Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxx.

Lady Cowper.

Lord Cowper’s great town house was in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, at the north-west corner. I went in the morning, hoping to find there my cousin (who was now a Lady of the Chamber to the Princess of Wales) free from visitors, and more open to hear my case: and by the advice of Mr. Hilyard, who accompanied me, we hired a glass-coach for the visit, so that the impudent lacqueys and footmen should not fail to pay us the respect which they withhold whenever the outward appearance of a visitor doth not proclaim his quality and rank. Certainly, I think these London varlets are a disgrace to the manners of the City. It matters little what such gentry think of one; but it was of great importance not to be thrust aside and kept waiting in the hall among the jeers and ribaldry of this people, who are thus badly behaved because their masters do not correct them as they should. Never were, any stable-boys, for instance, better mannered than Tom’s, because he always went among them, as he went among his dogs, whip in hand.

There was a little crowd about the door, consisting partly of tradesmen waiting to see the housekeeper or her ladyship, partly of footmen in livery, and partly of persons, perhaps gentlemen, looking for the most part anxious and decayed, waiting to present petitions, or to have audience of the Lord Chancellor. Mr. Hilyard left me in the coach, and conversed for a few minutes with a great, insolent-looking fellow in my lord’s livery. I saw him put money (it was a whole guinea) into the man’s hand.

‘Tell my lady,’ he said, ‘her cousin desires to have speech with her.’

Upon this the man went away, but presently returned, and Mr. Hilyard informed me that her ladyship would see her cousin.

It was still so early that Lady Cowper was sitting in her breakfast-room, three children playing round her on the floor. I desire before everything else to testify that, though my cousin, Lady Cowper, was the wife of a great Whig Lord and Minister of State, nothing could have been kinder than her reception of me, whose brother she could not but regard as a principal cause of all the trouble, and nothing more friendly than her continued interest in my case, and thoughtful advice. At this time she was about thirty years of age, having been born at Chipwell, in Durham, in the year 1685, and was married in 1706 to Lord Cowper, then Keeper of the Great Seals (she died seven years later of a broken heart, three months after her husband, and is now, I cannot doubt, having been so good a woman, far happier than she ever hoped to be). This virtuous and amiable woman showed in her lovely face the virtues and graces with which she was so bountifully endowed. Her features were straight and regular; her eyes full and soft —— my own still shed tears, even to think of her. When I entered the room she rose and came to meet me.

‘Cousin!’ she said, giving me both her hands, ‘I have not learned your name, but I give you welcome. Sit down and tell me what is your trouble —— you have great trouble written on your face, my dear —— and how I can best help you.’

But at these kind words —— almost the first I had heard since the trouble began —— my courage gave way, and I fell into a passion of crying and sobbing. Yet I had not cried once, except with my Lord Crewe, since Mr. Hilyard brought me the dreadful news. She took my hands in hers and kissed me, crying with me, I think.

‘Tell me, my dear,’ she said presently, ‘tell me, if you can, who you are.’

‘Alas! ‘I replied, ‘I am Dorothy Forster.’

‘What?’ she said, her eyes full of compassion. ‘You are my beautiful cousin Dorothy? My dear, I have heard of you: like poor Lady Crewe, whom this trouble has killed, you could find no one good enough for you in the north, and must needs wait for a Prince. My poor child! I cannot say that I am glad to see you, for, indeed, this is a most grievous and terrible business. Yet, try to keep up your heart while we consider what may be done. In the first place, there is no hurry, we have time before us: my lord says that the trials of the Peers are certain to come first, but we cannot tell when they will come on. As for your brother Tom —— I have seen him, and I wished him to come here often, but he would never pay his court to ladies, and preferred his Jacobite coffee-house —— if he were tried to-day or to-morrow, in the present temper of the Court and the town, there can be no doubt of the sentence. You will gain by waiting. But, oh! my dear, consider his offence. He was the General of the English forces. He is not an ordinary rebel. He is as bad as the Earl of Mar or Lord Kenmure. Do not suffer him to be hopeful, but rather let him prepare for the worst. And do you, Dorothy, work your best for him meanwhile.’

Then she asked me where I was lodging, and promised to procure for me, if she could, an order to see Tom in Newgate. All visitors, except such as had permission, were as yet refused admission; but this restriction was speedily broken through in favour of those who had money wherewith to bribe the officers of the prison.

‘I know not,’ she went on, ‘what may be the mind of the King, but I am very sure that the Ministers will desire that the examples shall be as few as possible. Why, why did not Tom Forster follow the example of so many others, and escape by the way?’

I knew not that any escaped on the way.

‘I suppose,’ I replied, ‘that his honour was concerned. Others might run away, but not the General who surrendered.’

‘Nay, but the King’s honour is not concerned in granting a pardon to the leaders. Yet it is early to talk of these things. Now, child, come to see me often: this week I am in waiting: I have told the Princess already that poor Tom is my cousin: but of course she can do nothing —— yet. My dear, he should have escaped. Oh! they should all have escaped! I have no patience with the punctilio of men who led so crazy an enterprise. Why, if the threatened end were not so terrible, they would all be the laughing-stock of the country. Dorothy, my dear Dorothy, why did you let them do it?’

‘Indeed,’ I said, ‘we believed what we were told: and, alas! the women were worse than the men. We were told —— Colonel Oxbrough and Captain Gascoigne said so —— that the whole country was with us: the army would mutiny: the people would rally round us —— what did they not say?’

‘As for these agitators, at least,’ said Lady Cowper gravely, ‘I trust that full justice will be done.’

‘Yet all the way to London,’ I told her, ‘we heard nothing but curses on the Prince and all his party, and the Pope. Not once in all that long ride did we find a man who prayed for his return.’

Then she asked me how I came to London, and when she heard that it was on horseback, through all the dreadful weather, she threw up her hands in wonder.

‘Is there any,’ she cried, ‘but a brave Northumberland girl who would take such a ride? But who came with you, Dorothy?’

Should I tell? Yet I knew she would not betray me.

‘My brother’s steward; formerly his tutor —— Mr. Hilyard. Oh! Lady Cowper, hush! let me whisper. He, too, was with them, but he escaped. To bring me to London he dressed himself like a blacksmith, and me like a country-wench. Now he waits for me at your door, disguised as a grave physician. I have placed his life in your hands! But, without him, I am helpless indeed.’

‘His life is safe with me, my child; but I would willingly converse with a rebel who thus puts his head in the lion’s mouth.’

She rang a hand-bell, and ordered a footman to bring to her the gentleman who was waiting for me.

Mr. Hilyard came, wearing a face of the greatest importance and learning.

‘Pray, sir,’ said Lady Cowper, ‘pardon me. I am anxious concerning my cousin’s health. She hath suffered great weariness of body and trouble of mind of late. Your learned counsel, I trust, will not be wanting in the case. You are doubtless a Member of the College of Physicians.’

‘I had the honour of studying medicine, my lady, at the renowned University of Leyden,’ he replied, without a blush, though the falsehood was so great.

‘Would you be willing to take counsel with my own physician? I find my cousin’s cheek pale, and her colour comes and goes. These are signs which should not be neglected.’

‘Most willingly, madam, will I consult with your physician. But your ladyship need be under no pain in Miss Dorothy’s case. She suffers from that complaint for which the ancients did worship Angerona Dea, videlicet, Fear: but in her case it is fear on account of others. It is a disorder which affects the brains only of the more noble (the Muses, for example, are said to be melancholy because their followers are poor). For the remedy of this disorder there is, first, the removal of the cause, so that the liberation of his honour, Mr. Thomas Forster the younger, and that of the Earl of Derwentwater, will, I pledge my professional skill, leave this lady as comely of face and as cheerful of aspect as before. But if that may not yet be done, I would prescribe hope, the promise of her friends to help, daily prayer, and certain precepts of philosophy, with the use of herbs, such as betony, a sprig of marigold always in her broth, and the flowers of Carduus benedictus. Other simples there are, with which I will not weary your ladyship.’

‘Indeed, sir, my cousin is fortunate in having so learned a physician.’

She smiled as she said this, but Mr. Hilyard bowed low, puffing out his cheeks, and looking so learned and skilful a physician that even I was almost deceived.

Then she dismissed me, promising faithfully to keep my case in mind, and to say what she could to help.

‘Do not forget, however,’ she added, ‘that I have the chief of my own family, Mr. Clavering of Callalee, in Newgate, with many other friends and cousins. To think that the poor old gentleman, now over seventy, should have thought to take up arms. Yet, like Tom Forster and all the rest, his estates are almost ruined by free hospitality and feasting. Yes, I know, Lady Crewe would have given all back to Tom, and so the Forsters of Bamborough might have begun again in greater wealth and state than before. It was her dream, poor lady; and foolish Tom must needs break it to pieces and kill the dreamer. Why, I know not, except that he hoped to repair his fortunes by another and quicker way, yet full of danger. Well; drink, feasting, horse-racing and sport, have ruined more Northumberland gentlemen of late than all the Scots across the Border in the good old days. Farewell, brave child! We must do our best to remove the cause, most learned sir, of my cousin’s sick looks, and then we shall want neither betony, nor marigold, nor —— nor the other remedy —— what was it?’

‘That most noble and sovereign herb, my lady, called Carduus benedictus.’

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