Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 13.

Harry Ormond thought it hard to bear unmerited reproach and suspicion; found it painful to endure the altered eye of his once kind and always generous, and to him always dear, friend and benefactor. But Ormond had given a solemn promise to White Connal never to mention any thing that had passed between them to O’Shane; and he could not therefore explain these circumstances of the quarrel. Conscious that he was doing right, he kept his promise to the person he hated and despised, at the hazard, at the certainty, of displeasing the man he most loved in the world; and to whom he was the most obliged. While his heart yearned with tenderness towards his adopted father, he endured the reproach of ingratitude; and while he knew he had acted perfectly honourably, he suffered under the suspicion of equivocation and breach of confidence: he bore it all; and in reward he had the conviction of his own firmness, and an experience, upon trial, of his adherence to his word of honour. The trial may seem but trivial, the promise but weak: still it was a great trial to him, and he thought the promise as sacred as if it had been about an affair of state.

It happened some days after the conversation had passed between him and O’Shane, that Cornelius met O’Tara, the gentleman who had laid the bets about the cock-fight with Connal; and chancing to ask him what had prevented the intended battle, O’Tara told all he knew of the adventure. Being a good-natured and good-humoured man, he stated the matter as playfully as possible — acknowledged that they had all been foolish and angry; but that Harry Ormond and Moriarty had at last pacified them by proper apologies. Of what had passed afterwards, of the bullying, and the challenge, and the submission, O’Tara knew nothing; but King Corny having once been put on the right scent, soon made it all out. He sent for Moriarty, and cross-questioning him, heard the whole; for Moriarty had not been sworn to secrecy, and had very good ears. When he had been turned out of the stable, he had retreated only to the harness-room, and had heard all that had passed. King Corny was delighted with Harry’s spirit — and now he was Prince Harry again, and the generous, warm-hearted Cornelius went, in impatience, to seek him out, and to beg his pardon for his suspicions. He embraced him, called him son, and dear son — said he had now found out, no thanks to him, Connal’s cause of complaint, and it had nothing to do with Dora. —“But why could not you say so, man?”

He had said so repeatedly.

“Well, so I suppose it is to be made out clearly to be all my fault, that was in a passion, and could not hear, understand, or believe. Well, be it so; if I was unjust, I’ll make it up to you, for I’ll never believe my own ears, or eyes, against you, Harry, while I live, depend upon it:— if I heard you asking her to marry you, I would believe my ears brought me the words wrong; if I saw you even leading her into the church instead of the chapel, and the priest himself warning me of it, I’d say and think, Father Jos, ’tis a mistake — a vision — or a defect of vision. In short, I love and trust you as my own soul, Harry Ormond, for I did you injustice.”

This full return of kindness and confidence, besides the present delight it gave him, left a permanent and beneficial impression upon our young hero’s mind. The admiration he felt for O’Shane’s generous conduct, and the self-approbation he enjoyed in consequence of his own honourable firmness, had a great effect in strengthening and forming his character: it also rendered him immediately more careful in his whole behaviour towards Miss O’Shane. He was prudent till both aunt and niece felt indignant astonishment. There was some young lady with whom Harry had danced and walked, and of whom he had, without any design, spoken as a pleasing gentle girl. Dora recollected this praise, and joining it with his present distant behaviour toward herself, she was piqued and jealous; and then she became, what probably she would never otherwise have been, quite decided in her partiality for Harry Ormond. The proofs of this were soon so manifest, that many thought, and Miss O’Faley in particular, that Harry was grown stupid, blind, and deaf. He was net stupid, blind, or deaf — he had felt the full power of Dora’s personal charms, and his vanity had been flattered by the preference which Dora showed for him. Where vanity is the ruling passion, young men are easily flattered into being in love with any pretty, perhaps with any ugly girl, who is, or who affects to be, in love with them. But Harry Ormond had more tenderness of heart than vanity: against the suggestions of his vanity he had struggled successfully; but now his heart had a hard trial. Dora’s spirits were failing, her cheek growing pale, her tone of voice was quite softened; sighs would sometimes break forth — persuasive sighs! — Dora was no longer the scornful lady in rude health, but the interesting invalid — the victim going to be sacrificed. Dora’s aunt talked of the necessity of advice for her niece’s health. Great stress was laid on air and exercise, and exercise on horseback. Dora rode every day on the horse Harry Ormond broke in for her, the only horse she could now ride; and Harry understood its ways, and managed it so much better than any body else; and Dora was grown a coward, so that it was quite necessary he should ride or walk beside her. Harry Ormond’s tenderness of heart increased his idea of the danger. Her personal charms became infinitely more attractive to him; her defects of temper and character were forgotten and lost in his sense of pity and gratitude; and the struggle of his feelings was now violent.

One morning our young hero rose early, for he could no longer sleep, and he walked out, or, more properly, he rambled, or he strolled, or streamed out, and he took his way — no, his steps were irresistibly led — to his accustomed haunt by the water side, under the hawthorn bank, and there he walked and picked daisies, and threw stones into the lake, and he loitered on, still thinking of Dora and death, and of the circles in the water, and again of the victim and of the sacrifice, when suddenly he was roused from his reverie by a shrill whistle, that seemed to come from the wood above, and an instant afterwards he heard some one shouting, “Harry Ormond! — Harry Ormond!”

“Here!” answered Harry; and as the shouts were repeated he recognized the voice of O’Tara, who now came, whip in hand, followed by his dogs, running down the bank to him.

“Oh! Harry Ormond, I’ve brought great news with me for all at Corny Castle; but the ladies are not out of their nests, and King Corny’s Lord knows how far off. Not a soul or body to be had but yourself here, by good luck, and you shall have the first of the news, and the telling of it.”

“Thank you,” said Ormond; “and what is the news?”

“First and foremost,” said O’Tara, “you know birds of a feather flock together. White Connal, though, except for the cock-fighting, I never relished him, was mighty fond of me, and invited me down to Connal’s-town, where I’ve been with him this week — you know that much, I conclude.”

Harry owned he did not.

O’Tara wondered how he could help knowing it. “But so it was; we had a great cock-fight, and White Connal, who knew none of my secrets in the feeding line, was bet out and out, and angry enough he was; and then I offered to change birds with him, and beat him with his own Ginger by my superiority o’ feeding, which he scoffed at, but lookup the bet.”

Ormond sighed with impatience in vain — he was forced to submit, and to go through the whole detail of the cock-fight. “The end of it was, that White Connal was worsted by his own bird, and then mad angry was he. So, then,” continued O’Tara, “to get the triumph again on his side, one way or another, was the thing. I had the advantage of him in dogs, too, for he kept no hounds — you know he is close, and hounds lead to a gentlemanlike expense; but very fine horses he had, I’ll acknowledge, and, Harry Ormond, you can’t but remember that one which he could not manage the day he was out riding here with Miss Dora, and you changed with him.”

“I remember it well,” said Ormond.

“Ay, and he has got reason to remember it now, sure enough.”

“Has he had a fall?” said Ormond, stopping.

“Walk on, can’t ye — keep up, and I’ll tell you all regular.”

“There is King Corny!” exclaimed Ormond, who just then saw him come in view.

“Come on, then,” cried O’Tara, leaping over a ditch that was between them, and running up to King Corny. “Great news for you, King Corny, I’ve brought — your son-in-law elect, White Connal, is off.”

“Off — how?”

“Out of the world clean! Poor fellow, broke his neck with that horse he could never manage — on Sunday last. I left him for dead Sunday night — found him dead Monday morning — came off straight with the news to you.”

“Dead!” repeated Corny and Harry, looking at one another. “Heaven forbid!” said Corny, “that I should —”

“Heaven forbid!” repeated Harry; “but —”

“But good morning to you both, then,” said O’Tara: “shake hands either way, and I’ll condole or congratulate to-morrow as the case may be, with more particulars if required.”

O’Tara ran off, saying he would be back again soon; but he had great business to do. “I told the father last night.”

“I am no hypocrite,” said Corny. “Rest to the dead and all their faults! White Connal is out of my poor Dora’s way, and I am free from my accursed promise!” Then clasping his hands, “Praised be Heaven for that! — Heaven is too good to me! — Oh, my child! how unworthy White Connal of her! — Thank Heaven on my knees, with my whole heart, thank Heaven that I am not forced to the sacrifice! — My child, my darling Dora, she is free! — Harry Ormond, my dear boy, I’m free,” cried O’Shane, embracing Harry with all the warmth of paternal affection.

Ormond returned that embrace with equal warmth, and with a strong sense of gratitude: but was his joy equal to O’Shane’s? What were his feelings at this moment? They were in such confusion, such contradiction, he could scarcely tell. Before he heard of White Connal’s death, at the time when he was throwing pebbles into the lake, he desired nothing so much as to be able to save Dora from being sacrificed to that odious marriage; he thought, that if he were not bound in honour to his benefactor, he should instantly make that offer of his hand and heart to Dora, which would at once restore her to health, and happiness, and fulfil the wishes of her kind, generous father. But now, when all obstacles seemed to vanish — when his rival was no more — when his benefactor declared his joy at being freed from his promise — when he was embraced as O’Shane’s son, he did not feel joy: he was surprised to find it; but he could not. Now that he could marry Dora, now that her father expected that he should, he was not clear that he wished it himself. Quick as obstacles vanished, objections recurred: faults which he had formerly seen so strongly, which of late compassion had veiled from his view, reappeared; the softness of manner, the improvement of temper, caused by love, might be transient as passion. Then her coquetry — her frivolity. She was not that superior kind of woman which his imagination had painted, or which his judgment could approve of in a wife. How was he to explain this confusion of feeling to Corny? Leaning on his arm, he walked on towards the house. He saw Corny, smiling at his own meditations, was settling the match, and anticipating the joy to all he loved. Harry sighed, and was painfully silent.

“Shoot across like an arrow to the house,” cried Corny, turning suddenly to him, and giving him a kind push —“shoot off, Harry, and bring Dora to meet me like lightning, and the poor aunt, too —‘twould be cruel else! But what stops you, son of my heart?”

“Stay!” cried Corny, a sudden thought striking him, which accounted for Harry Ormond’s hesitation; “Stop, Harry! You are right, and I am a fool. There is Black Connal, the twin-brother — oh, mercy! — against us still. May be Old Connal will keep me to it still — as he couldn’t, no more than I could, foresee that when I promised Dora that was not then born, it would be twins — and as I said son, and surely I meant the son that would be born then — and twins is all as one as one, they say. Promise fettering still! Bad off as ever, may be,” said Cornelius. His whole countenance and voice changed; he sat down on a fallen tree, and rested his hands on his knees. “What shall we do now, Harry, with Black Connal?”

“He may be a very different man from White Connal — in every respect,” said Ormond.

O’Shane looked up for a moment, and then interpreting his own way, exclaimed, “That’s right, Harry — that thought is like yourself, and the very thought I had myself. We must make no declarations till we have cleared the point of honour. Not the most beautiful angel that ever took woman’s beautiful form — and that’s the greatest temptation man can meet — could tempt my Harry Ormond from the straight path of honour!”

Harry Ormond stood at this moment abashed by praise which he did not quite deserve. “Indeed, sir,” said he, “you give me too much credit.” “I cannot give you too much credit; you are an honourable young man, and I understand you through and through.”

That was more than Harry himself did. Corny went on talking to himself aloud, “Black Connal is abroad these great many years, ever since he was a boy — never saw him since a child that high — an officer he is in the Irish brigade now — black eyes and hair; that was why they called him Black Connal — Captain Connal now; and I heard the father say he was come to England, and there was some report of his going to be married, if I don’t mistake,” cried Corny, turning again to Harry, pleasure rekindling in his eye. “If that should be! there’s hope for us still; but I see you are right not to yield to the hope till we are clear. My first step, in honour, no doubt, must be across the lake this minute to the father — Connal of Glynn; but the boat is on the other side. The horn is, with my fishing-tackle, Harry, down yonder — run, for you can run — horn the boat, or if the horn be not there, sign to the boat with your handkerchief — bring it up here, and I will put across before ten minutes shall be over — my horse I will have down to the water’s edge by the time you have got the boat up — when an honourable tough job is to be done, the sooner the better.”

The horse was brought to the water’s edge, the boat came across, Corny and his horse were in; and Corny, with his own hands on the oar, pushed away from land: then calling to Harry, he bid him wait on the shore by such an hour, and he should have the first news.

“Rest on your oars, you, while I speak to Prince Harry.

“That you may know all, Harry, sooner than I can tell you, if all be safe, or as we wish it, see, I’ll hoist my neckcloth, white, to the top of this oar; if not, the black flag, or none at all, shall tell you. Say nothing till then — God bless you, boy!” Harry was glad that he had these orders, for he knew that as soon as Mademoiselle should be up, and hear of O’Tara’s early visit, with the message he said he had left at the house that he brought great news, Mademoiselle would soon sally forth to learn what that news might be. In this conjecture Ormond was not mistaken. He soon heard her voice “Mon–Dieu!-ing” at the top of the bank: he ducked — he dived — he darted through nettles and brambles, and escaped. Seen or unseen he escaped, nor stopped his flight even when out of reach of the danger. As to trusting himself to meet Dora’s eyes, “’twas what he dared not.”

He hid, and wandered up and down, till near dinner-time. At last, O’Shane’s boat was seen returning — but no white flag! The boat rowed nearer and nearer, and reached the spot where Harry stood motionless.

“Ay, my poor boy, I knew I’d find you so,” said O’Shane, as he got ashore. “There’s my hand, you have my heart — I wish I had another hand to give you — but it’s all over with us, I fear. Oh! my poor Dora! — and here she is coming down the bank, and the aunt! — Oh, Dora! you have reason to hate me!”

“To hate you, sir? Impossible!” said Ormond, squeezing his hand strongly, as he felt.

“Impossible! — true — for her to hate, who is all love and loveliness! — impossible too for you, Harry Ormond, who is all goodness!”

“Bon Dieu!” cried Mademoiselle, who was now within exclamation distance. “What a course we have had after you, gentlemen! Ladies looking for gentlemen! — C’est inouï! — What is it all? for I am dying with curiosity.”

Without answering Mademoiselle, the father, and Harry’s eyes, at the same moment, were fixed on one who was some steps behind, and who looked as if dying with a softer passion. Harry made a step forward to offer his arm, but stopped short; the father offered his, in silence.

“Can nobody speak to me? — Bien poli!” said Mademoiselle.

“If you please, Miss O’Faley, ma’am,” cried a hatless footman, who had run after the ladies the wrong way from the house: “if you please, ma’am, will she send up dinner now?”

“Oui, qu’on serve! — Yes, she will. Let her dish — by that time she is dished, we shall he in — and have satisfied our curiosity, I hope,” added she, turning to her brother-in-law.

“Let us dine first,” said Cornelius, “and when the cloth is removed, and the waiting-ears out of hearing, time enough to have our talk to ourselves.”

“Bien singulier, ces Anglois!” muttered Mademoiselle to herself, as they proceeded to the house. “Here is a young man, and the most polite of the silent company, who may well be in some haste for his dinner; for to my knowledge, he is without his breakfast.”

Harry had no appetite for dinner, but swallowed as much as Mademoiselle O’Faley desired. A remarkably silent meal it would have been, but for her happy volubility, equal to all occasions. At last came the long expected words, “Take away.” When all was taken away, and all were gone, but those who, as O’Shane said, would too soon wish unheard what they were dying to hear, he drew his daughter’s chair close to him, placed her so as “to save her blushes,” and began his story, by relating all that O’Tara had told.

“It was a sudden death — shocking!” Mademoiselle repeated several times; but both she and Dora recovered from the shock, or from the word “shocking!” and felt the delight of Dora’s being no longer a sacrifice.

After a general thanksgiving having been offered for her escape from the butor, Mademoiselle, in transports, was going on to say that now her niece was free to make a suitable match, and she was just turning to wonder that Harry Ormond was not that moment at her niece’s feet; and Dora’s eyes, raised slowly towards him and suddenly retracted, abashed and perplexed Harry indescribably; when Corny continued thus: “Dora is not free, nor am I free in honour yet, nor can I give any body freedom of tongue or heart until I know farther.”

Various exclamations of surprise and sorrow interrupted him.

“Am I never, never, to be free!” cried Dora: “Oh! am not I now at liberty?”

“Hear me, my child,” said her father; “I feel it as you do.”

“And what is it next — Qu’est-ce que c’est — this new obstacle? — What can it be?” said Mademoiselle.

The father then stated sorrowfully, that Old Connal of Glynn would by no means relinquish the promise, but considered it equally binding for the twin born with White Connal, considering both twins as coming under the promise to his son that was to be born. He said he would write immediately to his son, who was now in England.

“And now tell me what kind of a person is this new pretender, this Mr. Black Connal,” cried Mademoiselle.

“Of him we know nothing as yet,” said O’Shane; “but I hope, in Heaven, that the man that is coming is as different from the man that’s gone as black from white.”

Harry heard Dora breathe quick and quicker, but she said nothing.

“Then we shall get his answer to the father’s letter in eight days, I count,” said Mademoiselle; “and I have great hopes we shall never be troubled with him: we shall know if he will come or not, in eight days.”

“About that time,” said O’Shane: “but, sister O’Faley, do not nurse my child or yourself up with deceitful hopes. There’s not a man alive — not a Connal, surely, hearing what happiness he is heir to, but would come flying over post-haste. So you may expect his answer, in eight days — Dora, my darling, and God grant he may be —”

“No matter what he is, sir — I’ll die before I will see him,” cried Dora, rising, and bursting into tears.

“Oh, my child, you won’t die! — you can’t — from me, your father!” Her father threw his arms round her, and would have drawn her to him, but she turned her face from him: Harry was on the other side — her eyes met his, and her face became covered with blushes.

“Open the window, Harry!” said O’Shane, who saw the conflict; “open the window! — we all want it.”

Harry opened the window, and hung out of it gasping for breath.

“She’s gone — the aunt has taken her off — it’s over for this fit,” said O’Shane. “Oh, my child, I must go through with it! My boy, I honour as I love you — I have a great deal to say about your own affairs, Harry.”

“My affairs — oh! what affairs have I? Never think of me, dear sir —”

“I will — but can’t now — I am spent for this day — leave out the bottle of claret for Father Jos, and I’ll get to bed — I’ll see nobody, tell Father Jos — I’m gone to my room.”

The next morning O’Tara came to breakfast. Every person had a different question to ask him, except Dora, who was silent.

Corny asked what kind of man Black Connal was. Mademoiselle inquired whether he was most French or English; Ormond, whether he was going to be married.

To all these questions O’Tara pleaded ignorance: except with respect to the sports of the field, he had very little curiosity or intelligence.

A ray of hope again darted across the mind of Corny. From his knowledge of the world, he thought it very probable that a young officer in the French brigade would be well contented to be heir to his brother’s fortune, without encumbering himself with an Irish wife, taken from an obscure part of the country. Corny, therefore, eagerly inquired from O’Tara what became of White Connal’s property. O’Tara answered, that the common cry of the country was, that all White Connal’s profitable farms were leasehold property, and upon his own life. Poor Corny’s hopes were thus frustrated: he had nothing left to do for some days but to pity Harry Ormond, to bear with the curiosity and impatience of Mademoiselle, and with the froward sullenness of Dora, till some intelligence should arrive respecting the new claimant to her destined hand.

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