This is the place, the centre of the grove;
Here stands the oak, the monarch of the wood.
The sun had risen on the broad boughs of the forest, but without the power of penetrating into its recesses, which hung rich with heavy dewdrops, and were beginning on some of the trees to exhibit the varied tints of autumn; it being the season when Nature, like a prodigal whose race is well-nigh run, seems desirous to make up in profuse gaiety and variety of colours, for the short space which her splendour has then to endure. The birds were silent — and even Robin-redbreast, whose chirruping song was heard among the bushes near the Lodge, emboldened by the largesses with which the good old knight always encouraged his familiarity, did not venture into the recesses of the wood, where he encountered the sparrow-hawk, and other enemies of a similar description, preferring the vicinity of the dwellings of man, from whom he, almost solely among the feathered tribes, seems to experience disinterested protection.
The scene was therefore at once lovely and silent, when the good Dr. Rochecliffe, wrapped in a scarlet roquelaure, which had seen service in its day, muffling his face more from habit than necessity, and supporting Alice on his arm, (she also defended by a cloak against the cold and damp of the autumn morning,) glided through the tangled and long grass of the darkest alleys, almost ankle-deep in dew, towards the place appointed for the intended duel. Both so eagerly maintained the consultation in which they were engaged, that they were alike insensible of the roughness and discomforts of the road, though often obliged to force their way through brushwood and coppice, which poured down on them all the liquid pearls with which they were loaded, till the mantles they were wrapped in hung lank by their sides, and clung to their shoulders heavily charged with moisture. They stopped when they had attained a station under the coppice, and shrouded by it, from which they could see all that passed on the little esplanade before the King’s Oak, whose broad and scathed form, contorted and shattered limbs, and frowning brows, made it appear like some ancient war-worn champion, well selected to be the umpire of a field of single combat.
The first person who appeared at the rendezvous was the gay cavalier Roger Wildrake. He also was wrapped in his cloak, but had discarded his puritanic beaver, and wore in its stead a Spanish hat, with a feather and gilt hatband, all of which had encountered bad weather and hard service; but to make amends for the appearance of poverty by the show of pretension, the castor was accurately adjusted after what was rather profanely called the d — me cut, used among the more desperate cavaliers. He advanced hastily, and exclaimed aloud —“First in the field after all, by Jove, though I bilked Everard in order to have my morning draught. — It has done me much good,” he added, smacking his lips. —“Well, I suppose I should search the ground ere my principal comes up, whose Presbyterian watch trudges as slow as his Presbyterian step.”
He took his rapier from under his cloak, and seemed about to search the thickets around.
“I will prevent him,” whispered the Doctor to Alice. “I will keep faith with you — you shall not come on the scene — nisi dignus vindice nodus — I’ll explain that another time. Vindex is feminine as well as masculine, so the quotation is defensible. — Keep you close.”
So saying, he stepped forward on the esplanade, and bowed to Wildrake.
“Master Louis Kerneguy,” said Wildrake, pulling off his hat; but instantly discovering his error, he added, “But no — I beg your pardon, sir — Fatter, shorter, older. — Mr. Kerneguy’s friend, I suppose, with whom I hope to have a turn by and by. — And why not now, sir, before our principals come up? Just a snack to stay the orifice of the stomach, till the dinner is served, sir? What say you?”
“To open the orifice of the stomach more likely, or to give it a new one,” said the Doctor.
“True, sir,” said Roger, who seemed now in his element; “you say well — that is as thereafter may be. — But come, sir, you wear your face muffled. I grant you, it is honest men’s fashion at this unhappy time; the more is the pity. But we do all above board — we have no traitors here. I’ll get into my gears first, to encourage you, and show you that you have to deal with a gentleman, who honours the King, and is a match fit to fight with any who follow him, as doubtless you do, sir, since you are the friend of Master Louis Kerneguy.”
All this while, Wildrake was busied undoing the clasps of his square-caped cloak.
“Off — off, ye lendings,” he said, “borrowings I should more properly call you —”
So saying, he threw the cloak from him, and appeared in cuerpo, in a most cavalier-like doublet, of greasy crimson satin, pinked and slashed with what had been once white tiffany; breeches of the same; and nether-stocks, or, as we now call them, stockings, darned in many places, and which, like those of Poins, had been once peach-coloured. A pair of pumps, ill calculated for a walk through the dew, and a broad shoulderbelt of tarnished embroidery, completed his equipment.
“Come, sir!” he exclaimed; “make haste, off with your slough — Here I stand tight and true — as loyal a lad as ever stuck rapier through a roundhead. — Come, sir, to your tools!” he continued; “we may have half-a-dozen thrusts before they come yet, and shame them for their tardiness. — Pshaw!” he exclaimed, in a most disappointed tone, when the Doctor, unfolding his cloak, showed his clerical dress; “Tush! it’s but the parson after all!”
Wildrake’s respect for the Church, however, and his desire to remove one who might possibly interrupt a scene to which he looked forward with peculiar satisfaction, induced him presently to assume another tone.
“I beg pardon,” he said, “my dear Doctor — I kiss the hem of your cassock — I do, by the thundering Jove — I beg your pardon again. — But I am happy I have met with you — They are raving for your presence at the Lodge — to marry, or christen, or bury, or confess, or something very urgent. — For Heaven’s sake, make haste!”
“At the Lodge?” said the Doctor; “why, I left the Lodge this instant — I was there later, I am sure, than you could be, who came the Woodstock road.”
“Well,” replied Wildrake, “it is at Woodstock they want you. — Rat it, did I say the Lodge? — No, no — Woodstock — Mine host cannot be hanged — his daughter married — his bastard christened, or his wife buried — without the assistance of a real clergyman — Your Holdenoughs won’t do for them. — He’s a true man mine host; so, as you value your function, make haste.”
“You will pardon me, Master Wildrake,” said the Doctor —“I wait for Master Louis Kerneguy.”
“The devil you do!” exclaimed Wildrake. “Why, I always knew the Scots could do nothing without their minister; but d — n it, I never thought they put them to this use neither. But I have known jolly customers in orders, who understood how to handle the sword as well as their prayer-book. You know the purpose of our meeting, Doctor. Do you come only as a ghostly comforter — or as a surgeon, perhaps — or do you ever take bilboa in hand? — Sa — sa!”
Here he made a fencing demonstration with his sheathed rapier.
“I have done so, sir, on necessary occasion,” said Dr. Rochecliffe.
“Good sir, let this stand for a necessary one,” said Wildrake. “You know my devotion for the Church. If a divine of your skill would do me the honour to exchange but three passes with me, I should think myself happy for ever.”
“Sir,” said Rochecliffe, smiling, “were there no other objection to what you propose, I have not the means — I have no weapon.”
“What? you want the de quoi? that is unlucky indeed. But you have a stout cane in your hand — what hinders our trying a pass (my rapier being sheathed of course) until our principals come up? My pumps are full of this frost-dew; and I shall be a toe or two out of pocket, if I am to stand still all the time they are stretching themselves; for, I fancy, Doctor, you are of my opinion, that the matter will not be a fight of cock-sparrows.”
“My business here is to make it, if possible, be no fight at all,” said the divine.
“Now, rat me, Doctor, but that is too spiteful,” said Wildrake; “and were it not for my respect for the Church, I could turn Presbyterian, to be revenged.”
“Stand back a little, if you please, sir,” said the Doctor; “do not press forward in that direction.”— For Wildrake, in the agitation of his movements, induced by his disappointment, approached the spot where Alice remained still concealed.
“And wherefore not, I pray you, Doctor?” said the cavalier.
But on advancing a step, he suddenly stopped short, and muttered to himself, with a round oath of astonishment, “A petticoat in the coppice, by all that is reverend, and at this hour in the morning — Whew — ew — ew!”— He gave vent to his surprise in a long low interjectional whistle; then turning to the Doctor, with his finger on the side of his nose, “You’re sly, Doctor, d — d sly! But why not give me a hint of your — your commodity there — your contraband goods? Gad, sir, I am not a man to expose the eccentricities of the Church.”
“Sir,” said Dr. Rochecliffe, “you are impertinent; and if time served, and it were worth my while, I would chastise you.”
And the Doctor, who had served long enough in the wars to have added some of the qualities of a captain of horse to those of a divine, actually raised his cane, to the infinite delight of the rake, whose respect for the Church was by no means able to subdue his love of mischief.
“Nay, Doctor,” said he, “if you wield your weapon broadsword-fashion, in that way, and raise it as high as your head, I shall be through you in a twinkling.” So saying, he made a pass with his sheathed rapier, not precisely at the Doctor’s person, but in that direction; when Rochecliffe, changing the direction of his cane from the broadsword guard to that of the rapier, made the cavalier’s sword spring ten yards out of his hand, with all the dexterity of my friend Francalanza. At this moment both the principal parties appeared on the field.
Everard exclaimed angrily to Wildrake, “Is this your friendship? In Heaven’s name, what make you in that fool’s jacket, and playing the pranks of a jack-pudding?” while his worthy second, somewhat crest-fallen, held down his head, like a boy caught in roguery, and went to pick up his weapon, stretching his head, as he passed, into the coppice, to obtain another glimpse, if possible, of the concealed object of his curiosity.
Charles in the meantime, still more surprised at what he beheld, called out on his part —“What! Doctor Rochecliffe become literally one of the church militant, and tilting with my friend cavalier Wildrake? May I use the freedom to ask him to withdraw, as Colonel Everard and I have some private business to settle?”
It was Dr. Rochecliffe’s cue, on this important occasion, to have armed himself with the authority of his sacred office, and used a tone of interference which might have overawed even a monarch, and made him feel that his monitor spoke by a warrant higher than his own. But the indiscreet latitude he had just given to his own passion, and the levity in which he had been detected, were very unfavourable to his assuming that superiority, to which so uncontrollable a spirit as that of Charles, wilful as a prince, and capricious as a wit, was at all likely to submit. The Doctor did, however, endeavour to rally his dignity, and replied, with the gravest, and at the same time the most respectful, tone he could assume, that he also had business of the most urgent nature, which prevented him from complying with Master Kerneguy’s wishes and leaving the spot.
“Excuse this untimely interruption,” said Charles, taking off his hat, and bowing to Colonel Everard, “which I will immediately put an end to.” Everard gravely returned his salute, and was silent.
“Are you mad, Doctor Rochecliffe?” said Charles —“or are you deaf? — or have you forgotten your mother-tongue? I desired you to leave this place.”
“I am not mad,” said the divine, rousing up his resolution, and regaining the natural firmness of his voice —“I would prevent others from being so; I am not deaf — I would pray others to hear the voice of reason and religion; I have not forgotten my mother-tongue — but I have come hither to speak the language of the Master of kings and princes.”
“To fence with broomsticks, I should rather suppose,” said the King — “Come, Doctor Rochecliffe, this sudden fit of assumed importance befits you as little as your late frolic. You are not, I apprehend, either a Catholic priest or a Scotch Mass-John to claim devoted obedience from your hearers, but a Church-of-England-man, subject to the rules of that Communion — and to its HEAD.” In speaking the last words, the King lowered his voice to a low and impressive whisper. Everard observing this drew back, the natural generosity of his temper directing him to avoid overhearing private discourse, in which the safety of the speakers might be deeply concerned. They continued, however, to observe great caution in their forms of expression.
“Master Kerneguy,” said the clergyman, “it is not I who assume authority or control over your wishes — God forbid; I do but tell you what reason, Scripture, religion, and morality, alike prescribe for your rule of conduct.”
“And I, Doctor,” said the King, smiling, and pointing to the unlucky cane, “will take your example rather than your precept. If a reverend clergyman will himself fight a bout at single-stick, what right can he have to interfere in gentlemen’s quarrels? — Come, sir, remove yourself, and do not let your present obstinacy cancel former obligations.”
“Bethink yourself,” said the divine — “I can say one word which will prevent all this.”
“Do it,” replied the King, “and in doing so belie the whole tenor and actions of an honourable life — abandon the principles of your Church, and become a perjured traitor and an apostate, to prevent another person from discharging his duty as a gentleman! This were indeed killing your friend to prevent the risk of his running himself into danger. Let the Passive Obedience, which is so often in your mouth, and no doubt in your head, put your feet for once into motion, and step aside for ten minutes. Within that space your assistance may be needed, either as body-curer or soul-curer.”
“Nay, then,” said Dr. Rochecliffe, “I have but one argument left.”
While this conversation was carried on apart, Everard had almost forcibly detained by his own side his follower, Wildrake, whose greater curiosity, and lesser delicacy, would otherwise have thrust him forward, to get, if possible, into the secret. But when he saw the Doctor turn into the coppice, he whispered eagerly to Everard —“A gold Carolus to a commonwealth farthing, the Doctor has not only come to preach a peace, but has brought the principal conditions along with him!”
Everard made no answer; he had already unsheathed his sword; and Charles hardly saw Rochecliffe’s back fairly turned, than he lost no time in following his example. But, ere they had done more than salute each other, with the usual courteous nourish of their weapons, Dr. Rochecliffe again stood between them, leading in his hand Alice Lee, her garments dank with dew, and her long hair heavy with moisture, and totally uncurled. Her face was extremely pale, but it was the paleness of desperate resolution, not of fear. There was a dead pause of astonishment — the combatants rested on their swords — and even the forwardness of Wildrake only vented itself in half-suppressed ejaculations, as, “Well done, Doctor — this beats the ‘parson among the pease’— No less than your patron’s daughter — And Mistress Alice, whom I thought a very snowdrop, turned out a dog-violet after all — a Lindabrides, by heavens, and altogether one of ourselves.”
Excepting these unheeded mutterings, Alice was the first to speak.
“Master Everard,” she said —“Master Kerneguy, you are surprised to see me here — Yet, why should I not tell the reason at once? Convinced that I am, however guiltlessly, the unhappy cause of your misunderstanding, I am too much interested to prevent fatal consequences to pause upon any step which may end it. — Master Kerneguy, have my wishes, my entreaties, my prayers — have your noble thoughts — the recollections of your own high duties, no weight with you in this matter? Let me entreat you to consult reason, religion, and common sense, and return your weapon.”
“I am obedient as an Eastern slave, madam,” answered Charles, sheathing his sword; “but I assure you, the matter about which you distress yourself is a mere trifle, which will be much better settled betwixt Colonel Everard and myself in five minutes, than with the assistance of the whole Convocation of the Church, with a female parliament to assist their reverend deliberations. — Mr. Everard, will you oblige me by walking a little farther? — We must change ground, it seems.”
“I am ready to attend you, sir,” said Everard, who had sheathed his sword so soon as his antagonist did so.
“I have then no interest with you, sir,” said Alice, continuing to address the King —“Do you not fear I should use the secret in my power to prevent this affair going to extremity? Think you this gentleman, who raises his hand against you, if he knew”—
“If he knew that I were Lord Wilmot, you would say? — Accident has given him proof to that effect, with which he is already satisfied, and I think you would find it difficult to induce him to embrace a different opinion.”
Alice paused, and looked on the King with great indignation, the following words dropping from her mouth by intervals, as if they burst forth one by one in spite of feelings that would have restrained them —“Cold — selfish — ungrateful — unkind! — Woe to the land which”— Here she paused with marked emphasis, then added —“which shall number thee, or such as thee, among her nobles and rulers!”
“Nay, fair Alice,” said Charles, whose good nature could not but feel the severity of this reproach, though too slightly to make all the desired impression, “You are too unjust to me — too partial to a happier man. Do not call me unkind; I am but here to answer Mr. Everard’s summons. I could neither decline attending, nor withdraw now I am here, without loss of honour; and my loss of honour would be a disgrace which must extend to many — I cannot fly from Mr. Everard — it would be too shameful. If he abides by his message, it must be decided as such affairs usually are. If he retreats or yields it up, I will, for your sake, wave punctilio. I will not even ask an apology for the trouble it has afforded me, but let all pass as if it were the consequence of some unhappy mistake, the grounds of which shall remain on my part unenquired into. — This I will do for your sake, and it is much for a man of honour to condescend so far — You know that the condescension from me in particular is great indeed. Then do not call me ungenerous, or ungrateful, or unkind, since I am ready to do all, which, as a man, I can do, and more perhaps than as a man of honour I ought to do.”
“Do you hear this, Markham Everard?” exclaimed Alice —“do you hear this? — The dreadful option is left entirely at your disposal. You were wont to be temperate in passion, religious, forgiving — will you, for a mere punctilio, drive on this private and unchristian broil to a murderous extremity? Believe me, if you now, contrary to all the better principles of your life, give the reins to your passions, the consequences may be such as you will rue for your lifetime, and even, if Heaven have not mercy, rue after your life is finished.”
Markham Everard remained for a moment gloomily silent — with his eyes fixed on the ground. At length he looked up, and answered her —“Alice, you are a soldier’s daughter — a soldier’s sister. All your relations, even including one whom you then entertained some regard for, have been made soldiers by these unhappy discords. Yet you have seen them take the field — in some instances on contrary sides, to do their duty where their principles called them, without manifesting this extreme degree of interest.”
He continued, “However, what is the true concern here is our relations with your own self, and mine is with this gentleman’s interest in you. I had expected that our disagreement could be dealt with as men dispute matters of honor. With your intrusion this cannot be done. I have few other options for politely resolving this, for you would surely hate the one who killed the other, to the loss of us both. Therefore,” addressing Charles, “in the interest of avoid this fate, I am forced to yield my interest in her to you; and, as I will never be the means of giving her pain, I trust you will not think I act unworthily in retracting the letter which gave you the trouble of attending this place at this hour. — Alice,” he said, turning his head towards her, “Farewell, Alice, at once, and for ever!”
The poor young lady, whose adventitious spirit had almost deserted her, attempted to repeat the word farewell, but failing in the attempt, only accomplished a broken and imperfect sound, and would have sunk to the ground, but for Dr. Rochecliffe, who caught her as she fell. Roger Wildrake, also, who had twice or thrice put to his eyes what remained of a kerchief, interested by the lady’s evident distress, though unable to comprehend the mysterious cause, hastened to assist the divine in supporting so fair a burden.
Meanwhile, the disguised Prince had beheld the whole in silence, but with an agitation to which he was unwonted, and which his swarthy features, and still more his motions, began to betray. His posture was at first absolutely stationary, with his arms folded on his bosom, as one who waits to be guided by the current of events; presently after, he shifted his position, advanced and retired his foot, clenched and opened his hand, and otherwise showed symptoms that he was strongly agitated by contending feelings — was on the point, too, of forming some sudden resolution, and yet still in uncertainty what course he should pursue.
But when he saw Markham Everard, after one look of unspeakable anguish towards Alice, turning his back to depart, he broke out into his familiar ejaculation, “Oddsfish! this must not be.” In three strides he overtook the slowly retiring Everard, tapped him smartly on the shoulder, and, as he turned round, said, with an air of command, which he well knew how to adopt at pleasure, “One word with you, sir.”
“At your pleasure, sir,” replied Everard; and naturally conjecturing the purpose of his antagonist to be hostile, took hold of his rapier with the left hand, and laid the right on the hilt, not displeased at the supposed call; for anger is at least as much akin to disappointment as pity is said to be to love.
“Pshaw!” answered the King, “that cannot be now — Colonel Everard, I am CHARLES STEWART!”
Everard recoiled in the greatest surprise, and next exclaimed, “Impossible — it cannot be! The King of Scots has escaped from Bristol. — My Lord Wilmot, your talents for intrigue are well known; but this will not pass upon me.”
“The King of Scots, Master Everard,” replied Charles, “since you are so pleased to limit his sovereignty — at any rate, the Eldest Son of the late Sovereign of Britain — is now before you; therefore it is impossible he could have escaped from Bristol. Doctor Rochecliffe shall be my voucher, and will tell you, moreover, that Wilmot is of a fair complexion and light hair; mine, you may see, is swart as a raven.”
Rochecliffe, seeing what was passing, abandoned Alice to the care of Wildrake, whose extreme delicacy in the attempts he made to bring her back to life, formed an amiable contrast to his usual wildness, and occupied him so much, that he remained for the moment ignorant of the disclosure in which he would have been so much interested. As for Dr. Rochecliffe, he came forward, wringing his hands in all the demonstration of extreme anxiety, and with the usual exclamations attending such a state.
“Peace, Doctor Rochecliffe!” said the King, with such complete self-possession as indeed became a prince; “we are in the hands, I am satisfied, of a man of honour. Master Everard must be pleased in finding only a fugitive prince in the person in whom he thought he had discovered a successful rival. He cannot but be aware of the feelings which prevented me from taking advantage of the cover which this young lady’s devoted loyalty afforded me, at the risk of her own happiness. He is the party who is to profit by my candour; and certainly I have a right to expect that my condition, already indifferent enough, shall not be rendered worse by his becoming privy to it under such circumstances. At any rate, the avowal is made; and it is for Colonel Everard to consider how he is to conduct himself.”
“Oh, your Majesty! my Liege! my King! my royal Prince!” exclaimed Wildrake, who, at length discovering what was passing, had crawled on his knees, and seizing the King’s hand, was kissing it, more like a child mumbling gingerbread, or like a lover devouring the yielded hand of his mistress, than in the manner in which such salutations pass at court —“If my dear friend Mark Everard should prove a dog on this occasion, rely on me I will cut his throat on the spot, were I to do the same for myself the moment afterwards!”
“Hush, hush, my good friend and loyal subject,” said the King, “and compose yourself; for though I am obliged to put on the Prince for a moment, we have not privacy or safety to receive our subjects in King Cambyses’ vein.”
Everard, who had stood for a time utterly confounded, awoke at length like a man from a dream.
“Sire,” he said, bowing low, and with profound deference, “if I do not offer you the homage of a subject with knee and sword, it is because God, by whom kings reign, has denied you for the present the power of ascending your throne without rekindling civil war. For your safety being endangered by me, let not such an imagination for an instant cross your mind. Had I not respected your person — were I not bound to you for the candour with which your noble avowal has prevented the misery of my future life, your misfortunes would have rendered your person as sacred, so far as I can protect it, as it could be esteemed by the most devoted royalist in the kingdom. If your plans are soundly considered, and securely laid, think that all which is now passed is but a dream. If they are in such a state that I can aid them, saving my duty to the Commonwealth, which will permit me to be privy to no schemes of actual violence, your Majesty may command my services.”
“It may be I may be troublesome to you, sir,” said the King; “for my fortunes are not such as to permit me to reject even the most limited offers of assistance; but if I can, I will dispense with applying to you. I would not willingly put any man’s compassion at war with his sense of duty on my account. — Doctor, I think there will be no farther tilting today, either with sword or cane; so we may as well return to the Lodge, and leave these”— looking at Alice and Everard —“who may have more to say in explanation.”
“No — no!” exclaimed Alice, who was now perfectly come to herself, and partly by her own observation, and partly from the report of Dr. Rochecliffe, comprehended all that had taken place —“My cousin Everard and I have nothing to explain; he will forgive me for having riddled with him when I dared not speak plainly; and I forgive him for having read my riddle wrong. But my father has my promise — we must not correspond or converse for the present — I return instantly to the Lodge, and he to Woodstock, unless you, sire,” bowing to the King, “command his duty otherwise. Instant to the town, Cousin Markham; and if danger should approach, give us warning.”
Everard would have delayed her departure, would have excused himself for his unjust suspicion, would have said a thousand things; but she would not listen to him, saying, for all other answer — “Farewell, Markham, till God send better days!”
“She is an angel of truth and beauty,” said Roger Wildrake; “and I, like a blasphemous heretic, called her a Lindabrides!” 5 But has your Majesty, craving your pardon, no commands for poor Hodge Wildrake, who will blow out his own or any other man’s brains in England, to do your Grace a pleasure?”
“We entreat our good friend Wildrake to do nothing hastily,” said Charles, smiling; “such brains as his are rare, and should not be rashly dispersed, as the like may not be easily collected. We recommend him to be silent and prudent — to tilt no more with loyal clergymen of the Church of England, and to get himself a new jacket with all convenient speed, to which we beg to contribute our royal aid. When fit time comes, we hope to find other service for him.”
As he spoke, he slid ten pieces into the hand of poor Wildrake, who, confounded with the excess of his loyal gratitude, blubbered like a child, and would have followed the King, had not Dr. Rochecliffe, in few words, but peremptory, insisted that he should return with his patron, promising him he should certainly be employed in assisting the King’s escape, could an opportunity be found of using his services.
“Be so generous, reverend sir, and you bind me to you for ever,” said the cavalier; “and I conjure you not to keep malice against me on account of the foolery you wot of.”
“I have no occasion, Captain Wildrake,” said the Doctor, “for I think I had the best of it.”
“Well, then, Doctor, I forgive you on my part: and I pray you, for Christian charity, let me have a finger in this good service; for as I live in hope of it, rely that I shall die of disappointment.”
While the Doctor and soldier thus spoke together, Charles took leave of Everard, (who remained uncovered while he spoke to him,) with his usual grace —“I need not bid you no longer be jealous of me,” said the King; “for I presume you will scarce think of a match betwixt Alice and me, which would be too losing a one on her side. For other thoughts, the wildest libertine could not entertain them towards so high-minded a creature; and believe me, that my sense of her merit did not need this last distinguished proof of her truth and loyalty. I saw enough of her from her answers to some idle sallies of gallantry, to know with what a lofty character she is endowed. Mr. Everard, her happiness I see depends on you, and I trust you will be the careful guardian of it. If we can take any obstacle out of the way of your joint happiness, be assured we will use our influence. — Farewell, sir; if we cannot be better friends, do not at least let us entertain harder or worse thoughts of each other than we have now.”
There was something in the manner of Charles that was extremely affecting; something too, in his condition as a fugitive in the kingdom which was his own by inheritance, that made a direct appeal to Everard’s bosom — though in contradiction to the dictates of that policy which he judged it his duty to pursue in the distracted circumstances of the country. He remained, as we have said, uncovered; and in his manner testified the highest expression of reverence, up to the point when such might seem a symbol of allegiance. He bowed so low as almost to approach his lips to the hand of Charles — but he did not kiss it. —“I would rescue your person, sir,” he said, “with the purchase of my own life. More”— He stopped short, and the King took up his sentence where it broke off —“More you cannot do,” said Charles, “to maintain an honourable consistency — but what you have said is enough. You cannot render homage to my proffered hand as that of a sovereign, but you will not prevent my taking yours as a friend — if you allow me to call myself so — I am sure, as a well-wisher at least.”
The generous soul of Everard was touched — He took the King’s hand, and pressed it to his lips.
“Oh!” he said, “were better times to come”—
“Bind yourself to nothing, dear Everard,” said the good-natured Prince, partaking his emotion —“We reason ill while our feelings are moved. I will recruit no man to his loss, nor will I have my fallen fortunes involve those of others, because they have humanity enough to pity my present condition. If better times come, why we will meet again, and I hope to our mutual satisfaction. If not, as your future father-inlaw would say,” (a benevolent smile came over his face, and accorded not unmeetly with his glistening eyes,)—“If not, this parting was well made.”
Everard turned away with a deep bow, almost choking under contending feelings; the uppermost of which was a sense of the generosity with which Charles, at his own imminent risk, had cleared away the darkness that seemed about to overwhelm his prospects of happiness for life — mixed with a deep sense of the perils by which he was environed. He returned to the little town, followed by his attendant Wildrake, who turned back so often, with weeping eyes, and hands clasped and uplifted as supplicating Heaven, that Everard was obliged to remind him that his gestures might be observed by some one, and occasion suspicion.
The generous conduct of the King during the closing part of this remarkable scene, had not escaped Alice’s notice; and, erasing at once from her mind all resentment of Charles’s former conduct, and all the suspicions they had deservedly excited, awakened in her bosom a sense of the natural goodness of his disposition, which permitted her to unite regard for his person, with that reverence for his high office in which she had been educated as a portion of her creed. She felt convinced, and delighted with the conviction, that his virtues were his own, his libertinism the fault of education, or rather want of education, and the corrupting advice of sycophants and flatterers. She could not know, or perhaps did not in that moment consider, that in a soil where no care is taken to eradicate tares, they will outgrow and smother the wholesome seed, even if the last is more natural to the soil. For, as Dr. Rochecliffe informed her afterwards for her edification, promising, as was his custom, to explain the precise words on some future occasion, if she would put him in mind — Virtus rectorem ducemque desiderat; Vitia sine magistro discuntur. 6 There was no room for such reflections at present. Conscious of mutual sincerity, by a sort of intellectual communication, through which individuals are led to understand each other better, perhaps, in delicate circumstances, than by words, reserve and simulation appeared to be now banished from the intercourse between the King and Alice. With manly frankness, and, at the same time, with princely condescension, he requested her, exhausted as she was, to accept of his arm on the way homeward, instead of that of Dr. Rochecliffe; and Alice accepted of his support with modest humility, but without a shadow of mistrust or fear. It seemed as if the last half hour had satisfied them perfectly with the character of each other, and that each had full conviction of the purity and sincerity of the other’s intentions.
Dr. Rochecliffe, in the meantime, had fallen some four or five paces behind; for, less light and active than Alice, (who had, besides, the assistance of the King’s support,) he was unable, without effort and difficulty, to keep up with the pace of Charles, who then was, as we have elsewhere noticed, one of the best walkers in England, and was sometimes apt to forget (as great men will) that others were inferior to him in activity.
“Dear Alice,” said the King, but as if the epithet were entirely fraternal, “I like your Everard much — I would to God he were of our determination — But since that cannot be, I am sure he will prove a generous enemy.” “May it please you, sire,” said Alice, modestly, but with some firmness, “my cousin will never be your Majesty’s personal enemy — and he is one of the few on whose slightest word you may rely more than on the oath of those who profess more strongly and formally. He is utterly incapable of abusing your Majesty’s most generous and voluntary confidence.”
“On my honour, I believe so, Alice,” replied the King: “But oddsfish! my girl, let Majesty sleep for the present — it concerns my safety, as I told your brother lately — Call me sir, then, which belongs alike to king, peer, knight, and gentleman — or rather let me be wild Louis Kerneguy again.” Alice looked down, and shook her head. “That cannot be, please your Majesty.”
“What! Louis was a saucy companion — a naughty presuming boy — and you cannot abide him? — Well, perhaps you are right — But we will wait for Dr. Rochecliffe”— he said, desirous, with good-natured delicacy, to make Alice aware that he had no purpose of engaging her in any discussion which could recall painful ideas. They paused accordingly, and again she felt relieved and grateful.
“I cannot persuade our fair friend, Mistress Alice, Doctor,” said the King, “that she must, in prudence, forbear using titles of respect to me, while there are such very slender means of sustaining them.”
“It is a reproach to earth and to fortune,” answered the divine, as fast as his recovered breath would permit him, “that your most sacred Majesty’s present condition should not accord with the rendering of those honours which are your own by birth, and which, with God’s blessing on the efforts of your loyal subjects, I hope to see rendered to you as your hereditary right, by the universal voice of the three kingdoms.”
“True, Doctor,” replied the King; “but, in the meanwhile, can you expound to Mistress Alice Lee two lines of Horace, which I have carried in my thick head several years, till now they have come pat to my purpose. As my canny subjects of Scotland say, If you keep a thing seven years you are sure to find a use for it at last — Telephus — ay, so it begins —
‘Telephus et Peleus, cum pauper et exul uterque,
Projicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba.’”
“I will explain the passage to Mistress Alice,” said the Doctor, “when she reminds me of it — or rather,” (he added, recollecting that his ordinary dilatory answer on such occasions ought not to be returned when the order for exposition emanated from his Sovereign,) “I will repeat a poor couplet from my own translation of the poem —
‘Heroes and kings, in exile forced to roam.
Leave swelling phrase and seven-leagued words at home.’”
“A most admirable version, Doctor,” said Charles; “I feel all its force, and particularly the beautiful rendering of sesquipedalia verba into seven-leagued boots — words I mean — it reminds me, like half the things I meet with in this world, of the Contes de Commère L’Oye.” 7
Thus conversing they reached the Lodge; and as the King went to his chamber to prepare for the breakfast summons, now impending, the idea crossed his mind, “Wilmot, and Villiers, and Killigrew, would laugh at me, did they hear of a campaign in which neither man nor woman had been conquered — But, oddsfish! let them laugh as they will, there is something at my heart which tells me, that for once in my life I have acted well.”
That day and the next were spent in tranquillity, the King waiting impatiently for the intelligence, which was to announce to him that a vessel was prepared somewhere on the coast. None such was yet in readiness; but he learned that the indefatigable Albert Lee was, at great personal risk, traversing the sea-coast from town to village, and endeavouring to find means of embarkation among the friends of the royal cause, and the correspondents of Dr. Rochecliffe.
5 A sort of court name for a female of no reputation.
6 The quotations of the learned doctor and antiquary were often left uninterpreted, though seldom incommunicated, owing to his contempt for those who did not understand the learned languages, and his dislike to the labour of translation, for the benefit of ladies and of country gentlemen. That fair readers and country thanes may not on this occasion burst in ignorance, we add the meaning of the passage in the text —“Virtue requires the aid of a governor and director; vices are learned without a teacher.”
7 Tales of Mother Goose.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54