Part 8 out of 10
cover, perhaps, deeper matter within his own breast. The Earl, though
a little irritable, seemed not angry; and after he had concluded the
reading of his letters, he said, "I must answer all these tiresome
epistles myself, Wilton: for the good people who wrote them have so
contrived it, in order, I suppose, to spare you, and make me work
myself. I shall not need your aid to-day, then; and, indeed, I do not
see why you should not go down to Somersbury at once, if you like it;
only be up at an early hour on Monday morning.--Sherbrooke, I wish
you would take yourself away: it makes me angry to see you twisting
that paper up into a thousand forms like a mountebank at a fair."
"Dear papa," replied Lord Sherbrooke, in a childish tone, "you ought
to have given me something better to do, then. If you had taught me
an honest trade, I should not have been so given to making penny
whistles and cutting cockades out of foolscap paper. Nay, don't look
so black, and mutter, 'Fool's cap paper, indeed!' between your teeth.
I'll go, I'll go," and he accordingly quitted the room.
"Wilton," said the Earl, as soon as his son was gone, "I have one
word more to say to you. When you are down at Somersbury, lose not
your opportunity--confer with the Duke about your marriage at once.
The political sky is darkening. No one can tell what another hour may
bring. Now leave me."
Wilton obeyed, and passed through the ante-room into the hall. The
moment he appeared there, however, Lord Sherbrooke darted out of the
opposite room and caught him by the arm, almost overturning the fat
porter in the way.
"Come hither, Wilton," he said, "come hither. I want to speak to you
a moment. I want to show you a present that I've got for you."
Wilton followed him, and to his surprise found lying upon the table a
pair of handsome spurs, which Lord Sherbrooke instantly put in his
hand, saying, "There, Wilton! there. Use them to-night as you go to
Somersbury; and, amongst other pretty things that you may have to say
to the Duke, you may tell him that Sir John Fenwick has accused him
of high treason. My father is going to write to him this very night,
to ask him civilly to come up to town to confer with him on business
of importance. You yourself may be the bait to the trap, Wilton, for
aught I know. So to your horse's back and away, and have all your
plans settled with the Duke before the post arrives to-morrow
The earnestness of Sherbrooke's manner convinced his friend that what
he said was serious and true, and thanking him eagerly, he left him,
and again passed through the hall. Lord Byerdale was speaking at
that moment to the porter; but he did not appear to notice Wilton,
who passed on without pausing, sought his own lodgings with all
speed, mounted his horse, and set out for Somersbury.
The world was in all its summer beauty, nature smiling with her
brightest smiles, the glorious sunshine just departing from the sky,
and glowing with double brightness in its dying hour, the woods still
green and fresh, the blackbird tuning his evening song, and
everything speaking peace and promising joy, as Wilton rode through
the gates of Somersbury park.
When he dismounted from his horse and rang the bell, his own servant
took the tired beast and led it round towards the stable with the air
of one who felt himself quite at home in the Duke's house. But the
attendant who opened the doors to him, and who was not the ordinary
porter, bore a certain degree of sadness and gravity in his
demeanour, which caused Wilton instantly to ask after the health of
the Duke and Lady Laura.
"My young lady is quite well, sir," replied the servant; "but the
Duke has had another bad fit of the gout in the beginning of the
week--which has made him wonderfully cross," he added, lowering his
voice and giving a marked look in Wilton's face, which made the young
gentleman feel that he intended his words as a sort of warning.
"I am afraid," thought Wilton, "what I have to tell him will not
diminish his crossness."
But he said nothing aloud, and followed the servant to wards the
Duke's own particular sitting room. He found that nobleman alone,
with his foot upon a stool. He had calculated as he went thither how
he might best soften the tidings he had to bring; but the Duke began
the conversation himself, and in a manner which instantly put all
other thoughts to flight, and, to say the truth, banished Sir John
Fenwick and his whole concerns from his young companion's mind in a
"So, sir, so," he began, using none of the friendly and familiar
terms that he generally applied to Wilton, "so you have really had
the goodness to come down here again."
"My lord duke," replied Wilton, "your invitation to me was not only
so general but so pressing, that always having found you a man of
sincerity and truth, I took it for granted that you wished to see me,
or you would not have asked me."
"So I am, sir, so I am," replied the Duke; "I am a man of sincerity
and truth, and you shall find I am one, too. But from your manner, I
suppose my Lord of Byerdale has not told you the contents of my
letter to him this morning."
"He never told me," replied Wilton, "that your grace had written to
him at all; but so far from even hinting that my visit could be
disagreeable to you, he told me that as he did not require my
assistance I had better come down here."
"He did, he did?" said the Duke. "He is marvellous kind to send
guests to my house, whom he knows that I do not wish to see."
Wilton now began to divine the cause of the Duke's present behaviour.
It was evident that Lord Byerdale, without letting him know anything
about it, had interfered to demand for him the hand of Lady Laura.
How or in what terms he had done so, Wilton was somewhat anxious to
ascertain, but he was so completely thunderstruck and surprised by
his pre sent reception, that he could scarcely play the difficult
game in which he was engaged with anything like calmness or
"My lord," he replied, "it is probable that the Earl of Byerdale was
more moved by kindness towards me than consideration for your grace.
As you do not tell me what was the nature of your correspondence, I
can but guess at Lord Byerdale's motives--"
"Which were, sir," interrupted the Duke, "to give you a farther
opportunity of engaging my daughter's affections against her father's
wishes and consent. I suppose this was his object, at least."
"I should think not, my lord," replied Wilton, resolved not to yield
his point so easily. "I should rather imagine that Lord Byerdale's
view was to give me an opportunity, on the contrary, of pleading my
own cause with the Duke of Gaveston--to give me an opportunity of
recalling all those feelings of kindness, friendship, and generosity
which the Duke has constantly displayed towards me, and of urging him
by all those high feelings, which I know he possesses, not to crush
an attachment which has grown up under his eyes, and been fostered by
The Duke was a little moved by Wilton's words and his manner; but he
had taken his resolution to make the present discussion between
himself and Wilton final, and he seized instantly upon the latter
words of his reply.
"Grown up under my eye, and fostered by my kindness!" he exclaimed.
"You do not mean to say, sir, I trust, that I gave you any
encouragement in this mad pursuit. You do not mean to say that I saw
and connived at your attachment to my daughter?"
Wilton might very well have said that he certainly did give such
encouragement and opportunity that the result could scarcely have
been by any possibility otherwise than that which it actually was.
But he knew that to show him in fault would only irritate the Duke
more, and he was silent.
"Good God!" continued the peer, "such a thing never entered into my
head. It was so preposterous, so insane, so out of all reasonable
calculation, that I might just as well have been afraid of building
my house under a hill for fear the hill should walk out of its place
and crush it. I could never have dreamed of or fancied such a thing,
sir, as that you should forget the difference between my daughter,
Lady Laura Gaveston, and yourself, and presume to seek the hand of
one so much above you. It shows how kindness and con descension may
be mistaken. Lord Byerdale, indeed, talks some vague nonsense about
your having good blood in your veins; but what are your titles, sir?
what is your rank? where are your estates? Show me your rent-rolls.
I have never known anything of Mr. Wilton Brown but as the private
secretary of the Earl of Byerdale--HIS CLERK he called him to me one
day--who has nothing but a good person, a good coat, and two or three
hundred a year. Mr. Wilton Brown to be the suitor for the only child
of one of the first peers in the land, the heiress of a hundred
thousand per annum! My dear sir, the thing was too ridiculous to be
thought of. If people had told me I should have my eyes picked out by
a sparrow I should have believed them as much;" and he laughed aloud
at his own joke, not with the laugh of merriment, but of anger and
Wilton felt cut to the heart, but still he recollected that it was
Laura's father who spoke; and he was resolved that no pro vocation
whatsoever should induce him to say one word which he himself might
repent at an after period, or with which she might justly reproach
him. He felt that from the Duke he must bear what he would have borne
from no other man on earth; that to the Duke he must use a tone
different from that which he would have employed to any other man. He
paused a moment, both to let the Duke's laugh subside, and the first
angry feelings of his own heart wear off: but he then answered,--
"Perhaps, my lord, you attribute to me other feelings and greater
presumption than I have in reality been actuated by. Will you allow
me, before you utterly condemn me--will you allow me, I say, not to
point out any cause why you should have seen, or known, or
countenanced my attachment to your daughter, but merely to recall to
your remembrance the circumstances in which I have been placed, and in
which it was scarcely possible for me to resist those feelings of
love and attachment which I will not attempt to disown, which I never
will cast off, and which I will retain and cherish to the last hour
of my life, whatever may be your grace's ultimate decision, whatever
may be my fate, fortune, happiness, or misery, in other respects?"
The Duke was better pleased with Wilton's tone, and, to say the
truth, though his resolution was in no degree shaken, yet the anger
which he had called up, in order to drown every word of opposition,
had by this time nearly exhausted itself.
"My ultimate decision!" said the Duke; "sir, there is no decision to
be made: the matter is decided.--But go on, sir, go on--I am
perfectly willing to hear. I am not so unreasonable as not to hear
anything that you may wish to say, without giving you the slightest
hope that I may be shaken by words: which cannot be. What is it you
wish to say?"
"Merely this, your grace," replied Wilton. "The first time I had the
honour of meeting your grace, I rendered yourself, and more
particularly the Lady Laura, a slight service, a very slight one, it
is true, but yet sufficient to make you think, yourself, that I was
entitled to claim your after-acquaintance, and to justify your
reproach for not coming to your box at the theatre. You must admit
then, certainly, that I did not press myself into the society of the
"Oh, certainly not, certainly not," replied the Duke--"I never
accused you of that, sir. Your conduct, your external demeanour, has
always been most correct. It is not of any presumption of manners
that I accuse you."
"Well, my lord," continued Wilton, "it so happened that an accidental
circumstance, not worth noticing now, induced your lordship to place
much confidence in me, and to render me a familiar visitor at your
house. You on one occasion called me to your daughter your best
friend, and I was more than once left in Lady Laura's society for a
considerable period alone. Now, my lord, none can know better than
yourself the charms of that society, or how much it is calculated to
win and engage the heart of any one whose bosom was totally free, and
had never beheld before a woman equal in the slightest degree to his
ideas of perfection. I will confess, my lord, that I struggled very
hard against the feelings which I found growing up in my own bosom.
At that time I struggled the more and with the firmer determination,
because I had always entertained an erroneous impression with regard
to my own birth, an impression which, had it continued, would have
prevented my dreaming it possible that Lady Laura could ever be
"It is a pity that it did not continue," said the Duke, dryly; but
Wilton took no notice, and went on.
"At that time, however," he said, "I learned, through the Earl of
Byerdale, that I had been in error in regard to my own
situation--though the distance between your grace and myself might
still be great, it was diminished; and you may easily imagine that
such joyful tidings naturally carried hope and expectation to a
higher pitch than perhaps was reasonable."
"To a very unreasonable pitch, it would seem, indeed, sir," answered
"It may be so, my lord," replied Wilton, "but the punishment upon
myself is very severe. However, not even then--although I had the
fairest prospects from the interest and promises of the Earl of
Byerdale, and from the whole interest of the Earl of Sunbury, who has
ever treated me as a son--although I might believe that a bright
political career was open before me, and that I might perhaps raise
myself to the highest stations in the state--not even then did I
presume to think of Lady Laura with anything like immediate hopes.
Just at this same period, however, the daring attempt to mix your
grace with the plans of the conspirators by carrying off your daughter
took place, and you were pleased to intrust to me the delicate and
somewhat dangerous task of discovering the place to which she had
been carried, and setting her free from the hands of the bold and in
famous men who had obtained possession of her person. Now, my
lord--feeling every inclination to love her, I may indeed say loving
her before--you can easily feel how much such an attachment must have
been increased; how much every feeling of tenderness and affection
must have been augmented by the interest, the powerful interest of
that pursuit; how everything must have combined to confirm my love
for her for ever, while all my thoughts were bent upon saving her and
restoring her to your arms; while the whole feelings of my heart and
energies of my mind were busy with her, and her fate alone. Then, my
lord, when I came to defend her, at the hazard of my life; when I
came to contend for her with those who withheld her from you; when we
had to pass together several hours of danger and apprehension, with
her clinging to my arm, and with my arm only for her support and
protection, and when, at length, all my efforts proved successful,
and she was set free, was it wonderful, was it at all extraordinary,
that I loved her, or that she felt some slight interest and regard
for me? Since then, my lord, reflect on all that has taken place; how
constantly we have been together; how she has been accustomed to
treat me as the most intimate and dearest of her friends; how you
your self have said you looked upon me as your son--"
"But never in that sense, sir, never in that sense!" ex claimed the
Duke, glad to catch at any word to cut short a detail which was
telling somewhat strongly against him. "A son, sir, I said, a son,
not a son-in-law. But, however, to end the whole matter at once, Mr.
Wilton Brown, I am very willing to acknowledge the various services
you have rendered me, and which you have recapitulated somewhat at
length, and to acknowledge that there might be a great many motives
for falling in love with my daughter, without my attributing to you
any mercenary or ambitious motives. It is not that I blame you at all
for falling in love with her; that was but a folly for which you must
suffer your own punishment: but I do blame you very much, sir, for
trying to make her fall in love with you, when you must have known
perfectly well that her so doing would meet with the most decided
disapprobation from her father, and that your marriage was altogether
out of the question. I think that this very grave error might well
cancel all obligations between us; but, nevertheless, I am very
willing to recompense those services--" Wilton waved his hand
indignantly--"to recompense those services," continued the Duke; "to
testify my sense of them, in short, in any way that you will point
"My lord, my lord," replied Wilton, "you surely must wish to give me
more pain than that which I feel already. The services which I have
rendered were freely rendered. They have been repaid already, not by
your grace, but by my own heart and feelings. The only recompence I
ever proposed to myself was to know that they were really serviceable
and beneficial to those for whom they were done. I ask nothing of
your grace but that which you will not grant. But the time will
come, my lord,--"
"Do not flatter yourself, to your own disappointment!" interrupted
the Duke: "the time will never come when I shall change in this
respect. I grant my daughter a veto, as I promised her dear mother I
would, and she shall never marry a man she does not love; but I claim
a veto, too, Mr. Wilton Brown, and will not see her cast herself
away, even though she should wish it. The matter, sir, is altogether
at an end: it is out of the question, impossible, and it shall never
The Duke rose from his chair as he spoke; and then went on, in a cold
tone:--"I certainly expected that you might come to-morrow, sir, but
not to-night, and I should have made in the morning such preparations
as would have prevented any unpleasant meeting between my daughter
and yourself in these circumstances. I must now give orders for her
to keep her room, as I cannot consent to your meeting, and of course
must not treat you inhospitably; but you will understand that the
circumstances prevent me from requesting you to protract your visit
beyond an early hour to-morrow morning."
"Your grace, I believe, mistakes my character a good deal," replied
Wilton: "I remain not an hour in a house where I am not welcome, and
I shall beg instantly to take my leave, as Somersbury must not be my
His utterance was difficult, for his heart was too full to admit of
his speaking freely, and it required a great effort to prevent his
own feelings from bursting forth.
"But your horse must be tired," said the Duke, feeling somewhat
ashamed of the part he was acting.
"Not too tired, my lord," replied Wilton, "to bear his master from a
house where he is unwillingly received. Were it necessary, my lord, I
would walk, rather than force your grace to make any change in your
domestic arrangements. You will permit me to tell the porter to call
round my groom;" and going out for a moment, he bade the porter in a
loud clear voice order his horses to be saddled again, and his groom
to come round. He then returned to the chamber where the Duke
remained, and both continued silent and embarrassed. It was some
time, indeed, before Wilton's orders could be obeyed, for his valise
had been carried up to his usual apartments. At length, however, the
horse was announced, and Wilton went towards the door,--
"I now take my leave of you, my lord," he said, "and in doing so,
shall endeavour to bear with me all the bright memories of much
kindness experienced at your hands, and forgetfulness of one night's
unkindness, which I trust and believe I have deserved even less than
I did your former goodness towards me. For yourself I shall ever
retain feelings of the deepest regard and esteem; for your daughter,
undying love and attachment."
The Duke was somewhat moved, and very much embarrassed; and whether
from habit, embarrassment, or real feelings of regard, he held out
his hand to Wilton as they parted. Wilton took it, and pressed it in
his own. A single bright drop rose in his eye, and feeling that if he
remained another moment his self-command would give way, he left the
Duke, and sprang upon his horse's back.
Two or three of the old servants were in the hall as he passed,
witnessing, with evident marks of consternation and grief, his sudden
departure from Somersbury. The Duke's head groom kept his stirrup,
and to his surprise he saw the old butler himself holding the rein.
As Wilton thanked him and took it, however, the man slipped a note
into his hand, saying in a low voice, "From my young lady." Wilton
clasped his fingers tight upon it, and with one consolation, at
least, rode away from the house where he had known so much happiness.
The light was fading away as Wilton took his path through the thick
trees of the park up towards the lodge at the gates; but at the first
opening where the last rays of the evening streamed through, he
opened Laura's note, and found light enough to read it, though
perhaps no other eyes than those of love could have accomplished half
so much; and oh, what a joy and what a satisfaction it was to him
when he did read it! though he found afterwards, that note had been
written while the eyes were dropping fast with tears.
"Fear not, dear Wilton," it said: "I have only time to
bid you not to fear. I am yours, ever yours; and whatever
you may be told, never believe that I give even one thought
to any other man.
She signed her name at full, as if she felt that it was a solemn
act--not exactly a pledge, that would bind her in the least, more
than her own resolutions had already bound her--but a pledge to
Wilton's heart--a pledge to which in after years she could always
refer, if at any time the hand of another man should be proposed to
She had wept while she had written it, but it had given her deep
satisfaction to do that act; for she figured to her self the balm,
the consolation, the support which it would be to him that she loved
best on earth--yes, best on earth; for though she loved her father
deeply, she loved Wilton more.
When the high command went forth, "Thou shalt leave all on earth and
cleave unto thy husband or thy wife," the God that made the ordinance
fashioned the human heart for its accomplishment. It would seem
treating a high subject somewhat lightly, perhaps, to say that it may
even be by the will of God that parents so very frequently behave ill
or unkindly to their children in the matter of their marriage, in
order to lessen the breaking of that great tie--in order that the
scion may be stripped from the stem more easily. But it were well if
parents thought of the effect that they produce in their children's
affection towards them by such conduct; for youth is tenacious of the
memories of unkindness, and often retains the unpleasant impression
that it makes, when the prejudices that produced it have passed away.
However that might be, Laura loved Wilton, as we have said, best on
earth; she had a duty to perform to him, and she had a duty to
perform to her father, and she determined to perform them both; for
she believed--and she was right--that no two duties are ever
incompatible: the greater must swallow up the less; and to let it do
so, is a duty in itself; but in the present instance there were two
duties which were perfectly compatible. She would never marry Wilton
while her father opposed; but she would never marry any one else; for
she felt that in heart she was already wedded unto him.
The words that she wrote gave Wilton that assurance, and it was a
bright and happy assurance to him: for so long as there is nothing
irrevocable in the future, the space which it affords gives room for
Hope to spread her wings; and though he might feel bitterly and
deeply depressed by the conduct of the Duke, and the stern
determination which he had displayed, yet with love--with mutual
love, and firmness of heart on both sides, he thought that happiness
might be in deed delayed, but was not permanently lost.
Meditating on these things, he rode on for about a couple of miles;
but then suddenly recollected that in all the agitation of the
moment, and the painful discussion he had under gone, he had totally
forgotten to tell the Duke either the arrest of Sir John Fenwick, or
the tidings which he had heard more immediately affecting himself. He
again checked his weary horse, and asked himself, "Shall I ride
back?" But then he thought, "No, I will not. I will stop at the first
farm-house or inn that I may find, where I can get shelter for myself
and food for my horses during the night, and thence I will write him
the intelligence, take it how he will. I will not expose myself to
fresh contumely by going back this night."
He accordingly rode on upon his way, full of sad and melancholy
thoughts, and with the bright but unsubstantial hopes which Laura's
letter had given him fading away again rapidly under causes of
despondency that were but too real. It was an hour in which gloom was
triumphant over all other feelings; one of those hours when even the
heart of youth seems to lose its elastic bound; when hope itself,
like some faint light upon a dark night, makes the sombre colours of
our fate look even blacker than before, and when we feel like
mariners who see the day close upon them in the midst of a storm, as
if the sun of happiness had sunk from view for ever. Such feelings
and such thoughts absorbed him entirely as he rode along, and he
marked not at all how far he went, though, from the natural impulse
of humanity, he spared the tired horse which carried him, and
proceeded at a slow pace.
About three miles from the Duke's gates, his servant rode up, saying,
"I see a light there, sir. I should not wonder if that were the
little inn of the village which one passes on the right."
"We had better keep our straight-forward way," replied Wilton. "We
cannot be very far from the Three Cups, which, though a poor place
enough, may serve me for a night's lodging."
The man fell back again, and Wilton was proceeding slowly when he
perceived three men riding towards him at an easy pace. The night was
clear and fine, and the hour was so early, that he anticipated no
evil, though he had come unarmed, expecting to reach Somersbury, as
he did, before dark.
He rode on quietly, then, till he met them, when he was forced
suddenly to stop, one of the three presenting a pistol at his breast,
and exclaiming, "Stand! Who are you?"
"Is it my money you want, gentlemen?" demanded Wil ton; "for if it
be, there is but little of it: but as much as I have is at your
"I ask, who are you?" replied the other. "I did not ask you for your
money. Are you a King's officer? And which King's?"
"I am no King's officer," replied Wilton, "but a true subject of King
"Pass on," replied the other man, dropping his pistol "you are not
the person we want."
Wilton rode forward, very well contented to have escaped so easily;
but he remarked that his servant was likewise stopped, and that the
same questions were put to him also. He, too, was allowed to pass,
however, without any molestation, and for the next half mile they went
on without any further interruption. Then, however, they were met by
a single horseman, riding at the same leisurely pace as the others;
but he suffered Wilton to pass without speaking, and merely stopped
the servant to ask, "Who is that gentleman?"
No sooner had the man given his name than the horseman turned round
and rode after him, exclaiming, "Mr. Brown! Mr. Brown!"
Wilton checked his horse, and in a moment after, to his surprise, he
found no other but the worthy Captain Byerly by his side.
"How do you do, Mr. Brown?" said the Captain, as he came up. "I have
but a moment to speak to you, for I have business on before; but I
wanted to tell you, that if you keep straight on for half a mile
farther, and taking the road to the right, where you will see a
finger-post, go into a cottage--that cottage there, where you can
just see a light twinkling in the window over the moor--you will find
some old friends of yours, whom you and I saw together the last time
we met, and another one, too, who will be glad enough to see you."
"Who do you mean?" demanded Wilton, somewhat anxiously.
"I mean the Colonel," replied Captain Byerly.
"Indeed!" said Wilton. "I wish to see him very much."
"You will find him there, then," replied the other. "But he is sadly
changed, poor fellow, sadly changed, indeed!"
"How so?" said Wilton. "Do you mean that he has been ill?"
"No, not exactly ill," answered Byerly, "and I don't well know what
it is makes him so.--At all events, I can't stop to talk about it at
present; but if you go on you will see him, and hear more about it
from himself. Good night, Mr. Brown, good night: those fellows will
get too far ahead of me, if I don't mind." And thus saying, he rode
Wilton, for his part, proceeded on his way, musing over what had
occurred. It seemed to him, indeed, not a little strange, that a
party of men, whose general business was hardly doubtful, should
suffer him, without any knowledge of his person or any private
motives for so doing, to pass them thus quietly on his way, and he
was led to imagine that they must have in view some very peculiar
object to account for such conduct. That object, however, was
evidently considered by themselves of very great importance, and to
require extraordinary precautions; for before Wilton reached the
direction-post to which Byerly had referred, he passed two more
horsemen, one of whom was singing as he came up, but stopped
immediately on perceiving the wayfarer, and demanded in a civil
"Pray, sir, did you meet some gentlemen on before?"
"Yes," replied Wilton, "I did: three, and then one."
"Did they speak to you?" demanded the other.
"Yes," replied Wilton, "they asked me some questions."
"Oh, was that all?" said the man. "Good night, sir;" and on the two
At the finger-post, Wilton turned from the highway; but for some time
he was inclined to fancy, either that he had mistaken the direction,
or that the light had been put out in the cottage window, for not the
least glimmering ray could he now see. At length, on suddenly turning
a belt of young planting, he found himself in front of a low but
extensive and very pretty cottage, or rather perhaps it might be
called two cottages joined together by a centre somewhat lower than
themselves. It was more like a building of the present day than one
of that epoch; and though the beautiful China rose, the sweetest
ornament of our cottage doors at present, was not then known in this
country, a rich spreading vine covered every part of the front with
its luxuriant foliage. The light was still in the window, having
only been hidden by the trees; and throwing his rein to the groom,
"Perhaps we may find shelter here for the night; but I must first go
in, and see."
Thus saying, he advanced and rang a bell, the handle of which he
found hanging down by the door-post, and after having waited a minute
or two, he heard the sound of steps coming along the passage. The
door was opened by a pretty, neat, servant girl, with a candle in her
hand; but behind her stood a woman considerably advanced in life,
bowed in the back, and with a stick in her hand, presenting so much
altogether the same appearance which the Lady Helen Oswald had
thought fit to assume in her first interview with him, that for an
instant Wilton doubted whether it was or was not herself. A second
glance, however, at the old woman's face, showed the withering hand
of time too strongly for him to doubt any farther.
The momentary suspense had made him gaze at the old woman intently,
and she had certainly done the same with regard to him. There was an
expression of wonder, of doubt, and yet of joy, in her countenance,
which he did not at all understand; and his surprise was still more
increased, when, upon his asking whether he could there obtain
shelter during the night, the woman exclaimed with a strong Irish
accent, "Oh, that you shall, and welcome a thousand times!"
"But I have two horses and my groom here," replied Wilton.
"Oh, for the horses and the groom," replied the woman, "I fear me,
boy, we can't take them in for ye; but he can go away up to the high
road, and in half a mile he'll come to the Three Cups, where he will
find good warm stabling enough."
"That will be the best way, I believe," replied Wilton; and turning
back to speak with the man for a moment, he gave him directions to go
to the little public house, to put up the horses, to get some repose,
and to be ready to return to London at four o'clock on the following
As soon as he had so done, he turned back again, and found the old
lady with her head thrust into the doorway of a room on the
right-hand side, saying in a loud tone--"It's himself, sure enough,
The moment she had spoken, he heard an exclamation, apparently in the
voice of Lord Sherbrooke; and, following a sign from the girl who had
opened the door, he went in, and found the room tenanted by four
persons, who had been brought together in intimate association, by
one of the strangest of those strange combinations in which fate some
Seated in a large arm-chair, with her cheek much paler than it had
been before, but still extremely beautiful, was the lady whom we must
now call Lady Sherbrooke. Her large dark eyes, full of light and
lustre, though somewhat shaded by a languid fall of the upper eyelid,
were turned towards the door as Wilton entered, and her fair
beautiful hand lay in that of her husband as he sat beside her.
On the opposite side of the room, with her fine face bearing but very
few traces of time's withering power, and her beautiful figure
falling into a line of exquisitely easy grace, sat the Lady Helen,
gazing on the other two, with her arm resting on a small work-table,
and her cheek supported by her hand.
Cast with apparent listlessness into a chair, somewhat behind the
Lady Helen Oswald, and shaded by her figure from the light upon the
table, was the powerful form of our old acquaintance Green. But there
was in the whole attitude which he had assumed an apathy, a weary
sort of thought fulness, which struck Wilton very much the moment he
beheld him. Green's eyes, indeed, were raised to mark the opening
door, but still there was a gloomy want of interest in their glance
which was utterly unlike the quick and sparkling vivacity which had
characterized them in former times.
The first who spoke was Lord Sherbrooke, who, still holding
Caroline's hand in his, held out the other to his friend, saying, in
a tone of some feeling, but at the same time of feeling decidedly
melancholy, "This is a sight that will give you pleasure, Wilton."
"It is, indeed, my dear Sherbrooke," replied Wilton; "only I do wish
that it had been rendered more pleasant still, by seeing no remaining
trace of illness in this lady's face."
"I am better, sir, much better," she said; "for my recovery has been
certain and uninterrupted, though somewhat long. If I could but teach
your friend to bear a little adversity as unrepining as I have borne
sickness, we might be very happy. I am very glad, indeed, to see you,
sir," she continued; "for you must know, that this is my house that
you are in," and she smiled gaily as she spoke: "but though I should
always have been happy to welcome you as Sherbrooke's friend, yet I
do so more gladly now, as it gives me the opportunity of thanking you
for all the care and kindness that you showed me upon a late
Though Wilton had his heart too full of painful memories to speak
cheerfully upon any subject, yet he said all that was courteous, and
all that was kind; and, as it were to force himself to show an
interest, which he would more really have experienced at another
moment, he added, "I often wished to know how the sad adventures of
that night ended."
The lady coloured; but he instantly continued, "I mean what was the
result, when the constables, and other people, visited the house. I
knew that Sherbrooke's very name was sufficient to protect him, and
all in whom he had an interest, and therefore I took no steps in the
matter; but I much wished to hear what followed after I had left the
place, though, as Sherbrooke said nothing, I did not like to question
"You have questioned me on deeper subjects than that, Wilton,"
replied Lord Sherbrooke.--"But the matter that you speak of was
easily settled. The constables found no one in the house but Plessis,
myself, these two ladies, and some humbler women. It so happened,
however, that I was known to one of the men, who had been a coachman
in my father's service, and had thriven, till he had grown--into a
baker, of all earthly things. As to Plessis, no inquiries were made,
as there was not a constable amongst them who had not an occasional
advantage, by his I 'little commerce,' as he calls it; and the ladies
of course passed unscathed, though the searching of the house, which
at the time we could not rightly account for, till Plessis afterwards
explained the whole, alarmed my poor Caroline, and, I think, did her
no small harm. But look you, Wilton, there is your good friend, and
mine, on the other side of the room, rousing himself from his
reverie, to speak with you. Ay! and one who must have a share in your
greetings, also, though, with the unrivalled patience which has
marked her life, she waits till all have done."
Wilton crossed over the room, and spoke a few words to the Lady Helen
Oswald; and then turning to Green, he held out his hand to him; but
the greeting of the latter was still somewhat abstracted and gloomy.
"Ha! Wilton," he said. "What brought you hither this night, my good
boy? You are on your way to Somersbury, I suppose,"
"No," replied Wilton; "I have just come thence."
"Indeed!" said Green. "Indeed! How happens that, I wonder? Did you
meet any of my men? Indeed you must have met them, if you come from
"I met several men on horseback," replied Wilton; "one party of whom,
three in number, stopped me, and asked me several questions."
"They offered no violence? They offered no violence?" repeated Green,
"None," answered Wilton; "though I suppose, if I had not answered
their questions satisfactorily, they would have done so, as they
seemed very fit persons for such proceedings. But I was in hopes,"
he continued, "that all this had gone by with you, and that such
dangerous adventures were no more thought of."
"I wish I had never thought of any still more dangerous," replied
Green; "I should not have the faces looking at me that now disturb my
sleep. But this is not my adventure," he continued, "but his--his
sitting opposite there. I have nothing to do with it, but assisting
"Yes, indeed, my dear Wilton," replied Lord Sherbrooke, "the
adventure is mine. All other trades failing, and having exhausted
every other mad prank but that, I am taking a turn upon the King's
Highway, which has become far more fashionable now-a-days than the
Park, the puppet-show, or even Constitution Hill."
"Nay, nay, Henry!" exclaimed his wife, interrupting him, "I will not
hear you malign yourself in that way. He is not taking a turn upon
the King's Highway, sir, for here he sits, bodily, I trust, beside
his wife; and if the spirit have anything to do with the adventure
that he talks of, the motive is a noble one--the object is not what
"Hush, hush, Caroline," replied Lord Sherbrooke; "you will make
Wilton believe, first, that I am sane; next, that I am virtuous; and,
lastly, that I love any woman sufficiently to submit to her
contradicting me; things which I have been labouring hard for months
to make him think impossible."
"He knows, sir," said Green, interrupting him, "that you are
generous, and that you are kind, though he does not yet know to what
"I believe he knows me better than any man now living," replied Lord
Sherbrooke; "but it happens somewhat inopportunely that he should be
here to-night.--Hark, Colonel! There is even now the galloping of a
horse round to the back of the house. Let you and I go into the other
room, and see what booty our comrade has brought back."
He spoke with one of his gay but uncertain smiles, while Green's eyes
sparkled with some of the brightness of former times, as he listened
eagerly, to make sure that Lord Sherbrooke's ear had not deceived
"You are right, you are right, sir," he said; "and then, I hear
Byerly's voice speaking to the old woman."
But before he could proceed to put Lord Sherbrooke's suggestion in
execution, Byerly was in the room, holding up a large leathern bag,
and exclaiming, "Here it is! here it is!"
"Alas!" said Caroline--"I fear dangerously obtained."
"Not in the least, madam," replied Byerly: "if the man dies, let it
be remarked, he dies of fright, and nothing else; not a finger has
been laid, in the way of violence, upon his person; but he would have
given up anything to any one who asked him. We made him promise and
vow that he would ride back to the town he came from; and tying his
feet under his horse's belly, we sent him off as hard as he could go.
I, indeed, kept at a distance watching all, but the others gave me
the bag as soon as it was obtained, and then scattered over the moor,
every man his own way. I am back to London with all speed, and not a
point of this will be ever known."
"Come hither, then, come hither, Byerly," said Green, leading him
away; "we must see the contents of the bag, take what we want, and
dispose of the rest. You had better come with me too, sir," he added,
addressing Lord Sherbrooke; "for as good Don Quixote would have said,
'The adventure is yours, and it is now happily achieved.'"
Thus saying, the three left the room together, and were absent for
nearly half an hour.
It was evident to Wilton, that whatever was the enterprise in which
Lord Sherbrooke and Green were engaged, it was one which, without
absolutely wanting confidence in him, they were anxious to conceal
from his knowledge; and, to say truth, he was by no means sorry that
such should be the case.
He knew Lord Sherbrooke too well to hope that any remonstrance would
affect him, and he was therefore glad not to be made a partaker of
any secret regarding transactions which he believed to be dangerous,
and yet could not prevent. In regard to Green too, there were
particular feelings in his bosom which made him anxious to avoid any
further knowledge of that most hazardous course of life in which he
was evidently engaged; for he could not shut his eyes to what that
course of life really was. Although, as we have already said, at that
period the resource of the King's Highway had been adopted by very
different people from those who even ten or twenty years afterwards
trafficked thereon: though many a man of high education, gallant
courage, and polished manners, ay, even of high birth, cast from his
station by the changes and misfortunes of the day--like parts of a
fine building thrown down by an earthquake, and turned to viler
purposes--sought the midnight road as their only means of support:
nay, though there were even some names afterwards restored to the
peerage, which are supposed to have been well known amongst the
august body of traffickers in powder and lead: yet Wilton could not
but feel grieved that any one in whom he felt an interest should be
tempted or driven to such an expedient, and at all events, he thought
that the less he knew upon the subject the better.
That, however, which struck him as the most strange, was to find two
beings such as those who were now left alone with him, graceful,
beautiful, gentle, high-toned in manners, distinguished in
appearance, fitted to mingle with the highest society, and adorn the
highest rank, cognizant of, if not taking part in, things so
dangerous and reprehensible.
A momentary silence ensued when he was left alone with the two
ladies, and the first words that he spoke evidently showed to the
Lady Helen what was passing in Wilton's mind. She looked at him for a
moment with a grave smile, and after she had herself alluded more
directly to the subject, he expressed plainly the regret that he felt
at what he witnessed.
"I regret likewise, my dear boy," she said, "much that has gone
before, nay, almost everything that has taken place in the conduct of
him you speak of for many years past. I regret it all deeply, and
regret it far more than I do the present transaction. You will think
it strange, but I see not well how this was to be avoided. Not that I
believe," she added, thoughtfully, "that we ought to frustrate bad
men by bad means; but nevertheless, Wilton, here was a very great and
high object to be attained: utter destruction to all our hopes would
have been the consequence of missing that object; and there was but
one way of securing it. This is to be the last enterprise of the kind
ever undertaken; and it was that very fact which made me so fearful,
for I know how treacherously fate deals with us in regard to any rash
or evil acts. How very often do we see that the last time--the very
last time--men who have long gone on with impunity, are to commit
anything that is wrong, punishment and discovery overtake them, and
vengeance steps in before reformation."
Wilton did not, of course, press the subject, as it was one, in
regard to which he would have been forced to converse on abstract
principles, while the others spoke from particular knowledge. Nor was
his mind attuned at that moment to much conversation of any kind, nor
to any thoughts but those of his own grief.
The conversation lingered then till Green and Lord Sherbrooke
returned. Captain Byerly was now no longer with them, and not another
word was said of the transactions of that night. Green relapsed into
gloomy silence, and very shortly after, the two ladies retired to
The moment they were gone, Lord Sherbrooke grasped Wilton's hand,
saying, "What is the matter, Wilton? You are evidently ill at ease."
"You give me none of your confidence, Sherbrooke," he said, "and yet
you demand mine. However, I will tell you in one word what I might
well have expected has occurred. An explanation has taken place
between the Duke and myself, and that bright vision has faded away."
"Indeed!" said Lord Sherbrooke, thoughtfully. "Have you, too, met
with a reverse, Wilton? I thought that you were one of the exempt,
that everything was to smile upon you, that prosperity was to attend
your footsteps even to the close of life. But fear not, fear not,
Wilton--this is only a momentary frown of the capricious goddess. She
will smile again, and all be bright. It is not in your fate to be un
"Nay, nay, Sherbrooke, this is cruel jesting," said Wilton. "Surely
my lot is no very enviable one."
"It is one of those that mend, Wilton," replied Sherbrooke, sadly. "I
live but to lose."
He spoke with a tone of deep and bitter melancholy; and Green, who
had hitherto scarcely uttered a word, chimed in with feelings of as
sad a kind; adding, as an observation upon what Lord Sherbrooke had
said, "Who is there that lives past twenty that may not say the same?
Who is there that does not live to lose?--First goes by youth, down
into that deep, deep sea, which gives us back none of all the
treasures that it swallows up. Youth goes down and innocence goes with
it, and peace is then drowned too. Some sweet and happy feelings that
belonged to youth, like the strong swimmers from some shipwrecked
bark, struggle a while upon the surface, but are engulfed at last.
Strength, vigour, power of enjoyment, disappear one by one. Hope,
buoyant hope, snatching at straws to keep herself afloat, sinks also
in the end. Then life itself goes down, and the broad sea of events,
which has just swallowed up another argosy, flows on, as if no such
thing had been; and myriads cross and re-cross on the same voyage the
spot where others perished scarce a day before. It is all loss,
nothing but loss," and he again fell into a fit of bitter musing.
"Come, Wilton," said Lord Sherbrooke, after a moment's thought, "I
will show you a room where you can sleep. These are but melancholy
subjects, and your fancies are grave enough already. They will be
brighter soon--fear not, Wilton, they will be brighter soon."
"I know not what should brighten them," replied Wilton. "But I will
willingly go and seek sleep for an hour or two, as I must depart by
daylight to-morrow. In the meanwhile, Sherbrooke, I will ask you to
let me write a brief note to the Duke, and trust to you to send it as
early as may be; for to say the truth, in the bitter disappointment I
have met with, and the harsh language which he used towards me, I
forgot altogether to mention what you told me this morning."
The materials for writing were soon furnished, although Lord
Sherbrooke declared, that were he in Wilton's situation, he would let
the proud peer take his own course, as he had shown himself so
ungrateful for previous services.
Wilton, however, only replied, "He is Laura's father, Sherbrooke,"
and the note was accordingly written.
"It shall be delivered early," said Lord Sherbrooke, as soon as it
was ready. "Give it to me, Wilton; and now let us go."
Ere he quitted the room, however, Wilton turned to Green, and held
out his hand, saying, "I am grieved to see you so sad. Can I by no
means aid you or give you comfort?"
Green grasped his hand eagerly and tightly in his own, and replied,
"No, my boy, no; nothing can give me comfort. I have done that which
calmly and deliberately I would do again to-morrow, were I so called
upon, and which yet, in the doing it, has deprived my mind of peace.
There may be yet one ray of comfort reach me, and it will reach me
from you, Wilton; but it may be that you may wish to speak with me
from time to time; if so, you will hear of me here, for I go no more
to London. I have seen bloody heads and human quarters enow. Seek me
here; and if you want anything, ask me: for though powerless to cure
the bitterness of my own heart, I have more power to serve others
than ever I had."
"I have tried more than once in vain to see you," replied Wilton;
"not that I wanted anything, but that I was anxious to hear tidings
of you, and to thank you for what you had already done. I will now,
however, bid you good night, and trust that time, at least, may prove
an alleviation of your burdens as well as those of others."
Green shook his head with a look of utter despondency, and Wilton
quitted him, seeing that further words were vain. Lord Sherbrooke
then conducted him to a small neat room, and left him to lie down to
"I know not, Wilton, whether I can conquer my bad habits so much as
to be up before you go. If not, I may not see you for many days, for
I have leave of absence," he added, with one of his light laughs,
"from my most honoured and respected parent. Should you need me, you
will find me here; and I would fain have you tell me if anything of
import befals you. I shall hear, however--I shall hear."
Thus saying, he left him, and at an early hour on the following day
Wilton was on his way homeward. He reached London before the time at
which it was usual for him to present himself at the house of Lord
Byerdale; but when, after pulling off his riding dress, he went
thither, he found that the Earl had already gone to Whitehall, and
consequently he followed him to that place.
The statesman seemed not a little surprised to see him, and instantly
questioned him in regard to his interview with the Duke. That
interview was soon told by Wilton, who loved not to dwell upon the
particulars, and consequently related the whole as briefly as
He told enough, however, to move the Earl a good deal, but in a
different manner from what might have been expected. Once or twice he
coloured and frowned heavily, and then laughed loud and bitterly.
"His pride is almost more absurd than I had fancied, Wilton," he
said, at length; "but to tell you the truth, I have in some degree
foreseen all this, though not quite to this extent. If he had
willingly consented to your marriage with his daughter, he might have
saved himself, perhaps, some pain, for he must consent in the end,
and it would not surprise me some day to see him suing you to the
alliance that he now refuses you. His grace is certainly a very great
and haughty peer, but nevertheless he may some day find you quite a
fitting match for his daughter."
"I trust it may be so, my lord," replied Wilton; "but yet I see not
very well how it can be so."
"You will see, you will see, Wilton," replied Lord Byerdale: "it
matters not at present to talk of it. But now sit down and write me a
letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, telling him that I must
beg he and the Sheriff would take prompt measures for restoring peace
and security in the county. Let him know that one of the government
couriers was stopped and plundered on the road last night. Luckily
the bag of despatches has been found upon the highway unopened, but
still the act was a most daring one. The same sort of thing has been
of frequent occurrence in that county: it is evident that a large
troop of these gentry of the road make that part of the world their
field, and we must put a stop to it."
Wilton sat down and did as he was bid, feeling, it is true, that he
could give a good deal more information upon the subject than the
Earl possessed, if he thought fit to do so. This, of course, he did
not choose to do; and after the letter to the Lord Lieutenant was
written, the Earl allowed him to depart, saying--"Our business is
somewhat light to-day, Wilton; but do not be the least afraid on
account of this fair lady. The Duke's foolish pride will come down
when he hears more."
Wilton departed, in a meditative mood; for notwithstanding every
assurance given him, he could not but feel apprehensive, sad, and
despondent. He might ask himself, in deed--for the Earl's words
naturally led to such a mistaken question--"Who, then, am I? Who is
it they would have me believe myself, that so proud a man should seek
the alliance which he now scorns, as soon as he knows who I am?" But
there seemed to him a sort of mockery in the very idea, which made
him cast it from him as a vain delusion.
Though freed from ordinary business, and at liberty to go where he
liked, with a thousand refined tastes which he was accustomed to
gratify in his own dwelling, yet Wilton felt not the slightest
inclination to turn his steps homeward on the present occasion.
Music, he knew full well, was by no means calculated to soothe his
mind under the first effects of bitter disappointment. Had it been
but the disappointment of seeing Laura at the time he expected to do
so--had circumstances compelled him to be absent from her for a week
or a month longer than he had expected--had the bright dreams which
he always conjured up of pleasant hours and happy days, and warm
smiles and sweet words, when he proposed to go down to Somersbury,
been left unrealized by the interposition of some unexpected
event--the disappointment would certainly have been great; but
nevertheless he might have then found a pleasure, a consolation in
music, in singing the songs, in playing the airs, of which Laura was
fond; in calling up from memory the joys that were denied to hope,
which can never so well be done, so powerfully, as by the magic voice
But now all was uncertain: his heart was too full of despondency and
grief to find relief by re-awakening even the brightest memories of
the past: he could not gaze upon the days gone by, like the painter
or the poet looking upon some beautiful landscape, for his situation
he felt to be that rather of some unhappy exile looking back upon a
bright land that he loved, when quitting it, perhaps never to return.
Neither could books afford him relief; for his own sorrowful feelings
were now too actively present to suffer him to rove with the gay
imagination of others, or to meditate on abstracted subjects with the
thoughtful and the grave.
To fly from the crowds that at that time thronged the streets--to
seek solitary thought--to wander on, changing his place
continually--to suffer and give way to all the many strange and
confused ideas and feelings of grief, and disappointment, and
bitterness of heart, and burning indignation, at ill-merited scorn,
and surprise and curiosity in regard to the hopes that were held out
to him, and despairing rejection of those hopes, even while the voice
of the never-dying prophetess of blessings was whispering in his heart
that those very hopes might be true--was all that Wilton could do at
The country, however, was sooner reached in those days than it is at
present; and after leaving Whitehall, he was in a few minutes in the
sweet fields, with their shady rows of tall elms, which lay to the
westward of St. James's-street. Here he wandered on, musing, as we
have said, for several hours, with his arms crossed upon his chest,
and his eyes scanning the ground. At length he turned his steps home
ward, thinking that it was a weakness thus to give way; but still as
he went, the same feelings and the same thoughts pursued him; and
that black care, which in the days of the Latin poet sat behind the
horseman, was his companion, also, by the way.
On reaching his lodgings, the door was opened by the servant of the
house, and he was passing on, but the girl stopped him,
saying--"There is a lady, sir, up stairs, who has been waiting for
you near an hour."
"A lady!" exclaimed Wilton, with no slight surprise; for though such
a visit in those days might have passed without scandal, he knew no
one who was likely to call upon him, unless, indeed, it were the Lady
Helen Oswald, whose interest in him seemed to be of such a kind as
might well produce a visit upon any extraordinary occasion.
He mounted the stairs with a rapid step, however, for he knew that it
must be something out of the common course of events which had
brought her, and opening the door quickly, entered his small
sitting-room. But what was his surprise to behold, seated on the
opposite side of the room, and watching eagerly the door, none other
but Lady Laura Gaveston herself.
Astonishment certainly was the first sensation, but joy was the
second; and advancing quickly to her, he took her in his arms and
held her to his heart, and kissed her cheek again and again. For
several moments he asked no question. It was sufficient that she was
there, pressed to his bosom, returning his affection, and whatever
might be the consequences, for the tine at least he was happy. The joy
that was in his countenance--the tenderness--the deep devoted love of
his whole manner--gave as much happiness to Laura herself as she was
capable of receiving from anything at that moment.
Her thoughts, also, for a minute or two, were all given up to love
and happiness; but it was evident from the tears on her cheeks that
she had been weeping bitterly ever since she had been there; and the
moment that he had recovered him self a little, Wilton led her back
to her seat, and placing himself beside her, still holding her hand,
he said--"Dear, dear Laura! I fear that something very painful, I may
say very terrible, has driven you to this step; but indeed, dear
girl, you have not placed your confidence wrongly; and I shall value
this dear hand only the more, should your love for me have deprived
you of that wealth which you have been taught to expect. I will
labour for you, dear Laura, with redoubled energy, and I fear not to
obtain such a competence as may make you happy, though I can never
give you that affluence which you have a right to claim."
The tears had again run over Laura's cheek; but as she returned the
pressure of his hand, she replied--"Thank you, dear Wilton--thank
you: I know you would willingly do all for me, but you mistake, and I
think cannot have heard what has happened."
Those words instantly guided Wilton's mind back to the right point,
though for a moment thought hovered round it vaguely. He recollected
all that Lord Sherbrooke had said with regard to Sir John Fenwick,
and the charge against the Duke, and he replied, "I had mistaken,
Laura--I had mistaken. But what has happened? I have been out wander
ing long in the fields, thinking of but one subject, and melancholy
enough, dear girl."
"I know it, dear Wilton--oh, I know it!" she replied, leaning her
head upon his shoulder; "and I, too, have passed a wretched night,
thinking of you. Not that I ever feared all would not in the end go
right, but I knew how miserable what had occurred would make you; and
I knew how angrily my father sometimes speaks, how much more he says
than he really means, and what pain he gives with out intending it.
The night was miserable enough, clear Wilton; but I knew not indeed
how much more miserable the morning was to be.--You have not heard,
then, what has taken place?"
"I have heard nothing, dearest Laura," replied Wilton; "I have heard
nothing of any consequence since I came to town: but I fear for your
father, Laura; for I heard yesterday that some accusation had been
brought against him by Sir John Fenwick; and though last night, in
the agitation and pain of the moment, I forgot to tell him, I wrote a
note, and sent it early this morning."
"He got it before eight this morning," replied Laura, "and sent to
call me down in haste. I found him partly angry, partly frightened,
partly suspicious, and hesitating what to do. I besought him, Wilton,
to fly with all speed. I pledged my word that Wilton, however
ill-treated he might have been, and however he might feel that the
services which he had rendered had been undervalued, would say
nothing but that which was actually true, and absolutely necessary
for the safety of those he loved."
"Surely," said Wilton, "he did not suspect me of falsifying the truth
to give myself greater importance in his eyes?"
"Whatever were his suspicions, dear Wilton," replied Lady Laura,
"they were too soon painfully removed; for he had scarcely given
orders to have breakfast immediately, and the carriage prepared
without loss of time, when two Messengers arrived with a warrant for
his committal to the Tower. They treated us with all kindness,"
continued Lady Laura, "waited till our preparations were made,
permitted me to accompany him, and have promised that to-morrow or
the day after--as soon, in short, as a proper order can be made for
it--I shall be permitted to be with him, and have a room near his.
But oh, Wilton, you cannot imagine how my father's mind is
overthrown. It seems, though I never knew it before, that he has
really had some dealings with this Sir John Fenwick, and his whole
reliance now appears to be upon you, Wilton."
"Oh, I trust, dearest Laura, that this charge will prove nothing,"
replied Wilton. "As far as I know, though he acted imprudently, there
was not anything in the slightest degree criminal in his conduct. The
days, I trust, are gone by when fictitious plots might be got up, and
the blood of the innocent be sold for its weight of gold. It may have
been judged necessary to secure his person, and yet there may not be
the slightest probability of his being condemned or even tried."
"I do not know, Wilton," replied Lady Laura, sadly--"I do not know.
He seems in very great terror and agitation. Are you sure he has
told you all, Wilton?"
"On that subject, of course, I cannot be sure," replied Wilton. "But
I do not feel at all sure, Laura, that this charge and this
imprisonment may not have its origin in personal revenge. If so,
perhaps we may frustrate the plotter, though we be weak and he is
strong. Who was the warrant against your father signed by?--Was
"Not by Lord Byerdale," replied Laura, laying her hand upon his and
gazing into his face, and thus showing Wilton that she instantly
divined his suspicions.--"It was by the Duke of Shrewsbury."
"That looks ill, dearest Laura," replied Wilton, thoughtfully. "The
Duke of Shrewsbury is one above all suspicion, high, noble,
independent, serving the state only for the love of his country,
abhorring office and the task of governing, but wise and prudent,
neither to be led by any art or trickery to do what is not just, nor
even to entertain base suspicions of another, without some very
specious cause to give them credibility. This is strange, Laura, and
I do not understand it. Did your father express a wish that you
should see me, so that I may act openly in the business without
"He not only told me to consult with you," replied Laura, "but he
sent me direct from the Tower in the chair which you saw standing at
the door, desiring me not to go to Beaufort House till I had seen
you; to beseech you to come to him immediately, in order that he
might advise with and consult you upon his situation. Indeed, he
seems to have no hope in any one but in you."
Wilton mused for a minute or two.
"I do not think, my clear Laura," he said, "that the Earl of Byerdale
knew anything of your father's arrest this morning when I saw him. I
believe I must have done him wrong in my first suspicions. I will
now, however, go to him at once, and endeavour to ascertain the
precise nature of Sir John Fenwick's charge."
"Might it not be better," said Laura, anxiously, "to see my father
"I must obtain an order of admission, dear Laura," replied Wilton.
"What are the orders respecting your father's confinement I cannot
tell, but I know that Sir John Fenwick is permitted to see no one but
the ministers of the crown or somebody appointed by them. At all
events, I think it will be better to converse with the Earl, and get
the order at the same time. I will then hasten to your father with
all speed, give him what comfort and consolation I can, and
afterwards come for a few minutes to Beaufort House to see my Laura,
and tell her the result--that is to say, if I may."
"If you may! dear Wilton," said Lady Laura, casting herself upon his
bosom, "if you could see my poor father now with all his pride
subdued, you would not ask if you may."
"But we must lose no time, dear Laura," replied Wilton. "You shall
go on to Beaufort House with all speed. But where are your servants?
I saw none in the hall."
"Oh, I have none with me," replied Lady Laura; "there was but one
with the carriage: the others were left with orders to follow quickly
to town; and I am sure in the agitation of the moment neither my
father nor I thought of servants at all."
"Nay, dear Laura," replied Wilton, "my own servant shall go with you
then; for after having once lost my treasure and found it again, I
will not trust you with two strange chairmen such a distance, and
This arrangement was soon made; and with a mind comforted and
relieved, even from this short interview with him she loved, Lady
Laura left him, and took her way to her solitary home.
Wilton was sincerely pained and grieved for the Duke; and the moment
that he had seen Laura safely on her way towards Beaufort House, he
hastened to seek the Earl of Byerdale, supposing that he had returned
to his own dwelling, which was near at hand. He was still at
Whitehall, however, and thither Wilton accordingly went. He was
admitted immediately to the Earl's presence, and found him with a
number of written letters before him, folded up and ready for the
departure of the courier. Not knowing that there was anything in the
mere addresses of the letters that was not intended for him to see,
Wilton suffered his eye to rest upon them for a moment. The Earl
hastily gathered them together, but not before Wilton had remarked
that one of them was addressed to the Earl of Sunbury; and the very
haste with which the statesman removed them from his sight naturally
gave rise to a suspicion of something being wrong, though Wilton
could form no definite idea of what was the motive for this
"Have you heard that the Duke is arrested, Wilton?" was the Earl's
first question, before Wilton himself could speak.
"Yes, my lord," replied Wilton. "I have heard, and was somewhat
surprised, as your lordship did not speak to me on the subject in the
"I knew nothing about it," replied the Earl, "except that I thought
it likely. It was his grace of Shrewsbury's doing, and I do not doubt
that he was very right, for one cannot punish mean offenders and let
high ones pass."
"Certainly not, my lord," replied Wilton; "but from what I know of
the Duke, I should think that he was the last man on earth to do any
treasonable act. I have come to ask your lordship's permission to
visit him in the Tower, and to obtain an order to that effect,
hoping, too, that you may tell me the particulars of the charge
against him, for he is now very anxious to see me."
"Oh ho!" exclaimed the Duke. "What! is his pride come down so soon?
What! in one single day does he send for the man that he maltreated
the night before? Such is human pride and human weakness. Well, well,
Wilton, we will not mar your young fortunes. You shall have every
opportunity, and perhaps may serve the Duke; although, I very much
fear," he added, in a graver tone, "from the Duke of Shrewsbury
having signed the warrant, that your good friend has been led much
farther into these matters than you are aware of. Make out an order
to sec him, and I will sign it."
"But cannot I, my lord, obtain any information," said Wilton, as he
wrote the order, "concerning the real charges against the Duke?"
"I really am not aware of them," replied Lord Byerdale. "The
business has not been done through this office. I have seen Fenwick,
indeed, but he only spoke generally, and seemed inclined to accuse
everybody indiscriminately. However, I will send to Lord Shrewsbury,
and ask all the particulars; but, by the way, Shrewsbury went out of
town to-day. I must write to Vernon, his secretary, instead;" and
sitting down, he wrote and despatched a note to a neighbouring
ministerial office. An answer was almost immediately returned in the
"MY LORD,-I have been honoured with your lordship's
note, and beg to inform you that the charge against the Duke
of Gaveston is for high treason, in having heard and connived
at the projected assassination of the King in the beginning
of this year, together with various other counts, such as
that of levying war, holding treasonable correspondence with
the enemy, and concealing the designs of traitors, &c. Your
lordship's order will admit Mr. Brown immediately to the
Tower, as no particular directions have been given in regard
to keeping the Duke a close prisoner. His grace of Shrewsbury
went out of town to Eyford at eleven this morning.--
I have the honour to be, your lordship's obedient servant,"
"There, Wilton," said the Earl, putting over the note to his
secretary, "there is all the information that I can obtain on the
subject; and here, take the order, and go and see your friend the
Duke. Tell him I will come and see him to-morrow, and give him what
consolation you can; but yet do not act like a silly boy, and make
too light of the business, for two reasons: first, because the matter
is really serious--the good folks of London have an appetite for
blood upon them just now, and will not be satisfied unless they see a
head struck off every now and then; and next, because, if his
lordship do escape the abbreviating process of Tower Hill, we shall
have to bring down his pride still farther than it is, to make him
give ready consent to your marriage with his daughter."
"I would rather win his consent by good services, my lord," replied
Wilton, "than drive him to give it by any harsh means."
"Pshaw! you are a silly boy," replied the Earl: "there is nothing so
tiresome to a man of experience as the false generosity with which
young men set out in the world. Here, when you have the opportunity
in your power of inducing the Duke easily to give his consent to that
which is most for his own interests, for yours, and for everybody's,
you would let it slip, remain miserable yourself, and see Laura made
miserable too, from the mere idle fancy of not taking advantage of
misfortunes which the Duke has brought upon himself; but I will
consent to no such idle folly, Wilton. I am determined to take care
of your interests, if you do not take care of them for yourself, and
I have a right to do so, as I believe I am your nearest living
relation. And now, my good youth, mark my words, and remember that I
am one who will keep them to the letter. The Duke, I know, has so far
committed himself as to be really criminal. How far his crime may be
aggravated I do not know. If he have brought his own head to the
block I cannot help it, and then all matters will be clear, for Lady
Laura will be free to do as she pleases; but as his pardon for the
offences he has really committed must pass through my hands, if it
should be found that his errors are not of a very deep dye, I give
you fair warning, that he shall not set his foot beyond the doors of
the Tower till Lady Laura is your bride. Say not a word, for my
determination is taken, and he shall find me somewhat firmer in my
purpose than he has shown himself towards you."
"I suppose your lordship means," replied Wilton, "till he has given
his consent to the marriage. The Duke is too honourable a man to
revoke it when once it is granted."
"No, by Heaven!" answered Lord Byerdale: "she shall be yours, fully,
irrevocably your wife, ere he sets his foot forth. There are such
things, I tell you, Wilton, as quarrels about marriage-settlements. I
will have none of that. I will be a better friend to you than you
would be to yourself. However, on second thoughts, say nothing about
it to the Duke. I will take it all upon myself, which will spare you
pain. You shall see that the proposal will come from the Duke
Wilton smiled; and we cannot think that he was much to blame if there
was some pleasure mingled in his feelings at the thought of soon and
easily obtaining her he loved, even though he experienced repugnance
to the means which the Earl proposed to employ. He resolved,
therefore, to let the matter take its course, feeling very sure that
the result of the Duke's present situation would be much affected,
and his liberation greatly facilitated, by suffering the Earl to
manage the matter in his own way.
He took the order, then, and proceeded at once to the Tower, where,
through walls, and palisades, and courts, he was led to that part of
the building reserved for the confinement of state prisoners. There
was nothing very formidable or very gloomy in the appearance of the
rooms and corridors through which he passed; but the sentry at the
gates, the locked doors, the turning of keys, announced that he was
in a place from which ever-smiling liberty was excluded; and the very
first aspect of the Duke, when his young friend was admitted to the
apartments assigned to that nobleman, showed how deeply he felt the
loss of freedom. In the few hours that had passed since Wilton last
saw him, he lead turned very pale; and though still slightly lame, he
was walking up and down the room with hasty and irregular steps. The
sound of the opening door made him start and turn round with a look
of nervous apprehension; and when he beheld the countenance that
presented itself, his face, indeed, lighted up with a smile, but that
smile was so mingled with an expression of melancholy and agitation,
that it seemed as if he were about to burst into tears.
"This is very kind of you, indeed, Wilton!" he exclaimed, stretching
out his hand towards him: "pray let us forget all that took place
last night. Indeed, your kindness in coming now must make a very
great difference in my feelings towards you: not only that, indeed,
but your note, which reached me early this morning, and which had
already made such a difference, that I should certainly have sent for
you to talk over all matters more calmly, if this terrible misfortune
had not happened to me."
Was the Duke endeavouring to deceive Wilton?--No, indeed, he was not!
Though there can be scarcely a doubt that, had he not been very much
brought down by fear and anxiety, he would not have sent for Wilton
at all. The truth was, he had first deceived himself, and at that
moment he firmly believed that he would have done everything that was
kind and considerate towards Wilton and his daughter, even had he not
"We will not think of any of these things, your grace," replied
Wilton. "I need not tell you that I was both overjoyed to see Lady
Laura, and terribly grieved to hear the cause of her coming. As soon
as I had heard from her your grace's situation and wishes, I sent my
servant to accompany her to Beaufort House."
"Ay," said the Duke, interrupting him, "in the agitation of the
moment, poor girl, I forgot to send any one with her I kept my man
here. But what then, Wilton, what then?-You are always kind and
considerate.--What did you do then?"
"I went immediately to Lord Byerdale," replied Wilton, "who seemed
just to have heard of your arrest. From him I obtained an order to
see you; and he was kind enough also to write to his grace of
Shrewsbury's secretary to know upon what charge you had been
"Ay, that is the point! that is the point!" exclaimed the Duke,
eagerly. "When we hear what is the charge, we can better judge what
danger there is; in short, how one is situated altogether."
"Why, I grieve to say, my lord," replied Wilton, "that the charge is
"Good God!" exclaimed the Duke, "what is it, Wilton, what is it? Do
not keep me in suspense, but tell me quickly. What does the villain
charge me with? He first spoke upon the subject to me, and he knows
that I am as innocent as the child unborn."
"It would seem, your grace," replied Wilton, "that he levels charges
at many persons most likely as innocent as you are; and that he
wishes to save his own life by endangering the lives of other people.
He charges you with neither more nor less than high treason, for
having been cognisant of, if not consenting to, the plan for
assassinating the King--"
"I never consented to such a thing!" exclaimed the Duke, interrupting
him. "I abhorred the very idea. I never heard of it--I--I--I never
heard it distinctly proposed. Some one, indeed, said it would be
better; but there was no distinct proposal of the kind; and I went
away directly, saying, that I would have no farther part in their
Wilton's countenance fell at hearing this admission; for he now for
the first time saw fully how terrible was the situation in which the
Duke had placed himself. That nobleman, then, had, in fact, heard and
had concealed the design against the King's life. The simple law of
high treason, therefore, held him completely within its grasp. That
law declared a person concealing treason to be as guilty as the
actual deviser or perpetrator thereof, and doomed them to the same
penalty. There was no hope, there was no resource, but in the
clemency of the government; and the words used by Lord Byerdale rang
in Wilton's ears, in regard to the bloody appetite of the times for
executions. He turned very pale, then, and remained silent for a
moment or two, while the Duke clasped his hands, and gazed in his
"For Heaven's sake, my lord," he said, at length, "withhold such
admission from anybody else, for I fear very much a bad use might be
made of it."
"I see that you think that the case goes ill with me," said the Duke.
"But I give you my word of honour, my dear Wilton, that the moment I
heard of the designs of these men I left the place in indignation."
"It is necessary, my lord," replied Wilton, "that your grace should
know how you stand; and I fear very much that if this business can be
proved at all, the best view of the case that can be taken will be,
that you have committed misprision of treason, which may subject you
to long imprisonment and forfeiture. If the government deals
leniently with you, such may be the case; but if the strict law be
urged, I fear that your having gone to this meeting at all, and
consented to designs against the government of the King, and
afterwards concealing the plans for introducing foreign forces, and
for compassing the death of the King, must be considered by the peers
as nothing short of paramount treason itself. Let me beseech you,
therefore, my lord, to be most careful and guarded in your speech; to
content yourself with simply denying all treasonable intentions, and
to leave me, and any other friends whom you may think fit to employ,
to endeavour, by using all extraordinary means, to save you even from
the pain and risk of trial. Our greatest hope and the greatest
security for you, is the fact--which is so generally reported that I
fancy it must be true--that Sir John Fenwick has charged a number of
persons in the highest stations, and some even near to the King's
person and counsels. It will be for every one's interest, therefore,
to cast discredit upon all his accusations, and amongst the rest,
perhaps, this also may fall to the ground."
"Could you not see him, Wilton, could you not see him?" demanded the
Duke, eagerly. "Perhaps he might be persuaded to mitigate his charge;
to withdraw it; or to add some account of the abhorrence I expressed
at the plans and purposes I heard."
"I see no way by which I could gain admittance, my lord," replied
Wilton. "He is a close prisoner in Newgate. I know no one who even
is acquainted with him; and I believe none but his wife and various
members of the government are admitted to see him alone. However, I
will do my best, my lord, and if I can gain admission, I will."
The Duke cast himself in deep despondency into a chair, and mused for
several minutes without reply, seeing evidently, from Wilton's words
and manner, that he thought his case a desperate one. After a moment,
however, a momentary ray of hope crossed his countenance again.
"Cannot you see the Lady Mary Fenwick?" he said. "She could surely
gain you admission to her husband. She is a distant relation of my
own, too, for my grandfather married Lady Carlisle's aunt. Beseech
her, Wilton, to gain you admittance; and try also--try, by all
means--to make her use her influence with her husband in my behalf.
Perhaps at her entreaty he would modify the charge, or retract a part
of it. It can do him no good--it may ruin me."
"I will do my best, my lord," replied Wilton, "and in the meantime my
Lord of Byerdale desired me to tell your grace that he would visit
you to-morrow. He comes, indeed, merely as a friend; but I would beg
your grace to remember that he is also a minister of the crown, bound
by his office to give intimation of everything affecting the welfare
of the state."
"Oh, I will be careful, I will be careful!" replied the Duke. "But
can you think of nothing else, Wilton? can we fall upon no means?
Would to Heaven I had always taken your advice! I should not now be
here. Should I ever escape, you will find me a different being,
Wilton. I will not forget your kindness, nor be ungrateful for it;"
and he fell into a somewhat sad and feeble commentary upon his own
conduct, briefly expressing regret for what he had done, partly
alleging excuses for it, but still evidently speaking under the
overpowering influence of fear; while pride, that weakest and most
enfeebling of all evil passions, gave him no support under
affliction, no strength and vigour in the moment of danger. In his
heart Wilton could not respect him; but still he had nourished in his
bosom feelings of affectionate regard towards him: he knew that
Laura's happiness was not to be separated from her father's safety,
and he resolved once more to exert every energy of mind and body in
the service of the Duke.
For about half an hour more their conversation was protracted in the
same strain, and then Wilton took his leave, telling the prisoner
that he feared he should not be able to visit him on the following
day. The Duke pressed him much to do so; but when he heard that every
spare moment of Wilton's time was to be devoted to his service, he
readily agreed, for that object, to lose the consolation of seeing
According to his promise, Wilton sped as fast as possible to Beaufort
House; and though the brief conversation which ensued between him and
Laura was mingled with much that was sad, yet the very fact of being
together--of pouring out every thought of the heart to each other--of
consulting with each other upon the welfare of one who was now an
object of the deepest interest to both--was in itself a happiness, to
Wilton powerful and intense; to Laura, sweet, soothing, and
supporting. During the short time that Wilton stayed, the
conversation turned entirely upon the Duke. At that moment, and with
but little cheering hope to give, Wilton could not mingle the subject
of his own feelings with the sadder ones which brought him thither.
Love, indeed, pervaded every word he spoke; love, indeed, gave its
colouring to all his feelings and to all his thoughts; but that very
love was of a kind which prevented him from making it the subject of
discourse at such an hour as that. Nor was his visit long, for it was
now dark; and after one whole day, which he knew had been spent in
anxiety, care, and fatigue, and after a night which he likewise knew
had gone by in sorrow and anguish, he felt that Laura would require
repose, and hoped, though but faintly, that she would obtain it.
He left her, then, in less than an hour, and took his way homeward,
meditating over what might be done for the Duke, but seeing no hope,
no chance, but in the exertions of the Earl of Byerdale, or the
merciful interposition of the Duke of Shrewsbury. He was not without
hope that the Earl would exert himself; though when he asked his own
mind the question, "Upon what motives, and to what effect, will the
Earl exert himself?" he was obliged to pause in doubt--ay, and in
suspicion. He could not divest his own heart of a conviction that the
Earl was acting insincerely; that there was some object in view which
it was impossible for him to divine; some purpose more than mere
kindness to a relation whom he had never known or acknowledged for so
many years of their mutual life.
It was the ninth hour of the evening on the following day when a
carriage stopped at the gates of Newgate, and a lady got out and
entered the prison. It was by this time dark, for the year was
already beginning to show a slight diminution in the length of the
days; and there were few people just at that moment in the streets to
remark that she left a male companion behind her in the vehicle, who,
with his arms crossed upon his chest, and his eyes bent thoughtfully
upon the other side of the carriage, remained buried in deep and
seemingly gloomy meditation.
After the lapse of about ten minutes the lady returned, and said,
"You may come; but the governor says your visit must not be long, and
on no account must be mentioned." [Footnote: It is an undoubted
historical fact, that more persons visited and conversed long with
Fenwick in prison than the court was at all aware of.]
Wilton instantly stepped out of the carriage as Lady Mary Fenwick
spoke, and followed her into the prison. A turnkey was in waiting
with a light, and led them round the outer court and through one or
two dark and narrow passages to the cell in which Sir John Fenwick
was confined. There was another turnkey waiting without; and Wilton,
being admitted, found the wretched man whose crimes had brought him
thither, and whose cowardly treachery was even then preparing to make
his end disgraceful, sitting pale, haggard, and worn, with his elbow
resting on the small table in the middle of the cell, and his anxious
eye fixed upon that door from which he was never more to go forth but
to trial, to shame, and to death.
Lady Mary Fenwick, his unfortunate wife, whose eager and strenuous
exertions in her husband's behalf were sufficient to atone in some
degree for the error of countenancing those calumnies by which he
hoped to escape his well-deserved fate, accompanied or rather
followed Wilton into the cell; and as she did so, remarking the
haggard glance with which Sir John regarded the visitor, she held up
her finger with a meaning look, as if to entreat him to assume more
calmness, at least in his demeanour.
Sir John Fenwick made an effort to do so; and, with one of those
painful smiles wherewith wretchedness often attempts to cover its own
misery, he said, "Good evening, Mr. Brown. This is a poor place for
me to receive you in. I could have done better, if you had honoured
me by a visit in Northumberland."
"I grieve much, Sir John, to see you in it," replied Wilton, "and
trust that you may be enabled to free yourself speedily."
A look of anguish came over Sir John Fenwick's countenance; but
Wilton went on, saying, "When last we met, Sir John, it was not,
perhaps, on the best of terms, and I certainly thought that you
treated me ill; but let all that be forgotten in the present
"Do you mean," asked Sir John Fenwick, with a cynical look, "that we
are both to forget it, or that I am to forget the whole business, and
you to recollect it at my trial for the benefit of my accusers?"
"I meant for us both, of course, to forget it," replied Wilton; "or,
rather, I should say, I meant merely that we should forget all
feelings of enmity; for to see you here deprives me of all such
sensations towards you."
"Ay, sir," said Sir John Fenwick, eagerly. "But let us keep to the
other point, if you please. Do you intend to forget our former
meeting, or to give evidence in regard to it?"
Wilton paused, and thought for a moment; and then a sudden idea
struck him that that very interview to which Fenwick alluded might,
perhaps, prove the means of making him modify his charge against the
"I cannot, of course," he said, "promise you, Sir John Fenwick, not
to give evidence against you, if I am called upon, for you know that
I can be compelled to do so; but I do not see that my evidence could
do you the slightest harm in regard to your trial for treason, as I
heard you utter no treasonable sentiments, and saw you perform no
"True, true!" cried Sir John Fenwick, gladly. "True, you can have
nothing to say."
"So shall I tell any one who asks me," said Wilton. "I can give no
pertinent evidence whatsoever, and therefore can easily keep out of
court--unless, indeed," he added, with particular emphasis, "the
charges which you have brought against the Duke of Gaveston should
compel me to come forward as one of his witnesses, especially as his
trial is likely to take place before your own."
"But how can that affect me?" demanded Sir John Fenwick, looking
sharply in his face. "How can the Duke's trial have any effect upon
"Merely by bringing forward my evidence," replied Wilton.
"But how, why, wherefore?" said Sir John Fenwick, eagerly. "You have
yourself admitted that you saw nothing, heard nothing at all
treasonable--you cannot dally with a man whose life is in jeopardy.
What evidence can you give with regard to the Duke that can at all
"Only in this way," answered Wilton. "The Duke must be tried upon
your accusation. He will call me to prove that you and he were at
enmity together, and that therefore your charge is likely to be a
calumny. He will also call me to prove that it was both my opinion
and his, expressed to each other at the very time, that you carried
off his daughter for the purpose of forcing him into a plot against
the state, or at all events to prevent his revealing what he knew of
your proceedings, from the fear of some injury happening to his
child. I shall then have to prove that I found her absolutely in your
power: that you refused to give her up at my request; that you were
at that time in company with and acting in concert with various
persons, five or six of whom have since been executed; that from
amongst you a shot was fired at me, showing that the Duke's
apprehensions regarding his daughter were well founded; and I shall
also have to declare, that before the Duke could have any assurance
of his daughter's safety, the conspiracy was itself discovered, so
that he had no time or opportunity to reveal the plot, unless at a
period when his so doing might have endangered, perhaps, the life of
Lady Laura. All this, my good sir, I shall have to prove, if the
Duke's trial is forced on. To sum the matter up, it must be shown
upon that trial that you and the Duke were at bitter enmity, and that
therefore your charge is likely to be malicious; that you carried off
his daughter as a sort of hostage; and that he was under reasonable
apprehensions on her account, in case he should tell what he knew of
the conspiracy; that I found you associating intimately with all the
condemned traitors the very day before the arrest of some of them,
and that the Duke did not recover his daughter by my means, till the
plot itself was discovered. Now you will judge, Sir John, how this
may affect your own trial. I warn you of the matter, because I have a
promise, a positive promise, that I shall not be brought forward to
give evidence in this business without my own consent; but once
having proffered my testimony in favour of the Duke, I cannot refuse
it, should any link in the chain of evidence be wanting against you
which I can supply."
Sir John Fenwick had listened to every word that Wilton said in
bitter silence; and when he had done, he gnashed his teeth one
against the other, saying, with a look of hatred, "You should have
been a lawyer, young sir, you should have been a lawyer. You have
missed your vocation."
"Lawyers, Sir John Fenwick," replied Wilton, "are often, even against
their will, obliged to support falsehood; but I merely tell you the
truth. You have brought a charge against the Duke, as far as I can
understand, of which he is virtually innocent, to all intents and
"Who told you I had brought a charge against him at all?" demanded
Sir John Fenwick. "Who told you what that charge was? It must be all
guess-work, upon your part. Depend upon it, if I have brought a
charge at all, it is one that I can prove."
"I may have been mistaken," replied Wilton, "and I hope I am, Sir
John. I hope that you have brought no charge, and that if you have,
it is not of the nature that I supposed; for as I have shown you, it
would be most unwise and imprudent of you so to do. You would not
injure the Duke in any other way than by a long imprisonment, and you
would, in all probability, insure your own condemnation, while you
were uselessly attempting to do evil to another. At all events, Sir
John, you must not take it ill of me that I point this out to you,
and if you will take the warning I have given, it may be of great
benefit to you."
"How should I take it?" demanded Sir John Fenwick, still frowning
upon him from under his bent brows. "What I have said I have said,
and I shall not go back from it. There may be other witnesses, too,
against the Duke, that you know not of. What think you of Smith? What
think you of Cook?"
"I know not, really," replied Wilton. "In fact, I know nothing upon
the subject, except that the Duke is virtually innocent of the crime
with which you would charge him. You made him listen to designs
which he abhorred; and because he did not betray you, you charge him
with participating in them. As for the witnesses Cook and Smith, I
have heard from the Earl of Byerdale that neither the one nor the
other have anything to say against the Duke."
Sir John Fenwick had listened with a bitter smile to what Wilton
said; but he replied almost fiercely, "You know nothing of what you
are talking. Are you blind enough or foolish enough to fancy that the
Earl of Byerdale is a friend of the Duke?"
"I really do not know," replied Wilton, calmly. "I suppose he is
neither very much his friend nor his enemy."
"And there, too, you are mistaken," answered Sir John Fenwick: "for
an envoy, you know marvellous little of the sender's situation."
"I only know," replied Wilton, "thus much, which you yourself cannot
deny, that to accuse the Duke, so as to bring him to trial for this
unfortunate affair, will be to produce your certain condemnation; to
cut you off from all chance of hope."
Lady Mary Fenwick had hitherto stood silent a step or two behind
Wilton; but now advancing a little, she said, "Indeed, Sir John, you
had better think of it. It seems to me that what Mr. Brown says is
reasonable, and that it would be much better so to state or modify
your charge against the Duke as not to hazard his life."
"Nonsense, Lady Mary!" exclaimed Fenwick; "neither you nor be know
anything of what my charges are, or in what my hopes consist. My
charge against the Duke shall stand as I have given it; and you may
tell him, that it is not on my evidence alone he will be condemned;
so that yours, young man, will not tend much to save him."
Wilton saw that it would be useless to urge the matter any farther at
that moment, though, notwithstanding the perverse determination shown
by the prisoner, he was not without hope that their conversation
might ultimately produce some effect upon his mind.
"Well, Sir John," he said, "I will keep you no longer from
conversation with your lady. I grieve for you on every account. I
grieve to see you here, I grieve for the situation in which you have
placed yourself, and I still more grieve to see you struggling to
deliver yourself from that situation by means which MAY PRODUCE the
destruction of others, and will certainly PRODUCE your own."
"I neither want your grief, nor care for it, sir," replied the
prisoner. "Good night, good night."
Wilton then turned and left him; but Lady Mary Fenwick accompanied
the young gentleman into the passage, saying in a low voice, "The
Earl of Byerdale has seen him twice. You will do well to be upon
your guard there."
"Thank you, lady, thank you," replied Wilton. "I am upon my guard,
and am most grateful for what you have done."
Thus saying, he left her: and as it was too late, at that hour, to
visit the prisoner in the Tower, he turned towards his own home; but
ere he reached it, he bethought him of seeking some farther
information from the public reports of the day, which were only to be
met with in their highest perfection in the several different resorts
of wits and politicians which have become familiar to our minds in
the writings of Steele and Addison. Will's and the Chocolate-house,
and other places of the same kind, supplied in a very great degree
the places of the Times, the Herald, the Globe, or the Courier; and
though the Postman and several other papers gave a scanty share of
information, yet the inner room of the St. James's Coffee-house might
be considered as representing the leading article to the newspaper of
To one or two of these houses, then, Wilton repaired, and found the
whole town still busy with the arrest of Sir John Fenwick, and with
the names of persons he was said to have accused. If the rumours were
to be believed, he had brought charges of one kind or another against
half the high nobility and statesmen of the land. The King's servants
and most familiar friends, many who were still actually employed by
him, and many who had aided to seat him on the throne, were all said
to be accused of treasonable communications with the court of St.
Germain; and Wilton had the satisfaction of thinking, that if there
were, indeed, any safety in numbers, the Duke had that security at
When he had satisfied himself on this point, he returned to his own
house, to meditate upon the best defence which could be set up for
the noble prisoner. None, however, suggested itself better than that
which he had sketched out in his conversation with Sir John Fenwick;
and without loss of time he put it down in writing, in order to take
the Duke's opinion upon it. There was one flaw, indeed, in the chain
which he could not but see, and which he feared might be used by an
enemy to the Duke's disadvantage. He could prove, that after Lady
Laura had been carried away the Duke had no opportunity whatever of
disclosing the plot until it was already discovered; but
unfortunately, between the time of the meeting in Leadenhall-street
and the period at which the conspirators so daringly bore off the
lady from the terrace there had been a lapse of some time, during
which her father might have made any communication to the government
that he liked. There was a hope, however, that this might pass
unremarked; and at all events what he proposed was the only defence
that could be set up.
On the following morning, when he saw the Earl of Byerdale, he
inquired if he had seen the Duke; but found that such was not the
case, business being the excuse for having failed in his promise.
Wilton, however, proceeded to the Tower as soon as he was free, and
found Laura now sharing the apartments assigned to her father, and
striving to support and comfort him, but apparently in vain. The
Duke's mind was still in a terrible state of depression; and the want
of all certain intelligence, the failure of the Earl of Byerdale's
promise, and the absence of Wilton, had caused his anxiety apparently
to increase rather than to diminish, since the first day of his
We must not pause upon the various interviews which succeeded, and
were painful enough. Wilton had little to tell that could give the
Duke any comfort. The determined adherence of Sir John Fenwick to his
charge, the sort of indifference which the Earl of Byerdale displayed
in regard to the prisoner's situation, neglecting to see him, though
repeatedly promising to do so, all served to depress his spirits day
by day, and to render him altogether insensible to the voice of
comfort. Towards Wilton himself the Earl resumed a portion of his
reserve and gravity; and though he still called him, "My dear
Wilton," and "My dear boy," when he addressed him, he spoke to him
very little upon any subject, except mere matters of business, and
checked every approach to the topic on which Wilton would most
willingly have entered.
On the seventh or eighth day of the Duke's imprisonment, however,
Lord Sherbrooke again appeared in town; but the Earl employed Wilton
constantly, during the whole of that day; so much so, indeed, that
his secretary could not help believing that there was effort apparent
in it, in order to prevent his holding any private communication with
his friend. At length, however, he suffered him to return home, but
not till nearly ten at night, by which time Lord Sherbrooke had left
the house, to go to some great entertainment.
Scarcely had Wilton passed the door, when he found some one take hold
of his arm, and to his surprise found the young nobleman by his side.
"I have been watching for you eagerly, Wilton," he said, "for it
seems to me, that the game is going against you, and I see the faces
of the cards."
"I am very anxious indeed about the Duke, if such be your meaning,
Sherbrooke," replied Wilton.
"And I am so also," answered Lord Sherbrooke. "What my father
intends, I do not well see; but I should think, that to make the poor
man lose his head on Tower-hill would be somewhat too severe a
punishment, too bitter a revenge, for Lady Laura refusing to wed so
worshipful a person as I am."
"I hope and trust," replied Wilton, "that there is no chance of such
"On my word, I do not know," replied Lord Sherbrooke. "My father,
when he is hungry for anything, has a great appetite; I don't think
the Duke's head would much more than dine him. However, take my
advice; depend not upon him in the least; go to the Duke of
Shrewsbury at once, if he be in town, and if not, to Vernon. Try to
interest them in favour of the Duke; see what you can allege in his
favour. The King has just returned from Holland, you know, and any
application made to him now may perhaps be received graciously. Have
you anything that you can state in the Duke's favour?"
Wilton recapitulated all that could be said to palliate the error
which Laura's father had committed, and Lord Sherbrooke answered
eagerly, "That is enough, surely that is enough. At least," he added,
"it ought to be enough, and would be enough, if there were no
under-influence going on. At all events, Wilton, I would go
decidedly to his grace of Shrewsbury, or to Vernon, for I believe the
Duke is absent. Represent all these facts, and induce him to lay
them before the King. This is the best and most straightforward
course, and you will speedily learn more upon the subject. But there
is another thing which I have to tell you--though I put no great
reliance upon the result being as effectual as we could wish--I was
speaking a few nights ago with our friend the Colonel, upon the
situation of the Duke, and upon your anxiety regarding him, all of
which I have heard from my good rascally valet, who--considering that
he is one of the greatest scoundrels that ever was unhung--is a very
honest fellow in his way, and finds out everything for me, Heaven
knows how, and lets me know it truly. The Colonel seemed to laugh at
the idea of anything being done to the Duke, saying, 'No, no; he is
safe enough.' But after a while he added, 'If Wilton have any
difficulty about the business, he had better speak to me:' and then
he fell into one of his long sullen fits of thought; after which he
said, 'Tell him to ride out hitherward on Saturday night next, just
as it is turning dark--I should like to speak with him about it.'"
"I will not fail," replied Wilton; "for there is something about that
man that interests, nay, attaches me, in spite of all I know and all
I guess concerning his desperate habits. It is evident that he has
had a high education, and possesses a noble heart; in fact, that he
was fitted for better things than the criminal and disgraceful course
he has pursued."
"Hush, hush!" cried Lord Sherbrooke, laughing; "speak more
respectfully of the worthy Colonel, I beg. You are not aware that he