Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 24.

When Ormond returned, in obedience to Mrs. M’Crule’s summons, he found in the room an unusual assemblage of persons — a party of morning visitors, the unmuffled contents of the car. As he entered, he bowed as courteously as possible to the whole circle, and advanced towards Mrs. M’Crule, whose portentous visage he could not fail to recognize. That visage was nearly half a yard long, thin out of all proportion, and dismal beyond all imagination; the corners of the mouth drawn down, the whites or yellows of the eyes upturned, while with hands outspread she was declaiming, and in a lamentable tone deploring, as Ormond thought, some great public calamity; for the concluding words were “The danger, my dear Lady Annaly — the danger, my dear Miss Annaly — oh! the danger is imminent. We shall all be positively undone, ma’am; and Ireland — oh! I wish I was once safe in England again — Ireland positively will be ruined!”

Ormond, looking to Lady Annaly and Miss Annaly for explanation, was somewhat re-assured in this imminent danger, by seeing that Lady Annaly’s countenance was perfectly tranquil, and that a slight smile played on the lips of Florence.

“Mr. Ormond,” said Lady Annaly, “I am sorry to hear that Ireland is in danger of being ruined by your means.”

“By my means!” said Ormond, in great surprise; “I beg your ladyship’s pardon for repeating your words, but I really cannot understand them.”

“Nor I neither; but by the time you have lived as long as I have in the world,” said Lady Annaly, “you will not be so much surprised as you now seem, my good sir, at hearing people say what you do not understand. I am told that Ireland will be undone by means of a protégé of yours, of the name of Tommy Dun — not Dun Scotus.”

“Dunshaughlin, perhaps,” said Ormond, laughing, “Tommy Dunshaughlin! that little urchin! What harm can little Tommy do to Ireland, or to any mortal?”

Without condescending to turn her eyes upon Ormond, whose propensity to laughter had of old been offensive to her nature, Mrs. M’Crule continued to Lady Annaly, “It is not of this insignificant child as an individual that I am speaking, Lady Annaly; but your ladyship, who has lived so long in the world, must know that there is no person or thing, however insignificant, that cannot, in the hands of a certain description of people, be made an engine of mischief.”

“Very true, indeed,” said Lady Annaly.

“And there is no telling or conceiving,” pursued Mrs. M’Crule, “how in the hands of a certain party, you know, ma’am, any thing now, even the leas and the most innocent child (not that I take upon me to say that this child is so very innocent, though, to be sure, he is very little)— but innocent or not, there is positively nothing, Lady Annaly, ma’am, which a certain party, certain evil-disposed persons, cannot turn to their purposes.”

“I cannot contradict that — I wish I could,” said Lady Annaly.

“But I see your ladyship and Miss Annaly do not consider this matter as seriously as I could wish. ’Tis an infatuation,” said Mrs. M’Crule, uttering a sigh, almost a groan, for her ladyship’s and her daughter’s infatuation. “But if people, ladies especially, knew but half as much as I have learnt, since I married Mr. M’Crule, of the real state of Ireland; or if they had but half a quarter as many means as I have of obtaining information, Mr. M’Crule being one of his majesty’s very active justices of the peace, riding about, and up and down, ma’am, scouring the country, sir, you know, and having informers, high and low, bringing us every sort of intelligence; I say, my dear Lady Annaly, ma’am, you would, if you only heard a hundredth part of what I hear daily, tremble — your ladyship would tremble from morning till night.”

“Then I am heartily glad I do not hear it; for I should dislike very much to tremble from morning till night, especially as my trembling could do nobody any good.”

“But, Lady Annaly, ma’am, you can do good by exerting yourself to prevent the danger in this emergency; you can do good, and it becomes your station and your character; you can do good, my dear Lady Annaly, ma’am, to thousands in existence, and thousands yet unborn.”

“My benevolence having but a limited appetite for thousands,” said Lady Annaly, “I should rather, if it be equal to you, Mrs. M’Crule, begin with the thousands already in existence; and of those thousands, why not begin with little Tommy?”

“It is no use!” cried Mrs. M’Crule, rising from her seat in the indignation of disappointed zeal: “Jenny, pull the bell for the car — Mrs. M’Greggor, if you’ve no objection, I’m at your service, for ’tis no use I see for me to speak here — nor should I have done so, but that I positively thought it my duty; and also a becoming attention to your ladyship and Miss Annaly, as lady patronesses, to let you know beforehand our sentiments, as I have collected the opinions of so many of the leading ladies, and apprehended your ladyship might, before it came to a public push, like to have an inkling or inuendo of how matters are likely to be carried at the general meeting of the patronesses on Saturday next, when we are determined to put it to the vote and poll. Jenny, do you see Jack, and the car? Good morning to your ladyship; good day, Miss Annaly.”

Ormond put in a detainer: “I am here in obedience to your summons, Mrs. M’Crule — you sent to inform me that you had a few words of consequence to say to me.”

“True, sir, I did wrap myself up this winter morning, and came out, as Mrs. M’Greggor can testify, in spite of my poor face, in hopes of doing some little good, and giving a friendly hint, before an explosion should publicly take place. But you will excuse me, since I find I gain so little credit, and so waste my breath; I can only leave gentlemen and ladies in this emergency, if they will be blind to the danger at this crisis, to follow their own opinions.”

Ormond still remonstrating on the cruelty of leaving him in utter darkness, and calling it blindness, and assuring Mrs. M’Crule that he had not the slightest conception of what the danger or the emergency to which she alluded might be, or what little Tommy could have to do with it, the lady condescended, in compliance with Mrs. M’Greggor’s twitch behind, to stay and recommence her statement. He could not forbear smiling, even more than Lady Annaly had done, when he was made to understand that the emergency and crisis meant nothing but this child’s being admitted or not admitted into a charity school. While Ormond was incapable of speaking in reply with becoming seriousness, Florence, who saw his condition, had the kindness to draw off Mrs. M’Crule’s attention, by asking her to partake of some excellent goose-pie, which just then made its entrance. This promised, for a time, to suspend the discussion, and to unite all parties in one common sympathy. When Florence saw that the consommé, to which she delicately helped her, was not thrown away upon Mrs. M’Crule, and that the union of goose and turkey in this Christmas dainty was much admired by this good lady, she attempted playfully to pass to a reflection on the happy effect that might to some tastes result from unions in party matters.

But no —“too serious matters these to be jested with,” even with a glass of Barsac at the lips. Mrs. M’Crule stopped to say so, and to sigh. Per favour of the Barsac, however, Florence ventured to try what a little raillery might do. It was possible, that, if Mrs. M’Greggor and the chorus of young ladies could be made to laugh, Mrs. M’Crule might be brought to see the whole thing in a less gloomy point of view; and might perhaps be, just in time, made sensible of the ridicule to which she would expose herself, by persisting in sounding so pompously a false alarm.

“But can there really be so much danger,” said Florence, “in letting little children, protestant and catholic, come together to the same school — sit on the same bench — learn the same alphabet from the same hornbook?”

“Oh, my dear Miss Annaly,” cried Mrs. M’Crule, “I do wonder to hear you treat this matter so lightly — you, from whom I confess I did expect better principles: ‘sit on the same bench!’ easily said; but, my dear young lady, you do not consider that some errors of popery — since there is no catholic in the room, I suppose I may say it — the errors of popery are wonderfully infectious.”

“I remember,” said Lady Annaly, “when I was a child, being present once, when an honest man, that is, a protestant (for in those days no man but a protestant could be called an honest man), came to my uncle in a great passion to complain of the priest: ‘My lord,’ said he, ‘what do you think the priest is going to do? he is going to bury a catholic corpse, not only in the churchyard, but, my lord, near to the grave of my father, who died a stanch dissenter.’ ‘My dear sir,’ said my uncle, to the angry honest man, ‘the clergyman of the parish is using me worse still, for he is going to bury a man, who died last Wednesday of the small-pox, near to my grandmother, who never had the small-pox in her life.’”

Mrs. M’Crule pursed up her mouth very close at this story. She thought Lady Annaly and her uncle were equally wicked, but she did not choose exactly to say so, as her ladyship’s uncle was a person of rank, and of character too solidly established for Mrs. M’Crule to shake. She therefore only gave one of her sighs for the sins of the whole generation, and after a recording look at Mrs. M’Greggor, she returned to the charge about the schools and the children.

“It can do no possible good,” she said, “to admit catholic children to our schools, because, do what you will, you can never make them good protestants.”

“Well,” said Lady Annaly, “as my friend, the excellent Bishop of —— said in parliament, ‘if you cannot make them good protestants, make them good catholics, make them good any-things.’”

Giving up Lady Annaly all together, Mrs. M’Crule now desired to have Mr. Ormond’s ultimatum — she wished to know whether he had made up his mind as to the affair in question; but she begged leave to observe, “that since the child had, to use the gentlest expression, the misfortune to be born and bred a catholic, it would be most prudent and gentlemanlike in Mr. Ormond not to make him a bone of contention, but to withdraw the poor child from the contest altogether, and strike his name out of the list of candidates, till the general question of admittance to those of his persuasion should have been decided by the lady patronesses.”

Ormond declared, with or without submission to Mrs. M’Crule, that he could not think it becoming or gentlemanlike to desert a child whom he had undertaken to befriend — that, whatever the child had the misfortune to be born, he would abide by him; and would not add to his misfortunes by depriving him of the reward of his own industry and application, and of the only chance he had of continuing his good education, and of getting forward in life.

Mrs. M’Crule sighed and groaned.

But Ormond persisted: “The child,” he said, “should have fair play — the lady patronesses would decide as they thought proper.”

It had been said that the boy had Dr. Cambray’s certificate, which Ormond was certain would not have been given undeservedly; he had also the certificate of his own priest.

“Oh! what signifies the certificate of his priest,” interrupted Mrs. M’Crule; “and as for Dr. Cambray’s, though he is a most respectable man (too liberal, perhaps), yet without meaning to insinuate any thing derogatory — but we all know how things are managed, and Dr. Cambray’s great regard for Mr. Ormond might naturally influence him a little in favour of this little protégé.”

Florence was very busy in replenishing Mrs. M’Greggor’s plate, and Ormond haughtily told Mrs. M’Crule, “that as to Dr. Cambray’s character for impartiality, he should leave that securely to speak for itself; and that as to the rest, she was at liberty to say or hint whatever she pleased, as far as he was concerned; but that, for her own sake, he would recommend it to her to be sure of her facts — for that slander was apt to hurt in the recoil.”

Alarmed by the tone of confident innocence and determination with which Ormond spoke, Mrs. M’Crule, who like all other bullies was a coward, lowered her voice, and protested she meant nothing —“certainly no offence to Mr. Ormond; and as to slander there was nothing she detested so much — she was quite glad to be set right — for people did talk — and she had endeavoured to silence them, and now could from the best authority.”

Ormond looked as if he wished that any authority could silence her — but no hopes of that. “She was sorry to find, however, that Mr. Ormond was positively determined to encourage the boy, whoever he was, to persist as candidate on this occasion, because she should be concerned to do any thing that looked like opposing him; yet she must, and she knew others were determined, and in short, he would be mortified to no purpose.”

“Well,” Ormond said, “he could only do his best, and bear to be mortified, if necessary, or when necessary.”

A smile of approbation from Florence made his heart beat, and for some moments Mrs. M’Crule spoke without his knowing one syllable she said.

Mrs. M’Crule saw the smile, and perceived the effect. As she rose to depart, she turned to Miss Annaly, and whispered, but loud enough for all to hear, “Miss Annaly must excuse me if I warn her, that if she takes the part I am inclined to fear she will on Saturday, people I know will draw inferences.”

Florence coloured, but with calm dignity and spirit, which Mrs. M’Crule did not expect from her usual gentleness and softness of manners, she replied, that “no inference which might be drawn from her conduct by any persons should prevent her from acting as she thought right, and taking that part which she believed to be just.”

So ended the visit, or the visitation. The next day Lady Annaly, Miss Annaly, Sir Herbert, and Ormond, went to Vicar’s Dale, and thence with the good doctor to the village school, on purpose that they might see and form an impartial judgment of the little boy. On one day in the week, the parents and friends of the children were admitted if they chose it, to the school-room, to hear the lessons, and to witness the adjudging of the week’s premiums. This was prize day as they called it, and Sheelah and Moriarty were among the spectators. Their presence, and the presence of Mr. Ormond, so excited — so over-excited Tommy, that when he first stood up to read, his face flushed, his voice faltered, his little hands trembled so much that he could hardly hold the book; he could by no means turn over the leaf, and he was upon the point of disgracing himself by bursting into tears.

“Oh! ho!” cried an ill-natured voice of triumph from one of the spectators. Ormond and the Annalys turned, and saw behind them Mrs. M’Crule.

“Murder!” whispered Sheelah to Moriarty, “if she fixes him with that evil eye, and he gets the stroke of it, Moriarty, ’tis all over with him for life.”

“Tut, woman, dear — what can hurt him? is not the good doctor in person standing betwixt him and harm? and see! he is recovering upon it fast — quite come to! — Hark! — he is himself again — Tommy, voice and all! — success to him!”

He had success, and he deserved it — the prizes were his; and when they were given to him, the congratulating smiles of his companions showed that Dr. Cambray’s justice was unimpeached by those whom it most concerned; that notwithstanding all that had been said and done directly and indirectly, to counteract his benevolent efforts, he had succeeded in preventing envy and party-spirit from spreading discord among these innocent children.

Mrs. M’Crule withdrew, and nobody saw when or how.

“It is clear,” said Lady Annaly, “that this boy is no favourite, for he has friends.”

“Or, if he be a favourite, and have friends, it is a proof that he has extraordinary merit,” said Sir Herbert.

“He is coming to us,” said Florence, who had been excessively interested for the child, and whose eyes had followed him wherever he went: “Brother,” whispered she, “will you let him pass you? he wants to say something to Mr. Ormond.”

The boy brought to Ormond all the prizes which he had won since the time he first came to school: his grandame, Sheelah, had kept them safe in a little basket, which he now put into Ormond’s hands, with honest pride and pleasure.

“I got ’em, and Granny said you’d like to see them, so she did — and here’s what will please you — see my certificates — see, signed by the doctor himself’s own hand, and Father M’Cormuck, that’s his name, with his blessing by the same token he gave me.”

Ormond looked with great satisfaction on Tommy’s treasures, and Miss Annaly looked at them too with no small delight.

“Well, my boy, have you any thing more to say?” said Ormond to the child, who looked as if he was anxious to say something more.

“I have, sir; it’s what I’d be glad to speak a word with you, Mr. Harry.”

“Speak it then — you are not afraid of this lady?” “Oh, no — that I am not,” said the boy, with a very expressive smile and emphasis.

But as the child seemed to wish that no one else should hear, Ormond retired a step or two with him behind the crowd. Tommy would not let go Miss Annaly’s hand, so she heard all that passed.

“I am afeard I am too troublesome to you, sir,” said the boy.

“To me — not the least,” said Ormond: “speak on — say all you have in your mind.”

“Why, then,” said the child, “I have something greatly on my mind, because I heard Granny talking to Moriarty about it last night, over the fire, and I in the bed. Then I know all about Mrs. M’Crule, and how, if I don’t give out, and wouldn’t give up about the grand school, on Saturday, I should, may be, be bringing you, Mr. Harry, into great trouble: so that being the case, I’ll give up entirely — and I’ll go back to the Black Islands to-morrow,” said Tommy, stoutly; yet swelling so in the chest that he could not say another word. He turned away.

As they were walking home together from the school, Moriarty said to Sheelah, “I’ll engage, Sheelah, you did not see all that passed the day.”

“I’ll engage I did, though,” said Sheelah.

“Why, then, Sheelah, you’ve quick eyes still.”

“Oh! I’m not so blind but what I could see that with half an eye — ay, and saw how it was with them before you did, Moriarty. From the first minute they comed into the room together, said I to myself, ‘there’s a pair of angels well matched, if ever there was a pair on earth.’ These things is all laid out above, unknownst to us, from the first minute we are born, who we are to have in marriage,” added Sheelah.

“No; not fixed from the first minute we are born, Sheelah: it is not,” said Moriarty.

“And how should you know, Moriarty,” said Sheelah, “whether or not?”

“And why not as well as you, Sheelah, dear,” replied Moriarty, “if you go to that?”

“Well, in the name of fortune, have it your own way,” said Sheelah; “and how do you think it is then?”

“Why it is partly fixed for us,” said Moriarty; “but the choice is still in us, always —”

“Oh! burn me if I understand that,” said Sheelah.

“Then you are mighty hard of understanding this morning, Sheelah. See, now, with regard to Master Harry and Peggy Sheridan: it’s my opinion, ’twas laid out from the first, that in case he did not do that wrong about Peggy — then see, Heaven had this lady, this angel, from that time forward in view for him, by way of compensation for not doing the wrong he might have chose to do. Now, don’t you think, Sheelah, that’s the way it was? — be a rasonable woman.”

The rasonable woman was puzzled and silent, Sheelah and Moriarty having got, without knowing it, to the dark depths of metaphysics. There was some danger of their knocking their heads against each other there, as wiser heads have done on similar occasions.

It was an auspicious circumstance for Ormond’s love that Florence had now a daily object of thought and feeling in common with him. Mrs. M’Crule’s having piqued Florence was in Ormond’s favour: it awakened her pride, and conquered her timidity; she ventured to trust her own motives. To be sure, the interest she felt for this child was uncommonly vivid; but she might safely avow this interest — it was in the cause of one who was innocent, and who had been oppressed.

As Mrs. M’Crule was so vindictively busy, going about, daily, among the lady patronesses, preparing for the great battle that was to be decided on the famous Saturday, it was necessary that Lady and Miss Annaly should exert themselves at least to make the truth known to their friends, to take them to see Dr. Cambray’s school, and to judge of the little candidate impartially. The day for decision came, and Florence felt an anxiety, an eagerness, which made her infinitely more amiable, and more interesting in Ormond’s eyes. The election was decided in favour of humanity and justice. Florence was deputed to tell the decision to the successful little candidate, who was waiting, with his companions, to hear his fate. Radiant with benevolent pleasure, she went to announce the glad tidings.

“Oh! if she is not beautiful!” cried Sheelah, clasping her hands.

Ormond felt it so warmly, and his looks expressed his feelings so strongly, that Florence, suddenly abashed, could scarcely finish her speech.

If Mrs. M’Crule had been present, she might again have cried “Oh! ho!” but she had retreated, too much discomfited, by the disappointments of hatred, to stay even to embarrass the progress of love. Love had made of late rapid progress. Joining in the cause of justice and humanity, mixing with all the virtues, he had taken possession of the heart happily, safely — unconsciously at first, yet triumphantly at last. Where was Colonel Albemarle all this time? Ormond neither knew nor cared; he thought but little of him at this moment. However, said he to himself, Colonel Albemarle will be here in a few days — it is better for me to see how things are there, before I speak — I am sure Florence could not give me a decisive answer, till her brother has disentangled that business for her. Lady Annaly said as much to me the other day, if I understood her rightly — and I am sure this is the state of the case, from the pains Florence takes now to avoid giving me an opportunity of speaking to her alone, which I have been watching for so anxiously. So reasoned Ormond; but his reasonings, whether wise or foolish, were set at nought by unforeseen events.

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