“Does my mistress know of this?” Esmond asked of Frank, as they walked along.
“My mother found the letter in the book, on the toilet-table. She had writ it ere she had left home,” Frank said. “Mother met her on the stairs, with her hand upon the door, trying to enter, and never left her after that till she went away. He did not think of looking at it there, nor had Martin the chance of telling him. I believe the poor devil meant no harm, though I half killed him; he thought ‘twas to Beatrix’s brother he was bringing the letter.”
Frank never said a word of reproach to me for having brought the villain amongst us. As we knocked at the door I said, “When will the horses be ready?” Frank pointed with his cane, they were turning the street that moment.
We went up and bade adieu to our mistress; she was in a dreadful state of agitation by this time, and that Bishop was with her whose company she was so fond of.
“Did you tell him, my lord,” says Esmond, “that Beatrix was at Castlewood?” The Bishop blushed and stammered: “Well,” says he, “I . . .”
“You served the villain right,” broke out Mr. Esmond, “and he has lost a crown by what you told him.”
My mistress turned quite white, “Henry, Henry,” says she, “do not kill him.”
“It may not be too late,” says Esmond; “he may not have gone to Castlewood; pray God, it is not too late.” The Bishop was breaking out with some banale phrases about loyalty, and the sacredness of the Sovereign’s person; but Esmond sternly bade him hold his tongue, burn all papers, and take care of Lady Castlewood; and in five minutes he and Frank were in the saddle, John Lockwood behind them, riding towards Castlewood at a rapid pace.
We were just got to Alton, when who should meet us but old Lockwood, the porter from Castlewood, John’s father, walking by the side of the Hexton flying-coach, who slept the night at Alton. Lockwood said his young mistress had arrived at home on Wednesday night, and this morning, Friday, had despatched him with a packet for my lady at Kensington, saying the letter was of great importance.
We took the freedom to break it, while Lockwood stared with wonder, and cried out his “Lord bless me’s,” and “Who’d a thought it’s,” at the sight of his young lord, whom he had not seen these seven years.
The packet from Beatrix contained no news of importance at all. It was written in a jocular strain, affecting to make light of her captivity. She asked whether she might have leave to visit Mrs. Tusher, or to walk beyond the court and the garden wall. She gave news of the peacocks, and a fawn she had there. She bade her mother send her certain gowns and smocks by old Lockwood; she sent her duty to a certain Person, if certain other persons permitted her to take such a freedom; how that, as she was not able to play cards with him, she hoped he would read good books, such as Doctor Atterbury’s sermons and “Eikon Basilike:” she was going to read good books; she thought her pretty mamma would like to know she was not crying her eyes out.
“Who is in the house besides you, Lockwood?” says the Colonel.
“There be the laundry-maid, and the kitchen-maid, Madam Beatrix’s maid, the man from London, and that be all; and he sleepeth in my lodge away from the maids,” says old Lockwood.
Esmond scribbled a line with a pencil on the note, giving it to the old man, and bidding him go on to his lady. We knew why Beatrix had been so dutiful on a sudden, and why she spoke of “Eikon Basilike.” She writ this letter to put the Prince on the scent, and the porter out of the way.
“We have a fine moonlight night for riding on,” says Esmond; “Frank, we may reach Castlewood in time yet.” All the way along they made inquiries at the post-houses, when a tall young gentleman in a gray suit, with a light brown periwig, just the color of my lord’s, had been seen to pass. He had set off at six that morning, and we at three in the afternoon. He rode almost as quickly as we had done; he was seven hours a-head of us still when we reached the last stage.
We rode over Castlewood Downs before the breaking of dawn. We passed the very spot where the car was upset fourteen years since, and Mohun lay. The village was not up yet, nor the forge lighted, as we rode through it, passing by the elms, where the rooks were still roosting, and by the church, and over the bridge. We got off our horses at the bridge and walked up to the gate.
“If she is safe,” says Frank, trembling, and his honest eyes filling with tears, “a silver statue to Our Lady!” He was going to rattle at the great iron knocker on the oak gate; but Esmond stopped his kinsman’s hand. He had his own fears, his own hopes, his own despairs and griefs, too; but he spoke not a word of these to his companion, or showed any signs of emotion.
He went and tapped at the little window at the porter’s lodge, gently, but repeatedly, until the man came to the bars.
“Who’s there?” says he, looking out; it was the servant from Kensington.
“My Lord Castlewood and Colonel Esmond,” we said, from below. “Open the gate and let us in without any noise.”
“My Lord Castlewood?” says the other; “my lord’s here, and in bed.”
“Open, d—n you,” says Castlewood, with a curse.
“I shall open to no one,” says the man, shutting the glass window as Frank drew a pistol. He would have fired at the porter, but Esmond again held his hand.
“There are more ways than one,” says he, “of entering such a great house as this.” Frank grumbled that the west gate was half a mile round. “But I know of a way that’s not a hundred yards off,” says Mr. Esmond; and leading his kinsman close along the wall, and by the shrubs which had now grown thick on what had been an old moat about the house, they came to the buttress, at the side of which the little window was, which was Father Holt’s private door. Esmond climbed up to this easily, broke a pane that had been mended, and touched the spring inside, and the two gentlemen passed in that way, treading as lightly as they could; and so going through the passage into the court, over which the dawn was now reddening, and where the fountain plashed in the silence.
They sped instantly to the porter’s lodge, where the fellow had not fastened his door that led into the court; and pistol in hand came upon the terrified wretch, and bade him be silent. Then they asked him (Esmond’s head reeled, and he almost fell as he spoke) when Lord Castlewood had arrived? He said on the previous evening, about eight of the clock.—“And what then?”—His lordship supped with his sister.—“Did the man wait?” Yes, he and my lady’s maid both waited: the other servants made the supper; and there was no wine, and they could give his lordship but milk, at which he grumbled; and—and Madam Beatrix kept Miss Lucy always in the room with her. And there being a bed across the court in the Chaplain’s room, she had arranged my lord was to sleep there. Madam Beatrix had come down stairs laughing with the maids, and had locked herself in, and my lord had stood for a while talking to her through the door, and she laughing at him. And then he paced the court awhile, and she came again to the upper window; and my lord implored her to come down and walk in the room; but she would not, and laughed at him again, and shut the window; and so my lord, uttering what seemed curses, but in a foreign language, went to the Chaplain’s room to bed.
“Was this all!”—“All,” the man swore upon his honor; all as he hoped to be saved.—“Stop, there was one thing more. My lord, on arriving, and once or twice during supper, did kiss his sister, as was natural, and she kissed him.” At this Esmond ground his teeth with rage, and wellnigh throttled the amazed miscreant who was speaking, whereas Castlewood, seizing hold of his cousin’s hand, burst into a great fit of laughter.
“If it amuses thee,” says Esmond in French, “that your sister should be exchanging of kisses with a stranger, I fear poor Beatrix will give thee plenty of sport.”—Esmond darkly thought, how Hamilton, Ashburnham, had before been masters of those roses that the young Prince’s lips were now feeding on. He sickened at that notion. Her cheek was desecrated, her beauty tarnished; shame and honor stood between it and him. The love was dead within him; had she a crown to bring him with her love, he felt that both would degrade him.
But this wrath against Beatrix did not lessen the angry feelings of the Colonel against the man who had been the occasion if not the cause of the evil. Frank sat down on a stone bench in the court-yard, and fairly fell asleep, while Esmond paced up and down the court, debating what should ensue. What mattered how much or how little had passed between the Prince and the poor faithless girl? They were arrived in time perhaps to rescue her person, but not her mind; had she not instigated the young Prince to come to her; suborned servants, dismissed others, so that she might communicate with him? The treacherous heart within her had surrendered, though the place was safe; and it was to win this that he had given a life’s struggle and devotion; this, that she was ready to give away for the bribe of a coronet or a wink of the Prince’s eye.
When he had thought his thoughts out he shook up poor Frank from his sleep, who rose yawning, and said he had been dreaming of Clotilda. “You must back me,” says Esmond, “in what I am going to do. I have been thinking that yonder scoundrel may have been instructed to tell that story, and that the whole of it may be a lie; if it be, we shall find it out from the gentleman who is asleep yonder. See if the door leading to my lady’s rooms,” (so we called the rooms at the north-west angle of the house,) “see if the door is barred as he saith.” We tried; it was indeed as the lackey had said, closed within.
“It may have been opened and shut afterwards,” says poor Esmond; “the foundress of our family let our ancestor in in that way.”
“What will you do, Harry, if—if what that fellow saith should turn out untrue?” The young man looked scared and frightened into his kinsman’s face; I dare say it wore no very pleasant expression.
“Let us first go see whether the two stories agree,” says Esmond; and went in at the passage and opened the door into what had been his own chamber now for wellnigh five-and-twenty years. A candle was still burning, and the Prince asleep dressed on the bed—Esmond did not care for making a noise. The Prince started up in his bed, seeing two men in his chamber. “Qui est la” says he, and took a pistol from under his pillow.
“It is the Marquis of Esmond,” says the Colonel, “come to welcome his Majesty to his house of Castlewood, and to report of what hath happened in London. Pursuant to the King’s orders, I passed the night before last, after leaving his Majesty, in waiting upon the friends of the King. It is a pity that his Majesty’s desire to see the country and to visit our poor house should have caused the King to quit London without notice yesterday, when the opportunity happened which in all human probability may not occur again; and had the King not chosen to ride to Castlewood, the Prince of Wales might have slept at St. James’s.”
“‘Sdeath! gentlemen,” says the Prince, starting off his bed, whereon he was lying in his clothes, “the Doctor was with me yesterday morning, and after watching by my sister all night, told me I might not hope to see the Queen.”
“It would have been otherwise,” says Esmond with another bow; “as, by this time, the Queen may be dead in spite of the Doctor. The Council was met, a new Treasurer was appointed, the troops were devoted to the King’s cause; and fifty loyal gentlemen of the greatest names of this kingdom were assembled to accompany the Prince of Wales, who might have been the acknowledged heir of the throne, or the possessor of it by this time, had your Majesty not chosen to take the air. We were ready; there was only one person that failed us, your Majesty’s gracious—”
“Morbleu, Monsieur, you give me too much Majesty,” said the Prince, who had now risen up and seemed to be looking to one of us to help him to his coat. But neither stirred.
“We shall take care,” says Esmond, “not much oftener to offend in that particular.”
“What mean you, my lord?” says the Prince, and muttered something about a guet-a-pens, which Esmond caught up.
“The snare, Sir,” said he, “was not of our laying; it is not we that invited you. We came to avenge, and not to compass, the dishonor of our family.”
“Dishonor! Morbleu, there has been no dishonor,” says the Prince, turning scarlet, “only a little harmless playing.”
“That was meant to end seriously.”
“I swear,” the Prince broke out impetuously, “upon the honor of a gentleman, my lords—”
“That we arrived in time. No wrong hath been done, Frank,” says Colonel Esmond, turning round to young Castlewood, who stood at the door as the talk was going on. “See! here is a paper whereon his Majesty has deigned to commence some verses in honor, or dishonor, of Beatrix. Here is ‘Madame’ and ‘Flamme,’ ‘Cruelle’ and ‘Rebelle,’ and ‘Amour’ and ‘Jour’ in the Royal writing and spelling. Had the Gracious lover been happy, he had not passed his time in sighing.” In fact, and actually as he was speaking, Esmond cast his eyes down towards the table, and saw a paper on which my young Prince had been scrawling a madrigal, that was to finish his charmer on the morrow.
“Sir,” says the Prince, burning with rage (he had assumed his Royal coat unassisted by this time), “did I come here to receive insults?”
“To confer them, may it please your Majesty,” says the Colonel, with a very low bow, “and the gentlemen of our family are come to thank you.”
“Malediction!” says the young man, tears starting into his eyes with helpless rage and mortification. “What will you with me, gentlemen?”
“If your Majesty will please to enter the next apartment,” says Esmond, preserving his grave tone, “I have some papers there which I would gladly submit to you, and by your permission I will lead the way;” and, taking the taper up, and backing before the Prince with very great ceremony, Mr. Esmond passed into the little Chaplain’s room, through which we had just entered into the house:—“Please to set a chair for his Majesty, Frank,” says the Colonel to his companion, who wondered almost as much at this scene, and was as much puzzled by it, as the other actor in it. Then going to the crypt over the mantel-piece, the Colonel opened it, and drew thence the papers which so long had lain there.
“Here, may it please your Majesty,” says he, “is the Patent of Marquis sent over by your Royal Father at St. Germains to Viscount Castlewood, my father: here is the witnessed certificate of my father’s marriage to my mother, and of my birth and christening; I was christened of that religion of which your sainted sire gave all through life so shining example. These are my titles, dear Frank, and this what I do with them: here go Baptism and Marriage, and here the Marquisate and the August Sign-Manual, with which your predecessor was pleased to honor our race.” And as Esmond spoke he set the papers burning in the brazier. “You will please, sir, to remember,” he continued, “that our family hath ruined itself by fidelity to yours: that my grandfather spent his estate, and gave his blood and his son to die for your service; that my dear lord’s grandfather (for lord you are now, Frank, by right and title too) died for the same cause; that my poor kinswoman, my father’s second wife, after giving away her honor to your wicked perjured race, sent all her wealth to the King; and got in return, that precious title that lies in ashes, and this inestimable yard of blue ribbon. I lay this at your feet and stamp upon it: I draw this sword, and break it and deny you; and, had you completed the wrong you designed us, by heaven I would have driven it through your heart, and no more pardoned you than your father pardoned Monmouth. Frank will do the same, won’t you, cousin?”
Frank, who had been looking on with a stupid air at the papers, as they flamed in the old brazier, took out his sword and broke it, holding his head down:—“I go with my cousin,” says he, giving Esmond a grasp of the hand. “Marquis or not, by —-, I stand by him any day. I beg your Majesty’s pardon for swearing; that is—that is—I’m for the Elector of Hanover. It’s all your Majesty’s own fault. The Queen’s dead most likely by this time. And you might have been King if you hadn’t come dangling after Trix.”
“Thus to lose a crown,” says the young Prince, starting up, and speaking French in his eager way; “to lose the loveliest woman in the world; to lose the loyalty of such hearts as yours, is not this, my lords, enough of humiliation?—Marquis, if I go on my knees will you pardon me?—No, I can’t do that, but I can offer you reparation, that of honor, that of gentlemen. Favor me by crossing the sword with mine: yours is broke—see, yonder in the armoire are two;” and the Prince took them out as eager as a boy, and held them towards Esmond:—“Ah! you will? Merci, monsieur, merci!”
Extremely touched by this immense mark of condescension and repentance for wrong done, Colonel Esmond bowed down so low as almost to kiss the gracious young hand that conferred on him such an honor, and took his guard in silence. The swords were no sooner met, than Castlewood knocked up Esmond’s with the blade of his own, which he had broke off short at the shell; and the Colonel falling back a step dropped his point with another very low bow, and declared himself perfectly satisfied.
“Eh bien, Vicomte!” says the young Prince, who was a boy, and a French boy, “il ne nous reste qu’une chose a faire:” he placed his sword upon the table, and the fingers of his two hands upon his breast:—“We have one more thing to do,” says he; “you do not divine it?” He stretched out his arms:—“Embrassons nous!”
The talk was scarce over when Beatrix entered the room:—What came she to seek there? She started and turned pale at the sight of her brother and kinsman, drawn swords, broken sword-blades, and papers yet smouldering in the brazier.
“Charming Beatrix,” says the Prince, with a blush which became him very well, “these lords have come a-horseback from London, where my sister lies in a despaired state, and where her successor makes himself desired. Pardon me for my escapade of last evening. I had been so long a prisoner, that I seized the occasion of a promenade on horseback, and my horse naturally bore me towards you. I found you a Queen in your little court, where you deigned to entertain me. Present my homages to your maids of honor. I sighed as you slept, under the window of your chamber, and then retired to seek rest in my own. It was there that these gentlemen agreeably roused me. Yes, milords, for that is a happy day that makes a Prince acquainted, at whatever cost to his vanity, with such a noble heart as that of the Marquis of Esmond. Mademoiselle, may we take your coach to town? I saw it in the hangar, and this poor Marquis must be dropping with sleep.”
“Will it please the King to breakfast before he goes?” was all Beatrix could say. The roses had shuddered out of her cheeks; her eyes were glaring; she looked quite old. She came up to Esmond and hissed out a word or two:—“If I did not love you before, cousin,” says she, “think how I love you now.” If words could stab, no doubt she would have killed Esmond; she looked at him as if she could.
But her keen words gave no wound to Mr. Esmond; his heart was too hard. As he looked at her, he wondered that he could ever have loved her. His love of ten years was over; it fell down dead on the spot, at the Kensington Tavern, where Frank brought him the note out of “Eikon Basilike.” The Prince blushed and bowed low, as she gazed at him, and quitted the chamber. I have never seen her from that day.
Horses were fetched and put to the chariot presently. My lord rode outside, and as for Esmond he was so tired that he was no sooner in the carriage than he fell asleep, and never woke till night, as the coach came into Alton.
As we drove to the “Bell” Inn comes a mitred coach with our old friend Lockwood beside the coachman. My Lady Castlewood and the Bishop were inside; she gave a little scream when she saw us. The two coaches entered the inn almost together; the landlord and people coming out with lights to welcome the visitors.
We in our coach sprang out of it, as soon as ever we saw the dear lady, and above all, the Doctor in his cassock. What was the news? Was there yet time? Was the Queen alive? These questions were put hurriedly, as Boniface stood waiting before his noble guests to bow them up the stair.
“Is she safe?” was what Lady Castlewood whispered in a flutter to Esmond.
“All’s well, thank God,” says he, as the fond lady took his hand and kissed it, and called him her preserver and her dear. SHE wasn’t thinking of Queens and crowns.
The Bishop’s news was reassuring: at least all was not lost; the Queen yet breathed, or was alive when they left London, six hours since. (“It was Lady Castlewood who insisted on coming,” the Doctor said.) Argyle had marched up regiments from Portsmouth, and sent abroad for more; the Whigs were on the alert, a pest on them, (I am not sure but the Bishop swore as he spoke,) and so too were our people. And all might be saved, if only the Prince could be at London in time. We called for horses, instantly to return to London. We never went up poor crestfallen Boniface’s stairs, but into our coaches again. The Prince and his Prime Minister in one, Esmond in the other, with only his dear mistress as a companion.
Castlewood galloped forwards on horseback to gather the Prince’s friends and warn them of his coming. We travelled through the night. Esmond discoursing to his mistress of the events of the last twenty-four hours; of Castlewood’s ride and his; of the Prince’s generous behavior and their reconciliation. The night seemed short enough; and the starlit hours passed away serenely in that fond company.
So we came along the road; the Bishop’s coach heading ours; and, with some delays in procuring horses, we got to Hammersmith about four o’clock on Sunday morning, the first of August, and half an hour after, it being then bright day, we rode by my Lady Warwick’s house, and so down the street of Kensington.
Early as the hour was, there was a bustle in the street and many people moving to and fro. Round the gate leading to the Palace, where the guard is, there was especially a great crowd. And the coach ahead of us stopped, and the Bishop’s man got down to know what the concourse meant?
There presently came from out of the gate—Horse Guards with their trumpets, and a company of heralds with their tabards. The trumpets blew, and the herald-at-arms came forward and proclaimed GEORGE, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith. And the people shouted God save the King!
Among the crowd shouting and waving their hats, I caught sight of one sad face, which I had known all my life, and seen under many disguises. It was no other than poor Mr. Holt’s, who had slipped over to England to witness the triumph of the good cause; and now beheld its enemies victorious, amidst the acclamations of the English people. The poor fellow had forgot to huzzah or to take his hat off, until his neighbors in the crowd remarked his want of loyalty, and cursed him for a Jesuit in disguise, when he ruefully uncovered and began to cheer. Sure he was the most unlucky of men: he never played a game but he lost it; or engaged in a conspiracy but ‘twas certain to end in defeat. I saw him in Flanders after this, whence he went to Rome to the head-quarters of his Order; and actually reappeared among us in America, very old, and busy, and hopeful. I am not sure that he did not assume the hatchet and moccasins there; and, attired in a blanket and war-paint, skulk about a missionary amongst the Indians. He lies buried in our neighboring province of Maryland now, with a cross over him, and a mound of earth above him; under which that unquiet spirit is for ever at peace.
With the sound of King George’s trumpets, all the vain hopes of the weak and foolish young Pretender were blown away; and with that music, too, I may say, the drama of my own life was ended. That happiness, which hath subsequently crowned it, cannot be written in words; ‘tis of its nature sacred and secret, and not to be spoken of, though the heart be ever so full of thankfulness, save to Heaven and the One Ear alone—to one fond being, the truest and tenderest and purest wife ever man was blessed with. As I think of the immense happiness which was in store for me, and of the depth and intensity of that love which, for so many years, hath blessed me, I own to a transport of wonder and gratitude for such a boon—nay, am thankful to have been endowed with a heart capable of feeling and knowing the immense beauty and value of the gift which God hath bestowed upon me. Sure, love vincit omnia; is immeasurably above all ambition, more precious than wealth, more noble than name. He knows not life who knows not that: he hath not felt the highest faculty of the soul who hath not enjoyed it. In the name of my wife I write the completion of hope, and the summit of happiness. To have such a love is the one blessing, in comparison of which all earthly joy is of no value; and to think of her, is to praise God.
It was at Bruxelles, whither we retreated after the failure of our plot—our Whig friends advising us to keep out of the way—that the great joy of my life was bestowed upon me, and that my dear mistress became my wife. We had been so accustomed to an extreme intimacy and confidence, and had lived so long and tenderly together, that we might have gone on to the end without thinking of a closer tie; but circumstances brought about that event which so prodigiously multiplied my happiness and hers (for which I humbly thank Heaven), although a calamity befell us, which, I blush to think, hath occurred more than once in our house. I know not what infatuation of ambition urged the beautiful and wayward woman, whose name hath occupied so many of these pages, and who was served by me with ten years of such constant fidelity and passion; but ever after that day at Castlewood, when we rescued her, she persisted in holding all her family as her enemies, and left us, and escaped to France, to what a fate I disdain to tell. Nor was her son’s house a home for my dear mistress; my poor Frank was weak, as perhaps all our race hath been, and led by women. Those around him were imperious, and in a terror of his mother’s influence over him, lest he should recant, and deny the creed which he had adopted by their persuasion. The difference of their religion separated the son and the mother: my dearest mistress felt that she was severed from her children and alone in the world—alone but for one constant servant on whose fidelity, praised be Heaven, she could count. ‘Twas after a scene of ignoble quarrel on the part of Frank’s wife and mother (for the poor lad had been made to marry the whole of that German family with whom he had connected himself), that I found my mistress one day in tears, and then besought her to confide herself to the care and devotion of one who, by God’s help, would never forsake her. And then the tender matron, as beautiful in her Autumn, and as pure as virgins in their spring, with blushes of love and “eyes of meek surrender,” yielded to my respectful importunity, and consented to share my home. Let the last words I write thank her, and bless her who hath blessed it.
By the kindness of Mr. Addison, all danger of prosecution, and every obstacle against our return to England, was removed; and my son Frank’s gallantry in Scotland made his peace with the King’s government. But we two cared no longer to live in England: and Frank formally and joyfully yielded over to us the possession of that estate which we now occupy, far away from Europe and its troubles, on the beautiful banks of the Potomac, where we have built a new Castlewood, and think with grateful hearts of our old home. In our Transatlantic country we have a season, the calmest and most delightful of the year, which we call the Indian summer: I often say the autumn of our life resembles that happy and serene weather, and am thankful for its rest and its sweet sunshine. Heaven hath blessed us with a child, which each parent loves for her resemblance to the other. Our diamonds are turned into ploughs and axes for our plantations; and into negroes, the happiest and merriest, I think, in all this country: and the only jewel by which my wife sets any store, and from which she hath never parted, is that gold button she took from my arm on the day when she visited me in prison, and which she wore ever after, as she told me, on the tenderest heart in the world.