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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER XXI.

At length Mrs. Rayland was seated at the upper end of the hall, near the fire—the General placed himself by her, and the Doctor strutted round her—the other ladies were opposite; and the dance began.

Poor Orlando, whose heart beat not responsive to the music, made, however, an effort to conceal his vexation. His partner, who had learned for many years of the most celebrated master, exerted all her knowledge of the art, and displayed all her graces to attract him; while he, hardly conscious of her existence, proceeded mechanically in the dance; and so little penetration had the spectators, that his absence, or distaste to what he was about, was wholly unperceived, while Mrs. Rayland could not help observing to the Doctor how well Orlando performed—Is he not, said she, a fine young man?

Indeed he is, Madam, replied the Doctor, who had now the opening he so long wished for; a very 252 fine young man, I think; and he became an inch higher as he spoke. I think indeed that this island produces not a finer couple than your kinsman, Madam, and the daughter of your humble servant.

Mrs. Rayland, who loved not female beauty, whether real or imaginary, did not so warmly assent to this as the Doctor expected; who, not discouraged, squatted himself down in the place the General had that moment vacated (who could not forbear walking after Isabella down the dance), and thus proceeded:

I assure you, dear Madam, I have often spoken most highly in praise of your sagacity and discernment in electing the young Orlando as your favourite and protegé. He is a fine young man—good, prudent and sensible; and, I am sure, grateful for your bounty. I dare say that he will do well; for, under your auspices, there are few men even of consideration and fortune, who, having daughters, would not be proud of an alliance with him.

Mrs. Rayland answered rather coldly, I believe Mr. Orlando has no thoughts of marrying—He is yet too young.

He is young, to be sure, Madam; but, for my own part, I must observe, that early marriages founded, as no doubt his would be, alike on prudence and inclination, generally turn out happily. As to my own girl, undone as I and Mrs. Holly­bourn must to be sure feel without her, I declare to you that, though she is so young, I should not hesitate to dispose of her to a man of even her own age, if I were convinced that he was a prudent, sober young man, unlike those sad examples of folly and extravagance that we see before our eyes every day; a young man who had had a virtuous education, which in my opinion is a private one; a young man of family and of good expectations—I 253 say, Madam, that on such a one, though his present fortune be unequal to Miss Holly­bourn’s expectations, I should not hesitate, young as she is, and living as I do only by gazing on her, to bestow her with twenty thousand pounds down, and—I will say nothing of future expectations—I am, I bless the Father of all mercies, in a prosperous fortune—I have seventeen hundred a year in church preferment; my own property, which I have realised in land, is somewhat above twelve hundred. When I have given my girl her little marriage portion, I have still something handsome in the three per cents, and in India stock a trifle more. My brother-in-law, the bishop, has no children, and my daughter will inherit the greatest part of his fortune. So you see, Madam, that, to say nothing of her personal and mental accom­plishments, which to be sure it ill becomes a father to insist upon—I say, reckoning only her pecuniary advantages, there are few better matches in England.

The Doctor, who knew that Mrs. Rayland loved money, imagined she could not fail of being attracted by this history of his wealth, nor misunder­stand his meaning in giving it: but he had for once mistaken his ground. Mrs. Rayland, though she loved her own money, loved nobody the better for having or affecting to have as much. She knew that, rich as Doctor Holly­bourn now was, he began his classical career as a servitor at Oxford; and that his brother-in-law the bishop, from whose nepotism his wealth and consequence had been in great measure derived, was the son of an innkeeper. Though she always spoke highly of his piety, and his high-church principles, she had ever contemned his efforts to make himself be considered as a man of family: nor did she feel much disposed to encourage any scheme to make Orlando independent of her by 254 marriage, still less an attempt to extort from her a decision concerning him; which, whatever her real sentiments might be, she was not of a temper to declare. For all these reasons she heard the conversation of Doctor Holly­bourn very coldly, and only said, that to be sure Miss was a very accom­plished young lady; and having such a fine fortune, might expect to marry in high life.

Still the Doctor was not repulsed; and, fancying that he had not yet spoken plain enough, he went on to enlarge on his notions of happiness, and on his views for his daughter. High life, he said, in the common acceptation of the word, was not his ambition. It was real domestic happiness, and not unnecessary and unmeaning splendour, he desired for his dear girl—a good husband untainted with the vices and false philosophy of a dissolute age—an handsome country residence, where she might be received into an ancient and religious family—were rather his objects. A title, added he, a title has its advantages no doubt, and especially if it be an ancient title, one that brings to the mind the deeds of the glorious defenders of our country—men who have shed their honourable blood in defence of the Church of England, and their King—who bled in the cause for which Laud and his sainted master died. When I hear such names, and see their posterity flourishing, I rejoice—When I learn that such families, the honour of degenerate England, are likely to be extinct, my heart is grieved. And how should I be thankful, how feel myself elevated, if my daughter, marrying into such a family, should restore it, while my interest might obtain a renewal in her posterity of the fading honours of an illustrious race!

This was speaking at once pompously and plainly. But Mrs. Rayland was more offended by the air of 255 consequence assumed by the Doctor, than flattered by the fine things he said of her family; and she so little concealed her displeasure, that Mrs. Somerive, long weary of the parading and supercilious conversation of Mrs. Holly­bourn, and who saw, by the Doctor’s frequently looking towards Orlando, that the discourse was about him, and that Mrs. Rayland was displeased with it, arose and came towards them: she said something to Mrs. Rayland merely with a view to break the discourse, which was, however, immediately done much better by the General, who, afraid of being too particular, now left Isabella; and returning to the seat Doctor Holly­bourn had seized, he cried, Come, come, my good Doctor, we soldiers are a little proud of our favour with the ladies, and we do not patiently see ourselves displaced by you churchmen. I shall not relinquish my seat by my excellent hostess.

The Doctor then got up; and fancying, from the softness and sweetness of Mrs. Somerive’s manner, that he should in her meet a willing auditor, and perhaps the very best he could find for a scheme which acquired every moment new charms in his imagination, he asked if he should attend her to the other end of the room to look at the dancers; to which, as she was extremely restless and uneasy by the long absence of her eldest son, whom she every moment hoped to see enter, she readily assented.

The General then took possession of the post the Doctor had quitted; and being more used to every kind of approach, he made infinitely more progress with Mrs. Rayland, in obtaining her consent to Orlando’s entering the army, than the Doctor had effected for his scheme, notwith­standing the splendour of his fortune, the accom­plishments of his daughter, or his mention of his brother the bishop.

In the mean time the poor young man, who was 256 rendered by Mrs. Rayland’s favour an object sought for by the divine, and by his own spirit an object of dread to the soldier, was half distracted, and knew not what he was about. It was now past the hour when he had promised Monimia to bring Selina to her; for, not expecting the unwelcome addition of the Holly­bourn family, he concluded that, after going down a dance with one of the buxom daughters of the principal tenant, he could have slipped away at the end of it; and whispering his mother that he was going to shew Selina some of his drawings, and how he had ornamented his little tapestry room, that he might account for her absence, he should have had an uninterrupted hour with his most beloved sister and his Monimia.

Instead of this he now found himself fixed for the whole night to Miss Holly­bourn; who had already declared that she found herself in such a humour for dancing, and that really the whole set was so much more tolerable than she expected, that she should not very soon wish to sit down. Poor Orlando, who had no excuse to ofter for quitting her, had no hope but in the arrival of his brother, to whom he flattered himself he might resign this unenvied honour at least for one dance: but even this hope was very uncertain; for Philip might perhaps return no more to the room, or if he did, might be unwilling to accept the felicity of dancing with Miss Holly­bourn, for he was not of a humour to put himself out of the way for any one; and, as he very seldom danced at all, would now, if he did join the dancers, much more probably select for his partner one of the handsome daughters of the tenants, with whom he could be more at home.

Thus the time which Orlando expected to have passed in so different a manner wore away. In vain he looked towards the door—no brother arrived 257 to succour him. The second dance was already at an end; and Isabella, who had, with her mother’s permission, accepted the hand of a rich young farmer, while Selina and Emma danced together, had already called a third, and was flying down with a spirit and gaiety which quite enchanted her ancient lover; while Orlando, who on account of Miss Holly­bourn still kept a place near the top, was preparing with an heavy heart to follow her, when his father, with an expression of extreme concern on his countenance, approached, and asked him it he knew where his brother was?

No, Sir, indeed I do not, answered Orlando; I cannot even guess—but, for God’s sake, give me leave to go look for him. I see you are very uneasy at his absence.

I am indeed, replied Mr. Somerive, and your mother much more so.

Let me go, dear Sir, then, said Orlando eagerly.

No, no, answered his father:—Go down this dance, and take no notice—if then he does not come, go see if you can find him. I have been in search of him myself, but to no purpose. I fancied he might be in your room. I went to the library door, for I could have sworn I heard somebody walking there; but the door was locked, and I called and knocked at it in vain. If Philip was there, he had some reason—no good one, I fear—for not answering.

Orlando, now ready to sink into the earth, yet unable to fly from his intolerable task, began the dance, after having been twice called upon by his partner; but thinking only of the terror Monimia must have been in, while, shut up in the library, she heard his father at the door, and overwhelmed with vexation at being thus detained from her, he could no longer command that portion of attention that 258 was requisite even to the figure of the dance. But having blundered four or five times, turned the wrong women, and run against the men, then missed his time, and put every body out, he said in a hurrying way to Miss Holly­bourn, who began to be much discomposed by his mistakes—I really beg a thousand pardons, but Isabella’s dance is so extremely difficult I cannot go down it—I shall only distress you, Madam, by my blunders; had we not better go to the bottom?

Dear Sir, cried the lady bridling, I can find no such difficulty in it. If you would only take the trouble to attend a moment, I am sure I could explain it to you so that you could not make a mistake.—Now only observe—We first pass between the second and third couples—and I lead out the two gentlemen, and you the two ladies—then meet and allemande—then le moulin at bottom—then I turn the third gentleman—then you——

Orlando, unable to command himself, said, still more confusedly, No, upon my honour, I shall never do it. I am very sorry to disap­point you, Madam; and wish I could for this dance have recommended you another partner. He then bowed, and was walking away, when she bounced after him.

You don’t imagine there is any other person here, cried she, biting the end of her fan—I hope you don’t imagine there is any body else here with whom I shall dance!

Pardon me, Madam, said Orlando, taking her hand; here is my elder brother, who has even a better right to that honour than I have. At this moment his eyes were gratified by the sight of Philip, to whom he, without waiting for Miss Holly­bourn’s answer, led her, and cried, Dear Phil, here am I in the most awkward distress imaginable; Miss Holly­bourn wishes to dance this dance down, 259 and I am so stupid I cannot do the figure. I am sure you will be very happy to supply my place.

Philip, who was never much disposed to sacrifice his own pleasure to the gratification of others, and who had schemes of his own on foot, answered with less than his usual ceremony (for he was never more polite for having drank a good deal):

A-hey, Sir Rowland! who told you so? How the devil should I, who am no dancer, execute what is too difficult for so perfect a caperer as thou art—Sir Knight?

Mortified beyond endurance at being thus rejected, Miss Holly­bourn, disengaging her hand with an angry jerk from Orlando’s, said haughtily—Pray Mr. Orlando, spare yourself this trouble; I am content to sit still. She then walked away; and Orlando, not giving himself time to consider what he did, said in a whisper to Philip—If you have any compassion, my dear Phil, take her for this dance—I will be grateful, believe me, and will not desire to punish you with her above half an hour.

D—n her, a little carroty, pug-nosed moppet! cried Philip, as ugly and as insolent as the devil—why should I take the trouble to humour her?

It will oblige me beyond expression, answered Orlando; it will oblige my father and mother.

Philip just then recollecting that he was upon his good behaviour, agreed, though with an ill grace; and Orlando eagerly carrying him up to Miss Holly­bourn, who sat fanning herself and swelling at the top of the room, began a speech, in which he blundered worse than he had done in dancing; but Philip took it out of his hands, and said—Madam, I am so much in an habit, in this house, of giving the pas to my brother here, Sir Rowland, that I really dared not aspire to the honour of your fair hand till I perfectly understood that he had relinquished 260 it for the present dance; but as he has now explained himself, if you will allow me the bliss of being his double, I will acquit myself to the best of my poor abilities; and if you, charming Miss Holly­bourn, will deign to instruct me, you shall find, that under so lovely a preceptress I shall make up in docility for deficiency of practice.

Miss Hollybourn had so little natural sense among all her acquirements, that this speech, which from its substance, and still more from the manner of its delivery, was evidently meant in ridicule, seemed to her to be very polite, and made very much in earnest. She therefore, casting a look towards Orlando, much less sweet than those she had favoured him with towards the beginning of the evening, assented with a smirk to the proposal of his brother—and immediately joined the dancers; while Orlando, trembling lest some new interruption should again deprive him of the sight of Monimia, hastened to find Selina, to whom he beckoned, and whispered to her to come round another way, where he would meet her, that their going out together might not be remarked. He changed his mind about speaking to his mother, fearing lest she should propose going too, if the object was only to shew Selina his room; and he thought it better to risk an enquiry after Selina, which perhaps might not be made, or, if it were, might easily be answered.

It was the custom on these occasions for the inferior servants not to come into the hall till the Lady and her company, if she happened to have any, were withdrawn. When the business of the dinner and tea tables was over, they became spectators from a railed gallery, which over the entrance to the hall made a communication between the principal apartments above. Here the upper 261 house-maid, the footmen, and the cook had been stationed—Betty, (most superb in red ribbands,) not quite so long as the rest.

Monimia had been forbidden by Mrs. Lennard to appear at all during any part of the evening; an injunction which she was not at all disposed to disobey. She was far, therefore, from envying Betty, who came into her room all in a flutter, as soon as she was dressed, to shew her finery, and descant on the pleasure she expected in dancing when Madam was gone, and the gentlefolks, and boasting how many solicitations she had already had from the young men. Monimia, glad to get her out of the room, thought only of fulfilling her engagement with Orlando, and of the pleasure and comfort of being made known to one of his sisters; yet her timidity and diffidence made her fear this interview as much as she wished it. Unconscious of the interesting sweetness of her countenance, and the simple graces of her form, she feared lest Selina might think her brother’s affection ill placed, and blame his attachment to an object of so little merit. Under these impressions, she would have given herself all the advantages that dress afforded; but her scanty wardrobe left her very little choice, and she had no means of varying her appearance from what it usually was—a white muslin gown being the utmost of her finery. She took care, however, to dispose her hair in the most becoming manner she could; and having finished her little toilet, she descended with a palpitating heart and a light step to the part of the house through which she was to pass in going to the Study. It was now empty, for all the servants were in the gallery, waiting the departure of their Lady, to join the festivity of the night; and Monimia glided through the north wing, which was never at any time inhabited, and 262 without any misadventure reached the Study, where she waited in trembling suspense the arrival of Orlando and Selina.

Every body being engaged in the middle of the house, that part of it was as silent as if there was no bustle in the other, except the distant sound of the music in the great hall, to which Monimia, with the door of the Study a-jar, involuntarily listened; when she was suddenly alarmed by a voice in the adjoining parlour, talking and laughing, and apparently romping, and a man’s voice answering in a half whisper, and begging of the first person, whom she knew to be Betty, to be more quiet. As her being discovered in Orlando’s Study would have ruined her peace for ever, she shut-to the door as softly as she could, and turned the key. The conversation between the two people without appeared to be so animated, that she flattered herself they did not hear her; but as she still remained listening at the door, hardly daring to breathe, her terror was increased by hearing them approach and attempt to open it. Egad! it is locked, cried a voice which Monimia then first discovered to be young Somerive:—Does Sir Rowland always lock his door?

Generally he does, replied the other, but I dare say among the house keys there’s one that will open it—yet, hang it, don’t let us try. He’ll come perhaps, and that you know will be very disagreeable.

He come! said Philip—No, no, he’s safe enough—He dares as well jump into the fire as quit the post where the old woman has placed him—Come, come,—see if there’s no other key will open this door. Besides, as to his coming, what should he come here for? ’Tis more likely, if he can get away, he’ll go to visit Miss in the turret.

263

Lord! cried Betty, how you have that notion stuffed in your head—when I tell you again and again, he no more meets Miss, as you calls her, than the child unborn. Sure I should know—She! a poor innocent silly thing! I don’t believe he takes any account of her—But hush! Oh gemini! who’s there?

The voice of the elder Somerive was now heard, calling aloud in the passage leading to the parlour they were in for his eldest son. Philip! cried he, Philip!—where are you?

’Tis my father, said Philip—Cannot we get out without meeting him?

Oh yes, replied Betty; follow me, and don’t speak for all the world.

She then opened another door which led out into the garden, which, as Orlando usually came in that way, was seldom locked; and as all this had passed in the dark, they glided away unperceived—not a moment however before Mr. Somerive, entering with a candle the room they had quitted, gave a new alarm to the terrified Monimia. Mr. Somerive, who had heard the footsteps of the fugitives as they left the parlour, imagined somebody was walking in the Study—He therefore tried the door, on the other side of which poor Monimia still stood trembling, and again loudly called on Philip Somerive; entreating him, if he was there, to answer him, and representing all the ill consequences of his thus disappearing abruptly, after having been received into an house where he had before given offence, but where it was so material for him to be thought well of. No answer however was returned; and at length Monimia heard Mr. Somerive close his fruitless remonstrance with a deep sigh, and depart.

These repeated alarms now seemed to subside, and a dead silence ensued, but still Orlando came 264 not. Monimia, not daring to have a candle lest the light should be discerned under the door, sat down in the window-seat which was the nearest to it to listen for his arrival, though doubting from what his brother had said whether he would arrive at all. The large old library, half furnished with books and half hung with tapestry, and where the little light afforded by a waning moon gleamed faintly through the upper parts of the high casements which the window shutters did not reach, was perhaps the most gloomy apartment that fancy could imagine. Monimia looked round her, and shuddered—The affright she had undergone in the chapel, though it was explained, still dwelt upon a mind which had so early been rendered liable to the terrors of superstition; and she looked towards the door that opened to the passage of the chapel, fancying some hideous spectre would appear at it: or she reasoned herself out of such an idea, only to give way to one more horrid: and figured to herself that the ruffian whom Orlando had described to her, and whose name was held in dread by the whole country, might enter at it as he had once done before. Against this apprehension she might have been secured by satisfying herself that the door was locked; but she had not courage to cross the room.

Sitting therefore and listening to every sound, she again distin­guished the music in the great hall, which, as the wind swelled or fell, floated through the rest of the house; and she could not help contrasting that scene of festive mirth with her dark and gloomy solitude: How happy, said she, are the Miss Somerives, and this other young lady! They, under the sanction of their parents, are gaily enjoying an innocent and agreeable amusement; while I, a poor unprotected being, wander about in darkness 265 and in dread, and, though I do nothing wrong, undergo the terrors and alarms of guilt. But, do I not act wrong? Alas! I am afraid I do—It must be wrong to carry on a clandestine corre­spondence, to meet by stealth a young man whom his friends would discard were they to know he met me at all—It must surely be wrong to incur imputations from which, if once they are believed, it is impossible I can ever be vindicated—wrong to let Orlando hazard, for me, the loss of Mrs. Rayland’s favour—and wrong to put myself in the way of being believed no better than the servant, of whose light conduct I have seen so many instances, besides that which this moment happened, of her privately meeting Mr. Philip Somerive. How could I bear to be thought of by others as I think of her! and yet I seem to act as culpably. Oh Orlando! surely if you thought of this, you, who are so generous, so anxious for my happiness, would never expose me to it. Yet we must meet thus, or never meet at all! and could I bear to be deprived of seeing him for the little, the very little time that is yet to pass before he is sent from hence—never—never perhaps to return?

This sad idea filled her eyes with tears; and she was not recovered from the agony into which it threw her, when she again heard footsteps in the parlour—Somebody trode lightly along. Monimia listened, and fancied there was more than one person—Immediately the lock was turned; and the door being fastened, a voice, which she recognized with joy for that of Orlando, said, in a half-whisper: Monimia! are you not there? It is Selina and I—open the door therefore without apprehension. Monimia remembered, with affright, that the voices of the two brothers bore a great resemblance to each other, and she again hesitated. But Orlando speaking 266 louder, and her recollecting that his brother could not know that Selina was to accompany him, she, though with trembling apprehension, turned the key, and Orlando and his sister appeared.

Let me, cried he, as he put Monimia into the arms of Selina—let me unite in bonds of everlasting friendship the two loveliest and most beloved of beings! Selina tried to say, Whoever is dear to Orlando is so to me, and I rejoice in thus being allowed to say so. But, though she had innocently studied the sentence, she was too much confused to make it articulate: and Monimia was quite unable to speak at all. In a moment, however, Orlando, attempting to hide the uneasy flutter of his own thoughts, approached them with a candle which he had lit at the embers of his fire; and, reminding them how short their interview must be, bade them both sit down—and let us, added he, endeavour to enjoy moments so brief and so precious.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXI

Poor Orlando . . . proceeded mechanically in the dance
[In one of the “Provincial Lady” books, E. M. Delafield quotes the once-popular song “I am dancing with tears in my eyes, ’cos the girl in my arms isn’t you”, observing that this sentiment is rather hard on the girl actually being danced with.]

her scanty wardrobe left her very little choice
text has scantywardrobe without space

with the door of the Study a-jar
hyphen in the original

but she had not courage to cross the room
[I hope Orlando realizes, before it is too late, that his Monimia is not simply timid and downtrodden. She suffers from a severe anxiety disorder, and needs professional help.]

Somebody trode lightly along.
[She might mean “trod”; she might mean “strode”. I am not prepared to guess—and neither was Anna Laetitia Barbauld, since the 2nd edition has the same word.]


Monimia, secure of the tenderest affection of her lover


Selina was too much terrified at the risk Orlando ran

The Old Manor House:
Introduction and Contents

 

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.