Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter xl.

The End.

So all was done, and Tom was saved. The fate of poor mad Jack Hall and the Reverend Mr. Paul, not to speak of Colonel Oxbrough and Captain Gascoigne, sufficiently proved what his end would have been had we failed to effect his rescue. As regards the rest of the English gentlemen condemned (I say nothing about those of Scotland), all those who were brought to London escaped the hangman. Some, among whom were Mr. Gibson of Stonecroft, and my old lover, Ned Swinburne —— poor boy! —— died in Newgate; others obtained a pardon. Among these were Perry Widdrington, Mr. Standish, and Mr. Errington, of my own friends. Others escaped, among whom especially was Charles Radcliffe. But those who were pardoned and those who escaped live in poverty, having been mostly stripped of their estates; so that the end of this most unhappy enterprise hath been to deprive the Prince of all his best friends in that part of England where formerly he was most powerful. It is true that we are still, and always shall be, loyal; but when this Prince comes again, of which I hear nothing of late, where will be the leaders? Dilston lies neglected, falling into ruin; the Countess is dead; her son is dead; Charles Radcliffe, to whom it now belongs, is in exile. Lord Widdrington is living, but he is now grown old, and his estates and rank have been taken from him. Far better had they all, as Lady Crewe counselled, sat down in peace until the nation should call the Prince to his own again. This Mr. Hilyard thinks will certainly be done if the young man, now eighteen years old in this year of grace seventeen hundred and thirty-nine, consents to become a Protestant. But a Papist King this country, he says, will never endure, nor look to preserve the Church by a Catholic Head. As well expect the Church and our Protestant liberties to be preserved if the Archbishop of Canterbury were a Cardinal, and his brother bishops Grand Inquisitors, Papal Nuncios, and Italian priests!

It remains to tell of our return journey. We came to London in disguise, but we went home openly. We came in sadness and fearful expectation, through snow and ice, beaten by the fierce blast from the north, as by the breath of the Lord’s displeasure. We went back again through the soft sunshine and the gentle rains of April, the flowers springing under our feet, the tender leaves opening, the birds singing in every bosky grove, the little lambs dancing in the meadows. My heart, which can never again be merry for thinking of that noble head laid low on Tower Hill, was, at least, full of gratitude, because Tom was safe across the seas.

After some days of riding we came to Stene, where I proposed to give Lord Crewe an account of my stewardship. The sunshine of spring had warmed the old man’s heart. He was walking, when we arrived, on his terrace, leaning on the arm of his chaplain. He laughed when he saw me, striking the ground with his stick.

‘Ho! ho! It is fair Dorothy,’ he cried;’ ‘Dorothy, who breaks prison-bars and picks the locks, and sets the prisoners free! Come, kiss me, child! I have heard, and I rejoice. Tom was a fool; but we, who have the misfortune to own fools in the family, love not that they should be hanged for their folly. Why, thou art looking ten years younger —— more like my own Dorothy, poor creature! when I married her. Stay with me awhile, child. Let thy sweet looks comfort my old heart, which is lonely. David in his age was permitted to find comfort in Abigail. Stay awhile and rest. And you, Sir Terræ Filius —— ah, villain! —— shall stay too, to tell me of all that bath chanced.’

We stayed with the good Bishop for six weeks. Every day, at dinner, Mr. Hilyard related something new concerning the Rebellion, its progress, and its downfall. Also he had much to say concerning London and the coffee-house loyalists and the mob. In the evening I played music to his lordship, or listened to his grave and learned talk. There was no need to hurry northwards, where cold cheer, indeed, awaited us. When the time came that we should go on our way, my lord held with me a long and earnest discourse. First, he asked if I wished to return to my father’s house, or would continue at the Manor House. I told him that as I had lived for many years in my grandfather’s house, there would I wish still to live, and to sit in the chancel, and think myself one of the Bamborough Forsters; and that out of no disrespect for my father, but only because of her ladyship’s affection and kindness, and because Tom loved Bamborough better than Etherston, and, lastly, because I could not live happily, being now a woman past five-and-twenty years, and no mere child to be rebuked by madam, my father’s wife.

Thereupon the Bishop sat gravely thinking for awhile, and presently said that he should give orders for the house to be maintained for me, with a sufficient yearly sum of money, as long as I lived, or remained single; and if I married, then it would be his pleasure to provide for me an honourable marriage portion, in memory and for the sake of his dear wife, who, had she lived, would have done as much, or more, for me, being, as had been abundantly proved, always most tender for her own family, and also in token of his own admiration for what he was pleased to call my courage and resolution in the conduct of Tom’s escape, concerning which lie every day spoke as if it was some wonderful thing I had done, whereas, had it not been for the use of his money, and for Mr. Hilyard’s zeal, and Purdy the blacksmith, I could have effected nothing. It pleased the Bishop, also, though he was so rich a man; that the escape had cost him so little.

Well, I thanked his lordship in words as respectful and as grateful as I could command, and told him that, as for a marriage-portion, I desired none, because it was my resolution never to marry, but to live a single life.

‘That,’ said the Bishop, ‘is easy to say, but hard to do. Nevertheless, whether thou marry or do not marry —— but upon this head see what Paul hath written clearly. Why, child, is no man to be made happy by thy beauty?’

‘Because, my lord,’ I said, ‘I was once honoured by the love of the most noble heart in all the world. I could not marry him, and he is now dead; but beside his memory all other men look small.’

To this he made no reply for awhile; but presently he said, looking upon me tenderly:

‘Nay, if the memory of a dead man be of such force —— but remember, child, he was not thy husband, nor could ever be. Think of him if thou wilt, but —— well, I doubt not of thy piety.

He then informed me that had things gone otherwise, it was his intention to settle all the Bamborough estates upon his wife for her lifetime, and after death upon Tom and his heirs, but entailed, so that he could not part with any; that now, however, it was useless to bequeath anything to an outlaw; besides, he could not forgive Tom, first, for meddling with conspirators, he being a simple country gentleman; next, for rashly taking up arms without the least provision of money, war materials, or men; thirdly, for time lame and miserable conclusion of the enterprise; and, lastly, for the anxiety and trouble all this business had caused to his wife, whereof she fell ill and died.

‘He hath made his bed,’ said the Bishop. ‘Let him lie upon it. “It is as sport,” said the wise man, yea, “as sport to a fool to do mischief; but a man of understanding hath wisdom.”

Next, he told me that he had considered the case of Mr. Hilyard.

‘He is,’ said my lord, ‘a man of singular honesty, fidelity, and affection. I have learned that he served Tom for many years for no reward, giving’ up the yearly wage promised him rather than deprive his patron of certain pleasures. I might continue him as steward of the estate; but I am old, and may expect my departure any day. Therefore, I am resolved upon ordaining him; and, if I live long enough, and he prove worthy, I will advance him to preferment. Would that all my clergy were as learned and as pious as this man of parts and wit, this Terræ Filius whom they expelled from my own college!’

Indeed, during our stay at Stene, Mr. Hilyard, by the stories which he told, the learning he displayed, and that admirable quality of his which enabled him to adapt his conversation to the taste and opinions of his company, made the Bishop think so favourably of him that the very next year, when he was advanced from deacon’s to priest’s orders, he made him a canon of Durham, which dignified position Mr. Hilyard still occupies, an ornament and pillar to the Church. He sings no more, except anthems, several of which, very stately and moving, he hath composed for the quire of the Cathedral; nor does he laugh any more, or play antic tricks, being now, indeed, fully possessed with the gravity and dignity of his sacred office; and, besides, he is now past fifty years of age.

He spends most of his time in Bamborough, so as to be near me, knowing how great a solace to me is his company. We walk together upon the sands, or we wander together, as in the old days, among the ruins of our brave old castle. We talk of the time when I was a little girl and Tom a brave and gallant youth, leaping across the rocks of Farne. The sea breaks upon those lonely rocks, and the wild-fowl scream; but Tom lies dead in the Bamborough vault. Last year I made a boatman take me across, and sat within the broken walls of St. Cuthbert’s Chapel a whole summer’s morning through, thinking of the past.

So here have I lived since May, 1716, retired, but not lonely. My father is dead, and madam, and her son Ralph, my half brother; and my brother John now reigns at Etherston. He is not yet married; and, if he hath no children, there will soon be no Forsters at Etherston any more than at Bamborough. The friends of my youth are scattered or dead; the old noisy life, with the holloas of the foxhunters and the merry laugh of the lads going out on horseback, has gone far away from this quiet place; but the castle remains, and within its crumbling walls I can walk alone and meditate, whether in the calm days when the sunshine lies upon the quiet sea, or when the waves dash along the coast, and the spray flies from the rocks into my face. In the evening Mr. Hilyard is often my companion, and we read, converse, and have sweet music together. I hear nothing more of any plots, and I ask no longer concerning the voice of the country as regards the Prince. Yet from long habit, and because he is our lawful Sovereign, I drink daily, as in duty bound, a glass of wine ‘to the health of King James.

A strange thing I learned lately through Mr. Hilyard, who came upon a camp of gipsies, and conversed with them. It was of Jenny Lee. After the death of Frank, he told me, Jenny became careless of her acting, and took no more delight in the theatre; and one day she sold all her jewels and the fine presents her friends and suitors had given her, and so went back to her own people, preferring to wander with them, and dwell in tents and under carts, rather than live any more in towns. Thus broke out the wild gipsy blood; and now she sits among the wise women, wiser herself than any, and tells fortunes, reads hands, and practises sorcery. A strange creature, truly. Can there be born men and women without souls?

But I have never seen her, nor hath Mr. Hilyard, since Frank Radcliffe’s death, and I do not think she will come to our part of the country.

Once Mr. Hilyard asked me if I remained still of the same mind as to marriage. I knew what he meant, and am deeply greateful to him for all that he hath done for me, therefore I hastened to assure him of my constant and sincere respect and affection for him; but, as regards time subject of marriage, my mind was the same, and I asked of Heaven nothing more than a continuance of his company, his prayers, and his pious counsels until the end, which will not be long, perhaps, for the Forsters do never live, any of them, like many of this country, to eighty or a hundred years. He accepted my answer, and we have spoken of the subject no more; but he continueth, as always, my most faithful and loving friend.

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