For there in lofty air was seen to stand
The stern Protector of the conquer’d land;
Draw in that look with which he wept and swore,
Turn’d out the members and made fast the door,
Ridding the house of every knave and drone,
Forced — though it grieved his soul — to rule alone.
THE FRANK COURTSHIP. — CRABBE.
Leaving Colonel Everard to his meditations, we follow the jolly cavalier, his companion, who, before mounting at the George, did not fail to treat himself to his morning-draught of eggs and muscadine, to enable him to face the harvest wind.
Although he had suffered himself to be sunk in the extravagant license which was practised by the cavaliers, as if to oppose their conduct in every point to the preciseness of their enemies, yet Wildrake, well-born and well-educated, and endowed with good natural parts, and a heart which even debauchery, and the wild life of a roaring cavalier, had not been able entirely to corrupt, moved on his present embassy with a strange mixture of feelings, such as perhaps he had never in his life before experienced.
His feelings as a loyalist led him to detest Cromwell, whom in other circumstances he would scarce have wished to see, except in a field of battle, where he could have had the pleasure to exchange pistol-shots with him. But with this hatred there was mixed a certain degree of fear. Always victorious wherever he fought, the remarkable person whom Wildrake was now approaching had acquired that influence over the minds of his enemies, which constant success is so apt to inspire — they dreaded while they hated him — and joined to these feelings, was a restless meddling curiosity, which made a particular feature in Wildrake’s character, who, having long had little business of his own, and caring nothing about that which he had, was easily attracted by the desire of seeing whatever was curious or interesting around him.
“I should like to see the old rascal after all,” he said, “were it but to say that I had seen him.”
He reached Windsor in the afternoon, and felt on his arrival the strongest inclination to take up his residence at some of his old haunts, when he had occasionally frequented that fair town in gayer days. But resisting all temptations of this kind, he went courageously to the principal inn, from which its ancient emblem, the Garter, had long disappeared. The master, too, whom Wildrake, experienced in his knowledge of landlords and hostelries, had remembered a dashing Mine Host of Queen Bess’s school, had now sobered down to the temper of the times, shook his head when he spoke of the Parliament, wielded his spigot with the gravity of a priest conducting a sacrifice, wished England a happy issue out of all her difficulties, and greatly lauded his Excellency the Lord-General. Wildrake also remarked, that his wine was better than it was wont to be, the Puritans having an excellent gift at detecting every fallacy in that matter; and that his measures were less and his charges larger — circumstances which he was induced to attend to, by mine host talking a good deal about his conscience.
He was told by this important personage, that the Lord-General received frankly all sorts of persons; and that he might obtain access to him next morning, at eight o’clock, for the trouble of presenting himself at the Castle-gate, and announcing himself as the bearer of despatches to his Excellency.
To the Castle the disguised cavalier repaired at the hour appointed. Admittance was freely permitted to him by the red-coated soldier, who, with austere looks, and his musket on his shoulder, mounted guard at the external gate of that noble building. Wildrake passed through the underward or court, gazing as he passed upon the beautiful Chapel, which had but lately received, in darkness and silence, the unhonoured remains of the slaughtered King of England. Rough as Wildrake was, the recollection of this circumstance affected him so strongly, that he had nearly turned back in a sort of horror, rather than face the dark and daring man, to whom, amongst all the actors in that melancholy affair, its tragic conclusion was chiefly to be imputed. But he felt the necessity of subduing all sentiments of this nature, and compelled himself to proceed in a negotiation intrusted to his conduct by one to whom he was so much obliged as Colonel Everard. At the ascent, which passed by the Round Tower, he looked to the ensign-staff, from which the banner of England was wont to float. It was gone, with all its rich emblazonry, its gorgeous quarterings, and splendid embroidery; and in its room waved that of the Commonwealth, the cross of Saint George, in its colours of blue and red, not yet intersected by the diagonal cross of Scotland, which was soon after assumed, as if in evidence of England’s conquest over her ancient enemy. This change of ensigns increased the train of his gloomy reflections, in which, although contrary to his wont, he became so deeply wrapped, that the first thing which recalled him to himself, was the challenge from the sentinel, accompanied with a stroke of the butt of his musket on the pavement, with an emphasis which made Wildrake start.
“Whither away, and who are you?”
“The bearer of a packet,” answered Wildrake, “to the worshipful the Lord-General.”
“Stand till I call the officer of the guard.”
The corporal made his appearance, distinguished above those of his command by a double quantity of band round his neck, a double height of steeple-crowned hat, a larger allowance of cloak, and a treble proportion of sour gravity of aspect. It might be read on his countenance, that he was one of those resolute enthusiasts to whom Oliver owed his conquests, whose religious zeal made them even more than a match for the high-spirited and high-born cavaliers, who exhausted their valour in vain defence of their sovereign’s person and crown. He looked with grave solemnity at Wildrake, as if he was making in his own mind an inventory of his features and dress; and having fully perused them, he required “to know his business.”
“My business,” said Wildrake, as firmly as he could — for the close investigation of this man had given him some unpleasant nervous sensations —“my business is with your General.”
“With his Excellency the Lord-General, thou wouldst say?” replied the corporal. “Thy speech, my friend, savours too little of the reverence due to his Excellency.”
“D— n his Excellency!” was at the lips of the cavalier; but prudence kept guard, and permitted not the offensive words to escape the barrier. He only bowed, and was silent.
“Follow me,” said the starched figure whom he addressed; and Wildrake followed him accordingly into the guard-house, which exhibited an interior characteristic of the times, and very different from what such military stations present at the present day.
By the fire sat two or three musketeers, listening to one who was expounding some religious mystery to them. He began half beneath his breath, but in tones of great volubility, which tones, as he approached the conclusion, became sharp and eager, as challenging either instant answer or silent acquiescence. The audience seemed to listen to the speaker with immovable features, only answering him with clouds of tobacco-smoke, which they rolled from under their thick mustaches. On a bench lay a soldier on his face: whether asleep, or in a fit of contemplation, it was impossible to decide. In the midst of the floor stood an officer, as he seemed by his embroidered shoulder-belt and scarf round his waist, otherwise very plainly attired, who was engaged in drilling a stout bumpkin, lately enlisted, to the manual, as it was then used. The motions and words of command were twenty at the very least; and until they were regularly brought to an end, the corporal did not permit Wildrake either to sit down or move forward beyond the threshold of the guard-house. So he had to listen in succession to — Poise your musket — Rest your musket — Cock your musket — Handle your primers — and many other forgotten words of discipline, until at length the words, “Order your musket,” ended the drill for the time. “Thy name, friend?” said the officer to the recruit, when the lesson was over.
“Ephraim,” answered the fellow, with an affected twang through the nose.
“And what besides Ephraim?”
“Ephraim Cobb, from the goodly city of Glocester, where I have dwelt for seven years, serving apprentice to a praiseworthy cordwainer.”
“It is a goodly craft,” answered the officer; “but casting in thy lot with ours, doubt not that thou shalt be set beyond thine awl, and thy last to boot.”
A grim smile of the speaker accompanied this poor attempt at a pun; and then turning round to the corporal, who stood two paces off, with the face of one who seemed desirous of speaking, said, “How now, corporal, what tidings?”
“Here is one with a packet, an please your Excellency,” said the corporal —“Surely my spirit doth not rejoice in him, seeing I esteem him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
By these words, Wildrake learned that he was in the actual presence of the remarkable person to whom he was commissioned; and he paused to consider in what manner he ought to address him.
The figure of Oliver Cromwell was, as is generally known, in no way prepossessing. He was of middle stature, strong and coarsely made, with harsh and severe features, indicative, however, of much natural sagacity and depth of thought. His eyes were grey and piercing; his nose too large in proportion to his other features, and of a reddish hue.
His manner of speaking, when he had the purpose to make himself distinctly understood, was energetic and forcible, though neither graceful nor eloquent. No man could on such occasion put his meaning into fewer and more decisive words. But when, as it often happened, he had a mind to play the orator, for the benefit of people’s ears, without enlightening their understanding, Cromwell was wont to invest his meaning, or that which seemed to be his meaning, in such a mist of words, surrounding it with so many exclusions and exceptions, and fortifying it with such a labyrinth of parentheses, that though one of the most shrewd men in England, he was, perhaps, the most unintelligible speaker that ever perplexed an audience. It has been long since said by the historian, that a collection of the Protector’s speeches would make, with a few exceptions, the most nonsensical book in the world; but he ought to have added, that nothing could be more nervous, concise, and intelligible, than what he really intended should be understood.
It was also remarked of Cromwell, that though born of a good family, both by father and mother, and although he had the usual opportunities of education and breeding connected with such an advantage, the fanatic democratic ruler could never acquire, or else disdained to practise, the courtesies usually exercised among the higher classes in their intercourse with each other. His demeanour was so blunt as sometimes might be termed clownish, yet there was in his language and manner a force and energy corresponding to his character, which impressed awe, if it did not impose respect; and there were even times when that dark and subtle spirit expanded itself, so as almost to conciliate affection. The turn for humour, which displayed itself by fits, was broad, and of a low, and sometimes practical character. Something there was in his disposition congenial to that of his countrymen; a contempt of folly, a hatred of affectation, and a dislike of ceremony, which, joined to the strong intrinsic qualities of sense and courage, made him in many respects not an unfit representative of the democracy of England.
His religion must always be a subject of much doubt, and probably of doubt which he himself could hardly have cleared up. Unquestionably there was a time in his life when he was sincerely enthusiastic, and when his natural temper, slightly subject to hypochondria, was strongly agitated by the same fanaticism which influenced so many persons of the time. On the other hand, there were periods during his political career, when we certainly do him no injustice in charging him with a hypocritical affectation. We shall probably judge him, and others of the same age, most truly, if we suppose that their religious professions were partly influential in their own breasts, partly assumed in compliance with their own interest. And so ingenious is the human heart in deceiving itself as well as others, that it is probable neither Cromwell himself, nor those making similar pretensions to distinguished piety, could exactly have fixed the point at which their enthusiasm terminated and their hypocrisy commenced; or rather, it was a point not fixed in itself, but fluctuating with the state of health, of good or bad fortune, of high or low spirits, affecting the individual at the period.
Such was the celebrated person, who, turning round on Wildrake, and scanning his countenance closely, seemed so little satisfied with what he beheld, that he instinctively hitched forward his belt, so as to bring the handle of his tuck-sword within his reach. But yet, folding his arms in his cloak, as if upon second thoughts laying aside suspicion, or thinking precaution beneath him, he asked the cavalier what he was, and whence he came?
“A poor gentleman, sir — that is, my lord,”— answered Wildrake; “last from Woodstock.”
“And what may your tidings be, sir gentleman?” said Cromwell, with an emphasis. “Truly I have seen those most willing to take upon them that title, bear themselves somewhat short of wise men, and good men, and true men, with all their gentility; yet gentleman was a good title in old England, when men remembered what it was construed to mean.”
“You say truly, sir,” replied Wildrake, suppressing, with difficulty, some of his usual wild expletives; “formerly gentlemen were found in gentlemen’s places, but now the world is so changed that you shall find the broidered belt has changed place with the under spur-leather.”
“Say’st thou me?” said the General; “I profess thou art a bold companion, that can bandy words so wantonly; — thou ring’st somewhat too loud to be good metal, methinks. And, once again, what are thy tidings with me?”
“This packet,” said Wildrake, “commended to your hands by Colonel Markham Everard.”
“Alas, I must have mistaken thee,” answered Cromwell, mollified at the mention of a man’s name whom he had great desire to make his own; “forgive us, good friend, for such, we doubt not, thou art. Sit thee down, and commune with thyself as thou may’st, until we have examined the contents of thy packet. Let him be looked to, and have what he lacks.” So saying the General left the guard-house, where Wildrake took his seat in the corner, and awaited with patience the issue of his mission.
The soldiers now thought themselves obliged to treat him with more consideration, and offered him a pipe of Trinidado, and a black jack filled with October. But the look of Cromwell, and the dangerous situation in which he might be placed by the least chance of detection, induced Wildrake to decline these hospitable offers, and stretching back in his chair, and affecting slumber, he escaped notice or conversation, until a sort of aide-decamp, or military officer in attendance, came to summon him to Cromwell’s presence.
By this person he was guided to a postern-gate, through which he entered the body of the Castle, and penetrating through many private passages and staircases, he at length was introduced into a small cabinet, or parlour, in which was much rich furniture, some bearing the royal cipher displayed, but all confused and disarranged, together with several paintings in massive frames, having their faces turned towards the wall, as if they had been taken down for the purpose of being removed.
In this scene of disorder, the victorious General of the Commonwealth was seated in a large easy-chair, covered with damask, and deeply embroidered, the splendour of which made a strong contrast with the plain, and even homely character of his apparel; although in look and action he seemed like one who felt that the seat which might have in former days held a prince, was not too much distinguished for his own fortunes and ambition. Wildrake stood before him, nor did he ask him to sit down.
“Pearson,” said Cromwell, addressing himself to the officer in attendance, “wait in the gallery, but be within call.” Pearson bowed, and was retiring. “Who are in the gallery beside?”
“Worthy Mr. Gordon, the chaplain, was holding forth but now to Colonel Overton, and four captains of your Excellency’s regiment.”
“We would have it so,” said the General; “we would not there were any corner in our dwelling where the hungry soul might not meet with manna. Was the good man carried onward in his discourse?”
“Mightily borne through,” said Pearson; “and he was touching the rightful claims which the army, and especially your Excellency, hath acquired by becoming the instruments in the great work; — not instruments to be broken asunder and cast away when the day of their service is over, but to be preserved, and held precious, and prized for their honourable and faithful labours, for which they have fought and marched, and fasted, and prayed, and suffered cold and sorrow; while others, who would now gladly see them disbanded, and broken, and cashiered, eat of the fat, and drink of the strong.”
“Ah, good man!” said Cromwell, “and did he touch upon this so feelingly! I could say something — but not now. Begone, Pearson, to the gallery. Let not our friends lay aside their swords, but watch as well as pray.”
Pearson retired; and the General, holding the letter of Everard in his hand, looked again for a long while fixedly at Wildrake, as if considering in what strain he should address him.
When he did speak, it was, at first, in one of those ambiguous discourses which we have already described, and by which it was very difficult for any one to understand his meaning, if, indeed, he knew himself. We shall be as concise in our statement, as our desire to give the very words of a man so extraordinary will permit.
“This letter,” he said, “you have brought us from your master, or patron, Markham Everard; truly an excellent and honourable gentleman as ever bore a sword upon his thigh, and one who hath ever distinguished himself in the great work of delivering these three poor unhappy nations. Answer me not: I know what thou wouldst say. — And this letter he hath sent to me by thee, his clerk, or secretary, in whom he hath confidence, and in whom he prays me to have trust, that there may be a careful messenger between us. And lastly, he hath sent thee to me — Do not answer — I know what thou wouldst say — to me, who, albeit, I am of that small consideration, that it would be too much honour for me even to bear a halberd in this great and victorious army of England, am nevertheless exalted to the rank of holding the guidance and the leading-staff thereof. — Nay, do not answer, my friend — I know what thou wouldst say. Now, when communing thus together, our discourse taketh, in respect to what I have said, a threefold argument, or division: First, as it concerneth thy master; secondly, as it concerneth us and our office; thirdly and lastly, as it toucheth thyself. — Now, as concerning this good and worthy gentleman, Colonel Markham Everard, truly he hath played the man from the beginning of these unhappy buffetings, not turning to the right or to the left, but holding ever in his eye the mark at which he aimed. Ay, truly, a faithful, honourable gentleman, and one who may well call me friend; and truly I am pleased to think that he doth so. Nevertheless, in this vale of tears, we must be governed less by our private respects and partialities, than by those higher principles and points of duty, whereupon the good Colonel Markham Everard hath ever framed his purposes, as, truly, I have endeavoured to form mine, that we may all act as becometh good Englishmen and worthy patriots. Then, as for Woodstock, it is a great thing which the good Colonel asks, that it should be taken from the spoil of the godly and left in keeping of the men of Moab, and especially of the malignant, Henry Lee, whose hand hath been ever against us when he might find room to raise it; I say, he hath asked a great thing, both in respect of himself and me. For we of this poor but godly army of England, are holden, by those of the Parliament, as men who should render in spoil for them, but be no sharer of it ourselves; even as the buck, which the hounds pull to earth, furnisheth no part of their own food, but they are lashed off from the carcass with whips, like those which require punishment for their forwardness, not reward for their services. Yet I speak not this so much in respect of this grant of Woodstock, in regard, that, perhaps, their Lordships of the Council, and also the Committeemen of this Parliament, may graciously think they have given me a portion in the matter, in relation that my kinsman Desborough hath an interest allowed him therein; which interest, as he hath well deserved it for his true and faithful service to these unhappy and devoted countries, so it would ill become me to diminish the same to his prejudice, unless it were upon great and public respects. Thus thou seest how it stands with me, my honest friend, and in what mind I stand touching thy master’s request to me; which yet I do not say that I can altogether, or unconditionally, grant or refuse, but only tell my simple thoughts with regard thereto. Thou understandest me, I doubt not?”
Now, Roger Wildrake, with all the attention he had been able to pay to the Lord-General’s speech, had got so much confused among the various clauses of the harangue, that his brain was bewildered, like that of a country clown when he chances to get himself involved among a crowd of carriages, and cannot stir a step to get out of the way of one of them, without being in danger of being ridden over by the others.
The General saw his look of perplexity, and began a new oration, to the same purpose as before; spoke of his love for his kind friend the Colonel — his regard for his pious and godly kinsman, Master Desborough — the great importance of the Palace and Park of Woodstock — the determination of the Parliament that it should be confiscated, and the produce brought into the coffers of the state — his own deep veneration for the authority of Parliament, and his no less deep sense of the injustice done to the army — how it was his wish and will that all matters should be settled in an amicable and friendly manner, without self-seeking, debate, or strife, betwixt those who had been the hands acting, and such as had been the heads governing, in that great national cause — how he was willing, truly willing, to contribute to this work, by laying down, not his commission only, but his life also, if it were requested of him, or could be granted with safety to the poor soldiers, to whom, silly poor men, he was bound to be as a father, seeing that they had followed him with the duty and affection of children.
And here he arrived at another dead pause, leaving Wildrake as uncertain as before, whether it was or was not his purpose to grant Colonel Everard the powers he had asked for the protection of Woodstock against the Parliamentary Commissioners. Internally he began to entertain hopes that the justice of Heaven, or the effects of remorse, had confounded the regicide’s understanding. But no — he could see nothing but sagacity in that steady stern eye, which, while the tongue poured forth its periphrastic language in such profusion, seemed to watch with severe accuracy the effect which his oratory produced on the listener.
“Egad,” thought the cavalier to himself, becoming a little familiar with the situation in which he was placed, and rather impatient of a conversation — which led to no visible conclusion or termination, “If Noll were the devil himself, as he is the devil’s darling, I will not be thus nose-led by him. I’ll e’en brusque it a little, if he goes on at this rate, and try if I can bring him to a more intelligible mode of speaking.”
Entertaining this bold purpose, but half afraid to execute it, Wildrake lay by for an opportunity of making the attempt, while Cromwell was apparently unable to express his own meaning. He was already beginning a third panegyric upon Colonel Everard, with sundry varied expressions of his own wish to oblige him, when Wildrake took the opportunity to strike in, on the General’s making one of his oratorical pauses.
“So please you” he said bluntly, “your worship has already spoken on two topics of your discourse, your own worthiness, and that of my master, Colonel Everard. But, to enable me to do mine errand, it would be necessary to bestow a few words on the third head.”
“The third?” said Cromwell.
“Ay,” said Wildrake, “which, in your honour’s subdivision of your discourse, touched on my unworthy self. What am I to do — what portion am I to have in this matter?”
Oliver started at once from the tone of voice he had hitherto used, and which somewhat resembled the purring of a domestic cat, into the growl of the tiger when about to spring. “Thy portion, jail-bird!” he exclaimed, “the gallows — thou shalt hang as high as Haman, if thou betray counsel! — But,” he added, softening his voice, “keep it like a true man, and my favour will be the making of thee. Come hither — thou art bold, I see, though somewhat saucy. Thou hast been a malignant — so writes my worthy friend Colonel Everard; but thou hast now given up that falling cause. I tell thee, friend, not all that the Parliament or the army could do would have pulled down the Stewarts out of their high places, saving that Heaven had a controversy with them. Well, it is a sweet and comely thing to buckle on one’s armour in behalf of Heaven’s cause; otherwise truly, for mine own part, these men might have remained upon the throne even unto this day. Neither do I blame any for aiding them, until these successive great judgments have overwhelmed them and their house. I am not a bloody man, having in me the feeling of human frailty; but, friend, whosoever putteth his hand to the plough, in the great actings which are now on foot in these nations, had best beware that he do not look back; for, rely upon my simple word, that if you fail me, I will not spare on you one foot’s length of the gallows of Haman. Let me therefore know, at a word, if the leaven of thy malignancy is altogether drubbed out of thee?” “Your honourable lordship,” said the cavalier, shrugging up his shoulders, “has done that for most of us, so far as cudgelling to some tune can perform it.”
“Say’st thou?” said the General, with a grim smile on his lip, which seemed to intimate that he was not quite inaccessible to flattery; “yea, truly, thou dost not lie in that — we have been an instrument. Neither are we, as I have already hinted, so severely bent against those who have striven against us as malignants, as others may be. The parliament-men best know their own interest and their own pleasure; but, to my poor thinking, it is full time to close these jars, and to allow men of all kinds the means of doing service to their country; and we think it will be thy fault if thou art not employed to good purpose for the state and thyself, on condition thou puttest away the old man entirely from thee, and givest thy earnest attention to what I have to tell thee.”
“Your lordship need not doubt my attention,” said the cavalier. And the republican General, after another pause, as one who gave his confidence not without hesitation, proceeded to explain his views with a distinctness which he seldom used, yet not without his being a little biassed now and then, by his long habits of circumlocution, which indeed he never laid entirely aside, save in the field of battle.
“Thou seest,” he said, “my friend, how things stand with me. The Parliament, I care not who knows it, love me not — still less do the Council of State, by whom they manage the executive government of the kingdom. I cannot tell why they nourish suspicion against me, unless it is because I will not deliver this poor innocent army, which has followed me in so many military actions, to be now pulled asunder, broken piecemeal and reduced, so that they who have protected the state at the expense of their blood, will not have, perchance, the means of feeding themselves by their labour; which, methinks, were hard measure, since it is taking from Esau his birthright, even without giving him a poor mess of pottage.”
“Esau is likely to help himself, I think,” replied Wildrake.
“Truly, thou say’st wisely,” replied the General; “it is ill starving an armed man, if there is food to be had for taking — nevertheless, far be it from me to encourage rebellion, or want of due subordination to these our rulers. I would only petition, in a due and becoming, a sweet and harmonious manner, that they would listen to our conditions, and consider our necessities. But, sir, looking on me, and estimating me so little as they do, you must think that it would be a provocation in me towards the Council of State, as well as the Parliament, if, simply to gratify your worthy master, I were to act contrary to their purposes, or deny currency to the commission under their authority, which is as yet the highest in the State — and long may it be so for me! — to carry on the sequestration which they intend. And would it not also be said, that I was lending myself to the malignant interest, affording this den of the blood-thirsty and lascivious tyrants of yore, to be in this our day a place of refuge to that old and inveterate Amalekite, Sir Henry Lee, to keep possession of the place in which he hath so long glorified himself? Truly it would be a perilous matter.”
“Am I then to report,” said Wildrake, “an it please you, that you cannot stead Colonel Everard in this matter?”
“Unconditionally, ay — but, taken conditionally, the answer may be otherwise,”— answered Cromwell. “I see thou art not able to fathom my purpose, and therefore I will partly unfold it to thee. — But take notice, that, should thy tongue betray my counsel, save in so far as carrying it to thy master, by all the blood which has been shed in these wild times, thou shalt die a thousand deaths in one!”
“Do not fear me, sir,” said Wildrake, whose natural boldness and carelessness of character was for the present time borne down and quelled, like that of falcon’s in the presence of the eagle.
“Hear me, then,” said Cromwell, “and let no syllable escape thee. Knowest thou not the young Lee, whom they call Albert, a malignant like his father, and one who went up with the young Man to that last ruffle which we had with him at Worcester — May we be grateful for the victory!”
“I know there is such a young gentleman as Albert Lee,” said Wildrake.
“And knowest thou not — I speak not by way of prying into the good Colonel’s secrets, but only as it behoves me to know something of the matter, that I may best judge how I am to serve him — Knowest thou not that thy master, Markham Everard, is a suitor after the sister of this same malignant, a daughter of the old Keeper, called Sir Henry Lee?”
“All this I have heard,” said Wildrake, “nor can I deny that I believe in it.”
“Well then, go to. — When the young man Charles Stewart fled from the field of Worcester, and was by sharp chase and pursuit compelled to separate himself from his followers, I know by sure intelligence that this Albert Lee was one of the last who remained with him, if not indeed the very last.”
“It was devilish like him,” said the cavalier, without sufficiently weighing his expressions, considering in what presence they were to be uttered —“And I’ll uphold him with my rapier, to be a true chip of the old block!”
“Ha, swearest thou?” said the General. “Is this thy reformation?”
“I never swear, so please you,” replied Wildrake, recollecting himself, “except there is some mention of malignants and cavaliers in my hearing; and then the old habit returns, and I swear like one of Goring’s troopers.”
“Out upon thee,” said the General; “what can it avail thee to practise a profanity so horrible to the ears of others, and which brings no emolument to him who uses it?”
“There are, doubtless, more profitable sins in the world than the barren and unprofitable vice of swearing,” was the answer which rose to the lips of the cavalier; but that was exchanged for a profession of regret for having given offence. The truth was, the discourse began to take a turn which rendered it more interesting than ever to Wildrake, who therefore determined not to lose the opportunity for obtaining possession of the secret that seemed to be suspended on Cromwells lips; and that could only be through means of keeping guard upon his own.
“What sort of a house is Woodstock?” said the General, abruptly.
“An old mansion,” said Wildrake, in reply; “and, so far as I could judge by a single night’s lodgings, having abundance of backstairs, also subterranean passages, and all the communications under ground, which are common in old raven-nests of the sort.”
“And places for concealing priests, unquestionably,” said Cromwell. “It is seldom that such ancient houses lack secret stalls wherein to mew up these calves of Bethel.”
“Your Honour’s Excellency,” said Wildrake, “may swear to that.”
“I swear not at all,” replied the General, drily. —“But what think’st thou, good fellow? — I will ask thee a blunt question — Where will those two Worcester fugitives that thou wottest of be more likely to take shelter — and that they must be sheltered somewhere I well know — than, in this same old palace, with all the corners and concealment whereof young Albert hath been acquainted ever since his earliest infancy?”
“Truly,” said Wildrake, making an effort to answer the question with seeming indifference, while the possibility of such an event, and its consequences, flashed fearfully upon his mind — “Truly, I should be of your honour’s opinion, but that I think the company, who, by the commission of Parliament, have occupied Woodstock, are likely to fright them thence, as a cat scares doves from a pigeon-house. The neighbourhood, with reverence, of Generals Desborough and Harrison, will suit ill with fugitives from Worcester field.”
“I thought as much, and so, indeed, would I have it,” answered the General. “Long may it be ere our names shall be aught but a terror to our enemies. But in this matter, if thou art an active plotter for thy master’s interest, thou might’st, I should think, work out something favourable to his present object.”
“My brain is too poor to reach the depth of your honourable purpose,” said Wildrake.
“Listen, then, and let it be to profit,” answered Cromwell. “Assuredly the conquest at Worcester was a great and crowning mercy; yet might we seem to be but small in our thankfulness for the same, did we not do what in us lies towards the ultimate improvement and final conclusion of the great work which has been thus prosperous in our hands, professing, in pure humility and singleness of heart, that we do not, in any way, deserve our instrumentality to be remembered, nay, would rather pray and entreat, that our name and fortunes were forgotten, than that the great work were in itself incomplete. Nevertheless, truly, placed as we now are, it concerns us more nearly than others — that is, if so poor creatures should at all speak of themselves as concerned, whether more or less, with these changes which have been wrought around — not, I say, by ourselves, or our own power, but by the destiny to which we were called, fulfilling the same with all meekness and humility — I say it concerns us nearly that all things should be done in conformity with the great work which hath been wrought, and is yet working, in these lands. Such is my plain and simple meaning. Nevertheless, it is much to be desired that this young man, this King of Scots, as he called himself — this Charles Stewart — should not escape forth from the nation, where his arrival has wrought so much disturbance and bloodshed.”
“I have no doubt,” said the cavalier, looking down, “that your lordship’s wisdom hath directed all things as they may best lead towards such a consummation; and I pray your pains may be paid as they deserve.”
“I thank thee, friend,” said Cromwell, with much humility; “doubtless we shall meet our reward, being in the hands of a good paymaster, who never passeth Saturday night. But understand me, friend — I desire no more than my own share in the good work. I would heartily do what poor kindness I can to your worthy master, and even to you in your degree — for such as I do not converse with ordinary men, that our presence may be forgotten like an every-day’s occurrence. We speak to men like thee for their reward or their punishment; and I trust it will be the former which thou in thine office wilt merit at my hand.”
“Your honour,” said Wildrake, “speaks like one accustomed to command.”
“True; men’s minds are likened to those of my degree by fear and reverence,” said the General; —“but enough of that, desiring, as I do, no other dependency on my special person than is alike to us all upon that which is above us. But I would desire to cast this golden ball into your master’s lap. He hath served against this Charles Stewart and his father. But he is a kinsman near to the old knight Lee, and stands well affected towards his daughter. Thou also wilt keep a watch, my friend — that ruffling look of thine will procure thee the confidence of every malignant, and the prey cannot approach this cover, as though to shelter, like a coney in the rocks, but thou wilt be sensible of his presence.”
“I make a shift to comprehend your Excellency,” said the cavalier; “and I thank you heartily for the good opinion you have put upon me, and which, I pray I may have some handsome opportunity of deserving, that I may show my gratitude by the event. But still, with reverence, your Excellency’s scheme seems unlikely, while Woodstock remains in possession of the sequestrators. Both the old knight and his son, and far more such a fugitive as your honor hinted at, will take special care not to approach it till they are removed.”
“It is for that I have been dealing with thee thus long,” said the General. —“I told thee that I was something unwilling, upon slight occasion, to dispossess the sequestrators by my own proper warrant, although having, perhaps, sufficient authority in the state both to do so, and to despise the murmurs of those who blame me. In brief, I would be both to tamper with my privileges, and make experiments between their strength, and the powers of the commission granted by others, without pressing need, or at least great prospect of advantage. So, if thy Colonel will undertake, for his love of the Republic, to find the means of preventing its worst and nearest danger, which must needs occur from the escape of this young Man, and will do his endeavour to stay him, in case his flight should lead him to Woodstock, which I hold very likely, I will give thee an order to these sequestrators, to evacuate the palace instantly; and to the next troop of my regiment, which lies at Oxford, to turn them out by the shoulders, if they make any scruples — Ay, even, for example’s sake, if they drag Desborough out foremost, though he be wedded to my sister.”
“So please you, sir,” said Wildrake, “and with your most powerful warrant, I trust I might expel the commissioners, even without the aid of your most warlike and devout troopers.”
“That is what I am least anxious about,” replied the General; “I should like to see the best of them sit after I had nodded to them to begone — always excepting the worshipful House, in whose name our commissions run; but who, as some think, will be done with politics ere it be time to renew them. Therefore, what chiefly concerns me to know, is, whether thy master will embrace a traffic which hath such a fair promise of profit with it. I am well convinced that, with a scout like thee, who hast been in the cavaliers’ quarters, and canst, I should guess, resume thy drinking, ruffianly, health-quaffing manners whenever thou hast a mind, he must discover where this Stewart hath ensconced himself. Either the young Lee will visit the old one in person, or he will write to him, or hold communication with him by letter. At all events, Markham Everard and thou must have an eye in every hair of your head.” While he spoke, a flush passed over his brow, he rose from his chair, and paced the apartment in agitation. “Woe to you, if you suffer the young adventurer to escape me! — you had better be in the deepest dungeon in Europe, than breathe the air of England, should you but dream of playing me false. I have spoken freely to thee, fellow — more freely than is my wont — the time required it. But, to share my confidence is like keeping a watch over a powder-magazine, the least and most insignificant spark blows thee to ashes. Tell your master what I said — but not how I said it — Fie, that I should have been betrayed into this distemperature of passion! — begone, sirrah. Pearson shall bring thee sealed orders — Yet, stay — thou hast something to ask.”
“I would know,” said Wildrake, to whom the visible anxiety of the General gave some confidence, “what is the figure of this young gallant, in case I should find him?”
“A tall, rawboned, swarthy lad, they say he has shot up into. Here is his picture by a good hand, some time since.” He turned round one of the portraits which stood with its face against the wall; but it proved not to be that of Charles the Second, but of his unhappy father.
The first motion of Cromwell indicated a purpose of hastily replacing the picture, and it seemed as if an effort were necessary to repress his disinclination to look upon it. But he did repress it, and, placing the picture against the wall, withdrew slowly and sternly, as if, in defiance of his own feelings, he was determined to gain a place from which to see it to advantage. It was well for Wildrake that his dangerous companion had not turned an eye on him, for his blood also kindled when he saw the portrait of his master in the hands of the chief author of his death. Being a fierce and desperate man, he commanded his passion with great difficulty; and if, on its first violence, he had been provided with a suitable weapon, it is possible Cromwell would never have ascended higher in his bold ascent towards supreme power.
But this natural and sudden flash of indignation, which rushed through the veins of an ordinary man like Wildrake, was presently subdued, when confronted with the strong yet stifled emotion displayed by so powerful a character as Cromwell. As the cavalier looked on his dark and bold countenance, agitated by inward and indescribable feelings, he found his own violence of spirit die away and lose itself in fear and wonder. So true it is, that as greater lights swallow up and extinguish the display of those which are less, so men of great, capacious, and overruling minds, bear aside and subdue, in their climax of passion, the more feeble wills and passions of others; as, when a river joins a brook, the fiercer torrent shoulders aside the smaller stream.
Wildrake stood a silent, inactive, and almost a terrified spectator, while Cromwell, assuming a firm sternness of eye and manner, as one who compels himself to look on what some strong internal feeling renders painful and disgustful to him, proceeded, in brief and interrupted expressions, but yet with a firm voice, to comment on the portrait of the late King. His words seemed less addressed to Wildrake, than to be the spontaneous unburdening of his own bosom, swelling under recollection of the past and anticipation of the future.
“That Flemish painter” he said —“that Antonio Vandyck — what a power he has! Steel may mutilate, warriors may waste and destroy — still the King stands uninjured by time; and our grandchildren, while they read his history, may look on his image, and compare the melancholy features with the woful tale. — It was a stern necessity — it was an awful deed! The calm pride of that eye might have ruled worlds of crouching Frenchmen, or supple Italians, or formal Spaniards; but its glances only roused the native courage of the stern Englishman. — Lay not on poor sinful man, whose breath is in, his nostrils, the blame that he falls, when Heaven never gave him strength of nerves to stand! The weak rider is thrown by his unruly horse, and trampled to death — the strongest man, the best cavalier, springs to the empty saddle, and uses bit and spur till the fiery steed knows its master. Who blames him, who, mounted aloft, rides triumphantly amongst the people, for having succeeded, where the unskilful and feeble fell and died? Verily he hath his reward: Then, what is that piece of painted canvas to me more than others? No; let him show to others the reproaches of that cold, calm face, that proud yet complaining eye: Those who have acted on higher respects have no cause to start at painted shadows. Not wealth nor power brought me from my obscurity. The oppressed consciences, the injured liberties of England, were the banner that I followed.”
He raised his voice so high, as if pleading in his own defence before some tribunal, that Pearson, the officer in attendance, looked into the apartment; and observing his master, with his eyes kindling, his arm extended, his foot advanced, and his voice raised, like a general in the act of commanding the advance of his army, he instantly withdrew.
“It was other than selfish regards that drew me forth to action,” continued Cromwell, “and I dare the world — ay, living or dead I challenge — to assert that I armed for a private cause, or as a means of enlarging my fortunes. Neither was there a trooper in the regiment who came there with less of personal ill will to yonder unhappy”—
At this moment the door of the apartment opened, and a gentlewoman entered, who, from her resemblance to the General, although her features were soft and feminine, might be immediately recognised as his daughter. She walked up to Cromwell, gently but firmly passed her arm through his, and said to him in a persuasive tone, “Father, this is not well — you have promised me this should not happen.”
The General hung down his head, like one who was either ashamed of the passion to which he had given way, or of the influence which was exercised over him. He yielded, however, to the affectionate impulse, and left the apartment, without again turning his head towards the portrait which had so much affected him, or looking towards Wildrake, who remained fixed in astonishment.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13