THE KING'S HIGHWAY
by G.P.R. JAMES ESQ.
Though the weather was hot and sultry, and the summer was at its height, yet the evening was gloomy, and low, angry clouds hung over the distant line of the sea, when, under the shelter of some low-browed cliffs upon the Irish coast, three persons stood together, two of whom were talking earnestly. About four or five miles from the shore, looking like a spectre upon the misty background of clouds, appeared a small brig with her canvas closely reefed, though there was little wind stirring, and nothing announced the approach of a gale, unless it were a long, heavy swell that heaved up the bosom of the ocean as if with a suppressed sob. The three persons we have mentioned were standing together close at the foot of the rocks; and, though there was nothing in their demeanour which would imply that they were seeking concealment by the points and angles of the cliff,—for they spoke loud, and one of them laughed more than once with the short but jocund laugh of a heart whose careless gaiety no circumstances can repress,—yet the spot was well calculated to hide them from any eye, unless it were one gazing down from the cliffs above, or one looking towards the shore from the sea.
The party of which we speak comprised two men not quite reached the middle age, and a fine, noble-looking boy of perhaps eight years old or a little more; but all the conversation was between the two elder, who bore a slight family likeness to each other. The one had a cloak thrown over his arm, and a blue handkerchief bound round his left hand. His dress in other respects was that of a military man of the period; a long-waisted, broad-tailed coat, with a good deal of gold lace and many large buttons upon it, enormous riding boots, and a heavy sword. He had no defensive armour on, indeed, though those were days when the soldierly cuirass was not yet done away with; and on his head he only wore an ordinary hat trimmed round with feathers.
He seemed, however, to be a personage perfectly well able to defend his own, being not much short of six feet in height; and though somewhat thin, extremely muscular, with long, bony arms, and a wide deep chest. His forehead was high and open, and his eye frank and clear, having withal some shrewdness in its quick twinkle. The countenance was a good one; the features handsome, though a little coarse; and if it was not altogether prepossessing, the abatement was made on account of a certain indescribable look of dissipation—not absolutely to say debauchery, but approaching it—which mingled with the expression of finer things, like nightshade filling up the broken masses of some ruined temple. His hair was somewhat prematurely grizzled; for he yet lacked several years of forty, and strong lines, not of thought, were marked upon his brow.
He was, upon the whole, a man whom many people would have called a handsome, fine-looking man; and there was certainly in his countenance that indescribable something, which can only be designated by the term engaging.
While conversing with his companion, which he did frankly and even gaily, laughing, as we have said, from time to time, there was still a peculiarity which might be supposed to show that for some reason he was not perfectly at his ease, or perfectly sure of the man to whom he spoke. In general, he did not look at him, though he gazed straight forward; but, as is very frequently the case with us all, when we are talking to a person whom we doubt or dislike, he looked beyond him, from time to time, however, turning his eyes full upon the countenance of his comrade, and keeping them fixed upon him for several moments.
The second personage of the party was a man somewhat less in height than the other, but still tall. He was two or three years younger; handsome in features; graceful in person; and withal possessing an air of distinction which the other might have possessed also, had it not been considerably diminished by the certain gay and swaggering look which we have already noticed. His dress was not so completely military as that of the first, though there was scarf and sword-knot, and gold-fringed belt and leathern gloves, with wide cuffs, which swallowed up the arms almost to the elbows.
He laughed not at all, and his tone was grave, but smooth and courtly, except when, ever and anon, there mingled with what he was saying in sweet and placid words, some bitter and sarcastic tirade, which made his companion smile, though it moved not a muscle of his own countenance.
We have said that there was a third in the group, and that third was a boy of about eight years of age. It is scarcely possible to conceive anything more beautiful than his countenance, or to fancy a form more replete with living grace than his. His hair swept round his clear and open countenance in dark wavy curls; and while he held the taller of the two gentlemen by the hand, he gazed forward over the wide melancholy sea, which came rolling up towards their feet, with a look full of thought, and perhaps of anxiety. There was certainly grief in that gaze; for the black eyelashes which surrounded those large blue eyes became, after a moment or two, moistened with something bright like a tear; and apparently utterly inattentive to the conversation between his two companions, he still turned away, fully occupied with the matter of his own thoughts.
It is time, however, for us to take notice of that to which he did not attend.
"Not a whit, Harry, not a whit," said the taller of the two: "there are certain portions of good and evil scattered through the world, and every man must take his share of both. I have taken care, as you well know, to secure a certain portion of the pleasures of this life. It was not natural that the thing should last for ever, so I have quite made up my mind to drinking the bitters since I have sipped the sweets. On this last business I have staked my all, and lost my all; and if my poor brother had not done the same, and lost his life into the bargain, I should not much care for my part. On my honour and soul, it does seem to me a strange thing, that here poor Morton, who would have done service to everybody on earth, who was as good as he was brave, and as clever as he was good, should fall at the very first shot, and I go through the whole business with nothing but this scratch of the hand. I did my best to get myself killed, too; for I will swear that I was the last man upon our part that left the bank of the Boyne. But just as half a dozen of the fellows had got me down, and were going to cut my throat because I would not surrender, there came by the fellow they call Bentinck, I think, who called to them not to kill me now that the battle was over. I started up, saying, 'There is one honest Dutchman at least,' and made a dart through them. They would have caught me, I dare say, but he laughed aloud; and I heard him call to them not to follow me, saying, 'That one on either side made no great difference.' I may chance to do that fellow a good turn yet in my day."
"That may well be," replied the other; "for since your brother's death, if you are sure he is killed, you are the direct heir to an earldom, and to estates that would buy a score of German princes."
While he thus spoke, the person he addressed suddenly turned his eyes full upon his face, and looked at him intently for a minute. He then answered, "Sure he is dead, Harry? Did I not tell you that he died in my arms? Would it not have been a nice thing now, if I had been killed too? There would have been none between you and the earldom then. Upon my life, I think you ought to have it: it would just suit you; you would make such a smooth-tongued, easy courtier to this Dutch vagabond, whom you are going over to, I can see, notwithstanding all your asseverations;" and he laughed aloud as he spoke.
"Nonsense, Lennard, nonsense!" replied his companion: "I neither wish you killed, my good cousin, nor care for the earldom, nor am going over to the usurper, though, Heaven knows, you'll do no good to any one, the earldom will do no good to you, and the usurper, perhaps, may do much good to the country. But had either of the three been true, I should certainly have given you up to the Prince of Orange, instead of sharing my last fifty guineas with you, to help you off to France."
His companion gazed down upon the ground with a grim smile, and remained for a moment without answering; he then looked up, gave a short laugh, and replied, "I must not be ungrateful, cousin mine; I thank you for the money with all my heart and soul; but I cannot think that you have run yourself so hard as that either; you must have made mighty great preparations which have not appeared, to spend your snug little patrimony upon a king who did not deserve it, and for whom you did not fight, after all."
"I should have fought if I could have come up in time," replied the other, with his brows darkening. "I suppose you do not suspect me of being unwilling to fight, Lennard?"
"Oh, no, man! no!" replied his cousin: "it does not run in our blood; we have all fighting drops in our veins; and I know you can fight well enough when it suits your purpose. As for that matter, I might think myself a fool for fighting in behalf of a man who won't fight in his own behalf; but it is his cause, not himself, Harry, I fought for."
"Bubbles, bubbles, Lennard," replied the other, "'tis but a mere name!"
"And what do we all fight for, from the cradle to the grave?" demanded his cousin—"bubbles, bubbles, Harry. Through England and Ireland, not to say Scotland, there will be tomorrow morning, which I take it is Sunday, full five thousand priests busily engaged in telling their hearers, that love, glory, avarice, and ambition are nothing but—bubbles! So I am but playing the same game as the rest. I wish to Heaven the boat would come round though, for I am beginning to think it is as great a bubble as the rest.—Run down, Wilton, my boy," he said, speaking to the youth that held him by the hand—"run down to that point, and see if you can discover the boat creeping round under the cliffs."
The boy instantly darted off without speaking, and the two gentlemen watched him in silence. After a moment, however, the shorter of the two spoke, with his eyes still fixed on the child, and the slight sneer curling his lip—"A fine boy that, Lennard!" he said. "A child of love, of course!"
"Doubtless," answered the other; "but you will understand he is not mine.—It is a friend's child that I have promised to do the best for."
"He is wondrous like your brother Morton," rejoined his companion: "it needs no marriage certificate to tell us whose son he is."
"No; God speed the poor boy!" replied the other gentleman, "he is like his father enough. I must do what I can for him, though Heaven knows what I am to do either for him or myself. It is long ere he can be a soldier, and I am not much accustomed to taking heed of children."
"Where is his mother?" demanded the cousin: "whatever be her rank, she is most likely as rich as you are, and certainly better able to take care of him."
"Pshaw!" replied the other—"I might look long enough before I found her. The boy has never known anything about her either, so that would not do. But here he comes, here he comes, so say no more about it."
As he spoke, the boy bounded up, exclaiming, "I see the boat, I see the boat coming round the rock!" and the moment after, a tolerable-sized fishing boat was seen rounding the little point that we have mentioned; and the two cousins, with the boy, descended to the water's edge. During the few minutes that elapsed before the boat came up to the little landing-place where they stood, the cousins shook hands together, and bade each other adieu.
"Well, God speed you, Harry!" said the one; "you have not failed me at this pinch, though you have at many another."
"Where shall I write to you, Lennard," demanded the other, "in case that anything should happen to turn up to your advantage?"
"Oh! to the Crown, to the Crown, at St. Germains," replied the elder; "and if it be for anything to my advantage, write as quickly as possible, good cousin.—Come, Wilton, my boy; come, here's the boat! Thank God we have not much baggage to embark.—Now, my man," he continued, speaking to one of the fishermen who had leaped out into the water, "lift the boy in, and the portmanteau, and then off to yonder brig, with all the sail you can put on."
Thus saying, he sprang into the boat, received the boy in his arms, and waved his hand to his cousin, while the fishermen pushed off from the shore.
The one who was left behind folded his arms upon his chest, and gazed after the boat as she bounded over the water. His brow was slightly clouded, and a peculiar sort of smile hung upon his lip; but after thus pausing for a minute or two, he turned upon his heel, walked up a narrow path to the top of the cliff, and mounting a horse which was held for him by a servant, at a distance of about a hundred yards from the edge, he rode away, whistling as he went, not like Cimon, for want of thought, but from the very intensity of thought.
The horseman of whom we have spoken in the last chapter rode slowly on about two hundred yards farther, and there the servant advanced and opened a gate, by means of which the path they were then upon communicated with a small road between two high banks leading down to the sea-side. The moment that the gentleman rode forward through the gate, his eyes fell upon a figure coming up apparently from the sea-shore. It was that of a woman, seemingly well advanced in life, and dressed in the garb of the lower orders: there was nothing particular in her appearance, except that in her gait and figure she was more decrepit than from her countenance might have been expected. The tears were streaming rapidly down her face, however; and though she suddenly paused on perceiving the stranger, she could not command those tears from flowing on, though she turned away her head to conceal them.
The stranger slightly pulled in his horse's rein, looked at her again, and then gazed thoughtfully down the road towards the sea, as if calculating what the woman could have been doing there, and whether she could have seen the departure of his two late companions.
The servant who was behind him seemed to read his master's thoughts; for being close to him shutting the gate, he said in a low tone, "That's the old woman with whom the young gentleman lodged; for I saw her when the Colonel went there this morning to fetch him away."
The moment the man had spoken, his master pushed forward his horse again, and riding up to the woman, accosted her at once.
"Ah, my good woman," he said, "you are grieving after your poor little boy; but do not be cast down, he will be taken good care of."
"God bless your honour," replied the woman, "and thank you, too, for comforting me: he's a dear good boy, that's true; but the Colonel has taken him to France, so I shall never see him more."
"Oh yes, you may, my good lady," replied the stranger: "you know I am his cousin—his father's first cousin; so if you want to hear of him from time to time, perhaps I could put you in the way of it. If I knew where you lived, I would come and call upon you to-night, and talk to you about it before I go on to Dublin."
"Your honour's going to Dublin, are you?" said the woman, suddenly and sharply, while the blood mounted into the cheek of her companion, as if from some feeling of embarrassment. She continued, however, before he could reply, saying, "With a thousand thanks to your honour, I shall be glad to see you; and if I could but hear that the poor boy got well to France, and was comfortable, I think I should be happy all my life."
"But where do you live, my good woman?" demanded the horseman: "we have not much time to lose, for the sun is going down, and the night is coming on."
"And a stormy night it will be," said the woman, who, though she had very little of the Irish accent, seemed to have not a little of that peculiar obliquity of mind, which so often leads the Irishman to follow the last idea started, however loosely it may be connected with the main subject of discourse. "As to where I live," she continued, "it's at the small neat cottage at the end of the lane; the best house in the place to my mind, except the priest's and the tavern; and for that matter, it's my own property, too."
"Well, I will come there in about an hour," said her companion, "and we will talk it all over, my good lady, for I must leave this place early to-morrow."
Away went the stranger as he spoke, at a rapid pace, towards an Irish village or small town of that day, which lay at the distance of about a mile and a half from the sea-shore. It was altogether a very different place, and bore a very different aspect, from any other collection of houses, of the same number and extent, within the shores of the Sister Island. It was situated upon the rise of a steep hill, at the foot of which ran a clear shallow stream, from whose margin, up to the top of the acclivity, ran two irregular rows of houses, wide apart, and scattered at unequal distances, on the two sides of the high road. They were principally hovels, of a single story in height; a great proportion of them formed of nothing but turf, with no other window but a hole covered with a board, and sometimes not that. Others, few and far between, again, were equally of one story, but were neatly plastered with clay, and ornamented with a wash of lime; and besides these, were three or four houses which really deserved the name—the parish priest's, the tavern, and what was called the shop.
These rows of dwellings were raised on two high but sloping banks, which were covered with green turf, and extended perhaps fifty yards in width between the houses and the road: this long strip of turf affording the inhabitants plenty of space for dunghills and dust-heaps, with occasional stacks of turf, and a detached sort of summer-house now and then for a pig, in those cases where his company was not preferred in the parlour.
Here, too, the chickens used to meet in daily convocation; and here the priest's bull would occasionally take a morning walk, to the detriment of the dunghills and the frailer edifices, to the danger of the children, and the indignation of the other animals, who might seem to think that they had a right prescriptive to exclusive possession.
Between these two tracts of debatable land was interposed a paved high road, twice as broad as it needed to have been, and furnished with a stone gutter down the centre, into which flowed, from every side, streams not Castalian; while five or six ducks, belonging to the master of the shop, acted as the only town scavengers; and a large black sow, with a sturdy farrow of eleven young pigs, rolled about in the full enjoyment of the filth and dirt, seeming to represent the mayor and town council of this rural municipality.
At the top of the hill two or three lanes turned off, and in one of these was situated the cottage which the old lady had indicated as her dwelling. The stranger, however, rode not thither at once, but, in the first place, stopped at the tavern, as it was called (being neither more nor less than a small public-house), and throwing his rein to the servant, he dismounted, and paused to order some refreshment. When this was done, he took his way at once to the house of the priest, which was a neat white building, showing considerable taste in all its external arrangements. The stranger was immediately admitted, and remained for about half an hour; at the end of which time he came out, accompanied as far as the little wicket gate by a very benign and thoughtful-looking man, past the middle age, whose last words, as he took leave of the stranger, were, "Alas, my son! she was so beautiful, and so charitable, that it is much to be lamented that she was in all respects a cast-away."
The stranger then returned to the tavern, and sat down to a somewhat black and angular roasted fowl, which, however, proved better to the palate than the eye; and to this he added somewhat more than a pint of claret, which—however strange it may seem to find such a thing in an Irish pot-house—might, for taste and fragrance, have competed with the best that ever was found at the table of prince or peer: nor was such a thing uncommon in that day. This done, and when five or six minutes of meditation—that kind of pleasant meditation which ensues when the inner man is made quite comfortable—had been added to his moderate food and moderate potation, the stranger rose, and with a slow and thoughtful step walked forth from the inn, and took his way towards the cottage to which the old woman had directed him.
The sun was by this time sinking below the horizon, and a bright red glow from his declining rays spread through the atmosphere, tinging the edges of the long, liny, lurid clouds which were gathering thickly over the sky. The wind, too, had risen considerably, and was blowing with sharp quick gusts increasing towards a gale, so that the stranger was obliged to put his hand to his large feathered hat to keep it firm upon his head.
In the meantime, the old woman had returned home, and her first occupation was to indulge her grief; for, sitting down at the little table in her parlour, she covered her eyes with her hands, and wept till the tears ran through her fingers. After a time, however, she calmed herself, and rising, looked for a moment into a small looking-glass, which showed her face entirely disfigured with tears. She then went into a little adjacent room, which, as well as the parlour, was the image of neatness and cleanness. She there took a towel, dipped it in cold water, and seemed about to bathe away the traces from her cheeks. The next moment, however, she threw the towel down, saying, "No, no! why should I?" She then returned to the parlour, and called down the passage, "Betty, Betty!"
An Irishwoman, of about fifty years of age, clothed much in the same style, and not much worse than her mistress, appeared in answer to her summons; and, according to the directions she now received, lighted a single candle, put up a large heavy shutter against the parlour window, and retired. The mistress of the house remained for some time sitting at the table, and apparently listening for every step without; though from time to time, when a heavier and heavier blast of wind shook the cottage where she sat, she gazed up towards the sky, and her lips moved as if offering a prayer.
At length, some one knocked loudly at the door, and starting up, she hurried to open it and give entrance to the stranger whom we have mentioned before. She put a chair for him, and stood till he asked her to sit down.
"So, my good lady," he said, "you lived a long time with Colonel and Mrs. Sherbrooke."
"Oh! bless you, yes, sir," replied the woman, "ever since the Colonel and the young lady came here, till she died, poor thing, and then I remained to take care of the boy, dear, beautiful fellow."
"You seem very sorry to lose him," rejoined the stranger, "and, doubtless, were sadly grieved when Mrs. Sherbrooke died."
"You may well say that," replied the woman; "had I not known her quite a little girl? and to see her die, in the prime of her youth and beauty, not four-and-twenty years of age. You may well say I was sorry. If her poor father could have seen it, it would have broke his heart; but he died long before that, or many another thing would have broken his heart as well as that."
"Was her father living," demanded the stranger, "when she married Colonel Sherbrooke?"
The woman, without replying, gazed inquiringly and steadfastly on the stranger's countenance for a moment or two; who continued, after a short pause—"Poo, poo, I know all about it; I mean, when she came away with him."
"No, sir," replied the woman; "he had been dead then more than a year."
"Doubtless," replied the stranger, "it was, as you implied, a happy thing for him that he did not live to see his daughter's fate; but how was it, I wonder, as she was so sweet a creature, and the Colonel so fond of her, that he never married her?"
The woman looked down for a moment; but then gazed up in his face with a somewhat rueful expression of countenance, and a shake of the head, answering, "She was a Protestant, you know."
The stranger looked surprised, and asked, "Did she always continue a Protestant, my good woman? I should have thought love could have worked more wonderful conversions than that."
"Ah! she died as she lived, poor thing," replied the woman, "and with nobody with her either, but I and one other; for the Colonel was away, poor man, levying troops for the king—that is, for King James, sir; for your honour looks as if you were on the other side."
The stranger was silent and looked abstracted; but at length he answered, somewhat listlessly, "Really, my good woman, one does not know what side to be of. It is raining very hard to-night, unless those are the boughs of the trees tapping against your window."
"Those are the large drops of rain," replied the woman, "dashed against the glass by the south-west wind. It will be an awful night; and I think of the ship."
"I will let you hear of the boy," rejoined the stranger in an indifferent tone, "as soon as I hear of him myself;" and taking up his hat from the table, he seemed about to depart, when a peculiar expression upon the woman's countenance made him pause, and, at the same time, brought to his mind that he had not even asked her name.
"I thought your honour had forgotten," she replied, when he asked her the question at length. "They call me Betty Harper; but Mrs. Harper will find me in this place, if you put that upon your letter: and now that we are asking such sort of questions, your honour wouldn't be offended, surely, if I were to ask you your name too?"
"Certainly not, my good lady," he replied; "I am called Harry Sherbrooke, Esquire, very much at your service.—Heavens, how it blows and rains!"
"Perhaps it is nothing but a wind-shower" replied the woman; "if your honour would like to wait until it has ridden by."
"Why, I shall get drenched most assuredly if I go," he answered, "and that before I reach the inn; but I will look out and see, my good lady."
He accordingly proceeded into the little passage, and opened the door, followed by his companion. They were instantly saluted, however, by a blast of wind that almost knocked the strong man himself down, and made the woman reel against the wall of the passage.
Everything beyond—though the cottage, situated upon a height, looked down the slope of the hill, over the cliffs, to the open sea—was as dark as the cloud which fell upon Egypt: a darkness that could be felt! and not the slightest vestige of star or moon, or lingering ray of sunshine, marked to the eye the distinction between heaven, earth, and sea.
Sherbrooke drew back, as the wind cut him, and the rain dashed in his face; but at that very moment something like a faint flash was seen, apparently at a great distance, and gleaming through the heavy rain. The woman instantly caught her companion's wrist tight in her grasp, exclaiming, "Hark!"—and in a few seconds after, in a momentary lull of the wind, was heard the low booming roar of a distant cannon.
"It is a signal of distress!" cried the woman. "Oh! the ship, the ship! The wind is dead upon the shore, and the long reef, out by the Battery Point, has seen many a vessel wrecked between night and morning."
While she spoke, the signal of distress was seen and heard again.
"I will go down and send people out to see what can be done," said the stranger, and walked away without waiting for reply. He turned his steps towards the inn, muttering as he went, "There's one, at least, on board the ship that won't be drowned, if there's truth in an old proverb! so if the vessel be wrecked to-night, I had better order breakfast for my cousin to-morrow morning—for he is sure to swim ashore." It was a night, however, on which no hope of reaching land could cheer the wrecked seamen. The tide was approaching the full; the wind was blowing a perfect hurricane; the surf upon a high rocky beach, no boat could have lived in for a minute; and the strongest swimmer—even if it had been within the scope of human power and skill to struggle on for any time with those tremendous waves—must infallibly have been dashed to pieces on the rocks that lined the shore. The minute guns were distinctly heard from that town, and several other villages in the neighbourhood. Many people went to the tops of the cliffs, and some down to the sea-shore, where the waves did not reach the bases of the rocks. One gentleman, living in the neighbourhood, sent out servants and tenantry with links and torches, but no one ever could clearly distinguish the ship; and could only perceive that she must be in the direction of a dangerous rocky shoal called the Long Reef, at about two miles' distance from the shore.
The next morning, however, her fate was more clearly ascertained; not that a vestige of her was to be seen out at sea, but the whole shore for two or three miles was covered with pieces of wreck. The stern-post of a small, French-built vessel, and also a boat considerably damaged in the bow, and turned keel upwards, came on shore as Harry Sherbrooke and his servant were themselves examining the scene. The boat bore, painted in white letters, "La Coureuse de Dunkerque."
"That is enough for our purpose, I should suppose," said the master, pointing to the letters with a cane he had in his hand, and addressing his servant—"I must be gone, Harrison, but you remain behind, and do as I bade you."
"Wait a moment, yet, sir," replied the man: "you see they are bringing up a body from between those two rocks,—it seems about his size and make, too;" and approaching the spot to which he pointed, they found some of the country people carrying up the body of a French officer, which afterwards proved to be that of the commander of the brig, which had been seen during the preceding day. After examining the papers which were taken from the pockets of the dead man, one of which seemed to be a list of all the persons on board his vessel, Sherbrooke turned away, merely saying to his servant, "Take care and secure that paper, and bring it after me to Dublin as fast as possible."
The man bowed his head, and his master walked slowly and quietly away.
Now whatever might be the effect of all that passed, as recorded in the last chapter, upon the mind of Harry Sherbrooke, it is not in the slightest degree our intention to induce the reader to believe that the two personages, the officer and the little boy, whom we saw embark for the brig which was wrecked, were amongst the persons who perished upon that occasion. True it is that every person the ship contained found a watery grave, between sunset and sunrise on the night in question. But to explain how the whole took place, we must follow the track of the voyagers in the boat.
As soon as they were seated, Lennard Sherbrooke threw his arms affectionately round the boy, drew him a little closer to his bosom, and kissed his broad fair forehead; while the boy, on his part, with his hand leaning on the officer's knee, and his shoulder resting confiding on his bosom, looked up in his face with eyes of earnest and deep affection. In such mute conference they remained for some five or ten minutes; while the hardy sailors pulled away at the oars, their course towards the vessel lying right in the wind's eye. After a minute or two more, Lennard Sherbrooke turned round, and gazed back towards the shore, where he could now plainly perceive his cousin beginning to climb the little path up the cliff. After watching him for a moment with a look of calculating thought, he turned towards the boy again, and saw that there were tears in his eyes, which sight caused him to bend down, saying, in a low voice, "You are not frightened, my dear boy?"
"Oh no, no!" replied the boy—"I am only sorry to go away to a strange place."
Lennard Sherbrooke turned his eyes once more towards the shore, but the form of his cousin had now totally disappeared. He then remained musing for a minute or two, while the fishermen laboured away, making no very great progress against the wind. At the distance of about a mile or a mile and a half from the shore, Lennard Sherbrooke turned round towards the man who was steering, and made some remarks upon the excellence of the boat. The man, proud of his little vessel, boasted her capabilities, and declared that she was as sea-worthy as any frigate in the navy.
"I should like to see her tried," said Sherbrooke. "I should not wonder if she were well tried to-night," replied the man.
For a moment or two the officer made no rejoinder; but then approaching the steersman nearer still, he said, in a low voice, "Come, my man, I have something to tell you. We must alter our course very soon; I am not going to yon Frenchman at all."
"Why, then, where the devil are you going to?" demanded the fisherman; and he proceeded, in tones and in language which none but an Irishman must presume to deal with, to express his astonishment, that after having been hired by the other gentleman to carry the person who spoke to him and the boy to the French brig of war, where berths had been secured for them, he should be told that they were not going there at all.
The stranger suffered him to expend all his astonishment without moving a muscle, and then replied, with perfect calmness, "My good friend, you are a Catholic, I have been told, and a good subject to King James—"
"God bless him!" interrupted the man, heartily; but Sherbrooke proceeded, saying, "In these days one may well be doubtful of one's own relations; and I have a fancy, my man, that unless I prevent any one from knowing my course, and where I am, I may be betrayed where I go, and betrayed if I stay. Now what I want you to do is this, to take me over to the coast of England, instead of to yonder French brig."
The man's astonishment was very great; but he seemed to enter into the motives of his companion with all the quick perception of an Irishman. There were innumerable difficulties, however, which he did not fail to start; and he asserted manfully, that it was utterly impossible for them to proceed upon such a voyage at once. In the first place, they had no provisions; in the next place, there was the wife and children, who would not know what was become of them; in the third place, it was coming on to blow hard right upon the coast. So that he proved there was, in fact, not only danger and difficulty, but absolute impossibility, opposed to the plan which the gentleman wished to follow.
In the meanwhile, the four seamen, who were at the oars, laboured away incessantly, but with very slow and difficult efforts. Every moment the wind rose higher and higher, and the sun's lower limb touched the waters, while they were yet two miles from the French brig.
A part of the large red disk of the descending orb was seen between the sea and the edge of the clouds that hung upon the verge of the sky, pouring forth from the horizon to the very shore a long line of blood-red light, which, resting upon the boiling waters of the ocean, seemed as if the setting star could indeed "the multitudinous sea incarnadine, making the green one red."
That red light, however, showed far more clearly than before how the waters were already agitated; for the waves might be seen distinctly, even to the spot in the horizon where they seemed to struggle with the sun, heaving up their gigantic heads till they appeared to overwhelm him before he naturally set.
The arguments of the fisherman apparently effected that thing which is so seldom effected in this world; namely, to convince the person to whom they were addressed. I say SELDOM, for there have been instances known, in remote times, of people being convinced. They puzzled him, however, and embarrassed him very much, and he remained for full five minutes in deep and anxious thought.
His reverie, however, was brought to an end suddenly, by a few words which the fisherman whispered to him. His countenance brightened; a rapid and brief conversation followed in a low tone, which ended in his abruptly holding out his hand to the good man at the helm, saying, "I trust to your honour."
"Upon my soul and honour," replied the fisherman, grasping his proffered hand.
The matter now seemed settled,—no farther words passed between the master of the boat and his passenger; but the seaman gave a rapid glance to the sky, to the long spit of land called the Battery Point, and to the southward, whence the wind was blowing so sharply.
"We can do it," he muttered to himself, "we can do it;" and he then gave immediate orders for changing the boat's course, and putting out all sail. His companions seemed as much surprised by his change of purpose, as he had been with the alteration of his passenger's determination. His orders were nevertheless obeyed promptly, the head of the boat was turned away from the wind, the canvas caught the gale, and away she went like lightning, heeling till the little yard almost touched the water. Her course, however, was not bent back exactly to the same spot from which she started, and it now became evident that it was the fisherman's intention to round the Battery Point.
Lennard Sherbrooke was not at all aware of the dangerous reef that lay so near their course; but it soon became evident to him that there was some great peril, which required much skill and care to avoid; and, as night fell, the anxiety of the seamen evidently became greater. The wind by this time was blowing quite a hurricane, and the rushing roaring sound of the gale and the ocean was quite deafening. But about half an hour after sunset that peculiar angry roar, which is only heard in the neighbourhood of breakers, was distinguished to leeward; and looking in that direction, Sherbrooke perceived one long white line of foam and surf, rising like an island in the midst of dark and struggling waters.
Not a word was said: it seemed as if scarcely a breath was drawn. In a few minutes the sound of the breakers became less distinct; a slight motion was perceivable in the arm of the man who held the tiller, and in about ten minutes the effect of the neighbouring headlands was found in smoother water and a lighter gale, as the boat glided calmly and steadily on, into a small bay, not many hundred miles from Baltimore. The rest of their voyage, till they reached the shore again, was safe and easy: the master of the boat and his men seemed to know every creek, cove, and inlet, as well as their own dwelling places; and, directing their coarse to a little but deep stream, they ran in between two other boats, and were soon safely moored.
The boy, by Sherbrooke's direction, had lain himself down in the bottom of the boat, wrapped up in a large cloak; and there, with the happy privilege of childhood, he had fallen sound asleep, nor woke till danger and anxiety were passed, and the little vessel safe at the shore. Accommodation was easily found in a neighbouring village, and, on the following day, one, and only one, of the boat's crew went over to the spot from which they had set out on the preceding evening. He returned with another man, both loaded with provisions. There was much coming and going between the village and the boat during the day. By eventide the storm had sobbed itself away; the sea was calm again, the sky soft and clear; and beneath the bright eyes of the watchful stars, the boat once more took its way across the broad bosom of the ocean, with its course laid directly towards the English shore.
Those were days of pack-saddles and pillions—days certainly not without their state and display; but yet days in which persons were not valued according to the precise mode of their dress or equipage, when hearts were not appraised by the hat or gloves, nor the mind estimated by the carriages or horses.
Man was considered far more abstractedly then than at present; and although illustrious ancestors, great possessions, and hereditary claims upon consideration, were allowed more weight than they now possess, yet the minor circumstances of each individual,—the things that filled his pocket, the dishes upon his table, the name of his tailor, or the club that he belonged to,—were seldom, if ever, allowed to affect the appreciation of his general character.
However that might be, it was an age, as we have said, of pack-saddles and pillions; and no one, at any distance from the capital itself, would have been the least ashamed to be seen with a lady or child mounted behind him on the same horse, while he jogged easily onward on his destined way.
It was thus that, about a quarter of an hour before nightfall, a, tall powerful man was seen riding along through one of the north-western counties of England, with a boy of about eight years of age mounted on a pillion behind him, and steadying himself on the horse by an affectionate embrace cast round the waist of his elder companion.
Lennard Sherbrooke—for the reader has already divined that this was no other than the personage introduced to him in our first chapter—Lennard Sherbrooke, then, was still heavily armed, but in other respects had undergone a considerable change. The richly laced coat had given place to a plain dark one of greenish brown; the large riding boots remained; and the hat, though it kept its border of feathers, was divested of every other ornament. There were pistols at the saddle-bow, which indeed were very necessary in those days to every one who performed the perilous and laborious duty of wandering along the King's Highway; and in every other respect the appearance of Lennard Sherbrooke was well calculated neither to attract cupidity nor invite attack.
About ten minutes after the period at which we have again introduced him to our readers, the traveller and his young companion stopped at the door of an old-fashioned inn, or rather at the porch thereof; for the door itself, with a retiring modesty, stood at some distance back, while an impudent little portico with carved oak pillars, of quaint but not inelegant design, stood forth into the road, with steps leading down from it to the sill of the sunk doorway. An ostler ran out to take the horse, and helped the boy down tenderly and carefully. Sherbrooke himself then dismounted, looked at his beast from head to foot, and then ordering the ostler to give him some hay and water, he took the boy by the hand and entered the house.
The ostler looked at the beast, which was tired, and then at the sky, over which the first shades of evening were beginning to creep, thinking as he did so that the stranger might quite as well put up his beast for the night. In the meantime, however, Sherbrooke had given the boy into the charge of the hostess, had bidden her prepare some supper for him, and had intimated that he himself was going a little farther, but would soon return to sleep at her hospitable dwelling. He ordered to be brought in and given into her charge also a small portmanteau,—smaller than that which he had taken with him into the boat,—and when all this was done, he kissed the boy's forehead tenderly, and left him, mounting once more his weary beast, and plodding slowly along upon his way.
It was a very sweet evening: the sun, half way down behind one of the distant hills, seemed, like man's curiosity, to overlook unheeded all the bright and beautiful things close to him, and to gaze with his eyes of light full upon the objects further from him, through which the wayfarer was bending his way. The line of undulating hills, the masses of a long line of woodland, some deep valleys and dells, a small village with its church and tower on an eminence, were all in deep blue shadow; while, in the foreground, every bank and slope was glittering in yellow sunshine, and a small river, that wound along through the flatter part of the ground, seemed turned into gold by the great and glorious alchymist, as he sunk to his rest.
The heart of the traveller who wandered there alone was ill, very ill at ease. Happily for himself, as he was now circumstanced, the character of Sherbrooke was a gay and buoyant one, not easily depressed, bearing the load lightly; but still he could not but feel the difficulties, the dangers, and the distresses of a situation, which, though shared in by very many at that moment, was rather aggravated by such being the case, and had but small alleviation even from hope.
In the first place, he had seen the cause to which he had attached himself utterly ruined by the base irresolution of a weak monarch, who had lost his crown by his tyranny, and who had failed to regain it by his courage. In the next place, for his devotion to that cause, he was a banished and an outlawed man, with his life at the mercy of any one who chose to take it. In the next he was well nigh penniless, with the life of another, dear, most dear to his heart, depending entirely upon his exertions.
The heart of the traveller, then, was ill, very ill at ease, but yet the calm of that evening's sunshine had a sweet and tranquillizing effect. There is a mirror—there is certainly a moral mirror in our hearts, which reflects the images of the things around us; and every change that comes over nature's face is mingled sweetly, though too often unnoticed, with the thoughts and feelings called forth by other things. The effect of that calm evening upon Lennard Sherbrooke was not to produce the wild, bright, visionary dreams and expectations which seem the peculiar offspring of the glowing morning, or of the bright and risen day; but it was the counterpart, the image, the reflection of that evening scene itself to which it gave rise in his heart. He felt tranquillized, he felt more resolute, more capable of enduring. Grief and anxiety subsided into melancholy and resolution, and the sweet influence of the hour had also an effect beyond: it made him pause upon the memories of his past life, upon many a scene of idle profligacy, revel, and riot,—of talents cast away and opportunity neglected,—of fortune spent and bright hopes blasted,—and of all the great advantages which he had once possessed utterly lost and gone, with the exception of a kind and generous heart: a jewel, indeed, but one which in this world, alas! can but too seldom be turned to the advantage of the possessor.
On these things he pondered, and a sweet and ennobling regret came upon him that it should be so—a regret which might have gone on to sincere repentance, to firm amendment, to the retrieval of fortunes, to an utter change of destiny, had the circumstances of the times, or any friendly voice and helping hand, led his mind on upon that path wherein it had already taken the first step, and had opened out before him a way of retrieval, instead of forcing him onward down the hill of destruction. But, alas! those were not times when the opportunity of doing better was likely to be allowed to him; nor were circumstances destined to change his course. His destiny, like that of many Jacobites of the day, was but to be from ruin to ruin; and let it be remembered, that the character and history of Lennard Sherbrooke are not ideal, but are copied faithfully from a true but sad history of a life in those times.
All natural affections sweeten and purify the human heart. Like everything else given us immediately from God, their natural tendency is to wage war against all that is evil within us; and every single thought of amendment and improvement, every regret for the past, every better hope for the future, was connected with the thought of the beautiful boy he had left behind at the inn; and elevated by his love for a being in the bright purity of youth, he thought of him and his situation again and again; and often as he did so, the intensity of his own feelings made him murmur forth half audible words all relating to the boy, or to the person he was then about to seek, for the purpose of interesting him in the poor youth's fate.
"I will tell him all and everything," he said, thus murmuring to himself as he went on: "he may drive me forth if he will; but surely, surely, he will protect and do something for the boy. What, though there have been faults committed and wrong done, he cannot be so hard-hearted as to let the poor child starve, or be brought up as I can alone bring him up."
Such was still the conclusion to which he seemed to come; and at length when the sun had completely gone down, and at the distance of about three miles from the inn, he paused before a large pair of wooden gates, consisting of two rows of square bars of painted wood placed close together, with a thick heavy rail at the top and bottom, while two wooden obelisks, with their steeple-shaped summits, formed the gate posts. Opening the gates, as one well familiar with the lock, he now entered the smaller road which led from them through the fields towards a wood upon the top of the hill. At first the way was uninteresting enough, and the faint remains of twilight only served to show some square fields within their hedge-rows cut in the most prim and undeviating lines around. The wayfarer rode on, through that part of the scene, with his eyes bent down in deep thought; but when he came to the wood; and, following the path—which, now kept with high neatness and propriety, wound in and out amongst the trees, and then sweeping gently round the shoulder of the hill, exposed a beautiful deer park—he had before his eyes a fine Elizabethan house, rising grey upon a little eminence at the distance of some four or five hundred yards,—it seemed that some old remembrance, some agitating vision of the days gone by, came over the horseman's mind. He pulled in his rein, clasped his hands together, and gazed around with a look of sad and painful recognition. At the end of a minute or two, however, he recovered himself, rode on to the front of the house we have mentioned, and dismounting from his horse, pulled the bell-rope which action was instantly followed by a long peal heard from within.
"It sounds cold and empty," said the wayfarer to himself, "like my reception, and perhaps my hopes."
No answer was made for some time; and though the sounds had been loud enough, as the traveller's ears bore witness, yet they required to be repeated before any one came to ask his pleasure.
"This is very strange!" he said, as he applied his hand to the bell-rope again. "He must have grown miserly, as they say, indeed. Why I remember a dozen servants crowding into this porch at the first sound of a horse's feet."
A short time after, some steps were heard within; bolts and bars were carefully withdrawn, and an old man in a white jacket, with a lantern in his hand, opened the heavy oaken door, and gazed upon the stranger.
"Where is the Earl of Byerdale?" demanded the horseman, in apparent surprise. "Is he not at home?"
The old man gazed at him for a moment from head to foot, without replying, and then answered slowly and somewhat bitterly, "Yes, he is at home—at his long home, from which he'll never move again! Why, he has been dead and buried this fortnight."
"Indeed!" cried the traveller, putting his hand to his head, with an air of surprise, and what we may call dismay; "indeed! and who has discharged the servants and shut up the house?"
"Those who have a right to do it," replied the old man, sharply; "for my lord was not such a fool as to leave his property to be spent, and his place mismanaged, by two scape-graces whom he knew well enough."
As he spoke, without farther ceremony he shut the door in the stranger's face, and then returned to his own abode in the back part of the house, chuckling as he went, and murmuring to himself, "I think I have paid him now for throwing me into the horsepond, for just telling a little bit of a lie about Ellen, the laundry maid. He thought I had forgotten him! Ha! ha! ha!"
The traveller stood confounded; but he made no observation, he uttered no word, he seemed too much accustomed to meet the announcement of fresh misfortune to suffer it to drive him from the strong-hold of silence. Sweeter or gentler feelings might have done it: he might have been tempted to speak aloud in calm meditation and thought, either gloomy or joyful; but his heart, when wrung and broken by the last hard grasp of fate, like the wolf at his death, was dumb.
He remained for full two minutes, however, beneath the porch, motionless and silent; then springing on his horse's back, he urged him somewhat rapidly up the slope. Ere he had reached the top, either from remembering that the beast was weary, or from some change in his own feelings, he slackened his pace, and gave himself up to meditation again. The first agony of the blow that he had received was now over, and once again he not only reasoned with himself calmly, but expressed some of his conclusions in a murmur.
"What!" he said, "a peer without a penny! the name attainted, too, and all lands and property declared forfeit! No, no! it will never do! Years may bring better times!—Who knows? the attainder may be reversed; new fortunes may be gained or made! The right dies not, though it may slumber; exists, though it be not enforced. A peer without a penny! no, no!—far better a beggar with half a crown!"
Thus saying he rode on, passed through the wood we have mentioned,—the dull meadows, and the wooden gates; and entering the high road, was proceeding towards the inn, when an event occurred which effected a considerable change in his plans and purposes.
It was by this time one of those dark nights, the most propitious that can be imagined for such little adventures as rendered at one time the place called Gad's Hill famous alike in story and in song. It wasn't that the night was cloudy, for, to say sooth, it was a fine night, and manifold small stars were twinkling in the sky; but the moon, the sweet moon, was at that time in her infancy, a babe of not two days old, so that the light she afforded to her wandering companions through the fields of space was of course not likely to be much. The stars twinkled, as we have said, but they gave no light to the road; and on either side there were sundry brakes, and lanes, and hedges, and groups of trees which were sufficiently shady and latitant in the mid-day, and which certainly were impervious to any ray of light then above the horizon.
The mind of Lennard Sherbrooke, however, was far too busy about other things to think of dangers on the King's Highway. His purse was certainly well armoured against robbery; and the defence was on the inside and not on the out; so that—had he thought on the matter at all, which he did not do—he might very probably have thought, in his light recklessness, he wished he might meet with a highwayman, in order to try whether he could not rob better than be robbed.
However, as I have said, he thought not of the subject at all. His own situation, and that of the boy Wilton, occupied him entirely; and it was not till the noise of a horse's feet coming rapidly behind him sounded close at his shoulder, that he turned to see by whom he had been overtaken.
All that Sherbrooke could perceive was, that it was a man mounted on a remarkably fine horse, riding with ease and grace, and bearing altogether the appearance of a gentleman.
"Pray, sir," said the stranger, "can you tell me how far I am from the inn called the Buck's Horns, and whether this is the direct road thither?"
"The inn is about two miles on," replied Sherbrooke, "on the left-hand side of the way, and you cannot miss it, for there is no other house for five miles."
"Only two miles!" said the stranger; "then there is no use of my riding so fast, risking to break my neck, and my horse's knees."
Sherbrooke said nothing, but rode on quietly, while the stranger, still reining in his horse, pursued the high road by the traveller's side.
"It is a very dark night," said the stranger, after a minute or two's silence.
"A very dark night, indeed!" replied Sherbrooke, and the conversation again ended there.
"Well," said the stranger, after two or three minutes more had passed, "as my conversation seems disagreeable to you, sir, I shall ride on."
"Goodnight, sir," replied Sherbrooke, and the other appeared to put spurs to his horse. At the first step, however, he seized the traveller's rein, uttering a whistle: two more horsemen instantly darted out from one side of the road, and in an instant the well-known words, "Stand and deliver!" were audibly pronounced in the ears of the traveller.
Now it is a very different thing, and a much more difficult thing, to deal in such a sort with three gentlemen of the road, than with one; but nevertheless, as we have before shown, Lennard Sherbrooke was a stout man, nor was he at all a faint-hearted one. A pistol was instantly out of one of the holsters, pointed, and fired, and one of his assailants rolled over upon the ground, horse and man together. His heavy sword was free from the sheath the moment after; and exclaiming, "Now there's but two of you, I can manage you," he pushed on his horse against the man who had seized his bridle, aiming a very unpleasant sort of oblique cut at the worthy personage's head, which, had it taken effect, would probably have left him with a considerable portion less of skull than that with which he entered into the conflict.
Three things, however, happened almost simultaneously, which gave a new aspect altogether to affairs. The man upon Sherbrooke's left hand fired a pistol at his head, but missed him in the darkness of night. At the same moment the other man at whom he was aiming the blow, and who being nearer to him of course saw better, parried it successfully, but abstained from returning it, exclaiming, "By Heavens! I believe it is Leonard Sherbrooke!"
"If you had asked me," replied Sherbrooke, "I would have told you that long ago: pray who are you?"
"I am Frank Bryerly," replied the man: "hold your hands, hold your hands every one, and let us see what mischief's done! Dick Harrison, I believe, is down. Devilish unfortunate, Sherbrooke, that you did not speak."
"Speak!" returned Sherbrooke, "what should I speak for? these are not times for speaking over much."
"I am not hurt, I am not hurt!" cried the man called Harrison; "but hang him, I believe he has killed my horse, and the horse had well nigh killed me, for he reared and went over with me at the shot:—get up, brute, get up!" and he kicked the horse in the side to make him rise. Up started the beast upon his feet in a moment, trembling in every limb, but still apparently not much hurt; and upon examination it proved that the ball had struck him in the fleshy part of the shoulder, producing a long, but not a deep wound, and probably causing the animal to rear by the pain it had occasioned.
As soon as this was explained satisfactorily, a somewhat curious scene was presented, by Leonard Sherbrooke standing in the midst of his assailants, and shaking hands with two of them as old friends, while the third was presented to him with all the form and ceremony of a new introduction. But such things, alas! were not uncommon in those days; and gentlemen of high birth and education have been known to take to the King's Highway—not like Prince Hal, for sport, but for a mouthful of bread.
"Why, Frank," said Sherbrooke, addressing the one who had seized his horse's rein, "how is this, my good fellow?"
"Why, just like everything else in the world," replied the other in a gay tone. "I'm at the down end of the great see-saw, Sherbrooke, that's all. When last you knew me, I was a gay Templer, in not bad practice, bamboozling the juries, deafening the judges, making love to every woman I met, ruining the tavern-keepers, and astounding the watch and the chairman. In short, Sherbrooke, very much like yourself."
"Exactly, Frank," replied Sherbrooke, "my own history within a letter or so: we were always called the counterparts, you know; but what became of you after I left you, a year and a half ago, when this Dutch skipper first came over to usurp his father-in-law's throne?"
"Why, I did not take it quite so hotly as you did," replied the other; "but I remained for some time after the King was gone, till I heard he had come back to Ireland; then, of course, I went to join him, fared with the rest, lost everything, and here I am—after having been a Templer, and then a captain in the king's guards—doing the honours of the King's Highway."
"Stupidly enough," replied Lennard Sherbrooke; "for here the first thing that you do is to attack a man who is just as likely to take as to give, and ask for a man's money who has but a guinea and a shilling in all the world."
"I am but raw at the trade, I confess," replied the other, "and we are none of us much more learned. The truth is, we were only practising upon you, Sherbrooke, we expect a much better prize to-morrow; but what say you, if your condition be such, why not come and take a turn upon the road with us? It is the most honourable trade going now-a-days. Treason and treachery, indeed, carry off the honours at court; but there are so many traitors of one gang or another, that betraying one's friend is become a vulgar calling. Take a turn with us on the road, man! take a turn with us on the road!"
"Upon my soul," replied Sherbrooke, "I think the plan not a bad one; I believe if I had met you alone, Frank, I should have tried to rob you."
"Don't call it rob," replied Frank Bryerly, "call it soliciting from, or relieving. But it is a bargain, Sherbrooke, isn't it?"
Lennard Sherbrooke paused and thought for a moment, with the scattered remains of better feelings, like some gallant party of a defeated army trying still to rally and resist against the overpowering force of adverse circumstances. He thought, in that short moment, of what other course he could follow; he turned his eyes to the east and the west, to the north and the south, for the chance of one gleam of hope, for the prospect of any opening to escape. It was in vain, his last hope had been trampled out that night. He had not even money to fly, and seek, on some other shore, the means of support and existence. He had but sufficient to support himself and his horse, and the poor boy, for three or four more days. Imagination pictured that poor boy's bright countenance, looking up to him for food and help, and finding none, and grasping Bryerly's hand, he said, in a low voice, "It is a bargain. Where and how shall I join you?"
"Oh!" replied the other, "we three are up at Mudicot's inn, about four miles there: you had better turn your horse and go back with us."
"No," replied Sherbrooke, "I have some matters to settle at the little inn down there: all that I have in the world is there, and that, Heaven knows, is little enough; I will join you to-morrow."
"Sherbrooke," said Bryerly, drawing him a little on one side and speaking low, "I am a rich man, you know: I have got ten guineas in my pocket: you must share them with me."
Pride had already said "No!" but Bryerly insisted, saying, "You can pay me in a day or two."
Sherbrooke thought of the boy again, and accepted the money; and then bidding his companions adieu for the time, he left them and returned to the inn.
The poor boy, wearied out, had once more fallen asleep where he sat, and Sherbrooke, causing him to be put to bed, remained busily writing till a late hour at night. He then folded up and sealed carefully that which he had written, together with a number of little articles which he drew forth from the portmanteau; he then wrote some long directions on the back of the packet, and placing the whole once more in the portmanteau, in a place where it was sure to be seen, if any inquisitive eye examined the contents of the receptacle, he turned the key and retired to rest. The whole of the following day he passed in playing with and amusing little Wilton; and so much childish gaiety was there in his demeanour, that the man seemed as young as the child. Towards evening, however, he again ordered his horse to be brought out; and, having paid the landlady for their accommodation up to that time, he again left the boy in her charge and put his foot in the stirrup. He had kissed him several times before he did so; but a sort of yearning of the heart seemed to come over him, and turning back again to the door of the inn, he once more pressed him to his heart, ere he departed.
Journeys were in those days at least treble the length they are at present. It may be said that the distance from London to York, or from Carlisle to Berwick, could never be above a certain length. Measured by a string probably such would have been the case; but if the reader considers how much more sand, gravel, mud, and clay, the wheels of a carriage had to go through in those days, he will easily see how it was the distances were so protracted.
At all events, fifty or sixty miles was a long, laborious journey; and at whatever hour the traveller might set out upon his way, he was not likely to reach the end of it, without becoming a "borrower from the night of a dark hour or two."
Such was the case with the tenant of a large cumbrous carriage, which, drawn heavily on by four stout horses wended slowly on the King's Highway, not very far from the spot where the wooden gates that we have described raised their white faces by the side of the road.
The panels of that carriage, as well as the ornaments of the top thereof, bore the arms of a British earl; and there was a heavy and dignified swagger about the vehicle itself, which seemed to imply a consciousness even in the wood and leather of the dignity of the person within. He, for his own part, though a graceful and very courtly personage, full of high talent, policy, and wit, had nothing about him at all of the pomposity of his vehicle; and at the moment which we refer to, namely, about two hours after nightfall, tired with his long journey, and seated with solitary thought, he had drawn a fur-cap lightly over his head, and, leaning back in the carriage, enjoyed not unpleasant repose.
To be woke out of one's slumbers suddenly at any time, or by any means, is a very unpleasant sensation; but there are few occasions that we can conceive, on which such an event is more disagreeable than when we are thus woke, to find a pistol at our breast, and some one demanding our money.
The Earl of Sunbury was sleeping quietly in his carriage with the most perfect feeling of security, though those indeed were not very secure times; when suddenly the carriage stopped, and he started up. Scarcely, however, was he awake to what was passing round, than the door of the carriage was opened, and a man of gentlemanly appearance, with a pistol in his right hand, and his horse's bridle over the left arm, presented himself to the eyes of the peer. At the same time, through the opposite window of the carriage, was seen another man on horseback; while the Earl judged, and judged rightly, that there must be others of the same fraternity at the heads of the horses, and the ears of the postilions.
The Earl was usually cool and calm in his demeanour under most of the circumstances of life; and he therefore asked the pistol-bearing gentleman, much in the same tone that one would ask one's way across the country, or receive a visitor whom we do not know, "Pray, sir, what may be your pleasure with me?"
"I am very sorry to delay your lordship even for a moment," replied the stranger, very much in the same tone as that with which the Earl had spoken; "but I do it for the purpose of requesting, that you would disburden yourself of a part of your baggage, which you can very well spare, and which we cannot. I mean, my lord, shortly and civilly, to say, that we must have your money, and also any little articles of gold and jewellery that may be about your person."
"Sir," replied the Earl, "you ask so courteously, that I should be almost ashamed to refuse you, even were your request not backed by the soft solicitation of a pistol. There, sir, is my purse, which probably is not quite so full as you might desire, but is still worth something. Then as to jewellery, my watch, seals, and these trinkets are at your disposal. Farther than these I have but this ring, for which I have a very great regard; and I wish that some way could be pointed out by which I might be able to redeem it at a future time it may be worth some half dozen guineas, but certainly not more, to any other than myself. In my eyes, however, it only appears as a precious gage of old affection, given to me in my youth by one I loved, and which has remained still upon my finger, till age has wintered my hair."
"I beg that you will keep the ring," replied the highwayman; "you have given enough already, my lord, and we thank you."
He was now retiring with a bow, and closing the door, but the Earl stopped him, saying, in a tone of some feeling, "I beg your pardon; but your manner, language, and behaviour, are so different from all that might be expected under such circumstances, that I cannot but think necessity more than inclination has driven you to a dangerous pursuit."
"Your lordship thinks right," replied the highwayman "I am a poor gentleman, of a house as noble as your own, but have felt the hardships of these times more severely than most."
He was again about to retire; but the Earl once more spoke, saying, "Your behaviour to me, sir, especially about this ring, has been such that, without asking impertinent questions, I would fain serve you.—Can I do it ?"
"I fear not, my lord; I fear not," replied the stranger. Then seeming to recollect himself, with a sudden start, he approached nearer to the carriage, saying, "I had forgot—you can, my lord!—you can."
"In what manner?" demanded the peer.
"That I cannot tell your lordship here and now," replied the highwayman: "time is wanting, and, doubtless, my companions' patience is worn away already."
"Well," replied the Earl, "if you will venture to call upon me at my own house, some ten miles hence, which, as you know me, you probably know also, I will hear all you have to say, serve you if I can, and will take care that you come and go with safety."
"I offer you a thousand thanks, my lord," replied the other, "and will venture as fearlessly as I would to my own chamber." [Footnote: It may be interesting to the reader to know that the whole of this scene, even to a great part of the dialogue, actually took place in the beginning of the reign of William III.]
Thus saying, he drew back and closed the door; and then making a signal to his companions to withdraw from the heads of the horses, he bade the postilions drive on, and sprang upon his own beast.
"What have you got, Lennard? what have you got?" demanded the man who was at the other door of the carriage: "what have you got—you have had a long talk about it?"
"A heavy purse," replied Sherbrooke; "what the contents are, I know not—a watch, a chain, and three gold seals.—I'm almost sorry that I did this thing."
"Sorry!" cried the other; "why you insisted upon doing it yourself, and would let no other take the first adventure out of your hands."
"I did not mean that," replied Sherbrooke "I did not mean that at all! If the thing were to be done, and I standing by, I might as well do it as see you do it. What I mean is, that I am sorry for having taken the man's money at all!"
"Pshaw!" replied the other: "You forget that he is one of the enemy, or rather, I should say, a traitor to his king, to his native-born prince, and therefore is fair game for every true subject of King James."
"He stood by him a long time," replied Sherbrooke, "for all that—as long, and longer than the King stood by himself."
"Never mind, never mind, Colonel," said one of the others, who had come up by this time; "you won't need absolution for what's been done to-night; and I would bet a guinea to a shilling, that if you ask any priest in all the land, he will tell you, that you have done a good deed instead of a bad; but let us get back to the inn as quick as we can, and see what the purse contains."
The road which the Earl of Sunbury was pursuing passed the very inn to which the men who had lightened him of his gold were going; but there was a back bridle-path through some thick woods to the right of the road, which cut off a full mile of the way, and along this the four keepers of the King's Highway urged their horses at full speed, endeavouring, as was natural under such circumstances, to gallop away reflection, which, in spite of all that they assumed, was not a pleasant companion to any of the four. It very often happens that the exhilaration of success occupies so entirely the portion of time during which remorse for doing a bad action is most ready to strike us, that we are ready to commit the same error again, before the last murmurs of conscience have time to make themselves heard. Those who wish to drown her first loud remonstrances give full way and eager encouragement to that exhilaration; and now, each of the men whom we have mentioned, except Sherbrooke, went on encouraging their wild gaiety, leaping the gates that here and there obstructed their passage, instead of opening them; and in the end arriving at the inn a full quarter of an hour before the carriage of the Earl passed the house on its onward way.
The vehicle stopped there for a minute or two, to give the horses hay and water; and much was the clamour amongst the servants, the postilions, and the ostlers, concerning the daring robbery that had been committed; but the postilions of those days, and eke the keepers of inns, were wise people in their generation, and discreet withal. They talked loudly of the horror, the infamy, and the shamefulness, of making the King's Highway a place of general toll and contribution; but still they abstained most scrupulously from taking any notice of gentlemen who were out late upon the road, especially if they went on horseback.
It was about two days after the period of which we have spoken, when the Earl of Sunbury, caring very little for the loss he had met with on the road, and thinking of it merely as one of those unpleasant circumstances which occur to every man now and then, sat in his library with every sort of comfort and splendour about him, enjoying in dignified ease the society of mighty spirits from the past, in those works which have given and received an earthly immortality. His hand was upon Sallust; and having just been reading the awful lines which present in Catiline the type of almost every great conspirator, he raised his eyes and gazed on vacancy, calling up with little labour, as it were, a substantial image to his mind's eye of him whom the great historian had displayed.
The hour was about nine o'clock at night, and the windows were closed, when suddenly a loud ringing of the bell made itself heard, even in the Earl's library. As the person who came, by applying at the front entrance, evidently considered himself a visitor of the Earl, that nobleman placed his hand upon the open page of the book and waited for a farther announcement with a look of vexation, muttering to himself, "This is very tiresome: I thought, at all events, I should have had a few days of tranquillity and repose."
"A gentleman, my lord," said one of the servants, entering, "is at the gate, and wishes to speak with your lordship."
"Have you asked what is his business?" demanded the Earl.
"He will not mention it, my lord," replied the servant, "nor give his name either; but he says your lordship told him to call upon you."
"Oh! admit him, admit him," said the peer; "put a chair there, and bring some chocolate."
After putting the chair, the man retired, and a moment after returned, saying, "The gentleman, my lord."
The door opened wide, and the tall fine form of Lennard Sherbrooke entered, leading by the hand the beautiful boy whom we have before described, who now gazed about him with a look of awe and surprise.
Little less astonishment was visible on the countenance of the Earl himself; and until the door was closed by the servant, he continued to gaze alternately upon Sherbrooke and the boy, seeming to find in the appearance of each much matter for wonder.
"Do me the favour of sitting down," he said at length "I think I have had the advantage of seeing you before."
"Once, my lord," replied Sherbrooke, "and then it must have been but dimly."
"Not more than once?" demanded the Earl: "your face is somewhat familiar to me, and I think I could connect it with a name."
"Connect it with none, my lord," said Sherbrooke: "that name is at an end, at least for a time: the person for whom you take me is no more. I should have thought that you knew such to be the case."
"I did, indeed, hear," said the Earl, "that he was killed at the Boyne; but still the likeness is so great, and my acquaintance with him was so slight, that—"
"He died at the Boyne, my lord," said Sherbrooke, looking down, "in a cause which was just, though the head and object of that cause was unworthy of connexion with it." The Earl's cheek grew a little red; but Sherbrooke continued, with a slight laugh, "I did not, however, come here, my lord, to offend you with my view of politics. We have only once met, my lord, that I know of in life, but I have heard you kindly spoken of by those I loved and honoured. You, yourself, told me, that if you could serve me you would; and I come to claim fulfilment of that offer, though what I request may seem both extraordinary and extravagant to demand."
The Earl bent down his eyes upon the table, and drew his lips in somewhat close, for he in no degree divined what request was coming; and he was much too old a politician to encourage applications, the very proposers of which announced them as extravagant. "May I ask," he said, at length, "what it is you have to propose? I am quite ready to do any reasonable thing for your service, as I promised upon an occasion to which I need not farther refer."
Three servants at that moment entered the room, with chocolate, long cut slices of toast, and cold water; and the conversation being thus interrupted, the Earl invited his two guests to partake; and calling the boy to him, fondled him for some moments at his knee, playing with the clustering curls of his bright hair, and asking him many little kindly questions about his sports and pastimes.
The boy looked up in his face well pleased, and answered with so much intelligence, and such winning grace, that the Earl, employing exactly the same caress that Sherbrooke had often done before, parted the fair hair on his forehead, and kissed his lofty brow.
When the servants were gone, Sherbrooke instantly resumed the conversation. "My request, my lord," he said, "is to be a very strange one; a request that will put you to some expense, though not a very great one; and will give you some trouble, though, would to God both the trouble and expense could be undertaken by myself."
"Perhaps," said the Earl, turning his eyes to the boy, "it may be better, sir, that we speak alone for a minute or two. I am now sure that I cannot be mistaken in the person to whom I speak, although I took you at first for one that is no more. We will leave your son here, and he can amuse himself with this book of pictures."
Thus saying he rose, patted the boy's head, and pointed out the book he referred to. He then threw open a door between that room and the next, which was a large saloon, well lighted, and having led the way thither with Sherbrooke, he held with him a low, but earnest conversation for some minutes.
"Well, sir," he said at length, "well, sir, I will not, and must not refuse, though it places me in a strange and somewhat difficult situation; but indeed, indeed, I wish you would listen to my remonstrances. Abandon a hopeless, and what, depend upon it, is an unjust cause,—a cause which the only person who could gain by it has abandoned and betrayed. Yield to the universal voice of the people; or if you cannot co-operate with the government that the popular voice has called to power, at all events submit; and, I doubt not in the least, that if, coupled with promises and engagements to be a peaceful subject, you claim the titles and estates—"
"My lord, it cannot be," replied Sherbrooke, interrupting him: "you forget that I belong to the Catholic church. However, you will remember our agreement respecting the papers, and other things which I shall deposit with you this night: they are not to be given to him till he is of age, under any circumstances, except that of the King's restoration, when you may immediately make them public."
As he spoke, he was turning away to return to the library; but the Earl stopped him, saying, "Stay yet one moment: would it not be better to give me some farther explanations? and have you nothing to say with regard to the boy's education? for you must remember how I, too, am situated."
"I have no farther explanations to give, my lord," replied Sherbrooke; "and as to the boy's education, I must leave it entirely with yourself. Neither on his religious nor his political education will I say a word. In regard to the latter, indeed, I may beg you to let him hear the truth, and, reading what is written on both sides, to judge for himself. Farther I have nothing to say."
"But you will understand," replied the other, with marked emphasis, "that I cannot and do not undertake to educate him as I would a son of my own. He shall have as good an education as possible; he shall be fitted, as far as my judgment can go, for any station in the state, to enter any gentlemanly profession, and to win his way for himself by his own exertions. But you cannot and must not expect that I should accustom him to indulgence or expense in any way that the unfortunate circumstances in which he is placed may render beyond his power to attain, when you and I are no longer in being to support or aid him."
"You judge wisely, my lord," replied Sherbrooke, "and in those respects I trust him entirely to you, feeling too deeply grateful for the relief you have given me from this overpowering anxiety, to cavil at any condition that you may propose."
"I have only one word more to say," replied the Earl, "which is, if you please, I would prefer putting down on paper the conditions and circumstances under which I take the boy: we will both sign the paper, which may be for the security of us both."
Sherbrooke agreed without hesitation; and on their return to the library, the Earl wrote for some time, while his companion talked with and caressed the boy. When the Earl had done, he handed one of the papers he had written to Sherbrooke, who read it attentively, and then signing it returned it to the Earl. That nobleman in the mean time, had signed a counterpart of the paper which he now gave to Sherbrooke; and the latter, taking from his pocket the small packet of various articles which we have seen him make up at the inn before he went out on the very expedition which produced his present visit to the Earl, gave it into the peer's hands, who put his seal upon it also.
This done, a momentary pause ensued, and Lennard Sherbrooke gazed wistfully at the boy. A feeling of tenderness, which he could not repress, gained upon his heart as he gazed, and seemed to overpower him; for tears came up, and dimmed his sight. At length, he dashed them away; and taking the boy up in his arms, he pressed him fondly to his bosom; kissed him twice; set him down again; and then, turning to the Earl, with a brow on which strong resolution was seen struggling with deep emotion, he said, "Thank you, my lord, thank you!"
It was all he could say, and turning away hastily he quitted the room. The Earl rang the bell, and ordered the servant to see that the gentleman's horse was brought round. He then turned and gazed upon the boy with a look of interest; but little Wilton seemed perfectly happy, and was still looking over the book of paintings which the Earl had given to him to examine.
"What can this be?" thought the Earl, as he looked at him; "can there be perfect insensibility under that fair exterior?" And taking the boy by the hand he drew him nearer.
"Are you not sorry he is gone?" the nobleman asked.
"Oh! he will not be long away," replied the boy: "he will come back in an hour or two as he always does, and will look at me as I lie in bed, and kiss me, and tell me to sleep soundly."
"Poor boy!" said the Earl, in a tone that made the large expressive eyes rise towards his face with a look of inquiry: "You must not expect him to be back to-night, my boy. Now tell me what is your name?"
"Wilton," replied the boy; but remembering that that was not sufficient to satisfy a stranger, he added, "Wilton Brown. But how long will it be before he comes back?"
"I do not know," replied the Earl, evading his question. "How old are you, Wilton?"
"I am past eight," replied the boy.
"Happily, an age of quick forgetfulness!" said the Earl, in a low tone to himself; and then applying his thoughts to make the boy comfortable for the night, he rang for his housekeeper, and gave her such explanations and directions as he thought fit.
There is a strange and terrible difference in this world between the look forward and the look back. Like the cloud that went before the hosts of the children of Israel, when they fled from the land of Egypt, an inscrutable fate lies before us, hiding with a dark and shadowy veil the course of every future day: while behind us the wide-spread past is open to the view; and as we mark the steps that we have taken, we can assign to each its due portion of pain, anxiety, regret, remorse, repose, or joy. Yet how short seems the past to the recollection of each mortal man! how long, and wide, and interminable, is the cloudy future to the gaze of imagination!
Many years had passed since the eventful night recorded in our last chapter; and to the boy, Wilton Brown, all that memory comprised seemed but one brief short hour out of life's long day.
The Earl of Sunbury had fulfilled what he had undertaken towards him, exactly and conscientiously. He was a man, as we have shown, of kindly feelings, and of a generous heart: although he was a politician, a courtier, and a man of the world. He might, too—had not some severe checks and disappointments crushed many of the gentler feelings of his heart—he might, too, have been a man of warm and enthusiastic affections. As it was, however, he guarded himself in general very carefully against such feelings; acted liberally and kindly; but never promised more, or did more, than prudence consented to, were the temptation ever so strong.
He had promised Lennard Sherbrooke that he would take the boy, and give him a good education, would befriend him in life, and do all that he could to serve him. He kept his word, as we have said, to the letter. During the first six weeks, after he had engaged in this task, he saw the boy often in the course of every day; grew extremely fond of him; took him to London, when his own days of repose in the country were past; and solaced many an hour, when he returned home fatigued with business, by listening to the boy's prattle, and by playing with, as it were, the fresh and intelligent mind of the young being now dependent upon him for all things.