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The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER XLVII.

At Salisbury Orlando determined to make some slight alteration in his plan, and instead of going from thence to Christchurch, to go first into the more eastern part of Hampshire, to the residence of Mrs. Roker; for though this would make his journey considerably longer, yet, having now seized the idea that by this visit some intelligence might be obtained of Monimia, every other consideration yielded to that hope.—Somewhat cheered by it, remote and uncertain as it was, he traversed the dreary flat of Salisbury Plain, and by the evening arrived at Winchester, where he vainly inquired for that relation of Mrs. Newill (the person with whom Monimia was placed) who had given his sister Selina all the intelligence she had ever received of her. Nobody knew, or wished to aid his search after an obscure woman who had probably been only a lodger in the place; and with an heart sinking under the disap­pointments he had already experienced, and those he yet feared, he proceeded to Alresford, near which town was situated the estate which Mrs. Rayland had given her old companion, 245 and which she had so worthily bestowed on Mr. Roker the younger.

It was about one o’clock when Orlando found the place; a red brick house with a court before it, and a garden walled behind, on the banks of the Itching. This had been a farm-house, but had been smartened and new cased by Mr. Roker, who, assuming all the dignity of a man of landed property, was no longer the assistant steward, or the humbly assiduous attorney, but a justice of the peace, and an esquire—a title which he held the more tenaciously, as he suspected that it was believed by other esquires that he had no right to it. He was not indeed very eminent either for morals or manners; but he was a man of property, and a thriving man in the world, and his neighbours were not therefore disposed to trouble themselves either with one or the other. As he still practised the law, he was usually in London in the winter; and of late it was observed, that his ancient spouse was always by indisposition prevented from accompanying him, when he accepted the invitations to dinner which were frequently given to them both by the neighbouring families; and some stories were in circulation not much to the honour of his conjugal affection; but whatever were his domestic faults, he was every where received and considered as a respectable man, because he had every appearance of becoming a rich one.

When Orlando arrived at the outward gate, he left his horse, and proceeded up a gravel walk that led to the door of the house, at which he tapped; a maid servant looked out at the parlour window, of which the shutters were before shut, and said, Master ben’t at home.

It is not your master, said Orlando, that I want, but your mistress. Mistress ben’t well, answered the girl, and you cannot a see her.

246

Is she confined to her bed then? inquired Orlando.

Aye, cried the girl, confined enough for matter of that.

I should be very much obliged to you, said Orlando, if you could procure me only a few minutes conversation with her. I have some very particular business with her—it really is very material to me, and I will not be ungrateful if you will oblige me so far. He then took out half a guinea, and said, Perhaps this may be some small acknow­ledgment for your taking the trouble to oblige me.

Half a guinea! cried the girl—Ecollys I haven’t a no objection to that, sure enough; for ’tis a sight as we don’t often see at our house; but, Lord, I wish I dared! but, no, I mawn’t.

Why not; said Orlando eagerly—Pray, my dear, do, and I’ll make this half guinea a whole one!

Will you by George! answered the peasant girl, who was quite a rustic from the fields—what! gi me a whole entire guinea?

Yes, said Orlando—Here, this very guinea.

A bran new one, as I hope to live! exclaimed the girl; but I’ll tell you master, if I does, and I should be found out, I shall lose my place.

I’ll get you a better place, cried Orlando.

He! he! said the girl with an idiot laugh—what would mother say?

Tell me, pray, cried Orlando, why you would lose your place for letting me see your mistress?

Why, Lord! don’t you know? Mistress is gived out to be mad, thof she’s no mad nor I be—and so when master e’ent at home, ye see, his sister keeps watch like over her, and never lets nobody see her, and when we be hired, we be told never to let no strangers in to see mistress upon no account whatever; for master and his sister, and his nasty old uncle 247 as comes here sometimes, they will all have it that mistress she’s out of her mind, and that strangers makes her worse; and so she’s locked up stairs, and have a been ever so long; though, poor old soul! she’s tame enough for aught I ever see, and I’m sure repents her many a time as she have got into their clutches—But hark! oh Gemini! our Tyger barks! I warrant you Miss Sukey is coming home.

Who is she! pray hasten to tell me, and take your money. Oh, the Lord! answered the girl, Miss Sukey is our master’s sister, a nasty cross old maid—She’ve been to Alresford this morning, or else, mun, I shouldn’t have talked here so long—and now if she catches me——

Orlando, into whose mind a thousand confused ideas now rushed, of the cause of Mrs. Roker’s confinement, now dreaded lest the only opportunity he should have of hearing of or seeing Mrs. Lennard should escape him.—Can you not give your mistress a letter, said he, if you think she is in her senses, and bring me an answer this evening? I’ll try, answered the girl; but you’ll give me the guinea then—and where shall I get the letter, and how will you get the answer? Lord, Sir! it must be at night, after Miss Sukey is a-bed; and I must get out of our pantry window, as I gets off the hooks every now and tan—for the bar on’t is loose, so I takes it out. That will do, said Orlando; I’ll go write my letter;—where will you come for it?

Down to the hovel, answered the girl, there, close along the gert barn—I’ll slip down there when I goes a milking: and then if Madam will gi an answer, why you must stay there till ater our folks be all a-bed; but God a bless you go now! for I sees Miss Sukey coming along.

Take your money, said Orlando, giving her the 248 guinea that had so tempted her, and be punctual to the place—You mean that red-roof’d barn on the edge of the turnip field?

Yes, yes, answered the girl—Go, pray, now! and as you’ll run bump up against our Miss Sukey, tell her as how you wanted master, and I wouldn’t let you in.

Orlando, not without somewhat admiring the talent for intrigue, of which even this rude peasant girl had so considerable a share, walked back along the gravel walk; and at the wicket gate, which opened at the end of it to the road, he was accosted by a short, thick, red-faced woman, dressed in a yellow-green riding habit, faced with orange colour, and trimmed with silver, and a hat with green and black feathers in it. Her whole face was the colour of bad veal; the shade towards her nose rather more inveterate, and two goggle grey eyes, surmounted by two bushy carrotty eye-brows, gave to her whole countenance so terrific an air, that Orlando absolutely started back when his eyes first distin­guished it; while this amiable figure, stepping in the gateway, and putting one hand on her hip, while the other held a cane, said in a loud and masculine voice to Orlando—Who are you, friend? and what is your business here?

Orlando answered as he had been directed, that he wished to speak to Mr. Roker, but found he was not at home.

You may leave your business with me, said Miss Sukey. Orlando answered, No; that there was no haste, and he would call again. He then passed by this person, who gave him an idea of a fury modernized; and observed that she surveyed him with scrutinizing looks, and watched him till he was out of sight.

He hastened back to the inn he had left, and sat 249 down to compose his letter to Mrs. Roker, in which he found much more difficulty than he had at first been aware of.

If she was confined by her husband under pretence of madness, as he thought was very probably the case, in order to prevent her testimony being received, or her discovering what it was supposed Roker had insisted on her continuing to conceal, she would probably still be deterred, by her fears and her shame, from declaring the truth; and if she was indeed mad, his letter to her would avail nothing, or perhaps be prejudicial, by falling into the hands of her keepers. There was also a third possibility, which was, that she might still retain so much affection for her young husband, as to resent the interference of any one who supposed her ill used, even though they offered her the means of escaping from her tyrant. However, as no other chance seemed to offer, he determined to hazard this measure; and wording his letter as cautiously as he could, so as not to offend her, he offered, if she was in any degree unpleasantly situated, to send her the means of escaping, and entreated her to tell him where Monimia was, and all she knew of Mrs. Rayland’s affairs at the time of her death; assuring her, in the most solemn manner, that if ever he recovered the estate, and by her means, he would not only enter into any agreement she should dictate to secure to her all she now possessed, but would, if she had given all up to her husband, settle upon her for life a sum that should make her more rich and independent than she had been before she gave herself to Mr. Roker; and that she should inhabit her own apartments at the Hall, or any house on the estate which she might choose. He ended with some profes­sions of personal regard to her, as well on account of their long acquaintance, as because she was the relation, and had been the benefactress of his beloved Monimia.

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This letter being finished, he again set out on foot; and as it was nearly dusk, concealed himself in the hovel which the servant girl had directed him to, where he had not waited many minutes before his emissary arrived, breathless with her fears of being discovered. He gave her the letter; with which she hurried away, charging him to stay there till she returned to him, though it should be twelve o’clock at night. He promised her a farther reward if she succeeded in procuring him an answer; and then, as the hovel was not in very good repair, and the cold extremely severe, he opened a door in it, made for the purpose of throwing straw out of the adjoining barn, and took shelter in the barn itself—repeating those lines of Shakspeare, where Cordelia describes her father; and, in recollecting all that had of late befallen him, all that he had lost, and the cruel uncertainty of his future destiny, as he applied to himself those descriptive lines,

To “hovel him with swine and rogues forlorn,

In short and musty straw,”

he remembered the preceding exclamation,

“Alas! alas!

’Tis wonder that thy life and wits at once

Had not concluded all.”

Thus, in meditations more moral than amusing, Orlando passed two or three tedious hours, sheltered by pease-halm and straw, which he gathered around him, and leaning against the boards of the barn, that he might not fail to hear when the ambassadress entered the out-house adjoining to it. About ten o’clock, as he guessed by the time he had been there, he heard a rustling among the wood and refuse of the hovel; and eagerly listening, in expectation of being called by his female Mercury, he heard a deep sigh, or rather groan, and a voice, very unlike a female voice, lamenting in very bitter and 251 somewhat coarse terms the cruelty of fate: the person soon after made his way through the same door by which Orlando had found entrance, and going farther into the barn, he heard this unwelcome guest make a noise which he knew was striking a light, and, putting a candle into a lanthorn, which he seemed to have hid, he set it down by him, and began to eat his miserable supper, consisting of scraps and dry crusts.—Orlando, peeping over his fortification, contemplated for a moment this forlorn outcast, whose head, shaded by a few white locks, was on the crown and temples quite bald, and otherwise resembled him who is described as the occasional visitor of the simple village priest:

“The long remember’d beggar was his guest,

Whose beard descending, swept his aged breast.”

He resembled too the Broken Soldier of the same admirable poem*; for he had lost one leg, and wore the remnant of a coat that had once been scarlet. As the faint and dull light of a small candle through a thick horn lantern fell upon the furrowed countenance of this unhappy wanderer, Orlando contemplated it with pity, which for an instant detached him from the recollection of his own miseries; and he said to himself—How unworthy, how unmanly are my complaints, when I compare my own situation with that of this poor old man, who, trembling on the verge of life, seems to have none of its common necessaries; yet perhaps has been disabled from acquiring them by having lost his limb in the service of what is called his country, that is, in fighting the battles of its politicians; and having been deprived of his leg to preserve the balance of Europe, has not found in the usual asylum a place of rest, to make him such amends as can be made for 252 such a misfortune; All the horrors of which he had been a witness in America now returned to his recollection; and the madness and folly of mankind, which occasioned those horrors, struck him more forcibly now than when his spirits were heated by having been a party in them. In a few moments, however, he recollected, that though he wished to give some relief to the distressed veteran before him, it would not be at all convenient that he should hear the purport of his conversation with his emissary; but before he had time to consider how this might be prevented, he heard her enter the hovel; and, without farther consideration, his eagerness to know if she had a letter for him, induced him to rush out and meet her.

* Goldsmith’s Deserted Village.

Speak softly! said he, as soon as he found it was really his messenger—there is a beggar in the barn who will hear you; have you a letter for me?

Lord; yes! answered the girl; and such a twitter as I be in surely!

Give me the letter, cried Orlando, trembling with haste; and pray speak softly, lest the old man within should betray us!

’Tis only old Thomas, answered the girl, I dare say; for he lies every night all winter long in our barns; and I’ll warrant you he’ll tell no tales—for in the first place he knows how he’d get no more of our broken victuals if he did; and in the next place he’s as deaf as a post.

Orlando, whose impatience to read the letter was quite insupportable, then thought he might safely avail himself of the convenience of the old man’s lantern to read it by. The girl assured him he might, and they entered the barn together for that purpose; but there was no longer any light, and all was silent. The girl, however, at the earnest entreaties of Orlando, called aloud to her old acquaintance, 253 and assuring him in a very elevated voice that it was only Pat Welling who wanted him to do a message for her at town the next day—a grumbling assent was soon after heard, and at her request he struck a light, relighted his candle, and brought it to the gentleman, who eagerly tearing open the billet, read these lines.

“DEAR SIR,

“I have received yours. I do not know what is become of the girl you inquire for, as she chose to quit the worthy person I put her to, after perversely and wickedly refusing a great and high match with Sir John Belgrave, Bart, the which I doubt not but she has reason to repent of before now; though I do heartily beseech the Lord that she may not have taken to wicked courses, as there is great reason to fear; but my conscience is clear thereon. I assure you, if I know where she is to be found, I will let you know, if you please to leave your direction with Martha Welling the bearer hereof; at the same time, as to myself, thanking you for your kind offers, have no need to trouble you at present; and know of no such thing as you are pleased to name, in regard to my late dear friend, deceased, Mrs. Rayland. Must beg to have no applications of like nature notwith­standing, because interference between married people is dangerous, generally making matters worse; and if any little disagreements, which I wonder that you should have heard, have passed, it is no more than I have heard happens between the happiest couples; and I am sure Mr. Roker really has an affectionate regard for me, and I am willing to impute all that seems to the contrary to his family, who are very disagreeable people, and such as I confess I should be glad to be out of their way, if 254 so be as it could be done without offending Mr. Roker, whom I must love, honour and obey till death, as in duty bound. Same time should be glad to do you any service not inconsistent with that; and, as I said before, would be glad of your direction, who am, dear Sir,

Your humble servant,

RACHEL ROKER.”

“Lessington House, near Alresford, Hants,
10th January, 1779.”

“P. S. Mrs. R. hopes Mr. S. will be cautious in mentioning having received these few lines, as it would be disagreeable to Mr. R——.”

Orlando thought that in this letter he saw the struggle of its writer’s mind, between something which she fancied was love, with shame and revenge. She had been too much flattered at first by the very unexpected acquisition of a young husband, to own now, without reluctance, that he was a savage who had robbed her under pretence of marrying her, and who now confined her, that she might not either discover his amours, of which he was said to have a great number, or be tempted through resentment of them, or her natural ill humour, to declare the conduct she had at his persuasion adopted; while her asking for Orlando’s direction, and not seeming offended at his letter, persuaded him that she was pleased with the opportunity it gave her, to gratify the revenge which was always in her power, while she knew where to apply to one so much interested in the discovery she could make.

Orlando now determined, since the servant assured him there wan no chance of his being admitted to see her, to write to her again, and await her answer at the inn the next day. He thought there 255 was an opening for suggesting to her much that he had before omitted, and he had at all events assured himself by the letter he was now in possession of, that she was not mad; a plea which he perfectly understood her husband meant to set up against the evidence she might otherwise be brought to give.

It was not difficult to engage the old beggar to become his messenger on this occasion, nor to prevail on Patty to give him the next letters she should get from her mistress, on condition however that her profits should not be lessened. He gave her another present; comforted the beggar with an earnest of his future generosity; and bidding him come by daybreak the next morning for the billet he intended to send to Mrs. Roker, he took leave for that time of his two newly acquired acquaintance, whom he left much better content with the events of the day than he was—since, whatever reason he had to believe that he might recover his property, he felt with increase of anguish that he had no nearer prospect of recovering Monimia. Determined however to lose no opportunity of continuing his corre­spondence, he sat down the moment he came to the inn, and composed a very long letter, in which he enlarged on the ill treatment of her husband, whose gallantries he touched upon, affirming they were the more unpardonable when compared with her merit, and the obligations she had conferred upon him; he hinted at the consequence of her being compelled to appear, to answer upon oath to what she knew, and entreated her to save him the pain of calling into court as a party in secreting a will, a person for whom he had so much regard and respect; and he concluded with renewed offers of kindness in case of her coming voluntarily forward to do him justice.

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His wandering messenger was the next morning punctual to his appointment; Orlando sent him away with his letter; and notwith­standing his age and his having but one leg, he returned again in about two hours—but, to the infinite mortification of Orlando, with a verbal message, which, though it had passed through the memory of Mrs. Patty, was very clearly delivered, and was to this effect—That Madam had got the gentleman’s letter; and being prevented from writing at this present time, begged him of all love to leave the country for fear of accidents, and he might depend upon hearing of her shortly. Not satisfied with this, Orlando now paid his bill at the inn, and went down to the barn, where he sent his vagabond ambassador to seek for the maid to whom he owed the little progress he had made. With some difficulty he found her, and prevailed upon her to revisit the place of rendezvous, where she informed Orlando that Miss Sukey had been watching about old mistress more than ordinary, and that the poor woman was frightened out of her wits lest Orlando’s having written to her should be known; wherefore, as Miss Sukey seemed to suspect something, old Madam did entreat the ’squire not to stay thereabouts; because she should in that case be more strictly confined, and never should be able to write to him, which she now promised to do, if he would only leave the country. As this was all the intelligence the disap­pointed Orlando could now procure, he was compelled to obey this unwelcome injunction, lest he should lose all future advantage; and engaging by renewed presents the fidelity and future assistance of his two emissaries, he remounted his horse, and took the road to Winchester. He now fell again into melancholy reflections: every hour added to his despair about Monimia, and without her, life was not 257 in his opinion worth having. From these thoughts a natural transition led him to consider the wonderful tenacity with which those beings clung to life, whose existence seemed to him only a series of the most terrible sufferings:—beings, who exposed to all the miseries of pain, poverty, sickness and famine; to pain unrelieved, and the feebleness of age unassisted, yet still were anxious to live; and could never, as he at this moment found himself disposed to do—

“Reason thus with life:

If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing

Which none but fools would keep.”

Yet he had seen many die in the field, who neither seemed to fear nor feel the stroke of that destiny which miserable age still recoiled and crept away from. The poor maimed wanderer, whose daily wants he had for a little while suspended, was an instance that the fear of death makes the most wretched life supportable. In pursuing this train of thought he arrived at Winchester, where he intended to remain till the next day.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XLVII

Half a guinea! cried the girl
text has caied

Yes, said Orlando—Here, this very guinea.
text has ? for final .
[Corrected from 2nd edition.]

had been the benefactress of his beloved Monimia.
final . missing

[Footnote] Goldsmith’s Deserted Village
[As seen on this very site. Charlotte Smith is confident her readers will recognize any and all references to Shakespeare and Milton, but when it comes to other authors she hedges her bets.]

which occasioned those horrors
text has occcasioned

The girl assured him he might, and they entered the barn together for that purpose;
punctuation supplied from 2nd edition
[The words “might” and “purpose” both come at line-end, but the punctuation marks are clearly absent, not just invisible.]

on condition however that her profits should not be lessened
[At a guinea per letter, Patty Welling is making 252 times as much as Rowland Hill would later deem appropriate.]

Which none but fools would keep
[Measure for Measure, the play that pushes the definition of “Comedy” to the very breaking point. (It doesn’t have to be funny; it does have to have a happy ending. I am not convinced it does.)]


The unfortunate brother of Orlando


Early on the following morning Orlando left Winchester

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.