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The Old Manor House:

278

CHAPTER XXIII.

Orlando found Monimia alarmed and dejected; but hardly giving himself time to re-assure her, and account for his long absence, he besought her to hasten to her room—I hope, said he, and believe the house is quite uninhabited on this side still, for all the servants are in the hall. My brother is missing, and I have promised my father to find him and conduct him home. What a task! for I know not where to look for him; not a moment must be lost, since my family are in such cruel alarms. However, I will wait here, my Monimia, till I think you are safe in your turret, and then set out—I know not whither—on this search.

Monimia hastened to do as he desired. But is Betty, said she, in the hall? I have reasons, which I have not now time to explain, for believing they are together. I know not, answered Orlando, whose fears every moment increased; I care not what happens if you are but once in safety.

Monimia then with light and timid steps passed through the adjoining parlour. She found all that end of the house deserted, and regained the long passage which led from her turret to the apartment of her aunt. All was quiet; and she flattered herself that Mrs. Lennard, occupied by the attention necessary to be shewn to the guests, had for once omitted the ceremony of locking the doors of that part of the house, and particularly hers, at the usual hour. In this hope she tripped along the passage, and had just reached the door of her own room, when Mrs. Lennard, with a candle in her hand, appeared at the other end. There was no hope of escape—She stood trembling, unable to open the lock, which she held in her hand; while her aunt 279 with a hasty step and an angry countenance advanced towards her—Hey-day, Madam! cried Mrs. Lennard, pray, what makes you here? so dressed too, I assure you! I thought I had ordered you not to leave your room. Pr’ythee, Miss, where have you been? and how have you dared to disobey my orders?

Dear aunt, cried the affrighted Monimia, in a voice almost inarticulate through fear—Dear aunt! be not so very angry—Every year till now you were so good as to give me leave to go into the hall gallery to look at the dancers for a quarter of an hour. I dressed myself in hopes that some time in the evening I should see you to ask leave—it grew very late, you did not come to my room, and so—

And so, hussey, you left it without, did you?—Monimia, unwilling to advance another direct falsehood, remained silent; and Mrs. Lennard, fixing her fierce enquiring eyes upon her, said sternly, Monimia, there is something in your conduct which I do not under­stand—I suspect that you are a very wicked girl—I have had hints given me more than once, that you are imposing upon me, and ruining yourself.

How can I impose upon you, Madam? said Monimia, who, believing the crisis of her fate was now approaching, tried to collect a little spirit—How can I impose upon you? Do you not always confine me to my room, and have I any means of leaving it without your consent?

That is what I am determined to discover, cried Mrs. Lennard—(Monimia became paler than before)—You have a false key, or you have some other means of getting out—However, it is not at present a time to enquire into this. Go now, Madam, to your room, and to your bed. Having seen you here is enough to convince me, that the intelligence 280 I have had given me is not without grounds. Come, Miss, as you may perhaps choose to set out again—if you have, as I suspect, the means of opening the door—I shall wait here till you are in bed, and take away the candle.

Monimia, who dreaded nothing so much as that Orlando might ascend the secret stairs, in order to enquire if she was safe, while her aunt was yet with her, hastened to undress herself; and as she feared that, if all were silent in her room, Orlando might speak without the door, which would inevitably discover them at once, she wished, for the first time in her life, that the copious stream of eloquence with which the pleasure of scolding always supplied Mrs. Lennard might now continue in full force—she therefore contrived to say something which she imagined would produce this, and she succeeded. Provoked at Monimia’s attempt to excuse or defend herself, and impatient at being kept from the party below, in which she considered herself, now that her lady and the guests were withdrawn, as the first figure, Mrs. Lennard spared not her lungs, nor was she very nice in the choice of those epithets which most forcibly expressed her anger against her niece. In the midst of this harangue, Orlando, impatient to know whether Monimia was safe, and unable to set out in search of his brother till he had obtained this satisfaction, softly ascended the narrow stairs, and in a moment was convinced that all their escapes, during this perilous evening, had ended in a complete discovery of their intelligence; for to nothing less could he impute the fury in which Mrs. Lennard appeared to be. Under this impression, his spirits and temper quite exhausted by the various perverse accidents that had within a few hours befallen him—irritated by frequent disap­pointment, and indignant at the insults to which he 281 believed Monimia was at the moment exposed, he was on the point of bursting into the room, declaring his affection for her, and meeting at once the invectives of her aunt, the renunciation of all his hopes from Mrs. Rayland, and the displeasure of his own family. He blamed himself for not having before taken a step which, whatever might be its future consequence, would at least be decisive, and save Monimia from those cruel alarms and distressing conflicts to which his love had so long made her liable. But at the moment that his hand was lifted to execute this rash purpose, the storm within seemed to abate: he heard Mrs. Lennard say—I assure you, that the very next time I see or hear the least grounds for believing you are carrying on such a corre­spondence, that day shall be the last of your stay under this roof. This gave Orlando hope that they might not be absolutely discovered; and at the same moment the idea of his father made more unhappy, and deploring the fate that gave him two sons equally careless of their duty—of his beloved and affectionate mother weeping at the disobedience of her children—arose forcibly to check his precipitate resolution. He hesitated; he listened; Mrs. Lennard spoke lower, but still in a tone of remonstrance and reproach. He determined to wait to speak to Monimia after her departure, but she seemed not likely to depart; and as he attentively listened to what he could not now very exactly distin­guish, the terms in which she expressed her indignation, he heard several voices calling him in the park. This was a new alarm—To issue from the lower part of the turret at such an hour, when it was impossible he could have any business there, was not to be thought of: yet the door was not closed, and he believed it not improbable that the people who he apprehended were in search of his 282 brother, might at length seek him there; as his intoxication, when he was missing, might lead them to imagine that he might have gone into some of the buildings and have fallen asleep. He descended therefore, and waited at the door. The voices were now at a distance; and apparently being near the apartment of Mrs. Rayland, the persons who had before called aloud were afraid of disturbing her. He seized this opportunity of escaping; and, following the sound, which was still heard at intervals, he met at length the groom and the under footman, who told him that Mr. Philip Somerive had returned about a quarter of an hour before into the room, where he was now so extremely riotous that he had got into a quarrel with one of the young farmers; that he had stripped to box; and that every interposition of theirs only served to enrage him more. They therefore besought Orlando to return into the hall, that he might appease and prevail upon his brother to go home; for that their Lady, already alarmed by the noise, had sent down orders to have the house immediately shut up, and for the people to depart. A thousand times during the course of this evening had poor Orlando execrated his own folly, that had thus brought his brother into an house, where, while he had been such an unceasing torment to him, he had probably effectually ruined himself. But there was now not a moment to give way to these repentant reflections. He hastened therefore into the room, where his brother, awakened from the stupor of drunkenness into its most extravagant phrensy, had taken some offence at a young man of the company, and was now withheld only by the united strength of three stout farmers from fighting. Orlando for some time argued and implored in vain. The fury of Philip only changed its object, and was directed against him. But 283 with his opponent, whose blunt English spirit was not, as he declared, at all disposed to yield tamely to the insults of any ’squire, no not the biggest ’squire, in the king’s dominions, the cool reasoning of Orlando had more effect. He soothed then this justly offended rustic, and, promising that Philip should hereafter acknowledge the impropriety of his behaviour, he prevailed on him to depart with Pattenson and some other of the men into another room; and then his brother being almost exhausted, and relapsing again into stupidity, Orlando wished to conduct him home. This was however, on consideration, found to be impossible; for he was equally unable to ride or walk, even with the assistance which Orlando was very ready to lend him. In this dilemma nothing remained but to put him into his own bed; where, being at a great distance from Mrs. Rayland, there was no probability of her knowing the state to which his intemperance had reduced him. This then he determined to do. Pattenson and a party of the men who were in habits of drinking had already withdrawn: the women were huddling away to their respective homes; and Orlando, with the help of the groom, carried off the almost senseless Philip to his own bed-chamber, where he left him on his bed; and then, harassed and unhappy as he was, fatigued with all that had happened, and torn to pieces with anxiety about Monimia, he yet had another task to perform, which he felt, however painful, to be necessary—and this was, to walk to West Wolverton, that, by his account of Philip he might quiet the fears of his father as to his personal safety.

He arrived there, quite worn out with uneasiness; and the pale countenance and dishevelled hair with which he entered the parlour, seemed to confirm all the fears with which the unfortunate Somerive had 284 been tormented on account of his eldest son. He found him walking backwards and forwards in the parlour, listening to every noise: and he had passed the whole interval in this manner, except that he had now and then gone up stairs to his wife, whom he had prevailed upon to go to bed, to persuade her to mitigate those fears under which he was himself agonized. At this juncture the appearance of Orlando, whose looks seemed to speak only of some sad catastrophe, deprived his father for a moment of the power of asking what intelligence he brought; and when he could speak, it was only to say—Orlando! your brother? He is safe, dear Sir, answered Orlando; pray be not thus alarmed. Relate then, cried Mr. Somerive in an eager voice, relate where he is—wretched boy! Indeed, Sir, said Orlando extremely shocked at the look and manner of his father, you consider this matter more seriously than it deserves, and are more alarmed than the occasion seems to require. He then related what had happened, softening however his brother’s folly as much as he could; and assured his father that he would take care Philip should return in the morning, and that Mrs. Rayland should be kept ignorant of the confusion his intemperance had occasioned.

You are a noble and excellent creature, Orlando, cried Somerive, with a sigh as if his heart would break; but God knows what will become of your unhappy brother. This relapse into debauchery, so degrading, awakens all my fears—fears, which a little subsided on his unexpected return home. But it is not an hour, my dear boy, to detain you with the misery that I see awaits us all. Since you have given up your bed to Philip, I desire you will take one here, while I hasten to quiet the anxiety which has almost overcome your poor mother, 285 who imagined nothing less than that her son was drowned, or that some other horrid calamity had befallen him.

Mr. Somerive then departed; and Orlando, though somewhat comforted by having the power to relieve the sad solicitude of his parents, was infinitely too uneasy to feel any inclination to sleep, though he was so greatly fatigued. It was by this time daylight; and, after some reflection, he resolved to return back to the Hall, and to await in the library the hour when he should be delivered from the unwelcome inmate whom he had been compelled to admit. Every other anxiety however that assailed him was unfelt, when he thought of the situation in which he had left Monimia. The harsh tones in which the threats of Mrs. Lennard were delivered still rung in his ears; and his fancy represented the lovely victim of her ill humour drowned in tears, yielding to despair, and perhaps recollecting with anguish and regret the moments she had given to his importunate love. It was broad day by the time he returned to the Hall, and the workmen and gardeners were dispersed about the house. He dared not therefore indulge himself with another visit to the turret; but having with some difficulty obtained admittance from the tired and sleepy servants, he wrapped himself in his great coat, and sat down in the Study, where he easily discovered, by the loud snoring from the adjoining room, that Philip was sleeping away the effects of the powerful draughts of the preceding night. Orlando, half tempted to envy the state of forgetfulness into which he had fallen, occupied himself in reflecting on the strange and perverse accidents of the evening, in which he and Monimia had trembled so often on the brink of discovery—perhaps were discovered, just at the time when they 286 had flattered themselves with the hope that they might the more securely meet. He resolved all that was likely to happen if Mrs. Lennard was really acquainted with their corre­spondence; and hesitated not to resolve, in that case, to go to his father, to declare his affection for Monimia, and to rescue her from the tyranny of her aunt, whatever might ensue. On the other hand, if their acquaintance yet remained doubtful, or only suspected, he saw that prudence and duty, his tenderness for Monimia, and his affection for his father, equally dictated their present separation; and that, to whichever of these he listened, they agreed in pointing out his leaving Monimia now, to acquire some establishment which might give them at least a probability, without the breach of any duty, of being happily united hereafter. There was something humiliating to his ingenuous mind, in all the arts and prevari­cations which their clandestine corre­spondence compelled him to use himself, and to teach the innocent Monimia. A thousand times he wished that he had been born the son of a day-labourer; that his parents, entertaining for him no views of ambition, had left him to pursue his own inclinations. A thousand times he lamented that Monimia was not circumstanced like Miss Holly­bourn, that he might openly have addressed her: and the image of the arrogant heiress arose with redoubled disgust to his mind, when he compared her situation with that of his desolate orphan Monimia. More than three hours passed away while these thoughts were fluctuating in his mind. At the end of that time he was aroused by the entrance of Betty, who pertly demanded if he did not choose any breakfast?

He desired to have it brought. To which the girl replied, Perhaps you had rather breakfast with 287 the old women?—Whom do you mean? enquired Orlando.

Mean! answered she; why, who should I mean, but mistress, and mother Lennard? There’s no other old woman in the house as I knows on, nor there had not need. They’ve been enquiring after you.

After me?

Yes, replied Betty. And Madam I suppose will tie you on to her apron-string soon, for she is never easy without you. Upon my word, Mr. Orlando, you look a little rakish though, I think, for such a sober young gentleman, and considering too that you did not demean yourself with dancing as you used to do with us servants, after the gentlefolks were gone. I warrant however that you did not pass the time at prayers.

You give your tongue strange license, said Orlando, who endeavoured to conceal his vexation, for he imagined that all alluded to Monimia. However, do tell me, if Mrs. Rayland wishes me to breakfast with her?

I knows nothing about her wishes, replied the girl; I only knows that Lennard have been asking every servant in the house about you, and cross-questioning one so that I suppose she thoft I had got you locked up in my cupboard, as they say she used for to have the men-folk in her younger days in the housekeeper’s store-room. The old woman and the oven for that! Set a thief to catch a thief!

I do desire, said Orlando, that you would have done with all this, and tell me whether Mrs. Lennard expects me at breakfast? However, added he, pausing, I will alter my dress, and wait upon her at all events; and do be so good as to prepare in the mean time some breakfast for my brother.

Betty then left him apparently with pleasure to 288 execute this last commission; and Orlando, after changing his clothes, went to Mrs. Lennard’s room to enquire whether Mrs. Rayland wished to speak to him, and at what time he might wait upon her. This however was not his only motive; he thought he should immediately discern by Mrs. Lennard’s reception of him, whether his fears of a partial or an entire discovery were well founded. He fortunately found Mrs. Lennard in the housekeeper’s room; and, accosting her with his usual interesting address, he enquired how Mrs. Rayland did after the fatigues of the evening, how she was herself, and whether he might at any time that morning make a personal enquiry after Mrs. Rayland?

The sage housekeeper received his civilities with great coldness, and answered, even with some asperity, that Mrs. Rayland was much better than ever she could have expected after so much company. As to your enquiring after her, Sir, added she, I don’t know indeed how that may be; perhaps (fixing on him her penetrating eyes) there are other people in the house after whom you would rather ask.

Orlando, whose conscious blood rose into his cheeks at this speech, felt them glow, and the sensation increased his confusion. No, replied he, hesitating. No, certainly you cannot . . . . . suppose . . . that there is any body . . . . . that I . . . . that I wish to enquire after more than Mrs. Rayland . . . . . I was much afraid that the fatigue would be too much for her.

There are other people, replied the lady, who were fatigued also. I must beg the favour of you, Mr. Orlando, not to interfere with my niece. I suppose it was by your desire or contrivance that she took the liberty of leaving her room last night, contrary to my positive orders.

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Orlando, a little recovered from his consternation, endeavoured to laugh this off, and was proving to Mrs. Lennard that it was impossible for him to have occasioned this disobedience, when a summons came for her to attend Mrs. Rayland; and I was ordered, Sir, said the footman, to desire you would come up also, if you were about the house.

Mrs. Lennard now stalked away with great dignity, and Orlando followed her, more than ever alarmed for Monimia.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXIII

certainly you cannot . . . . . suppose . . . that there is any body . . . . .
[Ellipses . . . make their first appearance. It will not be their last. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, like me, was not prepared to make assump­tions about the significance or non-significance of the dots; the 2nd edition is dot-for-dot identical.]


Selina was too much terrified at the risk Orlando ran


Instead of the reproaches Orlando expected to hear

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.