Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xx.

Her Ladyship’s Letter.

Nothing of all this was told by me to Tom or to my father, though afterwards they learned it from Lady Crewe. I saw my lord once more before he went away, but not alone. Nevertheless he whispered, ‘Dorothy! you have chosen rightly; all that you do is well done. Farewell!’ And so he went away, and I lost the noblest lover that ever wooed a maid. Shortly after I received from Lady Crewe a letter, which I copy out for the consolation of other girls who may be parted from their lovers for conscience or religion’s sake. The letter was not brought by the postboy, but one of the Bishop’s running footmen, who also carried with him a great parcel of fine things sent to me by her ladyship, kindly hoping thus to cheer my spirits by the contemplation of black and silver fringe, Geneva velvet, Brussels lace, Italian silk, soft Indian stuffs, white sarsnet, blue and gold atlas, flowered damask, and so forth. It is certainly a great solace to a woman in all the misfortunes of life to have such things to look at, and I dare say many a sad heart may have been comforted by such a present as was thus made to me.

‘My dear and loving Niece,’ her ladyship wrote ——‘I hear from a sure hand that the admonition and advice of the Bishop in this grave affair between Lord Derwentwater and yourself have been duly considered by you, and have borne fruit in your decision, which I pity and am sorry for, while I cannot but approve. It is a grievous thing, indeed, for a woman to send away any gallant gentleman who offers his hand and his affections (yet have I sent away many); much more grievous is it when that gentleman is such an one as my Lord of Derwentwater, a man born, I am persuaded, to be loved by all, a young gentleman of excellent parts and great sweetness, not to speak of his exalted rank and his nearness to the throne. Among the many offers which I received and refused, there was not one so important as this. Indeed, my dear, the conquest of this admirable young gentleman, though it surprises me not, since the beauty of the women in our family hath ever been coupled with that most excellent gift, the power of attraction, yet it should greatly raise you in the estimation of all. There is not (believe me) a young woman in all England who would not long to have so brave a lover at her feet, and it will be all your life a subject of gratitude and thankfulness that this has happened to you. But if I admire your fortune, child, in this affair, I admire your behaviour more in letting him go. Grievous it is, without doubt, and my heart bleeds for your sorrow. Yet, my dear, on the other hand, consider, I pray, how much more grievous would it be to have taken him. For, just as he can never change the religion in which he was brought up, which is that of his father, of his mother, of his grandfather King Charles, and of his cousin the Prince; so you, for your part, can never change your own, which is that of all the living Forsters, whether of Etherston or of Bamborough, and that of your illustrious uncle, the Bishop of this diocese. Picture to yourself a distracted household in which the father is a Papist and the mother a Protestant; the children inclining now this way, now that, as they are swayed by their father’s or their mother’s influence; imagine the unfortunate parents, fearful each for the future lot of the other, and trembling continually for fear whether Heaven can be assured for those who hold to this or to that belief. My dear, thou hast saved thyself from such a fate in the decision which you have taken. Wherefore, learn to look upon the Earl as a friend who cannot possibly become a husband any more than if he were thy brother, and let thy heart be free to listen to the persuasions of other and more fortunate men. Meantime, forget not to take comfort in the thought that thou hast obeyed the admonition of thy Bishop —— a thing much more pleasing to Almighty God than the mere following of the inclinations and temptations of the heart. This, in after years and upon thy death-bed, will afford thee such satisfaction and comfort as the memory of a short period of passion could never secure. Wherefore, my dear niece, I leave thee to thy resignation as a Christian, to thy obedience as a daughter of the Church of England, to thy pride as a Forster, to bring thee quickly to a cheerful and contented mind. Of this matter, for the present, enough.

My lord, I am thankful therefor, continues insuch health and strength as is surprising in a man of his years. To him belongs the blessing of long continuance in the land. We hear good news concerning the temper of the country, which promises to assume a settled resolution of loyalty. I know very well on which side my niece will be found. Rest assured, therefore, that thou hast in me always the same affection and desire for thy welfare.

‘Thy loving Aunt,

‘Dorothy Crewe.’

In this way, therefore, did my love-story end. Because my lover was so gallant and comely a man, all other men have since appeared small compared with him. Nor have I ever been able to endure the thought of a second lover; though many have offered themselves, including that faithful pair who would never take nay for an answer, Peregrine Widdrington and Ned Swinburne. Thus it is that, though an unmarried woman, I have learned to distinguish and to understand very clearly the symptoms of love, which are various, and differ with every man, one becoming melancholy and another joyful, one hanging his head and another dancing, one afraid and another confident; but always the same hungry look in every eye —— the same look as I had seen in my lord’s eyes, though in him much more noble and dignified. But never again, towards any other man, did I feel the same glow in my own heart, the same yearning —— almost too strong to be endured —— to see that look again. Therefore, I think that, though a woman may perhaps make a good wife even to a man who has never touched her heart, we are all so constituted by nature that we can love but one man. This is that high and sacred mystery of wedded life, ordained by Heaven for the mutual support and comfort of man and woman. I have missed that chief blessing, it is true; but I have not missed the gift of a man’s love.

It would be foolish to relate how dull were the days and how tedious the duties of the house after my lord left me. A girl crossed in love is ever a sorrowful creature; all such do I pity from my heart, remembering the pain and anguish which at that time I endured. In such a juncture and at the outset there is no comfort in anything —— not even in lace and silks; nor any joy in the day, nor any rest at night. For the morning brings the thought that there will be no happiness in the day, and the sun uprising only renews the pain of yesterday; in the night, the face of him who is lost comes back in dreams, and hangs about the pillow like the face of a ghost. I saw that ghost by night and had those memories by day. When Mr. Hilyard read to me, I heard not; when he played sad music to me, I sat in my chair and listened not; when he talked to me, I heeded not. Yet he never wearied in reading, talking, and playing to me, and was a most patient, thoughtful creature. At such time the things which happen pass before our eyes as in a dream, and we see them not, and think nothing strange. Why, I remember now that Jenny Lee came to me one day, and after saying that she could not bear to see her mistress thus go still in sorrow, telling me she knew how to get from her grandmother a love-potion, which, if I pleased, she would send by a sure and secret hand to Dilston Hall, to bring back my lord, so that, nillywilly, he should not choose but come. Instead of rebuking the girl, and soundly boxing her ears, I only shook my head and said nothing. Yet this is passing strange —— that a servant-maid should offer to practise sorcery, and her mistress should not reprove her.

Let all this pass: time brings patience and understanding. What had been done was for conscience and fair Religion’s sake. Afterwards, but not for a year or two, Lady Crewe told my brother Tom what had happened, and it was counted as an honour to us all that my lord had proposed and I had refused.

At this time my father, being now somewhat advanced in years —— namely, between fifty and sixty —— was aweary of the long journey to London and back, and therefore resolved to retire from the House of Commons. I know not what passed between Lady Crewe and Tom on the subject of living in London, but I suppose that she agreed to bear his charges, so that he should make an appearance in the great town worthy of his position in the county and his place as a Knight of the Shire. Certain it is that he was elected, being the seventh Forster in unbroken line who thus represented his county in Parliament.

When Tom was away, which was now for a great while in the year, I led for the most part a retired life at the Manor House, Mr. Hilyard managing all her affairs for Lady Crewe, though I confess that so great a scholar would have been better occupied in a library. We continued to read together, and in the winter evenings we had music, chiefly of a grave and serious kind, which elevates the soul and leads it heavenward. It seemed as if he was contented, when there was no feasting or fooling, to lead this quiet life. Often, also, my father would sit with us, especially in the summer evenings, and take a pipe of Virginia with a mug of ale. But as for play-acting, singing choruses, and the like, there was none of it. Nor was there much whisper of what was doing in the world, save for a news-letter which sometimes reached us. Nothing more astonished me when I went to London than the multiplication of news and the swiftness with which the latest intelligence is received and scattered abroad. Again, Mr. Hilyard had often told me that we lived in an age remarkable, even like that of Augustus, for wit, poetry, genius, and learning. Yet of all these wits —— of Addison and Steele and the rest —— I should have known nothing, except at second hand, had not Mr. Hilyard, by great good fortune, lighted on a complete set of the papers called the Spectator and the Tatler. It was in the year 1713, and at Alnwick, whither few books find their way. Certainly, I may truly say that I have never received greater pleasure than from the reading of these delightful works. Too often the wits of the age lend their powers to bringing virtue in contempt, so that a gentlewoman cannot so much as look upon their poems; and if she ventures to the theatre, must, for shame’ sake, put on a mask. There is comfort in the thought that such writers receive their reward in the oblivion into which they speedily fall. Neglect, says Mr. Hilyard, is the certain fate of those who impiously seek to make virtue ridiculous.

Each year, when Tom came home, the house was filled again. Once more the cellar was opened; there was feasting, and, in the evening, singing and drinking, with Mr. Hilyard to keep the company merry. Pleasant it was to see Tom, happy, as of old, with every kind of sport, never tired of the things which always amused him, calling for the old songs and the old stories. But there appeared latterly many strange faces, at sight of whom Mr. Hilyard looked glum. They were nonjurors, malcontents, and restless men, who were not satisfied, as most of us in the north, to wait, but must needs be for ever pushing and plotting.

As for Tom’s way of living in London, it was this —— apart from his Parliament duties. After a mug or two of small-beer in the morning, he commonly took his dinner at Lovett’s, by Charing Cross, a place much frequented by Members of Parliament and country gentlemen. Dinner despatched, he would presently walk to White’s Coffee House, in St. James’s Street, where no Whig dare so much as show his face. Here would he take a dish of coffee or chocolate, with a pipe of tobacco, and, perhaps, if the weather were raw, a dram of ratafia or Nantz. In the evening he went to the October Club. He was never seen in the Park, or the theatre, or any of the places where ladies resort; and while, on the one hand, he escaped the destruction which the ladies of London sometimes bring upon country gentlemen, on the other, there was no question as to marrying an heiress. An easy man, everybody’s friend, and to all the world Tom Forster.

When I asked Mr. Hilyard where the October Club met, he said that he did not know, but certainly as far as possible from Will’s. I know that Will’s is the resort of wits and poets, and it was easy to understand that Mr. Hilyard meant to imply that Tom’s friends were not remarkable for learning and ingenuity. I dare say this may be so, if only for the reason that most of the Tories are gentlemen by birth; now there is no reason at all why one already illustrious by his descent should seek glory in the contest of wit, in which he may be outdone by some smart Templar, or even the son of a London vintner, like Mr. Hilyard. On the other hand, there are many great wits and scholars on our side, and I hope that Bishop Atterbury, or Lord Bolingbroke, may be acknowledged at least the equal of Addison or Steele. But perhaps, after all, Mr. Hilyard only desired to say a smart thing. There is practised among scholars the art of describing men and things in sharp sentences, mostly ill-natured. They call this art wit or satire, but it is, to my thinking, mostly ill-nature or spitefulness.

‘If I were in London, which I fear’—— here Mr. Hilyard sighed heavily ——‘I shall never see again, I would go to the coffee-houses of both sides, and then ——’

‘What then?’

‘I should learn all that can be said against either side. Believe me, Miss Dorothy, there would be no greater safeguard for your Tory gentleman than to hear the Whig argument.’

‘Nay,’ I said, ‘a Forster must be loyal.’

‘Let him be as loyal as you will. But if there is to be fighting let others begin. Her ladyship is much concerned at the continual presence of these nonjurors.’

In the early spring of the year 1712, my maid Jenny Lee ran away from me. I am not able to charge myself with the least harshness towards the girl, whom I treated with kindness from the beginning, although I could not forget the strange things I had myself seen, or else thought I had seen, when at Dilston Hall. But she was quiet and well behaved, and gave me no trouble at all except on that account; and always dutiful, affectionate, and respectful, clever with her fingers, and knowing how to restrain her tongue. I had already designed her in my own mind to marry, when my brother should have no more need of his services, his own man, Thomas Lee (not of the gipsy Lees), a handy and honest fellow, not more given to drink than most, and never drunk until his master was first seen safe to bed. But the end was otherwise, for one day, hearing that the strolling players were at Wooler, only ten miles away, she could not be restrained, but packed up all she had —— in truth, a sorry bundle —— threw it over her shoulder, and marched off, leaving a saucy message to Mr. Hilyard, that he only was to blame, because he it was who first showed her how to act; and a crying message to me that indeed I had been a kind mistress to her, and that she begged my forgiveness, but she must needs become a player, and no other way of life was tolerable to her.

In the autumn of the same year, that is, in the year 1712, we heard of Lord Derwentwater’s marriage. He was married on July the 10th, to Anna, daughter of Sir John Webb, Baronet, of Canford, in Dorsetshire. His wife’s family were Catholics, so that, happily, there was no question of religion between them. She had been educated in a convent at Paris, and I believe that my lord made her acquaintance before he returned to England. By her mother’s side she was also of good blood, being granddaughter of Lord Worlaby, and great-granddaughter to the Marquis of Winchester. He wrote two or three days after his marriage to his cousin, Lady Swinburne, of Capheaton, from a place called Hallenhope, in Gloucestershire, where he lived for two years with his wife, and where his son was born. His letter, which Lady Swinburne showed me, was full of joy, for which I thanked God, praying that his earthly happiness might be continued to him for a long life. We also learned that my lord had further agreed to spend two years in the south of England, among his wife’s relations. I know not for what reason this article was asked for, or insisted upon, but I think with the design of protecting the young Earl from the designs and conspiracies of the more violent among his party. If that were the case, then I would to Heaven that they had made the agreement for three years and a half, at least, when all the trouble might have been averted. I am very certain that there would have been no disturbance in Northumberland, whatever they might do in Scotland, but for the certainty that the great families in the county, and especially the Radcliffes, would be drawn in.

I have never charged my lord, either secretly or openly, with inconstancy, yet I confess that, at the first moment, when I heard of his marriage, I felt a pang, which I believe was natural, though it hath since been repented. Such a charge would be most unreasonable, on every ground —— that of his rank, because a man in his exalted rank must marry for the sake of heirs; and because, if one woman says nay, there are plenty as good as she in the world —— ay, and a good deal better. Then, again, a man may love many women in his life, I suppose, though that we cannot understand. Lastly, his choice was wise, and his wife beautiful, virtuous, and in every way worthy of her rank, and of her husband.

I have told all that concerns the early life of my brother until the time when he became Knight of the Shire. You have seen how he was trained, and how fitted for the part he was fated to play; that is, he was fonder of the country than of town; he never unlearned his country speech and manner; he was loved by all; he was of easy temper; he was but little conversant with books or men; he was readily persuaded; he was honourable and loyal, true to his word, and to his friends.

In the sequel, it may seem to some that I presume to treat of matters beyond a woman’s reach. Though I may be excused if I touch sometimes on these things, I would not, certainly, seem desirous of writing history. The Rising in the North will, I hope, be fitly treated by Mr. Hilyard, who promises to make such a book concerning it as Sallust made concerning the Conspiracy of Catiline (though not comparing its leaders with that bloodthirsty parricide). In this way he will do justice to the actors, and confer immortality upon himself. Sad it would be if so much learning were to be rewarded by no other monument than a tomb in Durham Cathedral.

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