Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xvii.

He Loves Me.

Of all pleasant things upon the earth, there cometh an end in time. Nay, the more pleasant are the things, the shorter they are, and the faster do they hasten away. This is wisely ordained lest we forget in the present the joys which await us, greater than mind can conceive or tongue can utter, in the world to come. Whereas I, for my part, by foretaste, and as it were by looking through the gates of Paradise (which I certainly was permitted to do while my lord bestowed his affections upon me), am privileged above my less fortunate fellow-creatures to know something of the grateful, happy, and contented heart of those who wear the golden crown and play upon the golden harp.

As the time drew near for us to go, it seemed as if everybody multiplied kindness. The two ladies gave me more pretty things with generous words, and Lady Mary whispered, pressing my hand, ‘My dear, remember that a Radcliffe must always be a Catholic,’ and I said ‘Yes; that I knew it well,’ thinking that she meant only that her nephew must not be converted to the Church of England by me. Lady Katharine took both my hands in hers, and kissed me on the forehead, saying that no doubt I should be led, by pleasant ways, to see the beauty and joyfulness of that Fold wherein alone poor sinful man could find peace and rest for his soul. This, too, I took for little meaning, because she was so good and so pious a woman that she wished everybody to belong to her own Church. Nor did I yet understand what was meant by the text which forbids an unequal yoke. Certainly, we who had been brought up among so many Catholics, seeing them no worse (if no better) in honour, loyalty, and virtue than ourselves, were not likely to consider a man an unbeliever because he attended Mass. To this day, though I have long pondered upon the matter, I cannot quite persuade myself that St. Paul, when he set down certain instruction of his command, was thinking of the Pope and his followers. No; I was thinking if I turned my thoughts at all in that direction, which I doubt, that my lord might go to Dilston Chapel and I to Hexham Church, a separation painful in the idea, but doubtless it would be made tolerable in time.

Mr. Errington, of Beaufront, hinted at the matter more plainly. He said that he was rejoiced to find that my lord’s fancy was so soon, and so happily, fixed. That the Forsters were fully the equals of the Radcliffes, though there was not yet an earl or a baron among them.

‘My dear,’ he said, being an old gentleman of a very soft heart, anxious to make ladies happy when he could ——‘my dear, I knew and loved Lady Crewe ten years before she married the Bishop: a beautiful creature, indeed, she was, and full of great majesty, yet not so beautiful as you, my second Dorothy, believe me. For thou art as sweet, and gracious withal, as she was dignified. We country gentlemen were too rude and plain of speech for her. I blame her not, and she was born to be a Peeress, as was manifest by her beauty and the awe with which she surrounded herself, as you, my child, for your beauty too, and for your sweetness. Hath my lord told you that your smile is like the sunshine on a field of growing corn?’

‘Oh, sir!’ I replied, ‘my lord hath paid me many sweet compliments, and I think my head is half turned.’

‘Nay; a beautiful woman cannot rejoice too much in her beauty. See now, Miss Dorothy; we are all of us pleased that my lord shall marry a North-country maiden, one of ourselves: the marriage of his father was not happy; we desire to keep all Radcliffes to the north; moreover, generous as he is, it cannot be denied that his lordship does not know our gentlemen and their ways; nor our people and their ways; he must put off a little of the Versailles manner and descend to plain folk.’

‘Oh!’ I declared, ‘one would not wish him altered one jot from what he is.’

‘Nay, keep him as he is; but make him something more. It is not enough to give; he must understand his people. Well, he can have no kinder schoolmaster. Pretty Dorothy! Thy blushes become thee, child, as its bloom becomes the peach. As for the one obstacle, to my mind it needs not to be named. One religion will take a man to heaven as well as another, though Mr. Howard would not acknowledge it; and I am a Catholic, and should not say so. Let not pride prevent the removal of that obstacle. A religion held by so goodly a part of Christendom cannot be wrong; and you shall be rewarded with the noblest young lover that exists, I believe, in the whole world.’

This speech chilled my spirits very considerably. For to change my religion —— what would her ladyship say? What, my father? what, my brother Tom? what, the Bishop? Yet what matter what all together said, if it made my lord happy? And so, at the moment, it seemed a small thing and easy to change one’s articles of religion and accept the chains of the Roman Faith.

Next, Mr. Howard sought me and begged a word. He said, speaking very gravely, that no one could affect ignorance of the fact that my lord was fully possessed with the idea of a certain lady; that the subject was much in his own mind; that, on the one hand, it was greatly to be hoped that he would ally himself to a family of the north, and with a gentlewoman whose good sense and moderation would prevent him from falling into the snares always laid for such as his lordship. But these dangers were increased in his case by his ignorance of England and the English people; for example, that there was, he believed, great exaggeration as to the strength of the Prince’s cause, and therefore great caution must be observed as to any decisive movement; that he believed myself —— that certain lady, namely —— capable of giving good and wise counsel, and he earnestly prayed —— at this point of his discourse the tears came into his eyes —— that should the thing which he suspected proceed farther, such a measure of light and grace might be accorded to that young lady as to lead her to the bosom of the ancient Church —— with more to the same effect, and all with such earnestness and so much affection towards my lord and his interests, as moved me, too, to tears; especially when this venerable man spake of the fellowship in the Church of Christ, one and indivisible, so much was I moved, so deeply did I feel the beauty of the pictures which he drew, that I verily believe, had he on the spot offered to receive me —— if that offer had been made in the presence of my lord himself —— alas! one knows not; woman is at best a weak creature, easy to be led —— but there might have been one more Catholic in the world; there might have been a happy bride: yet, as we may not choose but believe, and as the Bishop himself has often said, things are directed for us; we know not for what reason we are guided; nor can we tell in the great scheme of the universe what part even so insignificant a thing as a young woman (though of good family) may be called upon to play. His lordship was not present; Mr. Howard did not offer to take me to the chapel; and so, with tears on both sides, we parted. Yet it must be confessed that I knelt to receive his blessing as if he had been the Bishop of Durham himself. When one converses with Papists like Mr. Howard, men so gentle, so blameless in life and conversation, so learned and so benevolent, one wonders about the hard things said daily of the ancient Church; one forgets the cruel fires of Smithfield; one even forgets the Spanish Inquisition itself. It is not till afterwards that one asks if it would be possible, even for the sake of a lover, to belong to a Church which yearly tortures and strangles and burns men whose only crime is to think for themselves. How can these things be? How can the same Church produce at once, in the same generation, such a man as Mr. Howard and such as the Grand Inquisitor?

Then Frank Radcliffe came.

‘I am right sorry you are going,’ he said. ‘The place will be dull without you, Dorothy. My lord will hang his head and mope. I shall have no one to talk with. But you will come back soon. Promise me that, Dorothy. You know very well what I mean. Come back and make us all happy.’

‘Indeed,’ said I; ‘would my coming back make you all happy?’

‘First,’ he said, ‘it would make my brother happy, because he is in love with you; next, me, because I love you too, and just as well, but a man must give way to his elder brother; next, because Charles also loves you, and swears he is your knight till death; and next, on account of my aunts, who will be happy if the Earl is happy. All of us, fair Dorothy.’

‘But, Frank —— it is good of you to say this —— but remember that I know not what my lord may intend; and if it were as you say, there would be much to consider.’

‘Oh, the Mass —— the Mass!’ he replied impatiently. ‘When one is brought up in the Fold, one troubles one’s head little about these things. To give up the Church would be a great thing, but surely there can be no trouble about coming back to it.’

This shows how prejudiced the mind may become, when accustomed to the pretensions of Rome. But I was better brought up.

It cannot be denied that the contemplation of this amiable family, all combined in pressing upon me to accept what I most of all things in the world desired to obtain, was very moving to me; and when Lord Derwentwater himself conversed with me on the subject, I was, I now confess, ready to yield unconditional submission. If men only knew the weakness of women, they could make them say or do what they please. But perhaps men themselves are not so strong as they seem to be. Indeed, that must be so.

‘Fair Daphne,’ my lover began, ‘it is sad indeed to think that to-morrow thou must go from us. The sun will shine no more in Dilston.’

‘Oh, my lord,’ I said, ‘do not talk any more the language of gallantry; you have spoiled me enough. I am but plain Tom Forster’s sister, and in Northumberland we are not accustomed to your fine French compliments. Let me, however, thank your lordship for your very great kindness both to my brother and to myself.’

‘Let there be no longer, then,’ he said, and as he spoke his beautiful eyes grew so soft and his voice so sweet that oh! my heart melted clean away, and I could have fallen at his feet, even like Esther at the feet of the great King, and that without shame ——‘let there be no longer compliments between us. You shall be no more the nymph Daphne; you shall be, what you are, only Tom Forster’s sister —— only the beautiful and incomparable Dorothy, whom I love.’

‘Oh, my lord! Think —— I am no great lady of fashion —— you would be ashamed of your rustic passion in a week.’

‘Ashamed! Why, Dorothy, with their paint and patches and powder, there is not, believe me, in all Versailles and Paris, to say nothing of London, which I know not —— there is nowhere, I swear, a woman fit to hold a candle beside so sweet a face as yours. My dear, thou art —— no, I will not make any more compliments. But, Dorothy, I love thee.’ And with that he fell upon his knee, and began to kiss my hand, murmuring softly, ‘I love thee, my dear —— I love thee with all my heart.’

‘Oh, my lord! I repeated, the fatal words having been spoken, overwhelmed with a kind of terror and awe and shame, because why should he love me so much? ‘You love me —— you love me —— alas! how can it be? What shall I say —— what shall I say?’

‘Say only, my dear, that you will love me in return.’

Then there arose in my mind, doubtless sent by Heaven, the memory of certain words spoken by Mr. Hilyard concerning the Church of England —— how that it was as ancient as the Church of Rome, and as safe, and yet unstained by the blood of martyrs. Also, I seemed to see before me the awful form of the Bishop, tall and menacing, beckoning me away.

‘Speak, Dorothy, my dear —— oh, Dorothy, speak! Why are you trembling? Merciful Heaven! have I said anything to terrify this tender heart? What troubles my love?’

‘Oh, Lord Derwentwater, it is —— the Mass!’

He let my hand fall, and for a moment he was silent. Then he began again, hotly:

‘The Mass! Is it a Mass shall part us? Why, child, I love thee so well that I will give up Church and all for thy sweet sake if thou wilt not give up thy Church for mine. The Mass against thy hand! Nay, I too will become of the English Church. Thou hast converted me already.’

Was there ever so fond and true a lover? But I remembered again what he had said, months before, at Blanchland.

‘No, no,’ I replied, ‘you cannot. Other men, smaller men, may change their faith, but you must not. Remember what you told me once ——’

‘Doth my sweet Dorothy remember even my idle words? All my words are idle except my last —— that I love thee.’

‘Do I remember them, my lord? —— as if I could ever forget them! You said, without knowing then what the words might some day mean, that I could persuade you to anything except what concerns your honour, and that your honour is concerned with your faith. Never —— never shall it be said that I sought to turn you aside from your honour. My lord, if you seriously think of such a thing, put it out of your mind. Oh! what is a foolish, worthless girl compared with the career and the history of a great lord like yourself?’

He would have replied to this in the same hot strain, for there was now in his eyes the hot flame of love that will not be denied —— the masterful look which frightens women, and compels them (yet I think he would never have compelled me to accept the sacrifice he offered)—— but Mr. Howard stepped between us. He had, I suppose, entered unseen, and heard the last words.

‘I thank you, young lady,’ he said, ‘in the name of a greater even than his lordship; the Holy Church thanks you. I would that all her daughters were as noble and as truly great as yourself. My lord, your passion is honourable, as becomes your rank. You would neither do yourself, nor ask Miss Dorothy to do, what in her conscience she would not approve.’

Lord Derwentwater answered not.

‘Part here, my children,’ Mr. Howard continued, ‘enough has been said. You, my lord, can afford to wait six months. If your passion be what you think it to be, six months is a short time indeed for meditation and endeavour to make yourself worthy of this young lady. And for you, Miss Dorothy, I pray you to read the books which I shall give you. Believe me, you have my prayers, my earnest prayers, and those of the two saintly ladies of this house. In six months my lord, if he be in the same mind, and unless you have already sent him away, will look for your reply.’

Lord Derwentwater, without a word, fell on his knee again, and kissed my fingers. Then he left the room with bowed head.

‘Not the chief of the Radcliffes only, but also his wife and his children and grandchildren must remain in the ancient Catholic Faith,’ said Mr. Howard gravely.

And then I understood, for the first time fully, that the passion of my lord, however vehement, would never, by those greater than himself, be allowed to imperil his adherence to the old religion. Alas! just as poor Frank had said, ‘You play with us, you feast with us, you sport with us; but you will not allow us to fight for you, or to make laws for you, to administer justice to you.’ So I thought bitterly that I might say, as a Protestant, to the Catholics, ‘You play with us, you feast with us, you make love to us; but you will not marry us.’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32