The King's Highway
G. P. R. James
Part 9 out of 10
is a near relation of mine."
Wilton started, and turned round as if he would have gazed in his
companion's face, but the darkness of the night prevented him from
well seeing what was passing there. As he recalled, however, his
first interview with Green, his look, his manner, and the jesting
tone in which he sometimes spoke, he could not but acknowledge that
there was something in the whole resembling Lord Sherbrooke not a
little, although Green was a much taller and more powerful man.
"This is strange enough, Sherbrooke," he replied, "if you are not
joking; and, indeed, I think you are not, for there is a certain
likeness between you and him, though more in the manner than in the
"It is quite true," replied Lord Sherbrooke; "he is a near relation.
But, however, in regard to the Duke, I see not how he can help you,
though he certainly does very wonderful things sometimes, which
nobody expects or can account for. I would hear all he has to say,
then; but at the same time, Wilton, I would not neglect the other
business with Vernon, for, you see, the Colonel names Saturday. This
is Monday, and before that time the Duke's head may be upon a pole,
for aught we know. They make short work with trials and executions in
"I will not fail," answered Wilton, "I will not fail. In such a case
as this it is scarcely possible to do too much, and very possible to
do too little. I trust your father will not detain me the whole day
"Oh no!" replied Lord Sherbrooke: "I am going to remove the cause,
Wilton. As soon as ever I arrived last night, I perceived that the
Earl was delicately working at some grand scheme regarding the Duke,
and I very soon perceived, too, that he was determined you and I
should not have an opportunity of talking the matter over, for fear
we should spoil proceedings. I was obliged to watch my opportunity
to-night with great nicety, but to-morrow I go back, that is to say,
if my sweet Caroline is ready to go with me, for I am the most
obedient and loving of husbands, as all reformed rakes are, you know,
"But is the lady in town, and at your father's?" demanded Wilton,
"She is in town, dearly beloved," replied Lord Sherbrooke, "but
certainly not at my father's; and now, Wilton, ask me no more upon
the subject, for, between you and me, I know little or nothing more
myself. I know not what brings her into London; who she comes to see
here, or who the note was from that called her so suddenly up to this
great den of iniquity. It is a very horrible thing, Wilton, a very
horrible thing, indeed," he continued, in the same jesting tone,
"that any woman should have secrets from her husband. I have heard
many matrons say so, and I believe them from my whole heart; but I've
heard the same matrons say that there should be perfect reciprocity,
which, perhaps, might mean that the wife and the husband were to have
no secrets from each other, which, I am afraid, in my case, would
never do, so I am fain to let her have this secret of her own,
especially as she promises to tell me what it is in a few days.
Reciprocity is a fine thing, Wilton; but it is wonderful what a
number of different sorts of reciprocity there are in this world.
Look there. Do you know there is something that puzzles me about that
"Why, that is Lord Sunbury's," replied Wilton; "but there are lights
up in the drawing-room apparently."
"Ay, that's one part of the story that puzzles me," said Lord
Sherbrooke. "I think the old housekeeper must be giving a drum. My
valet tells me that on Saturday morning last there was a hackney
coach stopped at that house, and two men went into it: one seemed a
gentleman wrapped in a long cloak, the other looked like a valet, and
stayed to get a number of packages out of the coach. Now I cannot
suspect that same old housekeeper, who, as far as I recollect, is
much like one of the daughters of Erebus and Nox, of carrying on an
amorous correspondence with any gentleman; and it is somewhat strange
that she should have lent the use of her master's house, either for
love or money. I should not wonder if the Earl himself had come to
London before his baggage."
"I should think not," replied Wilton; "I should certainly think not.
I had a letter from him not long ago, dated from Paris, and I think
he certainly would have written to inform me if he had been coming."
"I am not so sure of that, by any means, Wilton," replied his friend.
"I can tell you, that two or three things have happened to his good
lordship lately, which, with all his kindness and benevolence, might
make him wish to see two or three other people before he saw you.
There is a report even now busy about town that he is corresponding
from Paris privately and directly with the King, and that his arrival
in England will be followed by a change of ministry, if he will
consent to take office again, which seems to be very doubtful."
These tidings interested Wilton not a little; and perhaps he felt a
curiosity to ascertain whether Lord Sherbrooke's suspicion was or was
not correct. His mind, however, was too high and delicate to admit of
his taking any steps for that purpose, and after some more
conversation on the same subject, he and his friend parted.
On the following morning Wilton had an opportunity of visiting the
Duke of Shrewsbury's office, and found Mr. Vernon disengaged. To him
he communicated all that he had to say in defence of the Duke, and
found Vernon mild in his manners and expressions, but naturally
cautious in either promising anything or in giving any information.
He heard all that Wilton had to say, however, and assured him that he
would lay the statement he made before the King on the ensuing
morning, adding, that if he would call upon him in the course of the
next day he would tell him the result. He smiled when Wilton
requested him to keep his visit and its object secret, and nodded his
head, merely replying, "I understand."
On the following day Wilton did not fail to visit him again, and
waited for nearly an hour till he was ready to receive him.
"I am sorry," said Vernon, when he did admit him, "that I cannot give
you greater satisfaction, Mr. Brown; but the King's reply, upon my
application, was, that he had already spoken with the Earl of
Byerdale on the subject. However, it may be some comfort to you to
know that his grace of Shrewsbury takes an interest in the situation
of the Duke, and has himself written to the King upon the subject."
It was about the hour of noon, and the day was dull and oppressive.
Though the apartments assigned to the Duke were high up, and in
themselves anything but gloomy, yet no cheering ray of sunshine had
visited them, and the air, which was extremely warm, seemed loaded
with vapour. The spirits of the prisoner were depressed in
proportion, and since the first hour of his imprisonment he had
never, perhaps, felt so much as at that moment, all the leaden weight
of dull captivity, the anguish of uncertainty, and the delay of hope,
which, ever from the time of the prophet king down to the present
day, has made the heart sick and the soul weary. It was in vain that
his daughter, with the tenderest, the kindest, the most assiduous
care, strove to raise his expectations or support his resolution; it
was in vain that she strove to wean his thoughts away from his own
painful situation by music, or by reading, or by conversation. Grief,
like the dull adder, stops its ear that it may not hear the song of
the charmer; and while she sang to him or played to him upon the
lute, at that time an instrument still extremely common in England,
or read to him from the books which she thought best calculated to
attract his attention, she could see by the vacant eye that sometimes
filled with tears, and the lips that from time to time murmured a
word or two of impatience and complaint, that his thoughts were all
still bent either upon the sad subject of his captivity, or upon the
apprehension of what the future might bring.
At the hour of noon, then, the servant whom the Duke had chosen to
wait upon him, and who was freely admitted to the prison, as well as
a maid to attend upon the Lady Laura, entered the apartment in which
the Duke sat, and announced that the Earl of Byerdale was in the
antechamber. The Duke started up with an expression of joy, ordering
him to be admitted instantly; and the Earl entered, assuming even an
unusual parade of dignity in his step, and contriving to make his
countenance look more than commonly severe and sneering, even though
there was a marked smile upon it, as if he would imply that no slight
pleasure attended his visit to the Duke.
"My dear lord," he said, "I really have to apologize for not having
waited upon you before, but it has been quite impossible. Since the
King's return I have been called upon daily to attend his majesty,
besides having all the usual routine of my office to go through;
otherwise I can assure your grace that I should have been with you
long ago, as both duty and inclination would have prompted me to wait
upon you. I am happy to see you so comfortably lodged here. I was
afraid that, considering the circumstances, they might have judged it
right to debar you of some indulgences; but my lord the governor is a
good-hearted, kindly man.--Lady Laura, how are you? I hope you are
quite well. I grieve, indeed, to see you and your father in this
place; but alas! I had no power to prevent it, and indeed, I fear, I
have very little power to serve you now."
"From your lordship's words," said the Duke, after having habitually
performed the civilities of the apartment--"from your lordship's
words, I fear that you take a bad view of the case, and do not
anticipate my speedy deliverance."
"Oh, you know," answered the Earl, "that the trial must take place
before we can at all judge what the King's mercy may incline him to
do; but I fear, my lord, I fear that a strong prejudice prevails
against your grace. The King, as well may be, is terribly indignant
at all persons concerned with this plot."
"He may well be, indeed," said the Duke; "for nothing ever made me
more indignant than when I first heard of the purposed assassination
and invasion myself. With that I had nothing on earth to do. I should
have hoped that his majesty's indignation on other points would have
subsided by this time, and that clemency would have resumed her sway
towards those who may have acted imprudently but not criminally."
"Not yet, not yet, I fear, my lord," replied the Earl; "six months,
or a year longer, indeed, would have made all the difference. If your
grace had but taken the advice and warning given you by my wise and
virtuous young friend, Wilton, and made your escape at once to
Flanders, or any neutral ground. I am sure I gave you opportunity
"But, my lord," replied the Duke, "Wilton never gave me any warning
till the very morning that I was arrested. It is true, indeed," he
added, recollecting the circumstances, "poor Wilton and I
unfortunately had a little quarrel on the preceding night, and he
left me very much offended, I believe, and hurt, as I dare say he
told you, my lord."
"Oh, he told me nothing, your grace," replied Lord Byerdale.
"Wilton, knowing my feeling on the subject, very wisely acted as he
knew I should like, or, at least, INTENDED TO ACT as he knew I should
like, without saying anything to me upon the subject. I might very
well remain somewhat wilfully ignorant of what was going on, but I
must not openly connive, you know.--Then it was not really," he
continued, "that your grace refused to go?"
"Oh, not in the least, not in the least!" replied the Duke. "I
received his note early on the next morning, after he left me, and
was consulting with my dear child here as to the necessary
arrangements for going, when the Messengers arrived."
"Most unfortunate, indeed," said the Earl. "I had concluded, judging
from your letter to me on the preceding day, that your grace that
afternoon, notwithstanding all I had said regarding the young
gentleman's family, refused him the honour to which he aspired, and
would not follow the advice he gave."
Lady Laura rose, and moved towards one of the windows; and her
father, with his colour a little heightened, and his manner somewhat
agitated, replied, but in a low tone, "I did indeed refuse him
Laura's hand, and, I am afraid, somewhat harshly and angrily; but I
never refused to take his advice or warning."
"Ay, but the two subjects are so mingled up together," said the Earl,
"that the one may be considered to imply the other."
"I see not how, my lord, I see not how they are so mingled," said the
"Ay, it may be difficult to explain," answered the Earl, "and I
cannot do it myself; but so it is. It might not indeed be too late
now, if it were not for this unfortunate prejudice of yourself or
Lady Laura against my young friend, who, I must say, has served you
"How not too late, my lord?" demanded the Duke, eagerly: "all
prejudices may be removed, you know; and if there were any prejudice,
it was mine."
"Still it would be an obstacle," answered the Earl; "and the whole
matter would of course be rendered much more difficult now. There
might be still more prejudices to be overcome at present.--May I
ask," he added, abruptly, "if you have still got the note which
Wilton sent you?"
"No," answered the Duke, "no. I destroyed it immediately, out of
regard for his safety."
"It was a wise precaution," answered the Earl, "but unnecessary in
his case. He has friends who will manage to justify whatever he does
of that kind. Humble as he is in all his deportment, he can do many
things that I could not venture to do. I have heard the King himself
say, in presence of one half of his council, that he is under great
personal obligations to Wilton Brown."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the Duke; "but may I request your lordship to
inform me what it was you meant just now? You said it might not be
yet too late."
"I fear, my lord, I must not talk to your grace on the subject," said
the Earl; "there might be conditions you would not comply with. You
might not like even the idea of flying from prison at all."
"I do not see why, my lord," exclaimed the Duke, "I really do not see
why. But pray, may I ask what are the conditions?"
"Nay, I make neither any suggestions nor conditions," replied the
Earl, who saw that the Duke was fully worked up to the pitch he
wished, "I only spoke of such a thing as escape being very possible,
if Wilton chose to arrange it; and then of course the conditions he
might require for his services struck my mind."
"Why as yet, my lord," answered the Duke, "our noble young friend has
not even named any condition as the price of his services."
"Perhaps, your grace," replied the Earl, "he may have become wiser by
experience. If I have understood you both right, his hopes were
disappointed, and hopes which he imagined he entertained with great
"No, my lord, no!" cried the Duke. "He had no reason for entertaining
such hopes. I cannot admit for a moment that I gave him any cause for
"Nay, then, my lord duke," replied the Earl, with an offended look,
"if such be your view of a case which everybody in London sees
differently, the more reason why Wilton should make sure of what
grounds he stands upon before he acts further in this business.
However, I have nothing to do with the affair farther than as his
sincere friend, and as having the honour of being his distant
relation, which of course makes me resolute in saying that I will not
see his feelings sported with and his happiness destroyed. Therefore,
your grace, as we shan't agree, I see, upon these matters, I will
humbly take my leave of you." And he rose, as if to depart.
"Nay, nay, my lord--you are too hasty," replied the Duke. "I beseech
you, do not leave me in this way. I may in former instances have
given Wilton hopes without intending it; but the matter is very much
altered now, when he has done so much more for me in every way. I do
not scruple at all to say that those objections are removed."
"Perhaps, my lord," said the Earl, sitting down again, and speaking
in a low voice, "we had better discuss the matter in private. Could I
not speak to you apart for a moment or two? Suppose we go into the
"Nay, nay," said the Duke, "Laura will leave us.--Go to your room, my
love," he added, raising his voice. "I would fain have a few minutes
conversation with my noble friend alone."
"Very wrong of you, Lord Byerdale," she said, with a smile, as she
walked towards the door, "to turn me out of the room in this way."
Lord Byerdale smiled, and bowed, and apologized, all with an air of
courtier-like mockery. The moment she was gone, however, he turned to
the Duke, saying, "Now, my lord duke, we are alone, and I will beg
your grace to give me your honour that no part of our present
conversation transpires in any circumstances. I can then hold much
more free communication with you. I can lay before you what is
possible, and what is probable, and you can choose whatever path you
"Most solemnly I pledge my honour," replied the Duke, "and I can
assure your lordship that I fully appreciate Mr. Brown's merits and
his services to me. He has not only talents and genius, but a
princely person and most distinguished manners, and I could not have
the slightest objection, as soon as his birth is clearly ascertained
"My lord duke," replied the Earl, interrupting him, "I fear your
lordship is somewhat deceiving yourself as to your own situation and
his. Wilton, I tell you, can easily find the means of effecting your
escape from this prison, and can insure your safe arrival in any
continental port you may think fit to name. I do not mean to say that
I must not shut my eyes; but for his sake and for yours I am very
willing to do so, if I see his happiness made sure thereby."
The Duke's eyes sparkled with joy and hope, and the Earl went on.
"Your situation, my lord, at the present moment, you see, is a very
unfortunate one, or such a step would in no degree be advisable. But
at this period, when the passions of the people and the indignation
of the King are both excited to the highest pitch; when there is, as
I may call it, an appetite for blood afloat; when the three
witnesses, Sir John Fenwick, Smith, and Cook, to say nothing of the
corroborative evidence of Goodman, establish beyond doubt that you
were accessorily, though perhaps not actively, guilty of high
treason--at this period, I say, there can be little doubt that if you
were brought to trial--that is, in the course of next week, as I have
heard it rumoured--the result would be fatal, such, in short, as we
should all deplore."
The Duke listened, with a face as white as a sheet, but only replied,
in a tremulous tone, "But the escape, my lord! the escape!"
"Is quite possible and quite sure," replied the Earl. "I must shut my
eyes, as I have said, and Wilton must act energetically; but I cannot
either shut my eyes or suffer him to do so, except upon the following
precise condition, which is indeed absolutely necessary to success.
It is, that the Lady Laura, your daughter, be his wife before you set
your foot from without these walls."
"But, good heavens, my lord!" exclaimed the Duke--"how is that
possible? I believe that Laura would do anything to save her father's
life; but she is not prepared for such a thing. Then the marriage
must be celebrated with unbecoming haste. No, my lord, oh no! This is
quite impossible. I am very willing to promise that I will give my
consent to their marriage afterwards; but for their marriage to take
place before we go is quite impossible--especially while I am a
prisoner in the Tower of London--quite impossible!"
"I am sorry your grace thinks so," replied the Earl, drily; "for
under those circumstances I fear that your escape from the Tower will
be found impossible also."
A momentary spirit of resistance was raised in the Duke's breast by
feelings of indignation, and he tried for an instant to persuade
himself that his case might not be so desperate as the Earl depicted
it; that in some points of view it might be better to remain and
stand his trial, and that the King's mercy would very likely be
obtained even if he were condemned. But that spirit died away in a
moment, and the more rapidly, because the Earl of Byerdale employed
not the slightest argument to induce him to follow the plan proposed.
"My lord, this is a very painful case," he said, "a very painful
"It is, Duke," replied the Earl, "it is a painful case; a choice of
difficulties, which none can decide but yourself. Pray do not let
anything that I can say affect you. I thought it right, as an old
friend, to lay before you a means of saving yourself; and no one can
judge whether that means be too painful to you to be adopted, as
nobody can tell at what rate you value life. But you will remember,
also, that forfeiture accompanies the sentence of death in matters of
high treason, and that Lady Laura will therefore be left in a painful
"Nay, my lord, nay," said the Duke, "if it must come to that, of
course I must consent to any terms, rather than sacrifice everything.
But I did not think Wilton would have proposed such conditions to
"Nor does he, my lord," replied the Earl: "he is totally ignorant of
the whole matter. He has never, even, that I know of, contemplated
your escape as possible. One word from me, however, whispered in his
ear, will open his eyes in a minute. But, my lord, it must be upon
the condition that I mention. Wilton's father-in-law may go forth
from this prison before twelve to-morrow night, but no other prisoner
within it shall, or indeed can."
"Well, my lord, well," replied the Duke, somewhat impatiently, "I
will throw no obstacle in the way. Laura and Wilton must settle it
between them. But I do not see how the matter can be managed here in
"Oh, that is easily arranged," replied the Earl--"nothing can be more
easy. There is a chaplain to the Tower, you know. The place has its
own privileges likewise, and all the rest shall be done by me. Am I
to understand your grace, that you consider yourself pledged upon
The Duke thought for a moment, and the images of the trial by his
peers, the block and the axe, came up before his sight, making the
private marriage of his daughter with Wilton, and the escape to
France or Flanders, appear bright in the comparison.
"Well, my lord, well," he said, "I not only pledge myself, but pledge
myself willingly. I always liked Wilton, I always esteemed him
highly; and I suppose he would have had Laura at last, if he did not
have her now."
"I congratulate you on your approaching freedom, Duke," said the
Earl, "and as to the rest, I have told you perfectly true, in saying
that it is not Wilton who makes any conditions with you. He knows
nothing of the matter, and is as eager to set you at liberty without
any terms at all, as you could be yourself to obtain it. You had
better, therefore, let me speak with him on the subject altogether.
Should he come here before he sees me, only tell him that the
marriage is to take place to-morrow evening, that it is all settled
between you and me, and that as to the means of setting you free, he
must talk with me upon the subject. You must then furnish him with
your consent to the immediate marriage under your own hand. After
that is done, he and I will arrange all the rest."
The Duke acquiesced in all that was proposed to him, having once
given his consent to the only step which was repugnant to him to
take. Nay more, that point being overcome, and his mind elevated by
the hope of escape, he even went before Lord Byerdale in suggesting
arrangements which would facilitate the whole business.
"I will tell Laura after you are gone, my lord," he said, "and her
consent will be easily obtained, I am sure, both because I know she
would do anything to save my life, and because I shrewdly
believe--indeed she has not scrupled to admit--that she loves this
young man already. I will manage all that with her, and then I will
leave her and Wilton, and Wilton and your lordship, to make all the
rest of the arrangements."
"Do so, do so," said the Earl, rising, "and I will not fail, my lord,
as soon as you are safe, to use every influence in my power for the
purpose of obtaining your pardon, which will be much more easily
gained when you are beyond the power of the English law, than while
you are actually within its gripe."
The Earl was now about to take his departure, and some more
ceremonious words passed between him and the Duke, in regard to their
leave-taking. Just as the Earl had reached the door, however, a
sudden apprehension seemed to seize the prisoner, who exclaimed,
"Stay, my good lord, stay, one moment more! Of course your lordship
is upon honour with me, as I am with you? There is no possibility, no
probability, of my escape being prevented after my daughter's hand is
Nothing more mortified the Earl of Byerdale than to find, that,
notwithstanding all his skill, there was still a something of
insincerity penetrated through the veil he cast over his conduct, and
made many persons, even the most easily deceived, doubtful of his
professions and advances.
"I trust your grace does not suspect me of treachery," he said, in a
sharp and offended tone.
"Not in the least, not in the least, my lord," replied the Duke; "but
I understood your lordship to say, that my escape by the means
proposed would be rendered quite certain, and I wish to ascertain
whether I had not mistaken you."
"Not in the slightest degree, my lord duke," replied the Earl. "I
pledge you my honour, that under the proposed arrangements you shall
be beyond the doors of this prison, and at perfect liberty, before
the dawn of day on Monday morning. I pledge myself to you in every
respect, and if it be not so, I will be ready to take your place.
Does this satisfy you?"
"Quite, quite," answered the Duke. "I could desire nothing more." And
the Earl, with a formal bow, opened the door and left him.
As soon as the Earl of Byerdale was gone, the Duke called Laura from
her room, and told her what had been proposed. "Laura," he said, as
he concluded, "you do not answer me: but I took upon me to reply at
once, that you would be well pleased to lay aside pride and every
other feeling of the kind, to save your father from this torturing
suspense--to save perhaps his life itself."
Laura's cheeks had not regained their natural colour since the first
words respecting such a sudden marriage were spoken to her. That her
father had consented to her union with Wilton was of course most
joyful; but the early period fixed for such an important, such an
overwhelming change in her condition, was startling; and to think
that Wilton could have made it the condition of his using all his
exertions in her father's cause would have been painful--terrible, if
she could have believed it. We must not, indeed, say, that even if it
had been really so, she would have hesitated to give him her hand,
not only for her father's sake, but because she loved him, because,
as we have said before, she already looked upon herself as plighted
to him beyond all recall. She would have tried to fancy that he had
good motives which she did not know; she would have tried, in short,
to find any palliation for such conduct; but still it would have been
very painful to her--still it might, in a degree, have shaken her
confidence in high and upright generosity of feeling, it might have
made her doubt whether, in all respects, she had found a heart
perfectly responsive to her own.
"My dear father," she replied, gazing tenderly upon him, and laying
her two hands on his, with a faint smile, "what is there that I would
not do for such objects as you mention, were it ten thousand times
more than marrying the man I love best, even with such terrible
suddenness.--It is very sudden, indeed, I must say; and I do wonder
that Wilton required it."
"Why, my dear Laura," replied the Duke, "it was not exactly Wilton
himself. It was Lord Byerdale took it all on his own shoulders: but
of course Wilton prompted it; and in such circumstances as these I
could not hesitate to consent."
Lady Laura looked down while her father spoke; and when her first
agitation was over, she could not but think, that perhaps,
considering her father's character, Wilton was right; and that the
means he had taken, though apparently ungenerous, were the only ones
to secure her own happiness and his, and her father's safety also.
The next instant, however, as she recollected a thousand different
traits in her lover's conduct, and combined those recollections with
what her father said concerning Lord Byerdale, she became convinced
that Wilton had not made such conditions, and that rather than have
made them he would have risked everything, even if the Duke were
certain to deny him her hand the moment after his liberation.
"I do not think, my dear father," she replied, as this conviction
came strong upon her--"I do not think that Wilton did prompt the Earl
of Byerdale. I do not think he would make such conditions, on any
"Well, it does not matter, my dear Laura," replied her father, whose
mind was totally taken up with his own escape. "It comes to the same
thing. The Earl has made them, if Wilton has not, and I have pledged
my word for your consent. But hark, Laura, I hear Wilton's step in
the outer room. I will leave you two together to make all your
arrangements, and to enter into every explanation," and he turned
hurriedly towards the door which led to his bedroom.
Ere he reached it, however, he paused for a moment, with a sudden
fear coming over him that Laura might by some means put an end to all
the plans on which he founded his hopes of liberty.
"Laura," he said, "Laura--for heaven's sake show no repugnance, my
dear child. Remember, your father's safety depends upon it." And
turning away, he entered his bedroom just as Wilton opened the
Laura gazed upon her lover, as he came in; and asked herself, while
she marked that noble and open countenance, "Is it possible he could
make any unworthy condition?"
Wilton's face was grave, and even sad, for he had again applied to
Vernon, and received a still less satisfactory reply than before; but
he was glad to find Laura alone, for this was the first time that he
had obtained any opportunity of seeing her in private, since she had
been permitted to join her father in the Tower. His greeting, then,
was as tender and as affectionate as the circumstances in which they
stood towards each other might warrant; but he did not forget, even
then, that subject which he knew was of the deepest interest to her
--her father's situation.
"Oh, dearest Laura," he said, "I have longed to speak with you for a
few minutes alone, and yet, now that I have the opportunity, I have
nothing but sad subjects to entertain you with."
His words confirmed Laura's confidence in his generosity. She saw
clearly that he knew not what had been proposed by the Earl; the very
conviction gave her joy, and she replied, looking up playfully and
affectionately in his face,--
"I thought, Wilton, that you had come to measure my finger for the
ring," and she held out her small fair hand towards him.
"Oh, would to Heaven, dear Laura," he answered, pressing the hand
that she had given to his lips--"would to Heaven, that we had arrived
at that point!--But, Laura, you are smiling still. You have heard
some good news: your father is pardoned: is it not so?"
"No, Wilton, no," she said, "not quite such good news as that. But
still the news I have heard is good news; but it is odd enough,
Wilton, that I should have to tell it to you; and yet I am glad that
it is so."
She then detailed to him all that had occurred, as far as she had
learned it from her father. Wilton listened with surprise and
astonishment; but, though at the joyful tidings of the Duke's
consent, and at the prospect of her so soon becoming his irrevocably,
he could not restrain his joy, but clasped her in rapture to his
heart, yet there was a feeling of indignation, ay, and of doubt and
suspicion also, in regard to Lord Byerdale's conduct, and his
purposes, which mingled strangely with his satisfaction.
"Although, dear Laura," he said, "although this is a blessed hope for
ourselves, and also a blessed hope for your father, I cannot help
saying that Lord Byerdale has acted very strangely in this business,
and very ill. It may be out of regard for me; but it is a sort of
regard I do not understand; and, were it not that I am sure my dear
Laura has never for a moment doubted me, I should say that he in some
degree compromised my honour, by making that consent a condition of
your father's safety, which should only be granted to affection and
Laura coloured slightly, to think that she had even doubted for an
instant: but Wilton went on, relaxing the graver look that had come
over his countenance, and saying, "We must not, however, my dear
Laura, refuse to take the happiness that is offered to us, unless,
indeed, you should think it very, very terrible to give me this dear
hand so soon; and even then I think my Laura would overcome such
feelings, when they are to benefit her father."
"I do not feel it so terrible, Wilton," replied Lady Laura, "as I did
ten minutes ago. If I thought that you had made the condition, it
would seem so much more as if you were a stranger to me, that it
might be terrible. But when I hear you speak as you do now, Wilton, I
feel that I could trust myself with you anywhere, that I could go
away with you at any moment, perfectly secure of my future happiness;
and so I reply, Wilton, that I am not only willing, but very
"We must lose no time, then, dear Laura," replied Wilton, "in making
all our arrangements. I must now, indeed, have the measure of that
small finger, and I must speed away to Lord Byerdale with all haste,
in order to learn the means that are to be employed for your father's
escape. I must inquire a little, too, into his motives, Laura, and
add some reproaches for his having so compromised me."
"For Heaven's sake, do not--for Heaven's sake, do not!" cried Laura.
"My father would never forgive me, if, in consequence of anything I
had said, you and Lord Byerdale were to have any dispute upon the
matter, and the business were to fail."
"Oh, fear not, fear not, Laura," replied Wilton, smiling at her
eagerness: "there is no fear of any dispute."
"Nay, but promise me," she said--"promise me, Wilton."
"I do promise you, dear Laura," he replied, "that nothing on earth
which depends upon me, for your father's liberation or escape, shall
be wanting, and I promise you more, my beloved Laura, that I will not
quarrel with the means, because my Laura's hand is to be mine at
"Well, Wilton," continued Laura, still fearful that something might
make the scheme go wrong, "I trust to you, and only beg you to
remember, that if this does not succeed, my father will never forgive
either you or me."
Some farther conversation upon these subjects ensued, and all the
arrangements of Laura and Wilton were made as far as it was possible.
There were feelings in the mind of Wilton--that doubt of ultimate
success, in fact, which we all feel when a prospect of bright and
extraordinary happiness is suddenly presented to us, after many
struggles with difficulties and dangers--which led him to linger and
enjoy the present hour. But after a time, as he heard the clock chime
two, and knew that every moment was now of importance, he hastened
away to seek the Earl of Byerdale, and hear farther what was to be
done for the escape of the Duke.
The Earl was not at home, however, nor at his office, and Wilton
occupied himself for another hour in various preparations for the
events that were likely to ensue. At the end of that time he returned
to the Earl of Byerdale's house, and was immediately admitted.
"Well, Wilton!" exclaimed the Earl, as soon as he saw him, with a
cheerful smile, in which there was, nevertheless, something
sarcastic--"have I not done well for you? I think this proud Duke's
stomach is brought down sufficiently."
"I am only grieved, my lord," replied Wilton, "that either the Duke
or Lady Laura should have cause to think that I made it a condition
she should give me her hand before I aided in her father's escape.
There seemed to me something degrading in such a course."
The Earl's brow, for a moment, grew as dark as a thunder-cloud, but
it passed away in a sneer, and he contented himself with saying, "Are
you so proud, also, my young sir?--It matters not, however. What did
the Duke say to you? He showed no reluctance, I trust. We will bring
his pride down farther, if he did."
"I did not see the Duke, my lord," replied Wilton, a good deal
mortified at the tone the Earl assumed--"I only saw Lady Laura."
"And what said she?" demanded the Earl. "Is she as proud as her
"She showed no repugnance, my lord," replied Wilton, "to do what was
necessary for her father's safety; and when she saw how much pained I
was it should be thought that I would make such a condition with her,
she only seemed apprehensive that such feelings might lead to any
derangement of your lordship's plan."
"What?" said the Earl. "You were very indignant, indeed, I suppose,
and abused me heartily for doing the very thing that is to secure you
happiness, rank, station, and independence. But she conquered, no
doubt. You promised to concur in my terrible scheme? Is it not so,
"Yes, my lord, I did," replied Wilton.
"Upon my word, you are a pretty gentleman, to make ladies sue you
thus," continued the Earl, in a jeering tone. "I dare say she made
you vow all sorts of things?"
"I pledged myself solemnly, my lord," replied Wilton, "to do all that
depended upon me to forward your lordship's plan for the Duke's
escape, and she knows me too well to entertain a doubt of my keeping
that promise to the letter."
"Not my plan, not my plan, Wilton," said the Earl, in a more pleasant
tone. "It must be your plan, my young friend; for I might put my head
in danger, remember. It is a different thing with you, who are not
yet sworn of the privy council. I will take care, also, that no harm
shall happen to you. The Duke was talking of some valet that he has,
whom he wishes to send out of the prison to-morrow night. Now, what I
propose, in order to facilitate all your arrangements with regard to
Lady Laura, is to give you an order upon the governor of the Tower to
suffer you and Lady Laura, and one man-servant and one maid, to pass
out any time to-morrow before twelve o'clock at night. I write a
little note to the Governor at the same time, telling him that, with
the consent of all parties, you and Lady Laura are to be married
privately in the Tower, to-morrow evening, by the chaplain, and I
have provided you with all the necessary authorizations for the
chaplain. You will find them there in that paper.--My note will not
at all surprise the Governor, because it has been the common talk of
the town for the last two months that you were going to be married to
Lady Laura, and most likely the good Governor has not heard of the
Duke's whims at Somersbury. The note will therefore only serve as a
reason for your wishing to go out late at night, which is contrary to
rules, you know. The Governor will give orders about it to his
subordinates, as he is going down to spend a day or two at Hampton
Court, and testify his duty to the King. If, therefore, you go away
with your attendants towards midnight, you will find nobody up who
knows the Duke, and a livery jacket and badge may cover whomsoever
you like. A carriage can be waiting for you on Tower Hill, and a
small brig called the Skimmer is lying with papers sealed and
everything prepared a little below Greenwich.--Now, Wilton," he
added, "if this does not succeed in your hands, it is your fault. Do
you agree to every part of this as I have laid it before you?"
"Most assuredly, my lord," replied Wilton, with eager gladness; "and
I can easily show Laura now, that there is a sufficient motive for
our marriage taking place so rapidly and so secretly."
"I did not think of that," said the Earl, much to Wilton's surprise.
"However, I shall leave to you entirely the execution of this scheme,
Wilton. You understand that my name is never to be mentioned,
however, and I take it as a matter of honour, that whatever be the
result, you say not one word whatsoever to inculpate me."
"None, my lord--none, upon my honour!" replied Wilton.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, Wilton?" demanded the Earl.
"If not, just be good enough to copy out that letter for me against
my return, for the carriage is at the door, and I must go in haste to
Kensington, to see the King depart for Hampton Court. The papers are
all there in that packet I have given you--the order, the note, the
special licence, and everything. Is there anything more?"
"Nothing, my lord. I thank you most sincerely," replied Wilton,
sitting down to copy the letter, while the Earl took up his hat and
cane, and walked a step or two towards the door. The Earl paused,
however, before he reached it, and then turned again towards Wilton,
gazing upon him with a cold, unpleasant sort of smile.
"By the way, Wilton," he said, "I promised to tell you part of your
own history, but did not intend to do it for some little time. As we
are likely however to be separated for a month or two by this
marriage trip of yours, there is one thing that I may as well tell
you. But you must, in the first place, promise me, upon your honour
as a gentleman, and by all you hold most sacred, not to reveal one
word thereof to any one, till the safety of the Duke is quite
secured--do you promise me in that solemn manner?"
"I do, indeed, my lord," replied Wilton, "and feel most sincerely
grateful to your lordship for relieving my mind on the subject at
"Well, then, Wilton," continued the Earl, "you may recollect I said
to the Duke that there was as ancient and good blood in your veins as
in his own or in mine. Now, Wilton, my uncle, the last Earl of
Byerdale, had two other nephews besides myself, and you are the son
of one of them, who, espousing the cause of the late King James, was
killed at the battle of the Boyne, and all he had confiscated. Little
enough it was. You are his son, I say, Wilton. Do you hear?--His
natural son, by a very pretty lady called Miss Harriet Oswald!--But
upon my honour I must go, or I shall miss the King."
And turning round with an air of perfect coolness and composure, the
Earl quitted the room, leaving Wilton thunderstruck and overwhelmed
The whole of the Earl's dark scheme was cleared up to Wilton's eyes
in a moment; and the secret of his own fate was only given to him in
conjunction with an insight into that black and base transaction, of
which he had been made an unwitting tool.
Horrible, most horrible to himself was the disappointment of all his
hopes. The bright dreams that he had entertained, the visions of gay
things which he had suffered the enchanter Imagination to call forth
from the former obscurity of his fate, were all dispelled by the
words that he had just heard spoken; and everything dark, and painful
and agonising, was spread out around him in its stead. He was as one
who, having fallen asleep in a desert, has dreamt sweet dreams, and
then suddenly wakes with the rising sun, to find nothing but arid
desolation around him.
Thus, painful indeed would have been his feelings if he had only had
to contemplate his situation in reference to himself alone; but when
he recollected how his position bore upon the Duke and Laura, the
thought thereof almost drove him mad. The deceit which had been
practised upon him had taught him to entertain hopes, and to pursue
objects which he never would have dreamed of, had it not been for
that deceit. It had made him throw open his heart to the strongest of
all affections, it had made him give himself up entirely to ardent
and passionate love, from which he would have fled as from his bane,
had he known what was now told to him. He had been made also the
instrument of basely deceiving others. He knew that the Duke would
never have heard of such a thing as his marriage with Lady Laura; he,
knew that in all probability he would never have admitted him into
any extraordinary intimacy with his family, if he had not firmly
believed that he was anything but that which he was now proved to be.
He did not know, but he doubted much whether Laura, knowing her
father's feelings upon such a subject, would ever have thought of him
otherwise than as an ordinary acquaintance. He knew not, he could not
tell, whether she herself might not upon that subject entertain the
same feelings as the Duke. But what would be their sensations, what
their astonishment, what their indignation, when they found that they
had been so basely deceived, when they found that he had been
apparently a sharer in such deceit! Would they ever believe that he
had acted unwittingly, when the whole transaction was evidently to
the advantage of none but himself; when he was to reap the whole of
the solid benefit, and the Earl of Byerdale had only to indulge a
revengeful caprice? Would anybody believe it? he asked himself: and,
clasping his hands together, he stood overpowered by the feeling of
having lost all hope in his own fate, of having lost her he loved for
ever, and, perhaps, of having lost also her love and esteem, and the
honourable name which he had hitherto borne.
For a few minutes he thus remained, as it were, utterly confounded,
with no thought but the mere consciousness of so many evils, and with
the cold sneering tone of the Earl of Byerdale still ringing in his
ears, announcing to him plainly, that the treacherous statesman
enjoyed the wound which he had inflicted upon him, almost as much as
the humiliation to which he had doomed the Duke.
Wilton's mind, however, as we have endeavoured to show throughout
this book, was not of a character to succumb under a sense of any
evils that affected him. All the painful feelings that assailed him
might, it is true, remain indelibly impressed upon his mind for long
years. It was not that the effect wore out, it was only that the mind
gained strength, and bore the burden that was cast upon it; and thus,
in the present instance, he shook off, in a very short space of time,
the thought of his sorrows themselves, to consider more clearly how
he should act under them.
But new difficulties presented themselves with this consideration.
He had solemnly pledged himself not to reveal what the Earl had told
him till the Duke was placed in safety. He had pledged himself to
Laura to throw no obstacle whatever in the way of her father's escape
by the means which the Earl had proposed. Neither was there a way of
evading any part of the plan as the Earl had arranged it. Otherwise
he would undoubtedly have attempted to postpone the marriage till
after the Duke was free, and then, having placed his own honour
beyond all question, to tell Laura and her father the whole truth.
But as the Earl had taken care to inform the governor of the Tower
that he was to go out with Lady Laura and the attendants after his
private marriage to her, there could be no pretence for his staying
in the Tower after the usual hour, and making use of the Earl's
order, if the marriage did not take place.
He saw that the wily politician had entangled him on all sides. He
saw that he had left him scarcely a possibility of escape. He had
either to commit an action which he felt would be dishonourable in
the highest degree towards Laura, or to break the solemn pledge that
he had made, and at the same time leave himself still under the
imputation of dishonour; for he had nothing else to propose to Laura
or her father but her instant marriage with himself, notwithstanding
the circumstances of his birth, or the imminent risk of her father's
"She may think," he said to himself, "and the Duke certainly will
think, that I have never told this fact till the very last moment,
when I have so entangled her that there was no receding. Thus I shall
violate my word to the Earl, which his baseness, perhaps, would
justify me in doing, but shall yet derive scarcely any benefit either
to the Duke, or Laura, or myself."
It was all agony, and clasping his hands together once more, he
remained gazing upon the ground in absolute despair. Which way, he
asked himself, could he turn for help or advice? His mind rested for
a moment on Lord Sunbury. There were many strong reasons to believe
that he was in London, but incognito; but as Wilton thus thought, he
recollected his pledge not to mention either the plans the Earl had
laid out, or the facts concerning his own birth which had been told
him. And again he was at sea, but the next moment came the thought of
Lord Sherbrooke and his strange acquaintance Green: he recollected
that on that very night he was to meet the Colonel; he recollected
that the very object of that meeting was to be the Duke; he
remembered that Green's words had been, "to apply to him in any
difficulty, for that he had more power to do him a service than
ever;" he recollected that the very person he was to see possessed
some knowledge of his own history; and hope, out of these materials,
however incoherent, strange, and unpromising they might be, contrived
to elicit at least one ray of light.
"I will meet him," he thought; "I will meet him, and will do the best
that I can when I do see him. I must not allude to what I have heard;
but he may have power that I do not know of, he may even aid me in
some other plan for the Duke's escape. I will set out as soon as it
As he thus thought, he turned towards the door, nearly forgetting the
letter which the Earl had given him to copy; but his eye chanced to
fall upon it as he passed, and saying aloud, "This man shall not see
how he has shaken me," he sat down, and copied it clearly and
accurately. He then left the house, went home, ordered his horse, and
made preparations for his journey. The sun was just touching the
horizon as he put his foot in the stirrup, and he rode forward at a
quick pace on the road towards Somersbury.
It was a beautiful clear evening, and many people were abroad; but
for the first six miles he saw nobody but strangers, all hurrying to
their several destinations for the night, travellers wending their
way into the great metropolis, and carts carrying to its devouring
maw the food for the next day. Between the sixth and seventh
milestone, however, where the moon was just seen raising her yellow
horn beside the village spire, he beheld a man mounted upon a
powerful horse, riding towards him, who by his military aspect, broad
shoulders, powerful frame, and erect seat upon his horse, he
recognised, while still at some distance, as Green.
"Ah Wilton, my boy," cried the Colonel, as he rode up, "I am glad to
see you.--You are not behind your time, but there is an impatience
upon me now that made me set off early. I am glad I did, for I have
not been on my horse's back for a fortnight; and there is something
in poor Barbary's motion that gives me back a part of my former
lightness of heart."
"I wish to Heaven that you could get it all back," replied Wilton.
"But I fear when it is lost it is not to be regained--I feel that it
is so, but too bitterly, at this moment."
"What you!" exclaimed the Colonel. "What is the matter, Wilton? What
have you done? for a man never loses his lightness of heart for ever,
but by his own act?"
"I think," said Wilton, "from what I have heard you say, that you can
feel for my situation, when I tell you, that, by the entanglements of
one I do not scruple to call a most accursed villain, I can neither go
on with honour in the course that is before me, nor retreat without
dishonour; and even if I could do either, there would still be
absolute and perpetual misery for me in life."
"Who is the villain?" demanded Green, abruptly.
"The Earl of Byerdale," replied Wilton.
"Ha, ha, ha!" shouted Green aloud. "He is a cursed villain; he always
was, and ever will be. But we will frustrate the Earl of Byerdale,
Wilton. I tell you, that, with my right hand on his collar, the Earl
of Byerdale is no more than a lackey."
"But you cannot frustrate him," replied Wilton, "so as to relieve me,
unless you can find means to set the Duke of Gaveston at liberty; and
even then--but it matters not. I can bear unhappiness, but not
"Set the Duke at liberty!" said Green, thoughtfully. "He ought to
have been at liberty already. He has committed no crime, but only
folly. He has been stupid, not wicked; and besides, I had heard--but
that may be a mistake. Let us ride on, Wilton," he continued, turning
his horse; "and as we go, tell me gill that has happened."
"Alas!" replied Wilton, riding on beside him, "that is of all things
what I cannot and must not do. If I could speak, if I could open my
mouth to any one on the subject, one half of my difficulties, one
half of my grief; would be relieved at once. But that I am pledged
and bound not to do, in a manner which leaves me no relief, which
affords me no means of escape."
"Well, then, Wilton," said his companion, "I know there are
situations in which, to aid a friend at all, we must aid him upon his
own showing, and without inquiry. We must do what he asks us to do
without explanation, or sacrifice his service to our pride. Such
shall not be the case with me. I will do what I can to serve you,
even to the last, altogether without explanation. Let me ask you,
however, one or two questions."
"I will answer them, if I can," replied Wilton. "But remember always,
there is much that I am pledged not to reveal at present."
"They will be very easily answered, my boy," replied Green. "Have you
seen the Earl of Sunbury?"
"I have not," replied Wilton, "though I believe he is in England. To
him I should have applied, certainly, if I had been able to explain
to him, in any degree, my situation."
"He is in England," replied Green: "I saw him two days ago; but I
leave him to smart for a time under the consequences of an imprudence
he has committed. In the next place, I have but the one general
question to put,--What can I do for you?"
"I know not, indeed," replied Wilton, "though I sought you with a
vague hope, that you might be able to do something. But the only
thing that could in any degree relieve me would be, either to effect
the escape of the Duke from the Tower--"
"That is impossible!" said Green, "utterly impossible! What was the
"To obtain from the King a warrant for his liberation," said Wilton,
in a despairing tone, "which is impossible also; for how can I expect
you to do what neither Vernon nor the Duke of Shrewsbury has been
able to accomplish? The King's only answer to all applications is,
that he has spoken to the Earl of Byerdale; and in the Earl of
Byerdale we have no hope. So that is out of the question."
"Not so much as you imagine, Wilton," replied Green. "I will do it if
it is to be done, though I would fain have avoided the act which I
must now perform. Come to me on Monday, Wilton, here upon this road
where we now ride, and I think I will put the order in your hand."
"Alas!" replied Wilton, "Monday will not do. The liberation must be
for to-morrow night to answer the intended purpose. I have lately
thought to do the bold, and perhaps the rash, act of going to the
King myself--telling him all I know--and beseeching him to set the
Duke at liberty. He even told me once, that I had done him good
service, and that he would favour me. But, alas! kings forget such
words as soon as spoken."
"He has a long memory, this William," replied Green; "but you shall
go with me, Wilton. If it must be to-morrow, to-morrow it shall be.
Meet me then at twelve o'clock exactly, at the little inn by the
water, called the Swan, near Kingston Bridge. I will be there waiting
for you. It is a likely hour to find the King after he comes from
chapel; but I will apply beforehand both in your name and in mine;
for I heard some time ago, from Harry Sherbrooke, that you had won
such praises from William as he seldom bestows on any one."
"At twelve to-morrow!" said Wilton, thoughtfully. "I was to have been
at the Tower at twelve to-morrow. But it matters not. That engagement
I at least may break without losing my honour, or wounding her heart.
But tell me, tell me, Green, is there any hope, is there any chance
of our being successful?"
"There is great hope, there is great chance," replied Green. "I will
not, indeed, say that it is by any means sure; for what is there we
can rely upon on earth? Have I not seen everything break down beneath
me like mere reeds, and shall I now put my faith in any man? But
still, Wilton, I will ask this thing. I will see William of Orange--I
will call him King at once--for King he is in fact; and far more
kingly in his courage and his nature than the weak man who never will
wear the crown of these realms again. We will both urge our petition
to the throne; and even if he have forgotten the last words that he
said to me, those which you have to speak perhaps may prove
sufficient. He is not a cruel or a bloody-minded man; and I do
believe he forgets his enmities more easily than he does his
friendships. If we could have said the same of the race of Stuart,
the crown of England would never have rested on the brow of the
Prince of Orange. I thought to have led you to other scenes and other
conferences to-night," he added, "but this matter changes all, and we
will now part. I will to my task, and prepare the way for to-morrow.
You to yours; but fail not, Wilton, fail not. Be rather before than
after the hour."
"I will not fail," replied Wilton; and after this short conference,
he turned his rein and rode back to London.
As he went, he meditated on the hopes which his conference with Green
had raised up again; but the brightness of those hopes faded away
beneath the light of thought. Yet, though such was the case, the
determination remained, and grew firmer and stronger, perhaps from
the want of any very great expectation. He determined to appeal to
the King, as the last act in his power; to do so firmly and
resolutely; and if the King refused his petition, and gave him no
reason to hope, to apply, as the next greatest favour, for a
memorandum in writing of his having so appealed, in order that he
might prove to Laura and her father that he had done all in his power
to give the Duke an opportunity of rejecting that means of escape,
which could only be obtained by uniting his daughter to one, from
whom, in any other circumstances, he would have withheld her.
"It is strange," he said to himself, "it is strange and sad, that I
can scarcely move a step in any way without the risk of dishonour;
and that the only means to avoid it requires every exertion to
deprive myself of peace, and happiness, and love for ever."
Thus he thought as he went along; and imagination pictured his next
parting from her he loved, and all that was to follow it--the grief
that she would suffer as well as himself--the long dreary lapse of
sad and cheerless hours that was to fill up the remainder of
existence for him, with all happy hopes at an end, and fortune,
station, love, gone away like visions of the night.
Early on the ensuing morning, he despatched a note to the Tower,
telling Laura that business, affecting her father's safety, would
keep him away from her at the hour he had promised to visit her. He
would be with her, he said, at all events before nightfall; and he
added every term of love and affection that his heart suggested; but
at the same time he could not prevent a tone of sadness spreading
through his letter, which communicated to Laura a fear lest her
father's hopes of escape should be frustrated.
By eleven o'clock Wilton was at the door of the small inn named for
the meeting; and two handsome horses which were standing there, held
by a servant, announced that Green had arrived before him. On going
in, he found his strange friend far more splendidly dressed than he
had ever seen him, apparently waiting for his coming. His fine person
told to much advantage, his upright carriage and somewhat proud and
stern demeanour, the grave and thoughtful look of his eye, all gave
him the appearance of one of high mind and high station, accustomed
to action and command. A certain sort of gay and dissipated look,
which he had previously borne, was altogether gone: within the last
few months he had become paler and thinner, and his countenance had
assumed an air of gloom which did not even leave it when he laughed.
As Wilton now advanced towards him, he could not but feel that there
was something dignified and imposing in his aspect; and yet it caused
him a strange sensation, to think that he was going into the King's
presence in company with a man whom he had actually first met upon
the King's Highway.
"I am glad you have come early, Wilton," said Green. "The King
returns from the chapel at a quarter past twelve, and expects us to
be in waiting at that hour, when he will see us. This is no slight
favour, I find, Wilton," he added, "for the palace is full of
courtiers, all eager and pressing for royal attention. Let us go
immediately, then, and ride slowly up to the palace."
They mounted their horses accordingly, and rode on, speaking a few
words from time to time, but not, indeed, absolutely conversing, for
both were far too thoughtful, and too much impressed with the
importance of the act they were about to perform, to leave the tongue
free and unfettered.
On their arrival at the palace, they found that the King had not yet
returned from the chapel; but on being asked whether they came by
appointment or not, and giving their names, they were admitted into a
waiting-room where two or three other people were already assembled.
The moments passed slowly, and it seemed as if the King would never
At length, however, a distant flourish of drums and trumpets was
heard, together with the sounds of many people passing to and fro in
the courts and passages. Buzzing conversation, manifold footfalls,
gay laughter, announced that the morning service was over, and the
congregation of the royal chapel dispersed.
In the royal closet, at the palace of Hampton Court, stood King
William III. leaning against a gilt railing, placed round some
ornamental objects, near one of the windows. The famous Lord Keeper
Somers stood beside him, while, at a little distance behind appeared
Keppel, Lord Albemarle, and before him, a tall, fine-looking man,
somewhat past the middle age, slight, but dignified in his person,
and with an air of ease and grace in his whole position and
demeanour, which bespoke long familiarity with courts. William gazed
at him with a smile, and heard him speak evidently with pleasure.
"Well, my lord," he said, "I am very glad of the news you give me.
With the assistance of yourself, and my Lord Keeper here, together
with that of our good friend the Duke of Shrewsbury, I doubt not now
my affairs will go well. I am happy to see your health so well
restored, my lord; for you know my friendship for you well enough, to
be aware, that I was seriously afflicted at your illness, for your
own sake, as well as because it deprived me of the counsel and
assistance of one, who, as I thought he would, has proved himself the
only person sufficiently loved by all men, to reconcile the breaches
between some of my best friends."
"Most grateful I am, sir," replied the Earl of Sunbury, to this
unusually long speech, "that Heaven has made me an instrument for
that purpose, and I can never sufficiently express my gratitude, for
your not being angry at my long absence from your majesty's service.
The arrangements thus being made, sire, I will humbly take my leave,
begging your majesty not to forget the interests of my young friend,
according to your gracious promise."
"I will not forget, I will not forget," replied the King. "When do you
publicly announce your return, my lord?"
"I think it would be better not, sire," replied the Earl, "till after
we have notified the arrangements to the three gentlemen who retire."
The King smiled. "That can be done to-morrow, my lord," he said; "and
I cannot but say, that the sooner it is done the better, for my
service has already suffered."
"That disagreeable task will of course fall on my Lord Keeper," said
Lord Sunbury, looking to Somers with a smile.
"I shall do it without ceremony, my lord," replied Lord Somers. "It
will be a mere matter of form; and if we could have found a position
suitable to my Lord Wharton, I should say that we have constructed
the most harmonious administration that I have seen since the
The King's brow grew somewhat dark at the name of Lord Wharton; and
the Earl of Sunbury making a sign to the Lord Keeper to avoid that
topic, took his leave of the King, saying, "I think I have your
majesty's permission to retire through your private apartments."
As he was opening a door, a little to the King's right hand, however,
he was met by the Earl of Portland, who greeted him with a
well-pleased smile, and then passed on towards the King, of whom Lord
Somers was taking leave at the same moment.
"May it please your majesty," said the Earl of Portland, as soon as
the Lords Sunbury and Somers had departed, "the young gentleman whom
you were once pleased to see concerning the Duke of Berwick's coming
to England, is now here, together with another gentleman calling
himself Green, whom your majesty also, I understand--"
"Yes, yes," said the King, "I will see him. I promised to see him."
"You told me also, sire," replied Lord Portland, "if ever this other
gentleman applied, you would also see him. Mr. Wilton Brown, I
"I will see him too," said the King. "I will see them together. Let
them be called, Bentinck."
Lord Portland went to the door, and gave the necessary orders, and in
a moment or two after, Wilton and his companion stood in the presence
of the King.
As they entered, Lord Albemarle said a few words to William, in a low
tone, to which William replied, "No, no, I will tell you if it be
necessary.--Now, gentlemen," he said, "I understood, from the note
received this morning by my Lord of Albemarle, that you requested an
audience together, which as I had promised to each separately, I have
given. Is your business the same or different?"
"It is the same, sire," replied Green at once. "But I will beg this
young gentleman to urge what he has to say in the first place."
The King nodded his head to Wilton to proceed; adding, "I have little
time this morning, and you may be brief; for if your business be what
I think, it has been opened to me by a friend of yours, and you will
hear more from me or him on Tuesday."
"If your majesty refers to the Duke of Shrewsbury," said Wilton, "I
have not the honour of his acquaintance; but he promised, I know, to
urge upon your majesty's clemency the case of the Duke of Gaveston,
in regard to which I have now ventured to approach you."
"We are mistaking each other," said the King. "I thought you meant
something else. What about the Duke?"
"When your majesty was last pleased to receive me," replied Wilton,
"I had the honour of recounting to you how I had been employed by his
grace to set free his daughter who had been carried away by Sir John
Fenwick and other Jacobites. I explained to your majesty at that time
that this daring act had been committed by those Jacobites in
consequence of a quarrel between the Duke and Sir John Fenwick, which
quarrel was occasioned by the Duke indignantly refusing to take part
in the infamous conspiracy against your majesty. Since then, Sir John
Fenwick has been arrested, and has charged the Duke with being a
party to that conspiracy. He has done this entirely and evidently out
of revenge, and as far as my testimony goes, I can distinctly show
your majesty, that after his daughter was carried away, the Duke had
no opportunity whatsoever of revealing what he knew of the conspiracy
without endangering her safety till after the whole was discovered,
for on the morning of her return to town, after being set free, the
warrants against the conspirators were already issued."
"You told me all this before, I think," said the King, with somewhat
of a heavy brow and impatient air. "Where is the Duke now?"
"He is in the Tower, sire," replied Wilton, "a prisoner of state,
upon this charge of Sir John Fenwick's, and I am bold to approach
your majesty to beseech you to take his case into consideration."
The King's brow had by this time grown very dark, and turning to Lord
Portland, he said, "This is another, you see, Bentinck."
"I beseech your majesty," continued Wilton, as soon as the King
paused, "I beseech you to hear my petition, and to grant it. It is a
case in which I am deeply interested. You were pleased to say that I
had conducted myself well, you were pleased to promise me your
gracious favour, and I beseech you now to extend it to me so far, as
at my petition to show clemency to a nobleman who, perhaps, may have
acted foolishly in suffering his ears to be guilty of hearing some
evil designs against you, but who testified throughout the most
indignant horror at the purposes of these conspirators, who has been
punished severely already by the temporary loss of his child, by the
most terrible anxiety about her, and by long imprisonment in the
Tower, where he now lies, withering under a sense of your majesty's
displeasure. Let me entreat your majesty to grant me this petition,"
and advancing a step, Wilton knelt at the King's feet.
"Why, I thought, young gentleman," replied William, "that before this
time you were married to the pretty heiress."
"Oh no, sire," replied Wilton, with a sad smile, "that is entirely
out of the question. Such a report got abroad in the world, but I
have neither station, fortune, rank, nor any other advantage to
entitle me to such a hope."
"And you, Colonel," said the King, turning towards Green, "is this
the object of your coming also?"
"It is, sire," answered Green, advancing. "But first of all permit me
to do an act that I have never done before, and kissing your
majesty's hand, to acknowledge that I feel you are and will be King
of England. May I add more, that you are worthy of being so."
The King was evidently pleased and struck. "I am glad to see," he
answered, holding out his hand to Green, "that we have reclaimed one
"Sire," answered Green, kissing the King's hand, but without rising,
"my affections are not easily changed, and may remain with another
house; but it were folly to deny any longer your sovereignty, and,"
he added, the moment after, "it would be treachery henceforth to do
anything against it.--And now, sire," he continued, "let me urge most
earnestly this young gentleman's petition, and let it be at my suit
that the Duke's liberation is granted. Wilton here may have many
petitions yet to present to your majesty on his own account. I shall
never have any; and as your majesty told me to claim a boon at your
hands, and promised to grant me anything that was not unreasonable, I
beseech you to grant me, as not an unreasonable request, the full
pardon and liberation of a man who this young gentleman, and I, and
Sir John Fenwick, and I think your majesty too, well know would as
soon have attempted anything against your majesty's life as he would
have sacrificed his own. This is the boon I crave, this is the
petition I have to present, and I hope and trust that you will grant
"And have you nothing else, Colonel, to demand on your own account?"
said the King, gravely.
"Nothing, sire," replied Green: "I make this my only request."
"What!" said the King, after giving a glance as playful, perhaps, as
any glance could be upon the countenance of William III. "Is this the
only request? I have seen in English history, since it became my duty
to study it, a number of precedents of general pardons, granted under
the great seal, by monarchs my predecessors, to certain of their
subjects who have done some good service, for all crimes,
misdemeanours, felonies, et cetera, committed in times previous. Now,
sir, from a few things I have heard, it has struck me that such a
patent would be not at all inexpedient in your own case, and I
expected you to ask it."
"I have not, and I do not ask it, sire," replied Green, in the same
grave tone with which he had previously spoken. "I may have done
many things that are wrong, sire, but I have neither injured,
insulted, nor offended any one whom I knew to be a true subject of
the Prince I considered my lawful King. Possessing still his
commission, I believed myself at liberty to levy upon those who were
avowedly his enemies, the rents of that property whereof they had
deprived me fighting in his cause.--Sire, I may have been wrong in my
view, and I believe I have been so. I speak not in my own
justification, therefore. My head is at your feet if you choose to
take it: death has no terrors for me; life has no charms. I stay as
long as God wills it: when he calls me hence, it matters little what
way I take my departure. My request, sire, is for the liberation of
the Duke, who, believe me, is perfectly innocent; and I earnestly
entreat your majesty not to keep him longer within the walls of a
prison, which to the heart of an Englishman is worse than death
"I am sufficiently an Englishman to feel that," replied the King.--
"Your own free pardon for all offences up to this time we give, or
rather promise you, should it be needed, without your asking it. Mark
the King's words, gentlemen. In regard to the liberation of the
Duke, demanded of us, as you have demanded it; that is, as the only
request of a person who has rendered us most important service, and
to whom we have pledged our word to concede some boon, we would grant
it also, but--"
"Oh, sire!" exclaimed Green, "let your clemency blot out that but."
"Hear me, hear me," said the King, relapsing into his usual tone; "I
would willingly grant you the Duke's liberation as the boon which you
require, and which I promised; but that I granted the order for his
liberation some four days ago, not even demanding bail for his
appearance, but perfectly satisfied of his innocence. I ordered also
such steps to be taken, that a _nolle prosequi_ might be entered, so
as to put his mind fully at rest. I told the Earl of Byerdale the day
before yesterday, that I had done this at the request of the Duke of
Shrewsbury, and I bade him take the warrant, which, signed by myself,
and countersigned by Mr. Secretary Trumbull, was then lying in the
hands of the clerk. It is either in the clerk's hands still, or in
those of Lord Byerdale. But that lord has committed a most grievous
offence in suffering any of my subjects to remain in a prison when
the order was signed for their liberation."
"May it please your majesty," said Keppel, stepping forward, "I
questioned the clerk this morning, as I passed, knowing what your
majesty had done, and hearing, to my surprise, from my Lord Pembroke,
that the Duke was still in prison. The clerk tells me that he had
still the warrant, Lord Byerdale seeming to have forgotten it
"He has forgotten too many things," said the King, "and yet his
memory is good when he pleases. Fetch me the warrant, Arnold.
Colonel, I grant this warrant, you see, not to you. You must think of
some other boon at another time. Young gentleman, I have been
requested; by a true friend of yours and mine, to hear your petition
upon various points, and to do something for you. I can hear no more
petitions to-day, however, but perhaps you may find a kinder ear to
listen to you; and as to doing anything for you," he continued, as he
saw Keppel return with a paper in his hand--"as to doing anything
for you, the best thing I can do is to send you to the Tower. There,
take the warrant, and either get into a boat or on your horse', back,
and bear the good tidings to the Duke yourself."
As he spoke, the King gave the paper into Wilton's hand, and turned
partly round to the Earl of Portland with a smile; then looked round
again calmly, and, by a grave inclination of the head, signified to
Wilton and his companion that their audience was at an end.
As soon as they were in the lobby, Green grasped his young friend's
hand eagerly in his own, demanding, "Now, Wilton, are you happy?"
"Most miserable!" replied Wilton. "This paper is indeed the greatest
relief to me, because it puts me beyond all chance of dishonour. No
one can impute to me now that I have done wrong, or violated my word,
even by a breath; but still I am most unhappy, and the very act that
I am going to do seals my unhappiness."
"Such things may well be," replied Green, "I know it from bitter
experience. But how it can be so, Wilton, in your case, I cannot
Wilton shook his head sorrowfully. "I cannot stay to explain all
now," he said, "for I must hasten to the Duke, and not leave his mind
in doubt and fear for a moment. But in going thither, I go to see her
I love for the last time. The metropolis will henceforth be hateful
to me, and I shall fly from it as speedily as possible. I feel that I
cannot live in it after that hope is at an end. I shall apply for a
commission in the army, and seek what fate may send me in some more
active life; but before I go, probably this very night, if you will
give me shelter, I will seek you and the Lady Helen, to both of whom
I have much, very much to say. I shall find you at Lord Sherbrooke's
cottage, where I last saw you? There I will explain everything. And
Thus saying, he shook Green's hand, mounted his horse, and at a very
rapid pace spurred on towards London by all the shortest roads that
he could discover.
The Duke's dinner in the Tower was over. He had been much agitated
all day, and Laura had been agitated also, but she had concealed her
emotions, in order not to increase those of her father. It was, as we
have said, Sunday, and the service of the church had occupied some
part of that long day's passing; but the rest had gone by very
slowly, especially as the only two events which occurred to break or
diversify the time told that there were other persons busy without,
in matters regarding which neither Laura nor her father could take
the slightest part, but which affected the future fate of both in the
highest degree. Those two incidents were the arrival of Wilton's note,
which we have already mentioned, and a visit from the chaplain of the
Tower, to tell the Duke and Lady Laura that he had received directions
and the proper authorization (few of those things were needed,
indeed, in those days) to perform the ceremony of marriage between
her and Wilton at any hour that she chose to name. A considerable
time passed after this visit, and yet Wilton did not appear. The Duke
began to look towards Laura with anxious eyes, and once he said, "I
hope, Laura, you neither did nor said anything yesterday to make
Wilton act coldly or unwillingly in this business?"
"Indeed, my dear father, I did not," replied Lady Laura, "and he
promised me firmly to do everything in his power. Something has
detained him; but depend upon it there is no cause either to fear or
Such assurances, for a time, seemed to soothe the Duke, and put his
mind more at ease; but as time passed, and still Wilton did not
appear, his anxiety returned again; he would walk up and down the
room; he would gaze out of the window; he would east himself into a
chair with a deep sigh; and though he said nothing more, Laura, was
bitterly grieved on his account, and began to share his anxiety for
the result. At length a distant door was heard to open, then came
the sound of the well-known step in the ante-room, making Laura's
heart beat, and the Duke smile; but there was nothing joyful in the
tread of that step: it was slow and thoughtful; and after the hand
was placed upon the lock of the door, there was still a pause, which,
though in reality very brief, seemed long to the prisoner and his
daughter. At length, however, the door opened, and Wilton himself
entered the room. There came a smile, too, upon his lip, but Laura
could not but see that smile was a very sad one.
"We have been waiting for you most anxiously, my dear Wilton," said
the Duke: "we have fancied all manner of things, all sorts of
difficulties and obstacles; for I well knew that nothing but matters
of absolute necessity would keep you from the side of your dear bride
at this moment."
"But you still look sad, Wilton," said Lady Laura, holding out her
hand to him. "Let us hear, Wilton, let us hear all at once, dear
Wilton. Has anything happened to derange our plans, or prevent my
Wilton kissed her hand affectionately, replying, "Fear not on that
account, dear Laura; fear not on that account. Your father is no
longer a prisoner.--My lord duke, there is the warrant for your
liberation, signed by the King's own hand, and properly
The Duke clasped his hands together, and looked up to heaven with
eyes full of thankfulness, and Laura's joy also burst forth in tears.
But she saw that Wilton remained sad and cold; and mistaking the
cause, she turned quickly to her father, saying, "Oh, my dear father,
in this moment of joy, make him who has given us so much happiness
happy also. Tell him, tell him, my dear father, that you will not,
that you cannot think of refusing him your child after all that he
has done for us."
"No, no, Laura," cried the Duke: "you shall be his--"
But Wilton interrupted him; and throwing his arms round Lady Laura,
pressed her for a moment to his heart, took one long ardent kiss, and
then turning to the Duke, said, "Pardon me, my lord duke!--It is the
last! Nay, do not interrupt me, for I have a task to perform which
requires all the firmness I can find to accomplish it. On seeing Lord
Byerdale yesterday, he told me of the whole arrangements which he had
made with you, and of the plan for your escape he showed me that,
according to the note which he had written to the governor of the
Tower, concerning the marriage between your daughter and myself, your
escape could not be effected till the ceremony had taken place, as it
was assigned as the cause for our leaving the Tower so late at night.
He made me pledge myself not to disclose his part in the scheme to
any one; and he then said that he would tell me the secret of my
birth, if I would plight my honour not to reveal it till after your
safety was secure. I pledged myself, and he told me all. I now found,
my lord, that you and I had both been most shamefully deceived--deceived
for the purpose, I do believe, of revenging on you and Lady Laura her
former rejection of Lord Sherbrooke by driving her to marry a person
altogether inferior to herself in station. You will see that he had
placed me in the most difficult of all positions. If I carried out his
plan of escape, I knowingly made use of his deceit to gain for myself
the greatest earthly happiness. If I revealed to you what he told me, I
broke my pledged word, and at the same time gave you no choice, but
either unwillingly to give me your daughter's hand, or to remain, and
risk the chance of longer imprisonment and trial. If I held off and
disappointed you in your escape, I again broke my word to Lady Laura.
You may conceive the agony of my mind during last night. There was but
one hope of my being able to escape dishonour, though it was a very
slight one. I determined to go to the King himself. I engaged a
gentleman to go with me, who has some influence; and this morning we
presented ourselves at Hampton Court, His Majesty was graciously pleased
to receive us: he treated me with all kindness, and gave me the warrant
for your liberation to bring hither. That warrant was already signed;
for the Duke of Shrewsbury had kept his word with me, and applied for it
earnestly and successfully. The Earl of Byerdale knew that it was
prepared, so that he was quite safe in permitting your escape. I have
now nothing further to do, my lord, than to wish you joy of your
liberation, and to bid you adieu for ever."
"Stay, stay!" said the Duke, much moved. "Let me hear more, Wilton."
But Wilton had already turned to Lady Laura and taken her hand.
"Oh, Laura," he said, "if I have been deceived into making you unhappy
as well as myself, forgive me. You know, you well know, that I would
give every earthly good to obtain this dear hand; that I would
sacrifice anything on earth for that object, but honour, truth, and
integrity. Laura, I feel you can never be mine; try to forget what
has been; while I seek in distant lands, not forgetfulness, if it
come not accompanied by death, but the occupation of the battlefield,
and the hope of a speedy and not inglorious termination to suffering.
Farewell--once more, farewell!"
"Stay, stay!" said the Duke--"stay, Wilton! What was it the Earl told
you? He said that you had as good blood in your veins as his own. He
said you were even related to himself. What did he tell you?"
The blood mounted into Wilton's cheek. "He told me, my lord," he said,
"that I was the natural son of his cousin."
And feeling that he could bear no more, he turned abruptly and quitted
As he did so, Lady Laura sank at her father's feet, and clasped his
knees. "Oh, my father," she said, "do not, do not make me miserable
for ever. Think of your child's happiness before any considerations
of pride; think of the noble conduct of him who has just left us; and
ask yourself if I can cease to love him while I have life."
"Never, Laura, never!" said the Duke, sternly. "Had it been anything
else but that, I might have yielded; but it cannot be! Never, my
child, never!--So urge me not!--I would rather see you in your
Those rash and shameful words, which the basest and most unholy pride
has too often in this world wrung from a parent's lips towards a
child, had been scarcely uttered by the Duke, when he felt his
daughter's arms relax their hold of his knees, her weight press
heavily upon him, and the next instant she lay senseless on the
For an instant, the consciousness of the unchristian words he had
uttered smote his heart with fear; fear lest the retributive hand of
Heaven should have punished his pride, even in the moment of offence,
by taking away the child whose happiness he was preparing to
sacrifice, and of whose death he had made light.
He called loudly for help, and his servant and Lady Laura's maid were
soon in the room. They raised her head with cushions; they brought
water; they called for farther assistance; and though it soon became
evident that Laura had only fainted, it was long before the slightest
symptom of returning consciousness appeared. The Duke, the servants,
and some attendants of the governor of the Tower, were still gathered
round her, and her eyes were just opening and looking faintly up, when
another person was suddenly added to the group, and a mild,
fine-toned voice said, in the ear of the Duke,--
"Good God! my lord duke, what has happened? Had you not better send
for Millington or Garth?"
"She is better, she is better," said the Duke, rising; "she is coming
to herself again.--Good Heaven! my Lord of Sunbury, is it you? This
is an unexpected pleasure."
"I cannot say," replied Lord Sunbury, "that it is an unexpected
pleasure to me, my lord; for though I would rather see your grace in
any other place, and heard this morning at Hampton Court that the
order for your liberation was signed, yet I heard just now that you
were still in the Tower; and, to say the truth, I expected to find my
young friend Wilton with you. Let us attend to the lady, however," he
added, seeing that his allusion to Wilton made the Duke turn a little
red, and divining, perhaps, that Lady Laura's illness was in some way
connected with the absence of his young friend, "she is growing
And kindly kneeling down beside her, he took her hand in his, saying
in a tender and paternal tone, "I hope you are better, my dear young
lady. Nay, nay," he added, in a lower voice, "be comforted; all will
go well, depend upon it:--you are better now; you are better, I see."
And then perceiving that only having seen him once before, Lady Laura
did not recollect him, he added his own name, saying, "Lord Sunbury,
my dear, the father, by love and by adoption, of a dear friend of
The allusion to Wilton immediately produced its effect upon Lady
Laura, and she burst into tears; but seeing Lord Sunbury about to
rise, she clung to his hand, saying, "Do not leave me--do not leave
me. I shall be better in a minute. I will send him a message by
"I will not, indeed, leave you," replied Lord Sunbury; "but I think
we do not need all these people present just now. Your father and I
and your woman will be enough."
According to his suggestion, the room was cleared, the windows were
all thrown open, and in about half an hour Lady Laura had
sufficiently recovered herself to sit up and speak with ease. Lord
Sunbury bad avoided returning to the subject of Wilton, till he
fancied that she could bear it, knowing that it might be more painful
to her, even to hear him conversing with her father upon such a
topic, than to take part in the discussion herself. At length,
however, he said,--
"Now this fair lady is tolerably well again, let me ask your grace
where I can find my young friend, Wilton Brown. I was told at his
lodgings that he had come on with all speed to the Tower, merely
getting a fresh horse as he passed."
"He was here not long ago, my lord," replied the Duke, coldly. "He
was kind enough to bring me from Hampton Court the warrant for my
enlargement. He went away in some haste and in some sorrow, not from
anything I said, my lord, but from what his own good sense showed him
must be the consequence of some discoveries which he had made
regarding his own birth. I must say he has in the business behaved
most honourably, and, at the same time, most sensibly; and anything
on earth that I can reasonably do to testify my gratitude to him for
all the services he has rendered me and mine, I will willingly do it,
should it cost me one half of my estates."
Lady Laura had covered her eyes with her hands, but the tears
trickled through her fingers in spite of all she could do to restrain
them. Lord Sunbury, too, was a good deal agitated, and showed it more
than might have been expected in a man so calm and deliberate as
himself. He even rose from his chair, and walked twice across the
room, before he replied.
"My lord duke," he said, at length, "from what you say, I fear that
both Wilton and your grace have acted hastily; and I am pained at it
the more, because I believe that I myself am in some degree the cause
of all the misery that he now feels, and of all the grief which I can
clearly see is in the breast of this dear young lady. I have done
Wilton wrong, my lord, by a want of proper precaution and care--most
unintentionally and unknowingly; but still I have done him wrong,
which I fear may be irreparable. I must see, and endeavour, as far as
it is in my power, to remedy what has gone amiss; but whether I can,
or whether I cannot do so, I have determined to atone for my fault in
the only way that it is possible. The last heir in my family entail
is lately dead: my estates are at my own disposal. I have notified to
the King this day, that I have adopted Wilton Brown as my son and
heir; and his Majesty has been graciously pleased to promise that a
patent shall pass under the great seal, conveying to him my titles
and honours at my death. This is all that I know with certainty can
be done at present; but there may be more done hereafter, in regard
to which I will not enter at present; and oh! my lord," he continued,
seeing the Duke cast down his eyes in cold silence, "for my sake, for
Wilton's sake, for this young lady's sake, at all events suspend your
decision till we can see farther in this matter."
The Duke raised his eyes to his daughter's face, and yielded, though
but in a faint degree, to her imploring look.
"I will suspend my decision, my lord, at your request," he replied,
"if it will give you any pleasure. But Laura knows my opinion, and--"
"Nay, nay," said the Earl, "we will say no more upon the subject
then, at present, my lord: But as your grace has the order for your
liberation, and there can be no great pleasure in staying in this
place, perhaps your grace and Lady Laura will get into my carriage,
which is now in the court; and while your servants clear your
apartments, and proceed to make preparations at Beaufort House, I
trust you will take your supper at my poor dwelling. There I may have
an opportunity, my lord," he added, turning with a graceful bow to
the Duke, "of telling you, who are a politician, some great political
changes that are taking place, though I fear, that as I expect no
guests of any kind, and have hitherto preserved a strict incognito, I
shall have no way of entertaining this fair lady for the evening."
Laura shook her head with a melancholy air, but made no reply. The
Duke, however, was taken with the bait of political news, and
accepted the invitation, merely saying, "I take it for granted, my
lord, that Mr. Brown is not at your house."
"As far as I know," replied Lord Sunbury, "he is not aware of my
being in England. I came to seek him here, wishing to tell him
various matters; but up to this time, I have neither written to him,
nor heard from him, since I have been in this country. And now, my
lord," he continued, taking up the warrant from the table, "you had
better let me go and speak with the Governor's deputy here,
concerning this paper, and in five minutes I will be back, to conduct
you, at liberty, to my house."
Thus saying, he left them; and Lady Laura, certainly calmed and
comforted by his kindly manner, and the hopeful tone in which he
spoke, prepared with pleasure to go with him. Her father mentioned
Wilton's name no more; but gave some orders to his servant and, by
the time that they were ready to go, Lord Sunbury had returned with
the Lieutenant of the Governor, announcing that the gates of the
Tower were open to the Duke. The Earl then offered his hand to the
fair girl, and led her down to his carriage, saying in a low tone as
they went, "Fear not, my dear young lady; we shall find means to
soften your father in time."
After a long and tedious drive through the dull streets of London,
the carriage of the Earl of Sunbury stopped at the door of his house
in St. James's Square. None of his servants appeared yet in livery,
and the man who opened the door was his own valet. He seemed not a
little astonished at the sight of a lady and gentleman with his
master; and the Earl was as much surprised to hear loud voices from
the large dining-room on his left hand.
The Duke and Lady Laura, however, entered, and were passing on; but
the valet, as soon as he had closed the door, advanced and whispered
a few words to the Earl.
The Earl questioned him again in the same tone, put his hand for a
moment to his forehead, and then said, addressing the Duke, "There
are some persons up stairs, my lord duke, that we would rather you
did not see at this moment. I will speak to them for an instant, and
be down with you directly, if you will go into the dining-room. You
will there, I understand, find Lord Byerdale and his son, the latter
of whom, it seems, has come hither for my support and advice, and has
been followed by his father."
"But, my lord, my lord," said the Duke, "after Lord Byerdale's
conduct to myself--"
"Enter into no dispute with him till I come, my dear duke," said the
Earl--"I will be with you in one minute; and his lordship of Byerdale
will have quite sufficient to settle with me, to give occupation to
his thoughts for the rest of the evening. You may chance to see
triumphant villany rebuked--I wanted to have escaped the matter; but
since he has presumed to come into my house, I must take the task
The tone in which he spoke, and the expectation of what was to
follow, fixed the Duke's determination at once; and drawing the arm
of Lady Laura within his own, he followed the servant, who now threw
open the door to which Lord Sunbury pointed, and entered the
dining-room, while the Earl himself ascended the stairs.
A scene curious but yet painful presented itself to the eyes of Lady
Laura and her father on entering the dining-room of Lord Sunbury's
house. On the side of the room opposite to the door stood Lord
Sherbrooke, with his arms folded on his chest, his brow contracted,
his teeth firmly shut, his lips drawn close, and every feature but
the bright and flashing eye betokening a strong and vigorous struggle
to command the passions which were busy in his bosom. Seated at the
table, on which the young nobleman had laid down his sword, was his
beautiful wife, with her eyes buried in her hands, and no part of her
face to be seen but a portion of the cheek as pale as ashes, and the
small delicate ear glowing like fire. The sun was far to the westward,
and streaming in across the open space of the square, poured through
the window upon her beautiful form, which, even under the pressure of
deep grief, fell naturally into lines of the most perfect grace.
But the same evening light poured across also, and streamed full upon
the face and form of the Earl of Byerdale, who seemed to have totally
forgotten, in excess of rage, the calm command over himself which he
usually exercised even in moments of the greatest excitement. His lip
was quivering, his brow was contracted, his eye was rolling with
strong passion, his hand was clenched; and at the moment that Laura
and the Duke went round the table from the door towards the side of
the room on which were Lord Sherbrooke and his wife, the Earl was
shaking his clenched hand at his son, accompanying by that gesture of
wrath the most terrible denunciations upon his head.
"Yes, sir, yes!" he exclaimed. "I tell you my curse is upon you! I
divorce myself from your mother's memory! I cast you off, and
abandon you for ever! Think not that I will have pity upon you, when
I see your open-mouthed creditors swallowing you up living, and
dooming you to a prison for life. May an eternal curse fall upon me,
if ever I relieve you with a shilling even to buy you bread! See if
the man in whose house you have sought shelter--see if this Earl of
Sunbury, with whom, doubtless, you have been plotting your father's
destruction--see if this undermining politician, this diplomatic
mole, will give you means to pay your debts, or furnish you with
bread to feed yourself and your pretty companion there! No, sir, no!
Lead forth, to the beggary to which you have brought her, the
beggarly offspring of that runagate Jacobite! Lead her forth, and
with a train of babies at your heels, sing French ballads in the
streets to gain yourself subsistence.--You thought that I had no clue
to your proceedings. I fancied she was your mistress, and that
mattered little, for it is the only thing fitted for the beggarly
exile's daughter. But since she is your wife, look to it to provide
for her yourself!"
He must have heard somebody enter the room, but he turned not the
least in that direction, carried away by the awful whirlwind of his
fury. He was even still going on, without looking round; but it was a
woman's voice, the voice of a gentle, but noble-hearted woman that
stopped him. Lady Laura, the moment she entered the room, recognised
in the bending form of her who sat weeping and trembling at the
table, one who had been kind to her in danger and in terror, and the
first impulse was to go to her support. But when she heard the
insulting and gross words of the Earl of Byerdale, her spirit rose,
her heart swelled with indignation, and with courage, which she might
not have possessed in her own case, she turned full upon him,
"For shame, Earl of Byerdale!--for shame! This to a woman in a woman's
presence! If you have forgotten that you are a gentleman, have you
forgotten that you are a man?" And going quickly forward, she threw her
arm round the neck of the weeping girl, exclaiming, "Look up, dear
Caroline: look up, sweet lady! You are not without support! A friend is
Lady Sherbrooke looked up, saw who it was, and instantly cast herself
upon her bosom.
The Earl of Byerdale turned his eyes from Laura to the Duke, evidently
confounded and surprised, and put his hand upon his brow, as if to
collect his thoughts. The next minute, however, he said, with a sneering
air, "Ha, pretty lady, is that you? Ha, my lord duke, have you escaped
from the Tower? You are somewhat early in your proceedings! Why, it
wants half an hour of night! But doubtless the impatient bridegroom was
eager to have all complete, and I have now to congratulate my Lady Laura
Brown upon her father's sudden enfranchisement, and her marriage with my
dear cousin's natural child. Ma'am, I am your most obedient, humble
servant. Duke, I congratulate you upon the noble alliance you have
formed. You come well, you come happily, to witness me curse that base
and degenerate boy. But it is a pity you did not bring the happy
bridegroom, Mr. Brown, that we might have two fine specimens of noble
alliances in one room."
"You are mistaken, sir," said the Duke furiously; "you are mistaken,
sir. Your villany is discovered; your base treachery has been told by a
man who was too honourable to take advantage of it, even for his own
"Then, my lord duke," replied the Earl of Byerdale, "he is as great a
liar in this instance as you have proved yourself a fool in every one;
for he plighted me his word not to reveal anything till your safety was
"It is you, sir, are the liar!" replied the Duke, forgetting everything
in his anger, which was now raised to the highest pitch. "It is you,
sir, who are the liar, as you have been the knave throughout, and may
now prove to be the fool too!"
"Hush, hush!" exclaimed the voice of Lord Sherbrooke, raised to a loud
tone. "Remember, my lord duke, that he is still my father!"
"Sir!" exclaimed the Earl, turning first upon his son, "I am your father
no longer! For you, duke, I see how the matter has gone with this vile
and treacherous knave whom I have fostered! But as sure as I am Earl of
"You are so no longer!" said a voice beside him, and at the same moment
a strong muscular hand was laid upon his shoulder, with a grasp that he
could not shake off:
The Earl turned fiercely round, and laid his hand upon his sword; but
his eyes lighted instantly on the fine stern countenance of Colonel
Green, who keeping his grasp firmly upon the shoulder of the other, bent
his dark eyes full upon his face.
The whole countenance and appearance of him whom we have called the Earl
of Byerdale became like a withered flower. The colour forsook his cheeks
and his lips; he grew pale, he grew livid; his proud head sunk, his
knees bent, he trembled in every limb; and when Green, at length, pushed
him from him, saying in a loud tone and with a stern brow, "Get thee
from me, Harry Sherbrooke!" he sank into a chair, unable to speak, or
move, or support himself.
In the meantime, his son had cast his eyes upon the ground, and remained
looking downwards with a look of pain, but not surprise; while treading
close upon the steps of Colonel Green appeared Wilton Brown with the
Lady Helen Oswald clinging to rather than leaning on his arm, and the
Earl of Sunbury on her right hand.
Those who were most surprised in the room were certainly the Duke and
Lady Laura, for they had been suddenly made witnesses to a strange scene
without having any key to the feelings, the motives, or the actions of
the performers therein; and the Duke gazed with quite sufficient wonder
upon all he saw, to drown and overcome all feelings of anger at
beholding Wilton so unexpectedly in the house of the Earl of Sunbury.
For a moment or two after the stern gesture of Green, there was silence,
as if every one else were too much afraid or too much surprised to
speak; and he also continued for a short space gazing sternly upon the
man before him, as if his mind laboured with all that he had to say. It
was not, however, to the person whom his presence seemed entirely to
have blasted, that he next addressed himself.
"My Lord of Sunbury," he said, "you see this man before me, and you also
mark bow terrible to him is this sudden meeting with one whom he has
deemed long dead. When last we met, I left him on the shores of Ireland
after the battle of the Boyne, in which I took part and he did not. The
ship in which I was supposed to have sailed was wrecked at sea, and
every soul therein perished. But I had marked this man's eagerness to
make me quit my native land, in which I had great duties to perform, and
I never went to the vessel, in which if I had gone, I should have met a
watery grave. During the time that has since passed, he has enjoyed
wealth that belonged not to him, a title to which he had no claim. He
has raised himself to power and to station, and he has abused his power
and disgraced his station, till his King is weary of him, and his
country can endure him no longer. In the meanwhile, I have waited my
time; I have watched all his movements; I have heard of all the
inquiries he has set on foot to prove my death, and all the
investigations he instituted, when he found that the boy who was with me
had been set on shore again. I have given him full scope and licence to
act as he chose; but I have come at length, to wrest from him that which
is not his, and to strip him of a rank to which he has no claim.--Have
you anything to say, Harry Sherbrooke?" he continued, fixing his eye
upon him. "Have you anything to say against that which I advance?"
While he had been speaking, the other had evidently been making a
struggle to resume his composure and command over himself, and he now
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