It was probable that Sir John Belgrave’s messenger would immediately return, fixing the time and place where he would meet Orlando, who debated with himself whether he should send the billet he had received, and that he expected, to his father. He had not yet determined how he ought to act, and was traversing the flag stones which went around the house considering of it, ’when his father’s servant appeared, and delivered to him the following letter:
MY DEAR ORLANDO,
I have just seen Sir John Belgrave at Mr. Stockton’s, who, on my account, as this affair really gives me great pain, is willing to drop any farther resentment, if you will only say to me, that you 142 are sorry for your rashness. I entreat you to gratify me in this—I will not say I command you, because I hope that I need not; but this unlucky business must be settled before the return of your mother, from whom I have to day heard that she will be at home to morrow with Isabella, since she cannot determine to leave her in London.—I have also a letter from my old friend General Tracy, of whom you recollect hearing me speak as one of my early friends. He is much acquainted with your uncle Woodford, and has been very obliging in promoting his interest among his connections, which are with people of the first rank.—Having met your mother and sisters at Mr. Woodford’s, he has renewed that friendship which time and distance, and our different modes of life, have for some years interrupted; and as he is fond of field sports, and your mother has said how happy I shall be to see him, he intends coming hither to-morrow for ten days or a fortnight, and brings your mother and Isabella down in his post chaise. This intelligence has put Selina, who is now my housekeeper, into some little hurry, as you know we are little used to company; and it prevents my coming to you myself, as I should otherwise have done.—But I repeat, Orlando, that this uneasiness must be removed from my mind. Write to me therefore such a letter as I may shew to this Sir John Belgrave, and let us hear no more of it. I beg that you will inform Mrs. Rayland that I expect company, and that you will obtain her leave to be here to-morrow to receive them. Robert waits for your answer, which I am persuaded will be satisfactory to,
Your affectionate father,
To this letter, which was extremely distressing to Orlando, since it imposed upon him what he had he thought with propriety refused, he knew not what to answer. To suffer his father to say to Sir John Belgrave that he was sorry for what had passed, seemed to him even more humiliating than to say it himself—he could not bear to owe his safety to his father’s fears; yet it gave him infinite pain to disobey him, and was the first time in his life that he had been tempted to act for himself, in opposition to his father; and the apprehensions of what his mother would feel were still more distressing to him; yet his high spirit could not stoop to apologize for what he knew was not wrong, nor to say he was concerned for having acted as he should certainly act again were the same occasion to arise. After much and uneasy deliberation, he at length dispatched to his father the following lines:
MY DEAR SIR,
Again I must entreat your pardon for the disobedience I am compelled to be guilty of. Indeed it is impossible for me, highly as I honour your commands, and greatly as I feel the value of your tenderness, quite impossible for me to make any apology to Sir John Belgrave: for, were I to say that I am sorry for what had passed, I should say what is false, which surely my father will never insist upon. It would grieve my very soul to alarm my mother; but surely there is no necessity for her knowing any thing of this silly business. As you expect General Tracy to-morrow, of whose military character I have often heard you speak with applause, I entreat that you will rather entrust him with the affair, and ask him whether I ought, all circumstances fairly related, to make the submission required of me; and 144 as I am sure I may leave it to him to decide for me, I promise that I will abide by his determination, and will not till then meet Sir John Belgrave if he should in the mean time send me an appointment; though even this delay is, I own, incompatible with my ideas of that spirit which, in a proper cause, should be exerted by a son of yours. Let this promise, however, of a reference to General Tracy make you easy at present, my dear and honoured Sir! and be assured in every other instance of the obedience, and in every instance of the affection, of your
Rayland Hall, Oct. 20, 1776.
Having dispatched this letter, Orlando dismissed the affair of Sir John Belgrave from his mind for the present, and gave all his thoughts to Monimia. The circumstance of the man’s appearing at his door, though much less alarming than it seemed at first, was yet such as threatened to put an end to all those delicious conversations which had so long been the charm of his existence. Not to have an opportunity of seeing Monimia, was death to him; yet to see her, were she exposed to such terrors as she had undergone at their last interview, was impossible. In order to turn all suspicion from her, he would very willingly have been suspected of a penchant for Betty, and have encouraged her flippant forwardness; but that, as it awakened the envy and jealousy of Pattenson, was likely to put him upon the watch, and to bring on the very evil he dreaded. During the day, indeed, he had now frequent opportunities of seeing Monimia, who was now, unless under her aunt’s displeasure, less rigorously confined than formerly; but those interviews were never but in the presence of a third person; and after what his father had said, and what had happened 145 on the alarming evening, he was compelled to be more than ever cautious. Tormented by uncertainty, and perplexed by apprehensions, he passed a wretched afternoon; impatiently waiting till he could ascend the turret, and at least, if he could not see Monimia, obtain a letter from her. The hour at length came when he believed every one in the house were occupied with their own affairs; and having excused himself from drinking tea with Mrs. Rayland, under the pretence of being busied in writing for his father, he stole softly to the room under that of Monimia, and from thence up the stairs.
He listened, fearful of again hearing the indefatigable clack of Betty; but every thing was profoundly silent. The letter, which he had deposited there, was gone; but there was no answer. He feared Monimia was ill—the terror, the fatigue of the preceding night, had been too much for her. It was dreadful to be within two or three paces of her, and yet not dare to enquire.
Still listening some time in breathless anxiety, he at length determined to tap gently at the door; for he was pretty well convinced she was alone. Monimia, who was really ill, had lain down; but, starting at the well known signal, she approached close to the door, and said, Orlando!—Gracious Heaven! are you there?
Yes, yes! replied he; is it impossible you can admit me for a moment? I am miserable, and shall hardly keep my senses if I cannot see you.
Monimia, without replying, moved her bed and admitted him. It was already dark, but she had a candle on her table, and Orlando was shocked to see how ill she looked. He spoke of it tenderly to her: she assured him it was only owing to her having been so much fatigued and frightened, and that 146 a night’s rest, if she could obtain it, would entirely restore her. But you must not stay, Orlando! said she—indeed you must not!
Why? answered he—Is not your door fastened? Who is likely to interrupt us?
My aunt or Betty, replied she; for though my aunt is at her tea, there is no being secure of her. I have said I am ill, in which it can hardly be said I am guilty of a falsehood; and as I am under her displeasure on account of my unluckily staying beyond her orders, yet she may perhaps be seized with some whim; and even the voice of Betty would terrify me to death.
Orlando, promising to go, yet finding it impossible to tear himself from her, began to speak of what he had heard from Betty in the morning, while he waited at the door of Monimia’s room after depositing his letter. You see, my angel, said he, you see you are not suspected; and that the impertinent brute, whoever it was that dared intrude upon us, did not distinguish you. Make yourself easy therefore, I conjure you, and let us think no more of this alarm, for which, though I cannot yet discover how, I am sure I shall in a few days be able to account.
But I shall never again have courage to venture to your room, Orlando.
You will, replied he, surely, when I am able to convince you that such an interruption will happen no more, and till then I do not wish you to venture.
Hush, dearest Orlando! whispered Monimia; speak very low! I heard the door at the end of the passage open.
They both listened; and instantly Betty, by attempting to open the door, convinced them their fears were not groundless.
Lud, Miss, cried she, pushing against the door, 147 what have you locked yourself in for? Open the door—I want to speak to you.
Don’t speak! whispered Orlando: let me out as softly as you can, and then tell her you were sleeping.
She has the ears of a mole, said Monimia, and I shall be undone.
Quickly and softly, however, as her trembling hands would let her, she assisted in Orlando’s evasion—Betty still thumping at the door—I must come in, Miss, this minute.
I am laid down for my headach, replied Monimia as soon as Orlando was gone: It is strange that I can never have any repose! I was just asleep, Betty, and should be very glad not to be disturbed.
Glad or not glad, replied the other, I must come in. ’Tis an odd thing, I think, for people to push their chairs and tables about in their sleep! If you can do that, I suppose you can open the door?
Monimia now opened the door, and tremulously asked Betty, who flounced into the room, what was the matter?
Matter! said she—why there’s a fine to do below—There’s your favourite young ’Squire; he, as never does no wrong, has got into a fine scrape—just as I thought!
Good God! replied she, in a voice hardly articulate, tell me what you mean.
Why this great gentleman, as he affronted so, has determined to kill him out-right—He have been writing to him about it this morning; and Orlando, he is so stomachful, he won’t ask the gentleman’s pardon, and so now they be to fight.
And how, said Monimia, speaking with difficulty—how did you hear all this?
Why, from Sir John’s own man, a smart servant as ever I see, who is just come with a letter to 148 fix the time and place where they be to meet; and he have been telling us how it is to be: and so my mistress she have heard of it, and there’ll be fine to do I can tell you. They have been going for to find young ’Squire Orlando, but he is out somewhere or another. Mistress is in a fine quandary, but she says how Orlando was quite in the right.
Betty having thus unburthened herself of news which she was so anxious to tell, returned to see a little more of the smart servant, but not till Orlando, who had heard enough at the beginning of her conversation, had flown down to receive a letter which he had long expected, and now prepared to answer; though he was convinced that, by the bustle Sir John Belgrave chose to make, there was very little probability that he desired to be very much in earnest. The anxious night that this would occasion to his Monimia was his chief concern. He determined to attempt seeing her again, in hopes to alleviate her uneasiness; but he was first compelled to attend to Mrs. Rayland, who sent for him, and to whom he now related what had passed before, and read the letter which he had just received from Sir John Belgrave, which ran thus:
In consideration of your respectable father, I did hope you might have spared me the disagreeable task of chastising your improper behaviour. I shall be, on Thursday at twelve o’clock, in the Meadow adjoining to West Wolverton, with a brace of pistols, of which you shall take your choice.
I am, Sir,
your humble servant,
JOHN BERKELEY BELGRAVE.
Oct. 20th, 1776.
To this billet Orlando answered thus—
I will assuredly attend you at the time and place appointed; and have only to regret, that the persons to whom this affair has most unnecessarily been communicated, have so long an interval of uneasiness thus imposed upon them.
I am, Sir,
your humble servant,
Oct. 20th, 1776.
Mrs. Rayland, who entered into this business with an earnestness of which she seemed on most occasions incapable, approved of his letter, and admired the spirit he exerted in a cause which she considered as her own. Her fears for his safety seemed to be absorbed in the pleasure she felt in having found a champion who was so ready to take up her quarrel against those whose inroads had long disturbed her, and whom she hoped to mortify and humble.
Orlando, therefore, never was so high in her favour; but his own heart was torn with anguish, in reflecting on the situation of Monimia. As soon as the house was quiet he returned to the turret, made desperate by reflecting on her distress, and thinking it better to hazard a discovery than to leave her a whole night in solicitude so alarming.
Monimia, who little expected his return, admitted him as soon as she heard his signal. He found her in that state of mind which allows not the sufferer to shed tears; pale, and almost petrified, she sat on the side of her bed, with clasped hands and fixed eyes, while he related to her the whole of a transaction which he wished he could have concealed from her till the event could be known. But it was long before he could persuade her that 150 the danger was infinitely less than it appeared. It was evident that Sir John Belgrave, by postponing to Thursday what he might as well have settled on Wednesday, had no objection to the interference of the family he had taken care to alarm; and rather wished to have the honour of appearing a man of nice honour and dauntless courage at little expence, than to run the hazard of maintaining that character by needless rashness. When Orlando therefore had represented his conduct in the ridiculous light it deserved, and shewn her how probable it was that his father and General Tracy would contrive to prevent a meeting, the fears of Monimia were in some degree subdued; and at day break Orlando left her, having insisted on her promising to endeavour to sleep, and to make herself as easy as under such circumstances was possible.
I shall be, on Thursday at twelve o’clock, in the Meadow adjoining to West Wolverton, with a brace of pistols, of which you shall take your choice
[Nice try, Sir John. If you had really been a gentleman of more than two years’ standing, you would know that, one, the challenged party chooses the weapons; two, time and place are arranged by your respective seconds, avoiding any direct communication between the duellists; and three, one does not fight a duel at high noon. That’s for gunfights on a different continent in a later century. Incidentally, the 20th of October, 1776, was not a Tuesday, as implied by the narrative; it was a Sunday.]
Orlando left Mrs. Rayland about twelve o’clock
On the following morning Orlando received an early summons from his father
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.