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´╗┐Title: Honor O'callaghan
Author: Mitford, Mary Russell, 1787-1855
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HONOR O'CALLAGHAN

By Mary Russell Mitford


Times are altered since Gray spoke of the young Etonians as a set of
dirty boys playing at cricket. There are no such things as boys to be
met with now, either at Eton or elsewhere; they are all men from ten
years old upwards. Dirt also hath vanished bodily, to be replaced by
finery. An aristocratic spirit, an aristocracy not of rank but of
money, possesses the place, and an enlightened young gentleman of my
acquaintance, who when somewhere about the ripe age of eleven, conjured
his mother "_not_ to come to see him until she had got her new carriage,
lest he should be quizzed by the rest of the men," was perhaps no unfair
representative of the mass of his schoolfellows. There are of course
exceptions to the rule. The sons of the old nobility, too much
accustomed to splendour in its grander forms, and too sure of their own
station to care about such matters, and the few finer spirits, whose
ambition even in boyhood soars to far higher and holier aims, are,
generally speaking, alike exempt from these vulgar cravings after petty
distinctions. And for the rest of the small people, why "winter and
rough weather," and that most excellent schoolmaster, the world, will
not fail, sooner or later, to bring them to wiser thoughts.

In the meanwhile, as according to our homely proverb, "for every gander
there's a goose," so there are not wanting in London and its environs
"establishments," (the good old name of boarding-school being altogether
done away with,) where young ladies are trained up in a love of fashion
and finery, and a reverence for the outward symbols of wealth, which
cannot fail to render them worthy compeers of the young gentlemen
their contemporaries. I have known a little girl, (fit mate for the
above-mentioned amateur of new carriages,) who complained that _her_
mamma called upon her, attended only by one footman; and it is certain,
that the position of a new-comer in one of these houses of education
will not fail to be materially influenced by such considerations as the
situation of her father's town residence, or the name of her mother's
milliner. At so early a period does the exclusiveness which more or
less pervades the whole current of English society make its appearance
amongst our female youth.

Even in the comparatively rational and old-fashioned seminary in which
I was brought up, we were not quite free from these vanities. We too
had our high castes and our low castes, and (alas! for her and for
ourselves!) we counted among our number one who in her loneliness and
desolation might almost be called a Pariah--or if that be too strong an
illustration, who was at least, in more senses than one, the Cinderella
of the school.

Honor O'Callaghan was, as her name imports, an Irish girl. She had been
placed under the care of Mrs. Sherwood before she was five years old,
her father being designated, in an introductory letter which he
brought in his hand, as a barrister from Dublin, of ancient family, of
considerable ability, and the very highest honour. The friend, however,
who had given him this excellent character, had, unfortunately, died
a very short time after poor Honor's arrival; and of Mr. O'Callaghan
nothing had ever been heard after the first half-year, when he sent
the amount of the bill in a draft, which, when due, proved to
be dishonoured. The worst part of this communication, however
unsatisfactory in its nature, was, that it was final. All inquiries,
whether in Dublin or elsewhere, proved unavailing; Mr. O'Callaghan had
disappeared; and our unlucky gouvernante found herself saddled with the
board, clothing, and education, the present care, and future destiny, of
a little girl, for whom she felt about as much affection as was felt
by the overseers of Aberleigh towards their involuntary protege, Jesse
Cliffe. Nay, in saying this, I am probably giving our worthy governess
credit for somewhat milder feelings upon this subject than she
actually entertained; the overseers in question, accustomed to such
circumstances, harbouring no stronger sentiment than a cold, passive
indifference towards the parish boy, whilst she, good sort of woman as
in general she was, did certainly upon this occasion cherish something
very like an active aversion to the little intruder.

The fact is, that Mrs. Sherwood, who had been much captivated by
Mr. O'Callaghan's showy, off-hand manner, his civilities, and his
flatteries, felt, for the first time in her life, that she had been
taken in; and being a peculiarly prudent, cautious personage, of the
slow, sluggish, stagnant temperament, which those who possess it are
apt to account a virtue, and to hold in scorn their more excitable
and impressible neighbours, found herself touched in the very point of
honour, piqued, aggrieved, mortified; and denouncing the father as the
greatest deceiver that ever trod the earth, could not help transferring
some part of her hatred to the innocent child. She was really a good
sort of woman, as I have said before, and every now and then her
conscience twitched her, and she struggled hard to seem kind and to be
so: but it would not do.

There the feeling was, and the more she struggled against it, the
stronger, I verily believe, it became. Trying to conquer a deep-rooted
aversion, is something like trampling upon camomile: the harder you
tread it down the more it flourishes.

Under these evil auspices, the poor little Irish girl grew up amongst
us. Not ill-used certainly, for she was fed and taught as we were; and
some forty shillings a year more expended upon the trifles, gloves,
and shoes, and ribbons, which make the difference between nicety and
shabbiness in female dress, would have brought her apparel upon an
equality with ours. Ill-used she was not: to be sure, teachers, and
masters seemed to consider it a duty to reprimand her for such faults
as would have passed unnoticed in another; and if there were any noise
amongst us, she, by far the quietest and most silent person in the
house, was, as a matter of course, accused of making it. Still she was
not what would be commonly called ill-treated; although her young heart
was withered and blighted, and her spirit crushed and broken by the
chilling indifference, or the harsh unkindness which surrounded her on
every side.

Nothing, indeed, could come in stronger contrast than the position of
the young Irish girl, and that of her English companions. A stranger,
almost a foreigner amongst us, with no home but that great school-room;
no comforts, no in-dulgences, no knick-knacks, no money, nothing but the
sheer, bare, naked necessaries of a schoolgirl's life; no dear family
to think of and to go to; no fond father to come to see her; no brothers
and sisters; no kindred; no friends. It was a loneliness, a desolation,
which, especially at breaking-up times, when all her schoolfellows went
joyfully away each to her happy home, and she was left the solitary and
neglected inhabitant of the deserted mansion, must have pressed upon her
very heart The heaviest tasks of the half year must have been pleasure
and enjoyment compared with the dreariness of those lonesome holidays.

And yet she was almost as lonely when we were all assembled. Childhood
is, for the most part, generous and sympathising; and there were many
amongst us who, interested by her deserted situation, would have been
happy to have been her friends. But Honor was one of those flowers which
will only open in the bright sunshine. Never did marigold under a cloudy
sky shut up her heart more closely than Honor O'Callaghan. In a
word, Honor had really one of the many faults ascribed to her by Mrs.
Sherwood, and her teachers and masters--that fault so natural and so
pardonable in adversity--she was proud.

National and family pride blended with the personal feeling. Young as
she was when she left Ireland, she had caught from the old nurse who had
had the care of her infancy, rude legends of the ancient greatness of
her country, and of the regal grandeur of the O'Connors, her maternal
ancestors; and over such dim traces of Cathleen's legends as floated
in her memory, fragments wild, shadowy, and indistinct, as the
recollections of a dream, did the poor Irish girl love to brood. Visions
of long-past splendour possessed her wholly, and the half-unconscious
reveries in which she had the habit of indulging, gave a tinge of
romance and enthusiasm to her character, as peculiar as her story.

Everything connected with her country had for her an indescribable
charm. It was wonderful how, with the apparently scanty means of
acquiring knowledge which the common school histories afforded,
together with here and there a stray book borrowed for her by her young
companions from their home libraries, and questions answered from the
same source, she had contrived to collect her abundant and accurate
information, as to its early annals and present position. Her
antiquarian lore was perhaps a little tinged, as such antiquarianism is
apt to be, by the colouring of a warm imagination; but still it was a
remarkable exemplification of the power of an ardent mind to ascertain
and combine facts upon a favourite subject under apparently insuperable
difficulties. Unless in pursuing her historical inquiries, she did
not often speak upon the subject. Her enthusiasm was too deep and too
concentrated for words. But she was Irish to the heart's core, and had
even retained, one can hardly tell how, the slight accent which in a
sweet-toned female voice is so pretty.

_In_ her appearance, also, there were many of the characteristics of
her countrywomen. The roundness of form and clearness of complexion, the
result of good nurture and pure blood which are often found in those
who have been nursed in an Irish cabin, the abundant wavy hair and the
deep-set grey eye. The face, in spite of some irregularity of feature,
would have been pretty, decidedly pretty, if the owner had been happy;
but the expression was too abstracted, too thoughtful, too melancholy
for childhood or even for youth. She was like a rose shut up in a room,
whose pale blossoms have hardly felt the touch of the glorious sunshine
or the blessed air. A daisy of the field, a common, simple, cheerful
looking daisy, would be pleasanter to gaze upon than the blighted queen
of flowers.

Her figure was, however, decidedly beautiful. Not merely tall, but
pliant, elastic, and graceful in no ordinary degree. She was not
generally remarkable for accomplishment. How could she, in the total
absence of the most powerful, as well as the most amiable motives to
exertion? She had no one to please; no one to watch her progress, to
rejoice in her success, to lament her failure. In many branches of
education she had not advanced beyond mediocrity, but her dancing was
perfection; or rather it would have been so, if to her other graces
she had added the charm of gaiety. But that want, as our French
dancing-master used to observe, was so universal in this country,
that the wonder would have been to see any young lady, whose face in a
cotillion (for it was before the days of quadrilles) did not look as if
she was following a funeral.

Such at thirteen I found Honor O'Callaghan, when I, a damsel some three
years younger, was first placed at Mrs. Sherwood's; such five years
afterwards I left her, when I quitted the school.

Calling there the following spring, accompanied by my good godfather, we
again saw Honor silent and pensive as ever. The old gentleman was much
struck with her figure and her melancholy. "Fine girl that!" observed
he to me; "looks as if she was in love though," added he, putting
his finger to his nose with a knowing nod, as was usual with him upon
occasions of that kind. I, for my part, in whom a passion for literature
was just beginning to develope itself had a theory of my own upon the
subject, and regarded her with unwonted respect in consequence. Her
abstraction appeared to me exactly that of an author when contemplating
some great work, and I had no doubt but she would turn out a poetess.
Both conjectures were characteristic, and both, as it happened, wrong.

Upon my next visit to London, I found that a great change had happened
in Honor's destiny. Her father, whom she had been fond of investing with
the dignity of a rebel, but who had, according to Mrs. Sherwood's more
reasonable suspicion, been a reckless, extravagant, thoughtless person,
whose follies had been visited upon himself and his family, with the
evil consequences of crimes, had died in America; and his sister, the
richly-jointured widow of a baronet, of old Milesian blood, who during
his life had been inexorable to his entreaties to befriend the poor
girl, left as it were in pledge at a London boarding-school, had
relented upon hearing of his death, had come to England, settled
all pecuniary matters to the full satisfaction of the astonished and
delighted governess, and finally carried Honor back with her to Dublin.

From this time we lost sight altogether of our old companion. With her
schoolfellows she had never formed even the common school intimacies,
and to Mrs. Sherwood and her functionaries, she owed no obligation
except that of money, which was now discharged. The only debt of
gratitude which she had ever acknowledged, was to the old French
teacher, who, although she never got nearer the pronunciation or the
orthography of her name than Mademoiselle l'Ocalle, had yet, in the
overflowing benevolence of her temper, taken such notice of the deserted
child, as amidst the general neglect might pass for kindness. But she
had returned to France. For no one else did Honor profess the slightest
interest Accordingly, she left the house where she had passed nearly all
her life, without expressing any desire to hear again of its inmates,
and never wrote a line to any of them.

We did hear of her, however, occasionally. Rumours reached us, vague and
distant, and more conflicting even than distant rumours are wont to be.
She was distinguished at the vice-regal court, a beauty and a wit; she
was married to a nobleman of the highest rank; she was a nun of the
order of Mercy; she was dead.

And as years glided on, as the old school passed into other hands, and
the band of youthful companions became more and more dispersed, one of
the latter opinions began to gain ground among us, when two or three
chanced to meet, and to talk of old schoolfellows. If she had been alive
and in the great world, surely some of us should have heard of her. Her
having been a Catholic, rendered her taking the veil not improbable;
and to a person of her enthusiastic temper, the duties of the sisters of
Mercy would have peculiar charms.

As one of that most useful and most benevolent order, or as actually
dead, we were therefore content to consider her, until, in the lapse of
years and the changes of destiny, we had ceased to think of her at all.

The second of this present month of May was a busy and a noisy day in
my garden. All the world knows what a spring this has been. The famous
black spring commemorated by Gilbert White can hardly have been more
thoroughly ungenial, more fatal to man or beast, to leaf and flower,
than this most miserable season, this winter of long days, when the sun
shines as if in mockery, giving little more heat than his cold sister
the moon, and the bitter north-east produces at one and the same moment
the incongruous annoyances of biting cold and suffocating dust Never was
such a season. The swallows, nightingales, and cuckoos were a fortnight
after their usual time. I wonder what they thought of it, pretty
creatures, and how they made up their minds to come at all!--and the
sloe blossom, the black thorn winter as the common people call it,
which generally makes its appearance early in March along with the
first violets, did not whiten the hedges this year until full two months
later,* In short, everybody knows that this has been a most villanous
season, and deserves all the ill that can possibly be said of it. But
the second of May held forth a promise which, according to a very usual
trick of English weather, it has not kept; and was so mild and smiling
and gracious, that, without being quite so foolish as to indulge in any
romantic and visionary expectation of ever seeing summer again, we were
yet silly enough to be cheered by the thought that spring was coming at
last in good earnest.

     * It is extraordinary how some flowers seem to obey the
     season, whilst others are influenced by the weather. The
     hawthorn, certainly nearly akin to the sloe blossom, is this
     year rather forwarder, if anything, than in common years;
     and the fritillary, always a May flower, is painting the
     water meadows at this moment in company with "the
     blackthorn winter;" or rather is nearly over, whilst its
     cousin german, the tulip, is scarcely showing for bloom in
     the warmest exposures and most sheltered borders of the
     garden.

In a word, it was that pleasant rarity a fine day; and it was also a day
of considerable stir, as I shall attempt to describe hereafter, in my
small territories.

In the street too, and in the house, there was as much noise and bustle
as one would well desire to hear in our village.

The first of May is Belford Great Fair, where horses and cows are sold,
and men meet gravely to transact grave business; and the second of May
is Belford Little Fair, where boys and girls of all ages, women and
children of all ranks, flock into the town, to buy ribbons and dolls and
balls and gingerbread, to eat cakes and suck oranges, to stare at the
shows, and gaze at the wild beasts, and to follow merrily the merry
business called pleasure.

Carts and carriages, horse-people and foot-people, were flocking to the
fair; unsold cows and horses, with their weary drivers, and labouring
men who, having made a night as well as a day of it, began to think
it time to find their way home, were coming from it; Punch was being
exhibited at one end of the street, a barrel-organ, surmounted by a most
accomplished monkey, was playing at the other; a half tipsy horse-dealer
was galloping up and down the road, showing off an unbroken forest pony,
who threatened every moment to throw him and break his neck; a hawker
was walking up the street crying Greenacre's last dying speech, who was
hanged that morning at Newgate, and as all the world knows, made none;
and the highway in front of our house was well nigh blocked up by three
or four carriages waiting for different sets of visiters, and by a
gang of gipsies who stood clustered round the gate, waiting with great
anxiety the issue of an investigation going on in the hall, where one
of their gang was under examination upon a question of stealing a goose.
Witnesses, constables, and other officials were loitering in the court,
and dogs were barking, women chattering, boys blowing horns, and babies
squalling through all. It was as pretty a scene of crowd and din and
bustle as one shall see in a summer's day. The fair itself was calm and
quiet in comparison; the complication of discordant sounds in Hogarth's
Enraged Musician was nothing to it.

Within my garden the genius of noise was equally triumphant. An
ingenious device, contrived and executed by a most kind and ingenious
friend, for the purpose of sheltering the pyramid of geraniums in front
of my greenhouse,--consisting of a wooden roof, drawn by pullies up and
down a high, strong post, something like the mast of a ship,* had
given way; and another most kind friend had arrived with the requisite
machinery, blocks and ropes, and tackle of all sorts, to replace it
upon an improved construction. With him came a tall blacksmith, a short
carpenter, and a stout collar-maker, with hammers, nails, chisels, and
tools of all sorts, enough to build a house; ladders of all heights and
sizes, two or three gaping apprentices, who stood about in the way, John
willing to lend his aid in behalf of his flowers, and master Dick with
his hands in his pockets looking on. The short carpenter perched himself
upon one ladder, the tall blacksmith on another; my good friend, Mr.
Lawson, mounted to the mast head; and such a clatter ensued of hammers
and voices--(for it was exactly one of those fancy jobs where every one
feels privileged to advise and find fault)--such clashing of opinions
and conceptions and suggestions as would go to the building a county
town.

     * This description does not sound prettily, but the real
     effect is exceedingly graceful: the appearance of the dark
     canopy suspended over the pile of bright flowers, at a
     considerable height, has something about it not merely
     picturesque but oriental; and that a gentleman's contrivance
     should succeed at all points, as if he had been a real
     carpenter, instead of an earl's son and a captain in the
     navy, is a fact quite unparalleled in the annals of
     inventions.

Whilst this was going forward in middle air, I and my company were doing
our best to furnish forth the chorus below. It so happened that two
sets of my visiters were scientific botanists, the one party holding the
Linnoean system, the others disciples of Jussieu; and the garden being
a most natural place for such a discussion, a war of hard words ensued,
which would have done honour to the Tower of Babel. "Tetradynamia,"
exclaimed one set; "Monocotyledones," thundered the other; whilst
a third friend, a skilful florist, but no botanist, unconsciously
out-long-worded both of them, by telling me that the name of a new
annual was "Leptosiphon androsaceus."

Never was such a confusion of noises! The house door opened, and my
father's strong clear voice was heard in tones of warning. "Woman,
how can you swear to this goose?" Whilst the respondent squeaked out in
something between a scream and a cry, "Please your worship, the poor
bird having a-laid all his eggs, we had marked un, and so--" What
farther she would have said being drowned in a prodigious clatter
occasioned by the downfal of the ladder that supported the tall
blacksmith, which, striking against that whereon was placed the short
carpenter, overset that climbing machine also, and the clamor incident
to such a calamity overpowered all minor noises.

In the meanwhile I became aware that a fourth party of visiters had
entered the garden, my excellent neighbour, Miss Mortimer, and three
other ladies, whom she introduced as Mrs. and the Misses Dobbs; and the
botanists and florists having departed, and the disaster at the mast
being repaired, quiet was so far restored, that I ushered my guests into
the greenhouse, with something like a hope that we should be able to
hear each other speak.

Mrs. Dobbs was about the largest woman I had ever seen in my life,
fat, fair, and _fifty_ with a broad rosy countenance, beaming with
good-humour and contentment, and with a general look of affluence over
her whole comfortable person. She spoke in a loud voice which made
itself heard over the remaining din in the garden and out, and with a
patois between Scotch and Irish, which puzzled me, until I found from
her discourse that she was the widow of a linen manufacturer, in the
neighbourhood of Belfast.

"Ay," quoth she, with the most open-hearted familiarity, "times are
changed for the better with me since you and I parted in Cadogan Place.
Poor Mr. Dobbs left me and those two girls a fortune of---- Why, I
verily believe," continued she, interrupting herself, "that you don't
know me!"

"Honor!" said one of the young ladies to the other, "only look at this
butterfly!"

Honor! Was it, could it be Honor O'Callaghan, the slight, pale, romantic
visionary, so proud, so reserved, so abstracted, so elegant, and so
melancholy? Had thirty years of the coarse realities of life transformed
that pensive and delicate damsel into the comely, hearty, and to say
the truth, somewhat vulgar dame whom I saw before me? Was such a change
possible?

"Married a nobleman!" exclaimed she when I told her the reports
respecting herself. "Taken the veil! No, indeed! I have been a far
humbler and happier woman. It is very strange, though, that during my
Cinderella-like life at school, I used always in my day-dreams to make
my story end like that of the heroine of the fairy tale; and it is
still stranger, that both rumours were within a very little of coming
true,--for when I got to Ireland, which, so far as I was concerned,
turned out a very different place from what I expected, I found myself
shut up in an old castle, fifty times more dreary and melancholy than
ever was our great school-room in the holidays, with my aunt setting
her heart upon marrying me to an old lord, who might, for age and
infirmities, have passed for my great grandfather; and I really, in my
perplexity, had serious thoughts of turning nun to get rid of my suitor;
but then I was allowed to go into the north upon a visit, and fell in
with my late excellent husband, who obtained Lady O'Hara's consent to
the match by the offer of taking me without a portion; and ever since,"
continued she, "I have been a very common-place and a very happy woman.
Mr. Dobbs was a man who had made his own fortune, and all he asked of
me was, to lay aside my airs and graces, and live with him in his own
homely, old-fashioned way amongst his own old people, (kind people they
were!)his looms, and his bleaching-grounds; so that my heart was opened,
and I grew fat and comfortable, and merry and hearty, as different from
the foolish, romantic girl whom you remember, as plain honest prose is
from the silly thing called poetry. I don't believe that I have ever
once thought of my old castles in the air for these five-and-twenty
years. It is very odd, though," added she, with a frankness which was
really like thinking aloud, "that I always did contrive in my visions
that my history should conclude like that of Cinderella. To be
sure, things are much better as they are, but it is an odd thing,
nevertheless. Well! perhaps my daughters...!"

And as they are rich and pretty, and good-natured, although much more
in the style of the present Honor than the past, it is by no means
improbable that the vision which was evidently glittering before the
fond mother's eyes, may be realised. At all events, my old friend is, as
she says herself a happy woman--in all probability, happier than if the
Cinderella day-dream had actually come to pass in her own comely person.
But the transition! After all, there are real transformations in this
every-day world, which beat the doings of fairy land all to nothing; and
the change of the pumpkin into a chariot, and the mice into horses, was
not to be compared for a moment with the transmogrification of Honor
O'Callaghan into Mrs. Dobbs.





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