Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 3.

But is it natural, is it possible, that this Sir Ulick O’Shane could so easily part with Harry Ormond, and thus “whistle him down the wind to prey at fortune?” For Harry Ormond, surely, if for any creature living, Sir Ulick O’Shane’s affection had shown itself disinterested and steady. When left a helpless infant, its mother dead, its father in India, he had taken the child from the nurse, who was too poor even to feed or clothe it as her own; and he had brought little Harry up at his castle with his own son — as his own son. He had been his darling — literally his spoiled child; nor had this fondness passed away with the prattling, playful graces of the child’s first years — it had grown with its growth. Harry became Sir Ulick’s favourite companion — hunting, shooting, carousing, as he had been his plaything during infancy. On no one occasion had Harry, violent and difficult to manage as he was to others, ever crossed Sir Ulick’s will, or in any way incurred his displeasure. And now, suddenly, without any cause, except the aversion of a wife, whose aversions seldom troubled him in any great degree, is it natural that he should give up Harry Ormond, and suffer him to sacrifice himself in vain for the preservation of a conjugal peace, which Sir Ulick ought to have known could not by such a sacrifice be preserved? Is it possible that Sir Ulick should do this? Is it in human nature?

Yes, in the nature of Sir Ulick O’Shane. Long use had brought him to this; though his affections, perhaps, were naturally warm, he had on many occasions in his life sacrificed them to his scheming imaginations. Necessity the necessity of his affairs, the consequences of his extravagance — had brought him to this: the first sacrifices had not been made without painful struggles; but by degrees his mind had hardened, and his warmth of heart had cooled. When he said or swore in the most cordial manner that he “would do any thing in the world to serve a friend,” there was always a mental reservation of “any thing that does not hurt my own interest, or cross my schemes.”

And how could Harry Ormond hurt his interest, or cross his schemes? or how had Sir Ulick discovered this so suddenly? Miss Annaly’s turning pale was the first cause of Sir Ulick’s change of sentiments towards his young favourite. Afterwards, during the whole that passed, Sir Ulick had watched the impression made upon her — he had observed that it was not for Marcus O’Shane’s safety that she was anxious; and he thought she had betrayed a secret attachment, the commencement of an attachment he thought it, of which she was perhaps herself unconscious. Were such an attachment to be confirmed, it would disappoint Sir Ulick’s schemes: therefore, with the cool decision of a practised schemer, he determined directly to get rid of Ormond. He had no intention of parting with him for ever, but merely while the Annalys were at Castle Hermitage: till his scheme was brought to bear, he would leave Harry at the Black Islands, and he could, he thought, recal him from banishment, and force a reconciliation with Lady O’Shane, and reinstate him in favour, at pleasure.

But is it possible that Miss Annaly, such an amiable and elegant young lady as she is described to be, should feel any attachment, any predilection for such a young man as Ormond; ill-educated, unpolished, with a violent temper, which had brought him early into life into the dreadful situation in which he now stands? And at the moment when, covered with the blood of an innocent man, he stood before her, an object of disgust and horror; could any sentiment like love exist or arise in a well-principled mind?

Certainly not. Sir Ulick’s acquaintance with unprincipled women misled him completely in this instance, and deprived him of his usual power of discriminating character. Harry Ormond was uncommonly handsome; and though so young, had a finely-formed, manly, graceful figure; and his manner, whenever he spoke to women, was peculiarly prepossessing. These personal accomplishments, Sir Ulick thought, were quite sufficient to win any lady’s heart — but Florence Annaly was not to be won by such means: no feeling of love for Mr. Ormond had ever touched her heart, nor even crossed her imagination; none under such circumstances could have arisen in her innocent and well-regulated mind. Sudden terror, and confused apprehension of evil, made her grow very pale at the sight of his bloody apparition at the window of the ball-room. Bodily weakness, for she was not at this time in strong health, must be her apology, if she need any, for the faintness and loss of presence of mind, which Sir Ulick construed into proofs of tender anxiety for the personal fate of this young man. In the scene that followed, horror of his crime, pity for the agony of his remorse, was what she felt — what she strongly expressed to her mother, the moment she reached her apartment that night: nor did her mother, who knew her thoroughly, ever for an instant suspect that in her emotion, there was a mixture of any sentiments but those which she expressed. Both mother and daughter were extremely shocked. They were also struck with regret at the idea, that a young man, in whom they had seen many instances of a generous, good disposition, of natural qualities and talents, which might have made him a useful, amiable, and admirable member of society, should be, thus early, a victim to his own undisciplined passion. During the preceding winter they had occasionally seen something of Ormond in Dublin. In the midst of the dissipated life which he led, upon one or two occasions, of which we cannot now stop to give an account, he had shown that he was capable of being a very different character from that which he had been made by bad education, bad example, and profligate indulgence, or shameful neglect on the part of his guardian.

Immediately after Sir Ulick had left Ormond, the surgeon appeared, and a new train of emotions arose. He had no time to reflect on Sir Ulick’s conduct. He felt hurried on rapidly, like one in a terrible dream. He returned with the surgeon to the wounded man.

Moriarty had wakened, much refreshed from his sleep, and the surgeon confessed that his patient was infinitely better than he had expected to find him. Moriarty evidently exerted himself as much as he possibly could to appear better, that he might calm Ormond’s anxiety, who stood waiting, with looks that showed his implicit faith in the oracle, and feeling that his own fate depended upon the next words that should be uttered. Let no one scoff at his easy faith: at this time Ormond was very young, not yet nineteen, and had no experience, either of the probability, or of the fallacy of medical predictions. After looking very grave and very wise, and questioning and cross-questioning a proper time, the surgeon said it was impossible for him to pronounce any thing decidedly, till the patient should have passed another night; but that if the next night proved favourable, he might then venture to declare him out of immediate danger, and might then begin to hope that, with time and care, he would do well. With this opinion, guarded and dubious as it was, Ormond was delighted — his heart felt relieved of part of the heavy load by which it had been oppressed, and the surgeon was well feed from the purse which Sir Ulick had put into Ormond’s hands. Ormond’s next business was to send a gossoon with a letter to his friend the King of the Black Islands, to tell him all that had passed, and to request an asylum in his dominions. By the time he had finished and despatched his letter, it was eight o’clock in the morning; and he was afraid that before he could receive an answer, it might be too late in the day to carry a wounded man as far as the Black Islands: he therefore accepted the hospitable offer of the village school-mistress, to give him and his patient a lodging for that night. There was indeed no one in the place who would not have done as much for Master Harry. All were in astonishment and sorrow when they heard that he was going to leave the castle; and their hatred to Lady O’Shane would have known no bounds, had they learned that she was the cause of his banishment: but this he generously concealed, and forbade those of his followers or partisans, who had known any thing of what had passed, to repeat what they had heard. It was late in the day before Marcus rose; for he had to sleep off the effects of his last night’s intemperance. He was in great astonishment when he learned that Ormond was really going away; and “could scarcely believe,” as he said repeatedly, “that Harry was so mad, or such a fool. As to Moriarty, a few guineas would have settled the business, if no rout had been made about it. Sitting up all night with such a fellow, and being in such agonies about him — how absurd! What more could he have done, if he had shot a gentleman, or his best friend? But Harry Ormond was always in extremes.”

Marcus, though he had not a very clear recollection of the events of the preceding night, was conscious, however, that he had been much more to blame than Ormond had stated; he had a remembrance of having been very violent, and of having urged Ormond to chastise Moriarty. It was not the first time that Ormond had screened him from blame, by taking the whole upon himself. For this Marcus was grateful to a certain degree: he thought he was fond of Harry Ormond; but he had not for him the solid friendship that would stand the test of adversity, still less would it be capable of standing against any difference of party opinion. Marcus, though he appeared a mild, indolent youth, was violent where his prejudices were concerned. Instead of being governed by justice in his conduct towards his inferiors, he took strong dislikes, either upon false informations, or without sufficient examination of the facts: cringing and flattery easily won his favour; and, on the other hand, he resented any spirit of independence, or even the least contradiction, from an inferior. These defects in his temper appeared more and more in him every year. As he ceased to be a boy, and was called upon to act as a man, the consequences of his actions became of greater importance; but in acquiring more power, he did not acquire more reason, or greater command over himself. He was now provoked with Ormond for being so anxious about Moriarty Carroll, because he disliked the Carrolls, and especially Moriarty, for some slight cause not worth recording. He went to Ormond, and argued the matter with him, but in vain. Marcus resented this sturdiness, and they parted, displeased with each other. Though Marcus expressed in words much regret at his companion’s adhering to the resolution of quitting his father’s house, yet it might be doubted whether, at the end of the conference, these professions were entirely sincere, whatever they might have been at the beginning: he had not a large mind, and perhaps he was not sorry to get rid of a companion who had often rivalled him in his father’s favour, and who might rival him where it was still more his ambition to please. The coldness of Marcus’s manner at parting, and the little difficulty which he felt in the separation, gave exquisite pain to poor Ormond, who, though he was resolved to go, did wish to be regretted, especially by the companion, the friend of his childhood. The warmth of his guardian’s manner had happily deceived him; and to the recollection of this he recurred for comfort at this moment, when his heart ached, and he was almost exhausted with the succession of the painful, violently painful, feelings of the last four-and-twenty hours.

The gossoon who had been sent with the despatch to the King of the Black Islands did not return this day — disappointment upon disappointment. Moriarty, who had exerted himself too much, that he might appear better than he really was, suffered proportionably this night; and so did Ormond, who, never before having been with any person delirious from fever, was excessively alarmed. What he endured cannot be described: it was, however, happy for him that he was forced to bear it all — nothing less could have made a sufficient impression on his mind — nothing less could have been a sufficient warning to set a guard upon the violence of his temper.

In the morning the fever abated: about eight o’clock the patient sunk into a sound sleep; and Ormond, kneeling by his bedside, ardent in devotion as in all his sentiments, gave thanks to Heaven, prayed for Moriarty’s perfect recovery, and vowed with the strongest adjurations that if he might be spared for this offence, if he might be saved from the horror of being a murderer, no passion, no provocation should ever, during the whole future course of his life, tempt him to lift his hand against a fellow-creature.

As he rose from his knees, after making this prayer and this vow, he was surprised to see standing beside him Lady Annaly — she had made a sign to the sick man not to interrupt Ormond’s devotion by any exclamation at her entrance.

“Be not disturbed — let me not feel that I embarrass you, Mr. Ormond,” said she: “I came here not to intrude upon your privacy. Be not ashamed, young gentleman,” continued she, “that I should have witnessed feelings that do you honour, and that interest me in your future fate.”

“Interest Lady Annaly in my future fate! — Is it possible!” exclaimed Ormond: “Is it possible that one of whom I stood so much in awe — one whom I thought so much too good, ever to bestow a thought on — such a one as I am — as I was, even before this fatal —” (his voice failed).

“Not fatal, I hope — I trust,” said Lady Annaly: “this poor man’s looks at this moment assure me that he is likely to do well.”

“True for ye, my lady,” said Moriarty, “I’ll do my best, surely: I’d live through all, if possible, for his sake, let alone my mudther’s, or shister’s, or my own —‘twould be too bad, after; all the trouble he got these two nights, to be dying at last, I and hanting him, may be, whether I would or no — for as to prosecuting, that would never be any way, if I died twenty times over. I sint off that word to my mudthier and shister, with my curse if they’d do other— and only that they were at the fair, and did not get the word, or the news of my little accident, they’d have been here long ago; and the minute they come, I’ll swear ’em not to prosecute, or harbour a thought of revenge again’ him, who had no malice again’ me, no more than a child. And at another’s bidding, more than his own, he drew the trigger, and the pistol went off unknownst, in a passion: so there’s the case for you, my lady.”

Lady Annaly, who was pleased with the poor fellow’s simplicity and generosity in this tragi-comic statement of the case, inquired if she could in any way afford him assistance.

“I thank your ladyship, but Mr. Harry lets me want for nothing.”

“Nor ever will, while I have a farthing I can call my own,” cried Ormond.

“But I hope, Mr. Ormond,” said Lady Annaly, smiling, “that when Moriarty — is not that his name? — regains his strength, to which he seems well inclined, you do not mean to make him miserable and good for nothing, by supporting him in idleness?”

“No, he sha’n’t, my lady — I would not let him be wasting his little substance on me. And did ye hear, my lady, how he is going to lave Castle Hermitage? Well, of all the surprises ever I got! It come upon me like a shot —my shot was nothing to it!”

It was necessary to insist upon Moriarty’s submitting to be silent and quiet; for not having the fear of the surgeon before his eyes, and having got over his first awe of the lady, he was becoming too full of oratory and action. Lady Annaly took Ormond out with her, that she might speak to him of his own affairs.

“You will not, I hope, Mr. Ormond, ascribe it to idle curiosity, but to a wish to be of service, if I inquire what your future plans in life may be?”

Ormond had never formed any, distinctly. “He was not fit for any profession, except, perhaps, the army — he was too old for the navy — he was at present going, he believed, to the house of an old friend, a relation of Sir Ulick, Mr. Cornelius O’Shane.”

“My son, Sir Herbert Annaly, has an estate in this neighbourhood, at which he has never yet resided, but we are going there when we leave Castle Hermitage. I shall hope to see you at Annaly, when you have determined on your plans; perhaps you may show us how we can assist in forwarding them.”

“Is it possible,” repeated Ormond, in unfeigned astonishment, “that your ladyship can be so very good, so condescending, to one who so little deserves it? But I will deserve it in future. If I get over this — interested in my future fate — Lady Annaly!”

“I knew your father many years ago,” said Lady Annaly; “and as his son, I might feel some interest for you; but I will tell you sincerely, that, on some occasions, when we met in Dublin, I perceived traits of goodness in you, which, on your own account, Mr. Ormond, have interested me in your fate. But fate is an unmeaning commonplace — worse than commonplace — word: it is a word that leads us to imagine that we are fated or doomed to certain fortunes or misfortunes in life. I have had a great deal of experience, and from all I have observed, it appears to me, that far the greatest part of our happiness or misery in life depends upon ourselves.”

Ormond stopped short, and listened with the eagerness of one of quick feeling and quick capacity, who seizes an idea that is new to him, and the truth and value of which he at once appreciates. For the first time in his life he heard good sense from the voice of benevolence — he anxiously desired that she should go on speaking, and stood in such an attitude of attentive deference as fully marked that wish.

But at this moment Lady O’Shane’s footman came up with a message from his lady; her ladyship sent to let Lady Annaly know that breakfast was ready. Repeating her good wishes to Ormond she bade him adieu, while he was too much overpowered with his sense of gratitude to return her thanks.

“Since there exists a being, and such a being, interested for me, I must be worth something — and I will make myself worth something more: I will begin from this moment, I am resolved, to improve; and who knows but in the end I may become every thing that is good? I don’t want to be great.”

Though this resolution was not steadily adhered to, though it was for a time counteracted by circumstances, it was never afterwards entirely forgotten. From this period, in consequence of the great and painful impression which had been suddenly made on his mind, and from a few words of sense and kindness spoken to him at a time when his heart was happily prepared to receive them, we may date the commencement of our hero’s reformation and improvement — hero, we say; but certainly never man had more faults than Ormond had to correct, or to be corrected, before he could come up to the received idea of any description of hero. Most heroes are born perfect — so at least their biographers, or rather their panegyrists, would have us believe. Our hero is far from this happy lot; the readers of his story are in no danger of being wearied, at first setting out, with the list of his merits and accomplishments; nor will they be awed or discouraged by the exhibition of virtue above the common standard of humanity — beyond the hope of imitation. On the contrary, most people will comfort and bless themselves with the reflection, that they never were quite so foolish, nor quite so bad, as Harry Ormond.

For the advantage of those who may wish to institute the comparison, his biographer, in writing the life of Ormond, deems it a point of honour to extenuate nothing; but to trace, with an impartial hand, not only every improvement and advance, but every deviation or retrograde movement.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/edgeworth/maria/ormond/chapter3.html

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