Narrative of Alan Fairford, Continued
ON the next morning, when Fairford awoke, after no very refreshing slumbers, in which were mingled many wild dreams of his father and of Darsie Latimer,—of the damsel in the green mantle and the vestals of Fairladies,—of drinking small beer with Nanty Ewart and being immersed in the Solway with the Jumping Jenny,—he found himself in no condition to dispute the order of Mr. Ambrose, that he should keep his bed, from which, indeed, he could not have raised himself without assistance. He became sensible that his anxiety, and his constant efforts for some days past, had been too much for his health, and that, whatever might be his impatience, he could not proceed in his undertaking until his strength was re-established.
In the meanwhile, no better quarters could have been found for an invalid. The attendants spoke under their breath, and moved only on tiptoe—nothing was done unless par ordonnance du médecin. Esculapius reigned paramount in the premises at Fairladies. Once a day, the ladies came in great state to wait upon him and inquire after his health, and it was then that; Alan’s natural civility, and the thankfulness which he expressed for their timely and charitable assistance, raised him considerably in their esteem. He was on the third day removed to a better apartment than that in which he had been at first accommodated. When he was permitted to drink a glass of wine, it was of the first quality; one of those curious old-fashioned cobwebbed bottles being produced on the occasion, which are only to be found in the crypts of old country-seats, where they may have lurked undisturbed for more than half a century.
But however delightful a residence for an invalid, Fairladies, as its present inmate became soon aware, was not so agreeable to a convalescent. When he dragged himself to the window so soon as he could crawl from bed, behold it was closely grated, and commanded no view except of a little paved court. This was nothing remarkable, most old Border houses having their windows so secured. But then Fairford observed, that whosoever entered or left the room always locked the door with great care and circumspection; and some proposals which he made to take a walk in the gallery, or even in the garden, were so coldly received, both by the ladies and their prime minister, Mr. Ambrose, that he saw plainly such an extension of his privileges as a guest would not be permitted.
Anxious to ascertain whether this excessive hospitality would permit him his proper privilege of free agency, he announced to this important functionary, with grateful thanks for the care with which he had been attended, his purpose to leave Fairladies next morning, requesting only, as a continuance of the favours with which he had been loaded, the loan of a horse to the next town; and, assuring Mr. Ambrose that his gratitude would not be limited by such, a trifle, he slipped three guineas into his hand, by way of seconding his proposal. The fingers of that worthy domestic closed as naturally upon the honorarium, as if a degree in the learned faculty had given him a right to clutch it; but his answer concerning Alan’s proposed departure was at first evasive, and when he was pushed, it amounted to a peremptory assurance that he could not be permitted to depart to-morrow; it was as much as his life was worth, and his ladies would not authorize it.
“I know best what my own life is worth,” said Alan; “and I do not value it in comparison to the business which requires my instant attention.”
Receiving still no satisfactory answer from Mr. Ambrose, Fairford thought it best to state his resolution to the ladies themselves, in the most measured, respectful, and grateful terms; but still such as expressed a firm determination to depart on the morrow, or next day at farthest. After some attempts to induce him to stay, on the alleged score of health, which were so expressed that he was convinced they were only used to delay his departure, Fairford plainly told them that he was entrusted with dispatches of consequence to the gentleman known by the name of Herries, Redgauntlet, and the Laird of the Lochs; and that it was matter of life and death to deliver them early.
“I dare say, Sister Angelica,” said the elder Miss Arthuret, “that the gentleman is honest; and if he is really a relation of Father Fairford, we can run no risk.”
“Jesu Maria!” exclaimed the younger. “Oh, fie, Sister Seraphina! Fie, fie!—Vade retro—get thee behind me!”
“Well, well; but, sister—Sister Angelica—let me speak with you in the gallery.”
So out the ladies rustled in their silks and tissues, and it was a good half-hour ere they rustled in again, with importance and awe on their countenances.
“To tell you the truth, Mr. Fairford, the cause of our desire to delay you is—there is a religious gentleman in this house at present——”
“A most excellent person indeed——”said the sister Angelica.
“An anointed of his Master!” echoed Seraphina,—“and we should be glad that, for conscience’ sake, you would hold some discourse with him before your departure.”
“Oho!” thought Fairford, “the murder is out—here is a design of conversion! I must not affront the good ladies, but I shall soon send off the priest, I think.” He then answered aloud, “that he should be happy to converse with any friend of theirs—that in religious matters he had the greatest respect for every modification of Christianity, though, he must say, his belief was made up to that in which he had been educated; nevertheless, if his seeing the religious person they recommended could in the least show his respect——”
“It is not quite that,” said Sister Seraphina, “although I am sure the day is too short to hear him—Father Buonaventure, I mean—speak upon the concerns of our souls; but——”
“Come, come, Sister Seraphina,” said the younger, “it is needless to talk so much about it. His—his Eminence—I mean Father Buonaventure—will himself explain what he wants this gentleman to know.”
“His Eminence!” said Fairford, surprised—“is this gentleman so high in the Catholic Church? The title is given only to Cardinals, I think.”
“He is not a Cardinal as yet,” answered Seraphina; “but I assure you, Mr. Fairford, he is as high in rank as he is eminently endowed with good gifts, and——”
“Come away,” said Sister Angelica. “Holy Virgin, how you do talk! What has Mr. Fairford to do with Father Buonaventure’s rank? Only, sir, you will remember that the Father has been always accustomed to be treated with the most profound deference; indeed——”
“Come away, sister,” said Sister Seraphina, in her turn; “who talks now, I pray you? Mr. Fairford will know how to comport himself.”
“And we had best both leave the room,” said the younger lady, “for here his Eminence comes.”
She lowered her voice to a whisper as she pronounced the last words; and as Fairford was about to reply, by assuring her that any friend of hers should be treated by him with all the ceremony he could expect, she imposed silence on him, by holding up her finger.
A solemn and stately step was now heard in the gallery; it might have proclaimed the approach not merely of a bishop or cardinal, but of the Sovereign Pontiff himself. Nor could the sound have been more respectfully listened to by the two ladies, had it announced that the Head of the Church was approaching in person. They drew themselves, like sentinels on duty, one on each side of the door by which the long gallery communicated with Fairford’s apartment, and stood there immovable, and with countenances expressive of the deepest reverence.
The approach of Father Buonaventure was so slow, that Fairford had time to notice all this, and to marvel in his mind what wily and ambitious priest could have contrived to subject his worthy but simple-minded hostesses to such superstitious trammels. Father Buonaventure’s entrance and appearance in some degree accounted for the whole.
He was a man of middle life, about forty or upwards; but either care, or fatigue, or indulgence, had brought on the appearance of premature old age, and given to his fine features a cast of seriousness or even sadness. A noble countenance, however, still remained; and though his complexion was altered, and wrinkles stamped upon his brow in many a melancholy fold, still the lofty forehead, the full and well-opened eye, and the well-formed nose, showed how handsome in better days he must have been. He was tall, but lost the advantage of his height by stooping; and the cane which he wore always in his hand, and occasionally used, as well as his slow though majestic gait, seemed to intimate that his form and limbs felt already some touch of infirmity. The colour of his hair could not be discovered, as, according to the fashion, he wore a periwig. He was handsomely, though gravely dressed in a secular habit, and had a cockade in his hat; circumstances which did not surprise Fairford, who knew that a military disguise was very often assumed by the seminary priests, whose visits to England, or residence there, subjected them to legal penalties.
As this stately person entered the apartment, the two ladies facing inward, like soldiers on their post when about to salute a superior officer, dropped on either hand of the father a curtsy so profound that the hoop petticoats which performed the feat seemed to sink down to the very floor, nay, through it, as if a trap-door had opened for the descent of the dames who performed this act of reverence.
The father seemed accustomed to such homage, profound as it was; he turned his person a little way first towards one sister, and then towards the other, while, with a gracious inclination of his person, which certainly did not amount to a bow, he acknowledged their curtsy. But he passed forward without addressing them, and seemed by doing so to intimate that their presence in the apartment was unnecessary.
They accordingly glided out of the room, retreating backwards, with hands clasped and eyes cast upwards, as if imploring blessings on the religious man whom they venerated so highly. The door of the apartment was shut after them, but not before Fairford had perceived that there were one or two men in the gallery, and that, contrary to what he had before observed, the door, though shut, was not locked on the outside.
“Can the good souls apprehend danger from me to this god of their idolatry?” thought Fairford. But he had no time to make further observations, for the stranger had already reached the middle of his apartment.
Fairford rose to receive him respectfully, but as he fixed his eyes on the visitor, he thought that the father avoided his looks. His reasons for remaining incognito were cogent enough to account for this, and Fairford hastened to relieve him, by looking downwards in his turn; but when again he raised his face, he found the broad light eye of the stranger so fixed on him that he was almost put out of countenance by the steadiness of his gaze. During this time they remained standing.
“Take your seat, sir,” said the father; “you have been an invalid.”
He spoke with the tone of one who desires an inferior to be seated in his presence, and his voice was full and melodious.
Fairford, somewhat surprised to find himself overawed by the airs of superiority, which could be only properly exercised towards one over whom religion gave the speaker influence, sat down at his bidding, as if moved by springs, and was at a loss how to assert the footing of equality on which he felt that they ought to stand. The stranger kept the advantage which he had obtained.
“Your name, sir, I am informed, is Fairford?” said the father.
Alan answered by a bow.
“Called to the Scottish bar,” continued his visitor, “There is, I believe, in the West, a family of birth and rank called Fairford of Fairford.”
Alan thought this a strange observation from a foreign ecclesiastic, as his name intimated Father Buonaventure to be; but only answered he believed there was such, a family.
“Do you count kindred with them, Mr. Fairford?” continued the inquirer.
“I have not the honour to lay such a claim,” said Fairford. “My father’s industry has raised his family from a low and obscure situation—I have no hereditary claim to distinction of any kind. May I ask the cause of these inquiries?”
“You will learn it presently,” said Father Buonaventure, who had given a dry and dissatisfied hem at the young man’s acknowledging a plebeian descent. He then motioned to him to be silent, and proceeded with his queries.
“Although not of condition, you are, doubtless, by sentiments and education, a man of honour and a gentleman?”
“I hope so, sir,” said Alan, colouring with displeasure. “I have not been accustomed to have it questioned.”
“Patience, young man,” said the unperturbed querist—“we are on serious business, and no idle etiquette must prevent its being discussed seriously. You are probably aware that you speak to a person proscribed by the severe and unjust laws of the present government?”
“I am aware of the statute 1700, chapter 3,” said Alan, “banishing from the realm priests and trafficking Papists, and punishing by death, on summary conviction, any such person who being so banished may return. But I have no means of knowing you, sir, to be one of those persons; and I think your prudence may recommend to you to keep your own counsel.”
“It is sufficient, sir; and I have no apprehensions of disagreeable consequences from your having seen me in this house,” said the priest.
“Assuredly no,” said Alan. “I consider myself as indebted for my life to the mistresses of Fairladies; and it would be a vile requital on my part to pry into or make known what I may have seen or heard under this hospitable roof. If I were to meet the Pretender himself in such a situation, he should, even at the risk of a little stretch to my loyalty, be free from any danger from my indiscretion.”
“The Pretender!” said the priest, with some angry emphasis; but immediately softened his tone and added, “No doubt, however, that person is a pretender; and some people think his pretensions are not ill founded. But, before running into politics, give me leave to say, that I am surprised to find a gentleman of your opinions in habits of intimacy with Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees and Mr. Redgauntlet, and the medium of conducting the intercourse betwixt them.”
“Pardon me, sir,” replied Alan Fairford; “I do not aspire to the honour of being reputed their confidant or go-between. My concern with those gentlemen is limited to one matter of business, dearly interesting to me, because it concerns the safety—perhaps the life—of my dearest friend.”
“Would you have any objection to entrust me with the cause of your journey?” said Father Buonaventure. “My advice may be of service to you, and my influence with one or both these gentlemen is considerable.”
Fairford hesitated a moment, and, hastily revolving all circumstances, concluded that he might perhaps receive some advantage from propitiating this personage; while, on the other hand, he endangered nothing by communicating to him the occasion of his journey. He, therefore, after stating shortly that he hoped Mr. Buonaventure would render him the same confidence which he required on his part, gave a short account of Darsie Latimer—of the mystery which hung over his family—and of the disaster which had befallen him. Finally, of his own resolution to seek for his friend, and to deliver him, at the peril of his own life.
The Catholic priest, whose manner it seemed to be to avoid all conversation which did not arise from his own express motion, made no remarks upon what he had heard, but only asked one or two abrupt questions, where Alan’s narrative appeared less clear to him; then rising from his seat, he took two turns through the apartment, muttering between his teeth, with emphasis, the word “madman!” But apparently he was in the habit of keeping all violent emotions under restraint; for he presently addressed Fairford with the most perfect indifference.
“If,” said he, “you thought you could do so without breach of confidence, I wish you would have the goodness to show me the letter of Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees. I desire to look particularly at the address.”
Seeing no cause to decline this extension of his confidence, Alan, without hesitation, put the letter into his hand. Having turned it round as old Trumbull and Nanty Ewart had formerly done, and, like them, having examined the address with much minuteness, he asked whether he had observed these words, pointing to a pencil-writing upon the under side of the letter. Fairford answered in the negative, and, looking at the letter, read with surprise, “Cave ne literas Bellerophontis adferres”; a caution which coincided so exactly with the provost’s admonition, that he would do well to inspect the letter of which he was bearer, that he was about to spring up and attempt an escape, he knew not wherefore, or from whom.
“Sit still, young man,” said the father, with the same tone of authority which reigned in his whole manner, although mingled with stately courtesy. “You are in no danger—my character shall be a pledge for your safety. By whom do you suppose these words have been written?”
Fairford could have answered, “By Nanty Ewart,” for he remembered seeing that person scribble something with a pencil, although he was not well enough to observe with accuracy where or upon what. But not knowing what suspicions, or what worse consequences the seamen’s interest in his affairs might draw upon him, he judged it best to answer that he knew not the hand.
Father Buonaventure was again silent for a moment or two, which he employed in surveying the letter with the strictest attention; then stepped to the window, as if to examine the address and writing of the envelope with the assistance of a stronger light, and Alan Fairford beheld him, with no less amazement than high displeasure, coolly and deliberately break the seal, open the letter, and peruse the contents.
“Stop, sir, hold!” he exclaimed, so soon as his astonishment permitted him to express his resentment in words; “by what right do you dare——”
“Peace, young gentleman,” said the father, repelling him with a wave of his hand; “be assured I do not act without warrant—nothing can pass betwixt Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Redgauntlet that I am not fully entitled to know.”
“It may be so,” said Alan, extremely angry; “but though you may be these gentlemen’s father confessor, you are not mine; and in breaking the seal of a letter entrusted to my care, you have done me——”
“No injury, I assure you,” answered the unperturbed priest; “on the contrary, it may be a service.”
“I desire no advantage at such a rate, or to be obtained in such a manner,” answered Fairford; “restore me the letter instantly, or——”
“As you regard your own safety,” said the priest, “forbear all injurious expressions, and all menacing gestures. I am not one who can be threatened or insulted with impunity; and there are enough within hearing to chastise any injury or affront offered to me, in case I may think it unbecoming to protect or avenge myself with my own hand.”
In saying this, the father assumed an air of such fearlessness and calm authority, that the young lawyer, surprised and overawed, forbore, as he had intended, to snatch the letter from his hand, and confined himself to bitter complaints of the impropriety of his conduct, and of the light in which he himself must be placed to Redgauntlet should he present him a letter with a broken seal.
“That,” said Father Buonaventure, “shall be fully cared for. I will myself write to Redgauntlet, and enclose Maxwell’s letter, provided always you continue to desire to deliver it, after perusing the contents.”
He then restored the letter to Fairford, and, observing that he hesitated to peruse it, said emphatically, “Read it, for it concerns you.”
This recommendation, joined to what Provost Crosbie had formerly recommended, and to the warning which he doubted not that Nanty intended to convey by his classical allusion, decided Fairford’s resolution. “If these correspondents,” he thought, “are conspiring against my person, I have a right to counterplot them; self-preservation, as well as my friend’s safety, require that I should not be too scrupulous.”
So thinking, he read the letter, which was in the following words:—
“DEAR RUGGED AND DANGEROUS,
“Will you never cease meriting your old nick-name? You have springed your dottrel, I find, and what is the consequence?—why, that there will be hue and cry after you presently. The bearer is a pert young lawyer, who has brought a formal complaint against you, which, luckily, he has preferred in a friendly court. Yet, favourable as the judge was disposed to be, it was with the utmost difficulty that cousin Jenny and I could keep him to his tackle. He begins to be timid, suspicious, and untractable, and I fear Jenny will soon bend her brows on him in vain. I know not what to advise—the lad who carries this is a good lad—active for his friend—and I have pledged my honour he shall have no personal ill-usage. Pledged my honour, remark these words, and remember I can be rugged and dangerous as well, as my neighbours. But I have not ensured him against a short captivity, and as he is a stirring active fellow, I see no remedy but keeping him out of the way till this business of the good Father B—— is safely blown over, which God send it were!—Always thine, even should I be once more
“What think you, young man, of the danger you have been about to encounter so willingly?”
“As strangely,” replied Alan Fairford, “as of the extraordinary means which you have been at present pleased to use for the discovery of Mr. Maxwell’s purpose.
“Trouble not yourself to account for my conduct,” said the father; “I have a warrant for what I do, and fear no responsibility. But tell me what is your present purpose.”
“I should not perhaps name it to you, whose own safety may be implicated.”
“I understand you,” answered the father; “you would appeal to the existing government? That can at no rate be permitted—we will rather detain you at Fairladies by compulsion.”
“You will probably,” said Fairford, “first weigh the risk of such a proceeding in a free country.”
“I have incurred more formidable hazard,” said the priest, smiling; “yet I am willing to find a milder expedient. Come; let us bring the matter to a compromise.” And he assumed a conciliating graciousness of manner, which struck Fairford as being rather too condescending for the occasion; “I presume you will be satisfied to remain here in seclusion for a day or two longer, provided I pass my solemn word to you that you shall meet with the person whom you seek after—meet with him in perfect safety, and, I trust, in good health, and be afterwards both at liberty to return to Scotland, or dispose of yourselves as each of you may be minded?”
“I respect the verbum sacerdotis as much as can reasonably be expected from a Protestant,” answered Fairford; “but methinks, you can scarce expect me to repose so much confidence in the word of an unknown person as is implied in the guarantee which you offer me.”
“I am not accustomed, sir,” said the father, in a very haughty tone, “to have my word disputed. But,” he added, while the angry hue passed from his cheek, after a moment’s reflection, “you know me not, and ought to be excused. I will repose more confidence in your honour than you seem willing to rest upon mine; and, since we are so situated that one must rely upon the other’s faith, I will cause you to be set presently at liberty, and furnished with the means of delivering your letter as addressed, provided that now, knowing the contents, you think it safe for yourself to execute the commission.”
Alan Fairford paused. “I cannot see,” he at length replied, “how I can proceed with respect to the accomplishment of my sole purpose, which is the liberation of my friend, without appealing to the law and obtaining the assistance of a magistrate. If I present this singular letter of Mr. Maxwell, with the contents of which I have become so unexpectedly acquainted, I shall only share his captivity.”
“And if you apply to a magistrate, young man, you will bring ruin on these hospitable ladies, to whom, in all human probability, you owe your life. You cannot obtain a warrant for your purpose, without giving a clear detail of all the late scenes through which you have passed. A magistrate would oblige you to give a complete account of yourself, before arming you with his authority against a third party; and in giving such an account, the safety of these ladies will necessarily be compromised. A hundred spies have had, and still have, their eyes upon this mansion; but God will protect his own.”—He crossed himself devoutly, and then proceeded,—“You can take an hour to think of your best plan, and I will pledge myself to forward it thus far, provided it be not asking you to rely more on my word than your prudence can warrant. You shall go to Redgauntlet,—I name him plainly, to show my confidence in you,—and you shall deliver him this letter of Mr. Maxwell’s, with one from me, in which I will enjoin him to set your friend at liberty, or at least to make no attempts upon your own person, either by detention or otherwise. If you can trust me thus far,” he said, with a proud emphasis on the words “I will on my side see you depart from this place with the most perfect confidence that you will not return armed with powers to drag its inmates to destruction. You are young and inexperienced—bred to a profession also which sharpens suspicion, and gives false views of human nature. I have seen much of the world, and have known better than most men how far mutual confidence is requisite in managing affairs of consequence.”
He spoke with an air of superiority, even of authority, by which Fairford, notwithstanding his own internal struggles, was silenced and overawed so much, that it was not till the father had turned to leave the apartment that he found words to ask him what the consequences would be, should he decline to depart on the terms proposed.
“You must then, for the safety of all parties, remain for some days an inhabitant of Fairladies, where we have the means of detaining you, which self-preservation will in that case compel us to make use of. Your captivity will be short; for matters cannot long remain as they are. The cloud must soon rise, or it must sink upon us for ever. Benedicite!”
With these words he left the apartment.
Fairford, upon his departure, felt himself much at a loss what course to pursue. His line of education, as well as his father’s tenets in matters of church and state, had taught him a holy horror for Papists, and a devout belief in whatever had been said of the Punic faith of Jesuits, and of the expedients of mental reservation by which the Catholic priests in general were supposed to evade keeping faith with heretics. Yet there was something of majesty, depressed indeed and overclouded, but still grand and imposing, in the manner and words of Father Buonaventure, which it was difficult to reconcile with those preconceived opinions which imputed subtlety and fraud to his sect and order. Above all, Alan was aware that if he accepted not his freedom upon the terms offered him, he was likely to be detained by force; so that, in every point of view, he was a gainer by accepting them.
A qualm, indeed, came across him, when he considered, as a lawyer, that this father was probably, in the eye of law, a traitor; and that there was an ugly crime on the Statute Book, called misprision of treason. On the other hand, whatever he might think or suspect, he could not take upon him to say that the man was a priest, whom he had never seen in the dress of his order, or in the act of celebrating mass; so that he felt himself at liberty to doubt of that respecting which he possessed no legal proof. He therefore arrived at the conclusion, that he would do well to accept his liberty, and proceed to Redgauntlet under the guarantee of Father Buonaventure, which he scarce doubted would be sufficient to save him from personal inconvenience. Should he once obtain speech of that gentleman, he felt the same confidence as formerly, that he might be able to convince him of the rashness of his conduct, should he not consent to liberate Darsie Latimer. At all events, he should learn where his friend was, and how circumstanced.
Having thus made up his mind, Alan waited anxiously for the expiration of the hour which had been allowed him for deliberation. He was not kept on the tenter-hooks of impatience an instant longer than the appointed moment arrived, for, even as the clock struck, Ambrose appeared at the door of the gallery, and made a sign that Alan should follow him. He did so, and after passing through some of the intricate avenues common in old houses, was ushered into a small apartment, commodiously fitted up, in which he found Father Buonaventure reclining on a couch, in the attitude of a man exhausted by fatigue or indisposition. On a small table beside him, a silver embossed salver sustained a Catholic book of prayer, a small flask of medicine, a cordial, and a little tea-cup of old china. Ambrose did not enter the room—he only bowed profoundly, and closed the door with the least possible noise, so soon as Fairford had entered.
“Sit down, young man,” said the father, with the same air of condescension which had before surprised, and rather offended Fairford. “You have been ill, and I know too well by my own case that indisposition requires indulgence. Have you,” he continued, so soon as he saw him seated, “resolved to remain, or to depart?”
“To depart,” said Alan, “under the agreement that you will guarantee my safety with the extraordinary person who has conducted himself in such a lawless manner toward my friend, Darsie Latimer.”
“Do not judge hastily, young man,” replied the father. “Redgauntlet has the claims of a guardian over his ward, in respect to the young gentleman, and a right to dictate his place of residence, although he may have been injudicious in selecting the means by which he thinks to enforce his authority.”
“His situation as an attainted person abrogates such rights,” said Fairford, hastily.
“Surely,” replied the priest, smiling at the young lawyer’s readiness; “in the eye of those who acknowledge the justice of the attainder—but that do not I. However, sir, here is the guarantee—look at its contents, and do not again carry the letters of Uriah.”
Fairford read these words:—
“We send you hither a young man desirous to know the situation of your ward, since he came under your paternal authority, and hopeful of dealing with you for having your relative put at large. This we recommend to your prudence, highly disapproving, at the same time, of any force or coercion when such can be avoided, and wishing, therefore, that the bearer’s negotiation may be successful. At all rates, however, the bearer hath our pledged word for his safety and freedom, which, therefore, you are to see strictly observed, as you value our honour and your own. We further wish to converse with you, with as small loss of time as may be, having matters of the utmost confidence to impart. For this purpose we desire you to repair hither with all haste, and thereupon we bid you heartily farewell.
“You will understand, sir,” said the father, when he saw that Alan had perused his letter, “that, by accepting charge of this missive, you bind yourself to try the effect of it before having recourse to any legal means, as you term them, for your friend’s release.”
“There are a few ciphers added to this letter,” said Fairford, when he had perused the paper attentively,—“may I inquire what their import is?”
“They respect my own affairs,” answered the father, briefly; “and have no concern whatever with yours.”
“It seems to me, however,” replied Alan, “natural to suppose——”
“Nothing must be supposed incompatible with my honour,” replied the priest, interrupting him; “when such as I am confer favours, we expect that they shall be accepted with gratitude, or declined with thankful respect—not questioned or discussed.”
“I will accept your letter, then,” said Fairford, after a minute’s consideration, “and the thanks you expect shall be most liberally paid, if the result answer what you teach me to expect.”
“God only commands the issue,” said Father Buonaventure. “Man uses means. You understand that, by accepting this commission, you engage yourself in honour to try the effect of my letter upon Mr. Redgauntlet, before you have recourse to informations or legal warrants?”
“I hold myself bound, as a man of good faith and honour, to do so,” said Fairford.
“Well, I trust you,” said the father. “I will now tell you that an express, dispatched by me last night, has, I hear, brought Redgauntlet to a spot many miles nearer this place, where he will not find it safe to attempt any violence on your friend, should he be rash enough to follow the advice of Mr. Maxwell of Summertrees rather than my commands. We now understand each other.”
He extended his hand towards Alan, who was about to pledge his faith in the usual form by grasping it with his own, when the father drew back hastily. Ere Alan had time to comment upon this repulse, a small side-door, covered with tapestry, was opened; the hangings were drawn aside, and a lady, as if by sudden apparition, glided into the apartment. It was neither of the Misses Arthuret, but a woman in the prime of life, and in the full-blown expansion of female beauty, tall, fair, and commanding in her aspect. Her locks, of paly gold, were taught to fall over a brow, which, with the stately glance of the large, open, blue eyes, might have become Juno herself; her neck and bosom were admirably formed, and of a dazzling whiteness. She was rather inclined to embonpoint, but not more than became her age, of apparently thirty years. Her step was that of a queen, but it was of Queen Vashti, not Queen Esther—the bold and commanding, not the retiring beauty.
Father Buonaventure raised himself on the couch, angrily, as if displeased by this intrusion. “How now, madam,” he said, with some sternness; “why have we the honour of your company?”
“Because it is my pleasure,” answered the lady, composedly.
“Your pleasure, madam!” he repeated in the same angry tone.
“My pleasure, sir,” she continued, “which always keeps exact pace with my duty. I had heard you were unwell—let me hope it is only business which produces this seclusion.”
“I am well,” he replied; “perfectly well, and I thank you for your care—but we are not alone, and this young man——”
“That young man?” she said, bending her large and serious eye on Alan Fairford, as if she had been for the first time aware of his presence,—“may I ask who he is?”
“Another time, madam; you shall learn his history after he is gone. His presence renders it impossible for me to explain further.”
“After he is gone may be too late,” said the lady; “and what is his presence to me, when your safety is at stake? He is the heretic lawyer whom those silly fools, the Arthurets, admitted into this house at a time when they should have let their own father knock at the door in vain, though the night had been a wild one. You will not surely dismiss him?”
“Your own impatience can alone make that step perilous,” said the father; “I have resolved to take it—do not let your indiscreet zeal, however excellent its motive, add any unnecessary risk to the transaction.”
“Even so?” said the lady, in a tone of reproach, yet mingled with respect and apprehension. “And thus you will still go forward, like a stag upon the hunter’s snares, with undoubting confidence, after all that has happened?”
“Peace, madam,” said Father Buonaventure, rising up; “be silent, or quit the apartment; my designs do not admit of female criticism.”
To this peremptory command the lady seemed about to make a sharp reply; but she checked herself, and pressing her lips strongly together, as if to secure the words from bursting from them which were already formed upon her tongue, she made a deep reverence, partly as it seemed in reproach, partly in respect, and left the room as suddenly as she had entered it.
The father looked disturbed at this incident, which he seemed sensible could not but fill Fairford’s imagination with an additional throng of bewildering suspicions; he bit his lip and muttered something to himself as he walked through the apartment; then suddenly turned to his visitor with a smile of much sweetness, and a countenance in which every rougher expression was exchanged for those of courtesy and kindness.
“The visit we have been just honoured with, my young friend, has given you,” he said, “more secrets to keep than I would have wished you burdened with. The lady is a person of condition—of rank and fortune—but nevertheless is so circumstanced that the mere fact of her being known to be in this country would occasion many evils. I should wish you to observe secrecy on this subject, even to Redgauntlet or Maxwell, however much I trust them in all that concerns my own affairs.”
“I can have no occasion,” replied Fairford, “for holding any discussion with these gentlemen, or with any others, on the circumstance which I have just witnessed—it could only have become the subject of my conversation by mere accident, and I will now take care to avoid the subject entirely.”
“You will do well, sir, and I thank you,” said the father, throwing much dignity into the expression of obligation which he meant to convey. “The time may perhaps come when you will learn what it is to have obliged one of my condition. As to the lady, she has the highest merit, and nothing can be said of her justly which would not redound to her praise. Nevertheless—in short, sir, we wander at present as in a morning mist—the sun will, I trust, soon rise and dispel it, when all that now seems mysterious will be fully revealed—or it will sink into rain,” he added, in a solemn tone, “and then explanation will be of little consequence.—Adieu, sir; I wish you well.”
He made a graceful obeisance, and vanished through the same side-door by which the lady had entered; and Alan thought he heard their voices high in dispute in the adjoining apartment.
Presently afterwards, Ambrose entered, and told him that a horse and guide waited him beneath the terrace.
“The good Father Buonaventure,” added the butler, “has been graciously pleased to consider your situation, and desired me to inquire whether you have any occasion for a supply of money?”
“Make my respects to his reverence,” answered Fairford, “and assure him I am provided in that particular. I beg you also to make my acknowledgements to the Misses Arthuret, and assure them that their kind hospitality, to which I probably owe my life, shall be remembered with gratitude as long as that life lasts. You yourself, Mr. Ambrose, must accept of my kindest thanks for your skill and attention.”
Mid these acknowledgements they left the house, descended the terrace, and reached the spot where the gardener, Fairford’s old acquaintance, waited for him, mounted upon one horse and leading another.
Bidding adieu to Ambrose, our young lawyer mounted, and rode down the avenue, often looking back to the melancholy and neglected dwelling in which he had witnessed such strange scenes, and musing upon the character of its mysterious inmates, especially the noble and almost regal-seeming priest, and the beautiful but capricious dame, who, if she was really Father Buonaventure’s penitent, seemed less docile to the authority of the church than, as Alan conceived, the Catholic discipline permitted. He could not indeed help being sensible that the whole deportment of these persons differed much from his preconceived notions of a priest and devotee. Father Buonaventure, in particular, had more natural dignify and less art and affectation in his manner, than accorded with the idea which Calvinists were taught to entertain of that wily and formidable person, a Jesuitical missionary.
While reflecting on these things, he looked back so frequently at the house, that Dick Gardener, a forward, talkative fellow, who began to tire of silence, at length said to him, “I think you will know Fairladies when you see it again, sir?”
“I dare say I shall, Richard,” answered Fairford good-humouredly. “I wish I knew as well where I am to go next. But you can tell me, perhaps?”
“Your worship should know better than I,” said Dick Gardener; “nevertheless, I have a notion you are going where all you Scotsmen should be sent, whether you will or no.”
“Not to the devil, I hope, good Dick?” said Fairford.
“Why, no. That is a road which you may travel as heretics; but as Scotsmen, I would only send you three-fourths of the way—and that is back to Scotland again—always craving your honour’s pardon.”
“Does our journey lie that way?” said Fairford.
“As far as the waterside,” said Richard. “I am to carry you to old Father Crackenthorp’s, and then you are within a spit and a stride of Scotland, as the saying is. But mayhap you may think twice of going thither, for all that; for Old England is fat feeding-ground for north-country cattle.”