“What! no music, no dancing at Castle Hermitage to-night; and all the ladies sitting in a formal circle, petrifying into perfect statues?” cried Sir Ulick O’Shane as he entered the drawing-room, between ten and eleven o’clock at night, accompanied by what he called his rear-guard, veterans of the old school of good fellows, who at those times in Ireland — times long since past — deemed it essential to health, happiness, and manly character, to swallow, and show themselves able to stand after swallowing, a certain number of bottles of claret per day or night.
“Now, then,” continued Sir Ulick, “of all the figures in nature or art, the formal circle is universally the most obnoxious to conversation, and, to me, the most formidable; all my faculties are spell-bound — here I am like a bird in a circle of chalk, that dare not move so much as its head or its eyes, and can’t, for the life of it, take to its legs.”
A titter ran round that part of the circle where the young ladies sat — Sir Ulick was a favourite, and they rejoiced when he came among them; because, as they observed, “he always said something pleasant, or set something pleasant a-going.”
“Lady O’Shane, for mercy’s sake let us have no more of these permanent circle sittings at Castle Hermitage, my dear!”
“Sir Ulick, I am sure I should be very glad if it were possible,” replied Lady O’Shane, “to have no more permanent sittings at Castle Hermitage; but when gentlemen are at their bottle, I really don’t know what the ladies can do but sit in a circle.”
“Can’t they dance in a circle, or any way? or have not they an elegant resource in their music? There’s many here who, to my knowledge, can caper as well as they modulate,” said Sir Ulick, “to say nothing of cards for those that like them.”
“Lady Annaly does not like cards,” said Lady O’Shane, “and I could not ask any of these young ladies to waste their breath and their execution, singing and playing before the gentlemen came out.”
“These young ladies would not, I’m sure, do us old fellows the honour of waiting for us; and the young beaux deserted to your tea-table a long hour ago — so why you have not been dancing is a mystery beyond my comprehension.”
“Tea or coffee, Sir Ulick O’Shane, for the third time of asking?” cried a sharp female voice from the remote tea-table.
“Wouldn’t you swear to that being the voice of a presbyterian?” whispered Sir Ulick, over his shoulder to the curate: then aloud he replied to the lady, “Miss Black, you are three times too obliging. Neither tea nor coffee I’ll take from you to-night, I thank you kindly.”
“Fortunate for yourself, sir — for both are as cold as stones — and no wonder!” said Miss Black.
“No wonder!” echoed Lady O’Shane, looking at her watch, and sending forth an ostentatious sigh.
“What o’clock is it by your ladyship?” asked Miss Black. “I have a notion it’s tremendously late.”
“No matter — we are not pinned to hours in this house, Miss Black,” said Sir Ulick, walking up to the tea-table, and giving her a look, which said as plainly as look could say, “You had better be quiet.”
Lady O’Shane followed her husband, and putting her arm within his, began to say something in a fondling tone; and in a most conciliatory manner she went on talking to him for some moments. He looked absent, and replied coldly.
“I’ll take a cup of coffee from you now, Miss Black,” said he, drawing away his arm from his wife, who looked much mortified.
“We are too long, Lady O’Shane,” added he, “standing here like lovers, talking to no one but ourselves — awkward in company.”
“Like lovers!” The sound pleased poor Lady O’Shane’s ear, and she smiled for the first time this night — Lady O’Shane was perhaps the last woman in the room whom a stranger would have guessed to be Sir Ulick’s wife.
He was a fine gallant off-hand looking Irishman, with something of dash in his tone and air, which at first view might lead a common observer to pronounce him to be vulgar; but at five minutes after sight, a good judge of men and manners would have discovered in him the power of assuming whatever manner he chose, from the audacity of the callous profligate to the deference of the accomplished courtier — the capability of adapting his conversation to his company and his views, whether his object were “to set the senseless table in a roar,” or to insinuate himself into the delicate female heart. Of this latter power, his age had diminished but not destroyed the influence. The fame of former conquests still operated in his favour, though he had long since passed his splendid meridian of gallantry.
While Sir Ulick is drinking his cup of cold coffee, we may look back a little into his family history. To go no farther than his legitimate loves, he had successively won three wives, who had each, in her turn, been desperately enamoured: the first he loved, and married imprudently for love, at seventeen; the second he admired, and married prudently, for ambition, at thirty; the third he hated, but married, from necessity, for money, at five-and-forty. The first wife, Miss Annaly, after ten years’ martyrdom of the heart, sank, childless — a victim, it was said, to love and jealousy. The second wife, Lady Theodosia, struggled stoutly for power, backed by strong and high connexions; having, moreover, the advantage of being a mother, and mother of an only son and heir, the representative of a father in whom ambition had, by this time, become the ruling passion: the Lady Theodosia stood her ground, wrangling and wrestling through a fourteen years’ wedlock, till at last, to Sir Ulick’s great relief, not to say joy, her ladyship was carried off by a bad fever, or a worse apothecary. His present lady, formerly Mrs. Scraggs, a London widow of very large fortune, happened to see Sir Ulick when he went to present some address, or settle some point between the English and Irish government:— he was in deep mourning at the time, and the widow pitied him very much. But she was not the sort of woman he would ever have suspected could like him — she was a strict pattern lady, severe on the times, and, not unfrequently, lecturing young men gratis. Now Sir Ulick O’Shane was a sinner; how then could he please a saint? He did, however — but the saint did not please him — though she set to work for the good of his soul, and in her own person relaxed, to please his taste, even to the wearing of rouge and pearl-powder, and false hair, and false eyebrows, and all the falsifications which the setters-up could furnish. But after she had purchased all of youth which age can purchase for money, it would not do. The Widow Scraggs might, with her “lack lustre” eyes, have speculated for ever in vain upon Sir Ulick, but that, fortunately for her passion, at one and the same time, the Irish ministry were turned out, and an Irish canal burst. Sir Ulick losing his place by the change of ministry, and one half of his fortune by the canal, in which it had been sunk; and having spent in unsubstantial schemes and splendid living more than the other half; now, in desperate misery, laid hold of the Widow Scraggs. After a nine days’ courtship she became a bride, and she and her plum in the stocks — but not her messuage, house, and lands, in Kent — became the property of Sir Ulick O’Shane. “Love was then lord of all” with her, and she was now to accompany Sir Ulick to Ireland. Late in life she was carried to a new country, and set down among a people whom she had all her previous days been taught to hold in contempt or aversion: she dreaded Irish disturbances much, and Irish dirt more; she was persuaded that nothing could be right, good, or genteel, that was not English. Her habits and tastes were immutably fixed. Her experience had been confined to a London life, and in proportion as her sphere of observation had been contracted, her disposition was intolerant. She made no allowance for the difference of opinion, customs, and situation, much less for the faults or foibles of people who were to her strangers and foreigners — her ladyship was therefore little likely to please or be pleased in her new situation. Her husband was the only individual, the only thing, animate or inanimate, that she liked in Ireland — and while she was desperately in love with an Irishman, she disliked Ireland and the Irish: even the Irish talents and virtues, their wit, humour, generosity of character, and freedom of manner, were lost upon her — her country neighbours were repelled by her air of taciturn self-sufficiency — and she, for her part, declared she would have been satisfied to have lived alone at Castle Hermitage with Sir Ulick. But Sir Ulick had no notion of living alone with her, or for any body. His habits were all social and convivial — he loved show and company: he had been all his life in the habit of entertaining all ranks of people at Castle Hermitage, from his excellency the Lord–Lieutenant and the commander-in-chief for the time being, to Tim the gauger, and honest Tom Kelly, the stalko.
He talked of the necessity of keeping up a neighbourhood, and maintaining his interest in the county, as the first duties of man. Ostensibly Sir Ulick had no motive in all this, but the hospitable wish of seeing Castle Hermitage one continued scene of festivity; but under this good fellowship and apparent thoughtlessness and profusion, there was an eye to his own interest, and a keen view to the improvement of his fortune and the advancement of his family. With these habits and views, it was little likely that he should yield to the romantic, jealous, or economic tastes of his new lady — a bride ten years older than himself! Lady O’Shane was, soon after her arrival in Ireland, compelled to see her house as full of company as it could possibly hold; and her ladyship was condemned eternally, to do the honours to successive troops of friends, of whom she knew nothing, and of whom she disliked all she saw or heard. Her dear Sir Ulick was, or seemed, so engrossed by the business of pleasure, so taken up with his guests, that but a few minutes in the day could she ever obtain of his company. She saw herself surrounded by the young, the fair, and the gay, to whom Sir Ulick devoted his assiduous and gallant attentions; and though his age, and his being a married man, seemed to preclude, in the opinion of the cool or indifferent spectator, all idea of any real cause for jealousy, yet it was not so with poor Lady O’Shane’s magnifying imagination. The demon of jealousy tortured her; and to enhance her sufferings, she was obliged to conceal them, lest they should become subjects of private mockery or public derision. It is the peculiar misfortune or punishment of misplaced, and yet more of unseasonable, passions, that in their distresses they obtain no sympathy; and while the passion is in all its consequence tragics to the sufferer, in all its exhibitions it is — ludicrous to the spectator. Lady O’Shane could not be young, and would not be old: so without the charms of youth, or the dignity of age, she could neither inspire love, nor command respect; nor could she find fit occupation or amusement, or solace or refuge, in any combination of company or class of society. Unluckily, as her judgment, never discriminating, was now blinded by jealousy, the two persons of all his family connexions upon whom she pitched as the peculiar objects of her fear and hatred were precisely those who were most disposed to pity and befriend her — to serve her in private with Sir Ulick, and to treat her with deference in public: these two persons were Lady Annaly and her daughter. Lady Annaly was a distant relation of Sir Ulick’s first wife, during whose life some circumstances had occurred which had excited her ladyship’s indignation against him. For many years all commerce between them had ceased. Lady Annaly was a woman of generous indignation, strong principles, and warm affections. Her rank, her high connexions, her high character, her having, from the time she was left a young and beautiful widow, devoted herself to the education and the interests of her children; her having persevered in her lofty course, superior to all the numerous temptations of love, vanity, or ambition, by which she was assailed; her long and able administration of a large property, during the minority of her son; her subsequent graceful resignation of power; his affection, gratitude, and deference for his mother, which now continued to prolong her influence, and exemplify her precepts in every act of his own; altogether placed this lady high in public consideration — high as any individual could stand in a country, where national enthusiastic attachment is ever excited by certain noble qualities congenial with the Irish nature. Sir Ulick O’Shane, sensible of the disadvantage of having estranged such a family connexion, and fully capable of appreciating the value of her friendship, had of late years taken infinite pains to redeem himself in Lady Annaly’s opinion. His consummate address, aided and abetted and concealed as it was by his off-hand manner, would scarcely have succeeded, had it not been supported also by some substantial good qualities, especially by the natural candour and generosity of his disposition. In favour of the originally strong, and, through all his errors, wonderfully surviving taste for virtue, some of his manifold transgressions might be forgiven: there was much hope and promise of amendment; and besides, to state things just as they were, he had propitiated the mother, irresistibly, by his enthusiastic admiration of the daughter — so that Lady Annaly had at last consented to revisit Castle Hermitage. Her ladyship and her daughter were now on this reconciliation visit; Sir Ulick was extremely anxious to make it agreeable. Besides the credit of her friendship, he had other reasons for wishing to conciliate her: his son Marcus was just twenty — two years older than Miss Annaly — in course of time, Sir Ulick thought it might be a match — his son could not possibly make a better — beauty, fortune, family connexions, every thing that the hearts of young and old desire. Besides (for in Sir Ulick’s calculations besides was a word frequently occurring), besides, Miss Annaly’s brother was not as strong in body as in mind — in two illnesses his life had been despaired of — a third might carry him off — the estate would probably come to Miss Annaly. Besides, be this hereafter as it might, there was at this present time a considerable debt due by Sir Ulick to these Annalys, with accumulated interest, since the time of his first marriage; and this debt would be merged in Miss Annaly’s portion, should she become his son’s wife. All this was well calculated; but to say nothing of the character or affections of the son, Sir Ulick had omitted to consider Lady O’Shane, or he had taken it for granted that her love for him would induce her at once to enter into and second his views. It did not so happen. On the contrary, the dislike which Lady O’Shane took at sight to both the mother and daughter — to the daughter instinctively, at sight of her youth and beauty; to the mother reflectively, on account of her matronly dress and dignified deportment, in too striking contrast to her own frippery appearance — increased every day, and every hour, when she saw the attentions, the adoration, that Sir Ulick paid to Miss Annaly, and the deference and respect he showed to Lady Annaly, all for qualities and accomplishments in which Lady O’Shane was conscious that she was irremediably deficient. Sir Ulick thought to extinguish her jealousy, by opening to her his views on Miss Annaly for his son; but the jealousy, taking only a new direction, strengthened in its course. Lady O’Shane did not like her stepson — had indeed no great reason to like him; Marcus disliked her, and was at no pains to conceal his dislike. She dreaded the accession of domestic power and influence he would gain by such a marriage. She could not bear the thoughts of having a daughter-in-law brought into the house — placed in eternal comparison with her. Sir Ulick O’Shane was conscious that his marriage exposed him to some share of ridicule; but hitherto, except when his taste for raillery, and the diversion of exciting her causeless jealousy, interfered with his purpose, he had always treated her ladyship as he conceived that Lady O’Shane ought to be treated. Naturally good-natured, and habitually attentive to the sex, he had indeed kept up appearances better than could have been expected, from a man of his former habits, to a woman of her ladyship’s present age; but if she now crossed his favourite scheme, it would be all over with her — her submission to his will had hitherto been a sufficient and a convenient proof, and the only proof he desired, of her love. Her ladyship’s evil genius, in the shape of Miss Black, her humble companion, was now busily instigating her to be refractory. Miss Black had frequently whispered, that if Lady O’Shane would show more spirit, she would do better with Sir Ulick; that his late wife, Lady Theodosia, had ruled him, by showing proper spirit; that in particular, she should make a stand against the encroachments of Sir Ulick’s son Marcus, and of his friend and companion, young Ormond. In consequence of these suggestions, Lady O’Shane had most judiciously thwarted both these young men in trifles, till she had become their aversion: this aversion Marcus felt more than he expressed, and Ormond expressed more strongly than he felt. To Sir Ulick, his son and heir was his first great object in life; yet, though in all things he preferred the interest of Marcus, he was not as fond of Marcus as he was of young Ormond. Young Ormond was the son of the friend of Sir Ulick O’Shane’s youthful and warm-hearted days — the son of an officer who had served in the same regiment with him in his first campaign. Captain Ormond afterwards made an unfortunate marriage — that is, a marriage without a fortune — his friends would not see him or his wife — he was soon in debt, and in great distress. He was obliged to leave his wife and go to India. She had then one child at nurse in an Irish cabin. She died soon afterwards. Sir Ulick O’Shane took the child, that had been left at nurse, into his own house. From the time it was four years old, little Harry Ormond became his darling and grew up his favourite. Sir Ulick’s fondness, however, had not extended to any care of his education — quite the contrary; he had done all he could to spoil him by the most injudicious indulgence, and by neglect of all instruction or discipline. Marcus had been sent to school and college; but Harry Ormond, meantime, had been let to run wild at home: the gamekeeper, the huntsman, and a cousin of Sir Ulick, who called himself the King of the Black Islands, had had the principal share in his education. Captain Ormond, his father, was not heard of for many years; and Sir Ulick always argued, that there was no use in giving Harry Ormond the education of an estated gentleman, when he was not likely to have an estate. Moreover, he prophesied that Harry would turn out the cleverest man of the two; and in the progress of the two boys towards manhood Sir Ulick had shown a strange sort of double and inconsistent vanity in his son’s acquirements, and in the orphan Harry’s natural genius. Harry’s extremely warm, generous, grateful temper, delighted Sir Ulick; but he gloried in the superior polish of his own son. Harry Ormond grew up with all the faults that were incident to his natural violence of passions, and that might necessarily be expected from his neglected and deficient education. His devoted gratitude and attachment to his guardian father, as he called Sir Ulick, made him amenable in an instant, even in the height and tempest of his passions, to whatever Sir Ulick desired; but he was ungovernable by most other people, and rude even to insolence, where he felt tyranny or suspected meanness. Miss Black and he were always at open war; to Lady O’Shane he submitted, though with an ill grace; yet he did submit, for his guardian’s sake, where he himself only was concerned; but most imprudently and fiercely he contended upon every occasion where Marcus, when aggrieved, had declined contending with his mother-in-law.
Upon the present occasion the two youths had been long engaged to dine with, and keep the birthday of, Mr. Cornelius O’Shane, the King of the Black Islands — next to Sir Ulick the being upon earth to whom Harry Ormond thought himself most obliged, and to whom he felt himself most attached. This he had represented to Lady O’Shane, and had earnestly requested that, as the day for the intended dance was a matter of indifference to her, it might not be fixed on this day; but her ladyship had purposely made it a trial of strength, and had insisted upon their returning at a certain hour. She knew that Sir Ulick would be much vexed by their want of punctuality on this occasion, where the Annalys were concerned, though, in general, punctuality was a virtue for which he had no regard.
Sir Ulick had finished his cup of coffee. “Miss Black, send away the tea-things — send away all these things,” cried he. “Young ladies, better late than never, you know — let’s have dancing now; clear the decks for action.”
The young ladies started from their seats immediately. All was now in happy motion. The servants answered promptly — the tea-things retired in haste — tables rolled away — chairs swung into the back-ground — the folding-doors of the dancing-room were thrown open — the pyramids of wax-candles in the chandeliers (for this was ere argands were on earth) started into light — the musicians tuning, screwing, scraping, sounded, discordant as they were, joyful notes of preparation.
“But where’s my son — where’s Marcus?” said Sir Ulick, drawing Lady O’Shane aside. “I don’t see him any where.”
“No,” said Lady O’Shane; “you know that he would go to dine to-day with that strange cousin of yours, and neither he nor his companion have thought proper to return yet.”
“I wish you had given me a hint,” said Sir Ulick, “and I would have waited; for Marcus ought to lead off with Miss Annaly.”
“Ought— to be sure.” said Lady O’Shane; “but that is no rule for young gentlemen’s conduct. I told both the young gentlemen that we were to have a dance to-night. I mentioned the hour, and begged them to be punctual.”
“Young men are never punctual,” said Sir Ulick; “but Marcus is inexcusable to-night on account of the Annalys.”
Sir Ulick pondered for a moment with an air of vexation, then turning to the musicians, who were behind him, “You four-and-twenty fiddlers all in a row, you gentlemen musicians, scrape and tune on a little longer, if you please. Remember you are not ready till I draw on my gloves. Break a string or two, if necessary.”
“We will — we shall — plase your honour.”
“I wish, Lady O’Shane,” continued Sir Ulick in a lower tone, “I wish you had given me a hint of this.”
“Truth to tell, Sir Ulick, I did, I own, conceive from your walk and way, that you were not in a condition to take any hint I could give.”
“Pshaw, my dear, after having known me, I won’t say loved me, a calendar year, how can you be so deceived by outward appearances? Don’t you know that I hate drinking? But when I have these county electioneering friends, the worthy red noses, to entertain, I suit myself to the company, by acting spirits instead of swallowing them, for I should scorn to appear to flinch!”
This was true. Sir Ulick could, and often did, to the utmost perfection, counterfeit every degree of intoxication. He could act the rise, decline, and fall of the drunken man, marking the whole progress, from the first incipient hesitation of reason to the glorious confusion of ideas in the highest state of elevation, thence through all the declining cases of stultified paralytic ineptitude, down to the horizontal condition of preterpluperfect ebriety.
“Really, Sir Ulick, you are so good an actor that I don’t pretend to judge — I can seldom find out the truth from you.”
“So much the better for you, my dear, if you knew but all,” said Sir Ulick, laughing.
“If I knew but all!” repeated her ladyship, with an alarmed look.
“But that’s not the matter in hand at present, my dear.”
Sir Ulick protracted the interval before the opening of the ball as long as he possibly could — but in vain — the young gentlemen did not appear. Sir Ulick drew on his gloves. The broken strings of the violins were immediately found to be mended. Sir Ulick opened the ball himself with Miss Annaly, after making as handsome an apology for his son as the case would admit — an apology which was received by the young lady with the most graceful good-nature. She declined dancing more than one dance, and Sir Ulick sat down between her and Lady Annaly, exerting all his powers of humour to divert them, at the expense of his cousin, the King of the Black Islands, whose tedious ferry, or whose claret, or more likely whose whiskey-punch, he was sure, had been the cause of Marcus’s misdemeanour. It was now near twelve o’clock. Lady O’Shane, who had made many aggravating reflections upon the disrespectful conduct of the young gentlemen, grew restless on another count. The gates were left open for them — the gates ought to be locked! There were disturbances in the country. “Pshaw!” Sir Ulick said. Opposite directions were given at opposite doors to two servants.
“Dempsey, tell them they need not lock the gates till the young gentlemen come home, or at least till one o’clock,” said Sir Ulick.
“Stone,” said Lady O’Shane to her own man in a very low voice, “go down directly, and see that the gates are locked, and bring me the keys.”
Dempsey, an Irishman, who was half drunk, forgot to see or say any thing about it. Stone, an Englishman, went directly to obey his lady’s commands, and the gates were locked, and the keys brought to her ladyship, who put them immediately into her work-table.
Half an hour afterwards, as Lady O’Shane was sitting with her back to the glass-door of the green house, which opened into the ball-room, she was startled by a peremptory tap on the glass behind her; she turned, and saw young Ormond, pale as death, and stained with blood.
“The keys of the gate instantly,” cried he, “for mercy’s sake!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08