AN HISTORICAL NOVEL.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
By Jane West
The Author of "LETTERS TO A YOUNG MAN," "A TALE OF THE TIMES," &c.
Preserve your Loyalty, maintain your Rights.
Inscription on a Column at Appleby.
Strahan and Preston, Printers-Street, London.
LONDON: PRINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, AND BROWN, PATERNOSTER-ROW. 1812.
Transcriber's Note: The variant and inconsistant spellings in this text have been retained and Tables of Contents has been created.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER. CHAP. II. CHAP. III. CHAP. IV. CHAP. V. CHAP. VI. CHAP. VII. CHAP. VIII. CHAP. IX. CHAP. X. CHAP. XI.
Abate the edge of Traitors, gracious Lord, That would reduce these bloody days again, And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Those who have but an indifferent banquet to offer, are not usually inclined to discourage their guests, by a repulsive bill of fare; yet surely, when a public invitation is given, there is honesty, and prudence too, in simply stating the kind of regale we are going to spread, lest a palled and sickly appetite should expect stimulants, or a perverted taste should pine for foreign luxuries and modern cookery, when we have nothing to set before them but plain old English food. Church and King now look as obsolete in a publication, as beef and pudding would at a gala dinner; yet let us remember, that as the latter have fed our heroes from the days of Cressy and Agincourt to the present times, so the former have fashioned minds fit to animate these mighty bodies. It is only to those who have a relish for stern virtue and grave reflection, that I would recommend the following pages.
I have dated this narrative in a peculiarly calamitous period, though well aware that virtue, like happiness, is supposed to flourish most in times of tranquility. Such times afford no subjects for the historian or the bard; and even the moralist is often led to revert rather to those stormy eras which roused the energies of the human soul, and compelled it to assert qualities of which they who have observed only the repose of domestic life can form no conception. Man, attempting with finite powers to compass the most stupendous designs in spite of physical or moral obstacles; submitting to every privation, braving danger and death, often even defying omnipotence, and all for the sake of some speculative tenet, some doubtful advantage, the post of honour burdened by superlative responsibility, or the eminence of power attended with perpetual care, is an object no less interesting to the philosopher, than it is miraculous to the peasant, who places enjoyment in ease and animal indulgence. It is on the motives and actions which characterise this self-denial and enterprise, that the hero and the statesman fix their attention; forming their models, and drawing their conclusions, not from the passive inclinations, but from the capabilities of our species, not from what man would or ought to prefer, but from what he has achieved when stimulated by hope, goaded by ambition, or instigated by desperation.
Under the influence of these passions, how often has one restless spirit disturbed the repose of a prosperous nation, and spread desolation and misery over the fairest portions of the globe. Does God permit this—and is he righteous? Yes, short-sighted questioner of Omniscience, the Father of the universe is never more conspicuous in his paternal care, than when, by means of temporal afflictions, he draws our regards toward our heavenly country.—Then is death disarmed of the terrors which are planted round the bed of prosperity; then is the soul freed from that bondage of sensual delight, which impedes her spiritual exertion. The no longer pampered body, subdued to spareness, braced by toil, elastic from exertion, and patient from habit, is not a clog, but a meet companion for its immortal associate. Prosperity, among many other evils, engenders religious apathy, and luxurious selfishness. She presents a gorgeous stage, on which the puppets of vanity and petty ambition act their insignificant parts; adversity educates and exercises men.
Nor is the moral harvest a mere gleaning of good deeds. Where misery and wickedness seem most to abound; where desperadoes and plunderers go forth to destroy and pillage; the passive virtues pray, and endure. Self-devoting generosity then interposes her shield, and magnanimous heroism her sword; benevolence seeks out and consoles distress; the confessor intercedes with heaven; the patriot sacrifices his fortune and his comforts; the martyr dies on the scaffold, and the hero in the field. England hath often witnessed such piteous scenes, and many fear she is now on the verge of similar calamities, which threaten to cloud her glory from the envy and admiration of foreign nations, making her a taunting proverb of reproach to her enemies, while she points a moral, and adorns a tale, for posterity. May those who govern her wide extended empire, so study the records of our former woes, and shape their political course with such single-hearted observance of the unerring laws of God, as to become, under his Providence, our preservers from danger; and may the governed, remembering the tyranny which originated from insubordination; the daring ambition of popular demagogues; the hypocrisy of noisy reformers, and all the certain misery which arises from the pursuit of speculative unattainable perfection, adhere to those institutions, which have been consecrated with the best blood in England, and proved by the experience of ages to be consistent with as large a portion of national prosperity, as any people have ever enjoyed. Yet as our offences may prevail over our prayers, let us prepare our minds for times of trial. The public duties they require, are adapted to the discussion of that sex, whose physical and mental powers fit it for active life, and deliberate policy. But the exercise of the milder virtues is imperiously called for in seasons of national alarm. Whether we are to endure the loss of our accustomed wealth and luxury, or to encounter the far heavier trial of domestic confusion, there are habits of thinking and acting, which will conduce to individual comfort and improvement. There are sorrows which neither "King nor laws can cause or cure;" enjoyments, that no tyrant can withhold; and blessings, which even the wildest theories of democracy cannot destroy. The asylum where these sacred heritages of a good conscience are generally concealed, is the domestic hearth, that circumscribed but important precinct where the female Lares sit as guardians. Is it presumptuous in one, who has long officiated at such an household altar, again to solicit the forbearance and favour, which she has often experienced, by calling public attention to a popular way of communicating opinions, not first invented by herself, though she has often had recourse to it. The tale she now chooses as a vehicle, aims at conveying instruction to the present times, under the form of a chronicle of the past. The political and religious motives, which convulsed England in the middle of the seventeenth century, bear so striking a resemblance to those which are now attempted to be promulgated, that surely it must be salutary to remind the inconsiderate, that reformists introduced first anarchy and then despotism, and that a multitude of new religions gave birth to infidelity.
Nor let the serious hue which a story must wear that is dated in those times, when the church militant was called to the house of mourning, deter the gay and young from a patient perusal. Whatever mere prudential instructors may affirm, worldly prosperity should not be held out as the criterion, or the reward of right conduct. Let us remember St. Augustine's answer to those Pagans, who reproached him with the evils that Christians, in common with themselves, suffered from the then convulsed state of the world. They asked him, "Where is thy God?" But he declined founding the believer's privileges on individual exemptions, or personal providences. "My God," said he, "in all his attributes, different from the false impotent Gods of the Heathen, is to be found wherever his worshippers are;—if I am carried into captivity, his consolations shall yet reach me;—if I lose the possessions of this life, my precious faith shall still supply their want;—and if I die, not as the suffering heathen dies, by his own impious and impatient hand, but in obedience to the will of God, my great reward begins. I shall enter upon a life that will never be taken from me; and henceforth all tears shall be wiped from my eyes."
Adversity purifies communities, as well as individuals. If fastidiousness, selfishness, pride, and sensuality, conspire to cloud, with imaginary woes, the enjoyments of those whom others deem happy and prosperous; faction, discontent, a querulous appetite for freedom, and an inordinate ambition to acquire sudden pre-eminence, disturb public tranquillity, when a country has long enjoyed the blessings of plenty and repose. Previous to the commencement of that great rebellion, which tore the crown and mitre from the degraded shield of Britain, our forefathers, as we are informed by the noble historian of his country's woes and shames, experienced an unusual share of prosperity. During the early part of the reign of King Charles the First, he tells us, "this nation enjoyed the greatest calm, and the fullest measure of felicity that any people of any age for so long a time together had been blessed with, to the envy and wonder of all the other parts of Christendom." The portrait he draws is so striking, that I must exhibit it in its native colours. "A happiness invidiously set off by this distinction, that every other kingdom, every other state, were entangled and almost destroyed by the fury of arms. The court was in great plenty, or rather (which is the discredit of plenty) excess and luxury, the country rich, and what is more, fully enjoying the pleasure of its own wealth, and so the more easily corrupted with the pride and wantonness of it. The church flourishing with learned and extraordinary men; trade increased to that degree, that we were the exchange of Christendom; foreign merchants looking upon nothing so much their own, as what they had laid up in the warehouses of this kingdom; the royal navy in number and equipage, very formidable at sea; lastly, for a complement of all these blessings, they were enjoyed under the protection of a King of the most harmless disposition; the most exemplary piety; the greatest sobriety, chastity, and mercy, that ever Prince had been endowed with: But all these blessings could but enable, not compel, us to be happy. We wanted that sense, acknowledgement, and value of our own happiness, which all but we had; and we took pains to make, when we could not find ourselves miserable. There was in truth a strange absence of understanding in most, and a strange perverseness of understanding in the rest. The court full of excess, idleness, and luxury; the country full of pride, mutiny, and discontent. Every man more troubled and perplexed at what they called the violation of one law, than delighted or pleased with the observance of all the rest of the charter. Never imputing the increase of their receipts, revenue, and plenty, to the wisdom, virtue, and merit of the crown; but objecting every small imposition to the exorbitancy and tyranny of the government. The growth of knowledge and virtue were disrelished for the infirmities of some learned men, and the increase of grace and favour to the church was more repined and murmured at than the increase of piety and devotion in it were regarded."
Such was the lowering calm of ungrateful discontent, which ushered in a fearful season of crime and punishment, described at large by one who was an illustrious actor on that eventful stage, and composed his history, "that posterity might not be deceived by the prosperity of wickedness into a belief that nothing less than a general combination of an whole nation, and a universal apostacy from their religion and allegiance, could, in so short a time, have produced such a prodigious and total alteration; and that the memory of those, who out of duty and conscience have opposed that torrent which overwhelmed them, may not lose the recompence due to their virtues, but having undergone the injuries and reproaches of that, might find a vindication in a better age."
In describing the scenes which ensued, "when an infatuated people, ripe and prepared for destruction, plunged by the just judgment of God into all the perverse actions of folly and madness," he reads us such important lessons as must strike an enlightened public, if recalled to their attention. He tells us, by fatal experience, "that the weak contributed to the designs of the wicked, while the latter, out of a conscience of their guilt, grew by desperation worse than they intended to be. That the wise were often imposed upon by men of small understandings. That the innocent were possessed with laziness, and slept in the most visible article of danger, and that the ill-disposed, though of the most different opinions, opposite interests, and distant affections, united in a firm and constant league of mischief, while those whose opinions and interests were the same, divided into factions and emulations more pernicious to the public than the treasons of others. Meanwhile the community, under pretence of zeal for religion, law, liberty, and parliament, (words of precious esteem in their just signification,) were furiously hurried into actions introducing atheism, and dissolving all the elements of the Christian religion."
So great were the miseries incident to civil commotion, so soon did the mask fall off from those pseudo-patriots, that all parties except the creatures of the ambitious Cromwel, ardently looked for the restoration of their imprisoned King, as a termination of their own sorrows, as well as of his misfortunes. And when that hope was frustrated "by the most consummate hypocrisy and atrocious breach of all law and justice," the iron pressure of those times of pretended liberty and equality that ensued, led every one, who had not by some unpardonable crime hazarded his own safety, to welcome back the son of the royal victim to the constitution and honour of England, with such rash exuberance of confiding loyalty, that, by intrusting to his careless hand the full possession of unrestrained power, they laid the foundation of future contests and confusion. Such were the prospective evils with which the Oliverian usurpation afflicted the state, while in the department of morals, piety was brought into such contempt by the extravagance of fanatics, and the detected cheats of hypocrites, that atheism and profaneness grew popular, as being more open and candid in their avowed profligacy. The oppressive, or as his admirers call it, the vigorous government of Cromwell humbled the proud spirit of Englishmen, who had often revolted at the excessive stretches of prerogative under their legitimate kings; and this new habit of submission, added to a deep repentance for their late crime, so struck the independent character of the nation, that a cabal of atheists and libertines persuaded an unprincipled Prince that he might as easily found his throne on what was then deemed the firm basis of despotism, as many of the Continental princes had done. If, as Englishmen, we blush at the disgrace of a King sold to France, and a court and nation abandoned to such licentious contempt of all Christian obligations, that even decency is compelled to consign their polite literature to oblivion, we must seek for the seeds of this twofold degradation in the times of which I propose to exhibit a familiar portrait, illustrated by imaginary characters and events, but carefully compared with warranted originals.
It remains to say something of the conduct of this design. Public events will be stated with fidelity. Historical characters shall be but sparingly combined with feigned actions, but, where they, are, great care shall be taken that they be neither flattered, calumniated, nor overcharged; and, I believe, they may be found to have behaved in much the same manner to others, as I shall represent them to do to the imaginary persons whom I bring on the scene. The long space of years which this narrative embraces, is, I know, a great abatement of its interest. It is a fault which could not be avoided without falsifying chronology at a period familiar to every well-read person, or losing sight of the admonitory lesson which the tale was intended to convey.
I know that there is no small share of hardihood in my attempt: Bigotry, superstitious adherence to existing institutions, exclusive partiality to a sect, and pertinacious resistance to the increase of liberal information, are well-sounding epithets easily applied, and too grateful to the million to want popularity. Those who write with no higher motive than to please the prevailing taste, must beware of touching upon topics which are likely to rouse the hostile feelings of self-importance, and to disgust would-be statesmen and intuitive divines. Ridicule will never disprove those opinions which were held by the wisest and most illustrious persons that England ever produced. Should I be so unfortunate as to provoke hostility where I look for co-operation; erroneous or undeserved censure shall not induce me to enter into a controversy with those whom I believe to be sincere champions of religious truth, and to whose labours I am consequently bound to say, "God speed," though they may consider me as a doubtful ally, if not an enemy. To these I would address the dying words of the celebrated non-juror Archbishop Sancroft to his subscribing chaplain, Needham—"You and I have gone different ways in these late affairs, but I trust Heaven's gates are wide enough to receive us both. I always took you for an honest man. What I said concerning myself was only to let you know that what I have done I have done in the integrity of my heart, indeed in the great integrity of my heart." Thus, only anxious to defend and support constitutional principles, I shall plead guilty to many errors in taste, in the construction of the fable, as well as in the style of the narrative, and throw myself on the mercy of the Public with regard to those points.
 Lord Clarendon.
I will not choose what many men desire, Because I will not jump with common spirits, And rank me with the barb'rous multitudes.
About the commencement of the reign of King Charles the First, a stranger came to reside in a populous village in Lancashire, under circumstances of considerable interest and mystery. He was young, and elegant in his person; his language not only evinced the cultivated chasteness of education, but the nicer polish of refined society. When drawn into conversation (to which he seemed averse), he discovered classical learning enlivened by brilliant wit, and seasoned by deep reflection. He was versed in the history of foreign courts; and if he forbore to speak of our own, it seemed more from caution than from ignorance. He excelled in fashionable exercises, rode the great horse with a military air, and alarmed the rustics by his skill in fencing, as much as he delighted them by the till then unheard tones which he drew from the viola-de-gamba. It was impossible that, with these accomplishments, a sad-coloured cloak and plain beaver could conceal the gentleman. In vain did he report himself to be a Blackwell-hall factor, whom an unfortunate venture had reduced to ruin.—Every one discovered that his manners did not correspond with this description, and they would have at once determined him to be some gay gallant, whose wantonness of expense had outstripped his ability, had not his purse contained good store of broad pieces, which his hand liberally bestowed, as often as poverty appealed to his benevolence.
A Lancashire gentleman in those times had less intercourse with the metropolis of the British empire, than one of the present day, has with Canton. No London correspondent, therefore, could whisper the sudden disappearance of a sparkling blade, who, after blazing awhile at Whitehall, had unaccountably vanished like a meteor from its horizon; nor had the depredation of swindlers, or the frequent intrusion of impertinent hangers-on compelled the owners of manorial houses to shut their doors on uninvited guests. The jovial coarse hospitality of those times delighted in a crowded board; the extensive household daily required ample provision, and refinement was too little advanced from its earliest stage to make nice arrangement or rare delicacies necessary to an esquire's table. Such a guest therefore as Evellin, was eagerly sought and warmly welcomed. He joined with the joyous hunters in the morning, he relieved the sameness of their repasts with his diversified information; and in the evening he was equally gratifying to the ladies, who being then generally confined to the uniform routine of domestic privacy, loved to hear of what was passing in the great world. He could describe the jewels which bound the hair of the Queen of Bohemia, and he had seen the hood in which Anne of Austria ensnared the aspiring heart of the Duke of Buckingham; beside, he led off the dance with matchless grace, and to their native hornpipe enabled them to add the travelled accomplishments of the galliard and saraband. What a concentration of agreeable qualities! It must be owing to the invincible pressure of secret uneasiness, and not to a suspicion of the cordiality with which his entertainers welcomed him, if Evellin ever passed a day in solitude.
Yet he came into society with the air of one who sought it as a temporary relief from anxiety, rather than as a source of real enjoyment. A visible dissatisfaction, constraint, and unsubdued aversion to the present, arising from regret at the past, sometimes interrupted his graceful courtesy, and oftener made him indifferent to the passing scene, or unconscious of it. This humour increased whenever he received a dispatch from London, and at one time the mortification which his letters excited, threw him into such a mental agony, that the cottagers with whom he lodged, recurring to what was then deemed a specific for troubled minds, called in the aid of Dr. Eusebius Beaumont to give him ghostly consolation. I am not going to bring a mortified Franciscan friar on the scene: his reverence was the village pastor, happy and respectable as a husband and father, and largely endowed with those which have signalized the Church of England, whenever she has been called to any conspicuous trial. Learning and piety were in him two neighbouring stars that reflected radiance on each other, and were rather brightened than obscured by his humility. His manners and habits of life retained the simplicity of the primitive ages, yet were they so blended with courtesy, nobleness of mind, and superiority to every mean selfish consideration, that the most travelled cavalier of the times could not more winningly display the true gentleman. His example shewed that the superiority which distinguishes that character consists not in adopting the reigning mode (that poor ambition of a copyist), but in the refined suavity which defies imitation, and is an inborn sentiment, rather than an assumed costume. The most powerful peer in England had not a more independent mind than Dr. Beaumont. His fortune was sufficiently ample to supply his modest wants and large benevolence; they who envied his popularity knew not how to weaken it except by imitating the virtues in which it originated. Placed in that respectable mediocrity which was the wish of Agar—too exalted to fear an oppressor or to invite insult; too humble to make ambition look like virtue, or to fall into that forgetfulness of his Maker, which is often the damning sin of prosperity; accustomed to those habits of wise self-control that fit the mind and body for their respective functions; and perfectly possessed with a most conscientious resignation and confidence respecting future events—he was free from those cares which corrode the temper and contract the understanding. Next to his church, his study was his earthly paradise; but the same calm principle of self-discipline attended him there, and regulated his enjoyment of lettered ease. He left his beloved authors without a sigh, as often as active duty called him to attend the sick cottager, to heal contention between his parishioners, to admonish the backsliding, or to defend the cause of the oppressed.
Such was the man who presented himself to the agonized Evellin; nor was the latter surprized at the visit, or at the serious admonition which he received. Parochial care was not then regarded as a novelty, when it extended beyond the altar or the pulpit; and the graceful stranger felt himself reproved by one who had a right to exercise the functions of spiritual authority. He bowed to the pastor's instructions, with a respect which characterized those times, when the power of the church was supported by superior holiness, and acknowledged even by those who in their lives disobeyed her precepts. His subsequent behaviour made Dr. Beaumont not only pardon the infirmities of a wounded spirit, but also apply the balm of friendship to them, by giving the stranger a most cordial invitation to the glebe-house, where he promised him a friendly welcome as often as he was disposed to relish the quiet habits of his family.
It so happened, that after Evellin had twice or thrice passed the little wicket that separated the parson's garden from the village green, he disliked taking any other road. Yet though Mrs. Beaumont's person was of that description which subjects Lancashire ladies to the imputation of witchcraft, (a charge too clearly proved against them to be denied,) it was not the fascination of her eyes which drew the loitering step, fixed the unconscious gaze, and almost charmed to repose the stranger's untold sorrows. The wife of his friend excited only the respect and esteem of this antique courtier; but a young unaffianced Arachne sat spinning by her side, discreet and ingenious as Minerva, rosy and playful as Hebe. This was Isabel, the younger sister of his reverence, who, not inwardly displeased that the family party was enlarged by such an agreeable guest, nor wholly unconscious of the power of her own charms, strove with all the unsuspecting confidence of youth to amuse a visitor whom her honoured brother pronounced worthy of esteem and pity, and willingly exerted her arch vivacity to divert a melancholy of which no one knew the cause. Evellin soon discovered that he interested the fair recluse, and though she was not the first lady who viewed him with favour, he was flattered by an attention which he could not impute to extrinsic qualities. "She certainly pities me," observed he, on perceiving an unnoticed tear steal down her cheek, when with unguarded confidence, momentarily excited by the benign manners and calm happiness of his host, he inveighed against the treachery of courts and the weakness of Kings. "Can she love me?" was his next thought; "or why this lively interest in my sorrows?" This doubt, or rather hope, was suggested by hearing Isabel sob aloud while he told Dr. Beaumont not to look for any earthly return for the kindness he shewed him. "Were my fortunes," said he one day to his hospitable friends, "equal to my birth, you should find me a prodigal in my gratitude, but my own folly in 'believing integrity of manners and innocence of life are a guard strong enough to secure any man in his voyage through the world in what company soever he travelled, and through what ways soever he was to pass,' furnished my enemies with weapons which have been used to my undoing. For this last year I have suffered alternate hopes and fears. Whether my heart is sick of suspence, or the clouds of mischance really thicken around me, I can scarcely ascertain, but my meditations grow more gloomy, and I believe myself doomed to an obscure life of little usefulness to others, and less enjoyment to myself. Among my privations I must rank that of spending my days in unconnected solitude. Who will willingly share the scant portion of bare sufficiency, or interweave their destiny with the tangled web of my intricate fortunes? Would you plant a flourishing eglantine under the blasted oak? Remove it from such a neighbourhood, or the blessed rain passing through the blighted branches, will affect its verdure with pestilent mildew, instead of cherishing it with wholesome shade."
Some short time after this conversation, Mrs. Beaumont observed to her husband that an extraordinary change had taken place in Isabel's manners since Evellin had become a frequent visitor. "She very rarely laughs," said she; "but that I do not wonder at, for the infection of his melancholy has made us all grave; but she often, weeps. Then she is so absent, that she cut out the frieze gowns for the alms-women too short, and spoiled Mrs. Mellicent's eye-water. The tapestry chairs are thrown aside, and she steals from us to the bower in the yew-tree that overlooks the green, where she devotes her mornings to reading Sydney's Arcadia. My dear Eusebius, I see her disease, for I recollect my own behaviour when I was doubtful whether you preferred me; but surely, if a connection with Evellin would involve our dear Isabel in distress, ought I not to warn her of her danger in so disposing of her heart?"
"I fear," replied the Doctor, "if your observations are correct, that the caution would now come too late. Isabel is of an age to judge for herself, and if she prefers a partner in whom high degrees of desert and suffering seem united, ought her friends to interfere? If her own feelings tell her that she considers personal merit as an equipoise to adversity, shall we tell her that outward splendour constitutes intrinsic greatness? I marvel not that Evellin interests my sister; he engages most of my thoughts, and I have employed myself in collecting instances of good men suffering wrongfully, and of the piety, humility, and patience with which they endured chastening. These may be useful to Evellin; if not, they will be so to ourselves whenever sorrow visits our abode, as she is sure some time to do while she is travelling to and fro on the earth."
Mrs. Beaumont acquiesced in her husband's opinion, and determined that love should take its course, but it met with an opponent in the person of Mrs. Mellicent Beaumont, who perhaps was not free from those objections which elder sisters often entertain to the engagements of the younger branches of the family, while they themselves write spinster. She had now, however, a more colourable plea; the beauty of Mrs. Isabel had attracted the notice of Sir William Waverly, and to see her sister the lady of Waverly Park, roused that desire of pre-eminence which, though absolutely foreign to the principles of Dr. Beaumont, was not overlooked by all his family. She thought it became her to lecture Isabel on her preference, and unwittingly confirmed it by exhibiting, in opposition, two men of most dissimilar characters and endowments; the one, brave, generous, enlightened, accomplished, but unhappy; the other, lord of a vast demesne, but selfish, ignorant, scant of courtesy, and proud of wealth. "Tell me not of Waverly Park," said Mrs. Isabel, "I would sooner gather cresses by his lakes as a beggar, than sail over them under a silken awning with him by my side as my companion for life. His language, his ideas, his manners, differ from those of our meanest rustics in no other way than that theirs is the native simplicity which had no means of improvement, and his the wilful grossness which rejected it when offered, resting satisfied in what he received from his ancestors, without adding to it attainments that would properly have been his own. I know not what Evellin has been: clouds and storms hover over his future prospects. I see him only as he is the chief among ten thousand, and one who suffers no diminution even while conversing with our honoured brother; and I should be prouder of allying him to our house than of changing this silken braid for a golden coronet." Mrs. Mellicent, after some remarks on the inconsiderate obstinacy of three and twenty, and the sure repentance of head-strong people, withdrew her opposition, to be renewed when the event should justify her predictions.
The lovers did not long rest in that unavowed consciousness which left a shadow of doubt as to their reciprocal attachment. To Evellin's declaration of unalterable love, Isabella answered, that she knew too little of his situation to say whether she ought to be his, but her heart told her she never could be another's. The lover poured forth protestations of gratitude. "No," answered she, "I deserve no thanks; for, to tell you the truth, I have endeavoured to see you with indifference, but find it is impossible. You have lived in courts, Mr. Evellin, where women are hardly won and quickly lost; but do not therefore despise a Lancashire girl who dares not play with Cupid's arrows, but loves in sad sincerity, or rejects with steady courtesy; yet if you suspect that you cannot meet my devoted constancy with equal singleness of heart, leave me now, good Evellin, ere yet my life is so bound up in your sincerity, that I shall want strength of mind to dissolve the bond. At present I am so much more disposed to respect you than myself, that I may think what you have said was only meant for gallantry, which my ignorance of the world has misconstrued. If after this warning you still persist in your suit, you must either be, till death, my faithful lover, or virtually my murderer."
"My own betrothed Isabel," answered Evellin, "to love, pourtrayed with such chaste simplicity, I owe a confidence as unbounded as thy own. I will put my life in thy keeping, by disclosing the bosom-secret I have concealed even from thy saint-like brother. 'Tis the pledge of my constancy. Mark me, dearest maiden, though a proscribed wanderer wooes thy love, thy hand may be claimed by a peer of England, and those graces which adorn thy native village may ornament the palace of our King."
He paused to see if the glow of ambition supplanted the virgin blushes of acknowledged love; but Isabel's cheek displayed the same meek roseate hue. No hurried exclamation, no gaspings of concealed delight, no lively flashings of an exulting eye, proclaimed that he was dearer to her now than before he acknowledged his high descent. Her objections to a speedy marriage were even confirmed by this discovery. "I must know," said she, "that there is no one who possesses a natural or acquired right to control your choice. People in eminent stations owe many duties to the state, and must not soil their honours by unworthy alliances. Perhaps under your tuition I might so deport myself as not to shame your choice, but I must be well assured that I shall be no obstacle to your moving in your proper sphere, or I will die Isabel Beaumont, praying that you may be happier than my love could make you."
Evellin rewarded this generous attachment by telling her his assumed name was an anagram of his real one, Allan Neville, presumptive heir to the earldom of Bellingham, the honours of which were now possessed by an elder brother, whose declining state of health made it probable that Allan would soon be called from the obscurity in which he lived, and compelled to clear his slandered fame or sink under the malice of his foes. As a younger brother, he was expected to be the founder of his own fortune. His education, therefore, had been most carefully conducted; he had had the best tutors in every branch of learning; and he had travelled under the guidance of an enlightened friend. The pacific character of King James furnishing no employment in arms, he had sought the court as his sphere of action; but while he was displaying the accomplishments he possessed, and acquiring the knowledge of mankind which is necessary to a statesman, he at once attracted the notice of Princes and the envy of their favourites. That fearless candour, and that self-depending integrity which generally attends the finest qualities and noblest dispositions, rendered him careless of the frowns of those whom he discovered to be rather crafty rivals than generous competitors, and determined him rather to despise opposition than to conciliate esteem.
The haughty Duke of Buckingham was then in the zenith of his power. By bringing Prince Charles back from Spain he had relieved the national anxiety; and the short-sighted multitude, forgetting who had endangered the heir-apparent's safety, heaped on him undeserved popularity. Hence his extraordinary good fortune in pleasing all parties so elated him as to make him shew in his conduct that contempt for his benefactor, King James, which he had long secretly entertained. By the impeachment of the Earl of Middlesex, a confidential adviser and personal favourite of the King's, from motives of private pique, and by hurrying the nation into a war with Spain, for which the Parliament had not provided resources, he laid the foundation of the pecuniary difficulties, and created those evil precedents which ultimately contributed to overthrow the regal authority. These fatal results of his pernicious measures formed an awful lesson to Kings on the mischiefs incident to favouritism, and on the folly of erecting a pile of ill-constructed greatness, which, in its fall, often endangers the stability of the throne.
To this vain, ambitious man, practised in all the smooth graces and insidious arts of a court, the aspiring, but frank and honourable Neville, more enlightened, equally engaging, and animated by purer motives, was an object both of envy and of fear. He scrupled not to lament the indignities which the declining King suffered from his former cup-bearer, who had danced himself into the highest honours England could bestow, and now basely turned from the setting orb from which he derived his borrowed splendour, to worship the rising sun; nay worse, who attempted to alienate the duty of an amiable Prince from his sick and aged father. Neville was earnest in his expressions of disgust at such baseness; and the minions of the Duke did not suffer these hasty ebullitions of virtue to die unreported. The sarcasms soon reached his ear with magnified severity; and the ruin, or at least the removal of his growing rival became necessary to his own security.
Chance favoured the Duke's designs. A gentleman in his suite was assassinated in the streets of London when returning from a masquerade, and the murderer was seen in the act of escaping, not so near the body as that his person could be identified, but plain enough for the beholders to ascertain that he wore the very dress in which Neville appeared that evening. The implacable enemy he had indiscreetly provoked possessed the royal ear; and though a jury could not have found in such a coincidence sufficient grounds to indict Neville, the Duke easily procured a royal warrant for his immediate arrest. "My own heart," here observed Allan, "and my confidence in the justice and good sense of my country, prompted me to brave my accusers; but I had now a convincing proof that with all my acquirements I still wanted knowledge of the world. I, however, possessed the invaluable blessing of a sincere, wise, and prudent friend, one who reads man in his true characters, and deals with him cautiously, instead of believing him to be the ingenuous offspring of simplicity. In early youth this friend saved me from a watery grave, and he is now the guardian of my fame and fortune. In conformity to the advice of the kind Walter de Vallance (for that is his name), I yielded to the storm; instead of resisting its fury, I chose this retreat; and since my innocence as well as my guilt admitted not of proof, I offered to submit the dubious question to the arbitration of the sword, and called on Buckingham to meet me in single combat, or, if he declined a personal engagement, to select any one of noble birth and breeding for his proxy, who should accuse me as the author of Saville's death. Walter de Vallance carried my proposal to the young King, who at first yielded to my suit, but, on consulting his chaplains, judged this to be an unlawful manner of deciding disputes in a Christian country. I am now informed that by my flight I have erased those impressions which my former behaviour had made in my favour. Many think I was the murderer; and the vast power my adversary possesses at court is rendered still more dangerous to my life and fame, by the pains that have been taken to prepossess those who would have to decide upon my fate. But should the death of my declining brother call me to act in the same sphere with my proud oppressor, and put my life into safer guardianship, I will burst from the retreat which I sometimes fear was unadvisedly chosen, and either fall by an unjust sentence, or vindicate my innocence. I will no longer, like the mountain-boar, owe a precarious existence to the untrodden wilds in which I hide from my pursuers."
Even now, when the universal passion for luxury and self-enjoyment renders prosperity so alluring, subdues our native energies, and makes us the puppets and slaves of fortune, there are some lovely young martyrs who immolate prudence on the shrine of love. It may easily be imagined, therefore, that this heroine of a simpler age, instead of being discouraged by the difficulties her Allan had to encounter, loved him with more intense affection. He an assassin!—the eye that flamed defiance on an ungrateful vicegerent of the King, when every knee but his bent in homage, could never pursue a court-butterfly, or guide a murderous dagger to a page's breast, while indignant virtue pointed the sword of justice to a public delinquent. Isabel agreed that it was wrong in Evellin to fly; but when, on her lonely pillow, she cast her thoughts on the alternative, and contemplated her beloved, in the hands of him before whom a potent peer had recently fallen; in the power of a man armed with the confidence of two successive monarchs, and now the idol of the people; when she saw Evellin arraigned before a packed jury, no evidence to prove him innocent, and scarce an advocate sufficiently courageous to defend him; female softness shrunk at the image of such perils. She blessed the prudent De Vallance who had snatched him from sure destruction, and rejoiced at an event which afforded her the means of seeing human nature in its most captivating form.
When Evellin found that her constancy was proof to this trial, he unfolded the brighter prospects which the letters he received from De Vallance occasionally afforded. This invaluable friend had, to the great joy of Evellin, allied himself to their house by marrying the Lady Eleanor Neville, his only sister. Though Buckingham never stood firmer in the King's favour, he had already experienced that popular esteem is a quicksand, fair to the eye, but fallacious and destructive to all who build their greatness on it. Two parliaments that were called, in succession, to grant the supplies which the favourite's profusion, and the war in which he had unwisely engaged, rendered necessary, had been angrily dissolved for presenting petitions for redress of grievances instead of passing money-bills. The King was still deservedly popular. The odium of these acts, therefore, rested on the minister. He had, besides, a potent enemy in the palace, no less a person than the beautiful queen, who complained that the Duke, not content with directing state affairs, intruded into the domestic privacies of royalty, and left her without the power, which as a wife and Princess she ought to exercise, that of choosing her servants and rewarding her friends. Nor did this presumptuous servant rest here. The spotless purity of the King shrunk from conjugal infidelity; but Buckingham found means, during the hours of easy confidence, to insinuate such reflections against the religion, the foreign manners, and the native country of Henrietta Maria, that the affection which once bade fair to cement the union of a virtuous and amiable Prince with the lady of his choice, was weakened by reserve, doubt, distaste, and all the sentiments hostile to conjugal peace.
The Lady Eleanor De Vallance held a situation in the household of the Queen, and possessed a secure place in her affection. She knew the secret discontent of her royal mistress, and the pique she felt against Buckingham, who, she also knew, sought the ruin of the house of Neville. Evellin did not enlarge on the amiable features of his sister's character. He spoke of her as one who panted for aggrandisement, and possessed the means of attaining her object; adding also, that she was pledged to the ruin of the favourite by those strong inducements, interest and revenge. He dwelt with pleasure on the valuable and useful qualities of her husband, who, he said, united to the talents which generally achieve success, the circumspection and foresight that secure it. While such able assistants advocated his cause, despair would have been weakness.
Months, nay years, rolled away. Evellin was liberally supplied with remittances, and the hearts of the lovers became more firmly united. Dr. Beaumont, assured that his sister knew the circumstances of her lover, though neither chose to intrust them, to him, confided implicitly in her discretion and his honour. As a man, there was little to blame and much to revere in the character of Evellin. He was open, impetuous, brave, generous, and placable, with a noble simplicity of soul, untainted by the mean alloy of selfishness. He was a Christian too. In Dr. Beaumont's eye, that was an indispensable requisite. Yet more, he steadily adhered to the established church with enlightened affection; and in an age when the Puritans grew more open and confident in their attempts to overthrow it, love for the most venerable support of the protestant cause was a sacred bond of union. Sometimes a deep feeling of his wrongs induced Evellin to inveigh against courts and kings with great animosity; but this was the ebullition of a warm temper, not the cold enmity of a corroded heart. Immovable to harsh reproof, he was pliant as the bending ozier to persuasive kindness. Looking at the qualities of the man, rather than the accidents of his situation, Dr. Beaumont felt proud in thinking that his Isabel deserved the conquest she had gained.
Evellin deferred his marriage till some event should happen which must hasten the crisis of his fate. The same dispatch which brought intelligence of the death of his elder brother, announced the fall of his adversary by the hand of Felton. Concealment could now no longer be deemed wisdom; he determined to burst from obscurity, lay claim to his honours, and require to be relieved from a long pending accusation contrived by malice and believed by credulity. But could he quit the banks of the Ribble, leaving his Isabel to suffer the pangs of suspense, and to pine under those limes and alders that had sheltered him from persecution? Her behaviour told him she would conduct herself with propriety in every situation. Her society had been his chief consolation in sorrow, and he saw that her fortitude would support him in the hour of trial, her wisdom guide him in difficulty, and her participation give the fairest colouring to success. Whether he sat in the senate as a peer, or stood at the bar as a criminal, Isabel should be his wedded associate. What pleasure would he feel in presenting to his vain and beautiful sister, the lily he had gathered and placed in his bosom, while he lay concealed in the woodlands! Or, when he embraced Walter as his brother and friend, how would he rejoice to hear the fair Lancastrian, with all the eloquent energy of unsophisticated nature, bless the services which had preserved and restored her husband.
Isabel entered into all these happy anticipations. He thought her worthy to share his fortunes, and though she doubted, she now forbore to urge the plea of insufficiency. Of one point she was certain, I mean her willingness to suffer with him. She wanted little; she could endure much; she had many resources in her own mind; she considered no evil as insupportable but the unworthiness of those she loved; and when she looked on Evellin, she did not fear that trial. She smiled and blushed her full consent, and her lover informed Dr. Beaumont, that the time for claiming his sister was arrived. "My affairs," continued he, "require my immediate presence in London, and the woman of my heart must accompany me as my wife. You have long placed implicit confidence in my honour. We have now known each other till affection has lost the gloss of novelty; and instead of depending on hope and imagination, it assumes the fixed character of experience. If I perceived the germ of avarice, or lurking yearnings after aggrandizement in your heart, I would point to stalls and mitres; for such endowments have originated from fortunate alliances. But I will only say to the Christian pastor who is content with feeding his few sheep in a wilderness, that I came not as a ravenous wolf to steal his favourite lamb. It is from well-weighed preference that I select your sister as the partner of my fortunes. You bestow on me a pure and inestimable pearl, but you give it to one who knows its worth. And rest assured, worthy Beaumont, I will neither burden your generosity nor disgrace your family."
When Evellin signed the certificate of his marriage, he left a blank after the name of Allan, "Observe me well," said he to the witnesses of the ceremony; "note the time, place, and every circumstance; this is an important contract." Mrs. Mellicent, to whom this remark was particularly addressed, unbent her stiff features from that aspect of disapprobation with which she had silently condemned her brother's precipitation, and saluted the bride with great cordiality, telling her, that dames of quality, like the wives of the Patriarchs, always called their husbands lords. She added, that even those of the younger brothers of peers took place of baronets' ladies.
 These, according to Clarendon, were the errors of Archbishop Laud.
Man may the sterner virtues know, Determin'd Justice, Truth severe, But female hearts with Pity glow, And Woman holds affliction dear.
The bells of Ribblesdale had hardly finished the merry peal which announced the joy of the villagers, that their sweet rose-bud, Isabel de Beaumont, was married to the strange gentleman, whom they had long thought a prince in disguise, come to make their good Doctor a Bishop, when an unexpected dispatch from London cast the deepest gloom on the bridegroom's joy.
In this letter De Vallance conjured his friend to postpone his intended return till his affairs took a brighter aspect.—The King at first bore the sad tidings of his favourite's death with such apparent tranquillity, that he proceeded unruffled to his devotions; yet reflecting on the circumstances of the deed, and deeply affected by an interview with the widowed Duchess, who with her orphan children had thrown herself at his feet and implored justice, he now cherished such an appetite for revenge that it was suspected many lives would scarce be deemed a fit atonement. He discharged the Duke's debts out of his privy purse, he promised to provide for his servants, and frowned on all who had ever been his enemies. Thomas Felton had at first denied having any accomplice, and enthusiastically called himself the champion of an injured people; yet it was expected that the close interrogatories to which he would be exposed would overawe his firmness, and perhaps prevail on him to name some innocent persons as abettors of the crime. At all events Evellin must remain in privacy during the storm of the King's anger, which now agitated him so violently that he would attend to no other business till the Duke's murder was thoroughly investigated.—De Vallance concluded with describing the impatience which both himself and Lady Eleanor felt to restore him to his honours; and he trusted that the Queen's growing influence would be useful in recalling to the recollection of the King a person he had once highly favoured, while he saw in Buckingham an insolent minister rather than a devoted friend.
Weary of delay, eager to vindicate his honour, yet at the same time conscious of his own impetuosity, and confiding in the management of his friends, Evellin fretted at his situation, and yielding his mind to irritability, became incapable of cool discrimination or vigorous action. He had borne a long banishment with melancholy patience, disdaining to complain, and affecting resignation, but he was then an unconnected man, and his fate was of small importance. A gleam of hope, improved by his sanguine temper into confident expectation, had encouraged him to unite himself to a most amiable woman, in whose breast he had excited an expectation of the most exalted fortunes. He had given an implicit promise, that he would add to Dr. Beaumont's power of doing good; and after this, must he still continue a nameless exile, poorly content to barter reputation for life!
Subsequent dispatches from De Vallance heightened his distress. In a moment of extreme irritation, when, by long pondering on his own and the nation's wrongs, passion gained the ascendancy of judgement, Evellin in a confidential letter to Walter had anticipated with hope and exultation the fate that afterwards befell the Duke of Buckingham. A sermon of Dr. Beaumont's afterwards convinced him of the guiltiness of an expression, which, though proceeding from a sudden unweighed suggestion rather than a deliberate purpose, yet, certainly, as our church has well determined, proves "the infection of our nature, and has in it the nature of sin." Convinced that positive evil may not be committed to procure problematical good, and that no uninspired person should presume to think himself God's champion, unless placed in that station which visibly arms him with his authority, Evellin had often lamented this rash letter, as one of his secret faults. He now severely felt it also, as an imprudence, in having given vent to his angry feelings, even in a confidential communication. De Vallance informed him that, through a fatal mistake of his secretary, this very letter had been laid with some other papers, tending to prove him innocent of the death of Saville, and was thus put along with them into the King's hands by the Queen, who had graciously undertaken to plead for the brother of her favourite Lady Eleanor. No expiatory apology could be urged to weaken the effect of sentiments attested by his own writing, and they were obliged to yield him to the storm, as the King now declared that mercy would be compromising blood. Walter was in despair. Lady Eleanor still determined to watch for a favourable moment; they both continued his firm friends, and would punctually remit ample sums for his support, till some change in the state of affairs should again admit of their active interposition.
How dreadful was Evellin's situation! Ruined by his own rashness, and restrained from a step, to which impatience of present suffering had long impelled him, namely to throw himself on the King's mercy, and either regain his birthright or forfeit his life! He was now a husband; he expected to be a father. Isabel must not be deserted in the hour of distress, and her life was bound up in his. She endured the change in her prospects with a cheerful serenity, that seemed as if she felt only the sorrows of her beloved. Nor did Dr. Beaumont betray any feeling which tended to shew that the expectation of stalls and mitres ever withdrew his thoughts from the celestial contemplations in which he loved to expatiate.
"Why should I grieve for those who seem wrapped in measureless content?" said Evellin. "Is this apathy the effect of ignorance of greater good, or the result of a long indulged habit of contemning every exterior advantage?—Isabel, while planning your baby-cloaths, or loitering among your flowers, you seem to forget that life admits of more exalted pleasures and ampler scenes of duty. Have you no desire beyond filling your days with such a series of trivial occupations, which make our years glide away with undistinguishable sameness? Have you no wish to extend your views beyond Ribblesdale? Does the scene of life, exhibited among your native villagers, satisfy your wish of being acquainted with human nature? Do the mountains, which bound your horizon, limit your desire of seeing the wonders of your Creator's hand? When you read the history of the mighty and the good, your countenance expresses your ardour to emulate their actions; yet here you seem to wish to set up your rest, and slumber away your life, content with security, and careless of renown."
"When I am summoned to another station," replied Isabel, "it will be time enough to cherish the feeling which will beseem it. At present, suffer me to think of the advantages of my own. In the hour of danger, and the decline of life, the most courageous spirits long for a quiet harbour. Does not this shew that safety is desirable, and repose a blessing? The difference which even my inexperienced mind discovers, between the inward feeling and the exterior advantages of greatness, abates my wish to wear the gorgeous pall of splendid fortune. Yet, dearest Allan, I am aware, that our present state cannot be permanent. Two alternatives await us, either a restoration to your rank in society, or removal to a plate of greater security. The King will soon visit Scotland, to receive his hereditary crown. He will pass through Ribblesdale, and my brothers duty will call him to attend him; is there a hope that he can plead your cause successfully, after the eloquence of your friend, and the address of your sister have failed?"
Evellin answered, there was no probability.
"Consider then," returned Isabel, "this place lies in a frequented road. Some busy courtier will be eager to beat the covert and start the noble quarry, which the King desires to hunt down. If indeed His Highness's mind is so obscured by anger, as to combine a rash expression and a deliberate plan of murder in the same degree of guilt; to condemn you unheard for one crime, and by implication make you accessary to another, can there be safety or honour in being his servant? Surely, my Allan's loyalty once arrayed his Prince with visionary excellence; or Walter acted like one of those unskilful surgeons, who convert a slight wound into a deep gangrene."
The tone of displeasure, in which Evellin checked every suggestion against the integrity or discretion of his friend, had no other effect on Isabel's mind, than to convince her of her husband's unbounded confidence. Walter's own letters furnished her with many reasons for suspicion; there was in them a studied air of plausibility, a nice arrangement of minutiae, and a wary shifting from important points, which seemed to her strong but artless mind, more like the drapery of design, than the frank simplicity of truth. They were seldom replies to Evellin's statements or requests. The kindness they contained had the flourish of sentiment; there was much ostentatious display of trivial offices of goodwill, and of those every-day assistances, which affection wants memory to record. If Evellin seemed determined to risk all, by a bold appeal to the laws, better prospects were held out, which precipitation would blast; and larger remittances were forwarded. If he affected to be reconciled to obscurity, Walter, by gently censuring, actually confirmed the wise moderation of his choice, describing himself as tired of the court, and reluctantly chained to it by the rooted attachment of Lady Eleanor, who sparkled in the Queen's train, eclipsing all in splendor, and all but her royal mistress in beauty. He subjoined to these complaints of the unsatisfactoriness of a life of pleasure, lamentable statements of the misrule of the King, and the oppression of his government, the arbitrary punishments of the Star-chamber, the illegal fines, loans and projects, by which the royal coffers were filled, and concluded with affirming, that they only were safe and happy, whose contracted wants, and mortified desires, asked but the primeval simplicity of nature. All this time, though the honours of the house of Neville lay in abeyance, the rents were received by De Vallance, and Isabel wondered that so mortified a spirit should encumber itself with the dross which it affected to despise.
Meantime Evellin, partially blinded by a fatal security, and in part deprived of the use of his judgement by his acute feelings, at one time scorned to impute treachery to the friend of his youth; at another fear to trust even himself. One master stroke of policy still remained. Walter wrote to him in great alarm; their correspondence was discovered to the King, and reported to be of a factious tendency. He was in the most imminent danger of being sacrificed to their mutual enemies. He conjured Evellin to fly to some more remote retreat instantly, but first to give up to the confidential agent, whom he named, all their correspondence, that he might instantly destroy it, lest it should fall into the hands of those who would construe it into a disclosure of the King's counsels. The credulous Evellin fell into the snare. He returned all Walter's letters, and retired with his family to a freehold of Isabel's, situated among the mountainous parts of Lancashire, and in his anxiety for Walter's safety, forgot for a time his own troubles. But though their correspondence ceased, the voice of fame was not silent, and its echoes reached even to the Fourness Fells, telling that Walter De Vallance was created Earl of Bellingham, and that all the possessions of the ancient house of Neville were bestowed on Lady Eleanor.
The ocean beats at the bottom of a cliff for ages, and imperceptibly wears its rugged projections to smoothness; but an earthquake overthrows it in an instant. The mind of Evellin, which for a period of seven years had contended with hope and fear, sometimes almost suspecting, and at other times rejecting distrust, was by this proof of his friend's treachery, bereft of all fortitude and patience. Wounded by the neglect of the world, his confidence in Walter had been his preservative from misanthropy; and when vexed at the recollection of his own imprudent frankness and folly, in provoking the resentment of powerful foes, he soothed his galled spirit by considering, that the guileless simplicity of his nature, which had raised those foes, had also secured him a faithful friend. That bright creation of his fancy disappeared, a chaos of duplicity, dark contrivance, and injustice remained: Walter proved false, his sister unnatural, his King a tyrant. So different were these objects from what he once believed them, that he doubted whether life afforded any realities. Did his Isabel really choose him for his own merit, or was latent ambition the spur to her affection? Did the village-pastor seek out and console a stranger from motives of Christian benevolence, or had he discovered his rank and hopes, and on them formed expectation of advancement?
Whatever the most unalterable and entire affection, acting on a noble mind and an active temper, could do, Isabel performed with cheerful tenderness and never-wearied patience. To assist in supporting her family, she took the farm into her own management, and endeavoured to rouse the attention of her much-altered husband, by pointing out the humble, but secure comforts, which husbandry afforded. She dwelt on every example of unhappy greatness; she reminded him, that to be deceived by specious characters, was the common error of superior understandings, who, lightly valuing the goods of fortune, never suspect that to others they will prove irresistible temptations. Her surprise, she said, was not that the artful should impose upon the honourable, or the mean ensnare the magnanimous; but that the former should have the audacity to attempt to cozen those who were every way above them, because, in so doing, they must depend upon the operation of qualities, which their narrow hearts and warped principles could not allow them to estimate. She once went so far as to say, that it was not superior discernment, which enabled her to suspect the perfidiousness of Walter. She did not view him with the partiality of youthful affections; she was ignorant of the many ties which bound him to a brave and grateful heart. Her anxiety for her Allan kept her attention fixed on one object, the progress which his agent made; and when she saw that the cause did not prosper in his hand, she searched for instances of mismanagement, and combined circumstances to his prejudice, which were not likely to strike an affectionate friend, who was too confident in the actor to scrutinize the action. How could she, who loved a brother with the same unquestioning fidelity as Allan did Walter, condemn the errors of overflowing affection? Evellin listened in gloomy silence. Too deeply wounded to endure even this mild censure of his own folly, in the shape of an apology for his weakness, he sternly enjoined her to avoid that theme.
Undismayed by such rebuffs, Isabel attempted other topics. She often assured him she was now more at her ease, than if seated at the head of the Earl's table, in Castle Bellingham. "I should have been embarrassed," said she, "and might, perhaps, have acted wrong through my solicitude to be very right. Our little household is easily catered for; hence we can devote the more time to our darling babes. Was not the husbandman's life preferred by the wisest, the most favoured of mankind? Does it not afford health and peace? Are not our cares innocent, our enjoyments unenvied? We do not anticipate, with aching hearts, the fall or the death of a rival; neither do we, after having distorted our faces with the hilarity of forced merriment in public, meet, in our privacies, with anger and fear; reproaching each other for some neglect, and commenting on the frowns of royalty. We need not study to be expert in ceremony, or adroit in flattery. When nature calls, we take our simple food, we rest when she requires relaxation, and when rest is satiety, innocent and useful labour improves our mental and corporeal functions. How pitiable are they, whom necessity drags to the banquet of ostentation, who secretly yawn through the lengthened vigil of unenjoyed dissipation; who rise from feverish slumbers to tasteless delights; who feel that their present course of life is a captivity; and yet look on that which would bring them freedom as disgrace. Unmolested by creditors, unvexed by the reproachful glances of those who would attribute their undoing to our extravagance, with no open enemies to insult us, no secret sorrows to afflict us, our desires subdued rather than gratified, our domestic union perfect, our minds informed, and our souls expatiating in a still happier world, O my Allan, let us forget the past, and call our lot rare felicity. These mountains, which shut from your view a deceitful treacherous world are now your towers of defence. These clear lakes which reflect the blue skies, dispose us to serene contemplation. When all my household toils are finished, and suspended care sleeps till the morning, I lead my children to their evening sports; I point to the sublime scenes around us, and remind them that the Almighty mind, that formed these wonders, dictated the book which is their daily study. He piled the grey cliffs on each other, some awfully barren, others cloathed with verdure, to shew that fertility and desolation, like joy and grief, are at his disposal. He, through fringed rocks, hollowed a cavern, whence burst the majestic cataract, whose course no mortal hand shall divert or restrain. So should man submit to the dispensations of Omniscient wisdom. While thus meditating, I despise the insignificance of worldly cares, I become almost spiritualized, and am in danger of losing social affections, as well as earthly desires, till my children, fancifully decked with wild flowers, call aloud to point you out, descending from the cliff, loaded with game, and accompanied by your spaniels and falcon. They rush into your embraces. You return safe, uninjured by your exhilarating sports. If, at such a moment, I can fancy that parental transport predominates over sorrow in your aspect, I lift my hands in transport to Heaven, and ask if a mighty Princess ever was so blessed."
The dejected Evellin sometimes listened in silence to these fond breathings of chaste affection, wrung her hand, and pronounced her worthy of a happier lot, calling her a pledge of divine favour and reconciliation to a much-offending man. He never spoke of his wrongs, and she sometimes entertained a hope that they were fading from his remembrance. At least she knew it was the wisest course to avoid dwelling on sorrows, for which patience was the only cure, and being thoroughly practised in the duty of resignation, she wished to impart its comforts to him, whom she so strongly loved.
My wrongs, my wrongs, my constant thoughts engage, These, my sole oracles, inspire my rage.
One evening, while the young Evellins were watching for their father, and fancying they discerned him returning from the mountains, they hastily ran back to their mother to inform her that a strange man lay at the bottom of the glen seemingly much fatigued, who asked the way to Mr. Neville's. Isabel knew that the real name of her husband was known only to herself in that neighbourhood, and suspected a snare of De Vallance's to get him into his power and rob him of all that remained, his life. She anxiously inquired what further passed, little Eustace answered, "We said nobody lived near but our father, whose name was not Neville but Evellin. He asked us if he was tall, with dark hair, and carried himself like a Prince. We had seen no Princes, but I put on my cap as he does, and shewed how he walked, and the poor man caught me in his arms, almost smothered me with kisses, and said he would never stir from that spot till his master came."
"Foolish children," said the mother; "perhaps you have betrayed your father to those who hunt for his life."
"No, indeed," replied Isabel, "he is too weak and ill to hurt any body. He is very hungry still, though I gave him all the cloud-berries I had gathered, and filled his can with water. He blessed us just as you do, and I am sure he never would hurt my father."
"Go round by the coppice, my darling; meet your father and tell him what you have seen; I will go to the stranger."—"And take some cordials with you," said both the children. "He shall want no cordials if he be what he appears," returned Mrs. Evellin; "but, sweet lambs, there are more wolves in the world than true shepherds."
The suspicions of the fond wife were in this instance groundless. The stranger was David Williams, formerly comptroller of the Earl of Bellingham's household, who, discovering that his real master was not dead, as Earl Walter now affirmed, set out with a determination of discovering his retreat. He carried with him the honourable savings of a life of industry; but having been attacked on the road and robbed of his property, he arrived, exhausted and pennyless, among the Fells of Fourness, in appearance a burden to the family he wished to serve.
Yet this faithful old servant, though bare and withering like the scathed oak, was inexpressibly welcome to one who so deeply suffered from the crimes of duplicity. Williams soon recovered his strength under the care of his dear old master; and though the mountain cottage bore no resemblance to the embattled towers of Castle Bellingham, still he was under the roof of a true Neville, and he would not change his service to attend an Emperor. Evellin took a lively interest in the society of his old domestic, who, happy that his recovered health enabled him to serve, in adversity, the noble stock under whose protection he had formerly flourished, followed his dear lord, as he called him, over the mountains, thinking of the days that were past. Sometimes Williams would lead Evellin to talk of former times, when Bellingham Castle blazed with feudal splendor, and the numerous dependents of its mighty owner, marshalled by the sound of the bugle, rode to their sports like the clans of the earlier ages, a gallant troop, to rouse the stag from his lair, or to loose the hawk at the crested pheasant. The heir of that castle, habited as an humble yeoman, sullenly listened to the narrative of his only follower. "Does not the chace," he would say, "now afford us equal pleasure? are not my dogs as swift, and these mountains as replete with game as those which engird my paternal residence." A deep groan contradicted the conclusion to which this inquiry seemed to lead; yet Williams, fancying he amused his master, continued to deepen those agonizing recollections which are most dangerous to poignant sensibility. Nor had Evellin the self-command to forbear making inquiries which must, when answered, aggravate his anguish. He bade Williams freely state what he knew of their old neighbours and dependents. The tale was diffusely told. Evellin listened with deep attention, execrated his own misconduct, enjoined silence, and then, by fresh questions, encouraged repetition. A hope had long clung to his heart, arising from that lofty tone of feeling which is more pained at becoming the tool of falsehood than at being the victim of misfortune. Long-continued moody musings had affected his judgment; and he sometimes actually doubted whether De Vallance was really treacherous, or had been defeated in his friendly efforts by the power of a host of enemies.
"Answer me truly, Williams," said he, while his lip quivered with emotion, and his hand trembled as he affected to stroke his falcon with a careless air: "you see the present and the future are now indifferent to me. You remember the time when Walter's father rescued me, a cradled infant, from Tyrone's rebellious kerns in Ireland, and thus laid the foundation of the friendship between our houses. You remember, Walter himself saving me from the lake when I was nearly drowned. Surely he was then a warm-hearted, generous boy. The tears he shed over my supposed corse could not be dangerous and deceitful drops. At school, at college, and when we crossed the Alps together, ever sharing my bed and table, I saw him in every different situation. Was his life one act of deceit, and mine a long dream of credulity? When, in the fullness of my soul, I told him he was more than worthy my sister's love, he answered that though the noble blood of Devereux ran in his veins, it did not become his humble fortunes to aspire to the Lady Eleanor. After my father's death, he would no longer reside with me, but entered into the service of his cousin, the Lord Essex, saying he would not quarter an expensive retainer on the scanty portion of a younger brother, which needed good husbandry, but that his heart still remained with me, and would be a cheap sojourner. Was not this the language of a noble spirit? You look, Williams, as if you had a mystery to unfold. Come, tell all your tale as you would repeat it to gossips on a wassail night. The world is now forgotten by me, and I am forgotten by the world."
"My noble Lord," Williams began—"Again," said Evellin, "after my strict injunctions, do not insult me with empty titles. Have I not told you that my patent of nobility is cancelled? I am Goodman Evellin of the Fells, husband of the best of women, and father of two wanton prattlers, who know not the misery of having fallen from an eminently glorious station. Mark, Williams, the story of what I was shall die with me, or only survive close shut in the treasured remembrance of my faithful wife. I would not for the universe cloud the laughing features of these happy babes, by awakening desires which I cannot gratify; therefore forget my lapsed greatness."
"Even in our privacies?" inquired Williams.
"Certainly; and habit will make familiarity easy. Sit beside me on the ground, and leave off putting your hand to your bonnet. Do we not look like two smart woodmen, enjoying, over our evening repast, a tale of other times?"
"I must turn my face from your honour," said Williams, "before I can attempt to forget that you was Sir Allan, my old master's favourite son; but it is in vain for you to try to pass for a country yeoman. They who have spent their lives in these mountains, and never seen a noble personage, rudely explain their notions of majesty and dignity by describing you; and, by the grace of Heaven, they shall find they guessed right, when they said the stranger from the south-country was a man of another sort of a world."
"Let us have no more day-dreams, I asked you about Walter de Vallance."
"He is now Earl of Bellingham."
Evellin gnawed his lip, and angrily struck his fawning spaniel. "True," replied he, "the King would have him so. He forced these honours on him; and if is thus, by prejudice and injustice, that he tampers with the loyalty of a brave nation. Canst thou blame De Vallance for catching my coronet before it fell to the ground by a false attainder? Why should the title lie in abeyance? Is it not better worn by one allied to our house than by an alien? Who so fit to sit in the baronial chair of our common ancestor as my sister's son, now I am exscinded as a diseased branch."
"He is a lad of the fairest promise," answered Williams, "but he will never live to be Earl of Bellingham. Grant that no singular judgments fall on the house of usurpation, yet the honourable blood which he inherits from the Nevilles will so strive with the foul current of De Vallance, that the ill-compounded body will not grow to manhood."
Evellin smiled: "Thou thinkest then," said he, "that Walter has played the thief's part, and stolen what he could not honestly acquire."
"'Tis past thinking about," answered Williams; "the blame rests not on the King's Majesty, whom Heaven prosper. He is too much raised above the common intercourse of life to look into the hearts of those who take care to approach him with a fair outside. His days are consumed by cares and perplexities, and those who are apt and courteous in business must needs have his ear. I well know that De Vallance gained the royal favour by appearing to be your devoted friend, and by praising you for those qualities in which it was Heaven's will to leave you somewhat defective. Thus he praised your prudence, and produced your flight in proof of your innocence; yet, in the same breath, gave some instance of your rashness, and shewed that flight was ever the villain's resource. So contrariwise were his pleadings and his praises, that His Grace said one day of him, jestingly, 'Whatever my council may decide about Neville, I must keep De Vallance in my service; for though he is an unapt advocate, he is a right trusty friend.'"
"We are now," returned Evellin, "acting as jurors, deciding upon the better part of a man's possessions, his honour. Let us then be candid and wary. Zeal, like anger, often overshoots the mark. The lively promptitude of feeling hurries our judgment beyond its natural pace. Let us admit that the stern character of that bloody conclave, before whom De Vallance often pleaded my cause, might confuse a man, among whose natural defects I have noted a constitutional timidity, apt to tremble at the frown of a fellow-creature. Before a court constituted like the Star-chamber, armed with unlimited powers to impose fines, imprisonment, sequestration, banishment, nay even the punishment of personal mutilation, no wonder the sole friend and unsupported advocate of a man, whom they were bent to ruin, took improper methods of serving him."
"It is too true," returned Williams, "that this court has of late stretched its originally unconstitutional powers, and has further provoked the unwarrantable licence of the times by trying to restrain it. The King's best friends allow that it has in many instances 'held that for honourable which pleased, and that for just which profited; and being the same persons who composed the council, the same individuals acted in two courts; in one, enjoining the people what was not law, and prohibiting what was not prohibited; and, in the other, censuring disobedience to their own decrees by heavy fines and severe imprisonments. But the tendency of these proceedings has been rather to supply the King's necessities with money, which, since his breach with his parliament he cannot legally obtain, than wantonly to sport with the rights of his people, from which no advantage can be derived to the crown.' And truly, those noble persons who compose this assembly are too well aware of the unpopularity and odium of their proceedings to give any needless cause of complaint; nor would they have dared to commit such a foul misdemeanor, as to condemn and sentence a peer of the realm for a capital offence, without giving him a solemn and public trial. Now, my dear master, has your clear understanding been so misled as to make you suppose their misdoings ever reached such atrocity, or that they would unwisely give contention such a handle."
Evellin's judgment had ever contradicted Walter's statements, and the conclusions which remaining affection, and his own unwillingness to own himself a dupe, laboured to draw, he now inquired how his estates came to be confiscated, and his person cast out of the protection of the law.
"On account of your contumacy," answered Williams; "you did not surrender when the royal proclamation called upon you to take your trial, and then a writ of outlawry was required by your prosecutor."
"Was it not Walter's duty to convey that proclamation to me?" said Evellin. Williams replied, it was; he mentioned its date, and Evellin knew it tallied with that of his marriage, at which time Walter more earnestly conjured him to remain in the closest concealment. A heavy groan burst from his heart, he rested his head on his folded hands, and bade Williams proceed.
"Yet though a long term of years had elapsed," continued he, "so unwilling was the King to proceed to extremities, that from term to term the cause stood over, and the hungry vulture who longed to gorge your possessions grew weary of acting the dove's part. I had long seen his base nature. In vain did he dress his face and his person in the solemn hue of mourning, or your false-hearted sister shed Hyaena tears,"—
"Tears! For what did she weep?"
"For your death."
"My death," said Evellin, starting up; "De Vallance knew I was alive."
"Aye, my noble master, and so did I too, or I should never have lived to drag my bones to the banks of Windermere; grief would have killed me ere I had gone half my journey. I caught the villain destroying your letters; I saw the date of one; you were alive at Ribblesdale in November, so could not have died the preceding month at Launceston."
"Who durst affirm that I did?"
"Walter De Vallance.—He claimed an audience of the King, and shewed an attested certificate, stating that Allan Neville had there deceased. An account was subjoined of his person, his way of living, and the time he had resided in that borough, all made to correspond with your likeness and history. I had followed him to the door of the privy-chamber, and waited among the pages. Methinks I see him now screw up his hypocritical face and wink his eyes, as if he wept." "Your Majesty," said he, "will be no more persecuted with my suit for my ill-fated brother-in-law.—Lady Eleanor commends her duty to the Queen.—Alas, I fear the same stroke will leave me friendless and a widower.—Never was such love." He went on, sobbing aloud—"A broken heart brought him to his grave.—One, only error; else the very mirror of honourable faculties." Thus he stood as one beside himself with anguish, holding out the certificate, which a gentleman read to His Highness. And then, my noble master, you might have seen how true pity looks by the side of its vile counterfeit. "I knew Allan Neville well," said the King, "and I once truly loved him. Ill rest the calumniators of those who can no longer justify themselves! His faults die with him. The pardon I meant to have granted to his offences, if he would have sought my mercy, shall turn into favours to those who share his blood." Walter answered, he could scarce be comforted even by such gracious words; but he acted his part ill, for though the King's goodness was too noble to suspect him, the courtiers nicknamed him the merry-mourner.
"Why speaks not my noble master," said Williams, observing the fixed posture and quenched eye of Evellin. At last he exclaimed—"I am not dead;" and bursting into an hysterical laugh, he swore De Vallance should find he was not dead.
"That is the point," replied Williams, "to which I have long wished to urge you. Only appear and prove your identity; nothing more is wanting. But rest on my arm, your whole frame is convulsed. Ah, woe is me, that a base upstart should thus destroy so true a sample of old English worth!"
"I have survived the loss of my patrimony," said Evellin; "I have bowed my aspiring mind to the lowliness of which I was born to be the protector; I have a good King, a good cause, a faithful wife, dear lovely children. De Vallance shall not long triumph. But say, Williams, didst than ever hear of treachery so complicated, so deep, so totally void of even a twinkling ray of common rectitude."
"I know but one character more vile and unnatural," returned Williams, "and that is the Lady Eleanor."
"I pass her by," said Evellin. "Nature cast her mind in its most sordid mould; and her heart is capable only of mean inclinations and low desires; I have, from my youth, reproved her follies, and as she never loved me, she would see no crime in plotting my destruction."
"What—because you strove to render her worthy her lineage," answered Williams. "If a bad nature is an excuse for crimes, may not Satan object to the severity of his sentence. Beauty made her vain, and adulation made her haughty. Yet other ladies on the same personal graces have engrafted the lovelier stock of truly noble virtues. The husband whom she deigned to marry, because she found him a ready slave to her designs, will live to rue the day when he made marriage a ladder to ambition. May Heaven guard our Queen from so dangerous a friend. Never did a falser serpent with a beautiful outside dart its poisons into the ear of Majesty."