and I’ll swear to the lot, and not a man on earth could do that but myself.”

Lord Colambre opened the paper. His father turned aside, covering his face with both his hands.

“Tut, man,” said Sir Terence: “I know him now better than you; he will stand, you’ll find, the shock of that regiment of figures — he is steel to the backbone, and proof spirit.”

“I thank you, my dear father,” said Lord Colambre, “for trusting me thus at once with a view of the truth. At first sight it is, I acknowledge, worse than I expected; but I make no doubt that, when you allow me to examine Mr. Garraghty’s accounts and Mr. Mordicai’s claims, we shall be able to reduce this alarming total considerably.”

“The devil a pound, nor a penny,” said Sir Terence; “for you have to deal with a Jew and Old Nick; and, since I’m not a match for them, I don’t know who is; and I have no hope of getting any abatement. I’ve looked over the accounts till I’m sick.”

“Nevertheless, you will observe that fifteen hundred guineas have been saved to my father at one stroke, by his not signing those leases.”

“Saved to you, my lord; not your father, if you please,” said Sir Terence. “For now I’m upon the square with you, I must be straight as an arrow, and deal with you as the son and friend of my friend: before, I was considering you only as the son and heir, which is quite another thing, you know; accordingly, acting for your father here, I was making the best bargain against you I could: honestly, now, I tell you. I knew the value of the lands well enough: I was as sharp as Garraghty, and he knew it; I was to have had for your father the difference from him, partly in cash and partly in balance of accounts — you comprehend — and you only would have been the loser, and never would have known it, may be, till after we all were dead and buried; and then you might have set aside Garraghty’s lease easy, and no harm done to any but a rogue that desarved it; and, in the mean time, an accommodation to my honest friend, my lord, your father here. But, as fate would have it, you upset all by your progress incognito through them estates. Well, it’s best as it is, and I am better pleased to be as we are, trusting all to a generous son’s own heart. Now put the poor father out of pain, and tell us what you’ll do, my dear.”

“In one word, then,” said Lord Colambre, “I will, upon two conditions, either join my father in levying fines to enable him to sell or mortgage whatever portion of his estate is necessary for the payment of these debts; or I will, in whatever mode he can point out, as more agreeable or more advantageous to him, join in giving security to his creditors.”

“Dear, noble fellow!” cried Sir Terence: “none but an Irishman could do it.”

Lord Clonbrony, melted to tears, could not articulate, but held his arms open to embrace his son.

“But you have not heard my conditions yet,” said Lord Colambre.

“Oh, confound the conditions!” cried Sir Terence.

“What conditions could he ask, that I could refuse at this minute?” said Lord Clonbrony.

“Nor I— was it my heart’s blood, and were I to be hanged for it,” cried Sir Terence. “And what are the conditions?”

“That Mr. Garraghty shall be dismissed from the agency.”

“And welcome, and glad to get rid of him — the rogue, the tyrant,” said Lord Clonbrony; “and, to be beforehand with you in your next wish, put Mr. Burke into his place.”

“I’ll write the letter for you to sign, my lord, this minute,” cried Terry, “with all the pleasure in life. No; it’s my Lord Colambre should do that in all justice.”

“But what’s your next condition? I hope it’s no worse,” said Lord Clonbrony.

“That you and my mother should cease to be absentees.”

“Oh, murder!” said Sir Terence; “may be that’s not so easy; for there are two words to that bargain.”

Lord Clonbrony declared that, for his own part, he was ready to return to Ireland next morning, and to promise to reside on his estate all the rest of his days; that there was nothing he desired more, provided Lady Clonbrony would consent to it; but that he could not promise for her; that she was as obstinate as a mule on that point; that he had often tried, but that there was no moving her; and that, in short, he could not promise on her part.

But it was on this condition, Lord Colambre said, he must insist. Unless this condition were granted, he would not engage to do any thing.

“Well, we must only see how it will be when she comes to town; she will come up from Buxton the day you’re of age to sign some papers,” said Lord Clonbrony; “but,” added he with a very dejected look and voice, “if all’s to depend on my Lady Clonbrony’s consenting to return to Ireland, I’m as far from all hope of being at ease as ever.”

“Upon my conscience, we’re all at sea again,” said Sir Terence.

Lord Colambre was silent; but in his silence there was such an air of firmness, that both Lord Clonbrony and Sir Terence were convinced entreaties would, on this point, be fruitless. Lord Clonbrony sighed deeply.

“But when it’s ruin or safety! and her husband and all belonging to her at stake, the woman can’t persist in being a mule,” said Sir Terence.

“Of whom are you talking, sir?” said Lord Colambre.

“Of whom? Oh, I beg your lordship’s pardon — I thought I was talking to my lord; but, in other words, as you are her son, I’m persuaded her ladyship, your mother, will prove herself a reasonable woman — when she sees she can’t help it. So, my Lord Clonbrony, cheer up; a great deal may be done by the fear of Mordicai, and an execution, especially now there’s no prior creditor. Since there’s no reserve between you and I now, my Lord Colambre,” said Sir Terence, “I must tell you all, and how we shambled on those months while you were in Ireland. First, Mordicai went to law, to prove I was in a conspiracy with your father, pretending to be prior creditor, to keep him off and out of his own; which, after a world of swearing and law — law always takes time to do justice, that’s one comfort — the villain proved at last to be true enough, and so cast us; and I was forced to be paid off last week. So there’s no prior creditor, or any shield of pretence that way. Then his execution was coming down upon us, and nothing to stay it till I thought of a monthly annuity to Mordicai, in the shape of a wager. So the morning after he cast us, I went to him: ‘Mr. Mordicai,’ says I, ‘you must be plased to see a man you’ve beaten so handsomely; and though I’m sore, both for myself and my friend, yet you see I can laugh still, though an execution is no laughing matter, and I’m sensible you’ve one in petto in your sleeve for my friend Lord Clonbrony. But I’ll lay you a wager of a hundred guineas on paper, that a marriage of his son with an heiress, before next Lady-day, will set all to rights, and pay you with a compliment too.”

“Good heavens, Sir Terence! surely you said no such thing?”

“I did — but what was it but a wager? which is nothing but a dream; and, when lost, as I am as sensible as you are that it must be, why what is it, after all, but a bonus, in a gentlemanlike form, to Mordicai? which, I grant you, is more than he deserves — for staying the execution till you be of age; and even for my Lady Clonbrony’s sake, though I know she hates me like poison, rather than have her disturbed by an execution, I’d pay the hundred guineas this minute out of my own pocket, if I had ’em in it.”

A thundering knock at the door was heard at this moment.

“Never heed it; let ’em thunder,” said Sir Terence: “whoever it is, they won’t get in; for my lord bid them let none in for their life. It’s necessary for us to be very particular about the street-door now; and I advise a double chain for it, and to have the footmen well tutored to look before they run to a double rap; for a double rap might be a double trap.”

“My lady and Miss Nugent, my lord,” said a footman, throwing open the door.

“My mother! Miss Nugent!” cried Lord Colambre, springing eagerly forward.

“Colambre! Here!” said his mother: “but it’s all too late now, and no matter where you are.”

Lady Clonbrony coldly suffered her son to embrace her; and he, without considering the coldness of her manner, scarcely hearing, and not at all understanding, the words she said, fixed his eyes on his cousin, who, with a countenance all radiant with affectionate joy, held out her hand to him.

“Dear cousin Colambre, what an unexpected pleasure!”

He seized the hand; but, as he was going to kiss it, the recollection of St. Omar crossed his mind: he checked himself, and said something about joy and pleasure, but his countenance expressed neither; and Miss Nugent, much surprised by the coldness of his manner, withdrew her hand, and, turning away, left the room.

“Grace! darling!” called Lord Clonbrony, “whither so fast, before you’ve given me a word or a kiss?”

She came back, and hastily kissed her uncle, who folded her in his arms. “Why must I let you go? And what makes you so pale, my dear child?”

“I am a little, a little tired — I will be with you again soon.”

Her uncle let her go.

“Your famous Buxton baths don’t seem to have agreed with her, by all I can see,” said Lord Clonbrony.

“My lord, the Buxton baths are no way to blame; but I know what is to blame and who is to blame,” said Lady Clonbrony, in a tone of displeasure, fixing her eyes upon her son. “Yes, you may well look confounded, Colambre; but it is too late now — you should have known your own mind in time. I see you have heard it, then — but I am sure I don’t know how; for it was only decided the day I left Buxton. The news could hardly travel faster than I did. Pray how did you hear it?”

“Hear what, ma’am?” said Colambre.

“Why, that Miss Broadhurst is going to be married.”

“All! Now, Lord Colambre, you reelly are too much for my patience. But I flatter myself you will feel, when I tell you that it is your friend, Sir Arthur Berryl, as I always prophesied, who has carried off the prize from you.”

“But for the fear of displeasing my dear mother, I should say, that I do feel sincere pleasure in this marriage — I always wished it: my friend, Sir Arthur, from the first moment, trusted me with the secret of his attachment; he knew that he had my warm good wishes for his success; he knew that I thought most highly of the young lady; but that I never thought of her as a wife for myself.”

“And why did not you? that is the very thing I complain of,” said Lady Clonbrony. “But it is all over now. You may set your heart at ease, for they are to be married on Thursday; and poor Mrs. Broadhurst is ready to break her heart, for she was set upon a coronet for her daughter; and you, ungrateful as you are, you don’t know how she wished you to be the happy man. But only conceive, after all that has passed, Miss Broadhurst had the assurance to expect I would let my niece be her bride’s-maid. Oh, I flatly refused; that is, I told Grace it could not be; and, that there might be no affront to Mrs. Broadhurst, who did not deserve it, I pretended Grace had never mentioned it; but ordered my carriage, and left Buxton directly. Grace was hurt, for she is very warm in her friendships. I am sorry to hurt Grace. But reelly I could not let her be bride’s-maid:— and that, if you must know, is what vexed her, and made the tears come in her eyes, I suppose — and I’m sorry for it; but one must keep up one’s dignity a little. After all, Miss Broadhurst was only a citizen — and reelly now, a very odd girl; never did any thing like any body else; settled her marriage at last in the oddest way. Grace can tell you the particulars. I own, I am tired of the subject, and tired of my journey. My lord, I shall take leave to dine in my own room to-day,” continued her ladyship, as she quitted the room.

“I hope her ladyship did not notice me,” said Sir Terence O’Fay, coming from behind a window-curtain.

“Why, Terry, what did you hide for?” said Lord Clonbrony.

“Hide! I didn’t hide, nor wouldn’t from any man living, let alone any woman.11 Hide! no; but I just stood looking out of the window, behind this curtain, that my poor Lady Clonbrony might not be discomfited and shocked by the sight of one whom she can’t abide, the very minute she come home. Oh, I’ve some consideration — it would have put her out of humour worse with both of you too; and for that there’s no need, as far as I see. So I’ll take myself off to my coffee-house to dine, and may be you may get her down and into spirits again. But, for your lives, don’t touch upon Ireland this night, nor till she has fairly got the better of the marriage. Apropos— there’s my wager to Mordicai gone at a slap. It’s I that ought to be scolding you, my Lord Colambre; but I trust you will do as well yet, not in point of purse, may be. But I’m not one of those that think that money’s every thing — though, I grant you, in this world there’s nothing to be had without it — love excepted — which most people don’t believe in — but not I— in particular cases. So I leave you, with my blessing, and I’ve a notion, at this time, that is better than my company — your most devoted.”

11 Leaving any woman out of the question.]

The good-natured Sir Terence would not be persuaded by Lord Clonbrony to stay. Nodding at Lord Colambre as he went out of the room, he said, “I’ve an eye, in going, to your heart’s ease too. When I played myself, I never liked standers-by.”

Sir Terence was not deficient in penetration, but he never could help boasting of his discoveries.

Lord Colambre was grateful for his judicious departure; and followed his equally judicious advice, not to touch upon Ireland this night.

Lady Clonbrony was full of Buxton, and he was glad to be relieved from the necessity of talking; and he indulged himself in considering what might be passing in Miss Nugent’s mind. She now appeared in remarkably good spirits; for her aunt had given her a hint that she thought her out of humour because she had not been permitted to be Miss Broadhurst’s bride’s-maid, and she was determined to exert herself to dispel this notion. This it was now easy for her to do, because she had, by this time, in her own imagination, found a plausible excuse for that coldness in Lord Colambre’s reception of her, by which she had at first been hurt: she had settled it, that he had taken it for granted she was of his mother’s sentiments respecting Miss Broadhurst’s marriage, and that this idea, and perhaps the apprehension of her reproaches, had caused this embarrassment — she knew that she could easily set this misunderstanding right. Accordingly, when Lady Clonbrony had talked herself to sleep about Buxton, and was taking her afternoon’s nap, as it was her custom to do when she had neither cards nor company to keep her awake, Miss Nugent began to explain her own sentiments, and to give Lord Colambre, as her aunt had desired, an account of the manner in which Miss Broadhurst’s marriage had been settled.

“In the first place,” said she, “let me assure you, that I rejoice in this marriage: I think your friend, Sir Arthur Berryl, is every way deserving of my friend Miss Broadhurst; and this from me,” said she, smiling, “is no slight eulogium. I have marked the rise and progress of their attachment; and it has been founded on the perception of such excellent qualities on each side, that I have no fear for its permanence. Sir Arthur Berryl’s honourable conduct in paying his father’s debts, and his generosity to his mother and sisters, whose fortunes were left entirely dependent upon him, first pleased my friend. It was like what she would have done herself, and like — in short, it is what few young men, as she said, of the present day would do. Then his refraining from all personal expenses, his going without equipage and without horses, that he might do what he felt to be right, whilst it exposed him continually to the ridicule of fashionable young men, or to the charge of avarice, made a very different impression on Miss Broadhurst’s mind; her esteem and admiration were excited by these proofs of strength of character, and of just and good principles.”

“If you go on you will make me envious and jealous of my friend,” said Lord Colambre.

“You jealous! — Oh, it is too late now — besides, you cannot be jealous, for you never loved.”

“I never loved Miss Broadhurst, I acknowledge.”

“There was the advantage Sir Arthur Berryl had over you — he loved, and my friend saw it.”

“She was clear-sighted,” said Lord Colambre.

“She was clear-sighted,” repeated Miss Nugent; “but if you mean that she was vain, and apt to fancy people in love with her, I can assure you that you are mistaken. Never was woman, young or old, more clear-sighted to the views of those by whom she was addressed. No flattery, no fashion, could blind her judgment.”

“She knew how to choose a friend well, I am sure,” said Lord Colambre.

“And a friend for life, too, I am sure you will allow — and she had such numbers, such strange variety of admirers, as might have puzzled the choice and turned the brain of any inferior person. Such a succession of lovers as she has had this summer, ever since you went to Ireland — they appeared and vanished like figures in a magic lantern. She had three noble admirers — rank in three different forms offered themselves First came in, hobbling, rank and gout; next, rank and gaming; then rank, very high rank, over head and ears in debt. All of these were rejected; and, as they moved off, I thought Mrs. Broadhurst would have broken her heart. Next came fashion, with his head, heart, and soul in his cravat — he quickly made his bow, or rather his nod, and walked off, taking a pinch of snuff. Then came a man of wit — but it was wit without worth; and presently came ‘worth without wit.’ She preferred ‘wit and worth united,’ which she fortunately at last found, Lord Colambre, in your friend, Sir Arthur Berryl.”

“Grace, my girl!” said her uncle, “I’m glad to see you’ve got up your spirits again, though you were not to be bride’s-maid. Well, I hope you’ll be bride soon — I’m sure you ought to be — and you should think of rewarding that poor Mr. Salisbury, who plagues me to death, whenever he can catch hold of me, about you. He must have our definitive at last, you know, Grace.”

A silence ensued, which neither Miss Nugent nor Lord Colambre seemed able or willing to break.

“Very good company, faith, you three! — One of ye asleep, and the other two saying nothing, to keep one awake. Colambre, have you no Dublin news? Grace, have you no Buxton scandal? What was it Lady Clonbrony told us you’d tell us, about the oddness of Miss Broadhurst’s settling her marriage? Tell me that, for I love to hear odd things.”

“Perhaps you will not think it odd,” said she. “One evening — but I should begin by telling you that three of her admirers, besides Sir Arthur Berryl, had followed her to Buxton, and had been paying their court to her all the time we were there; and at last grew impatient for her decision.”

“Ay, for her definitive!” said Lord Clonbrony. Miss Nugent was put out again, but resumed.

“So one evening, just before the dancing began, the gentlemen were all standing round Miss Broadhurst; one of them said, ‘I wish Miss Broadhurst would decide — that whoever she dances with to-night should be her partner for life: what a happy man he would be!’

“‘But how can I decide?’ said Miss Broadhurst.

“‘I wish I had a friend to plead for me!’ said one of the suitors, looking at me.

“‘Have you no friend of your own?’ said Miss Broadhurst.

“‘Plenty of friends,’ said the gentleman.

“‘Plenty! — then you must be a very happy man,’ replied Miss Broadhurst. ‘Come,’ said she, laughing, ‘I will dance with that man who can convince me that he has, near relations excepted, one true friend in the world! That man who has made the best friend, I dare say, will make the best husband!’

“At that moment,” continued Miss Nugent, “I was certain who would be her choice. The gentlemen all declared at first that they had abundance of excellent friends — the best friends in the world! but when Miss Broadhurst cross-examined them, as to what their friends had done for them, or what they were willing to do, modern friendship dwindled into a ridiculously small compass. I cannot give you the particulars of the cross-examination, though it was conducted with great spirit and humour by Miss Broadhurst; but I can tell you the result — that Sir Arthur Berryl, by incontrovertible facts, and eloquence warm from the heart, convinced every body present that he had the best friend in the world; and Miss Broadhurst, as he finished speaking, gave him her hand, and he led her off in triumph — So you see, Lord Colambre, you were at last the cause of my friend’s marriage!”

She turned to Lord Colambre as she spoke these words, with such an affectionate smile, and such an expression of open, innocent tenderness in her whole countenance, that our hero could hardly resist the impulse of his passion — could hardly restrain himself from falling at her feet that instant, and declaring his love. “But St. Omar! St. Omar! — It must not be!”

“I must be gone!” said Lord Clonbrony, pulling out his watch. “It is time to go to my club; and poor Terry will wonder what has become of me.”

Lord Colambre instantly offered to accompany his father; much to Lord Clonbrony’s, and more to Miss Nugent’s surprise.

“What!” said she to herself, “after so long an absence, leave me! — Leave his mother, with whom he always used to stay — on purpose to avoid me! What can I have done to displease him? It is clear it was not about Miss Broadhurst’s marriage he was offended; for he looked pleased, and like himself, whilst I was talking of that: but the moment afterwards, what a constrained, unintelligible expression of countenance — and leaves me to go to a club which he detests!”

As the gentlemen shut the door on leaving the room, Lady Clonbrony awakened, and, starting up, exclaimed, “What’s the matter? Are they gone? Is Colambre gone?”

“Yes, ma’am, with my uncle.”

“Very odd! very odd of him to go and leave me! he always used to stay with me — what did he say about me?”

“Nothing, ma’am.”

“Well, then, I have nothing to say about him, or about any thing, indeed, for I’m excessively tired and stupid — alone in Lon’on’s as bad as any where else. Ring the bell, and we’ll go to bed directly — if you have no objection, Grace.”

Grace made no objection: Lady Clonbrony went to bed and to sleep in ten minutes. Miss Nugent went to bed; but she lay awake, considering what could be the cause of her cousin Colambre’s hard unkindness, and of “his altered eye.” She was openness itself; and she determined that, the first moment she could speak to him alone, she would at once ask for an explanation. With this resolution, she rose in the morning, and went down to the breakfast-room, in hopes of meeting him, as it had formerly been his custom to be early; and she expected to find him reading in his usual place.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/edgeworth/maria/absentee/chapter13.html

Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:01