Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 5.

In the middle of the night our hero was wakened by a loud bellowing. It was only King Corny in a paroxysm of the gout. His majesty was naturally of a very impatient temper, and his maxims of philosophy encouraged him to the most unrestrained expression of his feelings — the maxims of his philosophy — for he had read, though in most desultory manner, and he had thought often deeply, and not seldom justly. The turns of his mind, and the questions he asked, were sometimes utterly unexpected. “Pray, now,” said he to Harry, who stood beside his bed, “now that I’ve a moment’s ease — did you ever hear of the Stoics that the bookmen talk of? and can you tell me what good any one of them ever got by making it a point to make no noise, when they’d be punished and racked with pains of body or mind? Why, I will tell you all they got — all they got was no pity: who would give them pity that did not require it? I could bleed to death in a bath, as well as the best of them, if I chose it; or chew a bullet if I set my teeth to it, with any man in a regiment — but where’s the use? nature knows best, and she says roar!” And he roared — for another twinge seized him.

Nature said sleep! several times this night to Harry, and to every body in the palace; but they did not sleep, they could not, while the roaring continued: so all had reason to rejoice, and Moriarty in particular, when his majesty’s paroxysm was past. Harry was in a sound sleep at twelve o’clock the next day, when he was summoned into the royal presence. He found King Corny sitting at ease in his bed, and that bed strewed over with a variety of roots and leaves, weeds and plants. An old woman was hovering over the fire, stirring something in a black kettle. “Simples these — of wonderful unknown power,” said King Corny to Harry, as he approached the bed; “and I’ll engage you don’t know the name even of the half of them.”

Harry confessed his ignorance.

“No shame for you — was you as wise as King Solomon himself, you might not know them, for he did not, nor couldn’t, he that had never set his foot a grousing on an Irish bog. Sheelah, come you over, and say what’s this?”

The old woman now came to assist at this bed of botany, and with spectacles slipping off, and pushed on her nose continually, peered over each green thing, and named in Irish “every herb that sips the dew.”

Sheelah was deeper in Irish lore than King Corny could pretend to be: but then he humbled her with the “black hellebore of the ancients,” and he had, in an unaccountable manner, affected her imagination by talking of “that famous howl of narcotic poisons, which that great man Socrates drank off.” Sheelah would interrupt herself in the middle of a sentence, and curtsy if she heard him pronounce the name of Socrates — and at the mention of the bowl, she would regularly sigh, and exclaim, “Lord save us! — But that was a wicked bowl.”

Then after a cast of her eyes up to heaven, and crossing herself on the forehead, she would take up her discourse at the word where she had left off.

King Corny set to work compounding plasters and embrocations, preparing all sorts of decoctions of roots and leaves, famous through the country. And while he directed and gesticulated from his bed, the old woman worked over the fire in obedience to his commands; sometimes, however, not with that “prompt and mute obedience,” which the great require.

It was fortunate for Moriarty that King Corny, not having the use of his nether limbs, could not attend even in his gouty chair to administer the medicines he had made, and to see them fairly swallowed. Sheelah, whose conscience was easy on this point, contented herself with giving him a strict charge to “take every bottle to the last drop.” All she insisted upon for her own part was, that she must tie the charm round his neck and arm. She would fain have removed the dressings of the wound to substitute plasters of her own, over which she had pronounced certain prayers or incantations; but Moriarty, who had seized and held fast one good principle of surgery, that the air must never be let into the wound, held mainly to this maxim, and all Sheelah could obtain was permission to clap on her charmed plaster over the dressing.

In due time, or, as King Corny triumphantly observed, in “a wonderful short period,” Moriarty got quite well, long before the king’s gout was cured, even with the assistance of the black hellebore of the ancients. King Corny was so well pleased with his patient for doing such credit to his medical skill, that he gave him and his family a cabin, and spot of land, in the islands — a cabin near the palace; and at Harry’s request made him his wood-ranger and his gamekeeper — the one a lucrative place, the other a sinecure.

Master Harry — Prince Harry — was now looked up to as a person all-powerful with the master; and petitions and requests to speak for them, to speak just one word, came pouring from all sides: but however enviable his situation as favourite and prince presumptive might appear to others, it was not in all respects comfortable to himself.

Formerly, when a boy, in his visits to the Black Islands, he used to have a little companion of whom he was fond — Dora — Corny’s daughter. Missing her much, he inquired from her father where she was gone, and when she was likely to return.

“She is gone off to the continent— to the continent of Ireland, that is; but not banished for any misdemeanour. You know,” said King Corny, “’tis generally considered as a punishment in the Black Islands to be banished to Ireland. A threat of that kind, I find sufficient to bring the most refractory and ill-disposed of my subjects, if I had any of that description, to rason in the last resort; but to that ultimate law I have not recourse, except in extreme cases; I understand my business of king too well, to wear out either shame or fear; but you are no legislator yet, Prince Harry. So what was you asking me about Dora? She is only gone a trip to the continent, to her aunt’s, by the mother’s side, Miss O’Faley, that you never saw, to get the advantage of a dancing-master, which myself don’t think she wants — a natural carriage, with native graces, being, in my unsophisticated opinion, worth all the dancing-master’s positions, contortions, or drillings; but her aunt’s of a contrary opinion, and the women say it is essential. So let ’em put Dora in the stocks, and punish her as they will, she’ll be the gladder to get free, and fly back from their continent to her own Black Islands, and to you and me — that is, to me — I ax your pardon, Harry Ormond; for you know, or I should tell you in time, she is engaged already to White Connal, of Glynn — from her birth. That engagement I made with the father over a bowl of punch — I promised — I’m afraid it was a foolish business — I promised if ever he, Old Connal, should have a son, and I should have a daughter, his son should marry my daughter. I promised, I say — I took my oath: and then Mrs. Connal that was, had, shortly after, not one son, but two — and twins they were: and I had — unluckily — ten years after, the daughter, which is Dora — and then as she could not marry both, the one twin was to be fixed on for her, and that was him they call White Connal — so there it was. Well, it was altogether a rash act! So you’ll consider her as a married woman, though she is but a child — it was a rash act, between you and I— for Connal’s not grown up a likely lad for the girl to fancy; but that’s neither here nor there: no, my word is passed — when half drunk, may be — but no matter — it must be kept sober — drunk or sober, a gentleman must keep his word —à fortiori a king —à fortiori King Corny. See! was there this minute no such thing as parchment, deed, stamp, signature, or seal in the wide world, when once Corny has squeezed a friend’s hand on a bargain, or a promise, ’tis fast, was it ever so much against me —’tis as strong to me as if I had squeezed all the lawyers’ wax in the creation upon it.”

Ormond admired the honourable sentiment; but was sorry there was any occasion for it — and he sighed; but it was a sigh of pity for Dora: not that he had ever seen White Connal, or known any thing of him — but White Connal did not sound well; and her father’s avowal, that it had been a rash engagement, did not seem to promise happiness to Dora in this marriage.

From the time he had been a boy, Harry Ormond had been in the habit of ferrying over to the Black Islands whenever Sir Ulick could spare him. The hunting and shooting, and the life of lawless freedom he led on the Islands, had been delightful. King Corny, who had the command not only of boats, and of guns, and of fishing-tackle, and of men, but of carpenters’ tools, and of smiths’ tools, and of a lathe, and of brass and ivory, and of all the things that the heart of boy could desire, had appeared to Harry, when he was a boy, the richest, the greatest, the happiest of men — the cleverest, too — the most ingenious: for King Corny had with his own hands made a violin and a rat-trap; and had made the best coat, and the best pair of shoes, and the best pair of boots, and the best hat; and had knit the best pair of stockings, and had made the best dunghill in his dominions; and had made a quarter of a yard of fine lace, and had painted a panorama. No wonder that King Corny had been looked up to, by the imagination of childhood, as “a personage high as human veneration could look.”

But now, although our hero was still but a boy in many respects, yet in consequence of his slight commerce with the world, he had formed some comparisons, and made some reflections. He had heard, accidentally, the conversation of a few people of common sense, besides the sly, witty, and satirical remarks of Sir Ulick, upon cousin Cornelius; and it had occurred to Harry to question the utility and real grandeur of some of those things, which had struck his childish imagination. For example, he began to doubt whether it were worthy of a king or a gentleman to be his own shoemaker, hatter, and tailor; whether it were not better managed in society, where these things are performed by different tradesmen: still the things were wonderful, considering who made them, and under what disadvantages they were made: but Harry having now seen and compared Corny’s violin with other violins, and having discovered that so much better could be had for money, with so much less trouble, his admiration had a little decreased. There were other points relative to external appearance, on which his eyes had been opened. In his boyish days, King Corny, going out to hunt with hounds and horn, followed with shouts by all who could ride, and all who could run, King Corny hallooing the dogs, and cheering the crowd, appeared to him the greatest, the happiest of mankind.

But he had since seen hunts in a very different style, and he could no longer admire the rabble rout.

Human creatures, especially young human creatures, are apt to swing suddenly from one extreme to the other, and utterly to despise that which they had extravagantly admired. From this propensity Ormond was in the present instance guarded by affection and gratitude. Through all the folly of his kingship, he saw that Cornelius O’Shane was not a person to be despised. He was indeed a man of great natural powers, both of body and mind — of inventive genius, energy, and perseverance, which might have attained the greatest objects; though from insufficient knowledge, and self-sufficient perversity, they had wasted themselves on absurd or trivial purposes.

There was a strong contrast between the characters of Sir Ulick and his cousin Cornelius O’Shane. They disliked and despised each other: differing as far in natural disposition as the subtle and the bold, their whole course through life, and the habits contracted during their progress, had widened the original difference.

The one living in the world, and mixing continually with men of all ranks and character, had, by bending easily, and being all things to all men, won his courtier-way onwards and upwards to the possession of a seat in parliament, and the prospect of a peerage.

The other, inhabiting a remote island, secluded from all men but those over whom he reigned, caring for no earthly consideration, and for no human opinion but his own, had for himself and by himself, hewed out his way to his own objects, and then rested, satisfied —

“Lord of himself, and all his (little) world his own.”

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