‘The House of Redgauntlet,’ said the young lady, ‘has for centuries been supposed to lie under a doom, which has rendered vain their courage, their talents, their ambition, and their wisdom. Often making a figure in history, they have been ever in the situation of men striving against both wind and tide, who distinguish themselves by their desperate exertions of strength, and their persevering endurance of toil, but without being able to advance themselves upon their course by either vigour or resolution. They pretend to trace this fatality to a legendary history, which I may tell you at a less busy moment.’
Darsie intimated that he had already heard the tragic story of Sir Alberick Redgauntlet.
‘I need only say, then,’ proceeded Lilias, ‘that our father and uncle felt the family doom in its full extent. They were both possessed of considerable property, which was largely increased by our father’s marriage, and were both devoted to the service of the unhappy House of Stuart; but (as our mother at least supposed) family considerations might have withheld her husband from joining openly in the affair of 1745, had not the high influence which the younger brother possessed over the elder, from his more decided energy of character, hurried him along with himself into that undertaking.
‘When, therefore, the enterprise came to the fatal conclusion which bereaved our father of his life and consigned his brother to exile, Lady Redgauntlet fled from the north of England, determined to break off all communication with her late husband’s family, particularly his brother, whom she regarded as having, by their insane political enthusiasm, been the means of his untimely death; and determined that you, my brother, an infant, and that I, to whom she had just given birth, should be brought up as adherents of the present dynasty. Perhaps she was too hasty in this determination — too timidly anxious to exclude, if possible, from the knowledge of the very spot where we existed, a relation so nearly connected with us as our father’s only brother. But you must make allowance for what she had suffered. See, brother,’ she said, pulling her glove off, ‘these five blood-specks on my arm are a mark by which mysterious Nature has impressed, on an unborn infant, a record of its father’s violent death and its mother’s miseries.’ 59
‘You were not, then, born when my father suffered?’ said Darsie.
‘Alas, no!’ she replied; ‘nor were you a twelvemonth old. It was no wonder that my mother, after going through such scenes of agony, became irresistibly anxious for the sake of her children — of her son in particular; the more especially as the late Sir Henry, her husband, had, by a settlement of his affairs, confided the custody of the persons of her children, as well as the estates which descended to them, independently of those which fell under his forfeiture, to his brother Hugh, in whom he placed unlimited confidence.’
‘But my mother had no reason to fear the operation of such a deed, conceived in favour of an attainted man,’ said Darsie.
‘True,’ replied Lilias; ‘but our uncle’s attainder might have been reversed, like that of so many other persons, and our mother, who both feared and hated him, lived in continual terror that this would be the case, and that she should see the author, as she thought him, of her husband’s death come armed with legal powers, and in a capacity to use them for the purpose of tearing her children from her protection. Besides, she feared, even in his incapacitated condition, the adventurous and pertinacious spirit of her brother-inlaw, Hugh Redgauntlet, and felt assured that he would make some attempt to possess himself of the persons of the children. On the other hand, our uncle, whose proud disposition might, perhaps, have been soothed by the offer of her confidence, revolted against the distrustful and suspicious manner in which Lady Darsie Redgauntlet acted towards him. She basely abused, he said, the unhappy circumstances in which he was placed, in order to deprive him of his natural privilege of protecting and educating the infants, whom nature and law, and the will of their father, had committed to his charge, and he swore solemnly he would not submit to such an injury. Report of his threats was made to Lady Redgauntlet, and tended to increase those fears which proved but too well founded. While you and I, children at that time of two or three years old, were playing together in a walled orchard, adjacent to our mother’s residence which she had fixed somewhere in Devonshire, my uncle suddenly scaled the wall with several men, and I was snatched up; and carried off to a boat which waited for them. My mother, however, flew to your rescue, and as she seized on and held you fast, my uncle could not, as he has since told me, possess himself of your person, without using unmanly violence to his brother’s widow. Of this he was incapable; and, as people began to assemble upon my mother’s screaming, he withdrew, after darting upon you and her one of those fearful looks, which, it is said, remain with our family, as a fatal bequest of Sir Alberick, our ancestor.’
‘I have some recollection of the scuffle which you mention,’ said Darsie; ‘and I think it was my uncle himself (since my uncle he is) who recalled the circumstance to my mind on a late occasion. I can now account for the guarded seclusion under which my poor mother lived — for her frequent tears, her starts of hysterical alarm, and her constant and deep melancholy. Poor lady! what a lot was hers, and what must have been her feelings when it approached to a close!’
‘It was then that she adopted,’ said Lilias, ‘every precaution her ingenuity could suggest, to keep your very existence concealed from the person whom she feared — nay, from yourself; for she dreaded, as she is said often to have expressed herself, that the wildfire blood of Redgauntlet would urge you to unite your fortunes to those of your uncle, who was well known still to carry on political intrigues, which most other persons had considered as desperate. It was also possible that he, as well as others, might get his pardon, as government showed every year more lenity towards the remnant of the Jacobites, and then he might claim the custody of your person, as your legal guardian. Either of these events she considered as the direct road to your destruction.’
‘I wonder she had not claimed the protection of Chancery for me,’ said Darsie; ‘or confided me to the care of some powerful friend.’
‘She was on indifferent terms with her relations, on account of her marriage with our father,’ said Lilias, ‘and trusted more to secreting you from your uncle’s attempts, than to any protection which law might afford against them. Perhaps she judged unwisely, but surely not unnaturally, for one rendered irritable by so many misfortunes and so many alarms. Samuel Griffiths, an eminent banker, and a worthy clergyman now dead were, I believe, the only persons whom she intrusted with the execution of her last will; and my uncle believes that she made them both swear to observe profound secrecy concerning your birth and pretensions, until you should come to the age of majority, and, in the meantime, to breed you up in the most private way possible, and that which was most likely to withdraw you from my uncle’s observation.’
‘And I have no doubt,’ said Darsie, ‘that betwixt change of name and habitation, they might have succeeded perfectly, but for the accident — lucky or unlucky, I know not which to term it — which brought me to Brokenburn, and into contact with Mr. Redgauntlet. I see also why I was warned against England, for in England’—
‘In England alone, if I understand rightly,’ said Miss Redgauntlet, ‘the claims of your uncle to the custody of your person could have been enforced, in case of his being replaced in the ordinary rights of citizenship, either by the lenity of the government or by some change in it. In Scotland, where you possess no property, I understand his authority might; have been resisted, and measures taken to put you under the protection of the law. But, pray, think it not unlucky that you have taken the step of visiting Brokenburn — I feel confident that the consequences must be ultimately fortunate, for have they not already brought us into contact with each other?’
So saying, she held out her hand to her brother, who grasped it with a fondness of pressure very different from the manner in which they first clasped hands that morning. There was a moment’s pause, while the hearts of both were overflowing with a feeling of natural affection, to which circumstances had hitherto rendered them strangers.
At length Darsie broke silence; ‘I am ashamed,’ he said, ‘my dearest Lilias, that I have suffered you to talk so long about matters concerning myself only, while I remain ignorant of your story, and your present situation.’
‘The former is none of the most interesting, nor the latter the most safe or agreeable,’ answered Lilias; ‘but now, my dearest brother, I shall have the inestimable support of your countenance and affection; and were I but sure that we could weather the formidable crisis which I find so close at hand, I should have little apprehensions for the future.’
‘Let me know,’ said Darsie, ‘what our present situation is; and rely upon my utmost exertions both in your defence and my own. For what reason can my uncle desire to detain me a prisoner? If in mere opposition to the will of my mother, she has long been no more; and I see not why he should wish, at so much trouble and risk, to interfere with the free will of one, to whom a few months will give a privilege of acting for himself, with which he will have no longer any pretence to interfere.’
‘My dearest Arthur,’ answered Lilias —‘for that name, as well as Darsie, properly belongs to you — it is the leading feature in my uncle’s character, that he has applied every energy of his powerful mind to the service of the exiled family of Stuart. The death of his brother, the dilapidation of his own fortunes, have only added to his hereditary zeal for the House of Stuart a deep and almost personal hatred against the present reigning family. He is, in short, a political enthusiast of the most dangerous character, and proceeds in his agency with as much confidence, as if he felt himself the very Atlas who is alone capable of supporting a sinking cause.’
‘And where or how did you, my Lilias, educated, doubtless, under his auspices, learn to have a different view of such subjects?’
‘By a singular chance,’ replied Lilias, ‘in the nunnery where my uncle placed me. Although the abbess was a person exactly after his own heart, my education as a pensioner devolved much on an excellent old mother who had adopted the tenets of the Jansenists, with perhaps a still further tendency towards the reformed doctrines, than those of Port Royal. The mysterious secrecy with which she inculcated these tenets, gave them charms to my young mind, and I embraced them the rather that they were in direct opposition to the doctrines of the abbess, whom I hated so much for her severity, that I felt a childish delight in setting her control at defiance, and contradicting in my secret soul all that I was openly obliged to listen to with reverence. Freedom of religious opinion brings on, I suppose, freedom of political creed; for I had no sooner renounced the Pope’s infallibility, than I began to question the doctrine of hereditary and indefeasible right. In short, strange as it may seem, I came out of a Parisian convent, not indeed an instructed Whig and Protestant, but with as much inclination to be so as if I had been bred up, like you, within the Presbyterian sound of Saint Giles’s chimes.’
‘More so, perhaps,’ replied Darsie; ‘for the nearer the church — the proverb is somewhat musty. But how did these liberal opinions of yours agree with the very opposite prejudices of my uncle?’
‘They would have agreed like fire and water,’ answered Lilias, ‘had I suffered mine to become visible; but as that would have subjected me to constant reproach and upbraiding, or worse, I took great care to keep my own secret; so that occasional censures for coldness, and lack of zeal for the good cause, were the worst I had to undergo; and these were bad enough.’
‘I applaud your caution,’ said Darsie.
‘You have reason,’ replied his sister; ‘but I got so terrible a specimen of my uncle’s determination of character, before I had been acquainted with him for much more than a week, that it taught me at what risk I should contradict his humour. I will tell you the circumstances; for it will better teach you to appreciate the romantic and resolved nature of his character, than anything which I could state of his rashness and enthusiasm.
‘After I had been many a long year at the convent, I was removed from thence, and placed with a meagre old Scottish lady of high rank, the daughter of an unfortunate person whose head had in the year 1715 been placed on Temple Bar. She subsisted on a small pension from the French Court, aided by an occasional gratuity from the Stuarts; to which the annuity paid for my board formed a desirable addition. She was not ill-tempered, nor very covetous — neither beat me nor starved me — but she was so completely trammelled by rank and prejudices, so awfully profound in genealogy, and so bitterly keen, poor lady, in British, politics, that I sometimes thought it pity that the Hanoverians, who murdered, as she used to tell me, her poor dear father, had left his dear daughter in the land of the living. Delighted, therefore, was I, when my uncle made his appearance, and abruptly announced his purpose of conveying me to England. My extravagant joy at the idea of leaving Lady Rachel Rougedragon was somewhat qualified by observing the melancholy look, lofty demeanour, and commanding tone of my near relative. He held more communication with me on the journey, however, than consisted with his taciturn demeanour in general, and seemed anxious to ascertain my tone of character, and particularly in point of courage. Now, though I am a tamed Redgauntlet, yet I have still so much of our family spirit as enables me to be as composed in danger as most of my sex; and upon two occasions in the course of our journey — a threatened attack by banditti, and the overturn of our carriage — I had the fortune so to conduct myself, as to convey to my uncle a very favourable idea of my intrepidity. Probably this encouraged him to put in execution the singular scheme which he had in agitation.
‘Ere we reached London we changed our means of conveyance, and altered the route by which we approached the city, more than once; then, like a hare which doubles repeatedly at some distance from the seat she means to occupy, and at last leaps into her form from a distance so great as she can clear by a spring, we made a forced march, and landed in private and obscure lodgings in a little old street in Westminster, not far from the Cloisters.
‘On the morning of the day on which we arrived my uncle went abroad, and did not return for some hours. Meantime I had no other amusement than to listen to the tumult of noises which succeeded each other, or reigned in confusion together during the whole morning. Paris I had thought the most noisy capital in the world, but Paris seemed midnight silence compared to London. Cannon thundered near and at a distance — drums, trumpets, and military music of every kind, rolled, flourished, and pierced the clouds, almost without intermission. To fill up the concert, bells pealed incessantly from a hundred steeples. The acclamations of an immense multitude were heard from time to time, like the roaring of a mighty ocean, and all this without my being able to glean the least idea of what was going on, for the windows of our apartment looked upon a waste backyard, which seemed totally deserted. My curiosity became extreme, for I was satisfied, at length, that it must be some festival of the highest order which called forth these incessant sounds.
‘My uncle at length returned, and with him a man of an exterior singularly unprepossessing. I need not describe him to you, for — do not look round — he rides behind us at this moment.’
‘That respectable person, Mr. Cristal Nixon, I suppose?’ said Darsie.
‘The same,’ answered Lilias; ‘make no gesture, that may intimate we are speaking of him.’
Darsie signified that he understood her, and she pursued her relation.
‘They were both in full dress, and my uncle, taking a bundle from Nixon, said to me, “Lilias, I am come to carry you to see a grand ceremony — put on as hastily as you can the dress you will find in that parcel, and prepare to attend me.” I found a female dress, splendid and elegant, but somewhat bordering upon the antique fashion. It might be that of England, I thought, and I went to my apartment full of curiosity, and dressed myself with all speed.
‘My uncle surveyed me with attention —“She may pass for one of the flower-girls,” he said to Nixon, who only answered with a nod.
‘We left the house together, and such was their knowledge of the lanes, courts, and bypaths, that though there was the roar of a multitude in the broad streets, those which we traversed were silent and deserted; and the strollers whom we met, tired of gazing upon gayer figures, scarcely honoured us with a passing look, although, at any other time, we should, among these vulgar suburbs, have attracted a troublesome share of observation. We crossed at length a broad street, where many soldiers were on guard, while others, exhausted with previous duty, were eating, drinking, smoking, and sleeping beside their piled arms.
‘“One day, Nixon,” whispered my uncle, “we will make these redcoated gentry stand to their muskets more watchfully.”
‘“Or it will be the worse for them,” answered his attendant, in a voice as unpleasant as his physiognomy.
‘Unquestioned and unchallenged by any one, we crossed among the guards; and Nixon tapped thrice at a small postern door in a huge ancient building, which was straight before us. It opened, and we entered without my perceiving by whom we were admitted. A few dark and narrow passages at length conveyed us into an immense Gothic hall, the magnificence of which baffles my powers of description.
‘It was illuminated by ten thousand wax lights, whose splendour at first dazzled my eyes, coming as we did from these dark and secret avenues. But when my sight began to become steady, how shall I describe what I beheld? Beneath were huge ranges of tables, occupied by princes and nobles in their robes of state — high officers of the crown, wearing their dresses and badges of authority — reverend prelates and judges, the sages of the church and law, in their more sombre, yet not less awful robes — with others whose antique and striking costume announced their importance, though I could not even guess who they might be. But at length the truth burst on me at once — it was, and the murmurs around confirmed it, the Coronation Feast. At a table above the rest, and extending across the upper end of the hall, sat enthroned the youthful sovereign himself, surrounded by the princes of the blood, and other dignitaries, and receiving the suit and homage of his subjects. Heralds and pursuivants, blazing in their fantastic yet splendid armorial habits, and pages of honour, gorgeously arrayed in the garb of other days, waited upon the princely banqueters. In the galleries with which this spacious hall was surrounded, shone all, and more than all, that my poor imagination could conceive, of what was brilliant in riches, or captivating in beauty. Countless rows of ladies, whose diamonds, jewels, and splendid attire were their least powerful charms, looked down from their lofty seats on the rich scene beneath, themselves forming a show as dazzling and as beautiful as that of which they were spectators. Under these galleries, and behind the banqueting tables, were a multitude of gentlemen, dressed as if to attend a court, but whose garb, although rich enough to have adorned a royal drawing room, could not distinguish them in such a high scene as this. Amongst these we wandered for a few minutes, undistinguished and unregarded. I saw several young persons dressed as I was, so was under no embarrassment from the singularity of my habit, and only rejoiced, as I hung on my uncle’s arm, at the magical splendour of such a scene, and at his goodness for procuring me the pleasure of beholding it.
‘By and by, I perceived that my uncle had acquaintances among those who were under the galleries, and seemed, like ourselves, to be mere spectators of the solemnity. They recognized each other with a single word, sometimes only with a grip of the hand-exchanged some private signs, doubtless — and gradually formed a little group, in the centre of which we were placed.
‘“Is it not a grand sight, Lilias?” said my uncle. “All the noble, and all the wise, and all the wealthy of Britain, are there assembled.”
‘“It is indeed,” said I, “all that my mind could have fancied of regal power and splendour.”
‘“Girl,” he whispered — and my uncle can make his whispers as terribly emphatic as his thundering voice or his blighting look —“all that is noble and worthy in this fair land are there assembled — but it is to bend like slaves and sycophants before the throne of a new usurper.”
‘I looked at him, and the dark hereditary frown of our unhappy ancestor was black upon his brow.
‘“For God’s sake,” I whispered, “consider where we are.”
‘“Fear nothing,” he said; “we are surrounded by friends.” As he proceeded, his strong and muscular frame shook with suppressed agitation. “See,” he said, “yonder bends Norfolk, renegade to his Catholic.faith; there stoops the Bishop of — traitor to the Church of England; and — shame of shames! yonder the gigantic form of Errol bows his head before the grandson of his father’s murderer! But a sign shall be seen this night amongst them — MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN, shall be read on these walls, as distinctly as the spectral handwriting made them visible on those of Belshazzar!”
‘“For God’s sake,” said I, dreadfully alarmed, “it is impossible you can meditate violence in such a presence!”
‘“None is intended, fool,” he answered, “nor can the slightest mischance happen, provided you will rally your boasted courage, and obey my directions. But do it coolly and quickly, for there are a hundred lives at stake.”
‘“Alas! what — can I do?” I asked in the utmost terror.
‘“Only be prompt to execute my bidding,” said he; “it is but to lift a glove — Here, hold this in your hand — throw the train of your dress over it, be firm, composed, and ready — or, at all events, I step forward myself.”
‘“If there is no violence designed,” I said, taking, mechanically, the iron glove he put into my hand.
‘“I could not conceive his meaning; but, in the excited state of mind in which I beheld him, I was convinced that disobedience on my part would lead to some wild explosion. I felt, from the emergency of the occasion, a sudden presence of mind, and resolved to do anything that might avert violence and bloodshed. I was not long held in suspense. A loud flourish of trumpets and the voice of heralds were mixed with the clatter of horses’ hoofs, while a champion, armed at all points like those I had read of in romances, attended by squires, pages, and the whole retinue of chivalry, pranced forward, mounted upon a barbed steed. His challenge, in defiance of all who dared impeach the title of the new sovereign, was recited aloud — once, and again.
‘” Rush in at the third sounding,” said my uncle to me; “bring me the parader’s gage, and leave mine in lieu of it.”
‘I could not see how this was to be done, as we were surrounded by people on all sides. But, at the third sounding of the trumpets, a lane opened as if by word of command, betwixt me and the champion, and my uncle’s voice said, “Now, Lilias, NOW!”
‘With a swift and yet steady step, and with a presence of mind for which I have never since been able to account, I discharged the perilous commission. I was hardly seen, I believe, as I exchanged the pledges of battle, and in an instant retired. “Nobly done, my girl!” said my uncle, at whose side I found myself, shrouded as I was before, by the interposition of the bystanders. “Cover our retreat, gentlemen,” he whispered to those around him.
‘Room was made for us to approach the wall, which seemed to open, and we were again involved in the dark passages through which we had formerly passed. In a small anteroom, my uncle stopped, and hastily muffling me in a mantle which was lying there, we passed the guards — threaded the labyrinth of empty streets and courts, and reached our retired lodgings without attracting the least attention.’
‘I have often heard,’ said Darsie, ‘that a female, supposed to be a man in disguise — and yet, Lilias, you do not look very masculine — had taken up the champion’s gauntlet at the present king’s coronation, and left in its place a gage of battle, with a paper, offering to accept the combat, provided a fair field should be allowed for it. I have hitherto considered it as an idle tale. I little thought how nearly I was interested in the actors of a scene so daring. How could you have courage to go through with it?’ 60
‘Had I had leisure for reflection,’ answered his sister, ‘I should have refused, from a mixture of principle and of fear. But, like many people who do daring actions, I went on because I had not time to think of retreating. The matter was little known, and it is said the king had commanded that it should not be further inquired into; — from prudence, as I suppose, and lenity, though my uncle chooses to ascribe the forbearance of the Elector of Hanover, as he calls him, sometimes to pusillanimity, and sometimes to a presumptuous scorn of the faction who opposes his title.’
‘And have your subsequent agencies under this frantic enthusiast,’ said Darsie, ‘equalled this in danger?’
‘No — nor in importance,’ replied Lilias; ‘though I have witnessed much of the strange and desperate machinations, by which, in spite of every obstacle, and in contempt of every danger, he endeavours to awaken the courage of a broken party. I have traversed, in his company, all England and Scotland, and have visited the most extraordinary and contrasted scenes; now lodging at the castles of the proud gentry of Cheshire and Wales, where the retired aristocrats, with opinions as antiquated as their dwellings and their manners, still continue to nourish Jacobitical principles; and the next week, perhaps, spent among outlawed smugglers, or Highland banditti. I have known my uncle often act the part of a hero, and sometimes that of a mere vulgar conspirator, and turn himself, with the most surprising flexibility, into all sorts of shapes to attract proselytes to his cause.’
‘Which, in the present day,’ said Darsie, ‘he finds, I presume, no easy task.’
‘So difficult,’ said Lilias, ‘that, I believe, he has, at different times, disgusted with the total falling away of some friends, and the coldness of others, been almost on the point of resigning his undertaking. How often I have I known him affect an open brow and a jovial manner, joining in the games of the gentry, and even in the sports of the common people, in order to invest himself with a temporary degree of popularity; while, in fact, his heart was bursting to witness what he called the degeneracy of the times, the decay of activity among the aged, and the want of zeal in the rising generation. After the day has been spent in the hardest exercise, he has spent the night in pacing his solitary chamber, bewailing the downfall of the cause, and wishing for the bullet of Dundee or the axe of Balmerino.’
‘A strange delusion,’ said Darsie; ‘and it is wonderful that it does not yield to the force of reality.’
‘Ah, but,’ replied Lilias, ‘realities of late have seemed to flatter his hopes. The general dissatisfaction with the peace — the unpopularity of the minister, which has extended itself even to the person of his master — the various uproars which have disturbed the peace of the metropolis, and a general state of disgust and disaffection, which seems to affect the body of the nation, have given unwonted encouragement to the expiring hopes of the Jacobites, and induced many, both at the Court of Rome, and, if it can be called so, of the Pretender, to lend a more favourable ear than they had hitherto done to the insinuations of those who, like my uncle, hope, when hope is lost to all but themselves. Nay, I really believe that at this moment they meditate some desperate effort. My uncle has been doing all in his power, of late, to conciliate the affections of those wild communities that dwell on the Solway, over whom our family possessed a seignorial interest before the forfeiture, and amongst whom, on the occasion of 1745, our unhappy father’s interest, with his own, raised a considerable body of men. But they are no longer willing to obey his summons; and, as one apology among others, they allege your absence as their natural head and leader. This has increased his desire to obtain possession of your person, and, if he possibly can, to influence your mind, so as to obtain your authority to his proceedings.’
‘That he shall never obtain,’ answered Darsie; ‘my principles and my prudence alike forbid such a step. Besides, it would be totally unavailing to his purpose. Whatever these people may pretend, to evade your uncle’s importunities, they cannot, at this time of day, think of subjecting their necks again to the feudal yoke, which was effectually broken by the act of 1748, abolishing vassalage and hereditary jurisdictions.’
‘Aye, but that my uncle considers as the act of a usurping government,’ said Lilias.
‘Like enough he may think so,’ answered her brother, ‘for he is a superior, and loses his authority by, the enactment. But the question is, what the vassals will think of it who have gained their freedom from feudal slavery, and have now enjoyed that freedom for many years? However, to cut the matter short, if five hundred men would rise at the wagging of my finger, that finger shall not be raised in a cause which I disapprove of, and upon that my uncle may reckon.’
‘But you may temporize,’ said Lilias, upon whom the idea of her uncle’s displeasure made evidently a strong impression — ‘you may temporize, as most of the gentry in this country do, and let the bubble burst of itself; for it is singular how few of them venture to oppose my uncle directly. I entreat you to avoid direct collision with him. To hear you, the head of the House of Redgauntlet, declare against the family of Stuart, would either break his heart, or drive him to some act of desperation.’
‘Yes, but, Lilias, you forget that the consequences of such an act of complaisance might be, that the House of Redgauntlet and I might lose both our heads at one blow.’
‘Alas!’ said she, ‘I had forgotten that danger. I have grown familiar with perilous intrigues, as the nurses in a pest-house are said to become accustomed to the air around them, till they forget even that it is noisome.’
‘And yet,’ said Darsie, ‘if I could free myself from him without coming to an open rupture. Tell me, Lilias, do you think it possible that he can have any immediate attempt in view?’
‘To confess the truth,’ answered Lilias, ‘I cannot doubt that he has. There has been an unusual bustle among the Jacobites of late. They have hopes, as I told you, from circumstances unconnected with their own strength. Just before you came to the country, my uncle’s desire to find you out became, if possible, more eager than ever — he talked of men to be presently brought together, and of your name and influence for raising them. At this very time your first visit to Brokenburn took place. A suspicion arose in my uncle’s mind, that you might be the youth he sought, and it was strengthened by papers and letters which the rascal Nixon did not hesitate to take from your pocket. Yet a mistake might have occasioned a fatal explosion; and my uncle therefore posted to Edinburgh to follow out the clue he had obtained, and fished enough of information from old Mr. Fairford to make him certain that you were the person he sought. Meanwhile, and at the expense of some personal and perhaps too bold exertion, I endeavoured, through your friend young Fairford, to put you on your guard.’
‘Without success,’ said Darsie, blushing under his mask when he recollected how he had mistaken his sister’s meaning.
‘I do not wonder that my warning was fruitless,’ said she; ‘the thing was doomed to be. Besides, your escape would have been difficult. You were dogged the whole time you were at the Shepherd’s Bush and at Mount Sharon, by a spy who scarcely ever left you.’
‘The wretch, little Benjie!’ exclaimed Darsie. ‘I will wring the monkey’s neck round, the first time we meet.’
‘It was he indeed who gave constant information of your motions to Cristal Nixon,’ said Lilias.
‘And Cristal Nixon — I owe him, too, a day’s work in harvest,’ said Darsie; ‘for I am mistaken if he was not the person that struck me down when I was made prisoner among the rioters.’
‘Like enough; for he has a head and hand for any villany. My uncle was very angry about it; for though the riot was made to have an opportunity of carrying you off in the confusion, as well as to put the fishermen at variance with the public law, it would have been his last thought to have injured a hair of your head. But Nixon has insinuated himself into all my uncle’s secrets, and some of these are so dark and dangerous, that though there are few things he would not dare, I doubt if he dare quarrel with him. And yet I know that of Cristal would move my uncle to pass his sword through his body.’
‘What is it, for Heaven’s sake?’, said Darsie. ‘I have a particular desire for wishing to know.’
‘The old, brutal desperado, whose face and mind are a libel upon human nature, has had the insolence to speak to his master’s niece as one whom he was at liberty to admire; and when I turned on him with the anger and contempt he merited, the wretch grumbled out something, as if he held the destiny of our family in his hand.’
‘I thank you, Lilias,’ said Darsie, eagerly — ‘I thank you with all my heart for this communication. I have blamed myself as a Christian man for the indescribable longing I felt from the first moment I saw that rascal, to send a bullet through his head; and now you have perfectly accounted for and justified this very laudable wish. I wonder my uncle, with the powerful sense you describe him to be possessed of, does not see through such a villain.’
‘I believe he knows him to be capable of much evil,’ answered Lilias —‘selfish, obdurate, brutal, and a man-hater. But then he conceives him to possess the qualities most requisite for a conspirator — undaunted courage, imperturbable coolness and address, and inviolable fidelity. In the last particular he may be mistaken. I have heard Nixon blamed for the manner in which our poor father was taken after Culloden.’
‘Another reason for my innate aversion,’ said Darsie, but I will be on my guard with him.’
‘See, he observes us closely,’ said Lilias. ‘What a thing is conscience! He knows we are now speaking of him, though he cannot have heard a word that we have said.’
It seemed as if she had guessed truly; for Cristal Nixon at that moment rode up to them, and said, with an affectation of jocularity, which sat very ill on his sullen features, ‘Come, young ladies, you have had time enough for your chat this morning, and your tongues, I think, must be tired. We are going to pass a village, and I must beg you to separate — you, Miss Lilias, to ride a little behind — and you, Mrs., or Miss, or Master, whichever you choose to be called, to be jogging a little before.’
Lilias checked her horse without speaking, but not until she had given her brother an expressive look, recommending caution; to which he replied by a signal indicating that he understood and would comply with her request.
59 Several persons have brought down to these days the impressions which Nature had thus recorded, when they were yet babes unborn. One lady of quality, whose father was long under sentence of death previous to the Rebellion, was marked on the back of the neck by the sign of a broad axe. Another whose kinsmen had been slain in battle and died on the scaffold to the number of seven, bore a child spattered on the right shoulder and down the arm with scarlet drops, as if of blood. Many other instances might be quoted.
60 NOTE 9 — CORONATION OF GEORGE III
In excuse of what may be considered as a violent infraction of probability in this chapter, the author is under the necessity of quoting a tradition which many persons may recollect having heard. It was always said, though with very little appearance of truth, that upon the Coronation of the late George III, when the champion of England, Dymock, or his representative, appeared in Westminster Hall, and in the language of chivalry solemnly wagered his body to defend in single combat the right of the young King to the crown of these realms, at the moment when he flung down his gauntlet as the gage of battle, an unknown female stepped from the crowd and lifted the pledge, leaving another gage in room of it, with a paper expressing, that if a fair field of combat should be allowed, a champion of rank and birth would appear with equal arms to dispute the claim of King George to the British kingdoms. The story is probably one of the numerous fictions which were circulated to keep up the spirits of a sinking faction, The incident was, however, possible, if it could be supposed to he attended by any motive adequate to the risk, and might be imagined to occur to a person of Redgauntlet’s enthusiastic character. George III, it is said, had a police of his own, whose agency was so efficient, that the sovereign was able to tell his prime minister upon one occasion, to his great surprise, that the Pretender was in London. The prime minister began immediately to talk of measures to be taken, warrants to be procured, messengers and guards to be got in readiness. ‘Pooh, pooh,’ said the good-natured sovereign, since I have found him out, leave me alone to deal with him.’—‘And what,’ said the minister, ‘is your Majesty’s purpose, in so important a case?’— ‘To leave the young man to himself,’ said George III; ‘and when he tires he will go back again.’ The truth of this story does not depend on that of the lifting of the gauntlet; and while the latter could be but an idle bravado, the former expresses George Ill’s goodness of heart and soundness of policy.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13