ebooks

The Old Manor House:

CHAPTER LII.

The young man to whom Orlando now applied, was very sincerely his friend, and possessed an acute and penetrating mind.—He saw at once all the importance of the business, and the hazard Orlando 337 would incur by the smallest delay. Mrs. Roker’s letter evidently expressed a mind fluctuating between resentment towards her husband, and unwillingness to acknowledge the folly she had committed in marrying him; and as no great dependence could be placed on the repentance of a person under the influence of such a contrariety of passions, there was reason to fear that her love, or, what she fancied so, her pride, her avarice, and her fear, might unite to conquer the compunction she had shewn, and to make her discover the steps she had taken to her husband.

Dawson advised therefore an immediate application to a justice of peace, for a warrant to search the house that night; and as there was none resident in the town, Orlando set out with him in a postchaise for the house of a magistrate, about seven miles distant, who had formerly been much acquainted with the Somerive family, and had been always full of profes­sions of regard for them.

To this man, now in much higher affluence than formerly, by the acquisition of the fortunes of some of his relations, Dawson opened the business on which they came.

But here he had occasion to remark the truth of that observation*, which, whoever has seen many vicissitudes of fortune, must have too often beheld, as a melancholy evidence of the depravity of our nature, That in the misfortunes of our best friends, there is something not displeasing to us.—Far from appearing to rejoice at the probability which now offered itself, that the son of his old friend would be restored to the right of his ancestors, and from depressing indigence be raised to high prosperity, this gentleman seemed to take pains to throw difficulties 338 in his way:—he doubted the letter from Mrs. Roker: he doubted the legality of his granting a warrant; and it was not till after considerable delay, and long arguments, that he was at length prevailed upon to lend to Orlando the assistance of the civil power, without the immediate exertion of which, it seemed possible that his hopes might be again baffled.

* Of La Rochefoucault.

Orlando was not without apprehensions, that this worthy magistrate might send immediate information of what was passing to Dr. Holly­bourn; and he determined, late as it was, to go to Rayland Hall that night. He set forward, therefore, attended by Dawson, two other young men of the same town, who were eager for his success, and the persons who were to execute the warrant. It was midnight when they arrived at the Hall—All was profoundly silent around it, and it had no longer the appearance of an inhabited house. The summons, however loud, was unanswered. As the men rapped violently at the old door of the servants’ hall, the sullen sounds murmured through the empty courts, and to their call only hollow echoes were returned. These attempts to gain admittance were repeated again and again without effect, and they began to conclude, that there was nobody within the house; but at length some of them going round to another part of the house, the man who had the charge of it looked out of a window, and demanded their business.

Upon hearing there was a warrant and a constable, the fellow, who had deeply engaged in the same sort of business as that which used to be carried on by Pattenson and Company, imagined immediately that he had been informed against: but as there was no remedy, he came down with fear and trembling to open the door; and it was a great relief to 339 him to learn, that it was only for a paper, which might occasion the house to change its master, but not for any of his effects that the intended search was to be made. The posse now proceeded to the place indicated by the letter of Mrs. Roker—the constable, a most magisterial personage, marching by the side of Orlando, while Dawson and his friends followed, with candles in their hands; and as silently they ascended the great stair-case, and traversed the long dark passages that led towards the apartment in question, Orlando could not, amid the anxiety of such a moment, help fancying, that the scene resembled one of those so often met with in old romances and fairy tales, where the hero is by some supernatural means directed to a golden key, which opens an invisible drawer, where a hand or an head is found swimming in blood, which it is his business to restore to the inchanted owner. With a beating heart, however, he saw the picture of the Lady Alithea removed, and the sliding-board appear. On entering the closet, the tin box, covered with a green cloth, was discovered. The key which Orlando possessed opened it, and the casket was within it; which he unlocked, in the presence of all the persons present, and saw the important paper, exactly as it had been described by Mrs. Roker.

He now debated whether he should open it; but at length, with the advice of his friend Dawson, determined not to do so till his arrival in London. Replacing every thing else as it was found, and securing the closet and the room that led to it, he now hastened to reward the persons who had attended him on this search—and without resting, set out post with Dawson for London, where they arrived at nine o’clock the next morning.

Orlando hastened immediately to the house of his 340 mother, with sensations very different from those with which he had quitted it.—He found Monimia alone in the dining-room, pensively attentive to the two children of Isabella, who were playing on the carpet.—She received him with that degree of transport which shewed itself in tears; nor could he prevail upon her for a moment or two to be more composed, and to answer his inquiries after his mother and his sisters.—She at length told him, that Mrs. Somerive had been so much affected by the visits her brother had made during his absence; by his reproaches for her false indulgence to both her sons, and by his total dislike to the marriage of Orlando (which he had represented as the most absurd folly, and as the utter ruin of his nephew) and by the disposition he (Mr. Woodford) shewed to withdraw all assistance from her and her two youngest daughters, if she did not wholly withdraw all countenance both from Orlando and Isabella, that Mrs. Somerive was actually sinking under the pain such repeated instances of cruelty had inflicted, and had determined, rather than continue to be obliged to a brother who was capable of thus empoisoning the favours her circumstances obliged her to accept, to quit London, discharge all but one servant, and to retire to some cheap part of Wales or Scotland, where the little income she possessed might be more sufficient to their support.

Orlando, who felt that some precaution was necessary, in revealing to Monimia the fortunate reverse that now presented itself, was considering how to begin this propitious discovery, when his mother, who eagerly expected him, having learned from the servants that he was arrived, sent down Selina to beg to see him.

She put back the curtain as he came into the room; and held out her hand to him, but was unable 341 to speak.—The mournful particulars she expected, which however she had not courage to ask, filled her heart with bitterness, and her eyes with tears.

Orlando, affected by the looks and the pathetic silence of his mother, kissed with extreme emotion the hand she gave him—He thanked her, after a moment’s silence, for her goodness to Monimia during the few days of his absence: and entreated her to be in better spirits. He then gradually discovered to her, by a short and clear relation of what had happened, the assurance he now had, which the transactions of that evening would, he hoped, confirm, of a speedy change in their circumstances.

The heart of Mrs. Somerive, so long accustomed only to sorrow and solicitude, was no longer sensible of those acute feelings which agitate the warm and sanguine bosom of youth; but to hear that her children, for whom only she wished to live, were likely to be at once rescued from the indigence which impended over them, and secured in affluence and prosperity, could not be heard with calmness. At length both herself and her son acquired composure enough to consider of the proper steps to be taken. Every person interested was summoned to attend that evening at the house of Mrs. Somerive, who found herself animated enough to be present at the opening of the will, at which all who were sent for were present, except Doctor Holly­bourn (who sent his attorney) and the Rokers. The elder only sent a protest against it by his clerk; and the younger thought it safer immediately to disappear.

It was found on the perusal of this important paper, and the codicils belonging to it, that, with the exception of five thousand pounds, and two hundred 342 a-year for her life, to her old companion Lennard, Mrs. Rayland had given every thing she possessed, both real and personal, to Orlando, without any other restriction than settling the whole of the landed estate of the Rayland family on his male heirs, and appropriating a sum of money to purchase the title of a Baronet, and for an act to enable him to take and bear the name and arms of Rayland only.

The subsequent proceedings were easy and expeditious. Against a will so authenticated all opposition was vain; and within three weeks Orlando was put in possession of his estate, and Doctor Holly­bourn obliged, with extreme reluctance, not only to deliver up all of which he and his brother had taken into their hands, but to refund the rents and the payments for timber; which operation went to the poor Doctor’s heart. There are some men who have such an extreme affection for money, even when it does not belong to them, that they cannot determine to part with it when once they get possession of it. Of this order was the worthy Doctor; who, with charity and urbanity always in his mouth, had an heart rendered callous by avarice, and a passion for the swinish gratifi­cations of the table, to which the possession of Rayland Hall, the gardens and hot-houses of which he alone kept up, had lately so considerably contributed, that he could not bear to relinquish them; and actually suffered so much from mortification that he was obliged to go to Bath to cure a bilious illness, which vexation and gluttony contributed to bring on.

Orlando lost no time in rescuing the unfortunate Mrs. Roker from the hands of her tyrant; who, in order to incapacitate her from giving that testimony which he knew was in her power, and with which she often had threatened him, had taken out 343 against her a commission of lunacy. It was superseded on the application of Orlando, who himself immediately conducted Mrs. Roker to Rayland Hall; where he put her in possession of the apartments she had formerly occupied; and employed her to superintend, as she was still active and alert, the workmen whom he directed to repair and refurnish the house, and the servants whom he hired to prepare it for the reception of its lovely mistress. He forbore to pursue Roker himself, as he might have done; having no pleasure in revenge, and being rather solicitous to give to those he loved future tranquillity, than to avenge on others those past misfortunes, which perhaps served only to make him more sensible of his present felicity.

Fortune, as if weary of the long persecutions the Somerive family had experienced, seemed now resolved to make them amends by showering her favours upon every branch of it. Warwick had hardly rejoiced a week in the good fortune of Orlando, when he received a summons to attend General Tracy; who, quite exhausted by infirmity, saw the end of his life approaching, and sacrificed his resentment, which time had already considerably weakened. He was not, however, yet able to see Isabella; but his pride had been alarmed by the accounts he had received of Warwick’s distressed circumstances, and above all, of his having a play coming forward at one of the theatres; which, though it was to pass as the work of an unknown young author, with a suppositious name, was well known to be, and publicly spoken of as his. That his nephew—that the nephew of an Earl should become an author and write for support, was so distressing to the haughty spirit of the old soldier, that though he saw many examples of the same thing in people of equal rank, he could not bear it; 344 and the very means his brother’s family took to irritate him against Warwick, by informing him of this circumstance, contributed more than any thing else to the resolution he formed of seeing his nephew, and restoring him to his favour. Warwick immediately agreed to withdraw his play. His uncle burnt the will by which he had been disinherited, and died about five months afterwards, bequeathing to his two boys by Isabella, all his landed estates, after their father, who was to enjoy them, together with his great personal property, for his life.

In the mean time the happy Orlando had conducted his lovely wife, his mother and his sisters to Rayland Hall; where, without spoiling that look of venerable antiquity for which it was so remarkable, he collected within it every comfort and every elegance of modern life. With what grateful transports did he now walk with Monimia over the park, and talk with her of their early pleasures and of their severe subsequent sufferings! and how sensible did these retrospects render them both of their present happiness!

Orlando was only a few weeks in undisputed possession of his estate, before he presented to each of his sisters five thousand pounds; and to add to his power of gratifying his mother, it happened that very soon after his arrival at Rayland Hall Mr. Stockton died, the victim of that intemperance which exorbitant wealth and very little under­standing had led him into. As he had no children, his very large property was divided among distant relations, his joint-heirs; Carloraine Castle was sold, pulled down by the purchaser, and the park converted into farms; and in this division of property, the house and estate at West Wolverton, formerly belonging to the Somerive family, were to be sold also. This his paternal house had been inhabited 345 by farmers, under-tenants of Stockton, when Orlando’s last melancholy visit was paid to it. He now purchased it; and putting it as nearly as he could into the same state as it was at the death of his father, he presented it to his mother with the estate around it; and thither she went to reside with her two youngest daughters, though they all occasionally paid visits to the Hall, particularly Selina, of whom Orlando and Monimia were equally fond.

Incapable of ingratitude, or of forgetting for a moment those to whom he had once been obliged, Orlando was no sooner happy in his restored fortune, than he thought of the widow of his military friend Fleming. To Fleming himself he owed it, that he existed at all;—to his widow, that an existence so preserved, had not been rendered a curse by the estrangement or loss of Monimia.

One of the first uses therefore that he made of his assured prosperity, was, to remove from this respectable protectress of his beloved Monimia, the mortifi­cations and incon­veniences of very narrow circumstances. He wrote to her, entreating to see her at the Hall with her children, and that she would stay there at least till after the accession of happiness he was to expect in the autumn. Towards the middle of September, Mrs. Fleming and her younger children arrived; and in a few days afterwards Monimia’s gallant young friend the sailor, to whom she owed her providential introduction to Mrs. Fleming, unexpectedly made his appearance. He returned from a very successful cruize; he was made a lieutenant, and had obtained leave of absence for ten days, to comfort with these tidings the heart of his widowed mother; when, not finding her at her usual habitation in the New Forest, he had followed her to Rayland Hall, where he was a most welcome guest.

346

This young man who was in disposition and in figure the exact repre­sentative of his father, could not long be insensible of the charms of the gentle Selina; and he spoke to Orlando of the affection he had conceived for her, with his natural sincerity. Orlando, who never felt the value of what he possessed, so much as when it enabled him to contribute to the happiness of his friends, seized with avidity an offer which seemed so likely to constitute that of his beloved sister; and he had the happiness in a few days of discovering that the old sea officer, Fleming’s relation and patron, was so well pleased with his gallant behaviour in the engagement he had lately been in, that he had determined to make him his heir, and most readily consented to make a settlement upon him more than adequate to the fortune Orlando had given his sister; and it was settled that Selina and Lieutenant Fleming should in a few months be united.

Orlando was very soon after made completely happy by the birth of a son, to whom he gave his own name, and who seemed to render his charming mother yet more dear to all around her. Every subsequent hour of the lives of Orlando and his Monimia was marked by some act of beneficence; and happy in themselves and in their connections, their gratitude to Heaven for the extensive blessings they enjoyed, was shewn in contributing to the cheerfulness of all around them.

In the number of those who felt the sunshine of their prosperity, and prayed for its continuance, no individual was more sincere in his joy, or more fervent in repeated expressions of it, than the useful old military mendicant, whose singular services Orlando rewarded by making him the tenant for life of a neat and comfortable lodge in his park—an arrangement that gratified both the dependent and his 347 protector.—Orlando never passed through his own gate without being agreeably reminded, by the grateful alacrity of this contented servant, of his past afflictions, and his present felicity.

FINIS.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter LII

It is hard for the author to sustain any feeling of suspense when the reader can plainly see that we are in the final chapter. But that doesn’t stop her from trying.

a hand or an head is found swimming in blood
[I did say the author had some peculiar ideas about words begin­ning in “h”.]

within three weeks Orlando was put in possession of his estate
[In future centuries, he’d be lucky to take possession within three years.]

This his paternal house had been inhabited by farmers, under-tenants of Stockton
[If Frances Stackhouse-Acton’s Castles and Old Mansions of Shropshire is any guide, this was a common fate of former manor houses. In fact, they may as well have left Carloraine Castle standing; it would have done nicely for a tenant farmer.]


On his return home, Orlando related to his wife

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.