Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 6.

One morning, when Harry Ormond was out shooting, and King Corny, who had recovered tolerably from the gout, was reinstated in his arm-chair in the parlour, listening to Father Jos reading “The Dublin Evening Post,” a gossoon, one of the runners of the castle, opened the door, and putting in his curly red head and bare feet, announced, in all haste, that he “just seen Sir Ulick O’Shane in the boat, crossing the lake for the Black Islands.”

“Well, breathless blockhead! and what of that?” said King Corny —“did you never see a man in a boat before?”

“I did, plase your honour.”

“Then what is there extraordinary?”

“Nothing at all, plase your honour, only — thought your honour might like to know.”

“Then you thought wrong, for I neither like it, nor mislike it. I don’t care a rush about the matter — so take yourself down stairs.”

“’Tis a long time,” said the priest, as the gossoon closed the door after him, “’tis a longer time than he ought, since Sir Ulick O’Shane paid his respects here, even in the shape of a morning visit.”

“Morning visit!” repeated Mrs. Betty Dunshaughlin, the housekeeper, who entered the room, for she was a privileged person, and had les grandes et les petites entrées in this palace— Morning visit! — are you sure, Father Jos — are you clear he isn’t come intending to stay dinner?”

“What, in the devil’s name, Betty, does it signify?” said the king.

“About the dinner!”

“What about it?” said Corny, proudly: “whether he comes, stays, or goes, I’ll not have a scrap, or an iota of it changed,” added he in a despotic tone.

Wheugh.’” said Betty, “one would not like to have a dinner of scraps — for there’s nothing else to-day for him.”

“Then if there is nothing else, there can be nothing else,” said the priest, very philosophically.

“But when strangers come to dine, one would make a bit of an exertion, if one could,” said Betty.

“It’s his own fault to be a stranger,” said Father Jos, watching his majesty’s clouding countenance; then whispering to Betty, “that was a faulty string you touched upon, Mrs. Betty; and can’t you make out your dinner without saying any thing?”

“A person may speak in this house, I suppose, besides the clergy, Father Jos,” said Mrs. Betty, under her breath.

Then looking out of the window, she added, “He’s half-way over the lake, and he’ll make his own apologies good, I’ll engage, when he comes in; for he knows how to speak for himself as well as any gentleman — and I don’t doubt but he’ll get my Micky made an exciseman, as he promised to; and sure he has a good right — Isn’t he a cousin of King Corny’s? wherefore I’d wish to have all things proper. So I’ll step out and kill a couple of chickens — won’t I?”

“Kill what you please,” said King Corny; “but without my warrant, nothing killed or unkilled shall come up to my table this day — and that’s enough. No more reasoning — quit the subject and the room, Betty.”

Betty quitted the room; but every stair, as she descended to the kitchen, could bear witness that she did not quit the subject; and for an hour afterwards, she reasoned against the obstinacy and folly of man, and the chorus in the kitchen moralized, in conformity and commiseration — in vain.

Meantime Father Jos, though he regretted the exertions which Mrs. Betty might discreetly have made in favour of a good dinner, was by no means, as he declared, a friend or fauterer of Sir Ulick O’Shane — how could he, when Sir Ulick had recanted? — The priest looked with horror upon the apostasy — the King with contempt upon the desertion of his party. “Was he sincere any way, I’d honour him,” said Cornelius, “or forgive him; but, not to be ripping up old grievances when there’s no occasion, can’t forgive the way he is at this present double-dealing with poor Harry Ormond — cajoling the grateful heart, and shirking the orphan boy that he took upon him to patronise. Why there I thought nobly of him, and forgave him all his sins, for the generous protection he afforded the son of his friend.”

“Had Captain Ormond, the father, no fortune?” asked the priest.

“Only a trifle of three hundred a year, and no provision for the education or maintenance of the boy. Ulick’s fondness for him, more than all, showed him capable of the disinterested touch; but then to belie his own heart — to abandon him he bred a favourite, just when the boy wants him most — Oh! how could he? And all for what? To please the wife he hates: that can’t be — that’s only the ostensible — but what the raal rason is I can’t guess. No matter — he’ll soon tell us.”

“Tell us! Oh! no,” said the priest, “he’ll keep his own secret.”

“He’ll let it out, I’ll engage, trying to hide it,” said Corny: “like all cunning people, he woodcocks— hides his head, and forgets his body can be seen. But hark! he is coming up. Tommy!” said he, turning to a little boy of five years old, Sheelah’s grandchild, who was playing about in the room, “hand, me that whistle you’re whistling with, till I see what’s the matter with it for you.”

King Corny seemed lost in examination of the whistle when Sir Ulick entered the room; and after receiving and seating him with proud courtesy, he again returned to the charge, blowing through the whistle, earnestly dividing his observation between Sir Ulick and little Tommy, and asking questions, by turns, about the whistle, and about all at Castle Hermitage.

“Where’s my boy? Where’s Harry Ormond?” was the first leading question Sir Ulick asked.

“Harry Ormond’s out shooting, I believe, somewhere or somehow, taking his pleasure, as I hope he will long, and always as long as he likes it, at the Black Islands; at least as long as I live.”

Sir Ulick branched off into hopes of his cousin Cornelius’s living long, very long; and in general terms, that were intended to avoid committing himself, or pinning himself to any thing, he protested that he must not be robbed of his boy, that he had always, with good reason, been jealous of Harry’s affection for King Corny, and that he could not consent to let his term of stay at the Black Islands be either as long as Harry himself should like, or during what he hoped would be the life of his cousin, Cornelius O’Shane.

“There’s something wrong, still, in this whistle. Why, if you loved him so, did you let him go when you had him?” said Corny.

“He thought it necessary, for domestic reasons,” replied Sir Ulick.

Continental policy, that is; what I never understood, nor never shall,” said Corny. “But I don’t inquire any farther. If you are satisfied with yourself, we are all satisfied, I believe.”

“Pardon me, I cannot be satisfied without seeing Harry this morning, for I’ve a little business with him — will you have the goodness to send for him?”

Father Jos, who, from the window, saw Harry’s dog snuffing along the path to the wood, thought he could not be far from the house, and went to make inquiries; and now when Sir Ulick and King Corny were left alone together, a dialogue — a sort of single combat, without any object but to try each other’s powers and temper — ensued between them; in which the one on the offensive came on with a tomahawk, and the other stood on the defensive parrying with a polished blade of Damascus; and sometimes, when the adversary was off his guard, making a sly cut at an exposed part.

“What are you so busy about?” said Sir Ulick.

“Mending the child’s toy,” said Cornelius. “A man must be doing something in this world.”

“But a man of your ingenuity! ’tis a pity it should be wasted, as I have often said, upon mere toys.”

“Toys of one sort or other we are all taken up with through life, from the cradle to the grave. By-the-bye, I give you joy of your baronetage. I hope they did not make you pay, now, too much in conscience for that poor tag of nobility.”

“These things are not always matters of bargain and sale — mine was quite an unsolicited honour, a mark of approbation and acceptance of my poor services, and as such, gratifying; — as to the rest, believe me, it was not, if I must use so coarse an expression, paid for.”

“Not paid for — what, then, it’s owing for? To be paid for still? Well, that’s too hard, after all you’ve done for them. But some men have no manner of conscience. At least, I hope you paid the fees.”

“The fees, of course — but we shall never understand one another,” said Sir Ulick.

“Now what will be the next title or string you look forward to, Ulysses, may I ask? Is it to be Baron Castle Hermitage, or to get a riband, or a garter, or a thistle, or what? — A thistle! What asses some men are!”

What savages some men are, thought Sir Ulick: he walked to the window, and looking out, hoped that Harry Ormond would soon make his appearance. “You are doing, or undoing, a great deal here, cousin Cornelius, I see, as usual.”

“Yes, but what I am doing, stand or fall, will never be my undoing — I am no speculator. How do your silver mines go on, Sir Ulick? I hear all the silver mines in Ireland turn out to be lead.”

“I wish they did,” said Sir Ulick, “for then we could turn all our lead to gold. Those silver mines certainly did not pay — I’ve a notion you found the same with your reclaimed bog here, cousin Cornelius — I understand that after a short time it relapses, and is worse than ever, like most things pretending to be reclaimed.”

“Speak for yourself, there, Sir Ulick,” said Cornelius; “you ought to know, certainly, for some thirty years ago, I think you pretended to be a reclaimed rake.”

“I don’t remember it,” said Sir Ulick.

“I do, and so would poor Emmy Annaly, if she was alive, which it’s fortunate for her she is not (broken-hearted angel, if ever there was one, by wedlock! and the only one of the Annalys I ever liked),” said Cornelius to himself, in a low leisurely voice of soliloquy. Then resuming his conversation tone, and continuing his speech to Sir Ulick, “I say you pretended thirty years ago, I remember, to be a reformed rake, and looked mighty smooth and plausible — and promised fair that the improvement was solid, and was to last for ever and a day. But six months after marriage comes a relapse, and the reclaimed rake’s worse than ever. Well, to be sure, that’s in favour of your opinion against all things pretending to be reclaimed. But see, my poor bog, without promising so well, performs better; for it’s six years, instead of six months, that I’ve seen no tendency to relapse. See, the cattle upon it speak for themselves; an honest calf won’t lie for any man.”

“I give you joy of the success of your improvements. I admire, too, your ploughing team and ploughing tackle,” said Sir Ulick, with an ironical smile. “You don’t go into any indiscreet expense for farming implements or prize cattle.”

“No,” said Cornelius, “I don’t prize the prize cattle; the best prize a man can get, and the only one worth having, is that which he must give himself, or not get, and of which he is the best judge at all sasons.”

“What prize, may I ask?”

“You may ask, and I’ll answer — the prize of success; and, success to myself, I have, it.”

“And succeeding in all your ends by such noble means must be doubly gratifying — and is doubly commendable and surprising,” said Sir Ulick.

“May I ask — for it’s my turn now to play ignoramus — may I ask, what noble means excites this gratuitous commendation and surprise?”

“I commend, in the first place, the economy of your ploughing tackle — hay ropes, hay traces, and hay halters — doubly useful and convenient for harness and food.”

Corny replied, “Some people I know, think the most expensive harness and tackle, and the most expensive ways of doing every thing, the best; but I don’t know if that is the way for the poor to grow rich — it may be the way for the rich to grow poor: we are all poor people in the Black Islands, and I can’t afford, or think it good policy, to give the example of extravagant new ways of doing old things.”

“’Tis a pity you don’t continue the old Irish style of ploughing by the tail,” said Sir Ulick.

“That is against humanity to brute bastes, which, without any sickening palaver of sentiment, I practise. Also, it’s against an act of parliament, which I regard sometimes — that is, when I understand them; which, the way you parliament gentlemen draw them up, is not always particularly intelligible to plain common sense; and I have no lawyers here, thank Heaven! to consult: I am forced to be legislator, and lawyer, and ploughman, and all, you see, the best I can for myself.”

He opened the window, and called to give some orders to the man, or, as he called him, the boy — a boy of sixty — who was ploughing.

“Your team, I see, is worthy of your tackle,” pursued Sir Ulick —“A mule, a bull, and two lean horses. I pity the foremost poor devil of a horse, who must starve in the midst of plenty, while the horse, bull, and even mule, in a string behind him, are all plucking and munging away at their hay ropes.”

Cornelius joined in Sir Ulick’s laugh, which shortened its duration.

“’Tis comical ploughing, I grant,” said he, “but still, to my fancy, any thing’s better and more profitable nor the tragi-comic ploughing you practise every sason in Dublin.”

“I?” said Sir Ulick.

“Ay, you and all your courtiers, ploughing the half acre [Footnote: Ploughing the half acre. The English reader will please to inquire the meaning of this phrase from any Irish courtier.] continually, pacing up and down that Castle-yard, while you’re waiting in attendance there. Every one to his taste, but —

‘If there’s a man on earth I hate,

Attendance and dependence be his fate.’”

“After all, I have very good prospects in life,” said Sir Ulick.

“Ay, you’ve been always living on prospects; for my part, I’d rather have a mole-hill in possession than a mountain in prospect.”

“Cornelius, what are you doing here to the roof of your house?” said Sir Ulick, striking off to another subject. “What a vast deal of work you do contrive to cut out for yourself.”

“I’d rather cut it out for myself than have any body to cut it out for me,” said Cornelius.

“Upon my word, this will require all your extraordinary ingenuity, cousin.”

“Oh, I’ll engage I’ll make a good job of it, in my sense of the word, though not in yours; for I know, in your vocabulary, that’s only a good job where you pocket money and do nothing; now my good jobs never bring me in a farthing, and give me a great deal to do into the bargain.”

“I don’t envy you such jobs, indeed,” said Sir Ulick; “and are you sure that at last you make them good jobs in any acceptation of the term?”

“Sure! a man’s never sure of any thing in this world, but of being abused. But one comfort, my own conscience, for which I’ve a trifling respect, can’t reproach me; since my jobs, good or bad, have cost my poor country nothing.”

On this point Sir Ulick was particularly sore, for he had the character of being one of the greatest jobbers in Ireland. With a face of much political prudery, which he well knew how to assume, he began to exculpate himself. He confessed that much public money had passed through his hands; but he protested that none of it had stayed with him. No man, who had done so much for different administrations, had been so ill paid.

“Why the deuce do you work for them, then? You won’t tell me it’s for love — Have you got any character by it? — if you haven’t profit, what have you? I would not let them make me a dupe, or may be something worse, if I was you,” said Cornelius, looking him full in the face.

“Savage!” said Sir Ulick again to himself. The tomahawk was too much for him — Sir Ulick felt that it was fearful odds to stand fencing according to rule with one who would not scruple to gouge or scalp, if provoked. Sir Ulick now stood silent, smiling forced smiles, and looking on while Cornelius played quite at his ease with little Tommy, blew shrill blasts through the whistle, and boasted that he had made a good job of that whistle any way.

Harry Ormond, to Sir Ulick’s great relief, now appeared. Sir Ulick advanced to meet him with an air of cordial friendship, which brought the honest flush of pleasure and gratitude into the young man’s face, who darted a quick look at Cornelius, as much as to say, “You see you were wrong — he is glad to see me — he is come to see me.”

Cornelius said nothing, but stroked the child’s head, and seemed taken up entirely with him; Sir Ulick spoke of Lady O’Shane, and of his hopes that prepossessions were wearing off. “If Miss Black were out of the way, things would all go right; but she is one of the mighty good — too good ladies, who are always meddling with other people’s business, and making mischief.”

Harry, who hated her, that is, as much as he could hate any body, railed at her vehemently, saying more against her than he thought, and concluded by joining in Sir Ulick’s wish for her departure from Castle Hermitage, but not with any view to his own return thither: on that point he was quite resolute and steady. He would never, he said, be the cause of mischief. Lady O’Shane did not like him — why, he did not know, and had no right to inquire — and was too proud to inquire, if he had a right. It was enough that her ladyship had proved to him her dislike, and refused him protection at his utmost need: he should never again sue for her hospitality. He declared that Sir Ulick should no more be disquieted by his being an inmate at Castle Hermitage.

Sir Ulick became more warm and eloquent in dissuading him from this resolution, the more he perceived that Ormond was positively fixed in his determination.

The cool looker-on all the time remarked this, and Cornelius was convinced that he had from the first been right in his own opinion, that Sir Ulick was “shirking the boy.”

“And where’s Marcus, sir? would not he come with you to see us?” said Ormond.

“Marcus is gone off to England. He bid me give you his kindest love: he was hurried, and regretted he could not come to take leave of you; but he was obliged to go off with the Annalys, to escort her ladyship to England, where he will remain this year, I dare say. I am much concerned to say, that poor Lady Annaly and Miss Annaly —” Sir Ulick cleared his throat, and gave a suspicious look at Ormond.

This glance at Harry, the moment Sir Ulick pronounced the words Miss Annaly, first directed aright the attention of Cornelius.

“Lady Annaly and Miss Annaly! are they ill? What’s the matter, for Heaven’s sake!” exclaimed Harry with great anxiety; but pronouncing both the ladies’ names precisely in the same tone, and with the same freedom of expression.

Sir Ulick took breath. “Neither of the ladies are ill — absolutely ill; but they have both been greatly shocked by accounts of young Annaly’s sudden illness. It is feared an inflammation upon his lungs, brought on by violent cold — his mother and sister left us this morning — set off for England to him immediately. Lady Annaly thought of you, Harry, my boy — you must be a prodigious favourite — in the midst of all her affliction, and the hurry of this sudden departure, this morning: she gave me a letter for you, which I determined to deliver with my own hands.”

While he spoke, Sir Ulick, affecting to search for the letter among many in his pocket, studied with careless intermitting glances our young hero’s countenance, and Cornelius O’Shane studied Sir Ulick’s: Harry tore open the letter eagerly, and coloured a good deal when he saw the inside.

“I have no business here reading that boy’s secrets in his face,” cried Cornelius O’Shane, raising himself on his crutches —“I’ll step out and look at my roof. Will you come, Sir Ulick, and see how the job goes on?” His crutch slipped as he stepped across the hearth — Harry ran to him: “Oh, sir, what are you doing? You are not able to walk yet without me — why are you going? Secrets did you say?” (The words recurred to his ear.) “I have no secrets — there’s no secrets in this letter — it’s only — the reason I looked foolish was that here’s a list of my own faults, which I made like a fool, and dropped like a fool — but they could not have fallen into better or kinder hands than Lady Annaly’s.”

He offered the letter and its enclosure to Cornelius and Sir Ulick. Cornelius drew back. “I don’t want to see the list of your faults, man,” said he: “do you think I haven’t them all by heart already? and as to the lady’s letter, while you live never show a lady’s letter.”

Sir Ulick, without ceremony, took the letter, and in a moment satisfying his curiosity that it was merely a friendly note, returned it and the list of his faults to Harry, saying. “If it had been a young lady’s letter, I am sure you would not have shown it to me, Harry, nor, of course, would I have looked at it. But I presumed that a letter from old Lady Annaly could only be, what I see it is, very edifying.”

“Old Lady Annaly, is it?” cried Cornelius: “oh! then there’s no indiscretion, young man, in the case. You might as well scruple about your mother’s letter, if you had one; or your mother’s-in-law, which, to be sure, you’ll have, I hope, in due course of nature.”

At the sound of the words mother-in-law, a cloud passed over Sir Ulick’s brow, not unnoticed by the shrewd Cornelius; but the cloud passed away quickly, after Sir Ulick had darted another reconnoitring glance on Harry’s open unconscious countenance.

“All’s safe,” said Sir Ulick to himself, as he took leave.

Woodcocked! that he has — as I foresaw he would,” cried King Corny, the moment his guest had departed. “Woodcocked! if ever man did, by all that’s cunning!”

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