Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 9.

This was the first time Mdlle. O’Faley had ever been at Corny Castle. Hospitality, as well as gratitude, determined the King of the Black Islands to pay her honour due.

“Now Harry Ormond,” said he, “I have made one capital good resolution. Here is my sister-in-law, Mdlle. O’Faley, coming to reside with me here, and has conquered her antipathy to solitude, and the Black Islands, and all from natural love and affection for my daughter Dora; for which I have a respect for her, notwithstanding all her eternal jabbering about politesse, and all her manifold absurdities, and infinite female vanities, of which she has a double proportion, being half French. But so was my wife, that I loved to distraction — for a wise man may do a foolish thing. Well, on all those accounts, I shall never contradict or gainsay this Mademoiselle — in all things, I shall make it my principle to give her her swing and her fling. But now observe me, Harry, I have no eye to her money — let her leave that to Dora or the cats, whichever pleases her — I am not looking to, nor squinting at, her succession. I am a great hunter, but not legacy-hunter — that is a kind of hunting I despise — and I wish every hunter of that kind may be thrown out, or thrown off, and may never be in at the death!”

Corny’s tirade against legacy-hunters was highly approved of by Ormond, but as to the rest, he knew nothing about Miss O’Faley’s fortune. He was now to learn that a rich relation of hers, a merchant in Dublin, whom living she had despised, because he was “neither noble, nor comme il faut,” dying had lately left her a considerable sum of money: so that after having been many years in straitened circumstances, she was now quite at her ease. She had a carriage, and horses, and servants; she could indulge her taste for dress, and make a figure in a country place.

The Black Islands were, to be sure, of all places, the most unpromising for her purpose, and the first sight of Corny Castle was enough to throw her into despair.

As soon as breakfast was over, she begged her brother-in-law would show her the whole of the chateau from the top to the bottom.

With all the pleasure in life, he said, he would attend her from the attics to the cellar, and show her all the additions, improvements, and contrivances, he had made, and all he intended to make, if Heaven should lend him life to complete every thing, or any thing — there was nothing finished.

“Nor ever will be,” said Dora, looking from her father to her aunt with a sort of ironical smile.

“Why, what has he been doing all this life?” said mademoiselle.

“Making a shift,” said Dora: “I will show you dozens of them as we go over this house. He calls them substitutes —I call them make-shifts.”

Ormond followed as they went over the house; and though he was sometimes amused by the smart remarks which Dora made behind backs as they went on, yet he thought she laughed too scornfully at her father’s oddities, and he was often in pain for his good friend Corny.

His majesty was both proud and ashamed of his palace: proud of the various instances it exhibited of his taste, originality, and daring; ashamed of the deficiencies and want of comfort and finish.

His ready wit had excuses, reasons, or remedies, for all Mademoiselle’s objections. Every alteration she proposed, he promised to get executed, and he promised impossibilities with the best faith imaginable.

“As the Frenchman answered to the Queen of France,” said Corny, “if it is possible, it shall be done; and if it is impossible, it must be done.”

Mademoiselle, who had expected to find her brother-in-law, as she owned, a little more difficult to manage, a little savage, and a little restive, was quite delighted with his politeness; but presuming on his complaisance, she went too far. In the course of a week, she made so many innovations, that Corny, seeing the labour and ingenuity of his life in danger of being at once destroyed, made a sudden stand.

“This is Corny Castle, Mademoiselle,” said he, “and you are making it Castle Topsy–Turvy, which must not be. Stop this work; for I’ll have no more architectural innovations done here — but by my own orders. Paper and paint, and furnish and finish, you may, if you will — I give you a carte-blanche; but I won’t have another wall touched, or chimney pulled down: so far shalt thou go, but no farther, Mdlle. O’Faley.” Mademoiselle was forced to submit, and to confine her brilliant imagination to papering, painting, and glazing.

Even in the course of these operations, King Corny became so impatient, that she was forced to get them finished surreptitiously, while he was out of the way in the mornings.

She made out who resided at every place within possible reach of morning or dinner visit: every house on the opposite banks of the lake was soon known to her, and she was current in every house. The boat was constantly rowing backwards and forwards over the lake; cars waiting or driving on the banks: in short, this summer all was gaiety at the Black Islands. Miss O’Faley was said to be a great acquisition in the neighbourhood: she was so gay, so sociable, so communicative; and she certainly, above all, knew so much of the world; she was continually receiving letters, and news, and patterns, from Dublin, and the Black Rock, and Paris. Each of which places, and all standing nearly upon the same level, made a great figure in her conversation, and in the imagination of the half or quarter gentry, with whom she consorted in this remote place. Every thing is great or small by comparison, and she was a great person in this little world. It had been the report of the country, that her niece was promised to the eldest son of Mr. Connal of Glynn; but the aunt seemed so averse to the match, and expressed this so openly, that some people began to think it would be broken off; others, who knew Cornelius O’Shane’s steadiness to his word of honour, were convinced that Miss O’Faley would never shake King Corny, and that Dora would assuredly be Mrs. Connal. All agreed that it was a foolish promise — that he might do better for his daughter. Miss O’Shane, with her father’s fortune and her aunt’s, would be a great prize; besides, she was thought quite a beauty, and remarkable elegant.

Dora was just the thing to be the belle and coquette of the Black Islands; the alternate scorn and familiarity with which she treated her admirers, and the interest and curiosity she excited, by sometimes taking delightful pains to attract, and then capriciously repelling, succeeded, as Miss O’Faley observed, admirably. Harry Ormond accompanied her and her aunt on all their parties of pleasure: Miss O’Faley would never venture in the boat or across the lake without him. He was absolutely essential to their parties: he was useful in the boat; he was useful to drive the car — Miss O’Faley would not trust any body else to drive her; he was an ornament to the ball — Miss O’Faley dubbed him her beau: she undertook to polish him, and to teach him to speak French — she was astonished by the quickness with which he acquired the language, and caught the true Parisian pronunciation. She often reiterated to her niece, and to others, who repeated it to Ormond, “that it was the greatest of pities he had but three hundred a year upon earth; but that, even with that pittance, she would prefer him for a nephew to another with his thousands. Mr. Ormond was well-born, and he had some politesse; and a winter at Paris would make him quite another person, quite a charming young man. He would have great success, she could answer for it, in certain circles and salons that she could name, only it might turn his head too much.” So far she said, and more she thought.

It was a million of pities that such a woman as herself, and such a girl as Dora, and such a young man as Mr. Ormond might be made, should be buried all their days in the Black Islands. Mdlle. O’Faley’s heart still turned to Paris: in Paris she was determined to live — there was no living, what you call living, any where else — elsewhere people only vegetate, as somebody said. Miss O’Faley, nevertheless, was excessively fond of her niece; and how to make the love for her niece and the love for Paris coincide, was the question. She long had formed a scheme of carrying her dear niece to Paris, and marrying her there to some M. le Baron or M. le Marquis; but Dora’s father would not hear of her living any where but in Ireland, or marrying any one but an Irishman. Miss O’Faley had lived long enough in Ireland to know that the usual method, in all disputes, is to split the difference: therefore she decided that her niece should marry some Irishman who would take her to Paris, and reside with her there, at least a great part of his time — the latter part of the bargain to be kept a secret from the father till the marriage should be accomplished. Harry Ormond appeared to be the very man for this purpose: he seemed to hang loosely upon the world — no family connexions seemed to have any rights over him; he had no profession — but a very small fortune. Miss O’Faley’s fortune might be very convenient, and Dora’s person very agreeable to him; and it was scarcely to be doubted that he would easily be persuaded to quit the Black Islands, and the British Islands, for Dora’s sake. The petit menage was already quite arranged in Mdlle. O’Faley’s head — even the wedding-dresses had floated in her fancy. “As to the promise given to White Connal,” as she said to herself, “it would be a mercy to save her niece from such a man; for she had seen him lately, when he had called upon her in Dublin, and he was a vulgar person: his hair looked as if it had not been cut these hundred years, and he wore — any thing but what he should wear; therefore it would be a favour to her brother-in-law, for whom she had in reality a serious regard — it would be doing him the greatest imaginable benefit, to save him from the shame of either keeping or breaking his ridiculous and savage promise.” Her plan was therefore to prevent the possibility of his keeping it, by marrying her niece privately to Ormond before White Connal should return in October. When the thing was done, and could not be undone, Cornelius O’Shane, she was persuaded, would be very glad of it, for Harry Ormond was his particular favourite: he had called him his son — son-in-law was almost the same thing. Thus arguing with happy female casuistry, Mademoiselle went on with the prosecution of her plan. To the French spirit of intrigue and gallantry she joined Irish acuteness, and Irish varieties of odd resource, with the art of laying suspicion asleep by the appearance of an imprudent, blundering good nature; add to all this a degree of confidence, that could not have been acquired by any means but one. Thus accomplished, “rarely did she manage matters.” By the very boldness and openness of her railing against the intended bridegroom, she convinced her brother-in-law that she meant nothing more than talk. Besides, through all her changing varieties of objections, there was one point on which she never varied — she never objected to going to Dublin, in September, to buy the wedding-clothes for Dora. This seemed to Cornelius O’Shane perfect proof, that she had no serious intention to break off or defer the match. As to the rest, he was glad to see his own Harry such a favourite: he deserved to be a favourite with every body, Cornelius thought. The young people were continually together. “So much the better,” he would say: “all was above-board, and there could be no harm going forward, and no danger in life.” All was above-board on Harry Ormond’s part; he knew nothing of Miss O’Faley’s designs, nor did he as yet feel that there was for him much danger. He was not thinking as a lover of Dora in particular, but he felt a new and extraordinary desire to please in general. On every fair occasion, he liked to show how well he could ride; how well he could dance; how gallant and agreeable he could be: his whole attention was now turned to the cultivation of his personal accomplishments. He succeeded: he danced, he rode to admiration — his glories of horsemanship, and sportsmanship, the birds that he shot, and the fish that he caught, and the leaps that he took, are to this hour recorded in the tradition of the inhabitants of the Black Islands. At that time, his feats of personal activity and address made him the theme of every tongue, the delight of every eye, the admiration of every woman, and the envy of every man: not only with the damsels of Peggy Sheridan’s class was he the favourite, but with all the young ladies, the belles of the half gentry, who filled the ball-rooms; and who made the most distinguished figure in the riding, boating, walking, tea-drinking parties. To all, or any of these belles, he devoted his attention rather than to Dora, for he was upon honour; and very honourable he was, and very prudent, moreover, he thought himself. He was, at present, quite content with general admiration: there was, or there seemed, at this time, more danger for his head than his heart — more danger that his head should be turned with the foolish attentions paid him by many silly girls, than that he should be a dupe to a passion for any one of them: there was imminent danger of his becoming a mere dancing, driving, country coxcomb.

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