Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xxxiv.

Mr. Hilyard’s Freedom.

A day or two after this Mr. Hilyard appeared no longer in the disguise of a physician, but dressed as a sober and grave citizen; that is to say, in no disguise at all, having bartered his physician’s wig for a full wig such as that worn by the better sort, and his black clothes for a plum-coloured coat and waistcoat of the same.

‘What is this new disguise?’ I asked.

‘No disguise at all,’ he replied. ‘I am now a free man, and need not hide my head at all. There is no warrant out for me; and if there were, I am assured of my pardon.’

I asked him how this was.

‘Miss Dorothy,’ he replied, smiling, ‘the son of a vintner need not be too proud to take favours from a gipsy, or even an actress.’

‘Is this, then, Jenny Lee’s doing?’

‘I will tell you in a few words. Know, then, that Jenny loves to entertain her friends, after the theatre, to supper at her own lodging, and has been so good as to invite me to make one whenever I please. Many gentlemen —— wits, Templars, poets, and the like, go there, and some are men of rank. Jenny cares not who they are, so long as they amuse her and make her laugh, which is all she loves.’

I had already, as I have said, seen Jenny on the stage (at Mr. Hilyard’s urgent entreaty, but from no desire of my own), and a very moving spectacle, I confess, it was. Her part was so full of noble sentiments that I began to understand Mr. Hilyard’s admiration for acting. Why, if all actresses and actors are thus full of virtuous and lofty discourse there can be no question that theirs is truly a great and wonderful profession, and worthy of all honour. But now Mr. Hilyard told me that laughter was all she cared for. Yet she seemed in her part possessed of the finest and most exquisite sensibility. How, after this, can Mr. Hilyard persist that acting is an art which hath in it something of the divine? To care for nothing but laughing!

‘Among her friends,’ Mr. Hilyard went on, ‘who come to sup with her after the play is a certain great Whig lord —— yes, a very great and powerful lord indeed —— and yet his name need not be mentioned between us, because, perhaps, he is one of those humble Christians who love not their good deeds to be made public; or, perhaps, because all the world need not know that he goeth to sup with Jenny Lee. Well, last night, after supper, there was singing and laughing. Among the others, I performed for the amusement of the company some of those small arts of mine by which I have often, of old, beguiled the evening for his honour and his friends.’

‘I know them well, Mr. Hilyard.’

‘Yes —— I sang and played my best. But who can call anything acting when Jenny Lee is present? Yet they laughed and were amused; my lord was so good as to distinguish me particularly, and presently I heard him whisper Jenny, and ask what was my name and condition. “Indeed, my lord,” said she, in her pretty, roguish way, “I shall not tell your lordship unless you promise to grant me the next favour I ask.” “The least favour from your hands, fair Jenny,” he replied, “even to answer so simple a question, is richly repaid by the greatest from mine.” But I think he did not guess what she was about to ask him. “My lord,” she said, whispering, “he is a most harmless, affectionate creature; he hath come up to London from the north; it is dangerous for him to venture abroad for the present, because he was with the rebels. Nay; but he went only because his patron went, as in duty bound, and for no Popish reasons. No one is in search of him; no one wants to arrest him; but if he be by any accident discovered and clapped in ward, then will his neck be twisted and his song spoiled. Wherefore, my lord, make this poor man safe, and give him assurance of safety, and you shall have ——” “What, fair Jenny?” “My gratitude, my lord. Can you ask for more? He is my earliest friend. He first taught me how to act; he who helps Mr. Hilyard, helps me.”

‘Well, he hesitated; told her she was a witch, and a baggage, and a saucy rogue, and kissed her hands. Then he lugged out his tablets, wrote down my name, and beckoned to me. “Sir,” he said, “you owe to this lady your safety. I will take care that you are not molested; go where you please —— go even into Newgate if you will.” You may be sure I hastened to thank him with my best leg, and to assure his lordship that I was his most humble servant to command, and that for the future, after praying for his lordship, I should cry, “God save King George!”’

The first day he came away from the prison, Mr. Hilyard was pensive and melancholy.

‘Truly,’ he said, ‘it grieves me to the soul to see these poor fellows, once so merry and gallant, now mewed up together in that gloomy place, where, ruffle and hector and swear as they may, every man feels as if the gallows was already in sight. The aspect of Mr. Edward Swinburne pleases me not, for he hangs his head and will hardly speak, but sitteth as much alone as may be. The minds of generous men are easily moved to shame for public disgrace; yet the part which this young gentleman took in the Rebellion was not so conspicuous that his shame should enter into his soul. He is not, like Cleopatra, reserved for the chief place in the triumph; nor like Antony, who aimed at the empire of the inhabitable world and lost it. Yet he is as one fallen into melancholy with the shame of the defeat. Some, like Mr. Stokoe, bite their nails and walk gloomily to and fro; some, like poor Mr. Paul, caught by so cursed a mischance, weep and wring their hands; some swear that a man can die but once, and what odds then? Some drink to forget their anxiety; one or two alone, like Mr. Charles Radcliffe and Colonel Oxbrough, preserve an intrepid spirit, and show a resolute countenance to whatever happens.

‘Most of all,’ he went on, ‘I pity Mr. Patten; who, now that he finds himself fairly in for his trial, and no one likely to hale him out of prison, is falling into a dejection which may work harm to his honour, with whom he sits too much.’

In fact, although Mr. Patten continually plied poor Tom with flatteries (more from habit than from any hope of further patronage), and assured him (contrary to the fact) that he was covered with military glory for his conduct in the campaign, his conversation was so full of gibbets, drawing, and quartering, with so many reflections on the pain and misery of quitting the world while in the very prime and heyday of manhood and happiness, that Tom grew daily more melancholy and less disposed for resignation. Every day, also, Mr. Patten found occasion to compare the happy lot of Mr. Hilyard and his freedom with their captivity.

‘Some,’ he said, ‘are born to this kind of fortune, that they may get over the wall with impunity, while others are hanged for no more than peeping over it. Others, again, keep in the background secret friends for their own use, and so procure enlargement —— I would I knew of such! Some even go so far, I have heard, as to procure their own pardon at the price of giving evidence against their friends —— a most monstrous treachery, indeed! Yet, Mr. Hilyard, I think it right to let you know that this is whispered against you in the Press Yard, and some there are who speak of braining the man who would thus ——’ ‘Zounds, sir!’ cried Mr. Hilyard; ‘dare you —— or any —— insinuate that I go at large in order that they may suffer?’

‘Not I, sir —— not I, certainly. I tell them that the General could not repose his confidence in you so fully unless he had first proved your loyalty. Oh! not I, indeed, sir —— believe me!’

But the mere suspicion of the thing made Mr. Hilyard so angry that he had no peace until he had conferred with Charles Radcliffe, and been assured by him that not one of the gentlemen, his old friends, believed him capable of so base an action.

I suppose it was about this time that Mr. Patten began to groan with repentance, and to accuse himself of being a great sinner.

‘I fear, sir,’ he told Tom, ‘that my sin, which now weighs heavily upon my soul, may lead me to show my remorse and repentance in a way which some of my friends may not approve. Yet I am convinced that your honour, knowing the tenderness of my conscience, will approve what I shall do.’

‘Why, Mr. Patten,’ Mr. Hilyard said, answering for Tom, who only stared, so strange was it to hear Mr. Patten talk in this way, ‘as for your sins, it is not for anyone to contradict you since you assert the fact, and doubtless you are, like the rest of us, a miserable sinner; nor are we your father confessors to ask for further particulars; while as for what you are going to do, repentance for sin can never be disapproved by his honour, who is a Christian man.’

‘Repentance with atonement, brother sinner,’ said Mr. Patten, groaning. ‘Repentance must ever be followed by atonement. Oh that you could feel like me!’

However, they presently had a bowl of punch, and made merry. Mr. Patten, in spite of his sins, drinking about with the rest.

The next day he came not to Tom’s chamber, and they knew not what kept him. But on the morrow the strange news was carried abroad that Mr. Patten had received enlargement, and was now in custody of a messenger. But still they knew not, and suspected not, why.

Two or three days after this (the impeachment of the lords taking place in the meantime) Mr. Hilyard came to me in such a wrath and passion of rage as I had never witnessed in him before.

‘Oh!’ he cried, flinging his arms about, and jumping round the room; ‘oh! was there ever since history began so great, so unexampled a villain? Did the world ever know so deep a hypocrite? Is there anywhere a record of so canting, sneaking a creature?’

‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Who is the villain?’

For a while I could not get him to tell me anything, so angry he was, and so much occupied in searching for hard words to throw at this new enemy.

‘What has he done?’ he said at last. ‘He has turned King’s evidence. To save his own fat neck, which might have been tightened, and no one a penny the worse, he has turned King’s evidence. For his own worthless carcase he will put all these brave fellows’ heads into the noose ——’

‘But who is it —— who?’

‘Who should it be but Creeping Bob —— the Reverend Robert Patten, Artium Magister! He it is; and Quartermaster Calderwood with him. Mr. Stokoe also pretended that he was ready to give evidence too, and got enlargement under custody; but it was a flam, and he hath escaped. Now, indeed, there is consternation in the prison, and every man among them feels already a catching of the breath, as if he were troubled with a tightness of the neck. This was the meaning of the sin which lay upon the hypocrite’s soul, and demanded repentance and atonement. I make no doubt but he will hasten to inform against me. Ah! double villain! But I dread him not. And to say that he hoped to preserve the good opinion of his honour, against whom he will give evidence! Would that he would venture, but for five minutes only, his ugly face in the Press Yard! No ox ever was carried from the shambles more done to death than he would be. As for his honour, I have never known him more cast down and sunk in his spirits since first he was locked up.’

Thus, then, was explained the warning of Lady Cowper, though I have never known how long the preliminaries had been entered upon by this reverend hypocrite.

‘Why, while he talked with us and drank his honour’s punch,’ Mr. Hilyard went on, ‘he was already determined to betray us, and revolving in his mind how best to do it. Repentance! Remorse! Atonement! These are sacred words; but I shall never again be able to use them, for fear of awakening the spirit of revenge against Mr. Patten; and so while in lamenting one sin (and that, perhaps, a venial one) I may be committing another, and that a deadly sin. Never before did I so long, yea, so ardently desire to compass the death of any man, though, I own with surprise, my soul took fierce delight in letting fly among General Willes’s Dragoons. But that was in battle, where one may lawfully kill and slay; while this would be stark murder. And who so eager for the rising? Who so active to enlist recruits? Who so keen to preach the plain duty of loyal men, and the manifold justice of Divine Right? Who so clear to see the finger of the Lord pointing out the way? Who so strong for the return of the Prince? If there was a man among us all who should take the consequences, it is —— Creeping Bob; if anyone who should go to his death with resignation, it is —— Creeping Bob. Oh, villain! villain!’

This was after the impeachment of the lords, in which my brother was named as a confederate, and it made us very desirous to push on our plans, seeing that now there was no hope of insufficient evidence, and every man was doomed, unless the King should pardon him. I heard from Lady Cowper that the trial of the confederates would be taken immediately after the case of the lords was disposed of, which would be, she thought, in a few weeks. Her husband was Lord High Steward of the Commission. Mr. Hilyard’s plan was this: he would bribe Mr. Pitts, the Governor, with a large sum for allowing a door to remain open. Then he would have to bribe certain warders and turnkeys to keep out of the way; next to choose a favourable time; and, lastly, to devise a means of crossing the water. He had already, it seems, sounded Mr. Pitts cautiously on the subject, and, judging from the virtuous abhorrence which the Governor expressed as regards those who betray their trust for money, and the indignation with which he put the thing from him, yet returned to its discussion, Mr. Hilyard thought there would be no difficulty with him other than the arrangement of the price. To be sure, the Governor was reaping a golden harvest at this time, and was not disposed to be moderate in his demands. I thought my own plan better, and likely to be cheaper and as effective; therefore I resolved on first trying my friendly warder.

With this view I enjoined Mr. Hilyard not to pursue the business farther, for the moment, with Mr. Pitts, but to apply himself to finding some safe and trustworthy means of getting a man to France. I never knew, nor did I even ask, by what secret means Mr. Hilyard had information, as well in London as in the country; but presently he told me that he knew of such a captain as we wanted. (He was not our Wapping friend.) He was one who had run many across, and though he asked a large sum for his work, he was reported honest and trustworthy. Mr. Hilyard bargained with him that he should be in readiness against the time we should want him. But this, owing to various hindrances, and especially the jealous and hostile temper of London, was deferred until the trial of the lords should be finished, the dreadful thirst for blood somewhat appeased, and the pulpits and journals be preaching counsels of moderation. In other words, we might have got Tom away within a month of his arrival at Newgate; but, when every strange rider along the road was being arrested on suspicion, and every harmless passenger in the street liable to be haled before the nearest justice, we judged it better to wait.

I knew now that during this time the friends of all the prisoners were not only moving in every direction for interest in high places with which to get a pardon, but were also already devising means and ways, and secretly trying gaolers, guards, and wardens, to see if they were open to corruption, and preparing money for the time when an escape might be conveniently attempted. For the present that time was not yet come. In the end, beside Lord Nithsdale, whose wife got him out, and Lord Wintoun, who sawed his way out, and Tom, whom I got out, by the help of Heaven, there were a great many who escaped, as well as those who were reprieved or pardoned, and those who were tried and acquitted. Thus Charles Radcliffe escaped in a very bold and daring manner; Captain Charles Wogan, one of the Irish messengers, but a brave fellow, made a safe escape; the Brigadier MacIntosh, Mr. Hunter of Callalee, and Mr. Budden, the London upholsterer, escaped, with a good many others. ’Twas said that the Government rejoiced at hearing of their breaking gaol, because it saved them from the odium of many executions, and the seeming cruelty of many pardons. In the end, although many were executed in Lancashire, there were only four who suffered in London, besides the two unhappy lords —— namely, the unfortunate Mr. John Hall of Otterbourne, the Reverend William Paul, Colonel Oxbrough, and Captain Gascoigne. As regards the two last, I have no pity for them, because it was on their statements that our people took up arms, and firmly believing that if they led, thousands would follow. If any suffered, they should suffer; if the blood of the poor fellows who lost their lives at Preston and Sheriffmuir was on the head of any, it was on theirs. Yet why should Mr. Hall (except that he was ever unlucky after the murder of my uncle Ferdinando) be hanged, and Mr. Clavering, of Callalee, go free? Why should poor Mr. Paul, who took no part in the fighting, be executed, and others receive a pardon? I blame not the King for pardoning any, but I blame them because they pardoned some, and executed others who were no more guilty.

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