Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 25.

One evening Ormond walked with Sir Herbert Annaly to the sea-shore, to look at the lighthouse which was building. He was struck with all that had been done here in the course of a few months, and especially with the alteration in the appearance of the people. Their countenances had changed from the look of desponding idleness and cunning, to the air of busy, hopeful independence. He could not help congratulating Sir Herbert, and warmly expressing a wish that he might himself, in the whole course of his life, do half as much good as Sir Herbert had already effected. “You will do a great deal more,” said Sir Herbert: “you will have a great deal more time. I must make the best of the little — probably the very little time I shall have: while I yet live, let me not live in vain.”

Yet live,” said Ormond; “I hope — I trust — you will live many years to be happy, and to make others so: your strength seems quite re-established — you have all the appearance of health.”

Sir Herbert smiled, but shook his head.

“My dear Ormond, do not trust to outward appearances too much. Do not let my friends entirely deceive themselves. I know that my life cannot be long — I wish, before I die, to do as much good as I can.”

The manner in which these words were said, and the look with which they were accompanied, impressed Ormond at once with a conviction of the danger, fortitude, and magnanimity of the person who spoke to him. The hectic colour, the brilliant eye, the vividness of fancy, the superiority of intellectual powers, the warmth of the affections, and the amiable gentleness of the disposition of this young man, were, alas! but so many fatal indications of his disease. The energy with which, with decreasing bodily and increasing mental strength, he pursued his daily occupations, and performed more than every duty of his station, the never-failing temper and spirits with which he sustained the hopes of many of his friends, were but so many additional causes of alarm to the too experienced mother. Florence, with less experience, and with a temper happily prone to hope, was more easily deceived. She could not believe that a being, whom she saw so full of life, could be immediately in danger of dying. Her brother had now but a very slight cough — he had, to all appearance, recovered from the accident by which they had been so much alarmed when they were in England. The physicians had pronounced, that with care to avoid cold, and all violent exertion, he might do well and last long.

To fulfil the conditions was difficult; especially that which required him to refrain from any great exertion. Whenever he could be of service to his friends, or could do any good to his fellow-creatures, he spared neither mental nor bodily exertion. Under the influence of benevolent enthusiasm, he continually forgot the precarious tenure by which he held his life.

It was now the middle of winter, and one stormy night a vessel was wrecked on the coast near Annaly. The house was at such a distance from that part of the shore where the vessel struck, that Sir Herbert knew nothing of it till the next morning, when it was all over. No lives were lost. It was a small trading vessel, richly laden. Knowing the vile habits of some of the people who lived on the coast, Sir Herbert, the moment he heard that there was a wreck, went down to see that the property of the sufferers was protected from those depredators, who on such occasions were astonishingly alert. Ormond accompanied him, and by their joint exertions much of the property was placed in safety under a military guard. Some had been seized and carried off before their arrival, but not by any of Sir Herbert’s tenants. It became pretty clear that the neighbours on Sir Ulick O’Shane’s estate were the offenders. They had grown bold from impunity, and from the belief that no jantleman “would choose to interfere with them, on account of their landlord.”

Sir Herbert’s indignation rose. Ormond pledged himself that Sir Ulick O’Shane would never protect such wretches; and eager to assist public justice, to defend his guardian, and, above all, to calm Sir Herbert and prevent him from over-exerting himself, he insisted upon being allowed to go in his stead with the party of military who were to search the suspected houses. It was with some difficulty that he prevailed. He parted with Sir Herbert; and, struck at the moment with his highly-raised colour, and the violent heat and state of excitation he was in, Ormond again urged him to remember his own health, and his mother and sister.

“I will — I do,” said Sir Herbert; “but it is my duty to think of public justice before I think of myself.”

The apprehension Ormond felt in quitting Sir Herbert recurred frequently as he rode on in silence; but he was called into action and it was dissipated. Ormond spent nearly three hours searching a number of wretched cabins from which the male inhabitants fled at the approach of the military, leaving the women and children to make what excuses and tell what lies they could. This the women and children executed with great readiness and ability, and in the most pity-moving tones imaginable.

The inside of an Irish cabin appears very different to those who come to claim hospitality and to those who come to detect offenders.

Ormond having never before entered a cabin with a search-warrant, constable, or with the military, he was “not up to the thing”— as both the serjeant and constable remarked to each other. While he listened to the piteous story of a woman about a husband who had broken his leg from a ladder, sarving the masons at Sir Herbert’s lighthouse, and was lying at the hospital, not expected, [Footnote: Not expected to live.] the husband was lying all the time with both his legs safe and sound in a potato furrow within a few yards of the house. And the child of another eloquent matron was running off with a pair of silver-mounted pistols taken from the wreck, which he was instructed to hide in a bog-hole, snug — the bog-water never rusting. In one hovel — for the houses of these wretches who lived by pillage, after all their ill-gotten gains, were no better than hovels — in one of them, in which, as the information stated, some valuable plunder was concealed, they found nothing but a poor woman groaning in bed, and two little children; one crying as if its heart would break, and the other sitting up behind the mother’s bolster supporting her. After the soldiers had searched every place in vain, even the thatch of the house, the woman showing no concern all the while, but groaning on, seeming scarce able to answer Mr. Ormond’s questions — the constable, an old hand, roughly bid her get up, that they might search the bed; this Ormond would not permit:— she lay still, thanking his honour faintly, and they quitted the house. The goods which had been carried off were valuable, and were hid in the straw of the very bed on which the woman was lying.

As they were returning homewards after their fruitless search, when they had passed the boundary of Sir Ulick’s and had reached Sir Herbert’s territory, they were overtaken by a man, who whispered something to the serjeant which made him halt, and burst out a laughing; the laugh ran through the whole serjeant’s guard, and reached Ormond’s ears; who, asking the cause of it, was told how the woman had cheated them, and how she was now risen from her bed, and was dividing the prize among the lawful owners, “share and share alike.” These lawful owners, all risen out of the potato furrows, and returning from the bogs, were now assembled, holding their bed of justice. At the moment the serjeant’s information came off, their captain, with a bottle of whiskey in his hand, was drinking, “To the health of Sir Ulick O’Shane, our worthy landlord — seldom comes a better. The same to his ward, Harry Ormond, Esq., and may his eyesight never be better nor worse.”

Harry Ormond instantly turned his horse’s head, much provoked at having been duped, and resolved that the plunderers should not now escape. By the advice of serjeants and constables, he dismounted, that no sound of horses’ hoofs might give notice from a distance; though, indeed, on the sands of the sea-shore, no horses’ tread, he thought, could be heard. He looked round for some one with whom he could leave his horse, but not a creature, except the men who were with him, was in sight.

“What can have become of all the people?” said Ormond: “it is not the workmen’s dinner-hour, and they are gone from the work at the lighthouse; and the horses and cars are left without any one with them.” He went on a few paces, and saw a boy who seemed to be left to watch the horses, and who looked very melancholy. The boy did not speak as Ormond came up. “What is the matter?” said Ormond: “something dreadful has happened — speak!”

“Did not you hear it, sir?” said the boy: “I’d be loth to tell it you.”

“Has any thing happened to —”

“Sir Herbert — ay — the worst that could. Running to stop one of them villains that was making off with something from the wreck, he dropped sudden as if he was shot, and — when they went to lift him up — But you’ll drop yourself, sir,” said the boy.

“Give him some of the water out of the bucket, can’t ye?”

“Here’s my cap,” said the serjeant. Ormond was made to swallow the water, and, recovering his senses, heard one of the soldiers near him say, “’Twas only a faint Sir Herbert took, I’ll engage.”

The thought was new life to Ormond: he started up, mounted his horse, and galloped off — saw no creature on the road — found a crowd at the gate of the avenue — the crowd opened to let him pass, many voices calling as he passed to beg him to send out word. This gave him fresh hopes, since nothing certain was known: he spurred on his horse; but when he reached the house, as he was going to Sir Herbert’s room he was met by Sir Herbert’s own man, O’Reilly. The moment he saw O’Reilly’s face, he knew there was no hope — he asked no question: the surgeon came out, and told him that in consequence of having broke a blood-vessel, which bled internally, Sir Herbert had just expired — his mother and sister were with him. Ormond retired — he begged the servants would write to him at Dr. Cambray’s — and he immediately went away.

Two days after he had a note from O’Reilly, written in haste, at a very early hour in the morning, to say that he was just setting out with the hearse to the family burial-place at Herbert — it having been thought best that the funeral should not be in this neighbourhood, on account of the poor people at Annaly being so exasperated against those who were thought to be the immediate occasion of his death. Sir Herbert’s last orders to O’Reilly were to this effect —“to take care, and to have every thing done as privately as possible.”

No pomp of funeral was, indeed, necessary for such a person. The great may need it — the good need it not: they are mourned in the heart, and they are remembered without vain pageantry. If public sorrow can soothe private grief — and surely in some measure it must — the family and friends of this young man had this consolation; but they had another and a better.

It is the triumph of religion and of its ministers to be able to support the human heart, when all other resources are of little avail. Time, it is true, at length effaces the recollection of misfortune, and age deadens the sense of sorrow. But that power to console is surely far superior in its effect, more worthy of a rational and a social being, which operates — not by contracting or benumbing our feelings and faculties, but by expanding and ennobling them — inspiring us, not with stoic indifference to the pains and pleasures of humanity, but with pious submission to the will of Heaven — to the order and orderer of the universe.


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