The King's Highway
G. P. R. James
Part 6 out of 10
and determined men, carry into execution at once the resolution we
have formed. Let us turn our horses' heads towards London; meet at
Turnham Green, as was proposed; and while people are seeking for us
here in vain, the usurper's life will be brought to an end, and his
unsteady government overthrown for ever. Everything in the country
will be in confusion; our friends will be rising in all
quarters;--the Duke of Berwick, I know, was at Calais yesterday;--the
army can land in two days; and the advantages of our situation will
all be secured by one prompt and decided blow. I say, leave them
where they are. Before they can make their escape, the whole thing
will be over, and we shall be safe."
"Nonsense, Sir William," cried Fenwick, "nonsense, I say. Here is
Plessis, has evidently played into their hands; the man we put to
guard the girl has been bribed off his post; the window itself is not
so high but that an active man might easily drop from it, if he could
see clearly where to light below; ere noon, to-morrow, the tidings of
our assemblies would reach Kensington. William of Orange would not
stir out, and the whole plan would be frustrated. We should be
hunted down through the country like wild beasts, and you would be
one of the first to repent the advice you have given."
"But my good friend, Fenwick," said Sir George Barkley, "all this is
very well. But still you do not say what is to be done. Every one
objects to the plan which is proposed by another, and yet no one
proposes anything that is not full of dangers."
"For my part," said Charnock, who had hitherto scarcely spoken at
all--"for my part, if you were to ask my opinion, I should say, Let
us walk in--we are here eleven or twelve in all; twelve, I think--and
just quietly make a circle round, and give them a pistol-shot or
two. If people WILL come prying into other persons' affairs, and
meddling with things they have no business to concern themselves
about, they must take the consequences."
"Not in cold blood! not in cold blood!" exclaimed Rookwood.
"And the women!" said Sir John Fenwick, "Remember the women!"
"I hope William of Orange won't have a woman with him to-morrow,"
said Charnock, coolly, "or if he has, that she'll not be upon my side
of the carriage; I would never let a woman stand in the way when a
great deed was to be done."
"Well, for my part," said Fenwick, "I agree with Sir William Parkyns,
that no time is to be lost in the execution of this business; but I
agree also with Captain Rookwood, that it would be horrible to cut
these men's throats in cold blood. What I propose is this, that we at
once demand that they lay down their arms, and that, pledging our
word of honour no evil shall happen to them, we march them down one
by one to the boat, and ship them off for France. It will be an
affair of three hours to get them embarked; but that will be time
well bestowed. We can then proceed to the execution of our scheme at
once, and in far greater safety. If they make any resistance, the
consequence be upon their own head."
"But," said Sir George Barkley, "depend upon it they will not go.
There is a determination in that young fellow's look which is not to
be mistaken. He will submit to no power but that of the law."
"Well, then," said Sir John Fenwick, "frighten him with the law!
Declare that you will take them all before a magistrate, to give an
account of the blood that has been shed here. There is blood on his
collar, and his face too, for I saw it; and the whole stairs is
spotted with blood. Tell them that both the men must surrender and
go before a magistrate. The ladies, you can say, may go where they
like, and do what they like, but the men must surrender. Let half of
us go down with the men, and lead or force them to the ship, while
the rest bring down the two women a few minutes after."
"That is not a bad plan at all, Fenwick," said Sir George Barkley.
"Let us see what can be done by it. We can but come to blows at
While the latter part of this conversation had been going on between
Fenwick and Barkley, the Jacobite called Charnock and a dull-looking
man not unlike himself, but only shorter and more broadly made, had
been speaking together in a low voice behind. At first their
conversation was carried on in a whisper; but at length the man said
somewhat louder, "Oh, I'll do it! That's the only way to settle
it. You take the one, and I'll take the other. We don't readily
miss our mark either of us."
"Let Sir George begin his story," replied Charnock. "There must be
some talk at first, you know. Then get quietly up behind our timid
friends here, and when I give a nod, we will both fire at once."
"I understand," answered the other. "You had better see that your
pistols are primed, Charnock, and that the balls are not out, for you
rode at a rate down that hill which would shake almost any ball into
"I looked just now," said Charnock--"it's all right. Let us keep
pretty near Sir George;" and turning round, he came nearer to Sir
George Barkley, who was just finishing his conversation with Fenwick,
as we have described.
While holding this long consultation, the insurgents had not been
many paces from the door, and they now turned and re-entered the
room. The state of defence in which Wilton and his companion had
placed themselves showed a degree of determination that seemed to
surprise and puzzle them a good deal; for Sir George Barkley again
paused, and spoke to Sir John Fenwick, who was close behind him.
"The more reason for doing as we propose," replied Sir John to his
friend's observation. "They will not resist going before a
magistrate--at least, Wilton Brown will not, and we can easily manage
Sir George Barkley then advanced another step, saying to Wilton, who,
notwithstanding the barrier he had raised, was still quite visible as
far as the waist, "We have consulted, sir, on what it is necessary to
do with you, and if your own account of yourselves be true, you will
readily acquiesce in our determination. If you resist it, you show
that you know yourselves to be guilty of some crime, and we must deal
with you accordingly."
"Pray, sir, what is your determination?" asked Wilton. "For my part,
I require free permission to quit this place with this gentleman and
Lady Laura Gaveston; and nothing shall prevent me from so doing at
the risk of my life."
"You shall do so, sir," replied Sir George Barkley, "but you shall go
before a magistrate in the first instance. Here are evident marks of
violence having been committed upon the person of some one; the
staircase, the vestibule, the corridors, are covered with blood; your
coat, your collar, your face, are also bloody; and we feel ourselves
bound, before we let you depart, to have this matter strictly
"Oh, go before a magistrate at once," said Laura, in a low voice: "we
have nothing to fear from that, and they have everything."
"Showing clearly that it is a pretence, dear lady," replied Wilton,
in the same low tone. "Keep behind the barricade. I see one of those
men creeping up from the door with a pistol in his hand.--Sir," he
continued, addressing Sir George Barkley, "in those circumstances,
the best plan for you to pursue will be to bring a magistrate here. I
neither know who you are, nor what are your views; but I find this
young lady, who has been carried off from her father's house,
illegally brought hither, and detained. I know the house to be a
suspected one; and although, as I have before said, I neither know
who you are, nor what are your views, and do not by any means wish to
know, yet the circumstances in which I find you are sufficiently
doubtful to justify me in refusing to quit this spot, and place
myself in your hands, unless every man present gives me his word of
honour as a gentleman that I shall go free whithersoever I will. If,
therefore, you think a magistrate requisite to inquire into this
business, send for one. I think, however, that you would do much
better to plight me your word at once, and let me go. I know no one
but Sir John Fenwick here: therefore I can betray no one but him;
and to Sir John Fenwick I pledge my word that I will not mention
It was evident that Sir John Fenwick put no trust in such assurances,
and he was seen speaking vehemently with Sir George Barkley. At the
same moment, however, a low conversation was carried on in a slow and
careless sort of manner by Charnock and the other, who were just
"I can't get a shot at the Captain," said Charnock, calmly. "His
head is covered by that table they've set on end.--Stop a bit, stop
"Better let me settle this young fellow first," said the other, "and
then the stupid fools will be obliged to make a rush upon the
Captain. When once blood is drawn, they must go on, you know."
"Very well," replied Charnock, "I don't care"--and there was the
sudden click of a pistol-lock heard behind. "His eye is upon you,"
said Charnock. "Make haste! He is cocking his pistol!"
The man instantly raised the weapon that was in his hand, and was in
the very act of firing over the shoulder of Sir George Barkley, when
his arm was suddenly knocked up by a blow from behind, and the ball
passed through the window, a yard and a half above Wilton's head.
Wilton instantly dropped the muzzle of his pistol, without returning
the shot. But there was a cause for his so doing, which none of the
conspirators themselves, who were all eagerly looking towards the
spot where he stood, had yet perceived.
While Charnock and the other had been speaking, a young gentleman had
suddenly entered the room, and pushing rapidly forward through the
group in the doorway, he had advanced to the front and knocked up the
hand of the assassin just as he was in the very act of firing. The
new comer was dressed in dark-coloured clothes, and more in the
French than in the English costume of that day, with a curious sort
of cravat of red silk tied in a bow beneath the chin. He wore his
hat, which was trimmed with feathers, and a large red bow of ribands,
and in his hand he bore nothing but a small cane with an amber head,
while his person displayed no arms whatever, except a small riding
sword, which every gentleman wore in that day.
His figure was tall and commanding; his countenance open, noble, but
somewhat stern; and there was to be remarked therein the peculiar
expression which the pictures of Vandyke have handed down to us in
the portraits of Charles I. It was a melancholy expression; but in
Charles that melancholy seemed somewhat mingled with weakness; while
on the stern brow and tightly-compressed lips of the young stranger,
might be read, by the physiognomist, vigour and determination almost
approaching to obstinacy.
The same, perhaps, might have been said of him which was said by the
Roman sculptor when he beheld the picture of Charles, "That man will
not die a natural death;" and in this instance, also, the prophecy
would have been correct. But there was something that might have
spoken, too, of death upon the battle-field, or in the deadly breach,
or in some enterprise where daring courage needed to be supported by
unshrinking pertinacity and resolution.
The sound of the pistol-shot fixed all eyes, for an instant, upon
that particular point in the room towards which it had been fired;
but the moment that the conspirators beheld the person who now stood
amongst them, they instantly drew back in a circle. Every sword was
thrust into its sheath, every hat was taken off, while, with a
flashing eye and frowning brow, the young stranger turned to Sir
George Barkley, exclaiming, "What is all this, sir? What is this,
gentlemen? Are ye madmen? or fools? or villains?"
"Those are hard words, your grace," replied Sir George Barkley, "and
hard to stomach."
"Not more than those persons deserve, sir," replied the stranger,
"who betray the confidence of their King, when they know that he is
powerless to punish them."
"We are serving our King, my lord duke," replied Sir John Fenwick,
"and not betraying his confidence. Are we not here in arms, my Lord
of Berwick, perilling our lives, prepared for any enterprise, and all
on the King's behalf?"
"I say again, sir," replied the Duke of Berwick, "that those who
abuse the trust reposed in them, so as to ruin their monarch's
honour, his character, and his reputation, are tenfold greater
traitors than those who have stripped him of his crown. There is but
one excuse for your conduct, that you have acted with mistaken zeal
rather than criminal intent. But you have aggravated the guilt of
your plans by concealing them till the last moment, not only from
your King, but from your Commander-in-chief. All here who hold
commissions, or at least all but one or two, hold them under my hand
as generalissimo of my father's forces. Those commissions authorize
you to raise men for the service of your lawful sovereign, and to
kill or take prisoner his enemies arrayed in arms against you, but to
assassinate no man; and I feel heartily ashamed that any person
leagued in this great cause with me, should not be able to
distinguish between war and murder. However, on these subjects let us
speak no more at present, for there are matters even more important
to be thought of I heard of this but yesterday morning, and at the
imminent peril of my life have come to England to stop such deeds. I
sought you in London, Sir George Barkley, and have followed you
hither; and from what I have heard, I have to tell you that your
coming to England has been discovered, and that for the last four or
five days a warrant has been out against you, without your knowing
it. This I learned, beyond all doubt, from my Lady Middleton. There
is reason, also, to believe that your whole designs are known, sirs,
though it would seem all your names have not yet been obtained. My
advice, therefore, is, that you instantly disperse to different parts
of the country, or effect your escape to France. For you, Sir George,
there is no chance but to retire to France at once, as the warrant is
"It most fortunately happens," said Sir George Barkley, "that a ship
is on the point of sailing, and lies in the river here, under Dutch
colours. Your grace will, of course, go back in her?"
"No, sir," replied the Duke--"I shall go as I came, in an open boat.
But you have no time to lose, for I know that suspicion is attached
to this spot. In the first place, however, tell me, what you have
here. What new outrage is this that I have just seen attempted? If I
had not entered at the very moment, cold and cowardly bloodshed would
have taken place five minutes ago."
The Duke's eyes were fixed upon Wilton as he spoke; and that
gentleman, now seeing and understanding whom he had to deal with, put
back the pistol into his belt, and advanced, saying,--
"My lord, it is probable I owe my life to your inter-position; and
to you the circumstances in which I am placed will be explained in a
moment. In your honour and integrity, I have confidence; but the
murderous purpose which you have just disappointed shows how well I
was justified in doubting the intentions of the men by whom I was but
"Had you given them no offence, sir?" demanded the Duke of Berwick.
"I can scarcely suppose that so dark and sanguinary an act would have
been attempted had you not given some cause. I saw the pistol
levelled over Sir George Barkley's shoulder, while he seemed speaking
to you. That I considered a most unfair act, and stopped it. But you
must surely have done something to provoke such deeds.--Good
heavens! the Lady Helen Oswald!" he continued, as the elder lady
advanced, with Laura clinging to her. "Madam, I fully thought you
were at St. Germain.--Can you tell us anything of this strange
"But too much, my lord," replied the lady, speaking eagerly, "but too
much for the honour of these men, who have thought fit to violate
every principle of justice and humanity. This young lady beside me
has been dragged from her father's house by the orders of some of
these gentlemen here present, beyond all doubt. This young gentleman
has traced her hither, legally authorized to carry her back to her
father; and although he plighted his honour, and I pledged my word
for him, that he would do nothing and say nothing to compromise any
of the persons here present, they not only refused to let him depart,
but have, as you saw yourself, most treacherously attempted to take
his life while they were affecting to parley with him."
"Madam," said the Duke of Berwick, in a sorrowful tone, "I am deeply
grieved and pained by all that has occurred. I confess I never felt
despondency till I discovered that persons, pretending to be my
father's friends, have made his cause the pretext for committing
crimes and acts like these. I have already heard this young lady's
story. All London is ringing with it; and the Earl of Aylesbury gave
me this morning, what is probably the real explanation of the whole
business. We will not enter upon it now, for there is no time to be
spared. I feel and know--and I say it with bitter regret--that the
deeds which these gentlemen have done, and the schemes which they
have formed, will do more to injure the cause of their legitimate
sovereign than the loss of twenty pitched battles. Sir George
Barkley, I beg you would make no reply. Provide for your safety, sir.
Your long services and sufferings are sufficient to make some
atonement; and I will take care to conceal from the ears of the King,
as far as possible, how you have misused his authority. Sir John
Fenwick and the rest of you gentlemen must act as you think fit in
regard to remaining in England, or going to the Continent. But I am
inclined to recommend to you the latter, as the safest expedient. You
will leave me to deal with this gentleman and his friends; for I need
not tell you that I shall suffer no farther injury or insult to be
offered to them. As to the personage who actually fired the pistol, I
have merely to tell him, that should I ever meet with him in
circumstances where I have the power to act, I will undoubtedly
punish him for his conduct this night."
The conspirators whispered for a moment amongst themselves; and at
length Sir William Parkyns took a step forward, saying, "Are we to
understand your grace that you will give us no assistance from the
French forces under your command?"
"You are so to understand me," replied the Duke of Berwick, sternly:
"I will not, sir, allude distinctly to the schemes that you have
formed. But you are all well aware of them; and I tell you that I
will give no aid, support, or countenance whatsoever, either to such
schemes or to the men who have formed them. At the same time, let me
say, that had there been--instead of such schemes--a general rising
against the usurper--ay, or even a partial rising--nay, had I found
twenty gentlemen in arms who needed my help in the straightforward,
honest, upright intent of re-seating their sovereign on his lawful
throne, I would not have hesitated for a moment to land the troops
under my command, and to have made a last determined stand for honour
and my father's rights. As it is, gentlemen, I have nothing farther
to say, but take care of yourselves. I shall remain here for a couple
of hours, and then return with all speed to France."
"But does not your grace run a great risk," said Sir George Barkley,
"in remaining so long?"
"I fear no risk, sir," said the Duke of Berwick, "in a righteous
cause; and I do not wish that any man should say I was amongst the
first to fly after I had warned others. You have all time, gentlemen,
if you make use of it wisely. Some, I see, are taking advantage of my
caution already. Sir George, you had better not be left behind in the
race. You say there is a ship in the river--get to her, and be gone
with all speed."
"But the captain will not sail without the Lady Helen," said the
conspirator, with some hesitation: "she, it seems, has hired the
vessel, and he refused this morning to go without her."
"That shall be no impediment," said the lady. "You may tell the
captain that I set him free from his engagement, and I will give an
order to his grace that the money may be paid which is the man's due.
I told you before, Miss Villars had met with a severe accident, and I
can neither quit her in such circumstances, nor go till she has
"Will you be kind enough, madam," replied Sir George, who always had
thoughts for his own safety, "to write what you have said in these
tablets? Here is a pencil."
The lady took the tablets and wrote; and while she did so, two or
three, more of the conspirators dropped quietly out of the room. The
Duke of Berwick at the same time advanced, and said a few kindly
words to Lady Laura, and spoke for a moment to Wilton, with a
familiar smile, in regard to the risk he had run.
"To tell the truth," he said, "I was almost afraid that I should
myself meet with a shot between you; for I saw you had your pistol
cocked in your hand, and expected that the next fire would have been
upon your side."
"I saw you knock his arm up, sir," replied Wilton; "and though I was
not aware of the name of the person who entered, I was not a little
rejoiced to see, at least, one man of honour amongst them."
"Alas! sir," replied the Duke, in a lower tone, "they are all, more
or less, men of honour; but you must remember that there is a
fanaticism in politics as well as in religion, and men will think
that a great end will justify any intermediate means. An oak, planted
in the sand, sir, is as soon blown down as any other tree; and it is
not every heart that is firm and strong enough constantly to support
the honour that is originally implanted in it against the furious
blasts of passion, interest, or ambition. You must remember, too,
that those who are called Jacobites in this country have been hunted
somewhat like wolves and wild beasts; and nothing drives zeal into
fanaticism so soon as persecution."
"My lord, I am now ready to depart," said Sir George Barkley,
approaching, "and doubt not to be able to make my views and motives
good to my royal master."
"There is none, sir, who will abhor your views so much," replied the
Duke of Berwick, proudly, "though he may applaud your motives. But
you linger, Sir George. Can I do anything for you, or for those other
gentlemen by the door?"
"Nothing, your grace," replied Sir George Barkley; "but we would fain
see you provide for your own safety."
"Oh, no fear, no fear," replied the Duke. "Gentlemen, good night. I
trust to hear, when in another land, that this bad affair has ended
without evil consequences to yourselves. To the cause of your
sovereign it may be a great detriment; but I pray God that no whisper
of the matter may get abroad so as to affect his honour or bring
suspicion on his name. Once more, good night!"
Sir George Barkley bowed his head, and followed by three others, who
had still lingered, quitted the room.
There came a pause after the conspirators were gone, and the Duke of
Berwick gazed down upon the floor for a moment or two, as if thinking
of what was next to be done.
"I shall be obliged to stop," he said at length, "for an hour or so,
till my horses can feed, for they want refreshment sadly. To say the
truth, I want some myself, if I can obtain it. I must go down to the
stable, and see; for though that is not exactly the place to procure
food for a man, yet, in all probability, I shall get it nowhere else.
I found the good master of the house, indeed, who is an old
acquaintance of mine, hid in the farthest nook of his own stable,
terrified out of his life, and assuring me that there would certainly
be bloodshed up stairs."
"I will go down and look for him, your grace," replied Captain
Byerly, coming more forward than he had hitherto done. "You will find
no lack of provisions, depend upon it, in Monsieur Plessis's house."
"One moment, sir," said the Duke, stopping him as he was going: "have
I not seen your face before?"
"Long ago, sir, long ago," replied the Captain. "I had the honour of
commanding a troop, sir, in your regiment, during all that sad
business in Ireland--Byerly is my name."
"I remember you well, sir," said the Duke, "and your good services.
Should we meet in France, I may be able to repay them--especially if
your views are still of a military kind."
Byerly bowed his head, without reply, but looked much gratified; and
while lie proceeded to look for Plessis, the Duke once more turned to
the Lady Helen.
"I am sorry," he said, "to hear, from your account, madam, that an
accident has happened to Miss Villars. I have been so long absent
from St. Germain myself, that it is not very long since I heard of
her father's death. May I inquire if she is seriously hurt? for I
should apprehend that, after what has occurred, persons holding our
opinions would run considerable risks in this country, and be
subjected to a persecution even more severe than heretofore."
The Lady Helen replied simply that her young friend was seriously
hurt, and could not be removed; but she avoided carefully all
reference to the nature of the injury she had received. The Duke then
turned the conversation to indifferent subjects, spoke cheerfully and
gaily with Lady Laura and Wilton, and showed that calm sort of
equanimity in circumstances of danger and difficulty which is partly a
gift of nature, and partly an acquisition wrung from many perils and
evils endured. Ere long, Byerly returned with Plessis, and food and
wine were speedily procured. The tables were set in order, and the
Duke remained for about a quarter of an hour refreshing himself;
while Wilton and the two ladies continued to converse with him,
delaying their departure at his request, lest any of the more
unscrupulous conspirators should still be lingering in the
Plessis, however, was evidently uneasy; and he did not scruple at
length to express his fear, that amongst all the events of that
night, something might have happened to call the attention of the
world at large upon what was going on in his dwelling.
Wilton's apprehensions, in regard to the Duke, were somewhat of the
same nature; for he remembered that Arden, the Messenger, whom he now
knew to be a thorough coward, had fled at the beginning of the whole
business, and would most likely return accompanied by as large a
force as he could raise in the neighbourhood.
These fears he failed not to communicate to the Duke of Berwick; but
that nobleman looked up with a gay smile, replying, "My good sir,
my horse can go no farther. I rode one to death yesterday, and this
one, which I bought in London, is already knocked up: if I must be
caught like a rat in a rat-trap, as well here as anywhere."
"But will it not be better," said Wilton, "to accompany me and the
Lady Laura to High Halstow, where you can instantly procure a horse?
We must proceed thither on foot. I suppose you are not likely to be
known in this part of the country, and my being with you may shield
you from some danger."
"By no means a bad plan," said the Duke, starting up--"let us go at
once! When anything feasible is proposed, we should lose no time in
Wilton was ready to depart, and Lady Laura was eager to do so. Every
moment, indeed, of their stay made her feel fresh apprehensions lest
that night should not be destined to close without some more painful
event still, than those which she had already witnessed.
She turned, however, to the Lady Helen before she went, and with the
peculiar sort of quiet grace which distinguished her, approached her
gently and kissed her cheek, saying, "I can never thank you
sufficiently, dear lady, for the kindness you have shown me, or the
deliverance which I owe, in the first place, to you; and I thank you
for the kindness you have shown me here, as much as for my
deliverance: for if it had not been for the comfort it gave me, I do
believe I should have sunk under the sorrow, and agitation, and
terror, which I felt when I was first brought hither. I hope and
believe, however, that I do not leave you here never to see you
Lady Helen smiled, and laid her hand gently upon Wilton's arm.
"There is a link between him and me, lady," she said, "which can
never be broken; and I shall often, I hope, hear of your welfare from
him, for I trust that you will see him not infrequently."
Lady Laura blushed slightly, but she was not one to suffer any fine
or noble feeling of the heart to be checked by such a thing as false
"I trust I shall," she answered, raising her eyes to Wilton's face--"
I trust I shall see him often, very often; and I shall never see him,
certainly, without feelings of pleasure and gratitude. You do not
know that this is the second time he has delivered me from great
The Duke of Berwick smiled, not, indeed, at Lady Laura's words, but
at the blush that came deeper and deeper into her cheek as she spoke.
He made no observation, however, but changed the conversation by
addressing Wilton, "Wherever I am to procure a horse under your good
guidance, my dear sir," he said, "I must, I believe, take another
name than my own; for though Berwick and London are very distant
places, yet there might be compulsory means found of bringing them
unpleasantly together. You must call me, therefore, Captain
Churchill, if you please;--a name," he added, with a sigh, "which,
very likely, the gentleman who now fills the throne of England might
be very well inclined to bestow upon me himself. Lady Helen, I wish
you good night, and take my leave. Master Plessis, I leave the horse
with you: he never was worth ten pounds, and now he's not worth five;
so you may sell him to pay for my entertainment."
Bowing to the very ground from various feelings of respect, French,
English, and Jacobite, Plessis took a candle and lighted the Duke
down stairs, while Wilton followed, accompanied by Laura and Captain
Byerly. The outer door was then opened, and the whole party issued
forth into the field which surrounded the house, finding themselves
suddenly in the utter darkness of a moonless, starless, somewhat
From the little stone esplanade, which we have mentioned, lay a
winding road up to the gate in the walls, and along that Wilton and
his companion turned their steps, keeping silence as they went, with
the listening ear bent eagerly to catch a sound. It was not, indeed,
a sense of general apprehension only which made Wilton listen so
attentively, for, in truth, he had fancied at the very moment when
they were issuing forth from the house, that he had heard a low
murmur as if of people talking at some distance.
The same sound had met the ears of the Duke of Berwick, and had
produced the same effect; but nothing farther was heard till they
reached the gate, and Wilton's hand was stretched out to open it;
when suddenly a loud "Who goes there?" was pronounced on the opposite
side of the gate, and half-a-dozen men, who had been lying in the
inside of the wall, surrounded the party on all sides.
Several persons now spoke at once. "Who goes there?" cried one voice
again; but at the same time another exclaimed, "Call up the
Messenger, call up the Messenger from the other gate."
These last words gave Wilton some satisfaction, though they were by
no means pleasant to the ears of the Duke of Berwick.
The former, however, replied to the challenge, "A friend!" and
instantly added, "God save King William!"
"God save King William!" cried one of the voices: "you cry that on
compulsion, I've a notion. Pray, who are you that cry `God save King
"My name, sir, is Wilton Brown," replied the young gentleman,
"private secretary to the Earl of Byerdale. Where is the Messenger
who came down with me? Be so good as to call him up immediately."
"Oh! you are the young gentleman who came down with the Messenger,
are you?" said one of the others: "he was in a great taking lest you
should be murdered."
"It was not his fault," replied Brown, somewhat bitterly, "that I was
not murdered; and if it had not been for Captain Churchill and this
other gentleman, who came to my assistance at the risk of their
lives, I certainly should have been assassinated by the troop of
Jacobites and smugglers amongst whom I fell."
The Duke of Berwick could not refrain from a low laugh at the
description given of the persons whom they had just seen; but Wilton
spoke loud again, in order to cover the somewhat ill-timed merriment
of his companion, asking of the person who had replied, "Pray, who
are you, sir?"
"I am head constable of High Halstow," replied the man, "and I
remained here with our party, while Master Arden and the rest, with
the soldiers from Hoo, went round to the other gate."
"Why did not the cowardly rascal go in by this gate himself,"
demanded Wilton, "instead of putting you, my friend, at the post of
"Ay, it was shabby enough of him," replied the man; "but I don't fear
anything; not I."
"I'm afraid, my good fellows, it is too late," replied Wilton. "All
the gang have got off near an hour ago. If that stupid Messenger had
known what he was about, this affair would have had a different
result; but he ran away at the first shot that was fired--Have you
sent for him?" he continued, after a moment's pause.
"Oh yes, sir, we've sent for him," said the man, "though it's not
much use, if they are all gone, sir."
"Oh yes," replied Wilton, "you may as well make a good search amongst
the grounds and in the hedges. It will say something for your
activity, at all events. I shall go on to Halstow, but I wish one or
two of you would just show us the way, and when Arden comes up, tell
him to come after me immediately. I have a great mind to put him
under arrest, and send him up to the Earl, for his bad conduct."
The tone in which Wilton spoke, and the very idea of his arresting
the arrestor of all men, and sending up the Messenger of State as a
common prisoner to London, proved so impressive with the personages
he addressed, that they made not the slightest opposition to his
purpose of proceeding, but sent one of their number to show him the
Accompanied, therefore, by Lady Laura, the Duke of Berwick, and
Captain Byerly, Wilton proceeded as fast as possible up the lane.
When they had gone about a hundred yards, however, he said, "Captain
Churchill, will you have the kindness to give the lady your arm? I
will follow you somewhat more slowly, for I want to speak a few words
to this fellow Arden.--He must not see you, if it can be avoided,"
he added, in a low tone; "and I think I hear him coming."
It was indeed as Wilton imagined. Arden had come round with all
speed, and joined the head constable of High Halstow, demanding
eagerly, "Where is Mr. Brown?"
"He is gone on," replied the constable, "with the other gentlemen;
and a mighty passion he is in, too, at you, Mr. Arden. He vows that
you left him to be murdered, and that he would have been murdered
too, if it had not been for that Captain Churchill that is with him."
"Captain Churchill!" cried the Messenger--"Captain Churchill! Why,
Captain Churchill was sick in bed yesterday morning, to my certain
After a moment's thought, however, he concluded that the person who
chose to assume that name might be Lord Sherbrooke, and he asked,
"What sort of a man was he? Was he a slight young gentleman, about my
"Oh bless you, no," replied the constable. "There wasn't one of them
that was not three or four inches taller than you."
"Captain Churchill!" said the Messenger--"Captain Churchill!" and he
added, in a lower voice, "I'll bet my life this is some d---d
Jacobite, who has imposed himself upon this foolish boy for Captain
Churchill. I'll be after them, and see."
Thus saying, he set off at full speed after Wilton and his party, and
reached them within a minute after that gentleman had dropped behind.
"Is that you, Mr. Arden?" demanded Wilton, as he came up. "Stop a
moment, I wish to speak to you."
"And I wish to go on, and see who you've got there, sir," said Arden,
in a somewhat saucy tone, at the same time endeavouring to pass
"Stop, sir!" cried the young gentleman, catching him by the collar.
"Do you mean to say, that you will now disobey my orders, after
having left me to provide for my own security, with the dastardly
cowardice that you have displayed? Did not the Earl direct you to
obey me in everything?"
"I will answer it all to the Earl," replied the man, in an insolent
tone. "If he chooses to put me under a boy, I do not choose to be
collared by one. Let me go, Mr. Brown, I say."
"I order you, sir," said Brown, without loosing his hold, "to go
instantly back, and aid the people in searching the grounds of that
house!--now, let me see if you will disobey!"
"I will search here first, though," said the man. "By, I believe
that's Sir George Barkley, on before there. He's known to be in
England. Let me go, Mr. Brown, I say, or worse will come of it!" and
he put his hand to his belt, as if seeking for a pistol.
Without another word, Wilton instantly knocked him down with one blow
of his clenched fist, and at the same moment he called out aloud,
"Captain Byerly! and you constable, who are showing the way--come back
here, and take this man into custody, and bear witness that he
refuses to search for the Jacobites in the way I order him.
Constable, I shall want you to take him to town in custody this
night. I will show you my warrant for what I do when we get to the
The two persons whom he addressed came back instantly at his call;
and when the Messenger rose--considerably crest-fallen from Wilton's
sudden application to measures which he had not expected--he found
himself collared by two strong men, and led along unwillingly upon
the road he had before been treading.
"Do not let him chatter, Captain," Wilton whispered to Captain
Byerly, as he passed on; and then immediately walking forward, he
joined the Duke and the Lady Laura. Byerly, who understood what he
was about, kept the Messenger at some distance behind; but,
nevertheless, some sharp words passing between them reached Wilton's
ear during the first quarter of an hour of their journey; then came a
dogged silence; but at length the voice of Byerly was again heard,
exclaiming, "Mr. Brown, Mr. Arden says, that, if you will overlook
what has passed, he will go back, and do as you order."
"I shall certainly not look over the business," replied Brown, aloud,
"unless he promises not only to obey my orders at present, but also
to make a full apology to me to-morrow."
"He says he will do what you please, sir," replied Byerly; and Wilton
turning back, heard the sullen apologies of the Messenger.
"Mr. Arden," he said, "you have behaved extremely ill, well knowing,
as you do know, that you were placed entirely under my orders.
However, I shall pardon your conduct both upon the first occasion,
and in regard to the present business, if you now do exactly as you
are told. By your running away at the time you ought to have come
forward to assist me, you have lost an opportunity of serving the
state, in a manner which does not occur every day. In regard to the
gentleman who has gone on, and whom you were foolish enough to think
Sir George Barkley, I pledge you my honour that such is not the case.
Sir George Barkley cannot be less than twenty years older than he is,
and may be thirty."
"He's not Captain Churchill, though," replied the man, doggedly.
"Do not begin to speak impertinently again, sit!" said Wilton, in a
sharp tone. "But go back, as I before ordered, with the constable:
you know nothing of who that gentleman is, and my word ought to be
sufficient for you, when I tell you that he has this very night not
only aided me in setting free the Lady Laura, but absolutely saved my
life at the risk of his own from the very gang of Jacobites in whose
hands you most negligently left me. To drop this subject, however, I
have one more caution to give you," he added, in a lower voice. "It
is Lord Sherbrooke's wish that you should say not one syllable in
regard to his share in the events of this night."
"Ay, sir, but I ought to ascertain whether he be safe or not. I know
he has his wild pranks as well as most young men; but still one ought
to know that he's safe."
"If my word for you is not sufficient on that score," replied
Wilton, "you will find him at the house to which I directed you to
go. It is now clear of all its obnoxious tenants, and I doubt not,
Lord Sherbrooke will speak to you for a moment, if you wish it."
Thus saying, Wilton turned upon his heel, and walking quickly onward,
soon overtook the Duke of Berwick and Lady Laura. They were now not
far from High Halstow, and the rest of the way was soon accomplished.
But as they passed into the door of the public-house, Captain Byerly,
who came last, touched Wilton on the arm, and whispered, "Do you know
that fellow is following you?"
"No, indeed," answered Wilton: "what can be done?"
"Go and speak to the master of the house," said Byerly, quickly. "I
will wait here in the door, and take care he does not come in. The
landlord will find means to get the Duke away by the back."
"I dare not trust him," replied Wilton, in the same low tone. "I feel
sure he has betrayed me once to-night already."
"If he did," answered Byerly, hastily, "it was because he thought you
on the wrong side of the question. He's a well-known man hereabouts,
and you may trust him with any secrets on that side."
Wilton followed the Duke of Berwick and Laura as fast as possible,
and found the landlord showing them into a small sanded parlour on
the left hand, after passing a door which swung to and fro with a
"Come in here, landlord," he said, as he passed; "come in, and shut
the door. Have you a horse saddled?" he continued.
"I have one that can be saddled in a minute," said the landlord,
looking first at Berwick and then at Wilton.
"Have you any back way," continued Wilton, "by which this gentleman
can get out of the town without going through the street?"
"Ay have I," answered the man; "through our stable, through the
garden, lead the horse down the steps, and then away to Stroud.
There's no missing the way."
"Well then, sir," said Wilton, grasping the Duke's hand, "this is
your only chance for safety. That rascally Messenger has followed us
to the door, and doubtless if there be any magistrates in the
neighbourhood, or constables left in the place, we shall have them
down upon us in ten minutes."
"Come with me, my lord, come with me!" cried the landlord, bursting
into energy in a moment. "I know who you are well enough. But they
shan't catch you here, I warrant you. Come into the stable: there's
not a minute to be lost; for there's old Sir John Bulrush, and Parson
Jeffreys, who's a magistrate too, drinking away up at the rectory
till the people come back from Plessis's house." Berwick lingered
not; but taking a quick leave of Lady Laura, and shaking Wilton's
hand, he followed the landlord from the room. Laura and Wilton stood
silent for a minute or two, listening to every sound, and calculating
how long it might be before the horse was saddled and the Duke upon
his way. Before they imagined it possible, however, the landlord
returned, saying, in a low voice, but with an air of joyful triumph,
"He is gone; and if they were after him this minute, the way through
my garden gives him the start by half a mile."
"And now, landlord," said Wilton, "send off some one on horseback to
get us a conveyance from Stroud to carry this young lady on the way
to London. I suppose such a thing is not to be procured here."
"That there is not," replied the landlord; "and unless I send your
horse, sir, or the Messenger's, or the Captain's, I have none to go."
"Send mine, then, send mine!" replied Wilton. "But here comes Captain
Byerly himself, bringing us news, doubtless."
"No news," answered Byerly, "except that the rascal went up the
street, and I followed him to the door of the parsonage. Your
parson's a magistrate--isn't he, Wicks?"
The landlord gave a nod; and Byerly continued, "By Jove, I'll be off
then, for I'm not fond of magistrates, and he'll be down here soon."
"You had better bid them bring down a chaise for the gentleman and
lady from Stroud," said the landlord. "That will save me from sending
some one on the gentleman's horse."
"No, no, landlord, no, no!" answered Byerly, "you are not up to a
stratagem. Send your ostler with me on Mr. Brown's horse. We'll go
clattering along the street like the devil, if we can but get off
before the justices comedown, and they'll take it into their wise
noddles that one of us is the gentleman who has just gone. Come,
Wicks, there's no time to spare. We shall meet again, Mr. Brown; good
night, good night. I shall tell the Colonel that we've done the
business much more tidily than I could have expected." And without
further ceremony he quitted the room.
Another pause ensued, during which but a few words passed between
Wilton and Lady Laura, who sat gazing thoughtfully into the fire.
Wilton stood by the window and listened, thinking he heard some
distant sounds as of persons speaking, and loud tongues at the
further end of the street. A minute after, however, there came the
clatter of horses' feet upon the pavement of the yard; and in
another instant Byerly's voice was heard, saying, "Come, put to your
spurs," and two horses galloped away from the inn as hard as they
IT is wonderful how scenes of danger and difficulty--it is wonderful
how scenes of great excitement of any kind, indeed--draw heart to
heart, and bind together, in bonds indissoluble, the beings that have
passed through them side by side. They are never to be broken, those
bonds; for between us and the persons with whom we have trod such
paths there is established a partnership in powerful memories, out of
which we can never withdraw our interest. But it is not alone that
they are permanent which renders them different from all lighter
ties; it is that they bring us closer, more entirely to each other;
that instead of sharing the mere thoughts of what we may call the
outward heart, we enter into the deepest recesses, we see all the
hidden treasures, we know the feelings and the ideas that are
concealed from the general eye of day, we are no longer kept in the
porch, but admitted into the temple itself.
Wilton was left alone in the small parlour of the inn with Lady
Laura; and as soon as he heard the horses' feet gallop away, he
turned towards her with a glad smile. But when he did so, he found
that her beautiful eyes were now fixed upon him with a gaze deep and
intense--a gaze which showed that the whole thoughts and feelings of
her heart were abstracted from everything else on earth to meditate
on all that she owed to him, and on the things alone that were
She dropped her eyes as soon as they met his; but that one look was
overpowering to the man who now certainly loved her as deeply as it
is possible for man to love woman. Many a difficulty and doubt had
been removed from his mind by the words which Lord Sherbrooke had
spoken while affecting to seek for the warrant; and there were vague
hopes of high destinies in his heart. But it must be acknowledged,
that if there had been none, he would have given way, even as he did.
He advanced towards her, he took her hand in his, he pressed it
between both his own, he kissed it tenderly, passionately, and more
than once. Lady Laura lifted up her eyes to his face, not blushing,
but very pale.
"Oh, Wilton," she said, "what do I not owe you!" and she burst into
tears. The words, the look, the very tears themselves, were all more
than sufficient encouragement.
"You owe me nothing, Laura," Wilton said. "Would to God that I had
such an opportunity of serving you as to make me forgive in myself
the rash, the wild, the foolish feelings that, in spite of every
struggle and every effort, have grown up in my heart towards you, and
have taken possession of me altogether. But, oh, Laura, I cannot hope
that you will forgive them, I cannot forgive them myself. They can--I
know they can, only produce anguish and sorrow to myself, and excite
anger, perhaps indignation, in you."
"Oh no, no, no, Wilton!" she cried, eagerly, "not that, not that!
neither anger, nor indignation, nor anything like it, but grief--and
yet not grief either--oh no, not grief!--Some apprehension, perhaps,
some anxiety both for your happiness and my own. But if you do feel
all you say, as I believe and am sure you do, such feelings, so far
as depends upon me, should produce you no anguish and no pain; but I
must not conceal from you that I very much fear, my father would
An increasing noise at the door of the house broke in upon what Laura
was saying. There were cries, and loud tongues, and vociferations of
many kinds; among which, one voice was heard, exclaiming, "Go round
to the back door!"
Another person, apparently just under the window, shouted, "I am very
sure that was not the man!" and then added, "Bring out my horse,
however, bring out my horse! I'll catch them, and raise the hue and
cry as I go!"
At the same time there were other voices speaking in the passage, and
one loud sonorous tongue exclaiming, "Ali, Master Wicks, Master
Wicks! I thought you would get yourself into a scrape one of these
days, Master Wicks;" to which the low deep voice of the landlord was
"I have got myself into no scrape, your reverence. I don't know what
you mean or what you wait.--Search? You may search any part of the
house you like. I don't care! If there were twenty people here, I
have nothing to do with it. I can't refuse gentlemen to put up their
horses, or to give them a bowl of punch, or a mug of ale. There, sir,
there's a gentleman and lady in that parlour. Pray, sir, walk in, and
see whether they are Jacobites or smugglers or what riots."
As these words sounded close to them, Lady Laura sunk down again into
her chair; and Wilton, drawing a little back, hesitated, for a
moment, whether he should go out himself and notice what was taking
place, or not. The question, however, was decided for him by the door
of the room being thrown suddenly open, and the rotund person of the
clergyman of the parish, bearing, in the "fair round belly with fat
capon lined," the sign and symbol affixed by Shakspeare to the
"Justice of Peace," entered the apartment. He gazed with some
surprise upon two persons, who, notwithstanding some slight disarray
in their apparel from all the events which had lately taken place,
still bore the appearance of belonging to the highest class of
The reverend justice had entered the room with a look of pompous
importance, which was diminished, but not entirely done away, by
evident surprise at the appearance of Laura and Wilton. The young
gentleman, however, was not particularly well pleased with the
interruption, and still less with this domineering air, which he
hastened to extinguish as fast as possible.
"Pray, sir, what do you want?" he demanded, addressing the
magistrate, "and who are you?"
"Nay, sir," answered the reverend gentleman, "what I want is, to know
who you are. I have here information that there is in this house a
notorious Jacobite malefactor, returned from beyond seas, contrary to
law, named Sir George Barkley. I am a magistrate for the county, sir,
and I have information, I say."
"Upon oath, sir?" demanded Wilton.
"No, sir, not upon oath, not upon oath," replied the clergyman, "but
what is quite as good, upon the word of a Messenger of State, sir--of
Mr. Arden, the Council Messenger, sir."
"Landlord!" exclaimed Wilton, seeing the face of Wicks amongst
several others at the door, "be so good as to bring Mr. Arden, the
Messenger, here. Bring him by the collar, if he does not come
willingly. I will be answerable for the consequences."
The magistrate looked astounded; but the landlord came forward with a
grin and a low bow, saying, "The gentleman has mounted his horse,
sir, and ridden after those other two gentlemen who went away a
quarter of an hour ago; but, Lord bless you, sir," he added, with a
sly look, "he'll never catch them. Why, his horse is quite lame."
"The fact is," replied Wilton, "this man Arden did not choose to come
in here, as he well knew I should certainly send him to London in
custody, to answer for his bad conduct this night.--Sir, I beg to
inform you, that I am private secretary to the Earl of Byerdale; and
that this young lady, the daughter of the Duke of Gaveston, having
been carried off from the terrace near his house by agents, it is
supposed, of the late King James II., for the purpose of drawing over
her father to support that faction, the Duke, who is pleased to
repose some trust in me, authorized me, by this paper under his hand,
to search for and deliver the lady, while at the same time the Earl
of Byerdale intrusted me with this warrant for the purposes herein
mentioned, and put this man Arden, the Messenger, under my direction
and control. At the very first sight of danger the Messenger ran
away, and by so doing left me with every chance of my being murdered
by a gang of evil-disposed persons in this neighbourhood. On his
return with a large body of constables and some military to the house
of a person who is named Plessis, I understand, he refused to obey
the orders I gave him, and followed me hither, alleging that one of
two gentlemen who had come to my assistance, and to whom I owe my own
life and the liberation of this lady, was the well-known personage
called Sir George Barkley. Those gentlemen both departed, as soon as
they saw us in safety, and I am ready to swear that neither of them
was Sir George Barkley; the person this Messenger mistook for him
being a young gentleman of four or five and twenty years of age."
"Phoo!" cried the magistrate, with a long sort of whistling
sound--"Sir George Barkley is a man of fifty, with a great gash on
his cheek. I remember him very well, when--"
But then seeming to recollect himself, he paused abruptly, adding,
"But pray, who was this young gentleman who so came to your
"I never saw him in my life before," replied Wilton, "and the name he
gave himself was Captain Churchill."
"To be sure, to be sure!" cried the clergyman; "a younger brother of
my Lord of Marlborough's."
"Some relation of the Marlborough family, I believe," replied Wilton,
dryly. "However, I do not know the Earl's brother myself, nor am I
aware whether there is any other Captain Churchill or not; but this
was a young gentleman, evidently under thirty, and consequently he
could not be Sir George Barkley."
"I have searched the house high and low," said the voice of another
stout gentleman, who now pushed his way into the room; "and I can
find nothing but a sick cat up in the garret."
"Ay, ay, Brother Bulrush, ay, ay!" replied the clergyman; "ay, ay, it
is all explained. It is all that Messenger's fault, and he has now
run away again. This worshipful young gentleman is secretary to the
Earl of Byerdale, the great minister; and I'm sure we are both very
sorry to have given him any trouble."
"You have given me no trouble at all, gentlemen," replied Wilton,
"and I have only to beg that if the Messenger return after I am gone,
you will send him up to town tomorrow morning in the custody of a
constable. I shall not fail to report to Lord Byerdale your activity
and zeal upon the present occasion; which, indeed, may be of some
service, as I am sorry to say, that serious remonstrances have been
made regarding this part of the country, it being intimated, that
smuggling, coining, and even treasonable meetings and assemblies, are
more common here than in any other part of Kent."
"Indeed, sir," replied one of the justices, somewhat alarmed,
"indeed, it is not our fault. They are an unruly set, they are a most
unruly set. We do the best we may, but cannot manage them.--But, sir,
the young lady looks fatigued and tired. Had she not better come up
to the parsonage, and rest there this night. She shall have a good
warm bed, and Mrs. Jeffreys, who is a motherly sort of woman, will be
quite delighted to take care of her ladyship."
"Or Lady Bulrush either, I am sure," said the other magistrate. "The
manor-house is but half a mile."
Wilton turned to Laura, to inquire what she thought fit to do; but
the young lady, not very much prepossessed in favour either of the
motherly sort of clergyman's wife, or the more elevated Lady Bulrush,
by the appearance and manners of their marital representatives,
leaned both her hands upon Wilton's arm, feeling implicit confidence
in him alone, and security with him only; and, raising her eyes
imploringly to his face, she said in a low voice, "Indeed, indeed,
Wilton, I would rather not--I would rather go home to Beaufort House
at once, to relieve my poor father's anxiety."
"In truth," he replied, in the same tone, "I cannot but think it
would be better for you to obtain a night's rest, if you can, rather
than to take a long journey after such terrible agitation as you have
"Do not ask me--nay, do not ask me," she said; and then turning to
the magistrates, who were conferring together, and settling in their
own mind that a match was undoubtedly to take place between the Lady
Laura and the Earl of Byerdale's secretary, she added, "I am very
anxious to return to my father, gentlemen, and as a carriage has been
already sent for from Stroud, I would certainly prefer going on
to-night. I will very gratefully," she added--her apprehensions of
some new dangers occurring at the little public-house coming back
upon her mind--"I will very gratefully accept the shelter of the
parsonage, till the carriage arrives from Stroud, if by so doing I
shall not keep the lady up beyond her usual hour."
"Oh, not at all, madam, not at all," replied the clergyman: "Mrs.
Jeffreys will be delighted to see you.--Let us lose no time.--Wicks,
when the carriage comes, send it up to my house.--Ma'am, I will show
your ladyship the way."
Laura, however, still clung to Wilton's arm, as her best support; and
following the clergyman together, they proceeded to the parsonage,
escorted by a number of footmen, farming servants, and people
collected in haste, who had come to the examination of Wicks's house.
On their arrival, they were ushered into a tall dining-room with
carved panels, the atmosphere of which was strongly imbued with the
mingled odour of punch and tobacco, an unsavoury but at that time
very ordinary perfume in the dining-room of almost every country
gentleman. The mistress of the mansion, however, proved, in point of
manners and appearance, considerably superior to her lord and master,
and did all that she could in a very kind and delicate manner to
render the beautiful girl, cast for the time on her hospitality, as
comfortable as the circumstances would admit.
It is not to be denied, indeed, that both Wilton and Laura could at
that time have very well spared the presence of any other persons,
for there were feelings in the hearts of both which eagerly longed
for voice. There was much to be told; there was much to be explained;
there was much to be determined between them. There was, indeed, the
consciousness of mutual love, which is no slight blessing and
comfort, under any circumstances; but that very consciousness
produced the longing thirst for farther communion which nothing but
love can give.
When all has been said, indeed--when the whole heart has been poured
forth--when the first intense feelings of a new passion have worn
away, or, having grown familiar to our bosoms, surprise us no longer,
we can better bear the presence of others; for a look, an occasional
word, even a tone, will convey to the mind of those we love, all that
we could wish to say. But when love is fresh, and every feeling
produced thereby is new and wonderful to our hearts; when we make
hourly discoveries of new sensations in our own bosoms, and neither
know how to express them, nor how to conceal them, the presence of
others--cold, indifferent, strange--is no slight punishment and
Laura endeavoured, as far as possible, to keep down such feelings,
but yet she could not drive them from her bosom. The minutes seemed
long, tedious, and heavy: from time to time she would fall into a fit
of musing; from time to time she would answer wide from the question;
but it fortunately so happened, that the events which had lately
occurred, and her anxiety to rejoin her father, were causes
sufficient to account for greater inequalities of conduct than these.
In the meantime, Wilton was subjected to the same, or even greater
pain, from the impossibility of saying all that he could have wished
to say; and he had, moreover, to contend both against the civility of
his landlord, individually, and the curiosity of the two magistrates,
conjointly, who did not fail, during the time that he remained, both
to press hire to eat and drink, in spite of all denials and
remonstrances, and to torment him with questions, many of them
frivolous in the extreme, not only concerning the events in which he
had been lately engaged, but also in regard to everything that was
taking place in London.
Nearly two hours passed in this unpleasant manner; but at length the
joyful sound of carriage-wheels announced that the man who had been
sent to Stroud had returned. Laura was eager to set out; but the
motherly care of good Mrs. Jeffreys detained her for some time
longer, by insisting upon wrapping her warmly up in cloaks, and
mantles, and hoods, to guard against the cold of the wintry night.
At length all was ready; and Wilton led her down to the carriage,
which it seems had been procured with difficulty; the machines called
post-chaises being not so common in those days as they became within
fifty years afterwards. The two magistrates stood bowing low to the
young lady as she entered the tall, long-backed, but really not
uncomfortable vehicle. The landlord of the inn, too, and his ostler,
were there; and Wilton failed not to pay them liberally for the
services they had rendered. He then briefly gave his own address, and
that of the Duke to his reverend entertainer, and entered the
carriage beside the Lady Laura, with a heart beating high with the
hope and expectation of saying all and hearing all that the voice of
love could speak.
For once--perhaps the only time that ever such a thing happened in
this world--hope and expectation were not disappointed. Wilton seated
himself by the side of Laura, the postilion cracked his whip, which
was then as common in England as it is now in France, the horses went
forward, and the wheels rolling through the little street of High
Halstow, were soon upon the road to Stroud.
There was a silent pause between Wilton and Laura for some minutes,
neither of them could very well tell why; for both of them had been
most anxious for the opportunity, and both of them had been not a
little grieved that their former conversation had been interrupted.
The truth is, however, that very interruption had rendered the
conversation difficult to renew; for love--sometimes the most
impudent of all powers--is at other times the most shy and bashful.
Wilton, however, found that he must not let the silence go on much
longer, and he gently took Laura's hand in his, saying, perhaps
"Dear Laura, everything that we have to say to each other, must be
"Oh, Wilton!--" was her only reply; but she left her hand in his, and
he went on.
"You had just spoken, when we were interrupted," he said, "words that
made me very, very happy, though they were coupled with expressions
of fear and apprehension. I have nothing to tell you, dear Laura,
that can altogether remove those fears and apprehensions, but I can
say something, perhaps, that may mitigate them. You are not aware of
the circumstances in which I have had the happiness of seeking you
and finding you this night; but you doubtless heard me mention, that
it was your father who intrusted me with the search; and surely, dear
Laura, that must show no slight trust and confidence on his part--may
I add, no slight regard."
"Oh, I am sure he feels that for you," replied Laura, "quite sure!
but yet such a trust shows, indeed, far more regard than I knew he
entertained, and that gives me some degree of hope. Still, I cannot
judge, Wilton, unless I had seen the manner in which my father did
it. You must tell me all that has been done and said in this
unfortunate business: you must tell me everything that has occurred.
Will you?--and I will tell you, upon my word, exactly what the
impression is that it all makes upon my mind."
Wilton had not spoken of their love; Laura had not mentioned the
subject either; but they had done fully as much, they had referred to
it as a thing known and acknowledged. Wilton had recalled words that
had made him very happy, and Laura had spoken of hopes which could
only apply to her union with himself.
He now, however, told her all that had occurred, briefly though
clearly. He dwelt not, indeed, on his own feelings during the painful
events lately past; but the few words that he did speak on that
subject were of such a kind as to show Laura instantly the distress
and anxiety which her disappearance had caused him, the agony that he
had suffered when he thought that she was lost to him for ever. The
whole of her father's conduct, as displayed by Wilton, seemed to her
strange and unaccountable; and well it might do so! for her lover
told her the terrible state of mind in which the Duke had been at
first, and yet he did not think fit to explain, in any degree, the
causes which he felt sure had prevented her father from joining in
the search himself. Notwithstanding all that had taken place in the
presence of Laura, he judged it far better to avoid any mention of
the unfortunate hold which Sir John Fenwick had obtained over the
Duke, by drawing him in to take a share, however small, in the great
Jacobite conspiracy of the day.
Laura, then, was greatly surprised at all she heard; and that Wilton
should be employed in the affair seemed to her not the least strange
part of the whole business. An expression of this surprise, however,
induced Wilton to add, what he still in some degree feared, and had
long hesitated to say.
"I do not, indeed, believe, dear Laura," he said, "that your father
would have trusted me so entirely in this business, if it had not
been for some words concerning myself which were spoken to him by
Lord Byerdale when I was not present. They were repeated to me
afterwards by Sherbrooke, and were to the effect, that although, in
consequence of some of the late unfortunate disturbances in the
country--the rebellions, the revolutions, the changes of dynasties
that have happened within the last twenty years--it was necessary to
conceal my birth and station, yet my blood was as pure and ancient as
that of your father himself. This, I think, made a change in all his
feelings towards me."
Wilton felt the small rounded fingers of Laura's hand rest, for a
single instant, more heavily in his own, while she drew a deep long
breath, as if a weight had been taken from her bosom.
"Oh, Wilton!" she said, "it makes all the difference in his views. It
will make all the difference in our fate. You know that it would make
none to me; that the man I loved would be loved under any
circumstances of fortune or station, but with him it is the first,
the greatest consideration. There may be difficulties still; there
may be opposition; for, as you know, I am an only child, and my
father thinks that nothing can equal what I have a right to expect;
but still that opposition will vanish when he sees that my happiness
is concerned, if the great and predominant prejudice of his education
is not arrayed against us. Oh! Wilton, Wilton, your words have made
me very happy."
Her words certainly made Wilton happy in return;--indeed, most
happy. His fate had suddenly brightened from all that was dark and
cheerless, from a situation in which the sweet, early dream of love
itself but rendered everything that was sombre, painful, and
distressing in his course, more gloomy, more bitter, more full of
despair, it had changed, to the possession and the hope of all that
the most sanguine imagination could have pictured of glad, and
joyful, and happy, to the prospect of wealth and station, to the hope
of obtaining the being that he loved best on earth, and to the
certainty of possessing her early, her first, her warm, her full
Had Wilton given way to what he felt at that moment, he would have
clasped her to his heart and sealed the covenant of their love on the
sweet lips that gave him such assurance of happiness. But he
remembered that she was there alone with him, in full confidence,
under the safeguard of all his best feelings, and he would not for
the world have done one thing that in open day could have called the
colour into her cheek. He loved her deeply, fully, and nobly, and
though, under other circumstances, he might scarcely have hesitated,
he now forebore. But again and again he pressed his lips upon her
hand, and thanked her again and again for all that she had said, and
for all the hopes and glad tidings that her words implied.
Their conversation then turned to love, and to their feelings towards
each other. How could it be helped? And Wilton told her all; how the
passion had grown upon him, how he had struggled hard against it, how
not even despair itself had been able to crush it; how it had gone on
and increased in spite of himself; how intense, how ardent it had
become. He could not tell her exactly, at least he would not, what he
had felt on her account, when he believed that she was likely to
become the bride of Lord Sherbrooke; but he told her fully, ay, and
eloquently, what agony of mind he had endured when he thought of
seeing her give her hand to any other man, without affording him an
apparent chance of even making an effort for himself. In short, he
gave her the whole picture of his personal feelings; and there is no
woman that is not gratified at seeing such a picture displayed, when
she is herself the object. But to a mind such as that of Lady
Laura, and to feelings such as were in her bosom, the tale offered
higher and nobler sources of delight. The love, the deep love, which
she felt, and which was now acknowledged to her own heart, required
every such assurance of full and ample return as his words afforded,
to render it confident and happy. But from the display of his
feelings which he now made, she felt, she saw, she knew that she was
loved as she could wish to be--loved as fully, as intensely, as
deeply, as she herself loved--loved with all those feelings, high,
and bright, and sweet, which assured her beyond all question that the
affection which she had inspired would be permanent as well as
Wilton won her, too, to speak upon the same subject as himself,
though, of course, he could not expect her to dwell upon what she
felt in the same manner. There was a great difference: on the one
hand, all the sensations of his heart towards her were boldly avowed
and minutely detailed; the history of his love was told in language
straightforward, eager, and powerful. The love of her bosom, on the
contrary, was shadowed forth rather than spoken, admitted rather than
told, her feelings were referred to, but not depicted.
"You make me glad, Wilton," she said, "by telling me all this, for I
almost feared--and was teasing my own heart about it at the rectory,
lest I should have done the unwomanly thing of loving first--I will
not call it, being too easily won; for I should certainly despise the
woman who thought anything necessary to win her, when once she
really loved, further than the conviction of her lover's sincerity,
and honour, and nobility of spirit. But yet I thought, that even you
might somewhat despise me, if you found that I had loved you before
you loved me. And yet, Wilton," she added, after a momentary pause,
"I cannot help thinking that even if it had been so, I should have
been more pardonable than many people, on account of the very great
services you have rendered me at various times, and the perils you
have encountered in my behalf. How could I help loving a man who has
twice risked his life for me?"
"Oh, dear Laura," replied Wilton, "those services have been very
small ones, and not worthy of your naming. I certainly did strive to
conceal my love," he continued; "but I believe that, let us struggle
against our feelings as we will, there are always some signs and
tokens which show to the eyes of those we love--if there be any
sympathy between their hearts and ours--that which is passing in
regard to themselves within the most secret places of our bosom.
There is a cabalistic language in love, Laura--unknown to any but
those who really do love, but learnt in a moment, when the mighty
secret is communicated to our hearts. We speak it to each other
without knowing it, dear Laura, and we are understood, without an
effort, if there be sympathy between us."
In such conversation wore the night away, as the carriage wended
slowly onward. Two changes of horses were required to carry Laura and
her lover back to the metropolis, and bells had to be rung, ostlers
and postilions wakened, horses brought slowly forth, and many another
tedious process to be gone through, which had brought the night
nearly to a close, before the carriage crossed the wide extent of
Blackheath, and passed through a small part of the town of Greenwich,
which had then never dreamt of the ambitious project that it has
since achieved, of climbing up that long and heavy hill.
Wilton and Laura had sufficient matter for conversation during the
whole way: for when they had said all that could be said of the
present and the past, there still remained the future to be
considered; and Laura entreated her lover by no precipitate eagerness
to call down upon them opposition, which, if it showed itself of a
vehement kind at first, might only strengthen, instead of diminishing
with time. She besought him to let everything proceed as it had
hitherto done, till his own fate was fully ascertained, and any doubt
of his birth and station in society was entirely removed.
"Till that is the case," she said, "to make any display of our
feelings towards each other might only bring great pain upon us both.
My father might require me not to see you, might positively forbid
our thinking of each other; whereas, were all difficulties on that
one point removed, he might only express a regret that fortune had
not been more favourable to you, or require a delay, to make him
certain of our sincere and permanent attachment. After that point is
made clear, let us be open as the day with him. In the meanwhile, he
must receive you as a friend who has rendered him the greatest and
deepest of services; and I shall ever receive you, Wilton, I need not
tell you, as the only dear and valued friend that I possess."
"But suppose, dear Laura," said Wilton, "suppose I were to see you
pressed to marry some one else; suppose I were to see some suitor in
every respect qualified to hope for and expect your hand--"
"You do not doubt me, Wilton?" said Lady Laura.
"Oh no!" he replied. "Not for a moment, Laura. But it would be very
"It would be so to us both," she replied; "but I would take care that
the pain should soon be brought to an end. Depend upon it, Wilton,
it will be better as I say; let us not, in order to avoid uncertain
pains and dangers, run into certain ones."
Wilton at once yielded to her views, and promised to be entirely
guided by her opinion.
The day broke upon them just as they were passing through London, on
their way to Beaufort House; but the night which had just passed had
left them with changed feelings in many respects. It had been one of
those eventful periods which come in, from time to time, like
revolutions in states, to change entirely the very constitution of
our whole thoughts and feelings, to give a new character and entirely
new combinations to the strange microcosm within us. That great
change had been effected in Laura by that which is the great first
mover of a woman's destinies. She loved and had avowed her love: she
was married in spirit to the man beside her, and she felt that to a
heart like hers eternity itself could not dissolve the tie which had
that night been voluntarily established between them. She viewed not
such things as many, nay, most other women view them; she looked not
on such engagements, she looked not on such affections, as things to
be taken up and dropped, to be worn to-day, in the gloss of novelty,
and cast away to-morrow, like a fretted garment; she judged not that
it was the standing before the altar and receiving the ring upon her
finger, and promising to wear out earthly existence with another
human being, that constitutes the union which must join woman to the
man of her heart. But she regarded the avowal of mutual love, the
promise of unchanging affection, as a bond binding for ever; as, in
fact, what we have called it, the marriage of the spirit: as a thing
never to be done away, which no time could break, no circumstances
dissolve: it was the wedding of--forever. The other, the more
earthly union, might be dear in prospect to her heart, gladdening to
all her hopes, mingled with a thousand bright dreams of human joy,
and tenderness, and sweet domestic peace: but if circumstances had
separated her the next hour from Wilton for ever, she would have felt
that she was still his wife in heart, and ended life with the hope of
meeting him she had ever loved, in heaven. To take such ties upon
herself, then, was in her estimation no light thing; and, as we have
said, the period, the short period, of that night, was sufficient to
effect a great, a total change in all the thoughts and feelings of
The change in Wilton was of a different kind, but it was also very
great. It was an epoch in man's destiny. His mind was naturally
manly, powerful, and decided; but he was very young. The events of
that night, however, swept away everything that was youthful or light
from his character for ever. He had acted with vigour, and power, and
determination, amongst men older, better tried, and more experienced
than himself. He had taken a decided and a prominent part in a scene
of strife, and danger, and difficulty, and he had (to make use of
that most significant though schoolboy phrase) "placed himself." His
character had gone through the ordeal: without any previous
preparation, the iron had been hardened into steel; and if any part
had remained up to that moment soft or weak, the softness was done
away, the weakness no longer existed.
If we were poets or fabulists, and could invest inanimate objects
with all the qualities and feelings of animate ones; if, with all the
magic of old AEsop, we could make pots and kettles talk, and endue
barn-door fowls with the spirit of philosophy, we should be tempted
to say that the great gates of Beaufort House, together with the
stone Cupids on the tops of the piers, ay, and the vases of carved
flowers which stood between those Cupids, turned up the nose as the
antiquated, ungilt, dusty, and somewhat tattered vehicle containing
the Lady Laura Gaveston and Wilton Brown rolled up.
The postboy got off his horse; Wilton descended from the vehicle, and
applied his hand eagerly to the bell; and Laura, who had certainly
thought no part of the journey tedious, did now think the minutes
excessively long till the gates should be thrown open. In truth, the
hour was still an early one; the morning cold and chilly, with a grey
biting east wind, making the whole scene appear as if it were looked
at through ground glass; and neither the porter nor the porter's wife
had thought it expedient to venture forth from their snug bed at such
an unpropitious moment. A second time Wilton applied his hand to the
bell, and with more success than before, for in stays and petticoat,
unlaced and half tied, forth rushed the grumbling porter's wife, with
a murmured "Marry come up: people are in great haste: I wonder who is
in such a hurry!"
The sight of Wilton, however, whom she had seen very lately with the
Duke, but still more the sight of her young lady, instantly altered
her tone and demeanour, and with a joyful swing she threw the gates
wide open. The chaise was drawn round to the great doors of the
house, and here a more ready entrance was gained.
"Is the Duke up?" demanded Wilton, as the servant opened the door.
"Oh yes, sir," replied the man: "he was up before day-break: but he
is not out of his dressing-room yet."
Laura ran up the steps into the vestibule, to see her father, and to
relieve his mind at once from all that she knew he was suffering on
her account. She paused, however, for a moment at the top to see if
Wilton followed; but he merely advanced a few steps, saying, "I will
leave you to converse with your father; for, of course, I have very
much to do; and he will be glad to spend some time with you alone,
and hear all that you have to tell him."
"But you will come back," said Lady Laura, holding out her hand to
him: "you will not be away long."
"Until the evening, perhaps," said Wilton, pressing that fair hand in
his own: "I may have many things to do, and the Earl may also require
"Oh, but you must come to dinner--I insist," said Lady Laura. "You
know I have a right to command now," she added, in a lower tone, "and
therefore I will tell my father to expect you at dinner."
"I will come if I can," replied Wilton, "but--"
His sentence was interrupted, however, by the Duke's voice at the top
of the stairs, exclaiming, "Surely that is Laura's voice? Laura,
Laura! My child, my dear child!"
And the next moment, Lady Laura, darting on, was in her father's
Wilton Brown turned away; and without waiting to press a third person
upon a scene which should always be enacted between two alone, he got
into the post-chaise, and bade the postilion drive him back into
London, for it must be recollected that Beaufort House was out of the
town. This was easily accomplished, as the reader may imagine; and
having dressed himself, and removed the traces of blood and travel
from his face, he hastened to the house of Lord Byerdale, to give
hire an account of the success of his expedition.
The Earl had not been long up; but he had already gone to his cabinet
to write letters, and take his chocolate at the same time. On
entering, Wilton, without any surprise, found Arden, the Messenger,
in the presence of the Earl; for the man, knowing that the situation
in which he stood was a somewhat perilous one, was of course anxious
to make the best of his story before the young gentleman appeared.
What did very much surprise Wilton, however, was the gracious and
even affectionate manner in which the Earl received him. He rose
from his chair, advanced two or three steps to meet him, and shaking
him warmly by the hand, exclaimed, "Welcome back, my dear Wilton. So
you have been fully and gallantly successful, I find. But what is all
this that Arden is telling me? He is making a terrible accusation
against you here, of letting off Sir George Barkley, one of the most
notorious Jacobites in Europe--a very dangerous person, indeed."
"My lord," replied Wilton, "Mr. Arden is repeating to you a falsehood
which he devised last night. It is quite true, indeed, that if he had
not been a most notorious coward, and run away at the first
appearance of danger, there might have been a chance, though a very
remote one, of our securing Sir George Barkley."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the Earl: "then you did meet with him?"
"Amongst the persons whom I had to encounter," replied Wilton, "there
was a gentleman whom they called Sir George, and who, from his
height, his age, and a deep scar upon his cheek, I have no earthly
doubt, is Sir George Barkley: but he had been gone for an hour before
this mighty brave gentleman, having collected forty or fifty people
to keep his own head from harm, thought fit to come back and seek for
me. The person who was with me when he did return was a tall
fine-looking young man of five or six and twenty."
"Indeed!" said the Earl. "Who could that be?"
"He called himself Captain Churchill," replied Wilton. "I do not
mean to say, my lord, that I believe such was his real name; for I do
not: but I never saw Captain Churchill at all; and I never saw this
gentleman till the moment when he came to my aid and rescued me, with
the assistance of another, from the hands of as desperate a set of
men as I ever met in my life, and who would certainly have murdered
me had it not been for his arrival. I have a report to make to your
lordship upon all Mr. Arden's proceedings, who, notwithstanding your
most positive commands to obey me in all things, has refused to obey
me in anything, and by the delays he has occasioned, and the
obstructions he has thrown in my way, very nearly prevented me from
effecting the liberation of Lady Laura at all."
"Your lordship will believe what you choose," replied Arden, in a
saucy tone. "All I mean to say is, I am sure that gentleman was not
Captain Churchill; and so you will find, if you inquire. Whoever he
was, Mr. Brown aided his escape, and prevented me from doing my
"Your duty, sir, was to obey Mr. Brown," replied the Earl, sternly;
"for that I shall take care that you are punished; and if it should
prove that this gentleman was really Captain Churchill, you shall be
dismissed from your office. You will attend here again at two
o'clock, by which time I shall have written to Captain Churchill, to
know whether he was the person present or not.--Now leave the room."
Arden slunk doggedly away, seeing that Wilton's star happened to be
in the ascendant. Had he known how much it was so, however, having
often heard the Earl speak sharply and discourteously to the young
gentleman, he would have been more surprised even than he was at the
change which had taken place. The moment he was gone, and the door
closed, the Earl again shook Wilton by the hand.
"You have accomplished your task most brilliantly, Wilton," he said,
"and I shall take care that you reap the reward of your diligence and
activity, by any effort that depends upon me; but from all that I
have seen, and heard, and know, you are likely to obtain, from the
very act itself, far higher recompences than any that I could bestow.
You are indeed a fortunate young man."
"I am fortunate in your lordship's approbation," replied Wilton; "but
I see not why you should call me so in any other respect, except,
indeed, in being so fortunate as to effect this young lady's
"In that very respect," replied the Earl, with a look full of
meaning. "Good heavens! my dear Wilton, are you blind? If you are so,
I am not; and at your age, certainly I should not have been blind to
my own advantage. You think, perhaps, that because Lady Laura has
refused to marry Sherbrooke, and broken off the proposed alliance
between our families, it would make me angry to find she had placed
her affections anywhere else. But I tell you no, Wilton! Quite the
contrary is the case. The discovery that she has done so, at once
banished all the anger and indignation that I felt. If with a free
heart she had so decidedly refused my son, I should have considered
it as little less than an insult to my whole family, and, in fact,
did consider it so till Sherbrooke himself expressed his belief that
she was, and has been for some time, attached to you. His words
instantly recalled to my memory all that I had remarked before, how
the colour came up into her cheek whenever you approached her, how
her eye brightened at every word you said. That made the matter very
different. I could not expect the poor young lady to sacrifice her
first affection to please me: nor could I wish her, as you may well
imagine, to marry Sherbrooke, loving you. This is the reason that
makes me say that you area most fortunate man; for the service that
you have rendered her, the immense and important service, gives you
such a claim upon her gratitude, as to make it easy for her at once
to avow her attachment. It gives you an enormous claim upon the Duke,
too; and I have one or two little holds upon that nobleman which he
knows not of--by which, indeed, he might be not a little injured, if
I were a revengeful man, but which I shall only use for your best
"But, my lord," replied Wilton, "you seem totally to forget my humble
birth and station. How--situated as I am--could I dare to ask the
Duke for his daughter's hand, the only remaining child of such a
house, the heiress of such immense wealth?"
"Fear not, fear not, Wilton," said the Earl, laying his hand upon his
arm. "Fear not: your blood is as good as the Duke's own; your family,
older and as noble."
"I have sometimes thought, my lord," replied Wilton, wishing to gain
as much information as possible--"I have sometimes thought, in the
utter ignorance wherein I have been left of my own history, that I am
the son of one who has indeed been a father to me, Lord Sunbury,--the
natural son, I mean."
"Oh no!" cried the Earl, with an air almost of indignation: "you are
no relation of his whatsoever. I knew not who you were when you first
came hither; but I have since discovered, and though at present I
must not reveal anything farther to you, I tell you, without
hesitation, to set your mind at ease, to pursue your suit towards
Lady Laura, if you have really any regard for her, and to aspire to
her hand. In a very few months more you shall know all."
Wilton cast down his eyes, and mused.
"This is not a little strange," he said; "but I know I may place
implicit reliance on your lordship's word, and proceed in a matter
where I own my heart is deeply engaged, without the risk of calling
upon myself a charge of gross presumption."
"You may, you may," answered the Earl, eagerly; "and if the Duke
should discover your mutual affection, and make any objection, merely
refer him to me. But now let us hear more of your adventures of
yesterday and last night."
Wilton would have been very well contented to muse for a few minutes
over what the Earl said. Although his experience of the world was not
great, yet he had a sufficient portion of good sense to supply
experience in a high degree. This good sense told him, that a sudden
and extraordinary change in the demeanour of any man, but more
especially in that of a man both subtle and determined, was more or
less to be suspected. He would fain, then, have obtained time to seek
for the real motives and views of the Earl of Byerdale, in the
extraordinary fit of kindness and condescension which had seized upon
him; for he could almost fancy that the Earl was contriving his ruin,
by engaging him in some rash endeavour to obtain the hand of Lady
Strong, however, in her love, he resolved to go on, to deal with her
and with her father in all honour, and, supposing even that the Earl
was endeavouring to play him false, to try whether straightforward
and upright honesty, guided by a clear head, a firm heart, and a well
prepared mind, might not win the game against subtilty and worldly
The Earl marked him as he mused for a minute, but saying nothing more
upon the subject of his hopes, still pressed him to speak of the
events of the preceding day. It was somewhat difficult for Wilton so
to shape his words as not to mention Lord Sherbrooke, and not to
involve himself in any such distinct account of the Jacobites and
their proceedings as might lead to their arrest, and force him at
some future period to become a witness against them. He succeeded
tolerably well, however. He could not, and indeed he did not, think
it right to conceal, that he was perfectly certain the men he met
with were engaged in the most dark and dangerous designs. But he
stated, at the same time, that such was merely the impression upon
his mind, for that no distinct avowal of their purposes had been made
in his presence, so as to justify him in charging them with treason.
"Nevertheless, my lord," he added, "I think it highly and absolutely
necessary for you to take the same measures as if you knew that a
general insurrection was contemplated, for I feel perfectly certain
that something of the kind is in agitation."
The Earl smiled. "Now tell me, Wilton," he said, "amongst these
worthy conspirators, did you see any one that was personally known to
"Come, come, my young friend," said the Earl--"you must speak out. We
will not make an evidence of you, I promise you; and, indeed, both
the King himself and all his ministers would be very glad that these
persons should get beyond sea, and relieve us of their troublesome
presence, provided--mark me--provided, there does not exist the
clearest and most distinct proof, not alone that they are conspiring
to overthrow the present dynasty--for such conspiracies have been
going on in every corner of the kingdom, and in the heart of every
family, for the last ten years, so that we should only make them
worse by meddling with them--but that these men are conspiring in a
darker, a more dangerous, a more treasonable, or a more dishonourable
manner, than has ever been clone before. I must explain this business
to you, Wilton, and my views upon it. Politicians have adopted as a
maxim that a plot discovered and frustrated always strengthens the
hands of the existing government; but this maxim is far too general,
and consequently often proves false and dangerous in application.
The conditions under which the discovery and frustration of a plot do
really strengthen the hands of government are peculiar. There must be
circumstances attending upon the whole transaction which, when the
plot is exposed, either destroy the means of future conspiracies
formed upon the same basis, remove for ever the objects of the
conspirators, or cause a great change in public feeling, in regard to
their views and motives. If the discovery be so general, the
frustration so complete, and the punishment so severe, as to raise
the power and authority of the government in the eyes of the people,
to awaken a wholesome fear in the disaffected, and to encourage and
elevate the well disposed and the friends of the state, a very great
object is certainly gained; and that which was intended to ruin a
government or overthrow a dynasty, serves but to root it more
firmly than before. There is another case, also, which is very
applicable at the present moment. If there be something in the nature
and designs of the conspiracy, so odious in its means, its character,
and its objects, as to enlist against the conspirators sensations of
horror, indignation, and contempt, one gains from public feeling very
much more by its discovery and exposure, than even by the power of
fear over the disaffected, and the elevation of triumph on the part
of the well disposed. But in other circumstances, either when partial
discoveries are made, when the success is not of the most absolute,
general, and distinct kind, when the objects of the conspirators
excite many sympathies, the errors they commit admit of easy
palliation, the means they employ are noble, generous, and
chivalrous, and the fate they undergo is likely to produce
commiseration, the detection and crushing of them only tends to
multiply and strengthen similar endeavours. With such conspiracies as
these, no wise minister will ever meddle, if he can help it; the more
quiet the means he can adopt to frustrate them, the better; the less
he exposes them and brings them into light, the greater will be his
success; for they are like the Lernwan serpent, whose heads
multiplied as they were smitten off; and it is far more easy to
smother them privately than to smite them in public. This is the view
I myself take of the matter; this is the view the King takes of it;
and you may have remarked that there has been no attempt made for
many years to investigate or punish plots here and there, although we
have bad the proofs that hundreds existed every year. In this
instance, however, the matter is different. There is reason to
believe that the present conspiracy is one of such a dark and
horrible nature, as instantly to excite the indignation of the whole
people, to make all the better part of the Jacobites ashamed of the
deeds of their friends, and to rouse up universal feelings of loyalty
throughout the land. The fact is, the thing is already discovered.
Information has long been tendered to the government by various
persons implicated: but acting upon the plan which we have generally
pursued, such advances have been met coldly, till last night more
distinct, and definite information was given by some one, who, instead
of being actuated by motives of gain, or of fear, as we suspected in
all other cases, came forward, it seems, from personal feelings of
gratitude towards the King himself. His majesty promised this person
not to bring him forward in the business at all, and has refused to
give up his name, even to me. But his conviction of the truth of all
that was told was so strong, that the previous informer was sent for
last night at one o'clock to the palace at Kensington, to which place
I also had been summoned. The whole facts, the names, the designs of
everybody concerned, were then completely discovered, and I have been
busying myself ever since I rose, in adopting the proper measures for
arresting and punishing the persons directly implicated. Having
explained to you these views, I must now put my question again. Did
you see any one amongst these conspirators with whose person you were
acquainted? I only ask for my own satisfaction, and on every account
shall abstain from bringing your name forward, in the slightest
"There was only one person, my lord," replied Wilton, who had
listened with deep interest to this long detail; "there was only one
person, my lord, that I had ever knowingly seen before, and that was
Sir John Fenwick."
"I signed a warrant for his arrest half an hour ago," rejoined the
Earl, "and there are two Messengers seeking him at this moment. I
think you said you saw Sir George Barkley?"
"I cannot absolutely say that, my lord," replied Wilton; "but I
certainly saw a gentleman whom I believed, and most firmly do still
believe, to be him: he was a tall, thin, sinister-looking man, of a
somewhat saturnine complexion, with a deep scar on his cheek."
"The same, the same," said the Earl, "undoubtedly the same. Listen,
if you know any of these names;" and he read from a list--"Sir
William Parkyns, Captain Rookwood, Captain Lowick, Sir John Friend,
Charnock, Cranburne, the Earl of Aylesbury--"
"The Earl certainly was not there, my lord," replied Wilton; "for I
know him well by sight, and I saw no one, I can assure you, whom I
knew, but Sir John Fenwick."
"And this Plessis, at whose house you saw them," continued the
Earl--"did he seem to be taking a share in the business with them? He
is an old friend of mine, this Master Plessis; and obtains for me
some of the best information that I ever get from abroad. I do not
know what I should do without Plessis. He is the most useful man in
the world. We must let him off, at all events; but it will be no bad
thing to have a rope round his neck, either."
"I cannot say, my lord," replied Wilton, "that he took any part
whatsoever in the business. In the matter of setting free Lady Laura,
he showed himself more afraid of these good gentry than fond of them,
and after their arrival, he ran away and hid himself."
"And yet," said the Earl, "he's a rank Jacobite, too. But that does
not signify. He's an excellent creature, and the greatest rogue in
Christendom. All this chocolate comes from him; there's nothing like
it in Europe. Won't you take some, Wilton? I forgot to ask if you had
broken your fast."--Wilton replied that he had not, and the Earl made
him sit down and follow his example, of writing letters and taking
his chocolate at the same time. One of the notes, however, which the
Earl himself wrote, attracted his secretary's attention in some
degree; for as soon as Lord Byerdale had concluded it, he rang the
bell and gave it to a servant, saying, "Take that to Captain
Churchill's lodgings. You know where he lives, just in Duke Street.
Wait for an answer."
The man went away, and business proceeded. At the end of about an
hour, however, the servant returned, saying, as an excuse for his
long absence, that Captain Churchill was in bed when he reached his
house, and that his valet had refused to wake him.
"When he did wake, however, my lord," added the man, "he said he
would not detain me to write a note, as I had been kept so long
already; but would wait upon your lordship at the hour you named."
Shortly after the return of the servant, the Earl took up his papers,
and prepared to proceed to Whitehall. Before he went, however, he
paused opposite to the table at which Wilton was writing, and looking
at him for a moment with a smile, he said,--
"You are surprised, Wilton, and have been puzzling yourself with the
reason why I take so much more interest in you than I used to do. I
will explain it all to you, Wilton, in one word. I did not at first
know who you were. I now do, as I have before hinted; and my conduct
to one whom I believed to be a natural son of the Earl of Sunbury,
and who was forced upon me somewhat against my own will, was of
course very different from that which I show towards a young
gentleman of a high and noble family, not very distantly related to
myself.--Now are you satisfied?"
And with these words he left the room. Yet, strange to say, Wilton,
though not a little surprised at what he heard, knew the Earl of
Byerdale, and was NOT satisfied. But at all events, the words which
had passed set his mind at ease, in regard to Laura. He now felt that
he was committing no breach of confidence; that he was pursuing no
presumptuous suit, in seeking the object of his dearest and his
brightest hopes; that though fortune might still be adverse, and such
wealth might never be his, as to place him in a position equal, in
that respect, to herself, yet he had every right and title to strive
for her hand with the noblest of the land.
Wilton did not, indeed, entertain the vain thought that he brought
with him a treasury of distinguished talents, high and noble
feelings, a generous spirit, and a gallant heart--qualities which
many a competitor, if not most, would want:--he did not, indeed, so
argue the matter with himself; but there was in his bosom the proud
consciousness of deserving well, and the still more strengthening and
emboldening confidence, of loving well, truly, nobly, as Laura
deserved to be loved.
Still, however, he was not satisfied with the sudden change in the
Earl of Byerdale: there was something in it that roused suspicion;
and he resolved to watch all that noble man's proceedings steadily
and keenly, and if possible never to be off his guard for a moment.
Before the time appointed for the return of Arden, the Messenger, the
Earl himself came home, bearing a smile of dark satisfaction on his
"Four or five of these gentry," he said, as he entered, "are already
in custody, and one or two have been brought before the council. A
man of the name of Cook, and another, seem well inclined to become
approvers. If so, the matter will be easily managed. I find the
rumour is spreading all over the town, with various additions and
improvements, of course. I even hear that there were reports of it
all yesterday, though neither the King, nor I, nor any one else, knew
aught of the matter then."
"Are any of the principals caught, my lord?" demanded Wilton. "I
confess, I believe that man, Sir John Fenwick, to be as great a
villain as any upon earth; nor do I look upon him as a man of much
"He is not caught," replied the Earl; "but we have got one poor
foolish fellow, called Sir John Friend, who has shown himself a
friend to anybody but himself;" and he laughed at his own joke. "I
rather suspect," he continued, "that there are a good many people not
a little anxious for Fenwick's escape. With the exception of Sir
George Barkley, he is undoubtedly the man of most importance amongst
them. He is nearly connected, you know, with all the Howards, and was
very intimate with your good friend the Duke. He is well acquainted
with Lord Aylesbury, too; and I can tell you there are a good many
suspicions in that quarter. There is another noble lord, Lord
Montgomery, implicated; and all these good folks are suspected," and
he proceeded to read a list of some twenty or thirty names. "But
there is no intention of dealing harshly," he added; "and a
distinction will be made between the more culpable and the less. Pray
has Captain Churchill been here?"
"Not yet that I have heard of, my lord," replied Wilton; "but I
fairly tell your lordship that I do not think he was the man I saw,
though that was the name given."
The Earl rang the bell which stood upon the table, and when a servant
appeared, demanded if Captain Churchill had been there.
The servant replied in the negative, but added that Mr. Arden was
waiting. The Earl ordered him to be sent in; and the Messenger
accordingly entered, bearing on his face an air of triumph and
insolence which provoked Wilton's anger a good deal.
"Well, my lord," he said, not waiting for the Earl of Byerdale to
speak--"I have got proof positive now, for I have been at Captain
Churchill's lodgings, pumping his servants, and they tell me that he
was very ill all yesterday, as, indeed, I knew he was, and in bed the
greater part of the day."
"Indeed!" said the Earl. "This is strange enough! But as you say,
Wilton, that you do not think it was really Captain Churchill, the
name might be given merely as a nom de guerre, and the person giving
it might be a very honest man, too."
Before he could conclude, one of the servants announced that Captain
Churchill waited without; and in a moment after he was admitted,
presenting to Wilton's eyes a person not very unlike in size and form
the Duke of Berwick, and somewhat resembling him in countenance, but
several years older, and somewhat darker in complexion.
He entered with a gay and smiling air, and with a grace of carriage
and demeanour which was common to himself and his brother, afterwards
the famous Duke of Marlborough.
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