Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 19.

After having lived so long in retirement, our young hero, when he was to go into company again, had many fears that his manners would appear rustic and unfashioned. With all these apprehensions as to his manners there was mixed a large proportion of pride of character, which tended rather to increase than to diminish his apparent timidity. He dreaded that people would value him, or think that he valued himself, for his newly acquired fortune, instead of his good qualities: he feared that he should be flattered; and he feared that he should like flattery. In the midst of all these various and contradictory apprehensions, he would perhaps have been awkward and miserable, had he been introduced into society by one who had less knowledge of the world, or less knowledge of the human heart, than Sir Ulick O’Shane possessed. Sir Ulick treated him as if he had always lived in good company. Without presupposing any ignorance, he at the same time took care to warn him of any etiquette or modern fashion, so that no one should perceive the warning but themselves. He neither offended Ormond’s pride by seeming to patronize or produce him, nor did he let his timidity suffer from uncertainty or neglect. Ormond’s fortune was never adverted to, in any way that could hurt his desire to be valued for his own sake; but he was made to feel that it was a part, and a very agreeable part, of his personal merit. Managed in this kind and skilful manner, he became perfectly at ease and happy. His spirits rose, and he enjoyed every thing with the warmth of youth, and with the enthusiasm of his natural character.

The first evening that “the earthly paradise” of Castle Hermitage re-opened upon his view, he was presented to all the well-dressed, well-bred belles. Black, brown, and fair, for the first hour appeared to him all beautiful. His guardian standing apart, and seeming to listen to a castle secretary, who was whispering to him of state affairs, observed all that was passing.

Contrary to his guardian’s expectations, however, Ormond was the next morning faithful to his resolution, and did not appear among the angels at the breakfast-table at Castle Hermitage. “It won’t last a good week,” said Sir Ulick to himself. But that good week, and the next, it lasted. Harry’s studies, to be sure, were sometimes interrupted by floating visions of the Miss Darrells, Dartfords, and Lardners. He every now and then sung bits of their songs, repeated their bon-mots, and from time to time laying down his book, started up and practised quadrille steps, to refresh himself, and increase his attention. His representations of all he saw and heard at Castle Hermitage, and his frank and natural description of the impression that every thing and every body made upon him, were amusing and interesting to his friends at Vicar’s Dale. It was not by satire that he amused them, but by simplicity mixed with humour and good sense — good sense sometimes half opening his eyes, and humour describing what he saw with those eyes, half open, half shut.

“Pray what sort of people are the Darrells and Dartfords?” said Mrs. Cambray.

“Oh! delightful — the girls especially — sing like angels.”

“Well, the ladies I know are all angels with you at present — that you have told us several times.”

“It’s really true, I believe — at least as far as I can see: but you know I have not had time to see farther than the outside yet.”

“The gentlemen, however — I suppose you have seen the inside of some of them?”

“Certainly — those who have any thing inside of them — Dartford, for instance.”

“Well, Mr. Dartford, he is the man Sir Ulick said was so clever.”

“Very clever — he is — I suppose, though I don’t really recollect any thing remarkable that I have heard him say. But the wit must be in him — and he lets out a good deal of his opinions — of his opinion of himself a little too much. But he is much admired.”

“And Mr. Darrell — what of him?”

“Very fashionable. But indeed all I know about him is, that his dress is quite the thing, and that he knows more about dishes and cooks than I could have conceived any man upon earth of his age could know — but they say it’s the fashion — he is very fashionable, I hear.”

“But is he conceited?”

“Why, I do not know — his manner might appear a little conceited — but in reality he must be wonderfully humble — for he certainly values his horses far above himself — and then he is quite content if his boot-tops are admired. By-the-bye, there is a famous invaluable receipt he has for polishing those boot-tops, which is to make quite another man of me — if I don’t forget to put him in mind about it.”

“And Mr. Lardner?”

“Oh! a pleasant young man — has so many good songs, and good stories, and is so good-natured in repeating them. But I hope people won’t make him repeat them too often, for I can conceive one might be tired, in time.”

During the course of the first three weeks, Harry was three times in imminent danger of falling in love — first, with the beautiful, and beautifully dressed, Miss Darrell, who danced, sung, played, rode, did every thing charmingly, and was universally admired. She was remarkably good-humoured, even when some of her companions were rather cross. Miss Darrell reigned queen of the day, and queen of the ball, for three days and three nights, unrivalled in our young hero’s eyes; but on the fourth night, Ormond chancing to praise the fine shape of one of her very dear friends, Miss Darrell whispered, “She owes that fine shape to a finely padded corset. Oh! I am clear of what I tell you — she is my intimate friend.”

From that moment Ormond was cured of all desire to be the intimate friend of this fair lady. The second peerless damsel, whose praises he sounded to Dr. Cambray, between the fits of reading Middleton’s Cicero, was Miss Eliza Darrell, the youngest of the three sisters: she was not yet come out, though in the mean time allowed to appear at Castle Hermitage; and she was so naïve, and so timid, and so very bashful, that Sir Ulick was forced always to bring her into the room leaning on his arm; — she could really hardly walk into a room — and if any body looked at her, she was so much distressed — and there were such pretty confusions and retreatings, and such a manoeuvring to get to the side-table every day, and “Sir Ulick so terribly determined it should not be.” It was all naturally acted, and by a young pretty actress. Ormond, used only to the gross affectation of Dora, did not suspect that there was any affectation in the case. He pitied her so much, that Sir Ulick was certain “love was in the next degree.” Of this the young lady herself was still more secure; and in her security she forgot some of her graceful timidity. It happened that, in standing up for country dances one night, some dispute about precedency occurred. Miss Eliza Darrell was the honourable Eliza Darrell; and some young lady, who was not honourable, in contempt, defiance, neglect, or ignorance, stood above her. The timid Eliza remonstrated in no very gentle voice, and the colour came into her face —“the eloquent blood spoke” too plainly. She! — the gentle Eliza! — pushed for her place, and with her honourable elbows made way for herself; for what will not even well-bred belles do in a crowd? Unfortunately, well-bred beaux are bound to support them. Ormond was on the point of being drawn into a quarrel with the partner of the offending party, when Sir Ulick appearing in the midst, and not seeming to know that any thing was going wrong, broke up the intended set of country dances, by insisting upon it that the Miss Darrells had promised him a quadrille, and that they must dance it then, as there was but just time before supper. Harry, who had seen how little his safety was in the eye of the gentle Eliza, in comparison with the most trifling point of her offended pride, was determined in future not to expose himself to similar danger. The next young lady who took his fancy was of course as unlike the last as possible: she was one of the remarkably pleasant, sprightly, clever, most agreeable Miss Lardners. She did not interest him much, but she amused him exceedingly. Her sister had one day said to her, “Anne, you can’t be pretty, so you had better be odd.” Anne took the advice, set up for being odd, and succeeded. She was a mimic, a wit, and very satirical; and as long as the satire touched only those for whom he did not care, Ormond was extremely diverted. He did not think it quite feminine or amiable, but still it was entertaining: there was also something flattering in being exempted from this general reprobation and ridicule. Miss Lardner was intolerant of all insipid people —flats, as she called them. How far Ormond might have been drawn on by this laughing, talking, satirical, flattering wit, there is no saying; but luckily they fell out one evening about old Lady Annaly. Miss Lardner was not aware that Ormond knew, much less could she have conceived, that he liked her ladyship. Miss Lardner was mimicking her, for the amusement of a set of young ladies who were standing round the fire after dinner, when Harry Ormond came in: he was not quite as much diverted as she expected.

“Mr. Ormond does not know the original— the copy is lost upon him,” said Miss Lardner; “and happy it is for you,” continued she, turning to him, “that you do not know her, for Lady Annaly is as stiff and tiresome an original as ever was seen or heard of; — and the worst of it is, she is an original without originality.”

“Lady Annaly!” cried Ormond, with surprise, “surely not the Lady Annaly I know.”

“There’s but one that I know of — Heaven forbid that there were two! But I beg your pardon, Mr. Ormond, if she is a friend of yours — I humbly beg your forgiveness — I did not know your taste was so very good!—.Lady Annaly is a fine old lady, certainly — vastly respectable; and I so far agree with Mr. Ormond, that of the two paragons, mother and daughter, I prefer the mother. Paragons in their teens are insufferable:— patterns of perfection are good for nothing in society, except to be torn to pieces.”

Miss Lardner pursued this diversion of tearing them to pieces, still flattering herself that her present wit and drollery would prevail with Ormond, as she had found it prevail with most people against an absent friend. But Ormond thought upon this occasion she showed more flippancy than wit, and more ill-nature than humour. He was shocked at the want of feeling and reverence for age with which she, a young girl, just entering into the world, spoke of a person of Lady Annaly’s years and high character. In the heat of attack, and in her eagerness to carry her point against the Annalys, the young lady, according to custom, proceeded from sarcasm to scandal. Every ill-natured report she had ever heard against any of the family, she now repeated with exaggeration and asseverations — vehement in proportion to the weakness of proof. She asserted that Lady Annaly, with all her high character, was very hard-hearted to some of her nearest family connexions. Sweet Lady Millicent! — Oh! how barbarously she used her! — Miss Annaly too she attacked, as a cold-blooded jilt. If the truth must be told, she had actually broken the heart of a young nobleman, who was fool enough to be taken in by her sort of manner: and the son, the famous Sir Herbert Annaly! he was an absolute miser: Miss Lardner declared that she knew, from the best authority, most shameful instances of his shabbiness.

The instances were stated, but Ormond could not believe these stories; and what was more, he began to doubt the good faith of the person by whom they were related. He suspected that she uttered these slanders, knowing them to be false.

Miss Lardner observing that Ormond made no farther defence, but now stood silent, and with downcast eyes, flattered herself that she had completely triumphed. Changing the subject, she would have resumed with him her familiar, playful tone; but all chance of her ever triumphing over Ormond’s head or heart was now at an end: so finished the third of his three weeks’ fancies. Such evanescent fancies would not have been worth mentioning, but for the effect produced on his mind; though they left scarcely any individual traces, they made a general and useful impression. They produced a permanent contempt for scandal, that common vice of idle society. He determined to guard against it cautiously himself; and ever after, when he saw a disposition to it in any woman, however highly-bred, highly~accomplished, or highly-gifted, he considered her as a person of mean mind, with whom he could never form any connexion of friendship or love.

The Lardners, Darrells, Dartfords, vanished, and new figures were to appear in the magic lantern at Castle Hermitage. Sir Ulick thought a few preliminary observations necessary to his ward. His opinion of Ormond’s capacity and steadiness had considerably diminished, in consequence of his various mistakes of character, and sudden changes of opinion; for Sir Ulick, with all his abilities, did not discriminate between want of understanding, and want of practice. Besides, he did not see the whole: he saw the outward boyish folly — he did not see the inward manly sense; he judged Ormond by a false standard, by comparison with the young men of the world of his own age. He knew that none of these, even of moderate capacity, could have been three times in three weeks so near being taken in— not one would have made the sort of blunders, much less would any one, having made them, have acknowledged them as frankly as Ormond did. It was this imprudent candour which lowered him most in his guardian’s estimation. From not having lived in society, Harry was not aware of the signs and tokens of folly or wisdom by which the world judge; the opinion of the bystanders had not habitual power over him. While the worldly young men guarded themselves with circumspect self-love against every external appearance of folly, Harry was completely unguarded: they lived cheaply upon borrowed wisdom; he profited dearly, but permanently, by his own experience.

“My dear boy,” said Sir Ulick, “are you aware that his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant is coming to Castle Hermitage to-morrow?”

“Yes, sir; so I heard you say,” replied Harry. “What sort of a man is he?”

Man!” repeated Sir Ulick, smiling. “In the first place, he is a very great man, and may be of great service to you.”

“How so, sir? I don’t want any thing from him. Now I have a good fortune of my own, what can I want from any man — or if I must not say man, any great man?”

“My dear Harry, though a man’s fortune is good, it may be better for pushing it.”

“And worse, may it not, sir? Did not I hear you speaking last night of Lord Somebody, who had been pushing his fortune all his life, and died pennyless?”

“True, because he pushed ill; if he had pushed well, he would have got into a good place.”

“I thank Heaven, I can get that now without any pushing.”

“You can! — yes, by my interest perhaps you mean.”

“No; by my own money, I mean.”

“Bribery and corruption! Harry. Places are not in this country to be bought — openly — these are things one must not talk of: and pray, with your own money — if you could — what place upon earth would you purchase?”

“The only place in the world I should wish for, sir, would be a place in the country.”

Sir Ulick was surprised and alarmed; but said not a word that could betray his feelings.

“A place of my own,” continued Ormond, “a comfortable house and estate, on which I could live independently and happily, with some charming amiable woman.”

“Darrell, Dartford, Lardner, which?” said Sir Ulick, with a sarcastic smile.

“I am cured of these foolish fancies, sir.”

“Well, there is another more dangerous might seize you, against which I must warn you, and I trust one word of advice you will not take amiss.”

“Sir, I am very much obliged to you: how could I take advice from you as any thing but a proof of friendship?”

“Then, my dear boy, I must tell you, in confidence, what you will find out the first night you are in his company, that his Excellency drinks hard.”

“No danger of my following his example,” said Harry. “Thank you, sir, for the warning; but I am sure enough of myself on this point, because I have been tried — and when I would not drink to please my own dear King Corny, there is not much danger of my drinking to please a Lord Lieutenant, who, after all, is nothing to me.”

“After all,” said Sir Ulick; “but you are not come to after all yet — you know nothing about his Excellency yet.”

“Nothing but what you have told me, sir: if he drinks hard, I think he sets no very good example as a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.”

“What oft was thought, perhaps, but ne’er so bluntly expressed,” said Sir Ulick.

Sir Ulick was afterwards surprised to see the firmness with which his ward, when in company with persons of the first rank and fashion, resisted the combined force of example, importunity, and ridicule. Dr. Cambray was pleased, but not surprised; for he had seen in his young friend other instances of this adherence to whatever he had once been convinced was right. Resolution is a quality or power of mind totally independent of knowledge of the world. The habit of self-control can be acquired by any individual, in any situation. Ormond had practised and strengthened it, even in the retirement of the Black Islands.

Other and far more dangerous trials were now preparing for him; but before we go on to these, it may be expected that we should not pass over in silence the vice-regal visit — and yet what can we say about it? All that Ormond could say was, that “he supposed it was a great honour, but it was no great pleasure.”

The mornings, two out of five, being rainy, hung very heavily on hand in spite of the billiard-room. Fine weather, riding, shooting, or boating, killed time well enough till dinner; and Harry said he liked this part of the business exceedingly, till he found that some great men were very cross, if they did not shoot as many little birds as he did. Then came dinner, the great point of relief and reunion! — and there had been late dinners, and long dinners, and great dinners, fine plate, good dishes, and plenty of wine, but a dearth of conversation — the natural topics chained up by etiquette. One half of the people at table were too prudent, the other half too stupid, to talk. Sir Ulick talked away indeed; but even he was not half so entertaining as usual, because he was forced to bring down his wit and humour to court quality. In short, till the company had drunk a certain quantity of wine, nothing was said worth repeating, and afterwards nothing repeatable.

After the vice-regal raree show was over, and that the grand folk had been properly bowed into their carriages, and had fairly driven away, there was some diversion to be had. People, without yawning, seemed to recover from a dead sleep; the state of the atmosphere was changed; there was a happy thaw; the frozen words and bits and ends of conversations were repeated in delightful confusion. The men of wit, in revenge for their prudent silence, were now happy and noisy beyond measure. Ormond was much entertained: he had an opportunity of being not only amused but instructed by conversation, for all the great dealers in information, who had kept up their goods while there was no market, now that there was a demand, unpacked, and brought them out in profusion. There was such a rich supply, and such a quick and happy intercourse of wit and knowledge, as quite delighted, almost dazzled, his eyes; but his eyes were strong. He had a mind untainted with envy, highly capable of emulation. Much was indeed beyond, or above, the reach of his present powers; but nothing was beyond his generous admiration — nothing above his future hopes of attainment. The effect and more than the effect, which Sir Ulick had foreseen, was produced on Ormond’s mind by hearing the conversation of some of those who had distinguished themselves in political life; he caught their spirit — their ambition: his wish was no longer merely to see the world, but to distinguish himself in it. His guardian saw the noble ambition rising in his mind. Oh! at that instant, how could he think of debasing it to servile purposes — of working this great power only for paltry party ends?

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