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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER XLI.

An apprehension of the truth, vague as it was, was infinitely more terrible than any certainty. With trembling hands, and breathless fear, Orlando now attempted to open the great door of the passage that led to the kitchen and servants’ hall; but this too was locked. He called aloud: his voice echoed round the old buildings that surrounded the court where he now stood; but no answer was returned. After waiting and repeating again and again the names of the servants who lived with Mrs. Rayland when he went away, he rapped at the doors, and then at the windows: the lower windows on this side of the house, having strong iron bars, were not shut within. He looked through them into the servants’ hall, and the passage leading to it; all was apparently deserted and dark!

He could no longer doubt but that Mrs. Rayland was dead—But where was Monimia? what was become of all her domestics? to whom did the mansion now belong, that it was thus forsaken? New horrors beset him at every step; but now, in a desperate determination to know the worst, or rather to indulge the mournful propensity he had to traverse these dreary rooms, and to visit the turret, he went round to the other part of the house. He 168 tried the chapel door, which had so often befriended him in happier days: he found it broken, and off the hinges; he entered the chapel, which appeared more ruinous and neglected than it used to be; he would have inquired if the remains of his benefactress slumbered in the vault beneath it, but no trace remained that could inform him;—he approached the door that led from the chapel to his former apartment, but that was strongly fastened on the inside.

He then, while the only sound he heard was that of the owls from the neighbouring woods, or the night jar as it flitted before him near the house, again traversed the park around it, and went to the opposite side, or principal front, in the middle of which was the door of the great hall;—that too was fastened; but over it was the achievement of Mrs. Rayland, the family arms in a lozenge:—Mrs. Rayland then was undoubtedly no more.

Whither could the weary, the wretched Orlando go for information? and how sad the information he must ask! for it was but too certain that, if Mr. Somerive or any part of his family had possessed the Hall, it could not have been thus desolate.

Orlando meditated a moment; if he could be said to meditate, whose heart felt petrified by the shock. He recollected, that the old and long deserted summer-parlour near the library had a glass-door which opened into the park, and which was formerly left unlocked. He tried it: it was fastened; but it was yet light enough for him to distin­guish that the key was in it, within. He broke a pane of the glass without hesitation, and, putting his hand through, unlocked the door, and entered this parlour.

Melancholy were the observations he made, as, by the little light he had, he traversed this room. 169 The wainscot had fallen down, and the boards were rotted away; the study, of which the door was open, had only half its books left; and the tapestry hung in fragments from the walls. Orlando could not bear the cold chill that struck on his heart. A low hollow gust of wind rushed through the deserted rooms: it seemed loaded with the groans of all he had ever loved, or revered—Yet he proceeded along the passage, which was quite dark—and, hardly knowing to what purpose, went through the great hall, and up the principal staircase—He entered the long north gallery, where, in the April days of their juvenile affection, he had nearly betrayed his innocent partiality for Monimia, by throwing the cricket-ball against the window.—Hideous spectres seemed to beckon him from the other end of it, and to menace him from the walls; though he knew that they were the portraits of his family in their black doublets, their armour, or their flowing night-gowns;—he stopped however, in terror, he was ashamed of feeling, and listening a moment, thought he heard a door shut in some distant part of the house—Were there then inhabitants? or was it only the wind which flung to one of the doors he had left open?—He listened again; but all was still, and he began to consider what he should do next—Fatigued and worn out as he was, and almost incapable of going farther, he felt a momentary inclination to take possession of a bed. He opened the door of one of the bed-chambers: the old high-testered green silk bed looked like a mausoleum—it seemed black, and Orlando could have fancied that the corpse of Mrs. Rayland lay on it: the whole room appeared so damp that he resigned his half-formed project, and returned into the gallery with an intention of going out of the house, and repairing to some of the 170 neighbouring cottages, when he heard again a door shut towards the kitchen, and thought he distin­guished a human voice.

He went down a back staircase across the apartment where Mrs. Rayland generally sat, and shuddering, as he now almost felt his way, he walked towards the kitchen. This was a room quite in the old fashioned English style; and such as gave an immediate conviction, by the size of every utensil, of old English hospitality. It was such as Pope describes in his letter to the Duke of Buckingham, where the peasantry suppose the infernal spirits hold their sabbath; but upon a still larger scale.—As Orlando came near the door, he was convinced that he heard the murmuring sound of some person speaking as if in discontent. The door was not shut close; he pushed it gently open, and saw a female figure blowing the fire: he advanced towards her, and remarked, by the flashing light of the flame which rose as she blew, that she was bent double with age, and in a coarse dress of the lowest peasantry. Instead of turning or speaking to him, she continued to mutter and mumble to herself, of which Orlando could distin­guish no more than, Why a plague did you not come sooner? about no good I warrant ye . . . at this time o’night! and stalking about instead of helping . . . Orlando now appeared before her, and spoke to her, inquiring for Mrs. Rayland; when the beldam, suddenly looking up, let fall the bellows, and, uttering a shriek or rather yell, hobbled towards the nearest door, crying out, Thieves, murder, thieves!

Orlando, following, attempted to pacify her: he assured her he was no thief, but the son of Mr. Somerive, the nearest relation of the late owner of that house, who was lately come from abroad, and did not know but what she still owned it. His voice 171 seemed to have some effect in appeasing the fears of the old woman; but upon surveying him, they again returned—You ’squire Somerive’s son! exclaimed she—Will you persuade me of that? Didn’t I know ’em both?—Oh Lord! oh Lord! I shall be murder’d, that’s for certain, and our Ralph’s not come back—Oh! what shall I do? what shall I do? It was in vain Orlando renewed his protestations that he meant her no harm; she continued to insist on his leaving the house, and he remained resolutely bent not to go till he had obtained some information as to whom it now belonged. The contest lasted some minutes, when at last an halloo was heard without, and the woman exclaimed, Oh! thank the good Lord, there’s our Ralph. She went out to the passage, opened the door, and a stout surly-looking clown followed her into the kitchen, to whom she had related that a strange man had got into the house, had been walking all about it, and now would not go out—I thoft, Lord help me! it was you; and there sat I blowing the fire, and wondering what a dickins you could be prancing about up stairs for.

The sturdy peasant surveyed his new visitor with evident marks of displeasure, while Orlando told him who he was, and desired to know to whom Rayland Hall now belonged.

I don’t believe ’tis any business of yours, replied the churl, and I’m sure you have nothing to do here; for, let it belong to who ’twill—’tis no place for travellers and wagabons—Come, master, troop! mother and I be put in this here Hall to look after it, and we can’t not answer it to our employers to let in no strangers nor way-faring people.

I only ask, said Orlando, who are your employers? surely you can have no objection to tell me that. Why master archdeacon Holly­bourn is my employer, then, if you must know; and this house 172 and premises belongs now to our bishop and dean; and the archdeacon Holly­bourn——

Good God! and how long has Mrs. Rayland been dead?

How long? Why eight months or there away—But, come, master, I’ve answered your question civilly, though I don’t know no right you have got to ask it, and now I desire you to walk out; and I hope there’s no more on you about the premises; for, if there is, I must carry you before the Justice—and so, looke’e, I’ve got a gun here (and he reached one down from over the chimney) that will do more sarvice in case of need besides hitting a rook.

Orlando, unarmed and defenceless as he was, and finding no success in his attempts to gain credit, was now compelled to leave this once hospitable mansion, where he had formerly been encouraged to dream of passing in it the noon of his life with his beloved Monimia—after whom, or her aunt Lennard, he had inquired fruitlessly. With despair in his heart he left the house (not however for the last time, though it was now the property of the good bishop and his dean and chapter), being determined to return the next day, for the mournful delight of surveying the apartment of Monimia, where he almost wished to expire. Yet he had hardly given way a moment to this unmanly despondence, than he was ashamed of it: his father and his family were yet ready to receive him, and he quickened his pace through the gloom; for it was now quite dark, and a strong south-west wind brought on a heavy driving rain.

How very mournful were the reflections of Orlando as he followed the well known foot-path to West-Wolverton! How different was his situation from that he fondly thought to have been in when he last took a reluctant leave, in this very path, of 173 his Monimia! Accustomed to associate poetry with all his ideas, his present condition, opposed to that which his sanguine imagination had flattered him with, brought to his mind that sublime ode, “the Bard” of Gray,

“Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows;

While proudly riding o’er the azure realm,

In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,

Youth on the prow, and pleasure at the helm;

Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind’s sway,

That, hush’d in grim repose, expects his evening prey.”

In such mournful meditations, and by dint of habit, or rather of his perfect recollection of every shrub and tree about the place, so that he could have found his way even had it been darker than it was, Orlando reached the upper plantation, and descended on the other side, the almost perpendicular path that led down over the pond-head. The roar of the water, which murmured hollow in the blasts of wind, and the sullen noise of the mill, well-known sounds which Orlando had so often listened to, brought back, in all their force, the recollection of the evening walks he used to have from Wolverton to the Hall to visit his Monimia. He went over the foot-bridge that arched the cascade now swollen with the rain, and entered the old fir grove, where he fancied, in some former fits of despondence, that he heard, in every hollow wind, Orlando will revisit this place no more! Yet he did revisit it; but how? How fallen from all those dreams of happiness that had so often flattered him, and, in contradiction to this gloomy impression of his pensive moments, had said—Orlando will be the master of these scenes!

Yet, if he found his father living and rejoiced at his return—if he once more felt the maternal tear of his beloved mother wet his cheek—if his sisters were well—if news had been received of Isabella—and 174 if Selina, as he fondly hoped, could give him certain intelligence where he might fly to Monimia, all would be well; and, though he should regret his kind benefactress, regret the severe disap­pointment to his family, there was yet happiness, much happiness to be hoped for.

It was so perfectly dark within the wood, that Orlando, not being able with all his knowledge of the place to find his path, went out to the edge of it, and continued his way along the pond side. He saw a light glimmering at a distance upon the water, which he perceived was reflected from the mill. The storm becoming more violent, he determined to go thither. The miller was one of Mrs. Rayland’s tenants, who had not long before Orlando’s departure for America granted him a very great favour in regard to the renewal of his lease, in consequence of Orlando’s intercession. From this man, therefore, he doubted not of an hospitable reception, and the information relative to Mrs. Rayland which at the Hall he had been denied.

He soon arrived; and, with a short stick he carried with him, rapped loudly at the door. A woman soon after looked out of the window from whence the light had proceeded, and inquired, in apparent alarm, Who is there?

Orlando answered, Is it Mrs. Whitly who speaks?

Mrs. Whitly, friend! replied the female voice: Lord! I cannot think what you want here at this time o’night; why, master’s a bed, and the men folk too—I’m sure I wish you’d go about your business.

My business, said Orlando, is with Mr. Whitly—Tell him it is Orlando Somerive, his old friend.

The woman then retired from the window as if to speak to somebody, and, presently returning, cried, Master says how he knows no such person—Young 175 ’squire Orlando is dead a long while ago in parts beyond sea; and you must be an impostor—for ’twas well known the young man’s not alive, and all his family were in mourning for un before they went out of this country.

The woman would then have shut the window; but Orlando, rendered half frantic by her last expression, conjured her with so much vehemence to hear him, that she delayed it a moment. He implored her to tell him what she meant by saying that the Somerive family had left the country. Why ’tis plain, answered she, that you don’t belong to none of them—for, if you did, you’d know that the old ’squire have been dead ever so long—a matter of two or three months before old Madam at the Hall; and that the young one, he as was always so wild like, have sold the house and farms and all to the great ’squire at the castle, and that the rest on ’em have left the country.

Orlando could hear no more—his fortitude and his senses forsook him together—and weakness, from fatigue and want of food, disabled him from resisting any longer these repeated and overwhelming strokes of affliction—He staggered a few paces, and fell against the door of the house.

The woman, who perceived him by the light of the candle from the casement, began to think he must be, in some way or other, interested for the Somerive family, since he was thus affected; and, communicating his situation to her husband, who was in bed in the room from the window of which she had spoken, the miller, not without some grumbling and swearing, got up, and, looking out, saw Orlando lying on the ground, and apparently insensible. He then feared that he might get into trouble, to use the expression of the country, if a man was found dead at his door, without his having 176 assisted him; and calculating, rather than yielding to the impulse of humanity, he ordered his wife to go call up one of the men, and go down with him to see what was the matter with the fellow, and, if he was only drunk, or sick, to give him a dram, and to haul him away to a hovel full of straw in the yard—all which he thought less trouble than might be given him by the Coroner’s Inquest, if the man should be found dead at his door in the morning.

His wife obeyed—and, taking a servant man with her, who had lived many years at the mill, they opened the door—Orlando was insensible, and the man pronounced him dead; but had not half a second held the candle to his face, before he exclaimed with a great oath, it was either Orlando Somerive, or his ghost! That it was not his ghost, but himself, though sadly changed both in countenance and appearance, the miller’s man was convinced, when Orlando, awakened from his trance by being moved, opened his eyes, while with a deep sigh, and wildly staring about him, he wrung the man’s hand, and conjured him, in incoherent terms, to tell him if it was true that his father was dead, and all his family dispersed—or if it were only a hideous dream.

The old man, who had known him from his infancy, was moved by the melancholy situation in which he saw him; and, helping him into the house, put him into a chair, and made him swallow some coarse kind of spirits, Orlando submitting to receive his assistance, but still passionately imploring him to say if what he fancied he had heard was real, while the man with tears in his eyes continued silent. By this time, however, the miller himself, Mr. Whitly, having been assured by his wife of Orlando’s identity, came down; and Orlando renewing to him his eager adjurations, he began a long consolatory discourse, in which he attempted to 177 prove that, as every body must die, none should be immeasurably grieved when an event so common happened to their friends.

Orlando with glazed eyes and contracted brows appeared to listen to his discourse; but, in fact, heard not a word of it beyond those that confirmed his misfortune. With wildness in his voice and manner, he now desired to go to the house that was his father’s, to go to the parish church where he was buried. He demanded eagerly where his mother was? where were his sisters? His host answered, that they had been gone a long time to London; and that as to talking of going to West Wolverton house or such-like, or for to go for to think of going into the church at such a time, why it was quite out of reason; but he advised him to go to bed where he was for that night, saying very coldly (which coldness Orlando did not however remark), that he was welcome to a spare bed they had for one night or so; and the old servant plying him with spirits as liberally as his master did with advice, and believing his remedy the most efficacious of the two, fatigue and weakness soon overcome by the power of this application, he suffered himself, almost in a state of insensibility, to be led to a room where was a bed, on which, without taking off his clothes, he threw himself, and forgot a little while all his sorrows.

Alas! they recurred in the morning with severer poignancy.—He did not, on his first recovering his senses, recollect where he was, and stared wildly around him; but too soon the sad remembrance of his irreparable calamities rushed upon him, and he had need of all his reason and all his fortitude to enable him to bear this terrible conviction like a man. He went down stairs, determined to visit West Wolverton and the church, and then to set 178 out for London; but he had only eighteen-pence in his pocket, the remainder of what the sailors had lent him at Shoreham, and his clothes were such as would prevent him from obtaining credit on the road. He hoped that at the neighbouring town he might, when he was known, obtain credit for such an equipment as would prevent his terrifying his family by his appearance; and, perhaps, a small supply of money from Mr. Whitly, to whom, as soon as he saw him, he opened without hesitation the reduced state of his finances, and desired he would lend him a guinea or two to bear his expenses to London. This man, who was grown very rich by the excellent bargain he held under Mrs. Rayland, and by being a great proficient in the secrets of his trade, had, like many other rich men, an invincible aversion to the poor, or to any who might be accidentally reduced to the necessity of borrowing; and to Orlando, coming under both these descriptions, he gradually became more and more reserved as his present situation was explained; and when he ended by desiring a temporary assistance, the miller, with a sagacious look, replied, that he was very sorry, to be sure, that things were as they were—For my part, said he, I have a family of my own; nevertheless, I am sure I would do a kind thing by a neighbour’s son as soon as another—But the thing is this—Here’s a will, d’ye see, of old Madam’s, dated a good many years ago, which gives all her landed property to the bishop of this here diocese, his dean and chapter, for purposes therein mentioned, and then legacies—Orlando would here have interrupted him with questions; but the affluent miller, opining, like most other affluent men, that a borrower ought to have no sentiments of his own, waved his hand to silence him, and continued—Well, well, but hear me out, and then I’ll hear you—I say, 179 that being the case, why the will is disputed; because as why? Your brother Phill, d’ye see, says he’s heir at law, and so there’s a Chancery law-suit about it—But we knows that a will’s a will, and the longest purse will carry the day.—Well! the upshot of all is, that heir at law, or not heir at law, your brother, if he can carry on the suit, which folks be pretty dubious about, will never get no part of it.—And, therefore, said Orlando sharply, you will not lend me what I asked? It is well—I wish you a good morning, and desire to pay for what I have had at your house, which I think cannot exceed a shilling in value. He then threw down a shilling on the table; and, without attending to Mr. Whitly any farther, left his house; and hardly knowing what he did, he went towards the house of his father. The ingratitude and selfishness of the man whom he had left gave him an additional pang; but it was only momentary, for grief of a more corrosive nature overwhelmed him: and when he arrived at the door of the house he proposed entering, his knees trembled under him; his looks were wild and haggard; and he was incapable of considering that the house was now in possession of strangers. He passed into the yard, which was surrounded by the offices, but all was changed, and he stood, in the stupefaction of despair, without having any precise idea of what he intended to do, till he was roused from this torpid state by a maid-servant, who, hearing the dogs bark, came out and inquired what he did there.

Orlando answered incoherently that it was his father’s house—that he came to look for his father.—The girl in terror left him; and, believing him either a madman or a robber, but rather the former, ran in to her mistress, and, carefully locking the kitchen door, informed her that there was a crazy 180 man in the yard. This young woman, who was the mistress of one of Stockton’s friends to whom he had lent the house, wanted neither under­standing nor humanity, however deficient she might be in other virtues; and knowing the natural propensity of the vulgar to terrify themselves and others, she called to a man, who was at work in the garden, to follow her, and then went to speak herself to the person whom her servant had represented as a lunatic.

She found the unhappy young man seated on a pile of wood near the door, his arms resting on is knees and concealing his face. The noise of her opening the door and approaching him seemed not to rouse him from his mournful reverie: but she spoke gently to him; and Orlando, looking up, shewed a countenance on which extreme agony of mind was strongly painted, but which was still handsome and interesting, and appeared to belong to one who had seen better days:—Is there any thing, Sir, you wish to know? Can I be of any service to you? These few words, spoken in a pleasing female voice, had an immediate effect in softening the heart of Orlando, petrified by affliction. He burst into tears; and rising said—Ah, Madam! forgive my intrusion, forgive me, who am a stranger where I had once a home. This house was my father’s—here I left him when seventeen months since I went to America—Here I left my father, my mother and three sisters—and all, all are gone! He lost his voice, and leaned against a tree near him.

The young person, extremely affected by the genuine expression of grief, and convinced that he was no madman, now invited him into the parlour; and Orlando, unknowing what he did, followed her.

181

Every object that he saw was a dagger to his heart. As Philip had sold to Stockton every thing as it remained at his father’s death, a great part of the furniture was the same. Startled at every step he took by the recollection of some well-known object, he entered the parlour more dead than alive, and pale as a corpse, and with quivering lips, he attempted to speak, but could not. The young woman saw his agitation, and pouring him out a large glass of wine, besought him to drink it, and to compose himself, again repeating her offers of kindness. He put back the glass—I thank you, Madam, but I cannot drink—I cannot swallow.—That picture, added he, fixing his eyes wildly on a landscape over the chimney—that picture belonged to my father; he used, I remember, to value it highly—I beg your pardon, Madam—I know not what I proposed by coming hither, unless it were to procure a direction to my mother and sisters. Where my father is I know too well, though I believe, continued he, putting his hand to his forehead, that I said when I first came into the court-yard, that I looked for him—Can you, Madam, tell me where I can find the part of my family that does survive.

The young woman, with increasing interest, told him that she had been there only a few weeks, and was quite a stranger in the country; but that if he could recollect any person thereabouts likely to be better informed, she would send a servant to fetch them, or with any message he might direct.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XLI

Orlando meditated a moment
[It will take much more than a moment for him to figure out that, since nothing is happening at Rayland Hall, he may as well continue to his father’s house. Even if he’s not interested in seeing any of his family, they might be able to tell him what’s up with Monimia and the Raylands.]

He listened again; but all was still
text has ? for ;
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]

Didn’t I know ’em both?
text has Did’nt

The sturdy peasant surveyed his new visitor with evident marks of displeasure
text has surveying
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]

determined to visit West Wolverton and the church
text has Wst

if he can carry on the suit, which folks be pretty dubious about
text has dubous

This young woman . . . wanted neither understanding nor humanity, however deficient she might be in other virtues
[I like her already.]

and all, all are gone!
text has : for !
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]


In a very few days after leaving this temporary settlement, Orlando arrived at Quebec.


After a pause, sufficiently expressive of the difficulty with which he thought

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.