The Old Manor House/Part 1
IN an old Manor House in one of the most southern counties of England, resided some few years since the last of a family that had for a long series of years possessed it. Mrs Rayland was the only survivor of the three co-heiresses of Sir Hildebrand Rayland; one of the first of those to whom the title of Baronet had been granted by James the First. The name had been before of great antiquity in the county – and the last baronet having only daughters to share his extensive possessions, these ladies had been educated with such very high ideas of their own importance, that they could never be prevailed upon to lessen, by sharing it with any of those numerous suitors, who for the first forty or fifty years of their lives surrounded them, and Mrs Barbara the eldest, and Mrs Catharine the youngest, died single – one at the age of seventy, and the other at that of sixty-eight: by which events the second, Mrs Grace, saw herself at the advanced age of sixty-nine sole inheritor of the fortunes of her house, without any near relation, or indeed any relation at all whom she chose to consider as entitled to possess it after her death.
About four miles from the ancient and splendid seat she inhabited, dwelt the only person who could claim any affinity with the Rayland family: this was a gentleman of the name of Somerive; who was considered by the people of the country as heir at law, as he was the grandson of one of the sisters of Sir Hildebrand: but Mrs Rayland herself, whose opinion was more material, since it was all at her own disposal, did not by any means seem to entertain the same idea.
The venerable lady, and her two sisters, had never beheld this their relation with the eyes of friendly interest; nor had they ever extended towards him that generous favour which they had so much the power to afford, and which could not have failed to prove very acceptable; since he had married early in life, and had a family of two sons and four daughters to support on the produce of an estate, which though he farmed it himself, did not bring in a clear five hundred pounds a year.
Various reasons, or rather prejudices, had concurred to occasion this coolness on the part of the ladies towards their cousin. – Their aunt, who had married his ancestor, had, as they had always been taught, degraded herself extremely, by giving herself to a man who was a mere yeoman. – The son of this union had however been received and acknowledged as the cousin of the illustrious heiresses of the house of Rayland; but following most plebian-like the unaspiring inclination of his own family, he had fallen in love with a young woman, who lived with them as companion; when it was believed that, as he was a remarkably handsome man, he might have lifted his eyes with impunity to one of the ladies, his cousins: this occasioned an estrangement of many years, and had never been forgiven. – The recollection of it returned with acrimonious violence, when the son of this imprudent man imitated his father, five-and-twenty afterwards and married a woman, who had nothing to recommend her but beauty, simplicity, and goodness.
However, notwithstanding the repeated causes of complaint which this luckless family of Somerive had given to the austere and opulent inhabitants of Rayland Hall, the elder lady had on her death-bed recollected, that, though debased by the alloy of unworthy alliances, they carried in their veins a portion of that blood which had circulated in those of the august personage Sir Orlando de Rayland her grandfather; and she therefore recommended Mr Somerive and his family, but particularly his youngest son (who was named, by reluctantly obtained permission, after Sir Orlando), to the consideration of her sisters, and even gave to Mr Somerive himself a legacy of five hundred pounds; a gift which her sisters took so much amiss (though they possessed between them a yearly income of near twice five thousand), that it had nearly rendered her injunction abortive; and they treated the whole family for some time afterwards with the greatest coolness, and even rudeness; as if to convince them, that though Mrs Rayland had thus acknowledged their relationship, it gave them no claim whatever on the future kindness of her surviving sisters.
For some years afterwards the dinners, to which in great form the whole family were invited twice a year, were entirely omitted, and none of them admitted to the honour of visiting at the Hall but Orlando, then a child of nine or ten years old; and even his introduction was principally owing to the favour of an old lady, the widow of a clergyman, who was among the ancient friends of the family, that still enjoyed the privilege of being regularly sent for in the old family coach, once a year; a custom which, originating in the days of Sir Hildebrand, was still retained.
This lady was a woman of sense and benevolence, and had often attempted to do kind offices to the Somerive family with their rich maiden relations; but the height of her success amounted to no more, than obtaining a reward of the very little notice that had ever been taken of them, after those capricious fits of coldness which sometimes happened; and once, some time after the death of the elder Mrs Rayland, bringing Orlando to the Hall in her hand (whom she had met by chance fishing in a stream that ran through their domain), without being chidden for encouraging an idle child to catch minnows, or for leading him all dirty and wet into their parlour, at a time when the best embroidered chairs, done by the hands of dame Gertrude Rayland, were actually unpapered, and uncovered for the reception of company.
There was indeed in the figure, face and manner of the infant Orlando, something so irresistible, that if Mesdames Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megara had seen him, they would probably have been softened in his favour – And this something had always so pleaded for him with the three equally formidable ladies his relations, that notwithstanding the opposition of their favourite maid, who was in person and feature well worthy to make the fourth in such a group, and the tales of their old and confidential butler, who did not admire the introduction of any competitor whatever, Orlando had always been in some degree of favour – even when his father, mother and sisters were shut out, and his elder brother entirely disclaimed as a wild and incorrigible boy, who had been caught in the fact of hunting divers cats, and shooting one of their guinea hens – Orlando, though not at all less wild than his brother, and too artless to conceal his vivacity, was still endured – A new half crown from each of the ladies was presented to him on every return to school, together with abundance of excellent advice; and if any one observed that he was a remarkably handsome boy, the ladies never contradicted it; though, when the same observation was made as to the rest of the family, it was declared to be most absurd and utterly unfounded in truth. – To the beauty indeed of any female the ladies of Rayland Hall had a particular objection, but that of the Miss Somerives was above all obnoxious to them – Nor could they ever forget the error the grandfather of these children had committed in marrying for her beauty the young woman, whose poverty having reduced her to be their humble companion, they had considered as an inferior being, and had treated with supercilious insolence and contempt. – To those therefore to whom her unlucky beauty was transmitted, they bore irreconcileable enmity, even in the second generation; and had any one been artful enough to have suggested that Orlando was like his grandmother, it would probably have occasioned the loss of even the slight share of favour he possessed.
When Orlando was about twelve years old, the younger of the three antique heiresses died: she left not however even a small legacy to the Somerive family, but gave every thing she possessed to her surviving sister. Yet even by this lady, though the coldest and most unsociable tempered of the three, Orlando was not entirely forgotten – she left him the bible she always used in her closet, and ten pounds to buy mourning: the other members of his family were not even named.
One only of the Mrs Raylands now remained; a woman, who, except regularly keeping up the payment of the annual alms, which had by her ancestors been given once a year to the poor of her parish, was never known to have done a voluntary kindness to any human being: and though she sometimes gave away money, it was never without making the wretched petitioner pay most dearly for it, by many a bitter humiliation – never, but when it was surely known, and her great goodness, her liberal donation to such and such people, were certainly related with exaggeration, at the two market towns within four or five miles of her house.
With a very large income, and a great annual saving, her expences were regulated exactly by the customs of her family. – She lived, generally alone, at the Old Hall, which had not received the slightest alteration, either in its environs or its furniture, since it was embellished for the marriage of her father Sir Hildebrand, in 1698.
Twice a year, when courts were held for the manors, there were tenants feasts – and twice there was a grand dinner, to which none were admitted but a neighbouring nobleman, and the two or three titled people who resided within ten miles. – Twice too in the course of the year the family of Somerive were invited in form; but Mrs Rayland generally took the same opportunity of asking the clergy of the surrounding country with their wives and daughters, the attorneys and apothecaries of the adjoining towns with theirs, as if to convince the Somerives that they were to expect no distinction on account of the kindred they claimed to the house of Rayland. – And indeed it was on these occasions that Mrs Rayland seemed to take peculiar pleasure in mortifying Mrs Somerive and her daughters; who dreaded these dinner days as those of the greatest penance; and who at Christmas, one of the periods of these formal dinners, have blest more than once the propitious snow; through which that important and magisterial personage, the body coachman of Mrs Rayland, did not choose to venture himself, or the six sleek animals of which he was sole governor; for on these occasions it was the established rule to send for the family, with the same solemnity and the same parade that had been used ever since the first sullen and reluctant reconciliation between Sir Hildebrand and his sister; when she dared to deviate from the fastidious arrogance of her family, and to marry a man who farmed his own estate – and who, though long settled as a very respectable land-owner, had not yet written Armiger after his name.
But when the snow fell not, and the ways were passable; or when in summer no excuse was left, and the rheumatism of the elder, or the colds of the younger ladies could not be pleaded; the females of the family of Somerive were compelled to endure in all their terrific and tedious forms the grand dinners at the Hall. And though on these occasions the mother and the daughters, endeavoured, by the simplicity of their dress, and the humility of their manners, to disarm the haughty dislike which Mrs Rayland never took any pains to conceal, they never could obtain from her even as much common civility as she deigned to bestow on the ladies who were not connected with her; and Mr Somerive had often been so much hurt by her supercilious behaviour towards his wife and daughters, that he had frequently resolved they should never again be exposed to endure it. But these resolutions his wife, hateful as the ceremony was to her, always contrived to prevail upon him to give up, rather than incur the hazard of injuring her family by an unpardonable offence against a capricious and ill-natured old woman, who, however oddly she behaved, was still by many people believed to intend giving all her fortune to those who had undoubtedly the best claim to it: others indeed thought, with more appearance of probability, that she would endow an hospital, or divide it among public charities.
When the young Orlando was at home, and accompanied his family in these visits, the austere visage of Mrs Rayland was alone seen to relax into a smile – and as he grew older, this partiality was observed evidently to increase, insomuch that the neighbours observed, that whatever aversion the old lady had to feminine beauty, she did not detest that which nature had very liberally bestowed on Orlando. – He was now seventeen, and was not only one of the finest looking lads in that country, but had long since obtained all the knowledge he could acquire at a neighbouring grammar school; from whence his father now took him, and began to consider of plans for his future life. – The eldest son, who would, as the father fondly hoped, succeed to the Rayland estate, he had sent to Oxford, where he had been indulged in his natural turn to expence; and his father had suffered him to live rather suitably to what he expected than to what he was sure of. – In this Mr Somerive had acted extremely wrong; but it was from motives so natural, that his error was rather lamented than blamed. – An error however, and of the most dangerous tendency, he had now discovered it to be; young Somerive had violent passions, and an understanding very ill suited to their management. – He had early in life seized with avidity the idea, which servants and tenants were ready enough to communicate, that he must have the Rayland estate; and had very thoughtlessly expressed this to those who failed not to repeat it to their present mistress, tenacious of her power, and jealous of every attempt to encroach on her property. – He had besides trespassed on some remote corners of her manors; and her gamekeeper had represented him as a terrible depredator among her partridges, pheasants, and hares. These offences, added to the cat chases, and tieing canisters to the tails of certain dogs, of which he had been convicted in the early part of his life, had made so deep an impression against him, that now, whenever he was at home, the family were never asked; and insensibly, from calling now and then to enquire after her while Mrs Rayland lay ill of a violent fit of the gout, Orlando had been admitted to drink his tea at the Hall, then to dine there; and at last, as winter came on with stormy evenings and bad roads, he had been allowed to sleep in a little tapestry room, next to the old library at the end of the north wing – a division of the house so remote from that inhabited by the female part (or indeed by any part) of the family, that it could give no ideas of indecorum even to the iron prudery of Mrs Rayland herself.
Though Orlando was of a temper which made it impossible for him to practise any of those arts by which the regard of such a woman could be secured; and though the degree of favour he had obtained was long rather a misery than a pleasure to him; his brother beheld the progress he made with jealousy and anger; and began to hate Orlando for having gained advantages of which he openly avowed his disdain and contempt. – As his expences, which his father could no longer support, had by this time obliged him to quit the university, he was now almost always at home; and his sneering reproaches, as well as his wild and unguarded conversation, rendered that home every day less pleasant to Orlando – while the quiet asylum he had obtained at the Hall, in a room adjoining to that where a great collection of books were never disturbed in their long slumber by any human being but himself, endeared to him the gloomy abode of the Sybil, and reconciled him to the penance he was still obliged to undergo; for he was now become passionately fond of reading, and thought the use of such a library cheaply earned by acting as a sort of chaplain, reading the psalms and lessons every day, and the service in very bad weather; with a sermon on Sunday evening. And he even gradually forgot his murmurings at being imprisoned on Sundays and on Fridays in the great old long-bottomed coach, while it was dragged in a most solemn pace either to the next parish church, which was indeed at but a short distance from the mansion, or to that of a neighbouring town, whither, on some propitious and sunny days of summer, the old lady loved to proceed in state, and to display to her rustic or more enlightened neighbours a specimen of the magnificence of the last century. But as history must conceal no part of the truth, from partiality to the hero it celebrates, it must not be denied that the young Orlando had, though insensibly and almost unknown to himself, another motive for submitting with a good grace to pass much of his time in a way, for which, thinking as he thought, the prospect of even boundless wealth could have made him no compensation. – To explain this, it may be necessary to describe the persons who from his ninth year, when he became first so much distinguished by Mrs Rayland, till his eighteenth, composed the household, of which he, during that period, occasionally made a part.
THE confidential servant, or rather companion and femme de charge, of Mrs Rayland, was a woman of nearly her own age, of the name of Lennard. – This person, who was as well as her mistress a spinster, had been well educated; and was the daughter of a merchant who lost the fruits of a long course of industry in the fatal year 1720. He died of a broken heart, leaving his two daughters, who had been taught to expect high affluence, to the mercy of the world. Mrs Rayland, whose pride was gratified in having about her the victim of unsuccessful trade, for which she had always a most profound contempt, received Mrs Lennard as her own servant. She was however so much superior to her mistress in understanding, that she soon governed her entirely; and while the mean pliability of her spirit made her submit to all the contemptuous and unworthy treatment, which the paltry pride of Mrs Rayland had pleasure in inflicting, she secretly triumphed in the consciousness of superior abilities, and knew that she was in fact the mistress of the supercilious being who wages she received.
Every year she became more and more necessary to Mrs Rayland, who, after the death of both her sisters, made her not only governess of her house, but her companion. Her business was to sit with her in her apartment when she had no company; to read the newspaper; to make tea; to let in and out the favourite dogs (the task of combing and washing them was transferred to a deputy); to collect and report at due seasons intelligence of all that happened in the neighbouring families; to give regular returns of the behaviour of all the servants, except the old butler and the old coachman, who had each a jurisdiction of their own; to take especial care that the footmen and helpers behaved respectfully to the maids (who were all chosen by herself, and exhibited such a group, as secured, better than her utmost vigilance, this decorous behaviour from the male part of the family); to keep the keys; and to keep her mistress in good humour with herself, and as much as possible at a distance from the rest of the world; above all from that part of it who might interfere with her present and future views; which certainly were to make herself amends for the former injustice of fortune, by securing to her own use a considerable portion of the great wealth possessed by Mrs Rayland.
Of the accomplishment of this she might well entertain a reasonable hope; for she was some few years younger than her mistress (though she artfully added to her age, whenever she had occasion to speak of it), and was besides of a much better constitution, possessing one of those frames, where a good deal of bone and no flesh seem to defy the gripe of disease. The sister of this Mrs Lennard had experienced a very different destiny – She had been taken at the time of her father's misfortunes into the family of a nobleman; she had married the chaplain, and retired with him on a small living, where she died in a few years, leaving several children; among others a daughter, to whom report imputed uncommon beauty; and scandal a too intimate connexion with the noble patron of her father. Certain it is, that on his marriage he gave her a sum of money, and she married a young attorney, who was a kind of steward, by whom she had three children; of which none survived their parents but a little girl born after her father's death; and whose birth occasioned that of her mother. To this little orphan, her great aunt Mrs Lennard, who with all her starched prudery had a considerable share of odd romantic whim in her composition, had given the dramatic and uncommon name of Monimia – Such at least was the history given in Mrs Rayland's family of an infant girl, which at about four years old had been by the permission of her patroness taken, as it was said, from nurse, at a distant part of the country, and received by Mrs Lennard at Rayland Hall; where she at first never appeared before the lady but by accident, but was the inhabitant of the house-keeper's room, and under the immediate care of the still-room maid, who was a person much devoted to Mrs Lennard.
Mrs Rayland had an aversion to children, and had consented to the admission of this into her house, on no other condition, but that she should never hear it cry, or ever have any trouble about it. – Her companion easily engaged for that; as Rayland Hall was so large, that les enfans trouvés at Paris might have been the inhabitants of one of its wings, without alarming a colony of ancient virgins at the other. The little Monimia, though she was described as having been
'The child of misery, baptized in tears,' LANGHORN.
was not particularly disposed to disturb, by infantine expressions of distress, the chaste and silent solitudes of the Hall; for though her little fair countenance had at times something of a melancholy cast, there was more of sweetness than of sorrow in it; and if she ever shed tears, they were so mingled with smiles, that she might have sat to the painter of the Seasons for the representative of infant April. Her beauty however was not likely to recommend her to the favour of her aunt's affluent patroness; but as to recommend her was the design of Mrs Lennard, she saw that a beauty of four or five years old would be much less obnoxious than one of fifteen, or even nine or ten; and therefore she contrived to introduce her by degrees; that when she grew older, her charms, by being long seen, might lose their power to offend.
She contrived that Mrs Rayland might first see the little orphan as by chance; then she sent her in, when she knew her mistress was in good humour, with a basket of fruit; an early pine; some preserves in brandy, or something or other which was acceptable to her lady's palate; and on these occasions Monimia acquitted herself to a miracle; and presented her little offering, and made her little curtsey, with so much innocent grace, that Hecate in the midst of her rites might have suspended her incantations to have admired her. At six years old she had so much won upon the heart of Mrs Rayland, that she became a frequent guest in the parlour, and saved her aunt the trouble of opening the door for Bella, and Pompey, and Julie. From the tenderness of her nature she became an admirable nurse for the frequent litters of kittens, with which two favourite cats continually increased the family of her protectress; and the numerous daily applications from robins and sparrows under the windows, were never so well attended to as since Monimia was entrusted with the care of answering their demands.
But her name – Monimia – was an incessant occasion of reproach – 'Why,' said Mrs Rayland, 'why would you, Lennard, give the child such a name? As the girl will have nothing, why put such romantic notions in her head, as may perhaps prevent her getting her bread honestly? – Monimia! – I protest I don't love even to repeat the name; it puts me so in mind of a very hateful play, which I remember shocked me so when I was a mere girl, that I have always detested the name. Monimia! – 'tis so very unlike a Christian's name, that, if the child is much about me, I must insist upon having her called Mary.'
To this Mrs Lennard of course consented, excusing herself for the romantic impropriety of which her lady accused her, by saying, that she understood Monimia signified an orphan, a person left alone and deserted; and therefore had given it to a child who was an orphan from her birth – but that, as it was displeasing, she should at least never be called so. The little girl then was Mary in the parlour; but among the servants, and with the people around the house, she was still Monimia.
Among those who fondly adhered to her original name was Orlando; who, when he first became a frequent visitor as a schoolboy at the Hall, stole often into the still-room to play with the little girl, who was three years younger than himself – and insensibly grew as fond of her as one of his sisters. Mrs Lennard always checked this innocent mirth; and when she found it impossible wholly to prevent two children who were in the same house from playing with each other, she took every possible precaution to prevent her lady's ever seeing them together; and threatened the severest punishment to the little Monimia, if she at any time even spoke to Master Somerive when in the presence of Mrs Rayland. – But nothing could be so irksome to a healthy and lively child of nine or ten years old, as the sort of confinement to which Monimia was condemned in consequence of her admission to the parlour; where she was hardly ever suffered to speak, but sat at a distant window, where, whether it was winter or summer, she was to remain no otherwise distinguished from a statue than by being employed in making the household linen, and sometimes in spinning it with a little wheel which Mrs Rayland, who piqued herself upon following the notable maxims of her mother, had bought for her, and at which she kept her closely employed when there was no other work to do. – When any company came, then and then only she was dismissed; but this happened very rarely; and many many hours poor Monimia vainly prayed for the sight of a coach or chaise at the end of the long avenue, which was to her the blessed signal of transient liberty.
Her dress, the expence of which Mrs Rayland very graciously took upon herself, was such as indicated to all who saw her, at once the charity and prudence of her patroness, who repeatedly told her visitors, that she had taken the orphan niece of her old servant Lennard, not with any view of making her a gentlewoman, but to bring her up to get her bread honestly; and therefore she had directed her to be dressed, not in gauzes and flounces, like the flirting girls she saw so tawdry at church, but in a plain stuff; not flaring without a cap, which she thought monstrously indecent for a female at any age, but in a plain cap, and a clean white apron, that she might never be encouraged to vanity by any kind of finery that did not become her situation. – Monimia, though dressed like a parish girl, or in a way very little superior, was observed by the visitors who happened to see her, and to whom this harangue was made, to be so very pretty, that nothing could conceal or diminish her beauty. Her dark stuff gown gave new lustre to her lovely complexion; and her thick muslin cap could not confine her luxuriant dark hair. Her shape was symmetry itself, and her motions so graceful, that it was impossible to behold her even attached to her humble employment at the wheel, without acknowledging that no art could give what nature had bestowed upon her.
Orlando, who had loved her as a playfellow while they were both children, now began to feel a more tender and more respectful affection for her; though unconscious himself that it was her beauty that awakened these sentiments. On the last of his holidays, before he entirely left school, the vigilance of Mrs Lennard was redoubled, and she so contrived to confine Monimia, that their romping was at an end, and they hardly ever saw each other, except by mere chance, at a distance, or now and then at dinner, when Monimia was suffered to dine at table; an honour which she was not always allowed, but which Mrs Lennard cautiously avoided entirely suspending when Orlando was at the Hall, as there was nothing she seemed to dread so much as alarming Mrs Rayland with any idea of Orlando's noticing her niece. This however never happened at that time to occur to the old lady; not only because Mrs Lennard took such pains to lead her imagination from any such probability, but because she considered them both as mere children, and Monimia as a servant.
It was however at this time that a trifling incident had nearly awakened such suspicions, and occasioned such displeasure, as it would have been very difficult to have subdued or appeased. Mrs Rayland had been long confined by a fit of the gout; and the warm weather of Whitsuntide had only just enabled her to walk, leaning on a crutch on one side, and on Mrs Lennard on the other, in a long gallery which reached the whole length of the south wing, and which was hung with a great number of family pictures. – Mrs Rayland had peculiar satisfaction in relating the history of the heroes and dames of her family, who were represented by these portraits. – Sir Roger De Coverley never went over the account of his ancestors with more correctness or more delight. Indeed, the reflections of Mrs Rayland were uninterrupted by any of those little blemishes in the history of her progenitors, that somewhat bewildered the good knight; for she boasted that not one of the Rayland family had ever condescended to degrade himself by trade; and that the marriage of Mrs Somerive, her aunt, was the only instance in which a daughter of the Raylands had stooped to an inferior alliance. – The little withered figure, bent down with age and infirmity, and the last of a race which she was thus arrogantly boasting – a race, which in a few years, perhaps a few months, might be no more remembered – was a ridiculous instance of human folly and human vanity, at which Lennard had sense enough to smile internally, while she affected to listen with interest to stories which she had heard repeated for near forty years. It was in the midst of her attention to an anecdote which generally closed the relation, of a speech made by Queen Anne to the last Lady Rayland on her having no son, that a sudden and violent bounce towards the middle of the gallery occasioned an interruption of the story, and equal amazement in the lady and her confidante; who both turning round, not very nimbly indeed, demanded of Monimia, who had been sitting in one of the old-fashioned bow-windows of which the casement was open, what was the matter?
Monimia, covered with blushes, and in a sort of scuffle to conceal something with her feet, replied, hesitating and trembling, that she did not know.
Mrs Lennard, who probably guessed the truth, declared loudly that she would immediately find out. – But it was not the work of a moment to seat her lady safely on one of the leathern settees, while she herself hastened to the window to discover, if possible, who had from the court below thrown in the something that had thus alarmed them. Before she reached the window, therefore, the court was clear; and Monimia had recovered from her confusion, and went on with her work.
Mrs Lennard now thought proper to give another turn to the incident. She said, it must have been some accidental noise from the wainscot's cracking in dry weather – 'though I could have sworn at the moment,' cried she, 'that something very hard, like a stone or a stick, had been thrown into the room. However, to be sure, I must have been mistaken, for certainly there is nobody in the court: and really one does recollect hearing in this gallery very odd noises, which, if one was superstitious, might sometimes make one uneasy. – Many of the neighbours some years ago used to say to me, that they wondered I was not afraid of crossing it of a night by myself, when you, Ma'am, used to sleep in the worked bed-chamber, and I lay over the house-keeper's room. But I used to say, that you had such an understanding, that I should offend you by shewing any foolish fears; and that all the noble family that owned this house time out of mind, were such honourable persons, that none of them could be supposed likely to walk after their decease, as the spirits of wicked persons are said to do. But, however, they used to answer in reply to that, that some of your ancestors, Ma'am, had hid great sums of money and valuable jewels in this house, to save it from the wicked rebels in the time of the blessed Martyr; and that it was to reveal these treasures that the appearances of spirits had been seen, and strange noises heard about the house.'
This speech was so exactly calculated to please the lady to whom it was addressed, that it almost obliterated the recollection of the little alarm she had felt, and blunted the spirit of enquiry, which the twinges of the gout also contributed to diminish; and fortunately the arrival of the apothecary, who was that moment announced, and whose visits were always a matter of importance, left her no longer any time to interrogate Monimia. But Mrs Lennard, having led her down to her great chair, and seen her safely in conference with her physical friend, returned hastily to the gallery, where Monimia still remained demurely at work; and peremptorily insisted on knowing what it was that had bounced into the room, and struck against the picture of Sir Hildebrand himself; who, in armour, and on a white horse whose flanks were overshadowed by his stupendous wig, pranced over the great gilt chimney-piece, just as he appeared at the head of a county association in 1707.
Monimia was a poor dissembler, and had never in her life been guilty of a falsehood. She was as little capable of disguising as of denying the truth; and the menaces of her aunt frightened her into an immediate confession, that it was Mr Orlando, who, passing through the court to go to cricket in the park, had seen her sitting at the window, and, 'not thinking any harm,' had thrown up his ball 'only in play,' to make her jump; but that it had unluckily gone through the window, and hit against the picture.
'And what became of it afterwards?' angrily demanded Mrs Lennard.
'It bounded,' answered the innocent culprit, 'it bounded across the floor, and I rolled it away with my feet, under the chairs.'
'And how dared you,' exclaimed the aunt, 'how dared you, artful little hussey, conceal the truth from me? how dared you encourage any such abominable doings? – A pretty thing indeed to have happen! –Suppose the good-for-nothing boy had hit my lady or me upon the head or breast, as it was a mercy he did not! – there would have been a fine story! – Or suppose he had broke the windows, shattered the panes, and cut us with the glass! – Or what if he had beat the stained glass of my lady's coat of arms, up at top there, all to smash – what d'ye think would have become of you, you worthless little puss! What punishment would have been bad enough for you?'
'My dear aunt,' said the weeping Monimia, 'how could I help it? I am sure I did not know what Mr Orlando was going to do; I saw him but a moment before; and you know that, if I had known he intended to throw the ball up, I dared not have spoken to him to have prevented it.'
'Have spoken to him, indeed! – No, I think not; and remember this, girl, that you have come off well this time, and I shan't say any thing of the matter to my lady: but if I ever catch you speaking to that wicked boy, or even daring to look at him, I will turn you out of doors that moment – and let this teach you that I am in earnest.' Having thus said, she gave the terrified trembling girl a violent blow, or what was in her language a good box on the ear, which forcing her head against the stone window-frame almost stunned her; she then repeated it on the lovely neck of her victim, where the marks of her fingers were to be traced many days afterwards; and then flounced out of the room, and composing herself, went down to give her share of information, as to her lady's complaint, to the apothecary.
The unhappy Monimia, who had felt ever since her earliest recollection the misery of her situation, was never so sensible of it as at this moment. The work fell from her hands – she laid her head on a marble slab, that was on one side of the bow window, and gave way to an agony of grief. – Her cap had fallen from her head, and her fine hair concealed her face, which resting on her arms was bathed in tears. – Sobs, that seemed to rend her heart, were the only expression of sorrow she was able to utter; she heard, she saw nothing – but was suddenly startled by something touching her hand as it hung lifelessly over the table. She looked up – and beheld, with mingled emotions of surprise and fear, Orlando Somerive; who with tears in his eyes, and in a faltering whisper, conjured her to tell him what was the matter. – The threat so recently uttered yet vibrated in her ears – and her terror, lest her aunt should return and find Orlando there, was so great, that, without knowing what she did, she started up and ran towards the door; from whence she would have fled, disordered as she was, downstairs, and through the very room where Mrs Rayland, her aunt, and the apothecary were in conference, if Orlando with superior strength and agility had not thrown himself before her, and setting his back against the door, insisted upon knowing the cause of her tears before he suffered her to stir.
Gasping for breath, trembling and inarticulately she tried to relate the effects of his indiscretion, and that therefore her aunt had threatened and struck her. Orlando, whose temper was naturally warm, and whose generous spirit revolted from every kind of injustice, felt at once his indignation excited by this act of oppression, and his anger that Mrs Lennard should arraign him for a childish frolic, and thence take occasion so unworthily to treat an innocent girl; and being too rash to reflect on consequences, he declared that he would go instantly into the parlour, confess to Mrs Rayland what he had done, and appeal against the tyranny and cruelty of her woman.
It was now the turn of poor Monimia to entreat and implore; and she threw herself half frantic on her knees before him, and besought him rather to kill her, than to expose her to the terrors and distress such a step would inevitably plunge her into. – 'Indeed, dear Orlando,' cried she, 'you would not be heard against my aunt. Mr Rayland, if she forgave you, would never forgive me; but I should be immediately turned out of the house with disgrace; and I have no friend, no relation in the world but my aunt, and must beg my bread. But it is not so much that,' added she, while sobs broke her utterance, 'it is not so much that I care for – I am so unfortunate that it does not signify what becomes of me: I can work in the fields, or can go through any hardship; but Mrs Rayland will be very angry with you, and will not suffer you to come to the Hall again, and I shall never – never see you any more!'
This speech, unguarded and simple as it was, had more effect on Orlando that the most studied eloquence. He took the weeping, trembling Monimia up in his arms, seated her in a chair; and drying her eyes, he besought her to be comforted, and to assure herself, that whatever he might feel, he would do nothing that should give her pain. – 'Oh! go then, for Heaven's sake go from hence instantly!' replied Monimia. – 'If my aunt should come to look for me, as it is very likely she will, we should be both undone!'
'Good God!' exclaimed Orlando, 'why should it be so? – Why are we never to meet? and what harm to any one is done by my friendship for you, Monimia?'
'Alas!' answered she, every moment more and more apprehensive of the arrival of her aunt, 'alas! Orlando, I know not, I am sure it was once, before my aunt was so enraged at it, all the comfort I had in the world; but now it is my greatest misery, because I dare not even look at you when I happen to meet you. – Yet I am sure I mean no hurt to any body; nor can it do my cruel aunt any harm, that you pity a poor orphan who has no friend upon earth.'
'I will, however,' replied he warmly, 'pity and love you too – love you as well as I do any of my sisters – even the sister I love best – and I should hate myself if I did not. But, dear Monimia, tell me, if I cannot see you in the day-time, is it impossible for you to walk out of an evening, when these old women are in bed? – When I am not at the Hall they would suspect nothing; and I should not mind walking from home, after our people are in bed, to meet you for half an hour any where about these grounds.'
Ignorant of the decorum required by the world, and innocent, even to infantine simplicity, as Monimia was, at the age of something more than fourteen she had that natural rectitude of understanding, that at once told her these clandestine meetings would be wrong. 'Ah no, Mr Orlando,' said she sighing, 'that must not be; for if it should be known – '
'It cannot, it shall not be known,' cried he, eagerly interrupting her.
'But it is impossible, my good friend, if it were not wrong; for you remember that to-day is Saturday, and your school begins on Monday.'
'Curse on the school! I had indeed forgot it. – Well, but promise me then, Monimia, promise me that you will make yourself easy now; and that when I come from school entirely, which I shall do at Christmas, we shall contrive to meet sometimes, and to read together, as we used to do, the Fairy Tales and Arabian Nights last year, and the year before. – Will you promise me, Monimia?'
Monimia, whose apprehensions every moment increased, an d who even fancied she heard the rustle of Mrs Lennard's gown upon the private stair-case that led down from the gallery, was ready to promise any thing. – 'Oh! yes, yes, Orlando! – I promise – do but go now, and we shall not perhaps be so unhappy; my aunt may not be so very ill-humoured when you come home again.'
'And say you will not cry any more now.'
'I will not, indeed I will not – but for God's sake go! – I'm sure I hear somebody.'
'There is nobody, indeed; but I will go to make you easy.' – He then, trembling as much as she did, hastily kissed the hand he held; and gliding on tip-toe to the other end of the gallery, went through the apartments that led down the great stair-case, and taking a circuit round another part of the house, entered the room where Mrs Rayland was sitting, as if he had been just come from cricket in the park.
He had not left the gallery a moment before Mrs Lennard came to look for Monimia, whom she found in greater agitation than she had left here, and still drowned in tears. She again began in the severest terms to reprove her; and as the sobs and sighs of the suffering girl deprived her of the power of answering her invectives, she violently seized her arm; and dragging rather than leading her to her own room, she bade her instantly undress and go to bed – 'that you may not,' said she, 'expose your odious blubbered face.'
Poor Monimia was extremely willing to obey. – She sat down and began to undress, listening as patiently as she could to the violent scolding which her indefatigable aunt still kept up against her; who having at length exhausted her breath, bounced out and locked the door.
Monimia, then left alone, again began to indulge her tears; but her room was in a turret over a sort of lumber-room, where the gamekeeper kept his nets and his rods, and where Orlando used to deposit his bow, his cricket-bats and other instruments of sport, with which he was indulged with playing in the park. She now heard him come in, with one of the servants; for such an effect had his voice, that she could distinguish it amid a thousand others, and when it did not seem to be audible to any one else. – Though she could not now distinguish the words, she heard him discoursing as if he seemed to be bidding the place farewell for that time. She got upon a chair (for the long narrow window was so far from the ground, that she could not see through it as she stood); and she perceived Orlando cross the park on foot, and slowly and reluctantly walk towards that part if it that was next to his father's house. She continued to look at him till a wood, through which he had to pass, concealed him from her view. She then retired to her bed, and shed tears. Orlando left his home the next day, for his last half year at the school (having that evening taken leave of Mrs Rayland); and it was six months before Monimia saw him again.
HOWEVER trifling the incident was that is related in the foregoing Chapter, it so much alarmed the prudent sagacity of Mrs Lennard, that when on the following Christmas Mr Orlando returned to his occasional visits at the Hall, she took more care than before to prevent any possibility of his ever having an opportunity of meeting Monimia alone; and, as much as she could without being remarked by her lady, from seeing her at all. But while she took these precautions, she began to think them useless. Orlando was no longer the giddy boy, eager at his childish sports, and watching with impatience for a game of blindman's buff in the servant's hall, or a romp with any one who would play with him. Orlando was a young man as uncommonly grave, as he was tall and handsome. There was something more than gravity, there was dejection in his manner; but it served only to make him more interesting; He now slept oftener than before at the Hall, but he was seen there less; and passed whole days in his own room, or rather in the library; where, as this quiet and studious temper recommended him more than ever to Mrs Rayland, she allowed him to have a fire, to the great comfort and benefit of the books, which had been without that advantage for many years.
Mrs Lennard, who now beheld him with peculiar favour, though she had formerly done him ill offices, seemed willing to oblige him in every thing but in allowing him ever to converse with her niece, who was seldom suffered to appear in the parlour, but was kept to work in her own room. Mrs Rayland's increasing infirmities, though not such as threatened her life, threw the management of every thing about her immediately into the hands of Mrs Lennard; and, occupied by the care of her own health, Mrs Rayland's attention to what was passing around her was less every day, and the imbecility of age hourly more perceptible. She therefore made no remark on this change of system; but if she happened to want Monimia, or, as she now chose to call her, Mary, she sent for her, and dismissed her when her service was performed, without any further enquiry as to how she afterwards passed her time.
Orlando, however, though he had, since his last return, never spoken a word to Monimia, and though, in their few and short meetings, the presence of Mrs Lennard prevented their exchanging even a look, was no longer at a loss to discriminate those sentiments which he felt for the beautiful orphan, whose charms, which had made almost in infancy an impression on his heart, were now opening to a perfection even beyond their early promise. Her imprisonment, the harshness of her aunt towards her, and her desolate situation, contributed to raise in his heart all that the most tender pity could add to the ardency of a first passion. Naturally of a warm and sanguine temper, the sort of reading he had lately pursued, his situation, his very name, all added something to the romantic enthusiasm of his character; but in the midst of the fairy dreams which he indulged, reason too often stepped in to poison his enjoyments, and represented to him, that he was without fortune and without possession – that far from seeing at present any probability of ever being able to offer an establishment to the unfortunate Monimia, he had to procure one for himself. It was now he first felt an earnest wish, that the hopes his relations had sometimes encouraged might be realized, and that some part of the great wealth of the Rayland family might be his: but with this he had no new reason to flatter himself; for Mrs Rayland, though she seemed to become every day more fond of his company, never took any notice of the necessity there was, that now in his nineteenth year he should fix upon some plan for his future establishment in the world.
This necessity however lay heavy on the heart of his father, who had long felt with anguish, that the misconduct of his eldest son had rendered it impossible for him to do justice to his younger. With a small income and a large family, he had never, though he lived as economically as possible, been able to lay by much money; and what he had saved, in the hope of accumulating small fortunes for his daughters, had been paid away for his eldest son in the first two years of his residence at Oxford; the third had nearly devoured the five hundred pounds legacy given to the family by the elder Mrs Rayland; and the first half-year after he left the university, and which he passed between London and his father's house, entirely exhausted that resource; while Mr Somerive in vain represented to him, that, in continuing such a career, he must see the estate mortgaged, which was the sole dependence of his family now, and his sole dependence hereafter.
So deep, and often so fatal, are early impressions in minds where reason slowly and feebly combats the influence of passion, that though nothing was more certain than that Mrs Rayland's fortune was entirely at her own disposal, and nothing more evident than her dislike to him, he never could be persuaded that, as he was the heir at law, he should not possess the greater part of the estate; and he was accustomed, in his orgies among his companions to drink 'to their propitious meeting at the Hall, when the old girl should be in Abraham's bosom,' and not unfrequently 'to her speedy departure.' He settled with himself the alterations he should make, and the stud he should collect; proposed to refit in an excellent style the old kennel, and to restore to Rayland Hall the praise it had formerly boasted, of having the best pack of fox-hounds within three counties. When it was represented that the possibility of executing these plans was very uncertain, since the old lady certainly preferred Orlando, he answered – 'Oh! damn it, that's not what I'm afraid of – No, no; the old hag has been, thanks to my fortunate stars, brought up in good old-fashioned notions, and knows that the first-born son is in all Christian countries the head of the house, and that the rest must scramble through the world as well as they can – As for my solemn brother, you see nature and fortune have designed him for a parson. The tabby may like him for a chaplain, and means to qualify him by one of her livings for the petticoats; but take my word for it, that however she may set her weazen face against it, just to impose upon the world, she likes at the bottom of her heart a young fellow of spirit – and you'll see me master of the Hall. Egad, how I'll make her old hoards spin again! Down go those woods that are now every year the worst for standing. Whenever I hear she's fairly off, the squirrels will have notice to quit.'
It was in vain that the mild and paternal arguments of Mr Somerive himself, or the tears and tender remonstrances of his wife, were employed, whenever their son would give them an opportunity, to counteract this unfortunate prepossession. He by degrees began to absent himself more and more from home; and when he was there, his hours were such as put any conversation on serious topics out of their power. He was never indeed sullen, for that was not his disposition; but he was so thoughtless, so volatile, and so prepossessed that he had a right to do as other young men did with whom he had been accustomed to associate, that his father gave up as hopeless every attempt to bring him to his senses.
The greater the uneasiness to which Mr Somerive was thus subject by the conduct of his eldest son, the more solicitous he became for the future establishment of the younger. But he knew not how to proceed to obtain it. He had now no longer the means of sending him to the university, of which he had sometimes thought, in the hope that Mrs Rayland might, if he were qualified for orders, give him one of the livings of which she was patroness; nor could he, exhausted as his savings were by the indiscretion of his eldest son, command money enough to purchase him a commission, which he once intended. Sometimes he fancied that, if he were to apply to Mrs Rayland, she would assist in securing an establishment in future for one about whom she appeared so much interested at present; but he oftener apprehended, from the oddity and caprice of her temper, that any attempt to procure more certain and permanent favours for Orlando, might occasion her to deprive him of what he now possessed.
Mrs Somerive, though a woman of an excellent understanding, had contracted such an awe of the old lady, that she was positively against speaking to her about her son; while maternal partiality, which was indeed well justified by the good qualities and handsome person of Orlando, continually suggested to her that Mrs Rayland's prepossession in his favour, if left to take its course, would finally make him the heir of at least great part of her property.
Thus his father, from uncertainty how to act for the best, suffered weeks and months to pass away, in which he could not determine to act at all; and as more than half those weeks and months were passed at the Hall, his mother fondly flattered herself, that he was making rapid advances in securing to his family the possessions they had so good a claim to.
Neither of them saw the danger to which they exposed him, of losing himself in an imprudent and even fatal attachment to a young woman, while they supposed him wholly given up to acquire the favour of old one; for in fact Mrs Lennard had so artfully kept her niece out of sight, that neither of them knew her – they barely knew that there was a young person in the house who was considered in the light of a servant; but whether she was well or ill looking, it had never occurred to them to enquire, because they never supposed her more acquainted with their son than any other of the female domestics.
Poor Orlando, however, was cherishing a passion, which had taken entire possession of his heart before he was conscious that he had one, and which the restraints that every way surrounded him served only to inflame. Monimia now appeared in his eyes, what she really was, infinitely more lovely than ever. She was on his account a prisoner, for he learned that when he was not in the country she was allowed more liberty. She was friendless, and harshly treated; and, with a form and face that he thought would do honour to the highest rank of society, she seemed to be condemned to perpetual servitude, and he feared to perpetual ignorance; for he knew that Mrs Rayland had, with the absurd prejudice of narrow minds, declared against her being taught any thing but the plainest domestic duties, and the plainest work. She had however taught herself, with very little aid from her aunt, to read; and lately, since she had been so much alone, she had tried to write; but she had not always materials, and was frequently compelled to hide those she contrived to obtain: so that her progress in this was slow, and made only by snatches, as the ill humour of her aunt allowed or forbade her to make these laudable attempts at improvement.
Her apartment was still in the turret that terminated one wing of the house, and Orlando had been at the Hall the greater part of a fortnight, without their having exchanged a single word. They had indeed met only twice by mere accident, in the presence of the lady of the mansion and of Mrs Lennard; once when she crossed the hall when he was leading the lady to her chair out of the gallery; and a second time when she was sent for, on an accession of gout, to assist in adjusting the flannels and cushions, which Mrs Rayland declared she managed better than any body.
As she knelt to perform this operation, Orlando, who was reading a practical discourse of faith in opposition to good works, was surprised by her beautiful figure in her simple stuff gown, which had such an effect on his imagination that he no longer knew what he was reading: but after half a dozen blunders in less than half a dozen lines, he became so conscious of his confusion that he could not proceed at all, but, affecting to be seized with a violent cough, got up and went out. Again, however, this symptom escaped Mrs Rayland, who, tho' she read good books as a matter of form, and to impress people with an idea of her piety and understanding, cared very little about their purport, and was just then more occupied with the care of her foot than with abstract reasonings on the efficacy of faith.
In the mean time Monimia, who blushed if she even beheld the shadow of Orlando at a distance, and whose heart beat at the sound of his voice, as if it would escape from her bosom, had never an opportunity of hearing it, unless he accidentally spoke to some person in the room under hers, where she knew he often went, and particularly at this season, which was near the end of February, when the ponds were drawn, and the nets and poles in frequent use: but the door by which this room opened to the court was on the other side. Monimia had only one high long window in a very thick wall, that looked into the park: whenever therefore, as she sat alone in her turret, she heard any person in the room beneath her, she listened with an anxious and palpitating heart, and at length fancied that she could distinguish the step of Orlando from that of the game-keeper or any of the other servants.
If she was thus attentive to him, without any other motive than to enjoy the pleasure of fancying he was near her, Orlando was on his side studying how to obtain an opportunity of seeing her; not in the intention of communicating to her those sentiments which he now too well understood, but in the hope of finding means to make her amends for the injustice of fortune. If there was any dependence to be placed on expression of countenance, the animation and intelligence that were visible in the soft features of Monimia promised an excellent understanding. What pity that it should not be cultivated! What delight to be her preceptor, and, in despite of the malignity of fortune, to render her mind as lovely as her form! This project got so entirely the possession of Orlando's imagination, that he thought, he dreamed, of nothing else; and, however difficult, or even impracticable it seemed, he determined to undertake it.
Mrs Lennard slept at some distance; but there was no other way of Monimia's going into any part of the house but by a passage which led through her room; for every other avenue was closed up, and the last thing she did every night was to lock the door of the room where her niece lay, and to take away the key.
The window was equally well secured, for it was in effect only a loop; of this, narrow as it was, the small square of the casement that opened was secured by iron bars. The Raylands had been eminent royalists in the civil wars, and Rayland Hall had held out against a party of Fairfax's army that had closely besieged it. Great part of the house retained the same appearance of defensive strength which had then been given it; and no knight of romans ever had so many real difficulties to encounter in achieving the deliverance of his princess, as Orlando had in finding the means merely to converse with the little imprisoned orphan. Months passed away, in which his most watchful diligence served only to prove that these difficulties were almost insurmountable; nor would he perhaps, with all the enthusiasm of love and romance, have ever conquered them, if chance had not befriended him.
Mrs Rayland had given him, under restrictions that he should use it only while he was at the Hall, a very fine colt, which was of a breed of racers, the property of the Raylands, and very eminent in the days of Sir Hildebrand. Out of respect to its ancient prowess, the breed was still kept up, though the descendants no longer emulated the honours of their progenitors on the turf: but the produce was generally sold by the coachman, who had the management of the stable, and who was supposed to have profited very considerably by his dealings.
Orlando, highly gratified by this mark of Mrs Rayland's favour, undertook to break the young horse himself, and to give it among other accomplishments that of leaping. There was no leaping-bar about the grounds; but in the lumber-room on the ground floor of one of the turrets he had seen the timber of one that had formerly stood in the park. To this place, therefore, he repaired; and in removing the large posts, which were very little injured by time, some other slabs of wood, boards and pieces of scaffolding were moved also, and Orlando saw that they had concealed a door, formerly boarded up, but of which the boards were now broken and decayed: he forced away a piece of rotten wood, and saw a flight of broken stone steps, just wide enough to admit one person with difficulty. His heart bounded with transport: he knew that this stair-case must lead to the top of the turret, and consequently wind round the room occupied by Monimia, which it was probable had a communication also with the stairs. But, unable to determine in a moment how he should avail himself, or acquaint her, of this fortunate discovery, and trembling lest it should be known, and his hopes at once destroyed, he hastily replaced the spars of wood that concealed the door, before the return of the gardener and the under game-keeper, who had been assisting him in his operations about the leaping-bar; and hastily following them to the spot where they were putting it up, he affected to be interested in its completion, while his mind was really occupied only by plans for seeing without fear of discovery his adored Monimia.
LOVE rendered Orlando so politic, that he determined rather to defer the happiness he hoped for, in gaining unmolested access to Monimia for two or three days, than to risk by precipitancy the delightful secret of the concealed door, and to watch the motion of the dragon whose unwearied vigilance might at once render it useless. He therefore set himself to observe the hours when Mrs Lennard was most certainly engaged about her mistress; and he found, that as she indulged very freely in the pleasures of a good table, of which she was herself directress, she became frequently unwilling to encounter much exertion after dinner; and generally left Monimia (who either did not dine below, or retired with the table-cloth) unmolested till six o'clock, when if he was not there, she was called down to make tea.
These hours, therefore seemed most propitious for the experiment he must of necessity make, which was to ascend the staircase, and seek for the door that probably, though now blocked up, had originally led from it into the room inhabited by Monimia; from whence, as it was perhaps only boarded up, he hoped to make her hear, and to prevail upon her to assist in forcing a passage through it.
He knew Mrs Lennard was less upon the qui vive? when he was not about the house; and therefore, the evening before that when he intended to put his project in execution, he took leave of Mrs Rayland, and told her that he was going home for a few days, when with her permission he would return. Mrs Rayland, who now thought the house melancholy without him, bade him come back to the Hall as soon as he could, which he promised with a beating heart, and departed.
The next day, however, having taken the precaution to get a letter of compliment from his father to Mrs Rayland, the better to account for his quick return, if to account for it should be necessary, he set out on foot after dinner; and as he arrived at Rayland Hall just as the servants of that family were eating theirs, which was always a long and momentous business, he had the good fortune not to meet any one, but to enter the lower room of the turret; and as he had often the key, he now locked the door, and listening very attentively heard Monimia walking above, and convinced himself that she was alone.
As silently as he could he removed the planks and timber that concealed the door; and having so placed them that, without discovering the aperture, they leaned so hollow from the wall that he could get under them, he tore away the remaining impediments that obstructed him, and entered the low stair-case, of which about fourteen broken and decayed steps led, as he expected, to another door which was also boarded up, and then wound up to the top of the turret. He stopped a moment and listened; he distinctly heard Monimia sigh deeply, and open a drawer. He considered a moment what way of accosting her would least likely to alarm her too suddenly, and at length he determined to speak.
After another pause, and finding all was silent in her room, he tapped softly against the boarded door; and lowering his voice he called, 'Monimia, Monimia!'
The affrighted girl exclaimed, 'Good God! who is there? who speaks?' 'Be not affrighted,' replied he, speaking louder, 'it is Orlando.' 'Orlando! and from whence, dear sir, do you speak?' 'I know not, for I cannot tell what part of your room this door opens to; tell me, where do you hear the sound I now make?' 'Against the head of my bed.' 'Cannot you then remove the bed, and see if there is not a door?' 'I can,' replied Monimia, 'if my trembling does not prevent me, for my bed goes upon casters; but indeed I tremble so! if my aunt should come!' 'She will not come,' replied Orlando impatiently: 'do not give way to groundless fears, Monimia; but, if ever you had any friendship for me, exert yourself now, to procure the only opportunity we shall ever have of meeting – remove your bed, and see what is behind it.'
Monimia, trembling and amazed as she was, found in the midst of her alarm a sensation of joy that was undescribable. It lent her strength to remove the bed, which it was not difficult to do; but the room was hung with old-fashioned glazed linen, when many years before it had been fitted up as a bed-chamber: this kind of arras entirely hid the door. 'Ah!' cried Monimia, 'there is no door, Mr Orlando. The hangings are just the same here as about the rest of the room.' 'Cut them,' cried he, 'with your scissars, and you will find there is a door.' 'But if my aunt should discover that they are cut?' 'Oh heavens,' exclaimed Orlando, 'if you are thus apprehensive, Monimia, we shall never meet; but if you have any regard for me' – The adjuration was too powerful: Monimia forgot the dread of her aunt in the superior dread of offending Orlando. She took her scissars, and, cutting the hangings, which through time were little more than tinder, discovered the door, which was very thin and only nailed up, strengthened on the outside by a few slight deals across it. Orlando, who, like another Pyramus, watched with a beating heart the breach through which he now saw the light, forced away those slight barriers with very little difficulty; and then, setting his foot against the door, it gave way, and the remnant of tattered hanging made no resistance. He found himself in the room with Monimia, who from mingled emotions of pleasure and fear could hardly breathe. 'At length,' cried he, 'I have found you, Monimia! at length I have got to you.' 'But we shall both be utterly ruined,' interrupted she, 'if my aunt should happen to come: speak low, for heaven's sake, speak low. I should die upon the spot, if she should happen to find you here.'
'Let us consider,' said Orlando, 'how we may meet for the future. I do not mean to stay now; but you see this door gives us always an opportunity of seeing each other.' 'But how shall I dare?' cried the trembling Monimia: 'my aunt watches me so narrowly, that I am never secure of being alone a moment: even now, perhaps, she may be coming.'
So great was the terror which this idea impressed on the timid Monimia, that Orlando saw there was no time to be lost in settling their more secure meetings. 'Have you,' said he, 'have you, Monimia, courage enough make use of this door, to come down into the study to me when we are sure all the house is quiet? You know there is a passage to that end of the house, without crossing either of the great courts or any of the apartments, by going through the old chapel, and nobody can hear you. I only propose this, because I suppose you are afraid of letting me come up here.'
'Oh! either is very wrong,' replied she, 'and I shall be sadly blamed.'
'Well then, Monimia, I am deceived, cruelly deceived. I did believe that you had some regard for me, and I protest to heaven that I mean nothing but the purest friendship towards you. I want you to read, which I know you have now no opportunity of doing. I would find proper books for you; for you may one day have occasion for more knowledge than you can acquire in the way to which you now live. Perhaps clandestine meetings might not be right in any other case; but, persecuted as you are, Monimia, we must meet clandestinely, or not meet at all. Alas! my dear friend, it may not be long that I may be here to ask this favour of you, or to request you to oblige me for your own good. My father is considering how to settle me in life.'
'To settle you!' said Monimia, faintly.
'Yes – I mean, to put me into some profession in the world; and whatever it is, it will of course carry me quite away from hence. As soon as it is determined upon, therefore, Monimia, I shall go – and perhaps we shall never meet again: yet you now refuse to grant me the only happiness that possibly my destiny will ever suffer me to taste – I mean that of being of some little service to you. What harm can there really be, Monimia, in what I request? Have we not lived from children together, like brother and sister? and why should we give up the sweet and innocent pleasure of loving each other, because your aunt is of a temper so detestably severe and suspicious?'
'Indeed I know not,' said Monimia, whose tears now streamed down her cheeks; 'but I know, Orlando, that I cannot refuse what you ask; for, indeed, I do not believe you would desire me to act wrong.'
'No, I would die first.'
'Tell me then, what would you have me do? I tremble so that I am really ready to sink, lest my aunt should come: tell me, dear Orlando, what would you have me do?'
'Replace your bed as soon as I am gone, and I will take care that no signs shall remain below of the discovery I have made. As soon as the family are all in bed, and you are sure your aunt is gone for the night, I will come up and fetch you into the study; where, whenever I am here, we can read for an hour or two every night: tell me, Monimia, do you agree to this?'
'I do,' replied she; 'and now, dear Orlando, go; it will soon be tea-time, my aunt will come to call me.'
'You will be ready then to-night, Monimia?'
'Yes; for why should we lose an hour, when perhaps so few are left me? When I am gone to some distant part of the world, you may be sorry for me, Monimia, and repent that when we could see each other you refused.'
The idea of his going, perhaps for ever, was insupportable, and the timid doubts of Monimia vanished before it. She thought at that moment, that to pass one hour with him were well worth any risk – even though her aunt should discover and kill her. She hesitated therefore no longer, but promised to be ready in the evening, and to listen for his signal. Having thus gained his point, Orlando no longer refused to quit her, but returned by his propitious stair-case; and replacing the boards, at its entrance below, as nearly as possible as he found them, he went out unseen by any body; and going back to the road which led through the park, he walked hastily across that part of it that was immediately before the windows of the apartment where Mrs Rayland sat; and then went into the house, and sent up, as was his custom, to know if he might be admitted. She ordered him to be shewn up, and received him with pleasure; for she just then was in very ill humour and wanted somebody in whom she could find a patient listener, while she related the cause of it, and declaimed against the person who had occasioned it – which was thus:
The estates in this country were very large, and that possessed by the house of Rayland yielded in extent to none, but was equal to that of its nearest neighbour, a nobleman, who owned a great extent of country which immediately adjoined to the manors and farms of Mrs Rayland, and on which there was also a fine old house, situated in the midst of the domain, at the distance of about five miles from Rayland Hall, the estates divided by a river, which was the joint property of both.
Lord Carloraine, the last possessor of this property, was a man very far advanced in life. Many years had passed since the world in which he had lived had disappeared; and being no longer able or desirous to take part in what was passing about a court, to him wholly uninteresting, and being a widower without children, he had retired above thirty years before to his paternal seat; where he lived in splendid uniformity, receiving only the nobility of the county and the baronets (whom he considered as forming an order that made a very proper barrier between the peerage and the squirality), with all the massive dignity and magnificent dulness that their fathers and grandfathers had been entertained with since the beginning of the century. Filled with high ideas of the consequence of ancient blood, he suffered no consideration to interfere with his respect for all who had that advantage to boast; while, for the upstart rich men of the present day, he felt the most ineffable contempt; and while such were, in neighboring counties, seen to figure away on recently acquired fortunes, Lord Carloraine used to pique himself upon the inviolability of that part of the world where he lived – and say, that very fortunately for the morals and manners of the country, it had not been chosen by nabobs and contractors for the display of their wealth and taste. And that none such might gain any footing in the neighbourhood, he purchased every farm that was to be sold; and continued to be so much of a despot himself, that those who were only beginning to be great, shunned his established greatness as inimical to their own.
Mrs Rayland perfectly agreed with him in these sentiments; and had the most profound respect for a nobleman, who acknowledged, proud as he was of his own family, that it had no other superiority over that of Rayland, than in possessing a higher title. He had been, though a much younger man, acquainted with the late Sir Hildebrand; and whenever Mrs Rayland and Lord Carloraine met, which they did in cumbrous state twice or thrice a year, their whole conversation consisted of eulogiums on the days that were passed, in expressing their dislike of all that was now acting in a degenerate world, and their contempt of the actors.
But the winter preceding the period of which this history is relating the events, had carried off this ancient and noble friend at the age of ninety-six, to the regret of nobody so much as of Mrs Rayland. His estate fell to the grandson of his only sister, a man of three-and-twenty, who was as completely the nobleman of the present day, as his uncle had been the representative of those who lived in the reign of George the First. He cared nothing for the ancient honours of his family; and would not have passed a fortnight in the gloomy solitude of his uncle's castle, to have been master of six times its revenue. His paternal property and parliamentary interest lay in a northern county; and therefore, as ready money was a greater object to him than land in another part of England, he offered the estate of Lord Carloraine to sale, as soon as it came into his possession; and in a few months it was bought by the son of a rich merchant – a young man, lately of age, of the name of Stockton; whose father having had very lucrative contracts in that war which terminated in 1763, had left his son a minor with a fortune, which at the end of ten years minority amounted to little short of half a million.
The purchase of Carloraine Castle by such a man had given Mrs Rayland inexpressible concern and mortification, which every circumstance that came to her knowledge had contributed to increase. She had already heard enough to foresee all the inconveniences of this exchange of neighbours; on which she dwelt continually, yet seemed to take strange pains to irritate her own uneasiness by daily enquiries into the alterations and proceedings of Mr Stockton; who, even before the purchase was generally know to be complete, had begun, under the auspices of modern taste, to new model every thing. He came down to Carloraine Castle twice or thrice a week, every time with a new set of company; almost every one of his visitors was willing to assist him in his plan of improvements, and he listened to them all – so that what was built up to-day was pulled down to-morrow. All the workmen, such as bricklayers, &c. &c. in the neighbourhood, for many miles, were engaged to work at the Castle; and the delicacies which used to be supplied by the neighbouring country, and in which Mrs Rayland had usually a preference, were now offered first to his honour, 'Squire Stockton:' – and his honour's servants, to whom the regulation of his house was entrusted, were so willing to do credit to their master's large fortune, that they gave London prices for every thing: the vicinity of affluent luxury was thus severely felt by those to whom it was of much more real consequence than to Mrs Rayland.
To her, however, this circumstance was particularly grating. She complained bitterly to every body she saw, that poultry, if she had by any accident occasion to buy it, was doubled in price; that the prime sea fish was carried to the Castle; and more money was demanded for the refuse, than she was accustomed to give for the finest. But with the beginning of September more aggravating offences began also. An army of sportsmen came down to the Castle, who had no respect for the hitherto inviolate manors, nor for the preserved grounds around Rayland Hall, which not even the game-keepers ever alarmed with an hostile sound. Her park – even her park, where no profane foot had ever been suffered to enter, was now invaded; and on the second of September, the day of which the occurrences have been here related, five young men and two servants, with a whole kennel of pointers, had crossed the park, and killed three brace of partridges within its enclosure, laughing at the threats, and threatening in their turns the keepers who had attempted to oppose them.
No injury or affront that could be devised could have made so deep an impression on Mrs Rayland's mind, as such a trespass. She was yet in the first paroxysm of her displeasure, though the occasion of it happened early in the morning, when Orlando was admitted; whose mind, attuned to the harmonizing hope of being indulged with the frequent sight of Monimia, was but little in unison with the petulant and querulous complaints of Mrs Rayland; while she for above an hour held forth with unwearied invective against the new inhabitant of Carloraine. 'These,' cried she, 'these are modern gentlemen! – Gentlemen! a disgrace to the name! – City apprentices, that used to live soberly at their shops, are turned sportsmen, forsooth, and have the impudence to call themselves gentlemen. I hear, and I suppose 'tis true enough, that Mr Philip Somerive thinks proper to be acquainted with this mushroom fellow – and to be one of his party! – Pray, child, can you tell me – is it true?'
'I believe, madam, my brother has some acquaintance, but I fancy only a slight acquaintance, with Mr Stockton.'
'Oh! I have very little curiosity – I dare say he is one of the set, and it is very fit he should. "Birds of a feather, you know, flock together." But this I assure you, Mr Orlando – take this from me – that if you should ever think proper to know that person, that Stockton, your visits here will from that time be dispensed with.'
Orlando, conscious that he had never exchanged a word with any inhabitant or visitant of Carloraine, and conscious too that all his wishes were centred in what the Hall contained, assured Mrs Rayland with equal warmth and sincerity that he never had, nor ever would have, any connexion with the people who assembled there. 'So far from my wishing to hold with such people any friendly converse, I shall hardly be able to refrain from remonstrating with them on their very improper and unhandsome manner of acting towards you, madam; and if I meet them on your grounds, I shall, unless you forbid me, very freely tell them my opinion of their conduct.'
Mrs Rayland had never in her life been so pleased with Orlando as she was at that moment. The readiness with which he entered into her injuries, and the spirit with which he undertook to check the aggressors, placed him higher in her favour than he had ever yet been; but her way of testifying this her satisfaction, consisted in what of all others was at this moment the most mortifying; for she invited him to stay to supper in her apartment, which was a favour she hardly did him twice a year. Orlando, wretched as it made him, could not make any excuse to escape; and it was near an hour later than usual, before Mrs Rayland, retiring, dismissed Orlando to watch for the silence of the house, which was a signal for his going to the beloved turret.
THE clock in the servants' hall struck twelve, and was answered by that in the north gallery. With yet deeper tone the hour was re-echoed from the great clock in the cupola over the stables; when Orlando, listening a moment to hear if all was quiet, proceeded through an arched passage which led from the library to the chapel, and then through the chapel itself, whose principal entrance was from a porch which opened to a sort of triangular court on the back of the house next the park. He had previously unbarred the chapel door, which was slightly secured by an iron rod: the lock had long since been rusted by time, and the key lost; for, since the death of Sir Hildebrand, who was buried with his ancestors in the chancel, the ladies his daughters had found themselves too much affected to enter the chapel (which was also the church of the small parish of Rayland), and had removed the parochial service to that of the next parish, within a mile: and as both belonged to them, the livings were united, and the people of either were content to say their prayers wherever their ladies chose to appoint.
Orlando, till he found it opened his way to Monimia without going through or near any inhabited part of the house, had never explored the chapel; but the night before that on which the experiment was to be made, he had taken care to see that in his passage through it he had no impediment to fear; for of those superstition might have raised to deter a weaker mind, or one engaged in a less animating cause, he was insensible.
He now, having convinced himself that all the family were retired, walked softly through the aisle; and having without any difficulty opened the door of the porch, that adjoined the pavement around the east or back front, he stepped with light feet along it, entered the lower room of the turret which was nearly opposite, and ascended still as silently as he could the narrow stair-case.
'Monimia! Monimia!' cried he in a half whisper, 'Monimia, are you ready?' 'I am,' replied a low and tremulous voice. 'Remove the hangings then,' said Orlando. Slowly the faltering hands of the trembling girl removed them. Orlando eagerly received her as she came through the door-way. 'Are you here at last?' cried he vehemently. 'Shall I be at liberty, at last to see you? But how cold you are! how you tremble!' 'Ah! Mr Orlando,' answered Monimia, half shrinking from him, 'ah! I am so certain that all this is wrong, I so dread a discovery, that it is impossible to conquer my terrors: besides, I have recollected that one of the windows of my aunt's closet up stairs looks this way. If she should be in it, if she should see us!'
'How can she be in it without a light? She hardly sits there in the dark for her amusement. You know it is impossible she can have any suspicion; yet you torment yourself, and destroy all my happiness by your timidity. Ah, Monimia! you are cruel to me.' 'I would not be cruel to you for a thousand worlds, Orlando, you know I would not. But, if I were to die, I cannot conquer my terrors. I tremble too with cold as well as with fright; for I have waited so long past my hour of going to bed, that I am half frozen.'
'And yet you are not glad to see me, Monimia, when at last I am come?'
'Indeed I am glad, Orlando; but hush! hark, surely I heard a noise. Listen a moment, for heaven's sake, before we go down.'
'It is nothing,' said Orlando, after a pause, 'it is nothing, upon my soul, but the wind that rushes up the narrow stair-case to the top of the tower.'
'Speak low, however,' replied Monimia, as she gave him her cold tremulous hand to lead her slowly down the ruined steps; 'speak very low; or rather let us be quite silent, for you remember what an echo there is in the court.'
They then proceeded silently along the flag-stones that surrounded the court opening on one side to the park, and entered the porch of the chapel; where when Monimia arrived, she seemed so near fainting, that, as they were now sheltered from all observation, Orlando entreated her to sit down on one of the thick old worm-eaten wooden benches that were fixed on either side.
Unable to support herself, Orlando made her lean against him, as endeavouring to re-assure her, he besought her to conquer an alarm, 'for which,' said he, 'Monimia, I cannot account. What do you fear, my sweet friend? Do you already repent having entrusted yourself with me?'
'Oh! no indeed,' sighed Monimia, 'but the chapel!' 'What of the chapel?' cried Orlando impatiently. 'It is haunted, you know, every night by the spirit of one of the Lady Raylands, who I know not how long ago died for love, and whose ghost now sits every night in the chancel, and sometimes walks round the house, and particularly along the galleries, at midnight, groaning and lamenting her fate.'
Orlando, laughing at her simplicity, cried, 'And who, my dear Monimia, who has violated thy natural good sense by teaching thee these ridiculous stories? Believe me, none of the Lady Raylands, as you called them, ever died for love; indeed I never heard that any of them ever were in love but my grandmother, who saved herself the absurdity of dying, by marrying the man she liked, in despite of the opposing pride of her family; and as she was very happy, and never repented her disobedience, I do not believe her spirit walks: or if it should, Monimia, if it were possible that it should, could you not face a ghost with me for your protector?'
'Any living creature I should not fear, Orlando, if you were with me; but there is something so dreadful in the idea of a spirit!'
'This is not a place,' said Orlando with quickness, 'this is not a place to argue with your prejudices, Monimia, for you seem half dead with cold; but come, I beseech you, into the library, where there is a fire, and trust to my arm to defend you from all supernatural beings at least, on the way.'
He then drew her arm within his, and pushed open the door of the chapel. When Monimia felt the cold damp that environed her as he shut it after them, and found herself in such a place without any other light than what was afforded by two gothic windows half blocked with stone work, and almost all the rest by stained glass, at midnight, in a night of September, she again shuddered, and shrunk back: but Orlando again encouraging her, and ridiculing her fears, she moved on; and passing the stone passage, he at length seated her safely by the sturdy fire, which he now replenished with wood. As she was still pale and trembling, he brought her a glass of wine (of which Mrs Rayland allowed him whatever he chose), which he insisted on her drinking, and then, seating himself by her, enquired, with a gay smile, how she did after her encounter with the lady who died for love?
'You think me ridiculous, Orlando, and perhaps I am so; but my aunt has often told me, that ghosts always appeared to people who were doing wrong, to reproach them: and, alas! Orlando, I am too sensible that I am not doing right.'
'Curse on her prudish falsehood!' cried the impetuous Orlando. 'If ghosts, as you call them, were always on the watch to persecute evil doers, I believe from my soul that she would have been beset by those of all the Raylands that are packed together in the chancel.'
Such was the awe of her aunt in which Monimia had been brought up, that the little respect and vehement manner in which Orlando spoke of her had in it additional terror. She did not speak; she was not able: but the tears which had till then trembled in her eyes now stole down her cheeks. Orlando was tempted to kiss them away before they reached her bosom; but he remembered that she was wholly in his power, and that he owed her more respect than it would have been necessary to have shown even in public.
'Let us talk no more of your old aunt,' re-assumed Orlando; 'but tell me, Monimia, all that has happened in these long, long months of absence.'
'Happened, Mr Orlando!' repeated Monimia.
'Nay,' interrupted he, 'let me not be Mr Orlando, my lovely friend, but call me Orlando, and try to fancy me your brother. Tell me, Monimia, how have you passed your time since I was allowed to see you last? What an age it is ago! Have you practised your writing, Monimia, and has Lennard allowed you the use of any books?'
'A few I got at by the assistance of Betty Richards, who has the key of this room to clean it when you are absent, Orlando; but if my aunt had found it out, she would never have forgiven either of us. I was forced therefore to hide the books she took out for me with the greatest care, and to read only by snatches. And as to writing, I have done a little of it because you desired me; but it has been very difficult; for my aunt Lennard never would allow me to have pens and ink; and Betty Richards has given me these too by stealth, when she was able to procure them, as if they were for herself, of Mr Pattenson the butler, who was always very kind to her about such things, till a week or two ago; when he was so cross at her asking for more paper, that we thought it better to let alone applying to him again for some time.'
'The old thief was jealous, I suppose,' answered Orlando. 'I believe he was,' said Monimia; 'for he has a liking, I fancy, to Betty, though to be sure he is old enough to be her father.'
Orlando was now struck with an apprehension which had never before occurred to him: he feared that, in the gratitude of her unadulterated heart for the kindness she received from this Betty Richards, she might betray to her the secret of their nocturnal visits; and he knew that the love of gossiping, the love of finery, the love of nice morsels which the butler had it in his power to give, or even the love of shewing she was entrusted with a secret, were any of them sufficient to overset all the fidelity which this girl (the under house-maid) might either feel or profess to feel for Monimia.
Against this therefore it was necessary to put her on her guard; which Orlando endeavoured to do in the most impressive manner possible, and even urged her with warmth to give him her solemn promise that she never would entrust this servant with any secret, or mention to her his name on any account whatever.
'Indeed, Orlando,' replied Monimia, when he had finished this warm exhortation, 'indeed you need not be uneasy or anxious about it; for there is one reason that, if I had no other, would never permit me to tell this poor girl that I meet you unknown to my aunt.'
'And what is that?'
'It is, that Betty is, like myself, a very friendless orphan, a poor girl that my aunt has taken from the parish; and as I know very well that all our meetings will one day or other be discovered, it would entirely ruin her, and occasion the loss of her place and her character, if Betty were supposed to know anything about it; therefore you may be assured, Orlando, that she never shall: for whatever misery it may be my fate to suffer myself, I shall not so much mind, as I should being the cause of ruining and injuring another person, especially a friendless girl, who has always been as kind to me as her situation allowed her to be.'
Enchanted with her native rectitude of heart and generosity of spirit, Orlando rapturously exclaimed, 'Charming girl! how every sentence you utter, every sentiment of your pure and innocent mind delight me! No, Monimia, I am very sure that such a security as you have given me is of equal force, perhaps superior, as it ought to be, even to your faith to me – superior, Monimia, to the wish which I am sure you have, to spare me any sort of unhappiness.' The fine eyes of Monimia were swimming in tears, as, tenderly pressing her hand between his, Orlando said this. 'You do me justice,' said she in a faltering voice, 'and I thank you. I do not know, Orlando, why I should be ashamed to say that I love you better than any body else in the world; for indeed who is there in it that I have to love? If you were gone, it would be all a desert to me; for, though I hope I am grateful, and not undutiful to my aunt Lennard, I find I do not love her as I love you. But indeed I do believe she would not have me feel affection for any body; for she is always telling me, that it is the most disgraceful and odious thing imaginable, for a young woman, dependent as I am, to think about any person, man, woman, or child; and that, if I would not be an undone and disgraced creature, I must mind nothing but praying to God, which I hope I never neglected, and learning to earn my bread by my hands. And then she tells me continually how much I owe her for taking me into her lady's family, and what a wicked wretch I should be if I were ungrateful.'
'Don't tell me any more about your aunt, do not, I entreat you,' cried Orlando impatiently. 'I should be sorry to say any thing that should stain, even with the most remote suspicion of ingratitude, that unadulterated mind. But – I cannot – no, it is impossible to resist saying, that, like all other usurped authority, the power of your aunt is maintained by unjust means, and supported by prejudices, which if once looked at by the eye of reason would fall. So slender is the hold of tyranny, my Monimia!'
'Dear Orlando,' said Monimia smiling through her tears, "you talk what is by me very little understood.' 'No!' replied he, 'she has taken care to fetter you in as much ignorance as possible; but your mind rises above the obscurity with which she would surround it. She has however brought in supernatural aid; and, fearful of not being able to keep you in sufficient awe by her terrific self, she has called forth all the deceased ladies of the Rayland family, and gentlemen too for aught I know, and beset you with spirits and hobgoblins if you dare to walk about the house.'
'Ah! Orlando,' answered Monimia timidly, and throwing round the room a half fearful glance, 'I do believe you injure my aunt Lennard in that notion; for I am almost sure she believes what she tells me.'
'Pooh!' replied he, 'she has too much sense. A good bottle of Barbadoes water, or ratafia, would call your pious aunt in the darkest night, and just as the clock strikes twelve, into the very chancel of the chapel itself, or even into the vaults under it.'
'Do not laugh at such things, Orlando, do not, pray! unless you are very sure they are all foolish and superstitious fancies. I assure you, Orlando, that having been used to walk about this great old rambling house by myself, at all times of the day, and sometimes, when you have not been here, late of a night, I cannot have been much used to indulge fear; for, frightened or not frightened, I must have gone if my lady or my aunt had ordered me. But though I am not the least afraid, or used not to be afraid, when I was assured in my own heart that I had never done or intended any harm, yet I have seen and heard – '
'Nay then, Monimia, tell me what you have seen and heard,' cried he, fixing his eyes eagerly on her face, and pulling his chair nearer to hers, 'and let us draw round the fire and have a discourse upon apparitions.'
'You will laugh at me, Orlando,' said she, looking smilingly and yet grave; 'but what I have to tell you is true nevertheless.'
'Tell it then, Monimia – If any proofs have power to make me a convert, they must be yours.'
'Well then, Orlando, I assure you it is no fancy, but absolutely true, that some time last February, at which time my aunt was very ill by the fall she had down stairs, she used to intrust me with the keys, and to send me all about the house for things she wanted. You know that when Mr Pattenson is out, she always insists upon having the keys of the great cellars, as well as all the rest, left with her; and that, after quarrelling some years about it, she has got the better; and, though he will not give her his keys, has my lady's leave to have keys of her own, which she always takes particular pleasure in using when he is out (which he happened to be that night at the christening of Mr Butterworth's child), whether she really wants the things she sends for or no. It was a terrible stormy night and very dark, when my aunt, who was but just got well enough to sit in my lady's room, took it into her head, after every body was gone to bed but Betty Richards and I, that she wanted some hot shrub and water. She sent me to look for shrub in her closet, where I believe she knew there was none; and when I came back to say there was none, she bade me go into the east-wing cellar, which goes, you know, under the house towards this end of it, and fetch half a dozen bottles; and she gave me the key and a basket. I stood trembling with fear; for had I been sure of being killed even at that moment, I am very certain I could not have determined to venture alone."
'What is the foolish girl afraid of?' said my aunt. 'Of going alone so far, Ma'am,' said I, 'at this time of night.'
'And is not this time of night,' said my aunt angrily, 'or is not any time of night, or any time of day, the same thing to you? Idiot! – and do you dare to affect any choice, how and when you shall obey my commands?'
'Oh! no indeed, my dear dear aunt,' answered I trembling, 'no indeed; but remember – remember, before you are so angry with me, that an hundred and an hundred times you have told me, that all the galleries and passages about this house are haunted; and that you have yourself seen strange sights and heard frightful noises, though you never would tell me what they were: how shall I, my dear aunt, encounter that which has terrified you? – Pray, forgive me! or, if you will not, inflict upon me any punishment you please: only be assured, my dear dear aunt, that, terrible as your anger is to your poor girl, she had rather endure it than go into those passages and vaults alone.'
'Why, thou art a driveller, a perfect idiot,' answered Mrs Lennard, 'and art fit only for a cap and bells, clean straw, and a whirligig. – Apparitions, you stupid fool! But tell me, will you go for what I want, if this other moppet, who looks as white as a cheese-curd, will go with you?'
'The offer of going with Betsy Richards had somehow quite a charm with it, compared with the terrors of going alone; and therefore I readily agreed to the proposal, flattering myself that Betsy would refuse, and that I should so be excused.
'But poor Betsy had, like myself, a most terrible awe of my aunt, whom ever since she could remember she had been taught to fear. 'To be sure, I will go,' said poor Betsy; 'to be certain, I will go, if madam she desires it; though for certain – '
'None of your ifs, you silly baggage, but here, take the candle; and do you, you nonsensical ninnyhammer, take the basket, and fetch instantly what I want. The old shrub stands in a bin, quite at the lower end of the farthest arched vault, next the chapel wing: put your hands elbow deep in the saw-dust, and you will feel it; bring half a dozen bottles, and mind you take care of your candle – for the whole family of Rayland are piled up in their velvet coffins within two or three feet of you; and it would be a very unhandsome thing to set their old dry bones in a blaze on their own premises.'
'Neither Betsy nor I dared answer; for, as my aunt spoke these last words, she waved her hands for us to go. After we were out of hearing, I, who held Betsy fast by the arm, expressed my apprehension at what had passed. I did this more particularly, because I had never heard my aunt talk so freely before. Betsy, frightened as she was at the thought of the expedition we were undertaking, could not help tittering at the surprise I expressed, and said, 'Lord! why, the old woman has been sitting so long after supper with Madam, that she has been taking care to keep the cold out of her stomach:' – meaning that Mrs Lennard had been drinking too much, which till then I had never any notion of. 'I am sure,' replied I to my trembling companion, as we went down the cellar stairs, and were frightened by the echo of our feet, 'I am sure, Betsy, we want something to keep the cold of fear out of ours. – Do I tremble as much as you do, and do I look as pale?' 'Oh! hush,' said she, 'hush! I shall drop if I hear a voice – it sounds so among these hollow doors.' Her teeth chattered in her head, and she held the candle in her hand so unsteadily that I was afraid it would have gone out. In this manner we proceeded to the bottom of the stairs, which you know are very long, and had got half a dozen paces along the passage, which is, you may remember, very high and narrow and long, when we heard a loud rushing noise at the other end of it. Something came sweep along; but Betsy let fall the candle, and fell herself against the wall, where I endeavoured in vain to support her. She sunk quite down; and, as I stooped to assist her, somebody certainly brushed by me. I know not what I heard afterwards, for fear deprived me of my senses. This, however, lasted but a moment; for, my recollection returning, I was sensible that, whatever there was to hurt us, we should do more wisely to endeavour to return back to my aunt's room than to remain in that dismal place. With great difficulty, by rubbing her hands within mine, and reasoning with her as soon as she seemed able to hear it, I prevailed upon Betsy Richards to try to walk. The apprehension that this frightful apparition might return (which she whispered me had the figure of a tall man in a white or light-coloured gown), had more effect upon her than any thing I could say; and she consented to try to return up the stairs. It was so dark, however, that we were obliged to feel our way with our hands; and I own I every moment expected to put them against the frightful figure which my companion had seen.'
'But you were wrong there,' said the incredulous Orlando; 'for, if it were a ghost, Monimia, you know a ghost is only air, and of course you could not have touched it. – But tell me how your aunt received you.'
'It was, I am sure, almost half an hour before we got back, more dead than alive, to the oak parlour. She asked us very impatiently, what we had been so long about? but neither of us was presently able to answer. She saw how it was by our faces, but very sharply bade us tell her that moment what was the matter. Betsy had then more courage than I had; for I was more afraid of my aunt, if possible, than of the ghost, and so she related as well as she could all she saw, or fancied she saw. Mrs Lennard was extremely angry with us both, and scolded us for a quarter of an hour; which I thought a little unreasonable towards me, since she was angry with me now for being afraid of the very things she had been teaching me to fear. However, as there was no chance of persuading us to make another attempt that night, and she was disabled by lameness from going herself, she was forced to be content with some other of the cordials she had in her closet; and afterwards she rather wished to have the story hushed up and forgotten, for somehow or other that key of the cellar was never found after that night. The basket and the candle remained where they were dropped; yet the key, which was a very great heavy key, and which I had in my hand, was gone; and Mr Pattenson would have made such a racket about it, that my aunt, as she had another, let the story drop, and contrived an excuse a week or two afterwards, when she was able to get about herself, to have the lock changed.'
'And this is all the reason you have, my Monimia, from your own observation, to believe in spirits?' said Orlando.
'All!' replied she, 'and is it not then enough?'
'Not quite, I fear, to convince the scepticism of the present day. I do not, however, wish to prejudice your mind on the other side, by bringing arguments against the possibility, of their existence; but I will give your reason an opportunity of deciding for itself. Against to-morrow night, when we shall meet again, I will look out and mark for you all those stories of supernatural appearances that are related by the most reasonable people, and are the best authenticated. You shall fairly enquire whether any of those visits of the dead were ever found to be of any use to the living. We are told that they have been seen (as is reported of that vision which Clarendon tells of), to warn the persons to whom they appeared, or some others to whom they were to repeat their mission, of impending danger. But the danger, however foretold, has never been avoided; and shall we therefore believe, that an all-wise and all-powerful Being shall suffer a general law of nature to be so uselessly violated, and shall make the dead restless, only to terrify the living?'
'Oh! but in cases of murder you know what spectres have appeared!'
'Yes, Monimia, to the conscience of the guilty; but even that is not always ready to raise hideous shadows to persecute the sanguinary monsters who are stained with crimes; for if it were, Monimia, I am afraid not one of our kings or heroes could have slept in their beds.'
'And yet,' said Monimia shuddering, 'and yet, Orlando, you sometimes talk of being a soldier!'
'Ah! my sweet friend,' replied Orlando, 'I have no choice, but must be what they would have me. Yet believe me, Monimia, if I had a choice, it would be to pass all my life in some quiet retirement with you. We should not want either of us to be very rich, for we should certainly be very happy.'
To this poor Monimia felt herself quite unable to answer; but sighing deeply, from the fear that it could never be, she tried to turn the discourse: 'Is it not very late, Orlando,' said she, 'and had I not better go?'
'If you insist upon going yet, I shall be half tempted to let you travel through the chapel alone,' replied he smiling, 'and, to revenge myself for your desertion, expose you to meet the tall man in the white dress.' He then led the conversation to other subjects, gave her some books he had selected for her reading, and some materials for writing; and, after insisting upon her promise to meet him the next night, he consented that she should return to her turret. As, with his arm round her waist, he conducted her through the chapel, and still found her tremble, he gently reproached her with it. 'Ah!' said she, 'Orlando, you are surely unreasonable, if you expect me to be as courageous as you are!' 'Not at all,' answered he; 'for you may derive your confidence from the same source, and say, as I do, I fear no evil angel, and have offended no good one.'
Monimia promised to do all she could towards conquering her apprehensions. They were by this time arrived at the door of her chamber, where tenderly kissing her hand, he again bade her good night, or rather good morning, for it was near three o'clock; and waiting till he heard the door safely concealed by her bed, and hearing that all was secure, he returned to his own room, and went to rest in spirits disposed to indulge delicious dreams of happiness to come.
ANOTHER and another evening Orlando attended at the turret, and the apprehensions of Monimia decreased in proportion as her reason, aided by her confidence in him, taught her that there was in reality little to fear from the interposition of supernatural agency. The dread of being discovered by people in the house, however, still interrupted the hours which passed with imperceptible rapidity while they were together. This might happen a thousand ways, which Monimia was ingenious in finding out; while Orlando was sometimes successful, and sometimes failed, in ridiculing those apprehensions which he could not always help sharing.
The mind of the innocent Monimia had been till now like that of Miranda in her desert island. To her, the world that was past and that which was now passing were alike unknown; and all the impressions that her infant understanding had received, tended only to confirm the artificial influence which her aunt endeavoured to establish over her imagination. Her poverty, her dependence, the necessity of her earning a subsistence by daily labour, had been the only lessons she had been taught; and the only hope held out to her, that of passing through life in an obscure service.
But she had learned now that, abject and poor as she was, she was an object of affection to Orlando, who seemed in her eyes the representation of divinity. The reading he had directed her to pursue, had assisted in teaching her some degree of self-value. She found that to be poor was not disgraceful in the eye of Heaven, or in the eyes of the good upon earth; and that the great teacher of that religion which she had been bid to profess, though very little instructed in it, was himself poor, and the advocate and friend of poverty. In addition to all this knowledge, so suddenly acquired, she had lately made another discovery. Her aunt had always told her that she was a very plain girl, had a bad person, and was barely fit to be seen; but since the marriage of the servant who had lived at the Hall during the infancy of Monimia, Betty Richards, the under house-maid, had been ordered to do the little that Monimia was allowed to have done in her room. Mrs Lennard had taken her from the parish officers as an apprentice; and having long seen her only in her coarse gown and nailed shoes, and observed in her manner only a great deal of rustic simplicity, had not the least idea that under the semblance she concealed the cunning and the vanity of a country coquet; and that the first week she passed in Mrs Rayland's family had called forth these latent qualities. She was a ruddy, shewy girl, with a large but rather a good figure; and her face was no sooner washed, and her hair combed over a roll, than she became an object which attracted the attention of the great Mr Pattenson himself; who, proceeding in the usual way by which he had won the favour of so many of the subaltern nymphs in Mrs Rayland's kitchen, began to make her many presents, and to talk of her beauty; and as she could not forbear repeating all these extravagant expressions of his admiration, Monimia could as little help reflecting, though she was somehow humbled as she made the comparison, that if Betty was so handsome, she could not herself be so ugly as her aunt had always represented her. The fineries which her new friend received Monimia beheld without any wish to enjoy such herself; though on Betty, a poor girl bred in a workhouse, they had a most intoxicating effect. They were given under the strictest injunctions of secrecy, which was tolerably well observed towards the rest of the house; and the finery, which at first consisted only of beads and ribbands was reserved for Sunday afternoons, and put on at a friend's cottage near a distant church. But it was not in female nature to conceal these acquisitions from Monimia; and it was in her drawers that they were often deposited, when there was reason to apprehend that the little deal box, which had till lately been amply sufficient for the check apron and linsey-woolsey gown of Betty, might not safety conceal the ribbands 'colour of emperors' eyes,' the flowered shawls, the bugle necklaces, and caps with new edging to them, which she now possessed.
Sometimes, when Betty obtained leave to go out, and thought that, Mrs Lennard being engaged with her lady, and the other servants gone different ways, she should escape unnoticed across the park, she persuaded Monimia, who knew not how to refuse her any thing, to let her dress at her little glass; and there the progress of rural coquetry had full power to display itself. She tried on her various topknots, disposed her hair in a thousand fanciful ways, and called to Monimia for her opinion, which of them was most becoming; appealing for the authority of these variations to a certain pocket-book, presented her also from the same quarter, which represented in one of its leaves 'six young ladies in the most fashionable head-dresses for 1776.'
Monimia, with all her ingenuous simplicity, had sense enough to smile at the ridiculous vanity of the girl; and to know, that her accepting all this finery from the old butler was quite wrong. But she felt also, that to reprove her for it would look like envy, and that to remonstrate would probably be vain. She contented herself therefore with keeping as much out of her confidence as she could; and had reasons enough of her own, which were continually strengthened by the exhortations of Orlando, for keeping her from being a too frequent visitor in her room.
But the remarks she made upon all this, and upon numberless circumstances in the house which Betty related to her, no longer left her in her original ignorance. In a great house there are among the servants as many cabals, and as many schemes, as among the leaders of a great nation; and few exhibited a greater variety of interests than did the family of Mrs Rayland. Mrs Lennard at once hated, feared, and courted Pattenson, who, having been taken a boy from the plough, had been gradually promoted till he became the favourite footman of the elder Mrs Rayland, who, on the death of an old man who had long occupied that post, made him butler; where he was supposed to have accumulated in the course of five-and-twenty years a great deal of money, was known to have several sums out at interest, and had bought two or three small farms in the county, with the approbation of his lady, whose favour had never once failed him, though various attempts had been made to injure him in her opinion by complaints of his amours. Though he was a perfect Turk in morals, and though in his advanced life he rather indulged than corrected this propensity to libertinism, he had hitherto contrived to escape his lady's wrath; and indeed knew that nobody but Mrs Lennard or the old coachman had, among the domestics, interest enough to shake her good opinion of him; and of both the one and the other, though aware that neither of them bore him any good will, he was tolerably secure.
How the prudent and guarded Mrs Lennard came to be in his power was never fully understood; but in his power she certainly felt herself: for though they were in habits of frequent squabbling about trifles, which indeed with the lady seemed necessary to break the tedious uniformity of her life, yet whenever she found Mr Pattenson really angry, she, albeit unused to the condescending mood, began to palliate and apologize – and peace was generally made over some nice thing, and some fine old wine, by way of a petit souper in Mr Pattenson's parlour, after Mrs Rayland was gone to bed.
The old coachman, who was the other favourite servant, was always a third in these peace-making meetings. He was a man grown unwieldy from excess of good living, and more than seventy years old; but he possessed an infinite deal of cunning, and knew how to get and how to keep money, with which it was his ambition to portion his two daughters, and to marry them to gentlemen; and his dealings in contraband goods, as Rayland Hall was only eight miles from the coast, his having the management of the great farms in hand, and his concern in buying and selling horses, were together supposed to have rendered this object of ambition an easy attainment. Of deeper sagacity than the other two, he foresaw that the time could not be far distant when Rayland Hall, and all the wealth that belonged to it, must change its possessor. It was a plan of Mrs Lennard and Pattenson to enjoy and to secure all they could now, and to be well assured of a very considerable legacy hereafter. But old Snelcraft had further hopes; and for that reason, though he had at first opposed as much as he could the reception of Orlando, and since expressed displeasure towards him, he of late had in his head floating visions of the probability there was that, if Orlando came to the estate, he might marry his favourite daughter, Miss Patty Snelcraft, who would have such a fine fortune, and was, as her father believed, the very extract of all beauty. Ridiculous and chimerical as such a project was, the old man, in the dotage of his purse-proud vanity, believed it not only possible but probable: for, though he knew that Mrs Rayland would have disinherited her own son for entertaining such an idea for a moment, yet he saw that Mr Orlando had no pride at all; and he was pretty sure, from the arrangements that he believed were made as to money, that, great as the sum of ready money would perhaps be that Mrs Rayland might leave behind her, none of it would be suffered to go to Mr Orlando. Miss Patty Snelcraft was, as this precious plan got more entirely the possession of her father's imagination, taken from a boarding-school at a neighbouring town, and one luckless day brought to church in all the finery which she had there been accustomed to wear. But the effect was very far from that her parents intended, who expected that Madam would have sent for her to the Hall, as she used to do at breaking-up, and have commended her beauty and elegance; instead of which, Mrs Rayland no sooner arrived at home than she sent for Robin, as she still called her old servant, who now was seldom able to mount the box himself, and asked, if it was possible that the tawdry thing she had seen with his wife was his daughter? He answered in all humility that it was his eldest daughter, who, as she had now finished her learning, he had taken home from boarding-school.
'Finished her learning!' exclaimed the old lady; 'and is that what she has learned, to dress herself out like a stage-player, like a mountebank's doxy? Upon my word, Robin, I am sorry for you. I thought you and your wife had more sense. What! is that a dress for a sober girl, who ought to be a help to her mother, and to take care of her father in his old age?'
'She does, Ma'am, do both, I'll assure you,' answered Robin, terribly stung by this reproof, 'and is a very good and dutiful child. And as to her fineries, Ma'am, and such like, you are sensible that I'm not myself no judge of them there things; and my wife I believe thought, that seeing how by your goodness and my long and faithful service we are well to pass, for our condition and circumstances and such like, there would not be no offence whatsumdever in dressing our poor girls, being we have but two, a little dessent and neat, just to shew that one is no beggar after having served in such a good family so many years.'
The lady, a little softened by this speech, which was made in almost a crying tone of voice, replied, 'Well well, good Robin, I know how to make allowances; but do you and your wife learn for the future to make a more modest use of the means you are blessed with, and never encourage your girls to vanity and extravagance. Here's Mary here, Lennard's niece, whom I give leave to be in the house (Monimia stood waiting all this time with the chocolate, which the old lady always swallowed as soon as she came in from her devotions), she, I assure you, comes of parents that many people would call genteel; and yet you see, as it has pleased Providence to make her a dependent and a servant, I never suffer her to stick herself out in feathers and flowers like a May-day girl.'
The lecture ended, and the old coachman withdrew, extremely discontent that his Patty had been compared to the house-keeper's niece, who was, as he mutterd to himself, a mere pauper; and Monimia was not at all flattered by being brought forward as a comparison for Miss Snelcraft, whom the servants, and particularly Betty, had been turning into ridicule for her awkward finery and airs of consequence – nor did the expression, that she was born of parents whom some people would call genteel, at all sweeten the bitterness of this comparison. Monimia, who had before in the course of the day received a severe mortification from her aunt, in being refused leave to go to church, now, as soon as her service in waiting on Mrs Rayland with the chocolate was performed, withdrew to her own room, and indulged her tears. At length she recollected that, though all the rest of the world might despise and contemn her, the heart of Orlando was hers; she was secure of his affection; he would repeat it to her at night, when he had promised to fetch her to his room: and these reflections dried her eyes, and dissipated her sorrows: they even lent her force to bear, without betraying her impatience, the intrusion of Betty Richards, who soon after asked leave to come in. 'Oh, laud! my dear miss,' cried she, as soon as she entered the room, 'how we be shut up in this here old place like two little singing-birds in a cage! – I've been trying to persuade old Jenny to let me take her turn this a'ternoon to go to church, and have promised to give her two turns for one; but the cross old witch says indeed she chooses to go herself. – Oh lud lud! I'd give a little finger to go.'
'And why are you so eager to go to-day, Betty, more than any other afternoon?'
'Oh gad!' replied the girl, 'for five hundred reasons: – first, because it's so early that I could get away to West Wolverton church with all the ease in the world, and 'tis such a sweet afternoon, and winter will be here now so soon; besides that – but you must not tell for an hundred pounds – my good old fat sweetheart brought me home last night the most beautifullest bonnet, such as the millener told him was worn by the tip-top quality in Lonnon – and I die to wear it, and to go to West Wolverton church in it this very afternoon; for at ours, you know, I dares as well jump into the fire as put it on.'
'But why do your bonnet and your piety conspire to carry you so far just this very evening, Betty,' said Monimia smiling, 'when both East Wolverton and Bartonwick have an evening church, and are not much more than half as far?'
'Oh! thereby hangs a tale – What! you han't heard then, I suppose, of all the great doings at West Wolverton?'
This was the name of the village in which was situated the house of Mr Somerive. – 'Great doings!' repeated Monimia, changing colour; 'no, I have heard of nothing.'
'Why then you must know, Miss, that Mr Orlando, who was not here last night-'
(Monimia knew it well, for they had agreed two nights before not to meet till the present evening) –
'Mr Orlando, I say, came over about an hour ago, just as my Lady came from church, and after walking backwards and forwards in his melancholy fashion, with a book in his hand, upon the broad pavement in the chapel court, which really oft-times rives one's very heart to see him, he went away to his study. For my part, I was sitting in the window upstairs for a moment, for I had just been making up my Lady's fire before she came from church – when all of a sudden I saw John Dickman, 'Squire Somerive's groom, come riding up; so down I went to speak to him. He gived me a letter, which I carried in to Orlando, who seemed monstrous surprised at it, as he was but that minute as 'twere come from home; and when I went back to the kitchen John told me, he was ordered to wait for his young master – for that Madam Somerive's brother, the London merchant, was come down, with some of his family, sons and daughters, and the gentleman from some part beyond sea, who was to marry the eldest Miss Somerive, for he had got his father's consent, and the wedding was to take place out of hand. And so,' added Betty, who had almost talked herself out of breath, 'and so, as Mr Phil. is out, gone as he always is upon a visit to they newcomers up at Castle, the 'Squire he ordered John to fetch our Orlando out of hand home to entertain all this grand company.'
'And he went!' said Monimia in a faint voice, who had changed colour a dozen times during this narration.
'Oh, Lord! yes, to be sure he went,' replied Betty; 'yet somehow he look'd to me as if he had rather of stay'd, and hung about for some time, as thof unwilling to go. Lord! sir, said I, as I went to shut up his windows before he lock'd the study door – Lord, how strange it is that you are not like other young men, and never cares nothing for company and such like! He only sighed, a sweet creature! – when I'm sure, if all the grand lords and dukes, and even the King, and the Prince of Wales, and the Archbishop of Osnabig, and all his Majesty's court, were to be collected together, there's not one of them to be compared to young 'Squire Orlando. – Lord! what would I give to see all these gentlefolks together at West Wolverton church, and that dear sweet Orlando outshining them all!'
'And that was the reason,' said Monimia in a still fainter voice, 'that you are satisfied with no church but West Wolverton? But after all, Betty, pray are you sure these ladies and gentlemen will be there?'
'As sure as five pence – for John Dickman told me so. Oh! that I could but go! – for Orlando, you know, Miss, who is the sweetest temperd good-naturdest cretur in all England, would never tell if he saw one ever so smartly dress: – No, egollys! he's more like to give one some trifle or other to help one out, than to blab to get one anger.'
'Has he ever given you any thing, Betty?' said Monimia, in a voice the tremor of which she could not disguise; for, mingled with numberless other sensations, something like a half-formed jealousy and suspicious apprehension now entered her heart – 'tell me, Betty, what has he ever given you?'
'Why I assure you,' replied the girl pertly, 'not above a month ago neither, a'ter he had been here for almost a fortnight, he called me to him as I was a dusting of them there guns and arrows and what d'yecallums, as hangs over the chimney in that parlour as you goes through to get to his study – And so, says he, Betty, you've a good deal of trouble in cleaning of my room and making my fire, and perhaps your lady may not recollect it, and so may not make you a consideration for it; and therefore, Betty, I beg you'll accept this, and I wish I had it in my power to do better. – and if you'll believe me, Miss, it was a brand new crown, quite new, a crown piece they told me it was. – I would have given any thing not to have changed it, but to have laid it up as a keepsake – But there! – I had not money enough without it to buy my new cotton gown, when Alexander Macgill the Scotchman called here; and so away went my poor dear crown, though I had leverer have parted with one of my fingers.'
'You did right, however,' said Monimia coldly; 'the gown you wanted, and the crown, I dare say, Mr Orlando meant you should use.'
'I suppose he did, a dear sweet creature! – Lord a mercy! what would I give to have a peep at his sweet face this afternoon! I'll tell you what, Miss, though you cannot go to church, nor I neither, we might ten to one see these gentlefolks ride by, if we could but steal up to the upper park, and so through the little common. 'Tis not much better than three miles, and we might not be miss'd.'
'No,' said Monimia drily, 'I shall run no such risk indeed of making my aunt angry; and besides, what would Mr Somerive, or Mr Orlando, or any other of them think if they saw us there?'
'Hang their thoughts!' replied Betty; 'what would it signify to us what any body thought, if we pleased ourselves? I'll go and see how the land lays, and if the two old girls have done their dinner, and are set down together to take their afternoon's dose.'
'Do not come back then, Betty,' said Monimia; 'for I certainly will not go out without leave, and you know it nonsense to ask it – therefore, if you like it, go; but I assure you I shall not.'
Having thus released herself from her importunate visitor, Monimia sat down to consider all she had told her. That Orlando should quit the house without telling her, gave her at first extreme pain; yet a moment's reflection convinced her that, unless he had made a confidante of Betty, of which she now saw all the danger, there was no possible way of his conveying to her intelligence of the sudden summons he had received from his father; for Mrs Lennard was at home, and had shut herself up in her own room to do twenty little services which she frequently chose to have performed on Sunday mornings. A thousand doubts now arose in the mind of Monimia, whether he would be able to call for her at night; a thousand apprehensions lest the people he was with, particularly his uncle's daughters, who he said were very pretty women, should estrange his thoughts from her, and rob her of his affections. These fears were so acute, that she was trying to drive them from her, when Betty returned, and, finding the door of her room fastened, tapped softly at it, and cried, 'Miss, miss! who will refuse to go into the park now?'
'You have not surely got leave!'
'No, nor I have not asked it; but the old ladies are hard set in to their good things. Madam has had a gouty feel in her stomach all day, she says, and that's always a symptom for a double dose; and as to your aunt, she has been ailing too, and will not flinch her share, you know very well.'
Monimia, alarmed at the loud whisper, had opened the door before the end of this speech, and let in her unwelcome companion, who now repeated, that every body was safely bestowed who could interrupt them; and that, as it was still very early, they might have a good chance of seeing some of these comers, and above all Orlando, in their evening ride. But Monimia, who was displeased with the familiar way in which the girl named Orlando, and knew that he would object to her walking with her, assumed a virtue when she had it not; and though she believed they might safely go the way she proposed, and return before the hour when it was likely her aunt would want her; though she would have given half the world only for the chance of seeing Orlando at a distance, she positively refused – and had the resolution to see Betty set out by herself, with her new 'most beautifullest' bonnet pinned under her petticoat, which she proposed putting on when she got clear of the house; and then Monimia, forcing her attention from what had the last few hours engaged it, sat down to the sort of lesson which Orlando had last marked for her, and which she had promised to make herself mistress of before she saw him again; – though, alas! while she read, the idea of the superior advantages enjoyed by the Miss Woodfords, his cousins, their beauty, and the probability there was that one of them might be intended for him, too frequently distracted her thoughts, and impeded her good intentions.
THE day had been unusually warm; but towards evening a thunderstorm came on, and, as it grew later, a tempest of wind, with heavy and continual rain.
Betty, sulky that Monimia refused, and still more sulky that she had got nothing by her long walk, but nearly spoiling all her finery, had not come to Monimia's room any more; but she received, at the usual hour, the usual summons for tea. She thought both Mrs Rayland and her aunt uncommonly peevish and tedious, and that the sermon one was reading, while the other fell asleep, was most unreasonably long. At length she was dismissed, and, retiring to her turret, began to listen to the wind, that howled in tremendous gusts among the trees, and to the rain falling in torrents, the rushing of which was redoubled by the leaden pipes that, from the roof of her turret, threw the water in columns on the pavement below. Would Orlando come? Through such a tempest it were hardly to be wished he should. Having been absent all day, there would be no fire in his room, he would be drenched with rain, and half dead with cold. Monimia then could not desire he should come; yet she felt, in despite of her reason, that she should be very unhappy if he did not; for, though so many causes might combine to detain him, her humble ideas of herself, and the pictures she had made of the beauty and attractions of the Miss Woodfords, added another which rendered her wretched. 'Alas!' cried she, 'Orlando, among them, will be too happy to think of me; and it is quite ridiculous to suppose, that he will quit these ladies to come through the storm almost five miles to poor Monimia. No, no! Orlando will not come.'
Still however she could not determine to go to bed, at least till the hour was past for which he had made the appointment. At the usual time her aunt, who now frequently omitted to come herself, sent Betty for her candle, and her door was locked as usual, for that was a ceremony which either in person or proxy was always performed. But Monimia now no longer passed the long interval, between half after nine o'clock and the hour when Orlando usually called her, in darkness; for he had furnished her with the means of procuring a light, and with small wax candles. One of these she now lit, and endeavoured to sit down to read – but the violence of the wind, which she fancied every moment increased, and the flashes of lightning which she saw through her narrow casement, to which there was no shutter, distracted her attention; and she could only sit in miserable anxiety, listening to the various noises which in such a tempestuous night are heard around an old building, and especially such a part of it as she inhabited; where, around the octagon tower or turret, the wind roared with violence from every point; while, in the long passages which led from thence to her aunt's apartments, it seemed yet more enraged, from being confined. She now traversed her small room with fearful steps; now sat down on her bed, near the door, that she might the more readily hear Orlando if he should come; and now got on a chair, and opened her casement to observe if there seemed any probability of the storm's abating: but still, though the thunder had ceased, the clouds, driven against each other by violent and varying gusts of wind, produced vivid flashes of lightning, which suddenly illuminated the whole park. But Orlando came not, and it was now near an hour past his usual time. Again the poor anxious Monimia, now half despairing of his coming, and trying to persuade herself that she did not wish he should come, traversed her room, again went to her window. Another and another hour passed: amidst the heavy gusts and. mournful howlings of the wind, she had counted the clock, that, with a more than usually hollow sound, told twelve, one, two! – Orlando certainly did not mean to come – no! it was unreasonable to suppose he would; unreasonable to flatter herself that he would quit a cheerful circle of his relations, to traverse the extensive commons and lanes, and all the park, that lay between West Wolverton and the Hall, in such a night, when no person would think of going out but on life and death. Yet, while she thus argued with herself, a few tears involuntarily stole from her eyes; and as she gave up all hopes of his coming, and lay down in her clothes on her bed (for she had not the resolution to undress herself), she sighed deeply, and said to herself: 'And yet, if it had been me who was expected, I do not believe any storm could have hindered me from trying to see Orlando! and I am sure no company would. – Yet he is quite in the right, I know, and I do not blame him.'
She could not, however fatigued and weary, close her eyes for some time. The clock at length struck three; and soon after, wearied with watching and anxiety, she fell into an unquiet repose.
Suddenly, without being conscious how long she had indulged it, she started from her sleep, and fancied she heard the well-known signal: she listened a moment; it was repeated. Trembling with joy, yet equally agitated by fear, she arose and answered it; and removing the impediments that were between them, and again lighting her candle, Orlando stepped into the room.
His clothes and his hair were streaming with water, and he said hastily, as he came through the hangings, 'You had given me over, my Monimia, had you not?' – 'Long ago,' replied she, with an apprehensive countenance, which yet was lightened up with pleasure. 'And now I am come, Monimia,' reassumed he, 'you must suffer me to remain here, for I cannot get into my own room: the chapel doors, you know, are fastened within side, and by the usual way at this hour of the night it is impossible. I can stay but a moment; but I could not bear to be so many hours without seeing you; and besides, I had no means of letting you know why I went so suddenly from hence, and I fear you have been unhappy.'
'I should have been unhappy indeed, if Betty, who heard it from the servant who came for you, had not told me as a piece of news, that company had arrived unexpectedly at West Wolverton. – And in such a night, Orlando, was it possible to expect you could leave them to come so far? How good it is of you! – and yet you will suffer, I fear, from your wet clothes. Good God! what can I do to prevent your suffering?'
'Be not uneasy about that, my angel friend,' replied Orlando; 'such trifles I never attend to, and never suffer from: if you will let me sit down here with you, I will take off my great coat, and my other clothes are not so very wet. At this hour there will surely be nothing to apprehend from my staying here.'
'I hope not,' said Monimia, 'I hope not, if we speak low. The wind is so high, that any trifling noise could hardly be heard by my aunt if she were upon the watch, which I hope she is not.' 'You are generous to indulge me,' answered Orlando; 'and I must be a monster to dream of injuring such innocence and candour. But, Monimia, there are a thousand uneasy thoughts continually crowding upon me about you. This Betty Richards – I am afraid she is a bad girl; I am sure she is an artful one; and there is an alliance of some sort or other between her and the old butler: you will never trust her, Monimia.'
'Never indeed,' replied Monimia; 'for though she is of late much thrown in my way since my aunt has become more indolent from her accident, I never willingly am with her; nor do I indeed like her so well as I used to do.'
'Continue to keep yourself then from much intimacy, Monimia; for the conversation of such a girl, to a mind pure and unsullied like yours, is to be dreaded. It is coarse at least, if not vicious; and, if it be not dangerous, is at all events improper. Discourage therefore her talking to you as much as you can, even about the tittle tattle of the house.' Monimia most readily promised to obey him: – and then observing that he looked at her with a peculiar expression of uneasiness in his countenance, she said, 'But is that all, Orlando? Is there not something else that gives you concern?' 'Yes,' replied he; 'I will not conceal from you that there are many things. This wedding of my sister's, though I most sincerely rejoice that she is likely to be happily settled, seems to teem with troubles for me.'
Monimia turned pale, but only clasped her hands together as she sat by him, and did not interrupt him. He went on.
'My uncle Woodford piques himself extremely upon having brought about this marriage; for the father of the young man (a merchant at Corke in very great business) for some time positively refused his consent, because of Philippa's want of fortune. My uncle, you know, or rather you do not know, is just the reverse of my mother, and is as bustling and spirited as she is mild and tranquil. Having got his money himself, he has no notion that any thing but money is worth thinking about; and that the money is best that is made in trade; and therefore, as he has only one son, who does not choose to take up his business, but is studying at the Temple, he has adopted a notion, that it would be much better for me to go with him to London, and learn his business of a wine merchant, to which I may succeed.'
'And marry one of your cousins,' said Monimia in a faint voice, 'who are, you have told me, such pretty women!' 'If that is part of his plan,' answered Orlando, 'my Monimia, he has kept it to himself. – But I do not believe it is, as one of them is engaged, and the other would not think me either smart enough or rich enough. Whatever may be Mr Woodford's plan, however, that part of it will certainly never take effect; nor indeed will any of it, for I feel a total disinclination to it.'
'Why then are you so distrest, Orlando, at the proposal?'
'Because I see it makes my father restless – not exactly the proposal, so much as the conversation my uncle has held with him. – He has been declaiming against the folly of my dreaming away my time in waiting for a legacy from Mrs Rayland; which after all, said he, the whimsical old woman may not give him – and what if she does? If she acts as she ought, the estate, you know, brother Somerive, ought to be your eldest son Phil's; and if she gives the rest of your family three or four thousand pounds each, what will that do for your youngest son? Why, not give him salt to his porridge.'
'Dear papa,' said Maria, 'what an expression!' – 'Well, well, child,' answered my uncle, 'I can't stand to pick my words, when I am as anxious about a thing as I am about this – I say, and every man who knows the world will agree with me – I say, that a fine young fellow like my nephew here ought not to waste his life nailed to the gouty chair of a peevish old woman, who ten to one dies and bilks him at last. Let him be put into some way of doing for himself – every man who knows the world will agree with me – let him be put into some way of doing for himself; and then, if Mrs Rayland has a mind to be a friend to him, take my word for it she'll do it so much the sooner. I'm sure of it, for I've remarked it in my dealings among mankind, and every man who knows the world will agree with me, that people are always more ready to help those who are in a way of doing well, than those that hang about helpless. If Orlando here was in a way of getting forward in the world, why you'd see that the old girl would be twice as kind to him – or, if she was not, why he need not so much care.'
'I found,' continued Orlando, 'that this discourse, though my father did not perfectly assent to the justice of all its arguments, made a deep impression on his mind, which had long been disturbed by the difficulty of finding for me some proper line of conduct for my future establishment: and the determination is, that Mrs Rayland is to be applied to for her opinion as to my sister's marriage, by way of compliment,. and in regard to me, by way of sounding her intentions. It appears to me to be all very bad policy; and I foresee nothing but vexation, perhaps my removal from hence.'
Orlando paused a moment; and Monimia, with a deep and tremulous sigh, repeated, 'From hence! Alas! Orlando, I have forseen that the happiness I have so little a while enjoyed of seeing you would not last long!'
'I know not,' replied he. 'I may be too easily alarmed; but, with the bustle and fuss my uncle makes about every thing he pursues, he seldom fails of carrying his point; and he is now elated with his success over the prudent and worldly-minded Mr Fitz-Owen, and believes his interposition would every where prove as infallible as it has done in hurrying up this marriage for Philippa.'
'Do you think it then too much hurried?' said Monimia.
'I hardly know,' replied he, 'how to think it otherwise. Mr Fitz-Owen is a very young man: he only saw Philippa half a dozen times when she was in town last spring with my uncle; and he has insisted upon this match with as much vehemence as he could have done, had he known all her good qualities.'
'That,' said Monimia, 'is a very grave reflection. If Philippa has the good qualities of which the gentleman is ignorant, the discovery that beauty is her least perfection will increase his happiness.'
'But what does she know of him, Monimia? What opportunity can she have had to judge of a man with whom she is engaged to pass her life? Surely the acquaintance of a fortnight is very insufficient to form her judgment of a character on which the happiness of her whole life is to depend. Mr Fitz-Owen may be a very good-tempered and worthy man; but, as he is the native of another country, it is impossible we should know whether he is or no. However, I keep all these reflections to myself; for the affair is settled, and my father seems pleased with it. Philippa too seems to become attached to Mr Fitz-Owen. There is something very flattering to a young woman in the attention and perseverance he has shewn. He has a good person, and she really I believe likes him.'
'But you do not, Orlando?'
'I do not dislike him – I only wish I knew more of his temper; and I wish too that my bustling busy uncle had not contrived to connect my affairs with those of this wedding, and to hurry every thing with a precipitation that hardly gives one time to breathe. It was only on Thursday evening that Fitz-Owen arrived from Dublin with his father's consent: on Friday he delivered his credentials; and on Saturday the impetuous Mr Woodford whirled him, with his own daughters and his officious self, down to us, where he pursues his plan with the same vehemence; for he has already settled with my father, that the letter to Mrs Rayland is to be written to-morrow, and on Wednesday Philippa and Isabella, and, if Mrs Rayland consents, I also, return with them to London,' (Monimia shuddered, and checked an involuntary emotion she felt to implore Heaven aloud that Mrs Rayland might be inexorably averse to this scheme) 'where,' continued Orlando, 'the marriage is to take place as soon as the usual forms can be gone through – Philippa is to set off to Ireland with her husband, and Isabella is to remain the winter with the Woodfords; my uncle being sure, he says, of getting her married as well as he has done Philly.'
'Alas! Orlando, you will go then: for Mrs Rayland, however she may dislike such a proposal, will not, I am afraid, oppose it: there is something so odd in her temper, that, though she is offended if her advice is not asked, she will seldom give it when it is, especially if she believes any other person has been consulted first.'
'I understand her perfectly, my Monimia, and I see nothing but vexation gathering for me in every quarter. Alas! it is not one of the least, that, while these people remain, my father expects me to stay at home; though, as my brother is so good as to promise to come thither to-morrow, I think I might be spared.'
'And has your brother,' said Monimia, 'been consulted on this plan of your going into business with your uncle?'
'Oh, yes! It was opened to him after dinner, while I had left the room a moment to consider by what means I could get to you; and I found him eagerly promoting it for reasons which I heartily forgive, while I thank God I feel myself incapable of harbouring such sentiments towards him, could we change situations. I must follow my destiny, Monimia, whatever it may be; for I must not make my poor father, and still less my mother, unhappy. They have too many uneasy hours about Philip; and while the marriage of Philippa gives them some satisfaction, it shall not be embittered by any opposition of mine to what they may think right for me – and yet I own, Monimia, I own, that to go with Mr Woodford, to be confined to that sort of business, would make me most completely wretched.' He said this in a tone of voice so expressive of despondence, that Monimia, oppressed as she was before, could conceal the anguish she felt no longer. Still, however, she tried to check the excess of her sorrow, while he tenderly soothed her, assuring her that, whatever might be his fate, he should love her to the end of his life; and if he thought that the drudgery of a few years at any business, however irksome to him, would enable him to pass the rest of his life in moderate competence with her, he would submit to it, not only as a duty, but as a blessing. 'And now, my Monimia, let us consider how we can meet to-morrow night – by that time something may more decidedly be known. – I will come then early in the morning, before this letter, of which I dread the event, is sent; and, under pretence of enquiring how Mrs Rayland does, and then of going into the study for some of my clothes, which I often leave there, I can open the chapel door, and prepare everything for our going to the study the next evening; for to live without seeing you, Monimia, is impossible, and I fear to meet here often might be too hazardous.'
'It would indeed,' replied Monimia, 'and even now I have been in misery the whole time – Yet it was so late, Orlando, before you came!'
'It was two o'clock before I could leave the company; for my uncle is a man who loves to sit long over his wine, to tell what he thinks good stories, and call for toasts and songs, suffering nobody to quit the room as long as they can distinguish the glass from the candle. My father, very little used to this sort of conviviality, was tired, and left us to manage him as we could. – My brother would have remained with him till now, I dare say, most willingly; but he had promised to be at Stockton's, with whom he now almost entirely lives, to a great hunting party this morning; and he dashed through the rain about one o'clock. Fitz-Owen got extremely drunk, and was extremely noisy; and I found there was no way for me to escape but by feigning to be in the same situation; by which stratagem I was at length released, and flew, Monimia, with impatience to thee, dear source of all the happiness I have, or ever hope to have, on earth!'
It was now so near the dawn of day, that Monimia besought him to consider the danger there was, if he staid longer, of being observed in his departure by the labourers coming to their work. Orlando owned there was something to fear, yet felt unusually reluctant to go, and lingered till the break of day was very visible through the casement. He then tore himself away, and escaped from the turret without observation; but in crossing the park he was seen at a distance by the footman, who was up on some scheme of his own. As great rewards were offered for the detection of poachers, and the fellow concluded Orlando to be one, he hastily called one of the grooms; and they went round together to another part of the park, by which they thought this intruder must pass; and, as Orlando was mounting the stile, he was amazed to find himself suddenly collared by one man, and rudely seized by the arm by another. His uncommon strength and activity enabled him to disengage himself instantly from both. They as instantly discovered their mistake, and with a thousand apologies returned to the house: but this unlucky rencounter was afterwards talked of in the family; and, though the conjectures to which it gave rise were remote from the truth, they yet failed not to disturb the tranquillity of the young lovers.
MR SOMERIVE, after many debates with himself, and many consultations with his wife, at length determined to write to Mrs Rayland: it was indeed necessary to pay her the compliment of consulting her on the marriage of his daughter; and he thought it not an improper opportunity to try what were her intentions in regard to Orlando, by hinting, that an occasion now offered to establish him advantageously in trade.
The arguments of Mr Woodford had not on this point so much influence as to prevent his fearing the experiment he was about to make; but the conduct of his eldest son, which nothing could restrain, made him look forward with fear to the future. He found his own health very much injured by the uneasiness he had lately undergone; and he knew that, should he die, the only dependence of his wife and his unmarried daughters must be on Orlando, and on the friendship of Woodford. To put his son therefore into business with his wife's brother was certainly a very desirable plan, if Mrs Rayland did not intend better to provide for him; and it was certainly time to know whether she had or had not any such intentions in his favour.
The letter then which Orlando so dreaded, was written, after great precautions in choosing the words. It requested her approbation of his eldest daughter's marriage with Mr Fitz-Owen, the only son of an eminent merchant at Corke; and said, that as Orlando was now of an age in which it became necessary to think of his future establishment, thoughts were entertained of putting him into business with his uncle; but that nothing would be concluded upon without the entire approbation of Mrs Rayland, to whose notice and protection he was so much obliged.
A servant was sent with this letter about noon. It was received and read in due form, and a verbal message returned, that Mrs Rayland would at her leisure write an answer, and send one of her own servants with it.
On this occasion Mrs Rayland talked to Lennard – not to consult her, for it was an affair in which she thought herself alone competent to judge – but to give vent to her spleen, and to express her dislike of all people in trade, and particularly of poor Mrs Somerive. 'Those vulgar mundungus folks,' said she, 'will not suffer the family to better by their chance connection with a gentleman – let them marry their girls, if they will, to dealers and chapmen; I shall never interfere: they are all like the mother, and may make good tradesmen's wives; though, if Mr Somerive had not, like his foolish father, had a low taste, his daughters might have married men of family, who would have been proud to be allied, though distantly, to ours. As it is, they must carry their cherry cheeks to a lower market – I shall never oppose it. But for Orlando, there was something of an air of good blood about him, that almost made me doubt at times his birth by his mother's side. However, if he gets these buying and selling notions in his head, and chooses his mother's low origin should continue to be remembered, I have done. I suppose he's got among them – a fine flashy set of tradesfolks – and enters into their amusements and views; and if so, I shall never disturb him, let him go his own way; only I shall not choose to have a shopkeeper an inmate at Rayland Hall.'
Monimia, who was called down a moment before to assist in cutting out linen, was present during this harangue, for they considered her a mere cypher. She found herself terribly affected by the opening of it; but when it proceeded to speak of Orlando, she measured four times instead of two, notched a piece of Irish cloth in the wrong place, and was beginning to use her scissars the wrong way, when a severe look from Mrs Lennard, who snatched it out of her hand, with 'What are you about, mope?' restored her to her recollection. She begged pardon; and another look from her aunt bade her beware that she did not offend a second time – when Mrs Rayland thus went on:
'After a taste for such company, this place must be very dull: drinking and jollity, I suppose, are soon learned. And so Mr Orlando has not been here these two days! Mighty well; he is his own master – Lennard! he has not called this morning, has he?'
Monimia, by a glance of her eye, saw him at that moment pensively and dejectedly crossing the park on foot. She dared not however say so; but finding herself quite unequal to the misery of being present at an interview, in which she foresaw that, in consequence of this fatal letter, he would be forbidden the house, and seeing that her aunt determined she should stay, she hung her foot as if by accident in the long roll of linen that was on the ground, and, in pretending to disengage it, fell with some violence against an old heavy gilt leather screen that went across one side of the large room, and ran the sharp-pointed scissars, with which she was cutting the linen, into her arm a little above the wrist.
Her aunt, however, did not perceive it, till the blood streamed from her arm, round which, without any complaint, she wrapped her handkerchief. The paleness and faintness, which she could not disguise, were accounted for when Mrs Lennard saw the handkerchief bathed in blood. Monimia, who was actually sinking to the earth, though not from the wound, was then dismissed, while Betty was called to take care of the careless girl, and ordered to put some friar's balsam to the cut; and she just tottered out of one door as Orlando, after sending up for permission, entered at the other. This was fortunate; for, had he beheld her in such a situation, and had she at that moment seen him, their intelligence could hardly have been concealed. The looks Mrs Lennard had cast on her, when she first appeared confused, had impressed her with terror, and, she fancied, menaced all that was dreadful. With difficulty, and leaning on Betty's arm, she reached her turret; where, under pretence that the accident of having hurt her arm had turned her sick, she begged a glass of water, and lay down, being otherwise unable to conceal from Betty the agitation of her spirits, and the terror she was in for the reception of Orlando.
Mrs Rayland, instead of the kindness she was used to shew him, now received him with the most cold and repulsive formality. 'Your servant, Mr Orlando – Please to take a chair,' was all she said; and in the manner of her saying it, Orlando saw abundant cause to fear that his father's letter had undone him with Mrs Rayland.
'I find we are to lose you, Sir! – you are going to turn merchant, or shop-keeper!'
'Not, Madam,' replied Orlando, 'if you think my doing so a wrong measure.'
'Oh! Sir, I never pretend to dictate. Every one knows their own affairs best; and by all means you ought to follow your father's orders and your own inclinations.'
'Alas, dear Madam!' replied Orlando, with a sort of spirited humility that well became him, 'my father's orders would, I believe, in this case be given with reluctance; and though I should obey them, it would be with reluctance indeed!'
'What, Sir! (relaxing a little of her vinegar aspect) is it not your own desire then that you should be put apprentice or journeyman to this person, this brother of your mother's? I thought, for my part, that finding perhaps, like your brother and other gay young men, that the country was very dull, you chose probably to figure in London; for it is trades-people now that can best afford to shew away, as witness the new comers at poor Lord Carloraine's fine place – those what d'ye callums – they were trades-people – yet nobody can attempt to live as they do. If such things can be done by trade, no wonder young men are eager to begin. The Hall, Mr Orlando, must be a dull place, when once you have got these fine doings in your head.'
'Madam,' said Orlando trembling, for he now found that his fate depended on the event of this dialogue – 'Madam, I have always avoided the meanness of adulation, nor will I use it now; you ought to despise me if I did; and I know you have generosity enough to have bestowed all the favours I have received from you, without expecting me to sacrifice my integrity or my freedom.'
Mrs Rayland did not very clearly comprehend this sentence. It was partly complimentary, and therefore to her taste; but the words sacrifice and freedom, at the end, on which a strong emphasis was laid, sounded a little like rebellion. She therefore screwed up her visage to its former asperity, and answered, 'No, indeed, Sir, I expect no sacrifices from any body; and as to freedom – every body is free to do as they like best in their own affairs, as I told you before.'
'You will not then, Madam, suspect me of meanness unworthy equally of my respect for you and what I owe myself, if I declare to you, that I have no wish to enter into trade, for which I am very certain I have no talents; and that, though I must obey my father if he insists upon it, yet I shall be very unhappy, and had rather, infinitely rather, if you will have the goodness to permit it, remain at home, with the advantage of being allowed sometimes, in paying my respects to you, to have, as I have had for some months, the use of your library; where I hope I am qualifying myself for one of the liberal professions against the time when my father can find an opportunity to place me in one: and in the mean time I call God to witness, that to associate with such people as Mr Stockton, or to emulate his splendour, is so far from being my wish, that to be compelled to do it would be the greatest punishment that could be inflicted upon me.'
'I believe, cousin Orlando, I believe – and I am pleased to see it – you have some understanding; and indeed, young man, I think too well of you to wish to see you a tradesman.' 'Cousin Orlando,' were, he well knew, words that always portended good humour, and were never used but on days of high favour. They now sounded most soothingly in the ears of Orlando. – 'Will you then, Madam, be so very good, when you take the trouble to answer my father's letter, to express your sentiments on this matter? and I am sure he will then press it no farther.'
'I shall tell him, child,' replied she, 'that I think you may do better; and for the present, as you are not idle, that you may go on with your studies at the Hall.'
Orlando, in raptures at having carried his point, thanked his venerable cousin a thousand times. He never thought her so reasonable before: she never fancied him so much like her grandfather Sir Orlando; and so many civilities passed between them, that, before they parted, she gave him a bank-note of ten pounds, and he was admitted to the honour of kissing her hands. In this excellent humour, which Mrs Lennard did not discourage, he left her, went into the study to secure his admittance in the evening, and to recover himself of the extreme perturbation he was in, before he returned to the party with whom he was to dine at home.
Mrs Rayland then, having called for her writing materials, which seldom saw the sun, and being placed in form at her rose-wood writing-box, lined with green velvet and mounted in silver, produced, at the end of four hours, the following letter, piquing herself on spelling as her father spelt, and disdaining those idle novelties by which a few superfluous letters are saved.
Raylande Hall, 12th day of
September, A.D. 1776.
'Sir, my kinsman,
'I HAVE received youre letter, and am oblidged by youre taking the troubbel to informe me of youre famely affaires, to the wich I am a sinceer goode wisher. In respecte to youre daughter Philippa must begge to be excused from givving my oppinion, not haveing the pleasure to knowe the gentleman, and being from my retired life no judge of the personnes charractere, who are remote and in bisness, as I understande this personne is; wherefore I can onelye there upon saie, that doubtlesse you, being as you are a goode and carefulle father, will take due care and precaution that youre daughtere shall not, by her marriage, be exposed to the mischances of becoming reduced by bankruptcies and other accidents, whereby peopel in trade are oft times grate sufferers. – But your care herein for your daughter's securitye is not to be questionned. Furthermore, respecting youre youngest sonne, Mr Orlando, he is very certainelye at youre disposal also, and you are, it may be, the most competent judge of that which is fitting to bee done for his future goode and advantage. I wish him very well; he seeming to me to be a sober, promising, and well-conditioned youthe; and such a one as, were I his neerer relation, I shoulde thinke a pitye to put to a trade. I am at present alwaies glad of his companie at the Hall, and willinge to give anye littel encourragement to his desier of learninge in the liberal sciences fitting for a gentleman, the wich his entring on a shoppe or warehouse would distroye and put an ende to. However that maye bee, I saie again, that you, being his father, are to be sure the propperest personne to determine for him, and he is dutiefullie inclined, and willinge to obey you. Yet by the discourse I have had with him there-uponne, it doth not appeare that the youthe himself is inclined to become a dealer, as you purpose.
'Heartilie recommending you in my prayers to the Disposer of all goode giftes, and hoping he will directe you in all thinges for the well-doing of your famely, I remaine,
Sir, my kinsman,
and humbel servant,
This letter was received at Wolverton while Mr Somerive, his two sons, Mr Woodford and Mr Fitz-Owen were yet over their wine. The anxious father opened it with a palpitating heart, nor were the younger part of the audience less solicitous to know its contents. As there were none of them towards whom secrecy was absolutely necessary, though it might have been more prudent, Mr Somerive, at the request of his eldest son, put it across the table to him – who, with that thoughtless indiscretion which marked his character, read it aloud, with comments serving to turn into ridicule the writer, and the sentiments it contained. The description of Orlando – under that of a sober, promising, and well-conditioned youth – was read with a burst of laughter; while the slighting way in which trade was mentioned, and the contempt thrown on shopkeepers, under which Mrs Rayland seemed to describe wine-merchants and every person in business, raised the indignation of Mr Woodford and Mr Fitz-Owen, who both agreed in declaring that the opinion of such an old crone was not worth consulting; that she was in a perfect dotage, as well from pride as old age; and that it was a condescension in Mr Somerive to have consulted her at all. Orlando, however, saw all this with concern mingled with joy. He was pretty sure, from the countenance of his father, which he solicitously watched as he perused the letter, that the part of it which related to himself was kinder than he expected; that it had turned the fluctuating and undecided opinion of his father in his favour; and that he should not now, by being sent with his uncle Woodford, be condemned to the double misery of quitting Monimia, and associating with persons whose manners and ideas were so different from his own, that it was a perpetual punishment to him to be in their company. The displeasure of his brother at the partiality Mrs Rayland expressed for him was easily accounted for; and Orlando had long accustomed himself to bear his rough jokes, and even his sarcastic reproaches, which he vented whenever they met, without much uneasiness.
As soon as Mr Somerive could disengage himself from his company, he withdrew to consult with his wife on the purport of Mrs Rayland's letter, and made a sign to Orlando to follow him in a few moments. – He did so, and found his father and mother in consultation in the garden. The mother, whose heart was half broken at the idea of parting with her daughter so suddenly, was weeping with joy to find that Orlando would not yet leave her: flattering herself, from the purport of the letter, that the affluent fortune of Mrs Rayland would at last centre with Orlando, and putting the most favourable construction on every expression that related to him, she agreed with Mr Somerive, that nothing would be so imprudent as to think of removing him; and it was even determined, that Mr Somerive should that evening write to her again, thanking her for her advice about his daughter, and leaving the future fate of Orlando wholly at her disposal; that Orlando should himself carry the letter, and ask leave to take his former apartments for some time – only returning once again to Wolverton to take leave of his eldest sister, whom he was to see no more before she went to Ireland – and of his second sister Isabella, who was to accompany her to London, and to pass some time with her uncle and aunt Woodford.
Never did Orlando obey his father with more alacrity than on this occasion; and on his return Mrs Rayland never received him more kindly. He was now again invited to partake of her supper: without putting much force on himself, he shewed her exactly that sort of attention which was the most agreeable to her, and appeared grateful without being servile. At length he was dismissed; and, when the house was perfectly quiet, he flew to Monimia, who accompanied him to the study; and when he related how much more happily the events of the day had passed than he had at its beginning expected, she shed tears of delight; and the sweet sensations of hope, which they now dared to indulge more than there ever yet appeared reason to indulge them, made this one of the happiest evenings they had ever passed together.
The following day Orlando returned to the house of his father, and found that, in regard to some parts of his family, a new arrangement had taken place. Mrs Somerive, as the hour approached for her two eldest daughters to leave her – one to be separated from her perhaps for years, and to enter into another family – found herself so much affected, that her husband, who was very indulgent to her, agreed she should accompany the party to London, be present at the wedding of her daughter, and return in a fortnight, bringing Isabella back with her, if the idea of leaving her was at the end of that time uneasy to her. This being settled, Orlando took leave of his mother and sisters that evening: and the latter, but particularly the eldest, lamenting their separation with many tears: for Orlando, who was tenderly attentive to his sisters, was fondly beloved by them all; though to Selina, the third, who was a year younger than himself, he was more attached than to the rest.
Pensively he returned back to the Hall after this melancholy parting: it was the first time the family had been thus separated; for, except the unhappy eccentricities of his eldest son, the union of Mr Somerive's children, and the promise they all gave of excellence, had hitherto made him amends for much of the difficulty he found in supporting them. But Orlando saw that the hour was now come when his father felt equal pain for the fate of those who were about to be what is called established in the world, and for those whom he knew not how to establish, or, in the case of his death, to provide for. All that filial tenderness and good sense could suggest to his ingenuous and generous mind, he said to console his father; but with infinite concern he observed, that the wounds inflicted by the profligacy of his brother festered more deeply every day, and that all he could do had too little power to assuage the constant pain arising from this source; from which, though his father did not complain, Orlando thought it but too evident that his health was gradually impaired.
Against the uneasiness these observations gave him he found the only respite in his books, to which he assiduously applied himself and in his evening conferences with Monimia, who every hour became more dear to him, and whose personal charms seemed every hour heightened by the progress of her understanding. As the nights became longer, and more obscure, they met earlier, and with less apprehension of detection; and as Mrs Lennard seemed to become more and more remiss in her office of duenna, the opportunities they had of seeing each other in the course of the day (though they rarely ventured to hold any conversation) sweetened the tedious hours between their meetings.
Thus almost a fortnight passed after the departure of Mrs Somerive and her daughters for London; Orlando remaining constantly at the Hall, except dining occasionally with his father, or riding over in a morning to enquire after him, Mrs Rayland seeming every day more fond of his company; and every body about the house, even the old servants, who had hitherto had such an ascendancy, appearing to consider him as the future master of the domain, where he was now invested with powers he had never before enjoyed. The game-keeper was ordered to suffer no other person to have the liberty of shooting on the extensive manors; and Mrs Rayland was pleased when the game that was brought to her table was killed by Orlando; while, whatever diminution of consequence the confidential servants might suffer by this growing fondness of their mistress for him, there was something in his manner so fascinating, that their jealousy and anger were insensibly converted into attachment; and all, even the austere Mrs Lennard herself, seemed to wish him well; except Mr Pattenson, who, in proportion as he became in favour with others, appeared to dislike him. – Orlando had some time before remarked his rudeness, and often fancied that he watched him, and had some suspicion of his evening conversations with Monimia – yet if he had, it was more likely he would speak of what he knew, than secretly resent what he had in fact nothing to do with: but some resentment he appeared to harbour; and, whenever he met Orlando, surveyed him with looks which expressed anger, scorn, and apprehension. Orlando, conscious of never having injured him, and fearful only in one point, endeavoured to guard against any mischief he could do by discovering his evening visits to the turret, or those of Monimia to the library; and, for the rest, despised his wrath too much to attempt appeasing or resenting it.
Mrs Lennard, to whom the constant residence of Orlando at the Hall might be supposed to be disagreeable, was much more civil to him, now that he was a fine young man, than ever she had been during his childhood: to her he was always extremely obliging; and though he disdained to stoop to the meanness of flattering Mrs Rayland, where money might be supposed to be his sole object, he did not think it equally unworthy to use a little art to promote the interest of his love. Mrs Lennard was remarkably open to two sorts of adulation – She loved to be thought a woman of sense, and to hear how fine her person must have been in her younger days. She was even now accustomed to say, that though not so well to meet, she was still well to follow, for she fancied her tall perpendicular figure exhibited still a great deal of dignity and grace. These foibles were so evident, and whenever she was not with Mrs Rayland she took so little pains to conceal them, that Orlando, who thought it too probable that on her the future happiness of his life depended, believed it not wrong to take advantage of them to acquire her favour; and he succeeded so well by adroitly administering now and then a little well-timed flattery, that Mrs Lennard not only held him in high esteem, but endeavoured to secure his, by cultivating the graces he had remarked. She entered on a new course of reading, and a little modernised her appearance. To have made too many and too rapid improvements in the latter respect, would have been attended with the hazard of displeasing Mrs Rayland; hers therefore were confined to that sort of emendations which she was not likely to perceive.
It happened that, in the progress of these refinements, Mrs Lennard had occasion for some articles which Betty Richards (who was a very great favourite, from the assiduity which she affected in her service particularly) was commissioned to buy. The place she was to go to was rather a large village than a town, and was about three miles and a half from the Hall; the way to it leading partly through the park, and partly through some hanging woods and coppices which belonged to Mrs Rayland. Monimia happened to be in the room when Mrs Lennard was giving Betty this commission for the next morning; and as her aunt had promised her a few articles for herself, for which she had immediate occasion, she ventured to solicit leave to go with Betty to make these purchases. 'Dear Madam,' said she, 'do indulge me this once. I have hardly been out of the park twice in my life; and though I have no desire to go any where when you disapprove of it, surely there can be no harm in my walking to such a place with Betty, just to buy what you are so good as to allow me. We shall not be gone above two hours and a half, for I will go as early as you please in the morning.'
Mrs Lennard, who happened to be in a better humour than usual when this request was made, agreed to it under some restrictions. She said, that if Monimia did go, she must be back by nine o'clock at the very latest, and not go into any house but that of the universal dealer with whom her business was; that she must make no acquaintance, and enter into conversation with nobody. To all this Monimia most willingly agreed; and she believed that Orlando, whom she determined to consult in the evening, would not object to her going, on such an occasion, so little a way, whatever dislike he had to her associating much with Betty..
To Orlando, therefore, she communicated her design as soon as they met, who did not seem much pleased with it; but to a matter apparently so trifling he was ashamed of making any serious opposition, when she said that she really wanted the articles her aunt had given her leave to buy, which no other opportunity might afford her. He therefore, after expressing his hopes that she would continue upon her guard against Betty, whom he told her he saw more and more cause to mistrust and dislike, consented to the little expedition she meditated, and directed her the nearest way through the woods and the preserved pheasant-grounds of Mrs Rayland. 'I shall be out with my gun to-morrow,' said he; 'but I suppose I must not venture to meet you as if it were by chance?'
'I think,' answered Monimia, 'you had better not. Were we to meet, it would perhaps look like design; and as we could not venture to enter into conversation, it is hardly worth the risk of Betty's talking about it, since we should only just pass each other in the woods.'
'I believe,' replied Orlando, 'it will be better not; especially as I told Mrs Rayland at dinner yesterday, and while your aunt was present, that I should walk with my gun to my father's, and try round his lands for some game to send up to my mother and sister.'
Mrs Lennard had probably recollected this circumstance when she so easily gave Monimia the permission she asked, her walk lying quite on the opposite side of the country. It was agreed, therefore, that Orlando should not incur any suspicion of a correspondence between them, by changing his plan for the next day; and after that was settled, Orlando read to her a letter he had that day received from his mother. It related the marriage of Philippa, and her immediate departure for Ireland – described the state of her own mind on bidding adieu to her daughter – and said, that Mr Woodford had insisted on her staying another week in town to recover her spirits; which however she should rather do to indulge Isabella, who had never been in town before, with the sight of the play-houses and other public places; for that her own spirits would be infinitely more relieved by collecting around her the rest of her children. 'But,' added she, while a tear had blistered the paper where the sentence was written, 'why do I thus fondly flatter myself, and forget that your brother, my Orlando, is almost a stranger to us, and is, I much fear, by his thoughtless conduct, slowly destroying the invaluable life of your dear father? Alas! while I remember this, I know not how I should support myself if I did not find comfort in thinking of you.'
Orlando's tears, while he read this letter, fell where the paper was marked by those of this beloved parent. The delightful visions he had been indulging but the moment before, disappeared; and he hardly dared think of Monimia, if it must be at the expence of wounding the peace and destroying the hopes of his parents. One look, however, from her, the sound of her voice as she soothingly spoke of his mother, dissipated these mournful thoughts; and, as he led her to her turret, he fancied that, if his mother could see her, she would love her as much as he did, and be happy to add to the family she wished to collect around her, so amiable and interesting a creature.
EARLY on the following morning, Monimia, awaking from her short repose, prepared herself for her little journey, which, unused as she was to go further than about the park or in the walled gardens, was to her an event of some importance. The best dress she had was a white gown, which she put on to make her appearance in the village, with a little straw hat tied under her chin with blue ribband. Her fine hair, which she had never attempted to distort with irons, or change by powder, was arranged only by the hands of nature; and a black gauze handkerchief, which her aunt had given her from her own wardrobe, was tied over her shoulders. Nothing could be more simple than her whole appearance; but nothing could conceal the beautiful symmetry of her figure, or lessen the grace which accompanied her motions. Her companion Betty, as eager as she was for the walk, entered her room before she was quite ready, dressed in all the finery she dared shew at home, while she reserved her most splendid ornaments to put on at the park-stile, and to be restored to her pocket at the same place on their return.
It was a clear morning in the middle of October when they set out. They happily executed their commissions; but Betty had so much to say, so many things to look at, and so many wishes for the pretty things she saw – and the man and his wife, who kept the shop, were so glad to see the ladies, as they called them both, and so willing to shew all the newest things from the next provincial town, as very fashionable, and pressed them so earnestly to go into their parlour, and eat some cake and drink some of their currant wine, that Betty had quite forgot Mrs Lennard's injunction to return at nine o'clock; nor could the repeated remonstrances of Monimia prevail upon her to leave the house till the clock struck eleven. Monimia, very much alarmed, and fearing that her aunt would, in consequence of this disobedience, never allow her to go out again, then prevailed upon her companion to set out; and to save as much time as they could, they walked as fast as possible up the path which led from the village, through a copse that clothed the steep acclivity of a hill, which, at the end of about three quarters of a mile, led to Mrs Rayland's woods, the path still ascending; but when they came to the second, Monimia, from unusual exertion, from the heat (for the sun had yet great power and force), and the apprehensions of her aunt's anger, was quite exhausted, and begged Betty to let her rest a moment on the steps of the stile; to which she, who feared Mrs Lennard's displeasure much less than Monimia, readily assented.
'Lord, Miss,' cried she, as they sat down, 'how frightened you be at nothing! Why, what can your aunt do, child? She can't kill you; and as for a few angry words, I've no notion of minding 'em, not I: 'tis hard indeed if one's to be always a slave, and never dares to stir ever so little; – one might as well be a negur.'
'I would not for the world,' answered Monimia, 'offend my aunt when she is kind to me; and it was very good in her to give me money to buy these things, and to let me go for them.'
'I see no mighty matter of goodness in it,' cried the other: 'who is to provide for you, if she does not, who is your own natural relation? Egollys! Miss, if I was you, I should be very apt to shew her the difference. Why, very often she uses you like a dog, and I'm sure she makes you work like a servant. There's Mr Pattenson always a-telling me, that handsome girls have no occasion to be drudges as I be, or as I have been; for that in London they may make their fortunes, and live like the finest ladies of the land.' Thus she ran on, while Monimia, hardly hearing, and not at all attending to her conversation, sat silent, considering how extraordinary Orlando would think it, if by any accident he should know she was out so long – and trying to recover her breath that they might proceed – when suddenly several spaniels ran out of the wood, a pheasant flew up near them, and the report of two guns was heard so near, that Monimia started in some degree of terror; while Betty, whose nerves were much stronger, clapped her hands, and, laughing aloud, cried: 'Oh jingo! if here ben't some gentlemen shooting – let's stay and see who they be!'
'No, no!' said Monimia, 'let us go.'
She then arose to walk on; but the voices of the persons who were shooting were now heard immediately before them, and she turned pale when she thought she distinguished that of Orlando. Instantaneously, however, the sportsmen broke out of the thick underwood into the path before them, and Monimia beheld a young man, whom, from his distant resemblance to Orlando, she immediately knew to be his elder brother. With him were two other gentlemen, and a servant who carried their nets. 'Oh ho!' cried the elder Somerive; 'what have we here! two cursed pretty wenches – hey, Stockton? Here's a brace of birds that it may be worth while to mark, damme!' He then approached Monimia, who shrank back terrified behind her companion; while Betty, far from feeling any apprehension, advanced with a curtsey and a giggle, and 'Pray, Sir, let us pass.'
'Not so quickly, my little dear,' said Mr Stockton; 'I am a new comer into this country, and have a great inclination to be acquainted with all my pretty neighbours – By Heaven, you are as handsome as an angel – Pray, my dear, where do you live?'
'With Mrs Rayland, Sir,' said Betty, dropping another curtsey; 'and I beg your honour will not stop us, for my Lady will be very angry.'
'Damn her anger,' cried Stockton; 'does she think to shut up all the beauty in the country in her old fortification? If she's angry, you pretty little rogue, leave her to vent it on her jolly favourite butler, that fellow who looks like the confessor to the convent, and do you come to me – I keep open house for the reception of all pretty damsels in distress – and bring your companion here with you.'
He then looked forward towards Monimia, and saw her in a agony of tears; for the conversation of Philip Somerive and his companion, to whom he gave the title of Sir John, had terrified her so much that she could no longer command herself. – 'Why, what the devil's the matter?' cried Stockton. 'Why, Sir John – why, Somerive, what have you said to that sweet girl?'
'We've been asking her who she is,' replied Sir John; 'and it seems she does not know.'
'You are the housekeeper's niece, are you not?' said Somerive.
'Tell me, my dear,' addressing himself to Betty, 'is not this little simpleton, that falls a-crying so prettily, the reputed niece of that old formal piece of hypocrisy, Lennard? Come, tell us – you have more sense than to cry because one asks a civil question.'
'Lord, Sir,' replied Betty, 'to be sure you are such another wild gentleman that I don't at all wonder you've frighted our Miss, who, poor thing! has scarcely ever been out of our house all her life. – Yes, Sir, 'tis Miss Monimee, Sir, Madam Lennard's kinswoman; and I hope, Sir, you'll please to give us leave to pass, for we shall have a deal of anger for being out so much longer than Madam Lennard she gived us leave to stay.'
'Tell us then,' said Sir John, taking both Monimia's hands, which she in vain endeavoured to disengage from his grasp – 'tell us where and when we can see you again, and then you shall go.' – 'Yes,' cried Stockton, addressing himself to Betty, 'tell us, my dear girl, when can we see you again?' 'We shall not easily relinquish the acquaintance,' interrupted Somerive; 'and if you are to be met with only at the Hall, I shall contrive to get into favour again with that immortal old frump, and I can tell you that's no small compliment.'
'Oh! dear Sir,' giggled Betty, 'I vow and declare you put me all in a twitter with your wild ways. Indeed, Sir, you can't see us no where; for,` as to Miss, she never goes out, not at all. – For my share, to be sure, I now and tan be at church, and such like; but for all that, it's morally impossible for us to see you no nohow at all.'
'Well then,' cried Stockton, 'we'll have a kiss a-piece somehow at all, now we do see you.'
'Yes, yes,' said Somerive, 'that we will.'
'Well, gentlemen,' replied Betty, 'I am sure this is very rude behaviour (Lord, Miss, why d'ye cry so? I warrant they won't do no harm); and if you insist upon it, I hope you'll let us go then.'
'Yes,' answered Somerive, 'we'll let you go then.'
Betty went through the ceremony without making many difficulties; but when Stockton advanced towards Monimia, to whom Sir John had all this time been making professions of violent love, she retreated from him; and her alarm was so evidently unaffected that Sir John stopped him. – 'Don't, Stockton,' cried he; 'Miss is apparently very new to the world, and we have distressed her.' 'Well, well,' answered Stockton, 'we won't distress her then. Come, Somerive, we shall meet these charming girls some other time; I see you are taking care of that,' for he continued whispering Betty; 'so let us now go on to beat the wood.' Somerive, who seemed to have made, during his momentary conversation, some arrangement with Betty, now agreed to this; and, as he passed Monimia, looked earnestly under her hat, and said in a half whisper, 'Upon my honour! that sober well-conditioned young man, Mr Orlando, has a fine time of it – these are his studies at the Hall!' Poor Monimia, sinking with terror and confusion, now endeavoured to disengage herself from Sir John, and to follow Betty, who, making more half curtseys, and looking smilingly after the gentlemen, was walking on; but he, who had attached himself to Monimia, was not so easily shaken off. He told Stockton and Somerive, that he should go home another way, and should shoot no more. 'Good morrow, therefore,' added he, 'I shall wait upon these ladies through the woods; and as you do not want Ned (speaking of his servant), he may as well go with me and take home the birds.' To this the other two assenting departed; while Sir John, giving his servant a hint to enter into conversation with Betty, and discover as much as he could relative to Monimia, again joined her, though she had walked forward as quickly as possible, and desired her, as he said she seemed tired, to accept of his arm. Monimia, more terrified every step she took, and dreading lest he should insist upon following her to the Hall, now acquired courage to entreat that he would leave her; while he, regardless of the distress so evident in her countenance, endeavoured to prevail upon her to listen to him: and in this manner they had proceeded nearly to the part of the woods which open directly into the park, when suddenly, at a sharp turn of the path, Orlando, with his gun upon his shoulder, stood before them.
Amazement and indignation were pictured in his countenance when he beheld a stranger walking close to Monimia, and seeming to have his arm round her waist. Thrown totally off his guard by an appearance so sudden and so extraordinary, he cried, 'Pray, who is this gentleman? – Pray, what does this mean?' Betty, who had been detained some paces behind, now approached; and Orlando, recollecting himself, took no other notice of Monimia, who would, had she dared, have flown to him for protection: but, slightly touching his hat, he advanced to Sir John, and said, 'I suppose, Sir, you have Mrs Rayland's permission to shoot in these preserved grounds?'
'I always shoot, Sir,' answered Sir John haughtily, 'in all grounds that happen to suit me, whether they are preserved or no, and take no trouble to ask leave of any body.'
'Then, Sir,' said Orlando with quickness, 'you must allow me to say that you do a very unhandsome thing.'
'And I,' rejoined the other, 'say, whether you allow it or no, that you are a very impertinent fellow.'
The blood rushed into the face of Orlando; and even the pale and terrified countenance of Monimia, who caught hold of Betty for support, did not deter him from resenting this insolence. 'Who are you,' cried he, seizing Sir John by the collar, 'that thus dare to insult me?'
'And who are you, scoundrel,' answered his antagonist, endeavouring to disengage himself, 'who dare to behave with such confounded impudence to a man of my consequence?'
'Curse on your consequence!' exclaimed the enraged Orlando, throwing him violently from him: 'If you are a gentleman, which I doubt, give me an opportunity of telling you properly who I am.'
'If I am a gentleman?' cried the other. 'Am I questioned by a park-keeper? or by some dirty valet?'
Sir John, who was quite the modern man of fashion, did not much approve of the specimen Orlando had given him of athletic powers: – he like him still less when he replied – 'My name is Somerive – my usual residence at West Wolverton, or Rayland Hall. Now, Sir, as you speak neither to a park-keeper nor a valet, you must tell me from whom I have received this brutal insult.'
'My servant will tell you,' replied he; 'and, if you are likely to forget his information, you shall hear it properly from me to-morrow. In the mean time, my dear girl,' added he, turning familiarly to Monimia, 'let us leave this fierce drawcansir to watch the old lady's pheasants; and as you seem much alarmed by his ridiculous fury, let me have the pleasure of seeing you safe home.'
He would then have taken the arm of the trembling Monimia within his; but she shrunk from him, and would have passed on. He still insisted, however, on being permitted to attend her home; when Orlando, quite unable to command himself, sprung forward, and, seizing the arm of Monimia, cried, 'This young lady, being under the protection of Mrs Rayland, is under mine; and I insist on her not being troubled with your impertinent familiarity. Come, Madam, if you will give me leave, I will conduct you to your aunt.' He then, without waiting for any farther reply, walked hastily away; while Sir John, filled with rage and contempt, bade his servant follow him, and inform him that the person whom he had thus grossly affronted was Sir John Berkely Belgrave, baronet, of Belgrave Park in Suffolk, brother-in-law to the Earl of Glenlyon of Scotland, and member of parliament. Orlando heard this list of dignities with contemptuous coolness; and then, as he continued to walk on, bade the servant tell his master, Sir John Berkely Belgrave, of Belgrave Park in Suffolk, brother-in-law to the Earl of Glenlyon of Scotland, and member of parliament, that he expected to hear from him.
They were no sooner out of sight, than Orlando, addressing himself to Betty (for Monimia was quite unable to answer him), said: 'Where did you meet this man? and how came you to be with him?'
'Lord,' said Betty, pertly, 'how could we help it? and pray where was the harm? For my part, I always speak to gentlefolks that speak to me; I've no notion of sitting mum chance, when gentlemen are so civil as to speak genteel to one. Here's a fuss, indeed, about nothing! And so you've gone and made a fine piece of work, and had a mind for to have fit that baron knight – I suppose there will be a pretty to do!'
'But where did you meet him?' repeated Orlando impatiently.
'Don't bite one's nose off,' said Betty: 'Gemini! what a passion you puts yourself into – Met him! – why we met him, and two more very obliging civil gentlemen as I ever wish to see; your brother was one of them, and what then? I'm sure it's was ridiculous to quarrel and fall out about a few nasty pheasants, with all the gentlefolks about. That's the reason that Mistress never has nobody come to see her at the Hall; and one may as well live in a prison. I'm quite sick of it, for my share.'
As nothing but muttering were to be obtained from Betty, Orlando no longer questioned her; but as his first emotion of something like anger mingled with vexation towards Monimia had now subsided, he said to her, in a low and mournful voice, 'This is all very disagreeable; would to God you had never gone this unlucky walk!'
'Would to God I never had! for now I see nothing but misery will arise from it. But let us part here:' (they were now in the park) 'it is quite enough for me to have gone through what has passed within this hour; there is no occasion to add to my terror, by letting my aunt see us together. I thought I should suffer enough by being so late home; but, good God! what is that fear in comparison of what I suffer now about this quarrel?'
'The quarrel, as you call it, will be of no consequence, Monimia: I shall probably hear no more of it; – or, if I do, Mrs Rayland will not be displeased at my having spoken to those men, who have so long impertinently trespassed on her manors.'
'But who,' said Monimia, 'who shall ensure your safety, Orlando, if you do hear more of it?'
'I must take my chance about that. Do not, my Monimia,' whispered he, 'make yourself uneasy about it: I shall see you at night; and now, perhaps, it will be better to part.' He then said aloud, that Betty might hear, who was a few paces behind, 'Since you seem now to be delivered from the persecution of this impertinent stranger, I wish you a good morning.' Orlando then walked another way, as if pursuing his diversion of shooting; and Betty joining Monimia, they proceeded together towards the house.
As they went, Betty, who was very much displeased with Orlando, because he seemed to have given all that attention to Monimia which she had herself a great inclination to monopolize, began again to exclaim against the folly of his having driven away and quarrelled with a baron knight, as she emphatically termed it. 'Why one would have thof,' cried she, 'actually that the gentlemen, who is in my mind a pretty gentleman, had done some great harm. If Mr Orlando had been your sweetheart, Miss, he couldn't have been brustled up in a greater passion.'
'My sweetheart!' said Monimia faintly; 'how can he be my sweetheart, when you know, Betty, I have hardly exchanged ten words with him in my whole life?'
'Well, Miss, you nid not colour so about it – Lord, I suppose people have had sweethearts before now; and the better's their luck: – not that I say Mr Orlando is yours, for I knows to the contrary.'
'I believe,' said Monimia, making an effort to command herself, 'I believe, Betty, it will be as well, on many accounts, not to say any thing about all this at home. If this unlucky quarrel should go any farther, which I hope it will not, it will make my aunt very angry if she knows we were present at it; – and, upon the whole, I wish you would make a resolution not to speak of it.'
'Not I,' answered Betty, 'I shan't speak of it, not I. – I'm none of your blabs – and scorn to say any thing to make mischief; – besides, we shall have anger enough for staying so much later than we were bid to stay. Yes; we shall have a fine rattle; and there stands Madam Lennard at the window, watching for us.' They were now near the house, and poor Monimia, looking up, saw her aunt indeed watching their return. She trembled so much, that she could hardly find strength to get into the house; where as soon as Betty arrived, she was hastening to the kitchen; but Monimia finding it impossible to meet, alone, the first rage of her aunt, entreated her to go up stairs.
'Do not leave me, dear Betty,' said the timid Monimia; 'I am in such terror already, that if my aunt is very violent against me, I really believe I shall die on the spot. You have more courage than I have – for Heaven's sake, do not leave me.'
'I don't know any good I can do,' replied Betty; 'but however, if I must go, I must.' They then ascended the stairs together, and entered the room where Mrs Lennard waited for them in the disposition of an hungry tigress who has long been disappointed of her prey. She scolded with such vehemence for near half an hour, that she absolutely exhausted every form of invective and reproach which her very fertile genius, and the vocabulary of Billingsgate, could furnish her with; and then taking Monimia rudely by the arm, she led her to the turret, and locked her in, protesting that, so far from ever suffering her to go junketing out again to the village, she would not leave her room for a week. With this threat she left her weeping niece, and turned the key upon her: but Monimia, somewhat relieved by her departure, felt with secret delight that it was not in her power to confine her – and that at night she could see Orlando. Yet the danger he had run into recurred to her with redoubled force; and never did she pass such miserable hours as those that intervened between her aunt's fierce remonstrance, and that when she expected the signal from Orlando.
THE unfortunate rencontre which promised to produce so much uneasiness, was occasioned by the impatience of Orlando at Monimia's long absence. He had gone early in the morning to his father's, as he had the preceding evening proposed: and returning about ten o'clock, anxious to know if Monimia was come back from her walk, he enquired among the servants for Betty; and was told that she was not yet come home from the village, whither Mrs Lennard had sent her early in the morning. 'What do you want with Betty, sir?' said Pattenson, who heard the enquiry. 'To make the fire up in my room,' replied Orlando. 'Any other of the maids can do that as well, I suppose,' answered the butler, sullenly: and then, from his manner, Orlando was first struck with the idea, that Pattenson, being an admirer of Betty, was apprehensive of his acquiring too much of her favour. This observation was a great relief to him, and dissipated the fears he had long entertained, that the old butler suspected his stolen interviews with Monimia.
Uneasy, however, at her staying so much later than the hour when he knew she was ordered to return, he could not forbear making a circuit round the wood-walks of the park, where he could not be observed, and passing towards the preserved pheasant-grounds, through which her path lay; where he had not waited long before the appearance of Monimia, attended by Sir John Belgrave, produced the alarming conversation which the last Chapter related.
When Orlando parted from Monimia, and began coolly to consider what had happened, he felt no other uneasiness than that which arose from his apprehension that her name might be brought in question; for he was a stranger to all personal fear, and was totally indifferent to the resentment of Sir John Belgrave, which he thought it probable he might think it wise to lay aside; for he did not appear to be one of those who are eager to acquire fame by personal danger. However that might be, Orlando's principal concern was, how to appease the fears of Monimia; and as early as it was safe to go to the turret, he repaired thither; but this happened almost an hour later than usual. Pattenson had visitors, some tradesman from a neighbouring town, to sup with him; and Orlando, who was upon the watch, had the mortification to hear them singing in the butler's room at half after eleven, and to find it near one o'clock when they betook themselves to their horses, and departed. It was yet near half an hour longer before the lights about the house were extinguished, and all was quiet.
The night, dark and tempestuous, added to the gloomy appearance of all that surrounded Monimia; while her imagination, filed with images of horror, represented to her, that his delay was owing to the consequences of his morning's adventure: and these apprehensions, added to the fatigue and anxiety she had gone through during the day, almost overcame her, before the well known, long wished for signal was heard.
At length Orlando had safely placed her by the fire, and began to speak as cheerfully as he could of what had passed; but he saw her pale, dejected, and ready to sink – her eyes swollen with weeping – and her whole frame languid, depressed by the uneasy circumstances of the day, and the uneasy suspense of the night. For the latter he easily accounted; and he endeavoured to dissipate her dread as to the consequences of the former. 'This fine gentleman,' said he, 'who could persecute with his insulting attentions a young and defenceless woman, my Monimia, can never have much proper and steady courage; or, if he has, he will, if he has a shadow of understanding, be ashamed of exerting it in such a cause. Besides, after all the applications that have with great civility been made to Mr Stockton, entreating him to forbear, either by himself, his friends or servants, trespassing on those woods, where Mrs Rayland is so fond of preserving the game, nothing can be more ungentleman-like than to persist in it: it looks like taking advantage of Mrs Rayland's being without any man about her who has a right to enforce her wishes, which, whether capricious and absurd or no, should surely be respected. I feel myself perfectly justified for having spoken as I did, and only regret that you were present. Relate to me, Monimia, what passed before I met you. Did not Betty say, that my brother was one of the people who were with this Sir John Belgrave?
Monimia then related all that had passed, as well as the alarm she had been in had allowed her to observe it; and in the behaviour of his brother, particularly in the speech he had made to Monimia as he passed her, Orlando found more cause of vexation than in any other circumstance of the morning. He foresaw that the beauty of Monimia, which had hitherto been quite unobserved, would now become the topic of common conversation; his father and his family would be alarmed, and his stay at the Hall imputed to motives very different from his love of solitude and study. Hitherto Monimia had seemed a beautiful and unique gem, of which none but himself had discovered the concealment, or knew the value. He had visited it with fonder idolatry, from alone possessing the knowledge where it was hid. But now half his happiness seemed to be destroyed, since his treasure was discovered, particularly by his brother, who was so loose in his principles, and so unfeeling in his conduct. As these painful reflections passed through his mind, he sat a while silent and dejected, till, being awakened from his mournful reverie by a deep sigh from Monimia, he saw her face bathed in tears. 'Ah! Orlando,' said she, in a tremulous voice, 'I see that you feel as I do. All our little happiness is destroyed; perhaps this is the last night we shall ever meet: something tells me, that the consequences of this luckless day will be our eternal separation.' The sobs that swelled her bosom as she said this impeded her utterance. Orlando, with more than usual tenderness, endeavoured to sooth and re-assure her – when suddenly, as he hung fondly over her, speaking to her in a low voice, she started, and said, in a whisper, 'Hush, hush – for heaven's sake – I hear a noise in the chapel.' Orlando listened a moment. 'No – it is only the wind, which is very high to-night.' But listening again a moment, he thought, as she did, that it was something more; and before he had time to imagine what it might be, the old heavy lock of the study door, that opened from the passage to the chapel, was moved slowly; the door as slowly opened, and at it a human face just appeared. Starting up, Orlando, whose fears were ever alive for Monimia, blew out the single candle which stood at some distance from them; and then springing towards the door he demanded fiercely who was there. Monimia, whose terror almost annihilated her faculties, would have thrown herself into his arms, and there have waited the discovery which appeared more dreadful than death: but he was instantly gone, and pursued through the chapel a man, whom however he could not overtake, and who seemed at the door to vanish – though the night was so dark, that it was impossible to distinguish any object whatever. Through the chapel he had heard the sound of feet; but when he go to the porch, and from thence listened for the same sound to direct his pursuing along the flag-stones, it was heard no more. All was profoundly silent, unless the stillness was interrupted by the howling of the wind round the old buildings.
Orlando, after a moment's pause, was disposed to fasten the chapel door before he returned; but he recollected that perhaps he might enclose an enemy within it, or impede the escape of his Monimia to her turret. Uncertain therefore what to do, but too certain of the agonizing fears to which he had left her exposed, he went hastily back; and securing that door which led from the chapel to the passage as well as he could (for there was no key to it, and only a small rusty bar), and then fastening the door of the study, he approached, by the light of the wood fire which was nearly extinguished, the fainting Monimia, who, unable to support herself, had sunk to the ground, and rested her head on the old tapestry chair on which she had been sitting.
Orlando found her cold, and almost insensible; and it was some moments before he could restore her speech. Terror had deprived her of the power of shedding tears; nor had she strength to sit up: but when he had placed her in her chair, he was compelled to support her, while he endeavoured to make light of a circumstance that overwhelmed him with alarm for her, and with vexation beyond what he had ever yet experienced.
They had both distinctly beheld the face, though neither had the least idea to whom it belonged. Orlando had as distinctly heard the footsteps along the hollow ground of the chapel; it was not therefore one of the those supernatural beings, to whose existence Monimia had been taught to give credit. Orlando would willingly have sheltered himself under such a prejudice, had it been possible; for all the ghosts in the Red Sea would have terrified him less than the discovery of Monimia by any of the family; yet, that such a discovery was made, he could not doubt; and the more he thought of even its immediate consequences, and the impossibility there might be to reconvey his lovely trembling charge to her own room, the greater his distraction became; while all he could make Monimia say, was, 'Dearest Orlando, let me stay and die here. A few hours longer of such extreme pain, as I at this moment suffer, will certainly kill me: and if I die in your presence, my death will be happier than my life has been, or than now it ever can be.'
Orlando being thus under the necessity of conquering his own extreme disquiet, that he might appease hers, began to make various conjectures as to this man, tending to encourage the hope that it was some accidental intruder, and not one whose business was to discover her. 'But even if the villain came with that design,' said he, 'I do not believe he could distinguish you, so instantly I blew out the candle: or, if he saw a female figure, he could not know it to be you; it might as well be as any other woman.' These suppositions had little power to quiet the fears with which Monimia was tormented: but when Orlando seemed so deeply affected by her situation; when he declared to her that he was unequal to the sight of her terror; and that not even the discovery they dreaded, could make him so wretched as seeing her in such a situation; she made an effort to recover herself; and at length succeeded so well as to regain the power of consulting with him, as to what was best to be done.
It was now early morning, but still very dark, with rain and wind. It was however time to consider of Monimia's return; for within two hours the servants would be up, and in even less time the labourers in the gardens would come to their work. It was at length agreed, that Orlando should go through the chapel first, and try if he could discover any traces of their alarming visitor; and if, after his reconnoitring, all appeared safe, that Monimia should return as usual to her apartment.
Orlando then, directing her to fasten herself the study door within side, went through the chapel with a candle in his hand, which he shaded with his hat to prevent the light being seen from the windows. He looked carefully among the broken boards which had once formed two or three pews, and then went into the chancel, but saw nothing. He passed through the porch, leaving his candle behind the door on one of the benches, but nobody appeared: and by the very faint light of the first dawn, on a stormy October morning, which served only to make 'the darkness visible,' he could just see round the whole chapel court, and was satisfied nobody was there. Thus convinced, he returned to Monimia; assured her that the wretch, whoever he was, was gone; and that there seemed to be no danger in her returning to her apartment. He endeavored again to persuade her that her alarm, however just, would end without any of the consequences they dreaded; made her swallow a large glass of wine; and then taking one of her hands in his, he put his other arm round her waist; and with uncertain steps himself, while through fear her feet almost refused to move, they proceeded slowly and lightly through the chapel; neither of them spoke; Monimia hardly breathed; when arriving about the middle of it, they were struck motionless by a sudden and loud crash, which seemed to proceed from the chancel; and a deep hollow voice pronounced the words, 'Now – now.'
There was a heavy stone font in the middle of the chapel, with a sort of bench under it. Orlando, unable at once to support and defend Monimia, placed her on this bench; and imploring her to take courage, he darted forward into the chancel, from whence he was sure the voice had issued, and cried aloud, 'Who is there? Speak this moment. Who are you?'
The words re-echoed though the vaulted chancel, but no answer was returned: again, and in a yet louder voice, he repeated them, an again listened to hear if any reply was made. A slight and indistinct noise like the shutting a distant door, and a low murmur which soon died away, left every thing in profound silence. He remained however yet an instant listening, while Monimia, resting against the stone a cheek almost as cold, was petrified with excess of fear; and in the dread pause between Orlando's question and his awaiting an answer, the old banners which hung over the head, waving and rustling with the current of air, seemed to repeat the whispers of some terrific and invisible being, foretelling woe and destruction; while the same wind by which these fragments were agitated hummed sullenly among the helmets and gauntlets, trophies of the prowess of former Sir Orlandos and Sir Hildebrands, which were suspended from the pillars of the chapel.
When Orlando returned to her, he found her more dead than alive. He soothed, he supported her, and earnestly besought her to exert herself against the fear that oppressed her.
'What shall we do, Monimia?' said he. 'For my own part, rather than see you suffer this, I will take you in my hand, and declare at once to these people, whoever they are, that we cannot live apart. And should we, by such an avowal, forfeit the protection of our friends, what is there in that so very dreadful? I am young and strong, and well able to work in any way for a subsistence for us both. Tell me, Monimia, should you fear poverty, if we could but live together?'
'No,' replied Monimia, acquiring courage from this excess of tenderness in her lover – 'no, Orlando, I should be too happy to be allowed to beg with you round the world.' 'What then have we to fear,' whispered he. 'Come, let us go and face these people, if, as their expression 'Now' seems to intimate, they are waiting for us without. In the chapel they are not, however the sound seemed to come from thence. I fear they way-lay us at the door. But if we are thus prepared against the worst that can befall us, why should we shrink now, only to be exposed a second time to alarms that seem to threaten your life, from your extreme timidity? Tell me, Monimia, have you courage to brave the discovery at once, which sooner or later must be made?'
'I have courage,' answered she; 'let us go while I am able.' She arose, but could hardly stand. Orlando however led her forward, listening still every step they took. They heard nothing either in the chapel or in the porch; and being now on the pavement without, they stopped and looked around them, expecting that the person or persons whose words had alarmed them would appear: but there was nobody to be seen, yet it now light enough to discern every part of the court. 'This is wonderful,' said Orlando; 'but since there seems to be nothing to prevent it, let me see you, my Monimia, safe to your room; and let me hope to have the comfort of knowing, that after the fatigues and terrors of such a day and night, you obtain some repose.' 'How can you know it, Orlando,' answered she, 'since it will be madness, if we escape now, to think of venturing a meeting to-morrow night?' 'I would not have you venture it; but, Monimia, I have thought of a way, by which I can hear from you and write to you in the course of the day, which, under our present circumstances, must be an infinite satisfaction. As I have at all hours access to the turret, I can put a letter at your door behind your bed; and there you can deposit an answer.' To this expedient Monimia readily assented. Without any alarm they passed the rest of their short walk. Monimia promised to go immediately to bed, and to endeavour to compose herself; and Orlando, having seen her secured in her turret, returned to the chapel determined to discover, if possible, what it was that had so cruelly alarmed them. Again he went over every part, but could discover nothing. He then determined to go round the house; and resolute not to spare any wretch who might be lurking about it with evil designs, he went into a large uninhabited parlour that opened into the study from the body of the house, where, over the chimney, several sorts of arms were disposed, which for many years had never been used. He took down an hanger, and a pair of horse pistols: both were somewhat injured by neglect, and of the latter he knew he could make no use till they had been cleaned; but drawing the hanger from its scabbard, he sallied forth in eager expectation of finding some means to discover, and at least to terrify from future intrusion, the man he had seen and heard: but after wandering round the house, through the gardens, and even over the adjoining offices, for above an hour, he saw nothing that could lead him to guess who it could be. The workmen and servants were all at their usual employments. He talked to some of them, but observed no consciousness of any thing extraordinary in any of them. He then returned, not less uneasy than before his search. Sometimes the idea of Sir John Belgrave presented itself; but that he should have ventured to visit the Hall at such an hour, he soon rejected as an impossibility. Had Mrs Rayland discovered his intelligence with Monimia, she would have signified her displeasure openly and at once. At length, he supposed it might be his brother. This, as Philip Somerive knew the house, appeared the least improbable of all his conjectures. But still it was hardly to be supposed that he would leave his jovial companions on such a night for the pleasure of persecuting him, when so many other means were now in his power, by which he might disturb the happiness of Orlando. Dissatisfied with every supposition, but becoming every instant more restless and anxious, he waited with impatience for the customary time of visiting Mrs Rayland. It came, and she behaved to him just as usual. Some hours, therefore, were still passed in fruitless conjectures and tormenting suspense.
ORLANDO left Mrs Rayland about twelve o'clock, convinced that, whatever discovery had been made, she was yet perfectly unacquainted with it. He thought it best to tell her as much of what had happened the preceding day, as he was sure she would not disapprove: he therefore mentioned to her, in the presence of Lennard, who seemed as ignorant of any misadventure as she was, that he had gone round the park with his gun, after his return from his father's in the morning, and, hearing several shot fired in the copses, he had followed the sound. 'I met, madam,' said he, 'Mrs Lennard's niece and your servant Betty, and almost at the same moment a gentleman shooting, and a servant following him with several pheasants. I thought it necessary to speak to him; and we had rather high words. I found he had two companions with him, whom I did not see: Stockton himself was one of them (Orlando always carefully avoided naming his brother). The man to whom I spoke, was, I found from his servant, a baronet.'
'A baronet, child!' said Mrs Rayland. 'Impossible! at least if he is, it must be one of the new-made baronets: these, as well as new-created lords, spring up like mushrooms, from nobody knows where, every year. A man of family could not behave so. This person is some enriched tradesman, who has bought his title. Belgrave! – Belgrave! – I don't recollect the name. No; he cannot be a man of any family.'
Orlando saw that Mrs Rayland had not the least idea of the circumstances likely to follow his dialogue with Sir John Belgrave, and only dwelt upon the improbability that a man whose title was above two years old, could commit so great an indecorum as he had been guilty of. Unwilling, therefore, to awaken in her mind those apprehensions of future consequences, of which she seemed quite ignorant, he soon after turned the discourse; and, leaving her and Mrs Lennard both in perfect good humor, he returned to his study, and sat down to give Monimia the satisfaction of knowing, that, to whomsoever the affright of the preceding evening was owing, Mrs Rayland and her aunt had certainly no share in it, and as yet no suspicion of their intercourse.
He had been employed thus near half an hour, and had just finished his letter, when Betty bounced into his room.
'There's one without vants to speak to you,' cried she: pouting and sullenly she spoke; and then, shutting the door as hastily as she had opened it, was going: but Orlando, following her, said, 'Betty! who is it? If the person has a letter for me, let it be sent in; if not, beg to know his name.' (A letter or a message from Sir John Belgrave was what he expected.)
'I shan't carry none of your messages, indeed,' replied the girl: 'but I suppose the person without is your father; I never see him but once or twice, but I'm pretty sure 'tis he.'
'Good God!' exclaimed Orlando; 'and why, then, if you knew him, would you let my father wait without?'
''Twas no business of mine, Mr Orlando, to shew him in; and besides, folks sometimes has company with them in their rooms, you know; and then an old father may be one too many, Mr Orlando.'
'What do you mean by that?' cried Orlando eagerly.
'Nay, never mind what I means – I knows what I knows; but I think you mid as well take care not to get other folks into bad bread, that are as innocent as the child unborn.'
'I insist upon your telling me,' said Orlando, seizing your hand – 'I insist, nay I implore you, dear Betty, to tell me – '
At this moment the old butler appeared at the door of the parlour in which they were standing; and seeing Orlando apparently interceding with Betty, he said roughly,
'Instead of pulling the wenches about, and behaving in this rakish sort of way in my mistress's house, it would be more becoming of you to go speak to your father, who is waiting in the stable-yard.'
'You are impertinent, Mr Pattenson!' answered Orlando; 'and I beg you will understand that impertinence from any one I am not disposed to endure.'
Orlando then went hastily out – Pattenson muttering as he passed, 'I don't know how you'll help yourself.'
In the stable-yard Orlando found Mr Somerive. He had not dismounted, having made it a rule for many years never to enter Mrs Rayland's house unless he was invited. Orlando saw by his countenance that he was under great concern; and respectfully approaching him, he said, 'Dear Sir, is all well at home? Is my mother returned? Is she well?'
'Your mother is not returned, Orlando,' replied Mr Somerive in a grave and melancholy tone; 'but she is well, and all is well at home.'
'I hope then, Sir, that I owe this visit merely to your kindness. Will you get off your horse, and come in? – I have a fire in the library – or shall I let Mrs Rayland know you are here?'
'Neither the one or the other,' replied Mr Somerive. 'But get your horse immediately, and come with me; I have business with you.'
'I have only slippers on, Sir; will you walk in while I put on my boots?'
'You will not need them – I shall not detain you long. Your horse is already saddled by my desire – You have your hat, and therefore hasten to follow me.'
Orlando would have given half a world to have had an opportunity of depositing his letter to Monimia, which he had put hastily into his pocket; but there was now no possibility of escaping to do it: and in the hope that his father would soon dismiss him, yet foreseeing that what he had to say was of a very painful nature, he mounted his horse, which one of the grooms brought out, and followed his father across the park. Mr Somerive was silent till they had got at some distance from the house. Orlando rode by his side a foot pace. He observed that his father sighed deeply two or three times, and at length said: 'Orlando, I desire you will give me a faithful detail of all that passed yesterday.'
The events of the night dwelt more upon his mind than those of the day; and believing therefore that his father alluded to them, he blushed deeply, and repeated, 'All that passed yesterday, Sir?'
'Yes,' replied the father; 'you certainly don't meant to affect misunderstanding me. You have got into a quarrel with one of the guests of Mr Stockton: I have heard of it from one quarter; let me now have your account of it.'
'That is very easily given, my dear Sir,' answered Orlando, relieved by finding that the adventures of the night were not meant. 'I met a gentleman shooting in those woods, where, you know, it has been for years the particular whim of Mrs Rayland, as it was, they tell me, of her father, to preserve the pheasants. You know that Mr Stockton has often been entreated to forbear; and you will allow that it is unhandsome to persist in doing what is offensive to a defenceless woman: therefore, upon meeting with this Sir John Something, with his servant carrying a net full of birds, I spoke to him on the impropriety of his shooting in those woods, and indeed almost within the park. He answered me very insolently, and I collared him; after which some rather high words passed between us. He sent his servant after me with his address; and I expected to have heard farther from him to-day.'
'And was that all, Orlando?' said Mr Somerive, looking steadily, and somewhat sternly, in his face.
'That was all that passed, Sir,' replied Orlando hesitating, and blushing again.
'And was there no other person present when this quarrel happened? Was there no other cause for your displeasure against this gentleman, than what arose from his having killed these birds? – Orlando, I used in your infancy and early youth to have the firmest reliance on your veracity; shall I have the infinite mortification now to find myself mistaken?
'No, Sir,' answered Orlando, 'nor now, nor ever: I have no reason to be ashamed of saying the truth, when called upon – though I should – '
'Come, come, Orlando!' cried his father; 'you would not tell it, if you could, without being guilty of the meanness of a direct falsehood, conceal it. There were two young women present; and you thought it necessary to resent the behavior of this Sir John Belgrave to one of them.'
'Yes, I thought him very impertinent. The young woman was terrified, and I considered myself bound to protect her from him. I am sure, Sir, you would yourself have done the same thing.'
'Perhaps I might. You are acquainted then with this girl, for whom you exercised your chivalry?'
'Certainly,' said Orlando, again blushing so much that his father could not but perceive it – 'certainly I am – am acquainted with her; that is – I know her, to be sure, a little; – indeed, as I live so much under the same roof, it would be odd, and strange, if I did not.'
'Very odd and strange indeed, Orlando,' replied Mr Somerive drily – 'very odd and very strange! – especially as your brother tells me that the damsel is remarkable handsome.'
'Well, Sir,' cried Orlando with quickness, 'admitting it to be so: does my brother think to do me an ill office with you, by telling you that I admire beauty; or that I defend a woman, for whom, if she had been ugly, I should equally have interposed, form the impudent persecutions of a coxcomb?'
'I do not believe that your brother intended to do you an ill office. On the contrary, he came to me this morning, at an hour when a visit from him was very unexpected, to tell me that he was very uneasy at the resentment expressed by Sir John Belgrave; and to desire I would prevent this disagreeable affair from going farther, by prevailing on you to make some proper apology.'
'And if that was my brother's sole intention, I see no necessity for having named the lady; there was otherwise ground enough for the quarrel, if a quarrel it can be called. However, I heartily forgive Philip; and am only sorry that he thinks he has cause to do me every disservice in his power.'
'Do you call his anxiety for your safety a disservice? He hopes to prevent any risk of it, by telling me what has happened, and procuring, before it is too late, an apology.'
Orlando checked his tears: 'And does my father really think,' said he, 'that I ought to make an apology?'
'If the affair passed as Philip represented it to me, I think you ought; for you seem by that account to have been the aggressor.'
'No, Sir,' cried Orlando: 'in every thing else your commands should be my law; but here I hope you will not lay them upon me, because I feel that, for the first time in my life, I must disobey them.'
'And your mother,' said Mr Somerive, 'your mother, on her return, is to hear that you are engaged in a duel; that you have either killed a man, who is stranger to you, for the sake of a few paltry pheasants, or have yourself fallen? Oh rash and headlong boy! – if you did not feel deeper resentment than what a trespass on Mrs Rayland's grounds occasioned, you would not thus have engaged in a dispute so alarming. I greatly fear your attachment to that girl.'
Orlando, without denying or assenting to the truth of this accusation, related distinctly the very words that had passed. – 'You see, Sir,' continued he, 'that it was about no girl the quarrel began; for, upon my soul! these were the very words.'
'I think still,' said his father, 'that it is a very foolish affair; and, should Sir John Belgrave insist upon it, that you ought to make an excuse.'
'Never,' said Orlando; 'and do not, dear Sir, do not, I conjure you, lay me under the cruel necessity of disobeying you. You cannot, with all the spirit you possess yourself, desire me to act like a coward; you must despise me if I did: and even my dear, my tender mother would blush for her son, if she thought him afraid of any man when he is conscious of a good cause.'
'What is to be done, then?' cried Somerive in great perplexity. 'You will certainly receive a challenge, Orlando.'
'And then I must certainly accept it. But indeed, dear Sir, you are needlessly distressed: if this warlike Sir John must vindicate his injured honour by firing a brace of pistols at me, I have as good a chance as he has; and at all events, if I fall, you will be delivered from the anxiety of providing for me, and I shall die lamented, which is better than to live disgraced. But after all (seeing his father's distress increase), I am much mistaken if this most magnanimous baronet had not rather let it alone – A few hours will determine it; and before my mother's return, whom I should be very sorry to terrify, it will be over, one way or other.'
'You will not then, Orlando, settle it by an apology?'
'Never, indeed, my dear Sir.'
'Nor give me your word that there is no attachment between you and this girl, this niece of Lennard's?'
'Why, my dear father,' replied Orlando gaily, 'if I am to be shot by Sir John Belgrave, my attachments are of little consequence; it will therefore be time enough to talk of that when I find myself alive after our meeting.'
'Young man,' said Somerive, with more sternness than he almost ever shewed towards Orlando before, 'you were once accustomed to obey implicitly all my commands. At hardly twenty, it is rather early to throw off all parental authority. But I see that the expectations you have formed of possessing the Rayland estate, have made you fancy yourself independent.'
'Pardon me, dear Sir! if I say you greatly mistake me. If I were to-morrow to find myself, by Mrs Rayland's will, the owner of this property, which is of all things the most unlikely, I should not be at all more independent than I am now; for, while my father lived, I should be conscious that he alone had a right to the Rayland estate; nor should I then consider myself otherwise than as a dependent on his bounty.'
'There is no contending with you, Orlando,' said Mr Somerive, bursting into tears; 'I cannot bear this! – You must do, my son, as your own sense and spirit dictate; and I must leave the event to Heaven, to whose protection I commit you! – Yet remember your mother, Orlando: remember your sisters, whose protector you will, I trust, live to be; and do not, more rashly than these unlucky circumstances require, risk a life so precious to us all.'
Orlando threw himself off his horse, and, seizing his father's hand, bathed it with his tears. Neither of them spoke for some moments. At length Orlando, recovering himself, said: 'My father! I would die rather than offend you – If I could, or if I can without cowardice and meanness evade a meeting which may give you pain, I will. In the mean time let us say nothing about this squabble to alarm my mother, if she returns, as you say you expect she will, to-morrow. If any thing happens worth your knowing, you shall instantly hear of it: and in the mean time let me entreat you not to make yourself uneasy; for I am well convinced all will end without any of those distressing events which your imagination has painted.'
Mr Somerive shook his head and sighed. As he found nothing could be done with Orlando, he had determined to try to put a stop to the further progress of the affair, by his own interposition with Sir John Belgrave; and therefore, bidding Orlando tenderly adieu, he told him to go back to the Hall, while he himself went to his own house to consider how he might best ward off the impending evil from a son whom he every day found more cause to love and admire. He saw too evidently that Orlando had an affection for Mrs Lennard's niece; for which, though it might be productive of the loss of Mrs Rayland's favour, he knew not how to blame him. But these discoveries added new bitterness to the reflections he often made on the situation of Orlando; with which, notwithstanding the flattering prospect held out by Mrs Rayland's late behaviour to him, his father could not be satisfied while it remained in such uncertainty. The anxiety however that he felt for the immediate circumstances, suspended his solicitude for those which were to come. A few hours might perhaps terminate that life, about the future disposition of which he was so continually meditating.
Orlando, deeply concerned at the distress of his father, and too much confirmed in his opinion of his brother's treachery and malice, returned to the Hall filled with disquiet. He had now much to add to his letter to Monimia, for he resolved to keep nothing secret from her; and he went impatiently into his own room to finish his letter, when, upon the table, he found the following billet:
'As I find, on enquiry, you are by birth a gentleman, you cannot believe I can pass over the very extraordinary language and conduct you chose to make use of yesterday. Yet, in consideration of your youth, and of your relationship to Mr Somerive, the friend of my friend Stockton, I shall no otherwise notice it than by desiring you will write such an apology as it becomes you to make, and me to receive. I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
J. B. BELGRAVE.'
Oct 18, 1776
To this letter, which Orlando was told was delivered a few moments before by a servant who waited, he, without hesitation, returned the following answer:
'Not conscious of any impropriety in my conduct, I shall assuredly make no apology for it; and I beg that neither your indulgence to my youth, or my relationship to Mr Philip Somerive, may prevent your naming any other satisfaction which your honour may require, and which I am immediately ready to give.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,
Oct. 18, 1776.
Having dispatched this billet, he continued very coolly to conclude his letter to Monimia; and this last circumstance was the only one he concealed from her. Having done it, he went to the turret, and softly mounted the stair-case, flattering himself that, if he heard no noise, and could be quite secure that no person was with her, he might venture to see Monimia for a few moments. He listened therefore impatiently; but, to his infinite mortification, heard Betty talking with more than her usual volubility; and as his name was repeated, he could not help attending to her harangue.
'Oh! to be sure,' said she, in answer to something Monimia had said; 'to be sure, I warrant Orlando is a saint and an angel in your eyes – but I know something.'
'Tell me, Betty,' said Monimia tremulously, 'tell me what you know.'
'Why I know – that though he looks as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, cheese won't choke him. I can tell you what, Miss, he's slyer than his brother, but not a bitter gooder – What's more, he lets women into his room at night.'
'Women!' cried Monimia, 'what women? How should he do that? and who should they be?'
'That's more than I can tell; but some hussy or other he does let in, I tell you, for I know they as have seen her. There's Pattenson has been as mad as fury with me, saying as how it was me; and all I can say won't persuade him to the contrary. – Egollys! if it had been me, I should not have gone to have denied it, in spite of Pattenson; but he's as mad as a dog, and won't hear nothing I can say, but swears he'll tell my Lady – though I can bring Jenny to prove that, at that very time as he says I was sitting along with 'Squire Orlando in his own study, I was fast asleep up stairs – And so if Pattenson does make a noise about it, Jenny offers to take her bible oath before the Justice.'
'I think,' said Monimia, acquiring a little courage from the hope she now entertained that she had not been distinguished, 'I think it is much better to say nothing about it.'
'So I tells him,' answered Betty; 'but he is so crazy anger'd with me that he won't hear nothing I can say – and there to be sure I owns I should like to know who this puss is.'
'Why,' replied Monimia, 'what can it signify, Betty, to you?'
'It signifies to every body, I think, Miss, especially to us poor servants, who may lose our characters. You see that I'm blamed about it already, and Pattenson is always a telling me that Mr Orlando has a liking for me, and that I keeps him company. – Not I, I'm sure! – but it's very hard to be brought into such a quandary as this, when one's quite as 'twere as innocent as can be. I'd give my ears to see this slut.'
'Why, who did ever see her?' enquired Monimia.
'Oh! that's neither here nor there – she was seen, and that's enough.'
'I think it's impertinent in any body to pry into Mr Orlando's room, and I dare say it is all a mistake – '
'Please the Lord, I'll find out the mistake,' said Betty, 'and, I warrant, know who this dear friend of Orlando's is before I'm two days older – and I know somebody else that won't be sorry to know.'
'Who is that?'
'Why his brother – a dear sweet man – He came up to our house last night, Miss, after 'twas dark, on purpose to speak to me. I won't tell you half he said; but he's a noble generous gentleman, and has a more genteeler taste too than Orlando; and for my share, I think he's as handsome.'
Monimia now seemed to let the discourse drop, and to be considering what she ought to do. Orlando waited yet a little, in hopes that Betty would go, and that he might have an opportunity of seeing Monimia: but immediately the dinner bell rang; and as he now generally dined with Mrs Rayland, he was afraid of being enquired for, and retired silently to his room, somewhat easier, from the strong reason he now had to believe, that, whoever it was whose curiosity brought them the preceding evening to his door, they were actuated by no suspicion in regard to Monimia, and that they had not even distinguished her countenance and figure; and he meditated how to prevent any suspicion concerning her – content to be accused himself of any other folly or error, if Monimia could but escape.
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 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 house-keeper, 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 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 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
Oct. 20th, 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 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 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, 'what have you lock'd 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 outright – 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 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 that 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 BERKELY 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 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.