Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter ix.

A Hunting Party.

It has been pretended that the party of this day was one of the earliest attempts made by Mr. Forster the younger towards making himself the leader of the cause in the north. On the contrary, he had as yet no thought at all about leading. The gentlemen came together for no other purpose than to meet the Bishop (many of them being Catholics, who could only see him on some such occasion) and Lord Derwentwater, and the meeting was especially summoned to enable these two to meet one another. Among those who came to the meeting were many of the gentlemen who five years afterwards, to their undoing, took up arms for the Prince. Most of them lay at Hexham overnight, and came over the moor in the morning. It was a gallant sight, indeed, to see the gentlemen riding into the quadrangle, and giving their horses to the grooms, while they paid their respects to Lady Crewe, who was already dressed, early as it was, and received them with a kindly welcome which pleased all. The Bishop, she said, begged to be excused at that early hour; he would meet his friends in the evening. Meantime, breakfast, or luncheon, was spread, with cold pasties, spiced beef, game, and beer for all who chose.

They were a hearty and hungry crew. One cannot but remember with what goodwill they trooped in, and how they made the sirloins of beef to grow small, the pasties to vanish, and the birds to disappear, except their bones; also with what cheerfulness they exhorted each other to fill up and drink again. They had a day’s hunting before them. Surely a man may eat and drink who is going out for six or eight hours a-horseback across Hexhamshire Common. It was a pretty sight, certainly, when they had finished, to see them mount in the great quadrangle, with the shouting of the younger men —— ah! King Solomon’s medicine of the merry heart! —— and so off, trooping through the old gateway out upon the open moor, whither the huntsmen had taken the hounds. I, who seldom rode went with them on this day. Beside me rode, Lord Derwentwater, brave in scarlet, as were his brothers. But he was grave, and even sad.

‘I cannot but think, Miss Dorothy,’ he said, ‘that it is a strange thing for us to laugh and shout while our business is to talk of treason, according to the law of the land. When will treason become loyalty, and rebellion fidelity to the King?’

Then there arose a great yo-hoing and shouting, and the fox was found, and we all rode after it. About that day’s hunting it needs not to speak much. It was a long run. Tom, with Charlie Radcliffe, was in at the death, and they gave me the creature’s brush. As for Lord Derwentwater, he left not my side, being more concerned to talk with me than to gallop after the hounds. Certainly he never was a keen fox-hunter, his ideas of the hunt being taken from France, where, as he hath told me, the party ride down lanes or allées, in a great forest, after a wild boar or a stag, the sides of the lanes being lined with rustics, to prevent the boar from taking shelter in the wood. But he owned that our sport was more manly. This was a pleasant, nay, a delightful ride for me, seeing as I did in the eyes of his lordship those signs of admiration which please the hearts of all women alike, whether they be confident in their beauty, or afraid that they possess no charms to fix the affections of inconstant man. Perhaps we guess very readily what most we desire. At this time (let me confess and own without shame what need not be concealed) I had begun to desire one thing very much; that is to say, I understood very well that the happiest woman in the world would be she to whom this young gentleman would give the priceless blessing of his love. This made me watchful of his speech and looks; and enabled me, young and inexperienced as I was, to read very well the confession made by eyes full of admiration, though no word at all was spoken. No gentleman in the world had better eyes or sweeter than Lord Derwentwater, and no man’s love, I knew very well, was more to be desired; and, innocent and ignorant as we were, neither of us, at that time, considered the difficulties in the way. Poor Dorothy!

Some of the elder gentlemen remained behind, and sat all the morning to talk with Lady Crewe, once their toast and charming beauty, still beautiful and gracious as a great lady should be. Every woman likes, I suppose, to feel that men remember the beauty of her youth. It is a fleeting thing, and we are told that, like all earthly things, it is a vanity. Nevertheless, it is a vanity which pleases for a lifetime, and, like understanding in a man, it may be used, while it lasts, for great purposes. Lady Crewe knew well how to use her beauty and charm of words as well as of face, in order to lead men whithersoever she would. This is a simple art, though few women understand it, being nothing more or less than to make each man think the thing which he most desires to believe true, namely, that he occupies wholly the thoughts, hopes, interest, and sympathy of the woman who would lure him and lead him.

‘It is not love,’ said Mr. Hilyard once, ‘so much as vanity, which leads the world. Dalila conquered Samson by playing upon his pride of strength. Cleopatra overcame Antony by acknowledging the irresistible charm of a hero.’

So Lady Crewe, by coaxing, flattering, making men feel happy and proud of themselves (since they would please so great and gracious a lady), in a word, by charming men, could do with them what she pleased. Of course it need not be said that there could be no question of gallantry with this stately dame, the wife of the great Lord Crewe. Certainly not; yet all men were her slaves.

Some time between ten and eleven in the forenoon, the party being all ridden forth, my lord the Bishop came out from his chamber, dressed and ready for the duties of the day. At so advanced a stage of life, one must, I suppose, approach each day, which may be the last, slowly and carefully, fortified before the work of the day begins with food, prayer, and meditation. His lordship looked older in the morning than in the evening; yet not decayed. Though the lines and crow’sfeet of age lay thickly upon his face, so that it was seamed and scarred by a thousand waving lines, his eye was as bright and his lips as firm as if he were but forty or fifty. After a little discourse with the gentlemen who had remained behind, he sent immediately for Mr. Hilyard. He, to say the truth, was by no means anxious for the interview, and had shown, ever since this party was proposed, a singular desire to avoid the Bishop; proposing a hundred different pretexts for his absence.

First, his lordship, with great show of politeness, of which he was perfect master, begged Mr. Hilyard to show him the ruins and remains of this strange place, which our steward very willingly did, hoping, as will be seen, to stave off the questions which he feared. Presently, after talk about the Premonstratensian Friars (this was the learned name of the monks who were murdered, but why they had so long a name or what it means, I know not, nor need we inquire into the superstitious reasons for such a name), and after considering the quadrangle and the ancient Gate Tower, they turned into the graveyard, where were the ruins of the chapel. Here they talked of Gothic architecture, a subject on which, as on so many other things, Mr. Hilyard was well versed; and the Bishop, after lamenting the ruin of so beautiful a place, said that he could not suffer whole families thus to grow up in heathendom with so fair a chapel waiting but a roof, and that he should take order therefor.

‘As for you, sir,’ he said to Mr. Hilyard, ‘you seem to be possessed of some learning. You have studied, I perceive, the architecture of our churches.’

‘In my humble way, my lord, I have read such books on the subject as have fallen into my hands.’

‘And you are not unacquainted with the ancient dispositions of monasteries, it would seem.’

‘Also in my small way, my lord; and with such chances of observation as I have obtained.’

Then the Bishop seated himself upon a fallen stone in the corner of the tower, where he was sheltered from the wind, and where the sunshine fell, and fixed upon Mr. Hilyard his eyes, which were like the eyes of a hawk for clearness, and more terrible for sternness than the eyes of a lion, and said:

‘Then, sir, let me ask: Who are you?’

‘My lord, my name, at your lordship’s service, is Antony Hilyard.’

‘So much I know. And for ten years, or thereabouts, in the service of the Forsters. Now, sir, I meddle not with affairs which belong not to me, therefore when Mr. Thomas Forster of Etherston received you as my nephew’s tutor, I made no inquiry. Again, when I heard, through her ladyship, that the tutor, instead of becoming a chaplain, as is generally his laudable ambition, became a steward, I made no inquiry, because, tutor or steward, your affairs seemed to concern me not at all. But in view of the singular affection which my lady hath conceived for her nephew, her hopes for his future, and her designs as regards his inheritance, I can no longer suffer him to remain under the influence of men about whose character I know nothing. Doubtless, sir, you are honest. My nephew and his sister swear that you are honest.’

‘I hope so, my lord.’

‘It is certain that you have, whether for purposes of your own or not, acquired such an influence over both my nephew and my niece that I must come to an understanding. You sing, act, and play the Merry Andrew, when he has his friends about him; you manage his household, and keep his accounts; you have taught the young lady to sing, play music, read French, and other things, which, as my lady is assured, are all innocent and desirable accomplishments. We have also learned that although you were engaged upon a salary or wage of thirty pounds a year, you have never received any of that money, save a guinea here and there for clothing. Now, sir, I judge not beforehand, but you may be, for aught, I know, a vile Whig, endeavouring to instil into an honest mind pernicious opinions; or you may be one of those secret plotters who are the curse of our party, and lure on gentlemen to their destruction; or you may be, which is not impossible, a Jesuit on some secret service. So, sir, before we go any further, you will tell me who and what you are —— whose son, where born and brought up —— of what stock, town, religion?’

‘For my birth, my lord, I am of London; for my religion, I am a Protestant and humble servant of the Church; for my origin, my father was a vintner, with a tavern in Barbican; for my education, it was at St. Paul’s School, where I got credit for some scholarship, and’—— here he bowed his head, and looked guilty ——‘at Oxford, in your lordship’s own College of Lincoln.’

‘Go on, sir.’ For now Mr. Hilyard showed signs of the greatest distress, and began to cough, to hem, to blow his nose, and to wipe his brow. ‘Go on, sir, I command.’

‘I cannot deny, my lord —— nay, I confess —— though it cost me the post I hold and drive me out into the world —— that I concealed from Mr. Forster the reasons why I left Oxford without a degree. I hope that your lordship will consider my subsequent conduct to have in some measure mitigated the offence.’

‘What was the reason?’

‘My lord, I was expelled.’

The Bishop nodded his head as terrible as great Jove.

‘So, sir,’ he said, while the unlucky man trembled before him, ‘so, sir, you were expelled. This is truly an excellent recommendation for a tutor and teacher of young gentlemen. Pray, sir, why this punishment?’

‘My lord,’ the poor man replied in great confusion, ‘suffer me of your patience to explain that from my childhood upwards I have continually been afflicted —— affliction must I needs call that which hath led me to the ruin of my hopes —— with the desire of mocking, acting, and impersonating; also with the temptation to write verses, whether in Latin or in English; and with the love of exciting the laughter and mirth of my companions. So that to hold up to derision the usher while at school, which caused me often to be soundly switched, was my constant joy —— even though I had afterwards to cry —— because my fellows laughed at the performance. Or I was acting and rehearsing for their delight some passage from Dryden, Shakespeare, or Ben Jonson, which I had seen upon the stage.’

‘In plain language, sir, thou wast a common buffoon.’

‘Say, rather, my lord, with submission, an actor —— histrio. Roscius was rather my model than the Roman mime.’

‘As thou wilt, sir. Go on.’

‘Your lordship cannot but remember that at every public act the Terræ Filius, after the Proctor, hath permission to ridicule, or to hold up to derision, or to satirize ——’

‘Man,’ cried the Bishop, ‘I had partly guessed it. Thou wert, then, a Terræ Filius.’

‘My lord, it is most true.’

The Bishop’s face lost its severity. He laughed while Mr. Hilyard stood before him trembling, yet a little reassured. For, to say the truth, he expected nothing but instant dismissal.

‘The Terræ Filius,’ said the Bishop. ‘There were many of them, but few of much account. Some were coarse, some were ill bred, some were rustic, some were rude —— here and there one was witty. The heads and tutors loved better the coarse than the witty. Ay, ay! They expelled Tom Pittie when I was a bachelor, and they made Lancelot Addison, afterwards Dean of Lichfield, beg pardon on his knees. So, sir, you were the licensed jester of the University? An honourable post, forsooth!’

‘It was not so much, my lord,’ Mr. Hilyard went on,‘for my jests before the University, as for certain verses which were brought home to me by the treachery of a man, who —— but that does not concern your lordship.’

‘Of what kind were the verses?’

‘They were of a satirical kind.’ Mr. Hilyard pulled out his pocket-book, in which he kept memoranda, receipts, bills, and so forth. ‘If your lordship would venture to look at them. I keep always by me a copy to remind me of my sin.’ He found a worn and thumb-marked sheet of printed paper. ‘In Latinity they have been said to have a touch of Martial or Ausonius at his best —— but I may not boast’. He placed the verses in the Bishop’s hands, and waited, with a look of expectant pride rather than of repentance: he was no longer a confessing sinner, or a jester brought to shame; but, rather, a poet waiting for his patron’s verdict of praise or blame.

The Bishop read; the Bishop smiled; then the Bishop laughed.

‘The matter, truly, is most impudent, and richly deserved punishment. The style, doubtless, deserved reward. And for this thou wast expelled?’

‘My letters recommendatory, my lord, made no mention of the thing. Indeed, they were all written for me by those scholars who were my friends and companions.’

‘Well, sir, it is done, and I suppose you have repented often enough. For so good a scholar might have aspired to the dignities of the Church. It is an old tale: for a moment’s gratification, a lifelong sorrow. You laughed as a boy, in order that you might cry as a man. You might have become Fellow, Dean, Tutor, even Master; Rector of a country living, Canon, Prebendary, Archdeacon, or even —— Bishop. There are, in these times, when gentlemen fly from the Church, many Bishops on the Bench of no better origin than your own. You are steward to a country gentleman; keeper of farm and household accounts; fellow-toper, when his honour is alone; jester, when he hath company.’

‘I know it, my lord,’ replied Mr. Hilyard humbly. ‘I am Mr. Forster’s servant. Yet, a faithful servant.’

‘I know nothing to the contrary. Why have you not, during these six years, asked for the money promised at the outset?’

‘Oh, my lord —— consider —— pray —— I am under obligation of gratitude to a most kind and generous master, and a most considerate mistress. They subsist, though his honour would not like it stated so plainly, on the bounty of your lordship and my lady. Should I presume to take for myself what was meant for his honour?’

The Bishop made no reply for a while, but looked earnestly into his face.

‘Either thou art a very honest fellow,’ he said, at length, ‘or thou art a practised courtier.’

‘No courtier, my lord.’

‘I believe not. Now, sir, I think it will be my duty to advise her ladyship that no change need be made. But further inquiry must be made. Continue, therefore, for the present, in thy duties. And, for the salary, I will see that thou lose nothing.’

He then began to ask, in apparently a careless fashion, about the manner of our daily life, hearing how Tom spent his days in shooting and so forth, and showed no desire for reading, yet was no fool, and ready to receive information; how the hospitality of the Manor House, though not so splendid as that of its late owners, was abundant, and open to all who came, and so forth; to all of which the Bishop listened, as great men use, namely, as if these small things are of small importance, yet it is well to know them, and that, being so small, it is not necessary to express an opinion upon them.

‘I hear,’ he said, ‘that certain agitators continue to go about the country. Do they come here?’

Mr. Hilyard replied that Captain Gascoigne and Captain Talbot had been to the north that year, but that Mr. Forster was not, to his knowledge, in correspondence with them.

‘It is important,’ said the Bishop, ‘that no steps be taken for the present. There are reasons of State. See that you encourage no such work. I take it that my nephew is popular, by reason of a frank character and generous hand, such as the Forsters have always displayed, rather than by learning or eloquence.’

‘Your lordship is right. If I may presume to point out a fault in my patron ——’

‘What is it?’

‘It is his inexperience. He hath never, except to Cambridge, gone beyond his own county. Therefore he may be easily imposed upon, and led —— whither his friends would not wish him to go.’

To this the Bishop made no reply, but fell into a meditation, and presently rose and left Mr. Hilyard among the ruins.

‘I expected,’ said Mr. Hilyard, when he told me of this discourse, ‘nothing short of an order to be packing. Nothing short of that would do, I thought, for a man who had been expelled the University for holding up the Seniors to derision. Alas! I have been a monstrous fool. Yet I doubt not I should do it again. When wit is in, wisdom is out. There was a man of whom I once read, “He might have saved his life could he have refrained his tongue.” But he could not. Therefore, he said his epigram and was hanged, happy in the thought that his bon-mot would be remembered. Like good actions, good sayings live and bear fruit beyond the tomb. My satire on the Senior Proctor —— the Bishop laughed at it. Think you that many Bishops in the future will not also laugh at it?’

‘Is it so very comical, Mr. Hilyard, that it would make me laugh? For, you know, my sex are not so fond of laughing as your own.’

He replied, a little disconcerted, that the chief points of his satire lay in the Latin, which I could not understand.

The business of the day, namely, the conversation between Lord Derwentwater and Lord Crewe, took place in the evening, after dinner. Our guests were divided into two sets, one of which consisted of the older and more important gentlemen present, and the other of the younger sons. The latter spent their evening in the kitchen under the refectory, where they were perfectly happy, if the noise of singing and laughing denotes happiness. I saw Tom’s face grow melancholy as he sat between Lord Crewe on his left and Lady Crewe on his right, listening to discourse on grave and serious matters, while all this merriment went on below. Strange it was to see at the same table an English Bishop and a Catholic Earl.

When the servants were gone, Tom rose in his place and reminded his friends that they were assembled there in order to afford an opportunity for a conference between Lord Crewe, the Bishop of Durham, on the one hand, and Lord Derwentwater, with the honest gentlemen of the county, on the other. This conference being happily arranged, they would remind each other that they had with them the most venerable of the party, one who could remember Noll Cromwell himself, and had voted for King and Bishops before Charles II. came back. With which words he asked them to drink to the Prince.

After this they began by all, with one consent, talking of the latest intelligence, and of the great hopes which they entertained; how the Queen was reported to lean more and more to the cause of her brother; how the people of London were fast recovering their loyalty; and how the country, save for a few pestilent and unnatural Whigs, was Jacobite to the core; and so forth. It seemed as if I had heard that kind of talk all my life. If it was true, why could they not recall the Prince at once, and without more to do? If it was not true, why try to keep up their spirits with a falsehood? The plain, simple truth does not do for men; they must have exaggerations, rumours, see everything greater than it is. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as a party.

‘To one wise man,’ said Mr. Hilyard to me, speaking privately of this matter, ‘it seems as if, things being weighed, the for and the against, the scale inclines this way. To another wise man, the scale inclines that way. To the followers of those wise men who cannot weigh the arguments, or even perceive them, the scale kicks the beam. The more ignorant the partisan, the more thorough he is. Wherefore, the Lord protect us from wars of religion, in which every common soldier knows more than his officers.’

While this kind of talk went on, the Bishop sat quiet and grave, saying nothing; while Lord Derwentwater listened, and Lady Crewe smiled graciously on one after the other as they appealed to her.

When each had said what was in his mind on the matter of loyalty, the Bishop invited Lord Derwentwater to tell the company, who had never had the happiness of seeing the Prince, what manner of man he was to look upon.

‘In person, my Lord Bishop,’ he replied, ‘His Highness is tall, and inclined to be thin, as his father was before him. He is, although so young in years, already grave in manner; he speaks little; he is rarely heard to laugh; he hath little or nothing of the natural gaiety of young men in France. He rides well; his personal courage cannot be doubted, having been sufficiently proved at Oudenarde and Malplaquet; he is familiar with the names of all his friends. For instance, in Northumberland, he knows that he can reckon on Tom Forster’—— here my lord bowed to Tom, who reddened with pleasure, and drank off another bumper to the Prince ——‘and on Mr. Errington’—— here Mr. Errington did the like, and his lordship went on to name other gentlemen, especially Protestants, in the room.

‘If a woman may ask the question,’ said Lady Crewe, ‘we would hope that his character for religion and virtue, as well as for courage, is such as to endear him to the hearts of those who would fain see princes of blameless life.’

At this time the Prince, then only two-and-twenty years of age, though he had not acquired the reputation which afterwards made many of his friends in England cold to him, was by no means free from reproach —— indeed, there are many who throw temptation in the way of a prince —— and Lord Dewentwater paused before he replied.

‘As for religion,’ said my lord, ‘I know that he hath been most religiously educated, and that his mother is a saintly woman. So much I can depose from my own knowledge. For, if my Lord Bishop will pardon the remark, there were more masses at St. Germain’s than many about the Court would willingly attend. As for virtue, there have been rumours —— are there not rumours of every Prince? One must not repeat idle reports.’

‘One would wish to know,’ said the Bishop, ‘if the Prince hath a martial bearing, and one which may encourage his followers. Let us remember the gallantry of Prince Rupert, and the cheerful courage of young King Hal at Agincourt.’

‘I have never seen him,’ Lord Derwentwater replied, ‘with troops. I know not whether his face would show the cheerful courage of which your lordship speaks. That he is brave is well known. If he is less at home in camp than in his Court, we must thank the Queen, his mother, and the good priests, his instructors, who have made him, perhaps, fitter for heaven than for earth.’

‘I very much doubt it,’ said the Bishop, with a smile.

It was wonderful to think that here was a young gentleman who had actually been brought up with His Highness, and conversed with him, and was telling us about him.

‘Well,’ said the Bishop, ‘they may have made him fitter for the Mass than the march. Pity —— pity —— a thousand pities that his father must needs throw away his crown for his creed —— your pardon, my lord —— when he had already, had he pleased, the ancient, yet reformed, Church of England. It likes me not. I would rather he were more of a soldier and less of a priest. These things are well known to me already, but I wished that these gentlemen here also should hear them. For, believe me, all is not yet clear before us, my lord. I have watched the times for fifty years and more. The crowd hath shouted now for one side, and now for another; but never, saving your lordship’s presence, have their greasy caps been tossed up for a Roman Catholic. And, even if the general opinion be true, and the voice of the country be for the young Prince, I am very certain that he will not win the English heart, and so secure his throne, unless he consent to change his religion.’

‘It may be so,’ replied the Earl. ‘Yet sure I am that he will never change his religion.’

‘Then,’ said the Bishop, ‘if he comes home this year, or next, the very next year after his priests will get him sent abroad again. We are a people who have religion much upon the lips —— and it is the Protestant religion —— but it hinders not the luxury of the rich or the vices of the poor. There are still living among us —— I say this in presence of you Catholic gentlemen —— those whose fathers and grandfathers have spoken with men and women who remembered the flames of Smithfield. Your lordship is young, but you will never —— I prophesy —— no, never —— see England so changed that she will look without jealousy and hatred upon a court of priests.’

‘The King may surround himself, if he pleases, with Protestant advisers,’ said the Earl. ‘We of the old faith are content to sit at home in obscurity. Your lordship will not seek to burn us. We ask but toleration and our civil rights.’

The Bishop shook his head.

‘Will he be allowed?’ he asked. ‘Meantime, my lord, it does my heart good to see you —— still a young man and an Englishman —— no Frenchman —— back again among your own people. Trust me, you will be happier here than at St. Germain’s or Versailles. Believe an old man who was about the Court for nearly thirty years: it is an air which begetteth bad humours of the blood —— with jealousies, envies, and heartburnings. He who waiteth upon Princes must expect rubs such as happen not to quiet men. And, young man,’ he laid his hand upon the Earl’s shoulder, ‘listen not, I entreat you, to vapouring Irish captains or to Scotchmen disappointed of their pensions, or to soured English Papists, or to those who have waited in antechamber till rage has seized their heart. Let us remain on the right side. Some day it will prevail. On that day the voice of the whole country will call their Sovereign home. It may be that they will make him first embrace the faith as contained in the Thirty-nine Articles. Justice is mighty, and shall prevail. But, gentlemen, no plots! And you, sir, as you are the nearest among us all to the throne, so be the most cautious. Set the young hot heads of the north a good example. Gentlemen’ —— he rose, tall and majestic, with white waving locks and stooping shoulders, and his wife rose at the same time and gave him her arm ——‘my lords and gentlemen, Anglican or Catholic, whether of the old or the reformed faith, I give my prayers for the rightful cause, and to all here the blessing of a Bishop. Yea!’—— he raised his tall figure to the full height, ‘the blessing of one who is a successor of the Apostles by unbroken and lineal descent and right divine!’

Lord Derwentwater bent a knee, and kissed the Bishop’s hand. Then the company parted right and left, bowing low, while the old Bishop, with his lady and her niece, left the room.

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