Part 1 out of 10
This etext was produced by Jim Tinsley
THE KING'S HIGHWAY
by G.P.R. JAMES ESQ.
Though the weather was hot and sultry, and the summer was at its height,
yet the evening was gloomy, and low, angry clouds hung over the distant
line of the sea, when, under the shelter of some low-browed cliffs upon
the Irish coast, three persons stood together, two of whom were talking
earnestly. About four or five miles from the shore, looking like a
spectre upon the misty background of clouds, appeared a small brig with
her canvas closely reefed, though there was little wind stirring, and
nothing announced the approach of a gale, unless it were a long, heavy
swell that heaved up the bosom of the ocean as if with a suppressed sob.
The three persons we have mentioned were standing together close at the
foot of the rocks; and, though there was nothing in their demeanour
which would imply that they were seeking concealment by the points and
angles of the cliff,--for they spoke loud, and one of them laughed more
than once with the short but jocund laugh of a heart whose careless
gaiety no circumstances can repress,--yet the spot was well calculated
to hide them from any eye, unless it were one gazing down from the
cliffs above, or one looking towards the shore from the sea.
The party of which we speak comprised two men not quite reached the
middle age, and a fine, noble-looking boy of perhaps eight years old or
a little more; but all the conversation was between the two elder, who
bore a slight family likeness to each other. The one had a cloak thrown
over his arm, and a blue handkerchief bound round his left hand. His
dress in other respects was that of a military man of the period; a
long-waisted, broad-tailed coat, with a good deal of gold lace and many
large buttons upon it, enormous riding boots, and a heavy sword. He had
no defensive armour on, indeed, though those were days when the
soldierly cuirass was not yet done away with; and on his head he only
wore an ordinary hat trimmed round with feathers.
He seemed, however, to be a personage perfectly well able to defend his
own, being not much short of six feet in height; and though somewhat
thin, extremely muscular, with long, bony arms, and a wide deep chest.
His forehead was high and open, and his eye frank and clear, having
withal some shrewdness in its quick twinkle. The countenance was a good
one; the features handsome, though a little coarse; and if it was not
altogether prepossessing, the abatement was made on account of a certain
indescribable look of dissipation--not absolutely to say debauchery,
but approaching it--which mingled with the expression of finer things,
like nightshade filling up the broken masses of some ruined temple. His
hair was somewhat prematurely grizzled; for he yet lacked several years
of forty, and strong lines, not of thought, were marked upon his brow.
He was, upon the whole, a man whom many people would have called a
handsome, fine-looking man; and there was certainly in his countenance
that indescribable something, which can only be designated by the term
While conversing with his companion, which he did frankly and even
gaily, laughing, as we have said, from time to time, there was still a
peculiarity which might be supposed to show that for some reason he was
not perfectly at his ease, or perfectly sure of the man to whom he
spoke. In general, he did not look at him, though he gazed straight
forward; but, as is very frequently the case with us all, when we are
talking to a person whom we doubt or dislike, he looked beyond him, from
time to time, however, turning his eyes full upon the countenance of his
comrade, and keeping them fixed upon him for several moments.
The second personage of the party was a man somewhat less in height than
the other, but still tall. He was two or three years younger; handsome
in features; graceful in person; and withal possessing an air of
distinction which the other might have possessed also, had it not been
considerably diminished by the certain gay and swaggering look which we
have already noticed. His dress was not so completely military as that
of the first, though there was scarf and sword-knot, and gold-fringed
belt and leathern gloves, with wide cuffs, which swallowed up the arms
almost to the elbows.
He laughed not at all, and his tone was grave, but smooth and courtly,
except when, ever and anon, there mingled with what he was saying in
sweet and placid words, some bitter and sarcastic tirade, which made his
companion smile, though it moved not a muscle of his own countenance.
We have said that there was a third in the group, and that third was a
boy of about eight years of age. It is scarcely possible to conceive
anything more beautiful than his countenance, or to fancy a form more
replete with living grace than his. His hair swept round his clear and
open countenance in dark wavy curls; and while he held the taller of the
two gentlemen by the hand, he gazed forward over the wide melancholy
sea, which came rolling up towards their feet, with a look full of
thought, and perhaps of anxiety. There was certainly grief in that gaze;
for the black eyelashes which surrounded those large blue eyes became,
after a moment or two, moistened with something bright like a tear; and
apparently utterly inattentive to the conversation between his two
companions, he still turned away, fully occupied with the matter of his
It is time, however, for us to take notice of that to which he did not
"Not a whit, Harry, not a whit," said the taller of the two: "there are
certain portions of good and evil scattered through the world, and every
man must take his share of both. I have taken care, as you well know, to
secure a certain portion of the pleasures of this life. It was not
natural that the thing should last for ever, so I have quite made up my
mind to drinking the bitters since I have sipped the sweets. On this
last business I have staked my all, and lost my all; and if my poor
brother had not done the same, and lost his life into the bargain, I
should not much care for my part. On my honour and soul, it does seem to
me a strange thing, that here poor Morton, who would have done service
to everybody on earth, who was as good as he was brave, and as clever as
he was good, should fall at the very first shot, and I go through the
whole business with nothing but this scratch of the hand. I did my best
to get myself killed, too; for I will swear that I was the last man upon
our part that left the bank of the Boyne. But just as half a dozen of
the fellows had got me down, and were going to cut my throat because I
would not surrender, there came by the fellow they call Bentinck, I
think, who called to them not to kill me now that the battle was over. I
started up, saying, 'There is one honest Dutchman at least,' and made a
dart through them. They would have caught me, I dare say, but he laughed
aloud; and I heard him call to them not to follow me, saying, 'That one
on either side made no great difference.' I may chance to do that fellow
a good turn yet in my day."
"That may well be," replied the other; "for since your brother's death,
if you are sure he is killed, you are the direct heir to an earldom, and
to estates that would buy a score of German princes."
While he thus spoke, the person he addressed suddenly turned his eyes
full upon his face, and looked at him intently for a minute. He then
answered, "Sure he is dead, Harry? Did I not tell you that he died in my
arms? Would it not have been a nice thing now, if I had been killed too?
There would have been none between you and the earldom then. Upon my
life, I think you ought to have it: it would just suit you; you would
make such a smooth-tongued, easy courtier to this Dutch vagabond, whom
you are going over to, I can see, notwithstanding all your
asseverations;" and he laughed aloud as he spoke.
"Nonsense, Lennard, nonsense!" replied his companion: "I neither wish
you killed, my good cousin, nor care for the earldom, nor am going over
to the usurper, though, Heaven knows, you'll do no good to any one, the
earldom will do no good to you, and the usurper, perhaps, may do much
good to the country. But had either of the three been true, I should
certainly have given you up to the Prince of Orange, instead of sharing
my last fifty guineas with you, to help you off to France."
His companion gazed down upon the ground with a grim smile, and remained
for a moment without answering; he then looked up, gave a short laugh,
and replied, "I must not be ungrateful, cousin mine; I thank you for the
money with all my heart and soul; but I cannot think that you have run
yourself so hard as that either; you must have made mighty great
preparations which have not appeared, to spend your snug little
patrimony upon a king who did not deserve it, and for whom you did not
fight, after all."
"I should have fought if I could have come up in time," replied the
other, with his brows darkening. "I suppose you do not suspect me of
being unwilling to fight, Lennard?"
"Oh, no, man! no!" replied his cousin: "it does not run in our blood; we
have all fighting drops in our veins; and I know you can fight well
enough when it suits your purpose. As for that matter, I might think
myself a fool for fighting in behalf of a man who won't fight in his own
behalf; but it is his cause, not himself, Harry, I fought for."
"Bubbles, bubbles, Lennard," replied the other, "'tis but a mere name!"
"And what do we all fight for, from the cradle to the grave?" demanded
his cousin--"bubbles, bubbles, Harry. Through England and Ireland, not
to say Scotland, there will be tomorrow morning, which I take it is
Sunday, full five thousand priests busily engaged in telling their
hearers, that love, glory, avarice, and ambition are nothing
but--bubbles! So I am but playing the same game as the rest. I wish to
Heaven the boat would come round though, for I am beginning to think it
is as great a bubble as the rest.--Run down, Wilton, my boy," he said,
speaking to the youth that held him by the hand--"run down to that
point, and see if you can discover the boat creeping round under the
The boy instantly darted off without speaking, and the two gentlemen
watched him in silence. After a moment, however, the shorter of the two
spoke, with his eyes still fixed on the child, and the slight sneer
curling his lip--"A fine boy that, Lennard!" he said. "A child of love,
"Doubtless," answered the other; "but you will understand he is not
mine.--It is a friend's child that I have promised to do the best for."
"He is wondrous like your brother Morton," rejoined his companion: "it
needs no marriage certificate to tell us whose son he is."
"No; God speed the poor boy!" replied the other gentleman, "he is like
his father enough. I must do what I can for him, though Heaven knows
what I am to do either for him or myself. It is long ere he can be a
soldier, and I am not much accustomed to taking heed of children."
"Where is his mother?" demanded the cousin: "whatever be her rank, she
is most likely as rich as you are, and certainly better able to take
care of him."
"Pshaw!" replied the other--"I might look long enough before I found
her. The boy has never known anything about her either, so that would
not do. But here he comes, here he comes, so say no more about it."
As he spoke, the boy bounded up, exclaiming, "I see the boat, I see the
boat coming round the rock!" and the moment after, a tolerable-sized
fishing boat was seen rounding the little point that we have mentioned;
and the two cousins, with the boy, descended to the water's edge. During
the few minutes that elapsed before the boat came up to the little
landing-place where they stood, the cousins shook hands together, and
bade each other adieu.
"Well, God speed you, Harry!" said the one; "you have not failed me at
this pinch, though you have at many another."
"Where shall I write to you, Lennard," demanded the other, "in case that
anything should happen to turn up to your advantage?"
"Oh! to the Crown, to the Crown, at St. Germains," replied the elder;
"and if it be for anything to my advantage, write as quickly as
possible, good cousin.--Come, Wilton, my boy; come, here's the boat!
Thank God we have not much baggage to embark.--Now, my man," he
continued, speaking to one of the fishermen who had leaped out into the
water, "lift the boy in, and the portmanteau, and then off to yonder
brig, with all the sail you can put on."
Thus saying, he sprang into the boat, received the boy in his arms, and
waved his hand to his cousin, while the fishermen pushed off from the
The one who was left behind folded his arms upon his chest, and gazed
after the boat as she bounded over the water. His brow was slightly
clouded, and a peculiar sort of smile hung upon his lip; but after thus
pausing for a minute or two, he turned upon his heel, walked up a narrow
path to the top of the cliff, and mounting a horse which was held for
him by a servant, at a distance of about a hundred yards from the edge,
he rode away, whistling as he went, not like Cimon, for want of thought,
but from the very intensity of thought.
The horseman of whom we have spoken in the last chapter rode slowly on
about two hundred yards farther, and there the servant advanced and
opened a gate, by means of which the path they were then upon
communicated with a small road between two high banks leading down to
the sea-side. The moment that the gentleman rode forward through the
gate, his eyes fell upon a figure coming up apparently from the
sea-shore. It was that of a woman, seemingly well advanced in life, and
dressed in the garb of the lower orders: there was nothing particular in
her appearance, except that in her gait and figure she was more decrepit
than from her countenance might have been expected. The tears were
streaming rapidly down her face, however; and though she suddenly paused
on perceiving the stranger, she could not command those tears from
flowing on, though she turned away her head to conceal them.
The stranger slightly pulled in his horse's rein, looked at her again,
and then gazed thoughtfully down the road towards the sea, as if
calculating what the woman could have been doing there, and whether she
could have seen the departure of his two late companions.
The servant who was behind him seemed to read his master's thoughts; for
being close to him shutting the gate, he said in a low tone, "That's the
old woman with whom the young gentleman lodged; for I saw her when the
Colonel went there this morning to fetch him away."
The moment the man had spoken, his master pushed forward his horse
again, and riding up to the woman, accosted her at once.
"Ah, my good woman," he said, "you are grieving after your poor little
boy; but do not be cast down, he will be taken good care of."
"God bless your honour," replied the woman, "and thank you, too, for
comforting me: he's a dear good boy, that's true; but the Colonel has
taken him to France, so I shall never see him more."
"Oh yes, you may, my good lady," replied the stranger: "you know I am
his cousin--his father's first cousin; so if you want to hear of him
from time to time, perhaps I could put you in the way of it. If I knew
where you lived, I would come and call upon you to-night, and talk to
you about it before I go on to Dublin."
"Your honour's going to Dublin, are you?" said the woman, suddenly and
sharply, while the blood mounted into the cheek of her companion, as if
from some feeling of embarrassment. She continued, however, before he
could reply, saying, "With a thousand thanks to your honour, I shall be
glad to see you; and if I could but hear that the poor boy got well to
France, and was comfortable, I think I should be happy all my life."
"But where do you live, my good woman?" demanded the horseman: "we have
not much time to lose, for the sun is going down, and the night is
"And a stormy night it will be," said the woman, who, though she had
very little of the Irish accent, seemed to have not a little of that
peculiar obliquity of mind, which so often leads the Irishman to follow
the last idea started, however loosely it may be connected with the main
subject of discourse. "As to where I live," she continued, "it's at the
small neat cottage at the end of the lane; the best house in the place
to my mind, except the priest's and the tavern; and for that matter,
it's my own property, too."
"Well, I will come there in about an hour," said her companion, "and we
will talk it all over, my good lady, for I must leave this place early
Away went the stranger as he spoke, at a rapid pace, towards an Irish
village or small town of that day, which lay at the distance of about a
mile and a half from the sea-shore. It was altogether a very different
place, and bore a very different aspect, from any other collection of
houses, of the same number and extent, within the shores of the Sister
Island. It was situated upon the rise of a steep hill, at the foot of
which ran a clear shallow stream, from whose margin, up to the top of
the acclivity, ran two irregular rows of houses, wide apart, and
scattered at unequal distances, on the two sides of the high road. They
were principally hovels, of a single story in height; a great proportion
of them formed of nothing but turf, with no other window but a hole
covered with a board, and sometimes not that. Others, few and far
between, again, were equally of one story, but were neatly plastered
with clay, and ornamented with a wash of lime; and besides these, were
three or four houses which really deserved the name--the parish
priest's, the tavern, and what was called the shop.
These rows of dwellings were raised on two high but sloping banks, which
were covered with green turf, and extended perhaps fifty yards in width
between the houses and the road: this long strip of turf affording the
inhabitants plenty of space for dunghills and dust-heaps, with
occasional stacks of turf, and a detached sort of summer-house now and
then for a pig, in those cases where his company was not preferred in
Here, too, the chickens used to meet in daily convocation; and here the
priest's bull would occasionally take a morning walk, to the detriment
of the dunghills and the frailer edifices, to the danger of the
children, and the indignation of the other animals, who might seem to
think that they had a right prescriptive to exclusive possession.
Between these two tracts of debatable land was interposed a paved high
road, twice as broad as it needed to have been, and furnished with a
stone gutter down the centre, into which flowed, from every side,
streams not Castalian; while five or six ducks, belonging to the master
of the shop, acted as the only town scavengers; and a large black sow,
with a sturdy farrow of eleven young pigs, rolled about in the full
enjoyment of the filth and dirt, seeming to represent the mayor and town
council of this rural municipality.
At the top of the hill two or three lanes turned off, and in one of
these was situated the cottage which the old lady had indicated as her
dwelling. The stranger, however, rode not thither at once, but, in the
first place, stopped at the tavern, as it was called (being neither more
nor less than a small public-house), and throwing his rein to the
servant, he dismounted, and paused to order some refreshment. When this
was done, he took his way at once to the house of the priest, which was
a neat white building, showing considerable taste in all its external
arrangements. The stranger was immediately admitted, and remained for
about half an hour; at the end of which time he came out, accompanied as
far as the little wicket gate by a very benign and thoughtful-looking
man, past the middle age, whose last words, as he took leave of the
stranger, were, "Alas, my son! she was so beautiful, and so charitable,
that it is much to be lamented that she was in all respects a
The stranger then returned to the tavern, and sat down to a somewhat
black and angular roasted fowl, which, however, proved better to the
palate than the eye; and to this he added somewhat more than a pint of
claret, which--however strange it may seem to find such a thing in an
Irish pot-house--might, for taste and fragrance, have competed with the
best that ever was found at the table of prince or peer: nor was such a
thing uncommon in that day. This done, and when five or six minutes of
meditation--that kind of pleasant meditation which ensues when the inner
man is made quite comfortable--had been added to his moderate food and
moderate potation, the stranger rose, and with a slow and thoughtful
step walked forth from the inn, and took his way towards the cottage to
which the old woman had directed him.
The sun was by this time sinking below the horizon, and a bright red
glow from his declining rays spread through the atmosphere, tinging the
edges of the long, liny, lurid clouds which were gathering thickly over
the sky. The wind, too, had risen considerably, and was blowing with
sharp quick gusts increasing towards a gale, so that the stranger was
obliged to put his hand to his large feathered hat to keep it firm upon
In the meantime, the old woman had returned home, and her first
occupation was to indulge her grief; for, sitting down at the little
table in her parlour, she covered her eyes with her hands, and wept till
the tears ran through her fingers. After a time, however, she calmed
herself, and rising, looked for a moment into a small looking-glass,
which showed her face entirely disfigured with tears. She then went into
a little adjacent room, which, as well as the parlour, was the image of
neatness and cleanness. She there took a towel, dipped it in cold water,
and seemed about to bathe away the traces from her cheeks. The next
moment, however, she threw the towel down, saying, "No, no! why should
I?" She then returned to the parlour, and called down the passage,
An Irishwoman, of about fifty years of age, clothed much in the same
style, and not much worse than her mistress, appeared in answer to her
summons; and, according to the directions she now received, lighted a
single candle, put up a large heavy shutter against the parlour window,
and retired. The mistress of the house remained for some time sitting at
the table, and apparently listening for every step without; though from
time to time, when a heavier and heavier blast of wind shook the cottage
where she sat, she gazed up towards the sky, and her lips moved as if
offering a prayer.
At length, some one knocked loudly at the door, and starting up, she
hurried to open it and give entrance to the stranger whom we have
mentioned before. She put a chair for him, and stood till he asked her
to sit down.
"So, my good lady," he said, "you lived a long time with Colonel and
"Oh! bless you, yes, sir," replied the woman, "ever since the Colonel
and the young lady came here, till she died, poor thing, and then I
remained to take care of the boy, dear, beautiful fellow."
"You seem very sorry to lose him," rejoined the stranger, "and,
doubtless, were sadly grieved when Mrs. Sherbrooke died."
"You may well say that," replied the woman; "had I not known her quite a
little girl? and to see her die, in the prime of her youth and beauty,
not four-and-twenty years of age. You may well say I was sorry. If her
poor father could have seen it, it would have broke his heart; but he
died long before that, or many another thing would have broken his heart
as well as that."
"Was her father living," demanded the stranger, "when she married
The woman, without replying, gazed inquiringly and steadfastly on the
stranger's countenance for a moment or two; who continued, after a short
pause--"Poo, poo, I know all about it; I mean, when she came away with
"No, sir," replied the woman; "he had been dead then more than a year."
"Doubtless," replied the stranger, "it was, as you implied, a happy
thing for him that he did not live to see his daughter's fate; but how
was it, I wonder, as she was so sweet a creature, and the Colonel so
fond of her, that he never married her?"
The woman looked down for a moment; but then gazed up in his face with a
somewhat rueful expression of countenance, and a shake of the head,
answering, "She was a Protestant, you know."
The stranger looked surprised, and asked, "Did she always continue a
Protestant, my good woman? I should have thought love could have worked
more wonderful conversions than that."
"Ah! she died as she lived, poor thing," replied the woman, "and with
nobody with her either, but I and one other; for the Colonel was away,
poor man, levying troops for the king--that is, for King James, sir; for
your honour looks as if you were on the other side."
The stranger was silent and looked abstracted; but at length he
answered, somewhat listlessly, "Really, my good woman, one does not know
what side to be of. It is raining very hard to-night, unless those are
the boughs of the trees tapping against your window."
"Those are the large drops of rain," replied the woman, "dashed against
the glass by the south-west wind. It will be an awful night; and I think
of the ship."
"I will let you hear of the boy," rejoined the stranger in an
indifferent tone, "as soon as I hear of him myself;" and taking up his
hat from the table, he seemed about to depart, when a peculiar
expression upon the woman's countenance made him pause, and, at the same
time, brought to his mind that he had not even asked her name.
"I thought your honour had forgotten," she replied, when he asked her
the question at length. "They call me Betty Harper; but Mrs. Harper will
find me in this place, if you put that upon your letter: and now that we
are asking such sort of questions, your honour wouldn't be offended,
surely, if I were to ask you your name too?"
"Certainly not, my good lady," he replied; "I am called Harry
Sherbrooke, Esquire, very much at your service.--Heavens, how it blows
"Perhaps it is nothing but a wind-shower" replied the woman; "if your
honour would like to wait until it has ridden by."
"Why, I shall get drenched most assuredly if I go," he answered, "and
that before I reach the inn; but I will look out and see, my good lady."
He accordingly proceeded into the little passage, and opened the door,
followed by his companion. They were instantly saluted, however, by a
blast of wind that almost knocked the strong man himself down, and made
the woman reel against the wall of the passage.
Everything beyond--though the cottage, situated upon a height, looked
down the slope of the hill, over the cliffs, to the open sea--was as
dark as the cloud which fell upon Egypt: a darkness that could be felt!
and not the slightest vestige of star or moon, or lingering ray of
sunshine, marked to the eye the distinction between heaven, earth, and
Sherbrooke drew back, as the wind cut him, and the rain dashed in his
face; but at that very moment something like a faint flash was seen,
apparently at a great distance, and gleaming through the heavy rain. The
woman instantly caught her companion's wrist tight in her grasp,
exclaiming, "Hark!"--and in a few seconds after, in a momentary lull of
the wind, was heard the low booming roar of a distant cannon.
"It is a signal of distress!" cried the woman. "Oh! the ship, the ship!
The wind is dead upon the shore, and the long reef, out by the Battery
Point, has seen many a vessel wrecked between night and morning."
While she spoke, the signal of distress was seen and heard again.
"I will go down and send people out to see what can be done," said the
stranger, and walked away without waiting for reply. He turned his steps
towards the inn, muttering as he went, "There's one, at least, on board
the ship that won't be drowned, if there's truth in an old proverb! so
if the vessel be wrecked to-night, I had better order breakfast for my
cousin to-morrow morning--for he is sure to swim ashore." It was a
night, however, on which no hope of reaching land could cheer the
wrecked seamen. The tide was approaching the full; the wind was blowing
a perfect hurricane; the surf upon a high rocky beach, no boat could
have lived in for a minute; and the strongest swimmer--even if it had
been within the scope of human power and skill to struggle on for any
time with those tremendous waves--must infallibly have been dashed to
pieces on the rocks that lined the shore. The minute guns were
distinctly heard from that town, and several other villages in the
neighbourhood. Many people went to the tops of the cliffs, and some down
to the sea-shore, where the waves did not reach the bases of the rocks.
One gentleman, living in the neighbourhood, sent out servants and
tenantry with links and torches, but no one ever could clearly
distinguish the ship; and could only perceive that she must be in the
direction of a dangerous rocky shoal called the Long Reef, at about two
miles' distance from the shore.
The next morning, however, her fate was more clearly ascertained; not
that a vestige of her was to be seen out at sea, but the whole shore for
two or three miles was covered with pieces of wreck. The stern-post of a
small, French-built vessel, and also a boat considerably damaged in the
bow, and turned keel upwards, came on shore as Harry Sherbrooke and his
servant were themselves examining the scene. The boat bore, painted in
white letters, "La Coureuse de Dunkerque."
"That is enough for our purpose, I should suppose," said the master,
pointing to the letters with a cane he had in his hand, and addressing
his servant--"I must be gone, Harrison, but you remain behind, and do as
I bade you."
"Wait a moment, yet, sir," replied the man: "you see they are bringing
up a body from between those two rocks,--it seems about his size and
make, too;" and approaching the spot to which he pointed, they found
some of the country people carrying up the body of a French officer,
which afterwards proved to be that of the commander of the brig, which
had been seen during the preceding day. After examining the papers which
were taken from the pockets of the dead man, one of which seemed to be a
list of all the persons on board his vessel, Sherbrooke turned away,
merely saying to his servant, "Take care and secure that paper, and
bring it after me to Dublin as fast as possible."
The man bowed his head, and his master walked slowly
and quietly away.
Now whatever might be the effect of all that passed, as recorded in the
last chapter, upon the mind of Harry Sherbrooke, it is not in the
slightest degree our intention to induce the reader to believe that the
two personages, the officer and the little boy, whom we saw embark for
the brig which was wrecked, were amongst the persons who perished upon
that occasion. True it is that every person the ship contained found a
watery grave, between sunset and sunrise on the night in question. But
to explain how the whole took place, we must follow the track of the
voyagers in the boat.
As soon as they were seated, Lennard Sherbrooke threw his arms
affectionately round the boy, drew him a little closer to his bosom, and
kissed his broad fair forehead; while the boy, on his part, with his
hand leaning on the officer's knee, and his shoulder resting confiding
on his bosom, looked up in his face with eyes of earnest and deep
affection. In such mute conference they remained for some five or ten
minutes; while the hardy sailors pulled away at the oars, their course
towards the vessel lying right in the wind's eye. After a minute or two
more, Lennard Sherbrooke turned round, and gazed back towards the shore,
where he could now plainly perceive his cousin beginning to climb the
little path up the cliff. After watching him for a moment with a look of
calculating thought, he turned towards the boy again, and saw that there
were tears in his eyes, which sight caused him to bend down, saying, in
a low voice, "You are not frightened, my dear boy?"
"Oh no, no!" replied the boy--"I am only sorry to go away to a strange
Lennard Sherbrooke turned his eyes once more towards the shore, but the
form of his cousin had now totally disappeared. He then remained musing
for a minute or two, while the fishermen laboured away, making no very
great progress against the wind. At the distance of about a mile or a
mile and a half from the shore, Lennard Sherbrooke turned round towards
the man who was steering, and made some remarks upon the excellence of
the boat. The man, proud of his little vessel, boasted her capabilities,
and declared that she was as sea-worthy as any frigate in the navy.
"I should like to see her tried," said Sherbrooke. "I should not wonder
if she were well tried to-night," replied the man.
For a moment or two the officer made no rejoinder; but then approaching
the steersman nearer still, he said, in a low voice, "Come, my man, I
have something to tell you. We must alter our course very soon; I am not
going to yon Frenchman at all."
"Why, then, where the devil are you going to?" demanded the fisherman;
and he proceeded, in tones and in language which none but an Irishman
must presume to deal with, to express his astonishment, that after
having been hired by the other gentleman to carry the person who spoke
to him and the boy to the French brig of war, where berths had been
secured for them, he should be told that they were not going there at
The stranger suffered him to expend all his astonishment without moving
a muscle, and then replied, with perfect calmness, "My good friend, you
are a Catholic, I have been told, and a good subject to King James--"
"God bless him!" interrupted the man, heartily; but Sherbrooke
proceeded, saying, "In these days one may well be doubtful of one's own
relations; and I have a fancy, my man, that unless I prevent any one
from knowing my course, and where I am, I may be betrayed where I go,
and betrayed if I stay. Now what I want you to do is this, to take me
over to the coast of England, instead of to yonder French brig."
The man's astonishment was very great; but he seemed to enter into the
motives of his companion with all the quick perception of an Irishman.
There were innumerable difficulties, however, which he did not fail to
start; and he asserted manfully, that it was utterly impossible for them
to proceed upon such a voyage at once. In the first place, they had no
provisions; in the next place, there was the wife and children, who
would not know what was become of them; in the third place, it was
coming on to blow hard right upon the coast. So that he proved there
was, in fact, not only danger and difficulty, but absolute
impossibility, opposed to the plan which the gentleman wished to follow.
In the meanwhile, the four seamen, who were at the oars, laboured away
incessantly, but with very slow and difficult efforts. Every moment the
wind rose higher and higher, and the sun's lower limb touched the
waters, while they were yet two miles from the French brig.
A part of the large red disk of the descending orb was seen between the
sea and the edge of the clouds that hung upon the verge of the sky,
pouring forth from the horizon to the very shore a long line of
blood-red light, which, resting upon the boiling waters of the ocean,
seemed as if the setting star could indeed "the multitudinous sea
incarnadine, making the green one red."
That red light, however, showed far more clearly than before how the
waters were already agitated; for the waves might be seen distinctly,
even to the spot in the horizon where they seemed to struggle with the
sun, heaving up their gigantic heads till they appeared to overwhelm him
before he naturally set.
The arguments of the fisherman apparently effected that thing which is
so seldom effected in this world; namely, to convince the person to whom
they were addressed. I say SELDOM, for there have been instances known,
in remote times, of people being convinced. They puzzled him, however,
and embarrassed him very much, and he remained for full five minutes in
deep and anxious thought.
His reverie, however, was brought to an end suddenly, by a few words
which the fisherman whispered to him. His countenance brightened; a
rapid and brief conversation followed in a low tone, which ended in his
abruptly holding out his hand to the good man at the helm, saying, "I
trust to your honour."
"Upon my soul and honour," replied the fisherman, grasping his proffered
The matter now seemed settled,--no farther words passed between the
master of the boat and his passenger; but the seaman gave a rapid glance
to the sky, to the long spit of land called the Battery Point, and to
the southward, whence the wind was blowing so sharply.
"We can do it," he muttered to himself, "we can do it;" and he then gave
immediate orders for changing the boat's course, and putting out all
sail. His companions seemed as much surprised by his change of purpose,
as he had been with the alteration of his passenger's determination. His
orders were nevertheless obeyed promptly, the head of the boat was
turned away from the wind, the canvas caught the gale, and away she went
like lightning, heeling till the little yard almost touched the water.
Her course, however, was not bent back exactly to the same spot from
which she started, and it now became evident that it was the fisherman's
intention to round the Battery Point.
Lennard Sherbrooke was not at all aware of the dangerous reef that lay
so near their course; but it soon became evident to him that there was
some great peril, which required much skill and care to avoid; and, as
night fell, the anxiety of the seamen evidently became greater. The wind
by this time was blowing quite a hurricane, and the rushing roaring
sound of the gale and the ocean was quite deafening. But about half an
hour after sunset that peculiar angry roar, which is only heard in the
neighbourhood of breakers, was distinguished to leeward; and looking in
that direction, Sherbrooke perceived one long white line of foam and
surf, rising like an island in the midst of dark and struggling waters.
Not a word was said: it seemed as if scarcely a breath was drawn. In a
few minutes the sound of the breakers became less distinct; a slight
motion was perceivable in the arm of the man who held the tiller, and in
about ten minutes the effect of the neighbouring headlands was found in
smoother water and a lighter gale, as the boat glided calmly and
steadily on, into a small bay, not many hundred miles from Baltimore.
The rest of their voyage, till they reached the shore again, was safe
and easy: the master of the boat and his men seemed to know every creek,
cove, and inlet, as well as their own dwelling places; and, directing
their coarse to a little but deep stream, they ran in between two other
boats, and were soon safely moored.
The boy, by Sherbrooke's direction, had lain himself down in the bottom
of the boat, wrapped up in a large cloak; and there, with the happy
privilege of childhood, he had fallen sound asleep, nor woke till danger
and anxiety were passed, and the little vessel safe at the shore.
Accommodation was easily found in a neighbouring village, and, on the
following day, one, and only one, of the boat's crew went over to the
spot from which they had set out on the preceding evening. He returned
with another man, both loaded with provisions. There was much coming and
going between the village and the boat during the day. By eventide the
storm had sobbed itself away; the sea was calm again, the sky soft and
clear; and beneath the bright eyes of the watchful stars, the boat once
more took its way across the broad bosom of the ocean, with its course
laid directly towards the English shore.
Those were days of pack-saddles and pillions--days certainly not without
their state and display; but yet days in which persons were not valued
according to the precise mode of their dress or equipage, when hearts
were not appraised by the hat or gloves, nor the mind estimated by the
carriages or horses.
Man was considered far more abstractedly then than at present; and
although illustrious ancestors, great possessions, and hereditary claims
upon consideration, were allowed more weight than they now possess, yet
the minor circumstances of each individual,--the things that filled his
pocket, the dishes upon his table, the name of his tailor, or the club
that he belonged to,--were seldom, if ever, allowed to affect the
appreciation of his general character.
However that might be, it was an age, as we have said, of pack-saddles
and pillions; and no one, at any distance from the capital itself, would
have been the least ashamed to be seen with a lady or child mounted
behind him on the same horse, while he jogged easily onward on his
It was thus that, about a quarter of an hour before nightfall, a, tall
powerful man was seen riding along through one of the north-western
counties of England, with a boy of about eight years of age mounted on a
pillion behind him, and steadying himself on the horse by an
affectionate embrace cast round the waist of his elder companion.
Lennard Sherbrooke--for the reader has already divined that this was no
other than the personage introduced to him in our first chapter--Lennard
Sherbrooke, then, was still heavily armed, but in other respects had
undergone a considerable change. The richly laced coat had given place
to a plain dark one of greenish brown; the large riding boots remained;
and the hat, though it kept its border of feathers, was divested of
every other ornament. There were pistols at the saddle-bow, which indeed
were very necessary in those days to every one who performed the
perilous and laborious duty of wandering along the King's Highway; and
in every other respect the appearance of Lennard Sherbrooke was well
calculated neither to attract cupidity nor invite attack.
About ten minutes after the period at which we have again introduced him
to our readers, the traveller and his young companion stopped at the
door of an old-fashioned inn, or rather at the porch thereof; for the
door itself, with a retiring modesty, stood at some distance back, while
an impudent little portico with carved oak pillars, of quaint but not
inelegant design, stood forth into the road, with steps leading down
from it to the sill of the sunk doorway. An ostler ran out to take the
horse, and helped the boy down tenderly and carefully. Sherbrooke
himself then dismounted, looked at his beast from head to foot, and then
ordering the ostler to give him some hay and water, he took the boy by
the hand and entered the house.
The ostler looked at the beast, which was tired, and then at the sky,
over which the first shades of evening were beginning to creep, thinking
as he did so that the stranger might quite as well put up his beast for
the night. In the meantime, however, Sherbrooke had given the boy into
the charge of the hostess, had bidden her prepare some supper for him,
and had intimated that he himself was going a little farther, but would
soon return to sleep at her hospitable dwelling. He ordered to be
brought in and given into her charge also a small portmanteau,--smaller
than that which he had taken with him into the boat,--and when all this
was done, he kissed the boy's forehead tenderly, and left him, mounting
once more his weary beast, and plodding slowly along upon his way.
It was a very sweet evening: the sun, half way down behind one of the
distant hills, seemed, like man's curiosity, to overlook unheeded all
the bright and beautiful things close to him, and to gaze with his eyes
of light full upon the objects further from him, through which the
wayfarer was bending his way. The line of undulating hills, the masses
of a long line of woodland, some deep valleys and dells, a small village
with its church and tower on an eminence, were all in deep blue shadow;
while, in the foreground, every bank and slope was glittering in yellow
sunshine, and a small river, that wound along through the flatter part
of the ground, seemed turned into gold by the great and glorious
alchymist, as he sunk to his rest.
The heart of the traveller who wandered there alone was ill, very ill at
ease. Happily for himself, as he was now circumstanced, the character of
Sherbrooke was a gay and buoyant one, not easily depressed, bearing the
load lightly; but still he could not but feel the difficulties, the
dangers, and the distresses of a situation, which, though shared in by
very many at that moment, was rather aggravated by such being the case,
and had but small alleviation even from hope.
In the first place, he had seen the cause to which he had attached
himself utterly ruined by the base irresolution of a weak monarch, who
had lost his crown by his tyranny, and who had failed to regain it by
his courage. In the next place, for his devotion to that cause, he was a
banished and an outlawed man, with his life at the mercy of any one who
chose to take it. In the next he was well nigh penniless, with the life
of another, dear, most dear to his heart, depending entirely upon his
The heart of the traveller, then, was ill, very ill at ease, but yet the
calm of that evening's sunshine had a sweet and tranquillizing effect.
There is a mirror--there is certainly a moral mirror in our hearts,
which reflects the images of the things around us; and every change that
comes over nature's face is mingled sweetly, though too often unnoticed,
with the thoughts and feelings called forth by other things. The effect
of that calm evening upon Lennard Sherbrooke was not to produce the
wild, bright, visionary dreams and expectations which seem the peculiar
offspring of the glowing morning, or of the bright and risen day; but it
was the counterpart, the image, the reflection of that evening scene
itself to which it gave rise in his heart. He felt tranquillized, he
felt more resolute, more capable of enduring. Grief and anxiety subsided
into melancholy and resolution, and the sweet influence of the hour had
also an effect beyond: it made him pause upon the memories of his past
life, upon many a scene of idle profligacy, revel, and riot,--of talents
cast away and opportunity neglected,--of fortune spent and bright hopes
blasted,--and of all the great advantages which he had once possessed
utterly lost and gone, with the exception of a kind and generous heart:
a jewel, indeed, but one which in this world, alas! can but too seldom
be turned to the advantage of the possessor.
On these things he pondered, and a sweet and ennobling regret came upon
him that it should be so--a regret which might have gone on to sincere
repentance, to firm amendment, to the retrieval of fortunes, to an utter
change of destiny, had the circumstances of the times, or any friendly
voice and helping hand, led his mind on upon that path wherein it had
already taken the first step, and had opened out before him a way of
retrieval, instead of forcing him onward down the hill of destruction.
But, alas! those were not times when the opportunity of doing better was
likely to be allowed to him; nor were circumstances destined to change
his course. His destiny, like that of many Jacobites of the day, was but
to be from ruin to ruin; and let it be remembered, that the character
and history of Lennard Sherbrooke are not ideal, but are copied
faithfully from a true but sad history of a life in those times.
All natural affections sweeten and purify the human heart. Like
everything else given us immediately from God, their natural tendency is
to wage war against all that is evil within us; and every single thought
of amendment and improvement, every regret for the past, every better
hope for the future, was connected with the thought of the beautiful boy
he had left behind at the inn; and elevated by his love for a being in
the bright purity of youth, he thought of him and his situation again
and again; and often as he did so, the intensity of his own feelings
made him murmur forth half audible words all relating to the boy, or to
the person he was then about to seek, for the purpose of interesting him
in the poor youth's fate.
"I will tell him all and everything," he said, thus murmuring to himself
as he went on: "he may drive me forth if he will; but surely, surely, he
will protect and do something for the boy. What, though there have been
faults committed and wrong done, he cannot be so hard-hearted as to let
the poor child starve, or be brought up as I can alone bring him up."
Such was still the conclusion to which he seemed to come; and at length
when the sun had completely gone down, and at the distance of about
three miles from the inn, he paused before a large pair of wooden gates,
consisting of two rows of square bars of painted wood placed close
together, with a thick heavy rail at the top and bottom, while two
wooden obelisks, with their steeple-shaped summits, formed the gate
posts. Opening the gates, as one well familiar with the lock, he now
entered the smaller road which led from them through the fields towards
a wood upon the top of the hill. At first the way was uninteresting
enough, and the faint remains of twilight only served to show some
square fields within their hedge-rows cut in the most prim and
undeviating lines around. The wayfarer rode on, through that part of the
scene, with his eyes bent down in deep thought; but when he came to the
wood; and, following the path--which, now kept with high neatness and
propriety, wound in and out amongst the trees, and then sweeping gently
round the shoulder of the hill, exposed a beautiful deer park--he had
before his eyes a fine Elizabethan house, rising grey upon a little
eminence at the distance of some four or five hundred yards,--it seemed
that some old remembrance, some agitating vision of the days gone by,
came over the horseman's mind. He pulled in his rein, clasped his hands
together, and gazed around with a look of sad and painful recognition.
At the end of a minute or two, however, he recovered himself, rode on to
the front of the house we have mentioned, and dismounting from his
horse, pulled the bell-rope which action was instantly followed by a
long peal heard from within.
"It sounds cold and empty," said the wayfarer to himself, "like my
reception, and perhaps my hopes."
No answer was made for some time; and though the sounds had been loud
enough, as the traveller's ears bore witness, yet they required to be
repeated before any one came to ask his pleasure.
"This is very strange!" he said, as he applied his hand to the bell-rope
again. "He must have grown miserly, as they say, indeed. Why I remember
a dozen servants crowding into this porch at the first sound of a
A short time after, some steps were heard within; bolts and bars were
carefully withdrawn, and an old man in a white jacket, with a lantern in
his hand, opened the heavy oaken door, and gazed upon the stranger.
"Where is the Earl of Byerdale?" demanded the horseman, in apparent
surprise. "Is he not at home?"
The old man gazed at him for a moment from head to foot, without
replying, and then answered slowly and somewhat bitterly, "Yes, he is at
home--at his long home, from which he'll never move again! Why, he has
been dead and buried this fortnight."
"Indeed!" cried the traveller, putting his hand to his head, with an air
of surprise, and what we may call dismay; "indeed! and who has
discharged the servants and shut up the house?"
"Those who have a right to do it," replied the old man, sharply; "for my
lord was not such a fool as to leave his property to be spent, and his
place mismanaged, by two scape-graces whom he knew well enough."
As he spoke, without farther ceremony he shut the door in the stranger's
face, and then returned to his own abode in the back part of the house,
chuckling as he went, and murmuring to himself, "I think I have paid him
now for throwing me into the horsepond, for just telling a little bit of
a lie about Ellen, the laundry maid. He thought I had forgotten him! Ha!
The traveller stood confounded; but he made no observation, he uttered
no word, he seemed too much accustomed to meet the announcement of fresh
misfortune to suffer it to drive him from the strong-hold of silence.
Sweeter or gentler feelings might have done it: he might have been
tempted to speak aloud in calm meditation and thought, either gloomy or
joyful; but his heart, when wrung and broken by the last hard grasp of
fate, like the wolf at his death, was dumb.
He remained for full two minutes, however, beneath the porch, motionless
and silent; then springing on his horse's back, he urged him somewhat
rapidly up the slope. Ere he had reached the top, either from
remembering that the beast was weary, or from some change in his own
feelings, he slackened his pace, and gave himself up to meditation
again. The first agony of the blow that he had received was now over,
and once again he not only reasoned with himself calmly, but expressed
some of his conclusions in a murmur.
"What!" he said, "a peer without a penny! the name attainted, too, and
all lands and property declared forfeit! No, no! it will never do! Years
may bring better times!--Who knows? the attainder may be reversed; new
fortunes may be gained or made! The right dies not, though it may
slumber; exists, though it be not enforced. A peer without a penny! no,
no!--far better a beggar with half a crown!"
Thus saying he rode on, passed through the wood we have mentioned,--the
dull meadows, and the wooden gates; and entering the high road, was
proceeding towards the inn, when an event occurred which effected a
considerable change in his plans and purposes.
It was by this time one of those dark nights, the most propitious that
can be imagined for such little adventures as rendered at one time the
place called Gad's Hill famous alike in story and in song. It wasn't
that the night was cloudy, for, to say sooth, it was a fine night, and
manifold small stars were twinkling in the sky; but the moon, the sweet
moon, was at that time in her infancy, a babe of not two days old, so
that the light she afforded to her wandering companions through the
fields of space was of course not likely to be much. The stars twinkled,
as we have said, but they gave no light to the road; and on either side
there were sundry brakes, and lanes, and hedges, and groups of trees
which were sufficiently shady and latitant in the mid-day, and which
certainly were impervious to any ray of light then above the horizon.
The mind of Lennard Sherbrooke, however, was far too busy about other
things to think of dangers on the King's Highway. His purse was
certainly well armoured against robbery; and the defence was on the
inside and not on the out; so that--had he thought on the matter at all,
which he did not do--he might very probably have thought, in his light
recklessness, he wished he might meet with a highwayman, in order to try
whether he could not rob better than be robbed.
However, as I have said, he thought not of the subject at all. His own
situation, and that of the boy Wilton, occupied him entirely; and it was
not till the noise of a horse's feet coming rapidly behind him sounded
close at his shoulder, that he turned to see by whom he had been
All that Sherbrooke could perceive was, that it was a man mounted on a
remarkably fine horse, riding with ease and grace, and bearing
altogether the appearance of a gentleman.
"Pray, sir," said the stranger, "can you tell me how far I am from the
inn called the Buck's Horns, and whether this is the direct road
"The inn is about two miles on," replied Sherbrooke, "on the left-hand
side of the way, and you cannot miss it, for there is no other house for
"Only two miles!" said the stranger; "then there is no use of my riding
so fast, risking to break my neck, and my horse's knees."
Sherbrooke said nothing, but rode on quietly, while the stranger, still
reining in his horse, pursued the high road by the traveller's side.
"It is a very dark night," said the stranger, after a minute or two's
"A very dark night, indeed!" replied Sherbrooke, and the conversation
again ended there.
"Well," said the stranger, after two or three minutes more had passed,
"as my conversation seems disagreeable to you, sir, I shall ride on."
"Goodnight, sir," replied Sherbrooke, and the other appeared to put
spurs to his horse. At the first step, however, he seized the
traveller's rein, uttering a whistle: two more horsemen instantly darted
out from one side of the road, and in an instant the well-known words,
"Stand and deliver!" were audibly pronounced in the ears of the
Now it is a very different thing, and a much more difficult thing, to
deal in such a sort with three gentlemen of the road, than with one; but
nevertheless, as we have before shown, Lennard Sherbrooke was a stout
man, nor was he at all a faint-hearted one. A pistol was instantly out
of one of the holsters, pointed, and fired, and one of his assailants
rolled over upon the ground, horse and man together. His heavy sword was
free from the sheath the moment after; and exclaiming, "Now there's but
two of you, I can manage you," he pushed on his horse against the man
who had seized his bridle, aiming a very unpleasant sort of oblique cut
at the worthy personage's head, which, had it taken effect, would
probably have left him with a considerable portion less of skull than
that with which he entered into the conflict.
Three things, however, happened almost simultaneously, which gave a new
aspect altogether to affairs. The man upon Sherbrooke's left hand fired
a pistol at his head, but missed him in the darkness of night. At the
same moment the other man at whom he was aiming the blow, and who being
nearer to him of course saw better, parried it successfully, but
abstained from returning it, exclaiming, "By Heavens! I believe it is
"If you had asked me," replied Sherbrooke, "I would have told you that
long ago: pray who are you?"
"I am Frank Bryerly," replied the man: "hold your hands, hold your hands
every one, and let us see what mischief's done! Dick Harrison, I
believe, is down. Devilish unfortunate, Sherbrooke, that you did not
"Speak!" returned Sherbrooke, "what should I speak for? these are not
times for speaking over much."
"I am not hurt, I am not hurt!" cried the man called Harrison; "but hang
him, I believe he has killed my horse, and the horse had well nigh
killed me, for he reared and went over with me at the shot:--get up,
brute, get up!" and he kicked the horse in the side to make him rise. Up
started the beast upon his feet in a moment, trembling in every limb,
but still apparently not much hurt; and upon examination it proved that
the ball had struck him in the fleshy part of the shoulder, producing a
long, but not a deep wound, and probably causing the animal to rear by
the pain it had occasioned.
As soon as this was explained satisfactorily, a somewhat curious scene
was presented, by Leonard Sherbrooke standing in the midst of his
assailants, and shaking hands with two of them as old friends, while the
third was presented to him with all the form and ceremony of a new
introduction. But such things, alas! were not uncommon in those days;
and gentlemen of high birth and education have been known to take to the
King's Highway--not like Prince Hal, for sport, but for a mouthful of
"Why, Frank," said Sherbrooke, addressing the one who had seized his
horse's rein, "how is this, my good fellow?"
"Why, just like everything else in the world," replied the other in a
gay tone. "I'm at the down end of the great see-saw, Sherbrooke, that's
all. When last you knew me, I was a gay Templer, in not bad practice,
bamboozling the juries, deafening the judges, making love to every woman
I met, ruining the tavern-keepers, and astounding the watch and the
chairman. In short, Sherbrooke, very much like yourself."
"Exactly, Frank," replied Sherbrooke, "my own history within a letter or
so: we were always called the counterparts, you know; but what became of
you after I left you, a year and a half ago, when this Dutch skipper
first came over to usurp his father-in-law's throne?"
"Why, I did not take it quite so hotly as you did," replied the other;
"but I remained for some time after the King was gone, till I heard he
had come back to Ireland; then, of course, I went to join him, fared
with the rest, lost everything, and here I am--after having been a
Templer, and then a captain in the king's guards--doing the honours of
the King's Highway."
"Stupidly enough," replied Lennard Sherbrooke; "for here the first thing
that you do is to attack a man who is just as likely to take as to give,
and ask for a man's money who has but a guinea and a shilling in all the
"I am but raw at the trade, I confess," replied the other, "and we are
none of us much more learned. The truth is, we were only practising upon
you, Sherbrooke, we expect a much better prize to-morrow; but what say
you, if your condition be such, why not come and take a turn upon the
road with us? It is the most honourable trade going now-a-days. Treason
and treachery, indeed, carry off the honours at court; but there are so
many traitors of one gang or another, that betraying one's friend is
become a vulgar calling. Take a turn with us on the road, man! take a
turn with us on the road!"
"Upon my soul," replied Sherbrooke, "I think the plan not a bad one; I
believe if I had met you alone, Frank, I should have tried to rob you."
"Don't call it rob," replied Frank Bryerly, "call it soliciting from, or
relieving. But it is a bargain, Sherbrooke, isn't it?"
Lennard Sherbrooke paused and thought for a moment, with the scattered
remains of better feelings, like some gallant party of a defeated army
trying still to rally and resist against the overpowering force of
adverse circumstances. He thought, in that short moment, of what other
course he could follow; he turned his eyes to the east and the west, to
the north and the south, for the chance of one gleam of hope, for the
prospect of any opening to escape. It was in vain, his last hope had
been trampled out that night. He had not even money to fly, and seek, on
some other shore, the means of support and existence. He had but
sufficient to support himself and his horse, and the poor boy, for three
or four more days. Imagination pictured that poor boy's bright
countenance, looking up to him for food and help, and finding none, and
grasping Bryerly's hand, he said, in a low voice, "It is a bargain.
Where and how shall I join you?"
"Oh!" replied the other, "we three are up at Mudicot's inn, about four
miles there: you had better turn your horse and go back with us."
"No," replied Sherbrooke, "I have some matters to settle at the little
inn down there: all that I have in the world is there, and that, Heaven
knows, is little enough; I will join you to-morrow."
"Sherbrooke," said Bryerly, drawing him a little on one side and
speaking low, "I am a rich man, you know: I have got ten guineas in my
pocket: you must share them with me."
Pride had already said "No!" but Bryerly insisted, saying, "You can pay
me in a day or two."
Sherbrooke thought of the boy again, and accepted the money; and then
bidding his companions adieu for the time, he left them and returned to
The poor boy, wearied out, had once more fallen asleep where he sat, and
Sherbrooke, causing him to be put to bed, remained busily writing till a
late hour at night. He then folded up and sealed carefully that which he
had written, together with a number of little articles which he drew
forth from the portmanteau; he then wrote some long directions on the
back of the packet, and placing the whole once more in the portmanteau,
in a place where it was sure to be seen, if any inquisitive eye examined
the contents of the receptacle, he turned the key and retired to rest.
The whole of the following day he passed in playing with and amusing
little Wilton; and so much childish gaiety was there in his demeanour,
that the man seemed as young as the child. Towards evening, however, he
again ordered his horse to be brought out; and, having paid the landlady
for their accommodation up to that time, he again left the boy in her
charge and put his foot in the stirrup. He had kissed him several times
before he did so; but a sort of yearning of the heart seemed to come
over him, and turning back again to the door of the inn, he once more
pressed him to his heart, ere he departed.
Journeys were in those days at least treble the length they are at
present. It may be said that the distance from London to York, or from
Carlisle to Berwick, could never be above a certain length. Measured by
a string probably such would have been the case; but if the reader
considers how much more sand, gravel, mud, and clay, the wheels of a
carriage had to go through in those days, he will easily see how it was
the distances were so protracted.
At all events, fifty or sixty miles was a long, laborious journey; and
at whatever hour the traveller might set out upon his way, he was not
likely to reach the end of it, without becoming a "borrower from the
night of a dark hour or two."
Such was the case with the tenant of a large cumbrous carriage, which,
drawn heavily on by four stout horses wended slowly on the King's
Highway, not very far from the spot where the wooden gates that we have
described raised their white faces by the side of the road.
The panels of that carriage, as well as the ornaments of the top
thereof, bore the arms of a British earl; and there was a heavy and
dignified swagger about the vehicle itself, which seemed to imply a
consciousness even in the wood and leather of the dignity of the person
within. He, for his own part, though a graceful and very courtly
personage, full of high talent, policy, and wit, had nothing about him
at all of the pomposity of his vehicle; and at the moment which we refer
to, namely, about two hours after nightfall, tired with his long
journey, and seated with solitary thought, he had drawn a fur-cap
lightly over his head, and, leaning back in the carriage, enjoyed not
To be woke out of one's slumbers suddenly at any time, or by any means,
is a very unpleasant sensation; but there are few occasions that we can
conceive, on which such an event is more disagreeable than when we are
thus woke, to find a pistol at our breast, and some one demanding our
The Earl of Sunbury was sleeping quietly in his carriage with the most
perfect feeling of security, though those indeed were not very secure
times; when suddenly the carriage stopped, and he started up. Scarcely,
however, was he awake to what was passing round, than the door of the
carriage was opened, and a man of gentlemanly appearance, with a pistol
in his right hand, and his horse's bridle over the left arm, presented
himself to the eyes of the peer. At the same time, through the opposite
window of the carriage, was seen another man on horseback; while the
Earl judged, and judged rightly, that there must be others of the same
fraternity at the heads of the horses, and the ears of the postilions.
The Earl was usually cool and calm in his demeanour under most of the
circumstances of life; and he therefore asked the pistol-bearing
gentleman, much in the same tone that one would ask one's way across the
country, or receive a visitor whom we do not know, "Pray, sir, what may
be your pleasure with me?"
"I am very sorry to delay your lordship even for a moment," replied the
stranger, very much in the same tone as that with which the Earl had
spoken; "but I do it for the purpose of requesting, that you would
disburden yourself of a part of your baggage, which you can very well
spare, and which we cannot. I mean, my lord, shortly and civilly, to
say, that we must have your money, and also any little articles of gold
and jewellery that may be about your person."
"Sir," replied the Earl, "you ask so courteously, that I should be
almost ashamed to refuse you, even were your request not backed by the
soft solicitation of a pistol. There, sir, is my purse, which probably
is not quite so full as you might desire, but is still worth something.
Then as to jewellery, my watch, seals, and these trinkets are at your
disposal. Farther than these I have but this ring, for which I have a
very great regard; and I wish that some way could be pointed out by
which I might be able to redeem it at a future time it may be worth some
half dozen guineas, but certainly not more, to any other than myself. In
my eyes, however, it only appears as a precious gage of old affection,
given to me in my youth by one I loved, and which has remained still
upon my finger, till age has wintered my hair."
"I beg that you will keep the ring," replied the highwayman; "you have
given enough already, my lord, and we thank you."
He was now retiring with a bow, and closing the door, but the Earl
stopped him, saying, in a tone of some feeling, "I beg your pardon; but
your manner, language, and behaviour, are so different from all that
might be expected under such circumstances, that I cannot but think
necessity more than inclination has driven you to a dangerous pursuit."
"Your lordship thinks right," replied the highwayman "I am a poor
gentleman, of a house as noble as your own, but have felt the hardships
of these times more severely than most."
He was again about to retire; but the Earl once more spoke, saying,
"Your behaviour to me, sir, especially about this ring, has been such
that, without asking impertinent questions, I would fain serve you.--Can
I do it ?"
"I fear not, my lord; I fear not," replied the stranger. Then seeming to
recollect himself, with a sudden start, he approached nearer to the
carriage, saying, "I had forgot--you can, my lord!--you can."
"In what manner?" demanded the peer.
"That I cannot tell your lordship here and now," replied the highwayman:
"time is wanting, and, doubtless, my companions' patience is worn away
"Well," replied the Earl, "if you will venture to call upon me at my own
house, some ten miles hence, which, as you know me, you probably know
also, I will hear all you have to say, serve you if I can, and will take
care that you come and go with safety."
"I offer you a thousand thanks, my lord," replied the other, "and will
venture as fearlessly as I would to my own chamber." [Footnote: It may
be interesting to the reader to know that the whole of this scene, even
to a great part of the dialogue, actually took place in the beginning of
the reign of William III.]
Thus saying, he drew back and closed the door; and then making a signal
to his companions to withdraw from the heads of the horses, he bade the
postilions drive on, and sprang upon his own beast.
"What have you got, Lennard? what have you got?" demanded the man who
was at the other door of the carriage: "what have you got--you have had
a long talk about it?"
"A heavy purse," replied Sherbrooke; "what the contents are, I know
not--a watch, a chain, and three gold seals.--I'm almost sorry that I
did this thing."
"Sorry!" cried the other; "why you insisted upon doing it yourself, and
would let no other take the first adventure out of your hands."
"I did not mean that," replied Sherbrooke "I did not mean that at all!
If the thing were to be done, and I standing by, I might as well do it
as see you do it. What I mean is, that I am sorry for having taken the
man's money at all!"
"Pshaw!" replied the other: "You forget that he is one of the enemy, or
rather, I should say, a traitor to his king, to his native-born prince,
and therefore is fair game for every true subject of King James."
"He stood by him a long time," replied Sherbrooke, "for all that--as
long, and longer than the King stood by himself."
"Never mind, never mind, Colonel," said one of the others, who had come
up by this time; "you won't need absolution for what's been done
to-night; and I would bet a guinea to a shilling, that if you ask any
priest in all the land, he will tell you, that you have done a good deed
instead of a bad; but let us get back to the inn as quick as we can, and
see what the purse contains."
The road which the Earl of Sunbury was pursuing passed the very inn to
which the men who had lightened him of his gold were going; but there
was a back bridle-path through some thick woods to the right of the
road, which cut off a full mile of the way, and along this the four
keepers of the King's Highway urged their horses at full speed,
endeavouring, as was natural under such circumstances, to gallop away
reflection, which, in spite of all that they assumed, was not a pleasant
companion to any of the four. It very often happens that the
exhilaration of success occupies so entirely the portion of time during
which remorse for doing a bad action is most ready to strike us, that we
are ready to commit the same error again, before the last murmurs of
conscience have time to make themselves heard. Those who wish to drown
her first loud remonstrances give full way and eager encouragement to
that exhilaration; and now, each of the men whom we have mentioned,
except Sherbrooke, went on encouraging their wild gaiety, leaping the
gates that here and there obstructed their passage, instead of opening
them; and in the end arriving at the inn a full quarter of an hour
before the carriage of the Earl passed the house on its onward way.
The vehicle stopped there for a minute or two, to give the horses hay
and water; and much was the clamour amongst the servants, the
postilions, and the ostlers, concerning the daring robbery that had been
committed; but the postilions of those days, and eke the keepers of
inns, were wise people in their generation, and discreet withal. They
talked loudly of the horror, the infamy, and the shamefulness, of making
the King's Highway a place of general toll and contribution; but still
they abstained most scrupulously from taking any notice of gentlemen who
were out late upon the road, especially if they went on horseback.
It was about two days after the period of which we have spoken, when the
Earl of Sunbury, caring very little for the loss he had met with on the
road, and thinking of it merely as one of those unpleasant circumstances
which occur to every man now and then, sat in his library with every
sort of comfort and splendour about him, enjoying in dignified ease the
society of mighty spirits from the past, in those works which have given
and received an earthly immortality. His hand was upon Sallust; and
having just been reading the awful lines which present in Catiline the
type of almost every great conspirator, he raised his eyes and gazed on
vacancy, calling up with little labour, as it were, a substantial image
to his mind's eye of him whom the great historian had displayed.
The hour was about nine o'clock at night, and the windows were closed,
when suddenly a loud ringing of the bell made itself heard, even in the
Earl's library. As the person who came, by applying at the front
entrance, evidently considered himself a visitor of the Earl, that
nobleman placed his hand upon the open page of the book and waited for a
farther announcement with a look of vexation, muttering to himself,
"This is very tiresome: I thought, at all events, I should have had a
few days of tranquillity and repose."
"A gentleman, my lord," said one of the servants, entering, "is at the
gate, and wishes to speak with your lordship."
"Have you asked what is his business?" demanded the Earl.
"He will not mention it, my lord," replied the servant, "nor give his
name either; but he says your lordship told him to call upon you."
"Oh! admit him, admit him," said the peer; "put a chair there, and bring
After putting the chair, the man retired, and a moment after returned,
saying, "The gentleman, my lord."
The door opened wide, and the tall fine form of Lennard Sherbrooke
entered, leading by the hand the beautiful boy whom we have before
described, who now gazed about him with a look of awe and surprise.
Little less astonishment was visible on the countenance of the Earl
himself; and until the door was closed by the servant, he continued to
gaze alternately upon Sherbrooke and the boy, seeming to find in the
appearance of each much matter for wonder.
"Do me the favour of sitting down," he said at length "I think I have
had the advantage of seeing you before."
"Once, my lord," replied Sherbrooke, "and then it must have been but
"Not more than once?" demanded the Earl: "your face is somewhat familiar
to me, and I think I could connect it with a name."
"Connect it with none, my lord," said Sherbrooke: "that name is at an
end, at least for a time: the person for whom you take me is no more. I
should have thought that you knew such to be the case."
"I did, indeed, hear," said the Earl, "that he was killed at the Boyne;
but still the likeness is so great, and my acquaintance with him was so
"He died at the Boyne, my lord," said Sherbrooke, looking down, "in a
cause which was just, though the head and object of that cause was
unworthy of connexion with it." The Earl's cheek grew a little red; but
Sherbrooke continued, with a slight laugh, "I did not, however, come
here, my lord, to offend you with my view of politics. We have only once
met, my lord, that I know of in life, but I have heard you kindly spoken
of by those I loved and honoured. You, yourself, told me, that if you
could serve me you would; and I come to claim fulfilment of that offer,
though what I request may seem both extraordinary and extravagant to
The Earl bent down his eyes upon the table, and drew his lips in
somewhat close, for he in no degree divined what request was coming; and
he was much too old a politician to encourage applications, the very
proposers of which announced them as extravagant. "May I ask," he said,
at length, "what it is you have to propose? I am quite ready to do any
reasonable thing for your service, as I promised upon an occasion to
which I need not farther refer."
Three servants at that moment entered the room, with chocolate, long cut
slices of toast, and cold water; and the conversation being thus
interrupted, the Earl invited his two guests to partake; and calling the
boy to him, fondled him for some moments at his knee, playing with the
clustering curls of his bright hair, and asking him many little kindly
questions about his sports and pastimes.
The boy looked up in his face well pleased, and answered with so much
intelligence, and such winning grace, that the Earl, employing exactly
the same caress that Sherbrooke had often done before, parted the fair
hair on his forehead, and kissed his lofty brow.
When the servants were gone, Sherbrooke instantly resumed the
conversation. "My request, my lord," he said, "is to be a very strange
one; a request that will put you to some expense, though not a very
great one; and will give you some trouble, though, would to God both the
trouble and expense could be undertaken by myself."
"Perhaps," said the Earl, turning his eyes to the boy, "it may be
better, sir, that we speak alone for a minute or two. I am now sure that
I cannot be mistaken in the person to whom I speak, although I took you
at first for one that is no more. We will leave your son here, and he
can amuse himself with this book of pictures."
Thus saying he rose, patted the boy's head, and pointed out the book he
referred to. He then threw open a door between that room and the next,
which was a large saloon, well lighted, and having led the way thither
with Sherbrooke, he held with him a low, but earnest conversation for
"Well, sir," he said at length, "well, sir, I will not, and must not
refuse, though it places me in a strange and somewhat difficult
situation; but indeed, indeed, I wish you would listen to my
remonstrances. Abandon a hopeless, and what, depend upon it, is an
unjust cause,--a cause which the only person who could gain by it has
abandoned and betrayed. Yield to the universal voice of the people; or
if you cannot co-operate with the government that the popular voice has
called to power, at all events submit; and, I doubt not in the least,
that if, coupled with promises and engagements to be a peaceful subject,
you claim the titles and estates--"
"My lord, it cannot be," replied Sherbrooke, interrupting him: "you
forget that I belong to the Catholic church. However, you will remember
our agreement respecting the papers, and other things which I shall
deposit with you this night: they are not to be given to him till he is
of age, under any circumstances, except that of the King's restoration,
when you may immediately make them public."
As he spoke, he was turning away to return to the library; but the Earl
stopped him, saying, "Stay yet one moment: would it not be better to
give me some farther explanations? and have you nothing to say with
regard to the boy's education? for you must remember how I, too, am
"I have no farther explanations to give, my lord," replied Sherbrooke;
"and as to the boy's education, I must leave it entirely with yourself.
Neither on his religious nor his political education will I say a word.
In regard to the latter, indeed, I may beg you to let him hear the
truth, and, reading what is written on both sides, to judge for himself.
Farther I have nothing to say."
"But you will understand," replied the other, with marked emphasis,
"that I cannot and do not undertake to educate him as I would a son of
my own. He shall have as good an education as possible; he shall be
fitted, as far as my judgment can go, for any station in the state, to
enter any gentlemanly profession, and to win his way for himself by his
own exertions. But you cannot and must not expect that I should accustom
him to indulgence or expense in any way that the unfortunate
circumstances in which he is placed may render beyond his power to
attain, when you and I are no longer in being to support or aid him."
"You judge wisely, my lord," replied Sherbrooke, "and in those respects
I trust him entirely to you, feeling too deeply grateful for the relief
you have given me from this overpowering anxiety, to cavil at any
condition that you may propose."
"I have only one word more to say," replied the Earl, "which is, if you
please, I would prefer putting down on paper the conditions and
circumstances under which I take the boy: we will both sign the paper,
which may be for the security of us both."
Sherbrooke agreed without hesitation; and on their return to the
library, the Earl wrote for some time, while his companion talked with
and caressed the boy. When the Earl had done, he handed one of the
papers he had written to Sherbrooke, who read it attentively, and then
signing it returned it to the Earl. That nobleman in the mean time, had
signed a counterpart of the paper which he now gave to Sherbrooke; and
the latter, taking from his pocket the small packet of various articles
which we have seen him make up at the inn before he went out on the very
expedition which produced his present visit to the Earl, gave it into
the peer's hands, who put his seal upon it also.
This done, a momentary pause ensued, and Lennard Sherbrooke gazed
wistfully at the boy. A feeling of tenderness, which he could not
repress, gained upon his heart as he gazed, and seemed to overpower him;
for tears came up, and dimmed his sight. At length, he dashed them away;
and taking the boy up in his arms, he pressed him fondly to his bosom;
kissed him twice; set him down again; and then, turning to the Earl,
with a brow on which strong resolution was seen struggling with deep
emotion, he said, "Thank you, my lord, thank you!"
It was all he could say, and turning away hastily he quitted the room.
The Earl rang the bell, and ordered the servant to see that the
gentleman's horse was brought round. He then turned and gazed upon the
boy with a look of interest; but little Wilton seemed perfectly happy,
and was still looking over the book of paintings which the Earl had
given to him to examine.
"What can this be?" thought the Earl, as he looked at him; "can there be
perfect insensibility under that fair exterior?" And taking the boy by
the hand he drew him nearer.
"Are you not sorry he is gone?" the nobleman asked.
"Oh! he will not be long away," replied the boy: "he will come back in
an hour or two as he always does, and will look at me as I lie in bed,
and kiss me, and tell me to sleep soundly."
"Poor boy!" said the Earl, in a tone that made the large expressive eyes
rise towards his face with a look of inquiry: "You must not expect him
to be back to-night, my boy. Now tell me what is your name?"
"Wilton," replied the boy; but remembering that that was not sufficient
to satisfy a stranger, he added, "Wilton Brown. But how long will it be
before he comes back?"
"I do not know," replied the Earl, evading his question. "How old are
"I am past eight," replied the boy.
"Happily, an age of quick forgetfulness!" said the Earl, in a low tone
to himself; and then applying his thoughts to make the boy comfortable
for the night, he rang for his housekeeper, and gave her such
explanations and directions as he thought fit.
There is a strange and terrible difference in this world between the
look forward and the look back. Like the cloud that went before the
hosts of the children of Israel, when they fled from the land of Egypt,
an inscrutable fate lies before us, hiding with a dark and shadowy veil
the course of every future day: while behind us the wide-spread past is
open to the view; and as we mark the steps that we have taken, we can
assign to each its due portion of pain, anxiety, regret, remorse,
repose, or joy. Yet how short seems the past to the recollection of each
mortal man! how long, and wide, and interminable, is the cloudy future
to the gaze of imagination!
Many years had passed since the eventful night recorded in our last
chapter; and to the boy, Wilton Brown, all that memory comprised seemed
but one brief short hour out of life's long day.
The Earl of Sunbury had fulfilled what he had undertaken towards him,
exactly and conscientiously. He was a man, as we have shown, of kindly
feelings, and of a generous heart: although he was a politician, a
courtier, and a man of the world. He might, too--had not some severe
checks and disappointments crushed many of the gentler feelings of his
heart--he might, too, have been a man of warm and enthusiastic
affections. As it was, however, he guarded himself in general very
carefully against such feelings; acted liberally and kindly; but never
promised more, or did more, than prudence consented to, were the
temptation ever so strong.
He had promised Lennard Sherbrooke that he would take the boy, and give
him a good education, would befriend him in life, and do all that he
could to serve him. He kept his word, as we have said, to the letter.
During the first six weeks, after he had engaged in this task, he saw
the boy often in the course of every day; grew extremely fond of him;
took him to London, when his own days of repose in the country were
past; and solaced many an hour, when he returned home fatigued with
business, by listening to the boy's prattle, and by playing with, as it
were, the fresh and intelligent mind of the young being now dependent
upon him for all things.
It is a false and a mistaken notion altogether, that men of great mind
and intense thought are easily wearied or annoyed by the presence of
children. The man who is wearied with children must always be childish
himself in mind; but, alas! not young in heart. He must be light,
superficial, though perhaps inquiring and intelligent; but neither
gentle in spirit nor fresh in feeling. Such men must always soon become
wearied with children; for very great similarity of thought and of
mind--the paradox is but seeming--is naturally wearisome in another;
while, on the contrary, similarity of feeling and of heart is that bond
which binds our affections together. Where both similarities are
combined, we may be most happy in the society of our counterpart; but
where the link between the hearts is wanting there will always be great
tediousness in great similarity.
Thus the Earl of Sunbury, though, Heaven knows, no man on earth could be
less childish in his keen and calculating thoughts, or in all his
ordinary habits and occupations, yet found a relief, and an enjoyment,
in talking with the boy, in eliciting all his fresh and picturesque
ideas, and in marking the train and course which thought naturally takes
before it is tutored to follow the direction of art. His own heart--for
a man of the world--was very fresh; but still the worldly mind ruled it
when it would; and the moment that he began to find that the boy might
become too much endeared, and too necessary to him, he determined to
deprive himself of the present pleasure, rather than risk the future
He accordingly determined to send the boy to school, and little Wilton
heard the announcement with pleasure; for though by this time he had
become greatly attached to the Earl, he longed for the society of beings
of the same age and habits as himself. When he was with the Earl he saw
that nobleman was interested with him, but he saw that he was amused
with him too; and in this respect children are very like that noblest of
animals, the dog. Any one who has remarked a dog when people jest with
him, and speak to him mockingly, must have seen that the creature is not
wholly pleased, that he seems as if made to feel a degree of
inferiority. Such also is the case with children; and little Wilton felt
that the Earl was making a sort of playful investigation of his mind,
even while he was jesting with him. I have said felt, because it was
feeling, not thought, that discovered it; and, therefore, though he
loved the Earl notwithstanding all this, he was glad to go where he
heard there were many such young beings as himself.
The Earl did not think him ungrateful on account of the open expression
of his delight. He saw it all, and understood it all; for he had very
few of the smaller selfishnesses, which so frequently blind our eyes to
the most obvious facts which impinge against our own vanities. His was a
high and noble mind, chained and thralled by manifold circumstances and
accidents to the dull pursuits of worldly ambitions. One trait, however,
may display his character: he had practised in regard to the boy a piece
of that high delicacy of feeling of which none but great men are
capable. He had learned and divined, from the short conversation which
had taken place between himself and Lennard Sherbrooke, sufficient in
regard to the boy's unfortunate situation to guide his conduct in
respect to him; and now, even when alone with him in his own
drawing-room or library, he asked no farther questions; he pryed not at
all into what had gone before; and though the youth occasionally
prattled of the wild Irish shores, and the cottage where he had been
brought up, the Earl merely smiled, but gave him no encouragement to say
At length, Wilton Brown went to school; and as the Earl gradually lost a
part of that interest in him which had given prudence the alarm, time
had its effect on Wilton also, drawing one thin airy film after another
over the events of the past, not obliterating them; but, like the effect
of distance upon substantial objects, gathering them together in less
distinct masses, and diminishing them both in size and clearness. When
the time approached for his holidays, which were few and far between, he
was called to the Earl's house, and treated with every degree of
kindness; though with mere boyhood went by boyhood's graces, and the lad
could not be fondled and played with as the child. The Earl never did
anything to make him feel that he was a dependant--no, not for a single
moment; but as the boy's mind expanded, and as a certain degree of the
knowledge of the world was gained from the habits of a public school, he
explained to him, clearly and straight-forwardly, that upon his own
exertions he must rely for wealth, fame, and honour. He told him, that
in the country where he lived, the road to fortune, dignity, and power,
was open to every man; but that road was filled with eager and
unscrupulous competitors, and obstructed in many parts by obstacles
difficult to be surmounted.
"They can be surmounted, Wilton, however," he added; "and with energy,
activity, and determination, that road can be trod, from one end to the
other, within the space of a single life, and leave room for repose at
the end.--You have often seen," he continued, "a gentleman who visits me
here, who rose from a station certainly not higher, or more fortunate
than your own,--who is called, even now, the Great Lord Somers, and
doubtless the same name will remain with him hereafter. He is an example
for all men to follow; and his life offers an encouragement for every
sort of exertion. He rose even from a very humble station of life,
outstripped all competitors, and is now, as you see, in the post of Lord
Keeper, owing no man anything, but all to his own talents and
perseverance. The same may be the case with you, Wilton. All that I can
do, to place you in the way of winning fortune and station for yourself,
I will do most willingly; but in every other respect you must keep in
mind, that you are to be the artisan of your own fortune, and shape your
Such was the language held towards Wilton Brown by the Earl, upon more
than one occasion; and the boy took what he said to heart, remembered,
pondered it, and after much thought and reflection formed the great and
glorious resolution of winning honour and renown, by every exertion of
his mind and body. It is a resolution that may, perhaps, have often been
taken by those who ultimately have never succeeded in the attempt. It is
a resolution from which some may have been wiled away by pleasure, or
driven by accident. But it is a resolution which no man who afterwards
proved great ever failed to take, ay, and to take early. On the head of
mediocrity: on the petty statesmen who figure throughout two thirds of
the world's history; on the tolerable generals who conduct the ordinary
wars of the world; on the small poets and the small philosophers who
fill up the ages that intervene between great men, fortune and accident
may shower down the highest honours, the greatest power, the most
abundant wealth; but the man who in any pursuit has reached the height
of real greatness, has set out on his career with the resolution of
winning fame in despite of circumstances.
Such was the resolution which was taken, as we have said, by Wilton
Brown, and the effect of that very resolution upon him, as a mere lad,
was to make him thoughtful, studious, and different from any of the
other youths of the school, in habits and manners.
The change was beneficial in many respects, even then. It made him
strive to acquire knowledge of every sort and kind that came within his
reach, and he always succeeded in some degree. It made him cultivate
every talent which he felt that he possessed, and an accurate eye and a
musical ear were not neglected as far as he could obtain instruction. He
not only acquired much knowledge, but also much facility in acquiring;
and his eager and anxious zeal did not pass unnoticed by those who
taught him, so that others contributed to his first success, as well as
his own efforts.
That first success was, perhaps, unexpected by any one else. The period
came, at which he was barely qualified by age to strive in competition
with his schoolfellows, for one of those many excellent opportunities
afforded by the kindness and wisdom of past ages, for obtaining a high
education at one of the universities. He had never himself proposed to
be one of the competitors on this occasion, as there was a year open
before him to pursue his studies, and there were many boys at the school
far older than himself.
The Earl had not an idea that such a thing would take place, as Wilton
himself had always expressed the utmost anxiety to pursue a military
career. He had never, indeed, even pressed him to adopt another pursuit,
although he had pointed out to his protege, that his own influence lay
almost entirely in the political world; and his surprise, therefore, was
very great, when he heard that Wilton, at the suggestion of the head
master, had presented himself for examination on this very first
occasion, and had carried off the highest place from all his
On his arrival in London he received him with delight, showered upon him
praises, and fitted him out liberally for his first appearance at the
Here, however, Wilton's first fortune seemed to abandon him. About six
months after his matriculation, he had the grief to hear that the Earl
had been thrown from his horse in hunting, and received various severe
injuries. He hastened to one of his country seats, where that nobleman
had been sojourning for the time, but found him a very different man
from that which he had appeared before. He was not ill enough to need or
to desire nursing and tendance, but he was quite ill enough to be
irritable, impatient, and selfish; for it is a strange fact, that the
very condition which renders us the most dependent on our
fellow-creatures too often renders us likewise indifferent to their
comfort, in our absorbing consideration of our own. Although he could
sit up and walk about, and go forth into his gardens, yet he suffered
great pain, which did not seem to diminish; and a frequent spitting of
blood rendered him impatient and querulous, whenever his lowest words
were not instantly heard and comprehended.
It was a painful lesson to the youth he had brought up; and when the
time for Wilton's return to Oxford arrived, and the Earl, with seeming
satisfaction, put him in mind that it was time to go, the young
gentleman, in truth, felt it a relief from a situation in which he
neither well knew how to satisfy himself, or to satisfy the invalid,
towards whom he was so anxious to show his gratitude.
He returned, then, to the university, where the allowance made him by
the Earl, of two hundred per annum, together with the little income
which a successful competition at school had placed at his disposal,
enabled him to maintain the society of that class with which he had
always associated in life, and to do so with ease to himself; though not
without economy. [Footnote: I think that the same was the college
allowance of the well-known Evelyn.] The Earl had asked him twice, if he
had found the sum enough, and seemed much pleased when Wilton had
replied that it was perfectly so. But from that expression he easily
divined, that had it been otherwise, the Earl might have said nothing
reproachful, but would not have been well satisfied.
Wilton did not mistake the motives of the Earl: he knew him to be
anything but a penurious man; and he had long seen and been aware of the
motives on which that nobleman acted towards him. He knew that it was
with a wish to give him everything that was necessary and appropriate to
the situation in which he was placed, but by no means to encourage
expensive habits, or desires which might unfit him for the first
laborious steps which he was destined to tread in the path of life. He
felt, indeed, that there was an ambitious spirit in his own heart, and
it cost him many a struggle in thought, to regulate its action: to guide
it in the course of all that was good and right, but resolutely to
restrain it from following any other path. "Ambition," he thought, "is
like a falcon, and must be trained to fly only at what game I will. Its
proud spirit must be broken, to bend to this, and to submit to that; to
yield even to imaginary indignities, provided they imply no sacrifice of
real honour, and to strive for no false show, while I am striving for a
Thus passed a year, but during that time the Earl's health had been in
no degree improved; and a number of painful events had taken place in
his political course which had left his mind more irritable than before,
while continual suffering had brought upon him a sort of desponding
recklessness, which made him cast behind him altogether those things
which he had previously considered the great objects of existence, and
desire nothing but to quit for ever the scene of political strife, and
pass the rest of his days in peace, if not in comfort.
Such had been the state of his mind when Wilton had last seen him in
London, towards the beginning of the year 1695; but the young gentleman
was somewhat surprised, about a month afterwards, to receive a sudden
summons to visit the Earl in town, coupled with information, that it was
his friend's design immediately to proceed to Italy, on account of his
health. The summons was very unexpected, as we have implied; but the
Earl informed him in his letter that he was going without loss of time;
and as the shortest way of reaching him, Wilton determined to mount his
horse at once, and ride part of the way to London that night. Of his
journey, however, and its results, we will speak in another chapter.
That there are epochs in the life of every man, when all the concurrent
circumstances of fortune seem to form, as it were, a dam against the
current of his fate, and turn it completely into another direction, when
the trifling accident and the great event work together to produce an
entirely new combination around him, no one who examines his own
history, or marks attentively the history of others, can doubt for a
moment. It is very natural, too, to believe that there are at those
moments indications in our own hearts--from the deep latent sympathies
which exist between every part of nature and the rest--that the changes
which reason and observation do not point out are about to take place in
our destiny: for is it to be supposed, that when the fiat has gone forth
which alters a being's whole course of existence--when the electric
touch has been communicated to one end of the long chain of cause and
effect which forms the fate of every individual being--is it to be
supposed that it will not tremble to its most remote link, especially
towards that point where the greatest action is to take place?
There come upon us, it seems to me, in those times, fits of musing far
deeper and more intense, excitability of feeling--perhaps of imagination
too--more acute than at any other time. Perhaps, also, a determination,
an energy of will is added, necessary to carry us through, with power
and firmness, the struggle, or the change, or the temptation that awaits
When Nelson stood upon the quarter-deck of his ship, but a few minutes
before the last great victory that closed a career of glory, he felt and
expressed a sense that his last hour was come, that the great and final
change of fate was near, and that but a few moments remained for the
accomplishment of his destiny. But the indication was given to a mind
that could employ it nobly; and he to whom the foreshadowing of his fate
had been afforded, even as a boy--when he determined that he would, and
felt that he could, be a hero--in that last moment, when he knew that
the hero's life was done, determined to die as he had lived, and used
the prescience of his coming death but to promote the objects for which
he had existed.
There may be some men who would say these things are not natural; but if
we could see all the fine relationships of one being to another, if the
mortal eye refined could view the unsubstantial as well as the
substantial world, could mark the keen sympathies and near associations,
and all the essences which fill up the apparent gaps between being and
being, we should see, undoubtedly, that these things are most natural,
and wonder at the blindness with which we have walked in darkling
ignorance through the thronged and multitudinous universe.
It was somewhat late in the afternoon when Wilton Brown put his foot in
the stirrup, and set off to ride towards London. He did not hope to
reach the metropolis that night, but he intended to go as far as he
could, so as to insure his arrival before the hour of the Earl's
breakfast on the following morning. He had ridden his horse somewhat
hard during the morning before he had received the summons to town, and
he consequently now set out at a slow pace. Not to weary the noble beast
was, in truth, and in reality, his motive; but there was, at the same
time, in his mind, a temporary inclination to deep and intense thought,
which he could by no means shake off, and which naturally disposed him
to a slow and equable pace.
The sudden announcement of the Earl's determination to go abroad,
without any intimation that the young man whom he had fostered from
youth to manhood was to accompany him, or to follow him to the
continent, might very well set Wilton musing on his circumstances and
his prospects; but that was not the cause of his meditative mood on the
present occasion, though it was the immediate cause of his giving way to
it. In truth, the inclination which he felt to low, desponding, though
deep and clear thought, had pursued him for the last four-and-twenty
hours, and it was to cast it off that he had in fact ridden so hard that
very morning. Now, however, he found it necessary to yield to it; and as
he rode along, he gave up his mind entirely to the consideration of the
past, of the present, and the future.
The Earl had announced to him at once in his letter, that he was about
to leave England, but he had made no reference whatsoever to the future
fate of him whom he had hitherto protected and supported. Was that
protection and support still to continue? Wilton asked himself. His
friend had told him that he was to win his way in the world, and was the
struggle now to begin? The next question that came was, naturally, Who
and what am I, then? and his thoughts plunged at once into a gulf where
they had often lost themselves before.
His boyhood had passed away unheeding, and he had attached no importance
to his previous fate, nor made any effort to impress upon his own
recollection the circumstances which preceded the period of his
reception into the Earl's house. Indeed, he had never thought much upon
the matter, till at length, when he had reached the age of fifteen, the
Earl had kindly and judiciously spoken with him upon his future
prospects; and in order to stimulate him to exertion, had pointed out to
him that his fortunes depended on himself. He had then, for the first
time, asked himself, "Who and what am I?" and had striven to recollect
as much as possible of the past, in order to gather thence some
knowledge of the present. His efforts had not been very successful.
Time, the great destroyer, envies even memory the power of preserving
images of the things that he has done away or altered; and he is sure,
if possible, to deface the pictures altogether, or to leave the lines
less clear. With Wilton he had done much to blot out and to confuse. At
first, memory seemed all a blank beyond the period of his schoolboy
days; but gradually one image after another rose out of the void, and
one called up another as they came. Still they were clouded and
indistinct, like the vague phantoms of a dream. It was with great
difficulty that he recollected any names, and could not at all tell in
what land it was, that some of the brightest of his memories lay. It was
all unconnected, too, with the present, and from it Wilton could derive
no clue in regard to the great change that was coming. Between him and
the future there appeared to hang a dark pall, which his eye could not
penetrate, but behind which was Fate. He tried to combat such feelings:
he tried long, as he rode, to conquer them; to put them down by the
power of a vigorous mind; to overthrow sensation by thought.
When, however, he found that he could not succeed, when, after many
efforts, the oppression--for I will not call it despondency--remained
still as powerful as ever, he mentally turned, as if to face an enemy
that pursued him, and to gaze full upon the inevitable power itself; all
the more awful as it was, in the misty grandeur which shrouded the
frowning features from his view. He nerved his heart, too, and resolved,
whatever it might be that was in store for him, whatever might be the
change, the loss, the adversity, which all his sensations seemed to
prophesy, that he would bear it with unshrinking courage, with resolute
determination; nay, with what was still more with one of his
disposition, with unmurmuring patience.
In the meanwhile, however, he strove, as he went along, to persuade
himself that the presentiment was but the work of fancy; that there was
nothing real in it; that he had excited himself to fears and
apprehensions that were groundless; that the expedition of the Earl to
Italy was but a temporary undertaking, and that it would most probably
make no change in his situation, no alteration in his fortunes.
Thus thought he, as he rode slowly onward, when, at the distance of
about a quarter of a mile, he perceived another horseman, proceeding at
a pace perhaps still slower than his own. The aspect of the country
between Oxford and London was as different in that day from that which
it is at present as it is possible to conceive. There is nothing in all
England--with all the changes which have taken place, in manners,
morals, feelings, arts, sciences, produce, manufactures, and
government--which has undergone so great a change, as the high roads of
the empire during the last hundred and fifty years. No one can now tell,
where the roads which lay between this place and that then ran. They
have been dug into, ploughed up, turned hither and thither, changed into
canals, or swallowed up in railroads. The face of the country, too, has
been altered, by many a village built, and many an old mansion pulled
down, long tracts of country brought into cultivation, and deep
plantations of old trees shadowing that ground which in those days was
unwholesome marsh, or barren moor. Even Hounslow Heath, beloved by many
of the frequenters of the King's Highway, has disappeared under the