Orlando, already repenting, though he hardly knew why, that he had told the game-keeper so 334 much, was very unwilling to entrust him with more. He had not so exactly described the way of his communication with Monimia, as to enable any other person to find it; and he wished rather to recall than to increase the confidence he had placed in a man of whom he knew very little, and who might perhaps make an ill use of his confidence. A new difficulty therefore arose: he knew not what to do with Jacob and the horses, which he now repented that he had used. If he sent them on to his father’s, it would be suspected by a family who were every hour looking out for him, that he had staid behind with Monimia: if he left them in the wood, the man would probably be discontented; and if he sent them to an alehouse near the mill at the extremity of the park, Pattenson (who was the great friend and patron of the man who kept it) or some of the other servants, might be there, whose enquiries could neither be satisfied nor evaded. Determined however as he was to open his heart to his father before his last adieu, he, after some deliberation, resolved to send them home; and he thought the enquiries his father would make, would give him a good opportunity to put an end (at least as far as he could) to a mystery of which he felt ashamed, as unworthy of himself, and of the object of his affection.—Thus resolved, he told the game-keeper he meant to return back to the Hall, in the hope of seeing Monimia for five minutes; and that he should go to West Wolverton with his horse and portmanteau, whither he would himself follow in about two hours, as he should tell his father, if he asked after him, on hearing or seeing the horses arrive without him.
The man obeyed; and Orlando, making a circuit through the woods, in order to return to the Hall by the least frequented way, and to have as 335 little of the open part of the park to cross as possible, arrived once more at the mansion which he had so lately quitted as for the last time.—He walked very slowly on purpose; and his thoughts were such as brought with them only dejection and sorrow.
He could not help recollecting with regret, those hours, now gone for ever, when, in his early youth he traversed these paths—happy in the present, and thoughtless of the future;—when he had no passion to torment, no fears for its object to depress him; but went to Monimia with the same simple eagerness as any of his sisters or his other playfellows, and was unconscious that the rest of their lives would be imbittered with anxiety and disappointment—perhaps remorse.—Orlando already felt something like it: with the most candid and ingenuous temper he had lived some time in a course of deception—he had taught it to the innocent, unsuspecting Monimia, and had sullied the native candour and integrity of her character. The sophistry by which he had formerly prevailed upon her to consent to their clandestine meetings, now seemed mean and contemptible; but perhaps in thinking thus, Orlando was too much like other transgressors, who repent because they can sin no more.
He thought himself, however, firmly determined that, had he staid at the Hall, he would, at whatever hazard, act with more openness; but as he was now going from it, there could be no harm in this last adieu. In writing to Monimia there could be nothing wrong, especially as he meant not to make a secret of it to his father and Selina, nor indeed to any of his own family: while the peculiarities of Mrs. Rayland, and the watchful malignity of Mrs. Lennard, seemed fully to justify his 336 not revealing to them what would be so hazardous to Monimia and to himself.
Amid these disquieting and contradictory reflections, he at last reached the Hall. It was the darkest of December nights, but calm and still. Orlando walked slowly round the house, which, save a glimmering light from the window of Mrs. Lennard’s room, bore no appearance of being inhabited. His longing eyes, which had anxiously watched for some consoling beam from the turret, whither they had so often been turned with transport, now sought for the propitious ray in vain. Still it was possible Monimia might be there, but, from her aunt’s late suspicions, deprived of a light. As the house seemed perfectly quiet, he ventured up to the well known door, and, listening awhile, tapped at it; no answer was given!—he repeated the signal louder; still no delicious sounds were heard in return!—and convinced at length that his project had wholly failed, and Monimia was still a prisoner, he became half frantic, from the reflection that he had hazarded their secret in vain: he had in vain imagined a finesse, and asserted a falsehood, and perhaps must at last go without seeing her, his heart torn at once by his own sufferings and by the idea of hers.
In stepping back to return down the stairs, when after a long stay all hope had forsaken him, his foot struck something before him, which seemed to be a parcel: as not a ray of light entered the place where he was, he felt for this with his hands, and, at length finding it, he discovered it to be a small book: it was tied with a packthread; and Orlando immediately supposed, what was indeed the truth, that Monimia, not being permitted to return that evening to sleep in her former apartment, had, however, on some pretence or other entered 337 it, and deposited at the door that book, which contained a letter. He opened the book with trembling hands, and found what he expected by the seal; but to read it was impossible, where he had no means of procuring light: he therefore put it into his pocket as eagerly as if he was afraid somebody would take it from him, and then ran towards home; where, hardly feeling the ground as he went, he arrived, in a state of mind so uneasy and confused, that he no longer was capable of caution or reserve; but hastening into the kitchen, where he first perceived a light, he snatched up a candle without speaking, and was hurrying with it to his own room, when his father, who had been anxiously watching his arrival, opened the door through which he was preparing to pass upstairs; and seeing him pale and breathless, his eyes wild, and his hair dishevelled, he concluded that something very terrible had happened to his brother.—The rash, unthinking, and vehement character of Philip, his wild profusion, and unsettled principles, had of late so harrassed the imagination of his father, that he now thought only of his committing suicide; and the sudden appearance of Orlando, in such an agitated state, struck him with the idea that this fatal event had happened—Almighty God! cried he, as he seized the arm of Orlando, who, muttering something, would have passed to his room—Almighty God! what I have dreaded has happened.—Orlando, who thought at that moment only of Monimia, and was impatient at every interruption, was, however, so struck with this exclamation, and with the look of anguish that accompanied it, that he stopped, and, with terror equal to that with which he had been addressed, cried, What, my dear Sir! for Heaven’s sake what has happened? My mother, my sisters!—Oh your brother! interrupted Mr. Somerive—tell 338 me the worst at once, it cannot be more dreadful than my fears represent it.—Indeed, Sir, I know nothing of my brother; nothing has happened to him that I know of—I hope you have heard nothing.
No! cried Mr. Somerive, a little recovering from his apprehension. Speak low, Orlando; I would not for the world alarm your mother, who is in bed:—but your looks, your haste, your staying out, and your sudden appearance, gave me I know not what idea, that some dreadful accident had happened to poor Philip.
Dear Sir, replied Orlando, you will really destroy yourself, if you give way to such horrible apprehensions; Philip, I am persuaded, is well.—Pray compose yourself; I am extremely sorry I alarmed you, and beg you will make yourself easy.
Ah! Orlando, said Mr. Somerive as he sat down in the parlour, whither he desired his son to follow him—ah, Orlando! you relieve me from one misery only to plunge me into another, less insupportable indeed, but still more painful to me.—What is the meaning, my dear boy, of these haggard looks, of this disordered manner, of these late walks, and this breathless return? Some mystery hangs over your actions, which cannot but be injurious, since those actions, were they not such as your own conscience condemns, need not be concealed from your family—from your father!
They shall not, Sir! replied Orlando warmly—I will not leave you in doubt about my conduct; you will find nothing in it that need make you blush for your son: spare me but this one night, and to-morrow night there shall not be a wish of my heart concealed from you.
Alas, poor boy, said Mr. Somerive tenderly, I guess but too much of them already:—but, Orlando, 339 I depend upon your integrity; I have never known it deceive me. Go, therefore, now—and let me not see to-morrow that wild and unsettled look, that pale countenance, and so many symptoms of suffering, which I, my son, see but too plainly, and yet dare hardly say I pity, for fear I should encourage what I ought to condemn. Then, with a deep sigh, he added, Good night, dear Orlando! I will go and endeavour to compose myself, or at least conceal from your mother the uneasiness that devours me.—Ah, my child! many and many nights I do not close my eyes: the sad image of Philip, bringing ruin on himself, on my wife, and on my poor girls, haunts me eternally; and then, Orlando, when my expectation rests on you, when I think that I have another son who will protect and support them when I am gone—for I feel that I shall not live long—then the apprehension of some fatal entanglement that will ruin all our hopes, comes over my heavy heart; and I see nothing for my wife, and my dear girls, but poverty and despair.
Oh! this is too much, cried Orlando; I cannot indeed bear it—What shall I say—what shall I swear, to quiet these distracting apprehensions?—Good God, Sir! what have I ever done, what selfish actions have I ever been guilty of, which could lead my father to suppose that, to gratify myself, I would abandon my dear—my affectionate mother, or forget the interest of my sweet sisters?—Nay, Orlando, you never have given me reason for such a supposition; but let us talk of it no more—once more, good night! Orlando then kissed his father’s hand, and left him. Eagerly he tore open the letter, which had already, from his excessive impatience, occasioned to him so much pain. It contained these few words:—340
“My aunt refused to let me return to my former room this night, and you well know I dared not press it; I could obtain no more than permission, to go thither for half an hour to put it to rights, as she has told me I shall go back to it to-morrow; and I use that opportunity to leave this letter, inclosed in a book, which I hope you will not miss. Orlando, if you go to-morrow, we shall meet no more!—But as you mention not setting out till Monday morning, I flatter myself that if that is so, you will not go without seeing me: at all events I will be in the great pond-wood between four and five to-morrow evening; and will wait on the old bench not far from the boat house. I will not say what I shall suffer till you come, if indeed you do come: but be not uneasy for me, for my aunt will have no doubt of your being quite out of the country by to-morrow, and therefore will let me go out to walk without any questions. If you can come, I shall not expect to find an answer at my door.—If you cannot—But, indeed, Orlando, my trembling hand, and the tears that fall upon the paper, prevent my saying any more. I cannot write a farewell to you!—But if I never should see you again, do not forget me, Orlando!—And may God bless you, and make you happy!”
The paper was indeed blistered, and some of the words almost obliterated, by the tears that had mingled with the ink. Orlando kissed these marks of tender sensibility a thousand and a thousand times; he laid the precious paper to his heart, and believed the talisman abated its throbbing; then took it to read again, and endeavoured to calm his spirits with the assurance that he should meet the adored writer of it, and repeat an hundred times protestations of tenderness which he never felt more forcibly than now. But as soon as his disquieting apprehensions 341 about Monimia, and his fears of not seeing her, were appeased, the scene he had just passed through with his father recurred with more acute pain to his mind: he had promised to reveal the secret which was already suspected; but, though he firmly adhered to this resolution, surely his father would not insist upon his promise to give up all thoughts of Monimia—That he felt to be a promise which he could not make—his whole heart recoiled from it. Ah! why was it thus impossible to reconcile his duty and his love; and why should his attachment to Monimia be inconsistent with the attention his family would have a right to—if—if his father should die?—The very idea of his father’s death was insupportable; and yet he was going from him, and could not watch his health, or contribute to his comfort. Thus wretched Orlando tried in vain to sleep—his blood throbbed tumultuously in his veins; his heart seemed too big for his bosom; by carrying his thoughts to the dreadful parting of the next day, he was rendered incapable of tasting any present repose; and day appeared before his troubled thoughts had so wearied his frame as to allow him to fall into unquiet slumber. Even in his short and disturbed sleep, tormenting visions assailed him—he saw the funeral of his father, who yet appeared living, or at least appearing to him, though dead—and pointing with one hand to his mother and his sisters, while with the other he waved him away from Monimia, who, at a distance, seemed to sit dejected and alone, in a wild and dreary scene, where birds of prey screamed around her—from which she endeavoured to escape towards Orlando, and held out her hands to him for help in vain. A repetition of these unformed horrors took away all inclination to sleep. At seven o’clock Orlando left his bed, more dejected 342 than ever he felt before; and dreading the dialogue that must ensue, he joined his father, who was walking, melancholy and alone, in the garden.
What is the meaning, my dear boy, of these haggard looks, of this disordered manner
[Orlando here passes up an opportunity to be perfectly truthful with his father by confessing that he is upset because he had hoped to see Monimia, but was disappointed in his hope. Father might be a little disgruntled, but on balance he would be happy things worked out that way.]
Orlando could not conceal the anguish of his heart
Somerive received his son with tenderness; but his dejection was but too visible.
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.