The King's Highway
G. P. R. James
Part 3 out of 10
more of my early history, about which there seems to me to be some
"Is there?" said the stranger, in a careless tone. "Whether anything
will be explained to you or not, I cannot say. At all events, you
must meet me there; and, in the meantime tell me, have you seen Sir
John Fenwick since last we met?"
"No, I have not," replied Wilton. "Why do you ask?"
"Because," replied the other, "Sir John Fenwick is a dangerous
companion, and it were better that you did not consort with him."
"That I certainly shall not do," replied Wilton, "knowing his
character sufficiently already."
"Indeed!" replied the other. "You have grown learned in people's
characters of late, Master Brown: perhaps you know mine also; and if
you do, of course you will give me the meeting to-morrow at the Green
He spoke with a smile; and Wilton replied, "I am by no means sure
that I shall do so, unless I have a better cause assigned, and a
clearer knowledge of what I am going there for."
"Prudent! Prudent!" said the stranger. "Quite right to be prudent,
Master Wilton. Nevertheless, you must come, for the matter is now one
of some moment. Therefore, without asking you to answer at present, I
shall expect you. At six of the clock, remember--precisely."
"I by no means promise to come," replied Wilton, "though I do not say
that I will not. But you said that you wished to tell me something
which might be useful to others. Pray what may that be?"
"Why," answered the stranger, "I wish you to give a little warning to
your acquaintance, the Duke of Gaveston, regarding this very Sir John
Fenwick and his character."
"Nay," said Wilton, "nay--that I can hardly do. My acquaintance with
the Duke himself is extremely small. The Duke is a man of the world
sufficiently old to judge for himself, and with sufficient experience
to know the character of Sir John Fenwick without my explaining it to
"The Duke," replied the other, "is a grown baby, with right wishes
and good intentions, as well as kind feelings; but a coral and bells
would lure him almost anywhere, and he has got into the hands of one
who will not fail to lead him into mischief. I thought you knew him
well; but nevertheless, well or ill, you must give him the warning."
"I beg your pardon," replied Wilton, drawing himself up coldly: "but
in one or two points you have been mistaken. My knowledge of the
Duke is confined to one interview. I shall most probably never
exchange another word with him in my life; and even if I were to do
so, I should not think of assailing, to a mere common acquaintance,
the character of a gentleman whom I may not like or trust myself, but
who seems to be the intimate friend of the very person in whose good
opinion you wish me to ruin him."
"Pshaw!" replied the stranger--"you will see the Duke again this very
night, or I am much mistaken. As to Sir John Fenwick, I am a great
deal more intimately his friend than the Duke is, and I may wish to
keep him from rash acts, which he has neither courage nor skill to
carry through, and will not dare to undertake, if he be not supported
by others. I am, in fact, doing Sir John himself a friendly act, for
I know his purposes, which are both rash and wrong; and if I cannot.
stop them by fair means, I must stop them by others."
"In that," replied Wilton, "you must act as you think fit. I know
nothing of Sir John Fenwick from my own personal observation; and
therefore will not be made a tool of, to injure his reputation with
"Well, well," replied his companion--"in those circumstances you are
right; and, as they say in that beggarly assemblage of pettifogging
rogues and traitors called the House of Commons, I must shape my
motion in another way. The manner in which I will beg you to deal
with the Duke, is this. Find an opportunity, before this night be
over, of entreating him earnestly not to go to-morrow to the meeting
at the Old King's Head, in Leadenhall-street. This is clear and
specific, and at the same time you assail the character of no one."
Wilton thought for a moment or two, and then replied, "I cannot even
promise you absolutely to do this; but, if I can, I will. If I see
the Duke, and have the means of giving him the message, I will tell
him that I received it from a stranger, who seemed anxious for his
"That will do," answered the other--"that will do. But you must tell
him without Sir John Fenwick's hearing you. As to your seeing him
again, you will, I suppose, take care of that; for surely the bow,
and the smile, and the blush, that came across the house to you, were
too marked an invitation to the box, for such a gallant and a
courteous youth not to take advantage of at once."
Wilton felt himself inclined to be a little angry at the familiarity
with which his companion treated him, and which was certainly more
than their acquaintance warranted. Curiosity, however, is powerful to
repress all feelings, that contend with it; and if ever curiosity was
fully justifiable, it surely was that of Wilton to know his own early
history. Thus, although he might have felt inclined to quarrel with
any other person who treated him so lightly, on the present occasion
he smothered his anger, and merely replied that the stranger was
mistaken in supposing that there was any such acquaintance between
him and Lady Laura as to justify him in visiting her box.
Even while he was in the act of speaking, however, Lord Sherbrooke
entered the lobby in haste, and advanced immediately towards him,
saying, "Why, Wilton, I have been seeking you all over the house.
Where, in Fortune's name, have you been? The Duke and Lady Laura have
both been inquiring after you most tenderly, and wondering that you
have not been to see them in their box."
The stranger, whom we shall in future call Green, turned away with a
smile, saying merely, "Good evening, Mr. Brown; I won't detain you
"Why, who the devil have you got there, Wilton?" exclaimed Lord
Sherbrooke: "I think I have seen his face before."
"His name is Green," replied Wilton, not choosing to enter into
particulars; "but I am ready now to go with you at once, and make my
apologies for not accompanying you before."
"Come then, come," replied Lord Sherbrooke; and, leading the way
towards the Duke's box, he added, laughingly, "If there had been any
doubt before, my good Wilton, as to my future fate, this night has
been enough to settle it."
"In what way?" said Wilton; but ere the young nobleman could answer,
otherwise than by a smile, they had reached the box, and the door was
Wilton's heart beat, it must be confessed; but he had sufficient
command over himself to guard against the slightest emotion being
perceptible upon his countenance; and he bowed to the Duke and to
Lady Laura, with that ceremonious politeness which he judged that his
situation required. Lady Laura at once, however, held out her hand
to him, and expressed briefly, how glad she was of another
opportunity to thank him for the great service which he had rendered
her some time before. The Duke also spoke of it kindly and politely;
and the other persons in the box, who were several in number, began
to inquire into the circumstances thus publicly mentioned, so that
the conversation took a more general turn, till the curtain again
A certain degree of restraint, which had at first affected both
Wilton and the lady, soon wore off, and the evening went by most
pleasantly. It was not strange--it was not surely at all
strange--that a young heart should forget itself in such
circumstances. Wilton gave himself up, not indeed to visions of joy,
but to actual enjoyment. Perhaps Lady Laura did the same. At all
events, she looked far happier than she had done before; and when at
length the curtain fell, and the time for parting came, they both
woke as from a dream, and the waking was certainly followed by a sigh
on either part. It was then that Wilton first recollected the warning
that he had promised to give, and he was considering how he should
find the means of speaking with the Duke alone, when that nobleman
paused for a moment, as the rest of the party went out of the box,
and drawing Wilton aside, said in a hasty but kindly wanner, "Lord
Sherbrooke informs me that you are his most intimate friend, Mr.
Brown; and as it is very likely that we shall see him frequently, I
hope you will sometimes do us the favour of accompanying him."
Wilton replied by one of those unmeaning speeches which commit a man
to nothing; for though his own heart told him that he would really be
but too happy, as he said to take advantage of the invitation, yet it
told him, at the same time, that to do so would be dangerous to his
peace. The Duke was then about to follow his party; but Wilton now in
turn detained him, saying, "I have a message to deliver to you, my
lord duke, from a stranger who stopped me as I was coming to your
"Ha!" said the Duke, with a somewhat important air, "this is strange;
but still I have so many communications of different kinds--what may
it be, Mr. Brown?"
"It was, my lord," replied Wilton, in a low voice, "a warning which I
think it best to deliver, as, not knowing the gentleman's name who
gave it to me, I cannot tell whether it may be a mere piece of
impertinence from somebody who is perhaps a stranger to your grace,
or an intimation from a sincere friend--"
"But the warning, the warning!" said the Duke, "pray, what was this
"It was," replied Wilton, "a warning not to go to a meeting which you
proposed to attend in the course of tomorrow."
"Ha!" said the Duke, with a look of some surprise--"did he say what
"Yes, my lord," replied Wilton--"he said it was a meeting at the old
King's Head in Leadenhall Street, and he added that it would be
dangerous for you to do so."
"I will never shrink from personal danger, Mr. Brown," said the Duke,
holding up his head, and putting on a courageous look. But the moment
after, something seemed to strike him, and he added with a certain
degree of hesitation, "But let me ask you, Mr. Brown, does my lord of
Byerdale know this?--You have not told Lord Sherbrooke?"
"Neither the one nor the other, my lord," replied Wilton--"I have
mentioned the fact to nobody but yourself."
"Pray, then, do not," replied the Duke; "you will oblige me very
much, Mr. Brown, by keeping this business secret. I must certainly
attend the meeting at four to-morrow, because I have pledged my word
to it; but I shall enter into nothing that is dangerous or criminal,
depend upon it--"
The nobleman was going on; and it is impossible to say how much he
might have told in regard to the meeting in question, if Wilton had
not stopped him.
"I beg your pardon, my lord," he said; "but allow me to remind you
that I have no knowledge whatsoever of the views and intentions with
which this meeting is to be held. I shall certainly not mention the
message I have brought your grace to any one, and having delivered
it, must leave the rest to yourself, whose judgment in such matters
must be far superior to mine."
The Duke looked gratified, but moved on without reply, as the rest of
his party were waiting at a little distance. Wilton followed; and
seeing the Duke and Lady Laura with Sir John and Lady Mary Fenwick
into their carriages, he proceeded homeward with Lord Sherbrooke,
neither of them interchanging a word till they had well nigh reached
Wilton's lodgings. There, however, Lord Sherbrooke burst into a loud
"Lack-a-day, Wilton, lack-a-day! Here are you and I as silent and as
meditative as two owls in a belfry: you looking as wise as if you
were a minister of state, and I as sorrowful as an unhappy lover,
when, to say the truth, I am thinking of some deep stroke of policy,
and you are meditating upon a fair maid's bright eyes. Get you gone,
Wilton; get you gone, for a sentimental, lack-a-daisical shepherd!
Now could we but get poor old King James to come back, the way to a
dukedom would be open before you in a fortnight."
"How so?" demanded Wilton, "how so? You do not suppose, Sherbrooke,
that I would ever join in overturning the religion, and the laws, and
the liberties of my country--how so, then?"
"As thus," replied Lord Sherbrooke--"I will answer you as if I had
been born the grave-digger in Hamlet. King James comes over--well,
marry go to, now--a certain duke that you wot of, who is a rank
Jacobite, by the by, instantly joins the invader; then comes King
William, drives me his fellow-king and father-in-law out of the
kingdom in five days, takes me the duke prisoner, and chops me his
head off in no time. This headless father leaves a sorrowful
daughter, who at the time of his death is deeply and desperately in
love, without daring to say it, her father's head being the only
obstacle in the way of the daughter's heart. Then comes the lover to
console the lady, and finding her without protection, offers to
undertake that very needful duty. Now see you, Wilton? Now see
you?--But there's the door of your dwelling. Get you in, man, get you
in, and try if in your dreams you can get some means of bringing it
about. By my faith, Wilton, you are in a perilous situation; but
there's one thing for your comfort,--if I can get out of all the
scrapes that at this moment surround me on every side, like the lines
of a besieging enemy, you can surely make your escape out of your
difficulties, when you have love, and youth, and hope, to befriend
"Hope?" said Wilton, in bitter sadness; but at the moment he spoke,
the door of the house was opened, and, bidding Lord Sherbrooke "Good
night," he went in.
During the greater part of the next day Wilton did not set eyes upon
Lord Sherbrooke. The Earl of Byerdale, however, was peculiarly
courteous and polite to his young secretary. There was much business,
Earl was obliged to be very rapid in all his movements; but the terms
in which he gave his directions were gentle and placable, and some
letters received in the course of the day from Ireland seemed to
please him well. He hinted even in a mysterious tone to Wilton that
he had something of importance to say to him, but that he had not time
to say it at the moment, and he ended by asking his secretary to dine
at his house on the following day, when he said the Duke of Gaveston
and Lady Laura were to be present, with a large party.
He went out about three o'clock: and Wilton had not long returned to
his lodgings when Lord Sherbrooke joined him, and insisted on his
accompanying him on horseback for a ride into the country.
Wilton was at that moment hesitating as to whether he should or
should not go to the rendezvous given him by his strange
acquaintance, Green. He had certainly left the theatre on the
preceding night determined so to do; for the various feelings which
at this time agitated his heart had changed the anxiety which he had
always felt to know the circumstances of his birth and family into a
burning thirst, which would have led him almost anywhere for
A night's thought, however--for we cannot say that he slept--had
again revived all the doubts which had before prevented him from
seeking the stranger, and had once more displayed before his eyes all
the many reasons which in those days existed for holding no
communication with persons whose characters were not known; or were
in the least degree suspicious. Thus before Lord Sherbrooke joined
him, he had fully convinced himself that the thing which he had so
great an inclination to do was foolish, imprudent, and wrong. He had
seen the man in a situation which left scarcely a doubt of his
pursuits; he had seen him in close communication with a gentleman
principally known as a virulent and unscrupulous enemy of the
reigning dynasty; and he had not one cause for thinking well of him,
except a certain off-hand frankness of manner which might easily be
All this he had repeated to himself twenty times, but yet he felt a
strong inclination to go, when Lord Sherbrooke's sudden appearance,
and invitation to ride out with him, cast an additional weight into
the opposite scale, and determined his conduct at once. It is
wonderful, indeed, how often those important acts, in regard to which
we have hesitated and weighed every point with anxious deliberation,
are ultimately determined by the most minute and trifling
circumstance, totally unconnected with the thing itself. The truth
is, under such circumstances we are like a man weighing fine gold
dust, who does it to such a nicety that a hair falling into the scale
turns it one way or the other.
In the present instance, our friend Wilton was not unwilling that
something should come in aid of his better judgment; and ordering his
horse t was soon beyond the precincts of London, and riding through
the beautiful fields which at that time extended over ground where
courtiers and ministers have now established their town dwellings.
From the whole demeanour of his companion, from the wild and excited
spirits which he displayed, from the bursts of merriment to which he
gave way, apparently without a sufficient cause, Wilton evidently saw
that there was either some wild scheme working in Lord Sherbrooke's
brain, or the knowledge of some happy event gladdening his heart.
What it was, however, he could not divine, and the young nobleman was
evidently determined on no account to explain. He laughed and jested
with Wilton in regard to the gravity which he could not conquer,
declared that he was the dullest companion that ever had been seen,
and vowed that there could be no more stupid and tiresome companion
for a long ride than a man in love, unless, indeed, it were a lame
"Indeed, my dear Sherbrooke," replied Wilton, "you should prove, in
the first place, that I am in love, which I can assure you is not the
case, before you attempt to attribute my being grave to that reason.
My very situation in life, and a thousand things connected therewith,
are surely enough to make me sad at times."
"Why, what is there sad in your situation, my dear Wilton?" demanded
Lord Sherbrooke, in the same tone of raillery: "here are you a
wealthy young man--ay, wealthy, Wilton. Have you not yourself told me
that your income exceeds your expenses; while I, on the other hand,
have no income at all, and expenses in abundance? Well, I say you are
here a wealthy young man, with the best prospects in the world,
destined some day to be prime minister for aught I know."
"And who, at this present moment," interrupted Wilton, "has not a
relation upon earth that he knows of; who has never enjoyed a
father's care or a mother's tenderness; who can only guess that his
birth was disgraceful to her whom man's heart is naturally bound to
reverence, without knowing who or what was his father, or who even
was the mother by whose shame he was brought into being."
Lord Sherbrooke was immediately grave, for he saw that Wilton was
hurt; and he replied frankly and kindly, "I beg your pardon, my dear
Wilton--I did not intend to pain you, and had not the slightest idea
of how you were circumstanced. To tell the truth, I took it for
granted that you were the son of good Lord Sunbury; and thought that
you were, of course, well aware of all the particulars."
"Of none, Sherbrooke, of none," replied Wilton. "Suspicions may have
crossed my mind that it is as you supposed, but then many other things
tend to make me believe that such is not the case. At all events, one
thing is clear--I have no family, no kindred; or if I have
relations, they are ashamed of the tie that binds me to them, and
voluntarily disown it."
"Pshaw! Wilton," exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke--"family! What matters a
family? Make yourself one, Wilton. The best of us can but trace his
lineage back to some black-bearded Northman, or yellow-haired Saxon,
no better than a savage of some cannibal island of the South Sea--a
fellow who tore his roast meat with unwashed fingers, and never knew
the luxury of a clean shirt. Make a family for yourself, I say; and
let the hundredth generation down, if the world last so long, boast
that the head of the house was a gentleman, and wore gold lace on his
Wilton smiled, saying, "I fear the prospect of progeny, Sherbrooke,
will never be held as an equivalent for the retrospect of ancestors."
"An axiom worthy of Aristotle!" exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke; "but here
we are, my dear Wilton," he continued, pulling up his horse at the
gates of a house enclosed within walls, situated about a quarter of a
mile beyond Chelsea, and somewhat more from the house and grounds
belonging at that time to the celebrated Earl of Peterborough.
"But what do you intend to do here?" exclaimed Wilton, at this pause.
"Oh! nothing but make a call," replied his companion.
"Shall I ride on, or wait till you come back?" demanded Wilton.
"Oh, no!--come in, come in," said Lord Sherbrooke--"I shall not be
long, and I'll introduce you, if you are not acquainted."
While he was speaking he had rung the bell, and his own two servants
with Wilton's rode up to take the horses. Almost at the same moment
a porter threw open the gates, and to his companion's surprise, Lord
Sherbrooke asked for the Duke of Gaveston. The servant answered that
the Duke was out, but that his young lady was at home; and thus the
hero of our tale found himself suddenly, and even most unwillingly,
brought to the dwelling of one whose society he certainly liked
better than that of any one else on earth.
Lord Sherbrooke looked in his face with a glance of malicious
pleasure; and then, as nothing on earth ever stopped him in anything
that he chose to do or say, he burst forth into a gay peal of
laughter at the surprise which he saw depicted on the countenance of
"Take the horses," he continued, turning to his own servants--"take
the horses round to the Green Dragon, in the lane behind the house,
wet their noses, and give them a book to read till we come to them.
Come, Wilton, come! It is quite fitting," he said, in a lower tone,
"that in execution of my plan I should establish a character for
insanity in the house. Now that fat porter with the mulberry nose
will go and report to the kitchen-maid that I order my horses a book
to read, and they will decide that I am mad in a minute. The news
will fly from kitchen-maid to cook, and from cook to housekeeper, and
from housekeeper to lady's maid, and from lady's maid to lady. There
will be nothing else talked of in the house but my madness; and when
they come to add madness to badness they will surely give me up, if
they haven't a mind to add sadness to madness likewise."
While he spoke, they were following a sort of groom of the chambers,
who, after looking into one of the rooms on the ground-floor, turned
to Lord Sherbrooke, saying, in a sweet tone,
"Lady Laura is walking in the gardens I see, my lord. I will show
your lordship the way."
"So you have the honour of knowing who my lordship is, Mr. Montgomery
Styles?" said Lord Sherbrooke, looking him full in the face.
"I beg your lordship's pardon," said the man, in the same mincing
manner--"my name is not Montgomery Styles--my name is Josiah
"Well, Jos. Perkins," said the young nobleman, "I PRAE SEQUOR, which
means, get on as fast as you can, Mr. Perkins, and I'll come after;
though you may tell me as you go, how it was you discovered my
"Oh! by your look, my lord: I should have discovered it at once,"
replied the groom of the chambers; "but his grace told me that your
lordship was likely to call."
"Oh, ho!" cried Lord Sherbrooke, with a laughing look to Wilton. But
the next moment the servant threw open a glass door, and they issued
forth into the gardens, which were very beautiful, and extended down
to the river, filled with fine old trees, and spread out in soft
green terraces and gravel walks. Lord Sherbrooke gazed round at
first, with a look of criticising inquiry, upon the gardens; but the
eyes of Wilton had fixed immediately upon the figure of a lady who
was walking slowly along on the terrace, some way beneath them, at
the very edge of the river. She did not remark the opening of the
glass door in the centre of the house, which was at the distance of
about two hundred yards from the spot where she was at the time; but
continued her walk with her eyes bent upon the ground, and one hand
playing negligently with the bracelet which encircled the wrist of
the other arm. Her thoughts were evidently deeply busied with matters
of importance, at least to herself. She was walking slowly, as we
have said--a thing that none but a high-bred woman can do with
grace--and though the great beauty of her figure was, in some degree,
hidden by the costume of the day, yet nothing could render its easy,
gliding motion aught but exquisitely graceful, and (if I may use a
far-fetched term, but, perhaps, the only one that will express my
meaning clearly,) musical to the eye. It must not be understood that,
though she was walking slowly, the grace with which she did so had
anything of the cold and stately air which those who assume it call
dignity. Oh no! it was all easy: quiet, but full of youth, and
health, and life it was the mere movement of a form, perfect in the
symmetry of every limb, under the will of a spirit harmonizing
entirely with the fair frame that contained it. She walked slowly
because she was full of deep thought; but no one who beheld her could
doubt that bounding joy might in its turn call forth as much grace in
that young form as the calmer mood now displayed.
Wilton turned his eyes from the lady to his young companion, and he
saw that he was now gazing at her too, and that not a little
admiration was painted in his countenance. Wilton was painfully
situated, and felt all the awkwardness of the position in which Lord
Sherbrooke had placed him fully. Yet how could he act? he asked
himself--what means of escape did there exist? What was the motive,
too? what the intentions of Lord Sherbrooke? for what purposes had he
brought him there? in what situation might he place him next?
All these, and many another question, he asked his own heart as they
advanced across the green slopes and little terraces towards that in
which the young lady "walked in beauty." There was no means for him
to escape, however; and though he never knew from one moment to
another what would be the conduct of Lord Sherbrooke, he was obliged
to go on, and take his chance of what that conduct might be.
When they were about fifty yards from Lady Laura, she turned at the
end of the walk, and then, for the first time, saw them as they
approached; but if the expression of her countenance might be
believed, she saw them with no great pleasure. An expression of
anxiety, nay, of pain, came into her beautiful eyes; and as they were
turned both upon Lord Sherbrooke and Wilton, the latter came in for
his share also of that vexed look.
"You see, Wilton," said Lord Sherbrooke in a low voice, "how angry
she is to behold you here. It was for that I brought you. I want to
tease her in all possible ways," and without waiting for any reply,
he hurried his pace, and advanced towards the lady.
She received him with marked coldness and distance of manner; but now
the difference in her demeanour towards him and towards Wilton was
strongly marked--not that the smile with which she greeted the latter
when he came up was anything but very faint, yet her lip did relax
into a smile.
The colour, too, came up a little into her cheek; and her manner was
a little agitated. In short--though without openly expressing any
very great pleasure at seeing him--it was evident that she was not
displeased; and the secret of the slight degree of embarrassment
which she displayed was, that for the first moment or so after she
saw him, she thought of her mistake of the night before, and of her
feelings while she had imagined that the Duke had pointed him out to
her as one who, if she thought fit, might be her future husband.
The lady soon conquered the momentary agitation, however; and the
conversation went on, principally maintained, of course, between
herself and Lord Sherbrooke. Wilton would have given worlds indeed to
have escaped, but there was no possibility of so doing, Lady Laura
signified no intention of returning to the house; and they continued
walking up and down the broad gravelled terrace, which of all things
on earth affords the least opportunity for lingering behind, or
escaping the embarrassment of being the one too many.
Wilton had too much good taste to suffer his annoyance to appear; and
though he strove to avoid taking any greater part in the conversation
than he could help, still when he joined in, what he did say was said
with ease and grace. Lord Sherbrooke forced him, indeed, to speak
more than he was inclined, and, to Lady Laura, there seemed a strange
contrast between the thoughts and language of the two. The young
nobleman's conversation was light, witty, poignant, and irregular. It
was like the flowing of a shallow stream amongst bright pebbles which
it causes to sparkle, and from which it receives in return a thousand
various shades and tints, but without depth or vigour; while that of
Wilton was stronger, more profound, more vigorous both in thought and
expression, and was like a deeper river flowing on without so much
sunshine and light, but clear, deep, and powerful, and not unmusical
either, between its banks.
It was towards the latter that Lady Laura turned and listened, though
she could not but smile at many of the gay sallies of him who walked
on the other side: but it seemed as if the conversation of Lord
Sherbrooke rested in the ear, while that of Wilton sunk into the
It would not be very interesting, even if we had times to detail all
that took place upon that occasion; but it must be confessed that,
though once or twice Lord Sherbrooke felt inclined to put forth all
his powers of pleasing, out of pique at the marked preference which
Lady Laura showed for Wilton, he in no degree concealed the worst
points of his character. He said nothing, indeed, which could offend
in mere expression: but every now and then he suffered some few words
to escape him, which clearly announced that the ties of morality and
religion were in no degree recognised by him amongst the principles
by which he intended to guide his actions. He even forced the
conversation into channels which afforded an opportunity of
expressing opinions of worse than a dangerous character. Constancy,
he said, was all very well for a turtledove, or an old man of seventy
with a young wife; and as for religion, there were certain people
paid for having it, and he should not trouble himself to have any
unless he were paid likewise. This was not, indeed, all said at once,
nor in such distinct terms as we have here used, but still the
meaning was the same; and whether expressed in a jesting or more
serious manner, that meaning could not be misunderstood.
Wilton looked grave and sad when he heard such things said to a pure
and high-minded girl; and Lady Laura herself turned a little pale, and
cast her eyes down upon the ground without reply.
At length, after this had gone on for some time, Lord Sherbrooke
inquired for Lady Mary Fenwick, saying that he had hoped to see her
there, and to inquire after her health.
"Oh, she is here still," replied Lady Laura; "but she complained of
headache this morning, and is sitting in the little library. I do not
know whether she would be inclined to see any one or not."
"Oh, she will see me, beyond all doubt," exclaimed Lord
Sherbrooke--"no lady ever refuses to see me. Besides, her
great-grandmother, on old Lady Carlisle's side, was my great-
grandfather's forty-fifth cousin; so that we are relations. I will go
and find her out. Stay you, Wilton, and console Lady Laura, till I
come back again. I shall not be five minutes."
Thus saying, away he darted, leaving Lady Laura and Wilton alone in
the middle of the walk. The lady seemed to hesitate for a moment what
she should do, whether she should follow to the house or not, and she
paused for an instant in the walk; but inclination, if the truth must
be said, got the better of what she might consider strictly decorous,
and after that momentary pause, she walked on with Wilton by her
side. In saying that it was inclination determined her conduct, I did
not mean to say that it was solely the inclination to walk and
converse with Wilton Brown, though that had some share in the
business, but there was besides, an inclination to be freed from the
presence of Lord Sherbrooke, who had succeeded to a miracle in making
her thoroughly disgusted with him.
As they walked on, there was a certain degree of embarrassment hung
over both Wilton and Laura; both felt, perhaps, that they could be
very happy in each other's society, but both felt afraid of being too
happy. With Wilton, there were a thousand causes to produce that
slight embarrassment, and with Lady Laura several also. But one, and
a very principal cause was, that there was something which she longed
exceedingly to say, and yet doubted whether she ought to say it.
It does not unfrequently happen that a person of the highest rank and
station, possessing every quality to secure friendship, with wealth
and every gift of fortune at command, surrounded by numerous
acquaintances, and mingling with a wide society, is nevertheless
totally alone--alone in spirit and in heart--alone in thought and
mind. Such was the case with Lady Laura. It is true she had yet but
very little experience of the world, and her search for a congenial
spirit had not been carried far or prosecuted long; but she was one
of those who had learned to think and to feel early. Her mother, who
had died three years before, had taught her to do so, not alone for
her own sake, but also for that of her father; for the Duchess had
early felt the conviction that her own life would be brief, and knew
that the mind and character of her daughter must have a great effect
upon the Duke, whom she loved much, though she could not venerate
With a heart, then, full of deep and pure feelings, with a mind not
only originally bright and strong, not only highly cultivated and
stored with fine tastes, but highly directed and fortified with
strong principles, with an enthusiastic love of everything that was
beautiful and graceful, generous, noble, and dignified--it is not to
be wondered at that, in the wide society of the capital, or amongst
all the acquaintances who thronged her father's house, Lady Laura had
seen no spirit congenial to her own, no heart with the same feelings,
no mind with the same objects. In every one she had met with, there
had still been some apparent weakness, some worldliness, some
selfishness; there had been coldness, or apathy, or want of
principle, or want of feeling; and the bright enthusiasms of her
young nature had been confined to the tabernacle of her own heart.
She had seen Wilton Brown but seldom, it is true, but nevertheless
she felt differently towards him and other people. There were
several causes which had produced this; and perhaps, as Lady Laura
was not absolutely an angel, his personal appearance might have
something to do with it, though less than might be supposed. His fine
person, his noble carriage, his bright and intelligent countenance,
the rapid variety of its expressions, the dignified character of the
predominant one to which it always returned, after those more
transient had passed away--all gave the idea of there being a high
heart and mind beneath. In the next place, Wilton had, as we have
told, commenced his acquaintance with her by an act of personal
service, performed with gallantry, skill, and decision, at the risk
of his own life. In the third place, in all his conversation, as far
as she had ever known or remarked, there were those small casual
traits of good feelings, fine tastes, and strong principles,
expressed sometimes by a single word, sometimes by a look or gesture,
which are a thousand-fold more convincing, in regard to the real
character of the person, than the most laboured harangue, or essay,
Thus it was that Laura hoped, and fancied, and believed, she had now
seen one person upon earth whose feelings, thoughts, and character
might assimilate with her own. Pray let the reader understand, that I
do not mean to say Laura was in love with Wilton; but she did believe
that he was one of those for whose eyes she might draw away a part of
that customary veil with which all people hide the shrine of their
deeper feelings from the sight of the coarse multitude.
There was something, then, as we have seen, that she wished to
say--there was something that she believed she might say, without
risk or wrong. But yet she hesitated; and she and Wilton went on
nearly to the end of the walk in perfect silence. At length she cast
a timid glance, first towards the house where Lord Sherbrooke was
seen just entering one of the rooms from the upper terrace, and then
to the face of Wilton Brown, whose eye chanced at that moment to be
upon her with a look of inquiry. The look gave her courage, and she
"I am going to say a very odd thing, Mr. Brown, I believe; but your
great intimacy with Lord Sherbrooke puzzles me. He told my father
last night that you were his dearest and most intimate friend. I
always thought that friendship must proceed from a similarity of
feelings and pursuits, and I am sure, from what I have heard you say,
at least I think I may be sure, that you entertain ideas the most
opposite to those with which he has just pained us."
Wilton smiled somewhat sadly; but he did not dare deny that such
opinions were Lord Sherbrooke's real ones; for his well-known conduct
was too much in accordance with them.
"Would to Heaven, dear lady," he said, "that Sherbrooke would permit
me to be as much his friend as I might be! I must not deny that he
has many faults--faults, I am sure, of education and habit alone, for
his heart is noble, honourable, and high"
"Nay," cried Lady Laura--"could a noble or an honourable heart
entertain such sentiments as he has just expressed?"
"You do not know him, nor understand him yet, Lady Laura," replied
Wilton. "Most men strive to make themselves appear better than they
really are: Sherbrooke labours to make himself appear worse--not
alone, Lady Laura, in his language--not alone in his account of
himself, but even by his very actions. I am confident that he has
committed more than one folly, for the sole purpose, if his motives
were thoroughly sifted and investigated, of establishing a bad
"What a sad vanity!" exclaimed Lady Laura. "On such a man no reliance
can be placed. But his plain declaration, a few minutes ago, is quite
sufficient to mark his character, I mean his declaration, that he
considers no vows taken to a woman at all binding on a man. Is that
the principle of an honourable heart, Mr. Brown?"
Wilton was silent for a moment, but Lady Laura evidently looked for a
reply; and he answered at length, "No, it is not, Lady Laura; but I
fully believe, ere taking any such vows, Sherbrooke would openly
acknowledge his view of them, and, having done so, would look upon
them as mere empty air."
Lady Laura laughed, evidently applying her companion's words to her
own situation with Lord Sherbrooke; and Wilton, unwilling that one
word from his lips should have a tendency to thwart the purposes of
the Earl of Byerdale, in a matter where he had no right to interfere,
hastened to add, "Let me assure you, Lady Laura, however, at the same
time that I make this acknowledgment with regard to Sherbrooke, that
I am fully convinced, if he were to pledge his word of honour to keep
those voles, he would die rather than violate that pledge."
"That is to say," replied Lady Laura, somewhat bitterly, "that he has
erected an idol whose oracles he can interpret as he will, and calls
it honour, denying that there is any other God. But let us speak of
it no more, Mr. Brown; these things make one sad."
Wilton was glad to speak of something else; for he felt himself bound
by every tie to say all that he could in favour of Lord Sherbrooke;
and yet he could not find in his heart to aid, in the slightest
degree, in forwarding a scheme which could end in nothing but misery
to the sweet and innocent girl beside him. He changed the topic at
once, then, and exerted himself to draw her mind away from the matter
on which they had just been speaking.
Nevertheless, that subject, while they went on, remained in the mind
of each; and Lady Laura might have discovered--if she had been at
all apprehensive of her own feelings--that it is a dangerous thing to
do as she had done, and raise, for any eye, even a corner of that
veil which bides the heart, unless we are inclined to raise it
altogether. Her subsequent conversation with Wilton took its tone
throughout, entirely from what had gone before. Without knowing it,
or rather, we should say, without perceiving it, they suffered it to
be mingled with deep feelings; shadowed forth, perhaps, more than
actually expressed. A softness, too, came over it--we insist not,
though, perhaps, we might, call it a tenderness the ceremonious terms
were soon dropped; and because the speakers would have been obliged
to use those ceremonious terms, if they had spoken each other's
names, they seemed by mutual consent to forget each other's names,
and never spoke them at all. Lady Laura did not address him as Mr.
Brown, and Wilton uttered not the words, "Lady Laura." From time to
time, too, she gazed up in his face, to see if he understood what she
meant but could not fully express; and he, while he poured forth any
of the deep thoughts long treasured in his own bosom, looked often
earnestly into her countenance, to discover by the expression the
effect produced on her mind.
Lord Sherbrooke was absent for more than half an hour; and, during
that half hour, Wilton and the lady had gone farther on the journey
they were taking than ever they had gone yet.--What journey?
Cannot you divine, reader? When Wilton entered those gardens, we
might boldly say, as we did say, that he was not in love. When he
left them, we should have hesitated. He would have hesitated
himself! Was not that going far upon a journey?
However, Lord Sherbrooke at length joined them; and after a moment
more of cold and ceremonious leave-taking with Lady Laura, he turned,
and, accompanied by Wilton, left the house.
Lady Laura remained upon the terrace, walking more rapidly than
before, and with her eyes bent upon the ground. Two minutes brought
Wilton to the gates of the court-yard; but oh, in those two minutes,
how his heart smote him, and how his brain reeled!
"Shall I run for the horses, my lord?" cried the groom of the
chambers--"Shall I go for the horses, my lord?" exclaimed one of the
running footmen who was loitering in the hall.
"No," said Lord Sherbrooke--"we will walk and fetch them," and taking
Wilton's arm, he sauntered quietly on from the house.
"Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, this is all very wrong," said Wilton, the
moment they were out of hearing.
"Very wrong, Solon!" exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke--"what do you mean?
Heavens and earth, what a perverse generation it is! When I expected
to be thanked over and over again for the kindest possible act, to be
told that it is all very wrong! You ungrateful villain! I declare I
have a great mind to turn round and draw my sword upon you, and cut
your throat out of pure friendship. Very wrong, say you?"
"Ay, very wrong, Sherbrooke," replied Wilton. "You have placed me in
an unpleasant and dangerous situation, and without giving me notice
or a choice, have made me co-operate in doing what I do not think
"Pshaw!" cried Lord Sherbrooke--"Pshaw! At your heart, my dear
Wilton, you are very much obliged to me; and if you are not the most
ungrateful and the most foolish of all men upon earth, you will take
the goods the gods provide you, and make the best use of time and
"All I can say, Sherbrooke," replied Wilton, "is, that I shall never
return to that house again, except for a formal visit to the Duke."
"Fine resolutions speedily broken!" exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke: and he
Had Wilton Brown wanted an immediate illustration of the fragile
nature of man's purposes, of how completely and thoroughly our
firmest resolutions are the sport of fate and accident, it could have
been furnished to him within five minutes after he left the gates of
the house where he had paid an unintended visit.
Lord Sherbrooke seemed perfectly well acquainted with the house and
its neighbourhood, and led the way round through a green lane at the
back, which presently, in one of its most sequestered spots, offered
to the eyes a somewhat large old-fashioned public-house, standing
back in a small paved court: while planted before it, on the edge of
the road, was a sign-post, bearing on its top the effigy of a huge
Now, whether it be from some unperceived association in the minds of
the English people between the chimerical gentleman we have lately
mentioned and the patron saint of this island, who, it seems, if all
tales were told, was not a bit better than the dragon that he slew;
or for what other reason I know not, yet there is no doubt of the
fact, that in all ages English vintners have had a particular
predilection for green dragons; and that name was so commonly
attached to a public-house, in those days, that it had not at all
struck Wilton Brown that the Green Dragon to which Lord Sherbrooke
ordered the horses to be led, was that very identical Green Dragon
where his acquaintance Mr. Green had given him the rendezvous.
He might not, indeed, have heard Lord Sherbrooke's order at all; but
it is still more probable, that he only did not attend to it, as all
his thoughts were taken up at the moment by the discovery of what
place Lord Sherbrooke had brought him to. It now, however, struck
him--when he saw the Green Dragon standing in the Green Lane,
precisely as it had been described by Green--that it might very
likely be the identical house to which he had been directed; and on
asking Lord Sherbrooke what was the name of the mansion they had just
visited, the matter was placed beyond doubt by his replying,
"Beaufort House. The Duke only hires it for a time."
Brown hesitated now for an instant, as to how he should act. His
watch told him that it was close upon the hour to the appointment:
curiosity raised her voice: the natural longing after kindred had
also its influence; and if the society of Lord Sherbrooke was any
impediment, that was instantly removed by the young nobleman saying,
"Come, Wilton, as you are an unsociable devil, and seem out of
temper, I shall leave you to ride home by yourself--The truth is," he
added, after a moment's pause, "I am going upon an expedition, that
the character I have given myself to my fair Lady Laura may be fully
and completely established on the day that it is given.".
"Nay, Sherbrooke, nay!" cried Wilton--"I hope and trust such is not
The other only laughed, and called loudly for his servants and
Well disciplined to his prompt and fiery disposition, his grooms led
the horses out in a moment, and the young nobleman sprang into the
saddle. Before his right foot was in the stirrup, he had touched the
horse with the spur, and away he went like lightning, waving his hand
to Wilton with a light laugh.
Wilton's horses and groom had appeared also, but he paused before the
door without mounting; and the next moment, a fat, well-looking host,
as round, as well fed, and as rosy, as beef, beer, and good spirits,
ever made the old English innkeeper, appeared at the door in his
white night-cap and apron, and approaching the young gentleman,
invited him in with what seemed a meaning look.
"Perhaps I may come in," replied Wilton, "and taste your good ale,
"Sir, the ale is both honoured and honourable," replied the host. "I
can assure you many a high gentleman tastes it at the Green Dragon."
Bidding his servant lead the horse up and down before the door,
Wilton slowly entered the well-sanded passage, and passed through the
doorway of a room to which the landlord pointed. The moment he
entered, he heard voices speaking very loud, there being nothing
apparently between that and the adjoining chamber but a very thin
partition of wood-work. The landlord hemmed and coughed aloud, and
Wilton made his footfalls sound as heavily as possible, but all in
vain: the person who was speaking went on in the same tone; and
before the landlord could get out of the room again and down the
passage to the door of the next chamber, which was some way farther
on, Wilton distinctly heard the words, "Nonsense, Sir George! don't
attempt to cajole me! I tell you, I will have nothing to do with it.
To bring in foreigners is bad enough, when we are quite strong enough
to do it without: but I will take no man's blood but in fair fight."
"Well!" exclaimed the other, in the same loud and vehement
manner--"you know, sir, I could hang you if I liked!"
At that moment the door was evidently opened, and the landlord's
voice, exclaiming, "Hush! hush!" was heard; but he could not stop the
reply, which was,--
"I know that! But I could hang you, too; so that we are each pretty
safe. This is that villain Charnock's doing. Tell him I will blow
his brains out the first time I meet him, for spoiling, by his
bloody-minded villany, one of the most hopeful plans--"
But the landlord's "Hush! hush!" was again repeated, and the voices
were thenceforth moderated, though the discussion seemed still to
endure some time.
Wilton's curiosity was now more excited than ever; and when the
landlord brought him a foaming jug of ale, together with a long
Venice glass having a wavy pearl-coloured line up the stalk, he asked
the simple question, "Is Mr. Green here?"
On this the landlord put down his head, saying, in a low voice, "The
Colonel will be with you directly: he expects you, sir."
"The Colonel!" thought Brown--"this is a new dignity. However, with
his state and station I have little to do, if I could but discover my
At the end of about five minutes the conversation in the other room
ceased, and in a moment or two more the door was opened, and Green
made his appearance. We have so accurately described him before that
we should not pause upon his appearance now, had there not been a
great change in his dress, which had such an effect as to render it
scarcely possible to recognise him.
Now, instead of a military-looking suit of green, he had on a
long-waisted broad-cut coat of black, with jet buttons; a
light-coloured periwig filled full of powder; black breeches and silk
stockings, and a light black-hilted sword. In fact, he bore much more
the appearance of a French lawyer of that day than anything else. The
features, indeed, were there; but it was wonderful what the
highly-powdered wig had done to soften the strong-marked lines of his
face, and to blanch the weather-beaten appearance of his complexion.
The suit of black, too, made him look thinner and even taller than he
really was; and on his first entrance into the room, Wilton certainly
did not know him.
"You have come before your time," he said, "though perhaps it is as
well, for I must go out as soon as it is dusk;" and as he spoke he
cast himself into a chair, fixed his eyes upon some scanty embers
which were smouldering in the grate, and fell into a deep and
apparently painful fit of thought. His broad but heavy brow was
knitted with a wrinkled frown; the muscles of his face worked from
time to time; and Wilton could see the sinews of his large powerful
hand, as it lay upon his knee, standing out like cords, though he
uttered not a word.
After pausing for a moment or two, his companion thought it time to
recall this strange acquaintance to the subject of his coming, and
said, "You told me I might see some of my old friends here, Mr.
Green. Let me remind you it grows late."
"Don't be impatient, my good boy," replied the other, abstractedly, at
the same time rising and drinking a deep draught of the ale--"you
SHALL see some of your old friends! Don't you see me?"
"Yes," replied Wilton, "you are an acquaintance, certainly, of some
months, but nothing more that I know of."
"Well, well, do not be impatient, I say," answered Green "you shall
see some one else, if I don't satisfy you. But you are before your
time, as I said."
He had scarcely spoken, when the door of the little room opened once
more, and a woman apparently of no very high class, and considerably
advanced in years, so as to be somewhat decrepit, came in. She was
dressed in a large grey cloak of common serge, with a stick in her
hand, and mittens on her hands, while over her head was a large black
wimple or hood, which covered a great part of her face.
The moment Green saw her, he crossed over, and said in a low but not
inaudible voice, "Not a word, till all this business is over! They
will ruin the cause and themselves, and all that are engaged with
them, by committing all sorts of crimes. It will plunge him into the
greatest dangers, if you say a word."
Much of what he said was heard by Brown; and in the meantime Green
aided the woman to disembarrass herself of her hood and cloak, taking
the staff out of her hand, and at the same time turning the key of
the door. The moment that he did so, his female companion drew
herself up; the appearance of bowed decrepitude vanished; and she
stood before Brown a tall graceful woman, apparently scarcely forty
years of age, with a countenance still beautiful, and a demeanour
which left no doubt of the society with which at one time she must
Of Wilton himself the lady had as yet had but once glance, as she
first entered the room; for, ever since, Green had stood between them
so that she could not see. When she did behold him fully, however,
she gazed upon him earnestly, clasping her hands, and exclaiming, "Is
it--is it possible?"
The next moment her feelings seemed to overpower her--"Oh yes, yes,"
she cried, advancing "it is he himself--the same dear, blessed
likeness of the dead!" and casting her arms round the young
gentleman's neck, she wept long and profusely on his bosom.
Wilton was surprised and agitated, as may well be conceived. He was
not sufficiently ignorant of the world not to know that there are a
thousand tricks and artifices daily practised, which assume such
appearances as the scene now performing before him displayed. He
might, indeed, have entertained suspicions of all sorts of
transformations and disguises; but there was an earnestness, a truth,
in the lady's manner that was in itself convincing, and there was
something more, also--there was a most extraordinary resemblance in
her whole face and person to the picture which we have before
mentioned in the house of the Earl of Sunbury. The features were the
same, the height, the figure: the eyes were the same colour, there was
the same peculiar expression about the mouth, and the only difference
seemed to be the difference of age. The picture represented a girl of
eighteen or nineteen: the person who stood beside him must have seen
well nigh forty summers.
Though the likeness was complete, there was a certain difference.
Have we not all beheld a beautiful scene spread out in the morning
light, full of radiance, and sparkling, and glorious sunshine? and
have we not seen a grey cloud creep over the sky, leaving the
landscape the sauce, but taking from it the resplendent beams in
which it shone at first? So did it seem with her. All appeared the
same as in the bright being whom the painter had depicted in her gay
day of youth; but that Time had since brought, as it were, a grey
shadow over the loveliness which it could not take away.
All these things took from Wilton every doubt; and after he had
suffered the lady for a moment to give way to her feelings without a
word: even throwing his arm slightly round her, and pressing her
towards him, he said, "Are you--are you my mother?"
"Alas! no, my dear boy," she replied, raising her head and wiping
away the tears, while the colour rose slightly in her cheek. "I am
not your mother, but one who has loved you scarcely less than ever
mother loved her son; one who nursed and fondled you in infancy; one
who has now come from another land but for the sake of seeing you,
and of holding once more to her heart the nursling of other years,
even more sad and terrible than these."
"From another land!" said Wilton, thoughtfully, while through the dim
and misty vista of the past, strange figures seemed to move before
his eyes, as if suddenly called up out of the darkness of oblivion by
some enchanter's voice. "Another land!" he said, thoughtfully--"Your
face and your voice seem to wake strange memories. I think, I
remember having been with you in another land, and I
recollect--surely I recollect, a pretty cottage with a rose-tree at
the door--a rose-tree in full bloom; and tying the knot of an
officer's scarf, and his holding me long to his heart, and blessing
me again and again--"
"Before he went to battle!" said the lady, "before he went to death!"
Her voice became choked in suffocating sobs, and she wept again long
"Nay, but tell me more," said Wilton--"in pity, tell me more. Do I
not surely recollect his face, too?" and he pointed to Green, "and
the sparkling sea-shore? and sailing long upon the ocean? Tell me
more, oh, tell me more!"
"I must not yet, Wilton," she replied--"I must not yet. They tell me
it is dangerous, and I believe it is. Struggles must soon take place,
changes must inevitably ensue, and I would not--no, not for all the
world, I would not that your young life should be plunged into those
terrible contentions, which have swallowed up, as a dark whirlpool,
the existence of so many of your race. If our hopes be true, the way
to fortune and rank will be open to you at once: or there is no such
a thing as gratitude in the world. If not, you will have the means of
living in quiet and tranquillity, and if you will, of struggling for
higher things; for within six months the whole shall be told to you.
Ask me not! ask me not!" she added, seeing him about to speak--"I
have promised in this matter to be guided by others, and I must say
"But who is he?" continued Wilton, pointing to Green. The lady
looked first at him, and then at their companion, with a faint, even
a melancholy, smile.
"He is one," she replied, "whom you must trust, for he has ever
guided others better and more successfully than he has guided
himself. He is one who has every title to direct you."
"This is all very strange," said Wilton, "and it is painful, too. You
do not know--you cannot tell, how painful it is to live, as it were,
in a dark cloud, knowing nothing either of the future or the past."
The lady looked down sadly upon the ground.
"There are, sometimes," she said, "certainties which are far more
terrible than doubts. Be contented, Wilton, till you hear more: when
you do hear more, you will hear much painful matter; you will have
much to undergo, and you will need courage, determination, and
strength of mind. In the meanwhile, as from your earliest years,
careful, anxious, zealous, eyes have watched over you, marked your
every movement, traced your every step, even while you thought
yourself abandoned, forgotten, and neglected: so shall it be till the
whole is explained to you. Thenceforth you will rule your own
conduct, judge, determine, and act for yourself. We know, we are
sure, that you will act nobly, uprightly, and well in the meanwhile,
and that you will do no deed which at a future period may not befit
any station and any race to acknowledge."
Wilton mused deeply for several moments, and then raising his eyes to
the lady's face, he demanded, in a low tone--
"Answer me only one question more. Am I the son of Lord Sunbury?"
The blood rushed violently up into the lady's countenance.
"Lord Sunbury was never married," she exclaimed--"was he?"
"I know not," replied Wilton--"all I ask is, am I his son? I ask it,
because he has shown me generous kindness, care, and consideration;
and at times I have seen him gazing in my face, when he thought I did
not remark it, as if there were some deeper feelings in his bosom
than mere friendship. Yet I cannot say that he has ever taught me to
look upon myself as his son."
"Your imagination is only leading you into a labyrinth, Wilton,"
replied the personage calling himself Green, "from which you will
find it difficult to extricate yourself. Be contented with what you
know, and ask no more."
"I much wish, and I do entreat," replied Wilton, "that you would give
me an answer to the question I have asked. There might be
circumstances--indeed, I may say, that circumstances are very likely
to occur, in which it would be absolutely necessary for me to know
what claim I have upon the Earl of Sunbury. I have never yet asked
him for anything of importance; but I foresee that the time may soon
come when I may have to demand of him what I would not venture to
demand, did I consider myself but the claimless child of his bounty."
The lady looked at Green, and Green at her, and they paused for
several minutes. At length she answered, "I will give you a claim
upon Lord Sunbury;" and she took from her finger a large ring, such
as were commonly worn in those days, presenting on one side a shield
of black enamel surrounded with brilliants, and in the centre a
cipher, formed also of small diamonds. "Keep this," said the lady,
"till all is explained to you, Wilton, and then return it to me.
Should the Earl's assistance be required in anything of vital
importance, show him that ring, if he be in England, or if he be
abroad, tell him that you possess it, and beseech him by all the
thoughts which that may call up in his mind, to aid you to the utmost
of his power.--I think he will not fail you."
Wilton was about to answer; and though it was now growing dusk, he
might have lingered on much longer, striving to gain more
information, but at that moment there came a sound of many feet at
the passage, and the voice of some one speaking apparently to the
landlord, and demanding,--"Who the devil's horses are those walking
up and down there?"
Almost at the same time, a hand was laid upon the latch of the door,
and it would have been thrown open, had not Green previously taken
the precaution of locking it. He now partially opened it, however,
and spoke a few words to those without.
"Go into the next room," he said; "go into the next room--I will be
with you directly." He then closed the door again, and turning to
Wilton, took him by the arm, saying, "Now mount your horse, and be
gone instantly: your time for staying here is over; make the best of
your way home, without delay; and only remember, that whenever we
meet in future, you do not appear to know me, unless I speak to you.
Should you want advice, direction, and assistance--and remember, that
though poor and powerless as I seem, I may know more, and be able to
do far more, than you imagine--ask for me here; or the first time
you see me, lay your finger upon that ring which she has given you,
and I will find means to learn your wishes, and to promote them
instantly--Now you must go at once."
Wilton saw that the attempt to learn more, at that moment, would be
vain: but before he departed, he took the lady by the hand, bidding
her adieu, and saying, "At all events, I have one consolation. Since
I came here, I feel less lonely in the world; I feel that there are
some to whom I am dear; and yet I would fain ask you one thing more.
It is, how, when I think of you, I shall name you in my thoughts.
Your image will be frequently before me; the affection which you have
shown me, the words you have spoken, will never be forgotten. But
there is a pleasure in connecting all those remembrances with a name.
It seems to render them definite; to give them a habitation in the
heart for ever."
"Call me Helen," replied the lady, quickly. "Where I now dwell they
call me the Lady Helen. I must not add any more; and now adieu, for
it is time that both you and I should leave this place."
Green once more urged him to depart; and Brown, with his curiosity
not satisfied, but even more excited than ever, quitted the house,
mounted his horse, and rode away slowly towards his own dwelling,
meditating as he went.
"Onward! onward!" cries the voice of youth; whether it may be that
the days are bright, passing in joy and tranquillity, and we can say
with the greatest French poet of the present day--ay, the greatest,
however it may seem--Beranger,
"Sur une onde tranquille,
Voguant soir et matin,
Ma nacelle est docile
Au souffle du destin.
La voile s'enfie-t-elle,
J'abandonne le bord.
(O doux zephir, sois-moi fidele!)
Eh! vogue, ma nacelle;
Nous trouverons un port"--
or whether the morning is overcast with clouds and storms, still
"Onward! onward!" is the cry, either in the hope of gaining new joys,
or to escape the sorrows that surround us. It is for age to stretch
back the longing arms towards the Past: the fate of youth is to bound
forward to meet the Future.
Wilton reached his home, and bending down his head upon his hands,
passed more than an hour in troublous meditation. All was confused and
turbid. The stream of thought was like a mountain torrent, suddenly
swelled by rains, overflowing its banks, knowing no restraint, no
longer clear and bright, but dark and foaming and whirling in rapid
and uncertain eddies round every object that it touched upon. The
scene at Beaufort House, the thought of Laura, and all that had been
said there, mingled strangely and wildly with everything that had
taken place afterwards, and nothing seemed certain, but all confused,
and indistinct, and vague. But still there came a cry from the
bottom of his heart: the cry of "Onward! onward! onward! towards the
Nor was that cry the less vehement or less importunate because lie
had no power whatsoever to advance or retard the coming events by a
single hour: nor had it less influence because--unlike most men, who
generally have some lamp, however dim, to give them light into the
dark caverns of the future--he had not even one faint ray of
probability to show him what was before his footsteps.
On the contrary, the yearning to reach that future, to pass on through
that darkness to some brighter place beyond, was all the more strong and
urgent. In short, excited imagination had produced some hope, without
the slightest probability to foster it. He had even been told that he
was to expect information of a painful kind. Not one word had been said
to give him the expectation of a bright destiny: and yet there was
something so sweet, so happy, in having found any one whose tenderness
had been bestowed upon his infant years, and whose affection had
remained unchanged by time and absence, that hope--as hope always
is--was born of happiness; and though that hope was wild, uncertain, and
unfounded, it made the natural eagerness of youth all the more eager.
When he lay down to rest he slept not, but still many a vision
floated before his waking eyes, and thought made the night seem
short. On the following morning he was early up and dressed; but by
seven o'clock a note was put into his hand, in a writing which he did
not know. On opening it, however, he found it to contain a request,
couched in the most courteous terms, from the Duke of Gaveston, that
he would call upon him immediately, and before he went to the house
of Lord Byerdale. There was scarcely time to do so; but he instantly
ordered his horse, and galloped to Beaufort House as fast as
possible. He was ushered immediately into a small saloon, and thence
into the dressing-room of the Duke, whom he found in a state of
considerable agitation, and evidently embarrassed even in explaining
to him what he wanted.
"I have sent for you, Mr. Brown," he said,--"I have sent for you to
speak on a matter that may be of great consequence:--not that I know
that it will be--not that I have heard anything--for I would not
hear, after I found out what was the great object; but--but--"
Wilton was inclined to imagine that some unexpected obstacles had
occurred in regard to the proposed alliance between the families of
the Duke and of the Earl of Byerdale, and he certainly felt no
inclination to aid in removing those obstacles. He replied,
therefore, coldly enough, "If there is anything in which I can serve
your grace, I am sure it will give me much pleasure to do so."
His coldness, however, only seemed to increase the Duke's eagerness
and also his agitation.
"You can, indeed, Mr. Brown," he said, "render me the very greatest
service, and I'm sure you are an honourable and an upright man, and
will not refuse me. If you had explained yourself more clearly the
night before last, I am sure I would have taken your advice at once,
and would not have gone at all; but, as it is, I stayed not a moment
longer than I could help, and have now broken with Fenwick and
Barklay for ever. They vow that I am pledged to their cause, and must
take a part, but they will find themselves mistaken."
Wilton now found that the good nobleman's fancy had misled him, and
that his agitation arose from something that had taken place at the
meeting at the Old King's Head, in regard to which he certainly knew
nothing, nor indeed wished to know anything. He replied, however,
somewhat more warmly,--
"In regard to these transactions, my lord duke, I know nothing, as I
before informed you: but if you will tell me how I can serve you, I
will do it with pleasure."
"I was sure you would, Mr. Brown, I was sure you would," said the
Duke. "You can do me the greatest service, my dear young friend, by
promising me positively upon your word of honour never to mention to
any one that I went to this meeting at the Old King's Head, or, in
fact, that I knew anything about it. I especially could wish that it
be not mentioned to the Earl of Byerdale; for I know that he is a
very fierce and vindictive man, and I do not wish to put myself in
his power, just at present, above all times. Nobody on earth knows it
but you and the people engaged in the affair, whose mouths are
stopped, of course. We left the carriage on this side of Paul's, and
I sent the two running footmen different ways, so that, if you give me
your honour, I am quite safe."
"I give you my honour, most assuredly, my lord duke," replied Wilton,
"that I will never, under any circumstances, or at any time, mention
one word of that which has taken place between us on the subject.
Rest perfectly sure of that. Indeed, I know nothing; I therefore
have nothing to tell. But, at all events, I will utter not one
"Thank you, thank you!" cried the Duke, grasping his hand with joy
and enthusiasm--"thank you, thank you a thousand times, my dear young
friend!" and in the excitement of the moment, in his dressing-gown and
slippers as he was, he led Wilton out to the room where his daughter
was seated, and without any explanation informed her that he, Wilton,
was one of his best and dearest friends. He then rushed back again to
conclude the little that wanted to the labours of his toilet, leaving
Wilton alone with her at the breakfast-table.
"Oh, Mr. Brown," exclaimed Laura, with her face glowing with
eagerness, "I hope and trust that you have settled this business, for
I have been most anxious ever since last night. Sir John Fenwick
behaved so ill, and quitted the house in such fury, and that
dark-looking man who accompanied him back, used such threatening
language towards my father, that indeed--indeed, I feared for the
consequences this morning."
Wilton evidently saw that her fears pointed in any direction but the
right one, and that she apprehended some hostile rencontre between
her father and the two rash Jacobites with whom he had suffered
himself to be entangled. Knowing, however, that it could be anything
but the desire of such men to call public attention to their
proceedings, he did not scruple to give her every assurance that no
duel, or angry collision of any kind, was likely, to take place: at
which news her face glowed with pleasure, and her lips flowed with
many an expression of gratitude, although he assured hex again and
again that he had done nothing on earth to merit her thanks.
The smiles were very beautiful, however, and very grateful to his
heart; but he found that every moment was adding to feelings which it
was madness to indulge; and, therefore, as soon as the Duke had
returned, he took his leave, and turned his steps homeward. He knew,
indeed, that he should have to encounter the same pleasant danger
again that very afternoon; that he should have to see her, to be in
the same room, to sit at the same table with her, to speak to her,
even though it were but for a moment; but then it would be all under
restraint; the eyes of the many would be upon them; there would be no
open communication, no speaking the real feelings of the heart, no
freedom from the dull routine of society.
He was perhaps five minutes behind his time, but the Earl was all
complaisance: the arrangements that he had made for his son; the
unexpected facility with which Lord Sherbrooke had apparently entered
into those arrangements; the political importance of the alliance
with the Duke; the immense accession of wealth to his family; the
aspect of public affairs, were all sufficient to mellow down a
demeanour which, to his inferiors at least, was generally harsh and
proud. But yet Wilton could not help believing that there was a
peculiar expression in the Earl's countenance when that nobleman's
eyes turned upon him; that there was a smile which was not a smile of
benignity, that there was a courtesy which was not of the heart. Why
or wherefore Wilton could hardly tell, but he fancied that the Earl's
conduct was what it might be towards a person who had suddenly fallen
completely into his power, and whom he intended to use as a tool in
any way that he might think fit. He pictured to his own imagination
the Earl bidding his victim perform some action the most revolting to
his feelings in the sweetest tone possible; the victim beginning to
resist; the cold blooded politician calmly showing his power, and
exercising it with bitter civility.
However, the courtesy lasted all day: there was nothing said to
confirm Wilton in this fancy; and when he took leave, the Earl
reminded him of the dinner hour, adding, "Be punctual, be punctual,
Mr. Brown. We shall dine exactly at the hour; and my cook is a virago,
Wilton did not fail to be to the moment, and he, the Earl, and Lord
Sherbrooke, were some time in the great saloon before the guests began
to arrive. At length the large heavy coaches of those days began to
roll into the court-yard, and one after another many a distinguished
man and many a celebrated beauty of the age appeared. Still, however,
the Earl evidently looked upon the Duke and his daughter as the
principal guests, and waited in anxious expectation for their coming.
They arrived later than any one, Laura herself looking grave, if not
sad, the Duke evidently embarrassed and not at ease. Nor did the
particular attentions paid by the Earl to both remove in any degree
the sadness of the one or the embarrassment of the other. This was so
marked that the Earl soon felt it; and though the sort of determined
calmness of his manner, and habitual self-command, prevented him from
showing the least uneasiness, yet, from a particular glance of his
eye and momentary quiver of his lip, Wilton divined that he was angry
It must be admitted, also, that Lord Sherbrooke did not take the
means to put his father more at ease. To Lady Laura he paid no
attention whatsoever, devoted himself during the greater part of the
evening to a beautiful woman of not the most pure and unsullied
character in the world, and showed himself disposed to flirt with
everybody, except the very person to whom his father wished him to
pay court. The dinner party was followed by an entertainment in the
evening; and still the same scene went on; till at length the Earl
came round to Wilton, and said, in a low voice, "I wish, my dear
young gentleman, you would try your influence upon Sherbrooke."
The Earl was going on, but Wilton rose immediately, saying, "I
understand you, my lord," and approaching the place where Lord
Sherbrooke was seated, he waited till the laughter which was going on
around him was over, and then said in a low voice, "For pity's sake,
Sherbrooke, and for decency's sake, do pay some attention to the Duke
and his daughter; remember, they are new guests of your father's, and
merit, at all events, some respect."
The young Lord looked up in his friend's countenance with a malicious
smile, replying, "They do, my dear Wilton, they do! and you see I keep
at a respectful distance. But I will do anything to please."
He accordingly rose from his seat, and Wilton saw him first approach
the Duke, speak a few words to him, and then take a seat beside Lady
Laura. Her air was evidently cold and reserved, but what passed more,
Wilton, of course, did not know. The young lord, however, seemed
suddenly struck by something that she said, turned quickly towards
her, and made a rejoinder; she answered, apparently, with perfect
calmness. But the instant after, Lord Sherbrooke rose from his chair,
made her a low bow, and was crossing the room. His father, however,
met him half-way, and they spoke for a moment or two. The Earl's
cheek became very red, and his brow contracted; but Lord Sherbrooke
passed quietly on, and came up to where Wilton stood.
"She has just told me what she thinks of my character, Wilton," said
the young nobleman, "and I have transmitted the same to my father,
who must settle the matter with the Duke as he likes."
"The Earl's plans are certainly in a prosperous condition," thought
Wilton; and though he could not, of course, approve of the
unceremonious means which Lord Sherbrooke took to defeat his father's
intentions, and to cast the burden of refusal on Lady Laura, yet he
could not grieve, it must be admitted, that she should determining
During the whole evening her conduct towards Wilton Brown had been
exactly what he had expected--kind, gentle, and courteous. She
evidently treated him more as a friend than any one else in the room;
and though he purposely spoke to her but seldom, and then merely with
the terms of formal respect, yet whenever he did approach her, she
greeted him with a smile, which showed that his society was not at
all unpleasant to her.
To the eyes of Wilton it was very evident that Lord Byerdale was
extremely irritated by what he had heard. No one else perceived it,
however, for, as was usual with him, the irritation of the moment,
though likely to produce very serious effects at an after period,
clothed itself for the time in additional smiles and stately
courtesies, only appearing now and then in an additional drop of
sarcastic bitterness mingling with all the civil things that he said.
As usual, also, he was peculiarly soft and reverential in his manner
towards those with whom he was most angry, and the Duke and Lady
Laura were more the objects of his particular attention than ever.
He sat beside her; he talked to her; he paid her that marked
attention which his son had neglected to offer; and at length, when
the Duke proposed to retire, he himself handed her to the carriage,
paying her some well turned compliment at every step, and relieving
his heart of its bitterness by some stinging sneer at the rest of
Thus passed over the evening; and Wilton, it must be acknowledged
with a mind more at ease on account of the decided part that Lady
Laura seemed to have taken, slept soundly and dreamt happily, though
he still resolved, sooner or later, to crush feelings which could
only end in misery.
On the following morning he went to the house of Lord Byerdale at the
usual hour, and proceeded at once to the cabinet of the Earl. It was
already occupied by that nobleman and his son, however; and though
there were no loud words spoken, no angry tones audible, yet there
were sufficient indications of angry feeling, at least on the part of
the Earl, to make Wilton immediately pause and draw back a step.
"Come in, come in," said the Earl--"you know all this affair, and I
believe have done what you could to make this young man reasonable."
Wilton accordingly entered the room, and Lord Byerdale again turned
to his son, laying his finger upon the letter before him. "I repeat,
Sherbrooke," he said, "that you yourself have done all this. I did
not ask you, sir, to be virtuous, I did not ask you to be temperate,
I did not bid you cast away the dice or abandon drunkenness and
revelling, or turn off three or four of your mistresses, or to give
over going to the resort of every sort of vice in the metropolis. I
asked you none of these things, because it would be hard and
ungenerous to require a man to do what his nature and habits render
perfectly impossible. I turn to his vomit again, or the sow to
refrain from wallowing in the mire."
"Savoury similes, my lord," said Lord Sherbrooke--"most worthy of
Solomon and your lordship. May I ask what it is you did demand then?"
"That you should assume a virtue if you had it not," replied Lord
Byerdale; "that you should put a certain cloak of decency over your
vices, and that you should at least be commonly courteous to the
person selected for your future wife: especially when I pointed out
to you the immense, the inconceivable advantages of such an alliance
not only to you but to me."
"Well, but, my dear father," said Lord Sherbrooke, "I will grant all
that you say. It is altogether my fault; I have behaved very
stupidly, very wildly, very rudely, very viciously. But there is no
reason that you should be so angry with the young lady, or with my
good lord duke."
"Ay, sir! think you so?" said the Earl--"you are mighty wise in your
own conceit. You have had your share, certainly; but I do not avenge
myself on my own son. They have had their share, however, too. Their
pride, their would-be importance, their insufferable arrogance,
which makes them think that kings or princes are not too good for
her--these have all had no light share; and if I live for six months
I will bring that pride down to the very lowest pitch. I will degrade
her till she thinks herself a servant wench."
Wilton certainly did feel his blood boil, but he knew that he had
neither any right nor any power to interfere; and he turned to some
papers that were upon the tables, and hid the expression which his
thoughts might communicate to his countenance, by apparent attention
to something else.
Some more words passed between the father and son, but they were few.
Lord Sherbrooke, upon the whole, behaved better than Wilton could
have expected. He neither treated the subject lightly and jocularly
as he was accustomed to do in most cases, nor bitterly and
sarcastically, which his father's evident want of principle in the
whole business gave him but too fair an opportunity of doing. He
acknowledged fairly and straight-forwardly his errors and his vices;
and all that he said in regard to the offence he had given his father
was, that he imagined he could not in honour suffer Lady Laura to
decide without letting her know the character at least of the man who
was proposed for her husband.
"Well, sir," replied his father, sharply, "you have convinced her of
your character very soon. Mine, she may be longer in finding out; but
she shall not fail to be made equally well aware of it in the end."
Thus saying, he turned and quitted the room, giving some casual
directions to Wilton as he passed.
"Well, that business is so far done and over," exclaimed Lord
Sherbrooke, as soon as his father was gone; "and, as it is pleasant,
my dear Wilton, to do a good action now and then, by way of a change,
you and I must enter into a conspiracy together, to prevent my worthy,
subtle, and revengeful father from executing a this poor girl, who
has only done her duty to herself, and to me, and to her father."
"I trust," replied Wilton, "that the Earl's threat was but one of
those bursts of disappointment which will pass away with time. I
cannot imagine that, after a little consideration, he will have any
inclination really to injure either the Duke or his daughter; nor,
indeed, do I see that he could have the means either."
Lord Sherbrooke shook his head with a gloomy air, and answered, "He
will make them, Wilton--he will make the means; and as to
inclination, you do not know him as well as I do. He will not forget
what has occurred this day, as long as he remembers how to write his
own name. This same goodly desire of revenge is henceforth a part of
his nature, and nothing will ever remove it, unless self-interest or
ambition be brought into action against it."
"But what sort of revenge think you he will seek?" demanded
Wilton--"situated as the Duke is, I see no opportunity that your
father can have of injuring him."
"Heaven only knows," replied Lord Sherbrooke. "The fire will go on
smouldering for months, perhaps for years, but it will not go out. He
said, just before you came in, that because she had refused to marry
me, he would make her marry a footman; and, as I really believe his
lordship is occasionally endowed with superhuman powers of executing
what he thinks fit, it would not surprise me at all to see my Lady
Laura led to the altar by John Noakes, our porter's son, dressed up
for the occasion as a foreign prince."
"I do not fear that," replied Wilton with a smile; "I should rather
apprehend that he may entangle the good Duke, who does not seem
overburdened with sense, in some of these sad plots which are daily
taking place. Should we find out that such is the case, we may indeed
aid in preventing it."
Lord Sherbrooke shook his head. "It is the poor girl he will aim at
first, depend upon it," the young nobleman answered. "I wish to
Heaven she had told me her intention of refusing me in such a formal
manner; I would have shown her how to manage the matter without
calling down this storm. But, instead of that, she sits down and
deliberately writes him a letter, which, just in the proportion that
it is honest, true, and straightforward, is the thing best calculated
to excite his wrath. Yet, as if she had some idea of his character,
and wished to shield her father, she takes the whole responsibility
of the thing upon herself, telling him that the Duke had pressed her
much upon the subject, but that she felt it would be utterly
impossible to give her hand to your very humble servant. All this
has, of course, brought the storm more directly upon herself, though
her father will be screened thereby in no degree. I doubt not he has
gone there now."
"Do you think there is any chance of an actual and open quarrel
between them?" demanded Wilton.
"Not in the least," answered Lord Sherbrooke with a scoff: "my dear
Wilton, you must be as blind as a mole, if you do not see that my
father, though as brave as a lion, is not a man to quarrel with any
one. He is a great deal too good a politician for that; he knows that
in quarrelling with any one he hates, he must suffer something
himself, and may suffer a good deal. No, no, he takes a better plan,
and contrives to make his enemies suffer while he suffers not at all.
In general, if you see him particularly civil to anybody, you may
suppose that he looks upon them as an enemy, and is busy in getting
them quietly into his power. Quarrel with the Duke? Oh no, a thousand
to one, ere half an hour be over, he will be shaking him cordially by
the hand, putting him quite at his ease, begging him to let the
matter be forgotten altogether, saying that it was natural he should
seek so illustrious an alliance, which, indeed, he had scarcely a
right to hope for. Then he will see the lady herself, and say that he
perfectly enters into her feelings, that a person so richly gifted as
herself, and having already all that wealth and rank can give, has a
right to consult, before all other things, the feelings of her own
heart. It would not surprise me at all if he were to offer to send me
abroad again, lest my presence in London, after the pretensions which
have been formed, should prove, in any degree, annoying to her."
The conversation continued for some time longer in the same strain:
and Wilton could not but feel that Lord Sherbrooke gave an accurate
though a terrible picture of his father's character.
At length, the young nobleman rose as if to depart; but standing ere
he did so before the table at which his young friend was seated, he
gazed upon his face earnestly and silently for a minute or two, and
"I don't know why, Wilton, but I have a great and a strong regard for
you, and I have been dreaming dreams for you, that I see you are
unwilling to dream for yourself: However, you must have the same
regard for me; and--even if you are not inclined, in any degree, to
take advantage of what I must say is evident regard on the part of
this young lady towards you--yet, for my sake, you must let me know,
aid me, and assist me, if you should see any scheme forming against
her happiness or peace. I am not so bad, Wilton, even as I seem to
you. I am sorry for this girl--really sorry for her. I ought to have
taken the burden upon my own shoulders, instead of casting it upon
hers; for I could have removed all these difficulties by speaking one
single word. But that word would have cost me much to speak, and I
shrunk from saying it. If, however, I find that through my fault she
is likely to suffer, I will speak that word, Wilton, at all risks, so
you must give me help and support, at least in doing what is right."
"That I will, Sherbrooke," replied Wilton, grasping his hand, "that I
will most zealously. But in regard to what you say of Lady Laura's
kind feeling towards me, depend upon it you are wholly mistaken. The
only reason, be you sure, why she makes any difference in her manner
towards me, and towards men of higher rank than myself; is, that she
knows the difference of our station and fortunes must ever prevent my
entertaining any of those hopes which others might justly feel."
Before Wilton concluded, Lord Sherbrooke had cast himself into a
chair; his eyes were fixed on the ground, his brow had become
contracted. It was one of those moments when, as he said, his evil
spirit was upon him; and seeing that such was the case, Wilton left
him to his own meditations and proceeded to write the letters which
the Earl had directed him to despatch.
In about half an hour, the young nobleman roused himself from his
reverie, with a light laugh, apparently causeless; and without
speaking another word to Wilton, quitted the room.
Wilton only saw the Earl for a few minutes during the rest of the
day, and with him the statesman was so captious, irritable, and
sneering, that, reading his feelings by the key his son had given,
Wilton had every reason to believe himself to be in high favour.
Various matters of business, however, occurred to keep him late at
the Earl's house, and night had fallen when he returned to his own
In about an hour after, however, one of the Earl's servants brought
him a note in Lord Sherbrooke's handwriting, and marked "In haste."
Wilton tore it open immediately, and read,--
"MY DEAR WILTON,
"My father directs me to request your immediate return.
The Duke is now here. Lady Laura has been carried off,
or, at all events, has disappeared; and we want your wise
head to counsel, perhaps your strong hand to execute. Come
directly, for we are all in agitation.
Written below, in smaller characters, and marked "Private," two lines
to the following effect:--
"This business is not my father's doing. It is too coarse for his
handiwork. He may, perhaps, take advantage of it, however, if he
finds an opportunity. Burn this instantly."
Having now run on for some time, following almost entirely the course
and history of one individual, painting none but the characters with
whom he was brought into immediate contact, and making him, as it
were, a lantern in the midst of our dark story, all the characters
appearing in bright light as long as they were near him, and sinking
back into darkness as soon as they were removed from him, we must
follow our old wayward and wandering habits; and just at the moment
when we have contrived to create the first little gleam of interest
in the reader's breast, must leave our hero entirely to his fate,
open out new scenes, introduce new personages, and devote a
considerable space to matters which have APPARENTLY not the slightest
connexion whatsoever with that which went before.
About thirty miles from London, towards the sea-coast, there then
stood a small ancient house, built strongly of brick. It was not
exactly castellated in its appearance, but yet in the days of
Cromwell it had endured a short siege by a small body of the
parliamentary troops, and had afforded time, by the resistance which
it offered, for a small body of noblemen and gentlemen attached to
the cause of King Charles to make their escape from a superior party
of pursuers. It was built upon the edge of a very steep slope, so
that on one side it was very much taller than the other. It was
surrounded by thick trees also; and though by no means large, it had
contrived to get into a small space as many odd corners as a Chinese
puzzle. The walls were very thick, the windows few and small, the
chimneys numerous, and the angles innumerable.
Into one of the small rooms of this house, at about eleven o'clock at
night, I must now introduce the reader.
In that chamber, with her head resting on her hand, her eyes fixed
upon a wood-fire that was burning before her, one small and beautiful
foot stretched out towards it, while the other was concealed by the
drapery of her long robe; and with the whole graceful line of her
figure thrown back in the large arm-chair which she occupied--except,
indeed, the head, which was bent slightly forward--sat a very lovely
young woman, perhaps of two or three and twenty years of age, in
meditations evidently of a somewhat melancholy cast. The hand on
which her head leaned, and which was very soft, round, and fair, was
covered with rings, while the other was quite free from such
ornaments, with the exception of one small ring of gold upon the
slender third finger. In that hand she had been holding an open
letter; but, buried in meditation, she had suffered the paper to drop
from her hold, and it had fallen upon the ground beside her.
We had said that she was very beautiful, but her beauty was of a
different sort and character altogether from that of the lady whom we
have described under the name of Lady Laura Gaveston. Her hair was of
the richest, brightest, glossy black, as fine as silk, yet bending,
wherever it escaped, into rich and massy curls. There was one of
these which fell upon the back of her fair neck, and another upon
either temple. Upon the forehead, as was then customary, the hair was
divided into smaller curls, and cut much shorter, which fashion was a
great disfigurement to beauty, and certainly left her less handsome
than she otherwise would have appeared. Still, however, she was very,
very lovely; and the fine lines of her features, the clear rich brown
of her complexion, the glorious light of her large dark eyes,
softened by the long thick lashes that overshadowed them, the full
and rounded beauty of every limb, left it impossible even for human
heart to do away what nature's cunning hand had done.
There are certainly moments in which, as every one must have
remarked, a beautiful human countenance is more beautiful than at any
other period, when it acquires, from some accidental circumstance, a
temporary and extraordinary degree of loveliness. Sometimes it is the
mere disposition of light and shade that produces this effect--the
background behind it, the objects that surround it. Sometimes it is
that the tone of the mind at the moment gives the peculiar expression
which harmonizes best with the lines of the features and the
colouring of the complexion, and which is in perfect accord with all
those expectations which fine, indistinct, but sweet associations
produce in our mind from every particular style of beauty that we
see. Associations are, in fact, the bees of the imagination, and,
wandering through all nature, may be said to distil honey from every
fair object on which they light. Why does a rich and warm complexion,
and a glowing cheek, call up instantly in our mind the idea of joyous
health and pleasant-heartedness? Less because we have been
accustomed to see that complexion attended by such qualities than
because it connects itself with the idea of summer, gay summer and
all its fruits and flowers, and merry sports and light amusements,
and a thousand memories of happy days, and thousands upon thousands
still of other things of which we have no consciousness, but which are
present to sensation though not to thought, all the while that we are
gazing upon a ruddy cheek, and thinking that the pleasure is derived
from the white and red alone.
When the expression is perfectly suited to the style of beauty, it is
natural to suppose that it will add to the charm; but there is a case
where the cause of the increase is not so easily discovered--I mean
when the mind gives to the countenance a temporary-expression totally
opposed to the style of beauty itself. Yet this is sometimes the
case: for how often do we see high and majestic features soften into
playful smiles, and seem to gain another grace. In the lady we have
mentioned, the whole style of the countenance and of the form gave
the idea of joyous gaiety, of happy, nay, exuberant life and
cheerfulness; but the expression was now all sad; and from the
contrast--which produced deeper associations than perfect harmony
would have called forth--her beauty itself was heightened. It was
like some gay and splendid scene by moonlight.
She had remained in this meditating attitude for some time, when the
door quietly opened, and a personage entered the room, of whom we
must say a few words, though he is not destined to play any very
prominent part in our tale. Monsieur Plessis was a Frenchman, a
soi-disant Protestant. One thing, at all events, is certain, that
his father had been so, and had been expelled from France many years
before by persecution. The gentleman before us exercised many trades,
by which, perhaps, he had not acquired so much wealth as his father
had by one. His father's calling had been that of cook and major domo
to a fat, rich, gluttonous, careless English peer; and as he employed
his leisure time in distilling various simples, he had classed his
noble patron under that head, and distilled from him what he himself
would jocosely have called "Golden Water."
Amongst the various trades which, as we have said, were carried on by
the son, was smuggling, under which were included the conveyance of
contraband men, women, and children, as well as other sorts of
merchandise; swindling a little, when occasion presented itself;
clipping the golden coin of the kingdom, which at that time was a
great resource to unfortunate gentlemen; not exactly forging
exchequer tallies, and other securities of the same kind, but aiding
by a certain dexterity of engraving in the forging, which he did not
choose actually to commit; and over and above all these several
occupations, callings, and employments, he was one of the best
reputed spies which the French court had in England, as well as the
most industrious agent which England had in obtaining intelligence
from France. In fact, he sold each country to the other with the
greatest possible complaisance. The great staple of the intelligence
that he gave to both was false; but he took care to mingle a
sufficient portion of truth with what he told, to acquire a
considerable degree of reputation. He was, indeed, much too well
versed in the practices of coiners, not to know that a bad piece of
money is best passed off between two good ones; and though he was a
sort of bonding warehouse, where an immense quantity of manufactured
intelligence lay till it was wanted, yet he had means of obtaining
better information, which he did not fail to make use of when he
judged it needful.
Strange, however, are the perversities of human character: this
practical betrayer of trust was not without certain good points in
his character. The cheating a king or a statesman had a touch of
grandeur in it, which suited his magnificent ideas; a little robbery
on the King's Highway seemed to him somewhat chivalrous; and he could
admire those who did it, though he did not meddle with the business
himself: but there was a certain class of persons whom he would as
soon have cheated, betrayed, or deceived, even to keep himself in
practice, which he considered one of the most legitimate excuses for
anything he liked to do, as he would have cut his hand off. These
were the poor French emigrants in England, and the unfortunate
adherents of the House of Stuart in France.
As is now well known, though it was only suspected at the time,
thousands of these men were daily coming and going between France and
Britain, in the very midst of the war; and they were always sure to
find at the house of Plessis kind and civil treatment, perfect
security, and the most accurate intelligence which could be procured
of all that was taking place.
In cases of danger he had a thousand ways of secreting them or
favouring their escape. If ever, as was frequently the case, they
wished to communicate with some kind friend, who was willing to
relieve them, or to frighten some timid enemy upon whom they had some
hold, Plessis could generally find them the means; and in cases where
some one in danger required to be brought off speedily and secretly,
Plessis had often been known to spend very large sums, and risk even
life itself, rather than suffer an enterprise to fail in which he had
taken a part.
The Duke of Shrewsbury and Trumbull, while they were secretaries of
state, employed Plessis actively, and overlooked not a few little
peccadilloes for the sake of the intelligence they obtained; and
Torcy, though he had been known to vow more than once that he would
hang him if he set his foot in France, held two or three long
conferences with him at Versailles, and dismissed him with a present
of several thousand livres.
His apparel was very peculiar, as he generally wore above his
ordinary dress a large long waisted red coat, hooked round his neck
at the collar, somewhat in the manner of a cloak, without his arms
being thrust into the sleeves; his shoes were very high in the
instep, and buckled with a small buckle over the front; but as he was
a little man, and of a somewhat aspiring disposition, the heels of
those shoes were enormously high, sufficient to raise him nearly two
inches from the ground, and make his foot in external appearance very
like that of a calf or a Chinese lady. Indeed, in body and in mind
likewise, he was upon tiptoes the whole day long.
His entrance into the room where the lady was, roused her at once
from the reverie into which she had fallen; and taking up the letter
from the ground, she turned to see who it was that came in.
"Madam," he said, speaking in French, which, be it remarked, was the
language used between them during the whole conversation, "were it
not better for you to retire to rest? You spoil your complexion, you
impair your beauty, by these long vigils."
"Beauty!" she said, with something of a scoff. "But why should I
retire, as you call it, to rest, Plessis? You mean to say, retire to
think more deeply still, in darkness as well as in solitude."
"Madam," replied Plessis, "you take these things too heavily. But the
truth is, I have a fair company coming here, by whom you might not
well like to be seen. Far be it from me, if you think otherwise, to
disturb you in possession of the apartments. But they come here at
midnight to consult, it would seem, upon business of importance;
whereof I know nothing, indeed, but which I know requires secrecy and
"Business of importance!" said the lady, somewhat scornfully--"to seat
a bigoted dotard on the throne of England! That is what they come to
consult about. Are they not some of those whom I saw yesterday
morning from the window? that dark Sir George Barkley, who used to
walk through the halls of St. Germain's, in gloomy silence, till the
profane courtiers called him the shadow of the cloud? and that
sanguinary Charnock, whom I once heard conferring with the banished
queen, and vowing that there was no way but one of dealing with
usurpers, and that was by the dagger? If these are your guests,
Plessis, I know the business that they come for full well."
"I neither know, beautiful lady," replied Plessis, "nor do I seek to
know. So pray tell me nothing thereof. Many a grown man in his day
has been hanged for knowing too much, and nobody but a schoolboy was
ever punished for knowing too little. These gentlemen come about
their own business. I meddle not with it; and I must not shame my
hospitality so much as to say, 'Good gentlemen, you shall not meet at
"You are a wise and prudent man, Plessis," replied the lady: "bid the
girl take a light to my chamber; I will go there and muse--not that I
fear their seeing me; but the Lady Helen, perhaps, might wish it
With a bow down to the very ground, Plessis retired, and the lady
paused for a minute or two longer, leaning upon a small table in the
middle of the room, and apparently thinking over what had passed.
"It is a strange thing," she said to herself, after a moment, "a most
strange thing, that the customs of the world, and what we call
honour, so often requires us to do those things that every principle
of right and justice, truth and religion, commands us not to do.
God's word tells us not to murder, yet men daily do it, and women
think them all the nobler for trading in blood. If we violate the
law, and do what is really wicked, we risk punishment on earth, and
incur punishment hereafter; yet if we do strictly what honesty and
justice tells us, in all cases, how many instances would be found,
where men would shun us, and where our own hearts would condemn us
also. Here I have it in my power to stop the effusion of much blood,
to prevent the commission of many crimes, to strangle, perhaps, a
civil war in its birth, merely by discovering the presence of these
men in a land from which they are exiled--I have it in my power
thereby to spare even themselves from evil acts and certain
punishment: and yet my lips must be sealed, lest men should say I
dealt treacherously with them. 'Tis a hard-dealing world, and I have
suffered too much already by despising it, to despise it any more."
As she thus came to the conclusion, which every woman, perhaps, will
come to sooner or later, she turned and left the room; and while her
foot was still upon the staircase, there came a sound of many horses'
feet from the small paved esplanade in front of the house.
"Ay, there they are," murmured the lady in a low voice--"the men who
would use any treacherous art whatever to accomplish their own
purpose, and who would yet call any one traitor who divulged their
schemes. Would to God that Helen would come back! I am weary of all
this, and sick at heart, as well I may be."
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