Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxiv.

The Meeting at Greenrig.

There are many stories told of Lord Derwentwater’s hiding-places; as, for instance, that he was obliged to conceal himself in the Queen’s Cave, where Queen Margaret and her son were kept in safety. It is true he met his wife in Deepden, because it is a retired spot not likely to be disturbed; indeed, there was no need for such hiding in caves, for he had made by his benevolence and generosity friends enough among his tenants and the poor people, who would have died rather than give him up. It was, however, intolerable that a man of his exalted rank should be in hiding at all, and before long there began to be spread abroad in whisper that a council of some kind was to be held.

No one knew whose turn might come next. The case of Lord Derwentwater might be that of any gentleman in the county. When the meeting was held at which action was resolved upon, there was hardly a man present who did not expect his own arrest. it was at a place called Greenrig, upon the open moor between Blanchland and Dilston. Five years before the same company met together, but then for friendship and for feasting. Then all faces were gay; now all were gloomy. Even with those who were young and those who had nothing to lose, it is a serious thing to draw the sword. My lord’s eyes were anxious, and his forehead lined; Tom was grave, his look suspicious, as if a messenger might lurk in every clump of heather. I know not how all were called together, but there came Lord Widdrington; Sir William Swinburne and two brothers; Mr. Clavering, of Callalee; Mr. Fenwick, of Bywell; Mr. Errington, of Beaufront; Mr. Shafto; Mr. Stokoe; and a few others. Charles Radcliffe was there —— we all knew what was in the heart of that gallant boy. The Countess was present, her cheek flushed and angry, her eyes flashing. There came with Tom (besides Mr. Hilyard) his friend, who became afterwards his chief adviser in the field, Colonel Oxbrough, whom now I met (for the Countess and I rode across the moor with Charles) for the first time. I may not speak of the dead with blame, but sure and certain I am that if Tom had not fallen in with this gentleman he might have been now lord of the great Bamborough estates, and these free and unencumbered, as Lady Crewe intended. Colonel Oxbrough was born to a good estate (perhaps he ran through it in the manner common to many Irish landlords): he served under King James: he was a Catholic: in manner, he was unlike any of the other Irishmen engaged in this business, not loud in talk and hectoring like Captain Gascoigne, nor boastful like Captain Wogan, but of a calm, cold way of speech which had more effect than loud and boastful talk; in appearance he was tall and thin, with bright eyes, aquiline nose, and firm lips: in manner he was courtly, and in demeanour mild and thoughtful, always showing great regard to the opinions of the man with whom he conversed. Yet of all the rebels, this man was the most determined; he had made up his mind that for Ireland (for he cared nothing about England or Scotland) it was necessary that the King should be a Catholic: with that object he would go to the death willingly, but, further, I think he cared little.

The servants held the horses at a convenient distance, and the gentlemen gathered together, some lying on the turf and some standing. The moor, purple with heather and ling, stretched away on every side; there was no chance of interruption. As for the Countess, with whom I came, she stood beside her husband, her hands laid upon his left arm, her cheeks flushed and angry, her eyes flashing, gazing into his face as if she would read his thoughts. As for hers, I knew them.

Then Lord Derwentwater spoke, slowly and seriously. No one, he said, had the interests of the Prince, his lawful King and Sovereign, more at heart than himself. This was so well known, that a warrant was issued, as they all knew, for his arrest; no doubt his fate was determined before he had a chance of striking a blow. He desired at this meeting to take his friends’ opinion whether the time had truly arrived for rising in the name of the Prince. For himself, he could not pretend to know the feeling of the country; he had lived in it but five years, and never in London at all. But he was fully assured, he said, that nothing should be attempted in England, whatever the Scots might do, until it was clear, first, that the voice of the whole country was in favour of the Prince; next, that a rising in one county would be immediately followed by others in all parts; and lastly, that the temper of the army and the fleet should be favourable. ‘For, gentlemen,’ he continued, ‘let us consider, I pray you, not only ourselves, who have a stake in the country which you hazard in this chance and fortune of uncertain war; not only our own lives, which the common soldier risks for sixpence a day, and every sailor who goes afloat; but also our wives and children, who will be ruined with us if we fail. Remember the many grievous cases after the late unhappy Civil War, when English noblemen and gentlemen were almost begging their bread in France and the Low Countries. Also let us consider those poor faithful creatures, who will take pike and firelock and follow our fortunes. Therefore, I say, unless the way is made plain to me, I will not so far weaken the Prince’s cause as to throw away foolishly my fortune and my life.’

At these words there was a murmur of approbation; but the Countess clutched at my hand, murmuring, ‘Oh! he knows not his own strength. He has but to declare himself!’ Then the gentlemen looked upon each other, and then upon Tom, who presently spoke. What he said was simple and in plain words, for he was no speaker, to the effect that his own part and share in the design was so great, and his name so fully involved, that there was no hope left for him, save in the success of the undertaking; that he was resolved to live no longer the life of a fox in a hole, but should, unless something was determined at this meeting, ride straightway across the Border and join the force of Lord Mar. As regarded the other gentlemen, each knew for himself how far he had gone, and whether it was safe to go back or go on, and he should not say one word to persuade anyone into an enterprise which might lead to fortune or might lead to death. Every man had his own life in his hands, and sometimes it was necessary to stake that life in the game. And so on, speaking, as it seemed to me, very sensibly and to the point, concluding by saying that he, for one, would draw and persuade no one to follow him.

‘He is not a man of books,’ whispered Mr. Hilyard; ‘but Demosthenes could not have pleaded the cause of the Prince more artfully.’

Lord Widdrington followed. I knew little of his lordship, except from hearsay, and therefore I refrain from speaking about him. He was a Catholic, and at this time about thirty-eight or forty years of age, married to the daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Tempest, of Stella; he was also the grandson of Lord Fairfax, and therefore a cousin of my own. His family were lords of Widdrington even in the reign of Henry I.; one of them was killed in an engagement with General Lilburne during the Civil Wars; another fell at the Battle of the Boyne; the present lord is brother-in-law to Lord Langdale, whom his sister married, and to Mr. Townley, of Townley, who joined the Rebellion, but was acquitted. Other connections his lordship had which proved fortunate for him in the end, when all those who had interest, save one or two, managed to get a pardon. Lord Widdrington said, briefly, that it was clearly the duty of loyal gentlemen to take every opportunity of pressing forward the cause of the lawful Sovereign, and that he, for one, should be pleased if the gentlemen present should think the time opportune, and the hope of success so reasonable as to justify them in taking up arms. ‘But,’ he added, ‘I applaud the maxim of Lord Derwentwater, that for the Prince’s friends to get killed, and their property confiscated, would be a poor way of helping his Highness.’ And with that he ended.

Sir William Swinburne spoke next to the same effect; and then Colonel Oxbrough, seeing that no other gentleman had anything to say, took off his hat and begged to be allowed speech. He said, speaking without any passion, and in a low voice and slowly, that, in his serious opinion, the times were never more ripe for action; that since the death of the late Queen men had been looking at each other in wonder that nothing was done; yet he, for one, would be slow to accuse the loyalists of England of indifference, since he was persuaded that nothing was wanting except a leader and an example. ‘Why, gentlemen,’ he went on, ‘here is before our eyes an example which is better than myriads of words. The Earl of Mar began with a thousand men, and hath now with him fully twelve thousand. His army is like a ball of snow, gathering strength as it rolls onward. Do you wish for a better example? Ireland is waiting for the signal; in the west of England they are also waiting; Cumberland and Lancashire are full of loyal men; London counts thousands of the Prince’s friends; his Highness is even now preparing to cross over and take the field in person. What better opportunity can you have? What more can you desire? If any other consideration were wanting, there is the fact that you are all very well known for the Prince’s friends. What private promises you may each have made I know not, but would have you remember that treachery hath already been at work; I doubt not that in a few days you will be secured and clapped into separate prisons, or hurried away to London, where you will be severally examined, and none will know what the others will answer; so that for very fear of betraying one another you may verily do it. This, gentlemen, is a disagreeable thing to contemplate. Yet there seems, in my humble opinion, only one way to prevent it.’

Well, still they looked at one another, for no one would be the first to propose so grave a step. Colonel Oxbrough stood silent, with grave composed look, and made no sign of impatience. But then the Countess herself sprang into the middle of the circle, and with the air and manner of a queen, flung her fan upon the ground before them all, crying, ‘Take my fan, then, gentlemen, and give me your swords!’

My lord’s face flushed crimson, as he picked it up and restored it to her.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said, quietly, ‘enough talking.’

He took off his hat, and drew his sword, crying, ‘God save King James!’ All their swords flashed, and every man tossed up his hat, crying, ‘God save King James!’

‘Why,’ said Colonel Oxbrough quietly, ‘I knew there could be but one end. Madam’—— he bowed low to the Countess, who stood with clasped hands, panting breast, flushed cheek, and parted lips gazing upon her husband ——‘Madam, as it was said of Queen Elizabeth, so shall it be said of your ladyship ——“Dux foemina facti.’”

Mr. Hilyard, who stood behind me, and had no sword to draw, groaned and sighed, but nobody heard him except myself.

‘Alas!’ he said, whispering, ‘Colonel Oxbrough is a dangerous man: he knows that with many the surest spur to courage is fear. That is why, in the ancient temples, Fear is represented and painted with a lion’s head. It is fear which drives them all. His honour is afraid because he knows not how much hath been reported of his sayings, meetings and conspiracies in London; yet sure I am he would have done better to give himself up, and so have obtained a pardon after reasonable delay. As is Mr. Forster, so are the other gentlemen, who are all afraid, and with reason. I except my Lord Derwentwater, who would have had us wait —— but his hand was forced. Pray Heaven there be hereafter no cause for repentance!’

After the shouting there was much talking together and discussion, in which Lord Derwentwater took little part, standing silent and contemplative. When everyone had had his say, mostly in a confused babble, there was silence, and Colonel Oxbrough was heard recommending or suggesting. At last all was resolved upon. On the following morning they were all to repair to the Greenrig Burn, there openly to band together in the name of King James.

So they parted; Lord Derwentwater with the Countess, Mr. Errington, Sir William Swinburne (it was lucky for Sir William that he was persuaded by his lordship to go home, and to stay there awhile), his two brothers, Lord Widdrington with his two brothers, and two or three more, rode back to Dilston; Tom, flushed and excited, to Blanchland, with the rest of his friends, among whom, I forgot to mention, was Mr. Patten.

‘Sir,’ said this worthy minister, ‘I now venture to ask a favour of your honour.’

‘What is it?’ asked Tom; ‘I think this is a time for action, not for asking favours.’

‘It is, sir, that your honour, who, I hear, will receive the King’s commission to command his Majesty’s forces in England, will be graciously pleased’—— here he bowed down to the ground ——‘to confer upon me, unworthy as I am, the office of chaplain to your honour.’

‘Why,’ said Tom, ‘if that be all, my chaplain shalt thou be. And you, Tony, don’t look glum. Think you that there shall be no more feasting and drinking? Wait, man, till we have got the Prince to St. James’s, and then will we make a night of it!’

‘At such a juncture,’ said Mr. Patten severely, ‘Mr. Hilyard can surely think of something besides drinking and playing the fool.’

‘I think, besides,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘of Rehoboam and his counsellors.’

‘Dare you maintain, sir ——’

‘Hark ye, sir!’ Mr. Hilyard replied; ‘meddle not with me, chaplain or no chaplain. The only favour I ask of his honour is that I may follow him and serve him in the field as I have served him at home. I dare say I shall be able to carry a musket as well as any ploughboy in the ranks.’

‘You to fight! Oh, Mr. Hilyard!’ I exclaimed.

‘Nay, sister,’ said Tom, ‘all shall go who will. Yet I drag none against his inclination. Tony, give me thy hand, honest friend. Fight beside me, or stay at home with Dorothy, as thou wilt. If we come well out of this, old friend, of which I make no doubt, thou shalt see I am not ungrateful. My poverty thou knowest, but not my wish to reward thee for all these years of service.’

The tears came into Mr. Hilyard’s eyes; he looked as if he would have spoken, but refrained.

They had a merry evening, after all, with shouting enough for the whole of the great army they were going to raise, and Mr. Hilyard singing as if he was the most red-hot Jacobite among them all. Perhaps at the moment, with the whisky punch before him, and amid the shouts and applause of his friends, he thought he was.

It is not for my feeble pen to write a history of the events which followed. What do I know of armies and of battles? I stayed at Blanchland alone, except for my maid and the rustics of that retired place, seeing no one save from time to time when I rode across the moor to Dilston, and learned all that the Countess could tell me, which was little. Had we been able to look into the future, which is mercifully withheld from us, we should have been wretched indeed. Women can only believe what they are told. Did not Colonel Oxbrough promise a general rising? We were strong in hope, having little fear for the issue, but only for the chances of battle. Victory was certain, but brave men must die before the trumpets of the victors blow.

In the morning early the gentlemen were in the saddle.

‘Courage, Dorothy!’ said Tom; ‘we are going to certain victory. Farewell, dear lass.’

So he bent from his saddle and kissed me, and then clattered away under the old arch, and rode off gaily with his friends. The next time I saw Tom he was again with his friends, but, alas! in different guise.

The last to go was Mr. Hilyard, equipped for the first time in his life with a musket and a sword, and two great horse-pistols stuck in his holsters; but he showed little confidence in these weapons.

‘So, Miss Dorothy,’ he said, ‘I go a-fighting. For myself, I have little stomach for the sport. I think we be all fools together. Heaven send us safe home again! Phew! I am sick already of bullets, as well as of marching and shouting. Farewell, sweet mistress. Alas! shall I ever come back to be your servant again?’

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