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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER XXXVI.

Exhausted by the fatigue of body and mind, Orlando would probably have lost the painful recollection of what had passed within the last eight-and-forty hours by transient forgetfulness; but even this was not permitted him: the orders for immediate embarkation were so strict, and the commander of the squadron which was to convoy the transports so impatient to execute the directions of Government, that every thing was hurry and confusion; and Orlando, far from being allowed time to think of what he had left, found the care of the company devolve almost entirely upon him: the men were for the most part raw recruits; the captain, the younger son of an illustrious house already raised to that rank (though not so old as Orlando), was not come down; and the lieutenant, a man near 98 fifty, was almost incapacitated from attending his duty by the agonies of his wife and a family of several children, who, as they had been in lodgings in a neighbouring town ever since his return from America the preceding year, now assembled around him to bid to their only protector and support a last farewell.

The short notice he had received of his departure had prevented his settling many things for them which were now indispensable; the moment therefore Orlando arrived, this officer (whom he had not before seen) related to him his situation; and Orlando, in generously endeavouring to alleviate his troubles by taking as much business from him as he could, found his additional fatigue well repaid by the necessity it laid him under to detach his mind from his own regret and anxiety. At the first dawn of day he was at the Point—embarking the men and baggage; and the scene of distracting hurry that now presented itself, the quarrels and blasphemy with which the beach resounded, the confusion among the soldiers and sailors, the rage of the commanders and the murmurs of the commanded, the eager impatience of those who had articles to buy for their voyage, and the unfeeling avarice of others who had them to sell, formed altogether a scene as extraordinary as it was new to Orlando, who had never been from the neighbourhood of the Hall except for a few weeks, which were either passed in pleasure in London, or in a quiet country town; he heard therefore, with a mixture of wonder and disgust, the human tempest roar in which he was now engaged, and for the first time enquired of himself what all this was for?

This was not a place or hour when such a question, however naturally it occurred, could be answered—He was to act, not to speculate; and hardly 99 had he a moment to reflect that, hurried as he was to be, he should not have the satisfaction (if satisfaction it might be called) of seeing Isabella and Warwick before he went himself on board; after which it would be impossible to know what became of them, at least not till his arrival in America. Amid the tumult that surrounded him, this gave him infinite disquiet. A thousand fears for his sister crowded on his mind; he apprehended she might by some accident be prevented in such a place meeting Warwick; he trembled lest, if she did, his conduct towards her, when she was entirely in his power, might be dishonourable. Such were the distressing reflections of Orlando in every momentary pause the confusion of the scene allowed him. But whatever uneasiness he felt, the time permitted him to have no mitigation; and, in the evening of the day after his arrival at Portsmouth, he found himself on board a transport with the greater part of that company to which he belonged, and about an equal number of dragoons with their horses. The wind though violent, blew down the channel; and at night-fall, all previous orders being given, they obeyed the signal for getting to sea. It was not till they were many miles at sea that Orlando had time to consider his situation: then, the tumult having a little subsided, he saw himself in a little crowded vessel, where nothing could equal the inconvenience to which his soldiers were subjected, but that which the miserable negroes endure in their passage to slavery*. Indifferent to this so far as it merely related to himself, he could not see the sufferings to which the men were likely to be exposed without 100 concern. All of them were young and new to the service; and the captain was too attentive to his own delicacy to have time to give the poor fellows all the alleviation their condition allowed them; and, on the second day of their voyage, he found his own situation so unpleasant, that he went in a boat on board one of the frigates, the commander of which was distantly related to him, and obtained of him for the rest of the voyage a birth more suitable to a man of fashion than a crowded transport could afford him.

* It has lately been alledged in defence of the Slave Trade, that Negroes on board Guineamen are allowed almost as much room as a soldier in a Transport:—Excellent reasoning!

Orlando, the lieutenant (who was half broken-hearted), and a cornet of horse, were left in charge of the men; and it was perhaps fortunate for the former, that he was so incessantly called upon to attend to his duty that he had hardly a moment to command but for repose, and, occupied about others, could think but little of himself.

They had now been so long at sea, that the fresh-water sailors had conquered the first uneasy sensations given by that element, except the young cornet, who was the only son of a very opulent family, and heir to an immense fortune: during a very long minority his mother had so humoured him, that even his request to enter the army, though extremely opposite to her wishes, could neither be evaded nor denied. The smart uniform of a light horseman appeared to him extremely desirable; and the possibility of danger in such a service never occurred to him, nor would he listen to it when it was represented by others. He had hardly put on this seducing attire, and provided himself with a very beautiful horse, before he was ordered abroad; and now sick and desponding, this unhappy child of foolish affluence wanted a nurse much more than a broad sword—No puling girl just out of the nursery was ever more helpless, and 101 Orlando at once despised and pitied him; but found that, having been friendly enough to offer him his assistance, his new acquaintance soon leaned entirely upon him; and that, having been used to have every one around him at his command, he received every friendly attention which compassion extorted from others, as matters of course.

The fleet had now passed Madeira, without however touching at it, and were launched into the great Atlantic Ocean. Hitherto their voyage had been prosperous and quick; and a short time promised to terminate it; but the heat of the weather operating on the crowds of men and of horses stowed in such a vessel, now began to be severely felt. A fever of the malignant kind broke out; and within a week five men sickened of it, of whom three died; and the other two, more like spectres than living creatures, seemed by their partial recovery only to be reserved for more lingering sufferings.

Nor was that the worst; for the disease, after a cessation of a few days, broke out afresh, and Orlando saw his men depressed and dispirited, sinking around him its easy victims. Contrary winds, or sullen calms which allowed them to make very little way, added to the hopelessness of their situation, and the other transports could afford them little assistance; for in some the same cruel distemper had begun its ravages, and those who were yet free from it dreaded the infection. It was now that Orlando felt the justice of that pathetic description, given by Thomson, of the mortality at sea before Carthagena, where he addresses the admiral, as witnessing

“The deeply racking pang, the ghastly form,

The lip pale quivering, and the beamless eye

No more with ardour bright—

—— —— —— —— the groans

Of agonizing ships —— ——”

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and as having then heard

“Nightly plunged amid the sullen waves,

The frequent corse.”

From such a scene, whenever the distresses of his men (whom in despite of the danger of infection he attended with paternal kindness) or the terrors of the little effeminate cornet would allow him a moment’s respite, he escaped as much as he could by passing the evenings on deck; for the heat below was more dreadful to him than even the want of sleep or any other inconvenience. He frequently took the night watch; and at other times wrapped himself in a great coat, and lay down where he might at least have air. On these occasions sleep would not always befriend him; and then all he had left, his Monimia, his family, the Hall, the rural happiness he had enjoyed in his native country, forcibly presented themselves in contrast to the wretchedness around him; and when he considered a number of men thus packed together in a little vessel perishing by disease; such of them as survived going to another hemisphere to avenge on a branch of their own nation a quarrel, of the justice of which they knew little, and were never suffered to inquire; he felt disposed to wonder at the folly of mankind, and to enquire again what all this was for?

He sometimes, however, endeavoured to persuade himself that it was for glory: he had been taught to love glory—What so sacred as the glory of his country? To purchase it no exertion could be too great—to revenge any insult on it, no sacrifice should be regretted. If, for a moment, his good sense arose in despite of this prejudice, and induced him to enquire if it was not from a mistaken point of honour, from the wickedness of governments, 103 or the sanguinary ambition or revenge of monarchs, that so much misery was owing as wars of every description must necessarily occasion; he quieted these doubts by recurring to history—our Henries and our Edwards, heroes whose names children are taught to lisp with delight as they are bid to execrate the cruel Uncle* and the bloody Queen Mary; and he tried to believe that what these English Kings had so gloriously done, was in their descendants equally glorious, because it went to support the honour of the British name.—Then Alexander, Cæsar, and all the crowned murderers of antiquity—they were heroes too whom his school studies had taught him to admire, and whom his maturer reflection had not yet enabled him to see divested of the meteor glare which surrounded them. There was something great in their personal valour, in their contempt of death; and he did not recollect that their being themselves so indifferent to life was no reason why, to satisfy their own vanity, they should deluge the world with human blood. There were indeed times when the modern directors of war appeared to him in a less favourable light—who incurred no personal danger, nor gave themselves any other trouble than to raise money from one part of their subjects, in order to enable them to destroy another, or the subjects of some neighbouring potentate. Nor had he, after a while, great reason to admire the integrity of the subordinate departments, to whom the care of providing for troops thus sent out to support the glory of their master was entrusted. The provisions on board were universally bad; and the sickness of the soldiers was as much owing to that cause as to the heat of climate. Musty oat-meal, 104 half-dried pease, and meat half spoiled before it had been salted down, would in any situation have occasioned diseases; and when to such defective food, their being so closely stowed and so long on board was added, those diseases increased rapidly, and generally ended fatally. But it was all for glory. And that the ministry should, in thus purchasing glory, put a little more than was requisite into the pockets of contractors, destroy as many men by sickness as by the sword, made but little difference in an object so infinitely important; especially when it was known (which, however, Orlando did not know) that messieurs the contractors were for the most part members of parliament, who under other names enjoyed the profits of a war, which, disregarding the voice of the people in general, or even of their own constituents, they voted for pursuing. Merciful God! can it be thy will that mankind should thus tear each other to pieces with more ferocity than the beasts of the wilderness? Can it be thy dispensation that kings are entrusted with power only to deform thy works—and in learning politics to forget humanity?

* Richard the Third.

Orlando, embarked in a cause of which he had hardly ever thought till he was called upon to maintain it, was insensibly visited by reflections like these; but whenever they recurred he drove them from him as much as he could, and endeavoured to cherish the fond hope that all might yet be well; that Isabella, about whom he was haunted with a thousand fears, was in some of the vessels which were now all assembled in one fleet—for the slowness of their progress had enabled those ships which last sailed to overtake them; and that on his landing he should meet Warwick and his sister, and anticipate with them the fortunate hour of his return to England.

105

As the perilous situation of Isabella occupied his thoughts, whenever he could a moment detach them from the scene before him, he made several efforts to learn, if she was in any of the vessels near which he often found himself; but in none of them could he gain information of an officer of the name of Warwick. He then contrived to send a message to the captain of the frigate, one of the convoy, with whom Warwick had told him he was acquainted; but this officer, to the infinite disap­pointment of Orlando, told him in answer to his letter, that it was true his friend Warwick had sent some of his baggage on board, and a negro servant; but that, after waiting for him till the last moment, it became absolutely necessary for him to sail without him. This account only served, therefore, to increase the uneasiness of Orlando, who now feared that, instead of being able on his landing in America to write instantly to his father with an account, both of himself and his sister, he should only add to the disquiet which he believed her flight must have occasioned to her family: nor was he at all satisfied that Warwick’s dishonourable conduct towards her was not the cause of their not being in the fleet, which he was now almost persuaded they were not.

If at any time he had obtained a short interval of repose, these cruel images haunted him; but as the voyage was prolonged, and the discomforts of his condition became more severe, he found abundant reason to rejoice that he had resisted the alluring temptation offered to him by Warwick, and had not exposed his Monimia to difficulties and distresses, under which many around him had sunk: and in this self-congratu­lation he found the first reward of virtue; a sensation which soothed all his sorrows, and enabled him to support the accumulated evils which now pressed upon him.

106

The fleet was now within four days sail of New-York; or at least the sailors, though it was a dead calm, declared that they had no doubt but before the end of that time they should get in thither. The sick men revived a little with the intelligence; and the rest bore with less dejection the funeral of the dead (for two days had not for some time passed without a funeral) and the loss of the horses, of which a third had already perished. Orlando, to escape the intolerable smells below, now always passed the night on deck, and was sleeping on it when the noise occasioned by a sudden change of the weather awakened him: he got up, as well to be out of the way, as to assist the sailors, who were soon all busily employed; for in a few moments it blew a hurricane. The darkness of the night and the violence of the storm were horrors, greatly increased by the apprehension the seamen expressed, that they should be driven against some of the other vessels and sunk: and this appeared extremely probable; for, by the flashes of lightening, the transports in company were seen driven about, sometimes within a few yards of each other—guns of distress were heard, but none were in a condition to assist the rest; nor was it possible for a boat to live in a sea that ran mountains high, and threatened to overwhelm even the men of war which formed the convoy.

Orlando, to whom as a novice in maritime adventures the danger seemed even greater than it was, imagined that death was inevitable, because it had never appeared to him so near before. He thought, however, not so much of the event, as of the effect the intelligence of it would have on those infinitely dearer to him than himself—He heard the agonizing shrieks of his mother, the more silent but more destructive anguish of his father, the tears of his 107 sisters, unable to suppress their own grief while they attempted to administer comfort to their parents, and above all the sufferings of his gentle Monimia, sufferings more acute because she dared not complain. Yet, when the vessel strained so much that the seamen declared they every moment expected the timbers to part, Orlando again thanked God that Monimia was not with him. The despair of the lieutenant was solemn and silent;—he believed that the hour was come when he was to leave his family destitute in a world where, with all his exertions, his want of interest had not afforded him the means of supporting them by that perilous profession to which he had dedicated his life. But he bore this certainty (for there seemed not the least hope of escape) like a soldier and a man; he assisted the sailors; he encouraged the soldiers; and endeavoured, with a calmness of mind which gave Orlando an exalted opinion of him, to inspire others with that hope he did not himself feel. To Orlando only he declared his opinion that they must perish; and he spoke in approbation of the fortitude with which so young a man, and one so unaccustomed to look on danger and death, bore this intelligence; but with the little cornet he could not keep his temper, who, half dead with terror, lamented himself aloud in terms unmanly and ridiculous; and who, though he declared himself too much affected by the violent heaving of the ship to keep the deck a moment, ran up continually to ask puerile questions of the seamen, and to distract their attention by his complaints and clamours.

Morning at length appeared, but the wind rather increased than abated; and the light of day served only to shew the horrors of their situation, and of some of their companions in distress, who were still in sight, for the men of war were no longer visible; 108 and of the three transports who were near them, one was dismasted, and another without her rudder was driven about a wreck upon the waves, under bare poles. From this vessel, which the first dawn of day discovered close to them, they heard repeated signals of distress. Whenever the mountainous waves afforded them a view of her, they saw the people, among whom were two or three women, appearing on her deck, apparently in all the agonies of despair. Orlando was suddenly struck with the idea that this vessel might contain his sister; and with dreadful solicitude he watched it, till in the confusion of his thoughts, he fancied he really discerned her—All care for his own safety was then at an end; and he entreated the commander of the ship he was in to allow him to attempt in a boat to go on board, in the hopes of administering some help: but this the man positively refused, giving very loud and short reasons, in terms which Orlando did not under­stand, why such an attempt would be fatal to whoever undertook it, without being of the least use to those for whom it was undertaken. More and more impressed with the idea that Isabella was among the women, whose terrors he saw distinctly on the deck of the other vessel, he now hardly possessed his senses, and was on the point of plunging into the waves, tremendous as they were—when, as his eyes were fixed wildly and eagerly on it, he saw it sink, and the sea bury all it contained! There was hardly time to utter an exclamation of horror, when some of the unhappy people appeared so near the ship, that the sailors, though so likely to share the same fate, endeavoured to save them; but two only, stout men who swam strongly, were snatched from the raging element. The rest soon disappeared, never to rise again!

The force of the wind was now somewhat lessened, 109 and the men were inspired by some degree of hope to greater exertions. About ten o’clock the storm was so much abated that the master was able to take an observation; and he found himself many leagues out of his course. No ship remained in sight but one transport at a great distance, and the vessel yet drove too much to allow them to attempt altering her course. Their immediate danger, however, gradually diminished; and every man on board, who was able to work, laboured, in despite of the fatigue they had undergone, to repair their rigging, and remedy the damages the hull had sustained. The sick, who had for many hours been neglected, were now visited; and one soldier was found dead. As to the horses that remained, they had all been thrown overboard during the most imminent peril, as their weight occasioned the ship to labour so much more than she would do without them. The dead soldier was committed to the waves; and as Orlando, with glazed eyes, saw him deposited in his watery grave, and recollected all the horrors of the preceding night, he again involuntarily inquired of himself, whether such things were to be accounted the dispensations of Heaven—or, if they were the works of man, why they were permitted? The terrible idea that Isabella had perished in that ship he saw sink still haunted him, and redoubled by imaginary sorrow all that he saw or suffered. The poor fellows who had been taken up were so terribly bruised, and had swallowed so much water, that they were not yet sensible. As soon as they were, however, Orlando eagerly questioned them as to the females whom he had, through the obscurity of the dark and dashing waves, discovered on the deck; and he learned, to increase his misery, that one of them was a young lady, whose husband was an officer of foot, and who was 110 himself either in the fleet, or coming with the next convoy. The sailor who gave him this information knew not which, nor did he know the lady’s name, or to what regiment her husband belonged. The other women, he said, were, one of them the lady’s servant, and the other the wife of a serjeant in Orlando’s regiment: which seemed to add to the probability that the young person who had perished was Isabella. There hardly needed this sad conjecture to add to the despondency which, in despite of all his steady courage, now took possession of Orlando—despondency which he found it extremely difficult to conceal. Strong as his constitution was, it yielded, at length, to the united power of malignant infection, uneasiness, and fatigue, and when, after beating about above ten days, the vessel at length reached the harbour of New York, he was taken on shore in a state of insensibility, from the fever which had attacked him; and his friend, the old lieutenant, saw him accommodated as well as the circumstances the place was under would admit; and, feeling for him the affection of a father, shed over the blasted hopes of a youth so promising, tears, which his own misfortunes had never extorted from him.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXXVI

formed altogether a scene as extraordinary as it was new
text has seen
[Corrected from 2nd edition. Anna Laetitia Barbauld would happily have spelled it “web sight”.]

[Footnote] It has lately been alledged
[It is reassuring to note that, although Charlotte Smith was wholly on the side of the colonists, her sympathies didn’t extend to condoning slavery.]

the captain was too attentive to his own delicacy
text has two attentive

obtained of him for the rest of the voyage a birth more suitable
[I still think it’s a mistake, but it seems to be the author’s preferred spelling.]

that pathetic description, given by Thomson
[Summer, lines 1044-49, as seen elsewhere on this site. It’s a single conti­nuous passage; the long string of dashes spanning lines 3-4 represent the two syllables “you heard”:

Saw the deep-racking pang, the ghastly form,

The lip pale-quivering, and the beamless eye

No more with ardour bright; you heard the groans

Of agonising ships, from shore to shore;

Heard, nightly plung’d amid the sullen waves,

The frequent corse—

I don’t know if the author realized how apposite her quotation was. The man doing the hearing and seeing is Admiral Edward Vernon, who figured in the battle of Cartagena de Indias in what is now Colombia. A certain Lawrence Washington thought so highly of Vernon, he named his family estate in his honor; the estate later passed to Lawrence’s younger half-brother George.]

[Footnote] Richard the Third
[Is the author worried that, at some time between mid-1777 (the current dramatic date) and 1793 (her publication date), the English reader would forget all about an epithet that must have been in use for nearly three centuries? Or should the blame fall on J. Bell, the original publisher?]

the slowness of their progress had enabled those ships which last sailed to overtake them
[I’m not absolutely certain that’s how sailing works.]

this officer . . . told him in answer to his letter
[Pics or it didn’t happen.]

as well to be out of the way, as to assist the sailors
[I can’t help but think that the best assistance Orlando can render the sailors is, in fact, to keep out of their way.]


Torn by these distracting contests between love and duty


By the medical skill of the surgeon of the regiment

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.