Part 7 out of 10
"Why, my lord," he said, advancing towards Lord Byerdale, and shaking
him by the hand, "I am almost alarmed at your unexpected summons,
especially after all the terrible doings which I hear have taken
place. Why, they tell me that the gates of Newgate have never ceased
turning upon their hinges all the morning, and that the Tower itself
"Not quite so bad as that," replied the Earl: "but I am sure, my dear
Captain, you have nothing to fear in such a matter."
"Not that I know of," answered Churchill, "and I would have come at
once when you wrote; but, to say the truth, I was up late last night,
and slept till nearly noon this morning.--But, bless my soul!" he
continued, turning towards Wilton--to that gentleman's utter
surprise and astonishment "is not this my good friend, Mr. Wilton
Brown, your lordship's secretary?" and advancing a step or two, he
shook Wilton heartily by the hand.
"How is the young lady?" he continued. "I hope you got quite safe to
London with your fair charge?"
The countenance of Arden, the Messenger, presented a ludicrous
picture of disappointment and consternation. Wilton was certainly
even more surprised than himself; but he did not suffer his face to
betray any expression of wonder, though, it must be owned, he felt a
strong inclination to laugh. He replied, however, calmly to
"I thank you very much, sir: she got quite safe to London. At an
early hour this morning I left her with her father."
"Then, Captain Churchill," said the Earl, "you are neither more nor
less than the person who rendered my young friend Wilton, here, such
very good assistance last night."
Churchill made a low and complimentary bow, replying, "Oh, my lord,
you are too good! The assistance that I rendered him was little
enough, I can assure you. His own gallantry and good conduct did much
more than I could possibly do.--But I hope and trust my good friend,
Arden, the Messenger, there, is not waiting for me; for I can assure
your lordship that, though I was upon a little frolic last night,
which I might not very well like to have inquired into, it was
certainly nothing of a Jacobitical nature, as you may well suppose,
and as my good friend, Mr. Brown, here, can testify."
"I do not in the slightest degree suspect you, Churchill," replied
the Earl. "The only point was to ascertain whether it was you or Sir
George Barkley who was with my friend Wilton, here, last night;
Arden, the Messenger, who has behaved very ill throughout the whole
business, positively swearing, this morning, that Wilton was
accompanied along part of the road by Sir George Barkley, the
well-known traitor, and that he, Wilton, my private secretary,
connived at and aided his escape."
"I can assure your lordship," replied Churchill, in a perfectly grave
tone, "on my honour as a gentleman, I have the most perfect
certainty, and could prove, if necessary, that the charge is entirely
and totally false; that Sir George Barkley did not accompany your
young friend for a single step, and that he was only accompanied by a
fair lady with very bright eyes, by another gentleman whom I
understand to be a certain Captain Byerly--a very respectable man,
only that he rides a little hard upon the King's Highway--and by a
person, of perhaps less importance and repute, named Captain
"That is quite satisfactory, my dear sir," replied the Earl. "You
hear, Mr. Arden. Be so good as to quit the room, and to remember,
that from this moment you are no longer a Messenger of State."
Wilton could almost have found it in his heart to interpose, knowing
all that he did know; but when he recollected the whole course of the
man's bad conduct, he felt that the retribution which had fallen upon
him was but just, and he left the matter to take its course.
Churchill then conversed for a few minutes with the Earl, in an under
tone; and as the business of the day seemed over, Wilton prepared to
take his departure.
"Wait one moment, Mr. Brown," said Churchill, "and if you are going
my way, I will accompany you."
"You will not fail, my dear Wilton, I trust," said the Earl, "to
visit the young lady, and inquire after her health. Pray present my
most devoted homage to her, and assure her that I have been most
uneasy at her situation, and grieved for all that she must have
undergone. I shall certainly wait upon her to-morrow. In the
meantime," he added, in a lower tone, "do not entertain any
apprehensions in regard to your situation. Go boldly forward, make
sure of her heart, and all the rest will be rendered much more easy
than you imagine. Nothing that I can do for you shall be wanting; and
you have only to let me know when you have any engagement at Beaufort
House, and I will find means to do without your attendance here.--I
beg your pardon, Captain Churchill; I only wished to give this young
gentleman a word of good advice before he left me."
"And I only waited till he was ready, my lord," replied Churchill,
"to take my leave of your lordship, wishing you full success in
dealing with the nest of vagabonds you have got hold of."
Thus saying, he took his leave, and quitting the house together with
Wilton, put his arm through his, and walked on as familiarly as if
they had been old acquaintances.
It may be made a question of very great doubt, whether the
faculty--and it is indisputably a faculty of the mind in its first
freshness--the faculty of wondering at anything extraordinary, or out
of the common course of our knowledge, is or is not productive of
advantage as well as pleasure to us. But there can be no question
whatsoever, that very great advantages are attached to the power of
concealing our wonder. Nothing, indeed, should surprise us in life,
for we are surrounded by daily miracles; nothing should surprise,
because the combination of means in the hand of Almighty Power must
be infinite; and to permit our wonder to appear at anything, is but
to confess ourselves inexperienced, or unobserving, or thoughtless;
and yet with all that, it is a very pleasant sensation.
Wilton Brown, from his commerce with the world, and especially from
the somewhat bard lessons which he had received in the house of the
Earl of Byerdale, had been taught, in communicating with persons
unknown and indifferent to him, to put a strong restraint upon the
expression of his feelings. On the present occasion, not having the
slightest knowledge or conception of Captain Churchill's character,
he walked on beside him, as their way seemed to lie together, without
the slightest inquiry or expression of surprise in regard to what had
taken place; and Captain Churchill was almost inclined to believe
that his young companion was dull, apathetic, and insensible,
although he had good reason to know the contrary. The silence,
however, did somewhat annoy him; for he was not without a certain
share of good-humoured vanity; and he thought, and thought justly,
that he had acted his part to admiration. He resolved, therefore, to
say nothing upon the subject either, as far as he could avoid it; and
thus, strange to say, after the extraordinary scene which had taken
place, the two people who had borne a part therein had got as far as
the door of Captain Churchill's house in Duke-street, without
interchanging a word upon the subject. There, however, Wilton was
about to take his leave; but Churchill stopped him, saying,--
"Do me the favour of coming in for a moment or two, Mr. Brown. I have
something which I wish to give you."
Wilton followed him up stairs, with merely some reply in the common
course of civility; and Churchill, opening a cabinet in the
drawing-room, took out a handsome diamond ring, saying, "I have
received a commission this morning from a near relation of mine, who
considers that he owes his life to you, to beg your acceptance of
this little token, to remember him by when you look upon it. He sent
it to me by a messenger at the moment that he was embarking for
France, together with a letter of instructions as to how he wished me
to act in case of there being any question regarding the transactions
of last night."
"I saw," replied Wilton, "that you must have got information some
way; but in whatever way you did get that information, you certainly
played your part as admirably as it was possible to conceive. I fear
I did not play mine quite so well, for I was taken by surprise."
"Oh, quite well enough, quite well enough," replied Captain
Churchill. "To say the truth, my task was somewhat of a delicate one,
for in these days one might easily involve one's self in imputations
difficult to be got rid of again. My family have chosen our parts so
strongly and decidedly, that my young relation did not venture to see
me when he was in London; not, indeed, from any fear of my betraying
him, for that, of course, was out of the question,--but rather from
the apprehension of committing me. He trusted me with this other
matter, however, probably not knowing, first, that I was ill, and had
been in bed all yesterday, and, next, that this diabolical plot for
assassinating the King and admitting the enemy into the heart of the
land has been discovered. The letter came about an hour after Lord
Byerdale's, and just in time to save me from denying that I was out
of my own house all yesterday. But you do not take the ring, Mr.
Brown: pray accept it as a mere token of gratitude and esteem on the
part of the Duke. His esteem, I can assure you, is worth having."
"I doubt it not in the least, my dear sir," replied Wilton; "but yet
I must beg to decline his gift: in the first place, because I am
entitled to no gratitude; and in the next, because the Duke must be
considered as an enemy of the government I serve. He certainly saved
my life; for I do not suppose the man who was in the act of firing at
me would have missed his mark, if his hand had not been knocked up.
After that I could not, of course, suffer the Duke to be arrested by
my side, if I could help it, and therefore I did what I could to
assist him, but that was little."
Churchill endeavoured, by various arguments, to persuade his young
companion to receive the ring; but Wilton would not suffer himself to
be moved upon the subject; and had, at all events, the satisfaction
of hearing Churchill himself acknowledge, as he was taking his leave,
"Well, after all, I believe you are right."
Their conference was not very long; for it may be easily imagined,
that one of the party, at least, was anxious to proceed on his way in
another direction; and leaving Captain Churchill as soon as he
decently could, Wilton returned to his house, changed his dress, and
entered one of those vehicles called hackney coaches, which, in the
days of King William III, were as rumbling and crazy, and even more
slow, than at present.
Before he reached Beaufort House, Wilton's patience was well nigh
exhausted; but if we may tell the truth, there was one as impatient.
as himself. When they had arrived that morning at Beaufort House,
Laura's thoughts had been divided. Her anxiety to see her father, to
tell him she was safe, to give joy to the heart of one she loved with
the fullest feelings of filial affection, had a strong share in all
her sensations; but that was over, and her mind turned to Wilton
again. In telling her father all that had occurred, in recounting
everything that Wilton had done, in hearing from the Duke himself all
her lover's exertions and anxiety, till he obtained some clue to the
place where she was detained, vivid images were continually brought
up before her mind of things that were most sweet to contemplate.
When she retired to her own chamber, although she strove, at her
father's request, to obtain sleep, those sweet but agitating images
followed her still, and every word, and tone, and look of him she
loved, returned to her memory, and banished slumber altogether from
On whatever part of his conduct memory rested, to the eyes of
affection it seemed all that could be desired. If she thought of him
standing boldly in the presence of superior numbers--calm, cool,
unintimidated, decided; or if she recalled his conduct to the Duke of
Berwick, generously risking all rather than not repay that nobleman's
gallant interposition in his favour by similar efforts in his behalf;
or if she recollected his behaviour to herself; when alone under his
care and guidance, the tenderness, the gentleness, the delicate
forbearance, the consideration for all her feelings, and for every
difficult point of her situation which he had displayed--each part of
his behaviour seemed to her partial eyes all that she could have
dreamed of excellent and good, and each part stood out in bright
apposition with the other; the gentle kindness contrasting strongly
with the firm and courageous determination; the generous and
unhesitating protection of an upright and gallant enemy, seeming but
the more bright from his calm and prudent bearing towards a body of
low-minded and ill-designing traitors.
Thus, during the time that she remained alone, her thoughts were all
of him, and those thoughts were all sweet. Gratitude, it is true,
might derive a great portion of its brightness from love: but Laura
fancied that she had not said half enough in return for all that he
had done in her behalf: she fancied that she had scarcely spoken her
thanks sufficiently warmly, and she longed to see him again, to talk
over all that had taken place, to assure him of her deep, deep
gratitude, and, perhaps--though she did not acknowledge that purpose
to her own heart--to assure him also still more fully of her
unchanging affection. Laura had never felt, even in the least degree,
what love is before. She was not one of the many who trifle away
their heart's brightest affections piece by piece. She had given her
love all at once, and the sensation was the more overpowering.
At length, then, as the hour approached when she supposed he might be
likely to return, she rose and dressed herself, and perhaps that day
she thought more of her beauty than she had ever done before in life;
but it was not with any vain pleasure; for she thought of it only
inasmuch as it might please another whom she loved. We can all surely
remember how, when in the days of our childhood we have had some
present to give to a dear friend, we have looked at it and considered
it, and fancied it even more valuable and delightful than it really
was, with the bright hope of its appearing so to the person for whom
it was destined. Thus with her toilet, Laura let her maid take as
much pains as she would; and when she saw in the glass as lovely a
face and form as that instrument of vanity ever reflected, and could
not help acknowledging that it was so, she smiled with a pleasure
that she had never felt before, to think that beauty also was a part
of the dowry of bright things which she was to bring to him she
Though the maid was somewhat longer with her mistress's toilet than
usual, delaying it for a little, perhaps, with a view of obtaining
farther information than Lady Laura was inclined to give her, upon
all the events of the two or three days preceding, yet Laura was down
in the saloon some time before the dinner-hour, and she looked not a
little anxiously for the coming of Wilton. She was not inclined to
chide him for delay, for she knew that it would be no fault of his if
he were not there early. The Duke, not knowing that she had risen,
had gone out; but he, too, had left her heart happy in the morning
when they parted, by answering her, when she told him of the
invitation she had given, with such encomiums of her deliverer, of
his manner, of his character, of his person, and of his mind, that
Laura was almost tempted into hopes more bright than the reality.
Notwithstanding all delays Wilton did at length arrive, and that,
too, before the Duke returned, so that Laura had time to tell him how
happy her father's praises of him had made her, and to insinuate
hopes, though she did not venture absolutely to express them. Her
words, and her manner, and her look, in consequence of all that had
been passing in her mind during the morning, were more warm, more
tender than they had even been before; and who could blame Wilton, or
say that he presumed, if he, too, gave way somewhat more to the warm
and passionate love of his own heart, than he had dared to venture
during their preceding intercourse?
Laura did not blame him. She blushed, indeed, as he pressed her to
his heart, though he was the man whom she loved best on earth; but
yet, though she blushed, she felt no wrong: she felt, on the
contrary, the same pure and endearing affection towards him that he
felt for her, and knew that gentle pressure to be but an expression,
on his part, of the same high, holy, and noble love with which she
could have clung to his bosom in any moment of danger, difficulty or
At length the Duke made his appearance; and eagerly grasped Wilton's
hand in both his own, thanking him a thousand and a thousand times
for restoring to him his beloved child, and telling him that no words
or deeds could ever express his gratitude. Indeed, so much more
eager, so much more demonstrative, was his whole demeanour, than that
of his daughter, that he blamed Laura for coldness in expressing what
she felt only too warmly for words; and until dinner was announced,
he continued talking over all that had occurred, and inquiring again
and again into each particular.
As they went into the dining-room, however, he made a sign to his
daughter, whom he had cautioned before, and whispered to Wilton, "Of
course, we must not talk of these things before the servants."
All that had passed placed Wilton now in a far different situation
with the Duke and his daughter from that in which he had ever stood
before. His mind was perfectly at ease with them, and the relief had
its natural effect on his conversation: all the treasures of his mind,
all the high feelings of his heart, he knew might be displayed
fearlessly. He did not, indeed, seek to bring those treasured
feelings forward; he did not strive to shine, as it is called, for
that striving must in itself always give a want of ease. But poor,
indeed, must be the mind, dull and slow the imagination, which, out
of the ordinary things of life--ay! even out of the every-day
conversation of beings inferior to itself--does not naturally and
easily derive immense, unfathomable currents of thought, combinations
of fancy, of feeling, and of reflection, which only want the licence
of the will to flow on and sparkle as they go. It is, that the Will
refuses that licence when we are with those that we despise or
dislike: it is, that we voluntarily shut the flood-gates, and will
not allow the streams to rush forth. But with Wilton it was very,
very different now: he was in the presence of one whose eye was
sunshine to him, whose mind was of an equal tone with his own; and
there was besides in his bosom that strong passion in its strongest
form which gives to everything it mingles with its own depth, and
intensity, and power--which, like a mountain torrent, suddenly poured
into the bed of some summer rivulet, changes it at once in force, in
speed, in depth--that passion which has made dumb men eloquent, and
Thus, though the conversation began with ordinary subjects, touched
but upon matters of taste and amusement, and approached deeper
feelings only as a deviation from its regular course, yet at every
turn it took, Wilton's mind displayed its richness and its power;
till the Duke, who had considerable taste and natural feeling, as
well as high cultivation of mind, looked with surprise and admiration
towards his daughter; and every now and then Laura herself, almost
breathless with mingled feelings of pleasure, pride, and affection,
turned her eyes upon her father, and marked his sensations with a
And yet it was all so natural, so easy, so unaffected, that one felt
there was neither effort nor presumption. There was nothing of what
the vulgar mass of common society call eloquence about it; but there
was the true eloquence, which by a single touch wakes the sound that
we desire to produce in the heart of another: which by one bright
instantaneous flash lights up, to the perception of every one around,
each point that we wish them to behold. Eloquence consists not in
many words, but in few words: the thoughts, the associations, the
images, may be many, but the acme of eloquence is in the rapidity of
Wilton, then, did not in any degree presume. He discoursed upon
nothing; he did not even attempt to lead. The Duke led the
conversation, and he followed: but it was like that famous entry of
the Roman emperor, where an eagle was seen hovering round and round
his head: the royal bird followed, indeed, the monarch; but in his
flight took ten times a wider scope: the people hailed with loud
gratulations the approach of Caesar, but in the attendant bird
they recognised Jove. The Duke, however, who had taste, as we have
said, and feeling, and who, in regard to conversational powers, was
not a vain roan, was delighted with his guest, and laid himself out
to lead Wilton on towards subjects on which he thought he would
shine: but there was one very extraordinary thing in the history of
that afternoon. There was not a servant in the hall--no, neither the
laced and ribanded lackey lately hired in London, the old blue
bottles from the country mansion, the stately butler and his
understrapper of the cellaret, nor the Duke's own French gentleman,
who stood very close to his master's elbow during the whole of dinner
time--there was not one that did not clearly and perfectly perceive
that their young lady was in love with her hand some deliverer, and
did not comment upon it in their several spheres, when they quitted
the room. Every one felt positive that the matter was all arranged,
and the wedding was soon to take place; and, to say the truth, so
much had Wilton in general won upon their esteem by one means or
another, that the only objection urged against him, in the various
councils which were held upon the subject, was, that his name was
Brown, that he had not a vis-a-vis, and that he kept only two horses.
The two or three last sentences, it must be owned, are lamentable
digressions; for we have not yet stated what the extraordinary thing
was. It was not in the least degree extraordinary that the servants
should all find out the secret of Laura's heart; for her eyes told it
every time that she looked at Wilton; but it is very extraordinary,
indeed, that her father should never find it out, when every one else
that was present did. Is it that there is a magic haze which
surrounds love, that can never be penetrated by the eyes of parents
or guardians, till some particular allotted moment is arrived? I
cannot tell; so, however, has it always proved, and so in all
probability it ever will.
Such was the case with the Duke at the present moment. Although
there was every opportunity for his daughter and Wilton falling in
love with each other; although there was every reasonable cause
thereunto them moving--youth, and beauty, and warm hearts, and
gratitude, and interesting situations: although there was every
probability that time, place, and circumstance could afford; although
there was every indication, sign, symptom, and appearance, that it was
absolutely the case at that very moment, yet the Duke saw nothing of
it, did not believe it existed, did not imagine that it was likely
ever to exist, and was quite prepared to be astonished, surprised, and
mortified, at whatever period the fact, by the will of fate, should
be forced upon his understanding.
Such was the state of all parties at the time when Laura rose from
the table, and left her father and Wilton alone. Now the bad custom
of men sitting together and drinking immense and detrimental
quantities of various kinds of wine, was at that time at its very
acme; so much so, indeed, that there is more than one recorded
instance, in the years 1695 and 1696, of gentlemen--yes, reader;
actually gentlemen, that is to say, persons who had had every
advantage of birth, for time, and education--killing themselves with
intoxication, exactly in the manner which a noble but most unhappy
bard of our own days has described, in--
--"the Irish peer
Who kill'd himself for love, with wine, last year."
On this subject, however, we shall not dwell, as we may be fated,
perhaps, in the very beginning of the next chapter, to touch upon
some of the other peculiar habits of those days.
Now neither Wilton nor the Duke were at all addicted to the vice we
have mentioned; and Wilton had certainly much stronger attractions in
another room of that house than any that the Duke's cellar could
afford him. The Duke, too, had small inclination usually to sit long
at table; but on the pre sent occasion he had an object in detaining
his young friend in the dining-room after Lady Laura had departed.
Wilton's eyes saw him turn towards him several times, while the
servants were busy about the table, and had, indeed, even during
dinner, remarked a certain sort of restlessness, which he attributed,
and rightly, to an anxiety regarding the plots of the Jacobites, in
which the peer had so nearly involved himself.
At length, when the room was cleared and the door closed, the Duke
drew round his chair towards the fire, begging his young friend to do
the same, and mingling the matter of alarm even with his invitation
to the first glass of wine, "My dear Wilton," he said--"you must
permit me to call you so, for I can now look upon you as little less
than a son--I wish you to give me a fuller account of all this
business than poor Laura can, for there is news current about the
town to-day which somewhat alarms me, though I do not think there is
any need of alarm either. But surely, Wilton, they could not bring me
in as at all accessory to a plot which I would have nothing to do
"Oh no, my lord, I should think not," replied Wilton, without much
consideration. "I know it is the wish of the government only to
punish the chief offenders."
"Then you think it is really all discovered, as they say?" demanded
"I know it is," replied Wilton. "Several of the conspirators are
already in custody, and warrants are issued, I understand, against
the rest. As far as I can judge, two or three will turn King's
evidence, and the rest will be executed."
"Good God!" exclaimed the Duke. "I heard something of the business
when I was out, but scarcely gave it credit. It seemed so suddenly
"I believe the government have had the clue in their hands for some
time," replied Wilton, "but have only availed themselves of it
"Have you heard any one named, Wilton?" demanded the Duke again; "any
of those who are taken, or any of those who are suspected?"
"Sir John Friend has been arrested this morning," replied Wilton; "a
person named Cranburne, and another called Rookwood. I heard the
names of those who are suspected also read over."
"Then I adjure you, my dear young friend," cried the Duke, starting
up, and grasping his hand in great agitation--"I adjure you, by all
the regard that exists between us, and all that you have done for me
and my poor child, to tell me if my name was amongst the rest."
"No, it certainly was not," replied Wilton; and as he spoke, the Duke
suffered himself to sink back into his chair again, with a long and
The moment Wilton had uttered his reply, however, he recollected that
there was one name in the list at which Lord Byerdale had hesitated;
and he then feared that he might be leading the Duke into error.
Knowing, however, that Laura's father had been but at one of the
meetings of the conspirators, and being perfectly sure, that,
startled and dismayed by what he had heard of their plans, he had
instantly withdrawn from all association with them, he did not doubt
that no serious danger could exist in his case, and therefore thought
it unnecessary to agitate his mind, by suggesting the doubt which had
suddenly come into his own.
He knew, indeed, that any alarm which the Duke might feel, would but
make Laura's father lean more entirely day by day upon him, who, with
the exception of the conspirators themselves, was the only person who
possessed the dangerous secret which caused him so much agitation.
But Wilton was not a man to consider his own interests in any such
matter, and he determined, after a moment's consideration, to say
nothing of the doubts which had just arisen. A pause had ensued,
however, for the Duke, busied with his own feelings, had suffered his
thoughts to run back into the past; and, as is the case with every
human being whose mind dwells upon the acts that are irrevocable, he
found matter for sorrow and regret. After about five minutes'
silence, during which they both continued to gaze thoughtfully into
the fire, the Duke returned to the matter before them by saying--
"I wish to heavens, my dear young friend, I had taken your advice,
and not gone to this meeting at all; or that you had given me a
fuller intimation of what was intended."
"I could not, indeed, my lord," replied Wilton, "for I had no fuller
knowledge myself; I only conveyed to you a message I had received."
The Duke shook his head doubtingly. "Oh! Wilton, Wilton!" he said,
"you are training for a statesman! You have much better information
of all these things than you will suffer to appear. Did you not warn
me of this before any one else knew anything of it? Did you not in a
very short time find out where Laura was when nobody else could?"
It was in vain that Wilton denied any superior knowledge. The Duke
had so completely made up his mind that his young friend had been in
possession of all the secret information obtained by the ministers,
and, indeed, of more and earlier information than they had possessed,
that nothing would remove the impression from his mind; and when he
at length rose, finding that Wilton would drink no more wine, he
"Well, Wilton, remember, I depend entirely upon you, with the fullest
and most implicit confidence. No one possesses my secret but you, and
one or two of these men, who will have enough to do in thinking of
themselves without implicating others, I trust. Most of those who
were present--for the meeting was very large--did not know who I
was, and the rest who did know, must know also very well, that I
strenuously objected to their whole proceedings, and quitted them as
soon as I discovered what were their real objects. A word said upon
the subject, however, might ruin me; for rank and fortune in this
world, Wilton, though they bear their own inconveniences with them,
are always objects of envy to those who do not possess them; and
malice as surely treads upon the steps of envy as night follows day.
I trust to you, as I have said, entirely, and I trust to you even
with the more confidence, because I find that you have been wise and
prudent enough not even to communicate to Laura the fact of my having
attended any of these meetings at all. While all this is taking
place, however, my dear Wilton--as of course the matter will be a
very agitating one to me, when the trials come on (for fear any of
the traitors should name me)--let me see you frequently, constantly,
every day, if you can, and bring me what tidings you can gain of all
Wilton easily promised to do that which the Duke desired, in this
respect at least, and they then joined her he loved, with whom he
passed one of those calm, sweet evenings, the tranquil happiness of
which admits of no description.
Amongst all the curious changes that have taken place in the
world--by which expression I mean, upon the world, for the great
round ball on which we roll through space is the only part of the
whole that remains but little altered--amongst all the changes, then,
which have taken place in the world, moral, political, and social,
there has been none more extraordinary, perhaps, than the rise,
progress, extension, and dominion of that strong power called
Decorum. I have heard it asserted by a very clever man, that there
was nothing of the kind known in England before the commencement of
the reign of George III., and that decorum was, in fact, a mere
decent cloak to cover the nakedness of vice. I think he was mistaken:
the word was known long before; and there has been at all times a
feeling of decorum in the English nation, which has shown itself in
gradually rooting out from the ordinary commerce of society
everything that is coarse in expression, or doubtful in conduct. The
natural tendency of this is to mark more strongly the limits of the
realms of vice and virtue; and vice, as a matter of course, in order
to obviate the detrimental effect which such a clear definition of
her boundaries must produce, loses no opportunity of travelling over
into the marches or debateable land which is left under the warden
ship of decorum.
The name was not, perhaps, applied as now it is, in former years, but
still the spirit existed, as may be seen by any one who takes up and
reads the works of one of our purest but coldest of writers, Addison,
who, about the time of the peace, which took place in the beginning
of the eighteenth century, laments the loss of much of the delicacy
(or, in other terns, decorum) of English society which was likely to
ensue from a free intercourse with France. It must, indeed, be
admitted that at that period the reign of decorum had not made nearly
so great a progress as it has at present. It was then a constitutional
monarchy, where it is now a despotism, but was probably not a bit
less powerful from being decidedly more free. People in those days
did certainly speak of things that we now speak not of at all. They
called things by their plain straightforward names, for which we have
since invented terms perhaps less definite and not more decent. But
people of refined minds and tastes were refined then as now, and
loved and cultivated all those amenities, graces, and proprieties,
which form not alone the greatest safeguards, but also the greatest
charms of human existence. Perhaps the difference was more in the
thoughts than in the expressions, and that the refined of those days
bound themselves to think more purely in the first place, so that
there was less need of guarding their words so strictly.
We shall not pause to investigate whether it was that greater purity
of thought, or any other cause, which produced a far more extensive
liberty of action, especially in the female part of society, than
that which is admitted at present. It is certain, however, that it
was so, and that there was something in virtue and innocence which in
those days was a very strong safeguard against the attacks of
scandal, calumny, and malice. In the present day, even the servants
of virtue are found to be the absolute slaves of decorum; but in
those days, so long as they obeyed the high commands of their
rightful mistress, they had but little occasion to apprehend that the
scourge of calumny, or the fear thereof, would drive them continually
back into one narrow and beaten path.
It is, indeed, the greatest satire upon human nature which the world
has ever produced, that acts perfectly innocent, high, and pure as
God's holy light, cannot be permitted to persons even of tried
virtue, simply because they would afford the opportunity of doing
ill. It is, in fact, to say, that no one is to be trusted; that there
is nothing which keeps man or woman virtuous but want of opportunity.
It is a terrible satire; it is more than a satire; it is a foul
libel, aimed by the vicious against those who are better than
Such things did not exist in the days whereof I write, or existed in
a very, very small degree. It is true, from time to time, a woman's
reputation might suffer falsely; but it was in general from her
having approached very near the confines of evil, and the punishment
that ensued, though perhaps even then disproportioned to the fault,
had no tendency whatever to diminish the innocent liberty of others.
We find from all the writers who painted the manners of those
days--Addison, Swift, Steele, and others--that a lady, especially an
unmarried lady, feared no risk to her reputation in going hither or
thither, either perfectly alone, or with any friend with whom she was
known to be intimate. She might venture upon an excursion into the
country, a party of pleasure, nay, a journey itself in many
instances, with any gentleman of honour and reputation, without
either friends or enemies casting an imputation upon her character,
or the world immediately giving her over to him in marriage.
It was left indeed to her own judgment whom she would choose for her
companion, and the most innocent girl might have gone anywhere
unreproved with a man of known honour and virtue, who would have
ruined her own character had she placed herself in the power of a
Rochester or a Bucking ham. These were rational boundaries; but
perhaps the liberty of those days went somewhat beyond even that. In
the early part of the eighteenth century, many of the habits of the
Continent were introduced into England at a time that continental
society was so corrupt as to require licence instead of liberty, and
so far from attending to propriety, to give way to indecency itself.
It became common in the highest circles of society for ladies,
married and single alike, to dispense almost entirely with a female
attendant, and following that most indecent and beastly of all
continental habits, to permit all the offices of a waiting woman to
be performed for them by men. The visits of male acquaintances were
continually received in their bed-rooms, and that, also, before they
had risen in the morning. This, perhaps, was too much, though
certainly far less indecent than the other most revolting of all
immodest practices which I have just mentioned. Others, again,
admitted no visitors further than their dressing-room, and thought
themselves very scrupulous; but there were others, as there must be
at all times, who, with feelings of true modesty and perfect
delicacy, hesitated not to use all proper and rational liberty, yet
shrunk instinctively from the least coarseness of thought or
language, and never yielded to aught that was immodest in custom or
Of these was Lady Laura Gaveston; and though she had no fear of
becoming the talk of the town, or losing the slightest particle of a
bright and pure reputation, by treating one who had rendered her
important services in all respects as she would a brother, by being
seen with him often and often alone, by showing herself with him in
public places, or by any other act of the kind that her heart
prompted her to, she in no way gave in to the evil practices which
the English had learned from their continental neighbours, and,
indeed, never thought or reasoned upon the subject, feeling that
decency as well as morality is a matter of sentiment and not of
The peculiar situation in which the Duke and Wilton were placed
towards each other; the Duke's repeated entreaties that Wilton would
see him every day, if possible; the intimacy that had arisen from
services rendered and received, produced that constant and continual
intercourse which was necessary to the happiness of two people who
loved as Wilton and Laura did; not a day passed without their seeing
each other, scarcely a day passed without their being alone together,
sometimes even for hours; and every moment that they thus spent in
each other's society increased their feelings of love and tenderness
for each other, their hopes, their confidence, their esteem.
Not a secret of Laura's bosom was now concealed from him she loved,
not a thought, not a feeling. She delighted to tell him all: with
whatever subject her mind was employed, with whatever bright thing
her fancy sported, Wilton was always made the sharer; and it was the
same with him. The course that their thoughts pursued was certainly
not always alike, but they generally arrived at the same conclusion,
she by a longer and a softer way, he by a more rapid, vigorous, and
direct one. It was like the passing of a hill by two different roads;
the one, for the bold climber, over the steepest brow; the other, for
gentler steps, more easy round the side.
In the meantime, the Duke proceeded with his young friend even as he
had commenced. He treated him as his most intimate and dearest
confidant; he gradually went on to consult and trust him, not alone
with regard to the immediate subject of his situation, as affected by
the conspiracy, but upon a thousand other matters; and as Wilton's
advice, clear-sighted and vigorous, was always judicious, and
generally successful, the Duke, one of whose greatest weaknesses was
the habit of putting his own judgment under the guidance of others,
learned to lean upon his young companion, as he had at first done
upon his wife, and then upon his daughter.
The various changes and events of the day, as they kept the Duke's
mind in a state of frequent suspense and anxiety, made him more often
recur to Wilton than otherwise would have been the case. London was
filled with rumours of every kind regarding the discovery of the
plot, and the persons implicated. The report of Lady Laura's having
been carried off by the Jacobites, for the purpose of inducing her
father to join in their schemes, spread far and wide, and filled
Beaufort House, during a great part of the morning, with a crowd of
visitors, all anxious to hear the facts, and to retail them with what
colouring they thought fit.
Some argued, that though the Duke had always been thought somewhat of
a Jacobite, at least he had now proved his adherence to the existing
dynasty, beyond all manner of dispute, by what he and his daughter
had suffered from their resistance to the Jacobites. Others, again,
curled the malicious lip, and declared that the Duke must have given
the conspirators some encouragement, or they would never have
ventured upon such deeds. All, however, to the Duke himself, affected
to look upon him and his family as marked by the enmity of the other
faction; and he, on his part, perhaps, did feel his importance in a
little degree increased by the sort of notoriety which he had
If there was any pleasure in this--and when is not in creased
importance pleasurable?--it was speedily brought to an end, as soon
as the trials of the conspirators began, and intelligence of more and
more traitors being arrested in different parts, and increased
rumours of the number suspected, or actually implicated, reaching the
ears of the Duke. Persons who one day appeared perfectly free and
stainless, were the next marked out as having a share in the
conspiracy. Fear fell upon all men: the times of Titus Oates and his
famous plot presented themselves to everybody's imagination, and the
Duke's head lay more and more uneasy on his pillow every night.
Sir John Fenwick, however, was not yet taken: Sir William Parkyns and
Sir John Friend died with firmness and with honour, compromising no
man. Sir George Barkley had escaped; the Earl of Aylesbury, though
implicated by the testimony of several witnesses in the lesser
offences of the conspiracy, was not arrested; and not a word had yet
been spoken of the Duke's name.
It was about this period, however, that Laura's father suddenly
received a note from Lord Aylesbury to the following effect:--
"Your grace and I being somewhat similarly situated in
several respects, I think fit to give you intimation of my
views at the present moment. While gentlemen, and men of
honour, were the only individuals made to suffer in
consequence of the late lamentable events, people, who knew
themselves to be innocent of any bloody or treasonable
designs, might feel themselves tolerably safe, even though
they were well acquainted with some of the persons accused.
I hear now, however, that there is a certain Rookwood,
together with men named Cranburne, Lowick, Knightly, and
others, some of them small gentry of no repute, and others
merely vulgar and inferior persons, who are about to be
brought to immediate trial; and I have it from a sure hand,
that some of these persons, for the purpose of saving their
own miserable lives, intend to charge men of much higher
rank than themselves with crimes of which they never had
any thought, simply because they were acquainted with
some of the unfortunate gentlemen by whom these evil and
foolish things were designed. Such being the case, and
knowing myself to be somewhat obnoxious to many persons
in power, I have determined to remove from London for the
time, that my presence may not excite attention, and perhaps
call upon my head an accusation which may be levelled at
any other if I should not be here. I by no means purpose
to quit the kingdom, and would rather, indeed, surrender
myself, and endeavour to prove my innocence, even against
the torrent of prejudice, and all the wild and raging outcry
which this business has produced, both in the parliament
and in the nation. At the same time, I think it best to
inform you of these facts, as an old friend, well knowing that
your grace has a house ready to receive you in Hampshire,
within thirty-five miles of the city of London, in case your
presence should be wanted, and about the same distance
from the sea-coast. I will beg your grace to read this, and
then instantly to burn it, believing that it comes with a very
good intent, from
"Your humble servant,
This letter once more excited all the apprehensions of the Duke, who
well knew that Lord Aylesbury would never have written such an
epistle without intending to imply much more than he directly said.
His recourse was immediately to Wilton, who was engaged to dine with
him on that day, together with a large party. As Wilton's
engagements, however, were always made with a proviso, that his
official duties under the Earl of Byerdale permitted his fulfilling
them, the Duke sent off a special messenger with a note beseeching
him not to fail. The dinner hour, however, arrived; the various
guests made their appearance; the cook began to fret, and to declare
to his understrappers that the Duke always spoilt the dinner; but
Wilton had not yet come, and the Duke was anxious, if but to obtain
five words with him.
At length, however, the young gentleman arrived; and it was not a
little to the surprise of all the guests, and to the indignation of
some, that they saw who was the person for whom the meal had been
delayed. Wilton, though always well dressed, and in any circumstances
bearing the aspect of a gentleman, had evidently made his toilet
hastily and imperfectly; and notwithstanding the distance he had
come, bore about his person distinct traces of heat and excitement.
"I have not failed to obey your summons, my lord," he said, following
the Duke into the opening of one of the windows, "though it was
scarcely possible for me to do so. But I have much that I wish to
say to you."
"And I to you," replied the Duke; and he told him the contents of the
letter he had received from Lord Aylesbury that morning.
"The Earl says true, my lord," replied Wilton. "But I have this very
day seen Cook myself--I mean Peter Cook, the person that it is
supposed will be permitted to turn king's evidence. He did certainly
slightly glance at your grace; but I believe that the orders of Lord
Byerdale will prevent him from implicating any persons but those who
were actually engaged in the worst designs of the conspirators."
"Had I not better go into the country at once?" demanded the Duke,
"Far from it, far from it, my lord," replied Wilton: "the way, of all
others, I should think, to cause yourself to be arrested. On the
contrary, if you would take my advice, you would immediately sit down
and write a note to Lord Byerdale, saying that I had told you--for he
did not forbid me to mention it--that Cook had made some allusion to
you. Tell him that it was, and is, your intention to go out of town
within a few days, but that knowing your own innocence of every
design against the government, you will put off your journey, or even
surrender yourself at the Tower, should he judge, from any
information that he possesses, that even a shade of suspicion is
likely to be cast upon you by any of the persons about to be tried. I
will answer for the success, if your grace follows my advice. A bold
step of this kind disarms suspicion. Lord Byerdale will, in all
probability, intimate to Cook, that nothing at all is to be said in
regard to you, feeling sure that you are innocent of any great
offence; whereas, if the charge were once brought forward, the set of
low-minded villains concerned in this business might think it
absolutely necessary to work it up into a serious affair, from which
your grace would find a difficulty in extricating yourself."
"You are right, Wilton, you are right," replied the Duke: "I see you
are right, although I judged it hazardous at first. You shall see
what confidence I have in you. I will write the letter directly;" and
he turned away with him from the window.
Laura had watched the conference with some anxiety, and the Duke's
guests with some surprise; but when the Duke ended by saying aloud,
"I fear I must beg your pardon, ladies, for two minutes, but I must
write a short note of immediate importance; Wilton, my dear young
friend, be kind enough to order dinner, and help Laura to entertain
my friends here till I return, which will be before they have covered
the table," every one looked in the face of the other; and they all
mentally said, "The matter is clearly settled, and the hand of this
rich and beautiful heiress is promised to an unknown man of no rank
Knowing the feelings that were in his own heart, being quite sure of
the interpretation that would be put upon the Duke's words, and yet
having some doubts still whether the Duke himself had the slightest
intention of giving them such a meaning, Wilton cast down his eyes
and coloured slightly. But Laura, to whom those words were anything
but painful--though she blushed a little too, which but confirmed
the opinion of those who remarked it--could not restrain altogether
the smile of pleasure that played upon her lips, as she turned her
happy eyes for a moment to the countenance of the man she loved.
There was not an old lady or gentleman, of high rank, in the room,
possessed of a marriageable son, who would not at that moment have
willingly raised Wilton to the final elevation of Haman, by the same
process which that envious person underwent; and yet it is wonderful
how courteous and cordial, and even affectionate, they all were
towards the young gentleman whom, for the time, they mortally hated.
Wilton felt himself awkwardly situated for the next few minutes, not
choosing fully to assume the position in which the Duke's words had
placed him. He well knew that if he did enact to the full the part of
that nobleman's representative, every one would charge him with gross
and shameful presumption, and would most likely talk of it, each in
his separate circle, during the whole of the following day.
He was soon relieved, however, by the return of the Duke, who had
sent the letter, but who continued evidently anxious and thoughtful
during the whole of dinner. Wilton was also a little disturbed, and
showed himself rather silent and retiring than otherwise. But before
dinner was over--for such meals were long protracted in those
days--one of the servants brought a note to the Duke, who, begging
pardon for so far violating all proprieties, opened, read it, and,
while the cloud vanished from his countenance, placed it on the
salver again, saying to the servant, "Take that to Mr. Brown."
The note was in the hand of Lord Byerdale, and to the following
"MY DEAR LORD DUKE,
"Your grace's attachment to the government is far too
well known to be affected by anything that such a person as
Peter Cook could say. I permitted our dear young friend
Wilton to tell you what the man had mentioned, more as a
mark of our full confidence than anything else. But I doubt
not that he will forbear to repeat the calumny in court; and
if he does, it will receive no attention. Go out of town, then,
whenever you think fit, and to whatsoever place you please,
feeling quite sure that in Wilton you have a strenuous
advocate, and a sincere friend in
"Your grace's most humble and
"most obedient servant,
For nearly ten days after the events which we have recorded in the
thirtieth chapter of this volume, and while the principal part of the
events were taking place of which we have just spoken, Lord
Sherbrooke remained absent from London. Knowing the circumstances in
which he was placed, Wilton felt anxious lest the delay of his return
might attract the attention of Lord Byerdale, and lead him to suspect
some evil. No suspicion, however, seemed to cross the mind of the
Earl, who was more accustomed than Wilton knew to find his son absent
without knowing where he was, or how employed.
At length, however, one morning Lord Sherbrooke made his appearance
again; and Wilton saw that he was on perfect good terms with his
father, who never quarrelled with his vices, or interfered with his
pursuits, when there was any veil of decency thrown over the one, or
the Earl's own views were not openly opposed by the other.
When Wilton entered the room where the father and son were seated at
breakfast, he found Lord Sherbrooke descanting learnedly upon the
fancy of damask table-cloths and napkins. He vowed that his father
was behind all the world, especially the world of France, and that it
was absolutely necessary, in order to make himself like other men of
station and fashion, that he should have his coronet and cipher
embroidered with gold in the corners, and his arms, in the same
manner, made conspicuous in the centre.
"And pray, my good son," said Lord Byerdale to him, "as your intimacy
with washerwomen is doubtless as great as your intimacy with
embroiderers and sempstresses, pray tell me how these gilded napkins
are to be washed?"
"Washed, my lord!" exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke in a tone of horror. "Do
you ever have your napkins washed? I did not know there was a
statesman in Europe whose fingers were so clean as to leave his
napkin in such a state that the stains could ever be taken out, after
he had once used it."
"I am afraid, my dear boy," replied Lord Byerdale, "that, if you had
not--as many men of sharp wit do--confounded a figure with a reality,
for the purpose of playing with both, and if there were in truth such
a thing as a moral napkin, what you say would be very true. But as
far as I can judge, my dear Sherbrooke, yours would not bear washing
any better than mine."
"It would be very presumptuous of me if it did, my dear father,"
replied Lord Sherbrooke, "and would argue that precept and example
had done nothing for me. Come, Wilton," he added, "come in to my
help, for here are father and son flinging so hard at each other,
that I shall get my teeth dashed down my throat before I've done. Now
tell me, did you ever see such a napkin as that in the house of a
nobleman, a gentleman, or a man of taste, three states, by the way,
seldom united in the same person?"
"Oh yes," replied Wilton, "often; and, to tell the truth, I think
them in much better taste than if they were all covered with gold."
"Surely not for the fingers of a statesman?" said Lord Sherbrooke.
"However, I abominate them; and I will instantly sit down and write
to a good friend of mine in France, to smuggle me over a few dozens
as a present to my respectable parent."
"A present which he will have to pay for," replied the Earl, somewhat
bitterly. "My dear Sherbrooke, your presents to other people cost
your father so much one way, that I beg you will make none to him,
and get him into the scrape the other way also."
"Do not be alarmed, my dear and most amiable parent," replied Lord
Sherbrooke: "the sweet discussion which we had some time ago, in
regard to debts and expenses, has had its effect: though it is a very
stupid plan of a son ever to let his father see that what he says has
any effect upon him at all; but I intend to contract my expenses."
"Intentions are very excellent things, my dear Sherbrooke," replied
his father. "But I am afraid we generally treat them as gardeners do
celery,--cut them down as soon as they sprout above ground."
"I have let mine grow, my lord, already," replied Sherbrooke. "I
last night gave an order for selling five of my horses, and now keep
"And how many mistresses, Sherbrooke?" demanded his father.
"None, my lord," replied Sherbrooke.
Not a change came over Lord Byerdale's countenance; but ringing the
bell which stood before him on the table, he said to the servant,
"Bring me the book marked 'Ephemeris' from my dressing-room, with a
pen and ink.--We will put that down," continued he; and when the
servant brought the book he wrote for a moment, reading aloud as he
did so, "Great annular eclipse of the sun--slight shock of an
earthquake felt in Cardigan--Sherbrooke talks of contracting his
Wilton could not help smiling; but he believed and trusted, from all
that he knew of Lord Sherbrooke's situation, that new motives and
nobler ones than those which had ever influenced him before, produced
his present resolution, and would support him in it.
The business which he had to transact with the Earl proved very
brief; and after it was over, he sought Lord Sherbrooke again, with
feelings of real and deep interest in all that concerned him. He
found the young nobleman seated with his feet on the fire-place, and
a light book in his hand, sometimes letting it drop upon his knee,
and falling into a fit of thought, sometimes reading a few lines
attentively, sometimes gazing upon the page, evidently without
attending to its contents.
He suffered Wilton to be in the room several minutes without speaking
to him; and his friend, knowing the eccentricities that occasionally
took possession of him, was about to quit the room and leave him,
when he started up, threw the book into the midst of the fire, and
said, "Where are you going, Wilton? I will walk with you."
They issued forth together into the streets, and entering St. James's
Park, took their way round by the head of the decoy towards the side
of the river. While in the streets they both kept silence; but as
soon as they had passed the ever-moving crowds that swarm in the
thoroughfares of the great metropolis, Wilton began the conversation,
by inquiring eagerly after his friend's wife.
"She is nearly well," replied Lord Sherbrooke, coldly--"out of all
danger, at least. It is I that am sick, Wilton--sick at heart."
"I hope not cold at heart, Sherbrooke," replied Wilton, somewhat
pained by the tone in which the other spoke. "I should think such a
being as I saw with you might well warm you to constancy as well as
love. I hope, Sherbrooke, those feelings I beheld excited in you have
not, in this instance, evaporated as soon as in others."
Lord Sherbrooke turned and gazed in his friend's face for a moment
intently, even sternly, and then replied, "Love her, Wilton? I love
her better than anything in earth or in heaven! It is for her sake I
am sad; and yet she is so noble, that why should I fear to bear what
she will never shrink from."
"Nay, my dear Sherbrooke," replied Wilton. "The very resolution which
I see you have taken to shake yourself free of the trammels of your
debts ought to give you joy and confidence."
"Debts!" said Lord Sherbrooke--"debts! Do you think that it was debts
I had in view when I ordered my horses to be sold, and my carriages
to follow them, and kicked my Italian valet down stairs, and
dismissed my mistresses, and got rid of half-a-dozen other
blood-suckers?--My debts had nothing to do with it. By Heaven,
Wilton, if it had been for nothing but that, I would have spent
twenty thousand pounds more before the year was over; for when one
has a mind to enrage one's father, or go to gaol, or anything of that
kind, one had better do it for a large sum at once, in a gentleman-
like way. Oh no, I have other things in my head, Wilton, that you
know nothing about."
"I will not try to press into your confidence, Sherbrooke," replied
Wilton, "though I think in some things I have shown myself deserving
of it. But I need hardly tell you, that if I can serve you, I am
always most willing to do so, and you need but command me."
"Alas! my dear Wilton," replied Lord Sherbrooke--"this is a matter
in which you can do nothing. It is like one man trying to lift Paul's
church upon his back, and another coming tip and offering to help
him. If I did what was right, and according to the best prescribed
practice, I should repay your kind wishes and offers by turning round
and cutting your throat."
"Nay, nay, my dear Sherbrooke," replied Wilton, "you are in one of
your misanthropical fits, and carry it even further than ordinary.
The world is bad enough, but not so bad as to present us with many
instances of people cutting each other's throats as a reward for
offers of service."
"You are very wise, Wilton," replied Lord Sherbrooke, "but
nevertheless you will find out that at present I am right and you are
wrong. However, let us talk of something else;" and he dashed off at
once into a wild gay strain of merriment, as unaccountable as the
grave and gloomy tone with which he had entered into the
This morning's interview formed the type of Lord Sherbrooke's conduct
during the whole time of his stay in town. Continual fluctuations,
not only in his own spirits, but in his demeanour towards Wilton
himself; evidently showed his friend that he was agitated internally
by some great grief or terrible anxiety. Indeed, from time to time,
his words suffered it to appear, though not, perhaps, in the same
manner that the words of other men would have done in similar
circumstances. The only thing in which he seemed to take pleasure was
in attending the trials of the various conspirators; and when any of
them displayed any fear or want of firmness, he found therein a vast
source of merriment, and would come home laughing to Wilton, and
telling him how the beggarly wretch had showed his pale fright at the
block and axe.
"That villain Knightly," he said, one day, "who was as deep or deeper
in the plot than any of the others, and surveyed the ground for the
King's assassination, came into court the colour of an old woman's
green calamanco petticoat, gaping and trembling in every limb like a
boar's head in aspic jelly; and Heaven knows that I, who stood
looking and laughing at him, would have taken his place for a
The perfect conviction that some very serious cause existed for this
despondency induced Wilton to deviate from the line of conduct he had
laid down for himself, and to urge Lord Sherbrooke at various times
to make him acquainted with the particulars of his situation, and to
give him the opportunity of assisting him if possible. Lord
Sherbrooke resisted pertinaciously. He sometimes answered his friend
kindly and feelingly, sometimes sullenly, sometimes angrily. But he
never yielded; and on one occasion he expressed himself so harshly
and ungratefully, that Wilton turned round and left him in the park.
They were on horseback at the time; and Lord Sherbrooke rode on a
little way, without taking the slightest notice of his companion's
departure. He then suddenly turned his horse, however, and galloping
after him at full speed, he held out his hand to him, saying,
"Wilton, you must either fight me or forgive me, for this state
must not last five minutes."
Wilton took his hand, replying, "I forgive you with all my heart,
Sherbrooke, and let me once more explain that my only view, my only
wish, is to be of assistance to you. I see, Sherbrooke, that you are
melancholy, wretched, anxious. I wish much to do anything that I can
to relieve that state of mind; and though I have no power, and very
little interest, yet there do occasionally occur opportunities to me,
which, as you have seen in the case of Lady Laura, afford me means of
doing things which might not be expected from my situation."
"You can neither help me, nor relieve me, nor assist me in the least,
Wilton," replied Lord Sherbrooke, "unless, indeed, you could entirely
change beings with me; unless you become me, and I become you. But it
cannot be, and I cannot even explain to you any part of my situation.
Therefore ask me nothing more upon the subject, and only be contented
that it is from no want of confidence in you that I hold my tongue."
"I hope and trust that it is not," replied Wilton; "but now that we
are speaking upon the subject, let me still say one word more. I can
conceive, from various reasons, that you may not think fit to confide
in me. I am a man of your own age, with less wit, less experience,
less knowledge of the world than you have--"
"You have more wit in your little finger, more knowledge of the
world, and experience--Heaven knows how you got it--more common
sense, ay, and uncommon sense too, than ever I shall have in my
life," replied Lord Sherbrooke, hastily.
"But hear me, Sherbrooke, hear me," said Wilton--"whatever may be the
cause, it does not suit you to take my advice and assistance. Now
there is one person in whom you may fully rely, who will never betray
your confidence, who will give you the very best advice, and I am
sure will, if it be in his power, render you still more important
assistance--I mean Lord Sunbury. He is now at Geneva, on his way
home, waiting for passports from France. In his last letter, lie
mentioned you with much interest, and desired me--"
"Good God!" cried Lord Sherbrooke, "that I should ever create any
interest in anybody! However, Wilton, your suggestion is not a bad
one. Perhaps you have pointed out the only man in Europe in whom I
could confide with propriety, strange as that may seem. But in the
first place, I must consult with others.--Have you seen your friend
"Not since the night before all that business in Kent," replied
Wilton. "I have sought to see him, but have never been able; and I
begin to apprehend that he must have taken a part in this conspiracy,
different from that I imagined, and has absented himself on that
"Not he, not he!" replied Lord Sherbrooke; "I saw him but two days
ago. But who have we here, coming up on foot? One of the King's
servants, it would seem, and with him that cowardly rascal Arden.
They are snaking towards us, Wilton, doubtless not recognising us.
Suppose we take Master Arden, and horsewhip him out of the park."
"No, no," replied Wilton, "no such violent counsels for me, my dear
Sherbrooke. The man is punished more than I wished already."
The two men directed their course at once towards Lord Sherbrooke and
his companion; and as they approached, the King's servant advanced
before the other, and with a respectful bow addressed Wilton, saying,
"I have the King's commands, sir, to require your presence at
Kensington immediately. I was even now about to seek you in St.
James's Square, and then at Whitehall. But I presume Mr. Arden has
informed me rightly, that you are that Mr. Brown who is private
secretary to Lord Byerdale."
"The same, sir," replied Wilton. "Am I to present myself to his
majesty in my riding dress?"
"His majesty's commands were for your immediate attendance, sir,"
replied the servant: "the council must be over by this time, and then
he expects you."
"Then I will lose no time," replied Wilton, "but ride to the palace
"What can be the meaning of this, Wilton?" said Lord Sherbrooke, as
he put his horse into a quick pace, to keep up with that of his
"On my word, I cannot tell," replied Wilton. "I trust for no evil,
though I know not that any good can be in store."
"Well, I will leave you at the palace gates," replied Lord
Sherbrooke, "and ride about in the neighbourhood till I see you come
out. I hope it will not be in custody."
"I trust not, indeed," replied Wilton. "I know of no good reason why
it should be so: but in these days of suspicion, and I must say of
guilt and treason also, no one can tell who may be the next person
destined for abode in Newgate."
In such speculations the two young gentlemen continued till they
reached the palace, where Lord Sherbrooke turned and left his friend;
and Wilton, if the truth must be confessed, with an anxious and
beating heart, applied to the porter for admittance.
The moment that his name was given, he was led by a page to a small
waiting room on the ground floor. The carriages which had surrounded
the entrance seemed to indicate that the council was not yet over;
but in a few minutes after, the sound of many feet and of various
people talking was heard in the neighbouring passage; and then came
the roll of carriages followed by a dead silence. To the mind of
Wilton the silence continued for an exceedingly long time; but at
length a voice was heard, apparently at some distance, pronouncing a
name indistinctly; but Wilton imagined that it sounded like his own
The next instant, another voice took it up, and it was now
distinctly, "Mr. Brown to the King." The door then opened, and a page
appeared, saying, "Mr. Brown, the King commands your presence."
William III. was seated in a small cabinet, with a table to his right
hand on which his elbow rested; an inkstand and paper were beside
him; and on the other hand, a step behind, stood a gentleman of good
mien, with his hand upon the back of the King's chair, in an attitude
familiar, but not disrespectful. The harsh and somewhat coarse
features of the monarch, which abstractedly seemed calculated to
display strong passions, were in their habitual state of cold
immobility; and Wilton, though he knew his person well, and had seen
him often, could not derive from the King's face the slightest
intimation of what was passing in his mind. There was no trace of
anger, it is true; the brow was sufficiently contracted to appear
thoughtful, but no more; and, at the same time, there was not one
touch even of courteous affability to be seen in those rigid lines to
tell that the young gentleman had been sent for upon some pleasurable
occasion. Dignity, to a certain extent, there must have been in his
demeanour, that sort of dignity which is communicated to the body by
great powers of mind, and great decision of character--in fact,
dignity divested of grace. Nobody could have taken him for a vulgar
man, although his person, as far as mere lines and colouring go,
might have been that of the lowest artizan; but what is more, no one
could see him, however simple might be his dress, without feeling
that there sat a distinguished man of some kind.
Wilton had been accustomed too much and too long to mingle with the
first people in the first country of the world, to suffer himself to
be much affected by any of the external pomp and circumstance of
courts, or even by the vague sensations of respect with which fancy
invests royalty; but he could not help feeling, as he entered the
presence of William, that he was approaching a man of vast mind as
well as vast power.
William looked at him quietly for several minutes, letting him
approach within two steps, and gazing at him still, even after he had
stopped, without uttering a single word. Wilton bowed, and then stood
erect before the King, feeling a little embarrassed, it is true, but
determined not to suffer his embarrassment to appear.
At length, the King addressed him in a harsh tone of voice, saying,
"Well, sir, what have you to say?"
"May it please your majesty," replied Wilton, "I do not know on what
subject your majesty wishes me to speak. I met one of the royal
servants in the Park who commanded me to present myself here
immediately, and I came hither accordingly, without waiting to
inquire for what purpose."
"Oh! then you do not know?" said the King. "I thought you did know,
and most likely were prepared. But it is as well as it is. I doubt
not you will answer me truly. Where were you on Friday, the 22d of
"I cannot exactly say where I was, Sire," replied Wilton; "for during
the greater part of that day I was continually changing my place.
Having set out for a small town or village called High Halstow, in
Kent, at an early hour in the day, I arrived there just before
nightfall, and remained in that place or in the neighbourhood for
several hours, indeed, till nearly or past midnight."
"Pray what was your business there?" demanded the King.
"I fear," replied Wilton, "I must trouble your majesty with some long
details to enable you to understand the object of my going."
"Go on," was William's laconic reply; and the young gentleman
proceeded to tell him, that having been employed in recovering Lady
Laura from those who had carried her off, he had learned in the
course of his inquiries in London that she was likely to be heard of
in that neighbourhood.
"I judged it likely to be so myself, sire," continued Wilton,
"because I believed her to have been carried off by some persons
belonging to a party of Jacobites who were known to be caballing
against the government, though to what extent was not then
"And what made you judge," demanded the King, "that she had been
carried off by these men?"
"Because, sire," replied Wilton, "the lady's father had been an
acquaintance of Sir John Fenwick, one of the most notorious of the
persons now implicated in the present foul plot against your
majesty's life and crown. With him the Duke of Gaveston, I found, had
quarrelled some time previously, and I suspected, though I had no
proof thereof, that this quarrel had been occasioned by the Duke
strongly differing from Sir John Fenwick in his political views, and
refusing to take any part in any designs against the government."
"I am glad to hear this of the Duke, sir," replied the King. "Then it
was out of revenge, you believe, they carried away the young lady?"
"Rather out of a desire to have a hold upon the Duke," replied
Wilton. "I found afterwards, your majesty, that their intention was
to send the young lady to France, and I judged throughout that their
design was to force the Duke into an intrigue which they found he
would not meddle with willingly."
William III., though he was himself of a very taciturn character, and
not fond of loquacity in others, was yet fond of full explanations,
always sitting in judgment, as it were, upon what was said to him,
and passing sentence in his own breast. He now made Wilton go over
again the particulars of Lady Laura's being taken away, though it was
evident that he had heard all the facts before, and obliged him to
enter into every minute detail which in any way affected the
When this was done, without any other comment than a look to the
gentleman on his left hand, he fixed his eyes again upon Wilton, and
asked,--"Now, where did you learn that these conspirators were likely
to be found in Kent?"
"I heard it from a gentleman named Green," replied Wilton, "whom I
met with at a tavern in St. James's-street."
"Green is a very common name," said the King.
"I do not believe that it is his real name," replied Wilton; "but
what his real name is I do not know. I had not seen him often before;
but he informed me of these facts, and I followed his advice and
"That was rash," said the King. "You are sure you do not know his
"I cannot even guess it, sire," replied Wilton; and the King, after
exchanging a mute glance with his attendant, went on,--"Well, when
you had discovered the place of meeting of these conspirators, and
reached it, what happened then?"
"I did not go, may it please your majesty, to discover their place of
meeting, but to discover the place where Lady Laura was detained,
which, when I had done, aided by a person I had got to assist
me--after Arden, formerly Messenger of State, had fled from me in a
most dastardly manner, in a casual rencounter with some
people--smugglers, I believe--I made the master of the house and some
other persons whom we found there, set the Lady Laura at liberty. I
informed her of the authority that her father had given me, and she
was but too glad to accept the assistance of any friend with whom she
"So, so; stop!" said the King. "So, then, Arden was not with you at
"No, sire," replied Wilton--"he had run away an hour before."
"That was not like a brave man," said William.
"No, indeed, sire," replied Wilton, "nor like one of your majesty's
friends, for it is your enemies that generally run away."
A faint smile came upon William's countenance, and he said, "Go on.
What happened next?"
"Before we could make our escape from the house," replied Wilton, "we
were stopped by a large party of men, who entered; and, principally
instigated by Sir John Fenwick, who was one of them, they opposed, in
a violent manner, our departure."
Hitherto Wilton had been very careful of his speech, unwilling to
compromise any one, and especially unwilling to mention the name of
Lord Sherbrooke, the Lady Helen Oswald, or anybody else except the
conspirators who had taken a part in the events of that night. Now,
however, when he had to dwell principally upon the conduct of the
conspirators and himself; he did so more boldly, and gave a full
account of all that had been said and done till the entrance of the
Duke of Berwick. He knew, or rather divined, from what had already
passed, that this was in reality the point to which the examination
he underwent principally tended. But yet he spoke with more ease,
for, notwithstanding the danger which existed at that moment in
acknowledging any communication whatsoever with Jacobites, he well
knew that the conduct of the Duke of Berwick himself only required to
be truly reported, to be admired by every noble and generous mind;
and he felt conscious that in his own behaviour he had only acted as
became an upright and an honourable heart. He detailed then,
particularly, the fact of his having seen one of his opponents in the
act of pointing a pistol at him over the shoulder of their principal
spokesman: he mentioned his having cocked his own pistol to fire in
return, and he stated that at the time he felt perfectly sure his
life was about to be made a sacrifice to apprehensions of discovery
on the part of the conspirators; and he then related to the King how
he had seen a stranger enter and strike up the muzzle of the pistol
pointed at him, at the very moment the other was in the act of
"The ball," he said, "passed through the window above my head, and
seeing that new assistance had come to my aid, I did not fire."
"Stay, stay!" said the King. "Let me ask you a question or two first.
Did you see, in the course of all this time, the person called Sir
George Barkley amongst these conspirators?"
"I saw a person, sire," replied Wilton, "whom I believed at the time
to be Sir George Barkley, and have every reason to believe so still."
"And this person who came to your assistance so opportunely was not
the same?" demanded the King.
"Not the least like him, sire," replied Wilton. "He was a young
gentleman, of six or seven and twenty, I imagine, but certainly no
more than thirty."
"What was his name?" demanded the King.
"The name he gave," replied Wilton, "was Captain Churchill."
"Go on," said William, and Wilton proceeded.
Avoiding all names as far as possible, he told briefly, but
accurately, the severe and striking reprehension that the Duke of
Berwick had bestowed upon Sir George Barkley and the rest of the
conspirators: he dwelt upon the hatred he had displayed of the crime
they were about to commit, and of the noble and upright tendency of
every word that he had spoken. William's eyes glistened slightly, and
a glow came up in his pale cheek, but he made no comment till Wilton
seemed inclined to stop. He then bade him again go on, and made him
tell all that had happened till he and Lady Laura had quitted the
house, to make the best of their way to Halstow. He then said--
"Three questions. Why did you not give instant information of this
conspiracy when you came to town?"
"May it please your majesty," replied Wilton, "I found immediately on
my arrival that the conspiracy was discovered, and warrants issued
against the conspirators. Nothing, therefore, remained for me to do,
but to explain to Lord Byerdale the facts, which I did."
"If your majesty remembers," said the gentleman on the King's left,
mingling in the conversation for the first time, "Lord Byerdale said
"Secondly," said the King, "Is it true that this gentleman who came
to your assistance went with you, and under your protection, to the
inn at Halstow, and thence, by your connivance, effected his escape?"
The King's brow was somewhat dark and ominous, and his tone stern, as
he pronounced these words: but Wilton could not evade the question so
put without telling a lie, and he consequently replied at once,
"Sire, he did."
"Now for the third question," said the King,--"What was his real
Wilton hesitated. He believed he had done right in every respect;
that he had done what he was bound to do in honour; that he had done
what was in reality the best for the King's own service; but yet he
knew not by any means how this act might be looked upon. The minds of
all men were excited, at that moment, to a pitch of indignation
against the whole Jacobite faction, which made the slightest
connivance with any of their practices, the slightest favour shown to
any of their number, a high crime in the eyes of every one. But
Wilton knew that he was, moreover, actually and absolutely punishable
by law as a traitor for what he had done: what he was called upon to
confess was, in the strict letter of the law, quite sufficient to
send him to the Tower, and to bring his neck under the axe; for in
treason all are principals, and he had aided and abetted one marked
as a traitor. But, nevertheless, though he hesitated for a moment
whether he should speak at all, yet he had resolved to do so, and of
course to do so truly, when the King, seeing him pause, and mistaking
the motives, added,--
"You had better tell the truth, sir. Captain Churchill has confessed,
that though out of consideration for you he had admitted that he was
present on this occasion, yet that in reality he had never quitted
his house during the whole of the day in question."
"Sire," replied Wilton, looking him full in the face, with a calm,
but not disrespectful air, "your majesty may have seen by my answers
hitherto that whatever I do say will be the truth, plain and
undisguised. I only hesitated whether I should not beg your majesty
to excuse my answering at all, as you know by the laws of England no
man can be forced to criminate himself; but as I acted in a manner
that became a man of honour, and also in a manner which I believed at
the time to be fitted to promote your majesty's interests, and to be
in every respect such as you yourself could wish, I will answer the
question, though, perhaps, my answer might in some circumstances be
used against myself."
The slightest possible shade of displeasure had come over the King's
countenance, when Wilton expressed a doubt as to answering the
question at all; but whether it was from his natural command over his
features, the coldness of a phlegmatic constitution, or that he
really was not seriously angry, the cloud upon his brow was certainly
not a hundredth part so heavy as it would probably have been with any
other sovereign in Europe. He contented himself, then, when Wilton
had come to the end of the sentence, by merely saying, with evident
marks of impatience and curiosity, "Go on. What was his real name?"
"The name, sire, by which he is generally known," replied Wilton, "is
the Duke of Berwick."
For once the King was moved. He started in his chair, and turning
round, looked at the gentleman by his side, exclaiming, "It was not
"No, sire," replied Wilton; "although he never expressly stated his
name to me, yet from all that was said by every one around, I must
admit that I knew perfectly it was the Duke of Berwick. But, sire,
whoever it was, he had saved my life: he had said not one word
disrespectful to your Majesty's person: he had reprobated in the most
severe and cutting terms those conspirators, some of whom have
already bowed the head to the sword of justice; and he had
stigmatized the acts they proposed to commit with scorn, contempt,
and horror. All this he had done in my presence to ten or twelve
armed men, whose conduct to myself, and schemes against you, showed
them capable of any daring villany. These, sire, may be called my
excuses for aiding a person, known to be an enemy of your crown, to
escape from your dominions; but, if I may so far presume to say--it,
there was a reason as well as an excuse which suggested itself to my
mind at the time, and in which your majesty's interests were
The King had listened attentively: the frown had gone from his brow;
and he had so far given a sign of approbation, as, when Wilton
mentioned the conduct of the Duke of Berwick, to make a slight
inclination of the head. When the young gentleman concluded, however,
he paused in order to let him go on, always more willing that others
should proceed, than say a single word to bid them do so.
"What is your reason?" he said at last, finding that nothing was
"It was this, sire," replied Wilton; "that I knew the Duke of Berwick
was connected with your majesty's own family; that he was one person
of high character and reputation amongst a vast number of low and
infamous conspirators; that he was perfectly innocent of the dark and
horrible crimes of which they were guilty; and yet, that he must be
considered by the law of the land as a traitor even for setting his
foot upon these shores, and must be concluded by the law and its
ministers under the same punishment and condemnation as all those
assassins and traitors who are now expiating their evil purposes on
the scaffold. In these circumstances, sire, I judged that it would be
much more agreeable to your majesty that he should escape, than that
he should be taken; that you would be very much embarrassed, indeed,
what to do with him, if any indiscreet person were to stop him in his
flight; and that you would not disapprove of that conduct, the first
motive of which, I openly confess, was gratitude towards the man who
had saved my life."
"Sir, you did very right," said William, with scarcely a change of
countenance. "You did very right, and I am much obliged to you."
At the same time, he held out his hand. Wilton bent his knee, and
kissed it; and as he rose, William added, "I don't know what I can do
for you; but if at any time you want anything, let me know, for I
think you have done well--and judged well. My Lord of Portland here,
on application to him, will procure you audience of me."
With those few words, which, however, from William III., conveyed a
great deal of meaning, the King bowed his head to signify that
Wilton's audience was over; and the young gentleman withdrew from his
presence, very well satisfied with the termination of an affair,
which certainly, in some hands, might have ended in evil instead of
Wilton Brown, on quitting the King, did not find Lord Sherbrooke
where he expected; but little doubting that he should have to
encounter a full torrent of wrath from the Earl of Byerdale, on
account of his having concealed the fact of the Duke of Berwick's
visit to England, he set spurs to his horse to meet the storm at
once, and proceeded as rapidly as possible to the Earl's office at
Whitehall. His expectations were destined to be disappointed,
however. Lord Byerdale was all smiles, although as yet he knew
nothing more than the simple fact that Captain Churchill had
acknowledged his presence at a scene in which he had certainly played
no part. His whole wrath seemed to turn upon Arden, the Messenger,
against whom he vowed and afterwards executed, signal vengeance,
prosecuting him for various acts of neglect in points of duty, and
for some small peculations which the man had committed, till he
reduced him to beggary and a miserable death.
He received Wilton, however, without a word of censure; listened to
all that passed between him and the King, appeared delighted with the
result; and although, to tell the truth, Wilton had no excuse to
offer for not having communicated the facts to him before, which h-;
had abstained from doing simply from utter want of confidence in the
Earl, yet his lordship found an excuse himself, saying,--
"I'm sure, Wilton, I am more obliged to you even than the King must
be, for not implicating me in your secret at all. I should not have
known how to have acted in the least. It would have placed me in the
most embarrassing situation that it is possible to conceive, and by
taking the responsibility on yourself you have spared me, and, as you
see, done your self no harm."
Wilton was puzzled; and though he certainly was not a suspicious man,
he could not help doubting the perfect sincerity of the noble lord.
All his civility, all his kindness, which was so unlike his character
in general, but made his secretary doubt the more, and the more
firmly resolve to watch his conduct accurately.
A few days after the events which we have just related, the Duke of
Gaveston and Lady Laura left Beaufort House for the Earl's seat in
Hampshire, which Lord Aylesbury had pointed out as the best suited to
the occasion. It was pain ful for Wilton to part from Laura; but yet
he could not divest his mind of the idea that Lord Byerdale did not
mean altogether so kindly by the Duke as he professed to do, and he
was not sorry the latter nobleman, now that he could do so without
giving the slightest handle to suspicion, should follow the advice of
By this time Wilton had become really attached to the Duke; the
kindness that nobleman had shown to him; the confidence he had placed
in him; the leaning to his opinions which he had always displayed,
would naturally have excited kindly and affectionate feelings in such
a heart as Wilton's, even had the Duke not been the father of her he
loved best on earth. But in the relative situation in which they now
stood, he had gradually grown more and more attached to the old
nobleman, and perhaps even the very weaknesses of his character made
Wilton feel more like a son towards him.
To insure, therefore, his absence from scenes of political strife, to
guard against his meddling with transactions which he was unfitted to
guide, was a great satisfaction to Wilton, and a compensation for the
loss of Laura's daily society. Another compensation, also, was found
in a general invitation to come down whenever it was possible to
Somersbury Court, and a pressing request, that at all events he would
spend the Sunday of every week at that place. In regard to all his
affairs in London, and more especially to everything that concerned
Sir John Fenwick and the conspiracy, the Duke trusted implicitly to
Wilton; and the constant correspondence which was thus likely to take
place afforded him also the means of hearing continually of Laura.
He was not long without seeing her again, however; for it was evident
that Lord Byerdale had determined to give his secretary every sort of
opportunity of pursuing his suit with the daughter of the Duke.
"Did you not tell me, Wilton," he said one day, "that your good
friend the Duke of Gaveston had invited you to come down and stay
with him at Somersbury?"
"He has invited me repeatedly, my lord," replied Wilton, "and in a
letter I received yesterday, pressed his request again; but seeing
you so overwhelmed with business, I did not like to be absent for any
length of time. I should have gone down, indeed, as I had promised,
on Saturday last, to have come up on Monday morning again; but if you
remember, on Saturday you were occupied till nearly twelve at night
with all this business of Cook."
"Who, by the way, you see, Wilton, has said nothing against your
friend," said the Earl.
"So I see, indeed, my lord," replied Wilton. "What will be done with
"Oh, we shall keep the matter over his head," said the Earl, "and
make use of him as an evidence. But to return to your visit to the
Duke--I can very well spare you for the next week, if you like to go
down on Monday; and now that I know your arrangements, will contrive
that you shall always have your Saturday evenings and Monday
mornings, so as to be able to go down and return on those days, till
you become his grace's son-in-law, though I am afraid fair Lady Laura
will think you but a cold lover."
Wilton smiled, well knowing that there was no such danger. The
Earl's offer, however, was too tempting to be resisted, and
accordingly he lost no time in bearing down, in person, to Somersbury
Court the happy intelligence that Cook, who was to be the conspirator
most feared, it seemed, had said nothing at his trial to inculpate
His journey, as was not uncommon in those days, was performed on
horseback with a servant charged with his valise behind him, and it
was late in the day before he reached Somersbury; but it was a bright
evening in May; the world was all clad in young green; the calm rich
purple of the sunset spread over the whole scene; and as Wilton rode
down a winding yellow road, amidst rich woods and gentle slopes of
land, into the fine old park that surrounded the mansion, he could
see enough to show him that all the picturesque beauty, which was far
more congenial to his heart and his feelings than even the finest
works of art, was there in store for him on the morrow.
On his arrival, he found the Duke delighted to receive him, though
somewhat suffering from a slight attack of gout. He was more
delighted still, however, when he heard the news his young friend
brought; and when, after a few moments, Laura joined him and the
Duke, her eyes sparkled with double brightness, both from the
feelings of her own heart at meeting again the man she loved best on
earth, and from the pleasure that she saw on her father's
countenance, which told her in a moment that all the news Wilton had
brought was favourable.
The result to the Duke, however, was not so satisfactory as it might
have been. In the joy of his heart he gave way somewhat more to his
appetite at supper than was prudent, ate all those things that Sir
George Millington, his good physician, forbade him to eat, and drank
two or three glasses of wine more than his usual portion. At the
time, all this seemed to do him no harm, and he spoke somewhat
crossly to his own servant who reminded him of the physician's
regulations. He even shook his finger playfully at Laura for her
grave looks upon the occasion, and during the rest of the evening was
as gay as gay could be. The consequence, however, was, that about a
quarter of an hour after Wilton had descended to the breakfast-room
on the following morning, Laura came down alone.
"I am sorry to say, Wilton," she said, with a slight smile, "that my
dear father has greatly increased his pain by exceeding a little last
night. He has scarcely slept at all, I find, and begs you will excuse
him till dinner-time. He leaves me to entertain you, Wilton. Do you
think I can do it?"
Wilton's answer was easily found; and Laura passed the whole morning
with him alone.
Certainly neither of the two would have purchased the pleasure at the
expense of the Duke's suffering; but yet that pleasure of being alone
together was, indeed, intense and bright. They were both very young,
both fitted for high enjoyment, both loving as ardently and deeply as
it is possible for human beings to love. Through the rich and
beautiful woods of the park, over the sunny lawns and grassy
savannas--where the wild deer, nested in the tall fern, raising its
dark eyes and antlered head to gaze above the feathery green at the
passers by--Wilton and Laura wandered on, pouring forth the tale of
affection into each other's hearts, gazing in each other's eyes, and
seeming, through that clear window lighted up with life, to see into
the deepest chambers of each other's bosom, and there behold a
treasury of joy and mutual tenderness for years to come.
In the midst of that beautiful scene their love seemed in its proper
place--everything appeared to harmonize with it--whereas, in the
crowded city, all had jarred. Here the voices of the birds poured
forth the sweetest harmony upon their ear as they went by; everything
that the eye rested upon spoke softness, and peace, and beauty, and
happy days; everything refreshed the sight and made the bosom expand;
everything breathed of joy or imaged tranquillity.
The words, too, the words of affection, seemed more easily to find
utterance; all the objects around suggested that imagery which
passion, and tenderness, and imagination, can revel in at ease; the
fanciful clouds, as they flitted over the sky, the waving branches of
the woods, the gay sparkling of the bright stream, the wide-extending
prospect here and there, with the hills, only appearing warmer and
more glowing still, as the eye traced them into the distance--all
furnished to fancy some new means of shadowing forth bright hopes,
and wishes, and purposes. Each was an enthusiastic admirer of nature;
each had often and often stood, and pondered and gazed, and admired
scenes of similar loveliness; each, too, had felt deep and ardent
affection for the other in other places; and each had believed that
nothing could exceed the joy that they experienced in their
occasional solitary interviews; but neither had ever before known the
same sensations of delight in the beautiful aspect of unrivalled
nature, neither had tasted the joy which two hearts that love each
other can feel in pouring forth their thoughts together in scenes
that both are worthy to admire.
Nature had acquired tenfold charms to their eyes; and the secret of
it was, that the spirit of love within their hearts pervaded and
brightened it all. Love itself seemed to have gained an intensity and
brightness in those scenes that it had never known before, because
the great spirit of nature, the inspiring, the expanding genius of
the scene, answered the spirit within their hearts, and seemed to
witness and applaud their affection.
Oh, how happily the hours went by in those sweet words and caresses,
innocent but dear! oh, how glad, how unlike the world's joys in
general, were the feelings in each of those young hearts, while they
wandered on alone, with none but love and nature for their companions
on the way! On that first day, at least to Laura, the feeling was
altogether overpowering: she might have had a faint and misty dream
that such things could exist, but nothing more; but now that she felt
them, they seemed to absorb every other sensation for the time, to
make her heart beat as it had never beat before, to cast her thoughts
into strange but bright confusion, so that when she returned with
Wilton, and found that her father had come down, she ran to her own
room, to pause for a few moments, and to collect her ideas into some
sort of order once more.
Day after day, during Wilton's stay, the same bright round of happy
hours succeeded. During the whole of the first part of his sojourn,
the Duke was unable to go out, and Wilton and Lady Laura were left
very much alone. Wilton felt no hesitation in regard to his conduct.
He could not believe, he scarcely even feared, that the Duke was
blind to the mutual love which existed between Laura and himself; and
he only waited till his own fate was cleared up, to speak to her
father upon the subject openly.
Thus passed his visit; and we could pause upon it long, could paint
many a scene of sweet and sunshiny happiness, warm, and soft, and
beautiful, like the pictures of Claude de Lorraine: but we have other
things to do, and scenes far less joyous to dwell upon. The time of
his stay at length expired, and of course seemed all the more brief
for being happy.
If the sojourn of Wilton at Somersbury Court had given pleasure to
Laura, it gave scarcely less to the Duke himself, though in a
different way; and when his young visitor was gone, he felt a want
and a vacancy which made the days seem tedious. Thus, shortly after
Wilton's arrival in town, he received a letter from the Duke, begging
him not to forget his promise of another speedy visit of longer
duration, nor neglect the opportunity of each week's close to spend
at least one day with him and Laura. The origin of these feelings
towards his young friend was certainly to be traced to the somewhat
forced confidence which he had been obliged to place in him, in
regard to Sir John Fenwick; but the feelings survived the cause; and
during six weeks which followed, although Sir John Fenwick was
universally supposed to have made his escape from England, and the
Duke felt himself quite safe, Wilton experienced no change of manner,
but was greeted with gladness and smiles whenever he presented
On every occasion, too, the Earl of Byerdale showed him self as kind
as it was possible for him to be; and in one instance, in the middle
of the year, spoke to him more seriously than usual, in regard to his
marriage with Lady Laura. The tone he took was considerate and
thoughtful, and Wilton found that he could no longer give a vague
reply upon the subject.
"I need not say to your lordship," he said, "how grateful I feel to
you in this business; but I really can tell you no more than you see.
I am received by the Duke and Lady Laura, upon all occasions, with
the greatest kindness and every testimony of regard. I am received,
indeed, when no one else is received, and I have every reason to
believe that the Duke regards me almost as a son; but of course I
cannot presume, so long as I can give no information of who I am,
what is my family, what are the circumstances and history of my
birth, to seek the Duke's approbation to my marriage with his
daughter. Fortuneless and portionless as I must be, the proposal may
seem presumptuous enough at any time; and though the legend told us,
my lord, to 'be bold, and bold, and everywhere be bold,' it told us
also to 'be not too bold.'"
"You are right, you are right, Wilton," replied the Earl. "But leave
it to me: I myself will write to the Duke upon the subject, and doubt
not shall find means to satisfy him, though I cannot flatter you,
Wilton--and I tell you so at once--I cannot flatter you with the
idea of any unexpected wealth. Your blood is your only possession;
but that is enough. I will write myself in a few days."
"I trust, my lord, you will not do so immediately," replied Wilton.
"You were kind enough to promise me explanations regarding my birth.
Others have done so, too." (The Earl started.) "Lord Sunbury,"
continued Wilton, "promised me the same explanation, and to give me
the papers which he possesses regarding me, even before the present
period; but he returns in September or October, and then they will of
course be mine."
"Ha!" said the Earl, musing. "Ha! does he? But why does he not send
you over the papers? he is no farther off than Paris now; for I know
he obtained a passport the other day, and promised to look into the
negotiations which are going on for peace."
"I fancy, my lord," replied Wilton, "that in the distracted state of
both countries he fears to send over the papers by any ordinary
"Oh, but from time to time there are council messengers," replied the
Earl. "There is not a petit maitre in the whole land who does not
contrive, notwithstanding the war, to get over his embroidery from
France, nor any old lady to furnish herself with bon-bons."
"I suppose he thinks, too," replied Wilton, "that, as he is coming so
soon, it is scarcely worth while, and, perhaps, the papers may need
explanations from his own mouth."
"Ah! but the papers, the papers, are the most important," replied the
Earl, thoughtfully. "In September or October does he come? Well, I
will tell you all before that my self, Wilton. I thought I should
have been able to do it ere now; but there is one link in the chain
incomplete, and before I say anything, it must be rendered perfect.
However, things are happening every day which no one anticipates; and
though I do not expect the paper that I mentioned for a fortnight, it
may come to-morrow, perhaps."
About ten days after this period, Wilton, as he went to the house of
the Earl of Byerdale, remarked all those external signs and symptoms
of agitation amongst the people, which may always be seen more or
less by an observing eye, when any event of importance takes place in
a great city. They were, perhaps, more apparent than usual on the
present occasion; for in the short distance he had to go he saw two
hawkers of halfpenny sheets bawling down unintelligible tidings to
maids in the areas, and two or three groups gathered together in the
sunshiny morning at the corners of the streets.
When he reached the Earl's house, he found him more excited than he
usually suffered himself to be, and holding up a letter, he
"Here's an account of this great event of the day, which of course
you heard as you came here. This is a proof how things are brought
about unexpectedly. Not a man in England, statesman or mechanic,
could have imagined, for the last six weeks, that this dark,
cold-blooded plotter, Sir John Fenwick, had failed to effect his
"And has he not?" exclaimed Wilton, eagerly. "Is he in England? Has
he been found?"
"He has not escaped," replied the Earl, dryly. "He is in England; and
he is at the present moment safe in Newgate. Some spies or other
officers of the Duke of Shrewsbury dis covered him lingering about in
Kent and Sussex, and he has since been apprehended, in attempting to
escape into France."
"This is indeed great intelligence," replied Wilton. "I suppose there
is no chance whatever of his being acquitted."
"None," answered the Earl; "none whatever, if they manage the matter
rightly, though he is more subtle than all the rest of the men put
together. It seems likely that the whole business will fall upon me,
and I shall see him in a few days; for he already talks of giving
information against great persons, on condition that his life be
Wilton concealed any curiosity he might feel as well as he could, and
went on with the usual occupations of the day, not remarking as
anything particular, that the Earl wrote a long and seemingly tedious
letter, and gave it to one of the porters, with orders to send it off
by a special messenger.
On going out afterwards, he found that the tidings of Sir John
Fenwick's arrest had spread over the whole town; and the rumour,
agitation, and anxiety which had been caused by the plot, and had
since subsided, was, for the time, revived with more activity than
ever. As no one, however, was mentioned in any of the rumours but Sir
John Fenwick himself, Wilton did not think it worth while to make the
mind of the Duke anxious upon the subject till he could obtain
farther information; and he therefore refrained from writing, as it
was now the middle of the week, and his visit was to be renewed on
the Saturday following. A day passed by without the matter being any
farther cleared up; but on the Friday, when Wilton visited the Earl
at his own house, he found him reading his letters with a very cloudy
brow, which however, grew brighter soon after he appeared.
Wilton found that some painful conversation must have taken place
between the Earl and his son; for Lord Sherbrooke was seated in the
opposite chair, with one of those listless and indifferent looks upon
his countenance which he often assumed during grave discussions, to