Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Son Christopher - Part 1
AN HISTORIETTE. BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
CHAPTER I. PIOUS ORGIES.
The winter day closed in early on a certain Saturday in February, 1685, when the weather was dreary all round our shores. On the Dorsetshire coast the winds blew shrill; and the mists that they drove inland brought on an earlier night than the almanack told of. In Squire Battiscombe’s mansion, which looked down upon the fishing town of Lyme Regis, as little account was made of the weather as in any house in England, for the family could seldom have gone out of doors at all if they had been afraid of the gales on the bare downs; or the chilling blasts which drove up the ravines from the beach below; or the sea-foam, which, on stormy days, wetted everything within a quarter of a mile of the margin of the tide.
In Battiscombe House, therefore, the children made no remark on the darkness of the evening except when their attention was drawn to it.
“You take too much of the fire for such a little one, Joanna,” observed the mother, to a child who was poring over her book by the blaze from the log in the chimney. “How this cheek of yours is scorched, while some of us are chill!”
“I only wanted the light,” Joanna observed with a sigh, as she at once retired into the twilight behind her mother’s chair. She was called to that chair, and kept warm with an arm round her waist, and soft kisses on the crown of the head. Still she held the book, with a finger between the pages, where she had been stopped.
“That child is always reading!” the Squire remarked, and nobody gainsayed the observation.
“These little ones get their own will out of us in a way for which we shall be answerable,” the Squire proceeded. “Arabella and Judith are thinking at this moment how strictly they were cut off from vain learning when they were that child’s age.”
Arabella and Judith looked up with a smile which showed how truly their father had read their thoughts. They were not likely to forget the wrenchings of the heart they had endured, many a time, when some beloved volume was snatched from their hands at the cruellest moment.
“I have gone to their bedsides,” said their father, “and taken from under their pillows the idol of the moment,—not always a romance or a narrative of a voyage, but some treatise of philosophy, or perhaps the grammar of some foreign tongue. See their smiles now! They not only forgive me, they understand me.”
The girls looked up cheerfully.
“My daughters are my friends, and their mother’s friends,” the proud father observed. “They have had other and better teaching than books; and I, for my part, doubt whether the most learned damsels that my grandfather used to extol, could have been safer and truer friends to their fathers than my daughters are to me. I would have this last little daughter please me as well.”
Joanna here thrust her book behind her mother’s skirt, and the mother did not show that she was aware of the act.
“But we have not grown up entirely ignorant, sir,” said Judith.
“You can read the Holy Word,” he replied, “and that is enough.”
“Except the foreign tongues, in which men read the Holy Word in sympathy,” observed the family tutor, from his seat in the window. “The ladies have no small knowledge of the French and Dutch languages—”
“I reckon those things as included in their study of the Word,” the Squire replied. He did not wish to discuss a family arrangement by which opulent gentry, under cover of a plan for educating their children, kept up communication with continental Protestants of their own way of thinking.
At this moment a shout was heard outside, and the tramp of horses’ feet on the shell walk in front of the house. In those days, every unusual sound was supposed (by Nonconformists, at least) to mean misfortune of some kind. The father of the family stood upright; the mother’s lips moved in prayer; and the looks of the daughters waited upon both. Their suspense was short, for Anthony, and David, and little Will, came up to the windows crying out “Christopher! Christopher! Christopher is come!”
In another minute, Christopher, the heir and the pride of the household, was in the midst of his family, and the tutor had withdrawn. Christopher had never looked so comely; but he was thoughtful. There was no mystery about his appearance. He had come down, with a party of comrades from the Inns of Court, to attend the sessions at Dorchester: and he found he could ride over to Lyme to spend the Lord’s day in his old home. He was aware that the morrow was to be a remarkable Sabbath to his family and friends at Lyme, and he had used great efforts to arrive in time. At one part of the journey he scarcely hoped to accomplish it. The waters were out, so that his brother barristers and himself, and their guides and servants—twenty-three in all—had been compelled to go many miles round; and at dusk yesterday it had seemed an inevitable thing that men and horses would spend the night with no better shelter than a leafless wood. By means of Christopher’s new groom, however, who seemed to know the country better than the guides themselves, the party had been brought round into the Dorchester road, and enabled to divide themselves between two inns before the lights and fires were out: and they had ridden into Dorchester to breakfast.
“Who is this new groom of yours?” the Squire asked.
“Reuben? Oh! he is one of the Coads that there are so many of among the fishermen below. I believe his father is the horse-dealer, and that may be the way that Reuben knows the county roads and bridle-paths so well.”
“I suppose he was trustily recommended to you?” observed the careful mother.
“As a horse-keeper, he was. As for the rest, I liked his coming straight to a Dorsetshire man, and offering his services on the ground of neighbourhood and our good old country non-conformity. Oh, yes! he is one of us. He would walk twenty miles to hear John Hickes.”
“You will allow him a good rest this night?” observed Mrs. Battiscombe. “None but trusty old acquaintances should be of our company on this occasion.”
“As it pleases you, mother. I fear Reuben will be hurt when he learns how near he has been to Hickes’s pulpit without knowing it; but I will observe your pleasure.”
When Christopher left the room, and the young people followed him all over the beloved old mansion, the Squire observed to his lady that Kit’s arrival was, to his mind, rather perplexing. Had she supposed he would come?
“I had hardly liked to wish it, or not to wish it,” she replied. “It will be a blessing to us to have all our elder children with us this night; yet, if his suit had been favoured, he would scarcely have left his lady-love at the first moment to hear John Hickes.”
“I have little fear for his suit,” the Squire observed. “He has had no disappointment. You may see that in his face.”
“He has secured that strength by which the keenest disappointment—”
“Yes, yes, my dear. No doubt of that. But his countenance is bright with success. Elizabeth Bankshope is to be our daughter, I have a full persuasion.”
“If so, how strong must be his faithfulness, that he leaves her to share the services and dangers of his family this night!”
When the supper was over, and prayers had been read, and the younger children were gone to bed, and the tutor, M. Florien, had withdrawn, Christopher explained that he had brought news which he had thought it best not to commit to paper. He should have ridden over on this account, if there had been no question of other matters. It was understood that this news was of public concern; for Christopher had not been four hours in the house without obtaining his parents’ blessing on his betrothal to Elizabeth Bankshope,—the toast of the county, and the sister of the high-sheriff.
“It is certainly true,” Christopher declared, when he was satisfied that he could not be heard beyond the fireside, “it is certainly true that the King died a Catholic. They smuggled in a monk, who administered the sacrament. I had particular information of this three days ago: and I doubt not the news is creeping from house to house in London by this time.”
“Florien ought to hear this,” the Squire observed. And Christopher went to bring him in.
Then a long discussion followed of the prospects of the Church and of Nonconformity. There had been a hope, since King Charles died, that the new sovereign would be gentle with the Nonconformists, in order that they and the Catholics might co-operate to keep the tyranny of the Church in check; but if Protestantism itself was in strong peril, there was no corresponding chance of an alliance between the Church and the Dissenters. Some great change must be at hand. The question was,—what it would be.
No one of the party put the thing into plain words: but Arabella and Judith agreed, when they had reached their chamber, that what father, brother, and tutor expected was a new king—a Protestant king, who should send King James to the Continent, to make himself happy in some Catholic State.
At an hour past midnight, a part of the family assembled in silence in the hall of the mansion. A dim lantern gave the only light. The Squire carried this lantern, and he held it up to the face of each of the muffled figures before the back door was opened.
“My daughters!” whispered their mother, when she saw that Arabella and Judith were there. “This winter night and these perils are not for young creatures like you!”
“Let us go, mother!” said the one. The other put her arm round her father’s neck. “Father, you will not forbid us! You said, this very evening, that we were your friends. Where you go, we will go.”
“Yes, yes!” he replied. “Wife, we must be just to our children. How was it with you when your father chose to abide in the midst of the Plague?”
Mrs. Battiscombe was always silenced by a reference to her conduct in the Plague-year; and she now took one daughter under her own wing, and committed the other to the Squire. Nurse had oiled the locks and bolts, so that the party left the house without wakening the sleepers up-stairs. Once in the yard, they dispersed to a certain extent. One or two went round first to the road, to see whether anybody was about; and then two took that way down into the town. Two more passed into the garden, and down a footpath which led to the beach. Others waited a few minutes, till the first should be half-way to their destination. As far as any of them could see, they were not dodged or seen; but the night was very dark. There were no lights in any windows, and, till they came near the rendezvous, the young people saw nobody moving. Then, they passed or followed people muffled like themselves: but where they went in the darkness, no group could tell of any other.
They in fact passed up various alleys, and through several private houses, in order to meet in a large room, well hidden from the street. This room, once used for the storing of wool, had been offered for a chapel by a staunch Presbyterian citizen, who had used his influence among the men in his employ to get the proper fittings introduced and put up, as if they were improvements of his place of business. The few windows were so thoroughly closed that no ray of light escaped: there was a double entrance,—the one to be closed while the other was opened; and the pulpit was so placed that the hearers could gather round it, and save the preacher from speaking louder than the size of his congregation rendered necessary.
The place was nearly filled when the Battiscombes dropped in; but the pulpit was still empty. Presently, as a man in a fisherman’s dress passed under one of the dim lights, a whisper went round that that was John Hickes. In a few moments more he had put off his disguise, and appeared in cap and bands, inviting the congregation to pray.
It required less power and skill than John Hickes was noted for to interest by his discourse that night: but he moved his hearers deeply. He made them proud instead of ashamed by contrasting the opening of this House of the Lord with all the consecrations in religious story, from the gathering of the Jews into the Temple of Solomon, to the late thronging of the people of London into the new St. Paul’s. He made his hearers bold instead of alarmed when he set before them the danger they incurred by being there, listening to him who, under the Five Mile Act, was under condemnation for being about this night’s business in the town where he had formerly ministered in the face of day. Some of them had perhaps considered that they had done a brave thing in having service in their homes in the presence of guests who brought up their numbers above the four prescribed by law as the largest company of Dissenters that might worship together. Some really had run great risks in taking adjoining houses, and making an opening in the wall, covered by a picture or the like, in order that two households and a few visitors might join in their services. But the risks run this night far exceeded those. None but such as were fast anchored on the Lord had need be there; for they were encompassed with dangers which no care or faithfulness could avert. Suspicion was always awake: bribes lay ready for the vile to clutch: spies were everywhere:—perhaps there were some now present. And then the preacher launched an anathema against any traitor who might be present which innocent hearers at least never forgot. He described the miseries to which faithful confessors were subjected in their imprisonments,—the bad company, the bad air,—both that which was breathed by the body and that which stifled the soul; the filth, the loathsome food and foul water; the rheumatism or the spotted fever; the ridicule of the vile, the oppression of the magistrates, the horror of the pillory and the scourge, and the lifelong trial of beggary, when repeated fines had drained the fortunes of men and women delicately reared:—he described these things as in full prospect for any and everybody there; and then declared that the most painful of them were joys and blessings in comparison with the retribution which should await the spy who now heard him,—if such an one there were. His description of the anguish to be endured sooner or later by any one who should bring the righteous into trouble,—of the pangs, intolerable and eternal, which he should not escape, made the most innocent tremble; and it seemed an act of mercy when the preacher, after a pause, leaned over the desk, and said, in deep, low voice, which, however, was heard by the remotest listener, that a way of escape should be opened for any wicked who would forsake their wickedness. A path should be made to the door, from which the keeper should withdraw for the time: the lights should be extinguished for five minutes; and any spies who might be present could steal away unseen. Departing in such a manner, it might be hoped that they would for ever hold their peace on what they had this night witnessed and heard. Entertaining this trust, and regarding them as penitents, he sent his prayers and blessings with them.
As soon as the lights were out, some of the congregation made a shuffling of their feet on the sanded floor, lest the silence should daunt any one who wished to withdraw. The lapse of three minutes was announced by a voice below the pulpit; and then of four; and then of the fifth; and when the few candles were re-lighted, it was observed that all heads were turned towards the door.
The preacher remarked that it was not perhaps yielding too much to natural solicitude to ask whether, to the knowledge of any who heard him, any person had passed out. Two or three answered,—one being sure that at least one, and he believed two, had stolen forth; while others were quite certain that the door had never been opened. The preacher invited to prayer before disclosing his further counsel; and he was wise in doing so; for, while he was “wrestling” with more vehemence than he had hitherto been betrayed into, for strength to the sufferers for the testimony, and pardon to the weak and treacherous, and while all heads were bent in prayer, some person certainly did leave the place.
The assemblage was now sifted, the preacher said: and he could open counsel further. He related the news—for news it was to nearly all present,—of the administration of Romish rites to the late King on his death-bed. This event, he announced, was a date posted up in fiery characters in the history of religion. It was true, no persecution from Catholic James could well be worse than what the people of God were still suffering from the government of Protestant Charles,—so-called: but, as Charles turned out to be no Protestant, it was clear that the time had become ripe for the royal enterprise of overthrowing the Reformation altogether; and if the attempt could not be baffled, the doom of the world was sealed. The most monstrous of worldlings, Louis of France, was sitting quiet, watching for the lapse of Britain to Rome; and now, that monster no doubt thought his game secure, as England, under two successive Romish kings, could be no true ally to Holland; and Holland, with England against her, could no longer defy France.
The question was,—what was to be done? The Lord’s chosen would stand fast. A seed would be left in England,—and also in Scotland,—from which a harvest might arise to the Lord at some future day: but was England going to allow her kings to hand her over to Rome, as a tenant hands over his Michaelmas gift to his landlord? Was such a lapse as this a fitting result of the conflict the last generation had waged, and of the death the father of these two kings had died?
Some murmurings of emotion had been heard at former points of the discourse: and now several voices exclaimed that a Protestant king must be had. It had become difficult to say so, one manly voice declared, because, since the Ryehouse plot, every one who desired a Protestant king was supposed to favour the assassination of the Catholic princes on or near the throne: but the time had come for men who were no zealots, and who abhorred bloodshed, to insist on a Protestant king for a reformed kingdom. Could any brother within the sound of his voice give information of any dealings by which the coming in of a Protestant king could be hoped for?
The preacher repeated the question, which was made more weighty by his authority.
“That can I,” replied some one in a foreign accent. “I have some knowledge. But to disclose it is to put my liberty on a random cast: and I have sacrificed much—my country and my kindred, and my patrimony,—for my liberty.”
The preacher leaned forward, and said, in a solemn voice:
“And what man of God’s elect has, in these evil days, obtained liberty but by sacrifices? And what man is worthy of liberty who would not put it to hazard to secure to Christ’s own the liberty with which he has made them free? It vexes me to speak of myself in such a case: but which of you does not know that I stand here as on the threshold of a prison, or on the ladder of the gallows? If I thus trust the brethren here assembled, another man surely may. If John Hickes is safe in the honour of Christians, so is Emmanuel Florien. I know you, Florien, and the stoutness of your heart. If I adjure you to speak, you will utter what concerns the cause.—I adjure you to speak.”
“I obey,” replied Florien: and of the whole assemblage, none were so amazed by his disclosures as the Battiscombes.
“I have information,” he said, “no matter how, for I will not involve others, and it is for those who hear me to test the truth of my words—I have information that a Protestant king for England has long been in view; and that since the late king’s death, the movement has quickened greatly. The exiles in Holland . . . . .”
“He would be a madman who should trust the exiles in Holland,” observed a grey-headed man who sat under the pulpit. “How many of them have betrayed members of the late plot whom they had first incited to conspiracy, keeping from them the aim against the lives of the Popish princes?”
“Hear me!” Florien continued: “and remember that those exiles are of various quality. John Locke is one of them.”
“Is he one of the movers you tell of?”
“I know not: but I know that he is as malcontent as any. When he learned that, by the King’s order, his name was blotted out of the books of his college, he said that this was equal to a command to take up the work from which Lord Shaftesbury had been released by death; and that he was an Englishman no more till an Englishman’s birthright of liberty was restored. It was not of him, however, that I rose to speak; but of others of whose transactions I will say no further word, if inquiry is made, directly or indirectly, about their names.”
“Speak on,” said the preacher; and his words were echoed by many.
“Certain of those Protestant patriots are now on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, waiting on Edmund Ludlow, to ask him to be their leader in cleansing the throne of England from Popery.”
A murmur of enthusiasm ran through the congregation. A voice here and there said that the Lord’s people would see the face of the Lord Protector’s old friend again before they died; while others feared that Ludlow would not be again brought forth from his retreat.
“He has steadily declared,” said Florien, “that he has fulfilled his part; and that it is for young men, and citizens who cannot be charged with the blood of a king, to save Protestant England, if indeed she may be saved.”
“What next, if he refuses?” asked the preacher.
“There is the choice,” Florien went on, “among the late and present King’s Protestant children. Of these there are three,—yes, three,” he repeated, so loudly that those near him pulled his cloak, to remind him to moderate his voice. He did so; and the more distant hearers stood up and leaned forward, and pressed upon one another, to catch every word.
“Lord Shaftesbury, we know, held information that the late King had gone through a private but legal form of marriage with the mother of the Duke of Monmouth. Some credit this, and some do not. The question is whether to use this uncertainty to press on the demand for the son of Charles being King, or to turn from him to the daughters of James and their husbands. Such was the question; but the King’s death has wrought strongly.”
“It has brought evidences of the love of the people for the Duke such as might excite and determine a man of another quality of mind; but he has wavered much; and something is said about an oath which is in the way. Nay,—the terms of the oath I know not; nor the circumstances of it. It is rumoured to be in exchange for the countenance of the Prince and Princess of Orange, and for the princely maintenance they have afforded him.”
Here some questions arose, and a few groans, about the unholy fashion of life of the young Duke, as reported by travellers from the Hague, and by Dutch merchants in London,—the masques, the gay skating parties on the ice, the new dances from England, figured forth in painted halls this very winter, and . . . There might have been more of such scandal, but for the peremptory command of silence from the pulpit. The preacher declared that it was not God’s will that England should lapse to Rome, while search was made for a prince who had forsworn courtly vanities and usages; and no one knew but that this young princely soul might be saved by such a task as the redemption of England being appointed to it. The present might be the precious hour for saving prince and kingdom both. But how were the eyes of the Prince and Princess of Orange to be blinded, and their ears to be stopped to these movements at the Hague? The doubt, however, was faithless, and the preacher desired to take back his words. Florien replied that there was no need. The Duke was not now living at the Hague, but at Brussels; and in a retirement which was at present full of grief. One in whom Florien could repose trust had reason to know what the grief had been. Through the long night which had succeeded the arrival of the news of the Duke’s father being dead, and his uncle proclaimed in his place, the groans and sobs of the young man were mournful to hear. Yes, Florien said, his own friend had heard them.
When this point was reached, a common idea seemed to take possession of the preacher and the whole congregation. The discussion was closed by an appointment of three of the elders to meet the preacher to-morrow at a spot beyond five miles from Lyme, to arrange for opening a communication with the exiles,—if not with the highest exile of all. The discourse thus strangely interrupted was resumed for a few minutes,—in order to point out how the Divine blessing had been manifestly bestowed on the opening of this house of prayer,—the congregation having been brought together to hear great tidings of hope in the darkest hour of Popish triumph. An ardent thanksgiving followed; and the general enthusiasm would gladly have found vent in the shouting of a gladsome psalm: but this could not be permitted. Nothing could be allowed in these night meetings but a low chant by a few select voices. It was said that these could scarcely be heard in any neighbouring house; and if they should chance to penetrate to any chamber, they would be as the music of dreams in the ear of the sleeper. Or the devout who solaced the night-watches with prayer might naturally suppose these strains to be the response of spiritual beings, who, as John Milton had said, are wont to walk the earth both when men wake and when they sleep.
The church clock tolled four as the Battiscombes entered their own yard. No one had spoken on the way home; and their hearts were so full that no one seemed inclined to speak in the hall,—except that the parents whispered the indispensable blessing before going to rest, and that the Squire said as he stroked his daughters’ cheeks that there must not be many such short nights for young Christians, or the fairest roses in God’s garden would fade before their time.
At the head of the stairs, Christopher was stopped by his mother’s hand on his shoulder. She whispered,
“I thought it was your intention not to inform Reuben Coad of the preaching to night?”
“Certainly, mother. I spoke no word of it to him or any other.”
“How, then, was he present?—Nay, it is true. I saw him, in the shadow,—far behind us. You will find he was there.”
“Then he will be full of it on our ride to-morrow.”
“I hope he will. And I trust you will leave it to him to begin. I would have you watch that man closely, Christopher.”
“I will, mother: but I am certain you need not fear him,—unless for some indiscreet zeal.”
All found food in their chambers, placed there by Nurse. When they met at breakfast, no child or servant in the house saw anything in their faces which betrayed that the night had not been spent in sleep.
CHAPTER II. CONSPIRACY, COULEUR DE ROSE.
Though March was not past, it was a warm spring afternoon in the sunny spaces of the park at Brussels when certain messengers from other countries paced the avenues in consultation. Round two sides of the park there were grounds, some of them deserving the title of parks themselves. These belonged to palaces and mansions, one of which was the present abode of the Duke of Monmouth.
On the wide lawn which spread from the terrace in front of the mansion to the boundary of the park, the fine old trees were parting with their wintry aspect; and some were tinged with green, as the fan-like chestnut leaves began to promise to unfurl their folds, and the sycamores showed bursting buds. A lady, in a light cloak of black taffety, with the hood folded back on the top of her head, sat on a garden seat carved out of a group of yews. A flickering sunlight played over her, and made her look very beautiful. She was trifling with a pencil and a sketch-book, aiming at sketching a noble chestnut-tree at a little distance, but making no great progress, because she was restless and preoccupied. A lady stood near enough for conversation, and a page not too far off to receive his mistress’s orders. These orders had been so often repeated in the last half-hour that she was ashamed to send him on the same errand again: and she therefore looked every minute to see whether the Duke was coming, instead of inquiring of any other. She and her lady agreed that the season was advanced, that the violets now made no secret of their whereabout, that the oak would be out before the ash, that the city chimes sounded most musically in this retreat, and that the chestnut was not the easiest of trees to draw; and then the lady listened, and her mistress turned, and the page approached, and the Duke emerged from the shade close at hand, his black suit and mourning sword having prevented his being seen among the trees, as he would have been in his ordinary splendour of dress. The attendants withdrew to a more distant walk when the Lady Henrietta went to meet the Duke, and he drew her arm within his, to return to the yew seat.
“No trouble, I trust?” she said, looking anxiously in his face.
“All interruption of our peace is trouble,” Monmouth replied. “Why cannot my friends leave me in quiet? I am sure Mary and Orange ought to know me well enough by this time to see that it is best to let me be content while I am willing to be so.”
“What would they have?”
“Orange sends me this letter. Read it, love.”
When it was read, he went on:
“He was not satisfied with writing his advice and his offers in this way, but he sent Bentinck to exhibit to me all the honours and political weight to be obtained by fighting the Turks, and parading before Christendom in the Emperor’s train.”
“It is not empty advice,” Henrietta remarked. “Here are generous offers of means which should spare us all danger of your being mistaken for a soldier of fortune.”
“But why should I be a soldier at all?”
Henrietta laughed in his face, with a glance which said, as plainly as words could have spoken, “Because you are so brave, and dashing, and glorious!”
Monmouth smiled a gratified smile, saying that this was all very well when war was necessary, but it was no reason for a man’s leaving a life that pleased him, and turning to one that did not, without any need so to mortify himself.
Henrietta sank into thought for a while, and sighed, Monmouth watching her countenance. Then he sighed too, and said women could not love like men. He believed she would have him go and fight the Turk, and leave her in solitude, when the reason why he did not go was that he could not live apart from her.
“And is that a sign of want of love, or of an over-mastering love?” asked Henrietta. “Is it love, or lack of love, think you, which makes me ready to undergo dreary days, and nights of terror, that my love may win his right place before Europe and the world? If you were slain, what would my life be to me but a long-drawn pain? Yet I long to venture this, because, if you escape the risk, life will be to you what life should be to my Monmouth. Is it love, or lack of love, to feel thus, and to dare and desire the sacrifice?”
“Well, well! Let it count for love. But yet love is more to me, for I desire nothing beyond it.”
“Nothing! Would you acquiesce in slights and sneers about base birth, rather than stir to prove your rights? Would you, born to be a king, and kingly all over, sit in the shade, and bask in the sun here, by a woman’s side, in the very crisis of Europe, and let Orange and Louis struggle for your own England? Would you look another way while they decide whether the destiny of Christendom is turned back or carried forward?”
“I would. Nay, do not look away from me,” he continued, embracing her head, and compelling her to look up into his eyes. “Remember what reason I have to desire no further change in my life. I have striven to obtain my due position, and found myself disgraced and exiled. I have hoped to conquer my birthright by patience and policy; and death has cut short my scheme, and the world sees in me a disappointed man. At this very hour I find myself happy for the first time in all my days; and I take this as an admonition to be content. Not seeing me, the world will soon forget me; and then, Henrietta, we shall have nothing left to wish. I owe nothing to Turk or Emperor which should come between us and our natural delights and holy quiet.”
The page approached, evidently to announce further interruption of this holy tranquillity. He presented letters, and said that three gentlemen had arrived on business with his grace. He was dismissed, but desired to remain within call; and then the letters were opened. Monmouth’s hand trembled so that he could not read the first he opened. Unable to hide his agitation, he said:
“You know what it is that, in the sight of English letters, agitates me beyond control.”
“Yes, I know. Any news of her? I dare say not.”
There was nothing about the Duchess of Monmouth, and the Duke sighed.
“Why think of her at all?” the Lady Henrietta asked.
“You have said that before: but how is it possible not to think what news might possibly arrive——”
“O, hush!” said Henrietta, raising her hand in admonition. “If we think at all, we shall find ourselves some day wishing for an innocent young creature’s death. Let us look away from that side altogether. Let us wish her no ill, and forget her. I am sure I pity her; and I try to forget her.”
“I do not strive, one way or another,” said Monmouth, now satisfied that his letters contained nothing about his deserted wife. “My nerves may, like those of an injured man, be shaken at times by a sudden start, but my mind is at ease. You are my wife, Henrietta. Heaven has wedded us, and no power on earth can put us asunder. Others are answerable for the ruin of Ann Scott’s life. They married us when we were children, and then they parted us by my exile; and now they may take charge of her, and leave me to the wife and home that God has been pleased to give me.”
“Is this the purport of those letters?”
“I know not what is to follow from them. The bearers are to tell me that; but I do not want to hear it. I will send a message to them that I have wholly withdrawn from public affairs. Yes, I will,” he repeated, laughing, in reply to Henrietta’s look of remonstrance. He changed his mind, however, when he saw the eagerness with which the attendant lady spoke to Henrietta about the personages who were now in the house.
These personages were presently conversing with Monmouth on the yew-seat,—the ladies having withdrawn. On the lawn there could be no eavesdropping; and the conversation was so long that it must needs be important. After an hour’s suspense, Henrietta was informed that the three gentlemen from England would remain to supper.
The party sat late at table; and the Lady Henrietta and her attendant did not think of withdrawing. Mrs. Katherine Johnston was of remote kin to Henrietta, and had so devoted herself to a mistress who had forfeited honour, that she was naturally treated with confidence, and encouraged to bestow her sympathies. She therefore remained this night at table, hearing with as much excitement as her mistress, the tales that the guests had to tell of the desire of the kingdom for Monmouth to appear. M. Florien could tell of the eagerness of the Nonconformists in the Southern counties for a Protestant king. His particular errand was between him and the Duke; but he was full of strange tales of the superstitions of the country people, and the fanatical devotion of his sect, which captivated the imaginations of the ladies,—if not of Monmouth himself. Lord Grey of Wark related that the Whigs were everywhere ready to rise on the first news of Monmouth’s having left the foreign shores: and he appeared to be charged with so many anecdotes, if not messages, in regard to the hatred of both Church and aristocracy towards King James, that it really seemed as if a Protestant Pretender had only to appear to put down the Catholics for ever.
The third delegate, Ayloffe, the lawyer, was less liked by Henrietta; for she observed that in proportion as he spoke, Monmouth’s ordinary mood of caution and indolence returned. Ayloffe said too much, the ladies afterwards agreed, about the stiffnecked and arrogant character of the Scotch, who would yet be the main prop of the enterprise; and of the haughty joy of the English Catholics, who trampled all Protestant interests under foot, secure in the King’s countenance, and armed with the repute of his cruelty, in the prospect of which the boldest might quail. Ayloffe had heard what all the world knew, of Monmouth’s valour in war; and he supposed himself to be rousing the Protestant leader to enterprise by his disclosure of wrongs and troubles. Henrietta knew him better; and she led the conversation back to the friendly population who might be expected to greet a deliverer,—and especially the most popular of Pretenders. By degrees Monmouth admitted the intoxication of his imagination and his heart. He remembered the hurras of the soldiers whenever he appeared; and Lord Grey told him that the regiments in and about London would pass over to him as soon as his standard was raised. He remembered how the people in the city ranged themselves on the footways, and looked out from their windows to do him homage. He remembered how the women were devoted to him everywhere, and how the children set up a shout of transport as he turned any corner in his rides. He remembered how, when he crossed country in sporting, or rode from one to another of his now forfeited seats, the people came thronging from remote farmsteads across the fields, and gathered in the lanes, ready to worship him if he would accept green boughs for his horse’s head, or a cup of milk for himself. He seemed to have a keener sense than ever of the pleasure of being so beloved, now that he was assured that the same love, intensified by disappointment and trouble, was still ready for him. When he asked for definite descriptions and for evidence, he was told that four counties were completely prepared to receive him; that the City of London was his own; and that all the counties, from faithful Hampshire to the Wye, and down to the Land’s End, only needed an appeal from himself. Part proof of this should be supplied in the morning; and the rest would await him at Amsterdam.
When the guests were gone, it was plain that the mention of Amsterdam had damped Monmouth’s satisfaction. Mrs. Johnston ventured to suppose his Grace might please himself about going there or anywhere else; but No! it was necessary, if anything was to be done, to meet the Scotch leaders and the English exiles at Amsterdam. Then Mrs. Johnston fell into her lady’s method, and blessed the people of England for their loyalty to their own gallant prince, and longed for the day when she might see and hear the welcome they would give him.
“What shall we call him, Kate?” asked her mistress. “It must not be James. Pity his name is James!”
“It must not be James,” Mrs. Johnston agreed. There would be—at least, there might be—difficulty about whether it should be James the Second or Third. But there would not really be any difficulty. If the people could find themselves a glorious king, they would find some glorious title for him. No doubt they had settled all such matters already.
“It is all very fine,” said the Duke; “but do not be beguiled by a dream. To go to Amsterdam is——is impossible to me; and, if it were not, there are a thousand obstacles. The Scots—these Scotch leaders—are insufferable to me; and Argyle is impracticable. Wiser men than I will have nothing to do with these Scottish schemes. Edmund Ludlow—”
“Let us do without the Scots, then,” Henrietta proposed. “It is not for love of the Scots and Argyle that the Whigs in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire and Hampshire are praying for the sight of you. Go and be king, and settle terms with the Scots afterwards.”
“Without question of the Scots,” replied Monmouth, “Ludlow has refused to come from Lausanne, and Mr. Locke from Utrecht.”
“And who refuses while a nation is with us!” exclaimed Henrietta; but she did not know whether the Duke heard her. He had opened the shutter, and stepped out on the verandah.
He longed for the coolness of the starry March night—or rather morning, for it was very late. He walked to and fro for a time which he did not measure, distracted as his mind was with opposing passions and affections. When at length he entered Lady Henrietta’s dressing-room, Mrs. Johnston escaped by the other door. There were jewel-cases on the table; and Henrietta had a sheet of paper before her, and a pencil in her hand, as she gazed into the chimney, where a wood-fire burned, in English fashion.
“Surely,” she said, looking up at him, “these funds will suffice till you are master of the exchequer. Now listen.”
And she read to him the calculations she had been making, with Mrs. Johnston’s help, of the amount of the proceeds of her rents as Baroness Wentworth of Nettlestede, her jewels, and the money she could raise by mortgaging some of her estates.
“I trust you have not uttered this notion to Mrs. Johnston,” Monmouth said, hastily.
“Indeed I have,” Henrietta replied. “We have been making this calculation together: and why not? I care not if every friend we have in the world knew what this sheet of paper holds. Everybody is aware that a throne cannot be seized without money to carry us within reach of it; and, as for where the money comes from—”
“Aye!” said Monmouth, his trouble melting fast in the fire of her eyes,—“Do you suppose I would beggar you of your fortune, to play so rashly for a stake which is nearly sure to be ruin? Does your friend Kate suppose it?”
“Certainly she does. If I am your real wife, as you say—”
His radiant face encouraged her to go on.
“Then my fortunes are your fortunes. And when you are King, which of us will remember how you became so?”
He folded her in his arms as he whispered:
“When I am king, my Henrietta—for no one can gainsay me then,—my Henrietta shall be my queen.”
The last words that Henrietta said were:
“You have pledged your faith to me. Let your mood as well as your word hold in the morning.”
“My love! who ever heard of such a scheme being engaged in so suddenly!”
“I mean about going to Amsterdam. The rest will follow: but you must go to Amsterdam.”
“Is it possible that you can seriously desire it?”
“Seriously! I so desire it that if you could refuse, I could never forgive you. How could it be possible to forgive it?”
“Very well, then; I will go to Amsterdam.”