On the following morning Orlando received an early summons from his father, requesting him to be at home by two o’clock, when his mother, his sister, and General Tracy were expected; for, as the General travelled with his own four horses, which were very fine ones, and of which he was particularly fond, the ladies had agreed to remain one night on the road, and reach home early the second day; though the journey was otherwise easily performed in one, West Wolverton being only about sixty-five miles from London.
Orlando having informed Mrs. Rayland of the reason of his absence; having seen Monimia for a moment, again whispered to her to be less apprehensive for his safety, and promising to see her at 151 night, he proceeded to obey his father. On his arrival, he found him walking with the General on the grass plot before the door; and springing from his horse, paid his duty to him, was introduced in form to the General, and then eagerly asked for his mother and his sister.
They were within; and Orlando, flying to them, was surprised by his mother’s throwing her arms around him, and falling into an agony of tears, in which his three sisters, who stood around her, accompanied her. He entreated an explanation; and learned from Isabella, who alone was able to speak, that the servants had been telling them, instantly on their arrival at home, that he was about to fight a duel, in which it was the opinion of the informers that he must certainly be killed.
Orlando, execrating the folly of the servants, or rather the paltry conduct of Sir John Belgrave, who had apparently made all this bustle on purpose, endeavoured to re-assure and console his mother; but her alarm for his safety was too great to allow her to listen patiently to any thing he could say, since the fact of his having received and accepted a challenge from Sir John Belgrave he did not attempt to deny. The anxious mother, now that she saw him before her, thought only of preventing the meeting which might deprive her of that comfort for ever. She seemed afraid of his stirring from her sight, as if Sir John Belgrave had lurked in every corner of the house; and desired he would remain with her in her own room, while she sent Isabella to entreat that Mr. Somerive would come to her.
When he saw her, her tears and agitation sufficiently explained to him, that those whom he had expressly ordered to be silent had found it impossible to obey him. To Selina and Emma, the two youngest girls, who had remained at home, it had 152 been known almost as soon as to himself, but he had enjoined them to conceal it from their mother; and knew that, whatever it cost them to be silent on such a subject, neither of them would disobey him. It was, however, too late, or at least useless, to declaim against the folly of those who had; and he found sufficient employment in appeasing the distress of his wife and daughters, while he sent Orlando to entertain the General.
General Tracy was the second brother of a noble family; and, having entered very young into the army, had passed through the inferior ranks with that rapidity which interest always secures. At five-and-thirty he had a regiment; and as some of the fortunes of uncles and aunts had centred in him, he was now, at near sixty, a man of very large fortune, and seemed to want nothing to complete his happiness, but the power of persuading others, as he had almost persuaded himself, that he was but five-and-thirty still.
To effect this, and maintain that favour which he had always been in among the ladies, was the great object of his life. His person had been celebrated for beauty; and he desired to preserve a pre-eminence, which was in his opinion superior to any fame he could derive from his bravery in the field, or his ability in the senate, where he had long been a member, certainly voting with the minister of the day. He had a place about the court, at which he was a constant attendant, and where the softness and elegance of his manners, the pliability of his political attachments, and his very considerable interest and property, rendered him a great favourite.—All the time he could spare from his duty there, he seemed to devote to the service of those fashionable women who give the ton, and whose favour he disputed with the rising heroes of 153 the fashionable world. But he felt in reality only disgust and satiety in their company; and had no taste but for youth and beauty, of which he was continually in search—and with his fortune his search could not be unsuccessful. He had no scruples to deter him from decoying any young woman whom he liked, that chance might throw into his power; but he usually avoided with care any scheme which was likely to be interrupted by the unpleasant remonstrances of a father or a brother, and generally pursued only the indigent and the defenceless.
As he purchased his wine of Mr. Woodford, he had occasionally been at his house. His daughters were rather handsome, and very lively girls; and though they did not come exactly under the description of those whose preference the General could without much trouble secure, he found himself pleased with their company, because they were greatly flattered by the admiration of such a fashionable man, and never so happy as when the General sent his superb coach for them, and gallanted them to some public place, or drove them in his phaeton through Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens. Their father, who thought more of the good customer which the General was himself, and the great families he had recommended him to, than of any necessity for reserve in his daughters, encouraged this acquaintance (which their mother was as well pleased with as the young women) till the neighbourhood talked loudly of their indiscretion, and till the youngest Miss Woodford, who was his peculiar favourite, was declared by many ladies to have considerably injured her reputation. This she herself considered only as a testimony of their envy, and her own superior attractions; and the more she heard of their malignant remarks, the 154 more eagerly she endeavoured to shew her contempt of their opinion, and her power over the General, who, on the return of the family to town after their visit to West Wolverton, was more than usual at the house. But thither he was no longer attracted by the charms of Miss Eliza Woodford. The moment he beheld Isabella Somerive, he had no eyes for any other person; and though he soon learned that she was in a situation of life which placed her above those temptations which he generally found infallible, and had a father and two brothers to protect her, the impression she had made was such that he could not determine to lose sight of her; and as the discovery of the preference he gave her had made both her cousins very little desirous of her company in London during the winter, where she seemed too likely to rob them of all their conquests, he found she was to return home with her mother—and thither he resolved to follow her.
An opportunity of introducing himself into the family of Somerive was easily obtained, when he recollected that, in the preceding war, Somerive, in whose own county there was at that time no militia, had, being then an active man, procured a commission in that of a neighbouring county, and served in a camp then formed for the defence of the coast, where he himself was a captain. They had at that time been frequently together, and afterwards kept up some degree of intimacy, till Somerive’s marriage fixing him wholly in retirement, the gay and fashionable soldier thought of him no more.
The General, however, no sooner knew who the visitors at Woodford’s were, than he most assiduously and successfully paid his court to Mrs. Somerive; talked to her continually of her husband, whose merits he affected to remember with infinite 155 regard, and for whose interest he appeared to feel the warmest concern. It was a theme of which Mrs. Somerive, who adored her husband, was never weary; and while General Tracy so pathetically lamented the interruption of their friendship, nothing was more natural than her entreaties to him that he would renew it.
That was the point he had laboured to gain, and he accepted the invitation she gave him, adding the opportunity of the shooting season to his other , the better to colour so unexpected a visit. He had found it convenient to pretend a great passion for field sports—partly because it was fashionable, and partly because it shewed that his powers of enduring fatigue were equal to the youthful appearance he assumed; and to support this, he now and then went through, what was to him most miserable drudgery, that of a day’s hunting or shooting; but he more usually contrived, when he was at the houses of his friends for these purposes, to sprain his ancle in the first excursion he made, or to hurt himself by the recoil of his gun; and by such methods he generally managed to be left without suspicion at home with the ladies; with whom he was so universal a favourite, and to whom he had so many ways of recommending himself, by deciding on their dress, reading to them books of entertainment, and relating anecdotes collected in the higher circles where he moved in the winter, that he found no loss of attention from the progress of years—a progress indeed which he took the utmost pains to conceal. His clothes, which were always made by the most eminent taylor, were cut with as much care as those of the most celebrated beauty on her first appearance at court; and he had several contrivances, of his own invention, to make them fit with advantage to his person. His hands were 156 more delicate than those of any lady; and though he could not so totally baffle the inexorable hands of time as to escape a few wrinkles, he still maintained a considerable share of the bloom of youth, not without suspicion of Olympian dew, cold cream, and Spanish wool. Certain it is that he was very long at his toilet every day, to which no person, not even his valet-de-chambre, was admitted. With all this he was a man of the most undoubted bravery; and had not only served in Germany with great credit, but had been engaged in several affairs of honour, in which he had always acquitted himself with courage and propriety. Such was the man who was now, from no very honourable motives, become an inmate in the house of Mr. Somerive.
When Mr. Somerive had appeased the distress into which his wife was thrown by the intelligence she had so abruptly received about Orlando, and had prevailed upon her to compose herself and appear at dinner, he returned back to his friend, whom he found in conversation with Orlando; and he determined that he would, over their wine, relate to him what had passed between Sir John Belgrave and his son (who had put Sir John’s last letter into his hands), and take the General’s opinion as to what was fit to be done.
Dinner was announced, and the ladies of the family appeared;—the mother, with swollen eyes, which she could not a moment keep from Orlando; and the daughters appearing to sympathize with her, particularly Selina, who was fondly attached to Orlando, and who, from the terror in which she saw her mother, having caught redoubled apprehension, could hardly command her tears; and though the General failed not to compliment her on her beauty, which even exceeded that of her sister, and to speak in the warmest terms to Mr. and Mrs. 157 Somerive of their lovely family, Selina heeded him not. He observed that Isabella was less insensible of his studied eulogiums, and from thence drew a favourable omen. Emma, the youngest of the girls, was only between twelve and thirteen.
As soon as the table-cloth was removed, Mrs. Somerive, under pretence of being a good deal fatigued with her journey, and somewhat indisposed, withdrew with her daughters: Mr. Somerive soon after gave Orlando a hint to go also; and then he opened to General Tracy the affair which lay so heavy on his heart, and entreated his advice how to act.
I am glad, answered the General, to learn the cause of Mrs. Somerive’s concern, which was so evident at dinner, as well as that of her amiable daughters, that I was afraid some very disagreeable incident had happened in the family.
And is not, said Mr. Somerive, what I have related disagreeable enough?
No, upon my honour! I see nothing in it but what is rather a matter of exultation. Your son is one of the finest and most spirited young men I ever saw. If he was a son of my own, I should rejoice that he had acted so properly, and be very proud of him.
But you would not risk his life, surely? said Mr. Somerive.
Why, as to that, replied the General, in these cases there is some little risk, to be sure: but I should never check a lad of spirit. I know Belgrave, added he, smiling.
And what is his reputation for courage? enquired Mr. Somerive.
Oh! he is quite the fine man of the day, answered the General carelessly,—He will fight, if 158 he must—but I believe is quite as willing to let it alone.
It will break my wife’s heart, said Mr. Somerive dejectedly, and amazed at the different light in which two people, from their different modes of life, consider the same object; it will certainly break my wife’s heart, if any evil befalls Orlando.
General Tracy now saw that an opportunity offered by which he might confer an obligation on the family, which must secure their endless gratitude, and he resolved to embrace it.
If it makes you all so uneasy, replied he, after a moment’s pause, and especially if her fears make Mrs. Somerive so very wretched, suppose we try what can be done to put an end to the affair without a meeting. I dare say Belgrave will easily be induced, on the slightest apology, to drop the affair entirely.
But even the slightest apology Orlando will not be persuaded to make, said Mr. Somerive.
He is right, answered the General; and I honour him for his resolution. It is a thousand pities, continued he, again pausing, that such a gloriously spirited young fellow should waste his life in seclusion, waiting on the caprices of an old woman—What do you intend to do with him?
That, said Somerive, is what I have long been in doubt about. I had thoughts once of putting him into trade; but to that project Mrs. Rayland’s objections, and Orlando’s little inclination to follow it, put an end.
I am glad they did; for it would have been a sad sacrifice, I think, to have set so fine a young man down to a compting-house desk for the rest of his life.
And at other times, re-assumed Mr. Somerive, I have thought of the church. Mrs. Rayland has 159 very considerable patronage; but though I have hinted very frequently to her my wishes on this subject, she never would understand me, to give me any assurance that she would secure him a living; or made any offer of assistance to support him at the university, which she knows that it is quite impossible for me, circumstanced as I am at present, to do.
She was in the right of it, cried the General. The old lady has more sagacity than I suspected, and knows that it would be absolutely a sin to make him a parson, and bury all that sense and spirit in a country vicarage. Why, my good friend, do you not put your son into the army?—that seems to be the profession for which nature has designed him.
Because, answered Somerive, I have, in the first place, no money to buy him a commission; and, if I had, there are two great objections to it:—it would half kill his mother, and take him out of the way of Mrs. Rayland, which appears to be very impolitic.
What if a commission were found for him, said General Tracy, do you think the other objections ought to weigh much? Consider of it, my good friend; and if you think such a plan would be eligible, and the young man himself likes it, perhaps it may be in my power to be of some use to you.
Mr. Somerive warmly expressed his gratitude for the interest that his friend seemed to take in the welfare of his Orlando; and then, after a short silence, said: But, my dear General, we forget, while we are planning schemes for the future life of Orlando, it may be terminated to-morrow.
Well, replied he, since I see you cannot conquer your alarm about this matter, and as I am still more 160 concerned for Mrs. Somerive, I will go over early in the morning to Belgrave, who has wisely appointed the meeting at twelve o’clock, and somehow or other we will get it settled.—If I say to the doughty baronet, that his honour will suffer nothing by dropping it, I am pretty well assured that he will be content to let it go no farther. Make yourself easy therefore, and go tell your wife that I will take care of her little boy, while I pay my respects to the young ladies whom I see walking in the garden.
Somerive, whose heart was agonized by the distress of his wife, hastened to relieve her; and the General went off at a quick march to overtake the three Miss Somerives, to whom he related some part of the conversation that had passed between him and their father, and the task he had undertaken of settling the affair with Sir John Belgrave.
The sensible hearts of these charming girls were filled with the liveliest emotions towards the General, who, if he could save their brother from danger, which their timidity had dreadfully magnified, they believed would be entitled to their everlasting gratitude. The brilliant eyes of Isabella sparkled with pleasure, while the softer blue eyes of Selina were turned towards him filled with tears of pleasure: and little Emma longed to embrace him, as she used to do her father when he had granted any of her infantine requests. While every one alternately expressed her thanks, Tracy whispered to Isabella, by whose side he was walking: To give the slightest pleasure to my lovely Isabella, I would do infinitely more: and, rather than she should be alarmed, take myself the chance of Sir John Belgrave’s fire.
Isabella, too ignorant of the ways of the world 161 to be either offended or alarmed by such a speech, and naturally pleased by flattery and admiration, smiled on the enamoured General in a manner so fascinating as overpaid him for all the trouble he had taken or proposed to take: and while he meditated against his old friend the greatest injury he could commit, he reconciled himself to it, by determining to do such services to the other part of the family, as would more than compensate for the inroads he might make on its peace by carrying off Isabella; for to carry her off he was resolved, if his art could effect it. His eagerness, however, to serve Orlando, had another motive than this of retribution. He foresaw that so spirited a young man might prevent, or, not being able to do that, would very seriously resent his designs upon a sister: the character of the elder brother, of which he had by this time formed a pretty clear idea, left him little to apprehend from him; but the fiery and impetuous Orlando would, he thought, be much better out of the way.
His conversation with the Miss Somerives now took a gayer turn; and so happy did he feel himself with three such nymphs around him, that he regretted the summons which called them in to attend the tea-table.
Mrs. Somerive, who had now been long in conference with her husband, and afterwards with Orlando, appeared much more cheerful than at dinner, and surveyed the General with those looks of complacency which expressed how much she was obliged to him for the interference he had promised. The evening passed off pleasantly. Orlando staid to supper; but then told his father, that he had some business to do for Mrs. Rayland early the next day (which was true), and therefore he would return to the Hall that evening. Mr. Somerive, who still felt 162 a dread which he could not conquer, entreated him to give his word of honour, that he would not throw himself in the way of Sir John Belgrave till the hour of that gentleman’s appointment. This Orlando (who was ignorant of the plans in agitation to prevent that appointment from taking place at all) thought himself obliged to comply with: on which condition his father, though reluctantly, suffered him at midnight to mount his horse and return to Rayland Hall, where he had desired Betty to sit up for him; fearful of entering through the chapel, lest his doing so should lead to those suspicions he was so desirous of avoiding. As soon as he left his father’s door, he put his horse into a gallop, impatient to be with Monimia; and as he crossed the park, he saw a light in her turret, and pleased himself with the idea of her fondly expecting his arrival.
In four-volume editions, this is Chapter I of Volume II.
had passed through the inferior ranks with that rapidity which interest always secures
[We will soon receive further confirmation that the author does not have much respect for the General.]
his ability in the senate
[I do hope she means Parliament.]
[General Tracy] pursued only the indigent and the defenceless
[If you interpreted this paragraph to mean that the remainder of Volume I will be devoted to the General’s persecution of a helpless and terrified Monimia . . . you are doomed to disappointment.]
adding the opportunity of the shooting season to his other inducements
text has inducments
It was probable that Sir John Belgrave’s messenger would immediately return
Orlando found Betty waiting for him as she had promised
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.