Maria Edgeworth.

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TALES AND NOVELS

VOL. 6

BY

MARIA EDGEWORTH






THE ABSENTEE.




CHAPTER I.


"Are you to be at Lady Clonbrony's gala next week?" said Lady Langdale
to Mrs. Dareville, whilst they were waiting for their carriages in the
crush-room of the opera-house.

"Oh, yes! every body's to be there, I hear," replied Mrs. Dareville.
"Your ladyship, of course?"

"Why, I don't know; if I possibly can. Lady Clonbrony makes it such
a point with me, that I believe I must look in upon her for a few
minutes. They are going to a prodigious expense on this occasion. Soho
tells me the reception rooms are all to be new furnished, and in the
most magnificent style."

"At what a famous rate those Clonbronies are dashing on," said colonel
Heathcock. "Up to any thing."

"Who are they? - these Clonbronies, that one hears of so much of
late?" said her grace of Torcaster. "Irish absentees, I know. But
how do they support all this enormous expense?" "The son _will_ have
a prodigiously fine estate when some Mr. Quin dies," said Mrs.
Dareville.

"Yes, every body who comes from Ireland _will_ have a fine estate when
somebody dies," said her grace. "But what have they at present?"

"Twenty thousand a year, they say," replied Mrs. Dareville.

"Ten thousand, I believe," cried Lady Langdale.

"Ten thousand, have they? - possibly," said her grace. "I know nothing
about them - have no acquaintance among the Irish. Torcaster knows
something of Lady Clonbrony; she has fastened herself by some means
upon him; but I charge him not to _commit_ me. Positively, I could not
for any body, and much less for that sort of person, extend the circle
of my acquaintance."

"Now that is so cruel of your grace," said Mrs. Dareville, laughing,
"when poor Lady Clonbrony works so hard, and pays so high to get into
certain circles."

"If you knew all she endures, to look, speak, move, breathe, like an
Englishwoman, you would pity her," said Lady Langdale.

"Yes, and you _cawnt_ conceive the _peens_ she _teekes_ to talk of the
_teebles_ and _cheers_, and to thank Q, and with so much _teeste_ to
speak pure English," said Mrs. Dareville.

"Pure cockney, you mean," said Lady Langdale.

"But does Lady Clonbrony expect to pass for English?" said the
duchess.

"Oh, yes! because she is not quite Irish _bred and born_ - only bred,
not born," said Mrs. Dareville. "And she could not be five minutes
in your grace's company, before she would tell you that she was
_Henglish_, born in _Hoxfordshire_."

"She must be a vastly amusing personage - I should like to meet her
if one could see and hear her incog.," said the duchess. "And Lord
Clonbrony, what is he?"

"Nothing, nobody," said Mrs. Dareville: "one never even hears of him."

"A tribe of daughters, too, I suppose?"

"No, no," said Lady Langdale; "daughters would be past all endurance."

"There's a cousin, though, a Miss Nugent," said Mrs. Dareville, "that
Lady Clonbrony has with her."

"Best part of her, too," said Colonel Heathcock - "d - - d fine
girl! - never saw her look better than at the opera to-night!"

"Fine _complexion_! as Lady Clonbrony says, when she means a high
colour," said Lady Langdale.

"Miss Nugent is not a lady's beauty," said Mrs. Dareville. "Has she
any fortune, colonel?"

"'Pon honour, don't know," said the colonel.

"There's a son, somewhere, is not there?" said Lady Langdale.

"Don't know, 'pon honour," replied the colonel.

"Yes - at Cambridge - not of age yet," said Mrs. Dareville. "Bless me!
here is Lady Clonbrony come back. I thought she was gone half an hour
ago!"

"Mamma," whispered one of Lady Langdale's daughters, leaning between
her mother and Mrs. Dareville, "who is that gentleman that passed us
just now?"

"Which way?"

"Towards the door. - There now, mamma, you can see him. He is speaking
to Lady Clonbrony - to Miss Nugent - now Lady Clonbrony is introducing
him to Miss Broadhurst."

"I see him now," said Lady Langdale, examining him through her glass;
"a very gentlemanlike looking young man indeed."

"Not an Irishman, I am sure, by his manner," said her grace.

"Heathcock!" said Lady Langdale, "who is Miss Broadhurst talking to?"

"Eh! now really - 'pon honour - don't know," replied Heathcock.

"And yet he certainly looks like somebody one should know," pursued
Lady Langdale, "though I don't recollect seeing him any where before."

"Really now!" was all the satisfaction she could gain from the
insensible, immovable colonel. However, her ladyship, after sending
a whisper along the line, gained the desired information, that the
young gentleman was Lord Colambre, son, only son, of Lord and Lady
Clonbrony - that he was just come from Cambridge - that he was not yet
of age - that he would be of age within a year; that he would then,
after the death of somebody, come into possession of a fine estate
by the mother's side; "and therefore, Cat'rine, my dear," said she,
turning round to the daughter who had first pointed him out, "you
understand we should never talk about other people's affairs."

"No, mamma, never. I hope to goodness, mamma, Lord Colambre did not
hear what you and Mrs. Dareville were saying!"

"How could he, child? - He was quite at the other end of the world."

"I beg your pardon, ma'am - he was at my elbow, close behind us; but I
never thought about him till I heard somebody say 'my lord - '"

"Good heavens! - I hope he didn't hear."

"But, for my part, I said nothing," cried Lady Langdale.

"And for my part, I said nothing but what every body knows," cried
Mrs. Dareville.

"And for my part, I am guilty only of hearing," said the duchess. "Do,
pray, Colonel Heathcock, have the goodness to see what my people are
about, and what chance we have of getting away to-night."

"The Duchess of Torcaster's carriage stops the way!" - a joyful sound
to Colonel Heathcock and to her grace, and not less agreeable, at this
instant, to Lady Langdale, who, the moment she was disembarrassed
of the duchess, pressed through the crowd to Lady Clonbrony, and
addressing her with smiles and complacency, was charmed to have a
little moment to speak to her - could _not_ sooner get through the
crowd - would certainly do herself the honour to be at her ladyship's
gala. While Lady Langdale spoke, she never seemed to see or think of
any body but Lady Clonbrony, though, all the time, she was intent upon
every motion of Lord Colambre; and whilst she was obliged to listen
with a face of sympathy to a long complaint of Lady Clonbrony's,
about Mr. Soho's want of taste in ottomans, she was vexed to perceive
that his lordship showed no desire to be introduced to her or to
her daughters; but, on the contrary, was standing talking to Miss
Nugent. His mother, at the end of her speech, looked round for
"Colambre" - called him twice before he heard - introduced him to Lady
Langdale, and to Lady Cat'rine, and Lady Anne - - , and to Mrs.
Dareville; to all of whom he bowed with an air of proud coldness,
which gave them reason to regret that their remarks upon his mother
and his family had not been made _sotto voce_.

"Lady Langdale's carriage stops the way!" Lord Colambre made no offer
of his services, notwithstanding a look from his mother. Incapable of
the meanness of voluntarily listening to a conversation not intended
for him to hear, he had, however, been compelled, by the pressure
of the crowd, to remain a few minutes stationary, where he could not
avoid hearing the remarks of the fashionable friends: disdaining
dissimulation, he made no attempt to conceal his displeasure. Perhaps
his vexation was increased by his consciousness that there was some
mixture of truth in their sarcasms. He was sensible that his mother,
in some points - her manners, for instance - was obvious to ridicule and
satire. In Lady Clonbrony's address there was a mixture of constraint,
affectation, and indecision, unusual in a person of her birth, rank,
and knowledge of the world. A natural and unnatural manner seemed
struggling in all her gestures, and in every syllable that she
articulated - a naturally free, familiar, good-natured, precipitate,
Irish manner, had been schooled, and schooled late in life, into a
sober, cold, still, stiff deportment, which she mistook for English.
A strong Hibernian accent she had, with infinite difficulty, changed
into an English tone. Mistaking reverse of wrong for right, she
caricatured the English pronunciation; and the extraordinary precision
of her London phraseology betrayed her not to be a Londoner, as the
man who strove to pass for an Athenian was detected by his Attic
dialect. Not aware of her real danger, Lady Clonbrony was, on the
opposite side, in continual apprehension every time she opened her
lips, lest some treacherous _a_ or _e_, some strong _r_, some puzzling
aspirate or non-aspirate, some unguarded note, interrogative, or
expostulatory, should betray her to be an Irishwoman. Mrs. Dareville
had, in her mimicry, perhaps, a little exaggerated, as to the
_teebles_ and _cheers_, but still the general likeness of the
representation of Lady Clonbrony was strong enough to strike and vex
her son. He had now, for the first time, an opportunity of judging of
the estimation in which his mother and his family were held by certain
leaders of the ton, of whom, in her letters, she had spoken so much,
and into whose society, or rather into whose parties, she had been
admitted. He saw that the renegado cowardice with which she denied,
abjured, and reviled her own country, gained nothing but ridicule and
contempt. He loved his mother; and, whilst he endeavoured to conceal
her faults and foibles as much as possible from his own heart, he
could not endure those who dragged them to light and ridicule. The
next morning, the first thing that occurred to Lord Colambre's
remembrance, when he awoke, was the sound of the contemptuous emphasis
which had been laid on the words IRISH ABSENTEES! - This led to
recollections of his native country, to comparisons of past and
present scenes, to future plans of life. Young and careless as he
seemed, Lord Colambre was capable of serious reflection. Of naturally
quick and strong capacity, ardent affections, impetuous temper, the
early years of his childhood passed at his father's castle in Ireland,
where, from the lowest servant to the well-dressed dependent of the
family, every body had conspired to wait upon, to fondle, to flatter,
to worship, this darling of their lord. Yet he was not spoiled - not
rendered selfish; for in the midst of this flattery and servility,
some strokes of genuine generous affection had gone home to his little
heart: and though unqualified submission had increased the natural
impetuosity of his temper, and though visions of his future grandeur
had touched his infant thought, yet, fortunately, before he acquired
any fixed habits of insolence or tyranny, he was carried far away
from all that were bound or willing to submit to his commands, far
away from all signs of hereditary grandeur - plunged into one of our
great public schools - into a new world. Forced to struggle, mind and
body, with his equals, his rivals, the little lord became a spirited
school-boy, and in time, a man. Fortunately for him, science and
literature happened to be the fashion among a set of clever young
men with whom he was at Cambridge. His ambition for intellectual
superiority was raised, his views were enlarged, his tastes and
his manners formed. The sobriety of English good sense mixed most
advantageously with Irish vivacity: English prudence governed, but did
not extinguish, his Irish enthusiasm. But, in fact, English and Irish
had not been invidiously contrasted in his mind: he had been so long
resident in England, and so intimately connected with Englishmen, that
he was not obvious to any of the commonplace ridicule thrown upon
Hibernians; and he had lived with men who were too well informed and
liberal to misjudge or depreciate a sister country. He had found, from
experience, that, however reserved the English may be in manner, they
are warm at heart; that, however averse they may be from forming new
acquaintance, their esteem and confidence once gained, they make the
most solid friends. He had formed friendships in England; he was fully
sensible of the superior comforts, refinement, and information, of
English society; but his own country was endeared to him by early
association, and a sense of duty and patriotism attached him to
Ireland. - "And shall I too be an absentee?" was a question which
resulted from these reflections - a question which he was not yet
prepared to answer decidedly.

In the mean time, the first business of the morning was to execute
a commission for a Cambridge friend. Mr. Berryl had bought from Mr.
Mordicai, a famous London coachmaker, a curricle, _warranted sound_,
for which he had paid a sound price, upon express condition that Mr.
Mordicai should be answerable for all repairs of the curricle for six
months. In three, both the carriage and body were found to be good for
nothing - the curricle had been returned to Mordicai - nothing had since
been heard of it, or from him; and Lord Colambre had undertaken to pay
him and it a visit, and to make all proper inquiries. Accordingly,
he went to the coachmaker's; and, obtaining no satisfaction from the
underlings, desired to see the head of the house. He was answered
that Mr. Mordicai was not at home. His lordship had never seen Mr.
Mordicai; but just then he saw, walking across the yard, a man who
looked something like a Bond-street coxcomb, but not the least like a
gentleman, who called, in the tone of a master, for "Mr. Mordicai's
barouche!" - It appeared; and he was stepping into it, when Lord
Colambre took the liberty of stopping him; and, pointing to the wreck
of Mr. Berryl's curricle, now standing in the yard, began a statement
of his friend's grievances, and an appeal to common justice and
conscience, which he, unknowing the nature of the man with whom he had
to deal, imagined must be irresistible. Mr. Mordicai stood without
moving a muscle of his dark wooden face - indeed, in his face there
appeared to be no muscles, or none which could move; so that, though
he had what are generally called handsome features, there was,
altogether, something unnatural and shocking in his countenance. When,
at last, his eyes turned and his lips opened, this seemed to be done
by machinery, and not by the will of a living creature, or from the
impulse of a rational soul. Lord Colambre was so much struck with
this strange physiognomy, that he actually forgot much he had to say
of springs and wheels - But it was no matter - Whatever he had said, it
would have come to the same thing; and Mordicai would have answered
as he now did; "Sir, it was my partner made that bargain, not myself;
and I don't hold myself bound by it, for he is the sleeping partner
only, and not empowered to act in the way of business. Had Mr. Berryl
bargained with me, I should have told him that he should have looked
to these things before his carriage went out of our yard."

The indignation of Lord Colambre kindled at these words - but in vain:
to all that indignation could by word or look urge against Mordicai,
he replied, "May be so, sir: the law is open to your friend - the law
is open to all men, who can pay for it."

Lord Colambre turned in despair from the callous coachmaker, and
listened to one of his more compassionate-looking workmen, who was
reviewing the disabled curricle; and, whilst he was waiting to know
the sum of his friend's misfortune, a fat, jolly, Falstaff-looking
personage came into the yard, and accosted Mordicai with a degree of
familiarity which, from a gentleman, appeared to Lord Colambre to be
almost impossible.

"How are you, Mordicai, my good fellow?" cried he, speaking with a
strong Irish accent.

"Who is this?" whispered Lord Colambre to the foreman, who was
examining the curricle.

"Sir Terence O'Fay, sir - There must be entire new wheels."

"Now tell me, my tight fellow," continued Sir Terence, holding
Mordicai fast, "when, in the name of all the saints, good or bad, in
the calendar, do you reckon to let us sport the _suicide_?"

"Will you be so good, sir, to finish making out this estimate for me?"
interrupted Lord Colambre.

Mordicai forcibly drew his mouth into what he meant for a smile, and
answered, "As soon as possible, Sir Terence." Sir Terence, in a tone
of jocose, wheedling expostulation, entreated him to have the carriage
finished _out of hand_: "Ah, now! Mordy, my precious! let us have it
by the birthday, and come and dine with us o' Monday at the Hibernian
Hotel - there's a rare one - will you?"

Mordicai accepted the invitation, and promised faithfully that the
_suicide_ should be finished by the birthday. Sir Terence shook hands
upon this promise, and, after telling a good story, which made one of
the workmen in the yard - an Irishman - grin with delight, walked off.
Mordicai, first waiting till the knight was out of hearing, called
aloud, "You grinning rascal! mind, at your peril, and don't let that
there carriage be touched, d'ye see, till farther orders."

One of Mr. Mordicai's clerks, with a huge long feathered pen behind
his ear, observed that Mr. Mordicai was right in that caution, for
that, to the best of his comprehension, Sir Terence O'Fay, and his
principal too, were over head and ears in debt.

Mordicai coolly answered, that he was well aware of that, but that the
estate could afford to dip farther; that, for his part, he was under
no apprehension; he knew how to look sharp, and to bite before he was
bit: that he knew Sir Terence and his principal were leagued together
to give the creditors _the go by_; but that, clever as they were both
at that work, he trusted he was their match.

"Immediately, sir - Sixty-nine pound four, and the perch - Let us
see - Mr. Mordicai, ask him, ask Paddy, about Sir Terence," said the
foreman, pointing back over his shoulder to the Irish workman, who
was at this moment pretending to be wondrous hard at work. However,
when Mr. Mordicai defied him to tell him any thing he did not know,
Paddy, parting with an untasted bit of tobacco, began and recounted
some of Sir Terence O'Fay's exploits in evading duns, replevying
cattle, fighting sheriffs, bribing _subs_, managing cants, tricking
_custodees_, in language so strange, and with a countenance and
gestures so full of enjoyment of the jest, that, whilst Mordicai
stood for a moment aghast with astonishment, Lord Colambre could
not help laughing, partly at, and partly with, his countryman. All
the yard were in a roar of laughter, though they did not understand
half of what they heard; but their risible muscles were acted upon
mechanically, or maliciously, merely by the sound of the Irish brogue.

Mordicai, waiting till the laugh was over, dryly observed, that "the
law is executed in another guess sort of way in England from what it
is in Ireland;" therefore, for his part, he desired nothing better
than to set his wits fairly against such _sharks_ - that there was a
pleasure in doing up a debtor, which none but a creditor could know.

"In a moment, sir; if you'll have a moment's patience, sir, if you
please," said the slow foreman to Lord Colambre; "I must go down the
pounds once more, and then I'll let you have it."

"I'll tell you what, Smithfield," continued Mr. Mordicai, coming close
beside his foreman, and speaking very low, but with a voice trembling
with anger, for he was piqued by his foreman's doubts of his capacity
to cope with Sir Terence O'Fay; "I'll tell you what, Smithfield, I'll
be cursed if I don't get every inch of them into my power - you know
how."

"You are the best judge, sir," replied the foreman; "but I would not
undertake Sir Terence; and the question is, whether the estate will
answer the _tote_ of the debts, and whether you know them all for
certain - "

"I do, sir, I tell you: there's Green - there's Blancham - there's
Gray - there's Soho" - naming several more - "and, to my knowledge, Lord
Clonbrony - "

"Stop, sir," cried Lord Colambre, in a voice which made Mordicai and
every body present start; - "I am his son - "

"The devil!" said Mordicai.

"God bless every bone in his body, then, he's an Irishman!" cried
Paddy; "and there was the _ra_son my heart warmed to him from the
first minute he come into the yard, though I did not know it till
now."

"What, sir! are you my Lord Colambre?" said Mr. Mordicai, recovering,
but not clearly recovering, his intellects: "I beg pardon, but I did
not know you _was_ Lord Colambre - I thought you told me you was the
friend of Mr. Berryl."

"I do not see the incompatibility of the assertion, sir," replied Lord
Colambre, taking from the bewildered foreman's unresisting hand the
account which he had been so long _furnishing_.

"Give me leave, my lord," said Mordicai - "I beg your pardon, my lord;
perhaps we can compromise that business for your friend Mr. Berryl;
since he is your lordship's friend, perhaps we can contrive to
_compromise_ and _split the difference_."

_To compromise_, and _split the difference_, Mordicai thought were
favourite phrases, and approved Hibernian modes of doing business,
which would conciliate this young Irish nobleman, and dissipate the
proud tempest, which had gathered, and now swelled in his breast.

"No, sir, no!" cried Lord Colambre, holding firm the paper: "I want no
favour from you. I will accept of none for my friend or for myself."

"Favour! No, my lord, I should not presume to offer - But I should
wish, if you'll allow me, to do your friend justice."

Lord Colambre, recollecting that he had no right, in his pride, to
fling away his friend's money, let Mr. Mordicai look at the account;
and his impetuous temper in a few moments recovered by good sense, he
considered, that, as his person was utterly unknown to Mr. Mordicai,
no offence could have been intended to him, and that, perhaps, in what
had been said of his father's debts and distress, there might be more
truth than he was aware of. Prudently, therefore, controlling his
feelings, and commanding himself, he suffered Mr. Mordicai to show him
into a parlour to _settle_ his friend's business. In a few minutes the
account was reduced to a reasonable form, and, in consideration of the
partner's having made the bargain, by which Mr. Mordicai felt himself
influenced in honour, though not bound in law, he undertook to have
the curricle made better than new again, for Mr. Berryl, for twenty
guineas. Then came awkward apologies to Lord Colambre, which he ill
endured. "Between ourselves, my lord," continued Mordicai -

But the familiarity of the phrase. "Between ourselves" - this
implication of equality - Lord Colambre could not admit: he moved
hastily towards the door, and departed.




CHAPTER II.


Full of what he had heard, and impatient to obtain farther information
respecting the state of his father's affairs, Lord Colambre hastened
home; but his father was out, and his mother was engaged with Mr.
Soho, directing, or rather being directed, how her apartments should
be fitted up for her gala. As Lord Colambre entered the room, he saw
his mother, Miss Nugent, and Mr. Soho, standing at a large table,
which was covered with rolls of paper, patterns, and drawings of
furniture: Mr. Soho was speaking in a conceited, dictatorial tone,
asserting that there was no "colour in nature for that room equal to
_the belly-o'-the fawn_;" which _belly-o'-the fawn_ he so pronounced,
that Lady Clonbrony understood it to be _la belle uniforme_, and,
under this mistake, repeated and assented to the assertion, till it
was set to rights, with condescending superiority, by the upholsterer.
This first architectural upholsterer of the age, as he styled himself,
and was universally admitted to be by all the world of fashion, then,
with full powers given to him, spoke _en maître_. The whole face of
things must be changed. There must be new hangings, new draperies, new
cornices, new candelabras, new every thing! -

"The upholsterer's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Glances from ceiling to floor, from floor to ceiling;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The form of things unknown, the upholsterer's pencil
Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a NAME."

Of the value of a NAME no one could be more sensible than Mr. Soho.

"Your la'ship sees - this is merely a scratch of my pencil. Your
la'ship's sensible - just to give you an idea of the shape, the form



Online LibraryMaria EdgeworthTales and Novels — Volume 06 → online text (page 1 of 41)