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The Old Manor House:

37

CHAPTER IV.

Love rendered Orlando so politic, that he determined rather to defer the happiness he hoped for, in gaining unmolested access to Monimia for two or three days, than to risk by precipitancy the delightful secret of the concealed door, and to watch the motion of the dragon whose unwearied vigilance might at once render it useless. He therefore set himself to observe the hours when Mrs. Lennard was most certainly engaged about her mistress; and he found, that as she indulged very freely in the pleasures of a good table, of which she was herself directress, she became frequently unwilling to encounter much exertion after dinner; and generally left Monimia (who either did not dine below, or retired with the table cloth) unmolested till six o’clock, when, if he was not there, she was called down to make tea.

These hours therefore seemed most propitious for the experiment he must of necessity make, which was to ascend the stair-case, and seek for the door that probably, though now blocked up, had originally led from it into the room inhabited by Monimia; from whence, as it was perhaps only boarded up, he hoped to make her hear, and to prevail upon her to assist in forcing a passage through it.

He knew Mrs. Lennard was less upon the qui vive? when he was not about the house; and therefore, the evening before that when he intended to put his project in execution, he took leave of Mrs. Rayland, and told her that he was going home for a few days, when with her permission he would return. Mrs. Rayland, who now thought the house melancholy without him, bade him come back to 38 the Hall as soon as he could, which he promised with a beating heart, and departed.

The next day, however, having taken the precaution to get a letter of compliment from his father to Mrs. Rayland, the better to account for his quick return, if to account for it should be necessary, he set out on foot after dinner; and as he arrived at Rayland Hall just as the servants of that family were eating theirs, which was always a long and momentous business, he had the good fortune not to meet any one, but to enter the lower room of the turret; and as he had often the key, he now locked the door, and listening very attentively heard Monimia walking above, and convinced himself that she was alone.

As silently as he could he removed the planks and timber that concealed the door; and having so placed them that, without discovering the aperture, they leaned so hollow from the wall that he could get under them, he tore away the remaining impediments that obstructed him, and entered the low stair case, of which about fourteen broken and decayed steps led, as he expected, to another door which was also boarded up, and then wound up to the top of the turret. He stopped a moment and listened; he distinctly heard Monimia sigh deeply, and open a drawer. He considered a moment what way of accosting her would be least likely to alarm her too suddenly, and at length he determined to speak.

After another pause, and finding all was silent in her room, he tapped softly against the boarded door; and lowering his voice he called Monimia, Monimia!

The affrighted girl exclaimed, Good God! who is there? who speaks? Be not affrighted, replied he, speaking louder, it is Orlando. Orlando! and from whence, dear sir, do you speak! I know not, 39 for I cannot tell what part of your room this door opens to; tell me, where do you hear the sound I now make? Against the head of my bed. Cannot you then remove the bed, and see if there is not a door? I can, replied Monimia, if my trembling does not prevent me, for my bed goes upon casters; but indeed I tremble so! if my aunt should come! She will not come, replied Orlando impatiently: do not give way to groundless fears, Monimia; but, if ever you had any friendship for me, exert yourself now, to procure the only opportunity we shall ever have of meeting—remove your bed, and see what is behind it.

Monimia, trembling and amazed as she was, found in the midst of her alarm a sensation of joy that was undescribable. It lent her strength to remove the bed, which it was not difficult to do; but the room was hung with old-fashioned glazed linen, when many years before it had been fitted up as a bed-chamber: this kind of arras entirely hid the door. Ah! cried Monimia, there is no door, Mr. Orlando. The hangings are just the same here as about the rest of the room. Cut them cried he, with your scissars, and you will find there is a door. But if my aunt should discover that they are cut? Oh heavens, exclaimed Orlando, if you are thus apprehensive, Monimia, we shall never meet; but if you have any regard for me——The adjuration was too powerful: Monimia forgot the dread of her aunt in the superior dread of offending Orlando. She took her scissars, and, cutting the hangings, which through time were little more than tinder, discovered the door, which was very thin, and only nailed up, strengthened on the out-side by a few slight deals across it. Orlando, who like another Pyramus, watched with a beating heart the breach through which he now saw the light, forced away the 40 slight barriers with very little difficulty; and then, setting his foot against the door, it gave way, and the remnant of tattered hanging made no resistance. He found himself in the room with Monimia, who from mingled emotions of pleasure and fear could hardly breathe. At length, cried he, I have found you, Monimia! at length, I have got to you. But we shall both be utterly ruined, interrupted she, if my aunt should happen to come; speak low, for heaven’s sake, speak low. I should die upon the spot, if she should happen to find you here.

Let us consider, said Orlando, how we may meet for the future. I do not mean to stay now; but you see this door gives us always an opportunity of seeing each other. But how shall I dare? cried the trembling Monimia: my aunt watches me so narrowly, that I am never secure of being alone a moment: even now perhaps, she may be coming.

So great was the terror which this idea impressed on the timid Monimia, that Orlando saw there was no time to be lost in settling their more secure meetings. Have you, said he, have you, Monimia, courage enough to make use of this door, to come down into the study to me when we are sure all the house is quiet? You know there is a passage to that end of the house, without crossing either of the great courts or any of the apartments, by going through the old chapel, and nobody can hear you. I only propose this, because I suppose you are afraid of letting me come up here.

Oh! either is very wrong, replied she, and I shall be sadly blamed.

Well, then, Monimia, I am deceived, cruelly deceived. I did believe that you had some regard for me, and I protest to heaven that I mean nothing but the purest friendship towards you. I want you to read, which I know you have now no opportunity 41 of doing. I would find proper books for you; for you may one day have occasion for more knowledge than you can acquire in the way in which you now live. Perhaps clandestine meetings might not be right in any other case; but, persecuted as you are, Monimia, we must meet clandestinely or not meet at all. Alas! my dear friend, it may not be long that I may be here to ask this favour of you, or to request you to oblige me for your own good. My father is considering how to settle me in life.

To settle you! said Monimia, faintly.

Yes—I mean, to put me into some profession in the world; and whatever it is, it will of course carry me quite away from hence. As soon as it is determined upon, therefore, Monimia, I shall go—and perhaps we shall never meet again: yet you now refuse to grant me the only happiness that possibly my destiny will ever suffer me to taste—I mean that of being of some little service to you. What harm can there really be, Monimia, in what I request? Have we not lived from children together, like brother and sister? and why should we give up the sweet and innocent pleasure of loving each other, because your aunt is of a temper so detestably severe and suspicious?

Indeed I know not, said Monimia, whose tears now streamed down her cheeks; but I know, Orlando, that I cannot refuse what you ask; for, indeed, I do not believe you would desire me to act wrong.

No, I would die first.

Tell me then, what would you have me do? I tremble so that I am really ready to sink, lest my aunt should come: tell me, dear Orlando, what would you have me do?

Replace your bed as soon as I am gone, and I will take care that no signs shall remain below of 42 the discovery I have made. As soon as the family are all in bed, and you are sure your aunt is gone for the night, I will come up and fetch you into the study; where, whenever I am here, we can read for an hour or two every night: tell me, Monimia, do you agree to this?

I do, replied she; and now, dear Orlando, go; it will soon be tea-time, my aunt will come to call me.

You will be ready then to-night, Monimia.

To-night?

Yes; for why should we lose an hour, when perhaps so few are left me? When I am gone to some distant part of the world, you may be sorry for me, Monimia, and repent that when we could see each other you refused.

The idea of his going, perhaps for ever, was insupportable, and the timid doubts of Monimia vanished before it. She thought at that moment, that to pass one hour with him were well worth any risk—even though her aunt should discover and kill her. She hesitated therefore no longer, but promised to be ready in the evening, and to listen for his signal. Having thus gained his point, Orlando no longer refused to quit her, but returned by his propitious stair-case; and replacing the boards, at its entrance below, as nearly as possible as he found them, he went out unseen by any body; and going back to the road which led through the park, he walked hastily across that part of it that was immediately before the windows of the apartment where Mrs. Rayland sat; and then went into the house, and sent up, as was his custom, to know if he might be admitted. She ordered him to be shewn up, and received him with pleasure; for she just then was in a very ill humour, and wanted somebody in whom she could find a 43 patient listener, while she related the cause of it, and declaimed against the persons who had occasioned it—which was thus:

The estates in this country were very large, and that possessed by the house of Rayland yielded in extent to none, but was equal to that of its nearest neighbour, a nobleman, who owned a great extent of country which immediately adjoined to the manors and farms of Mrs. Rayland, and on which there was also a fine old house, situated in the midst of the domain, at the distance of about five miles from Rayland Hall; the estates divided by a river, which was the joint property of both.

Lord Carloraine, the last possessor of this property, was a man very far advanced in life. Many years had passed since the world in which he had lived had disappeared; and being no longer able or desirous to take part in what was passing about a court, to him wholly uninteresting, and being a widower without children, he had retired above thirty years before to his paternal seat; where he lived in splendid uniformity, receiving only the nobility of the county and the baronets (whom he considered as forming an order that made a very proper barrier between the peerage and the squirality), with all the massive dignity and magnificent dulness that their fathers and grandfathers had been entertained with since the beginning of the century. Filled with high ideas of the consequence of ancient blood, he suffered no consideration to interfere with his respect for all who had that advantage to boast; while, for the upstart rich men of the present day, he felt the most ineffable contempt; and while such were, in neighbouring counties, seen to figure away on recently acquired fortunes, Lord Carloraine used to pique himself upon the inviolability of that part of the world where he lived—and say, that 44 very fortunately for the morals and manners of the country, it had not been chosen by nabobs and contractors for the display of their wealth and taste. And that none such might gain any footing in the neighbourhood, he purchased every farm that was to be sold; and contrived to be so much of a despot himself, that those who were only beginning to be great, shunned his established greatness as inimical to their own.

Mrs. Rayland perfectly agreed with him in these sentiments; and had the most profound respect for a nobleman, who acknowledged, proud as he was of his own family, that it had no other superiority over that of Rayland, than in possessing an higher title. He had been, though a much younger man, acquainted with the late Sir Hildebrand; and whenever Mrs. Rayland and Lord Carloraine met, which they did in cumbrous state twice or thrice a year, their whole conversation consisted of eulogiums on the days that were passed, in expressing their dislike of all that was now acting in a degenerate world, and their contempt of the actors.

But the winter preceding the period of which this history is relating the events, had carried off this ancient and noble friend at the age of ninety-six, to the regret of nobody so much as of Mrs. Rayland. His estate fell to the grandson of his only sister, a man of three-and-twenty, who was as completely the nobleman of the present day, as his uncle had been the repre­sentative of those who lived in the reign of George the First. He cared nothing for the ancient honours of his family; and would not have passed a fortnight in the gloomy solitude of his uncle’s castle, to have been master of six times its revenue. His paternal property and parliamentary interest lay in a northern county; and therefore, as ready money was a greater object 45 to him than land in another part of England, he offered the estate of Lord Carloraine to sale, as soon as it came into his possession; and in a few months it was bought by the son of a rich merchant—a young man lately of age, of the name of Stockton; whose father having had very lucrative contracts in that war which terminated in 1763, had left his son a minor with a fortune, which at the end of a ten years minority amounted to little short of half a million.

The purchase of Carloraine Castle by such a man had given Mrs. Rayland inexpressible concern and mortification, which every circumstance that came to her knowledge had contributed to increase. She had already heard enough to foresee all the incon­veniencies of this exchange of neighbours; on which she dwelt continually, yet seemed to take strange pains to irritate her own uneasiness by daily enquiries into the alterations and proceedings of Mr. Stockton; who, even before the purchase was generally known to be completed, had begun, under the auspices of modern taste, to new model every thing. He came down to Carloraine Castle twice or thrice a week, every time with a new set of company; almost every one of his visitors was willing to assist him in his plan of improvements, and he listened to them all—so that what was built up to-day, was pulled down to-morrow. All the workmen, such as bricklayers, &c. &c. in the neighbourhood, for many miles, were engaged to work at the Castle; and the delicacies which used to be supplied by the neighbouring country, and in which Mrs. Rayland had usually a preference, were now offered first to his honour, ’Squire Stockton:—and his honour’s servants, to whom the regulation of his house was entrusted, were so willing to do credit to their master’s large fortune, that they gave London 46 prices for every thing: the vicinity of affluent luxury was thus severely felt by those to whom it was of much more real consequence than to Mrs. Rayland.

To her, however, this circumstance was particularly grating. She complained bitterly to every body she saw, that poultry, if she had by any accident occasion to buy it, was doubled in price; that the prime sea fish was carried to the Castle; and more money demanded for the refuse than she was accustomed to give for the finest. But with the beginning of September more aggravating offences began also. An army of sportsmen came down to the Castle, who had no respect for the hitherto inviolate manors, nor for the preserved grounds around Rayland Hall, which not even the game-keepers ever alarmed with an hostile sound. Her park—even her park, where no profane foot had ever been suffered to enter, was now invaded; and on the second of September, the day of which the occurrences have been here related, five young men and two servants, with a whole kennel of pointers, had crossed the park, and killed three brace of partridges within its enclosure, laughing at the threats, and threatening in their turns the keepers, who had attempted to oppose them.

No injury or affront that could be devised could have made so deep an impression on Mrs. Rayland’s mind, as such a trespass. She was yet in the first paroxysm of her displeasure, though the occasion of it happened early in the morning, when Orlando was admitted; whose mind, attuned to the harmonizing hope of being indulged with the frequent sight of Monimia, was but little in unison with the petulant and querulous complaints of Mrs. Rayland; while she for above an hour held forth with unwearied invective against the new inhabitant of 47 Carloraine. These, cried she, these are modern gentlemen!—Gentlemen! a disgrace to the name!—City apprentices, that used to live soberly at their shops, are turned sportsmen, forsooth, and have the impudence to call themselves gentlemen. I hear, and I suppose ’tis true enough, that Mr. Philip Somerive thinks proper to be acquainted with this mushroom fellow—and to be one of his party!—Pray, child, can you tell me—is it true?

I believe, madam, my brother has some acquaintance, but I fancy only a slight acquaintance, with Mr. Stockton.

Oh! I have very little curiosity—I dare say he is one of the set, and it is very fit he should. Birds of a feather, you know, flock together. But this I assure you, Mr. Orlando—take this from me—that if you should ever think proper to know that person, that Stockton, your visits here will from that time be dispensed with.

Orlando, conscious that he had never exchanged a word with any inhabitant or visitant of Carloraine, and conscious too that all his wishes were centred in what the Hall contained, assured Mrs. Rayland with equal warmth and sincerity, that he never had, nor ever would have, any connection with the people who assembled there. So far from my wishing to hold with such people any friendly converse, I shall hardly be able to refrain from remonstrating with them on their very improper and unhandsome manner of acting towards you, madam; and if I meet them on your grounds, I shall, unless you forbid me, very freely tell them my opinion of their conduct.

Mrs. Rayland had never in her life been so pleased with Orlando as she was at that moment. The readiness with which he entered into her injuries, and the spirit with which he undertook to 48 check the aggressors, placed him higher in her favour than he had ever yet been; but her way of testifying this her satisfaction, consisted in what of all others was at this moment the most mortifying; for she invited him to stay to supper in her apartment, which was a favour she hardly did him twice a year. Orlando, wretched as it made him, could not make any excuse to escape; and it was near an hour later than usual, before Mrs. Rayland, retiring, dismissed Orlando to watch for the silence of the house, which was a signal for his going to the beloved turret.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter IV

I am deceived, cruelly deceived. I did believe that you had some regard for me
[How 20th-century it sounds! “If you loved me, you would prove it by doing this thing which you know to be wrong.”]

My father is considering how to settle me in life.
[Since we have already established that Orlando’s father cannot afford either to send him to university or to buy him a commission, and since men of Orlando’s class obviously could not work for a living, there are not many options left. He’ll have to become a highwayman.]

somebody in whom she could find a patient listener
text has listner
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]

the petulant and querulous complaints of Mrs. Rayland
text has petulent
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]


However trifling the incident was


The clock in the servants’ hall struck twelve

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.