Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxvii.

To London.

‘It is certain,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘that the lords and the chiefs will be taken to London, there to be tried for high treason. I heard that it was already decided from two King’s officers, who came to the shop for a plaister on Monday afternoon.’

This made me think that, if one were to help Tom, it must be in London, and I presently resolved that somehow I would get me thither. To be sure, it was a great journey for a woman to undertake, and that in winter. But it must be done. Mr. Hilyard was going to Stene. I would go with him so far; after that by myself, if necessary, or under such charge as Lady Crewe would assign to me, and to such a house as she would recommend to me. On this I quickly resolved, and was determined. As for Lord Crewe’s help, on that I built little, because it needed not a politician to perceive that one of his lordship’s history and known opinions would have small interest in a Whig Court. Yet when a man is so highly placed he must have friends, cousins, and old acquaintances on both sides. ‘Add to this,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘that to-day my turn; to-morrow yours! The great Whig Lords are not too certain of their seats.’

When, however, I told Mr. Hilyard that I was resolved to go, I had the greatest trouble with him. For, first, he maintained stiffly that it would be impossible to take me with him on account of the weather, it being already the middle of November, the days growing short, and the roads so heavy that no one could expect the coach or any waggons would run. Moreover, there had already fallen so great a depth of snow as I have never seen since, insomuch that Hexham Moor was four or five feet deep in it, and in the drifts much deeper. No one, he said, ought to travel in such weather but those who are young, strong, and fear not the cold. I replied that I was both strong and young, and fearless of cold. Next, as to other dangers, he was himself well known in these parts as having been in the service of Mr. Forster, both the elder and the younger, for fifteen years; during that time having met with many people and made many acquaintances. It also was very well known that he went out with his patron. This being so, what if he were arrested and imprisoned, and I left alone on the road? I replied that such a thing would be most dreadful, and must therefore be guarded against by some disguise, the nature of which I would leave to his invention. ‘Why,’ he said, smiling, ‘as to that, I doubt not that I could dress up so as to defy them all; but there is also yourself. Will it be wise, think you, men’s minds being in a tumult, to proclaim aloud that Miss Dorothy Forster, sister of General Forster, is going to London in order to get off her brother, if she can in any way prevail? There must be disguise for you, as well as for me, if you will go.’

‘Indeed I shall go,’ I replied; ‘nothing else will content me. And I trust to you to bring me safe to town; disguise me as you will. Why, Mr. Hilyard, who is there to work for Tom but myself?’

‘There is Lady Crewe,’ he said. ‘And, truly, I know not what you could do in London.’

‘Yes, Mr. Hilyard; by your leave I could be doing something. I could see Tom, and do what is told me. Surely he has friends in London.’

‘Surely he has; but I fear that they are all on the wrong side, like Lady Crewe herself. Have you no cousins among the Whigs?’

Cousins I had, plenty as blackberries, but all were honest Tories. Stay, there was one; but I had never seen her. She was Mary Clavering, who made a great match, and married Lord Cowper.

‘Lord Cowper? Lord Cowper?’ cried Mr. Hilyard. ‘Why, he is Lord Chancellor. If Lady Cowper is your cousin, the business is as good as done. But yet, I know not. She cannot ask for many; and there is Mr. Clavering of Callalee a prisoner. Still, there is one friend at Court for us. If he only had the money (but perhaps his honour’s friends in London will find that) to grease a few palms, I should not despair. Miss Dorothy, if you are brave, and feel strong enough, come to London with me, in the name of God.’

Then he began to plan disguises; and first he thought he would become a clergyman, and I his daughter —— then he walked about, puffing his cheeks and smacking his protruded lips, like one of those reverend gentlemen who think too much of the fleshpots and the flask. (While thus acting, he looked for all the world as if he wore a cassock.) But that plan pleased him not, on consideration, because he remembered that it is a long way to London, that accidents might happen on the road, and he be called upon to read the service appointed for the sick, to console and fortify the dying, even to administer the Holy Sacrament, which would be a most dreadful and unpardonable sin; and yet, if he refused, he must needs confess the cheat, and so be haled to prison, or whipped out of the town as a rogue, and very likely I with him. No; that would not do. Then he thought that he would be a physician, and his face became long, and he carried his nose in the air, and one seemed to perceive the smell of drugs, as is generally the case with these gentry.

‘Why,’ he said, ‘truly, I am already somewhat skilled in medicine, having once, when young, read for curiosity the works of Celsus, Galen, and Avicenna, and could easily pass for a physician until I fell in with a brother of the mystery, when, for lack of the current coin of speech and the jargon of the trade, every craft having its own manner of speech, I should certainly be discovered.’

Then he laughed, for a new idea occurred to him, and he begged me to excuse him for a few minutes. So he left the room. Presently a step outside and a knock at the door. Wonderful is the power of a mime! It is needless to say that I knew Mr. Hilyard under his disguise, but I also knew, which is much more to the point, for whom he wished to be taken. There is in the village of Bamborough an honest blacksmith named John Purdy, of as old a family as our own, because if we have been Forsters of Etherston from time immemorial, the Purdys have been village blacksmiths for as long (one of them joined the insurgents at Kendal for no other reason than because Mr. Tom was the General, and afterwards for his trouble got sent to Virginia, where he presently was set free, and is now doing well). John Purdy was a man of forty, short and square built, who went lame by reason of an accident in his ‘prentice days. He wore a handkerchief tied round his head, and over that a great flapping hat, and in his hand always a stout ashen staff. Such as he was, so was Mr. Hilyard —— a simple tradesman, honest to look at, and not ashamed of himself, knowing his duty to his betters. Why, Mr. Hilyard looked almost too much of a village blacksmith. He had no occasion to carry a hammer; there was across his face a grimy stain of oil or grease; his hands were rusty with iron stains; his flapping hat was over the red handkerchief; his neck was wrapped in wool.

‘Will this do, Miss Dorothy?’ he asked with pride; and as he spoke his face became square like the face of John Purdy, his mouth set firm, and his nose long and straight. ‘Will this do? I am now a North-country blacksmith; I am going to Durham to seek for work with my sister, who is a handy girl, knows her place, and is respectful to her betters. At Durham we shall be going to Newcastle, at Newcastle to York, and at York to London. It is a truly admirable disguise. I am safe, unless they ask me to make a horseshoe.’

His spirits, which had been desponding, rallied again at the prospect of riding to London and play-acting all the way.

I asked him when the prisoners might be expected to arrive in London.

‘Justice,’ he said, ‘is not only blind, but lame. That is why she goeth so slowly. But I see no reason why the prisoners should be kept at Preston. They will ride by easy stages, perhaps ten or twelve miles a day; and it is three hundred miles or so. If I were his honour or Lord Derwentwater, I would try whether a clean pair of heels would not be more to the purpose than Court influence.’

‘But suppose they are too well guarded.’

He laughed.

‘You cannot,’ he said, ‘guard a man who resolves to escape, and hath the wit. Oh Lord! everything is possible to him who hath the wit.’

‘Then, Mr. Hilyard, why have not you become a rich man?’

He might have replied that it was partly out of his fidelity to me and to mine; otherwise, had so ingenious a gentleman gone to London, he must, surely, have acquired great fame and riches.

We set off on our journey the next morning, in a terrible gale of wind and snow, through which nothing could have kept me up but a terror worse than that of a driving wind across a bleak moor. I had with me in my pocket all the money that I could find, amounting in all to no more than twenty-four guineas. I also tied up, in as small a parcel as I could make it, some of my fine things which I might want in London. These Mr. Hilyard made into a pack. He was dressed in a long brown coat of frieze, with long sleeves, which covered his hands as well as gloves might have done, and was, besides, muffled up about the neck and chin, so that certainly no one, with his flapping hat and his limp, would have recognised him. As for me, I was dressed like any plain village girl, with a hood and thick flannel petticoats. We were to ride the same horse (but that a good stout nag, easily able to carry both), I on pillion behind Mr. Hilyard; but the way was so bad, and the snow so deep, that I do not think the poor man rode fifty miles out of all the way between Blanchland and London. Often we both walked, one each side the poor creature, who picked his way slowly in the deep snow, and sank sometimes up to the girth.

‘If we may believe in the intervention of Heaven,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘we might own that the wrath of the Lord is poured out upon us, for our Rebellion against the Protestant Succession, in snow and sleet, storm and rain.’

‘And yet,’ I replied, ‘there be many thousands in England who have not joined in the Rebellion: and for them, too, are the storm and snow.’

‘Yes; and David alone counted the people, yet the people perished.’

Every day, and all day long, Sundays included, we continued our journey in such a winter as I hope never to see again. On the road we were in little danger: footpads would not attack a pair of poor country people: no one was likely to recognise either of us: the danger and the inconvenience were in the evening, when we had to find the rudest lodgings, avoiding the inns, unless we were compelled to go to them; and then Mr. Hilyard would be in terror lest some one should offer a rudeness to me, whereby he would have to fight and create a disturbance, and be taken before a justice; and I in terror lest he should be carried away by his vanity, and begin to sing and to show his gifts and parts. But neither of these things happened. For myself, as soon as I had a bed, or a part of a bed, given to me (which was always among the maids and servants, as suited my pretended condition), I would go there and sit down, and to bed early, while the rest, men and women together, sat round the fire, my blacksmith being thought a surly fellow, who spoke little, though he was willing to drink with any who offered.

Once the night fell before we found a resting-house, and we lost our way. Then, indeed, my brave companion and trusty friend, who had kept me in heart by his own courage, seemed to lose his courage suddenly.

‘Alas!’ he said, when I reproved him gently, ‘I know of dangers whereof you know nothing. We are now warm and not yet hungry, but we shall presently become chilled with the terrible wind, and we shall grow hungry, and we shall yawn and feel a desire to fall asleep. But, mark you, if we fall asleep we shall die. Wherefore, if you see me growing sleepy or heavy, prick me sharply with a pin; and if you so much as yawn, think it not strange if I shake you by the shoulders. It is related in Olaus Magnus how a company of sailors, going a-fishing about the North Cape (where live the little Lapps, and there are terrible sorcerers and magicians), were overtaken by a storm of wind and snow, and so lost their way, and presently fell a-yawning and so all to sleep save one, who kept himself awake with deep stabs and cuts of a knife, causing sore pains; so that if his eyelids fell, for mere smart he was sure to open them again —— and so was at last picked up and recovered. But his companions sleep still, where they lie covered with snow and ice, and so will lie till the Day of Judgment. Miss Dorothy, ’tis an awful tale! Prick me sharply, I pray you, if I so much as offer to yawn.’

The wind blew too cold in our faces for me, at least, to feel sleepy, or to think of yawning. But it was late, and the road grew worse, and I knew not whither we might be going.

The poor tired nag was stumbling now, and both of us at his head. There seemed no vestige of a road. The landscape on either hand, for it was a champaign country, lay stretched out white, covered with snow. The clouds had cleared away, and the moon was out; but not a barn, or a farmhouse, or a cottage in which we could seek for so much as a shelter in the straw. We plodded on, the horse lifting his feet with difficulty, and Mr. Hilyard, now in a kind of despair, begging me from time to time not to yawn, and to have a long pin ready.

Suddenly we saw before us a light, or lights.

‘Is it a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ I said. ‘Or it may be a fairy light. Sure nothing human could be out on such a night, except ourselves.’

‘I know not what it is,’ he said; ‘but I have two loaded pistols in the holsters, and, by your leave, I will have them in readiness: and there is also my cudgel, but I hope I shall not have to use it. Miss Dorothy, forgive me for letting you come with me on this wild-goose chase. I have lost my patron, who will most surely be hanged, and drawn, and quartered; and now I have lost my mistress too. Robbed and murdered shall we surely be; but not you, believe me —— not before they have first killed me.’

He was cold and faint for want of food, which made him afraid; but yet he was resolved to sell our lives dear. We cautiously advanced in the direction of the lights, which were not flickering, like goblin fires, but steady. I walked beside him, leading the horse. When, presently, we came to the spot, we discovered that the lights came from three or four great covered carts, such as gipsies use. Mr. Hilyard shouted aloud for joy.

‘We are safe now,’ he said; ‘these people are true Romany.’

It is truly wonderful to relate that these outcasts, whom the world regards with so much scorn, who have no knowledge at all of religion, duty, or morals, who live by pilfering and plundering, who, when caught loitering in a town, are whipped and clapped in the stocks, received us with the greatest kindness as soon as they discovered that Mr. Hilyard could talk to them in their own language.

The women took off my cold and wet stockings and shoes, bathed my feet in hot water, brought me a pannikin of hot broth made with I know not what meats, but comforting; and then, because I was no longer able to hold up my head, they made me a bed of blankets on the floor of a cart, and so I slept till morning. Mr. Hilyard, I learned afterwards, was not so weary but he could sit up and feast and drink whisky with them, and talk to them in their own tongue, so that they took him for one of themselves, only disguised for sinful purposes of his own.

We parted from these humble friends with gratitude. I have never seen them since, but for their sake I regard this unhappy race of wanderers with compassion, and never see a caravan or a camp without giving something to the women, and a word of counsel, which I doubt is thrown away unto the men.

‘I have heard news,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘These people were, it seems, following the army when, like a mad dog which hath no purpose, we marched up and down the Border. They picked up all the things which we threw away or left behind, and now have stored up, against the time when they can find a market, a great quantity of guns and pikes gathered on the ground after each day’s camp. Some of them came into Preston with us, but scowered, like me, after the surrender; some stayed with the enemy. One of them was sent by Lord Derwentwater to Dilston. The Countess instantly put together all the papers she could find, and gave them in charge to one of the cottagers whom she can trust. Then, with her children, she started for London.’

Alas! those tender children!

‘Lady Nithsdale,’ he went on, ‘is also upon the road. Heavens! it makes one’s heart to bleed only to think of the anxious ladies who are toiling along this dreadful road amid these pitiless snows; and of the innocent children who will be robbed of their inheritance —— and for what —— for what? Will there ever come a time when mankind will cease to bring ruin, death, and misery upon their heads for the sake of princes —— yea, and of princes who deserve nothing at their hands but contempt and deposition?’

He then began to harangue upon the wickedness, the tyranny, and the cruelty of kings from Nero to Louis le Grand; I think that his discourse lasted the whole day, and that he omitted no particulars of royal crimes. As to his charges against kings and sovereign princes I have nothing to say, except that we must take into account the fact that they are but men, and exposed to great temptations. Perhaps some day the world may happen upon a race of virtuous princes, in answer to the prayers which loyal people so continually send up to the Throne. But to rail at kings as if we could do without them is to rail at a Divinely-appointed institution, and, therefore, hath in it something of blasphemy, for which I rebuked this too daring speaker. But he laughed, asking what I knew of Divine Right. Now, when you ask a woman concerning the foundations of her faith, you put a question which she cannot answer, because she must needs believe what she has been taught. But if there were to be no kings, what would become of the virtue of loyalty, and for what purpose was it implanted in the heart of man? Strange that so good a Tory as Mr. Hilyard had always been in Northumberland, should become every day, the nearer we got to London, more of a Whig!

I think, however, that Mr. Hilyard’s peevishness about kings sprang from the bitter weather, which made his nose so blue and his hands so cold that he must needs find vent in ill-temper against something. Surely there never was so cold a winter or such dreadful weather for those poor ladies who, like myself, were travelling up to London on behalf of the prisoners. When we reached York, after six days of the greatest hardships that I ever endured, I was fain get to bed, and stayed there from Saturday afternoon till Monday morning. Here Mr. Hilyard resolved to put aside the Northumbrian way of speech, and became a Yorkshireman. No one, however, suspected us or asked any questions; nor was any insult offered to me, as Mr. Hilyard feared might happen. I think, for my own part, that the common sort of English, everywhere, as well as in Northumberland, though rude and rough, do not insult women. This savage vice is reserved for gentlemen; not the meaner sort of men, but those who scower the streets at night, and intercept solitary passengers in unfrequented parts.

At York Mr. Hilyard cast about for a waggon which might be going to London, but there was none; the weather being so bad that no cart or waggon could take the road. While we were there Mr. Hilyard learned that the unfortunate Countess of Nithsdale, going up to London on the same errand as ourselves, would not stay for the weather to break, and the coach to start, but was riding on with all speed.

‘She is a great lady,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘daughter of Lord Powis, whom King James at St. Germain’s made a duke; one of her sisters is the wife of Lord Montague; she hath cousins on both sides, yet I doubt if they will avail her aught.’

‘If she have so many cousins,’ I said, ‘and yet cannot wait for the weather to break, how much more should I push on, who have so few to help!’

He made no objection to this, and we left York the next morning, though the snow was still so deep that not only the stage, but even the post was stopped. But there was one happiness, that the road grows easier and smoother with every mile that one gets nearer London, and there are many more inns of all kinds, especially of those frequented by cattle-drovers, waggoners, carters, carriers, and handicraftsmen going from town to town upon the way; therefore suitable for a blacksmith going to London looking for work, with his sister looking for respectable service. These places were rough, and the food was coarse, like the talk; yet they were safe for us. Now I remarked, not once or twice, but everywhere along the road, that the common people, who talked about nothing but the Rebellion, were one and all hot for the Protestant Succession. I heard it everywhere declared that the intention of the Prince was to introduce the Pope and the Roman religion, with the Inquisition, the rack, stake, thumb-screw, and all the tortures of which they had heard. As soon as he was firmly on the throne all good Protestants would be sent to the flames, after having their limbs cruelly racked and twisted. I know not what may have been the opinions of the country gentlefolk, but as regards the common country people there could be no doubt whatever on this point. Nothing could be held in greater abhorrence by them than a Popish sovereign. I shuddered, too, at their bloodthirstiness.The gallows was too good for such traitors and villains as Lord Derwentwater and General Forster; the most exquisite tortures should be prepared for them, every man loudly expressing his willingness to administer them, so that it was shocking to hear them talk. And then most pious ejaculations for the safety of Mother Church interlarded with the most desperately profane oaths! Mr. Hilyard seemed to take a pleasure in encouraging this cruel and sanguinary talk; and, when I reproached him with it, excused himself partly on the ground that he dared not even be suspected of Jacobite principles, lest all should be discovered, and therefore he fell in with their mood; and next, that many of those who were loudest in their talk were, he thought, secretly on the Prince’s side, but afraid of betraying themselves, and that it amused him to watch their anxiety to seem on the safe side. ‘But,’ he said, ‘doth not this show the madness of our late attempt? What is it like —— and on which side —— the voice of the country of which we have heard so much? Where are those hearts which were said to be beating for the Prince?’

He could not contain his indignation and wrath at the folly which had plunged us all in such misery, but inveighed without ceasing at the cruelty and recklessness of those in London who caused the whole business. But when he perceived that his words sank so deep in my heart, that I was falling into a kind of melancholy or despair, he changed the talk, and would speak no more in this gloomy way of the rising or its consequences. On the contrary, he assumed the bearing and manner of one who is on a pleasant journey. Though each step was in three feet of snow, and we made no more, but sometimes much less, than two miles in an hour, he laughed and sang as he went, insomuch that I should have thought him wanting in sensibility had I not perceived that he was playing a part in order to divert my thoughts. And always —— can I ever be sufficiently grateful to him, or pray earnestly enough for his spiritual and temporal good? —— careful for such comfort and alleviation as he could procure for me, bargaining when we stopped for a good bed for me, and if possible a bed in a room by myself with no other women, because these were sometimes rough and rude; and at York he bought a great soft rug, which he tied upon the saddle in such a way that he could fold it over and wrap my feet, which before had been almost frozen. He carried with him always a bottle of cordial, or strong waters, with which to refresh me (and himself also) when I was faint. As for the fatigue of the journey, that had to be borne with patience, but the suffering —— nay, the torture —— he endured for himself without repining, though he relieved it for me. Truth to say, it was a fearful journey; for the sun never once showed his face, nor did the snow cease falling, or the frost cease to continue, or the cold wind of the north to change. All the towns were alike, and every village a copy of the village we passed two hours before —— covered up with deep drifts of snow; so that not only did it seem to me as if I must spend the rest of my life in plodding through the snow, but as if I had never done anything else, the former part of it having been a dream. Further, I could not but feel, which Mr. Hilyard had put into my mind, as if Heaven itself was showing its displeasure at our enterprise. Could the Lord, after all, be on the side of an Usurper? If so, where was the Right Divine of which we had been told so much?

‘It is by travelling,’ said Mr. Hilyard cheerfully, diverting my thoughts, and pretending to enjoy the journey, ‘that we learn the world and watch the manners of men. I have always envied the great travellers of whom we read. Herodotus, Ulysses, Marcus Polus Venetus, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and others, though none of them, I think, had worse weather and worse roads than we. Therefore it is the greater merit to bear up cheerfully and keep a brave heart as you do, Miss Dorothy’—— here I lifted my head and pushed back my hood a little. Alas! the same falling of the snow, the same drifts against the trunks, the boughs drooping with the weight —— when would this journey end? ‘Like them,’ Mr. Hilyard continued, ‘I would take ship and sail for distant islands, and resolve the many doubts which beset those who would construct the mappa mundi. Perhaps upon the way I should encounter Elias Artifex, the Wandering Jew, who must be by this time an accomplished geographer. Then I would learn whether there be a high rock of loadstone, or whether it be the pole star which causeth the compass to point one way; where is the kingdom of Prester John; whether the story of the great bird Rucke in Madagascar is true, and if he can of a verity carry an elephant; what is the cause of the Nile’s annual rising, what of the currents in the Atlantic; what is the outlet of the Caspian Sea; whether Mount Caucasus be higher than the Pico of Teneriffe; whither go the birds in winter, and if it be true that in Muscovy is a race of men who sleep all the winter like dormice; where was the site of the earthly Paradise —— with many other great and important questions not to be solved except by travelling to those places.’

And so on, talking continually, and forcing me to listen, lest perchance I might fall into that kind of stupor of which during those days he was very much afraid.

In a word, it was the most frightful journey ever woman undertook. Even now, I dream of it sometimes —— and in my waking moments it seems to have been a dream —— and always along that white, silent and terrible road, there was present before my eyes the vision of a scaffold and a block, with the glittering steel of the axe, and in my mind the story of that Israelitish woman who spread sackcloth upon the rock, and watched there day and night, so that neither the beasts of the field nor the fowls of the air should touch the hanging corpses of her sons.

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