Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 21.

During the course of Ormond’s tour through Ireland, he frequently found himself in company with those who knew the history of public affairs for years past, and were but too well acquainted with the political profligacy and shameful jobbing of Sir Ulick O’Shane.

Some of these gentlemen, knowing Mr. Ormond to be his ward, refrained, of course, from touching upon any subject relative to Sir Ulick; and when Ormond mentioned him, evaded the conversation, or agreed in general terms in praising his abilities, wit, and address. But, after a day or two’s journey from Castle Hermitage, when he was beyond his own and the adjoining counties, when he went into company with those who happened to know nothing of his connexion with Sir Ulick O’Shane, then he heard him spoken of in a very different manner. He was quite astonished and dismayed by the general abuse, as he thought it, which was poured upon him.

“Well, every man of abilities excites envy — every man who takes a part in politics, especially in times when parties run high, must expect to be abused: they must bear it; and their friends must learn to bear it for them.”

Such were the reflections with which Ormond at first comforted himself. As far as party abuse went, this was quite satisfactory; even facts, or what are told as facts, are so altered by the manner of seeing them by an opposite party, that, without meaning to traduce, they calumniate. Ormond entrenched himself in total disbelief, and cool assertion of his disbelief, of a variety of anecdotes he continually heard discreditable to Sir Ulick. Still he expected that, when he went into other company, and met with men of Sir Ulick’s own party, he should obtain proofs of the falsehood of these stories, and by that he might be able, not only to contradict, but to confute them. People, however, only smiled, and told him that he had better inquire no farther, if he expected to find Sir Ulick an immaculate character. Those who liked him best, laughed off the notorious instances of his public defection of principle, and of his private jobbing, as good jokes; proofs of his knowledge of the world — his address, his frankness, his being “not a bit of a hypocrite.” But even those who professed to like him best, and to be the least scrupulous with regard to public virtue, still spoke with a sort of facetious contempt of Sir Ulick, as a thorough~going friend of the powers that be — as a hack of administration — as a man who knew well enough what he was about. Ormond was continually either surprised or hurt by these insinuations. The concurrent testimony of numbers who had no interest to serve, or prejudice to gratify, operated upon him by degrees, so as to enforce conviction, and this was still more painful.

Harry became so sore and irritable upon this subject, that he was now every day in danger of entangling himself in some quarrel in defence of his guardian. Several times the master of the house prevented this, and brought him to reason, by representing that the persons who talked of Sir Ulick were quite ignorant of his connexion with him, and spoke only according to general opinion, and to the best of their belief, of a public character, who was fair game. It was, at that time, much the fashion among a certain set in Dublin, to try their wit upon each other in political and poetical squibs — the more severe and bitter these were, the more they were applauded: the talent for invective was in the highest demand at this period in Ireland; it was considered as the unequivocal proof of intellectual superiority. The display of it was the more admired, as it could not be enjoyed without a double portion of that personal promptitude to give the satisfaction of a gentleman, on which the Irish pride themselves: the taste of the nation, both for oratory and manners, has become of late years so much more refined, that when any of the lampoons of that day are now recollected, people are surprised at the licence of abuse which was then tolerated, and even approved of in fashionable society. Sir Ulick O’Shane, as a well-known public character, had been the subject of a variety of puns, bon-mots, songs, and epigrams, which had become so numerous as to be collected under the title of Ulysseana. Upon the late separation of Sir Ulick and his lady, a new edition, with a caricature frontispiece, had been published; unfortunately for Ormond, this had just worked its way from Dublin to this part of the country.

It happened one day, at a gentleman’s house where this Ulysseana had not yet been seen, that a lady, a visitor and a stranger, full of some of the lines which she had learned by heart, began to repeat them for the amusement of the tea-table. Ladies do not always consider how much mischief they may do by such imprudence; nor how they may hazard valuable lives, for the sake of producing a sensation, by the repetition of a severe thing. Ormond came into the room after dinner, and with some other gentlemen gathered round the tea-table, while the lady was repeating some extracts from the new edition of the Ulysseana. The master and mistress of the house made reiterated attempts to stop the lady; but, too intent upon herself and her second-hand wit to comprehend or take these hints, she went on reciting the following lines:—

To serve in parliament the nation,

Sir Ulick read his recantation:

At first he joined the patriot throng,

But soon perceiving he was wrong,

He ratted to the courtier tribe,

Bought by a title and a bribe;

But how that new found friend to bind,

With any oath — of any kind,

Disturb’d the premier’s wary mind.

Upon his faith. — Upon his word,

Oh! that, my friend, is too absurd.

Upon his honour.”— Quite a jest.

Upon his conscience.”— No such test.

By all he has on earth.”—’Tis gone.

By all his hopes of Heaven.”— They’re none.

“How then secure him in our pay —

He can’t be trusted for a day?”

How? — When you want the fellow’s throat —

Pay by the job — you have his vote.

Sir Ulick himself, had he been present, would have laughed off the epigram with the best grace imaginable, and so, in good policy, ought Ormond to have taken it. But he felt it too much, and was not in the habit of laughing when he was vexed. Most of the company, who knew any thing of his connexion with Sir Ulick, or who understood the agonizing looks of the master and mistress of the house, politely refrained from smiles or applause; but a cousin of the lady who repeated the lines, a young man who was one of the hateful tribe of quizzers, on purpose to try Ormond, praised the verses to the skies, and appealed to him for his opinion.

“I can’t admire them, sir,” replied Ormond.

“What fault can you find with them?” said the young man, winking at the bystanders.

“I think them incorrect, in the first place, sir,” said Ormond, “and altogether indifferent.”

“Well, at any rate, they can’t be called moderate,” said the gentleman; “and as to incorrect, the substance, I fancy, is correctly true.”

Fancy, sir! — It would be hard if character were to be at the mercy of fancy,” cried Ormond, hastily; but checking himself, he, in a mild tone, added, “before we go any farther, sir, I should inform you that I am a ward of Sir Ulick O Shane’s.”

“Oh! mercy,” exclaimed the lady, who had repeated the verses; “I am sure I did not know that, or I would not have said a word — I declare I beg your pardon, sir.”

Ormond’s bow and smile spoke his perfect satisfaction with the lady’s contrition, and his desire to relieve her from farther anxiety. So the matter might have happily ended; but her cousin, though he had begun merely with an intention to try Ormond’s temper, now felt piqued by his spirit, and thought it incumbent upon him to persist. Having drunk enough to be ill-humoured, he replied, in an aggravating and ill-bred manner, “Your being Sir Ulick O’Shane’s ward may make a difference in your feelings, sir, but I don’t see why it should make any in my opinion.”

“In the expression of that opinion at least, sir, I think it ought.”

The master of the house now interfered, to explain and pacify, and Ormond had presence of mind and command enough over himself, to say no more while the ladies were present: he sat down, and began talking about some trifle in a gay tone; but his flushed cheek, and altered manner, showed that he was only repressing other feelings. The carriages of the visitors were announced, and the strangers rose to depart. Ormond accompanied the master of the house to hand the ladies to their carriages. To mark his being in perfect charity with the fair penitent, he showed her particular attention, which quite touched her; and as he put her into her carriage, she, all the time, repeated her apologies, declared it should be a lesson to her for life, and cordially shook hands with him at parting. For her sake, he wished that nothing more should be said on the subject.

But, on his return to the hall, he found there the cousin, buttoning on his great coat, and seeming loath to depart: still in ill-humour, the gentleman said, “I hope you are satisfied with that lady’s apologies, Mr. Ormond.”

“I am, sir, perfectly.”

“That’s lucky: for apologies are easier had from ladies than gentlemen, and become them better.”

“I think it becomes gentlemen as well as ladies to make candid apologies, where they are conscious of being wrong — if there was no intention to give offence.”

If is a great peace-maker, sir; but I scorn to take advantage of an if.”

“Am I to suppose then, sir,” said Ormond, “that it was your intention to offend me?”

“Suppose what you please, sir — I am not in the habit of explanation or apology.”

“Then, sir, the sooner we meet the better,” said Ormond. In consequence Ormond applied to an officer who had been present during the altercation, to be his second. Ormond felt that he had restrained his anger sufficiently — he was now as firm as he had been temperate. The parties met and fought: the man who deserved to have suffered, by the chance of this rational mode of deciding right and wrong, escaped unhurt; Ormond received a wound in his arm. It was only a flesh wound. He was at the house of a very hospitable gentleman, whose family were kind to him; and the inconvenience and pain were easily borne. In the opinion of all, in that part of the world, who knew the facts, he had conducted himself as well as the circumstances would permit; and, as it was essential, not only to the character of a hero, but of a gentleman at that time in Ireland, to fight a duel, we may consider Ormond as fortunate in not having been in the wrong. He rose in favour with the ladies, and in credit with the gentlemen, and he heard no more of the Ulysseana; but he was concerned to see paragraphs in all the Irish papers, about the duel that had been fought between M. N. Esq. jun. of —— and H. O. Esq., in consequence of a dispute that arose about some satirical verses, repeated by a lady on a certain well-known character, nearly related to one of the parties. A flaming account of the duel followed, in which there was the usual newspaper proportion of truth and falsehood: Ormond knew and regretted that this paragraph must meet the eyes of his guardian; and still more he was sorry that Dr. Cambray should see it. He knew the doctor’s Christian abhorrence of the whole system of duelling; and, by the statement in the papers, it appeared that that gallant youth, H. O. Esq., to whom the news-writer evidently wished to do honour, had been far more forward to provoke the fight than he had been, or than he ought to have been:— his own plain statement of facts, which he wrote to Dr. Cambray, would have set every thing to rights, but his letter crossed the doctor’s on the road. As he was now in a remote place, which the delightful mail coach roads had not then reached — where the post came in only three days in the week — and where the mail cart either broke down, lost a wheel, had a tired horse, was overturned, or robbed, at an average once a fortnight — our hero had no alternative but patience, and the amusement of calculating dates and chances upon his restless sofa. His taste for reading enabled him to pass agreeably some of the hours of bodily confinement, which men, and young men especially, accustomed to a great deal of exercise, liberty, and locomotion, generally find so intolerably irksome. At length his wound was well enough for him to travel — letters for him arrived: a warm, affectionate one from his guardian; and one from Dr. Cambray, which relieved his anxiety.

“I must tell you, my dear young friend,” said Dr. Cambray, “that while you have been defending Sir Ulick O’Shane’s public character (of which, by-the-by, you know nothing), I have been defending your private character, of which I hope and believe I know something. The truth is always known in time, with regard to every character; and therefore, independently of other motives, moral and religious, it is more prudent to trust to time and truth for their defence, than to sword and pistol. I know you are impatient to hear what were the reports to your disadvantage, and from whom I had them. I had them from the Annalys; and they heard them in England, through various circuitous channels of female correspondents in Ireland. As far as we can trace them, we think that they originated with your old friend Miss Black. The first account Lady Annaly heard of you after she went to England, was, that you were living a most dissolute life in the Black Islands, with King Corny, who was described to be a profligate rebel, and his companion an ex-communicated catholic priest; king, priest, and Prince Harry, getting drunk together regularly every night of their lives. The next account which Lady Annaly received some months afterwards, in reply to inquiries she had made from her agent, was, that it was impossible to know any thing for certain of Mr. Harry Ormond, as he always kept in the Black Islands. The report was, that he had lately seduced a girl of the name of Peggy Sheridan, a respectable gardener’s daughter, who was going to be married to a man of the name of Moriarty Carroll, a person whom Mr. Ormond had formerly shot in some unfortunate drunken quarrel. The match between her and Moriarty had been broken off in consequence. The following year accounts were worse and worse. This Harry Ormond had gained the affections of his benefactor’s daughter, though, as he had been warned by her father, she was betrothed to another man. The young lady was afterwards, by her father’s anger, and by Ormond’s desertion of her, thrown into the arms of a French adventurer, whom Ormond brought into the house under pretence of learning French from him. Immediately after the daughter’s elopement with the French master, the poor father died suddenly, in some extraordinary manner, when out shooting with this Mr. Ormond; to whom a considerable landed property, and a large legacy in money, were, to every body’s surprise, found to be left in a will which he produced, and which the family did not think fit to dispute. There were strange circumstances told concerning the wake and burial, all tending to prove that this Harry Ormond had lost all feeling. Hints were further given that he had renounced the Protestant religion, and had turned Catholic for the sake of absolution.”

Many times during the perusal of this extravagant tissue of falsehoods, Ormond laid down and resumed the paper, unable to refrain from exclamations of rage and contempt; sometimes almost laughing at the absurdity of the slander. “After this,” thought he, “who can mind common reports? — and yet Dr. Cambray says that these excited some prejudice against me in the mind of Lady Annaly. With such a woman I should have thought it impossible. Could she believe me capable of such crimes? —me, of whom she had once a good opinion? —me, in whose fate she said she was interested?”

He took Dr. Cambray’s letter again, and read on: he found that Lady Annaly had not credited these reports as to the atrocious accusations; but they had so far operated as to excite doubts and suspicions. In some of the circumstances, there was sufficient truth to colour the falsehood. For example, with regard both to Peggy Sheridan, and Dora, the truth had been plausibly mixed with falsehood. The story of Peggy Sheridan, Lady Annaly had some suspicion might be true. Her ladyship, who had seen Moriarty’s generous conduct to Ormond, was indignant at his ingratitude. She was a woman prompt to feel strong indignation against all that was base; and, when her indignation was excited, she was sometimes incapable of hearing what was said on the other side of the question. Her daughter Florence, of a calmer temper and cooler judgment, usually acted as moderator on these occasions. She could not believe that Harry Ormond had been guilty of faults that were so opposite to those which they had seen in his disposition:— violence, not treachery, was his fault. But why, if there were nothing wrong, Lady Annaly urged — why did not he write to her, as she had requested he would, when his plans for his future life were decided? — She had told him that her son might probably be able to assist him. Why could not he write one line?

Ormond had heard that her son was ill, and that her mind was so absorbed with anxiety, that he could not at first venture to intrude upon her with his selfish concerns. This was his first and best reason; but afterwards, to be sure, when he heard that the son was better, he might have written. He wrote at that time such a sad scrawl of a hand — he was so little used to letter-writing, that he was ashamed to write. Then it was too late after so long a silence, &c. Foolish as these reasons were, they had, as we have said before, acted upon our young hero; and have, perhaps, in as important circumstances, prevented many young men from writing to friends, able and willing to serve them. It was rather fortunate for Ormond that slander did not stop at the first plausible falsehoods: when the more atrocious charges came against him, Miss Annaly, who had never deserted his cause, declared her absolute disbelief. The discussions that went on, between her and her mother, kept alive their interest about this young man. He was likely to have been forgotten during their anxiety in the son’s illness; but fresh reports had brought him to their recollection frequently; and when their friend, Dr. Cambray, was appointed to the living of Castle Hermitage, his evidence perfectly reinstated Harry in Lady Annaly’s good opinion. As if to make amends for the injustice she had done him by believing any part of the evil reports, she was now anxious to see him again. A few days after Dr. Cambray wrote, Ormond received a very polite and gratifying letter from Lady Annaly, requesting that, as “Annaly” lay in his route homewards, he would spend a few days there, and give her an opportunity of making him acquainted with her son. It is scarcely necessary to say that this invitation was eagerly accepted.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54