Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxvi.

Mr. Hilyard Returns.

Then, from the day of Tom’s departure, for the space of six weeks, I heard nothing save when I rode to Dilston, and heard what my lord, who found means to send a letter every week, told the Countess. As I know now with what misgivings he entered upon the Rebellion; how quickly he perceived, but could not remedy, the errors committed during its conduct; and how there fell upon him, very soon after the beginning, a heaviness and despondency which grew daily deeper —— ah! noble heart! —— I have never ceased to wonder how he could sustain the pretence of light heart, hope, and, cheerfulness which he presented in those beautiful letters of his. There was nothing —— no, not one word —— in them which might lead his wife to suppose that all was not going well. They were on the Border; they were with Lord Kenmure and the Scots; they were already so many strong; they were coming back, and would gather in the recruits so freely offered at the outset; they would soon be 20,000 strong —— with more to the same effect, and the whole so set and ornamented with terms of endearment for his wife, and of tender messages of love to the innocent children, that the heart of her who read them was led aside from the contemplation of the danger to think only of the honour and glory of the expedition.

‘That my lord should be foremost,’ said the fond wife, ‘in bringing the Prince to his own is not wonderful; nay, it is his duty. But it surprises me that the gentlemen of England have not long ago resolved to accomplish so easy a task. Why, it will be but a ride through the country, from Northumberland to London.’

It was, truly, to end in a ride through the country; but not such a ride as her ladyship pictured to herself.

Then we pleased ourselves in wondering how the Prince would be received by London; when the coronation would take place; by what safeguards and concessions the liberties of the Church of England would be secured; how great a thing it would be once more to have a Court, with a young King and Queen (but a wife must be found for his Majesty, and who should she be?), to which Catholic gentlefolk might resort; and how charming, after the quiet country life, to enjoy the pleasures of the town —— with many other speculations equally pleasant and profitable.

In those days the Countess talked with me a great deal concerning her childhood, when first she made the acquaintance of her future lord. They were together at St. Germain’s, she being in the Ursuline Convent, with one or two of her sisters (she was the eldest of five daughters), and he a page and companion of the Prince. The English children at St. Germain’s had more liberty than, it seems, is accorded to the French, and they all knew each other.

‘My dear,’ she said, in her quick and candid manner of speech, ‘I blush not to own that I loved him from the first, when he was only a beautiful boy, dressed up like a soldier to please the Prince, with his brown hair in a ribbon, and a little sword by his side; I loved him then, and I have loved him ever since, though little did I think I should ever get my heart’s desire. For supposing we played together, and were friends, he would go away and forget me; or he would meet with more beautiful women, and fall in love with them; or with flattering and designing women, who would want his wealth and rank —— I care nothing about either, Heaven knows, and would love him just as much if he were a simple gentleman like his cousins of the county. Why, as for love, did he not fall in love with you, who would have none of him for religion’s sake? Ah!’—— here she sighed ——”tis well I was not so tempted. Religion and all I think I would have thrown away for his dear sake. Yet how he should love me after your lovely face, Cousin Dorothy, passeth my understanding. Well, as for what is before, I know not, but pray for the best, and am thankful that we have had three years of happiness, although I have sometimes vexed him with my tongue, which at times, alas! is sharp. Yet he hath never reproached me with this my infirmity, knowing that afterwards I still repent and am sorry.’

She had many admirable qualities, not the least of them being that she was wise enough to know how good and great a man was her husband. Some women there are, who if a man love them, cannot, perhaps for that very reason (knowing how small they are compared with him), believe that he can be in any way great. It is as much as to say that the man who loves a foolish woman must be himself a fool. Such women know not what now I know, and am glad to know, because it makes me understand many things; namely, that no man doth love a foolish woman, but rather the divine and perfect image of a woman which he pictures to himself, instead of the real woman. Not that the Countess was a foolish woman at all, but quite the contrary, being, in every respect but one, wise and prudent. She checked her husband’s profusion (which was his only fault); she set bounds to his generosity in the matter of giving money constantly to his brother Charles, who was always wanting more; she possessed great dignity of carriage, although little of stature; and she was only foolish where all the other women of her party are foolish, in thinking that because loyalty is a righteous and good thing, the Prince’s cause would be easily won. Therefore she could not brook the shilly-shally delays of the gentlemen, and long before arms were resolved upon was impatient. In this I blamed her not then, nor do I blame her now; because we only believed what we were told to believe, and could not know —— which we had not been told —— the true strength of the feeling among all classes as regards a Protestant succession. In Northumberland one had at least the advantage of knowing that a man may be a Papist, and yet may adorn himself with as many personal graces and virtues as any Protestant among us all. Where could be found a man of more unblemished life, more universal benevolence, greater simplicity, temperance, modesty, and honour than Lord Derwentwater himself? Therefore, I say, I blame not the Countess for, her zeal, though it precipitated the ruin of her house. Nay, I was as zealous as herself, and thought the throwing down of her fan a fine and courageous action.

Let me say nothing but what is good of this unhappy woman, whose afflictions were greater than she could bear. Why I, who never ceased to love Lord Derwentwater, nor ever shall, and am not ashamed to own it, have long confessed to myself that, with my rustic ways, I could never have hoped to fix his affections after the first strong tide of passion, and to keep them for life as this clever, quick-witted creature, as changeable in her moods as the sky in June, and as sweet to look upon.

It is now sixteen years since she died, and was buried among the English nuns at Louvain; but her spirit hath returned to England, and wanders sadly at night among the woods and ruined gardens of Dilston. Alas! that one born to be so happy should die so wretched.

Enough, for this time, of the talk and thoughts of two fond women. We waited thus: I at Blanchland, and the Countess at Dilston, with none about her but old men and women-servants, from the 6th of October to the 15th of November.

On the evening of that day (which was Wednesday) I was sitting beside the fire, a book in my hand, but my thoughts far away. Certain prognostics of the disaster were already in my mind, though, as always happens, I thought little of them until later; that is to say, my sleep had been disturbed the night before by dreadful and disquieting dreams, but when I awoke in the morning there was left nothing but a confused image as of some horrid monster. Thus the messenger of Heaven came to warn Nebuchadnezzar, but he forgot in the morning everything, save that a strange and terrible dream had come to him. Thus, all day long, strange sounds disquieted me. There were omens of bad luck, such as salt-spilling, hearing unlucky words early in the morning, and so forth, which I afterwards remembered. On Sunday, I had a strange roaring, sound in my ears (which may have been the noise of the cannonade at Preston, but I hardly think that possible). On the same day, I opened the Bible at haphazard, and lighted on these terrifying words in the Book of Psalms, which manifestly referred to the overthrow of those who were doing the Lord’s work for the rightful Sovereign: ‘The zeal of thine house hath even eaten me, and the rebukes of them that rebuked thee are fallen upon me.’ On Monday and Tuesday I was agitated by strange terrors, and on Wednesday morning these returned to me in greater force. In the evening, the house then being quiet and the maids gone to bed, I sat thinking about many things; and first, as we are all selfish creatures, of my hard lot in losing the only man I could ever love, and the melancholy lives of women who miss the happiness of husband and children; next of the strange and tragical fate which still seemed to pursue the Forsters of Bamborough, so that my brother Tom, the last man of the race (not counting poor rustic Jack), was now a fugitive and a rebel who would be exiled, or worse, should the enterprise fail. Surely, I thought, it was time for a change in fortune; the triumph of the business in hand would bring us dignities and rank once more. Next, I remembered the grievous illness of Lady Crewe, of the issue of which I had no knowledge. Here was food enough for sad thoughts.

Now, while I sat, I became aware of footsteps outside, and there was a gentle knock at the window. I was never greatly afraid of robbers and such as break into houses, therefore I hastened to take a candle, and presently unlocked the door and looked out. It had been snowing all day, and the drifts lay deep in the old quadrangle. There was no one in the porch.

‘Who is there?’ I cried loudly.

‘Thank Heaven!’ replied a voice I knew full well. ‘It is Miss Dorothy.’

There stood before me Mr. Hilyard himself.

‘Who is within,’ he asked, ‘besides yourself?’

I told him no one except the maids, and they were all abed, for it was past nine already.

Still he hesitated, hanging his head, till I bade him sharply shake off the snow from his coat and come in. Cold as it was, he had no cloak or muffler. He obeyed, and with a trembling hand quickly shut and barred the door behind him.

Then I knew, indeed, that something dreadful had happened, and thought of all the forebodings and omens of the last few days.

He followed me into the kitchen, where there was still a good fire burning. Here he threw himself into a chair, and looked at me with white face and quivering lips.

‘Miss Dorothy,’ he began, but burst into sobbing and crying.

‘Where is my brother Tom?’ I cried. ‘Is he killed?’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘No; he is not dead. Better, perhaps, if he had been killed in battle.’

‘Where is my lord? Is he dead?’

‘No; he is not dead.’

He was so white in the cheeks and trembled so much in every limb that I feared he was going to swoon.

‘Are you in want of food?’ I asked him.

‘I had some bread last night,’ he said. ‘Since then I have eaten nothing.’

‘Since Tom and Lord Derwentwater are alive,’ I said, ‘tell me no more till you have eaten.’

When he had devoured some bread and meat and taken a good draught of ale, he stood up and said solemnly a grace after meat.

‘Never yet had I felt till to-day the force of the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Alas! what pangs are endured by those who starve! Save a little bread, finished last night, have I tasted nothing since I escaped from Preston on Monday evening?’

‘How? Escaped?’

‘Miss Dorothy’—— his eyes filled with tears ——‘alas! my kind sweet mistress, be brave, for the worst hath happened. His honour, General Forster, Lord Derwentwater, Lord Widdrington, all the other gentlemen, and the whole of the insurgent army, have surrendered, and are prisoners of General Willes. The Rebellion, unless the Scots fare better than the English, is at an end. As for his Highness, who hath brought us to this strait, I wish to Heaven he were a prisoner as well!’

‘Prisoners? Tell me more.’

‘I will tell you,’ he said, ‘from the beginning, that is from last Saturday. We were at Preston, and in higher spirits than we had been for some time, having received a great accession of the Catholic gentlemen of Lancashire, and their followers. I pretend not to know what was the General’s purpose, but it was understood amongst us that we were to march on Saturday morning upon Manchester, his honour being assured that none of the enemy were within forty miles. You may judge, therefore, of our astonishment when we received orders to prepare for action, for General Willes was upon us, in what force and whether provided with cannon we knew not, so badly were we served by our messengers. And yet I am informed by Mr. Patten, who hath had the ear of his honour throughout, that he spared neither pains nor cost to be acquainted with all the movements of General Carpenter, knowing nothing of General Willes, who was marching upon us from Wigan, having with him, some say, less than a thousand men, but I know not what his numbers may have been. He was so close to the town, that when the General rode out beyond the bridge with a party of horse he discovered the vanguard of the Dragoons, and had to ride back hastily. And then —— I know not how, save by some judicial blindness sent by Heaven —— oh! had I been of the council! There is a passage in Livy —— but let that pass. Suffice it that the greatest, the most fatal mistake was made —— oh! how could it escape them all?’

I asked who made the mistake.

‘His honour himself. That is to say, none but the General can be praised or blamed for the conduct of a campaign; but yet I know, having heard it for a truth from Mr. Patten, who hath been mighty civil to me since we started, that in every operation his honour has been first guided and directed by Colonel Oxbrough, and then thwarted by gentlemen who shall be nameless. I cannot doubt that in the matter of the bridge, he —— that is, Colonel Oxbrough —— was overruled; nor can I believe that a man who has studied campaigns and been on active service, could have neglected so simple an advantage. Know then, Miss Dorothy, that before the town there runs a deep river which must be forded; over the river a bridge; and this side the bridge a deep and narrow lane: it is like the Pass of Thermopylæ; it may be defended by a hundred men against an army —— nay, by means of this pass, we might have destroyed all the force that General Willes had been able to bring against us. Yet we neglected to defend this bridge. Some say the Brigadier MacIntosh refused to obey the General; I know not if it be true; certainly there is no love between the Scotch and the English officers. It matters not by whose fault; the bridge was left undefended, and the enemy crossed over at their ease, and so came up to the town and prepared for an attack.’

He stopped and sighed.

‘I never thought,’ he went on, ‘that I, a plain Oxford scholar, a man of peace, and of obscure birth, should take my part in a battle, fighting among gentlemen; nor did I look to feel the madness of Mars in my blood. Yet this day shall I never forget, nor the “joy of battle” spoken of by Homer, and now understood by me. We formed four chief barricadoes, or barriers, behind which we received the enemy. As for me, I had the honour to be placed among the gentlemen volunteers who defended the barrier below the church, under Brigadier MacIntosh. We were commanded by the Lords Derwentwater, Kenmure, Wintoun, and Nithsdale. As for my lord and his brother, Mr. Charles, I dare maintain that they set an example to all of us of courage and coolness under fire, being stripped to the waistcoat, and encouraging the men to work at the barriers and to give a warm reception to the enemy. A warm reception we gave them, indeed, and killed, I believe, as many as 120 of them at the first attack. The battle lasted from three o’clock in the afternoon till long into the night. Twice I saw the General —— Mr. Tom, I mean —— riding up to the barricado, encouraging us to stand firm and fire with precision, freely exposing himself to the enemy’s fire. When the night fell the enemy set fire to two or three houses, partly with the design to burn down the whole town, and partly to terrify and dislodge us, and had there been the least wind, no doubt their horrid project had succeeded. At midnight the enemy withdrew, leaving 300 and more dead upon the field, while we for our part had lost but 17 killed and about 40 wounded. As for me, I had never a scratch. Yet, in spite of this signal advantage, and the joy of our men, you shall hear how we were all presently undone.’

He stopped and fetched another sigh.

‘Undone, did I say? Yea; ruined and lost beyond hope. Yet we were 3,000 strong, and fellows as stout as a general would wish to command.

‘All that night the houses blazed and fell, one by one, with a most dreadful roaring of flames, and I think that few of us got much sleep. For my own part I sat, firelock in hand, behind our barrier, wishing that the morning would come, and longing to be at ’em again. This I say not with boastfulness, but to show how quickly even a man of peace may become a man of war. Yet is the man of peace a madman thus to follow the drum. It hath been truly said by Seneca in his book ——’

‘Never mind Seneca, Mr. Hilyard. For Heaven’s sake go on with the story. What happened next?’

‘Since you know that we were all taken prisoners, you know, Miss Dorothy, pretty nearly as much as I know myself. For, of a truth, I cannot tell with certainty why we laid down our arms. We took a few prisoners, and from one of them, an officer, I learned the strength of the enemy, and that General Carpenter was marching upon us, having with him three regiments of Dragoons. But still we should greatly outnumber them. “Gentlemen,” cried one of the prisoners, as he was led through our ranks, “I am your prisoner to-day, but you will all be ours to-morrow.” At which some of us laughed, but I, thinking how the bridge had been neglected, began to consider seriously what this might mean. I say again that I blame not his honour. Neither as man nor boy hath he ever cared for things military, to study the conduct of a siege nor the history of a campaign. But I marvel that Colonel Oxbrough, who should have known better, or that Lord Widdrington, who should have been made to hold his tongue, or that Brigadier MacIntosh —— but, indeed, there is small profit in wondering.

‘Now, in the morning, when we expected, although it was Sunday, that the enemy would either attack us again, or that we should sally forth and attack them, which would have been more to our humour and the purpose, the blood of the men being up, and everybody in good spirits at the yesterday’s fighting and heavy losses we had inflicted upon the enemy, no orders came, and we continued at our posts all that morning. There was some firing upon us, but not much, from two or three houses occupied by the enemy. I think it must have been ten of the clock that a rumour began among us that General Carpenter had arrived, and that the town was invested, and we entirely surrounded. At first that seemed to matter little, because we had beaten them once, and could beat them again were they twice as strong. Next it was whispered that we were short of powder as well as provisions. What kind of officers are those who lead their men into a fight with no more ammunition than is enough for a single day’s fighting, and no more provisions than from day to day can be gathered on the march? Now when I understood this I began to tremble indeed, because it became quite plain to me that we must now either surrender (though nearly three to one, and full of heart), or fight our way out with bayonet, pike, and sword against musket and cannon. I confess, moreover, that I was tempted to follow the example of some of our men, who, on the first suspicion of this desperate position of affairs, scowered off, and made good their escape by a way where as yet none of the Dragoons were posted. It was by a street called Fishergate, which leads to a meadow beside the river, where are two good fords. I know not how many got away, but by one way or another, hiding in the houses and escaping by night, there must have been more than a thousand, because sure I am that not half of those who were with us the day before the fight were those who laid down their arms the day after. A happy escape to them! As for those who are taken, what can they look for? Courage, Miss Dorothy! there is time, and something may yet be done. We must not despair. First, there is open always to poor mortals in their worst extremity their appeal to Heaven; it is not fortune alone which destroys armies. Next, it must be admitted a noble madness at the worst, which compelled so many gentlemen to go forth on this forlorn hope, so that their speedy discomfiture ought to be a punishment sufficient unto them. Besides, there is the famous passage of Boethius ——’

‘Oh! Mr. Hilyard, let us not look to Boethius for help. Tell me all, and then let us think what remains to be done.’

‘Alas! little is left to tell, and that is bad. On Sunday morning there was held a council, of which I have heard the substance, though, of course, I was not present. When the time shall come when scholars shall be consulted on every subject, as the oracles were consulted of old, there will be a school or college of scholars whose sole business it shall be to advise Ministers, contrive measures, be consulted by Generals, and lay down plans for the general good of the nation. Happy would it have been —— I say it not boastfully, but with sorrow —— for us all had our commander sought the counsel of the only scholar who was with them. But they knew not —— they know not, and do not in their ignorance suspect —— that a man who hath road Tacitus, Livy, and Thucydides, to say nothing of Cæsar his Commentaries, Sallust his history, the great military writer Vegetius (in the Leyden edition), and the late campaigns, with such help as was within his reach, of the illustrious Marlborough, a greater than Hannibal, could lead their army better than all of them put together. No ammunition, no powder, no provisions; not a map of the country; no spies —— and that bridge left undefended! Why, I should have sallied forth to meet the enemy, and struck a blow, before that bridge was abandoned, as would have rung through all England; General Carpenter’s turn should have followed next; and then —— then —— unless the City of London declared for the Prince I should ——’

He stopped, gasping, carried away with the imaginary glory of the campaign directed by himself.

‘What would you have done then, Mr. Hilyard?’

‘I should have dictated terms to King George, and in return for disbanding my forces and sending all home again, I would have left him on the throne and accepted a general amnesty.’

‘What, and desert the Prince?’

‘Nothing is of any lasting help for the Prince,’ he said, ‘until he hath first turned Protestant. Although they did not consult me, however, I learned that the council was divided, and no agreement possible; for some thought that, considering our number, which was still greater than that of the enemy, it would be shameful to surrender without another fight, while others thought that enough blood had been shed, and that terms had better be made —— such terms as could be obtained. If there was neither ammunition nor provision, how could a sally be attempted, to say nothing of an escape? And how could we sit down to be starved? Then the town was invested: we were all caught like rats in a trap; if we attempted to fight our way out, we should be shot down as we ran; with other arguments which savoured as much of cowardice as of prudence. His honour, who presided, listened to all, and looked from one to the other to ask his opinion. The Earl of Derwentwater, with his brother and the Highland officers, were hot for a sally, and for fighting the way out with sword and bayonet when all the powder was gone. “What!” they cried, “are we to abandon the enterprise because we are merely threatened? We are invested —— that is true; we have little powder —— that is true; let us reserve all we have to protect the rear, and cut our way in the darkness through them.” Lord Widdrington, for his part, was strong for capitulation; the rising, he said, was hopeless; the English gentlemen held aloof, or were hostile; the Earl of Carlisle, Lord Lumley, and a great many gentlemen of the north were with General Carpenter; they had been deceived with promises of support, not only from men who at the moment of action refused to come out, but also from the messengers who came and went between London and the north —— here he looked at Colonel Oxbrough. Things were bad, but they might be made worse; the business of the Prince could not be advanced by the carnage of his followers; wherefore he was for a capitulation on honourable terms. Then Lord Derwentwater spoke again. He said that he partly agreed with Lord Widdrington; their affairs were hopeless; divided counsels, as well as misrepresentation, had brought them to this pass; yet he, for one, could not think they should capitulate while they still had their swords left. His vote, therefore, was again for cutting a way through. Finally, all looked to Colonel Oxbrough, who, in his calm and quiet way, said that as regards misrepresentation, he knew of none, all the business of the Prince being carried on faithfully, as is proper among gentlemen; that he had himself been a messenger, and proved his own loyalty by casting in his lot with them; that, as to the failure in the south and west, and the silence as regards Ireland, he knew no more than anyone present; but, as to the present juncture, he was a soldier, and knew how to obey, though against his own judgment; therefore, whatever the opinion of the council, he was ready to obey again, whether it should be decided to fight or to capitulate. If to fight, many would doubtless meet with the death of a soldier; if to surrender, some would probably be hanged, some beheaded, and some pardoned, and their estates confiscated. “But,” he added, “those who die will die for the King, and those who are ruined will be ruined for his sake.”

‘Outside, and among us of the rank and file, there was now (seeing that the way of escape by Fishergate Street was at last closed by the Dragoons) only one feeling —— namely, that we should fight our way out; and hard things were said of our leaders, who had got us into this trap, out of which there was no escape, although so many roads, so that we were like crabs and lobsters in their wicker-work cages, whereinto they can creep with ease, but cannot get out again. Nevertheless, despair and determination would have made a way, I doubt not, for who would not fight if it were certain death to remain and probable death to advance? I know not what may be the clemency of King George, on which they now build so many hopes, but kings do not use to be merciful towards rebels. However, we were all resolved to fight, and when at length Colonel Oxbrough was sent to treat of surrender, the common soldiers were told, to keep them quiet, that General Willes had offered honourable terms if we would lay down our arms. The terms which he brought back were, indeed, nothing but what we had a right to expect —— namely, that we were to surrender at discretion. This, one must own, was choking to us all, after a victory such as ours. The Colonel brought back this reply, and a second message was sent by Captain Dalzell begging for time, which was granted —— namely, until seven o’clock on Monday morning, provided that no more entrenchments were thrown up and that hostages were sent. It was with a heavy heart, indeed, that I saw my Lord Derwentwater, with grave and serious countenance, ride forth with Colonel MacIntosh, as our hostages. For I understood very well that this was but the beginning of the end, and that our vaunted rising, which was to have been followed by the general voice of the whole nation, had come to a sudden and shameful end. I could not but think of all that this brave young gentleman staked upon the issue of the enterprise: his vast estates, his rank and dignity —— even his life: for, though the clemency of the King be extended to all else, can it ever include the Prince’s cousin, his playfellow, and his most intimate friend? Alas! I fear that noontide sun of splendour is veiled and eclipsed already! It is reported that when Lord Derwentwater entered the General’s tent, he sat down and said, with a sigh, that he would rather trust himself to the clemency of King George than return to an army where there was neither wisdom, agreement, obedience, nor honesty (thinking of the mischievous jealousies between Englishman and Scot). For clemency, we know not; the smaller folk may hope, but for my lord, I dare prophesy that he will smile no more upon this earth. And as for the rest of his days, they will be few indeed and full of sorrow. I know not in what reflections my comrades passed Sunday night; but for myself, I meditated continually on the nearness of death, seeing nothing but probable destruction whichever way was chosen. Why, I asked myself, did I make or meddle with the matter? For, though bound in duty to follow his honour did he order it, I was not bound to volunteer my life in the cause. Again, I said to myself, though I hoped to show gratitude by being of service, I should have known that as a common soldier I could have no say in the council —— not even private intercourse with the General. Perhaps there were others such as myself; though most seemed insensible to danger, and lay sleeping like logs all the night, and in the morning would have gone forth to fight as cheerfully as to play a bout at quarterstaff. Truly I think that most of our vaunted courage doth proceed from insensibility and lack of imagination, so that the brave soldier who marches straight to the cannon’s mouth does so because he cannot think, or picture the future, and would draw back and flinch if he could foresee the agony of his wound and the dreadful pain in which he must die. However this may be, when it became known in the morning that, after all, we were to surrender, and that after what had seemed to us a most glorious and successful action, in which they lost ten times as many men as we, and had at last to retire, the rage and disappointment of the men were terrible to witness. They ran about the streets, calling upon each other to sally forth and force a way out. Had they been led in this attempt, I am very certain that we should have got away, though with heavy loss, and perhaps have gotten in the end much advantage to the cause. But our officers were too tender for us (if not for themselves), therefore we must needs be hanged, as will doubtless happen to most, or sent to the Plantations, or die of gaol-fever —— though with regard to his honour, Miss Dorothy, we must hope for better things. The unfortunate Mr. Patten, poor wretch, will have but short shrift, I fear. I love not the man, yet I confess that his courage in coming out with us, his bravery in the action, and his present constancy under misfortune, have caused me to forgive the past.

‘The soldiers ran, I say, this way and that, distracted, and without a leader, for the officers and gentlemen, even those who were loudest to sally forth, kept within, and ventured not out to meet that roaring, maddened mob. One there was among us who ventured to use the word “surrender.” Him they shot. As for me, having designs of my own, I bellowed with the rest, and so kept a whole skin.

‘Miss Dorothy,’ he interrupted himself, crying out as if violently moved, ‘I maintain and declare that the whole business was conducted so feebly from the very beginning, when they refused to enlist the men who volunteered, to the end, when they would not even keep the bridge or sally forth and attack the enemy, whom we outnumbered by three to one, that his honour the General was right to bring it to a close. Yes, we might have made a sortie; there were still a few rounds of powder left; we might (some of us) have escaped, and the lives lost would have been counted by hundreds; and afterwards what would have been our lot, but wandering among the mountains and starving on the moors, with death for those taken prisoner, and few indeed winning their way to the Scottish army? Whereas, now, the Government may show themselves merciful. One knows not, to be sure, the fate of Lord Mar; if he be successful for a time —— for he cannot, I am sure, in the long-run —— our prisoners may meet with leniency; if Lord Mar be already defeated, which much I fear, then the fate of the prisoners may be hard. Let us not forget that their leaders gave themselves up, in the hope that the common sort might escape unharmed and free.’

It was Tom’s good heart and compassionate nature made him listen to the counsels of Lord Widdrington. He gave up himself and his friends to save the poor fellow who had followed them; there was to be no unnecessary bloodshed. I know that this is not the way in which campaigns should be conducted. Does a Marlborough when he meditates a Blenheim think with pity of the soldiers who will die in carrying out his plans? Tom was not a Marlborough, nor ought he to have been a general. Yet as for his courage, that was abundantly proved; as for his honesty, that was never doubted; as for his military genius, we must look for it in the plans proposed by Colonel Oxbrough, and if we find it not in the history of the campaign, we must remember that discord prevailed in every council, where every man regarded himself as equal to the General-in-Chief. The leaders, when there was no hope but in a great carnage, gave themselves up to save the rest. It was nobly done by them. As for King George’s clemency, we must look to the heads on Temple Bar, the scaffolds on Tower Hill, the shootings and hangings at Liverpool, Warrington, and Preston; the deaths in prison, the confiscated estates, and the long lines of wretches put on board the ships at Liverpool, and sent out to work for the rest of their days, torn from their homes, in the Plantations of Virginia and Jamaica.

Mr. Hilyard went on to finish his narrative.

‘In the midst of the confusion, one Mr. Alexander Murray, Lieutenant in Strathmore’s Regiment, being a hot-headed youth, and full of indignation against the surrender, made his way to General Forster’s quarters, where his honour sat, in melancholy mood, as may be imagined, and with him one or two gentlemen, and Mr. Patten, his chaplain. Mr. Murray carried in his hand a pistol, which no one had noticed until he burst into their midst, and crying ‘Traitor!’ levelled it at Mr. Forster’s head, and would most certainly have killed him, but that Mr. Patten struck up the pistol, and the shot went into the ceiling.

‘Quite early in the morning, almost before daylight, the Dragoons rode in. A trumpet was blown, and, all being presently drawn up in the market-place, the men were told to lay down their arms, which they did with very rueful faces, and only because they had no more ammunition, and there was no one to lead them. Thus ended our great and glorious Rebellion. I have left at Preston near 500 English gentlemen and followers and soldiers (where are all the rest —— those who promised, but came not; and those who came, but ran away?), and 1,000 Scots, of whom 150 are noblemen and gentlemen (but at least 1,000 must have got away, or gone away, before the fighting began). What they will do with all I know not. My greatest hope is that, seeing they have so many in the net, they may pardon all; but my greatest fear is that, seeing they have both small and great, they may punish all the great while they suffer the small to go free.’

‘Then, how is it,’ I asked, ‘that you, too, are not a prisoner?’

He laughed, and took another draught of the October.

‘When I perceived,’ he said, ‘how things were likely to go, I reflected that a free man is certainly more useful than a prisoner; and that, if I could be of any service to his honour (as the mouse was once of service to the lion), it could only be if I was free. Wherefore, I cast about in my mind for a way of escape. Happily, I remembered that the man in whose house I was billeted, an apothecary by trade, had already professed some kind of friendship for me because of certain recipes, secrets, and ancient mixtures, which, out of my reading in Celsus, and other learned authors, I had been able to impart to him. Therefore, before the proclamation for all to repair to the market-place was issued, I had already awakened my friend from sleep, and communicated to him my plan. It was nothing more than this, that, having first shaved my head and chin (one of the marks of our men being a bristly chin), he should give me an old second-hand full-bottomed wig, such as is worn by those apothecaries who wish to pass for learned physicians, and a blue apron, and should put me behind his own counter. This obliging man, for whom I will most certainly transcribe the Roman cure for podagra as soon as (if ever) I reach home —— that is, the Manor House —— again, most generously gave me all I wanted. Nota bene, he is a bachelor, which made the thing easier, there being no woman in his house to pry and talk, except a deaf old crone. I, therefore, became for the day his apprentice, assistant, or journeyman, serving drugs, mixing medicines, and preparing lotions, emetics, plaisters, and other things for the sick men and wounded. You may think that all this time I kept my face so screwed up, that no one, even of our own men (but they were under ward) should know me. Another service the apothecary did for me. Lord Widdrington was ill with the gout; my (supposed) master had to prescribe for him. This would give him, I thought, the chance of speaking a word to his honour.

‘The good man told me that he found his honour at the Mitre Tavern, where were also all the lords and some other of the gentlemen, the whole company greatly cast down; that, after giving Lord Widdrington his medicine, he whispered in Mr. Forster’s car (but there were no sentinels in the room to watch or guard the prisoners) that I was in his house, safely bestowed and disguised for the present, and designed to escape on the first opportunity, and that I desired to know if I could be of service to him. To this Mr. Forster replied that he knew not what could be done. “But,” he said, “bid Mr. Hilyard, as soon as he safely may, go to Lady Crewe, and inform her exactly of all the circumstances. And tell him to take care of Mistress Dorothy, my sister.”’

Thus in the hour of his greatest humiliation did my brother find a kind thought for me.

‘When the night fell,’ Mr. Hilyard went on, ‘I made haste to depart, all the more quickly because my benefactor, the apothecary, began to be uneasy lest any of the townsfolk should accuse him of harbouring a rebel. By this time the search in the houses was over, and the streets swept clear of our unlucky insurgents, who were all under lock and key, except those fortunate enough to get off, like myself. As for the Highlanders and common soldiers, they were all clapped into the parish church. But because the Dragoons were riding up and down stopping and questioning all passengers, I filled a basket with some bottles of physic, and put a little biscuit into my pocket. Thus prepared, and with my apron still tied round me, I sallied forth. Now all the roads were blocked with patrols, but I knew a way, could I reach it, where lane led to a meadow, and beyond the meadow was a ford over the river, and beyond the ford open fields. The night was dark, with sleet and rain, which helped me to pass unperceived, though in a great quaking, for, believe me, I had no great confidence in my apron should I be questioned. In a word, I got in safety to my lane, ran across the meadow, and through the river, up to the middle in the freezing water, and so into the open country. All that night I walked or ran, and towards morning found a barn, where I lay on soft straw, and slept the day through. And so I made my way here, and am once more, Miss Dorothy, if I be not taken prisoner, hopeful to serve you again.’

This was the story which Mr. Hilyard brought to me. When I had heard it throughout I sat awhile as one who is stunned with a blow upon the head, saying nothing, while Mr. Hilyard began to comfort me and himself with illustrations, taken from sacred and ancient history, of misfortunes and reverses to kings and princes, instancing Crassus, Croesus, Polyeuctes, Cato, Brutus, Cassius, Hannibal, and many other notable cases, in which fortune proved fickle. Alas! what did the violent death of Cato signify to me, who was in terror for a brother? Presently he ceased talking, and his eyes closed. He was asleep. This did not show want of feeling, for I remembered that the poor man had been walking for two nights, and was tired out.

I left him sleeping, and went to my own room, where I lay awake all night, thinking what should be done. To all my thinking there came but one gleam of hope. There was the King’s clemency. Had I known or suspected the vengeance that would be wreaked upon these unfortunate prisoners there would have been no hope left at all.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/besant/walter/dorothy-forster/chapter26.html

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