Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxviii.

Lord Crewe.

So, at last, we came to Stene, Lord Crewe’s place in Northamptonshire.

Now, while we drew near to the park-gates, and were thinking how best to convey a message to her ladyship, there passed out a gentleman of grave and reverend appearance, in cassock and full wig, whom I judged might be in the Bishop’s service. So I stopped him, and asked him civilly if he was perchance his lordship’s chaplain.

‘I am,’ he replied, in some surprise at the question. ‘Why, my good girl?’

‘Tell him, Mr. Hilyard,’ I said. ‘Tell him all.’

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘this young lady is not what she seems. She is Miss Dorothy Forster, sister of Mr. Thomas Forster the younger, who lately commanded the rebel army, and niece of Lady Crewe. We are on our way to London; but first she would have speech, if, it may be, with her ladyship.’

‘What!’ cried the clergyman. ‘Have you not heard? Good Heaven! Her ladyship hath been dead these six weeks and more!’

Dead! Lady Crewe was dead! Then was I friendless indeed.

‘She died,’ he went on, ‘of a fit or convulsion, caused, we are assured, by her anxiety on learning that a warrant was out for the apprehension of her nephew. She never learned the news of his rising, which was kept from her by order of my lord, for fear of greater anxiety. She died on the 16th day of October.’

‘The stars in their courses fight against us,’ said Mr. Hilyard, in consternation. ‘Terror ubique tremor, timor undique et undique terror.’

‘Who are you, sir, pray?’ asked the chaplain, astonished to hear Latin from the mouth of a blacksmith.

‘I was formerly Mr. Forster’s tutor, and have since been his steward. I am in disguise, partly because I also was with the insurgents, and am not desirous of being taken. But, sir, could we speak with his lordship?’

‘My lord is much broken by the death of her ladyship. Yet, I doubt not that he will receive her niece.’

He took us into the park, and so into the hall of the house (a great and stately house it was, though not so fine as that of Bishop’s Auckland or the Castle of Durham), and begged me to wait a few moments while he sought his lordship.

Lord Crewe was sitting in his library in a high-backed armchair, a book on the table beside him, and a great coal-fire burning.

‘Come, child!’ he said, holding out both hands; ‘come, kiss me for thy dear aunt’s sake! Thou hast heard my irreparable loss.’

‘I have just learned it, my lord, to my infinite sorrow. For, oh! I have lost her to whom I looked for help at this moment, and she is gone; and I may now lose my brother, who is a prisoner, and on his way to London to be tried.’ And so, weeping and sobbing, I fell at his lordship’s knees.

‘Ay,’ he said, laying his hand upon my head, ‘weep and cry, child! Youth hath tears; age hath none. Life hath nothing left for me: I have lost all, my dear. Thou art strangely like her when she was young. Stay with me a while, and let me comfort myself by merely looking upon thy face. Nay, I have heard of thy misfortunes. Tom is a prisoner. Fools all! fools all! Yet I warned him; I admonished him. This it is not to listen to the counsel of an old man. What would you do for him?’

‘With permission, my lord, we would go to London and try to save him,’ Mr. Hilyard replied.

‘Who are you, sir?’ he asked. ‘Oh, I remember now. It is the Terræ Filius. And how, sir, doth so great and powerful a man as you propose to tear these rebels from the grasp of Justice?’

‘As yet, my lord, we know not; but we hope that a way will be opened. There are, first, the chances in our favour. The Court may take a lenient view, seeing that so many are involved; or there is the clemency of the King.’

‘Pass on to the next chance,’ said the Bishop. ‘Build not on the clemency of Kings.’

‘Why, my lord, if he is to be tried, there is not much more to be said. But, perhaps he may not be tried at all. A pardon might be procured by friends in high place.’

‘In this matter, sir, look not to me for help. I am now old. All my friends, if I have any left, are on the other side.’

‘Then, my lord, saving your presence, there are juries to be influenced ——’

‘They will not be so foolish as to try them by a jury.’

‘Next, there are, my lord, asking your pardon, guards to be corrupted, as has been done in many famous examples.’

‘Tush —— tush! tell me not of these secrets. You will want money, sir, and much money. Man, let me look at you full in the face. Your eyes seem honest. In these times, and in such a service, the scarcity of honest men is lamentably felt. Yet you seem honest, and you have proved faithful. Suppose, Dorothy, child, I were to find you the money —— doth Tom trust this man? To be sure, he would trust any man who offered. It is their easy temper, not their ill-fate, which hath ruined the Forsters.’

‘We have trusted him, my lord, for fifteen years.’

‘Look ye, sirrah!’ his lordship shook his long and lean forefinger in the face of Mr. Hilyard. ‘Look ye, if you now betray the trust, the malediction of the Church itself shall follow you to your death —— and after,’ he added solemnly. Then he paused. ‘To do these things,’ he presently went on, ‘may require much money. He must be defended if he be brought to trial: if he never come to trial —— How much money have you?’

We had twenty-four guineas when we left Blanchland. We have spent six on the road. There are eighteen guineas left. It is all our stock.’

‘Eighteen guineas!’ my lord laughed. ‘It is a goodly stock. Now, sir, I will give you a letter to my agent and factor in London. He will provide you with all you want —— understand, all! Do not be afraid to ask. My wife, the most beautiful and the most faithful woman in the world, is dead: alas! I, too, shall follow soon; my days will be few and full of sorrow. I am old —— I am eighty-two years of age —— my work is done —— I have now nothing left but meditation and prayer.’ He went on in this way so that I thought his mind was wandering with age and trouble; but he did not forget what he designed to say. ‘Therefore, because she would have wished it, her nephew, who hath proved a fool and a companion of fools, shall not suffer, if I can help it, the just consequence of his folly. Go then, to this man of business, and let him know who thou art; give him my letter, and, when the time comes, ask boldly for as much as will be wanted —— nay, if it cost ten or twenty thousand pounds he will give it thee.’

‘Oh, my lord!’ Mr. Hilyard fairly burst into tears. ‘This is princely generosity. I hoped for nothing more than a help to maintain my mistress in London. Why, with such help as this, his honour is as good as free already.’ He knelt and kissed his lordship’s hand.

‘Go, fellow,’ said the Bishop, not unmoved. ‘But remember lest they say, as was said to Peter, “Thou also art one of them.” Keep thine own neck out of the halter, if thou wouldst save Tom Forster’s. And, as regards the money, waste not: yet spare not. Enough said. And now, Dorothy, if thou wilt stay a while in my poor house, let me have thee clad in habits more suitable than these ——’

‘I thank you, my lord, for all your kindness; but I cannot rest day or night until I am in London.’

So we took our letter, with a full purse of money besides, and receiving the Bishop’s blessing, went on our way. My aunt was dead; but her affection for her own family survived in the remembrance of her husband.

I never saw so great a change in any man as was wrought in Mr. Hilyard by the prospect of this money. He capered and leaped, he danced and sang upon the heavy road.

‘Why,’ he said, ‘we are made men now! Let us rejoice. Let us concert our plans.’

He devised a thousand plans, but none of them suited, and he began again every hour with a new one. Most, indeed, seemed to me as unreal and improbable as the intrigue of a comedy or the plot of a tragedy. He seemed to multiply difficulties in order to get rid of them by sudden surprises. Nevertheless it pleased him, and it beguiled the journey, which continued as cold as before, but was not so miserable, because we now had money and could dwell upon the future with a little hope. Indeed, it passed all understanding to think that I started on this long and costly journey with such an end in view, and no more in money than twenty-four guineas! But then I only knew, concerning money, that, in Northumberland, with a guinea one can keep a household for nigh upon a month. As for money of my own, I never had any.

‘With money,’ went on Mr. Hilyard, ‘dungeons are opened, prison-bars removed, and captives set free. With money, justice may be bought, as well as injustice. With money, good may be accomplished as well as evil. Why, the history of the world is the history of bribing. I could narrate endless examples ——’

He did; and during several days he instructed me in the part which bribes had played in the progress of the world. So that in the end it seemed to me as if nothing, good or bad, had ever been accomplished without a bribe and a pretence. But such knowledge doth not tend to edification.

It was on the 9th day of December that we drew near to London. Now, as we walked along the road we became aware of a great stir and bustle, many men and women hastening southward, the same way as we were going, as if impelled by desire to see some wonderful show. The road was also covered with waggons, carts, and horsemen.

‘This,’ said Mr. Hilyard, with pride, ‘is what happeneth daily in the great roads which lead to London.’

‘Yes.’ I said. ‘But why do all the people wear favours?’

This he did not know; but he asked one, and presently came back to me with perturbed countenance. ‘Miss Dorothy,’ he whispered, ‘we are none too soon. This day the prisoners will be marched into London.

It was the very day when the procession of prisoners arrived. We were to see them pass, willy-nilly; for there was no turning back without exciting distrust, and the people were very fierce and angry. Mr. Hilyard even bought a favour for himself and another for me, to avert suspicion. Thus decorated, we followed with the stream of country people who flocked along the road. They were all going, we learned, to a place called Highgate, where there is a lofty hill from which London may be viewed (they say Whittington, while sitting here upon the grass, heard the bells of Bow calling him back); and they were flocking to see the most wonderful show for many a long year, namely, three hundred English gentlemen led in triumph along the way for the mob to jeer at and insult. Truly a magnanimous thing for a victor and a Christian King to command!

If the country people came to Highgate in their smocks, the town people came out in their greasy coats; there were thousands on the hill and on the slopes; where the road sloped downward through hedges and trees, now white and heavy with snow, we saw the mighty multitude rolling to and fro like waves near the shore, and heard them roaring like the waves that beat upon the rocks. Some standing near us said aloud that the prisoners would never reach the town, but be torn to pieces upon the road.

‘Take courage,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘Look! there is a detachment of Guards to convoy them safe, let the mob roar as loud as they please.’

Presently I perceived the melancholy procession slowly coming towards us. Alas! alas! Was this the end? Was it for this that my lady flung down her fan, and I with joyful heart applauded and approved the deed? They defiled slowly past us, riding two abreast, and divided into four detachments or companies. The arms of every man were pinioned behind him; his horse was led by a foot soldier carrying a musket with fixed bayonet; each division was preceded by a troop of horse with drawn swords, their drums insulting the unhappy prisoners by beating a triumphal march in derision.

As this miserable procession marched past the people crowded in on every side, crying out the most frightful imprecations, of which ‘Papists! Bloody Catholics and murderers!’ were the least injurious. Most of the gentlemen thus insulted rode by proudly with head erect, as if they were in a triumphal procession. Was it possible, I asked myself, that Englishmen could thus come out to insult the fallen?

In the last division rode the English noblemen, and with them my unhappy brother. He sat with hanging head, his hands tied behind him, his cheek pale. Alas! poor Tom! What were his thoughts? ‘He knows not,’ whispered Mr. Hilyard, ‘of the letter in my pocket.’ Beside him rode Mr. Patten, his chaplain. He, for his part, seemed proud of his position; he looked about him cheerfully, and nodded his head to the crowd, which assailed him with the vilest language. ‘He is a brave man,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘It repents me that I called him Creeping Bob. I have forgiven him his Oxford business.’ As for Lord Derwentwater, he sat upright —— his eyes bright, his cheek flushed, looking neither to the right nor to the left.

‘Draw your hood closer,’ Mr. Hilyard whispered; ‘this rabble must not see your tears.’

When the last of the Dragoons who brought up the rear had gone, the mob crowded in and ran along the road behind. There were left only the decent sort. One of those, dressed soberly in a brown coat, said to me, gravely:

‘Young woman, this is a sorry sight, but yet a joyful for honest folk. Remember that these men are the enemies of freedom. I desire not the blood of any man; but I pray above all things for continuance of liberty, especially of conscience and opinion. Keep thy tears, then, for a better cause.’

‘Alas! sir!’ I could not refrain from saying. ‘What if a woman have friends —— a brother, even —— among them?’

‘Madam’—— he took off his hat ——‘I ask your pardon, and I pray for a happy deliverance for your friend —— or brother.’

He went away, but this imprudence frightened Mr. Hilyard mightily, and he hastened to push on down the hill.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51