Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 4.

Full of sudden zeal for his own improvement, Ormond sat down at the foot of a tree, determined to make a list of all his faults, and of all his good resolutions for the future. He took out his pencil, and began on the back of a letter the following resolutions, in a sad scrawling hand and incorrect style.


Resolved 1st. — That I will never drink more than (blank number of) glasses.

Resolved 2ndly. — That I will cure myself of being passionate.

Resolved 3rdly. — That I will never keep low company.

Resolved. — That I am too fond of flattery — women’s, especially, I like most. To cure myself of that.


Here he was interrupted by the sight of a little gossoon, with a short stick tucked under his arm, who came pattering on bare-foot in a kind of pace indescribable to those who have never seen it — it was something as like walking or running as chanting is to speaking or singing.

“The answer I am from the Black Islands, Master Harry; and would have been back wid you afore nightfall yesterday, only he— King Corny — was at the fair of Frisky — could not write till this morning any way — but has his service to ye, Master Harry, will be in it for ye by half after two with a bed and blanket for Moriarty, he bid me say on account he forgot to put it in the note. In the Sally Cove the boat will be there abow in the big lough, forenent the spot where the fir dale was cut last seraph by them rogues.”

The despatch from the King of the Black Islands was then produced from the messenger’s bosom, and it ran as follows:

“Dear Harry. What the mischief has come over Cousin Ulick to be banishing you from Castle Hermitage? But since he conformed, he was never the same man, especially since his last mis-marriage. But no use moralizing — he was always too much of a courtier for me. Come you to me, my dear boy, who is no courtier, and you’ll be received and embraced with open arms — was I Briareus, the same way — Bring Moriarty Carroll (if that’s his name), the boy you shot, which has given you so much concern — for which I like you the better — and honour that boy, who, living or dying, forbade to prosecute. Don’t be surprised to see the roof the way it is:— since Tuesday I wedged it up bodily without stirring a stick:— you’ll see it from the boat, standing three foot high above the walls, waiting while I’m building up to it — to get attics — which I shall for next to nothing — by my own contrivance. Meantime, good dry lodging, as usual, for all friends at the palace. He shall be well tended for you by Sheelah Dunshaughlin, the mother of Betty, worth a hundred of her! and we’ll soon set him up again with the help of such a nurse, as well as ever, I’ll engage; for I’m a bit of a doctor, you know, as well as every thing else. But don’t let any other doctor, surgeon, or apothecary, be coming after him for your life — for none ever gets a permit to land, to my knowledge, on the Black Islands — to which I attribute, under Providence, to say nothing of my own skill in practice, the wonderful preservation of my people in health — that, and woodsorrell, and another secret or two not to be committed to paper in a hurry — all which I would not have written to you, but am in the gout since four this morning, held by the foot fast — else I’d not be writing, but would have gone every inch of the way for you myself in style, in lieu of sending, which is all I can now do, my six-oared boat, streamers flying, and piper playing like mad — for I would not have you be coming like a banished man, but in all glory, to Cornelius O’Shane, commonly called King Corny— but no king to you, only your hearty old friend.”

“Heaven bless Cornelius O’Shane!” said Harry Ormond to himself, as he finished this letter. “King or no king, the most warm-hearted man on earth, let the other be who he will.”

Then pressing this letter to his heart, he put it up carefully, and rising in haste, he dropped the list of his faults. That train of associations was completely broken, and for the present completely forgotten; nor was it likely to be soon renewed at the Black Islands, especially in the palace, where he was now going to take up his residence. Moriarty was laid on a bed; and was transported, with Ormond, in the six-oared boat, streamers flying, and piper playing, across the lake to the islands. Moriarty’s head ached terribly, but he nevertheless enjoyed the playing of the pipes in his ear, because of the air of triumph it gave Master Harry, to go away in this grandeur, in the face of the country. King Corny ordered the discharge of twelve guns on his landing, which popped one after another gloriously — the hospitable echoes, as Moriarty called them, repeating the sound. A horse, decked with ribands, waited on the shore, with King Corny’s compliments for Prince Harry, as the boy, who held the stirrup for Ormond to mount, said he was instructed to call him, and to proclaim him “Prince Harry” throughout the island, which he did by sound of horn, the whole way they proceeded to the palace — very much to the annoyance of the horse, but all for the greater glory of the prince, who managed his steed to the admiration of the shouting ragged multitude, and of his majesty, who sat in state in his gouty chair at the palace door. He had had himself rolled out to welcome the coming guest.

“By all that’s princely,” cried he, “then, that young Harry Ormond was intended for a prince, he sits ahorse so like myself; and that horse requires a master hand to manage him.”

Ormond alighted.

The gracious, cordial, fatherly welcome, with which he was received, delighted his heart.

“Welcome, prince, my adopted son, welcome to Corny castle — palace, I would have said, only for the constituted authorities of the post-office, that might take exceptions, and not be sending me my letters right. As I am neither bishop nor arch, I have, in their blind eyes or conceptions, no right — Lord help them! — to a temporal palace. Be that as it may, come you in with me, here into the big room — and see! there’s the bed in the corner for your first object, my boy — your wounded chap; and I’ll visit his wound, and fix it and him the first thing for ye, the minute he comes up.”

His majesty pointed to a bed in the corner of a large apartment, whose beautiful painted ceiling and cornice, and fine chimney-piece with caryatides of white marble, ill accorded with the heaps of oats and corn, the thrashing cloth and flail, which lay on the floor.

“It is intended for a drawing-room, understand,” said King Corny; “but till it is finished, I use it for a granary or a barn, when it would not be a barrack-room or hospital, which last is most useful at present.”

To this hospital Moriarty was carefully conveyed. Here, notwithstanding his gout, which affected only his feet, King Corny dressed Moriarty’s wound with exquisite tenderness and skill; for he had actually acquired knowledge and address in many arts, with which none could have suspected him to have been in the least acquainted.

Dinner was soon announced, which was served up with such a strange mixture of profusion and carelessness, as showed that the attendants, who were numerous and ill-caparisoned, were not much used to gala-days. The crowd, who had accompanied Moriarty into the house, were admitted into the dining-room, where they stood round the king, prince, and Father Jos the priest, as the courtiers, during the king’s supper at Versailles, surrounded the King of France. But these poor people were treated with more hospitality than were the courtiers of the French king; for as soon as the dishes were removed, their contents were generously distributed among the attendant multitude. The people blest both king and prince, “wishing them health and happiness long to reign over them;” and bowing suitably to his majesty the king, and to his reverence the priest, without standing upon the order of their going, departed.

“And now, Father Jos,” said the king to the priest, “say grace, and draw close, and let me see you do justice to my claret, or the whiskey punch if you prefer; and you, Prince Harry, we will set to it regally as long as you please.”

“Till tea-time,” thought young Harry. “Till supper-time,” thought Father Jos. “Till bed-time,” thought King Corny.

At tea-time young Harry, in pursuance of his resolution the first, rose, but he was seized instantly, and held down to his chair. The royal command was laid upon him “to sit still and be a good fellow.” Moreover the door was locked — so that there was no escape or retreat.

The next morning when he wakened with an aching head, he recollected with disgust the figure of Father Jos, and all the noisy mirth of the preceding night. Not without some self-contempt, he asked himself what had become of his resolution.

“The wounded boy was axing for you, Master Harry,” said the girl, who came in to open the shutters.

“How is he?” cried Harry, starting up.

“He is but soberly; [Footnote: But soberly — not very well, or in good spirits.] he got the night but middling; he concaits he could not sleep becaase he did not get a sight of your honour afore he’d settle — I tell him ’tis the change of beds, which always hinders a body to sleep the first night.”

The sense of having totally forgotten the poor fellow — the contrast between this forgetfulness and the anxiety and contrition of the two preceding nights, actually surprised Ormond: he could hardly believe that he was one and the same person. Then came excuses to himself: “Gratitude — common civility — the peremptoriness of King Corny — his passionate temper, when opposed on this tender point — the locked door — and two to one: in short, there was an impossibility in the circumstances of doing otherwise than what he had done. But then the same impossibility — the same circumstances — might recur the next night, and the next, and so on: the peremptory temper of King Corny was not likely to alter, and the moral obligation of gratitude would continue the same; so that at nineteen was he to become, from complaisance, what his soul and body abhorred — an habitual drunkard? And what would become of Lady Annaly’s interest in his fate or his improvement?”

The two questions were not of equal importance, but our hero was at this time far from having any just proportion in his reasoning: it was well he reasoned at all. The argument as to the obligation of gratitude — the view he had taken of the never-ending nature of the evil, which must be the consequence of beginning with weak complaisance — above all, the feeling that he had so lost his reason as not only to forget Moriarty, but to have been again incapable of commanding his passions, if any thing had occurred to cross his temper, determined Ormond to make a firm resistance on the next occasion that should occur: it did occur the very next night. After a dinner given to his chief tenants and the genteel people of the islands — a dinner in honour and in introduction of his adopted son, King Corny gave a toast “to the Prince presumptive,” as he now styled him — a bumper toast. Soon afterwards he detected daylight in Harry’s glass, and cursing it properly, he insisted on flowing bowls and full glasses. “What! are you Prince presumptuous?” cried he, with a half angry and astonished look. “Would you resist and contradict your father and king at his own table after dinner? Down with the glass!”

Farther and steady resistance changed the jesting tone and half angry look of King Corny into sullen silence, and a black portentous brow of serious displeasure. After a decent time of sitting, the bottle passing him without farther importunity, Ormond rose — it was a hard struggle; for in the face of his benefactor he saw reproach and rage bursting from every feature: still he moved on towards the door. He heard the words “sneaking off sober! — let him sneak!”

Ormond had his hand on the lock of the door — it was a bad lock, and opened with difficulty.

“There’s gratitude for you! No heart, after all — I mistook him.”

Ormond turned back, and firmly standing and firmly speaking, he said, “You did not mistake me formerly, sir; but you mistake me now! — Sneaking! — Is there any man here, sober or drunk,” continued be, impetuously approaching the table, and looking round full in every face — “is there any man here dares to say so but yourself? — You, you, my benefactor, my friend; you have said it — think it you did not — you could not, but say it you may — You may say what you will to Harry Ormond, bound to you as he is — bound hand and foot and heart I— Trample on him as you will —you may. No heart! Oblige me, gentlemen, some of you,” cried he, his anger rising and his eyes kindling as he spoke, “some of you gentlemen, if any of you think so, oblige me by saying so. No gratitude, sir!” turning from them, and addressing himself to the old man, who held an untasted glass of claret as he listened —“No gratitude! Have not I? — Try me, try me to the death — you have tried me to the quick of the heart, and I have borne it.”

He could bear it no longer: he threw himself into the vacant chair, flung out his arms on the table, and laying his face down upon them, wept aloud. Cornelius O’Shane pushed the wine away. “I’ve wronged the boy grievously,” said he; and forgetting the gout, he rose from his chair, hobbled to him, and leaning over him, “Harry, ’tis I— look up, my own boy, and say you forgive me, or I’ll never forgive myself. That’s well,” continued he, as Harry looked up and gave him his hand; “that’s well! — you’ve taken the twinge out of my heart worse than the gout: not a drop of gall or malice in your nature, nor ever was, more than in the child unborn. But see, I’ll tell you what you’ll do now, Harry, to settle all things — and lest the fit should take me ever to be mad with you on this score again. You don’t choose to drink more than’s becoming? — Well, you’se right, and I’m wrong. ‘Twould be a burning shame of me to make of you what I have made of myself. We must do only as well as we can. But I will ensure you against the future; and before we take another glass — there’s the priest — and you, Tom Ferrally there, step you for my swearing book. Harry Ormond, you shall take an oath against drinking more glasses than you please evermore, and then you’re safe from me. But stay — you are a heretic. Phoo! what am I saying? ’twas seeing the priest put that word heretic in my head — you’re not a catholic, I mean. But an oath’s an oath, taken before priest or parson — an oath, taken how you will, will operate. But stay, to make all easy, ’tis I’ll take it.”

“Against drinking, you! King Corny!” said Father Jos, stopping his hand, “and in case of the gout in your stomach?”

“Against drinking! do you think I’d perjure myself? No! But against pressing him to it — I’ll take my oath I’ll never ask him to drink another glass more than he likes.”

The oath was taken, and King Corny concluded the ceremony by observing that, after all, there was no character he despised more than that of a sot. But every gentleman knew that there was a wide and material difference betwixt a gentleman who was fond of his bottle, and that unfortunate being, an habitual drunkard. For his own part, it was his established rule never to go to bed without a proper quantity of liquor under his belt; but he defied the universe to say he was ever known to be drunk.

At a court where such ingenious casuistry prevailed, it was happy for our hero that an unqualifying oath now protected his resolution.


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