Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 12.

White Connal and his father — we name the son first, because his superior wealth inverting the order of nature, gave him, in his own opinion, the precedency on all occasions — White Connal and his father arrived at Corny Castle. King Corny rejoiced to see his old friend, the elder Connal; but through all the efforts that his majesty made to be more than civil to the son, the degenerate grazier, his future son-in-law, it was plain that he was only keeping his promise, and receiving such a guest as he ought to be received.

Mademoiselle decided that old Connal, the father, was quite a gentleman, for he handed her about, and in his way had some politeness towards the sex; but as for the son, her abhorrence must have burst forth in plain English, if it had not exhaled itself safely in French, in every exclamation of contempt which the language could afford. She called him bête! and grand bête! by turns, butor! âne! and grand butor! — nigaud! and grand nigaud!— pronounced him to be “Un homme qui ne dit rien — d’ailleurs un homme qui n’a pas l’air comme il faut — un homme, enfin, qui n’est pas présentable — même en fait de mari.”

Dora looked unutterable things; but this was not unusual with her. Her scornful airs, and short answers, were not more decidedly rude to White Connal than to others; indeed she was rather more civil to him than to Ormond. There was nothing in her manner of keeping Connal at a distance, beyond what he, who had not much practice or skill in the language of female coquetry, might construe into maiden coyness to the acknowledged husband lover.

It seemed as if she had some secret hope, or fear, or reason, for not coming to open war: in short, as usual, she was odd, if not unintelligible. White Connal did not disturb himself at all to follow her doublings: his pleasure was not in the chase — he was sure the game was his own.

Be bold, but not too bold, White Connal! — be negligent, but not too negligent, of the destined bride. ’Tis bad, as you say, to be spoiling a wife before marriage; but what if she should never be your wife? thought some.

That was a contingency that never had occurred to White Connal. Had he not horses, and saddles, and bridles, and bits, finer than had ever been seen before in the Black Islands? And had he not thousands of sheep, and hundreds of oxen? And had he not the finest pistols, and the most famous fowling-pieces? And had he not thousands in paper, and thousands in gold; and if he lived, would he not have tens of thousands more? And had he not brought with him a plan of Connal’s-town, the name by which he dignified a snug slated lodge he had upon one of his farms — an elevation of the house to be built, and of the offices that had been built?

He had so. But it happened one day, when Connal was going to ride out with Dora, that just as he mounted, her veil fluttering before his horse’s eyes, startled the animal; and the awkward rider being unable to manage him, King Corny begged Harry Ormond to change horses with him, that Mr. Connal might go quietly beside Dora, “who was a bit of a coward.”

Imprudent father! Harry obeyed — and the difference between the riders and the gentlemen was but too apparent. For what avails it that you have the finest horse, if another ride him better? What avails it that you have the finest saddle, if another become it better? What use to you your Wogden pistols, if another hit the mark you miss? What avails the finest fowling~piece to the worst sportsman? The thousands upon thousands to him who says but little, and says that little ill? What avail that the offices at Connal’s town be finished, dog-kennel and all? or what boots it that the plan and elevation of Connal’s-town be unrolled, and submitted to the fair one’s inspection and remarks, if the fair disdain to inspect, and if she remark only that a cottage and love are more to her taste? White Connal put none of these questions to himself — he went on his own way. Faint heart never won fair lady. Then no doubt he was in a way to win, for his heart never quailed, his colour never changed when he saw his fair one’s furtive smiles, or heard her aunt’s open praises of the youth, by whom riding, dancing, shooting, speaking, or silent, he was always eclipsed. Connal of Connal’s-town despised Harry Ormond of no-town — viewed him with scornful, but not with jealous eyes: idle jealousies were far from Connal’s thoughts — he was intent upon the noble recreation of cock-fighting. Cock-fighting had been the taste of his boyish days, before he became a money-making man; and at every interval of business, at each intermission of the passion of avarice, when he had leisure to think of amusement, this his first idea of pleasure recurred. Since he came to Corny Castle, he had at sundry times expressed to his father his “hope in Heaven, that before they would leave the Black Islands, they should get some good fun, cock-fighting; for it was a poor case for a man that is not used to it, to be tied to a woman’s apron-strings, twirling his thumbs all the mornings, for form’s sake.”

There was a strolling kind of gentleman in the Islands, a Mr. O’Tara, who was a famous cock-fighter. O’Tara came one day to dine at Corny Castle. The kindred souls found each other out, and an animated discourse across the table commenced concerning cocks. After dinner, as the bottle went round, the rival cock-fighters, warmed to enthusiasm in praise of their birds. Each relating wonders, they finished by proposing a match, laying bets and despatching messengers and hampers for their favourites. The cocks arrived, and were put in separate houses, under the care of separate feeders.

Moriarty Carroll, who was curious, and something of a sportsman, had a mind to have a peep at the cocks. Opening the door of one of the buildings hastily, he disturbed the cock, who taking fright, flew about the barn with such violence, as to tear off several of his feathers, and very much to deface his appearance. Unfortunately, at this instant, White Connal and Mr. O’Tara came by, and finding what had happened, abused Moriarty with all the vulgar eloquence which anger could supply. Ormond, who had been with Moriarty, but who had no share in the disaster, endeavoured to mitigate the fury of White Connal and apologized to Mr. O’Tara: O’Tara was satisfied! — shook hands with Ormond, and went off. But White Connal’s anger lasted longer: for many reasons he disliked Ormond; and thinking from Harry’s gentleness, that he might venture to insult him, returned to the charge, and becoming high and brutal in his tone, said that “Mr. Ormond had committed an ungentlemanlike action, which it was easier to apologize for than to defend.” Harry took fire, and instantly was much more ready than his opponent wished to give any other satisfaction that Mr. Connal desired. Well, “Name his hour — his place.” “To-morrow morning, six o’clock, in the east meadow, out of reach and sight of all,” Ormond said; or he was ready at that instant, if Mr. Connal pleased: he hated, he said, to bear malice — he could not sleep upon it.

Moriarty now stepping up privately, besought Mr. Connal’s “honour, for Heaven and earth’s sake, to recollect, if he did not know it, what a desperate good shot Mr. Harry notoriously was always.”

“What, you rascal! are you here still?” cried White Connal: “Hold your peace! How dare you speak between gentlemen?”

Moriarty begged pardon and departed. The hint he had given, however, operated immediately upon White Connal.

“This scattered-brained young Ormond,” said he to himself, “desires nothing better than to fight. Very natural — he has nothing to lose in the world but his bare life: neither money, nor landed property as I have to quit, in leaving the world — unequal odds. Not worth my while to stand his shot, for the feather of a cock,” concluded Connal, as he pulled to pieces one of the feathers, which had been the original cause of all the mischief.

Thus cooled, and suddenly become reasonable, he lowered his tone, declaring that he did not mean to say any thing in short that could give offence, nothing but what it was natural for any man in the heat of passion to say, and it was enough to put a man in a passion at first sight to see his favourite bird disfigured. If he had said any thing too strong, he hoped Mr. Ormond would excuse it.

Ormond knew what the heat of passion was, and was willing to make all proper allowances. White Connal made more than proper apologies; and Ormond rejoiced that the business was ended. But White Connal, conscious that he had first bullied, then quailed, and that if the story were repeated, it would tell to his disadvantage, made it his anxious request that he would say nothing to Cornelius O’Shane of what had passed between them, lest it should offend Cornelius, who he knew was so fond of Mr. Ormond. Harry eased the gentleman’s mind, by promising that he would never say a word about the matter. Mr. Connal was not content till this promise was solemnly repeated. Even this, though it seemed quite to satisfy him at the time, did not afterwards relieve Connal from the uneasy consciousness he felt in Ormond’s company. He could bear it only the remainder of this day. The next morning he left the Black Islands, having received letters of business, he said, which required his immediate presence at Connal’s-town. Many at Corny Castle seemed willing to dispense with his further stay, but King Corny, true to his word and his character, took leave of him as his son-in-law, and only, as far as hospitality required, was ready to “speed the parting guest.” At parting, White Connal drew his future father-in-law aside, and gave him a hint, that he had better look sharp after that youth he was fostering.

“Harry Ormond, do you mean?” said O’Shane.

“I do,” said Connal: “but, Mr. O’Shane, don’t go to mistake me, I am not jealous of the man — not capable — of such a fellow as that — a wild scatterbrains, who is not worth a sixpence scarce — I have too good an opinion of Miss Dora. But if I was in your place, her father, just for the look of the thing in the whole country, I should not like it: not that I mind what people say a potato skin; but still, if I was her father, I’d as soon have the devil an inmate and intimate in my house, nuzzling in my daughter’s ear behind backs.”

Cornelius O’Shane stoutly stood by his young friend.

He never saw Harry Ormond muzzling— behind backs, especially — did not believe any such thing: all Harry said and did was always above-board, and before faces, any way. “In short,” said Cornelius, “I will answer for Harry Ormond’s honour with my own honour. After that, ‘twould be useless to add with my life, if required — that of course; and this ought to satisfy any son-in-law, who was a gentleman — none such could glance or mean to reflect on Dora.”

Connal, perceiving he had overshot himself, made protestations of his innocence of the remotest intention of glancing at, or reflecting upon, or imagining any thing but what was perfectly angelic and proper in Miss Dora — Miss O’Shane.

“Then that was all as it should be,” Mr. O’Shane said, “so far: but another point he would not concede to mortal man, was he fifty times his son-in-law promised, that was, his own right to have who he pleased and willed to have, at his own castle, his inmate and his intimate.”

“No doubt — to be sure,” Connal said: “he did not mean — he only meant — he could not mean — in short, he meant nothing at all, only just to put Mr. O’Shane on his guard — that was all he meant.”

“Phoo!” said Cornelius O’Shane; but checking the expression of his contempt for the man, he made an abrupt transition to Connal’s horse, which had just come to the door.

“That’s a handsome horse! certainly you are well mounted, Mr. Connal.”

O’Shane’s elision of contempt was beyond Mr. Connal’s understanding or feeling.

“Well mounted! certainly I am that, and ever will be, while I can so well afford it,” said Connal, mounting his horse; and identifying himself with the animal, he sat proudly, then bowing to the ladies, who were standing at an open window, “Good day to ye, ladies, till October, when I hope —”

But his horse, who did not seem quite satisfied of his identity with the man, would not permit him to say more, and off he went — half his hopes dispersed in empty air.

“I know I wish,” said Cornelius O’Shane to himself, as he stood on the steps, looking after the man and horse, “I wish that that unlucky bowl of punch had remained for ever unmixed, at the bottom of which I found this son-in-law for my poor daughter, my innocent Dora, then unborn; but she must make the best of him for me and herself, since the fates and my word, irrevocable as the Styx, have bound me to him, the purse-proud grazier and mean man — not a remnant of a gentleman! as the father was. Oh, my poor Dora!”

As King Corny heaved a heartfelt sigh, very difficult to force from his anti-sentimental bosom, Harry Ormond, with a plate of meat in his hand, whistling to his dog to follow him, ran down the steps.

“Leave feeding that dog, and come here to me, Harry,” said O’Shane, “and answer me truly such questions as I shall ask.”

Truly— if I answer at all,” said Harry.

“Answer you must, when I ask you: every man, every gentleman, must answer in all honour for what he does.”

“Certainly, answer for what he does,” said Harry.

For!— Phoo! Come, none of your tricks upon prepositions to gain time — I never knew you do the like — you’ll give me a worse opinion. I’m no schoolmaster, nor you a grammarian, I hope, to be equivocating on monosyllables.”

“Equivocate! I never equivocated, sir,” said Harry.

“Don’t begin now, then,” said Cornelius: “I’ve enough to put me out of humour already — so answer straight, like yourself. What’s this you’ve done to get the ill-will of White Connal, that’s just gone?”

Surprised and embarrassed, Ormond answered, “I trust I have not his ill-will, sir.”

“You have, sir,” said O’Shane.

“Is it possible?” cried Harry, “when we shook hands — You must have misunderstood, or have been misinformed. How do you know, my dear sir?”

“I know it from the man’s own lips, see! I can give you a straight answer at once. Now answer me, was there any quarrel between you? and what cause of offence did you give?”

“Excuse me, sir — those are questions which I cannot answer.”

“Your blush, young man, answers me enough, and too much. Mark me, I thought I could answer for your honour with my own, and I did so.”

“Thank you, sir, and you shall never have reason —”

“Don’t interrupt me, young man. What reason can I have to judge of the future, but from the past? I am not an idiot to be bothered with fair words.”

“Oh! sir, can you suspect?”

“I suspect nothing, Harry Ormond: I am, I thank my God, above suspicion. Listen to me. You know — whether I ever told it you before or not, I can’t remember — but whether or not, you know as well as if you were withinside of me — that in my heart’s core there’s not a man alive I should have preferred for my son-in-law to the man I once thought Harry Ormond, without a penny —”

“Once thought!”

“Interrupt me again, and I’ll lave you, sir. In confidence between ourselves, thinking as once I did, that I might depend on your friendship and discretion, equally with your honour, I confessed, I repented a rash promise, and let you see my regret deep enough that my son-in-law will never be what Dora deserves — I said, or let you see as much, no matter which; I am no equivocator, nor do I now unsay or retract a word. You have my secret; but remember when first I had the folly to tell it you, same time I warned you — I warned you, Harry, like the moth from the candle — I warned you in vain. In another tone I warn you now, young man, for the last time — I tell you my promise to me is sacred — she is as good as married to White Connal — fairly tied up neck and heels — and so am I, to all intents and purposes; and if I thought it were possible you could consider her, or make her by any means consider herself, in any other light, I will tell you what I would do — I would shoot myself; for one of us must fall, and I wouldn’t choose it should be you, Harry. That’s all.”

“Oh! hear me, sir,” cried Harry, seizing his arm as he turned away, “kill me if you will, but hear me — I give you my word you are from beginning to end mistaken. I cannot tell you the whole — but this much believe, Dora was not the cause of quarrel.”

“Then there was a quarrel. Oh, for shame! for shame! — you are not used to falsehood enough yet — you can’t carry it through — why did you attempt it with me?”

“Sir, though I can’t tell you the truth, the foolish truth, I tell you no falsehood. Dora’s name, a thought of Dora, never came in question between Mr. Connal and me, upon my honour.”

“Your honour!” repeated Cornelius, with a severe look — severe more in its sorrow than its anger. “O Harry Ormond! what signifies whether the name was mentioned? You know she was the thing — the cause of offence. Stop! I charge you — equivocate no more. If a lie’s beneath a gentleman, an equivocation is doubly beneath a man.”

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