Part 2 out of 10
spirit of cultivation, and left no trace of places where many a daring
deed was clone.
However that may be, the road which the young traveller was following,
lay not at all in the direction taken by either of the present roads to
Oxford; but at a short distance from High Wycombe turned off to the
right--that is, supposing the traveller to be going towards London--and
approached the banks of the Thames not far from Marlow. In so doing, it
passed over a long range of high hills, and a wide extent of flat,
common ground upon the top, which was precisely the point whereat Wilton
Brown had arrived, at the very moment we began this digression upon the
state of the King's Highways in those times.
This common ground of which we speak was as bleak as well might be, for
the winds of heaven had certainly room to visit it as roughly as they
chose; it was also uncultivated, and yet it cannot be said to have been
unproductive; for, probably, there never was a space of ground of equal
size, unless it were Maidenhead Thicket, which could show so rich and
luxuriant a crop of gorse, heath, and fern. For a shelter to the latter,
appeared scattered at unequal distances over the ground a few stunted
trees--hawthorns, beeches, and oaks. The beech, however, predominated,
in honour of the county in which the common was situated; for though,
probably, if we knew the origin of the name bestowed on each county in
England, we should find them all significant, yet none, I believe, would
be found more picturesque or appropriate than that given by our good
Saxon ancestors to the county in question--being Buchen-heim, or
Buckingham: the home or land of the beeches.
The gorse, fern, and heath, besides a small quantity of not very rich
grass, and a few wild flowers, were the only produce of the ground,
except the trees that I have mentioned; and the only tenants of the
place were a few sheep, by far too lean to need any one to look after
them. On the edges of the common, indeed, might be found an occasional
goose or two, but they were like the white settlers on the coast of
Africa: venturing rarely and timidly into the interior. A high road went
across this track, as I have shown; but it being necessary, from time to
time, that farmers' carts, and other conveyances, horses, waggons,
tinkers' asses, and flocks of sheep, should cross it in different
directions, and as each of these travelling bodies, in common with the
world in general, liked to have a way of its own, the furze and fern had
been cut down in many long straight lines; and paths for horse and foot,
as well as long tracks of wheels, and deep ruts, crossed and recrossed
each other all over the common. To have seen it--nay, to see it now, for
it exists very nearly in its primeval state--one would suppose, from all
the various tracks, that it was a place of great thoroughfare, when, to
say truth, though I have crossed it some twenty times or more, I never
saw any travelling thing upon it but a solitary tax-cart and a gipsy's
It was just about the middle of this common, then, that Wilton Brown, as
I have said, perceived another horseman riding along at the same slow
pace as himself. Their faces were both turned one way, with a few
hundred yards between them; and it appeared to the young gentleman, that
the other personage whom we have mentioned was coming in an oblique line
towards the high road to which he himself was journeying. This
supposition proved to be correct, as the stranger, riding along the path
that he was following, came abreast of Wilton Brown upon the high road,
just at the spot where a comfortable direction-post pointed with the
forefinger of a rude hand carved in the wood, along a path to the left,
bearing inscribed, in large letters, "To Woburn."
The young traveller examined the other with a hasty but marking glance,
and perceived thereby, that he was a stout man of the middle age,
between the unpleasant ages of forty and fifty, but without any loss of
power or activity. He was mounted on a strong black horse, had a quick
and eager eye, and altogether possessed a fine countenance, but there
was some degree of shy suspicion in his look, which did not seem to
indicate any very great energy or force of determination.
It now wanted not more than a quarter of an hour to sunset, and there
was a bright rich yellow light in the western sky, which gave each
traveller a fair excuse for staring into the face of the other, as if
their eyes were dazzled by the beams of the declining sun.
When he had satisfied himself, Wilton Brown turned away his eyes, and
rode on, gazing quietly over the wide extent of bleak common, which, to
say sooth, offered a picturesque scene enough, with its scrubby trees,
and its large masses of tall gorse, lying in the calm evening air; while
deep blue shadows, and clear lights resting here and there in the
hollows and upon the swells, marked them out distinctly to the view.
In a moment after, however, Wilton's ears were saluted by the stranger's
voice, saying, "Give you good evening, young gentleman--it has been a
Now this might appear somewhat singular in the present day--when human
beings have adopted a particular sort of mysterious ordinance, by which
alone they can become thoroughly known and acquainted with each
other--and when no man, upon any pretence or consideration whatsoever,
dare speak to a fellow-creature, until some one known to both of them
has whispered some cabalistic words between them, which, in general,
neither of them hear distinctly. At the time I speak of, however,
acquaintance was much more easily made, so far, at least, as common
civility and the ordinary charities of life went. A man might speak to
another at that time, if any accidental circumstances threw them close
together, without any risk of being taken for a fool, a swindler, or a
brute; and there was, in short, a good-humoured frankness and simplicity
in those days, which formed, to say the truth, the best part about them;
for the good old times, as they are called, were certainly desperately
coarse, and a trifle more vicious than the present.
Such being the case then, Wilton Brown was not in the least surprised at
the address of the stranger, but turned, and replied civilly; and being,
indeed, somewhat dissatisfied with the companionship of his own
thoughts, he suffered his horse to jog on side by side with the beast of
the stranger, and entered into conversation with him willingly enough.
He found him an intelligent and clever man, with a tone and manner
superior, in many points, to his dress and equipage. He seemed to speak
with authority, and was conversant with the great world of London, with
the court, and the camp. He knew something also of France, and its
self-called great monarch. He spoke with a shrug of the shoulder and an
Alas! of the court of Saint Germain, and the exiled royal family of
England; but he said nothing that could commit him to either one party
or the other; and though he certainly left room for Wilton to express
his own sentiments, if he chose to do so, he did not absolutely strive
to lead him to any political subject, which formed in those days a more
dangerous ground than at present.
Wilton, however, had not the slightest inclination to discuss politics
with a stranger. Brought up by a Whig minister, educated in the
Protestant religion, and fond of liberty upon principle, it may easily
be imagined, that he not only looked upon those who now swayed, and were
destined to sway, the British sceptre as the lawful and rightful
possessors of power in the country, but he regarded the actual sovereign
himself--though he might not love him in his private character, or
admire him in those acts, where the man and the monarch were too
inseparably blended to be considered apart--as a great deliverer of this
country, from a tyranny which had been twice tried and twice repudiated.
At the same time, however, he felt for the exiled monarch. But he felt
still more for his noble wife, and for his unhappy son. His own heart
told him that those two had been unjustly dealt with, the one
calumniated, the other punished without a fault. Nor did he blame the
true and faithful servants whom adversity could not shake, and who were
only loyal to a crime, who still adhered to their old allegiance, loved
still the sovereign, who had never ill-treated them, and were ready
again to shed their blood for the house in whose service so much noble
blood had already flowed. He did not--he did not in his own heart--blame
them, and he loved not to consider what necessity there might be for
putting down with the strong and unsparing hand of law the frequent
renewal of those claims which had been decided upon by the awful
sentence of a mighty nation.
But upon none of these subjects spoke he with the stranger. He refrained
from all such topics, though they were with some skill thrown in his
way; and thus the journey passed pleasantly enough for about half an
hour. By that time the sun had gone down; but it was a clear, bright
evening with a long twilight; and the evening rays, like gay children
unwilling to go to sleep, lingered long in rosy sport with the light
clouds before they would sink to rest beneath the western sky. The
twilight was becoming grey, however, and the light falling short, when,
at about the distance of half a mile before they reached the spot where
the common terminated, the two travellers approached a rise and fall in
the ground, beyond which ran a little stream with a small old bridge of
one arch, not in the best repair, carrying the highway over the water
with a sharp and sudden turn. Scattered about in the neighbourhood of
the bridge, and on the slope that led down to it, perched upon sundry
knolls and banks, and pieces of broken ground, were a number of old
beeches, mostly hollowed out by time, but still flourishing green in
their decay. These trees, together with the twilight, prevented the
bridge itself from being seen by the travellers; but as they came near,
they heard a sudden cry, as if called forth by either terror or
surprise, and Wilton instantly checked his horse to listen.
"Did you not hear a scream?" he said, addressing his companion in a low
"Yes," answered the other, "I thought I did: let us ride on and see."
Wilton's spurs instantly touched his horse's side, and he rode quickly
down the slope towards the bridge, which he well remembered, when a
scene was suddenly presented to his view, which for a moment puzzled and
Just at the turn of the bridge lay overturned upon the road one of the
large, heavy, wide-topped vehicles, called a coach in those days, while
round about it appeared a group of persons whose situation, for a
moment, seemed to him dubious, but which soon became more plain. A
gentleman, somewhat advanced in life--perhaps about fifty-eight or
fifty-nine, if not more--stood by the door of the carriage, from which
he had recently emerged, and with him two women, one of whom was a young
lady, apparently of about seventeen years of age, and the other her
maid. Three men--servants stood about their master; but they had not the
slightest appearance of any intention of giving aid to any one; for,
though sundry were the situations and attitudes in which they stood,
each of those attitudes betokened, in a greater or a less degree, the
uncomfortable sensation of fear. One of them, indeed, had a brace of
pistols in his two hands, but those hands dropped, as it were, powerless
by his side, and his knees were bent into a crooked line, which
certainly indicated no great firmness of heart.
To account for the trepidation displayed by several of the persons
present, it may be necessary to state that round the overthrown vehicle
stood five personages, each of whom held a cocked pistol in his hand,
and, in two instances, the hands that held those pistols were raised in
an attitude of menace not to be mistaken. In one instance, the weapon of
offence was pointed towards the gentleman who appeared to be the owner
of the carriage; in the other, it was directed towards the head of the
poor girl, his daughter, who seemed to have not the slightest intention
This formidable gesture was accompanied by words, which were spoken loud
enough for Wilton to hear, as he pushed his horse down the hill; and
those words were, "Come, madam! your ear-rings, quick: do not keep us
all night with your hands shaking. By the Lord, I will get them out in a
quicker fashion, if you do not mind."
Before we can proceed to describe what occurred next, it may be
necessary to state one feature in the case, which was very
peculiar--this was, that at about forty yards from the spot where the
robbery was taking place, upon the top of a small bank, with his horse
grazing near, and his arms crossed upon his chest, stood a man of
gentlemanly appearance and powerful frame, taking no part whatsoever in
the affray; not opposing the proceedings of the plunderers, indeed, but
gnawing his nether lip, as if anything rather than well contented. He
fixed a keen, even a fierce eye upon Wilton as he rode down; but neither
the young gentleman himself, nor the other traveller, who followed him
at full speed, took any notice of him, but coming on with their pistols
drawn from their holsters, they were soon in the midst of the group
round the carriage.
Wilton, unaccustomed to such encounters, was not very willing to shed
blood, and therefore--the chivalrous spirit in his heart leading him at
once towards one particular spot in the circle--he struck the man who
was brutally pointing his pistol at the girl, a blow of his clenched
fist, which hitting him just under the ear, as he turned at the sound of
the horse's feet, laid him in a moment motionless and stunned upon the
The young gentleman, by the same impulse, and almost at the same
instant, sprang from his horse, and cast himself between the lady and
the assailants; but at that moment the voice of his travelling companion
met his ear, exclaiming, in a thundering tone, "That is right! that is
right! Now stand upon the defensive till my men come up!"
Wilton did not at all understand what this might mean; but turning to
the servants already on the spot, he exclaimed, in a sharp tone, "Stand
forward like men, you scoundrels!" and they, seeing some help at hand,
advanced a little with a show of courage.
The gentlemen of the King's Highway, however, had heard the words which
Wilton's companion had shouted to him; and seeing themselves somewhat
overmatched in point of numbers already, they did not appear to approve
of more men coming up on the other side, before they had taken their
departure. There was, consequently, much hurrying to horse. The man who
had been knocked down by Wilton was dragged away by the heels, from the
spot where he lay somewhat too near to the other party; and the sharp
application of the gravel to his face, as one of his companions pulled
him along by the legs, proved sufficiently reviving to make him start
up, and nearly knock his rescuer down.
Wilton--not moved by the spirit of an ancient Greek--felt no
inclination to fight for the dead or the living body of his foe; and the
whole party of plunderers were speedily in the saddle and on the
retreat, with the exception of the more sedate personage on the bank.
He, indeed, was more slow to mount, calling the man who had been knocked
down "The Knight of the Bloody Nose" as he passed him; and then with a
light laugh springing into the saddle, he followed the rest at an easy
"Ha! ha! ha!" exclaimed Wilton's companion of the road, laughing, "let
me be called the master of stratagems for the rest of my life! Those
five fools have suffered themselves to be terrified from their booty,
simply by three words from my mouth and their own imaginations."
"Then you have no men coming up?" said Wilton.
"Not a man," replied the other: "all my men are busy in my own house at
this minute; most likely saying grace over roast pork and humming ale."
The events that happen to us in life gather themselves together in
particular groups, each group separated in some degree from that which
follows and that which goes before, but yet each united, in its own
several parts, by some strong bond of connexion, and each by a finer and
less apparent ligament attached to the other groups that surround it. In
short, if, as the great poet moralist has said, "All the world is a
stage, and all the men and women in it only players," the life of each
man is a drama, with the events thereof divided into separate scenes,
the scenes gathered into grand acts, and the acts all tending to the
great tragic conclusion of the whole. Happy were it for man if he, like
a great dramatist, would keep the ultimate conclusion still in view.
In the life of Wilton Brown, the scene of the robbers ended with the
words which we have just said were spoken by his travelling companion,
and a new scene was about to begin.
The elderly gentleman to whom the carriage apparently belonged, took a
step forward as the stranger spoke the last sentence, exclaiming,
"Surely I am not mistaken--Sir John Fenwick, I believe." The stranger
pulled off his hat and bowed low. "The same, your grace," he replied:
"it is long since we have met, and I am happy that our meeting now has
proved, in some degree, serviceable to you."
"Most serviceable, indeed, Sir John," replied the Duke, shaking him
warmly by the hand; "and how is your fair wife, my Lady Mary? and my
good Lord of Carlisle, and all the Howards?"
"Well, thank your grace," replied Sir John Fenwick, "all well. This, I
presume, is your fair daughter, my Lady."
"She is, sir, she is," interrupted the Duke: "you have seen her as a
child, Sir John. But pray, Sir John, introduce us to your gallant young
friend, to whom we are also indebted for so much."
"He must do that for himself," replied Sir John Fenwick: "we are but the
companions of the last half hour, and comrades in this little
Although accustomed to mingle with the best society; and, in all
ordinary cases, free and unrestrained in his own manners, Wilton Brown
felt some slight awkwardness in introducing himself upon the present
occasion. He accordingly merely gave his name, expressing how much
happiness he felt at the opportunity he had had of serving the Duke; but
referred not at all to his own station or connexion with the Earl of
"Wilton Brown!" said the Duke, with a meaning smile, and gazing at him
from head to foot, while he mentally contrasted his fine and lofty
appearance, handsome dress, and distinguished manners, with the somewhat
ordinary name which he had given. "Wilton Brown! a NOM DE GUERRE, I
rather suspect, my young friend?"
"No, indeed, my lord," replied Wilton: "were it worth anybody's while to
search, it would be found so written in the books of Christchurch."
"Oh! an Oxonian," cried the Duke, "and doubtless now upon your way to
London. But how is this, my young friend, you are in midst of term
Wilton smiled at the somewhat authoritative and parental tone assumed by
the old gentleman. "The fact is, my Lord Duke," he said, "that I am
obliged to absent myself, but not without permission. The illness of my
best friend, the Earl of Sunbury, and his approaching departure for
Italy, oblige me to go to London now to see him before he departs."
"Oh, the Earl of Sunbury, the Earl of Sunbury," replied the Duke: "a
most excellent man, and a great statesman, one on whom all parties rely.*
That alters the case, my young friend; and indeed, whatever might be the
cause of your absence from Alma Mater, we have much to thank that cause
for your gallant assistance--especially my poor girl here. Let me shake
hands with you--and now we must think of what is to be clone next, for
it is well nigh dark: the carriage is broken by those large stones which
they must have put in the way, doubtless, to stop us; and it is hopeless
to think of getting on farther to-night."
[*Footnote: Let it be remarked that this was not the Earl of Sunderland,
of whom the exact reverse might have been said.]
"Hopeless, indeed, my lord," replied Sir John Fenwick; "but your grace
must have passed on the way hither a little inn, about half a mile
distant, or somewhat more. There I intended to sleep to-night, and most
probably my young friend, too, for his horse seems as tired as mine. If
your grace will follow my advice, you would walk back to the inn, make
your servants take everything out of the carriage, and send some people
down afterwards to drag it to the inn-yard till to-morrow morning."
"It is most unfortunate!" said the Duke, who was fond of retrospects.
"We sent forward the other carriage about three hours before us, in
order that the house in London might be prepared when we came."
The proposal of Sir John Fenwick, however, was adopted; and after giving
careful and manifold orders to his servants, the Duke took his way back
on foot towards the inn, conversing as he went with the Knight. His
daughter followed with Wilton Brown by her side; and for a moment or two
they went on in silence; but at length seeing her steps not very steady
over the rough road upon which they were, Wilton offered his left arm to
support her, having the bridle of his horse over the right.
She took it at once, and he felt her hand tremble as it rested on his
arm, which was explained almost at the same moment. "It is very foolish,
I believe," she said, in a low, sweet voice, "and you will think me a
terrible coward, I am afraid; but I know not how it is, I feel more
terrified and agitated, now that this is all over, than I did at the
The communication being thus begun, Wilton soon found means to soothe
and quiet her. His conversation had all that ease and grace which,
combined with carefulness of proprieties, is only to be gained by long
and early association with persons of high minds and manners. There was
no restraint, no stiffness--for to avoid all that could give pain or
offence to any one was habitual to him--and yet, at the same time, there
was joined to the high tone of demeanour a sort of freshness of ideas, a
picturesqueness of language and of thought, which were very captivating,
even when employed upon ordinary subjects. It is an art--perhaps I might
almost call it a faculty--of minds like his, insensibly and naturally to
lead others from the most common topics, to matters of deeper interest,
and thoughts of a less every-day character. It is as if two persons were
riding along the high road together, and one of them, without his
companion remarking it, were to guide their horses into some bridle-path
displaying in its course new views and beautiful points in the scenery
Thus ere they reached the inn, the fair girl, who leaned upon the arm of
an acquaintance of half an hour, seemed to her own feelings as well
acquainted with him as if she had known him for years, and was talking
with him on a thousand subjects on which she had never conversed with
any one before.
The Duke, who, although good-humoured and kindly, was somewhat stately,
and perhaps a very little ostentatious withal, on the arrival of the
party at the inn, insisted upon the two gentlemen doing him the honour
of supping with him that night, "as well," he said, "as the poorness of
the place would permit;" and a room apart having been assigned to him,
he retired thither, with the humbly bowing host, to issue his own orders
regarding their provision. The larder of the inn, however, proved to be
miraculously well stocked; the landlord declared that no town in
Burgundy, no, nor Bordeaux itself, could excel the wine that he would
produce; and while the servants with messengers from the inn brought in
packages, which seemed innumerable, from the carriage, the cook toiled
in her vocation, the host and hostess bustled about to put all the rooms
in order, Sir John Fenwick and Wilton Brown talked at the door of the
inn, and Lady Laura retired to alter her dress, which had been somewhat
deranged by the overthrow of the carriage.
At length, however, it was announced that supper was ready, and Wilton
with his companion entered the room, where the Duke and his daughter
awaited them. On going in, Wilton was struck and surprised; and, indeed,
he almost paused in his advance, at the sight of the young lady, as she
stood by her father. In the grey of the twilight, he had only remarked
that she was a very pretty girl; and as they had walked along to the
inn, she had shown so little of the manner and consciousness of a
professed beauty, that he had not even suspected she might be more than
he had first imagined. When he saw her now, however, in the full light,
he was, as we have said, struck with surprise by the vision of radiant
loveliness which her face and form presented. Wilton was too wise,
however, and knew his own situation too well, even to dream of falling
in love with a duke's daughter; and though he might, when her eyes were
turned a different way, gaze upon her and admire, it was but as a man
who looks at a jewel in a king's crown, which he knows he can never
Well pleased to please, and having nothing in his thoughts to embarrass
or trouble him on that particular occasion, he gave way to his natural
feelings, and won no small favour and approbation in the eyes of the
Duke and his fair daughter. The evening, which had begun with two of the
party so inauspiciously, passed over lightly and gaily; and after
supper, Wilton rose to retire to rest, with a sigh, perhaps, from some
ill-defined emotions, but with a recollection of two or three happy
hours to be added to the treasury of such sweet things which memory
stores for us in our way through life.
As the inn was very full, the young gentleman had to pass through the
kitchen to reach the staircase of his appointed room. Standing before
the kitchen fire, and talking over his shoulder to the landlord, who
stood a step behind him, was a tall, broad-shouldered, powerful man,
dressed in a good suit of green broad cloth, laced with gold. His face
was to the fire, and his back to Wilton, and he did not turn or look
round while the young gentleman was there. The landlord hastened to give
his guest a light, and show him his room; and Wilton passed a night,
which, if not dreamless, was visited by no other visions but sweet ones.
On the following morning he was up early, and approached the window of
his room to throw it open, and to let in the sweet early air to visit
him, while he dressed himself; but the moment he went near the window,
he saw that it looked into a pretty garden laid out in the old English
style. That garden, however, was already tenanted by two persons
apparently deep in earnest conversation. One of those two persons was
evidently Sir John Fenwick, and the other was the stranger in green and
gold, whom Wilton had remarked the night before at the kitchen fire.
Seeing how earnestly they were speaking, he refrained from opening his
window, and proceeded to dress himself; but he could not avoid having,
every now and then, a full view of the faces of the two, as they turned
backwards and forwards at the end of the garden. Something that he there
saw puzzled and surprised him: the appearance of the stranger in green
seemed more familiar to him than it could have become by the casual
glance he had obtained of it in the inn kitchen; and he became more and
more convinced, at every turn they took before him, that this personage
was no other than the man he had beheld standing on the bank, taking no
part with the gentlemen of the road, indeed, but evidently belonging to
This puzzled him, as we have said, not a little. Sir John Fenwick was a
gentleman of good repute, whom he had heard of before now. He had
married the Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the Earl of Carlisle, and,
though a stanch Jacobite, it was supposed, he was nevertheless looked
upon as a man of undoubted probity and honour. What could have been his
business, then, with thieves, or at best with the companions of thieves?
This was a question which Wilton could no ways solve; and after having
teased himself for some time therewith, he at length descended to the
little parlour of the inn, and ordered his horse to be brought round as
speedily as possible. He felt in his own bosom, indeed, some inclination
to wait for an hour or two, in order to take leave of the Duke and his
fair daughter; but remembering his own situation with the Earl, as well
as feeling some of his gloomy sensations of the day before returning
upon him, he determined to set out without loss of time. He mounted
accordingly, and took his way towards London at a quick pace, in order
to arrive before the Earl's breakfast hour.
There are, however, in that part of the country, manifold hills, over
which none but a very inhumane man, unless he were pursued by enemies,
or pursuing a fox, would urge his horse at a rapid rate; and as Wilton
Brown was slowly climbing one of the first of these, he was overtaken by
another horseman, who turned out to be none other than the worthy
gentleman in the green coat.
"Good morrow to you, Master Wilton Brown," said the stranger, pulling up
his horse as soon as he had reached him: "we are riding along the same
road, I find, and may as well keep companionship as we go. These are sad
times, and the roads are dangerous."
"They are, indeed, my good sir," replied Wilton, who was, in general,
not without that capability of putting down intrusion at a word, which,
strangely enough, is sometimes a talent of the lowest and meanest order
of frivolous intellects, but is almost always found in the firm and
decided--"they are, indeed, if I may judge by what you and I saw last
The stranger did not move a muscle, but answered, quite coolly, "Ay, sad
doings though, sad doings: you knocked that fellow down smartly--a neat
blow, as I should wish to see: I thought you would have shot one of
them, for my part."
"It is a pity you had not been beforehand with me," answered Wilton:
"you seemed to have been some time enjoying the sport when we came up."
The stranger now laughed aloud. "No, no," he said, "that would not do; I
could not interfere; I am not conservator of the King's Highway; and,
for my part, it should always be open for gentlemen to act as they
liked, though I would not take any share in the matter for the world."
"There is such a thing," replied Wilton, not liking his companion at
all--"there is such a thing as taking no share in the risk, and a share
in the profit."
A quick flush passed over the horseman's cheek, but remained not a
moment. "That is not my case," he replied, in a graver tone than he had
hitherto used; "not a stiver would I have taken that came out of the
good Duke's pocket, had it been to save me from starving. I take no
money from any but an enemy; and when we cannot carry on the war with
them in the open field, I do not see why we should not carry it on with
them in any way we can. But to attack a friend, or an indifferent
person, is not at all in my way."
"Oh! I begin to understand you somewhat more clearly," replied Wilton;
"but allow me to say, my good sir, that it were much better not to talk
to me any more upon such subjects. By so doing, you run a needless risk
yourself, and can do neither of us any good. Of course," he added,
willing to change the conversation, "it was Sir John Fenwick who told
you my name."
"Yes," replied the other; "but it was needless, for I knew it before."
"And yet," said Wilton, "I do not remember that we ever met."
"There you are mistaken," answered the traveller; "we met no longer ago
than last Monday week. You were going down the High-street in your cap
and gown, and you saw some boys looking into a tart shop, and gave them
some pence to buy what they longed for."
The ingenuous colour came up into Wilton Brown's cheek, as he remembered
the little circumstance to which the man alluded. "I did not see you,"
"But I saw you," answered the man, "and was pleased with what I saw; for
I am one of those whom the hard lessons of life have taught to judge
more by the small acts done in private, than by the great acts that all
mankind must see. Man's closet acts are for his own heart and God's eye;
man's public deeds are paintings for the world. However, I was pleased,
as I have said, and I have seen more things of you also that have
pleased me well. You saw me, passed me by, and would not know me again
in the same shape to-morrow; but I take many forms, when it may suit my
purposes; and having been well pleased with you once or twice, I take
heed of what you are about when I do see you."
Wilton Brown mused over what he said for a moment or two, and then
replied, "I should much like to know what it was first induced you to
take any notice of my actions at all--there must have been some motive,
"Oh, no," replied the other--"there is no MUST! It might have been
common curiosity. Every likely youth, with a pair of broad shoulders and
a soldier-like air, is worth looking after in these times of war and
trouble. But the truth is, I know those who know something of you, and,
if I liked, I could introduce you to one whom you have not seen for many
"What is his name?" demanded Wilton Brown, turning sharply upon the
stranger, and gazing full in his face.
"Oh! I name no names," replied the stranger; "I know not whether it
would be liked or not. However, some day I will do what I have said, if
I can get leave; and now I think I will wish you good morning, for here
lies my road, and there lies yours."
"But stay, stay, yet a moment," said Wilton, checking his horse; "how am
I to hear of you, or to see you again?"
"Oh!" replied the stranger, in a gay tone, "I will contrive that, fear
not!--Nevertheless, in case you should need it, you can ask for me at
the tavern at the back of Beaufort House: the Green Dragon, it is
"And your name, your name?" said Wilton, seeing the other about to ride
"My name! ay, I had forgot--why, your name is Brown--call me Green, if
you like. One colour's just as good as another, and I may as well keep
the complexion of my good friend, the Dragon, in countenance. So you
wont forget, it is Mister Green, at the Green Dragon, in the Green Lane
at the back of Beaufort House; and now, Mister Brown, I leave you a
brown study, to carry you on your way."
So saying, he turned his horse's head, and cantered easily over the
upland which skirted the road to the left. After he had gone about a
couple of hundred yards, Wilton saw him stop and pause, as if
thoughtfully, for a minute. But without turning back to the road, he
again put spurs to his horse, and was out of sight in a few moments.
Wilton then rode on to London, without farther pause or adventure of any
kind; but it were vain to say that, in this instance, "care did not sit
behind the horseman;" for many an anxious thought, and unresolved
question, and intense meditation, were his companions on his onward way.
Fortunately, however, his horse was not troubled in the same manner; and
about five minutes before the hour he had proposed to himself, Wilton
was standing before the house of the Earl in St. James's-square. The
servants were all rejoiced to see him, for, unlike persons in his
situation in general, he was very popular amongst them; but the Earl, he
was informed, had not yet risen, and the account the young gentleman
received of his health made him sad and apprehensive.
IN about an hour's time, the Earl of Sunbury descended to breakfast; and
he expressed no small pleasure at the unexpected appearance of his young
"You were always a kind and an affectionate boy, Wilton," he said; "and
you have kept your good feelings unchanged, I am happy to find. Depend
upon it, when one can do so, amongst all the troubles, and cares, and
corrupting things of this world, we find in the feelings of the heart
that consolation, when sorrows and disappointments assail us, which no
gift or favour of man can impart. I believe, indeed, that within the
last six months, with all the bodily pains and mental anxieties I have
had to suffer, I should either have died or gone mad, had not my mind
obtained relief, from time to time, in the enjoyment of the beauties of
nature, the works of art, and the productions of genius. Nor have my
thoughts been altogether unoccupied with you," he added, after a
moment's pause, "and that occupation would have been most pleasant to my
mind, Wilton, inasmuch as through your whole course you have given me
undivided satisfaction. But, alas! I cannot do for you all that I should
wish to do. You know that my own estates are all entailed upon distant
relatives, whom I do not even know. I am not a man, as you are well
aware, to accumulate wealth; and all I can possibly assure to you is the
enjoyment of the same income I have hitherto allowed you, and which, in
case of my death, I will take care shall be yours."
Wilton listened, as may be supposed, with affection and gratitude; but
he tried, after expressing all he felt, and assuring the Earl that he
possessed as much as he desired, to put an end to a conversation which
was rendered the more painful to him by the marked alteration which he
perceived in the person of his friend since he had last seen him.
The Earl, however, would not suffer the subject to drop, replying, "I
know well that you are no way extravagant, Wilton, and maintain the
appearance of a gentleman upon smaller means than many could or would;
but yet, my good youth, you are naturally ambitious; and there are a
thousand wants, necessities, and desires still to be gratified, which at
present you neither perceive nor provide for. You are not destined,
Wilton, to go on all your life, content in the seclusion of a college,
with less than three hundred a year. Every man should strive to fulfil
to the utmost his destiny--I mean, should endeavour to reach the highest
point in any way which God has given him the capability of attaining.
You must become more than you are, greater, higher, richer, by your own
exertions. Had my health suffered me to remain here, I could have easily
facilitated your progress in political life. Now I must trust your
advancement to another; and you will perhaps think it strange, that the
person I do trust it to should not be any of my old and intimate
political friends. But I have my reasons for what I do, which you will
some day know; and before I go, I must exact one promise of you, which
is to put yourself under the guidance of the person whom I have
mentioned, and to accept whatever post he may think the best calculated
to promote your future views. As he now holds one of the highest
stations in the ministry, I could have wished him to name you his
private secretary, but that office is at present filled, and he has
promised me most solemnly to find you some occupation within the next
half-year. Your allowance shall be regularly transmitted to you till my
return; and, until you receive some appointment, you had better remain
at Oxford, which may give you perhaps the means of taking your first
degree. And now, my dear boy, that I have explained all this, what were
you about to say regarding the adventures you met with in your journey?"
"First let me ask, sir," replied Wilton, "who is the gentleman you have
so kindly interested for me?"
"Oh! I thought you had divined: it is the Earl of Byerdale, now all
potent in the counsels of the King--at least, so men suppose and say.
However, I look upon it that you have given me the promise that I ask."
"Undoubtedly, my lord," replied Wilton: "in such a case, I must ever
look upon your wishes as a command."
The conversation then turned to other and lighter matters, and Wilton
amused his friend with the detail of the adventures of the preceding
"Sir John Fenwick!" exclaimed the Earl, as soon as Wilton came to the
events that succeeded the robbery--"he is a dangerous companion, Sir
John Fenwick! We know him to be disaffected, a nonjuror, and a plotter
of a dark and intriguing character. Who was the Duke he met with? Duke
"On my word, I cannot tell you, sir," replied Wilton; "I did not hear
his name: they called his daughter Lady Laura."
"You are a strange young man, Wilton," replied the Earl; "there are
probably not two men in Europe who would have failed to inquire, if it
were no more than the name of this pretty girl you mention."
"If there had been the slightest probability of my ever meeting her
again," replied Wilton, "I most likely should have inquired. But my
story is not ended yet;" and he went on to detail what had occurred
during his ride that morning.
This seemed to strike and interest the Earl more than the rest; and he
immediately asked his young companion a vast number of questions, all
relating to the personal appearance of the gentleman in green, who had
been the comrade of his early ride.
After all these interrogatories had been answered, he mused for a minute
or two, and then observed, "No, no, it could not be. This personage in
green, Wilton, depend upon it, is some agent of Sir John Fenwick, and
the Jacobite party. He has got some intimation of your name and
situation, and has most likely seen you once or twice in Oxford, where,
I am sorry to say, there are too many such as himself. They have fixed
their eyes upon you, and, depend upon it, there will be many attempts to
gain your adherence to an unsuccessful and a desperate party. Be wise,
my dear Wilton, and shun all communication with such people. No one who
has not filled such a station as I have, can be aware of their manifold
Wilton promised to be upon his guard, and the conversation dropped
there. It had suggested, however, a new train of ideas to the mind of
the young gentleman--new, I mean, solely in point of combination, for
the ideas themselves referred to subjects long known and often thought
of. It appeared evident to him, that the question which the Earl had put
to himself in secret, when he heard of his conversation with the man in
green, was, "Can this be any one, who really knows the early history of
Wilton Brown?" and the question which Wilton in turn asked himself was,
"How is the Earl connected with that early history?"
Many painful doubts had often suggested themselves to the mind of Wilton
Brown in regard to that very subject; and those doubts themselves had
prevented him from pressing on the Earl questions which might have
brought forth the facts, but which, at the same time, he thought, might
pain that nobleman most bitterly, if his suspicions should prove
The Earl himself had always carefully avoided the subject, and when any
accidental words led towards it, had taken evident pains to change the
conversation. What had occurred that morning, however, weighed upon
Wilton's mind, and he more than once asked himself the question--"Who
and what am I?"
There was a painful solution always ready at hand; but then again he
replied to his own suspicions--"The Earl certainly treats me like a
noble and generous friend, but not like a father." The conclusion of all
these thoughts was,--
"Even though I may give the Earl a moment's pain, I must ask him the
question before he goes to Italy;" and he watched his opportunity for
several days, without finding any means of introducing such a topic.
At length, one morning, when the Earl happened to be saying something
farther regarding the young man's future fate, Wilton seized the
opportunity, and replied, "With me, my dear lord, the future and the
past are alike equally dark and doubtful. I wish, indeed, that I might
be permitted to know a little of the latter, at least." "Do not let us
talk upon that subject at present, Wilton," said the Earl, somewhat
impatiently; "you will know it all soon enough. At one-and-twenty you
shall have all the information that can be given to you."
But few words more passed on that matter, and they only conveyed a
reiteration of the Earl's promise more distinctly. On the afternoon of
that day another person was added to the dinner table of the Earl of
Sunbury. Wilton knew not that anybody was coming, till he perceived that
the Earl waited for some guest; but at length the Earl of Byerdale was
announced, and a tall good-looking man, of some fifty years of age, or
perhaps less, entered the room, with that calm, slow, noiseless sort of
footstep, which generally accompanies a disposition either naturally or
habitually cautious. It is somewhat like the footstep of a cat over a
Between the statesman's brows was a deep-set wrinkle, which gave his
countenance a sullen and determined character, and the left-hand corner
of his mouth, as well as the marking line between the lips and the
cheek, were drawn sharply down, as if he were constantly in the presence
of somebody he disliked and rather scorned. Yet he strove frequently to
smile, made gay and very courteous speeches too, and said small pleasant
things with a peculiar grace. He was, indeed, a very gentlemanly and
courtly personage, and those who liked him were wont to declare, that it
was not his fault if his countenance was somewhat forbidding. By some
persons, indeed--as is frequently the case with people of weak and
subservient characters--the very sneer upon his lip, and the
authoritative frown upon his brow, were received as marks of dignity,
and signs of a high and powerful mind.
Such things, however, did not at all impose upon a man so thoroughly
acquainted with courts and cabinets as the Earl of Sunbury, and the
consequence was, that Lord Byerdale, with all his coolness,
self-confidence, and talent, felt himself second in the company of the
greater mind, and though he liked not the feeling, yet stretched his
courtesy and politeness farther than usual.
When he entered, he advanced towards the Earl with one of his most
bright and placid smiles, apologized for being a little later than his
time, was delighted to see the Earl looking rather better, and then
turned to see who was the other person in the room, in order to
apportion his civility accordingly. When he beheld Wilton Brown, the
young gentleman's fine person, his high and lofty look, and a certain
air of distinction and self-possession about him, though so young,
appeared to strike and puzzle him; but the Earl instantly introduced his
protege to the statesman, saying, "The young friend, my lord, of whom I
spoke to you, Mr. Wilton Brown."
Lord Byerdale was now as polite as he could be, assured the young
gentleman that all his small interest could command should be at his
service; and while he did so, he looked from his countenance to that of
the Earl, and from the Earl's to his, as if he were comparing them with
one another. Then, again, he glanced his eyes to a beautiful picture by
Kneller, of a lady dressed in a fanciful costume, which hung on one side
of the drawing-room.
Wilton remarked the expression of his face as he did so; and his own
thoughts, connecting that expression with foregone suspicions, rendered
it painful. Quitting the room for a moment before dinner was announced,
he retired to his own chamber, and looked for an instant in the glass.
He was instantly struck by an extraordinary resemblance, between himself
and the picture, which had never occurred to him before.
In the meanwhile, as soon as he had quitted the room, the Earl said, in
a calm, grave tone to his companion, pointing at the same time to the
picture which the other had been remarking, "The likeness is indeed very
striking, and might, perhaps, lead one to a suspicion which is not
"Oh, my dear lord," replied the courtier, "you must not think I meant
anything of the kind. I did remark a slight likeness, perhaps; but I was
admiring the beauty of the portrait. That is a Kneller, of course; none
could paint that but Kneller."
The Earl bowed his head and turned to the window. "It is the portrait,"
he said, "of one of my mother's family, a third or fourth cousin of my
own. Her father, Sir Harry Oswald, was obliged to fly, you know, for one
of those sad affairs in the reign of Charles the Second, and his estates
and effects were sold. I bought that picture at the time, with several
other things, as memorials of them, poor people."
"She must have been very handsome," said Lord Byerdale.
"The painter did her less than justice," replied the Earl, in the same
quiet tone: "she and her father died in France, within a short time of
each other; and there is certainly a strong likeness between that
portrait and Wilton.--There is no relationship, however."
Notwithstanding the quiet tone in which the Earl spoke, Lord Byerdale
kept his own opinion upon the subject, but dropped it as a matter of
conversation. The evening passed over as pleasantly as the illness of
the Earl would permit; and certainly, if Wilton Brown was not well
pleased with the Earl of Byerdale, it was not from any lack of
politeness on the part of that gentleman. That he felt no particular
inclination towards him is not to be denied; but nevertheless he was
grateful for his kindness, even of demeanour, and doubted not--such was
his inexperience of the world--that the Earl of Byerdale would always
treat him in the same manner.
After this day, which proved, in reality, an eventful one in the life of
Wilton Brown, about a week elapsed before the Earl set out for the
Continent. Wilton saw him on board, and dropped down the river with him;
and after his noble friend had quitted the shores of England, he turned
his steps again towards Oxford, without lingering at all in the capital.
It must be confessed, that he felt a much greater degree of loneliness,
than he had expected to experience on the departure of the Earl. He knew
now, for the first time, how much he had depended upon, and loved and
trusted, the only real friend that he ever remembered to have had. It is
true, that while the Earl was resident in London, and he principally in
Oxford, they saw but little of each other; but still it made a great
change, when several countries, some at peace and some at war with
England, lay between them, and when the cold melancholy sea stretched
its wide barrier to keep them asunder. He felt that he had none to
appeal to for advice or aid, when advice or aid should be wanting; that
the director of his youth was gone, and that he was left to win for
himself that dark experience of the world's ways, which never can be
learned, without paying the sad price of sorrow and disappointment.
Such were naturally his first feelings; and though the acuteness of them
wore away, the impression still remained whenever thought was turned in
that direction. He was soon cheered, however, by a letter from the Earl,
informing him of his having arrived safely in Piedmont; and shortly
after, the first quarter of his usual allowance was transmitted to him,
with a brief polite note from the Earl of Byerdale, in whose hands Lord
Sunbury seemed entirely to have placed him. Wilton acknowledged the note
immediately, and then applied himself to his studies again; but shortly
after, he was shocked by a rumour reaching him, that his kind friend had
been taken prisoner by the French. While he was making inquiries, as
diligently as was possible in that place, and was hesitating, as to
whether, in order to learn more, he should go to London or not, he
received a second epistle froth the Earl of Byerdale, couched in much
colder terms than his former communication, putting the question of the
Earl's capture beyond doubt, and at the same time stating, that as he
understood this circumstance was likely to stop the allowance which had
usually been made to Mr. Brown, he, the Earl of Byerdale, was anxious to
give him some employment as speedily as possible, although that
employment might not be such as he could wish to bestow. He begged him,
therefore, to come to London with all speed, to speak with him on the
subject, and ended, by assuring him that he was--what Wilton knew him
not to be--his very humble and most obedient servant.
On first reading the note, Wilton had almost formed a rash
resolution--had almost determined neither to go to London at all, nor to
repose upon the friendship and assistance of the Earl of Byerdale. But
recollecting his promise to his noble friend before his departure, he
resolved to endure anything rather than violate such an engagement; and
consequently wrote to say he would wait upon the Earl as soon as the
term was over, to the close of which there wanted but a week or two at
In that week or two, however, Wilton was destined to feel some of the
first inconveniences attending a sudden change in his finances.
Remembering, that, for the time at least, more than two-thirds of his
income was gone, he instantly began to contract all his expenses, and
suffered, before the end of the term, not a few of the painful followers
of comparative poverty.
He now felt, and felt bitterly, that the small sum which he received
from his college would not be sufficient to maintain him at the
University, even with the greatest economy; so that, besides his promise
to the Earl, to accept whatever Lord Byerdale should offer him, absolute
necessity seemed to force him as a dependent upon that nobleman, at
least till he could hear some news of his more generous friend.
It is an undoubted fact, that small annoyances are often more difficult
to bear than evils of greater magnitude; and Wilton felt all those
attendant upon his present situation most acutely. To appear differently
amongst his noble comrades at the University; to have no longer a horse,
to join them in their rides; to be obliged to sell the fine books he had
collected, and one or two small pictures by great masters which he had
bought; to be questioned and commiserated by the acquaintances who cared
the least for him;--all these were separate sources of great and acute
pain to a feeling and sensitive heart, not yet accustomed to adversity.
Wilton, however, had not been schooling his own mind in vain for the
last two years; and though he felt as much as any one, every privation,
yet he succeeded in bearing them all with calmness and fortitude, and
perhaps even curtailed every indulgence more sternly than was absolutely
necessary at the time, from a fear that the reluctance which he felt
might in any degree blind his eyes to that which was just and right.
A few instruments of music, a few books not absolutely required in his
studies, his implements for drawing, and all the little trinkets or
gifts of any kind which he had received from the Earl of Sunbury, were
the only things that he still preserved, which merited in any degree the
name of superfluities. With the sum obtained from the sale of the rest,
he discharged to the uttermost farthing all the expenses of the
preceding term, took his first degree with honour, and then set out upon
his journey to London.
No adventure attended him upon the way; and on the morning after his
arrival, he presented himself at an early hour at the house of the Earl
of Byerdale. After waiting for some time, he was received by that
nobleman with a cold and stately air; and having given him a hint, that
it would have been more respectful if he had come up immediately to
London, instead of waiting at Oxford till the end of the term, the Earl
proceeded to inform him of his views.
"Our noble and excellent friend, the Earl of Sunbury," said the
statesman, "was very anxious, Mr. Brown, that I should receive you as my
private secretary. Now, as I informed him, the gentleman whom I have
always employed cannot of course be removed from that situation without
cause; but, at the same time, what between my public and my private
business, I have need of greater assistance than he can render me. I
have need, in fact, of two private secretaries, and one will naturally
succeed the other, when, as will probably be the case, in about six
months the first is removed by appointment to a higher office. I will
give you till to-morrow to consider, whether the post I now offer you is
worth your acceptance. The salary we must make the same as the allowance
which has lately unfortunately ceased; and I am only sorry that I can
give you no further time for reflection, as I have already delayed three
weeks without deciding between various applicants, in order to give you
time to arrive in London."
Wilton replied not at the moment; for there was certainly not one word
said by the Earl which could give him any assignable cause of offence,
and yet he was grieved and offended. It was the tone, the manner, the
cold haughtiness of every look and gesture that pained him. He was not
moved by any boyish conceit; he was always willing, even in his own
mind, to offer deep respect to high rank, or high station, or high
talents. He would have been ready to own at once, that the Earl was far
superior to himself in all these particulars; but that which did annoy
him, as it might annoy any one, was to be made to feel the superiority,
at every word, by the language and demeanour of the Earl himself.
He retired, then, to the inn, where, for the first time during all his
many visits to London, he had taken up his residence; and there, pacing
up and down the room, he thought bitterly over Lord Byerdale's proposal.
The situation offered to him was far inferior to what he had been led to
expect; and he evidently saw, that the demeanour of the Earl himself
would render every circumstance connected with it painful, or at least
unpleasant. Yet, what was he to do? There were, indeed, a thousand other
ways of gaining his livelihood, at least till the Earl of Sunbury were
set free; but then, his promise that he would not refuse anything which
was offered by Lord Byerdale again came into his mind, and he
determined, with that resolute firmness which characterized him even at
an early age, to bear all, and to endure all; to keep his word with the
Earl to the letter, and to accept an office in the execution of which he
anticipated nothing but pain, mortification, and discomfort.
Such being the case, he thought it much better to write his resolutions
to the Earl, than to expose himself to more humiliation by speaking with
him on the subject again. He had suffered sufficiently in their last
conversation on that matter, and he felt that he should have enough to
endure in the execution of his duties. He wrote, indeed, as coldly as
the Earl had spoken; but he made no allusion to his disappointment, or
to any hopes of more elevated employment.
He expressed himself ready to commence his labours as soon as the Earl
thought right; and in the course of three days was fully established as
the second private secretary of the Earl.
The next three or four months of his life we shall pass over as briefly
as possible, for they were chequered by no incident of very great
interest. The Earl employed him daily, but how did he employ him?--As a
mere clerk. No public paper, no document of any importance, passed
through his hands. Letters on private business, the details of some
estates in Shropshire, copies of long and to him meaningless accounts,
and notes and memorandums, referring to affairs of very little interest,
were the occupations given to a man of active, energetic, and cultivated
mind, of eager aspirations, and a glowing fancy. It may be asked, how
did the Earl treat him, too?--As a clerk! and not as most men of
gentlemanly feeling would treat a clerk. Seldom any salutation marked
his entrance into the room, and cold, formal orders were all that he
Wilton bore it all with admirable patience; he murmured not, otherwise
than in secret; but often when he returned to his own solitary room, in
the small lodging he had taken for himself in London, the heart within
his bosom felt like a newly-imprisoned bird, as if it would beat itself
to death against the bars that confined it.
Amidst all this, there was some consolation came. A letter arrived one
morning, after this had continued about two months, bearing one postmark
from Oxford, and another from Italy. It was from the Earl of Sunbury,
who was better, and wrote in high spirits. He had been arrested by the
French, and having been taken for a general officer of distinction, bad
been detained for several weeks. But he had been well treated, and set
at liberty, as soon as his real name and character were ascertained.
Only one of Wilton's letters, and that of an early date, had reached
him, so that he knew none of the occurrences which placed his young
friend in so painful a situation, but conceived him to be still at
Oxford, and still possessing the allowance which he had made him.
The moment he received these tidings, Wilton replied to it with a
feeling of joy and a hope of deliverance, which showed itself in every
line of the details he gave. This letter was more fortunate than the
others, and the Earl's answer was received within a month. That answer,
however, in some degree disappointed his young friend. Lord Sunbury
praised his conduct much for accepting the situation which had been
offered; but he tried to soothe him under the conduct of the Earl of
Byerdale, while he both blamed that conduct and censured the Earl in
severe terms, for having suffered the allowance which he had authorized
him to pay to drop in so sudden and unexpected a manner. To guard
against the recurrence of such a thing for the future, the Earl enclosed
an order on his steward for the sum, with directions that it should be
paid in preference to anything else whatsoever. At the same time,
however, he urged Wilton earnestly not to quit the Earl of Byerdale, but
to remain in the employment which he had accepted, at least till the
return of a more sincere friend from the Continent should afford the
prospect of some better and more agreeable occupation.
Wilton resolved to submit; and as he saw that the Earl was anxious upon
the subject, wrote to him immediately, to announce that such was the
case. Hope gave him patience; and the increased means at his command
afforded him the opportunity of resuming the habits of that station in
which he had always hitherto moved. In these respects, he was now
perfectly at his ease, for his habits were not expensive; and he could
indulge in all, to which his wishes led him, without those careful
thoughts which had been forced upon him by the sudden straitening of his
means. Such, then, was his situation when, towards the end of about
three months, a new change came over his fate, a new era began in the
history of his life.
How often is it that a new acquaintance, begun under accidental
circumstances, forms an epoch in life? How often does it change in every
respect the current of our days on earth--ay! and affect eternity
itself? The point of time at which we form such an acquaintance is, in
fact, the spot at which two streams meet. There, the waters of both are
insensibly blended together--the clear and the turbid, the rough and the
smooth, the rapid and the slow. Each not only modifies the manner, and
the direction, and the progress of the other with which it mingles, but
even if any material object separates the united stream again into two,
the individuality of both those that originally formed it is lost, and
each is affected for ever by the progress they have had together.
Wilton Brown was now once more moving at ease. He had his horses and his
servant, and his small convenient apartments at no great distance from
the Earl of Byerdale's. He could enjoy the various objects which the
metropolis presented from time to time to satisfy the taste or the
curiosity of the public, and he could mingle in his leisure hours with
the few amongst the acquaintances he had made in passing through a
public school, or residing at the University, whom he had learned to
love or to esteem. He sought them not, indeed, and he courted no great
society; for there was not, perhaps, one amongst those he knew whose
taste, and thoughts, and feelings, were altogether congenial with his
own. Indeed, when any one has found such, in one or two instances,
throughout the course of life, he may sit himself down, saying, "Oh!
happy that I am, in the wide universe of matter and of spirit I am not
alone! There are beings of kindred sympathies linked to myself by ties
of love which it never can be the will of Almighty Beneficence that
death itself should break!"
If Wilton felt thus towards any one, it was towards the Earl of Sunbury;
but yet there was a difference between his sensations towards that kind
friend and those of which we have spoken, on which we need not pause in
this place. Except in his society, however, Wilton's thoughts were
nearly alone. There were one or two young noblemen and others, for whom
he felt a great regard, a high esteem, a certain degree of habitual
affection, but that was all, and thus his time in general passed
With the Earl of Byerdale he did not perhaps interchange ten words in
three months, although when he was writing in the same room with him he
had more than once remarked the eyes of the Earl fixed stern and intent
upon him from beneath their overhanging brows, as if he would have asked
him some dark and important question, or proposed to him some dangerous
and terrible act which he dared hardly name.
"Were he some Italian minister," thought Wilton, sometimes, "and I, as
at present, his poor secretary, I should expect him every moment to
commend the assassination of some enemy to my convenient skill in such
At length one morning when he arrived at the house of the Earl to pursue
his daily task, he saw a travelling carriage at the door with two
servants, English and foreign, disencumbering it from the trunks which
were thereunto attached in somewhat less convenient guise than in the
present day. He took no note, however, and entered as usual, proceeding
at once to the cabinet, where he usually found the Earl at that hour. He
was there and alone, nor did the entrance of Wilton create any farther
change in his proceedings than merely to point to another table, saying,
"Three letters to answer there, Mr. Brown--the corners are turned down,
Wilton sat down and proceeded as usual; but he had scarcely ended the
first letter and begun a second, when the door of the apartment was
thrown unceremoniously open, and a young gentleman entered the room,
slightly, but very gracefully made, extremely handsome in features, but
pale in complexion, and with a quick, wandering, and yet marking eye,
which seemed to bespeak much of intelligence, but no great steadiness of
character. He was dressed strangely enough, in a silk dressing-gown of
the richest-flowered embroidery, slippers of crimson velvet
embroidered with gold upon his feet, and a crimson velvet nightcap with
gold tassels on his head.
"Why, my dear sir, this is really cruel," cried he, advancing towards
the Earl, and speaking in a tone of light reproach, "to go away and
leave me, when I come back from twelve or fourteen hundred miles'
distance, without even waiting to see my most beautiful dressing-gown.
Really you fathers are becoming excessively undutiful towards your
children! You have wanted some one so long to keep you in order, my
lord, that I see evidently, I shall be obliged to hold a tight hand over
you. But tell me, in pity tell me, did you ever see anything so
exquisite as this dressing-gown? Its beauty would be nothing without its
superbness, and its splendour nothing without its delicacy. The richness
of the silk would be lost without the radiant colours of the flowers,
and the miraculous taste of the embroidery would be entirely thrown away
upon any other stuff than that. In short, one might write a catechism
upon it, my lord. There is nothing on all the earth equal to it. No man
has, or has had, or will have, anything that can compete with it. Gold
could not buy it. I was obliged to seduce the girl that worked it; and
then, like Ulysses with Circe, I bound her to perform what task I liked.
'Produce me,' I exclaimed, 'a dressing-gown!' and, lo! it stands before
Wilton Brown turned his eyes for an instant to the countenance of the
Earl of Byerdale, when, to his surprise, he beheld there, for the first
time, something that might be called a good-humoured smile. The change
of Wilton's position, slight as it was, seemed to call the attention of
the young gentleman, who instantly approached the table where he sat,
exclaiming, "Who is this? I don't know him. What do you mean, sir," he
continued, in the same light tone--"what do you mean, by suffering my
father to run riot in this way, while I am gone? Why, sir, I find he has
addicted himself to courtierism, and to cringing, and to sitting in
cabinets, and to making long speeches in the House of Lords; and to all
sorts of vices of the same kind, so as nearly to have fallen into prime
ministerism. All this is very bad--very bad, indeed--"
"My dear boy," said the Earl, "you will gain the character of a madman
without deserving it."
"Pray, papa, let me alone," replied the young man, affecting a boyish
tone; "you only interrupt me: may I ask, sir, what is your name?" he
continued, still addressing Wilton.
"My name, sir," replied the other, slightly colouring at such an abrupt
demand, "is Wilton Brown."
"Then, Wilton, I am very glad to see you," replied the other, holding
out his hand--"you are the very person I wanted to see; for it so
happens, that my wise, prudent, and statesmanlike friend, the Earl of
Sunbury, having far greater confidence in the security of my noddle than
has my worthy parent here, has entrusted to me for your behoof one long
letter, and innumerable long messages, together with a strong
recommendation to you, to take me to your bosom, and cherish me as any
old man would do his grandson; namely, with the most doting,
short-sighted, and depraving affection, which can be shown towards a
wayward, whimsical, tiresome, capricious boy; and now, if you don't like
my own account of myself, or the specimen you have had this morning, you
had better lay down your pen, and come and take a walk with me, in order
to shake off your dislike; for it must be shaken off, and the sooner it
is done the better."
The Earl's brow had by this time gathered into a very ominous sort of
frown, and he informed his son in a stern tone, that his clerk, Mr.
Brown, was engaged in business of importance, and would not be free from
it, he feared, till three o'clock.
"Well, my lord, I will even go and sleep till three," replied the young
man. "At that hour, Mr. Brown, I will come and seek you. I have an
immensity to say to you, all about nothing in the world, and therefore
it is absolutely necessary that I should disgorge myself as soon as
Thus saying, he turned gaily on his heel, and left the Earl's cabinet.
"You must excuse him, Mr. Brown," said the Earl, as soon as he was gone;
"he is wild with spirits and youth, but he will soon, I trust, demean
himself more properly." Wilton made no reply, but thought that if the
demeanour of the son was not altogether pleasant, the demeanour of the
father was ten times worse. When the three letters were written, Lord
Byerdale immediately informed Wilton that he should have no farther
occupation for him that day, although the clock had not much passed the
first hour after noon; and as it was evident that he had no inclination
to encourage any intimacy between him and his son, the young gentleman
retired to his own lodgings, and ordering his horse to be brought round
quickly, prepared to take a lengthened ride into the country.
Before the horse could be saddled, however, a servant announced Lord
Sherbrooke, and the next moment the son of the Earl of Byerdale entered
the room. There was something in the name that sounded familiar in the
ears of Wilton Brown, he could not tell why. Ile almost expected to see
a familiar face present itself at the open door; for so little had been
the communication between himself and the Earl of Byerdale, that he had
never known till that morning that the Earl had a son, nor ever heard
the second title of the family before. He received his visitor, however,
with pleasure, not exactly for the young nobleman's own sake, but rather
on account of the letters and messages which he had promised from the
Earl of Sunbury.
Lord Sherbrooke was now dressed as might well become a man of rank in
his day; with a certain spice of foppery in his apparel, indeed, and
with a slight difference in the fashion and materials of his clothes
from those ordinarily worn in England, which might just mark, to an
observing eye, that they had been made in a foreign country.
His demeanour was much more calm and sedate than it had been in the
morning; and sitting down, he began by a reproach to Wilton, for having
gone away without waiting to see him again.
"The fact is, my lord," replied Wilton, "that the Earl, though he did
not absolutely send me away, gave me such an intimation to depart, that
I could not well avoid it."
"It strikes me, Wilton," said Lord Sherbrooke, familiarly, "that my
father is treating you extremely ill; Lord Sunbury gave me a hint of the
kind, when I saw him in Rome; and I see that he said even less than the
"I have no right to complain, my lord," answered Wilton, after pausing
for a moment to master some very painful emotions--"I have no reason to
complain, my lord, of conduct that I voluntarily endure."
"Very well answered, Wilton!" replied the young lord, "but not
logically, my good friend. Every gentleman has a right to expect
gentlemanly treatment. He has a right to complain if he does not meet
with that which he has a right to expect; and he does not bar himself of
that right of complaint, because any circumstances render it expedient
or right for him not to resist the ill-treatment at which he murmurs.
However, it is more to your honour that you do not complain; but I know
my father well, and, of course, amongst a great many high qualities,
there are some not quite so pleasant. We must mend this matter for you,
however, and what I wish to say to you now, is, that you must not spoil
all I do, by any pride of that kind which will make you hold back when I
"Indeed, my lord," replied Wilton, "you would particularly oblige me by
making no effort to change the position in which I am placed. All the
communication which takes place between your lordship's father and
myself is quite sufficient for the transaction of business, and we can
never stand in any other relation towards each other than that of
minister and private secretary."
"Or CLERK, as he called you to me to-day," said Lord Sherbrooke, drily.
"The name matters very little, my lord," replied Wilton; "he calls me
SECRETARY to myself, and such he stated me to be in the little
memorandum of my appointment, which he gave me, but if it please him
better to call me clerk, why, let him do it."
"Oh! I shall not remonstrate," replied Lord Sherbrooke; "I never argue
with my father. In the first place, it would be undutiful and
disrespectful, and I am the most dutiful of all sons; and in the next
place, he generally somehow gets the better of me in argument--the more
completely the more wrong he is. But, nevertheless, I can find means to
drive him, if not to persuade him; to lead him, if not to convince him;
and having had my own way from childhood up to the present hour--alas!
that I should say it, after having taken the way that I have taken--I do
not intend to give it up just now, so I will soon drive him to a
different way with you, while you have no share in the matter, but that
of merely suffering me to assume, at once, the character of an old
friend, and not an insincere one. On the latter point, indeed, you must
believe me to be just as sincere as my father is insincere, for you very
well know, Wilton, that, in this world of ours, it is much more by
avoiding the faults than by following the virtues of our parents, that
we get on in life. Every fool can see where his father is a fool, and
can take care not to be foolish in the same way; but it is a much more
difficult thing to appreciate a father's wisdom, and learn to be wise
"The latter, my lord, I should think, would be the nobler endeavour,"
replied Wilton; "though I cannot say what would have been my own case,
if I had ever had the happiness of knowing a father's care."
Lord Sherbrooke for a moment or two made no reply, but looked down upon
the ground, apparently struck by the tone in which Wilton spoke. He
answered at length, however, raising his eyes with one of his gay looks,
"After all, we are but mortals, my dear Wilton, and we must have our
little follies and vices. I would not be an angel for the world, for my
part; and besides--for so staid and sober a young man as you are--you
forget that I have a duty to perform towards my father, to check him
when I see him going wrong, and to put him in the right way; to afford
him, now and then, a little filial correction, and take care of his
morals and his education. Why, if he had not me to look after him, I do
not know what would become of him. However, I see," he added in a graver
tone, "that I must not jest with you, until you know me and understand
me better. What I mean is, that we are to be friends, remember. It is
all arranged between the Earl of Sunbury and myself. We are to be
friends, then; and such being the case, I will take care that my lord of
Byerdale does not call my friend his clerk, nor treat him in any other
manner than as my friend. And now, Wilton, set about the matter as fast
as ever you can. There is my letter of recommendation from the Earl of
Sunbury, which I hope will break down some barriers, the rest I must do
for myself. You will find me full of faults, full of follies, and full
of vices; for though it may be a difficult thing to be full of three
things at once, yet the faults, follies, and vices within me seem to
fill me altogether, each in turn, and yet altogether. In fact, they put
me in mind of two liquids with which I once saw an Italian conjurer
perform a curious trick. He filled a glass with a certain liquid, which
looked like water, up to the very brim, and then poured in a
considerable quantity of another liquid without increasing the liquid in
the glass by a drop. Now sometimes my folly seems to fill me so
completely, that I should think there was no room for vices, but those
vices find some means to slip in, without incommoding me in the least.
However, I will leave you now to read your letters, and to wonder at
your sage and prudent friend, the Earl of Sunbury, having introduced to
your acquaintance, and recommended to your friendship, one who has made
half the capitals of Europe ring with his pranks. The secret is, Wilton,
that the Earl knows both me and you. He pays you the high compliment of
thinking you can be the companion of a very faulty man, without
acquiring his faults; and he knows that, though I cannot cure myself of
my own errors, I hate them too much to wish any one to imitate them.
When you have done reading," he added, "come and join me at Monsieur
Faubert's Riding School, in the lane going up to the Oxford Road: I see
your horse at the door--I will get one there, and we will have a ride
in the country. By heavens, what a beautiful picture! It is quite a
little gem. That child's head must be a Correggio."
"I believe it is," replied Wilton: "I saw it accidentally at an auction,
and bought it for a mere trifle."
"You have the eye of a judge," replied his companion.
"Do not be long ere you join me;" and looking at every little object of
ornament or luxury that the room contained, standing a minute or two
before another picture, taking up, and examining all over, a small
bronze urn, that stood on one of the tables, and criticising the hilts
of two or three of Wilton's swords, that stood in the corner of the
room, he made his way out, like Hamlet, "without his eyes," and left his
new acquaintance to read his letter in peace.
In that letter, which was in every respect most kind, Wilton found that
the Earl gave a detailed account of the character of the young nobleman
who had just left him. He represented him, very much as he had
represented himself, full of follies, and, unfortunately, but too much
addicted to let those follies run into vices. "Though he neither gambled
nor drank for pleasure," the Earl said, "yet, as if for variety, he
would sometimes do both to excess. In other respects, he had lived a
life of great profligacy, seeming utterly careless of the reproaches of
any one, and rather taking means to make any fresh act of licence
generally known, than to conceal it. Nor is this," continued the Earl,
"from that worst of all vanities, which attaches fame to what is
infamous, and confounds notoriety with renown, but rather from a sort of
daringness of disposition, which prompts him to avow openly any act to
which there may be risk attached. With all these bad qualities," the
Earl proceeded, "there are many good ones. To be bold as a lion is but a
corporeal endowment, but he adds to that the most perfect sincerity and
"He would neither falsify his word nor deny an act that he has committed
for the world. His mind is sufficiently acute, and his heart
sufficiently good, to see distinctly the evils of unbridled licence, and
to condemn it in his own case; and he is the last man in the world who
would lead or encourage any one in that course which he has pursued
himself. In short, his own passions are as the bonds cast around the
Hebrew giant when he slept, to give him over into the hands of any one
who chooses to lead him into wrong. The consecrated locks of the
Nazarite--I mean, purity and innocence of heart--have been shorn away
completely in the lap of one Delilah or another; and though he hates
those who hold him captive, he is constrained to follow where they lead.
I think you may do him good, Wilton; I am certain he can do you no harm:
I believe that he is capable, and I am certain that he is willing, to
make your abode in London more pleasant to you, and to open that path
for your advancement, which his father would have put you in, if he had
fulfilled the promises that he made to me."
A few weeks made a considerable change in the progress of the life of
Wilton Brown. He found the young Lord Sherbrooke all that he had been
represented to be in every good point of character, and less in every
evil point. He did not, it is true, studiously veil from his new friend
his libertine habits, or his light and reckless character; but it so
happened, that when in society with Wilton, his mind seemed to find food
and occupation of a higher sort, and, on almost all occasions, when
conversing with him, he showed himself, as he might always have
appeared, a high-bred and well-informed gentleman, who, though somewhat
wild and rash, possessed a cultivated mind, a rich and playful fancy,
and a kind and honourable heart.
Wilton soon discovered that he could become attached to him, and ere
long he found a new point of interest in the character of his young
companion, which was a sort of dark and solemn gloom that fell upon him
from time to time, and would seize him in the midst of his gayest
moments, leaving him, for the time, plunged in deep and sombre
meditations. This strange fit was very often succeeded by bursts of
gaiety and merriment, to the full as wild and joyous as those that went
before; and Wilton's curiosity and sympathy were both excited by a state
of mind which he marked attentively, and which, though he did not
comprehend it entirely, showed him that there was some grief hidden but
not vanquished in the heart.
Lord Sherbrooke did not see the inquiring eyes of his friend fixed upon
him without notice; and one day he said,
"Do not look at me in these fits, Wilton; and ask me no questions.
It is the evil spirit upon me, and he must have his hour."
As the time passed on, Wilton and the young lord became daily
companions, and the Earl could not avoid showing, at all events, some
civility to the constant associate of his son. He gradually began to
converse with him more frequently. He even ventured, every now and then,
upon a smile. He talked for an instant, sometimes, upon the passing
events of the day; and, once or twice, asked him to dine, when he and
his son would otherwise have been tete-a-tete. All this was pleasant to
Wilton; for Lord Sherbrooke managed it so well, by merely marking a
particular preference for his society, that there was no restraint or
force in the matter, and the change worked itself gradually without any
words or remonstrance. In the midst of all this, however, one little
event occurred, which, though twenty other things might have been of
much more importance and much more disagreeable in their consequences,
pained Wilton in a greater degree than anything he had endured.
One day, when the Earl was confined to his drawing-room by a slight fit
of gout, Wilton had visited him for a moment, to obtain more particular
directions in regard to something which he had been directed to write.
Just as he had received those directions, and was about to retire, the
Duke of Gaveston was announced; and in passing through a second room
beyond, into which the Earl could see, Wilton came suddenly upon the
Duke, and in him at once recognised the nobleman whom he had aided in
delivering from the clutches of some gentlemen practitioners on the
King's Highway. Their meeting was so sudden, that the Duke, though he
evidently recollected instantly the face of Wilton Brown, could not
connect it with the circumstances in which he had seen it. Wilton, on
his part, merely bowed and passed on; and the Duke, advancing to Lord
Byerdale, asked at once, "Who is that young gentleman?--his face is
quite familiar to me."
"It is only my clerk," replied the Earl, in a careless tone. "I hope
your grace received my letter."
Wilton had not yet quitted the room, and heard it all; but he went out
without pause. When the door was closed behind him, however, he stood
for a moment gazing sternly upon the ground, and summoning every good
and firm feeling to his aid. Nor was he unsuccessful: he once more
conquered the strong temptation to throw up his employment instantly;
and, asking himself, "What have I to do with pride?" he proceeded with
his daily task as if nothing had occurred.
No consequences followed at the moment; but before we proceed to the
more active business of our story, we must pause upon one other
incident, of no great apparent importance, but which the reader will
connect aright with the other events of the tale.
Two mornings after that of which we have spoken, the Earl came suddenly
into the room where Wilton was writing, and interrupted him in what he
was abort, by saying, "I wish, Mr. Brown, you would have the goodness to
write, under my dictation, a letter, which is of some importance."
Brown bowed his head, and taking fresh paper, proceeded to write down
the Earl's words, as follows:--
"Sir,--Immediately upon the receipt of this, you will be
pleased to proceed to the village of ------, in the county
of ------, and make immediate inquiries, once more, in
regard to the personages concerning whom you instituted an
investigation some ten or twelve years ago. Any additional
documents you may procure, concerning Colonel Sherbrooke,
Colonel Lennard Sherbrooke, or any of the other parties
concerned in the transactions which you know of as taking
place at that time, you will be pleased to send to me forthwith."
Wilton perceiving that the Earl did not proceed, looked up, as if to see
whether he had concluded or not. The Earl's eyes were fixed upon him
with a stern, intense gaze, as if he would have read his very soul.
Wilton's looks, on the contrary, were so perfectly unconscious, so
innocent of all knowledge that he was doing anything more than writing
an ordinary letter of business, that--if the Earl's gaze was intended to
interpret his feelings by any of those external marks, which betray the
secrets of the heart, by slight and transitory characters written on
nature's record book, the face--he was convinced at once that there was
nothing concealed below. His brow relaxed, and he went on dictating,
while the young gentleman proceeded calmly to write.
"You will be particular," the letter went on, "to inquire what became of
the boy, as his name was not down in the list found upon the captain's
person; and you will endeavour to discover what became of the boat that
carried Lennard Sherbrooke and the boy to the ship, and whether all on
board it perished in the storm, or not."
The Earl still watched Wilton's countenance with some degree of
earnestness; and, to say the truth, if his young companion had not been
put upon his guard, by detecting the first stern, dark glance the
minister had given him, some emotion might have been visible in his
countenance, some degree of thoughtful inquiry in his manner, as he
asked, "To whom am I to address it, my lord?"
The words of the Earl, in directing an inquiry about the fisherman,
the boy, the boat, and the wreck, seemed to connect themselves with
strange figures in the past--figures which appeared before his mind's
eye vague and misty, such as we are told the shadows always appear at
first which are conjured up by the cabalistic words of a necromancer.
He felt that there was some connecting link between himself and the
subject of the Earl's investigation; what, he could not tell: but
whatever it was, his curiosity was stimulated to tax his memory to
the utmost, and to try by any means to lead her to a right
conclusion, through the intricate ways of the past.
That first gaze of the Earl, however, had excited in his bosom not
exactly suspicion, but that inclination to conceal his feelings,
which we all experience when we see that some one whom we neither
love nor trust is endeavouring to unveil them. He therefore would not
suffer his mind to rest upon any inquiry in regard to the past, till
the emotions which it might produce could be indulged unwatched; and,
applying to the mechanical business of the pen, he wrote on to the
conclusion, and then demanded, simply, "To whom am I to address it?"
"To Mr. Shea," replied the Earl, "my agent in Waterford, to whom you
have written before;" and there the conversation dropped.
The Earl took the letter to sign it; but now that it was done, he
seemed indifferent about its going, and put it into a portfolio,
where it remained several days before it was sent.
As soon as he could escape, Wilton Brown retired to his own dwelling,
and there gave himself up to thought; but the facts, which seemed
floating about in the dark gulf of the past, still eluded the grasp
of memory, as she strove to catch them. There was something, indeed,
which he recollected of a boat, and a storm at sea, and a fisherman's
cabin, and still the name of Sherbrooke rang in his ears, as
something known in other days. But it came not upon him with the same
freshness which it had done when first he heard the title of the Earl
of Byerdale's soil; and he could recall no more than the particulars
we have mentioned, though the name of Lennard seemed familiar to him
While he was in this meditative mood, pondering thoughtfully over the
past, and extracting little to satisfy him from a record which time,
unfortunately, had effaced, he was interrupted by the coming of the
young Lord Sherbrooke, who now was accustomed to enter familiarly
without any announcement. On the present occasion his step was more
rapid than usual, his manner more than commonly excited, and the
moment he had cast himself into a chair he burst into a long loud
peal of laughter. "In the name of Heaven," he exclaimed, "what piece
of foolery do you think my worthy father has concocted now? On my
honour, I believe that he is mad, and only fear that he has
transmitted a part of his madness to me. Think of everything that is
ridiculous, Wilton, that you can conceive; let your mind run free
over every absurd combination that it is possible to fancy; think of
all that is stupid or mad-like in times present or past, and then
tell me what it is that my father intends to do."
"I really do not know, Sherbrooke," replied his friend "but nothing,
I dare say, half so bad as you would have me believe. Your father is
much too prudent and careful a man to do anything that is absurd."
"You don't know him--Wilton, you don't know him," replied Lord
Sherbrooke; "for the sake of power or of wealth he has the courage to
do anything on earth that is absurd, and for revenge he has the
courage to do a great deal more. In regard to revenge, indeed, I
don't mind: he is quite right there; for surely if we are bound to be
grateful to a man that does good to us, we are bound to revenge
ourselves upon him who does us wrong. Besides, revenge is a
gentlemanlike passion; but avarice and ambition are certainly the two
most ungentlemanlike propensities in human nature."
"Not ambition, surely," exclaimed Wilton.
"The worst of all!" cried his friend--"the worst of all! Avarice is
a gentleman to ambition! Avarice is merely a tinker, a dealer in old
metal; but ambition is a chimney-sweep of a passion: a mere
climbing-boy, who will go through any dirty hole in all Christendom
only to get out at the top of the chimney. But you have not guessed,
Wilton--you have not guessed. To it; and tell me, what is the absurd
thing my father proposes to do?"
Wilton shook his head, and said that he could in no way divine.
"To marry me, Wilton--to marry me to a lady rich and fair," replied
the young lord: "what think you of that, Wilton?--you who know me,
what think you of that?"
"Why, if I must really say the truth," replied Wilton, "I think the
Earl has very naturally considered your happiness before that of the
"As well gilded a sarcasm that," replied Lord Sherbrooke, "as if it
had come from my father's own lips. However, what you say is very
true: the poor unfortunate girl little knows what the slave merchants
are devising for her. My father has dealt with hers, and her father
has dealt with mine, and settled all affairs between them, it seems,
without our knowledge or participation in any shape. I was the first
of the two parties concerned who received the word of command to march
and be married, and as yet the unfortunate victim is unacquainted
with the designs against her peace and happiness for life."
"Nay, nay," replied Wilton, almost sorrowfully, "speak not so lightly
of it. What have you done, Sherbrooke? for Heaven's sake, what have
you done? If you have consented to marry, let me hope and trust that
you have determined firmly to change your conduct, and not indeed, as
you say, to ruin the poor girl's peace and happiness for life."
"Oh! I have consented," replied Lord Sherbrooke, in the same gay
laughing tone; "you do not suppose that I would refuse beauty, and
sweetness, and twenty thousand a year. I am not as mad as my father.
Oh! I consented directly. I understand, she is the great beauty of
the day. She will see very little of me, and I shall see very little
of her, so we shall not weary of one another. Oh! I am a very wise
man, indeed. I only wanted what our friend Launcelot calls 'a trifle
of wives' to be King Solomon himself. Why you know that for the other
cattle which distinguished that great monarch I am pretty well
Wilton looked down upon the ground with a look of very great pain,
while imagination pictured what the future life of some young and
innocent girl might be, bound to one so wild, so heedless, and
dissolute as Lord Sherbrooke. He remained silent, however, for he did
not dare to trust himself with any farther observations; and when he
looked up again, he found his friend gazing at him with an expression
on his countenance in some degree sorrowful, in some degree
reproachful, but with a look of playful meaning flickering through the
"Now does your solemnity, and your gravity," said Lord Sherbrooke,
"and your not yet understanding me, almost tempt me, Wilton, to play
some wild and inconceivable trick, just for the purpose of opening
your eyes, and letting you see, that your friend is not such an
unfeeling rascal as the world gives out."
"I know you are not, my dear Sherbrooke--I am sure you are not,"
replied Wilton, grasping warmly the hand which Lord Sherbrooke held
out to him; "I was wrong for not seeing that you were in jest, and
for not discovering at once that you had not consented. But how does
the Earl bear your refusal?"
"You are as wrong as ever, my dear Wilton," replied his friend, in a
more serious tone--"I have consented; for if I had not, it must have
made an irreparable breach between my father and myself, which you
well know I should not consider desirable--I must obey him sometimes,
you know, Wilton--He had pledged himself, too, that I should consent.
However, to set your mind at rest, I will tell you the loophole at
which I creep out. Her father, it seems, is not near so sanguine as
my father, in regard to his child's obedience, and he is, moreover,
an odd old gentleman, who has got into his head a strange antiquated
notion, that the inclinations of the people to be married have
something to do with such transactions. He therefore bargained, that
his consent should be dependent upon the young lady's approbation of
me when she sees me. In fact, I am bound to court, and she to be
courted. My father is bound that I shall marry her if she likes me,
her father is bound to give her to me if she likes to be given. Now
what I intend, Wilton, is, that she should not like me. So this very
evening you must come with me to the theatre, and there we shall see
her together, for I know where she is to be. To-morrow, I shall be
presented to her in form, and if she likes to have me, after all I
have to say to her, why it is her fault, for I will take care she
shall not have ignorance to plead in regard to my worshipful
Wilton would fain have declined going to the theatre that night,
for, to say the truth, his heart was somewhat heavy; but Lord
Sherbrooke would take no denial, jokingly saying that he required
some support under the emotions and agitating circumstances which he
was about to endure. As soon as this was settled, Lord Sherbrooke
left him, agreeing to call for him in his carriage at the early hour
of a quarter before five o'clock; for such, however, were the more
rational times and seasons of our ancestors, that one could enjoy the
high intellectual treat of seeing a good play performed from
beginning to end, without either changing one's dinner hour, or going
with the certainty of indigestion and headache.
Far more punctual than was usual with him. Lord Sherbrooke was at the
door of Wilton Brown exactly at the hour he had appointed; and,
getting into his carriage, they speedily rolled on from the
neighbourhood of St. James's-street, then one of the most fashionable
parts of the metropolis, to Russell-street, C however, though
evidently anxious to be early at the theatre, could not resist his
inclination to take a look into the Rose, and, finding several
persons whom he knew there, he lingered for a considerable time,
introducing Wilton to a number of the wits and celebrated men of the
The play had thus begun before they entered the theatre, and the
house was filled so completely that it was scarcely possible to
obtain a seat.
As if with a knowledge that his young companion was anxious to see
the ill-fated lady destined by her friends to be the bride of a wild
and reckless libertine, Lord Sherbrooke affected to pay no attention
whatsoever to anything but what was passing on the stage. During the
first act Wilton was indeed as much occupied as himself with the
magic of the scene: but when the brief pause between the acts took
place, his eyes wandered round those boxes in which the high nobility
of the land usually were found, to see if he could discover the
victim of the Earl of Byerdale's ambition.
There were two boxes on the opposite side of the house, towards one
or the other of which almost all eyes were turned, and to the
occupants of which all the distinguished young men in the house
seemed anxious to pay their homage. In one of those boxes was a very
lovely woman of about seven or eight and twenty, sitting with a
queenly air to receive the humble adoration of the gay and fluttering
admirers who crowded round her. Her brow was high and broad, but
slightly contracted, so that a certain haughtiness of air in her
whole figure and person was fully kept in tone by the expression of
her face. For a moment or two, Wilton looked at her with a slight
smile, as he said in his own heart, "if that be the lady destined for
Sherbrooke, I pity her less than I expected, for she seems the very
person either to rule him or care little about him."
The next moment, however, a more perfect recollection of all that
Lord Sherbrooke had said, led him to conclude that she could not be
the person to whom he alluded. He had spoken of her as a girl, as of
one younger than himself; whereas the lady who was reigning in the
stage-box was evidently older, and had more the appearance of a
married than a single woman.
Wilton then turned his eyes to the other box of which we have spoken;
and in it there was also to be seen a female figure seated near the
front with another lady; while somewhat further back, appeared the form
of an elderly gentleman with a star upon the left breast. Towards that
box, as we have before said, many eyes were turned; and from the space*
below, as well as from other parts of the house, the beaux of the
day were gazing in evident expectation of a bow, or a smile, or a mark
of recognition. Nevertheless, in neither of the ladies which that box
contained was there, as far as Wilton could see, any of those little
arts but too often used for the purpose of attracting attention, and
which, to say the truth, were displayed in a remarkable manner by the
lady in the other box we have mentioned. There was no fair hand
stretched out over the cushions; no fringed glove cast negligently down;
no fan waved gracefully to give emphasis to that was said; but, on the
contrary, the whole figure of the lady in front remained tranquil and
calm, with much grace and beauty in the attitude, but none even of that
flutter of consciousness which often betrays the secrets of vanity. The
expression of the face, indeed, Wilton could not see, for the head was
turned towards the stage; and though the lady looked round more than
once during the interval between the acts to speak to those behind her
in the box, the effect was only to turn her face still farther from his
[*Footnote: I have not said "the pit," because the intruders of fashion
had not then been driven from the STAGE itself, especially between the
At length, the play went on, and at the end of the second act a
slight movement enabled Lord Sherbrooke and Wilton to advance further
towards the stage, so that the latter was now nearly opposite to the
box in which one of the beauties of the day was seated. He
immediately turned in that direction, as did Lord Sherbrooke at the
same moment; and Wilton, with a feeling of pain that can scarcely be
described, beheld in the fair girl who seemed to be the unwilling
object of so much admiration, no other than the young lady whom he
had aided in rescuing when attacked, as we have before described, by
the gentry who in those days frequented so commonly the King's
Though now dressed with splendour, as became her rank and station,
there was in her whole countenance the same simple unaffected look of
tranquil modesty which Wilton had remarked there before, and in which
he had fancied he read the story of a noble mind and a fine heart,
rather undervaluing than otherwise the external advantages of beauty
and station, but dignified and raised by the consciousness of purity,
cultivation, and high thoughts. The same look was there, modest yet
dignified, diffident yet self-possessed; and while he became
convinced that there sat the bride selected by the Earl of Byerdale
for his son, he was equally convinced that she was the person of all
others whose fate would be the most miserable in such an union.
At the same moment, too, his heart was moved by sensations that may be
very difficult accurately to describe. To talk of his being in love
with the fair girl before him would, in those days as in the present,
have been absurd; to say that he had remembered her with anything
like hope, would not be true, for he had not hoped in the slightest
degree, nor even dreamed of hope. But what he had done was this--he
had thought of her often and long; he had recollected the few hours
spent in her society with greater pleasure than any he had known in
life; he had remembered her as the most beautiful person he had ever
seen--and indeed to him she was so; for not only were her features,
and her form, and her complexion, all beautiful according to the
rules of art, but they were beautiful also according to that
modification of beauty which best suited his own taste. The
expression, too, of her countenance--and she had much expression of
countenance when conversing with any one she liked--was beautiful and
varying; and the grace of her movements and the calm quietness of her
carriage were of the kind which is always most pleasing to a high and
He had recollected her, then, as the most beautiful creature he had
ever seen; but there was also a good deal of imaginative interest
attached to the circumstances in which they had first met; and he
often thought over them with pleasure, as forming a little bright
spot in the midst of a somewhat dull and monotonous existence. In
short, all these memories made it impossible for him to feel towards
her as he did towards other women. There was admiration, and
interest, and high esteem.--It wanted, surely, but a little of being
love. One thing is very certain: Wilton would have heard that she
was about to be married to any one with no inconsiderable degree of
pain. It would have cost him a sigh; it would have made him feel a
deep regret. He would not have been in the slightest degree
disappointed, for hope being out of the question he expected nothing;
but still he might regret.
Now, however, when he thought that she was about to be importuned to
marry one for whom he might himself feel very deep and sincere
regard, on account of some high and noble qualities of the heart, but
whose wild and reckless libertinism could but make her miserable for
ever, the pain that he experienced caused him to turn very pale. The
next moment the blood rushed up again into his cheek, seeing Lord
Sherbrooke glance his eyes rapidly from the box in which she sat to
his countenance, and then to the box again.
At that very same moment, the Duke, who was the gentleman sitting on
the opposite side of the box, bent forward and whispered a few words
to his daughter: the blood suddenly rushed up into her cheek; and with
a look rather of anxiety and apprehension than anything else, she
turned her eyes instantly towards the spot where Wilton stood. Her
look was changed in a moment; for though she became quite pale, a
bright smile beamed forth from her lip; and though she put her hand
to her heart, she bowed markedly and graciously towards her young
acquaintance, directing instantly towards that spot the looks of all
the admirers who surrounded the box.
The words which the Duke spoke to her were very simple, but led to an
extraordinary mistake. He had in the morning communicated to her the
proposal which had been made for her marriage with Lord Sherbrooke,
and she, who had heard something of his character, had shrunk with
alarm from the very idea. When her father, however, now said to her,
"There is Lord Sherbrooke just opposite," and directed her attention
to the precise spot, her eyes instantly fell upon Wilton.
She recollected her father's observation in regard to the name he had
given at the inn being an assumed one: his fine commanding person,
his noble countenance, his lordly look, and the taste and fashion of
his dress, all made her for the moment believe that in him she beheld
the person proposed for her future husband. At the same time she
could not forget that he had rendered her an essential service. He
had displayed before her several of those qualities which peculiarly
draw forth the admiration of women--courage, promptitude, daring, and
skill; his conversation had delighted and surprised her; and to say
truth, he had created in her bosom during the short interview, such
prepossessions in his favour, that to her he was the person who now
solicited her hand, instead of the creature which her imagination had
portrayed as Lord Sherbrooke, was no small relief to her heart. It
seemed as if a load was taken off her bosom; and such was the cause
of those emotions, the expression of which upon her countenance we
have already told.
It was not, indeed, that she believed herself the least in love with
Wilton Brown, but she felt that she COULD love him, and that feeling
was quite enough. It was enough, while she fancied that he was Lord
Sherbrooke, to agitate her with joy and hope; and, though the mistake
lasted but a short time, the feelings that it produced were
sufficient to effect a change in all her sensations towards him
through life. During the brief space that the mistake lasted, she
looked upon him, she thought of him, as the man who was to be her
husband. Had it not been for that misunderstanding, the idea of such
an union between herself and him would most likely never have entered
her mind; but once having looked upon him in that light, even for
five minutes, she never could see him or speak to him without a
recollection of the fact, without a reference, however vague,
ill-defined, and repressed in her own mind, to the feelings and
thoughts which she had then entertained.
Lord Sherbrooke remarked the changing colour, the look of recognition
on both parts, the glad smile, and the inclination of the head.
"Why, Wilton," he said in a low voice--"Wilton! it seems you are
already a great deal better acquainted with my future wife than I am
myself; and glad to see you does she seem! and most gracious is her
notice of you! Why, there are half of those gilded fools on the other
side of the house ready to cut your throat at this moment, when it is
mine they would seek to cut if they knew all; but pray come and
introduce me to my lovely bride, I had no idea she was so pretty.
I'm sure I am delighted to have some other introduction than that of
my father, and so unexpected a one."
All this was said in a bantering tone, but not without a shrewd
examination of Wilton's countenance while it was spoken. What were
the feelings of the young nobleman it was impossible for Wilton to
divine; but he answered quite calmly, the first emotion being by this
time passed--"My acquaintance with her is so slight, that I certainly
could not venture to introduce any one, far less one who has so much
better an introduction ready prepared."
"By heavens, Wilton," replied his friend, "by the look she gave you
and the look you returned, one would not have judged the acquaintance
to be slight; but as you will not introduce me, I will introduce you;
for, I suppose, in common civility, I must go and speak to her father,
as the old gentleman's eye is upon me. There! He secures his point by
a bow. Dearly beloved, I come, I come!"
Thus saying, he turned to proceed to the box, making a sign to Wilton
to follow, which he did, though at the time he did it, he censured
his own weakness for yielding to the temptation.
"I am but going," he thought, "to augment feelings of regret at a
destiny I cannot change--I only go to increase my own pain, and in no
degree to avert from that sweet girl a fate but too dark and
As he thus thought, he felt disposed, even then, to make some excuse
for not going to the Duke's box; but by the time they were half way
thither, they were met by several persons coming the other way,
amongst whom was a gentleman richly but not gaudily dressed, who
immediately addressed Lord Sherbrooke, saying, that the Duke of
Gaveston requested the honour of his company in his box, and Wilton
immediately recognised his old companion of the road, Sir John
Fenwick. Sir John bowed to him but distantly; and Wilton was more than
ever hesitating whether he should go on or not, when some one touched
him on the arm, and turning round he beheld his somewhat doubtful
acquaintance, who had given himself the name of Green.
Sir John Fenwick and the stranger looked in each other's faces
without the slightest sign of recognition: but to Wilton himself
Green smiled pleasantly, saying, "I very much wish to speak a word
with you, Mr. Wilton Brown. Will you just step aside with me to the
lobby for a moment?"
The recollection of what had passed when last they met, together with
the wish of avoiding an interview with the Duke and his daughter,
from which he augured nought but pain, overcame Wilton's repugnance
to hold any private communication with one whom he had certainly seen
in a situation at the least very equivocal; and merely saying to Lord
Sherbrooke, "I must speak with this gentleman for a moment, and
therefore cannot come with you," he left the young lord to follow Sir
John Fenwick, and turned with the stranger into the lobby. There was
no one there at the moment, for at that time the licensed
abomination, of which it has since been the scene, would not have
been tolerated in any country calling itself Christian. Wilton was
indeed rather glad that it was vacant, for he was not anxious to be
observed by many people in conversation with his present companion.
Not that anything in his appearance or manner was calculated to call
up the blush of idle pride. The stranger's dress was as rich and
tasteful as any in the house, his manner was easy and free, his look,
though not particularly striking, distinguished and gentlemanly.
The stranger was the first to speak. "Do not alarm yourself, Mr.
Brown," he said: "Mr. Green is a safe companion here, whatever he
might be in Maidenhead Thicket. But I wanted to speak a word to you
yourself, and to give you a hint that may be beneficial to others. As
to yourself, I told you when last we met that I could bring you into
company with some of your old friends. I thought your curiosity would
have carried you to the Green Dragon long ago. As, however, you do
not seem to wish to see your old friends, I have now to tell you that
they wish to see you, and therefore I have to beg you to meet me
there to-morrow at six o'clock."
"You are mistaken entirely," replied Wilton, "in regard to my not
wishing to see my old friends. I very much wish it. I wish to hear