Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxi.

Mr. Hilyard’s Dream.

It was late in the summer of 1714 that Lord Derwentwater brought the Countess home. Such was his eagerness to return, and hers to make acquaintance with her husband’s cousins, that is to say, with all the gentry of the county, that he started for the north on the very day that his two years expired, namely, on the 10th of July; and, though he travelled with a great company of servants, baggage, and pack-horses, and stopped on the way to see York races, he arrived at Dilston Hall in the first week of August, to the joy and content of his friends and tenants.

As for his brothers, Frank and Charles, they were both in London, but not, I understood, living together, and Charles spending at a great rate, that is to say, above his income; his uncle, Colonel Thomas Radcliffe, was at Douay, where I hope the poor man forgot his imaginary pursuer; the Lady Mary was gone to Durham, where she had a house; and Lady Katharine to live in a convent at St. Germain’s —— honoured no more by the Court of the Prince, who was at Bar-le-Due. Some of the Swinburnes were there to meet the Countess, and Mr. Errington, of Beaufront. Mr. Hilyard also, who was at Blanchland on Lady Crewe’s business, went to Dilston to pay his respects. Tom was still in London, and I was at Bamborough, thirty miles away.

When, however, Mr. Hilyard returned, he informed me of every particular, even of her ladyship’s dress, of which, for a man, he was observant, and made me understand that the Countess had taste, and dressed in the mode.

‘As for my lord,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘he looks certainly older, and is fuller in the cheeks than three years ago; but his carriage is the same. Sure there is no other nobleman in the world like unto him. He was so good as to inquire of my welfare, after asking after your own health and his honour’s.’

‘And the Countess?’ I asked.

‘She is little of stature, but vivacious in speech; her age is twenty; her eyes are dark and bright, and she laughs readily. She has the manners of the town, and will prove, I doubt not, remarkable for her ready sallies; and for a lively temper rather than for the dignity which is so conspicuous in some great ladies —— in Lady Crewe, for example. Her own people all declare that she is kindhearted and generous, though quick of speech.’

‘Did my lord seem happy?’ I asked.

‘There was no outward sign of anything but of happiness,’ he told me. ‘They are reported to be lovers still, though they have been married two years and more. All testify that never was a couple more truly fitted for each other, and yet ——’

He stopped short, but I knew very well what was in his mind.

‘And yet, three years ago,’ I said, ‘he was content to look for happiness with another woman. Young men sometimes mistake their hearts. Let us be thankful that, this time, my lord hath made no mistake. Those who remain lovers after two years are certainly married as Heaven intended, and will continue lovers to the end.’

And yet, for my own part, I had never forgotten his image, which was graven on my heart. But he had forgotten; he could show every outward sign of happiness. This, I say, being a feeble woman, I could not choose but feel. Afterwards I learned that a man may be happy, and yet not forget tender passages of old. We women are for ever saying, ‘A man does this, and a man does that,’ making comparisons of ourselves with the other sex, only to find out our own weakness and their strength. ‘A wise man,’ quoth King Solomon, ‘is strong.’ He doth not say that a strong man is wise. Yet methinks a man, because he is strong, may attain unto and reach that Wisdom, which is to the soul (also in the words of Solomon) like honey and the honeycomb, more easily than a woman.

‘I hear also,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘that the Countess is red-hot for the Prince; and am sorry to hear it.’

‘Why,’ I replied, ‘surely you would not have her on the other side?

‘Nay; I would have her on the side of safety. Loyalty, faith, and kinship call the Earl into a certain path which is beset with danger. Let Prudence walk beside him, if only to hold him back.’

Of late Mr. Hilyard often spoke thus, showing, though I knew it not, a spirit prophetic. Thus can learning make men foretell the storm, and see clouds to come even in a sky without a cloud. In affairs of State who would have looked for foresight from a simple Oxford scholar of lowly birth? Yet the storm was at hand. The first sign of it came the very next day, namely, the 7th of August, in the year of grace 1714; Mr. Hilyard being in the forenoon on the high-road from which Bamborough lieth distant a mile and a half, or thereabouts, presently saw, making what speed he could along the way (which here is rough and full of furrows, so that to gallop is not easy), a messenger on horseback, who blew a horn as he went, and cried out with a loud voice unto any he met or passed, or saw working in the fields or in the cottage gardens, or at open door, or in farmyards by the wayside, saying:

‘The Queen is dead, good people. Queen Anne is dead!’

With this news in his mouth Mr. Hilyard hastened to tell me.

‘Queen Anne is dead!’ he said, for the fiftieth time. ‘What will they do? Nay, what have they already done? It is a week and more that the Queen is dead. Have they proclaimed the Prince? Is he already sent for? Did the Queen acknowledge him for her successor? Oh that we could hear more! If we knew what they have already done! Why, anything may happen now —— a peaceful succession, a civil war, a rebellion —— what do we know? And here sit I with folded arms, and can do nothing.’

‘You could do nothing,’ I said, ‘if you were in London, except shout in the streets and get knocked on the head.’

It is a strange delusion of every man that the course of events lieth in his own hand, and that if he alone were in the right place to order and direct, all would go well.

‘Nay,’ he replied, ‘to shout in the street would be something. Besides, where pamphlets and verses and lampoons are flying, there could I be of use. At such times, a poet makes others shout.’

Then we began again to guess and to wonder what was going to happen. If the Prince had been acknowledged by his sister for her successor, he would probably have been proclaimed on the day of her death. How did London take it? If that were so, it would fare ill with the great Whig lords, like the Duke of Argyll and others, supporters of King William, Queen Anne, and the Protestant Succession. But as for families like ourselves, who had remained staunch supporters of the rightful heir, there would be a time of fatness.

‘His honour,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘cannot expect anything short of an earldom. That is the least that can be given to him.’

‘But,’ I asked, ‘how if the Prince surrounds himself with priests?’

‘Why,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘that would not be endured by the City, and a remedy must be found. Else ——’ he looked so resolute that I trembled for his Highness.

‘And what will the Nonconformists say?’

‘As for them,’ he replied, ‘they must sit down and be content. Loyal they will never be. If they are not content, let them follow their grandfathers to America.’

And so on. We made no manner of doubt, after much talking, that the Prince was already proclaimed, and Tom ruffling with the best on the victorious side.

‘Heavens!’ cried Mr. Hilyard, ‘what a sight must it be! The theatres resounding with loyal songs; the houses illuminated; all the brave soldiers drunk; every sour and surly Whig made to put a candle in his windows or have them broken; fighting at every corner; bonfires in every street; oxen roasted whole; conduits running with wine; the City Companies holding high banquet; the universal feasting, singing, and drinking! Not a glum face outside the conventicle. Heigho! What would I not give to be there among them all!’

He then went on to construct the future history of Great Britain and Ireland, in which he allowed the Prince to remain a Catholic, but exacted of him a pledge that his children should be brought up in the bosom of the English Church; he would also be suffered to have about him such priests as were necessary for himself alone, Catholics being excluded from any share in Government, and the Ministry being Protestants; Lord Derwentwater was to be made a Duke; Tom to receive the rank and title of Earl of Bamborough; he himself was to be a permanent Under–Secretary, but I forget of what department —— I think, however, it was of the Navy, because, like all Englishmen, he loved ships, and was ready at any time to prove that the English fleets were being ruined. As for me, I was to be advanced to the rank of Earl’s daughter, and to be styled the Lady Dorothy Forster. An unheard-of prosperity was to reward the whole country for its return to loyalty. Thus, we were to drive the French out of North America, which, from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Pole, was to belong to the English; we were to establish new trading forts along the coast of India, and oust the French from their settlements in the East. We were to turn the Dutch out of the Cape of Good Hope; to extend our trade to China; to occupy the islands newly discovered in the great Pacific Ocean.

‘Why,’ I said, ‘it is a dream of universal conquest.’

‘It is more,’ he went on. ‘We shall establish wherever we go the teaching of the pure Gospel and the Articles of the Church of England; we shall even convert to Protestantism the Irish people, so that they, too, like the rest of the United Kingdom, shall become contented and loyal.’

A thousand other prophecies, projects, and designs he had which I forget or cannot write down, because it makes my head swim only to think of them. Mr. Hilyard’s head was always filled with such inventions, fancies, and imaginations.

Unfortunately, all this beautiful structure of history proved to be only what the French call a Château en Espagne, that is to say, a castle in the air, a child’s tower built of cards, a dream of the morning. For in a day or two we heard the choking news that the Elector of Hanover had been proclaimed King without opposition. There were no bonfires for the Prince, no illuminations, no shouting of a loyal mob. The ‘Jacks,’ we heard, were downcast and despairing. At White’s Coffee House the gentlemen looked at each other with blank faces; the Whigs cocked their hats and went with sprightly mien. As for poor Queen Anne, no one, so far as we could hear, seemed to pity her. It is the fate of Kings. In their life-time they are the idols (if they believe all they are told) of their subjects; they are models of virtue and piety; they are endowed by Heaven with genius incomparable; yet when they die no one laments; and the praise is transferred to the successor. Queen Anne is dead. Wherefore, without so much as a ‘Poor Queen Anne!’ throw up caps and shout for the pious and virtuous Prince who is crossing the sea in the Peregrine yacht, no doubt full of love towards his loving subjects.

‘Alas!’ cried Mr. Hilyard, when he had somewhat recovered the blow. ‘To the wise man who hath read history and reflects, the rocks resound with the clashing of arms, and the rivers run with blood.’ He added, one after the other, half a dozen passages from the Latin poets, all of which fortified him in this gloomy opinion.

After this it seemed as if there was no more peace or quietness for us, but for ever disquieting rumours. Mr. Hilyard would ride as far as Alnwick for news, or even to Newcastle. Sometimes Lady Crewe would send me a London letter. In this way we heard that London was greatly disturbed, but the City firm for the Protestant Succession; that men were constantly flogged, flung into prison, and fined for loyalty to the Prince: the air was full of rumours. In the General Election of 1714, Tom was returned again without opposition: he also visited Lady Crewe and the Bishop; I have reason to believe that they advised him again to move with caution and have nothing to do with plots. Alas! he was already drawn in, and now too far gone to recede. Besides, under his frank and easy nature there lay, as we all knew, a loyalty towards his friends which nothing could shake. This was shown in the end, when others held back and he led the way.

‘There is,’ said Mr. Hilyard, speaking of this time, long afterwards, ‘a point in the history of all conspiracies at which a man, who has gone so far, cannot retire. His honour is at stake —— more, his very safety demands that he continue; he is involved in the common ruin or the common triumph. In this respect the history of all conspiracies is the same.’

As for this one, which was hatching, as one may say, for fifteen years, how should I know it, except from such shreds and scraps as Mr. Hilyard hath got for me and pieced together after a fashion? The chief leaders who were known, such as Bishop Atterbury, the Duke of Ormond, and Lord Bolingbroke, had with them men of equal rank with themselves. With them were associated a great number of gentlemen: some of them Irish adventurers, some younger sons, some clergymen, who served as messengers —— it was designed by means of these messengers to ensure risings on or about the same day in various parts of the kingdom. Commands were formed; Tom, for instance, was to lead the Prince’s forces in the north, assisted (because he knew nothing of the art of war) by Colonel Oxbrough; honours were to be bestowed and places given to those who faithfully served the Prince. His Royal Highness would himself join the insurgents: at the first considerable success, it was confidently reckoned that the troops would break away and come over to us. As for the Highlanders, they were already safe; our side would give them pay. The Established Church would be left undisturbed: and, as for the Dissenters —— why, in the opinion of most of these Tories, there were few punishments too bad for a Dissenter.

‘As for me, Tony,’ said Tom, partly unfolding this design —— but he knew very well that he could trust his man ——‘as for me, I am assured of a peerage. That, with a grant of land —— some of the confiscated estates —— and a post in the Ministry, will satisfy me. I am not greedy. Hang it, man ——(this bottle is finished; open t’other)—— prate not to me of prudence! there are too many of us embarked not to make it a safe job. Besides, think you, Tony, that I like being my lady’s pensioner? What assurance have I that, in the end, she does not throw me over; or that my lord hath devised the Bamborough estates to her, or to me after her death? And then, am I to fall back upon Etherston, where my father is already so crippled that the most he can do is to keep himself, with his wife and children and my brother Jack? What will it be when madam’s jointure has to be added? Why, half the gentlemen in Northumberland want such a windfall as a successful rising to put them on their legs again. We will burn all the papers, Tony, and hang up the rascal lawyers, who are Whigs to a man, and would turn honest people out of their own, because they owe a parcel of debt.’

He presently went back to London, and we waited, being pretty sure that the attempt would not be far off.

‘Oh!’ I cried, ‘they are strong men and brave men, and the country is with them! and yet they wait and wait, and the time it passeth by.’

‘Nay,’ said Mr. Hilyard gently; ‘but this business of rebellion and civil war is a most dreadful thing, as well for the right as for the wrong. Certain I am that not without grievous bloodshed, and perhaps a religious war as great and terrible as that in France a hundred and fifty years ago, will the Prince come to his own. Consider, I pray you, the sufferings of the wounded, the agonies of widows and orphans, the ruined homes —— alas! the pity of it.’

He stopped, being greatly moved —— indeed, since he understood the measure of the danger and the certainty of the design, he had been much cast down —— and presently fetched down a great volume, in the reading of which he ever took great delight.

‘Let me,’ he said, ‘read to you something on this subject by the learned Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholie.’”

He read a chapter concerning war and its dreadful evils. At the reading I was filled with shame that I should desire so grievous a thing. And yet, what to do, since the right cause must prevail, and there lies but one way?

‘The right cause,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘Yes; the right cause, truly. Yet the trouble remains, in all human affairs, to find out the right cause. For, except to women, who are ever certain and sure that they possess the Truth absolute, there is always so much to say, first on this side, then on the other, and that without being a rhetorician or chopper of logic; so that even I, for my own part, do not always discern which is the right. Truly, I think that, in all our human institutions, there is so much of error in the foundation that it infects the whole. For, as to the Divine Right of Kings, how know we who first made the first king? Was it, perchance, some tall and strong man, such as Mr. Stokoe, who elected himself? And have not, in all ages, kings supported themselves by wars —— that is, by strength? Would it not have been better to have had no kings? Rome was never so happy as under a Republic, nor Athens as under her Archons; the greatness of Sparta compareth not with that of Athens. Yet, again, is the ignorant and greasy mob to rule all, being swayed by brutal passions and ungoverned desires?’

‘Do you mean, Mr. Hilyard, that the Prince’s cause is not a holy and righteous cause?’

‘I mean, Miss Dorothy, that the cause embraced by his honour, my patron and benefactor, and by you, whose humble servant I am, is also mine, whether it be right or wrong.’

He bowed his head, and his eye glittered. Never before, save when he personated the Prince in the village inn, had I seen a more noble look in his face. He was, it is true, only my lady’s steward, and a poor scholar, who had been Tom’s tutor, notorious throughout the county for his buffooneries and his singing; yet our gentlemen would have done well had they taken his counsel before they trusted their own.

All this time Lord Derwentwater made no sign, and though an attempt has been made to prove that he was privy to the design from the beginning, it is not true. I say not that he suspected nothing. He would have been a stock and stone, and a fool to boot, not to know very well that serious things were contemplated. But, for his part, he was not consulted; that is most certain. He wished for nothing but peace and quiet, and the society of wife and children. Yet the men who projected the rebellion knew very well that they were sure of him. It was not only that he was the grandson of King Charles —— other sons and grandsons, such as the Dukes of Richmond and St. Alban’s, were not ashamed, any more than the Lady Dorchester, once the mistress of King James himself, to attend King George’s coronation —— it was because he had been the playfellow of the Prince, and was known to be of the highest honour and courage.

Early in the year 1715 —— I think in March —— the Houses of Parliament were opened by the King, who called the attention of both Houses to the assistance which the Prince was expecting to receive. Then we heard that Lord Bolingbroke had fled. Then other rumours reached us; as that search for treasonable papers had been conducted in the barracks; that all officers had been ordered to return to their regiments at once; that the Prince had left Lorraine; that the Earl of Mar had gone into Scotland —— what does it matter to set down all the things we heard and talked in those days?

‘How can I tell,’ asked Mr. Hilyard, ‘which way London doth now incline? In my young days we were all for King William and the Protestant religion; nor can I understand how the better sort —— the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen, Common Council, and grave citizens —— can have changed, unless it be that the stories we hear are true, and that there is not a man about the new Court who is a good Churchman, or even a staunch Dissenter. Indifference and unbelief the City will not endure any more than Popery.’

Then we heard that there was a general flight from London of all the Roman Catholics. This was followed by a proclamation ordering Papists to withdraw to at least ten miles from London; a clergyman in Edinburgh begged the prayers of the congregation for a young gentleman that either was, or would soon be, at sea; riots were reported from Oxford, Birmingham, and other places; and yet the houses and the shipping on the Thames were illuminated when King George went up and down the river; and a camp was formed in Hyde Park.

‘One day in August I received a letter from Lady Crewe, superscribed, ‘Haste! Post Haste!’ She had, she said, heavy news to communicate about Tom. She had heard from a safe quarter that the Ministry had resolved upon seizing the persons of all the principal Jacobite gentlemen of the north and elsewhere. Among them she knew were included Mr. Thomas Forster the younger.

‘I know not,’ she added, ‘what correspondence (if any) my nephew hath had with the Prince and his friends, or what papers he hath in his possession. Do thou, however, Dorothy, enjoin him strictly from me, if he be riding north (which seems likely, since I have had no late tidings of him), that he burn all his papers, and then surrender himself, lest worse follow, unto the nearest magistrate, until the storm be past. In this counsel the Bishop joins heartily. One must be, he says, in such times as these either the reed or the oak. Tom is not strong enough to be the oak. Let him be the reed, and meet the tempest with bowed head. This for thy private eye.’

We read and discussed this letter all the day. We knew nothing —— whether Tom was still in London, or whether we could write to him. Mr. Hilyard was of opinion that, the times being clearly perilous, the safest place for a Tory gentleman was the Tower, and for safety’s sake the more of them there the better.

‘Because,’ he said, ‘they will not hang them all, and they dare not hang one.’

It was soon after dark in the evening, the day being the 28th of August, the people of the village being all abed, and the place quiet, that we heard a clattering of hoofs in the road outside, stopping at the gate of the Manor House; and Mr. Hilyard went outside, curious and perhaps disquieted, as one is always before the arrival of misfortune. He returned immediately, bringing with him no other than Tom himself. His shoulders were bent, his face pale, his eyes anxious, his clothes covered with dust and mud.

‘Quick, Dorothy!’ he said; ‘a drink. Let it be October. Quick!’

He drained about a quart of ale, and then set down the mug with a sigh.

‘Why —— so —— that makes a man of me again. I have been in the saddle for fifteen hours, and am well-nigh spent. There hath been as yet no messenger or officers after me?’

‘None, Tom.’

‘Well, I can lie here, I think, one night. To-morrow I must be up, and away again.’

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