Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 11.

Our young hero, hero-like, took a solitary walk to indulge his feelings; and as he rambled, he railed to his heart’s content against Dora.

“Here all my plans of happiness and improvement are again overturned: Dora cannot improve me, can give me no motive for making myself any thing better than what I am. Polish my manners! no, when she has such rude, odious manners herself; much changed for the worse — a hundred times more agreeable when she was a child. Lost to me she is every way — no longer my playfellow — no chance of her being my friend. Her good father hoped she would be a sister to me — very sorry I should be to have such a sister: then I am to consider her as a married woman — pretty wife she will make! I am convinced she cares no more for that man she is going to marry than I do — marrying merely to be married, to manage her own affairs, and have her own way — so childish! — or marrying merely to get an establishment — so base! How women, and such young creatures, can bring themselves to make these venal matches — I protest Peggy Sheridan’s worth a hundred of such. Moriarty may think himself a happy fellow — Suzy — Jenny, any body — only with dress and manner a little different — is full as good in reality. I question whether they’d give themselves, without liking, to any White Connal in their own rank, at the first offer, for a few sheep, or a cow, or to have their own way.”

Such was the summing up of the topics of invective, which, during a two hours’ walk, had come round and round continually in Ormond’s indignant fancy. He went plucking off the hawthorn blossoms in his path, till at one desperate tug, that he gave to a branch which crossed his way, he opened to a bank that sloped down to the lake. At a little distance below him he saw old Sheelah sitting under a tree rocking herself backwards and forwards; while Dora stood motionless opposite to her, with her hand covering her eyes, and her head drooping. They neither of them saw Ormond, and he walked on pursuing his own path; it led close behind the hedge to the place where they were, so close, that the sounds “Willastrew! Willastrew!” from Old Sheelah, in her funereal tone, reached his ear, and then the words, “Oh, my heart’s darling! so young to be a sacrifice — But what next did he say?”

Ormond’s curiosity was strongly excited; but he was too honourable to listen or to equivocate with conscience: so to warn them that some one was within hearing, he began to whistle clear and strong. Both the old woman and the young lady started.

“Murder!” cried Sheelah, “it’s Harry Ormond. Oh! did he overhear any thing — or all, think ye?”

“Not I,” answered Ormond, leaping over the hedge directly, and standing firm before them: “I overheard nothing — I heard only your last words, Sheelah — you spoke so loud I could not help it. They are as safe with me as with yourself — but don’t speak so loud another time, if you are talking secrets; and whatever you do, never suspect me of listening — I am incapable of that, or any other baseness.”

So saying, he turned his back, and was preparing to vault over the hedge again, when he heard Dora, in a soft low voice, say, “I never suspected you, Harry, of that, or any other baseness.”

“Thank you, Dora,” said he, turning with some emotion, “thank you, Dora, for this first, this only kind word you’ve said to me since you came home.”

Looking at her earnestly, as he approached nearer, he saw the traces of tears, and an air of dejection in her countenance, which turned all his anger to pity and tenderness in an instant. With a soothing tone be said, “Forgive my unseasonable reproach — I was wrong — I see you are not as much to blame as I thought you were.”

“To blame!” cried Dora. “And pray how — and why — and for what did you think me to blame, sir?”

The impossibility of explanation, the impropriety of what he had said flashed suddenly on his mind; and in a few moments a rapid succession of ideas followed. “Was Dora to blame for obeying her father, for being ready to marry the man to whom her father had destined — promised her hand; and was he, Harry Ormond, the adopted child, the trusted friend of the family, to suggest to the daughter the idea of rebelling against her father’s will, or disputing the propriety of his choice?”

Ormond’s imagination took a rapid flight on Dora’s side of the question, and he finished with the conviction that she was “a sacrifice, a martyr, and a miracle of perfection!” “Blame you, Dora!” cried he, “blame you! No — I admire, I esteem, I respect you. Did I say that I blamed you? I did not know what I said, or what I meant.”

“And are you sure you know any better what you say or what you mean, now?” said Dora.

The altered look and tone of tartness in which this question was asked produced as sudden a change in Harry’s conviction. He hesitatingly answered, “I am —”

“He is,” said Sheelah, confidently.

“I did not ask your opinion, Sheelah: I can judge for myself,” said Dora. “Your words tell me one thing, sir, and your looks another,” said she, turning to Ormond; “which am I to believe, pray?”

“Oh! believe the young man any way, sure,” said Sheelah; “silence speaks best for him.”

“Best against him, in my opinion,” said Dora.

“Dora, will you hear me?” Ormond began.

“No, sir, I will not,” interrupted Dora. “What’s the use of hearing or listening to a man who does not, by the confession of his own eyes, and his own tongue, know two minutes together what he means, or mean two minutes together the same thing? A woman might as well listen to a fool or a madman!”

“Too harsh, too severe, Dora,” said he.

“Too true, too sincere, perhaps you mean.”

“Since I am allowed, Dora, to speak to you as a brother —”

“Who allowed you, sir?” interrupted Dora.

“Your father, Dora.”

“My father cannot, shall not! Nobody but nature can make any man my brother — nobody but myself shall allow any man to call himself my brother.”

“I am sorry I presumed so far, Miss O’Shane — I was only going to offer one word of advice.”

“I want no advice — I will take none from you, sir.”

“You shall have none, madam, henceforward, from Harry Ormond.”

“’Tis well, sir. Come away, Sheelah.”

“Oh! wait, dear — Och! I am too old,” said Sheelah, groaning as she rose slowly. “I’m too slow entirely for these quick passions.”

“Passions!” cried Dora, growing scarlet and pale in an instant: “what do you mean by passions, Sheelah?”

“I mean changes,” said Sheelah, “changes, dear. I am ready now — where’s my stick? Thank you, Master Harry. Only I say I can’t change my quarters and march so quick as you, dear.”

“Well, well, lean on me,” said Dora impatiently.

“Don’t hurry, poor Sheelah — no necessity to hurry away from me,” said Ormond, who had stood for a few moments like one transfixed. “’Tis for me to go — and I will go as fast and as far as you please, Dora, away from you and for ever.”

“For ever!” said Dora: “what do you mean?”

“Away from the Black Islands? he can’t mean that,” said Sheelah.

“Why not? — Did not I leave Castle Hermitage at a moment’s warning?”

Warning! Nonsense!” cried Dora: “lean on him, Sheelah — he has frightened you; lean on him, can’t you? — sure he’s better than your stick. Warning! — where did you find that pretty word? Is Harry Ormond then turned footman?”

“Harry Ormond! — and a minute ago she would not let me — Miss O’Shane, I shall not forget myself again — amuse yourself with being as capricious as you please, but not at my expense; little as you think of me, I am not to be made your butt or your dupe: therefore, I must seriously beg, at once, that I may know whether you wish me to stay or to go.”

“To stay, to be sure, when my father invites you. Would you expose me to his displeasure? you know he can’t bear to be contradicted; and you know that he asked you to stay and live here.”

“But without exposing you to any displeasure, I can,” replied Ormond, “contrive —”

“Contrive nothing at all — do leave me to contrive for myself. I don’t mean to say leave me — you take up one’s words so quickly, and are so passionate, Mr. Ormond.”

“If you would have me understand you, Dora, explain how you wish me to live with you.”

“Lord bless me! what a fuss the man makes about living with one — one would think it was the most difficult thing in the world. Can’t you live on like any body else? There’s my aunt in the hedge-row walk, all alone — I must go and take care of her: I leave you to take care of Sheelah — you know you were always very good-natured when we were children.”

Dora went off quick as lightning, and what to make of her, Ormond did not well know. Was it mere childishness, or affectation, or coquetry? No; the real tears, and real expression of look and word forbade each of these suppositions. One other cause for her conduct might have been suggested by a vain man. Harry Ormond was not a vain man; but a little fluttering delight was just beginning to play round his head, when Sheelah, leaning heavily on his arm as they ascended the bank, reminding him of her existence —“My poor old Sheelah!” said he, “are you not tired?”

“Not now, thanks to your arm, Master Harry, dear, that was always good to me — not now — I am not a whit tired; now I see all right again between my childer — and happy I was, these five minutes past, watching you smiling to yourself; and I don’t doubt but all the world will smile on ye yet. If it was my world, it should. But I can only wish you my best wish, which I did long ago —may you live to wonder at your own good luck!

Ormond looked as if he was going to ask some question that interested him much, but it ended by wondering what o’clock it was. Sheelah wondered at him for thinking what the hour was, when she was talking of Miss Dora. After a silence, which brought them to the chicken-yard door, where Sheelah was “to quit his arm,” she leaned heavily again,

“The marriage — that they are all talking of in the kitchen, and every where through the country — Miss Dora’s marriage with White Connal, is reprieved for the season. She axed time till she’d be seventeen — very rasonable. So it’s to be in October — if we all live till those days — in the same mind. Lord, he knows — I know nothing at all about it; but I thank you kindly, Master Harry, and wish you well, any way. Did you ever happen to see the bridegroom that is to be?”

“Never.”

Harry longed to hear what she longed to say; but he did not deem it prudent, he did not think it honourable, to let her enter on this topic. The prudential consideration might have been conquered by curiosity; but the honourable repugnance to obtaining second-hand information, and encouraging improper confidence, prevailed. He deposited Sheelah safe on her stone bench at the chicken-yard door, and, much against her will, he left her before she had told or hinted to him all she did know — and all she did not know.

The flattering delight that played about our young hero’s head had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. Of this he was sensible. It should never come near his heart — of that he was determined; he would exactly follow the letter and spirit of his benefactor’s commands — he would always consider Dora as a married woman; but the prospect of there being some temptation, and some struggle, was infinitely agreeable to our young hero — it would give him something to do, something to think of, something to feel.

It was much in favour of his resolution, that Dora really was not at all the kind of woman he had pictured to himself, either as amiable or charming: she was not in the least like his last patterns of heroines, or any of his approved imaginations of the beau ideal. But she was an exceedingly pretty girl; she was the only very pretty and tolerably accomplished girl immediately near him. A dangerous propinquity!

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:02