Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 23.

There are people who can go on very smoothly with those whose principles and characters they despise and dislike. There are people who, provided they live in company, are happy, and care but little of what the company is composed. But our young hero certainly was not one of these contented people. He was perhaps too much in the other extreme. He could not, without overt words or looks of indignation, endure the presence of those whose characters or principles he despised — he could not, even without manifest symptoms of restlessness or ennui, submit long to live with mere companions; he required to have friends; nor could he make a friend from ordinary materials, however smooth the grain, or however fine the polish they might take. Even when the gay world at Castle Hermitage was new to him — amused and enchanted as he was at first with that brilliant society, he could not have been content or happy without his friends at Vicar’s Dale, to whom, once at least in the four-and-twenty hours, he found it necessary to open his heart. We may then judge how happy he now felt in returning to Annaly: after the sort of moral constraint which he had endured in the company of Marcus O’Shane, we may guess what an expansion of heart took place.

The family union and domestic happiness which he saw at Annaly, certainly struck him at this time more forcibly, from the contrast with what he had just seen at Castle Hermitage. The effect of contrast, however, is but transient. It is powerful as a dramatic resource, but in real life it is of no permanent consequence. There was here a charm which operates with as great certainty, and with a power secure of increasing instead of diminishing from habit — the charm of domestic politeness, in the every day manners of this mother, son, and daughter, towards each other, as well as towards their guests. Ormond saw and felt it irresistibly. He saw the most delicate attentions combined with entire sincerity, perfect ease, and constant respect; the result of the early habits of good-breeding acting upon the feelings of genuine affection. The external polish, which Ormond now admired, was very different from that varnish which often is hastily applied to hide imperfections. This polish was of the substance itself, to be obtained only by long use; but, once acquired, lasting for ever: not only beautiful, but serviceable, preserving from the injuries of time and from the dangers of familiarity.

What influence the sister’s charms might have to increase Ormond’s admiration of the brother, we shall not presume to determine; but certainly he liked Sir Herbert Annaly better than any young man he had ever seen. Sir Herbert was some years older than Ormond; he was in his twenty-seventh year: but at this age he had done more good in life than many men accomplish during their whole existence. Sir Herbert’s principal estates were in another part of Ireland. Dr. Cambray had visited them. The account he gave Ormond of what had been done there, to improve the people and to make them happy; of the prosperous state of the peasantry; their industry and independence; their grateful, not servile, attachment to Sir Herbert Annaly and his mother; the veneration in which the name of Annaly was held; all delighted the enthusiastic Ormond.

The name of Annaly was growing wonderfully dear to him; and, all of a sudden, the interest he felt in the details of a country gentleman’s life was amazingly increased. At times, when the ladies were engaged, he accompanied Sir Herbert in visiting his estate. Sir Herbert had never till lately resided at Annaly, which had, within but a short time, reverted to his possession, in consequence of the death of the person to whom it had been let. He found much that wanted improvement in the land, and more in the people.

This estate stretched along the sea-shore: the tenants whom he found living near the coast were an idle, profligate, desperate set of people; who, during the time of the late middle landlord, had been in the habit of making their rents by nefarious practices. The best of the set were merely idle fishermen, whose habits of trusting to their luck incapacitated them from industry: the others were illicit distillers — smugglers — and miscreants who lived by waifs and strays; in fact, by the pillage of vessels on the coast. The coast was dangerous — there happened frequent shipwrecks; owing partly, as was supposed, to the false lights hung out by these people, whose interest it was that vessels should be wrecked. Shocked at these practices, Sir Herbert Annaly had, from the moment he came into possession of the estate, exerted himself to put a stop to them, and to punish, where he could not reform the offenders. The people at first pleaded a sort of tenant’s right, which they thought a landlord could scarcely resist. They protested that they could not make the rent, if they were not allowed to make it in their own way; and showed, beyond a doubt, that Sir Herbert could not get half as much rent for his land in those parts, if he looked too scrupulously into the means by which it was made. They brought, in corroboration of their arguments or assertions, the example and constant practice of “many as good a jantleman as any in Ireland, who had his rent made up for him that ways, very ready and punctual. There was his honour, Mr. Such-a-one, and so on; and there was Sir Ulick O’Shane, sure! Oh! he was the man to live under — he was the man that knew when to wink and when to blink; and if he shut his eyes properly, sure his tenants filled his fist. Oh! Sir Ulick was the great man for favour and purtection, none like him at all! — He is the good landlord, that will fight the way clear for his own tenants through thick and thin — none dare touch them. Oh! Sir Ulick’s the kind jantleman that understands the law for the poor, and could bring them off at every turn, and show them the way through the holes in an act of parliament, asy as through a riddle!

“Oh, and if he could but afford to be half as good as his promises, Sir Ulick O’Shane would be too good entirely!”

Now Sir Ulick O’Shane had purchased a tract of ground adjoining to Sir Herbert’s, on this coast; and he had bought it on the speculation that he could let it at a very high rent to these people, of whose ways and means of paying it he chose to remain in ignorance. All the tenants whom Sir Herbert banished from his estate flocked to Sir Ulick’s.

By the sacrifice of his own immediate interest, and by great personal exertion, strict justice, and a generous and well secured system of reward, Sir Herbert already had produced a considerable change for the better in the morals and habits of the people. He was employing some of his tenants on the coast, in building a lighthouse, for which he had a grant from parliament; and he was endeavouring to establish a manufacture of sail-cloth, for which there was sufficient demand. But almost at every step of his progress, he was impeded by the effects of the bad example of his neighbours on Sir Ulick’s estate; and by the continual quarrels between the idle, discarded tenants, and their industrious and now prosperous successors.

Whenever a vessel in distress was seen off the coast, there was a constant struggle between the two parties who had opposite interests; the one to save, the other to destroy. In this state of things, causes of complaint perpetually occurred; and Ormond who was present, when the accusers and the accused appealed to their landlord, sometimes as lord of the manor, sometimes as magistrate, had frequent opportunities of seeing both Sir Herbert’s principles and temper put to the test. He liked to compare the different modes in which King Corny, his guardian, and Sir Herbert Annaly managed these things. Sir Herbert governed neither by threats, punishments, abuse, nor tyranny; nor yet did he govern by promises nor bribery, favour and protection, like Sir Ulick. He neither cajoled nor bullied — neither held it as a principle, as Marcus did, that the people must be kept down, or that the people must be deceived. He treated them neither as slaves, subject to his will; nor as dupes, or objects on which to exercise his wit or his cunning. He treated them as reasonable beings, and as his fellow~creatures, whom he wished to improve, that he might make them and himself happy. He spoke sense to them; and he mixed that sense with wit and humour, in the proportion necessary to make it palatable to an Irishman.

In generosity there was a resemblance between the temper of Sir Herbert and of Corny; but to Ormond’s surprise, and at first to his disappointment, Sir Herbert valued justice more than generosity. Ormond’s heart on this point was often with King Corny, when his head was forced to be with Sir Herbert; but, by degrees, head and heart came together. He became practically convinced that justice is the virtue that works best for a constancy, and best serves every body’s interest in time and in turn. Ormond now often said to himself, “Sir Herbert Annaly is but a few years older than I am; by the time I am of his age, why should not I become as useful, and make as many human beings happy as he does?” In the meantime, the idea of marrying and settling in Ireland became every day more agreeable to Ormond; and France and Italy, which he had been so eager to visit, faded from his imagination. Sir Herbert and Lady Annaly, who had understood from Dr. Cambray that Ormond was going to commence his grand tour immediately, and who heard him make a number of preparatory inquiries when he had been first at Annaly, naturally turned the conversation often to the subject. They had looked out maps and prints, and they had taken down from their shelves the different books of travels, which might be most useful to him, with guides, and post-road books, and all that could speed the parting guest. But the guest had no mind to part — every thing, every body at Annaly, he found so agreeable and so excellent.

It must be a great satisfaction to a young man who has a grain of sense, and who feels that he is falling inevitably and desperately in love, to see that all the lady’s family, as well as the object of his passion, are exactly the people whom he should wish of all others to make his friends for life. Here was every thing that could be desired, suitability of age, of fortune, of character, of temper, of tastes — every thing that could make a marriage happy, could Ormond but win the heart of Florence Annaly. Was that heart disengaged? — He resolved to inquire first from his dear friend, Dr. Cambray, who was much in the confidence of this family, a great favourite with Florence, and consequently dearer than ever to Ormond. He went directly to Vicar’s Dale to see and consult him, and Ormond thought he was confiding a profound secret to the doctor, when first he spoke to him of his passion for Miss Annaly; but to his surprise, the doctor told him he had seen it long ago, and his wife and daughters had all discovered it, even when they were first with him at Annaly.

“Is it possible? — and what do you all think?”

“We think that you would be a perfectly happy man, if you could win Miss Annaly; and we wish you success most sincerely. But —”

But— Oh, my dear doctor, you alarm me beyond measure.”

“What! by wishing you success?”

“No, but by something in your look and manner, and by that terrible but: you think that I shall never succeed — you think that her heart is engaged. If that be the case, tell me so at once, and I will set off for France to-morrow.”

“My good sir, you are always for desperate measures — you are in too great a hurry to come to a conclusion, before you have the means of forming a just conclusion. Remember, I tell you, this precipitate temper will some time or other bring some great evil upon you.”

“I will be patient all my life afterwards, if you will only this instant tell me whether she is engaged.”

“I do not know whether Miss Annaly’s heart be disengaged or not — I can tell you only that she has had a number of brilliant offers, and that she has refused them all.”

“That proves that she had not found one amongst them that She liked,” said Ormond.

“Or that she liked some one better than all those whom she refused,” said Dr. Cambray.

“That is true — that is possible — that is a dreadful possibility,” said Ormond. “But do you think there is any probability of that?”

“There is, I am sorry to tell you, my dear Ormond, a probability against you — but I can only state the facts in general. I can form no opinion, for I have had no opportunity of judging — I have never seen the two young people together. But there is a gentleman of great merit, of suitable family and fortune, who is deeply in love with Miss Annaly, and who I presume has not been refused, for I understand he is soon to be here.”

“To be here!” cried Ormond: “a man of great merit! — I hope he is not an agreeable man.”

“That’s a vain hope,” said Dr. Cambray; “he is a very agreeable man.”

Very agreeable! — What sort of person — grave or gay? — Like any body that I ever saw?”

“Yes, like a person that you have seen, and a person for whom I believe you have a regard — like his own father, your dear King Corny’s friend, General Albemarle.”

“How extraordinary! — how unlucky!” said Ormond. “I would rather my rival were any one else than the son of a man I am obliged to; and a most dangerous rival he must be, if he have his father’s merit, and his father’s manners. Oh! my dear Dr. Cambray, I am sure she likes him — and yet she could not be so cheerful in his absence, if she were much in love — I defy her; and it is impossible that he can be as much in love with her as I am, else nothing could keep him from her.”

“Nothing but his duty, I suppose you mean?”

“Duty! — What duty?”

“Why, there really are duties in this world to be performed, though a man in love is apt to forget it. Colonel Albemarle, being an officer, cannot quit his regiment till he has obtained leave of absence.”

“I am heartily glad of it,” cried Ormond —“I will make the best use of my time before he comes. But, my dear doctor, do you think Lady Annaly — do you think Sir Herbert wish it to be?”

“I really cannot tell:— I know only that he is a particular friend of Sir Herbert, and that I have heard Lady Annaly speak of him as being a young man of excellent character and high honour, for whom she has a great regard.”

Ormond sighed.

“Heaven forgive me that sigh!” said he: “I thought I never should be brought so low as to sigh at bearing of any man’s excellent character and high honour: but I certainly wish Colonel Albemarle had never been born. Heaven preserve me from envy and jealousy!”

Our young hero had need to repeat this prayer the next morning at breakfast, when Sir Herbert, on opening his letters, exclaimed, “My friend, Colonel Albemarle —”

And Lady Annaly, in a tone of joy, “Colonel Albemarle! — I hope he will soon be here.”

Sir Herbert proceeded: “Cannot obtain leave of absence yet — but lives in hopes,” said Sir Herbert, reading the letter, and handing it to his mother.

Ormond did not dare, did not think it honourable, to make use of his eyes, though there now might have been a decisive moment for observation. No sound reached his ear from Miss Annaly’s voice; but Lady Annaly spoke freely and decidedly in praise of Colonel Albemarle. As she read the letter, Sir Herbert, after asking Ormond three times whether he was not acquainted with General Albemarle, obtained for answer, that he “really did not know.” In truth, Ormond did not know any thing at that moment. Sir Herbert, surprised, and imagining that Ormond had not yet heard him, was going to repeat his question — but a look from his mother stopped him. A sudden light struck Lady Annaly. Mothers are remarkably quick-sighted upon these occasions. There was a silence of a few minutes, which appeared to poor Ormond to be a silence that would never be broken; it was broken by some slight observation which the brother and sister made to each other upon a paragraph in the newspaper, which they were reading together. Ormond took breath.

“She cannot love him, or she could not be thinking of a paragraph in the newspaper at this moment.”

From this time forward Ormond was in a continual state of agitation, reasoning, as the passions reason, as ill as possible, upon even the slightest circumstances that occurred, from whence he might draw favourable or unfavourable omens. He was resolved — and that was prudent — not to speak of his own sentiments, till he was clear how matters stood about Colonel Albemarle: he was determined not to expose himself to the useless mortification of a refusal. While in this agony of uncertainty, he went out one morning to take a solitary walk, that he might reflect at leisure. Just as he was turning from the avenue to the path that led to the wood, a car full of morning visitors appeared. Ormond endeavoured to avoid them, but not before he had been seen. A servant rode after him to beg to know “if he were Mr. Harry Ormond — if he were, one of the ladies on the car, Mrs. M’Crule, sent her compliments to him, and requested he would be so good as to let her speak with him at the house, as she had a few words of consequence to say.”

“Mrs. M’Crule!” Ormond did not immediately recollect that he had the honour of knowing any such person, till the servant said, “Miss Black, sir, that was — formerly at Castle Hermitage.”

His old enemy, Miss Black, he recollected well. He obeyed the lady’s summons, and returned to the house.

Mrs. M’Crule had not altered in disposition, though her objects had been changed by marriage. Having no longer Lady O’Shane’s quarrels with her husband to talk about, she had become the pest of the village of Castle Hermitage and of the neighbourhood — the Lady Bluemantle of the parish. Had Miss Black remained in England, married or single, she would only have been one of a numerous species too well known to need any description; but transplanted to a new soil and a new situation, she proved to be a variety of the old species, with peculiarly noxious qualities, which it may be useful to describe, as a warning to the unwary. It is unknown how much mischief the Lady Bluemantle class may do in Ireland, where parties in religion and politics run high; and where it often happens, that individuals of the different sects and parties actually hate without knowing each other, watch without mixing with one another, and consequently are prone reciprocally to believe any stories or reports, however false or absurd, which tend to gratify their antipathies. In this situation it is scarcely possible to get the exact truth as to the words, actions, and intentions, of the nearest neighbours, who happen to be of opposite parties or persuasions. What a fine field is here for a mischief-maker! Mrs. M’Crule had in her parish done her part; she had gone from rich to poor, from poor to rich, from catholic to protestant, from churchman to dissenter, and from dissenter to methodist, reporting every idle story, and repeating every ill-natured thing that she heard said — things often more bitterly expressed than thought, and always exaggerated or distorted in the repetition. No two people in the parish could have continued on speaking terms at the end of the year, but that, happily, there were in this parish both a good clergyman and a good priest; and still more happily, they both agreed in labouring for the good of their parishioners. Dr. Cambray and Mr. M’Cormuck made it their business continually to follow after Mrs. M’Crule, healing the wounds which she inflicted, and pouring into the festering heart the balm of Christian charity: they were beloved and revered by their parishioners; Mrs. M’Crule was soon detected, and universally avoided. Enraged, she attacked, by turns, both the clergyman and the priest; and when she could not separate them, she found out that it was very wrong that they should agree. She discovered that she was a much better protestant, and a much better Christian, than Dr. Cambray, because she hated her catholic neighbours.

Dr. Cambray had taken pains to secure the co-operation of the catholic clergyman, in all his attempts to improve the lower classes of the people. His village school was open to catholics as well as protestants; and Father M’Cormuck, having been assured that their religion would not be tampered with, allowed and encouraged his flock to send their children to the same seminary.

Mrs. M’Crule was, or affected to be, much alarmed and scandalized at seeing catholic and protestant children mixing so much together; she knew that opinions were divided among some families in the neighbourhood upon the propriety of this mixture, and Mrs. M’Crule thought it a fine opportunity of making herself of consequence, by stirring up the matter into a party question. This bright idea had occurred to her just about the time that Ormond brought over little Tommy from the Black Islands. During Ormond’s absence upon his tour, Sheelah and Moriarty had regularly sent the boy to the village school; exhorting him to mind his book and his figures, that he might surprise Mr. Ormond with his larning when he should come back. Tommy, with this excitation, and being a quick, clever little fellow, soon got to the head of his class, and kept there; and won all the school-prizes, and carried them home in triumph to his grandame, and to his dear Moriarty, to be treasured up, that he might show them to Mr. Ormond at his return home. Dr. Cambray was pleased with the boy, and so was every body, except Mrs. M’Crule. She often visited the school for the pleasure of finding fault; and she wondered to see this little Tommy, who was a catholic, carrying away the prizes from all the others. She thought it her duty to inquire farther about him; and as soon as she discovered that he came from the Black Islands, that he lived with Moriarty, and that Mr. Ormond was interested about him, she said she knew there was something wrong — therefore, she set her face against the child, and against the shameful partiality that some people showed.

Dr. Cambray pursued his course without attending to her; and little Tommy pursued his course, improving rapidly in his larning.

Now there was in that county an excellent charitable institution for the education of children from seven to twelve years old; an apprentice fee was given with the children when they left the school, and they had several other advantages, which made parents of the lower classes extremely desirous to get their sons into this establishment.

Before they could be admitted, it was necessary that they should have a certificate from their parish minister and catholic clergyman, stating that they could read and write, and that they were well-behaved children. On a certain day, every year, a number of candidates were presented. The certificates from the clergyman and priest of their respective parishes were much attended to by the lady patronesses, and by these the choice of the candidate to be admitted was usually decided. Little Tommy had an excellent certificate both from Father M’Cormuck and from Dr. Cambray. Sheelah and Moriarty were in great joy, and had “all the hopes in life” for him; and Sheelah, who was very fond of surprises, had cautioned Moriarty, and begged the doctor not to tell Mr. Harry a word about it, till all was fixed, “for if the boy should not have the luck to be chose at last, it would only be breaking his little heart the worse, that Mr. Harry should know any thing at all about it, sure.”

Meantime, Mrs. M’Crule was working against little Tommy with all her might.

Some of the lady patronesses were of opinion, that it would be expedient in future, to confine their bounty to the children of protestants only.

Mrs. M’Crule, who had been deputed by one of the absent ladies to act for her, was amazingly busy, visiting all the patronesses, and talking, and fearing, and “hoping to heaven!” and prophesying, canvassing, and collecting opinions and votes, as for a matter of life and death. She hinted that she knew that the greatest interest was making to get in this year a catholic child, and there was no knowing, if this went on, what the consequence might be. In short Ireland would be ruined, if little Tommy should prove the successful candidate. Mrs. M’Crule did not find it difficult to stir up the prejudices and passions of several ladies, whose education and whose means of information might have secured them from such contemptible influence.

Her present business at Annaly was to try what impression she could make on Lady and Miss Annaly, who were both patronesses of the school. As to Ormond, whom she never had liked, she was glad of this opportunity of revenging herself upon his little protégé; and of making Mr. Ormond sensible, that she was now a person of rather more consequence than she had been, when he used formerly to defy her at Castle Hermitage. She little thought that, while she was thus pursuing the dictates of her own hate, she might serve the interests of Ormond’s love.

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