Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxxi.

The Unfortunate Mr. Paul.

In three or four days Lady Cowper sent for me again to visit her in the morning. She had to tell me that I might now visit my brother in Newgate, for they suffered as many as pleased to visit the prisoners. But that as for the physician, my friend ——‘Child,’ she said, smiling, ‘you ought not to have told me. Pray forget that I have the man’s secret. Yet was I glad to have seen and conversed with a creature so honest and so faithful. Doth he ask no reward for his services?’

How could he, seeing I had nothing in the world to give him, nor had Tom neither? And the upshot of the whole business to him would be little short of ruin, seeing that his occupation was gone. Lady Crewe dead; Tom, if pardoned or reprieved, probably without any means; I powerless to help; his own youth gone (he was now at least thirty-seven) —— what would the poor man do in this hard world to get him a living?

‘Nay,’ said Lady Cowper; ‘a gentleman of his gifts can never starve, though it be long before he finds another patron like Tom, and another place to suit his genius so well as the one now in jeopardy. But, my dear, caution him carefully that he go not near Newgate yet, permission or not. Listen: it is whispered that the evidence against the prisoners will be found in the prison itself —— I mean, cousin, that wherever there are conspirators there are traitors; and when it comes to danger for the neck, honour and faith have but a poor chance. Ask me no questions, my dear. None of the gentlemen, our cousins, we may be sure, would consent to save their lives by such villainy. I only warn thee. There may be informers to turn King’s evidence. This physician —— whoever he may be —— lord! I have no memory —— if you even told me, I have clean and altogether forgotten where he comes from —— Leyden was it, or Muscovy? —— let him not venture within those walls; and, if he value his learned neck, bid him go no more abroad in the streets than is necessary, and if he can disguise his face, let him do so. Informers have one fault: they will still be showing zeal; and, perhaps, to secure a rebel at large might be thought by them more praiseworthy than to convict a rebel in prison. As for Tom,’ she went on, ‘if he is tried, make him plead guilty. It is his only chance —— since he missed the chance of running away on the road. My dear, if Lady Crewe were living, he certainly would never be tried at all.’

She said this with so much meaning, that one could not but understand her.

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘Lord Crewe might be willing to do for his wife’s nephew what his wife would have done, had she lived.’

She smiled, and looked as if she would like to know more. Then she said:

‘If that is so, cousin, keep thy secret carefully. Tell me no more; or if you do tell me, forget that you have told me. But best not. Has anything yet been done? But do not tell me. A woman whose husband is the Lord Chancellor must not know these things. Yet my memory is very short. Oh! cousin, tell me or not, as seems you best; but, my dear, be prudent. Do not hurry, yet waste no time.’

I told her, then, after reminding her that my brother’s life depended on her secrecy, that nothing was yet done, but that we had command of a vast great sum of money, and Mr. Hilyard was engaged in devising a plan which should be safe and expeditious.

‘Mr. Hilyard,’ she said, ‘may be an ingenious man; but in such a case as this an ounce of woman’s wit, I take it, is worth a pound of man’s. No doubt he could tell us how men have broken prison since the first prison-house was erected by some Greek king; that is the way men cheat us, and because they know history, they think they can do everything; here, however, is no case for the boring of holes through the wall. Remember, my dear, the old story of Jupiter when he was in love, and how he got into the tower of the nymph. You know the pretty, naughty fable? By a shower of gold, my dear. Take your shower of gold in your own hand and try. Alas! how one’s tongue carries one away! What has the wife of the Lord Chancellor to do with showers of gold and Greek damsels? Yet, my cousin, I would to heaven that Tom was gotten clean away! I told the Princess of your long march to London through the snow and frost, and she wept. Do you think your Prince would have wept?’

Now this talk set me a-thinking. For Mr. Hilyard was all in the clouds with his great plans, and talked sometimes as if he was about to raise an army, or to besiege Newgate; and at other times as if he was inventing the plot of some mighty drama, in which the right people always came on the stage at the right time. Yet these vast projects were, I suppose, but the preliminaries to some more practical scheme. As for what I thought and what I attempted, you shall hear presently.

When I repeated to Mr. Hilyard some of this conversation, and especially that part of it which related to King’s evidence, he fell into so violent a wrath that I thought he would have had some sort of fit. For, surely, he declared, there can be no more dreadful wickedness than thus to betray the men with whom you have sworn fidelity. We wrote out lists, so far as we knew them, of all the prisoners brought to London, and we could think of none capable of playing so mean, so treacherous, so contemptible a part. Yet we could not choose but take Lady Cowper’s warning seriously, and Mr. Hilyard, with grave face, promised to run no risks that he could avoid.

In spite of his promise he presently fell into so great a danger that he got a terrible fright, and for some time lost confidence in his disguise, and would not venture abroad until nightfall. The way of it was this. Some prisoners being brought to London from Scotland, he must needs, being assured, in his own conceit, against recognition, go stand with the crowd outside the gates of Newgate to see them enter. It was mostly a Jacobite crowd, collected to cheer the unhappy men, but there were Whigs among them. Now, as Mr. Hilyard, in his sober physician’s dress, stood among the rest, some one tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned and saw that it was no other than the Reverend Mr. William Paul, the clergyman who joined the rebels in Lancashire, and escaped through having been sent away with letters. He had put off his cassock, and now, dressed like a plain citizen of London, was come to see the dismal show.

‘Ho! brother,’ he whispered. ‘Do you not know me? Let us go drink a glass together.’

‘What!’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘It is Mr. Paul! Did you recognise me in this disguise?’

‘Recognise you? Of course I did, for all your great wig and your sober looks.’

While they were thus conversing there stepped from the doors of the prison an officer armed with a truncheon, who laid his hand upon the unfortunate Mr. Paul’s shoulder.

‘In the King’s name!’ he said, ‘I have a warrant to arrest the body of the Reverend William Paul.’

So saying, though the crowd pushed to and fro, and groaned, none dared attempt a rescue, and in a moment the poor man was haled within the prison-doors. (He was one of those afterwards executed.) You may be sure that Mr. Hilyard was not long in retreating, and for a few days he did not dare so much as to come to my lodgings.

I thought continually of Lady Cowper’s words concerning woman’s wit, but came not for a long while into any reasonable way of following her advice, for no other cause, I verily believe, than that I could not at all understand how to spend the twenty thousand pounds which Lord Crewe was ready to give us. When, however, I began to go to Newgate (of which I will tell immediately), I distinguished a turnkey or officer who belonged especially to the Governor’s house; and, partly at first in the hope that to conciliate this fellow might soften Tom’s lot in prison, I began to give him money.

He was a cunning-looking rascal, about fifty-five years of age, with a, foxy face and red twinkling eyes, which from the first followed me about as if I seemed likely to offer bribes. His fingers were curly from the taking of fees, while as for pity towards the poor unfortunate people in ward, his heart, I am sure, was nothing in the world but a lump of stone; he looked on every prisoner as worth so many guineas, and lamented the execution of a profitable criminal much as a physician laments the death of a profitable patient. Finding how greedy he was, and keen after money, I began to consider if I could not use him for some more considerable purpose than a careful attention to Tom, for whom, as he had his own man with him, he could do but little, even if he desired. Therefore I increased my gifts, dropping each day something handsome into his palm, and pretending to be grateful for his (supposed) kindness to my brother.

‘Such goodness,’ I said to him, ‘deserves a better reward, which it shall certainly obtain if the General steps out of prison. To be sure, if one were to find a willing and a friendly heart, that were easy. Ah! how gladly would one reward such a person! Think of it, Mr. Jonas!’ That was his name.

He grinned and nodded, and said he should not forget what I had said. Then every day that he saw me he would look at me inquiringly, as if to wonder why I did not use his services; and if he got a chance of speaking to me unheard, he would whisper:

‘A friendly and a willing heart, your ladyship.’

This was all my secret. While Mr. Hilyard was concocting great schemes and plots, I was simply trying whether a common servant of the gaol would not do the business for us just as well as if we were to set agoing the whole machinery of a five-act comedy with Spanish intrigues and French surprises.

And as for this fellow, it was perfectly plain to me that, though perhaps he might play me false in the end, he was willing to open his ears wide at the mere mention of the words ‘reward’ or ‘bribe.’ Therefore I kept him on and off, saying nothing more at the time, but waiting for a favourable opportunity.

The time was not yet ripe, for outside, not only in London, but over the whole country, there was such an uproar that one would have thought it was nothing less than the defeat of the Spanish Armada, instead of a handful of their own misguided countrymen rising inopportunely in a righteous cause. The bells of the City churches were kept a-clanging; bands of men paraded the streets with favours, shouting and challenging the Jacks to come forth and show themselves; there was fighting, drinking, profane swearing, lighting of bonfires, and brandishing of warming-pans all day long, and, I dare say, all night as well. As for me, I saw little of it; but once, going to the prison in a coach, we were stopped by a dozen half-drunken men, who pressed round the doors, swearing that I must drink King George’s health, or kiss them all. So I drank to the King, wishing in secret that it might choke his majesty, and they laughed and bade the coachman drive on. Why, what a poor cause that must be which wants such swaggerers and drunken reprobates to defend it! The hatred of the people against us was kept up, and aggravated as well, by the sermons of the London clergymen, especially in Nonconformist chapels; and, above all, by the Whig papers, which continually hurled dirt at the unfortunate prisoners and the cause for which they suffered. Lady Cowper bade me pay no heed to these things, because, she said, nobody regards what the journals say. Yet it was dreadful to read the things that were written about the wives and friends of the prisoners. We were assailed as tigresses —— but, indeed, I cannot repeat what they said; they also pleased themselves by enumerating the possessions and country seats of the rebels, which they confiscated, sold, and distributed long before the prisoners were tried at all. And they would not so much as listen to a word of mercy.

The first time I went to Newgate, it was expecting nothing short of underground dungeons, chains, gloom, and misery. Yet when I was admitted, the warden (no other than this same Jonas), after taking my name, and telling me that the General was lying in the Governor’s house with a few other gentlemen, led the way to a large and comfortable room on the first floor, which was his chamber. The only inconvenience about the room was that it served as bedroom, dining-room, and parlour all in one. There was no clank of chains, and nothing to remind one that it was a prison, save the feeling that between the house and the street was an ante-room, with turnkeys and a strong door.

It was in the forenoon; Tom was sitting beside a bright coal-fire, his wig and hat lying on the bed, and his head in a warm linen nightcap. Opposite to him sat Mr. Patten, and both were smoking tobacco, early as it was. But they were silent, and they looked sad. As for the chaplain, who had made so brave a show riding among the prisoners, he was now pale of cheek and heavy of eye.

‘Dorothy!’ cried Tom, springing to his feet. ‘Why, I knew that she would come to London after me! Did I not say so, parson? ’Tis a brave girl. Kiss me, lass. So —— now what news? What will Lady Crewe do? What doth her ladyship say? Will she among her friends ——’

‘Alas, Tom!’ I said; ‘Lady Crewe is dead. She died two months ago, after a kind of fit, or convulsion, for fear that you would be taken. Tom, ’twas pure love for you that killed her.’

At this dreadful intelligence Tom turned quite white, and fell back into his chair.

‘Lady Crewe dead? Then,’ he looked round him helplessly, ‘what will become of us all?’

‘Nay, Tom,’ I replied. ‘We know not, yet. But keep up heart, brother. There is time enough yet to consider; and all are agreed that, where so many are concerned, mercy must be shown. For shame’s sake they cannot but pardon some of these gentlemen.’

‘Why,’ said Tom, ‘some they may. But I was their General. What do you say to that, Dorothy? Unless they pardon all, I doubt if the General will escape.’

‘And I,’ said Mr. Patten, shaking his head gloomily, ‘was, alas! his honour’s chaplain. I doubt they will make an example of me for the encouragement of my cloth. What do they say outside about me, Miss Dorothy?’

‘Indeed, Mr. Patten,’ I told him, ‘I know little of what they say, for as yet I have seen no one but my cousin, Lady Cowper.’

‘Miss Dorothy,’ he said earnestly, ‘pray, you that are so tender of heart, when you speak of his honour to her ladyship, couple my name with his. Say the General and his chaplain. Do not suffer them to be separated. The General with his chaplain. If we have sinned together —— nay, I deny not that I exhorted him continually that he was on the Lord’s side —— we have been taken together. Why, your honour, Lady Cowper is the wife of the Chancellor —— no less. If she pleases she can set us free. But it would cut your generous heart to the quick, I know it, if I were left to hang while you marched out free.’

‘It would,’ said Tom. ‘Fear not, friend; we shall go out together.’

‘As yet,’ I told them, ‘Lady Cowper can do nothing. Nobody can say a word. What she will be able to do afterwards, I know not. Remember that she is a great lady at Court, and a Lady of the Bed–Chamber to the Princess of Wales, and must not seem to screen his Highness’s friends too much.’

Mr. Patten was, it was plain, in a great scare, now that he actually found himself in prison, with a prospect of being hanged. I have always been truly thankful that I said nothing at the time of what the Bishop was willing to do; else Mr. Patten (the villain) would have heard and blabbed, and so all been spoiled. Perhaps Tom in his cups might have blurted it out. So I asked Tom only if he was comfortable, and if I could do aught for him.

‘Why,’ said Tom,‘as for comfort, I suppose whatever you give him, a bird in a cage, or a rat in a trap, is never so comfortable as a bird in the air or a rat in the ditch. For those who have money there is some comfort, as you see; a quiet place at least, where one can take a pipe of tobacco in peace. As for my money, ’tis almost at an end; look you to it, Dorothy, if you can.’

I told him that I could find money for him, but that at present he must not ask from whom it came, because I wished him not as yet to know that it came from Lord Crewe.

‘So long as it comes,’ he said, ‘I care not where it comes from. They made me pay twenty five guineas for privilege not to wear irons —— they are making great fortunes out of us, these turnkeys and wardens —— twenty-five guineas, and as much for Mr. Patten here —— else would his legs be clinking as he went’—— Mr. Patten shook his head and sighed. ‘Ten guineas I paid not to be put in the common side; and as much for Mr. Patten —— else he would be among the poor devils who have got no money, and pig together like sows in a sty —— now he hath accommodation with no more than two or three at most in a bed, and the Press Yard to walk in with the gentlemen, and the ordinary to converse with.’

‘A worthy man,’ said Mr. Patten, ‘but obstinate on the vice of rebellion, and perhaps over-hot for the Protestant Succession.’

‘Five pounds a week they make us pay for lodging in the Governor’s house, and another five pounds for a room to myself; and what with garniture here, garniture there, fees everywhere —— hang me if the wealth of London would stand a whole winter in this place! But perhaps they won’t keep us here the whole winter.’

Mr. Patten groaned aloud.

‘As for company,’ Tom went on, ‘there are all our old friends. Charles Radcliffe, Ned Swinburne and his brother Charles, Perry Widdrington, Jack Hall, Dick Stokoe, and all we used to drink with; we can drink and sing together as much as ever, but there does not seem much stomach for it, because, Dorothy, we can no longer ride together: and as for other company, the prison is always full of it.’

He then went on to tell me how these friends of ours were treated. The prison consists, first, of what is called the ‘Common Side,’ with the ‘Lions’ Den’ and the ‘Middle Dark,’ where the baser sort are confined. I know not what must be the sufferings of the poor creatures who, for lack of money, are thrust into these dreadful places, which are, to begin with, filled with men and women of the vilest kind, creatures without (as it would seem) one spark left of virtue, religion, or decency. Some of those who were in that dreadful place were my own friends, the gallant lads I had known from childhood. They stayed not long; if the Jacobites of London would not fight, they could, and did, find money, and before long every gentleman in the gaol found such accommodation as was possible to be obtained in the place. For those who had money might buy the right of using the Press Yard by day, with beds in the rooms round it belonging to the Governor. As for scenes of despair, I know not what they might suffer on the Common Side, but in the Press Yard into which I looked, there seemed nothing but jollity, drinking, and mirth. Is it possible, I asked myself, that men who are in peril of being sentenced to death can face the danger with hearts so callous? Why, here was a knot of men in a drinking-box as unconcerned as if they were mere visitors, or the place was a common tavern. Some were playing cards, some were talking vehemently, some quarrelling, some playing tennis, some smoking tobacco, some lounging against doorposts; but as for any decent, God-fearing behaviour, that I think one might look for in vain. All day long they spent in the Press Yard, unless at meals; at ten o’clock they were locked in their rooms, where sometimes two or three had to sleep on the same bed, until eight in the morning.

‘It is a wretched place,’ said Tom; ‘and an insult to a gentleman to send him here. Why, I expected at least such a respect due to my position as to be sent to the Tower. But no; here I am, as you see, shut up with the rank and file, as one may say.’

‘Yet you are in good company,’ I said; ‘since all your old friends are with you.’

‘Why am I not with the lords in the Tower?’ he repeated. ‘Surely the General of the army might be treated with as much consideration as any nobleman in his command. I take it ill, Dorothy, I assure you. Some private enemy hath interposed to rob me of the honour due to me.’

I thought that when it came to getting him out, I would rather he was in Newgate than in the Tower; but I did not say so.

‘As for my trial,’ he said, ‘I care not when it comes on; I am assured that I have friends enough to pack a jury. As for that, they will find it difficult to get any jury to convict. I do not fear, Dorothy. Then it will be our turn next, and we will let these gentlemen have a taste of the Press Yard.’

I believe that his friends were right in so advising him; no jury could have been found to agree in a verdict, unless it was made up of Nonconformists. But his face and the faces of all lengthened when they found that they would not be tried by a jury at all. When the Government went back to trial by jury, the verdict in the cases of Ferguson and Innes, Tildesley and Towneley, in which the evidence was plain, and yet the prisoners were acquitted, showed how much a jury could be trusted.

‘And where,’ asked Tom, ‘is honest Tony?’

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Patten, ‘hath our good Antony escaped? or was he among those taken to Liverpool?’

He looked, although Mr. Hilyard bore such testimony to his friendliness, as if he would rather hear that he was among the prisoners in the north. I could never believe of this man that he wished Mr. Hilyard well.

‘He is safe,’ I replied; ‘and I hope we shall hear of his doing a good stroke for us as soon as he can get about without fear.’

Here again I rejoiced, afterwards, that I did not let Mr. Patten know where his enemy was to be found.

‘I would he were with me,’ said Tom. ‘I miss him more than enough. Without Tony a bowl of whisky punch seems only half complete. But one would not have him taken neither; while as for singing —— I doubt if I shall ever hear another song again.’

‘Nay, sir,’ said his chaplain, ‘cheer up. The small and unimportant persons, such as myself and Mr. Hilyard, if he be caught, will certainly be hanged, drawn, and quartered. We can expect no less. But for the quality, who have friends and influence in high places, why, you may be sure to expect favour. As for us —— well, let us be thankful that we have done our duty in the world. He who dies for his country ——’

‘Pshaw!’ said Tom. ‘Thou must for ever be talking about dying. Hang it, Mr. Patten, canst thou not drink about like a Christian, and leave dying till thou art sentenced?’

‘Ah!’ he replied, with a deep sigh. ‘Mr. Hilyard is a happy man. Will he not, Miss Dorothy, who can play so many parts, fit upon himself a disguise and visit his old friends?’

‘Nay,’ I said, ‘Mr. Hilyard is safest without these walls.’

‘You did not say,’ he went on, ‘where he is now in hiding.’

I do not know whether he was already contemplating his great villainy, but I mistrusted the man, and so made no reply.

‘All the way to London,’ Tom went on, ‘we were cheered by the whisper that we should be rescued on the road. Why, where were all the loyal gentlemen we had heard so much of? A hundred gallant fellows with sword and pistol could have done it. Yet they sat still. To-day it was to be in the evening; in the evening, next day; so they cheated us. At last we were to be rescued in the very London streets; yet there was not a voice in our favour, but curses upon us all the way, as if we had not a friend in the City.’

They rose on the assurance that there were thousands to join them; they rode contentedly south, looking daily for a rescue by their friends; even in London streets they reckoned on escape. Ah! what a Fool’s Paradise was this, in which we had all lived so long! And how wise was I become after my journey among the common sort of England, and all the talk I had heard of Pope and of Pretender! Methinks, though the voice of the people be flickle and variable, they reckon foolishly who reckon without it.

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