REDGAUNTLET’S first course was to the chamber of his nephew. He unlocked the door, entered the apartment, and asked what he wanted, that he made so much noise.
“I want my liberty,” said Darsie, who had wrought himself up to a pitch of passion in which his uncle’s wrath had lost its terrors. “I desire my liberty, and to be assured of the safety of my beloved friend, Alan Fairford, whose voice I heard but now.”
“Your liberty shall be your own within half an hour from this period—your friend shall be also set at freedom in due time—and you yourself be permitted to have access to his place of confinement.”
“This does not satisfy me,” said Darsie; “I must see my friend instantly; he is here, and he is here endangered on my account only—I have heard violent exclamations—the clash of swords. You will gain no point with me unless I have ocular demonstration of his safety.”
“Arthur—dearest nephew,” answered Redgauntlet, “drive me not mad! Thine own fate—that of thy house—that of thousands—that of Britain herself, are at this moment in the scales; and you are only occupied about the safety of a poor insignificant pettifogger!”
“He has sustained injury at your hands, then?” said Darsie, fiercely. “I know he has; but if so, not even our relationship shall protect you.”
“Peace, ungrateful and obstinate fool!” said Redgauntlet. “Yet stay—will you be satisfied if you see this Alan Fairford, the bundle of bombazine—this precious friend of yours—well and sound? Will you, I say, be satisfied with seeing him in perfect safety without attempting to speak to or converse with him?” Darsie signified his assent. “Take hold of my arm, then,” said Redgauntlet; “and do you, niece Lilias, take the other; and beware; Sir Arthur, how you bear yourself.”
Darsie was compelled to acquiesce, sufficiently aware that his uncle would permit him no interview with a friend whose influence would certainly be used against his present earnest wishes, and in some measure contented with the assurance of Fairford’s personal safety.
Redgauntlet led them through one or two passages (for the house, as we have before said, was very irregular, and built at different times) until they entered an apartment, where a man with shouldered carabine kept watch at the door, but readily turned the key for their reception. In this room they found Alan Fairford and the Quaker, apparently in deep conversation with each other. They looked up as Redgauntlet and his party entered; and Alan pulled off his hat and made a profound reverence, which the young lady, who recognized him,—though, masked as she was, he could not know her,—returned with some embarrassment, arising probably from the recollection of the bold step she had taken in visiting him.
Darsie longed to speak, but dared not. His uncle only said, “Gentlemen, I know you are as anxious on Mr. Darsie Latimer’s account as he is upon yours. I am commissioned by him to inform you, that he is as well as you are—I trust you will all meet soon. Meantime, although I cannot suffer you to be at large, you shall be as well treated as is possible under your temporary confinement.”
He passed on, without pausing to hear the answers which the lawyer and the Quaker were hastening to prefer; and only waving his hand by way of adieu, made his exit, with the real and the seeming lady whom he had under his charge, through a door at the upper end of the apartment, which was fastened and guarded like that by which they entered.
Redgauntlet next led the way into a very small room; adjoining which, but divided by a partition, was one of apparently larger dimensions; for they heard the trampling of the heavy boots of the period, as if several persons were walking to and fro and conversing in low and anxious whispers.
“Here,” said Redgauntlet to his nephew, as he disencumbered him from the riding-skirt and the mask, “I restore you to yourself, and trust you will lay aside all effeminate thoughts with this feminine dress. Do not blush at having worn a disguise to which kings and heroes have been reduced. It is when female craft or female cowardice find their way into a manly bosom, that he who entertains these sentiments should take eternal shame to himself for thus having resembled womankind. Follow me, while Lilias remains here. I will introduce you to those whom I hope to see associated with you in the most glorious cause that hand ever drew sword in.”
Darsie paused. “Uncle,” he said, “my person is in your hands; but remember, my will is my own. I will not be hurried into any resolution of importance. Remember what I have already said—what I now repeat—that I will take no step of importance but upon conviction.”
“But canst thou be convinced, thou foolish boy, without hearing and understanding the grounds on which we act?”
So saying he took Darsie by the arm, and walked with him to the next room—a large apartment, partly filled with miscellaneous articles of commerce, chiefly connected with contraband trade; where, among bales and barrels, sat, or walked to and fro, several gentlemen, whose manners and looks seemed superior to the plain riding dresses which they wore.
There was a grave and stern anxiety upon their countenances, when, on Redgauntlet’s entrance, they drew from their separate coteries into one group around him, and saluted him with a formality which had something in it of ominous melancholy. As Darsie looked around the circle, he thought he could discern in it few traces of that adventurous hope which urges men upon desperate enterprises; and began to believe that the conspiracy would dissolve of itself, without the necessity of his placing himself in direct opposition to so violent a character as his uncle, and incurring the hazard with which such opposition must be attended.
Mr. Redgauntlet, however, did not, or would not, see any such marks of depression of spirit amongst his coadjutors, but met them with cheerful countenance, and a warm greeting of welcome. “Happy to meet you here, my lord,” he said, bowing low to a slender young man. “I trust you come with the pledges of your noble father, of B——, and all that loyal house.—Sir Richard, what news in the west? I am told you had two hundred men on foot to have joined when the fatal retreat from Derby was commenced. When the White Standard is again displayed, it shall not be turned back so easily, either by the force of its enemies, or the falsehood of its friends.—Doctor Grumball, I bow to the representative of Oxford, the mother of learning and loyalty.—Pengwinion, you Cornish chough, has this good wind blown you north?—Ah, my brave Cambro-Britons, when was Wales last in the race of honour?”
Such and such-like compliments he dealt around, which were in general answered by silent bows; but when he saluted one of his own countrymen by the name of MacKellar, and greeted Maxwell of Summertrees by that of Pate-in-Peril, the latter replied, “that if Pate were not a fool, he would be Pate-in-Safety;” and the former, a thin old gentle-man, in tarnished embroidery, said bluntly, “Aye, troth, Redgauntlet, I am here just like yourself; I have little to lose—they that took my land the last time, may take my life this; and that is all I care about it.”
The English gentlemen, who were still in possession of their paternal estates, looked doubtfully on each other, and there was something whispered among them of the fox which had lost his tail.
Redgauntlet hastened to address them. “I think, my lords and gentlemen,” he said, “that I can account for something like sadness which has crept upon an assembly gathered together for so noble a purpose. Our numbers seem, when thus assembled, too small and inconsiderable to shake the firm-seated usurpation of a half-century. But do not count us by what we are in thew and muscle, but by what our summons can do among our countrymen. In this small party are those who have power to raise battalions, and those who have wealth to pay them. And do not believe our friends who are absent are cold or indifferent to the cause. Let us once light the signal, and it will be hailed by all who retain love for the Stuart, and by all—a more numerous body—who hate the Elector. Here I have letters from——”
Sir Richard Glendale interrupted the speaker. “We all confide, Redgauntlet, in your valour and skill—we admire your perseverance; and probably nothing short of your strenuous exertions, and the emulation awakened by your noble and disinterested conduct, could have brought so many of us, the scattered remnant of a disheartened party, to meet together once again in solemn consultation; for I take it, gentlemen,” he said, looking round, “this is only a consultation.”
“Nothing more,” said the young lord.
“Nothing more,” said Doctor Grumball, shaking his large academical peruke.
And, “Only a consultation,” was echoed by the others.
Redgauntlet bit his lip. “I had hopes,” he said, “that the discourses I have held with most of you, from time to time, had ripened into more maturity than your words imply, and that we were here to execute as well as to deliberate; and for this we stand prepared. I can raise five hundred men with my whistle.”
“Five hundred men!” said one of the Welsh squires; “Cot bless us! and pray you, what cood could five hundred men do?”
“All that the priming does for the cannon, Mr. Meredith,” answered Redgauntlet; “it will enable us to seize Carlisle, and you know what our friends have engaged for in that case.”
“Yes—but,” said the young nobleman, “you must not hurry us on too fast, Mr. Redgauntlet; we are all, I believe, as sincere and truehearted in this business as you are, but we will not be driven forward blindfold. We owe caution to ourselves and our families, as well as to those whom we are empowered to represent on this occasion.”
“Who hurries you, my lord? Who is it that would drive this meeting forward blindfold? I do not understand your lordship,” said Redgauntlet.
“Nay,” said Sir Richard Glendale, “at least do not let us fall under our old reproach of disagreeing among ourselves. What my lord means, Redgauntlet, is, that we have this morning heard it is uncertain whether you could even bring that body of men whom you count upon; your countryman, Mr. MacKellar, seemed, just before you came in, to doubt whether your people would rise in any force, unless you could produce the authority of your nephew.”
“I might ask,” said Redgauntlet, “what right MacKellar, or any one, has to doubt my being able to accomplish what I stand pledged for? But our hopes consist in our unity. Here stands my nephew. Gentlemen, I present to you my kinsman, Sir Arthur Darsie Redgauntlet of that Ilk.”
“Gentlemen,” said Darsie, with a throbbing bosom, for he felt the crisis a very painful one, “Allow me to say, that I suspend expressing my sentiments on the important subject under discussion until I have heard those of the present meeting.”
“Proceed in your deliberations, gentlemen,” said Redgauntlet; “I will show my nephew such reasons for acquiescing in the result, as will entirely remove any scruples which may hang around his mind.”
Dr. Grumball now coughed, “shook his ambrosial curls,” and addressed the assembly.
“The principles of Oxford,” he said, “are well understood, since she was the last to resign herself to the Arch-Usurper,—since she has condemned, by her sovereign authority, the blasphemous, atheistical, and anarchical tenets of Locke, and other deluders of the public mind. Oxford will give men, money and countenance, to the cause of the rightful monarch. But we have, been often deluded by foreign powers, who have availed themselves of our zeal to stir up civil dissensions, in Britain, not for the advantage of our blessed though banished monarch, but to stir up disturbances by which they might profit, while we, their tools, are sure to be ruined. Oxford, therefore, will not rise, unless our sovereign comes in person to claim our allegiance, in which case, God forbid we should refuse him our best obedience.”
“It is a very cood advice,” said Mr. Meredith.
“In troth,” said Sir Richard Glendale, “it is the very keystone of our enterprise, and the only condition upon which I myself and others could ever have dreamt of taking up arms. No insurrection which has not Charles Edward himself at its head, will, ever last longer than till a single foot company of redcoats march to disperse it.”
“This is my own opinion, and that of all my family,” said the young nobleman already mentioned; “and I own I am somewhat surprised at being summoned to attend a dangerous rendezvous such as this, before something certain could have been stated to us on this most important preliminary point.”
“Pardon me, my lord,” said Redgauntlet; “I have not been so unjust either to myself or my friends—I had no means of communicating to our distant confederates (without the greatest risk of discovery) what is known to some of my honourable friends. As courageous, and as resolved, as when, twenty years since, he threw himself into the wilds of Moidart, Charles Edward has instantly complied with the wishes of his faithful subjects. Charles Edward is in this country—Charles Edward is in this house!—Charles Edward waits but your present decision, to receive the homage of those who have ever called themselves his loyal liegemen. He that would now turn his coat, and change his note, must do so under the eye of his sovereign.”
There was a deep pause. Those among the conspirators whom mere habit, or a desire of preserving consistency, had engaged in the affair, now saw with terror their retreat cut off; and others, who at a distance had regarded the proposed enterprise as hopeful, trembled when the moment of actually embarking in it was thus unexpectedly and almost inevitably precipitated.
“How now, my lords and gentlemen!” said Redgauntlet; “is it delight and rapture that keep you thus silent? where are the eager welcomes that should be paid to your rightful king, who a second time confides his person to the care of his subjects, undeterred by the hairbreadth escapes and severe privations of his former expedition? I hope there is no gentleman here that is not ready to redeem, in his prince’s presence, the pledge of fidelity which he offered in his absence.”
“I, at least,” said the young nobleman resolutely, and laying his hand on his sword, “will not be that coward. If Charles is come to these shores, I will be the first to give him welcome, and to devote my life and fortune to his service.”
“Before Cot,” said Mr. Meredith, “I do not see that Mr. Redgauntlet has left us anything else to do.”
“Stay,” said Summertrees, “there is yet one other question. Has he brought any of those Irish rapparees with him, who broke the neck of our last glorious affair?”
“Not a man of them,” said Redgauntlet.
“I trust,” said Dr. Grumball, “that there are no Catholic priests in his company. I would not intrude on the private conscience of my sovereign, but, as an unworthy son of the Church of England, it is my duty to consider her security.”
“Not a Popish dog or cat is there, to bark or mew about his Majesty,” said Redgauntlet. “Old Shaftesbury himself could not wish a prince’s person more secure from Popery—which may not be the worst religion in the world, notwithstanding. Any more doubts, gentlemen? can no more plausible reasons be discovered for postponing the payment of our duty, and discharge of our oaths and engagements? Meantime your king waits your declaration—by my faith he hath but a frozen reception!”
“Redgauntlet,” said Sir Richard Glendale, calmly, “your reproaches shall not goad me into anything of which my reason disapproves. That I respect my engagement as much as you do, is evident, since I am here, ready to support it with the best blood in my veins. But has the king really come hither entirely unattended?”
“He has no man with him but young ——, as aide de camp, and a single valet de chambre.”
“No man—but, Redgauntlet, as you are a gentleman, has he no woman with him?”
Redgauntlet cast his eyes on the ground and replied, “I am sorry to say—he has.”
The company looked at each other, and remained silent for a moment. At length Sir Richard proceeded. “I need not repeat to you, Mr. Redgauntlet, what is the well-grounded opinion of his Majesty’s friends concerning that most unhappy connexion there is but one sense and feeling amongst us upon the subject. I must conclude that our humble remonstrances were communicated by you, sir, to the king?”
“In the same strong terms in which they were couched,” replied Redgauntlet. “I love his Majesty’s cause more than I fear his displeasure.”
“But, apparently, our humble expostulation has produced no effect. This lady, who has crept into his bosom, has a sister in the Elector of Hanover’s court, and yet we are well assured that our most private communication is placed in her keeping.”
“Varium et mutabile semper femina,” said Dr. Grumball.
“She puts his secrets into her work-bag,” said Maxwell; “and out they fly whenever she opens it. If I must hang, I would wish it to be in somewhat a better rope than the string of a lady’s hussey.”
“Are you, too, turning dastard, Maxwell?” said Redgauntlet, in a whisper.
“Not I,” said Maxwell; “let us fight for it, and let them win and wear us; but to be betrayed by a brimstone like that——”
“Be temperate, gentlemen,” said Redgauntlet; “the foible of which you complain so heavily has always been that of kings and heroes; which I feel strongly confident the king will surmount, upon the humble entreaty of his best servants, and when he sees them ready to peril their all in his cause, upon the slight condition of his resigning the society of a female favourite, of whom I have seen reason to think he hath been himself for some time wearied. But let us not press upon him rashly with our well-meant zeal. He has a princely will as becomes his princely birth, and we, gentlemen, who are royalists, should be the last to take advantage of circumstances to limit its exercise. I am as much surprised and hurt as you can be, to find that he has made her the companion of this journey, increasing every chance of treachery and detection. But do not let us insist upon a sacrifice so humiliating, while he has scarce placed a foot upon the beach of his kingdom. Let us act generously by our sovereign; and when we have shown what we will do for him, we shall be able, with better face, to state what it is we expect him to concede.”
“Indeed, I think it is but a pity,” said MacKellar, “when so many pretty gentlemen are got together, that they should part without the flash of a sword among them.”
“I should be of that gentleman’s opinion,” said Lord ——, “had I nothing to lose but my life; but I frankly own, that the conditions on which our family agreed to join having been, in this instance, left unfulfilled, I will not peril the whole fortunes of our house on the doubtful fidelity of an artful woman.”
“I am sorry to see your lordship,” said Redgauntlet, “take a course which is more likely to secure your house’s wealth than to augment its honours.”
“How am I to understand your language, sir?” said the young nobleman, haughtily.
“Nay, gentlemen,” said Dr Grumball, interposing, “do not let friends quarrel; we are all zealous for the cause—but truly, although I know the license claimed by the great in such matters, and can, I hope, make due allowance, there is, I may say, an indecorum in a prince who comes to claim the allegiance of the Church of England, arriving on such an errand with such a companion—si non caste, caute tamen.”
“I wonder how the Church of England came to be so heartily attached to his merry old namesake,” said Redgauntlet.
Sir Richard Glendale then took up the question, as one whose authority and experience gave him right to speak with much weight.
“We have no leisure for hesitation,” he said; “it is full time that we decide what course we are to hold. I feel as much as you, Mr. Redgauntlet, the delicacy of capitulating with our sovereign in his present condition. But I must also think of the total ruin of the cause, the confiscation and bloodshed which will take place among his adherents, and all through the infatuation with which he adheres to a woman who is the pensionary of the present minister, as she was for years Sir Robert Walpole’s. Let his Majesty send her back to the continent, and the sword on which I now lay my hand shall instantly be unsheathed, and, I trust, many hundred others at the same moment.”
The other persons present testified their unanimous acquiescence in what Sir Richard Glendale had said.
“I see you have taken your resolutions, gentlemen,” said Redgauntlet; “unwisely I think, because I believe that, by softer and more generous proceedings, you would have been more likely to carry a point which I think as desirable as you do. But what is to be done if Charles should refuse, with the inflexibility of his grandfather, to comply with this request of yours? Do you mean to abandon him to his fate?”
“God forbid!” said Sir Richard, hastily; “and God forgive you, Mr. Redgauntlet, for breathing such a thought. No! I for one will, with all duty and humility, see him safe back to his vessel, and defend him with my life against whosoever shall assail him. But when I have seen his sails spread, my next act will be to secure, if I can, my own safety, by retiring to my house; or, if I find our engagement, as is too probable, has taken wind, by surrendering myself to the next Justice of Peace, and giving security that hereafter I shall live quiet, and submit to the ruling powers.”
Again the rest of the persons present intimated their agreement in opinion with the speaker.
“Well, gentlemen,” said Redgauntlet, “it is not for me to oppose the opinion of every one; and I must do you the justice to say, that the king has, in the present instance, neglected a condition of your agreement which was laid before him in very distinct terms. The question now is, who is to acquaint him with the result of this conference; for I presume you would not wait on him in a body to make the proposal that he should dismiss a person from his family as the price of your allegiance.”
“I think Mr. Redgauntlet should make the explanation,” said Lord ——. “As he has, doubtless, done justice to our remonstrances by communicating them to the king, no one can, with such propriety and force, state the natural and inevitable consequence of their being neglected.”
“Now, I think,” said Redgauntlet, “that those who make the objection should state it, for I am confident the king will hardly believe, on less authority than that of the heir of the loyal House of B——, that he is the first to seek an evasion of his pledge to join him.”
“An evasion, sir!” repeated Lord ——, fiercely, “I have borne too much from you already, and this I will not endure. Favour me with your company to the downs.”
Redgauntlet laughed scornfully, and was about to follow the fiery young man, when Sir Richard again interposed. “Are we to exhibit,” he said, “the last symptoms of the dissolution of our party, by turning our swords against each other? Be patient, Lord———; in such conferences as this, much must pass unquestioned which might brook challenge elsewhere. There is a privilege of party as of parliament—men cannot, in emergency, stand upon picking phrases. Gentlemen, if you will extend your confidence in me so far, I will wait upon his Majesty, and I hope my Lord —— and Mr. Redgauntlet will accompany me. I trust the explanation of this unpleasant matter will prove entirely satisfactory, and that we shall find ourselves at liberty to render our homage to our sovereign without reserve, when I for one will be the first to peril all in his just quarrel.”
Redgauntlet at once stepped forward. “My lord,” he said, “if my zeal made me say anything in the slightest degree offensive, I wish it unsaid, and ask your pardon. A gentleman can do no more.”
“I could not have asked Mr. Redgauntlet to do so much,” said the young nobleman, willingly accepting the hand which Redgauntlet offered. “I know no man living from whom I could take so much reproof without a sense of degradation as from himself.”
“Let me then hope, my lord, that you will go with Sir Richard and me to the presence. Your warm blood will heat our zeal—our colder resolves will temper yours.
The young lord smiled, and shook his head. “Alas! Mr. Redgauntlet,” he said, “I am ashamed to say, that in zeal you surpass us all. But I will not refuse this mission, provided you will permit Sir Arthur, your nephew, also to accompany us.”
“My nephew?” said Redgauntlet, and seemed to hesitate, then added, “Most certainly. I trust,” he said, looking at Darsie, “he will bring to his prince’s presence such sentiments as fit the occasion.”
It seemed however to Darsie, that his uncle would rather have left him behind, had he not feared that he might in that case have been influenced by, or might perhaps himself influence, the unresolved confederates with whom he must have associated during his absence.
“I will go,” said Redgauntlet, “and request admission.”
In a moment after he returned, and without speaking, motioned for the young nobleman to advance. He did so, followed by Sir Richard Glendale and Darsie, Redgauntlet himself bringing up the rear. A short passage, and a few steps, brought them to the door of the temporary presence-chamber, in which the Royal Wanderer was to receive their homage. It was the upper loft of one of those cottages which made additions to the old inn, poorly furnished, dusty, and in disorder; for, rash as the enterprise might be considered, they had been still careful not to draw the attention of strangers by any particular attentions to the personal accommodation of the prince. He was seated, when the deputies, as they might be termed, of his remaining adherents entered; and as he rose, and came forward and bowed, in acceptance of their salutation, it was with a dignified courtesy which at once supplied whatever was deficient in external pomp, and converted the wretched garret into a saloon worthy of the occasion.
It is needless to add that he was the same personage already introduced in the character of Father Buonaventure, by which name he was distinguished at Fairladies. His dress was not different from what he then wore, excepting that he had a loose riding-coat of camlet, under which he carried an efficient cut-and-thrust sword, instead of his walking rapier, and also a pair of pistols.
Redgauntlet presented to him successively the young Lord ——, and his kinsman, Sir Arthur Darsie Redgauntlet, who trembled as, bowing and kissing his hand, he found himself surprised into what might be construed an act of high treason, which yet he saw no safe means to avoid.
Sir Richard Glendale seemed personally known to Charles Edward, who received him with a mixture of dignity and affection, and seemed to sympathize with the tears which rushed into that gentleman’s eyes as he bade his Majesty welcome to his native kingdom.
“Yes, my good Sir Richard,” said the unfortunate prince in a tone melancholy, yet resolved, “Charles Edward is with his faithful friends once more—not, perhaps, with his former gay hopes which undervalued danger, but with the same determined contempt of the worst which can befall him, in claiming his own rights and those of his country.”
“I rejoice, sire—and yet, alas! I must also grieve, to see you once more on the British shores,” said Sir Richard Glendale, and stopped short—a tumult of contradictory feelings preventing his further utterance.
“It is the call of my faithful and suffering people which alone could have induced me to take once more the sword in my hand. For my own part, Sir Richard, when I have reflected how many of my loyal and devoted friends perished by the sword and by proscription, or died indigent and neglected in a foreign land, I have often, sworn that no view to my personal aggrandizement should again induce me to agitate a title which has cost my followers so dear. But since so many men of worth and honour conceive the cause of England and Scotland to be linked with that of Charles Stuart, I must follow their brave example, and, laying aside all other considerations, once more stand forward as their deliverer. I am, however, come hither upon your invitation; and as you are so completely acquainted with circumstances to which my absence must necessarily have rendered me a stranger, I must be a mere tool in the hands of my friends. I know well I never can refer myself implicitly to more loyal hearts or wiser heads, than Herries Redgauntlet, and Sir Richard Glendale. Give me your advice, then, how we are to proceed, and decide upon the fate of Charles Edward.”
Redgauntlet looked at Sir Richard, as if to say, “Can you press any additional or unpleasant condition at a moment like this?” And the other shook his head and looked down, as if his resolution was unaltered, and yet as feeling all the delicacy of the situation.
There was a silence, which was broken by the unfortunate representative of an unhappy dynasty, with some appearance of irritation. “This is strange, gentlemen,” he said; “you have sent for me from the bosom of my family, to head an adventure of doubt and danger; and when I come, your own minds seem to be still irresolute. I had not expected this on the part of two such men.”
“For me, sire,” said Redgauntlet, “the steel of my sword is not truer than the temper of my mind.”
“My Lord ——’s and mine are equally so,” said Sir Richard; “but you had in charge, Mr. Redgauntlet, to convey our request to his Majesty, coupled with certain conditions.”
“And I discharged my duty to his Majesty and to you,” said Redgauntlet.
“I looked at no condition, gentlemen,” said their king, with dignity, “save that which called me here to assert my rights in person. That I have fulfilled at no common risk. Here I stand to keep my word, and I expect of you to be true to yours.”
“There was, or should have been, something more than that in our proposal, please your Majesty,” said Sir Richard. “There was a condition annexed to it.”
“I saw it not,” said Charles, interrupting him. “Out of tenderness towards the noble hearts of whom I think so highly, I would neither see nor read anything which could lessen them in my love and my esteem. Conditions can have no part betwixt prince and subject.”
“Sire,” said Redgauntlet, kneeling on one knee, “I see from Sir Richard’s countenance he deems it my fault that your Majesty seems ignorant of what your subjects desired that I should communicate to your Majesty. For Heaven’s sake! for the sake of all my past services and sufferings, leave not such a stain upon my honour! The note, Number D, of which this is a copy, referred to the painful subject to which Sir Richard again directs your attention.”
“You press upon me, gentlemen,” said the prince, colouring highly, “recollections, which, as I hold them most alien to your character, I would willingly have banished from my memory. I did not suppose that my loyal subjects would think so poorly of me, as to use my depressed circumstances as a reason for forcing themselves into my domestic privacies, and stipulating arrangements with their king regarding matters in which the meanest minds claim the privilege of thinking for themselves. In affairs of state and public policy, I will ever be guided as becomes a prince, by the advice of my wisest counsellors; in those which regard my private affections and my domestic arrangements, I claim the same freedom of will which I allow to all my subjects, and without which a crown were less worth wearing than a beggar’s bonnet.”
“May it please your Majesty,” said Sir Richard Glendale, “I see it must be my lot to speak unwilling truths; but believe me, I do so with as much profound respect as deep regret. It is true, we have called you to head a mighty undertaking, and that your Majesty, preferring honour to safety, and the love of your country to your own ease, has condescended to become our leader. But we also pointed out as a necessary and indispensable preparatory step to the achievement of our purpose—and, I must say, as a positive condition of our engaging in it—that an individual, supposed,—I presume not to guess how truly,—to have your Majesty’s more intimate confidence, and believed, I will not say on absolute proof but upon the most pregnant suspicion, to be capable of betraying that confidence to the Elector of Hanover, should be removed from your royal household and society.”
“This is too insolent, Sir Richard!” said Charles Edward. “Have you inveigled me into your power to bait me in this unseemly manner? And you, Redgauntlet, why did you suffer matters to come to such a point as this, without making me more distinctly aware what insults were to be practised on me?”
“My gracious prince,” said Redgauntlet, “I am so far to blame in this, that I did not think so slight an impediment as that of a woman’s society could have really interrupted an undertaking of this magnitude. I am a plain man, sire, and speak but bluntly; I could not have dreamt but what, within the first five minutes of this interview, either Sir Richard and his friends would have ceased to insist upon a condition so ungrateful to your Majesty, or that your Majesty would have sacrificed this unhappy attachment to the sound advice, or even to the over-anxious suspicions, of so many faithful subjects. I saw no entanglement in such a difficulty which on either side might not have been broken through like a cobweb.”
“You were mistaken, sir,” said Charles Edward, “entirely mistaken—as much so as you are at this moment, when you think in your heart my refusal to comply with this insolent proposition is dictated by a childish and romantic passion for an individual, I tell you, sir, I could part with that person to-morrow, without an instant’s regret—that I have had thoughts of dismissing her from my court, for reasons known to myself; but that I will never betray my rights as a sovereign and a man, by taking this step to secure the favour of any one, or to purchase that allegiance which, if you owe it to me at all, is due to me as my birthright.”
“I am sorry for this,” said Redgauntlet; “I hope both your Majesty and Sir Richard will reconsider your resolutions, or forbear this discussion, in a conjuncture so pressing. I trust your Majesty will recollect that you are on hostile ground; that our preparations cannot have so far escaped notice as to permit us now with safety to retreat from our purpose; insomuch, that it is with the deepest anxiety of heart I foresee even danger to your own royal person, unless you can generously give your subjects the satisfaction, which Sir Richard seems to think they are obstinate in demanding.”
“And deep indeed your anxiety ought to be,” said the prince. “Is it in these circumstances of personal danger in which you expect to overcome a resolution, which is founded on a sense of what is due to me as a man or a prince? If the axe and scaffold were ready before the windows of Whitehall, I would rather tread the same path with my great-grandfather, than concede the slightest point in which my honour is concerned.”
He spoke these words with a determined accent, and looked around him on the company, all of whom (excepting Darsie, who saw, he thought, a fair period to a most perilous enterprise) seemed in deep anxiety and confusion. At length, Sir Richard spoke in a solemn and melancholy tone. “If the safety,” he said, “of poor Richard Glendale were alone concerned in this matter, I have never valued my life enough to weigh it against the slightest point of your Majesty’s service. But I am only a messenger—a commissioner, who must execute my trust, and upon whom a thousand voices will cry, Curse and woe, if I do it not with fidelity. All of your adherents, even Redgauntlet himself, see certain ruin to this enterprise—the greatest danger to your Majesty’s person—the utter destruction of all your party and friends, if they insist not on the point, which, unfortunately, your Majesty is so unwilling to concede. I speak it with a heart full of anguish—with a tongue unable to utter my emotions—but it must be spoken—the fatal truth—that if your royal goodness cannot yield to us a boon which we hold necessary to our security and your own, your Majesty with one word disarms ten thousand men, ready to draw their swords in your behalf; or, to speak yet more plainly, you annihilate even the semblance of a royal party in Great Britain.”
“And why do you not add,” said the prince, scornfully, “that the men who have been ready to assume arms in my behalf, will atone for their treason to the Elector, by delivering me up to the fate for which so many proclamations have destined me? Carry my head to St. James’s, gentlemen; you will do a more acceptable and a more honourable action, than, having inveigled me into a situation which places me so completely in your power, to dishonour yourselves by propositions which dishonour me.
“My God, sire!” exclaimed Sir Richard, clasping his hands together, in impatience, “of what great and inexpiable crime can your Majesty’s ancestors have been guilty, that they have been punished by the infliction of judicial blindness on their whole generation!—Come, my Lord ——, we must to our friends.”
“By your leave, Sir Richard,” said the young nobleman, “not till we, have learned what measures can be taken for his Majesty’s personal safety.”
“Care not for me, young man,” said Charles Edward; “when I was in the society of Highland robbers and cattle-drovers, I was safer than I now hold myself among the representatives of the best blood in England. Farewell, gentlemen—I will shift for myself.”
“This must never be,” said Redgauntlet. “Let me that brought you to the point of danger, at least provide for your safe retreat.”
So saying, he hastily left the apartment, followed by his nephew. The Wanderer, averting his eyes from Lord —— and Sir Richard Glendale, threw himself into a seat at the upper end of the apartment, while they, in much anxiety, stood together, at a distance from him, and conversed in whispers.