TALES AND NOVELS, VOLUME VIII
PATRONAGE, concluded; COMIC DRAMAS; LEONORA; AND LETTERS.
IN TEN VOLUMES. WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
No less an event than Alfred's marriage, no event calling less imperatively upon her feelings, could have recovered Lady Jane's sympathy for Caroline. But Alfred Percy, who had been the restorer of her fortune, her friend in adversity, what pain it would give him to find her, at the moment when he might expect her congratulations, quarrelling with his sister—that sister, too, who had left her home, where she was so happy, and Hungerford Castle, where she was adored, on purpose to tend Lady Jane in sickness and obscurity!
Without being put exactly into these words, or, perhaps, into any words, thoughts such as these, with feelings of gratitude and affection, revived for Caroline in Lady Jane's mind the moment she heard of Alfred's intended marriage.
"Good young man!—Excellent friend!—Well, tell me all About it, my dear."
It was the first time that her ladyship had said my dear to Caroline since the day of the fatal refusal.
Caroline was touched by this word of reconciliation—and the tears it brought into her eyes completely overcame Lady Jane, who hastily wiped her own.
"So, my dear Caroline—where were we? Tell me about your brother's marriage—when is it to be?—How has it been brought about?—The last I heard of the Leicesters was the good dean's death—I remember pitying them very much—Were they not left in straitened circumstances, too? Will Alfred have any fortune with Miss Leicester?—Tell me every thing—read me his letters."
To go back to Dr. Leicester's death. For some months his preferments were kept in abeyance. Many were named, or thought of, as likely to succeed him. The deanery was in the gift of the crown, and as it was imagined that the vicarage was also at the disposal of government, applications had poured in, on all sides, for friends, and friends' friends, to the remotest link of the supporters of ministry—But—to use their own elegant, phrase—the hands of government were tied.
It seems that in consequence of some parliamentary interest, formerly given opportunely, and in consideration of certain arrangements in his diocese, to serve persons whom ministers were obliged to oblige, a promise had long ago been given to Bishop Clay that his recommendation to the deanery should be accepted on the next vacancy. The bishop, who had promised the living to his sister's husband, now presented it to Mr. Buckhurst Falconer, with the important addition of Dr. Leicester's deanery.
To become a dean was once the height of Buckhurst's ambition, that for which in a moment of elation he prayed, scarcely hoping that his wishes would ever be fulfilled: yet now that his wish was accomplished, and that he had attained this height of his ambition, was he happy? No!—far from it; farther than ever. How could he be happy—dissatisfied with his conduct, and detesting his wife? In the very act of selling himself to this beldam, he abhorred his own meanness; but he did not know how much reason he should have to repent, till the deed was done. It was done in a hurry, with all the precipitation of a man who hates himself for what he feels forced to do. Unused to bargain and sale in any way, in marriage never having thought of it before, Buckhurst did not take all precautions necessary to make his sacrifice answer his own purpose. He could not conceive the avaricious temper and habits of his lady, till he was hers past redemption. Whatever accession of income he obtained from his marriage, he lived up to; immediately, his establishment, his expenses, surpassed his revenue. His wife would not pay or advance a shilling beyond her stipulated quota to their domestic expenses. He could not hear the parsimonious manner in which she would have had him live, or the shabby style in which she received his friends. He was more profuse in proportion as she was more niggardly; and whilst she scolded and grudged every penny she paid, he ran in debt magnanimously for hundreds. When the living and deanery came into his possession, the second year's fruits had been eaten beforehand. Money he must have, and money his wife would not give—but a litigious agent suggested to him a plan for raising it, by demanding a considerable sum from the executors of the late Dr. Leicester, for what is called dilapidation. The parsonage-house seemed to be in good repair; but to make out charges of dilapidation was not difficult to those who understood the business—and fifteen hundred pounds was the charge presently made out against the executors of the late incumbent. It was invidious, it was odious for the new vicar, in the face of his parishioners, of all those who loved and respected his predecessor, to begin by making such a demand—especially as it was well known that the late dean had not saved any of the income of his preferment, but had disposed of it amongst his parishioners as a steward for the poor. He had left his family in narrow circumstances. They were proud of his virtues, and not ashamed of the consequences. With dignity and ease they retrenched their expenses; and after having lived as became the family of a dignitary of the church, on quitting the parsonage, the widow and her niece retired to a small habitation, suited to their altered circumstances, and lived with respectable and respected economy. The charge brought against them by the new dean was an unexpected blow. It was an extortion, to which Mrs. Leicester would not submit—could not without injury to her niece, from whose fortune the sum claimed, if yielded, must be deducted.
Alfred Percy, from the first moment of their distress, from the time of good Dr. Leicester's death, had been assiduous in his attentions to Mrs. Leicester; and by the most affectionate letters, and, whenever he could get away from London, by his visits to her and to his Sophia, had proved the warmth and constancy of his attachment Some months had now passed—he urged his suit, and besought Sophia no longer to delay his happiness. Mrs. Leicester wished that her niece should now give herself a protector and friend, who might console her for the uncle she had lost. It was at this period the dilapidation charge was made. Mrs. Leicester laid the whole statement before Alfred, declaring that for his sake, as well as for her niece's, she was resolute to defend herself against injustice. Alfred could scarcely bring himself to believe that Buckhurst Falconer had acted in the manner represented, with a rapacity, harshness, and cruelty, so opposite to his natural disposition. Faults, Alfred well knew that Buckhurst had; but they were all, he thought, of quite a different sort from those of which he now stood accused. What was to be done? Alfred was extremely averse from going to law with a man who was his relation, for whom he had early felt, and still retained, a considerable regard: yet he could not stand by, and see the woman he loved, defrauded of nearly half the small fortune she possessed. On the other hand, he was employed as a professional man, and called upon to act. He determined, however, before he should, as a last resource, expose the truth and maintain the right in a court of justice, previously to try every means of conciliation in his power. To all his letters the new dean answered evasively and unsatisfactorily, by referring him to his attorney, into whose hands he said he had put the business, and he knew and wished to hear nothing more about it. The attorney, Solicitor Sharpe, was impracticable—Alfred resolved to see the dean himself; and this, after much difficulty, he at length effected. He found the dean and his lady tete-a-tete. Their raised voices suddenly stopped short as he entered. The dean gave an angry look at his servant as Alfred came into the room.
"Your servants," said Alfred, "told me that you were not at home, but I told them that I knew the dean would be at home to an old friend."
"You are very good,—(said Buckhurst)—you do me a great deal of honour," said the dean.
Two different manners appeared in the same person: one natural—belonging to his former, the other assumed, proper, as he thought, for his present self, or rather for his present situation.
"Won't you be seated? I hope all our friends—" Mrs. Buckhurst, or, as she was called, Mrs. Dean Falconer, made divers motions, with a very ugly chin, and stood as if she thought there ought to be an introduction. The dean knew it, but being ashamed to introduce her, determined against it. Alfred stood in suspension, waiting their mutual pleasure.
"Won't you sit down, sir?" repeated the dean.
Down plumped Mrs. Falconer directly, and taking out her spectacles, as if to shame her husband, by heightening the contrast of youth and age, deliberately put them on; then drawing her table nearer, settled herself to her work.
Alfred, who saw it to be necessary, determined to use his best address to conciliate the lady.
"Mr. Dean, you have never yet done me the honour to introduce me to Mrs. Falconer."
"I thought—I thought we had met before—since—Mrs. Falconer, Mr. Alfred Percy."
The lady took off her spectacles, smiled, and adjusted herself, evidently with an intention to be more agreeable. Alfred sat down by her work-table, directed his conversation to her, and soon talked, or rather induced her to talk herself into fine humour. Presently she retired to dress for dinner, and "hoped Mr. Alfred Percy had no intention of running away—she had a well-aired bed to offer him."
The dean, though he cordially hated his lady, was glad, for his own sake, to be relieved from her fits of crossness; and was pleased by Alfred's paying attention to her, as this was a sort of respect to himself, and what he seldom met with from those young men who had been his companions before his marriage—they usually treated his lady with a neglect or ridicule which reflected certainly upon her husband.
Alfred never yet had touched upon his business, and Buckhurst began to think this was merely a friendly visit. Upon Alfred's observing some alteration which had been lately made in the room in which they were sitting, the dean took him to see other improvements in the house; in pointing out these, and all the conveniences and elegancies about the parsonage, Buckhurst totally forgot the dilapidation suit; and every thing he showed and said tended unawares to prove that the house was in the most perfect repair and best condition possible. Gradually, whatever solemnity and beneficed pomp there had at first appeared in the dean's manner, wore off, or was laid aside; and, except his being somewhat more corpulent and rubicund than in early years, he appeared like the original Buckhurst. His gaiety of heart, indeed, was gone, but some sparkles of his former spirits remained.
"Here," said he, showing Alfred into his study, "here, as our good friend Mr. Blank said, when he showed us his study, 'Here is where I read all day long—quite snug—and nobody's a bit the wiser for it.'"
The dean seated himself in his comfortable arm-chair. "Try that chair, Alfred, excellent for sleeping in at one's ease."
"To rest the cushion and soft dean invite."
"Ah!" said Alfred, "often have I sat in this room with my excellent friend, Dr. Leicester!"
The new dean's countenance suddenly changed: but endeavouring to pass it off with a jest, he said, "Ay, poor good old Leicester, he sleeps for ever,—that's one comfort—to me—if not to you." But perceiving that Alfred continued to look serious, the dean added some more proper reflections in a tone of ecclesiastical sentiment, and with a sigh of decorum—then rose, for he smelt that the dilapidation suit was coming.
"Would not you like, Mr. Percy, to wash your hands before dinner?"
"I thank you, Mr. Dean, I must detain you a moment to speak to you on business."
Black as Erebus grew the face of the dean—he had no resource but to listen, for he knew it would come after dinner, if it did not come now; and it was as well to have it alone in the study, where nobody might be a bit the wiser.
When Alfred had stated the whole of what he had to say, which he did in as few and strong words as possible, appealing to the justice and feelings of Buckhurst—to the fears which the dean must have of being exposed, and ultimately defeated, in a court of justice—"Mrs. Leicester," concluded he, "is determined to maintain the suit, and has employed me to carry it on for her."
"I should very little have expected," said the dean, "that Mr. Alfred Percy would have been employed in such a way against me."
"Still less should I have expected that I could be called upon in such a way against you," replied Alfred. "No one can feel it more than I do. The object of my present visit is to try whether some accommodation may not be made, which will relieve us both from the necessity of going to law, and may prevent me from being driven to the performance of this most painful professional duty."
"Duty! professional duty!" repeated Buckhurst: "as if I did not understand all those cloak-words, and know how easy it is to put them on and off at pleasure!"
"To some it may be, but not to me," said Alfred, calmly.
Anger started into Buckhurst's countenance: but conscious how inefficacious it would be, and how completely he had laid himself open, the dean answered, "You are the best judge, sir. But I trust—though I don't pretend to understand the honour of lawyers—I trust, as a gentleman, you will not take advantage against me in this suit, of any thing my openness has shown you about the parsonage."
"You trust rightly, Mr. Dean," replied Alfred, in his turn, with a look not of anger, but of proud indignation; "you trust rightly, Mr. Dean, and as I should have expected that one who has had opportunities of knowing me so well ought to trust."
"That's a clear answer," said Buckhurst. "But how could I tell?—so much jockeying goes on in every profession—how could I tell that a lawyer would be more conscientious than another man? But now you assure me of it—I take it upon your word, and believe it in your case. About the accommodation—accommodation means money, does not it?—frankly, I have not a shilling. But Mrs. Falconer is all accommodation. Try what you can do with her—and by the way you began, I should hope you would do a great deal," added he, laughing.
Alfred would not undertake to speak to his lady, unless the dean would, in the first instance, make some sacrifice. He represented that he was not asking for money, but for a relinquishment of a claim, which he apprehended not to be justly due: "And the only use I shall ever make of what you have shown me here, is to press upon your feelings, as I do at this moment, the conviction of the injustice of that claim, which I am persuaded your lawyers only instigated, and that you will abandon."
Buckhurst begged him not to be persuaded of any such thing. The instigation of an attorney, he laughing said, was not in law counted the instigation of the devil—at law no man talked of feelings. In matters of property judges did not understand them, whatever figure they might make with a jury in criminal cases—with an eloquent advocate's hand on his breast.
Alfred let Buckhurst go on with his vain wit and gay rhetoric till he had nothing more to say, knowing that he was hiding consciousness of unhandsome conduct. Sticking firmly to his point, Alfred showed that his client, though gentle, was resolved, and that, unless Buckhurst yielded, law must take its course—that though he should never give any hint, the premises must be inspected, and disgrace and defeat must follow.
Forced to be serious, fretted and hurried, for the half-hour bell before dinner had now rung, and the dean's stomach began to know canonical hours, he exclaimed, "The upshot of the whole business is, that Mr. Alfred Percy is in love, I understand, with Miss Sophia Leicester, and this fifteen hundred pounds, which he pushes me to the bare wall to relinquish, is eventually, as part of her fortune, to become his. Would it not have been as fair to have stated this at once?"
"No—because it would not have been the truth."
"No!—You won't deny that you are in love with Miss Leicester?"
"I am as much in love as man can be with Miss Leicester; but her fortune is nothing to me, for I shall never touch it."
"Never touch it! Does the aunt—the widow—the cunning widow, refuse consent?"
"Far from it: the aunt is all the aunt of Miss Leicester should be—all the widow of Dr. Leicester ought to be. But her circumstances are not what they ought to be; and by the liberality of a friend, who lends me a house, rent free, and by the resources of my profession, I am better able than Mrs. Leicester is to spare fifteen hundred pounds: therefore, in the recovery of this money I have no personal interest at present. I shall never receive it from her."
"Noble! Noble!—just what I could have done myself—once! What a contrast!"
Buckhurst laid his head down upon his arms flat on the table, and remained for some moments silent—then, starting upright, "I'll never claim a penny from her—I'll give it all up to you! I will, if I sell my band for it, by Jove!"
"Oh! what has your father to answer for, who forced you into the church!" thought Alfred.
"My dear Buckhurst," said he, "my dear dean—"
"Call me Buckhurst, if you love me."
"I do love you, it is impossible to help it, in spite of—"
"All my faults—say it out—say it out—in spite of your conscience," added Buckhurst, trying to laugh.
"Not in spite of my conscience, but in favour of yours," said Alfred, "against whose better dictates you have been compelled all your life to act."
"I have so, but that's over. What remains to be done at present? I am in real distress for five hundred pounds. Apropos to your being engaged in this dilapidation suit, you can speak to Mrs. Falconer about it. Tell her I have given up the thing; and see what she will do."
Alfred promised he would speak to Mrs. Falconer. "And, Alfred, when you see your sister Caroline, tell her that I am not in one sense such a wretch—quite, as she thinks me. But tell her that I am yet a greater wretch—infinitely more miserable than she, I hope, can conceive—beyond redemption—beyond endurance miserable." He turned away hastily in an agony of mind. Alfred shut the door and escaped, scarcely able to bear I his own emotion.
When they met at dinner, Mrs. Dean Falconer was an altered person—her unseemly morning costume and well-worn shawl being cast aside, she appeared in bloom-coloured gossamer gauze, and primrose ribbons, a would-be young lady. Nothing of that curmudgeon look, or old fairy cast of face and figure, to which he had that morning been introduced, but in their place smiles, and all the false brilliancy which rouge can give to the eyes, proclaimed a determination to be charming.
The dean was silent, and scarcely ate any thing, though the dinner was excellent, for his lady was skilled in the culinary department, and in favour of Alfred had made a more hospitable display than she usually condescended to make for her husband's friends. There were no other guests, except a young lady, companion to Mrs. Falconer. Alfred was as agreeable and entertaining as circumstances permitted; and Mrs. Buckhurst Falconer, as soon as she got out of the dining-room, even before she reached the drawing-room, pronounced him to be a most polite and accomplished young man, very different indeed from the common run, or the usual style, of Mr. Dean Falconer's dashing bachelor beaux, who in her opinion were little better than brute bears.
At coffee, when the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing-room, as Alfred was standing beside Mrs. Falconer, meditating how and when to speak of the object of his visit, she cleared the ground by choosing the topic of conversation, which, at last fairly drove her husband out of the room. She judiciously, maliciously, or accidentally, began to talk of the proposal which she had heard a near relation of hers had not long since made to a near relation of Mr. Alfred Percy's—Mr. Clay, of Clay-hall, her nephew, had proposed for Mr. Alfred's sister, Miss Caroline Percy. She was really sorry the match was not to take place, for she had heard a very high character of the young lady in every way, and her nephew was rich enough to do without fortune—not but what that would be very acceptable to all men—especially young men, who are now mostly all for money instead of all for love—except in the case of very first rate extraordinary beauty, which therefore making a woman a prey, just as much one as the other, might be deemed a misfortune as great, though hardly quite, Mrs. Buckhurst said, as she had found a great fortune in her own particular case. The involution of meaning in these sentences rendering it not easy to be comprehended, the dean stood it pretty well, only stirring his coffee, and observing that it was cold; but when his lady went on to a string of interrogatories about Miss Caroline Percy—on the colour of her eyes and hair—size of her mouth and nose—requiring in short a complete full-length portrait of the young lady, poor Buckhurst set down his cup, and pleading business in his study, left the field open to Alfred.
"Near-sighted glasses! Do you never use them, Mr. Percy?" said Mrs. Dean Falconer, as she thought Alfred's eyes fixed upon her spectacles, which lay on the table.
No—he never used them, he thanked her: he was rather far-sighted than short-sighted. She internally commended his politeness in not taking them up to verify her assertion, and put them into her pocket to avoid all future danger.
He saw it was a favourable moment, and entered at once into his business—beginning by observing that the dean was much out of spirits. The moment money was touched upon, the curmudgeon look returned upon the lady; and for some time Alfred had great difficulty in making himself heard: she poured forth such complaints against the extravagance of the dean, with lists of the debts she had paid, the sums she had given, and the vow she had made, never to go beyond the weekly allowance she had, at the last settlement, agreed to give her husband.
Alfred pleaded strongly the expense of law, and the certainty, in his opinion, of ultimate defeat, with the being obliged to pay all the costs, which would fall upon the dean. The dean was willing to withdraw his claim—he had promised to do so, in the most handsome manner; and therefore, Alfred said, he felt particularly anxious that he should not be distressed for five hundred pounds, a sum for which he knew Mr. Falconer was immediately pressed. He appealed to Mrs. Falconer's generosity. He had been desired by the dean to speak to her on the subject, otherwise he should not have presumed—and it was as a professional man, and a near relation, that he now took the liberty: this was the first transaction he had ever had with her, and he hoped he should leave the vicarage impressed with a sense of her generosity, and enabled to do her justice in the opinion of those who did not know her.
That was very little to her, she bluntly said—she acted only up to her own notions—she lived only for herself.
"And for her husband." Love, Alfred Percy said, he was assured, was superior to money in her opinion. "And after all, my dear madam, you set me the example of frankness, and permit me to speak to you without reserve. What can you, who have no reason, you say, to be pleased with either of your nephews, do better with your money, than spend it while you live and for yourself, in securing happiness in the gratitude and affection of a husband, who, generous himself, will be peculiarly touched and attached by generosity?"
The words, love, generosity, generous, sounded upon the lady's ear, and she was unwilling to lose that high opinion which she imagined Alfred entertained of her sentiments and character. Besides, she was conscious that he was in fact nearer the truth than all the world would have believed. Avaricious in trifles, and parsimonious in those every-day habits which brand the reputation immediately with the fault of avarice, this woman was one of those misers who can be generous by fits and starts, and who have been known to give hundreds of pounds, but never without reluctance would part with a shilling.
She presented the dean, her husband, with an order on her banker for the money he wanted, and Alfred had the pleasure of leaving his unhappy friend better, at least, than he found him. He rejoiced in having compromised this business so successfully, and in thus having prevented the litigation, ill-will, and disgraceful circumstances, which, without his interference, must have ensued.
The gratitude of Mrs. Leicester and her niece was delightful. The aunt urged him to accept what he had been the means of saving, as part of her niece's fortune; but this he absolutely refused, and satisfied Mrs. Leicester's delicacy, by explaining, that he could not, if he would, now yield to her entreaties, as he had actually obtained the money from poor Buckhurst's generous repentance, upon the express faith that he had no private interest in the accommodation.
"You would not," said Alfred, "bring me under the act against raising money upon false pretences?"
What Alfred lost in money he gained in love. His Sophia's eyes beamed upon him with delight. The day was fixed for their marriage, and at Alfred's suggestion, Mrs. Leicester consented, painful as it was, in some respects, to her feelings, that they should be married by the dean in the parish church.
Alfred brought his bride to town, and as soon as they were established in their own house, or rather in that house which Mr. Gresham insisted upon their calling their own, Lady Jane Granville was the first person to offer her congratulations.—Alfred begged his sister Caroline from Lady Jane, as he had already obtained his father's and mother's consent. Lady Jane was really fond of Caroline's company, and had forgiven her, as well as she could; yet her ladyship had no longer a hope of being of use to her, and felt that even if any other offer were to occur—and none such as had been made could ever more be expected—it would lead only to fresh disappointment and altercation; therefore she, with the less reluctance, relinquished Caroline altogether.
Caroline's new sister had been, from the time they were first acquainted, her friend, and she rejoiced in seeing all her hopes for her brother's happiness accomplished by this marriage. His Sophia had those habits of independent occupation which are essential to the wife of a professional man, and which enable her to spend cheerfully many hours alone, or at least without the company of her husband. On his return home every evening, he was sure to find a smiling wife, a sympathizing friend, a cheerful fireside.—She had musical talents—her husband was fond of music; and she did not lay aside the accomplishments which had charmed the lover, but made use of them to please him whom she had chosen as her companion for life. Her voice, her harp, her utmost skill, were ready at any moment, and she found far more delight in devoting her talents to him than she had ever felt in exhibiting them to admiring auditors. This was the domestic use of accomplishments to which Caroline had always been accustomed; so that joining in her new sister's occupations and endeavours to make Alfred's evenings pass pleasantly, she felt at once as much at home as if she had been in the country; for the mind is its own place, and domestic happiness may be naturalized in a capital city.
At her brother's house, Caroline had an opportunity of seeing a society that was new to her, that of the professional men of the first eminence both in law and medicine, the men of science and of literature, with whom Alfred and Erasmus had been for years assiduously cultivating acquaintance. They were now happy to meet at Alfred's house, for they liked and esteemed him, and they found his wife and sister sensible, well-informed women, to whom their conversation was of real amusement and instruction; and who, in return, knew how to enliven their leisure hours by female sprightliness and elegance. Caroline now saw the literary and scientific world to the best advantage: not the amateurs, or the mere show people, but those who, really excelling and feeling their own superiority, had too much pride and too little time to waste upon idle flattery, or what to them were stupid, uninteresting parties. Those who refused to go to Lady Spilsbury's, or to Lady Angelica Headingham's, or who were seen there, perhaps, once or twice in a season as a great favour and honour, would call three or four evenings every week at Alfred's.
The first news, the first hints of discoveries, inventions, and literary projects, she heard from time to time discussed. Those men of talent, whom she had heard were to be seen at conversaziones, or of whom she had had a glimpse in fine society, now appeared in a new point of view, and to the best advantage; without those pretensions and rivalships with which they sometimes are afflicted in public, or those affectations and singularities, which they often are supposed to assume, to obtain notoriety among persons inferior to them in intellect and superior in fashion. Instead of playing, as they sometimes did, a false game to amuse the multitude, they were obliged now to exert their real skill, and play fair with one another.
Sir James Harrington tells us, that in his days the courtiers who played at divers games in public, had a way of exciting the admiration and amazement of the commoner sort of spectators, by producing heaps of golden counters, and seeming to stake immense sums, when all the time they had previously agreed among one another, that each guinea should stand for a shilling, or each hundred guineas for one: so that in fact two modes of calculation were used for the initiated and uninitiated; and this exoteric practice goes on continually to this hour, among literary performers in the intellectual, as well as among courtiers in the fashionable world.
Besides the pleasure of studying celebrated characters, and persons of eminent merit, at their ease and at her own, Caroline had now opportunities of seeing most of those objects of rational curiosity, which with Lady Jane Granville had been prohibited as mauvais ton. With men of sense she found it was not mauvais ton to use her eyes for the purposes of instruction or entertainment.
With Mrs. Alfred Percy she saw every thing in the best manner; in the company of well-informed guides, who were able to point out what was essential to be observed; ready to explain and to illustrate; to procure for them all those privileges and advantages as spectators, which common gazers are denied, but which liberal and enlightened men are ever not only ready to allow, but eager to procure for intelligent, unassuming females.
Among the gentlemen of learning, talents, and eminence in Alfred's own profession, whom Caroline had the honour of seeing at her brother's, were Mr. Friend, the friend of his early years at the bar; and that great luminary, who in a higher orbit had cheered and guided him in his ascent. The chief justice was in a station, and of an age, where praise can be conferred without impropriety, and without hurting the feelings of delicacy or pride. He knew how to praise—a difficult art, but he excelled in it. As Caroline once, in speaking of him, said, "Common compliments compared to praise from him, are as common coin compared to a medal struck and appropriated for the occasion."
About this time Mr. Temple came to tell Alfred, that a ship had been actually ordered to be in readiness to carry him on his intended embassy; that Mr. Shaw had recovered; that Cunningham Falconer had no more excuses or pretences for delay; despatches, the last Lord Oldborough said he should ever receive from him as envoy, had now arrived, and Temple was to have set out immediately; but that the whole embassy bad been delayed, because Lord Oldborough had received a letter from Count Altenberg, giving an account of alarming revolutionary symptoms, which had appeared in the capital, and in the provinces, in the dominions of his sovereign, Lord Oldborough had shown Mr. Temple what related to public affairs, but had not put the whole letter into his hands. All that he could judge from what he read was, that the Count's mind was most seriously occupied with the dangerous state of public affairs in his country. "I should have thought," added Mr. Temple, "that the whole of this communication was entirely of a political nature, but that in the last page which Lord Oldborough put into my hand, the catch-words at the bottom were Countess Christina."
Alfred observed, "that, without the aid of Rosamond's imagination to supply something more, nothing could be made of this. However, it was a satisfaction to have had direct news of Count Altenberg."
The next day Mr. Temple came for Alfred. Lord Oldborough desired to see him.
"Whatever his business may be, I am sure it is important and interesting," said Mr. Temple; "by this time I ought to be well acquainted with Lord Oldborough—I know the signs of his suppressed emotion, and I have seldom seen him put such force upon himself to appear calm, and to do the business of the day, before he should yield his mind to what pressed on his secret thoughts."
When Alfred arrived, Lord Oldborough was engaged with some gentlemen from the city about a loan. By the length of time which the negotiators stayed, they tried Alfred's patience; but the minister sat with immoveable composure, till they knew their own minds, and till they departed. Then, the loan at once dismissed from his thoughts, he was ready for Alfred.
"You have married, I think, Mr. Alfred Percy, since I saw you last—I congratulate you."
His lordship was not in the habit of noticing such common events; Alfred was surprised and obliged by the interest in his private affairs which this congratulation denoted.
"I congratulate you, sir, because I understand you have married a woman of sense. To marry a fool—to form or to have any connexion with a fool," continued his lordship, his countenance changing remarkably as he spoke, "I conceive to be the greatest evil, the greatest curse, that can be inflicted on a man of sense."
He walked across the room with long, firm, indignant strides—then stopping short, he exclaimed, "Lettres de cachet!—Dangerous instruments in bad hands!—As what are not?—But one good purpose they answered—they put it in the power of the head of every noble house to disown, and to deprive of the liberty to disgrace his family, any member who should manifest the will to commit desperate crime or desperate folly."
Alfred was by no means disposed to join in praise even of this use of a lettre de cachet, but he did not think it a proper time to argue the point, as he saw Lord Oldborough was under the influence of some strong passion. He waited in silence till his lordship should explain himself farther.
His lordship unlocked a desk, and produced a letter.
"Pray, Mr. Percy—Mr. Alfred Percy—have you heard any thing lately of the Marchioness of Twickenham?"
"No, my lord."
Alfred, at this instant, recollected the whisper which he had once heard at chapel, and he added, "Not of late, my lord."
"There," said Lord Oldborough, putting a letter into Alfred's hands—"there is the sum of what I have heard."
The letter was from the Duke of Greenwich, informing Lord Oldborough that an unfortunate discovery had been made of an affair between the Marchioness of Twickenham and a certain Captain Bellamy, which rendered an immediate separation necessary.
"So!" thought Alfred, "my brother Godfrey had a fine escape of this fair lady!"
"I have seen her once since I received that letter, and I never will see her again," said Lord Oldborough: "that's past—all that concerns her is past and irremediable. Now as to the future, and to what concerns myself. I have been informed—how truly, I cannot say—that some time ago a rumour, a suspicion of this intrigue was whispered in what they call the fashionable world."
"I believe that your lordship has been truly informed," said Alfred; and he then mentioned the whisper he had heard at the chapel.
"Ha!—Farther, it has been asserted to me, that a hint was given to the Marquis of Twickenham of the danger of suffering that—what is the man's name?—Bellamy, to be so near his wife; and that the hint was disregarded."
"The marquis did very weakly or very wickedly," said Alfred.
"All wickedness is weakness, sir, you know: but to our point. I have been assured that the actual discovery of the intrigue was made to the marquis some months previously to the birth of his child—and that he forbore to take any notice of this, lest it might affect the legitimacy of that child. After the birth of the infant—a boy—subsequent indiscretions on the part of the marchioness, the marquis would make it appear, gave rise to his first suspicions. Now, sir, these are the points, of which, as my friend, and as a professional man, I desire you to ascertain the truth. If the facts are as I have thus heard, I presume no divorce can be legally obtained."
"Certainly not, my lord."
"Then I will direct you instantly to the proper channels for information."
Whilst Lord Oldborough wrote directions, Alfred assured him he would fulfil his commission with all the discretion and celerity in his power.
"The next step," continued Lord Oldborough—"for, on such a subject, I wish to say all that is necessary at once, that it may be banished from my mind—your next step, supposing the facts to be ascertained, is to go with this letter—my answer to the Duke of Greenwich. See him—and see the marquis. In matters of consequence have nothing to do with secondary people—deal with the principals. Show in the first place, as a lawyer, that their divorce is unattainable—next, show the marquis that he destroys his son and heir by attempting it. The duke, I believe, would be glad of a pretext for dissolving the political connexion between me and the Greenwich family. He fears me, and he fears the world: he dares not abandon me without a pretence for the dissolution of friendship. He is a weak man, and never dares to act without a pretext; but show him that a divorce is not necessary for his purpose—a separation will do as well—Or without it, I am ready to break with him at council, in the House of Lords, on a hundred political points; and let him shield himself as he may from the reproach of desertion, by leaving the blame of quarrel on my impracticability, or on what he will, I care not—so that my family be saved from the ignominy of divorce."
As he sealed his letter, Lord Oldborough went on in abrupt sentences.
"I never counted on a weak man's friendship—I can do without his grace—Woman! Woman! The same—ever since the beginning of the world!"
Then turning to Alfred to deliver the letter into his hand, "Your brother, Major Percy, sir—I think I recollect—He was better in the West Indies."
"I was just thinking so, my lord," said Alfred.
"Yes—better encounter the plague than a fool."
Lord Oldborough had never before distinctly adverted to his knowledge of his niece's partiality for Godfrey, but his lordship now added, "Major Percy's honourable conduct is not unknown: I trust honourable conduct never was, and never will be, lost upon me.—This to the Duke of Greenwich—and this to the marquis.—Since it was to be, I rejoice that this Captain Bellamy is the gallant.—Had it been your brother, sir—could there have been any love in the case—not, observe, that I believe in love, much less am I subject to the weakness of remorse—but a twinge might have seized my mind—I might possibly have been told that the marchioness was married against her inclination.—But I am at ease on that point—my judgment of her was right.—You will let me know, in one word, the result of your negotiation without entering into particulars—divorce, or no divorce, is all I wish to hear."
Alfred did not know all the circumstances of the Marchioness of Twickenham's marriage, nor the peremptory manner in which it had been insisted upon by her uncle, otherwise he would have felt still greater surprise than that which he now felt, at the stern, unbending character of the man. Possessed as Lord Oldborough was by the opinion, that he had at the time judged and acted in the best manner possible, no after-events could make him doubt the justice of his own decision, or could at all shake him in his own estimation.
Alfred soon brought his report. "In one word—no divorce, my lord."
"That's well—I thank you, sir."
His lordship made no farther inquiries—not even whether there was to be a separation.
Alfred was commissioned by the Duke of Greenwich to deliver a message, which, like the messages of the gods in Homer, he delivered verbatim, and without comment: "His grace of Greenwich trusts Lord Oldborough will believe, that, notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances, which dissolved in some degree the family connexion, it was the farthest possible from his grace's wish or thoughts to break with Lord Oldborough, as long as private feelings, and public principles, could be rendered by any means compatible."
Lord Oldborough smiled in scorn—and Alfred could scarcely command his countenance.
Lord Oldborough prepared to give his grace the opportunity, which he knew he desired, of differing with him on principle: his lordship thought his favour and power were now sufficiently established to be able to do without the Duke of Greenwich, and his pride prompted him to show this to his grace and to the world. He carried it with a high hand for a short time; but even whilst he felt most secure, and when all seemed to bend and bow before his genius and his sway, many circumstances and many persons were combining to work the downfall of his power.
One of the first slight circumstances which shook his favour, was a speech he had made to some gentleman, about the presentation of the deanery to Buckhurst Falconer. It had been supposed by many, who knew the court which Commissioner Falconer paid to Lord Oldborough, that it was through his lordship's interest, that this preferment was given to the son; but when some person, taking this for granted, spoke of it to his lordship, he indignantly disclaimed all part in the transaction, and it is said that he added, "Sir, I know what is due to private regard as a man—and as a minister what must be yielded to parliamentary influence; but I never could have advised the bestowing ecclesiastical benefice and dignity upon any one whose conduct was not his first recommendation."
This speech, made in a moment of proud and perhaps unguarded indignation, was repeated with additions, suppressions, variations, and comments. Any thing will at court serve the purpose of those who wish to injure, and it is inconceivable what mischief was done to the minister by this slight circumstance. In the first place, the nobleman high in office, and the family connexions of the nobleman who had made the exchange of livings, and given the promise of the deanery to Bishop Clay, were offended beyond redemption—because they were in the wrong. Then, all who had done, or wished to do wrong, in similar instances, were displeased by reflection or by anticipation. But Lord Oldborough chiefly was injured by misrepresentation in the quarter where it was of most consequence to him to preserve his influence. It was construed by the highest authority into disrespect, and an imperious desire to encroach on favour, to control prerogative, and to subdue the mind of his sovereign. Insidious arts had long been secretly employed to infuse these ideas; and when once the jealousy of power was excited, every trifle confirmed the suspicion which Lord Oldborough's uncourtier-like character was little calculated to dispel. His popularity now gave umbrage, and it was hinted that he wished to make himself the independent minister of the people.
The affairs of the country prospered, however, under his administration; there was trouble, there was hazard in change. It was argued, that it was best to wait at least for some reverse of fortune in war, or some symptom of domestic discontent, before an attempt should be made to displace this minister, formidable by his talents, and by the awe his commanding character inspired.
The habit of confidence and deference for his genius and integrity remained, and to him no difference for some time appeared, in consequence of the secret decay of favour.
Commissioner Falconer, timid, anxious, restless, was disposed by circumstances and by nature, or by second nature, to the vigilance of a dependent's life; accustomed to watch and consult daily the barometer of court favour, he soon felt the coming storm; and the moment he saw prognostics of the change, he trembled, and considered how he should best provide for his own safety before the hour of danger arrived. Numerous libels against the minister appeared, which Lord Oldborough never read, but the commissioner, with his best spectacles, read them all; for he well knew and believed what the sage Selden saith, that "though some make slight of libels, yet you may see by them how the wind sets."
After determining by the throwing up of these straws which way the wind set, the commissioner began with all possible skill and dexterity to trim his boat. But dexterous trimmer though he was, and "prescient of change," he did yet not foresee from what quarter the storm would come.
Count Altenberg's letters had unveiled completely the envoy Cunningham Falconer's treachery, as far as it related to his intrigues abroad, and other friends detected some of his manoeuvres with politicians at home, to whom he had endeavoured to pay court, by betraying confidence reposed in him respecting the Tourville papers. Much of the mischief Cunningham had done this great minister still operated, unknown to his unsuspicious mind: but sufficient was revealed to determine Lord Oldborough to dismiss him from all future hopes of his favour.
"Mr. Commissioner Falconer," he began one morning, the moment the commissioner entered his cabinet, "Mr. Commissioner Falconer," in a tone which instantly dispelled the smile at entrance from the commissioner's countenance, and in the same moment changed his whole configurature. "My confidence is withdrawn from your son, Mr. Cunningham Falconer—for ever—and not without good reason—as you may—if you are not aware of it already—see, by those papers."
Lord Oldborough turned away, and asked his secretaries for his red box, as he was going to council.
Just as he left his cabinet, he looked back, and said, "Mr. Falconer, you should know, if you be not already apprised of it, that your son Cunningham is on his road to Denmark. You should be aware that the journey is not made by my desire, or by his majesty's order, or by any official authority; consequently he is travelling to the court of Denmark at his own expense or yours—unless he can prevail upon his Grace of Greenwich to defray his ambassadorial travelling charges, or can afford to wait for them till a total change of administration—of which, sir, if I see any symptoms to-day in council," added his lordship, in the tone of bitter irony; "I will give you fair notice—for fair dealing is what I practise."
This said, the minister left the commissioner to digest his speech as he might, and repaired to council, where he found every thing apparently as smooth as usual, and where he was received by all, especially by the highest, with perfect consideration.
Meantime Commissioner Falconer was wretched beyond expression—wretched in the certainty that his son, that he himself, had probably lost, irrecoverably, one excellent patron, before they had secured, even in case of change, another. This premature discovery of Cunningham's intrigues totally disconcerted and overwhelmed him; and, in the bitterness of his heart, he cursed the duplicity which he had taught and encouraged, still more by example, than by precept. But Cunningham's duplicity had more and closer folds than his own. Cunningham, conceited of his diplomatic genius, and fearful of the cautious timidity of his father, did not trust that father with the knowledge of all he did, or half of what he intended; so that the commissioner, who had thought himself at the bottom of every thing, now found that he, too, had been cheated by his son with false confidences; and was involved by him in the consequences of a scheme, of which he had never been the adviser. Commissioner Falconer knew too well, by the experience of Cumberland and others, the fate of those who suffer themselves to be lured on by second-hand promises; and who venture, without being publicly acknowledged by their employers, to undertake any diplomatic mission. Nor would Cunningham, whose natural disposition to distrust was greater than his father's, have sold himself to any political tempter, without first signing and sealing the compact, had he been in possession of his cool judgment, and had he been in any other than the desperate circumstances in which he was placed. His secret conscience whispered that his recall was in consequence of the detection of some of his intrigues, and he dreaded to appear before the haughty, irritated minister. Deceived also by news from England that Lord Oldborough's dismission or resignation could not be distant, Cunningham had ventured upon this bold stroke for an embassy.
On Lord Oldborough's return from council, the commissioner, finding, from his secret informants, that every thing had gone on smoothly, and being over-awed by the confident security of the minister, began to doubt his former belief; and, in spite of all the symptoms of change, was now inclined to think that none would take place. The sorrow and contrition with which he next appeared before Lord Oldborough were, therefore, truly sincere; and when he found himself alone once more with his lordship, earnest was the vehemence with which he disclaimed his unworthy son, and disavowed all knowledge of the transaction.
"If I had seen cause to believe that you had any part in this transaction, sir, you would not be here at this moment: therefore your protestations are superfluous—none would be accepted if any were necessary."
The very circumstance of the son's not having trusted the father completely, saved the commissioner, for this time, from utter ruin: he took breath; and presently—oh, weak man! doomed never to know how to deal with a strong character—fancying that his intercession might avail for his son, and that the pride of Lord Oldborough might be appeased, and might be suddenly wrought to forgiveness, by that tone and posture of submission and supplication used only by the subject to offended majesty, he actually threw himself at the feet of the minister.
"My gracious lord—a pardon for my son!"
"I beseech you, sir!" cried Lord Oldborough, endeavouring to stop him from kneeling—the commissioner sunk instantly on his knee.
"Never will the unhappy father rise till his son be restored to your favour, my lord."
"Sir," said Lord Oldborough, "I have no favour for those who have no sense of honour: rise, Mr. Falconer, and let not the father degrade himself for the son—unavailingly."
The accent and look were decisive—the commissioner rose. Instead of being gratified, his patron seemed shocked, if not disgusted: far from being propitiated by this sacrifice of dignity, it rendered him still more averse; and no consolatory omen appearing, the commissioner withdrew in silence, repenting that he had abased himself. After this, some days and nights passed with him in all the horrors of indecision—Could the minister weather the storm or not?—should Mr. Falconer endeavour to reinstate himself with Lord Oldborough, or secure in time favour with the Duke of Greenwich?—Mrs. Falconer, to whom her husband's groans in the middle of the night at last betrayed the sufferings of his mind, drew from him the secret of his fears and meditations. She advised strongly the going over, decidedly, and in time, but secretly, to the Greenwich faction.
The commissioner knew that this could not be done secretly. The attention of the minister was now awake to all his motions, and the smallest movement towards his grace of Greenwich must be observed and understood. On the other hand, to abide by a falling minister was folly, especially when he had positively withdrawn his favour from Cunningham, who had the most to expect from his patronage. Between these opposite difficulties, notwithstanding the urgent excitations of Mrs. Falconer, the poor commissioner could not bring himself to decide, till the time for action was past.
Another blow came upon him for which he was wholly unprepared—there arrived from abroad accounts of the failure of a secret expedition; and the general in his despatches named Colonel John Falconer as the officer to whose neglect of orders he principally attributed the disappointment. It appeared that orders had been sent to have his regiment at a certain place at a given hour. At the moment these orders came, Colonel John Falconer was out on a shooting party without leave. The troops, of course, on which the general had relied, did not arrive in time, and all his other combinations failed from this neglect of discipline and disobedience of orders. Colonel Falconer was sent home to be tried by a court-martial.
"I pity you, sir," said Lord Oldborough, as Commissioner Falconer, white as ashes, read in his presence these despatches—"I pity you, sir, from my soul: here is no fault of yours—the fault is mine."
It was one of the few faults of this nature which Lord Oldborough had ever committed. Except in the instance of the Falconer family, none could name any whom his lordship had placed in situations, for which they were inadequate or unfit. Of this single error he had not foreseen the consequences; they were more important, more injurious to him and to the public, than he could have calculated or conceived. It appeared now as if the Falconer family were doomed to be his ruin. That the public knew, in general, that John Falconer had been promoted by ministerial favour, Lord Oldborough was aware; but he imagined that the peculiar circumstances of that affair were known only to himself and to Commissioner Falconer's family. To his astonishment he found, at this critical moment, that the whole transaction had reached the ear of majesty, and that it was soon publicly known. The commissioner, with protestations and oaths, declared that the secret had never, by his means, transpired—it had been divulged by the baseness of his son Cunningham, who betrayed it to the Greenwich faction. They, skilled in all the arts of undermining a rival, employed the means that were thus put into their power with great diligence and effect.
It was observed at the levee, that the sovereign looked coldly upon the minister. Every courtier whispered that Lord Oldborough had been certainly much to blame. Disdainful of their opinions, Lord Oldborough was sensibly affected by the altered eye of his sovereign.
"What! After all my services!—At the first change of fortune!"
This sentiment swelled in his breast; but his countenance was rigidly calm, his demeanour towards the courtiers and towards his colleagues more than usually firm, if not haughty.
After the levee, he demanded a private audience.
Alone with the king, the habitual influence of this great minister's superior genius operated. The cold manner was changed, or rather, it was changed involuntarily. From one "not used to the language of apology," the frank avowal of a fault has a striking effect. Lord Oldborough took upon himself the whole blame of the disaster that had ensued, in consequence of his error, an error frequent in other ministers, in him, almost unprecedented.
He was answered with a smile of royal raillery, that the peculiar family circumstances which had determined his lordship so rapidly to promote that officer, must, to all fathers of families and heads of houses, if not to statesmen and generals, be a sufficient and home apology.
Considering the peculiar talent which his sovereign possessed, and in which he gloried, that of knowing the connexions and domestic affairs, not only of the nobility near his person, but of private individuals remote from his court, Lord Oldborough had little cause to be surprised that this secret transaction should be known to his majesty. Something of this his lordship, with all due respect, hinted in reply. At the termination of this audience, he was soothed by the condescending assurance, that whilst the circumstances of the late unfortunate reverse naturally created regret and mortification, no dissatisfaction with his ministerial conduct mixed with these feelings; on the contrary, he was assured that fear of the effect a disappointment might have on the mind of the public, in diminishing confidence in his lordship's efforts for the good of the country, was the sentiment which had lowered the spirits and clouded the brow of majesty.
His lordship returned thanks for the gracious demonstration of these sentiments—and, bowing respectfully, withdrew. In the faces and behaviour of the courtiers, as in a glass, he saw reflected the truth. They all pretended to be in the utmost consternation; and he heard of nothing but "apprehensions for the effect on the public mind," and "fears for his lordship's popularity." His secretary, Mr. Temple, heard, indeed, more of this than could reach his lordship's ear directly; for, even now, when they thought they foresaw his fall, few had sufficient courage to hazard the tone of condolence with Lord Oldborough, or to expose the face of hypocrisy to the severity of his penetrating eye. In secret, every means had been taken to propagate in the city, the knowledge of all the circumstances that were unfavourable to the minister, and to increase the dissatisfaction which any check in the success of our armies naturally produces. The tide of popularity, which had hitherto supported the minister, suddenly ebbed; and he fell, in public opinion, with astonishing rapidity. For the moment all was forgotten, but that he was the person who had promoted John Falconer to be a colonel, against whom the cry of the populace was raised with all the clamour of national indignation. The Greenwich faction knew how to take advantage of this disposition. It happened to be some festival, some holiday, when the common people, having nothing to do, are more disposed than at any other time to intoxication and disorder. The emissaries of designing partisans mixed with the populace, and a mob gathered round the minister's carriage, as he was returning home late one day—the same carriage, and the same man, whom, but a few short weeks before, this populace had drawn with loud huzzas, and almost with tears of affection. Unmoved of mind, as he had been when he heard their huzzas, Lord Oldborough now listened to their execrations, till from abuse they began to proceed to outrage. Stones were thrown at his carriage. One of his servants narrowly escaped being struck. Lord Oldborough was alone—he threw open his carriage-door, and sprang out on the step.
"Whose life is it you seek?" cried he, in a voice which obtained instant silence. "Lord Oldborough's? Lord Oldborough stands before you. Take his life who dares—a life spent in your service. Strike! but strike openly. You are Englishmen, not assassins."
Then, turning to his servants, he added, in a calm voice, "Home—slowly. Not a man here will touch you. Keep your master in sight. If I fall, mark by what hand."
Then stepping down into the midst of the people, he crossed the street to the flagged pathway, the crowd opening to make way for him. He walked on with a deliberate firm step; the mob moving along with him, sometimes huzzaing, sometimes uttering horrid execrations in horrid tones. Lord Oldborough, preserving absolute silence, still walked on, never turned his head, or quickened his pace, till he reached his own house. Then, facing the mob, as he stood waiting till the door should be opened, the people, struck with his intrepidity, with one accord joined in a shout of applause.
The next instant, and before the door was opened, they cried, "Hat off!—Hat off!"
Lord Oldborough's hat never stirred. A man took up a stone.
"Mark that man!" cried Lord Oldborough.
The door opened. "Return to your homes, my countrymen, and bless God that you have not any of you to answer this night for murder!"
Then entering his house, he took off his hat, and gave it to one of his attendants. His secretary, Temple, had run down stairs to meet him, inquiring what was the cause of the disturbance.
"Only," said Lord Oldborough, "that I have served the people, but never bent to them."
"Curse them! they are not worth serving. Oh! I thought they'd have taken my lord's life that minute," cried his faithful servant Rodney. "The sight left my eyes. I thought he was gone for ever. Thank God! he's safe. Take off my lord's coat—I can't—for the soul of me. Curse those ungrateful people!"
"Do not curse them, my good Rodney," said Lord Oldborough, smiling. "Poor people, they are not ungrateful, only mistaken. Those who mislead them are to blame. The English are a fine people. Even an English mob, you see, is generous, and just, as far as it knows."
Lord Oldborough was sound asleep this night, before any other individual in the house had finished talking of the dangers he had escaped.
The civil and military courage shown by the minister in the sudden attack upon his character and person were such as to raise him again at once to his former height in public esteem. His enemies were obliged to affect admiration. The Greenwich party, foiled in this attempt, now disavowed it. News of a victory effaced the memory of the late disappointment. Stocks rose—addresses for a change of ministry were quashed—addresses of thanks and congratulation poured in—Lord Oldborough gave them to Mr. Temple to answer, and kept the strength of his attention fixed upon the great objects which were essential to the nation and the sovereign he served.
Mr. Falconer saw that the storm had blown over, the darkness was past—Lord Oldborough, firm and superior, stood bright in power, and before him the commissioner bent more obsequious, more anxious than ever. Anxious he might well be—unhappy father! the life, perhaps, of one of his sons, his honour, certainly, at stake—the fortune of another—his existence ruined! And what hopes of propitiating him, who had so suffered by the favour he had already shown, who had been betrayed by one of the family and disgraced by another. The commissioner's only hope was in the recollection of the words, "I pity you from my soul, sir," which burst from Lord Oldborough even at the moment when he had most reason to be enraged against Colonel Falconer. Following up this idea, and working on the generous compassion, of which, but for this indication, he should not have supposed the stern Lord Oldborough to be susceptible, the commissioner appeared before him every day the image of a broken-hearted father. In silence Lord Oldborough from time to time looked at him; and by these looks, more than by all the promises of all the great men who had ever spoken to him, Mr. Falconer was reassured; and, as he told Mrs. Falconer, who at this time was in dreadful anxiety, he felt certain that Lord Oldborough would not punish him for the faults of his sons—he was satisfied that his place and his pension would not he taken from him—and that, at least in fortune, they should not be utterly ruined. In this security the commissioner showed rather more than his customary degree of strength of mind, and more knowledge of Lord Oldborough's character than he had upon most other occasions evinced.
Things were in this state, when, one morning, after the minister had given orders that no one should be admitted, as he was dictating some public papers of consequence to Mr. Temple, the Duke of Greenwich was announced. His grace sent in a note to signify that he waited upon Lord Oldborough by order of his majesty; and that, if this hour were not convenient, he begged to have the hour named at which his grace could be admitted. His grace was admitted instantly. Mr. Temple retired—for it was evident this was to be a secret conference. His grace of Greenwich entered with the most important solemnity—infinitely more ceremonious than usual; he was at last seated, and, after heavy and audible sighs, still hesitated to open his business. Through the affected gloom and dejection of his countenance Lord Oldborough saw a malicious pleasure lurking, whilst, in a studied exordium, he spoke of the infinite reluctance with which he had been compelled, by his majesty's express orders, to wait upon his lordship on a business the most painful to his feelings. As being a public colleague—as a near and dear connexion—as a friend in long habits of intimacy with his lordship, he had prayed his majesty to be excused; but it was his majesty's pleasure: he had only now to beg his lordship to believe that it was with infinite concern, &c. Lord Oldborough, though suffering under this circumlocution, never condescended to show any symptom of impatience; but allowing his grace to run the changes on the words and forms of apology, when these were exhausted, his lordship simply said, that "his majesty's pleasure of course precluded all necessity for apology."
His grace was vexed to find Lord Oldborough still unmoved—he was sure this tranquillity could not long endure: he continued, "A sad business, my lord—a terrible discovery—I really can hardly bring myself to speak—"
Lord Oldborough gave his grace no assistance.
"My private regard," he repeated.
A smile of contempt on Lord Oldborough's countenance.
"Your lordship's hitherto invulnerable public integrity—"
A glance of indignation from Lord Oldborough.
"Hitherto invulnerable!—your grace will explain."
"Let these—these fatal notes—letters—unfortunately got into the hands of a leading, impracticable member of opposition, and by him laid—Would that I had been apprised, or could have conceived it possible, time enough to prevent that step; but it was done before I had the slightest intimation—laid before his majesty—"
Lord Oldborough calmly received the letters from his grace.
"My own handwriting, and private seal, I perceive."
The duke sighed—and whilst Lord Oldborough drew out, opened, and read the first letter in the parcel, his grace went on—"This affair has thrown us all into the greatest consternation. It is to be brought before parliament immediately—unless a resignation should take place—which we should all deplore. The impudence, the inveteracy of that fellow, is astonishing—no silencing him. We might hush up the affair if his majesty had not been apprised; but where the interest of the service is concerned, his majesty is warm."
"His majesty!" cried Lord Oldborough: "His majesty could not, I trust, for a moment imagine these letters to be I mine?"
"But for the hand and seal which I understood your lordship to acknowledge, I am persuaded his majesty could not have believed it."
"Believed! My king! did he believe it?" cried Lord Oldborough. His agitation was for a moment excessive, uncontrollable. "No! that I will never credit, till I have it from his own lips." Then commanding himself, "Your grace will have the goodness to leave these letters with me till to-morrow."
His grace, with infinite politeness and regret, was under the necessity of refusing this request. His orders were only to show the letters to his lordship, and then to restore them to the hands of the member of opposition who had laid them before his majesty.
Lord Oldborough took off the cover of one of the letters, on which was merely the address and seal. The address was written also at the bottom of the letter enclosed, therefore the cover could not be of the least importance. The duke could not, Lord Oldborough said, refuse to leave this with him.
To this his grace agreed—protesting that he was far from wishing to make difficulties. If there were any thing else he could do—any thing his lordship would wish to have privately insinuated or publicly said—
His lordship, with proud thanks, assured the duke he did not wish to have any thing privately insinuated; and whatever it was necessary to say or do publicly, he should do himself, or give orders to have done. His lordship entered into no farther explanation. The duke at last was obliged to take his leave, earnestly hoping and trusting that this business would terminate to his lordship's entire satisfaction.
No sooner was the duke gone than Lord Oldborough rang for his carriage.
"Immediately—and Mr. Temple, instantly."
Whilst his carriage was coming to the door, in the shortest manner possible Lord Oldborough stated the facts to his secretary, that letters had been forged in his lordship's name, promising to certain persons promotion in the army—and navy—gratification—and pensions. Some were addressed to persons who had actually obtained promotion, shortly after the time of these letters; others contained reproaches for having been ill-used. Even from the rapid glance Lord Oldborough had taken of these papers, he had retained the names of several of the persons to whom they were addressed—and the nature of the promotion obtained. They were persons who could have had no claim upon an honest minister. His lordship left a list of them with Mr. Temple—also the cover of the letter, on which was a specimen of the forged writing and the private seal.
"I am going to the king. In my absence, Mr. Temple, think for me—I know you feel for me. The object is to discover the authors of this forgery."
"My lord, may I consult with Mr. Alfred Percy?"
"Yes—with no other person."
It was not Lord Oldborough's day for doing business with the king. He was late—the king was going out to ride. His majesty received the minister as usual; but notwithstanding the condescension of his majesty's words and manner, it was evident to Lord Oldborough's penetration, that there was a coldness and formality in the king's countenance.
"I beg I may not detain your majesty—I see I am late," said Lord Oldborough.
"Is the business urgent, my lord?"
"No, sir; for it concerns principally myself: it can, therefore, wait your majesty's leisure at any hour your majesty may appoint."
The king dismounted instantly.
"This moment, my lord, I am at leisure for any business that concerns your lordship."
The king returned to the palace—Lord Oldborough followed, and all the spectators on foot and horseback were left full of curiosity.
Notwithstanding the condescension of his majesty's words and manner, and the polite promptitude to attend to any business that concerned his lordship, it was evident to Lord Oldborough's penetration that there was an unusual coldness and formality in the king's countenance and deportment, unlike the graciousness of his reception when satisfied and pleased. As soon as the business of the day had been gone through, Lord Oldborough said he must now beg his majesty's attention on a subject which principally concerned himself. The king looked as one prepared to hear, but determined to say as little as possible.
Lord Oldborough placed himself so as to give the king the advantage of the light, which he did not fear to have full on his own countenance.
"Sir, certain letters, signed with my name, and sealed with my seal, have, I am informed, been laid before your majesty."
"Your lordship has been rightly informed."
"I trust—I hope that your majesty—"
At the firm assertion, in the tone with which Lord Oldborough pronounced, I trust—his majesty's eye changed—and moved away from Lord Oldborough's, when he, with respectful interrogation of tone, added, "I hope your majesty could not believe those letters to be mine."
"Frankly, my lord," said the king, "the assertions, the insinuations of no man, or set of men, of any rank or weight in my dominions, could by any imaginable means have induced me to conceive it possible that such letters had been written by your lordship. Not for one moment could my belief have been compelled by any evidence less strong than your lordship's handwriting and seal. I own, I thought I knew your lordship's seal and writing; but I now see that I have been deceived, and I rejoice to see it."
"I thank your majesty. I cannot feel surprise that a forgery and a counterfeit which, at first view, compelled my own belief of their being genuine, should, for a moment, have deceived you, sir; but, I own, I had flattered myself that my sovereign knew my heart and character, yet better than my seal and signature."
"Undoubtedly, my lord."
"And I should have hoped that, if your majesty had perused those letters, no assertions could have been necessary, on my part, to convince you, sir, that they could not be mine. I have now only to rejoice that your majesty is undeceived; and that I have not intruded unnecessarily with this explanation. I am fully sensible, sir, of your goodness, in having thus permitted me to make, as early as possible, this assertion of my innocence. For the proofs of it, and for the detection of the guilty, I am preparing; and I hope to make these as clear to you, sir, as your majesty's assurance of the pleasure you feel in being undeceived is satisfactory—consolatory to me," concluded Lord Oldborough, with a bow of profound yet proud respect.
"My lord," said the king, "I have no doubt that this affair will redound to your honour, and terminate to your lordship's entire satisfaction."
The very phrase used by the Duke of Greenwich.
"As to myself, your lordship can have no farther anxiety; but I wish your lordship's endeavours to detect and bring proofs home to the guilty may be promptly successful—for the gratification of your own feelings, and the satisfaction of the public mind, before the matter should be brought forward in parliament."
His majesty bowed, and as Lord Oldborough retired, he added some gracious phrases, expressive of the high esteem he felt for the minister, and the interest he had always, and should always take, in whatever could contribute to his public and private—satisfaction—(again).
To an eye and ear less practised in courts than this minister's, all that had been said would have been really satisfactory: but Lord Oldborough discerned a secret embarrassment in the smile, a constraint in the manner, a care, an effort to be gracious in the language, a caution, a rounding of the periods, a recurrence to technical phrases of compliment and amity, a want of the free fluent language of the heart; language which, as it flows, whether from sovereign or subject, leaves a trace that the art of courtier or of monarch cannot imitate. In all attempts at such imitation, there is a want, of which vanity and even interest is not always sensible, but which feeling perceives instantly. Lord Oldborough felt it—and twice, during this audience, he was on the point of offering his resignation, and twice, exerting strong power over himself, he refrained.
He saw plainly that he was not where he had been in the king's confidence; that his enemies had been at work, and, in some measure, had succeeded; that suspicions had been infused into the king's mind. That his king had doubted him, his majesty had confessed—and Lord Oldborough discerned that there was no genuine joy at the moment his majesty was undeceived, no real anxiety for his honour, only the ostensible manifestation suitable to the occasion—repeatable—or recordable.
Still there was nothing of which he could complain; every expression, if written down or repeated, must have appeared proper and gracious from the sovereign to his minister; and for that minister to resign at such a moment, from pride or pique, would have been fatal to the dignity, perhaps to the integrity, of his character.
Lord Oldborough reasoned thus as he stood in the presence of the king, and compelled himself, during the whole audience, and to the last parting moment, to preserve an air and tone of calm, respectful self-possession.
During Lord Oldborough's absence, his faithful secretary had been active in his service. Mr. Temple went immediately to his friend Alfred Percy. Alfred had just returned fatigued from the courts, and was resting himself, in conversation with his wife and Caroline.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Alfred," said Mr. Temple, "but I must take you away from these ladies to consult you on particular business."
"Oh! let the particular business wait till he has rested himself," said Mrs. Percy, "unless it be a matter of life and death."
"Life and death!" cried Lady Frances Arlington, running in at the open door—"Yes, it is a matter of life and death!—Stay, Mr. Temple! Mr. Percy! going the moment I come into the room—Impossible!"
"Impossible it would be," said Mr. Temple, "in any other case; but—"
"'When a lady's in the case, You know all other things give place,'"
cried Lady Frances. "So, positively, gentlemen, I stop the way. But, Mr. Temple, to comfort you—for I never saw a man, gallant or ungallant, look so impatient—I shall not be able to stay above a moment—Thank you, Mrs. Percy, I can't sit down—Mrs. Crabstock, the crossest of Crabstocks and stiffest of pattern-women, is in the carriage waiting for me. Give me joy—I have accomplished my purpose, and without Lady Jane Granville's assistance—obtained a permit to go with Lady Trant, and made her take me to Lady Angelica's last night. Grand conversazione!—Saw the German baron! Caught both the profiles—have 'em here—defy you not to smile. Look," cried her ladyship, drawing out of her reticule a caricature, which she put into Caroline's hand; and, whilst she was looking at it, Lady Frances went on speaking rapidly. "Only a sketch, a scrawl in pencil, while they thought I was copying a Sonnet to Wisdom—on the worst bit of paper, too, in the world—old cover of a letter I stole from Lady Trant's reticule while she was at cards. Mr. Temple, you shall see my chef-d'oeuvre by and by; don't look at the reverse of the medal, pray. Did not I tell you, you were the most impatient man in the world?"
It was true that Mr. Temple was at this instant most impatient to get possession of the paper, for on the back of that cover of the letter, on which the caricature was drawn, the hand-writing of the direction appeared to him—He dared scarcely believe his eyes—his hopes.
"Mrs. Crabstock, my lady," said the footman, "is waiting."
"I know, sir," said Lady Frances: "so, Caroline, you won't see the likeness. Very well; if I can't get a compliment, I must be off. When you draw a caricature, I won't praise it. Here! Mr. Temple, one look, since you are dying for it."
"One look will not satisfy me," cried Mr. Temple, seizing the paper: "your ladyship must leave the drawing with us till to-morrow."
"Us—must. Given at our court of St. James's. Lord Oldborough's own imperative style."
"Imperative! no; humbly I beseech your ladyship, thus humbly," cried Mr. Temple, kneeling in jest, but keeping in earnest fast hold of the paper.
"But why—why? Are you acquainted with Lady Angelica? I did not know you knew her."
"It is excellent!—It is admirable!—I cannot let it go. This hand that seized it long shall hold the prize."
"The man's mad! But don't think I'll give it to you—I would not give it to my mother: but I'll lend it to you, if you'll tell me honestly why you want it."
"Honestly—I want to show it to a particular friend, who will be delighted with it."
"Tell me who, this minute, or you shall not have it."
"Mrs. Crabstock, my lady, bids me say, the duchess—"
"The duchess—the deuce!—if she's come to the duchess, I must go. I hope your man, Mrs. Percy, won't tell Mrs. Crabstock he saw this gentleman kneeling."
"Mrs. Crabstock's getting out, my lady," said the footman, returning.
"Mr. Temple, for mercy's sake, get up."
"Never, till your ladyship gives the drawing."
"There! there! let me go—audacious!"
"Good morning to you, Mrs. Percy—Good bye, Caroline—Be at Lady Jane's to-night, for I'm to be there."
Her ladyship ran off, and met Mrs. Crabstock on the stairs, with whom we leave her to make her peace as she pleases.
"My dear Temple, I believe you are out of your senses," said Alfred: "I never saw any man so importunate about a drawing that is not worth a straw—trembling with eagerness, and kneeling!—Caroline, what do you think Rosamond would have thought of all this?"
"If she knew the whole, she would have thought I acted admirably," said Mr. Temple. "But come, I have business."
Alfred took him into his study, and there the whole affair was explained. Mr. Temple had brought with him the specimen of the forgery to show to Alfred, and, upon comparing it with the handwriting on the cover of the letter on which the caricature was drawn, the similarity appeared to be strikingly exact. The cover, which had been stolen, as Lady Frances Arlington said, from Lady Trant's reticule, was directed to Captain Nuttall. He was one of the persons to whom forged letters had been written, as appeared by the list which Lord Oldborough had left with Mr. Temple. The secretary was almost certain that his lordship had never written with his own hand to any Captain Nuttall; but this he could ask the moment he should see Lord Oldborough again. It seemed as if this paper had never been actually used as the cover of a letter, for it had no post-mark, seal, or wafer. Upon farther inspection, it was perceived that a t had been left out in the name of Nuttall; and it appeared probable that the cover had been thrown aside, and a new one written, in consequence of this omission. But Alfred did not think it possible that Lady Trant could be the forger of these letters, because he had seen some of her ladyship's notes of invitation to Caroline, and they were written in a wretched cramped hand.
"But that cramped hand might be feigned to conceal the powers of penmanship," said Mr. Temple.
"Well! granting her ladyship's talents were equal to the mere execution," Alfred persisted in thinking she had not abilities sufficient to invent or combine all the parts of such a scheme. "She might be an accomplice, but she must have had a principal—and who could that principal be?"
The same suspicion, the same person, came at the same moment into the heads of both gentlemen, as they sat looking at each other.
"There is an intimacy between them," said Alfred. "Recollect all the pains Lady Trant took for Mrs. Falconer about English Clay—they—"
"Mrs. Falconer! But how could she possibly get at Lord Oldborough's private seal—a seal that is always locked up—a seal never used to any common letter, never to any but those written by his own hand to some private friend, and on some very particular occasion? Since I have been with him I have not seen him use that seal three times."
"When and to whom, can you recollect?" said Alfred.
"I recollect!—I have it all!" exclaimed Mr. Temple, striking the table—"I have it! But, Lady Frances Arlington—I am sorry she is gone."
"Why! what of her?—Lady Frances can have nothing more to do with the business."
"She has a great deal more, I can assure you—but without knowing it."
"Of that I am certain, or all the world would have known it long ago: but tell me how."
"I recollect, at the time when I was dangling after Lady Frances—there's good in every thing—just before we went down to Falconer-court, her ladyship, who, you know, has always some reigning fancy, was distracted about what she called bread-seals. She took off the impression of seals with bread—no matter how, but she did—and used to torment me—no, I thought it a great pleasure at the time—to procure for her all the pretty seals I could."
"But, surely, you did not give her Lord Oldborough's?"
"I!—not I!—how could you imagine such a thing?"
"You were in love, and might have forgotten consequences."
"A man in love may forget every thing, I grant—except his fidelity. No, I never gave the seal; but I perfectly recollect Lady Frances showing it to me in her collection, and my asking her how she came by it."
"And how did she?"
"From the cover of a note which the duke, her uncle, had received from Lord Oldborough; and I, at the time, remembered his lordship's having written it to the Duke of Greenwich on the birth of his grandson. Lord Oldborough had, upon a former occasion, affronted his grace by sending him a note sealed with a wafer—this time his lordship took special care, and sealed it with his private seal of honour."
"Well! But how does this bring the matter home to Mrs. Falconer?" said Alfred.
"Stay—I am bringing it as near home to her as possible. We all went down to Falconer-court together; and there I remember Lady Frances had her collection of bread-seals, and was daubing and colouring them with vermilion—and Mrs. Falconer was so anxious about them—and Lady Frances gave her several—I must see Lady Frances again directly, to inquire whether she gave her, among the rest, Lord Oldborough's—I'll go to Lady Jane Granville's this evening on purpose. But had I not better go this moment to Lady Trant?"
Alfred advised, that having traced the matter thus far, they should not hazard giving any alarm to Lady Trant or to Mrs. Talconer, but should report to Lord Oldborough what progress had been made.
Mr. Temple accordingly went home, to be in readiness for his lordship's return. In the mean time the first exaltation of indignant pride having subsided, and his cool judgment reflecting upon what had passed, Lord Oldborough considered that, however satisfactory to his own mind might he the feeling of his innocence, the proofs of it were necessary to satisfy the public; he saw that his character would be left doubtful, and at the mercy of his enemies, if he were in pique and resentment hastily to resign, before he had vindicated his integrity. "If your proofs be produced, my lord!"—these words recurred to him, and his anxiety to obtain these proofs rose high; and high was his satisfaction the moment he saw his secretary, for by the first glance at Mr. Temple's countenance he perceived that some discovery had been made.
Alfred, that night, received through Mr. Temple his lordship's request, that he would obtain what farther information he could relative to the private seal, in whatever way he thought most prudent. His lordship trusted entirely to his discretion—Mr. Temple was engaged with other business.
Alfred went with Caroline to Lady Jane Granville's, to meet Lady Frances Arlington; he entered into conversation, and by degrees brought her to his point, playing all the time with her curiosity, and humouring her childishness, while he carried on his cross-examination.
At first she could not recollect any thing about making the seals he talked of. "It was a fancy that had passed—and a past fancy," she said, "was like a past love, or a past beauty, good for nothing but to be forgotten." However, by proper leading of the witness, and suggesting time, place, and circumstance, he did bring to the fair lady's mind all that he wanted her to remember. She could not conceive what interest Mr. Percy could take in the matter—it was some jest about Mr. Temple, she was sure. Yes, she did recollect a seal with a Cupid riding a lion, that Mr. Temple gave her just before they went to Falconer-court—was that what he meant?
"No—but a curious seal—" (Alfred described the device.)
"Lord Oldborough's! Yes, there was some such odd seal." But it was not given to her by Mr. Temple—she took that from a note to her uncle, the Duke of Greenwich.
Yes—that, Alfred said, he knew; but what did her ladyship do with it?
"You know how I got it! Bless me! you seem to know every thing I do and say. You know my affairs vastly well—you act the conjuror admirably—pray, can you tell me whom I am to marry?"
"That I will—when your ladyship has told me to whom you gave that seal."
"That I would, and welcome, if I could recollect—but I really can't. If you think I gave it to Mr. Temple, I assure you, you are mistaken—you may ask him."
"I know your ladyship did not give it to Mr. Temple—but to whom did you give it?"
"I remember now—not to any gentleman, after all—you are positively out. I gave it to Mrs. Falconer."
"You are certain of that, Lady Frances Arlington?"
"I am certain, Mr. Alfred Percy."
"And how can you prove it to me, Lady Frances?"
"The easiest way in the world—by asking Mrs. Falconer. Only I don't go there now much, since Georgiana and I have quarrelled—but what can make you so curious about it?"
"That's a secret."—At the word secret, her attention was fixed.—"May I ask if your ladyship would know the seal again if you saw it?—Is this any thing like the impression?" (showing her the seal on the forged cover.)
"The very same that I gave Mrs. Falconer, I'll swear to it—I'll tell you how I know it particularly. There's a little outer rim here, with points to it, which there is not to the other. I fastened my bread-seal into an old setting of my own, from which I had lost the stone. Mrs. Falconer took a fancy to it, among a number of others, so I let her have it. Now I have answered all your questions—answer mine—Whom am I to marry?"
"Your ladyship will marry whomsoever—your ladyship pleases."
"That was an ambiguous answer," she observed; "for that she pleased every body." Her ladyship was going to run on with some further questions, but Alfred pretending that the oracle was not permitted to answer more explicitly, left her completely in the dark as to what his meaning had been in this whole conversation.
He reported progress to Lord Oldborough—and his lordship slept as soundly this night as he did the night after he had been attacked by the mob.
The next morning the first person he desired to see was Mr. Falconer—his lordship sent for him into his cabinet.
"Mr. Commissioner Falconer, I promised to give you notice, whenever I should see any probability of my going out of power."
"Good Heaven! my lord," exclaimed the commissioner, starting back. The surprise, the consternation were real—Lord Oldborough had his eye upon him to determine that point.
"Impossible, surely!—I hope—"
His hope flitted at the moment to the Duke of Greenwich—but returned instantly: he had made no terms—had missed his time. If Lord Oldborough should go out of office—his place, his pension, gone—utter ruin.
Lord Oldborough marked the vacillation and confusion of his countenance, and saw that he was quite unprepared.
"I hope—Merciful Powers! I trust—I thought your lordship had triumphed over all your enemies, and was firmer in favour and power than ever. What can have occurred?"
Without making any answer, Lord Oldborough beckoned to the commissioner to approach nearer the window where his lordship was standing, and then suddenly put into his hand the cover with the forged handwriting and seal.
"What am I to understand by this, my lord?" said the bewildered commissioner, turning it backwards and forwards. "Captain Nuttall!—I never saw the man in my life. May I ask, my lord, what I am to comprehend from this?"
"I see, sir, that you know nothing of the business."
The whole was explained by Lord Oldborough succinctly. The astonishment and horror in the poor commissioner's countenance and gestures, and still more, the eagerness with which he begged to be permitted to try to discover the authors of this forgery, were sufficient proofs that he had not the slightest suspicion that the guilt could be traced to any of his own family.
Lord Oldborough's look, fixed on the commissioner, expressed what it had once before expressed—"Sir, from my soul, I pity you!"
The commissioner saw this look, and wondered why Lord Oldborough should pity him at a time when all his lordship's feelings should naturally be for himself.
"My lord, I would engage we shall discover—we shall trace it."
"I believe that I have discovered—that I have traced it," said Lord Oldborough; and he sighed.
Now that sigh was more incomprehensible to the commissioner than all the rest, and he stood with his lips open for a moment before he could utter, "Why then resign, my lord?"
"That is my affair," said Lord Oldborough. "Let us, if you please, sir, think of yours; for, probably, this is the only time I shall ever more have it in my power to be of the least service to you."
"Oh! my lord—my lord, don't say so!" said the commissioner quite forgetting all his artificial manner, and speaking naturally: "the last time you shall have it in your power!—Oh! my dear lord, don't say so!"
"My dear sir, I must—it gives me pain—you see it does."
"At such a time as this to think of me instead of yourself! My lord, I never knew you till this moment—so well."
"Nor I you, sir," said Lord Oldborough. "It is the more unfortunate for us both, that our connexion and intercourse must now for ever cease."
"Never, never, my lord, if you were to go out of power to-morrow—which Heaven, in its mercy and justice, forbid! I could never forget the goodness—I would never desert—in spite of all interest—I should continue—I hope your lordship would permit me to pay my duty—all intercourse could never cease."
Lord Oldborough saw, and almost smiled at the struggle between the courtier and the man—the confusion in the commissioner's mind between his feelings and his interest. Partly his lordship relieved, and partly he pained Mr. Falconer, by saying, in his firm tone, "I thank you, Mr. Falconer; but all intercourse must cease. After this hour, we meet no more. I beg you, sir, to collect your spirits, and to listen to me calmly. Before this day is at an end, you will understand why all farther intercourse between us would be useless to your interest, and incompatible with my honour. Before many hours are past, a blow will be struck which will go to your heart—for I see you have one—and deprive you of the power of thought. It is my wish to make that blow fall as lightly upon you as possible."
"Oh! my lord, your resignation would indeed be a blow I could never recover. The bare apprehension deprives me at this moment of all power of thought; but still I hope—"
"Hear me, sir, I beg, without interruption: it is my business to think for you. Go immediately to the Duke of Greenwich, make what terms with him you can—make what advantage you can of the secret of my approaching resignation—a secret I now put in your power to communicate to his grace, and which no one yet suspects—I having told it to no one living but to yourself. Go quickly to the duke—time presses—I wish you success—and a better patron than I have been, than my principles would permit me to be. Farewell, Mr. Falconer."
The commissioner moved towards the door when Lord Oldborough said "Time presses;" but the commissioner stopped—turned back—could not go: the tears—real tears—rolled down his cheeks—Lord Oldborough went forward, and held out his hand to him—the commissioner kissed it, with the reverence with which he would have kissed his sovereign's hand; and bowing, he involuntarily backed to the door, as if quitting the presence of majesty.
"It is a pity that man was bred a mere courtier, and that he is cursed with a family on none of whom there is any dependence," thought Lord Oldborough, as the door closed upon the commissioner for ever.
Lord Oldborough delayed an hour purposely, to give Mr. Falconer advantage of the day with the Duke of Greenwich: then ordered his carriage, and drove to—Mrs. Falconer's.
Great was her surprise at the minister's entrance.—"Concerned the commissioner was not at home."
"My business is with Mrs. Falconer."
"My lord—your lordship—the honour and the pleasure of a visit—Georgiana, my dear."
Mrs. Falconer nodded to her daughter, who most unwillingly, and as if dying with curiosity, retired.
The smile died away upon Mrs. Falconer's lips as she observed the stern gravity of Lord Oldborough's countenance. She moved a chair towards his lordship—he stood, and leaning on the back of the chair, paused, as he looked at her.
"What is to come?—Cunningham, perhaps," thought Mrs. Falconer; "or perhaps something about John. When will he speak?—I can't—I must—I am happy to see your lordship looking so well."
"Is Mrs. Falconer acquainted with Lady Trant?"
"Lady Trant—yes, my lord."
"Mercy! Is it possible?—No, for her own sake she would not betray me," thought Mrs. Falconer.
"Intimately?" said Lord Oldborough.
"Intimately—that is, as one's intimate with every body of a certain sort—one visits—but no farther—I can't say I have the honour—"