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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER III.

However trifling the incident was that is related in the foregoing chapter, it so much alarmed the prudent sagacity of Mrs. Lennard, that when, on the 27 following Christmas, Mr. Orlando returned to his occasional visits at the Hall, she took more care than before to prevent any possibility of his ever having an opportunity of meeting Monimia alone; and, as much as she could without being remarked by her Lady, from seeing her at all. But while she took these precautions, she began to think them useless. Orlando was no longer the giddy boy, eager at his childish sports, and watching with impatience for a game of blindman’s buff in the servant’s hall, or a romp with any one who would play with him. Orlando was a young man as uncommonly grave, as he was tall and handsome. There was something more than gravity, there was dejection in his manner; but it served only to make him more interesting. He now slept oftener than before at the Hall, but he was seen there less; and passed whole days in his own room, or rather in the library; where, as this quiet and studious temper recommended him more than ever to Mrs. Rayland, she allowed him to have a fire, to the great comfort and benefit of the books, which had been without that advantage for many years.

Mrs. Lennard, who now beheld him with peculiar favour, though she had formerly done him ill offices, seemed willing to oblige him in every thing but in allowing him ever to converse with her niece, who was seldom suffered to appear in the parlour, but was kept to work in her own room. Mrs. Rayland’s increasing infirmities, though not such as threatened her life, threw the management of every thing about her more immediately into the hands of Mrs. Lennard; and, occupied by the care of her own health, Mrs. Rayland’s attention to what was passing around her was less every day, and the imbecility of age hourly more perceptible. She therefore made no remark on this change of system; but 28 if she happened to want Monimia, or, as she chose to call her, Mary, she sent for her, and dismissed her when her service was performed, without any farther enquiry as to how she afterwards passed her time.

Orlando, however, though he had, since his last return, never spoken a word to Monimia, and though, in their few and short meetings, the presence of Mrs. Lennard prevented their exchanging even a look, was no longer at a loss to discriminate those sentiments which he felt for the beautiful orphan, whose charms, which had made almost in infancy an impression on his heart, were now opening to a perfection even beyond their early promise. Her imprisonment, the harshness of her aunt towards her, and her desolate situation, contributed to raise in his heart all that the most tender pity could add to the ardency of a first passion. Naturally of a warm and sanguine temper, the sort of reading he had lately pursued, his situation, his very name, all added something to the romantic enthusiasm of his character; but in the midst of the fairy dreams which he indulged, reason too often stepped in to poison his enjoyments, and represented to him, that he was without fortune, and without possession—that, far from seeing at present any probability of ever being able to offer an establishment to the unfortunate Monimia, he had to procure one for himself. It was now he first felt an earnest wish, that the hopes his relations had sometimes encouraged might be realized, and that some part of the great wealth of the Rayland family might be his; but with this he had no new reason to flatter himself; for Mrs. Rayland, though she seemed to become every day more fond of his company, never took any notice of the necessity there was, that now in his nineteenth year he 29 should fix upon some plan for his future establishment in the world.

This necessity however lay heavy on the heart of his father, who had long felt with anguish, that the misconduct of his eldest son had rendered it impossible for him to do justice to his younger. With a small income and a large family, he had never, though he lived as economically as possible, been able to lay by much money; and what he had saved, in the hope of accumulating small fortunes for his daughters, had been paid away for his eldest son in the first two years of his residence at Oxford; the third had nearly devoured the five hundred pounds legacy given to the family by the elder Mrs. Rayland; and the first half-year after he left the university, and which he passed between London and his father’s house, entirely exhausted that resource; while Mr. Somerive in vain represented to him, that, in continuing such a career, he must see the estate mortgaged, which was the sole dependence of his family now, and his sole dependence hereafter.

So deep, and often so fatal, are early impressions in minds where reason slowly and feebly combats the influence of passion, that though nothing was more certain than that Mrs. Rayland’s fortune was entirely at her own disposal, and nothing more evident than her dislike to him, he never could be persuaded that, as he was the heir at law, he should not possess the greater part of the estate; and he was accustomed, in his orgies, among his companions, to drink “to their propitious meeting at the Hall, when the old girl should be in Abraham’s bosom,” and not unfrequently “to her speedy departure.” He settled with himself the alterations he should make, and the stud he should collect; proposed to refit in an excellent style the old kennel, 30 and to restore to Rayland Hall the praise it had formerly boasted, of having the best pack of fox hounds within three counties. When it was represented that the possibility of executing these plans was very uncertain, since the old lady certainly preferred Orlando, he answered—Oh! damn it, that’s not what I’m afraid of—No, no, the old hag has been, thanks to my fortunate stars, brought up in good old fashioned notions, and knows that the first-born son is in all Christian countries the head of the house, and that the rest must scramble through the world as well as they can—As for my solemn brother, you see nature and fortune have designed him for a parson. The tabby may like him for a chaplain, and means to qualify him by one of her livings for the petticoats; but take my word for it, that however she may set her weazen face against it, just to impose upon the world, she likes at the bottom of her heart a young fellow of spirit—and you’ll see me master of the Hall. Egad, how I’ll make her old hoards spin again! Down go those woods that are now every year the worse for standing. Whenever I hear she’s fairly off, the squirrels will have notice to quit.

It was in vain that the mild and paternal arguments of Mr. Somerive himself, or the tears and tender remonstrances of his wife, were employed, whenever their son would give them an opportunity, to counteract this unfortunate prepossession. He by degrees began to absent himself more and more from home; and when he was there, his hours were such as put any conversation on serious topics out of their power. He was never indeed sullen, for that was not his disposition; but he was so thoughtless, so volatile, and so prepossessed that he had a right to do as other young men did with whom he had been accustomed to associate, that 31 his father gave up as hopeless every attempt to bring him to his senses.

The greater the uneasiness to which Mr. Somerive was thus subject by the conduct of his eldest son, the more solicitous he became for the future establishment of the younger. But he knew not how to proceed to obtain it. He had now no longer the means of sending him to the university, of which he had sometimes thought, in the hope that Mrs. Rayland might, if he were qualified for orders, give him one of the livings of which she was patroness; nor could he, exhausted as his savings were by the indiscretion of his eldest son, command money enough to purchase him a commission, which he once intended. Sometimes he fancied that, if he were to apply to Mrs. Rayland, she would assist in securing an establishment in future for one about whom she appeared so much interested at present; but he oftener apprehended, from the oddity and caprice of her temper, that any attempt to procure more certain and permanent favours for Orlando, might occasion her to deprive him of what he now possessed.

Mrs. Somerive, though a woman of an excellent under­standing, had contracted such an awe of the old lady, that she was positively against speaking to her about her son; while maternal partiality, which was indeed well justified by the good qualities and handsome person of Orlando, continually suggested to her that Mrs. Rayland’s prepossession in his favour, if left to take its course, would finally make him the heir of at least great part of her property.

Thus his father, from uncertainty how to act for the best, suffered weeks and months to pass away, in which he could not determine to act at all; and as more than half those weeks and months were 32 passed at the Hall, his mother fondly flattered herself, that he was making rapid advances in securing to his family the possessions they had so good a claim to.

Neither of them saw the danger to which they exposed him, of losing himself in an imprudent and even fatal attachment to a young woman, while they supposed him wholly given up to acquire the favour of an old one; for in fact Mrs. Lennard had so artfully kept her niece out of sight, that neither of them knew her—they barely knew that there was a young person in the house who was considered in the light of a servant; but whether she was well or ill looking, it had never occurred to them to enquire, because they never supposed her more acquainted with their son than any other of the female domestics.

Poor Orlando, however, was cherishing a passion, which had taken entire possession of his heart before he was conscious that he had one, and which the restraints that every way surrounded him served only to inflame. Monimia now appeared in his eyes, what she really was, infinitely more lovely than ever. She was on his account a prisoner, for he learned that when he was not in the country she was allowed more liberty. She was friendless, and harshly treated; and, with a form and face that he thought would do honour to the highest rank of society, she seemed to be condemned to perpetual servitude, and he feared to perpetual ignorance; for he knew that Mrs. Rayland had, with the absurd prejudice of narrow minds, declared against her being taught any thing but the plainest domestic duties, and the plainest work. She had, however, taught herself, with very little aid from her aunt, to read; and lately, since she had been so much alone, she had tried to write; but she had not 33 always materials, and was frequently compelled to hide those she contrived to obtain: so that her progress in this was slow, and made only by snatches, as the ill humour of her aunt allowed or forbade her to make these laudable attempts at improvement.

Her apartment was still in the turret that terminated one wing of the house, and Orlando had been at the Hall the greater part of a fortnight, without their having exchanged a single word. They had indeed met only twice by mere accident, in the presence of the lady of the mansion and of Mrs. Lennard; once when she crossed the hall when he was leading the lady to her chair out of the gallery; and a second time when she was sent for on an accession of gout, to assist in adjusting the flannels and cushions, which Mrs. Rayland declared she managed better than any body.

As she knelt to perform this operation, Orlando, who was reading a practical discourse on faith in opposition to good works, was surprised by her beautiful figure in her simple stuff gown, which had such an effect on his imagination that he no longer knew what he was reading: but, after half a dozen blunders in less than half a dozen lines, he became so conscious of his confusion that he could not proceed at all, but, affecting to be seized with a violent cough, got up and went out. Again, however, this symptom escaped Mrs. Rayland, who, though she read good books as a matter of form, and to impress people with an idea of her piety and under­standing, cared very little about their purport, and was just then more occupied with the care of her foot than with abstract reasonings on the efficacy of faith.

In the mean time Monimia, who blushed if she beheld the shadow of Orlando at a distance, and 34 whose heart beat at the sound of his voice, as if it would escape from her bosom, had never an opportunity of hearing it, unless he accidentally spoke to some person in the room under hers, where she knew he often went, and particularly at this season, which was near the end of February, when the ponds were drawn, and the nets and poles in frequent use: but the door by which this room opened to the court was on the other side. Monimia had only one high long window in a very thick wall that looked into the park: whenever therefore, as she sat alone in her turret, she heard any person in the room beneath her, she listened with an anxious and palpitating heart, and at length fancied that she could distin­guish the step of Orlando from that of the game-keeper or any of the other servants.

If she was thus attentive to him, without any other motive than to enjoy the pleasure of fancying he was near her, Orlando was on his side studying how to obtain an opportunity of seeing her; not in the intention of communicating to her those sentiments which he now too well understood, but in the hope of finding means to make her amends for the injustice of fortune. If there was any dependence to be placed on expression of countenance, the animation and intelligence that were visible in the soft features of Monimia promised an excellent under­standing. What pity that it should not be cultivated! What delight to be her preceptor, and, in despite of the malignity of fortune, to render her mind as lovely as her form! This project got so entirely the possession of Orlando’s imagination, that he thought, he dreamed of nothing else; and, however difficult, or even impracticable it seemed, he determined to undertake it.

35

Mrs. Lennard slept at some distance; but there was no other way of Monimia’s going into any part of the house but by a passage which led through her room; for every other avenue was closed up, and the last thing she did every night was to lock the door of the room where her niece lay, and to take away the key.

The window was equally well secured, fur it was in effect only a loop; and of this, narrow as it was, the small square of the casement that opened was secured by iron bars. The Raylands had been eminent royalists in the civil wars, and Rayland Hall had held out against a party of Fairfax’s army that had closely besieged it. Great part of the house retained the same appearance of defensive strength which had then been given it; and no knight of romance ever had so many real difficulties to encounter in achieving the deliverance of his princess, as Orlando had in finding the means merely to converse with the little imprisoned orphan. Months passed away, in which his most watchful diligence served only to prove that these difficulties were almost insur­mountable; nor would he perhaps, with all the enthusiasm of love and romance, have ever conquered them, if chance had not befriended him.

Mrs. Rayland had given him, under restriction that he should use it only while he was at the Hall, a very fine colt, which was of a breed of racers, the property of the Raylands, and very eminent in the days of Sir Hildebrand. Out of respect to its ancient prowess, the breed was still kept up, though the descendants no longer emulated the honours of their progenitors on the turf: but the produce was generally sold by the coachman who had the management of the stable, and who was supposed to have profited very considerably by his dealings.

36

Orlando, highly gratified by this mark of Mrs. Rayland’s favour, undertook to break the young horse himself, and to give it among other accom­plishments that of leaping. There was no leaping-bar about the grounds; but in the lumber-room on the ground floor of one of the turrets he had seen the timber of one that had formerly stood in the park. To this place, therefore, he repaired; and in removing the large posts, which were very little injured by time, some other slabs of wood, boards, and pieces of scaffolding were moved also, and Orlando saw that they had concealed a door, formerly boarded up, but of which the boards were now broken and decayed; he forced away a piece of the rotten wood, and saw a flight of broken stone steps, just wide enough to admit one person with difficulty. His heart bounded with transport: he knew that this stair-case must lead to the top of the turret, and consequently wind round the room occupied by Monimia, which it was probable had a communication also with the stairs. But, unable to determine in a moment how he should avail himself, or acquaint her, of this fortunate discovery, and trembling lest it should be known, and his hopes at once destroyed, he hastily replaced the spars of wood that had concealed the door, before the return of the gardener and the under game-keeper, who had been assisting him in his operations about the leaping-bar; and hastily following them to the spot where they were putting it up, he affected to be interested in its completion, while his mind was really occupied only by plans for seeing without fear of discovery his adored Monimia.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter III

she took more care than before to prevent any possibility of his ever having an opportunity of meeting Monimia alone
[As far as I can make out, the only reason Mrs. Lennard is doing this is to create an artificial conflict, thereby padding the novel to two volumes. She isn’t even saving Monimia for some disgusting old man, which would have made a satisfactory filler for this first volume.]

a fire, to the great comfort and benefit of the books
[Deposit libraries are ideally kept somewhat cooler than ordinary room temperature. But the fire probably reduced the humidity.]

the first-born son is in all Christian countries the head of the house
[God, as we all know, is an Englishman. It seems to have escaped this particular firstborn son’s notice that, since his descent is from a sister of Sir Hildebrand, he’s got no claim on the estate at all unless it is explicitly willed to him.]

the danger to which they exposed him, of losing himself in an imprudent and even fatal attachment to a young woman
[That is to say: of doing exactly what Somerive’s father had done. The word “fatal” does seem a bit over the top, though.]

who blushed if she beheld the shadow of Orlando at a distance, and whose heart beat at the sound of his voice
[She wept with delight when he gave her a smile, and trembled with fear at a frown. Spoiler: Monimia’s personality will not become any more nuanced as the chapters roll by.]


The confidential servant, or rather companion and femme de charge of Mrs. Rayland


Love rendered Orlando so politic

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.