Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 7.

King Corny sat for some minutes after Sir Ulick’s departure perfectly still and silent, leaning both hands and his chin on his crutch. Then, looking up at Harry, he exclaimed, “What a dupe you are! but I like you the better for it.”

“I am glad you like me the better, at all events,” said Harry; “but I don’t think I am a dupe.”

“No — if you did, you would not be one: so you don’t see that it was and is Sir Ulick, and not her ladyship, that wanted and wants to get rid of you?”

No, Harry did not see this, and would not be persuaded of it. He defended his guardian most warmly; he was certain of Sir Ulick’s affection; he was sure Sir Ulick was incapable of acting with such duplicity.

His majesty repeated, at every pause, “You are a dupe; but I like you the better for it. And,” added he, “you don’t — blind buzzard! as your want of conceit makes you, for which I like you the better, too — you don’t see the reason why he banished you from Castle Hermitage — you don’t see that he is jealous of your rivalling that puppy, Marcus, his son.”

“Rivalling Marcus in what, or how?”

With whom? boy, is the question you should ask; and in that case the answer is — Dunce, can’t you guess now? — Miss Annaly.”

“Miss Annaly!” repeated Harry with genuine surprise, and with a quick sense of inferiority and humiliation. “Oh, sir, you would not be so ill-natured as to make a jest of me! — I know how ignorant, how uninformed, what a raw boy I am. Marcus has been educated like a gentleman.”

“More shame for his father that couldn’t do the same by you when he was about it.”

“But Marcus, sir — there ought to be a difference — Marcus is heir to a large fortune — I have nothing. Marcus may hope to marry whoever he pleases.”

“Ay, whoever he pleases; and who will that be, if women are of my mind?” muttered Corny. “I’ll engage, if you had a mind to rival him —”

“Rival him! the thought of rivalling my friend never entered my head.”

“But is he your friend?” said Cornelius.

“As to that, I don’t know: he was my friend, and I loved him sincerely — warmly — he has cast me off — I shall never complain — never blame him directly or indirectly; but don’t let me be accused or suspected unjustly — I never for one instant had the treachery, presumption, folly, or madness, to think of Miss Annaly.”

“Nor she of you, I suppose, you’ll swear?”

“Nor she of me! assuredly not, sir,” said Harry, with surprise at the idea. “Do you consider what I am — and what she is?”

“Well, I am glad they are gone to England out of the way!” said Cornelius.

“I am very sorry for that,” said Harry; “for I have lost a kind friend in Lady Annaly — one who at least I might have hoped would have become my friend, if I had deserved it.”

Might have hoped! — would have become!— That’s a friend in the air, who may never be found on earth. If you deserved it! — Murder! — who knows how that might turn out —if— I don’t like that kind of subjunctive mood tenure of a friend. Give me the good imperative mood, which I understand — be my friend — at once — or not at all — that’s my mood. None of your if friends for me, setting out with a proviso and an excuse to be off; and may be when you’d call upon ’em at your utmost need, ‘Oh! I said if you deserve it — Lie there like a dog.’ Now, what kind of a friend is that? If Lady Annaly is that sort, no need to regret her. My compliments to her, and a good journey to England — Ireland well rid of her! and so are you, too, my boy!”

“But, dear sir, how you have worked yourself up into a passion against Lady Annaly for nothing.”

“It’s not for nothing — I’ve good rason to dislike the woman. What business had she, because she’s an old woman and you a young man, to set up preaching to you about your faults? I hate prachers, feminine gender, especially.”

“She is no preacher, I assure you, sir.”

“How dare you tell me that — was not her letter very edifying? Sir Ulick said.”

“No, sir; it was very kind — will you read it?”

“No, sir, I won’t; I never read an edifying letter in my life with my eyes open, nor never will — quite enough for me that impertinent list of your faults she enclosed you.”

“That list was my own, not hers, sir: I dropped it under a tree.”

“Well, drop it into the fire now, and no more about it. Pray, after all, Harry, for curiosity’s sake, what faults have you?”

“Dear sir, I thought you told me you knew them by heart.”

“I always forget what I learn by heart; put me in mind, and may be I’ll recollect as you go on.”

“Well, sir, in the first place, I am terribly passionate.”

“Passionate! true; that is Moriarty you are thinking of; and I grant you, that had like to have been a sad job — you had a squeak for your life there, and I pitied you as if it had been myself; for I know what it is after one of them blind rages is over, and one opens one’s eyes on the wrong one has done — and then such a cursed feel to be penitent in vain — for that sets no bones. You were blind drunk that night, and that was my fault; but my late vow has prevented the future, and Moriarty’s better in the world than ever he was.”

“Thanks to your goodness, sir.” “Oh! I wasn’t thinking of my goodness — little enough that same; but to ease your conscience, it was certainly the luckiest turn ever happened him the shot he got, and so he says himself. Never think of that more in the way of penitence.”

“In the way of reformation though, I hope, I shall all my life,” said Harry. “One comfort — I have never been in a passion since.”

“But, then, a rasonable passion’s allowable: I wouldn’t give a farthing for a man that couldn’t be in a passion on a proper occasion. I’m passionate myself, rasonably passionate, and I like myself the better for it.”

“I thought you said just now you often repented.”

“Oh! never mind what I said just now— mind what I’m saying now. Isn’t a red heat that you can see, and that warms you, better than a white heat that blinds you? I’d rather a man would knock me down than stand smiling at me, as cousin Ulick did just now, when I know he could have kilt me; he is not passionate — he has the command of himself — every feature under the courtier’s regimen of hypocrisy. Harry Ormond, don’t set about to cure yourself of your natural passions — why, this is rank methodism, all!”

“Methodism, sir?”

Methodism, sir! — don’t contradict or repeat me — methodism, that the woman has brought you to the brink of, and I warn you from it! I did not know till now that your Lady Annaly was such a methodist — no methodist shall ever darken my doors, or lighten them either, with their new lights. New lights! new nonsense! — for man, woman, or beast. But enough of this, and too much, Harry. Prince Harry, pull that bell a dozen times for me this minute, till they bring out my old horse.”

Before it was possible that any one could have come up stairs, the impatient monarch, pointing with his crutch, added, “Run to the head of the stairs, Prince Harry dear, and call and screech to them to make no delay; and I want you out with me; so get your horse, Harry.”

“But, sir — is it possible — are you able?”

“I am able, sir, possible or not,” cried King Corny, starting up on his crutches. “Don’t stand talking to me of possibilities, when ’tis a friend I am going to serve, and that friend as dear as yourself. Aren’t you at the head of the stairs yet? Must I go and fall down them myself?”

To prevent this catastrophe, our young hero ran immediately and ordered the horses: his majesty mounted, or rather was mounted, and they proceeded to one of the prettiest farms in the Black Islands. As they rode to it, he seemed pleased by Harry’s admiring, as he could, with perfect truth, the beauty of the situation.

“And the land — which you are no judge of yet, but you will — is as good as it is pretty,” said King Corny, “which I am glad of for your sake, Prince Harry; I won’t have you, like that donny English prince or king, they nicknamed Lackland. — No: you sha’n’t lack land while I have it to let or give. I called you prince — Prince of the Black Islands — and here’s your principality. Call out my prime minister, Pat Moore. I sent him across the bog to meet us at Moriarty’s. Here he is, and Moriarty along with him to welcome you. Patrick, give Prince Harry possession — with sod and twig. Here’s the kay from my own hand, and I give you joy. Nay, don’t deny me the pleasure — I’ve a right to it. No wrong to my daughter, if that’s what you are thinking of — a clear improvement of my own — and she will have enough without it. Besides, her betrothed White Connal is a fat grazier, who will make her as rich as a Jew; and any way she is as generous as a princess herself. But if it pains you so, and weighs you down, as I see it does, to be under any obligation — you shall be under none in life. You shall pay me rent for it, and you shall give it up whenever you please. Well! we’ll settle that between ourselves,” continued his majesty; “only take possession, that’s all I ask. But I hope,” added he, “before we’ve lived a year, or whatever time it is till you arrive at years of discretion, you’ll know me well enough, and love me well enough, not to be so stiff about a trifle, that’s nothing between friend and friend — let alone the joke of king and prince, dear Harry.”

The gift of this principality proved a most pernicious, nearly a fatal, gift to the young prince. The generosity, the delicacy, with which it was made, a delicacy worthy of the most polished, and little to have been expected from the barbarian mock-monarch, so touched our young hero’s heart, so subjected his grateful spirit to his benefactor, that he thenceforth not only felt bound to King Corny for life, but prone to deem every thing he did or thought, wisest, fittest, best.

When he was invested with his petty principality, it was expected of him to give a dinner and a dance to the island: so he f gave a dinner and a dance, and every body said he was a fine fellow, and had the spirit of a prince. “King Corny, God bless him! couldn’t go astray in his choice of a favourite — long life to him and Prince Harry! and no doubt there’d be fine hunting, and shooting, and coursing continually. Well, was not it a happy thing for the islands, when Harry Ormond first set foot on them? From a boy ’twas asy to see what a man he’d be. Long may he live to reign over us!”

The taste for vulgar praise grew by what it fed upon. Harry was in great danger of forgetting that he was too fond of flattery, and too fond of company — not the best. He excused himself to himself, by saying that companions of some kind or other he must have, and he was in a situation where good company was not to be had. Then Moriarty Carroll was gamekeeper, and Moriarty Carroll was always out hunting or shooting with him, and he was led by kind and good feelings to be more familiar and free with this man than he would have been with any other in the same rank of life. The poor fellow was ardently attached to him, and repeated, with delight, all the praises he heard of Master Harry, through the Islands. The love of popularity seized him — popularity on the lowest scale! To be popular among the unknown, unheard-of inhabitants of the Black Islands — could this be an object to any man of common sense, any one who had lived in civilized society, and who had had any thing like the education of a gentleman? The fact, argue about it as you will — the fact was as is here stated; and let those who hear it with a disdainful smile recollect that whether in Paris, London, or the Black Islands, the mob are, in all essential points, pretty nearly the same.

It happened about this time that Betty Dunshaughlin was rummaging in her young lady’s work-basket for some riband, “which she knew she might take,” to dress a cap that was to be hung upon a pole as a prize, to be danced for at the pattern, [Footnote: Patron, probably — an entertainment held in honour of the patron saint. A festive meeting, similar to a wake in England.] to be given next Monday at Ormond Vale, by Prince Harry. Prince Harry was now standing by, giving some instructions about the ordering of the entertainment; Betty, in the mean time, pursued her own object of the riband, and as she emptied the basket in haste, threw out a book, which Harry, though not much at this time addicted to reading, snatched impatiently, eager to know what book it was: it was one he had often heard of — often intended to read some time or other, but somehow or other he had never had time: and now he was in the greatest possible hurry, for the hounds were out. But when once he had opened the book, he could not shut it: he turned over page after page, peeped at the end, the beginning, and the middle, then back to the beginning; was diverted by the humour — every Irishman loves humour; delighted with the wit — what Irishman is not? And his curiosity was so much raised by the story, his interest and sympathy so excited for the hero, that he read on, standing for a quarter of an hour, fixed in the same position, while Betty held forth unheard, about cap, supper, and pattern. At last he carried off the book to his own room, that he might finish it in peace; nor did he ever stop till he came to the end of the volume. The story not finishing there, and breaking off in a most interesting part, he went in search of the next volume, but that was not to be found. His impatience was ravenous.

“Mercy, Master Harry,” cried Mrs. Betty, “don’t eat one up! I know nothing at-all-at-all about the book, and I’m very sorry I tumbled it out of the basket. That’s all there is of it to be had high or low — so don’t be tormenting me any more out of my life for nothing.”

But having seized upon her, he refused to let her go, and protested that he would continue to be the torment of her life, till she should find the other volume. Betty, when her memory was thus racked, put her hand to her forehead, and recollected that in the apple-room there was a heap of old books. Harry possessed himself of the key of the apple-room, tossed over the heap of tattered mouldy books, and at last found the precious volume. He devoured it eagerly — nor was it forgotten as soon as finished. As the chief part of the entertainment depended on the characters, it did not fade from his imagination. He believed the story to be true, for it was constructed with unparalleled ingenuity, and developed with consummate art. The character which particularly interested him was that of the hero, the more peculiarly, because he saw, or fancied that he saw, a resemblance to his own; with some differences, to be sure — but young readers readily assimilate and identify themselves with any character, the leading points of which resemble their own, and in whose general feelings they sympathize. In some instances, Harry, as he read on, said to himself, “I would not — I could not have done so and so.” But upon the whole, he was charmed by the character — that of a warm-hearted, generous, imprudent young man, with little education, no literature, governed more by feeling than by principle, never upon any occasion reasoning, but keeping right by happy moral instincts; or when going wrong, very wrong, forgiven easily by the reader and by his mistress, and rewarded at the last with all that love and fortune can bestow, in consideration of his being “a very fine fellow.”

Closing the book, Harry Ormond resolved to be what he admired — and, if possible, to shine forth an Irish Tom Jones. For this purpose he was not at all bound to be a moral gentleman, nor, as he conceived, to be a gentleman at all — not, at least, in the commencement of his career: he might become accomplished at any convenient period of his life, and become moral at the end of it, but he might begin by being an accomplished — blackguard. Blackguard is a harsh word; but what other will express the idea? Unluckily, the easiest points to be imitated in any character are not always the best; and where any latitude is given to conscience, or any precedents are allowed to the grosser passions for their justification, those are the points which are afterwards remembered and applied in practice, when the moral salvo sentences are forgotten, or are at best but of feeble countervailing effect.

At six o’clock on Monday evening the cap — the prize cap, flaming with red ribands from the top of the pole, streamed to the summer air, and delighted the upturned eyes of assembled crowds upon the green below. The dance began, and our popular hero, the delight of all the nymphs, and the envy of all the swains, danced away with one of the prettiest, “smartest,” “most likely-looking” “lasses,” that ever appeared at any former patron. She was a degree more refined in manner, and polished in appearance, than the fair of the Black Islands, for she came from the continent of Ireland — she had the advantage of having been sometimes at the big house at Castle Hermitage — she was the gardener’s daughter — Peggy Sheridan — distinguished among her fellows by a nosegay, such as no other could have procured — distinguished more by her figure and her face than by her nosegay, and more by her air and motions, than even by her figure or her face: she stepped well, and stepped out — she danced an Irish jig to admiration, and she was not averse from admiration; village prudes, perhaps, might call her a village coquette; but let not this suggest a thought derogatory to the reputation of the lively Peggy. She was a well-behaved, well-meaning, innocent, industrious girl — a good daughter, a good sister, and more than one in the neighbourhood thought she would make a good wife. She had not only admirers, but suitors in abundance. Harry Ormond could not think of her as a wife, but he was evidently — more evidently this day than ever before — one of Peggy’s admirers. His heart or his fancy was always warmly susceptible to the charms of beauty; and, never well guarded by prudence, he was now, with his head full of Tom Jones, prone to run into danger himself, and rashly ready to hurry on an innocent girl to her destruction. He was not without hopes of pleasing — what young man of nineteen or twenty is? He was not without chance of success, as it is called, with Peggy — what woman can be pronounced safe, who ventures to extend to a young lover the encouragement of coquettish smiles? Peggy said, “innocent smiles sure,” “meaning nothing;” but they were interpreted to mean something: less would in his present dispositions have excited the hero who imitated Tom Jones to enterprise. Report says that, about this time, Harry Ormond was seen disguised in a slouched hat and trusty [Footnote: Great coat.], wandering about the grounds at Castle Hermitage. Some swear they saw him pretending to dig in the garden; and even under the gardener’s windows, seeming to be nailing up jessamine. Some would not swear, but if they might trust their own eyes, they might verily believe, and could, only that they would not, take their oath to having seen him once cross the lake alone by moonlight. But without believing above half what the world says, candour obliges us to acknowledge, that there was some truth in these scandalous reports. He certainly pursued, most imprudently “pursued the chase of youth and beauty;” nor would he, we fear, have dropped the chase till Peggy was his prey, but that fortunately, in the full headlong career of passion, he was suddenly startled and stopped by coming in view of an obstacle that he could not overleap — a greater wrong than he had foreseen, at least a different wrong, and in a form that made his heart tremble. He reined in his passion, and stood appalled.

In the first hurry of that passion he had seen nothing, heard nothing, understood nothing, but that Peggy was pretty, and that he was in love. It happened one evening that he, with a rose yet unfaded in his hand — a rose which he had snatched from Peggy Sheridan — took the path towards Moriarty Carroll’s cottage. Moriarty, seeing him from afar, came out to meet him; but when he came within sight of the rose, Moriarty’s pace slackened, and turning aside, he stepped out of the path, as if to let Mr. Ormond pass.

“How now, Moriarty?” said Harry. But looking in his face, he saw the poor fellow pale as death.

“What ails you, Moriarty?”

“A pain I just took about my heart,” said Moriarty, pressing both hands to his heart.

“My poor fellow! — Wait! — you’ll be better just now, I hope,” said Ormond, laying his hand on Moriarty’s shoulder.

“I’ll never be better of it, I fear,” said Moriarty, withdrawing his shoulder; and giving a jealous glance at the rose, he turned his head away again.

“I’ll thank your honour to go on, and leave me — I’ll be better by myself. It is not to your honour, above all, that I can open my heart.”

A suspicion of the truth now flashed across Ormond’s mind — he was determined to know whether it was the truth or not.

“I’ll not leave you, till I know what’s the matter,” said he.

“Then none will know that till I die,” said Moriarty; adding, after a little pause, “there’s no knowing what’s wrong withinside of a man till he is opened.”

“But alive, Moriarty, if the heart is in the case only,” said Ormond, “a man can open himself to a friend.”

“Ay, if he had a friend,” said Moriarty. “I’ll beg your honour to let me pass — I am able for it now — I am quite stout again.”

“Then if you are quite stout again, I shall want you to row me across the lake.”

“I am not able for that, sir,” replied Moriarty, pushing past him.

“But,” said Ormond, catching hold of his arm, “aren’t you able or willing to carry a note for me?” As he spoke, Ormond produced the note, and let him see the direction — to Peggy Sheridan.

“Sooner stab me to the heart again,” cried Moriarty, breaking from him.

“Sooner stab myself to the heart then,” cried Ormond, tearing the note to bits. “Look, Moriarty: upon my honour, till this instant, I did not know you loved the girl — from this instant I’ll think of her no more — never more will I see her, hear of her, till she be your wife.”

“Wife!” repeated Moriarty, joy illuminating, but fear as instantly darkening his countenance. “How will that be now?”

“It will be — it shall be — as happily as honourably. Listen to me, Moriarty — as honourably now as ever. Can you think me so wicked, so base, as to say, wife, if — no, passion might hurry me to a rash, but of a base action I’m incapable. Upon my soul, upon the sacred honour of a gentleman —”

Moriarty sighed.

“Look!” continued Ormond, taking the rose from his breast; “this is the utmost that ever passed between us, and that was my fault: I snatched it, and thus — thus,” cried he, tearing the rose to pieces, “I scatter it to the winds of heaven; and thus may all trace of past fancy and folly be blown from remembrance!”

“Amen!” said Moriarty, watching the rose-leaves for an instant, as they flew and were scattered out of sight; then, as Ormond broke the stalk to pieces, and flung it from him, he asked, with a smile, “Is the pain about your heart gone now, Moriarty?”

“No, plase your honour, not gone; but a quite different — better — but worse. So strange with me — I can’t speak rightly — for the pleasure has seized me stronger than the pain.”

“Lean against me, poor fellow. Oh, if I had broken such a heart!”

“Then how wrong I was when I said that word I did!” said Moriarty. “I ask your honour, your dear honour’s pardon on my knees.”

“For what? — For what? — You have done no wrong.”

“No:— but I said wrong — very wrong — when I said stab me to the heart again. Oh, that word again— it was very ungenerous.”

“Noble fellow!” said Ormond.

“Good night to your honour, kindly,” said Moriarty.

“How happy I am now!” said our young hero to himself, as he walked home, “which I never should have been if I had done this wrong.”

A fortunate escape! — yes: but when the escape is owing to good fortune, not to prudence — to good feeling, not to principle — there is no security for the future.

Ormond was steady to his promise toward Moriarty: to do him justice, he was more than this — he was generous, actively, perseveringly generous, in his conduct to him. With open heart, open purse, public overture, and private negotiation with the parents of Peggy Sheridan, he at last succeeded in accomplishing Moriarty’s marriage.

Ormond’s biographer may well be allowed to make the most of his persevering generosity on this occasion, because no other scrap of good can be found, of which to make any thing in his favour, for several months to come. Whether Tom Jones was still too much, and Lady Annaly too little, in his head — whether it was that King Corny’s example and precepts were not always edifying — whether this young man had been prepared by previous errors of example and education — or whether he fell into mischief because he had nothing else to do in these Black Islands; certain it is, that from the operation of some or all of these causes conjointly, he deteriorated sadly. He took to “vagrant courses,” in which the muse forbears to follow him.


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