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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER XLIII.

The variety of uneasy emotions which passed through the mind of Orlando, as he journeyed towards London, would be difficult to describe, since he himself could hardly discriminate them; but each, though not distinct, was acutely painful. In what a situation did he return to his family! in what a situation did he find it! How should he, while his mind was yet enfeebled from the cruel 195 disap­pointments he had experienced on his arrival in England, be able to bear the tears of his mother, the sorrow of his two sisters? how console them for the loss they had sustained? how strengthen by his example their more tender minds, to endure what he feared the dissolute folly of his brother might yet bring upon them; while his own heart recoiled from the idea of meeting that brother, and was bleeding with the dreadful wounds inflicted by the uncertainty of what was become of Monimia; which, had he not entertained some hopes of hearing of her from his sister Selina, would have driven him to distraction! Of his sister Isabella he thought too with great concern; and when the reflection, which alone brought some comfort to his mind, occurred to him, that he had resisted the temptation Warwick threw in his way, and had not, to gratify himself, plunged another dagger in the heart of his father—even this consolatory testimony of his conscience was imbittered by the inquiry that conscience immediately made, whether he had not acted wrong in not discovering the design of Warwick, and had not sacrificed his real duty to a mistaken point of honour. As he approached London, the agitation of his mind became greater. As his mother believed him dead, his sudden appearance might have the most fatal effects—That even if he was put down at a coffee-house, and sent a note to inform her of his arrival, the sight of his handwriting might equally affect a mother and sisters, who had long lamented him as consigned to a grave on the banks of Hudson’s River.

There was one expedient that occurred, which, though extremely disagreeable to him, he at length determined to adopt—which was, to go on his reaching London to Mr. Woodford’s, and consult 196 with him on the properest way of discovering to his family his unexpected arrival.

Though he was aware that he should have only insulting pity or coarse raillery to sustain from his uncle, he thought the dread of such transient and inconse­quential evils, should yield to the important point of not injuring the health of a parent so beloved; and as soon as the stage in which he travelled reached Westminster Bridge, he got into an hackney-coach and ordered it to be driven to the house of Mr. Woodford.

On his reaching this place, and inquiring for him, he was told by a maid that opened the door, that Mr. Woodford’s family had been removed some months from that house, and resided in King’s Street, St. James’s Square, at an house of which the maid gave him the number, and whither he immediately repaired.

It was easily found—two lamps at the door, and the appearance of the house, which had been lately refitted in a style of uncommon elegance, seemed to say to Orlando, that he would find his uncle in increasing affluence.

A very smart powdered footman opened the door, who, upon being asked if Mr. Woodford was at home, answered shortly, No; and surveying the hackney coach with contempt seemed disposed to close the half-opened door, without attending to any farther inquiries.

But Orlando, putting his head out of the coach, called to the servant, and inquired at what time that evening he could see Mr. Woodford, with whom he had business that admitted of no delay.

He can’t be seen to-night, said the servant; he is engaged for the evening.

If you will tell me where then, replied Orlando, 197 I will go to him, for I must see him immediately.

The man, who seemed afraid of venturing out to the coach-door, lest he should soil his shoes, or lose the powder from his hair, still held the door only partly open, and said very sullenly—You must leave your business, and call again—my master will do no business with any body to-night; he expects company to dinner; and I am sure he won’t be disturbed.

Orlando now got out of the coach, and said to the servant, that as he was Mr. Woodford’s nephew, he was sure he would see him. The man then, though with apparent reluctance, opened the door of a back parlour, and, while he stood at it himself, as if he was afraid Orlando would steal something, called to another footman to go and inform his master that his nephew desired to see him below.

At the same moment loud rapping was heard at the door, and the man, in visible distress, said, I shall be blamed for letting any body in—here’s the company come; I wish, Sir, you’d call any other time—there’s my Lord and Sir Richard and Lady Wiggin, and Sir James and Lady Penguin—it’s quite impossible, Sir, for my master to see you.

Orlando had not time to answer, before the other footman returned, and said very roughly, that his master desired the person, whoever he was, to walk out—for he must be an impostor, because he acknowledged no nephew.

Orlando, imagining that Mr. Woodford supposed him to be his brother, and therefore would not see him, had only to quit the house, and desist from his design of speaking to his uncle that evening; or to convince him that he had yet a nephew living, whom he had at least no reason to disclaim: 198 he resolved on the latter, and putting back with his hand the servants who would have opposed his passage, he went up stairs. The door of the dining-room was yet open, for the visitors had hardly yet settled themselves, and some were standing near it till Sir Richard and Lady Wiggin had paid their compliments. Orlando, notwith­standing the abusive and insolent efforts of the servants, who had followed him up stairs to stop him, entered the room, and going up to Mr. Woodford, who stared at him as a perfect stranger, made himself immediately known to him. Mr. Woodford expressed more surprise than pleasure. But he could not help acknowledging his nephew, whom he slightly named to his guests, and coldly asked him to sit down and stay dinner.

Orlando, not much flattered by his reception, answered, that as he had not seen his mother, he must hasten to her, and meant no farther to intrude upon Mr. Woodford, than to consult with him on the properest way of breaking to his mother, news the joy of which might overpower her.

Oh! cried Woodford, if that be all, I fancy you may venture to take your own way—I never heard that joy killed any body; and I don’t imagine you have much good fortune to relate (added he, surveying him) to turn the brains of your family.

Lady Wiggin, a squat figure most sumptuously dressed, now surveyed Orlando, as he stood talking to his uncle before the fire, and then whispered to a younger woman who sat next her, whom he had not till then observed, but in whom, under the disguise of the most preposterous extremity of the fashion, with a very high head, and cheeks of the last Parisian dye, he discovered his elder cousin, to whom he bowed; while she slightly bowing in return, bit the end of her fan, and screwing herself 199 into an attitude which she seemed to have studied, replied with half shut eyes to the whisper of her titled neighbour.

Woodford seemed glad that Orlando declined dining with him, yet was unwilling to take the trouble of interfering in his first introduction to his mother. Predetermined not to be discouraged by the unfeeling raillery, or repressed by the coldness of his uncle, he inquired again in a low voice, If he could be allowed to speak to him alone—I have much to say to you, Sir, said he, which is not proper to discourse upon now. You may imagine I am very impatient to see my mother and my sisters: I will not detain you long—only let me for five minutes ask your attention below.

The great man, who was no longer a wine merchant in the Strand soliciting the custom of the great, but their pompous entertainer, who was enabled, by the advantages of a great contract obtained by the favour (and perhaps by yielding to the participation) of one of them, to vie in splendour with his patrons, seemed to be made very restless by this demand—I’d go down into my study with you, with all my heart, said he, in the same low tone; but my Lord and Sir James are not come, and my son not being here to receive them, I should be sorry . . . . but however . . . . . you had better stay and dine perhaps, and then . . . Another loud rap at the door relieved him from this embarrassment; it wanted but a quarter to seven, and my Lord was announced. In the bustle to receive so eminent a personage, with what Woodford thought politeness, but what appeared to Orlando the most cringing servility he had ever witnessed, his worthy uncle seemed totally to have forgotten him; and before the ceremony of this reception, and that of Sir James, who followed 200 the peer as one of his satellites, was over, dinner was announced; and the company proceeded down stairs; while Orlando, finding that his uncle had as little taste for poor relations as if he had been born himself a great man, instead of having suddenly become so, by means which Orlando wondered at, rather than understood, took the opportunity of opening the street door himself, and returned to his hack, which was driven into the square, to make room for the splendid equipages which had since arrived at the door.

He stepped in; but when the coachman asked him whither to drive, he knew not what to reply. He knew nobody: nor did he recollect one friend in this immense town, to whom he could in such an exigence apply.—The small house his mother had taken, was in Howland-Street; and he thought he had better drive to some coffee-house in the neighbourhood, where he might consider how he could first speak to Selina. As he proceeded to a coffee-house in Oxford-Street, which the coachman named to him upon his inquiring for one, he could not help reflecting on the strange vicissitudes of fortune, and the strange way in which her gifts are divided. It was only a few months since he had an almost undoubted prospect of succeeding to the great estates of Mrs. Rayland: he was now not only deprived of all those hopes, but was literally a beggar—and going home, not to assist his ruined family, but to add to it another indigent member, and to weep with them all the mournful changes that had happened during his absence.

He had not yet determined how he should introduce himself to the dear dejected group, when he arrived at the coffee-house, where he discharged his coach, and called for a private room. He then, since no better expedient occurred to him, desired 201 a pen, ink and paper, and in an hand which he attempted to disguise (and he trembled so as to aid the deception) he wrote these few words to Selina—“Your brother Orlando is living, and in England—have the presence of mind not to betray this secret, which will I think give you great pleasure, to your mother too suddenly; and when he knows he can come without too much surprising your mother, he will be at your door.”—He had hardly finished and directed this note, in which he tried to alter his hand only that the sight of it might not so suddenly strike his sister as to render his precaution useless, he recollected, that as Perseus the negro was now his mother’s servant, he had better go himself to the door of the house; discover himself to that faithful fellow; and contrive, by his means, to speak to Selina first.

This scheme appeared to him so much better than the first, that he determined to put it into immediate execution. However, he put the note he had written into his pocket, that if Perseus happened not to be at home, he might still proceed as he had at first intended.

With a beating heart he approached the door, and hesitated with apprehension before he could determine to knock at it. At length he gave a loud single rap, and Perseus appeared.—Do you know me, Perseus? said Orlando, in a low voice. Know you, answered the negro, who spoke pretty good English, and without much of the negro accent—No! how should I know you?—Have you forgot, said Orlando, the morning we passed together in the wood, on the banks of Hudson’s River?—While he thus spoke, Perseus held the candle, which he had set down in the passage, to his face, and with a sudden exclamation letting it fall, he ran as fast as he could back into the kitchen, declaring to the two 202 maids, as trembling he threw himself into a chair, that he had seen a ghost.

The elder of these women, a stout peasant from the weald of Sussex, who had no notion of ghosts, huffed the affrighted negro for his folly, and said, I wonder what you mean, Perseus—why sure you are not in your right wits? A ghost quotha! I hope you have not left the door open, with your ghosts?

I cannot tell, cried Perseus—but you better see—I see master Orlando’s ghost, and I’ll go no more.

Orlando, foreseeing that from the poor fellow’s terror, all the risk would be incurred which he had wished to avoid, now walked into the house, in the hope of preventing his mother and sisters from being alarmed by the folly of the servants; and when Hannah ascended to secure the door, which she had been strictly enjoined never to leave of an evening without a chain, she met Orlando on the top of the stairs. Struck with equal terror, though from a different cause, she now screamed and returned to the kitchen, where, as well as her fright would let her, she declaimed against the folly of Perseus, who being afraid of a ghost, had let in a man.

Orlando, provoked by the ridiculous fears of both, now went into the kitchen; and not without difficulty convinced the negro that he was alive; and the maid, that he had no intention to rob the house: but all the clamour that these mistakes had excited, could not be unheard in the room where Mrs. Somerive was sitting with her daughters; and the bell had rung violently several times, before the assurance of Orlando’s identity had restored to Perseus courage enough to obey the summons.

Orlando entreated of him to go up, to account for the noise below as well as he could, and to beckon, or by some other means contrive to get his sister 203 Selina out of the room. Perseus, trembling with his former apprehensions and his present joy, undertook to do this, and hastened up stairs. At the door of the dining-room Selina stood, and asked him if any thing was the matter below; and Mrs. Somerive eagerly repeated the question, saying Perseus, is any thing wrong below? who was at the door?—He advanced to the table near which his mistress was sitting, and saying to Selina in an half whisper as he passed her—’Tis your brother, miss, you go see him, he answered to the questions Mrs. Somerive asked him—No, Ma’am—no bad matter—only that I thinked, that I . . . . . . that Hannah . . . she say—His confusion was the more evident, the more he attempted to conceal it; nor did his dark skin conceal the emotion of his spirits; while Selina, who believed it was her elder brother, and who felt only terror at his name, approached the table paler than death; and Mrs. Somerive, convinced that something was the matter below, though she could not conjecture what, arose from her seat, and taking a candle said, What can have happened? Selina, my child—if you know it, for God’s sake tell me!—Alas! added she, recollecting all that had happened to her within so short a space—after all I have suffered, what can I have to fear?

She now approached the door, while neither Selina nor the servant had courage to stop her.—But in the passage she was met by Hannah, whom Orlando, mistrusting the skill of his first messenger, had sent up while he waited himself at the foot of the stairs. Mrs. Somerive, more convinced from the appearance of the maid, than some alarming circumstance had happened, was struck with the idea of fire, and calling to her two daughters to follow her, said: The lower part of the house is on fire—let us, if it is so, make our escape.—Selina! 204 Emma! my children! let me at least save something.

Dear ma’am, exclaimed Hannah, how you do fright yourself!—Lord! there’s no fire below, I assure you: I’m sure if there was, we should not stand staring here; but don’t be frighted, pray, ma’am! nothing at all is the matter, but very good news—Come, ma’am; pray go back into the room and sit down, and make yourself easy; you can’t imagine, I’m sure, as that I would go for to deceive you.

Mrs. Somerive, hardly knowing what to believe, returned into the room; and Hannah following her, said—Now, ma’am, as you be so calm I’ll tell you, it is the young captain, ma’am, your son—he is not dead, thank God.

Not dead! cried Mrs. Somerive, my Orlando alive! Oh! it is impossible! don’t be so inhuman as to awaken such hopes, only to aggravate my misery. He is dead, and I shall never see him more! No, no, said Perseus, young captain’s alive. He is indeed, ma’am, cried Hannah. Where? said Selina, where is my brother? He is below, miss, said she in a low voice.—Selina rushed out of the room, and Orlando caught her in his arms. Emma, divided between her fears for her mother, who rested almost insensible on the arm of the servant, and the anxious desire to see her brother, trembled and wept a moment; and then seeing him actually enter, Selina resting on his arm, she uttered a faint shriek, and flew back towards her mother, at whose feet Orlando kneeling, besought her to recollect and compose herself. She threw her arms round him, but convulsive sobs were the only signs she gave of recollection; while the servant was bathing her temples, and her two daughters entreating her, for their sakes, to assume a composure, which their 205 own extreme agitation proved they did not themselves possess.

The scene was too painful, though produced by excess of happiness, to last long. The certainty that her son, her beloved Orlando, was living, was joy to which the mind of Mrs. Somerive, long weighed down by affliction, could not sustain without feeling what almost approached to a momentary deprivation of reason; but the manly tenderness of Orlando, who argued with her, and the lively sensibility of her two girls, who hung around her, and entreated her not to destroy herself, now that they were so blest as to have their brother restored to them, at length called her to a greater serenity of mind; yet as she looked at Orlando, she started, she trembled, and seemed to doubt whether she was awake; and when she spoke to him of his father, she relapsed into such inarticulate expressions of agonizing sorrow, that her children, looking in consternation at each other, dreaded the consequence, so much had she in those moments the appearance of a person about to lose her reason.

There was another topic which had not during the first hour of their incoherent conference been touched; and Orlando, who dreaded it, endeavoured to avoid it. This was the loss of his sister Isabella; for that she had perished at sea, in their ill-starred voyage to America, he now more than ever believed. He tried therefore to call off the attention of his mother from what she had lost; and to convince her, that not merely her son was restored to her, but restored to her as affectionate, and as much attached to his family, as when in an evil hour he quitted it.

Mrs. Somerive, feeling herself unequal to some kind of conversation that evening, confined herself, when she was able to do more than gaze at her son, to questions that related wholly to himself. She observed 206 how very much he was altered—that his hair, of which in his infancy and youth she had been so vain, was grown much darker, and had been cut close to his head. Orlando, to escape from subjects which he thought would be from their catastrophes more painful to her, gave her, or rather attempted to give her, a short history of his adventures, from his leaving New York till his return to England; but when he came to speak of the wounds he had received, and of his being carried up the country by the Iroquois, she became so extremely faint, that Selina advised her, and she consented to desist from any farther inquiries, till she was better able to bear the relation of Orlando’s sufferings. At the request of her children she consented to go early to rest, where Emma was to remain with her till she became more calm; and when Selina had seen her in bed, and left her in much quieter spirits, she returned to Orlando, who was in an agony of impatience to inquire about Monimia, which in his mother’s presence he had not dared to alleviate or to betray.

When his sister returned to him, they both sat down by the fire; and the soft-tempered Selina yielded to those emotions, which during her mother’s alarming situation she had struggled to suppress. Orlando, his eyes overflowing, tenderly kissed her hand, and said—Are these tears, my own Selina, given to past sorrows? or are they excited by your knowledge of tidings yet to come, that will wound the heart of your brother worse than any of the accumulated miseries which he has told you he has collected since his landing in England?—Monimia! what is her fate, Selina? Where is she? am I completely miserable? . . . . He could not go on, nor could his sister immediately answer him—You do not speak, Selina, cried he eagerly . . . 207 I can hear nothing worse than my fears suggest, nor can any torment equal this horrid suspense.

Indeed, answered Selina, in a tremulous voice—indeed I know no reason to believe that you ought to be in despair about her, but—But! exclaimed he—but what?—You believe—you don’t know? Have you not seen her then, Selina? Is it possible you can have been so cruel to her, and to me, as to have abandoned her, because she was abandoned by all the rest of the world, because you thought me dead.........? Oh, Selina! should you not therefore have cherished, with redoubled tenderness, her who was so very dear to me?

Have patience with me, my dear brother, replied Selina—pray have patience with me; and do not, do not condemn me unheard, nor suppose that I would willingly neglect or forsake her whom you loved, and whom I loved too .......... But............

You have however forsaken her! you do not know where she is now?

No, indeed, I do not, answered Selina—nor have I heard of her for many many months.

Well, cried Orlando, with a deep sigh, I have patience, you see, Selina—I do not beat my breast, nor dash myself against the wall. I am wretched, my sister; but I will believe you could do nothing in performance of your solemn promise, nothing to avert such extreme wretchedness, and I will not reproach you.

You will have no cause, replied the weeping Selina; indeed, Orlando, you will have none, when you have heard all I have to say—Oh! if you did but know all we have suffered!

Poor Monimia! sighed Orlando, she too has suffered, and in this general wreck I have lost her—You do not even know then, continued he, you do not even know if she yet lives? I would rather 208 hear of her death, than of her being exposed to all the dangers I dread for her, perhaps to disgrace, to shame, to infamy............... This idea was too horrible; he started from his chair, wildly traversed the room; and it was some time before Selina could persuade him to listen quietly to the relation he yet continued to demand of her.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XLIII

he was aware that he should have only insulting pity or coarse raillery to sustain from his uncle
[Or possibly some expectation of grateful indebtedness. Uncle Woodford has got to be the sole—or at least primary—support of Orlando’s mother and surviving sisters.]

he was now . . . literally a beggar
[Both Orlando and the author have forgotten that, since he is not dead after all, he still holds a commission in the Army. The parole he gave in France may prevent him from being sent back into combat, but there are always desk jobs and recruiting parties. In any case, don’t hold your breath waiting to see him panhandling.]


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


When you left us, my brother, said Selina

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.