Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 14

A few days afterwards, Sheelah, bursting into Dora’s room, exclaimed, “Miss Dora! Miss Dora! for the love of God, they are coming! They’re coming down the avenue, powdering along! Black Connal himself flaming away, with one in a gold hat, this big, galloping after, and all gold over, he is entirely! — Oh! what will become of us, Master Harry, now! Oh! it took the sight out of my eyes! — And yours as red as ferrets, dear! — Oh! the cratur. But come to the window and look out — nobody will mind — stretch out the body, and I’ll hold ye fast, never fear! — at the turn of the big wood do you see them behind the trees, the fir dales, glittering and flaming? Do you see them at all?”

“Too plainly,” said Dora, sighing; “but I did not expect he would come in such a grand style. I wonder —”

“Oh! so do I, greatly — mostly at the carriage. Never saw the like with the Connals, so grand — but the queer thing —”

“Ah! my dear Dore, un cabriolet!” cried Mademoiselle, entering in ecstacy. “Here is Monsieur de Connal for you in a French cabriolet, and a French servant riding on to advertise you and all. Oh! what are you twisting your neck, child? I will have no toss at him now — he is all the gentleman, you shall see: so let me set you all to rights while your father is receive. I would not have him see you such a horrible figure — not presentable! you look —”

“I do not care how I look — the worse the better,” said Dora: “I wish to look a horrible figure to him — to Black Connal.”

“Oh! put your Black Connals out of your head — that is always in your mouth: I tell you he is call M. de Connal. Now did I not hear him this minute announced by his own valet? — Monsieur de Connal presents his compliments — he beg permission to present himself — and there was I, luckily, to answer for your father in French.”

“French! sure Black Connal’s Irish born!” said Sheelah: “that much I know, any way.”

A servant knocked at the door with King Corny’s request that the ladies would come down stairs, to see, as the footman added to his master’s message, to see old Mr. Connal and the French gentleman.

“There! French, I told you,” said Mademoiselle, “and quite the gentleman, depend upon it, my dear — come your ways.”

“No matter what he is,” said Dora, “I shall not go down to see him; so you had better go by yourself, aunt.”

“Not one step! Oh! that would be the height of impolitesse and disobedience — you could not do that, my dear Dore; consider, he is not a man that nobody knows, like your old butor of a White Connal. Not signify how bad you treat him — like the dog; but here is a man of a certain quality, who knows the best people in Paris, who can talk, and tell every where. Oh! in conscience, my dear Dore, I shall not suffer these airs with a man who is somebody, and —”

“If he were the king of France,” cried Dora, “if he were Alexander the Great himself, I would not be forced to see the man, or marry him against my will!”

“Marry! Who talk of marry? Not come to that yet; ten to one he has no thought of you, more than politeness require.”

“Oh! as to that,” said Dora, “aunt, you certainly are mistaken there. What do you think he comes over to Ireland, what do you think he comes here for?”

“Hark! then,” said Sheelah, “don’t I hear them out of the window? Faith! there they are, walking and talking and laughing, as if there was nothing at all in it.”

“Just Heavens! What a handsome uniform!” said Miss O’Faley; “and a very proper-looking man,” said Sheelah.

“Well, who’d have thought Black Connal, if it’s him, would ever have turned out so fine a presence of a man to look at?”

“Very cavalier, indeed, to go out to walk, without waiting to see us,” said Dora.

“Oh! I will engage it was that dear father of yours hoisted him out.”

“Hoisted him out! Well, aunt, you do sometimes speak the oddest English. But I do think it strange that he should be so very much at his ease. Look at him — hear him — I wonder what he is saying — and Harry Ormond! — Give me my bonnet, Sheelah — behind you, quick. Aunt, let us go out of the garden door, and meet them out walking, by accident — that is the best way — I long to see how somebody will look.”

“Very good — now you look all life and spirit — perfectly charming! Look that manner, and I’ll engage he will fall in love with you.”

“He had better not, I can tell him, unless he has a particular pleasure in being refused,” said Dora, with a toss of her head and neck, and at the same time a glance at her looking-glass, as she passed quickly out of the room.

Dora and her aunt walked out, and accidentally met the gentlemen in their walk. As M. de Connal approached, he gave them full leisure to form their opinions as to his personal appearance. He had the air of a foreign officer — easy, fashionable, and upon uncommonly good terms with himself — conscious, but with no vulgar consciousness, of possessing a fine figure and a good face: his was the air of a French coxcomb, who in unconstrained delight, was rather proud to display, than anxious to conceal, his perfect self-satisfaction. Interrupting his conversation only when he came within a few paces of the ladies, he advanced with an air of happy confidence and Parisian gallantry, begging that Mr. O’Shane would do him the honour and pleasure to present him. After a bow, that said nothing, to Dora, he addressed his conversation entirely to her aunt, walking beside Mademoiselle, and neither approaching nor attempting to speak to Dora; he did not advert to her in the least, and seemed scarcely to know she was present. This quite disconcerted the young lady’s whole plan of proceedings — no opportunity was afforded her of showing disdain. She withdrew her arm from her aunt’s, though Mademoiselle held it as fast as she could — but Dora withdrew it resolutely, and falling back a step or two, took Harry Ormond’s arm, and walked with him, talking with as much unconcern, and as loudly as she could, to mark her indifference. But whether she talked or was silent, walked on with Harry Ormond, or stayed behind, whispered or laughed aloud, it seemed to make no impression, no alteration whatever in Monsieur de Connal: he went on conversing with Mademoiselle, and with her father, alternately in French and English. In English he spoke with a native Irish accent, which seemed to have been preserved from childhood; but though the brogue was strong, yet there were no vulgar expressions: he spoke good English, but generally with somewhat of French idiom. Whether this was from habit or affectation it was not easy to decide. It seemed as if the person who was speaking, thought in French, and translated it into English as he went on. The peculiarity of manner and accent — for there was French mixed with the Irish — fixed attention; and besides Dora was really curious to hear what he was saying, for he was very entertaining. Mademoiselle was in raptures while he talked of Paris and Versailles, and various people of consequence and fashion at the court. The Dauphiness! — she was then but just married — de Connal had seen all the fêtes and the fireworks — but the beautiful Dauphiness! — In answering a question of Mademoiselle’s about the colour of her hair, he for the first time showed that he had taken notice of Dora. “Nearly the colour, I think, of that young lady’s hair, as well as one can judge; but powder prevents the possibility of judging accurately.”

Dora was vexed to see that she was considered merely as a young lady: she exerted herself to take a part in the conversation, but Mr. Connal never joined in conversation with her — with the most scrupulous deference he stopped short in the middle of his sentence, if she began to speak. He stood aside, shrinking into himself with the utmost care, if she was to pass; he held the boughs of the shrubs out of her way, but continued his conversation with Mademoiselle all the time. When they came in from their walk, the same sort of thing went on. “It really is very extraordinary,” thought she: “he seems as if he was spell-bound — obliged by his notions of politeness to let me pass incognita.”

Mademoiselle was so fully engaged, chattering away, that she did not perceive Dora’s mortification. The less notice Connal took of her, the more Dora wished to attract his attention: not that she desired to please him — no, she only longed to have the pleasure of refusing him. For this purpose the offer must be made — and it was not at all clear that any offer would be made.

When the ladies went to dress before dinner, Mademoiselle, while she was presiding at Dora’s toilette, expressed how much she was delighted with M. de Connal, and asked what her niece thought of him? Dora replied that indeed she did not trouble herself to think of him at all — that she thought him a monstrous coxcomb — and that she wondered what could bring so prodigiously fine a gentleman to the Black Islands.

“Ask your own sense what brought him here! or ask your own looking-glass what shall keep him here!” said Miss O’Faley. “I can tell you he thinks you very handsome already; and when he sees you dress!”

“Really! he does me honour; he did not seem as if he had even seen me, more than any of the trees in the wood, or the chairs in the room.”

“Chairs! — Oh, now you fish for complimens! But I shall not tell you how like he thinks you, if you were mise à la Françoise, to la belle Comtesse de Barnac.”

“But is not it very extraordinary, he absolutely never spoke to me,” said Dora: “a very strange manner of paying his court!”

Mademoiselle assured Dora “that this was owing to M. de Connal’s French habits. The young ladies in Paris passing for nothing, scarcely ever appearing in society till they are married, the gentlemen have no intercourse with them, and it would be considered as a breach of respect due to a young lady or her mother, to address much conversation to her. And you know, my dear Dore, their marriages are all make up by the father, the mother, the friends — the young people themselves never speak, never know nothing at all about each one another, till the contract is sign: in fact, the young lady is the little round what you call cipher, but has no value in société at all, till the figure of de husband come to give it the value.”

“I have no notion of being a cipher,” said Dora: “I am not a French young lady, Monsieur de Connal.”

“Ah, but my dear Dore, consider what is de French wife! Ah! then come her great glory; then she reign over all hearts, and is in full liberté to dress, to go, to come, to do what she like, with her own carriage, her own box at de opera, and — You listen well, and I shall draw all that out for you, from M. de Connal.”

Dora languidly, sullenly begged her aunt would not give herself the trouble — she had no curiosity. But nevertheless she asked several questions about la Comtesse de Barnac; and all the time saying she did not in the least care what he thought or said of her, she drew from her aunt every syllable that M. de Connal had uttered, and was secretly mortified and surprised to find he had said so little. She could not dress herself to her mind to-day, and protesting she did not care how she looked, she resigned herself into her aunt’s hands. Whatever he might think, she should take care to show him at dinner that young ladies in this country were not ciphers.

At dinner, however, as before, all Dora’s preconcerted airs of disdain and determination to show that she was somebody, gave way, she did not know how, before M. de Connal’s easy assurance and polite indifference. His knowledge of the world, and his talents for conversation, with the variety of subjects he had flowing in from all parts of the world, gave him advantages with which there was no possibility of contending.

He talked, and carved — all life, and gaiety, and fashion: he spoke of battles, of princes, plays, operas, wine, women, cardinals, religion, politics, poetry, and turkeys stuffed with truffles — and Paris for ever! — Dash on! at every thing! — hit or miss — sure of the applause of Mademoiselle — and, as he thought, secure of the admiration of the whole company of natives, from le beau-père, at the foot of the table, to the boy who waited, or who did not wait, opposite to him, but who stood entranced with wonder at all that M. de Connal said, and all that he did — even to the fashion in which he stowed trusses of salad into his mouth with a fork, and talked — through it all.

And Dora, what did she think? — she thought she was very much mortified that there was room for her to say so little. The question now was not what she thought of M. de Connal, but what he thought of her. After beginning with various little mock defences, avertings of the head, and twists of the neck, of the shoulders and hips, compound motions resolvable into mauvaise honte and pride, as dinner proceeded, and Monsieur de Connal’s success was undoubted, she silently gave up her resolution “not to admire.”

Before the first course was over, Connal perceived that he had her eye: “Before the second is over,” thought he, “I shall have her ear; and by the time we come to the dessert, I shall be in a fair way for the heart.”

Though he seemed to have talked without any design, except to amuse himself and the company in general, yet in all he had said there had been a prospective view to his object. He chose his means well, and in Mademoiselle he found, at once, a happy dupe and a confederate. Without previous concert, they raised visions of Parisian glory which were to prepare the young lady’s imagination for a French lover or a French husband. M. de Connal was well aware that no matter who touched her heart, if he could pique her vanity.

After dinner, when the ladies retired, old Mr. Connal began to enter upon the question of the intended union between the families — Ormond left the room, and Corny suppressed a deep sigh. M. de Connal took an early opportunity of declaring that there was no truth in the report of his going to be married in England: he confessed that such a thing had been in question — he must speak with delicacy — but the family and connexions did not suit him; he had a strong prejudice, he owned, in favour of ancient family — Irish family; he had always wished to marry an Irish woman — for that reason he had avoided opportunities that might have occurred of connecting himself, perhaps advantageously, in France; he was really ambitious of the honour of an alliance with the O’Shanes. Nothing could be more fortunate for him than the friendship which had subsisted between his father and Mr. O’Shane. — And the promise? — Relinquish it! — Oh! that, he assured Mr. O’Shane, was quite impossible, provided the young lady herself should not make a decided objection — he should abide by her decision — he could not possibly think of pressing his suit, if there should appear any repugnance: in that case, he should be infinitely mortified — he should be absolutely in despair; but he should know how to submit — cost him what it would: he should think, as a man of honour, it was his part to sacrifice his wishes, to what the young lady might conceive to be for her happiness.

He added a profusion of compliments on the young lady’s charms, with a declaration of the effect they had already produced on his heart.

This was all said with a sort of nonchalance, which Corny did not at all like. But Mademoiselle, who was summoned to Corny’s private council, gave it as her opinion, that M. de Connal was already quite in love — quite as much as a French husband ever was. She was glad that her brother-in-law was bound by his promise to a gentleman who would really be a proper husband for her niece. Mademoiselle, in short, saw every thing couleur de rose; and she urged, that, since M. de Connal had come to Ireland for the express purpose of forwarding his present suit, he ought to be invited to stay at Corny Castle, that he might endeavour to make himself acceptable to Dora.

To this Corny acceded. He left Mademoiselle to make the invitation; for, he said, she understood French politeness, and all that, better than he did. The invitation was made and accepted, with all due expressions of infinite delight.

“Well, my dear Harry Ormond,” said Corny, the first moment he had an opportunity of speaking to Harry in private, “what do you think of this man?”

“What Miss O’Shane thinks of him is the question,” said Harry, with some embarrassment.

“That’s true — it was too hard to ask you. But I’ll tell you what I think: between ourselves, Black Connal is better than White, inasmuch as a puppy is better than a brute. We shall see what Dora will say or think soon — the aunt is over head and ears already: women are mighty apt to be taken, one way or other, with a bit of a coxcomb. Vanity — vanity! but still I know — I suspect, Dora has a heart: from me, I hope, she has a right to a heart. But I will say no more till I see which way the heart turns and settles, after all the little tremblings and variations: when it points steady, I shall know how to steer my course. I have a scheme in my head, but I won’t mention it to you, Harry, because it might end in disappointment: so go off to bed and to sleep, if you can; you have had a hard day to go through, my poor honourable Harry.”

And poor honourable Harry had many hard days to go through. He had now to see how Dora’s mind was gradually worked upon, not by a new passion, for Mr. Connal never inspired or endeavoured to inspire passion, but by her own and her aunt’s vanity. Mademoiselle with constant importunity assailed her: and though Dora saw that her aunt’s only wish was to settle in Paris, and to live in a fine hotel; and though Dora was persuaded, that for this, her aunt would without scruple sacrifice her happiness and that of Harry Ormond; yet she was so dazzled by the splendid representation of a Parisian life, as not to see very distinctly what object she had herself in view. Connal’s flattery, too, though it had scarcely any pretence to the tone of truth or passion, yet contrasting with his previous indifference, gratified her. She was sensible that he was not attached to her as Harry Ormond was, but she flattered herself that she should quite turn his head in time. She tried all her power of charming for this purpose, at first chiefly with the intention of exciting Harry’s jealousy, and forcing him to break his honourable resolution. Harry continued her first object for some little time, but soon the idea of piquing him was merely an excuse for coquetry. She imagined that she could recede or advance with her new admirer, just as she thought proper; but she was mistaken: she had now to deal with a man practised in the game: he might let her appear to win, but not for nothing would he let her win a single move; yet he seemed to play so carelessly, as not in the least to alarm, or put her on her guard. The bystanders began to guess how the game would terminate: it was a game in which the whole happiness of Dora’s life was at stake, to say nothing of his own, and Ormond could not look on without anxiety — and, notwithstanding his outwardly calm appearance, without strong conflicting emotions. “If,” said he to himself, “I were convinced that this man would make her happy, I think I could be happy myself.” But the more he saw of Connal, the less he thought him likely to make Dora happy; unless, indeed, her vanity could quite extinguish her sensibility: then, Monsieur de Connal would be just the husband to suit her.

Connal was exactly what he appeared to be — a gay young officer, who had made his own way up in the world — a petit-maître, who had really lived in good company at Paris, and had made himself agreeable to women of rank and fortune. He might, perhaps, as he said, with his figure, and fashion, and connexions, have made his fortune in Paris by marriage, had he had time to look about him — but a sudden run of ill-fortune at play had obliged him to quit Paris for a season. It was necessary to make his fortune by marriage in England or Ireland, and as expeditiously as possible. In this situation, Dora, with her own and her aunt’s property, was, as he considered it, an offer not to be rashly slighted; nor yet was he very eager about the matter — if he failed here, he should succeed elsewhere. This real indifference gave him advantages with Dora, which a man of feeling would perhaps never have obtained, or never have kept. Her father, though he believed in the mutable nature of woman, yet could scarcely think that his daughter Dora was of this nature. He could scarcely conceive that her passion for Harry Ormond — that passion which had, but a short time before, certainly affected her spirits, and put him in fear for her health — could have been conquered by a coxcomb, who cared very little whether he conquered or not.

How was this possible? Good Corny invented many solutions of the problem: he fancied one hour that his daughter was sacrificing herself from duty to him, or complaisance to her aunt; the next hour, he settled, and with more probability, that she was piqued by Harry Ormond’s not showing more passion. King Corny was resolved to know distinctly how the matter really was: he therefore summoned his daughter and aunt into his presence, and the person he sent to summon them was Harry Ormond.

“Come back with them, yourself, Harry — I shall want you also.”

Harry returned with both the ladies. By the countenance of Cornelius O’Shane, they all three augured that he had something of importance to say, and they stood in anxious expectation. He went to the point immediately.

“Dora, I know it is the custom on some occasions for ladies never to tell the truth — therefore I shall not ask any question that I think will put your truth to the test. I shall tell you my mind, and leave you to judge for yourself. Take as long or as short a time to know your own mind as you please — only know it clearly, and send me your answer by your aunt. All I beg is, that when the answer shall be delivered to me, this young man may be by. Don’t interrupt me, Dora — I have a high opinion of him,” said he, keeping his eye upon Dora’s face.

“I have a great esteem, affection, love for him:” he pronounced the words deliberately, that he might see the effect on Dora; but her countenance was as undecided as her mind — no judgment could be formed from its changes. “I wish Harry Ormond,” continued he, “to know all my conduct: he knows that, long ago, I made a foolish promise to give my daughter to a man I knew nothing about.”

Mademoiselle was going to interrupt, but Cornelius O’Shane silenced her. “Mademoiselle — sister O’Faley, I will do the best I can to repair that folly — and to leave you at liberty, Dora, to follow the choice of your heart.”

He paused, and again studied her countenance, which was agitated.

“Her choice is your choice — her father’s choice is always the choice of the good daughter,” said Mademoiselle.

“I believe she is a good daughter, and that is the particular reason I am determined to be as good a father as I can to her.”

Dora wept in silence — and Mademoiselle, a good deal alarmed, wanted to remove Harry Ormond out of the young lady’s sight: she requested him to go to her apartment for a smelling-bottle for her niece.

“No, no,” said King Corny, “go yourself, sister O’Faley, if you like it, but I’ll not let Harry Ormond stir — he is my witness present. Dora is not fainting — if you would only let her alone, she would do well. Dora, listen to me: if you don’t really prefer this Black Connal for a husband to all other men, as you are to swear at the altar you do, if you marry him —”

Dora was strongly affected by the solemn manner of her father’s appeal to her.

“If,” continued her father, “you are not quite clear, my dear child, that you prefer him to other men, do not marry him. I have a notion I can bring you off without breaking my word: listen. I would willingly give half my fortune to secure your happiness, my darling. If I do not mistake him, Mr. Connal would, for a less sum, give me back my promise, and give you up altogether, my dear Dora.”

Dora’s tears stopped, Mademoiselle’s exclamations poured forth, and they both declared they were certain that Mr. Connal would not, for any thing upon earth that could be offered to him, give up the match.

Corny said he was willing to make the trial, if they pleased. Mademoiselle seemed to hesitate; but Dora eagerly accepted the proposal, thanked her father for his kindness, and declared that she should be happy to have, and to abide by, this test of Mr. Connal’s love. If he were so base as to prefer half her fortune to herself, she should, she said, think herself happy in having escaped from such a traitor.

Dora’s pride was wakened, and she now spoke in a high tone: she always, even in the midst of her weaknesses, had an ambition to show spirit.

“I will put the test to him myself, within this hour,” said Corny; “and before you go to bed this night, when the clock strikes twelve, all three of you be on this spot, and I will give you his answer. But stay, Harry Ormond, we have not had your opinion — would you advise me to make this trial?”

“Certainly, sir.”

“But if I should lose half of Dora’s fortune?”

“You would think it well bestowed, I am sure, sir, in securing her from an unhappy marriage.”

“But then she might not, perhaps, so easily find another lover with half a fortune — that might make a difference, hey, Harry?”

“Impossible, I should think, sir, that it could make the least difference in the affection of any one who really — who was really worthy of Miss O’Shane.”

The agitation into which Harry Ormond was thrown, flattered and touched Dora for the moment; her aunt hurried her out of the room.

Cornelius O’Shane rang, and inquired where Mr. Connal was? In his own apartment, writing letters, his servant believed. O’Shane sent to beg to see him, as soon as he was at leisure.

At twelve o’clock Dora, Mademoiselle, and Ormond, were all in the study, punctually as the clock was striking.

“Well, what is M. de Connal’s answer?” cried Mademoiselle.

“If he hesitate, my dear Dore, give him up dat minute.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Dora: “I have too much spirit to do otherwise. What’s his answer, father?”

“His answer, my dear child, has proved that you knew him better than I did — he scorns the offer of half your fortune — for your whole fortune he would not give you up.”

“I thought so,” cried Dora, triumphantly.

“I thought so,” echoed Mademoiselle.

“I did him injustice,” cried Ormond. “I am glad that M. de Connal has proved himself worthy of you, Dora, since you really approve of him — you have not a friend in the world, next to your father, who wishes your happiness more sincerely than I do.”

He hurried out of the room.

“There’s a heart for you!” said Corny.

“Not for me,” said Mademoiselle: “he has no passion in him.”

“I give you joy, Dora,” said her father. “I own I misjudged the man — on account of his being a bit of a coxcomb. But if you can put up with that, so will I— when I have done a man injustice, I will make it up to him every way I can. Now let him, he has my consent, be as great a coxcomb as ever wore red heels. I’ll put up with it all, since he really loves my child. I did not think he would have stood the test.”

Nor would he, had not he been properly prepared by Mademoiselle — she had, before M. de Connal went to Corny, sent him a little billet, which told him the test that would be proposed, and thus prevented all possibility of her dear niece’s being disappointed in her lover or her husband.

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